Thursday, February 28, 2013


Tricia, a blog visitor, asked me about the Watanabe family eating habits and urged me to blog about what we are eating.  Actually, this had been an original intent of mine when I started blogging...  Choose one day a week to photo our dinner whether it be fancy or plain.  But THAT plan quickly faded when I realized again what a slipshod cook I am.  A major embarrassment!!  But I decided to take Tricia's suggestion to heart and write an occasional post about food. 

In the winter months I have it fairly easy because a common meal is NABENabe actually means "pot" and there is an infinite number of nabe recipes for the cold winter evenings.  Practically anything can be thrown in a pot and simmered together to make a steaming main dish to serve alongside the ever-present bowl of rice.  Actually all you absolutely have to have is the nabe!  The pot itself!  And I suppose any pot would work (preferably not a pasta pot... too deep).

Our nabe is an inexpensive pottery one... large enough to put almost anything in it.  I love these pottery pots and have thought that if and when my children ever settle into their own home I really need to bring them a Japanese nabe.  (It probably can't be shipped though.. Too heavy and too easy to crack in shipping.)

Okay... here are my ingredients for last night's nabe.  You will notice that I do a lot of cheating.  Well, better that than dinner out every night.

Starting at the top right:

A carrot (and hidden behind that is a Daikon radish.)

A chinese cabbage.  I used about a quarter of this.  (This particular cabbage was from Y-kun and I've been peeling leaves off for various meals this week... That's why it no longer looks green.)

Maitake, a type of mushroom.

Two blocks of grilled tofu.  Regular tofu can be used as well but the grilled ones add texture and color.

Pre-made chicken meatballs.   The meat-balls are just meatballs with onion and carrot in them.  I thought the Styrofoam plate that they are sold in was very pretty...  A Japanese red and gold leaf pattern.

Green onions.  I used one.

And pre-made nabe soup!  My lifesaver!  I didn't have to think about putting various ingredients together to make the soup.  This is probably fish and chicken stock with flavoring.  There are COUNTLESS nabe soup packs that I use constantly because I am too lazy to figure out my own variations of nabe flavors.  See.. I told you I cheated.

So I started simmering the soup in my pot, I cut up all the vegetables and I set the whole thing on our kerosene stove to simmer.

Uh-hum.  Thanks to Tricia, I got fancy (have to show off a bit for my blog) and made carrot flowers.  My one cooking skill?  Even Tetsu noticed.

"Did you make the flowers?  Wow!  Pretty good for an American!"

We ate our nabe with rice and a side dish of pickles.  Clean-up was pretty easy too.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ugly blue corrugated metal fence

Hmmm.  Not much news around here.  For which I should probably be thankful.

Last evening we had another earthquake.  A big one I suppose but not particularly scary and nothing around here broken.  Sudden, strong, and short.  I had one English child here and we turned off the kerosene stove and huddled in the doorway together while the TV and cell phone alarms went off and cats bolted in all directions.  The epicenter was a little north of us but still in our town so later in the evening I got phone calls from friends asking if we were alright.  The telephone lines were out for the first few minutes so that unnerved Tetsu and others who were trying to get in touch with me...  Me, who did not notice the cell phone vibrating much to Tetsu's annoyance. Takumi even called us (4:00 am our time) when he heard the earthquake epicenter was in Nikko.

Tetsu and I probably ought to be more earthquake prepared... we should have learned our lesson in 2011.  We do keep tanks of water and bottled water at hand and a few instant foods but we don't keep flashlights and medical supplies by our pillow as some people do...  I'm probably more conscientious about not letting the kerosene and gasoline tanks get too low but that's about it.


I noticed that the factory repaired their ugly blue corrugated metal fence that blew down last week.  As predicted, they repaired it with more ugly blue corrugated metal.  To be precise, they repaired it with the SAME ugly blue corrugated metal.  Positively thinking, this is called good recycling.  And trying to be very positive, I admit that the REPAIRED ugly blue corrugated metal blends in nicely with the OLD ugly blue corrugated metal.  I do not give the carpenters points for artistic expression what with the uneven baseline...  

Here is Choco arguing with the dog that lives next to the ugly blue corrugated metal fence.  I have no idea why but Choco and Hana-chan are arch enemies and we cannot walk past Hana-chan's yard without the two of them straining and barking like wild animals.  They both know that they can't reach each other so it may be all show.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Heart shaped pouches

I got on a sewing binge. 

For Valentine's Day, a neighbor girl (she and her sister are my cat sitters) brought me some home made chocolate cookies.  The proper response in Japan for receiving a Valentine's gift is to return the thought on White Day, March 14.  I wanted to sew something small so I went looking on the Internet and found a cute pattern for a heart shaped pouch.  It is pretty basic but since I couldn't pull anything out of my head I followed the step-by-step instructions.

One...Two...Three heart shaped pouches.  All different and I don't mean just the fabric.

One has the zipper in up-side-down.  One has the zipper facing the other direction (I don't think it makes any difference).  And one turned out as instructed.

I got carried away and made three more.

I can see variations on this so I may go out and buy more zippers...  Now to not lose these while waiting for White Day.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Walks with Choco

Tetsu had to stay at the convalescent home last night so Choco and the cats and I were on our own.  Choco and I took a couple long walks.

This was taken yesterday afternoon.  We walked past one of the corn fields with a few corn hulls and husks remaining.  Choco wandered around while I tried taking a close up picture.  I got both Choco and the corn husk!

This morning Choco and I went out around 6:30 and watched the sun rise over the frozen fields.

Just a couple of farmers out checking their hot houses.

The shadows were long on the ground.

The nice thing about early Sunday morning is that the ground is frozen (Choco can't get muddy) and most people are still sleeping (less likely of meeting up with a car).  I let Choco run awhile along the fields.

We are supposed to have snow again but the sky looks clear and blue this morning.

An early morning bird convention.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Times have changed

Yesterday a couple of my friends and I met for a gabfest and we progressed from restaurant to department store cafe.  Three hours of gabbing! We have been friends for 20 years and our conversations have ranged from raising babies (20 years ago) to taking care of ailing parents (these days). 

As we drove away from the department store to take one friend to the train station, one of us piped up:

"I really felt my age while we were in the cafe.  Did you see the young mother with her toddler sitting next to us?"

"I did!  I did!  I noticed the same thing and thought that things have sure changed over the years."

A young mother had come into the cafe after us and took her toddler out of the stroller and handed the child a rice ball.  While the child ate her rice ball, the mother ordered a bottle of beer and a pizza and spent a quiet hour sipping Heineken beer and playing with her child. 

I had thought too that when I was raising children I doubt if any Japanese mother would have had the nerve to order a beer even in a classy cafe.  I was even hiding my consumption of a whole chocolate bar! 

"Well, maybe a beer in the afternoon helps a mother deal with child-raising blues..."

"I was more concerned about whether the mother planned to drive home after her beer and shopping."  (Japanese are usually very careful about drinking and no-driving laws.)

We dropped our one friend off at the station and headed back past the department store.

"AH!!  LOOK!!  There's that mother!  She looks pretty flushed in the face after her beer."

The young mother did look pretty relaxed as she pushed the toddler's stroller down the sidewalk towards town.

"Well, that answers the question about whether she was going to drive home or not."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Up on the design wall

Hmmm.  Tetsu has the day off today.  He's headed for the onsen by himself later this afternoon.  So, what is he doing with his free time?  Cleaning my sewing room from top to bottom.  He's been upstairs now for nearly an hour and after refusing my offer to help, he is throwing things out the window, vacuuming and moving furniture.  (The stuff being thrown out the window I see are cat blankets.  I just watched two plummet past the dining room window where I'm sitting.)

I'm sure the sewing room/cat room needs a thorough cleaning.  I had planned to do it after Toi and Patora were moved back outside to the cat house at the end of March.  The cat fur from two cats, the lint from all the fabric that gets pulled out and stuffed back into drawers, the dust and mold from the condensation on the windows...  I think I would have preferred to declutter and purge my mess by myself but Tetsu has beaten me to the job.  He is mumbling about the room being a fire hazard...  I guess I'll just be appreciative of his willingness to clean.  Hopefully he won't throw away too many important-to-a-quilter items.  (I just rescued a sorry looking stencil brush that I use for applying glue to applique pieces.  I'll have to check the wastebasket before trash day.)

Up on my wall BEFORE Tetsu started cleaning are two more of the Pine Burr blocks that I've been working on while being housebound.  These are getting addicting.  Unfortunately they don't really use up very much fabric.

I wonder if there will really be a Before/After difference in the sewing room/cat room.  If so I'll take a picture once Tetsu goes to his onsen.  If not I guess I'll just enjoy the freshness and start more lint accumulation.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Getting better

I am perking around again.  I guess I have a regular working day today but Thursdays are pretty light anyways.

Tetsu is a real angel whenever I'm sick (whereas I am a bit of a grump when HE is sick.)  He brings me convenience store yogurts and juices and soft breads.  He carries blankets and pillows from here to there depending on whether I want to stay in a warm room or be in a quiet room.

BUT Tetsu has opinions about my personal health care which he doesn't consider very comprehensive.  He says I don't get enough liquids.  I don't sleep straight.  I don't heat my body in the bath.  These three points are VERY important for good health... according to Tetsu.

Well...  Coffee is my drink of choice but even I know that too much coffee isn't great for you so I'll have only a cup or two a day...  I can't get enthusiastic about water or tea though I've been making an effort to consume more green tea.  (Hey, an American website recommended it highly and if nothing else, I have access to green tea.)

I don't sleep straight because recently I'm either hot or cold so I'm sticking out of the covers or burrowing under the pillow etc.  A continuous yoga work-out in my sleep...

And I don't heat up in the bathtub because.... I'm American!  Tetsu and all Japanese feel that the bathtub is a place to heat the body nightly before crawling into bed.  It is not so much a place to get clean as to soak and expand the blood vessels and warm the blood and get the heart pumping.  According to Tetsu I should spend AT LEAST 30 minutes soaking every night and when I have a chance to sit with my feet in hot water.  A lot of rigamarole to me.  I prefer my quick morning shower... which Tetsu claims is one of the culprits to my "poor" health.

Ah, come on!  I walk the dog morning and afternoon.  I strive for 10000 steps daily on my pedometer.  I go to the pool twice a week and swim laps, I try to eat less meat (this is a new habit for me... I've been afraid to announce it for fear I'll back slide.)  I think I'm in the moderately healthy range.

I could make comments about Tetsu's non-health regime.  He loves fried foods and seconds and thirds and an extra bowl of instant noodles on top of whatever else we're eating.  He loves sweets and takes medicine for all the middle-age ailments that are catching up with him.

But when Tetsu is berating me for not taking care of myself I'm usually already sick and can't defend myself and I know behind the scolding is a lot of love. 

Maybe I'll get on HIS case now that I'm feeling better.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sofa loafing

I'm not doing well with my blogging am I?  Another skipped day yesterday.

I think I came down with the 24 hour flu.  I barely made it through crosswalk duty in the morning and came home to cancel English classes and sleep on the sofa all day.  What a waste of time.  I hardly had energy to read a book and spent most of the day fighting the cats for sleeping space.

"Oh good.  Mom is loafing on the sofa.  We'll keep her company!"

Or maybe they were thinking...

"Mom's occupying OUR usual sofa space. We'll just have to make a nest around her."

I guess influenza is making its rounds. The kindergarten called to say classes were cancelled today because so many kids were absent.  That gives me a few more hours of sofa loafing!    

Monday, February 18, 2013

Pussy willows

'The sky is still gray.  The scenery is still gray.  Nothing worth taking pictures of..."

Still, I took my camera with me when Choco and I went for a walk.

"Gray... gray... gray...  Ah!  Gray pussy willows!  In this ice and slush spring is trying to arrive."

So I photographed the pussy willows.  And noticed they were a bit pink.

"What if I put the camera on vivid mode?"

 Definitely pink!

 Spring may not be far behind!

Sunday, February 17, 2013


We had guests yesterday which meant that Tetsu and I were cleaning and cooking from morning (and not blogging). 

It is rare that Tetsu and I have friends over... for one reason may be because in Japan women have women friends, men have men friends, but there aren't too many couple and couple friends...  Another reason we don't entertain as a couple is because the house is just too small to accommodate more than four or five people at a time... And the third reason is I think that Tetsu just isn't very social.  He likes to come home to a quiet house and NOT have to make small talk.  Oh, another reason is that I can't cook worth beans so I get in a tizz when I think I have to provide much more than cookies and coffee!

Anyway..... This time it was Tetsu who suggested we invite his co-worker to our house.  Tetsu invited the co-worker a couple months ago but he never followed up.  I hate this.  It is just good manners that if you make the invitation you should keep the promise.

"Come on!  It's not like I'm thrilled to think about cooking for these people, but please set a date since you've already made the invitation!"

Yesterday our schedules matched and the co-worker and his family came over for a few hours.

We had a wonderful time!  A young man and his wife from Guatemala and their four children.  Because of a recent trip to Costco (Yes!  Costco has come to Japan!) lunch was Costco spaghetti and Costco grape juice and Costco coffee (and Tanya's salad and the Valentine cookies from a few days ago.) Although the children and husband were bi-lingual (Spanish and Japanese) the wife, being left all day with four children, wasn't very confident of her Japanese and I am a non-Spanish speaker, but we got along great!  We all played family games and took Choco for a walk and the little girls loved the kitties.

There was one small observation that I made while listening to the mother speak to her two-year old in Spanish.  I had given the little girl an orange and the child smiled shyly.  The mother intervened and the Spanish conversation went as follows (I think...)

"No.  You must say thank you.  THANK YOU.  Enunciate.  You must say it clearly.  TH-AN-K  YOU."

The little girl politely said thank you very clearly.

"No.  You LOOK into a person's eyes when you are talking to them.  Eye-contact is important.  Say thank you again and look at Mrs. Watanabe when you speak."

A very small thing but I remember saying this constantly to my children when they were little and my friends didn't understand why I'd struggle with them.  Takumi or Leiya had said thank you.  It was enough.  But that's never been enough with me and I notice everyday at the kindergarten, at the crosswalk, in my own English classes that the children never make eye-contact.

At the crosswalk the principal will ask a child why she is late, or where her hat is and the child just mumbles, doesn't stop walking and never looks up once.  My goodness, that's plain rude!  Sometimes in my English classes I'll have to give a lesson in MANNERS rather than English.

"Look at the person!  You are not just repeating... You are communicating!"

Most of the children think I am an ol' fuddy-duddy.  It IS a small thing but I think it is important for communication skills and I'm afraid Japanese children haven't been trained well in those.  I thought it interesting that this Guatemalan mother was stressing the point so much. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day... though it is over already in Japan.

Tetsu hates Valentine's Day.  In Japan it has been made into a business opportunity and the department stores, supermarkets and convenience stores all set apart a special corner to sell elaborate displays of CHOCOLATE.  I did happen to be at a department store yesterday and walked past tiers of empty chocolate shelves and ladies lined up with their arms filled with small boxes of chocolates.  And where to these chocolates go?  To the men at the office, to delivery boys and male co-workers.  I heard on the radio that the average amount a woman pays for chocolates on Valentine's Day in Japan is about $500.  RIDICULOUS!!!  All this is called "obligation chocolate" and that is why Tetsu hates Valentine's Day.  Either the ladies in his office feel they are obligated to buy the men chocolates (and the men must return to obligation with a token present next month) OR the office ladies snub the custom and Tetsu gets no chocolates... as was the case yesterday.

"You are MY husband!  I would not allow any other woman to give you chocolate and they know it!  The only chocolate you are allowed to eat is MINE!"

Hopefully that makes Tetsu feel better about not being popular with the office ladies.


Oh dear... and while on the subject of love (we were... not just obligation).  Japanese are not big about expressing love.

I remember coming to Japan and discussing love vocabulary with some Japanese students.

"Suki."  Which translates as "I like you."

"Suki?  Like in 'Curry rice ga suki.'  'I like curry rice.'  What about a stronger emotion?"

"Dai-suki."  I like you a lot.

"What about LOVE-LOVE?"

"Well, there is "Aishiteru."  It means 'I love you." but we don't use that.  'Dai-suki." is about it." 

Our family has gotten along just fine with "dai-suki".

When Takumi first met his girlfriend he did write to me and make the interesting observation that he didn't have a good English "lovey-dovey" vocabulary.  I thought that was hilarious.  He sure didn't learn the word "lovey-dovey" from me!  I guess Bianca felt she needed a bit more expression of love than just "hey... I like you as much as I like curry rice."

Tetsu-sama,  DAI-SUKI!!

(Valentine message from me to Tetsu....  I also made him peanut butter cookies with heart shaped chocolates.)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cold and snow and wind

A quiet Thursday for me.  It has been cold around here, and windy.  But we didn't get as much snow as we expected to get.  Still it is hard to be motivated to take Choco out for a walk in the afternoons.  I think Choco thinks it is too cold too!

Yesterday morning at the crosswalk while waiting for the children to come from the nearby residential area, I enjoyed the misty scenery.

I also helped the sweet shop owners get their cat down from a tree.  It had made an escape the day before and got itself up a tall tree overhanging the road... The dumb cat couldn't get back down so it spent a cold night there howling for help. The sweet shop owner's son had to climb the tree while I directed traffic... just in case the son or the cat fell into the street during the rescue.

After a day in the next city, I did take Choco for a late afternoon walk and found the factory that is next to us had lost its fence in the wind.  I have never liked this garishly blue corrugated metal fence that they put up when the neighborhood began to complain about unsightly factory debris.  Every so often it looses a slat or two but this is the first time a whole corner has blown off!  They'll probably repair it with more blue corrugated metal.  Sigh...

Heading home Choco and I crunched our way through refrozen snow.  Another icy night in store for us!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


This weekend Tetsu and I rented a DVD called Toilet or it might be called Toiretto... I couldn't tell from the Japanese DVD cover. 

The director is Japanese but it is a Canadian movie (I think).  I didn't know any of the actors except for the one Japanese elderly woman in it.  It is listed as a comedy but it is more heartwarming than anything.  I think it was shown on Japanese TV a couple of weeks ago and suddenly I had people from three different English classes telling me I needed to see it.  We found it at the DVD rental store... (I found it.  Tetsu claimed they didn't have it but I went to the counter and asked and was handed the one DVD in the store.  Not greatly popular.  Why is it that men don't want to just ASK?)  ...and thoroughly enjoyed the movie about a Japanese grandma and her adult grandchildren living in the States.

I'm recommending Toilet to Leiya (as if she has any time to watch DVD's in her last days of college) and I thought I'd mention it to my blog friends too.  The movie is in English so I don't know why the cover picture is written in Japanese.  Anyway, look for a 2010 movie called Toilet or Toiretto directed by Naoko Ogigami.  It might give you a laugh... You'll learn a little about Japanese toilets...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Light art

Last night Tetsu and I had another surprise outing. Tetsu finds things of local interest in the newspaper and then we set off not really knowing what we are going to see.  Last night we went up to the tourist part of Nikko for a Candle Pageant, fireworks display and light art performance.

At around 5:30 we bundled up good in down jackets, ski hats and mufflers and drove up to Nikko and into a city parking lot.  It was dark when we got there and from the parking lot shuttle buses took us (and a thousand other people) to the back side of the mountains where thousands and thousands of candles were set out along the paths and open areas. There were a few booths set up selling hot noodles and sweet sake but we followed the candles up the hillside and a few minutes later the fireworks display began.

Fireworks are fireworks though even that has changed some since I was a child.  There were fireworks bursting in star shapes and bear shapes and heart shapes and even a cat shape complete with whiskers.  (Unfortunately you never knew when which firework was going to burst so I didn't catch a picture of the shaped fireworks.)  But all were beautiful against the black, starry sky.  Tetsu and I were standing just behind a thin line of trees but I thought the tree silhouette was striking in itself.

But it sure was cold!!!  We were shivering and stamping our feet as we oohed and aahed over the lights in the sky!

After the fireworks the crowd gathered in front of a large stage and after many announcements that photography was not allowed and would be ineffectual anyway, the artist stepped forward and we were all plunged into darkness with no explanation.  What are we going to see?  Most of the people there probably had no idea.  What IS light art?

It was the most amazing, mystical, beautiful performance!!!  We all stood in awe of the pictures being "painted" before us, and as the artist painted the drawings would fade away, gradually disappearing softly as a new touch was given.  Please check out the You-Tube video.  It is worth seeing all the way to the end... The artist has been on Japanese TV and thus the talk show introduction at the beginning of the video.

Washiro Jinpei -- Light Artist

Tetsu and I weren't even sure how the artist was sketching his pictures but after checking the Internet I see that he uses a florescent canvas and a light beam...  I think part of the beauty is the transiency...  Within a few seconds the whole painting is gone...

A wonderful evening and Tetsu and I walked back to the parking lot (we didn't want to spoil the atmosphere with a crowded shuttle bus) holding hands....  More to keep ourselves from falling on the ice but it was a bit romantic too.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ants anyone?

Not a very exciting weekend.  Tetsu declared yesterday a "cleaning day".  (It must be bad when your husband wants to spend the day cleaning.)  We had plans to go somewhere in the evening but we were both so worn out we decided to skip it!

But today my floors are washed and waxed, furniture polished, the guestroom (Takumi's former bedroom) looks good thanks to Tetsu and everything smells fresh and clean.

We did take a break from cleaning yesterday to go out for lunch and as we were leaving the parking lot I noticed an odd sign over a nearby Chinese food chain restaurant (that's not where we ate lunch though).  The restaurant is called Bamiyan...  It is fairly cheap and pretty good if not all that authentic.  But the sign?  What is an ANT Bamiyan?  Ant?  As in little picnic invader?

BUT... on the other side of the restaurant entrance was the answer to the mystery.  If you look at it at THIS side it says... "WORLD FAMOUS CHI-NESE RESTAUR". 

The Japanese don't give much thought to where words or phrases begin and leave off.  It's true that in the Japanese written language words can be cut and hyphenated (no hyphens though) anywhere...  But it does make for an odd advertisement in English.