Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Taking a shower in the apartment

Our apartment has a “bath room” that is a separate place from the toilet room. It is a big shower stall with a tiny tub on the side.

The purpose is to get clean using the shower, then soak in the tub. If everyone gets in the tub clean, the water can be reused and reheated.  We don’t use the tub.

Turning on the shower is a complicated and somewhat scary thing and I still don’t do it myself.  Ted does it for me. Isn’t he good?

The hot water heater is this box at the end of the tub.

First you have to close the knobs and fill up the tank.

Then you have to turn on the gas.

I’m not sure about the rest of the stuff, but the pilot light has to be lit and you look for a flame in the little window and crank another knob.

This thing makes the water come from the tub faucet or the shower.

This one controls the temperature.

I do know how to turn the shower off – I have to turn four knobs.  Ted empties the tank. It’s not a very nice bathroom, but it serves its purpose and you get used to it. Plus, it's all part of the big adventure.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Sashiko is a combination of two Japanese words: sashi (to stitch or pierce) and ko (small). Sashiko is a stitching technique originally used to patch and reinforce the indigo blue fabric garments worn by Japanese fisherman. Now it is more of a decorative technique than for a utilitarian purpose. The stitch is a running, or quilting, type stitch with the top part of the stitch longer than the underneath part.  The key to making it beautiful is a consistent stitch length.

I took Lois Kershner’s Sashiko class at the Chicago EGA National Seminar.  The project was a vest, but you could make a table runner if the vest didn’t appeal to you.  I chose the table runner option. Here is Lois showing the front and back of her vest.

I loved how hers looked, but wasn’t so happy with mine.  The even consistent stitches take a lot of practice. I had taken four classes at that seminar, so when I got home, I put the sashiko project away and worked on other things, thinking I would come back to it later.  A year or two later, Lois had a table at merchandise night at Calloway School of Needlearts and was selling a kit for a small sashiko project.  I bought it, thinking I could practice with the smaller project before going back to the class project from Chicago.  So that made two unfinished sashiko projects.  If you will recall, I recently purchased a small printed piece of sashiko cloth when I went to the mall here. My thinking on this was that I could stitch the printed stitch lengths to get the hang of even length stitches.  Here’s what I have done so far.

Even with the printed fabric, it is difficult to make the stitches the same length all the time.  As you can see, there are a lot of stitches yet to do, so maybe I will get the hang of it by the time I complete this.

Here’s the link to Lois Kershner’s website:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Public Toilets in Japan

If you are going to be out and about, sooner or later you are going to have to use the public toilet. Many public places, such as the train station and at the university, there are the traditional Japanese squat toilets. I know - eew!

Other places have regular western toilets, some with heated seats and automatic flushing.  A common thing to find in a public toilet is a little motion detection machine that makes flushing sounds.  I read a long time ago that these were invented because people were flushing the toilets to create the sound and wasting a lot of water.

Some stalls have baby jails.

High tech toilets, with a side bar control panel are also found in Japan.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen one of these in the US.

Some toilets stalls have little soap dispensers for washing the toilet seat.

While there is usually soap at the sink, you never find paper towels to dry your hands.  Cosco (the big American store in Sapporo) had a hand drying machine in the rest room. Toilet paper in public rest rooms is not as common as in the US, which is why it is good to carry little tissue packs that are always being handed out.  It's always good to be prepared.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Where am I?

I am living in Hokkaido, Japan, not far from the city of Sapporo shown on this map.

Hokkaido is the second largest and most northern of Japan’s four islands, near Russia, with coastlines on the Sea of Japan, the Pacific Ocean, and the Sea of Okhotsk. 

Hokkaido has at least five volcanoes that are considered active. There are many natural areas and national parks, with tourism an important part of the economy. People come from all over the world to ski in Hokkaido.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you already know how much snow we get! Agriculture is also important to the economy in Hokkaido with wheat, soybeans, potatoes, sugar beet, onions, pumpkins, and corn grown here.

Eastern Hokkaido is well known to birdwatchers and is home to red-crested white cranes, which are a symbol of Japan.  At the beginning of the twentieth century they were thought to be almost extinct, but now number about one thousand. With a wing span of two meters they are the largest birds in Japan.

Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido and the fifth largest city in Japan.  It is famous for the Snow Festival and for hosting the 1972 Winter Olympics.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Kimono Rentals

Near the cafeteria at the university is a small shop that rents kimonos.  Kimonos are very expensive to buy to wear to graduation or Coming of Age ceremonies, so rental kimonos are available in a variety of colors and styles at this shop.

As you can see from this tag, it is still expensive to rent the kimonos.

Wikepedia has this to say about kimonos: “The kimono is a Japanese traditional garment worn by men, women and children. The word "kimono", which literally means a "thing to wear" (ki "wear" and mono "thing"), has come to denote these full-length robes. Kimono are T-shaped, straight-lined robes worn so that the hem falls to the ankle, with attached collars and long, wide sleeves. Kimono are wrapped around the body, always with the left side over the right (except when dressing the dead for burial), and secured by a sash called an obi, which is tied at the back. Kimono are generally worn with traditional footwear (especially zōri or geta) and split-toe socks (tabi).

Today, kimono are most often worn by women, and on special occasions. Traditionally, unmarried women wore a style of kimono called furisode, with almost floor-length sleeves, on special occasions. A few older women and even fewer men still wear the kimono on a daily basis. Men wear the kimono most often at weddings, tea ceremonies, and other very special or very formal occasions. Professional sumo wrestlers are often seen in the kimono because they are required to wear traditional Japanese dress whenever appearing in public.

A woman's kimono may easily exceed US$10,000; a complete kimono outfit, with kimono, undergarments, obi, ties, socks, sandals, and accessories, can exceed US$20,000. A single obi may cost several thousand dollars. However, most kimonos owned by kimono hobbyists or by practitioners of traditional arts are far less expensive. Enterprising people make their own kimono and undergarments by following a standard pattern, or by recycling older kimonos. Cheaper and machine-made fabrics can substitute for the traditional hand-dyed silk. There is also a thriving business in Japan for second-hand kimonos, which can cost as little as ¥500 (about $5). Women's obis, however, mostly remain an expensive item. Although simple patterned or plain colored ones can cost as little as ¥1,500 (about $15), even a used obi can cost hundreds of dollars, and experienced craftsmanship is required to make them. Men's obis, even those made from silk, tend to be much less expensive, because they are narrower, shorter and less decorative than those worn by women.”

 I took these photos at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

According to their website, some Japanese symbols include:  crane- long life, faithfulness; tortoise - long life; lotus flower enlightenment, purity.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Spring Garden

No, the snow hasn’t melted yet.  In fact, it continues to fall here in what I think must be the snow capital of the world.  The spring garden I’m writing about is a stitched garden.

In October, before I left the US, three of my friends and I took a class in Greensboro with teacher Catherine Jordan.

The project is a knot garden stitched on linen in Medici wool and hand dyed Anchor floss, with a small amount of fabric paint for emphasis. Catherine Jordan finished her piece as the top of a box that looks like a book. I thought my piece was lost in the move, but it has turned up and I am ready to work on it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Snow Damage

According to, the island of Hokkaido has endured record snowfall since late December.  Currently there are snowdrifts 15 meters high. reports that 43 people have died in northern Japan while shoveling snow off of roofs this winter, with seven more killed by heavy snow falling from buildings, and four have died in avalanches. The claims that 83 people have died in Japan this winter in snow related incidents. Roofs have collapsed, leaving survivors homeless.

Everyone is worn out from shoveling and tired of all the damage the snow causes. University workers are staying busy, repairing broken windows and removing snow from the roof tops.

Yesterday was our day to shovel again.  At least we just have to shovel the entrances and not the roofs!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Four Beaded Nutcrackers

I’m not usually one to stitch a project straight through from start to finish.  I usually go from one to another and start more in between without finishing anything.  I’ve never understood the people who work on only one thing and have only one project, finishing it before starting a new one. Here we have a very small space, so I really can’t have twelve projects all sitting out at once. 

I just finished the four beaded nutcrackers, working straight through from start to finish.  Who knew I could do it?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ski Race Trip - Part 2

Everyone was up by 6 am Sunday.  We had to clean before we could check out of the youth hostel.  Everyone cleaned their own sleeping areas and the group cleaned the bathrooms and common areas.  Some elderly people vacuumed the hallway.  After that was all done, we met in a lounge area for our box breakfast, which was faster than eating in the cafeteria. This looks more like what we might eat for lunch in the US, but here it is breakfast.

Before getting on the shuttle bus
We took shuttle buses to the race start areas.  The 38.3 km race and the 10 km race both started at 9 am at different locations.  The 20 km race started at 10 am at the same place as the 38.3 km race. I had to leave on an earlier shuttle than Ted and go to a different location, so he asked one of the students who was in the 10 km to watch out for me.  I was told to look for the bus that said Biei in hiragana.  Both buses said Biei!  We did get on the right bus and went to the start area.  On the way we saw a deer and two Hokkaido foxes in the snow. The start area was in the middle of nowhere, near a farm and we saw some sheep.

Just like at running races!

The race program had a list of all the people entered in the three races and their ages.  My name and Ted’s name were the only two that weren’t in kanji, so I think the other participants were all from Japan.  There were 228 people in my event, ranging in age from 7 to 92!  In Ted’s event, there were 432, with ages from 9 to 82. The day started mostly sunny, with some light snowflakes falling, like glitter. It was crowded at the start of my race, but it thinned out after a while.  I had some beautiful scenery to look at and stopped a few times to take pictures.

The second half of Ted’s race was my course, but it was later in the day when he skied that section.  The clouds hid the sun and the snow fell harder by then.

20 km race start

I finished in 1 hour and 50 minutes and stayed at the finish line to watch and cheer for the other finishers.  People wore all different outfits – from skin hugging tights to blue jeans, and one woman was dressed like a cow.

Taking off timing chip

the 92 year old skier

Ted finished his race in 3 hours and 29 minutes. Some of his students had already finished, so he had a nice cheering section when he came in.

There was a big cheering section for the last student to finish. I’m really impressed with the students here.

We all received “Record Certificates” at the end, with name, time, and other things written in Japanese. There are two temperatures and I think it must be the temperature when we started and when we finished.  Mine says -13 degrees C and -11 C.  Ted’s says -11 C and -16 C.  We’ll put the certificates in the scrapbook.

The ride home was quiet.  I think everyone was tired, as we were. Even though I didn’t know what was happening until it did, it was a fun weekend trip.