Wednesday, 2 December 2009

A Couple of Photos from today


A grit storage for the winter season. It shows in the drawing how to do it as well – seems to be a woman’s job in Sapporo. 



We found a nice cycling path this afternoon. Many senior ladies and gents were doing brisk walking, along with some dog walkers like us.  Woody had a very good sniff there, too.

cycling path

Vegemite vs Marmite

This morning, I visited nearby shopping complex to sort out some business – paying bills, banking etc.  While I was there, I also did a quick visit to an import grocery shop to see if Marmite is available.

vegemiteTo my regret, Vegemite was dominating the shelf and no sign of Marmite – damn!!   Despite of my disappointment, I decided to purchase Vegemite as a substitute since I have never tried one.

As checking out, I asked if there is a plan of stocking Marmite.

“What is Marmite?” The shop keeper replied.

Okay – she knows Vegemite but she hasn’t heard of Marmite - Never mind. I explained it is like Vegemite but from England and has stronger flavour.

“If there is enough demand we may stock up” she added

I wonder if I keep asking every time I visit, they see it as there are some demands?

Monday, 30 November 2009

The grass is always greener

I should be happy with all the food available in Japan, and should not be so greedy, but there is one thing I truly miss…..that is cheese. 

Suddenly I realised that many type of cheese easily available everywhere in UK and Europe, and taking it for granted while I was in London, vanished.

Japan, maybe Asia in general, is not so big on dairy products, which, I assume, is to do with geography. In case of Japan, 40% of country is occupied with mountains; they are not almost hill size ones you might see in UK but are real mountains, so you cannot get to the summit without proper climbing gears & being trained, or even not be allowed to enter. That is the reason Japanese live in small houses/apartments and therefore not much spare land for cows and sheep.

Hokkaido, the northern Island of Japan is the only place where cows and sheep are farmed in a commercial scale, ice cream, milk, yogurt, cheese are famous and Hokkaido dairy products are well known brand in Japan. However compare to UK and Europe where dairy goods are produced throughout countries, resources in Japan are very limited. As a result, there are not many varieties and dairy produce section in supermarkets is very small. Japanese camembert and few selection of import cheese can be found here, but as you can imagine, they are all expensive considering European standard.

So, you would not be surprised if I said I put on weight 6 kg in the first 6 months of arriving London 13 years ago. My favourite was Danish blue at first, then stilton was introduced, and I was hooked. It was around Christmas time, I was already getting pretty round but mixture of sweet and savoury, port wine and stilton were heavenly combination and could not resist. How could you?!

As now entering to December and Christmas lights are on in the streets, I miss stilton and all other cheese, the party pack we often get from Tesco as our Christmas treat!

Friday, 27 November 2009

Immigration in Japan

As many of you may know, now Woody is a fully approved foreigner in Japan.   Although it turned out to be a very quick process, applying visa is always a little nerve racking business.

At first, I was slightly worried about applying spouse visa without any income in Japan though we have some savings in UK account.   However immigration officers were so helpful, and it ended up as the easiest application I have ever done & was certainly a lot easier than dog importation, and much cheaper too.

All I needed to do was;

- filling one sheet of application form

- writing additional information about how we met

- submitting a couple of photos of two of us together

- submitting a copy of bank statements (in fact it was only a screen dump of online banking)

- submitting a copy of UK marriage certificate and the Japanese translation

- submitting a certified original of family registration certificate in Japan which includes Woody’s name

- submitting a certified orignal of address registration in Japan

- writing an additional statement that I am his guarantor and am currently looking for a job, in case of emergency,  my family in Japan will look after him.

That’s it. Within a couple of days, we received an approval letter from the immigration office whereas 3 weeks as we were originally informed.  Then his passport was stamped the following week.  Mission accomplished!  And it only cost us 4000 yen (approx £25), too.

I am sure the fact we have married for 11 years helped accelerating the process, but it was so quick!!

When I visited the immigration office in Sapporo for the fist time to pick up an application form, there was a very friendly man at the information desk. As I asked few questions, he soon said,

“Don’t worry, it should be fine. I am sure you’ve got lots of money in your bank account too”

Then he showed his cheeky smile. The atomospher in the office is so relaxed.  There is no tension like Home Office in Croydon.

On the day of submission, hardly any questions were asked. Woody did not even need to show up!

Having said that, I can imagine it will be a completely different story if we were in Tokyo It could be a lot tougher examinations and could take more time too.

Well, all in all, it’s a good start. Sapporo seems to be welcoming us.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Mr Entrepreneur

I have been teaching English to a Japanese businessman since the beginning of November.  It’s an evening weekly private lesson, using combination of English and Japanese.

Originally, the student Mr S was taught by one British teacher all in English. But as the teacher had struggled to explain some of the student’s questions, Mr S requested the school to hire a Japanese teacher to back up the lessons.

So, here I am. Many of you may think “How could Mariko teach English?!” Well, don’t worry I am teaching only a beginner, in addition, I prepare a teaching plan & being checked by Woody, so I don’t teach utter wrong thing.

Anyway, Japanese may not be a good English speaker but often have a good grammar knowledge since they learn English in Junior High (13-15 years old) and in High school (16-18 years old). 

On the other hand, despite Mr S had the same opportunity at school, he said he did not pay any attention at all,  Well, here he is, in his 30’s, suddenly he decided to learn English to pursue his dream - that is to live in Hawaii.

Although Mr S is a keen learner, it seems he was forced to run before he could walk…or more likely before he could even put on his shoes.

When I was teaching present perfect and passive forms the other day, I discovered that he did not know the word “him”, & he thought “S” of “he walks” is plural “S”. Doh!

OK, I need to go back to the very beginning. Next week, I will start with lesson one, “I have a pen”.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Japanese Trains

It’s a well known fact that Japanese trains run on time. They certainly do. It makes my life easier to organise travelling, especially since our local line does not run as frequent as subway (tube).

At first, I assumed all staffs dedicate to keep the time, mechanically without emotion. Yes, it is correct that they devote to the time keeping, but I was wrong about them being robotic.

Yesterday, when I arrived at my local station, I heard a staff call to the train driver.

“A gentleman is on the way”

Soon after, the gentleman, who seemed to be in his late 60’s, was walking slowly down the stairs. Then, as soon as he got on the train, it departed.

I was pretty impressed by the fact the train was waiting for the man. I thought Japanese train would never do such a thing. The schedule is their bible!!

There was an accident long time ago in Japan, a young train driver crashed his train because of the punctuality pressure. One day, as he was running slightly behind the schedule, he accelerated the train while approaching a bend and it went off the track.  The accident killed many people including the driver(I think) and became big news.  JR (Japan Railway) was criticised heavily by the public and the media that they put safety second to keep trains running on time.

Altough I am not sure the accident has changed JR’s attitude or just people in Sapporo are a lot more relaxed, I am pleased to find out there is still a humanity while staffs keep up with the high standard of service.

Monday, 23 November 2009

My favourite Snack in the Winter


Here is my favourite winter snack.  “Niku-man” It’s a type of Chinese dumpling.  Those can be found easily in a convenience stores with a quite reasonable price.  110 yen each (approx 70P) in Seven Eleven.

Picture 002

Picture 003

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Night Out

Last night, we went to a party at a language school in Sapporo.  Although the original purpose was to have a job interview for Woody, we ended up meeting many interesting people there.

Unfortunately the job interview was unsuccessful as we found out they want somebody who can speak Japanese, which we are not very happy about.

Anyway, the school organises a cultural exchange party in the evening few times per month. Anybody including non-student of the language shcool can take a part by paying entry fee of 2000 yen (approx £15). Then, the school provides food & booze all night long.

Many of attendees seem to be their students or ex-students, old friends of the school owner and teachers. Age group was from late 20’s to 60’s, so we fitted in comfortably.

Here are some attendees from the party;

A scientist, who researches bacteria lives in salt, a healthy living expert, who has just published his own book called “Mind and Body”, he has an experience of 54 days fasting, lived only on water, fruit and vegetable juice, an ex-marathon runner who are now Shiatsu therapist, a housewife who has studied English for last three years and her son lives in Vietnam with his Vietnamese wife, an outdoor expert who just loves to meet people from all over the world.

Few foreigners were there too. Two Americans, one Iranian, one Bangladeshi, one Australian….and one British (that’s Woody).

An American brought some home mad beer and mead.  Few other people brought some food of their own country, too.  Maybe we should bring some fish and chips in the newspaper next time!

Woody the dog meanwhile stayed behind at home and just about managed to be on his own for just over four hours. Although according to our webcam recording, he was whinging all night. At least he was not barking.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

No job yet

It’s been a month since we moved to Sapporo.  Spouse visa was successfully issued this week, foreign registration card has been updated, NHS card has been issued, enrolled to Japanese Pension scheme.  Now Woody is a fully qualified (?!) resident foreigner in Japan. 

Another good news is ….Woody received the very first job offer as an English teacher, hooray! It’s only one-off afternoon contract but it’s a start.  He will get paid better rate than mine & travel expense is covered as well. Not a bad deal.

Woody dog is happy to be in his double donut or loves to be in front of the fire (gas heater) and the hotcarpet underneath. He certainly knows the best spot in the flat.

Proper winter is about to arrive here in Sapporo.  We had some snow yesterday, on and off, and expecting more over the next few days.

Our local slopes are getting ready to open for the season. We can get to Teine Mountain less than £20 including four hour lift pass & return travel cost. I am sure a dry-slope in London costs more than that per hour!!

Despite all the good news, job hunting here is not so easy. Although cost of living is a lot cheaper than Tokyo’s, job availabilities are far fewer as well.  On top, I’ve heard many people are returning to Sapporo since they lost their jobs in Tokyo. So, there is more competition now than ever.  My age does not seem to help me either. 35 years old appears to be a cut off age for an employable worker.  Oh well, I am sure something will come up. My job agency is hopefully working very hard finding a suitable job for me.

At least, we will make the most of our free time while we can.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Me the Japanese Foreigner

After being away for 13 years from my home country, many things become totally alien to me.   Shopping could be a little challenge as I don’t recognise many brands.  Also, although I can speak Japanese, noticed that some words I use seem to be a little different from what locals could recognise.

For example, last week I asked if I needed to set up “account” prior to internet connection. The word “account” I thought is one of  many foreign words adopted to Japanese language. However this lady in the cafe did not understand what I was talking about.  When I changed the word to “kohza” which is the same meaning but in Japanese, then she understood.

Meanwhile, many systems in Japan feels very complicated to me.  More over, when an advert says “500 yen only”, often it is not the case.  Usually there are many conditions attached to it and ending up 10 times more.    Additional set up charge seems to be a quite common extra cost in Japan for whatever you do.

When I purchased mobile contract, basic monthly charge 980 yen became almost 5000 yen at the end for the first month.  Although our mobiles are free with the contract, usually you will have to purchase mobiles separately as well.   Having mobile could be a very expensive business over here, but everybody has one.

On the other hand, foods are fantastic.  I just sent off Woody to our local superstore.  He will love to look around there. Fish are so fresh, even ready made meals  are fantastic quality too.

I can easily put on weight…..

Monday, 12 October 2009

Our Last Night in London

I cannot believe this is our last night in London. It's been mental, so busy with lots of forms & official documents. Woody dog's import and export documents are exceptionally stressful today as we cannot get it wrong. Hopefully we receive an email from Japanese immigration tomorrow morning to confirm all the documents are in order for import. If not, I have no idea how we are going to get around it. According to our vet Dr Andrew, Japanese requirement standard is the 3rd demanding and complex one, next to Australia and New Zealand. Thankfully, our export agent Pet Air UK had an experienced veterinary nurse who knows very well about Japanese import paper works. So, I am pretty confident it's all OK.

Tomorrow, we are going to ship the final box to Japan by Royal Mail. Thanks to tight luggage weight limitation of Japan Airline, we have to ship out boxes more than we originally hoped.

Anyway, thanks for Paul, Mimi Josh & Dixie dog for the wonderful leaving party organised for us We all had a fantastic time. Also, thanks to Fiona & Dan to come down all the way from London for the party, thanks to Mark,Claire, Tom & Dexter to join the party, it was very nice meeting you all again. I am leaving my Minolta SLR camera body and lends at Dan's for Paul to pick them up for you.

Of course, my in-law family, Sally, Cliff, Pat, Katie and Franky, I had a lovely time with you all. Please come and visit us soon. I know Katie's plan is to visit us on 22nd Jan, though I am not sure which years she is planning to do....

It seems to be everything is coming to the end over here in UK but will soon start forms and bureaucracy nightmare at Japanese side!!. I really hope we can settle down by end of this year.

I will keep you posted!

One thing to report....
On the way back from Brighton we got involved in an car accident. It was soon after getting off from Motor Way (South of Croydon). A car crashed into our back of MINI while we were in a traffic jam. Our car was stationed, but the driver behind us was truly not paying attention in front of her, as she was busy talking on the phone (though it was a speaker phone) As a result of this accident, our Mini won't get paid fully until the car is fixed up and her insurance company pays off to our garage. Only lucky thing was no one was hurt despite I was at the back seat with Woody dog and we were at the most risk. Although my head hit the roof of the car a little, I was OK.
Annoying thing was though, when she was leaving the accident site,
she said "sorry I have to go now, I am little behind the schedule of meeting with my brother for lunch"
What an air head woman, I could not believe my ears.
Also, later on when we left, she was fiddling her mobile phone while she was driving trying to take some photos of our car from behind...she doesn't learn does she?!

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Puppy vs Cat

This is such a cute video.  Amazing the mummy dog looks like protecting the cat from the puppies by walking between them. Well done!


Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Corner Dog

They’ve gone! finally.  There was a family moved to our street about 3 years ago.  The family had a massive male staffy which was not a friendly one.  I remember the first encounter with the dog was when we were looking after Dixie for the first time.  Children of the family released the dog in our front communal yard and had a bit of a barking session between our dogs and the staffy.

Since then, every time we walked pass the house, Woody was ready for it. 

Sad thing was I had never seen the dog walked more than 50 meters away from his house.  No wonder the dog was wound up.

Anyway, the dog has gone, the whole family has gone. Our street is back to piece and quiet (apart from Woody’s occasional bark)

I saw a trashed sofa left out side the house. The dog must have been chewing it. Poor dog, he does not know any better.


Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Warmest Day

Apparently, it will be the warmest day of the year so far tomorrow….immediately after the miserable drizzling bank holiday weekend. Typical!!

Well, there was something to brighten up my day, look what I received from Japan! My auntie sent me these goodies, yummy.

Picture 759

Monday, 13 April 2009


Sadly, today is the last day of my extended Easter holiday break. Although it has not been such a brilliant weather, I have been very productive and am pleased about it.

Woody the dog, on the other hand, also has enjoyed the daily morning woods walk despite the weather, and it knocked him out totally. Now I realise he is not so young anymore, although Woody has not, and always over do it. Bless him….

The photo below is from Greenwich park last weekend.

Picture 726

Friday, 3 April 2009

Melicious Night

We went out to Clapham to see Malicious Record Label bands. It's such a long time since we used Northernline southbound. Mike and his wife Ruriko were there. Also their daughter who are now officially adult age are performing as a 1st band tonight. Malicious Record, the family business!!!

It was a good night out though we left after 11. We are too old to stay up all night.

On the way back. I walked passed few Kebab shops. I want one ! I carried the wrap all the way back from Clapham North to Bermondsey. Very Stinky in the Tube but I don't care.

Kebab, the traditional English (British?) night out food, I have not eaten for a long time.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Weekend Gardener....continues

There has been further progress to our garden. Finally we filled the deep gaps between patio stones with special sand. Also we purchased red roses as well. It looks a lot better now. However we will need to clear inside the shed, paint the walls and the shed as well. It's the first time we have done this much of gardening since we moved in.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Work Out

I have been good going down the gym at least 2 to 3 time per week since I came back from my snowboarding holiday in January. In the past, I was just walking or jogging on the machine but recently I added some weight training as well. Last few weeks I joined step classes done by our company gym instructor. It's 45 minutes of jumping, running, sit-ups and so on. Knocks me out but feeling of achievement at the end.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

My New Passport

Received my new passport today. It was very quick after being interviewed on Saturday last weekend. Time to go on holiday in abroad!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Power of Salt

We have been doing spring cleaning through out in March. As a part of Spring Cleaning, I had a look at Feng Shui to bring extra luck to our home. A website mentioned about to put some salt at the front of the door to protect us from bad. So I did this morning. Woody came back home and sent me a text "Salt?" He thought I found a slug at home. No, it's Feng Shui!!

My quest of Feng Shui continues...

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Snow Day

Picture 349London had a tremendous amount of snow fall on Sunday night and all day Monday, which halted the city almost completely.  Apparently it is the first time in 18 years. Certainly I have not seen anything like it here.

Many people struggled to get to work or gave up straight away as soon as they found out the snow is actually stopping opening the front door.

Unfortunately for me, my work is in a walking distance. I did not have any excuse not to get to work.  I had proper snow shoes I purchased a couple of years ago in France during my snowboarding holiday, also I had a proper snow jacket that I was wearing in Niseko a couple of weeks ago where it snows almost constantly whole winter.

Despite of my unfortunate circumstance, I was determined to make most of it.  I dusted my SLR camera and headed out to work. 

Picture 288If I walked the closest path, probably it only took 40 minutes, but instead I diverted to a river side path, walking through parks and made few stops to take photos.  Although I would be late for work, I did not see a point of going to the office on time whilst I was most likely the only one anyway. 

My colleague called me during my snow photo session to say she would be late as all her trains are packed and could not get on. I was very shocked to hear she was actually attempting to get to work.  It seemed she did not watch any news before setting off, on top of that, she was wearing high heels…..

I told her not bother going to the office, as BBC weather forecast predicted (unusually I believed it) it would get worse in the afternoon.

I certainly enjoyed myself exploring and watching people having fun with snow, especially, when I received a call from my boss that the office is closed!

Picture 358I am sure everybody, apart from few people who had to work extremely hard to clear all snow from roads and lay down salty grit, enjoyed the day. Hats off for the work though.  It was impressively efficient to put grit down near our home. When we took our dog out 6 o’clock on Monday morning, it was already there!!

I must admit it was a little annoying that BBC news readers were repeatedly questioning government/local authorities whether the preparation for the snow falls was enough! I know it is their job to ask those questions but the tone was a little too critical. Probably it is cheaper to halt the whole city one day than investing many equipments which they may never be used for next two decades. 

Anyway, “right snow, wrong quantity” so Boris says…  I wish he wasn’t Mayer of London.