Saturday night was the most fun I've had in awhile, and I sort of want a version of that night to continue a LOT in my remaining time here. I went out with Nathalie again, which I really must say, is so cool and so much fun to hang out with. It's amazing that we met essentially by chance and that we originate from two different continents and yet I kinda feel like we have a lot in common. She has a great accent. Coming from a Japan transplant from DC but transplanted there from Kentucky, I love hearing accents and am always quite fascinated by them. I am told that my Kentucky accent is very slight, but other expats I've met have told me that they hear an inkling of a southern accent in my voice, which I kinda like. Accents are fun, I guess I always rejected developing a southern accent for fear of being lumped into groups of rednecks with such strong KY accents, so I only have a slight tinge of one (that's no insult to my beloved Kentucky, of course!). For example, I tend to say "aye" when I say "I", but that's about all I got.
Anyway, the night was fun. Very fun. We met up with some other gaijin GEOS teachers and went to an izakaya in Shibuya. Nathalie and I tried to catch the remaining dregs of the Samba festival in Asakusa, but unfortunately there were none to be found. So, after some beers at a small izakaya, we went to an all night karaoke place that lets you sing for five hours with unlimited drinks (there's a word for unlimited drinks in Japanese that Nathalie told me, but I can't remember it!) for ¥3,000, which is a damn good deal to me. We sang some Beatles, Bob Dylan, Queen, you name it. And even some Japanese ballads which I of course couldn't sing because I don't read Kana/Kanji, but I enjoyed hearing Rachel and Jason sing them. I put my best David Bowie British accent on to sing Space Oddity, which I'm sure I mucked up. And I sang Dion and the Belmonts' Runaround Sue, and rocked it. I'm glad I didn't get video of me singing this, because then it would taint the image I have of myself as an oldies karaoke GODDESS. I want to keep that delusion intact, please!
Especially since I have a reputation to uphold. You see, I come from a family who really likes to sing and reallllllly likes karaoke. My dad actually owned a karaoke machine when we were growing up and I cannot count the times that my siblings and I sang the golden oldies together with my dad. It makes me a little homesick actually, because my pipes are best utilized when they are sung in harmony with my older sister (who can wail with the best of them) and my father (who had a voice like Elvis), and my mother and younger sister and brother (when he's not scoffing at the idea of singing in public), who have amazing voices as well. I'm insisting on a family karaoke night when I return. Seriously. I miss it.
I did get a video of Nathalie and I singing frantically to Bohemian Rhapsody, which was amazing. Again, I was so impressed with my skills at the time, but after watching the video I realized just how drunk I was and how recording drunk karaoke (at least of MY singing) should be against the law. I even had an embarrassing moment when I decided to choose to sing Devo's Whip It, (why, drunk Cecilia, why?) which was amusing. I was looking for a better Devo song, but for some reason decided to land on the one that has been in a thousand TV commercials and worn out all to hell. Eh, who cares! I'm still a golden god in my head.
Enough about that! My work is pretty fun so far. I have one nightmare class on Mondays, but aside from that, I really like it. I feel so productive at the end of the day and ready for anything. I'm hoping to go to Narita to see the temple and to hit up a couple bars on Sunday with my neighbor Courtney, and maybe do something fun in Tokyo again on Saturday night. Shit, I kinda want to go into Tokyo again on Wednesday night, as I have Thursdays off, but if I can't get anyone to stay out with me I may have to brave it on my own and try to communicate poorly in Japanese to some young and drunk locals. Yes. Life is happening.
Sagoi: drinking, friends, Tokyo, everything.
Warui: seriously, nothing. Except missing my people back home, as usual.
Anyway, I got back from Osaka last...Thursday? Has it been a week already? It's weird to think that I've already been here almost 3 weeks. It's going by waaaay too fast. Anyway, on my last day in Osaka, I walked around an awesome street called Dotonbori. It was the kind of little pedestrian-only street that you come to Japan to see: very crowded and absolutely jam-packed with things that make a little alarm in your head go off that says SENSORY OVERLOAD. It was great.
I have found that this is a bad combo: Can't read kanji/kana + very busy city in Japan + hungry. Although, it can't be avoided if you're walking around all day. Eventually, ya gotta eat. But, you look around and there are places everywhere, but you have no idea what to choose. On every street corner you see ramen shops with men slurping down their noodles and sitting elbow-to-elbow. Or little intimate izakayas that have the mandatory Japanese sustenance of beer, rice, and fish. And most places have no English in sight. I remember seeing a restaurant that said "English-friendly" on its doors, and I thought to myself "pssh, I'm not going to let a little language barrier get in the way of me absorbing the culture, I want to eat with other Japanese people!" But it's kind of a no-win situation. In busy areas like Dotonbori, you either step into a place lousy with other Gaijin (which isn't necessarily bad, mind you) or you walk into the kind of restaurant that most are in Japan and stumble all over yourself because you can't read/speak Japanese. It's an interesting conundrum. And pretty good inspiration to keep cracking down on my Japanese lessons.
Anyway, I was wondering around aimlessly when I decided that I wanted some good sushi. I wandered into a restaurant that specialized in such and a very friendly woman spoke to me in half Japanese/half English, which was nice. I love the usual reaction when I tell Japanese people that I'm DC...they usually say something about Barack Obama followed by "yes we can!" I love it.
So I had my sushi fix and I didn't feel nervous in this restaurant at all because the staff was so friendly to me. And I'm getting pretty used to be a lone Expat wandering around Japan.
After Dotonbori I went back to the Kita area where my hotel was and stopped at the Umeda Sky Garden. It's basically two huge buildings joined together with a circular observation deck at the top. It was night when I got there, and quite lovely. The elevator was a bit scary though. Needless to say, I wasn't entirely comfortable riding in the glass elevator (which basically felt like you were soaring up on thin air) in a earthquake-plagued country, but I lived to talk about it, so all was good.
The next morning I tried to get a ticket for the bus back home, but all was booked except the most expensive bus tickets, which I think kind of defeats the purpose of taking the bus. So, I decided to splurge a little bit and take the Shinkansen back to Tokyo. Not much more money and about 5 hours faster. Oh, and an amazing view...annnnd a trolley that comes down the aisle with snacks/drinks. With the scenery and the speed of the train, it felt a little like riding on the Hogwarts Express. I'm such a nerd. I even got to see Kyoto, Nagoya and Yokohama from the train, which was cool.
I also went into Tokyo on Saturday even though I had come down with a pretty nasty cold. Still kind of getting over it. I got tired more quickly being sick and all, so I didn't stay long. Just long enough to see Ikebukuro and Nekobukuro/Tokyu Hands. Tokyu Hands is a pretty amazing store for art supplies and such, but everything is kinda overpriced. Nekobukuro was on the top floor and it was pretty neat. Cats everywhere! Constance went there when she came to Tokyo, and I'm glad I went because I'm missing my three little furry babies back home.
Anyways, in other news, I've had 3 days of teaching so far. I like it pretty well, although I hate being so slow at planning lessons. My favorite classes are the adults, hands down. You can just talk to them, and they pay attention and prepare. I even had a high school class on Wednesday evening, and it was really fun. The male student's name was Akira. Always a good sign. The only thing I messed up on was an adult class earlier in the afternoon in which I absolutely loved the students, but they asked me to speak more slowly next time at the end of class. I guess I got a little excited talking to them, and spoke too quickly. Oh well. At least they told me.
On Saturday night I'm hoping to attend my first fireworks festival in Yachiyo, and then I'm going into Tokyo on Sunday with Nathalie most likely. Sunday is the last day that the big Gundam in Odaiba is going to be there for a few months, so I need to see it ASAP. I'll definitely have a bunch of pictures to post come Sunday night!
Well I'm off to bed at a decent hour for once. Gotta long day ahead tomorrow.
I went out into Osaka earlier and had a great day...marked several things off my list of must see things while in Japan.
Ok so first I headed to Kaiyuken, Osaka's aquarium and the biggest in Japan. Ok, so yeah, I know everyone has been to aquariums in the States and all, but this one was different! All kind sof creatures that I've never seen before and flawlessly laid out (at the end I wanted more instead of wanting to collapse like one usually does at the end of trekking through a long ass zoo/aquarium). The facilities housing the creatures were masssssssive. No teeny tiny cages, but huge and massive tanks so the fishies can swim happier. Although I guess the more eco-friendly thing to do would be to leave them in the water...but then I couldn't have spent 2000 yen and have pictures to show, right? Anyway, enough of that. On to pictures!
The exterior...and it's only half of it! The rest is to the right.
This is a fucking whale shark...it was huuuuuge. like 20 feet long. I've never seen a shark this big up close. And it bumped the glass RIGHT at me. It wanted to eat me. Maybe it thought I looked tastier than the Asians around me...I'm definitely meatier, so I can't say I blame him.
The biggest type of crab in the world, the Spider Crab. Ewwww. This thing grossed me out.
These made me tear up a bit (anyone who knows Blake knows how much he loves Sea Otters). They were on their back and cleaning themselves the whole time! And they were huge! They reminded me of Myoshi. I couldn't really get a good picture because the damn things moved around so fast.
Thousands upon thousands of sardines.
This dolphin was doing flips and shit. Show-off.
And that's all I'll subject you to. But it was awesome. Anyone who comes anywhere near Osaka has to see this aquarium. At times it felt like I was underwater with all these things...which really weirded me out.
So today I also got to eat three things that were on my list. The traditional Japanese breakfast of cold fish, miso soup, and rice that I mentioned earlier, takoyaki (little pieces of octopus fried up into balls), and okinomiyaki. The takoyaki was good, although a little too dough-y and soft for my taste. The okinomiyaki was phenomonal. I went to a restaurant in the bay area after seeing the aquarium and lo and behold, the dreaded table-top griddles. I began to get worried because I had no fucking idea how to cook okinomiyaki by myself, so after I ordered, I asked the waitress to show me how to do it. Apparently, in this restaurant they do it for you right at your table. After she told me that, I felt a bit sheepish for asking, but oh well. Anyway, pictures!
First of all, I always had the impression that okinomiyaki was pancake-y...you know, with flour. Maybe in some places they are, but here they're just made with a boat load of cabbage and an egg to hold it all together. And a meat of your choice. My choice was squid. So here it is fresh on the griddle.
And voila! Soup's on! The stuff on top is Japanese mayo and a barbeque type sauce. I know, it sounds like a gross combo to me too, but I dunno, somehow it worked. It tasted excellent.
I've come to notice just how much Japanese people eat. Especially young people, like around my age. Most of the time I look around and one person is eating atleast twice as much as me. They can put it down, but I have no idea where it goes. I guess the abundance of walking/exercise and genetics doesn't hurt in their case.
Boss: Osaka. And I just checked my pedometer, and I've walked 14,396 steps today (that's like, 7.5 miles I think)! I'm getting used to it and feeling better too. I've gone over my 10,000 steps a day goal since I started wearing the pedometer. Thank god for my tennis shoes.
Un-boss: First real pangs of homesick-ness today. I guess I've never gone on vacation by myself. I'm so used to my siblings and my mom and usually Blake or a friend coming along. It was really weird. I miss everyone so much. :(
This is the place in Harajuku that I wrote about in my last entry called "Condomania" I didn't go in, but now I'm tempted to do so just so I can see the difference between "big boy" and "smart boy". Apparently, you can't be both. Now the suspense is killing me. I must go when I get back to Eastern Honshu! On the Toyo line train coming back from one of my schools last week. Note the girl with the sick mask on. I think people should wear these in the States to keep their damn sneezy germs away from me. Although they do look a little creepy...like serial killer/surgeon combo creepy.
This was in Akihabara. I think it was some kind of virtual reality thing where you can put your head in various backdrops or something. Whatever it was, I kind of want steps in my house to look just like this. Just kidding. Kind of.
A random shrine/temple on an Osaka side street. Not sure if I was allowed to take this picture, actually. I will be more mindful in the future out of respect, even though there was no one around. I don't wanna to piss off any Shinto gods (or locals)!
So that's where I am now, in Osaka. At 1 pm I'm going to check into my hotel and then head to the aquarium and then possibly the Umeda Sky Building. And I'm definitely going to go into Dotombori for some street food (okinomiyaki say whaaaat?) and booze with the locals. Osaka is definitely rougher around the edges than Tokyo, but the people do seem much friendlier.
With that said, I did get giggled at when I went into a little restaurant for breakfast. I said "iie, kekko desu" (no thanks) when offered a salad...maybe it was too polite? Or not polite enough? So so so many different levels of politeness in the Japanese language, and I'm still getting the hang of it. Luckily, I look very Western, so I get a lot of slack when it comes to messing up.
Yesterday it took me a million years to find the exact exit in Shinjuku station where my bus left from. Thank god I had the foresight to get there way way early. Luckily, I had my ticket for the bus in hand, so I was just able to keep asking JR employees "Sumimasen, doko desu ka?" (meaning "excuse me, where is this?") and I eventually got to where I needed to go. But fuck it was a hassle. I predict getting lost in Osaka tonight at some point as well, but we'll see!
Possibly going to Kyoto tomorrow! More pics to come!
Ok, no fun photos in this post because I STILL don't have the internet at my apartment and I'm currently using le internet cafe computer. The internet cafes here are amazzzzing! I get my own little private cubicle thing and a free drink bar comes with the price of admission, and I can order Japanese curry to my cube if I so desire. Oh and I can smoke. BONUS.
So I've been doing lots of stuff. Mostly just around my town (I technically live in Sakura, not Katsutadai) and I've also been unpacking. This past week I went through some work training and taught my very first class on Friday afternoon. The kids here are insanely cute. Although, they really like boobs. I guess western kids do too. You hear them say "oppei" (breasts) a lot, especially little boys. Apparently, they also try and stick their fingers in your caboose if they like you. Little pervs. But they're cute. When they don't understand what you want them to do in class, they do this cute little head tilt thing and it's precious. I bet in a couple months all this will be not cute at all. But I'll take the newness of teaching kids at face value for now.
As far as how I did...I think I did ok. The week before summer vacation was a lax teaching week, so the teacher I shadowed didn't even have a lesson plan It freaked me out. I'm an over-planner by nature! So i just winged it and it still went pretty well. I'm a bit nervous about teaching the adults though...but oh well. We'll see next Monday I suppose.
I met another fellow co-worker (and my neighbor), Courtney, and she's really cool. I'm pleasantly surprised by the helpfulness of the MIL teachers that were here before me. I also got to meet Nathalie from London last night, and that was really fun. It's good to have friends here when I've just been in Japan a mere week. Especially ones that know more Japanese than me and can help me learn! I realllly need to get to studying my kana. It would make things much easier.
Today I went into Tokyo for the first time by myself. I started out in Ueno, and then rode the subway all the way to Harajuku, and then to Akihabara. It was an amazing day. In Harajuku, I went to this gyoza restaurant recommended by my Frommer's and it was incredible. Best restaurant that I've been to in Japan thus far, I'd say. For those of you who don't know what gyoza is, you've most likely eaten them before...they're those dumplings that you can get at pretty much any Asian joint in the States, God it was good. I also had some cucumber with miso sauce, white rice, and some cold sake. It was muy yummy. I'll post a picture of the restaurant interior later.
After that, I went to Kiddy Land. Omg. As soon as I walked in, I saw a huge stuffed Totoro doll in the center of the store. I nearly squaled aloud. Needless to say, they had a massive collection of Ghibli stuff. I almost spent ￥2000 on a stuffed cat bus doll, but I refrained. Instead I got Blake a cute little Kodoma charm and a soot sprite pin for myself. Can you tell I'm a huge Miyazaki fan? Total dork.
I also got a watch in Harajuku, because I don't have a cell here and I was tired of not knowing the time. After walking around for a bit, I decided to go into Akihabara (aptly nicknamed "Electric Town") and it was INSANE. It was nightfall by this point so everywhere I turned there was neon and electronic stores with gadgets beyond anything I could possibly fathom. There was a place called "Sega Club" which was basically like an arcade where you can play Sega games and such. At this point I was really missing Blake, because I'm pretty sure he's going to shit himself when he sees Akihabara. I'm so glad he's coming to visit me early 2010. We're going to have so much fun. I want to go to the Ghibli museum like, NOW, but I almost feel I should save it for when he comes in so we can both see it for the first time together. Eh, we'll see.
Oh, and something crazy happened! I was in one of the many many electronic stores in Akihabara, and I felt my first earthquake. They happen all the time here, most of the time it just lasts for a few seconds or so. I was looking at Apple accessories and they started to shake! I looked at the store clerk and he seemed pretty non-bothered by it, but I exclaimed to him in English, "That was my first earthquake!" I don't think he understood, but dammit, if I knew how to say it in Japanese, I would've done so. Crazy.
I don't remember if I put it on this blog or not, but I bought a pedometer before this blog or not, but I bought a pedometer before I left the US and vowed to try and walk 10,000 steps a day. So far today, I've walked 10,973 steps. And I still have to walk home, which is another 2,000 or so. And I don't even feel that tired...I'm proud of how good I'm doing.
So I'll post pictures later from today's excursions. I may go into Hakone/Mt.Fuji area tomorrow, who knows. I'm being really indecisive about where to go this week!
Sexy: My new watch is white and it looks like I bought it in the future. And by "future" I mean the 1980s. It has a Marty McFly kind of feel to it.
Unsexy: This stupid Japanese keyboard. And wishing that all my family and friends could be here to witness all this craziness with me. Get here now! All of you!
So. Japan. It's a weird place. I've only been in Katsutadai (my town) and Narita (where the airport is), so I haven't got a taste of any big cities yet. Even still, there are a lot of people here, and everything is different. I'm not even sure where to begin. The airport was a bitch getting through immigration and getting my luggage, and I will NEVER over pack again. Carrying two huge suitcases, a massive shoulder carry-on, and a purse all the way to my hotel was cumbersome to say the least. I'm incredibly sore from doing so, and I'm not looking forward to lugging it down the sidewalks again from my hotel to my apartment tomorrow. Sheesh.
The streets here are very different. Well, at least here in Katsutadai. They're narrower and a sidewalk on the smaller streets is kind of non-existent. You get used to it pretty quickly, as most Japanese seem to walk everywhere and/or take public transit, so there aren't too many cars here. In some smaller streets there are cute little restaurants and windows to buy cigs and such with people standing and walking around everywhere, so it's quite a change from the smaller streets in DC or even in Kentucky.
I was so incredibly sleep deprived yesterday (Sunday) after I finally made it to my hotel around 6 pm, so I thought I'd wait to see Gail and tour my future apartment on Monday. The problem was that I didn't know when she was leaving to go back to the States and was worried I'd miss her. I thought about it for a bit and luckily Gail called my hotel phone around 9 pm and told me that she and her boyfriend were in my hotel lobby, and kindly invited me out for drinks. I shook the sleep out of my eyes, got dressed, and went downstairs. And boy am I glad I did.
Gail is super cool. She is so helpful and friendly and saved my life the entire night by translating for me and giving me very useful tips that I will always be grateful for. And her boyfriend Mineo, who speaks English very well, is probably the nicest person I've ever met. And on a slightly more superficial note, they both smoke (everyone seems to here) and Gail says fuck nearly as much as I do, which is a quality I adore in people. We went to an izakaya (that's Japanese for bar) and had some sake and a tea/vodka drink that I can't remember the name of, then we went to see the apartment (which was great to finally see in person and I can't wait to move in), and then to Gail's favorite izakaya called Daruma. The owners of this place are a couple in their 50s/60s and may need to win an award for the cutest people on the planet. I don't have a picture of them now, but I'll have one eventually. I very much plan on being a regular there in the near future. Did someone say drinking problem? Eh, do as the Romans do, I say.
I feel very positive about my health and weight changes that are sure to happen in the following months. Gail told me that if you're a bit on the heavy side it is incredibly easy to lose weight here because of the diet and how damn much the Japanese walk. I walked around more yesterday than I usually do in the span of 3-5 days in DC, so I feel optimistic. Especially since I have vowed to do my best to avoid Western food. I actually prefer Asian cuisine in general anyway, so aside from the occasional craving for french fries, I think I'll be okay.
It is a little scary being new here, for realsies. Every time I go in somewhere they ask about a million questions and all I can do is stare blankly or nod or say "wakari imasen" ("I don't understand"). It's weird. Although I must say I haven't been stared at as much as I thought I would be, which is good.
I went to my main MIL school this morning and met Dana in person finally, as well as another new teacher, Jamie. The whole teaching sub-plot of my adventure really makes me feel overwhelmed, although I am excited for the experience. We'll see how all that goes. I need to make sure to get my advance that MIL offers, as the funds are quickly dwindling!
This evening I went walking around the Katsutadai station looking for a place to eat and I spotted a restaurant with pictures of food on the windows (always helpful) and the smell of grilled meat (I'm a meat-a-holic) and went in. I quickly discovered that it wasn't really the best choice as it was a family-style restaurant where you cook your food in the middle of the table, and I don't feel quite ready to take on that endeavor yet. However, I decided to sit down anyway and see what looked decent on the colorful menu. For fear that I would be deported from Japan because I burned the damn restaurant down, I instead opted for a nice big bowl of soup (wherein the ingredients were already cooked for me). It was delicious. Needless to say, the noodles and soup here far surpass those in US Asian restaurants. Yum.
I am appreciative for my last couple weeks in the States, as I had an absolute blast with my family and some tender goodbyes with Blake. Blake and I have been Skype-ing and that has been really fun because Blake and I have the exact same sense of humor and he's really gotten a kick out of the funny Japanese things I've seen. My sisters and mom were amazing right before I left. When you're away from your fam for so long, you can take for granted how fucking awesomely fun they are. And my family is at the tippy top top of the fun spectrum.
I love it here. Gail says to treat Japan like a cocoon, where you get to immerse yourself in its ways and completely re-invent yourself if you want to. I am so very glad I came.