Monday, April 30, 2012

The Farmer in the Dell

We are excited about having a garden this summer in Hokkaido.  We are renting a two meter by three meter space in a community garden on the edge of town. Ted has already told me this garden is for recreational purposes, not to save money.  Vegetables are relatively cheap in Hokkaido and there are expenses involved in having a garden: seeds and gardening tools, and the rental cost which is 2300 yen for the summer. Even if it costs us money, it will be fun.  These are the seeds we’ve purchased.

So far, our “farm” consists of our balcony.  Ted has planted the some seeds in little trays to get them growing so we can later move them to the ground.

Nothing has popped up yet, but we’ll keep you posted.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Showa no hi

April 29th is the Japanese national holiday Showa no hi, in honor of the birthday of Emperor Hirohito who reigned from 1926 to 1989. The holiday is to encourage the reflection of the turbulent years of the emperor’s reign rather than to glorify the emperor. Because April 29th falls on a Sunday this year, the holiday will be celebrated on Monday.

We went to see the 1939 movie Wuthering Heights at the library yesterday afternoon.  It was in English with Japanese subtitles. The movie was 105 minutes and we were happy that there were chairs. When I go somewhere in Japan, I never know if I will have to remove my shoes or if I will have to sit on the floor. The shoe thing is no big deal, but sitting on the floor for a long time is difficult.

Here is Ted in his parking place. Maybe the car will come next week. (Yes, he is wearing shorts, like he thinks it is summer already).

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Golden Week Ahead

The end of April – beginning of May in Japan has four national holidays in a week. April 29th is Showa Day (Showa no hi).  Because it falls on a Sunday, the next day (Monday) is the holiday. May 3rd is Constitution Memorial Day (Kenpo kinenbi). May 4th is Greenery Day (Midori no hi).  May 5th is Children’s Day (Kodomo no hi), also known as Boys’ Day (Tango no sekku). It’s considered the busiest holiday week after New Year’s and many people travel over the holidays. I’ll write more about them in the week ahead. Because of the holidays both my Japanese class and my English class will not be held next week. I should have plenty of time to prepare for them both.

The snow continues to melt.  We’ve had a few days with wind and/or rain, which is helping. This is the view out my back window yesterday.

This is what it looked like a week ago. 

The crocuses are popping up everywhere.  I also noticed these little red flowers yesterday. They look like miniature tulips.

Ted paid for our “new” car this week (2005 Subaru Forester).  As soon as all the paperwork is done, the car will be delivered to us. In order to buy a car here, one has to get a certificate from the city proving there is a parking space for the car. The university assigned us a parking space outside our apartment building and the city inspector came out yesterday and measured the space.  Buying a car is a complicated process here and I’m glad Ted has been taking care of all the details.

I’ve been continuing with my spring cleaning.  As I wrote earlier, one thing always turns into two. I plan to finish with the cleaning and organizing this weekend.  A clean house is a good thing. I think it’s golden.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Out of Order

Yesterday I went to the copy room at the university to make some handouts for this week’s English class. This is what I saw on the copy machine.

I’m pretty sure it means out of order, but it seems like a lot of characters for three little words. Maybe in addition to out of order it says the repairman has been called or it will be fixed next week or big paper jam. What do you think?

Everyone I meet here in Hokkaido seems to like to have his or her picture taken.  People see a camera and they pose.  I found out yesterday that even dogs like to have their pictures taken in Hokkaido.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Fire Escape

I’ve known we had a fire escape, I just hadn’t seen it. It was under the snow on our balcony.  The fire escape from the fourth floor opens onto our balcony through the ceiling of our balcony.

Ours opens onto the second floor balcony.

I was surprised to see that the instructions included instructions in English. Somewhere it should say "In case of fire, make sure you are wearing pants, not a plaid skirt."

Ted isn’t sure the opening is big enough for us.  Let's hope we never have to find out.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cross Stitch Bouquet

I’ve been spending most but not all of my time spring cleaning this week.  This is what I have been working on when I have been stitching.

I’m stitching on Robin Cloth, using six strands of DMC floss. The design is by Sam Hawkins and comes from an American School of Needlework booklet called Cross Stitch Afghans.

I’ve done quite a few cross stitch afghans over the years, mostly as gifts.  This one with five cats I made for myself in 1995.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Spring Cleaning

Have you heard the expression “One thing leads to two”? It’s the story of my life.
It started with wanting to put away the winter boots and clothes.  In the US, I had an American sized closet with a hanging rod and a regular dresser with drawers, so I kept all my clothes out year round. Plus, most of my clothes could be worn year round.  Here, we have a Japanese closet and a lot of winter specific clothes, so it makes more sense to put away the winter stuff and control the clutter.  Well, one thing led to two, and I emptied the closet so I could pack away the winter stuff and refold the clothes.

Then I decided to empty the bedroom and vacuum really well and clean everything.

I won’t show you a picture of the huge mess that was in the living room with barely a walkway to get to the kitchen or the bathroom.

The closet and the bedroom are back in order. The winter stuff is in the bottom section. You can see the differences in the kind of closets we have here. There’s no hanging rod and there are three cross-way sections, with three sliding panels on the top and three for the bottom part.  We’re still using our moving boxes as dividers for our clothes, but after we get a car we might get some kind of real shelves for the closet. It’s hard to carry that kind of thing home on the bus or when you are walking.

The bedroom is organized, now for the rest of the apartment….

Monday, April 23, 2012

Spring Laundry

Like everyone else, we’ve had to hang our clothes to dry inside all winter long. Yesterday for the first time, I hung the clothes out on the balcony.  There was a nice breeze and the clothes dried quickly.

Along with the warmer temperatures and the little flowers, we’ve noticed more birds.  It must finally be spring.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Business of Saturday

Ted has to work a lot of weekends, going on field trips or doing camps with students.  This weekend was free, so we planned to do some shopping and errands together.

There is a free bus that goes to the shopping mall every two hours from near us starting at 8:38 am. The 10:38 am bus is always crowded with the grannies and their shopping carts, so it is better to go at 8:38 am. The mall opens at 9:00 am and the bus gets there a few minutes before.  While waiting for the doors to open, I noticed this sign in kanji and English. Do you see the symbol for fire (the person running away)? There is one strange symbol in common with all three of these warnings.  I’m going to have to ask someone what it means.

In the US you don’t often see pay phones anymore, but here in Japan they are common.

We walked through the stitching store without buying anything on the way to the pet store.  Last time they had no cats, but today there were three fluffy expensive kittens. Kawaii desu. The real reason we went to the mall was to look at curtains for the bedroom.  We found a set we wanted to buy, but we didn’t buy them at that time because we were going to another shopping area and didn’t want to carry them all morning. We would have to come back here to catch the bus home, so we thought we’d buy them then. Our next stop was to be the Hyaku Yen store that opened at 10 am, but it was early yet, so we had a coffee break at Mr. Donut. Free coffee refills are normal in the US, but not here.  Mr. Donut has good coffee and they refill your cup.  So, after two cups of coffee and a donut, we started walking to the other shopping area.  While walking we met up with two of Ted’s students who were riding their bikes to another town 15 miles away!

This second shopping area has a Home Mac store (kind of like Home Depot), a Big House grocery, and the giant Hyaku Yen.  At Home Mac we bought a big bag of dirt and looked at gardening tools because we are going to have a patch in the community vegetable garden when the snow melts. Ted carried the heavy bag of dirt in the backpack the rest of the morning.

At Big House we bought some groceries.  It’s cheaper than the neighborhood Haruki, but it’s far away and not so easy to get to from where we live.  At the Hyaku Yen store we bought some vegetable seeds and a pack of sunflower seeds. Ted’s going to get them started growing in tiny pots so that they will be ready to plant when the snow is gone. By the time we got back to where the bus stop is, it was almost 12 noon, when the bus would be coming. We didn’t want to miss the noon bus because we’d have to wait until 2 pm for the next one. We raced to get to the upstairs store and buy the curtains and made it to the bus stop with a few minutes to spare.  One thing you can count on here is that public transportation runs on time. 

After lunch at home, we went to the library. I filled out a short form and gave the librarian the form along with my alien card and received my very own library card.  Even though the form and my alien card spell out Pamela clearly, she typed my name into her computer as Pamera.  I didn’t correct her.  I checked out one book in English.  I’ve been reading from my iPod so long, will I remember how to hold a book?  We took the long way home to check on the remaining snow and see the flowers that have just started popping up.

The business of Saturday was taken care of.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The English Class

English class went well this week. Last time I told them the name of the text book we would be using and that it would be okay if they wanted to share books to save money. One student came in with a stack of books and numbers in a box for the students to choose book sharing partners.  I was amazed that they were so organized!

After reviewing what we covered last time, we moved on to the Summer Olympics.  We talked about when they start and about some of the events. Each student chose an event he or she liked and I gave them stickers to decorate their name tents. They practiced telling what their partner’s favorite event was.

I taped pages with a two paragraph story on the back wall and had them do a “running dictation”, an exercise that incorporates reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Each pair of students had a designated Reader and one who acted as the Writer.  The reader ran to the back of the room and read the story, then ran back to the writer in the front of the room and told the partner what the story said so that person could write it down. The reader could run back and forth as many times as it took. When all of the pairs had what they thought the story said, I let them work in pairs of pairs to compare and make changes if they wanted. They took turns reading what they had written aloud and we talked about the words they didn't know, like "New Jersey".

We reviewed pronouns and present tense, then divided into two groups to play a question and answer card game, to say what people like to do on the weekend. I gave them some homework assignments and the class time was over.  It went by quickly for me and I was glad no one fell asleep.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Japanese Class

This week we started the class with a Japanese card game.  I think it is called karuta, but I’m not sure about that.  It is played with a deck of cards that each have a hiragana symbol and a picture on it. The cards are spread out on the table, so everyone can see the hiragana symbols.  One person (the sensei in our class) reads something about the picture and everyone tries to find the hiragana symbol for the first sound of the sentence.  The person who correctly grabs the card gets to keep it and the one with the most cards at the end wins.  The cards we played with were about the history of Hokkaido.  It was very interesting!  The first night I went to Japanese class we played this game with a deck of cards that had flags of different countries.  I’m happy to say that my hiragana recognition was much better this week than the first week.

One of the exercises in the class this week involved dialogs with people referring to their family members. I was very surprised to find out that the word a person refers to his or her own family members is not the same word someone else calls that person.  How is it that I haven’t heard of this before? The words are also different depending on whether that person is older or younger. I call my husband otto, but when you refer to him, he is goshugin.  You call your own father chichi, but I would call your father otousan.  I think I am going to have to make some flash cards for this new vocabulary.  There are a lot of family member words!

 My classmates read my post about the library and gave me advice on what I need to do to get a library card.  I also found out that with a library card, I can check out ten books at a time!  I plan to go to the library on Saturday to see about getting a library card. Everyone is so helpful.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Kanji are the characters used in Japanese writing (along with hiragana and katakana). A single kanji may have 10 or more meanings, depending on the context. The total number of possible characters is disputed.  Wikipedia says there may be 50,000 -100,000, with approximately 2000-3000 in common use. Japanese school children are expected to learn about 1000 by the time they finish the sixth grade. By the end of the ninth grade, students are expected to know about 2000, which is the number a person needs to know to read a Japanese newspaper.
I’ve accepted that I will never read a Japanese newspaper. I guess I’m not as smart as a Japanese fifth grader.  I’ve mostly figured out hiragana and am just starting to learn katakana. To read most signs or anything else, you need to know all three.

From looking at some signs over and over, I have figured out a few kanji.
The symbol for “yen” looks like an elephant with its trunk down.

“Minutes” looks like a dancing skirt with no upper body.

“Park” (as in outdoor area, not what you do with your car) looks like a three sided tent with an open tarp over it.

“Person” looks like a wishbone.

“Exit” looks like a double trident.

“Entrance” looks like a box.

“Up” looks like a stair master.

“Down” looks like an F slanting down.

“Fire” looks like a person running away.

“Mountain” looks like three skinny mountains.

It’s not easy being illiterate.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Little Toolie Things

Every stitcher needs little toolie things.  It’s hard to be a stitcher without them.  Maybe impossible.

Okuda San is new to stitching and didn’t have any little toolie things.  We are working to fix that.  To get started with a few little toolie things, I made up a simple little needle case, pin keep, and scissor fob to teach.  The only thing better than little toolie things are little toolie things that match.

This shows the finished needle case open and the second needle case before it is put together. 

Okuda San is using yellow, yellowish orange and light green as her three colors. I bought this wonderful banded linen from Susan Greening Davis. She finds all kinds of unique things on her needlework trips/tours. You can find out more about her here -

The Secret Garden
I’ve been reading a lot of books on my iPod – mostly mysteries and classics. One book that I recently finished was one that I loved as a child, The Secret Garden.  Here are some photos of my needlework necessary of the same name. This piece was designed by Lauren Sauer.

Cover of closed garden

partly open, showing robin on garden gate

gate open to show hidden needles
open flat to show inside

open flat