Saturday, December 31, 2011


The Japanese monetary unit is the Yen.  According to, the exchange rate today is 1 yen = $0.01286 US or 77.78 yen = $1.00 US.

Most of the time, I try not to do a mental conversion of yen to dollars.  I want to compare what something costs today in yen with what it is yen the next time to see if the price is good, instead of trying to figure it in dollars since I won’t be purchasing it in dollars.

There are six yen coins in these values: 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, and 500.  Bills are for 1000 yen and higher.  The five yen coin does not have a number on it, but it has a hole, like the 50 yen coin so it is easy to remember.

The one yen coins are aluminum and very light weight. They feel like play money.   We call them yennies, although I don’t believe that is the official Japanese term for these coins. 

When I’m at the Haruki, I try to have the coins lined up in my hand in order, so I can quickly figure out what I need to give the cashier and don’t take too long to pay.

Ten make a dozen here
After buying eggs several times and carefully carrying them home on slick streets from Haruki, I finally noticed there are ten in a carton not twelve like in the US! The carton is very thin clear plastic.

The DragonMaster’s Dragon
With the face in, my dragon is looking scary. I started outlining the finial spines with Accentuate, but I think it looks too weak.  I’m going to take it out and use a heavier gold. I like the red Kreinik braid #4 for the tongue, nostrils, and eye.  Six little beads make up the pupil of the eye. The area under the tongue is done in satin stitch using the Bijioux  #414, same as the finial spines. The teeth are done with two strands of SDA Blanc. This Dragonmaster has his work cut out for him with this mean Dragon!

Friday, December 30, 2011

What to Wear in Wintery Hokkaido

Back in September, when we were preparing to move here, Ted bought me a lot of winter things.  He knew I hated to shop and also that I would not be able to find things my size here in Japan if I waited to shop.  He was able to find great deals shopping online at Sierra Trading Post and other online stores. When the packages started arriving, I said do I really need six pairs of boots and six pairs of slippers and all these coats and long underwear and other things?  Apparently I do.

It’s important to dress in layers because even though it is 25 degrees F outside, it’s going to be 90 when you get inside a building and you’ll have to peel some layers off. It’s helpful to have boots you can get out of quickly when you go inside and have to put on your slippers.

If you are going to be walking outside for more than a few minutes, it’s good to have a slick coat and pair of pants on so that the snow will slide off.  Jeans are no good because the snow will stick and melt, leaving you with wet pants. Even if it is not snowing as you leave the apartment, it will be in just a few minutes. Believe me.

It’s good to have a down jacket for warmth, covered with a shell or raincoat with a hood. If you are going to be doing something like skiing or snowshowing, a thick fleece covered by a slick jacket will keep you warm and keep the snow off (snow from the sky or from falling and hitting the snow on the ground). 

 Sometimes you need fuzzy mittens to keep your fingers warm, sometimes heavy gloves, sometimes lightweight running gloves so you can take a picture.

Sometimes you need tall boots, sometimes you need boots with soles like truck tires. I would have turned my nose up at wearing furry boots in Raleigh, but furry is warm and I wear them here. 

If you are going snowshoeing, like we did yesterday, you need sturdy boots with this little ridge on the back to hold the snowshoe strap.

We went to an area on the university property where the snow was fresh and fluffy and hadn’t been disturbed yet.  It was a lot of fun. The sky was gray, but the snow waited to fall until we were back home. 

Practicing Japanese
Cars that have yellow license plates are smaller with smaller engines and their owners get tax advantages. A recent Japanese lesson covered some adjectives like big, small, old, and new. As we were walking home, I saw one of the yellow plate cars and I said to Ted “Atarashii kuruma desu.”  Ted wanted to know how I knew the car was new.  I had confused atarashii for chiisai (new for small), both words that had been in my lesson.  At least the sentence I said made sense, even if it wasn’t what I meant to say. Ted had a friend who once said he wanted to eat kodomo (children), meaning to say kudamono (fruit). No one said learning Japanese would be easy.

I’m learning some kanji on signs.  I don’t know what the first line on this sign says, but the double trident looking thing is exit and the square means enter.

I’m thankful we have this opportunity to move here and experience all these new things. The only thing I regret about leaving North Carolina is that we weren’t able to sell our house and were forced to leave it with a property management company to rent it. If you find yourself in a similar situation, let me tell you who not to trust your house with.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Second Hand Store and Learning to Read

Not having a car in Hokkaido has advantages and disadvantages.  One of the big advantages is not have to dig it out every day.  We see our neighbors constantly battling to dig out their cars from the everyday snow fall.  At times, it would be convenient to have a car to go places, but most of the time I don’t mind walking.  It’s exercise and Ted tries to teach me Japanese words and phrases as we go along or we just talk. 

 Today we walked to second hand store to find an iron. It was snowing when we left the apartment, but later the sun came out.  People take advantage of the times when the snow stops to try to catch up and remove snow from their roofs or walk ways.

I saw two Japanese irons for sale at 1100 yen and 1300 yen.  They looked pretty new but were very light weight and didn’t have the automatic shut off feature.  Since I’m not working on a project requiring an iron at the moment, I decided to wait and see if there is a better iron next time.

I did find a section of children’s books and picked this one out.  It is all in hiragana, so I thought it would be good for learning/reviewing the hiragana symbols and for learning vocabulary. I’m excited about my new (used) book.

The Japanese writing system is made up of hiragana, katakana, and kanji.  Romanji is the latin alphabet of the Japanese words.  Hiragana uses 48 basic symbols, plus some modifications made by adding a double slash mark or little circle to change the sound. It is the most basic, first taught to children, and is what I am trying to learn.  Most signs have a mixture of hiragana, katakana, and kanji, but the train signs are in hiragana, so I have been trying to sound them out as we go through each train station.  One of the most difficult things about seeing signs is not being able to just look them up in the dictionary, like you could with French or German or another language that uses letters like English.

Year of the Dragon Update
I’ve worked on the dragon since the last photos.  I’ve finished the spine.  I worked on the legs, but still need to outline them.  They are done with SDA Noir (black) and the gold scaly things are Kreinik braid #4. The black part of the belly, tail, and horns are also SDA Noir done in vertical satin stitch.  The finial spines are done in Bijoux, to be outlined with Accentuate.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The American Sized Store

We wanted to go to the store where all Americans in Hokkaido want to shop, in the outskirts of Sapporo, but getting there on public transportation was pretty difficult and we were going to have to walk for miles.  Fortunately for us, two students (Chi and Mayo) live close by the American Sized Store and the driver (Chi) said she could take us there on her way home from school today, then she would take us to the train station to go home.  People here have been incredibly helpful and nice to us here.

After signing up for  a year's membership, 4200 yen, and getting our photo ID’s made, we had American pizza at the Cosco food court.  A huge pizza with five toppings was 1200 yen and self serve coca cola product drinks were only 60 yen. Eating pizza at Cosco sounds strange, but this was really good. We enjoyed our pizza dinner before shopping.

Chi had not been to Cosco before and was amazed at the American sized products and the low prices.  She found a big bag of miniature Snicker bars that she couldn't pass up.  Ted was all about getting cheddar cheese, chocolate, and coffee.  Cheddar cheese isn't otherwise available, Japanese chocolate isn't the same as the dark chocolate he likes, and the coffee is just cheaper at Costco.  What I really wanted was Pine-Sol – and I found a gallon size bottle of it.  Ted thinks this is a year’s worth.  We’ll see how long it lasts.

We brought home some things in our backpacks and Chi is bringing the rest in her car tomorrow.  It was going to be a long walk from the train station if we had to carry it all.  We are ever so grateful for Chi’s help!

It was snowing on our walk home from the train, but not so hard as it was Sunday night and there wasn’t so much accumulated.  That may be because we were coming home at 9 pm instead of hours later.  The snow removal is really 24/7 around here.  This roof was being shoveled off and a big scooping machine and a truck were a block behind to take it away.

I've made a little more progress on the dragon.  I'll try to get a new photo posted tomorrow. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Housekeeping in Hokkaido

We live in a small (by US standards) apartment in contrast to the big house where we lived in NC. And yet, I spend more time with the housecleaning here in a day than I did in a week there.

Washing Dishes
We had a dishwasher there, we don’t here. I do the dishes after every meal here because we only have four plates, four bowls, three mugs (I accidently broke one), a few storage containers (we don’t need more because the fridge is so small it won’t hold more), some silverware, two pots and a pan.  You might say, why don’t we just buy more?  The answer is because we don’t have the room to store any more.  Well, we do have room for one more mug.

We have some high cabinets that require a chair to reach.  I don’t understand why they are so high.  Most Japanese aren’t as tall as Ted and I are. We keep extra stuff up there that we don’t need so often.

The water that comes into the kitchen sink is cold only.  We have a gas water heating machine mounted above the sink.  To get hot water, you have to turn on the gas and turn on the machine.  It’s not as convenient as hot and cold running water, but it works.

Washing Clothes
We have this teeny tiny cold water only washing machine here, not a front loading high efficiency machine, like in NC.  It only holds a few clothes at a time and you have to put everything in mesh bags to keep the clothes from twisting around and tying in knots.

We don’t have a dryer, which is normal here.  In warmer weather, people dry their clothes out on the balcony.  Now that it is winter, and below freezing most of the time, we dry our clothes inside, on hangers and these clothes pin hanging contraptions. We are limited in how much we can wash by the size of the washer and by the amount of drying space there is, so I never feel caught up on the laundry.  In addition, there are always things hanging around drying, so the house isn’t done being cleaned or straightened up.

Keeping the Floor Clean
We have a main room with a wood floor and three side rooms.  Two of the side rooms have tatami mat floors and one room has linoleum.  The step up part of the mud room has wood also.

Wood floor
According to wikepedia “A tatami is a type of mat used as a flooring material in traditional Japanese-style rooms. Traditionally made of rice straw to form the core (though nowadays sometimes the core is composed of compressed wood chip boards or polystyrene foam), with a covering of woven soft rush (igusa) straw, tatami are made in standard sizes, with the length exactly twice the width. Usually, on the long sides, they have edging (heri) of brocade or plain cloth, although some tatami have no edging.”

Here’s what ours look like. I like them because it is something traditionally Japanese, but I don’t like them because they’re not so practical.  You can’t put anything with legs on them because the legs would poke a hole. Nice for traditional Japanese sitting on the floor, but not so practical for Americans who are used to sitting in chairs.

I don’t know where they come from, but every day there are dust bunnies, so I have to vacuum every day.  This is our little vacuum cleaner. It’s good for its size, but it’s not a Rainbow.  (I didn’t mind getting rid of most of the stuff I left behind, but it was harder to part with my Rainbow vacuum cleaner.)  These dust bunnies seem to come out of nowhere. It’s such a mystery. We leave our shoes in the mud room, and besides, there’s no dirt outside – it’s all snow.  Where do these things come from?  Any way it takes a long time to vacuum every day.

Bathroom cleaning is pretty much the same, except that I don’t have any Pine-Sol here.  Yet.  Pine-Sol is my favorite cleaner and they don’t have it at the Haruki. Do you have smells that bring up good memories?  Pine-Sol does that for me.  If it smells like pine, it must be clean.

The Mud Room
It’s cold and snowy here, so we need lots of coats and boots, as well as all the other winter stuff. Coats and boots live in the mud room, along with skis and poles and gloves and hats and the bag to take to Haruki and cardboard boxes and other miscellaneous things. It needs straightened and organized constantly.

Year of the Dragon
Cleaning is really not so bad here. When I'm not cleaning, I’ve been working on the dragon’s spine. The spine is made up of lines of metallic Soft Twist, couched down with Accentuate – not so exciting as stitching goes, but the dragon is taking shape.

This little Neko-chan eats orts.

Finally, this was our “Christmas tree” this year.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The HIOC Christmas Party

We had another big adventure yesterday!  Ted has been in contact with the Hokkiado International Outdoor Club by way of FaceBook, but we hadn’t met any of the members yet.  The group’s leader, Leon, invited us to the group’s Christmas party at his home in Sapporo. It was a potluck dinner, so we made a noodle salad, then headed for the train station in the late afternoon. Ted had directions from Leon and his iPad in case we got lost. We had to walk, then take the train, then the subway, then a bus, then walk. It was about 30 degrees F and wasn’t really snowing when we left home.
We had taken the train to Sapporo before and knew what to do to get there, but the subway and bus in Sapporo were new for us.  Not being able to read Japanese makes public transportation a bigger challenge than getting around in Chicago or London.  We found the green subway line on the map and luckily the ticket machine was bilingual.  We didn’t get our money counted out fast enough so the machine timed out and we had to start over, but we did finally get our tickets.

Ted was wearing his Santa hat, so everyone was looking at him and several people wanted to practice their English with him.

The bus was a little trickier and we weren’t real sure where to get off, but we made it.  Leon had given us directions from the bus stop and after stopping at the Spar convenience store for beverages, we made it to Leon’s.

It was a friendly crowd and the food was good.  We had a nice chat with Leon, who is from New Zealand.

The two Santas - Ted and Leon

We would have liked to stay longer, but we had the walking, bus, subway, train, walking return trip, so we left while the party was still in full swing.  Sapporo and Iwamizawa are in two different weather zones.  It was snowing lightly in Sapporo.  When we stepped out of the train station in Iwamizawa, we were in what I would call a blizzard, but here it’s just considered a snow shower.  It had snowed six or eight inches and we were knee deep in new snow walking home.  It was a long walk home!

We had another fun evening and look forward to meeting up with these folks again.