Monday, July 31, 2006

Exploring New Frontiers



Places to go, food to eat, people to see... I've been spending too much time in my apartment. Most of that time has either been for eating or studying, which are kind of essential to my life here and life in general, but I should still get out more. Let's break the ice first, shall we? I promised myself I wouldn't post too many examples of Japanese TV on this site, but this one was so ridiculous to me, as an English teacher, that I had to spread the word - what would happen if NOVA, GEOS, ECC, AEON, and JET treated their students this way?

Ugh...


Hiroshima

So many things to do the next time I go to Hiroshima. I was supposed to go today after working out at the YMCA, but was so exhausted from Saturday I had to get some more sleep. Yeah, but I'm still not old, just lazy. Wednesday morning before work I'll take the local Sanyo train to Hiroshima and get started on the Futaba no Saba trail next to the Shinkansen - it's a trail outside of the downtown area that takes you past about a dozen shrines. Should make for some good pictures. Apparently, there are no hanko or inkan shops here that will make a custom Katakana name stamp, so I'll see what Hiroshima has to offer.


Obon

Also, I've been planning a trip to Fukuoka during Obon vacation. The major vacation times in Japan, and the ones given to teachers (GEOS gets more flexibility, and ECC gets more time, but there are other trade-offs), are Obon in the middle of August, New Year's, and Golden Week in May. Obon vacation for me starts on August 10th, and I plan on catching one of the first Shinkansen trains to Hakata Station. Should run about ¥17,000 roundtrip; my thanks to Hyperdia for providing excellent information about JR fares across the country.

I'm planning to stay in Fukuoka in a capsule hotel カプセルホテル. For those heroes not in Japan, a capsule hotel is something definitely unique. Instead of a cheap or modest Super 8 or Best Value Hotel, you sleep literally inside a "capsule": an independent cubicle with air conditioning, heating, space for luggage, lights, etc. There are walls in the hotel literally lined with them. If you're thinking this is a cheap escape, it is (about ¥3465/night where I'm staying, and I think I can get a member card to make it cheaper), but it's hardly like Motel 6. The surroundings of a capsule hotel usually include normal and luxury rooms, as well as a spa and a restaurant; Japan really knows how to treat its guests. I'm staying at the Greenland Espa next to Hakata Station, and I'll give a full report when I return. Don't expect any entries between August 10th-16th. If you're curious about Fukuoka, I found this site incredibly helpful.


The Author of SurvivedSars Himself

My brother is visiting Japan on September 7th. He may be able to read Japanese better than I can, since he has a working knowledge of Chinese characters - there are differences of course, but some of the meanings are the same. I won't be able to get any time off from the eikaiwa that week because it's when we get our new foreign teacher, but we'll still have a long weekend planned. And fortunately for him, he qualifies for the JR Rail Pass, which will probably allow him to travel more in the week he's here than I have thus far. I'll recommend a few good places in Okayama, but I think Tokyo's a bit of a stretch to visit for only one or two days.

In addition, this may be an opportunity for me to see my first Japanese baseball game. When I arrived in Hiroshima on Saturday, there were Carp fans everywhere sporting the teams colors after the game. The stadium is rather convenient as well, just northeast of Peace Park, and a mere trolley ride away from Hiroshima Station. On Sunday, September 10th, the Hiroshima Carps will play the Chunichi Dragons. See details here. Tickets for non-reserved seats go for ¥1500-2000, so not too bad.


Outdoor Activities

Hiroshima has a paragliding club that offers an introductory course for ¥10,000. I don't know how open they are to foreign members who are still struggling in Japanese, but it's something I'll definitely check out in the near future, before it becomes to cold to try. Check out their website.




I'm planning to either run (well, not ALL of it) or bike along the Shimanami Bridges (しまなみ海道) in the future. I'm not sure, but I believe they are the longest series of bridges in all of Japan, connecting two major islands, Honshu and Shikoku. Running 77 kilometers long, the first in the series of ten bridges starts in Onomichi, accessible by car or rail (but not the Shinkansen, I believe), and ends at Imabari. Regardless of whether you're traveling by car, bike, or on foot, there is a toll for each bridge ranging from ¥50-200. You can also rent a decent bike for ¥1000 if you go to the right place - will report on that.

Related websites:
Shimap
Kan Cycling


Dinner

Ahh, yes. For those of you who have not mastered a Japanese rice cooker, I highly recommend it. I have been pretty lazy since I first got here and have been sticking with bento (Japanese pre-cooked meals, usually for lunch) or eating out. Tonight was actually the first night I used my rice cooker, and it was DELICIOUS. Sweet, sweet rice, fresh from the fields. I will pretty much quit buying ¥150 cooked rice from Fuji Grand. I have heard about confusion over using the rice cooker, so here's the Kanji for the usage:



1st setting: normal, sticky rice
2nd setting: quick, dryer rice
3rd setting: very soft rice (I think it has to soak for a long time), called okayu style

Also, be sure to prepare a glass of green tea; most Japanese people will either drink water or tea with meals; drinking beer and soft drinks is a foreign concept. And be sure to prepare meat or fish. Soup if you have time. Voila. Add some chopsticks and a warm towel before the meal, and your food is now Japanized. Email me some cheap dinner ideas. I'm working on it.

Coming up next: KISS cover bands, karaoke songs that give you the "Tao of Steve", and plans to climb Mt. Fuji. Ja mata.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Nighttime Sharpens, Heightens Each Sensation...



Darkness stirs and wakes imagination,
Silently the senses abandon their defenses...
Slowly, gently, night unfurls its splendor,
Grasp it, sense it, tremulous and tender...

Yeah, that sums it up. I'm tired, but I still have time for the heroes. Apparently there's a live Japanese version of The Phantom of the Opera playing in Hiroshima. That's something I have to see. In the meantime, however, funds are running low - apparently the company deducts two months' rent from your first paycheck, so I might have a little trouble getting into Fukuoka over Obon vacation; those should be some interesting stories. But, back to fun - here's a rundown of some decent spots in Hiroshima. You can take the trolley from Hiroshima Station over to Kagarekawa (the nightlife district) for only ¥150. Take the #1, #5, or #6.

Molly Malone's
Your standard Irish pub, expect for the fact that it happens to be in the middle of Japan. Quite a nice escape for the foreigner. I went with two English guys, and they felt right at home. Guinness goes for ¥900 a pint. You can usually expect a large number of foreigners there, with the occasional all-Japanese group that feels like doing something foreign. Definitely friendly, not shady. I give it my personal approval, which means nothing to you, so just drink there anyway.

G's Bar
Kind of hard to find but email me if you're in the Hiroshima area. G's Bar can also be expected to have a huge foreign presence, but the bar style is very country - mounted heads and fake rawhide seats. This is a small bar/karaoke bar, with two video screens set up, microphones free for paying customers. Not too bad, but not the best place to hang out.

Mac
Mac is one of the big gaijin bars in Hiroshima next to Shack. It features a whole wall with nothing but CD's, a dancing area, and a decent bar. Also a little small for my taste, but a good place nonetheless.

El Barco
I'm kind of split about this one. El Barco was raided by Hiroshima police last month and shut down for a little while due to a lack of a club license. When I was first there it was completed dominated by military guys from the US base and eastern European girls... yeah... looked a little suspicious. But if you get there during peak hours the scene is a little better - crowded, but an equal mix of foreigner and Japanese, guys and girls, and a cover of ¥500 (drink included).



One of the British guys I met on Saturday was a long distance runner as well, and we both may be headed to the Tokyo Marathon in 2007. Will be sure to keep everyone updated on running trails in the area - I'm headed to Hiroshima tomorrow and will see if the area near a few shrines would be a good place.

Incidentially, if you haven't gotten your inkan, hanko, or jitsuin yet, get one in KATAKANA, not Kanji. Getting a Japanese name stamp in Kanji has one advantage - when your paperwork is passed along you aren't given any sort of "foreign treatment" because they don't know you're foreign. But in general, having a Kanji name is equivalent to a Japanese person asking you to call him Bob or Jake. It's just you, trying to be too Japanese. Katakana on the other hand is appreciative of the culture, able to be read by Japanese people, and still maintains your "foreignness" for the world to see.

Later this week I'll have a section about useful Japanese when getting a haircut and what to do if you're attacked by three hundred beetles; I haven't seen too much information about that online. The 61st anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima is at 8:15 AM next Sunday - peace be with you.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Butterfly Effect

"It has been said something as small as a Gaikokujin attracting stares in a country town like Saijo can ultimately cause prices in Tokyo to increase, a typhoon of monstrous proportions in Kyushu, and Japanese people to pronounce the letter 'l' perfectly in English."

Gaikokujin Chaos Theory


The unpredictability of a complex system. That's exactly what we've got here. At least the weather is consistent around Hiroshima - rain, rain, and rain. Try explaining to Japanese people that there exists a place in the world where it can be 90 degrees Fahrenheight one day and 30 degrees the next. A place where you can experience all four seasons inside of a week. A place that doesn't really care about time. Is there such a place, in this world or the next? It's called Texas.

But for now, the rainy season is Japan is nearing the end. No more consistent thunderstorms, rather just earthquakes, threats of typhoons, and the approaching snow. Well, I like snow.

The forecast


Shrines

The shrines in Japan are remarkable. There are many in Saijo that are completely inconspicuous unless you make a point of looking for them. One in particular that caught my eye is right behind Saijo Center (although the baseball field next door takes away a little of the majesty). While I was in Hiroshima, I observed the behavior of a family entering a standard shrine on Sunday. The "ritual" is not as remarkable as some religions, but I will nevertheless try to take a decent video next time I observe the proceedings.

Whoever chooses to visit a shrine should observe the following: upon crossing the threshold, some shrines require that you take your shoes off. Some only require this inside the actual building - just watch what other people do to be safe, because this is one time and place you should definitely NOT assert your foreign behavior. There will be an urn, a jar, or a bowl to pay homage. I don't know the proper amount of Yen, but saw a family toss in a few coins. Following the homage, one member pulled on a rope to ring an ancient bell one time. Then all members bowed and began an interesting series of claps - I can't remember the sequence. Finally, a prayer or chant was uttered and the "ceremony" was complete.

This may vary from shrine to shrine, religion to religion, maybe even person to person. However, I will visit the same shrine in Hiroshima to get more specific details: the Shirakamisha Shrine.

When the rainy season does finally end, there is a path behind Hiroshima station that gives you access to about a dozen shrines in a rural, unpolluted environment. I will wait to see for myself if this is worth the trip, but it sounds very appealing.

Monday, July 24, 2006

雷途 or ライト? Information Overload

I have way too much information and far too little time to get it across to you, my blog patron saints. It would be impossible to convey all this valuable information if I had seven hours to write. So instead, I will do it in ten minutes. Rather I will claim to do it in ten minutes, and let your impressive feedback flow. Sit back and relax.

Current News

Our top story of the day is the Sake Festival. Citizens of this great empire come together as one on the second weekend in October and pay whatever fare is necessary on the Shinkansen to arrive in the small country town of Saijo. Guess what? The epicenter of this ritualistic event in alcohol is a one minute walk from my apartment. Set your calendars - October 7th and 8th, 2006. Saijo, Hiroshima Prefecture.

I exaggerated just a little - although many people come to the Sake Festival to do nothing more than drink, drink, drink, throw up, and drink some more, it is also a rich cultural experience. More than 200,000 people visited Saijo last year, doubling the population of the area, and bringing with them stories, merchants, and friendly encounters.

Saijo is no stranger to tourists, being both the resting place of the Asahi beer brewery, the annual Sake Festival, and most recently the location of the University of Hiroshima.

Sake Festival Information
Higashi-Hiroshima Area


Living Conditions in Japan

Hanko
Name stamp, for those of you currently abroad. A hanko or inkan is used in place of signatures in Japan. For foreigners, the legal precedent of inkan is still up in the air. Many foreigners can live in Japan without needing one of these trademark Japanese items, but there have been some instances where bureaucracy and governmental setbacks require foreigners to register one. For example, they are used to confirm incoming packages, apply for a bank account, get a cell phone, connect to the internet (installation only, obviously), and so on. One AEON teacher applied for a bank account, only to be rejected a week later because "he didn't use his inkan." Supposedly this was a rule at this particular branch of the bank, and not the bank as a whole. It can happen like that in Japan.

So how do you get this mysterious name seal? Easy - ANYWHERE. ¥100 stores, Fuji Grand, You Me Town, specialty stores... It depends on the quality you want. The stores specializing in inkan can charge up to ¥30,000 for a custom-made stamp with the holder and ink pad. Insane, but some people do pay for it; it's a once-in-a-lifetime need for some.

There's also the issue of whether to register the inkan at the local government office. You can get by most of the time using an unregistered inkan (called a mitomein, I know, they have names for everything), at least Japanese people can. But it strikes me that a foreigner wouldn't be able to pull this off that easily - obviously, anyone who hands you a document ready to be stamped knows you have no Japanese name. The way to get around this is simply register your hanko; the registered name is called Jitsuin. Get it registered and pay ¥200 for a certificate of registration and you're set for the time being.

Now just to decide if I want to use Kanji or Katakana for my name. You always use your last name for the jitsuin, but foreigners can use Katakana if they so choose. 雷途 or ライト? Both are raito in my case, but my Kanji name means "Thunder Road". Thank you Springsteen.


Picture courtesy of http://www.oren.jp/


The Japanese Value of Freshness
With regard to food, the Japanese have impeccable taste. No wonder so many people are in shape and lean - the quality of food is superb. For example, freshness is valued above all other qualities. The reason behind this is two-fold: one, the high humidity of Japan as a tropical nation increases the presence of mold in all food. Two, it's just the Japanese way. This applies to meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables. To illustrate, foods in department stores are marked down in price about an hour before closing because the stores will absolutely not sell them the next day. Thus, if you time your shopping right, you can save several thousand Yen each month. Luckily we dirty Americans do not have the same regard for the redness of meat. I'm from a state that developed a method of adding sauce and spices to rotting meat to make it edible. Have you guessed that? BBQ.

Exercise and Local Gyms
I’m currently a member of the Saijo Center YMCA. With a few exceptions, the local YMCA is generally the best choice in gym for those who work out regularly. You can purchase a monthly membership for about ¥7,000. No major difference between the YMCA gym or a major US chain like Gold's, just be careful to take off your shoes as you enter the locker rooms, and before using the exercise mats.

This piece of exercise equipment did catch my attention. Apparently "riding the bull" has become quite popular for cardiovascular exercise.


Picture courtesy of http://www.gizmag.co.uk/

Laundry
90% of all people in Japan dry their laundry outside on a clothesline. It doesn't matter where you are - Hiroshima, a country town, Tokyo. Wherever you are in Japan, I guarantee you are within sight of someone's laundry. During the rainy season in June and July I found this to be more difficult than usual on some days, and resorted to a commercial dryer. Unfortunately this costs ¥100 for every eight minutes of use, so it can get a little expensive. If you're willing to set aside Yenage, as I call it, each month, it can be a welcome luxury.

Typical Eikawa (English teaching company) Apartment








Running in Saijo

Take note of this route - the road from Saijo Station to campus area and back, going around one of the mountains. Highly recommended if it's not raining. Just get off the JR train and you are ready to go.

Map

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Japanese Marathons マラソン and North Korea

Upon looking at some of my previous entries, it occurred to me that I haven't exactly been presenting the most professional image. I don't want to be just another AEON, JET, or NOVA blogger who tells crazy stories about their time in Japan. I might throw a story like that in occasionally, but, for the most part, I'd like to give you, the "heroes" of this blog, practical and condensed information. Don't turn to your sake-chugging, completely Americanized blog stories. Don't trust the facts; just like Colbert, I'm not a fan of facts, I'm a fan of words, of simplicity, and finding the truth in this world of ours.

What awaited me as I entered my local Japanese department store? None other than a two meter posted of Ichiro staring me right in the face. As famous as he might be to some, I turned my attention instead to a poster boasting "42.195 km マラソン". I understood these symbols even without knowing the context (although, I have to admit the random insertion of a few English words helped). It didn't take a genius, although I might be one - waiting to find out my blood type. 42.195 km, 26.2 miles. The exact distance that Pheidippides ran in ancient Greece to announce victory. Now we celebrate that victory by putting our bodies through excruciating, insurmountable torment for three hours. How historically just. Anyway, the deadline for the Tokyo Marathon is fast approaching to all those interested. How, you might ask, do you run a marathon, a pretty large distance, within the city of Tokyo? Good question. You go back and forth, over the same path A LOT:





February 18, 2007. Mark your calendars. Will update more on said event if I'm down there to cover it in person.

Recently, I've been listening to foreigners in Japan, both in person and on the internet forums, regarding the North Korean threat. There have been polls asking whether gaikokujin in Japan, in particular Americans, would feel compelled to evacuate the country if the situation escalated. Surprisingly, it was pretty evenly split - half to remain, half to return to their home countries. I want to consult with my international affairs expert, L.W., regarding current relations between other oriental countries before reaching any conclusions.

What exactly happened to all the news about North Korea? Well, you could make the argument it was eclipsed by the current escalation in Lebanon, which it was, but that still doesn't exactly change the nuclear balance of power in the world. Lebanon, as far as I know, has only alleged that they are a nuclear power, without providing proof. And yet, nothing has changed with Kim Jong regarding his position or his strength since his unauthorized tests in the Pacific, and we are just ignoring him and settling for other matters. I do not wish to downplay the loss of human life in the Middle East or the fact that the situation over there is on the verge of demanding international involvement. But I would like to post one question: why ignore North Korea entirely, even in the face of this new development?

Even worse than ignore. Instead of hearing some headline like "Kim Jong destroys the world with the push of a button" or "North Korea, your silent and deadly neighbor", I instead catch this: North Korean Leader has Secret Wife. Now let's just pause there for a moment... ok. The leader of a new nuclear power has been living with his secretary. Who the hell cares? Are we now on the lookout for hot sex gossip on foreign heads of state who so recently made headlines? What's next? "Nigerian State Officials Caught in Love Triangle Between Brad and Angelina while Promoting Stem Cell Research"? Send me your thoughts on this media diversion.

Be on the lookout for a new header graphic in the next few weeks. My thanks to Paper Jones, who also has excellent taste in music. Until then, stay strong, and be vigitant, I beseech you.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Japan for the Long Distance Runner: A Gaikokujin's Story

This caught my attention:

Free Triathlon Entry
Okayama tri assoc. is offering free entry to foreign athletes wanting to compete in the "Fashion-town Kojima Kurashiki International Triathlon Race" August 19 and August 20. If you are interested, please contact for more details.
Cited from Gethiroshima.com

Now, if I were in Okayama, I would probably jump on this. Admission to said event runs about ¥18,000, which is about $150. However, I would have to take the local over there, which would be about ¥1000-2000, and stay in a hotel, which could run anywhere for those two nights. Two problems. One, I have to work that Saturday, the 19th, and they require the international entries to be there in the afternoon for the course viewing and race briefing. Two, I can't swim that well yet. Still, if anyone is reading this that happens to be a runner in Japan, I'd jump on it - 1500 meter swim, 40 km bike, 10 km run. FREE ADMISSION.

I'll look for such opportunities in the future. Japan for the gaikokujin can be a land of milk and honey if you choose it to be. (Tokyo is the exception, providing a superb experience, but there's a reason it's the most expensive city on Earth). As for as the bar scene goes, people will buy you drinks if you're alone and look like you could use some company. I've already had it happen. Some Japanese people will just walk right up to you and start talking to practice their English. If you act nicely, they might take you out to dinner or invite you to go to their home sometime. Of course, most often than not, they are just looking for a free English lesson.

This isn't just true for the Japanese, but other gaikokujin as well. If you can assist some visitors with knowledge of the area or just the right words in Japanese to help them get around, they will reciprocate. I've already met a family in from Australia under those circumstances.

But back to running. Keep in mind Japan is roughly the size of California, with 70% of the land mass completely unihabitable. Now consider 125 million people within that landmass. It's crowded, and it's not always flat. But is it difficult to run, if you're training for a marathon? Not at all. I know I'm biased in Saijo, where it's definitely the countryside, but the same is true of Hiroshima. I've got a nice path from my apt to the University of Hiroshima stretching about 5 miles roundtrip (I try to think in kilometers, and I can convert easily, but as a runner, it will always be miles for me... they're bigger, anyway). Here's a link to my area - the road next to the large park takes me there and back, but I've also gone to that other park in the lower right corner; it has a 600 meter track. Beautiful trail to take any time of day. You can always see the lake and the mountains.

Map of Saijo

My pledge to you: I will report the best trails, hidden or published, to be used for running all around Japan. Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Tokyo, some small town in Hokkaido, you name it. Just give me time, and let the information coming pouring forth like the huge stockpiles of sweat I've discovered I've had recently.

For runners only:

Start スタート
Finish フィニッシュ
Race レース
Course コース



Final word:

The two most understood words in the world are OK and Coca-cola. They are both American words. Thank you Martin Van Buren.
Source: The Colbert Report: November 9th, 2005.


Signing off,
ターナー

Warning for Travelers: Anata no senaka wa itai des.

Roughly translated: your back will hurt.

Now, I know this is mostly my fault. I came to a country with the average height of males at 5'5" (165 cm), and the average height of females at 5'0" (153 cm). Whereas in the USA we stand at 5'9" and 5'4". I knew this full well before coming. And for the most part, it really doesn't affect your experience too much outside of the home - department stores, grocery stores, banks, especially train stations were built with more than enough buffer zones in ceilings and doors. What I notice most, however, is counter height. Try washing your hands, cooking dinner at home, bending over to look at the menu next to a register. Where you might have only slightly inclined your head and upper back in the USA, here you will go full-throttle, completely bent over.

It takes its toll. Couple that with a few archways at some stores (definitely had to come up since I'm almost 6'1"), the abundance of hard matresses for "western-style" beds, and the thin padding on house slippers, and I'm not at all surprised that I see people over 70 completely hunched over 100% of the time. I'm not joking about that - at first, I thought it could have just been their previous business practice, with lots of bowing, but take into account these small things and you too will be shaped like an upside-down "L" if you stay here long enough.

I should point out, however, that this is merely a side note. Not even a complaint, just more of an observation. The experience of living abroad and in a country as rich in culture as Japan is more than enough to overcome these slight inconveniences. However, if I get the chance, I'll try to catch a picture of some of those older people I mentioned. It's a little daunting.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Journey to the past, present, and future: PART 2















Coming from a country town like Saijo and stepping into Hiroshima was quite an adjustment. It's no Tokyo, to be sure, but still the 10th largest city in Japan with about two million people. My first indication was the architecture; a nice silver fountain in front of the JR to greet me as I would cross the bridge into downtown. Second, the pachinko parlors are pretty much the same. Makes me wish I liked to play the slots; I might actually make some money. Third; the diversity, well, as much diversity as you'd expect in Japan. I actually saw more than twenty foreigners in Hiroshima, which wasn't the average day for me.

So let's run it down.

First stop - the Peace Park.














The site of the original atomic bomb explosion on August 6th, 1945. Sixty years, eleven months, and four days have passed. (8:15 AM local time). I had my share of writing about dramatic events when I visited ground zero in New York. I won't pretend to know all the facts. I'll just leave you with what I did, and let the feelings come to you as they may. Depressed, pensive, insightful, loathing, whatever...




























One thing that did catch my eye in the dome was the lack of graffitti and the original rubble. It was quite obvious that not even punk teenagers would dare deface a historical witness like this one. The rubble, complete with brick, tile, and stone, was still scattered for meters around the dome.

Hiroshima Tower:














Remains of Hiroshima Castle (I think this is a quality picture, would have liked better light, though).














Let's move on, shall we? From the Castle, I went over to one of the main shopping areas next to the country's largest Deo-Deo, Sogo. Sogo has ten floors, mainly for women's clothing, but it is complete with a full shopping center, restaurants, and home-furnishings. Most department stores like Fuji Grand and You Me Town are like that. Only spent a short time here, and still need to buy my grandfather a 90th birthday gift.

Picked up some Dr. Pepper from the Jupiter import store - nice. 103 yen each, cheaper than vending machines. I don't understand that... I am such a glutton.





















Subway. I wasn't going to go in after that full dinner of Tonkatsu (my first real meal without resorting to any English, yeah!), but I tell you, turkey has a way of reeling me in. And I had been walking around the outdoor shopping area for like two hours, so there's got to be room for a sandwich and a cookie. Back to my old routine. Six inch turkey ham on whole wheat with swiss cheese, spinach, and spicy mustard with two chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven and a Dr. Pepper for $5.62. Whereas in Japan it would be one fifteen cm turkey on wheat with cheddar cheese, lettuce, masta-do, with one chocolate chip cookie for about 490 yen. Not too bad.

Shack and Mac. Shack I recommend. Nice atmosphere, place to play pool, play darts, good bar area to talk to girls, and decent tables for the restaurant (may have to try the Mexican fajitas). Ran into a nice English speaking guy named Yama who bought me an Asahi beer. Will have to meet him next weekend to find some girls at Ultra. Mac isn't my kind of place. Nice gaijin-friendly environment, but it's smaller, less sociable. They do have more music, however. A lot more. I still have more exploring to do when I go back to hang out on Saturday. The life of a gaijin is always interesting. I'm certainly a lot more preoccupied now than back home. The news this week- will try to get a Jitsuin, my legal stamp in Kanji characters. I hope they spell something daring...

Sidenote: Blood Types

What's your sign?

Gemini, the creature with two heads. Essentially for those people with two sides to themselves, one for the inside and one for the outside. This is (or used to be, anyway), a common introduction in American culture. "Hey baby, what's your sign?"

In Japan, surprisingly, a more common question is "what's your blood type?" I kid not. How ridiculous. How could the Japanese believe that a person's blood type can determine his personality, when it's a well-known fact that the positions of certain stars determine our future? In case you're wondering, if sarcasm were strawberries, I'd be eating a pretty big smoothie right about now. Blood type seems more "reasonable" to me than astrology.

Type A
The anal-retentives. Hard workers, OCD, but usually of strong moral fiber and trustworthy. Superman.

Type B
The curious types. Moving from subject to subject, they tend not to have a strong hold on anything or anyone. Very imaginative. Will Farrell playing Harry Carey, definitely.

Type AB
The sensitive ones, who tend to be the blood-equivalent of The Gemini. Two sides to themselves, definitely more introverted than extroverted.

Type O
The fun-loving, happy-go-lucky crowd. Most flexible, least dependable. Think of Will Farrell in Old School.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Journey to the past, present, and future















Hiroshima. Nice place. In fact, it had me thinking whether I was posted in the right city. I like the mountain town feeling of Saijo, but there are some things it obviously lacks. Would I rather be working a more hectic schedule at my school, but rather surrounded by nice restaurants, cheaper food, more access to clothing, furniture and nightlife? Tough call. Let's just say for now I love the city, and I also like running around Saijo.

The schedule that day:

10:00 AM
Oversleep and realize you have a lot to do before going into Hiroshima. As I would explain to my students, I am too lazy to get up on time. Ugh. In any case, the deed is done. I rushed down to the Recycle Mart just past my school and ordered a large wooden dresser I had my eye on for 5,800 Yen. After stumbling through the Japanese to have it delivered (it's seriously a disadvantage if you don't know your address in Kanji), I ran literally over to the tailor's to pick up my suit pants. Some kids had torn the leg off of them early last week. Ugh. Money, money, money. Yenage, if you will.

10:30 AM
The dresser is delivered and carried painstakingly by me through the elevator to my still-dilapidated room.

10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
A quick visit to the YMCA so I can get nice and drained (yet buff) before I have to walk around Hiroshima in the sun all day. Good times. I do feel stronger. I can now take on the members of the Japanese Self-Defense Force one at a time. Japan doesn't "officially" have an army, just the self-defense force. This created a huge controversy recently because they haven't been mobilized in decades, and Japan was considering sending them to Iraq to aid in the US incursion. Too bad we'll never know how effective they might have been.

12:30 PM - 2:30 PM
Home to shower, realize that the only non-express train to Hiroshima leaves at 2:41. I'm an idiot.

Thus endith the timeline. After that, the Saijo train station, or pretty much any JR (Japanese Rail) station, is easy to navigate. You insert your money to a vending machine, and press the button for destination. They have the option of round trip for most places with a savings of a few hundred yen. I was stupid and just bought two one-way tickets, but next time I'll know better. Usually the Romanji names are listed with the Kanji. No pics this time, but I'll put them up next trip - Saturday.


I have to run to the YMCA before work. To be continued... Here's a preview:

Monday, July 10, 2006

Studying Nihongo

I’m picking up a little more each day, but not exactly fluent enough to talk to people in Hiroshima. Patience is a virtue.

How does Japanese work, you might ask? In fact, it’s easier than English. There are only two tenses for verbs, present (which is also future), and past. When exactly depends on the context. It gets a little complicated from there. There are two forms to any verb, the polite –mas form and the standard form. Generally the polite form should be used outside of the home, unless you’re trying to be rude. So why bother with the normal form? I’m not. Speaking of “not”, there is no word for not, verbs are changed to indicate affirmative and negative. For example:

Wakarimashita “I understood” (silent last i)
Wakarimasen “I don’t understand” (at first, I said this a lot, but I was tried of coming off like the ignorant foreigner, so I just took time to look stuff up in my dictionary)

At this point it’s more building my verb vocabulary than stringing sentences together, although that’s difficult too. Imagine different particles to indicate how each work in a sentence is used: ga, wa, no, e, de, ni, ka, o. Improving listening is a must.

Jolly Pasta has decent pizza.

Noteworthy events:

- I have my gaikokujin torokusho, my alien registration card (ARC)
- I have a bank account at the Bank of Hiroshima
- I have a cell phone under AU
- Internet will be installed on 7/17 supposedly by NTT and OCN
- Duncan, a teacher at GEOS, invited me to Wara Wara near Saijo Station last night for a nice party with his students. I
don’t know who that girl was, but maybe I should inquire

My view each morning:





Wednesday, July 05, 2006

North Korea

The CNN Story

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Japanese Perspective on Texas















At first glance, it doesn't seem very likely that too many Japanese people would know anything about Texas. I mean, even though our president is from a particular part of America, do you know which district Tony Blair is from (there may be a better analogy, but just deal with it)? Anyways, I do need to learn more Japanese just to survive, but I have been surprised at just how many people in a "small" town like Saijo do speak quite well. Just walking into a random bakery for a midday snack, I promptly pointed at a pastry and said "kore o kudasai", only to have the waitress tell me with barely a trace of an accent, "how soon can you get it into a refrigerator?" Life is weird like that.

But back to Texas; there are many people in my particular apartment complex. as I was going down, extremely late for work one morning, I shared an elevator with a middle aged man who spoke decent English. When I told him where I was from, his lips perked up and let out a laugh, followed by "cowboy!" Yeah....

Then, while beginning the ten minute hike to the office, it occurred to me that Texas must seem like a pretty amazing place from any foreign perspective. I mean, most Americans know as part of our history that a majority of the midwest had its share of gunfights, cattle drives, and good old-fashioned cowboys. But a century later, most Americans still associate that kind of behavior with modern Texas. So why shouldn't the rest of the world? Deserts with red sand, rock formations, roping cattle, shootouts at high noon, even just the hats are enough to catch attention. Hook 'em horns.