Monday, January 2, 2012

Please 2012, no funny stuff, OK?

After everything that happened last year (yes, 2011 is "last year" now), I didn't think it could possibly get any worse.
But at least in our household, 2012 started in a way that made me want to roll it up, pack it up and ask for refund. That kind of year I really don't need. And don't want.

As soon as we came home from Rinnoji and wanted to upload photos, Mr T's computer has crashed. As in "RIP" crashed. So instead of going to bed and getting ready for my flight in a few short hours, like a dutiful wife that I am, I stayed up, placed an order for a new laptop and started to process the photos myself. Sadly, while doing that, Firefox went tits up.

Then, the bus for the airport was late. Not by much, but by enough to force Mr to admit that if it came to that, he'd have to drive me to the airport. Or, as he said "you could just stay home". True, I could. But I didn't. The bus eventually showed up.

I had an upset stomach, had to run to the toilet every five minutes and was seriously considering going back home. It was not a fun ride to the airport, trust me.

Once at the airport, the ground shook. Not by much, but by enough to prompt Mr to call me and see if everything was OK. Apparently, the earthquake was strong enough to knock down our standing mirror. The mirror broke and the pieces scratched our almost brand new floor.

And how does that ancient superstition go? That a broken mirror brings seven years of bad luck or somesuch? What about a mirror that breaks on New Year's Day? No, wait! Don't tell me. I don't want to know.

Even though Korean Air sent me a message asking me to be at the airport earlier than the usual 2 hours, the airport was rather empty.

There were New Year's decorations here and there.

And a couple of foreigners standing in front of this display, debated loudly its intended purpose:

to be continued...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Even though I have to get on the bus to Narita at 10AM, we still decided to go to Rinnoji last night for our first temple (and shrine) visit of the year. We wrapped ourselves in layers upon layers of clothing, stuffed our pockets with heating pads and off we went.

We started with the ceremonies at Rinnoji, and then planned to see the Toshogu illumination, which was going on from 1 to 3AM. But after seeing the mad line of people waiting to get inside Toshogu, we moved on to Futaara instead.

This is what we saw at Rinnoji:

This was my first time observing Buddhist New Year's ceremonies and it was quite interesting. I'll add photos when I can, which unfortunately is not right now.

Right now I'm jumping in the shower and then packing like a mad woman. I'm going to Palau for a week. Yay me!

PS. A few more photos here:

Prayers before the ceremony.

After the prayers, a bit of ritual archery:

And after a few more sacred procedures, it's time to light the fire:

Monday, December 26, 2011

Butterflies, toucans and blue poppies

My Christmas day began miserably. At night I had an asthma attack and then wheezed and suffered until the early hours of the morning. At 5AM I finally had enough and got up. And then my nose started to bleed. All that because the air was so bloody dry and we hadn't bought a humidifier yet. We bought one today, but it doesn't seem to work properly and I'll return to the store as soon as I'm done typing up this post.

Mister Trouble felt sorry for me and to ease my suffering decided to take me to Kachoyukan in Moka city. Kachoyukan is located at Igashira Park and it's a butterfly park of sorts. And because the only way to keep butterflies alive in the midst of winter is to house them in a warm and humid place, my dear husband thought it would be just perfect for my tired lungs and dry nose.

And let me tell you, it was. It was so humid that water occasionally dripped on our heads, and the temperature was pleasantly warm.

And the butterflies? They were there. Supposedly 4 different kinds, but we mainly saw this one:

But, to be honest, we didn't go there for my nose, or even for the butterflies.
We went there to see the strangest Christmas tree of all.

What at first glance looks like a perfectly ordinary christmas tree, upon closer inspection turns out to be a tree decorated with butterfly pupae, or chrysalises, or whatever those thingies are called.

Weird? You could say that.

My plan was to park myself in front of that tree and wait until a butterfly emerges from one of those things. Alas, after a couple of hours I had to give up. I was thirsty and hungry and I had to pee.

Later I read that after emerging from the chrysalis, the butterfly will sit on the empty shell and wait until its wings harden. Just like here:

Exciting stuff, isn't it?

Other than butterflies, there was also a bird section:

And a flower section showing flora at high elevations. I immediately noticed the Himalayan blue poppy, because it's the national flower of Bhutan. Don't ask me how I know such utterly useless trivia, because, frankly, I have no idea.

And now, if you excuse me, I have suitcases to drag out of storage and clothes to sort through.
Only 6 more days and I'm off to Palau. Yay!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Birthday Mr Emperor

Happy birthday to you!

Today His Imperial Majesty celebrates his 78th birthday. By Japanese standards that's small potatoes, nothing special. He's only 78. Mr T's grandma is 93. Or maybe 94. Sorry, I've lost count. But she's just a grandma, and Akihito is the Emperor of Japan, and there's one serious difference here. And I'm not talking about their age.

The Imperial Birthday is an official public holiday in Japan and that means that instead of getting up at 5:30AM, today I could sleep until 6. Then the cats woke me up anyway. They were hungry and didn't care much for the fact that it was my day off.

But since it was my day off (thank you so much, Your Imperial Majesty!), Mr and I went downtown to do some last minute holiday shopping. No, not really. I was shopping and he was walking around taking photos. And it wasn't holiday shopping, either. I had to use my Kinokuniya points before they expire at the end of the year. So how I ended up with Peach Body Butter from Body Shop is a total mystery to me. I did manage to get a couple of books, too.

But back to Akihito and his birthday.

We've walked on the street leading from City Hall to Parco hundreds of times. We normally park at City Hall, because the municipal lots there are free and open even during weekends and public holidays. And we've passed by the tiny Kotohira shrine tucked between some wholly unremarkable buildings hundreds of times, too. Last January we even peeked inside and took a couple of photos. Nothing special.

So what made us stop by there today? No idea. But we did. We went through the gate and looked around and we spotted this.

Today! Of all the 365 days in a year, we noticed it today. A marvelous coincidence, if you ask me.

Why? This is what it says:

Mageshi-cho (that's the district where the shrine is located)
Anniversary of the birth
Celebrating the birth of Prince
Showa 8, December 23rd

In 1933, to mark the birth of the imperial baby (and back then the imperial family was still very much "godly") Mageshi-cho presented this inscribed fountain to the shrine. And now that baby is no longer a prince, but the Emperor of Japan.

And to mark his birthday, the streets were lined with flags.

I was surprised to see that a significant number of private homes also had flags outside. I guess I wasn't paying much attention in previous years. We used to fly a flag when we lived abroad, but somehow Mr T's national pride is a lot weaker in his homeland. Or simply, he doesn't want to ruin the exterior of our new house with a flag holder that's gotta be either nailed or screwed in. Oh well... No flag for us. I'd probably forget to bring it in before sundown anyway.

So yes, Happy Birthday, Your Imperial Majesty!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

We "heart" gyoza

As can be expected, in the self-proclaimed Japanese capital of gtoza, we take our gyoza very seriously. So seriously, that every November we throw a mega dumpling party - Gyoza Matsuri.

This year, of course, was no different. Except perhaps, that unlike in previous years when the weather was quite nice, this weekend it was cloudy, cold, and today - rainy.

Yesterday, however, it didn't rain (it tried though, boy, did it try!) and together with a friend (because Mr T was otherwise occupied), we headed downtown to eat, drink and be merry. Actually, we skipped the drinking part and just focused on eating. And being merry, of course.

This year no video for you, because... Well, because I didn't feel like filming. And besides, if I had been filming, then you would have to wait probably until next November to see the clip, because I'm so slow these days. I still have tons of summer footage that is unedited and clogging up my hard drive. Yes, I've become that lazy.

 An hour wait for a serving of gyoza? Yep.

But anyway, it was supposed to be about gyoza, not about me. Though admittedly, I'd rather be talking about me, because I blog so infrequently now, that y'all must be just dying to hear what's new at Casa Trouble. Right? To be honest, nothing's new. So there was nothing to blog about.

Anyway, back to gyoza...

There were many kinds - green, yellowish, steamed, fried, oily, less oily and not oily at all, garlicky, salty and totally tasteless ones.

I actually quite liked this one - the soupy sauce (or was it a saucy soup?) was deliciously sour and tangy. I like sour.

And as always, there were other feeding options as well. Grilled meats, sausages on a stick, fish on a stick, yakisoba (which turned out to be yaki-spaghetti) and other stuff.

We mainly stuck to gyoza and I can proudly say that I consumed 48 pieces, in total. And was able to get up from the flimsy plastic table and walk to the nearest bust stop when it was time to go home. Needless to say, there was no dinner for me last night. I did have ice-cream, though. Because no matter how stuffed you are, there's always room for ice-cream, amirite?

These guys here didn't even bother with a flimsy plastic table.

What else? There was jazz. Because Utsunomiya wants to be famous for jazz. LOL. And LOL again. But in all seriousness, these guys were actually pretty good.

I especially liked their version of "Moon Over Bourbon Street". I liked it so much that suddenly my mouth just popped open and the lyrics came out. Spontaneously and terribly off key. For some very strange reason, this is the only Sting song that I know all the words to. And no, I'm not a vampire fan. Never was, never will be.

And as always, our dear Ichijo boys and girls were on cleaning duty. And seemingly ALL of them wanted to practice their English. What's happening to the junior high crowd these days? I remember them to be all shy and awkward, and here they are, talking to a random gaijin in English.

So yeah, that was our Gyoza Matsuri this year.