Thursday, July 22, 2010

Getting through July...

It seems that time is playing tricks on us... One day it's speeding by and the next it is moving so slowly that we get overwhelmed with how long it is until we come home for good. Please excuse me again for taking so long between updates. I now have a ton of photos that I'd love to post but it would be too messy so I'll add another photo share in the next few days. Make sure to check the list on the right for a July Events link.
On the fourth of July I went (by myself) to Date and met some of the women I sometimes do a private class with for a festival at the cultural centre. It turned out to be located in an historic building just behind the cultural centre. The building is now a part of the museum but it was part of the ancestral home of the Date family who the city is named after. There was a performance in a room that had been opened up to the outside by sliding the walls back. Two women played these musical instruments and then there were dishes of food left as offerings to some diety. I wasn't feeling 100% and I didn't get all the details.
Part of the festival involved writing a wish on a piece of paper and then hanging it from a bamboo tree. Afterwards we sat and had tea in the park.

I managed to work at Date Chu for the next two days - it all went fine - but then I gave in to whatever flu was chasing me and I spent the next four days in bed. I did eventually recover enough to go back to work but it was quite a while before I felt like myself again.
The next time I went to Date I convinced my friend Mayu (who works at City Hall) to take me up on the roof so I could take some picturs of the view. Check it out...

(just click on any of the photos to make them bigger!)

From the first week of July the students at Otaki Chu had be practicing for their sports festival. They worked really hard - on some blistering hot days! The sports festival here is kind of a combination of a track and field day and a fun sports day. It is always held on a Saturday and the students and teachers all get a day off in lieu. The morning starts off with the opening ceremonies and then there are the track and field events. Everyone competes in the 100m and at least two other events. Taran and Joisan both opted for shotput and Taran was also signed up for the 1500m. Joisan was not able to run since her injury in May so she did not do a track event. Taran wound up having a really bad asthma attack during the last 300m of his race and he was given some oxygen by the school nurse while I ran home for the forgotten puffer. He recovered well though and still managed to do the shotput. The morning finished off with an official awards ceremony. Joisan ended up winning third place for the girls and Taran picked up first place for the boys!
We ate our picnic lunch with another family - the Hayashi-san's - in the shade of the gym. We felt a bit odd since we had only brought a couple of onigiri's (rice and fish wrapped in seaweed) each and some fruit. The Hayashi-san's had an amazing spread and they shared it with us! You'd have thought they were planning to feed twenty people for two days! Anyway, after lunch it was all about the fun stuff. There was an race where everyone had to use water balloons to knock over plasitc water bottles and then do several other things before crossing the finish line. There was a skipping event where the whole team had to see how long they could skip together before someone tripped. There was a tug of war that the parents and teachers eventually got in on and there was a relay race. All in all it was a fun fun day.

When all was cleaned up and put away there was (thankfully) still time to go for a swim in the river before the bugs got too bad. We picked up an audience somewhere along the way and trooped down to the river with three other families. Only one person actually joined us in the water and everyone else just stood on the shore and watched. It was heaven after all day in the sun! The water was significantly lower than last time but there were still some deep spots.

On Sunday the Hayashi-san's came and picked us up and took us to the city of Otaru. It is the oldest city on Hokkaido and it's said to be the "Venice" of Japan because they do a lot of glass-blowing there. The Hayashi-san's treated us like royalty! We felt truly spoiled! They stopped at a special ice-cream place and bought us ice-cream and then we stopped at a winery where we tasted a few different wines and they bought us a bottle of our favourite. We stopped at this viewpoint to check out the city from above. The characters on the sign mean bald spot or bald head or something so Hayashi-san was making jokes about Ian's bald spot! The kids were very comfortable in the back of the van because it was quite big. Although it was over two hours to get there they managed to amuse themselves quite happily with card games.

Our main destination was the aquarium so we went there first. I was totally excited because I got to see penguins for the first time!! Pretty much every aquarium here in Japan has penguins so I'm looking forward to seeing a few more before we come home for good. They were very cute but I found that the aquarium facilities were not up to North American standards. The pools for the dolphins were really small and when they were doing their tricks Josian and I both thought that they were going to hit the wall a couple of times!

After we finished at the aquarium we went to a "downtown" type area where they had many touristy shops and some glass blowing and this absolutly HUGE, amazing music box shop! This photo is from the second of three floors and it doesn't even show the whole main floor!

We didn't spend enough time in the downtown area for my liking - clearly I'm going to have to go back and check it out under my own steam! The Hayade-san's still wanted to show us a few things though so we left. We went to three different specialty food shops - one for chocolate, one for a pressed fish thing and one for mocchi. Joisan was very impressed by the chocolate and I liked the fish and loved the fresh mocchi! We ended up at a huge mall so that Joisan and their girls could have some shopping time. Everywhere we went though, our money was no good and they even refused to let us pay for their admission to the aquarium or their dinner.
After a late dinner we finally headed back to Otaki. We got home about midnight - totally exhausted but very happy!

This week has been all about winding down. I've done the last of my official teaching until September and aside from helping a few students to prepare for the upcoming speach contest, I'm done! We are flying out on August 2nd and (thanks the international date line) arriving in Canada a couple of hours before we leave Japan! We will be staying at my mums house for about three and a half weeks and we hope to catch up with as many of our friends as we can before flying back to Japan on August 26th. Hopefully we'll see YOU!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy Canada Day Eh!

So, again a long update is in order... it seems that I don't actually update as often as I think I do! Last week I played in a volleyball tournament. They periodically have community tournaments for anyone who wants to join. I was asked to join two different teams this time and due to numbers I wound up on the Shuraku Centre team with my friend Kimiko. We played on Monday and Tuesday night and... (drumroll please...) we won! Unfortunately I was playing and none of my crew came to watch so I don't have any photographic evidence :( There was a photo taken afterwards of the winning team in front of the banner but I don't have a copy of it yet. On Friday night we had Miss Miyamaru over for dinner. She is the music teacher at the Otaki Chugakko and she is really fun! She brought her GIANT hamster with her so that we could meet her. She is totally cute and Taran got right into playing with her. I played with her for a bit too but she bit me! Taran pulled out his toy bagpipes and even managed to get some sounds out of them! He thinks he'd like to try out the real thing sometime! Saturday was a sort of craft fair in Date. We didn't go for long because we were also expected at a matsuri (festival) in Otaki in the afternoon. There were some amazing things at the craft fair, including this wooden Harley. Joisan decided she'd be a good decoration for it! There were performances throughout the two day festival / craft fair and while we were there an African drumming group was playing. It made us think of Byron and Lynn! The lead guy in particular reminded Ian of Byron! Their dancing wasn't as good as Lynn's though. After the craft fair we hightailed it back to Otaki because Ian's friend had specifically asked us to come to a party for the Finnish friendship club. Between the cross country skiing, the nordic walking and the consultations for the handicapped programs the Finns have a big fan base and influence here in Hokkaido. There were five people from Finland at the party who are studying in Sapporo. We didn't talk much with them but there were some other really nice people we met. I met an opera singer, a guy who used to work for a UK company (so he has great English) and a really lovely woman who owns an organic vegetable shop in Sapporo. She helped us make rhubarb jam during the first part of the gathering. Yum! As the evening progressed the bugs started to come out... mosquitos and this other really nasty thing that looks a bit like a small flying ant. Unfortunately, we had not gone home before coming to the festival so I was wearing the sandals and short dress that I had worn to Date. I quickly became a full meal deal for the bugs. My feet are only just now beginning to recover (6 days later!) Just before we left (and quite a while after the fabulous potluck dinner) there was some special mutton that had been cooked in a pit in the ground. It was pretty cool to watch them dig it out and serve it up. It was quite tasty but a little overcooked for Ian and I. On Sunday we went back into Date because there was a flea market and we were hoping to find some bargains. It was quite amusing actually because the best bargains we found were from our friend Takeshi from Otaki! We managed to get a great fan for the house for only 400 yen, which is great because the weather has been really warm. This is supposed to be the rainy season but we're getting more muggy, humid weather than actual rain. There is the odd day of rain here and there but they are becoming very welcome because they help to cool things down a bit. Ian and Joisan and I went out for lunch at my favourite restaurant - Wasabi. Joisan had sashimi for the first time. Wasabi is great because everything is so fresh that you never want to eat sushi anywhere else because it will never compare. Joisan liked the whole set up with the rolling sushi and the personal tea dispenser and the electronic counters in the plates for totalling the bill. I think the coconut sherbet was her highlight though and in fact it's worth the plane ticket from Canada... come visit and we'll take you to Wasabi for coconut sherbet served in a coconut!
Monday night was a work party and BBQ for the friendship club. About 15 people came and we all pulled weeds around the guesthouse and then we had an awesome BBQ. It was lots of fun! Kimiko brought great food - we had Jengis Kan (marinated lamb)and she even brought some seafood for Joisan to BBQ. Yesterday was July first here so we tried our best to celebrate in style. I talked to each class I was in yesterday about Canada Day and how old Canada is compaired to Japan. I sang Oh Canada in each class and they all sang the Japanese national anthem to me. Thanks to my mum I had a good supply of Canadian flag stickers so I gave one to each student. They were all really excited to receive a present for Canada's birthday! Once it got dark last night we celebrated with some fireworks we bought at the 100 yen shop. There was one kind in particular that were really cool. I took a video of them...
We're planning to check out the regulations and see if it's okay to bring some back with us.