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!