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Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-11

August 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I have reposted them separately, as they were meant to be.

Small Victories

Originally posted on October 16, 2005.

I have successfully explained binary and how to count in binary on your fingers to a Japanese person who has no computer programming experience using the Japanese language. You have no idea how awesome that felt. I can feel the power of the Japanese language growing within me daily. Soon, I shall conquer the universe.

I mean, be fluent.

Anyway. The other day, Sato introduced me to a large group of her fellow Okinawans, and we went to a robata. A robata is a restaurant where the table is a grill with boards around it on which you can set your plate. You pick a table, then go up and pay for the food you want (Actually, you paid at the register for vouchers that you could then take to the food counters to exchange for the tasties arranged before you, but whatever), then take it back to your table and cook it. They have small portions of some things on sticks, some whole fish, some whole shellfish, a few things that come in a tin so you can cook them together for flavor, some plain ol’ vegetables, squid — all kinds of stuff. So.

Okinawans at the Robata

This was taken with my cell phone at the robata. (Photo added to this post on August 17, 2010.)

Taste-O-Meter!

Ika (Squid): 3
It tastes fine, but the texture is a bit rubbery, making chewing and swallowing take a bit more time.

Tama, Sanma, and Hokke (each a kind of fish): 3
I’m not so fond of fish.

Hokke bones: 4
Once a fish had been divested of flesh, the Okinawans placed it back on the grill. Later, I saw Sato chowing down on Sanma skeleton, and went o_O . Then, one of the guys (I never found out his name, though I talked to him a bit) offered me the opportunity to try some of his Hokke skeleton. It’s tastier than the fish, and since it was well cooked, the bones were brittle and not dangerous.

Kaki (a shellfish): 3
I prefer oyster, but this is pretty good, too. Bigger than oysters are. The meat of the kaki is bigger than an oyster in its shell.

Aspara-Bacon (Pieces of asparagus wrapped in bacon): 5
Hot diggety-damn. I don’t know who came up with this idea, but it was a good one. This is some tasty, tasty stuff. (August 17, 2010 Edit: Since returning to the States, this has been a major hit every time I’ve shared it. You should try it — it’s easy and delicious!)

Hitsuji (Lamb) and Sprouts: 4
This actually came in a pan. When we told the person behind the counter that we’d have that, she added some sort of oriental-flavored sauce to it. It was good, but I still prefer my baby sheep meat on pita bread.

Toriniku (Chicken): 5
Chicken on a stick. Speaks for itself, I think.

Butaniku (Pork): 4
Three pieces of pork on a stick, with some kind of vegetable (from the onion family, maybe) in between the pieces. The vegetable is an excellent choice to go with the pork.

I didn’t try the chicken skins on a stick (though I will next time, I think). Between what I paid for and the massive amounts of food that got shared later I ended up trying almost everything the store had. At the end, everyone was full, so I ended up with the leftover vouchers. They had to be used by Saturday if they were gonna get used, but I forgot until it was raining pretty hard Saturday evening. The robata is in a nice spot on the riverfront, but it’s a 15-20 minute walk, and I didn’t want to go there in the rain with no umbrella.

I’ve never been much of an umbrella-user, but now that I’m walking everywhere I’m starting to see the appeal. It’s sunny today, so I’ll probably see if the nearby 100 yen store has any. I know that the first 100 yen store I went to had a bunch. If nothing else, I know they sell them at the Co-op, though it’s a bit more expensive there.

Old-Fashioned Kettle

Traditionally, the kettles are heated over coals in a pit set into the floor (with a trap tatami mat to cover it when not in use). The school washitsu had such a pit, but fire is dangerous and so we were required to use electric heating devices. (Photo added to this post on August 17, 2010.)

Friday, I got my own supplies for sadou club. ^^ It was a lot of fun; I got to run through the whole tea ceremony three times. There are multiple tea ceremony set-ups. I got to do the one with a good old-fashioned tea kettle twice, and the one with a kama (the kind you usually see in pictures; it’s an iron kettle with a small lid that you have to dip water out of with a scoop called hishaku) that is set into a table.

Taste-O-Meter!

Kusadango (a candy eaten with green tea): 5
They tasted a little weird at first, but I quickly fell in love with them.

After that, I headed home. Two of the other girls in sadoubu live in my apartment building, and one other lives up towards the buddhist tower just up the hill from me. Ryoko is one of the girls who lives in this building, and she invited the other three of us to her house for dinner. When we got into her apartment, I discovered that I really don’t have a lot of stuff. I’m pretty sure that if I were in America with all my stuff in an apartment this size, it’d look pretty similar to hers, but at the moment, I have like nothing. (On the plus side, when Conrad, Jordan, and their friends come to Japan, there’ll be room for them to sleep at my place when they come to Kushiro. [August 17, 2010 Edit: The bastards never came!])

Ryoko has a Gamecube. :D The first person I’ve socialized with in Japan to play video games is a girl with the exact same color Gamecube I’ve got back home. That was pretty awesome. It may not sound like much, but there are more Gamecube colors available in Japan, reducing the chances of the same color. While cooking was getting started, we talked about games in America and Japan. I ended up listing some game franchises in America; the only ones that got really spiffy reactions out of the other girls (all three of these knew something about games) were Mario (eternal), Suikoden, and Katamari Damacy. I also found out that Jak & Daxter have made it over here, but aren’t very popular. Didn’t surprise me at all.

Conversation moved on to other things, too, as conversations, do. The other long-standing conversations was how much pizza and beer North Americans down. One of the girls went to Canada on exchange, and her host mother wasn’t much of a cooker, so they had lots of ravioli and pizza. Then the food was done and ready to eat. There was kabocha (pumpkin), which was dished out in equal portions on small plates. In the center of everyone was a plate that had somen (a kind of noodle) and tuna.

Taste-O-Meter!

Somen with tuna: 4
Somen is a pretty tasty noodle. It’s got a milder flavor than ramen or pasta, but it went really well with the tuna. Originally, Ryoko was going to use pasta with the tuna, but she didn’t have any sauce. She had a zillion packages of udon, though, it turns out, but I guess udon doesn’t go well with tuna, ’cause as soon as she found the somen, everyone but me was like, “Aha!” (August 17, 2010 Edit: After this, somen with tuna became a common meal for me.)

I didn’t catch the other girls’ names, but next Friday we’re to have dinner together at the apartment of the other girl in my building, then mine. I’m planning to make grilled cheese sandwiches. Yum.

Realizations of the Period

1) Joining a club has proven the best way for me to immerse my ears in Japanese so that I can get my brain more used to processing it. There’s a lot of friendly conversation going on during and after sadoubu.
2) Sato and the other Okinawans all transferred here for this semester, so they know just as little of Kushiro as I do, though they’re obviously far better versed in the Japanese language and customs.
3) This stupid blog post is done. DONE! AHAHAHAHAHA!

August 17, 2010 Edit: Done, indeed. The next BGGP blog entry will be Post 4.

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-10

August 10, 2010 2 comments

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

More News

Originally posted on October 16, 2005.

It’s been a week since I updated this… o.O Holy Hand Grenade, it HAS been a week. Well. Let’s start with…

Taste-O-Meter!

Natto

Natto up close. Fermented soy beans. Definitely an acquired taste. (Photo by Jasja Dekker.)

Natto: 3
Ever since I got to UAF, I’ve heard about natto. It’s slightly fermented soy beans. Generally, foreigners come to Japan can’t stand the stuff. I’ve heard horror stories about how the first thing people wanted to do after putting it in their mouths is to spit it out. I did not have that problem. Maybe it’s my faulty nose making my taste buds think the wrong thing, but I just found the taste to be… interesting. I don’t really want to eat more natto, but I’m sure that if I had to eat it every day it would quickly become palatable, then tasty. Foreigners who’ll eat natto are rare, so Sayaka wanted a picture.

Korokke: 4
I’m not sure what, exactly, korokke is, but I like it. I grabbed it ’cause I wasn’t paying attention and thought it was tonkatsu. (August 10, 2010 edit: It’s like a breaded potato fritter. Carbs, carbs, carbs. Delicious carbs, but carbs.)

Aka Ringo, Ao Ringo Apple Juice: 5
The Sunkist apple juice pales in comparison. This is more like the apple juice you get in America yet still more apple-y, in the Japanese Sunkist apple juice style. Aka means red, Ao means blue. Blue here means green; the Japanese word for green is a pretty new thing in their language, so they still use blue to mean green as often as not.

Other Apple Juice: 4
I forget the name of this one, but it comes in a black box. Better than Sunkist, not as good as Aka/Ao.

Bacon Mayo Roll: 5
I don’t really like mayonnaise, though I do like it cooked into things at times. Deviled eggs, potato salad, and the like are actually some of my favorite foods. The bacon mayo roll (which I have so far only found at 7-11 stores [which are kind of cool to see again after so many years, coincidentally]) has enough of a mayo taste to be noticeable, but the main flavor is still bread and bacon. I woke up this morning and wanted one, but I went to Sunkus (another convenience store) and discovered they don’t have it.

Pork Winter Roll: 5
This is a lot like the bacon mayo roll. It was, in fact, my breakfast today, since I couldn’t find a bacon mayo roll at Sunkus. It’s got the same kind of bread as the bacon mayo roll, but instead of bacon and mayo, it has a hot dog and some kind of cheese sauce. Yum!

Mister Donuts Donuts

I couldn't find a picture of a Mister Donut milkshake. Have some donuts instead. The third from the left is the brand's iconic donut shape, which looks kind of like a teething ring. (Photo by Yumi Kimura.)

Mister Donuts Vanilla Shake: 5
It’s a good shake. But it’s tiny compared to the servings you get of milkshakes in America. This thing was only about 8 ounces. For 200 yen… kind of expensive. The donuts at the shop were good, too. (They don’t get their own Taste-O-Meter entry because, as usual, I got glazed. A glazed doughnut is a glazed doughnut.)

Anko-Filled Rolls: 3
Anko is a sweet bean paste. Not generally something I look for inside a bread, but it doesn’t taste bad.

Japanese Nabisco Saltines: 5
These get their own Taste-O-Meter entry for two reasons: first, they’re less salty than their American counterparts (which is actually pretty nice); second, when I opened the box expecting two packages of crackers, I actually found nine. There were like 6 crackers to a package. It was convenient, but made the crackers even more expensive than they already were.

Random Blue Cup Noodle: 3
It had some kind of fish in it for meat. Didn’t taste bad, but wasn’t really good either. Noodles.

Random Green Cup Noodle: 4
Pork. Mmm.

Pork Ramen: 5
Real ramen is better than instant ramen, and the portions are big, too. Hallelujah. There’s also large chunks of pork and some vegetables in it. Woot! (I still think Harlan should do a ramen cook-off as a dorm program, btw.)

So there’s the Taste-O-Meter for the past week. Eating isn’t all I’ve done… in fact, I’m skimping on food a bit to save money. Not going hungry, but making damned sure not to overeat and eating cheaply. My morning bacon roll or whatever and a box of apple juice is about 200 yen. For the evening, I have spaghetti. It’s like 125 yen for a kg of spaghetti, and I only need about an eighth of that to make a meal. :D

I am indebted to Nacilik; he gave me 200 dollars before I left Japan so I could buy him some manga. Without it, I would be in trouble. m(_ _)m I find myself having to borrow from his cash, since it turns out that my scholarship gets disbursed at month’s end. That’s good to know. I found out because I was like, hey… I need to pay my rent somehow. Fortunately for me, my landlord is willing to take my rent at the end of the month, along with next month’s rent. >.> I’ll be poor again for another month, but then it’ll be smooth sailing.

Japanese Crossword Puzzles

This is three puzzles with a mixed set of clues. Harder than the ones I tackled, but gives you a look at the magazine. (Photo taken by Nemo's great uncle.)

I’ve bought myself a Japanese crossword magazine. I suck at Japanese crosswords. I need a kanji dictionary just to read the clues. Thankfully, all the answers are written in katakana. Not all of the puzzles in the book are traditional crosswords, though; some are the kind of puzzle where you have a word list and a blank grid and have to figure out how to place the words. Those I can do. I would like to get better at this for two reasons: one is mastery of the language. The only answer I’ve gotten so far (I haven’t bothered with the kanji dictionary ^^’) is Cairo, being the capital of Egypt. However, all throughout the magazine there is talk of “presents” which somehow relates to the completion of the puzzles. Among the presents are a DS and a PSP, as well as various spiffy-looking household goods, so… I need to get that translated as well.

I have done a lot more exploring. There are ramen shops all over the place. I’ve found or been shown a furniture store, two more karaoke places, two “recycle shops” (used stuff stores), a sushi bar, a big book store (which is likely where I’ll find the manga Nacilik wants, as well as the stuff I want), two kimono shops, a large clothing store, a couple of more places to buy food, several convenience stores (they’re more everywhere you want to be than Visa around here), and some other stuff I’ll probably remember next time I need to think about them. Woot! Good stuff.

茶道の道具 -- Japanese Tea Ceremony Tools

This picture was taken much later in my stay. This super-fancy equipment was used for more advanced tea ceremony forms. (Photo added to post on August 10, 2010.)

I’ve also joined the Sadou (Japanese tea ceremony) club. Sadou is awesome, on many levels. It’s very relaxing, for one. It’s all about hospitality and getting good at it. The constant presence of boiling water makes the place warm, too. It’s also interesting to watch (and perform — I’ve learned the basics) the exact movements required. It’s got an all-around meditative air to it. And I’ll tell you what: real, honest-to-goodness Japanese green tea is so much better than the kind of “green tea” that you can buy in American stores that I can’t believe I ever liked the latter. The foods that go with the tea ceremony are also traditional, and complement the taste of the tea so well I don’t think I can give it words. Glory! I wonder if I can get tea ceremony equipment in America. This is already something I’m interested in continuing after I go home.

Yeah. So.

Realizations of the Period

1) I don’t read kanji as well as I thought I did — though thankfully, part of that is rust.
2) Japanese sounds really cool with a heavy Russian accent, even if it is a bit more interesting to understand.
3) I can get to a lot of places when I walk for an hour. It’s an odd feeling.
4) I’ve been asked by multiple people what sort of sports I like. The only good answer I have for them? Curling. I really must take that up when I get back.
5) True green tea is the bomb-diggity.

August 10, 2010 Edit: I can get sadou equipment, even here in Alaska, thanks to web sites such as eBay. I still don’t read kanji as well as I’d like, though that’s improving as I read more Japanese so that they’re in context. I still haven’t taken up curling. :(

Getting to lots of places with an hour’s walk felt weird because everything’s so spread out in Alaska — right now I can walk for an hour and end up in a shopping district, but when I go back to Fairbanks, an hour’s walk from campus will get me a couple of restaurants and possibly some railroad tracks. In Kushiro, an hour’s walk was an adventure no matter which way I went.

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-9

July 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

Finishing Up the Official Stuff

Originally posted on October 16, 2005.

I met Sayaka-san the next day after her first class. We went to City Hall again (by foot this time since there was no rush) and got me a piece of paper that will serve me as a substitute alien registration card until I get the actual card later this month.

The Japanese post office is one of the largest banks in the world. o_Oa (Photo by sekihan.)

With that, I was able to get a post office account and a bank account. These are both savings accounts. This is probably one of the weirdest things I’ve seen here. I couldn’t get a cell phone without a savings account at the post office, but I can only pay my bills to the city government through the bank. What??? I like how the latter works, since it streamlines your bill paying to the one office. The former really boggled my mind until I looked at the ATM books I got and realized that the post office one looked a little more formal, considering the fact that the post office had officially sealed my hanko into the book.

So yeah, I got a cell phone. It’s green and shiny. My cell phone ringer is a J-pop song, because it’s the best thing that came on the phone. Cell phones in Japan also come out of the box with sub par ring tones. One thing that was interesting to me about it though is that two of the pre-loaded ring tones have a visual component. Not impressive visuals, but I’m sure impressive ones could be made.

The last thing we did was sign me up for a student card. I need to take that to the cell phone company so that they have something official to base my 50% off month fees on. Hooray for student discounts.

After that, I started exploring. I went for a while on a random road away from the school. I found a lot of houses and a second way to the food store Sayaka-san had showed me the day before. I then went toward downtown to actually look through all the stores there.

I found a lot of different things. I went into the game store, but didn’t see any actual game systems for sale, and didn’t want to ask ’cause I didn’t intend to buy just yet. I also didn’t see Minna Daisuki Katamari Damacy. :( Ah well. It can wait. I found a ramen shop, an art gallery, a sewing shop (that was lucky, ’cause I need a needle and thread to fix the clasp on my cloak; the old man who ran it was really nice, too), what appeared to be a used book store (it had Harry Potter OotP, but it was the British version), an arcade (Haha! Right within walking distance of my house!), a pachinko parlor, and a karaoke place.

I went inside the karaoke place to do some karaoke for an hour and get a feel for how it works and how much they have in terms of English music. I had always been told that there are English songs in the back of the karaoke books, and I was not disappointed. In fact, I was surprised. The karaoke books were actual books, not binders like you find in America. These books were also the size of phone books. As for English songs, you can find almost anything in there. I even found a Blind Guardian song. The only things I looked for and didn’t see were System of a Down songs and the song “The Dolphins Cry” by Live. There were other songs by Live, though. I also tried a couple of songs I know in Japanese. Woot!

After that, I headed home. I’ve been battling a headache since I got to Japan, and sitting in a karaoke box… well, it didn’t help. I wasn’t doing too bad with the headache until I got halfway up the stairs to my apartment. Blarg.

I ate some different foods in this day that didn’t come up in the non-blow-by blow version.

Taste-O-Meter!

Melon Pan (Pan is Japanese for bread): 4
This is what Utsuki recommended to me. It doesn’t really taste like melon, which is good ’cause I don’t like melon. It’s got some kind of glaze on top that reminds me of sugar cookies.

Wantanmen (a random instant noodle from the loot pile earlier): 3
It was noodles with vegetables. It had cute little pig heads made out of what tasted like pork floating it, though.

Special Sweet Bread: 5
It looks kind of like cinnamon rolls, but I could tell before I bought it that it wasn’t. It is, as it claims, a sweet bread. I’m noticing that the Japanese are fond of sweet breads, which I am finding is really quite spiffy. While I ate it, I read the label, and realized at once that the label must be shared.

To this day, this is one of the most delightful bits of Engrish I've come across.

Aquarius, The Sports Drink: 3
I had to try it. The name intrigued me. This would rate a 4 if I liked grapefruit, but I don’t.

Sprite: 4
It’s different from its American counterpart, but still good. Reminds me of ramune — a Japanese drink that I have not had the opportunity to try yet in Japan.

Realizations of the Period

1) “Conrad” is very difficult to say in Japanese. I’m shortening his name to Con (pronounced more like “cone”) any time I mention him to Japanese people. Con-kun.
2) I have blisters on my left foot from walking around so much. :(
3) Since the one class is all about playing the koto, I have one guaranteed easy class. Yes!
4) I need to pull a Ted and set up an image gallery online. I’m taking way too many pictures for a blog.
5) I pasted this into Open Office to spellcheck it, and it’s 20 pages long.

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-8

June 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

City Hall

Originally posted on October 16, 2005.

Ishida-sensei gave Sayaka-san money for a cab, since there was only an hour until her second (and last) class of the day. We first hoofed it to a place to get some pictures of me taken (I’ve gotten my picture taken more times in the last three months than in the preceding year, by the way), then took a cab to the city hall.

Japanese cabs are funny-looking. Like American cabs, they have lit-up signs on top. However, they also have antennae (often v-shaped) symmetrically placed on top. The drivers all wear gloves, though there’s no standard glove type. One thing that’s really awesome about them is the fact that the driver can open the passenger door at the push of a button.

We got some alien registration stuff done, then went back to the school. Sayaka-san had her class, and I got to go to my first class. I had indicated an interest in music, and there was a traditional Japanese music class at the same time as Sayaka’s English class, so I went there. It sounded interesting; history, studying the forms, appreciation.

"Koto Strings". Photo by Adam Chamness, licensed under Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA).

This awesome koto photo was taken by Adam Chamness.

PSYCH!

How about, “Let’s play the koto?”

It was so awesome, especially since I didn’t see it coming. I got to the class, asked if I could join, and was heartily welcomed. I helped get some more equipment from storage rooms, and as we pulled things out of boxes I saw that it would be some kind of practical class, since these were obviously stands of some kind that we were putting together. When I saw the finger picks for the koto, I finally realized that this class was going to be WAY more awesome than I had thought. Score!

So after that, Sayaka-san and I went back into town on foot to get me a cell phone. The cell phone company had a brochure on rates in English, which helped quite a bit, as well as some phones for sale that were bilingual. Yay! But because I don’t have an account at the post office, I couldn’t get the phone yet. Alas. The next day, then, since the post office was closed.

But to get an account at the post office, I needed an inkan. The Japanese don’t actually use signatures, but stamps. The stamp itself is called a hanko, and the thing that does the stamping is the inkan. Up to this point, I had been using my fingerprint.

"Hanko this" by Neko1998, licensed under Creative  Commons (BY-NC-SA).

This is what shopping for an inkan looks like. I can read a lot of these now, but then? Totally dependent on Sayaka's help. (Photo taken by Neko1998.)

We sought a store that Sayaka-san thought made inkans. Turns out that they had stopped offering that service, and that it’d take a week or so to get one personally made, anyway. We kinda needed it faster than that. So we went to the nearby 100 yen store, which had common-name inkans just inside the door. I obviously don’t have a common Japanese name, so Sayaka-san asked what kanji I like. I ended up with an inkan carrying the name Mizuki (水木). [2010 Edit: It turns out that my name is a common name in Japan if you go by pronunciation. They didn’t have any Rina (里奈) stamps in stock at the time, though, and it would have taken a week to get one custom-made at the professional inkan store down the street.]

After that, she showed me a decent-sized store near the college where I can get food and such, then we parted ways. I wasn’t tired necessarily, but I knew I would be soon, and my brain was starting to reject Japanese. I went home for the night.

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-7

June 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

Now What?

Originally posted on October 16, 2005.

This was the view out one of my apartment's side windows. If my illiterate reading of the sign behind the fence at the end of the block was correct, this used to be a landfill. I wouldn't trust that translation, though, if I were you. (Photo added to post on June 23, 2010.)

At this point, I was tired. But it was only like 15:00! So I decided to work on this blog post. I did that until I got to my recollection of waking up in the hotel room. Then I realized if I was to hand-wash my clothes with time for them to dry, I needed to do that. I’ll tell you what: hand-washing your clothes in a kitchen sink with no drain plug is interesting, especially if you’re using cold water ’cause you don’t want to use the gas to heat the water and are not wearing much ’cause you’re washing most of your clothes.

After that, I headed for the bathroom. Since I hadn’t thought to buy any real house-cleaning soap, I used dish washing liquid to clean the bathroom. Took a shower, then settled down for a bath. I discovered that 42 C is lower than I like for a bath. Note for next time. Still a decent temperature, though. Soaked away some of my traveling aches.

After that, I hit the sack. It was only like 20:45, but with my headache and my traveling aches and me needing to adjust my internal clock, I figured I should go to bed early and sleep as late as possible.

After waking at like 4:30, I started working on this again, pausing when I hit the price of bananas to look up the exact price of the bananas, get some water, and feast on the tasty-looking rice dish with shrimp.

Taste-O-Meter!

Tasty-Looking Rice Dish with Shrimp: 5
It’s pretty much rice with bits of egg and celery, small pieces of shrimp, and wasabi on the side. Mmm, breakfast.

So there I was, at about 7:00. I was told yesterday that I can access the Internet from the college during the day, so hopefully I will get to post this today. For now, I am leaving pictures and text file on my computer.

Addendum

O SNAP X2!

I forgot the feature I intended to add at the end of every blog post from here on out. So I’ll add a bit of my doings this morning as well. I did some arranging at my apartment, eventually leaving around 8:10 with wet pants on. I walked and took some pictures of the neighborhood. However, when I got to the school I discovered that my alarm clock was an hour fast. Heh. It was 7:30.

So I went for a walk. Figured out which direction the Kushiro River is in, as well as discovering that there’s a game store just on the other side. I didn’t go in, ’cause I want Internet first, but still. Walked back, and came into the school to eat some Japanese beef jerky (with its gold seal of “Good Taste & Happy Feeling” on the front).

Taste-O-Meter!

Japanese Beef Jerky: 5
Spiced different, but tastes just as good. Very expensive, though.

While I was sitting in a communal area, I heard a band playing songs and went to investigate. There are club rooms in the basement, and as I type this, a band (a good rock band) is blaring loud music in club room 7, ten feet or so to my left and across the hall. In fact, that dictated my choice of seating for writing this.

The club room hall in the basement. This photo was taken days before I left, from right next to the drama club room. The band club's room is at the far end of the hall. (Photo added to post on June 23, 2010.)

On to the new feature!

Realizations of the Period

  1. An airport is an airport is an airport.
  2. People have told me that the Japanese speak quickly. I don’t think so. I think we just process Japanese slowly. I know that that’s my problem. I’ve found that I understand better if I take in what they’re saying by the sentence than by the word.
  3. Going to another country and writing a blog about it is a good way to practice writing. (Special note to Chuck: That was aimed at you. Alternatively, you can take my escapades and re-write them as a cheesy adventure story. I think that could be really cool. “When Lena got off the bus at the Haneda airport, she had a feeling something was wrong. A flicker at the corner of her eye made her turn just in time to dodge the swift blade of a pirate’s cutlass. Knowing that she was running out of time she quickly vanquished the pirate and his squad of ninjas, but by the time her enemies were finally laid fast upon the concrete, the nearby clock read 18:09. She was too late; her flight had already left.” If you want to try, feel free. :D)
  4. Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge is pretty, but it really isn’t a good hotel at all, especially at the prices they charge.
  5. When travelling in a country where the populace speaks a foreign language, never underestimate the power of hand gestures/mime and onomatopoeia. Ever. If you can get the idea across, they’ll tell you the word for it.

New Addendum

OK, still no way to get this bugger on the Internet. Bah! I’m gonna keep just adding stuff to the bottom, then. However, It’s not going to be nearly as blow-by-blow. That takes too long, and as I settle in a bit more, that gets less interesting. Some parts will still be elaborate, but not all.

This is what kanji looked like a zillion years ago. They've been simplified over time, but if you know what to look for you can see the derivations. (Photo added to post on June 23, 2010.)

So anyway, when I got done with the Realizations of the Period, I put my laptop away and did some logic puzzles before going off to meet Hiruta-sensei. Hiruta-sensei was escorting the last two exchange students (out of four; three Russian, one me). Tolia and I got to sit around for a while, waiting for our sponsoring teachers to arrive, so we got to know each other a bit. He’s double-majoring in English and Japanese, and wants to take a class in Shodou. His mentioning Shodou, combined with me finding out there’s a Shodou class, made me want to take it, too. (Shodou = Japanese calligraphy. Sho = writing, dou = way [書道])

After a great while, Ishida-sensei arrived. He made mention of classes, asked what I was interested in, and showed me a class schedule. At that point, Sayaka-san needed to go to class, so she and I agreed to meet in the central lobby later. I spent a bit of time in the library on the Internet (which is how I found out that I still have no way to get this post on the Internet), where I did some stuff on Neopets and checked my e-mail. After that, I decided I was hungry, so I headed to the shokudou (cafeteria).

The menu was visual; there was a glass case outside the doors with the day’s dishes made up for you to see and choose from. I picked tonkatsu [insert compound word I don’t recall here] udon. Essentially, it was pork cutlet over rice and lettuce with a sauce on top.

Taste-O-Meter!

Tonkatsu over Lettuce and Rice: 5
Who likes pork? I do. Who likes lettuce? Me. Who likes rice? Over half the population of the planet. And the sauce was tasty.

After that, I went home and took a nap. Jisabokke (jet lag) has never been a problem for me until now. I’ve been getting tired around 20:00 and been unable to sleep later than like 4:30. Haah. Suck. So, nap.

When I went to meet with Sayaka-san and Ishida-sensei again, Sayaka-san introduced me to Mina-san and Orie-san. I didn’t talk much to Orie-san because she left for class, but Mina-san stayed with us for a while. She likes to read. :D I doubt she and I have read many of the same books, though.

The meeting that followed was when Araoka-san (who I had corresponded with via the Internet over the summer) explained to myself and Sayaka-san the official-isms and whatnot that I had to go through. I say he explained to us both, but the truth is that he was pretty much telling her what needed to be done because I couldn’t understand what he was saying fast enough and he knew it. As it turned out, some of it was stuff that I knew already, but didn’t know the vocabulary for.

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-6

June 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

Yay, I Have Stuff Now!

Originally posted on October 16, 2005.

So after that, Nei-san drove us back to my apartment. We pulled up to unload my loot and discovered that a guy had shown up to turn on the gas. We took all but the futon upstairs and let the guy in to do that. There was a lot (and I mean a lot) of dust inside the heater until it was turned on. :P After the gas guy and the girls showed me how to work the stove, heater, and water heater (You have to open and close the valves to each before using it, and the water heater works so fast that you don’t have to turn the power on until you want to use it), the gas guy left and we brought the futon upstairs. At this point, Utsuki-san and Nei-san took their leave to allow me to rest/set up the place, with my thanks for their help. ^^

This is the first time since I got to Kushiro that I had taken any pictures. I could have gotten pictures of the stores, but didn’t really want to while I was doing heavy shopping. So here’s my apartment, empty.

This ended up being the corner where I did most of my living. That box in the middle of the picture was the only heating in the apartment.

This picture was taken from the same spot as the picture above. All I did was rotate myself.

I put the curtains up before taking the pictures. As you can see, I accidentally put the one set up backwards in my desperation to get the sun out of my house and away from my migraine. The heater in the corner is gas powered and came with a Doraemon sticker on it. Seen in the kitchen is the shlack, the water heater (which also heats the water to your exactly specified celsius temperature — boilers seem so stupid now), my little gas range (no oven, but a place to broil fish), cabinets, and a sink.

The Japanese have separate rooms for bathing and peeing in. This is the bathing room.

The bathroom has a shower and a bath, in good old-fashioned Japanese style. Well, not old-fashioned; the Japanese have really gotten to prefer the removable shower head over the bucket for rinsing off. I forgot to buy a stool to sit on when cleaning — traditional Japanese bathing involves washing your self meticulously, then rinsing off and soaking for a while in hot water. It feels quite nice, actually. But the bathroom door is very skinny, and interesting to get through.

The bathing room was in the middle of the apartment; the toilet was just inside the door to the apartment. The plumbing for both this room and the bathing room were on the shared wall.

Toilet gets its own room. You can’t see it in this picture, but it’s one of the toilets with a big and small flush.

The wall that the plumbing there is attached to is the same wall the bathing room and toilet room plumbing goes into.

A place to put a washing machine. Yay! I need one of those.

Around the right side is a shelf high on the wall, with a rack underneath it to hang stuf on. Like you'd see in a closet.

I’ll try putting my futon over here.

The box on the back of the door is a collector for mail from the mail slot. It was jam-packed with junk mail when I moved in.

And the entryway, concrete ending where the floor begins. No shoes inside the house! Hooray for living in a culture that echoes what you were raised doing.

I kept these turned off as much as possible at night during the summer. I liked my windows open, 'cause it was hot, but there were a lot of strange bugs attracted to light in Japan.

This looks like an ordinary light, but I assure you that it’s actually special. It has three “on” settings — both fluorescent bulbs on, one florescent bulb on, and one weak yellow light on. There are two of these in the apartment, one of which is also connected to a power switch near the laundry machine spot.

So there’s my apartment. Let’s evaluate the day’s loot, shall we?

Total cost: 22,150 yen. Right about $200 at the time. Most expensive single item was the futon.

Not bad for 22,150 yen. And zoom in a bit…

The saltines were mostly purchased out of sheer, "Tee-Hee! Same brand and everything!"

Featured here are a plate, a cup, a bowl, three random instant noodle packages, one random package of bread, a bread chosen after asking Utsuki-san what she likes, bananas, Nabisco saltine crackers (“America’s long seller cracker” according to the box), a random yet tasty-looking rice dish with shrimp and wasabi, some cucumber rolls (I’ve already eaten two; I was hungry), a bread knife, a straight-edged cooking knife, and a cutting board.

Taste-O-Meter!

Cucumber Rolls: 5
Just like American ones, if you buy them at a place that does decent sushi in America.

Most of the kitchen utensils were purchased at 100 yen store -- the Japanese equivalent of the dollar store. Unlike Alaskan dollar stores, 99% of the stores goods were the price advertised in the store's name. The other 1% were 300 yen. (All plus tax.)

Skillet with lid, sieve, tea kettle, saucepan, spatula, ladle, spoon with holes, whisk, 1-cup measuring cup (the only non-metric measure I found, and the only one I need).

I went with the Dove brand hair products and body wash simply because it was the only familiar brand I saw.

Towel, various cleaning sponges, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toilet paper, laundry detergent, lemon dish washing liquid.

I was rather distressed when I discovered my inability to plug my laptop into the wall, due to the absence of a hole for the grounding prong in any of the outlets. This power strip had a grounding wire sticking out of it next to the power cord

Futon set, covers for the futon pieces, an alarm clock almost identical to the one that won’t get here for two days because it’s with my baggage, and a power strip that will let me plug my laptop into the wall.

Ultimate riches, yes?

Time to put them away. Yarr!

The previous occupant left this rolling rack here. That and the fact that it was a corner apartment with extra windows are the two reasons I picked this over the empty apartment on the ground floor.

I should probably put some of these in the cupboards, especially since I am likely to be hanging clothes on the rack to dry from here on out, but for now, this will do. Time to put my futon together.

Japanese-style futons aren’t quite like American futons, and not just because American futons come with racks that make them function just fine as couches. The futon was originally designed to be modular — you pick it up when you get up in the morning and you can air it out or fold it up and put it away. So a futon has three parts plus covers for them (sheets, essentially, only they zip up around the whole thing). The shikibuton is the bottom part, on which you sleep. The kakebuton is the part that goes over you. It’s like a really thick comforter. Then there’s the makura, which is a pillow.

Let’s do this.

I was so glad this fit in there. I dunno how I'd have arranged the apartment if it hadn't fit. I can only assume the place was designed with this use in mind.

Success! The shikibuton fits the alcove exactly. Time to put on its cover.

Since the futon mattress gets covered up, I didn't need matching sheets, but I got matching ones anyway.

The futon has now been covered up. O Snap! The reason the cover seemed way too big is that it was actually for the kakebuton. Let’s try that again.

Looking back on this post as I transfer it, I'm not sure why I took so many pictures of the futon getting set up. I was jet lagged and high on travel, but that's a poor excuse.

Much better. Now, the kakebuton…

I found out later that the Japanese generally also get foam padding (kinda like the ones they sell here for camping) to put under the futon. I would need that now, I think, but at the time this was perfect.

Almost there. Makura! I don’t know what they put inside this pillow, but it rattles on one side. Very interesting.

Japanese pillows take time to get used to, but they stay cooler than western pillows, for some reason. They're also only as big as they need to be.

Victory is mine! … Wait… something is missing. Oh, I know what it is!

Yep... I had put my teddy bear in my carry-on, but not a spare change of clothes. I no longer make that mistake.

Ultimate victory!

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-5

December 13, 2009 Leave a comment

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

Operation: Lena Needs Stuff

Originally published on October 16, 2005.

So I met Nei-san. Nei-san is a fourth-year biology student, with a car. She took us to my apartment to drop my stuff off, then the three of us went shopping. We got a lot of things to get me started here, general necessities I was without either because I had no intention of bringing it or because my baggage didn’t make it. Stuff like a futon to sleep on, food, dishes, and soap.

We went to three stores; the first was a “home center”. It’s full of good fun stuff like mini-fridges, vacuums, towels, washing machines, alarm clocks — good, old-fashioned home necessities. I didn’t get a mini-fridge or a washing machine because with the futon there wasn’t going to be enough room in Nei-san’s car, but I did note that suitable but cheap ones would be about 28,000 yen in total. [2009 Edit: At the time that was about $260 US; now it’d be closer to $300.]

The next place we went was called “100 Yen Plaza”. It’s what a dollar store should be and isn’t, at least in Alaska. In Alaska, dollar stores rarely sell anything that’s actually for a dollar, and it’s all cheap, useless crap. This 100 yen store is chock-full of useful stuff, and (for those who understand this reference) about as big as the old Fred Meyer used to be in Fairbanks. It carried dishes, cooking utensils, measuring spoons and cups, dish soap, laundry detergent, notebooks, binders, small storage and organizational stuff, sushi mats, umbrellas, and a whole lot of other stuff I didn’t even look at. When I got to the register, the cashier started counting, then multiplied the number by 105 (100 yen plus tax). It was great!

The third place we went to had food. I didn’t get too much, ’cause I live near a convenience store and don’t yet have a fridge. This was a place to buy eating food, not gift food, so the fruit wasn’t of the ungodly expensive variety, but it was still more expensive than we’d expect to pay in Alaska. Four or five bananas each came in a bag at a flat cost of 198 yen. But I didn’t see a bad banana in any bunch. There was plenty of non-fruit, too. Whole fish, fish pieces, fish eggs, shrimp, other seafood, bread, more bread, crackers, snacks, cup ramen, cup other noodles, eggs, drinks, and a whole lot more.

This picture was taken later, after I'd settled in. I ended up getting a lot of my juice from convenience stores. This is a stack of apple and orange juice boxes waiting to be recycled. (Photo added to post on June 23, 2010.)

Now, the place that we got the food from was actually a store inside of what was a kind of mall. The Japanese don’t call it a mall; Nei-san told me it isn’t big enough. It’s called a Co-op. Like I said, it’s kind of like a one-floor mall as we think of it, but no mall I’ve ever seen seemed to have no truly secure way to close the shops off for the night. These stores also spilled out into the hall, sometimes almost halfway into the walkway. You could still tell where once place ended and the next began, but it was interesting. The only two stores that I saw which didn’t spill into the hall was another, smaller 100 Yen Plaza and the media store.

I wish I’d gotten to go into the media store. Over the low wall around it, I saw manga and anime and CD’s. The low wall itself advertised PlayStation 2 and Xbox and Gamecube, and the TV’s on either side of the entrance were all about the new Katamari game. But that wasn’t why I was at the co-op.