Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Infloors and Outfloors

Hi guys, sorry about the gap in posts. I've been doing some research and I can now reveal the results of my work to you.
Ever thought about the floor much? Me neither. For sockmonkeys, the floor is where your nuts and bananas go when you drop them. If you are from a 'developed' country you can tell if you are indoors because you clean with a vacuum cleaner, or outdoors because you use a leaf blower. In Japan things are a little different.
Outdoors is where you wear shoes. So far so good. Indoors is where you wear 'house slippers'. These are usually tartan or have a cute puppy image on them. So you wander around the house in house slippers and suddenly you need the toilet. Waiting for you inside the toilet door is another pair of slippers. What to do? These extra slippers are 'toilet slippers' and they NEVER come out of the toilet. So if you need the toilet you have to swap 'house slippers' for 'toilet slippers' and perform a slipper shuffle each time you go in or come out.
After the toilet you want to hang out in the tatami (woven grass carpet) room. House slippers OK? Think again buddy. Tatami translates to "no shoes allowed", so upon entering the tatami room, it's foot coverings off (except for socks, which is lucky for sockmonkeys).
The rules of shoes and floors can be bent to suit individual situations. A friend of mine worked in a high school and had to wear indoor slippers. Indoors included all of the school grounds and 200 metres down the road to the local convenience store. Huh?
As you can see, Japanese floor protocol is full of footware pitfalls. If you follow what the locals are doing you should be OK. Gambatte!!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Hanami Time!

Sakura, hanami, cherry blossoms. I don't know the freaking difference, but I do know that it is warming up here. Last weekend I decided to go and see what all the fuss was about (we have trees in Borneo you know). I went to the local park near the town castle on a sunny spring afternoon to check them out. I was told that the cherry blossoms sybolise the impermanance of life... that may be true but they sure do taste good. Loads of people seemed to celebrating their own personal impermanance by getting thoroughly pissed on chu-hi (more about this at a later date) and happoshu (more about this as well), WOO HOO. It is only now that the blossoms are all disappearing that I truely appreciate the temorary stuff. Pass the sake, I think I'm sobering up. Cheers.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


I ain't movin' until it warms up around here.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Flying is not for sockmonkeys

Here are a couple of photos of me on the plane to Niigata. It was only a short flight but a little bumpy and I started to feel that I would be seeing my bananas again. The attendant gave me a barf bag and I held on pretty tight. After a while I decided that sitting in between peoples feet would be much safer and the blown chunks could be hidden where the floatation devices are stored, or is that 'stowed'?

The flight attendant felt pretty sorry for this green sock monkey sitting on the floor, so she gave me this awesome blow-up plane to play with. It has kept me happy for days now.

NOTE: Is the phrase 'blow-up' one that you want to associate with planes? I prefer 'inflatable' or 'internally pressured'.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Moving to Niigata

This is very exciting. I've just moved house from Osaka, where the plum blossoms have almost finished and the sakura (cherry blossoms) are starting, to Niigata, where it was snowing when I April!!?? This is taking some getting used to and I have had to get a down jacket to keep me warm. At night I sleep on my futon with a sheet and top futon (duvet) plus my down sleeping bag. Even then my little fuzzy face gets cold so I have to duck under the covers!

Niigata is a long prefecture that is on the opposite coast from Tokyo, and then up a bit. There are beautiful mountains all the way down the prefecture and these are famous for skiing and hiking. It's really cold but apparently the summers are nice so I'm keeping under the duvet until then.

Because this is a rural area with a long coastline, there are a lot of nice veggies and fish for sale in the shops. I can't wait to do some cooking.

I'm also lucky because my friends that I live with have scored us a sweet apartment that came with their job. It's got one tatami room and two other rooms, plus a kitchen/ dining room and the bathroom. It feels very spacious compared to the one-room place we had in Osaka. I've got a lot of room to swing around in!

Oh yeah and I can see the mountains out of my window! But they're not as nice as the mountains in Borneo, of course. But they'll do.

Gotta go but I'll tell you some more later.


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Expat Nosh (Cream Teas)

I met a couple of stoats from England the other day. We were chatting over a couple of bottles of Asahi Dry when they mentioned a mythical creature called 'cream teas'. They told me that they roam the south west of the country and can usually be found in close proximity to friendly farmhouses.

This set me a-wonderin', are cream teas exclusive to the shores of Britain or are they to be found in other corners of the globe?

I started my search in the expensive department stores of Osaka. No luck there, only tonkatsu, tempura and pasta. I then decided to try some local bakeries. Again, I was thwarted by the local cuisine preferences of baumkeki, fluffy cheesecake and chou buns. On my way out I remembered a busy little bakery in Hankyu had fruit scones. Then, like an udder slapping you in the face, I also recalled there was an import shop nearby where I may be able to procure the critical ingredient: clotted cream. With scones held tightly in my fuzzy hands I went to the import shop, and they had clotted cream!!. However, I almost crapped myself. It was $72 for 24 grams (give or take a few cents depending on the exchange rate). Reeling in the shop I made a decision to make do with whipping cream and raspberry jam.

Upon arriving home I set about whipping the cream. I have heard complaints that whipping cream leads to hurting arms (aaawwwwww). Grippy feet, hands and a tail meant I did not suffer the same fate as many a human cream-whipper.

Having now tried cream tea, I can say they are pretty good, but I do prefer banana bread myself.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Trains Trains Trains

As we all know, the Japanese are an efficient bunch. Nothing demonstrates this sweeping generalisation better than the trains.

Firstly, there are stations everywhere. There are Japan Rail (JR) stations, subway stations and private operator stations. Most stations have people with white gloves to point at the trains and blow whistles. The stations are clean and they all have a designated 'smoking corner'.

Next, there is the timetable. Times are posted for when each train is to depart the station. AND THEY DO IT. They run to the minute. It is unbelievable, with all the coming and going in rush hour and people getting stuck in the doors, they still leave on time, every time.

And there are the trains. On the platform are painted marks. The train arrives and the doors open right where the marks are. You stand by a mark and a door arrives. How do they do it?

The best thing about Japanese trains is the view. I love looking out of the clean windows, even when it's dark. I tried fixing my gaze as I was staring out of the window once, and I think I hypnotised myself. Often you can get a seat on private lines but on JR you'd better be fast to ensure you get a seat before the nimble obasans run on. They may look like little old ladies but they are mean, mean I tells ya.

Next objective: get my furry little tail onto the Shinkansen (bullet train) ooooooo baby.