Sunday, 4 December 2011

A message from K

Lately, K is really into writing. The other day he announced that he wanted to write a message, and sat himself down with paper and pencil. Here's what he wrote:

Can you make any sense of it? Here's the most pertinent information one more time, with mirror letters reversed:

a ms f Keita

on Dsembr 26 Keita is pr ....consut

evrbod cum

Or, in non-text message style:

A message from Keita

On December 26th Keita is planning a concert

Everybody come

This was the first that I had heard of such an event, but he has been telling everyone he meets about it, with great seriousness. I asked him if he was going to sing but apparently no, it'll just be instruments. When I asked him what instruments he was going to play, he looked as me as if I were a fool and replied 'The ones we have'. So that'll be concerto for xylophone, tambourine and whistle then. That afternoon K started to spontaneously tidy up the living room, putting away all the toys and forbidding T to touch them. Why? In preparation for everyone coming over for the concert on the 26th of course. In the end I managed to persuade him that it might be a bit mean to not let T play with any toys at all until then, and that perhaps it'd be better to tidy up again nearer the time.

Today's advent calendar activity was 'Write a letter to Father Christmas'. I explained to K the idea of telling Father Christmas what you'd like as a present for Christmas, and he announced that he wanted... instruments, because he needs them for his concert and getting them for Christmas would be just in time for the 26th. I started to wonder if I could get a nice little toy piano or guitar but, in his actual letter to Father Christmas, we discover that he wants a horn... K also told H that he needs to translate his message into Japanese, so that he can invite people who don't speak English.

So, concert at our place on the 26th it is! Evbod cum!

Friday, 25 November 2011

First snow

No, not here in town, but on the top of nearby Mount Daisen. Last night we had a tremendous storm with howling wind, lashing rain and deafening thunder, said to herald snow. Sure enough, the mountain was white this morning.

Temperatures have dropped too; after an unseasonably warm autumn, I put the heating on for the first time this evening. I can't complain though, not when Vicky in Hokkaido reported their first 24-hours-below-freezing the other day, with a high of -1.9 and a low of -7 degrees...

The cold weather and sudden drop in humidity is playing predictable havoc with my skin. My hands have overnight turned into those of an elderly washerwoman, complete with gaping splits on the knuckles. Ever since K was born, my hands have been so painfully dry and chapped in the winter. Last year H bought me some clear, plasticky stuff to paint over the cut bits; it looks and smells rather like clear nail varnish and feels like it too when you apply it...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Musical Saturday

On Saturday we all went to the city-run Children's Culture Centre to a little concert for kids. A pianist, violinist and trumpet player introduced their instruments and played for about an hour. As well as singing along and clapping to the music, all the children were invited onstage to have a go at the trumpet. I was surprised at how many of them managed to get a note out of it, but not that K didn't. He still struggles to blow out a candle...

Later the trumpet player brought round a wind chime for all the children to have a go at. In theory they were accompanying the violinist, who gamely kept on repeating the song until all the children had had a chance to try it.

In the evening we went along to a little party to celebrate Tim, Zac and Vivian all racking up 20 years in Japan. Tim and Zac had a little jam/performance session, with K on drums...

By the way, did you notice the appropriate T-shirt?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The New Car

Our new car is a Nissan Serena. Apparently that is basically what Dad's van is, which is rather embarrassing, but we're pleased with it nonetheless. Apart from the fact that H had had the old car for more than 12 years, the main reason for changing cars now was one of space. The Pajero Io (known as the Shogun Pinin in Europe) was great for H as a single guy and for us as a couple; it was OK for a family of 3 too but it just wasn't cutting it for 4 people, a pushchair, shopping...

So now we've gone to the other extreme and got a car that will seat 8. It'll be useful to be able to take H's parents (or mine) out with us sometimes, or give a friend a ride without having to take out a carseat and leave a small child at home. Most of the time though, those back seats will be folded up, leaving a lovely big boot. There's a lot of head-room and, unlike the Pajero, the floor is low too, making it very spacious and easy to get in and out of. The floor of the car is completely flat throughout, and the seats can move in interesting ways :-)

The area between the 2 front seats (where you might expect to find a gearstick and handbrake) is completely empty, so you can easily walk through to the back. Or, you can fold down and slide the middle part of the back seat forward into that space, and walk through to the boot/extra seats. Then, you can also slide one half of the back seat sideways into that space, making it easy to get into the third row of from the doorway. Phew.

K's favourite feature is the automatic rear sliding door at the passenger side. Just press the button and it will open. He also likes the fitted sun blinds. H's favourite things are the way the seats move and the amount of space there is; we can even fit the pushchair in the footwell of the back seats if we need to. I must admit, I like the geeky data available on the fancy digital dashboard...

On the left is the rev counter and the big '0' is the speedometer. So far, so ordinary. But the main dial on the right measures fuel economy. It lights up to show your current km/litre at any given moment, encouraging you to drive in a more efficient way. This is further supported by the 'Idling Stop' feature, which cuts out the engine anytime you are stopped in traffic. As soon as you take your foot off the brake or move the steering wheel the engine starts again, virtually instantly. It's fun at traffic lights to watch the 'Idling Stop' data in real time, seeing the millilitres of petrol saved gradually creep up. Thanks to the all-knowing dashboard, here are the vital statistics after one week, consisting entirely of pootling around town...

Distance travelled: 186 km

Time the engine has been running: 10 hours 6 minutes

Average speed: 18 km/hr (I did say we'd just been pootling round town, right?)

Average fuel economy: 9.3 km/litre

Time spent in Idling Stop mode: 54 minutes 8 seconds

Petrol saved thereby: 591 millilitres

*** If you came here looking for photos of cute little boys, or stories about life in Japan, or fabric/sewing/crafty goodness, worry not; normal service will soon be resumed :-) ***

Friday, 11 November 2011


Just to let you know that I added a few photos to this post about what we did last week, if you're interested. It's mainly pictures of K of course...

Monday, 7 November 2011

A busy week

*** Now with photos! ***

Last week I had no classes at all and there was a public holiday but despite that (because of that?), it was A Very Busy Week. Everything of note was photographically documented of course, and I had great intentions of writing in detail about each event. But a whole week has now passed and my complete failure to write about our summer in the UK is haunting me, so here's the brief version.

Last Sunday was the annual festival at the kominkan, our local parish hall equivalent. There were displays of bonsai and matched vegetables, handicrafts and photography, children's calligraphy and paintings. We watched the children's paper aeroplane contest, had some free food and tea and biscuits, won a mini Christmas tree and a box of tissues and had our photos printed onto comical postcards by the Computing for Seniors club. Truly something for everyone! K had a sit in a fire engine and then we came home again, in time for a visit from Yukari and her daughter Yurara, featuring more tea and biscuits and a couple of rounds of Greedy Gorilla.

On Monday K went to school and, for once, I had nothing scheduled while he was out. Somehow though, just looking after T took up most of the day and before I knew it it was time to collect him again. The token non-busy day.

Tuesday started with a walk to the (regular, Japanese) kindergarten to enroll K for next year. Can you believe a year has passed since I was last wondering whether to enroll him or not? The international preschool has been just what we needed this past year but I think that K is ready for kindergarten now; he's keen to go to school for more than two days a week and he's interested in speaking Japanese now too. So we wandered over, signed him up and then played in the playground for a while. In the afternoon H came home early and we all bid a fond farewell to our old car.

After more than 12 years of loyal service, the Pajero Io has gone... And after all that, Vivian came to visit!

Wednesday was another school day since it was their Sports Day. We all met at the park and the children enjoyed various races and games while we Mums photographed madly ;-) It was pretty laid back, not like the Japanese-style Sports Days which are rehearsed to within an inch of their lives and unfold with military precision. K took part in an obstacle race, a running race and a sack race. Oh, and I did that last one too... Then it was time for packed lunches followed by playing in the playground until the Mums had had enough.

We got back in time for Visit From Vivian Part 2 (this time with Noboru too), since K complained that she didn't stay long enough to play with him the day before. In other words, more Greedy Gorilla.

Thursday was Culture Day, a public holiday. We didn't do anything particularly cultural, but we did take K to the local shrine for his 7-5-3 ceremony. It's traditional to take children to be blessed at the ages 3, 5 and 7, usually around the middle of November. We looked into renting a kimono for K for the day but were quoted 30,000 yen! Photographers will let you use one for free if you're having portraits taken afterwards but that can get very expensive too, so in the end we went to Jusco and went the 'modern' (ie practical and cheap) route, buying a suit set for 7,000 yen. As well as a jacket and short trousers it also included a shirt and tie and even braces!

So after our visit to the shrine we went out for lunch (conveyor-belt sushi, K's choice) with H's parents and then it was time to go and pick up the new car! It was the first time I've had a *new* new car and it was all very exciting. We took it for a little spin up to Sakaiminato and had dinner out too.

On Friday I took the boys into town for a 'mini-concert' for preschoolers, which K enjoyed a lot. We joined some other Mums and kids for lunch afterwards and then hit the supermarket.

Saturday brought the end of the lovely weather we'd been having; it's been rainy ever since. In the morning we all went to the library for the annual giving-away-of-old-books free-for-all. We came home with bags and bags of books: picture books, travel guides, craft and sewing books, a few English language novels, some history books and more. There was also story-telling and colouring for the children and bag-making from old book covers. After that it was lunch out and a bit of shopping before coming home to a visit from Hide.

Which brings us round to Sunday. There aren't many places around here to take children to play when the weather's bad. In fact, we could only think of one, so we went there - the Children's Culture Centre. They have a little planetarium so H and K went there first, and then we all watched a little puppet show for a while before heading off for all-you-can-eat pizza. Later in the day I helped out at a Hallowe'en party for a few hours while H had the unenviable task of staying at home with The Boys Who Want Mummy. Still, no-one was screaming when I came home...

Wow, did you really read all that? To think, this was the abridged version! I'd like to add a few photos later but I wouldn't hold your breath... I did it! I actually added some photos! And I finally got around to looking up how to cross things out in Blogger, yeah...

Monday, 31 October 2011

Happy Hallowe'en!

I love Hallowe'en. Any excuse for fancy dress always goes down well with me, and the fact that it almost coincides with my birthday probably comes into it too. This year I didn't really do much for Hallowe'en myself, but I did help K to enjoy it. First off, I subliminally steered him in the direction of wanting a skeleton costume for his preschool party...

I got a cheap black tracksuit, some white fabric paint and this skeleton template. Back in the summer when I was in the UK, I bought some freezer paper, so I finally had the chance to try freezer paper stencilling. If you're not American and/or a craft blog fan you may not know that freezer paper is paper which is waxy on one side only. If you cut a design into it and then iron it, waxy side down, onto fabric it sticks to the material and creates a waterproof seal. Paint over the stencil, let it dry and then peel off the paper - ta da! Skeleton bones!

H suggested that I put bones on the back too, and then paint by hand onto the gloves and socks. Well, no. This will be quite good enough, thank you.

Anyway, we all went to K's preschool on Saturday afternoon for their Hallowe'en party. As well as his preschool classmates there were also children who attend the school for weekly English classes, and some former students, siblings, friends and all. First off they did some songs and games indoors...

... and then they headed out to trick or treat.

Hallowe'en is gradually becoming more well known and popular in Japan, but it's still not a big event and the average citizen would certainly not expect trick-or-treaters turning up on their doorstep. The school had arranged for the children to go to the old people's day centre across the road, and 2 private houses nearby. I suspect that the school provided the treats too!

The treats are behind you, little skeleton boy!

Then it was back to school for a bit of apple bobbing before going home again. Here's K with Rika-chan, his friend, classmate and daughter of 'Mr' Jason, his teacher and our friend.

Today there was another little party within school-time, so the costume got a second outing. I thought I'd add a little Hallowe'en charm to K's lunch and had a go at making severed fingers like Jo's. I showed them to K in the morning and he was very enthusiastic, but they returned untouched. So I ate them.

And now the witching hour draws near, so I will bid you goodnight. Keep your doors closed tightly tonight!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Autumn Days

Autumn is my favourite season. I know some people find the shorter days and cooler weather depressing, but after all that heat and humidity I welcome the end of summer here. Mind you it's not only because of that, because I've always loved autumn, even before coming to Japan.

Right now the weather is just right for me. Clear, sunny days with temperatures in the low to mid 20s, with somewhat cooler nights. Even now in mid-October, there are still times when I'm too hot really. It amuses me when people here are surprised to see me still wearing short-sleeves, in October! They don't base their comments on the actual weather at the time, but purely on the calendar. As in, 'Aren't you cold? It's October!', even if it's 27 degrees... Schools change to winter uniforms at the beginning of October and around town people suddenly start wearing boots and scarves. The other day a woman I know told me she had just changed her cushions from summer ones to winter ones...

Anyway, for me autumn means Hallowe'en, my birthday, Guy Fawkes night... That last one passes me by now unfortunately, but Hallowe'en has been growing in popularity more and more ever since I first came to Japan. I love fancy dress, and the annual foreigner-run Hallowe'en party here is one of the highlights of the local social scene.

at the local shopping centre

our 100yen shop decorations

More typically in Japan, autumn means sports days, culture festivals (November 3rd is Culture Day, a national holiday), autumn foliage and food. There's a saying, shoku-yoku no aki, which literally means 'appetite autumn', pointing out that lots of tasty things are in season now.

If you're a small child, it seems that autumn also involves digging up sweet potatoes. Every kindergarten or primary school around either grows their own or organises a little field trip to harvest some. K (and the rest of us) went up to Daisen with his pre-school last week to dig sweet potatoes (and collect chestnuts), and he also helped H's mum harvest some the other day too. Luckily they make perfect baby food for T, boiled and mashed...

Thursday, 13 October 2011

6 months old

T turned 6 months at the end of September and went for his 6 month check-up last week, weighing in at 8.01 kg. His weight, height and head size were all virtually identical to K's at 6 months; average height and weight, and bigger-than-average head...

Nowadays T usually sleeps from around 9pm to 7am, with a bottle feed at around midnight, just before we go to bed. Often we can pick him up, feed him and put him back into bed again without him even waking :-) He might have a nap in the morning, and again in the afternoon, but there's no real schedule to it and he often just falls asleep in the car or pushchair and wakes up again when K disturbs him... When he's in his cot he seems to like to roll over on his side to sleep.

He has a meal mid-morning (such as mashed banana and avocado, or porridge with apple) and another one at teatime (maybe sweet potato or rice, with some pureed vegetables). Apart from that bedtime bottle, it's breast-feeding the rest of the time.

I wouldn't say that T is actually crawling yet, but he's definitely getting around. He can roll over both ways now and can swivel round in circles on his tummy. He moves forward somehow, and likes to reach up and try and grab things from the coffee table. When he's not underneath it, that is... He does get up on his hands and knees and rock forwards and backwards, reminding me of a cat preparing to pounce! With a little support he can sit up, but is still liable to flop over when you least expect it. He loves to stand on my lap and bounce, and if he can bite my neck and pull my hair at the same time, all the better.

Anyway, time for photos!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Health and Sports Day

Yesterday was Health and Sports Day, a national holiday in Japan. It was created to commemorate the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and is now held on the second Monday in October each year. There are always lots of sports and physical-activity oriented events, including school sports days, and yesterday morning K and H went to a city-organised event for children aged 3 to 6.

Various activities were set up in the city gym and the children and their parents, in groups, spent 10 minutes on each thing, with lots of adult volunteers there to help hold little hands...

The little boy getting onto the balance beam behind K is Rensei, who was there with his daddy Tomonori, one of H's old school friends. I met Tomonori independently, before I was going out with H, and I later (independently) met Ritsuko, who went on to become his wife. Rensei is just 3 months older than K and now we each have a second little boy, only 2 months apart! There seems to be a certain amount of fate in the 2 families' relationship; maybe we were all destined to be friends...

Anyway, back to the gym...

There was trampolining, rolling on mats and skipping; hula hoops, hopscotch and action songs; various jumping, balancing and ball games...

...and finally, tug-of-war. No sports day in Japan is complete without this one!

Well done boys, you worked hard!

H and K left home at about 8.30 and went for sushi afterwards, getting back here just after 1 o'clock. I stayed home with T and was paralysed with indecision about what to do with the free time! First I took T out into the garden and did some weeding for a while. Then he fell asleep (while I was preparing his morning food...) so I snuck upstairs and tided up my little room (it always seems overly grand to call it an 'office' or 'studio'). There was even time to sit in the engawa with a cup of tea and a magazine before he woke up again. Overall it was both a relaxing and productive morning, my favourite combination.

It did set me thinking though... What did I do with my time when K was a little baby? Unlike now, I didn't have a blog, Facebook account or online shop (recently restocked!), I was only teaching one class a week (admittedly, only 2 at the moment now) and, oh, I didn't have a 3 year old running around, demanding attention and waking up sleeping babies... And yet somehow I felt busy then too. I suppose it's that old thing of work expanding to fit the time available...

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Toy Kingdom

H went back to work on Monday, after nearly 5 months of paternity leave. He didn't seem to find it too hard to get back into the working routine; I suspect that he'd had enough of being at home with his nagging wife...

Anyway, last Wednesday we decided to make the most of our work-free weekdays, and went to Toy Kingdom in Okayama for the day. It's a fair way from here, over 2 hours on the expressway, but the boys were really good in the car and it was definitely worth the drive. The park was open from 10 to 5; we were there from 10.20 until it closed!

Like our trip to a closer amusement park back in May, there was hardly anybody there. As it was a weekday and not the summer holidays, parking was not a problem..

All 4 of us went on the Big Wheel and admired the view of the Seto Inland Sea and its lovely cone-shaped islands. We also had a good view of the empty car park and the deserted park itself. See if you can spot a single person..

Entry to the park was 700yen for adults and 500yen for children. This included entrance to lots of different play areas including Wooden Toy House...

... Story Book House, Game House (I had fun playing Pop Up Pirate) and Train House. If he hadn't already seen what else there was in the park, I think that K would have happily spent all day just playing with the trains...

It was a lovely sunny day and a little too hot in the middle of the day, so the air-conditioned Train House was perfect for a couple of little breaks (and breast-feeding stops). K was quite happy to play by himself for a while. Look at all those train-tracks just waiting to be laid out!

There were also lots of ride-on toys to play with freely...

... as well as a sand pit and a whole other area of slides and playground equipment, neither of which we even got to! We didn't make it to the Building Block House either, although we did admire the giant models scattered around the park.

But even with all that on offer for only the park entrance price, we couldn't resist the 'free pass' tickets. The rides in the park cost at least 200yen a time, but an unlimited pass was only 1500yen. With so few people there we didn't have to worry about queuing, and we were able to go on as many rides as we wanted to.

K soon spotted this one, and went on it twice...

Actually, he went on everything twice I think! Of the 17 pay-for rides at the park, there were only 3 which K was too small for. There were several he could go on by himself but he generally preferred to ride with one of us. We worked our way around the park, with H and I taking it turns to go on with K, while the other one waited with T. And then later, we went back and did them again the other way around. H and I are both pretty wimpy when it comes to rollercoasters and the like, so this park suited us all very well :-)

There were lots of classic amusement park rides: teacups and merry-go-round, tiny flume ride and flying elephants. K and I even went on a little rollercoaster, which was just about in my comfort zone! As soon as we set off K cowered into my side and made lots of scared noises, but he later declared it his favourite ride...

H and I both enjoyed driving the go-carts, and the bumper boats. We were, in turn, the only people on them, so there was no-one to actually bump into, but that was probably a good thing.

The free passes also gave us entry to the exhibition hall, which is currently hosting a display on insects; perfect for the boys (of all ages) of the Monkey family! As well as big beetles in cases to look at, there was a big box filled with compost to dig for larvae in, and a little pond to fish for gengorou (predaceous diving beetles).

Finally, we explored the play gym, with its tunnels, slides and ball pool. There seem to be a lot of this kind of play area in the UK now but H and I had just been saying that you don't see them in Japan. But in Toy Kingdom, anything is possible!

We all really enjoyed our day. Another advantage of going when it was so quiet was that H and I could play freely too, with minimal embarrassment. If you are anywhere within a couple of hours of Okayama and have a young child or two to entertain (or a couple in their 30s...), I would heartily recommend it!