Sunday, 30 May 2010

7th kyu passed!

I passed my 7th kyu Karate test today, woohoo! The test comprised of three parts. First, kihon, which is performing the 7th level punches, blocks and kick. Second, kata, is a series of punches, blocks and kicks in a sequence (click here to watch a vid of it at youtube). Third, kumite, chudan and jodan blocks are performed with an attacking partner.

Next stop, 6th kyu in August!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Crazy frogs

It's crazy frogs season in Japan! This isn't so much a video as it is a soundclip of the frogs in the rice fields outside my house at night... I'm surprised it doesn't keep me awake.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Digging day

Today was digging day. That wasn't the official title. Nor was I told about it beforehand. When I arrived this morning I was told everyone had something to do outside, and after some questionable hand motions I released what they meant.

So all staff and students donned their work clothes and filtered into the school grounds to pull weeds and other unwanted growing things out of the ground. I bagged a nice patch on the baseball field in the sun and attacked it vigorously with a hoe. Many weeds were relocated to the “destined for a compost pile” wheelbarrow.

Later I was asked by a teacher if these sorts of voluntary activities were part of a schoolchild's life in England. I almost spat out my green tea with laughter, then composed myself and said "it's not actively encouraged."

Tokyo opera comes to me

Last Wednesday and out of the blue we (my school) were visited by members of a Tokyo opera group. Well, I say “out of the blue”, but everyone probably knew about it except me. Which is normal for my school. Anyway, we were all ushered down into the gym and gave a huge round of applause to the singers as they came in, the men in very smart tuxes, the women in pretty dresses of varying colours and shades.

For an hour the 20 opera singers serenaded the school through some classics, some snippets of Disney (including the eternally-annoying “It's a small world”), and ending with Nessan Dorma. An unexpected treat to start the day with.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Tea Harvesting

The beautiful Tenryu river

Tea field

This weekend we headed down to Joe's village of Tenryu to do some tea-picking. Only the light green leaves poking out the top of the tea bush are picked and processed, and if I understood the Japanese correctly, 30 kg of unprocessed tea leaves become 5kg of processed tea ready for use. After picking we visited the local tea-processing plant, which smelt heavily of, yes you guessed it, tea. Yes another wild and wacky inaka adventure!

Tea! Yes, tea!

Those ancient Chinese were on to something the first time they picked this and boiled it...

Tenryu itself is far more inaka than my village and the scenery is absolutely gorgeous. The tea field/farm we were harvesting was located on the side of a tall mountain on one side of a big valley, the Tenryu river running through the centre. The scope of it made my eyes blur!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The girlfriend has landed!

Yikes, almost 4 weeks since the last post! Ok, I have a good excuse, my girlfriend came to visit for a couple of weeks. We spent a couple of nights in Tokyo in the Kadoya hotel in Shinjuku. It was a bit expensive, but then again not too bad for Tokyo. And of course completely worth it to show her around the city.

We then headed back to my place in Nagano, had dinner with my friends here, then a day later hopped on a bus to Kyoto for a couple of nights. We stayed at a really neat hostel just south of the station (J-Hoppers). The price was pretty good and the hostel quiet, clean and friendly. We saw the tourist bits (ginkakuji, kinkakuji, nijo jo, imperial gardens) and also took a wander along the philosophers path, which I hadn't done before. We happened to walk past a Geisha house and saw one being dressed (!) through the doorway. I decided to leave the camera in it's bag.

We also took a walk down the canal (surrounded by neon restaurant signs and weeping willow trees) and through the narrow backstreets that I think give Kyoto it's charming quality. After being fleeced for a really small and really expensive meal we found an awesome sushi bar along the canal and fed our faces for half the price of the previous meal.

After Kyoto we visited some places around the area in which I live, including "my" lake and a lovely mountain-viewing area called Shirabiso Kogen. We ate there and spent the day sat out reading, playing guitar (on a mountain, yes!!) and taking pictures.

Around the Shimoina area we sampled many of my favourite restaurants and eateries and generally spent time relaxing in the beautiful weather around the lake and local parks. Bliss!

But alas she is now back in Australia continuing her tour of it and Asia. Hopefully I can tempt her back before the end of the year...