Happy 2016 And The Great Disappearance Act

Spent a blissful two and a half weeks with my family in California and close friend in Texas (shout out to Kimmy dearest for taking me to NASA and feeding me brisket!) for the first time since moving to Japan. In the spirit of the holidays, my technology was turned off in order to properly revel in family and friend time. Needless to say, I ate EVERYTHING (the trespass of which I was already admonished for during Wednesday’s ballet class #YOLO #ITWASWORTHEVERYCALORIE #MYTUTUSTILLFITSIFISUCKITIN), but even better than food was the quality time I spent among the people who love and support me most in the world: my parents.

My dad took a significant amount of time off of work to take me to all manner of doctor’s and dentist’s appointments, drive me around, play games well past both our bedtimes, and watch all the movies and TV shows that we needed to catch up on. Mum’s schedule, being what it was, allowed for mostly afternoon jaunts but I’m grateful for every precious second I spent in their company. Oh, yes, and my sister 😉 She and I put up with each other marvelously well, all things considered.

So that brings me to the month before I was in the States, when the internet pulled a great disappearing act. What happens when you’ve been paying your bills on time, when your router set isn’t broken, and the only problem showing up is “Check with your provider”?

Something I learned about Japanese internet: you will be dealing with three separate companies (Finance, Internet Provider’s Provider, and said Internet Provider) none of which have any helpful English lines in place (NTT claims it does; does not; and only NTT Finance had anyone remotely fluent enough to provide the assistance I needed via the Finance side).

I dedicate this post to Mari from NTT Finance, who not only bullied NTT into releasing my information to me (thus saving me an extra seven business days per interaction, a total of 21 once totaled), but generally got S*** done. I have never met anyone with such a go-getter attitude this side of the Pacific. Where everyone else was like, “I’m not sure if I’m allowed to do that and I’m not going to ask my superior because this is the one way things have always been done”, Mari’s response was very Disney “Let’s see what we CAN do about this problem”. Sadly this only got me as far as: Well, it’s not NTT’s fault. It’s your provider’s.

To which my brilliant response was: I thought NTT was my provider.

And a witty repartee ensued.

NTT: No. We take care of the finance side and NTT East provides the service to a provider who then has you pay for the glory of signing a contract with them.

ME: So you haven’t choked my internet and it’s not a financial issue?

NTT: That’s about right, Ms. Customer.

ME: So who’s my provider?! I only ever received information from NTT!

NTT: Uh, we can’t disclose that information.

ME: Whaaaaa…. How am I supposed to solve anything?

NTT: …

So while I keep receiving bills for internet I’m theoretically supposed to be able to use… I don’t actually have internet and I am now currently leaching off my workplace.

I hope to update with all manner of Foreign Film Friday posts that never got published and photos from the holidays and travel information I amassed over said holidays… all of which are stuck on my American phone, but I can’t until my WIFI is back. Work doesn’t have WIFI, we just have the LAN connection chord of doom.

Hopefully this is resolved. Soon. >.>”

Resolved as of 11:40 am. Three cheers for being taught how to hack into your router and resetting the damn thing. YAY! \O/

Hallway Inspiration 02: Live Long and Rainbow On!

Japanese hallways are the best. I feel that if I look hard enough, I could make this into a legit once a week article.

In the meantime, I bring to you the latest hallway inspiration, which I endearingly titled “Clean Water: Live Long and Rainbow On”. Japanese schools come in two neutral color schemes: beige or white. Or both. But this may just be the inaka experience (one of my schools is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary so it follows in the general tradition of We Are Rebuilding The School And This Is The Way The Walls Have Always Been Painted). For the most part, though, it doesn’t really matter what color the walls are because teachers like to plaster them with motivational posters like the one above or with announcements for upcoming museum exhibits, concerts, and other interesting educational events going around the prefecture. And then there’s this one… oh the spectra.

The colors are flawless, that is true, but the centerpiece obaachan is even more brilliantly rendered. Her pose suggests the grace of having aged marvelously well (arthritis, gout, and diabetes are clearly for the non-water drinkers of the world; sorry, Hemmingway) while still bringing forth that inner strength, that inner force of character which only the elderly can posses after two world wars and several market crashes. Above the fanfare, above the modernity, it is the final message that shines clearest and nearest to all of our hearts: drink clean water and you too can live a long, rainbow sparkly life. Otsukare~ 😉

 

Road Trip Reactions

It’s a lovely, commitment-free city hall day in June. My notebooks are out, the coffee liberally poured, and The Google is running like a champ. It’s really quite a miracle – not completely lost on me – that the world of navigation has been simplified since the advent of the interwebs. As the Queen of Getting Lost in my family, I used to have to mapquest directions for something as close as the mall two cities over in a country where the streets have names (a.k.a Anywhere But Japan). Albeit street names are practically rendered obsolete and useless in Japan, mostly because of the Things Have Always Been Done This Way tradition of We Will Only Ever Take The Same Route Taken By Our Forefathers, Naming Streets Be Damned 😀 I love Japan. It’s a quirky, beautiful country full of gumption and character, which I wish everyone could see first hand.

By now word has gone round the office that I’m planning a suicidal road trip mission impossible: from Aomori Prefecture to Fukuoka then up to Tokyo to drop off a friend at the airport and back up to Aomori with just enough time to clock in at work by 8 am. It’s a standing tradition by now that whenever anyone comes to refill their coffee (machine of which is just behind my work station), said person stops to comment on the weather and chat me up about my recent inaka experiences. Quick, painless interactions that have now since come to mean this:

“So. You’re planning on going to Fukuoka?” Long pause. Coffee sip. “What are you: a college student or a shakaijin?”

Real knee slapper. Big grin from me and a joking, “Ohohohohoho.”

“But seriously, take it easy. Take a train! Or a camper van. Anything but a kei car.”

Kei cars are karui jidousha (lighter, fuel efficient versions of the white plate car and they are a pain to rev up past 80 kmph, though not impossible).

“Just… don’t.” Coworker shakes head, walks away.

“Ehhhh… why?” I ask after them.

“Traffic,” was the grim response. Apparently despite the fact that southern Japan is at 70-90% humid, no one seems to have qualms about travelling down there by car.

Another coworker comments, “I once went from Osaka to Tottori to Izumo to Hiroshima to Yamaguchi. I gave up at Yamaguchi. At that point Fukuoka seemed too far. Also, I wasn’t an adult like you, I was still an idiot college student. But I hear there’s a shrine that’s famous for housing a god of study. Is that why you’re going?”

I’m not ashamed to admit that I like studying. I love learning new things. I’m a shameless nerd. Some might consider this statement condescending. I assure you it’s not. I just didn’t have much else to do growing up in a household where going out or visiting friends was Out Of The Question. Basically it was classical music CDs (the only thing lying around the house apart from mariachi) and unhealthy amounts of Discovery, History, and Bill Nye. I’m starting to realize that most of my social anxiety came from not being allowed to socialize normally with other kids. Bleh.

“Trust me, you won’t make it to Fukuoka. You should quit now,” lovingly said, I assure you. They’re worried I’ll get myself into an accident, or worse yet into an early grave. Suzu-chan, I believe in you! For those of you who do not know, Suzu-chan is my kei car (who’s gotten me through the thick and thin of Akita and Sendai road trips but nothing quite like a 21 hour drive down to Kyushu).

One of the special ed teachers though understands exactly where I’m coming from. He owns a camper van and frequently goes off on weekend adventures. It’s just him, his camper van, and the great outdoors. As soon as he heard that a noob like me was planning a trip of doom he had one of his kids whip out a map of Japan and turned it into a geography lesson for the kid and an Introduction to the Road Trip of Doom 101 with a 3 unit Lab lesson for me. I will have to thank him profusely again next time I see him because it’s quite the advice!

All of this led me to asking The Googles if it was feasible to travel in a camper van and sifting through several forums I’ve come to one conclusion far too late in life: there area lot of idiots online. So many of the people commenting had either never gone on a road trip or had only done a day trip out of their town and were condemning the idea of even setting off for a cross country road trip because they’d had horrible experiences getting lost in the middle of a country where there are no street names and where they clearly didn’t speak the language. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten lost plenty but at least I speak the language. I’ll have to see how much I love or hate Japan after this road trip but for the time being, despite the strange roadways and inconvenient ETC routes (Japan is mountainous, folks. We’re not in flatter-than-a-pancake Kansas anymore), I don’t think this road trip will kill it for me just yet. More word on that when I get back… >.>

And my favorite:

“Oh my God. Just train there. Trains are comfy, kei cars are like Death.”

Over and out.

The Final Road Trip (with Kim as co-pilot)

From the beloved Gonohe in Aomori to the tip of Kagoshima Prefecture. A projected 25 hour ride along the west coast according to the ever reliable demon oracle Siri, with two friends who made this year the adventure of a lifetime, and you can bet we will be hitting up every last Pokemon center on the way down and on the way up.

Okay, so it won’t be the last road trip I take, but it will be the last with dearest Kim as co-pilot. All good things must come to an end…

thefinalroadtrip

A lovely picture up above, just so everyone can appreciate that this summer may spell out certain doom. Yes, I understand that Kyushu is the single most miserable place on Earth during the summer but the challenge is there, it’s so very much temptingly there… Wanderlust comrades, unite! In reality, we may only get as far as Fukuoka. My boss, in his youth, fondly recalled setting out one day for adventure as he put it… which ended in Hiroshima, but he applauded my recklessness by adding an ever encouraging がんばるăč. Not sure if I shall rent out a car to make driver switching less of a hassle or if taking Suzu-chan for the memories would be, well, more memorable. All 4,000 km.

Which leads me to the Prefecture Bucket List of many a month ago. Considering the length of this road trip, I would be heading towards un-chartered territory (both in methods of long distance travelling and locations). Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui, Hyogo, Tottori, and Shimane would be completely new destinations, with Hiroshima/Kyoto/Miyajima being blasts from the past going on round two.

Although, this also serves as scoping out the lay of the land for when Mumsie finally makes her first trans-Pacific flight during summer 2016.

And that concludes the insanity quota for the day, folks.

Day Four: The Last Night

I cried at the reunion. Three times. I hadn’t seen them in nearly three years and the bittersweet memory of having once been so close brought me to a surprising conclusion. I’m not quite sure what ramifications it will have on my future, but I can already feel the impetus, the drive, and although I’m just a tiny bit scared… I won’t be holding myself back anymore.

Shingomura 

The place where Jesus and his brother died, according to local popular legend, is Shingo Village.

Or as a Jewish friend of mine once put it: “I’m not religious so I don’t know.”

Ebisuya Ramen features Christ Ramen as a specialty on their menu. I love the slightly tangy taste of umeboshi flavored soup and the fried nagaimo topping. According to Kouchan, however, it tasted like soap.

I am well aware that my taste buds are off. No one else seems to think rice has its own unique flavor, but if I had to compare it to something, steamed rice tastes like a chord in A flat.

Cheers.

White Day 2015

image

As the legend goes, the reason for Japan’s strange tradition of having women give chocolates to men on the most ‘romantic’ date in the Western Calendar is due to a translating error. To be fair, Japanese and English are the exact opposite of each other. “I go to the store” is in English countries what “I to the store go” is to Japanese speakers. And don’t even get me started on passive grammar forms of keigo. Basically you can see how someone accidentally and quite literally translated the English for an otherwise catchy business slogan: “St. Valentine’s, a day for men to give women chocolate” into “St. Valentine’s, a day for women to give men chocolate”.

That’s right. Blame the translators that the men of an already heavily patriarchal society have been reaping the benefits of a holiday that forces women to shower them with even more attention and lavish gifts yet again. Feminists, unite! Cry havoc and release the dogs of war! Or not…

…strangely enough this version of Valentine’s is quite popular among most women in the adult night class that I team teach on Mondays.

“I like this Valentine’s Day,” one of the married women said to us. “Women are supposed to be shy. But on one day of the year they’re allowed to be forward and present the object of their affections with an interesting proposition: to date or not to date?”

Another woman chimes in, “And it’s not like the woman doesn’t get anything back. A month later, there’s White Day. On this day, the men that the woman has gifted with chocolate are expected to gift something back to her. And if he hasn’t already, he will also give his response as to whether he’s game to date her.”

But of course there’s always the chance that the men will forget, which is worse than an outright rejection. Or as the guys in the college dorms when I studied abroad did:

They taped up creepy pictures of Sadako from The Ring as our White Day present. Haha, very funny and clever />.>”

Thanks to my coworkers for surprising me with a White Day gift! I didn’t think that they would when I gave them the omiyage from Hokkaido but they did! I can’t express how happy it made me but it’s one of the best things that happened today!!!

The Weight of Love

“Careful now, it’s really heavy. What could possibly be in there?” the postal employee half laughed, but his eyes flashed quickly from the huge box he had just set down on the counter to my face. The curious side of him wanted to know what had been sent from abroad that was too heavy for the front desk employees to carry.

I took back my Foreign Residency Card and signed the proof of delivery notice on his clipboard, smiling a little bit inside, as I replied:

“Love.”

He muttered something unintelligible under his breath. It may have been, “Is that so?” But he was needed elsewhere so he gave a sharp nod of his head before disappearing into the back room. It may have been that he thought I had meant something else entirely. In any case, my parents could have sent me any size box they wished with nothing but packing styrofoam. Or even filled with air. I still would have been happy.

It’s the little things in life. The little things – for some reason unknown – always seem to matter more.

❀

If dreams and wishes were streams and fishes…

The kids (ages 10-14) are learning how to express what they want to be in the future. I’ve gotten some very interesting and specific occupations that probably would take their American peers by surprise:

OCCUPATIONS BY POPLUARITY

Soccer/baseball player

Pastry chef

Geriatric nurse

Carpenter

Nursery school teacher

Farmer

Gasoline stand attendant

Pianist

Teacher

Refinery worker

Dancer

Needless to say, their reasoning for choosing those jobs is above and beyond funny. It’s a real joy getting to know them week by week, assignment by assignment.