Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Our 2007 Christmas Cake package

Boxed cake

Four perfect strawberries for decorating the top of the cake. Notice that they are wrapped in bubble wrap and came inside a small box!

Streamer poppers and two votive candles. We still haven't figured out why the poppers look like American flags. Anyone have any ideas?

Strange tic-tac-toe game

Christmas Cake!

Christmas Cake with candles!

Ellen being silly in the kitchen on Christmas Eve

Hello Kitty is ready for 2008, the Year of the Rat!

Temple down the street from us that I pass by on my walks

As the Japanese would say, Happy Merry Christmas to everyone!

Christmas is already over here, but it's still Christmas Day in the States, so I thought I could still post my greeting. I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday and enjoying time with family and friends. Things are well here in Japan, and we've been having a fun time. Zach is working a holiday schedule right now, which means that he gets more days off between his work days. We were lucky this year because he didn't have to work on Christmas. We had friends over for dinner on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was quiet and we stayed at home.

New Year's is a big holiday in Japan, but Christmas isn't. The one Japanese Christmas tradition that we have discovered is eating Christmas Cake. I've posted some photos so you can see ours this year. Zach bought it at the little convenience store just down our street, and it came with all kinds of fun stuff. I could not believe that they packaged the strawberries for the top of the cake in bubble wrap and a separate box! It came with birthday cake candles, so we put candles on the cake and lit them. It seemed weird not to sing "Happy Birthday," so we did. :-)

I know there are many New Year's traditions here, and we're slowly learning about them. 2008 will be the Year of the Rat, and as part of my Christmas presents, Zach got me a stuffed Hello Kitty wearing a rat costume. I've included a picture. I think she's really cute, don't you?

Well, I guess that's it for today. I'm going for a walk this afternoon. It's so beautiful and sunny outside. I've included a picture of the temple that I often walk by when I go for my walks. It still amazes me every time I go by it and reminds me that I really am living in Japan. Happy Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Spring water used for making sake

Machinery that polishes the rice for sake

Mold added in the fermentation process

Tasting sake!

Making washi paper

Equipment for making paper

Paper drying

Bell Tower in Kawagoe


Candy, candy, candy!!

Fish-shaped waffle molds. They put fillings in the waffles, like sweet potato, custard, and sweet bean paste. We tried the custard-filled one. Yummy!

Making the waffles


Inside Kitain Temple in Kawagoe

Inside Kitain Temple

Inside Kitain Temple

Inside Kitain Temple

Inside Kitain Temple

Outside the temple

Creepy Alien Buddha Disciple

Toenail-Clipper Buddha Disciple

Nose-Picker Buddha Disciple and Zach

Hello! Things are good here. I can't believe it's already Thursday. I've been kind of busy and have been meaning to post some photos from a trip we took last Sunday. The base has a travel office that offers a bunch of different tours---one for every day of the week! And they are usually quite affordable. We picked a tour that took us to a small sake brewery called Seisun, where we learned all about the brewing process and tasted the final product. Nothing like sampling alcohol at 10 in the morning! Then it was off to a paper-making factory that makes handmade washi paper. We made our own paper postcards, and they will send us the paper after it has dried. I'll post a picture of the final product when they arrive. The tour concluded with a trip to the town of Kawagoe, which has a lot of old buildings, an entire street devoted to candy (!!!), and a beautiful temple called Kitain. This was my first temple visit in Japan, and I was so amazed. Adjacent to the temple was a courtyard with 540 carved stone statues representing the disciples of Buddha. We left offerings at two of them because they made us laugh. Check out my darling husband and his favorite---Nose-Picker Buddha Disciple!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Our recycling bins

Happy Friday! I hope everyone is well and ready for the weekend. If you need a good laugh, you really have to check out the Japanese toilet-training video that my friend Jen recommended. It is soooo hilarious. Here's the link:

It is beautiful and sunny here today. I took out the plastic recycling a little while ago and realized that this might be a topic to share on my blog. I know, you're thinking, recycling? Yes, recycling AND garbage. I'm a big supporter of recycling, and I think it's an easy way to help our planet. In Japan, they take it to a whole new level. Japan is a small country with a lot of people, and they follow a complicated system for collecting recycling and garbage. So, I'll try to explain the process for our little neighborhood, since it differs depending on where you live.

First off, as you can see in the photo above, we have five recycling cans! Plus, we have another can for garbage. Our garbage/recycling collection site is located at the end of our street. It is a three-walled enclosure, with a little roof over it.

Garbage is collected on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Everything, whether it's garbage or recycling, has to be put in transparent or semi-transparent bags so that the collectors can see what's in the bags.

Monday is Recyclable Resource Day and Paper Day. This means that they collect glass, cans, and paper items. Paper items have to be sorted by type, which means that things like magazines and newspapers go in one bag, and paper bags and packaging go in another.

Friday is Plastic Day and Pet Bottle Day. All plastic wrapping and containers that don't have the triangle symbol with the number 1 go in one bag, and all bottles with the number 1/triangle go in another. With the pet bottles, you have to take off the plastic lids and labels, and put those two items in with the plastic wrappings. We have full-color brochures with examples of all the items that you have to recycle. Here's a link to a pdf of one of the brochures. It's in English:

This brochure is a little old, however. They recently changed their plastic and paper recycling process, with more items that you have to recycle and different collection days. I unfortunately couldn't find a copy of this brochure to share with you, but it's definitely made things more complicated.

So, craziness, no? You really think twice about everything you need to get rid of here. Is this garbage? Is this recycling? Which bin do I put it in? What day of the week is it? I will never look at garbage the same way again.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

See how happy they are?! Tofu Man even has a Santa hat!

Origami paper crane that I made last year

Little Santa from Ikea. He is one of a dozen on our tree. Zach thinks they look like cat hairballs, and keeps asking me when we got a cat. Argh!

Angel Hello Kitty that we found at our local secondhand shop for 50 yen, or about 50 cents!

Howdy! How is everyone? 'Tis the season at the Schwarting house in Japan! We put up our Christmas tree and a few decorations around the house the other night. I thought you might enjoy seeing how happy Tofu Man and Reindeer Man are. A lot of our ornaments are in storage back in the States, but we found some fun ones here to decorate with. Last year I came to visit Zach for the holidays, and I made a bunch of origami paper cranes to put on the tree. Kind of weird, but I thought it was appropriate for where we are. Enjoy the pictures!