Monday, May 31, 2010

Undokai 2010

Spot Amy!
Spot Lena!

Lining up for their relays. No idea who won. Amy ran 18th, did okay. Lena ran 1st and 10th, she's a fast runner so she ran twice to make up numbers.

The mighty athletes and their self-portraits. Every year they draw one for the undokai, and they are strung up around the edges of the team tents, drawn on paper matching the team colors. Underneath they write their name, and a wish. Amy's says 'to finish', I think, and Lena's says to get first in the relay. Then every year when it's all over, they are thrown in the trash. I guess they can't be bothered trying to find each person! It's a bit of a shame, so I make sure I photograph the pictures some time during the day.

Foot races. Amy on the left, just in front of the yellow ball. She got a first. Lena is in the centre of the photo, with a red ribbon on her hat, just to the right of the red pole. She placed third. If you're wondering why she got third when she is a good enough runner to run twice in the relay, it's because she had to run against the other really good runners!

Soran dance. Lena is the 4th kid from the right/front, she's looking to the right, her head directly below the white t-shirt.

Baby Gaga and those zabutons! This was still in the morning - you can see why this was the less popular tent, as the sun streamed in all morning. It was hot, but I had a superb view of the races, and it was shaded in time for lunch and the more restful afternoon period.

Parents' event - throwing balls into a basket. Kanji's in the centre, wearing a black t-shirt, just to the right of the guy wearing white. Kids do this too, but theirs is timed, then the balls counted. For grown-ups, the much more humiliating method of "First to get all the balls in wins, Last to get all the balls in gets laughed at by everyone while they try desperately to get that last ball in!". Lunch! Baachan arrived late and left early, but spent a little more time than Jiichan, who bascially only turned up for lunch.

The award-winning bento! We informed Baachan the undokai was in May this year too late for her to order a fancy bento, so I was stuck making the whole thing for everyone. Or rather I should say, I finally had a chance to prove I could make one, after having my efforts ever so kindly undermined by the purchase of a huge 'real' bento every year. Well, this passed muster, with Jiichan even saying it was better than Baachan's, and insisting we take a photo to show Mie, arbiter of all taste apparently. It's not that flash, but it was delicious!

Totally superfluous shot of the baggiest and tightest shorts of the day!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Cushion Race

I just went and did a really silly thing.

I went and lined up with dozens of other parents in a big circle around the school sports ground, clutching zabuton (floor cushions). At exactly the stroke of six, on the count of three, we surged onto the ground sheets in front of us beneath the tents erected for the school sports day (undokai) tomorrow, and grabbed a place for ourselves for the event by placing the zabutons on the ground sheet.

Thanks to Lena leaping forward like a gazelle ahead of the pack I scored a place in the front row. Lena went to find Amy, who had the pins to secure the name tags (yes, the zabuton had to be labeled!). As I sat there on my cushions, congratulating myself for my clever 4-cushion 'L' shape cushion placement, which I hope will discourage neighbors nabbing a place in the empty space of the 'L', I thought, "Why did we all bother to come here and do this tonight, when we could have just all come tomorrow morning and done the same thing?" Then I wouldn't have to worry about my zabutons getting rained on, as happened the year I missed the undokai because Erica had been born three days earlier.

As the PTA VP is at this very moment sitting on the floor in his jammies practicing his bass guitar, I have access to the answers to a Japanese conundrum for once in my life!

In years previous, the rule was that you could save a place for yourself starting from 6am on the morning of the undokai. However, increasing amounts of people were sneaking into the school grounds after dark the night before to secure a place, leaving the more obedient early birds who got up in time for the 6am start frustrated.

After passing out a survey and discussing it endlessly, the PTA finally came to the unanimous decision to adopt the above method.

We left the house at 5:50, and arrived just in time, literally - not five seconds after I squeezed between two bulky men (only I have the height and presence to do that, being a gaijin works for some things!) the 'start' gun went off, and the first event of the undokai, the Oya-zabuton-dash began!

K said many people had turned up as early as 5 o'clock. Actually, I went to Baachan's to pick up extra zabutons about that time (all ours were ruined in the above-mentioned rain) and saw people biking and walking towards the school. We started to get a bit anxious then, with that "Oh no, everyone else is doing something maybe I should be too" feeling, but I thought, bugger that, and insisted we go home and wait until 6 like Daddy said. Surely a space would be left somewhere for us - I'm not fussy about where, because between playing with Erica and running here and there to get the best video shot, I spend very little time in the chosen spot anyway.

So we arrived at approximately 5:57 and I saw a line of people ringed around the outside of the gym. I dutifully lined up along with them, only to be told that the 'zabuton gumi' (cushion group) were actually lined up on the other side of the building, around the sports ground. The 'shikimono gumi' (ground sheet group) had to wait in a wider circle well outside the sports ground. They are the ones who get together with their friends on a large ground sheet placed next to the school buildings (ie, not under the tents) and make a day of it - up until two years ago some of them would even bring barbecue sets and grill away under the hot sun, until that was banned. Now they are stuck with obentos like the rest of us, but they make up for it with beer. Many start drinking as soon as they arrive and are well pickled by lunchtime. Our school still allows this, but another school actually banned eating and drinking outside of the lunch hour in order to dissuade the early morning drinkers. You may wonder why they just didn't ban beer, but then the ordinary folk wouldn't be able to enjoy a nice cool beer with their lunch.

I won't be drinking tomorrow, I'm enjoying a nice cool beer now!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Digging Clams

A friend of Kanji's took us clam-digging last month. I was expecting SAND and even planned to bring a bucket and spade for the kids to make sandcastles if they got sick of digging (though I forgot at the last minute to throw them in).

Good thing, as we went to this rock beach instead. Luckily I brought gumboots for all the kids! We met the friend at a homeware store, and Kanji went in to get some supplies - rubber shoes for himself, digging forks, gloves, a bucket and a small chair (!) in case he needed a wee sit-down. All recommended by the friend, who has done this before - on those rocks, there really isn't a place to park your bum!

The kids held up quite well really. They found crabs and shrimps and hermit crabs and oysters (apparently no good for eating) and other creatures among the rocks, and occasionally a clam. I think I got two, but I was the first to find one. The beach is practically fished out, it's sad, apparently you used to be able to come away with a bucket-ful.

Erica needed a nap, so I happily took off in the car with her, to get her to sleep. Amy and Lena took off with Kanji's friend's wife to go play at her house with her daughter, who is the same age.

Kanji persisted, and ended up getting about two supermarket trays' worth of clams, for the 500 yen fee we paid for access to the beach! He could have bought as many clams and skipped the digging, but it was all for the experience! We had clam soup and clams fried in butter and garlic the next night (we gave them a day soaking to get the sand out)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Catch Up

A friend posted a photo on facebook yesterday of her with her kids, who are now teenagers. She was saying how great it was when they are small! In the photo, they are about the age of Amy and Lena now. Comments from other friends included how easy it was to control them and keep them safe at that age.

I've always paid heed to comments like this, to enjoy what I have NOW not lament the downside, then be stuck in the future feeling nostalgic and regretting that you were too stupid to enjoy it at the time. I kept this in mind from when Amy was a baby, when people said that the time when their babies were small was the best time in their life.

It's a little more difficult with Amy and Lena, because I don't have the benefit of hindsight, but I keep friends' comments like the above in mind. It's easier with Erica because I can know how quickly they grow up!

I'll do separate entries for each of them, I think.

Me, I'm working at OIT and doing two classes for Keio. I'm saving up my money for a trip to NZ in December, and have several other short breaks planned between then and now, so as always, I'm getting around. I still love travelling, love getting my life compartmentalized into a suitcase(or six) and taking off somewhere.

I'm editing the AFWJ Journal and really enjoying it. I've done three now, and I'm getting into a rhythm with them, knowing how much work I have to do, and scheduling myself to get it all done, without the house looking too much like a bomb hit it in the days before deadline!

Kanji is working at the self-service stand nearby, coming home to look after Erica on Thursdays and Fridays when I work. She loves him, and it's good for them to spend the time together, even if he resorts to putting the TV on too often! However, he does that because she spends 90% of her time ON him in some physical capacity, demanding to be balanced, tickled, flipped or thrown in some way.

He hasn't had any gigs lately with his band, I'm not sure if there's a band per se at the moment, everyone has several projects on. He is doing a radio show on Sunday nights at 9pm, you can listen online, noas fm.

I'll post this now and then post the kids' ones in a few days, after I've had time to add everything!

They are compliant



Today is now my favorite day of the week, as I have NO classes, and the girls cook dinner! I got that idea off an AFWJ friend who taught her kids to cook once a week. It's a great idea! So far we've done spaghetti bolognese - that was the first dish they did, it's one of their absolute favorite foods, they practically shouted it out as their first choice!

Last week we did niku-jaga, a potato and beef stew with soy sauce flavoring, and today it's shio-saba, (salted grilled mackerel) with miso soup with potato and tofu, broccoli with mayonnaise and fresh corn on the cob with butter and salt.

That is, if I can convince them to stay quietly at home and not go play with their friends, and invite their friends over here, as Wednesday is also the day they get home relatively early from school. They just exploded through the door and it's already 4:02.

One week I just cooked something else, as they were busy playing with their friends, and they were so upset! Because they are in charge of the menu, they really look forward to it, as the day when they get to eat their old favorites.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sirens blazing

Armed Robbery on our block! A gang of thieves with bad postures, greasy hair and 3-day stubble held up the liquor store with a kitchen knife and toy gun and made off with several large bottles of expensive sake, witnessed by a dozen high schoolers on their way home, a Mum and businessman who happened to be coming out of the PO at the time.

I was just cruising past the Post Office when I saw the flashing lights and the tiny police woman running across the road ahead of the backed up cars towards the liquor store. Then another car came, and more police.

Okay, so I actually have no idea what was going on, I'm just imaginatively filling in a few missing details, complete with stereotyped 'thief'. This is Japan, so it was probably a teenager shoplifting a carton of cheap sake. That would warrant a 3-car turn-out and half a dozen coppers. After all, I had ELEVEN uniformed and plain-clothes police officers and detectives at my house in about ten minutes when I thought I had an intruder. (In retrospect, it was probably a stray cat).

We drove past the scene of the crime four times, actually, once on the way to pick the girls up from swimming, again on the way to Kanji's shop to warn him to lock his office door, because, you know, thieves go straight from one crime to another, no break, with masses of cops around; again when we went home to get the money I forgot to buy the Hotto Motto dinner I had promised the girls, and again on the way home again.

While walking into Hotto Motto, a police car came screaming around the corner and flashed off up the road in a blaze of screaming lights. It all seemed a bit over the top, as I couldn't discern what on earth they were chasing. Maybe they just never get to use their lights and sirens so figured this was a good chance. Unless they had, in the intervening half hour, actually figured out whodunnit and were going to catch them before they, I dunno, jumped on a ship and sailed to North Korea.

Would be nice to know what was really going on.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Erica copies her big sisters (who are copying me of course) and tries to put on make-up. Only she made a wee mistake - she used an inkan (name seal) box and INK! Here she is admiring the effect:

Family band. Believe me, you DON'T want to hear the video. This was just after we got back after Golden Week. We had stopped by Toys'r'Us on the way, and I got her the drum kit.

Being a toddler of course she preferred the box at first!

Mother's Day

My kids treated me very sweetly on Mother's Day this year. I woke up to a kerfuffle, as I had come downstairs (after a sleep-in and a cup of tea in bed) to three little girls who hadn't quite finished their cards to me. These are SO sweet!

The explanatory note on the right is written by Amy, and says 'black scribbles are glasses'. Erica was quite aware that she was drawing ME and made sure I had my glasses on.

The flowers Kanji got me

He took the girls to Youme Town to get me a present. They came back with this, they know how I like boxes!

And then lunch! Salad, rice balls (ume and shiso flavors) and a fried egg with bacon. It was delicious!