Saturday, 29 December 2012

Getting Lost in the Wilds of Sagamihara

One weekend in late November U and I headed out on a Toshogu crawl, as we often do (but hadn't in a while). Sunday being his one day off we started late, and weren't out of the house until early afternoon. Then we ran a few errands, and before we knew it it was starting to get dark! We headed off to the first Toshogu on our list, but by the time we got there it was dark and so we decided to visit again another day when we might actually be able to see the shrine!

Thus started our adventure.

U took a wrong turn as we were leaving the neighbourhood of the shrine, turning left when he probably should have turned right. The road wasn't on our navi system, and going by the piles of equipment still littering the area, the road had only just been completed. There wasn't anywhere to turn off or turn around, so we kept going.

We were on a new road through rice fields in a valley ringed by tall hills. Suddenly we came to a small village - it could have been just about anywhere in rural Japan, and probably about anywhen from the past 40 years too! We slowed down and drank in the view, amused by suddenly happening on this little town not all that far from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and yet so far far away from it all! The guy behind us wasn't too thrilled with our lazy pace, however, so U veered off onto a side street to let the mini-pick up truck pass.

We drove down narrow little roads and before long came to the edge of town. A bridge took us across the river and to the other side of the valley. Familiar blue signs pointed the direction to various places, and U started to go into the right hand lane to turn and head home. I looked left, and saw another little village tucked away around a bend in the road. Impulsively I asked U to go left.

He grinned and switched lanes, turning left with a big smile on his face.

We drove along, feeling like little kids exploring a new park. The road dipped and went around a bend and we stared out of the windows watching with delight.

Unfortunately the scenery that unfolded was all to familiar urban sprawl. I sighed and sat back, disappointed. But then I saw what appeared to be a michi-no-eki. My stomach was telling me it had been a while since lunch, and michi-no-eki often have yummy food on sale, so I pointed it out to U and he pulled into the parking lot. By the time we had parked and gotten out of the car I realized it was not a michi-no-eki, but a bakery complex. The banners proudly proclaimed an-pan to be the specialty, and my heart sank. I do really like bean paste, but most an-pan is rather boring. But we had parked and our stomachs were growling, so we headed in.

Ogino-pan (Ogino Bread) turned out to be a delightful discovery. At 6:30 Sunday evening the store was hopping, full of customers and the staff were busily putting out tray after tray of items fresh from the ovens. Free samples were copious and enthusiastically pushed onto customers. And the bread was delicious! We bought the ever-common Japanese cheese bread (a round loaf with cubes of cheese in the middle, and found it to be so much more flavourful than is common, with an array of herbs mixed in with the cheese), a cheese and kimuchi bun (that was still hot and ooooooohhhhh so yummy!), and a few other bits and pieces. As we were leaving the doughnut counter lady offered us a nibble of their doughnuts - wow! Soft and chewy yet crunchy outside, sweet but not overly so... So U went back into the store to buy a few doughnuts!


Most of the bread didn't find its way back home, although we did a few hours later, after taking another detour to a local kiddie amusement park...! But that will have to wait until tomorrow... ;)

Friday, 28 December 2012

Fall Recap

I realize I've gotten far behind, but I'm finally just going through my photos and I found all the fall foliage photos I took and... well... here's a peak at some I took on two different days in Asukayama Park... sigh...

Saturday, 22 December 2012

To Chuck or not to Chuck

That, is the question.
Whether 'tis safer to toss it quietly,
Or to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous proselytism....

When my dad was staying with us a few weeks back he answered the door one day to a woman who he deduced was a political canvasser. He said she seemed very friendly and used gestures to promise she'd be back. I didn't think about it much, hoping the fact that the election was soon to be over would solve it.

But, I have since discovered that it is actually illegal to canvass door-to-door for a political party in Japan (trolling the neighbourhood in a truck with loudspeakers that would make a headbanger band cry, however, is perfectly acceptable - go figure!).

I didn't think about my father's visitor, however, until we got up last Sunday. After a... ahem... VERY late night the night before, we slept in on Sunday and discovered our mailbox full of parcel delivery slips (two! different companies!) and a book wrapped in a plastic baggie. U opened the bag and pulled out the bag and accompanying note. The book is old and worn, the pages are yellowing but it has obviously been carefully cared for. The note, written on scented pink paper decorated with cutesy characters, looks like one written by an eight year old girl to her new penpal in some exotic location.

We can't be sure who left it, but the note does make it seem like the woman who did was a repeat visitor, and it is in English.

Now we have two problems - the local odd cult has marked us as foreign targets, I have no doubt they'll be back. (I don't normally answer the door, however, it is much easier to hang up the inter phone on someone than to shut the door when they've inserted themselves into your doorway!)

And, what to do with the book? I don't want it. The note includes the woman's name, address, and phone number, so I could call her to come and get it, but I hardly want to give her the chance! U didn't like my idea of him using it for English practice, and it is too late in the season for me to send it to my father as a Christmas present. U said to just chuck it, but it's a book and I can't seem to do that...


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Rainy Day Park

On Saturday I went on a walk on my lunch hour. It was rainy and cold and miserable, but still beautiful!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Vending Machines

Japan is well known for its vending machines - drink machines can be found on every street corner and out in what seems to be the middle of nowhere by the edge of a rice field. The norm is drink machines, with heated cans or bottles replacing a row or two of the regular chilled drinks during the colder months. Drinks can vary from sodas, juices, green tea, coffee, and milky black tea to beer, sake, corn soup, or even red bean soup.

Some stations have newspaper vending machines and recently I've seen more snack machines - selling chocolate bars and bright yellow boxes of "Calorie Mate." Parking areas or service areas on the highways have vending machines that will (supposedly) heat up a box of french fries or tako-yaki, and others that will make you a fresh cup of coffee - right from grinding the beans - and show you the whole process in real-time via an internal camera.

Then while shopping the other day I saw a new kind of vending machine... a Proactive face wash machine! It was huge - easily the size of three regular drink vending machines across, and appeared well-stocked.

But I still think my favourite vending machine has to be one that I heard about listening to my favourite news podcast, CBC's As it Happens, the Bibliomat, a home-made vending machine that dispenses used books at the Monkey's Paw second-hand bookstore in Toronto!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Seasonal sights

Summer in Japan is hot and sticky and ugly. Winter, in poorly insulated and badly heated homes, is cold and miserable. Spring and fall, however, can be gorgeous - sunny and warm and full of colour. In the spring it is the cherry blossoms covering everything in pompoms of pink and white, and then raining a snow of petals. In the fall it is ginkos and maples and a host of other trees turning colours from deep yellow to bright bright red. Some people have a clear favourite, the sakura (cherry blossoms)

or the koyo (fall colour),

but others, like me, can't choose just one. The sakura, with their fresh but ephemeral beauty and the koyo with its majestic and awe-inspiring ability to paint an entire hillside a rainbow of reds and yellows.

Well what if you didn't have to choose? What if you could have your sakura AND koyo too?!

Known as ju-gatsu sakura or aki-zakura (October or autumn blooming cherry), there are cherry trees that bloom in the fall, their delicate pink and white petals standing out against the showy vibrant trees.

Sure the sakura were rather scraggly, but sakura AND fall leaves?! Now that is having your cake and eating it too!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Fall Close-up

It's been getting colder and we've pulled out the electric blanket to warm the bed at night. But midday, in the sun, can be sunny and warm and beautiful!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Musings on multi-language services

I'm interested in visitor services in museums, particularly multi-language services or services for minority groups (ie foreigners in Japan, new imigrants to Canada, Indian communities in the UK, or Hispanic communities in the US). I feel strongly that, especially when these minority groups are residents (regardless of length of residency), such services can be useful in creation of a sense of belonging for the minority group, establishing mutual understanding and improving relations with the larger community, and a host of other benefits apart from the basic truth that, despite linguistic and or cultural differences, minority groups are residents too, and deserve to be recognized and treated as such.

So I'm always delighted to discover a Japanese museum offering such services, or advertising that it offers such. So when I discovered that the Edo-Tokyo Museum ( mentions multi-language services on their Japanese language "barrier-free" page, I was impressed... until I realized the conceptual placement of multi-language services within those offered by the museum... The page has three divisions of services - those for individuals with physical disabilities, those for visitors bringing children, and other. Multi-language services (the audio guide for the permanent exhibition, offered in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean) are the last listing in the first group.


車椅子OK 貸出場所:1階・6階(無料)
白杖・杖 OK 
盲導犬・聴導犬・介助犬 OK 
点字表示 あり 

On one hand I can understand this placement, as the preceding listings are for various types of information in Braille and touchable exhibits for blind visitors. Listing a Japanese audio guide (presumably predominantly for blind visitors) among these services makes sense. Listing foreign language audio guides with the Japanese also makes sense. But I can't seem to shake the feeling that being a non-Japanese speaker is being equated with a physical disability... Being a foreigner in Japan (whether or not you speak Japanese) can sometimes be compared to having a disability of some sort (linguistic? cultural?), and services for foreigners in Japanese museums are often included in services referred to as being for those with disabilities or in a socially weak position (a specific Japanese term that doesn't translate well into English) - along with services for (the increasing number of) elderly or (the decreasing number of) children/parents with babies. 

So why does this placement bother me? I guess I would prefer the listing of the Japanese and foreign language audio guides to be separate, with the foreign language guides having a listing of their own under the "other" heading, showing that they are recognized as a resource for a certain group of visitors. I would like to think that a Japanese audio guide for blind visitors would be designed differently than foreign language audio guides (more so to as to be able to respond to the needs of blind Japanese visitors!). But does it matter? Does the placement of these services within the museum's page actually matter?

It is interesting to note that in English (, the page becomes "Visitor Information," with a section entitled "Services (Free-of-charge)." Five separate services are listed - two of which relate to multi-language services (volunteer guides, audio guides), one to physical disabilities (borrowing a wheelchair), one to visitors with children, and the final being an "other."



Volunteer Guides 1F 6F

The volunteers can give visitors museum outlines, help school teachers make plans for educational visits, and act as guides for the permanent exhibition. Our volunteers include English, German, French, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, and Russian speakers, though guides in some languages are not available on some days.
We may not be always able to assign a guide to you. Reservation should be made as early as the 10th of the month prior to your planned month of visit and no later than 2 weeks prior to your planned visiting day. Depending on guide availability, we may not be able to answer your request. Enquiries should be made to the Volunteer Office. Hours 09:00 to 15:00

Guide earphones 1F 3F

The earphone receiver enables you to tune into the guidance narration. You need to make a deposit to borrow an earphone. It is refundable.

Wheelchair service 1F 5F 6F

Wheelchairs are always available on asking.

Baby carriages 1F 6F Nursery room 1F 5F

Baby carriages are available. Small tables for changing babies' diapers are provided in the Women's restrooms on 1F, 3F, 5F, 6F and 7F.

Coin lockers 1F 3F 7F

Insert a 100-yen coin to use the locker. The coin is returned when you open the locker.


Friday, 16 November 2012

What I learned at work yesterday... (or reason #74563 why I love my job)

In the expanses of Japanese-controlled Manchuria, trains were the major source of transportation of just about anything. The company history of the Southern Manchurian Railway Company includes a fare and tariff chart that lists the prices for various types of items.

In the early 20th century it cost 30 sen (100 sen in 1 yen) per mile (not km, which is interesting as Japan is most definitely metric now) to transport dead bodies. Children were half price (just as live children riding trains in Japan today). Passengers (live ones, sitting in passenger cars) cost considerably more, depending on the class of carriage they chose. Cremated remains cost significantly less, the same price as small (live) animals such as chickens or dogs. In addition, dead bodies could be left at stations for periods of time up to six hours (although this was later extended, with a fee being charged per every 24 hour period the body was held by the station).

I was told all this by a delighted coworker, who rushed to make copies of the pages from the history so she could use it in some later research. We giggled over the painstakingly detailed instructions and rules (and complete lack of hiding behind polite euphemisms as would be common in modern society, especially here in Japan), ignoring the obviously sad message, that the railway likely carried a fairly large number of bodies, especially during the war.

Either way you look at it, however, how can you say historical documents are dry and boring?

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Baby A

And stiiiiiil more knitting!

This is a late one, I made a baby blanket for the first baby of a good friend in Canada last year. "Baby" A took her first steps last week and is thus now a toddler not a baby, so I figured I should get on posting about her blanket!

Her mom is a crocheter and a sewer, and little A has plenty of knitters and other crafty people in her life, she had at least two other handmade baby blankets to be wrapped in when first born! But I am a firm believer in not ever having too much knitting wrapped around a little baby! Her mother is a dear friend and a very colourful character, so I went for a rainbow blanket, with the hope that little A would grow up to be just as warm and loving and colourful as her mom.


Wednesday, 14 November 2012

(Not so) Wordless Wednesday - A Tale of Two Waters

A while ago I realized that the tap water (and the coffee) at work were upsetting my stomach. And the water (and coffee, and soup, and... and...) at restaurants in the nearby area had the same effect. So I stopped drinking the water and grudgingly began buying bottled water.

A couple of coworkers have told me they find the water at work has a funny smell or taste, but nobody else seems physically adverse to it. The area is, however, known to be a water source in the event of a disaster, so it is likely being held and stored somewhere, hence the funny taste/smell and likely my troubles.

Then, late this summer I was forced to realize that the tap water at home (and coffee, soup, and just about everything I cook!!!) was not agreeing with me. Not to the same extent as the water at work, but still it could not be ignored. After trying various options (the Brita filter had no effect, endless cases of bottled water were a pain to purchase, the local grocery store's water was no good...) we ended up with a water service.

A week trial proved the water past the Sarah stomach test so we signed up. We rent the base and purchase (free delivery) 12 litre bottles of clean and filtred water. The best part is that the water comes out either chilled or hot (85-90 C) and with the sudden dip in temperatures U and I have been enjoying endless cups of tea and herbal tea.

I'm still not happy I can't just drink the tap water, but am very relieved to have it all be water under the bridge!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Baby Knitting

More knitting!

Early this year there seemed to be a baby boom around me, coworkers, friends, friends of friends... So I turned to my knitting needles made up a couple of sets of booties/mitts/hat. They were super fast since they were small - and amused me to no end as U endlessly said "those are tiny! Are you sure you shouldn't make a bigger one? Is the baby actually THAT small?"


The blue set went to a coworker who's wife gave birth to a little boy, and who was going to be receiving a whole batch of hand-me-downs from a relative with a baby girl. My coworker joked about his son being dressed endlessly in pink, and I decided I to do what I could to offset that...

And the green set went to the friend of a friend, a fellow blogger who had her second child earlier this year and who, while I've never met, is somebody I've followed virtually for a while now and who I wanted to reach out to.

Sets like these may not be used by a parent nearly as much nor as long as a blanket, but they are fun to knit and oh so adorable...! I may just have to pull out the yarn and make another one just in case another friend announces she is pregnant...

Monday, 12 November 2012


I finally finished the mammoth afghan for our sofa, or at least the knitting component. But that left me with a dilemma - what to knit? I didn't have any baby knitting that needed doing and thus found myself digging through my yarn stash. I didn't get any inspiration as to a project, but I couldn't stop petting two skeins of handpainted yarn in a glorious soft silk/mohair mix. Soft and ever so pretty - a mix of blues and purples and pinks. Not really my colours, so I knew I'd be knitting and gifting, but absolutely gorgeous and after endless months of knitting with rough wool in dull dull colours, it was a delight to knit, sadly a short lived one as it knit up in no time!

I ended up with a cowl/scarf that is soft and light and pretty and about to be put into a box and mailed off to a wonderful friend who I have not seen in far too long. I hope she enjoys it half as much as I enjoyed knitting it!


Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Wordless Wednesday - 'tis the Season

Days before Halloween the Colonel was spotted sporting his Christmas suit... When can I put up our tree???

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Falling for Nikko

An old friend (from grad school, a Japanese art historian) had a few days in Tokyo at the end of a work trip through Asia and decided she wanted to go to Nikko for the weekend.  She planned to spend Saturday (when she knew we had to work) wandering around the shrines but asked me and U if we wanted to join her for a hike in Oku-nikko on Sunday.

So, U skipped out of work by 3pm and picked me up outside the museum at 5:15. We stopped for dinner at one of the service areas and pulled up to our ryokan by 8:30. After we discussed plans for the next day, U excused himself to soak in the onsen bath and my friend and I knitted and chatted, catching up until the crazy work schedule she has been on the past few weeks caught up with her. A quick soak in the bath for me, and I too was ready for bed - burrowing under a thick down comforter as Nikko is quite a bit cooler than Tokyo.

The ryokan my friend had picked, the Annex Turtle Hotori-an, seemed to cater to foreigners and, instead of the usual grilled fish and rice and miso soup for breakfast we were given a large plate of lovely fresh fruit, a hard boiled egg, and thick slices of crusty french bread dripping with butter. U wavered in between saying he was glad it was a light meal as he doesn't like heavy breakfasts and complaining to me that it wasn't a "traditional" ryokan breakfast, but I was a very happy camper.

As we drove up Iroha-zaka all three of us tried to remember the old poem for which the road is named, the old order for Japanese characters, which is used for the road as a sort of numbering with each switch back given a successive character as the road snakes back and forth up to Oku-Nikko.

We parked by the Yu-no-taki and caught a bus up to Yumoto, then walking back along the lake and then doing the Senjogahara hike back to the car. The hike was gorgeous. The path wound through forest and across the Senjogahara plain (debating the differences in meaning and local usages of "plains," "marsh," and "moor"). Nikko itself is still green, but as we drove up to Oku-Nikko the spots of colour increased, a little splash of yellow here, a bright red blotch there... And Senjogahara was beautiful! Probably not quite peak, but given the peak of fall colour will also mean hordes and hordes of people, I'll take almost peak and only mildly packed parking lots!

After our hike we drove back to Yumoto and soaked our feet in the free public foot bath (a long narrow covered wooden building with a stone bath with hot hot hot spring water bubbling out of cement fonts. I'm trying to break in a semi-new pair of hiking boots, so the ashiyu was a perfect follow up to the hike.

All too soon, however, it was time to head back to Tokyo (first via a road called "Japan's Romantische Strase as we knew the roads would be packed with cars heading back after a weekend enjoying the lovely fall weather... something we're going to have to do again and again this fall!