Thursday, January 04, 2007

I'm pretty sure it's Thursday today, although I spent all day yesterday convinced it was Tuesday. I even confidently told Amy it was Tuesday! Kanji finally convinced me over dinner by showing me his phone, and I stared in disbelief for a few seconds before accepting the inevitable. How bizarre! I have never been SO convinved it was the wrong day. Usually you are not sure, it could be either, but I was certain!

Now I remember. We spend the 1st at home, and then went to Youme Town to go shopping on Tuesday. The kids got a 'fukubukuro' (a lucky bag containing surprise goods, always worth mroe than the price you pay, but not always what you would have chosen youself). They used thier 'otoshidama', money given to children by parents, grandparents, and uncles and aunts. For 3000yen each, they got a cloth jacket, shirt, t-shirt, skirt and pants.

That evening Kanji went out with his wrestling club buddies (just watching, not actually doing wrestling), and I stayed home, and watched Castaway and had a chuhai to trim down the excess of shotchu we have in the house. Yes, really, I was just being efficient. Shotchu is like a stronger version of sake, about 25%, and in a chuhai, it's mixed with tonic or soda and lime or some other juice flavor.

On the THIRD then, we went to Jusco, and the kids got another fukubukuro, this one containing stationery items. They also bought a surprise egg, two items each at the 100yen shop, and a kids' magazine each. I got a clothing fukubukuro, the first time I've seen one in teh extra-large sizes I need to buy here. For 5000yen, I got a jacket, cardigan, two tops, a belt and a necklace. I also bought an incence one for 1000 - I might send that stuff to Maria to sell! And another one which I have not opened yet.

The kids are itching to do something today. Amy specifically requested a place where I can video her and then show Daddy the video. I am thinking we might get rugged up and play in a park, then go to an onsen, and finish up with a hot chocolate at a cafe. I'll let you know! Right now, I am going to have some tea and toast, and open that last fukubukuro!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year

For the last several years we have been to a party on New Year's Eve, with friends, eating fugu and Hokkaido crab and other treats. For various reasons we didn't go this year, and instead spent New Year's Eve with Baachan. This is more usual for Japan, where New Year's is a family event. Kanji was working, I was still feeling tired from my small illness, I felt sorry for Baachan spending New Year's Eve alone and Kanji decided the fugu cost too much!

It was a very quiet night. Baachan's usual mode of being is to feed people, so that's what she did. We started with sashimi and 'yaki-niku', or fried steak - very expensive wagyu, very pink, marbled steak that is highly valued in Japan. Amy and Lena love sashimi (raw fish), but they were not fond of the kingfish Baachan served. They will only eat tuna. But they loved the steak. When Jiichan finished work after 7pm, we ate a 'nabe' together. 'Nabe' just means 'pot' and also refers to a cuisine where meat and various vegetables are cooked together in a pot, then the pot is placed in the centre of the table and the diners take out pieces of food and put them in their individual serving dish - a small bowl with dipping sauce made from soy sauce and some kind of citrus juice.

We had kingfish (Baachan had ordered a whole fish to be cut into various cuts for sashimi and stews), Chinese cabbage, Japanese spring onions and mochi, pounded rice cakes, which are a traditional New Year food. The rice is pounded in a large bowl (see ) and broken into pieces and moulded into rounds of various sizes. The smallest are used for food, and boiled in the soup. They take on the flavor of the soup, and are quite nice, but VERY sticky. In fact, every year a bunch of people die from choking on them!

Every year we have this little stand off, where Baachan is keen to share the tradition with them, and I suggest they are too young. Luckily Jiichan is a very cautious man, and worries about the choking too, so it was us two who cooperated on the scissor-chopping - then secretly sighed with relief when they declared they didn't like it! All the more for us.

Then the waiting begins. There is a special TV show on New Year's Eve that I think everyone in the country watches. It's called the Red and White Song Contest. The Red Women's team and the White Men's team compete in singing. All the top singers appear. It starts at 7:20, and ends at 11:55, just in time to watch the new year being rung in at some famous temple, where they ring the bell 108 times.

Amy was waiting for Ayumi Hamazaki, Japan's No.1 Pop princess, who always wears a fabulous costume. I was waiting for Angela Aki, the daughter of a member of my foreign wives' club. The kids went to bed at about 9, but Amy woke up with a tummy ache and decided to sit up for a while. No Ayumi, but I got to see Angela, and we all saw the now infamous 'oppai' (boobs) dance, where the dancers for a hip-hop singer stripped off their costumes to reveal a stocking-bodysuit with painted-on breasts, only it was not immediately obvious that they were fake! Topless women sometimes appear on late-night TV, but this really took the cake! It was me who first discerned that they were painted - the underbust line was too strong, and then I caught sight of wrinkled stocking-fabric. It was neck-wrist-ankle, and super-tight, so it was really hard to see. I ressured Baachan, who was in a state of shock, I think, just in time for them to whip off their bikini bottoms to reveal vaguely phallic plastic fruit stuck to their loins. I have since heard that NHK has offered an apology to the stunned viewers.