Archive for September, 2008

Cribs

If anyone was curious about what living in the lap of luxury looks like, here is a tour of my 8 room + patio home.

The Grand Entrance

Upon entering, guests are allowed ample floor space to remove their footwear in true Japanese fashion. Umbrella storage is included for those drizzly days.

The Living Room

Includes a 20", medium-definition TV with 11 channels (6 of which repeat) and, if you tune in at precisely the right time of day, a 30-minute children's education show in *gasp* English.

The Master Bedroom

Although bearing a striking resemblance to The Living Room, The Master Bedroom has a much cozier feel with the presence of the extra-long, thick-blanketed, boyish-looking-pillow-cased futon.

The Patio

With a stunning view of parking lots and rice fields, The Patio can accommodate two people comfortably, three if they're friendly. It also includes an extendible clothes-drying pole to infuse one's wardrobe with that sweet Shichinohe scent.

America Wall

No American living in a foreign country is complete without a wall dedicated to home sweet home. This one boasts memories of family, friends, hobbies, and a particularly unforgettable road trip.

The Kitchen

To the left: refrigerator, microwave, and toaster oven. To the right: stovetop, rice cooker, and soy sauce. In the middle: sink, shelves, and cantaloupe. Iron Chef would be jealous.

The Dining Room

A friendly table for two that ushers in the Autumn season with a pumpkin centerpiece.

The Guest Bedroom

Conveniently located at arms length from the pumpkin, rice cooker, and vacuum, The Guest Bedroom provides the perfect location for late night snacking and the tools necessary for crumb removal.

The Wash Room

Sink, washer, and handicap-friendly bathroom. In soothing taupe.

The Shower Room

Literally. One can be anywhere within The Shower Room to shower. Not accustomed to such freedom, your host needed a couple of tries before venturing outside the tub.

There you have it. I hope you enjoyed the tour. Of course, in true Cribs fashion, I can’t leave you without showing off my ride. So, without further ado…

The Road Warrior

This menacing hunk of metal boasts a grocery carriage, self-powered headlight, slightly short seat, and enough mileage left to get lost in Shichinohe for ANOTHER three hours.

Strange, Interesting, and Awkward Things About Japan

Driving
Many of you probably knew this already, but I was surprised to see everyone in Japan driving on the left side of the road (for some reason, I thought only the British did that). Also, everything in the car is opposite: I try hitting the left turn signal and end up putting my windshield wipers into “There’s a Hurricane” mode. I want to flash my brights and instead spray washer fluid all over the windshield. Needless to say, my friends are very entertained when I’m the driver. And the lack of names for any Japanese streets doesn’t help my directional deficiencies.

Sumo
Some facts I learned the day I went to the sumo tournament:
– One may not step into the sumo ring with shoes on.
– After every couple sumo matches or so, they perform the shiomaki ritual: throwing salt into the ring to purify it and prevent injury to the wrestlers.
– At the college, high school, and junior high (yes, there is junior high sumo) levels, wrestlers must keep their heads buzzed. Only at the professional level can they grow those cool hair-dos.
– Another part of the preliminary rituals: both wrestlers face each other, squat, then slap their hands together and raise them to the sky. Evidently, this is to show that they aren’t carrying any weapons. Based on the pictures I posted, I’m not sure where they would hide them; their outfits don’t leave much for the imagination.
– To begin a match, all four fists of the wrestlers must touch the ground. I don’t know how they decide which wrestler starts with his fists down, but the other one can try faking out his opponent by pretending to touch the ground. I relate this to the Hot Hands game when the slapper twitches his hands to fake out the other player. I’m not sure what the penalty is when the wrestler falls for the trap, other than, of course, the embarrassment of being duped. Sneaky sumo…
-Regarding the sumo diaper (the mawashi): they are never washed. The only thing wrestlers do for cleaning is brushing it. Makes me wonder what pranks occur in the sumo locker room…

Doorways
Are too short. I can count on two hands and one foot the number of times I have banged my head walking into a room. The students, of course, love it.

My Futon
Is actually long enough for me. This is especially surprising considering most American beds only reach me at mid-calf.

Toilets
I have already discussed the fancy seat-warming, spray-or-bedet option Western toilets in Japan. However, I conveniently left out the much more common Japanese squat toilet. I have had the displeasure of using these uncomfortable bathroom fixtures twice, and I will do everything in my power to limit any future use. The first time I encountered them occurred on my first day of work. I asked my supervisor where the bathroom was, he pointed the way, I walked in, and there it was, staring me in the face…err, feet. Compared to the posh Tokyo toilets I was used to, this hole-in-the-ground was quite a shock. What followed was the most ungraceful, uncomfortable, awkward bathroom experience I have ever had. Having no idea which way to face or what to do, I contorted my body into positions only advanced yoga practitioners  can handle (and I don’t do yoga). Thankfully no one came in, for if they had peered beneath the stall door, they probably would’ve seen something resembling the game of Twister going on.

The second time, Nature called at one of my elementary schools. This time, I wisely sought some squat toilet instruction before entering. It still wasn’t pretty, but at least I knew which way was front.

This is only the beginning of the list of strange and interesting things in Japan. I will keep you posted as I discover more/they are forced upon me.

I forgot to add…

The kids REALLY like rubbing my blonde arm hair. It’s a little weird.

Self-Introductions: Being in the Hot Seat

The way teachers introduce me to their classes is quite interesting. One teacher wanted me to have an English conversation with each student for exactly 1 minute. I’m not sure if the students didn’t know much English or were just too shy to use it, but our conversations usually went something like this:

Brandon: Hello!
Student: Hello, my name,  _______.
B: I’m Brandon. What club are you in? (Every student is required to be in an after-school club)
S: I’m in soccer club.
B: Oh cool! What position do you play?
S: Ehhhhh?
B: Position… *point to different positions on an imaginary field*
S: Ehhhh?
B: Defense, midfield, offense?
S: Offensu? (I think he just repeated the last word I said)
B: Nice! What else do you like?
S: Ehhhh?
B: You like? Hobby?
S: I like soccer.
*timer goes off*
S: Umm, nice meet you.

After 3 classes and 100 1-minute chats like this, I’m pretty sure I would make an excellent Speed Dating participant.

Another teacher had each student come up to me, say “I’m _______. Nice to meet you,” shake my hand, and then stand next to me to compare height, hand, and foot size. Although each student had more or less the same appendage sizes, it didn’t dampen the “Ooooohhh”s and “Ahhhhhh”s as they each compared themselves to the White Giant.

Although these activities are quite entertaining, the most common way I introduce myself is by giving an introduction speech (where I’m from, my family, friends, hobbies), and then answering a series of questions from the students. The teachers, who enjoy either using up most of the class period or watching me squirm, have no problem translating any and all of the students’ questions. I’ve chosen a sample for your enjoyment:

– How tall are you?
– How did you get so tall? (Drink lots of milk)
– How much do you weigh?
– How big are your feet? (33cm, which always gets the biggest “Oooooooh!” from students)
– Do you have a girlfriend? (I tried both “No” and “It’s a secret” in different classes, but I received an equal “Ooooooh!” reaction)
– Have you ever written a love letter? (I tell them when I was little I wrote a note to a girl in my class saying “Do you like me?” with boxes for Yes and No. She checked No. The students laugh at this, then say “Keep trying!”)
– Do you like me? (asked by a junior high school girl. I said “Of course!” She shrieked. Then I said “As a friend.” She looked confused.)
– Do you like me? (asked by a kindergarten boy. I said “Of course!” He continued to stare at me and raised his arms. I tossed him up in the air twice. I think he was satisfied with that response.)
– What is your favorite American food, Japanese food, animal, Harry Potter book, athlete, movie, Beyonce song?
– Have you ever met anyone famous? (I met Lil Bow Wow in the mall. This was received by blank stares from the students, except for one who excitedly showed me his pen case that had a picture of the rapper on it.)
– Do you play video games? Do you like Mario Bros? Grand Theft Auto?! METAL GEAR SOLID?!!? (After replying yes to all video game questions, they taught me how to say in Japanese “I am a video game nerd.”)
– Have you ever killed a crook, touched a frog, seen a UFO?

And my personal favorite…
– If you stand in a pool, where does the water level come up to you?

I’m eating lunch right now at my junior high school and…

the school’s intercom is blasting “Soulja Girl.” I didn’t even know such a song existed. Whereas the rest of the faculty are taking no notice, I’m half-expecting our teacher’s room to turn into a dance club.

Whoa! Now it seemlessly transitioned from Plies’ “Bust it Baby” to Jesse McCartney’s “Leavin’.” And now an R. Kelly remix of Mariah Carey’s “Touch My Body.” I’ve really got to meet this middle school DJ

Pictures!

Check em out:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2215690&l=2b661&id=1507803

Shichinohe

I’ve been in Japan for a month now, so it’s about time I tell you about my neighborhood. Shichinohe is pretty much the boonies of Japan – if you get directions to it in Google Maps, it will say to take a train to the closest station, then walk 2 hours west (evidently, no roads to Shichinohe exist yet). To my Snoho’s, it is very similar to Snohomish, WA: very green, lots of farms, little nightlife.

On my second day in Shich, I decided to take a late afternoon bike ride and capture some scenic pictures. 8 pictures in and my memory card was full. Dang. Oh well, time to head back for dinner.

3 hours later, I had toured through the same streets a dozen times, but still had not found my apartment. Two times I ended up at the yakuba (the town center where I worked this summer). I would check my mental map, feel confident about the location of my apartment, and set off again on my bike. By the third time, I decided this strategy was not working. It was around 8:30pm, dark, and the yakuba looked vacant. Without much optimism, I knocked. There was some movement; a man had been sitting in a room right inside the front door, eating his dinner and watching TV. He got up and came to the door. Great, I hadn’t eaten my own dinner and now I was interrupting his. When he opened the door, I said “Konbonwa” (Good evening) and then went into a series of hand gestures to explain that I was lost on my bike (a very difficult feat, I discovered). He laughed, went back into his room, and picked up the phone. At first, I thought he was calling the police to explain that there was a crazy gaijin harassing him. A few minutes later, to my relief, one of my coworkers appeared from upstairs (thank God for Japanese work ethic). After going through the same ambiguous hand gestures, he eventually understood, grabbed a map, and showed me where I needed to go. “Arigato, arigato, arigato gozaimasu” (Thank you, thank you, thank you very much) and I was off. 5 minutes into my journey and I noticed some headlights behind me. As the car pulled up, I realized it was my co-worker. He waved to me, then went ahead and led me through every turn back to my apartment. When I made it back, he just smiled and drove off.
What I’ve learned from this experience:
1) My coworker, as well as many of the Japanese people in my town, are ridiculously nice to foreigners. It’s almost as if I automatically became a member of this huge Shichinohe family as soon as I arrived.
2) Being in Japan does not negate the fact that I have terrible directional skills.
3) My bicycle has a self-powered headlight – the rotation of the front wheel energizes it. Sweet!
4) The memory cards that come with cameras are crap.