Monday, January 28, 2008

The Temperature Today...

.... in the female teacher's bathroom at school....

2 degrees Celsius

I told you it was cold!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Domestic Violence

I've renamed my "Help Me Help Me" class to the "Domestic Violence" class. I think it's a name I've stolen from Badaunt, sorry Badaunt, but it's a name that fits so well with this group. A lot of punching goes on, but it's all between friends and strangely, they seem to enjoy it, both the hitter and the hit-ee.

I feel like I probably should get mad at them, but I don't feel angry at all. They make me laugh.

A lesson with them can go something like this;

Student, pointing to his friend; "He's M, he's M"

I look at him confused, ""M", what do you mean "M"? I have no idea what you're talking about."

"You know, "M", he's "M"!" The student then punches his friend really hard in the shoulder and explaines, "See, he's "M", I'm "S" and he's "M"".

I just shake my head, laugh and walk away.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


As in, I have a cold and I am cold.

And I'm very grumpy about it.

It seems like I'm on some sort of six-weekly cold cycle. That's how often I've been catching them lately. Other than the obvious I-feel-crappy-so-I'm-grumpy grumpiness, I am grumpy about the fact that I am cold. All day. Every day. Well, at work at least.

The staffroom I sit in all day when I'm not in class is really not comfortable, and most of the time, it's downright freezing. I rug up as much as I can taking into consideration that the classrooms are warm and if I dress too warmly, I'll sweat in class. At my desk, I wrap my bottom half in a blanket, wrap a pashmina around my shoulders, wear disposable toe-warmers in my shoes, drink hot tea and still I get waves of cold shivers running up and down my back. I swear it's because I spend the day feeling so cold that I get sick.

Today is the first time that all of the heaters in the room have been turned on. There have been days when only two of the five heaters are on and we've sat and shivered all day long. I know it's not just me, two of the other foreign teachers I work with feel it too and they are from cold cities.

I wonder, do the Japanese teachers feel cold as well and just not complain? Is it a matter of the Japanese ideals of gaman (perserverence) and shoganai (it can't be helped) being at play here?

I don't think it's a Japanese thing. Wayne has said that the staffrooms of the schools where he teaches are lovely and warm. I don't believe it's even a (my school name...) thing either. The high school teachers rooms are also very cosy. It's this room. There is one person who decides how many heaters can be turned on on a given day and everyone else has to live with his decision.

There are official heater and airconditioning turning on days in the year and that day is abided by regardless of the temperature. Last year, the heating-turning-on-day was December 1st, so when I came to school on the third and fourth, I was dressed expecting the room to be warm. It wasn't. There were no heaters on at all, a day or so later, sure enough, I was sick with a horrible 'flu that included loosing my voice and having to take time off work.

So not only do I get to be uncomfortable all day at work, I then get sick and get to be uncomfortable with those symptoms at home too. And then, top it off with the stress of possibly loosing my voice.

If I wasn't drinking tea in an effort to try to warm myself up, I would not drink at all here. Going to the bathroom is almost like torture. It's outside, freezing and the water to wash hands is so cold it's painful. Sadly no Japanese heated toilet seat for this school. And I won't get started on the lack of availability of anything warming to eat for lunch......

I really enjoy my job, I like teaching, I like my students, I like the teachers and staff I work with. It's just such a bummer that it is such an uncomfortable place to work in for parts of the year.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Burn Daruma Baby Burn

Last weekend was a really busy one for me. Saturday was devoted to sorting kimono fabric for some customers. Sunday I went to watch Wayne in his Iaido grading and I'm proud to say that he got his Sho-dan (first degree black belt). The hall he was grading in was also holding a Coming of Age ceremony. I got so focused on the photos I was taking of all the gorgeous kimonos (sorry about the pun), that I almost missed Wayne's moment of grading (bad wife Melanie, bad wife). After taking Wayne out for a congratulatory dinner, the evening was spent downloading and retouching photos.

But still, I was up for more! On Sunday I headed to Atsuta Shrine to take more Seijin no Hi pics before I rushed over to another festival at Osu Kannon.

This Sagicho festival is held at shrines around the country, on the same day as Seijin no Hi. It's a Shinto rite where the New Year decorations are burnt while priest pray for the health of all. The one at Osu Kannon in Nagoya was tame compared to some others in Japan, but I always enjoy a good fire, especially nice on these cold winter days.

Some of the decorations are set with a Daruma wish doll on top (notice that both eyes have been painted, so this is a used doll). The High Priest begins the chants.

Close up of the chants

Burn baby burn! Another priest sets the whole thing alight.

An ordained pyromaniac

Adding fuel to the fire. Priest throw different wooden prayer/wish tablets on the fire.

Hopes go up in smoke. A friend explained to me that they are prayers are said while they are burnt so that the smoke will take the wishes to the gods.

My lucky mochi. At the end of it all, I was presented with a piece of mochi, a hard rice cake. My mochi says "Good luck". I'm told I can eat it, though I think I'll just keep this one. There is plenty of non-lucky (as opposed to unlucky) mochi in my kitchen.

Another lucky thing of the day was that by pure chance, I met Kikuko. She has a great website with lots of useful and interesting information about Japan, but more importantly, it has a detailed Monthly calendar for events happening around in and around Nagoya. For the last couple of years, her website has been my are-there-any-festivals-on-this-weekend bible. I found this festival in there. You can see her website here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Coming of Age

Today is Seijin no Hi, Coming of Age Day. In Japan twenty is the age of adulthood and today is the day that anyone turning that age celebrates.

A New Zealander that I ran into today said it so well, "It a lot of young, cute 20 year olds dressed in their finest. Who could ask for more."

I took these at Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya. There are more photos on my Flickr page and I'll continue to add to that page as I get the truckload of images that I took sorted out.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


"Matsumotoooooooooo" was the sound I was lead to believe would great us on our arrival to Matsumoto station. While we didn't here the announcement with the very "oooooooo" until the second day, what we were greeted by was very friendly, smiley, helpful locals.

We went there for my traditional Christmas in Japan trip.

We loved Matsumoto! A leisurely stroll from our hotel near the station, through the pristine streets brought us to one of Matsumoto's most famous attractions, it's castle. The castle is nicknamed the "Crow" as it is predominantly black, in contrast to most white Japanese castles. The castle itself was most impressive and the extremely steep stairs a challenge. You could feel the history in the wood, a long history for Japanese castles, of over 400 years. I sat for a while on my own in the gorgeous moon-viewing room, a room that opens out on three sides to overlook the garden and moat. I closed my eyes and imagined women and their attendants dressed in their finest kimono, lovers looking at the moonlit scene, the ghosts of people passed.

The streets near the castle are wonderful for a stroll. By a stream runs a little street that is reminiscent of the ones going up to Kiyomizudera in Kyoto. There are many little craft and antique shops as well as places to buy the local handicraft, stunning temari balls. If that's not your thing, there are lots of funky modern shops nearby to entice as well.

Eating was a joy in Matsumoto. While we didn't partake in any of the local delicacies; soba, raw horse meat, bee larvae or crickets, we had plenty of different tastes to choose from. We ate Indonesian in a beautiful oasis, Spanish tapas and English pub food in a bar that almost would have made me think I was in England, except for the lack of English anywhere on the menu.

Matsumoto also has a good range of museums. The city museum entry is included in the castle ticket. While small, it had enough to entertain both the boy and I; stuff to kill people with for him, and cultural and handicraft items for me. We had planned to spend Christmas Day museum-hopping, but that was foiled. They were all closed. Not because it was Christmas Day, but because the day before, a Monday, the usual museum-closing day, was a public holiday, so the museum-closing day and was changed for the week to the Tuesday. Mind you, I don't think Wayne was too disappointed on missing out on the City Art Museum or the City Handicrafts Museum.

We did however, make it to the Ukiyo-e Museum, which was a highlight of the trip. Both Wayne and I love the traditional Edo-era woodblock prints. This museum has the largest collection in the world and has been run by the same family for five generations. The collection is housed in a funky modern building 3km outside of the city centre with the Japanese Alps as its backdrop and rice paddies as its neighbours. The current family member running the gallery was a delight to talk to. He had excellent English and joked to us about being both the curator and the janitor. I splurged and bought a print, a reproduction, but done in the traditional manner.

A friend of mine told me that she and her boyfriend are considering moving back to Nagano, his home prefecture. Matsumoto, she said, is where she wants to live. I can know understand why, it's such a beautiful, relaxing, inviting place.

An antique inro, medicine container, out the front of one of the many little quaint antique shops.

Even the manhole covers in Matsumoto are lovely. They are all decorated with temari balls, a famous local handicraft.

A bonsai getting some lovely winter sun.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

New Year's Day

Apologies to anyone that also reads my other blog, these are the same images I've just posted there, not something I normally do.

On New Year's Day, braving what began as snow, and soon turned to a very cold rain, Wayne and I went to Atsuta shrine in Nagoya. The complex was filled with people coming to pray for a good year. We never made it to the shrine itself, I don't do well in large crowds and the wait was long and cold, so instead, we just enjoyed the festivities around the area. Many small stalls were set up filled with warming foods and entertaining games with prizes to win.

My personal favourite - Ichigo Ame, toffee strawberries. Yum!

And what would a Japanese festival be without takoyaki, little pieces of octopus in balls of batter.
Japanese (mostly) character masks. Contamination, you'll be happy to see some Oshiri Kashiri Mushi (Bottom Biting Bug) masks in there. I also love how next to Thomas the Tank Engine are some Toast masks, I imagine they are from Ampanman?

Nothing like shooting a rifle with dad while dressed in your finest kimono.

Sheltering from the rain. Large containers of sake.

A sweet girl in front of a sweets stall.

Hoping for Good Luck. New Year's fortunes. Does it say we'll get married..??

The Daruma Man. He should look happier, at lease he has eyes! These are Daruma wish dolls. When you buy them, they have no eyes. You paint one eye in as you make your wish and then paint in the other when either the wish comes true or the year ends. The two-eyed Daruma is then taken back to the shrine to be burnt by priests as they pray to the gods. In Japan, anything with eyes should never be thrown out, but instead disposed of by a priest.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

I Hope You Have a Happy!

On our recent trip to Matsumoto (which I'll blog about soon), Wayne and I met some high school students doing a volunteer clean-up of the local train stations. A few of the boys were brave enough to come and talk to us in English. As they were leaving one of them waved good-bye and said with a big smile, "I hope you have a happy!"

We were waiting for the last word, a happy.... new year? A happy.... Christmas? A happy... day? A happy.... life? But nothing else came. Just, "I hope you have a happy!"

We thought it was a great phrase, and so useful, it could be used for any occasion. So everyone, I hope you have a happy!