Friday, October 31, 2003

Left early this morning for Nikko which is where the Tokugawa Shogun is buried. The temple a stunning array of decadent carvings. Very beautiful - and a UNESCO World Heritage Sight. We took the Spacia up - Spacia doesn't translate to extra space. It just has seats that recline. And costs twice as much. Oh, it is also an express train - it gets there 10 minutes faster than the regular one. I can now say I've been on it. I don' t think I'll take it again - not worth the extra dough. Although there were foldout trays for each arm which made eating our bentos (Japanese lunch boxes) easier.

We choose the perfect time to go - the leaves are in full colour and are absolutely gorgeous! Nikko is actually a collection of several temples and a Japanese garden. The garden was wonderful. I've only ever been in spring/summer. In the fall, the Japanese maples are vibrant red and the moss is lush and dark green... it is a bit patchy earlier in the year. I got some GREAT pica - so make sure you check out my photoblog. I'll be posting the garden pics over the next week.

We walked around Nikko all day - the weather was great. It wasn't too busy either which was another bonus. We didn't go to see all of the things. Just the garden, Sanbustudo (the temple with three large Buddhas inside) and Toshogu which is the main shrine. Toshogu is the highlight though. After we traipsed thru and took all our pics and bought our souvenirs, we caught a taxi to Kinugawa Onsen... and just missed the bus that would go to our hotel. So we had to get another taxi!

Actually the taxi ride was great. It worked out to be about the same price as the bus (considering there were four of us) and the drive was stunning! I now know why it takes two hours to travel between Nikko and Yunishigawa onsen when they are only like 20 km apart... you have to go up and around mountains! Lots of them. And all of them were covered in colourful trees. The taxi driver even stopped one point by a large river that made for great pictures - he stopped so we could take pics.

We eventually got to the hotel and checked in. We waited in the lobby until they took us up to our rooms. While we waited they served amazake and dango. Amazake is sweet sake. I really liked it. It tasted a bit yeasty, so no one else liked it. Having tasted overpowering drain cleaner like sake in the past, this stuff was wonderful. It didn't have that really harsh taste. The dango were just like any other dango you get. Dango are rice dough balls with a soy-based sauce on them. They aren't that exciting.

A man named Hachi came over and introduced himself - he spoke English and was great at explaining everything to us. This was an unexpected surprise - it was really nice because it took the pressure off Hiroshi and it helped a lot at dinner time! We went up to our rooms and were shocked. They were huge! We had requested a certain style of room, but none were available, so we were given VIP rooms. In addition to a very large tatami room with the adjoining sitting area (standard to Japanese inns) there was another large tatami room, a small kitchen area (cupboard with dishes and sink) and a bathroom with two toilets! And we had two rooms like this! We all could have stayed in one. Mom and Donnie had the nicer room - their scrolls in the alcoves were prettier and their seating area was much larger - it had a couch and two upholstered chairs. Ours just had wide chair things. Hiroshi and I had the better view though.

We all got into our yukata and prepared to go down to dinner. One of the staff helped mom and Donnie put them on correctly. I couldn't get one to fit me. My hips are too big. I was so embarrassed. I had a huge cry and Hiroshi was really sweet about it. He is usually less than helpful when I am upset and tends to be very unsympathetic. He gave me a cuddle which was what I needed and called down to see about other options. Eventually they found the old style they used - it was pants with a yukata type top. I put the regular yukata over top of that. Basically when I walked the yukata opened a bit too revealingly, so the pants worked perfectly. The top also showed way too much cleavage (think popping boob) so the other top fixed that too.

The dinner was absolutely incredible. Hachi joined us to explain what each of the dishes were - which was a godsend. It was all local mountain food, so Hiroshi wasn't sure about a lot of it. The meal started with a wild mountain grape wine aperitif. This was really good! Wish we could have ordered a whole bottle of it ;) Then we had, in no particular order:
- chestnut tofu with a slice of okra
- royal jelly
- skewer with matsutake mushroom, shrimp and mountain potato
- fresh trout sashimi (raw trout) -- this was incredible
- mushroom and tofu soup
- mountain potato soup
- chawanmushi which is savory pudding
- deer sashimi -- no one wanted to eat this. It was quite good though. Mom and Donnie cooked theirs though.
- teppanyaki -- beef cooked on a steel sheet
- Japanese pickles
- rice with matsutake mushrooms
- miso soup
- miso on a paddle in the fire
- chestnut mouse and melon for dessert

Matsutake are very rare mushrooms that grow by pine trees. You can only get them a few places in the world (BC being one of them) and the Japanese go gah-gah over them every fall. The miso is made daily at the hotel and is delicious! It is red miso, which I like. It is the first one that I have ever tasted that was really fruity. Quite good. I bought some as a souvenir.

After that sumptuous dinner we all got ready to go in the onsen (hotspring). The ishiburo (stone bath) was open for women at night so we went there first. Mom and Donnie were having a hoot - maybe the wine helped?? Then we went to the rotemburo (outdoor bath). We had to walk down these slippery stone stairs to it. It was cool though. Then up to bed for a nice sleep.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Ok, I'm actually writing this well after the fact and back dating it... too busy to write while mom and Donnie were here. I had to work on Thursday so Hiroshi took them sightseeing. They went up the Metropolitan Gov't Bldg which has really great views of Tokyo. It was a bit hazy on the horizon though, so they couldn't see Fuji. Then they went to the East Garden at Tokyo Palace and to Akihabara to check out the electronics after that.
I did manage to meet them for lunch and we had sushi. We played induction into using chopsticks *lol* They actually did pretty good. I don't think Donnie liked it all that much, but she was a real trooper and did try everything. I didn't get home until late evening from work, and was feeling tired so didn't feel like cooking dinner... so we ordered pizza! Gotta LOVE corn on pizza! We also ordered on with eggplant and meat - that one is good too. They weren't into squid rings, potato, mayonnaise or tuna for some reason *grin*

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Well mom and Donnie made it here ok. Haven't lost them yet dad ;) They now understand why I'm a total zombie when I get to Canada... and the jet lag is a million times worse going that way! Both of them are now crashed on the futons. Things are cozy in the apartment - four people is a lot more than two when you only have a 40 sq m apartment.
Thought the internet was down tonight. Had Hiroshi look at everything - settings, network etc. Couldn't get it to work. Then asked the million dollar question - Did any of the cables get unplugged when you were cleaning (aka shoving your stuff underneath the desk to look like you cleaned)? The internet works fine now.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

I feel like I've been run over by a truck... the flu is on my heels. Darn sick students passing it my way *grumble* Mom and Donnie arrive tomorrow! I'm supposed to be cleaning, but I just can't summon up the energy. Figure it will be a last minute effort tomorrow afternoon. Or maybe Hiroshi will be a sweetie and he'll do it. One can only hope.

And what's up with all you people in stealth mode? Click on the "ramble back" button and say hi!

Sunday, October 26, 2003

"Flower Meanings" For the ladies - what does your fav flower mean? Mine: Calla lily = beauty. For the men - what the heck do we need to do to make you buy us flowers without bugging/begging/pleading/whining?

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Ok, need movie advice. Should I go see Kill Bill or Matchstick Men... or neither? Decisions decisions. Give me a review :)

Friday, October 24, 2003

So, Hiroshi doesn't cook. Ever. He has difficulty getting a glass of water for himself. I don't mind too much cuz generally he does all the other housework... and I can usually say I'm too tired to cook ;) Ok, I'm a lazy wife. You know your DH is totally incompetent when.... He was whining that he was hungry at lunch time, so I told him to find some things. So he got a can of peaches and was hunting around for the can opener - which I eventually had to get for him. About two minutes later, I'm opening the peaches. Why? He can't use a can opener! Talk about deep set amnesia! Geesh. This is the man who used to cook me really awesome cooking creations BEFORE we lived together. Hmmm..

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Stupid Kikkoman Thing This is mildly amusing. Very Japanese. In the chorus they are playing on English words ... this is the translated version - in the original Japanese this is kinda cute. "Show you" is how you pronounce shouyu, the Japanese name for soy sauce.
EBAY REALLY NAILS IT: Bidding heating up for part of city's landmark
The nail from the Uniroyal tire! Please, please, pretty please???!!! You can UPS it along with a pumpkin pie to me for Christmas!
Seriously - they're "renovating" the Uniroyal tire? For those of you who are not in the know, the Uniroyal tire iis this massive, like 10 storey high, tire off the highway in Detroit. It's like the giant wooden deck chair on Highway 6 in Ontario, except that that's a chair and not tire ;)
Anyway, $1000 bucks for a giant nail. That's a bargain, isn't it?
Oh, here's a link for those who've never seen the giant tire... Uniroyal Tire - pic and info They're spending a million bucks on renovation that thing???!!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2003 | Giant jellyfish turn up off Japanese coast (October 20, 2003)
These are some big jelly fish! Having tasted jelly fish once, I know exactly why it is not a popular food item. Ick. Imagine encountering one of these on a day at the beach. Yikes!

Monday, October 20, 2003

Love my digital camera (thanks dad!) and I'm having a total blast taking pictures for my photoblog... but... I realize the limitations of it now that I'm using it so much. 2MGpixels just isn't enough for detail pics. And not having macros bites the big one. I can't take any close ups, which sucks. Today there were some beautiful flowers on display near my client's office and out of 40 some odd pics, 9 came out. That's it! The rest were too blurry to be any good. The composition of the pics was fabulous - but when you can only see outlines that are so blurry you think you need new glasses, well, it just doesn't work. Which is sad, cuz the colour play was beautiful.

This of course means that I want to buy a better camera. I think what I want is pretty much out of my price range though. *sigh* My Casio Elixim is perfect in terms of portability - I carry it everywhere so I can always snap some pics of interesting things... but... it needs an upgrade. I have no problems with distance pics. It is great with those. It's just those darn close ups. Oh well, I know what to look for next time I guess.

Of course that MP3 player in it rocks! Love listening to my tunes. Gotta hurry up and download everything I want before all the sites go 'pay per download'.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Today I had to work (yes, I know it is Sunday and that I don't get a day off this week). Blech. I finished reading my Sue Grafton book (Alphabet series - good train reading. Train reading = mildly entertaining plot and doesn't matter if you miss a paragraph or forget your place). This means I now get to decide whether I want to read 'L' or something different.

I seemed to have wasted a lot of time this evening doing pretty much nothing. I did put the laundry on and started putting things away. I have a quest to clean off the junk on the kitchen table ... and perhaps the desk? I have to cook up chicken which has been marinated in the fridge for a while... as in borderline garbage while. Hope it is ok. There are no good movies, well no movies period, on tv tonight so I suppose I should be productive and clean the apartment.

The NHK guy came calling today. NHK is the public service channel here. You're supposed to pay something like $250US a year for it. I don't think so. I tried the "I don't speak Japanese" but then he forked over an English brochure, so I had to resort to lying and saying "I don't have a TV". Really. And if you look in my apartment those two things that look like tvs are just your imagination. Honest. He left, so maybe he believed me.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

I finally took a whole bunch of pics today so I could update the photoblog (link on the right). It was rainy and crappy - again. My pictures are looking rather sinister lately.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Kids Play
Spoiled young'uns... no idea how great Atari is. They're dissing Pong for crying out loud! And Space Invaders. All you 80s children, take a read - quite funny what young ppl think of the first video games. I remember begging my parents for months to get an Atari. I swear we were the last family to get one. That and the Beta...

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Nothing exciting today except work, work, work. Gotta go make tandoori chicken and baked potato - yuuuuummmm!

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Mainichi Interactive - Top News
Big earthquake in Tokyo today, and I didn't even feel it! Geesh =( I was on the train at the time or walking. Oh well.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

I totally missed Thanksgiving! Actually, I didn't even know it was Thanksgiving until I suddenly got all these e-mails about people going to visit their families and having nice dinner. Can someone please, please, please UPS me some turkey and pumpkin pie? Ok, the turkey prolly won't make it, but if you pack the pie really well and throw in some cold packs I'm sure it will get here ok. Pretty please? *sigh* The one drawback of living in Japan - no darn pumpkin pie.
Hana to Hana
So this is the place I found to stay at. It looks great! There are like 6 hotspring baths, and the food looks yummy! The site is all in Japanese but if you click on the pink buttons you can see what it looks like. I'm so excited about staying here!

Monday, October 13, 2003

Today it rained like crazy, and there wasn't even a typhoon! Around 2 the skies just let loose. I was picking up some groceries and when I came back I had to cross over the river (actually it is a drainage ditch IMO, but it has been named Meguro river). It had stopped raining, but I couldn't believe how high the water in the ditch was! I've never seen it so high. It was within a couple meters of the top. The ditch is probably 20 meters deep, and another twenty across. The water line is usually at least 10 meters down. So the water rose quickly! When I got to the other side, the low lying areas beside the ditch were flooded! Couldn't believe it.
So that was my excitement for today. Today was a holiday so I had a two day weekend for the first time in a while. Other than groceries I just hung out. Watched Minority Report on video. Going to make nabe (hot pot) for dinner with cod, konnyaku and veggies. Yum! First time this season.
Thought I had found a good ryokan (inn) to go to when mom and Donnie come, but I have now found an even better one. I just have to get Hiroshi to check through the website. This one looks like it is cheaper too. Go figure. Also realized that it might be snowing where we are going. We are going way up in the mountains in central Japan. Could be chilly! But that will make the onsen water all the more enjoyable!

Sunday, October 12, 2003

I ordered some pants from Eddie Bauer online, and they came yesterday. I was a bit worried that they would be too tight - I was at the end of the range in the size I ordered, and I wasn't sure if the measurement was the garment measurement or if it fit that measurement. What I mean is, if the pants were that exact measurement they'd be skin tight. Anyway, they arrived and I tried them on and they were too big! The sizing charts are much nicer in women's sizes (i.e. fat people sizes). The pants I got were very roomy.

The expensive wool blend pair that I ordered were falling off me. I'll have to return them. The material is beautiful. I have to call them to figure out what size I should order. The other two pairs of pants seemed huge at first too. I was upset that I would have to return the whole order! Then I took a look at them, and the hip area is right - it is just the waist. Ah, the standard problem. Why is it that pant manufacturers think that women's waists are the same darn size as their hips??

Anyway, I decided that a smaller size would probably pull in the hips and I'd still have the problem of the huge waist. So I went on a sewing adventure. Easiest way to take in pants - go up the butt. So I took the waist in about 3" and took some out of the butt as well. The waist could have come in a bit more but then the fit was totally weird. As it is they're a bit off. (MOM - if you are reading this, any other ideas to take these in? I have another pair in a different colour too).

So I got out my cheap sewing machine. Now by cheap I really do mean cheap. Ok, it cost me $15 at a useful gadgets fair (they have these at department stores every so often). It takes batteries *lol* Now I should have known that there is no way that that thing can do heavy cotton twill - in a double layer no less. I had a total disaster with thread all wrapped around the bobbing and knotting up in the pants. So forgot that idea. Hand sewing here we go.

So I hand sewed them. I did a good job too. Was very patient and tried to make the stitches all the same size. Then they were puckering a bit in the back - well folding. Hard to describe. So I had to come down a bit more - extend the angle down a bit, and now they lay properly. Then they were too long, so I had to hem them. Luckily there is the best invention in the world here - iron hem. You hem the pants, then wet this ribbon like thing and iron it on. Works great and takes all of five minutes to do. I LOVE it!

So all that done, I now have this big flap of material on the inside of my pants. So off to the sewing store to find bias. I took Hiroshi with me to explain. He was less than useless... this is the man that can't boil water. Try to have him explain sewing terms *roflol* Well it eventually turns out that in Japanese bias is bias. Doh! So I got the ironable bias - cuz I can't hand sew that. Cut off the big hunk of material, put the bias on and now I'm rocking and rolling. I might have to redo the bias though. It didn't stick very well - I think because I didn't wet it enough. (For the men reading this, bias is tape that you stick on a raw seam so that the material doesn't fray).

So now I have two pairs of pants that fit. Will re-order those other pants in the correct size, but will only get one of those. As I get thinner I'll order them in smaller sizes, cuz they really are wonderful. Very soft material and it falls nicely.

Overall, the online experience was ok - I'd be thrilled if they had fit perfectly. I'll order from them again. I can't get pants in my size here - they simple don't offer them. Size 14 is about as high as they go in Japan... and that is in the plus sized section! Fair warning - once you order, you can't change the sizes or anything. I second guessed and tried to order a bigger size, but couldn't change the order. It worked out with the sizes I did get, but I'm a bit peeved that no one even answered the email I sent. That is just sucky customer service. So my suggestion - don't go by the size charts, ask them directly... before you order!

Saturday, October 11, 2003

So I'm trying to hunt down an onsen to stay at when my mom and aunt come. I was looking at one that I thought was the one I saw in a brochure, only to realize that it was just one with the same name! Gotta love Japan and how they have places that are side by side with the same name! Anyway, I was looking at the hotel, and it looked quite nice. I finally found the webpage for the ryokan (Japanese inn). Hopefully there will be rooms available. If not I am looking for places for Plan B... but they are all in a resort dense onsen town. I hope we get the other one. It is really old and looks very quaint. So, cross your fingers for us!

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

I'm so excited!! Not only is my mom coming to visit at the end of this month, but now my aunt is coming too!! I can't wait! It will be so much fun!

Tonight my MIL (mother-in-law) called. The phone rang and I hesitated to answer it (cuz it is never for me) but decided to grab it. Hiroshi is working tonight so I was stuck! Not that I dislike MIL, but she doesn't speak English. And, my Japanese is extremely limited. Conversations with her are aweful experiences for me because I can't say anything and don't have the vocabulary to fit into the simple structures that I do know. Well tonight I talked to her for half an hour! I'm amazed! And there was actual communication.

Hiroshi always gets a kick out of this - his mom thinks I understand everything she says, when in reality it is like 30%. Today, I'm pretty sure it was 90%. Of course, Hiroshi doesn't believe me (I mailed him on his cell phone). But it is true! He'll call her tomorrow and check. I had to give him a full report about what we talked about.

I told her we were going to go there for New Year's and help her do the spring cleaning (Japanese do it before Jan 1st). I asked her to teach me how to make the special dishes Japanese people eat over the New Year holiday. We talked about FIL's health and SIL's overwork. Apparently she is also studying in addition to horrible Japanese work hours,... and this is the part I'm not sure about, but I think she's studying to be an optometrist. I also told her about aunt Donnie coming over with mom and what we were going to go and see. So I'm very proud of myself. This is like a momentous occassion!

Anyway, I'm super excited about Donnie coming (and mom too of course). I am going to haul my butt to bed now... I'm trying really hard to get more sleep. Doesn't always work that way, but at least I'll be off the net by midnight tonight. Whether or not I can sleep will be another matter (I'm rather hyper).
I forgot the persimmons... fall also brings persimmons. The ones in the store now are a bit unripe - I'll have to wait a couple weeks. But vitamin C overdose here I come!

I'm fighting off a cold actually, so the C will be good for me. Trying to get lots of sleep (as I look at the time and say "How the heck did it get to be 1 am??"). Had to do some work tonight otherwise I'd have been snoozing at 10.

Today the weather was very cold. Luckily Hiroshi met me at the station coming home from work tonight, so I could steal his coat ;) Isn't he a nice hubby?

Ok, time for bed!

Monday, October 06, 2003

I love fall in Japan. The weather is great, my favourite flower blooms (I don't know what it is, but it is a shrub and it is small and orange coloured and has the most heavenly citrusy floral scent - wonderful), and there is some pretty darn cool food things: nikuman, oden and hot drinks. Nikuman is basically meat inside a steamed bun. Nice and steamy hot. The convenience stores carry a variety of other flavours as well like pizza, curry, an (bean paste), and this year, chocolate.

Oden is a personal favourite. For some reason 7-11 has the best oden. It is basically fish cakes and other stuff (hardboiled eggs, daikon slices, cabbage rolls, wieners in a blanket, seaweed and konnyaku) in a broth. The stuff at 7-11 sits there all day out in the open (no sneeze guards in Japan) and, well, it is just yummy.

The other fall event is the conversion to hot drinks. North America is totally missing out. The convenience stores now have the heated display cabinets - so you can get hot canned / bottled coffee, tea etc. I haven't seen a vending machine yet, but I haven't been paying attention recently. When you can buy a hot can of tea from the vending machine, you really do know fall is here.
Today there were all kinds of festivals happening. Not sure why. Hiroshi and I stopped in Meguro (next station) to have sushi for lunch and there was an extremely energetic group of people "shouldering a mikoshi" (will elaborate on this phrase in a minute). A mikoshi is a portable shrine on horizontal poles. They are quite heavy, and usually have 20-50 people carrying it. Well, the group today was taking it up the steps into the station! I couldn't believe it. They barely cleared the entrance (mikoshi are quite high), all the while shouting and whistling. It was very bizarre. Usually they just walk down the street! Couldn't get near them with my camera though - every Japanese person in sight was trying to photograph it. See, it really was a bizarre occurrence.

Anyway, the "shouldering a mikoshi" phrase. On the Yamanote line (the line that circles Tokyo) there are TV monitors that show ads and stuff. One of the things they have is the English phrases lesson. Basically it shows a Japanese phrase and then will tell you the English equivalent. This is quite amusing sometimes because the English is wrong! LOL My co-worker Cal and I both believe the phrase "shouldering a mikoshi" to somehow be wrong, although technically correct. It just sounds weird.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Roy got eaten by a tiger! Ok, he just got attacked. If you don't know what I'm talking about, where have you been??? Guess when Hiroshi and I go to Vegas to get married by Elvis at a drive-thru wedding chapel (yes, we really are going to do this one day - we haven't had a ceremony, and since we've been married for 2 years already, this is perfect!) we won't be able to see the tiger show :( Ah well, just means there's more time for gambling!

Saturday, October 04, 2003

I think I'm nuts. I accepted all kinds of new students to fill up my schedule, and now I'm overextended. The money will be good, but man, I'm going to be running around like a mad person for the next three months!

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

The Japan Times Online
To give you an idea of how busy Tokyo station is (it is not the busiest station in the Tokyo area)... "instead of JR Tokyo Station, which currently sees some 200,000 shinkansen passengers per day" In other words, every day, the average population of a Canadian city takes the bullet train from Tokyo station. Imagine how many people are using the commuter trains. The good news about this article is that Shinagawa station is right near me! Ah, my area grows more convenient by the day! This year, three new train lines, occassional stops of the Narita Express (train to airport) and now the shinkansen. Life is good!
World's Oldest Man Dies
114 years old. Wow. Japan's now oldest man is the young age of 108 - article doesn't state if he is also holder of the world title.