Monday, March 31, 2003
Woke up at 5 am today...saw Cameron's family safely into a taxi, decided it was a lovely morning and far too nice to waste in bed so I did some laundry, washed dishes and made pancakes, then decided it was far too nice a day to waste in household chores so I went back to bed until the more civilised hour of 11. Cameron had the day off, which was nice because usually on his days off we are rushing about doing stuff, but today we just pottered. He had a second breakfast (in true hobbit fashion) then we took ourselves off to the gym where I rather half-heartedly ran a bit (and managed to read most of this month's Elle) and he lifted things while sitting down because of his sore ankle. Oh, you don't know about his sore ankle do you: he knackered it playing football with big, rough boys on Saturday.
We went to Yokohama on Friday; lunch in chinatown then a walk in the beautiful sankei-en garden (where unfortunately there wasn't much out apart from turtles, though I still took a stack of photos), then took the family to the Hyotan* to meet some of Cameron's colleagues. I have to say I was a bit concerned but they (the colleagues!) were on their best behaviour and it went fine. They did make Cameron's dad eat fugu (blowfish; potentially fatal - though not when cooked to rubber as it was in this instance) and drink a large glass of sake but as far as I could tell - and I was monitoring quite closely - the conversations were all quite seemly, without resorting to the previously used 'polite topics' of how to cook rice and eggs in a microwave and shoes.
*it's a pub

Thursday, March 27, 2003
pink pink pink
Expect to see a lot of pink around here over the next few weeks. I am getting quite bizarrely excited at the prospect of cherry blossom; we've missed it by days for the past 2 years so this year I intend to revel in it. It had better be good. Meguro today had lanterns strung up along its riverbanks proclaiming that it was the cherry-blossom festival, but the blossom wasn't quite there. Meguro apparently has a different type of cherry blossom, more pink (how?!) and a bit earlier so I'm hoping that the proper frothy stuff will hold out for another 2 weeks until my family get here.
I do seem to have talked about flowers a lot lately. I was even cutting cherry blossom shapes out of cooked carrot at my class today, so it's hard to avoid.

yet more gravel
Sorry to keep harping on about Kyoto but I've just had a look at Cameron's photos and they're quite nice too so here's a Kyoto street and a moss garden that looked so velvety I wanted to stroke it (Not Allowed) and a different view of the raked gravel and the so-called silver pavilion (they never got around to actually putting on the silver).
kyoto streetmoss like velvetraked gravel againthe not-so-silver pavilion

I'll stop now I promise. (And no, I haven't forgotten that I still have one last set of New Zealand photos to sort through. Soon.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2003
Well that all seemed to go OK. I wore my newest shoes, and good shoes always make a difference. The people were nice and spoke english well (and were extremely impressed when I said hajimemashite*, as well they might be) though I felt they were getting a bit carried away claiming I could go and do credentials presentations...
My crocuses opened their little faces up to the sun today so it must be spring.
*nice to meet you
Maiko feet, maiko faces, raked gravel and plum blossom in Kyoto this weekend:
maiko feetmaikoraked gravelplum blossom

Tuesday, March 25, 2003
and another thing
What if they speak to me in japanese?!

Tomorrow I have a meeting with some high-faluting company people and the staff of the new Japan office. I feel frightened. It's more than a year since I started to work at home and I have completely forgotten how to interact with colleagues face-to-face (email I can do). What do I wear? Will they be expecting me to ask intelligent questions? I think 'where is the loo?' won't count as an intelligent question. Even worse, I have this nasty feeling they will expect me to know things. I might have known 'things' a year ago but no more, my brain has turned to mush. Oh dear, and I so want to make a good impression. If I don't, will that be all chances of a career that develops gone in a puff and me condemned to a life of moving people's commas about?
Not that I have this out of all proportion, you understand.
But I don't do this sort of thing any more. For the past year, I have done most of my work in my pyjamas or, at the very dressiest, old jeans. I have given up all contact with clients or account manager-types and so have no contact with the commercial side of the business any more. (The contact was pretty minimal even a year ago.)
I am just a housewife! Maybe I should bake them a cake. Too keen, do you think?!
It being Japan doesn't help either - at home I'd know the dress codes but people here are formal. But we're a modern industry and a british company. Suit probably too formal; trainers probably too casual. Pyjamas then? But with smart shoes. That will work...

Monday, March 24, 2003
Oh it's all such a trauma. Cameron says I'm not allowed to give up having lessons 'because it's fun' (?! for who?) but even Domino's Pizza had to put me on hold and play a casio keyboard version of 'let it be' at me because i couldn't understand what the man was saying. All I wanted was a spicy deluxe, regular crust. I don't ask much in life. Japanese lesson was a nightmare as expected, I am now 10 chapters behind but (see above) not allowed to stop so I just have ritual humiliation once a week. Arg.

oh dear, what can the matter be
Once again I have done no preparation for our Japanese lesson. Think I should just give up really - I get by and never practise half of what I can do already, so what's the point in learning more?
Feeling glum today, more shopping stress. Took a print in to get it framed; all seemed to be going well, I chose frame and mount and paid, then, just as I was about to leave, the assistant said she was very sorry but they couldn't actually mount my picture, I had to take it away and come and pick up the frame to do it myself when it was ready. Is that normal? Why didn't she tell me that before we'd been through it all? So now I am worried it won't fit...had I known, I'd have taken it elsewhere, where I know they do it properly. Bah.
Had a bizarre conversation with the immigration office - passed from person to person, each saying that she couldn't speak English and how could she help me (in perfect english) then eventually reaching a girl who told me I should ring the immigratin information centre and gave me a phone number...which was the same number that I had rung to get her in the first place! No amount of saying 'but you are the immigration centre and that is the number I just rang' changed her mind, she was absolutely adamant that I had to ring the number. Bah again.
In nice news, today was warm enough for elevenses outside, the first time this year.

Sunday, March 23, 2003
Forgot to say yesterday: all that shopping in the craft centre meant that Irene collected enough stamps on a card to permit a spin of the tombola. A red ball came out, which meant she won ¥10,000 of vouchers! Fab. They made her put on a red winner's sash and have her picture taken, but it was worth it as she bought a lovely bamboo screen print.

Honestly, turn your back to play tour guide for a couple of days and somebody starts a war! Still, I'm not going to talk about that (am hardly qualified, given the sketchy english coverage I've seen interspersed with news in japanese (I recognise 'iraq' and baghdad' but beyond that it's too advanced for me) and - yes, really - arabic) but instead will tell you about our adventures this week.
It seems the Watsons did manage to navigate out of Shinjuku station, and managed to order themselves food, show themselves around and find their way back to the house in time to meet our Japanese teacher, which was very exciting for all concerned. On Tuesday we headed north, to Nikko. An adventure in Nihongo at the station saw me travelling partway on a different train from the rest of them (note: mine was the correct train!) but, thanks to the wonder of the mobile phone, it was a minor mishap rather than a catastrophe. Brr, it's still winter up there: a good covering of snow on the ground and extremely cold. It did mean we virtually had it to ourselves and the few photos we've already had developed look good.
After a night in a cute but draughty pension - we were the only guests (we found our names in their guestbook from two years ago!) - we headed further up the mountain only to find that 1. it was very very cold and 2. the cablecars were not running, so we had a quick look at the waterfall and the lake before our faces froze, whizzed round some tourist tat shops, and caught the bus back down - the driver very kindly stopped the bus near the monkeys at the side of the road, to the immense excitement of a pair of japanese girls and our rather more decorous and cool reaction.
The next day was a high-power sightsee round Tokyo: Shinjuku for train tickets; Zojo temple; Tokyo tower; Imperial palace; Ginza including the sony building which was unfortunately shut for renovation and a lovely china shop where they gave us tea and lucky charms; Odaiba to meet Cameron from work, have dinner and take photos of the Tokyo skyline by night.
Then on Friday we were up and out early to head to Kyoto. Fujisan peeped out briefly then retired shyly behind the clouds before anyone could find a camera. Kyoto was delightful this weekend with blue skies (2/3 days) and plum blossom. Friday was jam-packed full of people but we battled the crowds and ticked off several temples and shrines, Maiko (apprentice Geisha - though how authentic they were I wouldn't like to say), the silver pavilion, squid on a stick and little old-fashioned streets before hopping in a taxi to find our ryokan. Small traumas over the concept of a communal bath and sleeping quarters were swiftly overcome with tea and beancakes. Dinner was a typically mismatched collection but mostly delicious, though we were a little disappointed to be fed in a communal dining room with other guests who were not yukata'd up. And a good job Joyce had brought playing cards because, as ever, there was nothing to do in the evening.
Saturday we trooped around the Nijo castle, which was great because it was a new place for us. It's enormous and I was particularly excited by its nightingale floors, which I've wanted to see since hearing a radio 4 programme on them (the link actually has an audio file of a real floor - though the one we saw was deliberately constructed to foil would-be assasins, nothing to do with rain warping the wood!). Jolly chilly though in socks. We bumped into some people we knew, which was unexpected to say the least. Then to the golden pavilion (unfortunately also being renovated so behind scaffolding, though they did give us a postcard so we could imagine what it might look like!), ryoanji temple for raked gravel in the zen garden (and another nightingale floor, hoorah!) and a good few hours in the handicraft centre, where I justified my extravagances by declaring that I didn't know when or, indeed, if I would be back in Kyoto.
A continental breakfast went down well this morning, then we waved Tom, Joyce and Irene off as they headed to Nara and then for a 4-day solo jaunt around western Honshu. We mooched about; nice to have the time to do that. Saw a very interesting market and stacks of small, unmarked shrines (Kyoto has more than 2000 temples and shrines) and then wandered about the Gion - the old entertainment district - soaking up the atmosphere. It has a totally different feel from Tokyo, less frenetic, and retains its old character at least superficially - the new houses are often built with an old-fashioned facade and the streets are narrow. Lovely.

Monday, March 17, 2003
yum yum
I found this on food blog: 1970s weightwatchers recipe cards. Please go and have a look, they are hilarious (did anybody ever lose any weight?). Might serve one up myself tonight.

Cameron's mum, dad and aunty arrived on Friday morning, dazed and confused after a long and sleepless flight and bus ride. They were sufficiently alert for a local walk; noodles for lunch and the world's best hot chocolate, but were asleep on their feet by the time we reached the supermarket so retired to bed, only emerging for tea and toast then falling asleep again! On Saturday we took them to Asakusa to see the temple, visit a small craft museum, eat more noodles and shop along kappabashi - kitchenware alley. Well, I did most of the shopping (small plates, a square frying pan and some bin-bags - woo!). And then we had sukiyaki at home for tea and an early night. Yesterday Cameron went to play football and the rest of us went to watch the St Patrick's Day parade (photos will be a little while as I didn't take the digital camera). My favourite marchers were the South Tokyo Irish Setters Club, with their poor dogs dressed up in green, and I enjoyed the music ('come on you boys in green' was presumably learnt at the world cup - I remain baffled by 'dancing queen'). A US army band man smiled at me, which made my day because I didn't think soldiers did that sort of thing. I think he heard my remark on his very shiny shoes. (Again, not entirely sure why they were in the parade...) Next on the agenda was the Meiji Shrine (kindly laying on a wedding) and the teenage freaks. Some different aspects of Tokyo.
Today they have taken themselves off to Shinjuku. I do hope they manage to find their way out of the station!

Thursday, March 13, 2003
I wonder if they thought I was transferring all his money home in order to leave him? Does that happen often? When I first arrived, Yolly, my maid, told me that all british men leave their wives while they are here because the Japanese women are so beautiful. Maybe so, but a bit of a sweeping statement I felt. But perhaps the bankers think the same.

I am so cross I can't speak properly. Typing is actually quite tricky so excuse mistakes (hitting the keys too hard!)
Today I went to the bank to transfer some money back to the UK. Doesn't sound difficult does it? I queued up, filled in a form, queued again, took my numbered ticket to another counter, queued again, filled in another form. All OK so far. But then..."is this your account Miss Stewart?". I said of course it was - then remembered and explained that it was a joint account with my husband. "oh" she said, "we don't do joint accounts". Apparently all I am allowed to do is withdraw cash; anything more complicated Cameron has to do himself. I enquired whether she was kidding, to be assured that she was not. I then explained that, as Cameron has to work in order to put money into the account, he would find it quite hard to go to the bank, so she offered me a form that I could take home and have him fill in, giving me permission to do this one transaction. Evidently a form that would allow me to operate the account in a normal fashion does not exist. But the last straw - and the point at which I knew I would be stomping muttering from the bank doing my best seriously pissed-off face - was when she simpered 'of course, when you come in with the form, we will have to telephone him to check it is OK'!!! Can you believe it? I just hate being a second-class citizen - it was bad enough when we initially opened the account and they asked him 'can she have a card' then, once they'd produced it, passed it to him saying 'this is for her'. I was sitting next to him!
Pondering it on the way home, it doesn't really make sense. Traditionally here, men are the breadwinners (so they have to have the account as you're not allowed one without an income) but women look after the finances, giving their husbands pocket money to spend. So, unless the men bring home their salary in cash to hand over, surely the banks should be used to our situation by now?
Two more questions: how come Starbucks is full to the brim with schoolgirls at 2 in the afternoon? And why is the daytime subway full of besuited men with briefcases? (I suppose they could be travelling between meetings - but why are they all asleep? Sometimes when you get on you think there's been a horrible accident as you are the only person awake in the carriage).
In other news, there was an earthquake today: the biggest I've felt yet. I was at my cooking class and we were just at the point of diving under the table when it stopped. 5.1 on the Richter scale apparently; and the newsreader immediately afterwards was talking of tsunami worries (though presumably that worry has passed).

Wednesday, March 12, 2003
Another of those terribly hard expat-wifey kind of days. I did work this morning for a bit, then stopped and made biscuit dough which I left in the fridge while I met a friend for a 'ladies lunch' (restaurant's term, not mine). Loads of teppanyaki food - ie cooked in front of you on a big hotplate with a big cleaver! We had a wander around the gardens afterwards - they are apparently old and historic - but it is still distinctly chilly so we didn't hang about too long. I have worked out the reason why I never have enough on: our patio is sheltered and a real sun-trap so fools me every morning into thinking the day is warm. You'd really think I'd have learnt by now wouldn't you.
Dashed back to Shibuya only to find that the bank had shut, so wandered about hoping a picture-frame shop would spring up in front of me. I bought a couple of mounted postcards at the museum last week and want to frame them - but, as they are only postcards and were only about 500 yen or so each, it seems rather silly to pay 4000 yen to get frames made! So I'm persevering (I will probably have to give in eventually. But why would they sell cards mounted in non-standard mounts?). In true expat-wife fashion I took refuge from the no-work tedium by shopping: I bought a bathmat and a rubbish bin and some hangers and superglue then browsed the kitchenware section a bit but couldn't raise my interest to buy anything there. (I have nearly got it right. Shopping I can do. Designer shops I've not yet mastered. But neither can I play bridge, just give me time).
reading cat Whilst wandering I passed a man sitting outside a coffee shop. Nothing unusual in that, except that he had a cat sitting on his lap. Not restrained in any way (and this was beside a busy road crammed with people); just sitting and cleaning its tummy. A cat box was under the table so I'm assuming it was his. On my way back up the road he was still there (the cat by this time was sitting up with its paws on his book on the table!), so I asked him in my best Japanese whether I could take a photo - unfortunately only had my phone with me and I didn't like to pester him so it's not the best. But still: kawaii!. Don't think mine would be that obliging.
Right I suppose I should go bake those biscuits, not much good raw in the fridge, are they.

Monday, March 10, 2003
What a great innovation! I found non-stick tights today. No, not teflon, silly (spilled food simply slides off!), but with a grippy sole. Last Friday I'd have wondered why on earth anyone needs grippy tights, but, wearing my Silly New Shoes (actually purchased to be Sensible Shoes as the heels are less high than most of my imported going-out shoes and therefore feasible to wear in Tokyo) and running for a train on Saturday I had to wonder how Tokyo girls manage. And now I know! I was considering patenting ShoeTape (you'd stick the bottom of your tights to the inside of the shoe) but now I don't need to. (darn, and that was going to make my fortune)

blossom My little plum tree is extraordinarily difficult to photograph - think I need a professional setup with a black background or something - but I've had a go. It smells delicious too (just hope I manage to keep it alive!)

Today has been very domesticated (my forte as everyone knows). I did an enormous supermarket shop in preparation for Cameron's family arriving on Friday (it's OK to not have any food in when it's just us but not with visitors, especially not when it's your in-laws!). Hopefully they will enjoy Japanese food though so I won't cook that often. Then I've spent the afternoon doing laundry and tidying up the residues of yesterday's vegging about, and have prepared a very elaborate curry with about 30 ingredients that all had to be toasted, roasted, ground, marinated and blended. Hope it tastes nice after all that! We have a Japanese lesson in 45 minutes and once again I don't seem to have found the time to study...(might go and do some now).

Sunday, March 09, 2003
Don't worry, we're still here. Mooching about recovering from a hectic week. On Tuesday I went to Ikaho Onsen with Sara, Ian and Sara's friend Kumiko. We stayed in a very nice ryokan and it snowed. Cameron, upset at being left behind, demanded photos from inside the ladies' bath, so here they are (and a few from the ryokan) - a bit steamy I'm afraid!
my sockclothes basketshot water for drinkingshampoo bottlesstool and bucketgirls in the bathdinnera frozen fountain
The next morning we went to a museum of Takahisa Yumeji (he painted sad women in kimonos) and also one of musical boxes where we saw what seemed to be a group of music box enthusiasts being shown around.
Thursday afternoon, after cooking, I met them to shop in Isetan - managed to restrain myself though I have made mental notes of nice things for another day. That night we went for yakitori then dancing in Roppongi to all our 80s favourites. Cameron had Friday off so we went (despite the pouring rain) to Mount Takao (where the pouring rain was falling on the snow and you couldn't actually see the mountain for the low clouds) for a nice lunch, then back for more drinking-karaoke-dancing. Yesterday Sara went to a wedding then we all went along in the evening. We are now the proud owners of two new electric toothbrushes but I have no idea whether that is traditional. Then on for more partying in Shimokitazawa (quite close to home) but it was fairly subdued by that point as we were all shattered. Sara and Ian left at 7.30 this morning and now we are monging about the house, half-heartedly tidying up and drinking lots of tea!

Monday, March 03, 2003
A Japanese lesson in 20 minutes and once again I haven't opened a book since the last time. I am a lazy cow (but also a busy one!). I went to see one hour photo this afternoon and it has totally thrown my routine (but in a good way). What a creepy film, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
On Saturday I went with a friend to kairaku-en to see the plum blossom. How terribly japanese! It wasn't quite ready; give it another week and it will be fantastic (although given the weekend's rain and wind, perhaps not) but it was lovely to get out of tokyo and breathe some fresh air. I bought a bonsai plum tree which is just in bud but I think will flower tomorrow. Then Sara and Ian arrived from the UK Saturday night so we spent Sunday wandering round Harajuku (not many freaks out this weekend) and stuffing ourselves with sushi.

Sunday, March 02, 2003
Eurgh. Yawn. Is it Monday morning already?