Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Scotchapanese Shortbread

Meri Kurisumasu! My KFC "rotisserie" chicken lunch and Christmas cake were a really big let down, so no pictures of them. In fact, I don't even really have any photos from my Christmas Eve party, because only 4.5 people came. It was still better than being alone, but I was a little sad that none of the neighbors were brave enough to venture over to my place. I was so looking forward to introducing them to mulled wine and Christmas cookies (thanks, Cathy! Oishii desu!) BUT, despite the fact that I had to be at school on Christmas, I made the best of it. After school (did I mention that this is winter holiday and yet the students are STILL here? I think they have special classes to prep for upcoming national exams) we went to the food lab and made hot cocoa (with marshmallows and choco Pocky sticks), eggnog, and did our best to make Scotch Shortbread. Mom must've been laughing herself silly watching us. I must say it's great to have eager students - I didn't even have to get my hands dirty! We've learned that the ingredients and baking sheets & oven are slightly different here, but the students all scarfed up the goodies anyway! I was also a big hit in the staff room later when I brought around samples of eggnog. Or maybe that was the brandy talking? Hmm...Cheers!


A once in a lifetime performance here (thank God!) - here we are doing an "interpretive movement" for "Swan Lake." Gotta love Japanese parties. Yikes. Takaki Bunko's Bonenkai ("bone-en-k-eye" - the end of the year party) was Friday and, no - I wasn't even drinking (though I could have had all the Asahi and chuhai I wanted), but hopefully everyone else was.

Tea Cozy

As if dining all afternoon wasn't enough, Nakamura sensei and I still had time to kill before the Bon Enkai, so we stopped for a spot of tea at this little place called the "Tea Cozy" here. (yes, Chris, I did tell her about how they used the tea cozy in "Snatch" - and fortunately we didn't run into any squeaky dogs or overgrown diamonds) Brilliant architecture here - it was long, narrow, and high - and when we were inside it felt like we were on the underside of a ship. A vaulted yet, intimate space.


So for lunch on Friday, Nakamura sensei and I went to a nice little Italian restaurant on the Mediterranean...lovely! Well, of course it wasn't the Med, but it sure felt like it! What a view! The Japanese don't seem too keen on capitalizing on the excellent waterfront real estate here...but this place was quite the exception. We were pretty much the only customers, and we enjoyed a nice, long leisurely lunch. Bellissima! (Dad, you can have Giusy check that one for me)

Neko Christmas elves

At Takaki Bunko, my second school, the students had - their first ever! - Christmas Party. So cute! They had lots of snacks and sweets, holiday music in Japanese and English, a magic show, BINGO, and one of the students played "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" on his guitar (thanks to ya'll who worked on getting me the sheet music!) and everyone sang it in Japanese. At the end of the party, we were given poppers and on the count of san, the paper streamers exploded into the room. Of course, exactly 9.7 minutes later the students and staff had transformed the room back to its spotless and regular self.


Soji ("sow-gee") is one of the best things about the Japanese school system. When I go back to the States, I'm going to push for this! At the end of every day, the all the students clean the school - classrooms, staff room, bathrooms, outside sweeping, etc. FABulous! Of course, I get right out there and do it with them sometimes, to give them an opportunity to practice speaking English (and it always seems to delightfully surprise them when I pop up to help them clean - it impresses them almost as much as when I use chopsticks well). On the last day before Winter Break (which why it's a "break" I can't seem to figure out - since the students are all still here this week, too!) the students had an extended soji, and most were dressed in their PE outfits - ichinensei were red, ninensei blue, sannensei green. They just looked so festive and happy about cleaning, I just had to grab a few shots with them...
Of course not ALL the students are cleaning ALL the time - I always have fun going up to students who are lollygaggin and saying, "Are you working HARD, or HARDly working???" Talk about getting lost in a translation...


The running team (ekidan) at our school placed 5th in the national competition on Christmas Eve...yay! Omedetto gozaimasu! Here is a video of the ouendan ("cheer" team) giving them a right proper salute at the award ceremony yesterday in the gym. Whenever I see these guys perform, I can't help but wonder what they'd say if they saw what American cheerleaders wear and do...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

North Pole (Dancing)

Is this as Christmas as it gets? Sunday I was in Fukuoka and, after a brief snow, I was fortunate enough to go to a Catholic Mass in English! Though, I didn't see any Advent candles, and, if that was pink that the priest was wearing, "pink" must've been lost in the translation over here. Oh well. Better than nothing. THEN we went to a Christmas party sponsored by the Fillapino association - very genki people, but I think the party - a family affair - was held in a night club. Notice the pole (for - ?) in the middle of the dance floor there - oh, wait - sorry - in this photo the gang dancers in their camo pants are obscuring your view. Low tables that looked like dice, several bars, mirrored ball, and they even had the "Kill Bill" DVD on the monitors (fortunately it didn't get past the opening menu). Ohmigosh. Right. Well, then - ! I hope you all are settling into your Christmas routines alright; I know most of you - if you haven't already - are soon heading out of the office and into whatever festivities await you. I'll admit to having to fight a chilly depression that seems to be constantly threatening to sweep over me at almost every turn here - I just want to scream. But I know it's not the Japanese people's fault - they simply don't know Christmas. SO - I've decided to try to turn this wicked depressing energy back on itself and use it to plan a Christmas Eve open house at my little tatami apato. Won't be quite like my parties back home, of course, since I'm lacking most of the familiar ingredients for such an affair, but, I'll make do. I'll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, please send me warm thoughts and hugs (can't remember the last time I had one!). -txo

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bad Bamboo Monkey Bar

Just wanted to show you another angle of the "new do" - here I am with some of the wildlife at the most happening bar in Mizumaki near Kita Kyushu. Mikan chan here with some of the Bad Bamboo Monkey Bar's most (in)famous denizens, Logan and Yukie ("yoo-key-A").


(pronounced "toe-key") "Pottery" - Once again I generally had no solid grasp of the events transpiring around me, but instead of going to an onsen and out to dinner this bike trip, apparently someone knew this potter/artisan here - or maybe someone's mother knew his uncle, whatever. Everyone of course was very nice, and forgave any of the gaijin's misunderstandings. We helped the papa san put up a string of Christmas lights, took a tour of the artisan's studio, and had homemade dinner around some open fires out back. And for dessert - this was quite a big deal - tiny roasted Japanese sweet potatoes.

I loved how the people of Arita integrated their craft - pottery - into so many facets of everyday life.

Spot o tea

We stopped at this tiny place, ordered bread, then on the way back down from the mountain, stopped again to pick up the freshly baked loaves. I say we. I'm telling lies. I didn't really have a good grasp of the procedure, and was lacking funds, so I missed out on the fresh stuff - but I didn't miss out on the fresh mint/herb tea this little lady so kindly served.

Ride with a View

With views like this, why wouldn't I love it here?
(by the way, of course we then had to ride up that mountain there!)

but wait - there's more -

Lunch! Yum! I was so hungry after biking! Here are most of the dishes - but I think they brought out more after I took the photo. You can even see the little hanging pot over the pit in the center of the table. They put that there so you can cook your food and to keep customers from Florida warm. Oh - and yes, of course I had to take off my shoes and sit on my knees when eating at this table. I'd tell you what all the food is, but I have no idea...definitely did not taste like chicken.


I can't remember if I've explained "noren" before - it's that curtain that you pass through to get into a shop or restaurant. I always liked them, but even more so, now, since it reminds me of Mom (who's name is Noreen). Every time I pass through one now, I have a feeling that she's just brushed by me. Funny, since I had the distinct impression that she never wanted to come visit over here. But I guess she can go wherever she likes now without the hassle of having to go through all the security checks :)
This is the entry way into the little place we went to for lunch on the bike ride last Sunday.


(that's Japanese for "rrrrroar!")
Keizo san and Tracey chan play nicely with the wildlife at the Porceline Palace.
(this is before Tracey san became Mikan chan - that fateful trip to the hair dressers occured after this photo was taken)


"I'm home!"


It's...It's...It's Tracey's Japanese apato (apt)! So I've gotten much shorter since I arrived...actually for those of you who know I've been FREEZING in my apato lately - I can actually see my breath INside! - you know this couldn't possbly be my new home. (just a quick note about my place - thanks to a very kind colleague, I can now use my kerosene fan heater to heat the kitchen and living room - yea! - I just use the rest of the place to store all my meat and ice cream, and rent out the extra space to the yakusa to store their "extra" bodies).
Now back to the educational part of our program - a "naborigama" is a special kind of kiln - it's one long oven for pottery. In this photo it's hard to see the angle at which it goes up the side of the hill, but it was really amazing! Next to it was an ancient "pottery graveyard" (I forget the Japanese for that) - a place where the potters would smash their "messed up" pots. According to the sign, this kind of place held special value to archeologists who studied the layers of pottery to learn about the cultures who had been there.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Oh! It's a -

So this is a ski lift? alpine slide? long, covered bridge? carport for a s-t-r-e-t-c-h limo?

Porceline Palace

Here's the gang - of course not everyone was all organized in this shot, but at least you have some idea of who's in the group. This place was near/in Arita and was famous for its pottery. This building was quite a far cry from what I'm used to here -

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"objects in mirror are BRIGHTER than they appear"

The good news: I found a hair salon - that was even close to my house. The other good news: I think the cut looks pretty good - especially considering they've probably never cut a gaijin's hair before. And now the really good news: if I don't light up a room with my smile, well, at least I can with my hair now. Dear, lord. I think it's orange. Obviously my concept of "streaks and highlighting" did not translate well into Japanese. I should have just stopped with the cut, but nooooo - had to try to get that grey outta my hair. Everytime I've looked in my mirror (which of course, if I stand up straight, only shows me my chin down to the top of my chest!) I just tell myself it's ok - it's like another one of Jennifer Garner's new Alias looks (only without her killer abs, etc.). Anyway. It'll grow. And I have hats.

Get a piece of this -

Man I miss making mosaics...K-san, look at these would have a field day in this place - look how they put tiles on top of other tiles. Our bike ride this week took us to Hasami and Arita, known for their pottery. Absolutely awesome.

Test Ride

I never explained why, back in August, one Sunday I found myself standing in front of granny-underwear at the Hyaku yen (100 yen) shop after bike riding all day. Well, the short story is that I got involved with a bike touring group here, went biking with them in the rain, then, since we were going to an onsen afterwards, I needed clean, dry clothes. Ahhh...that's why I was lingerie shopping at the ultimate discount store. After the onsen these folks even treated me to a welcome dinner. They are totally amazing. Of course their English is about as good as my Japanese, so it's always interesting - I never quite know what's going to happen. But - it's basically like this - they pick me up, we drive to some cool location in Nagasakiken or Sagaken, ride our bikes for several hours, go to an onsen to clean up and relax, and then dinner. The link to the bike shop page is above (click on the title), and Taniguchi san, the owner, usually posts pics from the ride. If you scroll down to a page from August, you'll see a picture of me with Sam out in front of his shop. Oh - and yes, you'll notice they drive on the wrong side of the road here :)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dogs Days of December

How cute is this? Okay, granted, he's not actually a real dog (that status is reserved for a dog weighing more than a cat!), but how cute is he? I will say one thing for him (it is a he? didn't really check) - he guarded the back of that car like a fierce beast! I saw this little guy when we stopped the other day along our bike ride.
And I thought I wouldn't see dogs here. The Japanese would give the French a run for their money.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Huis Ten Bosch

It's pronounced "House Ten Boss-u" according to a nice Dutch man working there. I decided needed a little Christmas, so I headed to HTB this past weekend (after I finished Book 1 of my Japanese language course, of course!). Weather was awful (thought of putting in another word, but don't know how young my reading audience is-), and I got reeeeeeally sick on some food I ate there. I SWEAR I'm not taking anymore nenkyu (I only get 20 days "off" a year - no summer, winter, or spring break - just those 20 days + a sprinkling of a few national holidays) - because the last time I did it was for a funeral, and now I was violently ill. Better for me just to be at work! Yikes! Well, anyway, the lights and decorations were pretty, but HTB is definitely lacking a key element...let me's missing....oh yeah - that's it - it's missing a lot of Dutch people! But at least the place looked as lovely as it could in the London weather we were having (the photo in the post is the ONLY moment of sunshine I saw). OK, maybe I'm a little crabby now - hungry for lunch - let's see what Hokka Hokka Tei delivered today. I'll write more about HTB and it's alleged loveliness when I go back and see it -

Trimming the tree

I bet you thought I meant decorating a Christmas tree. Right. (Do they even grow here?) My "tree" this year is going to be - ahh - interesting to say the least. It may likely involve something I stole from the side of the road (is that still stealing?) under the cover of pre-dawn darkness...I'll post pics when it's done and "installed" in the apato. THIS tree trimming, however, I thought Papa san (and other bonsai gardeners - yes - sai - "sigh" NOT "zie" - I was sternly corrected on this when I first arrived. "Banzai" means "hurrah!") might enjoy the care taken to keep our school courtyard looking tip top (omigosh - did I just say "tip top"??? geez...I'll have the word police after me - ). Actually, I wonder what our gardener would say if I brought out some ornaments and began my own "trimming"...hmmm....