Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chicken house beginning

Construction has finally begun on our chicken house and I never want to see a level again in my life! When we arrived back from New Zealand in April we (or probably me more than anyone) had big plans of making a chicken coop within one month. It is now November and we finally have half of one!
In Japan they talk a lot about personalities being linked to your blood type. My husband and I (along with our children) are all type O. According to one website that means that we are all: agreeable, sociable and optimistic as well as vain, rude and dominant. Correct on many counts! So, I guess you are wondering what any of that has to do with making a chicken house... If Japanese ways of thinking regarding blood types are correct then my husband and I should go about things in basically the same way..... which is one reason why I don't think much of Japanese theories regarding blood types! With regard to building things I am very much a "make it up as you go along and don't worry about planning" type of person and my husband is the exact opposite... everything has to be drawn to scale before you can even think about picking up a hammer and hours and hours of thought has to go into all the possible problems that could occur before anything is actually begun - resulting in very little actually being done! During construction I figure as long as it stands up it is fine (slap four poles into the ground, throw some chicken wire around it and voila - a chicken house!), but my husband has to have everything completely level and therefore spends hours fiddling with things until they are perfect. I'm sorry, but I really don't think the chickens will care if their coop is not exactly straight! As I just said to my brother "I don't know how many times I stomped off and pulled out some weeds viciously this afternoon!"
It also didn't help that it was the big mountain climbing day today so there were hundreds of people climbing the mountain behind our house and offering advice about the construction process (the garden is right opposite the mountain car park). Anyway, in summary the chicken house is now half completed and it is very straight. Here's hoping we have some more fine weather next weekend so we can finish it off and get some chickens in there before the year 2011!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Matchbox car

I have a new car. It is only for a few days while my car is getting fixed (I love the Japanese custom of giving you a car free of charge to use while you are having repairs done), but it is giving me the chance to experience one of Japan's wonders.... the "Kei car". "Kei" literally means "light" and it is definitely that! I feel a little like I am sitting directly on the ground and as my daughter has discovered - she is taller than it is.... she is only 8 years old!
Kei cars are subject to lower taxes than regular cars and can be distinguished by their yellow number plates. According to wikipedia people couldn't afford big cars and the taxes that they required after world war two so to promote the growth of the car industry, as well as to offer an alternative delivery method to small business and shop owners, kei car standards were created. Although over the years the size restrictions of kei cars has changed it is currently... maximum length - 3.4m, maximum width - 1.48m, maximum height 2m, maximum displacement 660cc.
Initially I was very impressed when I went to fill it up with petrol and the total bill only came to 2,000 yen (when I fill mine it always costs more than 7,000 yen), but after driving it around today I discovered that it also uses quarter of a tank on the way to work and back!
I guess after driving my box for a few days I will be happy to have my big beast of a car back.....

Monday, November 17, 2008


Oops - I started this entry a few days ago and completely forgot about it... As I think I mentioned in my last entry, life has been a little crazy around here for the last week or so. In summary... Tuesday morning - teaching at school followed by a meeting till 3:30pm. Tuesday night we had 7 guests to eat and 4 guests to stay. Wednesday morning - fed the guests staying then raced to school for the first of 2 days of English demonstration lessons before racing the kids to swimming. "Featured" in the newspaper with one of the classes - got very frustrated by the write up as it looks like I was the main feature of the class where as in truth the Japanese home room teachers did all the preparation, planning, directing etc. and I was just there to support them. Just another grizzle......
On Thursday I survived all the demonstration classes and meetings afterwards about them then taught at a kindergarten on Friday before driving 2 hours to do a "talk" with a group of older people in Hita from 7pm. 2 hours of talking and then another 2 hours home (you do the time calculations) and I was ready for my weekend! Saturday morning I taught English then Saturday night we went to a basketball game because my son was doing marching as part of the half time entertainment. My children have only ever been to two basketball games, but as my daughter said... Mum, no matter where in the world we are the team we are supporting loses.... Oita isn't exactly the strongest basketball team in Japan!
Sunday was a day of rest! As was Monday.... and Tuesday afternoon..... sorry a bit of a boring report, but as the weather cools down (snow is forecast for today) there should be more inside hours typing away and catching up properly with things here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Half time report

Before I left to go and teach at school at 9am this morning I had already made muffins, a banana cake, made a huge pot of curry, fed two guests breakfast, had a shower and managed to eat some breakfast myself too. I finally got home at about 3:30pm after having a meeting straight after school and we now have 7 guests for dinner tonight (as well as our family) - fortunately only 4 of them are staying the night!
The principal at school also begged me today to do a workshop tomorrow for about 20 teachers who are coming to view the class from hell - who the school has wisely decided is just too hellish to be an example for their school... the teachers have already been invited so they needed a quick solution. Yippee - I can hardly wait!
Anyway, this season is pretty good for having guests as meals can be huge pots of vegetables (last night...) and huge pots of curry (tonight) and most guests leave full, warm and happy! Last night's guests were from America and joined the hiking/cycling tour today. They were great - happy to help with the cutting of the vegetables, the entertaining of the children etc. They even helped to clean up our liquor cupboard a bit! They are staying again tonight with the additional extras so hopefully it will be a reasonably relaxing night before another early start tomorrow. On that note I'd better go and make some big salads... fortunately there are plenty of veges in the garden!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Dad's day at kindy

Today was "Dads day" at my son's kindergarten. Each year the kindergarten organises a couple of days where the fathers can come along and play games with the children. Unfortunately today our family's "Dad" had to work so I put on my trousers and deep voice and became Dad for the day. Despite the fact that it was raining it was actually quite a lot of fun. We started by pretending to be sweet potatoes and the children had to pull us out of the ground - tickling us to get us out fully. We also became roller coasters, trains and finally human skittles in a game of full on dodgeball inside the small hall. The morning was topped off by an arm wrestling competition... fortunately only the real fathers had to take part in that! It was good to have an excuse to do nothing but play with the kids - too often there are too many things to do at home and therefore playing is limited to a few games at night etc.
I keep thinking that this year will be my final year of kindergarten events (my son starts school in April), however the other day the head of the kindergarten somehow took my "definitely no - sorry" to mean "sure why not" and it looks like I will be a member of the kindergarten board of directors from December until I can convince them otherwise..... can hardly wait to start that duty!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Image versus reality

Many people seem surprised when I talk about the behaviour of children in Japanese elementary schools in this area (I say "this area" as I know that there are some schools in Japan which definitely don't fit into the same category and I don't want to give people the wrong impression....). Before I came to Japan my image of schooling here was that the students were really well behaved - so well behaved that they were almost like robots. After about a day of being in Japanese classrooms this image was totally gone and the new one was more of chaos. Today totally confirmed this. I have been teaching at one elementary school two to three mornings a week for the last 6 months or so and one class in particular has been going from bad to worse. When I say that I am teaching I am actually more in an advisory role now and the Japanese teacher prepares the class and then I just help out and give advice at the end and therefore have no input in terms of discipline etc. Next week 4 of the classes have to do demonstration lessons in front of members of the community, the board of education and teachers from other schools in the area. For the last few weeks I have been hinting to the principal and vice principal that there is no way that one class in particular should be doing this.... they don't listen to a word the teacher says, they are physically fighting for most of the lesson and if anyone dares to ask them a question they basically tell you to "piss off".... yip this is an elementary school in Japan!
Anyway, to cut a very long story a little short, today the principal and vice principal both sat in on the lesson and both were almost in tears at the end of it thinking that this class was going to be a model for the school next week (the children have no respect for either the principal or vice principal and laugh openly in their faces if they dare to question their behaviour)..... I had had enough by the end and was so sick of being basically spat at that I sent two girls out into the corridor, who thought that was wonderful and spent the rest of the class wandering around the school being chased by the vice principal. Apparently the class is the same for every lesson (not just English) and the teacher (a man in his 40s) is not coping particularly well... big surprise! Unfortunately he didn't bother to tell anyone that he has been having so much trouble with the class until it was really too late..... I think a parents meeting is scheduled for tomorrow!
Just thought I'd let you know about the joys of teaching in Japan..... in case anyone is thinking of doing it! I have to go back again tomorrow too.... can hardly wait!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Imomochi making

Today was one of the big events on the kindergarten PTA calendar - sweet potato cake making.... Last week the children went and dug the sweet potatoes and with some additional purple and orange ones from our house about 15 of us made over 500 tri-coloured sweet potato cakes using two different recipes (a long story behind that which is not worth repeating here - related to the pissed off story below!). The children helped to shape some of them before they were steamed and put into big trays for delivery to the local school, a rehabilitation center, into their stomachs etc.
Fortunately all went well and we were finished about 2 hours earlier than last year. On the other hand unfortunately all went well and therefore last year's chairperson got pissed off at the end (last year it didn't go well at all....) and ended up writing me an e-mail as soon as she got home about the fact that I hadn't given any of the leftover vegetables to the kindergarten, but distributed them to the parents instead. Unfortunately for her that was a load of rubbish as I had already given over half the vegetables that the parents had donated initially to the kindergarten the day before because I knew we wouldn't need them. Another long story, but just thought I'd add a little "pissed off" message to get it off my chest! Of course I wrote her a wonderful thankful e-mail in reply - I try not to make too many enemies! It's been a long week and it is only Wednesday!