Sunday, 27 April 2014

Sunday Surf

Sun-drying seaweed in Kamakura
This week the linkage is pretty parenting heavy, but let's start with a couple of completely-unrelated-to-children posts.

Ex-Pat Life
At the end of a particularly good farewell brunch on the weekend I sat talking to our host, they’re leaving after 13 years in Doha. She talked about this special life, how your friends become your expat family. “It’s the one family you actually get to choose. That’s what makes it so good”.
We will be hit hard this summer, with some of our favourite people leaving Japan. I might have to pull this post out again in August.

“Anyway,” I continued as I unscrewed the wine, “let’s say your parents were going to buy a new house. Who’d make the ultimate decision, your mom or dad?
“My mom. And you better not eat those Calbee chips. They’ll make you fat.
“But they’re delicious. They’re black pepper. I love them. And I thought your dad brings home the paycheck?
“True, but it’s not his; it’s the family’s.
“Does your mom give him an allowance?
“She does,” she said with a smile, and this seemed to make her happy.
“Okay,” I continued. “So if they were going to buy a car, who would decide?
“Furniture? Sofas and tables and stuff?
“Mom, of course.
“Washing machine? TV? Fridge? Sony Playstation?
“Probably my mom,” she said, then added, as if surprised, “Huh, Japan is matriarchal!”
“I’m having a moment of clarity,” I said.
“You should’ve bought a bottle with a cork,” she said.
Ken takes a serious topic and puts a very entertaining spin on it. I have been pondering writing something on this topic for a while, but he has nailed it so perfectly I feel there is nothing left to say.
While I don"t agree with much of what he says, in this case I think he's spot on. A man would never have been so hounded by the media for the same mistake.
The word comfort is from two Latin words that mean "with" and "strong".  God is with these women and He makes them strong.  He is with us and He makes us strong. Amy Carmichael said, "Comfort is not a soft, weakening commiseration; it is true, strengthening love."  I hope that sort of comfort is what Haitian women are experiencing as they are brought home after giving birth.  
Just a lovely post... go look.


Even though he didn’t carry the bottle all the way to me, I cheered so enthusiastically, another trail walker couldn’t help but wander over to see what my commotion was about. I started to gush about Bowdu’s amazing retrieve, but stopped short when I saw this guy was accompanied by a Labrador Retriever; I might as well have been raving about my Shiba’s beautiful dump in the woods.

Parenting, Adoption and Education
Why would you want a kid who talks back?
Well, because you aren’t always right; and because other people aren’t always right.  A kid who just accepts what she is told, uncritically, is a kid who unequipped to deal with a world full of propaganda and urban myths and flat-out lies.
 Between late January and mid March, the Guangzhou baby hatch took in 262 children. This was an unexpectedly high number, causing the baby hatch to close in late March. In late February, a photojournalist captured 24 hours at the Guangzhou baby hatch, exposing some heart-wrenching, tear jerking moments.

Here's where it affects the RAD. For years, Genea has had the most insincere tone interacting with little beings. Seeing her new baby cousin, she'd say "aww. Oh look. At. The cute ba- there's a squirrel  can I have a lollipop  you have to wash my clothes now", with the same tone as if she were saying " I gotta take out the trash". It made my internal organs cringe but honestly, I stopped noticing it ages ago. Just part of Genea, one of those things she is going to have to learn. But with Bindi, it's sincere. She sounds like she really does think Bindi is cute. It sounds natural, and that right there is amazing all by itself.
 Samahope is a non-profit organization that uses crowdfunding to provide funds for doctors to give life-saving medical care to both mothers and children. The doctors Samahope partners with work in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Latin America, as well as right here in the city we call home, San Francisco.  These doctors do everything from correcting birth defects to providing safe birth services to helping families cope with trauma (ahem, right up our alley). And while you can give to these amazing doctors anytime during the year, there's an extra special way you can do it for Mother's Day, all while honoring your mom and giving her something special to remember.
 The fact that this is now being passed around by proponents of homeschooling and “unschooling” who are not religious and considered “progressive” is concerning. It seems that there is a new hatred of public school that is beginning to take root, and it has nothing to do with Christians. All the illogical, misinformed, sensationalist arguments against public schools that I’ve seen for years, is being repackaged, regurgitated, and spit out all over the websites of people who think they are some kind of pioneers, that this “rebellion” against formal education is all their idea. They ridicule other parents who put their kids in school, saying we must not love our kids if we send them to “government brainwashing centers” (sound familiar?). Which, of course, usually makes me laugh out loud because I’m pretty sure the homeschooling leaders of the conservative movement of the ’80′s invented that term.

A high school sophomore in Pennsylvania who had been bullied all year by classmates with no help from his teacher decided to audio record the bullying on his iPad as evidence.
But instead of disciplining the bullies, school officials called police on him, threatening to have him arrested for felony wiretapping.
 No quote for this, but I seriously want one! Best feature: you can take it outside and study under a tree.
Many working mothers have had to give up their jobs just because they can’t secure spots for their children at such facilities. The problem has become so acute that there is now a term describing difficulties confronting working mothers with first-graders: “shoichi no kabe” (the hurdle of the first grade).
Even students who are fortunate enough to gain admittance to an after-school club benefit for only a limited time. Many clubs — particularly the traditional, publicly funded ones — accept students only through the third grade, meaning that older children often have nowhere to go after school. Many end up staying home alone, often with a TV or computer games as their only companion.
We have had so many issues in this regard that I am definitely going to devote an entire post to the topic, but this is good introduction to how f-ing stupid the system here in Japan is.
His roommate got to go home on school breaks and had a mother who called to check in on him. Adrian had no one to call when he struggled at school -- nowhere to call home, no one to send a gift, no one to see how he was doing. He worked nearly 60 hours a week just to pay for college, and when eventually his grades slipped, he was kicked out. He struggled with the ups and downs of depression. As Adrian said of children in foster care: "We are not equipped to go through this world alone."
 Although this article is about America, there are very similar issues faced by children in Japan who grow up in orphanages.


While I do read this blog (about foster parenting and autism) regularly, I confess I am sharing these posts solely because they have lots of pictures of the beautiful island of my birth, and made me nostalgic.

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Monday, 21 April 2014

10 Tips for Frugal Living in Japan

 April is all about new beginnings in Japan. A new school year (and a supply list two pages long I have to buy, all either Pokemon or One Piece, of course, no generic stationary permitted). New jobs or new co-workers at your old job (the welcome party is HOW MUCH?!). About a million kids moving out on their own for the first time to go to university are filling up the instant noodle section of the supermarket, and I can barely squeeze onto trains packed with recent graduates in uncomfortable new suits heading out to yet another interview. The air is full of excitement, stress and ohdearWTFwhereisallmymoney?

I know what you're thinking... ANOTHER how to save money in Japan article? Yawn. Yes. Seriously. This is in fact another how to save money in Japan article, but I hope it contains some ideas you may not have read about yet, even if you do hang on every word Tofugu publishes!

100 yen shops aren't that good, but hardware stores are.

I'm not just saying this because this month's tax hike put everything up to 108 yen, honestly. Nor is this a you-get-what-you-pay-for warning. It's much simpler- nothing at a 100 yen store is less than 108 yen, but because we are accustomed to seeing them as cheap stores we may not notice that many of the products they sell can be purchased for less elsewhere. Bleach, for example, is about 90 yen at the supermarket and 80 at hardware stores. ぞうきん cleaning rags are sold at my local Daiso in bags of two, the hardware store has a pack of five for the same price. Most of the things I used to buy regularly from the 100 store including note books, erasers, cleaning products and kitchen paper are all cheaper at the hardware store. What's more, many hardware stores have good point card programs, including things like "double points on Wednesdays".
Plus, they have these. Lots of them.


Point cards, charge cards

 I carry a card case these days, because I have too many point cards to fit in my wallet. They are worth getting, even for places you think you'll visit only rarely. Not only do you accumulate points, many businesses offer discounts or special offers for point card holders. Tully's coffee gave me free coffee and ice-cream on my birthday. A local onsen gives free spa treatments to card holders on their birthday. Some of the most rewarding point cards belong not to specific stores but to groups. The T-Point card for example is linked to Family Mart convenience stores, Tsutaya book shops and DVD rental stores, Kitamura Camera, Eneos gas stations, a bunch of restaurants and so on. Every time I rent a DVD at Tsutaya, I get a hand full of coupons for other stores in the T-Point family (discounted photo printing, free deserts and all sorts of random stuff).
Charge cards can also offer some surprising benefits. In addition to the point card, I also have a Tully's charge card. I get 30 yen off each drink I pay for with the card. If I put 3000 yen onto the card at once I also get a free drink ticket. Best of all, I earn a stamp for this free drink ticket that counts toward the "buy ten get one free" point card. I'm not trying to spruik Tully's particularly, by the way, just an example of how reward cards can add up and interact. My bus card also gives bonus credit versus paying cash.

Email memberships, discount days and refer a friend

In a similar vein, becoming a メール会員 can have some good benefits. A clothing store I like sent all the email members a message recently saying that everything in the store with a yellow sticker on was 40% off for members. Non-members would have had no idea what the stickers meant, which made it quite fun.
I already mentioned that some stores offer regular double-point days, but another thing to keep in mind is discount days. Karaoke places often have "ladies' day" and "men's day", with the room fee waved or similar discount if you happen to have the matching gender. Some cinemas also have these gendered days, and sometimes "couples' day" as well. Almost all supermarkets have take-home fliers listing their discount days and you can save a decent amount of money if you pay attention to these. My local has 40% off all frozen vegetables and ice-cream on Wednesdays, for example.
Refer a friend discounts aren't quite as common, but can be very good savers. My hairdresser gives me a 50 % discount on my next visit if someone I've recommended the salon to comes in for a cut, and the friend gets 10% off too. The gym I used to go to offered discounts on the monthly fee on a sliding scale for each friend who signed up, and the discount applied to everyone in the "group". It was also good motivation to keep going to the gym; if I quit all my friends got a price hike!


Be a regular

 In many ways, what every point card or membership system is trying to replicate is just the system of "regular customers" that small local businesses have naturally. There are so many benefits to becoming a regular, not only financial but social as well. At one of my regulars, I get free coffee every time I visit and the odd free desert~ not because of accumulated points, but as an expression of the relationship that exists between regular patrons and the business they support. At an okonomiyaki place we used to frequent, we always received free extras and had the opportunity to preview new dishes and offer our feedback before they made it to the menu. The social benefits for me personally have been so great that they probably deserve a separate post.
There has ended up being more coffee in this post than I expected...


Supermarket co-op sections

 I don't know if this holds true in bigger cities, but down here all the supermarkets have a separate section for local produce that is unrefrigerated and simply presented in plastic crates. One can purchase these (often completely unpackaged) products at the same register as the supermarket's own produce, but usually at much lower prices. For the same price as a packet of six shiitake nicely packaged and branded, I got a plain bag of shiitake the size of my head.


Yahoo auctions and second hand shops

Although big chains of second hand stores like Hard-Off are certainly cheaper than buying new furniture, an even cheaper option is your local independent second hand store. They are often located in run down neighborhoods and can be hard to get to without a car, but they are worth the adventure. Although we have primarily used them for furniture, I have also bought some gorgeous kimono for as little as 500 yen. Likewise, while Rakuten and Amazon have some great deals, for seriously cheap second hand goods try , the e-bay equivalent more popular in Japan (bonus: also connected to the T-Point card!). We recently bought a 42-inch (106cm) wide-screen plasma TV for 10,000 yen (about $100).


Facebook groups

Similarly, check out facebook to see if there are useful groups in your local area where people swap or sell. In my city we have fairly regular clothing and shoe swaps between the international women, for example. Japan Garage Sale is a nation-wide group, and Frugal Living in Japan is another where people share coupons, details of sales and general tips. If your local area doesn't have one, why not start one?


Public gyms and sports associations rather than for-profit gyms

In easily accessible distance from my home there are four gyms run by either the city or the prefecture that offer entry for next to nothing. They have different equipment~ the man-person will only go to one because the others don't have big enough weights whereas I prefer a different one because it's the only one with cross-trainers~ but even with a bit of fiddling around to find the best match for what we want to do it's a world less expensive than a private gym. There's no subscription, you just pay per visit (around 200 yen, more or less depending on what areas you want to use) and they are quieter and less crowded (weirdly) than the for-profit gyms. Two of the gyms have pools, and I took Tiger in the school holidays- 40 yen for his entry, 150 for mine, and there was virtually no one else there so they let him take his kick-board into the big pool.


Big Government Does it Cheaper  

OK, I just wrote that to annoy some of my American friends ;) Gyms aren't the only thing the government provides at discounted rates, though. You probably receive some kind of monthly magazine or news letter from your city or prefecture. I spent a couple of years putting these directly into the recycling thinking they were junk mail before I actually took the time to read one. Ours lists local events and festivals and services (as well as a fair bit of annoying spam from the city council). Some of the services I learned about only through this news letter included discount dog vaccinations offered at a local park (very good for my vet-phobic puppies), free dog training workshops, flu vaccinations for humans, free cooking classes, hiking groups in the forest reserves near our house, flea markets and even one random event where 1000 potted plants were given away.


Eating: Cafeterias

I feel a bit silly including an "eating out" bit because every "save money in Japan" post on the internet talks about it, but let me finish before you roll your eyes!
Spoon and Tamago did a great post recently on cheap and delicious university cafeteria meals that the public can buy. My local uni is particularly good for me, because it has each dish separate and you grab what you want and pay rather than getting a set combination of dishes. That means I can pick out the vegetarian options and not have to waste money on the "main" I can't eat. Universities aren't the only places that have amazingly cheap dining halls open to the public, though. In the basement of my City Hall building is a cafeteria most people probably will never know exists, where you can order a huge multi-dish lunch that will be cooked fresh to your order for a couple of hundred yen. On the top floor of the prefectural offices is an all-you-can-eat dining hall that again only costs a few hundred yen to get into. The branch government offices (usually in the same building as the local library) all seem to have extremely cheap dining halls, too. My local (which we visit regularly to borrow kids' books from the library) even has bottomless coffee.


Bonus: Know what you want 

We have wasted probably close to $10,000 because we didn't have a clear idea of what was possible in terms of housing when we first moved to Japan. Consequently we moved house twice, and that devastated our finances. If we had been clear about wanting a house from the start we would have put more effort into researching whether it was possible instead of dismissing it and renting the second apartment. One of my old co-workers knew right from the start that she was only staying a year. She rented a tiny apartment, barely furnished it and saved her money. She knew what she wanted, and didn't get bogged down in wasteful indecision. Another friend arrived excited about living "Japanese style" and bought a complete set of floor furniture including table, chairs and computer desk before realising that he actually found it really uncomfortable to sit on the floor. While you never know where life will take you, it does help one's budget to have a basic plan.
Bonus #2: Buy wine in bulk when you find something good. And yes, that's a bus stop and yes, I did in fact take 24 bottles of wine home on the bus. Shut up.

This post is my contribution to the J-Bloggers' Carnival "New Beginnings". Other contributors are:

Zacky Chan of Gaijin Explorer (A blog about practicing Japanese archery, exploring Japanese wilderness, traveling around spots of interest, and other creative meanderings based in the southern Japanese island of Kyushu) with

John Asano joins us with
John Asano is a blogger, web developer and freelance writer living in Gifu, Japan. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, he writes about the must see sights and attractions in Japan at Japan Travel Advice, as well as about Japanese culture and events on his blog Japan Australia.

Ishikawa JET Blog, the official blog for the Ishikawa JET  community (writing about living and working in Ishikawa and Japan in general) offer

Autumn Widdoes of English Bento Box (Art, Okinawa and Gluten-Free in Japan) joins in with
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Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Helping Himawari


Welcome to the April 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Family Pastimes  
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and wisdom about family pastimes.

I don’t know if empathy counts as a family pastime, but it is at the core of the life that we have chosen and the choices we make as a family. When Tiger first came to live with us I worried about his lack of empathy. Orphanages are by their very nature impersonal and proscriptive, and empathy is a skill that needs to be practiced, just like any other. Eight years in an orphanage had not given Tiger many opportunities to practice. 

 Before coming to live with us, he was fearful of our dogs. He was, he explained, a “cat person”. He very quickly succumbed to their charms though, and right from the start sought them out for cuddles when he was upset with the two-legged family members.  The dogs’ needs are fairly simple to understand, and Tiger quickly became adept at figuring out what they were feeling. In a way, his empathy practice began with dogs.

During the winter holidays we took him to the video store to choose some DVDs, and he picked out Himawari (a story about the fate abandoned dogs face in the city pound). I tried to dissuade him from renting it, but he was adamant, and in my worst parenting decision to date I gave in and let him watch it. It had been nearly a year since I saw the film, and although I remembered how sad it was I had not picked up, in those pre-adoption days, how disturbing the language was going to be for him. As the lead character searches to a home before the period of stay in the pound expires and the dogs go to the gas chamber, the word used is 里親 (village parents), the same word used to describe our relationship to Tiger. The abandoned dogs are 捨てられた犬, which has a connotation of discarded garbage, and I have heard people refer to children in orphanages in the same way- 捨てられた子. The film brought up a lot of upsetting thoughts, and for days afterwards he quizzed me on what happens to children who don’t find 里親. I reassured him that children don’t get gassed, but I am not sure he was completely convinced.

Two weeks before the spring holidays began, I was dropping Tiger at school when we noticed a dog in the play ground with a more than passing resemblance to Himawari. I sent Tiger running to the staff room while I tried to get rid of the kids who were excitedly chasing her around. He came back to say that the Vice Principal’s advice was to ignore her and she’d go away. Tiger tugged my sleeve and looked up at me. “She’s lost just like Himawari” he said, “we have to do something.” I had a million very pressing things to do that day, but he was right. Empathy without action isn’t really all that useful, after all, and I was proud of him for realising that. So he went to class, and I picked the dog up and carried her home to find a spare collar and leash for her. She was thin and dirty and obviously very tired. She rested her head on my shoulder and fell asleep.

I took her home and fed her, then walked her around the neighbourhood for two hours asking everyone we saw if they recognised her. She didn’t lead me in any particular direction, and no one knew her. Her mammary glands were huge and sore looking. I assumed she had puppies waiting for her and how long they’d been without milk. I didn’t know what to do. The nearest vet is a thirty minute walk from our house, so off we went. She was very tired so I carried her as much as I could and she took the opportunity to snuggle into me. She was heavy and my arm was burning, but I didn’t want to put her down. The vet scanned her but she didn’t have a micro-chip. I left my number, in case anyone came for her. Then we went to the police station. They made a collar and leash for her from crime scene tape, and a jovial bald giant of an officer fed her a box a sushi. 

After school Tiger wanted to go to the police station to visit her. I told him she probably wasn’t there anymore, and we checked the pound website. Sure enough, there she was. “I’m sure her people are looking for her” I told Tiger. The next day we checked again, and she was still there. “What if she’s gassed?!” He worried. We called the pound. “Please don’t kill her without telling us” we asked, “if it gets to that point we’ll do… something.” I woke up with a sore stiff arm and it took a few minutes to realise why. A left-over sensation, the weight of a life. A tired head nuzzled into my neck.

A week passed. No one came for. The swelling I had thought was milk was an infection, and the pound feared that no one would adopt her because of it. Tiger begged to keep her, promising to walk her every day. We can’t afford another dog, and with one resource-aggressive dog already in the house it wouldn’t be completely safe either. We searched for dog rescues, non-profits, anyone who could help. Tiger borrowed a stack of library books on dogs, including a book of recipes for dog food and a guide to nursing sick dogs. I’m so proud of him, and at the same time, I know that what we are teaching him will not set him up for happiness. When you see suffering you can’t un-see it. As I explained our latest elaborate plan to the man person (taking Himawari half way across Japan to Tokushima and the only non-kill rescue we had been able to find), he commented “you know I love this about you, but there are so many people with easier lives than ours who could be doing this stuff.” That’s the thing though; our lives aren’t easy because we are the ones who “do this stuff”. Much as I want Tiger to grow into an adult who sees the subaltern and acts to help when he can, I am painfully aware of how much easier life is for people who don’t care.
Was a bath REALLY necessary?!
Today we are going to the pound to ask them to release Himawari to us. We couldn’t find a single animal rescue in Kyushu. We don’t really know what we are going to do, but we will do something, because that is what our family does. Something, anything but nothing.

Our frantic search for help for Himawari has forced us to confront how little hope there is for abandoned animals in Japan.

HEART Tokushima, despite being over 350 km away, immediately reached out to offer their support. They are a genuinely non-kill rescue and are doing amazing work in hard financial times. They have an amazon wishlist and gift shop, you can sponsor an animal or you can make a once off donation.

Likewise, Animal Friends Niigata offered advice and support despite being very much too far away to help directly. They also need support.

As for Tiger and empathy, I don’t think I need to worry anymore. He has definitely joined the family pastime.
*** Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting! Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • 8 Reasons to Go Camping with Your Kids — The weather is warmer, and it is time to think about taking a break. As you plan your family vacation, Mandy of Living Peacefully with Children, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, explains why you should consider hitting the trails with your kids.
  • Crafty Cohorts — Kellie at Our Mindful Life enjoys crafting with her kids, and the skills they are learning.
  • 10 Hobbies For Families With Young Children — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama knows that finding hobbies families can do together (with young children in tow) isn't always the easiest of feats. She has compiled a list of 10 family friendly hobbies that children of all ages can enjoy and that won't break the bank!
  • Helping Himawari — Sophelia's family at Sophelia's Adventures in Japan share a passion for helping when a dog is abandoned at the nearby elementary school.
  • The 'Art' of Having FunMarija Smits shares some thoughts on family art and fun.
  • How we made our own Family Day — Lauren at Hobo Mama shares how her family celebrates the best day of the week, a chance for connection and adventure and endless possibilities: Family Day!
  • Our Family Hobby — Survivor talks about how animal husbandry has become her family's favorite hobby at Surviving Mexico Adventures and Disasters.
  • Sowing the Seeds of Passions — Christy at Eco Journey In The Burbs wonders if her interests, and her husband's, will shape her children's passions as they mature.
  • Harry Potter Potions Party — One of the best activities Dionna at Code Name: Mama has ever done with her family has been a Harry Potter Potions Party. She is sharing the resources she used to create their potion recipes, the ingredients and tools they experimented with, and the recipes themselves. Feel free to use and adapt for your own budding wizards and witches!
  • Pastimes Have Passed Me By — Kati at The Best Things takes a new perspective on projects that never get done.
  • Food as a cultural experience for preschoolers — Nathalie at Kampuchea Crossings finds that food is a good way to engage her preschoolers on a journey of cultural discovery.
  • 10 Reasons I Love Thrifting With My ChildrenThat Mama Gretchen has always enjoyed shopping, but with a growing family she's become more frugal and thus, her little ones are now in tow on her thrift store adventures.
  • Pastime with Family vs Family Pastime — You can share lots of pastimes with your family, but Jorje of Momma Jorje discovered a family pastime was much more pleasant for sharing.
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Friday, 4 April 2014

The Tea Ceremony of Awkward (Flashback Friday)


This is basically a slightly-edited version of an email I sent friends a few years ago, so the tone is a little different from my usual posts. I debated about posting the story because it seems ungrateful of the kindness we were shown and that really isn't how we felt... it was just very, very awkward! So, while reading please keep in mind that we were very grateful, and our desire not to too obviously reject the hospitality we were being shown is in fact the source of most of the cringe involved in this tale of woe!

On my last day of the winter holidays 2009-2010 the then-secretary of my Naginata club (and mother of one of my co-workers) had invited me and my little sister Verity (who is also vegetarian and was visiting Japan at the time) over to her house for afternoon tea. We got a lift with an English teacher I'll call Nunally who did Naginata with me. The secretary had a huge house on a steep hill overlooking the bay on one side and the city on the other. When we arrived she was wearing a beautiful kimono, and it turned out that “tea” actually meant a full tea ceremony. She had a dedicated tea ceremony room in her house. Verity is not a fan of green tea at all, let alone matcha, and she hates red bean paste, which is often in the sweets served with the tea, so we were a bit nervous. It went beautifully though, and Verity even managed to down a second cup. When it was over we signed hugely with relief and patted each other on the back. Little did we know. 

We left the tearoom and were ushered into the dining room, where our hostess had prepared a full New Year’s meal. Why she didn’t mention she was feeding us I have no idea. It was all exquisite and hand made- the soup had spinach leaves that she had grown in the garden and tied individually into little knots- and every last dish had seafood in it. We sat there petrified as she brought out dish after gorgeous dish that we couldn’t eat. She even made steamed shrimp custards in antique cups garnished with roe. She had hand rolled sushi which was vegetarian except for some crab cake, so we tried to subtly poke that bit out and eat the rest. Watching us mangle her dainty sushi she kindly suggested that if chop sticks were too hard for us we could use our fingers. Verity took a bite of something that looked like a segment of citrus fruit but turned out to be herring roe. I attempted the salad but it had shrimp AND spam (an ancient traditional Japanese ingredient). She brought out some chicken which we declined. It was excruciating. We managed to drink the soup despite the fish stock and crab cake, then pleaded fullness; so she packed it all up into Tupperware for us to take home. At that point we just wanted to die but we retired to a sun-room for three hours of attempting to make conversation (our hostess and her husband couldn't speak English, my Japanese was basic and Verity's non-existent) while being served half a dozen kinds of black tea each in a different antique cup (the monetary value of each being the main talking point each time). During this conversation I stupidly responded to a question about beef in Australia that we were vegetarian. “That’s why you didn’t eat the chicken” our hostess commented, then after a moment Nunally asked “what about seafood?” “Well, no, we don’t eat seafood” I squirmed. “What about in soup stock?” she persisted. “WOW this tea is GOOD” Verity chimed in. Argh! We felt that nothing could ever feel more awkward than that conversation.

Then they asked what sights I had taken Verity to and I explained that we hadn’t done much because I was sick, and had to go back to work the next day, but that before going back to Australia Verity wanted to try an outdoor hot spring (rotenburo). “Yes” they exclaimed, “you must! We’ll take you to one tomorrow while Sophelia is at work”. Now, hot springs are naked affairs, and before hopping in you all sit on a row of stools washing and thoroughly rinsing off any soap. For some reason Japanese people think that this is too complex for gaijin to understand, so I had visions of Verity being surrounded by old naked Japanese women trying to school her on the finer points of soaping. I tried to subtly diffuse the situation by saying to Nunally in English “Verity has her period now, so she can’t go.” Rather than tactfully transmitting this to our hostess Nunally just directly translated it into Japanese, including our hostess's husband in the announcement.

“What a pain” said our hostess, “will it be finished by Thursday? We could go on Thursday.”

“She doesn’t know when it will finish...”

“Well when did it start? How long are they usually?”

We were wrong about the vegetarianism being the peak of awkwardness.
Eventually feeling fairly safe that I had got her out of it, we headed to Nunally’s car for a lift home only to hear our hostess say “See you at 11 tomorrow then.” They had decided to take Verity sight seeing but had neglected to tell us. For me, it was over, but Verity got to enjoy another full day of awkward.
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