Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Most of the time, Japanese service is superb. Most of the time. In fact, I just commented on someone's blog about it last night.

Paying bills however, can be a real pain. We have one utility bill that can be paid at a convenience store, so well, that one is convenient. We have another that needs to be paid at a bank - during banking hours. Every month, that one can be a problem as both Wayne and I work during bank hours so we have to try to work out who and when can go and pay it. It wouldn't be a problem if we had internet banking, but it's not a common service over here and is rarely offered in English. Another utility bill is paid, in cash to a person that turns up to our door once a month. She used to always come on a Thursday, so we were prepared, but now, she comes whenever she feels like it and can catch us unaware.

Japan is very much a cash society , but the ironic thing is that the ATMs have opening and closing times. Some close at about 9pm and won't open again until 8am. Some are also closed all day Sunday. An EFTPOS system doesn't exist and it's not that uncommon that places won't accept credit cards. I've never heard of people using cheques.

So cash it is.

The reason for my little whine today is that Wayne and I are booking our summer trip. I don't want to jinx myself by talking about it too much until everything is booked, but we are very excited about it.

We first went into a local travel agent, but they had real problems actually giving us a price, an answer about flight availability and any other questions that we had. Their price in the end was quite high.

So now, we've been trying to book our tickets on-line. I went to a Japanese site that offers a service in English and got two quotes for the flights we wanted. One took much longer to get back to me, but were a little cheaper. When I enquired about how I could book, I was told that I must come to their office in Nagoya during business hours to do so. What!!! Who ever heard of a travel agent that was closed on weekends!

The other agent got back to me very quickly but have made many errors with the booking time and time again. They seemed to be trying hard however and were always apologetic in their emails. So we decided to book with them, and they finally got all the details correct today. I have told them a number of times, right from the start, that I couldn't get into a bank until Monday because of work. They never said this was a problem, so I assumed it was all ok. Until today. They've told me that I must get into a bank to pay for it by Friday, or we may lose our tickets! There are times that I think that part of the reason many Japanese housewives don't work full-time is that they need to be able to deal with banking and bill paying during the day. How do people do it here otherwise?? If you work from nine to five and they don't offer a service outside of those hours, they don't accept credit card payments unless we physically go in during office hours, you can't pay over the net, the banks don't offer internet banking.... just how on earth do you deal with this stuff??

Mmmm.... can you tell I'm rather frustrated....?

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Wedding Revisited

It's over a year since the wedding and I still hadn't done anything with the photos. I had a play around with this slide show/ video last night.

The soundtrack is what I walked, or rather ran as I was so nervous, down the aisle to. It's Goreki by Lamb. We had a really special day and a week later came here to Japan.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Camera Club Clique

This year at school, I joined the Camera Club and these are some of my camera club girls.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dreaming of space

The thing I probably miss most about Australia, after my dear friends and family, is space. I stumbled across a blog the other day and the person had a picture of their studio/workspace. It was airy. It was organised. There was space!

The catalyst for Wayne and I coming to Japan was losing my dream rental home. It was a sweet little early 1920s colonial with polished wood floors and high ceilings. I just loved my studio in that house. Along two walls were windows that faced the north and overlooked a garden. The light was magical and it was a place I wanted to spend a lot of time in. I really miss having an airy studio. My workspace now is a corner less than 1 metre squared. If I really want to make anything, the room has be pulled apart. The tatami floor is my workbench.

So recently, Wayne and I have been talking more and more about going back to Australia. We don't plan to do so for a few years yet, but we've started looking, just out of interest, at property in the village we'd like to live, Mapleton. It's a sweet little mountain village, about an hour out of Brisbane, our hometown, and about 20 - 30 minutes to gorgeous beaches. I found my dream house on my search, by my favourite Queensland architect, Gabrielle Poole. Ahh.... starting to dream of that studio already.... Anyone got a spare half a million they want to lend me.....?

Views from my dream house

Just look at the views from the kitchen! It makes even me want to cook!

A lovely sense of air and space

The outside of the house

This isn't from the same house, but another in the next town. I've always wanted a bath with a view.

Friday, May 18, 2007


I had a Japanese friend, Kazuyo, jokingly tell me that she got really good at the Dogeza, the Japanese formal apology in her first year of marriage. She said that apologising for not cooking or cleaning was far easier than actually cooking or cleaning. I had to laugh. So, if you, like Kazuyo and myself find it easier to apologise, here's a short lesson on how to apologies in Japanese.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Love Hotel Letdown

Wayne and I decided that on our recent trip to Osaka, rather than stay in a standard hotel, to stay in a Love Hotel. This was partly to try to save some money, partly because neither of us had ever done the Love Hotel thing and partly because I’d heard that Osaka had some of the wildest Love Hotels in Japan. I wanted to photograph one for the book.

A love hotel is not usually a romantic candle-lit room, but rather a place where you can hire a room by the hour to get a little “loving”. You do need to supply your own partner.

Before we went to Osaka I did some research on the Internet. Rooms with a Hello Kitty S&M doll, bumper cars, a rooftop Cadillac or a carousel caught my attention. Rooms modeled on a high school classroom, a prison cell or train carriage conjured disturbing yet intriguing images. I mapped out the area with the best selection of love hotels to choose from and couldn’t wait.

The love hotels offer a number of different options for usage, including a “rest” and a “stay”. The “rest” rate allows the user to have the room for anywhere between 90 minutes and 3 hours depending on the hotel. With the “stay” option check-in is from about 10pm on a Friday or Saturday night and check out around 11am the next day. It was this that we wanted.

After a full day of playing tourist in Osaka we made our way to our chosen love hotel area. I had two particular hotels in mind, The Adonis and Gang Snowman. We wandered the streets for a while looking for them, dragging our sore feet, a little excited at the same time. In the small grid, we found Hotel Broccoli, Be Loose, Hotel HP, Green Gables, Aphrodite and Myth to name a few, but neither of the ones I wanted. By this time we were both footsore, tired and grumpy.

Two hotels had smiling attendants out the front dressed in white uniforms gesturing for us to enter their hotel. This was not what I had expected. From what I had read and heard, I was expecting discretion, privacy, not people trying to usher me in like seedy strip club touts. To me it was like someone saying “Come in, come in, because we know what you’re going to do in there… wink, wink, nudge, nudge..”

By now I had to resolve myself to choosing somewhere else. My normally sweet, patient husband was now snappy, crabby and walking five paces ahead of me. I agreed to choose one of the hotels in the area we’d seen, on the condition that it had an interesting room.

“I liked the one with the cartoon characters all over the building” Wayne said.

“I don’t care what you like, I want a funky room to photograph” I barked at him in reply.

In the foyer of the first hotel pictures of the rooms were on a board with the available ones lit up from behind. No such luck there. All the rooms looked normal, but with awful interior decorating.

“Hotel HP looked nice” Wayne said in a hopeful voice.

“Not the point” I snapped back.

With Wayne too scared to speak and me silently daring him to do so, we systematically entered and quickly left the foyer of hotel after hotel. I rejected each of them. Finally in one, we found a “Concept Room” board. No pictures of actual rooms, just of their “concept”. Upon a quick glance I saw outer space, Egypt, Africa, other exotic locations and some science fiction themes. Jackpot! We’d found our hotel and not a moment too soon. My bubble of elation was burst suddenly. A large neon sign told me to “WAIT”, as all of the rooms were booked out. Behind me were three other couples waiting. Without a word I walked out, tears of disappointment, tears of frustration, tears of exhaustion already rolling down my cheeks.

From that hotel’s front door I walked. Too tired to make a decision now, I walked with Wayne beside me telling me it was alright, that we would find a good place. In the distance, I spied two bright neon lights. These became my beacons in the night. “Last Chance” I told myself. As long as they had a room available, no matter how boring, we would stay in one of those hotels, as otherwise, I was ready to sleep on the damp concrete pavement.

As we got closer, before I could even read the brightly lit sign, I grew excited. Two white circles, a smaller one on top of a larger – a snowman! We’d found it! Gang Snowman! The oasis in a desert. I crossed my fingers. Dodgem cars, dodgem cars, please let the room with the dodgem cars be available. With renewed energy we quickened our pace and bounded into the foyer. My eyes excitedly scanned the board, dodgem cars, dodgem cars. No dodgem cars. Neither lit nor dark. “That’s ok, that’s ok,” I mumbled to myself “Let’s see what else they have.” Rooftop Cadillac, there it was, but the picture was dark. It was already taken. At this point, my eyes slowed. The board contained pictures, both lit and dark of ugly room after ugly room. Nothing bizarre. Nothing kinky. Nothing kitsch. Only rooms decorated by someone’s grandma on a budget without an eye for colour. Maybe bad taste was the new kitsch. Funnily enough, each room picture had little stick figures underneath with suggestions of how we could entertain ourselves while in there. I couldn’t decide on whether to sleep in a hideous yellow, orange or peach room, so while they were completely irrelevant, I chose our room on these stick figures. I looked at them and thought “No, I don’t have the flexibility for that anymore, too tired for that one..”, so peach won out in the end.

The picture went dark when I pressed the button in the corner and out spat a ticket with the room number. “Ok,” I said looking at Wayne, “so what do we do now?” I had heard of hotels with lights showing directions but this foyer was a mass of lights that would make a 70s disco look dull. I started to panic. Wayne was as dumbfounded as I was.

A woman came out of a door hidden in the badly painted wall and asked “Japanese?”

“Only a little” I confessed.

She shoved two laminated A4 sheets into my hands and gestured towards the elevator. Wanting to hide from the world at this point, I jumped into the lift dragging Wayne with me. Under the UV lights the glowing page instructed me in English how to get out of the hotel. Not in an emergency, just how to get out, period.

The room was not hard to find. As we stumbled in, an automatic payment machine began ranting at us in Japanese. Telling it to “shut the hell up” had no effect whatsoever. The printed instructions told me that I had to press a button to indicate our wish to “stay”. I looked and looked, but the button simply wasn’t there, or at least written in the same kanji that was on the sheet. However, the paper also told me that I didn’t need to pay until I wanted to leave and the machine went quiet after a while so I was happy to wait until morning to figure it all out.

The room was even ghastlier than it had appeared in the picture downstairs. And it stank. The stale cigarette smoke of couples past had permeated the bed, the bedding, the sofa and the horrible wallpaper. Under a huge flat screen TV was a vending machine with a difference. Cans of soft drink had been replaced with different “toys” that could be used to pass the time in the room.

There was a karaoke machine and microphone, playstation handsets and a small slot machine. The peach bedspread featured cute little snowmen with their cute little snow castles.

An internal door took us to the bathroom, which looked more like it belonged in a five star hotel room rather than the horrible one we were in. It was pristine and tasteful. The counter greeted us with a huge array of sample-sized toiletries, individually packed toothbrushes, a hairbrush and razor. A basket was filled with large fluffy peach towels and there was a small TV screen beside the computerized toilet. The door to the shower opened up to a whole other room. It was huge! Under the wall mounted shower was a small seat, a basin and more toiletries. The opposite wall had a couple of handrails with a cute little stick figure drawing suggesting how we might wish to use them. And then there was the bath! It was long, deep, molded and fittingly, large enough for two. It came with juccuzi jet and bubble bath and sat under yet another TV screen. Perfect to ease our aching legs.

It wasn’t long before I was ready to crash. With Wayne still soaking in the tub, I returned to the awful peach room.

Cool fluorescents and the TV screen brightly lit the room. Playing with the many buttons by the bed, I went through a variety of lighting options until the overhead and bedside lights were off. This left the room basking in a blue glow coming from the TV. I fiddled further with a remote and managed to turn it off, but its annoying light was replaced by equally annoying music. I switched the music off, on came the TV. TV off, music on. Music off, TV on. Eventually, with a quiet room, I threw the peach bedspread littered with snowmen over my head to block out the light and tried to sleep.

Just as I was falling into the soft comfort of sleep, the lights came on, then music, then the music was off and TV was on. Wayne was flicking through the remote like I had not long before. Deciding this time on the music option, I tried once again to get to sleep. As I drifted off for a second time, I was jolted awake buy a horrible computerized voice screeching “Okane okudasai, okane okudasai.” The automatic machine at our front door was demanding to be paid. Every thirty seconds it insisted “Okane okudasia, okane okudasai.”

Scrambling for the supplied English instructions, I rushed to the door. “Shut up! Shut up! Shut the hell up!” Completely disregarding my pleas, the machine continued “Okane okudasai, okane okudasai.”

The instructions in my hand were useless. All of the buttons it told me to push weren’t on the machine model in front of me. What concerned me even more was a note that once we had paid, the door would only be unlocked for five minutes, then relocked and another paid session would begin. “Okane okudasai, okane okudasai.” It was in the middle of the night, we had no intentions of leaving until daylight and certainly not of paying more than once for this hideous room. “Okane okudasai, okane okudasai.” The machine obviously had no intentions of letting up on its demands. “Okane okudasai, okane okudasai.” If I was to get any sleep, I had no choice but to call through to reception. “Okane okudasai, okane okudasai.”

As in my exhausted state I couldn’t understand what I was told over the phone, within minutes an embarrassed staff member came to our door. He told my teary self that even though we weren’t leaving until the morning, we needed to pay the machine to shut it up. They would fix the machine from reception so that we weren’t charged twice.

Our 9000 yen room suddenly cost over 11000 yen due to hidden service charges that were added on. So much for us saving money, it would have been cheaper to stay in a business hotel.

By now I found that any sound grated on me, so we turned the music off, draped the TV in fluffy peach towels and went to sleep bathed in a red glow.
After what ended up being a good nights sleep, we were woken in the morning by sounds of our neighbours’ activities. The walls were way too thin for this type of establishment. A leisurely bubble bath and all the great toiletry samples got us ready to face the world once more. Consulting the English instructions for the last time, I located the button on the automatic machine to unlock the room. Not willing to risk being locked back in, Wayne and I put our bags near the door and were ready to go. I pressed the button, opened the door and quickly jammed it open with my camera bag. We hurriedly stepped into our shoes and ran out into a fresh new day. The stay had been an experience, but we both agreed that it wasn’t one we wanted to do again in the near future.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Don't forget to write

I wrote this a few months ago and feel that I need to remind myself of my resolve....

Out the window, the landscape rolls past. Ugly concrete buildings of grey, brown or off-white; a small green patch of leeks rising proudly from the earth; the bright red of a Shinto shrine gate promising purification; a bare school baseball field that looks more like a prison exercise yard with its high wire fences; large blocks of apartments made colourful with futons hung over balconies, drying in the sun; a bright pink castle-like love hotel; the Vegas-style neon lights of a pachinko parlor luminous even in the daylight; in the distance, peeking out from the smog, untouched mountains looking like a backdrop painted in blue greens; a stream lined in cherry blossom trees still in their naked winter form, waiting for the new season to bring them back to life; a river filled with water, ice cold, carrying melted snow out to sea; the criss-crosses of a rusty red iron bridge reflected in the still liquid, a single weathered wooden boat by its edge; carved headstones in memory of ancestors passed; squat neat rows of tea bushes; a flash of white plum blossoms, promises of the spring to soon come; a tiny shrine by the side of the road, sheltering a stone deity dressed in brightly coloured child’s bib and hat; a billboard painted with a depiction of a battle long ago fought; parched rice fields decorated with tufts of rice straw in orderly lines, memories of last years harvest; all the while, the grey sky with patches of blue peeking through remaining constant.

A white gloved, uniformed man makes an announcement through the train in Japanese. My mind snatches at words it can understand; a broadcast of a station to come and a reminder not to leave anything on the train.

All the while, with each rhythmic click, each repetitive clack of wheels on rails, words are echoing through my head, advice given to me by a writing teacher over a year ago. “Show, don’t tell.” Her words come rushing back to me. “Show, don’t tell.” While this foreign landscape is rushing towards me, I realize that it is retreating just as quickly. I think about the year that has just passed.

I’ve been in Japan almost exactly a year this time around, as mundane things such as visa renewals and an expiring international drivers license remind me. A year and what? What have I done in that year? Plenty, but very little of what I came here to do. I came here to write, to design, to create, to photograph, to be inspired, to experience and to travel. Yet I haven’t. I haven’t written, I’ve blogged. I haven’t written, I’ve waffled. I haven’t written, I’ve regurgitated.

Now as the plum blossom signal a new season, they also signal a new resolve; a resolve to “show, not tell”.

The landscape continues to roll by unaware. A patchwork of greens, greys and browns.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Kindy germs

Wayne taught at kindergarten last week. He always enjoys the day but comes home exhausted. And with germs! Without fail a couple of days after his monthly visit to kindergarten he gets a cold. He suffers for a day or two and then in his ever-so sharing manner, passes it onto. I then feel rather awful for about a week. So now, I'm spending a precious free day in Golden Week feeling like I would be much happier if I could just chop off my head.

I have my very own Baikinman (Bacteria Man). Thanks Wayne! To his credit though, he does take good care of me when I'm sick.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Change of seasons

Our cosy winter dining area with kotatsu and uchikake
As I mentioned in a post recently, it's Golden week in Japan. Golden week sees people madly rushing around the country, the roads, planes and trains full to the brim with travellers. For that reason, I don't - travel that is.
Wayne went off to Kyoto for the day to watch people try to kill each other, so I took the opportunity to change the apartment from winter to summer. A lot of it was hard work and I must say, I don't know how we'd cope in this apartment without those bags you store things in then vacuum out the air so they take up less space. Not even considering my large collection of clothes.. we have so many futons, extra blankets, extra sheets and pillows which have been well used for all the visitors we've had in the past year.
Anyway, the fun job of the day was changing our little dining alcove. It's my favourite part of the apartment and I try to keep it free of the clutter that seems to invade the rest of our abode. In the picture at the top, you can see what it looked like this morning. The table is called a kotatsu and is just heaven in the cold weather. It is built with a heater underneath and when you sit under the quilt it is so cosy and warm you never want to get up. I bought the uchikake, wedding kimono, before we did the area up for winter so we tried to co-ordinate everything to match it.
In the picture below, you can see what the area looks like now. The tatami mat has red and blue dragonflies embroidered in the corner, so I hung one of my kakejuku scrolls up that features jizo and some blue dragonflies. I had thought of getting another kimono to hang in the area, but now I like the "zen-ness" of the space, it has a cool feel for the summer.
I was so inspired by the new look that I did something I very rarely do - cook! I made salmon cakes with sweet potato, onion, garlic, negi and dill. If I must say myself - they were really yummy! Pity poor Wayne wasn't around to witness his wife cook, but I have saved him some as I think they'll make a lovely decedent breakfast.

Our dining alcove with its fresh summer look

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Toilet Training

While out shopping the other day the person in front of me was buying a Japanese character toilet training seat. It reminded me of this video I'd seen. A friend of mine also has the pop-up book version of this. The character is known as Shima-chan and the video is about how he becomes a "Pants man".

Melanie loves ????

I love checking out what words people have searched on Google to bring them to my blog. A funny one came up recently...

"melanie loves jason"

Mmmm that one was quite interesting. Thought I should check it for myself. The combination comes up 28th on Google at the moment. Wondering if I should be concerned about the state of my marriage... I searched

"melanie loves wayne"

That came 19th, so all is good in the world of Melanie and Wayne.

**** Update ****
After putting this post up - Wayne somes up first and Jason second. All is still good ;)