Friday, 12 February 2016

Counting down the days

So much for vowing that I would write stuff as it happens so that i would keep the feelings real. I have just spent the last good few hours finding and filing photos so I can look back on them to try and capture the moment. Arrghhhh.

The hills behind Mitaki.
Mitaki Temple, as i have waxed lyrical about on previous occasions, continues to surprise. Today we took the normal path up through the bamboo forest, fording the stream, clambering up the steepish inclines and reached the ridge path that runs along to view point we have looked out over the city from several times. However, instead of taking this path we threw caution to the wind and took a different one and after tramping for a only a few moments found a nice ridge walk that took us to a bluff high above the city looking out to sea. What a sublime view of this lovely city and its environs. The beautiful sunny day with sharp winter air gave just the perfect conditions for viewing Hiroshima. 

We are positioned rather nicely beside the sea and only an hour from the ski fields that dot the lowly hills that range from 700 to 1000 metres high. Whilst the lack of height makes for a very short season it also means that there are plenty of trees. The consequence, as all you fellow skiers will know is, that the pistes are simply beautiful. The two times I have been so far this season my breath has been taken away first by the biting cold air but secondly through joy of gliding along on pristine white powder slopes set amidst green firs heavily laden with snow and looking like Tim Burton creations. 

Since the Japanese are work crazy there is only a handful of people skiing and boarding mid week. I'm told it gets barmy at the weekend though. Virtually every lift i used i could travel on my own. Including the fast 6 man chair that takes you right to the top and allows for a good 10 to 15 minute whizz back down again. I bought tickets at a ski show some months ago for half the daily rate and also won a couple of free tickets so will get a couple more days in before the whole lot disappears again. I should give mention to the absolute horror on the faces of the locals when i told them that I had driven my little Daihatsu to the wonderfully named Geihoku kokusai (Gay-hok-oo-kok-oo-sigh) without winter tyres or chains. Not sure whether they are too cosseted or us Brits are stupid.

A few odds and sods that slipped through the net.
The point of this blog is not to be of any help to fellow travellers, to produce some sort of elusive income from doing something we love or to make anyone jealous. Its written so that when the nights are long and cold and dark in Rachel's and my future we can look back on these diaries and and say "F***k me we did some S**t" - Aghh. I've Japanesed my blogging. I've worried about you reading swear words and asterisked the letters out. Will address that little faux par later.

1. Funny cars. Mentioned em before but this little beauty takes the prize.

2. Origami christmas. It started last year when we were so strapped for space that we fashioned a 1 dimensional  tree. This year with a bigger, posher pad to live in we pushed the boat out and fashioned a a bigger tree with much nicer decorations. It was good but didn't quite create the ambiance we wanted so we thought a nice fireplace with blazing logs would be good. It should have stopped there but Graham Watts suggested we have candles on the mantlepiece and one thing led to another and various origami consequences occurred.

This is one of those things to look back that i mentioned earlier.


3. Autumn colours. One of the lovely sights of Japan is seeing the trees in Autumn time. I am not that up on my tree spotting so lets just call them Maples and some other types. The result however is pretty cool. But heres the thing....Every one bangs on about the Autumn colours in New England and the Japanese make an almost religious pilgrimage to view the golds, reds and yellows here. ut on reflection I think we do Autumn pretty well in Blighty. I don't have comparisons to post up because i have never thought about it that much just thought i would big up something we do miss. A clear, frosty, autumnal morning with mist hanging on dew covered grass and a hint of wood smoke making you look forward to a pint in the pub after a walk. Anyway a picture to show you what its like here.

4. Speech day. For the last three months i have been honing the public speaking skills of some 50 kids ranging from 6 to 12 years in age in preparation for the YMCA speech day. For 8 hours a week i flit between the various classes and, sometimes with the help of their permanent teacher, have bullied, praised, pleaded, threatened, encouraged and cajoled these exceptionally privileged children. All through the process there have been those who have worked, those who have not, those who are gifted, those that received additional coaching and those who simply don't know there arse from their elbow. But all, in one way or another, have had to endure hour after hour of drilling from yours truly. Rachel was conscripted to be one of the judges on the auspicious day and I had refrained from feeding her inside information about who, in Santa's eyes "Had been naughty or nice", because I wanted a level playing field for children who all learn differently and perform differently on the day. LITTLE BASTARDS! Three of the ones who very much fell into the category of those that 'Did not work' only went and pulled it out of the hat with some brilliant performances. I was gob smacked with one boy who could barely be bothered to open his mouth in the previous months when he told a story with such feeling, command of intonation, timing and gesticulation that he had the crowd eating from his hand. The end result is that some who should have won didn't and others who shouldn't have won did. It's a tricky business this teaching lark. The one thing that did make everything a little easier to bear was the after speech day party given in honour of a leaving director and entailed cheerleaders, divas, beer, wine and vodka, a delicious spread of food and party games. Japan certainly says good bye to its own in style.

I moan, who doesn't, but I thank my lucky stars that I was given the opportunity to work at the Y over the last year. I'm so sad that Rachel, who is by far a much better teacher, was not able to enjoy the camaraderie amongst English speaking colleagues like me. Further, that she was not able to rail at the vagaries of of public speaking competitions or gain that  sense of achievement I have. On the plus side she has been able to learn the words of "I can sing a rainbow" and is quite intimate with snotty 4 year olds and their tantrums.

Leaving Shodoshima 
The place that first made us think that we might want to stay in Japan was Shodoshima. A small mountainous island just off the coast between Okayama and Kobe. It was here we met Mitsi and her boys and started a friendship that has become solid and lasting. We have enjoyed laughter with her and her family and shared Mitsi's anguish and fears over a difficult time of her life. It was with sadness that we said goodbye last weekend after what will be our last visit to the island. Shodoshima, if any of you come to Japan, is worth the visit. Its not all whistles and bells like Kyoto or Takayama. Its not vibrant and flashy like Tokyo. Its just a little island. But its got lovely vistas, some great temples, warm seas surrounding it, monkeys and a way of life that feels real.

Mochi making with Miwa san (sounds like a song)
Mochi - its rice that's had the fuck hammered out of it (I'm back!!! Piss poo wank!). Literally, you get rice, you cook it and them you hammer the fuck out of it with big wooden mallets

Once you have beaten the substance to a pulp it is stretched and formed into little solid balls (Mochi Cakes) and it is served with red bean sauce, sweet soy or ground soy powder. Its OK but takes a lot of chewing and is contributory to keeping the ever increasing population of Japan at bay by choking the unwary old 'uns who swallow before chewing.

Miwa, Rachels very lovely Japanese teacher who has become a good friend to her over the last few months, invited us and another couple to come to the community event. Staged in a playground by some flats where the community all gets together and cooks Mochi and thereby remembers the hard times during earthquakes and wars when electricity was limited and one had to cook cheaply and by whatever means one had. In this case it was open flames. Of special note was chopped bamboo which was filled with sake and heated in the fires. A great day and insight into a bit of Japanese Culture.

So thats it for now. The cars up for sale, our notices have been given, we are starting to sell our furniture and time has taken on a special way of moving. Sometimes sluggishly because we want to be on the move and other times too fast - making us miss in advance the things that we have come to love. I would not be surprised if we returned. But not till we are much older and the safe, predictable, comfortable, supporting society of Japan can care for our aging bones.