Heading away on holiday towards the end of calving is usually the signal for things to malfunction, but remarkably both equipment and animals co-operated, and we left, crossing our fingers that the handful of pregnant cows left would behave.

With our home, cats, dogs, chickens, sheep and goat cared for by our long-suffering house sitter we headed away for two weeks of relaxing.

Who am I kidding? Holidays with Bruce are never relaxing. I would be quite happy to lounge by a pool with a book in one hand and a colourful drink in the other, but not him. He is an "active relaxer" and I get dragged along for the ride.

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Japanese visitors learn the haka at Whangārei Boys High school
Japan: Visiting our distant sister


Anyway, this was a school trip and we were parent helpers so there was little time to relax even if I wanted to.

We flew to Japan, unfortunately not by the direct flight that soars over our house every morning but via a 23-hour route followed by an hour-long train ride to Osaka.

First, I was determined to withdraw some money. Here's a handy travelling tip: Don't withdraw cash in a foreign country when you're A. Sleep-deprived and jetlagged, B. Unfamiliar with said country's ATMs and language, and C. Also unfamiliar with the currency and have only a vague idea of the exchange rate.

Bruce working on his travel selfies.
Bruce working on his travel selfies.

To summarise: I withdrew an exorbitant amount of cash (to our 17-year-old son's delight) and frightened the credit card. I then handed over a generous portion to the teenager. I know, what was I thinking? He kept the school drink vending machines very busy for the week.

There's not much farm-related content this month – I assume there are farms in Japan but we didn't see any and saw few animals apart from the crows which flap ominously around the city.

Bruce ran in the park early every morning, mingling with locals as they exercised. He took lots of terrible selfies but gradually mastered the art of holding the phone at a good angle and even smiling.

Bruce's new fan club.
Bruce's new fan club.

He also learned not to walk through the patches of wild grass by the river because they were not, in fact, grass but someone's carefully tended grain crop. He doesn't speak Japanese but the gestures and shouts from a nearby woman made him realise he'd crossed some forbidden boundary.

We tried, and probably often failed, to do the right thing culturally. I knew when to take my shoes off, but there's a subtle art in backing up to the ledge provided and not tramping about on it in your shoes.


Once I realised, it made me wince when I saw people doing it the wrong way.

The Japanese escalator-riding technique is a model of efficiency. Stand on the right, leaving the left free for people in a hurry.

This works so well it was a shock to jump on a travelator at Singapore's airport only to be blocked by people standing two abreast, staring at their phones and oblivious to anyone behind them.

Everyone thought we were going to Japan for the Rugby World Cup and maybe we could have made it to a game if we'd really tried. We did enjoy wearing All Blacks shirts to the bar near our hotel which screened all the rugby games and mingle with the after-work drinking crowd, who were thrilled to find New Zealanders in their midst.

I lost Bruce several times in Japan, but luckily he always turned up again. Once he disappeared inside a castle. Our school group of around 40 came out and waited for him. His phone was turned off and we had a train to catch, so I said: "Just leave him, he'll find his own way back."

He was slightly miffed to emerge and find us all gone but did indeed find his way back to the school, where he was locked out.

We mastered the trains eventually. Well, I thought we had, but coming back from a late night we got off a stop too early and had to walk through narrow back streets. In some foreign cities – in fact even in our own nearest city, Whangārei, you'd be concerned about who was lurking in the shadows.

Not Osaka. Everyone was out drinking and eating and enjoying themselves, or still on the way back from work or even still in their school uniforms on their way home from after-school cram classes.

It seemed strange in such a big city, but we always felt safe in Japan.

One day Bruce and I borrowed our hotel's two bikes and cycled to a museum. We'd spent a happy couple of hours when he suddenly realised in horror that he'd left his mobile phone in his bike's basket outside in the parking lot. It was still there, of course.

Our older son's host mother had us around for a dinner. She runs after-school cultural classes and all her students, their mothers and even a few of the neighbours gathered to inspect the visiting Kiwis. A group of small, wide-eyed children greeted us at the door and I wondered if they'd ever seen non-Japanese person up close before.

At first they hovered at a distance, curious but slightly scared. Gradually they drew closer and were soon taking photos inches away from our faces (those will be lovely I'm sure).

One noticed Bruce's hairy arms and began stroking them in amazement. They rapidly decided he was a harmless furry beast and swarmed all over him, begging to be picked up and shrieking with glee.

All too soon it was time to return to reality, where calving was over and the spring grass flourishing.

Farm dogs Pip and Rosie, quite podgy after two weeks of limited exercise, were thrilled to see their boss home again, leaping around him with even more enthusiasm than a gaggle of Japanese children.