All posts by Irihapeti

I live on a 3-acre property with my husband, 1 cat, 11 hens and a wide range of birds and smaller critters (the latter, uninvited). We are trying to have as small an ecological footprint as we can, and have installed solar panels for our power needs, and collect our own rain water. We are self-sufficient for vegetables and fruit. My time is spent writing, gardening and day-dreaming.

Japanese Diary

Shichi – Sleeping in a Capsule

first cabin

When I initially checked-in to First Cabin, I was asked to confirm that I wouldn’t be playing loud music, or producing inharmonious sounds, or using a noisy alarm clock, all in the interests of my fellow guests. The counter displayed a box of earplugs, ‘free of charge’, and I was soon to discover why. The ‘capsules’ are never entirely closed off from everyone else. Basically, they’re little cubicles open at one end, across which runs a stiff vinyl curtain.

Despite my tiredness, I could tell straight away that it was going to be a difficult night, sleep-wise. The bed was very hard and flat. It reminded me of a well-stuffed vinyl bench, except wider, and of course, it wasn’t vinyl, or if it was, it was well disguised under the bedding. There was a light duvet, a pillow, and a large flattish bolster affair that served as a head-board. The opaque vinyl curtain had a gap of about 10 cm at top and bottom, and let through light from the hallway. And even with everyone trying to be quiet you could still hear people walking back and forth, curtains scraping on their tracks, the rustle of papers, the sound of coughing, or of people going through their bags and getting ready for bed, or getting out of bed, and this went on for the whole night, as people checked in or departed at all hours.

I decided to take a shower before bed, so donned the rather uncomfortable tunic and pants and made my way to the shared bathroom. The series of rooms were dazzlingly bright after the subdued lighting of the hallways and were well-stocked with mirrors, hair-dryers, low stools and toiletries. Removing my slippers, I followed the signs to the shower section where it was clear that I was expected to remove my clothing and place the items into a basket, then cross the Tatami matting to the shower on the opposite side of the room. I was hesitating – weighing up the possibility of taking my towel in with me, when a naked woman appeared from the shower opposite and walked past me to her basket of clothes. At this point I realised I’d just have to go with the flow. And I also felt annoyed that I come from a culture where I still feel self-conscious in my own skin. The shower was great! Hot, clean, and with good water pressure. A nice touch was the Shiseido shampoo and conditioner. I felt much better afterwards.

I settled down for the night at around 10 pm and eventually fell into a restless sleep.  At around 3.30 am I was startled awake by the sound of music, a woman singing… in my half-asleep state I couldn’t tell if it was in Japanese or English or some other language, and for a moment I thought I’d somehow left a radio on. The music played on for a few minutes before it stopped and the relative silence resumed. At 4.30 am I got up to go to the bathroom and was surprised to see that there were many more capsules with closed curtains than there had been earlier. And in the bathroom itself, there was an astonishing number of women sitting at the counters, applying make-up, drying their hair, etc. I guess some people start their days early, and it seemed to me that they were dressed for work, rather than travel.

I’d asked for a wake-up call, just in case the vibrations of my watch alarm didn’t wake me, and right on 6.00 am, I heard a gentle tap on my curtain, which was then drawn aside, and a cheery face peeped in. “Arigato!” I called out softly and the figure retreated. Despite having spent a week or two studying Hiragana, and learning a few Japanese words prior to my trip, ‘Thank you’ was the only word I felt confident of testing on anyone.


Next stage of the trip: Haneda to Asahikawa

Japanese Diary

Roku – Japan at Last!

The flight from Auckland to Narita takes about 10 hours. I’m not particularly fond of flying. But perhaps nobody is. It’s not so much the thought of being up in the air in a huge metal machine, it’s more about the claustrophobic aspect of being crammed into such a small space for several hours, sharing the stale air with a few hundred people you’ve never met.

The new aeroplanes, while comparatively roomy and equipped with all the mod cons, are not designed for short people, (just as they aren’t designed for tall people, or large people). The position of the head rest isn’t quite right, the flow of fresh air completely misses my face, that kind of thing. To distract us we’re provided with movies or TV programmes, music and refreshments, and these just about do the trick, especially if you’re traveling alone and don’t have to entertain a child or comfort a baby.

We were served ‘lunch’ a couple of hours after departure. I chose the salmon, which was accompanied by a small egg roll, some green beans and rice. The other option was scrambled eggs and chicken sausage – definitely unappealing, even mentioning it here makes me a little squeamish. Then a couple of hours out from Narita we were served dinner. The choices were either a chicken dish, or a beef casserole with peas and roasted potatoes. I chose the latter and polished it off at a speed that surprised me.

My seat was situated on the left-hand aisle, adjacent to a guy aged around late-40s and his son (about 10). They didn’t bother me on the trip, but nor did we communicate, except for when they needed to squeeze past me for some reason. At one point I became aware that several babies were crying inconsolably.  It was a somewhat bizarre situation – playing out on the screen in front of me was a sex scene in the movie ‘The Shape of Water’. A very wet scene with water dripping and flowing everywhere, and then there was the sound of babies howling from several sides. I felt sorry for them, and for their caregivers. A long trip is difficult when you have little ones in tow. I was also glad they weren’t my babies.

Thanks to a tail wind, we landed a little early at Narita, just before 5 pm, with a reported outside temperature of 28 C. Looking out the plane windows it appeared overcast and smoggy. I’d packed some of our own honey as gifts and was half expecting the contents of my luggage to be queried, but I passed through Customs and the security check speedily. My first task was to purchase a ticket for the Limousine Bus that would take me from Narita to Haneda airport, a trip of about an hour, across the city.

Limousine bus views
From the Limousine Bus I caught glimpses of rural scenes and cityscapes.

The bus was only about half full, but every window seat was taken so I couldn’t see much of Tokyo or the surrounding area. I did, however, catch glimpses of rice fields and greenery, along with grey industrial buildings and motorways.

Limousine bus
Sitting on the Limousine Bus.

Nearer to Haneda we drew close to the ocean, which looked dark and choppy in the late afternoon light – visibility restricted by the smoggy atmosphere. By the time our bus reached its destination, the sun had dipped to a position only a little above the horizon. The sky was a dirty gold changing to smoky apricot with the buildings standing out starkly and I was feeling very tired.

Terminal 1
My first glimpse of Terminal 1, Haneda Airport, Tokyo.

I’d booked a first class capsule at First Cabin hotel, situated in Haneda Airport’s Terminal 1. I located the hotel without too much difficulty and checked in at around 6.40 pm. I had to wait twenty minutes for the room to become available and then curiously walked through the narrow corridors to find my ‘home away from home’ for the night.

first cabin
Left: My bed in the first class capsule – I was glad there was free WiFi; Right: The TV was at the foot of the bed, and behind this, the curtain that closed off the capsule.

The room was adequate and I wish that I’d taken a photo when I first slid the curtain open and hadn’t disturbed anything. For about NZ $60 I was provided with a clean room with a bed, a TV (which I didn’t use), a small side table, a lockable drawer, a towel, wash-cloth, pair of disposable slippers, and a set of cabin wear consisting of a simple top and trousers, made of a thick, brown fabric.

onigiri
Onigiri – something I LOVE but can’t find in New Zealand.

By this time I was so exhausted I was almost dead on my feet. But I was also terribly thirsty, so once I’d undertaken a very basic ‘unpack’, I left my gear in the capsule (trusting that it would be secure) and roamed the airport in search of something to drink and eat. I walked back and forth a few times unable to make a decision then settled on a bottle of Mirin brand Sparkling Lemon (which I guzzled as quickly as the coldness of the liquid would allow) and a Convenience Store-style Onigiri of some kind. It was time to retire for the night.


Next stage of the trip: My night as a guest of First Cabin.

Japanese Diary

 

Go – Return to Asahikawa

At 7.45 am on Tuesday 15 May I was sitting in the Koru Lounge of Auckland International Airport, struggling to keep my eyes open. It had been an early start, made a little more complicated by having to jettison a couple of items at the last minute (my Kindle, a bottle of shampoo and my pillow), in order to get the weight of my bag closer to the 23 kg limit.

Koru breakfast
Scrambled eggs, kransky sausage and toast, a la Koru Lounge

The day had begun with my Apple Watch vibrating me into awakedness at 3.45 am. In theory, I should have been ready to go, having packed and separated out the items I might need with me on the journey, the previous day. The trip itself, would be a little different from that of the previous year; on this occasion it would be undertaken in two legs: Auckland to Tokyo (Narita airport) and Tokyo (Haneda airport) to Asahikawa. Last year I’d flown directly to Sapporo, before traveling by rail (the Kamui) to my final destination. Another difference was that it would involve an overnight stay in Tokyo, as my Asahikawa flight wouldn’t depart until mid-morning on the Wednesday.

The drive from home to the airport was uneventful. It was a clear, calm morning and South Head Road was dry, only broken by puddles of fog whenever the road dipped into a hollow. There was little traffic through Parakai, Waimauku and even at Kumeu, which an hour or so later would be bisected by a long snake of commuters. We tanked the car at the Gull station there, and leaving the last of the fog behind, hit the northern end of the South Western motorway. Even the road works leading down to the Lincoln Road off ramp didn’t hold us up and before long we were driving through the Waterview Tunnel, and out the other side where I was surprised to read on an electronic sign that it was 18 C.

Ben dropped me off at the international terminal at around 6.00 am and headed back to wrestle his way to the city centre through the early morning traffic. My bag weighed in at 23.4 kg but the attendants let it through; fortunately I didn’t have to implement my backup plan of transferring various items (such as computer cables) from bag to back pack. After clearing Customs and the security check I wandered a couple of times around the duty-free shops, then headed to the Koru Lounge. I had a long wait ahead of me.

The lounge was full with the best seats taken. There are always plenty of comfy chairs but they are the wrong dimensions for a person of my height. They force me to either sit forward awkwardly on the edge, or to sit back with my feet barely touching the floor, so the best chairs for me are the regular ones beside the dining tables. I plonked myself down into the best of the worst and opened my laptop. My intention was to get some writing done and to avoid alcohol – it was, after all, still very early, but after 30 minutes of listening to a nearby group of women talking firstly (and at length) about who they did and didn’t like in ‘Dancing with the Stars’ (a new series is apparently running on TV3), and secondly, about how irritating Winston Peters is and how lovely Jacinda Ardern is, and then having another woman beside me coughing and sniffling, I decided I needed something. And there’s nothing like a glass of bubbly at 7.32 am.

Looking around, I observed that the area was mostly populated with grey-haired, or no-haired individuals, most of them, paired off. Yes, there were a few younger couples and singles, and I did observe one child aged around eight, but I was definitely on the younger side of the majority. Most of us were tapping away at laptop keyboards, or peering closely at mobile phones. Reading glasses were ‘de rigueur’. I thought this somewhat odd. Perhaps it was to do with it being the international lounge – I knew from experience that at that time of the morning on a week day, the domestic lounge would be filled with business types, all suited up.

The noise level was high, too. Across from where I was sitting, the barista gal was regularly bashing the coffee grounds out of the portafilter, plates were being clattered by the breakfast bar, glasses were clinking on a trolley being wheeled past, the buzz of many conversations was reaching a crescendo – the cacophony peppered with abrupt peels of laughter and muffled coughs. I could catch the odd phrase of a conversation, but it was mostly just noise, the kind that makes your eyelids grow heavy until suddenly you realise that you almost fell asleep. Or perhaps it was the one small glass of wine that was beginning to affect me. It was time to zone out.


Next stage of the trip: The flight from Auckland to Narita airport, Tokyo, and the subsequent journey between Narita and Haneda airports, and my experience as a guest of First Cabin.

 

E rere te kootare

Kingfisher Blues

Flare of turquoise, flash of emerald
swifter than the eye can see
glare from windows, crash of impact
lifeless body, spirit free

kotare 02
New Zealand Kingfisher, Halcyon sancta vagans

Earlier this evening, a beautiful Kotare flew smack-bang into our living room window. It lay senseless on the grass, and my heart sank. I gently retrieved it and placed it on a bed of soft wood shavings in a clean cardboard box.

When I checked an hour or so later, the body hadn’t moved. It was limp and warm, but clearly, dead. I’d been hoping it was merely stunned, and would wake up, ready to fly (as has happened with other birds that have flown into our windows).

Poor little bird. It lay there so perfectly, its plumage iridescent in the light.


E rere te kōtare
ki runga pūwharawhara
ruru parirau
kei mate i te ua.

Fly Kingfisher
up onto the clump of Pūwharawhara.
Shake the raindrops from your wings
lest you catch a chill.

(Verse from Tīhore Mai te Rangi, Hirini Melbourne, c. 1978)


kotare 04
This was a luckier bird. It flew into our kitchen windows back in December, but perked up after about 15 minutes and flew away.

 

Flash Fiction

dates
Fresh Figs: A small, yet delectable dessert; Flash Fiction: a small, yet delectable reading experience

Sheer and utter relief, those are the emotions you experience upon the completion of a story. No matter how short, no matter how long, the writing takes its toll.

I’ve just now finished a piece for this month’s Flash Frontier. Flash Frontier is a great site that supports writers of flash fiction both in New Zealand and internationally. It’s some time since they’ve published anything of mine, but it feels good to be finally getting back into writing after a couple of years off helping a friend with less creative writing work. In fact, for a while, I wondered if I’d ever be able to get started again.

Flash Frontier’s theme for March is ‘flora and fauna’. As usual the guidelines are non-restrictive; how you approach the theme is up to the author. This leads to a wide range of stories being submitted for consideration, and once published they make for thought-provoking reading. I think it’s magic that a simple topic can be interpreted in so many different ways.

I started my story the way I always start stories, with the germ of an idea. I’ve mentioned before that when it comes to writing, I’m a ‘pantser‘. This means that I “fly by the seat of my pants,” don’t plan out anything, or plan very little. I’m frequently surprised at where my stories end up. It’s as if the characters have been inside me all along, vying for the chance to share their experiences.

(The other type of writer, by the way, is a ‘plotter’. I think you can figure out for yourself how that kind of a writer works.)

If my story is successful you’ll be able to read it when Flash Frontier’s March edition is published. And if not, there will still be many excellent stories to enjoy. It’s definitely worth checking out every other month.

There’s actually a funny side to this particular project. The fiction published by Flash Frontier generally has a word limit of 250. Occasionally, there is a special 1000 word edition. For some reason I thought the March edition was one of those and I’d been working at shaving the final 10 or so words off my 1000 word version. Then I re-read the submission guidelines. Uh-oh!

It’s such good practice to cull huge chunks of unnecessary words out of a story.


 

Te Kōrero Ahi Kā

Jane Percival
Would you eat this sausage?

SpecFicNZ has included one of my short stories, The Mysterious Mr Montague, in their latest anthology, Te Kōrero Ahi Kā: To Speak of the Home Fires Burning.

Te Korero Ahi Ka - Cover 600
Te Kōrero Ahi Kā: To Speak of the Home Fires Burning.

Te Kōrero Ahi Kā is an anthology of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, showcasing work from award-winning and emerging members of SpecFicNZ (New Zealand authors, poets, artists of speculative fiction).

About The Mysterious Mr Montague

It’s funny how the senses can enhance memories. The addition of a taste, a smell, or a touch, makes the memory more stable, somehow, transforming it into an easy-to-access snapshot of a place and a time that you visited; able to be examined whenever you wish.

A butcher’s shop has a particular smell. And the smell of such a shop in the 1970s is nothing like the odour of the meat section of a supermarket. It smelled of blood and sawdust. Rattling plastic strips kept out most of the flies, and in Summer, a lazy ceiling fan would push the air around, just a little.

If I smell fresh blood today, I’m transported back to my uncles’ shop. It, too, was situated in Kilbirnie, Wellington; but there, the similarity ends.

How to purchase the book

Te Kōrero Ahi Kā is currently available from Amazon (for Kindle or Paperback) and The Book Depository. It may also soon be available in a bookshop near you.


 

 

 

And the Heavens Opened

rain 01
Pools of water collect on the driveway, then run onto the grass by the maize field. Gaining momentum, the water changes direction and flows west into the back paddock.

Rain!

When I arose this morning, the rain that had been coming down steadily all night was like a bead curtain, each string of droplets falling vertically from the leaden grey sky.

Troubled Sleep

Last night had to have been the worst night I’ve experienced this summer, humidity-wise. As I lay on my bed, the covers pushed off onto the floor, I struggled to find a cool patch in the damp mugginess. My hair clung to my head and a patina of moisture coated every patch of exposed skin (in other words, my whole body was dripping).  Around 3.30 am, a loud crash roused me from a weird dream about insects. I’d been half aware, earlier, of a few flashes of brightness through my tightly-closed eyelids as I’d tossed and turned, but I’d put that down to my Apple Watch’s display turning on when I moved my arm. For the next hour, an impressive thunder storm rattled the windows and cast brilliant white light into the room. At 4.15 am I detached myself from the damp bed to check the data on our newly-acquired weather station. The results were no surprise: Outside: 22.3 C / 100 % humidity; Inside: 27.6 C / 93% humidity.

I switched on RNZ’s All Night Programme, hungry for an update on how Tonga was faring under the onslaught of Cyclone Gita. The broadcast was broken by static and I imagined having to endure the rain without shelter. In the darkness of a stormy night. With young children or elderly parents. With ferocious winds and terrifying noises. How frightening that would be.

grass rain 02
A lake of water on the grass

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

When I looked out from the back porch and saw that glistening curtain of rain, I felt an overwhelming urge to shower outside. So I grabbed soap and shampoo and found a position behind the garage (very private there, especially on such a day) and washed and rinsed myself off out there with only the sparrows and one stray hen for company. A large gush of water was overflowing from the corner of the roof, the guttering unable to cope with the torrent, so I stood directly beneath it to rinse off my hair. It felt good to be out there in the wetness. The water was barely cooler than the air temperature.

Taking Stock

71 mm of rain has fallen in the last 24 hours, and of this, 22.5 mm fell in the hour I chose for my outdoor shower. Now it’s getting on for 8.00 pm and the rain has mostly stopped; water is sinking into the grass and draining away.  Outside, the cicadas and crickets are once again making a racket. Let’s hope it’s sunny tomorrow.


letterboxes 02

Tan water flows by
bearing the earth in its grasp
Cows munch undisturbed

Jane Percival, February 2018