Friday, 20 December 2013

Photo Friday - Fushimi Inari Dragon

Because I'm a few days late for a Wordless Wednesday... A dragon waterspout from Fushimi Inari.

Thursday, 19 December 2013


I spoke at an event on Sunday and because of the post-event drinking party they put me up for the night. On Monday I was to transfer at Kyoto to the shinkansen and head home, except I couldn't. Despite the mile long to-do list waiting for me at home, I couldn't just head straight home on Monday morning, it would have been such a waste! So I stashed my bag in a locker and hopped on the JR Nara line.

A few minutes later I was standing beneath the first of many bright orange torii shrine gates.

Thankfully the crowds thinned out the further I got up the mountain and, although the weather was grey and overcast with a bite to the wind, there were only a few intermittent rain drops and my climb kept me warm.

Even without my good camera Fushimi Inari is incredibly photogenic. Much of the route up the mountain is lined with bright orange gates, winding through the forest where a few stubborn maples still held on to their autumnal glory.

There was an older man repainting one of the torii and there were others festooned with wet paint signs and in various degrees of newly painted-ness.

Then there were others that were obviously rotting from within and others that had rotted away leaving empty cement post holes filled with fallen leaves.

The calm and quiet of the surroundings and the walk did me the world of good after days of bonding with my computer in frenzied prep for my talk.

But all too soon it was time for me to head back to Kyoto and, as the rain began to fall, I bought omiyage in one of the station's stores and snagged the last empty seat on my shinkansen back home.

Monday, 2 December 2013


After work one day last week I braved the chilly Tokyo evening, hordes of old men with big cameras and tripods, and young couples with women tripping along in completely useless high-heeled "booties." A pretty little Japanese garden by day, Rikugien does a evening light-up during fall foliage season (and sells yummy grilled rice cake dango with sweet miso or soy sauce... mmmmmm!)

Without a tripod, and not wanting to stop traffic by setting up such equipment even if I had it, most of my pictures turned into fuzzy blobs of bright colour, but the light up is beautiful and the garden well worth a visit at night, or during the day.

You start with a view of the lake with buildings and trees lit up on the opposite side

Then walk along lit and semi-lit paths through the forest

Some trees were lit up from below. 

And the stream that used to flow through the garden was brought back through undulating blue lights.

But the best view was one ignored by most visitors - a Japanese maple at the height of its fall glory was a blaze of red and orange, tucked into a corner beside the outhouses by the entrance. Not a single extra-large lens and tripod toting ojisan in sight!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Hard Corners

In the shower the other day I noticed an angry looking bruise on my left thigh. I'm a klutz and I bruise quite impressively, but this one was even more colourful than usual.

"No wonder I squeaked at U when he cuddled up to me last night!" I thought to myself.

After my shower I walked into the kitchen to get myself a glass of water. Intent on my drink I wasn't watching where I was going and bashed into the dining table.

"Ouch!" I said to myself and rubbed my thigh, "I'm going to have a brui- ahhH!" Cartoon style, a light bulb had gone off over my head. It sure has taken me long enough to finally realize where the nearly constant bruises on the exact same spot on each thigh have come from. 

Maybe it is about time I invested in rubber corners or some sort of padding for the edges of the dining table? 

Saturday, 16 November 2013

November 11

In Canada November 11 is Remembrance Day, a day to think of the sacrifices made by those who fought in WWI and WWII.

In the US the same day  is called Veterans Day and in New Zealand and Belgium it is called Armistice Day.

In Japan it used to be recognized as Armistice Day, prior to WWII it was recognized as a day to think about peace. Now? Well, now it is Pocky and Pretz Day - as the four number 1s lined up look like sticks of pocky or pretz all lined up.

In China it has become known as Singles Day, to celebrate "single sticks" or bachelors.

For U and I November 11 is now our anniversary (or rather one of an increasingly lengthening list thereof). On Monday we filed our paperwork at city hall. Although we will be waiting until next year to hold our wedding ceremony and related receptions, we are now legally married. Anything I have ever heard or read about the process of filing your paperwork to get married at Japanese city hall has said it is anything but romantic. So it was no real surprise to me that it hardly felt like we were actually getting married. We submitted our paperwork, answered questions, filled out more paperwork (and then some more again because we had to merge our two households and our registered addresses differed in the way in which we had written the number of our apartment. U's previous form said "Apartment Name, # X" while mine just said "Apartment Name, X" So before we could merge our households U had to change his address to the same as mine... Or I could have changed mine - and then had to change my foreign resident card)

Then we sat (or I sat and knitted and U wandered about upsetting the staff member set to help poor lost citizens who wandered about city hall without knowing where to go) and waited.

And waited.

And then we were called up and asked to pay for our requested copies of our marriage registration. We paid, the clerk offered a congratulations, and gave us our change.

And we were married.

(It still seems rather odd and surreal, and we both agreed that whatever the legal record says, we're waiting until our ceremony next fall for our ring exchange and to say that we are married.)

Saturday, 12 October 2013

A letter

Dear Mum,

Over the past few weeks I've found myself wishing more than normal that I could pick up the phone and call you. I wish I could gush about my engagement, talk wedding plans, ask questions, and get advice.

Then yesterday there was an announcement far more important than my engagement or wedding plans - the announcement of this year's Nobel Prize for Literature. A Canadian won, mum. A Canadian woman! One of your favourites, Alice Munro. You would have been so happy. You would have been so proud. (Am I allowed to admit that I was rooting for another one of your favourites, Margaret Atwood, and was initially disappointed, until I realized that this was just as exciting!)

With the time difference between Tokyo and Vancouver, I heard about the announcement when you would probably have been still asleep. I would have loved to have called you, woken you up and shouted the news in your ear (apparently the same thing that happened to Alice Munro - her daughter called her and woke her up with the news).

But I can't call you, mum. So I'm writing you this letter. Maybe you already know about Alice Munro, maybe you're toasting her with the likes of Kipling, Tagore, Yeats, and Hemingway. I'd like to think that. (say hi to them for me, eh?)

I'd also like to think that you've given U and I your blessing. I think you'd like him (even if the rings we chose are nothing like the one you chose when you and dad got married - not shape, not colour, not size!)

I miss you mum.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Hokkaido - Shiretoko (almost wordless Wednesday)

From Abashiri we went to Shiretoko. Sadly we had pretty disappointing weather for the day we spent in this gorgeous area, but we did get a glimpse of the beauty of the national park and enjoyed a walk on the raised boardwalk out to a viewpoint.

the coast off of Shiretoko on a very grey morning

the Shiretoko Five Lakes

the boardwalk above the grass and trees
the view of distant misty mountains

At first glance the boardwalk may seem surprising, but since access is restricted to the trails, most Japanese visitors are WOEFULLY unprepared to actually walk in the woods, and the raised platform gives you amazing views, it makes a lot of sense.

We didn't have nearly enough time in Shiretoko, both U and I want to go back again and spend some time in the area - preferably camping as we saw so many doing!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Hokkaido - Abashiri

Back to Hokkaido! No, not us, we're stuck in Tokyo, but I realized I hadn't finished blogging about our trip to Hokkaido this summer.

After leaving our new friends, we drove to Obihiro (which neither of us can now say normally, we MUST sing it  like the Orihiro glucosamine commercials) where we had quite possibly the best meal of our entire trip, an amazing "Genghis Khan" (grilled lamb/mutton bbq) feast.

The next day we continued north, stopping on the way at Akanko, and going to Abashiri. We spent the morning with all of the other tourists at the Abashiri Prison Museum, which ended up impressing me much more than I had anticipated. It is an open-air museum that tells the history of the infamous prison and role of the prison (or rather its inmates) in opening up Hokkaido. In addition to a traditional museum with exhibits, there were also plenty of hands-on opportunities, dioramas in historical settings, and easy-to-understand explanations in four languages (Japanese, English, Korean, and Chinese, the latter was often included in both simplified and traditional, so I should say 5 languages).

 Welcome to Abashiri Prison - in five languages!

a wing of the old prison, with one heater for a long hallway of cells
that must have been bitterly cold in the long Hokkaido winters

a diorama of a more modern prison cell -
you could open the door and walk in and poke around

a line of prisoners... with U bringing up the rear!

After a nutritious lunch of gelato made from Hokkaido cream, we were ready to tackle our second museum of the day, the Museum of Northern Peoples. Very close to the Prison Museum, the Museum of Northern Peoples is sadly not a regular stop for tour buses. We, however, were lucky enough to have a personal tour arranged for us. My advisor knows the museum staff, having been involved in a number of archaeological digs connected with the museum. So after U and I toured the permanent exhibition on our own with the aid of one of their new and very impressive ipod touch audio-visual tours, the head curator gave us a tour of the special exhibition and the so-called "backyard" of the museum - the staff work spaces, the storage areas, and the director's room-with-a-gorgeous-view. The exhibits were stunning - a simple and straighforward but visually impressive overview of the huge range of native peoples that live in the northern reaches of the northern hemisphere. It was fascinating to see the similarities and differences between peoples who live in similar climates around the world. (and yes, I did get very excited in the kayak section!) Both U and I were surprised to discover that the exhibits date to the original opening of the museum, some twenty years ago. Sure there were some sections (the holographic video display!) that seemed dated, but overall it was a great exhibit.

a range of clothing from a variety of northern peoples

a little bit of home - exhibit on the peoples of Northwestern Canada

It was U's first time to see the backyard of a museum and he was fascinated. He asked tons of questions and kept talking about the museum long after we left. He was most impressed, however, by our guide. The head curator is an obviously very intelligent and dedicated woman who has been at the museum her entire career. She clearly loves what she does and, after a brief sizing up, she and I clicked as we recognized each other as kindred spirits - fellow museum nerds. She made the visit all the more special and I am very grateful to both her and my advisor for arranging such a special experience for us.

Monday, 7 October 2013


After feeling crappy and thus spending most of last week home from work (or working from home), I needed to work most of the weekend to catch up. But U and I were able to escape work duties for a few hours Sunday afternoon to go and pick up our rings!

We had the (very proper Japanese) store clerk giggling at us as neither of us could stop admiring the diamond on my engagement ring. And with good reason not only is it a gorgeously simple ring, but we managed to track down a Canadian diamond!

The idea of a Canadian diamond was a passing thought at the start of us choosing our rings, a passing thought that gradually became important to both of us - having a little piece of Canada here in Japan. It wasn't easy, we only found one store nearby that sold Canadian diamonds, they only had three stones in stock, and by the time we went in to buy the diamond the store no was no longer a registered dealer of Canadian stones which mean that they could sell us the diamond (with all the registration paperwork) but could no longer advertise as sellers of Canadian diamonds. 

We took the diamond to a different store, K. Uno in Motomachi Yokohama, where we had both fallen in love with a ring design for our wedding bands (and a matching engagement ring). They were friendly, supportive, and offered just the right amount of design suggestions in customizing our rings. And we are thrilled! I had U put my engagement ring on my finger immediately and am still stopping to admire it now, a ful day later. And U keeps asking me if he can wear his wedding band for a day or two, just to "try it out."

Enough of all this natter, though, all you want is to see a photo of the rings, right?
Well, I'll keep our wedding bands secret until we are actually wearing them, but here's a look at my engagement ring...

(the hairy hand under mine is U's,
nice nails but what HAIRY knuckles the man has!)

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Home Garden

We have a very small square of garden in front of our place - big enough for a few trees, a hydrangea, some scraggly underbrush, and a cement step that holds our herb garden. There are many other homes in the neighbourhood with kitchen gardens, but one in particular has caught my eye.

There is a small oddly shaped triangular room that almost seems tacked on to an apartment building on my way to the station. It has a tiny garden, broken up into three spaces barely large enough for a gardener to stand. All three are filled with styrofoam boxes - the kind used to keep food chilled. I first spotted the room's elderly occupant early in the spring, out in her garden, industriously moving the boxes around, digging in the contents, and sifting piles of... dirt?! 

Yes, dirt. The styrofoam boxes were full of compost - in various stages of decompose - and the woman must have spent days on end moving them around and preparing them for planting.

As the days warmed and lengthened with the arrival of summer the woman's garden flourished. The tomato plants grew tall and bushy and the eggplants wrapped themselves around the supports, and the nearby fence too!

The heat of summer, the unrelenting sun beat down on the plants, and slowly the leaves began to shrivel and turn brown. The tomatoes began to split and turn black, the eggplant to shrivel and shrink. And still the gardener did not touch the fruits of her labours.

As the nights got cooler and summer faded slowly into the beginnings of fall, the winds and rains of multiple typhoons beat down the plants and stripped them of their remaining leaves. Then one day the elderly gardener was back out in her garden, stripping the beds of their plants. Chopping up the plants and turning them into compost. 

Compost to feed next year's plants, not to stock her own kitchen, apparently!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Wordless Wednesday - Hokkaido Akanko

Photographs of the potholes and flowers, but not a single one of the lake, what the area is famous for... huh. It was rainy and misty, that's my excuse!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Hokkaido - New Friends

We were lucky enough to spend a day with the lovely Vicky and her equally lovely family while in Hokkaido. We chatted, we visited a local hand-made glass shop, we visited a local historical site, and then ended up with lunch and a quick walk around Ecorin-mura. It didn't feel like a first meeting and the day sped by far too quickly, but both U and I felt the day was a highlight of our trip and hope to go back and visit again!

the ceiling of the bathroom of the glass shop -
Vicky instructed us to go to the bathrooms to check it out,
poor U didn't realize why he was being ordered to the toilet,
but dutifully went (and then went again when he was shown my photos!)

long past the end of lotus flower season in Tokyo we spotted these beauties

Ecorin-mura, a delightful mix of gardens that we sadly had too little time to enjoy

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Hokkaido - Porotokotan

Try and say that five times fast - Porokoro... Porotokoka... Porotokoko... Porokoto...

Okaaaay then, just try and say it once, slowly!


There you go.

Porotokotan is Ainu, "Poro" means large, "to" means lake, and "kotan" means village. It is the name of an Ainu outdoor museum near Shiraoi, where we stopped the afternoon after visiting Toshogu.

I had read a few articles about the museum, heard about how it was part of the local Ainu community, how it was creating pride among the community, and how it was contributing to keeping alive or bringing back traditions. I was excited about the museum. It started off well.

The Kotankorkur (statue of the chief) welcomed us.

And two wooden bears stood at attention at the entrance to the village. Unfortunately, however, they aren't the only bears at the museum. There were a handful of large bears and a whole flock of dogs in small cages just off to the right of this picture. I was disgusted and couldn't bear to look at them, let alone take pictures, so we hurried next door, to the Ainu Museum. 

The museum was dated and the exhibits were old, but easy to understand and informative. There were exhibits on traditional Ainu life, hunting, clothing and jewelry, ceremonies, and history. But what really caught my eye was that in addition to Japanese on the interpretive panels there was also English, Korean, and both simplified and traditional Chinese. This was a theme running through the entire site, as we were about to find out as we followed the suggestion of an announcement piped through the site - and made our way to the first big "house."

Inside the "traditional Ainu house" there was a stage and layered seating for probably about fifty people. It was almost full and rather stuffy and dark. We found ourselves a seat and watched a short presentation on traditional Ainu arts - dance, song, and music. While the music and performances were interesting, U and I both agreed that the most interesting thing was that the entire performance was translated into both Korean and Taiwanese by the tour guides of groups sitting on opposite sides of the building. The speakers on stage were obviously used to having what they were saying translated as they would speak a few lines and pause, wait for translation and speak a few lines again. They knew just how much to say and how long to wait and didn't get anxious while waiting. U, who hasn't seen that kind of translation before was very impressed, and I think spent more time listening to the tour guides translate than he did watching the stage.

Sadly it was pretty obvious to us that the entire outdoor museum is geared towards tour groups and individual guests are just extras. For example, only larger groups can book a hands-on experience (crafts, etc) or an "Ainu meal." If regular guests get hungry they have to make do with nikuman and Hokkaido ice cream from a rather sad looking glass-walled shop.

But the lake (that the museum is named after!) was eerily beautiful against the grey overcast sky. And the rain stayed away until we clambered back into our rental car!