Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Today's Ikebana

Last week was a week off at Ikebana class, so no flower post, but this week we made "Hirakukatachi" or radial style. My teacher wrote the names of the flowers out for me nicely and I have since misplaced the piece of paper...sorry Sensei! Here is what I made:


It is quite difficult to get a decent photo of this kind of style and it was very dark and overcast today so the usual position next to the window was not going to work. I was also standing in slightly the wrong place.
Here is what my class made made:


And here is what we had for afternoon tea:

Some almond cookies (the round white thingees) and a mini baked cheese cake from Nasukogen 那須高原. I love that place, although there are a lot of people from Tokyo who go there to get away from it all and have holiday homes there. My favourite restaurant there is: Gioia Mia. I really must get K to take me there again sometime before winter comes and we can't go anywhere by car.




Tuesday, 29 September 2009

I dislike Japanese financial institutions rather a lot

Today I was unlucky enough to have to visit a bank as I had an account that I used to use many moons ago that I need to start using again. So it also meant that I had to get my new name and address put on the account and a new bank book (yes they are still normal here) as the old one was pretty much full.
Turns out I am somewhat of a outlaw at this particular bank because I somehow managed to get two general accounts there. This is apparently NOT allowed and they only figured it out when I showed up today with my two bank books to have them updated and they realised that someone had made a second account for me as I had a different address the second time round and they hadn't figured out that I already had an account. As if there would be two foreigners in this hick town with a name like mine...

Finally after having been made to close one account, filling out many many pieces of paper of curiously different sizes and colours, stamping my name (rather well I have to say) about a million times, I walked out with a closed account, 5,000 yen I didn't know I still had and no bank book for my remaining account as I will be receiving a new one in the post apparently. Why can't they just make it all much simpler, get rid of the stupid bank books!
We had a similar debacle at the post office when K wanted to change his address on an account and some term deposits.  We had to fill out a piece of paper for each one and they were all updated by hand on the bank books. When are Japanese financial institutions going to get with the programme!?!?!

Oh and can anyone guess how much interest I got for my 5,000 yen over the last 3 years it was sitting in the bank - a whopping grand total of 24 WHOLE YEN..

I will give a big thumbs up to the lady who was in charge of managing stray foreigners and other confused people who wander into the bank. She got all the slips and told me what to write where, which saved a lot of time and re-writing things, she also wrote my old address down for me to copy out which I have since forgotten how to write as it contains several of the most difficult kanji in the entire Japanese language. Actually, now that I think of it, I'm rather proud of myself for today's effort. Although I did just about make K wet his pants with laughter when I told him just now that  aforementioned bank book will be coming by "takikomi" post.



(Sorry that was a joke for Japanese speakers- Instead of saying registered mail (kakitome) I said takikomi which is a way to cook rice with vegetables and stock in the rice cooker- friggin hilarious!)




Sorry for the absence

Some of my regular readers might have been wondering where I got to, or people who's blogs I often comment on, who I haven't commented on  for a while - I apologise.


K being at home for the last 9 days in a row has thrown my usual schedule completely out of kilter, that means very little house work gets done, I forget to talk to my mother on Skype and blogging goes out the window.
What do we do when K is at home with me for extended periods of time? There is actually no precedence for this. He is NEVER home with me 9 days in a row. But with silver week and then catching up on some holidays he missed during Obon (well actually he had no holiday whatsoever).
So during the last 9 days he Mostly sat in "his room" AKA the TV room and watched TV shows he had prerecorded on 1.3 speed whilst also using the internet. I sat in the dining/living area at my "work desk" and investigated the cost of holidays we will never go on, looked at houses we will never buy and other such useful things. Occasionally we actually talked to each other, this usually went along the lines of:

"What do you want to do today?"
"I don't know....What do you want to do today?"
"......"
"....."
"Shall we go out to lunch?"
"Ok, where do you want to go?"
"....."
"....."
So I think it now official, we must be the most boring people on the planet, or just too cheap to go anywhere that involves spending money..

Now today I found out a most disturbing piece of information. The factory that is not too far from our house is in fact a rubber goods factory... as in those kind of rubbers. K and I have walked past there so many times and wondered what they make there. Well now we know.

Another thing I wanted to mention that has annoyed me recently is JA. Japan Agriculture or something. They are a Agricultural Organisation that farmers usually belong to to get their vegetables sold in big supermarkets. They have strict guidelines about how long a cucumber can be, for example. If its too long, too short or not completely straight, it will most probably become waste. According to an article I read, up to 40% of all vegetables grown are not able to be sold  because they don't meet the tight appearance regulations so they go to waste or can't be sold for a decent price. This makes me REAL mad, as Japanese farmers (my in-laws included) are seriously struggling to survive on the money they make from selling their produce. Why should the appearance of a vegetable have anything to do with its value - they still taste the same and chances are that that vegetable is going to be chopped up anyway so you would never ever know it had once been a bent cucumber. So I have decided to boycott JA vegetables and only buy ones from the "local farmer's produce section" at the supermarket or the weekend vegetable stall near here. I'm sure, once JA realises that they have lost ME as a customer they will mend their ways.







Thursday, 24 September 2009

The Autumnal Equinox = 秋分

Well the great "Silver Week Vacation" is over for most people. Once again the news reports were full of traffic reports of massive traffic jams all over Japan as people made the most of the 1,000 yen all you can drive highway tolls.
I was busy working so we couldn't go anywhere, but I think K has enjoyed his last 5 days at home pottering around, going to the driving range, cooking up a storm and growing a goatee (with my encouragement) to name a few of things he has been doing.. Last night he shaved his 5 days of stubble into a goatee shape, only to have me not notice for at least an hour even though I was sitting right across the dinner table from him for most of that time...I blame it on the bottle of bubbly we had opened that I was making a significant dent in.


Yesterday was the Autumnal Equinox, which is also a day when people here are supposed to head out to the family grave and clean it up, put fresh flowers, burn incense and pray. K and I don't live anywhere near his family so we couldn't go and my father's grave is in NZ, in a very remote part of New Zealand may I add, so no hope of us going there either.
So we came up with a 21st century answer to our problem.
We opened Google Earth and then managed to find the approximate location of my Dad's grave and K's family's grave and visited them virtually.

Yesterday was one of my few whole days off, so we decided that we would try and do something like go to a hot spa or something. We gave up that idea and settled for running a bath at our own house and adding some onsen type bath salts instead for a fraction of the price (and I would have to say was for me personally more relaxing than getting naked with a bunch of strangers). The balance was spent on buying a massive tray of sushi from the supermarket. We also made a trek out to a liquor store that sells a lot of imported beers and boutique beers made in Japan. One bottle of Tui was 400 yen or about NZ$6. A bottle of Weissbier was 500 yen or 3.4 Euros, so there is at least a 300% mark up on what you would pay for the same thing in its own country.
I did find some tinned tomatoes that were only 100 yen each which is a bargain where I live.
We also test drove the Mazda Axella Sport 20S iStop, whilst we were waiting for our car to be serviced. I fell in love with it, unfotunately the price is a bit steep for the model we test drove. The iStop means that after you stop at the traffic lights or in a traffic jam, if you press your foot down on the brake again the engine turns off. As soon as you take your foot off the brake, the engine starts again with plenty of time to drive off without any problems. There is timer that calculates how long you have had the engine turned off and shows you how many trees you have saved (8 hours of engine stopping = 1 tree). Stopping at the traffic lights has never been so fun! K reckons we should just turn the engine off ourselves in our current car. *sigh*








Monday, 21 September 2009

My Photos of a Stuttgart Beer Festival


Here is one of those "Beer Tents" : This one belongs to Schwaben Bra"u (Schvaben Broi)
These buildings are put up and taken down twice a year for the Beer and Spring festivals. The roof is just plastic so you do get dripped on sometimes.
 
This is the inside of a tent, the people in Stuttgart don't get dressed up as much as the people in Munich do.


Nothing like mixing a lot of beer with a gravity defying ride at high speed!



Oktoberfest and Parks in Japan.

There is a big park in the town where I live. K and I ended up going there recently for lack of anything else to do.


















We set off on a walk around the edge of the park and soon came to start comparing it to Germany. On Sundays in Germany there is not much to do. Almost all the shops are closed - so there can be no shopping done, not even the supermarket is open. Only a few cafes and restaurants and the odd bakery are allowed to trade on a Sunday. So this means that families must spend quality time together. So in the warmer months, when you go to any park in Germany, expect to find multitudes of people doing some of the following: Walking, cycling, rollerblading, sunbathing (yes, topless too), playing soccer, drinking beer, having a picnic/bbq and even practicing the bongos. We lived in "one of the greenest cities in Europe" - also known as Stuttgart, which has a massive park right in the centre of town called the Schlossgärten (Castle Gardens) as it used to belong to the big old palace that is also in the centre of town (pictured above). Now its open to the public and there are 5.6 square kilometers to this particular park.


















So as we walked along in the park (here in Japan), I felt it a little odd. Sunday afternoon and there were very few other people in the park. We saw perhaps 10 other people the whole time, not one single cyclist and only 1 group of people was having a picnic.
Admittedly the outdoors in Japan is not as pleasant as Germany which has fairly nice weather in the summer without being too unbearable, not too many bugs flying around that want to suck your blood and there is always a beer garden nearby to quench your thirst. That was another thing we missed...no beer garden, not even a tea house or an ice cream stand. Which brings me to the Oktoberfest.


Now you will be aware that the ultimate beer drinking festival is now under way in Munich. The Oktoberfest (held in September) draws beer drinkers and party animals from all over the world. I never went to the Oktoberfest in Munich. Mostly because Stuttgart also has a fairly decent version which starts a bit later.
There is no better way to leave behind all of your stereotypes about German people, than going to a beer festival at 2 in the afternoon on a Sunday and seeing people having the time of their lives dancing on the tables, singing and swilling from their 1 litre beer mugs (they only come in that size). The music that I have encountered wasn't Om Pah Pah music but songs from "All time Greatest Beer Drinking Songs", which ensure the crowd has plenty of chances to shout along and even yell expellatives:

"♪But for 24 years I've been living next door to Alice♪. ALICE? ALICE? WHO THE #$%& IS ALICE?!?!?!"
- Great times.
If you can't get to Germany during the Oktoberfest, never fear as there are other festivals throughout the year that also involve imbibeing large amounts of alcohol.

Here are some just from Stuttgart:

The Spring Festival (Almost identical to the Oktoberfest but held in Spring)
The Stuttgart Wine festival
The Summer Festival

The Stuttgart Beer Festival, 25th September until 11th October 2009,
Suttgart's version of the Oktoberfest in Munich, the second largest in Germany.

Stuttgart Christmas Market: 25th November-23rd December
One of the largest Christmas Markets in Germany, the whole centre of town is transformed by rows of kiosks selling mulled wine, various snacks, decorations and what not. Also an outdoor skating rink is constructed for several months in front of the Neues Schloss.

So you can see that only a few months go by before there is another chance to squeeze into your Lederhose or Dirndl and go and get plastered.

Friday, 18 September 2009

My new favourite thing: Popo chan

 I have never really seen many owls in my life, what with them being mostly nocturnal and all, but recently I had the good fortune to see a TV show about Popo chan. Popo is a Northern White Faced Owl, found in Africa.

Popo does something interesting when faced with other birds, watch the clip then read below for a summary in English:

The first bird they show Popo is one he considers to be weaker, so he makes a show of being a tough guy.
When faced with the bigger bird, Popo goes into camouflage mode to make himself look a bit like the branch of a tree to the bigger bird. Then Popo keeps his side or back on to the boss bird cause those feathers are grey, rather than show his while belly, which would give him away. Owls have lots of feathers and quite small bodies, so they are able to change how big they look.


K loves this video, especially the part where Popo keeps showing his back to the other bird.
I think K and might have to make a trip to see Popo chan.



Going into Battle

.....at the supermarket!


I'm feeling a bit nervous today as I am going to make my first trip to an "Opening". Today a new supermarket and drug store are opening not far from my house and since I am free today I thought it would be a great idea to go and see what kind of specials they are having.



Japan is a very calm kind of country, you will very rarely see people pushing or shoving for anything, especially outside of the big cities. However, the one time you can guarantee a bit of decent argy bargy is when there is a huge sale or when a new store opens (Especially electronic stores and supermarkets). There are usually some good bargains to be had, and people line up outside the store for hours before it opens to be first to get inside and get first choice.


The supermarket is opening at 9am and its now 9:30, so I guess the initial mayhem should be over, so I think I shall get my A into G and head over, will update how I went, how many teeth I lost and if I still have both eyes when I get back!
....
....
....

30 minutes later:
Well that was short lived. I (stupidly) decided to take the car - you know to fit all the great stuff I was going to buy- and managed to get within a kilometer of new supermarket when I encountered a traffic jam that could have only been caused by people waiting to get into the new supermarket car park. Luckily I was able to turn off before I got caught up in it and did a big loop and came straight back home.  On the way, I saw two smart cookies riding bikes , complete with shopping baskets hanging off the handle bars...I have to say they didn't buy very much so maybe it will just be slim pickings.
So now I am of the opinion that I shouldn't go to the food grab fest after all as I will just buy a bunch of stuff I didn't plan to and probably don't particularly need just because I think I am getting a bargain, which is in fact not a bargain at all.



Thursday, 17 September 2009

Rosehip and Dahlias and Text messages

Today's flower arrangement materials are dahlias and what I think is called rosehip in English or 野バラ(wild rose) in Japanese. A very Autumny arrangement.


Here is what I made:




And here is what my classmate made:



And here is my nashi cake again which looks a lot more appetising than yesterday's photos especially with the cute little bit of rosemary as a garnish.






Just out of curiosity, how many texts do you send your significant other in a day?


K and I rarely communicate during the day now we are back in Japan. I used to message him on MSN Messenger but he can't use that anymore now. I've seen (yes on the TV) that some people - obviously in the throes of young love mostly - send 100 texts a day saying boring things like "I'm brushing my teeth now" etc.
As of yesterday I have started to send the evening meal menu to K. Yesterday's message said exactly this:


"酢豚" 


or Sweet and Sour Pork.


That's all. No "How is your day going?" or anything fancy like that. But I have a feeling this was  enough info for my darling husband.




Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Are you suffering from Nashi overload?

We are in nashi hell here at the moment. You may remember that I was having trouble shifting a large shipment of melons from the "in-laws" and with the change in the seasons comes a change in the fruit that I am struggling with.

Luckily K actually likes nashi so he is helping to eat some. But we still have quite a few to get through so I decided to find some recipes to you know, spice things up.

So today I made a Upside Down Nashi Cake. It was fairly easy and turned out quite well although the photo is not the best but you get the idea.

I got the recipe from Cookpad, which you can probably guess by the odd name is a Japanese recipe site. There are thousands of recipes all made up by fellow house wives so it gives me confidence that I can also make them too.

Recipe:
Stewed Nashi bit:
2 Nashi, one chopped into about 16 slices and the other diced (to mix in with the batter)
30g of sugar
50mls of white wine
1/2 lemon squeezed worth of lemon juice
cinnamon

For the cake batter:
100g of butter
100 g sugar (brown is better)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of baking powder
100g flour
cinnamon and nutmeg


Stew the nashi in a fry pan with the wine, sugar and lemon juice until the liquid is gone. Let the mix cool down and mix in some cinnamon if you want.

Make the cake batter by mixing cake batter ingredients. Add the diced stewed nashi.

Get your cake tin (round is best but I don't own a round one) and put down baking paper then lay out your stewed nashi in a pretty pattern (check out the Japanese site for pictures), then tip the batter on top.
Bake at 180 degrees for about 40 minutes or until done.






















Oh to have been "Baby" in Dirty Dancing

Some of you may be aware of the news that Patrick Swayze has passed away. I'm sad that he died so soon and from cancer, which people who have seen someone die from will know is horrible for everyone involved.

I am a big fan of Dirty Dancing, which I think must be one of the all time favourite movies of women my age. Gee that sounds old. Anyway. What is it that made this movie such a hit? The tight pants? The handsome dancer ? The young girl who finds a romance for the summer with a handsome guy in tight pants who WANTS to dance with you -I mean her? -oh and he is a BAD boy too.

This movie reminds me of part of my childhood growing up somewhere similar to the hotel where Dirty Dancing is set. My parents worked in the hotel and all the staff lived on site. There were only a few kids living in the village and they were all my younger sister's age. So while she had plenty of friends to play with, there was nothing for me to do after school and on weekends. So my father quickly found jobs for me to do around the hotel including making toast, washing dirty glasses and various other chores the regular staff needed help with. This of course brought me into contact with a variety of "Johnny Castles" every day. Most of them were nice to me (don't want to get in trouble with the boss right?). Some of them I had crushes on. Luckily I was only 11 or 12 so of course, those crushes were nothing more than that. When I recall some of the people who I had a crush on I have to laugh at my naivety.

There was a guy who I worked with a lot who was very friendly to me who I liked for a while, called me "duckies" or something like that. Turns out he was gay, but how was my 12 year old self to know that?

I have fond memories of my Mum driving my sister and me along with 2 six foot Adonises to town (an hour or more away) so that us kids could be dropped of at a friends house whilst she and Adonises went to a hotel golf tournament. Of course I was too frightened to say anything during the entire ride but hey, being squished in the back seat had never been more pleasant.

I sometimes went to staff parties (not so dissimilar to the one in the movie) with my parents that were quite.. er.. "interesting". I was the girl holding the watermelon - not that were any watermelons for me to hold, if there had been that would have been great, at least I would have had something to do other than watch the party from the sidelines.

I would have to say that my parents were very lucky they were transferred somewhere else before I turned 13 where we led a "normal" life, ie. I didn't spend all my free time surrounded by people 10 years older than me and their potty mouths, rude jokes and chain smoking. Although 10 years later when I was working at a hotel in a different but similarly remote part of NZ and one of the older staff members liked to tell me how great it was that my room was next door to his, so he knew when I was showering - I was worldly enough to know that he was in fact just an old pervert, though I did make sure to lock my door at night. Ah the joys of living and working in the hospitality industry.

SO Patrick, in a tribute to you, here is the final scene from Dirty Dancing.

Gimme a Fur Baby

I have been hounding K since forever to get a pet. Well I actually want a dog. Mostly I hound K because I know there are several reasons why we can't have one, but I just want to remind him how empty our lives are without a fur baby.

Our reasons for not getting a dog are as follows:
1) We live in a rented apartment that doesn't allow pets
2) We might not stay in Japan forever so don't want to torture animal by sending it on an international flight

Obviously these two problems would easily be solved by buying our own house or apartment but that is not in our LT plans either.

K has suggested we get a "quiet fur baby" that no one would know we had like a hamster, rabbit or a guinea pig or his personal favourite: a squirrel... There are some cute kinds of rabbits here but all I can see is the smelly cage...

Yesterday K suggested I watch a show he had recorded about Japanese people and their increasing infatuation with pets. Apparently now 30% of Japanese people have a pet of some kind. There are now more and more people who have pets instead of children. Some of those people were on the show (only the most outrageous examples of course).
There was the Dog Birthday Party, when the owner rents out a restaurant and has a fancy meal with dog, dog's "friends" and their owners and even invites the vet, trimmer and who ever else helps to take care of the dog.
Dog cafes where you can take your dog along for a meal (not so weird, but the dog's meal cost twice what it cost for the owner)
Cat cafe, where you can go and hang out with a bunch of cats -lots of people who were there looked like they were de-stressing.
Then there are the ever increasing number of dog apparel shops. It seems that dressing your dog is normal now rather than the exception (however the dogs round here don't even get let inside let alone dressed up), I'm all for giving dogs extra warmth if the winter is particularly cold but some of these shops sell items that cost 6,000 yen for one dog dress, 10,000 yen for a cute lead. Which means that some owners spend more on their dogs than they do on themselves.

I think it is great that so many Japanese owners seem to love their dogs so much. But I also know that dogs, where ever they live still love rolling in smelly things, playing fetch or tug of war and eating. So if and when I get my own fur baby I wonder how long I will be able to resist the urge to dress them up, have them trimmed, massaged and manicured...

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Learning Germany

"Can you speak Germany?". This is a question I often hear from students I teach English to, when I mention that I used to live there.
According to a Japanese English teacher friend, this common mistake stems from Germany being an "ausnahme"or exception in English.

Spain -> Spanish
England-> English
Russia -> Russian
Germany->German is the opposite of the idea that you stick something on the end of the country name to get the language.

I have started to become seriously concerned about the downward spiral of my German speaking ability since we came back here. I have been watching the NHK German show which is interesting for listening comprehension but that's all. I have also tuned into SWR3 which is the radio station I used to listen to in Stuttgart but the time difference makes it a bit difficult to hear much German as the radio stations actually play lots of music, unlike Japanese radio stations. Now I'm listening to the night show which is mostly music and traffic reports. Although I am happy to hear some of the latest music and to know if the B27 is backed up or not, it's not really doing much for my ability to be able to talk about anything slightly difficult. Also to tell the truth, hearing or reading German makes me kind of homesick for Germany... or at least for my friends and my old apartment which was "total krass" ...and the scenery, blending in with the crowd instead of sticking out like a sore thumb, the bakeries, being able to drive 3 hours and be in another country and central heating.

OK, so now I will think of some things I don't miss to make myself feel better: slow/surly service, salty food, shops closed on Sundays, the weird lady next door, returning your empties to the supermarket, line jumpers...I feel better now, I hate line jumpers.

Monday, 14 September 2009

It's been a few days since my last blog. Mostly because I have actually had stuff to do for a change - like go to my paid employment. What a novelty!

Sundays are the only day of the week where I don't have any kind of work on - why I agreed to this I am now beginning to wonder, although my 6 work days are hardly strenuous.

So here is a rundown on an average Sunday in our house

6:00am K wakes up and can't go back to sleep as he is excited about watching some kind of sport he has recorded on TV. I sleep on.

7:30 K starts to get sleepy and goes back to bed for a morning nap

9:00 I drag myself out of bed and plonk self in front of computer, check emails which are usually all junk, read blogs which are usually entertaining, scan NZ news site whilst trying not to get upset about the state of my home country.

11:30 K and I leave the house for weekend "meal out" which is usually brunch at a family restaurant...not a real brunch with OJ, Eggs Benedict and a cappuccino but a regular Japanese lunch. I wish there was a place to have a decent brunch out round here...

12:30: We are siting in family restaurant surrounded by a cacophony of screaming children and cigarette smoke, trying to decide what to do next with our "day of fun".

12:40 Decide we need some exercise but its too hot outside so we opt for a trip to the biggest shopping mall in town to do laps and try not to buy stuff

13:20 Make a detour to the "Germany Bakery" and buy some overpriced but yummy bread rolls and things. K is disappointed as the Bretzels are already sold out. I wanted an "Apfel Tasche" but they are all sold out too.

13:40 We are wandering around the shopping mall, I find some Crocs for sale in the sports shop and try them on to see what all the fuss is about...am still wondering why adults would want to wear plastic shoes.

14:00 We have raided the 100 yen store and picked up all the stuff on special in the supermarket. Time for an ice cream that I have heard about and been dying to try for ages, made from Soy milk...It was good.

15:00 We are at another supermarket as we MUST purchase eggs. Eggs should always be bought on a Sunday in Japan as they are much cheaper than any other day of the week because the new eggs come in on Monday.

15:30 back home. K watches TV. After about half an hour I notice everything is very quiet. If I had children I would expect them to be up to no good, but in K's case it means he has succumbed to an afternoon snooze attack.

16:00 Talk to Mum on Skype, then wake up K so we can go for our walk around the neighbourhood.

18:00 Eat dinner which is leftovers from yesterday.

18:30 Watch TV

21:00 Read in bed and eventually go to sleep.

So people, now you know how "Shufuinjapan" likes to spend her only totally free day of the week.

Silver week is coming next week. This year there are 5 days in a row off from Saturday 19-Wednesday the 23rd. This means that pretty much every single air plane seat out of Japan is booked up (I know, I checked) as these 5 days off in a row are unusual. I won't be doing much for Silver Week as I have work pretty much every day. :( K wants to do a day trip to a hot spa near here so I think that will be our only excitement. Getting naked and stewing ourselves with a bunch of strangers, followed by a slap up meal of raw fish.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

My minion is broken

Today I am going to post an eclectic mix of a silly cat picture and sharks.

funny pictures of cats with captions

I just HAD to post this picture, cause it made me laugh. Quite a bit.

Now on to the sharks. I am terrified of sharks. I have no idea why. I have never even seen one in the ocean, only at various aquariums, safely behind the metre thick glass. Sharks are one reason why I am not so keen on swimming in the sea. My 9 year old self even managed to convince me that there was a shark in my aunty and uncle's pool. The pool was painted black to attract the sun and some of the pain had flaked off in places that looked like Jaws was swimming out of the wall. I also had problems turning pages in books or magazines with sharks on them, in case they somehow bit me...I know, over active imagination. Who knew an educational subscription to National Geographic could be so traumatising.

So when I saw this guy on TV the other night, I just had to share it with you all.

Here is shark man patting a shark's nose. Apparently it feels really nice for the shark and it calms them down. So calm that they were able to remove a fish hook that was lodged in its mouth.


Then he was able to do this to the shark. Shark didn't mind as long as it got the nose rubbing loving.
Then Shark man went back to South Africa where they have a lot of big sharks and tried the same thing with a 5 metre one there. It swam right at him a few times but calmed down a lot after a few nose wipes and then let the guy hang on and go for a swim together...


According to shark man, sharks can sense your fear, so I guess if I ever get into a situation where a shark is eying me up as tasty treat, I will try to remember to not think of Jaws, but the picture above with the nose rub ecstasy shark.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Kyu Kyu Day

Today was Ikebana day. I am "not quite with the program today", in that I went to Ikebana class and I felt a little like my teacher and classmate were speaking gibberish sometimes...They of course were speaking Japanese, the same as they do every week but the part of my brain that is supposed to process foreign languages has obviously gone on strike today. I blame the drugs. The ones I have to take to control my overactive uterus.

Despite feeling a bit like a zombie, I did manage to create some kind of arrangement. Today we used chrysanthemums or kiku in Japanese. Now September 9th is of course the 9th of the 9th, which when translated to Japanese is kyu kyu as in Kyukyusha (Ambulance) which means Sept 9 is Ambulance Day or something. It is also "Kiku Day". So if I heard this correctly (Sensei, please correct me if I am wrong), you are supposed to put cotton balls on the chrysanthemum flowers over night and on Sept 9th, rub the cotton balls over different parts of your body. The medicinal properties are supposed to help cure whatever ailments you may have.

Personally I am not a huge fan of chrysanthemums but they are traditionally a very important flower in Ikebana so I kind of have to put up with them. They are very long lasting, especially if you buy them from a proper flower shop instead of the supermarket. The ones we started out with today were about a metre long each. The trick with them is not to cut them with scissors but to break the stems off at the length you want. This is better for the flowers as the water can get up into the stems more easily and the stems also give a satisfying "CRACK!" as you snap them off.

So here is what we made, using only 5 stems of chrysanthemums:



And here is what we had for afternoon tea - It was so delicious. A Maron Chocolat cake.

The photo is on a bit of a funny angle (I blame it on the dru-I mean medicine) as I am "experimenting", and trying to improve my poor photography skills. Still a long way to go obviously!


Monday, 7 September 2009

Academic Olympics

Yesterday K and I sat down to watch a show we recorded earlier in the week. It was a quiz show like no other this NZer has ever seen. It involved teams of 3 high school students who were representatives of their prefectures. The teams battled it out in a 2.5 hr TV show to find the smartest students in Japan.

I thought it would be fun to watch, surely K and I would get a few questions right...Um no. This quiz show was for the next Einsteins of Japan. So there were questions like: Use the equation E=MC2 to find out how many years the sun has before it disappears - or something like that. Not questions like: What is the capital of New Zealand? And no, it's not Auckland.

The one question I almost got right was: Which countries do these flags belong to? The answer was Australia, New Zealand and not Fiji as I had thought but Tuvalu.

So in the end, one team did win but only after a final first to 10 quiz went up to 17 points each, so really, both teams were pretty much equally good - the other team had to be practically carried out they were so devastated.

Pretty much all of these students will go on to the top University in Japan "Toudai" Or Tokyo University - for those of you not in the know. I wonder what they could possibly learn there though, they seem to know the answers to questions that K and I didn't even know existed.

These kids are geniuses, read the dictionary in their free time and seem to know the inner workings of the minds of various famous Japanese philosophers...I wonder what they talk about with their families at dinner? and isn't this a bizarre kind of TV show! Surely most viewers like ourselves can hardly follow what the questions were, let alone answer them.


Friday, 4 September 2009

Scratchy Shufu

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

Ok, so I have nothing better to do with myself today than look at pictures of people's cats with sometimes entertaining captions added. I do feel some affinity with this particular cat today: a little scratchy.
I have achieved several things today:

1) I cleaned the dreaded bathroom.

2) I am making B-R-E-A-D today. Don't tell the carbohydrate police. The problem when I make bread is that it is so fricken fantastic that you have to eat the whole loaf in one go... Ohh it's tough when you are a bread making genius. Oh and I do it BY HAND, not in a machine.

3) I am making my world famous rustic pumpkin soup, in an ode to Autumn to say thank you for coming early this year.

So here is my Rustic Pumpkin Soup Recipe:

Finely chop a few cloves of garlic, dice an onion, about 1/4-half a large pumpkin (cut off the skin) and some bacon. Fry all of these in a pot with some butter. Then throw in lots of oregano, basil, pepper and some white wine. Fry it for a few minutes, then add about 6 cups of stock (chicken usually). Let it simmer for a while, until the pumpkin and other vegetables are soft. You can add some mushrooms or other veges near the end if you like.
When soup is almost ready, use a masher to break down the pumpkin a bit. Leaving the soup to sit for a while improves the taste so it is always good to make it a few hours earlier than you need it.

That's all.

No pureeing, no calories from cream but a yummy easy and simple soup. It looks watery compared to regular pumpkin soup but still tastes good. As you can see I used wieners instead of bacon.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Grumpy Old Bag

I think I am seriously turning into a Grumpy Old Bag.

Recently I have noticed some kids from the neighbourhood occasionally riding their bikes and running around in the car park of our apartment building. Admittedly it is quite a large space and since many of the occupants work all day, there generally aren't many cars, making it even bigger. Then today, some of the same kids came on their bikes - which they brazenly parked in our bike shed- and started bouncing a ball around. So they had obviously decided that our car park would be a really great place to play, out of sight from their parents.

I thought about and it and thought it was rather cheeky of them to come and use the space to play when there is a perfectly good park down the road. I personally don't want to live in an apartment building that has become the new neighbourhood hang out for kids to run around, scream and bounce balls, loudly I might add. If one of them lived here, then fine. But none of them do. The way I see it, I wouldn't go and hang around in the drive way of their houses, so should I have to put up with people who don't live here being noisy in the parking lot where I live. Grumble Grumble Grumble.

So I went out onto my balcony and watched them for a while. They saw me watching them but kept on playing, though I could see they felt uncomfortable. After a bit I came inside, giving the sliding door on the balcony a bit of a slam. After about 5-10 minutes I noticed they had left. Hopefully they got the message that there is a grumpy old foreign bag who doesn't appreciate children and their noise making!

I am also somewhat concerned for their safety as they were playing in the parking lot at 5:30, which is when people start coming home. Not only that, the entrance to the parking lot does not have great visibility which does not stop drivers from flying round the corner. They certainly wouldn't be expecting a bunch of kids to be playing there, so I thought it is best if they leave parking lots for cars and go and play on the road where its much safer. At least the drivers can see them from a distance and have a chance to slow down. I'm hoping that will be the end of it, but I'm not usually that lucky.

I'm going to bed now with my hot water bottle, my chilblains are acting up and my sciatica is killing me ;)

Akiko San

Today I went to a market here in town where you can buy fresh fish, vegetables and bulk foods. Specifically I wanted to go to the 100 yen shop there, but then I remembered that someone I know works there. So I went over the bento section where there is a kitchen situated behind the bento displays to see if she was there today. Several women were working there. One of them was Akiko.

Akiko was my first neighbour in Japan and was the first person in Japan to be kind to me out of the goodness of her own heart. She and her husband, two daughters and 2 year old grandson all lived in a 50sqm apartment, the same size as the one I lived in alone. I'm not sure how we came to meet each other for the first time, but she and her husband ended up coming in to my apartment not long after I had arrived and helped me figure out how to work the ancient gas water heater for the shower, turn the air conditioner to cold and told me to tell my mother her cell phone number in case she wanted to contact me, until I could get my own one sorted out, which they helped me do.
I have to admit I wasn't the best neighbour. I committed several social bloopers such as walking out of my apartment, down the corridor and into their apartment in bare feet! I cringe now just thinking about it. Nobody said anything at the time, but a few days later I came home to find a pair of sandals in a plastic bag hanging on my front door handle...Size XL.

At this time, my Japanese was still terrible, but we somehow managed to communicate with each other. Then after about 6 months, I moved out of the apartment to go and live in sin with K and I didn't see them anymore as we weren't really that close. I also feel bad for moving out as the people who moved in after me were even worse neighbours in that they had parties just about every night, which must have been rather trying for Akiko and her family since the walls were not at all insulated. The apartment building where we lived was seriously old and crappy. It was one of those places where in winter it was colder inside than it was outside and we used to put things in the fridge to defrost.

So today, whilst I was standing at the bento display, Akiko looks up and sees me and immediately says:
"JENIE?!!?!" - that's what she calls me.
I think she was very surprised to see me, since I didn't have a chance to tell her I was leaving for Germany so she wouldn't have seen me for more than 3 years.
So we had a good catch up and I found out that she doesn't live in same apartment anymore and that her grandson is 9 years old now and doesn't live with her now because her daughter got married to someone. She peered at my stomach and asked me if I had any children yet. Sorry Akiko. No kids yet. Then she confirmed that I was actually married, just in case she had remembered wrong. No you were right Akiko, I'm just bucking the trend by being married for 5 years and still no children. Then she scolded me for not coming by and "showing her my face" sooner :) Gotta love my surrogate Japanese mothers.

I have no idea how old Akiko is, but she looks just the same as I remember her, I guess she must be getting near to 50 though. She works hard every day, doesn't get paid much to work in the bento corner, looks after the odd stray foreigner - a real salt of the earth person.
I promise I'll come back soon.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Is the Way to a Japanese Man's Heart Through his Stomach?

It seems so.

Reading this article today, made me stop and think. Here is a brief summary:

"The currency of love in Western countries is sex. In Japan, it's food".

The food as a currency of love concept goes beyond husband and wife, to children. Mothers show their love with elaborate lunch box making- cutting food into shapes is necessary rather than optional. In a more platonic sense, friends show their appreciation through gifts of food too.

All foreigners in Japan are initially surprised by the national obsession with food here.
Open a Japanese guide book to any country or area in Japan and you will find at least 10 pages of glossy photos up front showing you all the delightful things to eat there, that's before they even show you what you can do there.
I think it is also why Japan has some of the best and tastiest food in the world. Those of you who have never been to Japan and can only imagine lots of people eating sushi, rice and drinking green tea - please know that this is only a small part of contemporary Japanese food.

I am not surprised by the comments in the aforementioned article, I am well aware how important food is in Japan, the huge variety of foods that are strictly seasonal and also often take photos of food myself these days. What I hadn't considered, was that my cooking (or lack of it) would be deemed a barometer for how much I love my husband. In which case, given my recent efforts in the kitchen, K probably feels like he might come home any day now and find that I have taken off!

This article reminded me of another story I have heard of women who use their husband's lunch box as a way to punish them for bad behaviour - for example only putting rice in there and no side dishes. K is lucky to eat at the company canteen, so this method of sabotage is not available to me anymore, not that I have needed to use it ever! That said, we don't have any kids yet so I am not ruling it out for future use. ;)

Since you all know my aversion for cooking (I sight my 5 minute cooking and microwave recipes as evidence), I would like to petition for the Japanese currency of love to be changed from food to clean laundry. If washing, hanging out, folding and ironing my husbands clothes were the "Show Your Love Barometer", we would be off the charts over here ;)

Today at the supermarket I bought some コロッケ- kind of like a potato cake crumbed and fried with other stuff in it. I might go and make them look a bit more "home made", that should add a few more points to my barometer.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Please Don't Die on my Balcony

In preparation for my friend "P", also known as JAJ buddy, coming to stay, I actually did some extra-curricular cleaning.

By extra-curricular cleaning, I mean outside the borders of normal everyday chores such as washing the dishes and doing the laundry (my fav) or the much despised bathroom.
So I thought that since P is a master of cleaning himself, who could beat me in a cleaning contest with both hands tied behind his back, I would attempt to clean .....my balcony- cause he is sure to wanna, like, go out there right?

(Most balconies in Japan are only used for hanging washing out - you could sit out on mine but it would be a squeeze and you would soon be attacked by a swarm of mozzies)


Problem number one is that going out onto balcony mean bringing self within touching distance of giant dead bug graveyard that seems to be the place for neighbourhood insects to come to when they are on their last legs. There was quite a selection of cicada - I don't know, what would you call them - carcasses? along with other massive beetles and what not.

So I decided that it was high time I "grew a pair" and went out there with a dustpan and brush and actually touched them with something shorter than a 10 foot barge pole.
The bugs had been out there for a while so they were very light and I imagine they would be very crunchy, if you wanted to, for example, snack on them - I'm sure they must be a delicacy somewhere.

OK, so balcony got cleaned without too much trouble. Then with one day to go before friend arrives and giant hornet with scary ugly face carks it on my balcony. Obviously he didn't get the memo that my balcony is no longer the official neighbourhood insect graveyard. So now am just waiting until I am completely sure it is really dead - should only take a few more weeks -and then I might be able to go out there and throw it away. In the mean time I will be hoping some kind of bird spots it and carries it off.

Another day in the sticks, another battle with the "wildlife".

An eventful few days

It has been an eventful few days, hence why I have not been able to post anything.

First of all, we had a visit from one of my "Just Arrived in Japan" buddies.
When you come to Japan, you get thrown into a mini society of random fellow English speakers who are your new co-workers, your source of information and support to get settled, possibly your flatmate and even your friend - it can get ugly, or it can work out really well.

So a couple of us who arrived about the same time hit it off and we are still mates today, although I am the only one who still lives here...a bit sad, but all the better to meet up with people when they come back for some reminiscing.

Anyway, one of my JAJ buddies came to stay on the weekend which consumed all my blog writing time. But we did have a nice time going back to old haunts and eating ourselves stupid. Something was missing though. I figured out it was the copious amounts of alcohol we used to consume. Now we are somewhat older and a smidgen wiser, we don't need to go and get rat faced to enjoy ourselves. Well, actually to tell the truth, we can't hack it anymore. Except when it comes to wine of the bubbly variety, in my case.

JAJ friend head off yesterday in the midst of a typhoon. I hope you made it Kobe, friend! Did you see "The Face" at the station? (Sorry insider joke)
The typhoon passed just off the coast of here so we got to see our local port on the national TV news last night. Some poor woman was being made to stand in the midst of the hurricane force winds and driving rain to report that the winds were indeed strong and it was indeed raining hard. They didn't even give her a spiffy helmet to wear in case of flying debris like the reporters usually wear. Wonder what she did to deserve that?

I was a bit miffed that the typhoon couldn't have held off until today. Yesterday I actually had to go out for the day and it was no fun getting soaked getting in and out of the car. If the typhoon had had the good manners to wait until today I could have thoroughly enjoyed the wind and the rain from the warmth and comfort of my own home. Ba humbug!