Dear Amy's teacher

Thank you very much for all your kind concern about Amy. We really appreciate that you take the time to notice her and then take further time to relay that to us not just in person but also in her communication notebook.

As I mentioned last week when you noticed her red and puffy eyes she gets hayfever. You sighed and said that Nagano was in for a rough season with cryptomeria pollen. I agreed.

I realise that you are used to dealing with the full gammet of childhood illnesses- measles, mumps, chickenpox, colds, flu, roseola, hand foot and mouth etc etc where children get sick, stay home for 3-5 days and come back fighting fit.

Hayfever is not like that.

The hayfever season will probably last until the rainy season washes the pollen away so we're looking at a good couple of months of hayfever.

So, daily messages that she still has a runny nose, she's still lethargic, she still has trouble sleeping and she still isn't 100% are not unexpected on this end and not really news anymore.

Especially after I went to the trouble of translating that whole list of hayfever symptoms for you. You know the one that included: sneezing, runny nose, congested nose (hence the mouth breathing) fatigue and trouble sleeping.

The fact that you run through the poor kid's maladies in front of her each afternoon is giving her a complex. She thinks she's getting in trouble for being lethargic.

So do you think we could maybe switch to weekly rehashes of the symptoms of hayfever rather than daily ones? Think of all the time we would save! And you could preserve all that saved space in her communication notebook for letting me know that she (still) prefers drawing pictures to dancing like a bamboo shoot with the rest of the group.

Yours respectfully,

Amy's mum.

Oh, and I have hayfever too and mine comes with irritability. Just so you know.


First gardening day of the season

Yeah!!!! Seriously I don't think you really appreciate being able to get out and turn earth over until you've lived in a place where that same earth is want to disappear under a blanket of snow and or/ freeze beyond being spadeable.

Today neighbour A and I headed out to the garden and started throwing around ideas for the coming garden year. We are expanding (again!) our tilled area. We're doing this by moving a big 2m square patch of bulbs and Christmas rose to my garden (bonus! A literally has no room left for any more flowers. She has a fabulous but very full garden) and we'll get K or her husband to dig it all over with the (mini) backhoe. We are also pulling up a bed of fiddleback fern as you really don't need acres of the stuff and we harvested two sacks of Jerusalem artichokes that had been doing their thing unhindered by gardeners or harvesters for years as A's MIL had planted them before her time and we both thought they were part of the flower garden. whoops.

We dug up the last of the cabbages (what the animals left us) and transplanted them allowing us to rip up the last of last year's plastic weed mat and K ran the plow machine over the whole thing.

Yeah! Just makes you want to plant something, right?


We're about two months off braving planting anything. In fact the weather forecast is for snow this week.

Darn, darn and darn it.

Oh well. It was fun pretending it was a gardening day.


on money

Meg has been learning about money at school. As a result she is quite obsessed with money at the moment. You'd be surprised how many situations there are where it's quite socially awkward to have someone pipe up with a question about money:

"How much money do you get paid, mummy?"
"I like this bag. Is it very expensive?"
"That's a pretty coloured car. Do you think it was 5,000 yen or 10,000 yen?" (obviously they aren't very far through the money unit of the curriculum!)

Part one in the money process is of course how do you acquire money? Being that Meg is nearing the end of the toothfairy goldmine she wanted jobs to do for pocket money. Her suggestions were being paid 100 yen a pop for:

brushing her teeth,
doing her homework,
putting her clothes away in her drawer.

I explained that there are some things we do because they are our responsibility and we don't get paid- no-one pays mummy to wash the dishes or cook her dinner....

The revised list (on a beautiful laminated multi-colour chart complete with magnets and smiley faces) was 100 yen a week (I know, I'm cheap) for:

keeping her desk clean,
lining up the shoes in the genkan each evening
dusting the staircase (this was her idea as she loves the magic cloth)

It went off with a bang and...

...lasted all of two days.

It was cold in the genkan.

She was too busy playing to dust or tidy.

The first payday was yesterday. And she didn't get paid. Because she didn't do the work. She was quite horrified that this is the way the world turns and was quite concerned that K really shouldn't be sitting around on a Saturday- he should go to work and earn money!

Part 2 of her financial education has been living within your means.

The girls were each given 1000 yen of their New Year gift money to have as their own in their wallets. Amy is pretty oblivious to it and asked me to keep her wallet for her as she kept losing it. Meg is very aware of her money and takes it out to count and sort and re-arrange. She has kept all her receipts from her purchases and annotated them 'pink eraser from Matsumoto' etc.

While in theory I have given them this money to use as they please in reality I don't want them to waste it... so I tend to strongly encourage careful thought on their purchases.

This morning they both wanted to walk down to the vending machine (no shops within coo-ee of here but we have a vending machine) and buy a drink.

"How much is a drink, mummy?"
"Cans are 120 yen and bottles are 150 yen."
"If I put in two one hundred yen coins I'll get money back?"
"Yes. But it's not 200 yen that comes back, honey. It's the change. That means if you buy a bottle you will put in 200 yen and only get back 50 yen."
"It's your money. If you want to buy a drink you can. But then you'll have less money left in your purse. That's what happens when you buy something."
"Or you can have a drink of milk or water or apple juice here and save your money."
"How much is milk?"
"At home? It's free."
"Free?? No money?!"
"Of course. It's always fr-"
"AMY!!! Come here!! Mummy said we can drink milk for FREE!!"

Part three: the budding entrepreneur.

A miso salesman came to the door seeing if we wanted to order any. Meg thought he was giving it away and couldn't understand why I said no. When I explained that that's how he makes his money- he sells miso, she had a light bulb moment.

For the rest of the afternoon she and Amy set up shop in the living room. They dragged most of the toys from the playroom in there, grabbed the hello kitty toy cash register and ripped up some paper to make price tags. K and I were then invited to come and make a purchase:

When I commented that the prices were a little on the expensive side I was told that they needed to make money. I pointed out that the eraser had been bought at the 100 yen shop and used for a couple of months since then so it seemed a bit cheeky to now sell it for so much....

"If you don't have enough money go and do some more work. Next time bring enough money when you come shopping please."

Ouch. I hope the next money based lesson is on ethics or better yet- charity!


whole wheat flour

Normally when i read a recipe that calls for "wholewheat flour" I mentally translate that into Aussie speak "wholemeal flour".

But since we grew our own wheat and decided to mill it ourselves as the local place would only mill it to refined white flour and not wholemeal/ wholewheat the word wholewheat has taken on a whole new meaning.

You see milling wheat is harder than you'd think.

Because wheat is harder than you'd think.

We tried the mill attachment on the blender. It made a fearsome noise but did little else.

Then we were given a fancy pants electric mill.

It made a fearsome noise and seemed to round down the edges of the wheat a little. But essentially no change to its structural integrity.

My dream is the two stone 'wheels' with the hole in the top for pouring your grain in and the ground grain leaks out the sides. Only the local hardware store no longer carries them...

While we were at the hardware store we did stumble on another possibility though.

A coffee grinder.

The price was right- 600 yen- so we bought one and tried it out:

Pretty good. Not perfect, coffee beans are bigger than wheat berries so it doesn't adjust down fine enough to make a really smooth flour but it does bust up the wheat sufficient to be able to cook with which is the main thing.

Still, when I use wholemeal/ wholewheat flour these days it is pretty hardcore, literally whole wheat flour:


Apologies if I inadvertently poisoned you...

Today was my monthly Cooking in English class. It was a blast and we made ham and potato soup and double chocolate brownies (the theme was food to keep you warm in winter- pity we're going through a warm patch at the moment- uncooperative weather!)

It's always a lot of fun at the classes as the women are shocked at things I find normal (eating mushrooms raw, eating pumpkin skin) and do things I feel are shocking (washing onions- before peeling, eating the mushy part of the pumpkin that surrounds the seeds) so there's a whole dialogue going on.

Today we were using potatoes. And peeling them. I'm not much of a peeler normally but this recipe is better without random pieces of ghostly potato skin floating around. So I grabbed a potato and started peeling.

"Ehhhh? You didn't wash the potato???"
"Before I peel it? Of course I'll wash it afterwords."
"We wash before and after."

I continued peeling and then started to chop.

"Ehhhh? You didn't cut out the eyes??"
"No. Why?"

I knew you shouldn't eat green potatoes and I knock off the sprouts before I use them if they have any but I didn't know anything about the eyes.

"The eyes are poisonous."
"They are?"
"What kind of poisonous?"
"Diarrhoea and vomiting, stomach pain."
"Really?? I've never had any of that and I always eat the eyes...."
"You should stop!!"

I was pretty dubious as one of the perks of living in a neighbourhood full of old wives is the ready availability of old wives tales and I was ready to rack this up with other life threatening acts: having your bellybutton uncovered, sleeping with the window open and drinking water (rather than tea) from a water bottle kept at room temperature.

Then one of the women piped up
"The poison's called solanine."

Hmmm.... Old wives tales don't usually come with facts like that...

So I came home and googled and according to this site anyway, they're right!

This is a little worrying as we grow our own potatoes and, while we keep them in a wooden crate with newspaper all around in a dark, cool place, by March they have definitely sprouted. I usually just break the sprouts of and cook as is. Not even peeled let alone de-eyed. Shock!

But when I mentioned that my family have never been sick from eating potatoes with the eyes intact the general consensus was that maybe I had conditioned our systems to low level potato poison through years of tuberous abuse.

But that's no help for my poor house guests who have been subjected to only one or at most a couple of my poisonous offerings....

So, apologies if I inadvertently poisoned you and please bring your paring knife next time you come because now that I have experienced de-eyeing potatoes I realise how much of a laborous and pernickety job it is!



The local meat shop has a big new (handwritten, paper) sign out.

I drove past it three times before I noticed that I hadn't noticed it.

As in I was reading it each time but not reacting the way I would have thought I would.

The sign said "Today's special: stewed horse's small intestine"

Horse meat is a local speciality here. Mostly it's eaten raw. The meat is a very dark red colour but really doesn't taste that different from beef.

Yup. I've eaten it. Poor cute horsey.

But then what about poor cute lamby?

And poor cute piggy?

I eat them after all....

The one thing that worries me is I've never seen a horse farm so I don't know what conditions they are kept in. And that bothers me. I'm a hypocritical carnivore- I only want to eat happy animals.

As an Australian in Japan every now and again someone asks me "Why don't you want Japanese people to eat whale?"

To which I answer "Because it doesn't taste any good."

Yup. I've eaten whale, too. It was a local speciality where I was living so avoiding it was difficult- it even made appearances in the school lunch menu.

I have also eaten wild boar (strong taste and vile smell), deer (not memorable), sea cucumber (chewy, chewy, chewy), wasp pupae(tasted like the soy sauce and sugar glaze and not much else), crickets (see wasp pupae) and was given some part of a bear's internal organ (maybe liver?) as it was good for pregnant women but I'm afraid I may have accidentally mixed up the rubbish bin and the fridge when I went to put it away...

I never ate any of these things in Australia and when I first got to Japan I was horrified at the very idea of eating meat other than chicken, pork, beef or fish (white fleshed). So, I've gone from that to driving past a fresh horse gizzards sign and not thinking twice. Makes me realise
how desensitised I've become. It'll still be many more years before I slurp up some of K's favourite pungent shiokara though: squid in a salted squid guts sauce. All yours honey!


cat's out of the bag- I'm a radio star!

I've been interviewed twice in my life.

The first time was when I was about 9 or 10 and my cousin and I were staying at our grandma's house and we spent days playing with a tape recorder and two blank tapes. We took turns interviewing each other.

Not as Heather and K though.

Nope. I can't remember all the characters we took on for the interview but I do remember that two of them were Queen Elizabeth and God. (That choice belies our small-l-liberal upbringing, I wish I could remember who else we did!)

Anyway, the interviews were longwinded and hilariously deadpan. I have long since lost my copy of the tape. I'll have to see if my cousin still has hers.

The second time I was interviewed was just a couple of weeks ago. This time the interviewer had a whole host of gizmos and gadgets and a mixing board and a big furry mike thing that looked like a hairy rodent centimetres from my mouth.... It certainly made me nervous! And there was no pre-recording preparation session where he told me what we were going to talk about- to avoid it sounding scripted- so listening to the recording kind of makes me cringe at how nervous and stuttery and giggly I sound so I was leaning towards not mentioning it on here. (Because obviously in blogland I have a much cooler image, yeah?) Oh and he wouldn't let me pretend to be Queen Elizabeth either.

But then a commenter let the cat out of the bag and I know my parents will read that and demand to know why they didn't get the link so, on the condition that you don't make fun of my wandering accent- nerves bring out the rrrrrrr in me I think- here is my interview with Dave Carlson on the Japanofiles:

That link looks terribly long....

Ok, off to remove the r's from my pronunciation with a little light Whitlams...


blogger beware

When I first started blogging I didn't tell anyone about my blog and so I could write whatever I wanted.

It was a lot of freedom but it was also quite boring as the only people who ever found me were (disappointed) web pilgrims searching for the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist sect.

Then I joined a loose group of bloggers- all foreign wives of Japanese men. I had never met any of them in real life so I still felt a (false) sense of anonymity.

Then, drat, I started meeting some of these bloggers, and I liked them and had an image in my head when I was writing, and then more and more people I really knew started visiting me here. It was a lot more fun to write knowing people were actually reading (and not reading and thinking 'that's got nothing to do with Buddhism, what's with the title??') but I felt more accountable to those who read when I wrote. Not that I'm making this up (and really I am a glamorous career woman DINK living in Sydney....) but I do pick and choose what I write about slanting it towards the country life aspects of my existence because it's more interesting than the bits where I'm stuck in traffic or lining up at the supermarket, yeah?

Then I told my family about the blog and while they don't comment here online (give them a break, they've come a long way from holding the mouse with two hands and following very detailed two page hand written instructions on how to read their email!) they regularly send me emails pointing out little inaccuracies- my mum doesn't like my use of 'walah!' she prefers 'voila!' but you see when I say that word in my French accent it sounds like Voy-lah and that doesn't really work now does it? and I have to think of that as another level of scrutiny when I write.

*sigh* the pressure.

And of course all the comments became addictive and I went from my-secret-blog to shouting the address from the rooftops and pushing it on all my friends and students. That includes my bosses. So no more blogging about how crap my job is, hey? (Just kidding!)

I guess it was inevitable but somehow I hadn't thought of the logical next step- meeting people for the first time and finding out they already know about me. Know a lot about me as they recognise me from here. Not that much of a challenge considering I managed to publicise my full name and address.... watch out next week when I hand over my password and Visa card number, hey? But I still find it a little disarming when I introduce myself and someone asks after the chooks (still alive and thriving, thanks) or about Amy's latest antics (she wants to get back in my tummy and be re-born as a boy so we can put up carp streamers for boys day, as you do) before I even know their name...

So I guess I thought I'd experienced and come to terms with all the pitfalls and blogger beware points already.

But nope. Today I had a doozy.

It all started with this post.

And then stage two was last night.

I had already gone to bed and was doing my customary pre-sleep mental run through of the next days schedule/ responsibilities/ appointments when I realised I needed to check something with my boss about the next day's work.

I started texting but I was really beyond tired and couldn't keep my eyes open well enough to type.

So I saved my mail as a draft and went to sleep.

Woke up the next morning and found my boss had written to me about the very same thing.

Great minds think alike, right?

Mentioned this serendipity when I got to work.


You guessed it. I hadn't 'saved as draft' I had hit send. To a very abrupt and- shock!- emoticon-less email.

Horrified I apologised profusely and explained the situation.

The boss smiled and said:

"Come on. I read your blog. You said you don't like long emails."

True. But I have not resorted to absolute rudeness!

So, blogger beware. There are pitfalls everywhere.


popcorn is for wimps

We headed out to the local National Park today. It was supposed to be a snow play day for the local AFWJers but ummm, yeah, the weather failed to cooperate and we ended up with a park with all the summer attractions- frisbee golf, hammocks, marshmallow dome etc packed up for winter and the winter attractions- tubing, sledding, snow shoeing and igloo making cancelled for lack of snow. What to do, what to do, huh?

Well, we still had walking around the park, collecting (old) acorns, playing with the huge bouncy balls and the oversize ball pit (complete with slide entrance), the nature study room and 8,000 blocks to occupy us so we did manage to get some fun in our day!

The popcorn reference? Well, they were having a special event- back to the post-war era. There was an old lolly shop, various games that kids played pre-wii like spinning tops and trading cards and a pongashi stand.

What's pongashi? It's puffed rice. When Meg was little it was one of the only snack foods she could eat as we had to avoid egg, dairy, flour and soba. I had always assumed it was made like popcorn.

But no. Popcorn is for wimps!

This is how you make pongashi:

And I think that particular pongashi making was rather tame compared to the explosion that poor G witnessed right as she walked out the door from the natural sciences room. Seriously it was incredibly bad timing.

And with all the 'We are on terror alert: if you see suspicious packages please call a staff member' (because terrorists are known for targeting under-utilised rural National Parks, right?) poor G grabbed her son to her so quickly she bumped heads. Hard.

The kid was fine (aren't they always?) but Mum headed off to lunch with a sore and slightly wobbly front tooth.

That sort of thing just doesn't happen with popcorn, now does it?

Popcorn might be for wimps but at least it's safe!


the neighbourhood decision making process

It's that time of year again. The time when the six sub-groups in our neighbourhood association delegate out jobs for the next financial year (April to March) in order to be in order and all present and accounted for at the big AGM in March.

We're in sub-group 2. Each sub-group has their own way of doling out jobs. In sub-group 2 we have a roster. Jobs travel up and down the street. We were head of the subgroup two years ago, the neighbour over the road was this year and the neighbour one to his uphill-side is for the next coming year.

Some jobs have a one year term- head of subgroup, rubbish monitor, farming committee community liaison etc but others are two year terms- traffic safety committee rep, neighbourhood association VP and community centre rep.

With this mish mash of term lengths the simple up and down the street method sometimes runs into problems as someone is still doing one job when the next catches up with them. That's when the fun begins!

Jobs skip houses and then double back before they move on again. All of it is recorded for prosperity in the sub-group 2 record book and referred to in minute detail at the annual job allotment meeting.

And that's how it was that consternation was caused at the local meeting tonight.

By rights K should be in his second year of a two year term as all neighbourhood association VP. The second year is a semi-retirement as you act as big brother/ consultant to the incoming rep. And I should be the female community centre committee rep. Yes, I said the female rep. Each sub-group puts up a male and female rep and the jobs are completely gender differentiated- I'm almost certain having a man in an apron washing dishes or a woman with a towel tied around her head manning the keg at the summer festival would cause a complete failure of the apple crop for at least a couple of seasons....

So anyway, meeting day approached and I wasn't expecting any surprises. Silly, silly me. Far too simple just to pass the jobs on like that. Some wannabe bureaucrat went back through at least thirty- yes, three-oh thirty- years of role relegation records and worked out that the grandparent generation of female neighbours- who have started handing the reins over to their adult children- have all each done the community centre rep job twice.

All except my friend and neighbour A.

She has only done it once.

Some families have already passed neighbourhood association sub-group family rep responsibility over to their children. If A doesn't have her turn soon she may miss out. And that kind of inequality would surely tilt the axis of the earth, yeah?

And so A took my turn. But then if it goes from A back to me it has skipped three houses going the wrong direction. The horror, the horror! So, after much discussion it was decided that after A's two year stint a line would be drawn in the books and the new generation would start from scratch. The new generation that includes we recent immigrants and the other two recent immigrant families as well as the younger generation of the established families. (Confused yet?) It was agreed that we blow-ins would take our turn before the adult children of older families as we have never contributed to the role while the other families have all done so twice albeit with a different family member.

Phew.... decided then.

Not quite. What of the new order of duty? The three new families live nowhere near each other...

"Fukase's wife (apparently I'm fooling myself if I think I'm a Fukase in my own right) should go first. They've been here longer."
"Umm.... M's wife is older than her isn't she?"
"Fukase? M?"
"Ummm, I think so."
"So she should go first. She's older."
"But Fukase's wife has lived here longer. She should go first...."

The conversation never really came to a conclusion. K ended up with an extra job that didn't work out for the recipient (there are a lot of bed-ridden great-grandparent generation here being looked after by relatively healthier grandparent generation children) and I guess there are two whole years to canvass opinion and debate minutiae and weigh up the heavy balance of responsibility in the age vs years in residence dichotomy. Knowing the neighbourhood decision making process I'm sure we'll need the full two years, too...

Don't worry, I'll keep you posted.


we'll weather the weather whatever the weather

we'll weather the weather whatever the weather or whether it's weather or not!

On Monday I took these pictures of the snow and the beautiful blue sky:

And on Sunday of Meg playing on her sled slide:

Then we got another 30 cm or so of snow (above my long boots. That's how I measure snow- shoe-able, short bootable, long bootable and (curse, swear, grimace) above my long boots.) I was busy and thought I'd take some more pictures on Friday when I have time.

But I woke up Friday morning to this:

Yick. Not only does it look terrible but the icy patches are icy, the slushy patches are slushy and the bare patches are spongy and muddy. The end of winter sure is a gross season! But when I said as much to my neighbour she pointed out that it's a bit early to be talking about the end of Winter. And that makes me feel worse than all the slush and mud so I'm just going to tough it out and not complain about a soggy sock or ice slip or two and keep my fingers crossed that I'm right and she's wrong!


Just call me rude and let me get back to sleep

Through ups and downs Meg and little H have made it almost a whole year of walking to school together.

They walk when it snows, they walk when it's icy, they walk when it's still dark in the morning and they walk when they need a drink bottle to get there as it's so hot.

But they don't walk in the rain.

Because it's a little mean to make a 6-7 year old walk nearly 4km in the rain before a full day of school?

Kind of.

Because they would definitely end up wet and sopping and squishing in their shoes before they even got half way?


Because they seem to destroy an umbrella per trip and petrol costs vs umbrella costs it works out more economical to drive them?


So every rainy school morning little H's mum and I do the phone mail thing to organise a lift for them.

As far as I'm concerned that could be over in one single email exchange:

"Rain again. You took 'em last time, I'll take 'em today, ok?"

"Sure. See you at 7:30."

The end, right? And then I could sneak in the extra half hour bonus sleep I get if Meg doesn't need to be out the door at 6:45.

But nooooo, that's waaaay too easy.

Here's the actual email exchange from this morning. (Minus all the cute pictures, sorry.)

Time 05:46
From H's mum
To Heather
Subject (two umbrella marks)
Nice that it's not snow, huh?
I don't think it will stop before 6:45.... (worried face mark)

Time 05:53 (I type slow anyway but especially in the dark when I'm still half asleep)
From Heather
To H's mum
Subject Re:(two umbrella marks)
Ain't that the truth!
I'll drive them today.
See you at 7:30! (peace sign mark)

Time 05:57
From H's mum
To Heather
Subject Re Re:(two umbrella marks)
No. It's my turn. Really. (smiley face mark)
See you at 7:30!

I could have left it at that but H's mum has 2 year old twins and her husband is away on business and I had to head out anyway and my conscience wouldn't let me take advantage of her so...

Time 06:04
From Heather
To H's mum
Subject Re Re Re:(two umbrella marks)
No, you're on your own and I have to drive K to work today anyway as he left his car there yesterday so really it's no problem. (smiley face mark)
See you at 7:30 (peace sign mark)

Time 06:07
From H's mum
To Heather
Subject Re Re Re Re: (two umbrella marks)
Thank you. (bow mark)
Sorry for always inconveniencing you. (embarrassed face mark)
My husband is due back tonight and then it should be a bit easier...

Time 06:12
From Heather
To H's mum
Subject Re Re Re Re Re (two umbrella marks)
It's no inconvenience, really. (peace mark)
Hope you can relax a bit more when your DH gets home! (smiley face)


But seriously? That was 26 minutes out of my extra half hour lie in gone doing ridiculously polite email volleys.


I have this problem with email a lot. What I assume is a simple one question, one answer email exchange just goes on and on and on. Is that ok? Yes. Thank you. Your welcome. Aghhh! I don't want to be abrupt and rude but I text sooo slowly I just want to pick up the phone and get it over with!

I mean all that just to organise a lift to school? Next time just call me rude, stop emailing back and let me get back to sleep!


Meg's observation day

Last observation for grade 1.

The teacher really built it up (for the parents and the kids) as a chance to show how much they'd achieved this year.

K and I got caught up in the excitement and both took the afternoon off work to go and see.

The kids had chosen what they wanted to show everyone. One group chose reading and put on a puppet show while reading one of the stories from the textbook:

One group chose skipping and did 20 skips of their chosen skipping- scissor skipping, running skipping, double jumps or crossover skipping.

Meg's group chose kanji- Chinese characters- and put on a kanji quiz for the class. They had kept their posters secret so noone knew what they were going to be quizzed on:

"what do you get if you put these two characters together?"

choosing someone to answer

The last group chose to play a song (from memory) on their pianicas:

(the teacher of course didn't pass up a chance to join in on the guitar!)

Then they each read out their goals for grade two. I was really surprised how many kids chose 'I want to be able to eat all my school lunch' as their goal. Maybe it's because my kid food issue is limiting their intake but I had no idea how many kids struggle to eat school lunch. The other goals kids had were not forgetting things, getting top marks in a test, being able to do some trick with a skipping rope/ monkey bars/ unicycle, and Meg's was to be able to play a song on the pianica. My favourite though was the little boy whose goal was 'I want to be able to get up by myself the second time my mum wakes me up in the morning' High and lofty goal there, huh? And I was feeling bad that Meg has stopped jumping out of bed when her alarm goes off!

The finale was a rousing number with the whole class singing a song the teacher had doctored so it became a song about their year in grade 1.

It was a really fast paced, action packed observation day and it ran so smoothly. Obviously they had rehearsed it before the main event but even so I was impressed by the minimal input from the teacher. He basically stood at is desk manning the cd player (the non talking acts had background music) accompanying on guitar and occasionally reminding the kids to speak up. Even the unscripted bits of the day (when kids fumbled their skipping and one kid tripped and took out a row of pianicas) there was a rousing chorus of 'donmai!' which is a horrible bastardisation of 'don't mind' intended to express 'never mind' but, bad English aside, the sentiment is great huh? As you can see in the pictures, the classroom is covered in posters with motivational mesages (the teachers second love after music is drawing) and one of them is 'failure is the stepping stone to success- never mind!' And the teacher has really done a lot to create a very supportive and encouraging learning environment. Less than a year ago these kids were a mish mash of graduates from something like nine or ten different kinders and day cares. There was an overwhelming majority form the two village kinders (104 out of 139 kids) and there was very much an us and them attitude when it came to alliances. On the very first day of school- when they were all still in their entrance ceremony best- they were told quite strongly that they were not 'Azusagawa West kinder' or 'Matsumoto Catholic kinder' anymore- they were now "Azusagawa Primary School Grade 1 class 2" and they were all in it together. All naming of kinders was banned outright. At the time I thought this was a bit serious and scolding for a first day welcome speech but looking at it now I see it was sowing the seeds of the cohesive group they are now.

I was quite nervous handing Meg over to the Japanese education system- not that we have a choice- no international school anywhere near here and the only alternative to the local public school is over an hour by car away so not really attractive even if it didn't run classes 6 days a week and have a highly competitive educational philosophy I don't agree with but anyway, the more I see of the local school in action the more I think it's not such a bad option after all. Now if they would just get onboard with a few more school holidays...


Dear Meg

Dear Meg,

Tomorrow morning when I suggest you wear your nice, insulated, knee-high, be-spiked, non-slip, purpose-made snow boots to walk down a one kilometre, 10% gradient hill at 6:45 am when a good part of the road is iced over I do hope you will remember what happened this morning when you insisted you absolutely could not wear said boots due to the utterly mortifying necessity of leaving them lined up in the entrance to the school (with all the other similar practical boots) rather than tucked modestly in your shoe cubby hole due to their size.

Remember what you ask? Remember that you didn't make it 200m down the road before going down hard and heavy and ending up wet from hip to heal, whimpering about the cold- not to mention the bone jolting thud of Meg on icy bitumen.

And if you remember all that I'm sure that you'll remember that your less than sympathetic mummy wiped you down and marched you home to change boots and then waved you off again more appropriately shod anyway so really it was a double trauma- the slip and then the mortifying boot line-up anyway.

That's all honey,

Love you,

Love Mummy.


Happy V Day

I am pretty much an assimilation type when it come to living in a foreign culture. I observe the Japanese holidays, make the food, put out the decorations (albeit sometimes halfheartedly) and do my bit to educate the girls about it all. I should point out that if this education was left to K they would have only the vaguest notion of any holiday that doesn't involve eating noodles...

I make one glaring exception to this though. Valentines Day. The warm fuzzy soft focus canoodling chocolate eating romantic Valentines Day I have no problem with. A little corny sure but I'm a girl and who doesn't like being treated like a princess for a day?

Japanese Valentines Day? A little different.

A lot different. For one thing girls don't get anything. Already lost my vote! For another, women racing around buying up umpteen boxes of chocolates to give to their co-workers (many of whom they barely tolerate let alone want to profess their love to) seems icky to me.

K's old company did the V day thing and he'd come home with a bag of little boxes of chocolates and truffles and home made goodies. Once I realised he wasn't some Japanese Lothario and that the chocolates didn't mean anything I rather enjoyed this aspect of Valentines Day. It perfectly merged our two cultures- K was showered in choccies at work and then brought them home and gave them to me- everyone's a winner!

K's new company doesn't do Valentine's Day. Or umpteen endless drinking parties or overnight company sponsored pissups so I guess I shouldn't complain but I do miss those chocolates....

In this Valentine's Day grinch mode I have been heavy on teaching the girls the Aussie version of V day. "You do not give out chocolates to people just because they are male. Chocolates are received form the men in your life who like, love and appreciate you. Do not feel lucky when this happens- happy, yes, but lucky no. Feel entitled!"

Then Meg came home from school Friday and told me that her teacher had banned Valentine's Day because you have to think of everyone's feelings and how would the people who don't get Valentine's Day chocolate feel? Of course that brought out the devil's advocate in me and I asked what if she made something for everyone in her class- male and female. Then what?

She had a comeback for that too: you aren't allowed to take things to school that aren't "necessary for learning" '勉強に必要な物". On that condition I would like to lessen the load in her backpack by several textbooks that she doesn't use at the moment but that get lugged back and forth to school each day anyway. Who knows, maybe physical conditioning is in the curriculum...

Anyway, just as we had come to a Fukase family Valentine's day understanding- it was banned at school and was only for mummy and daddy at home, on Sunday we skyped Japanese grandma:

"Did you make daddy's chocolates yet?"
"No. Valentine's Day is for mummy and daddy."
"Ehh? What? You have to make daddy chocolates! Put mummy on the skype."

And so after I got a gentle telling off the girls decided that mummy's whole enlightened V day idea was bunkum and they wanted to make Daddy chocolates.

Only it was Sunday night and we didn't have any chocolate making ingredients so we made do with what we had:

It's just melted down chocolate and the bananas were more nude than chocolate coated but they had fun and did it 'all by myselves' as Amy said so everyone was happy.

Oh and they decided that we all love each other so we should all eat the chocolate together rather than just give it to daddy. Funny they forgot to be altruistic when it came to chocolate, huh?

And that's how we ended up with our very own unique mutant Valentine's Day- the day when the family eats chocolate for dessert.

Whatever shape your V Day took I hope it was a happy one!


soba sunday blues

Today was the annual neighbourhood soba and games day. There is an official reason why we meet once a year to eat fresh made soba and pickles (of course pickles!) and play indoor games but noone seems to be able to tell me what it is. I do know that it was moved from summer to winter as we're all too busy in summer and there was a worry that people hole up in their houses all winter. Personally that never seems like such a bad idea when I hear about it but maybe that's just me...

So anyway, we headed down the hill and watched the men make soba. In a very gender differentiated world 99% of the neighbourhood cooking is done by women but for some reason soba making is almost entirely a man's job. I asked one of the soba chefs his theory on why this was and he suggested women aren't strong enough. Pah! Seriously? I've seen pensioners swinging over-full apple crates around like they are marshmallows so don't tell me they lack the oomph to roll out some dough!


Before, after and in between your soba eating experience you could fill your time with a bit of light recreation:

The game you probably know as ring toss. Or wanage which means the same thing. I spent quite some time explaining this moniker to the participants who all listened quite attentively before once more edging right up to the board and dropping the rings over the pins. Oh well. Isn't it a happy picture though?

Well almost.

See the little kid being carried at the back there?

He was crying.

No, he was sobbing. Bereft, distraught, heartbreaking sobs.


Exhibit 2:

Nope. It had nothing to do with Amy (phew!) That game she's playing though? It's a combination of igo and mallet golf which in itself is I think a Japanese mutant combination of croquet and mini golf. And those hunchbacked senior citizens in the background slurping down soba? (You have to hear the sound of 20 or so be-dentured people slurping soba in an echoey room to believe it. Shudder.) How innocent do they look, huh? How soft and sweet and old and harmless, right?


They are hard nosed, non-negotiating, toddler-bullying playground meanies.


Poor little R had rounded up all the errant igo-ball balls from all over the hall and- while holding a mallet- went to get his dad to play a game with him. Now, it's a pretty tricky tactical game when played seriously but it is also enjoyable on a non-competitive whack whack kid level.

Cruel fate and bad timing the pensioner gang finished their soba at that precise moment. And like locusts they descended on the igo mat with gusto and without compassion. Taking up all the available mallets they turned around and commanded R's mallet as well. Brave little tyke suggested that he wanted to play, too. Ruthless lady in floral flat out said "No."

Poor R was devastated and set up a hollering to let us all know about it. Only we adults were struck powerless by the fact that a) no one could really believe the old women could be that nasty b) they are the matriarchs of pretty much every powerful family in the neighbourhood (measured in apple trees, number of relatives who are/ have been local politicians and size and number of houses on property as well as how much gossip they know about everyone else's pasts) in an area where being a matriarch in itself is a powerful position. So direct confrontation was ruled out pretty fast.

Enquiries were made as to the existence of a second igo-ball mat. Nope.

Rather loud (these women are not known for their superior aural abilities) suggestions that he wait his turn as surely it would be his turn next fell on (quite probably literally) deaf ears and as the women marked up the scoreboard for a five game tournament one turned around and asked what all the hollering was about in a less than sympathetic voice which set poor R right off the edge and he ended up being taken home to cool down. Even when told why he was crying she just sniffed and returned to her game.

Now, I'm all for respecting your elders and I'm sure the women in question didn't mean to be so horrible- maybe they were too consumed in consuming their noodles to see how long R had spent rounding up the balls from under chairs and behind drapes etc etc but surely it wouldn't have killed them to give him 5 minutes to whack a few balls around before they got down to the serious business of tournament igo-ball?

Ahhh well, It's all cyclic and as one of my more down to earth neighbours pointed out 'he only has to wait a few more years and they'll all be dead or bedridden and won't be able to come down anyway." Funnily enough I have a feeling that probably wasn't what R's parents told him to console him....


a dog's life

Still snowing.

We are dog sitting this weekend. Only due to allergies the dog can't come and stay here (much to Meg's disappointment and Amy's vexation) so we visited our dog friend every couple of hours throughout the day. A morning walk and feed, a check in at lunch time, afternoon walk and feed and evening walk before bed. The girls were thrilled.

The dog less so.

The dog is 17 years old and a recent migrant to the area. She doesn't like snow.

Really doesn't like it. Even with two wool jumpers on she limits her trips outdoors to the absolute minimum necessary for doggy ablutions.

The girls really did their best- they were encouraging and pleading and bouncing and gave lots of demonstrations of suggested 'going for a walk' style departures teamed with equally energetic "Let's go!!" and "Walk time!!" A neighbour stuck her head over the hedge to see what was going on and pointed out the dog may speak Japanese.... So we tried again in Japanese but nope. She wasn't to be cajoled in any language.

Oh well.

The girls are having a ball with it and I think dog-sitting is the perfect pet experience for us- all the fun without the itching!


start of a long white weekend

Three day weekend this week and we had no plans. Well we had plans but our host came down with the flu so that hexed that plan. I'm still all fired up on de-cluttering/ simplifying/ systemising the house so convinced the family they all wanted to be on board- quite easy really- told K it was just like Spring cleaning and told the girls that geeeee, once we throw out all the stuff we don't need and sort out the rest we're definitely going to need to go to the homeware store and get some new storage solutions.... my two shopaholics in training enjoy all shopping trips- regardless of shop or shopping list so they were on board in a nanosecond.

So we spent the morning de-cluttering and trying to convince Amy to stop pilfering stuff from out of the discard pile... then we broke for lunch and took a break up at the baseball ground at the top of the road. It was knee deep in snow and we took the sleds and slid down from the cemetary to the baseball ground. I tamped down a nice gentle sloped area for Meg and then still had to go down a couple of times first to show her it wasn't dangerous/ scary/ impossible. Amy had been trying to coax a snowman or at least a snowball from the snow but it was just too cold and powdery so she decided to sled as well. She grabbed the sled I had been using and started walking up the slope.

And kept walking.

And walking.


I want to go down here!

She was at a precipitous drop on a corner so steep on both sides. Untamped snow. And this is not lawn or gravel but reverted to wild/ semi-regularly slashed with whipper snipper underbrush. No talking her out of it Amy was going.

And go she did.

There was a plume of powder kicking up all around her and it flicks off the front of the sled into the riders face to boot. She came to a powdery white stop after about 5 metres of momentum slidage at the bottom of the hill and there was silence and all was still.

I started getting a bit worried....

Are you ok, honey??

Wow! That made me a bit nervous! I'm going again!

It amazes me that the kid who has a list of Disney movies as long as your arm that she flat refuses to watch as they are too scary (Nemo, Bambi, Snow White, Shrek...) takes physical challenges I would baulk at at my age!

But I couldn't let my five year old beat me at sledding so I went down Amy's slope, too.


Then we headed to the homeware store and came back with all sorts of goodies and revved up for an afternoon of storage possibilities.

Aren't we just the most exciting people on the block?


Amy's observation day

Yup. Amy's observation day today. It's called ookikunatta-kai or something like 'look how big we got day'. They are so cute. And they really have donea lot this year.

Something's never change though. After rollcall (Amy raised her hand at the right place) she was too busy playing some finger tapping game with the girl sitting next to her to stand up when her group stood up.... ahhh well....

Then we moved into the gym with the other 5yo class and they each performed a play. Amy's class was a version of the Gingerbread man about a rice ball that ran away. She was one of the rice balls (there's 32 kids in the class so lots of doubling up on characters) and said her lines no problem.

Then there was a raucous interlude where two classes combined for a grand total of 64 kids each holding a ring with bells on it, a beans-in-a-milk-bottle maracca or a castinet and belting out a few songs. Truly stretched the boundaries of what we know as music.

Then the grade split into two classes again and we watched them perform their chosen skill- string wound spinning tops or cats cradle. The other class had a cracking rhythm going with kids doing the same cats cradle trick going up all at the same time, chorusing out what they were going to do and doing it.

And on the other side of the gym.... Amy's teacher had the kids going up in threes but then they each had to introduce themselves and their trick. And then do their tricks individually. It took a loooong time. And most of them spoke so softly we couldn't hear and the teacher had to repeat everything. All this time the other 29 kidswere sitting there watching. Or being bereted for not sitting there silently and watching as the case may be. Top marks to the teachers for a difficult situation but it really was rather glaring the difference between the two classes. Not sure I'd like to teach under those circumstances!

The Amy dango doing her twirly thing. Notice the line of dango sitting on the steps waiting for their turn. And the little bear there trying to eat her.

The cats cradle string monitor in action.

A whole lotta noise!


demon day update

Went to pick Amy up at kinder and I found this picture hanging on the wall-

The writing (what she told the teacher it was) says 'green demon' 'blue demon' and 'me crying' Underneath it all it says 'I cried but I still threw the beans'. I love the sticky out tongues on the demons and the eyebrows on the green demon.

I am choosing not to read too much into the fact that she drew herself with black hair by reminding myself that she not only wasn't wearing a red dress that day but she doesn't even own a red dress. That makes it ok, right? Right??


loving and learning

I love celebrating all the different yearly events with the kids in my English classes. Not only is it something a bit different from the usual lesson and a bit of a cultural lesson for the kids but it's fun for me to get to celebrate everything with a willing (well captive!) audience as well.

So this week I added a dash of Valentines Day to my classes. For the seven year olds this meant we were going to write a Valentines Card to someone in their family. 'love' and 'you' are not phonetically regular for them to be able to write unaided yet but we can do 'Dear' and 'Mum' or 'Dad' and even 'Grandma' at a stretch so it was not completely a meaningless rote writing exercise. I intended for it to be a sub-10 minute exert in the hour long class.

Well, that was my plan.

Turns out my 7 year old class love a lot of people.

"Can I write two?"
"Can I write another one?"
"I need two more cards!"

I was torn. It really wasn't educationally sound enough to devote too much time to but a class that is going through some socialisation issues (I think they could definitely film "Mean Girls- the prequel" with 7 year old Japanese girls...) was all for one and one for alling it and they were so keen to keep going (did I mention that the kind of uber-coolness that puts you way above deigning to learn English is another symptom of being seven?) they were even doing their begging in English. That's what tipped it for me. You had me at "please please please please please!!!"

And so the activity was extended....

And everyone wrote at least three cards. The record was six! And she is one of my newer students who tends to baulk at writing exercises so I was thrilled.

I still feel a little guilty about using so much of the class on what I had planned as a filler but still, they had fun and were so proud walking home with their sheaf of pink paper hearts.

You don't stop the learning when it's on a roll, yeah?


I see little people

I see little people!

And they're multiplying!

Or at least that's what it felt like today.

I taught a one off lesson at a community centre. I'm still not sure what the exact set up is but once a month they have a 100 yen open house for 0-3 year olds and a different theme each time. The theme (music/ rhythm/ crafts/ English) runs for an hour and a half and then they eat a home made snack prepared by an army of oompaloompa like old women in the cooking room below the open house room. The oompaloompa like quality of it is the magic of making home made snacks (this month was a Nagano speciality- oyaki or grilled and steamed veggie dumplings) in that time and when they have no idea how many people will turn up until they actually turn up. Seriously!

My brief before I went was to teach for 'about an hour' to 'about 50' people and keep it simple with songs and games. A couple of mums whose kids I teach at my real job knew the centre and added the info that the kids would probably not pay attention and just to keep teaching anyway.


At this point I should mention that my regular work environment is a nice well appointed room with 3-7 kids whom I see every week.

And they pay attention.

I turned up bright and early to get the lay of the land and set up and whoa- huge and cavernous room with not a speck of colour (there goes my 'touch something red!' game...) and the people kept coming in.

And coming in.

It was then that I realised we had had a small misunderstanding. I had heard 'about 50' people as 25 kids and their respective mothers. The woman organising the day had meant 'about 50 kids' giving me about 100 people in the room. I never heard the official head count but it was more than 100.


Oh and the one hour lesson? The snack making army were slightly overwhelmed (hey, know that feeling!) and asked for an extra 30 minutes- at the 50 minute point in my class.... Now, I know some teachers frown on the teaching as a performance art idea but that's the way I do things. There is a warm up, the main event and then I draw it to a nice tight and punchy close. Leave 'em wanting more. To be in the wind down period and then asked to stretch my lesson was pretty shattering. The class dragged a bit as I tried to reinstate the oomph. The kids were also pretty much over doing anything after an hour of jumping and running and heads, shoulders, knees and toes-ing. The leader cut me some slack and declared a 10 minute drink break and then thankfully I was using up some time having each kid say hello for a sticker (the verbal ones anyway) when an angel in an apron whispered in my ear that snacks were ready.

Sweeter words have never been said!

Other than the sudden extension and the initial numbers shock it was actually a lot of fun. The bigger the audience the bigger the reaction and I got to haul all my tired old jokes out of cobwebs for a room full of people who'd never heard them- bonus!

Still, I was absolutely shattered by the end of it, have the greatest respect for my kids Kinder teachers and the effort that must go into getting 200 kids (minus their mothers) to learn the dances for the kinder sports day, and went back to work to teach 5 five year olds feeling like that is such a cosy and manageable number!



It's systematic, it's hydromatic- why it's greased lightening!

From this:

to this:

It's not perfect and the cloth is just something we had around and it's not just a piece of cloth hiding what was there all along. Oh no. K and I brainstormed and negotiated and our reasoning was to try it out before we make a decision on something permanent (fingers crossed!)

Behind the batik curtain:

The view from in front of the stairs. Wouldn't it look better if you couldn't see through there? Write to K on a postcard!

Now I want to go down to Cainz and get me some colour coded natural fabric boxes and baskets and curtain and.... ok I have a small infatuation with the storage solution section of the hardware store. If only you could beam all your crap down there to try out different storage solutions before you buy, huh?


last slide

Last slide.

Last glide.

Last crash and burn.

Our local ice skating centre is closing.

It is city owned and free and the skates cost a measly 500 yen to rent so I guess it was only a matter of time but still we're going to miss it. After attending classes last year Meg is quite the little skater and now twirls away with gay abandon (and a lot more enthusiasm than grace it has to be said- I'm not googling winter olympic sites yet) and Amy has the most energy inefficient and tiring looking skating style ever- she never glides at all just constantly takes steps, but she has confidence and is perplexingly extremely fast. To the point where I keep calling out 'wait for mummy!' as I glide behind her trying vainly to catch up. K had only ever skated on flooded and frozen rice paddies before and even then only a coupleof times a year so his skating style is rustic but effective and, most importantly, it has been a lot of fun to head out to the rink for a morning or an afternoon too tiring to consider a full day at our level of expertise!)

K is brave/ skilful enough to skate and shoot so we have some commemorative snaps of the other three of us:

Amy not waiting for me

Meg coming out of a turn

Meg doing some lungey sweepy move

A rare not-ruined-by-absurd-pose picture of Amy

Goodbye Asama Onsen Skate Centre. We'll miss you!


prenuptial agreement negotiations

We're in the middle of pre-nuptial agreement negotiations.

Not K and I.

That boat has left the harbour and I have to say, even if I could go back and write one my contribution would probably only be that I be consulted on house altering renovations before they happen. I'm pretty sure K would add something about not opening the sliding doors with my feet but that really is a skill that would be a waste not to utilise....

Anyway, at the moment the prenuptial negotiations concern Meg.

No, she's not about to get married (although she is quite keen on marrying K but that's a whole other story...) it's my sister whose getting married.

And Meg is merely being honoured with an invite as a guest.

An invite she has so far yet to see the honour in.

To the point that she was most miffed when I told her that she was going as we have no intention of leaving our 7 year old home while we leave the country and anyway I've just bought her a non-refundable ticket.

Why is she so anti- wedding?

"I'm sick of weddings. I've been to too many. I'm not wearing a funny dress and I'm not carrying the dress. Or the flowers."

Meg has been to exactly two weddings, both were K's sisters (no apostrophe- that's two sisters not one sister two weddings) and both times she was involved in the ceremony. The first time she walked in front of the bride carrying the rings on a cushion and then on the return journey throwing rose petals. The second time she was supposed to be carrying half the train with Amy carrying the other half. Only she got embarrassed and tried to hold the dress up over her head which wasn't quite the look the bride was after (her modesty was well preserved by acres of petticoat but still...) Both times she was heavily bribed into the job by not one or two but all her female relatives and both times she ended up walking off the job. The rose petals were the cutest as she held up the procession so she could collect them all up again.

Both times she wore gorgeous little voofy dresses. Which I painstakingly hand sewed t-shirt material over all the inner seams as she is very anti anything scratchy.

And that's the big problem. We don't get dressed up a lot around here. The girls are almost always wearing stretch fabrics. I can't remember if Meg has ever worn a button through shirt... I think she did at her kinder graduation but I'm not sure if I succeeded in bribing her after all...

Having convinced her that she really doesn't have a choice about coming to Australia with us or not and shown her the resort we will be heading for (bribe number 1) she has laid down her terms and conditions of attendence:

*She will be attired in her bathers. Observing the ceremony from either the beach or the pool (she's flexible)
*She will not carry any flowers, dresses, confetti or even rings- unless she can wear them up the aisle- in fact she will not do anything that makes her stand out at all.
*She is willing to be swayed on the last part as long as she gets to "be the person who stands at the front and tells the people to kiss." When told you have to do a lot of training to get that job she pointed out she still has a few months to go.
*She may be willing to negotiate around to wearing a dress (over her bathers) if, and only if, she can choose the dress herself (no problem there) from the pink shop. Small problem. The pink shop is a two hour plane ride and then a two hour drive from the wedding venue. It's not going to happen...

It's a long and tiring negotiation process that's been held over many car rides so far and she's stubborn but then so am I so I'm feeling pretty confident my will will prevail- and we do still have a few months to go.

Which is good as we'll need those for when I break it to her that fake crocs do not count as sandals when it comes to wedding footwear....


on pilgrimages, babies, racists and demons

Whew... what a day!

I have been desperate to go and see Brenda and baby Amelie ever since I heard she was born and today was my chance with no classes until 4:30. Now, I'm sure most people would have just jumped in the car, entered the midwife clinic's name in the satnav and cruied up the highway. But you see that's way too uncomplicated for me. And it would also necessitate driving on the highway which still freaks me out- I hate merging traffic with a passion and consider 60km/h hair-raisingly dangerously fast driving so you see the highway is no place for me! The lure of seeing Brenda and Amelie almost tipped me over thatfear until I remembered that, even if I conquered the highway I would be left with the battlefieldthat is Kawanakajima. It really is an old battlefield but I'm pretty sure the war started when someone tried to turn right from the wrong lane or got in the way of one of the crazy bus drivers. So yeah, driving wasn't going to happen.

No problem, left early and drove to the highway bus terminal and got on a bus to Nagano. Easy peasy Japanesey and I got to read my book while the bus drivernegotiatedmerging traffic and the Kawanakajima road warriors. Got to Nagano station and I needed to change to the subway- yup, Nagano has a subway system. But it has two trains an hour. And in doing my good deed and helping two lost snowboarders I missed my train by a minute. Where's the karma in that, hey?

Never fear, caught the next train and-very proudly- made the 10 minute walk to the midwife's without even a whiff of uncertainty over where I was supposed to be going. I have hopeless sense of direction but I had emailed myself pretty exact instructions 'turn left at the 5th side road just before the stationary shop and across from the izakaya' And so a mere three hours after I left home I got to see Brenda and baby Amelie!!

Brenda looked fantastic and sooo relaxed and as for Amelie, well turns out I didn't even rate as worthy of opening your eyes, let alone waking up. Oh well. She certainly is a cute sleeper and she has such a 'high' nose. Definitely going to have all the other mums jealous there.

The return pilgrimage wasn't quite so gruelling as the wonderful A, Brenda's husband, drove me to the station on his way to their 2 year old's kinder observation day. What a guy- he braved city traffic for me! Oh and he even had his slippers in the car for observation day. And the camera and video camera. And his kid has only been in kinder less than a year. I still forget my slippers more times than I remember them... I'm not worthy!

I had some time to kill before my bus back to reality so I grabbed a coffee and sat in the bus station office where it was nice and warm and settled in to read my book.

Only that karma thing wasn't with me again.

I was soon joined by two men. One in about his sixties and one who turned out to be his father. I moved over and the father sat down. He said thank you. I said no problem.

The son said (around a gobstopper of a candy) "She can't understand what you're saying. She's a foreigner."
The dad said "She understands, she said your welcome."
I tried to read my book.
The son wouldn't let it go "She's a foreigner. They don't speak Japanese."
I couldn't concentrate on my book so I looked up, smiled and said "I understand Japanese."
"You're a foreigner. You're reading English. I hate English. I love Japanese. Look at her book- all English!"
"She understands Japanese."
"Wow Dad, you're always making friends everywhere you go. Look at you, you just sat down!"
"I was just being friendly."
"I went to Tokyo and didn't talk to anyone for the entire trip. Noone."
"You just need to be friendly."
I was just picking up the thread in my book again and tuning them out-
"Do you like Japan? It's a great country. Much better than America. You like Japan? I hate America."
I was torn here between my desire to point out that what he knows of America is likely at best half true and incomplete and to assert that all foreigners are not American. I went with the latter. "I'm not American."
"You like Japan? Japan's the best country. You're not American? What are you?"
"I'm Australian and yes, I like Japan."
"Good girl. Japan's a good country. You should appreciate Japan. Do you want a candy?"
Call me overcautious but I didn't want anything from this man so I declined.
"They're good. They're apple candy. Nagano's apple's are good."
"Thanks but I'm drinking coffee and they probably don't go together."
"She's drinking coffee. Foreigners all drink coffee. I like tea."
"I like tea and coffee."
"Is it black? Foreigners drink black coffee."
"Nope, it's a cappuccino."
..... "Do you know Kan Naoto?"
"I've never met him."
"Do you know him?"
"You mean Prime Minister Kan?"
"Good girl. You should respect the Japanese Prime Minister. How long are you visiting Japan?"
"I live here."
"You live here? Do you work?"
"Ahhh just like the North Koreans and the Chinese. Working here and sending all that Japanese money back to your country and making our economy fail."
"Hmmmm. Nope, I spend my money on groceries and things right here in Nagano."
"Those North Koreans and Chinese get 100,000 yen and they turn it into 400,000 wan and then they're rich back there and they took all our money out of the country. You by yourself here?"
"No, I'm married."
"Bet your husband's tall. All American men are tall."
"Yes he is. But nope, my husband's Japanese."
"Ehhh? Hmmm.... Good girl. Japanese men are the best. Better than American men."

Thankfully at this juncture their bus came. Seriously, what a crackpot. The dad was a sweetie but the son conducted that entire interrogation/ brain washing session around a huge candy that kept clacking against his teeth as he talked.

After that getting home and teaching and getting the girls and going home was a little of an anti-climax!

But today was February 3rd and and that means demon day. Meg was relieved that the demon that came to her class was just her teacher in a mask. Amy had the more full on be-costumed and be-masked and be-truncheoned demon duo there to terrorise the little kids. She had headed off in the morning full of bravado- "I'm gonna throw beans in his eyes. The eyes hurt the most, right mummy? I'm gonna throw all my beans in his eyes!" Turns out she panicked a little and dropped her beans when the moment came so luckily the poor lacky from city hall who does the demon thing didn't have to worry about his eyesight.

They got home all excited and raced around the kitchen throwing socks at each other and yelling 'Demon's out! Good luck in!' This breaks my strict no running in the kitchen rule. Little demons!

I harnessed their energy for good and for dinner we made sushi rolls. I know it's a fake tradition made up by the sushi association but I so rarely make sushi rolls that it's a good excuse and the girls love making them so that's what we did:

(soft focus care of a cold camera and a warm kitchen)

And that was my day of a pilgrimage, a baby, some racists and some demon day fun.

Happy Demon Day!


I huuuuurt

I hurt.

No, I ache.


I'm no doctor so I can't be certain but I'm pretty sure I know what happened.

If you were driving down route 158 today about 9:30 this morning you might have seen me.

If you saw me you might understand what the problem is.

It seems pretty ridiculous now but I swear at the time it all made perfect sense.

Let me start at the very beginning...

I teach a great class of the cutest little two year old boys. Three of them. At this age I'm a huge believer in not overtly teaching them English but rather teaching in English. Or rather playing in English. So every week we do some songs and some games and read a book and we do an activity. Sometimes play dough, sometimes colouring or gluing or stickers or playing with water or whatever. Now, while the class is walkable distance from my house there's quite a difference in elevation which means that at times I still have snow up here while it's all melted down there. And the little kids love the snow. They scrape it off my car and make the world's itty-bittiest snowmen.

So, today I had a fabulous idea- I'd take a bucket of snow down for them to play with. They'd love it- a whole bucket of snow! And it would be one bucket less snow at my house, too- bonus!

The fabulous bucket-of-snow idea coincided with a let's-walk-to-work fabulous idea. No problem, I rugged up, put my walking shoes on, grabbed my bucket of snow and my messenger bag work bag and headed down the mountain. Within about 500m I realised I was overdressed. Phew... My thermal underwear really work. I shucked my gloves and stuffed them in my already overfull bag. The bucket-carrying thing was getting old really fast. It swung around with every step and kept bashing me in the leg. The messenger bag shoulder pad had slipped and the strap was cutting into my neck. I was wearing so many layers and a big scarf so it was really hard to keep the strap on my shoulder rather than my neck.

Funnily enough with all these issues my progress wasn't quite as fast as usual. I wasn't going to be late by any stretch but I like to be early. At least 20 minutes early. Especially in winter when I need to turn the heaters on to warm up the room. And I was looking like I wasn't going to be 20 minutes early. So I decided to run. Well jog, shuffle, bucket thwack, bag whack, jog, shuffle anyway. Of course it was only after I started running that I remembered that a) I was overdressed and b) that I get bronchial asthma and running in near freezing temperatures is definitely enough to set that off.

So, yup, if you were driving down route 158 this morning you would have seen a woman in a black wool jacket and running shoes carrying a big blue bucket of snow and a messenger bag and making very laboured progress with a jog, bag whack, shuffle, cough hack, jog, bucket thwack, wheeze, cough hack.

I made it on time of course.

The kids loved the snow.

But I'm sure I was quite the spectacle and I crippled myself in the process.

And that's why I huuuurt....


I guess the advertising is working

Tuesdays I go to Amy's kinder at 2:45 to pick her up and take her back to work with me and she joins in the 5 year old class.

2:45 at kinder is post-nap getting dressed time. I love arriving then. The little kids are so cute all sprawled out not wanting to wake up or wandering around aimlessly wearing nothing but their knickers and holding one sock or very carefully and conscientiously folding their pyjamas. It's all so cute! Oh and I love the conversations we have, too. The stuff little kids want to tell you is just so sweet. "My brother has no teeth because he's a baby." "You wear glasses." "We played skipping ropes today." It's all delivered so seriously.

Today as I was waiting for Amy to get her bag, communication notebook, face towel, toothbrush bag and hat together (a bigger job than you might imagine if you haven't met Amy) I was chatting away about my favourite Precure character with a little girl (they've changed again and now I'm lost!) when a boy across the room yelled out "Hey! Your head looks like the person who was in the newspaper!" Hmmm? My head? I was still pondering this when two or three other kids piped up "She is the head in the paper!! My mum showed me!" The conversation continued:
"Yeah, Amy's mum was in the paper."
"I saw it!"
"Me too!"
"Me too!"
"My mum said Amy's mum works at the place with the English teachers."
"Yeah, she works over there with the English teachers!"

I stepped in to explain:
"Actually, I am an English teacher."
"No, you speak Japanese."
"You're Amy's mum."
"Yup, I speak Japanese, I'm Amy's mum and I'm an English teacher."
"Tell us some English then!"
"I don't need to teach you English- you already know English."
"Yup. Banana is.... banana! And Melon is..... melon!"

Then different kids started telling me the other English words they knew- apple, dog, cat, elephant, good job, hello, Merry Christmas.

I offered to teach them any word they wanted and a little boy piped up that he wanted to know the word for hoikuen. Agghhhhh, pick an easy one, hey? Preschool? Nursery school? Day care? pah, I'll just go with the word I use- and the easiest to pronounce- kinder.

So as Amy and I finally headed out the door it was to a chorus of "kinder, kinder, kinder! KINDER! Azusagawa kinder!"

Yup, last week my boss sent out another insert in the newspaper.

Guess the advertising is working, hey?