Monthly Archives: September 2008

Be Prepared

After two years of living 15 minutes from classes/campus, I’d gotten out of the habit of making sure that I have everything I needed. What did it matter if I accidentally left my cellphone on my desk? At the most, I’d only be separated from it for as long as it took me to realize it and walk back from the science building.

In Japan, of course, ‘home’ is a fifty-minute (or more) commute and I’ve taken to making sure that I carry almost everything I could possibly want during the day.

Ha. Add my laptop to this and picture my back in fifty years time. From the back, left to right: blue binder for handouts (of which they are many), baby squirrel folder for Translation, red Translation workbook (may it die horribly), The Backpack itself, kitten folder for Japanese class, knitting bag, raincoat-inna-bag, purse with American wallet and spare pen, ibuprofen, Nintendo DS with kanji dictionary cartridge, name card for class, pencil bag, second wallet with passport and other important bits, as well as the bulk of my cash (muggers, take note), head scarf for windy days, coin purse, sunglasses, notebook for noting new vocabulary, notebook for keeping track of expenses (usually snacks), fan for days when the air conditioner isn’t reaching your desk, enevelope with various maps (North Ward, Nagoya, Japan), folder with pending part-time job paperwork, planner/schedule book, Japanese textbook, notebook for random scribblings, notebook for Japanese, and kanji practice book.

All of this is occasionally augmented by the aforementioned laptop, my journal and/or sketchbook, camera, iPod, umbrella, and recent shopping acquisitions.

Anyways. I was loading my recent pictures onto the computer and came upon this:

Okaaaay. Nice, tree-lined street? Could be anywhere in my neighborhood and there was nothing particularly interesting that caught my eye. Then I clicked to the next picture.

Oh. Right. This was the photographic evidence of my walking past the sign for the inn that my dad hopes to stay at in November. Five times. Though, as you can see from the first picture, it didn’t exactly jump out at me.

Finally, a request. Do any of you guys have any things that you want me to write in particular? Any topics or questions that spring to mind. I’m definitely okay with doing an occasional (or one-off) ‘Reader’s Questions’ post. Please leave a comment, or e-mail me with your suggestions.

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Neighborhood Tour

Last week,  popped my head out of the apartment and took a quick walk around the neighborhood. I’m in a part of town that is quite obviously part of the city, but the are still a few groves of trees and some ragged edges that construction hasn’t quite filled in.

My first stop was the top floor of the apartment building where my host family lives (on the first floor). It seemed like a really great idea…until I got up there and remembered my fear of heights that happened to be over 30 feet. So I snapped this and the next few pictures and ran back down as fast as I could.

The building in the upper-right corner is a hospital, apparently a fairly famous one in the area. The building ‘behind’ it is the children’s clinic. The front walkway is decorated with Pokemon posters.

The is the intersection that I used to go through on my way to the station. Just this week I switched to a route that takes me through a quieter area and involves less doubling-back.

Besides the occasional supermarket, small department store or pharmacy, there’s quite a few small shops selling cakes and teddy bears (?) and, as seen here, custom made blouses and shirts.

Yards as most Americans know them are practically nonexistent in my neighborhood, even for people who have stand alone houses (though, ‘stand alone’ is a bit of a misnomer as you’ll see in a few pictures). Many people have these tiny little gardens growing in their carports and the foot of space between their house and the street.

The back of my apartment building. It’s fairly new and nice inside.

Probably the most common bit of ‘Engrish’ I see in my neighborhood is the interjection of (multiple) exclamation points into the middle of a phrase.

If anyone has an explanation for this, the surrounding of a house with clear bottles of liquid, I would love to hear it.

A lot of people were airing their futon on the railings, since it hadn’t rained for the first day in a while. Also, notice the gap between the houses – about a foot or so.

This is a Shiba dog, a rather popular breed in Japan. They’re really cute and you can bet that any ad or commercial that involves dogs will have an image of one of these.

This is the Kita Ward office building, where I went to get registered as a foreigner and sign up for health insurance. This picture and the next one were taken with my camera on the ‘vivid color’ setting, which I will definitely be experimenting with when I get my replacement.

This is near the ward office, a sort of combination overpass/restaurant venue.

PS I’m editing the Cat Cafe post to include the names of the kitties.

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12 on the…er, 17th?

The idea behind twelve on the twelfth is to take 12 pictures on the twelfth of the month. Unfortunately, this month, the twelfth fell on Friday. So besides the fact that it can be hard for me to get a hold of a computer after 5PM, I definitely wasn’t going to be able to upload pictures over the weekend.

Also, the kid broke my camera and there was a mild amount of panic before the host family loaned me their old one. I loaded my card into it and was off.

First, a tribute to the dead camera. If you look closely, you can see that the outermost lens piece is dented in such a way that the camera won’t turn off. It’s appreantly irreparable in Japan, but a replacement is forthcoming.

Breakfast! About half the time, breakfast is Western style – some form of bread (toast or raisin roll), egg (fried or boiled), a little bit of lettuce and some ham. Otherwise it’s rice, miso soup, and some veggies. I always drink mugi-cha or barley tea in the morning, since the only milk they have is whole milk and I’d rather not puke on the way to school.

*sigh* I really wonder what the camera thouht I was focusing on. In most parts of Japan, people can park their bikes almost anywhere around the subway station, for free. Most of the time, they don’t even lock them up. However, near my station, you have to hook your bike up to this little doo-dad and pay a 100 yen to get it back at the end of the day. The cause of much griping on my host father’s part.

Side note – it feels really strange to refer to my host-parents as “parents.” There’s no physically possible way for them to have a daughter my age. At all.

After a twenty-minute bike ride (parking space finding time included), a fifteen minute subway ride and a ten minute walk, I arrive at Nanzan University.

Typically, everyone gathers around the building that holds the Center for Japanese Studies office until it opens at 9AM. There’s usually stuff about moved or cancelled classes, corrected quizzes, and ‘you lost something, please come pick it up’ notifications in our student boxes, so it’s a good place to start the day.

You’ll just have to imagine me sitting in Japanese class for the next three hours, as I didn’t think they’d take kindly to pictures being taken.

Instead, have a picture of one of the classroom buildings. Most of us had forgotten that Nanzan was a Christian unversity (though, a rather lax one) until we saw this.

Japanese class ends around lunchtime everyday and most of us tromp down the hill to eat at one of the school cafeterias. The food is okay and it’s cheaper than a hot meal might cost elsewhere.

Lunch for me is usually tonkotsu ramen at the cheapest cafteria…

…and something to drink from the vending machine. While you can find almost anything to drink in one of these things, including beer and hot tea, Japan is sadly lacking in the food vending department. I’ve yet to see anything besides ice cream offered.

Lunch is usually followed by more classes or, on this particular day, a trip to the computer lab with Joanna to check our e-mail and Facebook. Technically, we shouldn’t be doing this, but many of us don’t have access at home and bend the rules a little.

The way home can be…daunting. This is a hill I climb in the morning and skid down in the afternoon on the way to the subway station from school.

Finally, I leave you with an image that represents a lot of my time here – waiting for the darn train to show up.

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Cat Cafe

Some of you might have heard of so called ‘cat cafes’ which have been springing up in Asia, mostly in Japan (see here and here). When I heard of them, about a year ago, I added them to my list of ‘must-see’ locations while I was in Japan. I have to admit I’d pretty much given up on traveling to Tokyo to see one, when my host family showed me an article in a lifestyle magazine – a cat cafe had opened in Nagoya and I had made my interest in cats sufficiently visible that they were willing to take me one weekend.

So, last Sunday (the 7th), we piled into their car to check it out. Host Mom is a big fan of cats, but Host Dad and the kid (of doom and evil, but I’ll explain that later*) are highly allergic, so the only ‘pet’ they have is the kid’s beetle collection. *shudder*

This is the outside of the cat cafe – it’s in the same ward** as my university, but apparently hard to get to by subway. I’m trying to work out a way of getting there that doesn’t involve a card, since I’d like to go back when my dad visits in November.

The name of the cafe was Cat Cafe Nago Nago.

Everyone who entered was required to take their shoes off and put on slippers.

This big dude was the first cat visible when we entered. He was HUGE. I’m not sure my hand helps convey the scale of this kitty. I immediately dove for the cat, only half-listening to the rules (don’t be mean to the cats, don’t touch so-and-so, he’s grumpy today). This dude was a 10-month-old (!) male, named Reo (pronounced Ray-oh). All of the cats have personality taglines and Reo’s is ‘cool.’

Most of the fourteen cats (not including kittens) were taking there afternoon naps in the various boxes, nooks, crannies, and cat towers scattered around the two rooms. The kittens were in large wire cages, though four of them were released to play soon after we got there. This white lady is 2 years old and called Serika (say-ree-kah). Her tagline was ‘sexy.’

I’ll let this one and the few speak for themselves. Above is Kotora (koh-toh-rah, probably meant to be ‘little tiger’). He is four years old and his tagline is ‘loner.’ Below is Tan (tahn), a ten-month-old male who loves toys.

This dude was up on a pretty high shelf – high enough that putting my camera up there and stretching for the button was the only way I got a look at him. His name is Potechi (poh-tay-chee) and he is two. He is, apparently, the coward of the bunch.

This is Tawashi, the only cat whose name I remember. I’ll try and find the magazine so that I can name the others. Tawashi is seven months old, the zoungest out and about kitty. He is labelled as the Idol, the grouchy, persnickety one of the bunch.

The kittens were ridiculously cute – tabbies, but their pattern was slightly different from any tabby I’ve seen in the States.

They were a little difficult to photograph in the cage, moving around a lot to get away from the giant faces looming in to look at them.

I would have taken more pictures when they were let out, but at that point I was ready to set the camera down and do some cuddling.

I’m going to try and post each day for the next two, since I don’t have class in the afternoon on Wednesday and Thursday this week, probably my 12 on the 12th post and the photo tour of my neighborhood. On Thursday, though, I’m going in to have my interview at Nazan Elementary School to see if I can be an English TA. ;D

Finally, the footnotes –

* The Bane of My Existence this week –

This is my host family’s kid and he’s in the doghouse this week for breaking my camera and body slamming my knee. The camera is being replaced and I’m sure my knee will recover, but it was not a good Japan-USA Foreign Relations week.

** Japanese cities (for the most part) have the suffix ‘-shi’, meaning city. They are divided into ‘ku’ or wards. I live in Kita-ku (North Ward), while the university and the cat cafe are in Showa-ku. Ku are further subdivided in ‘cho’ or towns. From there numbers are used on buildings, but that can be a pretty hairy way of finding things.

PS First round of postcards is going out today. I’m doing two a week and bought the postcards for these two weeks in Kanazawa over the weekend.

PPS My new site banner is a photo I took from the top of my host family’s building (they live on the first floor).

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Food thus far

Eating has been an interesting experience for the past two weeks or so. Sometimes it’s been gross, sometimes it’s been beyond delicious, and sometimes it’s been so difficult we feared starvation.

One of the first ‘meals’ many of us had this trip was whatever convenience store food we could scrounge our first night in Nagoya. From then on, on our orientation trip at least, breakfast and dinner were provided, while we pursued lunch on our own. We didn’t complain much.

Mostly because dinner looked like this (the writing near the bottom of the tray means that mine is free from peppers).

Or this. This was actually eaten on a boat on our way to watch cormorant fishing. At this point we were getting a little weary of snapping the heads off of shrimp (the raw ones have raspberry-blue brains) and trying to figure out how to pull apart the fish in order to extract some nutritional value.

We weren’t too shabby at finding food ourselves, though.

Many of us had chasshumen (ramen with pork) at the same shop both days we were in Inuyama for orientation.

Finally, a few other food points that caught my attention.

This is, I believe, a sort of cucumber onna stick. Not intended for ease of cooking – I found it in the takeout section of the convenience store.

A yakisoba (grilled noodles) sandwich, found in the same area. No, I didn’t buy either of these. At this point, most of us were still ice cream fiends, due to the weather.

That’s all foodwise, for now. I’ve been having trouble finding the time and the capacity to upload photos to the internet, so my list of planned posts is growing rapidly, while my posting slows. So far, I have a photo tour of the neighborhood around my host family’s apartment building and pictures from my visit to a cat cafe set to go up sometime in the next week. On Friday, I’m also planning on doing ’12 on the 12th,’ a set of twelve pictures taken on the 12th of the month, hopefully to give you guys some idea of my daily routine.

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Fourth Impressions

Okay, so. First off, I didn’t expect getting a hold of the internet, let alone enough time to compose a blog entry, to take so long. Unfortunately, Japan has not turned itself into one giant wireless hotspot since I was last here, so I have been depending on stealing the inn’s cable internet and, as of today, snatches of computer time here at Nanzan University.

Anyways, first thoughts.

It’s hot. It’s really, honestly, murderously hot. Add to that 90% humidity that results in the occasional downpour, and you have 26 very unhappy American college students. The orientation trip in Inuyama turned out to be a lot better than I had feared. Inuyama is about an hour’s bus trip outside of Nagoya, thought we never really leave civilization. We stayed at a traditional Japanese inn (a ryokan), called Geihanryo.

It was a neat place – our IES guides made sure we did a lot of neat things; we ate traditional inn fare, visited the local castle, and saw a demonstration of cormorant fishing. I’m planning on doing a few more detailed posts at a later date, when I have more time, but for now I’ll leave you with some highlights from the past few days.

This is Inuyama-jo, which was seriously about 100m away from the inn. The second day, English-speaking Japanese volunteers led us around the whole castle. Very cool.

After the castle tour, we were treated to an abbreviated Japanese tea ceremony.

Finally, the ramen shop where almost everyone ate lunch both days that we were there. Tiny little place, run by an older couple with a little help from their elementary-school-aged nephew. Lots of fun sitting at the bar and slurping down noodles.

Starting from tomorrow, I hope to have more regular internet access, though it’s likely I won’t be doing any posting on the weekends. I’m planning my next entry about food, though, coming sometime next week!

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