Wednesday, August 25, 2004


I finally dragged a bunch of photos over from my laptop, and uploaded them to Flickr. If you want to see them all, start at this page and continue on forward; they do not appear in chronological order. Alternatively, you can browse all of my photos tagged "japan"; all of the new ones are tagged thus, but there are a few old ones in there, too.

I have some new new photos I want to upload, but it may be a few days before I can do that.

Tomorrow is Prefectural Orientation in Matsue. Good times to be had.


For those of you keeping track at home, I'd like to draw your attention to some new posts I've dragged over from my home computer. They are, in chronological order:

Strange Japanese Television
The Long and the Short of It
E-mi-rii, Phone Home
Slimy... yet satisfying
Strangers in a Strange Land
"I'm fine, thank you, and you?"

Thank you and goodnight.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Matsue, baby

Sayuri called me last Thursday and asked if I wanted to go with her to Matsue on Saturday. Knowing I was getting paid on Friday, I hastily agreed. So we headed north and had a good time shopping... well, I did most of the shopping.

We hit Imai first. Unless I'm confusing my stores, Imai has a home supplies section, a book section, and a CD/miscellanious section. The book section about the same size as the Barnes & Noble in Syracuse; the CD/misc. section is larger than the corresponding section at the Syracuse B&N. Sayuri wanted to go there, and I was glad, because I remembered to buy an application for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test; I want to take the Level 4 test in December (Level 4 being the easiest), and I don't know where to find an application in Nita-gun. I also found their English book section, which is all of six shelves (note, not six bookshelf units, but six shelves within bookshelf units). This was, however, a big step up from the English book sections I've found in Nita-gun, qui n'existent pas. I resisted the urge to pick up Michael Moore's Dude, Where's My Country? and went instead for Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth and a color-illustrated original Winnie the Pooh book. Winnie the Pooh (mostly the Disney version) is huge here; Pooh-san, he's called. Snoopy is also very popular.

Next, we hit an electronics store, cos I wanted to buy a Canon WordTank G50. But this store didn't have the G50, so we went to McDonald's for lunch (the Big Macs and the fries taste the same, and they play outdated American music), and then to DeoDeo, another electronics store. There I found the G50... a thing of beauty.

I'm at the Nita BoE right now, and my supervisor Kawasumi is on the phone at the desk facing mine, talking about me and my kind. I can tell, cos he keeps saying "ALT." I've also picked out "eigo sensei" ("english teacher"), and "Sonya-san" (one of the ALTs before me).

Anyway, Sayuri asked the salesperson there if there was an English manual available, but there wasn't. I'd heard that English manuals were available for download online, so I wasn't too concerned. I ended up paying for it less than I would have if I'd ordered it from the above website, even before S&H costs, so I was happy. I also wanted to find some sort of USB memory stick, so I could transfer files from my laptop to a work computer, and finally get some photos posted. I was having difficulty explaining to Sayuri what I wanted, so I just walked around until I found something better: the Rio SU35. (Poorly Translated Site brought to you by BabelFish.) I got the 256Mb model, in a nice green color, and it weighs all of 40 grams. No English manual for that, either, but the saleswoman looked through the Japanese manual, and showed me that it was possible to change the menus to English, so that made me happy. Sayuri decided to purchase a cute little mini-disc player.

We went to a big department store, Saty, and there I bought a new bag, since all I've been using here is my everything-in-one-big-mess Adidas bag. The new one has five pockets, and is Crayola red. No longer will I spend thirty seconds at the cash register fishing for my wallet or change purse. I also found The GameBoy Game I Came to Japan Looking For: Harvest Moon for Girls.

Oh crap. Abe-san just came in--all the way from Yokota--to deliver to Kawasumi a stack of US tax forms. In English. So I imagine they're going to have a ball with that. I don't know how much of the process I'll be involved in, but I know that they're mostly for me to establish out-of-the-country residency, so I won't have to pay US taxes on the money I make in Japan. I also hear the forms have changed from years past, though that won't make any difference to me. Kawasumi looks positively delighted.

So, Harvest Moon for Girls is just like the regular Harvest Moon in that you run a farm and get to know the townspeople you live near, but in the regular version, your character is male and flirts with the ladies, and eventually marries one; clearly, this is is somewhat weird for most women. In HM for Girls, your character is female, and flirts with the fellas in town.
But better than HM, was the GBA game I found in Yokota the day before: Final Fantasy I & II. It owns. Now all I have to do is convince my supervisors that playing Japanese video games counts as "studying the language." :)

Then to the giant 100 Yen store; I forgot the name of it. But it is the size of, oh, your average local supermarket (read: not Kroger or Wegmans, but more like Peter's, if you know Syracuse). And everything costs 100 yen. Well, a few things cost 200 or 300 yen, but they are clearly marked, and are much fewer in number. I got some more bowls and plates and leftover containers, and some CDs of traditional Japanese music... some of which are more like remixes; I wouldn't consider bass guitar to be a traditional Japanese instrument. And some other fun stuff, too.

Oh, and a stop at Mister Donut and Baskin-Robbins, too. Yum....

Post-purchase Woes

The mp3 player that was supposed to have English text tucked away inside it? I've found how to change the menus from Japanese to English (or to Korean, if I like), but the selection won't take. I push the button, I hold the button, I push combinations of buttons, but the cursor just sits on "English," and nothing changes. There are some other problems with the device, namely the fact that it sometimes won't start up; it seems to crash as soon as I turn it on, and then won't work properly for hours. Fortunately, I kept the receipt, and there's a small DeoDeo in Nita, not far from my apartment, so I'll take it in there tomorrow.

Also, the English manual that was supposed to be so easy to find online is nowhere to be found. There are English manuals for older models, but I guess the G50 is too new. I did, however, get some help from someone on BigDaikon, who told me how to change the menu language to English; that helps a lot.

It's quarter to 6, and Kawasumi-san entreats me to go home. I have some shopping to do (nothing tasty to drink), and then one last dance rehearsal tonight before the big shebang in Nita tomorrow night; I haven't practiced all weekend, and it's a complicated dance, and I just realized no one will know what I'm talking about, since I explained it all in a "post" I wrote on my laptop, so just hold your breath, and I'll write more later.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

No pedestrians were harmed in the making of this post.

And so it was that the first time I ever drove a car by myself, it was on the other side of the planet.

I passed the New York State Road Test on my half-birthday last September. And between then and my departure for Japan, I probably logged a total of five hours on the road, and that's being generous.

I'm leaving the Yokota BoE now to visit the junior high school and meet the English teachers.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

"I'm fine, thank you, and you?"

To briefly play a little catch-up, the "date" went well. Mr. Nita Boss Man couldn't make it, so we went with a woman in the TV studio, Hisako. When we got to the restaurant (we drove there, though it took all of 90 seconds), we met the owner; his name is Konosuke, but he told me to call him Ko-chan. Ko-chan it is. He's a charismatic guy, the type of proprietor who likes to fraternize with his patrons, make sure their dining experience is an enjoyable one. So he sat at our table the entire time we were there. Mr. Internet (yeah, I'm terrible with Japanese names) did a lot of translating, since Ko-chan and Hisako weren't really into English-speaking. But as the evening wore on, I discovered that Hisako just took some time warming up to the challenge; her English is about as good as Mr. Internet's, though he told me more than once of how hard he'd studied to pass his university's English qualifying exam... but that must have been decades ago, and now he generates sentences like, "I eat hungry."

We even played a game of Guess How Old I Am. I guessed Hisako was 27 or 28; she's really 35, so she got a big kick out of that. She guessed I was 25, which is pretty close. We briefly discussed how we agreed that Americans look older than Japanese; but then she said that when she first met me, she thought I was 18. <shrug> When I had to guess Ko-chan's age, first I said 200, then 29, then when I seriously thought about it, I said 48. He shook my hand and said, "Arigato." He's 52, so it wasn't that big a compliment. And Mr. Internet is 54.

Ko-chan is also the director of Nita's own Japanese drum group, Blazing Drums of Nita Town (Nita no Hono-o Daiko). When I expressed an interest in learning how to play Japanese drums, he had me tap out a steady beat on the table with my fingers—1 2 1 2 1 2—on which he improvised. I was able to keep the beat steady (whew!); I guess the best place to begin is at the beginning. I told him that my brother plays the drums—"American drums" I said, not knowing a better term.

Nita is having a big festival next week Tuesday and Wednesday. There's to be music and dancing and street-side vendors, and I don't know what all will take place. But definitely music and dancing and street-side vendors. Ko-chan asked if I wanted to learn a traditional Japanese dance for the festival. Sure! I said. I want to get more involved in community activities.

Hisako invited me to her house the next day. She lives with her parents; her father is a Buddhist monk, and they own a large house on a steep hill about 7 minutes' drive from my apartment. That was fun. Her older sister and brother-in-law were in town from Osaka for the holiday. Last weekend was the Obon Festival (sp?), when people visit their ancestor's graves. The four of us drove to Hiroshima-ken to see tateana-style houses; the sister and brother-in-law work as architects, and are interested in different architectural styles. The tateana-style is very old; basically the entire house (which is a single room) is made of a thick layer of sticks and straw; I took photos, and when I post them, they will explain the style better than any description I can give.

We drove back to the house for lunch, then went to a nature park not far away. The sister and brother-in-law brought their dog Juju; I think she's a labrador retriever. The nature park follows a river through areas where the river has worn away at the stone in such a fashion that it looks like giants have dropped huge boulders in the valley. But the boulders didn't come from elsewhere; they are the same stone that makes up the river bed, worn away with time. Beautiful, albeit unbearably humid.

When we returned to the house again, Hisako's father was preparing incense to place before each gravestone; the graveyard is in the forest next to their house. We went with him, visiting the graves of their family, and of previous monks: Hisako placed a few grains of rice at the base of each stone while her sister poured a bit of water over the top. I took pictures, with their permission.

Sunday sucked. But the books I ordered from arrived, so it wasn't a total loss.

Yesterday was the dance practice at the Nita gym. Hisako picked me up from my apartment. Her cousin Fuyuko was visiting from Matsue, so she joined us. And who else showed up but Mr. Internet, armed with digital camcorder and tripod. "Maybe in a little while we do Easy English Lesson," he smiled. He even had a short script written out: What Do You Say When You Meet Someone? I think he wanted Hisako and me to have a short dialogue, so we practiced a bit.
"Hi, Emily!" she said.
"Hi!" I replied, momentarily forgetting her name.
"How are you doing?"
"I'm well."
"That's good."
We weren't sure where to proceed from there, and Mr. Internet was puzzling over the script, which I hadn't bothered reading. Pointing to it, he said, "The textbook say, 'I'm fine, thank you, and you?'"

Oh lord....

(If you're not part of this inside joke, I'll explain it to you. Grade school education is highly standardized throughout Japan, and English textbooks are no exception. The big joke is that when students are asked, "How are you doing?" they reply in unison, "Fine, thank you, and you?" One of the speakers at the Big Tokyo Orientation told us that he took some Japanese students to the States once, and one of the boys came down with a terrible intestinal bug of some sort. They took him to the emergency room, where a doctor asked him, "How are you doing?" Though clearly in great pain, the boy strained, "Finethankyouandyou?")

"Nobody talks like that!" I said in my defense. I mean, it sounds like something appropriate, and it even is appropriate, but try saying it out loud; doesn't it feel a bit awkward? It's almost a little formal. In any case, even if people do say it, they don't say it all the time. So Mr. Internet scratched it off the list.

Then came dance time.
HOLY CRAP that was not the simple, cute dance I thought it would be. It's a beautiful dance and I would love to learn it, but the other people there had been practicing for two months. There were a few of us who were there for the first time, and we all stumbled through it together; the woman teaching us moved through it very quickly, and it's fairly intricate. Mister Internet caught much of our sweaty moose dancing on tape; maybe he's posted it somewhere. Lord, I hope not.

Ko-chan asked me if I wanted to dance in the festival. "I'm not good enough to dance in the festival this year," I said. "Maybe next year." Then I discovered there are two more rehearsals, so I said, "I'll go to the next one, and I'll decide then." In truth, I had a good time, but I was a little stressed out trying to remember which moves came when, and dealing with three people who wanted to interpret for me while I was just trying to follow the leaders' movements.

By the end I was quite tired and hot and feeling a little testy, so when Mr. Internet approached Hisako and me again, I half-whined, "Do I have to?" Hisako was also worn-out, and neither of us looked fit for film, so he decided we didn't have to do it after all.

But really, it was more the fact that he just showed up expecting me to do an English lesson that rubbed me the wrong way. I was trying to do my thing, joining a dance class, getting to know people, and when he presented me with a script, I felt like I was just some American monkey to him. I'm not opposed to doing online English lessons, in principle. But he had said we'd do a new one every other week, whenever I was working in Nita, and this was unscheduled. Also, 99.8% of Japanese people who would bother (or know how) to check an online English lesson probably already know how to introduce themselves. That stuff's really early in the curriculum.

Blubalubalubalubaluba... okay, it's out of my system.

I Got a Car!


I was bored out of my mind, whiling away the hours by putting sticky tabs in my new traveler's guide to Japanese-type book, when Tokue-san told me he was going to take me to look at cars.

Well, I perked right up. We drove a couple of minutes to a nearby Subaru used-car lot. Tokue talked with the guy who seemed to be in charge, and they went outside and talked for a minute, then went back in, and then Tokue and I returned to the BoE.

I had no idea what had just transpired until lunchtime, when Tokue summoned me outside. In the parking lot sat a small, light blue Subaru (Vivio?); my "new" car. Tokue drove it a little bit in forward and reverse, and then Abe-san came along. They spoke for a minute, then Abe told me that Tokue will be taking me out later this afternoon for a bit of a driving lesson.

I get paid this Friday, but I don't yet know when I will have to pay for it (probably sooner rather than later), or how much it will cost. But I am happy!

In other news, the Japanese men's gymnastics team got the gold medal at the Olympics, narrowly beating out the Americans; it was broadcast here during lunchtime, no doubt so that everyone could watch it. I guess the US was ahead by a bit toward the end, but the Japanese owned the high bar event. I was a little sad to see us lose, but if we had to lose to anyone, I'm glad it was to the Japanese.
Read more about it on this Chinese site.

Monday, August 16, 2004


As long as Mr. Yokota Boss Man is sitting in the office watching Japan's women's field hockey team play Argentina in the Olympic Games, I figure I can sit and write a more lengthy post.

Tonight Japan and the US are playing each other in softball. Go USA!

I have composed a few blog entries on my laptop back at the apartment, intending to upload them if/when I get internet to my apartment. Maybe I'll save them to disk and bring them into work so I can post them sooner. At this point, though, I feel like I'm e-mailing the same information to everybody, and I'm spending a lot of time doing it. So I will try to make this The Entry that Answers the Frequently Asked Questions. I may update it from time to time; I'll try to alert you faithful readers when I have done so.
  • Where is Shimane?
    On the main island, Honshu, at the western end, along the Sea of Japan. But I am farther inland, about 15 minutes' drive from Hiroshima Prefecture (though quite a bit farther from Hiroshima City, which has been nicely rebuilt in the last 60 years, in case you're wondering).
    Here's a map. Here's another map.

  • What's the weather like?
    Hot and humid right now. Syracuse sees this weather from time to time, but usually not all summer. Today, actually, has been a bit milder. Most everyplace is air conditioned, which is nice. I have an air conditioner in my apartment, which is extra nice.
    It's also rained from time to time. Nice, loud thunderstorms. There was a typhoon that crossed the island my first weekend here, but the mountains dampened it to something less spectacular than even a thunderstorm. It rained, and the wind blew a little, but when I woke up the next morning, there weren't even any leaves strewn about the road.
    No earthquakes yet, either. Not that that's weather, but I thought I'd include it here.

  • Does it snow in Japan?
    Yes. The 1998 Winter Olympics were held in Japan, if you will recall. More specifically, it snows in my little corner of Shimane-ken. The locals were worried at first that I would have a hard time staving off the cold, but when they realized that Syracuse is at roughly the same latitude as Sapporo, Hokkaido (a fact that isn't really as meaningful as it sounds), and when they heard my tales of snow drifts as high as the ceiling, they were convinced that I'd be fine.

  • How was your flight over?
    Long and sucky. But I survived.

  • Were you delayed by customs officials?
    No. Which was good: they might have confiscated my NyQuil.

  • How is your apartment?
    Not bad. I'm on the second floor, with a nice balcony which runs the width of the apartment, and is accessible by sliding glass doors from both the dining room and the bedroom. The dining room and kitchen run together into one large room, and there's an extra room besides; right now it's holding all my semi-unpacked stuff, which is strewn about the floor. Japanese homes are typically smaller than American homes, but I think these apartments often accomodate families, so this one feels like a good size to me.
    I have my own (small) washing machine, but no dryer, so I'm still getting used to this Fabric-Softener-Before-the-Last-Rinse-Cycle business. And also the Hanging-Wet-Clothes-Around-the-Apartment business. But I'll get the hang of it.
    No oven, either. I've got a toaster oven, and one of these microwave/oven contraptions (it looks like a microwave, but it also cooks like a regular oven), but these are small. I have two gas burners for a stove. The sink is pretty normal, but low, so I have to bend over to wash the dishes. The refrigerator is small, but I don't need a big one.
    I am also greatly relieved to have a western-style toilet. No squatting! It's still a little weird, in that it's got a trap-door function at the bottom, like I've seen on some RVs, but it conserves water.
    I don't pay rent; this is unusual for JETs. So all considered, I've got a great pad.

  • How do you like your job?
    I haven't really started the actual teaching yet. The school year starts in April, and is arranged in trimesters. Between the first and second trimesters is summer vacation, so that's what's going on now. I alternate weeks between Nita and Yokota, and I report to each town's respective Board of Education each day, where I study Japanese and web surf (more and more of the latter, I fear). It hasn't been a complete waste of my time, since I've gotten to know some of the folks around both towns.
    When I actually start teaching, you'll hear all about it, trust me.

  • Does anybody speak English there?
    A few. Probably more than I've met, and those that do are often initally shy about it. There's another ALT in Yokota, Mabel from the UK. She'll be teaching at Yokota Senior High School, which serves both Nita and Yokota. And there's a CIR, whose name I've forgotten (sorry!) who works at Yokota Town Hall. She's from Thailand, and speaks Japanese fluently. She's also very shy about her English, but really she understands quite a lot. We spoke briefly yesterday at the Yokota Coming-of-Age Day, where we each gave a small speech and were otherwise unsure about what was going to happen.
    Almost everyone I've met under the age of 50 knows a few English greeting phrases. Many know more than that, but their English is more like a vocabulary list. As of yet, I haven't met any Japanese who are what I would call fluent.

  • Is the field hockey game over?

  • Who won?

  • What was the score?

  • How much Japanese do you know?
    Not much. I've memorized the hiragana, which is the syllabary used for Japanese words. I've started working on the katakana, the syllabary for foreign words, which will come in handy at the supermarket.
    Apart from that, I know a few greeting phrases, and a handful of random words. And Domo arigato gozaimasu, variants of which I must use half a dozen times a day on average.

  • Isn't Japan an expensive country to live in?
    It depends. For the most part, yes. Like I said, I don't pay rent, so that's one less financial burden, but this is unusual. Fruit is very expensive. When I can, I will upload a photo I took of some 6,800-yen melons; that's roughly 65 US Dollars; cheaper melons can be purchased for 1,000 or 1,500 yen. (I'm talking cantaloupes, here; smaller than a volleyball. I think watermelon is actually cheaper per each.) I've seen two peaches sell for about four bucks. I told my friend Sayuri that when they're in season, we can buy a kilogram of peaches for that price; she was surprised.
    I can get Häagen-Dazs ice cream if I really want to; 300 yen for about half a pint. And as much as I want to get a car, I know it's going to be a big cash sink for me.
    There's a gas station near my apartment, and I think I saw the price at about 100 yen/liter... but I'll check it again next time I go by.
    On the other hand, there are these lovely, lovely 100 Yen stores. They're like 99 Cent stores in the States, but sooo much better. This is the Recent College Graduate's dream. I have another photo to upload of a bunch of stuff I bought there for about 32 USD.

That's all I can think of for now. If there are any more questions of this sort that you'd like answered, leave a comment on this post, and I'll include it on the list above.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Ruraler and ruraler...

The television/internet guy came by again today, and showed me the new e-mail address he'd set up for me, and demonstrated how to access and use it. I won't post the address here, and probably won't give it out to anyone except for the folks in Nita/Yokota; all y'all probably have more than one e-mail address for me as it is. He also showed me some changes he made to my introduction video: Japanese subtitles. And I guess he wants me to make a new one of these every couple of weeks or so, at different locations, like short English lessons. <shrug> Sure thing, man.

He also asked if I wanted to go to dinner with him and Mr. BoE Boss Man tonight. At least, I think that's what it was. He mentioned "restaurant" and "six o'clock." And "date," though I hope he isn't fully aware of the connotations that term has; he's got to be, like, twice my age, at least. In any case, I agreed; I've never been one to turn down free food.

Since I found out today that I can't get Yahoo BroadBand here, nor Jen's SpinNet, I asked him how I could get an internet connection to my apartment. He furrowed his brow, and talked with Mr. Boss Man, while I looked up FLET'S ADSL online to further explain myself. "I know what you are asking," he said, and proceeded to explain that there are no outside ISP companies that provide internet to Nita, only Nita's own ISP company. Mr. Boss Man didn't know how/if I could get access from my apartment, and said that Kawasumi-san (my supervisor at the Nita BoE, inexplicably absent today) would know.

Mother muffin. This is either going to be very easy, or impossible.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Burglar of Cats

So You'd Like to... become a cat burglar?

I stumbled upon this while looking at scooters on and thought it was cute.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Are you ready for a laugh?

"Hello" says Emily

Click on the photo, too.

I left the printed English as is, except to make some punctuation and spelling changes. And I also changed the name of the page, which used to read, "'Hello' says Emily." Cute, yes. But it had to go.

The fellows filming decided I should say, "Hello, everybody" when I was done with my little speech. I thought it was a somewhat unnatural thing with which to finish an introduction, but I fear I made it sound even more unnatural. This was the fourth take, though, and by that point, I didn't care.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Strangers in a Strange Land

I spent part of the weekend up in Matsue, the prefectural capital. Saturday afternoon there was a taste-testing party for foreign residents of the Matsue area. Shimane, I guess, wants to create a dessert product to market in Western countries, and they hope to debut it in New York City this January. They wanted to find out what kinds of Japanese desserts would do well in NYC. I'd figured this would be a good opportunity to, well, to stuff my face full of delicious sweets.

But it was not to be. Apparently sweet bean paste is a very traditional Japanese sweet, and this is what consisted most of the desserts we tried. One woman who was there who seemed to have lived in Japan for some time, said that these weren't really "desserts" in the sense of something eaten after dinner; they were very fancy and would be eaten during tea ceremonies. Many of the desserts we tried were very sweet, but in a tea ceremony, they compliment the bitter green tea. Myself, I had my fill of sweet bean paste. Right now I'm between the novelty, OhI'veNeverTriedThisBefore phase, and the familiar, MmmI'veReallyAcquiredATasteForThisStuff phase, and I'm smack in the middle of the gross-out, Don'tShowMeAnotherPieceOfSweetBeanStuffEverAgain phase. It's not that the desserts were wretched and made me want to spit them out of my mouth, but they were just too darn sweet and too... beany. And very dry, but then one doesn't eat biscotti either without a drink on hand.

If they wanted our opinions, they got them. Most of us were just not feelin' the sweet bean paste, though there were a few desserts that seemed to be well-liked. One was cheesecake with a bit of... um... something in the middle. Another was a vanilla sponge cake with that same... something in the middle. Another was kinda chewy, like a cross between jelly and juji fruit. There was one that someone said tasted like Turkish delight, but by the time I got up to try it, it was all gone. And another that was like a chocolate-filled cookie; it was dry, inside and out, but I thought it would taste good with coffee.

There was a video crew there, too, which I had not expected. During the event, which lasted an hour and a half, they went around and briefly interviewed everyone there. They talked with me, unfortunately, right after I'd eaten sweet bean paste shaped like a pumpkin.
"What did you just eat?" she asked.
"Uh, that pink pumpkin one there," I said, pointing to what was left of it.
"What did you think?"
"Hmm. It is very pretty, very visually attractive, but I thought it was too sweet, and didn't have much flavor. Maybe I would like it more if it had some fruit flavor or something."
She nodded and smiled and went on her way.

At the end, everyone got a box of some sort of sweet. Mine? They look like beans on ice.

I knew that a lot of the Shimane JETs would be in Matsue Saturday evening for the Suigo-Sai Festival, and I also wanted to go&emdash;for the fireworks and to get together with English-speaking people. But I wasn't sure how I was going to get back, since the festival started at 8pm, and the last train I could catch back home would leave around 4. I made the mistake of bringing this concern up to Tokue. Someone had shown us, a Japanese site that contains an Japanese-English translator, but language translation programs have a long way to go yet before they can be used in any meaningful way, especially ones that translate between two languages with such opposite syntax. So Tokue determined that we should pay a visit to his friend in the Nita Police Department, Yushi (his first name; I think his last name is Nakamura). Yushi has a fair command of the English language, and had acted as interpreter my first day in Shimane, when Abe and Tokue took me out shopping. So I felt very silly bothering him in the middle of his work day, just to say that I wasn't sure how I was going to get back to Nita, but that I was pretty sure I'd figure something out. He asked for a photocopy of the fax I'd received from Ashley and Marcie, the Shimane Prefectural Advisors, so he could more fully understand what was going on. I tried to convince him that the entire fax contained much extraneous information, but he wanted time to read over everything thorougly (his English isn't that good), so I shrugged my shoulders and said sure. He came by the Yokota BOE again Friday afternoon, and I told him and Tokue that I'd decided to go to the taste-testing party, and see if I ran into any other JETs there who would be willing to put me up for the night. If so, I'd do that, and return Sunday; if not, I would still have time to catch a train back to Nita (since the taste-testing party ended at 3:30). Yushi said, "You have to be back by Monday." I said, "I know that...."

See how that last paragraph was long and mostly devoid of meaningful information? That was exactly how I felt about the whole matter. When I mentioned this to some of the JETs I met up with in Matsue, they said that it might be because my predecessor, Marion, left so early that they're protective of me. Marion's leaving had nothing to do with anything she did while in Japan, but okay.

So after the taste-testing party, I was able to find someone, namely Nina, who let me stay at her apartment overnight. So great, I was glad I could go to the festival. We had a few hours to kill, and someone mentioned that another JET, Cindy, was in the hospital. This was news to most of us, so a few of us went to visit her. She had a bad throat infection over a week ago, and she could see a big, white ball of puss at the back of her throat. She went to the hospital to get herself checked out, and when they checked her white blood cell count, they told her she would have to stay there. It seems that the puss from her throat infection was oozing, and the infection spread throughout her digestive system, and even into her sinuses, and within a day her body was racked with pain. She's quite a bit better now, though she's not able to eat much, and the doctors think she should be able to leave on Wednesday. We spent about an hour there, chatting about us new JETs in Shimane, and Cindy's condition, and we wished her well.

After that, Nina, her boyfriend Mike, Finton from Ireland, and I went to an Italian Restaurant. They make a good caesar salad, with proscuito and a spa-boiled (soft boiled) egg. And after that, I met with everyone else at the train station to head down to the lake and watch the fireworks. It was cool: I got to see again some of the people I'd met at orientation, and in general to forget that I was a foreigner. The fireworks were fantastic; I can't remember seeing any better than these. Maybe if I'd grown up near a large city I would have, but these were awesome. They had 6,000 fireworks to set off in half an hour. They'd do several, one at a time, then have a barrage of them all together, like a grand finale, but they did it four or five times throughout the show. My favorite individual fireworks were the ones that popped white, and then each of those pieces burst again into a smaller burst of color. They had ones shaped like cat faces and smiley faces and hearts, the success of which depended upon the orientation of the firecracker when it burst, since the images were two-dimensional. My favourite part of the show was when they launched the fireworks at a 45-degree angle, and they exploded right over the water, with lots of the glowing pieces landing in the water before they burned out. Chris, who was well on his way to inebriation, said, "And now we will recreate the attack on Pearl Harbor." I wondered aloud if the boat was sinking. But the effect was very cool.

I'd only ordered a salad at the Italian restaurant because I wanted to try "festival food." But after paying 300 yen for a can of iced tea, I was willing to wait even longer before I ate. And eat we did, at another restaurant, the name of which I've forgotten. We were able to reserve a room to ourselves, which was cool, cos we could talk loudly in English without bothering anyone. We were going to order everybody for oneself, but then we decided to order a bunch of stuff, and split it up evenly. I tried fried chicken knuckles, which is just fried chicken cartilage, and that was kind of nasty; it was like I was purposefully eating the part of fried chicken that, on any other occasion, I would purposefully spit out. Cow tongue, too, which was not as bad as I'd imagined. Some chicken (I think) in avocado and mushrooms—that was really good. Oh, wow, lots of different things, and not all Japanese.

It was the most wonderful thing to be able to string together several English sentences and not confine myself to simple words, not revert to bad sign language, not wonder what the joke was, not feel self-conscious, not puzzle over social propriety, not struggle to make myself understood.

Now I know how JETs become such fast friends.

Oh, and when I got back to Nita this afternoon, it was 32C, so I decided to catch a bus back to my apartment—except I got on the wrong one, and ended up all over southeast Shimane for an hour before the bus finally returned to my area. The driver was very nice. He didn't speak any English, but he communicated to me that he would eventually return to Nita, and then went so far as to drive me to my stop, even though I'm pretty sure it wasn't on his route. He gave me an umbrella, too, (!) cos it had started to rain. This was doubly good, because I'd left my umbrella at the Yokota BOE on Friday, and I won't be back there until next week. So I started out the bus ride feeling really frustrated with myself and the stupid Japanese bus schedule, and ended up in a good mood.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Slimy... yet satisfying

So, okay, dinner with Sayuri was at a sushi restaurant, not at her house, and we went dutch, but it was still a fun evening out. This restaurant, I've never seen anything like it. The preparation area is in the center, with a conveyor belt round about. Patrons sit at stools or in booths adjacent to the conveyor belt. Sushi is served in small portions on small plates that travel around the belt. When you see something you like, you pick it up from the belt. The plates are marked with prices corresponding to the food served on them, anywhere from 100 to 550 yen per plate, and when you're finished, the waiter/waitress comes and counts up your plates, and hands you the bill. I didn't try anything on the more expensive plates, and found that three plates plus some potato wedges (potato wedges and sushi? yes, potato wedges and sushi) was filling. Sayuri was surprised that I got full so quickly, but I'd also eaten a couple of pieces of sushi from two different plates she'd selected. I explained as well that when I travel, my appetite gets disturbed; in a month or so I will probably eat more. So my whole meal, including "orange juice" (which was more like orange-ade, if you ask me) came to 540 yen, which is quite reasonable. The sushi itself was delicious... except maybe the squid. It wasn't like calamari I've had before, it was just strips of squid meat. The taste wasn't objectionable, but the meat was tough to bite into and a bit slimy... wet raincoats come to mind. Everything else was oishi (say it with me now: "oh-ee-shee").

Sayuri isn't fluent in English, but there's very little I can't explain to her if I choose the right words. When we sat down at our table, there was a small covered bowl with stuff inside. She used her chopsticks and removed some of the stuff and put it on a small plate for herself. "Vinegar," she explained.
I looked inside. "Vinegar?"
"Vinegar," she repeated.
I smelled it. "Oh, ginger?"
She paused. "Oh, yes! Ginger!"
So some words she gets mixed up, and her pronunciation is not completely correct, but talking with her is a breeze compared to the folks at the Yokota BOE. She wants me to correct her "broken English," and I'm willing to oblige. We discussed briefly the difference between the English F and the Japanese F. In English, we bite our lower lip very lightly—perhaps it's more correct to say that we press our upper teeth against our lower lip, so that the F sound takes on a slight whistle. In Japanese, the sound is similar to the way some Americans (in the South?) pronounce W: "fwhite," for example. Like making an H sound with pursed lips... like blowing out a candle.... In any case, the teeth are completely uninvolved. I'd been telling her about Poppa and Kreg and how Poppa grew up with wide open spaces on the plains of Texas, while Kreg had grown up in the mountains of Vermont and the, um, hills of Syracuse, and how each of them felt most comfortable in those environs with which they were most familiar, da da da... and she said, "Are they fine?" I couldn't quite tell if that was what she'd asked, and it seemed like a strange question since I hadn't said anything about either of them being ill, but once I confirmed that that was what she'd actually asked, and convinced her that "Are they fine" is grammatically correct, I explained the slight difference in pronunciation... but I'm getting boring.

Moving along then!

We'd been sharing the same small bowl of potato wedges, and after picking a couple out with my fingers, I noticed that she was using her chopsticks, so I used mine as well. Then I remembered something. I asked her if I should be using the opposite end of my chopsticks to remove the potato wedges from the bowl, and when she understood what I was asking, she shook her head. "No, no." So I thought maybe that bit of social propriety was out of place in this setting.
A bit later, she asked who taught me to use chopsticks. "No one," I said. She looked amazed. I told her that I went to a Chinese restaurant, and on the paper sleeve for the chopsticks were printed instructions on how to use the chopsticks. So I examined the instructions and eventually taught myself. She asked who taught me to use the opposite end of the chopsticks for the communal dishes. I shrugged. "The internet." I explained that they'd also taught us a few things about Japanese etiquette at the Tokyo orientation. She said, "Japanese know this, but you are American! So we are surprised you know this."

I asked Sayuri later if there is anyplace in Nita where one can buy Nintendo games. "No," she said, "for that, you need to go to Matsue." Shoot. Matsue, the prefectural capital, is an hour's drive away, and I don't know how far by train. I'll be up there this weekend, but I don't yet have money to burn. I told her that I want to buy Japanese Game Boy games so I can learn Japanese. She said that her niece and nephew like to play Nintendo games, and mentioned something about me meeting them, and trying out each other's games.

In four days, I've memorized all of the hiragana. <pat self on back> But I think I understand what people mean when they say that the katakana are more immediately useful. I can pronounce Japanese words written in hiragana now, but I have no idea what they mean. (And, much to my frustration, most everything Japanese is written in kanji characters, which pronunciation cannot be determined solely by sight.) But at the supermarket, some product names are written in katakana, and often katakana words sound similar to the foreign words from which they are derived. For instance, "ka-me-ra" is camera. So I'll give myself a week or so to let the hiragana sink in deeper (right now I am very slow), and then work on the katakana. But starting with the hiragana may have increased my clout in the office. <shrug> At least everyone acted all impressed.

Oh, and the clothes dried just fine (albeit stiffly), and I found fabric softener at the store today. This product brand LION, apart from other brands, includes on the back of their products a very brief English description: this one says "Fabric Softener," and that's good enough for me. If I counted correctly last night, this washing machine goes through three rinse cycles, so I'll have to hit it after the second one, right?
Another thing about this washing machine is that it does this funny little dance at the beginning, shifting the load around to determine its weight and how much water it should use. The washing machines I've used in the past have all had manual settings for the water amount. And it only uses cold water. One less thing to worry about, I suppose.

Mmm, sleepy now. Time to pull my bed out of the closet. :) (I'll explain that one later.)

Wednesday, August 04, 2004


Waiting for the laundry to finish. I have my own washing machine—I'd thought I would have to use a communal laundry room—but not a dryer (and even if I had a dryer, there's noplace to fit it). No problem, I thought, I've got clothesline out on the balcony, and some weird indoor clothes-drying, um, wheel thing... (I dunno, maybe they've got them in the States, but I've always had an electric dryer in the house). While I was out shopping last Thursday (my first full day in Shimane), I communicated to my supervisors my desire to buy fabric softener. We even paid a visit to Mr. Tokue's friend Yushi, who works at the Nita police station and speaks decent English; he said, "Something to make the fabric soft." I said, "Yes." So Tokue and Abe and I went to the store, where they showed me the fabric softener. I saw the package with the Snuggle bear on it, but did I buy it? Nooo, of course not. I'd already pointed out some products that, "we have in America, too," and this was one of them; but not wanting to snub the Japanese products, I went with the pink bottle to the immediate right of the Snuggle bear bottle. And it wasn't until twenty minutes ago when I thoroughly investigated this pink bottle that I found, in small letters at the very bottom on the back, "Fine-Fabric Detergent."

Sigh.... I guess it's stiff clothes for me in the morning... if they're even dry by then.

Ah, laundry's done.
At least the detergent smells nice.

So, just a few hours after I receive my first phone call at work, I received my first phone call at home. Sayuri is a kindergarten teacher in Nita, and she stopped by out of the blue last Saturday, bearing gifts of fresh watermelon and pineapple. Fruit is very expensive in Japan (I've heard rumours of $40 melons), so I was very glad. I don't usually care for watermelon, but it was a familiar flavor, and even I know a good watermelon when I taste it, which this was. The pineapple was also delicious and full of flavor. Watermelon and coffee: both are things I generally don't consume in the States, but I find the familiar flavors comforting here. I think I'm going to be a regular ol' coffee drinker by the time I get back to the US; I've had probably 8 small cups of it in the last week, sometimes two a day. They serve it to me in the Yokota BOE, and I can't refuse. I mean, technically I can, but they're so nice about it in the first place. The sugar, it doesn't come in packets, but in small tubes—reminiscent of PixyStix (wheee!), but about half the length and a little thicker. The little creamer cups are about the same as they are in the US: little plastic cup with tear-off foil on top.

Oh, but back to Sayuri: she invited me to dinner at her home tomorrow evening. Woo! First dinner invitation!

I'm going to have to remember to wash smaller loads in the future; there's only so much room on this clothes-drying wheel thing, and the air outside is quite damp and feels as though it could rain again tonight.
I wonder how much weight this thing can hold. With any luck, I won't determine it experimentally.
Actually, now that I look at it, it's really more suited for lightweight undergarments. The wet, heavy pants and cotton T-shirts weigh the spokes down, and too much cloth converging in the center makes for slow drying. I've sequestered the T-shirts to a couple of chairs now.

I had a dream last night that I met Amanda Tapping and Richard Dean Anderson. In a restaurant.
And something about Christopher Walken....

E-mi-rii, Phone Home

I got a phone call at the office today. It was from Ashley Brooks, one of the Prefectural Advisors for Shimane. She made a bit of small talk about the Group B orientation from which she'd just returned, and how she'd met the new CIR for Yokota, a young woman from Thailand who speaks and understands English well enough but is inconfident about her abilities. "But that's not why I called you," she said. Apparently Dad, not knowing what had happened with me, had dug up a phone number for CLAIR (where he got it, I don't know), and had called someone asking about me. The message had been passed along to Ashley, and she called to ask that I contact him, "and tell him, 'I'm here, I'm alive, I'm eating.'" Feeling mildly embarrassed, I explained, "I talked with my mom, and she said she'd e-mail my brother."
"Ah, okay. Maybe that message didn't get to your dad from your mum and brother."
I chuckled. "My brother lives with my dad, but I guess they don't communicate much."
"Well, it's nice to be loved."
"Yes, it is."

I was a bit on the defensive, but mostly because I was feeling quite foolish. I mean, how stupid of me to fly off to the other side of the world, and not even drop Dad a line to let him know that I'm okay. He hadn't heard from me in eleven days. So I sent him an e-mail as soon as I got off the phone. :P

Before I left NY, someone commented to my dad, "Oh, she's going to be gone for so long! I'm sure you'll miss her." Dad looked at me, shook his head, and said, "Na."
Saturday morning, the day after he dropped me off at my hotel near JFK, he called my cell phone and left a message: "Hey Em.... I didn't think I was going to miss you, but I guess I am. Darn it." I laughed. Love you too, Dad.

Oh, and that typhoon over the weekend? That wasn't anything. If I hadn't heard about the typhoon, I would have thought it was just lousy weather. Other parts of Japan got hit harder—I saw it on the news—but our little corner of the country emerged unscathed.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Eagle Has Landed

Look forward to more short, enigmatic posts like this in the future.
At least until I get internet in my apartment.