Gaijin Housewife in Japan

Bringing you every day life in Japan to your part of the world.

Friday, 31 December 2010

The last post of the year

Well this will be the last post for 2010.
About 1 year ago I said I had a good feeling about 2010. The first 6 months varied from seriously crappy to good. We went to NZ for 10 days which was fantastic, we started planning our house which was very fun, I took a lot of mind altering hormones which was awful and endured a lot of pain (the real stuff, not just in my head) as well and some big disappointments. The second half of 2010 went much, much better: In the space of 2 months I think it was, we moved to our new house, my sister came to stay, we got a wonderful surprise that our baby we had been trying so hard for was finally "on the way" and we got our little ball of fur, Sebastian - who is now 3kgs and full of beans and at this very moment giving an empty drink bottle a serious hiding.
And then today I got some news that something wonderful happened to a dear friend. An excellent way to end the year. 
Today DH and I took Sebastian out for a walk around the neighbourhood Sebastian is still getting used to going for walks and is reluctant to walk without stopping every 5 meters or so to check things out. On the way back home, whether via the same or a different route, it is another story. He practically runs home. Well he would run home if he wasn't on his lead. Today DH and Sebastian ran the last block back to our house. It was the funniest thing I have seen in a long time. A dog who can't wait to get home.

So see you in 2011.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Getting the end of year stuff over with

Monday night was my one and only end of year party. Some people I work with and their partners all went out for an "All you can eat and drink meal" at a nice Italian restaurant.This year I only have one end of year party, DH had one for his work and came to mine as well. That is pretty good and not to hard on the pocket.

I remember when I used to work at a junior high school and I would have 3 or 4 different parties: The whole teaching staff, then one for just the teachers in my grade, then one for just the women teachers as we were fairly few and then there would usually be one for all the English teachers. Pretty hard out stuff and goodbye 20,000 yen. The whole teaching staff party would always be at an onsen which there were a lot of around my school and would involve a lot of expensive food and sitting on the floor. I look back now and can't believe I didn't like sashimi - how many pieces of raw tuna I gave up! That would never happen now, or at least if I wasn't in a "no sushi and sashimi" state.

This year, I was of course unable to partake of the alcoholic beverages at the "all you can drink" part of the party, which was a shame only in that I really didn't feel that I was getting my money's worth drinking what could only be described as watered down grapefruit juice. So I tried a Kirin Free. It's a alcohol free "beer" that is TOTALLY alcohol free, as in 0.00%. They are a bit pricey to buy at the supermarket, and not being a huge fan of beer anyway I hadn't bothered with it but since it was on the drink menu I tried it. Hmmm. If you were really desperate for a beer during your pregnancy you might have one and feel slightly satisfied. It was fizzy, it did have a beerish after taste. I could safely say I'm not missing out on anything much there and I'm glad I didn't shell out nearly 200 yen for one from the supermarket. Recently there have also been a couple of alcohol free "cocktails in a can" (keep in mind that mixing one kind of spirit with a beverage is considered a cocktail in Japan) come out. One I have seen was a "Gin and Tonic taste", the other one is a cassis and orange (fruit juice is a whole 3%!) one. It boasted 0.0% alcohol and no calories = artificial sweetener. So I haven't tried that one either because of the sweetener. Luckily I don't miss drinking alcohol, but I do want a piece of sushi every now and then.

So before the end of the year it's time to get in one last trip to the supermarket before everything goes berserk on New Years Eve. New Year's Eve in Japan is quiet. It is often spent at home with family watching TV specials and eating and drinking good food. Some people brave the cold to be at the temple or shrine at midnight. So imagine the supermarket of Christmas Eve or the day before that - complete craziness and mayhem. Last night I made DH come with me to the supermarket to buy our food for the next 3 or 4 days so I won't have to get caught up in the craziness which I can hardly handle in my calmest of times and certainly not when I have an overload of hormones. If we desperately need anything, DH can go. The supermarket was very manageable, thankfully though it was lacking in variety since it had already been thoroughly picked over.

So what's left to get done before the end of the year?
New Year's Cards sent - check
New Year's Day feast organised - check.
Hard disc recorder space cleared to make room for all the TV specials - check
Cleaning not quite

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

A conversation I had yesterday: compulsory voluteer activties

with one of my students, was rather interesting.

He is a retired elementary school teacher. He has a 98 year old mother who is very ill with pneumonia in hospital. This student is also a member of his local shrine's committee. I asked him how the committee works. He says that every family has to have a representative on the committee and that 5 of the 30 something people are the main officers, they have to do the job for 5 years and then it gets passed on to another 5 members of the committee. "So all of this is 'compulsory'?", I asked. Apparently so. This student is in a bit of a pickle. His mother is very ill and she could pass away any time. He is also supposed to host the end of year party on the 31st of December for the 30 odd members of the Shrine committee. If his mother does pass away before January the 1st, he will be in the one year period of mourning and won't be able to host the festivities. I was wondering why they don't just have it somewhere else this year as a precaution. I imagine the committee is mostly similarly aged men who don't think about these things perhaps. All I can say is, thankfully we don't have a shrine in our neighbourhood!

I still get a surprise at the amount of forced volunteer activities there are in Japan. This student lives in an old area of the city where the families have lived for hundreds of years kind of place, so there are these kind of extra duties that must be performed. What annoys me is that someone decides what you will do, that you will take part and how much of your free time you will devote. None of it sounds like volunteering at all - unpaid labour and a lot of it totally unnecessary in the first place, but nobody thinks or dares say - hey, you know what? we don't need to keep doing this particular ritual anymore just because it has been done for hundreds of years.

I got a glimpse of what some of my future duties will be when my child starts school. We got a newsletter from the local elementary school in the neighbourhood notices that get passed around. It was about their bazaar they had a few months ago. It looked very much like the mothers (of course the PTA is made is of 99.9% women) had put in a lot of effort for the event. I was wondering if it was really all worth it in the end. Oh well, I guess I will find out soon enough.

I have a friend who has a child at kindergarten and another about to start soon. She has been made to become the leader/president? of the PTA against her will. She has to stay the leader until both of her children have finished. It it soo much work that she is seriously considering changing her kids to another kindergarten - that is how much work it is.
My only saving grace will be that I can try and play the "I'm sorry I can't read and write Japanese properly so I can't be anything important", card. DH had better watch out that he doesn't get roped in as a replacement because of my inadequacies.

Friday, 24 December 2010

All I want for Christmas is...

So yesterday was a public holiday here in Japan (The Emperor's Birthday). It is a rare occasion that DH and I both have the day off together on a public holiday as I usually have to work. Not yesterday though! So we decided to move our Christmas Party to yesterday as DH has to work on the 24th and I have to work on the 25th.

In the morning DH announced that he was going to a hotspring, or "onsen" - his excuse was that he has some entry tickets that have to be used by the end of the year. Ok, not so happy about that since I was imagining us spending whole day together, but ok, don't want to waste good money that we paid for those tickets. So I set about doing very little as I imagined I had the whole morning by myself.

DH comes home less than 2 hours later. Hmmm. Gee that was quick! To get to the onsen, use the gym and then take a shower, get in the bath, soak, get dressed and come all the way home, is more like 3 hours.....But he seems to have had a shower.....Ok, whatever. I forget about it and try to get on with some housework.

Not much later, I am feeling annoyed. I am doing housework and DH is fiddling on the computer - not cool. So I politely ask DH to help me. He does....kind of. I open up the fridge and find this:

So that explains the short trip to the "onsen". He didn't go there at all. He went to his work, used the gym and showers, and came home via this "Shucream" shop. A "Shucream" is choux pastry filled with custard and or whipped cream. The ones from the shop look like this:

I was so impressed with his covert operation to get me fresh "shucreams" and happy to have something nice for dessert for our Christmas dinner, I cried and laughed at his little message. DH just laughed. He is always amazed at what makes me emotional.

Sebastian got a Christmas present from DH's youngest sister. He took a liking to it and quickly took it off to his bed to slobber on.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Christmas came in a Box

My sister sent me a box of Christmas goodies from NZ. They finally arrived yesterday. I was so relieved. I knew what was coming and had been looking forward to christmas cake, pudding and Christmas mince pies for ages.

Now I feel like I can face Christmas a bit more enthusiasm.

I feel very grateful that this Christmas, my family are all healthy and very happy with their lives. I finally got my Christmas wish that I have been secretly wishing for every year for a long time: That next year our family would be 3 instead of two. This year it's 2+ my belly and a puppy. Excellent progress!
This year, on new years day, we went to the tiniest little shrine you have ever seen to do our first prayer of the year. We figured that surely the Kami sama there wouldn't be too busy to fulfill our wish. Turns out we made a good choice. I'll make sure DH and I go back there again this year.

Finally, here is Sebastian, having a bath last Sunday.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

I caved

and bought Sebastian his first item of clothing. It's a little rain poncho. It gets so windy here in winter that I just couldn't bare the thought of him not having something to block out some of the wind and even rain. I know. He is a dog. Dogs have fur. But he is just a baby still - that is my justification anyway.
So I set DH on a mission to find the cheapest thing he could that would do the job.

He found this.

It came in the mail today, so I put it on Sebastian to see how it fit, it's a tad too big for him still, but at the rate he is growing, won't be long till it fits. Sebastian did not seem thrilled at his new rain poncho, though he did consent to standing still for long enough for me to take this photo

Now that I think of it, it's not going to be that great a wind blocker - will probably blow away in the wind actually but he did look cute in it. Pity they didn't have the size we wanted in red. Also, it's a pity it has Princess Anny in huge letters across it.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Sebastian's First Steps Outside

Were pretty pathetic. He is such a bundle of energy and quite fearless inside his natural habitat which is our living room. Today we put his harness on him, clipped on his lead and carried him out to our lawn. Put him on the ground. Sebastian refuses to budge and just shakes. Very pitiful to watch. Even with a lot of pats, encouragement and treats, he wasn't keen on budging. After trying to eat some sand/tiny stones (He was near the edge of the grass) and a few twigs he took a few tentative steps with my er...encouragement. After about 5 minutes we gave up and went back inside. Try again tomorrow. My visions of us trotting round the neighbourhood will be a wee way off yet.

Day2: Sebastian is quite happy to run all over the grass. Not so keen about the gravel, nor the concrete. Steps - no way. After being carried down the steps manages to walk to the end of the street and back - about 40-50m.

Day 3: Happily goes anywhere on our property but still not keen on the steps. We decide to take him with us to the park where we want to go for a walk. Sebastian is a real trooper and trots along 10 steps, stops, refuses to go, wait 15 seconds and then trots another 10-20 steps, stops. Doesn't like changes in the walking surface: eg. pavement to cobble stones etc. With lots of encouragement he makes it 3/4 of the way around our walking track. Then is quite happy to be carried baby style the rest of the way.  I get a premonition of what it is going to be like walking around with a two kilo weight in my tummy in about 5 or 6 months time. Next stop the pet shop. Sebastian gets lots of comments from other shoppers. No other dogs there today. Pet shop has a rest area for dogs including a toilet. Look at the ridiculous clothes for dogs and wonder when I started to find them less ridiculous. Look at the snacks for dogs and wonder if they have any taste testing .... they don't. End up not buying anything as all the stuff we want is all much cheaper to buy on the internet.
Then Sebastian and I went back to the car and had a rest, DH went to the supermarket. For 20 minutes or so Sebastian sits quietly on my knee and looks out the open car door.

That evening Sebastian was in one of his crazy moods and dashing around in his cage. We decided to give him a new chew bone for his teeth. DH tells me it's ok for him to eat the bone....but then later we realise that the bone was for dogs older than he is...I feel terrible. Another fail in my career as a puppy mum. DH takes Sebastian outside to see if he might puke or something. Sebastian eats lots of grass according to DH. So I decide to spend the night in the living room on the couch, just in case he does vomit in the night. Sebastian sleeps like a log. The couch is comfortable enough but I know I will get more sleep there than in my bed worrying all night if Sebastian is ok.

This morning Sebastian is his usual happy self and poops twice, some normal looking poop...crisis averted? I sure hope so.
Sebastian contemplates how he will cross this dip in the road. 10 seconds later he trots across quite happily

Friday, 10 December 2010

Today's Ikebana

Well today was my last Ikebana class for the year. We made Christmas Wreaths for our front doors. All the other neighbours have their's out. I'm the only one who hasn't managed to put one up yet. I like what I made so I kind of don't want to put it on the front door where I will almost never see it. My teacher had trouble finding the vine like branches we needed in a flower shop so she and her husband went out and found all the stuff "somewhere".

Today my classmate who's arrangements you used to see came back for a special visit. She brought her 6 month old son along, the reason why she hasn't been coming for the last few months. He was wearing a special little Santa suit. What a cutie.

So here is what I made:

Here is what my classmate made:

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Big Clean Up

So the end of the year is fast approaching. That means it's time to clean your house here in Japan.
For me a big clean out would usually happen in Spring, hence the phrase "Spring Cleaning". Here in Japan it is done before the end of the year. I guess the reasons are practical: You can probably expect to get a lot of visitors during the New Year holiday so it is good to have a spottlessly clean house, and a good way to start the new year.

So this year I, who hate housework, have decided to try and do a big clean for the end of the year. I don't want to "strain" myself so will limit it to one thing a day extra from my usual housework routine. I don't really have much to clean as such as we have only lived here a few months. But still some sorting out to do of things I have been ignoring and general organising of things too.

Yesterday the bathroom got cleaned. That is not technically "something extra" but it takes so long to do it properly that I will consider it "extra". Not sure what I will accomplish today, maybe I will clean up the entrance.

In Japan, only the very rich would consider having a cleaner. I say very rich as I know some wealthy people here who still do their own cleaning, mostly because that is the done thing I expect. However, during the"Big clean" it is acceptable to call in the experts to tackle things for you such as your kitchen or bathroom that might need some industrial strength elbow grease. Recently I saw the Duskin people were at my neighbour's house and realised that the big clean has already started for some.

Now I'm wondering how I can encourage DH to join in. Any ideas?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Catch up

Well it's been a while since I wrote anything. No excuses except for just being pre-occupied with various stuff.

Sebastian had his final jab at the vets the other day. This time the nurse came rushing out when we pulled up so I wouldn't have to strain myself from carrying his cage in. Then I got to sit down through the whole exam whilst the vet and the nurse did his shot and checked his temperature and his ears. Ears all better from last week. Weight: He has put on 15grams since last week, jab over with without even a peep from Sebastian which got high praise from the vet who kept gushing about how cute he is. Sebastian did his best "Shy boy" act and so the nurse thought he was lovely too. When we got home he was back to his usual boisterous sometimes crazy self. But I was super proud that my fur baby was so popular and "well behaved". Next trip will be when he is 6 months to get the snip. So finally we will be able to go outside together on Thursday!!!

Then yesterday the Christmas cards I ordered from Etsy arrived. I love Etsy. So many great things at reasonably prices and with reasonable shipping fees. I really love supporting small businesses and the stuff is often of excellent quality. Actually all of the things I have bought from various Etsy shops were very well made.

So my latest favourite shop is this one: Sophie n me

It is really hard to find Christmas cards in Japan in packs of 10 or so. Just one card can cost 200-300 yen. So I ordred a few different ones from this shop. In the photo is is kind of hard to see how well made they are but when they arrived yesterday I was really impressed. Only (teensy) bad thing is that the shop puts their stamp on the back which is fine, but I was kind of hoping that people might assume that I had made them ; )

Ah well. It is wrong to take credit for others' work, isn't it.

I've also been asked to appear in the town newspaper. They are doing a section on foreigners who are interested in Japanese culture. So I will be interviewed at some point by someone about my Ikebana. I'm sure the city chapter boss will be very pleased with me for giving Ohara Ikebana school a plug in the paper. This will be about the 5th or 6th time I have been in our city paper.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Japanese Christmas

Only 22 days to go until Christmas Day! This year I will be working all day so DH and I are going to have it on the 23rd when we both have the day off.

Put up tree  and decorations -check
Pre-order the fried chicken from a fast food outlet......wait a minute? 
Buy a Christmas cake for dessert...perhaps chocolate this year?

This is the average Japanese family's preparation for Christmas. On Christmas Eve the family gets together and has a special dinner of chicken (often but not always fried chicken) followed by "Christmas Cake". The cake is any kind of cake you like. Popular choices are strawberry shortcake and chocolate mouse cake. The cake is decorated with a Christmas design and called a Christmas cake.
On this page you can see the ranking of popular cakes sold through this popular online shopping site. Not a fruit cake in site. My sister dislikes fruit cake so I'm sure she would be quite happy to have a strawberry shortcake instead. Me I love the stuff.
In NZ, well at least in my family, the Christmas cake was a regular feature at snack time for most of December. On Christmas we would be too busy eating the other food such as trifle, brandy snaps, meringues etc to eat any Christmas cake.

Personally I don't mind the Japanese "interpretation" of other celebrations that have been imported such as Valentines Day and Halloween, but Christmas does get to me a bit. Probably because it is the most important day of the year for me and here it is dismissed in one evening of fried chicken and store bought cakes.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

A break from puppies and babies

So recently I have been rather caught up with posts about Sebastian etc, but this morning I can't take it anymore.

I am really really over this whole Ebizou business.
In Japan, the big news for the last week has been that Ebizou Ichikawa got beaten up quite badly when out drinking with a group of Kabuki friends and then meeting up with some wanna be bikers/troublemakers. Ebizou is the 11th in a line of Kabuki actors to hold this name and is thought of as a bit of a spunk and a playboy. He got married earlier this year to a very cute little TV announcer and I think many people thought he had finally grown up. But even having a lovely little wife like Mao (that's her name), he still likes to go out on the lash. It has taken over a week since the actual incident to get more and more "information" about what happened but that hasn't stopped all the news shows going wild re-hashing the information over and over. How many times my husband and I have both asked the TV if nothing else of significance happened in Japan, or perhaps the rest of the world maybe? at all that the first story on the news is this one every night. If this had been a case of Ebizou being beaten up for being in the wrong place at the wrong time the story might have gone away by now. But the media is reporting that he was allegedly acting like a twat and that provoked the situation. Personally I think it amazing that someone as famous, wealthy and with a huge responsibility to perform at Kabuki performances,  as him goes out and gets off his face, without any kind of body guard to make sure that no-one punches that precious face when he gets drunk and starts being a twat.

I have to say I liked his father's reaction. He is of course concerned that his son needs reconstructive surgery to his face, but also said that Ebizou blowing off a press conference and then going out on the town was unforgivably rude and that his son really needs to get it together.

Has anything else of significance happened in the world this week? Cause Japan certainly doesn't know about it.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Crying at the doctor's office...again

You will remember that I have had a tough time getting to where I am today. I can say that I wouldn't be here if it weren't for Dr Mumbler and his clinic's staff's patience, various medications I took or was stuck in the butt with oh and DH's contribution.

So today I made my first trip back to see Dr Mumbler since, according to his records, September 20th or something. That is a long time for us not to see each other. DH called ahead and asked if they still have any vaccines left and told them I was pregnant so they had plenty of time to spread the news before I got there a few hours later.

When I got there all the nurses and office ladies said to me individually congratulations and various other pieces of wisdom like don't over do it etc. To get the injection I had to fill out a long form answering various questions, show them my "Parent and Child Passbook" and give them all the info they had missed out during the last 2 months or so. After that a nurse came up to me and said that she would give my file to the dr but he may want to check the baby before okaying the injection and would that be ok as it would cost extra for the ultrasound. Of course I was not going to turn down a chance to have a peek in my uterus and see what's going on in there. It's only been 2 weeks since the last one but recently I have been feeling quite normal so sometimes I can't believe that there could be a baby in there. So I sat there and waited a little more. Then Hayley Westernra, who's CD they always play when I come to clinic came on with "The water is wide". I started crying there in the waiting area. Partly it was Hayley's beautiful voice, partly being far from home and family with Christmas coming and partly feeling emotional that I might have an unexpected chance to see how my baby is doing.

Luckily by the time I got into the consultation room and the doctor actually came in, I had gotten myself back under control again. Dr Mumbler had a big smile on his face and was so pleased about my news. I think he must have already known as he said that he had met my new doctor at a meeting and they had talked about me (I didn't quite catch all of it). Unfortunately he didn't feel the need to have one last look up there. Oh well. I got my shot and went to pay. Waiting to pay, Hayley was still playing on the sound system. With perfect timing my Dad's favourite hymn that we sang at his funeral: Amazing Grace came on. Keep it together woman.....whew, got through that. Next song: Pokarekareana. A popular song in NZ in Maori that is a love song and often sung when NZers get together and they are far away from home. Not really what a emotional pregnant and slightly homesick person needed to hear and particularly not straight after Amazing Grace.

So I got called up to pay my bill and told the office lady that I was very "moved" by the music so she would know why I was practically blubbering and all red faced. So it was a very emotional experience getting my flu jab.

When I got home and let Sebastian out to play I decided to play some uplifting music on the stereo. My idea of uplifting is R&B, played loudly. Poor Sebastian got terribly excited with the noise (I don't think we have played any music since we got him) and at one point he was doing a little dance with me (ok, he was leaping around like a maniac and I was dancing).
Recently he has become fascinated with the mirror we have in our lounge. That mirror is supposed to be in our bedroom but it's actually very convenient to see what Sebastian is doing whilst I sit on the couch without having to turn around. He doesn't bark or anything, just stares at it for ages. He also watches what we are doing in the mirror from his cage too!