Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sports Day 2010

Finished for another year... the overall result was exactly as in the practice sports day - the white team lost (which was the team both my children were in). No surprises so no tears! Actually my children won all the things they were in so they weren't too upset about the final result. Here is a compilation video for anyone who is very bored... sorry, I didn't have time to edit it properly!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Honey Hunting

Last week my husband's daughters came to visit and so my husband decided that we should use the opportunity to check the health of our bee hive and show off our skills a little. Until now the bees have been very friendly so we both were silly enough to just wear gardening gloves with short sleeved tops. Ooops! The bees decided they didn't really like us snooping in their hive and both my husband and I came away with a few stings and didn't exactly make a good impression on his children! I was a bit itchy for a few days, but my husband swelled up really badly (the photo was only the start of the swelling) and ended up at the hospital getting some attention.
Because of this experience I wasn't exactly looking forward to our "date" at the local community center the next Friday. Exactly 3 years ago to the day (one reason I love blogging is because it keeps track of things like this!) we raided the bee hive in the community center, but the bees came back and made another big hive and as the floor was being removed and repaired we were asked to remove them again - the bonus being that we got the honey of course! This time my husband had made a bee vacuum so that he could suck out the bees and relocate them. It didn't work perfectly, but it made cutting out the hive a little easier. Sorry - I forgot to take a photo. My job was to get the buckets of honeycomb as he cut them out, brush off all the bees that hadn't been sucked up the vacuum and then throw them into the big container ready for extracting. After all that was done I then had the sticky job of getting the honey out of the combs. Because they are in their natural state they are not the easiest combs to extract. I followed the basic procedure I did three years ago (see here if you are interested) and I think we have probably got about 20kgs this time. Yum, yum, yum!

Friday, September 24, 2010


It may have taken over half the day, but it was so worth it! And there will be more dripped out by the morning... heaven!
Details to follow soon....

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tomorrow's challenge

This is tomorrow's challenge... here's hoping we will be able to tell the tale tomorrow night .... stay tuned and wish us luck!

The great New Zealand Baking Challenge

I really enjoy baking, but recently I seem to be continuously making the same "safe" things. The times when I feel like trying something new I usually spend half an hour working out what to make and then I have lost all motivation and give up completely. There is a challenge called "daring bakers", but most of the recipes seem to take so long and are probably not things I would ever repeat. So.... last week I decided to take up an idea that Megan had while she was here. I have decided to work through one of my recipe books from start to finish..... well unless of course there are just some things which are not practical to make due to seasonal problems (rose petal shortbread...etc.). I will of course mix up the sections a bit - no point having cookies for 6 months followed by shortbread for 2 months, then cakes for 8 months etc. etc. but hopefully I will slowly try most of the recipes in the book. Already the kids are enjoying basic biscuits (made 2 different ways) and Louise cake. I will either finish the challenge in about 3 years or we will all turn into obese pigs in 6 months time. Or perhaps there will be lots of visitors who are willing to try a few failures every now and then.....

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Better late than never

I don't know about other parts of Japan but every year our town tries to do its bit to reduce global warming by cutting down on the use of air conditioners. We haven't used one in our house for at least 8 years, but in the past going into any public building in the summer in this area required you to put on a jersy as the air conditioning was set to close to freezing (reminds me of Hong Kong!). In the last 5 years the "allowed" setting at the town office has risen to 27 or 28 degrees and with it has come a change in policy regarding dress code as well as attempts to make "green curtains" everywhere. My husband no longer has to wear a neck tie to work in summer - that is the big dress code change! The green curtain refers to planting climbing plants - mainly morning glory or a bitter gourd called goya and getting them to grow up a net in front of a window which in theory reduces the amount of light/heat reaching the room and therefore reducing the need to crank the airconditioning up too high.
Anyway, back to the title of this post.... my husband decided he wanted to grow a green curtain outside our bedroom window this year and today it finally flowered! Tomorrow is the autumn equinox so in theory the heat should be getting less and less - perhaps we will be able to use our green curtain as a barrier to the cold instead! It is also proving to be a great place for preying mantis to catch their supper....
I had to laugh at Clare Maree's question about whether the children in the photo yesterday were the entire 4th grade... actually that is the entire 4th, 5th and 6th grade combined! There are only 11 students in my daughter's class - the largest in the senior school!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Traditional dance

When the children at our school reach the fourth grade they have to perform a traditional dance that was originally started in the 16th century as part of a ritual to safely send warriors off to war (or something like that anyway....). The dance was not performed for many years, but the school decided it was an important thing to try and preserve and is now part of the curriculum. I find the dance itself pretty long and boring but I think it is great that they are trying to continue on with the tradition when so much of Japan is losing a lot of their traditional culture. Members of the community come to teach the students and there are three main roles - the drummers/dancers, the bamboo flute players and the bell ringers. The costumes are rather complicated and today was the "dress rehearsal" before the big performance at the sports day so as many parents as possible were asked to come and help to get everyone into their appropriate clothing. It was definitely an experience.... I still have no idea how to dress Emily, but I'm guessing that no one else does either so we will all end up asking the teachers to do it! It was SOOOOO hot that by the time everyone was in their outfits two children had already been taken to the sick room and were recovering with icepacks. Everyone else managed to make it through the double rehearsal, but were definitely happy to get changed at the end! Here's hoping Sunday is a very cloudy day.....

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sports Day Rehearsal

Yesterday my children had a rehearsal for their sports day. It took the entire morning as well as a bit of the afternoon. Their team lost. That's right, they practiced the entire sports day, including the scoring. The "real" sports day is not till next Sunday. My children already know who will most likely win each event. They know what the final score is likely to be. My daughter has been at school by 7:50am for the last few weeks because she is in cheer leading group (don't worry, not throwing in the air cheer leading -just blowing the whistle and shaking pom pom cheer leading). They practice every morning for 25 minutes and then have an average of 3 hours each day for practicing the different events and how to stand straight etc. After the sports day is finished they don't have any P.E. for at least a month.
I was just reading a fellow Japan blogger's entry today about how Japan is slipping in the education rankings. They are increasing the material in textbooks here. There was even talk at some stage of bringing back Saturday school. They say they just don't have enough time to teach all that is necessary.... and yet they have enough time to practice 3 hours a day for sports day (which is exactly the same every year.....). They also get 2 days off in lieu of going to school to help set up for the sports day and also for the sports day itself. This is something I just can't get my head around. I understand that in some ways the sports day is an important part of Japanese people's school lives, but surely they could spend a little less time practicing it and some more time enjoying it.....

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Until I moved to Japan my image of ants were pesky little creatures that walked in long lines to the tiny bit of spilt jam at my Nanna's house. They were annoying and ruined a few jars of jam, but when it came down to it they weren't really harmful.
My opinion of ants has changed drastically since moving to Japan! The not particularly wonderful photo is of my upper arm and I'm fairly sure that all the 30 plus bites are from one absolutely TINY ant which made its way up my shirt sleeve yesterday when I was pulling out waist high weeds. They build their nests in parts of my garden and usually I can avoid them, but not yesterday. I occasionally get one pesky ant that somehow finds its way under my shirt and onto my stomach and the result is the same. For anyone unfamiliar with ant bites they are itchy! Amazing to think that such a tiny creature can cause so much pain! Of course not as itchy as "urushi" as Kevin has found out.... anyone wanting graphic details click here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Japanese dentists

I thought I had previously written about my experiences at Japanese dentists, but I can't find a post about it anywhere, so I guess I'll just write it again and anyone who is not interested can just come back another day!
I have pretty nice looking front teeth, but lots of fillings in the back - mainly because I hate going to the dentist and therefore wait till the pain gets too much for me and I have to give in and go. The last two times this has happened in Japan I have had root canals done. This time I was having a lot of pain when I tried to chomp on anything hard on my back teeth, so presumed I was going to have to go through it all again. The good news is that the dentist just filed down the painful tooth and we are seeing if it will make a difference. The bad news is that you can never just go to the dentist once in Japan.... they seem to spread all treatments over days, weeks or months! This time I started by having the plaque removed from my lower teeth. Today I returned to have the top teeth cleaned. On Friday I will be back again to have a small cavity dealt with. I know that that will not be the end of it.....
For anyone who has never been to a dentist here it can be a little different to what you may be used to. Observations from my experiences here (of course other places will be different...) Number one - despite the fact that there is only one dentist there are three people who are escorted to dentist chairs at the same time - with half walls in between you. Number two - despite the fact that the dentist is currently doing a root canal on a different patient your chair is put into the reclined position - with your head slightly lower than your feet - ie the blood running slowly towards your head. Number three - when the dentist eventually gets to you he has just finished with one patient and has no gloves on. Number four - after he does some initial discovery work he will then pop off to spend some time on another patient before returning to you - still with no gloves on. Number five - as I mentioned above, he will only do a tiny amount of work at a time and then expect you to come back again and again and again to complete it. Number six - when you have finished each tiny piece of work you will be expected to pay, but it is always a lovely surprise! Unlike New Zealand Japanese dental work is covered by insurance so even a root canal completed over 6 weeks will only cost you a few thousand yen. Today my bill was 500 yen!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Giving in

I am pretty sure that Japan has one of the largest numbers of weedeaters in the world. Because there are no caretakers at the schools I think there is part of the test for teachers wanting to become vice principals where they have to show that they can operate a weedeater. Every person in the countryside seems to have a weedeater strapped to their back for the majority of the daylight hours. Everyone except me... well until yesterday anyway. Until yesterday I have avoided learning how to use one because I know that once I have mastered it I will be expected to do some of the weed cutting around the rice fields when everyone else is too busy. However the huge weeds in my garden have got the better of me and yesterday I finally gave in and had a lesson. I think the lesson lasted about 3 minutes and then I was on my own. Not exactly difficult to use, but my wrists did continue to vibrate for a few minutes after I turned it off! If it doesn't rain too much this week I'm hoping to at least get some of the garden cleaned up and get my father-in-law to dig it all over with the tractor. Here's hoping the autumn planting fears a bit better than the summer one!
In chicken news it is getting more and more difficult to tell the old and new chickens apart and today one of the new chickens finally laid their first egg. I can see that we will need to make some decisions about how many chickens will stay and how many will go soon.....

Friday, September 10, 2010

Enough is enough

On Fridays I have a couple of kindergarten classes in the morning then have a break from lunchtime till 4pm when I have another class. Today I was determined to use this "break" time to finally get into the garden and start to deal with the incredible mess that it is in. I got my gardening clothes on, my hat, my towel, my gloves, my gumboots and headed into the jungle. 10 minutes later I was back inside stripping as much off as I could and panting in front of the fan. Just to clarify... in case anyone read that the wrong way.... after 10 minutes I was so hot I couldn't stand it anymore and gave up - having weeded a grand total of about 1m of garden. It is the hottest summer in Japan for more than 113 years and unfortunately here in Oita it just doesn't seem to be cooling down. I think our overnight low was 24 degrees last night and daytime temperatures are still around 35 degrees every day. It is just not motivating me to do anything outside. I feel really sorry for the kids as they have their sports day at the end of the month and are outside for a minimum of 2 hours every day (with no shade) practicing. They come home hot, tired and with headaches.
On a different note I had yet another of my "only in Japan" kind of mornings. I turned up at the kindergarten to do my two classes, waltzed into class in my usual stupid way and .... sitting in the back of the room were about 10 parents. It was "open day", but as usual no one told me so I quickly changed my goofy face for a slightly more sensible one and did a very standard lesson. I guess at least that way they know they are seeing what I always do, rather than a well practiced lesson or something fancy which I would never usually do (unlike most teachers I know here....). I don't mind teaching in front of them - but it would be nice if they didn't talk the whole way through the lesson..... or video it all....
Here's hoping for some cool weather and some spare time to enjoy it!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Japanese sandwiches

I don't usually buy Japanese sandwiches, but this morning I went to the dentist (a whole post about that coming soon...) and wanted something a little softer than my deliciously chewy, hard crusted artisan bread for lunch. So, I caved in and bought some sandwiches and was yet again left feeling a little cheated! For anyone who has tried to buy a "real" sandwich in Japan I'm sure you will understand my frustrations. Number one - brown bread is only available in one shop out of a thousand (and then I'm sure it is just coloured with food colouring). Number two - you can not find sandwiches with the crusts on them - therefore you come away feeling hungry no matter how many you eat. Finally .... the fillings look really delicious from the outside, but when you open them up you discover that the filling is only crammed into the front of the sandwich (ie the bit you can actually see from the packet) and the back half is nothing but plain white bread.
Interestingly enough the Japanese people I have mentioned this to seem to have no problem with it. In fact my husband once told me that the reason they do it is not to rip us off, but to make it easier for us to eat them - how kind of Japanese sandwich makers!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Artisan Bread

I recently bought a book about making "artisan bread" in 5 minutes and finally got around to trying it today. The theory is that you make a big batch of sticky dough (no kneading, just mix it up), throw it in the fridge and then when you want to make some bread you just cut off a hunk, shape it, let it rise for about 40 minutes then throw it into the oven. My efforts today were definitely not perfect, but I can see that with a bit more experimenting it could be a very easy way to get fresh, delicious bread onto the table with very little effort. My major problems at the moment are mastering the slashing of the tops of the bread and flicking them off the pizza peel and onto the pizza stone in the oven - both very difficult tasks when the dough is so soft!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

New Zealand Earthquake

I have had quite a few phonecalls and e-mails today asking whether my family in New Zealand is okay after the big earthquake which hit Christchurch this morning. Just a quick note to say that it seems like everyone is okay - but with quite a lot of structural damage. By chance it was the wedding of my step-mother's neice today so a lot of family members had gathered in Christchurch and although the church was unable to be used it sounds like they managed to still have a great wedding at the reception facility.
It took me quite a while to get through to my family on the phone this morning and was again reminded of how important family is and how quickly things could go wrong. Here's hoping the big aftershock they are predicting doesn't eventuate.....

Friday, September 03, 2010


I know I have written about this before, but yet again today I was amazed at Japan's amazing attempts to reduce the amount of rubbish it produces annually. I have to admit they are doing a great job in terms of reducing shopping bags. Most people now take their own bags to the supermarket or are charged a token 5 yen for any that they need. Unfortunately this environmental consciousness hasn't reached as far as the gift giving custom. Today my husband arrived home with two presents for me - he had asked someone to give an envelope of money on his behalf at two different funerals and was therefore given a "funeral bag" in return. One of today's "presents" was a very small facecloth and three single packets of washing powder. Without even commenting on the amount of rubbish that is produced by the single packets of washing powder.... the wrapping that came with it was pretty incredible. I know I should be used to it by now, but.... considering how many funerals there are in Japan and how many people go to them they could probably save a zillion tonnes of rubbish a year simply by removing even one layer of this rubbish. Of course you get another gift if you go to the wake too.....

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Hong Kong Highlights

I'm not even going to try and put these photos in order... it was hard enough choosing only a few to put on the blog! I would have to say that we had an absolutely wonderful time in Hong Kong. As a city it has a lot to offer, but the fact that we were staying with friends who actually live there made it so much better. We usually spent about half the day going somewhere and the other half at their apartment where the kids played cards, went swimming, made forts etc. and where I had a great time talking and talking with Birgit and Paul. It was hard to believe that we hadn't seen each other since they left Japan 5 years ago!
We went to many markets - flower, bird, goldfish, souvenir and local food markets (see previous post!), used many kinds of transport - airplane, taxi, subway, double-decker bus, minibus, ferry, ate many kinds of food - Aussie beef, Chinese takeaways, Korean bibinba, German traditional food, dragonfruit etc. etc. The children swam at the beach and the pool. They discovered a new sport - waveboarding and bought boards which they are now using here every day. We had a lovely day at Hong Kong park seeing birds and then the local maids on their day off entertaining themselves all over the city.
There were many other things we did, but if I don't post a brief summary now I know I will never get around to making a more detailed one.... A wonderful holiday with wonderful friends!
Unfortunately it is back to normal life now with Tom snoring on the sofa and work every day.