Friday, July 30, 2010


Beach today!

I love the ocean. In the pool the other day, I got bored pretty quickly, and started watching the clock and putting a time limit on our fun. But I seem to be able to just hang out and chill in the ocean for hours on end! I'm not sure why, maybe you can relax more with the salty water helping you stay bouyant, maybe it's the attractive scenery, or the interesting things to watch (sand moving, stone and shells, catching wakame, watching out for jellyfish and the occasional flying fish) or that you can do more interesting things like use the boogie board, or go snorkeling. But a lot of the time I was just in the shallows, accompanying Erica, sitting on a ring, or lying on the boogie board or just floating there, relaxing.

At the same time it's so exhausting! It's the heat, I suppose, it just took it out of us. It doesn't help that our car has no air conditioning, and we returned home in the hottest part of the day, to catch a play-date who didn't turn up...

See the yellow spot right in the centre? That's Lena's ring. All three girls are there in their rings.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pool 2

We made to a pool again today! This time Shimin Pool, the public town pool, which is pretty crap, and which Lena complained about, until I offered her the alternative of going on her own to Baachan's for the afternoon, upon which she decided it really would be okay.

Up a little late today, 8am, laundry and cleaning, blah blah blah, walked Amy to school, did some proofreading, warmed up the lasagne for lunch, then went to visit Chiharu and beautiful, and very sleepy baby Seina. We nearly managed to convince shy Seiya to join us in the pool, but maybe next time.

I forgot the pool had set times. 3 2.5hr sessions, and we came in the middle of one, so we only got just over an hour in the pool in the end, but that was fine.

The girls finished up the day at their English class at Keio, while I cooked and Kanji fixed some of the screen doors, so we can have the windows open without the mozzies coming in. Then we had a stir-fry for dinner, got Erica to bed early, and played a board game, Life, together in the evening. Typical summer holiday day!

PS, just read a blog from two years ago, complaining about the electricity. Well, we finally got it fixed, and we can now vacuum AND have the air conditioner on at the same time.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Katei homons (teacher's home visit) done! Short chat, both teachers seem okay, neither concerned about the trip to NZ, Lena's teacher I was especially happy with as she was taking the teasing Lena's been getting about being a gaikokujin very seriously, and even named the ring-leader and told us she had talked to the parents about it. We are also coaching her from this end on ways to react so she doesn't become an easy target.

Amy has started her craft activity, or should I say, *I* have started Amy's craft activity. She is doing a mosaic picture, and I graphed out the photo she chose so she can draw it on a large piece of paper. Lena hasn't thought of anything to do yet.
I've had lots of aggravations today! Blocked toilet, leaking rubbish bag (don't you hate that!), two episodes of wet pants and nearly a poo in the bed (picture DH running downstairs to the toilet with Erica, stiff as a board, denying she is doing a poo), and a sudden flare-up of allergies, which I am attributing to dani dander, as I shook out the mattresses today. I will go up in a moment to give them all a good vacuum before I attempt to sleep on them tonight. Moments like this I hate Japan.

DH fixed the toilet and just repaired one screen door, and is now exhausted. The kids finished the lasagne (I did the sauce, half the meat) I might go have a nice COLD shower!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thunderbolts and Lightening

Very Very frightening...

When you are in a swimming pool.

We did make it to the pool today, despite Amy having to GO TO SCHOOL! When Kanji warned me that the Keio camp might clash with school, I assumed he was talking about the August 6 peace event they always have, but no, he meant the three extra two-hour lessons the whole Fourth Grade has to have this week to catch up. I was annoyed, and even more so when Amy told me that the reason they are behind is because the teacher spends so much time disciplining the naughty kids.

And shocked of course, when we learned this last night as we ate dinner! Not wanting to lose my holiday I then and there vowed that we would go the pool anyway - the lesson is from 9-11, so I prepared the picnic, got everything in the car and picked her up. I had one visit to the bank to make, and we made it to the pool in time for the 11:50 break (everyone has to get out of the pool for ten minutes every hour), so we didn't feel we were missing out on anything as we sat outside the pool on some lawn by the car park having our picnic.

The lightening stated up just after 2pm. Everyone got back in the water after the break, everyone wondering... but after a few big booms and SEEING the flashes of lightinging from the pool, I had just decided that we were going to go home now, when everyone was chased out of the pool by an announcement over the loudspeakers.

The BIGGEST thunder claps came as we were in the dressing room, and when we came out, most of the people were waiting out the downpour. We decided to make a run for it, or in my case, a waddle, what with my shoes falling off, carting two bags and a toddler. Amy and Lena beat me to the car, then had to stand there waiting because I had the key. We were all soaked to the skin, wetter than we were in the pool, I think!

We had scheduled a visit to a friend in a nearby town next, and the storm continued as we drove. I have never driven in such a downpour! In several places the road was really flooded. In the one below, I had to change into 2nd gear to get through it. And yes, I'm filming and driving, but my new camera is a point-and-click, one-touch video clever thing and I was driving with BOTH hands on the wheel!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monday Monday

Had a very busy but satisfying day.

I slept in until nearly 10!! That was amazing. K. took the girls for a walk. It was lovely waking up to an already cooled room, everyone quietly sitting inside. Erica still in her pyjamas - she had gone on the walk still wearing them apparently. Despite the fact that her chest of drawers is right there under the window, pretty big and unmissable, he can't seem to find it.

I spend the day slowly cleaning up the rooms after yesterday's party. That plus the kitchen took half the day! I like our new arrangement though, with the jungle gym outside, the sofa along the un-used doors, it opens up the rooms a bit and turns it into one combined space, which is better for the summer vacation, I think. The jungle gym's not really for the outdoors, but I have it covered with the over-turned, empty swimming pool.

All three girls were in the pool by 10:15, and only came out so they could go to another pool (the school pool) after which they came home and got ready to go to a third pool (swimming lesson). We will be visiting at least two other pools and the ocean this week, go summer!!!

I planned the week's menus and went out to four different shops to buy all the things we need. I got home, and cleaned out the pool, and made muesli, pesto and goma-ae while cooking a very simple meal for the kids of cold tofu, sausages, rice and soup.

We have a super week planned. To the nagare pool tomorrow, teacher home-visits on Wednesday, between which I'll have the girls in the kitchen making lasagne, then the beach on Thursday, town pool on Friday. Next week is even busier, but that can wait...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Nakatsu Gion Matsuri - Nakatsu Jinja Sunday night

A Gion Kuruma being pulled into the shrine.

Matsuri essentials - kakigori and karaage (shaved ice and fried chicken)

We went after the party with the last few guests left, Kate and Hannah. Kate helped us with our obis. These are not the best photos, but Amy is wearing her other yukata, which is very pretty.
Erica is conveniently showing you how wide her left hand spreads - that's it folks, not a mm more!

Below, the kuruma being pulled around the shrine in a big circle.

Gion Party

The Gion floats come by my house on Sunday morning, which is a great opportunity to watch the festival and the dancing in relative peace, with the ability to escape back into the air conditioning in between floats! Last year I invited people over to watch with me - only for Erica to get sick and have to go to hospital, so the party was cancelled. This year I got my party, and my baby was in full health, so I was very happy!

I love how tidy my rooms look before a party! Picture taken for later inspiration, let's see if I can keep it like that all summer!

I decided to have an ice cream and swimming pool party for all my friends with kids, followed by a pot luck lunch, whatever for dinner, and finally to walk over to the festival in the evening to watch the floats go into the shrine. It's much more exciting at night, and they go faster, but it's special during the day because that's when you see the dancers. We gave them quite a nicely sized audience!

Left: kids' party!Kristin and kids arrived first, then Akiko and Tomomi with
Daichan. Here, Erica is lying down next to him in order to, I don't know, commune with him all the better! She loves babies. Tommy and Lena are fussing over him too, while Amy reads to Sasha and Hiro. Right: around lunchtime, that's Kevin and his cute feet in front in his yukata, his wife next to him, Kate and Amy playing chess in the corner, then Hannah, Georgia, Cameron and Tomomi

Left: same place, same table, different people, different food! Evening drinks with Rich, Kuni and Juna, Kristin, Christine and E7, Hannah (only one who hasn't moved) and Kate and Amy, this time she's showing Kate her drawings.
On the right, your hostess! With Tammy.

KIDS! Left: Erica proving that 21st Century kids do still enjoy lo-tech toys like a View Master. When the little darlings got too noisy, I chased them upstairs to play dress-ups, which resulted in several fashion shows: Right, Nao got to be Snow White.
left, Sasha goes Indian, Singapore style. Right, Juna as Barbie Mariposa.

Nakatsu Gion Matsuri - daytime street scene

The scene in the street near our house on the last day of Gion, when the kurumas from Kurayanashihama Jinja stop by on their procession. At each pre-ogranized stop, the pushers and pullers take a rest, while the dancing girls come out and perform for the neighborhood. In our neighborhood, it's only me who comes out! The lady on the corner provides the drinks and the electricity (an extension cord hanging out her window, that they plug in to get the music) but she stays inside to serve the drinks. Every year someone asks me where I am from, and every year I say "here!"

This is a vid of them pulling the float up the street

My three outside 'our' vending machine. To Amy's left you can see the lantern with our town's name on it. These hang at all the stops.

The Dancers. There were four kurumas, each one stopped for two dances. The very first one we saw was the cutest, this tiny little girl on the left. Below left, the eldest. She was a great dancer, and almost managed to keep a straight face later in her routine, when one of the pullers jumped up onto the stage with her and danced too.
Right: thirsty work! These young girls sit in the back of the kuruma wearing heavy silk kimonos (no summer cotton yukatas for them), full white make-up and heavy decorated wigs. They stay in there with the blinds down, whether they are moving or stopped, only coming out to dance. Mums make sure the little ones get a break though, like this little one, whose Mum got her a (non-spillable) drink.

On the right, Mr Imayoshi, who owns the traditional Japanese paper umbrella factory next to our house, escorting two dancers away from the kuruma to their taxi. Ours is the last stop, and the girls get to finally get out of the kuruma and taken away for their lunch break, in what must be the pure heaven of an air conditioned taxi.

The cute little girl, plus another dressed as the boy, dancing together.

At the last stop, some random guy decided we needed to try on his happi (festival coat). Here is Kristin modeling the garment.

Gion style. The gentleman at the left shows typical male Gion matsuri syle, wearing the team's happi, with the team towel (green) around the neck and a second, more absorbent, and therefore more useful towel, as well; white half pants with a hara-maki, a stomach binding that all Japanese used to wear, to protect the vulnerable stomach area from getting cold, in which case you might get sick. You still see old guys wearing them, and mothers often put them on babies and young children just in case, but apart from that, you only see them at festivals. He's also wearing jika-tabi, two-toed boots, with traditional woven sandals over top - only they are now made out of nylon rope.
Top right: Gion fashion is very traditional, but changes
slighty every year nonetheless. As since trilbys are a big fashion hit in Japan this year, they turned up accessorizing the Gion outfits. Below left: women's style - you can't see under her happi, but the main difference is that the hara-maki is up over the breasts, and most of them wear a towel tied around their head this way. Kids get dressed the same - this is her kid, and he was begging for some juice while she tries to get her money out of some old-fashioned pouch. No handbags have turned up accessorizing Gion style yet! On the right, an ancient old man, must have been about 80, I wondered how many Gion Matsuris he had been to, and the changes in style he has seen over the years.

The mikoshi. Carrying the God House around on their shoulders. They stop at each stop and hoist it up high, arms stretched above their heads. And we were invited to walk underneath! Dangerous, as the heavy mikoshi was only being held up by these very hot, sunburned and clearly exhausted men, but apparently very good luck! Below is the vid of us going under, and a very nice close-up of Christine's lovely handbag!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Nakatsu Gion Matsuri - Kurayanashi Jinja on Friday night

Lanterns hanging in front of the shrine's torii gate and pine trees.

My three, with ramune, candy apple and frank on a stick.

Festival participants on the sea wall in front of the fireworks display.
Getting ready to enter the shrine. See the video below to watch them run in, hurtle round the corner and nearly topple the float. Apparently the next night one of them did fall over and crush someone by the wall.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Karaage Festival

My Three Girls in Yukata, Amy and Lena in the ones they were given after the fashion show, Erica wearing one too!

The arcade street scene, with tanabata bamboo decorations and street stalls, mostly selling karaage (fried chicken,
left: strolling down the old streets near our house; this one has mostly bars on it! Right, on the festival street, the kids are choosing drinks, and going for the ramune, old-fashioned lemonade in an old-fashioned bottle with a marble stopper.

Bon odori dancers in the setting sun, dancing underneath the train tracks. Right, the scene by night.

One aim for the night was to enter the yukata fashion show. You just lined up, got your photo taken, then went on the stage to speak to the DH Asuka (who emcee'd the event the weekend before) and get a towel. I'm not sure if or when we get to see the photos! Right, Amy looking pensive.

Lena and Erica. It's hard to get photos of them NOT smiling or posing!

Me and the Man. He was on the door at an event for his club. Originally it was a 3,500 all-you-can-eat buffet plus all-you-can-drink, ending at 9pm, but there mustn't have been many takers, as the rules changed to Buy-your-own drinks and FREE food!

And one extra!