Wednesday, August 23, 2006

While the cat's away.....

I'm going away for a few days and leaving Wayne behind. He SAYS he's going to miss me but I think he's looking forward to the quiet.

A friend taught us the Japanese equivelent of "While the cat's away the mouse will play" it goes like this:

"Oni no inu aida ni sentaku" or "Wash your clothes while the demon isn't around"

Umm... not sure I like being called a devil, but I really don't mind if he does the washing while I'm gone!

Will post again when I get back.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Meeting the new neighbours

This happened a number of years ago, of course I'm far too wise to do something like this now......

I had just moved into a new apartment, or rather “mansion”, as that style of building is called in Japan. The flat overlooked rice paddies and some narrow roads, none of which had street lighting. In my first week there I arrived home quite late one night. Well, late by rural Japanese standards. It was 10pm. All the outside lights were off, leaving the apartment block very dark indeed. I was having great difficulty finding my door, let alone the keyhole.

In Australia, it’s usual to find a timed light switch if the external lights are turned off at night. Being a stupid gaijin, I assumed it would be the same in Japan. Next to the elevator I saw a button and assuming it was the light switch, I pushed it.

Suddenly, a piecing sound rang out through the building. I quickly realised the button was in fact for the fire alarm.

My body froze as my mind raced. "Should I run and hide in my apartment with the lights off and pretend I'm not home?" I thought. Remembering that it was my inability to find my keyhole in the dark that got me into this position to start with, I discounted that as an option. "Should I hide in the dark corner? Should I run from the building until the alarm stops?" I resigned myself to simply standing where I was and looking bewildered. They were going to realise it was the stupid gaijin and soon it was too late anyway.

All the neighbours arrived on the third floor to see what the emergency was. I bowed my deepest bow about a million times crying "Sumimasen, gomennasai, sumimasen, gomennasai" - Excuse me, I'm sorry.

To make matters worse, I tried to explain that I was looking for the light, where was the light? They may have understood what I was babbling about in my limited language if I had been using the word for light, "denki" but instead I was ranting the word "denchi", meaning battery. They just looked at me like I was a lunatic (or a gaijin for that matter, it equates to the same thing) as I was ranting "Denchi nai, denchi doko?" (No battery, where battery?).

Eventually, I ran, blindly forced the key into the dark keyhole and left my neighbours looking baffled outside my door. I was too embarrassed to look any of my fellow residents in the eye for a month.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Accessories not included

Wayne's new friend, or should I say sidekick?

Waving honesty in his face

I bought this fan the other day just because it made me laugh. In case you can't read what it says in the picture
ok, I'm gonna be your girl.
and then what can you give me?

Engrish T-shirt

Friday, August 18, 2006

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Kyoto Maiko-san

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Japanese TV Commercials

There are some great, some funny and some downright weird commercials over here.

This one is a really cute one for Japanese tea:

And this one is .... well I'll let you decide:

If you want to check out some more strange Japanese TV, click on the link to TV In Japan.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Now that's a beat you can really dance to!

I saw this video the other day. It is soooo cute!

You can see it on:

Japanese Swimming Pools Rules

A friend recently told me that she had five criteria for what she considered to be a reasonable swimming pool in Japan. There were (1) it was outside (2) she didn't have to wear a swimming cap (3) she didn't have to wear goggles (4) she could wear whatever type of swimmers she liked and most importantly (5) she DID NOT have to do any exercise.

It reminded me of my first trip to a Japanese swimming pool......

I had quite a bizarre experience when I went to the local public pool for the first time. Before entering the locker room, I checked out the number of people in the pool, which was about 30 at the time, not bad at all by Japanese standards. After showering, changing and putting on my regulation swimming cap, I came out to the pool again, but now, there was not a single person in the pool, or the wading pool, or the walking pool, or the spas. They were all sitting in chairs around the edge. I realised how paranoid I had become when I thought the reason may have been that they had heard a filthy gaijin was about to enter and no one wanted to be in there at the same time.

Using my broken Japanese I asked a woman what was happening. After a number of attempts, I finally understood that every hour, on the hour, there is a compulsory ten minute break. I joined everyone else in the chairs and waited. As the minute hand ticked over to ten, bells rang and everyone stood up. I made my way towards the pool, eager to hide my gaijin body under the water and start my laps. I stopped quickly as I noticed no-one else had moved more than a step away from their chairs. Then the music started. It was accompanied with a recorded voice chanting “ichi, ni, san, ichi, ni, san” and the whole room began choreographed stretching exercises while watching the lone, very confused gaijin at the starting blocks. I crept back and unenthusiastically joined in so I wouldn’t stand out any more than I already did, though I flatly refused to do the star jumps in my swimmers.

Eventually we were allowed back into the pool and I was thinking I had stumbled upon some sort of strange, nerdy Japanese cult. A very friendly gentleman with surprisingly good English explained to me the point of the ten minute break was so the lifeguards could ensure no-one was dead at the bottom of the pool. So, the moral of the story seems to be, if you are planning on drowning in Japan, it is best to time it towards the end of the hour or you may be waiting a while to be rescued.

About a year later, I took a group of students to Nagashima Spa Land, a giant water and amusement park. I emphasise the word giant. It contains one of the largest roller coasters in the world. So we trooped up with about forty students in the heat of summer, through crowds that only Japan can produce. Luckily we had reserved our "spot". This "spot" was in a large, multistorey concrete building with no walls. Basically it was a car park for people. Our area was roped off with the school's name signed at the front. We put down our bags and were ready to hit the water. Well, squeeze into the water may have been a better description. They may have served well hiring the subway pushers to fit everyone into the pools. No sooner had I finally managed to get wet from head to toe when the chimes rang.

After living here for a while, I had become accustomed to Japan and its love for chimes and had developed a great ability for ignoring them. No-one else was ignoring them however and were obediently leaving their precious places in the water, gathering by the edges. I had also been teaching in Japan for long enough to follow like an obedient sheep when students were around. Ever the good gaijin. So what was going on? The water park also enforced a ten minute break every hour! I laughed at the thought of them trying that back home.

There were a couple of guys that intelligently thought this was the perfect time to get a real swim in with the whole pool to themselves. They were of course gaijin. Who else would flaunt the rules?

The lifeguards were at a loss. They looked in disbelief. They looked at the swimmers. They looked at each other. They looked back at the swimmers. No, it wasn't their imagination. They were still in there. They pulled out their whistles and blew a piercing sound in unison. The swimmers looked up and looked back at all the free space in the water around them. They weren't going anywhere. They were determined to get a good swim for their $50 ticket. I watched them amused and slightly envious. I longed to join them, but to do so in full sight of students would be scandalous. The lifeguards were yelling through megaphones, all five of them surrounding the pool. This was as ineffective as the whistles. There was only one option left, to go in there and get them. They looked terrified. Who knew what effects the water might have during the sacred ten minute break? It might have turned to acid, you would have believed it if you'd seen the look on the lifeguards' faces. Just as they were cautiously wading in they were swallowed by the crowd eager to get back in the water, as the stretching exercises had been done on mass and the chimes to indicate the end of the break had rung. The lifeguards waded out looking relieved. A confrontation with the big, scary, disobedient gaijin had been avoided. Ahh gaijin, what troublemakers they are.

I got tagged!

Mel has asked me to write five weird things about myself. Weird? There's nothing weird at all about me! I'm totally and utterly, boringly normal I swear. My lovely dear husband however was quick to jump in and point out a lot more than 5 strange things about me. He says he still loves me for my quirks (well most of them anyway).

So here goes....

1. I find the texture of food equally if not more important than the flavour. For example, I HATE corn. Those horrible little yellow bubbles that squirt in your mouth are just disgusting! HOWEVER, corn soup with all the bubble pre-busted, I love. I also hate slimy foods like fresh mango. BUT I love mango juice and especially love mango sorbet. Along the same lines is softdrink. You see I’m not a fan of carbonated drinks, so I’ll pour out some diet coke and then stir it up to get rid of as many of the bubbles as possible. I believe that a bottle of soft drink is at its prime about a week after it has been opened and is lovely and flat.

2. Pretty much everyone that knows me, knows that I love chocolate. BUT what most people don’t know is that for a while now, chocolate leaves a really horrible aftertaste in the back of my mouth. This however has not stopped me from eating chocolate or even reduced my consumption. To solve the problem, I follow the chocolate with a chaser, usually, more chocolate. When that runs out, the chaser will be a drink or otherwise I will go and brush my teeth. It has been the same with Minties since I was a kid, hense I’ve never been able to stop at a single Mintie. Mmm would this be classed as an addiction?

3. My eyes change colour. They go anywhere from blue to green to grey. They are at their most beautiful when I have an awful hangover or am really dehydrated.

4. I dream vividly. Not unusual in itself. But what I dream will then affect me for the rest of the day. Sometimes I will wake up in the morning really angry with Wayne. The conversation goes a little like this:
W: “What’s wrong?”
M: “You were so mean to me last night.”
W “No I wasn’t!”
M “Yes you were! In my dream.”
W “But that was just a dream honey.”
M “Of course I know it was. But there must have been some reason that I dreampt it.”

The day then continues with me being mad and Wayne having resigned himself to the fact.

5. When I was a kid, I had a theory about how the “walk” signs worked at traffic lights. I believed that the button you pushed to indicate that you wanted to cross the road was connected to a miniature hammer. This tiny hammer, with the aid of lots of tiny pulleys and levers would then hit a little ant on the head who was sleeping on a tiny bed. Sleepily, he would then walk across the road, via an underground tunnel and wake up the other ant at the other side, sleeping on his tiny little bed. The first ant would then walk back to the other side (a little more awake and energetic now). Once he got to his side, both ants would hold up their little green cardboard “Walk” signs. I felt the evidence for this was that at times you were impatient and you keep hitting the button repeatedly, it always took longer for the walk sign to come up. This was because when you kept hitting the button, you were in turn hitting the ant on the head. This would annoy him, so he would deliberately walk slower because he was angry at you.

So that would be it folks! If you want to have a looks at Mel's endearing little quirks, click on the "Mel and Seigo" link at the side.

So while, not all of you have blogs, I'm tagging:
  1. Christine
  2. Leigh
  3. Joan
  4. Danielle
  5. And anyone else who would like to do it.

Please leave some in the comments if you don't have a blog!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Obon Festival

In the middle of the steamy heat of summer in Japan falls a festival filled with lanterns, all night dances and ghosts, well the spirits of deceased ancestors at least. This Buddhist festival is called “Obon”. It has been likened to the American Halloween but is much more a religious event than one of pumpkin lanterns, fancy dress costumes and candy.

In many places here it falls around the 13th to the 15th of August though because traditionally the date was taken from the Lunar calendar this can vary in different areas. This festival is seen as a time to honour the selfless acts of the families’ ancestors.

At the beginning of the festival season, graves are cleaned and spirits are welcomed home with fires and lanterns helping guide them. They are offered food, flowers and incense and prayers are often said.

At the end of the festival fires are lit once more to remind the houseguests that it’s time to return to the world of the dead and to guide them on their way, in the knowledge that they will come home again next year.

In the middle, dance festivals are held, known as bon-odori. These Japanese folkdances are performed by young and old, many in yukata, (summer cotton kimono) circling a raised platform on which taiko drums keep the beat.

Last weekend we went to our first dance for the season. It was held in a small local shrine. The location highlights how Japanese have incorporated two distinct religions into their lives, the shrine is Shinto, yet the festival is Buddhist.

This particular evening was a special one held for the children. While the recorded songs were broadcast through a tinny speaker, the serious, young taiko performers, dressed in blue happi coats, kept beat. Around their platform was a swarm of colour created by children in bright yukata and their parents alongside them. The audience lit by the hanging lanterns watched with beaming smiles while fluttering paper fans. Wayne and I, the only gaijin there, were warmly welcomed. I was pulled up and taught the dances while Wayne managed a conversation with mostly with smiles and nods.

This won’t be the only dance we attend this season, we are going to another local one and then to Japan’s largest held in Gujo-Hachiman. There for three nights the dancing continues until the early hours of the morning. It has been called "A dance which you dance not a dance which you watch." And that’s just what we’ll be doing – dancing the night away.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Summer fireworks

Summer has well and truly hit here after a rainy season that ran ten days late. The initial excitement of seeing a blue sky once again didn't last long as the memory of just how hot a Japanese summer can be was recalled. I have tried to boycott summer as much as I can by hiding out in my two airconditioned rooms.

But there are some wonderful events here in summer to bring me out of hiding.

One is the many firework festivals. Last weekend I went with a group of friends to the fireworks or "hanabi" in Seki. We spread out our picnic blanket and dined under a sky of everychanging colours. We were surrounded by people wearing Yukata (summer cotton kimonos) and above us was a line of street stalls offering all sorts of delights including kakigori (shaved ice), toffee apples, okonomiyaki (a Japanese savory pizza-meets-pancake) and iceblocks in the shape of Japanese manga characters.

More Hanabi in Seki

Hanabi in Seki

Friday, August 04, 2006


The Japanese term “Cosplay” comes from the contraction of the English words “Costume Play”. These outfits can be from popular anime (animation), manga (comic books), movies or simply just any costume. Cosplay is a rather trendy pastime and these hobbists dress up to hang out, strut around and pose for photos.

On my recent trip to Tokyo, I made my way to Harajuku on a hot, steamy Sunday afternoon to check out the scene.

Cosplay Photos