Work work work

28 06 2009

It’s just been work work work and nothing interesting. There’s only a few weeks left until summer holidays so it’s a busy time – finishing topics, having elementary school parents come visit, writing end of term exams, writing reports, marking, setting holiday homework, writing tests for assessing the holiday homework, designing the newsletter to go home with reports, doing day duty again, finding out they will extend maths and science to senior high school so a new teacher will be employed next year…

The weather is warming up – high 20s and very humid. However, the airconditioners are on at school so in the office it actually feels cold.

There is a tune that plays every night at 6pm. It comes from speakers on the electricity poles. The city council plays the music to remind any children on the streets that they should be home by 6pm. Very community minded. Apparently at different times of the year the tune changes and the time is earlier in winter.

Adzuki Icecreams

25 06 2009

vegan icecreams made from red bean (adzuki beans).

Only in Japan

22 06 2009

The Japan Times newspaper today had two articles that perfectly depict Japanese culture.

Number 1: Celebrating Time Day.

Time Day is celebrated “throughout Japan, when everyone is supposed to keep their watches and clocks on exact time.

The movement started several years ago in order to increase the general efficiency of the public and to promote promptness. The Time Day Committee have organized a large group of persons to go on the streets today to propagate their ideas.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Number 2: Mind your manners in the Metro

“It doesn’t take a genius to realize that public spaces in Japan are filled with numerous audible and visual reminders about the importance of maintaining personal decorum.

Over the past year, some of the catchiest have been the “manner posters,” by graphic artist Bunpei Yorifuji, that appear in the 168 stations and the carriages that serve the nine lines of the Tokyo Metro subway system.”

Read the rest of the article here.

You’ll find our photo of his most recent manner poster on our blog. You can see the whole collection here.

Only in Japan.

Bento from beneath the Trap Door

21 06 2009

…there’s something down there… do you remember the kid’s tv show, the Trap Door? Maybe these meatball monsters might be from down there.

Soy-dame ("meatballs") with nori and sweet potato eyes with lettuce, carrot and cucumber.

Soy-dame ("meatballs") with nori and sweet potato eyes with lettuce, carrot and cucumber.

Steamed sweet potato, raw cashews and a rice triangle with nori flower and sesame seeds.

Steamed sweet potato, raw cashews and a rice triangle with nori flower and sesame seeds.

Actually, it’s probably more of a spring theme than a scary trap door monster theme… too many flowers and not enough ghosts.

Cherries from Sendai

21 06 2009
Cherries from Sendai, northern Japan.

Cherries from Sendai, northern Japan.

After the school holiday break Maya-chan brought us some cherries from her home town. She comes from Sendai in Miyagi prefecture, north of Tokyo. Her family sends her cherries every season. And although cherries must be terribly expensive, she came around and gave a beautiful punnet of fresh Sendai-cherries. They were delicious.

It was back to school on Wednesday – lessons started again at 7.30am so I definitely knew holidays were over quickly…

Saturday was Parents’ Day. I was prepared to have flocks of parents in my room, one set for each child. However, my 7.30am lesson had no parents (not surprisingly, it’s much too early) and my 3rd lesson had only 2 parents. They just sat at the back of the classroom reading a book – maybe they weren’t that interested in food nutrients and digestion…

I got to go home at 11.30am and even though it was a short week I still felt exhausted by lunchtime.

We made some anzac biscuits on Sunday and took some to Maya to say thank you for the cherries… so she came out with yet another gorgeous punnet of Sendai cherries. Yum!

It’s gradually getting warmer here. Next week is predicted to be high 20s, low 30 degrees with about 70-80% humidity. It has rained the past few days – it is the rainy month – and I’ve decided that I don’t like humid weather for the sole reason that clothes never dry.

Nokogiri yama travel information

20 06 2009


While not featured in many travel guides, Nokogiri yama hosts the largest Buddha in Japan – much larger than the popular Daibutsu in Kamakura or Nara’s Todai-ji Buddha. Hiking to the top of  Nokogiri yama (Saw mountain) will prove you worthy as pilgrims to see the sacred Daibutsu, the two hundred shaku kannon and the 1500 Arhat statues. The villages around the mountian give you an insight into local farming communities- a much more laid back Japan to the one normally experienced in Tokyo.

Getting there and away

Nokogiri yama is easily accessed by train. The Uchibo line from Chiba will take you south to Hama-kanaya station and the base of the moutain. From Kisarazu, at the end of the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line, it is Y570 to Hama-kanaya station with a travel time of about 50 minutes.

If you wish to enter on foot from the southern side of the mountain (closest to the Daibutsu) take the train one stop further to Hota station. From there it is about a 20-30 minute walk to the base of the mountain where you can enter through the main approach to the temple, Nihon-ji.

There is also a ferry direct to the town of Hama-kanaya (40 mins, Y600) from Tokyo Ferry bay to Port Kanaya.

Getting Around

From Hama-kanaya station walk about 10 minutes down the road along the shore until you reach a road on the left with a big red gate. This is the entrance to Nokogiriyama.

The ropeway starts here- enter the white building at the top of the car park. Adults Y900 return or Y450 one way. It is a 4 minute trip up to the lookout. However the ropeway is not open during strong winds or at certain times of the year. Opening hours 9-4pm.

The other way up the moutain (unless you have a car and drive up to one of the 2 carparks on the mountain) is to hike for 40 minutes up the mountain. From the ropeway building follow the road beyond the carpark up the hill. Take the left path at the first junction (the right path is for cars) and then turn right into a small opening with mossy steps. Follow the stairs along the narrow path until you get the ropeway end (with a small shop for buying ice cream and drinks).

From the ropeway end it is a 90-120 minute return walk to all of the sights. Alternatively, it is a 80 minute walk past the sights and to the south side of the hill where Hota train station is about 3km south.

Things to do

While the fishing town is famous for its seafood, it is just a small village so dining and accommodation options are few.

On the mountain there are numerous sacred sites to visit. First you will need to enter the park – Y600 for adults and Y400 for children.

The two hundred shaku kannon is a tall carved relief cut into the rock.

The Ruriko Observatory is a lookout from which there is a sharp drop (329m) to the bottom. On a clear day you can see Mt Fuji across the Bay.

Walk down the stairs past the 1,500 Arhat statues and along the Daibutsu-mar approach to the Daibutsu (the Giant Buddha). Follow the path down the hill to the Nhon-ji (Temple of Japan) with lovely manucured gardens and ponds.

A word of warning: there are many steps, often slippery or eroded. Wear sensible footwear and carry water.

Another crappy bento

17 06 2009
Broccoli, rice and inari totoro with carrot flowers on a bed of cabbage and lotus root.

Broccoli, rice and inari totoro with carrot flowers on a bed of cabbage and lotus root.

Don't know what this is...

Don't know what this is... but the cherries are from Maya.

I’m not so good at this whole bento art thing… I might give up trying to make character bento.

Tokyo Excursion No. 3

15 06 2009

We ventured into Tokyo for a third time (Benno’s 4th time) on Sunday. Since we had already visited parts of Shinjuku, Harajuku, Akihabara and Meguro we decided to focus on Tokyo central, Ginza, Shibuya and Asakusa.

We caught the express bus from Kisarazu to Tokyo Station. It only takes about 55 minutes, the stop is about a 4 minute walk from our house, it’s comfortable and is only Y1500.

I still get totally frustrated with Tokyo Station – it’s so huge and there are so many shops and exits that it is possible to waste hours being lost underground. It gets really frustrating trying to navigate around with no sense of direction. So, after walking several kilometers underground to pass from the south to the north side of the station we made it out into daylight!

We passed through the Wadakura Square garden where a couple was having wedding photos taken with the backdrop of fountains. Then we walked into the Imperial Palace Outer Garden. There was a marathon being held at the far end, walking tour groups everywhere, and guards stood at each gate to make sure no one gained access to the Palace itself, which is out of bounds. The Imperial Palace is surrounded by a moat and is built behind trees on a steep hill. Only some of it remains due to fires and war bombings anyway.

We walked up north to the section of the Imperial Palace grounds that is open to the public – the Imperial Palace East Gardens. Passing through Ote-mon gate we crossed over the Kikyo-bori moat and saw koi and turtles in the water. The large gates had massive hinges and the wooden doors were about 50cm thick. It must be such an effort to open and close the gates.

We went into the Museum of the Imperial Collections and saw some floral artwork on canvas, vases, paper screens and tea jars. Then we wandered through the complex and past all of the samurai guard-houses. One of the guard-houses, the Hyakunin-bansho (literally, the 100 people guard house) contained up to 100 samurai living there, protecting the Imperial Palace from attack. Other bansho were smaller, but were stationed with more advanced and skilled samuari. It’s amazing that these wooden building survived when the main tower and castle were destroyed by fire.

We sat down on the manicured lawns called Honmaru Oshibafu and had some morning tea then checked out the bamboo grove, the main tower ruins and went out through the Kitahanebashi-mon gate, returning our entry token.

We walked through Kitanomaru-koen, past the lake, explored the dry waterfall in the forest and went up to the Nihon Budokan. Normally a centre for martial arts, today it was host to the Japan National Ballroom Dancing competition.

Continuing north past the hordes of people flocking to watch the ballroom dancing we entered Yasukuni-jinja. It had the largest torii I have ever seen and was celebrating its 140th anniversary. It is a controversial shrine as it honours the war dead (including Japanese war criminals) from Japanese wars. It often makes the Australian news when the Prime Minister visits the shrine on the anniversary of Japan’s WW2 defeat, much to the anger of Asian neighbours who suffered at the hands of Japanese armies.

At this time there was a scout gathering (Be Prepared) being held in the temple complex with stalls and sausage sizzles. We looked inside the Yushukan, a war memorial museum, where they had numerous canons, a fighter plane and a train engine used in the Thai-Burma railway (also known as the Death Railway) on display. This seemed a little insensitive – although part of Japanese war crime history – to celebrate a railway line built by Japan in WW2 to further its invasion using forced labour (including Asian and Australian POWs). They had the entries from a kids’ drawing competition (that featured the train) pinned on the wall.

We made our way past the scouts, sat in a garden watching koi in a frenzy swimming rapidly around the pond, and ate one layer of our lunch, sharing some tofu with a pregnant shrine cat. Then we got on the subway with a Open Day Ticket (Y710 for unlimited daily travel on all Tokyo Metro subway lines- we ended up doing more that Y1500 worth of subway travel so the ticket was well worthwhile).

We caught the Tozai line to Nihombashi, transfering to the Ginza line and getting off at Ginza. The stations can stretch for miles underground and have exits quite far away from the station itself. In fact, there can be exits that lead straight into popular department stores several blocks away. So we walked all the way under the city to the Sony Building, exiting on the 2nd floor in the middle of the building. We looked at the gadgets (some fancy headphones that clip on the outside of your ear, a round music player that moves/dances to the beat of the music to express your style) then caught the Hibuya line to Roppongi. We walked past the Roppogi Hills Mori Tower to Spice Home, an indian store that sold bulk cashews, red lentils, chickpeas and curry powder. Now we have 1kg supplies, rather than 50g packets of food. There was a noticeable increase in the number of gaijin (foreigners) in Roppongi, whether Iranian, Indian or white Westerners.

From Roppongi we doubled back to Ginza before transfering to the Ginza line to Shibuya. We met Yuki and his fiancee at Tower Records, the largest music store on Earth (maybe). They had 8 floors of music including a very well stocked English music selection. Benno bought a Perfume album and Yuki pointed out the good Japanese bands such as Greeen, Ellengarden and Exile. After comparing music tastes we looked at the amazing display of Japanese souvenirs, games, dolls, party supplies and electronics at Tokyu Hands, a large department store. We had dinner together at Vegan Healing Cafe – simple but nice but the best thing was the PETA ‘Fur is Dead’ car parked outside the shop.

We saw the Hachiko Statue of a dog who would met his master, a professor, at the Shibuya station everyday after work, including for 11 years after the professor died. The story has now been made into a movie called Hachi.

We parted with Yuki and caught the Ginza line to Asakusa where we walked through the rain to Senso-ji temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo. We were looking at a statue of a man with dragons when a Japanese business man came up to us and started talking English. He was an Engineer in Tokyo and told us in great detail about the history of the statue, the temple and the Japanese language. He was very friendly and obviously wanted to practice his English.

From Asakusa we caught the Ginza line back to Ginza and looked at the buildings lit up at night. Then we took the Marunochi line one stop to Tokyo, walked through the confusing, sprawling train station again and to the express bus which took us back home to Kisarazu by 11.15pm.

Frog Bento

13 06 2009

Here’s our bento lunch for Sunday when we go into Tokyo.

benno’s bento (layer 1):

Steamed broccoli, rice with marinated tofu, frogs made from sesame seeds, nori and steamed broccoli stems, shapes made from steamed carrot.

Steamed broccoli, rice with marinated tofu, frogs made from sesame seeds, nori and steamed broccoli stems, shapes made from steamed carrot.

benno’s bento (layer 2):

Triangle onigiri with carrot shapes, surrounded by lettuce with black soybean chille on the side.

Triangle onigiri with carrot shapes, surrounded by lettuce with black soybean chille on the side.

lara’s bento (layer 1):

Steamed broccoli, rice and tofu, broccoli frogs, carrot shapes.

Steamed broccoli, rice and tofu, broccoli frogs, carrot shapes.

lara’s bento (layer 2):

Triangle Onigiri on lettuce with black soybean hommus and carrot shapes.

Triangle Onigiri on lettuce with black soybean hommus and carrot shapes.

Our Apartment…the outside

13 06 2009

The front door to our building:

Front door to our apartment building.

Front door to our apartment building.

Our apartment building is the yellow one. Our apartment is on the left, ground floor (there’s only 4 apartments in the whole building).

hello yellow house!

hello yellow house!