Saturday, November 28, 2009

Too far behind!

Out of sheer laziness I have got myself way behind in posting the daily "happenings" here. There have actually been some really interesting things happening lately and I have thought many times about how I was going to word the blog entry for each interesting happening.... only then I decide to sit and read just one more chapter of my book in the wonderful autumn sun, or treat myself to a movie after working in the "big city" and my fingers just never seem to connect with the keyboard! For today here are a few pictures from a friend's visit last weekend. They stayed the night and it was great to catch up with them and meet their boy for the first time. My children are getting better at playing with small children and although they enjoy their company they have finally stopped asking me to get them another younger brother or sister!
During their visit I was once again reminded of the common Japanese way of putting children to bed - let them run wild for as long as they like and make comments like "you have brushed your teeth so you can fall over out of exhaustion anytime now". Granted they were staying in a different house, but by 11pm the one and a half year old was still doing a grand job of staying wide awake... my children had already been in bed for well over 2 hours!
Tomorrow another group of junior high girls arrive for 2 nights - they are one of the groups that were postponed due to the swine flu outbreaks. Here's hoping the first outbreak doesn't happen at my children's school while they are here.... so far there have only been 2 children in the whole school who have caught it and that was well over a week ago so things are looking hopeful (which means I have probably jinxed the whole school and they will all be sick within a week!). Fingers crossed there are no more outbreaks and fingers crossed my fingers actually make it to the keyboard a little more this week.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Latest obsession

Last night I discovered another great homepage with some wonderful paper crafts.... and have since made lots of them! Our favorite one so far is the paper theatre. Both children have started to make stories and hopefully on a rainy day they will make their own backdrops etc. and continue to make some new stories. If anyone wants to fill in a few hours... the homepage is called "The Toymaker" and the templates are all designed to print straight onto A4 pages. For those living in Japan the A4 white cardboard (I buy the packets of 18 sheets) in the 100 yen shop is perfect! Have fun....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chocolate muffins

The days seem to be racing away lately with nothing of great interest happening. I feel like I have been doing too much "teaching" at schools and kindergartens lately, but the bank is enjoying a little more input than usual so I shouldn't complain. Of course as the temperatures drop the complaints increase a little though - especially as none of the schools I have been teaching at have had their "heating" (I use that term lightly!) on. One school told me that the temperature has to drop below 10 degrees before they can light their stove..... it must have been about 10.1 degrees the day I was there!
Yesterday I was asked for some photos of the chocolate muffins I had made with some students who came to stay, but unfortunately didn't have any so was forced to make some more... all of which I ended up taking to school to bribe the teachers to put the heating on!
If anyone wants a simple, delicious, no fail chocolate muffin recipe then this one is for you! (NB New Zealand measurements are used - 1 cup = 250ml)
  1. Sift together: 1 and 3/4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 cup caster sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa.
  2. Melt 100 grams butter and add 1 egg, 1 cup yoghurt, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Mix well.
  3. Combine the two mixtures and combine till the flour is just dampened, not smooth.
  4. Divide into 12 greased muffin tins (or whatever size you want...) and bake for 10-12 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius or until centres spring back when pressed lightly.
    NB: you can sprinkle with chocolate chips before baking if you want... I always do!
  5. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Half-hearted garden update

I had planned to go around the garden and give a full update of what is going on right now, but the cold wind combined with a trip to a local festival etc. put a stop to that and I only really got around to taking photos of things that I was walking very close to or was actually picking for dinner. I also couldn't remember how to add music to the slide show so you will have to watch it in silence... perhaps tomorrow I will update it properly with extra photos and some music to brighten your day! Until then here is a small preview of a little of what is going on in the garden right now....

Friday, November 13, 2009

Seed exchange

Thank you for all your comments regarding my daughter's "moral education". For now I think it will just be left alone as she is not worried about it and chances are my evil looks at her teacher every time I go to the school to teach the older classes has been a bit of a warning to her. However, if anything similar happens again I will not be able to hold my tongue.... Casey, I had seen the program you mentioned and was very impressed - for anyone who hasn't seen it there is a very good program about a teacher in Japan dealing with a class in Kanazawa - I wish he was at our school! The link is

The other day I was in the garden planting seeds. I have very few obsessions in life, but seeds seem to be one of them! I have packets and packets of seeds which I know will never germinate as they are too old, but I throw them in the ground anyway. I have packets of seeds that I really don't know what they are, if they are appropriate for my area, or what to do with them if they actually germinate and grow properly, but I plant them anyway! I have some real favorites that despite the differences in climate I have managed to get to grow well here. But at times I think I am in a bit of a rut and end up turning into one of the old Japanese women around here - planting exactly the same things every year at exactly the same time of year. Of course my things are a little different to what the Japanese women are planting, but the process is the same. This year I have done reasonably well at cleaning out my boxes of seeds (yes, that is plural!) and thought that it might be interesting to do a seed swap with anyone is interested - to get a bit of variety into my garden. Of course there are many logistical problems with this due to customs laws etc. in different countries, different seasons in different hemispheres etc. but my basic idea is that anyone in any country would send a packet of their favorite seeds, with instructions for growing (if the packet is in any language other than English) and one favorite recipe that they use for the final product to the other members of the swap group and then they would receive one packet of seeds from each member in return. If anyone is interested please contact me at jotomooka (@) and give me your e-mail address, postal address, general size of garden (planter boxes on balconies, small, big, very big!) and any seeds that you really DON'T want.... I'll leave it open for a week then send you the list of people interested for you to send seeds to.
If the stupid rain will stop I'll try to get out and take some photos tomorrow of the current state of the garden.... in between shuffling kids to gymnastics and swimming!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

School rant

I apologise in advance to anyone who comes to my blog to read about Japanese gardening, raising chickens and other exciting things like that. Today I want to rant about school so anyone not interested please come back again... I promise I will be back to my normal "nice" photos etc. soon!
Two things have happened at school lately that have left me with big question marks. The first is related to an annual event run at school where the children are introduced to people in wheelchairs, with disabilities etc. and are able to experience what it is like for these people to deal with daily life. On Wednesday a blind man came to talk with his guide dog. I went and listened and it was really interesting. Some of the children were blindfolded and led around by the dog and all had a wonderful experience. Last year all the children were able to experience what it is like to be in a wheelchair and how difficult it is to get around. There is a lot of emphasis on not being prejudiced against people who are "different", which finally brings me to my point (sorry, I'm feeling a bit long winded today!). There is one child in my son's class whose grandmother always comes to all the school related events etc. in place of his mother. I have always assumed that the mother is not living in the area or is deceased. It wasn't till I saw her for the first time at the sports day that I realised she is actually in a wheelchair - which makes it impossible for her to attend anything at school. Why? Because despite all the "education" on making everything accessible to everyone the schools in Japan are all at least two, generally three stories high. The only rooms on the ground floor of most of the schools are the staff rooms, the sick room and perhaps a meeting room. All classrooms are at least one floor up with absolutely no access for wheelchairs. Modern schools may be better, but definitely not here! This means that although we all get a chance to see our children in their classrooms doing their daily things, talk as a group of mothers with the teacher about how things are going etc., this one boy's mother will never have the chance. I often wonder if the school has thought about this and offered to do classes downstairs on the "open days", offered to bring the class meetings downstairs to allow her to attend etc. To be honest I don't know enough about the situation to do any stirring yet, but hopefully next time I see the grandmother I will be able to ask a little about the situation and offer to talk to the school about how the mother could become more involved. Perhaps I am way off track and the mother has no interest... I doubt it though.
The second thing that has happened lately that has me shaking my head about "moral education" here is in my daughter's class. There has been some "bullying" going on and my daughter has been led into it a bit by the ringleader. The teacher has gotten on to it and she has been required to write an essay about her behaviour etc. I have no problems with that. Although she didn't really do the majority of it she was involved in excluding two of the five girls in her class from some activities etc. and when I found out about it she got such an earful from me that I doubt she will be doing it again in the near future! I have no problem with them being kept back after school to write essays. What I do have a problem with is the next step the teacher took. The day after it was all discussed at school I got the following message from her teacher (direct translation...) :
"Today I got the students to perform a role play during first period relating to what happened yesterday. There were different roles for everyone in the role play - someone who was a bully, someone being bullied etc. I wanted the children to get the feeling for how it feels in each situation so they would think a little more about their behaviour in the future. However, during the role play I made the rule that when a person lost at janken (rock, paper, scissors) the other person was able to slap them with three fingers (I later discovered that in fact it was only my daughter who was to be slapped if she lost...) and one of the students took it a little too far and really hit your daughter very hard - causing her to cry. I made the children think about why your daughter was crying and what part they played in the incident. I aimed to teach the children how to think about other children, however for your daughter it was perhaps a slightly bad experience. I put a bandage on it and it isn't red anymore, but it does seem to hurt a little. I'm sorry, but could you please keep an eye on her at home."

I have no problem with role plays... in fact I think they are an excellent way to get a point across sometimes. I just have a slight problem with the teacher encouraging children to actually hit each other during them - even if it is with only 3 fingers. I have always thought she is a twit, but this has just confirmed it! Roll on April when hopefully she will move on to another school. Congratulations on anyone who has made it this far. It felt good to have a rant for a change!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Scarecrow watching and shopping

This time it is definitely not my fault that I haven't updated for a while.... it is definitely Nathan and Megan's fault. More about that later!
First of all... congratulations Ruthie - you were indeed correct. The contents of the mystery bag given to me very secretly was in fact a packet of 10 eggs - just what I really needed considering we had given away 60 that week. I can see how some of you may have been thrown off track by the secret nature of the bag, and to be honest it threw me off a bit too - perhaps they are really "special" eggs that are only allowed to be given to the Emperor. I wouldn't know - I still haven't opened them! Anyway, Ruthie - you win the prize so I'll get your address off Katie and get something to you as soon as I can. Thanks for playing....
Back to why I blame Nathan and Megan for my absence. Firstly they lent me the 5th series of a New Zealand drama/comedy called Outrageous Fortune. Far too many episodes on one DVD and all that end with scenes where you really just need to watch one more episode to see what happens.
Secondly they forced me to take them to Fukuoka to go shopping at the big warehouse shop, Costco in the weekend. Fortunately my 2 weeks of no shopping were over so I could fill up the trolley - despite not "needing" anything! The two weeks of no shopping passed very quickly and if it weren't for the trip to Fukuoka I probably could have continued on for at least another week or two. There were only 2 times the no-shopping rule was broken - once to buy some 4 slices of ham and 2 mini hamburgers for the children's bento for their school outing and once when my husband forced me to agree to allow him to buy hamburgers from a shop one and a half hours away to bring home for dinner.
On the way to Fukuoka we stopped at the scarecrows in Yamakuni. This year that had done a wonderful job again and it was difficult to see who were the real scarecrows and who were the tourists! There are more than 500 scarecrows dotted around the place and the display is on till the end of November for anyone passing through. Lots of fun and no commercialisation!
On Saturday I joined in the "panicking population" and the minute my son got a fever over 38 degrees my husband rushed him off to the hospital to be checked for swine flu. Although no one at their school is infected yet, the schools in the surrounding towns all seem to be closed as a precaution etc. Fortunately the test was negative and he was back and ready for action on Sunday. To be honest it would almost be a relief if they did get it and then we could stop worrying, but I just don't want to be the first in the school.... My husband took note of my comments in the past about Japanese medicine and when the doctor asked if he would like powder or tablets for my 6 year old son he quickly replied tablets (knowing how much I hate the powder). The only problem is that the powder actually tastes okay and the kids can take it by themselves. The tablets taste absolutely disgusting and the kids can't swallow them... So a trip to the convenience store to buy some lollies to practice swallowing with and some crushing them up with some jam resulted in a little success, but then the bag of tablets being conveniently lost.... next time I wonder if he will offer to take the kids to the doctor or not!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Holy cow!

It made me laugh when I read Megan and Heather's guess that the principal gave me sweet potatoes. The answer wasn't correct, but I would have been just as disappointed if I had been given a bag of sweet pototoes right now..... especially after today's activity. I decided that as next week's junior high school group has ALSO been postponed that I needed to dig up the rest of the sweet potatoes (sorry Keiko, I completely forgot that you wanted to help... maybe next year!). The first sweet potato I dug today turned out to be an absolute whopper! It isn't as big as the World's biggest sweet potato - that honor goes to a Lebanese farmer Khalil Semhat who grew an 11.3kg sweet potato in 2008, but it is pretty huge - 2.8kg. The smaller sweet potato in the photo is a fairly standard sized sweet potato....
In honor of the big sweet potato here is one of my latest recipes to try and get rid of some of the mountains that we have....
Sweet potato and apple cake
1. Mix together 100ml oil, 1 egg, 2 tablespoons milk, a little vanilla essence and 120g sugar. (I also add about 100ml of yoghurt...)
2. Cut one medium sweet potato and half an apple (NB - Japanese size, so probably one whole New Zealand apple!) into small cubes and coat lightly with flour.
3. Sift 200g flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt into the oil/egg/milk mixture and mix.
4. Add the sweet potatoes and apples and mix again.
5. Put into a square cake tin lined with baking paper (relatively small) and bake for about 35 minutes at 180 degrees celcius.
6. Eat!

As for the quiz... still no correct answers. Final hint and final chance to be in to win... last week I gave away/sold 60 of the thing in question, but still had plenty for us....

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Hints and Hiking home

Until April 1992 all public Japanese primary and secondary school students had a 6 day school week. From April 1992 one Saturday a month become a holiday and in April 1995 two Saturdays a month became holidays. In April 2002 the 6 day week was completely abandoned and a 5 day week started. Recently there have been some murmurs about the need to bring back at least a partial 6 day week system as the teachers are finding it difficult to cover the whole curriculum in one year.
Today my children finished school at 1:40pm because the teachers were having a meeting. This happens reasonably regularly, and school always finishes at 2:30pm on Wednesdays here so the teachers can have their weekly meeting. I have absolutely no idea why they need so many meetings and why they can't do them after school finishes - having sat through a few of the meetings they seem fairly pointless and very repetitive. It would seem logical to me to cut out a few of these interruptions to the school day and actually do some TEACHING during those times rather than even think about bringing back school on Saturdays. I could go on for hours about how many other ways I think they could get more hours in the classroom, but I think I'll leave that for my first book!
Back on track.... because the children finished at 1:40pm today we decided to walk home from school - a mere 5.7 km or so. Fortunately my son decided he couldn't really be bothered doing it all so we drove about about 2km down the road and walked home from there. If it wasn't for all the really noisy trucks passing us and blowing out their horrible fumes on the way it would have been a really nice walk. We discovered a few new things, had some funny conversations and even sang some songs. For some reason my children are currently obsessed with Manhattan Transfer... if I have to hear "The boy from New York City" one more time I think I am going to go crazy - I completely blame my husband!

Thank you for attempting to guess the contents of the bag from the school principal. Still no correct guesses yet, but some funny ones all the same! The contents were not really very exciting, but have put me in a dilemma as to whether I tell her that I REALLY don't need the contents to prevent her giving them to me again (this happens to be the second time I have received them) or whether I continue on with my now very well perfected "smile and nod" routine and just keep accepting them. Hint..... I probably would have been very grateful for them a year ago. Size - in a normal plastic shopping bag - but not filling too much of it.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


On Monday I was doing some teaching at my children's school and when I arrived the principal took me aside and whispered that she would like to see me before I left. During my 2 classes I kept wondering what it was that she wanted to tell me in secret - it was very much a secret rendevous that she seemed to have in mind. Then after I had finished teaching and finished eating the school coffee-lady's lunch (she seemed to be away for the day) I approached the principal and said I was going home. She shuffled me into her office, shut the door, snuck over to her desk and produced a bag which she secretly handed to me and whispered that I should take it home. I was a little perplexed, but thanked her all the same. When I got to the car and out of sight of the school I opened the mystery bag.... and.... I challenge you to guess what was inside the mystery bag that was obviously not meant to be shown to anyone else in the school - a special gift just for me. I'll send a prize to the first person who can guess correctly - one way to get people to comment I guess!