Monday, December 31, 2007

The History of Christmas in Japan

The comments on my last post, The Christmas That Isn’t, really got me wondering about when and why Japan started "celebrating" Christmas. Wikipedia had this to say;

"Encouraged by the commercial sector, the secular celebration of Christmas is popular in Japan, though Christmas is not a national holiday. The Japanese have adopted the character of Santa Claus in their celebrations. Christmas is not as important to most Japanese as New Year's Day. In contrast to Western customs, Christmas Eve is a day for couples to date and groups to hold parties, while the official New Year's Day holiday is a day of family celebration. Most Christmas decorations come down on the 25th and are replaced by New Year's decorations. A unique feature of Christmas in Japan is the Japanese type of Christmas cake, often a white whipped cream cake with strawberries.

The first recorded Christmas in Japan was celebrated with a mass held by Jesuit missionaries in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1552, although some believe that unrecorded celebrations were held prior to this date, starting in 1549 when Saint Francis Xavier arrived in Japan to begin missionary work. Starting with the expulsion of missionaries in 1587, Christianity was banned throughout Japan beginning in 1612, a few years into the Edo Period, and the public practice of Christmas subsequently ceased. However, a small enclave of Japanese Christians, known as Kakure Kirishitan ("hidden Christians"), continued to practice underground over the next 250 years, and Christianity along with Christmas practices reemerged at the beginning of the Meiji period. Influenced by American customs, Christmas parties were held and presents were exchanged. The practice slowly spread in major cities, but its proximity to the New Year's celebrations makes it a smaller focus of attention. During World War II, all celebrations and customs, especially those from America, were suppressed. From the 1960s, with the aid of a rapidly expanding economy, and influenced by American TV dramas, Christmas became popular, but mostly not as a religious occasion. For many Japanese, celebrating Christmas is similar to participating in a matsuri, where participants often do not consider which kami (god) is being celebrated, but believe that the celebration is a tribute nevertheless. From the 1970s to the 1980s, many songs and TV drama series presented Christmas from a lover's point of view."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Christmas That Isn't


I remember the Christmasses of 1998 and 2005. They weren't particularly different and it's not that I remember them in any great detail. What I do remember is savouring them. During both, I knew I'd be living in Japan the following years.
Before coming here the first time in 1999, I knew that as Japan isn't a Christian country, not to expect Easter or Christmas. That year, Easter passed without any acknowledgement what-so-ever. I even worked on Easter Sunday.
Imagine my surprise in November when the department stores and shopping centres began selling Christmas decorations, playing Christmas carols and started taking orders for their version of a Christmas cake (a fluffy sponge cake with lots of cream and strawberries).
Over the next couple of months, I was lulled into a false sense of celebration. I bought and sent Christmas cards, helped in numerous Christmas parties for students at the school I worked and was looking forward to the dinner party planned on Christmas night.
Knowing that I'd otherwise be alone on Christmas morning, my friend Jodie invited me to stay with her on Christmas Eve. We could open our presents together she suggested. Her Japanese husband would be working that day, as would most Japanese, as it's just a normal working day. This fact should have clued me in to the real Japanese Christmas spirit, or rather lack there of. I happily accepted, gave her phone number to my family so they could call me on the day and packed the ingredients for the rum balls I was planning on making for the dinner party that night.
The morning started off well with a fellow ex-pat to celebrate with . While rolling the rum balls however, I realised I needed more coconut.
"Just go down to the supermarket," Jodie suggested.
I was shocked. The supermarket was open on Christmas Day? Really, it made sense, it was a normal business day after all and really quite convenient in my current prediciment.
Part of me wishes I never had gone. A tiny piece of my love for Japan died in those very moments.
I arrived at the supermarket. The same carols were playing, the same decorations on sale, though now at 50% off, the same Christmas cakes on display and housewives wandering through the aisles doing their same old grocery shopping.
I was furious, I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I felt betrayed. It was Christmas Day and this was so not Christmas. For months, there had been a feeling of "Christmas is coming... Christmas is coming.." and now it had come, no-one cared. They had taken everything commercial and cute from the season and none of the spirit. It was a bit like someone continually telling you that they really wanted you to come to a party and then giving you the cold shoulder when you did.
I wanted to grab the grocery-shopping-Christmas-ignoring housewives by the shoulders, shake them and say "This is it! This is Christmas! Don't you understand?!?"
Instead, I quietly bought my shredded coconut, left the centre and cried.
Now every year that I'm living in Japan and November rolls around, I get a mixture of excitement and panic about the approaching Christmas. I don't want to feel that anger and dissapointment again. I don't want the hipocracy that is Christmas in Japan rubbed into my face again.
I can't really plan a Christmas dinner with many people as most of my ex-pat friends return "home" for the holidays, and my Japanese friends are working and don't quite understand. For me, the solution is to travel. I know I'm not going to have the same family and friends with me, I know I'm not going to be eating the same Christmas treats but I do know I'll be doing something special and different. This has become my personal Christmas in Japan tradition.
So far at Christmas, I've been to Singapore, Osaka and Kobe, Hakuba and this year, to Matsumoto. For Christmas meals I've eaten Chinese, Mexican, English Pub food, Indonesian and Spanish, none of them in anyway Christmassy, but all of them special.
As long as my family and friends are in my heart and I keep this one day of the year special, I'll have Christmas no matter where I live.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Blacklisted

Tomorrow morning, Wayne and I are off for a short trip to Matsumoto in Nagano. As it's a short trip, we're lucky that we don't have much luggage and will be able to do the 30 minute walk to the station with our bags (one backpack and my camera bag). You see, I'm pretty sure we've been blacklisted by the cab company in town....

The first time I ordered a taxi to pick us up was a year ago (to the date actually) when we were going to Nagano to go snowboarding. Being a smallish town, I didn't book in advance but thought I would call with plenty of time to spare. I had however forgotten that it is bonenkai (end of year, or as some say.... forget-the-year) parties.

The guy at the taxi dispatch told me the wait would be about 20 minutes. After 40 minutes I was really beginning to worry. I called the company again, and they told me the taxi had come to our place already. I assured him they hadn't so he said they would be there soon. Another five, then ten, then fifteen minutes went by. I had called the company one hour before we needed to leave and now there was five minutes left. We had an expensive overnight bus booked and needed to get the train to get there in time.

Luckily, our neighbour arrived home and offered to take us to the station. I ran up to our apartment and rang the cab company to cancel the cab. The dispatch guy was now surprised that we hadn't been picked up yet, but promised me, a car would be there in ten minutes, I told him that we really had to leave now and insisted on cancelling the order.

Our snowboards and Christmas present laden bag was loaded into our neighbours BMW, we ran up the stairs to the station, just made the train, then ran from the train station and just made it to the bus.

The next time I ordered a cab, it was in the middle of the day with no warning. I was told a taxi would be by in five minutes. After 20 I rang the company. The conversation went something like this (though in Japanese...)

"Hi, I ordered a taxi 20 minutes ago and it hasn't arrived yet. This is Melanie from .. (insert address here...)"

"Ah Melanie-sama. No, you've been picked up already."

"No, I haven't. I'm still waiting."

"No, you were picked up about 15 minutes ago."

"No, I can assure you, I wasn't. I'm still here waiting outside the front of my apartment. A taxi came down the next road about 15 minutes ago and picked someone else up, but it wasn't me."

"No, he picked you up. He said he picked up a foreigner. You've already been picked up."

(Now, I have to say at this point, that the person who was picked up in the next street was Japanese, and that chances of the taxi driver having picked up another foreigner is very slim - there are few of us that live in my town)

"No, honestly, I haven't. That's why I'm calling. Maybe someone else took my taxi. Could you please send another one?"

"No, no-one would have taken your taxi. He picked you up. You don't need another one, you've already been picked up."

"No, really I haven't. I've been waiting out the front the whole time and I'm still here. Could you please send another one?"

"Oh, OK, if you're sure you haven't already been picked up."

Another taxi came around and picked me up five minutes later.

The next time we needed a taxi was when we were going to Vietnam in summer. Early in the evening before, I once again called the company. Again in Japanese, it went something like this...

"Hi, I want to reserve a taxi for tomorrow morning."

"Yes, address? Time?"

"It's (... insert address..) for 6.30am."

"No, we're all booked up." Was the reply barked at me. No apologies. Just a direct "Muri" (impossible).

"Oh, well how about 7am?"

"Muri."

"Umm... how about 6am?"

"Muri."

"5.30?"

"Muri."

Mmmm... Personally, I find it hard to believe that on a normal workday, all the taxis have been booked out between 5.30 to 7am. I was panicked and called a friend who came to our rescue. He very kindly offered to get up at 6am on the first day of his holidays to drive us to the station.

There are two companies in town, so I do have to get the number for the other. In the meantime, I'm glad that we can walk to the station tomorrow!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Yah! Holidays!

I discovered something this month....

the 'flu + weather much colder than this queensland girl is used to + asthma = exhaustion + not much fun

.... hense the lack of blogging....

Anyway, I'm over that now, all good, and just in time for my holidays! Yah!

Yesterday was the first day of my winter vacation break and I made the most of it. The boy and I went into the "big city" - Nagoya. It's only 20 minutes away by train and we really don't do it enough. We drooled over all the English books at Maruzen, ate yummy Indonesian for lunch, I gawked at the designer stores... Camper Shoes and Marimekko being my favourites, arranged for my Birkenstocks to be re-souled, ate more yummy food at Outback, splurged on Aussie chocolate and tried not to stare at the other "round eyes" as my New Zealand friend calls fellow westerners. We don't see many in our town.

I'm now madly trying to catch up on Christmassy stuff. Having been sick means I'm now running very late. A few Christmas cards have been sent, but presents haven't. I still have to design, write and send my nengajo.

On Monday, we'll be leaving for Nagano where we'll spend a few days over Christmas in Matsumoto, a sweet little town famous for its castle. Not sure what our Christmas dinner will be, we probably won't be able to find any roast turkey dinners, but we'll just make sure it's something yummy and special.

Christmas presents are calling out to be wrapped, must dash!

If I don't get a chance to blog before I go, I'd like to wish everyone a very Merry Kurisumasu!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Engrish Break

I've been going through old photos tonight and re-discovered my Engrish collection. Sit back and enjoy....





















Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Love Triangle

As we've just finished exams and only have a couple of weeks until holidays, we've been able to do a few fun lessons with the kids. One activity we're doing with the high school students is giving them a sheet of paper with three pictures on it and asking them to write a story. The aim they are told is to write a funny story.

There is one in particular that I love from today's class. Before I get to it, I should explain the characters... Melanie - is obviously me and Sam, Adrianne and Mr K other English teachers at the school. I've left the mistakes in and copied it as is;

Sam said, "She is mine. Her eyes are shining. Her name is Melanie. But she has a husband. She is outgoing to love. She has sexy body. I always fall in love with her. I was wallow in her everyday."

But he kissed with Adrianne. The kisses is very passion. I have never explained such a sexy and pleasure kiss. I am steeped in luxurious pleasure. I can't live without her body. It was true.

Ah..... Which is better, Melanie or Adrianne? Melanie has perfect body. But Adrianne has perfect body too. But it is important to honest to me. I want to the most is Mr K. I was homo.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Exam Answers

We're on the downhill run to the holidays now! Yah! Just two more weeks to go and then about three weeks off. Not sure what we're doing yet, but thinking of going somewhere for a few days. Does anyone have any suggestions? I want to go somewhere I haven't been before and I've done the big sites and cities.

We've just finished the last exams for the year and there were some answers that brought a smile to my face. I thought I might share....

From Junior High, in answer to the questions;

"Who cooked your breakfast this morning?"

My breakfast eat my family.
My breakfast cooked my mother.
I cooked my mother.
Cock brakefast is my mother.
It's dreakfast cooked my mother this morning.
It my mother cook to for breakfast

Where did you do your homework last night?

I homeworked in the hoom last night.

Where did you brush your teeth yesterday?

I brashed my teachers in the bathroom.
I washed the thieves in the bathroom.
I brashed my pea in the bathroom.
I blash your teach in the kitchen.
I brush south in the bath yesterday.

In one question the high school students had to describe Sam's and my personalities. Some of the results were;

Melanie is cheerful. She is big voice and her smile is cute.
She is cheerful because her class time is very interesting and exciting.
She is like rabit because she is very praty.
Melanie is very cheerful, because she is loved everyone.
She is cheerful and easygoing, because her smile is beautiful and she makes us happy.
He is gentle. He always listens my boring and not-well-English story happily.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Today I'm loving

  • My husband. The dear sweet man has moved out of our shared office space to allow me to create my own design studio. You can see the before shots here. Hopefully, I'll have some shots of the end product in a few days.
  • My new studio. It's still coming together but looks great so far. I feel so inspired!
  • Volume 2 of the Beautiful Songs Compilation Album
  • Long, warm, super soft socks
  • Starbucks Chocolate Mint Mocha - I ordered my first ever coffee today! I'm not a coffee drinker, but I think I could be hooked.
  • Japanese space solutions, they have some great ideas in the stores
  • 100yen shops (OK, I love these every day)
  • My life

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fingerprints

A little while ago I wrote about how there are times, living in Japan as a foreigner, I feel like I am under suspicion purely for being non-Japanese and Japan's new policy of fingerprinting and photographing all foreigners entering Japan. The fingerprinting practice has now been implemented and so is in a lot of the press for English speakers now.

To be honest, once I get over the conditioning that it is only for criminals, I don't have a problem with fingerprinting itself. What I do have a problem with is that it is only for foreigners. The implication seems to be that it is the gaijin to be feared, and not their fellow countrymen. When if comes to foreigners, Japan seems to have a guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality. I know America has the same practice and maybe I would feel equally offended getting fingerprinted there, though with America, differences of race don't come into it.

In the explanation video, terrorist bombing attacks in America, Bali, Morocco, Spain and London are listed. Never do they talk about the worst terrorist attack in their own country in 1995, the Sarin gas attack, an attack on Japanese, by Japanese. I find the video quite condescending when they try to pass the fingerprinting practice off as being partly to protect the foreigners. Let's be honest Japan (or the government at least), you don't really care about the foreigners, you're too busy worrying about what you think we're going to do to you.

While I'm on the subject of safety in Japan, it is for the most part a very safe place to live in. The recent trend of random street slashings however is a disturbing one. Until this week, I wrote it off as being a "big city" problem and not something to worry about where I live. That has now changed. Two days ago, a girl from our school was chased down the street by an old man with a knife. He was believe to have been seen outside one of the school gates again yesterday.

Japan, is it really US you need to worry about?

Update

j donuts has put together a great post linking to other people's thoughts on this matter. It's a really interesting and somewhat scary read. You can find it here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Photo Break

A few photos taken at a local festival the weekend of the car accident.







Monday, November 19, 2007

Snow

It's now officially really cold, I saw snow this morning! Admittedly, the snow was capping a mountain in the distance, but it was snow none-the-less. I swear I saw three snowflakes yesterday swirling in the air, but Wayne thinks I was imagining it.

I was hoping some semblance of warmth would hold out for a few more days. We plan to re-arrange the apartment this coming long weekend and was hoping to wait until then to pull out the heaters and winter clothes. Yesterday, I wore a blanket around the apartment but still my fingertips were frozen and made it hard to type.

Last night I gave in and dug out a couple of heaters. And a dig it was. If you've ever lived in a Japanese apartment, you know how precious space is, our heaters were buried in the back of a cupboard under suitcases and backpacks. I haven't gotten out winter clothes yet but have been wearing what I like to think of a bohemian style of layers to survive. I did have to go to the 100yen shop to buy some gloves for the bike ride to school as my fingers couldn't wait.

You would think that once I got to school, I would be warm, but the opposite is true. The floor in the staffroom is freezing and with the Japanese culture of having to wear slippers inside, I can't wear my lovely warm boots during the day. I have a lap blanket I use and have been known to wear a down jacket and scarf at my desk to stop asthma attacks from the low temperature. Adrianne is already wearing her down jacket in the staff room today.

Our school is undergoing major construction at the moment and in the process, we lost one of our classrooms. Most of the time it's OK as one teacher will conduct the class in the student's homeroom. During interview tests however, we need both. What has happened this testing period is that one teacher has to sit outside in the cold, sunless, windy corridor. Thank goodness it's Sam and not me! Poor Gareth has three hours of interview tests to do there today! To make things scarier - it's cold now, but our next tests are in February when we'll be in the depths of winter and our new building won't be up then. And then don't even get me started on the female teachers toilets that are outside.....

On a happier note, I have to say, my husband is wonderful. He knows how much I hate this weather and so on cold nights, he goes to bed before I do, lies on my side and warms it up for me. How sweet is that! He even, admittedly not so happily, allows me to warm up my cold hands on his warm body parts. It's like having a living, breathing, large sized water bottle. Last night, he braved the low temperature and got me chocolate that I was craving and then this morning, he let me stay in while he went out and did the recycling by himself. Isn't he great! I'm not sure what I did to deserve him, but don't tell him that.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Over on my other blog... a bag to win!


For those of you who don't read my other blog, Kimono Reincarnate, I've launched a new business making bags from stunning vintage kimono and obi fabrics.

I've just started a mailing list. In order to give it a kick-start, I'm offering a chance to win this bag. Just sign up to my mailing list before December first, 2007 for an entry and then get an extra entry for each person you refer that lists you in the "Referred by" box.

The bag has been lined with kimono fabric and has a little pocket just the right size for keys and a mobile phone. The back is plain black, the original backing of this stunning embroidered obi.

Good luck!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Good Morning Baltimore!

Wayne and I went on a date last night. It was fun. After a spot of shopping and dinner, we went and saw Hairspray. It was a blast. I'm a big fan of the original movie so was eager to see if this one measured up. It didn't disappoint.

John Travolta was brilliant as Tracy's overweight mum, Edna Turnblad. Not quite as special as Divine was in the original, but still great.

I could tell that Wayne was worried about the movie when Tracy broke out in the first song, "Good Morning Baltimore". He stiffened ever-so-slightly and I could just tell he thought he wasn't going to enjoy it. He hasn't seen the original, so didn't know what to expect. It didn't take long for him to relax, I think it was the line about the flasher (incidentally, a cameo by John Waters) that he realised it wasn't going to be your run-of-the-mill musical.

It's funny watching a movie like that in Japan. Wayne and I were the only non-Japanese in the cinema and we were the only ones laughing. Much of the humour in the film either doesn't translate, is too quick or the Japanese don't have the same cultural references to understand. Lines like "You need a good stiff one", references to the kids being beautiful and "white" and to "Negro Day" were lost on all of the audience but us.

Before the movie, we saw the trailer for the Simpsons Movie. It is so strange hearing the characters in Japanese. While this isn't the movie trailer here's a TV commercial that might help you get an idea of the strangeness.




There are a few differences in the movie going experience between Japan and Australia. The first would have to be the ticket price, it's much higher in Japan, but the one I find most disturbing, is the lack of chocolate, or any sweets at the concession bar! Popcorn is on offer, but otherwise my choices include hot food such as fried chicken. What is a movie without something sweet?

Friday, November 16, 2007

The things they say

A gem from today’s interview test;

"My grandfather is strange. He tells me not to study....... He really likes sake. He drinks too much. I think he will die of cancer of the liver."

And on a totally unrelated topic... KitKat in Japan comes out with new flavours each season. I have to say I'm in love with the latest - Cookies and Milk KitKat. The KitKat wafer is covered in white chocolate that is filled with crushed chocolate cookies. Yum!

Interview Test Time

I never did get around to writing up the rest of my teaching days. It's been a busy week. On Monday and Wednesday, I had extra classes scheduled in and on Tuesday I had a recording session for the junior high practice and listening tests. On top of that I've been catching up on marking and been attacked by hordes of students every day before school, after school and at lunch times as they want their interview test preparations checked.

This testing period has gone so fast! We've started interview tests today! Our students are graded in three different area; their classwork, an interview test and a listening test. Each is worth a third of their final score. We conduct interview tests a week before their listening test.

This interview test is pretty cruisey for the junior high kids as long as they have prepared. They just have to tell us a little about someone from their family, half of it being in past tense. The previous two tests they had 16 questions to answer in 2 minutes, so the process was quite manic.

After the interview tests and listening tests are finished we still have a couple of weeks left of school. The junior high classes will be doing grade-free Christmas based lessons and games, so it's a lovely festive end to the year. And then... holidays! Yah! Wayne and I aren't going anywhere to far these holidays in a bid to save money. I'm really looking forward to it though as I have so many craft and design projects planned.

Bring on the holidays!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Fridays

I enjoy Fridays, and not just because it's the last day before the weekend. The last day for us native teachers that is, the Japanese teachers and students often have school on Saturday. I like Fridays because I have two junior high classes that are a ball to teach.


My first one, the first period of the day are really smart, attentive and energetic. There are no personalities that really shine out more than the others, but they are all sweet. One girl is tiny, about the size of a small seven year old. What she lacks in size she makes up in energy and has an infectious smile. Today in class, the students were doing an exercise where they had to interview many of their classmates. One boy came to tell me that he was finished, he had filled the paper. I told him that was great and asked if he could go and help some other students. He happily said yes and then I got a series of bows from him as he walked backward to the other students and said thank you many times. I can't imagine getting that from a twelve year old Australian student.


My second junior high class is in the last period of the day. It's my favourite junior high class of the week. It's funny really, I start, first thing Monday morning with my least favourite class and finish, last thing Friday afternoon with the best. The dynamics in this class are great. I put it down to the fact that the alpha male lived in America for a number of years and has excellent English. All the other boys want to be just like him, so they work their butt off and compete to do better than him. It really makes my job easy. One boy, H, is a little strange, but keeps us all amused with his antics. The girls in the class are a delight and we often laugh at how crazy the boys are.

In between the two, I have a high school class. They are mostly great except for one girl that gets on my nerves a bit. She talks the whole way through the class.

I'm tired by the end of the day though as my last two classes are back-to-back and are on opposite sides on the campus, so I always have to dash to make it in time.

Adrianne teaches one of my students from last year. I remember him fondly for just how truly dense he could be. In an interview test he produced "My mother.... my mother.... my mother cooks eat me" to the question "What club do you belong to". At the time he was so proud of himself for getting out the reply. Well today, Adrianne showed me a piece he had written about medicinal foods.

"I would like to try ginger. Because, I want to do a lot of poop and I want to make my poop a good shape."

Ummm... thanks for that information......

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Thursdays

I've been meaning to write about my classes for a while now, so here goes, day-by-day.

I work at a private secondary school. It's difficult to get entry into, co-ed and contains both junior and senior high schools. I teach the first grade of each. It's a good combination actually, as the junior high kids are so genki, they're fresh, their excited and excitable. The high school kids are old enough and have enough English to be able to talk to about things and to joke with, so their lessons can get interesting.

At our school, they do three types of English each week, I teach the third component, communicative English. In junior high I concentrate on phonics and am a pronunciation Nazi. But to their credit, my students now know the difference between a (l) and (r), a (b) and (v), can produce a good (th), exercise the muscles in the face, mouth and tongue to get the right sound and are now starting to lip-read. I'm so proud!

So, Thursdays. I have three classes, first, third and fifth periods.

My day starts with a high school class. They are a little different to most of my other high school classes, as all the students are new-comers to the school. They haven't been formed into this school's mould yet and I have to remind myself at times, that they haven't been doing this style of class for three years previously like the other classes have. A number of the students in that class have lived overseas. One in Singapore, one in France and another recently returned from a year's home stay and studying in America. The class has a high level of English as long as I don't ask them to volunteer an answer. Then I'm only greeted with the tops of every one's heads while they stare at their desks, and silence. I think it's because the kids who have come back from other countries are self conscious that they might make a mistake and the others are too embarrassed to speak in front of them. Other than that, they are mostly a good class. The girl that lived in France loves to talk to me and is a great student and one boy really makes me laugh. One day I told him that our next class was going to be a fun games class. He asked if we could have a party and have cake. I told him that sure, if he wanted to bring cake, I'd be very happy. He then told me, in very careful English "No, I would like to be treated to some cake". Cute!

My second class of the day is a junior high lesson. The kids in this class are so polite, they are just adorable. They laugh at my silly jokes (and really, what teacher doesn't like that?), try really hard and when completing a worksheet will raise their hands and say in very enunciated English (very rounded and proper), "Excuse me Melanie, how do you spell....." There are lots of "please"s and "thank you"s during that lesson. In today's class we were covering vowel digraphs so they delighted in being able to yell out "oi" and "oy". Every now and then, we broke out into a "Oi, noisy boy!" and their faces just lit up.

My last lesson of the day I have nick-named my "Help me, help me" class, as that's what a number of the boys yell out all lesson. They're not a "good" class, but they are a lot of fun to teach. One of the boys always makes me laugh. Let's call him "T". T has a lot of energy in class, though I can't say it's alway focussed where it should be. He sometimes talks in class, but if I turn to glare at him, he whacks, hard, his friend that he was talking to, tells him to "shut up" and then turns to me with a butter-won't-melt-in-my-mouth smile and tells me "He's a bad boy." I should get angry, but I just can't help smiling. The girls are a delight, as they are in most of my classes. One girl, Y, is a great student and came to me with a piece of writing she'd done, all marked out with pauses and inflections just in case she needed to present it to class. Another boy doesn't always do a lot of the classwork, but always stops me in the halls for a short chat in English whenever he sees me. His English is good and he will usually come up with something smart and funny to say.

Today, now classes are over for the day, I'm busily trying to finish writing a test and catch up on my marking. It's been a good day.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

If you are alien

Sam just bought a new bike and on the front of the manual, was written in English;

"FOR YOUR SAFETY AND COMFORT, IF YOU ARE ALIEN WHO
LIVE IN JAPAN, PLEASE ASK SOMEONE WHO UNDERSTAND THIS MANUAL TO MAKE DETAILED EXPLANATION FOR YOU".


Ahh... nothing like a good little piece of Engrish to put a smile on your face.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Safety Check

Urgh! I've just recovered from yet another cold! Actually, a rather nasty flu in this case. When it was at its worst, I couldn't even hold a book, the joints in my wrist hurt so badly that it couldn't handle the weight. I'm better now but left with a very husky voice.

Yesterday, Adrianne and I were leaving work, in the remaining light there is at 5pm this time of year and were greeted with little yellow tags on our bikes. Some of the other bikes had them on too.

On the tag was a list with boxes beside each line. The top box on mine had been checked. I was being informed that my brakes didn't fully work. Well, I could have already told you that, I mean, after all, I am the one who rides it everyday!

Someone, had come and done a safety inspection on all the bikes! Who does this!?! Was it the school? Adrianne's boyfriend thinks it was the police. The police come into the school and do safety checks on our bikes, while they are parked on school property without our permission!

We were curious about what things other teachers were getting in trouble about on their bikes. There were a few bikes with the second box ticked. After struggling, we managed to work out that it was something to do with the bell. Guessing that their bell didn't work, we tested the theory, Adrianne tried one bell and sure enough, no sound. I went to try another and realised, they didn't have a bell. I mean really, does someone without a bell on their bike really need to be told that their bell doesn't work?

One of the teachers, we haven't figured out who yet, rides a bike that looks like it was made during the second world war, was left in a creek since then and has only recently been fished out, hosed down and now ridden. It had no tag.

Today, my junior high school students went hiking, so I only had one high school class to teach all day. I thought the free day was a great time to clean my desk.

I have to say, in a country that prides itself on aesthetics, many workplaces are terrible. The furniture in our staffroom should be in a museum as relics from early last century. There is sticky tape on the walls left yellowed with time and has long forgotten what it held there, the walls are marked, large dust bunnies reside under desks. I got some funny looks when I had discovered a vacuum cleaner and put it to good use. I then stunk out the place with Eucalyptus Oil trying to rid my desk of 20 years of grime from teachers past. In the end I gave up and bought myself a new desk mat. To finish off the look, I added a plant, the only piece of greenery in our dungeon-like room. It's so much nicer now, as long as I ignore the rusted desk I sit at and awful chair I sit on, piled up with cushions to make it usable.

Adrianne gazed over at the end result and announced that she had "desk envy".

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Attack of the Translation Software

My dad arrived in Japan yesterday to teach in Tokyo for a couple of days. It didn't take him long to find a good example of why not to use translation software;

"Message from the Hotel Manager
I newly prepared the room with a massage chair. It relaxes slowly and gets.

* The visitor of reservation also does procedure, such as check-in, to an annex in the main building front."

Usually when he comes to Japan on business, his office books his return flight a few days after he's finished the course he teaches so that he can come and stay with me, near Nagoya, for a few days. Sadly, this time a different person booked his trip and didn't know about this, so he's flown all the way here and we won't get a chance to catch up face to face. It's especially dissapointing as we had planned to celebrate his 60th birthday which is next week. I believe he will be seeing my cousin though, who lives in Tokyo and has recently married a sweet Japanese woman.

Enjoy Japan dad!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Vending Machine Fashion

Personally, I have always thought there were enough vending machines in Japan. Apparently fashion designer Ms Tsukioka agrees and came up with this design as a quick disguise for while on the streets of Japan. Handy when you see and ex that you don't want to talk to... beats hiding behind a post. Mind you, it looks so realistic that I'd be concerned about people coming and pushing buttons, trying to buy a drink. I'm very ticklish!



Tuesday, October 09, 2007

OTC

I'm sometimes amazed at what you can't buy over the counter in a pharmacy here.

Last year, while in the middle of a bad asthma attack, I discovered that my inhaler which I only use about twice a year, was empty. I wheezed my way over to the drug store only to find out that asthma medicine is only sold with a prescrition in Japan.

A few years ago, a dentist looked at my OTC Australian iboprofen brand of choice and was shocked at its strength, he said it was four times stronger than what he as a medical professional was allowed to prescribe.

Tonight, alas, I have a coldsore. I haven't had one in years and realised that I don't have any cream. Luckily, it's hiding behind the corner of my lip and is not too noticable, but its one of those horrible whole-cheek's-on-flame-pain-behind-the-eye ones. I went to the chemist only to be told that I would have to go to the hospital to get cream, after he exclaimed in a really projected voice "You have herpes!?!" Mmm... I won't be showing my face around town for a while now.

A bit of a bump in the road

I can quite rightly say that I feel like I've been hit by a truck. It was a small truck at least.

Wayne and I had a full weekend planned this past weekend, though it didn't go quite as expected. Strangely enough, this time last year, we had the same weekend planned, but didn't make it to any of the festivals as Wayne was diagnosed as being "diseased in the head" and was admitted (or should I say commited) to hospital. I'm thinking of boycotting the same weekend next year.....

We started off the weekend well, did a bit of work, ran a few errands and had a really yummy pasta and pizza lunch. We then headed off to Mino city, in Gifu Prefecture that is famous for its paper. There, I stocked up on yuzen washi. The lovely town with preserved old wooden buildings was in full swing preparing for its annual lantern festival that we planned to go to that night.

We then started making our way to Seki, to meet our friend Natsuki and check out the Seki Hamono Festival, or rather the Seki Cutlery Festival. Sounds exciting doesn't it! It would be more accurate to call it the Seki Things-You-Can-Cut-Stuff-With Festival, as it is mainly swords and knives, hense Wayne was very eager to go. Sitting in the car at a red light, Wayne and I were reflecting on how nice it was to actually get out of the house for once and that we should do it more often, when BANG our car was thrown forward and bodies thrust about like car crash dummies.

When my brain stopped rattling, I looked behind us at the small truck that had run into us, and just as I was thinking that I needed to pull into the side street, there was a police man in the windscreen gesturing for us to do so as soon as the light turned green. They had seen it all happen.

The little old man that had hit us was shaking and confused. I didn't want to say anything to him as a friend of mine had dug herself into a hole in a similar accident a few years ago. She had gotten very angry at the man who had hit her new car and then later apoligised for yelling at him. He tried to use that apology as evidence that the accident had been her fault.

The two young policemen were friendly and helpful. It's funny what goes through your head at the time, I was thinking "I'm glad they saw what happened, I'm really glad I have a Japanese drivers licence and I really hope they don't tell me off for not having my learner driver sticker on the car like my Japanese licence says I should even though I've been driving for 14 years, three of those in Japan."

After a quick call and a chat to one of the policemen, Natsuki came to our aid. Communicating with the old man was difficult and we needed his details for the insurance company. Natsuki struggled with him for about half an hour until we finally got his name, address and phone number.

Luckily, there was very little damage to the car or to us. The hatchback now can't be opened so that will require repairing. If we had the same accident in Australia, it would be considered to be 100% the other guys fault. Not so in Japan. We are considered 5% liable, simply for being there.

We still made it for a quick look at the blades at the Seki festival, but still feeling shaken (quite litterally) and rather achey, we decided to skip the Mino Lantern Festival. The next morning we rose early, donned our festival happi coats and spent a day participating in a local village harvest festival. Rain hampered our festival plans for Monday, but to be honest, by then we were ready for a rest and a bit of quiet.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Coming to Japan?

Sorry I haven't blogged for a while... I've had some crazy, busy days here. They are still continuing, so this is just a quick post before bed...

There are times in Japan, luckily not too often, that I feel like a criminal just for being a foreigner.

I forgot to tell you that when I came back from my trip to Japan, I was asked by police to produce my alien card. It was a first for me. Of course I had to show my "Certificate of Alien Registration" in immigration, that was expected. But later, as Wayne and I were waiting for our train, outside of the the airport, we and other foreigners waiting were asked to produce our cards again, this time to different officials. The police officer then interviewed me for about ten minutes as he took down all my details and also asked to see my passport and visa.

I believe that years ago when gaijin applied for their alien cards, they were fingerprinted. This was stopped a number of years ago, sometime before I first came here in 1999. Well it seems like it's back! Not only for foreigners planning on staying for an extended period, but anyone entering the country. Mel gave me the heads up and you can see more about it here. By the way, make sure to say "Cheese"!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Struggling

I'm finding it hard going today. Thirteen days behind schedule, I'm trying to give up caffeine.

I've never been a coffee drinker. I've tried, I love the smell of coffee but have never grown to like the taste. My preferred source of caffeine has always been tea and chocolate.

I have been attempting to give up chocolate for the last 13 days and with only a few minor stumbles, I've done pretty well. I needed some emergency M&Ms when I was stressed the other night. Today, I'm trying the switch from lovely caffeine containing black tea to herbal. I can tell you, my organically grown, fair trade, peppermint tea just isn't cutting it. Don't get me wrong, it tastes great, it's just not giving me the kick I need right now.

My throbbing headache may or may not be because I haven't had my hit but regardless, I gave up chemical substances on the first of September as well, so no painkillers for me. Gone too are peanuts, Diet Coke and marshmallows. It's hopefully all in a good cause though. I'm attempting to stop my future children (no, not pregnant now...) inheriting my pain-in-the-butt food allergies and basically give them a good start in life.

I did have a lovely perk-up today though. I got my student feedback of my teaching back. I did well I'm happy to say. My favourite two comments were;

"Her body is full of kindness" and "Her smile is very good, her English is pretty good." They help take the headache away.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Some nice feedback

Getting dressed this morning I put on my favourite pair of work pants and they almost fell off!

Then today in class, one of my students wrote me a note on her worksheet that she showed to me as I was going around the room checking everyone's progress. It said "Did you get thin?"

I knew I had lost a little weight, but am happy to hear (and see) that it's starting to show. The work at the gym and the cutting out (OK - down) of chocolate is starting to pay off.

Friday, September 07, 2007

My Husband's Third Nipple

Well, Wayne doesn't acually have a third nipple, but I think that may be the rumor that will be going around town soon.


Wayne joined my gym the other day. He's wanted to join it for a while, but was "forbidden" to do so because he has a tattoo. It's a rather large tattoo, taking up most of his rather large chest. Tattoos are frowned upon in Japan because of their connection to yakuza. Even though it's quite doubtful that a foreigner would be yakuza, ink-work can still make many Japanese feel uncomfortable. For this reason, Wayne can't enter many of the wonderful Japanese hotsprings.


So for a while now, he's been attending the city gym, but the weights there are very light and he doesn't get the workout that he wants. We went to the gym last weekend to ask for special permission for him to join. I (my Japanese is much better than Wayne's so it is almost always me that asks things in Japanese) asked very nicely that if no-one ever gets to actually see his tattoo, could he join.

They hummed, and hahhed then reiterated that no-one could ever see it, then it would be ok. And I mean ever! We also had to agree that no-one would see it outside of the gym either! They justified that if he was in another public place and his tattoo was visible, another gym member might see it and get scared.

At the gym he can't use the pool or the public bath. He also has to be careful when going to the shower. So in a country where people are quite comfortable with public nudity (in certain sex segregated envirnoments that is), Wayne has to walk to the shower fully covered up with a t-shirt on top. He takes his clean t-shirt to change into in the shower cubicle which he makes more private by hanging his towel over a rail so that nothing can be seen above the door either. I'm sure people are going to start wondering and then talking about why this large, strange foreigner is so shy about his chest. "Hey, maybe he has a third nipple", is my guess to what they might think.

It's a pity in a way, because to be honest, I think it's a chest worth showing off.

Over the last week, I've discovered that there are pros and cons to having my personal trainer husband at the gym with me. The main advantage is that I work harder. The main disadvantage is that I work harder. Boy am I sore today!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Dancing in the Street

Wow! That holiday went fast!

We had timed our return from the trip to be back in time for a festival in a friend's village. We had missed many of the summer festivals this year, but luckily caught a few at the end.

I wrote about the Obon Festival last year and one of the dances we went to. I really enjoy the atmosphere at the Bon-Odori (Obon Dances), I love the way everyone dances together, often dressed in yukata (summer kimono). It's an unabashed celebration of life and traditional culture, something you rarely see in Australia unless it involves a beer or two.

This summer I also went to the Nagoya Do Matsuri. This is another dance festival, but many teams compete against each other. We went to watch it on the Saturday in Sakae when the teams were dancing their way down the street. The day was stinking hot. I felt terribly sorry for the dancers out in the sun, in hot looking costumes. The energy they exuded however was really impressive.

Again, I've only got a few photos up into my Flickr account so far, but more will gradually be added.



Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

A quick question, what do you think of the slide show style in the blog?

Vietnam & Cambodia

No, I didn't forget to come back from my trip as someone suggested, I've just had trouble focussing on one thing at a time since I got back, so hense I haven't been blogging. They always say that you are busier on your holidays and boy is that true for me! I had so many plans for the remaining days off after we returned, but feel like I have only achieved little bits of most of them. Anyway...

The trip was amazing! Exhausting at times, but amazing.

We started off in Vietnam and our first impression of the country was the traffic. All bikes and lots of noise. Bikes with three or four people, bikes piled high with all sorts and shapes of things, bikes weaving in and out within inches of crashing into one another, but never doing so, bikes with horns and riders not afraid to use them. The only road rule I could determine after a couple of weeks in Vietnam is that you can drive whichever side of the road you like, through whatever colour light you like, just as long as you use your horn.

After a very hot and humid day in Hanoi, we began the first part of our trip in Sapa, a small region in Vietnam's northern mountains. The cooler air and the awe-inspiring scenery was a welcoming break from the chaos of Hanoi. Sapa is the home to a number of hilltribes and I was particularly interested in the indigo textiles of the Black Hmong people. I've written a bit about them on my Kimono Reincarnate blog.

In Sapa we did a two day trek. In hindsight, we were so glad we did this at the beginning of the trip. I don't think I could have summoned up the energy for it at the end. The trek was my heaven and hell and our guide was my angel. In the dry season, the trek would raise your heartbeat a little. In the wet, which was when we were trekking, the steep slopes became mudslides and every step had to be thought out. By me anyway. The Black Hmong girls how had nominated themselves as our guides happily bounced down the hill like mountain goats, catching any big, inexperienced tourist on their way.

The night in the middle of the trek we did a homestay in a Day (pronounced Zay) village. The family were lovely and we had a lot of fun playing cards with the kids all night. The house was simple, but clean. It had a bare cement floor, the kitchen had a wood fire on that floor, there were a couple of bare electric bulbs in the building and the only water to the house was brought by a piece of hosing that had been inserted into the creek near the house. This creek was the same one that all the toilets of the village emptied into, so I was very glad we were further upstream than many others.

A rooster's crow woke us in the morning while we were comfortable under the rafters encased in mosquito nets. I found the second day of the trek harder than the first. It had rained heavily the night before and the slippery clay had now become a sucking bog. While in the middle of a beautiful bamboo forest, all I could think about was any movie about the Vietnamese War (or American War as it is referred to there). I could feel the heat and humidly, I could hear the insects, I could feel the pain, I could hear the sounds of gunfire. OK, maybe no gunfire. For all its difficulty though, I loved it. Each time we stopped, I was blessed by an amazing scenery. Our guide carved steps into the mountain slopes for me to climb down and was a fountain of interesting knowledge. By the end of the day I was covered in thick mud, exhausted but somehow, spiritually revived.

It's at this point that I remember why I haven't written about the trip until now. I am in great danger of never stopping. I'll try to make it brief from here...

The food in Vietnam was delicious! I lived for days on different spring rolls and over the weeks delighted in the fish, the prawns and the sauted morning glory. Everything was so cheap and the heat meant that beer was a perfect partner with many meals.

The people we travelled with were just as entertaining as the trip itself. We had many Aussies, a couple of Norwegians, a Welsh and an American, to be later joined by a number of Brits. On the first night we met the group, Wayne warned the only other Aussie guy that he had been starved for native speaking males for the past year and a half and he would probably talk his ear off. And that he did over the next few weeks. Sorry John!

We travelled from the north to the south stopping at Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Saigon and finally Chau Doc.

The waters of Halong Bay were magical. We stayed on a gorgeous boat and there were just as many staff as there were guests. Swimming in the calm, warm ocean waters, I had a boat row up to me, a convenience store on water if you like, and ask me if I wanted to buy some wine. I laughed and told the woman that as I was in my swimmers, I could honestly say I had no money on me.

In Hue we went on a fabulous motorbike ride through the backstreets and into the country. We lunched (and then napped) at a Buddhist nunnery, I had my fortune told and I was given two flowers by two different men, neither my husband. Our wonderful drivers held our helmets out for us, so that we could step in underneath it while they did up our straps. We felt about 4 years old. It was the most delightful day!

I got a major clothes shopping fix in Hoi An. It is famous for its tailoring and I had so many pieces custom made as well as four pairs of custom made shoes!

Saigon was where I started to get tired. Really tired. Other than visiting the harrowing War Museum, a spot of shopping and a wonderful High Tea at the Rex Hotel, I didn't do too much.

I will be slowly putting more photos up on Flikr, but for the time being, here are a few...



Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

A stay in the not-so pleasant Chau Doc was the beginning of a few bad days for me. The morning we left there to cross the border into Cambodia, I came down with a nasty bug. Wayne and I had been sick earlier, though I hadn't been hit too bad at that stage. I did however have some medicine from it which was handy, or so I thought. It wasn't until days later that I realised what was making me throw up was actually the medicine that was stopping, well, things at the other end. The six hour boat ride was my personal hell. I felt so ill, had a fever and just couldn't wait to get to the hotel. Luckily, our hotel room had a wonderful view of the river, so once the fever broke, I was able to enjoy it from the window. There was a "Kiwi Bakery" up the road, so Wayne managed to ply me with a tiny taste of lamingtons and fish and chips. Those few bites were close to all I ate for days.So, I didn't see much in Phnom Penh. I did go for a walk on my own to the Royal Palace, a quite stroll on my own was just what I needed that day. Out the front of the palace I saw three young monks in their draped garments. I asked them if I could take a picture of them. They shyly said yes. Then one of them said to me, in very good English, "Now, I would like a picture with you," to which out of the folds in his saffron robe he pulled out a small, silver digital camera. The moment had me smiling for the rest of the day.

Finally, we made it to Siem Reap. I was still feeling ill and tired, but I wasn't going to let that spoil this part of the trip that I had so looked forward to. With many cans of 7up and the occassional mento, I kept myself sugared up while being unable to stomach much else. Angkor Wat didn't impress me as much as I had expected, but I still enjoyed an afternoon of exploring taking photos. Watching the sun rise behind the temple the next day was a magical moment. We temple tramped for a full day taking in the Bayon, which is famous for carved heads on all for sides of numerous towers and other temples. Our funny little guide with the most wicked laugh I've ever heard, then took us through the jungle. We stumbled across ruins of walls, buddhas and crumbling temples. I felt the way that I had the first time I had seen a documentry on Cambodia when I was a kid. I remembered seeing a piece on the discovery of these very temples in that very jungle. I thought it was so exciting, so exotic. I never imagined that I would be standing on that very soil. Through the insect-ridden jungle we came to Ta Prohm, an amazing ruin with large fig trees overtaking the stone temple, reclaiming its place. It was here that Tomb Raider was filmed. I held my breath, taking in the scene before me. This is what I had come for.


Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.


The three week trip was way too short to do justice to these two amazing countries. I want much more time to soak it all in, to stay in one place for longer and get to know it better. That will be next time... just have to start saving for that now....

Thursday, August 23, 2007

My First Bag Is On Sale - Wish Me Luck!

obi bag handbag
If you've looked at my Kimono Reincarnate blog lately, you'd know that my latest obsession is bag making. Making bags from recycled vintage kimono obi fabric to be exact. I just love kimono and especially obi textiles, but sadly my curvy shape doesn't lend well to the straight kimono form. I wanted to employ the fabrics in some way that they could be used everyday.

obi bag handbag
I have wanted to make bags for a very long time now and have been collecting the fabrics to do so, but I was always too scared to cut into these gorgeous works of art. I finally took the plunge a few months ago and have been addicted ever since. It took me a while to get them to where I wanted them to be, and now I'm very happy with the outcome.


I've started lining the bags with kimono fabric. I felt that was the perfect marriage, the fabrics reunited once again. I also wanted the inside of the bag to be just as fun as the outside and for it to be a secret little world just for its owner.

obi bag handbag So what do you think? I've put this one up for auction on eBay here. Please send it some good luck vibes!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Quick update from Vietnam

I've been in Vietnam for a bit over a week now and what a week it's been! The time has just flown but we have managed to see (and eat) so much in that time.

I'm now in Hue and it is stinking hot, but then again, it has been stinking hot everywhere we've been. I will write more details later, but so far some excerts from my travel diary are;

Day 1 - Four Currencies in One Day and Lost in Transit
I had so much trouble getting my head around all the zeros from different currencies and could work out if things were costing me $1.20 or $12. We got an unexpected night tour of Hanoi when our booked transfer didn't arrive and then our taxi got very lost taking us to the hotel.

Day 2 - I See Dead People
We went to visit Uncle Ho in his Sleeping Beauty case and then wandered around the old quarter trying not to get run over by one of the millions of scooters in Hanoi.

Day 3 - Mee and See, my new H'Mong friends
The landscape in Sapa gives off such an amazing old energy. I could have just watched the mountains for hours with it continual dancing behind mist and clouds. Met many H'mong girls, a tribe that live in extreme poverty and continue to wear their traditional indigo dyed and embroidered costumes. We were adopted by a couple of the girls who told us a bit about their lives and showed us around the town.

Day 4 - It's a good thing my husband is not a jealous man...
I spent much of the day holding the hand of a man who wasn't my husband. We trekked from the township of Sapa into a couple of the villages. What is usually a good walk in the dry season was very hard in the wet, sliding down slippery clay slopes. We visited a Black H'Mong village and saw the poverty that these happy friendly people live in. We stayed overnight in a Day (pronounced Zay) village in a farmhouse.

Day 5 - Heaven, Hell and my Vietnamese Angel
The trek was harder than the day before due to more heavy rain and the fact that I had twisted my knee. The view was breathtaking but the hike was hell. My fabulous guide literally cared out mountains for me so that I could make it down the steep slippery clay slopes without getting covered from head to toe in mud. By the end, I was only covered on one side. We visited a Dao (pronounced Zao) village.

Day 6 - The Day that Wouldn't
One of those days when things just didn't go right......

Day 7 - Heaven on Earth
Halong Bay was truly amazing. We stayed on a luxury junk (is that an oxymoron?) and swam surrounded by ancient limestone pillars. The food was to die for.

Day 8 - Back to the noise
We woke up in Halong Bay and said goodbye to it as we ate our last meal on the boat. We headed back into the noise and craziness of Hanoi for a final time.

Day 9 - Hue
I had little sleep on the overnight train that brought us to Hue. We are about to head off and visit the old citadel

So that's all for now. Off to see more of this amazing country.