Saturday, October 31, 2009

Kitsuki Castle...

See... I told you I was a Samurai!

Kitsuki Castle... famous for being Japan's smallest Castle!

The view from the top

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I have been thinking a lot lately about my view of Japan before I came here and how I see the country now after living here for 3 months. I think my view of Japan when I was back in NZ would be pretty similar to what other people think of; a super technologically advanced nation with futuristic ways of doing things, a world leader in computers, cell phones and transport systems and so on. I didn`t think Japanese people would have pets, I have no idea why I thought this, I just did.
After being here 3 months I can now honestly say my perceptions were so wrong.
The best way to explain it is to imagine a person. One foot is wearing the flashest new shoes on the market, high tech bells and whistles, built in pedometer, lights, mini jet packs (you get the drift). The other foot is bare, nothing on, just a big hairy toe and 2 weeks of foot grime. That`s Japan (not the foot grime), a land of polar opposites and nothing like what you think. A country where old and new sit side by side and sometimes work well, other times fail horribly.
I actually started thinking about this while I was doing a number 2 (poo). I have the pleasure (!!???) of using a squat toilet on an almost daily basis as my school has no western toilets (I like to call them common sense toilets because why would you not have one!). In Japan you either have a super flash, heated seat, clean your bum for you (and do a damn sight better job) toilet, or an old school hole in the ground, one that requires the most painful yoga position to use properly and to ensure you don`t mess your work pants. Nothing in between. Either crap in a hole or poo in utter luxury. This is a fine example of Japan`s old and new.

I hate squat toilets, my legs tremble in pain, I have to perform a Cirque du Solei move to finish the job successfully and the only room you have to pull your pants up and do your belt is over the water filled hole, so for god sake don`t get it wrong!
Things here aren`t as super techno as you may think. It`s not a land of flying cars, super fast computers and robots that serve you food. The vending machines are pretty standard (although there are 10,000 of them on every street), I can`t wash my dishes using my cell phone (probably because 99% is in Japanese), there is no escalator up my hill to work and there are more pet cats and dogs than I’ve ever seen! Damn was my perceptions wrong or what!!??
So why am I writing this….I think I am slowly taking in what`s around me and looking at it from a different point of view. I am no longer a tourist. I call our apartment `Home`, I curse at the traffic lights, I know some locals, have my favourtie places to eat and I only need to walk down the supermarket isles we buy from.

I'm interested to find out other people's perceptions of Japan... so please comment!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The one that got away....

Here is me and a little fella that hopped away

Rice harvesting...(aka frog killing)

The landscape is looking a little different here now as virtually all of the rice fields have been harvested. No longer are we treated to the beautiful greens and yellows as we drive around, these have been replaced with poo brown earth and bare stretches of land.

I had the pleasure of participating in this process. As you can see in an earlier blog entry Meg did it the traditional way, toughing it out with a knife, I on the other hand sat on the craziest machine and pretend to play a video game! I joined Tom, Meg's brother in law, as he was working away on one of the 12 rice fields the Tomooka family own.

Way back in spring the rice is planted in the fields, I can only imagine what this is like as we arrived well after that, something we`ll do in spring next year. Slowly the rice grows, changes colour etc.
My experience began with getting on a machine, a little like a tiny tractor but it has jaws like a shark, moves like a tank and the work ethic of a Japanese worker (never stops). Basically you just line it up correctly, lower the jaws, accelerate forward and keep it in a straight line. Steering is done with the joystick and you bounce along letting the machine do the rest. It cuts the stem low to the ground, brings it up through a conveyor system, somehow removes the grains and spits the unwanted stems out the back. The rice is collected into bags and ready for the next stage. Each bag is at least 30kg and amazingly they get at least 360 bags of rice!
There were heaps and heaps of frogs living amongst the fields as they are generally very wet and i think i must have killed quite a few.

The bags are then taken to the dryer which dries the rice, it is then sent through to the husker which removes the husks (like little protective covers) off the rice. The husks travel through a long tube and are piled up outside waiting to be burnt. The rice is collected in bags and then taken to the rice polisher. This is where brown rice becomes white rice. These polishers are just dotted all over the place and look like large ATMs or vending machines (we even had a friend who thought they were money changers… you know who you are). You put your money in, empty your bag out and wait while the rice is given a shimmy over, out it comes again hot and glowing white. All ready to be eaten or sold!

It was pretty cool seeing how it all works out. Considering Japanese people eat rice 3 times a day and meg and I often have it twice it`s nice to know how it all works.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

521 stone Buddhas

This blog entry is a little over due... but better late than never right? Last weekend Jo was kind
enough to offer us her child-free morning so we could go and check out the 521 stone Buddhas that are near to her house.
The details on when exactly they were made and by whom are a little sketchy so I wont even bother to sound like I know but basically in a random field surrounded by houses there are 521 buddhas carved out of stone all literally just sitting there. Every single one of them is different with their own unique facial expressions, positions and size. We had great fun searching through them coming up with stories of what they were each doing/thinking and what kind of day they must have been having. Unfortunately we couldn't find the one Mike (my brother) seems to think is going for a poo... but no need to worry as that is one of Nathan's specialties so he was more than happy to quickly volunteer to pose just like it!

Friday, October 23, 2009

School rice harvesting

Yesterday was one of those 'this is why I'm in Japan' moments. I was told the week before that my routine visit to one of my Junior Highs wouldn't be quite so routine this week as the school would be out rice harvesting for the day. My instructions were to bring long sleeves, appropriate shoes and a towel (I of course added a camera to the list). I was told when I arrived at school with a big grin on my face that I would be the only one excited about standing outside all day cutting rice by hand as the kids have been doing it all their lives... needless to say the novelty has worn off for them. But for me it was probably the highlight of being here thus far. Before we could actually get started there of course had to be an opening ceremony in which we pretty much just bowed non-stop for 15 minutes and then we were each given a newly-sharpened sickle. Having no idea what is was I was actually supposed to do with this blade I just attached myself to a couple of the students and followed them into position around one side of the field. A whistle was then blown and everyone set to work cutting the bundles of rice and then laying them flat on the ground. It took me a few attempts to get the hang of the angle on which to cut but once I got it I was away laughing and would race the kids around me to see who could cut 10 bunches the fastest.... I was of course nowhere near as fast as them but then they have been doing this all their lives! Once all the rice in the field had been cut a machine which the stalks are then fed into arrived and we spent the next few hours gathering up bundles and lining up to feed it through the machine which spits the stalks out one end and the rice out the other into big bags. After 4 hours hard work, a lot of fun and over 100 photos we had successfully harvested 10 bags of rice! Despite my sore back I was still smiling!

Friday, October 16, 2009

The wait is finally over...

We know you've all been sitting on the edge of your seats for months now waiting to see some photos of our apartment... well wait no longer!

You can click on any of the photos to make them bigger!

Front view of our apartment... we are top right where Nathan is standing.

The kitchen... note the tiny bench space!

View from the balcony looking back into our apartment... first door on left is the entrance way, second door on left is the bathroom and the door closed is the toilet. Door on the right is our bedroom.

View from the table into the lounge

The view we have from our apartment... the walkway runs for about 3kms and is really popular in the evenings with people running/waking.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The first signs of Autumn

Having survived a sweltering hot Japanese Summer we are looking forward to seeing what Autumn has in store for us... and by the looks of things we wont have to wait much longer!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Taketa day trip

Yet again we are blessed with another 3 day weekend, oh how we love all their public holidays (at least 17 a year)! We had planned to venture to Nagasaki but unfortunately the timing was all wrong; their biggest festival of the year meant we couldn't find any accommodation.

Instead we headed to Taketa, a small town about 1.15hr drive from us. Thanks to the well positioned toll road we were able to speed past Oita city, avoiding the headache causing traffic and stupid Japanese traffic light systems (no sensor systems, just timers= a lot of time sitting at red lights for no reason).
With our keen sense of adventure and my unique ability to understand maps better than anything else I found us a short cut through the forests. Only once along this narrow, windy and deserted road did we question my decision....thankfully paying off when we arrived well ahead of schedule.
We have a couple of friends in Taketa who are also JETs so after picking them up we headed out to explore the area. Our first stop was at Oka castle, built in 1593. It is an understatement to say Japan has a lot of castles because there are probably as many of them as dairies in NZ. This one turned out to be one of the best I've seen and probably one of the best in Japan. It has been left reasonably intact thanks to the fact it was never defeated by any samurai army and due to its amazing positioning on a hill has some stunning views. After running around like a day dreaming child, pretending I was an invading samurai and drawing on my vast knowledge of Kendo, we reluctantly moved on to our next stop.
Taketa seems to be known for 2 things; it's waterfalls and ice creams. Since I like both it is a good place to spend time! Next we headed for Harajiri and Shiramizu waterfalls. You've all seen a waterfall so no need to elaborate on these. However the ice creams in this area are a little more unique, you can choose from tomato, tulip, soy sauce, spinach, azuki bean, seaweed and many others! I braved it out and tried the tulip flavour....amazing! Meg stayed with the tried and true; chocolate.
Another good day over and capped off with a stop at California pizza on the way home!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Homemade pizza...

As you may have guessed from a previous blog entry we have been missing food from back home. But never fear our tiny little microwave that doubles as a tiny little oven came to the rescue tonight (with the help of our new breadmaker) and we successfully managed to make homemade pizza! It was pretty darn good if I do say so myself!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bring on the mountains...

I like climbing mountains. Luckily for me Japan is pretty much covered in them and our island is no exception. They're not particularly big down this way but they're still a hard slog and most of them are still active volcanoes!!! Last week i headed out with a couple of other staff from my school to climb Kuju-San, the 2nd highest mountain on the island. At 1787m it provides a good days tramp and some stunning views, not to mention the thrill of watching smoke rise from the active crater!!!
We arrived at the 1330m car park (they like building roads quite high up) and were met by a fully loaded car park, my hopes of a quiet wilderness experience quickly over. The track climbed steeply for the first 30min before easing off along a ridge and then into a alpine basin followed by the finally climb to the summit, about 2hrs to the top. A perfect spot for lunch and off again just in time to pass the school group (that's right a whole school!!!) making there way to the top.

The clouds came in as we headed down and climbed a side peak in total whiteout, putting full trust in my 2 experienced Japanese friends. A great day out and i was so buggered afterwards i fell asleep in the car on the way home-luckily i wasn't driving!