Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The march of the Inoshishi

Happy New Years!

Here in Japan, there are tons of traditional things you're supposed to do on the new years. Here is a small list:
  1. Making special New Years lunch boxes (which are supposed to take a lot of time to make)
  2. Scrub the entire house from tip to bottom, including changing the paper screens.
  3. Go to temples at midnight and ring a gong, which probably is the one time of the year the neighbors remember and regret they are living next to one ^^)
  4. and last but not least, write new years cards to everyone you know.
Who here has done everything on this list? .... nobody?

Yeah, me neither. But I did ring the gong though, because, I mean, come on. It's a gong.

I also wrote new years cards to my friends in Japan in the hopes of getting some in return . I wrote some last year, and got about three. Japanese new years cards are post cards, generally with a picture of the animal of the year from the chinese zodiac. Last year was the year of the dog (year of the dog rules!^^), and this year (2007), is the year of the boar... which in japanese is called 'inoshishi'. I just like saying that word. inoshishi inoshishi inoshishi!

Last year we stayed with Takeshi's family after the new years holiday, and reporting my new experiences, I said "I got some new years cards in the mail!" to my mother in law, excitedly.
She replied "That's nice. Did any of them win the lottery?"
"No.. wait, what!?!"

Apparently new years post cards that include a special post office lottery ticket as the stamp. If you send a bunch to friends, they might win the post office lottery, and win prizes, some of which are even not stamps. (what did you expect from the post office? Money?!)

I had not won anything with the three cards I had recieved, but was determined to make a better go of it the next time. So this year I sent out a LOT. 30 in total! They have a picture of our japanese wedding ceremony on them (no inoshishi, sadly).
I was following the advice Mrs S. had given me about how to get more, when she idly waved out the 200 or so she had gotten in the mail. "Send a lot, one to everyone you know. If you send them, they will come!" she prophetized mysteriously, sounding a lot like that movie that I can't remember the title of right now.

But new years came and went, with the same three cards in the post as last year.
They hadn't come.

Takeshi would watch me check the mail with like an excited child every day the week after new years, only to be dissapointed with the eventual discovery of nothing but junk mail.
Until one day...about five days after new years.. they started, at first a few, then a few more, and then.. a flood! twenty total! Twenty postcards of dancing inoshishis in the mail made me happy in an utterly silly and girly way, and I celebrated by taping them to the wall near our hallway, which made Takeshi raise an eyebrow or two. Here's a photo of all their lovely hooved glory.

I finally got around to checking the lottery. I actually won something! If you can't guess what it is, it's not money and you can affix it to small peices of paper. Oh and it starts with an S and ends with an TAMPS.
Good ol' post office! ^_^

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

An Ikea Christmas

Here in Japan, Takeshi and I celebrated our christmas cheer by pooling our winter bonuses and buying...*drumroll please*... A real bed! Like, with a mattress and raised above floor level and everything. It isn't even one of those sneaky raised tatami-mat-that-you-can-put-a-futon-on fake beds. But this raised a question.

When you want a real bed in Japan, where do you go?

A: where the rest of the world goes: ie, Ikea.

Ikea, like Costco, is kind of new for Japan. They just opened in Yokohama, so we went over to check it out. We spent the better part of a day testing out beds. Big enough? Not ugly? When we were trying out the bedframes, we discovered another criterion: Not possible to bruise your shin on. Found about three that failed THAT category, which made the search easier. Of course, after we found the frame, we got to the part where we chose mattresses. After sleeping on futons for a year and a half, almost everything in the store felt wonderful... but we decided to get a really hard one to sort of ease us into the whole bed thing. (It still feels like a feather bed to me.)

The only problem with Ikea is that even though they're so cheap and cute and dependable, their funiture takes SO long to assemble!! and of course, do not underestimate the risk to life and limb. There are perils involved, I say.. PERILS! About two seconds after scoffing at the warning label, Takeshi managed to get a cut that looks EXACTLY LIKE the picture on the warning. Coincidence? I think NOT. ^^ (Eew!) All in all I am quite pleased. Even more so because I have a new contract with a company based in Shinjuku and I get to sleep in until 8:30 am, which means I get an entire hour of queen-sized luxury bed to myself. You can almost hear me purring from the next room. ^_^

Another good thing about Ikea is you can get christmas stuff there! It's true, I had already bought a little cone-shaped bush and decorated it and even put lights on it and a star, but it was still, after all things considered, a christmas BUSH.

So I got a gingerbread house kit for something really cheap like 400 yen, and suddenly got a urge to have a christmas party. Most of my japanese friends here have lived in America at least a few months, so we had a potluck and a white elephant gift exchange. I think I must have not explained the game very well, because I got someone's gift of a DVD burner(!), while some poor sap got my gift: a picture frame I wasn't using and a koala-shaped pocket-heater holder. (only in Japan!) Taka-san swears he didn't need that DVD-burner because his new computer came with one built in, but I still feel a little guilty. ... (excuse me while I go off and chortle evily). ^^

But the main event of the christmas party was assembling the gingerbread house. we had to improvise, because I only had one small packet of powdered sugar, and I made the mistake of adding too much water. The sugary mixture was supposed to be like cement to hold the house together, but it ended up being about as effective as using some *really sugary* soda.

While my friends were lokoing at me with a mixture of helplessness and incredulity that it was even worth the effort of sticking some big cookies together, they suggested various sticky substances as a substitute.These substances included: 1) glue 2) some normal sugar heated to a very high tempurature 3) (my personal favorite:) sticky rice. We actually tried that one. Finally when these all failed, I melted some chocolate in the microwave, which seemed to do the trick, and it all started to come together. One good sport had even been using a hair-dryer on the "cool" setting to make the chocolate dry faster. We had to work fast, but we managed to get it all up, and it turned out very cute. Ok, so the brown didn't have quite the romantic snowy feel of sugar, but it still tasted good. We all cheered as the last part of the chimney went up, and we all felt a sense of acheivement. Then they looked at me like "now what do we do with it?" The answer to that question ended up being : "leave it at our place, for Kyra to nibble on, until she finally loses all pretenses of self control and eats the entire house by herself." Oh, and don't even bother asking what my new year's resolution was because I already broke it. I think it invloved eating less of that gingerbread house. (but it was so tasty!) Happy year of the boar everyone!