May 31, 2006

Sports Day Event: Bean Bag Toss

Sports Day was postponed from last Saturday to today. Unfortunately, it is Wednesday so many fathers and older siblings couldn't attend. At Little Brother's elementary school, there is a white team and a red team. They wear their usual school P.E. uniform. The hat they always wear has a red side and a white side. When they form teams they just flip the hat to their team's color.

Both teams for Sports Day have members from all grades. No awards or ribbons are given to individual students. Teams get points when they win an event. The points are displayed on the side of the school. Large paper cards are put manually into slots.

There is an opening ceremony. A small student band leads everyone onto the field. (They usually play "Life Goes On" by the Beatles.) The principal makes a speech. A small group of "cheerleaders" lead their teams in chants. They do warm-up exercises to music and then "march" back to their seats. (They had brought their chairs from the classroom earlier.)

Here are two pictures of an event for first graders. The red team stands in a circle at one end of the playground and the white team stands in a circle at the other end. They do a little dance with music. When the music stops they run to the center to pick up bean bags to toss into the basket. Afterwards, the whole crowd counts aloud as a teacher tosses each bag into the air. The team who has the most bags wins the points for the event.

Sports Day Event: Bamboo Poles

Here are pictures of one event using bamboo poles. Students pass a bamboo pole from one group to another. They first run and carry it about 30 meters, they go around a cone, and then run back to the group. Before passing it onto the next group, they must run the pole under the feet of the whole group. The group jumps up as they pass it under them. Then they pass it back over their heads to the front of the whole team. The next group takes the pole, runs with it, and does the same thing before passing it to the next group.

Bamboo poles are also used for tug of war. Several poles are pulled by groups of about five students. Other events include relays and 50 and 100 meter races. Second graders race in groups pushing a big ball. First graders do a bean bag toss. Each grade 1-4 performs dances. Grades 5 and 6 do a gymnastic routine. Whole teams do the final event.

Sports Day Event: The Finale

This is the last event of the competition at Little Brother's school. The red team is on one end of the field. The white team is on the other. Each team has a big ball. The balls are moved over the heads of the team and then rolled across the playground back to the starting plate. This is done twice. They do a tiebreaker if there is a tie.

At the end of this event, everyone goes back to their seats. The small band leads them back onto the playground to stand at attention in lines while the final score is displayed on the side of the school building.

Then the principal makes a speech, team leaders thank their teams, and they all do some exercises. They go back to get their chairs to take them back to their classrooms. The red team won both times in this event but both teams tied in the final score! Everyone was happy.

May 30, 2006

Cars: Parking

This is an example of a parking lot at an apartment building. Assistance from an attendant is required. Cars are parked on a platform that is raised. This doubles the number of parking spaces in a small lot.

May 29, 2006

Bicycles: No Parking Sign

This is a sign telling people not to park their bicycles here. It is located in front of the library. What is more interesting is the yellow plastic water tank on it. There is a white cap on top where the water can be added or drained. Do you know why it's there? The additional weight of the water keeps the sign from blowing in the wind. In the past, I have seen signs blow down the street.

May 28, 2006

Bicycles: Parking at Home

This is parking for bicycles outside an apartment building. This apparatus saves space and it is convenient. Not every apartment building has one, though. The handle is pulled and the bicycle is lowered. I think I would prefer to park on the lower level.

Bicycles: Parking in Public

These bicycle parking spaces are outside a department store. Money is not needed. A key is not provided. Perhaps the main advantage is that the bicycles are not all packed together. In addition, they will not fall down and start a domino effect. That happens a lot, especially when it is windy.

May 27, 2006

School Days: The Sewing Box

The tera tera bozu didn't work. It rained today so Sports Day was cancelled. Students had to stay at school for a regular school day (but with an obentou or boxed lunch). Little Brother came home with this, too. It is the sewing box that fifth graders ordered a few weeks ago. He chose the carrying case that says "Fantasy of the Flying Dragon".

We ordered each of the contents in the plastic box individually. There are needles, thread, pins and a pin cushion, scissors, a seam ripper, a tape measure, a ruler, and pink and blue charcoal sewing pencils that have their own carrying case and sharpener. At least the fifth graders had something exciting today. He said they practiced threading a needle.

May 26, 2006

Wishing for a Sunny Day

There must be something important at this kindergarten tomorrow. The elementary school is having their Sports Day so maybe this school is having theirs, too. Why do I think so? See the white things hanging in the window? They are tera tera bozu made like the ghosts we make out of Kleenex. Tera tera bozu are hung in the window when you want a sunny day. So, before a picnic or an important outdoor event children sometimes hang these in the window so it won't rain.

Notice the shoes outside. This classroom opens onto the playground. Children and their teacher take their shoes off before going inside. The potted plants outside are tomato plants.

Note: I may change this photo later with one that shows the tera tera bozu better. After school, Little Brother said his class made some today, too.

May 25, 2006

Pet Signs

Here is a close-up of the signs. The white one asks you to please clean up after your dog. It was tied to a fence outside of a park. The blue one is for cats, and it was near a parking lot of an apartment building. It says the same thing. Both are signed by the City of Tokyo.

May 24, 2006

Down the Street

As I walked down the street past the construction site I came across this scene. It looks like a country road in the middle of town. See the white sign up in the tree on the left? That's a sign shaped like a dog that asks you not to let your dog use the area as a toilet, but if do, clean up after him. You see those signs all along the streets of my neighborhood. I'll get a close-up. I've also seen one shaped like a cat. But, really, who tells a cat where to go?

Under Construction

When a building is under construction, there is usually a bulletin board to explain what is being done. The picture shows a temporary wall. It was built to block construction and its dust. Pictures and diagrams were put in this fancy metal and glass showcase. This wall and showcase will disappear one day and a new building will appear.

May 23, 2006

Rose Festa

The Jindaiji Botanical Gardens was having what they called a "Rose Festa". The roses were in full bloom today. Big buses were parked outside with visitors. People came from far and near. It was spectacular even though it was a cloudy day. I took many close-up pictures of roses but thought you would be more interested in these pictures. I included one picture of a rose. It's an unusual bluish lavender color.

Garden workers cut the spent roses and put them in a big plastic bucket. I watched in amazement wanting some of them. They looked pretty good to me. An old woman was standing beside me. I said something like "wow" and the woman looked at me and laughed in agreement. Below is an outdoor sink where you can wash your hands. Most people still carry handkerchiefs.

This last picture is a pond near the temple. It started to rain so you can see the raindrops hit the water. The orange thing underwater is a coi or goldfish. Can you see the duck? It circled the turtles before stopping and taking a gander. Interesting cross-species communication. I wish I had had the zoom lens on the camera to get a close-up!

May 22, 2006

School Days: Lunch Boxes

Here are examples of Japanese lunchboxes. Big Sister used the pink one in kindergarten. I used to put a cherry tomato or mini tomato in the little pink plastic star so it wouldn't roll around. Little Brother uses the yellow and green lunch box for elementary school outings and Sports Days. We got it as a gift from Baskins & Robbins. (The ice cream shop is called "31" here). The little green container that has Pluto on it is for onigiri or rice balls. Little Brother prefers to have several onigiri along with other things. Sometimes I need to put an extra onigiri in this container. He has school lunch service so he doesn't need this lunch box every day.

The other picture shows Little Brother's lunch box in its carrying bag. The black box is the lunch box Big Sister used in junior high. The long thin black container is for chopsticks or ohashi . Someday I'll show you full lunch boxes. Hopefully, I'll be a better photographer by then!

Kids Web Japan--lunch boxes

Setsuko Watanabe's site

Bento Box

May 21, 2006

Boxed Lunch

Here is a store that sells boxed lunches. You choose from many different kinds of dishes to fill up a disposable plastic box. Convenience stores and grocery stores sell lunches that are pre-packed. These boxed lunches are called obentou. Big Sister and Little Brother needed an obentou when they were in nursery school. They had their own heavy duty plastic lunchbox that I prepared each morning. Their elementary school has a school lunch service. Big Sister had to take an obentou the first two years of junior high, but this year her school started a school lunch service. She will need to take an obentou to high school.

Note: The word obentou is spelled with a "u" in Japanese romaji. The "u" makes the "o" long. So, if you were learning or writing romaji in Japan you would spell it with a "u" at the end.

Setsuko Watanabe's site

Bento Box

May 20, 2006

School Days: Sports Day

The official time for Sports Day is in October, but both Big Sister's and Little Brother's were this May. Today was the junior high's. No ribbons are given to individual students. For this junior high, there were five teams, red, green, yellow, white and blue. They were competing with each class and grade. The teams got points for the number of "winners" of the events. There were mostly races and relays. There was tug of war.

Big Sister is part of a volunteer club that goes to nursing homes and festivals to perform Japanese dances. They perform at Sports Day, too. Members of other classes were taught a dance to perform with them. Here is a picture of Big Sister dancing just with her club members.

The other picture is the scene outside a conference room. Parents went in to get out of the sun to eat their lunch. they took boxed lunches. Street shoes are not worn inside the school so everyone left theirs outside the door. Looks like a lot of people went on home for lunch. There were a few of us eating our lunch outside in the sun, too.

May 19, 2006

Recycled Bench

These benches are on the platform of a station on the Keio Line. It is the train line that runs west from Shinjuku Station. The benches are made from used pass-net cards. Pass-net cards are sold in increments of 1000 yen. You can use them to go through the station's turnstile without stopping at the ticket machine each time you ride the train. You can use them for 1000 yen worth of rides.

Above is the label that explains that the benches were made out of the cards.

I went on to another station on the Keio line. I was surprised to find this bench in the shopping area. Can you see that it is chained down? I wonder, is someone afraid it will be taken?

P.S. Notice the bench in the shopping area has an arm rest. Nowadays benches on streets and in parks are built that way. People can't lie down to sleep on them.

May 18, 2006

Assignment: Bring a Bucket

Little Brother needs to take a bucket to school tomorrow. We didn't have one to spare so we bought this one at the 100 yen shop (like your dollar stores). Fifth graders will grow rice in a bucket. First graders grow morning glories and second graders grow sunflowers in flower pots. We can't remember what they grew in third grade, but last year fourth graders grew goya . That's an interesting looking vegetable from Okinawa. It's worth a picture. It's very bitter tasting and it's good for your health.

He also needed a new notebook for school. They use these for each subject. This one is used for sending notes from teacher to parent or vice versa. He also writes down assignments in it. When a student is absent, his parent must write a note to the teacher in this notebook explaining the illness. The notebook and homework sheets are then put in a plastic zipper case. It is given to a friend who usually walks to school with the child. The friend takes it to the teacher. After school, the friend brings the notebook back to the sick child with the day's assignment and a note from the teacher. At the beginning of the school year everyone signs a paper saying who is responsible to do this for you.

P.S. May 19th, Little Brother said everyone brought the same kind of bucket from the 100 yen shop.

Houses: Two Examples

Here are two examples of older houses. In the top picture, that red box is their mailbox. The bottom picture shows the back of another house. Notice the air conditioning units. They are not in the windows. There is a hose that runs through the wall into a unit that is high on the wall inside the house.

Our old house used to be like this one. A little bulldozer came and tore it down for us. We built a new house after we lived upstairs in Jiji's house in one tatami room for seven years. We hated to see the old house go, but we needed more room. I miss living in an old house like this.

Kids Web Japan--houses

May 17, 2006

A Street Scene

As I was walking home from the shops, I came to this scene being played out behind a curtain. It looked like they were staging a show. The curtains were pulled back and several workmen scrambled down from the pile of rubble. The guy on the bulldozer jumped down to take a break.

The curtains are there to block the dust. The workmen were in the process of cleaning up after tearing down a six story building. (It used to be a shop that sold gas heaters with offices on the upper floors.) The wall you see in the back is the building next door. They tore down this building that was right up against another one. Most of the work was done behind closed curtains.

I snapped this picture in a hurry because cars were starting to turn the corner. I wish I had been further back so you could get the full effect of this scene on a busy corner. Some of the men waved an 'okay' for taking the picture. They probably wondered why I wanted it. It was business as usual for them. Notice only one guy is wearing a hard hat. One guy is wearing a white towel on his head. That's usually what gardeners wear.


Here is another picture of a bulldozer. The building next to it (with the flag on top) is a portable toilet. That gives you an idea how small the bulldozer really is. The brown building in the back is a house. Brown paint is common for these older wooden homes with tile roofs. This little bulldozer tore down a house. A new one will be built in its place.

May 16, 2006


Kamishibai means "paper theater". In the old days, a kamishibai man would park his bicycle in a neighborhood to sell candy and tell a story. Allen Say wrote a book called Kamishibai Man. It is a very good story and the pictures are excellent.

A couple of years ago, I read in a magazine that a storyteller told stories using kamishibai in an area called Asakusa in Tokyo. It was done for tourists in the summer months. There may be kamishibai men in some villages. There isn't one in our neighborhood.

Kamishibai is used at libraries, at schools and at home. This is the kamishibai that we can borrow from our local library. The librarian puts the wooden theater and storycards in a bag to protect it. It also makes it easier to carry home. The white lettering on this blue bag says "kamishibai" in hiragana. All of the stories are written in hiragana, the first letters that children learn.

Most children learn it before kindergarten. While I was at the library looking through the storycards today, a small girl was reading a story to her mother. The child was sitting on the floor in front of a stool holding just the cards up in front of her mother. I wish I had had my camera!

For more information about kamishibai look at Kamishibai For Kids or The International Association for Kamishibai. The sites are in English.

Kamishibai Theater

This is the kamishibai theater all set up and ready for storytime. The storyteller sits behind the theater so that she can read the storycards. There is a big section in the library of kamishibai storycards. Our library only has two wooden theaters. The story can be told without the theater.

Kamishibai Story Cards

The cards are put in the wooden theater. The title card is #1. After the title is announced, card #1 is slipped out and placed in back of all the cards in the theater. The first part of the story is written on the back of card #1. The Kamishibai Man or storyteller reads this as the audience is looking at the picture on card #2. The back of card #1 has the words that go with the picture on card #2. See the card with the small black and white picture with the Japanese writing next to it? That is the back of the title page. It is the first part of the story and it goes with the picture that has a #2 on it. Instead of flipping pages, the storyteller flips the cards out of the wooden theater after reading them. He puts them at the back behind the other cards.

May 15, 2006

Yakitori Man

This yakitori man pushes his cart out of this parking lot and rolls it down the street and around the corner several blocks. He parks on this side street next to this store parking lot. It is near a train station. He sets up to start grilling chicken on skewers. Yakitori means "grilled chicken". Some men sell yakitori and yakiniku or "grilled meats". It smells so good and it tastes good, too.

At the end of the night commute when the trains stop at 11:00, he rolls his cart back around the corner and down the street to the other parking lot. He does this every afternoon and night in every season. Do you see him behind the blue curtain? He's not ready to open yet. He will open the curtain more when he's ready to start selling. The white lettering on the curtain says "yakitori" in hiragana.

May 14, 2006

Allen Say's Visit

Allen Say has illustrated and written many picture books that feature Japanese subjects. He visited a group of children's writers, SCBWI, today in Tokyo. I have admired his work for a long time, and it was an honor to listen to what he had to say. I took this picture while he was talking because I didn't know if there would be time afterwards. There was time but I spent it getting three of my children's books autographed. His new book is called Kamishibai Man. I have posted the kamishibai that we borrow from the library. You can also have a look at Kamishibai For Kids or The International Association for Kamishibai.

Our local library here has several of Allen Say's books in English. We checked them out many times over the years. We also had our own copies of some of his other books. Big Sister and Little Brother were happy when I showed them that he had signed their books. Baba and Aunt (they live downstairs) were impressed by his books.
(I got his permission to post this picture).

May 13, 2006

School Days: Calligraphy Sample

Here is an example of school calligraphy. This kanji says "genki-na ko" which means "healthy child" in Japanese. Little Brother did this scroll last year. He will do more scrolls this year and next.

May 12, 2006

School Days: Calligraphy

In fourth grade, children start to do calligraphy or shuji. They use ink and special brushes to write kanji or Chinese characters on a scroll of paper. This bag is taken to school when it is needed. Newspaper is taken from home to put under the scroll of paper. The plastic box contains a slate where ink is poured. The brushes are dipped and then used. The brushes are rolled in the bamboo mat after they are cleaned. The students' best sample is mounted on a nice piece of paper and hung in the classroom for parents' meetings and then taken home.

May 11, 2006

Bath Water For Laundry

Along with garbage, laundry was part of fifth grade homework recently, too (see May 9th). With our laundry machine all you have to do is load it, push a button, and wait. The machine weighs the clothes and determines how much soap to put in. It tells you how much soap is needed! Pretty easy for anyone. The capacity of the machine is quite small so several loads are necessary. Machines come in various sizes. See the really small one in the first picture? I took this picture in a recycle shop. This one must be for an apartment. Some people don't have room so they have to put their laundry machines outside on their balcony. Rough in rainy weather.

Our laundry machine has a hose with a filter so that we can use bath water to wash clothes. This is the only way we can have hot water to wash clothes. The washing machine is next to the bath. We can open the sliding door, put the hose into the bathtub, and push a button for that option. Sounds yucky? Well, you may have heard that in Japan, a shower is taken before you get into the bathtub. I'll explain bath time at another time.

May 10, 2006

Bug Trap

I sometimes see straw on trees in the winter. A gardener told us a long time ago that bugs crawl up under the straw to keep warm in the winter. Or maybe they lay their eggs there. In the spring, the straw is taken off and burned. This supposedly keeps the bug population low. I was walking to the post office today and took this picture. It seems a little late for this to still be on the tree. It's been a cool, wet spring so maybe the bugs haven't come out yet. It was sunny and quite warm today, though. Garbage fires have been outlawed in our area so maybe people now throw them away on burnable garbage days (the city incinerates garbage). By the way, this is a pine tree or matsu.

May 09, 2006

Garbage As Homework

"My homework's garbage," Little Brother announced a couple of weeks ago. Taking out the garbage was part of his homework for two weeks. Each day he had to put a circle on a calendar chart. I had to sign it after it was filled in. Taking out the garbage is not such an easy job here. It requires more than just putting a bag outside. There is a schedule for each area in the city. In our neighborhood in Tokyo, all garbage is separated into burnable (kitchen scraps and garden debris), non-burnable (recyclable plastic), recyclable paper (junk mail, school papers, cereal boxes), newspaper, cloth, cans, plastic bottles, glass bottles, and junk that doesn't fit any of the categories (which includes messy stuff that cannot be cleaned up, broken dishes wrapped in newspaper, broken umbrellas, etc.) All cans, plastic and glass bottles, yogurt cups, etc., need to be washed and dried. Each type of garbage has its own color of bag. Milk cartons are washed and dried and taken to a bin outside a nearby grocery store. Batteries and light bulbs are thrown away separately. It can all pile up through the week. It is a big job.

May 08, 2006

Umbrella Bags

Here is something incredibly important for rainy days. These are placed outside the entrances of stores. There are long, narrow plastic bags hanging from hooks. Customers put them on their wet umbrellas. They can then carry them into the store without getting everything wet. The used plastic bags are tossed in the bin as customers leave the store.

Small shops usually have an umbrella stand to leave wet umbrellas outside by the door. Train stations need these bags. Our local station doesn't have them. It's miserable to shake out your umbrella and then carry it dripping onto the train. We have a heavy plastic umbrella bag that stays in the car. I need one of those for my purse.

May 07, 2006


It's raining again today. We stayed inside and played board games from America. "Sorry" and "Othello". Tomorrow is a school day, so there was a lot of gathering and organizing, too. Here's a picture of the dogwood blooming in the neighborhood. I took this picture a couple of days ago when the sun was shining.

May 06, 2006

Dinner Delivery

When I need a holiday from cooking, I can order something from a restaurant and have it delivered. Dinner is delivered on a tray covered with saran wrap. It is placed on the back of one of these motorbikes. (Our guy takes the saran wrap off the tray in the garden before he presents it to us). See the green thing at the top? It is lowered down over the tray of food to cover it. There is a spring on this carrier.

It moves as the bike moves around corners. We usually order soba or noodles. Amazingly, nothing is spilled and the tray is dry. Maybe he cleans it up before he rings the bell. Actually now that I think about it, each bowl is covered in saran wrap.

On holidays and weekends these delivery men can be really busy delivering lunch and dinner. Yesterday was Boy's Day so we figured our usual take-out place would be busy. We went to the Mexican restaurant about 30 minutes away by car (one way). Real Tex Mex. Not traditional Boy's Day food but one of our favorites. It turned out it was Cinco de Mayo!!! Yea! We got to celebrate another holiday.

May 05, 2006

A Boy's Day Custom

Today is Boy's Day. It is kodomo-no-hi which means "children's day". Our family translates it as Boy's Day because we have a boy in our family. Girl's Day is in March. Here's another picture of a koinobori.

Tonight, some children will wear shobu wrapped around their heads in the bath. Shobu are the long leaves pictured here next to the dollar bill. Wearing it in the bath on this day is an old custom. What does it mean? It started as a way of protecting children from evil spirits and disease. It is also said to keep poisonous bugs and snakes away. The smell is said to have a calming effect. What does it smell like? To me, it smells like a buttery cake. Big Sister and Little Brother don't agree, but we all agree that it's a nice smell. I'm sure there are many children and adults who are not aware of the meaning of wearing it. In fact, Papa had to look it up on the internet to be sure. To him, it's always been something fun to do. That's the way it is with a lot of customs, isn't it?

Kids Web Japan-- Children's Day