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, February 27, 2006

Conbini Wars

What is convenience? I have 2 grocery stores within 10 blocks of my house, and 50 within a 5 minute drive of my house. Not to mention the 2 malls, and bazillions of rice shops, liquour stores and a few drug stores. But if I want something now, that is just not convenient enough. Luckily I don't have to walk 10 blocks to get popcicles or fried potatoes or a sandwich or a pair of underwear. There are Convenience Stores much closer. If I walk 6 blocks south I can go to Circle K, or 6 blocks north I can go to Family Mart. I tend to go to Family Mart when I need a quick fix of pop, or booze or to pay my bills. But six blocks is sooo far and not really "convenient". I needed to pay a bill this morning, so I stumbled out the door first thing to trek the entire 6 blocks to FM. I had gone about 2 blocks when I literally stumble over a 7-11. Hey, this wasn't here 2 weeks ago. I gawked at it in my morning grogginess, but kept on walking. I guess I just didn't trust that it was real. Maybe I was still dreaming. But when I walked by it again on my way home it was still there. But two blocks is still so far away. Lawson's and MiniStop are in a bidding war to put a conbini in my foyer. Now that will be convenient.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Swimming to Ball Wall

Well, we didn't quite have to swim, but it poured down rain today so hard that I was considering collecting two of every animal. The bad weather put a damper on the Suzukis' original plan of going to Pal-Pal to see O'Goody perform as a villain in the live action Power Rangers show they have there. So instead we went shopping, to lunch and then off to go bowling at a place called Ball Wall. I have been in kind of a funk for the last few days and I was hoping the day out would help with that. Well, the funk continued to hang over my head like a bad cartoon cloud during the shopping and lunch. But the bowling banished the funk very well. The first game I bowled fairly well. I scored 111, while Yoko came in second and Mikio really tanked in third. Yoko, Yuma and I teased him pretty hard about that. So he turned around and got two strikes in a row in the first two frames of the second game. I really thought the game was over then. But no, Mikio and I duked it out the whole game. It was actually quite heart stopping and came down to the last frame. I finished first with a quite respectable 134 and Mikio needed a spare to beat me. His first roll left him with only the four middle pins standing. A fairly easy spare pickup. And the roll looked like he was gonna get that spare, but the ball skimmed the head pin by just a hairs breath and left it standing. As winner I was awarded a box of Pretz (a flavored breadstick snack available at any conbini for 100 yen) by the bowling alley staff. One of my crowning acheivements and I plan to treasure my award for at least another 24 hours before getting the munchies and eating my trophy.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Mr. Nincampoop Strikes Again

My boss is terrible. Yesterday as I am opening the attendance book a couple of sheets fall out. They look like schedules for next year, but I already have those. I look at them the best I can and determine they are definately BabyKid classes. But they are 9 am classes. And I don't have any 9 am classes. It slowly dawns on me that next year I will have 2 more classes of BabyKids. And they are both added to the schedule so that I will be running 3 BabyKid classes in a row, twice a week. I freak. Doing two in a row is exhausting. And now I have 3 in a row. And one of them is on Saturday, when I am already exhausted. And the Saturday classes have 15 kids in them instead of 12 and the large classes are really hard to control and are twice as exhausting. He's an idiot. I'm so angry I barely get through the classes without crying. When I talk to him on the phone he knows he has screwed up and tries to be funny. I can barely spit out monosyllable answers to him. There might be a raise involved, but nothing definate. He'll tell me more in mid-March. Well, I might be telling him a thing or two in mid-March.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

If You Are Pissy and You Know It...

So this weeks big lesson is teaching them happy, sad, angry, sleepy, surprised and confused. Then I teach them the song "If You Are Happy and You Know It...". It's going over pretty well. I also let each kid draw a smiley face on the board. Getting to use the teacher's markers to write on the board brings such joy you can't imagine. But the devious side of me has considered teaching a less sweet version of the song I came up with that goes something along these lines

If you are stoned and you know it gobble munchies...
If you are depressed and you know it grab some booze...
If you are paranoid and you know it make a tinfoil hat...
If you are horny and you know it touch yourself...
If you are naive and you know it then loan me some money...
If you are stupid then you don't know it and what's the point?...


If you are an idiot and you know run for president...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Thirsting Heart

Confusing vending machine slogan, but sweetly confusing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Spring is around the corner

I think the worst is past. I think we are on the upswing for good weather. There are large periods of time when I don't have my heater on (oh my!). I have gone days without wearing my gloves (can it be true?). And there are times when I go outside without wearing a coat (now she's just making things up!). And tonight when I got to Sony the sun was still up. I think it is safe to think hopefully about Spring's arrival. Oh, we may still have some cold days in our future, but I don't think we have cold weeks. On the downside of Spring, everyone is complaining about hayfever. Just the price you pay. Welcome, Spring. Come on in and stay for awhile.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Move Over Tina Turner

Rinako emailed that she could really use an afternoon of karoke to lift her spirits. She has been pretty depressed for about a month now. So of course I sacrificed my day of nothing to go to her aid. I am a saint. We went to lunch and I had one of the best meals I have eaten in Japan. It was spaghetti pasta covered in a tomato sauce with chunks of mushrooms, eggplant and avocado. So good. And then we went to the Karaoke joint she likes best and did some belting out of emotions. She picked a lot of mournful songs and I just picked anything I thought I might know the words to. The songs that I sang the least terrible were some songs with some real grit to them. I was really happy with the way I sang "Proud Mary" and "Play That Funky Music Whiteboy". And it really helps to turn up the music. I would like to think that I am just able to hit the right notes when the music is louder, but in truth is probably just drowns out some of the off-key misses. Nonetheless we both had a good time. Glad I could help her get out of her funk.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Playing Hearts

This week in BabyKids we returned to the shapes motif. Having Valentine's Day in the week seemed good enough reason to do hearts. One of the sites I frequent for ideas has repeatedly suggested lacing activities, so I thought the heart shape would be perfect for it. So I bought pinkish plastic from the hyaku yen, made a template, copied the template 15 times, cut out the 15 hearts. So I thought most of my job was done. Wrong-o. I got out the hole puncher and punched approximately 25 holes each in 15 hearts. That took forever. I had to lace each heart to get the right length of yarn (too long and it will get knotted, to short and kids will freak out). Then I had to tie the pink yarn on to the 15 hearts. All this took longer than expected. I had bought some very thin dowels from the hyaku yen and had to cut them into 15 three inch segments. Then I taped (red tape) the 15 dowel needles to the yarn on the 15 hearts. Then I had to sand the tips of the dowels so that they didn't catch on the yarn or give BabyKids splinters. This took most of my three day weekend last week, but I knew I could also use it again next year. It worked in some classes better than others, but can't say it was a huge success. Nonetheless I got some cute pics out of it.

...and here's about a bazillion more photos."

Friday, February 17, 2006

I am a Lottery Prize

Ah, I deserved a good day and I got it. Classes today were all bliss, exhausting but so much fun. The one thing I didn't like was that in my LGS class they gave me 4 observers. Well, todays lesson was pretty complicated - making valentines cards - and I had only prepared for my students. And the crazy thing was that all of the observers are already my students. One just wants to transfer from the dimbulb class to the smart kids class, and the other 3 are in my BabyKids (aka English First) class. 2 of them will do great, the other one refuses to even look at me so I can't imagine her in these classes. But the class went okay, and there were a few absences so it worked out okay. Then after class one of the mothers tells me that my classes are so popular that there is a lottery to get into them. Yeah, they love me, they really love me. So that did my heart good.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Rough Day

Rough day. It sucked actually. I was all excited. I went to the travel agency the other day and got some brochures on going to Thailand. I poured over them for two days and had made a decision. So I went to go lay down my money today. But the stupid travel agency (IACE) tells me that the prices I was basing my decisions on are all wrong. They were based on 4 nights and not 6 nights. And a single surcharge of about $500. So that's a complete bust. I went ahead and bought an airline ticket though. Which they again did a lousy job pricing. They said it was 65,000 yen. But then they added another 100,000 in taxes, fuel surchages, airport tax, etc. Also she only seemed to be able to get me overnight flights out of Bangkok. So I have to leave a day before. So I'm not thrilled. And then my classes went badly. Even my 1st graders. Luckily Skyland and the private lesson went well. Thank goodness. Not exactly my best week is it?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Rampant Swear Word Alert

Well, I fucked up today. I fucked up my dimbulb class good. First of all I didn't send the worksheet to Mr. M. after I created it. So I had to draw something up. It was crap. Then when I got to the CC I realized that I hadn't put all the supplies in the bag to make the damn Valentine's Day cards that I worked so hard to prepare for. Not one single supply. And I didn't have enough time to go back and get them. So I had to improvise bigtime. And then I even forgot to prepare the board once I got to class. Went to do ABC time and realized I hadn't fucking written the ABC's. It went okay and the children enjoyed themselves as usual. I'm just so pissed at myself. Not only did I fuck up once, not twice but three fucking times to fuck up. Okay, I'm done beating myself up. Pulstec went very well indeed with a full house. And the private lesson was a wonderful way to end the day. Just wish I had done a better job.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentain!

The Japanese do Valentine's a little different. Women give the man a small cake or chocolate (homemade encouraged) and take him out to dinner. Next month there is White Day where the favors are returned. No cards that I could see anywhere, and kids don't really participate. I am too far from my Valentine to get the usual bouquet of daisys, box of chocolates and bottle of booze that he normally brings home to me. I bought myself chocolate and Kahlua and I usually have flowers around anyway. But my hubby has been writing me love letters for the last couple of weeks. Or rather lovemails. Yes, Mark! My husband. Who knew he had it in him. So Valentine's was lovely, even if I was half the world away from my sweetie. May you all have a wonderful Valentain!

Monday, February 13, 2006

I Love My Gas Station

On the next block is an Eneos gas station. It's full service, and probably more expensive but I don't care. The first time I had to fill up I was actually nervous. Another thing to scare me. I pulled in, and they waved me to the exact spot to stop. The attendant was very old and very wrinkled, but he smiles so big. I mangled the Japanese words for fill her up, but he understood. He then asked me something which I couldn't understand. Turns out the car has a release lever for the gas tank inside the car. Not something I was shown. So he showed me where it was. He asked me something else I didn't understand. I looked at him blankly. He mimed did I want to purchase cigarettes. Oh, no thank you. His little old wife came out and cleaned my windsheild. Then they brought over the receipt to show me how much it was. I gladly paid. Then they guided me back onto the road when it was safe to go. I've never gone anywhere else to get gas. I also buy my kerosene there. Today I took the car over to get gas and have them check the oil and air pressure. I had to mime what I wanted, but they are always so patient and so helpful. I love my gas station.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Hey, I Thought This was in English

I spent a slug day sitting on my butt in front of my kotatsu for like a hundred hours straight. Finally I decided I was going to lose the use of my legs through muscle atrophy if I didn't get out of the aparto. So I walked to the video store in the bitter cold wind. I couldn't find anything in English that I was interested in watching, so I tried looking through the non-English sections. I came across this April Rain and it looked good. And when I say looked good that's what I mean, because I certainly can't read the synopsis. I checked the back for the English Language kanji and was surpised to see it in the spoken language box and not in the subtitles box. Okay, I'll try this one. I survived the return trip home (all 10 blocks) and put the DVD in the player and went to the choose language option. All in kanji of course, and the kanji is so small and impossible to read but can tell the second option is definately Japanese so pick the first option. So the movie starts and it takes a while for anyone to speak. And Yeah, he is not speaking Japanese...but wait he's not speaking English either. He is speaking Korean. So I should go back to the language options again, but I don't. It's so non-verbal that it doesn't seem to matter. The plot is obvious and there is practically no dialogue. The movie is mainly filled with meaningful looks and much sighing. So I watched the whole thing in Korean. Not bad.

Happy Japan Day

Here is an email from Mikio explaining today's holiday:

Hi! Anything Special? Thanks for your e-mail.
Saturday, is certainly holiday. We call 'KENKOKU KINENBI' It means to celebrate the day of our country birth! I think it looks like American's Independence day.So what will you do? I'll spend as usual Saturday. Nothing Special!
How about you? Any Plan?
See Ya!

I went to Junko's house tonight for a home party. And nobody there (all 4 of them) knew today was even a holiday. So unlike Independence day there are no celebrations or customs. No fireworks, no parades or festivals, no throwing of legumes. Nothing. But the party was fun anyway. It was 4 girls (Junko, pictured, Mika, Hiroe and me) and poor Yuuki (Mika's ever obliging husband). Good food, fun conversation and a lot of wine. Three bottles were drank. And as Yuuki is the designated driver and I don't like wine, that means the other three girls drank a bottle each. And they were more than tipsy when I left. I wonder what, if anything, they will remember tomorrow. Like the plans they started making for us four girls to go to China someday soon. Or opening the language school in Italy (Hiroe has studied Chinese, Mika studies both English and Italian, Junko is pretty proficient in English and is interested in German, and I dabble in a little Spanish). Or teaching me katakana and kanji, which is the most far-fetched of all the plans. Oh well, it was fun to dream about. And Happy Japan Day to everyone out there.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Hold it in Your Hand - Love it in Your Tummy!

Marino is one of the Furitas (aka Freeters). Young people who tend to continue to live with their parents and only work part time. She works at Crazy Crepes. She also recently took another part time job teaching English, so she less freeter than she used to be. But she is definately waffling (pun intended) with what to do with her life. I occasionally drop in on her to say Hi when I'm walking by. And this is the sign that greets you. Hmmmm. The crepes look so delicious don't they? But frequently it is just filled with a very subtle (read tastless) whipped cream and a few pieces of fruit. But they are definately pretty to look at.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Heart Attack City

My day went fine except for the heart attack I had. One of my favorite students, Kento, decided to run along the top of the tables in class for no apparent reason. But the tables are on wheels and moved out from underneath him and he fell like a stunt man falling from a 20 story building, but without the soft landing. He did that thing humans like to do and refused to accept that something traumatic had just happened and smiled and laughed. But eventually the pain set in and he started crying. I kept asking if he was okay, but he just wouldn't say anything, he refused to look me in the eye. I decided the best thing was to continue with class and let him have time to get his composure back. And that worked. After class while he was running around like a maniac again down in the lobby I asked if he was okay. He showed my the bruise he was developing on his shin and smiled. So it was only his shin. I wasn't sure he hadn't gotten a concussion or cracked a bone or something, but couldn't really find out with the lack of communication skills I have. I am so relieved and so angry at him for scaring me like that. Oh, kids!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Blame it on Greenspan and Horiemon

Wednesdays are a little strange for me. I spend most of the day muttering to myself alone in my aparto preparing lesson plans. Then I drive over to Mr. M's and have brief comment exchanges with him. Next I go teach my dimbulb class, adorable but none-to-bright. And then I go to Pulstec and talk to engineers. I have to say switching from 4 year olds to super educated scientists is a bit much. Really one minute I'm teaching "Up" and "Down", and the next I am discussing the fluxuations in the world money markets. I'm surprised my head doesn't explode from that sort of contrast. Tonight at Pulstec we discussed the Yen vs. the Dollar and I was complainimg how awful an exchange rate I got yesterday when I wired money home. Kiyoshi says Alan Greenspan and Takafumi Horie are to blame. Horie is a Japanese business man who is in the middle of a huge scandal, so bad that the Tokyo stock exchange had to shut down one day due to stocks bottoming out all over the place. If you don't know who Alan Greenspan is you probably aren't intelligent enough to read this blog so go away. I have no clue whether Kiyoshi is right or not, but it's a good theory and I need someone to blame. So scowls and dirty looks to you both.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

No Two Snowflakes are ....

Well, that might be true in nature, but not in my class. This week I'm doing the Winter theme. Better get it done quick, Spring is just around the corner (that is more wishful thinking than fact). I made 15 matching snowflakes and laminated them. I put half up on the board and give out the matches to the kids, then they have to find the matching one. And I teach them the word "Same". Once every kid has done this I take all the ones off the board and toss them on the ground. Once again they have to find the matching one. They love scrambling around looking for them and bringing me the matching pair when they are finally successful. Afteward I draw a hat and face on the board and outline a snowman in dots. They normally figure out it's a snowman pretty quick, but I still show them how you connect the dots. Next I hand out Snowman dot-to dots and crayons. Some kids get it, some don't. But it doesn't matter.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Hair Team Go

My big adventure for the day was getting my first haircut in Japan. Marino took me to her father's salon. It's his day off, and in his place was an entire team of people to do my hair. First was the receiptionist who got all my info and took my purse and coat. Then I was sat in a first chair where I was introduced to the stylist who would cut my hair, and translated discussion on the amount and type of cut. Then I was handed off to the woman who would wash my hair and shown to the hair washing chair. Afterwards she walked me over to yet a different chair and set everything up for the stylist to come on over. She walked over in her boot and hair dresser's gun belt and sat down on one of those rolling stools dentists use. I thought I was having my haircut by a female asian Doc Holliday. She was extremely gentle and precise in combing and cutting my hair. Marino was translating the questions the staff had of me. One question was did I teach adults? I looked at Marino like she was an alien. Are you and adult I asked her? She didn't understand. Marino, you and your mother are students of mine! Oh, yah, I forgot. My hair was just about dry when the cut was over, so I thought we were nearly finished. Hah, you silly girl. Next I was given over to the woman who would rinse my hair again and give me a scalp massage in yet another location. Hot Damn! A lovely 10 minutes or so of pure relaxation. Then I moved to the blowdry chair and the Doc Holliday and her cute little male assistant dried and styled my hair. Marino had to leave, but that just gave the staff an opportunity to try out their English. They were just as nice as nice can be. I got a really great cut had a really good time. I don't think I have ever enjoyed a haircut so much before.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Fukuroi-ing Around

My students Shosei and Yukia took me to the nearby town of Fukuroi to visit a couple of temples. Hattasan is known for it's lovely location and the flights of steps you have to climb to get there. Oh, it's not unbearable or anything, but we did get a little breathless, and my thighs are a little sore. But it was nice. It has been bitterly cold and windy here the last few days, so I had bundled up and was prepared to freeze. It was cold, but refreshing cold not miserable cold. And the sun made it very beautiful. We washed our hands in the freezing cold water to cleanse ourselves before praying, bathed ourselves in incense smoke, threw 5 yen in the money boxes, prayed, and bought fortunes. I got a very rare fortune. Unfortunately is was a bad fortune. But they were still really impressed because it was so rare. The fortune said I had to be very careful. "Of what?" I asked. Oh, of everything. Great. But it's so rare and cool. Yippee. We stopped and ate dango. Basically that's chewy, tasteless rice paste on a small skewer, spread with sweet been goo on one side. Not bad actually. We then visited a much less popular temple on the other side of town called Yusanji. It was a very quirky, slightly run down temple complex that meanders up a hill. I quite liked it. And it was so different from the highly polished anticeptic Hattasan. There was a big tea kettle in a large wooden cage, and if you tossed a coin into the pot it will bring you good luck. Shosei and Yukia both missed, but my toss was a thing of beauty. Nothing but net, so to speak. So take that rare, bad fortune. I erased you with the toss of a coin. Nothing but happiness and sunshine...until I visit another temple and get another bad fortune.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Digging Out the Watercolors

I like to watercolor. However there is one problem. I can't get creative if there is any housework or work-work hanging over my head. I have to be caught up with everything. And then it helps if I am bored. It's practically essential. This week was the first week since I got to Japan where all the stars aligned correctly and the watercolors saw the light of day. This is my first attempt. I'm very happy with it. Not because it's any good, but because I set myself a project and then finished it. It was only supposed to be a quick starter, and I gave myself very limited time. But I did it! So hurray for boredom!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Givin' Them the Boot

Just days ago I was all teary-eyed over the departure of one little girl, little did I realize what was to come. All week I have been giving 80% of my kids their walking papers and didn't even know it. Every term at about this time I give out postcards that the community center tells me to. But this time things seemed a little different. And now I know why. There are two different postcards. One tells them if they would like to sign up for the class again please do so at the front desk. The other postcard tells them that their little precious one is no longer eligible to take this class and please consult the schedule for another class. They are no longer eligble due to their age or grade level. And this applies to 80% of my students. I have ten 2 and 3 year old classes, and only two 4 and 5 year old classes. So that means that only a fraction of my students can move up to my next age group. And for the 5 year olds there is no class they can move up to. The next class is for 1st and 2nd graders, and the 5 year olds will only be going to kindergarden. There is no kindergarden class. That is totally baka (stupid). I'm completely numb from thinking about it. Only 6 more classes with Hiroto and Nana and Shintaro and Akari and Hana-chan and Kodai and Kaiki and Misaki and Fumina and Tomona and Yuumaro and Haruka, etc. etc. etc. Boo hoo.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Future Scientist

I'm sure that there is no way to predict what kind of adult my two-year olds will turn into. But you can't help but categorizing them anyway. And this Yuuto, and I am just sure he is going to grow up and be brilliant. Yuuto will discover cold-fusion, or the perfect fuel or time travel. He is only just two years old, but knows all the letters in the alphabet, all his numbers in Japanese and English and has memorized every word I have ever taught him. And recently he has become absolutely entranced by the CD player. I had been using a cassette to play music, but found a kid's music CD at the hyaku yen. And you can see the CD spinning inside the CD player. And he just sits in front of it memorizing all the words to the new songs and figuring out the mechanics of how the CD player works. You can tell his mother is just baffled and amazed at his brilliance. And he is a very sweet kid. His coordination needs a little work...he waves goodbye with the back of his hand instead of his palm. But you can tell he has no time to deal with trivialities like that, and how to do the Hokey Pokey, he has to work on the cure for Bird Flu.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

My Favorite Word

I have a favorite word in Japanese and it's "Dame" (Dah-may sorta). It means bad, stop it. I use it all the time. You can use it with the kids when they are up to no good. But I use it in lots of situations. I use it when I am talking to myself even. When I do something stupid I say Dame. When the light turns red and I'm late for class I say Dame. When Mr. M. told me today that he has an appointment next Wednesday afternoon...and that means I have to do my copies in the morning...and that means I have to do my lesson planning on my day off...I said dame (to myself). It seems to be a polite cuss word for me. I can use it instead of damn. I can use it to show my displeasure, but in a "still in control" sort of tone. I use it way too much and need to look for another word, but until then beware of the dame.