Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sure it is rude and tidy sitting in the air conditioned room

Life just got decidedly more interesting.

As you may (or may not) know, I have been waiting for my car to arrive. And, on Friday, it did.


A couple interesting things about driving in Japan:
1. (Most obvious) You drive on the left side of the road. That being said, everything is reversed. Left hand turns are a cinch- it's the right hand ones you have to look out for. Shifting gears is done with your left hand. All sorts of things I would never have thought about. All left.
2. The roads in Japan are freaking crazy. They are narrow and twisting and are not organized very well.
3. Most roads have an upper limit of 50-60 kph, which is about 30-36 miles an hour. Highways can reach up to 80 kmp (almost 50 mph), but highways are few and far between and cost a arm and a leg to use. So traveling from town to town takes a lot longer.
4. Japan has these wonderful things we call affectionately "gaijin traps". They are little ditches on the side of the road that, if you aren't careful, will eat your wheel. The one on the right is a good meter from the side of the road, which is nice, because some are scarily close. They also border parking lots and other such places a lot. There are horror stories about having to call the supervisor to out the carwhen unsuspecting JETs run in to one.
5. A lot of the bridges are labeled with how long it is. I'm not sure why I care Fill-in-the-Blank Bridge is 30.5 meters long, but the sign seems to wish to inform me
Anyway, now I am a free bird. So yesterday I celebrated by going to Matsue, Shimane's largest city. Fukuda-san was having kittens about my going alone, but as all Shimane JETs have to go there on Monday and Tuesday for yet another pointless orientation, I wanted to be able to practice going there. (They wanted us to take the train because they were too worried. Forget that).
I went and had a great time. In the morning I went to the Shimane Art Museum and saw a special exhibit on an artist called Hashimoto Kansetsu. His portraits were a bit too cartoony for my tastes, but his animal paintings were awesome. I then went shopping (bliss!) at a real mall (bliss!) and although I didn't buy anything had a good time. My last stop was Matsue-Castle, a National Treasure of Japan. It's an impressive structure, celebrating its 400th anniversary this year.
It's an impressive structure, masculine and traditional. From the top of many floors connected by steep, narrow stairs you could see the whole of Matsue and be cooled by delicious breezes. (That's where I took the picture of the cityscape from). Surprisingly enough, on my way back from the castle I met James and two of his friends. He happened to be in Matsue that day and the gang was waiting to get on a boat goes around the castle grounds. I decided to join them. The boatman explained everything very thoroughly in very polite Japanese I didn't understand very well. When we went underneath bridges too low to clear our roof it lowered so we had to crouch ludicrously.
Good times. I am glad to be mobile now and not have to sit at the BOE for hours after work waiting for a ride home. I have been complaining about this inactivity to my new email pal Takeshi-san, the person who installed my Internet and who wants to practice his English. He commiserated.
"Sure it is rude and tidy sitting in an air conditon room. If necessary I will take you outside in the sun."
My visit to Matsue was very polite and untidy, and I enjoyed it immensly

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