Sunday, November 28, 2010

Back to the land of the living

I'm back! I haven't actually been away anywhere in particular, just not quite in a space where I was able to sit at the computer. As well as normal work I had a few extra programs - including one speech I had to do yesterday for over 200 people, for one and a half hours.... I was almost grateful when a few of the old men fell asleep in the 12th row! Actually it went pretty well in the end - I always enjoy the chance to discuss the Japanese education system and some of its faults - just a shame I have to do it in Japanese!
As well as this I had a great idea a couple of weeks ago to make an advent calendar for some of my family.... out of different shaped origami boxes/envelopes. The main problem was that I decided to do it quite late in November... which meant it had to be finished very quickly in order to get to New Zealand before December 1st. Another problem was that we needed to make 3 sets of not only the boxes/envelopes, but also 3 sets of all the contents as well. If you are good at maths that calculates out to 72 boxes/envelopes and 72 things to go in them - some bought, but lots handmade too. The children worked really hard with me and we managed to get it all done, boxed up and sent in time for it to arrive before the 1st. In fact in the end I think we had a few days to spare. Fortunately customs didn't insist on opening every single envelope... it may have taken them a few hours! As much as I would have loved to make a set for all my different family members and friends three was our limit this year, so apologies to anyone who hasn't received one. Maybe next year......

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Coming of "half" age ceremony

In Japan there are zillions of ceremonies and one of the biggest ones is for people who have turned twenty and are therefore "adults". Today there was a ceremony at school for all the children in my daughter's class (all 11 of them....) celebrating the fact that they are now half way towards that big turning point in their lives. There was a ceremony where they received a certificate from the principal, endured her long speech about the fact that they would be able to vote when they turned 20 and would therefore be responsible for everything in the world. There was singing, a message from each child to their parents, a message to the children from the parents and small gifts all around. I personally am not particularly excited by all these ceremonies, but the children wanted to do it and spent hours practicing, decorating the room etc. It wasn't as bad as it could have been and the bonus of having a potluck lunch (actually not very "potluck" as one of the mothers insisted on having a meeting at school one night to organise who would bring what....) was worth the effort of going to school on a Sunday! This ceremony is not one that is "officially" recognised, but is just something that one of the teachers started at this school a few years ago. Here's hoping the next ten years prove to be a little less challenging than the first ten! Hope is a wonderful if not always realistic thing!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bag collection

The other day I was watching a disgusting programme on TV with my daughter about celebrities and their collections of stupidly priced shoes, bags, jewelery etc. Most of their outfits cost more than our house! I was trying to explain to my daughter how utterly unnecessary it was to have 650 bags or 900 hats - especially at the prices they were charging when she kindly pointed out that I have quite a collection of bags too - most of them completely full on my bedroom floor! Just to prove her right the photo shows all the bags I am currently using - most are bags that I was given or have inherited and all of them are used every week.
I teach at a total of 8 different schools and kindergartens - with up to 5 different classes at each place. I also do quite a lot of one-off teaching or recreation programmes. When I first started teaching "privately" I took the easy way out and basically did all the same lessons at all the places I was teaching each week. Although it made preparation easy, one whole week of the same lessons soon led me to complete boredom! Now I have taken it to the opposite extreme and I am doing completely different topics at basically all the places I teach at - hence the need for so many bags! There are my basic bags for different schools. There are my "special" bags for current topics - currently one is full of vehicles that I use for teaching transportation, another is full of different shaped objects for teaching shapes and the big barn at the back is full of animals for a unit on animals. And of course there is my "magic" handbag which seems to be able to produce anything necessary at any given time. My biggest problem is always trying to work out which bag I used last and therefore which bag currently holds my diary to tell me which bag I need next!
Megan - at least Yamaura can't complain that I am ever without a bag....

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Christmas come early?

All the shops here have already got their Christmas displays out and the cake shops are already taking orders for the cream filled christmas cakes, but I have thing about bringing anything "Christmassy" out before December the first. However yesterday we broke the rule when we started to decorate our piano with cedar branches..... it looks pretty Christmassy, but it is actually to deal with a mousey problem we discovered yesterday. The piano tuner came to tune the piano and discovered a couple of mouse nests inside the piano. Apparently it is not actually that unusual for this to happen and they usually get into the piano from the small space by the pedals - hence the spiky cedar branches which are supposed to discourage them. We also discovered that the felt cover that goes over the keys was not in fact hacked with scissors by the children (which I scolded them loudly for last week), but was actually ferreted away by the mouse.... I did apologize for my assumption.... Now we just have to catch the little friend before our guests arrive tomorrow night - I can just imagine a tiny field mouse racing across the room as we sit down to dinner!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Tateishi Gaku

Today was the "main event" for the senior school in terms of their traditional dance. They had to perform at a local event at a shrine near the school. They did their "dance" then led a procession of men in tight-fitting clothing carrying weird things. I'd love to be able to tell you what it was all about, but unfortunately the children were given no history or information about the event and all of the other parents and teachers I asked about couldn't enlighten me either! Perhaps by the time my son dances here for the last time (we have another 4 years...) I will be able to inform you a little more!

Friday, November 05, 2010


I've been thinking about a question Kevin asked me in a comment he left on my blog last week. His question was "How far are you from the neighbors? Or from your own fields? Don't your chickens mess with your and your neighbors' crops?"

When I first read his question I thought - we live in the countryside so of course we don't have any neighbours for our chickens to bother. And then I thought a little harder and realised that we are in a bit of a unique situation here in the middle of the Japanese countryside. For anyone coming from New Zealand your image of countryside is probably one house, 10km of farm land, another house, another 10km of farm land etc. Houses are built to get maximum sunshine or a good view. Here in Japan things are a little different. All land that is vaguely flat was traditionally used for rice farming and houses were built in the cold bases of the mountains etc. that were too difficult to farm. This resulted in little clusters of houses in mainly cold areas and then vast areas of rice fields. The typical distance between houses in the countryside is probably around 5 meters. The first photo is of the "space" between my parents-in-law's house and their neighbour. The second is of one of the little "clusters" of houses near our house. Not exactly spacious!
Fortunately my husband had the foresight to build a house in a different kind of location before I met him. Our house is built on a rice field with no houses directly next to it. It is built to catch as much sun as possible and has a big grassy area for the children to play on. We are slowly taking over a few of the rice fields for gardening purposes. The chickens have one old small rice field, I have a big rice field for my garden and I have another tiny rice field for my herb and fruit garden. The chickens run free around our lawn and the herb, fruit and flower gardens. There is a steep set of stairs down to the vegetable garden which the chickens haven't discovered yet. Their only other exit is onto the road - which they very occasionally stray onto. There is a small river directly in front of our house so we can never be "built out". I know that countryside is not for everyone, but I personally think we have an ideal location! Now if there was a small cafe on one of our other rice fields it would be perfect......