Friday, February 27, 2009

School Visit

Two years ago my daughter started school in Japan. Now it is my son's turn. Although he doesn't officially start till April they had a special morning at school today where the new children could come and play with the current first graders. They did a great presentation on the kinds of things they do at school and then played games with all the new children.
It has been interesting how different it is for me the second time round. With my daughter I was worried about everything (as was she) and this time I hardly bother to listen to any of the explanations and my son seems to be already at home at the school - despite going to a different kindergarten than all the other children in his class, he already knows a lot of the children at school as he often plays with his sister there when I have to go to PTA meetings etc. Even the dreaded preparations (check out my post here from 2 years ago if you are unsure of what is necessary for children when they start school in Japan....) seem to be under control. Almost boring! Now just one more month of splitting time between kindergarten and school. I can hardly wait!!!
By the way.... the little girl in red is one of the current first graders... my son will be one of the new students.... he is tall... just in case you hadn't noticed! Perhaps it is because his father is 190cm tall - definitely not because he eats lots of vegetables!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Welcome back

One of the hardest things about owning a small guest house is not knowing exactly what kind of guests are going to turn up on your doorstep. One of the best things about owning a small guest house is that some really nice people end up on your doorstep - and sometimes more than once! Yesterday's guests fitted into that category - they had come to visit as part of a group of four in August 2007 and my children remembered everything about them. Last time they taught them how to make animals with shadows and this time it was how to spin batteries.... Having people come more than once is great for the kids as it means we don't have to go through some of the nervous, hyperactive behaviour which seems a prerequisite of every first meeting.
The woman is going to New Zealand for one year on a working holiday visa from April so it was good to be able to talk with her about what she wants to do there and give her a few hints about the differences in culture etc. If anyone is in the Napier area who needs a part time worker etc. or knows of anyone who is in need of a part time worker then please let me know! I'm sure she would be a great worker.... Or if anyone knows of any belly dancing classes in Napier, again let me know! Nanna - I'll write to you later, but she is really looking forward to coming to see you and eat some of your wonderful sushi! Just no seafood please!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Japanese medicine

I have lived in Japan for about 13 years now and every year the number of things that I "need" to be sent from New Zealand seems to decrease (I can hear my family saying "thank goodness" from here!). I think this is a combination of getting used to the Japanese things as well as finding ways of getting things from New Zealand here in Japan. One thing that I can't seem to get used to here though is the medicine. The standard painkillers just don't seem to work and the medicine is often just too horrible to take. The reason I say this is because at the moment I have a cough that just won't seem to go away. I don't want to go to the doctor so I dug into our medicine box (more on that later) and got some cough medicine. Now I'm pretty sure that in New Zealand the majority of cough medicine is in a syrup form which is great if you have a slightly sore throat as it just slides down and the flavour is usually very pleasant. Unfortunately a lot of the medicine here is in a powder form which you tip into your mouth and then gulp down with buckets of water. It is actually quite a good idea - you can take it anywhere and don't have to measure it out. However in reality most of this powder tastes absolutely disgusting and tends to stick to the sides of your mouth before eventually making its way down your throat. Also when you have a cough you tend to cough a lot and often just as you put things into your mouth.... which means the powder flies all around the room! Most of the children's powder medicine is nicely flavored (with the exception of some which is so bitter you need to mix it with liquid chocolate to make it go down), but apparently adults should be strong..... give me the nice New Zealand liquid stuff any day!
On a better note, Japan has a great system regarding medicine boxes (I don't know if this is all over Japan, but it is very common here). There are many companies that give you a full box of medicine (I think we had 4 full boxes at one stage) for free. You just keep it on your shelf and every 4 months or so the salesperson comes around with their little machine, checks what is left in it, replaces any out of date medicine and then charges you for any medicine you have actually used. My husband tells me the system started in the Edo period (1603 to 1868) in Toyama prefecture where there was a pharmaceutical company that began to distribute medicine all over Japan (I have no idea if this is true or not). Anyway, it is a good system in that you don't have to buy a whole lot of medicine just in case you need it and then discover it is all out of date a few years later. You also don't need to go racing around in the middle of the night trying to find a chemist which is open (an impossible task her in rural Japan!).
So there is a muddled version of the good and bad about Japanese medicine. Of course I could go on about the amazing excess of medicine prescribed here (once a doctor told me that there was no medicine that would help my daughter and then proceeded to give me a prescription for 3 different medicines....) but I'm sure you are sleepy enough already!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Great Ideas

My husband often has great ideas. Unfortunately a lot of his great ideas involve a lot of work on my part! The latest great idea was that we should ask one of our neighbours if we could pick the "kinkan" from her tree that she never uses anymore. Of course she said - no problem please pick away..... So my husband got us all together and we went on a kinkan picking expedition and came home with a huge basket of kinkan. At this stage I really had no idea what a kinkan was, let alone how to turn it into marmalade (which was what my husband thought I should do) but for the sake of family happiness I went along with the plan. After coming home with our huge basket of kinkan I researched what they actually were and discovered they were cumquat (or kumquat - depending on what book you look in). For anyone who is silly enough not to know what a cumquat is... it is a VERY small citrus fruit that you can basically only eat the skin of. To peel it is a ridiculous task, but in order to make marmalade a very necessary task! In the end I managed to make a few jars of runny marmalade and some much more successful candied cumquat and some even more successful candied cumquat rind. Needless to say there is still a big basket of cumquat sitting on my kitchen floor.... anyone want me to send them a few?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Time slip

Oops - yet another week has flown by and I haven't kept up with what we have been doing... maybe next week (I seem to have said that before....).
From Monday we had another group of junior high school girls come to stay from Hiroshima as part of their school trip. Despite their visit being less than 24 hours and the fact that it snowed while they were here (we were in t-shirts the other day) .... they never complained and tried everything with screams of "this is so much fun". I never thought lighting a fire could become such a major activity - let alone cutting the wood to go in it! Now all we need to do is get a lot of strong visitors over the wood cutting season and have them pay us for cutting it - that sounds like a great scheme!
The chickens also proved to be a big hit and the brave girl among them managed to catch them no problem, while the others wandered around avoiding the poos. They would definitely be no good on a kiwi farm!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

REAL tofu making

Today I joined some other women for a "tofu experience". There is a small tofu "factory" near here that you can go to and spend 3 hours or so making a big batch of tofu. It was a far cry from my pathetic attempts - we made 30 blocks of tofu from 4kg of soy beans, compared with my tiny block from my 100g or my medium block from my 300g! But basically the process was the same, just on a much bigger and far more organised scale. As a reminder - the soy beans are soaked over night then put through a processor before being boiled. The mixture is then squeezed through a cloth bag (they had a wonderful machine to make this soooooo easy) then when the resulting soy milk is at about 80 degrees Celsius a salt brine is added and for some reason known only to chemists the soy milk hardens into tofu. It is then put into a mould (or scoop into baskets) and pressed before being cut. We even got to put it in the proper containers and seal them before bringing them home.
It was an interesting morning and I really liked the story about how the tofu factory came about. Basically there used to be an old lady in the community who made tofu and sold it to the locals, but she eventually gave up. The community then tried to convince someone to make it again for them, and in the end the whole community got together, pooled their funds and spent 3 months making huge mistakes until they eventually perfected the making of tofu using local soy beans etc. It is a community effort that is now starting to make some money. Maybe in 20 years from now I will be able to tell the same kind of story about something that happened in our community.....

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

February 4th was officially our 19th wedding anniversary (okay, so we were married in both Japan and New Zealand so it was our 10 YEAR wedding anniversary in Japan... our 20th anniversary, or 10 year anniversary in New Zealand is next week). I am not very good at anniversary gifts, but this year I went all out. Rather than spending lots of money on something that will be of little use I decided to go with something that will last a whole winter long and be appreciated greatly, giving our family that warm fuzzy feeling that is so necessary..... that's right, I spent the last few days (in between teaching, running around after the kids, doing the housework, doing the washing etc. etc.) cutting a huge pile of wood. To be honest the photo doesn't actually do it is one huge pile! My father in law has spent the last week or so cutting down some trees to make way for something (not exactly sure what....) and cutting each log into exactly the same size length pieces. My husband has been away for the last few days studying about grass (don't ask!) so I decided to attack the wood. I would have to say that I think I am the perfect wood chopper. I don't attempt to cut each piece exactly in half - because that would mean that we would have no small pieces to get the fire going (well that is my excuse anyway). I always manage to cut it into varying sizes - with lots of little splinter bits! Either way it is a huge pile of wood (yes Mum, I do do a lot of the chopping etc!) and it is my gift to my husband for putting up with me for 10 years. Unfortunately as you can see in the second photo there is still a lot of wood to be cut, but mostly small stuff. I made the mistake of asking my father in law if that was the last of it.... unfortunately he smiled and said "oh no, there is still plenty more to come!". Fortunately I am off to Kitakyushu tomorrow to do an outdoor education program - if my legs will carry me that far!
In other news... the hens are still laying very well and yes, it is still winter! Unfortunately my ideas of my daughter getting to practice all her times tables is falling a little short as last month the 5 hens laid only 4 or 5 eggs each day. Oh well, at least she will be an expert in the 4 and 5 times tables! A total of 145 eggs for the month - an average of 4.67 per day, 29 eggs per hen,for the month, .94 eggs per day, per hen. Enough numbers for you?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

More food fights

I think this must be the season for food fights here in Japan. Yesterday I went to my son's kindergarten to watch their "Setsubun" celebrations. Basically "Setsubun" is (quoted from World Events Guide) held on the day before spring (Risshun) begins, Setsbun is a religious festival that has taken place in Japan for hundreds of years. Darkness and cold having long been associated with malign forces, the festival's rituals are performed to chase away the evil spirits of winter to make way for the rejuvenating forces of spring. Although many of the rituals have now died out, one that prevails is the scattering of roasted beans around the home, temples and shrines whilst shouting 'Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!' ('Devils out, happiness in'). When the ritual is over, participants must seek out and eat one bean for each year since their birth.
The celebrations at my son's kindergarten started out very calmly with some great singing and story telling - the children all very calm and concentrating hard on the stories. This calm was then turned into chaos by the appearance of two teachers dressed as "demons", who had a great time scaring the children half to death. They picked them up and chased them around and generally herded them against the door until they were all screaming and crying . The hero of the day - "the little peach boy" then arrived and scared them away - with the help of a few brave children who threw beans at them and poked them in the bottom (one thing that children in Japan do all the time that I hate - mind you one of the children suggested one way to get rid of the demons would be to stick beans up their bottoms.... I guess I should be grateful they didn't go that far!). After that there was a bit more bean throwing then lots of cleaning up and trying to get the children calmed down. Although it sounds a bit traumatic it was actually a lot of fun and great to see the teachers getting so involved - perhaps they are a little more stressed than I thought!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Throwing Mochi

I'm quite a few blogs behind at the moment, but I hope to catch up over the next few days...
On Sunday there was the second biggest event of the year at my daughter's school (the first being the sports day...). Because we were in New Zealand at this time last year it was the first time that we got to be part of it. For me it started on Friday with cookie baking - 96 bags to be exact.... fortunately 3 other people came to help! Next all day Saturday was spent at school making donuts, popcorn and other delights to sell at the "bazaar" to raise money for the school. Sunday morning finally arrived and we were at school by 7:30am to put lots of rice into containers, fry chicken nuggets and chips etc. Those who weren't involved in this were in the gym making mochi by the bathtub full. The whole community gets together to pound the rice and shape it into balls ready to be thrown..... that's right - a very common event in Japan is to throw sticky rice cakes and then have people scramble around on the ground to collect them - fortunately they are put into bags first! I asked my husband what the meaning behind throwing the mochi is and he said... look it up - in other words another event that happens everywhere that people are forgetting the meaning behind. I've been searching, but have run out of time! From what I've found out so far, mochi are symbols of happiness and are therefore thrown to bring happiness to those who collect them (and black eyes to those who get in the way of those who really want them!). They are often thrown when a house is just having it's roof put on too.
After the big mochi throwing scramble the children all sang some wonderful songs - to a 4 piece band that some of the adults put together. The photo is of the entire school singing - a total of 46 children.
Once that was all over the "Bazaar" began.... if I thought the mochi throwing was a free for all then the bazaar was another eye opener. The scramble to get the best bargains went on for exactly 30 minutes and by the end of it completely lost my patience with the old grandmothers who were trying to pay for their purchases (I was on the cash register....) while pushing past all the others, quibbling over 20 yen and generally not smiling! But in the end the kids had a great day and I guess that is what matters. I came home and went to sleep!
Because the children went to school for both Saturday and Sunday they have Monday and Tuesday off..... great!