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Sunday, July 13, 2008

back to Kyoto

I met a very interesting Jesuit priest in nagasaki, who was able to fill me in with in depth knowledge re the Christians who were called Kakure and Senpuku in Nagasaki. He is the director of the 26 martyrs monument, which is going to be added to by the beatification of 187 Japanese martyrs later this year, recognising the suffering that Japanese Christians have experienced. Still today in Nagasaki, Catholic Christians make up 5% of the population, in comparison to 0.5% in the rest of Japan. We also saw some of the icons which the Christians made to keep faith, whilst pretending that they were Buddhist type symbols... Such as the one above. Also, we found Oranda street!! There is a whole area called the Orandazaka - meaning the Dutch slopes as well.

G and I went to mass this morning at the Nakamachi Cathedral and I could vouch for this - a full church, with singing children up the front, and quite a moving liturgy. (G found it a little harder to make the distance, having little Japanese and after a late night the night before, taken out by the `Australia-Nagasaki friendship association`! I was quizzed on John Howard, whaling, Nagasaki vs Hiroshima, etc, etc!)

G has continued to enjoy the shinkansen and we got up to Kyoto late today... it is just so different to Nagasaki - crowded, full of foreign tourists, but similarly hot! He loved the escalators leading up 12 floors unidirectionally, kind of up into the sky, to the top of the Kyoto station building.

Crucifying statues!

We arrived at the Peace wing of the Nagasaki Nuclear bomb museum today at 9.45am, to discover that our interviews with nuclear bomb survivors had been moved around, to start at 1:30 in the afternoon, as one of the survivors had cancelled due to ill health. At late notice, the peace wing volunteers organised another visitor instead, and so G and I instead went off to look at the Urakami cathedral, which was only about 150 metres or so from the bomb `hypocentre`. We found here, the `crucified` statues, most having lost their heads, or at the very least having been disfigured, having survived through hell on earth.

It was later that we heard about this hell, through the voices of a male and female survivor, one who was in junior high school, and the other who was an elementary school teacher at the time of the bombing. G kicked off the interviews, asking a few questions he had prepared, and the elementary teacher, who you would not have known was 82 years old, particularly appreciated this. I could tell that at times, there was ground which was painful and difficult for both survivors, and I also quizzed them about difficult topics such as reconciliation and responsibility which they also found somewhat difficult.

Yesterday, when we arrived in Nagasaki, we had spent the afternoon touring the peace museum, the hypocentre and the peace park, so by the end of this afternoon, G and I were quite tired out. This place is full of history, and is also quite spectacular, so we enjoyed just spacing out at a restaurant overlooking the bay and ferries this evening.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


G and I enjoyed the climb on Tuesday am up Himeji castle, a world heritage listed castle, which manages to crown the city buildings of Himeji, built as it is on a hill, in what was a castle town. It is a little strange to make the top storey to be greeted by a Shinto shrine, but apparently this is in honour of the hill on which it is built. We were really starting to feel the heat of a Japanese summer here, and perhaps it is that the further we venture south, the hotter it actually is. G enjoyed pretending to fire arrows from the various points around the castle, looking at the wells, and it was great being the only ones there, as we got there shortly after opening at 9am.

We hopped on our bullet train at 12.30, to be spirited away through Hiroshima, and on, under the ocean through a tunnel to the third main island we have managed to visit in our time here so far, Kyushu. By 2.40pm we were in Fukuoka, and made our way to a school visit by 3.30pm. Another school visit this morning at a Jesuit school similar to the one I am now working, and then we were free for the afternoon. Considering the heat, we decided to make for Fukuoka`s network of underground shopping, under the suburb of Tenjin, until it cooled a little. We enjoyed browsing the basements of the big department stores like Daimaru and Mitsukoshi, where we were rewarded with taste tests of jellys, cakes and even freshly prepared coffee.

The food in Japan has been an ongoing revelation - smoking allowed in most restaurants has managed to turn us off quite a few times, and we have decided `family` restaurants (beer and hamburger meat) are best avoided. Today, for lunch, we decided to try a place just over the road from our hotel, a tiny one man show, which turned out to serve the best Yakisoba, and one serve at 500 yen (less than $5) served G and I easily!

Finally today, we took a JR line ( on our passes) out of the city, and then had to change once and then onto a private line for one station - on a recommendation from one of the teachers at the first school we visited, we went to a place called Mitoma, north of the city. Here after an amazing 10 minute walk, we discovered largely deserted white sand beach, where G swam and ran with abandon, and we practised our stone throwing technique. By 6.45pm, we decided the sun had sunk far enough, had our misadventure with a family restaurant and returned home, only regretting the lack thus far of bath houses.

From Tokyo to inaka

Well the contrasts were obvious when we took off to Shikoku to take G back to his birthplace. To see

so much green, was a real highlight, after the smoky, crowded subways in Tokyo. But more than that, the highlight was seeing friends, and for G, making friends. G met Shun, and after the first night, the initial nervousness of not speaking each other`s language melted away, especially when the two of them took each other on in chess.

G gave Shun a Kangaroos T-shirt, his favourite team, and then they both wore them the next day to church.

It was fantastic to see so many other friends there, and we were welcomed back, many of them saying how little things had changed. The one thing that had changed was the children, who have grown up! H, who was a Junior High student last time we were here, took us to the river near Oyu, prawn hunting, and they captured 6 or 7 prawns in an hour. We had a BBQ later that night, and discovered a couple of versions of Shogi (Japanese Chess). We stayed out at Oyu the second night, in an amazing farmhouse - thanks to all from Nakamura Fukuin Church.

Pickles, faffing and issues with toast

Today we made it as far as Kings Cross in London. We've walked some streets three times and haven't been able to make it to places we hoped - but it has been fun.We got stuck on Oxford street with the annual pride march - crazyness. I tried to explain to L why some men were walking the street in high heels, bunny ears, tutus and pink wigs. She was very interested in going to Tottenham Court Rd (one story in Harry Potter) so we did without me asking first what the story was about (I found out later it was about Hermione having a sludgy grey coffee with Harry and Ron in a cafe and getting propositioned by a drunk man). We managed to have a lovely (though expensive) lunch and a great coffee, and also avoided the colourful street people. There are many parts that are pretty grotty though. L is exhausted this afternoon so we are going to check in now.
This morning we said goodbye to the M's. We loved spending the time with them - especially the younger two who have very developed personalities -J (4 years) is a pickle (cheeky ratbag) who faffs around (loves an audience - and is very cute), J (6 years) also has a lovely sense of humour. B (8) is an empathetic soul who has a gift for lego robotics, A (mum) has issues with the toaster (which was australian) and M (dad) is (along with A) is inspirational in the way he believes they are to enrich the community in which they live. M also volunteers and trains red cross first aid people in the area in his spare time. I had no idea he loved that so much.
We hope to walk along the Thames tomorrow - we saw the miniature version of most of the sights yesterday at Legoland (detailed - and infinitely more manageable) and also flew over it on the way to Heathrow on Wednesday. Today i've managed to stay out of too much sun after getting sunburnt at legoland (and bottles of sunscreen are £15 in london!). Tomorrow afternoon we fly to Holland - I am sooo looking forward to seeing the R family there.
Tonight we are off to stay in the Clink Hostel in KC - the old magistrates court complete with cells for bedrooms (L's request). The place we left our bags this morning resembled the room of requirement (Harry Potter) where things can be hidden forever. I hope they will be found when we get there in 15 mins. I think Clink may complete my picture of London as a little claustrophobic.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Pancakes in Harajuku

Today we met Kiyo and K in Harajuku, which we explored for a little while, coming across some dog kimonos and some pancakes, as well as some threatening police, due to the G8 summit being on at the moment in Hokkaido. Apparently that might make the populace restless in Tokyo, so the police are out in force, holding on to their batons and making threatening poses. (a bit like Ultraman on the top floor of Loft, a variety store in Shibuya). After we had walked to Shibuya, we met the four boys and teacher from my school, who are actually here for the World Children's Summit, which was also held in Hokkaido. They had had a great time from all accounts - we took them to do some shopping and then out to a 'family' restaurant - family stands in this case for a good variety of food at a good price! (and in a modern Japanese style) At the end of this time, we were able to experience 'the' intersection at Shibuya, which I hope comes up in this post, for your enjoyment - sorry, I think I moved too fast... basically there were a lot of people!

Tomorrow morning? Up at 5am, to get to Shinagawa station in South Tokyo to catch the bullet train, which will be in Shinagawa for exactly 1 minute. Woebetide us if we are late! By 3.30pm we hope to have proceeded south as far as Okinawa on Honshu and then across the inland sea on an impressive bridge to Kochi Prefecture on Shikoku. This is where we lived for 2 years. We will be staying with friends in Nakamura for the next two nights - I may be away from internet...


The funny thing is, while K and L are visiting Shakespeare country, the founder of Waseda University, which owns the school I've been visiting this week, was the translator of many of Shakespeare's works into Japanese and a Prime minister of japan, perhaps at the same time! I saw some of his original translation attempts, with all the crossing out and re writing that goes along with it, at Waseda University. Waseda is like a little town, with its own subway station in Tokyo, pretty close to Shinjuku, the business hub of Tokyo. I was saying to G, 'This station has 3 million go through it every day and today we've made it 3 million and 3, because we've gone through it twice!' Its pretty hard to fathom, especially since in 1880 or so, there were only 30 people visiting the station every day!

First from English parts

"Mum, when are we going to get 'examined'?" L asked AFTER we got through the passport section in Korea. She has travelled so well in all the time changes and hours sitting on planes and in queues. On a twelve hour flightyesterday I had to work hard to get her to get out of her chair even 3 times. When we arrived at Heathrow I was grilled by the immigration official about being a minister and why my partner was in Japan. I wasn't sure if it was laid back chatting while the scanner chugged away (everything moves slow at Heathrow) or that I genuinely looked suspicious. I admit I felt dreadful. Whatever the case I was just relieved to have been pulled out of a 2.5 hour queue (because I had a child) just 30 minutes into the wait. It has been sooo lovely to see M&A and their 3. B has completely lost her Aussie accent and the children all look at me queerly when I talk about patting the rabbit (should be 'stroking') etc. They are so cute going off to school. M took a day off today and we talked lots of family and emerging church stuff in the car as we travelled the country roads from Daventry to Coughton Court. The tiny 700 year old church in the country village near Daventry (where the gunpowder plot was hatched) was more memorable than the tourist driven Stratsford-upon-Avon we finished the drive at. It is too cold to meet in during winter so they meet in the town hall. The village homes are complete with thatched roofs and window boxes. Tomorrow we are off to Legoland for a completely different experience with all the children very excited. G, J is into star wars - we'll have fun there and with the roboticworkshop, I think! I'm hoping we sleep past 4 am tomorrow morning. L and I had watched "The other Bolelyn girl" on the plane so we have theHenry VIII/Elizabeth I story fresh in our minds... At Coughton Court (hometo a loyal Catholic family) we saw the gown (and death mask) Mary Queen of Scots was executed in (macabre, truly) and a beautiful cloak embroidered byCatherine of Avalon after she had been discarded by Henry VIII. The cloak was a very Catholic statement of faith. I found the indoor 'heritage' interesting but oppressive. I think I know why the family handed the property over - how could you possibly live in such a place with all those forbears hanging over your shoulders with every meal, walk, conversation??Such a huge focus on preserving the 'relics' of the past seems to me a frustrating and tiring task for the descendents of a family. I love the stories, but when the past clutters every corner there is NO space to enjoy the present or dream of the future. A highlight today was the walled garden at this National Trust property. We walked lots and basked in the joy of all the summer flowers in both rain and sunshine. Yes, it does shine in the UK!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

King Ghiddra, okonomiyaki and public transport

Hi all, yesterday was a massive day - because I had to go to Waseda Uni high school for an appointment at 2.30pm, before which we managed to get to Odaiba - Odaiba is a massive development, which was meant to be double its size, but got burst by the blowing up of the japanese economic bubble in the late 90s. It is actually completely made up of land reclaimed from the Tokyo bay, and to get there, you take this futuristic driverless (G drove ours) monorail around a massive loop which turns into a bridge to the male-made island. On the island, you see monolithic buildings which are architecturally challenging! Anyway, I left K and G on the monorail and made my way back to Waseda high school, which prob took me about an hour and a half including all changes of subway/train. The principal gave me a tour of the school and it looks quite positive in terms of exchanges...

Afterwards, I met K, G and our friend Kiyo in Asakusa, where we eventually had okonomiyaki... cooked in front of us - delicious! G had managed to find for himself a model of King Ghiddra from the japanese Godzilla - which he assured me was much cheaper here than in Australia... It was also fantastic for G when he joined us in rush hour (at 8pm!!) on the trains back through Shibuya to T and Cs where we are staying right now. He was able to use his three headed dragon to bite and kick people who jammed up to close to him... I don't think Melburnians actually know the extent to which you can take the concept of sardines on public transport!!

Ueno, tabako and cheaper Tokyo

G and I made it to Tokyo last night - our flight was delayed by 3 hours, but we only got in about 1 and a half hours late, which was good. G did fantastically, considering that 9pm here was actually 10pm at home. We jumped on the Keisei Skyliner, which took us about an hour to get to Ueno station, but was quite a scenic route, at the height of a lot of the apartment buildings, which G was noticing stretch on and on along the landscape here. We had to change to the subway to get close to our hotel, which we are happy with - we are actually located right between Akihabara, Asakusa and Ueno Park, which are three major tourist areas in Japan - I would reccomend this place if anyone else is coming to Tokyo. It is a brilliant location - unfortunately just one night for us, but we:re going to a friend:s place for the next three nights, which will certainly save money! Still, this place was 7500 yen for the night for both of us, which is about $75 Aussie dollars - who says Tokyo is expensive??! We had sandwiches for breakfast, because the hotel doesn`t do breakfast and our first Japanese meal will have to be lunch. This morning we took a walk to Ueno Park, which I last visited with K, L and Jono.

This park is the equivalent of Woolloomooloo I think in Sydney. We did stop to talk to a couple of the guys living there and they enjoyed talking. They had a couple of kittens and were sitting next to the big lake, which is full of green weeds and giant Koi (Carp). We saw lots of shrines and two temples. Photos now here!

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Here is our first podcast re the Japan/Europe trip. Enjoy!!

Eurojapan pod1.mp3

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Living in Exile

May 1952 Opa and Oma travelled from the Netherlands to Australia not knowing that they wouldn't return. Well a couple of quick trips 'home' don't really count. L and K are excited to be travelling 'back' to their birthplace to spend some time with R-V family.
Some places we are also hoping to visit are:
the Rijksmuseum, Annefrankhuis, Delft, Leiden, Voorburg, Den Haag...
K is obsessed with decorative vegetable gardens and is dreaming of visiting Castle Villandry in France. L is interested in Oxford and some other Harry Potter inspired places in the four days in England.

A friend and I (K) were talking recently about how language forms so much of our identity. I know that in speaking Japanese there are things I can say more powerfully than in English. Occasionally I am stuck for words in English because there is a better idiom or phrase capturing how I feel in Japanese. Dad spoke Dutch to his parents all their lives - I wonder how much I didn't know them because of the loss in translation! I am looking forward to learning a little more of them in the journey.

This week I have been reading the story of Daniel and what it was like to be a person whose identity was constantly challenged in an exilic setting. Nebuchadnezzar tried to seduce Daniel to assimilate and to forget home with fine wine and a royal diet. But Daniel still knew who he was. I don't think Oma and Opa experienced royal life in Australia, in fact I think Oma in particular lived in culture shock for much of her life, but they did maintain a strong sense of Dutch identity with their food, living arrangements (yes, persian rugs on every table) and language.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Our trip 2008

This is the first post for japaneurope!! K and L have booked flights for going to England and Holland. They are very excited and are doing lots of planning for the big trip. They'll be leaving on the 1st of July and staying overseas for 3 weeks. At this stage, K and L will land in London initially, where they plan to visit the M'ton's in the north for a few days, followed perhaps by a weekend in London. After this, they will make their way to the Netherlands, to stay with family there.

Gw has booked to go to Japan on the 30th June, and will return on the 20th July and he'll take Ge with him as well. If they go, Ge would like to see the hospital he was born in. We are hugely excited about this trip, although we do just wish that we could do both altogether! This is going to be our virtual trip to Europe and Japan together - if you'd like to follow us along on this trip, then check up this blog from time to time, especially at the time. As this is partially business, Gw will visit some schools whilst he is in Japan, one of which should be Waseda Uni High School in Tokyo. He would also like to visit Nagasaki to do some research for his study this year. The other exciting thing is that Ki is also going to Japan at the same time. We will meet up with her, although she initially flies in to Osaka, thanks to Jetstar! We may also visit that American 'culture', Disney...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Golden orb takes up residence

Our new pet is a giant arachnid, which has taken up residence out the back, growing and providing much entertainment for us, as we wonder whether it is the compost heap, closeby which is providing the food.  Actually, there are two, a female and a male, but the male is much smaller.  As far as our identifying skills go, it is a 'Golden Orb', of which the female are one of the larger of spider types, whilst the male is a hardly visible tiny specimen.  
They are not called golden orbs because of their own skin, but because of the tough webs they spin. Can you make them out in the photo? The silk of a golden orb spider is somewhat prized - one visitor told me, as we showed off our new pet.  Apparently it was hoped at one stage that the silk of a golden orb could be used to make clothing.  Another friend told me that it was so tough it has been used in experiments in making bullet proof armour!  

Also, apparently these orbs are from Queensland, so it is a migrant to our state and perhaps the warm weather have encouraged it so far.

Whatever the case, we are enjoying watching the growth of the spider, its web and nature at work - even in terms of a predator.  The kids too are fascinated, especially by the strength of the web, which you can twang like a guitar without any sound effects.  Who was it who said that without the predator, there is no balance in nature?  
Anyway, this 'little' predator has made our little courtyard its new home, giving us something more than just the greenery to look for through the window in the mornings.    

Friday, January 11, 2008

Caught between two worlds

Last week we were in the blue mountains and decided to take on one of the 'difficult' walks, called the 'national pass', which started in the 'valley of the waters' and went along a path between two cliffs to the mid-point of the Wentworth Falls. L and G were suitably excited about going on a difficult walk, and with some misgivings we set off, starting at a waterfall where we had seen abseilers the previous day, coming down the fall with or without helmets and jumping the last 10 metres into the pool at the bottom.

It turned out to be a magic walk, water frequently angled over us from the cliffs above, and when we made it to Wentworth falls, the reward for L and myself was a pounding under another set of falls. Climbing up again was via a zigzag extreme path up the cliff itself, where we saw lizards and black cockatoos. As we neared the finish of the climb, there were suddenly hosts of people, who had walked down from the carpark, to get to the first lookout. The tourist on a mobile phone was a bit jarring at the lookout, but we were able to look straight down to where we had been in the water. The kids kept saying, 'Difficult is easier than easy!'.