Monday, October 29, 2007

Daurian redstart

I've had a few days of lazing around on the sofa trying to get rid of a sore throat and an extremely sore arm - according to the doctor I somehow managed to inflame all the ligaments in my forearm while I was digging peanuts.... I think I am on the mend now and managed to get into the garden to start clearing it up for the big onion planting (on mother-in-law's "request"). I had quite a big harvest day with sweet potatoes, chillis, basil and beans among some of the goodies. Of course I forgot to take photos so that will have to wait till tomorrow.
One thing I finally did get a photo of (from a distance...) is a little bird that has been following me around for the last few days. The close up picture is from a different homepage... I have managed to identify it as a male Daurian redstart (ジョウビタキ) - also known as an old world fly catcher. Whatever it is I could sit and watch it for hours. It reminds me a bit of a waxeye in New Zealand as it just plays around and lets me come quite close - unless of course I am holding a camera. This is why I tried to make my birds table.... to attract some nice birds. Unfortunately the only birds that ever came to the bird table were crows mixed in with a few preying mantis! I guess I need to work out what it likes to eat and see if I can find it a friend.

When Beth was here she commented that there was so much Halloween stuff around. She was right - the shops seem to be overrun with Halloween things and cake shops and flower shops seem to take it to the extreme. The only problem with this is that no one has any idea at all about what people usually do on Halloween .... another great case of commercialisation! Despite this we showed the kids a little bit of what Halloween is about with a small dress-up party (despite spending a long time making a pirates costume for my son he refused to wear it.... ) at a friends house. The children went trick or treating in different rooms of the house rather than going to different houses. They seemed more than happy with this - I guess chocolate is chocolate wherever you get it!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New appreciation for wax

We had a last minute guest last night from Yokohama. He is another of the city dwellers who thinks he might like to live in the countryside and so is going around a few places trying to find the best place to live. The only problem he has is that he hasn't told his wife that he is even thinking about moving to the countryside and she doesn't know that he is currently travelling around researching places! This also seems to be a growing trend - the husband wants to move, but the wife is more than happy being close to the shops etc.
Because of this guest (who LOVED to talk) I couldn't get as much done today as I had hoped to, but I did finally try something that I had been wanting to try for a long time - make some beeswax. One of our hives had been evacuated by the bees and they left behind them some honey comb that had no honey in it. I figured it was a waste to just throw it away so thought I'd melt it down and make some bees wax... easier said than done! I followed all the instructions in my book and melted it down in a big pot of hot water. The main problem was that there was actually only a very small amount of wax in the honeycomb... most of it was rubbish. So after a few times filtering it, remelting it, filtering it etc. I finally got my bees wax.... about 100mls in total! Of course there is still plenty on all the pots and utensils I used to do it, but that seems like an impossible task to remove. I think I have worked out a good system for next time though... here's hoping no more bees disappear in the near future so I don't have to test it out. My dreams of making candles, soap, handcreams etc. are still a long way off!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

More farewells

Many people ask if I feel homesick or find it difficult living away from my family in New Zealand. I always answer "no - if anything I feel closer". This may seem strange, but since I came here I feel like I have had more contact with, and more opportunities to spend longer periods of time with different people from my family than I would have had if I was living in New Zealand. This year we have been particularly lucky with many different visitors and having Beth and Terry here was no different. It really was great to get to know them better and to be able to show them just a little bit of the area around here.

They left today for a week on the beach in Thailand (after 10 days here with my children they need it!), but before they went we managed to fit in a day at "monkey mountain" and Terry also went for a soak in the mountain hotspring while the rest of us went shopping at the 100 yen shop! I'd show you a photo of Terry relaxing in the outdoor onsen, but.... as Terry commented - I think my husband may have used the zoom a little much!

On our way home from Fukuoka we detoured past "Scarecrow Village", which was a neat little area where someone had very cleverly made a whole lot of scarecrows doing everyday things. Kids playing, people watching TV, people fishing, hunting, taking a bath etc. etc. A little bit of fun in the rice fields that are now looking very bare!
There are no guests due for a little while so anyone who feels like a break from the big city is welcome to come anytime! Thanks Beth and Terry for some more great memories.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Samurai warrior

Today we headed back to the samurai town of Kitsuki and I learnt even more facts about the detailed lives of the samurai. Today it was a lesson in swords. Did you know that when a sword is placed to "rest" in its holder the blade should be facing up and the handle should be pointing to the left side... this is to show that you do not intend to kill anyone with it (unless of course you are left handed...). Terry got to have a bit of a swing with a sword and Mr. Nishi found a great umbrella for a beautiful "2-shot".
Next it was time for the traditional tea experience, where as usual the atmosphere and the enthusiasm of the owner were more appreciated than the actual tea itself! The owner of this shop never fails to amaze me. When we walked in today it was obvious looking in the back room that someone close had died very recently. It turned out to be her father-in-law who had been the 9th generation owner of the shop and who had died only about a week before. Despite this the shop remained open and the owner managed to make us feel more than welcome while also dealing with visitors who had come to pay their respects. When I asked if she had thought of closing the shop for a few days she said it would never cross her mind - she would never want to dissapoint someone who might try to come to the shop and discover it was closed. Of course she didn't have to be there for all the time herself, but her dedication to the business is just incredible. One place I never get sick of going to!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Good sports

Today Beth and Terry gained full marks for being good sports. I had to do some teaching at a primary school and so they came along for the morning (they weren't really given too much of a choice to be honest!). After coping with the lovely slippers (not too much fun for climbing up and down stairs) they managed to introduce themselves 16 times - once to each student with the standard "Hello, my name is .... Nice to meet you" set phrase and play a few games relating to fruit before heading to the classroom for lunch. Now not everyone who comes to visit gets to experience school lunch.... I'm not sure if they were "lucky" or not! There is nothing more relaxing than trying to eat slippery noodles with slippery chopsticks in a class of little midgets - one of whom just couldn't come to grips with the fact that Terry couldn't actually speak any Japanese. He told him his whole life story in Japanese while slurping as loudly as he could!
After lunch there were more fun and games when they got to play tag with the entire school (about 26 students in total), but where they had no idea of the rules and then play hide and seek with the entire school where everyone could hide anywhere they liked in the entire school. Unfortunately they were first found so they also had to be the seekers in the second round!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hives and different hives....

Today started out with finding another swarm of bees that had decided to take off and land on my hanging basket - again. I had been thinking of taking the basket away lately, but it seems to be a popular spot for the bee swarms so I think it will have to stay there until it rots away! They are currently in a bag in the garage and hopefully we will get around to getting them into their new hive tomorrow....
A few days ago I also discovered a new kind of "hives" - the itchy kind! I have never experienced anything so annoying in my life! For anyone (like myself) who doesn't know anything about them they are basically extremely itchy patches of skin that come up in different places on your body at different times of the day and drive you completely insane! The doctor informed me (and was backed up by internet research) that they come up as part of an allergic reaction to something I have eaten or touched… haven’t worked out what yet! The first day it got me quite worried because I went to bed as usual, but woke up in the middle of the night completely covered in them – only to discover they had disappeared in the morning so I couldn’t show them to anyone. Same thing the next night, but then they started coming up in the daytime too so at least I could get some sympathy and input into what they could possibly be. I’m hoping they will clear up in a few days, but the chronic ones can continue for up to 6 weeks…..I won't thrill you with a photo of them - not good viewing before meals!

Apart from hives today was focused on mountains. We headed back up the ski lift to Rakanji temple and yet again had a really nice time wandering around with only a couple of other people. I think Beth and Terry found it very relaxing after the crowds at Kyoto!
We got home quite early so Beth and Terry decided to head up the mountain behind our house. Unfortunately they didn't even get to the start of the track as they were greeted by a big dog that didn't want to move over for them on the road.... they spent the afternoon relaxing in the cottage instead!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Learning new things every time

Today we had a nice leisurely wander around Usa Shrine. I always find it a really peaceful place in great surroundings - huge trees among the many steps.... Every time I go I find out more details about the shrine itself as well as the Shinto religion which the shrine is based on. Today I learnt more about the rope and white pieces of paper that are always hung at the entrance to a building within a shrine or to the shrine itself. While my father was here he asked what the meaning of these things were, but the best explanation we could get was that they were decorative and marked the entrance to a sacred place.

Today the priest I was talking to offered another explanation (he did say that no one really knows the exact origin). His explanation was that the Shinto religion originated from the rice farmers and rituals relating to praying for a good harvest and celebrations to give thanks for a good harvest. The white paper represents clouds and the shape is like lightning bolts - both relating to rain which is a vital aspect of rice farming. This makes a lot more sense to me than that they are solely decorative.

After the shrine and a cup of coffee we pottered around among the 512(?) little buddhas that are just around the corner. Beth searched for the one that looked just like her, but despite finding Dad as well as some others that looked like they were very pleased with themselves she couldn't quite decide which one looked the most like her. Tomorrow we head up the hill to even more little buddhas - as I think I've commented before... you can never see enough little buddhas!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Tourist town

Today we headed to Yufuin, a touristy mountain town. Although it is set in beautiful surroundings it has become a bit of a trap for tourists - lots and lots of shops selling things to take home for others.
However despite that we managed to feed the local entertainment - the carp and also managed to find a man who my father made friends with while we were there in May. He is a man who draws portraits of people and when my father wandered past last year he was called into the man's little tent to have his portrait painted for free - the man telling him that he was so sick of painting Japanese faces.... So today I took the photo my father took of the man and also a photo of the painting he drew to say thank you which resulted in Beth getting her portrait painted for free too! Not a 100% true likeness, but not too bad either. I think like many of the places you visit here in Japan it is the people that really make or break the place and he seems to be one of the many nice ones. He is interested in going to New Zealand so I said that he was welcome to stay with any of my family.... yoroshiku!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Space World

Beth has spent the last 2 months or so travelling around South-East Asia so is not so interested in going to lots and lots more temples and shrines and doing a whole lot of sightseeing. So it being Sunday we took off on the train to "Space World", a theme park about an hour or so north of here by train. No temples or shrines in sight, but plenty of new fashion items, smiling characters (gotta love Lucky Rabbit and Vicky Rabbit!) and of course roller coasters! Even the kids enjoyed some this time - doing the splash mountain kind of one twice and laughing their heads off on some of the other ones. Beth managed to go on some of the "scarier" ones by herself, but did finally say no to the one that had a rather long vertical drop with a triple twist!
It was great to have a day of fun with the kids (I'm not really sure who were the biggest kids!) and nice to be able to take the efficient, clean train rather than the dirty, slow car!
Anyone interested in finding out more about the park please look at the following link: Space World
The only real disappointment of the day was the "parade" which featured 3 (yes that's right only 3) floats!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Harvesting season again

I am very fortunate in that I have many family members come to visit me. But as more people come from the same family the pressure to do things that no one else has done increases. When my father was here there were great shouts of joy if we discovered that we were going somewhere that my youngest sister had never been. Now my middle sister is here there is also a little pressure to find some new things - the first of which is rice harvesting. Of course it is not new for me, but I think it is the first for the "Fergies". Today my father-in-law started the first of 3 or 4 (or more depending on the weather) days of harvesting. Of course it is not as difficult a task as it was in the past, but those finished bags of rice are still pretty heavy to heave onto the truck. My son discovered they make a pretty good pillow too... perhaps they could be the next form of "wheat bag"!
Beth and I had a really lazy day - catching up on sleep, e-mails and of course a trip to the 100 yen shop!
For anyone who didn't catch last year's blog about rice harvesting and who is interested in the process please look at this link: rice harvesting

Animal visitors

Yesterday I was driving to a school to teach some English when I saw what I thought was a big dog on the footpath... however after a closer inspection I discovered that it wasn't in fact a dog, but a big monkey just hanging about. It didn't seem too worried by the car and my camera (for once I actually had it with me!), although it did move back a few metres to the safety of a tree. As I have mentioned in previous posts there is a big mountain here in which many monkeys live. It looks like one of the male monkeys was kicked out of his group and has come wandering into this area. Here's hoping he stays away from our house - not too many worries there considering how noisy my children are!
The other animals which are roaming about at the moment are wild boars - they come out to rummage in the chestnuts and unless fences are put up they also love to roll in the muddy rice fields. One farmer near here has an interesting way of putting them off - he puts a tiger in his field! I'm not sure whether it was the fence or the tiger, but his field hasn't been invaded by boars. Maybe it could be a big seller for next year!
Last night my sister, Beth, also arrived which means my children go a little crazier than usual for a while. We thought we would surprise her and go to the station to get her off the EXPRESS train (she was going to call when she arrived, but we thought we would guess which train she was on and surprise her) so went to the 4:08 train, the 5:08 train and finally arrived for the 6:08 train a few minutes early only to discover her there already. She had managed to make it to us via the LOCAL train.... a longer journey than necessary, but at least she got to stop at ALL the stations between here and Kokura! A hint for the unknowing... if the train is at the station for more than one minute before it leaves then chances are it is a local train and not an express train! Either way they both make it to us....

Monday, October 08, 2007

Birthday season

Today is not my daughter's official birthday (that was on Thursday - cake number one....), but today is her 7th birthday party. To her "birthday" means "cake" and this year I decided to give up on a shaped cake and just go for a plain square one - with a few decorations on top. Due to this wise choice the cake is now finished and there are still 4 hours until the "party". Guess what shape I will be making again next year! Today's cake has one photo of my daughter from every year of her life - amazing how fast it has all gone! Anyone in the area is welcome to pop in this afternoon - anytime after 2pm!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Farewells and Welcomes

Trev and Gill took off from here on Tuesday on the Sonic express train for their big adventure to Hiroshima and Kyoto. I'm assuming they made it okay and are now back on their way to New Zealand via Hong Kong. It really was great to have them here - here's hoping they come back again soon!
On Wednesday night we had some other visitors - part of the biking tour group. This time there were two Americans and one Australian along with the American guide. It is always nice to hear about their travels in Japan, although one story about witnessing an old man urinating on a school girl on an escalator in Tokyo wasn't exactly the wonderful image of Japan I always hope people go away with! It was good to hear that the Australian spirit came out though and that the old man was treated to a few whacks around the head with an umbrella and an abuse session - even if it was in English! It is the first real story of that sort of thing that I have heard first-hand, although I know it is not so uncommon.....

Monday, October 01, 2007

Rakanji Temple

After our big day yesterday we took it a little easy today and headed up the ski lift to the 500 plus stone statues in the caves. (Those who are reading this for the first time please check out this link to read a little more about them). I always enjoy heading up to this temple, but one thing that really struck me today was the smaller cave which contains many carved stone figures dedicated to babies who died before they were born and children who died when they were very small. Here the parents or relatives can write their thoughts and prayers on a wooden spoon and place it like an offering to the gods.
When my father was here he was also impressed by the way the Japanese are able to express their grief over mis-carried and still-born babies. Often in New Zealand there is no way to do this, but after reading messages from the parents today I was moved by the fact that they were able to use this place as a means of dealing with their grief. There were some messages expresssing hope that the dead baby would be finding happiness in heaven and others which relayed their regret for not being able to care for the baby well enough. Obviously this cannot bring back the babies, but it does seem to help the parents deal with the death and recognise the death in a way that is not always possible in the western world.
That outing was followed by a trip to revolving sushi (can't come to Japan and miss out on that!) and then a meal out with my husband's parents.
Tomorrow Trev and Gill head off on their big adventure to Hiroshima and Kyoto (don't worry Hannah - they are coping with everything amazingly). Their stay has been far too short and we will all be sad to see them go. Thanks Trev and Gill for a great week - we are looking forward to seeing you in NZ soon and of course back in Japan in the near future too!