Saturday, March 31, 2012

How to Behave on the Escalator

When I was at the train station yesterday, I took these photos of the escalator sign while moving. (Yes, I had to go up and down more than once to get a view without people in front.) Most of the train station signs are only in Japanese.  This one is also in English to make sure English speakers understand how to behave on the escalator.

Just in case you can’t read from the photos:
Don’t get snagged
Do not lean out
Hold on to your luggage
Do not run up or down
Hold on to the handrail
Will stop suddenly in an emergency
No horseplay
Step off and keep moving

I have to say, in all the times I’ve been at the train station, I’ve never seen any mishap on the escalator, so the sign must be doing its job.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Snow Skiing in Hokkaido

Skiing is a big part of the tourism industry in Hokkaido and Japan.  There are 87 snow/ski resorts in Hokkaido and over 600 in Japan. In all of the US there are only 427 ski areas. reports that almost all inhabitants of Japan are within a couple of hours of a ski area.   Japan is about the size of the state of California (which has 30 ski areas). Who knew there were so many ski areas in Japan?

This year’s weather was not good for skiing in the US, but in Hokkaido, it was very good.   Part of Ted's job is teaching skiing and taking students on skiing field trips. He was fortunate to be able to ski at several different resorts in Hokkaido this winter and thinks the snow here is the best he’s ever experienced.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Vacation Album

Since moving to Hokkaido I’ve gotten behind in my album making. In the US, I’d set up a six foot folding table in the living room and work on the albums for a week or so at a time while watching television.  The only table we have here is smaller than a card table and we have to eat at that table, so I haven’t worked on any albums here.  Ted was gone on a three day backcountry ski trip with his class, so I thought this would be a good time to work on the album from our recent vacation.  I haven’t made photo prints yet, but I have a lot of “memorabilia” for the album. I use Creative Memories albums, so I can insert pages in the appropriate places when I do get the photos made.
When I’m on vacation, I save all the brochures and tickets and I buy post cards for the album.  Each evening I put everything in a little bag (often the one I get with the post card purchase) and date it, so everything is in order when I get home and ready to work on the album.

With the daily bags, the guide book and my travel diary with notes about where we went, what we did, and how much we spent, I’m ready to work.  I know this is altogether too much detail for most people, but that’s how I am and what I do. I like to document everything.

I gather up my supplies and am ready to work.  For my travel albums, I usually do some kind of title page, but I don’t do a lot of frou frou in the rest of the album.

Now that I have all my tools and stuff out, I might catch up on the other three months since I’ve been here. When I’m old(er) and my memory is gone, I’ll have my whole life in these albums to remind me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Winter Wanes

I don’t know if waxing and waning applies to winter, like it does the moon.  Waxing is when it increases and waning is when it decreases, if you get them mixed up, like I do.  It seems to me that winter is waning here. We continue to get snow, but it is less frequent and less intense. This is what it looked like out my windows yesterday after the sun came up and the snow plow had been through the parking lot. We had a few inches of new snow.

I can’t say that I mind or even that I am tired of the snow yet. If I were in North Carolina and it was still snowing the end of March, I’d probably be tired of it. I’d have to drive in it and walk to and from my car in it.  Here, it’s kind of like reading a mystery. You can try to anticipate or guess what is going to happen next, but you don’t know until it does happen.  We’ve had above freezing days and the snow on the streets is melting, leading me to think it’s getting to be spring.  Some days it still snows and the temperatures stay below freezing. Even though it’s still winter here, I think winter is waning.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Inkan or Hanko

In Japan, a stamp or seal called an Inkan or Hanko is used as authentication for all official things like bank accounts and employment records and other important documents, in the way a signature is used in the US. The stamp uses red ink and is supposed to be unique to each person.

The new school year will be starting in a couple of weeks and I will be teaching a two hour communication class (which means English) to second year outdoor life students. Because of my part-time employment, I had to have my own Hanko made.  We went to the little stamp shop (across from the pet shop) at the mall and Ted told the man working there (in Japanese) what I wanted. They have all kinds of stamps and cases and inks, some of them very expensive. Being very frugal, I just wanted the most basic thing that would do the job. The cheapest one was 1480 yen and that was what I ordered.  I showed the man my alien registration card (which is good until July, as you know from my earlier post) and he came up with what my name would be in katakana. He gave me the receipt and said come back tomorrow.

I came back the next day and picked it up. The case is the size of a tube of lipstick and has my name in red ink inside. I thought the alien registration card made me official, but now I’m really official because I have the hanko. Now, I just need to be careful not to lose it!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Pet Shop

I love cats and kittens.  I like dogs and other animals too, but I’m especially fond of felines. Ted and I were at the mall the other day and stopped in to look at the pet shop.  The kittens and puppies were so adorable, but so expensive.
188,000 yen!

one is 188,000 yen and the other 178,000

I'm not sure, but I think this one is usually 198,000 and is 100,000 yen today

Puppies are only 168,000 yen
We can’t have a pet where we live, but even if we could, I don’t think we could afford to have one.  I’ve talked about this with another student (from California) in my Japanese class.  He, too, was shocked at the price.  There must not be the problem with stray animals and animal shelters here, like in the US. The harsh Hokkaido winters may prevent stray animals from surviving here.  I wonder if the rest of Japan is like Hokkaido when it comes to the cost of kittens and puppies.

                                          In Memory of Monica Moo

She always wanted to help me when I was stitching
Yes, of course, she could read

I miss you Moo!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Six Month Old Husband

Ted and I just celebrated our ½ year anniversary. You might say,” Really, only six months?”  Really, we got married six months ago.

We met in the mid-80’s at staff training at ASU’s Camp Broadstone and found out we liked a lot of the same kinds of things. We went hiking and canoeing and caving together and enjoyed each other’s company. 

We later moved away from the mountains and went our own ways for a few years, but kept in touch, eventually coming back together. This is the way it was meant to be. You are never too old. Or, being a six month old husband, never too young.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Japanese Income Taxes

In Japan, income tax is paid annually by individuals on the national, prefectural and municipal levels. The amount is calculated based on the net income of the individual person of the income earned in Japan. Income tax in Japan is based on a self-assessment system (a person determines the tax amount himself or herself by filing a tax return) in combination with a withholding tax system (taxes are subtracted from salaries and wages and submitted by the employer). It is due on March 15th. Thanks to the withholding tax system, most employees in Japan do not need to file a tax return.

Ted filled out the Japanese tax form with the help of someone he works with. The amount of tax he owed was the exact amount that had been withheld by his employer. Except for the form being in Japanese, it was simple and straightforward.

We also have to file our taxes in the US, which isn’t such a simple thing to do from here. We both worked in the US last year and we have income from the rental of our home.  We are still waiting on the 1099 from the rental agent! (If you are considering renting out your home in NC, contact me and let me tell you which company should not be trusted with your home.)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Trash or Treasure?

Last week on Non-Burnable Trash Day, I found these two things in the trash cage:

I plugged in the sewing machine and it runs.  I need to get some new needles and bobbins and see how well it works.  So far, it looks promising.

The artist kit is brand new.  None of the crayons, pencils, markers, paints, or anything else in the kit have been used.  On top of that it all comes in a nice carry case.

I can’t imagine why anyone put these two things out as trash. They are my new treasures.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Bucket List coffee

Have you seen the movie The Bucket List?  Remember the coffee Jack Nicholson’s character drinks?
One of Ted’s co-workers went to Bali with a group of students and brought this back for Ted as omiyage:

The back of the package says (in several languages, including this English version):  “Luwak Coffee, or Civet Coffee, it is made out of coffee cherries which have been eaten by and passed through the digestive tract of the Asian palm civet.  After being collected the coffee beans are higienically processed and perfectly roasted for keeping the complex distinctive flavors.”

I think Ted will be drinking this all by himself.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Not Yet!

The calendar said spring yesterday, but the weather said Not Yet!  It snowed all day, with the temperature staying in the mid-20’s F. And, it’s still snowing this morning. Our balcony is filled with snow, instead of clothes drying, flower pots, and us sitting in chairs out there, like I’ve envisioned for spring.

So, on the first day of spring, I drank hot tea, listened to an audio book, and stitched on this beaded canvas.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Shunbun no hi

Shunbun no hi or vernal equinox is the day when there is twelve hours of darkness and twelve hours of sunlight.  The origins of the holiday date back to the eighth century when it was originally called Shunki kōreisai, an event relating to Shintoism. It became a public holiday and was renamed in 1948. Like other Japanese holidays, this holiday was repackaged as a non-religious holiday for the sake of separation of religion and state. Many Japanese visit their family tombs on this day to pay their respects to their ancestors. People weed their family tombs, and leave flowers, incense and ohagi (sweet rice balls covered with red bean paste). It is tradition that ancestors' spirits prefer round food.

Happy Spring!
Mill Hill kit - cross stitch and beads on perforated paper, completed 2006

Monday, March 19, 2012

Graduation Day

The school year runs from April to March here.  Being the end of the year, it is time for graduation.  Ted and I attended the ceremony held in the university gym yesterday. Usually you have to take off your shoes as you go down the hall toward the gym, but yesterday the floors of the hall and gym were covered.
The graduates all sat in chairs in the middle facing the stage. Most of the women wore kimonos, some wore dark suits, and a few wore fancy dresses.  Quite a few of the men were in kimonos, the rest wore dark suits. We sat in a side section for faculty members.  I was surprised that there were no parents or grandparents at the ceremony.

Our upstairs neighbor, who is an administrator in the university, read the names of all the graduates and they stood.

There were speeches that I didn’t understand, although I could pick out some individual words.  There was a whole lot of bowing. Everyone bowed to everyone else in every direction.  People even bowed to the empty stage.  The stage contained a flower arrangement, a bonsai tree, and the flag of Japan.  I think they may have been bowing to the flag, but I can’t say for sure.

The band and the choir/chorus performed four times during the ceremony.  I recognized many of the music students from the concerts we’ve attended. The first two selections sounded like church songs to me, which is not what I would expect here.  The first was written by someone in the audience – I think it might have been a music professor. The words were a lot of syllables and it sounded like Gloria and dayo.  The second was Halleluiah.  I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that one in church.  The third sounded very spring like.  The last selection was Auld Lang Syne, sung with Japanese words. I checked Wikepedia and found this: “In Japan, Auld Lang Syne is well known as it's translated version "蛍の光"(read as "Hotaru no hikari")(means "lights of fireflies") translated by 稲垣千頴(Chikai Inagaki) eary Meiji era(1880s).” Hearing that song made me feel like I would cry. Pomp and Circumstance was not part of the ceremony.

Several individuals and some sports teams were recognized.

 The diplomas were not passed out during the ceremony, but saved until the party after the ceremony.
There were many parties all day and evening.