Monday, September 24, 2007

Shinpara Matsuri

As Matsuri season winds on in the immediate area, Shinpara, the community I live in held their wildly popular matsuri last night and tonight. Here you can see all 10 people from the community came out, so it was a great success!
No actually, Shinpara is a pretty far spread out community that is split into smaller areas, each of which has their own Yattai- or Japanese style parade float. Here you can see 4 of them, though sadly none of my yattai pictures came out very well.
You can also see the local shrine (dark, but it's in the background here), where Ritsy had to dig into her wallet so that we can offer some money in order to pray. Don't worry! It's not that much, I think 5 yen is an optimal offering, though we could only find a pair of 10 yen pieces.
Though her family don't live there now- she grew up with her friend Manami (you may recall they visited us, and we visited them previously) in the area. So we ran into her and Shogo and Eiho, their dad was drinking with Manami's parents, so we didn't see him. They were all happy to see me of course, and the two boys challenged me to a race. It's tough to teach kids such valuable lessons, but naturally I had to beat them! Sadly today my legs were soar from all the running...

You can see how big Ritsy's stomach is getting now- junior - or kicky-kins as I have started calling it, is definitely almost ready to come out!

On a sad note, we were given notice of a wake and a funeral in our neighborhood today. The man, aged 37, leaves behind a wife and young child. He was an avid motorcyclist and had gone for a trip up to nearby Toyohashi and lost control of his bike and was hit by a truck. Very sad. I had met him not too long ago too. He was at the Dainenbutsu practice I had gone to see- I remembered him as being quite nice. I guess the thing that struck me the most about it is his young age (just 2 years older than Ritsy and I), seems that side of life has decided to start taunting us now...

Friday, September 21, 2007

North Country

Today we will look back at the closing of 2002, a time I call "the Tokyo days". Every year in December there is a lengthy public holiday, that spans about a week or so for most, but it seems that life as a teacher, we end up getting a couple of weeks off. Well that year Ritsy and I decided to take a 4 day trip up to Furano in Hokkaido. The place is best known to most Japanese for the setting of an old popular drama called "From the North Country".
Once Ritsy gave the thumbs up like in this picture, it was go time! I didn't have any snowboarding equipment with me at that time, so I had to rent it all. Luckily the lift tickets were included in the package, because renting equipment definitely boosts the costs.
We stayed at the New Furano Prince Hotel (which wasn't so new), where outside there was a quaint little villa of huts where you could buy handcrafted goods. It was quite a nice little touch.
The place was very clean and comfortable, but the interior of the rooms didn't scream "state of the art". The reason I chose this pic, I can see the visible age difference in myself from that time. Tough to take when you catch yourself aging!
The day after arriving, we stretched up and hit the slopes. This picture really makes me nostalgic, as our first dates in Whistler were snowboarding! (of course this is Ritsy). The two things that really struck me while riding; it is much colder in Hokkaido than Whistler, my cheap goggles froze over while riding; and the runs were much shorter than back in Canada. I knew I was spoiled and taught myself just to enjoy the experience.

During that time we welcomed the New Year watching from the hotel, there was a small fireworks and we celebrated 2003 together, quietly. It was really nice.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The state of the union

This sunset looked better live, but still kind of neat looking clouds.
Wow time is moving fast! It has been such an incredibly busy time the last 4 weeks, that I barely had time to be social or get enough 'me' time. But I am not complaining- all the extra work was exactly what I needed! Thanks a lot to Time Life, they really came through with a lot of work, and because of that I feel a little more comfortable heading into the next year!

And what a next year it will be- we're looking at (hopefully) less than 2 months away from the little one arriving! Ritsy will finish work at the end of this month and go on maternity leave. We finally found out about Sankyu (Maternity Pay). It looks like for the first 3 months, we won't see a dime of the mat pay, but after the initial 90 day period from when the baby arrives she will get a pretty good cheque. But after that her monthly pay will be pretty minimal- just enough so that she can still help me with the mortgage and she can make the payments on her car. Taking on the monthly bills will be tight for me, but I can breathe a little safer with some money in the bank (thanks to all the extra work recently!),especially during the leaner months. We also will get back about 350,000 yen for having the baby, but that will also take 3 months to come. I think we are ready for it, and if we survive with most of our savings in tact, we can still take our planned trip to Canada next year in April.

What else is happening? We had the Sports Day events last weekend for ESL College and it was pretty successful. I fed off the kids a little too much though and worked up quite a sweat! It was a long exhausting day, but I didn't care I had a good time!

This week has actually been quite restful for me. Thanks to one of my students calling in sick a couple of times over the last week, I have been able to enjoy a surprise day off and get a lot of rest today (even update my blog...). This month most of my regular class' contracts come to an end so I have to endure the usual anxiety of hoping that they all renew. Usually it all works out, but there are no certainties in life!

We might get a visit from Makoto next week- I hope he comes out, that could be fun!

Time for me to head off to work now! Here is another picture from last week of Ritsy and the 2 cats sleeping, those crazy sleepy kids.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Koshinji


Going back to early August, I had made a couple of attempts to hop on my bike and take some pictures of some local points of interest. One of the days was a write-off, as it involved walking through overgrown forest paths that I was not comfortable traveling through wearing shorts, I will return to those locations one day though....

I did have one successful trip however. On the drive up one of the main roads leading up to my home (Route 152), I had noticed a street sign pointing towards Koshinji temple- actually only about 4- 5 kms from my home. My thinking is that if the place has a sign it must be a point of interest to some people, so I decided to check it out.
The temple is located next to a local sake brewery called Hananomai, you can see their storefront in the forefront of this picture. In the back is the torii leading into the temple.
The temple grounds are actually pretty small, and though not special the area is charming in it's quiet atmosphere and neatly kept area. Directly to the left on entering stands the above statue in the pond.
Throughout the area was a number of old carved stones. Really makes me wish I could read what they said.
Upon leaving I found this interesting small, quaint, old-fashioned looking store front.

It was a nice and peaceful adventure and I was happy to find the payoff on this little exploratory trip.
{Blogger has added functionality to upload videos directly to the site, so I am trying a little experiment here. This is more pictures and video that I took from my camera!} video

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Still catching up- End of August party

At the end of August with the pretext of my birthday (about 3 weeks late though)we had over Ritsy's old friends to our house- Manami, Tet-chan, Eiho and Shogo for the first time ever. As they have hosted us a number of times, we were more than happy to have them over and cook for them for a change.
The true challenge was to find things to entertain the little ones, as adults are easily entertained with conversation. We thought the Wii would satisfy them, but the batteries on both remotes were zapped, and we didn't have enough batteries to get them back up and running. Eventually we managed to find movies were a good solution, they both enjoyed Star Wars episode 3 while we were able to relax and chat.
Don't be fooled by this picture they had a great time...
Another popular draw for the children and the adults alike was the cats (Tet-chan had never touched a cat before, he liked them). Even though Eiho was having an allergic reaction, he enjoyed chasing Lanny and Santa around. Lanma was scared to death and hid and meowed at the kids all night. Santa, as usual, was oblivious to it all...
Much fun was had and everyone earned themselves a good nap! (okay this picture is from 2 weeks later, but I wanted to tie it into the blog somehow- Ritsy and Lanma napping together)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Let's! English study!

Just wanted a picture for todays post
I was driving today and was reminded of a very common English mistake that is made here in Japan (which I may have spoken about before in this blog...). The car in front of me at the light had a well meaning bumper sticker that said "Let's! Safety" . What the heck does that mean? I especially liked the exclamation point after Let's - instead of at the end of the phrase where it should be.

Now, for a long time- I have been reminded of the "I am a safety driver" phrase pretty much everywhere I drive. How did such a blatant English mistake become so widespread I mean you would think that a politician or PR man somewhere must have taken a couple of English lessons and spotted the error before it was plastered everywhere! Could it be that people just don't care if it is correct or not....? Nah!

On a serious note- I saw on the news (the 10 minutes of CNN headline news I could catch the other day) the video clip of the mom in the U.S. racing the train, and beating it, only to get hit by a train coming the other way. She instantly killed her two daughters and was in serious condition at the time of the report. The whole video sickened me. It's one thing if you are going to drive like a clown and risk your own life.Let's not forget that you are still a hazard to everyone surrounding you on the streets too, but if you are driving your two children around-- you err on the side of caution. I mean what is worse, being a little late for your Pilate's, or killing your children? Don't get me wrong- I am sure she feels like crap about it, but I think that is a gamble you just don't take. Alright- I haven't had a rant for a while. When I think about being a Safe Driver, it is video like that which inspires me to drive well, more than a silly little catch phrase like Drive Safely. NEWS LINK.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Yard work


Yep, life is pretty exciting these days, I am blogging about yard work.

While I rather dreaded the task- I knew there was some yard work looming for me to do. You can see the above picture ( I may have posted on this blog before) is my lovely home in Hamakita ward, Hamamatsu city. This picture was taken soon after our house was finished and we had our initial land work done on the place. You can see on the left side is big hunk of dirt and, though it is tough to tell in this picture, a parking spot for me. On the left is Ritsy's now departed Suzuki Wagon R. A little while after this above picture, we had received a number of bushy- tree things from the city of Hamamatsu as a gift (well we had to apply for it and photo-document that we used them...). Ritsy took great pleasure in planting the trees at that time much to my pleasant surprise.

Well, I started having some classes at our home last year, and unlike Canada- not having parking spaces can be a bit of a problem. There is really no community parking or street-side parking here. And we had my students borrow a neighboring business' parking or Ritsy would go to her family's house while I had class. Needless to say it needed to be addressed. I really hated the idea of spending the money so close to having the baby, but we had some money parked in our house account we were going to make an extra payment with ( in 3 years when the contract expires) so we hired Cainz home to come again and make some more parking spots.
You can see the visible addition of more parking on the left side here. Well, we paid them for everything except replanting the trees. So, for 3 weeks the trees were all planted in a big clump together in our yard. So that was my duty today, beautifully arranging the trees around the yard area. Also the worker had left us a little extra dirt at Ritsy's request, a lovely light brown colored dirt that looks a little nicer (at least now).
The truth of the matter is that I actually enjoyed doing the work in the end. It really creates a tighter bond with the house and the land putting a little work into it. Though sore, and unhappy to sacrifice my first day off in 2 weeks to house work, I actually do feel a bit invigorated by the job, especially now that it is done.
We also added some solar powered garden lights, that are pretty powerless, but should make parking at night a little easier.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Toba Aquarium

After a great time in Ise, we decided to hit the Toba aquarium on the way home. The aquarium is incredibly convenient as it is right next to the ferry dock. The traffic leading to the parking was at a crawl and some genius with Nagoya license plates cut into the line after I had waited for 30 minutes to get into the parking lot (right in front of me)- naturally my blood rose to a boil, but I was ready to enjoy by time the car was parked.
I'd never seen a purple lobster before, apparently this guy lives in Australia- you ever seen one of these Chris? I always think that food that is this colour tone is inedible- so I'm pretty sure I would send this back if it turned up on my plate...
At first glimpse these guys look like miniature Killer Whales- but they are in fact dolphins- quite cute.
We ended the adventure watching a Walrus show- he was funny but honestly didn't do very much...
At long last we were heading home. Ritsy was quite tuckered and a bit sea sick after all the excitement, but it was a great birthday gift from her! Thanks a lot Ritsuko!

Guess what? More Ise- Okage Yokocho

The evening of our arrival, we finally settled down to rest after an interesting journey and a delicious dinner. The fun didn't end there- I was excited to see this very old TV, I believe it was the first model ever sold in Mie Prefecture...
As this is a family blog, I will spare you the details as to why Ritsy had to make this mask- let's just say there was no fan in the restroom...
The next morning we had a nice breakfast and headed back to the Naiku gate region to check out the ancient looking shopping road known as Okage Yokocho. Apparently according to the link Okage means appreciation- so the road is the road of appreciation leading up to the ancient temple.
All of the shops have an ancient Japan feeling and it was really quite cool to walk down and get a taste of what an old shopping hub would look like in Japan. Naturally we couldn't walk all the way to the end as Ritsy, of course, has a bit of an extra load to carry and got tired pretty quickly.
The area is famous for it's rice cakes covered in sweet bean paste (if you have been to Japan you know that a lot of places are famous for a similar combination) called aka fuku. I thought it must mean red clothes, but I have been told it means Red Luck. Either way, we bought it and enjoyed it later. The above picture is the main headquarters for AkaFuku.
Finally, I liked the visual effect of standing under this loosely-woven straw roof. the light effect actually made me feel like I might be standing in Cambodia or Thailand or something like that. I have never been to either place so I am not sure why I had that feeling.

Our time in Ise had drawn to an end and it was time to head back home. We did make one stop off before hopping on the ferry- so stay tuned for Toba Aquarium Highlights...