Bread and Circuses (or School Dinners and Japanese Theatre)

Quiet, Sophisticated Dining

Not surprisingly, this does not refer to the school dinners. Usually I meet Dan and a selection of his colleagues for lunch. At the start of June our numbers were depleted as Jermain san was on holiday and Paul san was in Hitachi city. So Dan, Sesheimo san and I had a couple of quieter lunches, the most memorable of which was at a French restaurant where I had my first ever galette. It was flavoured with blue cheese, pink peppercorns and honey. We ate outside and had beautiful views of the Yokohama wheel.

I’d first read about galettes in a book I read in October called ‘Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather’ set in Quebec. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17120581-fish-change-direction-in-cold-weather It’s a sweet book, I recommend it. The following day I had the school lunch to look forward to. Below are some snaps I took around Motomachi, where the school is situated.

 

School Dinners

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Armed with my slippers in a bag, my 260yen for lunch and a red PTA lanyard from the 100yen shop, I arrived at the school at the correct time. Go me.

Of course I hadn’t realised that there would be an hour-long presentation from the head of health and hygiene at the school about how the lunches are prepared.

It was all in Japanese but thankfully there were pictures too, but I did get more from the experience when an English speaker mother whose daughter is in Oliver’s class came over and explained some of it to me.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • All meals are made on site in the school kitchens.
  • They are making meals for over 600 people, (pupils and staff combined).
  • All meals are made from scratch, including broths. Recent changes to the amount of salt allowed in the meals means that more effort has to go into flavouring the broths, and ideally these would be simmered over a longer period, but due to time constraints they are not as flavourful as the staff would like. But it’s a compromise.
  • The staff take stringent measures to prevent against cross-contamination. Not only do they use separate knives and boards for different foods, but also different aprons, gloves and face masks. Wow.
  • There was a problem with waste at the school but after giving a presentation to the students about how hard the cooks work to ensure the children get tasty and healthy meals, the amount of waste has been drastically reduced.
  • Staff from Kamakura district education board were attending the presentation in order to learn from what Yokohama are doing. Yokohama must be a beacon of yumminess.

Finally, the presentation was over, and after washing our hands we lined up for our lunch.

PQ%9g9FYSICiIdfqk+UWZgIt was delicious. Except for the milk, which was just odd. I’m not a big milk drinker at the best of times, but I closed my eyes and sucked it up and then I could focus on the other elements of the meal: bread roll flavoured with cheese (yum); spaghetti bolognaise; cabbage salad and melon. Yum, yum, yum and yum.

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Theatre trip

That week also had Oliver going on a school trip to the theatre, which us parents were also invited to. So I walked through Nogai to the theatre and saw some new bits of Yokohama including this Art and Architecture library/ cafe, which I filed away to visit a later time.

I also clocked these bars along the banks of the canal that looked artistically seedy and so took this snap of them.

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I’ve never been to a Japanese theatre before, and apart from he decor, it was very similar to a British (modern) theatre. l+BOjgKiRHar+TZTkFIBRQ

When the curtain went up there were three gentlemen in Kimonos who came onto stage and played percussion instruments.

IMG_2133 Then a lady came on stage and played the shamisen. She played two or three tunes, including one western one which was familiar to me mainly through campfire singing at Guides. (‘Mary Had some Marmalade’ and ‘Jonny was a Parachuter’). There were three schools at the theatre, all of the kids were in the 5th grade. Two kids from each school were invited up on stage to have a go with the percussion whilst the shamisen player played alongside.

There was an interval, then one of the gentlemen came onstage and told a story.

IMG_2132 After this, the tone changed completely and a lady dressed in sparkly high heels, a split skirt and witchy get-up came on to do some magic.This bit was rather bizarre. The magic wasn’t that great either.

This was followed by another Japanese story telling session.

Quite an experience. Glad I went.

More Shogaku life

Two weeks ago I had a meeting with the other international (English speaking) parents about how the kids are progressing and the forthcoming swimming season. Here is the form I have to fill in and confirm with my banking seal each morning for each child (on the days they have swimming), otherwise they won’t be allowed to participate.

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These are the boys’ mugshots in the International Classroom. I am super impressed with the neatness of Oliver’s hiragana because his English handwriting is not nearly so nice!

After the chat with the principal and general swimming briefing, we had a presentation about Oliver’s residential trip. Take a gander:

 

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Here are the sick bags (labelled of course) that I’ve had to put together for the trip.

He’ll be spending two nights at a purpose built centre owned by Yokohama City Council.

It was rebuilt after the 2011 earthquake, in a different spot and orientation but it is up a hill. The kids will have tsunami practice which involves running up the hill to the centre from the water’s edge. That should keep them fit. They will bring the dried fish they create home on the bus in an ice bag. Mmm.

 

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Also last week the boys had a medical at the school. They’ve had ECGs, fitness tests and had their BMIs measured. Not only this but also they were sent home with this: that’s right folks, a urine test. (Thankfully, they passed with a literally clean bill of health.)

However, they are both a bit obsessed by “Diabetes Type 2”, as they call it and we’ve had lots of discussions, which is all to the good.

Last Friday the school had an open afternoon. We were able to observe Oliver having a maths lesson which wasn’t that exciting, whilst George was having a music lesson. There was lots of school work on display and we were chuffed to see this from the boys.

These boys

They’re both growing up so fast. Oliver is going on a school residential trip on Monday for two nights; for this I had to buy him some marine shoes (Gul shoes, I think we might call them). Anyway, he’s a SIZE 6!! How did that happen? He came home from shogaku today and said he has Home Ec tomorrow and needs to take 40g each of broccoli, carrot and cabbage. I roll my eyes and think of the traipse we’ll have to do en famille later to go shopping, but then remember we’re in Japan where it is perfectly acceptable for kids to go places on their own. So off he went to the Family Mart at the bottom of the hill to buy his provisions.

In a similar vein, George has been gagging to have a playdate with one of his classmates. They had planned a playdate earlier in the week but we had already agreed to go to Tokyo with the Moomins, (in-laws), so that had to be quashed, (much to George’s disappointment.)

Today though, the Moomins have gone and we are not busy so I dropped him off but we agreed that he could walk home on his own.

They both had a great time with Grandma and Grandad, and both are enjoying school. I’m so proud of them.

 

 

 

Shogaku – 小学. The boys are back in school.

I thought I had done most of the shopping for the boys’ start of school by Saturday, and true, on Sunday there was only a couple of things outstanding. Then we labelled. That was a lot of fun.

I lie.

But, the upshot is that we all now know how to write the boys’ names in katakana and their pants are named so I don’t have to be rooting around looking at what age is on the label. (A wee bugbear.)

Monday morning. The boys are excited. The randoseru, (backpacks) are packed.

We are to be at the school at 8am to meet with Lin-sensei, the head of the international classroom. I think I’m going to refer to it as a unit though.

At Kenilworth school there were units – the deaf unit and the behavioural unit. (There weren’t any units at BSG and that made me sad. Because we all know that to be in the top 16% you cannot be deaf or have any emotional issues. Mmm.)
Dan didn’t make it past the genkan, (area where you doff your shoes), and was shooed away. It was all a bit of a blur. I had more forms to fill in and things to order.

The boys were made welcome by their classmates and teachers, who both seem nice. Oliver’s in particular is lovely. He is lucky because he has a girl in his class, Erica, who can speak English, (she’s Japanese though). I did spot a slightly European-looking kid in George’s class but George said that none of the kids spoke English. That mystery was solved today by me bumping into a tall Caucasian who introduced himself as the boy’s dad and he is Norwegian. So this Dad goes into school once a week to teach his son Norwegian. Cool.

I was in George’s classroom during the music lesson and they sang BINGO (in Nihongo) and I joined in in English which was great fun and earned me some kudos among the kids! I was hoping to be around at lunch time but I was dismissed by 10.30. Oliver is wanting me to stay but really, there’s not much I am doing of any worth.

So for some lessons they are in the unit, where they are getting intensive Japanese (Nihongo) support but otherwise they are in their classrooms. Oliver’s class has 36 kids, but the rooms seem big enough and I really don’t think it’s an issue.

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I was told by George’s teacher that I need to make a mat for when they do art.

So I did that the Monday night. I also needed an empty 5kg rice bag for putting his flower pot in. So Dan sourced one of those from his colleagues and brought it back yesterday.

I also needed to go shopping yesterday for a yellow bandana for when Oliver does Home Ec (Friday), and a new, washable facemask. He will be able to take the apron made by the lovely folk in Montana, who belong to a Christian community,  (their name escapes me) which was gifted by Fiona.

IMG_1339The boys are enjoying their lunches. I have been told that George needs to adjust his grip when using a spoon. George went back for seconds on Monday. On Friday it will be George’s turn to be serving lunch to the others. Exciting.

Oliver said yesterday that he is loving school. George is having a whale of a time. Yesterday he was having his PE lesson and I sneaked this shot of them all listening to the teacher. Note the caps which are reversible – you get one red team and one white team.

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The weekend – shuumatsu 週末

It’s Friday! My lovely Egremont Bookclub gals will be meeting later. Boo. But I am creating another bookclub in Yokohama. Woot.

lId27I84TtulRJCKGCr6cwYesterday we returned school  paperwork to the Naka Ward Office. It’s great. There’s a bit of waiting around, but the job is done there and then. Really efficient. Copeland could learn a lot. But then they’d need to employ more staff and there is no money……*sighs*. You get a number and two corresponding slips of paper and are eventually called to the desk. One slip of paper goes off into the office with the paperwork to be sorted and you keep the other to be reunited at the end of the job. So good. We then went to a Family mart and bought some picnic items including for me and George inarizushi, which is a pocket of tofu with sweetened rice inside. Oliver went for sausage and chips!

We ate these in a charming park near the Baystars’ stadium (the local baseball team). There were loads of tulips, they were so beautiful and dotted around the place were lots of artists practising their watercolours.

After this we learned about useful buses and bus stops and the limits of Google maps. But after a prolonged wait at the wrong bus-stop we found the right bus and headed to the Aeon department store to attempt the school shop.

I’ve been worrying about this for months. The list of items seemed scary and odd, but what Motomachi Primary school are asking for isn’t as huge as other lists I’ve seen and thankfully most of it was all on one floor. Unfortunately I ran out of cash before I finished the first shop. So we caught the bus home, had a wee rest, picked up more spondulics and headed back for another shot. Yesterday I bought:

  • two pairs of indoor shoes
  • white gym top and shorts for Oliver (George has been loaned some from the school)
  • one disaster hood
  • cleaning cloths
  • face masks for serving food
  • two pencil cases
  • a box of pencils 2B or B
  • a box of red pencils
  • two skipping ropes
  • two sets of: toothbrush, plastic cup, face cloth
  • handkerchiefs for drying hands after using the loo
  • kanji exercise books
  • two communication books
  • geometry set
  • coloured pencils
  • plastic boards to protect desk
  • a bag to put gym stuff in
  • a bag to put cup and toothbrush etc in
  • pegs for attaching cleaning cloth to underside of desk
  • plain rubbers
  • pritt sticks
  • AND A THERMOMETER!!

Of course I am now taking their temperatures and it is interesting to see how much it fluctuates. Or maybe I need to get out more.

And on that note: I need to head out now to meet Dan’s colleagues for lunch. [Dan might be too busy to meet us(!)], then we are meeting a friend called Frances, from Taiwan, who is married to another of Dan’s colleagues; and tomorrow I am super excited to be meeting up with an old pal from Bournemouth. Yes!! So exciting. Very out of the blue. Cannot wait!!

Must dash.

 

 

School

This morning we need to go and buy a thermometer. Part of the paperwork that took NINETY minutes to complete yesterday, (with an interpreter), was writing down the kids’ average body temperature. Both the international teacher, Lin-sensai, and our interpreter, (a lovely lady from Dan’s HR department), were shocked that I didn’t know this off the top of my head. So today we buy a thermometer and start taking readings.

The orientation session yesterday was long. I need to set-up a bank account: in order to do this I need to create a seal. Woah. I need to take some paperwork over to Naka ward office today, and at some point we need to buy all the bits and bobs for Monday morning. It was a hard ninety minutes but I held it together until we got out. Really overwhelmed. And Oliver was being difficult.

As it happens, next week the teachers are carrying out home visits for all the pupils in the afternoons so the boys will only be going in for morning session and lunch.

I’ll be going in with them for that first week. Both the boys are upbeat and excited. Turns out Oliver will be going on a residential camp in June at a peninsular where they’ll be fishing and kayaking and suchlike.

So the photos. The school itself looks run-down in comparison to British primary schools. It reminds me of schooling from the 1960s. Or maybe earlier. But they WILL learn some Japanese!

So, this is Yokohama.

Yesterday morning we landed in Japan at Haneda airport in south Tokyo. At immigration we received our residents’ cards and we took our fifteen bags to the coach stop and caught a limousine coach into Yokohama. The boys were knackered, (despite my best efforts they did NOT sleep on the plane), and G zonked our right away. Twenty five minutes later we unload the coach and pile into two taxis to get to our house. Yes house! The sun is shining, the weather is warm and the taxi driver checks with me before putting on the air con.

We dumped the bags and walked through Chinatown to get to the Naka ward office where we spent a couple of hours minding a sparked-out George whilst applying for our Health Insurance cards, school places and family allowance. (I know!) We had lunch in some small Chinese place and then walked home. The Sakura (cherry blossom) has pretty much gone now here, but we did see some floating down the local river.

We live at the top of a hill. Outside our house is a flight of steps down to a shopping area which has loads of cafes, salons, grocers and even a shop specialising in honey. At the top of the hill is an historical house called ‘Home of a Diplomat’ which has sumptuous gardens that are free to explore.

Today we caught the train into Yokohama central (two stops on the Negishi line) and bought some boxes for storing clothes in and other essentials. There was a craft market happening by the quayside which we looked around. The quality varied. I did buy some earrings from a lovely lady who spoke English and made things from sea glass.

We had lunch in a British pub. I felt really quite pissed after my pint. Then this afternoon we finished unpacking and braved the drizzle to explore the area at the top of the hill. Mainly the boys’ school. Well, it’s huge and modern and it’s a lovely 10 minute walk through Yamate gardens.

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From here, once you descend the hill again there are even more lovely bakeries, cafes, flower shops and boutiques to explore.

Tonight we had Dan’s spag bol and I had my first Japanese bath. You shower first, then soak. It was heavenly.

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Tomorrow we are thinking of going to Kamakura on the train.

I am so happy to be here. It’s quite the antidote to all the mini-catastrophes at home.