Saturday, October 31, 2009


Like many countries Japanese businesses know a good thing when they see it and Halloween goods, foods etc. have really taken off in the last few years. The 100 yen shop is stacked full of costume items, decorations etc., the cake shops are full of Halloween themed cakes and the supermarkets have displays of food with Halloween themes. Today we got to take part in two different Halloween events. The first was a Halloween party complete with a trick or treating walk. It was run by a Canadian friend for his English school students and was a lot of fun. The community got involved by handing out the candy etc. and the kids all had a great time.
The second Halloween event for the day was at the flower shop where the children were able to make a Halloween flower arrangement for free if they were in costume. My son wasn't in costume but was given a cape and wig and managed to pose long enough for a photo before ripping it off. When we arrived there was a group of older women in wonderful costumes having a great time. They have no idea what Halloween is all about, but it didn't seem to be very important. Good to see people having a great time!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Time for communicating

SmileyCentral.comToday I went to a sports college to help a friend with her class by talking about the differences between Japan and New Zealand sports/exercise systems. Considering New Zealand has recently been quoted as being the third fattest nation I didn't really want to push too much of the success of the New Zealand efforts, but one thing I always do discuss is the Japanese club activities system and how little time it leaves for families to spend time together (I know I have written about this before...but it is one of my pet gripes). Anyway, to prove my point I asked the group to think about their time in junior high school and raise their hand if they spent at least half a day a week with their family doing something together (not something special, just being in the same room and talking etc.). Not one person in the class raised their hand. Okay, then how about every 2nd week.... again not one hand. Right how about once a month - surely you spent time with family members at least once a month... not one hand! The stakes were raised to 6 months and three out of the 20 students raised their hand. Once a year... we were up to 10 people. Finally, once in the three years of junior high school.. still only 10 people. Just to make sure they weren't just too lazy to raise their hands I asked how many people in the room had NOT spent ONE day (or half day) doing SOMETHING with their family during their THREE years at junior high school. The result - 10 hands were raised. To be honest I found that a bit scary, especially as they didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with that..... here's hoping that if that did happen to happen with my children that they would at least feel a little sad about it!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


When you give some money and get some food in return does it mean that you are "shopping"? If so then yesterday my goal of not doing any food shopping for two weeks has already been broken. However in this case we didn't choose what food we were given and given the choice we wouldn't have bought what we were given - so I am thinking that perhaps it wasn't really shopping at all.
What it was was my husband going to a wake and then a funeral for the father of one of his co-workers. For those who don't know, Japan has this wonderful way of keeping the economy going by giving gifts to anyone who goes anywhere - including funerals! Of course in order to get these gifts you have to put some money in a pretty envelope and present it to the family. This time we got a packet of dried shitake mushrooms at the wake and some green tea and pretty envelopes to put more money in at the funeral. Not what I would have chosen, but I guess they will come in useful during our no-shopping fortnight.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Piano concert - again!

I am pretty sure that I never got around to uploading last year's piano concert videos, so I am determined to use this rainy day to at least do this year's videos before they get lost in the bag of video tapes with no labels. The concert was on Saturday and there were only 10 children in it so it was nice and fast and we had a great support team there to see the kids play - thanks Megan, Nathan and Yukari for coming along. The kids were really proud to have you there!
Anyway for anyone interested here are this year's videos....

Sunday, October 25, 2009

2 Week Challenge

It is raining! I know most people don't get very excited about this, but we have had so little rain lately that the garden is starting to crack and planting anything without putting the sprinkler on full time has been basically impossible. Of course my husband's family are not so excited about the rain as they are in the middle of rice harvesting (hopefully a blog about that a little later on...), but I am more than impressed. I'm hoping it will continue all night and till about lunch time tomorrow so the garden gets a real watering and I get to stay inside tomorrow morning. I have spent most of my free time lately trying to get the vegetable garden under control and so far it seems to be working. If it does stop raining tomorrow I might even get around to taking a few photos.
Now that the garden is starting to produce well I am going to challenge our family to two weeks of no food shopping. Well we will "allow" ourselves to buy milk, flour, butter and bananas, but apart from that I think we can probably use this chance to clean out the fridge, freezer and cupboards. I haven't done a proper shop for quite a long time, so there is not an excess of meat etc. in the house, but I'm sure we can survive on what we have quite easily - we don't usually eat very much anyway. I find it really rewarding to be able to sit down to meals and think that basically all the things on the table were grown by me. The kids are pretty sick of me telling them about when I picked each vegetable, but are good at praising me and my son even takes a token mouthful of each vegetable to show his appreciation.
At the moment the garden is producing lots of spinach, silverbeet, radishes, cucumbers, mini tomatoes, mixed lettuce, green beans, basil, etc. and there are plenty of butternut pumpkins, potatoes, garlic and of course sweet potatoes in storage. Add our eggs to the mix and there is not too much that we are missing. We usually make all our own bread, yoghurt, cereal and most of the kids "snacks" etc. so hopefully it shouldn't be too hard to go for 2 weeks without going shopping. I would probably extend the challenge for longer, but there are junior high school students due to come in 2 weeks time....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Perfect Timing

We had a group of 5 strong boys due to arrive on Thursday for 3 days. We start rice harvesting tomorrow. We have zillions of sweet potatoes that desperately need digging up. We have a space in the garden which needs to be dug over, bamboo cut and made into supports and peas planted to grow up the supports. It is absolutely perfect timing for a group of 5 strong boys to be coming. The only problem is... the trip has been cancelled due to a swine flu breakout at their school. Bugger!
You may remember that in May and June I got students to plant lots of kumara (sweet potatoes) for lack of anything else to plant at that time of the year. In theory the part of the garden that most of them were planted in is less than ideal for sweet potatoes. Most books you read about sweet potatoes say that they require very sandy soil, with very good drainage. The area that I planted them in is a former rice field (ie NO drainage and very muddy soil) and it was partially filled with water for most of the rice growing season. I presumed most of them would rot and those that didn't would be so small they wouldn't be worth harvesting. The excessive leaf growth also made me think that all the energy was going into leaf growth rather than the actual sweet potatoes. HOWEVER... when I started to dig them up today I found the opposite was true. They are HUGE! And there are zillions of them. I'm guessing that they are actually too big to be very tasty, but the ones we had roasted tonight with our roast chicken were pretty delicious. I will try to take a photo of the ones I have dug so far tomorrow.... and then I guess I should get on with digging the rest of them, before looking up sweet potato recipes to use every day for the next 3 years!

Monday, October 19, 2009

New Pets

You may remember that my son bought himself a stag beetle for his birthday. Unfortunately it died a few weeks ago (as they always do at this time of year) and so we decided to replace it a little more cheaply... by going and finding lots of big, juicy stag beetle larva and putting them in his "observation" case. They are actually quite interesting - if you like watching big, juicy things crawling around and tunneling. As interesting as they are though I was more than happy to hear my son say that he really only needed to bring home 5 of the 50 or so we found! If they develop properly then perhaps next year he can start a new business....
In other news - all the DVDs have been watched and the puzzle completed. Unfotunately I bought myself a new Sudoku book.... just in case I need some more distracting from all the work that is piling up around the place!

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Some people talk about how some men marry their wives because they are similar to their mothers. As I look at my husband snoring away on the sofa I sometimes think that perhaps he has more things in common with my mother than I originally thought..... both my mother and my husband have a habit of watching TV with closed eyes on the sofa in the evenings. However there are a few things which are quite different between them. My mother tends to nod off during the main part of a program and wake up during each ad break - whereas my husband just snores through it all. My mother also tends to wake up when she spills a little of her now cold cup of tea on herself or her little "snorts" become bigger snorts which wake her up. My husband just snores through it all. My mother acknowledges (most of the time!) that she was actually sleeping and perhaps snorting a little at the same time whereas my husband.... was NOT sleeping at all! Hence this blog entry.... he was warned that the next time he was NOT sleeping at all I would get the camera and post an entry here. Of course he didn't wake up at all when the flash on the camera went off..... but perhaps that is because it is impossible to wake up when you are NOT actually sleeping at all! Good on you Mum for at least acknowledging your little cat naps - perhaps you could could teach Tom a thing or two.. or perhaps he could teach you how to NOT sleep with your eyes closed and huge snores coming out of your mouth!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bye bye bees... again!

A few months ago I bought a really interesting book called "Fruitless Fall" by Rowan Jacobsen which is all about the collapse of the honey bee and the crises that is likely to happen as a result of this in terms of agriculture. I had only just started reading it the other day when I discovered that our last (and up until now very healthy) hive of bees had decided to move house - and had of course eaten all their honey supplies before doing so! The majority of bee keepers in this area seem to have lost most of their hives this year. There are definitely far less bees buzzing around than last year and the rate of fruit production on my passion fruits, lemons etc. was way down from previous years. It definitely looks like things are not looking great for bees around the world.
In one attempt to get some more bees into our area my husband has researched and purchased two expensive orchid plants. When they are in flower they are supposed to attract swarms of Japanese bees which we can then catch and put in our hives... probably only to have them run away again, but at least we will be keeping some bees in the area for some length of time!
This last picture is hopefully what we will be able to take a lot of next spring.....

Monday, October 12, 2009


For the past 7 years I have been watching with great interest the two walnut trees that our closest neighbour managed to grow from seed. In fact we have been watching them together. For 7 years every time I saw her outside we seemed to discuss the current state of the trees and whether they will ever in fact produce any nuts (as I am from "foreign parts" she of course thought I was an expert...). And then this year they finally produced their first nuts! We were so excited - spending hours talking underneath the trees, examining the very first flowers and then the other day she gave me all but about 10 of the walnuts that had fallen to the ground. It turns out that she just wanted the challenge of growing them and has no real use for the nuts so lucky me I got basically all of them. At least I thought I was very lucky until I tried to crack them open. They are small. There is not a lot of nut inside and by the time I get the nut part out they are completely stuffed! I figure that perhaps letting them dry for a month or so may make it more practical to get the flesh out..... I guess time will tell! I would love to hear from anyone with any hints or special walnut cracking abilities!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It's not my fault!

I have been meaning to write this post since Friday, but... Katy was silly enough to get me addicted to a New Zealand comedy/drama series and lend me far too many DVDs and Megan and Nathan were silly enough to give me a puzzle for my birthday yesterday.... a 1,500 very small piece puzzle! On top of that the weather has been beautiful, the garden needed (still needs) a lot of attention and Tom has been away doing his annual "100 km nonstop walk" from Yukuhashi to Beppu. He did it in 4 minutes less than last year (16 hours, 11 minutes) and is still moving so I guess it was a success!
Now onto what I meant to blog about on Friday.... I had to go and renew my driver's licence - something that needs to be done in Japan every 5 years (if you have been a "good" driver) or every 3 years (if you have been a "bad" driver). The length of the lecture you have to attend also increases depending on how "bad" you have been. Of course I am a pretty model driver so only had to attend the 60 minute lecture and still have a 5 year licence. It was my first time to go to the new drivers licence center in Oita and I spent the first 40 minutes in a bit of a haze - and I got to understand what it is like for sheep as they go through the herding process. Although the lecture didn't start till 2:20pm I got there by 1pm so thought I'd just race through the registration process and go and have a coffee before falling asleep in the lecture. No such luck! Registrations started at 1pm and there were at least 50 people already lined up before I walked in the door. Then the herding began! First we got copies of our current licences at one machine, then got a barcode with the pin number for our new licence with the IC chip at another machine, then it was into a line to get it checked and clipped together, next to the payments line, then off to the eyesight check booth, straight to the photo booth and finally up to the lecture room. - too early, but not early enough to go for a coffee! Despite it being a pain to do, it was actually quite an interesting exercise in terms of efficiency. Each person had their specific role and they all did them very well - the result being a continually moving line of about 150 people.... At the end of the lecture (at exactly 3:20) the new licence was taken to the correct lecture room for you to collect and you were ushered out the door. Glad I only have to do it every 5 years, but it could have been worse!
Katy - the movie never eventuated... Tom had to work later than he thought! I knew it had to be too good to be true....

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Last minute guests

At lunch time on Monday I got a phone call asking if we could host 4 girls... on Tuesday! For once my extremely busy schedule was basically empty so I agreed and somehow despite almost continual rain we managed to fill in 1 night and 2 days and they went away very happy. I think for them the rain was a blessing as their "agricultural experience" in which they are expected to "sweat" turned into lots of cooking, some pumpkin carving (our only reasonably big one that grew this year..sob, sob!) and some scarecrow making. Of course not even the rain can stop me getting them to chop some wood though! The chickens were let out for a wander, but have decided they quite like the road so chances of letting them out when I am not in the immediate vicinity are decreasing every day.
Yesterday afternoon I dropped the girls off, went and taught a class, picked up my children and we raced home to secure anything that might fly away in the incredibly strong wind that was supposed to be coming with the incredibly strong typhoon. My husband had to sit at his desk at work just in case something terrible happened to some poor citizen of our town (of course work comes before family!) but they were all sent home about 9pm when the incredibly strong typhoon changed its course and only brought relatively light winds. Oh well, I guess we should be grateful that it didn't flatten all the rice and that the outside of our house is now extremely tidy! I hope everyone else in Japan got off as lightly as we did.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

9th Birthday

Today was my daughter's ninth birthday (yes Grandad, 9th birthday...). Possibly for the first time in her life her birthday fell on a Sunday AND I didn't have any work etc. and therefore not only could we have her birthday party on her real birthday, but we could also even prepare for it a little. It turned out to be a reasonably relaxed day with the kids running around playing outside and the parents (and aunt and uncle) being able to have at least some reasonable conversation while eating far too much sweet food! Unfortunately my husband had to work all day so only really got home in time to say goodbye to everyone and therefore there are not really many photos of the day. If you have any good ones Megan it would be great if you could send them my way!
Thanks to all those who came to share Emily's day. She really enjoyed it and was in bed by 7:30pm - exhausted!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Moral Education

Sometimes Japanese TV really makes me angry. There are two main things that really get to me. The first is the way that most of the variety shows are all about making fun of other people. At the moment there is a huge emphasis in Japanese schools on "moral education" - respecting yourself, those around you etc. I spent half of an English lesson yesterday trying to get children to respect each other and not draw pictures on each other's legs, not hit each etc. The biggest problem with this is that the "role models" on TV don't think twice about continually abusing each other physically and verbally and then laughing about it. Last night I watched a prime example where a group of "celebrities" went to stay at one of their parent's houses and while they were there one person shaved off the sideburns of another person, another person stole someone's glasses, credit card and mobile telephone and scratched them really badly on an electrical sander. Great laughter then followed..... and then at school the next day the children are told to "respect each other and each other's belongings". It doesn't add up!
The second thing that I hate is the lack of things done for charity here. They have programs like "celebrity millionaire" and when the already very rich celebrities are asked what they will do if they win all the cash a lot of the answers are things like "I will take all my friends out for a good feed of very expensive meat", or "I will build a spa on the veranda of my very expensive apartment". There are a few who say they will give some to a good cause, but they seem to be only about one person in a hundred.
Of course there are many other things that frustrate me about Japanese TV (the fact that it is all in Japanese to start...) -but the list is too long to go into here! It is little wonder that my children have very limited access to TV!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Egg Sizes

Last night I was trying to work out how many grams "one cup of butter" is - why anyone would use cups as the form of measurement for butter, especially when they aren't talking about melted butter, is beyond me. The Internet is an amazing thing, but as the size of cups is different in just about every country in the world, until you can work out which country the website is written in it becomes very confusing as to which cup measurement they are quoting. After a long time of searching I think I discovered that one cup of butter (NZ measurements ie 250ml) is about 250 grams. Please correct me if I am wrong!
Anyway, while I was trying to work all that out I got on to the size of eggs as well. I hadn't really thought much about the size of eggs until we got our chickens, but now that we get different sized eggs each day I find it really interesting. The other day we got our biggest egg yet - a whopping 97 grams, which was of course a double-yolker. Just in case you don't know a "jumbo" sized egg in America is classified as more than 71 grams. The egg on the right hand side of the picture is about 70 grams.... In other words it was a whopper of an egg! The majority of our eggs are at least 70 grams, often up to 80 or more and we are still getting at least 8 or 9 a day. It must be their nightly walks..... not that my husband would admit to it!