Sunday, June 30, 2013

Watching and Waiting

Sometimes when I am in Sapporo, I have time in between other things.  Often, I sit on a bench in Odori Park and watch people go by as I wait.  If the weather is less than ideal, I go to the underground walkway.  Recently, I had about 45 minutes to wait, so I was in the underground walkway sitting on a seat that looks like a rock, but is made from wood, watching people walk by.  I like to see what people are wearing in the “Big City”. I don’t see such stylish clothing where I live.  I notice many young women wearing high heels here that are dangerously high. They are probably glad to take their shoes off at the door when they go inside.

So anyway, I was sitting on the wood rock, eating some carrot sticks, watching and waiting.  A little boy ran up to the wood rocks and started climbing on them and his family (mother, father, and a baby in stroller) followed.  I noticed the mother’s shirt said Carbondale, Illinois. I said to her, Carbondale kara kimashita, which is not really true, but it’s easier to say I’m from Carbondale than to say, I lived in Carbondale for three years when I was in law school, then moved away for a few years, then returned to live there for about seven years, then lived somewhere else before moving to Japan. She pointed to her shirt and said Amerika desu ka? You have to understand that many people in Hokkaido wear shirts with English words printed on them and they have no idea what the shirt says. They let me take their picture, then were on their way.

A woman on another wood rock was witness to this and came over to my rock after the family left.  She told me, in English, that she was from Chiba prefecture and studies English with a Canadian teacher.  She tries to practice her English with foreigners whenever she can. She was interesting and her English was very good. She told me she is 65 years old and has three daughters and four grandsons.  She showed me family pictures on her phone. Two daughters are married and living in Hokkaido, and she is here visiting them.  Her other daughter is 33 years old, not married and living in Chiba.  My new friend said she wants to find her daughter a husband so she can have a girl grandchild. We talked for about 20 minutes, then she was on her way.

Watching and waiting can be very interesting. I never find the time to be wasted.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Real Live Nature

Ted needs to keep in shape to be able to teach all the outdoor activities classes and to keep up with his 20 year old students. In August he has a trip that involves climbing a steep mountain for several days.  He’s been practicing by climbing a steep hill to the top where there is an observation tower every day.  I sometimes accompany him.  We rarely see anyone else at this place, even though there is a great view at the top.  The other day, as we were coming down the path, we saw this kitsune(fox) and Ted took pictures. I’m always excited to see real live nature.



Friday, June 28, 2013

Beads and Cross Stitch

The after-Japanese-class-stitch-group continues working on the bead necklace project, with each stitcher working at her own pace.  Two are finished with the cross stitch and have begun working on the beads and the others are continuing with the cross stitch.  Needle threading is a challenge, especially now for those working with the bead needles.

The university-wives-group is also doing beads and cross stitch on perforated paper.  Here’s what ours looked like at the end of our get together this week. (I’m doing a new pattern in purple thread, with white, black, and purple beads).

Finally, here is a new dragonfly that I made for Ted when he was in Kyoto last week.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Fast Food in Hokkaido

In the US, the only two fast food chain restaurants that I really frequented were Qdoba and Subway. I don’t think I’ve seen any kind of Mexican food restaurants in Hokkaido, let alone Qdoba, although Taco Rice (sort of like Mexican food) is a common dish in Okinawa. I recently found a Subway sandwich shop in Sapporo and have purchased a sandwich there a few times.  It doesn’t have quite as many choices as in the US and some of the choices here, like shrimp and avocado, I hadn’t seen in the US (although that may have changed in the year and a half since I’ve been gone).  Each day of the week there is a sandwich of the day special for 320 yen.  Saturday is tamago (egg).

One thing I really like at Subway here (besides the sandwiches) is that the menu choices are written out in katakana version of the English name, not just kanji of the Japanese name, so I can read what I am ordering.  (Plus, there are pictures if I can’t figure out the katakana.)

There are quite a few McDonald’s in Hokkaido, but I haven’t eaten at one yet.  I remember being in Madrid years ago and the coffee was very strong everywhere I ate. I saw a McDonald’s and thought I could get a cup of regular coffee.  I ordered a fish sandwich and a cup of coffee.  The fish sandwich was exactly like the fish sandwiches at the American McDonald’s, but unfortunately the coffee was still the strong Spanish coffee.  Recently I read an item in one of the online Japanese news sites (in English) about a summer kick off that McDonald’s was having – any size soda for 100 yen.  The story was commenting on how specials like this will soon make Japanese people as fat as Americans.

One of our Japanese friends told us that sushi is really just fast food.  People used to eat rice and sashimi (raw fish) separately, then someone many years ago put them together and called it sushi. Kaiten sushi places (sushi on a conveyor belt) are very popular. It’s a good place to eat if you don’t speak Japanese because you can just pick what you want as it goes by. We go for Sushi Date Night and the restaurant workers there always remember us. (Sometimes I get words mixed up, like kowai-kawaii, sakura-sakana.  One time I said Taihen instead of Kaiten, so now we say Taihen Sushi all the time, even though we like it.) In case you are wondering, I never ate raw fish before coming to Hokkaido and to tell the truth, didn’t think I would like it.  I was wrong, sushi is one of my favorite things to eat here.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

One Day Ornament - Noel

The fabric is Zweigart Antique White 20 count Lugana.  The design is by Shepherd’s Bush, stitched with cotton floss over two threads. The backing fabric is from my stash.

With right sides together I stitched the two together, six threads from the design, leaving the bottom open.

 I turned it right side out and stuffed it like a little pillow. I made a hanger with yellow ribbon.

 I decided on the red buttons. The finished ornament measures about four inches square. Done in a day!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I'm Good With a Fork

People here are often surprised when foreigners are able to use chopsticks. Pretty much every time I eat with someone other than Ted, I’m told that I’m good with chopsticks, and sometimes even Ted tells me that. The other day when my neighbor was over, I served coffee and an apple pastry with a flaky crust, along with a fork to eat it with.  Without thinking, I turned the fork on its side to cut the dessert into a bite sized piece.  My neighbor, who uses chop sticks more often than forks, was not able to do what I did, and commented that I am good with a fork. No one's ever said that to me before.

This is a re-enactment and not the actual event depicted above.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Time for Supper

June 2013 - Time for Supper
Time for Supper is the name of the June 2013 Quilt of the Month at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum. The quilt artist is Eiko Okano from Japan, who donated this and seven other quilts to the IQSCM. This is the information about Okano and Time for Supper from the IQSCM:

Eiko Okano is a contemporary Japanese quiltmaker with an impressive background. She studied with the famous--and early--Japanese quiltmaker Chuck Nohara in the late-1970s and 1980s. Her quilts have been shown all over Japan and in many international locations, including the United States and France. Since its inception in 2002, her work has always been included in the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival, a huge annual exhibition held at the Tokyo Dome, which draws over a quarter-million people in a weeklong period.

Okano’s work often explores everyday themes, including food, as in this quilt, “Time for Supper.” About this piece she says, “Since Japanese cuisine is simple, first I thought it was going to be challenging to make it, but I am surprised that I could express how wonderful the Japanese cuisine is only with fabric and thread. I hope viewers of this work will enjoy our food culture such as sushi, bento (lunch box), fish, etc.”

I tried to look up the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival, but couldn’t find information in English about the 2014 Festival.  It seems to be held in January every year.  Maybe I’ll be able to go next year and if I do, I will I will watch for Eiko Okano’s quilts.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Japanese Pension

The pension system here is rather difficult for a foreigner like me to understand. I recently attended a free seminar hosted by the Sapporo International Communication Plaza Foundation to try to learn about it.  Every person (including non-Japanese) between the ages of 20 and 59 living in Japan, is required to pay into the pension system unless that person receives an exemption or is paying into the company pension system. If you work and pay at least 25 years, you qualify to receive old age pension payment. To receive the full monthly retirement benefit in the National Pension System, you have to contribute for 40 years, less years means less payment.  I learned that Japan has totalization agreements with some countries, including the US, to combine the number of years paid into the systems in each country, in order to receive benefits, but I don’t really understand how that works.

If you are a foreigner and work and pay at least six months, you can get a lump sum payment back of a fraction of what you paid in. (Maximum is a fraction of what you paid in for three years, no matter how many years more than three you paid in.)  You have to apply with documentation after you no longer have a residence in Japan and no later than two years after leaving, but if you do that, those years are no longer considered toward the minimum number of years you need to receive the old age payments.

As with Social Security in the US, people wonder if they will really get payments when they are old enough. With people living longer and fewer young people paying into the system, it is a concern. The average lifespan in Japan is 83 (86 for women and 79 for men).  One article I read said (jokingly, I think) salary men in Japan are not included in calculating the average lifespan because they drink so much that their lifespan is shortened.

I seem to know less about the whole thing now than before I went to the seminar, but maybe learning a little about it makes me think of more questions. I may be wrong, but it seems like most foreigners don’t get the benefit of what they pay in, so it’s more of a tax than an investment for old age.  Many of the foreigners I meet here seem to be here for less than five years (such as English teachers). Let’s say you live here four years teaching English and pay into the system.  When you leave, if you properly fill out the forms, you could get a part of what you paid in for three years back. I’d bet that a good percentage of the young English teachers who leave don’t even apply.  Ted and I are required to pay into the system, but even if we stayed here the rest of our lives, we aren’t going to benefit.  There aren’t enough years for us to work and pay in for 25 years (let alone 40 to get the full benefit) and we have already worked enough in the US to receive Social Security when we are old enough, so we don’t need to add the years for the totalization agreement.  If we do go back to the US after five years, at most we could get back a fraction of what is paid in for the three years.

Maybe they’ll offer another seminar so I can learn more about it.

Birthday Month Continues
Ted's students made him a birthday cake and had an impromptu party in his office.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

War on Weeds

We’ve learned a few things watching the other gardeners at the community plot where we rent a space. We put black plastic down in rows to keep the weeds from growing around the plants.

We put plastic bags around the plants to keep the wind from knocking them over.



We still have a few more things growing on our balcony and will plant them in the garden when they get a little bigger. We have watermelon seeds sprouting and hope to get many melons from our garden because they are so expensive in the store. A small round watermelon sells for 2000 yen or more.  I read in the kyodonews that the first Hokkaido watermelon of the season sold at auction last Monday for 300,000 yen. (In the US we bought large watermelon for $2 each at a roadside stand.)
We also planted Japanese pumpkin this year and I’m excited that they have little blooms already.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Mystery Solved!

I’ve finished my little mystery bag. I added more tulips and some little detached chain butterflies. I cut out the holes for the draw string and along the button hole stitches across the top.  It’s all stitched in perle cotton.

I closed the seams, using a chain stitch. I like how this finishes and use it on a lot of things.

I lined it with a cotton print.


So, what is this bag’s purpose?  It’s a bag for carrying my slippers. (Many places you have to take your shoes off at the door and public slippers are available.  I like wearing my own slippers and now I have a bag to carry them.)  I'm very pleased with how it turned out.