31 October, 2013

Ever-present Japanese Vending Machines

Did you know that vending machines are everywhere in Japan? 
According to the Japan Vending Machine Manufactures Association website, there are 5,582,200 vending machines in Japan, or one machine for every 23 people.
Jidouhanbaiki 「自動販売機」 is one of the longest Japanese words I know (along with 作業療法士 sagyouryouhoushi aka Occupational Therapist). I also learnt the word for World War 1 this week, it is 第一次世界大戦 daiichijiseikaidaisen, but I haven't quite got it memorised yet. However, I've moved off my main point for this point.

Vending machines seem to be everywhere. Here are a few we've seen recently:
Umbrellas. For a list of more odd things
found in vending machines in Japan
check here.
Drinks and umbrellas.
Kid-themed drinks vending machine.
I mentioned Anpanman back here,
he's a very popular character here and
his creator recently died.
A close up. These are drinks. Very cute!
At this time of year vending machines acknowledge the change of season. Machines begin to hold hot drinks as well as cold ones, yes, in the same machine! This post explains, and shows some high tech machines which have a large touch-sensitive display that changes according to who you are (sensors assess your age and sex).

I haven't tried the latter yet. Actually, we try not to use vending machines too often. Despite the variety, most of them actually hold drinks, and it is cheaper (and healthier) to take your own water with you when you're out and about, especially when there are five of us.

This webpage gives you more photos of a wide variety of vending machines in Japan.

30 October, 2013

Dig Pink?

Our eldest got creative with this
beanie that was too small, he put it
over his usual green beanie, and it
looked just right! It was a bit hot,
Last night we wandered down to school to watch a volleyball match. But it was more than a volleyball match. It was a Dig Pink event. It was a fundraising/awareness raising event for breast cancer.

Almost the whole school went pink yesterday, I'm told, especially the older grades. Our family had to work a bit to achieve a "pink" look. We bought some cheap accessories at Thrift Shop and ended up with not too bad an effect with a hat, scarf, and two bandanas.

Oh, we did watch some volleyball. The Junior Varsity
team (B team) played a great match, and the deciding
match was only lost by two points. Disappointing, but
a fun match to watch. We had to go home to finish
homework, so didn't see how the later match of the
 Varsity team (A team) went.

This is the second year the school's done this, and last year I found myself with nothing pink beyond socks and underwear. I've not worn pink since I was a child (see here for a post about me and pink)! But yesterday I changed that by pulling out a shirt (from Thrift Shop, I admit) and I wore pink in public! And I took a photo for proof.

It was something fun in the midst of the usual round of homework and daily chores.

29 October, 2013

Surprise at Costco

I went to Costco again today. I took a friend who does not have a car, so rarely goes. It was fun to talk/listen nonstop for several hours. 

My big surprise was being able to buy reasonable prices soapless wash! I even had a choice. That's the first time. My skin is too sensitive to use ordinary soap so I've had to bring soap with me when we come back from Australia. Last spring both younger boys developed eczema, so finding soapless body wash was quite a find. 

Not too long ago I had a conversation with some missionary ladies about overseas visitors. Everyone in the conversation had a story (or two) of visitors who'd taken for granted what the missionaries had available to share. 

The problem is that things you can buy readily in the local shop at home you can't assume that they will be easy to find in another country. That's the same wherever you're from. Japanese have this problem in Australia and Australians have this problem in Japan.

For example, real cheese is difficult to find (i.e. not the processed kind) at a reasonable price. So are ingredients like icing sugar, desiccated coconut, golden syrup, and chocolate chips. Items like peanut butter, zucchini, and sweet chilli sauce used to be more difficult to find than they are now, but gradually more of these Western foods are appearing.

The difficulty with visitors from home is that they can assume that whatever you have in the house is easily available for purchase. Whereas some aren't and are generally strictly rationed out by the missionary for maximum enjoyment because those items aren't easily replaced. So it is a joy when you find something you previously had to ration out carefully has become an easily available product.

28 October, 2013

Taking Stock and Moving On

I'm having trouble coming down after all the excitement of the past week or so.

Last Tuesday our 14 y.o. returned from Guam after representing the school in cross-country. He brought lots of photos (though many were blurry because the camera's dying) and stories. Oh, and lots of washing too!
Beautiful Guam
Not-so-beautiful Guam. They went hiking along a dirt
road a couple of days after a typhoon ran past the island.

Along their route they found evidence of this country's
past: WW2 tank.
Destination of their walk: this awesome waterfall.
Ah yes, and American. Guam is American and they had
American-type stores to prove it. They also drove on the
right hand side of the road, which, amazingly, my son
didn't realise until I pointed it out from his photos!
Hanging up coats at Thrift Shop with
some middle schoolers.
Then from Wednesday last week I worked at Thrift Shop, which is a frenzy of an event. To efficiently sort and fill a school gym with thousands of garage-sale items, then sell them over 1 1/2 days, then remove all that hasn't been sold and restore the building to a functioning gym is quite a feat. Getting back to everyday life after that isn't easy either.

In the middle of all that I heard from our magazine designer that she can't continue doing her job for us. It is too stressful with two littlies (a few months old and a two-year-old) plus a couple of paying jobs on the side! Argghhh. I wish this was a paying position, then I could probably keep her, but it isn't. 100% volunteer. Magazine designers aren't just waiting around for me to ask them to take this job on. I'm feeling concerned, but trying to wait on God for this one.

My main editing team.
It isn't just that she's leaving, it is that I'm leaving too: next June we'll go back to Australia for home assignment for a year and I'd rather not take this managing editor's job back with me (although it is entirely possible because I do the whole job from my laptop in my house). Praying for someone special to take on this role for a year too!

Now, as I look at the calendar, we've got a bit of "down time" in November. There are no inter-school sports meets on weekends, our eldest son is training for wrestling, but the meets don't start until December. Phew. Some time to breathe before we run headlong into December. How did 2013 rush by so fast?

27 October, 2013

Thrift Shop Bargains

So, it's all over. Thrift Shop is done and dusted for another year. I've just enjoyed a hour's nap and I'm feeling more refreshed than I did this morning.

The 84cm sausage dog that our middle
son bought.
I'm so thankful that the weather, though rainy, wasn't anything like a tropical storm can be. We didn't have strong winds and the heaviest rain happened over night. Quite different to what it could have been like if those two typhoons which were headed for us earlier in the week had joined forces and camped over us.

Yesterday was exhausting, especially the morning. I was on registers for the whole morning, from 9 till 12. From about 9.30 to 12 I think there was only once or twice when we weren't serving someone. It was continuous and tiring!
This is Shyni, my neighbouring register "girl". There were about
eight of us working on the calculators on Saturday, each with two
helpers, who either called out prices or packed the bags. Lots of workers
to make it as efficient as possible.

I just had to buy this, it had my name on it.
My brain started to short-wire at around 10.30. Simple things became hard. All I was doing was hearing/reading prices and inputting them into the calculator, then receiving payment and giving change. Who could think that would be so hard? Of course I was doing it somewhat bilingually. My Japanese numbers (speaking and listening) got a good work-out yesterday. But I think it was mostly the constancy of it, not even little breaks. Every time I thought we were at the end of the line, another person joined before we were finished with the
current person. Eventually in a short break I ran off and bought some caffeine. That cleared things up a bit.

Our eldest son always finds some kind of
book or game that involves "brain" stuff.
Either trivia or other mental exercises.
Sounds painful to me, but he enjoys this
kind of thing.
I was blessed to be teamed up, for the first two hours, with a former maths teacher of my eldest son and a fellow wrestling mum (a Japanese lady). I met her last year doing the same thing and am looking forward to spending time with her at the long wrestling meets that we've got coming up in the months ahead. These ladies rescued me a few times when I made mistakes (thankfully fairly easily reversible mistakes), like entering 200 yen and 150 yen in without putting a "+" between them, so that the total became more than 200,000 yen!

"Daz" the dragon. 190cm dragon, purchased
by our youngest son.
"Daz" at his full length.
The shop closed at 1pm and then we cleared out the gym and cleaned, but not before we had 1/2 an hour "free" shopping. Anything we gleaned in that time was free. This shopping time is only for those who are committed to help in the cleaning up, that usually takes till 4.30 or later. For the first time, my whole family joined in. The PTA hire strong high school boys to do the heavy lifting (all the shelving etc. gets stored in the basement under the cafeteria). My high schooler got hired for this. The rest of us were volunteers and I was so encouraged to see my two younger sons working with diligence and enthusiasm.

I even got to have another go at using the power drill in dismantling the clothes racks. That
A cute eco-friendly bag. I have one of these already,
but it is showing strain. I regularly use it, so I figured
another would be handy.
was great fun until I was totally shocked by a fellow mum saying, "Don't you think that you should let a man do that?" I was so shocked that I shot back, "Why?" a bit sharply. She didn't answer, but clearly her intention was that I give the drill to her husband who was standing quietly by. Rather than make a scene, I finished the set I was working on and handed it over, but I was seething
The colour in this photo isn't great, but
this is a pink scarf that I persuaded my 11 y.o.
son to accept. I guess I'll be blogging later about
the pink volleyball game we'll be attending
this week. I might even get a photo with all of
us sporting something pink! Quite an effort for
this family of boys.
inside. I'm well aware, though, that at the tail-end of Thrift Shop, when everyone is tired, it is easy for tempers to flare and for things to be said that shouldn't be. I'm thankful I was able to hold my tongue and temper. I still can't imagine why she said that to me. It felt like her husband was a bit embarrassed by the whole incident. It certainly left me feeling unhappy.

As usual, I've snuck around and taken photos of just some of our Thrift Shop haul. I've done very little purchasing myself, with our big packing-up job next year very much on my mind.

I've heard along the grape-vine that it was a very successful Thrift Shop, with the gross earnings being relatively high. That's great, considering the weather was so, well, wet.
One of the piles of books around. I'm
guessing we've acquired more than 20
books from Thrift Shop. Most of which
the boys bought. How can I protest about
boys that go hunting for (cheap) books to
These cars almost derailed homework on Thursday
night. Amazing how much enjoyment boys
get from these plastic-metal toys, even 14 y.o.s!
Headphones. For our middle son
to listen to music when the rest
of the world is bothering him.
What's this called? It also has been a source of distraction
at bedtime.
CAJ hosted the Red Cross Blood Donation team. I tried to give blood, but my haemoglobin was 0.5g/L under what it should have been to give the 400ml that I'd said I'd give. Strangely enough it would have been okay if I'd said I'd give 200mg. But they wouldn't change how much they would take from me, so they got none from me at all. I would have thought it would make more sense to take some rather than reject me altogether? Still, I still got the 500 yen discount that the students were offering off the school t-shirts. So David and I now have matching ones. Our plan is to use them in the less formal deputation events that we'll be doing in Australia. 
A Lego key ring.
A cutey!

26 October, 2013

Japan Photo #41 answer

Yesterday I posted a question about these eggs. Most people had some idea that it was the fact that it was a dozen eggs.

In Japan eggs usually come in packets of 6 or 10, not 12! I just picked the eggs up automatically (it was on my list to buy) and was surprised to find there were more eggs than I anticipated!

25 October, 2013

Japan Photo #41

I'm a bit worn out from Thrift Shop tonight, so here's a photo I took this week. Question is: Why was I so excited by this purchase?

24 October, 2013

Thrift shop set-up day two

It is usually very busy in the morning and a little less so for a couple of hours after lunch. During which time you can do a bit of your own shopping. If you work at least four hours, you get to shop early (other PTA members have to wait until tomorrow and non-PTA members have to wait till Saturday). 

I'm feeling pretty chuffed tonight because I nailed my teenage son after school and got him to try on some clothes and as a result I bought him six items of winter clothing for only ¥1000  (about AU$10). 

I also found a "new" long sleeve tshirt in my favourite colour: green. Awesome! 

But actually, aside from a few small items, we're trying not to buy anything much at Thrift Shop this year because we have to potentially store it all from June next year while we're in Australia. 

I'm feeling pretty tired. My legs, in particular, are aching. I sat down a lot less today. Thankfully I'd planned left-overs for tonight: less standing in the kitchen. 

Two days down, two to go. The next two are a lot more sitting, though: I'm on the registers. We're praying that the typhoons is headed this way slows right down so that it don't detract shoppers, especially on Saturday (and it looks like that is what it is doing, praise the Lord). What isn't sold by 1pm Saturday is thrown out! We'd rather it was sold and the money gone into the PTA coffers than the PTA having to pay to dispose of it!

23 October, 2013

Lucky-dip days

Today heralds the beginning of Thrift Shop preparation (for me, any way, actually they set up the gym yesterday).

You never know who Thrift Shop is going to give you the opportunity to spend time with, so it is a bit like a lucky-dip of a day for an extrovert like me. Of course by the end of four days of it the introvert part of me wants to run and hide, but I enjoy it while it's there. It affords a relatively rare time of seeing people in the community. Because most of us don't drop our kids off or pick them up, we only see one another at events like this, or at sporting or musical events. So times like these are precious.

Today I discovered that two of my friends have sons who are going to try wrestling this year. That's fun! Last year I was the only female supporting CAJ at all but one of the middle school meets. Hopefully this year I'll have a lot more female company, of course the high school team is quite a bit larger than the middle school team.

One of my favourite times of the set up of Thrift Shop is the twice-daily snack time, where almost everyone stops and chats. I also love it because it is one of the few times in my year that I can participate in a bring-and-share food time. I grew up on those at church, but they don't happen so often in our lives here. So, for Thrift Shop I usually bake or bring something to contribute to the snack time.
My Whole Orange Cake this morning.

This time I made a Whole Orange Cake in a spare 1/2 an hour I had the other day. I got home half an hour before the boys arrived home from school and didn't want to start in on something new at that point in my day). It smelt divine in the oven, it was all I could do to stop myself from having some right then. Recipe is here.

I love this cake because it is a little bit unusual in that it uses all the orange, rind and everything, so it has a little bit of fruit-cake about it. It was one of the few home-made items on the snack table this morning and was very popular. It's always nice to have one's cooking appreciated and not just by hungry boys! Someone said, "You bake like a mum of girls, not boys." I'm not entirely sure what she meant, because boys eat a whole lot more than girls, but then I did learn my baking in a family of girls.

It seems I'm getting a reputation for baking/cooking. I'm also getting a reputation as someone who wears hats: i.e. I'm a sun conscious Aussie! So, as we sorted clothes, every time someone came across a hat they called out to me. Ha! I guess there are worse things I could be know for...

22 October, 2013

Be careful what you envy

While I get sympathy for having three boys, I'm also on the receiving end of envy for having three smart kids.
Sometimes at the end of a day with my boys I feel
like I've been metaphorically pummelled with a
speeding bowling ball, multiple times.

I usually respond that being smart doesn't make them easy kids to parent. Yes, it does mean that we don't often agonise over homework. They generally don't struggle with the content.

But, that doesn't mean that they have good time-management skills, or good people skills. It doesn't mean that they know how to concentrate on one thing at a time.

In fact we have difficulties with too much interest in too many things. That can be a great distraction for actually getting the necessary things done. We have trouble with too much thinking. Thinking, in exclusion to actually getting things done (like getting dressed for school).

Self-control, yes, that's an issue too. We have issues with "not suffering fools". This can produce very rude behaviour. Overconfidence and arrogance, yes, that appears here too. We struggle with boredom, compounded with a great deal of boy-energy and competitiveness.

Because they are smart, a lot is expected of them and not much sympathy is given. That's a hard standard to live with.

Someone recently said to me that being very intelligent is a little bit like having a car with a large, powerful engine under the hood. You need good control and good brakes to deal with a car like that. Little people, more often than not, don't have the necessary skills to deal with that.

I'm not saying I'd rather have my kids less intelligent. I think they are going to be amazing adults, if only we can get them through growing up! Parenting kids like this is hard work. You really have to be on your toes! These kids are sharp and not much gets past them. We can't fob them off with a not-quite-right answer. You have to work hard to be ahead of them.

Be careful what you envy

I used to envy the good looks of a good friend. But when I realised that she had difficulties with telling if a guy was really interested in her, or just being with someone beautiful, the idea of being so beautiful lost a bit of its glamour.

Many times we envy what we don't have, not realising that what the other person has or is also comes with its own issues. It comes down to striving to be content. Ah, such a difficult balancing act.

"But godliness with contentment is great gain" 1 Timothy 6:6 (NIV). "...be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" Hebrews 13:5b (NIV). (This is in the context of money, but it applies more widely than that.)

21 October, 2013

News from our son in Guam

This proves he really was there. It looks like it
is the end of the relay, the second race they
ran on Saturday.
Our son comes back from Guam tomorrow morning. We've had a total of one email from him, basically telling us his result (in one of the two races) and that it was muddy!

Bare facts is that he came 92nd out of 160 high school aged runners (up to the age of 19, I think). His time was a couple of minutes under his best for 5km, but the course was very muddy and also new to him. He was fourth out of CAJ's seven runners. We never expected him, at 14, to do this well in his first high school season, so we're very proud!

The runners came from 19 different schools across Asia, including Korea China. His relay team came 8th, but CAJ came (if I understand the results right) 6th overall for the meet, which isn't bad for a small school.

Thankfully we got other emails from staff, plus I found they have a Facebook site for the event, where I found this video of the start of both the boys and girls individual races. BUT that link doesn't seem to work. Somehow I can't embed that video link into this post. Oh well. If you're really desperate to see it, and you're on Facebook, you can go to this page (their FB page).

So, he's back tomorrow and I guess we'll hear a lot more about his time away. Certainly his brothers have a lot to tell him. We'll see how it all goes.

20 October, 2013

Amusement park in the city

It took us about an hour to get there via a couple
of trains. Our place is just to the top left of this map.
A, of course, marks the park.
Yesterday, instead of sitting home with our two younger boys and bemoaning the absence of our eldest (who's in Guam until Tuesday), we decided to do something that the two younger ones like and he doesn't: amusement park with rides.

We explored one we've not been to before, Tokyo Dome City or, more correctly Tokyo Dome City Attractions (which doesn't seem that attractive in English, really). I've never been to an amusement park like it.

First, it is in the middle of the city. Next to roads, high rise; indeed the roller coaster goes through a building and through the core-less ferris wheel.

Crazy mix of amusement park and city.
Second, it doesn't have clear boundaries. People can walk right through the property, without paying a thing. To ride the rides, of course, you have to pay. We bought a one day pass that was a paper bracelet with a bar code that they scanned at every ride.

It was fun, even though my motion-sickness head didn't allow me to ride some of the more daring rides. The boys also ended up not trying the Thunder Dolphin roller coaster, it just looked too scary (goes up to 130km/hr). Maybe next time!

The big swing. Not the biggest we've tried
in Tokyo, but still fun.
We found a nice frozen yoghurt shop, "Golden Spoon" that satisfied us yoghurt lovers, as well as our non-yoghurt lover (the chocolate yoghurt tasted very close to chocolate ice cream).

It was fun being out with our two younger boys. They got along well and it was rather novel being a family of four. You notice how many things are geared for groups of twos and fours! It was a good choice for spending the day (a shadow of the future when we'll be split as a family more and more).

Actually, it is the way we choose to live our lives in a country that isn't our own. We often choose to enjoy things that we couldn't enjoy in our home country. It works the same when we're in Australia and missing Japan, we choose to enjoy what we can there, while we're there. I guess it really is living in the moment.

On the swing: love the face, David!
Right next to Tokyo Dome, the world's largest roofed
baseball stadium. Which is today hosting the All Japan
Open Karate Championships.
View from the ferris wheel: the Big O.
The Thunder Dolphin's through-building course from
the ferris wheel.

19 October, 2013

Not for Sale Japan

Did you know that human trafficking is a problem in Japan, and in fact no country in the world is free from this problem.

Regarding Japan, there are two types of trafficking in Japan, plus the problems that Japanese people cause outside of their country:

Sex Trafficking

*Roughtly there are 2 types of sex trafficking—
         Trafficked into sex industry (victims are mainly from abroad)
         Trafficking related to pornography production
         (victims include Japanese women and children)

*Japanese law has a problem…
         Simple possession of pornography is not illegal now!

Labor Trafficking in Japan

*Slave labor at the workplaces sanctioned by Japanese government!?
         (Abuse of Foreign Trainee and Technical Internship Program)

*The cases seldom raised to surface because victims fear forced deportation
   (They owe sending agencies large deposit before coming to Japan.)

Human Trafficking Abroad Caused by Japanese

*There are roughly 3 issues here—
          Japanese are big customers of sex tourism
          We may purchase products made by forced/slave labor
          Your company may buy ingredients made by force/slave labor

The above comes straight from the Not For Sale Japan website. If you're concerned about this problem, please go to their website and see what you can do to help, or just spread the awareness.

18 October, 2013

Excursion to the zoo

Butterfly enclosure
I'm all tuckered out! I drove six loud, energetic 8 and 9-year olds to the zoo today. We followed the school bus that had the rest of the third grade class and parent volunteers. It's Tokyo, so we spent more than three hours driving there and back (and the zoo is only about 22km from school).

I have to say that it's a pretty good zoo, though, especially as compared to the other big zoo in Tokyo, Ueno Zoo, which almost makes you cry in places.

The zoo has a whole Australian section.
It was at this point that I wanted to
run around shouting, "I'm Australian." But
I restrained myself!
Aside from tiring, it was a good day. I'll let the photos tell the story:

Investigating insects.
A seriously large wasp—thankfully a model. These were
"my" four boys.
But there were some very large bugs,
some of them even alive.
I loved the butterfly enclosure. I was "in charge" of four
energetic boys, and they didn't hang around looking at
mere butterflies, they were after the large cats!
My favourite photo.
Some nice African animals.
The lion enclosure bus. They put meat on the outside
of the bus, which, of course, the lion got a tiny bit
excited about. In general, though, they looked
pretty bored.

One of most shocking things about the day was the
approximately 5,000 other children who were there,
most of whom were under school age. Most of them
were in groups like this, with colour-coded hats.
Thankfully it was a big enough zoo that we didn't feel like
we were fighting through crowds, but everywhere you
turned there were more kids!