Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winter Strikes Back

Well, I guess I'm not quite rid of winter as I had hoped!! I am out of my winter slump at least and feeling more motivated these past few days, so hopefully that will hold into the next month!! I woke up this morning to snow! As most of you know, it doesn't really snow here in Fujinomiya. Last year it only snowed one time and lasted about as long as it did today! I think the most that snow was on top of my car, about 4 inches, but the snow wasn't sticking to the ground all that much. It melted really fast, before noon! But while it lasted, it was pretty on all the roof tops and tree branches. It's always nice to get just a bit of snow to make me feel at home, though I am really glad I wasn't living at home this winter! I'm good with 4 inches and one day all winter, not a record 28 snow days and counting like in Minnesota! Sorry guys! Below are a few pictures of the snow. First is from my bedroom window and the second on my drive to school near a bus stop. That's actually a field right there where there are usually veggies growing.

Though it's been hovering around freezing for about a week, people think that it's still not cold in comparison to home. Japan has poor insulation as they think that summer is too hot and they want air to be freely moving for that reason. That's the explanation I have gotten from a few people anyway. Most people have a wall air conditioner in their apartments that doubles as a heater in winter. I have no such luck and decided not to invest in that since I bought a car. Instead I use a kerosene heater. It seems like an old way of heating an apartment, but a lot of people use them here as space heaters. I can comfortably warm up 1-2 rooms with it. I usually use it in the living room and kitchen in the evening, or just the living room after dinner. It's efficient and cheaper than electric heaters. I have a really old electric heater I use in my bedroom at night, but it barely takes the edge off the cold, it doesn't actually heat the room. Same with a halogen heater that I have. As you can see it's a much newer version of the kerosene heater than you would have seen in old times. It has a timer on top so you can make it kick on in the morning or at a certain time, a thermometer, child lock, etc. It's really quite safe except for the carbon monoxide. I have to be sure to let in a bit of fresh air from outside every once in awhile.

As I said, I've been working on being more motivated this week, and that includes cooking at home and not going out to eat all the time. Last night I mixed up a common winter dinner in Japan called nabe. Often people cook it in a special pot and a portable burner in the middle of the table, but I don't have a nabe pot so I just made it on the stove in a big pan instead. I made a kimchee nabe, my favorite. I cut up some tofu, fresh mushrooms, cabbage, a few other leafy green leek type vegetables and added some beef. You just turn it on, let it boil and steam for awhile and then eat it in small bowls with chopsticks (you can just drink the actual soup part). Sometimes we add udon noodles, but I forgot to buy them, so I just had veggies and meat. So delicious and healthy with all those veggies!

That's about all for now, nothing too exciting going on this week! Hope some of your snow melts like ours did!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Random Weekend of Fun

Happy Valentine's Day! I am not celebrating, but hope that all you couples out there had a romantic evening with your partners!

This Saturday, I went down to visit my friend Kari in Izunagaoka. Our friend Josh was there as well, and we set out to have the most random adventures we could. Well, our main goal was to see the early cherry blossoms in Kawazu as I said in my last post, but when I arrived, Josh and Kari proposed a plan to visit a boar amusement park. I reluctantly agreed, but the weekend conversation pretty much revolved around the boars from there on out.

We went out on Saturday night to one of my favorite pork cutlet restaurants that is one of Kari's regular eating establishments. I got my usual katsudon and Josh ended up drawing the attention of an older drunk Japanese man who chatted with our table for well over an hour!! The conversation was quite random and hilarious. At one point he told Josh to be a rabbit and eat his cabbage so he could be a strong sportsman, funny since Josh really only plays video game sports...and then the conversation digressed as the man at one point told us that his farts smell like lemon. Josh asked him about the boar amusement park, and we found out our hopes and dreams for the following day were crushed. It closed about 3 years ago, but they are still handing out brochures because Kari had gotten one about a year ago. We were hoping the man was so drunk that he didn't know, but unfortunately after an internet search, that wasn't the case.

The night was filled with randomness, including a free pen from the owners of the restaurant, free chocolates for Valentine's Day from the owner's of a really cool bar in Ohito with the walls and ceiling covered in album covers (and the bathroom covered in all women album covers....), and we capped off the evening watching some movie from Kari's childhood that she told us frightened her as a child, but was her brother's favorite video, so she was forced to watch it all the was indeed frightening, even more as an adult!!

This morning we slept in a bit and then headed further down the Izu peninsula to Kawazu. The cherry blossoms line the river and you can walk up and down the path. There are many vendors selling food and souvenirs. This first picture looks quite unimpressive, but I wanted to give you an idea of the bigger picture down the river.

Here's a close up of some of the flowers. These cherry blossoms are much pinker than the regular ones that bloom later in late March and early April.

Kari and I enjoyed some sweet potato fries from one of the vendors. It was a nice relaxing walk that indeed made me see the light at the end of the winter tunnel. Even though we're wearing winter coats and hats, the weather is starting to warm up little by little and the blossoms definitely give the feel of spring!! Unfortunately we did see quite a bit of snow up in the mountains on the drive there though!

Also, one of the vendors that we bought dried fruit from was selling some boar!! After narrowly missing out on the amusement park where they had trained boars to jump through hoops and had boar races, we had to at least eat some boar to make the weekend complete. Josh and I split a boar kabob for about $1.50 each. It was pretty tasty, but pretty much just tasted like beef.

After the cherry blossoms, we made a short detour to Toi, another town on the west coast of the Izu peninsula. It boasts the world's largest flower clock at over 30 meters diameter. As the boar extravaganza was a no go, we had to settle for the clock. It turns out, we drove there pretty much for nothing as the clock is huge, but it isn't made of flowers anymore! There was a plaque about it's Guinness Book of World Records standing in 1991, but apparently they stopped making it out of flowers! It was all tile, and around it were a few barely still live flowers. They did however have a nice footpath around the clock that had some foot reflexology rock massage stuff.

Here I am testing out a few of the rocks:

And here I am in front of the clock. Note the crappy flowers around it.

Across the street from the clock was a foot bath. The Izu is known for it's natural hot springs, so there are many spas and many foot baths around. This one was nice after a walk around the clock with the rocks.

Like I said, Happy Valentine's Day! I am off to get some sleep. This week is full of interview tests and essay grading. It's the end of the school year here, so the students are finishing up all their classes and getting ready for graduation in March!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mexican and Movies

Last night I had two friends over for Mexican food. The Japanese understanding of what Mexican food is ends abruptly at tacos. I don't suppose that enchiladas or fajitas really brings cultural enlightening, but it's still always a fun thing to do! So we got together and made chicken enchiladas and chicken fajitas, guacamole, refried beans, and in true taco bell style, potato oles! Here's Chiaki and Kyoko getting the enchiladas ready:

Rolling the enchiladas:

Our final product. I should have unrolled the fajita to make it more appealing, but I cared more about eating it than taking a picture of it!!!!

You can see the guacamole in this one if you look closely. Not the best angle to see the food, but here we're getting ready to dig in!

I also included this picture to give you a better idea of kotatsu. I think a lot of people still think it sounds strange when I say I'm sitting under or sleeping under a table. You can kinda see my floor furniture there (the chair behind me) and you stick your feet under that big blanket! The heater under the table heats it up nice and cozy. I have been known to take naps under there as well, of course with my head outside the blanket!!

Anyway, it was a good night. After eating and chatting awhile and them thinking all the pictures on my refrigerator were "kawaii," we watched a movie. I rented two movies, intending to watch a romantic comedy, but for some reason I couldn't get it to work in my DVD player. So instead, watched The Reader, a pretty heavy movie with Kate Winslet about a woman and her affair with a 15 year old who later coincidentally shows up at a Nazi war trial in which she is convicted of murdering 300 people, letting them burn to death in a church as a guard of a concentration camp. It was an interesting movie, but maybe not one to watch with people you don't know all that well! The plot is a little complicated and it's a slow moving film, and there's lots of nudity. Kate Winslet won an Oscar and a bunch of other awards for it though, so it was obviously a film worth watching. Interesting and thought provoking.

Today I'm heading off to the Izu peninsula here in Shizuoka. I'm staying with a friend and tomorrow we are going to see some early cherry blossoms. It's a little bit different kind of blossom and with the location and type of blossom it is, it comes much earlier than the regular cherry blossoms of Japan. I'm really excited to go down and check it out!

On the map above, you can see Fuji, I live just a little bit north of there. The early cherry blossoms are in Kawazu, a town that's mostly at the bottom in the middle of the peninsula there. It's about a 3 hour drive, but remember speed limits are low in Japan, so it's actually only like 60 miles I think! I remember looking at that once and being outraged, so I try to quit thinking about distance and just go by time now! I suppose, that's actually my cue to go jump in the shower and get on the road!!

Karuta Day

Today at school was karuta day. It's only for an hour of the day, but it was interesting to watch and most of the kids had fun since they'll be studying the next few weeks for finals. "So what happens on karuta day?" you ask...well, let me show you :)

All the kids pile into the gym and are divided into different games. I have no clue as to the rhyme or reason of the groups, but I'm sure there was some as it was a tournament. There are some kids who are scorekeepers, time keepers and announcers on stage.

The kids sit in a circle and there are a bunch of cards laying on the floor. The cards have one half a Japanese poem on them. I believe the poems are taken from some old traditional book and are known as "The Hundred Verses" (it's in the name of the game in Japanese). The announcer reads off the first half of the poem and the kids have to race to put their finger or hand on the card that has the second half of the poem. See the video below to hear the announcer read/sing the poem.

The video above doesn't show it all that well, so see the picture and the video below as to how the kids choose the right card.

This isn't a game just played by kids. In fact, I have a friend here who plays it competitively at weekend tournaments. There are all sorts of strict rules to that, but the way the kids play was mostly just for fun. Each homeroom is a team, so it was a contest to see which homeroom could get the most points. Here, some students are keeping the tally to see who won.

It was fun to check out the kids playing the game, as I use a version of it in some of my classes with English vocabulary and phrases. The gym was freezing, however! It's been raining the past two days nonstop, so the sun hasn't been out to help warm it up! It doesn't help that in the gym you can't wear your shoes, so I was walking around stocking footed!

Will be back soon with an update from marathon day and a Mexican dinner with friends! Be sure to check out the videos on my blog if you receive this by email!

Really Random Cultural Notes

So I'm back and healthy and ready to blog! I have been putting together a blog book recently, sorta like a coffee table book through the Blurb website. It's a mix of all my blog entries from my first year in Japan and pictures that I've added from the many trips that I took and from school and other local adventures. It's gotten me thinking about some of the things I'd like to share on my blog during my last 6 months. It's actually under the 6 month mark for me now, an exciting and scary realization. So anyway, in my last six months I'd like to try to hit on a few trivial things about Japanese culture and life that most people at home know nothing about as well as just showing what my everyday life is like.

So to start off with that goal, I thought I'd share this video from YouTube with you guys. In fall and winter in Japan, trucks drive around selling hot baked sweet potatoes. They drive around in neighborhoods and songs blare from their loud speakers. Of course they don't all have the same song or tune, but this is one of the main tunes that plays around my neighborhood. This isn't my video or even from my neighborhood, but it's essentially the same. There is also another one that has a really upbeat, cartoony song that I couldn't find a video of. I'll try to remember some night when it's driving around to record it on my camera and post it. It's pretty much a nightly thing and I mostly tune it out now. I've never bought potatoes from the truck, but maybe that should be on my "things to do before leaving Japan" list. Here's the video:

A second thing I was going to write about sort of falls under several categories. First of all, being cute is the be all end all of most everything in Japan. I've befriended a small group of girls in my English club and talk to them all the time. They kept calling me "kawaii" which means cute, and one day they said something before it that sounded like "mucho." It turns out that isn't what they said, but it prompted me to teach them that "mucho" means very in Spanish, so now every time I see them they break into giggles and say "mucho kawaii" and I respond by calling them crazy which they think is hilarious and I think are quite proud of.

So anyway, all things cute are acceptable no matter what your age or gender. Boys enjoy themselves a cutesy cartoon character cell phone charm and some even walk around with pink duffel sports bags, which to me is a bit contradictory. With this obsession of cute, Japan is plastered in cartoon characters. I haven't completely bought into this trend (if that's what you want to call it, I have a feeling it's one that's been around for a long time and is here to stay as well) except for the Minnie Mouse coffee tumbler that I bought at Tokyo Disneyland. I've since kicked myself for buying that thing, because I don't drink coffee enough here and when I go back to the states I am not going to carry around a Minnie Mouse coffee tumbler...people will think I'm nuts! I also inherited this cup holder that I really only kept because of it's practicality as my car has no cup holders. It does however prompt every Japanese person who gets into my car to promptly ask "You like Stitch?!" with hopeful eyes. Sometimes I just tell them "yes" as to not let them down.

It serves its purpose as long as the drink isn't too heavy...and as you can see also holds my garbage bag! It's even been known to hold an entire bottle of wine (see picture here on Kelly's Flickr). Don't worry, we weren't drinking it and driving, just using it as a holder until we got home! Also note that souvenir Mt. Fuji air freshener I bought at a touristy shop near Sengan Shrine in Fujinomiya. Along with the stitch theme, quite appropriately, my friend Kelly took a picture of this car we saw once at our local CoCo's family restaurant. You'll have to click the link above to check it out. It's not uncommon to see car windows full of stuffed animals or rear windows covered in stickers.

Alright, I guess that's all for today's random Japanese culture lesson. Hope you enjoyed these random tidbits about Japan!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bobbin' Along

Bobbin' along, originally uploaded by kellykilgore.

A picture from awhile back at the onsen with Kelly. They had a display of these teddy bears that are jamming out with headphones on. They all bobbed up and down and was quite hilarious. Here I am jamming out myself in my onsen jammies.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sick Girl

Because I thought you'd get a kick out of it. Here's me in my mask from the doctor's won't see me walking around town like that though!
I'm on my way back to being healthy, but still doing nothing all weekend to make sure that I'm 100% next week. Hope you all have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Braving the Doctor Alone

So, I've been sick since about last Thursday. It's just a cold, presumably because I stayed up pretty late almost every night the week before and wore myself out. Totally my own fault, but I'm in a weird February slump.

Anyway, I took a sick day on Friday and thought I was maybe on my way to getting better by Monday. I taught a class with my limited voice on Monday and on Tuesday it was much better, but Wednesday basically non-existent. I decided I had been sick long enough and should go to the doctor. So, I decided to brave it on my own as I didn't feel it was worth it to make my supervisor miss her classes near the end of the semester just because I have a stupid cold. She wrote the doctor a note for me though with my symptoms and stuff and I headed off on a brave new adventure.

I handed them my note at the desk when I first showed up and took a seat in the waiting room. After a few minutes, one of the nurses came out with a mask for me to put on and led me to a back corner of the clinic with a bed, presumably where they keep the contagious people! I sucked it up and put on the mask for show, though I was annoyed about it the whole time!

It turned out the doctor could speak a little bit of English. He was pretty shy however and decided he felt more comfortable writing what he wanted to say down and I read it. It was kinda funny because his English actually was good. But, I suppose it's better that he wrote it down instead of just insisting he doesn't know English like many Japanese do!

He told me I probably just have a common cold, but gave me some antibiotics that I should take if my symptoms got worse, along with a bunch of other drugs for my cough, constipation (because apparently the cough medicine he gave me causes constipation haha), phlegm, pain and fever, and sore throat/inflammation. Quite the cold cocktail if I do say so myself! I put on my mask one more time as I walked out.

I have interview tests coming up starting Monday, so I really need my voice. Therefore, I decided to jump right into those antibiotics along with the other meds, hoping that somehow I'll get better! I took the rest of Wednesday off school and Thursday as well. I have to head back tomorrow (Friday) because I'm supposed to teach two classes, English club and also need to make sure everything is good to go for tests on Monday. I'll probably spend most of the weekend sleeping as well, but I'm so sick of being sick!!! Hopefully I'll be good to go next week.