Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Words of wisdom

I have some wonderful words of advice for you all today.
1. If you are going to have children in Japan and you intend to make them birthday cakes DO NOT have them in the summer..... it makes icing cakes a huge challenge! This rule also goes for husbands... if you have the choice between a husband who has a birthday in the winter vs the summer then go with the winter one.....
2. If your husband's birthday happens to fall on a day when you are busy from morning till night then celebrate his birthday on a different day.... trying to ice a cake in the heat, when you have a zillion other things to do and places to be is not easy!
3. If you happen to ignore the two pieces of advice above then at least be home in time to enjoy the cake with your family.... not come home and relive it through photos.
Happy Birthday Tom.... it looks like you enjoyed your cake and didn't notice the incredibly random, dripping icing!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

School "Rec"

I don't know if other schools do this, but every year each class at our school has a "recreation" day where the children, parents and teacher get together and do something. Although it is completely up to the parents as to what to do the standard seems to be play dodgeball, eat, then go home. Today it was my son's class's turn and despite there only being 12 children in his class the participants swelled to over 40 by the time the parents and siblings all joined in. Plastic bottle bowling was followed by dodgeball then food and finally a "pull the string and find out what kind of snack you have won" kind of game. There was then an impromptu game of basketball with the fathers while the mothers sat around drinking coffee and slagging off about the teacher (who had slunk off to the teachers room).
Despite the fact that we had to be there by 9:30am on a Sunday and we didn't come home till after 2pm it was actually quite a nice day. It is interesting watching all the different families and how they interact and nice to see the kids literally run around for an entire day. It was also good to hear that all the other parents are a little worried about the direction this class is going in and that they would like to do something to put them back in line a bit. I'm guessing it will be an early night for all tonight!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Spare a thought

Yesterday I taught 3 hours at school and after 15 minutes I was already conscious of the sweat starting to drip down my stomach and back. No fans, no air-conditioning, extreme heat. The windows were open though so we survived. Today I taught in a town about an hour away and again sweated like crazy, but the wind coming in the windows made life bearable, almost pleasant. We don't have air-conditioning in our house (well we do, but it hasn't been turned on for years), but as I sit here writing this I am really appreciative of the fan...... the temperatures have soared to 33 or more each day lately. All the shops/workplaces are very conscious this year of trying to save power and therefore even if they have the air-conditioning on it is usually set to 28 degrees. Cooler than outside, but not exactly cool!
I was thinking how much I hate summer here and then.... yesterday on the news I was watching some students in Fukushima - near where the nuclear power plants are in trouble. They were saying that it was very hot in their classrooms. They are not allowed to open the windows. They have no fans, let alone air-conditioning. I just can't imagine how they are going to cope in the next month before the school holidays start. I am starting to think I am not so badly off....

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Yesterday I hung the washing out and went to work at 8am. I came home at 9am and brought the washing in from the rain. The sun came out so I put the washing out again then went to a work at a different place at 10am. I came home at lunch time and brought the washing in from the pouring rain again..... only to hang it out again 20 minutes later and leave it there till it was finally dry at 5pm. Today is hot with no sign of rain, but the forecast is for rain again over the weekend. It means the garden is not really drying out and therefore even in the hot weather gumboots are needed so you don't sink into the mud up to your knees (well you still sink, but at least you don't get so muddy!). Yesterday I was reading a post on "Frugal Kiwi's" blog and she had posted a very appropriate song for this time of year - which I am stealing to put on here too. I hope you enjoy the kiwi gummies as much as I did!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Japanese fads

Most people know that Japan is the leader in crazy inventions. I usually manage to avoid buying them, but this time the kids forced me into it. Well actually while Dad was here we found a pair of "cleaning slippers" that he bought to take home to my sister and of course the kids saw them and HAD to have a pair too. I was weak and gave in.... hoping that they would actually use them and clean my floors for me! Of course they thought sliding around the floor was a great idea for the first day and my floors polished up quite nicely. And then they got hidden in the bedroom.... the slippers that is, not the kids! Anyway, I have pulled them out and they are actually quite handy. I put them on when I am vacuuming and therefore polish the floor as I go. I use them as a form of exercise to polish the floor when I don't vacuum and people are coming to visit. The other day I decided they were getting a bit dirty so I washed them... and then thought - the floors also need washing so skated all over the floors and washed them with my wet slippers - exercise and cleanliness in one go - with the benefit of not having to get on your hands and knees to do it! Sometimes Japanese inventions might actually be useful....

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Last Frontier

Today I went where no one has been for at least 12 years. After another day in the very wet rain, shivering in the very cold wind and wallowing the very deep mud I made the executive decision to ..... open the door which goes directly from outside into our Japanese style-put water wherever you like, tiled bathroom. I went in with my dirty feet. I went in with all my wet clothes still on. I didn't ask if it would be okay if I opened the very convenient when you are really wet and muddy door. I simply went in it - twice! Chances are I will be struck down by lightning tomorrow, but I intend to use the door quite often from now on. Until now I have had to tiptoe through the lounge or kitchen with my dirty feet after a day in the garden (I prefer to wear croc-style shoes which tend to leave me with very dirty feet...), but from today I have taken the plunge and opened our last "we can't open because it will bring us bad luck" door. I feel liberated. It almost makes me forget that I spent the day in the cold, wet, muddy rice field breaking my back!
Katy - unfortunately your comment in the last post was a little too late to save me from the fields today, but it did put Tom in a bit of a flap.... he couldn't believe you were pregnant again!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

It used to be exciting...

In the beginning I really liked watching the whole rice planting process. I used to try to explain it and document it for those who like me were interested in the whole process. Three years ago I finally got my feet muddy and actually had to help IN the rice fields. For the next two years I found it quite refreshing to wander around in the mud popping in extra rice plants here and there (okay, so maybe I am exaggerating a bit...), but not quite enthusiastic enough to blog about it. This year it is rice planting again... and it is just assumed that I will be IN the fields helping..... and I am pretty much over it - and I've only done one afternoon! It absolutely poured down all day and at 4:30pm when I was the only one left out in the fields finishing off the last field for the day, standing on broken snails shells and basically wringing out my t-shirt (which was under my jacket) and shivering I decided the excitement of rice planting has officially passed.... unfortunately there is one more day of it tomorrow... and the forecast is for rain... Perhaps I could forget to set my alarm, or sneak into the cottage and lock the door...... or a friend could have an emergency and I could rush off to save them....

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bring back the bees

Last year I can remember getting very excited when I saw my feijoa trees flowering like this. The year before they had flowered a bit and we had got our first fruit - about 5 in total. Unfortunately despite all the flowers we still only got about 5 feijoas in total last time too. I know there is a shortage of bees at the moment and I am fairly sure that is the reason for the failure to fruit. I have followed all the other "rules" - planting two different varieties close by etc. so pollination failure is all I can think of. As I was admiring the flowers again this year I kept thinking "if I had all day every day to potter in the garden I'd get out with a brush and ensure pollination occurs" .....and then my alarm went off to tell me it was time to jump in the shower and get to work. Maybe next year!
The other thing that had its first fruit on it this year was the apricot tree. Again lots of blossom in spring, but a total of only 5 apricots.... most of which are split due to the heavy rain lately. I was so excited to have my own apricots though that I munched through one today - wincing at its sourness, but enjoying the novelty of our very first apricot from our garden...
There is a huge increase in the number of butterflies in the garden this year so I'm hoping they are doing more pollinating than egg laying....

Monday, June 13, 2011

Froggy Fetish

I think I have a problem when it comes to frogs. Despite their noise being overpowering at night (and during the day if you want a nap), I find them incredibly cute! Today my son and I were picking some cucumbers when I spotted this little fellow taking a break on the cucumber vines. I told my son to keep watch while I raced to get the camera - getting back just in time to snap a couple of shots before it decided to hop off to quieter pastures. As we were coming back in I commented to my son that I was sad because I hadn't managed to get any really cute shots of the frog. His reply "Don't worry Mum, I'm much cuter than a frog." So he put on his cutest face and asked if he could pose for a photo. You can choose which is cuter - my son, or the frog!

In other news I went back to the hospital again today to swallow the silly stomach camera - or rather have it pushed around inside me.... I won't go into details, but am glad I don't have to do it every day! I'm also grateful that I took their option of being put into a semi-unconscious state while they did it! Unfortunately they still couldn't locate the problem so hopefully it just disappears on its own and I won't need to gag again for a long time.... Oh - and it has stopped raining.. for now anyway!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

New love of concrete

There are days when I drive around in Japan and think how sad it is that they have managed to make almost every natural river into a concrete spillway. The concrete sides seem stupidly high and ruin the beautiful scenery which is everywhere here. Of course that is when I am driving around on sunny days.... unlike today! Today I am very grateful for the huge amounts of concrete that have been poured into the rivers near our house. We have had continual rain for the past couple of days (lucky I harvested the wheat, aye!) and the rivers have swollen to pretty near full and the rain is still not stopping. Of course all the farmers around the place are smiling as rain means the rice planting can go ahead as planned. They hardly need to even use the spillways to add any water to their fields - a good thing when everyone is trying to flood their fields at the same time - saves on fighting over who will get the water first etc. I'm guessing that we have had enough rain now though - if someone could just turn the tap off for a bit I would be happy.....

Friday, June 10, 2011

Wheat year two

You may remember that last year we harvested our first ever wheat . The volume wasn't huge so in the end we didn't bother milling any of it into flour, but the majority of it was planted out again for this year's harvest. I planted a much bigger patch than last year and it has been growing very nicely - well as nicely as wheat can grow. The best thing is that it takes up quite a lot of space and therefore keeps the weeds down in a large part of the garden.
This morning I got a phone call at 7am from my mother in law asking if I had to work today. Yip - kindy class this morning and another class later in the afternoon. "Oh - that is very unfortunate" was the response, followed by silence. I should have guessed, but apparently the wheat that I planted all alone, jumped on with the help of my son, looked after all by myself and that is planted in MY garden HAD to be harvested this morning or it would all go rotten. The forecast is for rain for the next 3 days so it absolutely HAD to be done this morning.... Unfortunately I wasn't willing to cancel anymore classes this morning so apologised that I couldn't harvest MY wheat exactly when she wanted it done. In the end we agreed that she would cut the wheat and I would come home at lunch time and tie it into bundles and stand it up in the tunnel house to dry out. Of course when I got home at 11:30am the wheat was already all harvested, bundled and standing up to dry in the tunnel house.... I know I should feel "guilty", but I don't - I smiled, nodded, said thank you and went inside for a nap! I'm hoping we can use a friend's machine to take it all out of the husks and hopefully we should have enough to actually make some flour this year. The next problem is finding something to plant in the big gap that is now in the garden before the weeds take over.....

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The art of putting people at ease

I don't usually use this blog as a space for "complaining", but have just had an interesting experience at the hospital which I thought I would share. The only time I have really been to the doctor here in Japan is when the children were born and then of course what seemed like every second week for various things for the children when they were small. We have a good hospital in our town, but the doctors seem to change each year so it is a bit of potluck as to who you will get. In terms of children's doctors we have had doctors who have been excellent with the kids, but hopeless with the parents and vice versa. The current doctor is excellent with both and it helps that I teach two of his children. He has a way of putting everyone at ease and not making you feel like you are being a hypochondriac for being there. But, unfortunately today I actually went to the hospital for me and therefore had to see the adult doctor who didn't quite have the same personal skills.
For the last few days I have had a really strange throat - it feels like something is stuck in there and basically it is making me feel yuck. So this morning when I woke up and I still felt stink I bit the bullet and went to the hospital - cancelling two classes to do so. From the very start I lost confidence in the doctor - he spent about 5 minutes asking a couple of questions, umming and aahing, asking a zillion times if I had eaten anything that morning and telling me how unfortunate it was that I had as he wanted me to swallow the stomach camera and I needed an empty stomach to do so. Of course he also answered his mobile phone twice during the "examination" too. He seemed to have no idea what was going on so got the standard x-ray and also a C-T scan ordered. That done I was back for the "results".... x-ray - yes, you have something which is causing a large shadow in your throat in basically the exact position you claimed it was. Unfortunately they can't make me swallow a camera tomorrow so would it be okay if I waited till Monday? Ummmmm.... do I get a choice? I guess it is going to be a long weekend!
Then came the results of the CT scan.... he pulled all the pictures out of the file, spread them out, put them all back into the file, said he needs to get an expert to look at them, talked a bit about the camera thing I have to swallow on Monday, pulled the CT scans out again, started to say something, stopped and then said that he would wait and get the expert to look at them over the next few days and then let me know what is worrying him. To be honest, I don't actually think there was necessarily anything in the scans that was worrying him, but his manner definitely got me worried! I think they should have special "human relations" courses as part of medical school - I'm sure they do, but I think this doctor skipped them!
Mind you having said all that - I am always impressed by the Japanese medical system. I was there at about 8:30am with no appointment and had all the x-rays, scans etc. and results in less than a couple of hours. I don't know about other countries, but from what I have heard it would take a couple of days to get it all done in New Zealand - and that is if you can get an appointment in the first place!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Big Cycad

I can't count the number of times I have driven past the sign in Hiji which points towards "The Big Cycad" and almost laughed. To be honest I really didn't even know what a Cycad was - it sounded like something from outerspace to me and the urge to go and see a big one had never really got to a point where I was tempted to turn off and get out of the car. But we had a day to spare while Dad was here and my sister, Megan, had told us that it was definitely worth a look so we headed off to check out the biggest cycad in Japan. It turns out a cycad is a kind of tree and that this particular one is 650 years old. The tree itself is pretty impressive, but the gardens around the temple and the man working there who was happy to chat for ages made the trip well worth it.
The temple is a family clan temple which began in 1603 and has a good representation of the influence of other countries on the history of Japan. I can't remember all the details, but there were magnifying glasses, different kinds of pottery etc. from different countries as well as the Japanese adaptions of them. Out the back there was also a bit of a surprise - a graveyard with absolutely enormous "graves". They are the graves of the Kinoshita clan and look a little like things from a mythical land.
Another nice morning out and another nice discovery. Of course it helped that yet again there were no other people around to spoil the peace and quiet.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Ironing in Japan

A quick break from catching up on Dad's trip to introduce the art of Japanese ironing. I know that by posting these photos it will be revealed to all that I am not the perfect Japanese housewife in that I don't iron my husband's shirts... he doesn't even bother asking me anymore! This is a typical Japanese ironing board. It sits about 15cm off the ground and therefore involves a bit of flexibility to actually use it. My husband is 190cm tall (6ft3) and therefore ends up with his knees around his ears. His favorite style is actually the "squatting" style, but every time I tried to get a photo he would quickly sit on his bum. I know you can buy tall ironing boards, but it would be far less fun to watch him standing up to iron than his regular gymnastic poses! As for me... I am pretty hopeless at sitting on the floor to iron so choose clothes which need only to be folded.....

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Princess Island- Himeshima

There is a small island called Himeshima or Princess Island about 3km off the coast here which we visited while Dad was here. It wasn't officially my first visit there, but the first time in over 10 years and the first time finding my own way around. Not that it is particularly difficult! The total circumference of the entire island is only 17km and there is basically only one road! We took the car over on the ferry and spent the day looking at some of the "seven wonders". First stop was the lighthouse where we had a picnic lunch under the trees and under the loudspeaker which announced very loudly that it was 12pm with its daily song. We then drove around the entire island stopping off at "A sacred spring that the princess is said to have created. It has been said that after having blackened her teeth, she rinsed her mouth and where there was no water, she clapped her hands before praying and a spring was formed." The kids tried and were convinced they must be princesses as the water bubbled up. There was also a spot where butterflies come to socialise and finally the most stunning spot of all - Sennindo. You climb up a steep mountain (this is Japan, the land of stairs) and all of a sudden you find yourself at the top of a cliff looking out over the ocean and the rugged coast. Then right at the point there is a small building with a beautiful pine growing behind it where it is said that if you pray on New Years Eve you will gain assistance from 1000 gods in times of trouble. A quick prayer to help us to get down the hill safely to the car then an icecream from basically the only shop on the island, passed the only traffic light on the island (apparently put there to educate the children for when they have to go to the mainland) and back on the ferry for the 20 minute ride home.
There are about 2,500 people living on the island, but I think we only saw about 10 of them. We kept meeting up with the other 15 or so tourists on the island though - I particularly enjoyed a conversation one of them had with Dad where he asked Dad "How young are you?" - a nice way to think about age!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Hell and Heaven

The same day we discovered the amazing garden in the last post we also drove past a sign that said in English "Hell and Heaven". We had half an hour to spare and so followed the signs not having any idea at all what we were about to discover. It turned out that it was a pretty strange place in the middle of nowhere. The sign outside (also in English for a change) let us know that Hell and Heaven was a tunnel network that it was constructed for the purpose of educating the people in 1820. There was a 40 meter long "hell cave" and a 20 meter long "paradise cave". You enter the cave system at the "court of justice in hell" and as you pass through the narrow cave system you pass various statues including "the god who has an ox head", "the Old Woman in Hell" and the "Pond in hell". If you make it safely through the narrow caves (designed for very short people...) you arrive at a very narrow, vertical "eye of the needle" which you literally pull yourself up with chains... sweating and swearing as you do so! Once you make it up the chains you find yourself in paradise - the top of a hill with many peaceful Buddhist saints around Buddha where "you will feel peace of mind".
I'm not sure that we found ourselves in paradise, but we definitely had a few laughs trying to work out what it was all about and squeezing ourselves through the needle. Sometimes it is best not to know what is coming!

Thursday, June 02, 2011


Sometimes you stumble across things that just make you open your mouth in awe. This garden was one of them. While my father was here we had a day where I had no classes, but no real plans so we set off randomly in the direction of a small town called Ajimu where our only real plan was to check out a private garden that I had seen very briefly on T.V. that morning. Thanks to the car navigation we managed to make it there with only a couple of u-turns (it was in the middle of nowhere...) and wandered into someone's private garden, called out and asked if it would be okay to have a look around and were told to go ahead... which we did .... and wow! It was a HUGE garden in which everything was beautifully sculpted. I gradually gained more information about the garden as the day went on and it turns out that it is actually a fairly modern garden - made by a husband and wife team who started making it after the husband retired from his teaching job. I'm not sure exactly how many years ago they started it, but it was fairly amazing. What I loved about it was that, unlike most Japanese sculpted gardens, it was designed to walk through. Every path you took led you to another little path and another little area, there were places to sit and areas of wilderness that were in the process of being changed into new garden areas.
Unfortunately the husband had just started his lunch break when we arrived so I didn't get a chance to talk to him or really thank him properly, but it is definitely a place I want to go back to again - there is no entrance fee so I think next time I'll take them some baking to thank them for creating a great place to wander around. You could see how much they love what they do. Another place I would highly recommend to anyone in the area.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

New Places

We are very lucky in that my New Zealand family often comes to visit. It is always great to have them come and stay and it is a great excuse to explore a few new places each time they come. My father came for two weeks in May and we managed quite a few new places - I'll try to introduce some of them over the next few days. Most of them were places that we drive past often, but have just never bothered to stop at.
The first "new place" was Dazaifu - just out of Fukuoka City. Every time we go to Fukuoka airport to collect people we get off the highway at the Dazaifu exit, but have never bothered to actually go to the central area. It turns out it is a pretty amazing area. Firstly there is the Kyushu National Museum, one of four national museums in Japan. The building itself is pretty impressive, and the displays inside are well worth a look - especially as there is more than adequate English available.
A quick walk through a multi-coloured walkway takes you into a completely different world. A shrine constructed in 1591 where people from all around the area crowd to over the New Year period to pray for a good year and an amazingly peaceful garden at Komyozenji Temple. We were there in the rain, which in a way made it even more beautiful. Of course we were there at a time when there were very few people too which made it a great experience. Talking to the people in the restaurant where we stopped for a coffee we were definitely there at the quiet time... they were preparing for about 300 lunches that day, but on the busy days I think they said they would do up to a thousand!
Well worth the visit and a nice, quiet way to start the trip. For anyone that wants more details about this area, this link: Dazaifu Travel Guide, has some good basic information.
I had quite a few photos, but they seem to have disappeared... Dad - if you have the photos from this day that I took on my camera could you put them on a disc for me at some stage... thanks!