Monday, April 5, 2010

Japan Style Spring Sledding , Temples Galore, and Fish Stampede!

Today was quite a lot of fun! I got a late start on leaving my apartment, and as usual for the past two days, decided to head off in a different direction from my apartment than I had yesterday. So instead of taking a left out of my apartment as I did yesterday, I took my usual right, and then turned left again, moving away from the train station. This is a straight uphill walk. On my way, I met two adorable children, both of whom looked like they were in Elementary school. The oldest, older brother was named Shidoshi/Shishido (-kun) (I'm messing up his name; I'm already bad with names and it's worse here, don't know why) and the other was his younger sister Sayo (-chan). Both responded to my “Konichiwa” with a resounding “I'm fine, how are you?” in English. We had a very brief English conversation, but when I attempted to followup in Japanese, it was blank stares all around. Even so, it was a fun conversation and I'm hopeful that they are in one of my schools.

Continuing onwards, I ran into another woman, and after a quick exchange about the weather “Kirei tenki desu ne!” she told me that there was a great (tera) temple if I turned right at the next streetlight. I took her recommendation with a bright “ikimasu”, and it was an excellent choice! I took video of some of the high points, which will be uploaded to facebook whenever the video application decides to work again. Hopefully tomorrow morning. I also took like a zillion pictures, so enjoy!

One of the highlights of the day happened before I reached the tera (temple). I was wandering along a path that lead to the top of a hill, figuring I'd run into the tera eventually. Below me was a small playground, below that a hill.

On the hill, two families with children were “spring sledding” downwards over the grass on flattened cardboard boxes. This instantly took me back to the last snowstorm, sledding down the Philadelphia Art Museum steps with Steph, Don, Chris, Yash, and others on our own makeshift cardboard boxes and miscellaneous sled parts. I started to take pictures and video, getting closer and closer, and one of the ladies asked if I wanted to try. Of course I did! Like the two year old boy who was also mastering his own craft, I kept slipping off my box and rolling down the hill. But soon I sort of mastered the technique. I played with them for a while, taking some great pictures and having those wonderfully vague conversations that come from beautiful spring days and rolling down hills: “sugoi” (super cool!), “otsukare” (tired), “atsui ne” (hot, isn't it?), “hayai” (fast, make me go fast) etc.

Eventually they had to leave (otsukare) and I was off again. I took a brief woodland detour, following a path through trees with no clear destination. Much to my surprise, this lead me to the Temple (this part is video-recorded). It's amazing to me that within three quarters of a mile of my little apartment is another place of magnificent beauty and cultural interest. I took a ton of pictures, and had a few interesting conversations, and even learned that a jacket is an “uwagi” in Japanese (that means jacket). Later I heard the same word in an anime, and I knew what it meant!

The next really high point of the day came on my umpteenth visit to Jusco. I have to be at the Board of Education tomorrow at 9am, and the first alarm clock I bought does not, in retrospect, seem like ti's going to be loud enough to get me up, so I bought a second, really obnoxious one. I figure I'll set both within 15 minutes of each other, and thus be on time for this very important meeting. But of course, on the way I thought of more groceries it would be useful to have (like more Koala snacks, essential for every household), so into the grocery area I went first.

In the fish section, I saw one of the oddest things of my time in Japan so far. There was a giant kiosk for fileting fish, and on the customer side of the counter was a hollowed out giant fish head. When I say giant, this fish's head was about the size of a beach ball, and the fish itself, well... Behind the counter, three men were working in white aprons, the head guy stood closest to the customers; with a huge knife he was busily filleting. A huge crowd surrounded this fish dicing event, which was every ten seconds punctuated by a loud “erashaimase” from one of the other two men in the fish kiosk, who were packing fish bits under plastic. Of course, because everyone else was so interested, I had to find out what was going on. I did my best to push my way in politely (though for the most part, politeness was not expected at this point). As I pushed inwards towards the thickest knot of the crowd, a woman in an apron came through and dropped off a plate of samples. From the color, it looked like Maguro (salmon, I'm guessing.Kanji = 鮪 as I learned from the Izakaya).

Within less than one minute, the plate was picked clean. Adults, children, the old and young, all deftly pushed in, grabbed toothpicks, dipped their fish samples in soy sauce and were chowing down. It reminded me of the run for the train when I was trying to transfer at the Chiryu station at Toyota City. Everyone was streaming around me, all of the everyday normal (sometimes seemingly excessive) rules of politeness lost in the rush. I had just reached the plate when all the food was gone.

So of course I waited, figuring it was like the crab leg plate at the Chinese Buffet, stake your corner, and eventually they will return and you'll be first in line. I grabbed a toothpick and sure enough, in another five minute, more fish was delivered. Dipped in soy sauce, it was DELICIOUS! They were selling the filets like hotcakes at about 700 yen a piece and I was tempted, but ultimately besides frying it, I couldn't think of what else I'd do besides eat it straight, and I already had enough food in my fridge that was soon to be perished. But if this is a Sunday tradition, I'll make sure to get in early next week.

I made tonight a night in as I have to be up tomorrow for the meeting with my Board of Education. I had a great time cooking in my tiny kitchen and a less great time trying to figure out how I was going to get to the BOE meeting (train to cab = the walking directions are for the birds; ie: homing pigeons who possess a perfect sense of direction).

Overall, I'm feeling really good about today. Beautiful days are precious, as is my time here in Japan. I'm striving to enjoy every moment, especially now that I have a comfortable futon to come back to. This week starts the movement towards my actual job. Wish me luck!