Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sports Day

Today was my daughter's first experience of a sports day at primary school here in Japan. Trev and Gill were great sports and came along for the whole day to catch a glimpse of another side of Japan....

Most sports days here are very similar and consist of normal running events and many other "not so normal" events. For example children riding on top of human "horses" and trying to take off the hat of their opponents, throwing many small balls into high baskets, catching balls in baskets on your back etc. etc. There were also traditional dance performances and a Tai-chi demonstration. Of course on top of that there is also the main event - lunch to deal with as well. Although many families now order their lunches from shops, we stuck with tradition and I got up early (5:30am...) and my mother-in-law also got up early and our combined efforts meant we had plenty for both lunch and left-overs for tea!

Almost all Japanese sports days work on a "team spirit" concept rather than an individual performance one and today's sports day was no exception. The students are split into white and red teams and they can earn points in each event for their team. There are no records of individual performances and everyone cheers for the team rather than the individual. At the end of the day the points are tallied and the winning team is presented with a big flag.

Because our school is reasonably small (47 students in total) the entire community is involved. There are many events for community members - some combined with the children and others just for the adults. Trev participated in 3 different events in total - including one where my daughter needed a 50 plus partner.
All in all a long day, but a reasonable introduction to another side of Japan. We are taking bookings for next year's experience now.....
By the way, I have made the photos quite small, but if you click on them you should be able to see them in a larger form.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Yesterday we had a day out in the old Samurai town, Kitsuki. As always our friend, Mr. Nishi, did a great job of showing us around the Samurai house and after Trev managed to pick the lock on the storehouse we headed off to the wonderful 300 year teahouse for a break. As usual the owner charmed us with her knowledge and passion for tea - a dying art here in Japan. She commented that in the past all women were expected to take lessons in both flower arranging and tea ceremony before they were fit to be married, however now very people know how to pour a proper cup of tea. Gill was praised for her wonderful wrist action though and so I'm sure she would now be welcomed into any Japanese family.
For lunch we headed to the convenience store (or dairy for any of you uneducated kiwis) for a few more rice balls and then went to a place that most people wouldn't expect to see in high-tech Japan. My friend, Uncle Tom, has built himself a house in the middle of the bush. He doesn't have any official building qualifications (or skills?), but he has built a great tree house where he lives when he is not being a travel agent. I always take people in the front door without showing them the foundations and poles on which it is built.... that way at least most people aren't too scared to go in! The balcony was a great place to eat lunch and we all decided that the swaying movement of the building may in fact prevent it collapsing in an earthquake. Mind you... I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't want to be the one testing out that theory! Thanks Uncle Tom for a relaxing place to eat lunch.
Today is a lazy day in preparation for the big sports day at school tomorrow....

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Safe arrival and .....

Apologies to anyone who has been checking in regularly hoping to catch a glimpse of my uncle and aunty... they arrived safetly on Tuesday night and have been enjoying the peacefulness of the countryside after a couple of days in the frantic city of Taipei.
It was their first full day here yesterday and although we had a pleasant day wandering around here, up to the big stone buddhas (I was assured that this was their best angle as I tried to take their photo....) and to a supermarket the day took a bit of a terrible turn at dinner time.... the weather is still really warm here and therefore eating outside is still the preferred thing. Last night it was tempura - lots of vegetables deep fried in very hot oil - very nice usually! However this turned to disaster last night when my children managed to tip the very hot oil over themselves..... no one actually saw the incident (I have no idea how it happened) despite the fact we were all sitting around the table next to the oil. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and of course there are many things that I can say now that we should have done differently to prevent this terrible thing happening, but on the positive side I can also say the following. Japanese bathrooms are well designed for dealing with burns. As soon as the accident happened I rushed both children into the bathroom and just ran the hand-held shower all over them - the bathrooms are designed so that water can be thrown all over the bathroom - they are completely tiled and therefore there is no worries about where you aim the water. They also have the shower beside the bath so one child can get into the bath and run water on their foot (my daughter) and the other can keep screaming while their mother (me) runs water all over their head and arm (my son). Because the accident happened in the dark outside and because after the water was run on the children it was hard to tell exactly how much damage had been done we all had images of my son being admitted to hospital and not being able to move for weeks etc. However, luck really was on our side in many ways apart from the design of the bathroom.
For starters the burn to his head was all above the hairline, rather than on his face and it wasn't as large as we had originally feared. Secondly although his arm was burnt on quite a large area there was no immediate blistering (due to the good bathroom!). Thirdly just down the road from us is a hospital which is a leader in burns treatment - they have developed a special cream which when applied to burns not only reduces scaring, but also removes all pain. My children haven't been in pain since they came home from the hospital (10 minutes after they arrived!). My daughter only has a very small burn on her foot. I still shudder every time I think about what could have actually happened and have the feeling I won't ever be making tempura again and my children now understand that the warnings I give them are not just for fun!

Back to Trev and Gill's visit.... after that lovely episode last night Gill and I took it easy today and just went for a wander around Usa shrine before an exciting lunch of rice balls. As Gill said "10 years ago I would never have imagined that I would be sitting eating balls of cold rice wrapped in seaweed". But she was and like most people who try them seemed to enjoy them.
Trev had a bit of a harder day as he climbed up the mountain with my husband in record time. Judging by the snores from both of them during their afternooon nap it was definately not as relaxing as our nice stroll in the shrine gardens!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Benefits of having 2 kitchens

My major plan for today was to clean our house and clean the cottage in preparation for my aunty and uncle's arrival tomorrow night. However.... we went on a honey hunt instead and ended up spending the entire day (and half the night) extracting honey. The little community center just near our house has bees pouring out of the basement vents all the time so we decided to remove them - and the honey! It turned out there were two big hives and although we removed them all I'm sure they will make another hive in there soon. We managed to buy a couple of reasonable sized compost buckets that have the tap on the bottom so after cutting all the comb up it was first put into a big seive at the top and then filtered through a pair of stockings and into the jars. The stocking filter seems to take a long time, but it definately makes a big difference - removing all the unwanted pollen and little bugs that have made it through the first sieve.
If my calculations are correct I bottled up almost 10kg of honey today and there is still a lot more that will filter down over the next couple of days. Not too bad for a first attempt!
Hopefully tomorrow I will finally get onto the cleaning.... after bottling a little more honey of course!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

First honey harvest

Okay - so I'm sure you have all had enough of reading about my weed war... sorry I haven't been updating lately - life seems to have been full of things other than Japanese agriculture!
Finally today the weather and the weekend worked well together and we were able to take part in some honey harvesting. Unfortunately (like so many things lately) the hives were not our own hives, but a friend's who started a year earlier than us. We need to wait until this time next year to harvest the first of our honey.
Anyway, it was an interesting experience - and we did get to take home some delicious honey!
One major difference between European (?) bees and Japanese honey bees is the way they build their honey comb. With the Japanese bees no frames are used within the hive and therefore the honey comb is literally cut out. Depending on how full the hive is - between one and three boxes can be removed at a time and new, empty boxes added to the bottom of the hive to replace them. A big bread knife is used to slice through the comb so the top box(es) can be removed.
Because the comb is not in frames it is not possible to spin it in an extractor to remove the honey. Instead the comb is cut up into reasonably small pieces and then left in a sieve to drip through. A little more time consuming, but the result is delicious!
Tomorrow we are off across the road to the community center to remove the (hopefully) big nests that some bees have spent the last few years building under the floor. People think we are doing a great community service..... our stomachs tell us otherwise! I'm hoping the space under the floor is reasonably big, otherwise it will be me going under to try and cut it out rather than my husband (who is 190cm tall and therefore has a little trouble getting into small spaces!).
My uncle and aunty arrive on Tuesday night so hopefully we will be doing a few more interesting things to write about.

Monday, September 10, 2007


With the children finally back at school and kindy I have managed to get some more time in the garden - something that was definately long overdue! I forgot to take a before and after shot of the garden, but I did remember to take a picture of the pile of weeds that came out of the garden.... it's a little hard to see in the picture, but believe me it is an incredibly big pile of weeds!
Fortunately in Japan they have these wonderful little trucks to cart all the rubbish away, and fortunately my father-in-law has two (I'm not really sure why....) so I got to cruise around in it today - carting away weeds, collecting mulched leaves etc. Sometimes father-in-laws really are useful!
Unfortunately in order to dump the weeds I have to negotiate this rather wonderful piece of architecture, also known as a bridge... Apparently this kind of bridge is designed so that when the typhoons come and the rivers come up really high it can just become part of the river - hence no side rails etc. It is about the width of a car and usually I just close my eyes and hope as I drive over it! Possibly not the most sensible thing to do, but it has worked so far...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pizza oven

In the last post I mentioned that we had helped to make a pizza oven... unfortunately not at our house! Today we tested it out for the first time and although there are still a few problems with getting it up to the proper heat we managed to make some pretty good pizzas, foccaccia and vegetable skewers on rosemary stalks. I was in charge of the menu, although I must admit the breadmaker did most of the hard work for me!
Now all we need to do is keep looking at all the problems that there are with this one so we can make a perfect one at our house.....
Of course the cost is also pretty big, so I'm thinking about getting people to sponsor bricks! You can have your own personal brick in our pizza oven and unlimited use of the oven (well within reason) for a small fee. Any takers please contact me!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

End of the holidays

Sorry about the lack of posts lately.... with the school holidays finally finishing tomorrow we have been spending the last week or so trying to do as many things as possible. Things completed over the last couple of weeks include (in no particular order!):
  • 2 nights camping on a friend's property near the beach with another family. It was our first real camping trip and a really good break away - made even more perfect by a fantastic view of the eclipse in a cloudless sky from a deck chair! We spent most of the days at the beach fishing and swimming and avoiding the large numbers of jellyfish (apparently harmless, but still not particularly nice!).
  • Hosting 4 people who were taking part in a pizza oven making event. On Tuesday we get to test the oven out... just a pity it isn't on our property! If all goes well we may try to convince a few people to come and help us build one too... after the chicken house, the deck etc. etc......
  • Having more guests - this time from Oita City. A brother and sister and their girlfriend and boyfriend. A trip organized by the mother who thought it would be a great way for them to get to know each other better. As it turned out a great time was had by all - especially my kids who loved having big brothers and sisters to play with.
  • Yesterday we topped the holidays off with a trip to Fukuoka to go to the movies and of course go shopping. A slight bit of mis-communication led to one member of our family staying home, but apart from that a nice way to finish the holidays.
From tomorrow it is back to life as "normal" ... the weeds await!
By the way - I've just done a quick count (I'm not totally sure why....) and from my calculations about 77 different people have now stayed in Kiora Cottage. Maybe I should make a special prize for the 100th visitor.....