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: http://www.guidetojapanese.org/desire.html#part4

And how to use this in regards to intention, ie: setting out to do something, here: http://www.guidetojapanese.org/try.html#part3

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: http://vashabroad.blogspot.com

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. (http://www.jp41.com/living-in-japan/kill-cockroaches.php) 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 http://vashabroad.blogspot.com

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Days Gone By

Boy life got away from me this week! As usual, so much happens even in a day, it's hard to categorize, so catching up on four days is really going to be a challenge. And one I think would be best approached obliquely. So here goes:

It's been another great week of meeting people, going to cool places, and teaching (both in the victories and the “try agains”).

On Sunday I signed up for Japanese classes at TIA (Toyota International Association) and took a test to place me in the correct class. To my surprise (and delight), I placed into level A, the top level class they offer. This was kind of awesome, especially considering I've only been here about 5 weeks. Luckily, the fact that I'm always asking people “what did you say?” or “I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're saying because I don't have a lot of vocabulary or grammar” definitely keeps my feet on the ground though in regards to my Japanese abilities. I have a lot to learn and I'm very excited to start classes this upcoming Sunday.

Also on Sunday I had the pleasure of attending Makato-san's International English conversation get together at Aichi University, where I met some awesome people (that I still need to put into my phone and email...busy week, yeah!) and had a fantastic time chatting and learning Salsa dance! This was a really great time! I also met some fine folks from the Garbage Rangers, who once a month in Power Rangers costume pick up garbage around Nagoya. I'm going to check out their next outing. Only in Japan! Have I mentioned how great (and interesting) life is here yet?!

On Monday, it was back to work! I started the week at Higashiyama, and since I had a schedule with lesson topics, etc, was able to do a much better job than last time, especially with the Animals lesson for the first graders. I really love all ages of kids, but there's an special place in my heart for the first graders and second graders because they are so outgoing and up for anything. As the kids get older, they get a little shyer, and by fifth grade especially, (and I remember this from my own childhood), peer pressure is a real PITA. You have to work a bit harder with the older kids to get them involved, but they do make up for it by having more mature conversations (and also speaking more clear Japanese. I feel terrible about it, but little kids' Japanese I have an especially hard time understanding). I am also developing better relationships with all of the teachers in this school, which is great! They are also beginning to tell me more about what the kids know (and don't know) so I can plan more appropriate lessons. This is a huge help!

I also had a chance to go running on Monday night. What a great idea! I ran for about 40 minutes and felt so sore, tired, and great! It was a wonderful decision that I repeated tonight for a half hour. I'm getting back into a 3 day a week running schedule for sure! Now if only I could figure out how far I was actually going.

On Tuesday, I went for the first time to Nishihomi Elementary. I admit, on the train (I intended to bike but it was raining and I was running late) I felt a bit nervous about once again having another first day in another brand new school (how would it go?) but this school was an absolute joy. Of course, there were scheduling concerns (I didn't receive any of the lesson plans they made – big shock...not—so I only had prepared for Jikoshoukai. But the teachers there were excellent about giving me the information, plans and materials I needed so the lessons went well anyhow. Also, the kids here hail from all over the world (mostly from South America: specifically Brazil and Peru, and the Philippines, though other countries were also represented), and the mix of cultures gave the school a unique energy. The kids were very outgoing. For example, during my Jikoshoukai section of my lesson with the fifth graders, when I was asking where people were from, the kids were absolutely excited to shout out their countries or origin and were quite excited when I held out my Brazil flashcard and placed it on the map. (I need one for Peru and the Philippines too).

Later, when talking about the difference in pronunciation of Karaoke in Japan and the States, one of the girls (and here the girls were much less shy than at my other schools, a huge difference) shouted out Musikow, which is what Karaoke is called in Brazilian Portuguese. So I was able to incorporate it into the lesson, and learn some Portuguese as well.

The fourth graders were also ridiculously excited after class to tell me how to say all kinds of things in various languages (as I taught English), so I learned how to say Good morning in Philippino, Brazilian Portuguese, and one girl, who spoke five languages (Italian, Portuguese, Philippino, Chinese and Japanese) also told me how to say “I love you” in Italian. I wrote all of these down and will have them memorized by the week after next when I return. One of my fellow teachers (Kana-sensei, who translates between English, Japanese and Portuguese for the school...omg!) also taught me a fair number of words and phrases in Portuguese, including “Eu nao falo Portuguese” which means “I don't speak Portuguese” and “Sou Americana” which means “I am American.” So now when random people walk up to me and start talking to me in Portuguese, I can whip that out. (though by the end of my year working at Nishihomi, I should speak some Portuguese at least).

Also, I learned Good Morning “Bon Dia” (pronounced Bone Jia) and Good Afternoon: “Bon Tarde” (pr. Bon Tarji (long e sound at end). In Brazilian Portuguese, the D's tend to go to J's, though this isn't a fast rule. If you want to ask “how you you?” you ask “Tudo Bem” but this D is pronounced like a D and the E in Bem is long (Beem). I'm good = Estou Bem. There is a difference in To Be adjectives in Portuguese depending on if the is is referring to a changeable vs. unchangeable state. So Sou Americana is an unchangeable state. (theoretically). I was born American and will probably die American. Whereas I'm good--Estou bem--is a changeable state; I'm good now, but maybe tomorrow, not so good. I found this to be wildly interesting, and it may end up being the core of a story...not sure yet. In general though, you can see in the grammar and words relationships between Spanish and Portuguese, which is helpful as I did take Spanish in High School, though I forgot pretty much all of it.

Then it was back home where I tried out the instant curry beef I'd bought at Jusco. So good! Just a few minutes in boiling water in it's metal container, and three minutes of cooking yakisoba noodles, and I had a delicious curry beef with veggies (some I added) and I have three more packets. Definitely going to have more curry soon! I also did a great deal of lesson planning for today. More than I'd have liked since it took close to five hours. That's in large part because the lesson they wanted wasn't compatible with my teaching materials.

Also, I had to do another lesson on animals, as the one I had was way to simplistic for the older kids (there's a difference between first and fourth graders). To my surprise though, all of my lessons went well today. This was by far the best day I've had at this school, so all of my prep work really paid off! Hopefully though, this will get faster (looks like my next few weeks of lessons are compatible with my teaching materials, thank God.

Then it was running tonight, yakisoba noodles with veggies and way too many chocolate wafers. I also watched this week's episode of House which was great! And if anyone's been keeping up with the new season of Dr. Who, I must admit I'm really liking the new Doctor. Not that I don't love David Tennant (because if he called...) but the new guy is doing a hugely great job with the role too. And I love Amy. She reminds me a little of me except less commitment phobic. (yeah, that's kind of sad). Also, the writing this season (except the first episode which was a bit weak in my estimation) has been really great! Not that I expected less of Stephen Moffet.

Nuff said, off to shower and bed!

Read more about my adventures in Japan and abroad at http://vashabroad.blogspot.com

Monday, May 10, 2010

When to Fold-em? Okazaki Biking Adventure!

So on Saturday, I decided to continue my plan to bike to various points of interest in neighboring cities, and so this time set forth for Okazaki. Okazaki is about 12-14km from where I am in Toyota, though the Ieyasu Shrine was charted at 16km away (about 10 miles) according to Google Maps. I got a very late start (talking on the phone to family and friends over Skype) so didn't get on the road until 2pm. This was less than fortuitous for me actually seeing the museum, but I decided to go anyway for the experience.

And it was a lovely bike ride, not too many hills. Both Chiryu and Okazaki are south of Toyota, though Chiryu is more southwest while Okazaki is more Southeast, and one huge benefit of biking south is that the roads seem flatter. If I was to bike to Seto, which is about equidistant but north, I'd have to go through a mountain range. Alas, probably not going to happen. Also, as Okazaki is a city (and not a tourist attraction smack-dab in the middle of mountains, like the Sanage Onsen), it was marked by signs that were large, blue and easy to follow, taking much of the confusion and random lostness out of the picture. That's a huge win. And while I wasn't biking directly over mountains, I did get to see some amazing mountains and creeks, as well as other points of beautiful landscape.

I'm going to let the video tell the story from here:

Looking back over this video, I really think the landscape was prettier in person. But hopefully it's given you an idea of what another Japanese road looks like.

The next video, about halfway to Okazaki, was definitely the prettiest:

And biking around is not only cheap--something very important when you are low on cash like me right now: paid May 20th...yay! – but it also allows me to really get to know the area where I live. And just biking, I get to see amazing and interesting things. Because everything is new for me, even looking at the stores and watching people is wildly fascinating and fun! And it's great exercise, in a way that is painless and interesting!

I made it to Okazaki with little trouble, with the exception of a section of Route 39 where I felt like I was taking my life into my hands as the shoulder was so narrow, but as usual, once I got into the city, things got dicey. But I will say, in regards to following Google Maps directions, this was my best usage of them. I managed to stay on the correct streets and roads with only moderate confusion. It took me about an hour and 45 minutes to make it to the city (which was about 12km) and then another 20 minutes or so in the city. Definitely my fastest bike ride so far too. Maybe I'm getting better at this? In fact, I'm sure I would have made it all the way to the museum had the sky not darkened, the wind not picked up, and had I not felt the impending threat of rain.

Video here:

I'm not afraid of a little water, but two hours straight of biking through rain is a bit much, even if it's warm (though as June is the rainy season here, I may get used to it). So instead of continuing on, I folded my hand and headed back for Toyota. I was so worried that I made the trip back in an hour and a half (even with a detour to a major interstate and having to backtrack my steps to the smaller road I could actually bike on). Of course, the rain never came, but better that than the alternative.

And afterward, Mie and I grabbed dinner at the Saizeria (cheap, delicious Italian food) and then did Karaoke. All in all, a great day!


Read more about my abroad adventures at http://vashabroad.blogspot.com

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Josui by Bike and Back to School

So I made the bike ride to Josui today in about 35 minutes. That was around 3 miles, with one minor point of being lost when I was about three blocks from the school. In short, a highly successful bike ride. I'm definitely slow though. One of the other teachers I was talking with at lunch makes the same ride (coming from the station, so mine is a wee bit longer as my apartment is a hint farther away, but still) in about 25 minutes. Still, biking is so worth it! (and it saves me money...yes, I get transportation reimbursed, but that takes a month at least. I'd much rather have my money now than later.)

I was also so much more cheerful today, having biked instead of taken the train. I am happier when I get more exercise. As a result, I really want to bike tomorrow to Ibo Elementary. It's only about 4.1 miles, an extra mile along the same road. But I really need to be early tomorrow in order to discuss lesson planning as I'm not 100% sure what they want (or even 30% sure actually), and of course I didn't get a fax even though I saw one of the teachers filling out the paperwork when I left on Friday. I absolutely hate this lesson planning process. As a result, I wrote out three lesson plans for where I'm assuming my students are in the book. Hopefully one of them will be close enough. But that means I didn't do much else tonight besides eat.

But about today, to keep it short (need to go to bed early), today was a great day! Etsui and Shion both made it into today, which made me very happy (and Etsui-kun had a fine time giving me the high give with vigor and repetition. Must have thought I was a cat). I also got to hang out with one of my highschoolers (whose favorite color is pink) and learned the Kanji for her name, so now I'll stop forgetting it. She's really into J-pop, anime and dramas, so we had some great bonding in regards to Arashi and Hana Yori Dango.

Another major bonus of today was being asked to teach a song about standing under a chestnut tree, which had a Japanese translation not only of the words, but also of the gestures that were supposed to go with every part of the song. So now I've got bunches of flashcards with such things as "put both hands on your head," "sway" "spread your arms," etc. Before that class, I had a free period, so I went through and memorized the new vocabulary in the song as well as starting on the gestures. This was a huge benefit because the teachers were asking me things like "what does 'spread' mean" and I was able to say Hirogeru (with the gesture), which I had just learned by studying the vocabulary of the song in reverse. Super cool!

Also, as a general note, today was just stunning. Warm, sunny, beautiful. Actually even a little hot. I am NOT looking forward to true summer here though. As of now, I've already taken the blanket off of my futon and am going to sleep with the deck door open tonight (for airflow. We're not yet ready for the AC, but a little aiflow wouldn't kill anyone.

Also, at the foreign goods store near my house, they had wheat bread again! (YAY!) And I was able to pick up some powder to make Thai Coconut Curry, so I know what I'm doing with that chicken in my freezer, that is as soon as I get some pineapple. In fact, I definitely overspent at the foreign good store. I avoided the good grocery store in Josui because I didn't want to spend a bunch of money on more food, so I just spent money at the foreign goods store instead. What can I say, I like having a well stocked fridge. As it is, I'm getting nervous as I'm down to just one bunch of Bok Choy. (I eat it almost everyday)

In short, it was a nice, boring day!

Tomorrow promises to be more stressful. I'm nervous about it, in part because I feel like I must have lost or not written down some critical information about tomorrow's lessons, which is probably why I tried so hard to cover my bases tonight. I really wish that the schools would just send the faxes though. It would be so much easier and better for all of us.

Anyway, gotta shower and bed. Tomorrow's entry should be more meaty, hopefully with positive memories :)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Chiryu Bicycling and Muryojuji Temple Adventure (with video)! Bonus: Musings on Goodbyes, Japanese Style!

Today I got back on my bike and made my way to Chiryu City! While this was, according to Google Maps, a mere 12.2 kilometers away, and walkable in about two hours and 27 minutes, it took me on my bike about two hours to get there. Maybe I got lost?! I've noticed, in general, that distances that usually take me a very short time to traverse in the States take a hugely long time here. I'm not sure why. For example, last July, I did a 10 kilometer run in a little over an hour, but a 12 kilometer bike ride took me almost 2x as long. This is kind of weird, and it makes me wonder how accurate Google is in regards to distance (or how badly I'm getting lost...or how much the hills are slowing me down, or how badly out of shape I've become...not sure which, but wondering with active interest). I'm just going to say it felt like it was a lot more than 12 km to get there. As usual, the way back took me significantly less time, about an hour and a half, not counting my stop at Jusco for vital food supplies (like bran flakes).

But back to the bike to Chiryu. This was by far the easiest long distance bike ride I've made here. For the most part, the path was clearly marked. This is because I was going from one metropolis to another, on a main road. For a portion of the middle of my ride there, I even had on my ipod as I was going...it was one of the least interesting roads as compensation for it's relative ease of travel.

The video tells the story:

In fact, I had no real problems until I actually got into Chiryu proper. At that point, I realized that (of course), I'd totally lost track of my google maps directions (and probably overshot my mark to a significant degree). Entering Chiryu city was a bit like entering the outskirts of Camden, without the terror.

Video Here:

If I hadn't seen the tiny sign just below the stoplight that read 知立, that's Chiryu in Kanji only, I wouldn't have even known I was in a city. (the sign is too small to see in the video, but I think I took a picture of it). As a word of advice for navigating Japan, always memorize (or at least print out or write down clearly) the Kanji for where you live and where you are going. While the blue road signs are in English and Kanji, the local signs are not. (especially for the fun things you're looking for, like Temples, and onsens and the like) If I hadn't done this, I'd never have found the onsen yesterday, and certainly not the Temple today.

After asking for directions (showing the map, this is where Google Maps is highly useful because it gives you the name of the location, vaguely where it is located in the city, and it is written in both English and Kanji) I followed them and found a sign for the Temple (as I'd had the vague idea the person who gave me directions had asked me to look for, but only after I spotted it).

This was very exciting for me, so of course I took video:

Note: if you can't memorize the exact name of the onsen or temple in question, it's worth it to at least get the general Kanji for Onsen or Temple (tera). Onsen = 温泉, literally “warm/hot” + “spring”. You also know by looking at the left side of the first kanji that the warm/hot has to do with water, as the radical on the left is water. And the top left is a sun. There's a plate on the bottom, which may be the sound element, or have something deeper to do with the meaning. I don't really know. And honestly, this level of Kanji dissection is totally from what I've taken from Heisig and how I've thought about it. I'm no expert, so take it for what it's worth.

Temple = 寺. Temple is also the right side of some really useful kanji including time = 時 (sun + temple = とき), wait = 待つ(ちょっと待ってください = wait a second, please) and the slightly more obscure poem = 詩 (し), among others. If you google Heisig's “Remembering the Kanji” and go to the direct site (nanzen something.com), you can get the first 1/3 of the book which includes this Kanji. I have the link to it on my Kanji Movie Method blog that only has one entry: http://kanjieiga.blogspot.com. I highly recommend Kanji Movie Method; I just didn't have enough time to do it and write about doing it at the same time. And Heisig's method is amazingly helpful. I recommend doing Kanji Movie Method, but after you've read Heisig's introduction and worked through a little of the book so you get a feel for how to create effective mnemonics.

Then it was a relatively short jaunt (less than a kilometer) to the Temple itself, which in addition to being beautiful, also had a wonderful performance going on of young girl's doing fan dance. I took two videos of it: first the older, more skilled girls, and then two younger girls who were giving it their all (and would totally have kicked my ass in a fan dance contest, I'm sure).

Video 1:

Video 2:

I also had the privilege of sharing the same bench and thus enjoying a conversation with a wonderful older man, answering questions about my life in Japan as well as learning that the Irises had come up early this year. We sat, surrounded by beautiful irises and trees, talked for a bit, and then, as is the norm with Japanese people as I've noticed, an abrupt conversational end where he jumped up, shook my hand and wished me luck before leaving. This took less than five seconds, and was right in the middle of what I thought was a conversation.

When first coming to Japan, I used to get so worried I'd offended someone when they did this (and still hold that niggling fear), but it seems to more of a cultural difference. People from the States (and Canada it seems) take a relatively long time to say goodbye. We have to say “goodbye” and then “take care” and maybe have a little bit of I'm leaving small talk before we shake hands or hug (hugging is not the norm here). Often, we'll keep an eye on the other person for a short while afterwards even. So usually a standard USA goodbye will last at least a solid minute or two. Even if you have a plane or train to catch, you're apologizing for having to leave so abruptly and saying goodbye a couple of times as you grab your bag.

This is not the case in Japan. In Japan, even between friends, it's goodbye and gone. I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about this, and I think it has something to do with the general Japanese sense of punctuality. It's probably more polite to leave quickly here, as you both probably have somewhere else to be, and would be better off to be early getting there. This is different from the USA, where the 15 minute grace period of lateness is the norm on both ends of a get together or event—especially at the end of something. (like a party that claims to end at 1 am never ends before 1:30 am, unless something has gone horribly wrong). A part of this in US culture I think also has to do with the idea that you want to show the other person that you enjoy spending time with them, and aren't really thinking about the next event because you are so much enjoying their presence. (this may or may not be true). In Japan, you want to show the other person you value their time by not overstaying yours.

So I assumed I hadn't offended him and enjoyed the irises for a little longer. The temple itself, and the tons of Irises were stunningly beautiful. Hopefully the pictures will upload to facebook so I can actually show them to folks. We'll see.

After that, it was a simple bike home! Gonna try to hit the sack early. Toying with the notion of biking to Josui tomorrow to get to school. I'm feeling so much better now that I'm biking more regularly, though it means getting up earlier, it might be worth it to make the trek on my bike (if the weather is good). Josui is only 4.9 kilometers away: should be doable in an hour or so, even at my miserably slow current biking speed here.

Or I'll sleep in and catch the train. Hmm...

Sanage Onsen Bicycle Adventure!

So today I decided to take advantage of the warm weather and bike to experience another wonderful aspect of traditional Japanese culture, the Onsen Bathhouse. Ryuichi had recommended I try the Sanage Onsen, which according to Google was a bare 7.1 miles (about 12 km) from my apartment, so I figured this was the perfect day excursion. I got a much later start than I wanted, for two reasons: 1. I was still tired from yesterday so while I got up at 9:45am, I didn't get moving until almost 12:30 (thus defeating the purpose of getting up early) and 2. I had to get my travel supplies organized, print internet maps, find all of my maps from the Visitor's Center, and the like.

I first made a detour to Jusco in order to by a portable air pump, tire patch kit and inner tube for my tires. The thought of being stranded in some rice field with a bike flat tire and no way to fix it has not been thrilling me, and as I travel farther and father afield, the peace of mind of knowing I have the general means to keep my bike basically operational is well worth the 2,300 yen it ultimately cost me today to buy supplies. Actually, all of these supplies were quite cheap, and my tire kit even came with the little things you slip under the tire to get it off (not as good as the ones that Carrie gave me that I for some crazy-ass reason left at home) but better than nothing. The only thing that was kind of annoying was they didn't have any kind of small “portable” air pump, so I had to buy a relatively lightweight regular one and load it into the back basket of my bike. Luckily my back basket is huge, and I bought a net for it, so the pump was secure. It should be a lot easier than Carrie's portable pump at least, as we all remember from Bike to the Shore 2009!

Also, as an aside, I'm super grateful for Carrie, Don and my shore roadtrip last year. Basically, when packing for my trip (it was a short distance, but getting lost is easy in Japan, and also, as I discovered, I was going straight up into a mountain range), I just kept saying “what did we bring for our shore roadtrip?” So I brought some sliced carrots with peanut butter, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (didn't eat it), an Onigiri (protein and rice) and a water bottle. The carrots and peanut butter were especially great for this trip! (and I do need more fruit, only strawberries in the fridge). Carrots have sugar, and the peanut butter provides excellent protein.

Bicycling distances takes a lot of energy and burns lots of calories, so it's important to have good, high quality snacks and to eat frequently on the road (about 1x/hour or so). Also, water intake is critical, especially on a relatively warm day like today was. Luckily though, Japan is one of the most convenient places on the planet, so even if you brought nothing, even in the utter middle of nowhere, you'll probably stumble across a vending machine or convenience store before things get too desperate. That is one very nice difference between Japan and the USA. (especially the vending machines).

After the Jusco trip, I was ready to go! I considered stopping at the Visitor's Center on my way out of town, but I really wanted to see if I could find the place completely on my own (with only three area maps and one google maps printout), so I figured why not go it alone? The worst thing that would happen is I wouldn't find the place, but it would still be fun! Also, less frivolously, I really want/need to get a better intuitive feel for how to get around Japan, at least my area, and that only comes through trial and error. I am definitely getting better at this, and today was a testament to that.

Of course, I totally lost track of where I was on the Google Maps directions less than a mile in. So I whipped out my Toyota City English map and tried to orient Google Maps directions/maps to the actual area map, with minimal success. So it was time for the Japanese map, which was a lot better. For one thing, the Sanage Onsen was actually on it! As another stroke of good fortune, the Sanage Onsen was roughly in the direction (though further away) of four of my schools: Nishi-homi, Toyota Yogo, Ibo and Ohata.

This meant I passed through Homi and Ibo (and Kami-Toyota, a station I've passed on the train but never stopped at, but got to see today). I also passed through 貝津 Kaizu (a haven for clams) where Eric teaches; no wonder he has to take so long to get to his schools! It takes me an hour from my apartment by train to get to Nagoya, and Eric lives on the opposite side of Nagoya than me, in Ogaki, about 35 minutes out by train, so you get an idea of scale and distance.

So figuring that I stood a better chance of finding the Onsen by using the map the Japanese people use, as opposed to my mediocre Google Maps printouts, I decided to head in the direction of Homi and once I got there, reorient myself again. I figured, if I was lucky, I'd hook back up with the Google Maps directions, and if not, I'd figure something out.

This plan was actually reasonably successful, though I did take some interesting detours. (on the way back, finding an Oiden busstop and using that to help me figure the direction of Toyota-shi, I accidentally connected with Google Maps directions, and hadn't gotten mixed up somewhere along the line of the beginning, they would have been quite a bit more straightforward than the path I ultimately took, but such is life)

In addition to finding the train stops for a bunch of places that I pass by going to my schools (Kami-Toyota, Kaizu, etc), I also stumbled into the Chuukyou (中京) University campus. Though it's Golden Week, there were still a fair number of students on campus, playing sports, walking around and the like. Finding the University was especially exciting for me because it let me know that my estimation of where I was looking at the sun (afternoon sun = West) was actually dead on. Looking at my map, I'd estimated that I was going North, and sure enough, I had been going North!

(note: I'm going to try and buy a compass tomorrow. One of the main reasons why I HAD to leave before dark was because I'm really crappy with constellations, and had no confidence in my ability to find the North Star, thus without the sun, I was essentially directionless.)

Getting out of Chuukyou University was like an episode of the Twilight Zone. The main road was a circle, and so I kept trying to look at the sun and go North, only to find out that I was just spinning my wheels. But I did find a bathroom, which when biking is a huge deal, and remembering our Shore Bike Trip, after partaking of the facilities, I also made sure to refill my water bottle at the sink.

When I finally got out of Chuukyou University, I found myself back at the almost exact place on the previous road as I'd left it. Which was a bit of a setback, but okay, because all I had to do was continue East until I hit another northerly road.

Which I did. It was at this point (about 2.5 hours in) that I looked at the map and realized I was in a cul-de-sack with only one exit, a tiny road that was highlighted in yellow that connected with a larger northerly main road. The rest of the roads, which looked exactly the same size on the map, simply lead back in to the center a sort of superstring fragment that connected only with itself. I also was further mislead (and terrified) for a second by a sign, with Kanji that indicated that I had already fallen past the event horizon of this black hole (I know I'm mixing my physics theories), but then I looked closer at the sign and realized it was an advertisement for a store of some kind in the cul-de-sac that I had not yet entered.

I stood for a while, leaning my bike against my hip, and tried to guess which road was the correct one. Ultimately, I made my decision based on two factors: 1. the road to my right was going north and 2. the road going North seemed to have more traffic. This was good decisionmaking (and probably a metaphor for life in some way) but as I traveled onwards, the road got thinner and more winding and full or rice fields being planted, and I began to have serious doubts as to where I was.

That's when I made this video:

And less than five minutes later, the road crossed with a larger highway. I looked to my left, and there was a sign for the Sanage Onsen!

That's when I made this video:

At this point, the lostness faded, and it was only the uphill. Seriously, this Onsen was straight up a mountain. I didn't fully realize this as I was going up. All I kept thinking was that I was brutally out of shape because I kept having to walk the bike for a bit, and then bike, and then walk, and so though I wasn't that far from the Onsen, it took me close to 45 minutes to clear the last 2.5 kilometers. But then I was there!

The onsen experience itself was totally nifty! It was a lot like you see in anime, except that you spend a lot more time pre-bathing than they show in animes and dramas. Also, you are given a locker, and a key which fits around your wrist, but the string is hidden in the keychain, so I had no idea what to do with it until I asked a nice woman how to use it. First she took the key from my hand and mimed putting in the lock with a really confused expression, but then I clarified that I indeed knew the basics of using a key, and just needed to know where to put it once I locked the locker door and she showed me the string.

Once I got my stuff lockered, I stripped, took my washcloth and proceeded towards the bathing area. I had been under the impression that Japanese women were not at all body conscious in Onsens, but actually this was not true for many women that I saw. Most women used the long washcloth to shield themselves in some way, some even managing to get it to cover all of their frontal nudity. I was rather sad about this because I'd been looking forward to a totally relaxed nudity environment. A year and a half as a nude model for artists has taken what little body shyness I had and demolished it; but I did do my best to mimic what the other folks around me were doing so as to not be impolite.

Still, aside from the minor washcloth thing, it was basically shame-free, and in addition to the women (this onsen had a separate male and female bathing area) there were also some mothers with small children (about 3-4 years of age of both sexes). The kids were really entertaining, getting into the water, shouting “atchi” (a shortened version of “atsui” = “hot”), and running around and the like.

Before getting into the onsen, you had to wash yourself thoroughly. Considering how gross I was, I had no problem with this. You sit on small stools in front of a spikot and movable shower stick (common here, my home shower is the same setup, with a tub instead of stool. The Onsen provided us with shampoo and conditioner and body soap. I accidentally sprayed the woman next to me with while trying to rinse my back with the shower stick. We had a long conversation about this, because at first I had no idea what she was saying, but now I know “mizu kaketa” = you sprayed me with water. I apologized profusely once I knew what I had done. I was also careful to wash as long as the two women next to me, including thoroughly washing and conditioning my hair (though the conditioner and shampoo they have makes a mess of my hair because it's not for my kind of hair, but gotta take the good with the bad. It was the same at the Ryokan and our hotel in training).

Once I was clean, I stepped into the onsen tub. It was like a hot tub, hot but not nuclear. There was also a section with jets which I soaked under, especially my neck which has been very stiff and sore lately. Then I made my way up a set of stairs to an outside pool, which was refreshing because inside was very steamy and humid and after a while I found myself getting a little dizzy.

Eventually I had to leave as the sun was getting low and I was feeling a little faint, partially from the heat and partially from hunger. I did make one stop on my way out, to try some local pastry. I was starving, and I wanted to have a taste memory of the Onsen. They had some type of soysauce miso sampler which I liked, so the man behind the counter gave me a second sample. I also tried a chestnut pastry with what seemed like was a hard boiled egg yolk in the center. I didn't expect to like it because I don't like nuts, but it tasted nothing like nuts and was quite creamy and delicious. I really enjoyed the pastry and made sure to tell them so, and I even got a picture with it and one of the chefs!

As I left, I realized it would be a good idea to make a video of me actually at the onsen, so here it is:

The way back home was much easier. Going down the mountain took less than 10 minutes, and I didn't have to pedal at all. Also, as is always true because I live in a major city center, it was much easier to orient myself towards Toyota-shi. I almost immediately found an Oiden Bus stop on the main road (I refused to go back into the cul-de-sac so instead figured if I stayed on the main road, now that I had found it, I'd probably be able to find my way back to Toyota. It took me about an hour and a half to get home, with a stop at the Sankus convenience store for milk. About half the time of getting there. And all in all, a highly successful day!

Tomorrow, I'm biking to Chiryu! Going to see the 4 Irises at the Temple Muryojuji. It's only 12km up Route 155, wahoo! Going to get an earlier start tomorrow than today, so I can spend more time at my destination. Then back to school on Thursday! Gonna miss Golden Week, but the weekend is soon in coming!

(note: Facebook is acting up, so I can't get the photos uploaded right now. Will post link to album later)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

My First Japanese Diary Entry on Mixi

Hey all,

So this is how Google translated what I wrote in my first diary/blog entry in Japanese on my Mixi account.

Anyone can and everyone's nice! I'm an American. Please call Vass. (I like basketball and Suze) I want to write this diary in Japanese. If it is good, the Japanese worse if you have time, and please tell me. Thank you very much.

I'm going to go by bicycle Sanage spa. About 12km from the apartment. I work hard. I'll probably get lost, it looks fun.

Thank you! You Wait!

Five points for anyone who can figure out what I was ACTUALLY trying to say. This does not inspire me about my future as a Japanese writer, LOL!

(original text: 皆ーさん初めまして!私はアメリカ人です。ヴァシュと呼んでください。(バスケとシュズみたいです)日本語をこの日記に書いてみたいです。宜しければ、もし日本語を間違ったら、そして時間があったら、教えてください。本当にありがとうございます。


よろしくお願いします! まったね!)

Hazy Cosmic Jive

Life in Japan is especially interesting during Golden Week, when I have no set plans! I'm also way busier than I expected to be, considering the “no set plans” part of the last sentence.

On Friday, Mie and I hit the road for Nagoya Castle, delicious Sukiyaki and an impromptu night of song with some fabulous Turkish men at a kebab restaurant.

Nagoya Castle was in a word, WOW! The castle is about 400 years old, though much of it was destroyed during WW2 and had to be rebuilt and restored afterwards. So in a sense, we're getting a reimaged snapshot of the castle: one piece construction, and one piece memory (which of course always contains its own part imagination). The castle tower is seven stories high, a huge achievement considering the time period. It is mainly made of stone and wood, though of course the foundations are stone (getting a 7 story high building in the 17th century isn't happening without a frak-ton of stone, not that I'm any expert of architecture).

After going to and through the castle, we had some delicious Matcha Ice Cream, wandered around Sakae for a bit (shopping and the like) and then enjoyed yummy, all-you-can-eat Sukiyaki! Sukiyaki is essentially meat and vegetables cooked in a delicious soy sauce based sauce and water. You cook it yourself in a heated pot at the center of the table (or between you and your friend) and then eat, and eat, and eat. I made sure to eat it the traditional way, which meant beating one raw egg into a bowl in front of you and then dropping the hot cooked meat and vegetables into the bowl to languish in the egg for a bit before eating it. Yup, that's a raw egg. I was a bit nervous about the possibility of salmonella, but Mie assured me that Japanese eggs were safe to eat raw, and since I have a cast-iron stomach, I figured, why not? It was much tastier than I expected, and when I finished out my first egg, I used a second to continue eating.

I really can't speak enough about how delicious Sukiyaki is. Both Mie and I ate until our stomachs hurt, and then we waddled back out into Nagoya with the intent of doing some intensive Karaoke to help speed digest the food. But instead of Karaoke, we wound up at a Turkish kebob place singing along with “Jackie” on his guitar and drinking tea. It was a fun time, and the tea was very similar to the tea at Aromatic House of Kebab, so thus delicious as well. Jackie and also had a great time talking about life and times, so we'll probably hang out again.

After Kebob style Karaoke, Mie and I returned to Toyota, where we then hung out at her place until way late. It's good to be getting a social circle here! And I'm loving having this vacation time!

On Saturday, as a spur of the moment thing, Eric decided to come visit me in Toyota. He wanted to do a long trip on his new motorcycle. This gave me a reason to clean my apartment (which was in dire straights) and also to show a new friend around my Japan hometown. As an aside, I utterly love Toyota City. Whenever I go away and come back, walking the uphill windy street to my little Leopalace Apartment, I feel a sense of peace and homecoming. (Even the Tacmate, the convenience store closest to my apartment, and probably the least convenient convenience store here in Japan—closed now for Golden week, the only one in Toyota that is—gives me a ridiculous burst of happiness when I walk past it on my way home.)

So it was fun to show Eric around a bit on Friday, introduce him to VITS karaoke (where the wonderful older woman who works there totally hooked us up in regards to cheaper than average nomihoudai) and then with drunken energy, continue on with vigor and a bit too much excitement onto the Saizeria (spelled wrong I'm sure, and a chain restaurant through Japan that serves dirt cheap and delicious Italian food), finally winding up at Kogame (my Izakaya) where he got to hang out and chill with some of the regulars (including Ito-san and Kato-san who I've been hanging out with since my first day at Kogame). We were quite Yoppara-ii (that's merry drunk. The word I had been mistakenly using to describe the state of being happy drunk was futsuyoi, though that's probably wrong spelling, actually means hung over, which explains why people kept asking me if I had a headache when I thought I was saying I was drunk. Much thanks to Mie for clearing that up.)

Eric and I managed to get to sleep before the sun rose...barely, and more importantly, get up in time for the Golden Month picnic in Nagoya the next morning. We met Mie and her friend Haruka at the Toyota Train station (surprise new person, yay!). Then it was a raucous train ride to Nagoya's Fushimi station (a nice train representative actually came over and with much bowing told us to keep it the frak down!) after which we made our way to the park where the picnic was being held. It was stunningly beautiful weather, bright and sunny and just a little hot. (I made sure to wear sunblock which was a really good decision because our camp area was for the large part in direct sunlight. )

At the park entrance, we realized that we had no idea what to do next, and we weren't the only ones. There was an accumulating group of people, many of whom were foreigners like me (this shindig was put on through some relationship to a Nagoya International Association, though JP appeared to do all of the legwork of setting things up.) I asked some confused looking folks “facebook?” and they said yes (or maybe they asked me, I don't remember) and soon we had a good sized group of people going to the same picnic.

Mie had JP's number in her phone (because she's cool like that) so we set off in the right direction, more or less. Our 50 person picnic was one of a zillion like it going on at the park, so finding our camping area was a bit of a task. Mie had to call more than once to get us oriented, but we made it! And the picnic, as promised, was packed full of great people, great fun and huge amounts of meat. Seriously about the meat. When a Japanese picnic promises meat, they don't play. We had bbq meat from a huge variety of animals, the most unusual being crocodile, which tasted EXACTLY like chicken, not that I pigged out on the scaly animal. Later though, during picture time, I made sure to get as many pics of me dangling the claw over my mouth. It's not everyday you can pretend to eat a crocodile claw.

After the meatfest, we got a group together for drinking and Karaoke which was incredibly fun. First, Sean (an utterly awesome individual) took us to a 280 yen Izakaya, where everything was 280 yen (food, drinks, everything). Surprisingly, more food was ordered, and since it was there, interesting and tasy, I ate even more. Though I did my best to avoid more meat dishes. I'm good on meat for a while. In fact, dinner tonight was veggies with shrimp shumai (seafood is still more meatlike than I wanted today, but it's what was in my fridge). In the States, you think of Japanese food as super healthy but between the massive amounts of crazy good snacks, processed breads, ippai meat in everything, fried food, and eggs (raw and otherwise), I'm sure my arteries are cussing me out every day.

And as yet another aside, today (Sunday) I had to make a firm decision to cut back on my food intake and major up my exercise as my pants are fitting me too tight on the hips and gut (I have no idea how much I weigh. Even if I could find a scale, it would be in kilograms). I also really need to get back to running. I meant to do that this week, but the partying and like made that not happen. Sho ga nai!

Tomorrow though, I've decided to have a real adventure and bike the12 km to a nearby Onsen that Ryuichi recommended. Google's walking directions quoted 2 hours 45 minutes (and seems to follow a relatively straight main road for most of it), so biking should take about half as long, but considering my Japanese land navigation skills, I'm budgeting 3-4 hours, and I only give myself about a 50/50% chance of finding the place. I'm also expecting to go about 20 km one way to somewhere, whether it's to the onsen in question or an abandoned rice field and alien abduction party, who knows? I'm super excited to find out though! Of course, by the time I'm done purchasing the tire repair kit, inner tubes and portable air pump for my bike, it'll probably cost me more than five trips there via bus or train. (I'm so pissed I left all of these vital supplies at home!) But I've been realizing that if I get a flat tire while out biking, I have no idea how to find a bike shop or how I'd get home. And that's SO not good!

But back to yesterday...at the 280 yen joint, we ate and drank and were quite merry. Afterwards, we went onto Karaoke with Nomihoudai (all you can drink), two hours for only 1,000 yen (that's $10). I was totally Yoppara-ii when we finally stumbled out. Which is why I felt like it was a brilliant idea to instead of going home to Toyota, continue wandering around Nagoya and find a club in Sakae to dance at. So Eric, Kanae, Tyrone and I went forth. Later, we were joined by Sean had who missed his train. The five of us had a fine time wandering drunkenly around the city, randomly talking to people, and even hanging out with skateboarders who were doing their thing randomly on the street (I briefly tried to skateboard, but then had visions of myself as a paraplegic and stopped).

Note: After Karaoke, I also did make the intelligent decision to stop drinking, and when I hit the convenience store for a bathroom, I also got some bottled water and food. As much of this entry is about my poor decision making, I wanted to get that one in here.

Things were going well until we got to the Manga Cafe to sleep (at about 3:30AM) and it was full. Which meant we had the option of Karaoke (3,000 yen for 2 hours—way too expensive!), find another manga-cafe, or just keep walking until 5:30am when the trains started. At this point, I was really tired (I'd only slept about 3 hours the night before, and non-consecutively) so I reverted back to my base nature: stubborn and cheap! Just because these places thought they had us by the virtual balls, damn if I wasn't going to keep walking! (usually when I get like this, someone in the group who is more rational takes over the decision making, but I don't think any of us were exceptionally rational at this point) Also, as we were leaving the Manga Cafe, Tyrone realized that he had left his bookbag at the kebob place we'd had 3am dinner at, and since the rest of us didn't stay at the manga-cafe we all went back to the restaurant together. This was a huge piece of good fortune for me, because in my exhausted state, I hadn't realized that I'd left my wallet (with passport) in the restaurant as well.

This was by far the stupidest thing I've done in Japan. I must have put it on the table when I was fishing through it for a pen to write something down. Thankfully (1) it doesn't look like a wallet at all, instead it's a small bag with flowers embroidered on it that Japanese people use to hold tissues. (it's large enough to hold my passport, which is why I bought it). (2) the people at the restaurant asked if we had left it, and I heard “bag with flowers” and my heart dropped.

As an aside, it seems I don't have to carry my passport around with me everywhere, as I'd thought. After this debacle, Sean let me know that a photocopy would work just as well for daily life. So I photocopied it this afternoon and the real passport stays home, in a hidden location. I made sure to thank the man who returned it to me profusely, though I probably came off a bit less gracious than I should have because I was so utterly pissed at myself for being so stupid.

After that, we went back towards the manga cafe area, but at this point it was after 4am, and the prices were exactly the same for staying in the manga-cafes, so we ended up just figuring we could just keep walking and maybe find an all night restaurant. Unfortunately, the all night diner does not exist in Nagoya. In fact, the entire city seems to have a good racket going to get you to spend ridiculous amounts of money to be inside between 1am and 5am, because the trains stop running basically at midnight and they put gates down to close you out from even sitting in the train stations.

We weren't the only zombified looking people wandering around Nagoya in the wee hours. Occasionally, another group of young men and ladies in club clothing would pass by us, sometimes exchanging a konban wa (good evening) or a nod or the like. Also, like the ladies in club clothing, my afternoon wear of skquirt (skirt that's really shorts) and short sleeved shirt with button down blouse as covering was not at all suited to predawn cold. So in addition to be exhausted, we were all somewhat freezing. (though I think Eric and I dressed the least appropriately for our predawn wanderings. We're the newbies)

Even when the sun rose (at 4:45am, first time I was glad to see that happen), it was still freezing. Under the cold dawn light, I had brief visions of Serenity (the movie): at this point, our party was the only group on the street, and we are walking down abandoned streets under an overly bright sun that made the corers of things feel sharp and strange. Whispers of “they all just laid down and died” passed through my mind. At that point, with my feet aching, arms huddled over my chest, and eyes heavy with tired, I turned to Jeff and shared this movie reference, and then said “Sadly, I can understand where they're coming from”.

At about 5am, we made it back to Fushimi, with about another 40 minutes before our station opened. I saw a small restaurant that was OPEN next to the Karaoke place, and even though we'd just eaten less than 2 hours ago, this was like a beacon. So long as we ate something, anything, we could sit down and not be so frakking cold! And the food was like 300 yen instead of 3,000, which seemed more than fair enough for me. So we parted ways with Jeff and Kanae (who it turns out had to walk all the way back to Sakae, which I felt terrible about since we'd been going in the other direction). I ordered and ate the food, as Eric is a picky eater on a good day, a meal that included another raw egg, which I just cracked and ate, scared that if it didn't look like I was eating everything with relish and vigor that they might throw us out.

The train ride home was uneventful (or if there were events, I totally missed them because I was unconscious.) When we got back to my place around 7:15, Eric and I both just passed out. I woke up at about 1:15; Eric slept for another half hour and left around 2ish. I had originally planned to return the visiting favor and crash with him in Ogaki for the night (and thus see another new place in Japan and so some more partying), but neither of us had any interest in that concept after our Nagoya deathwalk. Another time.

As today was a beautiful day, though I was still tired, I wanted to do something beyond sit in my apartment and waste my afternoon, so I took my bike out and decided to find Kosema Elementary School. (Since my mission in life in Japan seems to be to eat as much as possible, as often as possible, I'd like to bike to my schools as much as I can so that I can at least get some decent exercise). This was a fun excursion and was not only easier than I thought to find (I only got very mildly lost 2x) and the afternoon sun (unlike early morning) was warm and welcoming.

Also, while biking, I had a revelation about the Kanji for a song that I've been trying to practice at Karaoke but haven't known the reading of the Kanji for (or the original artist, apparently, as my version is Fukuyama Masaharu and Aiko as a duet, but neither of them have the song listed under their Karaoke collections, at least not at VITS). 居酒屋(いざかや-izakaya). I have no idea why I didn't know these Kanji in combination, as I belong to an Izakaya and izakaya are everywhere, but I don't remember seeing the first Kanji as a part of the combination, and as I have it memorized in it's ON Yomi (“kyo”- residence), I'd been trying to read the combination as Kyoshu + ya or shitsu (first is the correct Japanese reading, the second is the Chinese reading of a different Kanji, but I couldn't think of anything better). While listening to the song and biking, I heard the word Izakaya, and suddenly it hit me: “Duh! This song is all about drinking, the second Kanji is Sake and the third one is “ya” (roof), it's gotta be Izakaya!” On my way back towards my apartment, I tried to go to VITS and do a couple of hours of Karaoke (including this song), but as its Golden Week, they aren't having the 500 yen special, so no Karaoke until next week. Oh well...

This took way longer to write than I'd planned. As the clock approaches 1am, and Dar Williams croons out her cover of David Bowie's “Starman,” I realize it's well past time to go to bed. Especially if I'm planning on getting to this onsen and back before the sun sets tomorrow.

To bed!

BBQ Pics: http://www.facebook.com/vashti.bandy?cropsuccess#!/album.php?aid=2037648&id=1215105662