The Bread Knife.

Before I forget what happened, let me tell you about my day.

Grab yourself a hot beverage, preferably seasoned with marshmallows, and make yourself comfortable. I wish I could tell you to rest your feet by the fire, but I hope my electric heater will suffice.

img_3338

Today was a bruiser. Last night, I simply couldn’t sleep. Some kind of light bothered me, a Christmas song kept making an appearance in my head, or I ended up thinking about nonsense. All I did was toss and turn! That, in effect, made my Monday rather difficult. My last teacher of the day commented on my eyes looking heavy and patted my back all the way down the hallway.

After school, I talked the nurse into letting me take a nap in the infirmary. Naturally, there was too much noise for me to fully sleep but I think simply closing my eyes was glorious enough. It gave me the burst of energy I needed for what came next.

Most days, I make it a point to visit with the school secretary, Mrs. E. She was eager to assist me after I told her in casual conversation that I wanted to swing by the stationary store to see if they had what I wanted (Copic Multiliners). At this point, it was obvious I was a wilting blossom with petals too heavy to lift.

4:30 came quickly and off we went and I was pleased to see they had marker paper and a light board! The light board was too expensive, of course, for me to afford immediately, but I did escape with my paper, pens, and two folders with my favorite character on them: Panpaka-kun! (Click on the link to watch a video of his shorts.) You can find more information about him through Wikipedia. I was even able to redeem my point card for 5% off!

img_3339

Upon leaving the store, I made the comment about being hungry. No sooner did it leave my mouth Mrs. E. had us swinging into a local bakery. I had only browsed the selection here one time before as I was walking around a month or so ago. She insisted I get the curry bread (theirs was the best in town). I went ahead and indulged in sausage bread, a kind of sweet potato danish, walnut bread, teriyaki chicken bread, and some whipped butter.

img_3336

After she treated me to the carb package, Mrs. E. told me they had a campaign going on where you present your receipt, draw for a colored ball, and receive a prize. Luck must have been on my side tonight because I bingo-rolled for my ball and out popped the highest value I could get. What was my prize? A bread knife! The excitement my friend was feeling was contagious and I left there elated.

img_3337

With my arms full of assorted bread, art supplies, and my heart full of happiness, I returned home.

Potato Soup

20160923_114729

Behold the first true installment of my home-cooked adventures! I try to take pictures of what I make for myself in a combined effort to relate and be related to by those of you who struggle to separate your reality from the glorious world of celebrity chefs. I’m by no means a culinary expert. I don’t know anything beyond using salt and pepper for seasoning.

I often feel like I’m similar to Mama Mankanshoku from Kill la Kill. Everything I make is something mysterious and usually deep fried.

For once, this picture shows nothing fried but it does give evidence to my hesitancy to use anything outside of carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms.

After watching the delicious commercials on TV for soups and stews, potato soup sure sounded wonderful. Unfortunately, when I bought the soup mix, I wasn’t expecting something so thick. Don’t get me wrong. It was tasty enough but nothing extraordinary.

Ingredients:

  • Potatoes
  • White shimeji mushrooms
  • Carrots
  • Chicken broth
  • Celery
  • “Bacon”
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Soup mix

I’ll strive to make a note here. Watch what you buy. Pottage is stew, chowder is cream soup, and consume is broth. I decided after my fight with making clam chowder for the first time that I would never buy mix from the shelf.

In the Haunted Hallows of the Hyaku-yen Shops (PART 2!)

Welcome to Part Two of my Haunted Hallows of the Hyaku-yen Shops! This will be designed to give you some insight into how quickly your money leaves your wallet.

img_3303

Winter clothes! You can easily purchase gloves (some with touchscreen capability), scarves, and neck warmers. One night was especially cold and, if you’re like me in that your nose starts carving Snot River down your face and you suddenly can’t remember where you left your ears, you’ll be on the lookout for something warm.

img_3302

There’s nothing like knowing your grasp of the Japanese language can easily be beaten by a grade schooler. If you want to get a jump start on your kanji (漢字) practice, please use these books. They offer stroke order, Japanese and Chinese readings, and common words the characters are used in. Also, if you like Sudoku, they have loads of these. I’ve even been tempted to look on Amazon for more kanji textbooks/workbooks like what my students use. When all else fails, learn how to speak and ask someone where something is. There’s no better tool than to learn through association.

img_3301

Some weeks ago, I purchased a Christmas tree from Amazon sans star. Now I have one plus smaller ornaments. I also bought a tinsel boa to brighten it up. This year, since I can’t be with my family, I did my best to capture what we couldn’t do for the last couple of Christmases (damn dogs). I can’t tell you what I’m going to do with the embroidery hoop and hot glue other than I’m working to make a present for my grandmother. Shh! Don’t tell!

The hyaku yen shops sure are wonderful sometimes. I wasn’t kidding when you find things you didn’t know you needed. It seems like every time I walk through the aisles, I see stuff that I didn’t know was there.

img_3300

The first thing to address is the plunger. You will thank me when I tell you again how important this puppy will be in your life. It should go down as one of the Top 10 Essential Tools for Adulthood. Second is the plastic doo-dad next to the plunger. This allows you more space when you’re hanging things in your bathroom to dry. I figured I could use this for pants… or something. Anyway, you slap it into your showerhead holder and you’re done. Next, you can never go wrong with humidity absorbers. This time around, I was on the hunt for smaller units I could stick into my dressers. These are mandatory if you don’t want your shit to mold.

Also, glass cleaner. You’ll be surprised at how much of your bodily fluid ends up on your mirror when you’re consumed with nervous anxiety and are suddenly determined to rid your face of its blackheads and pimples. Oh, and make-up. I’ll never figure out how I got mascara smeared in two places.

The last item is a pack of hand warmers. You know those beans that get warm when you crack the package? I haven’t seen how long these last but I know you can buy some that work for up to 10-12 hours at the drugstore. When the weather turns chilly, you’ll thank your past self for buying them.

img_3299

In this picture, we have drain cleaner/odor absorber. When you come to live in Japan, you will see garbage disposals are non-existent. Instead, there are food catchers that sit under the rubber lip in your sink. You will either have a kind of steel net or a plastic cup. I have the plastic option and it gets scummy (especially when I choose to live off of cereal and ignore my pile of dirty dishes). Next is the sponge. This allows me to clean my thermoses since my hand is sponge-‘tarded. Thirdly, there’s the spoon rest. I was simply fed up with wasting my paper towels and dirtying up my limited counter space (pfft, who am I kidding? I don’t have a counter).

The measuring spoons are closing in for the finish line! I recently purchased cookbooks so I can save more money by using ingredients that are in season and well… I quickly learned the difference between a teaspoon and tablespoon. Just so I could save myself from the guesswork, I bought these. Next to them are soup spoons. You’ll notice these are often used with Asian dishes. I don’t know why I didn’t use them sooner. Finally, there’s the spice shaker. I got this for my sugar so I wouldn’t make a mess trying to get it out of the bag I keep in the freezer.

img_3298

In this final picture, the contents are self-explanatory. Since I’d rather use purified water for my drinking water for some stupid reason, I waste my money purchasing a bottle. I also happened to find some popcorn. That was exciting since I was craving it but don’t expect to find butter for it. You’ll have to go old school and pop it in cold stuff or use flavored oils. Be careful, though! Flash fires are serious. And because I tend to graze at work, I bought the noodle soups to hide in my desk just in case I couldn’t survive until lunch.

And there you have it! If you have any questions, feel free to holler.

In the Haunted Hallows of the Hyaku-yen Shops

こんにちは!今日のトピックは百円ショップだ!行こうよ!
Hello, everyone! Today’s topic is 100 yen shops in Japan. Let’s go!

There are multiple videos on YouTube describing the shenanigans you can get into at Japanese 100 yen shops (100円ショップ, hyaku-en shoppu). This is just one example from Sharla in Japan. Vouching for Las Vegas, there is no Daiso but we do have plenty of Dollar Generals and Dollar Trees. Both offer the same general assortment Daiso (and other hyaku-en stores) has. In Gotemba, we have several Daiso’s, a Seiryu, and the “orange” store that is a Daiso in disguise (literally called 百円ショップオレンジ, hyaku-en shoppu orenji). Sharla happened to go to her store during Valentine’s Day. All stores will have some kind of seasonal area and will also have larger or smaller sections depending on their location. Just yesterday, I went into the Daiso that was on the Express Way and was amazed at their fake flower assortment whereas the small one I usually visit only has, maybe, a 4-foot section smooshed in between the zipper pencil cases and home-smelly things.

Because I’m too afraid of disturbing the peace by making a video, today’s entry will give you an idea of how badly you needed these things without realizing it.

img_3306

Walking into Orange, I was immediately greeted by a Costco-like display of snacks. Crunchy, soft, savory, sweet… they’re all there. They also have the largest assortment of instant noodles I’ve ever seen. Drinks, too, are abundant. Each store will have varying degrees in the amount of what they have. In comparison, the Daiso I frequent has a small cooler for common drinks while Orange has a whole wall; cold and warm alike.

img_3307

One thing about Japan is that you’ll see American products with flavors that appeal to the Japanese palette. I’ve found green tea flavored Oreos and I have a friend that swears the sake flavored Kit-Kats are weird.

Condiments are numerous and highly varied. For common things like soy sauce, mirin, and marinades, you can easily find them at a 100 yen shop. You may also find oddities such as salad dressings and flavored oils. On this trip, I noticed they had small bottles of extra virgin. If you like to cook or bake, please consider looking for your ingredients here before you visit a full grocery store. Japanese recipes are designed to only feed 2-3 people. You won’t need much.

If you’re really lazy and don’t want to make your own curry base or clam chowder, guess what! You will find what you’re looking for here. There are different flavors, makers, spice levels… In this particular shop, you will find canned foods next to the available selections. Because I packed myself a care parcel full of canned salmon and tuna before coming to Japan, I’ve yet to really look through this portion. I’m going to assume you can find what you’re looking for because I have an acquaintance that recently told me about his dependence on tuna fish sandwiches (which reminds me! If you have a MaxValu near you, you can easily locate sweet gherkins if you dig pickles in your tuna). This is where you’ll most likely locate noodles and pasta sauce. Sometimes you might get lucky and discover tomato paste if you want to for that homemade flair.

img_3308

img_3309

img_3310

Moving along, I was almost lured into the dangerous world of Tupperware. A whole wall was dedicated to the microwaveable vs. the non-microwaveable, clear plastic vs. designer plastic, ease of use vs. risking carpal tunnel, and one container vs. several in one pack. When in doubt, please use ceramic if you’re not sure whether or not what you’re buying can be heated. Some packaging will not provide an easy-to-read picture for us mentally hindered.

img_3311

Again, before you buy something from a fancy home improvement store, please check with your local 100 yen shop. As you can see, there are a lot of utensils you can get to suit your needs.

img_3312

Earning an ALT salary keeps these stores close to my heart. My mom will verify that I’m a Scrooge with my money until I absolutely have to buy something (or I want something). Then I’ll go all out to make sure I don’t have to do it again until next year.

img_3315

Also, if you’re looking for Ziploc bags, you’ll come across them here along with plastic wrap and aluminum foil. It all really boils down to how much you’re going to use. I’m big on freezing the fresh vegetables I buy from the grocery store (which I highly recommend you do before prices skyrocket and your stock goes out of season).

The great thing about Japan is you’ll eventually need an umbrella or, if you ride a bike, a poncho. Because these umbrellas are cheaply made, I don’t recommend you use them if the weather is predicted to be very tempestuous. I’ve seen the horror they become as they hang forgotten, rusted, and bloated with old rain water on the fences by the freeway. Save up for a good umbrella. You can usually buy these at any home improvement or DIY store (i.e. Cainz Home, Jumbo Encho, D2, Seiyu [which is really a Target]).

img_3316

As I cruised through Orange, I came across the gardening center. I didn’t even recognize half of what was available aside from the shovels and watering pales. More than likely, if you’re thinking of becoming an ALT, you’ll have a cramped apartment stoop that is only big enough to house your air conditioning unit. Secondly, if you hate bugs, I wouldn’t advise the use of plants out-of-doors. Resist purchasing that beautiful rose bush! Resist it! Do a little research on house plants instead that help with oxygen levels and act as bug repellent if you absolutely need a little green in your life.

Then we have the pet section. Most apartments will not allow animals, but if you happen to move and can bear leaving your pet alone for more than 8 hours most days, know that this exists for you. Puppy pads, leashes, snacks, watering bowls… I feel Japan is dog-biased. Unless you walk your cat regularly, you may have to take some time perusing what’s on the shelf.

In the next aisle over was the home improvement section. If you’re going to remain in your apartment, don’t go down this road. Most landlords will not tolerate redesigning and will charge you a pretty penny for the “damage.” Just don’t it.

img_3320

Moving on, we have the bathroom aisle. Because baths are ritualistic here, you’ll find endless amounts of things to use. The numerous shoes, brushes, scrubbers, hair catchers, odor absorbers, shower caps, and bathtub heat shields will keep you occupied for a while as you debate whether or not you really need them. One thing I will highly suggest you buy is a plunger because Japanese plumbing relies on a reservoir. If you don’t think you’ll need to clean your drains, be my guest and find out what happens after several months. Lastly, Japanese water is hard. You can obtain these pumice-like stones that will chip away the deposits in your ceramic sinks and tubs.

img_3321

If you intend to have friends over, it’s customary to provide a set of guest slippers for them to wear. Again, because your apartment is not your own, please save yourself and your floors (unless you have carpet) from damage and either wear your socks or slippers. You’ll notice most 100 yen shops have cushions. Although Japan is quickly upgrading its building codes, you may come across apartments that have tatami mats with low tables. Because I’m fortunate to have a table and chairs provided in my LeoPalace, I’ve never had to buy a cushion. Keep in mind they’re cheap. If you intend for your butt to develop a long-term relationship with one, please save your money and look elsewhere.

You’ll also stumble across wardrobe malfunction fixes and emergency stashes of ties, belts, and stockings here. I’ve never bought anything from this aisle but I’m glad to know it’s available. Orange apparently was hosting a black tie shindig that I wasn’t aware of.

img_3322

img_3323

Goodness! This store is huge! Up next, we have what I call “The Party Section.” Paper and plastic plates abound! You can also buy to-go containers here. I will not pretend to be ignorant of restaurants stocking up on these from 100 yen shops. (I’ll let you find out how much of a bitch they are on your own. Two things: “rubber band” and “grease.”)

Ah, yes! The seasonal section! As soon as Halloween was over, the Christmas stuff was rolled out. Ornaments, wall decorations, banners, bows… you name it. They’ll more than likely have it. This particular store had LED desk ornaments. I’m sorely tempted to buy a wreath or make my own and be that obnoxious neighbor. I’ve yet to see a large assortment of lights, though. Japan may not be big into decorating their houses. I know I’d love to have my little stoop sparkle and glitter during those chilly nights. You may be lucky to find greeting cards but don’t expect the packs of 20 or more like you can find in America or Canada.

img_3326

If you discover your phone charger or stylus has mysteriously disappeared, you’ll be able to buy a replacement at 100 yen shops. Don’t fret about them being cheaply made. Demand is so high these for these things that the supply has brought the price down. Office supplies are also commonly available.

Of course, no amount of words or videos can replace your own personal experiences. I feel 100 yen shops are truly valued here whereas, in the States, dollar stores were reserved for the lower income brackets. Don’t think you are demeaning your worth by shopping here. Allow me to show you what you can find through my own purchases.

Signs I’m Becoming Comfortable

This list was started two days ago during a quiet evening as I was chewing on my dinner. Adaptability is definitely an animalistic trait and I consider myself proud of it. Have you ever thought about how you cope in new surroundings? These are the signs I’m slowly becoming used to being in Japan.

1. Accumulation of convenience store (コンビニ, konbini) chopsticks and spoons

img_3285
Okay, so I only have 2 pairs of chopsticks and 1 spoon but still!

2. Getting excited by the baseball games on TV
3. Letting the dishes pile up in the sink
4. Braving late night trash take-outs

img_3286
I’m convinced there’s a dead body in there every time I go out at night.

5. Saying 痛い! (itai) instead of “Ouch!”
6. Borrowing umbrellas from school
7. Leaving rice in the rice cooker
8. I don’t think 50ºF is freezing anymore
9. I have humidity absorbers everywhere

10. I carry plastic bags in every pouch “just in case”
11. I have a bag for collecting said plastic bags

img_3290
I’ve even thought about organizing them by size this morning.

12. I attempt to replicate school lunches
13. Buying cookbooks

img_3292
I have 9 of these fuckers.

14. I have a regular grocery store (with point card)

img_3293
I can redeem the points for cash.

15. Starting to scope the sales ads for deals
16. Any notes I take are in English and Japanese
17. Getting used to hanging my laundry outside to dry

And just last night, I went to eat some peanut butter and was confused as to why it wasn’t Japanese peanut butter. There’s a big difference and I’m finding I’m preferring that over American peanut butter. Blasphemy!

School Lunch

Behold, the school lunch! Called kyushoku (給食) in Japanese, it beats out what I used to eat growing up. I’m already recalling the nightmares about the microwaved grilled cheese sandwiches and leftover Special K.

The meals pride themselves on being balanced.  Carbs, fiber, and meat are what make every child in this country fired up and ready to go. That day just happened to be chicken curry, rice, edamame salad and some kind of pickled vegetable. I often find myself trying to emulate what I eat so I can escape from the grocery store with more money in my wallet.

Every day, the beverages are the same: green tea (for teachers only) and milk. Remember me telling you how fatty Japanese milk is? The proof is there on the carton. In the area my local lunch factory operates, I’m served the same lunch no matter which school I’m at during the week. All of Japan, though, dishes up its food in various ways. No tray is the same.

As an ALT, I can either eat with the students or in the teachers’ lounge. I’m lucky because I get the chance to experience both. I wish I could say hanging with the staff is an exciting time for me but I usually turn my thoughts inward and attempt to focus on not falling asleep. Being with the young ones proves to be a similar thing but every once in a while, they will surprise me and ask me questions or chatter about me amongst themselves.  Through this one-sided interaction, I’m slowly becoming approachable. Miracles don’t happen overnight!

Here is the breakdown of my lunches with the teachers:

  1. Sit down to the meal presented on my desk.
  2. Quickly analyze if there’s anything I’m unfamiliar with.
  3. If there’s anything wonky on my tray, I’ll ask about it and attempt to eat it.
  4. If I’m confident about what’s staring up at me, I usually scarf it all down.
  5. When there’s something of obvious foreign origin, there is a giant soup pot in which I can dump my food (if I eat it and don’t like it) or I can leave it for someone else to eat (if I haven’t touched my food yet).
  6. There is no “Thanks for the food!” (いただきます, ita-da-ki-masu) or “That was delicious! Thank you!” (ごちそうさまでした, go-chi-so-sama-deshi-ta)
14495460_10154413502436043_6477696108932666163_n
Shishamo fish: eggs and everything. Courtesy of David Cox.
14681718_10154441460706043_1191194203551577627_n
Herring. Courtesy of David Cox.

Here is the breakdown of my lunches with the students:

  1. Walk into the meeting room.
  2. Find my tray (I know because it has my name on it).
  3. Journey to whichever class I’m assigned to eat in and sit quickly.
  4. Wait and…
  5. Wait and…
  6. Wait some more while the students on kitchen duty serve everyone.
  7. Finally! All the students have their food!
  8. The class leader says “Let’s eat!” and it’s a race to the front to get whatever leftovers that are well… leftover (I’m usually grabbing more rice because I think they think I don’t eat much. They can tell my butt that).
  9. We all chow down.

Clean up is the same no matter where I go. Soup bowls go with the soup bowls, rice bowls go with the rice bowls, and the head bone is connected to the neck bone. I never did figure out where everything goes after that.

A post about busy nothings, there are more to come.

Home Sweet Home

Autumn has come to remind us that winter is not too far away. The wind and rain has become a bitter a lover – biting at my skin instead of caressing it. Lately, however, the sun has been shining. Like the bipolar weather, I too am experiencing times of happiness and times of bleak depression. Two times this week I have found myself in tears as I battle the raging torrents of self-doubt. Some days it feels like it will carry me away and I will give up the fight to find myself and what I stand for. The stress of wanting to show these kids I’m not an alien is really weighing down on me and has, unfortunately, caused me to come down with a cold. The fact that I have no Daddy or Mommy to baby me makes me all the more depressed.

To take my mind off of my tiny troubles, I will talk about what I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: my apartment. I live in what’s called a LeoPalace. They are a franchise that provides furnished apartments for single people. Each place is provided (basically) the same things: a folding table, bed with storage space, TV, mirror, two chairs, microwave, and washing machine. I was anticipating something that would fit in my bedroom back home but was pleasantly surprised. I will tip my hat off to the Japanese. They know how to utilize space. My only complaint is that I wish I had more cupboard/shelf space. This desire is even more pronounced due to the arrival of care packages from home.

apartment
Thank you, Google Streetview.

My building is seemingly out in the middle of nowhere when it is, in fact, surrounded by several houses. There are just rice fields taking up the space in between. It’s a nondescript thing painted in blue and white stripes. Over time (with a bit of help from Toby), I have discovered the secret to the lights upstairs. One unit sits on the ground floor while the unit next to it is the one situated upstairs. It’s the door that’s on the foundation that leads upwards. My scaredy-cat self can only imagine what it’s like coming home in the dark of the night and having this spooky, gaping mouth staring you in the face.

Walking in, I’m greeted by the quiet stillness of the hallway. My shoe box is on the immediate right. The small doorknob that permits me access is often the place of rest for my wet umbrella. I used to have a pink rug edged in lace there until I got paranoid there was mold/bug eggs embedded in the carpeting. All of the floors, with the exception of the bathroom, are made of wood. I want to find the idiot that put the laminate down because he could have cleaned better beforehand. My parents already know how much the dust drives me crazy. What’s nice is that I feel a little more at home after noticing the dust bunnies behave in the same manner as at home.

After a few feet, you’ll notice the sorry cubbyhole that is my kitchen and pantry on the left and my laundry “room” on the right with the bathroom being immediately next to it. I can’t stress the amount of times I’ve stepped out of that place and almost killed myself slipping. In home improvement stores, I see small benches and chairs specifically for the bathroom, but I may just use one as a stepping stone from the tile to the laminate. At least the space is cramped enough I won’t have far to fall.

img_3165
Before the “remodel.”

img_3274
After the “remodel.”

The kitchen space, as previously mentioned, comes with a microwave, fridge and storage space. I don’t care too much for the storage because I’m used to such luxuries as a garage and mass amounts of shelving that allow me the opportunity to organize and avoid burying things that need to get eaten sooner rather than later. Microwaves cook hotter in Japan and they don’t light up when you open them. (I suppose I could count that as a blessing. I don’t have the chance to see the funk and gunk splattered on the inside.) At the time this picture was taken, I was recently moved in. Now, the following is crammed in there:

  • Panko bread crumbs
  • Tuna fish
  • Canned salmon
  • Sweet potato syrup packets
  • Instant miso soup packets
  • Pancake mix (I use this flour when I’m breading things)
  • Consommé soup packets
  • Hot chocolate mix
  • Rice seasonings (ふりかけ)
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Beef tomato soup

The fridge itself is very similar to an office unit but the freezer is more spacious. Unfortunately, during the writing of this installment, the fan on it decided to go out. The landlord was nice enough to offer English-speaking assistance and, between my company and theirs, my new unit should arrive this week. (I just hope my kitchen wagon still fits in its space. It’s where I store my dishes.) I’ve quickly discovered that, if I shop like an American and act like the world is going to end, things go bad in there startlingly fast.

img_3275
The infamous kitchen wagon.

I have issues with the cooking range and not because it’s electric. Coming to Japan, I didn’t realize I would be asked to go from a full four-burner gas-powered stove to a dinky two-burner contraption. Again, I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth because if a natural disaster happened, I wouldn’t have to worry about the stove blowing up on me. The sink is nothing special; nor is the tiny cabinet above it.

Across from the “kitchen” is the W.C. I can’t say bathroom anymore because the toilet room is definitely not where I would take a shower. It’s interesting how quickly I got over the novelty that is the Japanese toilet. All units differ in the options and features available. Mine comes with a sink that uses the water from the tank and a bidet that will clean my backside whenever I desire. My favourite feature is the heated seat.

After the short journey through that half of the apartment, we come to the anti-climax of my story: the bedroom. The only cool thing about this place is the outside monitor. It’s the “only window to the outside world.” (Did you catch that reference?) Beats peeking through a peep hole. Also, I hate the storage space under the bed. It’s dark and spooky and, when I first moved in, this was the spiders’ favourite place to hang out. I now have my luggage under there and make sure to move them around when I clean.

img_3167
This is probably the cleanest the place has been.

I do my best with what I have and can see myself becoming comfortable. Now, if only I can get over this cold/flu/whatever the hell it is. (Side note: nothing is scarier than looking for cold medicine when you can’t read the characters on the boxes. So, I’ve been treating with ibuprofen and vitamins.)

These Boots were Made for Walking

These boots were made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do.
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.

Okay, maybe Nancy Sinatra’s break-up-woman-power lyrics aren’t appropriate for this entry. Then again, it’s the first thin in the morning and the weirdest things like to make an appearance in my mind’s eye.

This entry is in retrospect.

Started: September 12, 2016
Finished: September 18, 2016

おはようございます、みなさん。I realize this morning that, in America, everyone is remembering 9/11 and I’m sorry for it. You may want a quiet moment to yourself to remember lives loved and lost. I was ten years of age when it happened and to this day, I know I was wrapped up in the kind of self-absorption only a 10-year-old could manage. There was a part of me however, that couldn’t shake this omnipresent cloud of gloom the adults were projecting.

Because I don’t come from a military family, I can only express sympathy towards the unnecessary destruction of life. Humans are a violent species when their values are crossed and I foresee a constant miscommunicated rut. Labels are a dangerous thing and I’m struck now by a small inside joke: Allah is only another name for God. The waters are too muddied by bloodshed to determine for myself the nature of this beast that has continued for 15 years.

In the meantime, I have more than likely solidified my weirdness by taking a picture of a large snail I found in a drainage grate. I was disappointed that it wasn’t dead. I would have loved to keep the shell and add it to my small collection of All Things Japanese. This mainly contains enough receipts to fill a scrapbook and a hawk feather. I think I have some acorns running around somewhere. This brings to mind all of the things I see on my walks to school.

20160912_071911

I work at two schools but am at one the majority of the time. I teach at the other once a week. The main one is the largest in the area with over 600 students. (When I was doing my self-introduction lessons, I would show my classes a picture of the front of my JHS and explain to them it held 2,400 students. As I continue on my tangent, I think America could learn from Japan. There’s no zoning here. You apply for the school you want to get into and that counts for elementary onwards. Education is almost like a blood sport. These children put their sweat and tears into what they do and the results are amazing.)

My days usually start out like this: every time I leave my apartment, I do battle with an obnoxious spider that is determined to slowly suffocate me in my own living space. Viciously snapping the web from its foundation by opening the door, I continue on my way (though, the last few days have been nice; someone came and cleaned the web off. I have since scrubbed mine and my neighbor’s door. I even sprayed vinegar [EDIT: since I’ve been working on this blog entry, the web has returned but has remained above my door.]). I soon begin marveling at the nature around me. Shrines, flowers, butterflies… aside from the menacing looking spiders I see hanging in mid-air, I do fine. Some days, after it rains, there’s an old man neighbor of mine that likes to rinse his car off. Every time I see him he’s so happy to be out of doors; his smile is infectious.

 

Up one side of the street, I go, around two corners and I’m swiftly on my way to Minami-Gotemba Station. I’m sorry to say that there isn’t even a corner store for me to stop at on my way. All accessible shopping areas are near either school. For instance, by the one I teach at once per week is a 7-11 and Circle K (called “Maru K” here — “maru” meaning circle). My main school is near Family Mart, 7-11 and HAC Drug, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Japan is a network of rivers and streams. It seems like I can’t walk anywhere without encountering some form of waterway. When it rains and stagnant water begins to move, mosquitos are riotous. Walk over a storm drain and you’d swear it had fur.

20160831_175403

Once I get to Fujioka Station, I’m greeted immediately by a grouchy looking orange tabby cat and an equally grouchy Yankee. The definition of a Yankee in Japan is an ambiguous one. This article may help you understand the sub-culture a little more. I’m almost tempted to make friends with him. I see quiet folk as a challenge in getting them to open up about themselves. A few days back, I met him unintentionally at the vending machine and he was very polite in telling me “good morning.” I wish that cat would do the same instead of sitting under bikes glaring at people.

As I walk to school, I’m always welcomed by the local morning glories. There’s even a field of them by my apartment. I read somewhere that hydrangeas change their colors based on the amount of nitrogen in the soil. I wonder if the morning glories do the same. I’ve seen blue, pink, purple, varigated, white-rimmed, and blue-rimmed flowers. I might become poetic here, so I’ll leave my description short and simple. There are other flowers I see, but outside of the cosmos, I don’t know what they are other than cute. Japan seems to be big on beautifying their towns. I’ve yet to go to a place that doesn’t have pots of flowers hanging out on the curb. I often spot swallowtail butterflies paying tribute to the blooms. Other than the nature, my walk to school is fairly uneventful. (Grandma, you’ll be happy to know the grass you hate grows here too.)

Oh! I almost forgot about The House. This house is so overgrown with the foliage that you would think anyone lived there. I wonder a lot of the time how whoever lives there gets into the house. The only reason I know someone lives there is that there’s a white car that parks in the teeny tiny driveway every once in a while.

What really warms me is my interaction with two choice students. They’re in a class I can’t go into too much detail about. Most days, the one student runs up to me and is very eager to communicate. Sometimes, when her friend is there with her, she’ll translate for her. One day, not too long ago, she even told me that she liked me. The lonely gremlin within my heart was elated.

On the walk home, I usually notice a car or a truck parked behind some trees in my neighborhood. I often wonder who they belong to because there is no house and no field around where they’re sitting. They certainly can’t drive forward because the river is there. Maybe it’s a secret rendezvous point for hot couples.

Maybe I will draw a simplified map. It’s a good thing I’m no cartographer.

P.S. There is a rubber working glove that I’ve been paying attention to for the last week or so. It has somehow found its way into a tree. Also, here is a shopping list to let you know how crazy I get at the grocery store sometimes. I should know better than to shop while hungry.

Sponges                    Box cutter                    Chopsticks              Sweet curry

Drying rack for laundry                               Pepsi                         Milk

Eggs                           Bread                             Maple jam               Rice

Chocolate covered almonds                Chocolate covered macadamia nuts

Small Ziploc bags                                   Medium Ziploc bags

Small katsu don with fried egg (for lunch)

Pancake mix           Salad dressing              Croutons                  Sweet potato sauce

Alfredo sauce          Furikake for rice          Katsu breading      Watermelon

Bananas                   Macaroni salad              Asparagus katsu     Marinated salmon

Cabbage                   Potatoes                        Sweet potatoes           Mushrooms

Onion                       Frozen gyoza                Pork chops                   Croquettes

Frozen dumplings                 Cream puffs             Corn dogs         Hamburger patties

%d bloggers like this: