Monday, May 31, 2010


Saturday Tetsu and I were driving into the next city. "Pika-pika" An oncoming driver flashed his headlights at us. Tetsu quickly checked his headlights but no, ours weren't on. Ah... There's a policeman up ahead somewhere out to catch speeders.

Tetsu slowed down a bit (he's not much of a speeder anyway) but no policeman. Hmmm. What was that about? Another mile or so and ANOTHER driver flashed his headlights at us. Tetsu checked his headlights again. Nope. There IS a policeman somewhere rounding up speeders.

And finally, a THIRD driver flashed his headlights at us and sure enough, around the corner there was a speed check going on with a policeman sitting by his radar equipment in the bushes and another team of policemen a few yards further down directing cars to their van and the awaiting speeding tickets. Tetsu and I drove quietly past feeling sorry for the caught drivers, relieved that we weren't among them, grateful for the warnings, guilty for thinking of the police as the "bad guys out to catch us."

The police are only doing their job and their job is to reduce accidents. If requiring speeders to pay a stiff fine will make drivers think twice about speeding thus saving people's lives then the police are definitely the good guys! And that makes the nice drivers who warn others, and speeders who slow only because of the warnings, the bad guys.

Still, I was pleasantly amazed that three "nice" drivers would warn other strangers on the road. And though I was very relieved that we weren't caught speeding I don't think I'll be so nice about warning other drivers... What is nice and not nice, who are the good guys and who are the bad?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Foot spa

More scenery...

On Friday a couple friends and I went out for a noodle lunch way off in the boonies in a hot spring town. The whole town is a full of resort hotels and health spas and we took advantage of a town owned foot spa that overlooked the river. Tourists and visitors can just stop in, take off their shoes and relax in the beautiful outdoor surroundings. The water was really, really hot and we had to let our feet dry out because we hadn't brought along towels but it was a nice break in a day.

Oh my. I really ought to take advantage of a California pedicure this summer, shouldn't I!

Friday, May 28, 2010


This is a friend of mine, at church with her baby on her back. Most Japanese women will sling a baby onto their back in a ombu himo and go about their housework or even drive with the baby sleeping peacefully papoose style. I suppose it is a warm place and offers a lot of soothing movement. Strapped to the back, a crying baby will be joggled into sleep, sometimes so soundly that its poor neck is lolling around behind! There are jackets and vests (like my friend has) that wrap around both baby and mother and it all looks very cozy.

Actually I never used an ombu himo myself. It takes skill to swing a baby around to your back without catapulting it like a slingshot! And I liked to see what my baby was doing anyway (and I didn't like the lolling neck). What I DID use to carry my babies around was a dakko himo. (Ombu means "piggy back". Dakko means "carry". And himo means "strap".)

I made my own dakko himo and I could hang the baby in front of me kangaroo style but with its legs hanging down in front. We could smile at each other and I could point out things as we wandered... It seemed like an extension of "carrying" my baby after birth. And I had a great jacket that covered both of us. I got stopped a lot when I was visiting the States and everyone was interested in the strap and jacket. (The drawback however is that one can't cook with a baby hanging in front of you. And someone pointed out that if you fell with a baby strapped to your front that you landed on your baby....) I carried my babies in the dakko himo (and never fell) until they were nearly walking!

This week I made a dakko himo for my Filipino friend. This is the young woman who stumbled upon our church a few weeks back. Thank you for your prayers. She is much better now and every week she has been coming to church. Unfortunately she will be working on weekends from next week and I won't be seeing much of her anymore. It is hard for the Filipino women here in Japan because most of them have to work to send money back to their extended families in the Philippines. I wanted to give her something hand made that represented love enfolding both her and her baby. I wonder if she'll ever have a chance to use it...

Here I am demonstrating how to use a dakko himo with my Filipino friend's baby! I know... I know... Someone else already told me that I look like a proud grandmother. NOT YET! (Rats... It's the greying hair...)

Thursday, May 27, 2010


I'm on the run again today. I wish I could get to the sewing machine....

The rice fields are flooded. The flowers are blooming.

In the forest the ferns are uncurling and making interesting outer space objects. Spring has arrived.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Nikko's Sleeping Cat

This weekend when we went to the shrines of Nikko we specifically wanted to see the carving of the sleeping cat known as the Nemuri Neko. It is one the most famous carvings in Japan and is found on the lintel in the inner shrine. The cat sleeping depicts peace in the world and on the other side of the carving there are sparrows so supposedly as long as the cat sleeps the sparrows are safe to play.

I have my own sleeping cat and I have to admit that I like mine more! Not particularly artistic but seeing Velvet so relaxed in his cat house makes me smile!

Let the sparrows play!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Visiting Nikko

Okay. Lots of pictures today. These are of my weekend with Sasha and her friend Katie.

I "know" Sasha because her mother and I visit each other's blogs. I would read Shelina's blog and learn about the quilts she was making, about her daughter's interest in Japan, and about the Japanese home stay students that would stay in their home. And somewhere along the line we realized that Shelina didn't live far from Leiya in Ohio! Two years ago when Tetsu and I went to Ohio for Leiya's graduation, Shelina drove out to have breakfast with us at a restaurant. Shelina is the only blog friend (and I've only "met" one other) who has met Tetsu.

When I learned that Sasha was visiting Japan again I told Shelina to definitely give Sasha my e-mail address and we would see if we could get together. And that's what we did!

The first place we visited was Mashiko the pottery town and we browsed for a couple hours but bought little. For one thing pottery is heavy and bulky and breakable so unless a foreign tourist is really into pottery it is hard to buy things to take home. It is fun to look though.

There was also an indigo dye workplace and it I snapped the girls' picture outside at the drying area. Beautiful dyed fabric but TOO EXPENSIVE!

On the way home from the pottery town Sasha wanted to stop at a fabric store to buy Japanese fabric for her mom and she chose a few things there. Here again, even normal fabric is EXPENSIVE (about $13 a yard) so you don't get a lot for your money but she had fun picking out things. I'm sure Shelina can make something lovely with the choices.

On Sunday it was a rainy day but we went up to the historical part of Nikko and visited shrines and temples. Sorry. Even though these are all famous places the names all run together in my mind. This is a famous temple. Believe me. (I'm a lousy tour guide.)

And here is another famous place though this might be a shrine rather than a temple...

Outside the shrines are places to buy your fortune and practically everyone will buy an envelope. If the fortune is good I think they take it home. If the fortune is bad they leave it at the shrine usually on designated areas but in this case the trees edging the road were filled with fortunes.

And these plaques are bought for good luck and then hung outside of the shrine. On some of them people had written wishes for finding the perfect mate, the healthy birth of a baby, and the most common, for passing the entrance tests to school. (The coins on there also symbolize good luck.)

Our next stop was up the side of the mountain to Lake Chuzenji. Just going up the mountain makes me nervous because of all the sharp curves (40 some) but in the old days the road used to be two ways whereas nowadays it is well banked and one way up and another way down on the other side of the mountain. It isn't as bad a trip as I always am afraid it is going to be.

Lake Chuzenji is a famous resort area and many of the foreign embassies have/had villas or get away cottages for their ambassadors and foreign guests. A little way through the woods is a lovely cottage that once belonged to the Italian Embassy and which is now open to the public so we spent a short time relaxing there. The view was spectacular from all the windows!

And then we went to visit one of the most famous waterfalls in Japan. Small by comparison to some of the wonders of the world but in lovely surroundings. This was the first time for me to get to this waterfall (another elevator breaking through nature to take all the tourists right to the "natural sight") so now I can say I've been to Nikko. (I live here, right?)

I had a lovely time with two lovely girls.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Seeing the sights

I've got tourist pictures today. Maybe people pictures tomorrow.

This weekend I had great fun entertaining two college girls from America. They are in Tokyo for a semester and were able to schedule a visit to Nikko. And one of the girls is one of my blog friend's daughter! Anyway, we did a lot of driving around and looking at the touristy sites... some that I'd never seen before too!

First we hit Mashiko and I think I've shown that pottery town on my blog twice already. This wall (on the outside of the public toilet) we thought very appropriate for a pottery town. Sort of a dangerous mosaic. I wouldn't want to trip and fall against the wall.

And this is a raccoon dog. Ceramic raccoon dogs can be seen all over Japan and they seem to have magical powers but all of them carry an osake jug, a shade hat and are well endowed. This is a huge ceramic raccoon dogs that brings a lot of chuckles from tourists.

And after visiting the pottery town we made a stop at my favorite fabric store to purchase fabric for my blog friend. I wanted you to see how small this shop is and how the colors of the fabric tend to be dark and muted.

Glory, I've got way too many pictures. I guess I'll post more scenery tomorrow too...

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Yesterday Mr. Furui paid me the extreme compliment of commenting on my blog. I am just tickled pink to think that an esteemed physicist would bow to explain the theory/formula that was the inspiration for his wife's quilt. And that he thought I'd be able to understand it!!! For details look in the comments of the Mrs. Furui's Electric Quilt post.

It occurred to me when writing that post that Mr. Furui is probably Dr. Furui. And his students and colleagues know him as Prof. Furui. In Japanese the title would be sensei. But sensei can mean anything from a hairdresser, to an English teacher, to a sports coach, to a politician, to a medical doctor, to a pastor, to someone with a PhD. It's all sensei in Japanese. A little discouraging after all those years of study and research and university tuition. This is possibly a reflection of the humbleness in Japanese society. (Sensei in Chinese characters means someone who has gone the path of life before).

I couple of years ago I did write a post about titles in Japan and how they are used in everyday conversation and why I refer to my quilting friends as Mrs. So-and-so. My English students call me "Tanya-teacher" being a literal translation of "Tanya sensei" or sometimes I'm just "Teacher" to them. I can't seem to get any of my younger students into the habit of calling me Mrs. Watanabe though I would prefer to be plain ol' Tanya.

Anyway, I feel like I'm cheating Mr. Furui from his proper title but still I call him "Furui-san" and he is just Mrs. Furui's husband to me.

Begging apologies, Furui-san.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


You wouldn't know it from my blog but Japan is a very alcohol oriented society. Neither Tetsu nor I are drinkers so we are pretty much out of the drinking culture, but drinking plays a large part in social and business relationships. I was reminded of this last night.

Yesterday I had to attend a general meeting of the Traffic Safety Association. This is a slow moving, extremely formal recitation of last year's programs, this year's budget and general approval of the new chairpersons. Many formal speeches given by various members, formal introduction of new members (me), and formal asking of guidance (by me) to the rest of the members in the association. Lots and lots of bowing... Formal is the word.

But... after the meeting, everyone shed their formality and we moved into a banquet room for a sit down Japanese dinner and general party to welcome the new members (me).

It was a delicious meal but I'll be glad if I don't have to do it again for another year! I sat across from two men (assigned seats) and the man in front of me never touched his dinner at all. He bounced to his feet after the official opening of the banquet and came back with two individual bottles of osake. He must have gone through at least 8 on his own during the evening but that wasn't all.

Besides osake (warmed and iced) there were an infinite number of beer bottles on the tables and one could call for a Japanese style aquavit too. True, there were a few bottles of tea and soda but except for a couple of us, those were basically ignored!

Since I'm not a drinker I don't really get the etiquette right but pretty soon the 30 some people in the room were making the rounds of greetings. There I'd sit and someone would come by and say hello and grab a bottle of something (anything) and try to fill my glass. I persuaded everyone that I really was enjoying my sodas but the man across from me eagerly downed his glass and held it out for more. And he wasn't the only one! For the next two hours people milled around filling each other's glasses and getting more and more rowdy (and raunchy...) I mean, these were the somber faced businesslike men and women whom I'd met at the city hall and police station a few weeks ago and now they were yelling across the room, laughing uproariously and getting slightly beyond my comfort zone in the topic of conversation...

I tried my best to properly fill my dinner partner's glass, (stand when serving the other party, hold the bottle in two hands). And I was reminded that it wasn't polite to refuse the reciprocal drink nor was I being polite if I tried to fill my own glass with more soda.

I came home with a slight headache and I was one of the few people in the group that wasn't going to be nursing a hangover!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mrs. Furui's Electric Quilt

Yesterday we had a patchwork day but didn't get too much accomplished. Sigh... The Mini-Round Robin isn't finished yet. Rats. I was hoping that those could be revealed. Some people can't keep to a schedule~♪~♪~♪ So no pictures.

Instead we went ahead and discussed out next "game" and yes, even the slower members were eager to particpate again.

So. We've decided to do a block swap... I guess that's what it's called. Each person will choose a block that they want made and send around a pattern and instructions. Month by month other members will make blocks to add to the person's envelope while having their own blocks worked on by still other members. You know what I mean... Is this called a swap? A friendship something or other? Anyway a couple of the ladies were pouring over books trying to choose what blocks they want made.

I don't know! What do I want made? Not something that can be pieced on machine because most of these ladies don't do machine piecing. So no nine patches or strip blocks. Something more complicated but not so intricate that the less experienced and slower members will get frustrated. I thought about a Drunkard's Path but can these ladies do curves? I really like the block called Alabama Beauty with LOTS of curves but maybe that really is too difficult... I've thought about Lemon Stars and Friendship Stars but another person has chosen those. Any thoughts on what would make a good, scrappy, fun quilt? There are only 6 or 7 of us participating so this is not going to be a huge quilt but with smaller blocks we agreed we'd make 5 or 6 each...

And on a completely different vein...

Mrs. Furui's husband is a physicist. A brilliant physicist! He works in the world of numbers and formulas and theories etc. And you know Mrs. Furui's delicate, intricate, feminine handwork. Usually the Furui family's two interests rarely cross but a couple of months ago Mr. Furui became very excited about a physics book (lots of numbers and formulas so that even though it was in English I didn't understand a tad!) The physicist talked about a QUILT that his wife had made for him that showed the correlation between electric pathways and perfect squares within squares or some such thing.... Our quilt group thought it very funny that there are other physicist/quilter couples like Mr. and Mrs. Furui in the world!

Mr. Furui asked Mrs. Furui to make him a quilt that he could use when explaining the physics theory in his lectures... All very complicated and I don't think even Mrs. Furui understands but she made him this quilt of all perfect squares, every one a different size (the smallest being 1 centimeter large.) The things a quilter will do for her husband!

I hope you are happy with your quilt Mr. Furui!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Vending machines

Let's see... What do I want to talk about today? Any questions about Japanese life?

Depending on how you look at it, an unfortunate part of the Japanese scenery are the vending machines that dot the landscape. The are always so glaringly bright and gaudy!Some people think these are the gods' gifts to weary drivers. I think they are one of the worst inventions ever made! (Tetsu loves them.)

Vending machines will sell anything and everything. The most typical of course, are the soft drink machines. Nowadays from the vending machine it will cost about $1.50 to buy plastic bottles of water, tea, cola, coffee etc. The machines will dispense either cold drinks or hot drinks so in winter one can warm up a bit on a long drive or walk, and in the summer a refreshing drink is at your fingertips.

The drink machines annoy me because people freely partake of their refreshment and then toss the cans and bottles into the forest. No manners or morals or whatever and each morning that Tetsu and I take Choco for a walk there is a can or two that wasn't there the day before. Tetsu and I weekly pick up cans from the forest on our routine walk and I will occasionally make a jaunt to the main road and pick up cans practically tearing my arms from my shoulders with the load I bring home after only a half hour of de-littering. GRRRR. Those stupid machines are at fault! (I know... it is really people.)

But you cannot believe what else is sold by vending machines! Liquor! Excuse me folks... aren't their laws about underage drinking etc? Yes, I suppose there are but still vending machines will sell beer and osake and those cans join the soft drink cans in the forest. And if a teenager wants to drink I suppose there is no stopping him from going to the neighborhood vending machine.

Another pet peeve of mine are the dumb vending machines that sell cigarettes... Located right in front of the schools!!! (This picture is of the one in front of the elementary school.) A few years ago I remember stopping at the stoplight in front of the jr. high school and watching a jr. high girl (in her gym wear) pull up to the vending machine on her school bicycle and buy a pack of cigarettes! In broad daylight! Within sight of the school! The laws have become a little stricter, and vending machines have become more technologically advanced and as of two years ago cigarette vending machines require you to insert a pre-registered card that certifies that the purchaser is of age. Other machines will have cameras and computers that can somehow detect if a person is underage (something about the facial structure).

And glory! There are vending machines that even sell pornography and not very well hidden at that!

There are some vending machines that sell weird products such curry noodles, soy sauce ramen, and simmered fish cakes and vegetables. From a can? No, thank you.

The chocolate Kit-Kats look very tempting though...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Applique cushions

Thank you for your advice on long arm quilting the Orange and Cherry Jubilee. I have been combing the Internet for places near my mother's home that might teach long arm classes or have long arm services. I think I will take the quilt with me this summer, check around in person, make the decision about how much I want to spend and do something about it this summer... and if I can't make the splurge or find the time I can always carry it back to Japan and think let it rest in the closet for another year. It's lived there for quite awhile anyway... Who knows. When and if I finish the Feathered Star I might WANT another quilt on my quilt hoop.

In the meantime I FINALLY finished both applique cushions from Mrs. Furui's book Hop To It. I think what I like best about the book is the colors that are used so I'm not buying the book. I'm sure Mrs. Furui will loan it to me again if I have an inkling towards applique in the future. I should be able to figure out colors myself.

These are machine appliqued (both using freezer paper but one with edges turned under) and when they are finished I can't really tell the difference. I guess I'll go with the non-edge turn process. That was easier.

Off for a busy day today.