Sunday, 31 October 2010
Hallowe'en isn't really celebrated in Japan much, although each year you can see more and more Hallowe'en sweets and decorations for sale in the shops. It's always been one of my favourite events though, not least because I love fancy dress parties. Here in Yonago there is a big party each year that is one of the highlights of the foreign community's social calendar. The organisers have changed over the years but it's been held at the same place for 20 years now... and I've been to most of the last 14, last night included. Eeek.
Thursday, 28 October 2010
Everyone seems to have been caught out by this sudden change in weather. On Tuesday at the petrol station there were several people waiting to buy kerosene for their heaters. We're all hunting around for winter clothes and thicker duvets. I've been wearing one-layer, light-weight tops (even short-sleeved ones) lately but yesterday I was looking for my coat, and even gloves, to add to the three layers I was already wearing...
In Hokkaido the first snow of the season has already fallen but, around here, this is unseasonably bad. We really are entitled to a bit more autumn before winter sets in I think, especially since super-hot summer lasted till the end of September this year! Autumn is my favourite season in Japan - a one month version is just not acceptable.
The Top Secret sewing project turns out to be a tote bag which I gave to Lisa yesterday for her birthday.
The triple stitching makes it really strong, but does use a lot of thread; hence the quick trip to the shop on Tuesday afternoon. If I hadn't run out of thread I would have finished it in 2 days. For the sort of thing which is usually described as a 2 hour project, that's pretty good going for me...
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
- Cleaning the house
- Lesson planning
- Going to an exhibition of stained glass
Things on the list that we did manage to do...
- A nice uninterrupted chat on the phone with Mum and Dad
- A one-off Italian cooking class (yes, all 3 of us) organised by the local International Friendship Association. We made meatballs in tomato sauce, shrimp in pink sauce and rolled aubergines and then ate our fill. K's main contribution was entertaining everyone, and eating...
Things we did that weren't on the list...
- Tea and cake with a friend and his little boy on Saturday morning
- Pizza-making! Someone gave me some fresh basil the other day so the bread machine came out on Friday morning to make pizza for lunch for K and me. When H heard about it he fancied some too, so we did it all over again on Saturday night...
- Sewing! I made a start on 2 different projects over the weekend. One is a toy dinosaur for K which I got fabric for ages ago, and which will be finished... at some point. The other one must remain A Mystery for now. It's almost finished and I'm very pleased with it so far. I thought I might be able to get it done yesterday, until I realised that I was running out of thread... Details and (hopefully) completed photo coming soon!
Monday, 18 October 2010
I've been umm-ing and ahh-ing about getting a breadmaker for ages. I fancy the idea of making lovely fresh bread but fear that the novelty may wear off and the machine will end up just sitting around gathering dust. I'm certainly not interested in the top-of-the-line models that make mochi and pasta dough, but even a decent mid-range one would still set me back 20,000 yen or so.
So when I realised my credit card points would expire at the end of this month, I knew just what to swap them for. This breadmaker is very basic; it's one of the cheapest ones around and isn't what I would have chosen if I were paying for it, but it was free! And if it ends up as a dust-magnet I can just give it away and not feel too guilty about it. It arrived on Sunday morning and H straight away announced that he wanted bread for dinner...
One cycle of the machine takes almost 5 hours and, after going out at lunchtime and buying bread flour and yeast on the way home, this loaf was ready just in time for a light dinner of soup and fried chicken. The instruction book for the machine has pages of trouble-shooting advice, but this bread was just about perfect :o)
The leftovers made great toast today too...
So now I'm full of ideas of nutritious winter lunches: soups and stews with fresh bread studded with bacon, cheese and onion, homemade pizza, curry with naan bread cooked in the frying pan, all finished off with cinnamon rolls or walnut bread... Let's see how long it lasts!
It's not something that comes up very often in life in Japan, but there is one exception - dog days during the 5th month of pregnancy. Since dogs are seen to give birth easily, it's a tradition to visit a shrine to be blessed and to pray for a smooth pregnancy and easy labour on that day. Dogs days and all the rest aren't noted in calendars and diaries here but the clinic kindly marked them on the 'pregnancy calendar' they gave me, along with dates of classes, when certain tests would be performed and that all-important due date.
Anyway, last Friday was that day so H, K and I went over to our local shrine (about 2 minutes walk away, even at K's pace) where the priest (H's uncle) performed a simple ceremony for us. At large, popular shrines these blessings are done in groups but in our case it was just us, so my name was included in the blessing. Although the priest's prayers are in Japanese, they are said in such a strange, chanting way, often using archaic or highly formal language, that it is virtually impossible to understand, and it's quite funny when you suddenly notice your name in there.
At the end of the ceremony, which only took about 15 minutes, I was given a good-luck charm for pregnancy and childbirth, and a wooden tablet to place in the little shrine we have in our home. I had also taken a hara-obi, a belly band, to have blessed. Traditional ones are very long and wrap around you sash-like, but mine just fastens at the back with Velcro :-)
Friday, 15 October 2010
Monday was one of those holidays - Sports Day, but we did nothing even vaguely sporty. Instead we headed to Mount Daisen for the 2nd Tottori Burger Festival. We did intend to go last year, but that didn't quite work out. Anyway, this year's festival was bigger and better, with 60 different burgers on offer, spread over 3 different sites. About a third of the burgers available were from restaurants based here in Tottori prefecture, and the rest were from all over Japan. As well as all the types of burgers you might think of (beef, pork, chicken, fish), there were also a lot you probably wouldn't think of: venison, ostrich, deep-fried octopus croquettes...
We went to two of the three sites. The first one didn't have such a great choice of burgers, but it did have our prefectual mascot, Tori-Pi...
Tori-Pi is a cross between a bird (tori in Japanese) and a pear. That's why he is green and round and has a black stalk sticking out of his head. Obvious, right? 'Bird' is in the name of the prefecture, Tottori, and the area is famous for its pears. So that all makes sense now. Every place and every event in Japan seems to be required to have some odd mascot. Do you remember these bizarre characters (scroll to the bottom of the post)?
The second site we visited was much better; better burgers, more people and it wasn't located in a car-park.
Most people seemed to be in the 2 hour queue for Kobe beef burgers, so there wasn't long to wait for any of the others. In the end, I had a chicken burger, a pork burger and a really good American-style beef burger. H just had a pork tendon burger (?) and a beef burger; I think he was still recovering from excessive curry consumption the previous day. And K? He had that octopus thing...
Yesterday and today I added some Japanese craft books. Something completely new!
All the books have beautiful, clear diagrams so that the instructions are easy to follow even if your Japanese is not quite up-to-scratch :-)
Thursday, 14 October 2010
I made a couple of curries, a chilli and a big pot of rice and my guests brought assorted doughnuts, cakes and drinks. It turned into one of those lovely relaxing Sunday afternoons where lunch carried on until about 4 o'clock... After that we just about mustered enough energy for a game of Scrabble. K was quite interested in the game and came to have a look sometimes, but playing with H and Holly was obviously much more fun and we managed to finish the game without any tile-scattering disasters.
Holly is 9 and K loves her. All morning he was asking after her, waiting for her to arrive. She made a great baby-sitter for the afternoon!
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
Enter H, answer to all technological problems, and The Magic Box! The main box plugs into the LAN socket and into a normal electric socket. Then I plug another little box into my computer and any electric socket in the house, and by the powers of, well, magic, I'm connected to the Internet!
At the moment I've got the lap-top in the kitchen, so I can still keep an eye on K. I can easily check my e-mail (and blogs...) anytime, check a recipe, read the news, google anything that comes to mind and, best of all, listen to the radio. H may soon come to regret his wonderful idea, as I am playing Absolute Radio non-stop. I'd forgotten how much I love listening to the radio. That feeling when a great song you haven't heard in ages comes on is fantastic. If you don't know it, Absolute Radio is the radio station formerly known as Virgin and may well appeal to you if you're a 30-something Brit. And even if you're not.
Thursday, 7 October 2010
If both parents go out to work then children usually go to hoikuen (daycare). There are publicly run hoikuen all over the city that provide full-time childcare for children from as young as 6 months until they start primary school. Most don't offer a part-time option and you have to demonstrate a need for a place in order to get one. There are also privately-run daycare centres such as the one K goes to for one day a week at the moment.
The other pre-school option is youchien (kindergarten/pre-school). Children usually attend for three years, from the April after their 3rd birthday until they start primary school. Some children don't go until they are 4 though, and recently youchien around here have introduced 2 year-old classes too. The schedule here is closer to primary school, with 'full-time' meaning from around 9 till 2, Monday to Friday, with holidays in the spring, summer and winter like school. Youchien have a more educational base and offer a variety of interesting activities - several around here have English classes for the little ones!
Since K was born in March, he will be one of the youngest in the school year. Because of that, and to give him chance to get a good grounding in English before entering a full-time Japanese environment, I had always thought that he would go to youchien when he was 4, and stay at home with me until then. Now I'm not so sure. I think he would really enjoy youchien life, and find it much more fun than hanging around at home with me. The fact that we'll have a new baby next March comes into the equation too! On the other hand, he's only really now getting going with his speech, and I'm still reluctant to send him off to a Japanese-only environment every day. Sadly, part-time youchien is not an option.
There is one other possibility though. Amazingly, in our small city there is an international pre-school. That sounds rather grand, when actually it's about a dozen kids in one room. It doesn't have the facilities of the youchien, but it is entirely conducted in English, with native-speaker teachers. My friend Jason teaches there and his older daughter attends, with his younger daughter due to start next year. It also has the advantage that it is possible to go part-time. The downside? It costs about double the regular youchien fee....
So that's what's going round my head nowadays. What do you think about it all? For those of you with children in Japan (I know there are a few of you reading!), what did you do and how did it go? I promise I will actually reply to comments this time :-)
Monday, 4 October 2010
So here is his room now, taken from the doorway:
And if you stand where K is in that shot and look back to the other corner, it looks like this: