Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Boxing Day

The traditional most boring day of the year - or as I have discovered, for Mums, the most relaxing! Both Kanji and I are now sick, me very mildly, him with a bit of a fever, so we spent most of the day lounging on the folded-out sofa-bed in various configurations, with the kids playing hard with all their new toys and watching DVDs. We also watched last year's Christmas, which was a bit more energetic than we managed this year!

I also spent the day opening my books - remember Miss Happiness and Miss Flower? I found it at Alibris and ordered it. Nostaliga swept over me as I opened it - it's an first edition, so it has the look and feel of an old book, with all the original illustrations. I recalled all of them as I turned the pages. So, this was my first image of Japan.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

Merry Christmas everyone!

Christmas Day began of course with Santa, thankfully at a reasonable hour due to two consecutive late nights! The downside was that Daddy was long gone to work by the time Amy and Lena realized Santa had been. As Mummy was unable to find the Santa sacks the night before (the are still AWOL) the girls had to use rather messed old felt stockings, but they didn't care. Each one contained a packet of three Disney Princess eggs with a figurine inside, and three animal finger puppets. They each had three more presents that just would not fit in the tiny stocking!

Amy got a Doctor set, a Pokemon painting and stencil set, and an Alice in Wonderland pop-up book. I say 'pop-up book' but this book is amazing! I will post some photos sometimes to show you! Lena got a baby doll who she has called Molly, who cried and laughs and calls out 'Mama', a Polly Pocket doll and a Jungle Book pop-up book.

Then we came downstairs just in time for Daddy to come home for a few minutes, so we took the opportunity to open Mum and Dad's present to Amy and Lena - a doll's house. We had cocoa pops then ham and eggs for breakfast, then I took some time to open my present from me - an order from ezibuy's sale! The shoes are to-die-for! I also bought a bra, a skirt, two tops, a sweater, and two cover-up tops for the beach in summer, which is months away! but that's what you get for shopping on the other side of the world!

The morning was spent cooking of course. Kanji wasn't sure if he was able to get home, but two of my co-workers (who are also Lena's kindy teachers) we able to come for lunch. I roasted a lamb loin, and cooked a mountain of roast potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato, peas, cabbage, and cauliflower and broccoli with cheese sauce. Miss A brought chicken, a Japanese Christmas tradition, and Miss T brought a Japanese Christmas cake (white sponge with strawberries and cream), which was good because I had no time to make dessert! I had a pavlova that looked like a burnt marshmallow and had to forgot to get the cake for a trifle. I briefly considered going shopping, but lack of time and a reluctance to expose myself to the depressing lack of Christmassy-ness on Christmas Day convinced me to stay home.

Kanji made it home in time, in fact, we ate and had our champagne toast before the others arrived, and Kanji headed off to bed, as he has a rather bad cold and had held up bravely all morning, both working and trying hard to be Christmassy for me, and he had had it! Miss T was driving, Miss A had to go back to work, and I was starting to feel a little under the weather so it was a rather quiet Christmas dinner. Miss A went back to the office, complaining that the bosses solution to the light work-load today was not to give the foreign staff the day off, but to make them clean. Unfortunately any strike action was thwarted by the Japanese staff, who were putting in 110% as usual. I felt glad indeed that I only work part-time and I am not required to be at the office when I don't have a class.

After lunch and just before the teachers arrived, we opened more presents! I got a new mixer from Kanji, plus a teddy bear. Okay, so they threw that in on points on his point card, but still. From Mum a beaded angel and two beaded balls for my Christmas Tree. Rebecca also got me a Christmas decoration - a little articulated Santa. Nice timing, since I decided this year to start getting nice decorations, and slowly get rid of the junk. I also sent everyone a decoration this year! Chocolates from Maria, Chris and Mum - I am going to get so fat! But I will enjoy every minute of it. The Continentals can wait til last, but we opened the Favorites straight away, so Amy could get the Crunchies, which she loves (hint hint). Kanji was thrilled with his puzzle, which he said he loves - he also solved it in less than a minute. I am still working on it.

Amy got a Doodle Teddy from the cousins, which she has already decorated and thrown in the wash! And Lena got a set of miniature ponies which she loved - they are now in the Dolls' House living room. Aunty Becky also sent them a present - silly putty for Amy, which they fought over, and some groovy magnet-foot dolls which have joined the crowd on the fridge. Miss T brought them some hair accessories. The kids got chocolate and sweets from Keio, and I got a bag. I think that's it!

Lunch leaked into dinner, and the kids had curry, while I nibbled on chocolate. We watched Polar Express, then old Christmas home videos from 2000 when Amy was a baby, then 2002 when Lena was a baby. Amy whinged about having her own room, just so she would have somewhere to put her dolls' house. She is still in tow minds about actually sleeping there though. Well, I will get her that desk over the New Year holiday and get started.

Miss T left, and the kids went to bed around 9pm. I ran out of steam, but forced myself back out of bed to open some of the books I bought and had delivered. In the end I only opened one, and was out to it again by about midnight.

I missed my trifle and pav, but I am so overloaded with chocolate I don't think that will matter! I still have a mountain of potatoes and a huge chunk of lamb - I will have to think of some creative recipes for them.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Lena's Ballet Concert

Ballet...Above left if a close-up of Lena's beautiful tutu. She was very lucky to wear a very traditionally shaped, pink tutu - every tiny ballerina's dream! Next are her ribbon shoes, and finally, a cute ballet bum. I love how they put tulle frills on the bottom! You can also see the pretty pink ribbon she wore in her hair.

Left, Lena with her best friend Maia. This is at the rehearsal the day before, so they don't have their stage make-up on. And they look much better without it! On the right, Lena in the middle of a group of junior girls doing a different dance, wearing beautiful burgundy velvet costumes to represent medieval Spain for the ballet 'Raymonda'

Lena on the stairs coming down from the tatami rooms where we got changed. The whole backstage area was taken over by guests and older dancers, and our little beginners, at the bottom of the heap, got the furthest room from the stage! In the middle, Lena in her stage make-up, and posing nicely in the tatami/changing room before we began.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Amy's Big Amazing Clever Day

Amy had a full plate today!

It started in the morning with a special event at her kindergarten for grandparents. What a shame NZ Grandma and Jiichan couldn’t make it, but Amy was thrilled that Baachan could come. I have no idea what they got up to!

After kindy it was her first piano lesson. She had very enthusiastically learned the ABC song by heart, but had to start learing to play with more than one finger. She learned where ‘do’ is (c), and has to practice a very simple tune using just two fingers on her right and left hand, and practice drawing some notes. Natually she took to that task very enthusiastically!

Which brings us to No.2, her second art exhibition. I have no photos, I took only videos this year. She has in two pictures, a slightly mysterious (abstract?) picture of a flask tied up with a scarf, and a portrait of a girl in her class. Next to that picture is a portrait of Amy by the girl whose portrait she drew.

Finally we went to the pool to pick up her latest swimming certificate. She gets quite a few of these, they fill in the space with whatever the kid achieved this month! But this time, she has finally reached Grade 14 (goes up to 1) and received a patch to be sewn onto her cap.

Amy certainly felt like she could do anything today!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Speechless, Taken Aback, Jumping for Joy

Amy was a walking cliche this afternoon when she came home from kindy to find her new piano on the table. A real piano is too expensive, too big and too heavy for our little house, so we bought her an electronic one. The modern ones have very sensitive keys that play softly when you hit them softly, and louder when you hit them harder, just like a real pianoforte.

Amy has been wanting to learn piano for a while now. I think she got the idea from playing with a tiny electronic piano/book, and enjoying working out the song. Since her new teacher (my old friend Maiko) came on Wednesday, she has been practicing the ABC song with the little book, so as soon as she saw the piano, and went through the three reactions in the title, she sat down to learn it on the real piano.

I made a little note key for her - the book is easy because the keys have the notes written on them, and they are colour-coded as well. I wrote the note names on a piece of paper and laid it across the keys for her, and by the time Daddy came home, she had learned the first three lines.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Nothin much today

I finally sit down to write and...I did nothing today. Well okay, all the housework, a little cooking (mackerel in miso) and packaging and emails. Amy and Lena are in bed, kanji is at work, and I am about to organize some recipes, read some magazines, and go to bed. I might upload a few photos while I am doing stuff, and consult my diary to see what you have been missing!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A great dinner

Do you sometimes get it into your head to just cook some nice stuff? I did that today. I cooked, finally, the Golden Soup whose recipe I got off Mum months ago. It was delicious, Amy loves it too, and I made the full recipe, so I have TONS and froze some. That’ll make me three nice lunches in the weeks to come.

I also cooked couscous, something that comes up in recipes every now and then, but which I had not tried yet, as it is not available in the supermarkets in this town. I got the couscous in Oita, a sundried tomato flavor. I cooked it with onion and green pepper, and topped it with grilled salmon.

The meal was rounded off with a salad made of lettuce, tomato, ham, cheese, chicken and boiled egg, with a mustard vinaigrette. YUM.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Rakuichi Rakuza


If anyone has hung in long enough to still be around for it, here it is! Finally I am making an attempt to catch up. Don't stop here - check back on posts for the last few weeks, as I will be retrospectively catching up bit by bit.

Okay, catch-up:

KANJI is finally, after many a long year, almost regularly coming home at 5pm. Wow, what a different life. Ironically I am seeing less of him, as he seems to be catching up on five years of lost sleep by going to bed at 8pm every night! Every day he buys fish off the guy who comes around on his scooter selling fish, and he comes home and we cook together. We are starting to get into a kind of routine, although things have been messed up lately by his coming home early, which tends to make the kids go crazy, and the new bunk beds. I have two evening lessons a week, so, so far it looks like I will be doing baths after dinner while he lingers over dinner, then I go up to read a book (We are reading Anne of Green Gables at the moment) and then leave them to it. So I end up with less reading time, because I had got into the nice habit of having an uninterrupted half hour or so reading by book-light while the kids settled. Now Kanji has a pile of books upstairs by the bed... The kids bounce in and out of their bunks, which is nice, because I miss them. Sometimes I put them back in the bunks, sometimes I don't. I am pretty sure that once they are happy in their bunks and have no interest in snuggling up with Mummy and Daddy, I will be very nostalgic for the good old wall-to-wall family bed days!

ME - Around nine regular lessons a week - I could do more, but right now I am concentrating on getting the house organized. I have had a headache for two months. First I thought it was a cold, then 'natsu-bake' or summer-exhaustion, which you don't get in NZ cos it never gets hot enough! Then a brain tumour, of course, but now I am convinced they are tension headaches, and what I need is a new pillow, a massage, a computer chair, less time on the sofa, more exercise (ironically I stopped swimming because of the headaches) and a better posture. We'll see how this works out this week. I have back pain too, so I might go to the osteopath or try acupuncture, anything ahead of going to the hospital and paying buckets of cash for loads of tests!

AMY - All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth! Yep, they are both gone, plus one on the bottom. She seems to have no problem eating though! She just had her school sports day, which is a BIG DEAL here in Japan, held on a Sunday, with everyone brining a picnic, school grounds crowded, everyone jostling for the best video-camera position. Check out pics on Oct 15. She is still swiming, and loves it. Wants to learn piano, but we need to buy one first. We will get an electric one, not an organ, but a new 'piano touch' keyboard. Still loves to draw - her pictures are so good now that sometimes people assume I drew them.

LENA is practicing for her ballet concert. She is excited about it, but doesn't seem to make the connection between practice and the concert. For some reason she is in only one dance, but that means I save $100. Kindy is going okay - she is getting a little tired of it, I think. It's not the most fun kindy in the world - they do concentrate on academics a bit much, but they feel they have to to produce the results the parents expect for the money they are paying. She can hang in until April I am sure.

What are they doing now? They dressed themselves exactly the same this morning, right down to shoes, which Amy especially washed so they would be the same. Now they are playing volcano - using the skipping rope Amy got as a present from her kindergarten for the school sports day. They tie the toys to it, then run up and down the stairs with one holding each end, 'saving' them from the volcano. I am still in my pyjamas, as I vowed to do this before anything else! I will get dressed now, have a cuppa and continue to sort my magazines. 10am we will go to the nearby festival, and come back around 11:30 for a lunch of minestrone soup with crusty bread and cheddar cheese. Then I have to go to work, and Amy will go back to the festival with Aunty Mie to join her art class and draw pictures of the festival. I finish at 6pm, and I am hoping the kids beg to stay at Baachans, so I can go to the onsen and get a massage!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Lena holding the parasol for Papa

Amy dancing at left, and below, as the 'anchor' for the festival float-pulling team. Her job was to run up to the float with the paper-trimmed staff, and whack it on the ground in front of the float - the prompt for the team to start to run.

Above, Amy being pushed in a cart as part of a team relay with 5th years.

Left, taking part in the final group dance to the 'Nakatsu' song, and below, running in a race. She came 2nd, or maybe 3rd.

Friday, October 06, 2006


I got them! Kanji and I went in the van and picked up the nice bunks I found in the second-hand store, quite by fluke. When we started to load it into the car, we realized it had quite a strong moldy smell, but it was a very light surface of dust rather than actual mold. I had planned to get it set up in time for the kids to get home from kindy, but we had no time, I had to leave it in the van. Kanji took Lena to kindy this morning, and I thought she would have no idea what it was, and would easily believe him when he said it was something for the Stand, but he said she saw it an immediately said ‘Is that a bunk?’. So she spent an exciting day at kindy waiting to get home to the new bunk!

I picked up Amy and told her I had a surprise for her – and we went to the Stand and peered into the van and she also twigged right away. We took the pieces out of the van at the Stand to wash them, then we worked out how it fit together. Then I loaded up the kids in the van and off home we went, where I got it upstairs and put together in about half an hour! We were getting pretty excited by then, but our work was not yet done – next stop was the stores to get mattresses, new quilts and bottom sheets, so as to make a nice, crisp new bed top and bottom.
That night the kids were itching to get into bed! It was very exciting for them, although Lena was still a bit anxious. At one stage last week she had decided that she didn’t actually want a bunk after all, when she learned that she had to sleep in it alone. But I had to work tonight, so Papa did the honors, and snuggled up beside her.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Emily's Birthday

Today we went to Yamaga for Emily’s 6th Birthday Party. There were seven little guests, and four mothers. The kids, as they do these days, took off by themselves, upstairs, outside, occasionally inside with us, but all around devising their own elaborate little games. There were no official party games, but they didn’t notice! There was a lovely Barbie cake with chocolate and banana layers, a sushi cake, apricot slice, ginger muffins, potato chips, mini jellies, and cheese – Lena ate about twelve cheese balls and six mini jellies!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Takumi's last day

Takumi did come today, which was nice. Only for an hour, since they were so busy. We just played Lego, ate donuts and nothing much else, then it was time for them to go. Maia is no well, so they only dropped by for a minute, but missed them. Mom Emiko got a bit teary as she left, poor thing, it must be such a stress having to just pack up and go just like that. But they are not going far, and we promised to come visit them soon.

After that, we went for a look at a karate class. Kanji's cousin teaches the class, and his two young children (about 8 and 6) are in the class. We kept asking Amy and Lena if they wanted to give it a try, but they had no idea what we were talking about so we took them tonight to see. Lena thinks she would like to try, she certainly enjoyed trying to kick when we got home! Amy was not so sure, as she felt quite shy when all the class turned and looked at US instead of us looking at them.

Karate is good physically, of course, but also teaches them good manners, and respect and humility. They spend the last half hour of the class cleaning. Japanese are still very keen on the virtues of children up after themselves. I find I quite agree - and at this age, they think it's such fun, how can you not get them cleaning? Now is the time, before junior high school starts and they have no time to breathe, let alone do chores.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Lena's First Swimming Lesson

More Used Shopping

I got Kanji to look up some places in the phone book, and set off to further my quest to find cheap furniture. The first place I went to was a big, quality place, selling lots of character toys, used clothes (with price tags as high as new clothes in a budget store!) and some furniture. I scoped out a superb wee box - hard to explain, it's a a three-drawer set of drawers about 40cm high, with an attached, fold-out desk, made to fit in a Japanese tatami room. I am thinking about it...it would make a nice writing table for me...could keep my nice pens and paper, envelopes and stamps in it...hmm...

I also saw two chests of drawers for 15,800yen each - same price as the new ones in the Nissen catalog, but much better quality, more solid wood. But no beds. I also bought some Kitties, gulp, some McDonald's collector's item kitties. I'll send them home in time to sell for Christmas.

Finally I went to another store, as far removed from the first bright and clean shop as you can imagine! A cluttered yard on a country road, with a dog tied up. A house and several sheds packed to the rafters with dusty junk. I squeezed through one shed, and just said in passing as I walked out, 'You don't have any bunks, do you'. 'Yes, I have' he answered, and took me to another shed, where there was a bunk set, in pieces, but with all the screws and quite clearly better quality wood than the ones in the furniture store. 7000yen.

So, all I need now is to get the truck and pick the stuff up! From 120,000 yen to 51,000. I will send photos as soon as the room is done! Now, back to getting that spare room cleared out - again!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Night Out

Well, Rich had said, just go to Troppies anytime if you want to catch up with Marcus. There was a good chance Rich himself would be there too, so I braved it and went by myself. Okay, I chickened out a little and made sure Kanji would come after work, but I went a little earlier. Funny thing was, I didn't really feel like going. I had a tummy ache again, was feeling a bit tired and yucky. But I had the chance, and since I have been feeling that way for two months now I have long passed the point of letting it keep me home. And I was also thinking, just my luck tonight there'll be no-one there.

Sure enough, there was not a soul I knew there. Now, usually I can walk in there and know some one. Often staff from Keio are there. But tonight was a DJ night with a cover charge - that would keep some of them away. So I propped up the bar and chatted to Raoul, who is also coming up ten years in Japan. So we're gonna have a combined party. I called Marcus - the whole idea was to catch up with him so as to arrange a Lord of the Rings and The Young Ones viewing party. We settled on next Sunday night. Hope Rich can come! Hope I can stay awake for nine hours of LOTR...

Friday, September 29, 2006

Used furniture

After asking for advice on my foreign wives' club email group, someone suggested looking in second-hand stores for the furniture I need for the girls' very-long-time-coming new bedroom. I had already looked in, and selected from, the Nissen catalog - kind of like Japan's ezibuy, but a little more extensive. The total for two bunk beds, two chests of drawers, and two study desks (an absolutely essential item for the Japanese child's bedroom) came to 120,000 yen, or about $1500. That's pretty much the cheapest option, and like the cheapest, will not last, I was warned. Then another lady suggested the second hand stores. Of course, I thought - and I was off.

As you may well know, second-hand items in Japan are much better quality than what you find in NZ, for much cheaper prices, since the market is not strong - people like new things, and most of them have the money to get nice new things. Which means good stuff left over for me. I remembered the location of one place that I have driven past numerous times, and stopped in there after lunch. Lo and behold, I walk straight in the door, and there on the left are two study desks, 6000 yen each - or a tenth of the price of a new one. They are in pretty good condition too, so I will go back with Kanji's van sometime and get them. What a good start!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Great Muta

OIT Starts Again

First day of the new semester at OIT. Again. This is the 9th year I have taught there, and I thought as I sat through the orientation this morning, while recalling the first year, ‘I never imagined then that I would still be here now! Or did I? I had already met Kanji by then...' Then I got bored with that train of thought as I considered the possibility that I was thinking the exact same thing last year...

Kanji is out meeting a famous wrestler. The Great Muto. I’ve never heard of him of course, but Kanji is quite excited about it. He came home at 9:30am to start getting ready! To make sure the camera was working, to find the actual camera, to figure out what to wear. He’s still out now, and I am wondering if I should wait up so he has someone to tell it all to when he gets home.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Buzen Festival

Okay, so I should have attended the meeting on Friday, but I knew that it would be so mindnumbingly boring that my mind would wander and I would not catch what was being said, as I do need to concentrate to pick up details. Okay, and also because I just couldn't be bothered. Oh, and cos I forgot.

So I guess it really is my fault that I didn't know about the festival. It's on October 22, which sounds like lots of time, but in reality it's only one more class. I was handed a sign-up sheet for our English class skit, and the barbecue, as well as four each of tickets buying tea and coffee. I did succeed in coming up with something to do in the skit in half an hour, but did not succeed in getting anyone to sign up! Maybe next time. Or I will be doing the skit myself. Worst luck - it's on the same day as a flea market!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Takumi Transferred

Takumi is going to Fukuoka! Today may well have been his last English lesson here. His mother only just found out today, but even so, she found the time to stop and buy a farewell present for Amy, Lena and Maia – lunch boxes for school.

His Dad has been transferred to Fukuoka. We heard last week that there was a chance they may go, then they heard today for sure that they are going, and they will be moving next week! It’s a stunningly fast move, and completely unexpected. Unlike foreign companies, Japanese companies move their staff around between job descriptions, departments and locations without even asking them if they want to move, let alone allowing them to apply for available transfers. So off they go, seven years of settling in wiped out in a decision handed down from above. She doesn’t really want to go, and settle in again, and in a big city, and right in the middle of the city as well. But they will, and they won’t protest and the system will thus never change. At least Kanji is family/self-employed, no sudden shifts to unwanted locations for us.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

French chocolate, German sweets and Italian perfume

So, apparently I didn’t work today, but you could have fooled me! There’s always one more thing to do… three meals, loads of laundry, tidiying up, picking up and dropping off…I got the bedroom cleaned today, and the dolls sorted out and into one box, leaving a spare box for the craft items Amy finds so indispensible. Today’s offering was a canopy bed for her doll.

I also sent money to NZ, enrolled Lena in swimming, and collected a parcel from Germany – the presents from Birgit finally arrived. They had been held up in customs, opened and inspected, but they somehow managed to miss the envelope of money, how very clever of them. I think they were looking for drugs – last year a foreign woman was sprung here for receiving drugs from the Netherlands through the mail.
Birgit sent us (me, and Kanji’s Auntie Toyoko, who drew the characters on the wall hanging I bought and sent) French chocolate, German sweets and Italian perfume. Enough to make a customs agent very jealous – but all completely legal

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

To the Doc's

Amy had a follow-up appointment for her asthma attack today. We saw our usual doctor Kinoshita, who asked us to finish the Theodur, continue the flixotide twice daily, and continued the onon. Amy complained of sore ears and being sore under her arms, but she was fine. She seems to be getting used to thinking of anything that might be wrong to add to the list of ailments when we get in to the doctor. I suppose that’s kind of necessary, but I worry that she’s becoming a hypochondriac! I don’t want her to *feel* like an ‘ill person’.

Best news, maybe, is that her allergy test was back, and she showed no allergy to dust, dust mites or cedar pollen (a HUGE problem in Japan every spring). Good in that I can clear my conscience and reassure myself that I am not causing her attacks with my sloppy housekeeping. But bad because if it WAS that, at least there would be something I could do about it!
But it turns out that she is sensitive to the turn of seasons, to the air pressure changes that herald a typhoon, and also reacts badly to colds. But I can’t stop the weather and I have very little chance of stopping her exposure to colds too, despite how Baachan says ‘do everything to prevent colds’ as her version of ‘goodbye’.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Lena's Kindy Field Trip

Luckily the typhoon blew over, so the field trip was on, although the wind was blowing so hard last night, and the news reports so scary that I swore I would keep her home – I could not trust either the roads or the bus. But the day dawned bright and calm, so off she went with her kindy class. They went to Kokura, to an indoor playground near where Keio have their classrooms there. 90 minute bus drive, lunch, an hour or so play, and 90 minutes on the bus back home. Seems a long way to go for such a small amount of fun, but no doubt they’ll love it – being on a bus with their friends is half the fun. Lena and her best friend Maia played on a piece of equipment that sounded, from the descriptions, like one of those rotary ladders you put in a hamster’s cage. Lena the hamster!
Meanwhile me and Amy went to Takitas house for the monthly lesson. For the first time, the baby Shige-chan was bold enough to not run away when he saw me, so he joined in, which was just delightful, if a little chaotic. He even knows a word! ‘Ba’, meaning ball. 18months old, and he can already kick better than me. Four-year-old Rikako kept complaining that she couldn’t speak English, so we still had to favor her in games. 8 year old Machiko mostly pays attention, but sometimes it’s all too dull for her. Mostly the lesson is now focussed on 6 year old Yuto.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Typhoon 13

Yes, I know, a terribly dull name for a typhoon, but that’s how they do it here. Apparently somewhere else it’s called Shanshan. Maybe I’ll remember that. It was a biggie, but not huge. It was very different though – much noisier, and had very strong gusts alternating with quiet spots. We all slept downstairs, as usual in a big typhoon, so we could close the storm doors. We are very safe from debris in our living room, with storm doors on the main outside doors, and rooms on all other sides. But it was still really scary, with some weird noises – a huge metallic grinding that I think was the satellite dish straining to escape, or maybe the kitchen’s lean-to type steel sheet roof trying to peel off. There’s another on its way, so I hope something out there hasn’t been weakened structurally.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Keio Dinner

A night out with the bosses and co-workers. I was feeling a bit ill, so I was tossing up all day whether I would actually go or not. In the end, I decided it would be easier than making my own dinner, and I thought I’d give the beer cure a try. It worked, and pretty soon I was relaxed, and having a nice chat and a good time. We played a math game, guessing length, weight, volume and seconds, and I got fourth and received a drink container.

Dinner in Japan always comes to an end at one time, and all the guests leave together. It would be rude to leave early unless you have a really good excuse, so, in order to cater for those who want to go home early, dinners usually wind up after 2-3 hours, with those who wish to continue going on to a ‘nijikai’ or second party. The nijikai was karaoke, of course, which I was looking forward to as I hadn’t been in quite a while.

On the way though, we passed the Again bar, so I decided on the spur of the moment to pop in. I am very glad I did so, because I found not only Kenchan and Katchan, as I had expected, but also Jinjin, who has recovered somewhat from his illness, and Uto-chan, who has moved back to Nakatsu. Gosh time flies – I remember commiserating with him when he was asked to move up north for a work placement, and saying that two years is not so long, it’ll fly by – but oh my, flew it did! Is it really two years?

I stayed for a drink, then rushed on to catch up with the rest at karaoke. I’m afraid I was a terrible karaoke hog, and probably did quite awfully as well, I remember my voice cracking, but who cares? Not in Japan anyhow, where everyone claps you politely no matter how badly you do. I sang Puffy, Madonna, Namie Amuro and To Sir With Love. For the teachers, ha ha ha.

I ended up in Tropicoco, no surprises there, where Eoin bought me a drink, and I pecked at Rich’s chips before giving up and riding home. Last thing I remember is sitting dejected on the front doorstep unable to find my key, but too ashamed to call out to Kanij because I KNEW it was in my bag. Must have found it, as I woke up in my bed.

Friday, September 15, 2006

New Student Aoi

I nearly forgot she was coming, but I remembered in time to rally the kids, get dinner done and over in time and tidy up beautifully before she arrived. That is, tidied up beautifully as far as she could see – I put the doors in between the two rooms to hide the crap in the other half!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Asthma Again

After a weekend of coughing that I thought was a cold, I took Amy to Inoue Pediatric clinic. I never know where to take her! If I take her to the hospital, and I am wrong and it is a cold and not asthma, then I pay about $30, because it’s a ‘new illness’ not a return visit. But I really need to visit the same doctor to care for her asthma follow-ups. But the staff at Inoue seemed to understand my dilemma, as I said outright that I just did not know where to go, but I thought it was a cold, so I came here. No, he said, it’s asthma, but he gave them a recommendation phone call so at least I would not be paying the off-the-street fee! (I shouldn’t complain – health care cover here is extensive and cheap).

I was very surprised at how bad it was – the doctor – not our usual doctor, said she would think about admitting her if she did not show considerable improvement after two sessions on the nebulizer, with IV steriods inbetween. Once more, I insisted on being there for the insertion of the drip. The doctor was the same one who admitted her last time, so she had experienced my recalcitrance before, and did not argue. I hope she is beginning to see that not all mothers are panicky idiots, and sometimes children are better off with us there! (Yes, I heard the study that a TV does an even better job, but there are no TVs in the treatment room, so that was moot)

Then I went to the bathroom and wiped up the tears. On me, that is, because of the frustration at my inability to stop this disease! I always live in hope that this time, she’ll come right and she’ll grow out of it and it will all be a nasy memory. And it is always such a blow when it comes back. She’s been on meds since last April. Every time she seems to be coming right, something, like a cold, or the next seasonal change, comes up and there she goes again. The only time she seems to come right is in NZ, with its mild climate, making me wonder if she would not benefit from a longer stay.

But she came right, and the doctor wrote us out a prescription instead of sending us upstairs. She was a bit medicine-happy – she gave us theodur, which I had requested my other doctor last year to take us off, after my student Yoriko told me about a conference she went to in Kyoto where a doctor spoke out against it because of the side-effects, particularly on the heart – and Amy had had that heart flutter and ECG only a few weeks before. Okay, the ECG showed her to be in the normal range, but it can’t help but make a mother worry! She also gave us antibiotics, onon for allergies and musosyne for mucus.
So we went home, or rather to Baachan’s, and I went to work! Feeling stroppy and ready to bite anyone who dared call me on my lateness or lack of proper business-like attire (I still had my jeans and t-shirt on from the morning – I had not been home all day).

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sea Bream, Caves and a Buzzing Bra

Yes, it's been a pretty interesting day!

This morning Kanji and I went to a fish filleting class. It was just one of many free classes put on by the city council (I teach an English lesson for another council as part of a similar scheme). We saw it in the town magazine, and signed up for it. It was actually a men's cooking class, but me and one other wife were there. For some time, Kanji and I have been tantalized by the huge variety of whole fish in the supermarket, and at a loss for what to do with it. We have tried, and made an awful mess. So this class was ideal for us (Kanji likes cooking, but doesn’t have much time for it. We often cook together on his days off, and constantly get under each other's feet!)

We learned to cut sashimi! I'm quite excited about that, but after trying it ourselves after watching the Pro make it look easy, we realized we have a lot of practice to do! So beware, Kiwis, I will be buying a rod and catching my own damn snapper if I can't find a fresh one to chop up next time I come home! Next we learned how to bone and fillet a Pacific saury, a fairly small fish that NZers don't bother with, although we probably have it, or something similar teeming in the oceans around us. We pan-fried the saury. And finally we learned how to cut mackerel. This was the easiest, as it was not boned, but cut into quarters. Mackerel bones are strong and hard, so you can easily pick the fish off the bones, and if you get one in your mouth, you're not going to mistakenly swallow it. The mackerel was boiled with miso flavoured with soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and ginger.

After all that cutting and cooking, yes, we did get to eat it! Here is our midday feast:

Clockwise from left: miso soup, tai (sea bream) sashimi, saba (mackerel) miso, green tea, rice and pan-fried sanma (Pacific saury)

(Interestingly, the four lady cooks who taught us the recipes – the professional sashimi chef was a man – put on an anti-sexism video, with actors chatting in a café, talking about things like, is a mother’s life or a businessman’s harder, non-traditional jobs, like male nurse and lady truck-driver and wanting a boy or girl baby to follow the parents in a job – their little contribution to dismantling gender stereotypes in Japan).

After lunch I had coffee in a café in Youme Town with Hiro-chan and a friend of hers, who is going to New Zealand in January, and wants to quickly learn English before then. I will teach her on Friday nights. That makes a nice replacement for Shu, who quit after getting into a little moody with me after two weeks of mix-ups. I am not without fault, but only a man as insecure as Shu would assume I was trying to snub him, as I think he believes. Two weeks ago, at our Wednesday lesson, I told him I was not free the following Wednesday, and could we change to Tuesday. He agreed, and I turned up at the café on Tuesday, but he didn’t. I didn’t have my phone with me however, so I could not call him. I tried several times to contact him after that, with no reply, and he also tried to contact me – I often do not hear my phone, but I saw that he had called. I needed to contact him to change the following week’s lesson to Tuesday as well, because of my filling in at Shoyokan in Kokura for Keio. But I did not get in touch before the day, and he must have turned up by himself (which would be for the second time). I think he thought all this not turning up and not contacting means I don’t like him and don’t want to teach him anymore, because when I finally got in contact with him, he was very abrupt and said he would not have any more lessons. Well, I will email him and let him know he can email me if he gets into trouble during his big trip to NZ and Australia!

After coffee I went to the CD shop and bought The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for the kids, to keep them happy all afternoon while I (groan) cleaned. And to bribe them to actually come home. They tend to get stuck when they go to Baachan’s.

After the movie ended, we went to Kanairo Onsen (hot spring) in Sanko village near Mount Hachimen. We have been there several times, but this was the first time I have been to the public bath – we usually get a private family bath. Well, it was every bit as gorgeous as Birgit told me! It truly is special and anyone I know who sets foot in Japan will be taken straight there by me to relax after your plane ride. There is a big, very hot pool indoors, but it’s the outdoor section that’s really cool – it’s hot!

When you first go outside, there is a large pool set into rocks, with a huge rock in the centre. At the back to the left, up some stone steps, is a smaller pool set into a little grotto, with two waterfalls – hot water falling from pipes in a narrow and very fast jet, so that it’s like getting a shiatsu massage to stand underneath them. To the right of the main pool, up some more stone steps, is a shallow pool with logs set in the centre to rest your head on to lay down flat in the water. Behind the main pool in the centre are more stone steps leading up to a thatched-roof bay, with another, smaller, rock pool to the right, and a fantastic cave to the left. You enter the cave, and it turns through rocks round a corner to open out into a final hot pool at the top. It was a fantastic place, and the kids had a marvelous time. I got exhausted with the hot water and all that climbing, and never sitting down long enough to relax in a pool because you wanted to get up and see what else there was!

We finished up our day at a family restaurant in Jusco. The kids were almost too tired to eat, but Lena ordered a Hello Kitty kids’ set and Amy a Bullet Train set. Kanji had soba noodles, and I had a special dinner set menu with a little bit of steak, chicken, a scallop, and pasta. Yep, diet starts tomorrow. Again.

If I am not too busy at the doctor’s! Amy has a cold again. Her immune system is weak, from her asthma and from the drugs that keep it under control. So she never gets a simple cold, she gets it bad. She’s complaining of a sore throat, and sore chest, so it’s off to the doctor’s for us. I hope to get her a new allergy test, or view the previous one, as I want to see if animals were on there. I’m thinking pets.
Oh, and that buzzing bra? Today while I was still in the shopping centre, looking at a Star Trek magazine of all things, I felt a vibration in the underwire of my new bra (thank you very much Jolene!). How odd, but I soon recognized the pattern as that of my mobile phone, which I could not hear in the busy store. It travelled from my handbag, up to the shoulder strap,and somehow into the underwire, where I FELT my phone ring under my right boob.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Alien Card

I am officially an alien, it says so on the card I have to carry as a foreigner in Japan. You’d think they’d drop such a silly word and switch to ‘foreigner’, but no. Foreigners in Japan mostly call it the ‘gaijin’ card – gaijin is short for gaikokujin, which means foreigner, or literally, outside-country-person. Some people therefore dislike the short version, because it would follow that ‘gaijin’ therefore means ‘outsider’. Personally, I’m not fussed – Japanese often abbreviate things like this, by chopping off the last part of a word. Brad Pitt, for example, is known as Bra-Pi. Odd, but I don’t think any offense is intended. Slightly better than alien anway!

This card is one of the three bits of red tape Japan has that I think of as totally unecessary, simply because we don’t have such things in NZ and we do pretty well without them. The other two are the Family Register and the Residency Register. The Family Register records all citizens, together in family groups. There are two problems – you can only be on one register, and you must have the name on that register – so women can’t keep their name after marriage, they must change it. Both can go on the woman’s register, but that is uncommon. Also, only citizens can go on it, so I am not listed there with the rest of the family, except in a ‘comments’ section. The same problem exists with the Residency Register – I am not listed there either as a member of this household, except in the comments section (and then only if I ask for the comment to be added when I request a copy of the Reigster for official purposes). This can be a problem as it means my husband appears to be a single father. Where am I then? On the alien register of course! I hate this system because it just seems so completely pointless to me. Why not just list us with the Japanese? Another problem is that every household must have a ‘Head of Household’, who is, of course, the man. I cannot be the Head of Household because I am not Japanese, therefore, if Kanji and I had to establish different addresses for any reason, Amy would become the Head of Household!

Anyway, I had to renew my alienity today and get carded for my out-of-spaceness. It was a pretty simple affair for Japanese bureaucracy. The guy at the city office actually seemed to know what he was doing, which is not as common as it should be, due to the practice here in the public sector to swap staff around between sections every two years, so in April you might well get ‘helped’ by someone who has been doing the job for all of two weeks. At least my guy today was not like this, and was able to also help me get the card changed to list my ‘nickname’ or Japanese name, so I can use Yokomatsu, written in Japanese, for official purposes. I needed to do this as I am listed on our health insurance as Yokomatsu Rachel. I tried to tell the insurance broker that my name was Greenwood, but it just did not compute. In her world, that would be impossible, so how could I be right? But my name must be as listed on my passport, which is still Greenwood. I hope this nickname business sorts that out.

Being Japan, the job could not possibly be done in one day, it needs to sit around, gather dust, and be checked and looked at several more times before they okay it, so I am due to come back in two weeks to pick up the new card. So I can get sick now and know I will get that extra $50 a day!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


I got a free trip to Kokura today, in exchange for doing a few lessons, for which I conveniently also got paid. The new teacher is coming in the middle of the month, and I am filling in in the mean time. Part of that filling in includes these classes at a High School. They are only 45 minutes long, which seems to fly by after my 90 minute lessons, but the classes are much bigger – 30-40 students! It’s a challenge to just keep them focussed. I’m not bad at doing it now – I can generally keep them in line, stay cheerful and never lose my temper, and think of ways to teach them that don’t involve me standing at the front of the classroom nattering on and asking questions that are greeted by a huge silence. But it’s not my chosen teaching setting. At least I only have to do it once more, then the new teacher gets it, bless her. Poor thing.

I finished at 2pm, so I went shopping. I walked three blocks to my favorite bookstore – to find it closed. What a disappointment! But on the bright side, I undoubtedly saved bucketloads of money.

Next stop was a wee store tucked into the side of a restaurant disovered by my mother of all people! Hello Mum, I remembered about the tea set. I called her from the store, which intrigued the shop lady almost as much as it pleased mum, who got to kind-of- second-hand-choose the feature beads I bought there. The nice shop lady, who also serves her customers tiny cups of tea and chunks of black sugar, added in about six extra beads, including a dragon and a snake, when I told her that I was on the phone to my mother in New Zealand who had come to the shop two years ago and never forgot it. She asked me when I was going back to NZ, and when I replied that I would be sending the beads, she added another little present! It’s not beads, and Mum will find out soon enough what it is!

Finally, I found another book store, with one English magazine (which I bought) and a very tiny English book section, where I found nothing for me, but a Mr Tumnus book for Amy. She can read her Level 2 Narnia book!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Back in the Pool, again

Yup, back in the ole pool again. I had all of August off, keeping busy with the kids, who spent so much time at Baachan’s that I felt like I was imposing to drop them off for yet another hour every day. Besides, I’m having trouble getting them back home from there! Amy, who is still a ‘naki-mushi’ (cry-bug), often gets teary-eyed upon leaving, and begs to stay. Lena just declares she’s not going home and bikes off in the opposite direction.

But that was summer, and now it’s autumn, and swimming must start again. I was slow – I felt tired, and forced myself to go, but that was not a good enough excuse for one of the other regular swimmers, who insisted I had slowed down, and that’s what you get for taking a month off!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Dazaifu Flea Market

Today was the first Dazaifu flea market of the season. I met up with Frances, the kimono collector who lives locally, the same lady who told me about the flea market and took me to it the first time.

I got some good stuff, including a couple of surprises for Mum! I got two obis, a white silk under-kimono that will make someone a luxurious summer robe! I got several pieces of real lacquer-ware, including a tray, two lunch boxes and four small plates. I got a copper tea caddy, a gorgeous wooden mask, another beautiful lacquer vase, more sake/shot glasses, a purse, two antique geisha hair ornaments, a tortoiseshell comb, some old coins, and some folding fans!

I had a superb lunch in a restaurant behind the shrine. The restaurant is called 0-ishi – 'ishi' means stone, and the ‘o’ is honorific. But Oishi also means delicious, so it’s a clever pun. I had the ‘O-ishi bento’ or lunch box, but this was NOT a lunch box! It was a superb, seven dish vegetarian platter:

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Indian dinner in Kokura

I decided my birthday present to me would be a night out in another city. Some other members of my foreign wives’ club had arranged a dinner at an Indian restaurant owned by the friend of one of them. I stubbornly stuck to my plan, despite some potential child-care issues (they eventually stayed with Baachan), and a massive downpour.

I drove. I briefly considered taking the train, but I didn’t want to be stuck having to come home early to catch the last train. So I persisted with the car. I left late, and then tried to take what looked like a short-cut on the map, but which just got me lost. I found where I was again, and had just decided that I was running out of time, the traffic was too busy, and to head for the main station instead of my friend’s house, (where I had been promised a bed for the night), when I took a wrong turn, and ended up heading towards her house anyway. I decided fate had laid its hand, and I should go there. The road was wide and not as crowded anyway.

I got to her house about half an hour later than I thought would be the latest time I would get there. A little late, but still doable. She was already on a train – we had arranged that I would just park in front of her house, then take the train from her station into town. So I walked to the station, easy. I got my ticket, no problem there, I’m good at that. I heard a train come in – I rushed through the ticket gate, but it was not my train. I found my track, and headed through a tunnel towards it. As I came through it, I saw a train waiting, and heard the whistle, so I rushed up the stairs, ran towards the train and got on it just before it left the station. I was feeling pretty proud of my train-catching skills, until I passed a few stations and started to get a little nagging suscpision that I was going the wrong way…

It took me about twenty minutes to admit I was on the wrong train, after twice falsely reassuring myself that I was going in the right direction, once with a slightly glimpsed road sign, once with a river. I hopped off and called my friends, and waited on another track for the train coming back the other direction. At least I didn’t have to pay for my mistake (I bought a ticket from point A to point B, so as long as I entered the system at point A and exited at point B, it doesn't matter where the hell I went in the meantime). By now I was 90 minutes later than my initial expected arrival time. My night was shrinking horribly. Thank God for the iPod – listening to a few songs kept my mood up. I listened to ‘Don’t you forget about me’. And a BeeGees song from Saturday Night Fever that made me think of John Travolta on a subway train on the way to a disco in New York. Not me on the wrong train in Kitakyushu.

Well I finally met my friends at the restaurant, and ordered a long-wished-for cold beer, and my dinner – chicken and naan. Well, what a disappointment! It was over-cooked and tasteless, and the naan was doughy and underdone. The others had curries that consisted of curry-flavoured tomato soup with a chicken leg in it. At least the beer was good. We followed up with a visit to a ‘gaijin bar’ (where foreigners hang out, main difference is that drinks are paid one by one, rather than the vague total passed to customers in ‘snack’ bars). I had a Black Russian and a glass of wine. We had to go home early, to catch the last train, but we had a few more drinks when we got back, while we fiddled with our iPods, and I petted my hostess's two fat ginger cats.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Today is my birthday, but it’s not a big deal because I have officially doled it out to other days, including dinner with Kanji on the 18th, a home party yesterday, and a night out tommorrow night.

I’m fond of saying that I’m half way to dead, if it’s true about your three score years and ten. It remains to be seen if the best half has been or is yet to be.

I worked – Mrs Fukuda, who is, now that Again have finished, my longest lasting student, came this morning. I actually did housework in the afternoon. And I taught at Keio this evening, one kids’ class and one adult beginner’s class. All I did there was games, however. Alphabug soup for the kids, The game of Life for the adult (only one came to the class).

And I got a present – Kanji came home with a necklace for me, a silver key with pink stones on a leather chain.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Birthday cake

Well I kept myself busy today organising and holding a day-long family party, to make up for anticipating a rather dull work day tomorrow.

I baked the cake last night, and we went to the supermarket this morning to shop for lunch and dinner and witch's eyes. We iced the cake, had chicken pie and egg sandwiches for lunch, then watched a DVD and ate popcorn and drank coke. It was Anne of Green Gables - and it was long so I had to start dinner while it was still on.

Everything was ready by 7pm. First course was fried camambert with an apricot sauce. Then I had stuffed chicken breast with gravy, mashed potato, peas and cauliflower with cheese sauce. For dessert we had bananas dipped in chocolate and nuts. And the cake of course!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Damned Right Turn

I got pulled up by the Police today. It buggged the hell out me because this is my birthday week, and things like this are just not supposed to happen! It didn’t help that I did it, I was in the wrong, so I could not even get righteously defensive. It was an illegal right turn – on an intersection where I always turn right to get home from the main road. Policemen in Japan are so kind and nice and polite that you can’t even get mad at them for being bastards when you are looking for someone to blame while trying to avoid blaming yourself – the worst thing they did was call me 35 four days before my actual birthday. So, that’s another black spot on my license and 7000yen to the state coffers. Maybe it’ll go towards the next Great Nakatsu Bicycle Theft Stake-out.*

* We really do live in a low-crime area – a friend had her bicycle stolen. She reported the theft to the police, and then when she thought she saw someone riding her bike, the police cooperated with her on a stake-out to catch the thief. They really have nothing better (or worse) to do around here. Did I tell you that ELEVEN policemen responded within ten minutes when I thought I had an intruder in my house?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fairy Wands and Crowns

That silly tooth fairy didn’t come the first night – maybe she forgot, maybe she was busy, maybe it was because Amy put the tooth under the wrong pillow or in the wrong packaging...

But she came the second night, good on her! She left Amy two 100yen coins, and not soon after she woke up, Amy knew what she wanted. But she also wanted to get a fairy crown and wand for her baby sister too, so Mummy helped her out. Amy bought a crown and wand for Lena with her tooth money – and Mummy bought the same for Amy.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Early Birthday Dinner

Kanji took me out to a wonderful dinner at the French restaurant down the road from our place.

Thiord, fourth and fifth courses

Desseert, and a Singapore sling at a cocktail bar.