Friday, June 11, 2010


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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Parking Lot California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great time all around!


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

Thursday, June 3, 2010

For Now, The Sun

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

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

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

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