Natalie Goes to Japan

40 year old very married blonde woman having a midlife crisis who heads to Japan alone to follow her dreams. Be careful what you wish for ... you just may get it.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Ii tenki desu ne?

Translated into Southern it would be, "Beautiful weather, ain't it?" And boy was it! I had decided to go up to Hamakita Forest Park and check it out. The guys at Pulstec said there was good hiking there. But I don't really trust these folks when it comes to that sort of thing. But it turned out just fine. Not exactly the hiking we do in the North Georgia mountains. This is much more groomed. And there were signs everywhere. But it was still really great to get out in the trees and see some nature. Hamamatsu is completely urban, and the only critters you get are the usual suspects - pigeons, crows, sparrows, cockroaches, etc. But out in the Forest Park there were real critters. Song birds, butterflies, big honking spiders, lizards, etc. I even came across a skinny racoonish thing. Apparently I suprised him. He was just walking along and I noticed him before he noticed me. I just watched him for a few seconds. Then he looked up, froze temporarily and then skidattled hastily into the underbrush. It was pretty quite up there, I only ran into a few other people. All old, retired looking folk enjoying the great day. I spent 3 hours up there walking around, and probably only covered a quarter of the place. Absolutely going back there.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Little Bit of This, Little Bit of That

Today was just a hodge podge of things. I started sorting through the books and papers my predecessor left behind in the apartment. I also worked on next weeks lesson plans. I did some research on the internet for future lesson ideas. I posted some photos to the genealogy site I maintain. I went grocery shopping. I also went to the hyaku yen shop, where I picked up a towel rack, a bicycle pump (400 yen), some paints and paint brushes for next weeks babykid classes. I played some computer games. I thought about taking a walk (didn't happen). Then the real fun began. It was time for the Skyland class. Three of them had just come back from Italy. One poor girl could barely keep her eyes open during the class and I don't think it was because of poor teaching skills. They told us all about their trip. And even better they brought me presents. They brought me a lovely necklace from Venice. And better yet they brought me alcohol from Capri. It is the funniest little bottle. More like two bottles melded together. The bottom one Iin the shape of waves) appears to be filled with Limone, and the top one (in the shape of a ship) seems to have a cream liqueur in it. I don't know how long I can go without tapping into them. I had a private lesson with Junko tonight, we are reading "The Great Gatsby". It took her over a month to read the first chapter. But this time she read the whole amount I set for her. Wish I had. Whooops. Did okay though. Studied that particular classic 4 different times, so most of the themes came swooping back. At least she doesn't want to read the "Good Earth" or "Heart of Darkness", which I also studied repeatedly in school. Gatsby is Waaaaay more interesting. Told you, today was a little bit of this, and a little bit of that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Hyaku Yen Addiction

Hi, my name is Natalie, and I'm a hyaku yen addict. Hyaku Yen's are the Japanese vesions of the dollar store. Only they give you a much better high. You can buy nearly everything you need at these stores. I have bought tank tops, and towel racks, hammers, notebooks and snacks. Hyaku yens have come in very handy for buying stuff for my classes. Last week was V is for Van. So I bought a little van that self propels and had the kids sit in a big circle around me. I propelled the van to each child one by one, and they sent it back to me. They loved it and were so patient for their turn it was amazing. Then later in the class we went over colors. I then would open a bag of balloons and dump them on the floor. Each child picked one, told me the color and then I pumped it up with a pump I got at the hyaku yen (the balloons also came from the hyaku yen. My apartment is practically decorated in hyaku yen. The plants I bought, the decorative fans on my kitchen wall, my plates, my cups, my mascara, the clock on my wall, my socks, my towels, EVERYTHING! Okay, not everything, just 95 percent of everything I have purchased has come from these places. And now I can't stop going there. Today I went to 4 different stores, and bought something in every single one. It's an addiction. I can't drive by without stopping. I try. But then my hands start to shake and my vision gets blurry, and then before you know it I'm getting another fix. I need help.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Familiar Territory

Let's see....where did my story leave off? ....Oh, saki, that's right. So I go back to the common room after posting last night and the saki hasn't been served yet. So I go up front and kindly ask if I can help them out with this little chore, as I can tell that he has been quite busy all night. He says sure, that would be fine. So I fill the little saki container full and and pour saki into the tiny cups for the 3 girls sitting at the table. Then I ask if someone walking through would like some. Within 15 minutes we have everybody from the dorms sitting around the table and talking about where they are from. One lady from Mexico, one from holland, two girls from England, a guy from Spain, 2 from Canada, 2 from Germany, one from Australia, me and a guy from Ireland. So that is obviously more than one little container of saki. I had to refill it several times. Okay the truth is we ended up finishing of a 3 litre container of saki. At some point I asked the reception dude how much the container cost. And when he said 800 yen I turned around and said drinks were on me. And we laughed and chatted for a couple of hours (way past curfew I might add). We talked about everything: travel, sports, sex and politics. Of course I had to apologize on behalf of America that we don't have enough intelligent people in our country to elect someone who isn't clueless. Well, we eventually got kicked out of the common room for making too much noise. That's okay the saki had run out and it was late. So this morning I said good bye to the gang, checked out and headed for some more sights. I took the subway (another confusing hurdle I jumped) and headed back to the east side. I started at Nanzenji temple. That was a very hot/cold sorta place. I would like one thing alot, and then I would get mad at the place for another. Such as they have a lovely zen buddhist garden that people sit infront of a meditate. Unfortunately there is a recording of someone telling you about the garden which really takes away from the tranquility. It also the only place I went with no signage in English (and this is one of the really big tourist places). So when I finished that I headed up the Philosopher's Walk to the next sight I wanted to see. A pretty place but a little odd. Can't explain it, but there just seemed to be something missing. But still it was a nice stroll. I ended up at Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavilion), the little brother of Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion) which I saw Sunday. The problem is that the guy who built the Silver Pavilion went bust before the silver was ever applied. So it isn't Silver at all. And the sight where it is built is not nearly as wonderful as the Golden. But I still got a nice couple of pics, even though my camera battery was seriously out of gas. By then it was time to find a bus (another hurdle) to Kyoto station to grab a sandwich and hop the Shinkansen back to Hamamatsu. It was really nice arriving back in Hamamatsu. Nice familiar territory. I grabbed my bike, packed my stuff into the basket and peddled quickly back to the aparto. It was looking like the heavens were gonna open up at any second and I had to get ready for my 6 o'clock class. From the time I left Kyoto to the time I was back at my door was less that 2 hours. Do you know how cooooool that is? It takes 2 hours just to get to the Atlanta airport, let alone do any other traveling. Ah, but now I'm exhausted and need to get out the sleeping mats. Nighty Night y'all.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Dear Johnnie

Today I took the Johnnie Hillwalker tour (not to be confused with the Johnnie Walker tour). When I posted that I was going to Kyoto I had several people email me that I had to take this tour. And they were all right. He's got to be 75 years old if he's a day. And quite the character. Apparently he has been giving this tour for nearly 30 years, but his English is still quite quaint. I wonder if some of this pigeon English is just an act? But the truth is I don't care. He was adorable. Not to mention the tour was quite educational, and sort of a behind the scenes tour of Kyoto. He started by taking us to a working buddhist temple. And explaining all about buddhism and being adorable. We saw behind the scenes at a pottery, a fan making business and a sweets shop. We had vegetarian Inari and a sweet. We went to a couple of Shito shrines and a cemetery. The whole tour to about 5 hours and only cost $20. Soooo worth the money. The tour ended close to a shop where I had seen a robe-style kimono I wanted so I purchased it and did a little more window shopping. By that time my feet were killing me. So I stopped at a little Italian style coffee and cake shop. I sat outside at a cafe table and watched the batch of German business men sitting next to me try and communicate in English with the Chinese woman who was with them. Now that was entertainment. I caught the bus back to the hostel. When I walked in the Dutch woman I have been chatty with asked if I wanted to go to the Japanese bath house with her. I jumped at the chance. That was sooooo wonderful. So relaxing and was extra wonderful for my achy feet. Afterwards we went to this strange little Italian restaurant nearby and it took us half an hour to get our order understood. Now I am waiting for the hostel to serve our saki and then I can hit the sack. I have a lot to see tommorow before I catch the 3:00 train back to Hamamatsu, so I can teach my night class. Must have my energy restored for the big day ahead. Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Conquering Kyoto

I spent my first day in Kyoto, and I took it by storm. Actually I did it by bicycle. I rented a bicycle first thing this morning, and the guy who rented it to me asked if I was going to attend the "freemart". Not understanding what the heck he was saying I brilliantly replied "huh". He said freemart several more times. The last time it morphed into the words flea market. Oh? What flea market? Then I remembered one of the temples here has a huge flea market once a month. I just happended to be here for it. That temple also happens to be real close to Kinkakuji, one of the places I had decided to see. So I hopped on the bike and headed north. And I kept going north. Kyoto is not a small city. I stopped for breakfast. Then I continued on north. Eventually (like an hour after I started) I finally reached the market. It was huge! And if you wanted a used kimono this was the place to be. I'm not crazy about used clothing, and kimonos are completely unpractical. Do I need to mention I didn't buy one. So I went to a department store. There I bought 2 purses and a pair of shoes. This just goes to prove that I am my mother's daughter. Then I rode up to Kinkakuji. Not only is it north, it is in the foot hills. That turned out to be sooooo beautiful which is tough to do on a bicycle. I loved Kinkakuji.
I headed back to the hostel to drop off my purchases. Then I headed off to the west side of town to check out another temple. It was also in the foothills, so after awhile I just found a place to park and continued on foot. I found a really cool cemetery that just went on forever. Sugoi! That means "Awesome" in Japanese. I went to another temple Kiyomizu Dera. It means pure water, and you are supposed to drink some of that pure water. So I did. When in Kyoto.... Came back to the hostel after dark and found someone to go to dinner with. And now I just finished drinking saki with some of yesterdays gals and some new ones. It is only a little nightcap to aid the sleeping process. If you believe that.....

First Shinkansen Trip

After teaching a full day of classes I caught the bullet train for Kyoto. I have to say that that was really cool! I felt very cosmopolitan. I had been so worried about the logistics of it all that I forgot to think about food. If I had been smart I would have grabbed a sandwich to take on the train with me. Luckily I had a hard boiled egg left over from lunch, so I was able to snack on that. I arrived at the Kyoto station an hour a forty minutes after leaving Hamamatsu and had to walk to the "Tour Club". It was a little trickier than I hoped, but I found it alright. I quite fit in with the demographics of the place. I'm certainly not the oldest person here. It seems to me the place is filled to the brim with non-spring chickens (does that makes us summer chickens?). When I set up in my room, I went out to the communal area and sat with a bunch of other women and drank saki. One is from Britain, one from Australia and one the Netherlands. This hostel is considered a quiet hostel, and there is a curfew time and a lights out time. The bed is harder than my mats and tatami floors at the aparto, and the woman in the top bunk's phone went off 5 times overnight. But all in all it ain't bad. Well, I'm off to rent a bicycle and find some breakfast. Oh, I might do a little sightseeing and shopping as well today. See ya.

Friday, September 23, 2005

It's ALL About the Bicycle

Did ya know I had a bicycle? Well, me neither until a couple of weeks ago. When I got here my predecessor had a bicycle, a collapsalbe bicycle. But she said she was giving it to her boyfriend when she left. Okay. Fine. Whatever. So shortly after she leaves I am talking to Junko (she is now one of my private students). I mention I am going to have to buy a bicycle. She tells me that my predecessor had a big fight with her boyfriend just before she left the country. My predecessor decided to give her the bike instead. Then she says "Maybe I don't need it. Maybe you could have it". Oh, how nice, that would be very nice. So the bicycle doesn't get mentioned again. Until a few weeks ago. Junko asks me how I am enjoying the bicycle. What bicycle? My predecessor's bicycle. I don't have it, she gave it to YOU. No, no, it is still at the apartment. It's what? So it turns out I have had a bicycle all along. It also turns out Japanese people say "maybe" when they mean "I think" and various other times. So I check out the bicycle the next day. Both tires are flat. The chain is sooooo rusty. I can't get the kickstand to work. And the wheel and brakes are seriously out of alignment. This is all more than I can handle. So I contact the Suzukis to help me out. I have heard there is a bicycle shop in the neighborhood, but I hadn't found it. And it wouldn't matter anyway, because pantomime and my pathetic Japanese wouldn't really get me an estimate or the tune-up my bike needed. They said they actually knew the owner and a week later they whisked my bike away for an estimate. 3 days later the bicycle showed back up under the shelter and I got an email saying their grandmother had sweet talked the bike shop owner into tuning it up for free. So the bicycle is back. But it still needs some tweaking. I took it to the grocery store a week ago and was really miserable for the whole 8 blocks and back. The seat was too low and it didn't have a basket, so my groceries were in my backback (2 liters of pop included). So my knees and back were killing me. I didn't have to work today and I planned to take the bicycle to the river. So today I worked on getting out the kinks. But that took a lot of figuring out. I had to figure out how to raise the seat. I had to buy a basket and figure out how to attach it. I had to figure out how to get the seats to fold down in my car. I had to figure out how to collapse the bicycle. I had to find my way to the Tenryu river. I'm amazed I even got out of bed with all that uncertainty ahead of me. But I got all the puzzles solved. By the time I got to the river it was 2 o'clock. And really too hot to go riding, but that was not stopping me. So I hopped on the path and started riding. I had read on the internet that at times the path just disappeared but to stick with it. So I did. That advice worked well for me the first 2 times. But the third time the path just seemed to stay unpaved and strewn with baseball sized river rocks. When I finally came to a dam that would require me to pick up the bike, carry it up 2 dozen stairs, ride along a busy highway for a hundred yards, then carry the bike down more stairs just to go and continue on the dirt road I gave up and turned around. The river ain't exactly pretty. There are no trees and there is lots of garbage dumped all over. But I knew this ride wasn't really about enjoyment, more about logistics. So I can't say it was a bust. And it might be more enjoyable riding down river at a cooler time. So I came home. I had planned to meet Magda for coffee at 5:30 downtown, but hadn't really thought about how I was gonna accomplish that. When I got home I decided I would try and ride the bike down there. Now that was a wonderful bike ride. I road along the bike path adjacent to the little unnamed river down to downtown. It only took me 5 or 10 minutes longer than to drive. The sun was setting and the street lights were starting to come on. Magda and I had a great time trash talking. When I rode home it was completely dark, but just so wonderful. The temperature was perfect, the crickets and frogs were singing. I even rode passed the apartment down to the convenience store and picked up a saki cooler (it might be wine, what do I know? It's all in kanji) and some popcicles. When I got back I didn't really want to stop. I just wanted to keep on riding. I can't really explain how liberating it felt. But to know I can hop on my bike at anytime just made me feel so free and giggly. I am now mad at all the time I have lost up to now without a bicycle. What was I thinking?

I've christened her "Aunt Bea". She's a Be Club, whatever that is. She does have a Shimano gear shift, for all you gearheads (ie Mark). She is a little like Aunt Bea. She's short and squat and I'm pretty sure the first time I moved her she squealed Aaaaannnnn-dy. Although the bike is black and Aunt Bea was just about the whitest woman ever.

This is what she looks like when she's all curled up asleep. Ain't she sweet?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Treat'em Like Dogs

Okay, you know I like my students. And you should know that I love dogs. It just constantly amazes me how much my animal training knowledge comes in handy with my students. And in this case I'm not even talking about the baby-brat classes. I'm talking about my 1st and 2nd graders. They really like to play, but they respect me when I put my foot down (occasionally right on their jugular vein). And they like it when I give them a job to do. I now have the undying love of one girl named Risa because I make her carry my tote bag after class. And the first time she had to carry it it weighed a friggin' ton. Like it was probably dangerous for her to carry it down 3 flights of stairs. I also have a boy named Shintarou who has become my slave, too. Last week he came to class early and caught me hiding a bunch of the items we would use for the lesson around the classroom. So I got him to help me hide some of the objects. Well, now he'll do anything for me. After class I have him put the CD away, and carry the player down to the front desk with Risa and me. If this keeps up I'm going to have a parade of students escorting me in a month or so. I'll get them to sweep the ground in front of me, and throw rose petals at my feet and fan me with palm fronds. Ahhhhh, to be adored is wonderful and I plan to enjoy every second of it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

My Touchstone

This is the Act City Tower. It is about 50 stories tall. Nothing in town comes even close. Nothing in the prefecture comes close. From the first day in town, I knew this tower was my friend. It houses a great many things. Businesses, a hotel, lots of restaraunts, some good vending machines, the GAP, a surfboard shop, several concert halls, convention centers, the musical instruments museum (which I have yet to attend), a roof top park (no, not at 50 floors up, it's complicated), an observation deck (yes, 50 floors up), and lord knows what all they are keeping from me. It makes a nice place to walk and kill some time. But most of all it's my touchstone. Okay, I don't actually touch it very much. But whenever I can see it I feel safer. It's this giant traffic sign. I can't really get lost if I can see the tower. I can always find my way again. It's a really nice security blanket for a stranger like me in a strange land (especially a strange land that doesn't understand the concept of street signs).

Quick Laugh

While browsing around on the web for Japanese Inns I came across this:

Sanukiya Ryokan

It is supposed to be the site of an inn, but it doesn't really make me want to sleep there. But it did make me giggle.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Meet Mr. M

This is Mr. M. He drives me crazy. But it's not like he is evil or anything. But it is hard for me to work with someone who is so unncommincative. And I am not just talking about his lack of English Skills. He just seems uncomfortable talking with people. Not just me. Sometimes I feel sorry for him, I wonder if people frighten him? But I don't think that's it. I think he just lives in his own little world. I have mentioned that I can't stand the little meetings he conducts in his car, or how he makes me sit in the back seat, and how he just walks on ahead saying nothing when we go somewhere. He even did that last thing when he picked me up from the airport. And then he spent the 90 minute trip in his car on the way from Nagoya to Hamamatsu and he never offered up a word. He answered the few questions I threw at him, but only just the shortest answers possible. I have to say it was very disconcerting. Another thing that makes me crazy is that I have been to his house every week for the last umpteen weeks and he has never introduced me to his wife or kids. On the good side, all this means he generally stays out of my way and doesn't dictate anything. The classes are mine. I can do what I want. After getting my feet wet, and figuring out my classes, I'm feeling really proud of what I have done. I love when classes go well and the high is pretty awesome. So, I guess Mr. M. is okay. But he still makes me crazy!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Changing of the Seasons

I have had several clues that the seasons are changing. First is that I am a fairly smart cookie and know that Fall officially begins somewhere around September 22. The other dead giveway is that it is getting cooler (big round of applause). The trees are beginning to lose their leaves was another hint about the change. Then there is the amount of hair I am finding all over the apartment. Apparently my body knows the changing of the seasons and I am now losing my summer coat. The most distressing sign though is the amount of spiders that think they are going to be allowed to winter over in my apartment. I try and let spiders hangout wherever they are and not disturb them, but these spiders are different. The spiders I like find a niche, build a pretty little web and then start picking buggies out of the sky for me. But nooooo....not these spiders. I have attention deficit disorder spiders. They can't seem to find a spot and settle down. No they have to scurry about, changing locales constantly. I posted some rules but they don't seem to care. The rules are simple:

1) No running under my bare feet
2) Stay away from the bed
3) Violators will be squished

I'm fairly stict about these rules and don't waffle about. I have had to to enforce the rules 3 times. The last time I got medieval and left the carcass out for the other spiders to see what happens when you disobey the almighty shoe wielder.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Census Taker Commeth

Tonight they tried to enumerate me. It's not as painful as it sounds. They just wanted me to fill out the census form. Of course Mr. Census Taker didn't know any English, and my Japanese only works with 4 year olds. So unless he was going to say "wait a sec" or "wait your turn" or "bad girl" I wasn't going to be much help. So he pulls out his trusty little book and finds the phrase "This is the census". Well I had already figured that out. So then he pulls out a census which is thankfully translated. Ooops, not so fast there. It is translated alright...into Portuguese. That is the number one non-Japanese spoken language in Hamamatsu. In a total population of just over a half million, Hamamatsu has 11,000 Brazilians. In comparison there are 121 Americans. You would think all us Yanks would be on a first name basis. But not quite. Well back to the census. So he leaves me the Portuguese census, even though I keep trying to ask for one in English. I filled it out to the best of my ability. Luckily enough it looks a bit like Spanish (although it doesn't really sound very much like Spanish). There was only one question that I really couldn't figure out. Oh well, I don't think one little foreigner can skew the statistics too much. Or could I? (giggle, giggle).

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Shall We Dance?

Tonight I was transported into a scene in one of my favorite movies...The original "Shall We Dance?". If you never saw the movie I will let you know that it is a sweet funny movie about a Japanese man learning to ballroom dance. Tonight I was invited by Magda, a Brazillian English teacher I am friends with, to her salsa class. It was hysterical. I was terrible, but it felt good to dance. But even better were the chuckles I got from watching Japanese people trying to dance Salsa. But let me tell you they sure tried. There were some of the most uncoordinated, gangly men trying to move and shake their groove thing. And the women have to stop and laugh every few steps. And trying to watch them shimmy is just too funny. And some of the older ladies are dressed so primly and there is no hope that they will ever be able to really get down, but who cares? They were trying something new, getting some exercise and having a ball. I'm gonna see if I can't get a discount rate from the Community Center and sign up. Maybe I will improve, or maybe I won't, but I'm guaranteed an interesting time.

Friday, September 16, 2005

20th Anniversary

Today is Mark's and my 20th wedding anniversary. Wow, 20 years! Who'd a thunk it? If you had told us that 20 years from that day that we would still be married, but one in Georgia and one in Japan we probably would have been more incredulous over the Georgia bit. So what did I do to celebrate? I spent it at the laundromat being completely perplexed. I had to wash the thick blanket I inherited with the aparto. It has gotten a bit on the chill side here at night, the blanket is too big for my washer and it smells funny. When I got to the laundromat it was desserted, but brightly lit and really clean. First I realized that the machines didn't take money. You had to put money on an electonic card. So I did that...or so I thought. Then I took the card back to machine and put it in the slot. Nothing. So I started punching all the various buttons. Still nothing. So I to the card out and reinserted it. More nothing. Just then a guy came in to do his laundry. So I begged help. He was obviously just your everyday working dude. How do I know this? Well, he had that ruddy complexion you see on working guys, and he was still wearing his work clothes (dead giveaway). So he puts the card in the slot the right way, and realizes there is no money on it. So he takes me back to the card machine and tells me to put money in it. Well, I already put 500 yen in it. The machine wouldn't give me my money back and it would put the money on the card. So Mr. WorkingDude pulls out another 500 yen coin and drops it in the machine before I can stop him. The machine graciously puts 1000 yen on the card and then we go back to the machine and he starts it for me. I try to give Nice Dude the card with the rest of the money on it but he won't accept it. Of course when the washer stopped I needed more help with the dryer because I am a stranger in a strange land (or a ditz in Japan). After he helped me with the dryer I insisted he take the card, and when he wouldn't take it I laid it on the counter and walked away. He agreed to take it then. So that was my exciting night out, what did you do?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Mr. Kobayashi

Thursdays are the day I have the Skyland class. I was disappointed because Mr. Bossman (Kobayashi-san) was away on a business trip. He's a hoot. He can't be more than 5 feet tall, and a little tubby and his English is rudimentary, but he can still figure out how to make me laugh. He is unmarried and spends all his time figuring out how to make more money. He doesn't have anyone to spend his money on, so it appears he spends it on his employees. When they went to Tokyo he took a couple of employees to Trader Vics. One Saturday he got bored and closed the hotel office and took them all to the movies. Next week he is taking 2 employees to Italy. They are spending 8 days total between Roma, Firenza, Milano and Venizia. I'm sure it is partly a business trip, but mainly it is just for sightseeing. Everytime one of the employess kids comes by he hands them cash. Even when they are 19 and working. Last week I decided to take his picture and this is what I got.

What a great face, eh?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Happiness is planning a trip

...and I am planning two! I found out earlier this month that I don't have any classes at the community center for Tuesday thru Friday the last week of September. I still have my three night classes on Tues, Wed and Thurs, which doesn't exactly leave me a bunch of time to go meandering all over Japan. But I don't care and I've got a plan. I will leave Saturday night, the 24th and take the 7pm Shinkansen (High Speed Train) to Kyoto. I should arrive around 8:45. I have booked myself in at a place within walking distance from the station. They call themselves "Tour Club". It is something between a youth-hostel and an inn. I decided to do the "Dormitory Style Room". I don't really need a room to myself, I can sleep through almost anything. And it is only 2400 Yen per night. I could get a room to myself for 5000, but I decided to go the cheap route. I'll stay in Kyoto Sat, Sun and Mon nights and return to Hamamatsu on Tuesday in time to go to my Sony Class at 7:00. One of the reasons for going so cheap on the accomodations is that the Shinkansen ain't cheap - 8000 yen each way. The other reason is that I also have a week of Community Center duty again the last week in October. And I have to only work 2 night classes. I am going to Nagano for 5 days then. Yippee. I hinted at (in other words outright asked for) an invitation from Tomone and Yuwen. I met then last year when we visited Japan. Tomone (male) was one of the professors that Mark worked with on a project. Yuwen is actually Chinese, and she and Tomone met when they both attended UGA. What this all boils down to is that I have 2 trips planned in the next 2 months and I'm so giddy I can barely stand it. I go singing down the halls, and skipping along sidewalks and smiling and saying "konichiwa" to everyone I pass. I am really starting to frighten the Japanese. Oh well, I don't care...I'm going on a trip, I'm going on a trip!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

My Little Upside-Down Boy

This is Rentarou. I adore Rentarou. He is a two-year old in my Saturday class. He's a great kid with a wonderful smile. In every class we review the abc's, up to the new letter we are doing that week. When we are done talking about the new letter I choose one child to put the letter back into the alphabet on the board. I give them the letter, and then lift them high enough so they can put it where it needs to go. Then before putting them down I either swing them around, or put them up on my shoulders, or dangle and swing their legs back and forth like a bell or just turn them upside down. One week I chose Rentarou for letter replacement duty. Afterwards I turned him upside-down. That's when I realize he looks the same upside-down as rightside-up. Well, now I just have to turn him upside-down everytime I see him. As you can tell by the picture below he quite enjoys it.


...and upside-down

Monday, September 12, 2005

Dirty Laundry

Well, now it's clean laundry. It was not a very exciting day, but good for rest. Laundry, groceries, messing around on the computer. Same old same old. So I went for a very short walk to take a few pics of the neighborhood and my exotic apartment building.

I'd say that my apartment is the one with the laundry on the balcony, but they all have laundry flying in the breeze. My apartment is the one on the upper floor on the left. But I get better sun than any of the other apartments. It means it gets pretty hot in the summer, but I still prefer it to any of the others.

This is my tiny little driveway. Notice I have to back out onto the street. And the street is only one way, so not much turning room. I have gotten pretty good at it. One of the things that makes me proud of myself is learning to drive under such different conditions.

This is a pic of my corner, with the obligatory vending machine on the corner. I'm starting to think there is something sinister about these vending machines. Like there are spy satellites inside or mind control machines. But then when you need a cool drink they come in awfully handy.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Castle, a Flock of Toucans and Hot Pink Toenails

The Suzukis whisked me off for another daytrip. This time to the town of Kakegawa. They have a nice little Japanese castle there. It was a lovely building.

Too bad there was nothing in it. I knew it was a small, and not famous, but I didn't expect it to be so barren. It is built on a very steep hill, maybe small enough to be called a hillock. The views from the top were nice. Then I find out it was only a replica. They built it from very detailed plans that were submitted to the government in the 1600's. So it is really accurate, but only a couple of decades old. On site is a residence that I think is original, and a nice little museum. After the visit to the castle we headed for the bird park. It is a large indoor aviary. They didn't exactly have a wide range of birds. Mainly Sun Conures and Toucans. You can feed the birds and they will fly over and land on you to eat pieces of melon out of your hand. In general I find the Japanese to be kinda chicken (pardon the bird pun). At PalPal everyone is afraid of all the rides Americans like most. Of course at the bird park that is good for the birds. Americans would roughly handle the birds, but the Japanese would just stand very uneasily as the birds would perch on them. The toucans were really cool, they were so gentle as they took food out of my hand. And they are just amazingly beautiful, and photogenic.

Yoko is so funny, she is so worried about my eating habits. She found cranberry juice for me (I think she must have ordered it) and picked up some REAL mayonaise for me too. Well, now I am sitting here watching "Kill Bill" and painting my toenails. I think the two things go together perfectly. I'm even going to put some little flower decals on my toenails. I'm so hip!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Danger Man to the Rescue

Saturday classes can be tough. I have 15 children in each of the Baby-Brat classes. That's just too many. Only 8 showed up for the first class, and it was sooo much better. My Let's Go 1 class is only 8 students and they are a little behind my other Let's Go 1 class. Sometimes we actually have to work on the alphabet. And then there is the Let's Go 3 Class. 4th and 5th graders who will barely speak above a whisper. They aren't very enthusiastic. And we had a tough time with the lesson today. It was much harder than I thought. So when we only had 10 minutes left and had several things scheduled left to do...I thought "Screw it!" let's give them a break and play Danger Man. It is really just Hangmen, but not only is Hangman a little too gruesome, it also isn't exactly apparent what is going on without some verbal description. I read about this form of Hangmen on the internet. The kids understood immediately the peril that our little friend was in, and would scream when I erased one of the parachute lines when they got the letter wrong. Remember, these are the kids I have trouble getting to say "Here" when I call attendance. They even ran to the board and tried to erase the teeth of the shark. I guess I can safely say I will be playing this game again.

Friday, September 09, 2005

U is for Umbrella

Life is starting to find a normalcy to it. I have a routine to my weeks, and class planning is not quite so intimidating. I know that for sure today. I am having trouble thinking up anything extraordinary for my blog. Of course I can always talk about my classes. As I have mentioned, I like Fridays. And Fridays like me. I have one little boy, named Hideo, who absolutely hates when we sing the "Goodbye Song". It means class is over. He yells "No"! and begins to cry. He is always the last one to leave and he comes and gives me a hug and a kiss, and says "bye bye" repeatedly through his tears and sniffles. I also have the great 4 and 5 year olds on this day. Today I taught them "You Ain't Nothin' but a Houndog" by Elvis Presley. We did some little hand moves and dancing with it. They loved it. "Mo ikai, Mo ikai"! they scream ("one more time"). Then, after a nice day at work I walked to the video store and grabbed "Kill Bill V.1" and "Delovely" to offset all the violence. I'm not sure I can handle Kill Bill, and it may end up in the freezer if it gets to be too much ("Friends" refrence).

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Autumn 1988-2005




Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hideous Shoes: Part 2

These shoes a just slightly less hideous, not quite so huge, not quite so uncomfortable, but have been on just as many feet. These beauts are what I have to wear when I go to the Pulstec factory. There are two "classes", one directly following the other, on Wednesday nights. I have a 45 minute drive to get there, and have to stop somewhere along the way to grab something to drink and snack on, or go hungry until 8:30 or 9:00 when I get home. I say "classes" because they are conversation classes with between 1 and 3 students. So we just chat. Sometimes I'm called on to explain something about America. Such as tonight when I was asked why people would want to live in New Orleans when it was so prone to disaster. I then asked them why anyone would want to live in Japan, where there is at least 1 earthquake everyday, and typhoons are constantly bombarding it. Of course one smart alec stated that earthquakes are "fun". Other times I have to explain phrases I use. Such as when I stated my father was an ex-smoker. They thought that must mean he smoked alot, because X stands for extra large here, so he must smoke an extra large amount. No, no, it means he used to be a smoker, but not anymore. Like wife and ex-wife. Ex-wife? Yes, after a divorce the wife becomes and ex-wife. Divorce? Oh, my, this has gotten us way off the topic of one employees trip to American and looking for the smoking lounge in the Denver airpot. Now, I'm trying to explain divorce. I quite like these classes, and they keep me on my toes that's for sure. Too bad my toes are encases in such ugly shoes. Did I mention how much I hate the ugly shoes? Just checking.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Hideous Shoes

Uggghh! I hate everything about these shoes. These are the shoes I have to change into when I teach at the Sony Factory. I dress up to go to this dang job, and then I have to wear these super ugly, scuffed up shoes. They really don't go with my plaid mini skirt. They really don't go with anything, for that matter. Then there is the fact that other people's nasty feet have been in these shoes. I could catch some dreadful foot disease. And there is the most practical of reasons to hate them, they are dangerous. They are too big. Shuffling around is bad enough, but I have to do stairs in these disgusting monstrosities. There is no way to be graceful when going up or down stairs with these ugly, disease ridden, dangersous shoes flopping around. Do you get the feeling I am not entirely happy with wearing these shoes?

Monday, September 05, 2005

Last Frontiers of My Apartment

My plan for the day was to go to check out Hamamatsu's very own castle. But when I awoke this morning it was raining. So I checked out the forecast. Rain all day. As a matter of fact Rain all week. Well, at least it is cooler than yesterday. So I sat around reading, did a few chores and listened to NPR. Then I decided to finally try out my bathtub.

Oh, it was wonderful. I was fearful that the hot water would disappoint me. I was wrong. The tub is so deep, when I sit up my shoulders just barely break the surface. And I was left with some bath confetti, and it made the best bubbles I have seen in years. After my success with the tub I decided to try out the recently cleaned oven.

I can't even explain how bizzare this little oven is. Besides the fact that all the buttons are in Japanese, and the tempeture is in celcius, it comes with these little plastic punch cards that you can use to set the time and temp. Well, none of the cards have a picture of a frozen pizza on it, which was on tonight's menu, so I just had to wing it. Can't say it came out perfect, but it was hot and the cheese was melted. So I now have used everything in my apartment. I am the master of my domain!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Going Beserk

Uuugh. We had been having much nicer weather for the last week or so and then boom it was gone. I was getting nothing done. The A/C wasn't working as well as it has in the past. I must have hit some button on the remote that keeps the blower part from working. It was so hot in this apartment I was afraid I was gonna pass out. I decided it would be much cooler at the beach. It certainly couldn't be any hotter. So I grabbed my beach bag and a book and headed out to Nakatajima again. It was indeed a whole lot cooler at the beach. The wind off the water was delightful. I sat and watched teenage boys throwing themselves and each other into the crashing surf. I smiled as the sandpipers did their tango with the waves. A father brought his young son out to play in the waves and build sand mounds (couldn't really call them castles). I read my book, watched the waves, drank some gatorade and ate cookies until it got to cold to stay any longer. Can't really say it is a pretty beach. First of all there is garbage strewn everywhere. And the haze over the ocean keeps it all very grey. But it is still the beach. It was only 5:30 when I left, and the sun was still fairly high in the sky, but nonetheless all the beach visitors started leaving. I still have sand stuck between my toes. It's a lovely feeling.

Girl Bloggers Night Out

Turns out one of the blogs I read regularly (gentle indifference - listed over on the right) is by a girl whol lives right here in Hamamatsu. I only figured this out recently when she mentioned the typhoon bearing down on "our fair city". I got in touch with her and suggested drinks if we both survived the bad weather. She agreed, and tonight was the official get-together. We met at "Groovy Gravy", a vegetarian/gaigin hangout at 9:00. She is into Texas Holdem, is from North Carolina and has lived without internet for 5 months (bless her heart, as we say in the South). I had a lovely time. It was nice talking to someone in complete sentences, at a normal speed, using slang, idioms and tons of sarcasm. We were still there at 2:00 am when I realized the train had quit running at 11:30 pm. We decided I needed to take a taxi home. Problem was I didn't know how much it would cost and I hadn't really brought a whole lot of money. She forced a few extra yen on me, and I could pay up her bar tab next time. I wandered down "Happy Street" (I think it has another name but all us dopey foreigners call it this) and chose one of the billion cabs waiting for drunks. Happy to say I am not really in that category. I might fit in the tipsy category, especially if you notice any misspelled words. The cabbie couldn't understand me, but laughed and kept trying. Eventually he figured out where I needed to go and headed straight there. Turns out I had just enough for cab fair without Andrea's money, but this gives us an exuse to get together again. I think next time a deck of cards will be involved.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Lead Balloons

Well, my beautiful tree didn't go over so hot. The first class just hoarded all the pieces like they were gold, the second class tried to break all the pieces and the third class couldn't care less and wanted nothing to do with it. Then in my 4 & 5 year old class, well they are really bright, so I thought I would try twister with them. Oh they loved it all right, they loved trying to stretch the tarp and using it for a mass tug of war. Oh well, some days you're the windshield, some days your the bug. Today definately sounded splat.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Tree, Dinner and a Strange Bar

For a long time I really wasn't taking any photos. I was just too hot, too stressed and too darn tired. I think I am making up for lost time. Here are photos of my day.

This is the tree puzzle I cut out of colored foam boards tonight. It is about 3 feet tall. Took me two hours. It went significantly faster once the lightbulb went on over my head and I got out the cutting board and a box knife.

This was my dinner. Just cream cheese and crackers, a fruit cup and some good old American Sprite. I only had 30 minutes to prepare and eat dinner tonight so I used a quicky standby. I would like to tell you that when I got home after my last class I had something more substantial, but that would be a lie. I had a melon popsicle. I had a tree to create.

This is a funny bar I passed earlier today. Does the name mean they are open so late that they are open early? Or does this refer to the time spent tinkling after embibing in their products?