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: