Thursday, August 12, 2010

Interlude: Hair

I've wanted to write about my thoughts on Japanese hairstyles as I see it for a while now, especially in relationship to my own experiences as an mixed race African American woman in the States, but I've had so many things I've wanted to write about that this one, not being directly related to a travel destination, has gotten a bit lost in the shuffle. But hair musings kind of fit in with this section of my Tokyo trip, specifically in regards to the high fashion mall that Andrea and I passed through while waiting for new Steph and Ben.

I'm not sure what happened to the pictures I took of the various hair extensions and dyes that I noticed in one of the non-clothing stores in the mall; it's possible I didn't photograph them because these same products, namely hair extensions of wild colors and textures, are so common here. The desire to write about Japanese hair also relates to a conversations I've had with multiple people who have commented on the amount and variety of dyed hair colors that are abundant here, specifically in regards to the commonness of blond and lightening hair dyes. That and curly perms, which are also very common here.

In short, the type and variety of hair changing products, extensions, etc, really surprised me when I first came here. A part of this is because when I was a child, I really wanted Asian, or as my grandmother said, Oriental hair. Having long, straight, black hair instead of the frizzy (albeit long) mess I had on my head was something I remember actually closing my eyes and wishing for.

I think a part of this particular fixation came from my grandmother's desire to give me multicultural dolls as a kid in order to give me dolls that looked “like me”. Unfortunately, being so light skinned, the darker African American dolls she gave me (which I am grateful for, don't get me wrong) didn't really look anything like me, and she didn't want to give me brown haired, Caucasian dolls (though I have light skin and brown hair) so ultimately the best compromise (unspoken) became the Asian featured dolls. And they had hair that was naturally straight. No hot comb needed, no frizzy braids that rapidly became full of painful knots. I never wanted to be a blond, but boy did I want straighter, smoother hair.

Of course I'm sure the other part of my desire for more Asian hair is related to African American idea of “good hair”: ie: the straighter and longer the better – this is a much talked about thing in African American studies and not worth beating to death here, but I'm mentioning it for three reasons.

  1. Ironically, as much as I hated my hair as growing up (and truthfully had an ambivalent relationship with it until I started getting it braided in Grad School, and then later cut it to shoulder length before leaving the country—two great hair decisions), I definitely have “good hair”. My grandmother was incredibly proud that she was able to take me from being a bald baby that seemed to hold the dubious future of NEVER growing hair to having a granddaughter whose hair went all the way down to her touch her butt. My mother had hair that was equally as long when she was younger, but she cut it, a big regret. (note: I didn't cut my hair until after my grandmother died, that's how strongly I didn't want to disappoint her)
  2. I've had more than one conversation with different people (non African American) who have expressed confusion at why Japanese women often go for lighter hair, even blond hair. Until it was directly pointed out to me, it didn't really trouble me or really enter my notice as being unusual. What surprised me was the desire to have curly, full, ie: not straight hair.
  3. The hair extension and attachment products you find here are exactly the same ones you'll find in Philadelphia for the stores that serve African American women. For example: the fake clip-on bun, the clip on ponytail of varying colors and lengths, wigs, weave in hair, etc. The only thing missing is the hair-grease (much to my dismay). Of course, Caucasians in the States do use these products (minus the hair grease, in general), but not nearly as regularly or commonly as far as I have seen. And the push to have lighter hair is common across races in the U.S.

Of course, everyone wants the hair they don't have. I think that's a universal; ask a woman what kind of hair she likes, and it's probably the opposite of the kind she has. At least until she's gotten old enough to develop a healthy relationship with the locks she's got. But in the African American community, the emphasis on “good hair” stems from historical pressures related to oppression, opportunity, and a push or desire for “whiteness” that has always felt deeper than a mere stylistic decision. In fact, one of the major thoughts that popped into my head upon seeing the array of hair changing items ran along the lines of "the people here must hate their hair as much as my folk at home".

Which is kind of ridiculous if you think about it. Why can't a person just want different hair because they think it's pretty, or different, or for some frivolous reason? Like in John Varley's "Steel Beach" where people just had sex changes because sometimes you want to try something new.

But in the States, hair decisions are more serious. At least from my experience. Choosing to go natural, get dreadlocks, braids or the semi-opposing microbraids, choosing extensions or not, going blond or not and how one chooses to lighten her hair all sends a message. For example, when I wore braids, there was a sense of relief that went with it because people as a rule didn't ask me nearly as often what my race was (or assume I was either Caucasian or Hispanic). Braids looked good on me, but they also made my life easier. They sent a message in a language that I spoke and understood without thinking about it or even consciously reflecting on it. In contrast, when I cut my hair, more people automatically assumed I was Caucasian.

I know hair here is also sending a message, but like the Japanese language, this unwritten language is also unclear to me. (unless we're talking about drinking, directions, work, how I like Japan or humidity) But it's interesting. Like does going blond and curly indicate a desire to be more International? More white? (because there is a definite favoritism of the Nordic Caucasian look here, IMO) A generational urge to separate from older ways? What does it mean for Japanese of Brazilian descent? Chinese or Korean? Or is it just a stylistic choice without so much baggage (an option that seems ridiculously freeing)?

I don't really know. But it's something that has been in my thoughts periodically, so I figured it was worth talking about.

Some awesome hair I've seen in my time here:

Tokyo Day 3: 銭湯 (Sentou)、New Friends, Manga Madness and Robber Karaoke

So after another restful morning at the Manga Kisa, it was time to step back into the bustle of a Tokyo morning. Andrea had two friends coming to Tokyo, so we figured we'd meet up. They had been hiking the old Kiso road that spans from Osaka to Tokyo; in the Edo period this was one of the first national highways in Japan. Tokugawa Ieyasu declared this road a national highway in 1602 according to this website: Old Kiso Road.

From what my fiends told me when I was hiking a portion of this road from Tsumago to Magome in June when Kana wonderfully invited me, Ron and Cullen to spend the night at her grandparents' house (I haven't blogged on this but it was a wonderful time and I really ought are on facebook though, just click on the picture below), every year representatives from each town/village had to walk to the capitol, generally using this road, in order to pay their taxes in person. According to Google Maps, the route that best approximates (as far as I can tell) the road in question would take four days and 15 hours to walk and is 533 km long. Of course, this is taking for granted modern roads and the Terminator like ability to walk day and night without collapsing. I'm betting 2-3x as long would still be a speedy estimate.

Photos of Vash's Tsumago and Magome Trip:

While waiting for the new additions to our team to arrive, Andrea and I wandered around the fashion area of Harajuku. Most people wandering through this mall were dressed to the nines, Japanese style. I adore Japanese fashions; they're so different from U.S. Fashions and some clothes have such an anime feel that the costumer in me says “oooh!”

The new additions to our team, Steph and Ben arrived at 10am. As a total aside, my best friend Steph (who is married to Ben Moats) had originally planned to come to visit me here in Japan this summer and we had specifically planned to see Tokyo, but that fell through. So it was rather humorously ironic that our party was joined by another Steph and Ben (though the originals are irreplaceable!)

New Steph had lived in Tokyo for four months during college, so she knew her way around and could find all of the awesome shops and places that we would (probably) never have found otherwise. But before we could wander through the shops and things, we had to get clean. This lead us to the Public Bath, or 銭湯 (sentou). This is sort of like an Onsen light, where you have public showers and then the chance to soak in essentially a giant hot tub. If you have Tattoos, many Onsens will not let you in, but Sentous are public property so they can't refuse anyone. (and as over ½ of our team had tattoos, this was an important consideration) Also, Sentous are very cheap, usually around 500 yen plus the cost of a towel and soap (unless you bring your own).

I had a great time at the Sentou! It was not only relaxing, but I got to have a wonderful conversation with one of the Obaa-sans next to me in the tub. She pointed me kindly in the direction of the hot-jets (very relaxing) and we chatted a bit. I'm not 100% sure of everything we talked about, but it was a good time for all.

After the Sentou, we went back to the awesome Manga shop in Shibuya(where I broke down and bought more manga including Book 2 of Monster (which I'll one day be able to read even though it lacks furigana) and another issue of Blackjack (also lacking furigana...what is it with the medical drama manga not having furigana!) and the first two issues of Prince of Tennis, which are a win for the beginner reader, check out my Goodreads Review of issue 1 here:

Next we decided to grab food and then headed out for Karaoke. We were going to go to one place, but as we were approaching the entrance, we were intercepted by a very energetic (and cute) young man who encouraged us towards his Karaoke establishment which was cheaper and also included Nomihoudai. He freely admitted to stealing us (どろぼ)and as he even let us negotiate an even cheaper price for two hours, it seemed like a win-win. (Besides, the other place was a chain and this was clearly a small go us for supporting the underdog!) It was super fun!

After Karaoke, we went to a 280yen Izakaya (where everything is 280yen, not including the hidden cover charge that many of these places have, usually around's annoying. A drink or so later, we were all dead tired, and as Steph and Ben couldn't check into their hostel until the next day, we all sought out another manga-kisa. This one was less of a win than the usual because it only had the chairs and you couldn't get internet without going through some complicated cell phone process that all of us tried and failed at, but it was comfortable enough and no creepy music (though my immediate neighbors did insist on whispering to each other all night, it still beat the child murder midis or eight straight hours of Eminem---welcome to Nagoya). That said, in Tokyo at least, Moopa Manga-kisa's are the preferred choice. They also don't charge 500 yen for showers (though you do have to buy the use of a towel and shower stuff if you want it).

Another night.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Day 2: 六本木の朝、渋谷 Scramble and Club Harlem:

Andrea and I were kicked out of our Karaoke booth bright and shiny at 5am, just in time for the Sean of the Dead reprise. I'm not kidding. The same girls and dudes that had been out the night before strutting their stuff in precarious shoes were now doing their best zombie impressions. The women especially were frightening. They managed a half teeter shuffle on their heels, their cell phones held out in front of them with shaking hands. The first girl I saw had me thinking, “wow, she's walking just like a zombie.” Then I looked to my left, and there was another one. And straight ahead, another one. I had an irrational urge to turn and run, but it was no better behind us. I saw one guy who seemed relatively sober dragging his girlfriend (I assume) across the street by the wrist. At first, I had the urge to step in thinking this might be abusive, but then I realized his firm grip was probably the only thing keeping her upright.

Drinking customs are quite different in Japan from the States. That's not to say people don't get vomiting, shuffling drunk in the States. It's just we tend to do it inside. This is in large part because of our laws against public drunkness. A bartender (as we all know) isn't legally allowed to serve a person who is clearly intoxicated. Also, even if the bartender isn't being responsible, your friends will usually cut you off if it's clear that you're putting yourself in danger of alcohol poisoning. Not so here. Though the drinks (excepting Nihonshu/Sake) are generally weak, what they lose in strength they generally make up in quantity. I'm a huge fan of Nomihoudai (all you can drink) but at 31, I have a good idea of my alcohol tolerance and will flag myself if I feel like I'm getting too far gone. You only have to have one drunken blackout to realize that's a very bad idea. (hell, better not to have any) There reaches a point where one more drink just isn't fun anymore.

I'm bringing this up at length because of our next morning event. Andrea and I started walking in a random direction away from Roppongi, but as we turned the corner we found Roppongi wasn't done with us yet. Halfway down the block, near the curb, there was a guy passed out in a pool of his own vomit, one shoe off, his cellphone (pink) about a foot away (half meter I guess, not good with metric) where it had clearly slipped from his limp hand. I stopped to check if he was breathing (he was) and then dithered about for a bit trying to figure out if we should call an ambulance. A passing woman, when asked, just shrugged and said it was normal. I would have left it at that (and should have) but I kept thinking of Kitty Genovese and diffusion of responsibility and figured I'd best call the ambulance even though probably this kid was fine. You never know with alcohol poisoning, and I wouldn't have lived with myself if he'd died and I hadn't notified someone of his condition prior. I was just so grateful he was breathing as I really didn't want to try out my CPR on him, even with the face protector thingy that was in my backpack. (though I would have) So I called 119 and talked first with a dispatch agent in Japanese, trying to explain where I was and then what was going on.

The Philly in me said I'd done my bit, the kid was breathing and I'd called 911 (119 here for an ambulance) so best get moving. Andrea is also from Philly, so she took my back from a good viewing distance acting like a bystander. Then my cell rang again, and I got an English speaker. I explained the situation again and he did not seem overly concerned, but he did say he'd gotten my location from the cell phone. So I said thank you and we left. I still felt a little guilty about not waiting for the ambulance, but the kid was breathing regularly and he was positioned in such a way that if he vomited, he wouldn't choke on it. That said, none of these events inclined me nor Andrea to want to spend another night in Roppongi.

We wandered into the day, eventually making it to a tranquil area that housed a number of foreign embassies and an awesome park. I also managed to buy some cough syrup, which was very good because I'd run out of Tussin and the coughing was getting kind of bad. The video below will give a lovely view of the park:

Then we wandered around Harajuku (which was still closed). It was in these travels that I got the picture of the billboard for SMAP's new CD “We are SMAP.”


This was very exciting for me because I finally knew what SMAP looked like. Not that I couldn't have easily found out this information before, I'd just never bothered looking. But once I saw the billboard, I knew that there had been a sore, open space in my knowledge that had just been waiting to be filled. (note: you'd know SMAP for their hit song: 世界にひとつだけの花 (Sekai Ni Hitotsu no Hana/The Only Flower in the World)

Video Below: Japanese Lyrics with English Translations:

After breakfast and more pointless wandering, we caught some sleep for five hours at a Manga-Kisaten.

Quick aside about the Manga-Kisa, Comic Cafe or Internet Cafe as they are often called. You may remember my in depth analysis of the one in Nagoya that I stayed at overnight my first month here. You know, the one with the creepy music. To reprise: a manga-kisa is nominally a place where people can come, rent a room, surf the internet and read manga at any hour of the day or night. They come with a free drink bar and showers (which you sometimes have to pay to use, and are sometimes free). In fact, they are basically the dirt cheapest way to have a place to sleep you can find while traveling in Japan. The manga kisas in Tokyo (that we stayed at) were blessedly quiet (unlike the one I stayed at in May Nagoya with the child murder midis, or this week on Monday which was featuring the best of Eminem and related artists ALL NIGHT LONG) and comfortable. Also, my reading is getting better, so I was able to start a manga and read a fair amount of it while staying there. (Tokyo ESP, I wasn't able to find it anywhere to buy it though, alas).

Manga Kisas are great if you're trapped out overnight at a club and need a place to crash before going home. They are a bit less great if you are using them as your only sleeping place for days on end, as Andrea and I learned as the week progressed. There is something to be said for having a place to put your stuff that's the same place you're sleeping (as opposed to having the bulk of your stuff in a coin locker in Shibuya Station while you are in a Manga-Kisa in Harajuku missing your toothpaste, hair care products and clothes.) Andrea packed much more sensibly than I did for the week, in that she didn't bring nearly as much shit. I probably used 1/3 of the stuff I bought with me. The rest was just there for physical conditioning and to test my patience. But this is a lesson I've learned well. I'm packing much lighter for Osaka.

After sleeping, we wandered around Harajuku which was pretty sweet. There were a number of cool outside shops and interesting people.

This guy was so awesomely 70's I had to take a picture with him:

It was the shopping in Tokyo that ate much of my money. I picked up some wonderful stuff, including a super awesome watch and ring that's shaped like a cat that goes around my fingers. Also picked up some new clothes on Andrea's recommendation (her taste rocks) and all in all, it was a money spending girltastic day.

After Harajuku, we moved on towards Shibuya and after some searching managed to find the Shibuya scramble. This was very exciting for me! I've wanted to experience this since college, when I saw the last scene of Gundam Wing's Endless Waltz, where Heero Yuy is standing right in the middle of this mass of people crossing the streets with such brilliant order and energy, and now, almost (god help me) 10 years later, here I was. (okay, I can't believe I admitted this to the internet...but there was a time I thought Gundam Wing was brilliant. So there, I said it! There was also a time I thought Space Above and Beyond was brilliant. Then I made the mistake of watching it again in my 30's. I'll never do that with Gundam Wing. Better to keep ones illusions sometimes)

Watch the Scramble: Shibuya Scramble from Above:

Do the Scramble: Shibuya Scramble from Inside:

I also took another later video of this at night, but I was drunk and the recording didn't come out. This will be one of the minor regrets of my life.

So after multiple times of walking the scramble (which Andrea took in stride), we decided it was time for food and partying, so we hit an Izakaya that boasted an All Products 280 yen sign (wahoo) and proceeded to enjoy food and liquor. A man sitting at the table next to us was actually wearing a Philly Cheesesteak Shirt, so we had to get our picture with him. It turns out that he actually knew about Philadelphia and was into Old School R&B, and he was as excited to meet two Philly natives as we were to see him.

After that it was off to Club Harlem, where we danced the night away. I admit, I'm rather in love with the 90's flashbacks on the musical tracks at clubs here. I never in a million years thought I'd ever be dancing to Bobby Brown's “My Prerogative” ever again in life. It flashed me back to me and Dimoli in my bedroom when I was, I guess 10 or 11, listening to that audiotape while she sprayed my room with obscene amounts of Jeanne Natte cologne. (actually, now I can't stand the smell of Jeanne Natte, but the memory still makes me warm and fuzzy. Or as we'd say here: natsukashii!) I actually still knew most of the words to it, much to my surprise. And for the second time in two months, I've actually gotten to dance to DMX's “Ya'll Gonna Make Me Lose my Mind,” something which fills me with the happy. And they even played TLC. As far as Tokyo clubs went, this was certainly the cheapest. Only 2500 yen and that included 1 drink. Of course, clubbing in Nagoya is cheaper, but Tokyo is the NYC of Japan, so you expect it to suck your money away.

Oh and somewhere in this time, we also found a super cheap Manga store that was down a long, dark, scary staircase but well worth it at the end. I actually got caught up on my large edition Gunnm: Last Order graphic novels that I've been collecting for like five years and soon have hope of being able to read quickly, maybe. (Gunnmn is Battle Angel Alita for all you folks in the States). As well as other great manga!

All in all, a great day!

東京 Day 1, Mostly Traveling: 18キップ、電車中、六本木なんて。。。

As I sit here at Kappazushi, enjoying plate after plate of 100 yen sushi and reflecting on my Tokyo adventures last week, it's clear that one entry is not going to to do the trick in regards to capturing the experience. Hence this breakup by day. Besides, dividing the entries adds nice “chapter marks” which I hope will add to the ease of reading. Or at least the ease of writing for me. Who knows?

(total aside: how come some Negitoro ねぎとろ sushi is more negi than others? Note: negi = scallions or onions)

So the first stage of my Tokyo adventure can be roughly described as “getting there with a taste of Roppongi”. Andrea and I (being broke) opted for the 18Kippu (pronounced: Juuhachikippu), which gives you five days (nonconsecutive) in which you can ride any of the non-express trains. This means 急行 and 普通 only, nothing that says super rapid, super rapid limited, or shinkansen. As a result, we basically spent most of Tuesday in transit. Andrea and I met up in Nagoya at the Kanayama station, where we promptly decided to get food and shop. That's where I bought the fabulous black hat with the flower that I'm wearing in most of my pictures. I got it on Andrea's recommendation; Andrea has fabulous fashion sense, unlike me.

We did this languishing in the misconception that my directions for train times and pickups were useful for our 18Kippu. I had been under the impression that as long as you weren't on a Shinkansen, any train was fine. We learned the hard way, through an 45 minute diversion to a train we couldn't ride, that this was not the case. Luckily the man behind the ticket counter was super kind and not only told us that we couldn't use the 18Kippu for the trains that we were trying to catch, but further went above and beyond by looking through his giant book of train information and writing out our entire route, with what stops to go to, how long each train would take, and when they arrived and departed.

Armed with this information and a tiny bit of backtracking, we were off and riding again!

A quick aside about the 18Kippu: traveling with it takes more time, but it is also one of the cheapest ways to see Japan by rail. For 11,500 yen (that's about $115), you get to travel on all local JR line trains (as we said, Futsuu and Kyuukou) for five days, each day equaling one stamp. My 18Kippu paid for itself and then some just for my Tokyo trip, and I still have three more days (good until August 31st) that I can use it. Hence I will be using it to go to Osaka and Mie-ken to visit my friend Susannah who just moved here. The 18Kippu is an EXCELLENT deal. You can buy one at any JR station. Also, if you don't use all of your days, you can sell the remainder at ticket resale stores, where you can also buy partially used 18Kippu for cheap. At least that's what people have told me. I haven't tried it yet, and probably I'm going to use my whole 18Kippu this summer anyway. Anyone can buy a 18Kippu; you don't have to be a student or a foreigner buying it overseas (though there's a great tourist JR railpass too that can only be purchased overseas. I don't know much about it though, because I didn't do this).

The other nice thing about the 18Kippu is that you can get off of the train, wander around and get back on the train without spending more money. So even though you may spend extra hours in transit, this is less onerous than it seems because it also affords you the opportunity to see other interesting places in Japan you may not have explored otherwise. (food is a great motivator, as is the need to stretch one's legs or sit down, depending on how crowded or not the train is or is not.) In short, the 18Kippu gets the Vash seal of approval, which worth about as much as the paper it's printed on, but there goes.

The 18Kippu allowed us many great stops, including in 熱海 (Atami) which is a lovely (probable beach town, considering the last kanji) town with delicious food and lots of cool shops. Though this takes these entries out of order, on our way back, we stopped at a Ramen shop that had some of the best Ramen I've had here in Japan. (and that's saying something because Ramen here is awesome) Though it's a pretty far hike from Toyota, the next time I'm going that way, I fully intend to stop in 熱海 (Atami) for the food if nothing else. 豊橋 (Toyohashi) is also an interesting station, and though we didn't really see the city, it seemed like a bustling place from the activity of the train station.

We arrived in Tokyo at around 8pm. (which meant about 10 hours of travel for me coming from Toyota) I'd been attempting to meet up with two different people in Tokyo, but neither panned out, so instead we figured why not hit Roppongi, which according to the internet would be a useful place to go to find a Manga-Kisaten and other all night clubs and establishments. It's also the foreign district, which seemed like a reasonable place to go for us who were foreigners. Also, it has super easy Kanji: 六本木 (six, book/source, tree).

So in my mode of super cheapness, I decided it would be a good idea to see if it was possible to save the 160 yen for the subway and find out if there was a JR station that could take us to Roppongi so we could use our 18Kippu). As Andrea and I approached the ticket counter, an older gentleman intercepted us and asked us in English where we were going. I told him we were heading for Roppongi, and he told us to take the subway. At that point, I drifted into Japanese to try and explain that I was looking to see if the JR line could take us to Roppongi, in large part because most of the time, even when someone starts a conversation with me in English here, usually if we move into more complicated topics, things get too confusing and it's easier for all concerned to struggle through with my rather awful Japanese (or most common, a mix of the two languages...communication, ya know). This has become automatic for me, so it was hugely surprising when the man, with an expression similar to one he'd wear if I'd shot his dog and was currently wearing the pooch's intestines as a necklace, asked me “WHY are you speaking in Japanese?” (I'm emphasizing the “why” here because that's what he did)

I was really confused and somewhat annoyed. I have wholly appreciated how wonderfully helpful Japanese people are especially when they see a lost foreigner like myself, and I have made great friends from this beautiful, generous tendency of the people around me here (much love, Mie-chan et. al) but I must admit, I really had no idea what to do with that question. In retrospect, I wonder if I offended the guy by implying that his English wasn't good enough. That wasn't at all what I was trying to do. At the time though, I was just ticked off and hiding it (probably poorly, as I'm not good at that sort of thing) and so I responded, in English, “because I learned it?” which was better than my internal monologue which went along the lines of “because I'm living in this country so why wouldn't I make even a base attempt to try to speak the language here and besides who the fuck are you anyway?”

He looked a bit offended and I tried to soften the approach by asking him another question in English, but luckily at that point we were intercepted by a really hot Japanese businessman who also spoke English and was a lot more helpful. (he didn't care what language we spoke and was way cool, hotness aside) Truthfully, I could have scrapped the Roppongi plan and seen if we could all get a drink together but he was clearly in a hurry. Alas.

And the answer to our question was NO.

So we paid the 160 yen for the subway and headed for Roppongi.

Roppongi is a dive.

Okay, it doesn't totally suck. And in keeping with what will probably be a repeating theme in later entries, it does have that wonderfully sleazy feel of a Cyberpunk style place where illicit meetings for-hire Edgerunner teams and illicit corporate representatives meet to discuss business. In fact, Tokyo, namely Shibuya, Akihabara and Roppongi (to an extent) are the only places in Japan (with the exception of Sakae in Nagoya a tiny bit, especially the underground mall and the giant ferris wheel) that make me think of Cyberpunk.

But places like Roppongi are where you get that Bladerunner opening, not the pan-over, which is more Shibuya if Shibuya was encased in a cloud of coal dust, but the part where Harrison Ford is eating noodles in the perpetual drizzle. “They say you Blade Runner...” Now add a bunch of drunk-ass people, women dressed in too-high heels and too-short skirts with the matching toe and fingernail designs, men with one shirt button open, cowboy belts, dress shoes that come to almost points, they travel sometimes in packs and sometimes alone, scanning the merchandise as the working dudes with their shiny heads weild pamphlets trying to sweet-talk this and that person into their club or get the idea. It's bright with blinking signs and neon. It's doors to club that look like the doors to apartments on Chestnut street in Philly, the apartments that live above stores like Easy Pickins (which no longer exists) and Karaoke places that have that veneer of high class that's like stick-on plastic tile in the swirls of marble. And disco lights.

So yeah.

Most people told me again and again that living in Japan would be like living in the future, but for me living in Japan has been like living in a weird amalgam of the 1950's and 1990's with interesting fashion input from the 70's and 80's. There are also musical annotations from modern Hip Hop, including a solid infusion of music from the 'niggas, bitches and hos genre', which would be troubling if it wasn't put in juxtaposition with a clubbing atmosphere where absolutely nobody has even made an attempt to grab my ass or fondle me in any inappropriate way, something that is a never ending shock to me here. (and this seems to be more of a universal trend than that my USA sized ass is unattractive here) In fact the freshest anyone has gotten with me here was one guy who gave me a kiss on the cheek and offered to buy me a drink. (this was in Nagoya, and my ride was leaving or I would have taken him up on it)

But Tokyo has the future feel. And Roppongi brings the gritty. You know somewhere in one of those buildings, maybe on the upper floors, there's a certain potential for darkness, the screwdriver in the dark, the light scratch of meishi passed across a dark table, not sticky, even the sleeze in Japan does not touch the surface, and in these business cards the slightly raised surface of the plastic information strip, like the one that runs through a $20 bill so that the cashier can check if its real. For most of us the information superhighway is a series of tubes, but for some it's lightening. Someone takes a puff of a cigarette, and the girls and boys who are leaning into each other, bouncing to the music, tossing back 700 yen drinks barely strong enough to qualify, they have no idea. But they're needed. They're as vital to the system as the neon, needed for the yen they throw about to impress each other, needed for their desperation, for their manic desire, for sheer ambiance, and we were a part of it. Andrea and I. We skipped over the surface like rocks thrown over a shiny pool, and the taste of it clung to us as we careened into the opposite shore.

So yeah, it's cyberpunk of a sort. Except safer. Because for people like us, who aren't playing the game, Japan is the fifth safest place in the world.

Andrea and I found a great hamburger place in Roppongi. In keeping with my Tokyo experience, a burger, fries and a hot tea came up to about 1200 yen. Not terrible, but a bit steep. We avoided Gaspanic: the internet warned us that it was THE Gaijin Desperation Meat Market, and instead we ended up wandering around until we found a pub, and later a great Karaoke deal, only 2200 yen for all you could drink and sing until morning. Morning being 5am. Which because Japan is not on Daylight Savings means the sun is well up by that time.

We sang a lot and slept a little.

And so ended Day 1.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Still Alive...and 未来~東京!

I know I have been out of touch with the posting here. I've mainly been updating facebook and my youtube channel, to which I am putting the link below:

Vash's Youtube Channel

It's been a very busy month or so. Way too much to summarize in any detail, but I'll grab some of my recent facebook updates/events and let them tell the story:

6/24/10: Fun! Fun! Fun! Erin's 2010 Birthday Bash!

6/26/10: Last Night at Fever, and that means Mucho Dancing. Pregame Nomihoudai Karaoke at Fushimi. Hooked up with Andrea and met Rina-chan. And yes, I was in a Red Bull Commercial. If there's anyone on this planet that doesn't need an infusion of Red Bull, it's me! (note: summary of events, not true facebook update)

6/27/10: Nagoya Adventure Evening -- Another fun filled night of Karaoke, dancing and all around good times!

7/1/10: Salsa Party at TIA in Toyota City Japan!

7/3/10: Perfect summer breakfast: cold miso topped with fresh cut peaches, apples, bananas, yogurt and bran flakes plus half bagel with creamcheese, tomato and avocado, side of chai. Also, today is not that hot! I actually just have my deck door open to let in outside air. No aircon!

7/4/10 - (afternoon) : Happy Fourth to all! It's odd celebrating this in a country where it really doesn't matter. But Erin and I had a rousing picnic and later we're going to set off fireworks. I downloaded 2CDs of "Songs of America" so we're gonna annoy the river with patriotic gusto. And YES WE CAN buy fireworks in Japan at the DOLLAR STORE!

7/4/10 - (late-night): So after buying fireworks and 24 patriotic songs for under $8, Erin and I opted not to blow up Toyota Staduim and instead just used hand sparklers while singing such hits as "Glory Glory Hallelujuah" and "Grand Old Flag" at the top of our ever loving lungs. Andrea also made a phone cameo for a "Born in the USA" reprise. All in all, great 4th here in Japan!

7/8/10: I'm going to be in Nagoya on Saturday if anyone wants to hang out or party! Message me if you want to get together!

7/14/10: Yesterday: roughest game of Fruits Baskets ever. Before we even got the kids in a circle, four were in tears. Today was much better. Managed to sing an entire song about Fruits without making anyone cry.

7/16/10: Ron's Going Away Party at Outback!

7/17/10: Mie and I got to see Miyazaki's newest movie 借りぐらしのアリエッティ("Arriety's Life of Borrowing/The Borrower Arriety") today on opening night! Brilliant film, in the running for my favorite Miyazaki film (which is saying something). It was beautiful, surprising and emotionally resonant. And I'm betting it's even better with subtitles! See this when it hits your country!

7/20/10: Summer Vacation!!!!!!

First earthquake today! Woke this morning to my futon shaking beneath me, climbed down off the loft, tried to stand in the doorway between my main room and hall, realized it was not a load bearing wall, tried to get out on the deck, turned around, ran out the front door and then stood like an idiot outside for five minutes while nothing happened. At that point, I doubted it had been an earthquake at all.

7/24/10: Ichinomiya Tanabata Festival!

7/25/10: Toyota's fireworks display tonight was two hours of awesome! Wow!

7/26/10: 明日東京へ!楽しみよ!

And today, I am finishing last minute packing and trying hard not to cough out a lung as I prepare for the next five days in Tokyo! I spent last night printing out maps and Wiki-travel information as well as packing (making sure I had decent toothpaste and the like). I'm soo excited to go to Tokyo! With Andrea and I kickin' it Philly style, as well as Izumi-chan (who I met in Ichinomiya) and hopefully the opportunity to hook up with Susannah (who arrived in the land of the Rising Sun yesterday, I think) we should be having nothing but the good times! I just wish I'd fully kicked this stupid cold...

There's a song by Ketsumeishi called "Tegami Mirai/
手紙~未来" and for the longest time, I thought one part of the lyrics of the chorus were "Mirai no orera no tokyo ha!/未来の俺らの東京は"

I thought this meant "in the future we'll all be in Tokyo."

Not only was I dead wrong about what the lyrics actually were "Mirai no orera no joukyou wa!?/未来の俺らの状況は!?" ("What will our future be?" -- thank you Karaoke and the internet), but truthfully I don't think even if I was right the version I heard would mean what I thought it did (or anything coherent). But even knowing one is wrong, the feeling is there, and so I have the song on my playlist as I finish my last minute packing and breakfast and dishwashing. Accuracy is overrated, ne?

手紙~未来 Video Below:

What will the future bring? For the immediate future, we'll be chillin in Tokyo? After that, wakanai!

Jaa ne!

Friday, June 11, 2010


On Friday, one of my fellow sensei's at Ohata took me out on Friday, around the back of the school, down a hill, over a gully and into the wild. Like with many things in Japan, I didn't understand why we were going but I was game for any adventure. Along the side the hill, thick with a medley of wild plants, was a beautiful white lily with hints of pink near where the stem meets the base of the flower, and bursting from the center, bright red seeds.

As was explained to me, this was the Sasayuri, a special wild lily that only grows in Japan. Perhaps more solid, yet more ephemeral than Sakura blooms, the Sasayuri is only blooms for two days out of the year. I was there for the first of the two days. I can't even begin to say what an amazing experience this was, one of those thoroughly surprising things that makes it clear why I wanted so badly to go to Japan. Seeing this flower is something that could not only have not happened for me in the States, but something that could not even have happened for me next week here in Japan. I feel incredibly lucky both for the timing and also that my sensei thought about this and cared enough about me to take me on this trek to see the flower(s). It's even more fortunate because this particular flower, as she explained to me, is being picked into extinction.

These brief, brilliant moments define my life here. And what a life!

For more of Vash's adventures at home and abroad, check out:

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Parking Lot California

That's right, another adventure night in Nagoya. It started, as many such things do, with plans for dinner and clubbing. Maru-chan (who I met through my Japanese classes at TIA) and I decided at our last class that we'd go clubbing in Nagoya. Maru-chan is Brazilian-Japanese, now a naturalized Japanese citizen. This means many things, but the most relevant to me and him is that our common language is Japanese. He doesn't really speak a lot of English, I speak no Portuguese. Luckily, Maru-chan's been in Japan for nine years and thus Japanese is excellent (why we're both in the same class, I'm not sure. Probably because they don't have an A+ class to place him in; I feel the same way in regards to many of my classmates whose Japanese is clearly leaps and bounds above mine, but shou ga nai). This mostly makes up for my rapidly feeling crappier Japanese language skills.

One upshot of this language difference though is that through we talked about going out, both him and I were apparently under the impression that the other was in charge of the planning. So our planning ended up amounting to, “let's get together at Nagoya station and then we'll figure out what we're going to do next.”

We determined this when Maru-chan called me and asked where we were going. Erin and I had already gotten an early start on Nagoya, enjoying delicious kebab, wandering through some very exciting stores like a mecha model store and a build your own doll store that could only have existed in Japan. I

I invited a bunch of folks to join us at the last minute, and some made it out. Makoto-san and his friend (whose name I'm forgetting...sigh...I'm so terrible with names), Erin, Rosa, Maru-chan and his friend Kenji and of course me. Since Makoto-san was there and actually knows his way around Nagoya (as he lives there), he took charge of the dinner plans and after some minor antics we were enjoying a delicious Chinese Food (or Japanese interpretation of Chinese Food—no General Tso's Chicken that I saw, a staple of American/Chinese food, but overall still delicious)

Dinner was great fun (once we all got there, lol) and afterwards about half of our group stuck around for clubbing. We initially were looking for a club called Raggaetown, but once we got there, we realized it was a bar with a tiny dance area and tacky disco ball, no one dancing and all in all, not particularly exciting. Not the least bit because the drinks were also a bit high. So we booked out of there and headed across the street to the ID club, with it's exciting five floors of dancing, and 4 drinks included in your 3,000 yen ($30) admissions fee. That was super fun, and I admit I was more than a little Yoppara-ai when we left. Also, very exciting for me, we ran into Andrea (who I met on the plane) at the club, and so instead of heading back to the car at one as initially planned, we all decided to continue to hang out and do Karaoke (with Nomihoudai). Andrea and I are both from Philly, and as you may remember from my long ago initial blog entries about coming to Japan, while we lived essentially less than a kilometer from each other (maybe half a mile at most) but didn't meet until Tokyo, when we were transferring to the flight to Nagoya.

Andrea and I kicked it, Philly style, accapella-ing some Fresh Prince as we walked to the Karaoke place (Joy Joy), reminiscing about Philadelphia, enjoying the joy and versatility of the word “yo” as well as running through a few more colorful metaphors. We had an excellent time doing Karaoke and imbibing of further colorful alcoholic drinks before Maru-chan and our party parted from the pack, ready to return to Toyota.

But Nagoya was not yet done with us, as we learned when we arrived at the parking lot and it was closed. Gates down, abandoned, truly and completely closed. Turns out, our chosen parking lot was not a 24 hour parking lot. So now approaching four in the morning, we were brushing the possibility of another Nagoya all-night march. But luckily Makoto-san was also there. Makoto kindly offered to put both of us up at his apartment. He actually had two extra futons and enough floor space for us. So instead of walking through the night like last time, we actually got a few hours of sleep. Yay!

We got up around 7:30am and Makoto generously drove us back to the parking lot. Luckily it was open, and things seemed to be looking up, that is until we tried to leave. As we sat in the car in front of exit, Maru-chan put the ticket into the machine. Expecting it to be expensive, he had stopped for money on his way. Unlike in the USA, where regularly paying for something with the equivilant of a $100 bill is very strange, in Japan, a much more cash and carry society, it's perfectly normal. So Maru-chan didn't notice until it was too late that the machine we were using did not take ichi-man ($100 bills). Maru attempted to get the ticket back, but by the time smaller bills had been freed up, it was too late. The machine ate our ticket and we were stuck.

And thus tbegan a rather surreal experience. Maru-chan called the people in charge of the parking lot, and they talked for a while, Maru-chan explaining what went wrong with the ticket process and the like. And they promised to send someone. And we waited. And they called again. More rapid-fire conversation in Japanese. And we waited. And waited. Maru-chan had a TV in the dashboard of his car, so we watched a grainy show about artwork around the world, including slow motion pans over various paintings, with monotone narration in Japanese. Suffice it to say, the battle to stay awake was being heavily fought, its outcome doubtful.

Eventually, a representative from the parking lot came. He accessed the machine, determined how much we owed, took the money and then proceeded to commence the arduous process of getting the metal arm to lift so that we could exit (at last) the parking lot. He had what looked like a hundred keys hanging from his belt. It took many tries, but eventually the gate opened and we were on our way!

The ride home was uneventful (thank God) and when I got home, I decided to do my best to stay awake until bedtime. This seemed like a good plan on three hours of sleep, but the next morning, when I woke up and realized I'd planned all the wrong lessons for the day, it felt considerably less brilliant. Luckily, it was a light day and I was able to get my lesson planning done before I left for school. Phew! And so another week began.

In a sense though, over this week I've caught myself wondering if we are still sitting in that parking lot, dreaming our week with the monotone backdrop of classical paintings lulling us into believing that somehow we have beat the odds. Checked out and even left. Life is but imagination.

Great time all around!


For more of Vash's adventures in Japan and abroad, check out:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

For Now, The Sun

For now, Toyota City is bathed in sunshine. I wake up, throw open the curtains to my small deck, slide the glass door aside and the morning pours in: crisp a hint of flowers, birdsong, and shining sun. Even so, I've been living with vague anxiety of the inevitable change. The rainy season is coming. An entire month of dreary, humid days where the sky alternates between leaking and pouring. After that, the heat. Imagine Florida in summer, except no airconditioning, at least not at my schools, which is of course where I am during the hottest part of the day. So at this point, I am living in a beautiful bubble soon to be broken by rain, the pieces of which to then be further dissolved by oppressive heat.

According to my flashcards the rainy season is in June. So from June first, I've been opening my deck and breathing a sigh of relief. Not yet, I've said, turning my face up into the sun. But soon. At Kosema yesterday, I found out the rainy season actually begins in the second week of June and continues on until (or possibly through) the first week or so of July. Worse, it is “abunai” (dangerous) to bike in this mess (at least according to my coworkers), so for a string of rainy days I am constrained to the limits of Japan's (albeit exceptional) public transportation system. If this is actually the case, not only does this mean a switch for me to the bus, but it means that everyone will be switching to the buses and trains (that would ordinarily bike), so it's gonna be humid, wet, sticky and CROWDED. But, as this is Japan, even so things will be very polite and organized. At least I won't have to deal with the soggy alcoholic with the aura of urine that makes Philadelphia trains and buses so exciting.

I am hoping, as with many things in life, that the anticipation of the event is far more powerful than the event itself. Like with Natto. And for now, best to live it up. Bike, run and be merry, for tomorrow we shall be inside. Doing Karaoke. So it's not all bad.

For more of Vash's adventures in Japan and onwards, check out:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Words for Time, Time for Words:

There are no words for the passage of time. None of any effect, at any rate.

So yes, my life here has picked up greatly. That's a part of the reason why you haven't heard from me. I've gone back to writing fiction, at least to some small degree, and started Japanese lessons, as well as continued the process of meeting people, making new friends, etc, which has steady filled up a lot of my spare time. There's also there's the issue of once you get behind, that makes getting caught up again far more difficult. So now the task has reached a stage of daunting, and I know there's no way I'm going to be able to catch up in regards to summarizing so much of my life. What can I say? In getting a life, I've become less scrupulous in documenting it. Such is life.

But with that said, I will randomly type for a bit about things which cross my mind in regards to the last week or so. First, of course, was the well publicized, much anticipated Undokai which all of my schools were ishoukenmei preparing for with vigor and enthusiasm (and no small degree of stress). The Undokai was basically a combination picnic, relay race with variety of games and talent show, all put on for the parents and families (who were basically picnicking on school grounds to watch as their kids performed.) It was a lot of fun, and I took a lot of video that I still have to get put up. That will go up in a separate entry, but alas not today.

After the Undokai, I met up with Mie and Haruka in Sakae, where we had a delicious Kebob dinner and then did Karaoke and clubbing. It was ridiculously fun. The Karaoke place had disco lights embedded into the ceiling and the club had six floors, each of which played a different kind of music. One interesting thing about clubbing in Japan is that the music isn't much different from what you would find in the same club in the States. R&B, Hip-Hop, some Raggae (and Raggaeton, which is Brazillian Reggae) as well as the obligatory Trance and House room (which we assiduously avoided). Supposedly there was a J-pop room also, but we weren't really looking for it so it went its own way. I also ran into some folks from the neighboring picnic from two weeks prior. One of the ladies recognized me and shouted towards me, giving me a big hug. We hung out with their group for a while. I felt for a bit that I was back in Philly because practically everyday I run into someone I know in Philly, but here I haven't really known enough people to have a similar experience. So this was very exciting!

The next two days I had off, so of course it decided to rain for both days. Then it was back to work, or back to school as the case is. I had a solidly good week and an excellent weekend. The start was going back to the Izakaya, where I got to see my fellow Jyouren and hang out/chat. For the entire previous week, I'd been feeling really stagnated in regards to my Japanese. I hadn't felt like I was making any progress at all, but at Kogame (my Izakaya) I felt like I'd taken a huge leap in conversational facility. Today (Monday) some of that easy feeling of conversation has receded again. It's a wheel, sometimes you're at the top, sometimes not.

But on Friday is also where I learned, much to my delight, that here in the Western part of Aichi (West of Nagoya) we speak Mikawaben! That's the dialect of the Mikawa area (near the Mikawa river). We here in Aichi are located between the Kanto region (standard Japanese, Tokyo and the like) and the Kansai region (Western Japan, near Osaka and the like). The Mikawa area is on the Western side (west of Nagoya) which gives us some more pronounced Kansai influences. Granted, the Mikawa dialect is not that removed from Standard Japanese. But there are some differences that are worth noting and since information on Mikawaben on the internet is sparse and sometimes inaccurate (at least for my area), it's worth talking about a little now.
Here are some common shifts from Standard Japanese that you will find here (that I've heard or been told about by locals):

Wakaranai → Wakaran or Wakarahen or Wakanai
I use “Wakanai” all the time, though this may not be an Aichi area dialect thing but instead a general use shortening/abbreviation of the word. I'm not sure. I love the way you say Wakanai here. It's like Waka (emphasis on the K sound, then a short pause) nai. Think “I have no idea” as you're saying it and you'll have exactly the right tone. “Wakahen” is common in the Kansai region. I have heard it around me though at random points when teachers are talking to each other and occasionally amongst students. “Wakaran” is used a fair amount (more than wakahen, but I've also only recently started listening for “wakahen” so that may be skewing my impression). Wakaran may also be something that is more common to all of Japan as opposed to just the around here (and Kansai). It's a very logical abbreviation, considering Japanse verb conjugation: with an U verb, the negative is always “a” followed by nai. And nothing else follows that “a” except some form of a negative, so just seeing the A + N makes it absolutely clear that you are dealing with the negative form of a standard verb.

takusan/ippai, etc (words that mean “very!”) → Dora, Dera. In Nagoya, they use Dera, in our area, we use Dora. Mie told me this one. It translates loosely to “super” so if you want to say “super cute” you say “dora kawaii.” A woman in a neighboring building, as I discovered yesterday, has two adorable cats who I spent a great deal of time petting after my late afternoon run. I said her cats were “dora kawaii” and she laughed with me, so this is definitely an understood term here, though it may not be in Tokyo. Another common word from Kansai that I hear a lot here is “mecha” which also means “very”. That's solidly Kansai-ben, but we use it here.

Iru → Oru. This is the start of my Izakaya conversation about Mikawa-ben. The iru I'm talking about is the standard “I exist” iru. So using my favorite expression “where am I?” (an essential phrase when you are always lost) Doko ni imasuka? The plain, dictionary form of Imasu is Iru (the ka is only there to let you know it's a polite question). So as a casual question, you'd ask “doko ni iru?” with a questioning tone. Well in Mikawaben, as a casual question, you'd ask “doko ni oru?” or as a noncasual question (though I'm not sure if this is really how people use it) doko ni orimasuka?

Kara/node → Monde: I'm referring to the Kara here that you use to mean “because”. Eg: Because I wanted ice cream, I went to the store: Ice cream wo hoshikattakara, omise ni ikimashita/itta. (I don't feel like romanizing Ice Cream, apologies. Also apologies if the word choice for this is off. I'm sure it is). Instead of Kara (or Node, which can be used here in an identical way), in Mikawaben, we can use Monde: Icecream wo hoshikattamonde, omise ni ikimashita/itta. I haven't tried this yet, but I'm going out drinking tonight with coworkers, so we'll see how that works out.

Anata → Oman (Oh + Mahn). So instead of using “anata” for you, we use “oman”.The guys at the Izakaya gave me this one. When I asked Mie about it, she said, sure, if I was really old. Truthfully, I've never heard Oman for Anata here except for that one instance. That said, you hardly ever hear Anata here either, because in Japan that's kind of rude anyway. So the jury is still out on Oman as a worrd of regular use.

Mushi-atsui: This may not be Mikawa-ben, but it's an accurate description of super humid, hot weather, which is the norm for our Mikawa summers. I'm sure the kanji are different, but I think of this as "bug hot" ie: so hot you get waterbugs. Mushi = bug and Atsui = hot.

I'm sure there's more Mikawaben going on around me that I don't understand. If anyone wants to offer more phrases or grammatical constructions that I'm likely to meet here as a part of Mikawaben, please let me know!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Payday and Looking Up As We Walk, or At Least Making the Attempt

I got my first paycheck on Thursday, April 20th. It was very exciting to look in my Japanese bank account and see real yen in there! This check was a bit short because my first two months rent at this apartment were taken out prior to receiving the direct deposit, but I still ended up with more than I'd thought I would. Just the fact that I can stop living off of my savings and stop getting abused by the exchange rate (basically for $100 in yen, I was spending about $108—it adds up) took a huge load off of my mind and stomach. The next step is to figure out how to move some of this money to a savings account so that I don't just spend it all. I really want to build my savings back up while I'm here, not to the extent of not having fun, but at least enough so that I have some of my reserve back again. Having money in savings is what made this trip possible for me. I like having that security.

So having gotten paid, of course the first thing I did was head out with Erin after work and do Karaoke and grab dinner. First we went to VITS where I found out that I had misinterpreted the 500 yen special. I had thought it only cost 500 yen if you were ALONE (hitori) but actually, what it means is that it's 500 yen per person from 4-8pm. So this means that I can actually go to Karaoke with a friend or two before 8pm AND it will still only cost 500 yen (plus whatever drinks we want). This is especially great to warm up a Friday night! I LOVE VITS!

Erin and I had a great time rocking out to Japanese and English songs, including doing a duet of Sukiyaki in Japanese. I had wanted to do this song for some time, but I didn't know the name for it in Japanese: 上に向いて歩こう。

Here's the song on youtube with realtime Japanese lyrics in Kanji with English translation, as well as facts about the song and the artist, Kyu Sakamoto:

I'm not sure about how good the translation is or not. This song is using the Volitional form (arukou) which I've been reading up on because it's been confusing me. My original understanding of the volitional form of the verb was that it simply meant “let's do X” but actually, it's a lot more complicated.

I've found a good explanation of the “let's do” version of this here:

And how to use this in regards to intention, ie: setting out to do something, here:

But grammar aside, this is a great song, and very easy to sing! It was also the first and only song entirely in Japanese to hit the Top 40 in the USA, at least according to the above Youtube video. (and that's only the tip of the iceberg in regards to this video)

We also took a stab at the Evangelion theme song (whose name I never remember) as well as some classic music from the 70's and 80's. Just a general good time!

Afterwards we took off for a wonderful Malaysian restaurant that Erin had tried recently. I had a delicious meat and noodle dish. I don't remember what it was, but knowing what you're eating is overrated, such I've learned from Japan.

In short, a great day!

Japanese Sign Language, Ooku no Hito, and Vash on TV!

So Monday night was exercise, which was excellent. I then went to the Jusco, where I purchased Hoi Hoi traps to kill roaches. I had left the sheet which told me what roach traps to buy at Higashiyama (of course) so I ended up just going to a person who was working at the store and saying “Gokiburi wo koroshitai...” (I want to kill cockroaches!) and the nice lady took me right to the section and recommended some great products including the Hoi Hoi traps I've got scattered around my apartment now. Since I've put them out, I haven't seen a roach! I also purchased a Bento sushi for dinner (under $5 for a Sushi platter that would be almost twice that much in the States) and some milk. Suffice it to say, I was dead tired by the time I finished eating.

Even so, I didn't really get to bed until 12am, so I was tired on Tuesday too when I went to work. But biking woke me right up, first because of the exercise and second because I accidentally took the wrong road and had a real panic moment that my usual lack of direction would make me late for work. This was especially problematic because I also had to leave early to attend CPR training. So being late and and leaving early, BIG problem in any country.

Luckily, the road I was taking to Homi was roughly parallel to the road I should have taken (155, going to Seto) so when I realized after about 10 to 15 minutes that none of the landmarks I recognized were appearing, and that the Chome I was in was not on my map (they all aren't listed, alas) I asked for directions to Josui Station. That's the closest large thing that I figured people would know if I asked for directions. Then it was a quick left turn and lots of downhill riding, and I was actually not only right back on track, but I was actually right at my school! Turns out the road that I had taken to get to Josui station went right PAST my school!

So I was on-time for Toyota Yogo! Phew! It was also a real reminder that even if you've successfully walked or biked to a place once or twice before, that's no protection against being lost in Japan. At least if you're me. But while I'm still getting lost, my ability to handle it and get back on track is also definitely improved. And I am much more well able to deal with biking on hills, and getting better at understanding the Japanese road system. So yay!
Classes went well. Having made it my mission to greet and say goodbye to every student (or as many as I can) is beginning to show real signs of paying off. The kids now remember me, and some even pop out with a “good morning” or a high five unsolicited! It's very exciting!

I'm not sure how much of it is that they're learning good morning and the like from me, or that they're just getting over their shyness (it's incredibly hard to tell here--) but either way, I feel really great because it's beginning to feel more and more like my presence at this school (and all of them) is making a positive difference! And I'm getting to know the kids better, and they're getting to know me. It's great! I'm still terrible with names though at Toyota Yogo because I'm there more often, and I have more free time in which to talk to students individually, I'm probably doing the best of all of my schools with remembering specific children and teen's names.

Another exciting thing about working at Toyota Yogo is one of my coworkers, (name a blank, as usual, but he says his first job is fishing, and second job is as a teacher, really great guy) a nice older gentleman who worked at four schools for deaf children before coming to Toyota Yogo, is teaching me Japanese Sign Language. We have a great time chatting in the staff room about all kinds of things, and I usually pick up between 3-6 new signs every day I'm there, which (since he teachers me most of the signs in Japanese and English if he knows the English word – his English is really pretty good, so our conversations drift between the two languages) provides a great grounding for new vocabulary in addition to giving me a new language, and something else interesting to share with the kids at my various schools. The sign language helps me ground my Japanese, so I figure (like with any gesture) it will help them ground their English a bit as well. It's also totally fun!

I had to leave early for CPR and AED (it's a machine that shocks the heart if it's failing) training so after volunteering (inserting myself) into the third period songs class (far better than spending another useless 45 minutes in the staff room) I headed back to my neck of Toyota to go to City Hall. I also stopped at a 7-11 and treated myself to an American Dog, which is the Japanese version of a corn dog. It's about as healthy for you here as in the States, which is to say not very, but I loves me a corn dog. The corn dogs here are extra special because instead of having a thin layer of cornbread, they are thic like a fist. The hot dog is the same size as a standard hotdog, but the cornbread layer is about as thick around as the dog itself. It's made of delicious (though having tried 7-11's version and the Sankus version, I totally recommend Sankus more. The cornbread is a bit fluffier there, at least at the Sankus next to VITS Karaoke, where I buy my karaoke snacks. Of course, this is a wild generalization, so take it for what it's worth).

CPR training was fun because I got to hang out with some folks from my company that I hardly ever see because we're all off living our own lives and etc. (and the training was basically in English, though we ended up drifting into Japanese a lot because we had some very experienced Japanese speakers in our group (Lem) who could translate the more complicated questions and answers) We learned what to do when we see someone lying flat on the ground, clearly not moving. First, tap their shoulders vigorously and say in a loud voice “wakarimasuka!” (do you understand/are you okay enough to understand me?) and if they don't wake up, then call for help “dareka kite!” (da ray ka keetay)

After that, you check for breathing, and if they're not breathing, start CPR. Checking for a pulse takes too long, so we're not supposed to do that. Depending on how panicked I am in a real situation, I'll probably automatically check the gums though to see if they're blue, because that's what we do for cats. Blue is BAD, because it means the tissues aren't getting oxygen (probably not breathing); pink is good, it means that the tissues are at least getting O2. White is also bad, because it means that for whatever reason, there's blood loss or anemia (check for wound). But this is an aside. If they aren't breathing, start CPR.

Once someone comes, get the first person to call for an ambulance “kyuu kyuu sha wo yonde kudasai!” the second person gets to get the AED (heart shocker machine) “AED wo motte kite kudasai!” and then last person is charged with bringing as many people as possible: “ooku no hito yonde kudasai!” We all had fun with “ooku no hito yonde kudasai” for two reasons. First, nobody (at least sitting near me) had heard the phrase “ooku no hito” before. And most of these folks (with the exception of Justin, who has been here for 7 months, and me, getting on 7 weeks) have been here for at least 1-2 years. Lem's been here for 11 years. He may have heard it before though; but he's also taken the class before when he got his driver's license. So first we had to define “ooku no hito,” definition: lots and lots of people. I assume that the 'ooku' is some form of 多いOoi (many) though which one and why its being used this way, I have no idea.

The second reason for confusion revolving around “ooku no hito” was the question that two or three of us asked in various ways? Once you have all these “ooku no hito” gathered around, what do you do with them all? I've always heard that as a passserby, if there is an accident, and there are people gathered around (and someone is clearly handling the situation), the last thing you want to do is add yourself to the mass. Too many people can make a bad situation worse. But in Japan you want “ooku no hito” because they'll help you with the CPR. Apparently, people in Japan (according to my trainer) are very likely to know how to do the chest compressions as a matter of course, and since it takes six minutes from the phone call for the kyuukyuusha (ambulance) to arrive, you're going to need those extra hands to keep you from getting exhausted as you do the CPR. But if nobody comes at all, then you do two minutes of CPR and then run off and call for the ambulance. (Dial 119 for ambulance here. There's a different number for the police and fire department.)

The next part of our training was on proper use of the AED. I'd never seen an AED before. It's basically a machine about the size of an old Mac laptop (ie: thick as a brick, about a square foot around) that checks for heartrate and then delivers (if necessary) a shock to the heart. There are leads that stick to the chest, one over the upper right side of the chest (across from the heart), the other diagonally to the left, just below the ribcage. For a child under eight, you put one lead on the front of the chest in the center of the ribcage, and the other on the back. You also really need to take any metal off the chest and dry the area, otherwise it's bad things. The shock is pretty tough.

If the heart isn't beating at all, the AED doesn't give a shock, as unlike in the movies, jolting a flatline doesn't do anything useful. Our very important phrase that we learned here was “hanarete!” 離れて!It means, back up, get your hands off, etc. (separate/detach/release). This is actually a word in a song I'm trying learn for Karaoke, The Mass Missile's 愛の讃歌(あいのさんか)which is all in Kansai-ben apparently; this explains a lot about why I couldn't find a lot of the words in the dictionary. I'll never forget the meaning of this word though, because after Hanarete comes the shock. “Shoku shimasu!”

Like me, everyone I've talked to since the training has had some sort of experience with the word “hanarete” running through their minds or dreams. The AED is quite straightforward (though its all in Japanese) and none of us has any trouble learning how to use it.

During our training, there was also a news crew (TV and newspaper) taking pictures and videotaping us for TV and the paper. I did a short interview (in Japanese; it was me and two others of our group) about how I found the training to be useful which turned up on the six-o-clock local news! (including in Nagoya). I never got to see it, but throughout the week fellow teachers and one student, as well as a friend online, have mentioned that they saw me on TV. I wish I could find an online link to the interview so I could see it, but who knows. The nice people at Kosema however did clip the newspaper article out for me. I'm taking a picture of it to post online. I'm right in the center of the picture used in the article. This also gives you an indication about how stress-free life here is as our CPR class was actually newsworthy.

It's also, I'm sure, because we're foreign. Being foreign here in Japan, especially in school with the students, is a little like being a rock-star. People always want to talk to you and ask you questions, etc! Even so, in school, I still have some residual nervousness from my own Elementary School experience (where I was about as popular as a roadkill skunk). Sometimes I have to fight a diffuse fear when approaching students at random “oh god, they're not going to like me...!”

This is especially true with the fifth and sixth grades (where I was about as popular as a roadkill skunk that had been left out in the sun for two days) but with a bright smile and an energetic hello, everyone's around me chattering and giving high-fives etc! Just entering a school, often kids will wave at me from the windows, and I'll here in excited tones “it's Vash! Eigo sensei!” or some permutation of this. For a ham like me, this is ridiculously exciting! (it's also allowing me to exorcise some old demons.) Even so, I do tend to find myself drawn to the unpopular kids (or those with learning disabilities) though I try to spread myself as evenly as possible. As a general rule, the kids here are incredibly kind to each other. Any horsing around is not meant in a mean spirit that I've seen, though I'm only getting a very narrow window into this world, so I can't make any generalizations as I really don't know.

So that was my exciting Tuesday!

Phew these entries take a long time, especially when one has a backlog!

Hugs to all :)

For more of my adventure in Japan and onwards, visit my blog:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Take Your Blog to Work Day

So I've figured out what the problem was with my netbook screen and taking my computer around. There's a manufacturer's defect that I discovered in Japan (I'd noticed it vaguely in the States but hadn't used the computer enough to recognize what an annoying problem this was until it became my primary computer) which means that if my screen is too bright, it goes to a full white screen. I can either take three months and ship it back to the States to repair it, or just turn the brightness down on my screen. I've been going with Option B.

But I'd also thought there was a positional issue as depending on what angle I held the screen, it would sometimes or sometimes not go white. Because I thought there was something loose inside the monitor, I was reluctant to drag my computer on the road, thus turning my extra-portable netbook into a super small at home desktop. BUT: I realized yesterday that the reason why the screen goes white when I close it to hibernate is NOT positional, but instead due to the fact that the screen automatically goes back to its original brightness after it hibernates. And so, with a quick FN and the down arrow a couple of times, the problem is solved. This means that these free periods that have been driving me nuts are now valuable time for blogging and writing fiction. Wahoo!

Hence this exciting blog entry. Since I have about three hours of free time scattered through today (the teachers are doing いんかい (don't know the kanji for this one, and because I don't have internet here, had to use my denshi jisho, which while it was not especially informative in regards to this word, did let me know that 陰核 (いんかく- inkaku) is clitoris. What a difference a syllable makes! Wonder when I'm going to get to use that one?)

(scrolling down as my Japanese coworkers can actually read the Japanese on my computer)

Also, tonight I'm staying late to do aerobics with a group of other female teachers at the school. It was really fun the last time I did it, now almost a month ago (I had to miss last week to pick up my Gaijin Card at City Hall as I thought because I was a week late that they'd send it back or something, who knows). So instead of leaving at 4:45, I'm staying around the school until about 7, and exercise starts at about 5:30. This time, I'm going to try not to get my ass kicked aerobically by my desk neighbor's mother. I doubt that's going to come through for me though.

So anyway, onto more exciting things, like what I've been doing for the past few days. Since we last left our intrepid heroine, she was learning a bit of Portuguese at Nishihomi Elementary. My major trials at that time included not getting lesson plans or schedules from the schools through my company as expected, at thus having to go it blind almost every day. I am happy to say that problem has been resolved. Turns out there was a mistake in the spelling of my email address, so some random person in the world has been receiving my lesson plans and schedules, but it was not me. I'm super glad that the problem was something so minor, though it was incredibly frustrating and annoying at the time. As a result of receiving my schedule, I was able to prepare four lessons for Ohata, and all went basically smoothly.

I also got the number on that group of fourth grade boys that so thoroughly drove me up the wall last time I was there. Life in regards to school—because I was always completely unprepared—had been so gosh darned difficult that their behavior had nothing in it to rattle me at all, so there's a blessing in that I suppose. The ticket to getting them running my direction was a combination of TPR (total physical response), games involving fly swatters and a willingness to share with them how to say things like “poop” in English. Things went a little awry when I tried to slow things down for a food related song, but once we got out the fly swatters and I refused to do anything until they settled down, things were well on track. I feel like I'm about 85% there (mostly because I went against my gut and attempted the song in my lesson plan...the gut is usually right). It was kind of ironic because after the lesson, the HRT apologized for the boys not listening, and I felt that they had been leaps and bounds above the last time. And next time, we're all going to be marching well in tune. It was a lot of fun.

I also got to watch the school's preparation for 運動会(うんどうかい – undoukai), the Sports Festival. I took video of it which you can watch here:

Undoukai is a huge deal here in Japan. No joke. All of my schools are busily preparing for it, taking time from class to work on flags and routines, etc. It's really an amazing demonstration. At the above school, Ohata (time for class...gosh these times go so much faster with the netbook!) (back now, gosh I love blogging at school. I will take another break at a very soon point to say goodbye to all of the kids as they pass by the door of our staff room. Last time I taught them how to say “baby” with the baby in arms gesture, and they all got such a kick out of it!) It's like a huge school fair that centers around sports. Or at least that's what I think now. Probably after I experience the real thing, I'll have a different impression.

My day at Ohata went wildly well, and afterwards I was feeling a bit introverted, so I made the decision to go to Jusco and go grocery shopping, go running, and then head home to catch up on episodes of Dexter online. Luckily that plan didn't work out. Instead, as I was getting ready to head out running, I ran into (almost literally), Erin, another woman from our company, also from the States. She actually went to school in Pittsburgh, practically in my backyard globally speaking. She was on her way to get 100 yen/plate sushi at a chain sushi place and that sounded like fun so I asked if I could join her. She's blond haired and blue eyed, and I noticed we got stared at a lot more together than I usually do alone (since everyone just thinks I'm Brazilian). I had actually gotten Erin's email address at our last meeting, but lost it twice (me and paper...sigh...) which I regretted at the time quite a lot, but regretted even more after I found out she was a fantasy writer. So in Toyota, there are at least two speculative fiction writers! I feel so lucky!

We bonded on writing and geek stuff and about life in Japan, including, (maybe because we are American) a ten minute intensive discussion about teeth. Erin was telling me that she has a British friend who when he goes out with Americans absolutely refuses to let them (us) get started on teeth around him. Apparently as Americans we're obsessed with dental care. Truthfully, these days I do feel obsessed with dental care, though now that I found Listerine at the Jusco, my teeth aren't quite such a disaster as they were which is a major YAY!

Now I can shift my obsession from getting rid of my gingivitis to getting rid of the giant roaches that have begun to appear in my apartment. It's getting warmer and more humid, and as such I've seen two of these monsters in the last week, and that's two too many. They seem to range in size between half and three quarters of the length of my pinky. The first I wasn't able to kill (I assume it went back down the toilet) but the second I beat until it was not only dead but in half. I don't know where the second half went. I got the head, so the rest is probably still alive somewhere, probably starving, pooping and eventually decaying somewhere in my walls. I find this very disturbing if I think about it for any length of time.

Mike gave me a good eHow page on my Facebook which I read over. I also found this excellent website on roach (gokiburi) killing products in Japan, what they are called, how they work and where to find them. ( I am every grateful for the internet for providing me with these gems of information. On the other hand, I'm also a bit exhausted because I got the bright idea to start researching this right before I went to bed, which meant that I (a) couldn't fall asleep last night because every small noise made me thing “they're coming out of the walls” and (b) I couldn't stay asleep last night because every small noise woke me up thinking “they're coming out of the walls.” I found a detailed and informative website (which I now can't find) that also showed pictures of all the different types of roaches in the world so that you can identify the ones that are plaguing you. (this is a large part of the reason for my sleepless night). I have a good feeling that in Japan, I'm dealing with some sort of radioactively enhanced German roach species. As of now, I've bleached all of my surfaces, sponge cleaned my floor with bleach cleaning supplies in the kitchen/hall, plugged my drains, and I'm buying roach killer and actual bleach tonight (I've been using a bleach based cleaning spray: I know it's bleach because of the smell).

What is upsetting though is that because I live in an apartment complex, aside from throwing bleach down the drains and buying roach traps, sprays and powders (this environment may be too humid for boric acid though), there isn't a whole lot I can do to keep the roaches from coming in from my neighbors. This isn't really much different from Philly, though at least in Philly I have five cats, three of whom are real killers (and of course, I don't use toxic roach killing products around my loveable kitties, but since I'm alone, gotta do what you gotta do). I'm just praying these roaches aren't the types that fly. I can barely deal with the groundbound ones.

But yes, there's more to life in Japan than teeth and killing roaches. Like everything else.

After my great dinner with Erin, I headed to Jusco to finish up my grocery shopping. Just talking and hanging out with another writer here in Japan (and one who is actually working on a fiction project) was so inspirational for me! I started thinking about getting back to writing fiction, what I would write etc. None of this panned out on Friday, because by the time I was done grocery shopping, it was time to go to the Izakaya. I'd been neglecting Kogame (小亀) and putting my position as Jouren (常連) in doubt I felt, and I also just missed my Izakaya friends like Ito and Kato-san and Hitomi-chan, to name a few.

That said I was also EXHAUSTED so not at my best. This pushed my Japanese into the toilet because I could barely think, but I still had a great time. I also ended up meeting two very exciting people: our local Councilman Kamo Mikio and another man who is the father of the Toyota City's Olympic rower. We had a great time, and he gave me a Beijing Olympics pin from his son's go at the Beijing Olympics. His son is currently training for the next Olympics. He's in Slovakia, and I think there's a strong possibility that I agreed to go to Poland and Slovakia over summer vacation with these folks to meet him. I'm also going to be trying rowing in early June with a local team. I was so tired though, all of this completely slipped my mind when I talked to Steph the next morning, so I basically was like “oh no, nothing exciting happened. I just did my job.”

That night, I crawled home around 1:00am and passed out. I woke the next morning, chatted with Steph, watched some TV on my computer and then around 2:00pm decided it was time to do something useful with my day. Usually, around 11am or 11:30, I'd start looking on the internet for interesting places that were close enough to Toyota for me to bike to, but at 2pm, there wasn't much point in spending 1-2 hours on a bike just to come home, and I was still a little tired, so I just decided to explore my own backyard. Michael () supposedly has a painting in the Toyota Museum of Art, which is less than a kilometer from my apartment, so I figured why not go there and see it?

Of course, I wound up in the wrong building (because this is me in Japan) but this worked out because I saw an incredible Nomen mask exhibit and got to talk extensively with the artists. They explained to me about the world of the dead (Jigoku/hell) and how the masks were images of people in the land of the dead, their features frozen at the point of death, but at some point as charactures of how they had lived their lives (evil or good people). Hence some of the masks are scarier than others. This was really interesting and I had every confidence it would make it into a story in some way or shape.

After that, I decided to go running, and since I usually have no idea how far I'm running here I aimed for a Mcdonalds that a billboard at the part of Route 155 near my apartment said was three kilometers ahead. I figured if I ran that way once, and then ran back, it would be 6k. This was a great run! I actually ran a little bit longer because I (a) ran from my apartment to the sign and (b) kept running past my apartment and for about another five minutes because I didn't want to stop running on “Believe” from the Run Lola Run soundtrack. It did take me about 50 minutes to do this, which is slow, but I am happy to be getting back into shape today. Getting back into running definitely paid off at recess, when I played “Oni” (a form of tag) with some sixth grade boys. Fifteen minutes of flat out running. Good warmup for aerobics tonight I think.

After running I went home, cooked, and then finished watching the last season of Dexter. What a kicker of an ending. I am very sad. It feels weird, looking back over my weekend and thinking about how anti-social I felt. This was in part exhaustion, but also in part a shift in my understanding of my life here. I'm working to get back the things that were important to me in Philly, including running, biking and of course writing. These things do require one has some time to herself and some reflection. That's not to say I'm going into hermitage, not by any means, (this weekend is already filling up) but I just wasn't up to my usual level of socialization this weekend.

On Sunday I started Japanese classes at TIA. It seems a LOT of people tested into class A, which was a huge problem for the class A teacher who was a bit overwhelmed. The class is entirely in Japanese. This is not an immersion method exactly; it's because Japanese is the one language that all of us have in common here. This is completely obvious, but it was also a real mental flip for me, who is used to thinking of English (even now) as the primary language through which I get information. If there was another theme for my weekend, it was illustration of the shift in understanding that here, Japanese really is the default language. I know this intellectually, but instinctually, it's still weird.

So the entire class really was in Japanese. The other Japanese class I took in Philly (at the Japanese Language School) attempted to do this, but it was very easy (too easy) for everyone to drift back into English if something didn't make sense or wasn't completely clear. At this class, the teacher spoke in Japanese for the entire time. In this class, I also was the only American, and one of only three primary English speakers (two of whom were native Japanese who had learned English at International School in Japan and felt more comfortable with it, hence their taking this class). I had a couple of questions, one of which I asked the teacher, and the second I ended up talking to one of my classmates about 苦手 (にがて/nigate) which means things that others can do that you can't do; looking it up in my denshi jishou, it said “weak point” which also makes sense.

The first thing we did after basic classroom setup was Jikoshoukai. I volunteered to go first. I've given my Jikoshoukai in English and Japanese about a million times here so it holds no fear for me. But even if it had held fear for me, I'd have volunteered to go first (or in the first few people) because you don't learn anything if you don't put yourself out there. Which is why I volunteered to go in the first three for the exercise that included 'nigate' because I wanted to really use it where the rubber hit the road. I think I am going to really enjoy this class and learn a lot, which is very exciting.

After class, I had the chance to go to a BBQ in Nagoya, but before I went I wanted to make another go at the Toyota Art Museum to see Michael's painting. Of course I left my SD card for my camera in my apartment so I had to make two trips, and by the time all of that had happened, it was too late to go to Nagoya. Truthfully, I wasn't too upset about this because I was feeling introverted, so instead I went to the museum, enjoyed the art, then went outside and took my netbook for a spin. The exhibits at the museum had an otherworldly quality that was excellent in regards to giving me fodder for writing, and outside that evening I did start the first few paragraphs of a story. It's still in progress, so I'm not going to talk anymore on that until I have a draft. We'll see. (if not this than something else)

When I got home, I beat that roach to death. And cleaned. And ate. And cleaned. And talked to my grandfather and uncle on the phone. And cleaned some more. Still have some more cleaning to do.

Which brings us back to today. This has been a good day. It's now 4:30pm. All of my coworkers with the exception of the Tea Lady (a lovely older woman whose job it is to serve tea, organize and clean things as far as I can tell. It's a big job, and she's always working) and one other teacher have been involved in meetings all afternoon. This gave me the room practically to myself, a little lonely but okay. Now everyone has returned (yay!) and are handing out food products (double yay!). The room is filled with cheerful (and relieved) chatter as well as some whispered gossip. I am like a rock in a stream. I'm here, I have a place, but in regards to being effected by the movements of this flow, I'm just here. Typing.
Today I only had three classes, which ordinarily would have been reason for madness, but thanks to having my netbook, it was all good. My lessons today all went surprisingly well.

The most interesting was the first, where we had some four visitors, older gentlemen with salt and pepper hair in full suit and ties who looked over our class with serious expressions and notepads. Yikes! But the lesson went well, and I think we made a good impression. And clearly this was a serious situation, because I've been thanked by about 5 different people at school for doing the lesson today, including the Principal. So at least my three hours of preparation for this lesson plan actually paid off. That and having Jun-sensei, my HRT for this class, who is excellent. He had lots of great ideas for this lesson, which made it a success. Alone, I doubt that would have happened.

After that, it was days of the week with first graders. They did better at it than I'd thought they would because clearly they'd reviewed these before and even had a cute days of the week song that they mostly knew. Still, a lot of this broke down at the games section. None of them could handle the whisper race, though they tried gainfully. I guess I'm not the only one who can't understand small Japanese children when they whisper. And for Fruits Baskets, they all kept forgetting what day of the week they were, so that was a bit of a disaster too. This is in part, because as my HRT said, they're really only good with Sunday through Tuesday. Wednesday through Saturday tends to bite the dust. But everyone had fun. And they're six-year-olds, so yeah.

Last up was second graders and animals. Those kids got a huge kick out of playing Karuta and giving me viciously hard low fives. My palms were actually red when they were done. But all in good fun.

Now, it is almost time for exercise. I have been to the convenience store and gotten some food, so hopefully my blood sugar won't plummet halfway through the lesson. I also got some instant curry from the Conbini, and some kind of Mochi snack from a store near the Conbini. It was sweet and delicious. There's an entire curry section on the Jusco grocery store, but I still couldn't find the same instant curry that's in my cupboard. But the conbini had something close. Also got some ready to go Donburi. If it's like other ready made food here, it's sure to make a delicious dinner. After exercise and roach spray buying, I don't think I'm going to be up for much by way of cooking.

Ja ne!

For more of my adventures in Japan and onwards, please visit my blog at