Saturday, 29 March 2014

Mountain Sakura and Shedding Shiba

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I've written before about the horrors of the DREADED SHIBA SHED. Something new I noticed after we moved out to the 'burbs is how similar Hayate's blowing coat looks to the mountinas in spring when the mountain sakura (山桜) are in bloom. Although Hayate is black, his winter undercoat is white.

As he begins to shed, the wooly under-layer it pokes through in clumps that look weirdly similar to the pink and white blossoms poking out between the green leaves of the other mountain trees. In case you don't see what I mean immediately, here is an unnecessarily large number of photos...

Fancy paws.

It isn't only the sakura, either. Our area is fameous for wisteria and it blooms wild in the mountains surrounding the farming area to the south of the mountains. It's too early now, but late April and early May, purple and pink blooms poke out between the green. 
Since Kuri is "brown" (she's red, really) she doesn't look quite as much like a mountain but I feel bad leaving her out... and her shedding is just as plentiful as Hayate's. This came out just from a quick pat.

At least at this time of year it is easy to see where they dogs have been spending their time!
 If you blog about, or from, Japan, don't forget to join up with the up-coming J-Bloggers' Carnival!

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Saturday, 22 March 2014

J-Bloggers' Carnival #2: Submissions Invited

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Photo Credit
Blog carnivals are a lot of fun, but Japan-related bloggers don't seem to have many (any?) to participate in. I guess it's too broad and diverse a category to easily bring together, but I'm going to try anyway, because I think that very diversity would be interesting. So without further ado, I am putting out a call for J-bloggers interested in participating in a carnival themed "New Beginnings". The theme is intentionally broad; feel free to write on whatever related topic takes your fancy. I only ask that it has some connection with Japan. You are very welcome to submit previously published pieces. Ideas could include anything from the April teacher re-shuffle to how you ended up in Japan.

If you have an account with Blog Carnival you can submit through the website by clicking here. If not:

For a post you have already published, just email me at sopheliajapan:at:gmail:dot:com with “carnival” in the topic line and include the url for your post and a short "about" for yourself/your blog and your blog's title.

For a previously unpublished post please email me at sopheliajapan:at:gmail:dot:com with “carnival” in the topic line. Please include a text version of your post in the body of your email. Unless pictures are essential to understanding the post there is no need to send them to me; if your post is a photo essay please email me for specific instructions. In addition to your post, please include the title and URL of your blog, an “about” of no more than four sentences, your name (as it appears on your blog) and the URL of the post you will be publishing for the carnival. If you don’t know how to find the URL for an unpublished post, please click here to see a guide.
The submission deadline is April 19th. Spring carnival posts will be published on Sunday April 20th.

Update: Due to illness the carnival will be slightly delayed. The good news is that the deadline for submissions will also be extended until Sunday evening, Japan time, April 20th.
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Monday, 10 March 2014

A New Perspective on Gaijinhood

I accidentally joined a cult the other day. I'll write about that some other time... anyway, the reason I mention it is that during the cult meeting, I had one of those all-too-familiar "talk through the gaijin" experiences. If you've lived in Japan for any amount of time you will no doubt know what I mean. Here's an example from a Cub Scout parents and leaders drinking party a few months ago.

I chatted to one of the other mums for a while, then we grabbed our beer bottles and proceeded around the room to pour drinks for other people (that's how socialising happens at these things). Each person we approached did exactly the same thing: Ask the Japanese lady questions about me. As in, "where is she from?" "Can she speak Japanese?" "How long has she been here?" When I was new to life here I used to try to answer these questions and the conversations just went like this:
"Where is she from?"
"I'm from Australia."
[Ignoring me and continuing to ask the Japanese person next to me:] "Can she speak Japanese?"
"I'm talking to you in Japanese right now."
[Still ignoring me:] "How long has she been here?"
So, eventually I gave up and just smiled mutely while taking advantage of the free time to drink more. Japan has not been good for my liver. Anyhow, on this occasion it was kind of nice watching the other Cub Scout mum getting more and more irritated as the same conversation repeated over and over. A little sadistic, maybe, but I felt glad to see her frustration instead of having to explain mine to her.

So, back to the cult. The Japanese lady sitting beside me kept having questions directed to her instead of me, and I was sighing internally. Then the main culprit, an elegant old lady with immaculate silver hair, began talking about how hard dealing with school must be for me as a "gaijin". I wouldn't understand the system, or the requirements, or what to buy for my child. I must be having a really hard time. In fact, there have been quite a few things that have been hard. I am fortunate to have worked in the local elementary school system for four years, and that's got me through pretty well, but I still get completely flummoxed from time to time by things that the staff take so for granted that it just hasn't occurred to them to inform me of. So although what this lady was saying was to some extent true, it isn't necessarily true that just because I am a 外人 I'd struggle. I mean, there are lots of international parents in Japan who speak native level Japanese and never seem to find anything hard. I was sitting there raging in my heart and twitching to lash out when the lady continued:
"When I first moved here from Korea I had to enroll the children in school immediately, and I had no idea how to do anything. Every day I got something wrong and my children were teased at school because of my mistakes. Japanese people often don't understand how hard it can be for gaijin parents here."
And there it was. Her surname was Japanese and she spoke our local dialect, so I'd assumed that she was yet another Japanese person othering me and making assumptions about me. In fact, she was empathising and remembering her own difficulties as an outsider. It was me who had leaped to judge her, not the other way around. I was so wrapped up in memories of past frustrations that I hadn't seen the kindness she was offering me. When the meeting finished she squeezed my hand.
"It'll be alright," she said, "your child has a family and love. Everything else is just decorating."

A few days later, I was playing with Tiger in a park while a steady stream of school kids walked by on their way home. A little girl, about 10 or 11, saw us from the road and yelled "gaijin!" She came running over to us and collapsed in a smiling puffed out heap in front of me.
"You are a gaijin, right? You look like a gaijin."
"Yes", I said, "I'm from Australia."
"I'm a gaijin too! I'm from China, but I've lived here since I was in kindergarten. Bye!" And off she ran, back to her waiting friends.
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Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Japanese Cloth Sanitary Napkins


While we were waiting for lunch in a cafe on Ishigaki, I was flipping through a natural living magazine (天然生活) and saw an advertisement for cloth pads. They were beautiful, and oh-so-Japanese. Seriously, would any other culture make something designed to soak up blood in white and add lace?! The brand advertised was Pristine and if you click the link and look at all their products, you'll see what I mean.

I started using cloth pads when I was 14 because they are so much cheaper, although I felt like there were good environmental reasons, too. I bought a set from a local Tasmanian lady (Moonpads: the designs now are so much nicer than they used to be!) and since I only use them when I'm at home (I found them inconvenient while at work or school) and I spent most of the past fifteen years using contraception with the welcome side effect of irregular periods, I am still using that same set. $70 well spent. You can read more about reasons to use cloth here. At the time, no one else I knew used them and they were a very functional thing, none of the cute designs and diverse shapes that you can buy today. So, when I saw the lovely fabrics on offer in Japan, I looked into it further. I was really intrigued by this design, which seems the standard in Japan but a quick google of US and Australian suppliers indicates is uncommon in other countries:
Image from
A small band of lace hold an insert inside the part that is fastened under the gusset, meaning you wouldn't have to remove the whole thing each time. It seems like a really good idea that might make using them at work less of a hassle.

Although the Pristine brand are lovely, I wasn't really down with the idea of all that white. So, I typed 布ナプキン into and this is what came up. Since we're broke I went for the cheaper options but wasn't stuck with boring block colours or tired prints:

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Monday, 3 March 2014

Girls' Day Gifts

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Driving back from our waterfall viewing adventure, a certain someone had a desperate and sudden need to use the toilet in the middle of a stretch of rural highway. In desperation we pulled into a road-side flower shop and begged use of their loo. I felt bad about it so I bought some flower seeds, which the owner thought was hilarious, and when we left she gave us these hand-made little girls' day dolls. Then today (girls' day proper), an elderly neighbour give me these sakurazushi. Although we don't have a daughter and I hadn't intended to do anything special, thanks to the kindness of those around us we can have our own little hinamatsuri after all.

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Saturday, 1 March 2014

A Cathedral in Worship of Electricity [Roll of 28 (28)]

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On our way to see a famous waterfall we saw a hand-made wooden sign with excited red lettering pointing to a waterfall we'd never heard of. It was only a little detour, so we decided to take a look.

The waterfall itself was impressive, but look at the ruins! Like an abandoned cathedral... Christianity has a long history in Kyushu (there's a statue of Francis Xavier outside the prefectural government offices), but it seemed an unlikely explanation. We climbed down to take a closer look.

Braving some fallen trees and slippery rocks, we found we could actually go inside.

I wish the photo showed how lush the green really was.
In fact, the ruins were of an old hydro-electric station, but no less beautiful for their utilitarian past.

Soy milk and sesame nabe for dinner~ perfect end to a rainy day of exploring and a goodbye to a much-missed sister.

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