Saturday, December 31, 2005

My Thoughts on New Years

This morning is starting very slow. I was up early, as per usual, but I'm still in my pajamas and it's already noon. This New Years holiday is starting nicely if I do say so myself. Now I am indulging in some good tea and reading. At the moment, taking advantage of my freetime, I am in a writing mood, and decided to post because I am not sure how often I will be around to post over the next couple of days.

Last night, as I walked to the Usui's, I found the streets nearly deserted. It's amazing how similar the effect of New Years and Christmas are. I believe that really is the best analogy. (Except perhaps that New Year's holidays lasts days instead of a single day.) Even now, almost every shop in town is closed. The nearest open grocery store is in Otofuke. I had foreseen this and had stocked up on Friday, except forgetting the absolutely necessary staple: rice. Alas, I will not be home for many meals over the next couple of days anyways. To the left is an image of the absolute feast that was prepared for us, it includes many Japanese delicacies. Just before midnight we ate soba, which is part of a long tradition in Japan.

This morning, before my parents headed out to their New Years Festivities, they phoned me and we were able to wish each other a Happy New Years. Luck has stuck twice today because I have been invited back to the Usui's for Mochi later. Hurrah! Actually, make that three times, because right now I'm getting the Oilers vs. Flames game live over the internet while writing.

Only one of the Usui's children was able to return to Shikaoi for New Years; my old partner in crime, Kazeteru. He is back from University in Fukoka (in the far South). Mrs. Usui was lamenting that her daughter, Hitomi, was unable to return from Sapporo because of University.

I was struck this year how little emphasis there is on the actual ticking off of seconds before midnight. Kazeteru and I were eating our second bowl of Soba and, if you watched the T.V., you would see many Shinto ceremonies that take place on New Year's that overshadow the exact moment. January 1st represents a much deeper transition than we consider it in North America.

Image Hosted by

Thursday, December 29, 2005


I am always the last to know anything. At the beginning of the month I discovered the indoor running track at the Shikaoi Sports Center and have been using it often. It is a very nice facility, very convenient for my schedule and is free for anyone to use . (One cannot help but wonder if Canadians would be in better shape if we had such facilities.) The sport center consists of a large gym (with the running track above) and several more traditional wooden rooms for Kendo and Judo.

Call me crazy, but I have always preferred running indoors. For me, besides the excellent cardiovascular effects, running is stress relief and, as such, I want an experience as close to a hamster running on a wheel as possible. Treadmills don't cut it; for one, I like the small natural breeze and secondly, I'm such a klutz if I went anywhere near the thing it would eat me alive.

While at the University of Calgary I had been utilizing their large indoor running track but it was not ideal. That track was always very busy with all sorts of people, sometimes lanes were booked that further reduced the number of lanes for public use. I found weaving through throngs of people less that relaxing. I sometimes do run outdoors, but I'm a perfect weather type of runner. Furthermore, indoors, I needn't worry about curbs or cars and such. It's winter here now and it get dark before I get home. Braving the dark, uneven sidewalks and risking the far worst, darkened icy uneven sidewalks, seems a less then ideal workout.

The best thing about the Shikaoi Sport Center's running track is that I am the only one ever on it. Things have really slowed down here in Town since Dec. and along with badminton I have been able to run four times a week. However, I just found out today, that the last day the track was open before nice days closed for New Years was yesterday! I would have scheduled things better if I had known. So as it stands traditional, I guess I have a good excuse to not run and just sit around stewing in my own juices over the next week.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


The week keeps churning along. I would be lying if I said I had done anything interesting this week, like say, make tempura from scratch with vegetables I grew myself. Imagine today's post written by a hibernating bear. I think everyone in the office is finding it hard to sit still at work, looking at the clock, waiting for the six day weekend to begin on Saturday. I think Friday will pass even slower. I am splitting my time between visiting people, general tomfoolery and writing and, on the other hand, studying my Kanji. I get a natural, and odd, enjoyment from studying kanji characters. I found an excellent internet-based system that automatically tracks over 1000 kanji. And that's not even the best part: It's free. It's browser based and can be used to track your progress over years. Meaning it remembers to randomly go back and test kanji from hours, days, or months ago. One thing it doesn't do it teach one how to write them, but I can over look this because I personally don't find it minddullingly boring. Any program that motivates me to study is good. Knowing how to write them is important in the long run because each kanji has a very specific stroke order. A slight change and it could be a totally different kanji. This aspect drives me - and I would postulate most foreigners - crazy. If the characters are small - I hate to say it - but they all look the same to me. Yesterday I was convinced that two different kanji were the same until someone pointed out that - no - this tiny stroke is slightly longer, over hanging another line. This is slowing changing however, and the program says I know - but not mastered - 123 kanji. Why does it feel like less?

Some facts: There are 1945 officially recognized kanji. These are used in the newspaper. The average Japanese can read about 1800 kanji (inferring what is unknown from context) but can normally write significantly less. If you were to specialize in Kanji at university, or were a doctor, you would probably be able to read and write anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 different characters (including the old style). In reality, there can be as many Japanese characters as there are Chinese characters (which a quick wiki search reveals at a minimum of 40,000 characters). While I am no scholar, one thing to remember when talking about kanji is its connection, even now, to its Chinese roots. Out of elementary school a child will have had drilled into their heads exactly 1008 kanji characters (by copying them over and over and over). I am following this approach and just filling my head by rote, and if I don't get overly bored with the process, I will count it as a success. For the record, learning katakana and hiragana was easy compared to this goal. A further reason, tied to kanji's Chinese roots, to never attempt to learn kanji and distress one's foreign mind, is that each kanji character actually has at least two - sometimes four! - different ways of reading it. I am only studying two readings, called the On reading and the ken reading. The On reading is loosely based on the original Chinese sound; so normally they have sounds like Myo or ryo. These sounds are built up to make words. The other reading, Kun yumu, normally represents one Japanese word, used separately. (All this come with numerous exceptions.) The most interesting thing about the two readings, and the reason I love studying them, is that both readings always have the same meaning! This leads to many interesting connections between words and meanings when coupled with other kanji. Any kanji character can only ever have one meaning. This is one reason the Japanese Haiku is so valued as an art. In Japanese, by not the English translation, you can have all sorts of fun with meanings and sounds and context and pictures. So how does one know, with any given Japanese sentence, which reading of a specific character to use? That is something I am still figuring out. It's a complicated field and I have left out any examples for brevity's sake, I hope I have summarized it well enough that you can understand what I am up against.

In other news, I did a complete back up and transfer of all my photos from Mac's iPhoto to Adobe bridge. I say this because for a second I thought iPhoto ate 2 gigs worth of photos I took so far and my heart almost stopped. But no, iPhoto just gave me another reason to quit using the program, rip it off my hard drive, and drop it into the deepest part of the sea (a quick wiki search says that the Japan Trench, at 9km deep, is not too far away). iPhoto, for what ever reason the Apple corp. had in mind, puts pictures into a file type only it can read. Dear lord, what if that file gets currupted? You loose all your photos? So I had to export everything out of the program so that bridge could read them. What a mess. Why support a product that effectively hijacks your photos? If you are that paranoid make a better product. And on that note, it leads me to why I wanted to switch from iPhoto in the first place; I hated how it sorts photos for you. Some people really like but I hated it. Plus it starts to slow down once your get over 1000 photos and gets unstable at about 5000. Now I'm using Photoshop now and that's like going from a bicycle to a Porsche in terms of power. Thanks to Sean for getting everything set up and humming.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Boxing Day Round-up

Image Hosted by

Well, it's boxing day now and I'm off to work tomorrow. I think during the Christmas season is the only time I feel I touch of culture shock. My way of surviving it this year - of coping - is to keep it as low key as possible and focus on the upcoming New Years celebrations. I felt I was fairly prepared having spent Christmas 1999 in Japan, knowing what to expect helped keep from being too homesick or culture shocked.

One large factor that causes culture shock is that I am acutely aware that I am away from family because there is almost no family focus on the holiday season here. I don't know how many times I was asked if I was spending time this year with my girlfriend (negating the first question of asking if I have one) and if we spend the holiday with significant others in Canada. I have to explain that Christmas, in my family - is a time for family - while not being with my family. The holiday's rewards seem to go to businesses and advertisers that cater to couples over Christmas (but maybe this is just my cynical interpretation). But what else is there to do - when in Rome - I joined in the fun.

Christmas Eve turned out to be a blast even though it started very late. Tori Sei, a restaurant run by my close friends the Suzuki family, was closing early after catering to many Christmas parties over the last couple of weeks to have their Christmas party (with I was graciously invited to join). I actually had no idea what to expect and this will be revealed as I relate the story. I went to their shop at 8:00 PM Christmas eve. While the last bit of cleaning was being finished, there was still one customer left; a women working with a radio station in Obihiro (77.8 FM) that was going to be doing a live broadcast from Tori Sei and - late - other venues around Shikaoi (it was all done by cellphone). So she talked, and laughed loudly, next Mr. Suzuki got to say a couple of words, then, of course, the phone was passed to me, and I said "Merry Christmas" to everyone out there in radioland. I just had to take a picture because it so surreal. Soon after that episode had finished the lights were turned off and everyone was ready to go to dinner. I was directed to get in a van and told that we were going out for Yaki Niku (sort of Japanese BBQ). It was only after we had just gotten away that I was told that we were going for Yaki Niku all the way in Obihiro. (Man, I am always the last person to know.) Anyway, it's just as well because it was getting late and most places in Shikaoi close early and we were just starting the evening. Below is a picture from dinner, of which I got home very late from.

As mentioned, Christmas was very lowkey. I opened a package from home that had everything I had wanted which had arrived only the day before in the afternoon. I also went for a run in the afternoon because I thought it was neat (and surreal) that everything else here was continuing as normal and wanted to take advantage of it. At the Shikaoi Sport Center there was still the normal traffic of school clubs practicing in the gym. It was just as well that I got a headstart at burning off some of the gigantic sushi dinner that I was to eat that evening. I was able to wrangle two cute girls - my friends Yuki and Natsue - to join me for Kaiten zushi in Obihiro. We laughed and ate a ton and it was delicious. (Note the pile of plates. I tried to make the picture look noble but it really underscores what a pig I was.) In the triumphal picture of me I am holding my favorite sushi (my last piece for the evening I would like to add in my defense); my specially ordered toro tuna with no wasabi, just about the most expensive thing you could order. Freud would say the sushi was my attempt to get as far away from a Christmas dinner as possible.

For boxing day I just hung out, writing this, reading some, eating Chashu Ramen... I made Yaki Soba with carrots and broccoli and pork dinner. I was able to talk to my parents twice over Christmas. Which was very nice because normally once I hang up the phone I remember all the things I wanted to say and all the questions I wanted to ask. Once on my Christmas morning. And then again on their Christmas night (my boxing day afternoon). I felt very relieved to share their Christmas with them. I also talked to my Grandma M. from Calgary, which was a nice surprise. To the left is a picture of me talking to my Mom on her Christmas evening. I am holding some of the chocolate she sent which, after the photo and phone call, I ate. Work is going to be very slow until the middle of January because all of my schools are out and there is still New Year's holidays between now and then. I hope to fill some of that time with some visits to to my various kindergartens. So that's Christmas in Japan. Sorry it was not filled with lots of funny little culture foibles, but it would be dishonest to say that it was. I guess one thing is that all month I have been asked if we eat Christmas Cake in Canada - what ever that is. (I suspect another case of over zealous marketing in this as well.)

Image Hosted by

Friday, December 23, 2005


Yikes. I had really wanted to post yesterday but things were just too crazy and suddenly the day was over. I was busy from 8:00 AM until I got home from Obihiro at 10 PM. I felt I had a lot to say yesterday but now I seem less inclined to repeat it all. Probably means it wasn't important. Below are various images from this week. Things were so busy at work because I am just about to take four days off and many schools were winding down for the New Year's break. There's not much talk of Christmas, I mean, you do see Christmas trees and lots of lights, but talk always turns to planning New Year's (which is a week long holiday here). I was very busy today too. Went for a run and played badminton this morning. Came home and cleaned the house. My mom will be happy to know I made house calls on my three Shikaoi Moms and now I'm posting. Soon I will go and try and find some dinner, and maybe even eat some vegatables!

Monday, December 19, 2005

クリスマス ブログ

I could have put up some annoying moving seasonal avatars to liven up the site, but instead I choose to post some pictures of my family getting into the festive spirit (without me I should mention; but they promised not to have too much fun). This post is aimed toward my Japanese readers.




Sunday, December 18, 2005

Supper and Snow

Image Hosted by

Just got back from Sunday night dinner with the Usui's. He wanted some information about some guitars he has. The whole town really shut down today to clean up the snow. I can't believe how high the snow is piled considering that we've only had two big dumps so far. I had wanted to take some pictures today because everything looks harlious (to a person who has never seen so much snow), but the roads proved too treacherous to venture very far from home. I did snap one picture from my front door last night before I went to bed. You get some impression of how hard it was snowing, but the picture does not reflect how long it had been snowing. Furthermore, it doesn't reflect what all the snow looks like once you push it around a bit to make the roads drivable. The main roads in town are quite clear considering the totals were closer to 50cm this morning. I spend a little over an hour clearing my small driveway and now the banks are very high. The snow banks are huge! I can't believe I'll have to toss yet more snow over them. It's hard to get through my head that we have not even started the snowy season yet. I will shoot some pictures tomorrow of how we are coping here. At the moment, the wind is really picking up.

I got so involved in my reflections about Christmas in my last post I forgot to include my pictures from Friday night. You may remember that Yuki, Natsue, Kevin and I got together last month for pizza. On Friday night we tried our hand at lasagna. It was great and the girls surprised us after with nachos and Mrs. Cowan's cream cheese/tomato oven dip. I love Japanese food and I constantly wonder what on earth I'm going to eat when I get home, but sometimes, as time passes, Kevin and I really crave something with a North American taste, something greasy and sticks to your ribs (or once you've lived on Japanese food long enough, we've come to say; "sits in your stomach").

Friday, December 16, 2005

Random Thoughts About Christmas

There are only two things I need for Christmas. Either my family or snow - preferably both. So I don't mind going overseas, to a hot destination, at Christmas so long as I am with my family. But I will admit to having felt slightly strange spending Christmas 1999 in Koriyama with no snow. I remember it as an odd experience. How do people in Australia do it year after year?

Christmas is very understated in Japan. Something I knew acutely about because of my time in Koriyama. Everyone is gearing up for a weeks worth of activities at New Years. I do keep hearing the same God-forsaken Mariah Carrie Christmas song everywere. Something I moved to distinctly get away from.

My parents of off to Jasper Park Lodge for the weekend. I very nice spot to spend some time around Christmas. I hope they have fun.

All week about a meter (or more) has fallen on the west coast of Hokkaido. It has not really affected us here in Shiakoi at all, being situated inland and further east. Today, however, the sky seems set on a reversal of these fortunes. By midnight the sky is set to drop 30cm of the fluffy white stuff. I personally think 30cm is a bit alarming; if that much was dropped in Alberta on a regular basis we'd all be in a panic. Here, however, people all take it in their stride. So while travel plans are normally curtailed while the snow is falling. Everything will be put back in order by the middle or so of next week. It's not really storming, there's not any wind. Which causes the light fluffy snow to fall unhurriedly to the ground. So my final thought for this post is that it looks very Christmasy outside today.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Description of a very basic house in Japan

I have been wanting to put down my thoughts about my Japanese residence for a long time. I realize such descriptions and insights, into what I would call my main environment in Shikaoi, can be helpful in understanding what my day to day life is like and also, more broadly, Japanese culture. (All pictures in this post can be expanded by clicking on them.)

My house at Sunset

The house is small - so when I mention that it has two bedrooms, what pops into your head must not be a two-bedroom house in Alberta nor even a two-bedroom apartment. In this respect you must think smaller. To obsificate the subject more; while the house is small, most people look at it as a palace (or a crime) for me to live in it alone. The main factor for creating such small-scale residential architecture is directly linked to Japan's high population density. I actually live in public housing, managed by the town. Referring to the image below, you can see my house is surrounded (to the back) with about twenty-four similar houses. You can see the neighboring houses with my house in the middle. Not the perfect shot, sorry about the snow. The only difference between houses in the area are slight changes in design and lot placement to take advantage of south-facing exposures. It's second nature in Japanese architecture to take advantage of solar power; it is striking for me to notice it everywhere, though its functional uses are quite subtle. You can see many other public housing complexes in Shikaoi. The large-scale implementation of public housing may be striking to some, but we must remember that Japan has taken a different route through history to arrive at a point with modern pressures and values quite different from Canada's.

I guess I will begin at the beginning - the entrance. It comes, of course, with the obligatory one step up - customary to all Japanese architecture. There is also a door to the right when you enter that leads to a small storage room. Nothing fancy, just for keeping shoves and brooms and such inside. I like the use of wood in the front entrance so I have tried to accentuate in the image. Up the step and to the right is the toilet. Yep, just a small room with the toilet. It does, I should add, contain one of the best inventions ever; the heated toilet seat. People laugh (or shutter), but this really is modern civilization at its highest and if you doubt me you obviously haven't ever tried one.

To continue, opposite the toilet door is the door into what on the realtor pamphlet clearly stated as a "Great Room." Reality is far more grim; the rooms holds just about everything not included in the bedrooms and bathroom. Since a shot giving the an impression of entire room is doubtlessly impossible, I have instead chosen to pick my favor thing in the room and focus on it. So while the sofa is nice and the T.V. is... loud?... I will admit to loving my heater most. It's a gas heater - a novelty for an Albertan - and it warms me in the cold mornings and I love it. Also, off the south side of the house, is a large glassed-in room (the Pure Malt center can be seen through it in the image). It can be used for anything – a telescope, modeling, high tea - but I use it for drying clothes and this, in reality, correlates most closely to it's actual purpose (as exemplified by all my neighbors).

Next, opposite the large windows leading to the solarium, is my "kitchen wall" or "wall kitchen" - I'm at a loss as to which word to use to describe it.

There are some details seen in my kitchen that all North American kitchens lack. All cabinets in my kitchen have hard latches on them to keep them tightly closed in larger-sized earthquakes. This keeps the contents inside and off the floor. Also, if a bigger one hits, there are also quick turn off valves for the water and propane that need to be shut off. If a The Big One hits, I will have far bigger concerns than broken dishes. If you look closely on the right side of the image, you will see a door. This leads to my washing machine and o-furo (or shower room). More people have asked about what my washing machine looks like so I have included an image of it. It’s tiny, bordering on cute, isn’t it? I have grown to enjoy the Japanese custom of showering at night. I believe this practice stems from two factors: the Japan’s strong abhorrence for anything dirty - why would you want to get into a nice clean bed after working in a dirty environment all day? And secondly, because it gets so humid here in the summer, if you shower at night you can feel clean before going to bed and sleep well. There may be further health benefits which have escaped me (but I'm sure they're excellent reasons; just very subtle). My washing machine is pretty average. Others I’ve seen look like they came straight out of a NASA lab. In some examples they have somehow managed to cram a drier into the same washing machine. I would like to clarify that while some have driers, and others like myself none, the preferred method, because of the high price of electricity, has stayed with the natural use of a gentle breeze or a sun room. Still, it gets a bit trying to plan days in advance if you need to wash something you want wear because things take forty-eight hours to dry in the humidity. I dream of electric driers now.

Lastly, for good measure, my bedroom. Clean isn't it? I like it, because it's where I sleep after playing hard all day long. It's deathly quiet. But is there ever any downside to living in a quiet environment? (Unless, I suppose, you count among your hobbies making a lot noise.) It’s quite different than downtown Calgary with the constant sirens and helicopters around Memorial Drive. My bedroom, not surprisingly, is directly off the living-room/kitchen combo. The second bedroom is just to the right of mine if you are facing the doors; it is nearer the kitchen-wall (by a few steps). Lately, I have been using the second bedroom as the headquarters for my little recycling program. (This is due to Shikaoi’s rigorous, strict and large-scale recycling program. Don’t worry about not understanding; mandatory large-scale recycling is coming to a North American city near you soon. It was hormourous (and a complete farce) when I learned the details of the recycling program in Japanese. But that’s another post.) Thus the second bedroom is mostly used as storage at the moment but it can be quickly cleaned and converted again for guests.

Well, that’s the end of the post. There’s lost more I could say but most likely I am the only one who would find it interesting. I hope you have found it insightful and have enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I have tried to only focus on the generalities but if there is something specific you are still curious about please leave a comment or email me and I will get back to you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

ぼうねんかい。(Again, Not the Big Post.)

Image Hosted by

People in Stony Plain will find this post will especially interesting. Last night we had a small party at Oki-sans bar (the man in black above) for all the delegates that went to Stony Plain in September (minus Mori-san who pasted away last month). I was invited by numerous people because everyone knows my parents. You can think of it as a Christmas Party but it was actually a party for saying good-bye to the present year. There'll be another round of parties next month welcoming the New Year. The kareoke started fairly quickly but it was nice because everyone sang Christmas carols. I politely declined the mike. I thought it was strange because there wasn't much food to start with but then, an hour into the night, fresh sushi arrived. We were eating twice. Delicious! On to the pictures.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Not the Big Post

To make clear, this is not the big post I mentioned in the previous post. This post simply refers to what I did last night. I went to the Shikaoi Christmas party, though in hindsight there was little mention of Christmas or Santa. I really had no idea what to expect, which is pretty much par for the course for me here. It could have been anything: A quiet sit down dinner with 50 people, or a rousing dance party; my students and their families could have been there or just my boss. I still didn't know quiet what to expect even upon arriving. I had had some hints beforehand because we had been asked to wear costumes. I went with something that would give me an excuse to carry around a cute teddy bear; for my students or cute Japanese women, which ever situation presented itself. I also went in my pajamas and a scarf.

Image Hosted by

As you can see from the pictures, it turned that it was a pretty cool party, with a groovy local DJ, fancy lights, a live band and lots and lots of great food. Many of Shikaoi's young people attended (that were drinking age) and it turned out to be a lot of fun. I'd say that maybe around 2/3 of the people dressed up (except those there were too cool). Many of my co-workers showed up (and kept buying me beer) and I had fun mingling with everyone and introducing myself. One of the quirks that I just love about Japan was represented in the starting time; the tickets clearly stated that the event started promptly at 6:58 PM - not 6:57, not 6:59, not 7:00 PM. (For the record it did start exactly at 6:58 PM). Furthermore, it was scheduled to end promptly at 9:02 PM. In Japan, when the party is over, someone stands up and says, "It's over" and everyone clears out. Overall - even with the two extra minutes - I think the party was just getting started when it was set to end. It had been announced that there would be a second and third party at various local bars to accommodate the surprisingly large crowd but I did not attend. (I knew the organizers and even they were surprised by the numbers). Everything was very well planned and executed with typical Japanese zest. As the image below shows, even the exterior of Chomin Hall was beautifully decorated for the event. In the excitement of the evening I forgot to snap a picture of my costume so I apologize. I will tell you that it was a very comfortable way in which to spend the evening.

Friday, December 09, 2005

ブログ Filler

Hi. My eyes aren't poked out nor are hands chopped off. Just working on something big...

This is a link to a current story out of Japan. It's been all over the news the last day or so. Maybe you heard about it? It's funny in the kind of way that it didn't happy to me.,,3-1917093,00.html

I worked the total out from the news right now and they said 27 billion Yen, that's about $258 million Canadian at today's closing rates. And they cancelled the Christmas party! I haven't been posting lately because I'm working on a really big post. And for those who hate my writing; there'll be lots of pictures. And for those that don't like my pictures... uh... you're out of luck - sorry.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


I had a really good day today. Sitting down this evening to write this post, I am trying to think what made this day different from yesterday or tomorrow; but I can't think of anything specific.

This morning saw my return to Shikaoi Yochen. The children and I get along very well (as evidenced here), though I am doubtful much English gets learned, but the connection is strong. The kindergarten teachers went to the person at the office that does my schedule and asked that I attend, and thus it was granted. Wow. Yes, I get paid to do this. We made Mochi, a great, abet sticky, winter season foodstuff made from rice. Context? Mochi is quite an old technique of processing cooked rice to make it last longer without refigeration. Then one all has to do later is reheat it again to get a gooy rice like snack. Coming to what I learned to: mochi started first in the north, but now is available all over Japan.

You start by taking a certain type of rice and steaming it. Next, you put said rice in a special large stone or wood bowl. I will refer the reader to the image on the left. This bowl has to be big, strong and heavy, because you will be hammering it with a large axe-like mallet. This completely crushes the grains of cooked rice into the same consistency. The factor that brings about any sort of difficulty, but also makes eating mochi so fun, is that the rice becomes very sticky. The secret weapon in this regard is simple - water. If you don't keep things damp, you will pick up the mallet with a large glob of mochi stuck on with a death grip. That is what the second teacher in the picture is doing: keeping the part of the mochi that is being struck damp, the wooden mallet wet, and also turning the growing lump of mochi so that it is evenly mixed. After about 15 or 20 minutes of this process one has mochi.

There are a couple of ways to eat mochi, none of which I really would really kill someone for. I prefer it simply served with soy sauce and dried seaweed. Basically what was offered today, besides what I have already stated above, was mochi in dried soy bean, mochi in unko (sweet bean, note to dad: that is not sweet!), and mochi in ground black sesame. It was a lot of fun and the kids were just enthralled with the pummling of the rice. Each child, over the one and a half that we did this activity, was able to give 5 or 6 good whacks to the mochi. I caught a good shot of one of my little students just about to deal a death blow to the mochi. What a titan effort. らいしゅ!Because kids that are only 5,4, and 3, are not strong enough to really mix the rice well, adults had to mix it first to a relitively finished state. Only one close call with the sticky mochi later. I had been sitting on the floor with some four year olds, eating a tiny sample of finished mochi (most of it was being saved for today's lunch) and having the children tell me what it is, how its made, was it fun, and some of its basic history. Suddenly - and such things are hard to predict - one, and then all of the kids, decided now would be a good time to hug me. After having just eaten mochi I was sceptical that everyone's hands were completely void of leftover mochi. My feelings proved correct as I felt mochi get into my hair. Can't be mad - such things are the norm in my job - it made me chuckle. We found the culpret and ended that particular game for the moment. Luckily, it wasn't much mochi nor did it decided to make my head home.

Sadly, I couldn't stay for lunch to enjoy our hard work because I had another engagement with my kids in Tsumei Sho. In a previous post I had written about my experiences harvesting the school's small plot of soba, by hand, with my students (seen here). Today was the pay off. Lunch was delicious, some of the best soba I have every had. It was a pleasure to eat something we had worked to take out of the ground months earlier (the delay was due to the need to dry the buck wheat). I had missed, because I was at the kindergarten, the students making the actual noodles. You could tell that the noodles were hand made because you could see that all the noodles were not perfectly uniform. Quite a lot of people that live in the area, plus the local kindergarten, came to sample the crop as well. My kids were thrilled I returned to share the harvest.

To cap the day; it was great weather! A beautiful day. A balmy 3 C. Just look at the shot below. Gorgeous. I just got back in from a run and it's still quite nice outside. Yes, a run. I had let that slide a bit during NaNoWriMo (only twice) and it felt great to round the track again. It was a bit short, but I didn't want to be stiff tomorrow for a full day at Shikaoi Elementary School. It felt so good I will probably do a full run on Thursday night. Saw two of my students and the ran with me for a while and I played soccer. Their father looked happy that I took them off their hands for a while. I start badminton on Friday night. Can't wait, but I'm nervous since I haven't played in three years. Sigh... Time to read and then to bed. I can't wait to wake up to another day tomorrow.

Image Hosted by

Sunday, December 04, 2005

New Images from Sunday

A very nice day here; the warm sun bringing today's high up to 3 C. It felt like it was a busy day; woke up early, did laundry, took pictures, wrote a bit, read a lot. I made fried rice with dried sea weed and mushrooms for dinner. They are a type of mushroom we don't have in Canada; at least not at the Stony Plain Safeway, but you can probably get them at T & T Market on the west end by now. I'll be danged if I can remember their name, but they are really good. If you have been reading my blog lately you are probably wondering where the new pictures from the new camera. This evening, with a horrible mind-numbing Japanese TV show about... kareoke?... on, I have quickly put together a group of pictures that illustrate the differences in my old tiny Sony T5 and my new Nikon D70s dslr (digital single reflex Lens). I have already come to love my camera, but on thing I will admit is that the learning curve is very high. This is not a camera you can just pick up and take good pictures with and I expect to be learning the camera and my own shooting style over the next couple of months. Already I can say that I am very happy with the image quality; very sharp and very colourful. The image above of me shows one of the neat tricks you can do with different types of lenses. The 30mm f1.4 lens can keep my kick-arse punk-rock powerbook in sharp focus and gracefully keep me out of focus. The other pictures I took today are taken right out my front door. As mentioned it was very nice and some of my students were sliding down a small hill in the last of the warm afternoon sun. With the dslr I can stop action - keeping it very sharp, my tiny Sony couldn't keep up and always produced motion blur. The pictures below were taken at a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second. Another reason to upgrade the camera is a quicker auto-focus. Both fast shutter speeds and fast auto-focus are a must when trying to take pictures of kids.

I will also add before ending this post that the picture of me above more-or-less accurately represents my position in front of the computer for most of November, busy with NaNoWriMo. Keep it in mind when you read my post below about NaNoWriMo by the numbers. From this point on I will be mixing pictures from both cameras. The Sony T5 has treated me well and I believe it is the perfect camera for carrying around day to day. I will most likely only mention the details of the camera when I believe it adds to the appreciation of the picture or someone asks. I do hope to post other images highlighting Nikon's advantages for the next couple of weeks as an excuse to play around with my new toy. (Too honest?) Now, its time to turn off the T.V. and go have a shower, and then read some more. Tomorrows a full week of school.