Friday, July 25, 2014

Off on a big boat

This morning I left home at 5am to take my son to board a rather large boat with 600 other children.  The boat is bound for Okinawa and in total he will be away for 5 days and 4 nights.  Having a son who is literally head and shoulders above all the other participants (including the staff) proved to be very useful when trying to find him among all the other white and blue uniforms!  I even had another mother from the same group come up to me and thank me for having such a tall son as it meant she could also find their group very quickly.
In true Japanese form the boat was due to leave at 8:30am and despite having to get through lots of speeches and get all 600 kids on board it left at exactly 8:30am.  If anyone is interested in seeing what they are doing there is an excellent blog that is updated regularly.  Unfortunately it is all in Japanese, but the pictures are great.   Shonen no fune   If you look very carefully in the third picture above you may be able to spot Masaki.... I could find him immediately!  Here's hoping he is still standing upright when they arrive back on Tuesday.

And yes, this is the same journey Emily took 3 years ago... only on a slightly different boat!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

What to do when you've done everything

My sister and brother-in-law have just been for a 10 day visit.  They lived in this area for a year about 4 years ago so they have seen most of the general things as well as some of the not so general things.  In an attempt to find a few new experiences we decided to go on a tour of a toilet factory - something that is not usually on the tourist itinerary!
Japan produces fantastic toilets - in fact I think they are one of the most photographed things in Japan, perhaps coming a close second to vending machines.  We were on a private tour and it turned out to be fascinating.  It was the Toto factory in Nakatsu and I would have to say we were treated like royalty.
We turned up at the gate and were immediately shown to the parking lot by a kind man on a bicycle.  We were then greeted by two people who took our photo (and later presented it to us at the end of the tour) and then gave us an interesting PowerPoint presentation about the history of the company and the basic products that they make at the factory.  We then headed in through the factory to see how they make toilet bowls and wash basins.  I think what struck me the most was how much people are involved in the process rather than machines.  Of course they use machines for some things and some of their robots used for drilling holes and painting were pretty impressive.  But so much of the work seemed to be done by people in teams.  
Their quality checks were also very thorough.  As well as checking for cracks, visible imperfections and whether every part was level or not they had a great way of checking for if the toilet would flush properly or not.  They paint some coloured water on the bowl (the pee) and then put a piece of cloth (the toilet paper), and 5 sausage shaped weights (the poo) into the bowl and then put in the average volume of water needed for a flush.  If anything is left in the bowl after this exercise then the bowl is put in the defect line.
Another thing that I was impressed with was the fact there is basically no waste produced at the factory and their focus is very much on looking after the environment.  All products which are rejected before they get to the firing stage are made back into clay and made into new products.  All products which are rejected after they have been fired are broken up and used as gravel at schools etc.
Their focus is very much on preserving water and their current toilets only use 4.8 litres of water for an average flush, compared to 20 litres when they first started producing toilets.
We weren't able to take any photos inside the factory, but if you click here it gives a bit of an idea of the process. 
Today I received a hand written letter from them thanking us for coming and welcoming us back any time.  Fantastic service from a fantastic company!  I recommend their tour to anyone who is looking for something different to do in this area.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

More athletics videos

A couple more videos of the latest athletics competition.  It was a competition to determine who will get to go to the All Japan Championships..... .Yokohama here we come again!  Finals time (100m) 12.61 another personal best.  Sorry - I haven't had a chance to edit them.... 

Friday, July 04, 2014


This post is really for a record for myself about how things are progressing with my baking business, but if anyone is interested..... 
A while ago I wrote about "Starting small" with regards to a new baking business that I eventually hope to get off the ground properly.  I have continued to provide the new local produce shop with cookies and on days like today I think that perhaps it could eventually work out to be a good business.  
Basically at the moment I am trying different things and seeing how people in the countryside respond to them.  I've always known that the biggest problem I will always have is that if I want to sell in my immediate area I am aiming at an elderly market who is not particular good at trying new things.  At the same time I've always been confident that if they actually try some of the things I am making they will come back for more.  In the beginning I found the people in the shop a little frustrating as they would ask me to bring cookies to sell, but then I would find that they had displayed them in an area that no one sees at all.  Slowly I have been talking with them and we now have a good thing going.  They (usually) display my things in a good area and they also call me when the cookies are getting low and give me information about what people are saying about them.  Because I sell on commission I don't want to make too many and have to bring them all home again (although my children don't complain when this happens!).
Basically I aim to make cookies once a week on a Thursday and take them on Friday mornings ready for the weekend "rush".  Which brings me to today... I took some cookies this morning which would usually last most of the week and then this afternoon I got a phone call to say that they had sold half of them already so could I please make some more to sell in the weekend.  I'm not talking about hundreds of packets and millions of yen - this morning I took 24 packs, but it is promising to have them sell so fast.
What is also promising is that the majority of the cookies that were sold today were to people who had been given them by other people and liked them so much that they came back for more.  There have also been people who have walked past my house to climb the mountain and called out to me that they have my cookies in their bag to sustain them on their trip.  Others have gone into the local shop and asked when a specific kind would be back in stock.  
Another problem that I have with cookies here is the humidity... keeping cookies crisp is a huge challenge!  But interestingly enough the staff at the shop today said that one of the reasons the older people are coming back for more is that their initial image of cookies was that they were very hard, but when they tried mine they liked them because they were a little soft... I guess sometimes things that appear to be problems are actually not!

My most popular cookies at the moment are Oatmeal & Raisin, and Cinnamon Roll.  The other main ones I make are Chocolate Nut and Chocolate Chip with the odd gingerbread man thrown in when I can be bothered! 

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Flowers of the day

We are due for heavy rain tonight, so chances are my 2 current favourite flowers may end up being a little worse for wear by tomorrow morning.  The first are bon bon cosmos which I grew from seed and that I'm hoping will self seed each year from now.  The second are sunflowers which self seed every year and seem to grow taller every year!  It's a bit hard to tell from the photo, but they are well over 2 metres tall and provide a nice "wall" so that I can't be seen slaving away in the garden behind them!  Here's hoping they will all still be standing when I wake up in the morning....