Sunday, 31 October 2010

Happy Hallowe'en!

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


It suddenly seems to have become winter here. Up until a few days ago it was generally warm and sunny, with temperatures around 20 degrees. For the last three days though it has been cold, cold, cold... Highs of 11 or 12 degrees, cloudy, rainy and windy to boot. It's just so gloomy and wintry; it didn't seemed to get fully light at all today.

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 mystery revealed...

The Top Secret sewing project turns out to be a tote bag which I gave to Lisa yesterday for her birthday.

***** Happy Birthday Lisa! *****

The bag ended up a bit bigger and a bit more granny-ish than I had imagined, but overall I was pleased with it. I used French seams for a lovely neat finish without a lining, and I used the triple stitch setting on my machine for the first time. In other words, I found out what a triple stitch was and then was very pleased to see that my machine had it!

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...

And in the Diane Modelling The Bag shot, you get the added bonus of some Almost 5 Months Pregnant belly. It looks really big from that angle, but most of the time it's not that noticeable yet...

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

At the weekend

Things that were on the list, but didn't get done...

  • 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

Yay for credit card points!

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!

And while I was at it, I traded in points from my other, less-used credit card. They didn't have much that I wanted (frying pan lid anyone??) but I did find this nice map-of-Japan game/puzzle. You can't really tell in this picture, but it has 3 layers. The top one is a jigsaw of the prefectures of Japan, underneath that is a second, easier puzzle of regions of Japan and at the very bottom is a board game. Obviously K is not quite ready for this yet but when he is, I will be able to magic it up out of nowhere for him. Assuming I don't forget where I put it in the meantime...

Dog Day

You know how every year is represented by one of the animals of the Chinese zodiac, right? Did you know that every day, and even every hour of the day*, is also allocated one of those 12 animals?

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 :-)

I'm now supposed to wear this everyday to keep the bump warm and offer support. With K, I think I wore it for a few months, and then couldn't be bothered anymore... Keeping your stomach warm is a really big thing in Japan, and more so than ever when you're pregnant. You won't find pregnant young women in cropped tops, low-rise trousers and bare bumps here! Last time I did look into why, and I did find one small, non-essential but medically-sound, reason why it was a good idea. Now I can't quite remember what it was, but I suppose I will wear it again, at least until I get fed up with it...

*It's actually every-block-of-2-hours-within-a-24-hour-period, but that wouldn't have made such a catchy question...

Friday, 15 October 2010

Tottori Burger Festival

I love autumn in Japan. The days are sunny and warm (well, unless you're planning a barbecue...), the evenings are pleasantly chilly and there are a total of 5 public holidays in September, October and November.

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...

Something new... my shop.

Yesterday and today I added some Japanese craft books. Something completely new!

There's a book of cute knitting and crochet patterns like this...

One on sewing little things with Japanese fabric like this...

A beginners crochet and knitting book with things like these bags...

And a lovely book (my favourite!) of animal patterns for sewing, applique, embroidery and more...

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 :-)

And last week I added a few new pieces of fabric too, so if you haven't visited for a while why not pop over and have a look?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The un-barbecue

Lisa, Cian, Gray and Holly came over for a barbecue on Sunday. Unfortunately the weather had been bad for the previous few days and early that morning it still looked like it might rain, so I wimped out and made it an indoor lunch instead. Of course, it turned out to be a lovely sunny afternoon....

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!

I think everyone ate their fill at lunchtime, but there was still enough left for lunch on Tuesday for K and I, and several portions went in the freezer too. In the evening we couldn't be bothered to cook again and nipped out in the car to a nearby noodle shop.

Here was K's summary of the day, at bedtime:
Did you have a nice day today K?
Holly-chan! Holly-chan! And cake. Eat cake. And ABC (I'm guessing that's the Scrabble).
(Quiet for a minute. I thought he'd finished)
And Cian. And Gray. And Lisa. And Mummy. And Daddy. And K!
(Quiet again)
And rice. And noodles. And car. Dark.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Magic Box

Although I have a lap-top I don't have wireless Internet at home, so the computer always stays in one spot. Unfortunately it's a spot which K has access to, so I can't use it without him climbing onto my lap, pressing random buttons, playing with the mouse and prising off the keys... Now that he doesn't sleep in the daytime and demands that I stay with him until he falls asleep at night, free time to use the computer in peace has become more difficult to find.

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

What to do? What to do?

Compulsory education in Japan begins with primary school, in the April following a child's 6th birthday. However, most children go to some kind of pre-school before that, and we are now wondering what would be best for K.

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

The Big Boy's Bed

K's Big Boy's Bed was delivered last Thursday and K was Very Excited. He watched the men put it together and then helped me to make it up. I bought the duvet cover and pillow case while we were in the UK and hid them away until now, apart from making the pillow case smaller to fit Japanese pillows.*

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:

And a little boy who has just got a new bed and construction-vehicle bedding looks like this:

Even now he's still really excited to go to bed each night, and likes to point out 'digger!' 'tractor!' 'Muck!' (that's 'bulldozer' to those of you who don't speak Bob The Builder). Unfortunately though, the enthusiasm for the Big Bed has not diminished the need for Mummy to lie with him till he falls asleep, nor has it cured the waking at 4am and shouting for Mummy either... Lately I'm so sleepy that I often end up falling asleep first. The other night I slept in K's bed from 8.30 till 10, when H came and woke me up. Then I came downstairs and fell asleep on the sofa. This time H left me to it and I slept until K shouted for me at 4, when I went back to his bed. Slept there till 6 and then finally moved to my own bed for an hour, before K woke at 7 and the day began...

*That was my first use of the sewing machine since this happened, and I'll sure you'll be relieved to know that it seems to be fine, although I had great problems getting that cover on again...