Back Home and My Fortune (New Year’s 2021)

So, I’m late on the new year’s wishes and felicitations. That’s OK, right?

I travelled back to my hometown of Gotemba for the occasion. Arriving at night, the town was as quiet as ever. But I could see that the old royal residence wasn’t immune to the tides of time.

The Subway I had eaten at many times was no longer there, much to my dismay. They’ve been disappearing slowly across the country, I feel. Would anyone be interested in investing in some sub stock? I could really use a good sandwich!

A few steps from Subway, there was a ramen shop I’d aim to partake of every Friday to celebrate the end of the week, but that too was either closed or gone. I still couldn’t tell after squinting in through the window from across the street.

Here are some more highlights from my trip:

When I lived in Gotemba, there was a Tourist Information shop underneath a hotel across from the station on the north side. Imagine my surprise seeing this new, fancy building on the south side. Not only was this there, the city had refurbished its shuttle area, too. It’s certainly more organized now!
Sun Sun Plaza was a shopping center I’d often go to. It had a drug store, a supermarket, a Daiso, a small arcade, and a few clothing shops. No longer will it be standing there in the future, as it’s gated off to be demolished. I still have the sweatshirts from that place!
Mt. Fuji in the background. My camera phone simply cannot catch the closeness in which the mountain is. Truly, I feel such kinship with this icon of Japan.
The Gotemba Premium Outlets are a hotspot for shopping and deals on expensive items. The lines for Nike and Adidas were out the door with scheduled time slots for the Pokémon Store. I managed to score some new sweatshirts that are… hand wash only. UGH!
The hotel I stayed at had some osechi for breakfast! The konbu roll hit me a bit hard. They must’ve used something that tasted like peppermint. I didn’t enjoy it.

Lastly, I took some time out on Sunday to hit up my local shrine for my yearly fortune. Before you skip ahead, you can read what last year’s fortune had in store for me!

The quote about the plum blossom blooming after a hard winter fulfilled its prophecy as we all stumbled into a year with Uncle Covid. Seriously, who invited him? Not only did I have familial brushes with possible infection, I also lost my Aunt Judy. She had a brain aneurysm that ripped her rather violently from us and I’m still sad knowing I won’t ever see her again.

Let’s have a moment of silence. That 2020 fortune had “a sad event” pinned down to a T.

I panicked too after hearing that my only grandma had fallen and broken her leg. What a heart stopper that was! I thought I would have to drop everything and move back home. Mixed in there was a several month-long mental breakdown that had me questioning if I even belonged on this earth.

At Kenroku-en, a former royal garden! It was “super green” if y’know the reference.

Through it all, I managed to regain a sense of myself by concentrating on my painting, floral wreaths, and my relationships with my friends. Yay!

Another something that came true was the advice not to travel. I don’t think any of us saw a worldwide shutdown in the cards, but it happened! I ignored the warnings and was extra careful taking some time for myself as I worked my way around Kanazawa.

This year in 2021, my fortune is extremely lucky! I had some help from an acquaintance translating it. Thank you, Mika! The words of wisdom, too, are very auspicious.

渦を巻く (うずをまく – As the whirlpools spiral)

谷の小川の丸木橋渡る (たにの おがわの まるきばし わたる – Cross the log bridge over the valley river)

夕べの心地するかな (ゆうべの ここちするかな – You’ll arrive at your heart’s hearth tonight)

My interpretation is affected by others’ interpretations on Japanese ask sites in that there are difficulties ahead, but I have the faculty to overpower them and reach the other side. Life is a powerful current that pulls and pushes us where it may, just as the water in the river ebbs and flows.

Below is my complete fortune for the areas of life:

  1. 願望 (ねがいごと, negaigoto, hopeful wishes) – You’ll remember how to get over your misgivings.
  2. 待人 (まちびと, machibito, awaiting person) – They won’t come.
  3. 失物 (うせもの, usemono, lost item) – It’ll be difficult to find. It might be low to the ground.
  4. 旅行 (たびだち, tabidachi, travel) – Travel on a lucky day.**
  5. 商売 (あきない, akinai, business) – Buy stocks that have a low risk of loss.
  6. 学問 (がくもん, gakumon, school) – Be relaxed. It’s a good time to study.
  7. 相場 (そうば, souba, stock market) – Sell; you’ll have a large profit.
  8. 争事 (あらそい, arasoi, quarrels) – You’ll come out the winner if you wait.
  9. 恋愛 (れんあい, rennai, love) – You’ll have happiness.
  10. 転居 (やうつり, yautsuri, moving) – Now is not a good time.
  11. 出産 (おさん, osan, pregnancy) – If you are careful, you’ll have a safe delivery.
  12. 病気 (びょうき, byouki, sickness) – If you believe in the gods, you’ll be cured.
  13. 縁談 (えんだん, endan, marriage) – You will be tempted by others’ words.

**Have you ever noticed that there are markings on each day of the month on a Japanese calendar? These are called 六曜 (ろくよう, rokuyou) or the “days of fortune” and follow the Buddhist practice of auspiciousness. Nippon.com offers a succinct chart.

Screencaptured from Nippon.com

How was your New Year’s celebrations? Did you do anything exciting or did you just chillax and hang out?
Let me know!
Until next time.

Ashley Goes to the Konbini

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As I was eating my food, I realized that I could do a segment on the things I buy and try out. Unfortunately, the items I’m going to share with you today have already been ingested and are now succumbing to my acid. Wait… that doesn’t sound right. Let’s try that again!

Unfortunately, the items I’m going to share with you today have already been impounded and are currently going through processing.

ShockingPowerfulAardwolf-size_restricted

…moving on!

7-11 is a thing here and it is quite different than my American counterpart. Two words: NO. SLURPEES. Despite not offering the snacks and hot foods I grew up eating, Japanese 7-11s are dope in their own way. The main reason is the above. If I could live off fried chicken and rice balls for the rest of my life, I would but I’d hate to see what my body’d look like after 10 years.

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The Jell-O dessert.

First up to bat is this “cream soda jelly.” Yes, Jell-O is called jelly here. Which is easier for you to say? Honestly, my mind gets stuck on the #ujelly schtick…

Topped with a cocktail cherry (sorry, it’s not a maraschino), whipped cream, and lemon mousse, it’s actually pretty tasty. I was transported back to my childhood. Story time! Furr’s was a buffet or cafeteria-style restaurant my family would take me to every once in a while. It has since been closed for many, many years. But I distinctly remember their green (lime-flavored, maybe) Jell-O with whipped cream. I think it became one of those must-haves a child always looks forward to.

 

Furrs
Once upon a time, there was a place.

VERDICT: 7/10. The dessert here was extremely pleasant. The Jell-O wasn’t overpoweringly flavored. The whipped cream was light. The lemon mousse was en point. It’s probably one of the few Western things Japan is doing better than their competitors. The only downer was that cocktail cherry.

 

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Tuna salad and rice. Who’da thought?

Up next, we have the humble rice ball. Why it’s called a “ball,” I have no idea because in Japanese, it’s called おにぎり (onigiri, oh-nee-ghee-ree). The number of things you can wrap rice around is just about endless, but let’s talk about this particular one: tuna mayonnaise. The mayonnaise in Japan is not Best Foods. Whatever their egg to oil to whatever ratio is, it’s tasty cold or warm.

The rice is fresh and springy; not cold and hard. The tuna is your typical, flaked variety. The mayo is mild and I swear it’s seasoned with something. VERDICT: 8/10.

 

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Goodness on a stick.

Last, but not least is the fried chicken (called 唐揚げ [karage, kara-age]). Made from thigh meat, the chicken is marinated in some kind of soy sauce, sake, ginger, and garlic combination or simply dipped in seasoned flour and fried until golden brown. Instead of nachos or a hot dog, you can buy these babies for about $1.50 each. Their crispy, juicy deliciousness will not leave you disappointed. Just don’t let it get soggy. VERDICT: 9/10 (Maybe I have low expectations, but wait until you try it.)

Honorable mention: Popcorn is popcorn. I’ve yet to eat bad popcorn that I didn’t make myself.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my account of konbini food. Stay tuned for the next episode!

A Weekend Diary: The Backwoods

Once upon a time, there was a sporadic blogger who disappeared. She was found a year later, quietly rotting away from overwork and self-imposed stress. If you listen closely, you can hear the tapping from the keys on her laptop and the frantic clicking of her mouse. She now serves as a living reminder to the young and carefree to not be so serious about life.

Just kidding.

Really, though, where has the time gone?! I suppose the stars have fallen from my eyes after almost two years of living in Japan. The adjustment time has ended. The urge to visit the places I saw in anime and other kinds of pop-culture has vanished and has been replaced with a desire to explore locally. As a challenge to myself, I will attempt to detail my weekend adventures instead of trying to remember everything I do on actual vacations. Mom, Dad! I’m sorry I’m such a failure!

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First, I have to say thanks to Niantic for bringing out PokémonGo. When I first moved here, I thought my area was a PokéStop desert – nothing to be seen or gotten. The oasis was an hour’s bus ride away if I wanted any action. So, having had a falling out with running, I decided to put my worn-out shoes back on and start walking. Luckily for me, my town has proven to be decently laden with Stops.

After passing through the local shrine a couple of times and seeing11325043_1559328200989984_1491583606_n a sign for “Hosoe Park – Welcome! Let’s walk together!” I got curious about what was actually up there in the woods. As a side note, I’m terrified of closed in spaces because I have no idea what will jump out and get me. The desert is much kinder and kills you faster.

Walking up the damn mountain was a bitch. After 5 minutes, I was huffing and puffing my way through dense foliage, rugged concrete paths, and glory-seeking spider threads. A glimmer of white finally greeted my vision and… wait! Is that a place to rest?! Do I spy a water fountain?! I’m SAVED! (‘cause, y’know, I’m a dummy like that and don’t hydrate). Oh… no. It’s just an observation deck with sour water.

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The view from the observation deck. You can see Lake Hamana on the far right side and the Miyakoda River leading to it under the landmark bridge.

As I continued trekking, I realized I’d come across a municipal hotel. No, joke, that’s what 国民宿舎奥浜名湖 translates to. Japanese lesson, go!

Japanese Lesson 1

I remembered an acquaintance told me there was a restaurant up here (coupled with seeing signs – am I psychic?!), I braved the front doors. As I walked in, unsure if the place was open to public patronage or not, I was greeted warmly and allowed to look around. Of course, in traditional Japanese capitalist fashion, a small shop dedicated to the local foods and souvenirs drew me deeper into the depths of a broke life. In case it wasn’t mention before, Hosoe is famous for tangerines (i.e. mikan), eel, and miso products. As it is March, there were also seasonal treats available. Anyway!

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My lunch. Rice, pickled vegetables, dipping sauces, red miso soup, a salad and fried shrimp.

I spotted a book titled “The Town’s Princess Road.” In Japanese, it’s 姫様道の町 (himesama dou no machi). Hosoe’s top festival is the Princess Road Festival and this book details important locations within the town that are relevant to the history of the area. Naturally, I had to have a copy despite the need to translate it.

This leads me to my next discovery: The Dual-Weight Saint. Thank you again, PokémonGo, because this place was listed as a gym. My original goal was to get to it and put a Pokémon in. (Tangent: the one I placed there stayed there for 2 days. No one battled it out.) But instead, I found a small shrine with a bunch of red-dressed monk statues commonly called Jizo* there. One in particular was singled out and protected with a bunch of origami cranes. Coincidently, the book I had purchased told the story of this place. Fast forward two days and here you go!

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The Dual-Weight Saint. It has since been enshrined.

おもかる大師
昔、おきぬという信心深い老婆が木の実を拾おうと気賀の裏山をさまよっていると、萩の下にお地蔵様のような形をした変わった石を見つけました。
「これはこれは、御大師様だ。何かのご縁に違いない」と、おきぬは、その石を近くの木の下に据えました。
その後、おきぬは毎日水や花を持ってお参りに来ていましたが、ある日、道順の良い所へ石を動かそうとしたところ、重くて動きませんでした。ところがある日、急に雨が降り出してきたため、石が雨にぬれてしまうと思い、動かしてみると、今度は軽く動くので、大きな松の木の下に移してやりました。そのうちに、おきぬは、この石には重い日と軽い日があるのを知りました。
この話が人々に広まり、多くの人が参けいに訪れるようになりましたが、願いをかけてそれが叶う時は軽く、叶わない時には動くて持ち上がらないことから、いつしかこの石は「おもかる大師」と呼ばれるようになりました。

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Jizo’s true appearance. He holds a wish granting jewel in his hand. (Props to you Inuyasha fans who get the reference.)

The Dual-Weight Saint
                Once upon a time, an old devout woman by the name of Okinu was wandering around the backwoods of Kiga when suddenly, she came upon a stone under a bush of clover in bloom. It looked like the saint, Jizo!
                “This… this is a saint!” she said, as she placed the figure under a nearby tree. “This must be fate, make no mistake.”
               After that, Okinu brought flowers and water for it every day. It became a ritual for her, when one day, she decided to move the stone to a better place. Upon trying to lift it, she discovered she couldn’t! Suddenly, the rain began to fall and she hurried to get it out of the way. It was light! She could move it! Quickly, she placed it under a pine tree. It dawned on her that the stone had its heavy days and its light days.
               The story became widely known by the townsfolk and they visited with their wishes. If the stone was heavy and they couldn’t move it, their wish wouldn’t be granted. If the stone was light, however, they could rejoice! Their wish would come true. It was from then on, it was called the “Dual-Weight Saint.”

I didn’t try to move it.

**According to Wikipedia, Jizo is a Buddhist deity. His original name is Ksitigarbha. He guides people through the 6 Realms of Existence. More information was found in The Japan Times article “A guide to Jizo, guardian of travelers and the weak.” Because Jizo is a protector of those who travel, he is often found at boundaries, physical or spiritual. Dressing and caring for this saint allows the soul to accrue karma for the afterlife.

 

 

Long Time, No See

みなさん、こんにちは!元気ですか。長い間休んで、ごめんなさい。数ヵ月、色々なことがありました。旅行の後、学校に来て、忙しくなりました。私はALTをしていた学校の卒業式を準備しなければいけなし、英語の授業を練習しなければいけなかったです。

そして、最近、御殿場市から浜松市北区まで引っ越しました。御殿場市に比べて、このエリアは何もありません。御殿場はマクドナルドがありますが、ここに一番の近いのはバスで40分ぐらいかかります。マクドナルドがあまり好きじゃなくてよかったですね。

(Translation: Hello, everyone! How are you doing? I’m sorry I took such a long vacation. Many things came up after travelling and I became extremely busy. I had to prepare for graduation and review my English classes.

Recently, I moved from Gotemba to Hamamatsu’s northern ward. Compared to Gotemba, there isn’t really anything here. At least Gotemba had a McDonald’s. The closest one to here is about 40 minutes by bus (that I know of). It’s a good thing I don’t really like McDonald’s.)

I’m sure you were wondering whether something happened to me, but I promise you I’m very much alive.  During the last few months, I have been travelling. All places are listed below and will be addressed in their own posts (if I ever get around to doing them):

  • Yokohama
  • Odawara
  • Kamakura
  • Shizuoka
  • Mishima

Thinking now, I’m overwhelmed with the amount of writing I need to accomplish in the coming days. Thank goodness for the pictures I take or else I’d have trouble remembering the places I’ve seen and the food I’ve eaten.

Backtracking, my turmoil began back in November when I planned what I thought was a harmless visit back home. It was my little secret, cloistered away in the depths of my heart. It was days before I could wipe the smile off my face; days before I could stop daydreaming of my parents’ reactions to my popping in unexpectedly. In the meantime, I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that Fate has its own agenda and I was helpless to stop it. Cue the last ALT meeting.

Surrounded by that tacky, office building interior with chairs that were too high, my trainer ominously beckons me over in that subtle Japanese way. “How would you like to move to Hamamatsu?” he asks.

“…what?” I blinked once, twice. What did I do wrong? What aren’t my teachers telling me? So many what-ifs flew around in my head. I was suddenly nervous.

“Yeah, we can’t keep you in Gotemba anymore,” he explained.

I handled the news quite well and, like a seasoned businesswoman, I asked, “Will the company pay for my moving expenses and will I have to come up with another apartment deposit?” Naturally, all my fears were laid to rest. Plus, the moving date wasn’t until the end of the school year.

I had nothing to worry about (or so I thought).

Reality came crashing down over my head when my credit card bill showed up. That meant time wasn’t waiting for anyone; including me. My secret was abruptly brought to light and it was imperative I tell someone in order to avoid any possible late fees. Who could I call? Who in my family wouldn’t bat an eyelash to help me…? Ah! Grandma!

How terrible of a granddaughter am I to rely on an old lady for financial assistance? Cynicism aside, she agreed and I was on the fast track to giving myself a heart attack. Without the absolute knowledge of my moving date or even where the hell I would be going, I was uncertain of whether I should start packing earlier or later. Even then, shoving things into boxes was double-duty. Not only did I have to make sure I was ready for my trip (without forgetting anything), I had to make positive I had my other things set up for the move (without forgetting anything).

Fast forward to Oh Shit Day and I was on a plane back to the desert. I thought I would be more excited to see home, eat Mexican food, and sleep under my glow-in-the-dark-star-dotted ceiling, but I wasn’t. I easily slipped back into the routine I was once a part of. My father even got some breakfast!

After a week of hanging out and being a fatty, I revved up my engines and went back to Japan. With the time difference, it was March 29th by the time I landed on the soil I’m quickly coming to call “home.” The rest of the week went something like this:

  • 29th: sleep in apartment
  • 30th: load up the moving truck, change addresses with the appropriate authorities, stay in hotel in Mishima
  • 31st: be homeless, register with the proper companies, and bum it out with a friend
  • 1st: attempt to locate the new apartment via Google Maps, get lost, have a breakdown

The day I got lost was the day I had never felt more foreign. Stuck in the middle of an area I knew nothing about, while it rained, with no knowledge on how to say, “I’m lost” was the most depressive state I’ve ever been in. I kid you not when I tell you my phone almost ended up in the gutter. Fear. Worry. Hunger. Hopelessness. It was all there in this ugly, knotted up thing lodged between my ribs.

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The Miyakado River. It used to be totally fresh but is now contaminated by the ocean after a large earthquake destroyed the natural dam that held Lake Hamana in.

Aside from a few odds and ends, I’m pretty much moved in and comfortable. There are other ALT newbies in the same apartment complex and I’ve been about as rude as I can be. So far, my only conversation with the lot of them has consisted of, “Hello. My name’s Ashley. Nice to meet you.” This love-hate relationship I have with people is going to see me as an unmarried spinster with plants and dogs clogging up my house in the future, watch.

I’m only sorry that I’ll be moving again after this school year.

…wait. What?

My new home is situated in Hamamatsu’s northern ward, quietly nestled in a field of rice paddies, surrounded by trees. The Miyakado River separates my apartment from my school and already, I’m enjoying having water close by. As the sun sets, I can see and listen to the fish jumping from the water. What’s incredible is that the waterfront is lined with cherry trees. This spring, I’ll have my chance to witness the epitome of Japanese culture every day I leave my apartment.

While my particular spot is famous for its oranges, Hamamatsu itself is famous for its gyoza, eel (うなぎ, unagi), music industry, and manufacturing. It was highly recommended to me to visit the unagi pie factory. They’re these crispy wafer-like cookies that are absolutely delicious. They’re often purchased as souvenirs.

Established along the Tokaido highway, Hamamatsu flourished with the constant flow of people coming and going. If you want to know more about the things that came out of this area, please visit the city’s website.

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An old photo. This is an older photo showcasing some of downtown Hamamatsu.

Recently, a drama was filmed here about a woman called Naotora Ii. Her original name was never recorded or never found, but she’s famous nonetheless. Born during the Warring States era and promised to her cousin Kamenojo (later named Naochika) in her youth, she was the only child in her family and unsuspecting of what life would give her.

As the political atmosphere heated up, Naochika was spirited away to protect his status as a potential heir. Because Naotora was left out of the loop, she thought he was dead and proceeded to be a nun. Over the course of 10 years, Naochika grew into a man of means, married, and had a male child: Naomasa.

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Promotional poster for the drama filmed last year.

This child was much beloved by all until his father was accused of rebellion and his family executed. Before the government could take Naomasa as a hostage of war, Naotora came out of seclusion, was declared lord of her clan and raised the boy. She sees him succeed as heir to the Ii clan before dawning her robes of religion.

The temple in which Naotora spent the majority of her childhood is about 20 minutes from here by car. It’s called Ryotanji. Every weekend, I can see the tourists gather at the Cultural Museum to get a gander at the historical artifacts… and buy some oranges. I’m sure they make their way up the hill at some point.

Overall, this is a town built for the quiet life and I’ll relish it (and the mosquitoes) until it’s time for me to start the next chapter in my life.

Jumping Jellyfish and Bouncin’ Bars


I’ve got chills and they’re multiplyin’! And I’m losin’ control for the power you’re supplyin’ is electrifyin’! I’ve certainly got chills, all right. Autumn has swept through the mountains of Gotemba with a vengeance not in the form of hail and catastrophe but with a slanting mist. If it were any colder, it would have been snowing. My hair and clothes become flat in no time. Unfortunately, there has been no changing of the leaves to mark the coming of the season. They’ve just been dropping dead on the ground like flies, riddled with black spots of rot. The spiders have yet to leave. In the meantime, today bodes rainless.

On Saturday, I took my friend Toby up on his offer of joining him in Numazu for a get-together. He was pleasant enough to introduce me to his companions (Yoko-san, Aiko-san, and Kaoru-san) and we had a grand ol’ time. The girls were eager to introduce me to various aspects of Japanese cuisine at this little ramen-yakitori shop next to the train station. As a side note, yakitori shops are amazing. Oriented around appetizer-sized meals, you can share and eat and not get overwhelmed by portion sizes. It was definitely a night of firsts.

To begin, up was a glass of Coca-cola. Harmless, right? I had to explain to Aiko-san what would happen if she told the wait staff she wanted to drink a “cola.” Next came the edamame and pot stickers (餃子, gyouza). Those were things I was familiar with and chowed down on with no problem. The following addition was intestine (もつ, motsu) soup. In my head, when I hear “intestines” or “tripe,” I see this gelatinous pile of white goop all shiny and translucent. Never having had it before, there was no basis on which to compare this tantalizing tongue experience. Simmered in a broth with burdock root and green onion, it looked like any other kind of soup with chicken or beef in it. I will never forget how everyone leaned forward in anticipation of my reaction. Boy howdy, it was delicious! I worked on two bowls of the stuff.

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After some conversation with my dinner mates, a plate was brought out to us that appeared to have sashimi on it. Laid out a bed of onions with garlic and ginger on the side, I was prompted to request identification on its origins. They replied, 「馬です。」(“Uma desu.” It’s horse.) At first, my American sensibilities were in conflict. There was a brief tug of war on whether or not I would be betraying anybody by eating an animal my country deems as special. My adventurous side and hungry stomach won. Placing a bit of this and a bit of that on a slice of meat, I liberally lathered it with soy sauce and wolfed it down. Chewing ponderously, again, as everyone was transfixed on the O Unaccustomed Opinion of the American I thought it was quite tasty but nothing I would prepare for myself.

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There was some debate that followed about Japanese and Chinese stereotypes on who ate what animal.

I won’t go into too much detail about the kim-chee, Korean pickled cabbage. I like pickled vegetables, but not kim-chee. Sorry, Korea. I don’t appreciate spicy things.

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We thoroughly stuffed our faces and enjoyed each other’s antics. I even fought over some octopus with Toby. All too soon, it was time to be scooting along to the bar: Merry Go-Round.

This was SPEC-TAC-U-LAR! Walking in, you wouldn’t even think it was a bar. Decorated in everything old school, I was transported to something akin to a cool uncle’s garage. There were signs, gas tanks, an old slot machine, mannequins, kewpie dolls, neon lighting, lava lamps, and Spiderman toilet paper. Our bartender, Wataru, was even dressed up in a black bowling shirt and pompadour. If you’re looking for a joint to bring a few friends without the publicity, I recommend this place. I also suggest you play the small drum set that’s next to the door. To complete the picture, disco ball-type lighting was flashing and tambourines were provided.

 

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A panorama of the bar.

 
I’ve only sung karaoke once in my life and that was when I was attending high school and it was required. It’s funny how being alone and having friends makes a difference. Not a drinker, I still managed to get drunk off the happy vibes my newfound friends were throwing helter-skelter. All too soon, I found myself singing off tune to Blondie’s Call Me with Toby backing me up. Some ballads and a few Disney songs (I managed to find) were belted out before we moved onto Japanese numbers. I was able to find the only Japanese song I know relatively well: Kyu Sakamoto’s Sukiyaki (the original title is this:上の向いて歩こう, Ue no Muite Arukou; I Look Up as I Walk Along). It’s a 1960s love song. Throughout, I was served Coca-cola with a twist of lemon, cooked chestnuts and popcorn.

This was a night of firsts and it was all great fun. See you next time!

 

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さようなら!

 

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.

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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.

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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