Friday, February 29, 2008

Heavy Hosting Hits Hamakita, Hamamatsu

Sunday was a bit of a busy one for us. The day started out quietly, with Ritsy and Ken reading about why Penelope should eat her soup.
But things picked up with arrival of Warwick, Emi and their son Taila- (or is that Tyler?).
Tyler is now just about 9 months old and is really mobile now. He can even stand for a few seconds on his own- according to my students that is pretty advanced development! Above, you can see that Lanma is a bit of a chicken, hiding under the table.
Both moms (Ritsy and Emi) look quite happy with their sons! It's always great for them to talk together, being in the same boat- mothers of dual-nationality children.
We also had plans to have all the ladies from our neighbourhood over to meet Ken, so there was about 14 people visiting us! It went pretty well, and Ken was working his charm with all the ladies as usual. Our neighbour, Suzuki's daughter brought the house down putting a bag on her head. Pretty funny stuff!

All in all it was quite a fun Sunday and we were happy being able to see everyone and do some catching up!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What is goings on?

There has been a lot of picture centered entries lately- of course it is a lot easier than thinking of what to say! Some may wonder what is going on in the world of the Lowrey family.
Work - Has slowed down quite a bit since the last week of January-- so there is a lot more family time, but the decrease in funds is a concern. I, of course, decided it's best to enjoy the time to catch my breath and get ready for when it gets busy again.
Trips- The family is heading out to Vancouver from the 4th of April to the 15th. We'll arrive back in Japan on the 16th and probably I'll be back to work on the 18th! It's been about a year and a half since I last walked on Canadian soil- so I'm really looking forward to catching up with everyone! Of course, Ken is also really looking forward to meeting all the people he has heard so much about already! We only just were able to pick up the tickets on Tuesday because of some confusion how to fill out the names on the tickets because of the next topic...
Names- Ritsy changed her name as in Japan the baby has to keep the same family name as the mom. I really wanted him to have the Lowrey family name (I feel like I am carrying on the family line that way)- so he is now Ken Lowrey Takasugi. And Ritsy is Ritsuko Lowrey Takasugi. They may be the only Lowrey-Takasugi in the world! The procedure was actually not too complicated for Japan, it just involved a bit of waiting for the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place.

Taxes - We went to get my taxes processed for last year. At this time of year it is held in a big auditorium with a number of tables and a few people to help you with the preperation. It was a little different format then the way I did them last year, so came a little unprepared and it took Ritsy about 4 hours to fill out the paperwork. After all the time spent, I do get some money back- so I owe her a nice dinner or something for all the work.
Ken - is awesome!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

KPT (Ken Paparazzi Time)

I picked up Ritsuko's camera and saw that she has been a lot more proactive with the picture taking than I have the last little while, so here is another dose of baby pics!
What's a baby and pet blog without a reference to the Sistine chapel, here Ken and Santa tried to recreate the famous painting...
A great picture after Ken tried for the lead in the musical Grease!
He's started to grab things, and he put the towel in his mouth. Too funny!
That's it for this session, good night!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ken says

Ken's got some stuff on his mind that he wants to get off his chest, so I will act as his vessel and try to communicate a few things on his mind.
He's a bit worried about the Canucks lately. They really have been playing disjointed for the last month or so and haven't been getting the goaltending they should be (He was astounded they could lose 6-2 to the Avalanche). The forwards are good, but they would be even better if they had made a better effort to fill the hole left open when Morrison went down so early in the season- would have given more games where a second line could produce. But he thinks Nazzie is a more determined player now and Pyatt has shown some glimpses of great play. They can still get it together!
Ken wants Santa to stop wearing his clothes. Sheesh!
Speaking of Santa, sometimes he feels that Santa is just sitting there and watching him. What the heck does he want? To steal more of his clothes?

Ken thanks you all for lending an ear!

Monday, February 18, 2008

A return of sorts

It's already been 4 months since that incident that Chris so expertly depicted on my Funwall on Facebook. Of course I had my leg grafted back on and hung out in a cast for the next 2 and a half months. It was probably about December 26th when the doctor said I was okay and ready to do sports again. But I didn't. Probably part of me had a small fear of re-injuring myself and going through that horror show all over again. Another part of me probably was thinking it's time to throw in the hat and just admit that I am getting older. Of course another part of me was just busy because of the baby.
It was time to stop being conquered and be the conquerer once again. It was time to return to the courts. I called up Chris who was raring to go and rounded up Pete and Atsu to witness the returning of the fallen warrior. To aid in the rebuilding of the legion of confidence that had been vanquished by the months of pain- and a fair number of delicious chocolates. As it was time to throw down the first hoop, to get back on the proverbial horse, my stomach dropped and there was self doubt washing over me.
What did the basketball gods hold for me? I looked skyward and saw an ominous cold, black cloud making it's way towards Misono Chuo Kouen. I stood up and held my breath to still my racing heart, my brain was awash in nervous energy and threatened to overtake me. It was now or never. I stood up and hurtled the little orange missile at the hoop, laughing at me ever so tauntingly. Kachunk - it hit the rim and fell dead to the ground. Yes, I missed as I always do! I was back! After that moment every step, every missed shot became that much easier. A game formed and my confidence started to deteriorate as I tried to alter my game to be less about cheeky moves and more smart plays. I sat out and let Chris and Pete take over.
By the end of the session I was confident again to be able to try out a few of my old moves again.
But the same swarm of guys that we played with back on that fateful day (which Chris says he hadn's seen once since that day) showed up and took over the court and the black cloud overtook the small berg of Hamakita. It was time to pack it in. On the way out, I could see these poor shoes taking refuge from the snow on the roof of this car.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Ken and the Kats

How have the cats been?

Leading up to having the baby, there was some advice offered about having the cats around Ken. There was a lot of worrying going on, which I have felt all along is a bit overblown. I do take sleeping time seriously, and think it best to not let the cats sleep with him in the first year when breathing is a bit more hard work and SIDS is a concern. But after that I don't think there is really too much to worry about.
Basically the cats have kept a bit of distance from Ken and his flailing arms and legs and have not made a single threatening gesture towards him. When they play, they get locked out of the room- they can barely stay away from knocking over our food and drinks, much less steer clear of the baby. We also try to be aware of the potential for jealousy and make an effort to always pet them or involve them in our daily activities and they are basically still happy. However they do get a bit jealous sometimes. The other day I was sitting down with Ken at the computer in my PJ's when Lanny decided to share my lap with him...
And she repeated her performance the next night too...
Pretty funny, the next night we put him to bed before sitting at the PC at the end of the day and she wanted nothing to do with sitting on my lap. That's okay, they have been very well behaved and no threat to the little guy!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Video: Ken chan Konichi wa

I guess this becomes kind of a Vlog when I put up video eh? Well for today's vlog, I'll turn the reins over to Ritsuko and Ken...
video

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

That's Japan! (Volume 7)

What is that? That rare poetic beauty, that contrasting burning complexity. That historically deep and bright futured place? Well, of course- That's Japan!
1. Chonmage - You've seen it before. If you have ever watched a samurai movie, or a sumo wrestling match-- then you have seen this beautiful hair style. It's great that the Japanese, never one to shy down from a challenge- were challenged to come up with an answer for the worst hairstyle contest held annually in Luxembourg. They needed to dethrone the reigning champion, the mullet- and hold off the new challenger at that time- the mohawk-- and they did a pretty good job at it.
2. Salt - There is a funny little bit in this video when they get to the tradition involving the salt you can find outside of sushi-ya's. A side note, you probably get it, but don't listen to the advice in the video, they don't really use their fingers- or soak the sushi in soy... About the salt, the truth of the matter is that it stems from an old Shinto tradition- the salt is meant as a way to purify-- so the plates of salt bring purity and cleanliness to the restaurant.
3. Rakugo - This may be a dying art form now in Japan, but there still seems to be some popularity of this type of Japanese entertainment. The performers sit throughout the show and usually will tell a long humorous story using no props- merely a wooden fan. This format of show has a very Japanese feel- as the performer is usually wearing kimono and is considered by most an art form.
Edit: Here is an English Rakugo performance coutesy of Yoube.
4. Omelet Rice - Take all the wholesome, filling goodness of rice and add in the delicious fluffiness that is eggs and you get what the Japanese affectionately call "Omu-Raisu". It's like those old Reese's peanut butter cup commercials- "Hey- you got your omelet in my rice"; "No, you got your Rice in my omelet!" It's actually quite a pleasantly filling meal and is often served with a not so tempting ketchup sauce. I had a good one at a restaurant served with demi glace, and sometimes the wife concocts a nice little combo- most recently with a nice sweet miso sauce. Definitely is a great example of Japanese western fusion cooking.
The beautiful view from across the street of my house every Tuesday and Friday
5. Garbage dumping spot - Back home if you have garbage to put out, usually on the designated night you leave it in your garbage can out back of your house. But in Japan each neighborhood has it's own designated spot- the gomi okiba where you are to dump your garbage- and in areas like mine, where there is no shelter built for it- you can only do it early that morning. Luckily mine is just about 10 meters from my front door...
Bonus: This video in it's humorous weirdness says a lot about what the Japanese experience is, watch it if you dare...

As Godzilla once said... "Sore wa Nippon desu!" , Which roughly translates to-- "That's Japan!"

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

ESL Shinenkai

I was shocked to learn that there was going to be a shinenkai party at ESLC on Saturday night. So I headed on over to the school to celebrate the excitement of 2008 and get in a few rounds of Wii Olympics.
Simon was sporting a new 'doo and was quite frustrated by it all, as evidenced in this picture. Also we had the chance to meet Alexis for the first time.
Akemi taught us all how we should look when we're angry and just in time. We all had a chance to practice when we were reminded that long time student Yeni and her boyfriend Simon were moving to Shizuoka city soon!
Quickly we remembered we were there to celebrate and joy was restored. Soon afterwards we hit the Wii for some Beijing Olympic fun, it was a good time- thanks a lot to Chris and Hisano!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hahaha

Not too much report this week really. I wanted to blog about a sushi shop that we checked out on Friday. But the booths were very small for someone holding a baby- so due to discomfort didn't have time to take pictures. The place is interesting- located near Ichino Jusco. The format looks like Kaiten sushi- but you actually order the sushi that you want from a touch screen at your table and the food comes around the revolving track. There is a sensor in the plate so when it arrives at your table it automatically gets pushed out. Quite interesting, it's like being inside a giant sushi vending machine.

I wanted to upload this little video originally taken on Ritsy's phone camera. I found a converter for the video format, but I'm afraid the quality won't be so good. Ken is so funny when he starts laughing at things- here he is copying my fake laugh!

video

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Stuff that I miss

Steve Digs into some Greek Food
I was trying to justify to Chris the other day why I was waiting on a care package from home with deodorant in it, when I realized that it was more about my brand familiarity and comfort zone than about the quality of goods here in Japan. That's alright. Thanks again Cathy for sending that over!

But I got to thinking about some of the stuff that I wish I could buy here that you just can't find here in Hamamatsu (not yet anyway), and I thought- I have me a blog topic! All product images come from the company websites...
Poptarts - Man- I would probably eat them like once or twice a year, but when I get the craving for one- I really want one! These yummy morsels you pull out of the wrapper, stick the toaster and when they pop out are delicious and hot! I would sometimes just eat them cold...

Greek Food - When I think about it, Greek food should be a great fit for Japan. Hummus would be very popular with it's healthiness and great taste (even tahini, one of the ingredients of hummus is a sesamee based product- they love sesame here!), not to mention tzatziki. Greek Salad, pita bread, calamari and souvlaki would all go down nicely here too- why can't I find a blooming Greek restaurant here!?
Cherry Garcia - Basically the best ice cream I have ever eaten. Enough said.
Sleemans Honey Brown Ale/Spring Pale Ale - At most import stores you can see European beers and some American beers but no sight of anything Canadian (not even Molson Canadian) I was holding onto hope when I heard that Sleeman's was bought by a Japanese company last year- Sapporo, but no such luck. Oh well- going to Vancouver in 2 months.
HP Sauce - HP stands for House of Parliament- not Hewlett Packard. The other day we were able to find a steak that didn't cost about $27, so we bought and enjoyed a nice steak dinner last night. That brought me around to my favorite steak sauce- HP. I have no idea why it wouldn't be at one of the import stores- even in Nagoya and Tokyo I've had no luck finding it. Luckily Ritsy improvised up a good sauce for our dinner!
Lime Tortilla Chips - Man I loved those things! Happy memories of the hockey playoffs my last year in Vancouver, when all the guys would get together and we would have a couple of Kokanee's and eat the Lime chips. I actually found some in Nagoya one time at Parco or something like that- mmm chips...

It would be great if they had a store just with stuff I needed- but I know that in the real world it doesn't work like that. There is a thing called the Foreign Buyer's Club- but the prices are just unreasonable and it sounds like you have to wait a long time. I just binge when I go home to visit... but if you happen across any of these products in Japan, let me know!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Japanese Proficiency Test

For those that have read my for a little while- know that the end of the year was a bit of a challenge for me. It all started on the fateful October afternoon when I fractured my leg, I was quite hobbled and was forced to take the trains and the taxis to all my classes. This in itself added about 30 minutes to an hour extra time to travel to each class. On top of that, of course, Ritsy was pregnant. She was actually in pretty good condition and would drive me to the train station pretty much up to a week before having the baby- that saved me about 15 minutes, and a lot of work. Did I mention that November was my busiest work month as a teacher, of all time!? I made a lot of money- which was good, I needed it- but I ended up pretty tired by the time my baby arrived on November 24th. The beginning of December was still busy, and even busier now because my wife was in a hospital because of blood loss and my baby was in the Midwife's clinic- and I was taking buses and trains between my classes, the hospital and the clinic, I tried to visit both Ken and Ritsuko everyday. It was very physically and emotionally draining. Now, the main point- nestled in the middle of that tough month was the Japanese Proficiency test. I have been studying for 2 years with the patient and kind Taeko and I was meant to take the Level 4 test the year before, but missed the deadline. At that time, I decided my mistake would not slow me down and I would challenge for the Level 3 test this past December. But because of the situation leading up to the test- my cram time was drastically reduced and I pretty much felt that I failed it.

Today the results came. And I calmed myself, preparing for the worst as I opened up the sealed postcard. To my shock the first word I found was Passed! Yes- I have gotten my Level 3 Japanese Proficiency! Wow! I needed to work out the situation at that time, as it feels like such a distant memory now. My family is together at home everyday, I am driving, and I basically have no pain anymore. I feel this was quite an accomplishment!

This years goal has to be to improve my spoken Japanese and start pushing forward and obtaining the Level 2 grammar and vocabulary. I heard that the next test is a big step up, so I will probably have to take 2 years of studying before trying for it-- but I am that much closer now...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A video -- Nodding Cats, tours and babbling

Today I threw together three clips from the video camera- one of Santa and two of Ken and family. You'll notice he is developing a Christopher Walken speech delivery (high pitch drops sharply to a low pitch). I guess he is just imitating the 'baby talk' voices that we have- it's pretty cute.

video

Monday, February 4, 2008

Looking back again- Kamakura

I haven't had a flashback post for a while, so I remembered that I wanted to reflect back on our trip out to Kamakura back in the Tokyo days. Kamakura is one of the few special treasures in the
Kanto area that remained relatively untouched from the history decimating bombings back in the 2nd world war. You can walk for hours in a day from temple to shrine in the town and still not cover everything. I know that Ritsy and I spent 2 days walking around and there was still a lot we didn't see.
It was in Kamakura that I first started to notice the way that the little statues get dressed up in red, and I always loved this picture.
An image that stands out of Kamakura is the lead picture. This beautiful little town sits next to the seaside, as it was a beautiful and clear day- it made the experience that much nicer.
Kamakura has the other big Buddha (Nara Todaiji). The Daibutsu. This was about 4 years now, so it's tough to compare, but I think Nara's Daibutsu had a larger scale feeling- I'm not sure if it is amplified because it is surrounded by a building, or if it is just larger...
We saw a number of temples and buildings, but sadly I have no memory of the names of the places. Of course the main thing I notice is how much skinnier I was back then...
This place was quite lovely and peaceful as well.
Sadly, one of my favorite places in that trip we weren't allowed to take pictures. Inside a dimly lit big building was a number of statues that have stood for a thousand years or so. They have survived many a typhoon and earthquake and weren't the most amazing looking, but the atmosphere and the history created a nice feeling.
Sorry as far as a tour of Kamakura goes, my reporting is shoddy- but 4 years is a long time-- I will definitely have to go back one day to fill out those memories and create some new ones!