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.

Monday, October 31, 2005

One Tired Puppy

Well, that was quite the tiring day. We went back to Zenkoji temple, seeing as it was closed on us the last time we tried to visit. It really is a lovely temple, with beautiful grounds. One of the must-dos in Nagano, is to touch the key to paradise. But to do this you must go underneath the temple, through this winding tunnel, in the pitch black. Not something you could do in America - someone would get sued. It was so weird. We are talking this tunnel is long and absolutely pitch black. When I went down there it was quite busy, so there people in front of me, and behind me. And we are all bumping into one another as people stop and go. The people in front of me were a tour of older folks. I always knew when I was going to bump into the lady in front of me because the top of her hair would tickle my chin. And most of the ladies were laughing so hard, bumping into one another and tripping over each other. So when I touched the key to paradise, all I could here was laughter. I definately agree that laughter is the key to paradise. After that I looked at my watch and saw I had only 30 minutes before my train left, so we trotted back to the car and headed straight for the station. I jumped out of the car, pulled my suitcases out of the back, said a quick goodbye and skidattled off as quick as I could. I missed the train by 10 seconds. I'm not kidding! I cried for about 3 minutes and then sighed heavily and sat down and ate a pumpkin muffin. Missing the train meant I missed the connection. But when I got to Nagano, I walked right up to another train bound for Hamamatsu and we were off in no time. Unfortunately I picked the Japan's slowest train. This train stopped every 100 feet for another station, and frequently the stops were for 10 or 15 minutes. The Shinkansen takes an hour to get to Hamamatsu. The connection I planned to take would have taken 80 minutes. This train took 2 and half hours. I watched a train pull up across the platform from us bound for Hamamatsu and it left again before we pulled out. We sat there for another 10 minutes. Boy, did I pick the wrong train. But it eventually pulled into familiar territory. I hopped off that train, pulled me and all my stuff over to the local train and 12 minutes later I was at Hikuma station. I then wheeled my suitcase, my tote bag and a shopping bag filled with souveniers through the back streets of Sode-Cho to the aparto. It was a nice cool, beautiful autumn night. Things instantly seemed much better. But I am one tired puppy.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Monkeys and Feet in Hot Water

Yeah! I got to visit the hot springs at Jigokudani, where the monkeys have become smart enough to take advantage of the hot water and warm themselves. I have always wanted to do this, but I didn't think that even though I was going to be so close by, that I would be able to visit them. First of all it needs to be cold enough for them to enjoy getting in hot water. In the middle of August they don't find it so enjoyable. Also you have to hike in a bit to get to this onsen, and I didn't think little Kei-chan would be up for the hike. Well, I didn't have to worry. It was plenty chilly enough for the monkeys to enjoy the water, and as Kei is a little monkey herself she totally enjoys the hike and visit. Since Tomone had to carry Kei, that meant I got to carry his camera. And that means I got to take pictures with his camera. So between being at the Monkey Park and using and awesome camera I was one giggling, happy little camper. After I exhausted myself at the park we drove to the nearby town. Kei had fallen asleep, so Tomone stayed in the car with her while Yuwen and I walked around the old onsen town. Then we stopped at the foot only hot springs and toasted are tired, cold tootsies. Then we headed back to Nagano, downloaded the bazillion pictures I took and then headed off to an Italian Restaurant and gorged ourselves on pasta and pizza and dessert. Happy Happy Day.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Harvest Time

Another day of sightseeing in the Nagano area was today's agenda. We went to the nearby small town of Obuse. It's a town famous for artwork, produce and pottery. The area is known for it's apples, and as now is apple harvest time the town was hopping. We started out with a visit to a temple famous for it's painted ceiling. Then we headed for the central downtown and had lunch. This area is also famous for chesnuts, so lunch was at a well known chesnut rice restaurant. Then much shopping ensued. Then we met up with Haruo, another friend I was introduced to last summer. He was supposed to be coming to visit me, but that was just a pretext for visiting Kei. We then visited the local art museum and although it was quite nice we spent most of our time in the lounge letting Kei let off some steam. She is ten months old and just starting to stand and walk with assistance. She is really a doll (I can see why Haruo comes to visit her) and smiles at the drop of a hat. But she still needs a little time to bang things, squeal loudly and play lots of peak-a-boo. After a little more shopping we headed back to Nagano and killed a little time at the apartment before heading for their favorite lite chinese cuisine restaurant. It is a delightful little airy house located on a windy little street. They serve 7 courses and there is only one sitting and 12 tables yet very reasonable. We arrived at 6:30 and the last course was served just before 9:00. Quite an experience. As we started to drive away, an old lady came trotting out of the restaurant and down the steep steps waving to us. Apparently Haruo had put on her husband's shoes, instead of his own. I thought that was just about the funniest thing ever. Not something we worry about in the US. Haruo had no time to spare before the last train back to Tokyo. At least we assume so he made it, as we dropped him off at the station and haven't heard from him. We hope he's not sleeping on some bench covered with newspapers. An amazing note to add: I have eaten all my meals since arriving with chopsticks, and I have actually gotten enough food from the bowls to my mouth to keep me from starving to death!

Friday, October 28, 2005

My Mother Will be Soooo Jealous

Tomone took me to visit Mori-Shogunzuka, an old burial mound today. And all I could think was "My Mom will be sooo jealous." It was a beautiful fall morning, and Tomone had never visited this site before (Yuwen had to work) and Kei was babbling contentedly. Actually Tomone was really delighted with the place and was happy as could be checking it all out. It was a keyhole shaped tomb on the top of a hill that overlooks the Nagano city valley. The tomb (c. 400 AD) was then covered with a burial mound, and then bricked over with native stone. They have completely excavated the site and returned it to what they suspect it looked like back then, including placing terracotta fire pots every few feet along the edges. At the bottom of the mountain they have a really cool museum with an excellent recreation of the inside of the tomb and a recreation of the primitive village that was originally built on the site. Afterwards we went and picked up Yuwen and one of Tomone's grad students and went to their favorite Italian restaurant for lunch. Then it was Tomone's turn to go to work and we 4 girls went shopping. After the imperative trip to the Hyaku Yen shop, we went to the Must-See temple in town, but just as we were about to walk in an announcement played that they were closing. I hadn't taken my camera along due to a mix-up, but I got a chance to use Tomone's. They better check my luggage on the way out, cuz that camera is awsome. We still had a little time to kill before going back to the school to pick up Tomone, so we went to Yuwen's favorite tea shop and had coco and cookies. Then we came back to the apartment and watched Tomone cook dinner. This is a rare site - Japanese Men Don't Cook! A good day was had by all.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Visiting Friends

I am in Nagano, visiting friends I made in Japan on my first trip here. Tomone and Yuwen. Tomone is Japanese, and Yuwen is Chinese and they met in Athens, Georgia. They have a 10 month old cherub of a daughter named Kei (pronounced Kay). They are unbelievably nice folks. And their English is good enough they get my jokes. And on occasion I slip back into my more natural speech pattern around them, which may be the most wonderful part of my whole visit here. I was really tired when I arrived, so Yuwen, Kei and I sat around the apartment and took it easy. As I may have mentioned before, Japanese kids think I am funnier than all get-out, and Kei is no exception. Tomone says he has never heard her laugh so long or so loud. It`s a gift. They have an electric rug - like an electric blanket, but a room sized rug. I love it! I wonder if they would notice if I stuck it in my suitcase on the way out the door?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Same the World Over

Some things are the same the world over. Todays photoshoot just goes to prove it.

Cats will find the softest, warmest spot to lie in, even if that spot is a towel that blew down on a neighbors tin roof.

Old people feed the ducks. And discuss things loudly, like the nice folks.

Males puff themselves up to attract females. Even crows.

A bit of artwork in a park is always welcome.

Leaves turn colors.

The sun sets.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Back to the Simple Life

Today was back to the simple life. No crazy costumes, no Trick-or-Treating, no parades, no pictures. I was able to ride my bike to the early classes again. Just simple, normal everyday stuff. Except for the fact I'm living in friggin Japan, that is! It still blows my mind. The streets are still too narrow for two cars. They tear down buildings at the drop of a hat. I can't read the language. God only knows what all those warning signs along the street say. God and everybody who can read Japanese. It's a bit chilly in my apartment and I don't know what the instructions on the various heating appliances say. Or the DVD or VCR or oven or any of the food in the supermarket. And yet, I just sail along and eat and drink and buy things and work and drive. Kind of amazing when you think about it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Oh Goody, Goody, Goody

This is O'Goodie. Or maybe it is Ogudi. I don't know how he spells his name, I just know he is just about the most helpful person in my life in Japan. He works at the Community Center and he speaks English really well. Whenever there is a big snafu, or I need something clarified or I need something too complicated for charades I ask for O'Goodie. And he makes it happen. Well, most of the time. I asked for a discount on the Salsa class I'm taking, cuz well, I'm not just a teacher there, I practically live there. But no amount of begging, pouting or giving dirty looks got me my discount. But otherwise he is a real angel. Well, actually he is a Power Ranger. On Weekends he works at the local amusement park in their action show as a Power Ranger. When he's not saving my butt at the community center, he's off to save the world. Cool.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Hamamatsu Tour

The Suzukis were in good form today. They decided to show me some different parts of Hamamatsu. I finally visited the castle! I was warned in advance, by just about everybody I ever met in Hamamatsu, that Hamamatsu was not spectacular. Some people even laugh when I mentioned I wanted to visit it. It is pretty small, only a replica built in the 50's, and the worst crime of all, it is made of cement. But it has some museum pieces inside and the park in which it is situated is really quite lovely. The leaves are just starting to turn, in a few weeks it should be wonderful. And Mikio had two near disasterous falls in the span of 20 minutes. Yoko and I were ready to make him go back and sit in the car after the second fall. He scared us to death. It was pretty windy when we got to the park, but sunny. By the time we left the tempeture had dropped to an uncomfortable place, so we decided not to eat lunch there. Instead they drove me to another park. It wasn't exactly much warmer there, but we were starving. It was a nice, if small and hilly park. And when the sun decided to reappear it was quite nice. Yuuma and I played some catch. Real live catch, with baseball mitts and everything. I can't remember the last time I did that...High School, maybe? Then we headed to Hamamatsu Self-Defence Air Base. It's their Military, but they won't admit it. They believe in peace, it is not a military. Or at least that's what most Japanese people have told me. The Suzukis call it the Military, though, they don't sugarcoat things. It's one of the reasons I really like hanging out with them. It was quite a humorous experience. They have this big Air Park Museum there that explains all things aeronautical, it's a really cool setup, I was quite impressed. At the start of the museum the Yoko grabbed me an electronic tour guide setup. It's sort of like one of those English Tape Guided Tour things you can get all over Europe, but not quite. You hang this digital contraption around your neck, clip on the ear piece and then when you walk into a certain zone it tells you about the stuff in that area. Except it didn't always work. And there I was trying to figure out with aid of a map where to go for the next announcement. But I couldn't always find the right location, so I was walking around like a human antennae trying to find the next hotspot. I looked like a robot who was lost...walking up to one thing and then backing away and trying another. The Suzukis thought I was a riot. It only worked about half the time. Sure hope their military works better than this electronic guide. And then we walked into the hanger with lots of different planes. And I'm playing around with the gadget and I look up and hanging right infront of me is a WWII Zero.
It's like being in the grocery store and running smak-dab into the Big, Bad Wolf. All our lives this little plane has been an emblem of evil. I was shocked that I could even identify it, but I could. It was very surreal. The hanger is so cheerful and we were all having such a good time and there was a Zero hanging overhead. And the most ironic part was when Yuuma climbed into one of the big F-1's on display and I got him to pose and he automatically gave the peace sign. It was hysterical. And sweet.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The World's Worst Geisha

I made the world's worst Geisha. I think I looked more like a ghost of a failed geisha. But the Japanese thought I was wonderful (at least to my face). But it is all over now. I'm finished with Halloween Parties. Yeah. I'll drink to that. I am so exhausted. The apartment is a minor disaster, with costumes and Halloween items, craft supplies, papers and books and dishes everywhere. It looks like a circus threw up in here. Between the parties and the lingering cold I am one exhausted old lady. I also had a meeting with a potential new student. It went well, we'll start classes in two weeks. And I had Salsa class. On top of the last 4 parties. I have to say I pretty much came to the end of my patience today. Lots of kids turned down the face painting. My Let's Go one class eventually saw the light, and they all went for it. But the Let's Go 3 classes just did me in. I eventually said "Forget it" and told them Goodbye. We still had 15 minutes to go in the class, but I was just sick of threatening, cajoling and begging. But it's all over and I have a trip to Nagano planned next week, I have the heating pad turned on, NPR is playing over the internet and I have a Bitchy Turtle (my current favorite alcoholic drink) in my hand. Aaaahhhhhhhhh.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Not Exactly a Playboy Bunny

Today I was a bunny. You certainly couldn't call me a playboy bunny, but I did get lots of ogling. Friday's classes are the most fun, and I'm pretty sure the pictures speak for themselves.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Princess for a Day

Just more Halloween Parties. Here's a few of the best of the photos.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Clowning Around

Today I only had one party to do. And well, it wasn't great, but it wasn't bad either. These are my immature 4 year olds (isn't that redundant?). And apparently the mothers didn't understand to bring them in costume. And one little boy who was absent last week screamed bloody murder when he saw me, and never was able to come into the room. But a couple of the older kids went for the dressing up in hats ideas. And when I told them "no hat, no candy" some of the others relented. Of course by the end I couldn't get them to give the hats back. Then I had to hurry and clean up the party and myself to get to Pulstec and pretend to be professional.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Natalie is a Witch

Well, we all knew that! So I held 3 Halloween Parties in my 3 kids classes. The first class went great. All the moms brought some sort of costume, even if it was just some cat ears. But some got a lot more involved. One mom sewed a princess dress for her little girl. I went over some Halloween vocabulary and had them color a Jack-O-Lantern picture. Then I taught them the most important part of Halloween, which is Trick-or-Treating. I gave them hand printed trick-or-treat bags and went outside the door. Then each one knocked at the door, I opened it up and they said "Trick-or- Treat" (or Trick-or-Eat, or Bick a beet, or whatever they could manage) and I put 5 pieces of candy in their little bags. When that was finished we did a little costume parade through the lobby singing the "Itsy Bitsy Spider". This party was a big hit with everyone - kids, moms, me, the office staff and strangers walking through. The next party was a flop. I hadn't told this class that we would be doing a Halloween party last week, so there was no costumes, nobody wanted to wear the hats I brought or face painting. It just sucked, but it was my own fault by forgetting to warn them. Then my Let's Go 2 class was awesome. I walked in in my costume and they
roared with delight. We did the Halloween vocab and then I gave them blank brown bags and they drew their own Treat Bags, while I handed out costumes. They were hesitant. But all I had to do was say, "Then no candy" and they started fighting over the costumes. We did the whole Trick-or-Treat thing. We got done a little late, but most of them stayed around to help me pack up everything. A few girls even asked begged for a second face painting. A very exhausting day, but a good sort of exhausting