Thursday, 22 July 2010

Redbeard's babies

A few blogs ago I introduced you to my new avian lodger. Recently I was delighted to discover he has had babies with his significant other, all of which still have closed eyes and make no noise, but are rather animated nonetheless. They also insist on greeting me whenever I return home.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Driving license - acquisition of

On Tuesday Ben and me drove up to Shiojiri (Shiojiri; literally, "salty bottom", very amusing, but a joke for another time) to sort out our Japanese driving licenses. The international ones we'd bought in the UK a year ago will expire soon, so we needed to swap them for full on Japanese ones. Well, I say "swap", but it was quite a lengthy process.

We arrived at the centre at the ungodly time of 8.30 am and went to the international booth. We were asked for various forms of ID, including passports and our international licenses, about which we were asked an obscenely long list of questions about... in Japanese. Quite the experience.

At intermittent times through the day we were asked to go to various other booths in the area, including ones to buy 'stamps' (?!) from, one for a photograph, one for aptitude tests (by the time we'd worked out what we had to do we should have been registered as very, very blind) and another to collect the issued license itself. All very formal, by the book, the entire process bound securely by the red tape the Japanese are rather fond of.

Anyway, after 3 or 4 hours of mostly waiting, trying to answer questions in Japanese, we were issued our licenses and are now legally allowed to drive some form of transport around Japan. It could be donkeys, it could be quad bikes, who the hell knows...

Monday, 12 July 2010


On Sunday we headed to Nagoya, the city of plenty, to watch the Sumo tournament. Recently there has been some bad press for the sport, as several wrestlers and associated people were found guilty of illegal gambling on baseball games, in which the Japanese mafia (Yakuza) were involved. This proved quite a big hoo-haa in Japan, and as a result several wrestlers were suspected, including one of Nagoya's homegrown heroes, Kotomitsuki, an Ozeki (second in ranking to the champion Yokozuna). As such Japan's tv networks refused to air it nationally.

Anyway, we made our way there to have a gawp at some big fat wrestlers slapping and trying to throw eachother out of the ring. Actually, there's a bit more to it than that, and it was a surprising amount of fun to watch! I buckled slightly to consumerism and bought a poster illustrating all the wrestlers taking part, as well as a traditional mug with all their names on. Well, how often do you get to watch a sumo tournament?

I bet on the guy in blue...


Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Tanabata & zebra swarms

An amusing conversation was had today when I questioned the brightly-decorated pots of jelly served at lunchtime. According to my schools art teacher, today is Tanabata (七夕), a star festival related to the Chinese star festival, Qixi.

The Tanabata story celebrates the coming together of the two stars Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair). The story says that these two lovers are separated by a great river (the Milky Way) and are allowed to meet once every year, on the 7th day of the 7th month.

The art teacher and a student were trying to describe something about stars in the sky, and then offered me a Jap-Eng dictionary which they hoped would explain things. I've never heard the term 'meteoric swarm', and on reading it found it rather amusing. I explained that it is common to call it a meteor shower, which itself amused several students given that the first translated it to them as 'meteor bath.' I said it is unusual to call a shower of meteors a 'swarm', offering them the example of 'a swarm of insects.'

The art teacher then offered the wonderfully amusing example of 'a swarm of zebra.' The thought of a huge, airbourne, black and white -striped flying menace amused me greatly, as it did the other students. I explained the collective term 'herd' to her, then regretted it immediately as I was routinely tested on my knowledge of animal collectives for every one they could think of...

Tuesday, 6 July 2010


On the weekend we trundled up to Hakuba for canyoning (our first shot at it a couple of weeks ago was ruined by rain). Thankfully the weather was good and the only customers were the four of us, so we had a small and easy group to move around.

I've wanted to go canyoning for a while and I wasn't disappointed. Sliding down waterfalls and leaping off high rocks into pools is great fun!

A brave wave


Monday, 5 July 2010

New lodger

A few weeks ago I came home to discover splashes of mud on my front door and leaves and twig all over the porch. Ever the sleuth, I looked up to discover the beginnings of a nest being built on my front door frame. I was curious but cautious, after all, the nest could have been a hive too. I decided very firmly to keep my eye on it.

A few weeks later I am delighted to discover the now-finished nest belongs to a lovely little swallow(s). Since the nest first appeared I'd been finding bird poop on my car and seeing a pair of little black birds shooting around the house, so am rather chuffed to find they have chosen to lodge with me.

Some nights ago I came home from Karate to find a black head poking over the nest, staring at me as I unlocked the front door. Owing to his nice reddish-orange facial markings I've named him Redbeard.

Redbeard in his nest

Music, mochi & moaning

Elementary Music Show

On Friday I went to one of my elementary schools to watch their school music show. Every teacher acted as conductor for their class, and it was obviously they'd been practising for some time. Each class, even the tiny first years, played a piece together on drums, xylophones, piano accordians, brass and woodwind instruments. It was quite a treat, my favourite being the excerpt of Beethovens 5th, a piece the kids had charmingly called "I like Beethoven." There was also a really nice jazz piece too.

Gohei Mochi

On Sunday (after a birthday bbq the night before) we headed down to Anan to make Gohei Mochi. To make this delightful treat you mash cooked rice into almost a dough consistency, form it into flattened cylinders (with bamboo "cake-cutters") , add them to a skewer, grill them, and lather them with a delicious miso-based sauce.

This style of mochi is said to be named after a carpenter called Gohei, who one day, when opening his lunchbox of separate miso and rice, found they had mixed, forming a delicious snack.


You can't live in a place like Nagano without hiking a mountain. There is simply no excuse for it. So last weekend we headed south to Achi village to tackle Ena-san, a mountain approximately 2,200 metres high. To say we picked the wrong weekend is an understatement.

At the moment it is the Japanese Tsuyu (rainy season), and as you might expect, it rains a lot. Last weekend was far from an exception, so we spent two days climbing a rather difficult mountain in the torrential rain. To make matters worse, I realised (very quickly) that I'd forgotten my good waterproof hiking boots, and that my "rain jacket" was more rain-resistant than rain-proof, so essentially I spent two days cold and drenched. Not the most thrilling of experiences. Our first stop on the second day when leaving the mountain was the nearest onsen, to soak our cold and aching bodies.

This week I mentioned the experience to a member of my eikaiwa, who told me Ena-san is the hardest mountain in the area to climb, not for its height but because so much of it is so incredibly steep, requiring climbing as well as hiking. Yes, I know. My legs are still not talking to me.