Friday, July 11, 2008

The Past 6 Months

Snowboarding at either Honouki Daira or Arkopia

Snowy Shrine

Big Geisha

Opening Ceremony



High School girls doing ... well, they're doing something!

Expensive fruit ($20 Watermelon, $30 Cantaloupe)

Me in Kamioka

One of the 48 waterfalls in Kokufu

A street in Furukawa

Koi streamers

These are found in front of almost all the houses in the Hida region. When I first got here I thought to myself: wow, these people have a lot of medical waste! Yeah, that's not what they're for. I'm not going to tell you what these they are used for, although if you can read kanji then you've already figured it out. Happy guessing!

Making Hoba-zushi at my taiko-sensei's house.

How cute is this!

Mary Poppins, I mean me, with two of my Jr.High students

Gifts from the staff and students of Iwataki Elementary School

Sunset from my balcony

Monday, May 26, 2008

Takayama Spring Festival

Last year's festival took place over the weekend so I was able to walk around and take pictures. I also hung-out by the river, eating festival food and blowing bubbles with A. and my friend R. who was visiting from Toronto. Fun times :-)

My Family in Japan

So last July my parents and brother came over for a visit. We took a 174 billion pictures. Here's a few of them:

Mom and Dad on 'The Big Chair' in Takayama

Dad eating kyushoku with some of my 6th grade kids

Mom in Nara

D. in Miyajima

D. getting his shirt munched-on by a deer in Miyajima

Me on a Mountain in Mushroom hat.

Tourists in the big city

The Family, doing what we do best. Besides eating.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Friends, Dinosaurs, and a really big Buddha

Wow, three posts in a week - I'm on a role! (or perhaps feeling guilty about my lack of posts in the past...)

So this weekend I drove over to Fukui-ken, a neighbouring prefecture, to visit my friend G. We went to Kanazawa in Ishikawa-ken and saw Kenrokuen Garden, and then stopped by the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art for the Ron Muek exhibit. Cool stuff. Big baby.

On Sunday we drove out to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum in Katsuyama.

After my close call with a toothy Fukui-saurus (or something), we continued on to the Echizen Dai Butsu, a Buddhist temple complex with a 17 meter-tall bronze statue of the Buddha. Apparently it's bigger than the one in Nara, although considerably less famous. Either way, it was impressive, not only for it's size and beauty, but for the over 1000 smaller statues places in niches in the temple walls. Here are some pictures and a video:

Is your temple not attracting enough small children? Just add pinwheels!

This is myself, a massive guardian statue, and a fire extinguisher

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Tour of my Apartment

Look, I made a dorky video of my apartment!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

That's Right, NO Insulation! (or, How to Survive a Winter in Japan)

Aaaaaand, it's May. Wow, it's been awhile since I posted something. Sorry, time has just been flying. It's actually gorgeous, and sunny and warm in Takayama right now. The sakura and magnolia came and went in April, the rice fields have been flooded and planted, the trees are green with new leaves, and flowers abound. So let me remind you of this:

Winter. Fluffy snow, perfect for snowboarding and snowball fights, then steaming hot-toddies shared with friends while sitting around a cozy apartment with movies and freshly baked cookies. Watching while the outside world is slowly covered with a soft, sparkling blanket of white, as you relax, in pajamas and fuzzy slippers, with a magazine and cup of hot tea.

Yeah, I wish.

Winter in Japan is tough. Others before me have likened it to going camping in the winter, except you're in your house. (And not taking a shower is simply not an option). The houses here aren't insulated, the windows are not doubled-paned, and nothing is air-tight. Some people have electric heating systems that double as air-conditioners in the summer, but the majority of people use kerosene stoves, kotatsus, and a variety of other magic tricks meant to keep the cold at bay. Some are more successful than others. Let me explain:

This is a 'Kotatsu', and it is indipensable for surviving a winter in the Japanese mountains. I would have surely perished without mine. (Over-dramatic much? Maybe. Or maybe not...)

A Kotatsu consists of a table frame with a heating device underneath. It is plugged-in to an outlet, and the heat levels can be controlled with a switch. A thick blanket is spread over the frame, and the table is placed on top. Most people put a blanket underneath the kotatsu too, for extra warmth and to protect the floor.

Yes, the kotatsu and blankets I inherited was ugly and brown, but they were free, so I couldn't really complain. (I say 'was' because I threw the blankets out last month. It was definitely time.)

And this is how I spent the past two winters: on the floor, under my kotatsu. I admit I was skeptical at first: how can something you simply shove your legs under keep you warm? But it's amazing how it does! And then it makes you drowsy. And before you know it, you're on your back, fast asleep, and this leads to interesting and prolonged cramping. And then you start to hibernate there because you can't be bothered leaving the warmth of your kotatsu to enter the icy kitchen and make another hot-toddy. But somehow you summon the courage. And you drink your hot lemon and whisky, and fall back asleep, and just before you do, you curse the winter and dream of spring.

This is a kerosene heater, the other primary heating device in a Japanese home. The newer ones are pretty fancy; they have timers and great controls, and turn off when they detect too much carbon monoxide in the air. They can also heat up a room fairly quickly, depending on the size of the room of course. However, because they burn kerosene, it means you have to turn them off and open the windows periodically so you don't kill yourself. And opening the windows lets in plenty of cold air, and soon your room is freezing cold again, so you turn on your kerosene heater once more only to have to open the windows yet again, and I'm sure you get the picture.

This is a kerosene - "toyu" in Japanese - container? Jug? Can? The device on the left is the pump. Mine is battery operated, so all I have to do is flip the switch and wait. Outside in the freezing cold. And trust me, spillage happens. Pretty soon you just get used to always smelling like kerosene. And avoiding open flames.

So while kerosene heaters are quite effective, they really only work in one room. And my apartment has 4, plus a toilet room and a shower. And lots of pipes.

Thankfully, my apartment came with a heated toilet seat. I love mine and wish I could bring it back with me. No cold shocks to the bum at Erin's apartment!

Even the pipes have their own, plug-in heaters.

I don't heat my bedroom, but turn-on my electric blanket a good hour before going to bed. It heats up all the duvet (and Teddy) and keeps me toasty. But I still have to wear socks to bed. And I hate wearing socks in bed!

This cute little thing is humidifier. The air here gets really, really dry, which leads to chest colds and bloody noses, so these things are essential. This one uses empty water/juice bottles and cost me less than 1000yen ($10).

Another great source of humidity is drying laundry. It's rare to find a actual dryer in most Japanese homes, but everyone has an arsenal of drying paraphernalia. Drying racks of every shape and size, hangers, specialized clips and clamps etc. And this works great during the warmer months. (when it's not raining). But try drying your clothes outside in a blizzard; it doesn't work so well. I solved the clothing and humidity problem by buying a 100yen ($1) piece of bamboo at the local home center, and hanging up my laundry in my tatami room where my heater was. Yes, that's my underwear.

This little packet - with the super, crazy adorable harp seal pup on the front - is a hand warmer. And as you can see, the hand warmer is keeping the seal pup warm and happy until the hunter comes along with a hakapik, but that's another story. These are how my students keep themselves warm at school during the winter months. You open them up, give them a shake, and then keep them in your pockets to warm your fingers and various extremities. You can buy larger ones for your back/stomach, small ones for your shoes etc. They're incredibly convenient, not very environmentally friendly, and they keep seal pups and kids happy.

And finally, to keep warm in Japan during the winter, you need lots and lots of hot things to drink. Tea, coffee, hot chocolate, hot-toddys. Whatever does the trick. Oh! And of course, you'll need a toque and a scarf and a coat and gloves. All to we worn inside. Because if you don't stay warm you'll end up like this ...

... Sick, unimpressed, and hidden behind a mask that fogs up your glasses no matter what you do. And if you're sick, you'll be subjected to all of this ...

... a years worth of medication. For a cold. So kids, stay warm and dry! And enjoy those hot beverages ;-)