Saturday, August 30, 2008


Today was the second last day of the school holidays. It has been a long month and a half! To celebrate making it through we all went to amusement park "Space World" in KitaKyushu to play with some aliens. The aliens obviously also visit the toilets there as the "English" written there doesn't make much sense to anyone else. For anyone who has ever visited Japan this probably doesn't surprise you very much, but it is something that still frustrates me. I appreciate that there are signs in English, but sometimes I really wish they would at least get the signs translated properly. Or perhaps this sign is just another illustration of the differences between American and British English?
It was the second time we have been to Space World - the first with Aunty Beth last year and the children enjoyed knowing the things they wanted to do and even managed to go on some different rides too. Being summer getting wet wasn't such a bad thing so the water rides were well used! As fun as it is I am glad it is only a yearly outing......

Friday, August 29, 2008


Last year a lady who had lived in America for 2 years came to stay with her daughter for 2 nights. Since then my daughter has been exchanging letters with them and yesterday they came back for a second visit, this time with the father too. From the minute they arrived the three children had a wonderful time and despite having rain the whole time they managed to catch lots of tadpoles, admire my jumbo pumpkins, pick a watermelon, make pizza and salad and make their own shop, make their own fishing game, play monopoly and do a zillion initiative games. It was great to see them again - we look forward to seeing them again next year too!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Big Marching

For the fourth year in a row (and the last year!) we made our way to Oita City to watch the kindergarten marching group perform in a big marching festival. As always they did an amazing job in a huge stadium (one of the world cup soccer matches was held there so it is no small place) in front of a crowd of thousands. Of course the crowd is concentrated into one area, but still.... It is sometimes hard to remember that the children in this group are all between 4 and 6 years old. Here is a very shaky video which shows a little of what the group is doing and a lot of what my son is doing... It is very long and not so clear, so feel free to watch the first 10 seconds and turn it off! All the noise (aka music) is made by the children - drums, synthesiser etc. The teachers are only there to pick up the drum sticks when someone flings them with too much energy!

School weeding... again!

A lot of the things that happen here are annual events - this morning's efforts was one of them. It was the annual weeding of the school grounds. I can think of nothing I would rather be doing at 7am on a Sunday morning! For those of you who are new to this blog, please look at last year's entry for details - this year's weeding was exactly the same as last year's weeding! The link is: School Cleaning
Some schools are slowly starting to use grass for their grounds... unfortunately we live in a town that is definately not one of the first to try anything new. Maybe by the time my great grandchildren are born they will have a nice soft surface to run on!


On Friday night we had another family come to stay that was very similar to us in many, many ways. Firstly the husband came to Japan in 1996 as part of the JET scheme (a government run programme which places English teachers in schools all over Japan). I also came to Japan as part of the JET scheme in 1996. Although he only participated in the programme for one year he stayed on in Japan and met a Japanese lady, whom he married. They are now raising their daughter in America bilingually and they have just been here in Japan for 3 months to give her some extra Japanese - again it sounds very familiar (for those of you that don't know we did the same thing this year - going back to New Zealand for 3 months).
They were down this way because he is an anthropologist and is very interested in the history of this area. I'm hoping that we will be able to swap notes a bit later on and make a reasonable English brochure etc. about this area. Speaking of English... I have made a rough translation of our Japanese website so if anyone is interested in checking it out the address is: Then just click on the "English" button. I haven't had time to think too much about the content yet, but just for a taste....

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Double Date

Before the start of the holidays my son had a day off kindergarten so I decided to give him a special day out - with just the two of us. He chose to go to the big aquarium about 50 minutes from here and we had a lovely time wandering around for hours - watching the sea elephants perform, getting splashed by the dolphins and of course seeing many, many fish. The fact that it was a Monday during the school term meant there weren't very many people there so we could take our time and look at literally ALL the fish in the place.
Of course if you do something like that for one child you then need to do something like that for your other child.... everything must be fair of course! So, today was my daughter's special day out and she could choose where we were going etc. Of course all things being fair she chose to also go to the aquarium. The only difference being it is now the school holidays, which means the place was packed. She still enjoyed it though - despite the fact that I didn't let her buy anything at the gift shop (which I finally realised was why she wanted to go there in the first place...). Aquariums are pretty similar all around the world, and although this one is nothing spectacular, they do have some fun shows and some interesting fish. But 2 times in less than a month is more than enough for me!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bon Dancing

Last night the annual bon dancing was moved inside due to rain and although that meant it was easier to find a spot to sit down when you had had enough of going around and around it did mean that the lighting was brighter than when we do it outside. This of course means that everyone can see how bad you are at the dancing! For those who haven't heard of bon dancing before, the local communities get together at the end of the bon period and dance around in a huge circle for at least an hour to the beat of the drum and the singing/chanting of an old man. This is another way in which they farewell the ancestors whose spirits have come to visit at this time. You basically go around and around and around and around doing the same steps to the same beat until they change the songs and the beat and you then start doing those same steps to the same beat for another half hour or so.
There are less and less people who participate each year in our community and those who do come along often sit the dancing out until they see the little men come out with their big bags of dish washing sponges which have a number written on them (well that is what we have in our area!). All those who are dancing get one and at the end of the night they have a kind of lottery where you can win exciting prizes like gladwrap and dish washing powder. This year we had 8 sponges and all of them won prizes - 6 boxes of gladwrap and 2 boxes of washing powder!
As well as the fact that there are less and less people participating each year, there are also less and less people who are wearing the traditional yukata (summer kimono) to the event. As a point to any single men out there - if someone is wearing a kimono you don't need to search their fingers to see if they are married or not - just look at the length of the sleeves. If there is a big bit hanging down they are not married.... Just another piece of random, useless information for you!

For anyone interested in seeing what the dancing/drumming/droning is like here is a short video.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Returning to the graves

For the last 3 days the ancestors have been to visit. During their stay they are given offerings in the family altar and although the contents of these offerings seem to differ from region to region and even from house to house, according to my mother in law there are always 5 different plates of food given at our house (I need to take notes!). These 5 plates represent one of each of the basic elements of traditional Japanese meals - miso soup, pickles, beans, a "simmered dish" and of course rice. There is also an additional plate of rice cakes which the ancestors take back to their graves and a bowl of noodles, which represent the strings with which they will carry the rice cakes. During their stay these dishes remain in the altar and are removed as the ancestors are piggy backed back to the grave. The way to the grave is lit with candles and the rice cakes taken and given while praying for the safe return of the ancestors to the grave.
Coming from a country where we often don't even visit the graves of our ancestors more than a few times in our lives it is often hard for me to come to terms with the strong beliefs associated with the spirits etc. here. But, although it is different it is a special way to remember those who have died and we will welcome them all back again next year!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Outside dining

The continuing dry weather made it possible to eat outside again last night with our latest guests. Of course we were pretty much eaten alive by mosquitoes at the same time, but it was still nicer than being stuck inside beside a fan. Another crazy hiker / biker joined Joe for a 3 day tour and we had the pleasure of their company on the first night. It is always nice to have some English conversation (even if it is American English!) and Ali definitely enjoyed having a home cooked meal after about 2 months travelling around Asia. I thought I had made enough to have left overs for tonight too, but no such luck!
On a different topic, my husband arrived home today with his annual haul of towels. For those of you who are new to my blog please check this link for a more detailed introduction into the Japanese art of towel giving... Towel gifts It is a pity I still haven't taken half of last year's towels out of the boxes!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Grave cleaning

The other day I tried to persuade my mother in law that she didn't need to pull out the weeds in my garden (there are more than just a few at the moment) in the 35 degree plus heat. Her response was that soon the ancestors as well as the people coming to pray for the ancestors would be coming to visit so the place needed to be tidied up a bit. In response I have been getting up early and trying to pull a few weeds before everyone else wakes up and pulling a few more in the evenings, but it isn't having too much impact!
Today was grave cleaning day. The family grave and the area around it was all cleaned - the grass cut and burnt. This is all in preparation for Obon - the festival which is held over 3 days to remember the deceased. On the first day the family goes to the grave and piggybacks the ancestors to their home where they stay until the last day when they are piggybacked back again. It is a Buddhist festival and therefore not a public holiday, but many companies etc. take holidays and it is one of the main times of the year for families to get together. Of course the cleaning needs to be done first.... I have got as far as the curtains and light shades.... I think I need some extra help if I am going to get it all done in time!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Peace and Promotion

It is still the summer holidays here, but this morning my daughter, like the majority of Japanese students, had to go to school. At 8:15am the town siren went off. This was the time 63 years ago today that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, senselessly killing so many people. I think Japan has a great way of "remembering" this day and that is by making the youth here the main focus of the remembrances. School children have long discussions about what happened and students make pleas to the nation and the world to stop this kind of thing happening again in the future. There is little blame pushed on anyone - my daughter came home today and told me all about a little boy who had just been given a bike and was riding it 10 days before his 4th birthday when the bomb was dropped. He was killed although some others hid behind huge rocks and were saved, physically anyway. She knew all this, but when I asked her which country dropped the bomb she had no idea. I think this is a great way to promote peace, rather than making enemies with people from the countries involved - especially when it was the leaders 63 years ago who were responsible for the decisions made.
If anyone wants to look at more details of the peace museum here in Hiroshima their official website is: Hiroshima Peace Park

On a completely different note, this evening the children and I headed to Oita City to be part of a radio program which will be aired on Sunday. It was taped as if it really was Sunday so the announcers had to keep being careful to say things like "the Olympics started two days ago" rather than "the Olympics will start in two days time". It was another interesting experience - we were introduced by a friend at ABC and I had no idea what they wanted me to talk about, but they basically spent the whole 50 minutes promoting Kiora Cottage - and have linked it on their website so there is some more good FREE promotion!
For anyone living in Oita who wants a laugh (basically all I got to say was yes, yes, yes) it will be aired from 11am to 12pm on Sunday the 10th on OBS radio.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Festival season

Summer is the major season for festivals here in Japan. On Friday my son did his marching at yet another festival and was rewarded with some free tickets to try out some of the "carnival" type games. There were the standard throw the ring of the hoop and get the golf ball in the hole kind of games as well as the more traditional Japanese attraction of goldfish scooping. At the same festival 2 years ago the children scooped out two goldfish and they are the ones that are still swimming around our aquarium and they are also the ones that produced the little baby goldfish that are swimming around in our little aquarium (only 2 left....). This year the children's grandfather did some great scooping and somehow we managed to bring home 4 fish. Unfortunately it was discovered in the car on the way home that one had already died and then by the morning another two were floating lifeless on the top of the water. There is still one vaguely swimming around, but my hopes for it surviving are not very high! That seems to be pretty standard - no one can believe that our ones from 2 years ago are still alive.
On Friday my children also started swimming lessons here. They are going to a short course of 5 lessons which I hoped would be fun enough for them to want to continue next term. No such luck! Unfortunately the teacher they have got is not in it for fun and is there to make them great swimmers at all costs. There are also about 12 children in the class so not much one on one attention. My daughter is enjoying it enough, but it is taking some pretty big bribes to keep my son going each time. 2 lessons down, 3 to go.... what will I have to tempt him with tomorrow to ensure he makes it to the pools edge??? Bring back Barbara and the Swimsation lessons!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Second birthday celebration

Yesterday was my son's real birthday and he got to celebrate it with another cake and another guest. This time a lovely lady from Nagoya City came to stay. She is thinking about moving to the countryside so that she can give her grandchildren a place to play in the holidays. The things some people do for their grandchildren! Anyway, as much as I wasn't really looking forward to it she had a nice stay and has vowed to come back again - with her grandchildren. A lot of people refuse to have single people to stay, but even though it isn't really very financially viable it often links into other customers so I usually say yes. And besides this lady had just spent the last two months at her daughter's house looking after her new born grandchild. She needed a night of pampering!