Monday, November 5, 2007


So, as you all know, my camera is broken. This really sucks, because I can't take pictures of anything thats going on (and a lot has been going on lately). Thanks to my dear supervisor Iyobe san, I have a couple of pictures of myself in a fall kimono taken this last Saturday. Iyobe came to my house around 9AM that day (not too pleased about that, but I got to wear a kimono, so I got over it quickly) and dressed me in one of her kimonos. Japanese women have different kimonos for summer and for winter, and as its getting chilly here now, the weather and the season calls for winter wear. She dressed me head to toe (which takes a while -- about 20 minutes). I got to wear the special shoes this time too, which I didn't get to do when I wore the wedding kimono in Kyoto (see picture to right). They were her own shoes though, and as 90% of women here have child-sized feet, I looked rather ridiculous cramming my honkers into them. It worked out though.

In a slightly related note, while bowling last week I discovered I have the same size feet as my MALE friend Kazuya. This makes me sad.

Here I am, looking lovely and ready for fall:

Full-length. Notice how my two smallest toes hang off the side of the shoes. It was just as bad in back...

After Iyobe san had dressed me in my finery, we went to a park in Murakami (I can't remember the name) that has a few old samurai houses inside. In one of the houses, a tea ceremony event was being held, meaning that at various times throughout the day, people could come take part in a tea ceremony in the house. It was really interesting and many ladies were there in kimono.

I'll give you all the quick and dirty on Japanese tea ceremony. So, it is a practice that originally came from taoism, and basically it is supposed to relax you. Guests sit around the perimeter of the room, seiza-style (this means on your knees. It really hurts after a while). The guest of honor enters first, and is in one corner, next to where the tea will be made. The host sits on the other side of where the tea will be made -- so in the opposite corner as the guest of honor. The honored guest chats with the host, and always asks where the tea comes from and who prepared it. A different person altogether prepares the tea. The tea preparation is a very precise process. It is like a dance, you basically memorize the steps, and do it the exact same way every time. While the tea is being prepared, other servers bring out okashii, or sweets, to the guests. What sweets are served depends on the season, so for fall we had beautiful deep-purple colored sweets made of azuki, which are sweet red beans. Each person in attendance has these tissue-paper like sheets that they place their sweet on (there is a whole ritual to receiving the okashii and eating it properly). After eating the sweets, the tea (ohcha, or green tea) is served, and again, theres a whole ritual to properly receiving and drinking the tea. One of the parts of the ritual is after you lift your cup, you have to turn it three times to the right using your right hand. I'm not sure why this is the case, but its how you do it. For those of you who haven't had Japanese green tea before, it has a very distinct, strong taste. And the flavor goes perfectly with the sweets. Anyhow, thats the gist of it. Theres more ritual and chatter at the finish of the ceremony, and then everyone files out.

As annoyed as I was at having to get up early, I really enjoyed the experience. I love old Japanese ladies, they're all so sweet. They were all amazed that I came in kimono and sat seiza-style for a full half hour! Eventually (once my Japanese improves a bit more) I might like to take tea ceremony lessons. I'd like to really floor the old ladies when I actually make or serve them their tea.

Monday, October 29, 2007

I suck

I suck. I will write a proper post in the next day or two. I swear. Stop doubting me.

In other exciting news, I am Alice in the Niigata charity musical! I'm really excited about it, it should be tons 'o fun, although I have a crapload of lines to learn, which sorta sucks. I already don't have much time for studying nihongo, and piling this on top of things isn't going to help that problem. I need to stop sleeping I think. Or become a hermit. Those are my only two options. I can sleep when I'm dead.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thriving on Kyuushoku and Sushi

At this point I can finally say that I'm settled into my new life here in Japan. This place feels more and more like home every day, and I'm beginning to wonder what on earth I would have done with myself had I not been accepted into the JET program. Now that I think about, I'd probably still be running western blots and searching endlessly for a Strad-beta antibody that actually works. No offense guys, I miss you all in the lab. I do NOT, however, miss taking out the biohazard trash every other day.

Weeks here are pretty regular and normal, weekends are always fun. Due to my awesome schedule, the work week flies by pretty fast, and the weekend is here in no time. I spend most weekends going to either Shibata (yo we gon' roll up in the shiiiiib) or Niigata city (then we bouncin' to the Niiiiiiig), where most of my friends reside and party. This next weekend I'll be heading to Joetsu which is in the southern part of the prefecture to audition for the Niigata ALT charity musical. For those of you who haven't heard about this, basically every year the ALTs in Niigata put on a charity musical all around the prefecture to raise money to build schools in Paupa New Guinea. What rocks about this, is that at the end of the musical run, everyone on the musical team actually goes to PNG for two weeks to build the schools. I've heard, though, that after only a day or two of building, the ALTs are usually so in the way of the contracted workers who actually know how to build a school, that they're usually asked to just play with the kids. What's more, my predecessor, Deccy, got to take "volunteer leave" to go for the two weeks, so he didn't have to use any of his paid vacation time! (We only get 20 days a year.) You can all expect me to play the same card...

So yeah, life in Japan rocks. Sorry I don't have any sweet pictures -- my camera is broken and I've already spent an assload of money on snowboarding gear, so I've got to wait a while before I purchase a new one. I look forward to getting one though, as Japan has some of the tiniest digital cameras the world has seen.

At the request of a few of my dear readers, I will now take some time to explain how life for me here is different from living back home. I will begin with school life, since its something I have to deal with every day. As you can probably imagine, schools in Japan are pretty different from schools in the states. First, the physical differences.

1. Students and teachers in Japan all wear indoor shoes inside the school, and separate shoes outside. Because of this, there is always a large genkan or entrance at the front of the school, full of cubby holes and lockers to store the students' and teachers' outdoor shoes. Students also remove their indoor shoes before going into certain rooms, including the computer lab. Japan is really funny about shoes -- no one wears shoes inside the home and often people wear separate slippers in the bathroom (you have house slippers and bathroom slippers). But at school, there is only a distinction between inside and outside footwear.

2. Nearly all kids ride their bikes or walk to school. There is no school bus -- I've only ever seen elementary school students riding in buses, and even then, I think they may have been going on a field trip. Most elementary school students walk to school in groups or go with mom by car. Which reminds me of another interesting difference between Japan and America -- Japan is a safe place. Parent's don't worry about their kids walking 15-20 minutes to go to school, cause they know nothing is gonna happen. I feel safer here than I ever did in the US.

3. JHS kids in Japan don't change classes. Instead they stay in the same room and the teachers move from room to room. There is also usually a lot of time between classes, so kids often goof around or go to the teachers room to talk to one of the teachers during that time. I'm not sure if this is also true of highschools or not.

4. There is no air conditioning in summer, and only space heaters in winter. This explains the pit stains I have in every picture of me at school.

5. There are no "janitors." Instead, the students clean the school for 15 minutes every day. There is a groundskeeper, who mows the grass and keeps things in working order, but you'll never see him with a broom or a trashcan.

6. All the students (and the teachers, including myself) eat Kyuushoku, or school lunch, every day. In Japan, school lunch is free (for the students) and surprisingly delicious and healthy. I only pay a mere 300 yen or something ridiculously cheap every day, so I save money AND get the vegetables that I badly need to eat more of.

7. Student interaction in class is really different here too. Students here DON'T ask questions during class. The teachers, always without fail, ask if the students have any questions, but the response is always the same -- dead silence. Also, there are some kids in Japan that are so debilitatingly shy that they literally NEVER speak. Making this even weirder is the fact that the teachers don't expect them to speak, so they don't have to say anything in class. There is one student in particular at Kanno JHS who just straight weirds me out. She will speak in a whisper to a few of the teachers, but not all of them, though she still comes to the teacher's room between every class and just sort of stands over different teacher's desks, watching them do whatever they're doing. She stares at me sometimes, but I just do my best to ignore her... Maybe I'm being closed-minded but this sort of behavior just doesn't make sense to me (nor do I feel the need to cater to it).

8. Sometimes random salesman come to school and try to sell things to the teachers. This one is particularly weird. It's not like random teachers pushing avon or tupperware, this is actual salesman, in suits, soliciting things in the teachers room. This is apparently normal. One day at Hirabayashi JHS a guy came with 3 racks of dressy clothes and was actually selling work attire in the teacher's room. It was soooo weird.

9. Japanese kids are weird. Period. Summer vacation is only 1 month long, but they will still show up at school every day at like 8 in the morning to hang out with friends or go to optional(ish) club activities. I've never seen anything like it.

10. Japanese kids are very close to their teachers. In fact, many of them are probably closer to their teachers than they are to their parents. A fellow ALT named Joel told me that his first year here he taught at a somewhat delinquint highschool in Niigata city. That year one of his students got arrested for shoplifting. Apparently, when the kid was given one phone call at the police station, he called his homeroom teacher, not his mom and dad. This, again, is completely normal.

Hmm, I'm pretty sure that's all I can think of for now. If I think of something else outstandingly weird, I'll be sure to add it. Or, if you have any questions, just post 'em in the comments section. Hannah OUT.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

New Things Make Mama Happy

September has completely disappeared on me, I don't know where the time has gone. Every week goes by pretty quickly for me, thanks in part to my awesome schedule. Mondays I start at 1:15 and usually teach at one of five elementary schools in the afternoon. After I teach I go home and grab a bite to eat, then I go to Pal Park to teach my adult eikaiwa class. I'm usually done around 8:30. Tuesdays and Wednesdays I go to Hirabayashi JHS, with an Elm. school visit on Wednesday afternoon. Thursday and Friday I go to Kanno JHS, with an Elm. school visit on Friday afternoon. Because I do something different every single day of the week, I don't really get bored (at least not yet), which definitely rocks.

My weekends go by incredibly quickly (too quickly) as well. Every weekend of September I've gone into Niigata for shopping and/or going out with friends. I should probably cut back, seeing as its a little expensive to commute back and forth on the train each week, and I seem to have a nasty habit of spending way too much money every time I go. Between shopping, restaurants and bars, its easy to drop $150 at every go.

Which brings me to the point of this newest post: the wonderful things I spend my money on. First off, I bought a beautiful beautiful snowboard:

The Rossignol Zena all-mountain freestyle board. Yesssssssss. Sick board with killer graphics. I can't wait for it to snow!! I also purchased some beautiful black Sessions pants and dark red Sessions jacket, both of which will facilitate some serious steezin' on the slopes this year. I put up a pic once I have the whole ensemble (still need goggles, gloves, etc.).

Second, I NOW HAVE A CAR!!!!!! Behold:

The Hannahmobile!!!!

This beauty is a 2000 Subaru Pleo. It's whats known as a "k-car" here in Japan, which means that its under a certain weight class, so it gets to wear a flashy yellow license plate, which saves me a ton of money come time for yearly car tax payment and car inspection (two things that can cost literally THOUSANDS of dollars here). I love the car. Its extremely tiny and thus super easy to maneuver. Its definitely taken some time to get used to driving on the left side of the road and being seated on the right side of the car (I still often walk to the wrong side of the car to get in). On top of all this, the car has a stick shift, so I'm now shifting with my left hand which totally blows my mind. Another plus -- the car is super cheap. I pay about $150 dollars a month, which includes both the car payment and my insurance. This leaves me more money to spend on snowboarding gear and various crap I probably don't need. I love this place :-)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pictures to Fill the Holes in Your Heart

Okay, so again, I suck. I've been super busy and/or exhausted over here, so I haven't taken the time lately to let y'all know how things are going, which is a travesty. So, to make it up to you I have posted 19 pictures so you all can see for yourselves how wonderful my job/life is in Japan.

To get things started right, let's begin with a bit of Engrish:

Mmmmm. Tasty Goo.

Moving on to more meaningful things, I'd like to announce that school is wonderful so far. I have somehow duped my kids into thinking I'm actually cool, which I'm guessing is going to last all of a month. I'm eating up every bit of the attention though until my time is up. The elementary school kids will always think I'm cool though, which absolutely rocks. They ate up every bit of my powerpoint introduction and laughed at all the right places. God I love little kids and their immature sense of humor (the only kind of humor I can generate). Here are some of my 6th grade cuties:

JHS also started out well. I really like my kids and I think they'll be fun to work with. The third years are getting into that "too cool for school" stage that everyone hits in 8th grade, but they still seem to like me since I'm (duh) totally awesome.

Here I am in action, molding their young, malleable minds to my will. Muhahaha. Unfortunately the second picture was taken during the one slide in my presentation that didn't work (due to the computer at school running an ancient version of powerpoint). Oh well. Check out my sweet outline of NC, best state ever. That outline took me about 10 minutes to complete.

This boy is adorable. I don't know his name, but he follows me around and tries to talk to me in the most unintelligible, fast, slurred Japanese ever. I never understand him, but he still always tries. I've gotten to where I generally try to avoid him. Is that terrible? I'm not sure...

This is the bingo game the kids played after my self introduction. Some of the words in katakana include Franklin Street, Michael Jordan, the Beatles, concert, Daft Punk, basketball, Raleigh, and reggae. Nice.

I had to work this past Sunday, because both of my JHSs had Taikusai or Sports Day. Basically its like elementary school field day, except that students are divided into teams and compete against each other in different relays. Sports day is a really big deal here -- even high schools hold them and families come out to watch and at times participate.

On Saturday I was really annoyed that I had to get up early Sunday morning to go sit in the sun all day. But much to my surprise, Taikusai turned out to be really fun. I wish both of my schools hadn't held the event on the same day, cause I only got to see half of each, so I missed some of the cooler games.

Kocho-sensei (Principal) addressing the students. He was my partner for one of the relays, and although he's in his 60's, hes faster than me. :-(

The event started with a cheering competition. Notice the well-balanced, beautiful stage picture. My students are perfect.

The PTA played the largest game of tug-of-war I've ever seen.

A four-legged race is much harder than three.

My favorite game (the name of which escapes me now) involved the boys climbing on to each other's backs, and having to grab the headband of the other team. The boys really loved this.

This relay involved the students running from either side, and grabbing as many tires as possible and taking them back to their "home base" line. Different size tires were worth different points.

After the games were done at Kanno JHS, a closing ceremony was held and awards were given out to the winning team and the star players. Then, the kids released paper balloons (which are friendly to nature) into the sky with their wishes written on them. Apparently, if towns people find the balloons they will write to the school, and pray for the children's wishes to come true. This was so sweet I nearly cried...

And for the finish, more Engrish from home. I have nothing but love for these beautiful people and their liberal use of the English language. I hope all of their dleams come tlue :-).

Monday, September 3, 2007

My Sincere Apologies to My Dear Fans

Hello all! I'm sorry the posts have been non-existent for the last week and a half. Not to worry though -- I have not fallen into the jellyfish-infested sea. Last week was just really busy. And when I wasn't busy, I was really lazy and sat on my butt (or laid on my butt in my futon, as the case may be). Anywho, this past week was really quite fun, as I had my first enkai, or "office party" as we might call them back home. Basically, this is a party you have with your coworkers which involves eating a lot of delicious and expensive japanese food and drinking even more delicious and expensive beer (or sake, whichever you prefer). You never pour your own drink, someone always does it for you. After they pour, you reciprocate. What results is an eternally full glass of beverage for all involved. Needless to say it is a wonderful time. I wish I had pictures to show you, although I was hesitant to take any, as I've heard from other JETs that the rule at enkais is generally "What happens at the enkai stays at the enkai." After the official enkai we went on to nikai (2nd party) at the local karaoke spot. Very fun, but I'm sad to report that Japanese people don't know as many English songs as Westerners assume. I figured they know tons, but they really don't. At least people in the inaka (country) don't appear to. Which brings me to my next point, I need to learn a few popular Japanese songs, stat. I guess I'll start with SMAP. It's as good a starting point as any, in this pop-infested pit of saccharine sound.

I also had my first eikaiwa (English Conversation) class tonight with about 10 adults at Paru Park (this giant sports complex in Kamihayashi). I think it went well, although I did most of the talking, which I need to remedy. I didn't have a good idea of where to start, given that I went into this with no knowledge of my student's speaking ability. Now that I've met them, I have an idea of where to begin, although I've also realized that challenging each one of them is going to be a bit tricky. A few students in the class are very good at speaking, while others are literally just beginning. I'll have to figure out how to successfully teach both simple grammar points (which I think will be good review for the high-level students) and more advanced grammar in the same class period. I want everyone's English to improve!

Okay, sorry for the short post, but I am exhausted and I'm ready to write out my Japanese self-introduction (which I will present at Hirabayashi JHS tomorrow) and pass out. I promise I'll update y'all on my progress later this week. kthxbi.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Prettiest Tapestry Ever

Just wanted to upload some pics of my pretty tapestry and demonstrate for you all how brilliant and crafty I am. The closet in my room does not have a pole on which to hang clothes, nor does it have a place to put one. There's also a shelf that divides the closet exactly in half, so if one wanted to somehow install a pole, it would really be of little use. So, my apartment came with a metal, wheeled thingymajig that clothes can be hung on. Said metal thing is really ugly, and I hated having to look at my clothes hanging on it everyday. I've been thinking about how I could cover that corner of the room since I moved in 3 weeks ago, and every idea I could think of was somehow impractical. Curtains would be too expensive and a pain to install, and I couldn't find large enough quantities of really pretty cloth (I'm sure its here somewhere, though its probably not cheap...). As soon as I got home from Sado and set my new tapestry down next to the ugly metal hanger, it clicked. The tapestry is the perfect size and I'm glad I'm able to look at it every day. I originally thought there would be nowhere to hang it in my house, cause all my big open wall space is covered. Killed two birds with one stone :-)

My clothes are all back there...

Every square is different. I instantly fell in love with it when I saw it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My First List of Things About Japan that Confuse Me

Decided not to go to STS9 tomorrow, cause it was gonna be too much of a headache and was gonna cost me quite a lot. Which is one aspect of life in Japan that makes absolutely no sense to me. Traveling within Japan costs A LOT, regardless of how you do the traveling. Shinkansen (bullet trains) are really fast and convenient, but that also makes them super expensive. To give you an idea, a one-way ride from Niigata City to Tokyo, which takes around 2 hours, costs over $100*. The same one-way bus ride takes 5 hours and costs around $50. Surprisingly, driving can be MORE expensive, cause you'll pay about $100 dollars in highway tolls, and you've got to pay for gas/a place to park when you get there. It confuses me why Japan would make it so expensive and difficult to travel around the country. Wouldn't you want people to be able to travel easily, so they'd travel more (and spend more money...)? Many JETs have told me it's actually cheaper to travel to Seoul, Korea for a weekend than to go to Tokyo -- and Seoul requires a flight!!!

*No worries for those of you who want to visit. As a foreigner, you can get a JR rail pass before you come, and ride almost all the shinkansen for a flat (pretty cheap) rate. So COME VISIT ME :-)

Which brings me to another mind-boggling aspect of Japanese life. In Japan, ATMs are not always open. In fact, they all close every day around 7 PM, and the ones that DO stay open (which are usually in convenience stores) charge you for using them after hours and charge you if the ATM is not for your bank, which they're usually not. As if it couldn't get any more retarded, ATMs are often closed on holidays. WHAT? Is there a tiny Japanese man inside the machine who requires the day off? Now, I understand not leaving the bank open, but the ATM? Again, wouldn't it make sense to leave it open 24 hours, as this would encourage people to spend hard cash (always a good thing)? I feel sorry for the poor salaryman who doesn't get off work till 8 and can't get hundreds of dollars out to spend at his favorite hostess club. Cause you know, like most places in Japan, his favorite hostess club doesn't take plastic.

Lastly, another aspect of Japanese existence that I fail to understand is the practice that some stores have of playing the exact same annoying song OVER AND OVER AND OVER again literally all day. Two stores in particular are especially bad about this: Uoroku grocery store and K's Denki electronics store. Kristin, you think the 20-song Old Navy soundtrack is bad? Try listening to the EXACT SAME annoyingly upbeat Japanese song featuring children's voices all day. I don't know how the workers do it. But I now have a theory about what causes the ruthless killings that occur here every once in a while. Those songs would drive anyone to a murderous rage...

Okay, done questioning things I will never understand. Hannah OUT.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Hippies Abound

Most of you are probably aware that I went to Sado island this past weekend to see the Sado Island Earth Celebration. For the weeks leading up to this I couldn't stop buzzing about how excited I was to see a hippie-laden festival done Nihon-style. Well folks, I got exactly what I wanted -- plenty of tyedye, half-naked people brown people and patchouli.

I didn't go to Sado until Saturday, due to the fact that I wasn't able to make it to the last ferry out of Niigata City on Friday. So Friday night I went out with fellow Murakamians Joel and Eric to check out the mini Tanabata festival being held in town that night. The Tanabata is a Japanese star festival which celebrates the meeting of the lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi, two stars which during the rest of the year are separated by the river that is the Milky Way. Different people celebrate it based on different calendars, so August 19th was a smaller celebration. The giant celebration is July 7th, and is held all throughout Japan.

One of the 10 or so floats that was decorated by, and served to represent various areas of the city.

More floatage.

After walking down the street a ways we spotted Chris and Sean (two other Murakami JETs) in a garage chillin' and drinkin' with some Japanese locals, so we stopped to say hey. It was the perfect spot, because as all the different groups from each area of the city came by, they'd each stop to perform a dragon dance in front of our garage that looked insanely tiring. Ended the night playing darts at the darts bar and hitting the sack relatively early in preparation for Sado.

I woke up earlyish Saturday morning to travel to Niigata City so I could catch a ferry out to Sado island. The car ferry takes about 2.5 hours to travel the distance, and its a lovely ride. I'm mostly gonna let the pictures do the talking:

A small chunk of the lovely Sado. A large portion of the island is completely uninhabited and covered in trees -- i.e., hippie heaven.

Japan's cleaner, friendlier equivalent of Shakedown Street. I bought a number of excellent things, including the most beautiful tapestry ever and a tyedye dress. I was even more pleased, however, when the seller of said dress unwittingly put my new treasure in the most striking paradigm of postmodernism:

Damn that's deep...

Adorable nekkid hippie children were everywhere. I kept wanting to take pictures, although I didn't want to be that creepy gaijin. I found this cutie sleeping in the back of a shop though, and snapped when no one was looking.

The Shinto torii mark this place as sacred.

The steep, lovely climb to the stage.

Proof that I was, in fact, on Sado island decked out in paisley. That's the stage behind me. Sadly, no photos of the performance were allowed.

Saturday night's concert consisted mainly of two long sets. The first was Zakir Hussain and Dilshad Khan, both from India. Zakir is considered to be the best tabla drum player in the world, and after seeing his performance with Khan playing the sarangi, I second that opinion. Kodo, performers of the world's most physical drumming on the bass-laden Ō-daiko (great drum) and hosts of the Earth Celebration for the last 20 years, played the next set which was nothing short of amazing. As if they weren't already totally badass, the drummers and staff live and train on a 25-acre commune on Sado island and have put on the EC every year that they've been there. According to wikipedia, Kodo once once ran from the finish line of the Boston Marathon onto stage for a performance! I've heard they're also ninjas by night.

After the concert was over, back down the hill on the main road, some locals were playing drums, flutes and shamisen. Hundreds of people were milling about and dancing the Sado Okesa dance. The dancing lasted over two hours!

Locals playing the shamisen.

A small O-daiko.

Hundreds line the streets to do the Okesa dance.

A guy doing the Okesa dance in traditional yukata and hat.

I uploaded a video I took of a chick doing the Okesa dance for ya'll. Sorry it's not vertical -- I don't have Quicktime Pro and don't want to pay for it in order to rotate the video.

We (other JETs and myself) camped out on the beach that night. Despite the fact that I had sand in every nook and cranny of my body, I had fun being out on the beach beside a big bonfire. Also, I saw more stars that night than I've ever seen in my life and had a perfectly clear view of the Milky Way. Nearly every time I looked up I saw a shooting star without even trying. I think I made over 15 wishes.

Now, a few pictures of my favorite JETs, for good measure.

Richie, my favorite Irishman. Rich, your face really does look like the bandanna monster here.

Errol and I sharing a very meta moment.

Sunday I basically spent all day travelling back to Murakami since that involved a number of bus rides, ferry rides and train rides. The festival was really fun, and I definitely plan on returning next year, hopefully when my Japanese is better and I can converse with the earth people easier.

In other news, I think I've decided to skip out on the Metamorphose festival next weekend on the Izu peninsula. For those of you who haven't heard me constantly yap about it, its an all night electronic music festival just south of Tokyo that this year will feature one of my favorite groups, STS9. Just traveling there and back would cost OVER 200 dollars, and I've still gotta buy a ticket, a cool t-shirt/art, food, etc. (in that order). However, all is not lost! STS9 is playing a show in Tokyo Wednesday night, so I'm gonna ask my supervisor tomorrow if I could have Thursday off. If they say yes, I'll ride the shinkansen to Tokyo Wednesday after work and ride a bus back on Thursday. I'm a little concerned about asking off work this early in my JET career, although its not like I'm actually doing anything either. My days are filled with sitting at a desk, studying Japanese and surfing the internet. Gaaah my life is so hard ;-)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Beaches, Britney and Beutification

The last five days have been incredibly sweet. Why? Well, days 1 and 2 were Saturday and Sunday (weekends are always sweet), day 3 was prefectural orientation in Niigata city (I got to see some favorite Niigata peeps), and day 4 and 5 (Tuesday and Wednesday) I didn't have to go to work! So I've basically had a 5 day break which rocks. Saturday I did some much needed shopping in the shopping mecca of Bandai in Niigata city. Basically Bandai is a shopping area covered in department stores of the 8-story variety. Bitchin'.

So sometime last week fellow Murakamian Katrina asked me if I'd go hang out with her and a Japanese fellow she met at last weekend's Niigata party and one of his friends. I said yes, as long as all involved understood this was not a "double date," at least not on my part. So the plan was to meet them at the train station (we thought they were coming in by train) and then figure out how to get to the beach since neither of us knew how. Luckily, said boys drove their tricked-out kit car with GPS to the station, so technology all-father lead our way.

We decided to simply drive up the coast till we found a suitable spot to hit the beach. Now, keep in mind two things: one, Japan is a volcano-formed island nation, so in our area, theres not necessarily a lot of "beach" since the mountains run straight into the ocean. Two, next weekend the jellyfish are coming, and apparently its an assload of jellyfish. This being the case, EVERYONE is going to the beach this particular Sunday, because it's their last chance to swim without fear of stinging Scyphozoa. So we had to ride for a little bit before we got anywhere with relatively open beach.

As we're riding along, I notice that the song on the radio is really familiar, but I'm not sure why at first. I listen more closely. Then it hits me, this horrible sound belongs to only one person. How could I have not recognized it? -- Britney Spears has a distinctly god-awful voice. The reason I had not recognized her squall at first is because this particular song (I believe it's called "I'm Not a Girl" ) was some sort of remix. Okay, Britney's on the radio. Okay, boys aren't changing the station. Sad, but whatever. Katrina and I share a laugh and continue on our merry way. Roughly three to four minutes later, however, I notice Britney hasn't left us, and we've moved on to "Overprotected" remix. I incredulously leer at the car radio. Nope, this ain't a radio station. These two guys, ages 23 and 27, enjoy rocking out to Britney. In fact, they enjoy it enough to spend money on a CD in order to do so. Oh God, what is this place? This kind of thing truly makes my soul hurt.

My ability to laugh at the situation paired with the breathtaking scenery helped my immense Britney-induced sadness fade. We ended all the way up in Sanpoku, a gorgeous little beach town at the north most part of the prefecture. And when I say gorgeous, I mean it...

That's Katrina and the J-boys above. We frolicked for 3 or 4 hours, then headed back Murakami way.

When I returned to my house Sunday night, I had a notice in my mailbox that the mailman had been by to drop off some packages my parents sent. I had been waiting very impatiently for these packages to come, so I was stoked that they made it but a little bummed that I hadn't been home to receive them. Of course the notice is in Japanese, so most of it I can't read, but I turned it over and found a phone number to call for "assistance in English." I call the number and talk to a very nice Japanese woman who speaks really good English. I cut straight to the chase and ask her "where should I go to get my packages tomorrow?" She says, "um, they'll be at Murakami post office. But, can you tell me if there is a circled or boxed-in number on the ticket?" I look... "Yeah, it's a 16." "Hold on a moment." I get the Japanese version of hold music which is very upbeat and extremely annoying. After about 20 seconds, she's back. "Will you be home tonight between 7 and 9pm?" "Yes, I will..." "I'll contact the truck driver and get him to deliver it."

WHAT? It's SUNDAY! I was shocked that the post office operated on Sunday at all, let alone as late as 9PM!! But not only did they deliver it to my house that night, I got the packages 15 minutes after I got off the phone with the lady! Damn, THATS service!

These precious packages contained my decorations for my house. So, I spent the rest of my week off deckin' out my house. Here's the pimpin' results:



Kitchen sink.

America Love!!!!

Living room.

Living room 2.

My room. Not much different, but got rid of the god awful pink curtains.

Besides getting the chance to decorate this weekend, I also ended my time as a hermit by buying a bike and a keitai (cellphone). Now, to make you all jealous...

This beauty is the DoCoMo Foma d903i, in "Summer" turquoise. Its way cooler than any phone you chumps can get in America. 3.2 megapixel camera, mp3 player, wireless internet connected (with an awesome browser), GPS so if I get lost I can find out exactly where I am (or where the nearest 7-11 is), Japanese-English dictionary, and million other features I haven't figured out yet. It doesn't have TV or double as a Nintendo Wii remote (features found on other, fancier phones), but it slides out Matrix-style and is TURQUOISE. I love this place.