Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Last Week.... starting to sink in.

Shawn invited Nishiokoppe's best English speakers over for dinner Monday night for his final advanced adult English class. Per Japanese tradition, one's drinking glass always remains full. Sora, born the day before our first day in Nishiokoppe, practices his pour for dad.
I sat next to Fusae. She works across the street at the yakuba (city office building). She has a wicked dry sense of humor and always makes me laugh. Sometimes she gets my jokes too which is really saying something. Fusae has been to Juneau. Keeping my fingers crossed she'll consider another trip in the future.
Miki-san, left, is the manager of the Rimu, the super fancy hotel in town. He used to live in Amsterdam. Usui-san (former villager in the spotlight) brought a whole turkey over because he heard we liked turkey. In Japan they do Christmas chicken which I'm sorry, just isn't the same. Colin, right, is an Aussie who has lived in Japan for 8 years. Colin was the bass player in our rockin' band and is newly engaged to his adorable sweetheart from Shibetsu. Congrats mate!
We took one last trip to the big city over the weekend. Even the taxis are cute in Japan.
Lotsa good people watching.... mostly watching people who are enjoying watching us.
Window shopping. You can get seriously lost in the multi-level catacombs of a Japanese department store.
Skateboarding is not a crime my friends.
Many thanks to Gail, Shawn's mom, who sent a huge box of gingerbread house fixin's for the elementary school Christmas party. It was SO much fun!

Akane, on the right has been my nemesis since we came here. She's always all up in my face and making fun of the way I talk. At the end of the party she said goodbye with tears in her eyes.... I gave her a big hug and started crying. I'm gonna miss that little stinker! Misakai on the left.

Hajime, Yukie, and Asushi.

Nana, with the red kerchief, lives across the street from us and is shy and quiet and an excellent student. She has been a good older friend to Nova. Kakeru, front, Natusuki, and Rei.

Yugi, with the mask, is Nana's little bro. He's got a really charming gravely smoker's voice. I instantly melt whenever he says, "Haa-llo". Hikaru and Kouta.

Yui and Yuki.

Akira (happiest kid in Nishiokoppe award), Hibiki, Maya and Haruka.

Nao and Nagisa.

Masataka, Ruya, and Rena.

Kazuki, Mizuki, and Mai.

Akari, Yamato, and Mai.

"Which of these kids is doin' her own thing, one of these kids just isn't the same." Yuya and Nagisa.

Aina, Taiga, Aoue.

Chizuko, what can I say? You win Nishiokoppe's most photogenic award.
Some photos from my walk around the hood this morning. This roof-top looks like a snow-capped mountain to me.
I will miss the places as much as the people.
It's funny the things I'm getting all nostalgic over this last week. As with Alaska Native tradition, nothing goes to waste here.
Our neighbors use remnants from the electric guitar factory as firewood.
Buddha in peaceful snowy repose.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Now, you need to make memories."

Aki phoned today to say, "Now, you need to make memories". "Ok," I said. "What did you have in mind?" An hour later she picked me up for lunch with 'the make-up club'.
Below, members of Nishiokoppe's make-up club, Ayumie, Saori, Kaori and Aki.
Saori, our lovely hostess, served Platinum Beauty Water with lunch. Apparently it's very expensive and contains real platinum. I could feel the magical youthening properties coursing through my veins and hoped it would give me the same timeless skin of the other members.
Saori used to work at the make-up counter of a department store. She's way into the creme-de -la-creme of cosmetics. Here she is showing off her new oven which is HUGE in comparison to the microwave hybrid version of most Japanese kitchens. She is stylish in every way.
Where have you guys been these long past 17 months of unglamorous country living?!!! I totally enjoyed the girliness of the day. Though for me personally, there is a fine line between attractive and drag-queenesque, it was fun having Saori play makeover on me. Ta-da!
Now, I have made memories. xxoo

Monday, December 15, 2008

Final Two Weeks; Food-Filled Farewells

With two weeks left in Nishiokoppe and the holidays fast approaching, dinner partying has ramped up big time. Sunday was our second annual neighborhood association children's party. Below, kids play a gift exchange game to music while parents digest.
The woman folk took over the community kitchen and once again pulled out all the stops. Last year this soup looked scary to me. This is actually a very tasty dish which contains some mysteries perhaps better left unsolved. Neighbors chuckled over our surprise at shaking a handful of snacks out only to discover the fishy "prize" in Japanese cracker jacks. Nova's favorite part, cake decorating with Maya and the Taniguchi sisters.
Last January I started teaching Nishiokoppe's first yoga class. I wasn't sure how it would be received. That first class, 17 people showed up and the village bought 20 yoga mats in support. Since then, participation has dwindled down to these 6 awesome die-hards.
Monday night yoga has been my most looked forward to weekly event. It's a nice time to connect with people and share something I enjoy. I'm very impressed by and proud of my students.
Nova, Maaya, Hibiki and Sora; junior joginis extraordinaire!
Mr. and Mrs. Yaso, both teachers, hosted a farewell dinner and invited two of Shawn's other colleagues.Always an honor to be invited into someone's home, the Yasos have shown us great generosity and warmth.Mrs. Yaso poured some amazing smelling Jasmine tea. The flowers start as dried buds and "bloom" beautifully in hot water. Living in Japan has at last made a tea drinker out of me. Japanese dinner parties are epic in length and number of courses served. Luckily no one minded that I got up to stretch my legs every once in a while. Speaking of walking, here are a few photos from my morning walk with Bunta.... we like to go down to this river.
Just the sound of wind and water..... no one around but us.
Despite being lonely for U.S. friends and family, I will miss the stillness of my days as a "Japanese" housewife.
Bunta is boning up on his English for his western debut.

Shawn and I like to play a game called "what's under the tarp?". When the snows come, all of Hokkaido's public fixtures get wrapped in blue tarp. Stationary boats, train cars, fountains.... you name it. So,can you guess what's under the tarp?
If you said giraffe, you're right!
Start looking for your New Year's cards in the mail next week. Happy year of the ox everyone!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Last Three Weeks In Japan: Keepin' It Real

In case you missed the email shout-out, we're headed back to the U. S. of A. Dec 29th.

Funny thing about knowing you only have so much time left in a place, suddenly everyone relaxes, communication is easier, things are more fun. This time last year Nova and I felt anxious about Mochi Fest at her hoyksho. Today we cut loose and really let that steamed rice have it! Go girl.

One of the few events involving both mothers and fathers.

They are the muscle behind the mallets and the eye behind the cameras.

Mochi anyone? An improvement in form from last year's attempt, don't you think?

Wakkava is Queen Mochi Cheeks in my book. She demonstrates the proper placement of anko inside the pulverized rice.
Why yes that is a Cupcake Royale shirt Aki is wearing. I'm getting that girl to Seattle one way or another!
After the mochi madness we sat down to soup.....with mochi of course. Aki tells me that every year in Japan, around the holidays, old men and children choke to death on mochi. After that heartwarming tale, I was sure to chew very slowly and thoroughly.Chinoske has a bit of a cold and was resisting wearing his surgical mask during lunch.
Pickled veggies, commonly eaten with meals. Like miso, anko, sashimi, mochi, and shrimp flavored chips, I've acquired a taste for these since we've been here.
Thursday cooking class. Possibly the last.
Here's a typical scene; me trying to teach the "English" cooking class which inevitably devolves into lots of giggling and rapid fire talking...... in Japanese. But like Michelle, the teacher before us said, this is a two year long lesson in letting go. Luckily I've felt the loosening effects in the year and a half we've spent here.
Group shot for a successfully made Sweet Potato and Spicy Peanut Stew. Oishikatta!
Nova and Sora enjoy one of Chizuko's homemade curry rolls. Seriously woman, start a bakery already!
Had a blender-drink party at my house last week. First time I've had the English class ladies over for social hour. Juneau ladies, you would have been proud of me.... I unloaded a ton of clothes on them, old school clothing-exchange style.
In turn they prepared a major feast of super-oishi J-food. I'm going to be hitting up the Asian market on a regular basis when I get home.

Documenting more fun in our last weeks in Hokkaido. Kiotskete everyone! xxoo