Monday, January 26, 2009

Ski bums

Last weekend we went on our annual 'Hasunuma Family Ski Trip'. There were 4 families this year, with a total of 7 kids ranging in age from 3 to 7. We chartered a bus, and left Hasunuma at 3 am on Saturday. Arriving at the Minami Ski Resort in Niigata at around 8 am, we were impressed to see the mountain covered in a good 10cm of new snow!

It took us a while to get everything organized and unloaded, and then to get everyone dressed and rent whatever equipment we needed... We were all on the slopes by 10, and ready for the fun to begin!

Taiga, for his skiing debut, started the day with a 90 minute lesson in the kiddies ski school. I'm not sure how much of a difference it made, but he seemed to enjoy it. They spent most of the time on just one ski, trying to get a sense of balance and stability. After about an hour in the cold snow, they took a break and had a sit-down in the nearby snack shack. We just happened to be taking our break in there as well. The ski school kids had a glass of cold water, and then the teacher handed out grape gummies to the kids. Everyone was happy to have a sweet treat, except Taiga, who generally doens't like gummies. The teacher, thinking he was just being shy, insisted that eating a gummy would help him ski better. So he grudgingly took the gummy and ate it, all the while sending envious looks toward Kai who was enjoying a cup of hot milk. Luckily, the kids went back outside before Taiga saw that Kai also got to eat one of his favorite snacks, tako-yaki.

After his lesson, Taiga hit the slopes with Daddy, while Kai and I battled the challenging upper runs. Kai was a little nervous on the steep sections, but didn't look it at all as he seemingly easily wound his way down. He has great control and never went faster than he was comfortable. Later in the day, Kai and Tagia discovered a small 'jump' run. Taken slowly, they were a series of gentle humps, but if one built up enough speed, a nice bit of air could be caught on the last hump. Kai did very well at this, and only missed his landing once, when a big skier wiped out directly in Kai's path. Taiga took the jump with Daddy, and really got some air!!

All in all, it was a wonderful 2 days of skiing. The snow and fog of the first morning cleared up shortly after noon, and from then on in, the weather was perfect! The hot bath in the hotel was a great way to end the day (and start the next as well), and of course having dinner with all our friends was wonderful as well!

We got stuck in traffic on the way home, due to an accident on the highway, but other than arriving home an hour later than planned, it was a fun ride. Kai and Taiga are eager to get back to the slopes again, so hopefully we'll be able to go at least once more this season. I'm considering packing their skis for our trip to Canada, but that just means sooooo much more luggage...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Little Samurai (old post from previous blog)

On November 15, children all across Japan celebrate 'Shichi-go-san' , or '7-5-3'. Technically, the numbers correspond to the ages of the children. So why 3 different ages? Who knows... Traditionally, the main celebration takes place in the year the child turns from 5 to 6, which happens in their kindergarten year. If siblings happen to fall within the other ages, they would join in the celebration as well.

Kai is one of the select few, however, who's celebration is delayed a year. He is born in February, which they call 'haya-umare', or 'early-birth'. Anyone born before April 1 falls into this group. They celebrate in their grade 1 year, which means they are 6, going on 7. Taiga, having just turned 4, could be included in Kai's year, or can have his own day in 2 years time.

The event generally involves a trip to the local Shinto shrine for a 'blessing', formal photos in traditional costume, and a formal gathering of family and other important friends and neighbours - much resembling a wedding reception, with the children at the head table. We partook in the first 2, but opted out of the formal dinner gig.

Dressing in the kimonos was a lot of fun for the boys, and Mommy and Daddy too! They looked so handsome, and I can't wait to see the full professoinal shots. Kai especially was quite nervous, and looked to be either half asleep or close to tears in most of the shots, but we got some good ones too, I think. I'm really hoping they will be ready before Christmas!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The writing on the wall...

Over the winter break, Kai practiced writing 'hikari' which means 'light'. This was an optional assignment from his winter homework package. This was his first time to write on the long paper, and he used an impressive big fat 'fude' brush to do it. The paper is so long he had to work on the floor, and be careful not to kneel on what he'd written.

He took his best two sheets to school, and entered them in two different local competitions. He won the second prize for one of them (not sure which one yet)!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The joy of flight

There is no greater joy than flight, in all its forms.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Midnight at Gosho Jinja (our local shrine)

Religion in Japan is for many more of a set of customs and traditions than a true set of strict beliefs. It is this that allows the Japanese to be simultaneous followers of both the Shinto and Budhist religeons, and often Christian as well. Last night we enjoyed one of the Shinto traditions.

At the end of the year, each household brings it's old household charms to the shrine. These charms come in all different shapes and sizes. The most common is a long narrow wooden plaque. Others include a large woven 'nawa' (a rice stalk twisted rope), wooden arrows, and other interesting forms. Each of these charms has its own 'job'. Some are for health, some for home safety, some for business prosperity or family fertility... Each charm has a 'lifespan' of one year, so at the very end of the last night of the year, each household brings its old charms to the shrine, where they are burnt in a spectacular bonfire. A representative from the household then sits in on a 'blessing' from the priest, before recieving the new charms for the new year.

My father-in-law took our charms and 'renewed' them for us, but we went out for the experience, at about 12:30am. The fire was of course wonderful. There was 'amazake', a hot rice drink available, and we saw many friends and neighbours. It was a chilly night, but warm in heart.
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