Thursday, May 31, 2007

Friday/It's not fog!

Happy Friday to everyone out there in cyberland. I was dreaming/hoping for a really nice/sunny day but to no avail. Just west of my house is a plateau, on which one of my schools is located. It's hard to call it "fog" when I can see from my front door just how low the cloud cover is. Driving through this rather intense/surreal soup, I was left wondering if I would even be able to spot my school located a mere 50 meters off the side of the road. The kids were mezmerized by it but sadly, as magic rarely last forever in this world, by eleven o'clock things had returned to a more mundane overcast day.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Why is the office so busy today?

I feel a bit like venting today. Last Novmeber it was a nasty sinus infection, one of the most painful things I have ever gone through, and today it's a debilitating - at least for a elementary school teacher - throat inflection. It has been getting worst for a week and I had been waiting for it to turn into a full blown cold but it never did. Today I woke up and it felt like I swallowed an irrate cat and I had had enough. I feel discourged because I eat so many vegetables I feel like a grazing cow somedays; I am forever washing my hands up to the elbows but I still get sick. I guess that is the price one pays when working in close contact with so many kids. I want some chicken soup so bad (most days it's pizza). I should also add that I have already been to the doctor and at this point am well on the path to recovery.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

It's all just so normal

I have found myself getting settled into a daily routine of work that I will diligently serve until I go home for two weeks in August. I have many goals but since they are basically boring and routine, they are probably best left to myself. I do have many commitments during this period, but they are sort of the decorations put over the facade, not the structure. This doesn't make me sad in the slightest, I really am a robot at heart. However, this all makes for poor blogging fodder. I guess one blip that stands out is the Stony Plain delegation arrive in July which I hope to help with. I am unaware at this point as to what degree it will upset my routine. I'm getting not much. Running, badminton and writing are all things I plan to make a habit of during this time and since I have already written today (besides this blog post) running will be next to cross off my list. I hope everyone is having a good Wednesday and profusely apologize to those expecting something remotely Japanese.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Morning Rush

My classes were cancelled today. Needless to say this was something I learned only once I arrived at school. I dedicated the morning to finishing up some pressing emails and working on a phonics worksheet. Now I move to update my blog which will leave the afternoon free to write. The only problem being that its Monday and there's not exactly a lot going on. One thing of note is that we have opened up all windows in the building which are numerous and big. This has brought the outdoors in and with it a slight breeze. I have my sweater on. Other than that, after three days of rain, it's nice to have the sun and fresh air inside. This is a practice I plan to bring back to Canada with me.

Not on the tour....

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Yesterday after talking to my parents the phone immediately rang again inviting me to an event which I could have sworn was planned for the next day (today, not Saturday). In any event, I was told to be be ready in exactly an hour by the Kobayashi's and then escorted to a remote park in a hilly area. The event was of great interest to me, focusing on mountain vegetables (Sansai), which are plentiful around Shikaoi this time of year. Sadly the weather was uncooperative, ranging from complete downpour to faint misting. The original plan of picking vegetables ourselves was scraped in favor of just eating under the protection of long hut made for Yaki niku barbecue (because we had a lot of school kids - my students - in the group). A group of adults had graciously gone earlier and collected the vegetables we would use. With the arrival of Spring comes one of my favorite Japanese foods, Sansai ("san" meaning mountain and "sai" sort for vegetables). These are early vegetables - the first green of the season really - and are picked when they are still very young. They don't look like your average corn or broccoli. Being young plants they are packed with all the nutrients they will need to grow; add to this the soft edible meat owing to their early harvesting and you have one of my favorite foods. Anything with sansai is good but my favorite method is tempura with just a touch of sea salt. I have made sure to include a picture of its production. The grilling was no less tempting with yakisoba, flavorful BBQ'd lamb, and grilled wild mushrooms and onions (ainu negi). Japanese cuisine at its finest and the perfect excuse to skip my run at short notice. The one awkward picture of Mitagaku-san (very nice man that organized everything) explaining the different wild plants we were going to eat was due to me holding one edge of the paper and taking the picture at the same time and a spider crawling near my hand.

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I want to remind all my readers that all small thumbnails to the left side can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

My Weekend Pt. 2

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The second half of the trip was spent at a small mountain onsen run by a friendly extended family. The image was taken from a ridge above the hotel and shows how precariously the hotel is perch on yet another ridge with the Furano valley in the distance. This is the real thing with a rare view of mountain peaks right from the outdoor pool. Best. Onsen. Ever.

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The first thing James does when entering a room is scout out the tea-making possibilities.

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This sunset from the first night was included.

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Many hiking paths from the easy to the extreme extend to the front door and ever employee is an expert in the area. The mountain is extremely volcanic - though at the moment for the most part dormant - hence a good place to build an onsen (hot springs). Furthermore, it's also a good place to hike because we don't often see this kind of geography in Alberta.

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The view from my futon on the floor looking out the window in the morning. The distinct impression was that we were seated on a cloud. What fun!

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Last morning.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

My Weekend Pt. 1

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Having less time to update than I had initally thought, I am going to split my update into two parts and cover our time in Otaru here. As can be seen from the pictures - really poor weather - even though we pushed back our dates to try and out last the weather in Sapporo (to no avail).

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Above, our hotel. Small and right on the ocean, it wasn't busy when we were there. I would love to stay there again but next time would want to plan out the meals better.

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Edit: Looking up from the otherside of the hotel.

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Because of the weather, there was lots of this in the hotel room. Cozy and good for visiting.

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We did, however, feel particularly adventurous, and went out at the first sign the rain was letting up.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I'm Home

I saw James and Stef off to Honshu today to continue their Japanese adventure. While I am getting my life back to normal please enjoy these pictures of me pointing to volcanic steam vents in Daisetsusan National Park.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Picture from Susukino

A slight change in plans due to weather left us in Sapporo last night to wait out the rain. Needless to say, looking at the picture, everyone arrived smoothly in Japan. Excuse the image quality as I have not had a chance to edit the picture or re size it because I'm using the hotel's computers. Yesterday we saw a wonderful exhibit about the human body (the one that's touring the world) and then an exhibit of very very old Buddhist art that hasn't been displayed in public for years. Today we are off to the ocean after the tiniest bit of shopping and some tea.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Leaving Shikaoi in a rain storm

Missing from my daily stream of posts is any hint of what is coming up in my future. I thought it would be good form at this point outline where I'm going to be over the next couple of days to save needless worry about why my blog has gone silent all of a sudden. I plan join friends James and Stef from Canada in traveling around Hokkaido to all the places I have wanted to go but never had the excuse. The sea and the mountains are my two top priorities. The reason my blog will be silent is because we will be staying at small hotels that lack basic wireless high speed service in every room thus I see no reason to even bring my lap top. If I can mange an update I certainly will but otherwise a huge post with pictures and text at the end will have to do. I promise.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Quick Tuesday Update

What's going on? Just general busyness. My scheadule is kind of screwed today so organizational time has gone out the window. Which is a shame really because I have a lot to do before the weekend. At least yesterday was productive. Anyways, the big project I'm working on is images of the cherry blossoms that have finally come out in Shikaoi. I will definately but up the post tomorrow afternoon (my time).

Friday, May 11, 2007


Working around children in Japan I have absorbed a lot of their interests; including watching in horror the enormous popularity of giant beetles. In Fukushima, against my better judgement, I bought a preserved giant beetle that I knew would elicit "Ooohs" and "Ahhhs" from my students. (Best over-the-top reaction ever from the grade three's.) Honestly, I despise the thing; sleeping with care, worrying it will become a zombie hime kabuto. The root of this irrational fear, simply put; we just don't have insects this size in Alberta. Adding to my disbelief, this hellspawn can fly! I bet it can carry away small children. In Alberta (and Hokkaido) our winters are too cold for beetles to survive winter buried deep in trees. But Fukushima's forests are perfect. I have seen them before alive and in the wild but they were much smaller. Several different types of giant beetles exist. A live kabuto mushi over 10cm can be sold for over $30,000. (For unknown reasons, growing live kabuto mushi this big in captivity seems impossible expect for a few professionals, thus people search tirelessly in nature.) Once dead, a 8cm hime kabuto, such as mine, can be bought for as little as 1000 Yen. The thing will never make it to Canada. Once I have showed it to all of my students, I will throw it into the first bottomless pit I can find.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


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I wasn't going to bring this up at all but I realized it might be more interesting for my readers. I was in the paper yesterday. Above pictures of pictures taken from yesterday's (Hokkaido wide) newspaper. Last week, the day before I went to Fukushima, we had an open class. I had known what it was about but had been so busy I barely thought anything of it. However, lo and behold, in yesterday's paper on page two, was a long story (by Japanese standards) about Shikaoi's extensive English program and how its different from the average Japanese student's English class. The text goes on to talk about lower teacher-student ratios, more hours dedicated to English per year and the use of most advance teaching methods.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sandwiches are Beautiful

It won't come as to much of a surprise to those that know me that I love sandwiches. Sure I like good Italian food or good sushi, but when it comes to something I could eat everyday, everymeal; it must look toward the humble sandwich.

The Tsuchiya's house in Koriyama, well quieter that it was when I was living there seven years ago for several tragic reasons, still often represents a hive of activity; extended family, friends, business associates, workmen, and delivery people are constantly moving in and out of the house. In attempting to subtract from the choas instead of add to it, I suggested one day for lunch we try good old fashion coldcut sandwiches. Nothing could be easier to offer the variety of people that could around for lunch any given day. On this particular day, nine people were aptly fed: Yukipapa, Kumama, Hiromi, Kaho, Shiho, Shigetaro and guest, and Shigetaku (but he left early for an appointment) with me taking the picture.

Afterward everyone raved about the sandwiches; claiming surprise about the simplness of just putting everything on the table for everyone to make their own. I was helped by quailty ingredients; I found great cheeses and sliced meats which cqn be hard to find in Japan. (We ended up going to what must be the only deli in Koriyama.) Bread too was key; using fresh - literaly hours old - crossants, baguettes and buns; all up to Japan's normally high standards. My Grandma M. will be happy to know it was a complete success!

On a side note: Even though I was trying to keep everything simple, the Japanese, and espesically Kumama, sometimes have a certain way things ought be done. I wanted to just plop the sliced meat and cheese on plates and open the bags of buns on the table. I desperately hoped not to give Kumama and Hiromi extra work for what I had earlier advertised as a quick and easy meal. I promised it would taste the same. We humorously nearly came to blows in the kitchen because Kumama was strongly of the opinion that the meat, cheese and tomatoes should be neatly arranged on plates and the table set par excellence. (She won.)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Oh the irony.

I write this post shaking my fists at the Weather Gods.

So heading out the door this morning, as groggy as anyone might be on a Monday morning, one couldn't help but notice the complete down pour. I watched longingly, from the amples windows inside the school, it brighten up outside throughout the day. And just as I began to believe my hopes of going for a run could be salvaged, I watched as work wound to an end, the sky darken. It stayed rainy until just after dark when it stopped, and now if one was so inclined, you could stepp outside and see field of stars.

Great house in Koriyama

Well, in trying to keep the theme of architecture healthy in my blog I would like to add these images of a traditional-style house overlooking a small park only blocks away from the Tsuchiya's house. I've known about it for years but only recently thought to take a picture of it. Not out standing pictures really, more for future reference. One can't tell from the images but the layout of the house and grounds is well thought out and innovative. Everything seems to just naturally flow from one part to the other. This does not come as unexecpted in Japan. In putting these images up I don't mean to put the Tsuchiya's house down, with it's huge private garden done in the traditional style leading visitors to the entrance I still give the edge to the Tsuchiya's house. However, I really liked this house and its design. Especially its gate, which I can easily imagine welcoming guests to my house. Dr. Tsuchiya, not surprisingly, knows the owners and we were planning to take a quick look inside but we ran out of time before suitable arrangments could be made.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Home From Koriyama

Okay. Good night! I'm a little tired since its after 11 but I'm home safe and sound nonetheless. I expect I will give a longish update tomorrow. It was raining when I left Fukushima and raining in Shikaoi too. Somethings are unavoidable.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Images From Koriyama

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The above picture was taken by Kaho (10), the Tsuchiya's niece!

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Not a cherry blossom. :(
(But that is my hand.)

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The above object is takenoko, a type of bamboo that is prized in spring for eating. I had a chance to eat some later grown right outside the house and it was very bitter in its raw state. I'm sure the finsihed product will be produced for breakfast tomorrow. Not the most friendly looking vegetable.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

In Honshu

I`m getting back lots of lovely memories of working with MS Windows as I type this update because just a second ago the system crashed and I lost the post. What fun! For the record, we`re starting over.

At this point I am well settled in at the Tsuchiya`s. With it being Golden Week lots of the Tsuchiya`s will be around with people arriving constantly. Tomorrow will be even more busy around the house. Kumama is busy in the kitchen right now making enough curry rice to feed an army. And she is such a good cook, I know it will be good. I also hope to show my Hong Kong photos to everyone after dinner.

The weather was very nice today, sunny and warm with a slight breeze. I was lucky to spend most of it outside with Kaho and Shiho the Tsuchiya`s nicies taking photos, playing baseball, and just being generally goofy.

I will try to get some pictures up later but just wanted to say I am having a great time in Koriyama. Tomorrow the weather is not as nice so maybe shopping. I promised the Tsuchiya`s I would make them my miso soup. I will try to post some pictures later but if I don`t I want the readers to know on Saturday I plan to send time with various South Koriyama Rotary members.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Hmmm.. I didn't plan this too well. The dishes and vacuuming are done and I'm all packed but it's not even 9:30 AM yet. I would love to go for a run because I have just the perfect window of freetime until I have to leave but at the moment it's cold outside - frigid really - and raining. I could go indoors since I have the day off but it would cause a bit of a scandel for the locals that would see me at the Sports Center and not at school and wouldn't know I have the day off. Hence I am sequestered in my house for the time being. I have to take the train to the airport so really its a whole day in transit. (It's fun though.)