Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sapporo's Hassamu River - The Innocence of Water

29th June, 2010 - Sapporo is known for many things - such as snow, and of course snow festivals, miso ramen, beautiful seafood, yosokoi dancing, and of course for being the front door to the wide open scenery of Hokkaido. Beaches are not one of those things which Sapporo is famous for. Not by a long way. That's not to say that it doesn't have beaches (my wife used to body-board around Sapporo... but even she wouldn't call them nice beaches).

But children being children, and hot summers being hot summers... children + summer = water. And L-kun loves water. Now it turns out that one of the particular enjoyments of children is playing in the rivers. Now - there are some rivers that you definitely wouldn't want to play in, but Hasamugawa (Hasamu River) is fresh and clean. Just the perfect spot for a bit of summer fun.

There was no doubt that L-kun loved the day...and enjoyed spending some good time out and about. Actually there were quite a few children playing in the river too, or fishing. Hassamu-gawa is one of the rivers that runs through the north-west of the city that cuts down from the surrounding mountains.

View Sapporo Map in a larger map

Actually Otousan helped plant a whole row of cherry trees that runs along the road along the other side of the river (in the picture below). So I guess this spot holds some additional sentimental value.

And whilst the water's cool and clear... the water is flowing strong, and the river bed is lined with slippery rocks and concrete. T-chan told me that they actually were all a bit worried that Otousan would slip over - it was apparently like walking on ice. However, perhaps a lifetime of playing rivers must have endowed Otousan with good sea (or river) legs.

Of course - L-kun was already thinking of how long it would be before he could back here again. It's always a great thing to see your children having so much fun. Arigatou!

But... times change. I've added just a snippet of our home video taken by T-chan (below). It's one of those moments that you love as a parent. It's also one of my favourite moments from that trip, even though I wasn't there - ok... perhaps it's not that exciting for everyone else to watch (apologies in advance).

However, less than three weeks ago the world watched as hell broke loose on the north east of Honshu... and I don't think we will ever forget the vision that resulted. Three weeks ago I could watch this video and feel nothing but joy. Now, that joy is still there in the smile it brings to my mouth... but so to is a certain unease as I see my son playing at being swept away by the river. A world can change in a day... and a moment, innocent happiness can be tinged with sadness and despair.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

New Discovery...Summer = Kakigōri

26th June, 2010 - L-kun discovered a new treat... the slushy. Actually, the ice shaver dated from when T-chan was a little girl, and it still worked perfectly. As they say - they don't make things like this anymore. It's such as simple design, and yet characteristically cute.  Just add ice and turn the handle... and out pops beautifully shaved ice; called kakigōri (かき氷).

Just add some handy syrup (Calpis syrup is lovely for this, and comes in a variety of flavours). Calpis is also the name of a popular drink in Japan - which is always a source of giggles amongst newly arrived foreigners for it's phonetic similarity to a certain bovine waste by-product. For the record, it tastes very nice, and it's always nice when you tell friends back home that you downed a whole bottle of calpis. Those crazy Japanese.

Shaved ice, kakigōri, is an age-old symbol of summer in Japan... and I have to say that L-kun wasn't the only one to enjoy. This is a great idea - and I don't know why in the west we seem to be obsessed with overly processed goods (ok I don't know how processed calpis syrup is) when with a little bit of effort you can make delicious desserts that are perfect for a Japanese hot summer. We actually brought one of these back with us to Adelaide - but are still looking for a local syrup substitute (although condensed milk is an easy alternative). Yumm-o!

A last comment - Sapporo is renowned for it's cold winters... but over the last few years, the summers (which are generally quite mild) have been heating up. 2010 proved to be a particularly hot Sapporo summer. Also surprisingly humid. However, as I hadn't arrived there yet (remember these are all from T-chan), I was still a little dis-believing that it could be that bad.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Shopping Surprises - A Life-size Pitagora Suicchi Puzzle

25th June, 2010 - One of the great things about Japanese shopping is that you never quite know what little surprises will come up next. For example, there was a display at the Daimaru department store in Sapporo Station... a brilliant wooden structure that was driven by a series of balls (and gravity) ... it was just so intricate and so fun.  I wish T-chan had taken video of this, but alas opportunities come and go... when I arrived in Japan later on, I also didn't take video of it. Go figure.

Actually... the one thing that it reminded me of was the brilliant models that they build in NHK's Pythagora Switch (pitogora suicchi, ピタゴラスイッチ)... a very interesting children's program that if you've been in Japan and if you have children, you're almost certainly familiar with. One of the regular segments of the show contains a marble puzzle, where intricate home-made devices are constructed with only the power of a marble to work minor mechanical miracles. I'm not sure about L-kun, but I always love watching these. (Explanation: Pythagorean Devices - sometimes known as Rube Goldberg machines in the USA - are contraptions that are generally overly convoluted in design against their intended function - in this case, generally the raising of a flag or sign with the shows name)

The one thing I can say about Japanese... they love clever... and this is something that is instilled from a very early age. Of course, not all Japanese children's shows are quite so intellectually stimulating.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

We Interupt Your Dinner For An Important Message From Our Sponsor

21st June, 2010 - Well we should all remember the things that matter in life - and sometimes those things are the ones we take most for granted. Food is one of the simple pleasures in life that we rarely ever run out of. Still, do we ever really enjoy it fully? With gusto?

You do if you're 3 years old.

Whilst L-kun scores highly for enthusiasm (when eating), he most probably loses most if not all points for a complete lack of sophistication.

And whilst it's good to have some protection from spillage when sitting around the table (even Daddy could make use of that sometimes), sometimes you need a some protection outside as well. L-kun loves his Pooh-san umbrella. There's always something new when he comes back to Sapporo to live with obaachan and ojiichan. It's like Christmas at any time of the year.

At this time of sadness (with the 11, March, 2011 earthquake still firmly in our memories), it's good to not dwell too long on the bad things... but to remember better times and look forward to those times returning.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Slight Pause - 11th March 2011 Earthquake

As many of you are also doing (if you've an interest in Japan), you're most probably trying to find out as much as possible about what's going on in Honshu now following the devastating earthquake and tsunamis that rocked the country last Friday.

I've had a bit of a pause in doing my posts - but I will try not to instill too much of the here-and-now into these posts. For more contemporary news out of Japan, check out my other blog Raising Adelaide, or check out the good news websites Mainichi Shimbun website and Japan Times site.

I know our thoughts and hopes go out to all of Japan, but especially those that have suffered (and continue to suffer) so much in the north east of the country.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Seventh Trip Starts - 2010 Revisited

13th June, 2010.... Well - as this (historical) blog has a wont to do, I've fast-forwarded to 2010...on the eve of our next adventure in Japan in 2011. We've all gotten that little bit older, and in the case of L-kun, that little bit bigger. This time around, T-chan and L-kun were heading off to Japan early - and I'd be catching up a few weeks later. The great thing about children getting older is that they are so much easier to travel with (why do I suspect I will come to regret those words). This is L-kun's third trip, so he's getting to be an old hand at international travel. I was 26 before I went on my first plane. How the world has changed.

Still. It's difficult to see them off. Even L-kun was a little sad. He did however know where the plane was going to take him. Japan. That made the sadness of leaving Daddy behind all the more palatable. 

Of course - it's not all sadness and goodbyes. There's many things to keep you occupied. L-kun decided that it might be a good idea to learn the basics of flying (just in case). You can never be too prepared after all.

Of course, it doesn't matter how prepared you are, a lad's gotta sleep, and store up all that energy for the trip home.

After all, he knows that when he gets to Sapporo, magic can happen. For example time is different there - and he can have his 3rd birthday all over again. What a magical land.
L-kun's second 3rd birthday celebration on arrival into Japan.

We're definitely lucky in that we don't have extremely long flights (about 9 hours from Sydney to Tokyo) and almost no time change when going back to Japan from Adelaide. Still, when you're getting around airports with a little boy plus transferring flights it can be very exhausting. Actually, there's surprisingly little to do in Narita Airport (around the arrivals section) at 7 am in the morning, and we have to kill time for 3+ hours to wait for the flight to Sapporo. But at least Sapporo means home for T-chan, and that is always a source of energy and motivation.

So - as our latest trip is about to start, I welcome you all aboard the Japanese Ties Airlines... for your safety we ask you to stow your luggage in the areas provided, and sit back and enjoy the ride. This may be a slow start however as we're still in the process of getting ready for our next trip.