Monday, April 30, 2012

Kimonos in Kitsuki

The city we live in is an old Samurai town and to try and create a traditional atmosphere people are encouraged to wear kimono to stroll around the old streets.  There is a shop where you can hire kimonos for the day, so when the New Zealand group was here we took advantage of the opportunity and donned kimonos (well they did... I had to drive!) to go to my favorite tea shop and experience a brief traditional Japanese tea ceremony.  It was fun watching them choose which kimono to wear and then even more fun watching the tiny Japanese women huffing and puffing trying to tie them into them!

Sunday, April 29, 2012


I've just arrived home after running a 2 day leadership camp for 19 university students.  They in turn will have to lead a camp for 88 university students so I was responsible for getting them to know each other, creating an environment where they felt comfortable working together and getting them to really start to think about what is important as leaders.  I enjoy this kind of work more than teaching English as you can have conversations that go a little further than.. Hello, my name is Jo, what's your name?  How are you?  I'm fine thank you.  Nice to meet you!
The thing that makes this program even more interesting is that it is at an international university and there were 11 different nationalities within the group of 19 students.   It makes for lots of mis-communications, lots of strange gesturing and all in all a lot of fun!  It is often a real eye-opener for Japanese students as they are often not used to doing in-depth debriefings, having "arguments" during meetings and really letting go of their inhibitions to make fools of themselves.  It will be interesting to see if they remember any of my incredible pieces of advice and make a great camp.... or ignore my advice completely and make an even better camp!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Sometimes it just clicks

A little out of date, but... this year Easter Bunny arrived again.  For anyone who wants a history lesson, Easter bunny has been coming to our house for a while.  In 2007 the cottage was his hiding place, then in 2008 my mother decided to make an elaborate treasure hunt  which set the bar for the following years.   2009 provided another basic treasure hunt, followed by another one in 2010 (which I forgot to blog about) and then in  2011 Easter bunny really out did himself with series of quizzes etc.  Unfortunately Easter Bunny was a little tired this year and the result was an egg hunt in the cottage rather than all over the neighbourhood.  The children found small bags of eggs, each with a letter in them.  When they put the letters together they spelled two words which were clues to where they could find their big eggs.  Unfortunately Easter Bunny's computer was already turned off for the night when this brainwave occurred to him and therefore the letters were all handwritten... to which my daughter kept remarking "it looks just like your writing, Mum".  
The best thing about Easter this year was discovering that my daughter can actually concentrate on something for more than a few minutes if she wants to.  She was given a basket making set for Christmas and decided to make it for her Easter basket... without one bit of help from me.  She even managed to make it when all the instructions were in Chinese!  It took her over 4 hours and she didn't take one break.  Here's hoping the concentration skills continue to improve enough to fold an entire basket of washing....... Thanks Nanna D for giving me hope that she won't be a flitabout for the rest of her life!

Friday, April 27, 2012

The other side of Japan

When I show people around this area I like to show them parts of Japan that no "tourists" get to visit.  I also like to try and break their stereotypes that all Japanese people are very hard working, very obedient and very much into following the rules.  One way I do this is to take them to my friend's house.... that he built... with, I presume, no building permits, no plans, but that works in with nature and creates a great place to relax with a lunch box!  I could sit for hours chatting on the balcony (and often do!) - just as long as I don't look down at how it is actually constructed!  Thank you Mutsumi and Tom for showing us another side of Japan... I'll be back soon!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The deep end

When I first came to Japan I was basically thrown in the deep end - I had no Japanese language, no knowledge of anything Japanese other than Japanese cars and had never even tried eating Japanese food - let alone tried to cook it.  I remember how hard, but also how rewarding the whole experience was.
With this in mind when groups from New Zealand come to stay we have devised a way of throwing them completely in the deep end on their arrival in Japan.  
Number one - take them into the most remote mountains you can find.  
Number two - drop them off at the bottom of a very large number of very large steps and tell them you'll meet them at the top with their bags.
Number three - show them to their accommodation - a remote temple where they will be sleeping on futons on the floor listening to the wind whistle through the gaps in the wall and rain pound down.
Number four - feed them traditional monks food - seated on the floor with chopsticks.  It's always fun to see how they handle the noodles on the first day in!
Number five - wake them up at 6am and head even further up the hill to an even more remote part of the temple for a seated meditation session and a fire ritual - where you hope the flames licking the roof of the very old, very wooden temple will not set it on fire..
Number six - finish it all off with a breakfast of watery rice and pickles - not forgetting to keep one pickle to use to clean your bowls at the end!

Actually it is a really great experience.  The temple we stay in is called Monjusenji and the priests there are great - always answering all our strange questions and accommodating our strange ways.  If anyone wants to see the Japanese homepage this is the link: Monjusenji
Hopefully an English version will be available soon....
Every time I stay there I learn a little more about the family there.  This time I really enjoyed talking with the younger priest who was a real estate salesman in Tokyo before returning to work at the temple.  When one of the participants asked him how he spent his days at the temple he replied... First I check my e-mail.  Next I check my facebook.  Then I update my blog.  Next I send e-mails to people to try and drum up business - he said his training in real estate sales comes in very handy!  Not exactly the image that most people have of priests in remote temples, but probably a very common reality!  His stories of how they survived their 2 month retreats in the mountains when they were training to become priests were also pretty eye-opening.... but as he said very illegal now!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Heron goes fishing

I have always thought herons are beautiful, elegant birds.  I love the way they stand completely still for what seems like hours on end.  It is always special to see one flying silently over our rice fields or standing quietly at some of the ponds in tourist areas.  However, after seeing this particular heron at work in Dazaifu City I now look at them in a different light!  
It was quite amazing to watch it standing perfectly still on a rock just in front of us, eyeing the huge carp swimming around its feet and then.... watch it dive straight in and pick out the smallest one (which was still pretty big), fly off to a rock in the middle of the pond then slowly juggle it around till it was in the right position to swallow whole.  I'm guessing it didn't need to eat for a few days afterwards....

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Need to catch up....

I have so many entries that I need to catch up on that I am going to do a "must blog every day for two weeks" thing again to try and catch up..  I have been really busy lately and things don't look like they are going to slow down for a few more weeks (or months!) so I need to get myself motivated to go through the camera and blog about what has been happening before everything is deleted by mistake.... or the computer decides to die again - like it did 2 days ago!
The main reason I have been so busy lately is because I spent 10 days showing a group of New Zealanders the "real Japan" - in our area and then a bit of touristy stuff in Hiroshima and Kyoto.  I'll start updating that tomorrow, but for tonight here is a quick look at my favorite part of my garden in this season - the front garden (and probably the only part of the garden which is almost weed free right now....).  It is a bit hard to capture it on camera, but the grasses and ferns etc. are finally starting to grow well and will hopefully fill up lots of the spaces in the next few years.  I'm hoping it will become a garden that only needs maintaining every year rather than replanting.  
This garden was "reformed" in 2008... you can see the difference from this post: Garden reform part 1

Friday, April 06, 2012

Great English ... again!

As anyone who lives in Japan knows, Japanese people love to use English on their packaging and most of it doesn't make a lot of sense! Cakes and confectionery often have some very interesting examples. We were given some delicious cakes last week (thanks Minori!) and the box gave me a little laugh too. Thanks Francis Zabier for inspiring such delicious food!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Surprise win

Japan has wonderful courier companies that make getting things delivered in the countryside a breeze. I often come home to an "undeliverable" notice telling me that they tried to deliver something, but no one was home so when would I like them to come again. I generally know what is in the packages that arrive as they are generally ones that I have ordered, but the other day one arrived that had me really puzzled. It was addressed to me, but from a sender I didn't recognise at all. When I opened it I discovered 7 packets of food things.... and was still a little confused. I eventually found the postcard that was in with it and realised that I had won a competition that I entered on the spur of the moment in February.
I can never be bothered collecting all the stickers and things that are needed for these competitions and even if I do enter I never win... so never usually bother, but.... back in February when we had the school bazaar we had to make lots and lots and lots of flavoured rice, which happened to use packets that happened to have a competition running at the time. So I threw a few stickers on some postcards and sent them off... and they sent them back - with lots of food to add to the fun! Perhaps I should enter them more often......