Monday, December 16, 2002
leaving on a jet plane
well, we're Off! Have a very happy christmas and new year everyone (oh and enjoy my birthday too!) and I'll be back on the 13th January to bore you all witless with lovely photos. Just to reassure you, there is absolutely no chance whatsoever that I will jump off anything high with a bit of elastic round me, but we are going on a whale-watching, seal-swimming, jet-boating, sea-kayaking, glacier-walking and -flying, fjord-cruising adventure! Let's just hope it doesn't rain the whole time.
Chances are I won't be able to resist the lure of the internet cafe for a whole 3 1/2 weeks so I'll probably pop in from time to time. In the meantime I suggest you listen to the archers, which is particularly exciting just now (I am having it taped - they've been building up to this for over a year!); read 'tis the season and Tony Hawks' letters to skateboard fans; watch the kittens; and stuff yourselves silly with turkey and parsnips and chocolate and nuts.
PS The person who came here on a search for Brenda would say she felt like a greengage plum; what *are* you looking for?! I am, however, the only search result, so I feel quite proud.

it's chriiiiiistmas!
or it was in our house yesterday, anyway. Since we won't be here for the real thing, we had an official christmas. We opened all the pressies people have very kindly sent us (thanks everybody!) - a special mention must go to Katy, whose box, once emptied, was such a huge hit with the cats! Champagne, roast chicken with bread sauce and everything - I even managed to source some parsnips (though I am not telling you how much they cost; lets just say they were worth every penny!) Cameron had a Christmas pud, just a small one, of his own, and we played a game of 'throw the magnetic men and save the world' (thanks Mum) on the fridge door - a relief to everyone that the world is now safe, I'm sure. In the evening we went to Shinjuku to look at the pretty lights and get some air - pics will have to wait a bit though, no time!
Today is the usual frantic day-before-a-holiday day. I am running about with a huge to-do list (C, sensibly, has gone to work). Better get on!

Friday, December 13, 2002
blood, sweat and tears*
Lisa's top cooking tip number 1: When Delia says 'lightly grease' your cake tin she doesn't mean it, she means 'put loads of grease on'. Unless they are supposed to stick so firmly to the tin that you have to chip them out with a chisel.
Or perhaps it's more that the mincemeat isn't suppose to all leak out and glue your pies to the tin? Some domestic goddess I am. Though I have to say they smell fantastic. They just look a bit...well, they have a delightful home-made quality. One of them doesn't even have a bottom, but I'm sure they will taste just fine. And the second batch (loads of grease, less mincemeat per pie**) is going to be fantastic I can tell. Particularly because three of them contain jam instead of nasty chopped-up brown fruit.
a delightful home-made quality
*blood anyway. But only because I gave myself a paper cut with the edge of the recipe book.
**because I was running out. Too much per pie in the first lot

look here, they do still make them! Only it's gone all modern and trendy. And safety-conscious - or are the candles a false memory?
This one's a bit better. With candles.

christmas time, mistletoe and wine
Japan goes all-out for its imported ceremonies. Despite less than 1% (i think) of the population being christian - not even the "sort of christian-raised a bit; we sang carols at school does that count?" of most people in the UK these days - there is christmas music playing in all the shops, the department stores have huge displays of red, green and gold and carrier bags wishing you a merry christmas, and the lights and trees are just beautiful. It's all so tasteful! I don't know why I'm surprised, having been here through halloween and thanksgiving I should have expected it. There isn't the frantic rush of shopping you see back home though - it just seems to be a different theme to decorate in. Mind you, it's always a frantic rush of shopping here so maybe it's just a lack of contrast. I spotted seven inflatable disney dwarves swaying as they sang the first noel in little dwarfy voices earlier in the week, wish I'd had my camera.
No mistletoe, mincepies, mulled wine or morecombe and wise. No cliff richard. No wizard of oz, wonderful life or walking in the air. No tree. And no blue peter advent candle made from a couple of coat hangers and some manky tinsel (do they still do that?). Yet it still manages to feel christmassy; in fact I have more of a christmas mood than I've had for a few years. Is that the lack of desperate crowds in the shops, or maybe the fact that it is cold and dry rather than grey and damp?

Thursday, December 12, 2002
oooooooh. I take it all back. The Archers is hotting up!

mince pies
they did used to have meat in, honest! I wasn't making it up! Ox tongue or mutton and veal(e)

It's all been food again today hasn't it. Let me see if I can think of something else to tell you about...
No. It seems not. Even the Archers is dull at the moment (I just know they are building up to a huge Christmas showdown and I'll miss it!)

Guess what I made at my cooking class today? Go on, guess. Kushiage. Honestly, you don't eat something for...well, ever, and then you have it for two consecutive meals! Not a brussels sprout to be seen today though. Then I had to explain about mince pies (mincemeat. But it doesn't have any meat in. I think it used to. But not now. Just fruit and...I don't know. Why is it black? is it tar?) and christmas pudding (a bit like mince pies but in a pudding and steamed for hours and hours. Frankly, I'd pass on it and fill up with quality street).
Then I went and picked up our tickets, yay! And, strangely, that was it. I don't know what happens to the time here but by the time I got home it was dark. I was going to make some mince pies (see what a devoted wife I am? I don't like them at all but it won't be Christmas for Cameron without them. And you can't buy them here. Do they eat them in New Zealand? does anyone know?)...but I didn't. I don't seem to have a pastry cutter you see and Delia says you have to have two of different sizes. And if that's what Delia says, woe betide me if I try to make mince pies without them. Oh, and i got sidetracked by a packet of Cadbury's chocolate fingers (which you can get here!)

Wednesday, December 11, 2002
Last night we ate the weirdest thing we've had yet (yep, weirder than raw jellyfish/octopus eyes/raw horse). A breaded and deep-fried brussels sprout! It was part of a kushiage set, which was mostly delicious. The other odd one had a christmas theme: turkey and cucumber on the stick, with a slice of cranberry jelly stuff on the top.

the cats are confined to barracks today. the snow on our roof froze overnight and now, in the sunshine, has slipped down to overhang the roof in great square chunks that periodically drop off and shatter on the patio.

Here's a picture from my window: our roof

Tuesday, December 10, 2002
got so stressed this afternoon trying to do everything at once (mainly trying to get all our christmas parcels wrapped in pretty paper, then in brown paper, then posted) that I didn't notice I was guzzling down chocolate until I ran out. And now I feel a bit sick. Apologies to people who receive them for the shoddy and obviously hastily-done quality of the wrapping (and the chocolatey finger marks) but I wanted to get them away today - it being the last posting date from the UK to here, though of course such a thing doesn't exist the other way round - and didn't realise until I was looking for it last night that we didn't pack the wrapping paper. It must be in the Warrington loft I suppose, along with various other articles that would have been useful: it does funny things to your head, packing to move across the world (we'll just take two plates and two bowls, that will be plenty...).
The man in the post office looked quite alarmed at my armful of brown paper and sellotape but obviously realised that this was not the time to start quibbling about sizes and took the lot off me.
Have I told you about the traumas of posting things here? Not only do they have to be weighed, they also measure them and if they are the wrong size or the wrong shape (eg a small, square card instead of a standard rectangle) then they either refuse to take them or they charge you a fortune. Depending, as far as I can establish, on the phase of the moon and the direction of the wind. Or possibly on the colour of the envelope. I also found out yesterday that you are not allowed to include a letter in a parcel as they go at different rates: a friend was made to unpack a carefully wrapped parcel in the post office to prove he wasn't lying about there being no letter inside!
On the good side, they are extremely efficient and helpful, and they have a service here for new year's cards where you put them in a special box in the post office and they all get delivered on the 1st of January. And you don't have to put a stamp on! That wouldn't happen at home.
My final post-related story for today. Cameron's aunty Irene very kindly sent us a christmas parcel. Which I found, when I left the house one day last week, wedged firmly into our letterbox. This is most unusual, they are always very good about ringing the bell (and I was definitely in): I can only conclude that he thought it would fit, pushed it, then when it got stuck and wouldn't go in or out without the paper ripping, was too embarrassed to ring the bell so ran off and left it!

Monday, December 09, 2002
According to BBC World last night, that was the first time snow has fallen in Tokyo in December for 11 years (there's a non-bbc link here and some nice pictures here). It's thawing now: drip drip drip then the occasional house-rattling thump as a huge chunk drops off the roof.

Sunday, December 08, 2002
in the bleak midwinter
snowy street snowy garden

Wednesday, December 04, 2002
genes will out
Not only am I showing signs of becoming my mother, I seem to be turning into my mother-in-law too! That can't be genetic, can it? I am on a real craft bent at the moment; here's a list of currently underway and soon-to-be-started projects:
- knitted cushion cover
- cross-stitch picture*
- washi box for slippers
- applique calendar with japanese year animals**
- various cloth sheep things, next year being the year of the sheep
Although no doubt I will lose interest in it all soon and they will languish incomplete in a cupboard somewhere.
Actually, it could be my granny (the other one, not the one with the huge handbag!) not my mother-in-law. She is pretty crafty (in a nice 'makes lovely things' way, not a scarey witchy plotting way)
*Not sure whether this one strictly counts, having been underway now for the best part of 7 years
**They have the same animals as in China, but the new year starts on the first of January. Which makes me a Japanese tiger but a Chinese ox. And Cameron is a Japanese rooster but a Chinese monkey (check yours here) - a good job we came to live here, tigers are so much cooler than oxen. ( confess, looking at the list of hobbies for each, maybe I am more ox than tiger. Cameron is certainly more monkey than rooster, it even lists karaoke as a monkey hobby and I certainly can't see him in a rooster brocade jacket!)

Tuesday, December 03, 2002
I love days when I don't have to work (shh, don't tell them that!). My total today and yesterday has been 2 hours. (I know, that will never pay the mortgage). Yesterday afternoon I went to Shinjuku and played with cameras until an odd mexican chap scared me out of the shop. I expect he was just being friendly. (me: are you on holiday? him: no, I'm married.) Then the heavens opened so I dashed home to sew a bit more of my cushion cover (I've done all the knitting now so I confess I've lost interest somewhat), drink tea, and generally veg out before going out for a delicious sushi dinner followed by haagen-dazs-and-espresso (together, in a bowl. mmm). Today I went to yoga (this week's bizarre variation: cat, with one leg in the air and the opposite hand holding your ankle behind your back) then over to asakusabashi for an afternoon of sticking and pasting; I now have a nice green box to keep our collection of slippers in! And we've just watched man on the moon, which I can recommend. Unfortunately sitting through a film has completely wiped what I wanted to say from my mind so I'll go away again until tomorrow. Hopefully I'll remember then!

Monday, December 02, 2002
By the way: we've been here 8 months today! Whee!

our weekend
(in a list)
  • Friday night we met Mark and Julia, the couple we picked up in a bar after the sake party last month. Delicious Thai food (though, worryingly, the kitchen seemed to have a big fire about every 20 minutes), followed by a visit to the pub with the world's most limited juke box (but we were forced to use it in order to turn off the christmas music), followed by the obligatory karaoke. We had intended a reasonably early night in order to spend Saturday cramming Japanese words into our short-term memories, but, well. We were home by 3.
  • Saturday we naturally slept late then went to see if we could find where the exam was going to be on Sunday. Not too far, but right in the suburbs; I think, if you manage to fill in the application form and turn up (both form and map in Japanese) then they should let you pass.
  • Bit of study, takeaway pizza, more lord of the rings (we have 6 hours or so of 'how they made it', it will be a while before we are not watching LotR any more!)
  • Sunday; The Test! The trains didn't behave as well as they had on the Saturday; ie the first one we got on sailed merrily past the station where we wanted to get off. Still, we'd left plenty of time so we got off and went back the other way. Very bizarre when we got there; this tiny station (one exit) in the middle of nowhere was jam-packed full of foreigners. It could have been a scene from a film (invasion of the gaijin) as we all lumbered up the tiny shopping street, muttering. I'm sure the locals were in hiding. Too much hanging about between papers; ridiculous giving out instructions in japanese (we're level 4! We Don't Understand You!) - the invigilator at one point said something very clearly at the front of the class - nobody moved. She tried again - nobody moved. Eventually they had to come round and mime individually that we weren't allowed to put a drink on the desk. Had she used the words nomimono (drink) and kaban (bag) rather than some fancy-pants language, she might have had more luck. Too many kanji we had never before laid eyes on, a few questions about wearing clothes of various sorts* (we said before that if wearing stuff came up we were in trouble!), some writing about a black cat and a brown dog, both of whom (I hope) were cute! Still, at least it's over. results in February.
  • On the way home i could have sworn I saw somebody I'd been at middle school with. I was just getting over the gaping part and thinking about calling his name to see if it really was him, when we had to get off the train. If I had to nominate people who might be working overseas, he wouldn't appear on my list. It can't have been him.
  • A delightful afternoon with no twinges of conscience about not studying. We watched the others in a satisfyingly full-circle thing; that was the film we saw all but the last 10 minutes of in the hotel the night before we left for Japan. It was just as good the second time, and how nice to know how it ends!
  • Dinner out with Eric - the last of the shell visitors - and some friends of his.
    *different verbs depending what you're wearing. a word for wearing something on your head/legs/trunk/wearing an accessory...gah!