Monday, February 22, 2010

Skating Again

Round and round, fall over, get up, get wet, get hot, get cold, then it's all over. No photos so I'm putting up photos from last time that I never got around to uploading!

Mayumi, it was her first time, so she got to push the chair/sleigh

Mayumi, Kate, Lena and Erica. She wouldn't sit on the chair after a while, she wanted to try skating too.
She actually wasn't too bad at it!



I love the look on Lena's face! Didn't know Kate was so scary!

Erica trying another short-cut to skating ease.

Then after it was all over and we were having a snack, the girls entertained us with some ballet moves.

It's late in the season and getting warmer, so the ice turns to slush but they still only resurface it once. And it's crowded as the hordes from Nakatsu come to redeem their free tickets.

Amy said that today, for the first time, she just got on the ice and went, with no trepidation. Greater confidence means harder falls though, so she went down hard when she lost her footing going over some slush. I saw/heard her thwack against the ice. She was fine, but it jarred her head and she had to take a rest.

Lena was still a little unsteady. Unlike earlier in the season when the ice was hard and dry, the slush and puddles meant they got very wet with each fall. She ended up soaking.

Erica went through three distinct stages. She napped in the car, woke moody and spent the first half hour fussing, and refusing to stand up, just flopping in my arms to be pulled and pushed along the ice. I got her a chair after that, and she happily sat there getting pushed around. After a snack break she skated again, and by the end I was holding her by only one hand, and she was LOVING the feeling of slipping and sliding around.

I was only going to go to the small onsen hot spring nearby, but it was closed for repairs, so we went into the Yabakei Valley again. Last time we tried the rose petal bath (Bara Onsen at Shiitake mura) but there were no petals, so we went to the maple bath (Momiji onsen) instead. It was lovely there, with a view of the valley and mountains, and someone's house!

We didn't want to go to the same one again so we checked out the pictures that were on a billboard map of the area, and chose Wakayama:

We stopped at what looked like just a shop by the roadside. A very ancient lady took our money and we bought towels off her, then we were directed out a side door. I went first to the nice double lattice doors, but no, it was the aluminium doors in the concrete wall further back. From the genkan we could see a new blond wood staircase and I could see the curtains down another corridor to the side. Two old ladies were sitting on the stairs, we told them we were looking for the onsen.

They came along too, and we all changed together in the smallest changing room I think I've even been in, and entered the bathroom:

Obviously by this stage we were wondering where the wonderful bath with the magnificent views had gone! The old ladies were muttering about the bath being too hot for the children, but Erica beat them at that game by plunging right in, grinning ear to ear. She LOVES onsens! We peered out the window, and saw a shed, and the river. There were no doors leading from the bath to outside, as you can see from the picture. Finally we asked the old ladies who told us we had to go outside and walk around to it.

After negotiating a tantrum from a little girl who did NOT want to get out of the bath yet, we all put on one layer of clothes, bundled up the rest and ventured outside to find the outside bath. We followed a concrete path around the back of the building, Amy and Lena skipping ahead.

As I rounded the corner I saw Amy stopped on the path, a man beside her, Amy telling me in English that we'd got it wrong, it was the men's bath, but me realizing No, there was only one bath - it was a mixed bathing pool. This used to be the norm in Japan, based on the very sensible notion that with all those people in the bath, you couldn't exactly get up to any hanky-panky.

It's not so common now, most places build two outdoor pools. The man had told Amy they were getting out, and reassured me that it was a lovely bath! I glanced over and could see the top half of a man in the chaning shed. I saw him put on a t-shirt, and figured that since we'd have the bath to ourselves we might as well give it a try. Here's the view from the path, you can see why I could look right in and see the guy getting dressed! Men's changing room is to the rear on the left, right where you can see through the window to the trees beyond. The bath itself is to the right front, just behind the trellis.

A closer look inside, with the men's (left) and ladies' (right) changing rooms. Finally we found the beautiful view! The water was not piping hot, just warm enough to stay in for a long time. As we were still getting our gear off another couple arrived, and man and woman in their 50's or so. I waited until the man had gone in to change, then slipped out and into the pool, and pretty much stayed leaning over the edge. They were chatty, Erica often breaks the ice with people by bowling straight up to them, grinning from ear to ear and nattering on at them about this or that. Soon enough we were answering all the usual questions, how long had I been in Japan, do the kids speak both languagea, blah blah blah...all very normalizing, considering we were all starkers!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Amy's Art

Amy has discovered Paint. Actually she's known about it and played around with it for ages, but this week for some reason the mouse and her creativity met in some sweet place and these are some of the interesting results:

'Shop Things' (meaning bar codes) She DID NOT SCAN these, she drew them by hand (with the mouse. I still have no idea how she did it.

'Calaful Art' Okay, so her spelling leaves a lot to be desired, but this is kind of cool, very Mondrian. At first she wanted to load photos into each square, but I couldn't figure out how to do that!

'witch' I think it started as a squiggle, but it looks kind of neat. I might put on or another of these on a t-shirt for her birthday, don't tell!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day Party

Here we go again, the annual excuse to eat FAAAAAR to many sweet things.

Valentine's Day is about love, though men in Japan do their best to ignore it and hope it will just quietly go away. So we make a big deal of it, and require Daddy's presence at our specially prepared feast.

We had curry, to attract him home for the party, and deep fried camembert for starters, which we ate while watching the girls' concert. They'd had this concert planned for ages, and on several occasions it just got to late to perform it. Consequently, they had loads of time to practice, and it was one of the best they've ever done! And Amy and Lena knew exactly how to manipulate Erica's tastes and habits to induce her to perform too!


A slice with chocolate biscuit base, caramel sauce and apricots and walnuts on top, with squidges of white chocolate

Chocolate crackles, improved. Chocolate crackle on the bottom, white crackle on the top (with crushed cornflakes) topped with M&Ms, topped with piped white chocolate.

The girls' contribution. Chocolate melted with butter, raisins, marshmallow and nuts, on graham cracker and decorated. Same chocolate below in a ramekin.


Stuff kids do...
She thought she looked so hot, ready for a day's hike, with her hat and her bag (and the flap of her pyjamas hanging down...)

My little actress, who just saw a VERY frightful sight...

Her big sister. This is what a tween does with a blue M&M

And this work of art is a representation of fireworks built out of deep fried lotus root slices. By Lena.

A lovely meal by Amy, deep-fried oyster (1), with PLENTY of lemon, tomato sauce and mayonnaise!

Sausage. No, I mean it, there is one in her hand. She was just too tired to finish eating it!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Avatar: 17,900 yen

We have joined the Avatar Club, the exclusive club of millions who have seen the much hyped movie in 3D at the theatre. It only cost 17,900 yen (US$200 or NZ$290) Imagine what I could have got shopping for that price!

Breaking it down:

8000: train tickets
5000: movie tickets
500: parking
1850: popcorn and coke
1319: lunch
1040: dessert and coffee

We started out the day driving, a fun little road trip for me and the older girls, leaving Erica at home with her Daddy. We left in a little bit of a rush, as I had been thinking 'Kokura, one hour' after visiting Christine and Erica's hospital too many times, and forgot to factor in the extra time it takes to get to the station from there! So we left with JUST enough time to possibly get there on time to catch the start of the movie...

15 minutes down the road and a horrible realization dawns on me - I have forgotten to bring money! This is unprecendented, as I usually not only don't forget the essential cash, but also put in extra cash and my credit card, just in case! I quickly run through my options:

*Credit card - no, didn't bring it
*ATM card - yes, have it, but where is an ATM, and will I have any money left in the account? Usually I only leave in enough for a few automatic payments, which were due to be paid the day before. I find an ATM, and this being Japan, it's closed.
*Borrow? - but from whom, and where, and how and can I guarantee anyone will happily have a few hundred to spare, on a Saturday morning, with no warning?
*Get Kanji to drive to meet me half way and hand over some cash - I called, hoping he would offer to do this despite being in his pyjamas, hungover, with no car and taking care of a two-year old with a fever. Unsurprisingly, he said he could do nothing to help me.
*Go another day - no, Sunday is out as Kanji is away, and he's working on Thursday. Next weekend is booked solid, and I can't trust that the movie will still be showing in two weeks' time.

The train was the last option, and as I mentally calculated the duration, approximate timetable and present time, I realized we had JUST enough time to rush home, grab some cash and rush off to the station. Hurtling down the street to our place, Lena ready with her hand on her seatbelt, ready to leap out of the car, and run inside, Kanji already phoned and standing ready with cash, we flew over the bridge by our house, completed the hand-over and raced back to the station, to find the train due to leave a comfortable five minutes after my estimate, giving us enough time to actually buy some drinks and visit the bakery before boarding the train.

We walked straight from the station to the cinema, straight upstairs, got our tickets and the obligatory overpriced popcorn and coke and even had a few moments to spare before they opened the theatre.

I was intending on getting the slow (cheaper) train home, but Kanji called just as we were walking out of the mall, having had some lunch and dessert and coffee. ( ice cream store, a Coldstone clone, motto 'We make your ice cream with your heart') to say he needed to leave at 3:30, so we had to get the express again.

And the movie? It was great! I love a movie that presents a whole new world of ideas, a melding of fantasy and science fiction and yes, the special effects were AMAZING!

Amy and Lena wearing their 3D glasses. If you look closely enough you can see me grinning like the Cheshire cat in Lena's glasses.

The Hammer-head mermaid. Unfortunate hair, Amy reckons it looks more like a hammer-head shark than a woman.

Interesting angles at Riverwalk

Spot the Castle
Tiny thing centre left. To think they used to command the plains, the centre of political and economic life. Dwarfed by modern buildings, the castle now makes a pretty view for people dining at the canal-side cafes, something for tourists to climb up, and not much else.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


Okay so I'm the slack one, no dirty weekend update yet, oh wait a minute, I think I beat Jo...nup left this in the drafts too long!

Anyway, it's all been said, so please go read kuri, gaijinwife and illahee's blog, follow gaijinwife up to Canal City, then illahee from the ice cream right up to the foot scrub and hand massage, through to Starbucks for breakfast.

Some highlights from me, as they come to me:

Boston. More than a Feeling. Utterly murdered by me. Well, at least when you start karaoke REALLY BADLY it makes everyone else feel better - you couldn't fail to follow that sad and sorry performance and feel like anything less than the next American Idol.

Those bread stick thingies at the Djobi Djoba. And the olives. And the Belorussian waiter/model.

The utter impossibility of fitting another body in that unit bathroom for a foot soak. But Christine was WORKING so that was okay.

Sleeping babies are such angels!

Subway. A sorry disappointment eaten on the train the next day.

Delicious dessert combined with a disturbing realizing that I had watched enough WWF pro wrestling in my late teens to be instantly and irreversibly reminded of Stone Cold Steve Austin when we went to the ColdStone ice cream store! (We are SOO going back there!)

Three visits to Starbucks and not once did I remember that I have a free drink ticket!

Did I stop talking? I don't recall...I don't think so...

Hoping I didn't say too much beer-addled bullshit in the presence of sober, hard-working folk.

Think the pizza would probably have been quite nice had I eaten some. Why don't I eat when drinking?

(Did I remember to pay everyone?)

So sad all the bookstores are gutted. They have mostly design books, Japan themed books and paperbacks left. Maruzen still rocks!

Thinking me and illahee and kuri should do a Lady Gaga/ABBA skit at the next convention. But only after three bottles of champagne. And a glass or two for them too I suppose.

Did Jo get drunk? Or was I just too pissed to notice?

I think Katy takes a very fine picture for a tipsy chick.

The 11pm curfew for kids was a VERY good idea as I would not have got to the onsen otherwise. Maybe I need a curfew too...

I've never had a trip to Fukuoka go that fast before! I wish I always had one of you in the car to chat to on long trips! Anyone want to go to Miyazaki with me at Golden Week?

Changing Platform - my first sighting of this unique Japanese device. A fold-down platform, about half a metre square, a few inches off the floor, in the big wheelchair toilet, for people to use to get changed. So they can step out of their shoes onto the clean platform and not dirty their clothes on their shoes or their feet on the floor.

LOVED Zara - did not love the prices. With three girls I have to instantly triple the price of any cute thing I see! Might go back for Christmas.

I regret not getting the Green Car (first class train carriage). It would have saved me getting a nasty grease stain on my white jacket that I got while trying to wrestle my bag through the compartment to the one empty seat and over to the window seat when half way home after my feet got too sore to stand standing any longer!