Friday, July 31, 2009

7th Birthday

Every year my children really look forward to their birthdays. Until now they have always invited friends and we have had a party at home. This year my son decided he wanted to have a special day out instead so we did everything he wanted to do for the day. First up was 10 pin bowling in Beppu followed by a big swim at a big indoor swimming complex with a wave pool etc. (fortunately my husband wasn't with us so there are no pictures to prove I went in!). Lunch at McDonalds (as I said it was his choice for the whole day....) then a quick trip to the 80% off book shop in Oita (Katy - it is the one on the right just as you go into Oita city - Merindo -2 sections - kids books in one area and adults in another, plus 3 or 4 "bins"). Next up a wander around Toys R Us to spend the money from his Japanese grandmother. After wandering around the whole shop twice he settled for a baseball bat and a big stag beetle and the necessary dirt, jelly etc. to go with it - he even managed to get a thousand yen change.
As well as their party the children also really look forward to their cake each year and until now I have spent quite a long time making rockets, Blue's Clues, Nemo, butterflies etc. etc. but this year I asked if my son wanted to make his own cake - which he did. Last night they made the cake itself and this afternoon they did all the decorating and had a great time. It was far less stressful for me and my daughter has already decided that she wants to do the same this year too. A new tradition may have been started.
After decorating the cake we went to a local festival for some cheap food, some arcade type games and some conversation with ex-kindergarten friends. Home again to eat the cake and then to bed... a long day, but a really happy one for all involved.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Family holiday

For those living in New Zealand etc. the concept of taking a 3 day holiday away as a family in the summer is not exactly a foreign one, but for those of us living with Japanese husbands it often takes a little more persuasion to convince them that going away as a family for more than one night in a row is an important part of the year. My husband is pretty good really and this year he decided that we should get into camping - great I thought, I have great memories of camping as a child. I also have memories of hauling a trailer behind the car that was stuffed full of all the things necessary to go on a camping holiday. My husband came home last week with a tent and a table - all set for camping! I decided to go along for the ride and let him choose where we were going etc. and only took part in getting the food ready for the trip.
Cutting a long story short... we left on Saturday in the middle of a thunderstorm and to protests from my mother-in-law who really has no idea why people would want to spend any time away from their home and jobs - especially when there is a thunderstorm. First stop - book shop in Oita to buy one book each to pass the time away if it continued to rain solidly for 3 days. One and a half hours later and 40 books heavier we left the book shop - it just happened they had 80% off all their English children's and adults books...... great start to the weekend! Another couple of hours driving and a few missed turnoffs and we were at our destination - the beach in Nobeoka, Miyazaki prefecture. Our luck continued and there was one free cabin so we didn't have to risk our luck putting up our new tent in the still steadily pouring rain. Also as luck would have it the cabin was pretty impressive - shower, air conditioning, kitchen... who could ask for more! Across the road there was a small aquarium so after the books were read (well some of them) we headed there for some fish spotting followed by hamburgers for tea.
The next day we started off with some mini golf in the rain (my son wouldn't give us any peace until we let him do it) then my husband took the kids swimming in the fairly heavy rain! I stayed in our cabin reading my book till the rain cleared enough to take photos! We didn't need to check out till 1pm so after lunch we checked out at 12:59 and headed to another beach close by where we decided to rough it in our new tent - fortunately the rain stayed away and after only a few disagreements about how the tent should be put up (camping wouldn't be camping without arguments about how to put up the tent!) we settled in and spent the day swimming, eating, and of course reading! The final day was spent fighting about how to put the tent away and more swimming...... with a bit more reading thrown in for good luck. A pretty good break away - despite a sleep on the very hard ground the second night. We bought sleeping mats on the way home......

Friday, July 24, 2009

Mouse update

Anyone who has ever owned a cat will know that they love to show off their prey after they have caught it - bringing a half dead bird or mouse and dropping it at your feet thinking you will be really impressed. I think my husband might have been a cat in a former life..... this morning when I got up (okay so I won't mention the fact that I was the last one up and that my husband had already left for work before I waddled out of bed) I was greeted by our lovely mouse trap with a lovely big mouse in it - that was still breathing and occasionally trying to move around. My husband had successfully caught it and rather than removing it thought I might like to see it..... The major problem with this is that it was at the intersection of the dining room, kitchen and bathroom. Another major problem is that my husband won't be home till after 6pm tonight. Another major problem is that I really hate mice!
Anyway, a phone call to my husband confirmed that he just left it there for me to see and that he had no idea how to deal with it. We are going away on a 3-day family trip from tomorrow so the thought of throwing it in the rubbish bag till we get back doesn't hold much attraction for me. For now I managed to sandwich it between the two sticky boards and slide it into a paper bag.... for my husband to deal with after he gets home tonight. A great start to the day!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mouse traps

Every second year or so we have a little (or perhaps pretty big) friend come to visit. It is always only one friend, but they make quite an impact on us. This year our little friend has managed to chew through the aerial to the TV, leaving us with only 2 satellite channels. It has managed to move food from the compost to under the dish drier, kicked passion fruit off the bench and onto the floor and nibbled through bananas - just to name a few things! Last night we decided our little friend had been around long enough so set the "traps" for him (I'm sure it must be a boy!). For anyone who is unfamiliar with Japanese mouse traps - the standard ones are big, VERY sticky pads that even the biggest mouse couldn't get off if it stood on one. The idea being that the mouse walks over it, gets stuck and then...... the real problems begin. How are you then meant to dispose of a tired out, but not dead mouse that is completely stuck to a sticky mat??? (Un)fortunately we didn't need to deal with this problem this morning. We set the trap up so that if the mouse wanted to get into the kitchen the only way in was to go over the mats. Which it did.... in one flying bound! My husband got up early in the morning and discovered it in the kitchen and then watched as it leaped over the mats and raced away never to be seen again (or at least until tonight....). I guess we will have to try another plan for tonight if we ever want to watch TV again. There doesn't seem much point in fixing it until we have captured our little cable chewing friend..... any tips welcomed!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Land of the frogs

Japan is often known as the "land of the rising sun", however during this season I always think it could be named the "land of the noisy frogs". There are frogs everywhere and as anyone who has ever been here knows - they are very noisy. They jump off the washing line into your washing basket, they mysteriously appear out of the dirt while you are digging, they even hop inside every now and then to check out your house. Until today I thought that there were frogs all over Japan and that Japanese people found them a bit boring... great piece of stereotyping on my behalf! The biggest entertainment for today was a trip to the waterfall and the 4 girls not just looking at a real frog for the first time, but holding onto a frog for the first time in their lives! They spent almost an hour playing around in the river catching tiny crabs and screeching anytime they saw a spider's web or any other kind of bug. A nice cool place to be after another hot day!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

If I can just get through this week

Sorry yet again for the lack of posting lately - everything just seem to be the same every day and therefore not really worth writing about. Yet again I am in the "if I can just get through this week phase". After a morning in the garden on Sunday life caught up with me and I ended up in bed for the afternoon with a shocking migraine. I have a vague recollection of taking a phone call from a friend in the middle of it, but had to apologise to her the next day as I really can't remember what I said. Sorry!
Anyway I recovered from that which was fortunate as on Monday and Tuesday we had the workers here putting our solar electricity panels on the roof. If the banging all day wasn't enough, it was also over 35 degrees each day so I was grateful not to have a migraine with the heat as well as the noise! Japan seems to have a good system for solar electricity at the moment. Although it costs quite a lot to install there are lots of regional and national subsidies, and you can sell any excess electricity you make during the daytime to the electricity company. Here's hoping we have lots of sunny days this year!
Tonight I went and collected our last group of students till September. They seem like a very nice group of 4 girls - although I haven't really seen them much yet. We didn't pick them up till 5:30pm and then by the time we had the silly ceremony and got home it was close to 7pm. A quick curry for tea, a few brain teaser games and then they retreated to the cottage for showers and conversation. I know I probably should have made more of an effort to talk longer with them tonight, but they had been up since 6am, travelled from Osaka to here and gone to an amusement park before I picked them up. They looked tired and after teaching all morning and then later this afternoon too I am not exactly full of energy either. Tomorrow night I'll be more entertaining!
They leave on Friday and from Saturday I have a 3 day camp to run.... I can't wait till Monday afternoon!

Friday, July 10, 2009

What a week!

A very brief summary of why I haven't been "online" lately.... Sunday morning I jumped on the train to Kitakyushu with Chris and Dannie and they continued on up to Hiroshima while I got off and ran a communication/team building program for a group of mothers. After finally getting home at about 7:30pm I cleaned the cottage and tried to get ready for the busy week ahead.
On Monday I went to pick up the first guests for the week - a group of four 5th grade primary school students. They are from a school close to here that I have been doing quite a lot of teaching at for the past few years and they were coming to stay as part of a "rural experience" - can't see the logic of sending rural children on a rural experience, but that is the Japanese Education system for you! They stayed two nights with us then we changed and got a group of six fourth grade students for two nights - with no break in between. We filled our days with lots of baking, chicken care, river walks, potato digging, jam making, vegetable collecting (if I can find them in the weeds!), dairy farm visiting, icecream making, waterfall hopping, wood chopping, pizza making, pottery classes, scarecrow making, eating, eating and more eating! Each night I had to take them to the local onsen where we met the students from the other grades and I then had to "supervise" them in the onsen. Nothing like getting naked with your students!
I took them back at 3pm today and came home to have a quiet cup of coffee! I managed to lose close to 2kgs over the week and I really put my organisation/shopping skills to the test but have some how come out the other side in one piece. The only major problem was that they managed to lock the bathroom door of the cottage this morning while there was no one in there - how I really don't know! So now we have to try and find a way to open the door without smashing the window - preferably before Wednesday when the next guests arrive! Of course my children loved having children of a similar age to play with.... I am going to enjoy sleeping in my bed for the first time all week.... supervision is not my favorite thing, but perhaps it was a taste of what is going to come in the holidays which start at the end of next week. Can hardly wait!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Special little guest

Late last night a special little guest and his father came to stay. He is a boy who was in my son's class when we went to New Zealand for 3 months last year and his uncle is from Japan and happens to have the same name as my son. My son was excited to have his own special New Zealand friend come all the way down here to see us and I have enjoyed talking with his father about how things are going in Dunedin etc. Great to have some English speaking adult conversation for a while! Unfortunately the son hasn't been so well so we have been taking it a bit easy and trying to help soothe his sore throat with nice cool ice cream (perhaps not the best thing in Japanese summers!) in between looking at monkeys and having a good sleep. Tonight we had our first "fireworks display" for the summer - probably the first of many. Unlike in New Zealand, fireworks are available for sale basically all summer round in Japan and are a popular evening event. If it wasn't for the smoke I think I would also find them enjoyable....
We are hoping that little Chris (who is actually older than my son) is feeling a bit better in the morning so they can play a bit before they head on the train up north again.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Japanese hospital slippers

My sister is coming to work in Japan from August. In fact she is coming to work at the exact same schools that I worked in about 13 years ago... she is coming as a JET participant to my town - baby sitters in the same town - lucky us! As part of her preparations I was silly enough to ask her if anyone had given her the "shoe" talk. She assured me no one had, but that she was keen to hear it. I tried to explain that although she will wear shoes to school she will not stay in those shoes, but will need to change into "indoor" shoes and then if she wants to do something in the gym she will need to change into "indoor sports" shoes. Of course if she wants to go outside she will need to change into her regular shoes again..... a little complicated for beginners! I didn't want to overwhelm her by letting her know that there are also "toilet shoes" as these are provided for you and therefore only require you stepping into them. The reason I tried to warn her about the indoor shoes thing is because if you don't bring your own "slippers" you are expected to try and walk up and down stairs, do the hokey pokey and carry your lunch on a precarious tray while wearing the "school slippers" - which are basically plastic slip-on thingies that were invented by people who were very good at shuffling or who had such sticky feet that they stuck to the inside of the slippers while walking up stairs rather than having sweaty feet which mean the slippers fall off as soon as you start to attempt any upward (or even forward) movement. For those of us who have been here long enough we know all about these slippers and have a pair of our own, much more comfortable slippers in our cars, handbags and back pockets. For those who don't know it is the dreaded communal slippers or people continually running after you waving slippers at you.
I have a hard enough time thinking about who has been using the slippers when I visit schools, but today I had one of those "only in Japan" kind of experiences which has left me wanting to wash my feet a zillion times! The skin on my daughter's fingers has been peeling off a lot so I finally took her to the "skin doctor" today. They finished school early (I have stopped even bothering to ask why....) and so we were at the doctors by 3pm. The good thing about Japanese doctors is that you don't need an appointment. The bad thing about Japanese doctors is that you can't get an appointment. Despite having to wait almost an hour and a half to see the doctor (for all of 2 minutes) that wasn't the worst part of the experience (we are used to that now)..... the worst part was when I got to the entrance and remembered that that clinic has the "no shoes" policy and therefore requires you to take off your shoes at the door and trade them in for the dreaded communal slippers..... just in case you missed it... this is a skin specialist clinic.... as in half of the people are there for athletes foot, warts, smelly feet etc. Of course my school slippers were not in the car this one time and of course as it is over 30 degrees each day I was not wearing socks. Yuck, yuck and more yuck! My thinking is that they are trying to boost their repeater patient numbers by making sure that all those who come in with peeling fingers this week come back again next week with foot rot. I repeat: yuck, yuck, yuck!
I tried to find a picture of some hospital slippers to give you an idea (the ones I found are from other web pages.. sorry no links) and at the same time discovered a fun article about this very thing - if anyone still has some reading power after getting through this lot of dribble check out the following link: Roller Derby Queen Swishes to Hospital