Friday, 30 March 2012

Tracking Sakura - Day Five

Definitely turning pink! I'm just worried they are going to go and bloom over the weekend, and I'm not quite dedicated enough to come to work on the weekend just to take pictures of sakura buds, sorry.

(badly out of focus due to the gusting wind that kept the branch in constant movement!)

Thursday, 29 March 2012


- sunny lunchtime walks in the park
- being welcomed as a regular at my favourite local Indian restaurant (and not just for the complimentary oolong tea!)
- a super tummy and friendly local Indian restaurant!
- taking the train with U every morning this past week as he has been attending a conference
- FINALLY starting a project I was originally hired to do... SIX YEARS AGO! (and knowing I'll do a much better job of it now than I would have then!)

Tracking Sakura - Day Four

The buds are starting to turn pink and the glorious sunny weather might just do the trick!!

(Same branch from a different angle so I wasn't taking a picture directly into the sun)

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Tracking Sakura - Day Three

Wedding Bells and Whistles

On Saturday night I went for dinner with the couple who's wedding I'll be officiating next month.

My friend had far too many glasses of the endless sparkling wine that accompanied our nice "European" meal (onion and bacon pie, smoked salmon, and prosciutto starters followed by bauna cauda, cheese fondue, and strawberries and creme brule-ish pudding bites) and fell asleep in my lap.

Before she did, however, she apologized for the way in which she had told me about my role in TE wedding. She explained she wanted me there because she expects to be a ball of nerves and knows she can count on me to both relax her and give her support. She said that I have made her laugh and given her the strength to carry on so many times before so she wanted me there. Then she gave me a hug and looked about to cry (though in hindsight the last two, at least, we're likely the bubbly talking!).

I explained I was a little worried about being an imposter priest and they reassured me that while they will be using the hotel "chapel" it won't have religious symbolism and readily agreed to me wearing a suit instead of a robe.

Then the sparkling wine took over and my friend fell asleep in my lap. And I discovered all over again just how good of a guy she has found herself. As poor students they are only just holding the party, two years after signing the paperwork. My friend didn't get a proposal or engagement ring.

But her husband is planning to do surprise her with both before the wedding. He's going to stop me as I start the ceremony, go done on one knee, and propose. Hopefully she'll say yes, and he'll give her the engagement ring he is having made to go with the wedding rings they picked out together. (it'll both fit her and be something she likes - very smart guy!)

The evening ended rather differently might have been hoped - my friend all but being carried into a taxi - but I took the train home with a big smile. I'm now both excited and honored (and NERVOUS!) to be a part of the ceremony. I care a lot about my friend and it is really good to see her happy and cared for.

But... The script they gave me for the ceremony was half a page, so I said I'd look for a reading to add in. My friend repeatedly suggested something light and amusing - maybe a joke / amusing tale with a moral or heartwarming ending? Or maybe a poem - something in English that I can then explain in Japanese. Any ideas or suggestions?

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Tracking Sakura - Day Two

Same branch, same green buds, a lot more sun!

Happy Birthday to U

The alternative title to this post would be "Its a bloody miracle I didn't burn the house down"

We were shopping a few weeks before U's birthday and he pointed out a display of fondue sets. I wasn't sure about the quality of a ¥1500 generic Aeon fondue set (and U didn't like any of the colours) so we picked him out a reasonably priced small Le Crueset fondue set (red, his favourite colour) (like this one).

I picked up various bits (a bagna cauda packet from Kaldi and a cheap cheese fondue from the local grocery store) and then turned to Rakuten and ordered fondue forks, a fondue recipe book, a real Swiss cheese fondue mix, and a good chocolate mix too. On his birthday I wrapped the bits that had arrived in time and prepped French bread, potatoes, broccoli, and sausages. I broke down and bought a cake, and a bottle of cheap bubbly as well as two different types of pickles.

Despite the fact that he had picked out his gift he was so excited when he opened it, and even more excited when I whisked it out of his hands and washed it before filling it with the cheese mix I had bought at the grocery store.

The box had two different sets of directions. You could put the contents of the packet into the plastic dish provided and zap in the microwave, or put it directly into the fondue dish and heat on the stove. The latter seemed the better option, so that is what we did. I stirred the cheese over low heat, as it melted and began to bubble. As I turned off the gas there was a loud CRACK and the Le Creuset dish cracked into four pieces and poured warm melted cheese all over the burner.

I screamed and U made sure the gas was off. We started cleaning immediately, figuring melted cheese would be easier to clean than hardened cheese and surprisingly it was easier than we feared. The cheese had managed to do a minimal punt of damage, and the burner was soon none the worse for its cheese shower.

Luckily we still had the good Swiss cheese mix so we heated it up in a pot on the stove and enjoyed a very yummy fondue dinner.

Stuffed full of cheese I brought out the birthday cake and started decorating it with candles - I had found "h-a-p-p-y-b-i-r-t-h-d-a-y" candles at the local 100 yen store and there were also the complementary candles wih the cake. Trouble is there was only one of me lighting the candles. I started on one side and worked my way over. By the time I got to the second "h", however the first "h" was more like a "n" and the tall plain candles in the middle were bent in half and dripping bright colours all over the white cream of the cake.

For the second time that might I screamed. U came running and blew out his candles. I sang him "Happy Birthday" as we picked coloured wax off the cream.

That night as we were falling asleep, U hugged me and, in all seriousness, thanked me for a memorable birthday. Yes, definately memorable!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Going Postal

Japanese service is famed for its impeccable politeness. Endless bowing and apologies in the improbable event that anything goes a little wrong. Gifts and deep bows in the very rare event that something goes seriously wrong.

Like, say, perhaps over a hundred ballot envelopes and candidate information packets not being delivered to members of an academic association.

Okay, so not a life and death problem, but still, losing mail? Losing time sensitive and important mail? You'd think that a mistake like that, with important documents of a regular customer (400+ mailings half a dozen times a year), would warrant a box of cookies and foreheads touching shoes, or at least a few boxes of tissues and heads below shoulders.

But no. When the president of the association called to ask what the hell had happened the delivery service employee on the other end of the line retorted, without even a hint of apology that the items had been located and would be delivered in the next few days. When told that this was unacceptably late the employee remarked that their advertised delivery time for the items in question was two weeks. Even when it was pointed out that it had never taken more than a week in the ten plus years the association had been using the delivery company in question and yet it had taken a full three weeks for some of the mailings to traverse Tokyo, a journey that could be done in considerably less time on foot, the employee still didn't apologize or admit any hint of possible wrong doing.

The association president is unflappable, so he didn't get angry but not surprisingly the association has found a different delivery company to use for future mailings.

Hearing the story from the president over drinks last night I found myself shaking my head and tsk-ing along with the other members of the Election Oversight Committee as we bemoaned the collapse of customer service in this country.

But I had to laugh, where else would this be even taken seriously?

Thursday, 15 March 2012

White Day

I took a few days off to try and make some headway on my never-ending to do list. So having to go to work this morning was a bit of a shock. I was still a bit dazed. As I left the main office with my time sheet, one of the office guys yelled my name and bounded down the stairs, landing in front of a very startled me. All I could do was stare as he asked me if I had been off the day before. I nodded, unsure as to what was going on, when he suddenly brandished a paper carry bag.

The office guys had gotten together to get me a White Day return gift. Sure I had given them homemade Valentines goodies, but I wasn't expecting anything in return. But return gift I got - cookies!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Slimy and Charming

Slimy yes, but these yamaimo tsukemono are super yummy. Of course I didn't need to buy 500 g of them (especially not at that price!) but when a sweet-talking charmer flatters and flirts it is sooo easy to buy more than you expected!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Holy! Matrimony

A number of years ago one of my good Japanese friends from university admitted that she had been keeping a secret from me - she was in a relationship! It had to be kept a secret because she and the guy in question worked in the same lab as research assistants. As time went on and the relationship developed, however, it became increasingly difficult to keep quiet, especially as they moved in together less than six months into the relationship.

All that I cared about was that my friend was happy. Her previous relationship had ended quite a while before and had been a bad one that ended even worse. She was lonely and fragile. But her new boyfriend seemed to be treating her right. He would carry her bag for her, made her eat properly and regularly (two things she didn't always manage to do when busy and stressed) and made her smile and laugh. She seemed happier than I had ever seen her. All very good things!

Then two years ago she asked me to join her for lunch, saying she wanted my advice on something. I was worried as she sounded serious, but it turned out she had a second secret to share - she was married! They had signed the papers at their local city hall a few weeks beforehand. I was cautiously thrilled - worried because her reasoning for getting married was that his parents had said they would buy the young couple an apartment if they'd do the paperwork. But over the months I watched them, I saw my friend settle down and mature, become more capable and grounded. I watched her husband look after her in myriad of small ways. And I relaxed. They were happy and things were good. They announced they were going to belatedly hold a ceremony. They wanted both U and I to attend. U was excited as I've really missed being able to attend the weddings of friends outside of Japan.

And then my friend said she had another secret for me. I was all set to start knitting her a baby blanket when she said that they didn't have enough money for a full ceremony and so were finding ways to cut corners... One way was the priest / wedding official person. The secret? The big surprise guaranteed to amuse the audience? That'd be the fact that the priest would be a foreigner, and not just any foreigner!!

So apparently I'm officiating a wedding in April.

Then today I got a text from my friend asking if I happened to have a gown or black robe lying about... It does solve the question of what to wear and I suppose it is better than a hideous bridesmaid dress?

Saturday, 3 March 2012


I've been feeling behind the eight ball for a few weeks now with to-do list that just keeps getting longer without anything getting crossed off. Work has been relatively busy, with a slew of small projects on the go meaning I'm constantly having to flit from one thing to another. Then there is the three committees I found myself on, all with big projects looming on the very much not so distant horizon, and the two articles my advisor asked me to write, and two E to J translations...


Then this week happened, and now I'm even more drained and exhausted!

Thankfully the exhaustion is no longer from a bad night's sleep as we replaced our not-even-a-year-old-but-already-sagging-and-ruined Ikea foam mattress with two smaller coil mattresses. But still... What a week!

Monday I stayed home from work with a headache that arrived Sunday night and didn't let up until Monday afternoon - just in time for me to get U's birthday dinner ready. The dinner during which I managed to both break the gift I gave him AND nearly start a house fire. Not a birthday he'll forget in a hurry!

Tues and Wed were emotionally draining as a whole chunk of staff were let go at the end of Feb and saying goodbye to people you've worked with for six years is just horrible especially given they had been fired and were not moving on happily to other things. I'm going to miss them terribly but in addition to the difficult goodbyes is the fact that the whole atmosphere at work has been very stressful because of it and continues to be so as we all try and get used to a new reality.

Tokyo got another (!!!) dump of snow on Wednesday which was beautiful as it was actual real snow that covered everything in a blanket of white. Unfortunately it also delayed and packed trains.

So by Thursday I wanted nothing more than to curl into a ball and hide under the covers. But a friend sent me a frantic text message in the morning begging me to help her. We ended up spending the evening translating the lyrics of the famous singer she works for. It was actually fun, but tiring and it took a lot longer than I had expected... Getting me home and in bed a good few hours later than I needed to be.

On Friday I dragged myself out of bed knowing I only had one more day before the weekend.. Just one day... Given the way the week turned out, however, it should be no surprise rhat not only was I over an hour late when my my train line was all but stopped with signal troubles, but I also got a frantic email from the chair of a committee I'm on alerting us that a minor crisis had developed and we need an emergency meeting that night. Which of course was followed by drinks and dinner.

So what did I do today? I stayed home! I started the day with a strong latte and a long-ignored yoga routine, then tidied and did laundry and tackled my to-do list. I didn't get very far I(only skimming the top of a pile of papers unearthed a small mountain of things that need replying to: bills, academic association election vote, Girl Scouts membership renewal...) but it is still only Saturday, I can get through the rest of my list tomorrow, right??

Thank god it's the weekend!