Thursday, March 22, 2007


I had high falutin plans for the final post in this little adventure but in reality I have so many things on my mind at the moment that I feel like I am stuck in the middle of a very fast lazy susan and no one will let me off!

Enough of the whinging.

I have led a very charmed life for the past 18 months and although I once complained that I had to go out for lunch five days in a row I am sure that there might come a time when I am knee deep in nappies and will wistfully look back on such decadence. Somebody once said that if there was such a thing as reincarnation he would come back as a "Mazda wife", not such a bad choice I reckon.

Without wanting to sound cliched living in Japan has been a chance in a lifetime, we have had some wonderful experiences and made some great friends along the way too. Many people have said "oh but the language must be such a barrier" and while it is difficult it has never prevented us from doing anything. During our first week here we went to a restaurant with a menu entirely in kanji, unfazed by this we managed to ask the waitress to bring us as much food as our budget allowed. Fortunately we're not picky eaters and we dined like kings that night. I think the moral of the story is that if you think something will be a barrier then it will be.

When I have explained to some people that I do not have a 9-5 job here they have looked at me in horror and said "But what do you do all day? Aren't you bored? It must be a long wait for Martin to get home at the end of the day". The way I saw it was that there was a whole new country out there to explore. And explore we did. I spoke to a couple of Japanese ladies at lunch (I did go out for lunch a lot!) the other day and when they asked me where I went to in Japan they were surprised to hear that I had visited places they had not been too. When I wasn't going on off on adventures I took Japanese lessons, taught English, finished a course in Art History, worked for a translator and started a book group. None of these things were particularly demanding or stressful but I enjoyed them all, learnt lots of new things and met many new people because of them. I was certainly not bored and most definitely did not sit by the door waiting for Martin to get home at the end of the day.

Nevertheless, it was lovely to see Martin at the end of every day. For the first time in our nine year relationship/marriage I got to see my husband seven days a week. Most people take this for granted but before we got married it was a long distance relationship and when we got married Martin was working in Germany a great deal of the time so being able to spend so much time with each other was a big bonus in coming here. I know it sounds corny but spending so much time together has been one of the best things about this whole experience.

We have made some lovely friends here and it is even harder to say goodbye when you know that it will be such a long time, if ever, that you will see people again. On the plus side it will be lovely to see our friends at home who we have really missed since we've been away. Being away from them has made me appreciate them even more and I really treasured all the phonecalls and care packages of Green and Black's chocolate and the Sunday Times Style section!

Well that's the end of my blogging and the last of my tales from Hiroshima. If the next couple of years bring anywhere near the amount of tales, travels and tribulations as the last couple then I will be very lucky indeed.

Sayonara from Hiroshima, a great city to live in.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Time stop"

I read a book last year called "The Lady and the Monk" about a young English guy who goes off to live in Kyoto for a year and falls in love with a woman called Sachiko. Whenever her boyfriend introduces her to something new and exciting Sachiko would always say in her broken English "time stop". I think I speak better English than Sachiko but I really wish I could "time stop" right now.

Our time in Japan is almost over, this day 2 weeks we will have moved out of the apartment and in three weeks we will be at home in England. After Christmas we were really excited about getting home and would list off all the things we were looking forward to when we got back, mostly family and friends but also little things too like the pub, the Daily Telegraph on a Saturday, sausages, going shopping and actually finding clothes that fit ! Now it's time to go I find myself thinking about all the things I will miss when I leave Japan and the list seems to grow each day. I wish we could stay just a little bit longer.

Last week I spent the afternoon with my friend Ryoko at her parents house. Ryoko was my Japanese teacher and would come to the apartment every Wednesday and Friday to teach me to try to read, write and speak in Japanese. I am far from wonderful but I learnt enough to shop and eat and travel to all the places where I shopped and ate. Like me Ryoko loves baking and handbags, so our lessons always included an opportunity to have a break for tea and cake and handbag talk. I gave Ryoko some baking lessons, she now loves traybakes and her grandfather is very fond of caramel squares. (I'd like to think this will become Northern Ireland's contribution to Japanese cuisine and increase the sales of condensed milk too.) I will fondly remember the morning Ryoko arrived with her latest handbag purchase, a Kate Spade number in brown corduroy with beautiful pink script on the front and back saying "Hello" and "Goodbye". When she came in the bag was held to say Hello but as Ryoko left she laughed and got in a fluster because she hadn't turned the bag around to say goodbye. It was all these little things that so endeared me to Ryoko, always smiling, pretty, thoughtful and considerate.

Her family are just as lovely and it was real treat to be invited into their home (mostly Japanese people entertain outside of their homes). Her grandfather was so sweet and enthusiastically showed me around the garden and all the lovely stone lanterns he had built. Their home is a very traditional Japanese style house with lovely tatami rooms and shoji screens.
Ryoko's Mum had gone to a lot of trouble and made me feel really welcome, she even put on an exhibition of Hina dolls!

Ryoko and the Hina dolls.

I think I'm doing well if I give someone tea in a cup and saucer but this put me to shame. Each of us had an individual tray with bonsai plant, banana leaf, powdered green tea served in the finest Hagi pottery and mochi inside beautiful red lacquer ware bowls.

When I recognised the pottery her mum was so chuffed that I liked Japanese pottery that she ran off to give me some plates that she no longer used. On top of this she made me a notebook, a lemon cake complete with a piping bag of cream, a fruit hamper, mochi, rice crackers and even dressed me up in her engagement Kimono. Somehow the little basket of cookies and flowers that I arrived with seemed very inadequate for all this hospitality and generosity. It was lovely to be made feel so special and I will really treasure all these little experiences when I leave Japan.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Looky, looky and Lazy Susans.

Despite my concerns about Air China I'm safely cocooned back in Hiroshima. What an adventure! Since we were with a Japanese tour group (and therefore the source of much intrigue) we packed into four days what most people would normally do in six, wake up calls were received at 6 each morning and meals were wolfed down at frenetic speed from round a Lazy Susan. I will never be able to look at a Lazy Susan again without thinking of China and the scrum we endured at every meal just to get a morsel of food inside our mouths. For the rest of the tour group round our table you would have thought they'd never seen food before and then when you tried to whizz the lazy susan your way they'd put their finger on it and hog it for ages! In fact, there was enough Lazy Susan whizzing to give anyone a dizzy head.

The weather was pretty grim so all my photos seem to be engulfed in a grey haze but hey ho I still made it to the Great Wall of China...

and when I got to the top there was a camel...

and a roller coaster too. How odd I thought.

Not as odd as the Starbucks slap, bang in the middle of the Forbidden City though. I wonder what Mao would say about that.They had to remove the huge Starbucks sign from outside the store as they thought it wasn't complimentary to the surroundings. You think?

The surroundings were mighty impressive though.

Tiananmen Square is just across the road from the Forbidden City, it's vast and foreboding.

After that it was back on the bus and up to the Temple of Heaven.

I have to say that the driving in Beijing was crazy and way worse then anything I have ever seen in Italy (well almost, I saw a man drive over the top of a roundabout in Naples). Sometimes it looked like there were five lanes of traffic in a road meant for three and there were hundreds of cyclists darting in and around this craziness. We drove past an incident involving a bus and in the absence of traffic cones they had used a fire extinquisher to alert oncoming traffic. Let's hope no one drove into the fire extinquisher.

Whenever we arrived at our destinations we would always be greeted by hoards of people trying to sell us something and poking at you saying "looky, looky". When you thought you'd escaped the worst of it you'd see a fake Fendi or the like being shoved through a fence accompanied by the familiar call of "looky, looky". There are many beggars too and coupled with the desperation of the people trying to sell you stuff it is really quite sad but I guess that the people living in Beijing have it a little better than those in the country. There is an obvious sense that things are changing very quickly and there is building work everywhere in Beijing. There are also swathes of rubble from where the old hutongs have been torn down in advance of the Olympics. Hutongs are traditional narrow lanes with houses in the form of quadrangles on both sides where close knit communities of families live. We were lucky to have a peek around some of them.

Like the man in the last picture I was pretty wrecked at the end of my adventure but had a great time all the same. It was interesting to see glimpses of the old and new China and I was really impressed by how eager people are to speak English. I was even approached by a waitress in a cafe with a pen and paper who wanted me to give her a quick English lesson. After a few minutes of writing and talking I left and she seem so chuffed with her piece of paper and the new English phrases she'd learned that she said "cup of tea don't money" - she was very sweet.

After this mammoth post I'm off to make a cup of tea myself.

Ps. Apologies to anyone who was eagerly anticipating Martin's blog post. It was clearly just a rumour and he was too busy eating sushi to put fingers to keyboards.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

All the tea in China

I am going to Beijing on Monday to drink lots of tea and eat plenty of Peking duck. Food is always an important part of any holiday for me so I have great expectations for the Peking duck, if it aint good in Peking then there's no hope. Besides eating and drinking I'm going to see the Great Wall and the Forbidden city, I'm mega excited as the Great Wall is something I always thought was so far away and would never be able to visit. I'm leaving Martin to fend for himself for a few days and will need to show him how the rice cooker works before I go as he still doesn't know after a year and a half. There are rumours circulating that he might even do a blog post. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Spring winds and the "Prum Brossom"

It seems that winter is already over in Hiroshima and that Spring has finally arrived. My friend informed me that the Spring wind came last week, I have no idea what the "Spring wind" is but I love the idea of Winter being blown away! Not that Winter was so bad, it rarely got very cold and we didn't even get any snow this year. One of my favourite things about Spring in Japan is the arrival of plum blossom or "prum brossom" as my friend Ailsa likes to say. Everyone makes such a big deal out of cherry blossom (the national flower) that poor old plum blossom kind of gets forgotten about, I reckon it's vastly underated. It was so beautiful this morning that I tootled off to the nearby gardens to check out the plum blossom. With the soothing tones of the Japanese shimasen being piped through speakers and the trickle of water it was just like walking through a plum blossom wonderland!

I came across this pair of lovebirds in the garden posing for their wedding photographs, what a stunning kimono and her hair is amazing (probably a wig but years ago they actually had to have their hair styled like that and had to rest their heads on a stand while they slept so the style wasn't disturbed!).

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Rolling up seaweed

Despite the fact that I've lived in Japan for well over a year I had yet to make my own sushi until Erin hosted a sushi party last night. When I first came to Japan I expected to find little sushi bars with their neverending conveyor belts and counters stacked high with empty plates on every street corner but that wasn't the case. There is way more to Japanese cuisine than sushi and chicken teriyaki than I could ever have imagined and although some of it is an aquired taste I have really enjoyed trying out as many culinary delights as possible in my time here.

Regards the sushi, it was really simple to make, so fresh and tasty and I think it will be making a regular appearance in my bento box when I return to work.

Erin armed with her sushi mat and seaweed and poised to start the demonstration.

I love the look of pure concentration on Orlando's face.

My first attempt at sushi! Spicy tuna rolls, and very tasty they were too.(I'll blame the wonky shot on any alcohol consumed.)

The evening was rounded off by a fun and at times tenuous game of Battle of the Sexes. I really love board games but I tend to get a bit too competitive. Iddya was my partner in competitive crime and we didn't take too well to the boy's smugness. See, don't they look smug?

I met Cheyenne for the first time last night and on introduction he said he knew me from somewhere. It turns out he recoginsed me from my blog! When he met Martin he said there mustn't be many pictures of him on the blog as he didn't recognise him. This made me laugh so I have included a picture of Martin with his very own sushi roll and mysterious hand just to balance things out.

Martin's sushi was also very good although he was a bit heavy handed with the wasabi which gave a few people a bit of a shock and a tingly nose.

Monday, February 05, 2007

You heard it from me first...

You know me always ahead of the gossip. Remember a few posts back I told you how we saw Matthew Perry and Meg Ryan out for dinner in Hawaii well I came across the following article in the news today!

Is Meg Dating Friends Star?
Meg and Matthew sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G...

OK, perhaps we are getting ever so slightly carried away.

But with all the rumours flying around we just can't help ourselves.

The word on the street is that Matthew Perry has been making rather a few trips to Meg Ryan's LA homestead.

And it has been reported that they have also been out for a candlelit dinner for two.


Now, we're big fans of this supposed coupling... as far as we know they're both single and we think they'd be rather cute together.

Sure, we're just old romantics at heart - and so we'll be sure to keep our ears to the ground for any word from the Meg or Matt camps.

Now I really do regret not snapping a picture, I'm sure People magazine would have paid a pretty penny.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Gaijin Invasion

Check out this catchy little tune from "Adam and Joe" about Tokyo. The diving outfits are fantastic and the line "the buildings are kinda tall, the people kinda small and everybody eats a lot of fish" really made me chuckle. If it doesn't make you laugh then at least you'll learn a little Japanese along the way.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Today in Kurashiki

Today I went to the lovely town of Kurashiki with a friend, we chatted endlessly, drank lots of coffee, rummaged through boxes of obi in a secondhand Kimono shop, looked at pictures by Monet, Picasso and Jackson Pollock in the art museum, pottered around the shops some more, ate some more and then we headed home. I love days like this; just taking it easy and looking at nice things.

A strong cup of coffee in this little place was the perfect remedy for a sleepy head.

Who would have thought some twigs, holly and a rod of bamboo could have looked so good.

Spring is in the air! The first signs of plum blossom.

A lonely red building stands out amongst all the black and white.

I couldn't resist snapping these little kids in their jaunty party hats, they looked so happy skipping along the road and were probably wondering why I was taking their picture.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Far flung corners

Every evening Martin and I like to download the Nolan Show podcast so we have something to listen to before we go to bed. This podcast provides us with a great source of humour, familiarity and sometimes, a fair bit of anger too. A cry of "I can't believe they just said that" or "catch yourself on" will often be heard emanating from myself or Martin as we tune in to hear the great people of Northern Ireland talk about water rates, swinging or parking tickets. I will never forget Irene from Lisburn, who complained about getting a parking ticket and said "I will never,never,ever be back in Lisburn again to do my messages". Two things amused me about Irene's call, for a start I hadn't heard someone talk about getting their messages for a long time and secondly, she parked in front of two parking spaces. When it was brought up that she got the ticket because she parked in front of two cars she merely said "aye, but I left enough room so they could reverse out the side of me."

Little gems like those make my day but I'd noticed lately that the podcasts weren't being uploaded at such regular times and therefore, I couldn't listen to people like Mavis from Carrickfergus talk about traumatization and disablements (her words not mine). So I sent off a little email asking for the podcasts to be uploaded at a more regular time and it turns the Nolan show were very interested to hear from us and we've even made it on to their blog!

Wish you were here?
Ian McTear
23 Jan 07, 01:03 PM
We received an email yesterday from a couple of expats in Japan who like to listen to the Stephen Nolan podcast every night to keep in touch with what's going on at home.
And we know of another man in Japan who listens to it on the bus in the way into work.
So where in the world are you listening? We'd love to hear from you.

So there you have it, it turns out Martin and I are not only the only people who listen to the Nolan show in Japan. If there are any other Norn Ironers listening in from from far flung corners they'd loved to hear from you so you can leave a comment at the end of their blog - I included the link above. Sandra, I know you'd be partial to flapping your ears to the Nolan show too.

Ps. the picture above was taken from the kitchen window in Limavady. It's such a good view that no wonder it takes me a long time to do the dishes when I'm standing there - on the other hand, my siblings seem to think that it's because I'm a bit lazy and like to keep my hands in the hot water.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Watch out Hiroshima the Green Bullet is back on the street. I still can't believe they actually found it and proves my trip to the police station wasn't entirely in vain.

On to less dangerous matters, we went to see The Departed last night and I would thoroughly recommend it. Martin Scorsese is back on fine form and some of the acting is fantastic. Jack Nicholson has some classic moments, I particularly enjoyed his facial impersonations of a rat and the line from Matt Damon's character that Freud said "the Irish are the only people impervious to psychoanalysis" sparked some interesting conversation on the way home. I'll leave you to think about that one for yourselves.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

End of the holiday posts

Since January seems to be whizzing by I thought I'd better wrap up the holiday posts otherwise I'll still be chatting about Christmas in April.

Towards the end of our stay in Maui we went for a really nice dinner at the Halemaile General Store. The food was yummy and the people watching even better.

We were given a table by the door and windows which normally isn't a good thing but it meant I got have a good look around and I do like my people watching.

Anyway, just after the above picture was taken I caught the eye of the person standing at the window outside and staring in. It turned out to be Matthew Perry. So I quickly turned to Martin and said "you'll never guess who's standing outside" to which Martin replied "someone from Limavady?'' (which wouldn't be that unlikely, we often meet people from home in the strangest of places). So I had another conspicious look and he was with Hank Azaria and Kevin Pollak.

A few minutes later they came in and took their seats 2 tables behind us so I had plenty of opportunities to have a good nosy. They were with a lady I couldn't put a name to so I asked Martin if he knew who it was. He turned around and told me it was Farrah Fawcett. I didn't think it was her so I had another look and it was Meg Ryan. Poor Meg, it's not good when someone mistakes you for Farrah Fawcett. As the evening went on they played games including the one where someone puts a sticker on your forehead and writes the name of a famous person it and you have to guess who you are. Kevin Pollak was Michael Douglas and Meg Ryan was the last to work out she was Dennis Hopper. Maybe they should just have used their own names.

On our adventures around Maui we spotted lots of interesting little places. I loved this quaint little church built from lava rock on the road to Hana.

Along the roads there were lots of wonderful little stands selling coconuts,guava juice and freshly baked banana bread (not as good as my own though!).

There are all kinds of beaches in Hawaii, including red, golden, grey, glass and black. The black sandy beaches were such a contrast to the pale blue waters.

After Maui it was a hop, skip and a jump over to Honolulu to see in the New Year, do some shopping and visit Pearl Harbour.

Oh, how I wish I was in Hawaii today, it's so grey here that it has taken grey to a whole new level but I guess Spring and the cherry blossom isn't too far away. Bring it on.