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.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Jinxed Myself

I seriously jinxed myself that I had not been sick this winter. I came down with a near fatal cold/sinus infection/tuberculosis. I refused to go to the doctor, because it's a cold and they can't do anything about a cold. I have spent the last week and a half doing nothing but resting, when not working, of course. Sunday I got a sinus type headache that was so bad I was in tears. I went to bed absurdly early that night, and the headache was gone by morning. Two weekends ruined. That's what you get when you get cocky. I guess Fate read my blog. I truly paid for that one.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Eating Indian in Japan

I can't say I have aquired much of a taste for Japanese food since I arrived, but I have developed quite the appreciation for Indian Curry. One of the first restaurants I tried after arriving was Kumar, located in the basement/restaurant level of Act Tower. I now go every week. The guy who owns the place has made a few too many comments about how lonely I must be, and implying he would happily help me be less lonely. But luckily he seems to be out of the country for the last few months. Which means his son is running it, who is much nicer. And they have imported a new waiter, who is also very sweet. Since I'm there so often we normally have a nice chat. And the son noticed I never ate the cabbage in my salad they always bring me. So now he always brings me just a tomato and cucumber salad. And they just breeze past the table while asking "the usual?", rather than taking my order. And a couple of weeks ago I forgot to take my purse with me to work. And of course they said "no problem", next week I could pay up. Which is really nice, because I'd hate to miss my vegetable curry, nan and chai. When I asked to take their picture they asked if I was going to try and find them girlfriends. So if you're interested ladies I'd be happy to introduce you to them...not that I actually know their names.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Other Vegetarian Options

I've gotten lots of comments from people coming over who are worried about finding vegetarian food. Well, it is pretty tough. And the truth is if I had it to do over I probably wouldn't have been very strict about my diet. It really does make the Japanese uncomfortable, and a little weirded out. So I would probably continue to only eat vegetarian at home and on the run, but in social situations I would have eaten more meals with meat. Just tried to pick the ones that weren't a huge chunk-o-flesh. But it's too late. The cat's out of the bag (luckily they don't eat cats here). On the other hand, I really haven't had to try to many things that look disgusting - especially octopus and squid (that just grosses me out). But, for those vegetarians coming to Japan, that want a few options, besides the tamago sando, here's one place I do well. The 100 yen conveyor belt sushi restaurants have several options for the vegetarian.

Inari - vinegared rice wrapped in a very thin layer of tofu that has been deep fried. Inari is also available in most conbinis and grocery stores. This is my favorite Japanese food!

Corn Sushi - This is corn and mayonaise on top of rice, wrapped with seaweed. I wish I liked seaweed. I really do. And I keep trying it, and it has gotten more edible. But most of the time with corn sushi, I dig out the good parts and leave the wrapper.

Tamago Sushi - A layer of scrambled/fried type egg on top of a rice ball. A little bland, so you dip it in soy sauce.

Cucumber Sushi - Think of this as your salad option. A sliver of cucumber inserted into a roll of rice surrounded by seaweed. So small you really have to eat the seewead.

You can't mind watching meat constantly going by your table, or the very fishy smell of fresh squid sushi, or entrail sushi. But I really like going to these places. They are reasonable and fun and easy. I get an order of Furaido Poteto (aka french fries), and piece of cake as well. There is a spigot of hot water at each table, where you add green tea from the nearby canister to drink as much free tea as you like. This is the real Japan, and I highly recommend it to all visitors!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

How Well Do You Know Me?

From one of those emails that makes the rounds.

1. What is your occupation? English Language Teacher in Japan

2. What color are your socks right now? Long and Black

3. What are you listening to right now? My heater, and soon to be NPR's Morning Edition.

4. What was the last thing that you ate? Quesadilla

5. Can you drive a stick shift? Absolutely!

6. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Violet Blue.

7. Last person you spoke to on the phone? Mark, my husband. He called me to wish me a happy Valentine's Day (aaaaahhh)

8. Do you like the person who sent this to you? Nicole is just about the sweetest person on the planet.

9. How old are you today? Let me think, I'm 41.

10. Favorite drink? Margarita....oh, you didn't mean alcoholic...then hot chocolate.

11. What is your favorite sport to watch? Gymnastics of course.

12. Have you ever dyed your hair? Since I turned 35 and my hair turned from blonde to dun.

13. Pets? We have Prissy of course, but here in Japan no. Not even any named wandering spiders this year.

14. Favorite food? Cajun Fettacini Alfrdo.

15. What was the last movie you watched? The 40 Year Old Virgin, my DVD player skipped alot, so I'm not sure I didn't miss something.

16. Favorite day of the year? First day of Spring.

17. What do you do to vent anger? Watch TV.

18. What was your favorite toy as a child? Poory, this pathetic little stuffed animal (a kitty) given to me from a seccond hand shop. He had so little stuffing in him that his head flopped forward and I called him Poory. I lost him somewhere along the still makes me very sad.

19. What is your favorite fall or spring? Anything but winter

20. Hugs or kisses? Both, Now!

21. Cherries or Blueberries? Blueberries, except I really like chocolate covered cherries.

22. Do you want your friends to email you back? YES, the little twits.

23. Who is most likely to respond? My Mum, but she won't send it on to anyone else.

24. Who is least likely to respond? Tatiana or Traceey.

25. When was the last time you cried? A month perhaps.

26. What is on the floor of your closet? Nothing, it is very organized.

27. Who is the friend you have had the longest that you are sending this to? Tiffin E.

28. What did you do last night? Worked and upload some pics to my Flickr account, and blogged.

29. Favorite smells? Suntan Lotion!

30. Who inspires you? Lisa from the Simpsons.

31. What are you afraid of? Wasps! I'll take on rabid dogs, ferral cats, trapped alligators...but if a wasp flies into the room I hide under the chair and shake and whine.

32. Plain, cheese or spicy hamburger? Veggie with Cheese, please.

33. Favorite dog breed? Mutt, the only one worth having.

34 . How many years at your current job? 1 and a half.

35 . Favorite day of the week? Monday (my second day off)

36 . How many states have you lived in? 9 states and 1 Japanese prefecture.

37 . Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter? Doesn't really matter.

38 . Ever driven a Motorcycle or heavy machinery? I drove a motorcycle a couple of times when I was 14. And I had a chauffeur license so I could drive the bus at Sea World.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Hike, A Jump and A Soak

The weather has been so clear I just knew I had to get out and get some excersize. So I went back to Haruno. With only a vague plan. According to my map there is a trail from one shrine to part 2 of the same shrine, passing an associated temple along the way. Now my map doesn't really give me any idea of how long this trail is. Maybe it only takes 15 minutes, maybe it would take 4 hours. I dunno. But I thought I would try and find it nevertheless. As I approached the town of Haruno I found a sign that pointed me to Akihasan, the afformentioned shrine. I parked in a parking lot, looked at the little trail map posted there and headed off. After a few minutes I thought it didn't look much like the trail according to that sign. But there were signs saying something was 110 minutes away in the direction I was heading. Well, whatever it was I was heading that way. I shortly walked into a cute little hamlet, with old wood style buildings and a cobblestone street. But then the real hiking trail began. And it went straight up. Really, it was more of a hiking staircase than a hiking trail. And I haven't done any hiking in ages and was completely winded. But I trudged up, slowly but surely. And after an hour and a half I reached the something. It was a bench, next to a sign that said there was another something or other up the trail in only another 110 minutes. I think not. So I sat on the goal bench and read my book for awhile and then headed back down. The return trip only took me 30 minutes. When I got to the car I realized that the entrance to Akiha Shrine was only across the street from my car, sorta between a couple of shops. So I went and did a quick look and headed back to my car. As I turned the key in the ignition not a bloody thing happened. At which point I realized I had left my lights on and the car battery was dead. Curse words came pouring from my mouth. So I figured out how to open the hood and stood around looking like a damsel in distress. Unfortunately there was nobody to see this pantomine so I had to go and search for help. So I went into a nearby restaurant and used the Japanese words for Excuse Me, Can You Help Me Please, Car, and Dead, while pantomiming the turning of the key. The women there were very nice and went and found a MAN to help me. Not that he understood my pantomine much better. But he quickly surmised the problem when we got to the car, ran to a nearby shed, rolled out some sort of charging machine and had my car working in minutes. Then, oddly enough, a man came up from the lower parking area and said he had the same problem. Hah, I felt so much better not being the only dunce around. Then I drove myself into town and found the onsen (hot spring) which was also on my map. I could certainly use a warming up and a freshening after all the sweating I did, and maybe I would treat myself to a massage and a light meal. Turns out it was a tiny, one pool onsen inside the community center. No massages, no cafe. But it was incredibly cheap. One dollar. The onsen I went to the previous week only had 3 pools and no extras, but cost 10 bucks. So I went and cleaned myself and then soaked. Boy did my tootsies appreciate the hot, relaxing water. And I had the place to myself. Drove home just in time to arrange to meet my student and pick her up to go to the new cafe near my place. We had an excellent dinner and chatted up a storm. Not bad for a Monday!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Proof of Mildness

This winter has been so much different than last winter. First I haven't been as sick. Must have gotten used to the virulent Japanese Cold Virus. And I realize that I have things figured out this year. Last year it was a lot more complicated. But this winter is much milder than last year. Here is the proof....

1. I don't see my breath when I go to make my breakfast in the kitchen each morning.
2. I only go buy kerosene from my heater only once a week, rather than twice like last year.
3. I don't move the kitchen heater to the bathroom each time I take a shower.
4. I don't wear gloves to bed this year.
5. My hair looks like it should. Last year was so cold, and therefore dry and full of static that I had trouble getting it to lie down and not look like I had just seen something freightening.
6. When I get into bed with the lights off I'm not showered with static sparks from my blankets.
7. I don't have to carry around a can of "anti-static" so that my clothes hang correctly.
9. I bought an electric blanket this year (was way to broke last year) and don't have to use it very much.
10. Most importantly it doesn't rain in my shower. I got a whole weather system happening in my shower if it's dreadfully cold. I would turn on the warm water, which hit the nearly freezing air and instantly turned my shower into a steamer. Then all that condesation would accumulate on the ceiling of my shower. When enough had accumulated it would fall down in big ol' drops. But they aren't warm drops. No. They are bloody cold. So there I would be trying to keep warm in my shower, washing and scrubbing and jumping around like I had been electrocuted everytime one of these giant icey balls of water landed on me. That hasn't happened this year. Yeah!

I don't know what the weather is like where you are, but it's been rather pleasant around here. The other day it was so nice I was tempted to eat my lunch al fresco. And I would have ridden my bike to work yesterday, except that it desperately needs a tune-up. Oh, yeah, and I'm a lazy twit.

Anybody Want My Job?

Want to be me? Or at least have my job? Well my job has been posted on the internet at ELT News. Go for it, you know you want to.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Of Course They Want Me, Don't They?

This is something that I know shouldn't surprise me, but it did. I have to get a visa to visit China. Okay, I don't expect them to roll out the red carpet and send a limosine for me, but I'm just use to showing up on some poor unsuspecting country's doorstep and saying "I'm here". Then they nicely stamp my passport and say they have been waiting for me so please come on in and make yourself at home...and spend a lot of your money. But, no! Not all countries apparently are thrilled to see me, or are begging for me to pay them a nice little visit. This visa thing is not just a small affront to my Natalieness it's a big old pain in the ass. According to the Chinese Embassy website you need to take your passport in person to the consolate, drop off a form, 2 passport type photos, a hefty fee and your passport. And then come back to pick it up 4 business days later. Huhhh? You want me to go to Tokyo...twice? No, Nagoya will be fine. Ummmm, no it won't. I just knew that there must be another way. So I went down to the travel agent and they have a service that will do the transporting of the neccessities to the communist bureaucrats for me... for a fee of course. Although they did have a good price on a flight to Beijing, which I did pickup while I was there. Oh, and China charges Americans more than any other nation's citizens. Nearly twice as much. Are they afraid of Americans sneaking into their country and taking jobs away from their citizens or are we the worst of those "capitalist pigs" and they are going to fleece us for every cent we have? So the visa is $50. Then there were the photos that needed to be taken...another $7. And then there was the Travel Agents fee of another $40. So $100 bucks just to see if they will allow me in the front door. Hmmmmph. Red tape has a new meaning for me.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Tigers, Mermaids and Uno

What a totally kickin' day it was. The "Girls From Sony" and I had a day out. We started at the Hamamatsu Zoo. I was pretty sure I would hate it. It's smaller than the Toyohashi Zoo and I knew that it would be worse. Well, I was wrong. For the most part the environments for the animals were more spacious and more mentally stimulating and there were very few animals without company. I still think the zoo needs to have a specialist to provide more mental stimulation, as there were still animals showing pacing and other unhealthy behaviors. But I tried to just enjoy, and not be a downer. But, boy, was it cold. I dressed appropriately, being terrified of being cold. But the others hadn't even brought gloves. Half way through the zoo we were delighted to find a little place selling hot chocolate. That was, bar none, the worst cocoa I have ever had. It took a while, but eventually one girl said it was not good. The other said it was "really not good" and the last said it was "terrible". After we had had our fill of running from one exhibit to the other to keep warm we headed for lunch. We went to this adorable little soba restaurant. I ordered yam soba. And of course they were out of it. This is a common occurance, as have a hereditary jinx. So I had the plain soba, which was pretty plain. Then we went to Kanzanji to one of the hotels to go to the onsen. It was a really nice way to warm up after the morning's expedition. Sorry, no pics of us bathing beauties lounging around in the hot pools. I haven't really found the appeal of an onsen (natural hot springs public bath) over a sento (mechanically heated water public bath). So far the onsens I have visited have not been nearly as nice as the sentos, and always more expensive. After drying off and getting our feet massaged by a strange little appliance we headed back to Hamamatsu, trying to find a place to eat cake. Finally we decided to try out this new place near my apartment that advertised itself as "Flowers and Cafe", not knowing if they even had cake. Turned out to be great. A little place with mis-matched cozy furniture, good food and good music. And they had a deck of Uno cards, which we instantly took advantage of. So we ate cake, drank coffee and battled for supremacy. Afterwards I was able to walk home after stopping at the market for some inari for my dinner. We have plans to go bowling, play poker, go hiking and visit a couple of different cities. Hope it happens.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Tossing My Beans

Happy Bean Throwing Day. Yes, it's Setsubun. You throw dried beans around your house shouting "Devils out, happiness in". Then you pick up and eat the number of beans corresponding to your age. I don't usually have dried beans in my house (unless I haven't done dishes in an extraordinarily long time). Luckily the local conbini has these cute little kits to make it all very easy. So this morning I tossed my beans to the best of my ability. Well, I couldn't bring myself to toss beans everywhere, so I threw them down my hall. I can safely say all the devils have been elimated from my hallway now. The foyer and the bathroom I think might have a couple of lurkers still around. And I choked down 41 blasted beans with my breakfast. Better bring me some good luck. In olden days the custom was to drive away the evil spirits by the strong smell of burning dried sardine heads. Luckily this is no longer popular. A few people still decorate their house entrances. Or at least that's the rumor. I haven't seen anything like that! I had hoped to go to Nara today to see the 1,000 lanterns lit at on of the temples, but the trains wouldn't get me there in time. So I had to be happy with tossing and shouting. @ell, it was more like muttering as I didn't want to wake my neighbors. Have you shooed away your demons today?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Spider or Octopus?

I did this project last week with my Let's Go Starter class. I got the project out of the book I highly recommend for new ESL preschool teachers down in the sidebar. First we go over the names for various bugs, and then we paint the paper cups that have been cut in advance to make eight legs. And then your supposed to put some elastic through the top so that they bounce around. Kids loved it, but it didn't quite work out like I planned. First of all the paper cups are so light that there is no spring action from the elastic. But mostly the kids think it looks more like an octopus than a spider. I think I agree with them.