I have lived in Australia with my Japanese husband since 2002.
After a half-year homestay experience at a Bed and Breakfast in New South Wales just myself, I joined a winery in Queensland where my husband got a job.
I now live in Cairns with family.
My hobbies are baking and handicrafts such as crochet and origami.
I am also a mother with children in primary school and high school, and is the number one fan of the pictures they draw.
DAYS / Tsukie Akizawa Column
Green and Gold
Having a pet
1．We want a pet
"I want a dog or a cat in my house."
That's what my daughter used to say to me.
Every time she asked it, I refused it, like
"I don't think your father would like a cat, and a dog would only be possible if our fence was tightened and we had a shady spot outside.
Many families in Australia have pets.
My first homestay family had a cat and a horse, and my husband's homestay family had two dogs.
In my current neighbourhood, there are cats with collars walking on the street, dogs barking at me over the fence when I walk, and dogs that have slipped out and are walking around on their own. Sometimes I see dogs chained to the back of their owner's ute, going to work together.
We could hear from our friend's say
"We've got a new bird.”
"We've got a guinea pig".
My daughter was frustrated that so many people around her were getting pets, but not our family.
But this New Year, my husband said,
"Maybe we can get a cat.”
I was surprised and my daughter was overjoyed.
I confess that I think the number one thing to consider when getting a pet is the extent to which I can bear the burden.
We already have a goldfish (actually, we already had a "pet").
It's a very easy pet to look after - just feed him twice a day, morning and evening, and clean the tank occasionally. You don't have to be too particular about the quality of the water.
We bought five goldfish for my son's birthday about five years ago, and only the black one, which my husband said would be my goldfish, has survived to this day.
However, it is not my son or my husband who takes care of him every day, but I, a mother and a wife, which is a common story.
Whether it's a dog or a cat, my sense of responsibility is the final word when it comes to keeping something in our home.
Despite the pressure I felt, I was still happy to get a cat.
I've had a cat in my house since I was born.
2．Welcoming the cat
Not far from our house there is an animal shelter, the RSPCA. We went there to look for our future family cat.
When you go to the shelter and tell them what you want to do, the staff will first ask you if you are ready to adopt a cat.
We had to meet the following requirements: our children had to be of a certain age, we had to live in a house with no restrictions on pets, and we had to be able to keep the cats indoors.
Then we were allowed to take two lovely cats home, six-month-old brown tabby siblings.
Originally we had planned to keep only one, but once we had seen them together with their siblings, we could not choose just one.
We also thought that while “human” were away from home, they might not miss each other if they were with siblings from birth.
There are two adults and two children in our family. And two cats to balance it all out!
The sibling cats actually seem to be having a good time without us, fighting, synchronising and having an exercises.
At six months old, they were reasonably grown when they arrived, and they learned where to go to the toilet on their own, so we didn't have to do much.
When we first gave them liquid treats to lick, they seemed to relax, even though they were somewhat nervous.
As long as we provided them with food, fresh water and a clean toilet, they were free to do as they pleased. We were happy to take lots of photos of them.
The only thing that was different about having a cat these days was that they were kept indoors.
Many of the neighbours' cats roam outside at will, but cats are encouraged to be kept indoors from the point of view that they kill too much of Australia's native wildlife both wild and domesticated cats alike.
Indeed, before the cats arrived, there were geckos in the house all the time, but now they are nowhere to be found indoors. Cats may look relaxed, but they are definitely good hunters.
We don't want to let him out and have someone capture him, so he stays inside our small house.
3．My pet gets sick
On the paperwork when the cat was given to us, there was a birth date on it.
The fact that the birthday was known might mean that the pregnant mother cat had been taken into care, but whatever the case, in the middle of July, we decided to celebrate the cat’s birthday.
Normally we fed them half dry food and half wet food, but on that day we bought expensive canned food and wrote their name on it with liquid treats, which was the celebratory meal.
We humans had a cat art competition and were having fun making birthday cards that they didn't understand about, but then something happened to one of the cats.
Suddenly one of the cats started to pee a little bit in different places and there was blood in it.
What was supposed to be a happy birthday turned out to be a not so happy anniversary.
When he was examined at the veterinary clinic where he had been vaccinated, it was pointed out that he was not urinating properly and he was admitted to hospital as an emergency.
Urinary stones were suspected, but bacteria were found in the urine that was forced out. After being prescribed antibiotics, he was able to go home for the night with good progress.
However, two weeks later, the same symptoms occurred again and this time he was not admitted to hospital, but was just given a shot and left.
After that I was a bit calmer and almost forgot about the illness until the other day when this time he completely stopped urinating. There was no bloody urine.
These are always unexpected and sudden.
Cats were brought up in the same conditions and on the same food, but after they turned one year old, only one of them was always sick.
Once again, he was due to be admitted to our veterinary hospital, but the doctor who examined his test results urged us to move him to the emergency veterinary hospital, where he would stay overnight.
Fortunately, after the urine was forcibly drained, he was doing well again and was allowed to go home after only one night in hospital.
However, even though it was only an overnight stay, it was a worrying night for the remaining healthy cats and for us.
When he was first admitted to hospital, my daughter said that "one night felt like a week".
4．Modern common sense
The sudden illness of a pet of any age is no stranger to us.
Above all, it can happen to a pet who has just turned one year old. I had no idea what to expect.
I had an image of the cats that used to live in my parents' house about 30-40 years ago.
They were outside most of the time and then they stopped coming back. Maybe they had been in a car accident and the adults were just hiding them, or maybe they really disappeared.
Cats seem to have a reasonably long life span, but I think they would have disappeared at single digit ages.
We took in abandoned cats and cats looking for owners, and our relationship was based on the idea that we would take care of their food and they would take the rats out of the house. The food was, of course, old-fashioned, rice with miso soup. Nowadays, this would be considered animal cruelty due to excessive salt content.
I realised that I hadn't kept up to date with the times with regard to pets.
In the modern world, the mainstream is to keep the cats completely indoors, and if that is the case, it is unlikely that they will disappear from sight, and their purpose will be more that of a pet animal.
If that is the case, it is inevitable that humans will take full responsibility for them.
I had the sentimentality of having "grown up with cats", but owning a pet in the modern age, perhaps even across countries, places more responsibility on the owner than in the days I "knew".
"What is pet insurance? Do I need it?"
But now I know it's something to think about.
If you have a sick pet in front of you, you can't leave it unattended.
You have to pay for everything.
Even if the feeling is that they are family members like humans, national health supports only applies to humans. Even if the animal has been microchipped, registered as a pet or neutered, there is no support from the government.
The refusal to allow pet dogs and cats to go wild, and the belief that all other wildlife should be protected from extinction.
These are "ideas" created by human beings, but even without all this talk, isn't it human nature to want to do something about the life in front of us when it needs our help?
At any rate, the cats we have taken into our family are destined to be with us.
We want to work hard and be prepared for emergencies, but we also want our cats to be able to live freely.
DAYS / Tsukie Akizawa Column
Green and Gold
Cairns rental vacancy rates
Lockdown and vacancy rates in Cairns
In mid-August, Cairns experienced a second lockdown.
The first time was in the first half of last year, when the first cases appeared in here. Since then there have been occasional very small positive cases with a clear route of transmission, but so far there has been no lock down.
There was a three-day lockdown after one taxi driver tested positive, but at the end of it no one else had tested positive.
We are now basically allowed to go about our life without a mask again.
Cairns is apparently becoming more and more popular as a base city within Australia where masks are not required and lockdowns are less frequent.
The housing situation speaks for itself, with a rental vacancy rate of 1.1% (April 2021) and a newspaper article about a family lamenting that they couldn't find a home. Their pets were with them.
Rents were slowly rising, as they should be, and I was very sad when our good-natured neighbours moved to the country where the prices were lower.
They were a retired father and daughter. He was always cleaned up the dead leaves from the shared driveway, and I felt very close to the daughter as we worked in the same kind of job for a while. I shared sweets and olives with her. At Easter and Christmas, she gave us the cards, and chocolate to our children.
I just did a quick search of the market in my neighbourhood and found that the flat type rentals, which used to be plentiful, have disappeared and expensive houses have become more prominent.
Also, houses for sale seem to be very popular.
I have overheard of a property in the AU$700k range being viewed by over 100 people, and the latest issue of the Japanese property newsletter says
"In Cairns, there are more buyers than properties for sale, and asking prices are rising.”
With interest rates at an all-time low, the market seems to be very active, but it may also be commonplace to see wealthy people from areas that are still under lockdown moving north to find freedom.
Our family moving history
Cairns is in the midst of a period of high house prices, so what is the situation with my family?
Well, we live in a property that we own and are paying off the mortgage. Without the homestay period when I did early in my stay, this is the fifth house I have lived in since arriving in Australia.
The first one was a house in Ipswich, which we had signed up for through a real estate agent.
After six month of separate stays for the culture experience program, I moved into my husbands homestay house. Then a week later, we moved to this house.
It was a simple two-bedroom house. It had a gap in the floor where you could see the ground.
We were so busy with work that we neglected to cut the grass in the garden, and when we received a 'warning letter' we rushed to cut the grass. Also I was chasing the neighbours' two dogs in the house when they came in without permission.
It was in this house that working-holiday friends and Japanese lady who wanted to do training at the winery stayed in the second bedroom.
The second house was rented privately by the owner of the winery where we worked, who had bought the property as an investment.
It was an old Queenslander, a dwelling on stilts, set in a 1000 square metre plot.
Here we had two children and got to know our neighbours.
The elderly couple next door, who were celebrating their golden wedding anniversary, were always tending their huge garden together, and the neighbours on the other side of the house were a family with school-age children who made us feel welcome, even though our English was poor. Our son, from the age of one, went to the Daycare centre diagonally opposite the house, and the owners lived across the back yard, so we felt safe and secure.
The third house, we flew to Cairns.
In Ipswich, there were very few buildings that looked like flats, only houses, but in Cairns there was an area full of flats called the Lego Block Area.
We first moved into a 'currently for sale' rental property that was recommended to us by a real estate agent.
In Australia, each unit complex has a different owner, and you may live in it or rent it out.
The property was on the first floor of a three-storey unit building, right next to the school that the children would be attending.
Initially, we had hoped for a property close to the beach, but this was not possible, and as we had to decide on housing from a distance (about 1700km apart), we signed for the "recommended property" as we were told.
However, as it turned out, the area we moved to was a popular one.
I hadn't actually done any research into Cairns' safety or popular places to live until then. We had just had our second child and my husband was busy looking for a job, so we didn't have time to think about it.
However, we ended up living in a popular area of Cairns and our children went to a popular primary school.
By the way, in the first floor of the unit, there is no ground.
There is only a wide verandah at the entrance, from which if you flick a tablecloth with crumbs, it will fall on the verandah of the ground floor residents.
As a family with children, we really wanted to have a ground, so we didn't wait six months to move.
The fourth house was a townhouse with a small backyard, right next to the primary school.
I had been secretly hoping to find a place to live here when I went for my daily walk.
The flat was smaller in size than the previous one, but it was neat and comfortable to live in. There was a staircase leading to the first floor, which the children often climbed and played on. Of course they sometimes fell down.
The backyard faced Seasonal Creek, which becomes a river during the wet season, and we panicked once when a goanna (monitor lizard) slipped through a gap in the fence. It was scary because it was about a metre long and I wanted to make sure it was safe, so I called a neighbour and he widened the gap in the fence and let goanna go.
Here we made friends with the children and I baked lots of sweets. My motto was "good food from a small kitchen" and the house was small that it felt like a base from which we could go out and play.
The rent went up.
I enjoyed living in this house, which had good relationships and was close to the school, but when I got a job I decided to buy our house.
This is the fifth one we have now.
It's a bit far from the popular area near the primary school, but it's near the beach, which we were originally wanted.
When you rent in Australia, there is an event that makes you aware that you are "renting".
Every six months, the rental property is checked by a real estate agent. There are some people here who live in terrible conditions, so the real estate agent will prevent and check the room to make sure it is okay.
I would get a letter saying "I will be visiting you at this date this time, so please be at home" and I would clean up and get ready, but I would wait and wait and wait and wait.
When I was away on business, I received friendly comments, but when I was home and present, I received a complaint about the dirty window flames, so I vowed to be away from now on.
On another occasion, when I wanted to visit a rental property I wanted to live in, the estate agent did not show up at the appointed time. I realised that this is how tenants are treated.
On the contrary, when we looked around to buy a house, I felt that the real estate agents were very polite. I couldn't help but wonder if renters are in a weaker position after all.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned the rental vacancy rate of 1.1%.
The landlord can raise the rent and choose who he wants to rent to.
Recently, I have been occasionally cleaning backpacker accommodation.
Now that interstate travelers are not allowed to come here, people who have lost their homes may use these hostel or camp sites until they can find another place to live.
If they still can't find the place to live, will they have to give up their jobs, schools and other things to go to a cheaper area?
Is this what you call gentrification?
DAYS / Tsukie Akizawa Column
Green and Gold
The Day rolling Sushi at primary school
The School FETE
In 2011, a year after we moved to Cairns, my son started his primary school life. The first year at school is preparation grade. In Queensland, it is called ‘Prep’, and is mainly for four to five year olds.
My husband and I were born and raised in Japan, so we were not familiar with primary schools in Australia. A little while after my son started school, we were informed that they needed to help with School FETE.
Apparently, the FETE is a big school-wide festival. It is usually held on a Saturday afternoon in early to mid-August each year at the primary school where the children attend.
It is run by P&C (Parents and Citizens'), an organisation similar to the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) in Japan.
There will be a stage set up and emcee, food stalls, cakes, sweets, jams, plants, toys, lucky dip and second hand items for sale, attractions such as ducky pond and a haunted house, auctions and a raffle ticket draw. All of these events are organised by volunteers. There will also be a mobile amusement park operator.
It was our first year and they were looking for someone to be in charge of a stand serving alcohol called ‘Over 18's BAR’. It's a primary school event, but to our surprise they have a space for parents and staff to have a drink.
They were actually proud of the fact that they were a community that had "never had a problem with serving alcohol", I heard them say here and there.
"There was a heated debate a few years ago about whether to do it or not.”
I think it was because Australia is so strict about alcohol sales that the school comunity were proud of it.
In Australia, staff who serve alcohol are required to have a Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) licence, which my husband has always held because of his job as a bottle shop crew. He (and I) also worked in a winery where he often did on-site tastings, so he has a good idea of what is required for such a booth. It smelled like "our territory".
When we saw that they are keep looking for the convenor of the alcohol booth, we decided to say “We do”.
With a "thank you", the P&C chairman smiles and explains about this booth.
We are told that there was simply no one in charge here, but that it was an easy booth with everything already arranged. In fact, our biggest task was simply to find the sales staff for the day. Normally, each booth has a class in charge and volunteers are recruited mainly from the parents of the class. However, the alcohol booth, by its very nature, was not assigned to a class and it was difficult to recruit people. After all, we have only just moved to the city and we are still parents of prep kid.
It would have been fine if we had stayed at the booth for the entirety of the FETE, but we knew it was an event that we had to work together to create, so we made a small effort to reach out to people, including a father who had just met us. On the day of the event, we were assisted by an experienced man who gave us a lot of support as newcomers.
We were prepared for the possibility that we might get some complaints about the alcohol we were selling at the primary school. But when I opened the door, I was surprised to find that people were drinking smartly. Also our small children did their best to keep us company.
Even so, it was not a booth that existed every year, perhaps because some people found the combination of "primary school" and "alcohol" difficult.
After all, this was the only time we were in charge of this booth.
The "Japanese" parents had a much bigger mission in mind.
Japanese Sushi Stall
The first year, my husband and I were in charge of the alcohol booth, but because we were Japanese, we were also asked to help out at the Sushi stall.
The Sushi stall was set up by a group of Japanese parents in the past to sell the popular sushi rolls. It consists of teriyaki chicken & avocado, tuna mayo & cucumber and a vegetarian version.
Perhaps Sushi means Japanese, there was no class in charge of the sushi stall, and they were just talking to the Japanese parents to get people to help.
As you may have noticed, Cairns has a large number of Japanese descent people living in the city, and therefore a large number of their children are attending schools. The numbers vary in each school, but at my children's primary school, 10% of the students in my son's year were of Japanese descent, and a similar number in my daughter's year. (In some grades, there are only a few, of course.)
This booth is only possible at certain schools. Because of the amount of work that goes into preparing and selling the sushi rolls made by the parents, and because not all of the parents who are invited to participate in the event are able to do so. At our children's school, it was also possible to involve the Japanese teachers, as Japanese is the second language
Anyway, "If you're Japanese, join the Sushi Stall at the FETE!" and I have been rolling the sushi every FETE Saturday morning since my son was in Prep.
In 2017, when my son was in YEAR 6 - the last grade, I accepted to become the Sushi stall convenor.
Cake or Sushi
Until then, I had always rolled sushi every year, but I was more than happy to make whole cakes and cupcakes to sell at the other booths.
Think about it.
I could bake and decorate as many cupcakes as I wanted all day long. You can take a photo of all the cakes and smile. Then we can take them to the stall, where they will be appreciated and the customers will be able to choose the best one for them.
What could be more fun than that?
At the Cake Stall, children create art on cake boxes to hold whole cakes and other items. This is a competition for each level of the school year to see who can design the best cake box, and in order to take part, they must have a homemade cake inside. One year I filled four boxes, there were my son’s and daughter's plus extra two boxes.
One year I put a whole cake in the box, and other year I put Castella (eggy sweet cake) and Dorayaki(Red sweet bean paste sanded with pair of sweet pancakes) in the box. I was thrilled when I made an assortment of cookies and cakes, inspired by a Japanese cake shop.
However, from 2017, I have decided to take on the responsibility of the Sushi stall, baking the minimum number of cakes required.
All the parents of the past years are leaving the school when their children graduate. If someone does not take over, the stall will not remain. And the school's FETE will always have Sushi!
Since then, with the exception of last year, when the FETE itself was not held, I have been in charge, sometimes as the main and sometimes as a sub.
The view from the person in charge (the convenor) was completely different from the one I had when I only attended the sushi roll on Saturday mornings.
Gathering new people, especially the parents of newly enrolled children.
Getting permission to use each facility that we would be using. For the prep work the day before, we borrowed a facility called the Tuck Shop, which sells lunches and snacks at the school, and for the sushi rolls on the day, we borrowed a facility called Outside School care (OSHC).
We then apply for the tables and other equipment needed for the day, and order the food.
We attend a meeting with the people in charge, and ask the parents to lend us their rice cooker to cook the rice.
There was a lot of work to be done.
Thankfully, since 2017, when I took charge, Sushi stall has had a class. It was great to be able to ask the class to recruit sales staff. We also started to ask for donations of food.
"There are usually a few parents in the class who are very supportive and say, "I can't make sushi, but what can I do?
Not only from the class, but also from Japanese parents who say "Thank you for being a convenor this year".
I feel really rewarded when I receive this kind of feedback, and my tear glands, which have started to loosen with age, seem to get looser and looser.
To say truth, I would not have taken on the role of Convenor this year if no one stands up to this roll from the younger year group. The stall wouldn't have lasted if someone hadn't been motivated to take it on, but I didn't feel that it was something I should force myself to do.
But in fact, someone came forward to run for the position, and the class teacher and Japanese teacher were very supportive.
I was completely motivated by this situation and became co-convenor with a new parent and we are working together.
This year, FETE will be held on 14 August, from 3pm to 8pm, and as I write this, we are in the thick of preparations.
All the proceeds from the FETE will be used to improve and enhance the school environment for the children, including school equipment and play equipment.
Even the person in charge of a stall finds it hard, but the person in charge of the management of this event has a lot of work to do. It's all about our children, but if we can all share a good time together, we will be able to do it again next year.
I would like to thank you for making it possible to hold the even in these times.
DAYS / Tsukie Akizawa Column
Green and Gold
Corkscrew and Australian Days
2002 Work at the winery
I came to Australia in February 2002.
After my culture exchange stay with a host family for six months, I joined my husband at the winery where he worked.
My husband loved alcohol and worked at a bottle shop in Japan, where he was in charge of giving mini-quizzes to the casual workers to increase their knowledge as much as possible. I had just joined him at the winery, and although I had heard some stories about it, I had very little knowledge about alcohol and was not very strong.
Because of this, the knowledge I gained at the winery was everything new, and the fact that I was experiencing it in Australia and not in Japan was exciting in itself. From the cellar door (the wine sales area), we could see the stainless steel tanks and barrels in the winery (production area). I was proud to say customers could taste the wine with that environment was the way it should be.
I learned about the basic methods of making wine, the difference between brewed and distilled, and understood that growing grapes and making wine are not always completed in the same winery. I also had the opportunity to experience the Australian wine movement at wine fairs held at Brisbane's Agricultural Festival, Ekka, and other events.
At festivals and other events, we go out for on-site tasting and sales, and at the winery, we hosted various parties surrounded by wine barrels. And a life of drinking wine on a daily basis, from commercial products to those in the process of production, and learning to taste it.
It was during this time that I was able to help out with various behind-the-scenes tasks as a scullery maid at the winery, while at the same time getting a glimpse of Australian culture.
One day, I realized that our lives consisted of nothing more than a round trip between home, work and the supermarket. But I was not dissatisfied.
Going to work gave me a variety of experiences (out of necessity), and the small local Japanese community was very comfortable. The owner of the winery and his wife were immigrants from Canada, so we felt like mate who only had family back home, and we got together to celebrate every event. They were like my guardians and very reassuring to me.
2010 Move to Cairns
While working at the winery, I had given birth to two children.
And soon after having our second child, my husband had decided to resign from the winery.
At the time, the winery was going through a difficult time due to the overproduction of wine throughout Australia.
I was so busy raising my children that I would go to work for a few hours once a month just to sort out paperwork, and the winemaking staff was slowly being cut back.
My husband had always said that he wanted to own his own winery eventually, but now that he had a child of his own, he wanted to focus on his family.
He decided to move to Cairns, where it was easier to go to Japan.
Perhaps it was because he was unemployed when he moved here, but Cairns was a completely foreign land to us.
What shocked me the most was that when I saw people of Japanese descent in supermarkets, they would all look away. The town of Ipswich, where I had lived until then, was about the same size as Cairns in terms of population, but I could only small number of Japanese families and most of them were acquaintances. It was the kind of area where if you find a Japanese person you didn't see before in the supermarket, you would say hello to them anyway.
There were so many Japanese tourists and young working holidaymakers in Cairns. It makes difficult to distinguish who is a tourist and who is a local. There are about 3,000 people of Japanese descent living in the city. It is not at all unusual to see Japanese people, and they doesn’t need to have more Japanese Friends.
Nevertheless, I was able to fit in this place thanks to my son, who was almost four years old at the time, and my five-month-old daughter.
When I went to the health centre to get my kids vaccinate, I heard about the Japanese playgroup near my place, and little by little I met more mothers who knew each other.
My husband gave up to find the brewing job and got a position at a bottle shop again. He made a good relationship with his working mate like having a Christmas party.
I worked at the hotel as housekeeping - a job that required me to move more than think - for six and a half years. After that, I am now spending my time in a more sedentary way.
My children are now 15 and 11 years old respectively.
Hardly a handful.
Early last year, just before the recent pandemic, I visited Ipswich for the first time in ten years.
It was a gruelling four days and three nights, but each night we were able to stay a different friend's home and rejoice in the reunion.
We also visited the hospital where the children were born, the daycare centre where my son went, the house where we used to live, and the winery where we worked.
The winery was shut the door in 2011 and is now inhabited by the former owner couple.
A former colleague has also set up his own distillery in part of the winery, producing small quantities of high quality gin and brandy.
The view from the winery was idyllic, with cows grazing in the pastures, but ten years later I was brought back to reality by the increasing number of buildings, including veterinary clinics and houses.
The neighbourhood general store had changed from being owned by a Chinese legend to an Indian, and the place where I used to buy my favourite Australian beef pies had been replaced by a chain petrol station with a big face.
In ten years, of course, many things have changed.
My experiences at the winery were a stepping stone to my life in Australia. The Bed & Breakfast where I spent the first six months of my Australian life has been sold and host family couple is now retired. I won't be visiting that place again.
It's been a long time since I've had a corkscrew to hand and I've taken it out into the sunshine.
Back in 2002, when most Australian wines were still corked, I did my best to learn how to open them with a corkscrew. Gradually, I stopped cutting my fingers.
In time, however, screw caps became the norm, easily opened with a twist, and the corkscrew was no longer needed (and the cork-smelling wine disappeared).
The corkscrew is a symbol of our early life in Australia.
We rarely use it anymore, but we will never throw it away.
I've been reminded that what I thought happened only a short time ago is now completely in the past, but I'm going to spend the rest of my days with the knowledge that “I've been accepted and have made the effort”.
I hope I am not looking at a flash back that was said you see it when you going to die.
DAYS / Tsukie Akizawa Column
Green and Gold
Do it yourself
Cultural Exchange through Home Cooking
I landed in Australia in 2002.
I lived with a host family apart from my husband for the first six months. The purpose of my stay was to have a cultural exchange through home-cooked food, so I inevitably had many opportunities to serve Japanese food at my host family's home.
The host family lived in a house in the mountains, so the availability of Japanese cooking ingredients was limited, and the Asian grocery store was over an hour's drive away.
Nevertheless, my host family already had seasonings such as miso, mirin(sweet sake), and soy sauce, and I was able to make Japanese food from the beginning of my stay.
However, even for Japanese food, vegetables such as white spring onions, lotus roots, burdocks, and bamboo shoots are not easy to find. Daikon (Japanese white radish) is another vegetable that is not easy to find, but luckily it was available in the neighbourhood where we stayed.
My host family was the type of people who were willing to try new foods.
But they had never had daikon before, I thought it was worth cooking to them!
At first, I made grated daikon and used it as a Japanese style sauce for Hamburg steak (Minced patty).
The family always cooks only chunks of meat, so they had difficulty with the minced meat dish, but I convinced them to mince the chunks.
I remember that they enjoyed the grated daikon because of its refreshing aftertaste.
Next, I wanted them to taste the flavour of the daikon itself, so I cooked it with dried shiitake mushrooms in the style of furo-buki-daikon.
As I was boiling the daikon in rice water for preparation, my host mother came to the kitchen, her nose twitching in surprise at the unique smell.
However, when she tried a bite at dinner, she said, “Oh, it's delicious!”
She seemed to like the simple, unconventional taste along with the soup stock that seeped out from the daikon.
It was the moment when the memory of the unpleasant smell was erased.
Another thing I often made was sushi rolls.
Sushi rolls are considered to be a healthy food by the people here, and the supermarkets had rice and seaweed for sushi in the international food section.
I made sushi with teriyaki chicken, tuna mayonnaise, and smoked salmon, which are still a staple in our house almost 20 years later because they are easy to find and taste great.
The sushi rolls became just the right cultural exchange activity, and we invited our neighbours and family for a sushi party.
Even Japanese people living in Australia are not always good at making sushi rolls with maki-su(rolling mat).
Everyone was trying to roll sushi first time,
“Can I do it?”
“How do you roll it?”
We had a great time eating the sushi that was rolled up a little awkwardly.
When the host family's grandchildren came to visit, I made takikomi-gohan(seasoned rice) with shiitake mushrooms, chicken, carrots, and turnips.
The grandchild was the age just finished his solid, but he seemed to enjoy the soy sauce flavoured rice and asked for seconds.
Nikujyaga(Meat and potatoes), Gyudon(beef bowl), Teriyaki chicken, simmered pumpkin, boiled spinach, vinegared cucumber, miso soup, fried rice…During my stay, I made these dishes that are commonly made in Japanese homes.
It was interesting to see how even ordinary Japanese dishes can become a cultural exchange when presented in Australia.
On the other hand, a dinner of roast meat and vegetables from the oven, which is common in Australia, seemed fresh to me.
Making things by myself
From the beginning of my stay in Australia, I was in an environment where I was actively involved in cooking, so even after I rejoined my husband, It was less pressure to make things by myself.
In fact, being forced to cook by ourself may be a "typical Japanese thing to do when moving abroad.
In big cities and areas where many Japanese people live, such as Cairns, there are Japanese restaurants. Also Asian food stores and Japanese food stores.
However, the prices are not cheap.
And the taste may not the same you think.
If you miss the taste of home, it is quicker to make it yourself.
Thankfully, if you are working here, you can usually go home on time regardless of your gender.
This means that you have time to cook every day.
My husband started cooking dinner regularly when I had a baby.
Now that my older son is 15, my husband can make white sauce with butter and flour.
In the past, he have tried to make Ramen noodles and soup stock. He have also made natto(fermented soy beans).
Couple days ago, he used a rolling pin to pound cooked sticky mochi rice into rice cakes.
I often make bread, cakes, Japanese sweet and more.
Of course, I sometimes buy ready-made food or sweets from cake shops.
Love it! The fact that I know the process of cook makes them even more delicious, and I am grateful for that.
Sometimes I think about it.
If I had been living in Japan, would I have thought to cook so much by myself?
When I was a university student, a friend of mine was dextrously cooking a deep fried meal in a small kitchen with a single burner stove.
Although I thought it was wonderful, I did not make deep fried food at home.
I tend to eat them at restaurants and they are easily available at supermarkets.
Next time, the same friend was kneading the bread dough on the table.
Again, I was amazed and thought to myself, “Bread takes so much time and is so easy to buy at the local store.”
Even after I got married, I often met my husband at AkaNoren(casual restaurant)
after work or had dinner at a Chinese restaurant.
But after I left Japan and started to miss it, I finally got the idea that I wanted to try and make things by myself.
In addition to food, I have tried my hand at making acrylic scrubbers, soap, and face lotion.
During my homestay, my Australian host mother was sewing her own two-piece suit.
My host father, who was originally in the timber business, had a woodworking shop at home where he made chests of drawers and other furniture.
I was told that they made the house they lived in and most of the furniture in the house themselves.
Perhaps my way of thinking naturally changed when I was surrounded by people who worked with their hands as a matter of course.
I grew up in a rural area on the border of a prefecture.
The meals prepared at home were mainly vegetables from the family garden.
Dried plums and pickles are also homemade.
We were using the vault toilets at home.
When I was an impressionable middle and high school student, the economic boom (Bubble we call) came.
We were surrounded by a lot of advertisements encouraging various kinds of consumption.
It seems that we had unwittingly developed the image that "everything is handmade = country = old-fashioned = somewhat embarrassing”.
Now that I can actively think about "making various things by myself," I feel that being able to create what I want by myself is a very rich thing.
It is an important asset that no one can steal.
And it is also something that I can control.
I sincerely believe that for me, going abroad was not only a way to get away from my comfortable environment, but also a chance to act on my own axis.
DAYS / Tsukie Akizawa Column
Green and Gold
I like the morning
I like the morning.
I was the person who is oversleeping until I was 30 years old, so people who know me in the past may be surprised, but I like the morning.
About an hour before the alarm clock beep at 5:45, both hungry domestic cats come to my bed. They are walking on the bed, licking my fingers and lying by my side until me to wake up.
I finally wake up, feed the cats first in the morning, clean the cat's litter box and go out to the yard, and if I'm lucky I can see just beautiful sunrise. Also you can hear the birds singing near and far.
I'm glad I was up at this moment.
At the beginning of marriage, husbands often went to work early in the morning.
We were still in Japan.
I bet the good wife get up earlier than husband and prepare his breakfast.
However, I couldn’t wake up like that but my own pace, and I was very grateful that my husband was the type of person who did not care about it.
Thanks to him, I was not obsessed with the sense of duty and urgency that I had to get up early and take care of my husband.
I came to Australia and stayed away from my husband. During my 6-month homestay, I was living with my daily routine with host family.
Wake up at 7am and prepare our breakfast with them.
Morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea.
We cook supper/dinner after 5 pm.
I spend my time in the living room until about 10pm, then go to my room.
Repeating this routine.
I'm not good at English, but I realise that it's more comfortable to get up at the same time every day and live in the same routine.
There was no suffocation for the fixed framework of life,
I was able to think
"What should I do in my spare time today? “
(Cross-stitching handicrafts, reading cookbooks, borrow their kitchen to cook by myself, helping them and occasionally opening an English dictionary, etc. It was like earthly away life without the work for bread and butter for me)
When I joined my husband and had a first child, I became more responsible and could wake up in the morning.
In Japan, we had ‘Radio exercises’ activity everyday in the early morning (6:30) during summer vacation for elementary school students.
Until the 5th grade, I rarely joined it. But when I was in the 6th grade and was assigned to my area for that activity, I woke up every morning and was able to do demonstrate in front of everyone.
I was remembering it.
As usual, my husband was still independent man and didn’t need my support in the morning, so after my breakfast, I had a gaping time.
I push the stroller with my baby every day and go out for a walk. I could make my daily routine, I could know it gives me a mental margin in my child-rearing life.
After my younger child turned three, I started housekeeping job at the hotel. We had to leave home at 6:45 in the morning at first, to let my two children dropping off to kindergarten and the before school care.
At this time, It was with a sense of duty to get up early. It was for keeping up with my schedule but any joy.
I feel it was miracle that children aged 3-4 and 7-8 at the time got up at 6 o'clock and left home 6:45 every my working days. I appreciate to my kids they could follow my schedule.
When I was driving with my children in the car same timing, I could see the change in the time of sunrise.
When the hot and humid summer went and changing to the cool down season, the sun from the east is dazzling to me.
I was working at the hotel for 6 and a half years, so every year I took down the sun visor,
"The pleasant season is finally here."
I was thinking and squinting at the glare.
The alarm of my mobile beep at 5:45 now.
I have enough time to do extra stuff after waking up.
I can take care of the cat and then capture the beautiful morning sky of the sunrise on the camera.
If it’s my day off, I can even go see the beach.
It's hard to overdo something at night, like when I was in twenties.
Morning time is aspiration time.
That's why I like the morning.
DAYS / Tsukie Akizawa Column
Green and Gold
High School Drama
Last night, I went to the high school where my son attended.
Australian high schools are basically middle and high school combined.
It is suitable for people aged 11 and 12 to 17 and 18.
My son, born in May, would be a third-year junior high school in Japan this year, but he is first-year high school (year 10) student here.
Japanese school starts in April, whereas Australian school starts at the end of January, meaning people of the same age have a 2 grade difference. I know about it but is still always surprising. When my son entered primary school as a preparatory grade (PREP, we call), he was only four years old.
My son wanted to go to see his friends drama performance.
My 11-year-old daughter also wanted to see, too. So I also joined them.
It was an improvisational play at the high school’s auditorium.
Among the students who are learning drama at school, older children were divided into teams to challenge in a drama game of the theme selected on the spot and compete for points.
The younger students were showing off the original skits they had practiced in advance between the drama games.
There were games such as:
-A story with the same content, played in different emotions such as “over joyed", "negatively", and "romantic".
-The number of people who participate in the performance is increased one by one, and when all the members perform, the number is reduced one by one.
-While acting, seeing the supporter's pantomime, inferring keywords and using them in dialogue,
The content was as good as an adult.
At primary and junior high schools, I have also participated in plays at school festivals and club activities.
Many people may have participated in plays at Japanese schools, too.
However, for me, who has never learned Drama professionally, I'm just overwhelmed by the students' mastery.
It was such an event last night, but for them it can be said that it is a public lesson with an audience. Because their "production" is the musical that will be held at the city theatre later this year.
When I went to see "Sing in the rain" two years ago, the audience was overwhelmed by the dignified performance. It's a musical, they're good at singing. Even romantic acting.
The performance of the dance team was great, and it actually “Raining” on stage, which was a hot topic in the local newspaper.
Many times I wondered many times that everyone was really high school students walking around school every afternoon.
I was also amazed at the clarity of their answers when they appeared on a local radio show for publicity.
How reliable they were!
By the way, I remember watching a Disney movie called "High School Musical". In the English-speaking world, high school students who perform well may be common.
Programs of Excellence in 2022
My daughter who wanted to watch the drama is currently in the sixth grade of primary school.
She is 11 years old now, born in November, the same as in the 6th grade from April in Japan, too.
Sixth graders are in the middle of the high school exam season right now.
However, you can usually go to a public school in the school catchment area without taking an examination.
Students who want to participate in this drama-like activities at school what we saw last night are required to take an extracurricular activity called the Excellence Program.
This exam is also a common route for those who want to cross-border admission to a school outside the school catchment area. At least in Cairns.
High school excellence programs in the school district include STEM (academic), music (chorus / instrument), sports (soccer, hockey, basketball), art, drama, and dance, and more, although there are some differences in subjects depending on the each school.
You can take as many exams as you like.
My daughter who wanted to watch the drama activity last night, participates in the examination of this drama course.
When I talked about taking the drama exam during the interview with her class teacher, he said, "I can't imagine it because she's quiet in the class," but it seems that the drama played by everyone is less embarrassing than speaking in front of the class by herself.
Listen to it, I remembered how a wonderful professional actor got very nervous once he was asked to comment.
It's nothing more than a parent idiot to line up a daughter who is still in the future and an actor who already has the ability on the same line.
In Japan, you might think of a child actor, but drama is one of Cairns' popular activities.
Is it because self-expression, memory, courage, creativity, application, etc. are trained?
It may be useful no matter what profession you get in the future. I'm sure it is.
When taking the exam for my daughter's drama, the challenge is to memorise and preform a paragraph of text.
I have already given the assignment form to my daughter, so I want her to proceed at her own pace.
Last night’s event, the view was interesting, but the performing wasn't easy. But even after watching the improvisation, my daughter wasn't demotivated to take the exam, so I thought she was strong.