Monthly Archives: August 2009

Oh My Gashapon

In the states you drop in your quarter (or two or three or four), turn the crank, and are delivered a totally worthless piece of shit: a sticker, a flimsy plastic football helmet with a sticker you must apply yourself, a capsule full of slimy goop that will stain the walls of all your friends’ houses.

In Japan, they’re called Gashapon, because of the noise the machines make when you turn the crank and the bubble drops into the receptacle for you.  Gasha… PON!  Here, you pay a little more, dropped into a coin slot like a gambling machine.  For the junky stuff, it’s only a buck (¥100).  This includes things like cute little dogs, non-licensed keychains and cellphone straps, and other stupid figurines.  For the better stuff, it’s 200–this will get you cool licensed stuff like small-ish Shinkenger keitai charms, little noise-making devices, one of a variety of ridiculously detailed Wii sets, one of eight Mario Kart power-up toys (I got the golden King Mushroom from a machine outside Toho last night).

Drop 300 and now we are talking: my favorite Evangelion ones come from 300-yen machines and are extravagant: a cellophane roll of painted and shaped body parts that come in large baseball-sized twist-open capsules, fitted with pegs so you can assemble your little treasure yourself. I am woefully pathetically unable to resist their calls, and the suspense of wondering which of the (usually six) possible objects of the set that you will get is simply too much. I’ve gotten a Ritsuko, a Rei, and an Asuka from those (Eva machines are kind of rare, surprisingly).

There are Mos Burgers, a set of Wii stuff next to a Sukiya near Sannomiya station, a whole array of goodies (including one of my known Eva machines) out the back entrance of Tsutaya/Yamada Denki on Center-gai, and something like ten Eva machines in the theater where we saw the movie (sadly out ten minutes from Motomachi station and too far to casually dump money into). There’s a set of machines near this big 100-yen shop that has Ultramans and monsters, Konami characters from Rumble Roses, and dozens of anime characters.

100-yen coins, I hardly knew ye. Let us hasten our search for a shelf that can contain the manifestation of my adolescent desire for tiny, cheap Japanese figures, and fervently pray (in inevitable vain?) that this distraction does not cross over into the realm of multi-thousand-yen PVC figures in various states of undress.

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I saw Evangelion 2.0, and it was really sweet

I feel as though I have accomplished something great!  But really all I did was go see an anime.  And bought a toy from a capsule machine.  And a little art book/movie pamphlet.  And downloaded a screensaver.  Oh, life!

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Picture Pages with William Henry “Bill” Cosby, Jr.

Now that we finally have Internet at home, it’s time for a picture post! So here are some random images from the last few days.

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The early taste of domesticity

In my best Japanese I sound like an unintelligible toddler, at its worst I must sound reanimated with 4% brain functionality.  I gave my first “all Japanese” speech today, a cursory introduction to some new co-workers who I’ll see only once a week and decided to practice on.  A rough translation of what I hope I said:

Hello.  Nice to meet you.  My name is Brandon.  I am 25.  I am from America, in Pennsylvania, in the city Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh is famous for Pittsburgh Pirates baseball and enka singer “Jero.”  I don’t know much Japanese.  I am trying to learn.  Please be good to me.

What I probably said was that I lack abilities pertaining to spatial and linguistic functions and processes, and that I was a very poor choice for a colleague (please be good to me).  They applauded at least, either to make me feel good or because there are flies in the air and they are showing me the one thing I can do around here to be of any discernible use.

On the bright side (very bright), I purchased a can of “BOSS COFFEE RAINBOW MOUNTAIN BLEND” on the recommendation of an Internet Friend who I met in Kobe for some udon last night.  The udon was really delicious and this coffee is too.  I think I am totally gonna get used to this canned coffee thing.  Icey cold and eerily refreshing!

On the homefront, things are picking up.  We had our first domestic couple-experience of purchasing a major household appliance on Sunday, it is a washing machine, and the sales processes (and machine itself) operate entirely in Japanese.  We got it during some wild sale for around ¥26000 (down from ¥32000!) and they delivered it and installed it the next day, exactly when they said they would, for free.  We so much enjoyed our purchase from Yamada Denki that we immediately bought a wall-mounted air conditioner/heater from them during the 1-day-5-units-only blowout special for a frankly insane ¥37000 (half-price!), which is so cheap compared to all others we’ve seen that I literally defecated on the floor as we made the purchase.  They will be delivering and installing the aircon on Saturday.  Both appliances being Toshiba-made, we now routinely operate our Toshiba rice cooker, refrigerator, washing machine, my Toshiba Biblio phone, a Toshiba laptop at work, and soon our new Toshiba heating and cooling unit.  I feel an odd sense of Japanese brand loyalty and pride that stirs me deep inside.

Having recently received a massive salvo of goods left by my predecessor from the school, we now also have a small table and two chairs, a sorta-coffee table, an iron, a toaster oven, a tiny vacuum cleaner, and even my own futon with comforter.  All this really leaves on my Oh-God-I-Can’t-Be-Comfortable-Until-I-Get-This-Stuff list is a big fucking plasma television and Internet access, the acquisition of either most assuredly actions that will be not unlike those of a similar harbinger of most resplendent fortunes: descending slowly upon our living room an astral choir shall irradiate the area with blessed light, produce from within a holy instrument, and interface the communal knowledge of Gods with our spongey corporeal cortexes.  In conclusion I want a TV and some Internet.

The TV at least I know won’t come for another three months or so–I’ve been telling myself (and all who would dare to ask) that “my birthday” is the planned pick-up date, far enough ahead to allow me time to save, close enough to seem like a plausible future event.  Internet is more nebulous: I guess technically Jessy arranged service with Yahoo BB while getting her phone.  We got a paper with today’s date on it in the mail, but she knows nothing about it and neither of us are home during most of the regular weekday hours.  I can’t even call Yahoo to find out what’s going on–my language skills prevent me from saying anything other than My name is Brandon computer Internet please hamburger supermarket nice to meet you cool interesting delicious Monday, and this will get me nowhere.  My laptop thirsts for world-juice, it has been deprived since the final Tokyo morning fifteen days ago and at night I hear it sneaking to the balcony and whirring idly at the moon.  I want to tell him it will be O.K., that everything is on the way, that we’re gonna make it through this, but the strange mail makes no sense and all I can read on it is something about an octopus which I am guessing is wrong.

To keep our minds off TV and Internet we have taken to cooking.  Two nights ago we made honest to goodness gyudon, or “beef bowl,” which is thinly-sliced beef boiled in a sauce composed of dashi (a ubiquitous stock-like broth), mirin (a sake-containing sweet cooking liquid), soy sauce, sugar, and onions, then poured atop a bowl of rice.  When I told one of my fellow teachers I made gyudon, he said “oh, you went to Yoshinoya?” (A popular fast-food gyudon restaurant.)  I said no, I made gyudon, and he went “eeeeeh sugoooi!!!!” which roughly translated means “Oh!  Brandon!  You are more incredible and industrious than any man I have ever known!”  I was like yeah I know.

I wrote a guide and left it at home so Jessy can prepare some curry tonight, which Japanese-style is super-often eaten and sold in dozens of forms nearly everywhere.  I think she’s putting carrots and chicken and potato and corn in it?  I won’t get home until late tonight, but I can already smell that distinctively spicy aroma.

We’ve also made spaghetti a few times, notable most specifically because of Japanese spaghetti sauce, which mostly comes in two or three varieties, and always in feeds-two non-resealable plastic pouches: “Neapolitan,” which tastes mostly like ketchup and contains bits of green pepper and mushroom, “Meat Sauce,” which is sweeter than standard American spaghetti meat sauce but still weirdly delicious, and then an odd variation of Neapolitan, composed mostly of oil? and tasting kinda like stuffed shells or something.  They’re all edible anyway, and at ¥88 or so a pouch I can’t really complain.

Another area of existence here that is finally beginning to be less of a crapshoot is the train system.  Used to be, on a given day I’d take four trains: two to work from home and two to home from work, at an average daily cost of around ¥850, for a weekly five-day cost of about ¥4250, a whopping ¥17000 a month!  But I got wise–turns out there are these things called “Commutation Passes,” which you buy at your local station and which enable unlimited trips to and from two points on a single train line for three months.  My total cost for those passes (for the two train lines I take each day) was ¥41130, which seems like a lot up front but does not require absolute intelligence to make itself an obviously better deal when compared against the total of twenty normal day-per-month average travel costs for three months (¥17000 x 3 = ¥51000).  It’s a massive savings of ¥10000 in a three month period!  And not only that–unlimited trips means no more paying to go downtown and back at night after coming home or on weekends and holidays.  Take that, Japan!  Even as I write this my brain churns, frantically devising new and industrious ways to get better deals and monetary savings, which I can promptly annul by spending hundreds and hundreds of yen on gashapon capsule machine toys (totally worth it).

On that note, we are even getting better at the grocery store, checking the “discounted” areas of the bakery and produce sections in the evenings when the Japanese obsession with freshness goes corporate and leads to sweeping 40% discounts on many daily perishables.  Among my favorite scores: “Pizza Bread,” a wholly different entity than anything that moniker would elicit an idea of in the states–a paperback book-sized soft fresh bread, brushed with pizza sauce, garnished with tiny bits of pepperoni and thin slices of onion, then topped with cheese and individually wrapped.  At night they go all the way down to ¥60 sometimes, a sum that has never tasted so good.  Popped into the in-range grill for a few seconds in the morning the doughy delight makes a delicious breakfast.  And while I’m on the topic of bread do the Japanese ever love theirs.

In addition to the “standard” white bread (sold in weird packs of five texas-toast dwarfing enormous pillowy slices), you can get melon bread (sweet and crispy), curry bread (a deep-fried bread filled with Japanese curry), choco bread (a baguette stuffed with chocolate sauce), and even burger breads, which actually have a burger, mayo, and teriyaki sauce inside and sit there with the other bread, wrapped up in paper like a fast food burger for ¥100. You can microwave it, toast it, or just nom it as is. They are alarmingly delicious. Disarmingly delicious even.  I cannot comprehend how they do it.  Anyway it all works out for us to get an expiration discount on bread that doesn’t “expire” for another two days anyway since we’re used to the states where they’ll sell you anything as long as you forget to check the sell-by label first. 

So, we are moving right along.  We have the trains mostly figured out and walking paths to and from the stations to work and home are beginning to stabilize.  We can shop, cook, do laundry, sleep normally (finally), use our mobile phones, and even utilize Japanese bank accounts.  Most importantly, we can do it all without looking like befuddled tourists, a personal element of pride offset only by our looking genetically like Americans no matter what we do.  In this case, I think I’ll take what I can get.

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Ret it Be

Shinki-bus stinks like wet country, but I take it–it services the rather remote area where we’re to be trained for three days by the Board of Education. I leave from Sannomiya station, a multi-level transport hub bigger than Sears and busier than Krispy Kreme. It’s an hour-plus trip that stops to pick up old ladies from isolated benches roadside amidst Maxvalu supermarkets and rice fields. As with all places I’ve so far been in this country, the cicada calls are deafening and, in conjunction with impossibly high overhead power lines, virtually define the landscape. I step off Shinki-bus and there they are, out here in Yashiro, ree-ree-ree-raaaaaaawwww.

I refuse to concern myself too explicitly with the occasionally redundant training seminars, satisfying my requirement of compulsory attendance but preferring instead to let my thoughts drift to our meals, which are frequent and enormous. By day our chefs, one older and with a shagtop haircut and classic ‘stache, prepare curry, shrimp katsu, and strange “tofu hamburger,” then at night when the Kirin flows pull worn acoustics from god-knows-where and hammer out 60s and 70s rock like there aren’t 45 English-speaking 20-somethings clapping and singing along. One of them, the younger one, rolls a pack of cigs into his black t-shirt sleeve like an anachronistic 5’4″ James Dean.

Between songs we are mindful of our poker hands, elements of a foolish no-limit game played with toothpicks broken in half and devoid enough of any value to prevent anyone from folding their shitty cards. 4-5 offsuited takes a pot before we forget about the game all together.

Their repertoire is dumbfounding. When they play Johnny B Goode to heed our rabid calls I see the young one morph into Michael J Fox from Back to the Future, kicking the air to cheers, thrusting the guitar around the like some sort of primitive implement. The kitchen becomes a concert hall: I sip beer and rest my elbow on a plastic milk crate containing a dirty chef’s apron, figure this is the strangest venue I’ve ever caught a show, industrial food prep in governmental training compound, rural Hyogo prefecture Japan, 1-2-3 o’clock 4 o’clock rock.

The morning after, one man from the Board of Education rubs his face in fatigue as though tenderizing choice Kobe beef, having imbibed far more than the requisite beer the night before. The other staff and teachers vary: half-asleep, half-awake, toeing the line between feeling patronized and liberated.

As we finish our dichotomic breakfast (rice and miso soup among American-style bacon, french fries, and coffee), I carry my tray back to the kitchen and there’s our shagtop rockstar for a night, two hands on a paddle stirring an honest-to-god cauldron, sweet aromas. He gives me a nod. I rinse ketchup off my chopsticks.

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After initial cultural fatigue

2:00 PM, Nagata-ku, Kobe

On Sunday morning I spent the good part of an hour typing up an incredibly frustrated diatribe about how expensive everything in Japan is: ¥78,000 for a basic air-conditioning unit for example (roughly $780, just move the comma to the right a space to divine US dollar values for most yen amounts), 20,000 yen for a new futon, 28,000 for a clothes washer (not bad, but still…).  Because the basic household appliances that facilitate comfortable life were prohibitively expensive to us at the time, we had realized we were anything but comfortable… one pot, one pan, two bowls, and silverware, no way to wash clothes, to stay cool, no TV.  We were both so worn out and frustrated that we actually sought out Kobe Grocery, a foreign buyer’s club north of Sannomiya where we paid the US equivalent of $3.20 a box for two boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (we ate one and reserved one, “in case of emergency.”  Americans back home: please send Mac and Cheese some day). 

Because we have no Internet I couldn’t post it, and though I copied it to a flash drive to be uploaded once I did indeed acquire said access, I left the flash drive at home and it just wouldn’t be representative of my current situation and mindset to post it now!  (Perhaps once I get ahold of a copy I’ll backdate it and sneak it in before this one so nobody knows the difference until they get to this entry and notice the anachronistic remarks)!  (This way in normal chronology I’ll appear totally impervious to culture shock, but in retrospect allow my true colors to shine, a human after all.) (OK, I added it, just look below this entry! –B)

Since then I’ve been introduced to a natural wonder a mere two minute walk from my apartment, a little guy I had heard of but never really understood called “The 100 Yen Store.”  Unlike the gimmicky dollar stores of the United States, where things may or may not actually cost a dollar, and are actually frequently priced at increments wholly independent of our monetary unit, the 100 yen store most assuredly prices every object housed therein at 100 yen, with no discrimination as to the actual or perceived value of the item.  Kitchen knife?  100 yen.  (Well, technically 105 after the tax.)  Plastic spatula for our two new non-stick pans?  100 yen. Tiny useless trinket? 100 yen.  Wastepaper basket, deck cleaning bucket, scissors, hand towel, pasta strainer, tiny frog loofah, four-pack of clothes hangers, broom, door mat and more and more and more: 100 yen a piece.  At the end, when we went through the check out line, our items were rung up not based on any sort of barcodes or in recognition of what they actually were, but merely by count: ichi ni san yon go roku nana hachi kyuu juu juuichi juuni etc. etc. etc.

I think we spent 2,300 yen there and got more stuff than we had gotten at the hideously overpriced IKEA and the strangely Wal-Martian Izumiya department store combined for a fraction of the cost.  New residents: find and love your local 100 yen shop.

It doesn’t put air conditioning in our apartment, but reassembling the fan, which had been mistakenly put together backwards before we got to the damned place, has aided airflow in the apartment greatly.  We also made an exciting pilgrimage during the rain yesterday to an area of Kobe called “Motoko Town,” which is a series of kitzchy, flea-markety type trinket, antique, and “recycle” shops situated literally beneath the bridge on which the JR rail tracks run, where we saw all manner of goods running the gamut from used Famicom cartidges to American toys of our youth to brined pickled rat corpses illuminated under red lighting to better pronounce their skeletons (NO PHOTO PLEASE) to toy Shinkansens from decades ago to Kirin Cola to real live pets to dozens of racks of vintage and new clothing to what we were actually there looking for: a rice cooker that didn’t cost 5,000 yen for the most basic model like in all the stores we had visited.  Our (not) new cooker, a used model with more switches and buttons on it than any appliance I’ve ever owned, and which I have absolutely no idea how to use, was gotten for 2,000 yen, or twenty bucks, just a shade under what I paid for my Rival cooker back in the states that had one button.  It’s made by Toshiba, who now coincidentally controls the refrigerator, mobile phone, and rice cooking segments of my product life.

On our way home, we stopped at my first Yoshinoya beef bowl (gyudon) restaurant, where, for 380 yen, I almost instantly received an enormous bowl of rice topped with marinated thinly sliced beef and onions, as well as a once-refilled cup of nice cold green tea.  It was goddamned delicious. Wiki even says that foreigners don’t often realize that you can order free extra sauce and onions, which I now know, and will do, at my next convenience (after memorizing the requisite Japanese).

So, things are getting better.  I’m learning to use my phone, our apartment isn’t so brutally fucking hot (but is still hot), Jessy washed some of our clothes in the sink which was pretty awesome, we got a rice cooker and some rice and groceries and are making chicken curry once I’m home from school tonight, we’re learning the trains, seeing the city, and I met some of my students today who all thought it was pretty cool that I played the saxophone (they play drums, piano, flute, guitar, and harmonica, respectively).

Yesterday I even cleaned the deck.  It’s my deck, I cleaned all the pigeon shit off of it with a little 398 yen wooden deck brush, and it’s on the seventh floor of a high rise on an island in a city of Japan!  Soon we will be drying clothes on it just like the regulars, and the next pigeon I see I will literally capture and beat within an inch of its life before tying its wings and tossing it from the balcony.

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We are feeling a little culturally fatigued

6:55 AM, Our Apartment, Port Island, Kobe, Japan

It’s been one week, and in that time, despite accomplishing a relatively great deal, we have accomplished markedly little to aid us in our daily life. Part of the peculiar reason for that is that most common household tools, freely available and affordable in the U.S., are ridiculously, prohibitively expensive here, with bizarre exceptions.

Want a clothes washer? A baseline model, low-end, will run you roughly 29,000 yen here (just move the comma to the right to approximate a dollar value (in this case, about $290)). Pretty affordable! (Not that we’d know how to use it or get it to our house to begin with yet.) If you want a clothes dryer, however, an object which virtually nobody in Japan owns and which the local Wal-Mart-like store (Izumiya) carries only one model of, be prepared to pay upwards of 62,000 yen. So we’ll dry our clothes on the deck! Sounds fun and totally Japanese! I don’t need no clothes-shrinking dryer! At the “accessory shop” in Sannomiya (Tokyu Hands), you can pay 2,000-4,000 for a ready-to-blow-away plastic clothes-drying rack, or (I kid you not) 18,000 for a metal one that feels like a twelve-dollar K-mart special. On the other hand, my brand-new cell phone, the Toshiba Biblio, with e-mail capabilities, a 5 megapixel camera, an e-book reader, a TV antenna that picks up broadcast TV for free, and a host of other idiotic goodies, costs a grand total (including the price of the phone over a two-year contract, I paid nothing up front) of roughly $40 a month.

An air-conditioner (commonly called air-con)? No houses in Japan have central air or heating, so they all need to use wall-mounted AC units that sit up near the ceiling and attach onto metal bolts. The cost for the most basic air-con at Izumiya, now, in the middle of summer so hot that we were out in Kobe yesterday for three hours and felt like dying? 79,000 yen (that is seven hundred and ninety dollars). If you want one that also heats in the winter, add another 30,000-40,000 yen. Feel like going the cheap route and stocking your place with tiny electric fans? The one our apartment came with, weighing somewhere around three pounds and having a diameter of roughly 14″, retails for 3,990 yen. A miniature desk fan the size of a CD case literally costs 1,490 yen.

We paid 1,000 each for a tiny non-stick pot and pan, and had to pass on an iron and rice cooker (cheapest models 4,000 yen each). Even the new and enormous IKEA store here on Port Island has adopted the Japanese Way: identical stand-up torchierre-style floor lamp, which I purchased one of in Pittsburgh for $9.90, retails for a confusing 2,490 yen.

I can’t fully determine if these prices are just because we live in a relatively large city, or if things would be cheaper in a semi-urban setting, but all that this means is that until Friday (glorious payday) we’ve decided to reserve the meager amounts of money we have so that we can take the trains to work, and also so we can eat. In the mean time, Jessy is literally washing our essential clothing items in the rather spacious sink with dish soap, so that we can hang them up on our kitchen storage rack to dry (we’d hang them outside, but our deck is covered with months of uninhabited-apartment pigeon shit. (I got a deck brush, but owning no bucket with which to transport water to said deck, might prove limitedly useful.)

Did I mention the trash system? First of all there are basically no trash cans anywhere so prepare to hang on to your junk if you’re just out and about. At one of my schools, in order to throw away a plastic soda bottle, you must tear off the plastic label (they are perforated for this purpose) and put it in one can, remove the lid and put it in another can, then crush the bottle and put it in a third can. On our island, we are restricted less (only three separations, for recyclable containers, burnables, and non-burnables), but we own no trash cans (tiny, bathroom sized cans were 1,490), and everything must be placed in specially labelled trash bags (available in packs of five at your local Toho supermarket).

At our orientation, they called this level of cultural fatigue (often confusingly referred to as “culture shock” despite it being not at all a sudden process) “Stage 2,” wherein the new arrivals stop noticing the quaint similarities and exciting differences in culture and begin to focus only on the negative elements. I am willing to bet that a couple months down the line, when I have a TV again, when I can Wash My Clothes, when I can know that I will be able to sleep tonight without waking up sore-throated in a puddle of my own sweat, when we have more in our kitchen than two bowls, a pot and pan, and silverware (and a tiny bag of 400 yen cereal), when I have Internet access at home and can learn a damned thing about anything (I’m typing this in Notepad on a Sunday morning at home)–maybe then I’ll move on to “Stage 3” and finally begin to feel comfortable in my day-to-day life. Until then, god dammit.

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We are in Kobe, and don’t have much

2:20 PM, Nagata-ku, Kobe

It’s been a weird day and a half.  Wednesday morning we each left Tokyo for Kobe in our own ways: Jessy took an airplane to the Kobe airport (just south of our home island) and I took a more convoluted route: bus to Tokyo station, the Shinkansen bullet train to Shin-Osaka station (bitchin’), then a bus to the “Yashiro Prison,” a term (affectionately?) used by nearly all the long-time JETs, and (humorously enough) many of the Japanese teachers as well.  It’s the Hyogo prefectural training facility for the Board of Education, and where I met the supervisor (an English teacher) from my high school for the first time yesterday afternoon. 

He took me in his car down through the mountains into Kobe, where I met the teachers and administration of my main high school in Nagata ward, as well as my predecessor, who has been infinitely helpful.  They had taken to calling me “Burapi” before my arrival, how the Japanese affectionately refer to their beloved American Movie Star Brad Pitt (really).  I think it’s because in Japanese my name starts bu-ra(-n-do-n) and they just tack a -pi on the end for convenience and humor’s sake.  The vice principal also called me “kakkoi” which likely marks the first time I have been called cool by anyone, ever.

I was reunited with my suitcases for the first time since checking them in Washington D.C. (and briefly moving them from baggage claim to be checked again in Tokyo), then my English teacher drove me home through downtown Kobe to Port Island, where after some struggles I got all my shit up to the seventh floor of our building in Minatojima Nakamachi and met up with Jessy, who had apparently arrived about an hour earlier.  The place is big enough to house God (and a sampling of other possibly Japanese deities), which is doubly humorous since we don’t own a damned thing anymore.  The apartment is rife with peculiarities that have already begun to grow on me due to their pragmatism and uniquity:

  • 3 plugs to every outlet by way of the Japanese plug standard omitting a ground pin, even though a few outlets in our place have them, just because
  • Three separate “bathroom” areas, with there being a room that is just a toilet (you go, flush, then wash your hands in the water that flows from a nozzle above the tank and then ends up as the water you use to flush the thing the next time), a room containing a sink, mirror, and recessed area for a clothes washer that serves as an entry way to the bathing area proper, and said bathing area proper, being a nicely sized room covered in tile with a half-the-room-sized tub and a shower hose, there being a room-drain underneath the tub so you can either bathe or shower or do both in the room and get water all over the place with no consequence
  • A small, two-burner stove with a broiler tray, the gas flames being ignited by a mechanical flint powered by 2 D-sized batteries which are fitted in an adorable slide-out compartment
  • A fridge that’s really small
  • An enormous balcony on which we will hang our clothing to dry, since there are no dryers, since nobody uses dryers in Japan
  • More built-in sliding door storage cabinets than I have ever had access to in my entire life

Cutely, we have water, gas, and electricity, but no:

  1. Internet (argh!)
  2. Air conditioning
  3. Dishes
  4. Cell phones
  5. Bank accounts
  6. Pigeon-shit free balcony (it’s grotesque)
  7. Supplies to clean the balcony, not that we can dry our clean clothes on it anyway, since we have no clean clothes, since we have no
  8. Clothes washer

They are all on the way, of course, but it results in the rather unfortunate situation that I am coming to you from the computer lab here at the Hyogo school for the blind, where I have been all day and where there is little to do on account of it being summer vacation in all Japanese schools until roughly the end of August.  Hence, I can provide no pictures of our apartment, or of any kind whatsoever!  When we have Internet access at home (maybe in the next week or two?) we will be able to update with more pictures and videos.

The situation is unfortunate because last evening we finally saw the harbor from the promenade on the west side of Port Island, and it looks just like it does in the picture at the top of the website here, and it is beautiful, and I cannot believe I live here yet.

In two hours I will need to find my way home on two trains: one from Takinochaya to Sannomiya, and one from there back to Port Island.  I think I can do it!  Like so many things in the last few days, it is new, completely bizarre, horrifying, and really exciting.  Today I believe Jessy is going/has gone to IKEA with some of her Kobe-shi JETs to secure some basics of living for us, which I will be happy to see upon my return to the apartment.  Tomorrow I go back to my main high school, and then thankfully we have the weekend to attempt to settle in a bit more.  I think I could get used to it here.

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Finishing in Tokyo, Akihabara, and oddities

Every meal here in our hotel comes with a tiny, limp bread roll and creamy margarine that feels like salad oil in my mouth, and the eggs have a similar consistency–like instant, but creamy?  Goopy perhaps?  With pepper on them I have almost forgotten how fucked it is.  Random announcements pour forth from overhead speakers nearly everywhere I go.  My pockets are routinely filled and then immediately emptied of 100-yen coins, which are accepted in every single coin-slot-having machine (and there are more of them than even I had allowed myself to believe prior to coming here).

I just purchased a bag of snack chips called “Mammoth meat!?” and I opened the package and by god if it doesn’t smell like popping open a jar of dried beef.  Each chip pops apart into individual sections too.  I could write individual entries on everything I’ve done in the last two days.  I think the theme of the week is more or less sensory overload: overwhelmed, overburdened, overstimulated, overjoyed.

We got to Akihabara tonight by taking the JR Rail system, a feat so gargantuan it’s difficult to describe, but feels somewhat like what I imagine it is to be a salmon swimming upstream.  I went to a store called Super Potato, which I think must be the most extensive and cramped retro video game store in the world.  I ate katsudon at some restaurant and bought the new black Wii Classic Controller Pro at Sofmap.  Tomorrow I take the Shinkansen to my new home in Kobe. Life is pretty weird right now.

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A (brief) evening wandering Shinjuku

I suppose it’s painfully obvious to almost anyone on first blush, but to say that confusion is the order of the day when entering a foreign country is a bit of a misstatement.  You see, it’s not entirely confusion, but wonderment–as in, I wonder what the hell I’m doing?

Peculiarities I was unprepared for noted during our couple-hour stroll around evening Shinjuku:

  • Tiny umbrella sheaths that you insert your rain-stopper into as though a sword into a stone, then pull out from the side to detach from their holster
  • A multi-floored, multi building Yodobashi Camera megaplex
  • My peculiar desire to visit a McDonald’s (where I ordered a spicy chicken sandwich that truly was spicy)
  • Visiting a video arcade that contained dozens of games, UFO catchers, candy machines, pachinko games, and even a lower floor that consisted only of people playing Tekken 6, Street Fighter IV, King of Fighters 2002, and other games of their ilk, at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night

I’ve added another Picasa image gallery as is sure to become the norm.  I’ll have to add a link to the Picasa site proper eventually.  But for now it’s late and we have orientation early.  Oyasuminasai (おやすみなさい)!

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