Saturday, May 31, 2008

Japanese "Mr Whippy"

In New Zealand children get excited when they hear the sound of the "Mr Whippy" ice cream truck making its rounds. The countryside of Japan is blessed with another kind of truck - the tofu truck! Every Wednesday and Saturday the tofu truck makes its rounds of this area and as I was the first to start buying from it here it now stops right outside our gate and all others who are desperately wanting tofu come running out of their houses as they hear the rather annoying "Tofu, tofu, tofu" loudspeaker. Although the tofu is more expensive than at the shops it does seem to be a better quality and for the large number of elderly women who live by themselves around here and who have no transportation it has become quite a life line. Of course they don't just sell tofu, but that is their main thing. Not quite ice cream, but a nice service all the same!

Today I finally had it confirmed in the first person what a "mamushi" looks like. It is the only poisonous snake in Japan and this particular one was sitting under a bunch of clover that I was about to pull out. Fortunately my husband was there and identified it then promptly smashed it over the head with a garden shovel. Please don't report us to the SPCA..... Triangular head and relatively short - keep your eyes open!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Another farewell

Life was back to "normal" again today after the departure of our latest group of junior high school students yesterday. They were an interesting group who seemed to spend a lot of time debating how things should be done before actually doing them. The simple task of cutting the bread in the morning turned into a 20 minute discussion about how to cut it to ensure everyone got the same amount - in the end it was cut into huge chunks rather than nice slices, but my philosophy is that they learn by doing and besides it all tastes the same no matter how it is cut!
After breakfast they did a great job pulling out all the onions, chopping the tops off them and then carrying them all to my mother-in-law's house. Next they cultivated the part where the onions had been, built another bamboo support and planted some more tomatoes. Of course I'll need to go and redo most of the supports if they are to withstand a typhoon, but at least they tried their best! One highlight of each visit seems to be a quick ride in the back of the "k-truck". I take them for a hoon to finish off their visit and it is great to see their smiling faces as we race over the big bumps etc. All off the main road of course....

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Junior High School Group #2

Today I went and picked up our second lot of boys for this month. It was a very strange experience! There were 277 students in total and 47 different host families to collect them. The host families sat in chairs holding their name card and facing all the students. Each host's name was then called and you stood up - and the students who were staying with you also stood up and faced you. After greeting each other you sat down again. What makes it so strange is that although you are given profiles of the students in advance you really don't know what they will be like until you actually meet them. In the last big school group there were students with safety pins in their lips, bleached hair etc. who were completely out of control. The sighs of relief from people when they discovered they were not in their group could almost be heard all around the room! Although this school seemed to be a bit more conservative there was still the nervous moment before your students stood up and you wondered who they were.
Fortunately we got a really nice group - even better than last week. They had a great time preparing tea and of course eating it too. The fireflies are also out in force now so going for a wander to see them is a nice way to break tea and dessert. This time the students are only here for one night so tomorrow morning I have to work them really hard in the garden before taking them back to their friends. If we could hand pick the students each time I wouldn't mind having a group each week. Perhaps our luck will run out with our last group next week though. Another anxious moment awaits us on Monday!

Monday, May 26, 2008


The other day my son jumped off the kindy bus and proudly announced that he had caught a crab at kindergarten. I asked him what he had done with it and was told that it was in his pocket. As he pulled out a neatly folded tissue from his shirt pocket I had images of a squashed tiny, smelly crab falling out, but there was a big live healthy crab instead.
As the rainy season approaches there are more and more crabs hanging around everywhere. I was pleased to see that today my son took a container to kindergarten to keep his crabs in rather than stuffing them in his pocket everyday!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cycle safety

One advantage of having school grounds that are dirt rather than lovely green grass is that you can draw chalk lines on them easily to mark out things like running tracks (see - there must be a positive side to everything!). Today the school grounds were marked out as a "road" - complete with working traffic lights, railway tracks and pedestrian crossings. This was all part of the annual visit by the road safety people to promote cycle safety. I went along to help and was again dismayed by the fact that cycle helmets are not only not compulsory, but that they are not even mentioned once during the 2 hour session.... Each year I try to make a point of mentioning it, but each year I am basically laughed at.
At least my children know that if they are on their bike they must wear a helmet. Maybe by the end of this century the rest of Japan will have woken up too!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Home almost alone

It was with great regret that we had to farewell our junior high school visitors today. Actually we had a lot of fun with them, but 3 days was enough! I made the mistake of not checking the cottage with them before they left..... although there was no damage there was a lot of rubbish left all over the place - I will definitely not make that mistake again!
This morning I took them to an 85m high waterfall near where I had to drop them off and they had a great time breathing in all the "minus ions" that were spraying around.
Fortunately my husband was out at a meeting tonight so I got to lie on the sofa and watch a DVD by myself. A nice way to relax after a busy 3 days!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Post number 300

According to my front page this is officially my 300th post in this blog. I just want to thank all of those who regularly look at what we are doing here and encourage me to keep writing. I hope the following 300 posts don't just become repeats of the first 300!
Today was day two of the junior high school visit and was the real "agricultural experience". Of course I had to take them somewhere for them to buy their souvenirs in the morning so we went to Usa shrine where they bought enough boxes of cookies to feed an army while praying at the shrine for good luck in their upcoming exams as well as for a good love life!
We also managed to fit in a bit of gardening- they cultivated one part of the garden, made some bamboo supports and planted some tomatoes. I'm not sure how much work I have to do after they leave tomorrow to make sure the tomatoes will actually grow, but at least they tried! After lunch they did some baby bamboo digging, some wild strawberry hunting, had a soak in the hot spring and then made lots of pizza. A busy day.... I'm looking forward to an early night!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

School trip number 1

Over the next three weeks we have 3 different groups of junior high school students coming to stay. They come from Osaka as part of a group of over 200 and are then billeted out to different families for an "agricultural experience".
The first group arrived tonight and to be honest I was not looking forward to their arrival at all as the profiles that they sent earlier made them look like a bunch of no-hopers who weren't interested in anything. Fortunately they have turned out to be very energetic, very helpful boys who are great with my children. Of course they only arrived at about 6:30pm, but the visit is so far going better than I hoped. Tomorrow I have to entertain them for the whole day and then finally drop them off after lunch on Thursday.
Today they entertained themselves whipping the cream for the pavlova and making the bread for breakfast tomorrow. Tomorrow they will be responsible for all the cooking etc. I'm not sure who it will be harder on - me or them!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Family fishing

After a few weeks of constant work in the rice fields my husband took a break this afternoon to take us fishing. We walked a whole 2 minutes down the road and managed to catch about 12 fish. Of course they were very tiny fish and as most of the water from the houses here flows directly into the river I have a strange feeling that even if they were large fish we wouldn't be overly keen to eat them! The result, lots of fun and lots of fish released back into the river to see another day.
We had a long friend to keep us company too - another snake has made its way out of hibernation for the year!
Of course the day wouldn't be a great day without some wild strawberry hunting - another kilo for the freezer...

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Today we started the yearly pilgrimage to collect wild strawberries for jam. Last year my father was here and due to the slight problem that he is red/green colourblind (and therefore no use at all in hunting for little red berries on green leaves) I didn't collect any at all. But this year I am determined to get at least a few to stock pile into the freezer to make into jam when I finally get some time. My most popular jam seems to be wild strawberry and strawberry mix, but unfortunately you can't buy wild strawberries anywhere and therefore need to go and hunt for them yourself. I am slowly finding more and more spots which seem to be snake free and are not too far from our house. Today I managed to get 1.1kg and tomorrow I hope to get my husband off the tractor for an hour or so to help go into the more wild snake infested areas..... any volunteers welcome!

Friday, May 16, 2008


Imagine a room filled with 54 mothers and their children aged between zero and four. That's right - a total of about 110 people in one reasonably small room. Now imagine being given 30 minutes (originally 45 minutes, but the official ceremony part of the program took too long) to try and get them to know each other and relax in the group. That was my task for this morning. Is anyone jumping up and down at this stage and saying "oh boy, I wish I was in your shoes?". Unfortunately I said I would do this program last year and in Japan that basically means that you are stuck doing it forever and ever.... the only difference was that last year I was given 1 hour and there were only 30 mothers in the group. Of course it would help if they were paying big bucks, but they aren't .... Anyway, it all worked out in the end - I can hardly wait till next year!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Learning together

When I first came to Japan I tried really hard to learn how to write some of the zillions of Chinese characters that exist. However after I started using a computer I never wrote anything - the result being that I can read quite a lot of the kanji, but I can't remember how to write very many. Lately my daughter has been very unmotivated to do her kanji (Chinese characters) homework so in an attempt to get her motivated I have started studying again with her. Unfortunately they learn so many each year that chances of me keeping up are pretty slim... maybe by the time my son graduates I will have mastered the first few years.
Just for your information my daughter is in the second grade of primary school and needs to learn a total of about 160 kanji - some having as many as 18 different strokes.... Every year the number they need to learn increases and by the time they have finished senior high school they have still not covered every single kanji!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Patience with the system

Yesterday I cleaned the house again for yet another visitor. This time it was for the annual visit of my daughter's teacher. If you haven't heard about this before, all the teachers in Japan take time out of school to go and visit every house of every student in their class. That's right - if you have 40 students in your class (which is not uncommon here) you have to visit 40 houses! It sends all the mothers into a flap and is a very weird experience as far as I am concerned.
Yesterday the teacher arrived (fortunately she brought my daughter home with her) came in, sat down and then proceeded to not talk.... I confirmed today with some other parents that it is usually the role of the teacher to keep the conversation flowing, but obviously this teacher is a little different. So after 20 minutes or so of me asking questions and getting one word answers she left and I was left wondering why on earth she had come!
Today I started teaching at another primary school....I was thinking how restless the children were, but the Japanese teachers kept asking me how I managed to keep them so focused - I guess we have different expectations!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Japanese camp

After the guests left on Saturday I went to work... this time I had to do a program for a group of 17 international and Japanese university students. In June they will run a camp for about 120 people so I was responsible for developing a good relationship between the members and also giving them some hints as to how they can make their camp run smoothly. Of course because this was a camp run in Japan they also had to make curry rice... a standard at any Japanese camp! Unfortunately it was a freezing night, but they all pulled together and managed to make some reasonable curry - mind you by 7:30pm in the freezing cold anything hot would have tasted fantastic!
Cooking the rice is always an art at a Japanese camp and the Japanese staff spent the first 20 minutes explaining how much water to put in the special pots, exactly when to stoke up the fire and then exactly when to take the rice off so that it is perfect - apparently when the water that is spurting out of the sides changes to the consistency of snot (their words...) it is ready to take off the fire!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Rain at last

Although the rain that has finally come is a relief for the sweet peas it is probably not so great for the bike and hikers that stayed last night. This time they were from America and despite the rain were very talkative and just happy to be in Japan. I hope the rain that is forecast for all today and tomorrow doesn't slowly dampen their spirits!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Sweet peas

I seem to have a slight excess of sweet peas at the moment.... all of which are self sown! Last year I threw all the old vines on the ground under the tomatoes as a form of mulch and just before we left for New Zealand hundreds of plants sprouted up. I transferred some of them and made a fence for them (the first picture), but then just left the rest to fend for themselves (the second picture) and fend they have! Both lots have gone crazy and are producing hundreds of flowers every day. Amazingly they have really good long straight stems too so I have been trying to pick as many as I can each day (it seems to take a long time!) and giving them to anyone I happen to see. I'm thinking of putting a sign up saying "pick your own flowers" - 500 yen for as many as you can hold in one hand!
My fears of the passion fruit simply flowering and not producing any fruit seem to have been unfounded. There are quite a few little "eggs" appearing on the vines now and as yet no bugs seem to be affecting them. I hope I haven't spoken too soon!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Curtains at last

It will be 2 years this August since we built Kiora Cottage, but today we finally got curtains! Thank you to all those who have coped with all the hundreds of people around this area staring in to the cottage during your stay and having the sun wake you up at some terrible time of the day... but from now on you should get a little more privacy. I met a great lady who made all the curtains, sofa covers etc. for me and it definitely makes a difference.
The guests on Friday will be the first to test them out... followed by all the school groups which are due later in the month. Good timing!