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, May 30, 2007

Stranger Reminder

No matter how foreign or exotic a place you move to, eventually you get used to it. For the most part, that is. But every so often something reminds you that you are a stranger here, and that you don't really understand what's going on. Of course you get used to not understanding what's going on, too. The other day I was sitting in front of my computer when I heard this strange chanting going on. It took awhile to sink in. But eventually I got up to look out the window. And there were the neighbors, and a Shinto priest and his assistant performing some sort of ceremony. I've seen these once or twice while driving, but only for a brief glance. I assume they are blessing the ground where a new building will be built. But this one was right out my window. I had to grab the camera and start capturing the moment. It also appears that the engineers or architects were also present. Just another of those Stranger Reminders. I think it was pretty cool, they thought it was pretty ordinary.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Another One Bites the Dust

Another neighbor's house has been torn down. The first neighbor's house was ages ago, and I was actually quite happy to see them leave. Frightful screaming and raucous noises coming from there at all hours. But my other neighbors were quite nice. They certainly weren't silent, but it was never a bother. I'm pretty sure it was a grandmother, 2 of her grown children and their respective spouses, and their various children. In a small two story house. Laundry was always present. But they were nice and always smiled warmly and said good morning. And then they were gone, and a wrecking crew demolished the house. The crew were nice, but always in my way when I was coming or going. I think I saw that the family took a temporary place just down the road, so I'm glad to know they are still around. But currently my aparto look out only onto empty lots.

Monday, May 28, 2007

See Turtle

I haven't been able to go to Nakatajima on Thursdays so far this year. The weather had stayed pretty cool way into Spring, and even if we did have nice weather it was never on a Thursday. But last Thursday was different. Finally some nice weather! And after my lousy week I needed it. So there I was shortly before having to get back for my last class, walking along the surf, when I spotted the tiniest little baby turtle. I thought it was kinda early for baby turtles, but what do I know? So I walked over and picked it up, looked at it's tiny little face and then returned to the spot I found it. I continued down the beach when it dawned on me that that wasn't a sea turtle. At least I don't think so. So I turned around to look for it. And it was still there. So I picked it up to look at it again. It definitely had claw feet and now flippers. It looked alot like those pet turtles we all had when we were kids, but I don't know much about turtles. But I was pretty sure this was a fresh water turtle, and it would die in the ocean. So I picked it up and set off for the Nature Center. The guy there had sufficient English to confirm my hunch that this was a pet turtle that someone decided they didn't want after all and abandoned it at the ocean. Once again, I am amazed at the stupidity and callousness of the human species. Am I particularly brilliant in knowing that something that lives in fresh water cannot live in salt water? The Nature Center guy didn't want anything to do with it, and confirmed that it was a Mississippi Red Eared Slider, but said that it was a Japanese turtle, and I could take him to a river. Well, 1) I had to get to class and 2) I don't think anything with Mississippi in it's name is native to Japan. So turtle and I headed to class. O'Goody helped me find something to put him in that was waterproof. The salt had already done some damage to his shell and it was starting to curl up. So I rinsed him thoroughly and kept him in the container where he would stay moist and rest his weary little bones from fighting surf. The kids would all have been happy to take him home, but as MRES really are carriers of salmonella I couldn't do that without explaining it to a child's parents which I can't do (not speaking the language and all). So I took him home and looked them up on the internet. Yes, they have been introduced into Japan and are widely spread. Yes, they are pushing out native turtles. So what was I to do? Finally I decided one more little turtle would not tip the balance, and this little guy had to be getting hungry. God only knows how long he had been out there. So I took him to the river and let him go. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, hopefully this wasn't another brick in that road.

People Suck!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Goodbye TVGold

So, how do I handle stress and depression? TV therapy. So after taking the kitten off and having a bad class, I was looking forward to sitting down at my computer and watching some good old British Classics on TVGold. TVGold let me re-watch some old shows that I hadn't seen in awhile (Red Dwarf, Chef!). It turned me onto some shows I'd never heard of (Brush Strokes). And even showed me how some shows I thought I liked had not aged very well at all (Solo, Butterflies). And then there was "As Time Goes By" which is delightful, but I only ever caught an episode here or there. But, as you can tell, I have been writing this in the past tense. Yes, the Intellectual Property Cops raided the place, and I can no longer be solaced in this way any longer. It depresses me...where shall I turn for help?

People Suck!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Is This the Face of an Angel?

I didn't sleep all that well. Having a tiny kitten next to you makes you a little nervous about rolling over and crushing her. And then every occasionally she wakes up and wishes you were her Mama, and she starts to knead you, with very sharp claws. Or she is just so damn happy to be warm and fed that she starts to purr a rumble so loud as to make you think there are aircraft buzzing your bed. But other than that, the night went smoothly. And then 10 o'clock next morning we were off to a friend's house, so that she could take us to the shelter. The shelter wasn't what I am used to. It was an office on the third floor of a city office building. Where they took her with a begrudging smile and told us that she would, indeed, be put to sleep. Is this the face of an angel? It is now.

We all know that if you don't spay or neuter your animal, that there will be babies. So to not take this precaution is idiocy. Then, to let said animal get pregnant, give birth, and then take said babies and dump them, where they will almost assuredly die of starvation, exposure, disease or be ripped to shreds by another animal is nothing less than cruel.

People Suck!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Overnight Guest

I almost made it out of the country without having to deal with this particular pitfall. I was so close. But today it happened. While riding my bike home I was passing the park when I heard a sound. A sound I know all too well. A sound that sends dread into my heart. The persistent sound of a desperate cry from an abandoned kitten. I stopped my bike and called out, and started to meow back at the bushes where the sound was coming from. And shortly a cute little nose peaked out at me. It took a few steps towards me, but then froze. It only took a couple of minutes, but shortly I had it scruffed and on my shoulder. It was not easy walking my bike back with only one hand, and a crying kitten in the other, but eventually we arrived. Rinako has agreed to help me take it to the shelter tomorrow, but for the moment I am stuck with it. I bought a can of cat food and watered it down. The kitten meowed the whole time it was scarfing down the food. I created a litter box from a pie pan that was left in the apartment and put some dirt in it. The little guy has finally shut up and is sleeping exhaustedly on my bare legs. Each time it curls up it's paws I about go through the roof in pain. But I'm so thankful it's finally asleep.

Monday, May 21, 2007

What Language Do Doggies Speak?

I'm teaching "D is for Dog" this week. In Japanese the sound a dog makes is Wa Wa. Not so far from Bow-Wow. And a puppy is called a wa-chan, even though a dog is called an inu. After teaching them D and then Dog, I point to the cat and say meow, and then point to the dog and start barking. I use more of an "arf" than a "bow-wow". I run around the room, barking and jumping, and then come to the front of the room again and start to wag my hind end and pant like a dog. And repeat. They quite love it, and a few will even imitate me. Then we get back to work, and they get their crayons out and color the "D is for Dog" copy for the day. I then go to each individual child and ask what is this? pointing to the D, and again for the dog. If the child answers in Japanese, I don't tell him that he's wrong, I just ask for the English word. Well, I got to one certain little boy and asked him my questions, and he answered "wa-wa". So I asked him to tell me the English word. Instead of saying dog, he jumped up and said "arf arf" and wagged his little hind end. And sent me and his mother into convulsions of laughter. He looked a little confused and hurt. Wasn't that right? Which only made us laugh harder. I got a grip on myself, and had him repeat the word "dog" a couple of times. I sure hope he gets it, or it could be quite embarrassing for him when he gets older.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

That Time Again

Last week was "C is for Cat" and that means the reappearance of the face paints. It's always interesting to see who is a big yowa-mushi (Japanese for chicken, timid). You just never know. Kids you think would of course want their faces painted, and are outgoing and always the first to try something, will run behind their mothers and beg not to have it done. Then other kids who have never said "boo" to me, will run up and be really gung-ho. People are unpredictable, and I guess kids are people, too. Here's a few photos.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

She's a Daytripper

Monday I took a little daytrip to Nagoya. As many times as I have been through Nagoya on my way to somewhere else I've never actually stopped. It's actually the 4th largest city in Japan. I went first to the castle. Another cement recreation. It was okay, and the park surrounding it was nice to wander. Then I was hungry and went in search of lunch. I was heading for a conbini, but above it was a fancy sandwich place, so I thought I would give that a try. Very nice atmosphere, but the sandwich made me kinda nauseous. I took the subway down a few stops and found the Orchid Garden. It was nice and sunny and filled with obasan (little old ladies). I walked over to the temple, only to realize it wasn't the temple I wanted to visit, but didn't have time to go to the right one. So I wandered around the temple, and then through the shopping arcade on my way to the train station. I think my favorite part of the day was riding the trains. It was a nice day, if not exceptional. And certainly sitting around on my tushie all day, which is my normal inclination.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

How to Explain a Neri

The last two nights of the festival I participated in a neri. These are kinda like neighborhood parties you have to sign up for in advance. The Suzukis signed us all up for the neri in Shinzu neighborhood. I live in Soude and they live in Hikuma. But Miyoshi's bar is in Shinzu, and adjacent to both Soude and Hikuma. Everybody who participates wears the same short kimono style coat, called a "hapi". And you buy a badge to sew on the coat, so you can participate in this year's neri. Then this mob of people, all dressed in the same coats goes in organized reveling. The neri was already in progress when we caught up with them. We were dressed in hapi and had lanterns. The first stop of the neri happened to be Miyoshi's bar. The group of revelers is led by a couple of flag bearers, and people playing horns and drums. The neri parades from place to place, with the horns and drums leading a cadence, and all the paraders yell some form of "Yaisho", and others respond with their own "Yaisho". Yaisho doesn't mean anything, just kinda like "Yeah" or "Woo-hoo". When you get tired of yelling, you switch to using a whistle. Like I said first stop was Miyoshi's, where they appeared to praise her bar/snack and wish her a good year. Then we all yelled "Banzai" several times, and then everybody circled the flag bearers a few times, and then mashed themselves into the middle of the circle, kinda like a mosh pit, and yelled Yaisho some more. And then break, banzai again, and mosh pit again. And maybe a third time. This is all while you are carrying a paper lantern with a real live candle inside. And of course everybody has been drinking. Then we fell into formation again and went marching to the park...which was all of 20 feet down the road from Miyoshi's. We banzai'd and moshpitted again. Then some men put another man on their shoulders. He was the father of a child that had been born in the last year. We then marched and yelled until we reached his house. Which was a whole 20 yards from Miyoshi's bar. At which point the mother of said child was also raised on some shoulders and much praise and good wishes were lavished on them both. More banzai'ing and moshing. And then dinner was served. We all sat in the street in front of their house, and people came around with free alcohol and food. After about 45 minutes when everyone had had their fill, some sort of drinking ritual occured. The father was given some sort of large plate, with an entire roasted fish in it, surrounded in some sort of liquid. And as everybody yelled in cadence, he chugged down the liquid. The the mother was given a huge bottle of champagne and she chugged as much as she could. Then the bottle was passed around so everybody had a go at the champagne, including me (I'd already had a shochu cooler with dinner). More yelling and mashing ourselves together. Then we set off in the other direction. We met with another neighborhood neri (they must've been only a third as large as ours) and combined for a mass march along the territory lines, with more frenzied action. Mikio and I got separated in one of the frenzies, and I my shoe came off. I found some guy holding it during one of the lulls between frenzies. We just marched and yelled for a long time, until we ended back at the park in front of Miyoshi's. Mikio and I decided to call it quits for the night at this point, but the neri moved on I gather. We participated the next night as well, more of the same. It was soo cool. I'm so glad I got to do this!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bamboo Shooting

The next day the Suzukis invited me to go digging bamboo shoots with them. They couldn't really describe it, and it got translated into Baby Bamboo, which I kinda like the sound of. We all hopped in the cars and headed to the other side of town, to go to a small grove of bamboo owned by Miyoshi's friend. I don't think I ever got the friend's name, but she was just darling. And then we were set free to go dig up baby bamboo. I was given differing opinions on which bamboo shoots to try and dig up. And I was given this little tiny tool, that didn't actually allow one to dig. But I gave it a try and brought up a couple. But I quickly gave up and let the others try, while I peeled and cut the bamboo shoots already dug up. Reminded me a little of shucking corn. It was a lovely day and lovely company. I didn't end up with any of the shoots. Don't know if I've ever had bamboo shoots? Hmmm...good question.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Night Festival

On the first night of the festival the Suzukis took me downtown to the the parades down there. Quite cool. The "floats" are large, intricately carved carts that are pulled by the neighborhood crew. Inside the float are usually children all dressed up in traditional style costumes playing the song particular to their neighborhood on traditional instruments. I couldn't determine a particular parade route, I believe the carts just went where they wanted to go. My poor camera has lived a very hard life in the one year that I have owned it, and hates taking night shots. But I cajoled it into taking enough, that a few came out acceptably well. The floats all lit up at night were really quite special, I'm afraid my photos don't do it justice.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Tako Matsuri

The first day of the Hamamatsu festival we went to the Suzukis and I went to the Tako Matsuri - Kite Festival. And it was just so cool. Each of the 100 or so neighborhoods in Hamamatsu enter a huge kite (approx 8'x8') with their logo on it. And a huge number of people hold on to the rope. But, this is a competition. You try to bring other kites down, usually by wrapping your rope around their rope and pulling until one rope breaks. And the kite comes barreling down, usually to land in the pine trees, but occasionally into the festival goers. There are stalls selling food, drink and festival related things as well. So we grabbed some of all of the above and sat down to stuff our faces and watch the battles ensue. We had a guide book to help us identify the various kites and lounged around until it all came to a halt. The Kite Festival would continue for another 2 days. And I never did find out which neighborhood won.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Wandering Back

Since I had missed the night cruise, I thought I'd catch the cruise at 10:00. Got there in plenty of time, only nothing ever happened. No boat arrived, no ticket sellers, no crew saying "Ohoy there matey". Nothing. So I went to plan B. I think Osaka would be a great place to live. But for the one-day sightseer, Osaka is not exactly known for anything in particular. They have a castle, but it's a modern reconstruction. In Japan it's famous for it's Universal Studios Theme Park, but I've been to the original and the Orlando parks. It's known for it great nightlife, but I'm an old woman and it was morning. So the only other thing that I could think of that makes Osaka special is the bay. So I jumped on the subway to see what the bayside had to offer. I ended up going to the aquarium. Which turned out to be pretty interesting. As a former Sea World employee, it takes a lot to impress me. But they did it. The lesser exhibits are fairly well done, and if the animals don't seem to have a lot of horizontal space, they do have a deep vertical space to swim in. And you get to see them from both the top and in the water. But the most spectacular part was the main tank with a multitude of sea creatures, the stars being the sting rays and a huge manta ray...and a whale shark. They were all just so magnificent. And the jelly fish exhibits were so cool. The spider crab exhibit was spooky and gave me a big ol' case of the heebie jeebies. Next I was finally able to take a cruise. But get this: It was on the Santa Maria. Yep, a boat barely based on the historic ship of Christopher Columbus. Why? I don't know. It's Japan. The cruise didn't really go very far and didn't pass anything particularly interesting, but it was okay. I had just enough time before needing to head home to go on the giant ferris wheel next door to the aquarium. It was at one point the tallest ferris wheel in the world and goes up 105 meters. The views were really spectacular, and I'm so glad I did it. But then it was time to find my way back home again. I was meeting a private student at 6:30, so I needed to grab my stuff and go back. The Shinkansen was once again easy and a delight. I think I'm going to miss that train most of all when I leave. And that might have been my last trip on it. Oooh, oooh, no tearing up yet....excuse me, I have to go blow my nose now.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Wandering Continues

I had originally planned to stay in Nara for 2 nights, but decided I had seen most of what I wanted to see in the first day. And I hadn't realized exactly how close Osaka was. So, I decided to wander in that direction. But first I still wanted to go to Horyu-ji. This is the first Buddhist temple to be built in Japan, and is a Unesco site several miles out of town. So, I asked the hostel staff the best way to get there. They said the bus that goes right by the hostel could take me there. Oh, that's convenient, especially since it had started raining. So I stood at the stop at the appointed time, and nothing happened. Since Japanese buses are never late I went back inside. They said, oh no, it's the next bus stop down. So I walked down. Well, to make a long story short they were full of crap. After many questions to people who don't speak English, several wrong turns and an hour later I was finally on the bus. Which turned out to be a stupid move anyway. The train would have been much faster and much cheaper, and I wouldn't have gotten motion sick. So by the time I arrived at Horyu-ji I was thinking that I shouldn't have even gone. But Horyu-ji changed my mind. It was a lovely place, even with a black sky and rain. It's a whole compound, with a pagoda, Golden hall, great gate, a cool octagonal hall, a museum and multitudes of smaller buildings and gardens. Afterwards I hopped on the train to Osaka (which cost me less the the bus to Horyu-ji). The youth hostel was near the Shinkansen station (Shin-Osaka), which isn't very centrally located. But then again, the sites in Osaka aren't exactly centrally located, and the subway system is awesome, so it didn't really matter. After checking in (really nice hostel!) and a nap, I headed down to see the bright lights of the big city. I walked around the Dotombori area, until I found a nice place to eat dinner. When I came out it had gotten dark, and the streets were starting to fill up with the nightlifers. I was hoping to take a night cruise, but when I got to the dock I had missed the last cruise by an hour. So I just wandered and took pictures until I had had my fill, then took the subway back again. Two days ago, I'd had no idea I would be doing this. Spontaneity rocks!