Monthly Archives: August 2012

Japan 101

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It’s Monday night and I have made it through my first week living abroad *cue applause*.  The above picture is the result of quick grocery run so I could fuel up and tell you all about said first week.  Now before you judge me on the contents of my dinner I must inform you that I have been trying all…umm…’most’ of the food presented to me with the exception of raw eel and fermented beans.  Considering my history as a picky eater I’d say that’s progress.  I also must say that I fully intended to bring home some take-out sushi (I’m serious), but they did not have any “lunchboxes” (that’s what they call them…well…in Japanese, but I don’t know how to say that) without those red fish eggs that look to me like bath beads and I’m just not quite ready for fish juice squirting in my mouth.  Maybe next week.   As I perused through the aisles wondering what strange concoctions reside behind the cardboard cartons and plastic containers, I stumbled upon the salami and cheese and I couldn’t resist.  You can’t blame me right?  I guess I needed a little piece of home…I won’t mention the Pringles and PB and jelly…oh shit, I just did.  The triangle thing is actually a rice ball with some salmon inside wrapped with seaweed.  It is soooooo delicious!  Can’t have a good meal without a good beer and a bottle of sake.  Oh, and I’m not sure if you can tell, but there is a pack of 50 chopsticks because I couldn’t find any forks…haha!

 

The first thought that comes to mind to share with you is that my inner compass is completely out of whack…not that it was ever 100% accurate.  It is very unsettling not knowing where I am or having reference points.  In Reno, I always looked to the mountains.  In San Diego, I looked to the sun and knew where everything was in reference to the ocean.  Here…I never know what direction I’m heading to and I get things backwards ALL the time.  I try to focus on the sun, but it just doesn’t seem to be helping.  The streets are narrow, curvy and don’t seem to follow any pattern at all.  Many are dead ends.  I was asked in what direction the windows in my apartment face and I literally could not figure it out! South…I think that would have been Guess #4. I know how to get to school from my hotel and have figured it out from my apartment as well.  It’s a start.  I know that eventually I’ll be able to navigate myself around and I so look forward to that day.  I feel like a rat in a maze right now.

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This is a two lane street…

 

I bought some shiny new wheels the other day.  Oh yeah…she’s a beaut for sure.  So I took her out yesterday and we explored the park (Nogawa) next to the school and the cemetery (Tama) which is a few blocks from my apartment.  I’ve have a couple of videos that I took, but am having some technical difficulties.  I’ll get them when I can.  Both places were absolutely beautiful and I felt at peace for the first time since I’ve been here.  They are my new Balboa Park; a place to get away and find a reprieve from it all.  I’ve been told that when the cherry blossoms bloom in the spring that the cemetery is illuminated.  Can’t wait!

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Tokyo is a city of about 35 million people, but it is so quiet.  Ok, so yes…I totally live out in the ‘burbs, but there are still a helluva lot of people out here.  My neighborhood is just houses upon houses in between all shapes and sizes of apartment buildings….yet it is eerily quiet.  Nobody raises their voice for any reason it seems; the trains are quiet, the streets are quiet…even the stores are quiet (except for the poor guy who has the horrible job of standing in the middle of the department store announcing a sale).  In addition to the quiet there are many unsaid rules in which everybody follows.  Nobody walks and eats, no one talks on their phones on the trains, no one ever speaks in a loud voice unless they’ve been out drinking and then it’s humorous, you always walk on the left, you let people off the trains before getting on (duh), in crowds you get through via a line formation…It seems very regimented, but everything flows very well and I really think I can get used to that!  Right now I’m just observing constantly to see the proper way of doing things.  When I was purchasing tonight’s wonderful dinner, I noticed that the cashier shifted the food items from my basket to another basket after scanning them.  After you pay you take your basket of food to a little counter just past the cashier and bag you shit yourself.  I thought that was so clever!!  How many times have you waited while the cashier has to finish bagging the person’s items in front of you??  We all have and this system made it so quick…although you do have to do your own bagging. 

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Vending machines everywhere!!

 

So far my experience with the Japanese people has been incredible.  They are VERY customer service oriented…so much so that I almost can’t believe it!  I’ve had to purchase a lot of things and have needed a lot of help since I have arrived.  Every time people have literally bent over backwards to help me.  You walk into an establishment and everybody greets you!!  I have no idea what they are saying. but they seem so happy that you are there…and when you leave they do the same thing.  At restaurants, even the cooks will wave and bid you farewell.  I can’t articulate how wonderful and refreshing it is just to have some kindness bestowed upon you by a stranger.  The other day I went into a bakery (oh yeah…fuck the whole veggies and fish diet…these people LOVE their sweets!!)  and I bought a few pastries to take to a dinner I was attending.  The woman literally walked me back over to the baked goods and made me pick out two more…she just gave them to me!  Today when I was buying my phone, I received a free Apple TV device as well as a digital picture frame just for being a customer.  I can easily get used to this. 

 

I mentioned a bit about the food, but I want to wait until I experience some more and I think it will deserve its own blog.  One thing I learned very quickly is that I am going to have to learn to tolerate many different textures.  That’s my biggest challenge when it comes to food.  Sushi consumption is going on strong and I’ve actually really been enjoying it.  I have actually put things in my mouth without knowing what they are! The Japanese like to put meat on a stick and grill it.  It’s called yakitori.  This past weekend I went out to Kinchijoji with our new AP and her husband and we found a restaurant that had pictures on the menu (seriously…this is how we choose!).  It was a great little place where we sat on pillows with a sunk-in table.  We actually called our waiter by banging on a wooden gong.  When anyone banged the gong, all the waiters and cook staff would yell in unison.  Pretty cool.  Anyway, we ordered some yakitori based on the pictures thinking we had one chicken, one pork and one beef as there were many to choose from.  Ummm…we don’t think any of them were actually what we thought they were..  Then we ordered these friend things that maybe we thought were popcorn fish because there was a lemon in the picture.  Again…not fish, but a super tough substance that I would have hoped was octopus, but when I talked to one of the teachers and used the analogy that it had a consistency like cartilage, he said, “oh, it probably was”.  That made my stomach turn a bit.   One more thing; I mentioned that Japanese love their sweets and one of the most popular sweets is a sweet bean puree.  At first I thought this sounded disgusting.  Who would ever associate beans with dessert?  At one of the many bakeries, I purchased what I thought was a jelly donut.  It was actually filled with this bean puree instead of jelly, but I thought it was delicious!  I’m willing to try it!

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Roasted eggplant

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Miso soup…with shrimp 🙂

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SAKE!

 

As for me…a dear friend gave me some great advice to find a routine and to figure out how to have some comforts from home.  I downloaded Season 6 of Dexter and have been anticipating my alone time at the Hotel Mets to watch a new episode each evening (ok maybe 2 episodes but who’s counting?).  Having this to look forward to helps with the alone time.  Don’t get me wrong; anyone who knows me knows that I love my alone time, but its different here.  When I come home in the evening it is sleeping hours for those that I would normally talk to.  I can’t just call and chat if I want to…that piece is what makes the alone here so alone.  I know I will meet people and form some great friendships, but this transition phase is tough.  Another factor is that most of the teachers here are married. This makes me feel very single.  Being single is what allowed me to embark on this journey and I truly hope that being single will not dampen my experiences here. Singledome is a whole other blog, but I’m definitely feeling it. 

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Check out the sign on top…7-11.  They are everywhere and even have superstores!

 

That’s plenty for now.  Please ask me anything you are curious about.  I will give you my thoughts an observations as well as I can, but I know that in time they may change.  I can’t believe it has only been a week!  It seriously seems like forever…most days have been quite busy with simply the tasks of trying to establish a household.  It’s been a lot of work.  Thank you all for reading and supporting!  I love hearing from you and even if I don’t get back right away (internet time is limited) please know that your communication truly warms my heart…

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When heading to school, I know to turn right when I get to this shrine.

 

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Musashisakai: home of the Hotel Mets…my temporary home.

 

xoxoxoxo

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24

Right now at this very moment as I am typing these first words to this blog I have been in Japan for a full 24 hours.  I know what you are all asking:  How do you feel?  What is your first impression?  What’s it like? Sooooooooo????

I am a fish out of water.

And I don’t mean that in a negative way; I am just overwhelmed. My head is spinning and…well…I just don’t know yet.  So  let me back up a bit and I’ll try to explain my experience thus far as well as I can. 

I read this book not too long ago in which the main narrator was a young boy with autism.  One of the main traits of people with autism is that they have difficulty understanding their emotions. This particular character described his feelings of worry, sadness or just melancholy as having “heavy boots”.  I think that is a perfect way to explain my feelings during my last days in Reno and this term flashed in my head as I thought of what was to come.  Not having a home, Rufus being gone, selling my car, living out of my suitcase, the impending task of saying good-bye to loved ones (again), the fact that I was moving to a foreign country….all of it gave me heavy boots and the fact that I should have been excited and ready to leap into this journey made my boots even heavier because I wasn’t feeling excited; just riddled with anxiety and uncertainty.  To make things worse, my flight out of Reno was delayed and I missed my connecting flight to Tokyo only to be told I would have to be on standby and possibly wouldn’t be able to fly out until the next day.  As I sat waiting, I couldn’t help to think that this was a terrible way to start my journey and that maybe it was a sign…Luckily for me I was able to get on the flight AND  was upgraded to first class which was a total first for me and my “sign” completely did a 180.  Yay.

Arriving in Japan was a cinch; upon arrival to Narita Airport I was led to a small room off to the side and it took only 5 minutes to get my alien registration card, another 10 minutes to grab my luggage, another 10 to get through customs and BAM! just like that I was in Japan!  I was greeted right outside of customs by Marty, our business manager, and thus began my first true glimpse of my new home. 

I have to admit, and unfortunately  it may be disappointing, but I can’t really explain the journey from the airport to my hotel.  It took about 2.5 hours and Marty pointed out many things to me, but all I can really recall is that downtown Tokyo is huge and we passed Tokyo Disney.  After coming off a 10.5 hour flight with the stressful 2 hour delay, I don’t think I had the ability to be totally observant….Also, it was about 3 in the morning for me, I had taken a full Xanex on the plane  and everything still seemed so surreal…like a dream and I was just floating on top of it all.  Marty helped checked me into my hotel which is in a really cool part of “suburban” Tokyo called Musashisakai.  At about 8pm when I arrived it seemed that the area was really hoppin’ and my plan was to get my luggage to my room, do a quick makeover and go explore.  However, the next thing I remember is waking up about 12:30am sprawled out on my bed with my clothes still on as well as all the lights in my room….apparently I was more tired than I thought!

I woke early ( about 5am) and just hung out with my thoughts for a couple of hours; trying to wrap my head around the fact that I now live in Japan.  The hotel provided a complimentary breakfast via a voucher for a cute café (Starbucks knock-off) right next door.  My breakfast consisted of a ham sandwich with a bit of potato salad and a coffee As I ate I tried I noticed how quiet the café was;  people reading, quietly eating and one lady was even sleeping ( head totally sagging to the side and she had her sunglasses on).  I still had an hour before being picked up thus my first adventure of finding an ATM machine began!  I remembered reading that most ATM’s were closed on Sundays, but luckily the third one I found was able to dispense some money for me (all in 10,000 bills!)  

Toshi came to pick me up right on time and he took me to my new school.  I’ll have to write more about my school later because, again, my observational skills were still on hiatus.  Another teacher met us in Toshi’s office and we chatted for a few minutes about the places we were going to look at.  Suzanne was looking for something larger than I needed so we had a few options for both of us.  The first place we looked at was not on the list, but the agent we were working with wanted to show it to us anyway.  It was super cute, right above a French bakery and only three blocks from school.  It was tiny…but I figured that was going to be the case.  It may not have been perfect, but with the location; I couldn’t pass it up.  The other places we looked at were much nicer inside; one was a standalone house with sliding paper doors and windows, another was totally open to pets and even had a dog washing station built in the bathroom, another even had a view of Mt. Fuji!!!  As appealing as all of these were, the downside was they are all pretty far out and I just felt that I needed to be close to the school and other teachers…for now anyway.  Toshi shared his concern about my choice only because a big holiday is coming up and he wasn’t sure if it could be cleaned and ready for me in a timely manner.  I might have to stay in the hotel for another 2 weeks! Arghh…oh well, what’s two weeks in the grand scheme of things, right?

Toshi dropped me off at my hotel and I was pretty much on my own for lunch.  Unfortunately, I started to have heavy boots again.  I had been here less than 24 hours, was told I’d be well taken care of yet here I am in the middle of a neighborhood I can’t even pronounce and I’m left to my own devices.  I can’t lie; my frustration was building. I hadn’t heard from anyone by 4pm so I called Marty and left a message regarding the plans for the evening.  He texted me an hour later to say he’d be there to pick me up to take me to dinner at the headmaster’s house.  It was something. 

At Ed’s house (the headmaster), I met the other two new people who were starting at ASIJ, plus some other administrators I’d be working with.  I loved hearing everyone’s stories of travel and experience, but it seemed so out of my league.  These people were experienced…they’d seen more of the world then I could ever imagine….”When I lived in Delhi…When I lived in Prague…When I lived in Paris…When I lived in China…When I lived in Quatar…Uh When I lived in South Park…”.  What I need to remember is that everyone started somewhere and my somewhere is here and now.  I’ll have my experiences soon enough and I can’t express how thoroughly grateful I am that I traveled through Europe this summer (thanks, Mom!) because at least I could contribute somewhat.  I even met another teacher who backpacked through Michoacán as I had and we bonded instantly!   The rest of dinner went well and I have a good feeling that all is going to work out and be an experience I can’t and won’t regret. 

So there’s my first 24 hours…a bit long-winded and boring, but that’s it.  I’ll have much more interesting stories to share in the days to come! …and pictures too…