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February Miscellany

Written on: Wednesday February 27th, 2008

A journal entry from: Japan

So, it's February, the coldest time of the year around here. There?s a bit of snow on the tops of the highest hills around Kannami, and most of Mt. Fuji has been covered in a solid coat of white for the last month. It is cold at night, but if the sun is out during the day, it's warm and lovely, like spring. Spring will really get started in March. And a few fruit trees are starting to show the first blossoms. Plum blossoms come out in February, not as well known as the famous cherry blossoms that will emerge in a month or so, but also celebrated in traditional Japanese culture as a harbinger of spring.

I went for another bike ride along the river paths last weekend. I saw a bit of wildlife - a couple deer and a pheasant. I also spotted a huge group of hawks swooping down by the river bank and stopped to investigate. Turns out a couple of guys were tossing bread out to the birds and had attracted quite a crowd. Who knew hawks would go for bits of bread?

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A couple weeks before that, I rode out to a place called Kashiya Park, in Kannami, which my friends Kazuya and Ai had recommended. Most of the park was very much like a normal park, there were kids playing and flying kites, people walking their dogs, families out together, young people playing sports. There was also a man with a baked potato truck, selling hot sweet potatoes. He also seemed to have a sideline in collector cards, so he was swarmed by kids. But, there was also something interesting at the back end of the park. There were some caves carved into the hillside, and some re-created thatch housing and possibly a grain storage hut. All the signs were in Japanese, but it seems to me pretty clear that there was a settlement here a long time ago, and the caves tie into it somehow. The caves had definitely been worked on by people, although they may have started as natural caves. You could see where the floor and sides have been carved or chiselled.

Japan has a few good ways to keep warm in the winter that I would love to bring back to Canada. Here are my favorites:

1. Kotatsu - a low table with blanket-like cloths hanging off the sides. It's heated underneath, so you tuck your legs under and tuck the blanket over you lap and you're toasty! It's great for sitting around with the family, but you would have to be comfortable sitting on the floor. Speaking of which, you can also get heated floors or rugs.

2. Heated toilet seats - need I say more? How great would that be in the middle of a cold night? Public toilets can be old-fashioned squat-style, or regular Western style, or "deluxe". These toilets have heated seats, bidet, and buttons that will play music if you're shy and other nifty features.

3. Hot drinks from the vending machine or the convenience store - pots of regular drip coffee aren't common, but you can get heated cans of coffee in any vending machine or convenience store. You can also get cans or small plastic bottles of heated vitamin or lemon drinks, milk tea, and even cream corn soup. (They like corn here.) Although, this stuff is really not hot so much as very nice & warm.

Not much else to report. I'm going to Tokyo next week for the first time - should be crazy. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of various random things from the last couple months of living here.