Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hoppin' Holiday Season In the Village

A flurry of snow and activities has kept us busy this holiday season. Check out some of the highlights. We here at juneautojapan think every blog post should start with an adorable Nova photo.

Christmas in Japan appears to center around the more commercial aspects of the season. I've yet to hear how JC fits into the whole Christmas theme. I for one appreciate the fact that decorations and seasonal songs show up before Thanksgiving. I'm all about extending the holidays for as long as possible. Fa-la-la-la-, la-la-la-LAAAA!!!!
Hot chocolate after the following snow man making extravaganza. Super-fine powder snow, great for walking and skiing in, not so great for snowperson making.
Did you know that in Japan "yukidaruma" consist of two body segments, not three like their shapely western cousins?
Mount Fuji with personality.
Shawn wins first prize for "genki-ness" during the cotton ball on a spoon relay race.
Just after I took this Ruyua broke into tears over his white elephant gift..... he was one pass away from getting the dino jigsaw puzzle and ended up with this Santa headband instead. Oh, the devastation in those eyes!
The elementary school puts kids into table groups which consist of members from all grade levels. Table group number 4 took the prize for both the Christmas tree treasure hunt and the snowman making contest.....Mister Donut (Japan's Duncan equivalent) for everyone!
The following few shots are of a dinner sponsored by a mothers group. Six of us moms worked in a freezing cold community hall kitchen while the kids played in the heated gym next door. I have to tell you, it warmed my sometimes cynical heart to spend this evening finely chopping, peeling, talking, laughing and listening with these women. This last month I've turned a corner. I feel like I've found more of a niche here socially. As I panko-battered prawns for the deep frier, one woman asked in Japanese if there were things about living here that "gave me anxiety". I thought about shining it on and saying no, but just the fact that she was comfortable enough to ask was a huge step. So I answered honestly and gave her a couple examples. It was a great evening.Super cute bunny-family apple slices. Like origami, I think making charming animal shapes with food must be a pre-requisite for motherhood in Japan. Nova and our table mates picked from these platters with chocksticks until we were stuffed......cabbage salad, whole marinated hard boiled eggs, panko prawns, chicken, and more. For dessert, strawberry short cake. Heavy whipping cream can't be found locally though we're surrounded by dairy farms. A liter of cream has to be ordered via Internet and costs 1200 yen, nearly $12!
I wish so much this would have turned out less blurry.... this woman patiently showed me how to cut mini hot dogs so that when you throw them into a pan of oil they spring into adorable octopus, squid and crab shapes. I was so amazed with this.... I think they thought I was crazy for making such a big deal about it but come on.... that's just too fun!
Shawn, I mean Santa-sensei, made an appearance at the Komu to pass out goodies and do a photo shoot during his pre-Christmas promotional tour. FYI: Christmas is NOT one of Shawn's favorite holidays, which made this an even more special event. :)
The Komu.... an daunting subject to blog because it's almost indescribably awesome. I'll try to sum it up as best I can. The Komu, is a gigantic circular pavilion in the center of town filled with intricately and masterfully crafted wooden toys and play structures. It is free to the public on weekdays. It smells deliciously of sweet wood polish and is immaculately clean and bright with natural light. Dreamy tinkling music echoes through 6 themed rooms. It is enjoyed by young and old. You'll just have to come and see for yourself. Till then, here's a little preview that hardly does it justice.....
A giant wooden horse.
A hide and seeker's paradise with a long curving slide.....
that ends in a vat of a thousand wooden eggs. Let's just say the Komu is like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory..... just switch out all the candy with beautiful highly polished wood. Doing my part to celebrate Japan's National Library Day by reading George W Bush's favorite childhood classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar to a roomful of kids. This photo brings back painful high school drama-club memories..... what I won't do for the blog!
Everyone held their breath as Shawn balanced not 20, not 30, but 40 indoor slippers across the gym floor at the Elementary school open-house relay! Impressive considering these adult sized slippers barely fit on one of his hands.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mochi Fest

If beating the crap out of steamed rice with a giant wooden mallet sounds like a good time, check out these photos of Nova's preschool Mochi making party.
God, Wakkava, can you and your buddies get any cuter?! I love how the girls at Nova's school try to teach me Japanese. Today it was 'parts of the body'. Love them!
The Mochi was flying as the big strong guys of the village kicked things off in a preliminary pulverization.
Students patiently wait to put some muscle into it.
Go kid go! Beat that Mochi! I think I was a bit too boisterous in my audience participation but that's usually the case no matter where I am. This little dude was having too much fun.
In case you've forgotten what the three of us look like together. Here we are in all our pasty gaijin glory. By the way, this is Shawn's hair after a month of grow-out. I kept telling him I don't cut hair! His insistence resulted in getting clippers from the neighbors to shave off the atrocity I had created. Not bad now though eh?
Nova's work station. Azuki bean balls, Mochi and flour.
Children work the Mochi into a small flat pancake, encase an azuki bean ball in the center, and then enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Me and Novie ringside.

The preschool PTA mom's really busted out the aprons and bandannas for this one. A lot of hard work went into preparing for the party and running it smoothly. Yesterday, they were busy rolling 300 azuki bean balls. Awesome job ladies! I really enjoy being around this group.
If you don't have a mallet handy at home, this Mochi spinning machine will produce the same glutenagenous result in half the time!
Attention to detail and presentation are very important in food preparation here. I've helped the PTA group make hot lunch for the kids before. Actions are not made without careful consideration and group consensus. How to slice a carrot just so into a soup is no light decision. Though it takes more time, in the end there is much satisfaction in the result and how it was achieved. I swear the food tastes better when prepared this way too! Machiko explained that this soup is made in honor of the New Year but ingredients and presentation vary according to region.
Parents, teachers and students sit down to a Mochi themed lunch after the festivities.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Let It "Yuki"!

Introducing the amazing ladies of our Thursday morning adult English class! All but two of these women are mothers. Several of them bring their small children along. Once a month we meet at the middle school kitchen to do a cooking project. Today's "challenge", Chocolate Tofu Pie. They are very brave to let me lead them in cooking. Don't worry, they've been warned.
Yumie and Reiko, both mothers with children who go to Nova's preschool. These two have a great sense of humor and are always laughing. Much of the time I don't know what's so funny but it's contagious so I don't care and just join in. :)
Yoko focuses on her pie shell. I am probably the only woman in Japan who doesn't own an apron. I like Yoko's because the pockets are Hello Kitty. (Shawn, I bet one of those aprons would make a great Christmas present..... wink, wink).
Mayu-chan, a regular at our adult English classes. She could probably teach the class herself in a couple years. Her mother is Machiko who in my opinion, is the best English speaker in Nishiokoppe. She has really taken me under her wing. She told me that when she went to America years ago, people were very kind to her so she wants to repay their kindness by helping us out as much a possible. She is interested in yoga so I think I've found a yoga buddy at last!
New Year's is a big deal in Japan. 2008 will mark the year of the mouse. Post offices are flooded with postcards ordered from grocery and department stores. I picked this design from a catalog at the corner market in Nishiokoppe. It took one week and half the village to help me make sure I was getting just what I wanted. I suppose they don't get many requests for cards printed in "romaji", the western style alphabet. In any case, it was great how everyone rallied around my New Year cards. In the end, the misspelling of Shawn's last name only made the cards more representative and endearing of our experience here. I'm sending them out this week so watch your mailboxes!
The first dusting of "yuki". Since this photo, we've had 6-12 inches on the ground. Luckily the garage is filled with x-country and downhill skis left by previous Juneau families. Normally I'm not a fan of the white stuff for long stretches of time. Maybe it's because I don't have to drive in it and I have a lot of time on my the snow feels ecxiting again, like when I was a kid. Nova and I have had fun playing in it together. Nova drags a sled filled with holiday packages to the post office. Perhaps because it's so expensive to ship things out of here, postal workers hand us a bag of "consolation gifts" at the end of our purchase. This time we got a bottle of pump soap, a hand towel, and some laundry detergent. Darn, I was kind of hoping for a box of Kleenex like the time before.... maybe next time. :)
Happy Holidays Everyone! We miss you and will send sunshine from Thailand in January. xxoo