Friday, 28 August 2009

My own "Sometime Samurai".

Yesterday evening, I was halfway through the epic love story of my new heroine The Pioneer Woman and her cowboy husband Malboro Man, when I heard a strange scratching at the front door.

"Goodness!", I thought. "Someone is trying to break into my apartment!!!". A quick scan of the room revealed that I had no potential weapons with which to defend myself in my immediate vicinity. Well apart from an ironing board or a folding foot stool that one could bash someone over the head with after jumping out from behind a door - you know like in the movies.

Then the intruder managed to gain entry to my apartment as they seemed to be in possession of a key to my front door! I could hear them taking their shoes off and bounding up the stairs in a very unstealthly way. So who should poke their head around the corner but

.....

.....

.....

My husband!

"What happened?". "Did someone die?". "Do you have swine flu?"

....

"Did your office burn down?", I asked thrilled but terrified to see him walk in the door at 6pm on the dot.

Thankfully, at the time, I was not plucking belly button hairs or doing some other thing that even life long partners shouldn't have to see.

馬鹿ばかしだったから、逃げた。(Work was stupid so I escaped), said K.

I had visions of my "Sometime Samurai"* husband doing dive rolls between the desks as he made a beeline for the door at 5:45. Or maybe he waited till all the other workers went off to have dinner or were distracted by some souvenirs someone had brought and backed slowly towards the door, then dashed to the men's loos where he had stashed his backpack earlier in the day...

or not.

K looked very pleased with himself, having not only "escaped" from work but also given me a such a nice surprise. I think that was quite possibly the earliest he has ever come home in the entire time we have been married.

By 6:30, I had managed to cook dinner and we were just about finished eating.

Since we are rarely together on week nights, there is no precedence for what we should do after dinner. If it was the weekend we would probably just watch TV together or something, but a week night! Now that is a special occasion!

We decided to go for a walk round the neighbourhood since it was such a nice cool evening, but at 6:30, it's getting pretty dark round here and there are very few street lights. So we took a torch with us, strapped on some reflective bands and went for a "stumble" round the village.
It's quite amazing how many other people were out for their nightly stumble too.

When we got home K headed straight for the insect bite medicine as something had been feasting on the back of his neck and he had a large welt there from itching.

"Oh look, you've got one on your shoulder", says K, giving it a scratch for me.

"Thanks very much", I said sarcastically. "I didn't even know it was there until you touched it".

Poor K, thought he was being so nice and helpful by scratching my bites for me, but just ended up making it worse.
Lessons in Chivalry 101: Don't scratch insect bites unless asked to.

In the end our "Super Special Week Night Together" ended up with K snoring his head off on the couch by 8pm. I decided to give The Pioneer Woman and Marlboro Man my full attention since K didn't seem to need it.

About midnight, K was wide awake thanks to his snooze.
So I asked him: " So, when are you a 'Sometime Samurai' ?"
K says: "Some time Toki Doki" (Translation: Sometime Sometime - a bad "old man's joke") =I'm avoiding answering your question by making a bad joke.

Unfortunately K does not shed his "mild mannered business man alter ego" in the evenings for anything like Hiroyuki Sanada, in The Last Samurai and come and sweep me off my feet like Marlboro Man does. *swoon*.

I have seen K go into battle though.

At the car yard, to get a better price on a car, or when someone tries to diddle him out of something he is entitled to - watch out people! He may look like a mild mannered business man but he is NOT to be trifled with!

Oh and I think he can also wield a mean bamboo sword too.


*We often listen to this song, by Kylie Minogue and Towa Tei-one of K's favourite musicians.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Highlights

Today had many highlights:

  • putting on makeup for the first time this week
  • being able to move, even though I went for a 10km bike ride yesterday, although I do have a sore butt
  • still fitting the pants I bought 2 weeks ago
  • finding a bottle of hand sanitiser in the 100 yen shop (usually SO expensive)
  • finding this little beauty of a blog
But the number one highlight by a long shot was of course, Ikebana.

Today's arrangement was the Radial style, using sunflowers, wax flowers (the small white ones, they have a lemony smell) and big leaves that are called something that sounds like "Monster"...

Here is what I did:



And here is what my class mate did:


And here is our afternoon tea.

It's a kind of "Mon Buran". It's a sweet paste made from chestnuts on a sponge base, check out some other variations here.

In other news, we are seriously heading towards Autumn here in Tohoku already. I know this because the beer cans are now sporting lovely "Autumn Leaves" patterns in the shops. Also its getting quite cool at night. Roll on Autumn, can't wait to see the leaves change colour.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The Hustler

Have you guys seen this movie? It's a black and white film starring a young and handsome Paul Newman as a pool shark called "Fast Eddie", who also has a serious drinking habit and big problems with knowing when to call it quits.
Along the way to self destruction he meets his love interest "Sarah", who also seems to like the drink rather a lot. To save you the 134 minutes it takes to watch this movie, lets just say that it pretty much all goes to custard.

So what does a film about a pool shark and his girlfriend have to do with me?

Well, let me tell you a story. I hope you are sitting comfortably.

Sometime in the 1970s this movie must have been popular in NZ. At that time my father was a bit of a pool shark himself along with some of the other qualities that Paul Newman displays in this movie. People started calling my dad "Fast Eddie" and some bright spark decided it would be a great idea to call my mother "Sarah". For some strange reason even though my dad's nickname never stuck, my mum's did. Now I'm not sure about the timing here but somewhere along the way my parent's got married and then I came along. They were expecting a "Matthew" or a "William" to pop out and were a bit stuck for for girls names when I came along instead. So they came up with my name: Sarah Jayne.

Now apparently it was kind of confusing since everyone in my parent's social circle had by this time forgotten or never known my mother's real first name. Obviously adults can't be so easily retrained to suddenly start calling someone something else, so the obvious answer was to change the baby's name!
So instead of being called Sarah, I got called Jayne and to this day that is what I answer to. To this day there are also still people who call my mum Sarah.

Now, how many people out there go by their middle names? Hands up please.
If you do go by your middle name you will be familiar with this conversation:

A: What's your middle name?
Me: Jayne.
A:.........So your name is Jayne Jayne ???
Me: (>_<)

I had this great idea to reinvent myself when I came to Japan and demand that everyone call me Sarah-Jayne. Unfortunately I was my own downfall as I kept forgetting to introduce myself as Sarah-Jayne and so my great plan was a great flop.

When I got married and changed my last name to my husband's, occasionally I would go, for example, to the doctors where they would call out " Sarah N" and I would be all like "Who is that person and why don't they hurry up...Oh that's ME!". It's funny that even though I was given the name "Sarah", it doesn't seem to fit me like Jayne does. I asked K if he thought I should be "Sarah" and he decided that it was weird to call me that.

You might also be wondering what brought on this topic. Well funnily enough, I had never seen this movie until last weekend when K and I were perusing the DVDs for loan at the library and I came across it. So I thought it was high time that I sat down and watched the movie that had in effect caused my name to be changed. Not being such a fan of old movies, I didn't really get into it. Sorry Mum and Dad. It was also rather depressing. Thankfully my parent's love story turned out way better than the movie.

Here are a couple of pictures of my Dad from around that time, see if you think he looks anything like Paul Newman.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

A cyber trip down memory lane

Yesterday my mum and I had a cyber clean out. She has several boxes of my things stored at her house and so she has decided that maybe it was time we went through it all so she can turf as much out as possible and hopefully cut down my junk to one box instead of 3. So during our conversation on skype, she waved various things in front of the camera whilst I said chuck it or keep it.

Now I don't recommend this method as it could be highly embarrassing if your mum pulls something out of a box that you probably didn't want her to ever see and had completely forgotten that you kept. Since this is a PG rated blog, I won't go into details of what things you wouldn't want your mum to find, so y'all can use your imaginations. Luckily for me, I didn't have anything mortifying tucked away though we did have a few laughs and my mum did get a hell of a fright at one point.

She opened a little package that looked like it contained earrings and what did she find in there but ...teeth! I had forgotten I had kept my wisdom teeth - I mean the dentist managed to get them out in perfect condition and it cost me $500 (that was a lot back in 2000 to a university student), quite a few stitches and a fat face for several days - who wouldn't want to remember that? Something slightly grisly to show the grand kids one day.

Then there were various cards, some from my family, written by my dad who was always in charge of writing cards cause he had nice (but difficult to read) handwriting. That brought a bit of a tear to the old eye. Then there was a card from a friend who said she was grateful that I was still friends with her even though she (accidentally) showed me her bottom. That made me howl with laughter as I had completely forgotten all about that.

Then there were various projects from school. One teacher commented that I should write full sentences rather than just notes. Humph! That particular one had a really great hand written title page done with a "Lettering Book". I wonder if kids still use those...probably not.
Disturbingly my mum made a pile of my old stories and projects to read through and laugh at later. I am thankful that my first scrap book of certificates from primary school - you know the ones for sitting up straight and being kind to others (I was such a greaser) are all preserved. K doesn't have much as most of his photos and things were ruined by the humidity. Rock on dry NZ summers!

Curiously I had kept a stuffed toy dalmatian that I got from an ex-boyfriend that I would rather forget...well it would have been a waste to chuck it. Pity I can't clean out my memories so easily.

Amongst other random things were badges from my time as a Brownie. I was almost ready to become a Girl Guide but then we moved to the middle of nowhere and being a "Lone Brownie" really does blow. Especially when all the activities involve things you have to drive to a large hardware store to get.
We found photos of my beloved dog Zak tucked up in bed and another one with him wearing a Santa hat. The photo albums contain large amounts of cringe factor 10 photos of bad high school hair dos and school balls.

Some other rather cool things that I had forgotten about were my "General Manager's Certificate", which I got when I was about 21, so I could manage a premises licenced to sell alcohol. There were various paper clippings from when I was Head Girl of my high school, certificates of Advanced Driving Competence and my first ever "Book" that I wrote at age 11 which is about 10 pages long and about a piece of cake and two birds...

So now my life up to the age of 22 is stored in a cardboard box at my mother's house. It seems strange that 2/3 of my life fits into one box and in the last 8 years I have managed to accumulate a whole (rather small but packed to the rafters) apartments worth of stuff.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Ask and it will be cooked

OK, so who out there dislikes cooking?

Well I am not a fan of cooking, probably cause I was forced into early labour by my parents as they had to work and I was a capable tweenager. Not all of my early attempts at cooking dinner were good. But all of them were edible...I think. Right Mum?

Now I am the chief cook in my own house from Monday to Friday. K likes to be "Head Chef" on weekends and makes me chop vegetables, clean up after he creates a mess in the kitchen etc.
He does almost always create nice meals and I am grateful that he enjoys cooking although he has not mastered the "clean up as you go" theory, but when you are head chef, you don't have to do that right? *sigh* Thankfully he doesn't know who Gordon Ramsey is.

I mostly get frustrated with having to decide what to cook. Lately K has realised that if he mentions that he would like to eat such and such, that it often magically appears at the next meal. Quite frankly, if you have to cook for other people, it is nice to know what they want to eat, rather than prepare something that gets a lukewarm reception.

So last night as we were tucking into our Yakiniku Don, courtesy of K Head Chef, he started talking about what we should have for tomorrow nights dinner. I had to laugh at him cause the only other person in the world I know who does/did this, is my sister. At breakfast she would ask what was for dinner or at dinner what was for dinner the following night. K was actually trying to bring up the fact that he really wants to eat paella, so guess what we are having for dinner tonight: "The World's Easiest Paella" . I haven't tried it yet, but it looks tasty and the recipe sounds like it will turn out OK, if not really like a REAL paella. And the best thing is that we actually have almost everything in the house for it already! Which means not having to go to the supermarket, which is up there with cleaning the bathroom on my list of most disliked house work.

Just so you know, I do like doing the laundry and vacuuming is also not too bad.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

A Mini Holiday for the Tastebuds

Some of you will be familiar with the Japanese tradition of buying souvenirs for people when you go somewhere. Before I came to Japan I used to deal with a lot of Japanese tourists coming into the souvenir store where I worked. I would be amazed at how many things they would buy. 10 pin badges or 7 stuffed toys or 25 magnets. I had no idea why on earth they needed all that stuff. Now I understand how stressed out they must have been trying to make sure they got something for everyone.

It is necessary to bring back some kind of reasonable souvenir for the people you have inconvenienced during your absence (ie. work colleagues) or to show people that they did cross your mind during their vacation. Buying souvenirs in Japan is easy, everywhere you go there are shops selling the perfect things to take back for people. When you go overseas it can be a real nightmare though.

So since we stayed home this year, our summer holiday (If you call going to work practically every day a holiday) was boring. So you can imagine how happy I was to get some souvenirs from people who have been away or just come back from somewhere.

So I thought I would share the little collection of goodies I have managed to collect in the last few weeks.Starting from the left is some handmade blueberry Jam. Then the Godiva Biscuits which are of course lo-ng gone. On top of the biscuits are two small bottles of Okinawan salt which is reputed to be very tasty and then there is the tube of pure honey which I have tasted and it is VERY good. Not pictured here are the 2 really really nice hambagus we got from some friends who went to Morioka - they are also long gone and some other cookies from America that looked like windmills and had cinnamon in them - also already devoured.

As you can see, it is quite normal to give food souvenirs and I am very grateful to have some tastes of Okinawa, Morioka, USA and Hawaii, Somwhere near Nasu and a small town in Miyagi prefecture - a mini holiday for the tastebuds shall we say.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Dahurian Patrinia... Sounds a bit like Hakunah Matata

Yesterday's Ikebana was a very interesting piece for me to make. Depending on the kinds of flowers you use, you can make an extremely hip arrangement or a very sweet one - like I did. My teacher showed me an example of an arrangement using feathers mixed in with the branches. It looked very cool. So even though there might seem like there are a lot of rules in Ikebana, there is also a lot of room for self expression.

Today's arrangement uses: Prairie Gentian (the pink flowers), The small yellow ones are "Dahurian Patrinia"??? sounds very posh, and very likely that I will NEVER remember the name of this plant! The greenery is called Weeping Forsythia.


This arrangement took quite a while to make and was rather like pulling teeth. I just couldn't seem to get where the various flowers should go. Usually I get this kind of little voice in my head saying - "No, not there!" or "That looks wrong". This time it appears my "guide" is still on summer vacation!
I feel like I have lost a lot of my self confidence in my skills while I was on my 2 year hiatus, so yesterday my poor teacher had to cajole me along with each branch, leaf or stem I put in.
After a few more months I'm sure I will get my Ikebana groove back.

Today's afternoon tea was a Blueberry Extravaganza. On the top were fresh blueberries, that's not ice but jelly, underneath is a kind of blueberry jelly, followed by blueberry mouse and yogurt on the bottom. Whew! Not pictured here is the Ume juice. That was also fantastic. Home made pickled (?) Japanese Plum juice, my favourite.


Speaking of yogurt. Yesterday the Milk Man came round to harass us again. About a week ago we got a ring at the door about 8:30 in the morning. Koichi lept up and answered it thinking it was a package we were expecting, unfortunately it was the The Milk Man. The Milk Man is out to get more new customers for their home delivery service and to entice you and give them an excuse they force you to accepts some freebies (we got yogurt and milk and some kind of vitamin drink). Anyway The Milk Man has been ringing my doorbell every night this week and yesterday I figured out that he probably at least wants his milk bottles back so I went out and talked to him. He was very sweet and ended up giving me a whole bunch of other stuff to try so now we kind of have to order some stuff from him. I'm sure he will be back again tonight so I will be able to give him that happy news that he has managed to guilt trip me into ordering some yogurt - it is good yogurt though and you can't find it in the shops.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

How long would you stand in a line for...

Baumkuchen?
10 yen Raamen?
a few blobs of anko and mochi in an unusual shape?

Well, if the line outside of Daimaru in Tokyo Station for some baumkuchen is anything to go by - a lot of people would wait an hour for some.

Would you wait in a line for 2 hours to eat 10 yen raamen? or would you go somewhere else, because actually you don't really feel like eating raamen anyway, or there must be some other people who are not as fortunate as myself who would benefit from some 10 yen raamen.

Personally, I don't like ques.
Perhaps it is that I have almost always lived somewhere where there weren't enough people to form any kind of line. My family always took holidays during the "off season" because my parents worked in tourism. So no Christmas Holidays (which is Summer for those from Northern Hemisphere Countries) for us, we went to the beach in winter and had the whole beach to ourselves. It also helped that we lived in the coldest parts of NZ, so any trip away was usually to somewhere warmer.

I am quite happy to stand in one if necessary and I appreciate that in Japan, line jumping is virtually unknown, unlike in Europe. My most impressive waiting ever would have to be to get into the Vatican Museum in Rome, which was about 3 hours of shuffling along the street, trying not to scream whilst having no choice but to listen to some person from an English speaking country go on and on and on about inane things.

Did you know that one of the best times to go to DisneySea in Tokyo is February, obviously not on Valentines day but shortly before. K and I went there on a national holiday- yeah sure it was freezing cold but there was almost NOBODY else there. We went on Indiana Jones ride about 6 times (until we were satisfied that the picture that gets taken of you screaming was good enough), and pretty much every other attraction. By 7pm the park was almost deserted. I put it down to the weather being freezing cold and it being just before exams for University and high school entrance. I don't mind the cold, so for me it was heaven. K was not so happy about the cold but he was happy to be getting his money's worth.

My Mum, my sister and I went to the Louvre in Paris in January, not long after Christmas Vacation had finished and we waited 2 minutes to get in. My sister and I had a whole wing of the Louvre to ourselves at one point. Fantastic! We went to Amalfi in Italy just after Christmas and had the most beautiful weather, stayed in a fantastic hotel we couldn't have afforded in summer and had almost the whole beach to ourselves, the locals were still swimming, we could have too if we had our swimmers with us.

I love doing things out of season, sure not everything is always open, the weather may not be the best but it is always cheaper and you can enjoy whatever it is you are doing without having share it with the world - never was very good at "sharing".

So people, give me (us) your best "off season" tips. I promise not to tell the world about it ;)

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Ghost Overload


Yesterday I watched a TV show about some people who went spirit hunting. It is or was prime ghost spotting time in Japan as the spirits of the dead return to their families for 3 days during Obon.

I wasn't scared watching the show, even though there was a clairvoyant type person rarking up the others who had tagged along. He even performed a couple of quick exorcisms as the malevolent spirits they had "found" were trying to possess the two he had bought along. They took some digital photos of the area where clairvoyant man said the spirits were. Some weird things did show up in the photos.

Anywho, after watching this I picked up a book by Amy Tan called "The Opposite of Fate". Its a story about her life and motivations for writing. Like many authors, she has had an eventful life and endured much sadness. She also claims that may supernatural things happen around her and that she even had a ghost in her house. I also find it odd that the English section in the local library has 2 copies of this book and no copies of any of her actual novels...hmmm Very Odd.

So then last night, I tried to go to sleep but I was kind of worked up for some reason. It was late and K had already fallen asleep. I tried to go to sleep but I had this panicky feeling in my chest. I looked around our dark bedroom which was eerily lit from the street lights outside but I didn't notice anything in our room that would give me a fright. So I tried to settle down and just go to sleep. Then later this very cool air started to blow in the window and I heard a man's voice say something followed by a whistling noise which made me sit up, my heart pounding.

I realised the whistling noise was coming from K, who has developed quite a repertoire of snoring sounds.

The cold air coming through the window was just the breeze coming off the river.

But I still don't have any explanation for the voice I heard. Did K shout out something? Did I dream it? Did I say something?

Anyway, I have come to the conclusion that an overload of ghost stories yesterday made me jumpy last night.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

5 minute cooking: Kheema Curry

Hello all.

Thought I would slap this little beauty of a recipe up quickly. I hope it brings a bright spot to your day. Yes, you really can cook dinner in 5 minutes and turn out a quite decent Kheema curry with ingredients that you probably have in your house already.

Ingredients:
Can or package of bolognaise pasta sauce or "meat sauce"
some extra mince if wanted
some grushed ginger
some curry powder
an onion, some mushrooms or other vegies as you like

If you want to add vegies to this recipe, cook them in fry pan with mince. You can chuck some garlic in too if you like.

Then add your pasta sauce with a teaspoon or two of ginger, and 1-2 teaspoons of curry powder to taste.
Fry it for a couple of minutes and then serve with rice (Sorry not counted in the 5 minutes).

K cooked this the other night and really liked it. I am a big curry fan so another chance to eat curry is fine with me!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Local TV

Does anyone else cringe when they watch the local TV News?

For some reason our prefecture has 3 local channels that all do the same news with cringe factor levels varying from bad to really bad.

One of today's news items was the "Rehearsal of drawing out the lot numbers to decide which politician gets to put their poster in which numbered space on those big boards that go up around election time". This is not news. Nobody cares. I don't think people even care who gets to put their poster in which spot. It sounds like a ridiculous waste of time to me.
I guess things must have been pretty slow around the news room today, what with it being the first day back after the summer holidays. But surely they could have just extended the coverage on the various large traffic jams, hordes of people arriving back at the airports etc. - I always find that amusing, especially from the comfort of my own home - ie: not having been caught up in the rush myself.

Another thing I find cringe worthy is the footage they use as filler whilst giving inane amounts of detail about silly rehearsals for lot drawing ceremonies, for example. There was one shot today taken in the "election office", I guess, of the office workers talking on the phone and supposedly doing important work. Except the guy in the foreground was doing some very studious cutting out. Yes, someone was cutting out pieces of paper with scissors and this got on the 6 O'clock news...
I also just love it when they film footage of boring meetings (which they often do) where some old guy is waffling on about something and half of the audience is asleep. If the TV cameras are in the house, you would think the audience would try to stay awake. But even I know how hard it is to keep one's eyes open at such drawn out events, especially after lunch with a belly full of bento, and I don't even have the natural ability to sleep anywhere like many Japanese people seem to be able to do.
So this leads me to wonder if the person who edited the footage was asleep too? Or just vindictive? Why else would someone insert the following footage: A stock exchange trading area. A man and a woman are working at their desks next to one another, the women suddenly slides over to the guy on her chair and practically climbs into his lap whilst explaining/asking a question about a piece of paper, whilst man keeps staring at computer screen, seemingly ignoring lady ...perhaps he knew that the cameras were filming and would have to explain to his wife when he got home...or maybe he was just pretending to look at the computer screen but was actually asleep.

In the mean time I will continue to watch local TV, hopefully one day I will see someone I know having a snooze on TV. Now that would be interesting.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

NEXT!

There are surely a lot of foreign women in Japan who struggle to find clothes to buy right? I used to go to every store thinking I might discover something I could wear...but no. If it was the right size, it didn't fit properly anyway because of some bizarre Japanese body shape that I don't have. I even looked in the "Big Size" stores thinking that might work for me but "Big people" in Japan apparently have tiny thighs and huge stomachs...unlike myself. So that was a no-go too.
When we moved to Germany I was so happy to be able to walk into (almost) ANY store and find clothes that would fit me.
Since I have been back from Germany, I have noticed the increase of foreign brands in Japan such as H&M, Forever 21 and Zara (not a new one). I was also mortified to see how much they charge here for stuff compared to Zara in Germany - ouch. Anyway another foreign brand store where I have always managed to find nice clothes is NEXT. I like their "grown up" style - you wont find too many overly cutified clothes with excessive ribbons and bows in this store.

NEXT is supposedly from the UK "NEXT" store. When I was in London last December I went into several NEXT stores. I was anticipating a mecca of great clothes if the Japanese stores are anything to go by...I'm not sure if it was just because of the after Christmas sales but the shops were very shabby looking, clothes very mediocre and all just shoved onto the racks in a big jumble. Not very enticing at all and I left without finding a single thing to buy.

So yesterday as a consolation prize for us not being able to go to NZ next month (where I was planning to fill my suitcase with clothes to last me for the next year or 3) K drove us over to the big smoke about an hours drive from here to go to the NEXT store and pick over their Summer sale stuff.
I was not disappointed. I managed to get 3 pairs of work trousers for under 10,000 yen. They also took up the hems for me in an hour for free, even though I bought stuff that was 50-70% off. I am very thankful that they stock the larger sizes rather than just stopping at size 12 or something, even though I seem to be the only one that buys them! I was almost able to get a suit for under 9,000yen but the jacket was a tad too small. Oh well. (OH BTW, I'm not just a shufu anymore now)

So if you don't already know about NEXT, check out one near you. Their stuff is a bit pricey when not on sale but if you want clothes that fit "pear shaped" people's bodies, then Next is a great place to go. They also have outlet stores in some Premium Outlets.

P.S.: Check out their list of stores but also check that they don't just stock childrens clothes, I wouldn't want anyone to suffer the same disappointment as when I got all excited to see a NEXT store only to find that they only stock kids stuff.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Today is Jangara Day

It's Obon here in Japan. That means that the spirits return to their graves for 3 days and they need to be collected from the graveyard and brought home to reside in the family shrine in the house for those three days. I've only visited my husband's family once during Obon and that was quite an eyeopening experience. First we went out to the family grave and tipped water on it, lit incence and put fresh food there. I was then introduced to the spirits as K's wife.

Where I live we have "Jangara" which is group of people wearing summer kimonos that play drums and various cymbols and sing and dance. If someone has passed away in your family in the last year then it is customary to ask the local temple to organise for the Jangara to come to your house and play. This is said to appease the spirit of the person who recently died and be a form of prayer to the buddah.


Its a hard job being in a Jangara group. You have to play outisde in the sun and for long periods of time. Someone I know used to belong to a Janagara group and he said that it was tough playing in the heat but also tough drinking all the alcohol that each family gives you as part of the way to say thanks.

I have been hearing drumming practice for the last few weeks so I knew there must be a local Jangara chapter. Just before they were playing over the fence from my place for a good half an hour or so.

Jangara is supposedly one of my town's claims to fame. Apparently this is not done anywhere else in Japan. Though I did read Gaijin Wife's blog about her husband doing something similar though.

Every place seems to have their own little differences to the Obon traditions. For example here, there is a big lantern floating festival tomorrow night at the river as kind of way to send the spirits off again. Where my husband comes from, everyone goes down to the beach and digs a small pit in the sand and sets up lots of candles and food offerings and then prays for the spirits to go on their way again. Apparently water seems to be the main mode of transportation for spirits so these kinds of traditions are based around available waterways.
When the spirits are in residence at my husband's family's house, they are served mini meals of soba noodles and such to keep them happy. It's a lot of hard work for my mother in law to be worrying about what Grand Ma and Grand Dad and Great Uncle might like to have.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Good husband

Some people I know are having a get together next month. The main thing that we seem to have in common - well the most easy thing to spot anyway - is that all us have a Japanese husband.

My husband is very shy with people he doesn't know and dislikes socialising with strangers. So when I told him that he was also invited to aforementioned get together he didn't look exactly thrilled as for him it would mean having to face his fear of socialising with people he doesn't know.

So I thought I would bribe him with this idea.

"If you come too", I said, "You can hang out with the other Japanese husbands and complain to each other about how tough it is to be married to a non-Japanese person!"

However, K's reply to this was:

"But I don't have anything to complain about"....

Now is that a good answer or what!

Surely there must be something to moan about...

Well I do let him watch baseball/golf/F1 racing when its on TV...and I do often reward "good deeds" such as putting socks in washing machine with a standing ovation...I can cook a mean hambagu and my bread is getting pretty damn good....and I don't get annoyed (with him) when he has to work late/on weekends/during the measly 1 week summer holiday....and I let him go play golf whenever he wants...and I often say - this might make some of you puke, but - "Thank you for working so hard" and "You are amazing for working 14 hours a day"... Crikey, I just keep getting closer to saintliness! ;)

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

To buy or not to buy, that is the question

Hi everyone
Sorry for massacring that bit of Shakespeare there.

We are STILL fluffing around about this massage chair thing. Last weekend we went to two different shops and tried out different ones. We have settled on the one we want but the price is the main thing stopping us.

So today whilst we were having lunch we decided to see what The Universe had to say about us buying a massage chair. Ordinarily I wouldn't bother The Universe with such an insignificant question but it seemed like the only way out of our stalled position. First we flipped a coin. Then we did rock scissors paper. Both times we came out with the answer "buy massage chair". So I asked K how he felt when that result came out as I feel that it is one way to know your true feelings about a big decision ie: if you get the answer "buy massage chair" but you feel a bit disappointed or a slight feeling of dread, then you probably shouldn't buy massage chair, but if you feel happy about the outcome then its the right thing for you to do. K is adamant that his feelings were "yatta!" - "great", but that still leaves us with having to part with small mountain of yen...

I think we should get one:
A) because I am frikin sick of thinking about whether we should get one or not every 6 months or so
B) because I hate being dragged to electronics store just so K can have a go
C) quite frankly I think K could do with a decent massage every day of the week seeing as he works at a desk for 14 hours most days, is very stressed out - poor bugger.

So maybe I will think of it as an investment towards the longevity of poor overworked husband.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

A blast from the past

I am in our dinning room/office, K is in the living room/TV room watching something that involves a lot of clanging, booming and schwinging. I'm not sure exactly what he is watching but I know he is watching a cartoon that he used to watch in his younger days. He used to watch one about baseball, the other day he sheepishly admitted to having moved on to a cartoon about boxing...*sigh*

I have been wondering if it's a good idea to go back to our favourite childhood TV shows.

K and I both loved MacGyver when we were younger. Due to our 8 year age difference its a bit sick to think that I was 8 or something and he was 16 when we were watching this show in our respective countries.
K also thought (before I managed to stamp THAT idea to smithereens) that it would be a FANTASTIC idea to name our future first born son MacGyver....
Anyway, before we moved to Germany we bought the first and second series box set on DVD so we would have something to watch on those long dull German winter Sunday afternoons when you can't escape to the shops and it's minus 10 outside.
One day we popped in the first one and were both so excited to see the starting credits roll...along came Mac in his high tops with stone wash baggy jeans and mullet. Excellent.
Then things went kind of bad.
First there was the low low low high tech stuff. Computers the size of a car, funny made up technology that looked real fake like those voice activated entry systems etc.
Then shock horror...In the first season of MacGyver he is a real lady's man! He was actually KISSING someone different in just about every episode and it was SO WRONG!
Thankfully the producers eventually realised that more women would watch the show if MacGyver was a "lone wolf" and respectful towards women, kind to animals and children kind of character than your typical one night stander type action hero. And he doesn't use guns but is still cool.

My 8 year old self was banned from watching MacGyver after that episode where some scientists are messing around with some BAD MOJO type chemical that makes you age 50 years almost instantly and die. Younger sister and I were so traumatised by the whole episode (I think there was a dead dog to add to the trauma) we couldn't sleep in our own beds for about a week.

Anyway K and I were similarly seriously traumatised by our attempt to resurrect our childhood action hero and to find out that he was in fact a hussy!
But one good thing that did come from our watching the very first season was that we now know which episodes the outtakes that make up the intro come from. It's all very "made at a studio in Hollywood" though.
I'm thinking they might like to produce MacGyver the second where Mac and his son- no lets make that a daughter, get out of trouble "in the present" and escape the evil clutches of the ultimate villain "Murdock" and his similarly evil offspring...

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Thursday, 6 August 2009

My own mini lily pond

Today was Ikebana day. It is also the start of the Tanabata festival here (we like to get all the fun over and done with in one big hit here in Tohoku), which means that every man and his dog was out on the roads today.
Today I saw a woman driving towards me along our narrow main road where there is barely room for two cars to pass, but instead of concentrating on the road, she was preening herself in a large hand held mirror...It makes me quite speechless really! Surely she could at least wait till she got to a traffic light. Another menace I encountered today are men who want to compensate for their crappy little 1.0 litre engine cars by driving it like they are Michael Schumacher's long lost Japanese brother. Get a bigger car and drive like a normal person for crying out loud. Oh and men who are driving company cars (those very plain white cars) like they don't give a crap.
Despite all these mad people on the roads today I did make it safely to Ikebana and back but my nerves are somewhat shot.

Today's task was to create our own mini lily pond.
This is quite difficult to achieve as lilies tend to be very uncooperative.

Today's photos are not good as I forgot to take my memory card for my digital camera, so these photos were taken with my cell phone.

I'm sure you are all dying to know what we had for afternoon tea today.

Today we had.... wait for it.... JELLY! or Jello, depending on where you are from. I must say that in Japan the humble jelly is also quite an art form. Take the specimen below. Not only does it have 4 flavours on top (watermelon, mandarin, lychee and honey dew melon), underneath was another kind of jelly which may or may not have had a very subtle refreshing mint aftertaste.
I don't know about where you all are from, but back home people don't generally serve jelly much these days and certainly not to guests. I only remember eating it when I had food poisoning or when it was mixed with vodka or something. So I never used to get the excitement over jelly here. Obviously I have adjusted now, and who wouldn't want to eat a jelly like the one pictured here. If you are wondering what the dark ominous looking blob is in the jelly that is a fresh blueberry.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Thinking about langauges

Today I was watching NHK's programme about learning Arabic. NHK does these weekly shows so that people can learn various languages at home. Before we moved to Germany, K and I watched the German version avidly every week, trying to get even a small grasp on this new language we would have to deal with in our new life. I also remember the show as quite a big waste of time as it was all either in Japanese (try learning German in Japanese sometime!) or it was in German, which we didn't know yet, but not obvious easy to figure out German, but some mini documentary about a philosopher, in German, with Japanese Untertitel I mean subtitles.
So we went of to Germany and I still couldn't remember which was 4 and which was 5 and often ordered strange amounts of bread rolls at the bakery, but I was able to sing along to a song about Schnappy the little Krokodil.
I have to say that far from preparing us for our trip, we came away from NHK's show thinking German was really hard and there was no way we would ever learn it properly. I blame NHK for presenting a mishmash of random useless language with way to much Japanese explanation.
So today when I watched the show on Arabic, I had the same feeling - that this language seems so hard, I would never be able to learn it.

Now. I went of to Germany, went to German language school and after 6 months of study was able to have a fairly decent conversation about lots of things. So I know if I went to the Middle East and did the same I could learn at least some Arabic too.
I've always been fascinated by Arabic since I was in high school, but there weren't many chances to learn it in rural NZ. One day I mentioned that I would like to learn Arabic to someone and I was quite shocked by their negative response of "Why would you want to learn that language..." something about it sounding awful and what not. I also understood that they must have negative feelings about the Middle East. At that time there had been no September 11 and most people would have only heard Arabic in news broadcasts showing Saddam Hussein spouting rhetoric.

Now that I think about it, I seem to have learnt the languages of and lived in NZ's two biggest historical enemy countries from WW2 (Germany and Japan), so I guess what is an "acceptable" language to learn changes as time goes on. Now people want to learn Chinese, Russian and Portugese - who would have predicted that 20 years ago. Not me - OK so I was nine then and didn't quite have the mental capacity to pick potential "winner languages of the future".

The thing that puts me off from running to the book store to get a text book on learning Arabic right now is that I would have to learn another writing system. After I started learning German and realised how fantastic it was to learn a language that has the same writing system as English (unlike my on going battle to learn Japanese and my rather pathetic attempt to learn Chinese), I swore I would only learn a new language if it used the Latin/Roman alphabet . Oh and the other thing is if I don't use it I lose it, fast and I can't see myself heading off to the Middle East any time in the near future...but who knows right?

So has anyone had a strange desire to learn a particular foreign language for no apparent reason, or is it just me?

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Should I let my husband buy a massage chair?

Today K and I amused ourselves by going to the electronics store and riding the massage chairs. Well not really riding as such, but those things contort you into all kinds of rather embarrassing postures, I sometimes feel like I am on one of mechanic bull things. The one I chose today had my arms pinned under the arm rests, my legs were being held in the feet massager section by its vice-like grip whilst my pelvis and chest were intermittently thrust into the air. I think that is why you don't see many women on the massage chairs - there were only guys there today and since it was an unusually slow day for a Sunday in the store, I decided I would risk it and hope that non of my ex-English students would happen by and want to stop for a chat.

They have incorporated a handy trick to stop people from jiggling away in the chairs all day by strategical placing the speaker (on full volume) for the annoyingly high pitched female voice that announces various great things about shopping at this store along with the brain numbing jingle. If that wasn't enough, Hitachi generously provided a DVD player and TV for their promotional movie for the new front loading eco friendly washing machines to be played on repeat at full volume. So after 15 minutes, my muscles were some what relaxed from the chair but my nerves were shot from the noise. My heart goes out to the sales assistants everywhere in Japan who put up with that racket all day every day for minimal wages.

We weren't just massage chair surfing at the electronics store, we were actually looking for an electric hotplate. K made sure to bang them all around a bit, as this is something he is particularly skilled at, then we decided not to buy one at all but to go home and find one on the internet instead. We made our escape just as pack of sales assistants started to circle us - did I mention there was pretty much no one else in the store and I think K managed to alert them to our whereabouts with all the banging the different hotplates together.

After our 15 minute massage/noise torture session was over, we left the store seriously wanting to buy a massage chair for our apartment. We have calculated that if two people used it every day that would be 400 yens worth (based on how much they charge you to use one at the health club we used to go to), multiply that buy 365 and you have got more than half of the 200,000 yen that an average one costs, back within a year. Not to mention all the health benefits one would get from increased circulation and decreased muscle stiffness. It sounds like I have almost convinced myself. Proposed massage chair would fit snugly into TV room so space would be OK. We might have to get the roof taken off and have it swung in by a crane though.