Monday, February 22, 2010

For your entertainment

It's been a busy couple weeks. They've been using me more in the schools (yay!) and fun things have been going on during the weekend. This Saturday and Sunday my Hiroshima host family picked me up and took me to their house. It was weird to step into a house I hadn't been in for ten years and thought I would never be again. We looked at all our old pictures and it was funny to see how we've all changed. Sena is a handsome almost high school graduate instead of a cute little middle school boy. Risa is a beautiful lady, now almost fluent in English but actually majoring in Chinese at her university in Kobe. When I visited in High School I was a red headed bean pole. We had a great time- Host Mom made oden, we watched the Olympics on TV (curling is just as funny in Japanese as in English- especially since we watched the women's match vs. Britain so it was British English). They took me shopping, and well. Wow. It's amazing the ties people form sometimes. I really have done nothing for them, and they've done so much for me.

On Wednesday I'm going to Tokyo to visit the fabulous Megumi. We will then venture to Toyama, her hometown, to see what kind of trouble we can stir up there. I'm taking the night bus to Tokyo from Shinji, which should prove to be interesting in many respects. Anyway I won't be writing anything substantial for a while, so please be entertained by the following DDR dog.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Ten things you never knew you didn't know about Japan

I've been trying to write this post for a week, but each time I tried writing it came out much too cynical. It's impossible to write about strange things in Japan from an unbiased perspective- the whole point of these strange things is that I am inherently biased and thus they are strange to me. But I am trying not to appear too much a misanthrope in reporting about this foreign land, so I've had to reign in the sarcasm.
Anyway, this time for sure.

Here are ten things I find most interestingly odd about Japan

1. When you hear Japanese eat a lot of fish, it's no exaggeration. Not only that, but they eat the whole fish- skin, bones if they're soft enough to eat, and even the head and the tale. Plus they still sometimes eat whale, although there's speculation as to whether's it's really whale or actually dolphin. Woah.

2. Japan's broadcasting system is called NHK, and rather than pay for cable directly, NHK men come to your door and ask for cash moneys. There are four main genres of TV shows: Game shows, Dramas, Anime, and Food shows. Food shows consist of panels eating food and commenting on how great it is. This being said, I never watch my TV and when the NHK man came around I pretended I didn't speak Japanese until he went away in disgust. Heh heh heh.

3. The Japanese really like food, and to my eye actually eat a lot. The difference is they pride themselves in eating good an healthy food, not whatever crap is most convenient. A traditional Japanese meal consists of many many small and delicious dishes. So they eat a lot, but in a decidedly healthier manner than we do back home.

4. They always, always back into parking spots in parking lots. I'm assuming this is so they can get out of the spaces more easily, but it's still kind of interesting. It's hard to back into a space, but it makes it easy to get out. Going straight into a space is easy, but then it's harder to back out. Isn't there kind of an equilibrium there?
I'm going to have to ask about this one. And going along with this, in snowy weather everyone pulls out their windshield wipers so the blades aren't touching the glass. This is a great idea, because then the wipers don't freeze and get stuck, but it does make the cars look like so many beetles at attention.

5. I've already complained about the heating, but I feel it merits reiteration. Japan is one of the world's leading economical powers, yet they don't do central heating. Nor do they do insulation or double paned glass. They rely on kerosene heaters. So only the main room in my apartment is heated. In the morning when I take a shower, I literally swear all the the way through the tiny hallway from my shower room to the main room. It's a good thing the neighbors don't speak English. Also, in the schools the classrooms are heated but not the hallways or bathrooms. So my kidneys are suffering as I try to avoid peeing at all costs.

6. The ATM's have hours of operation. That's right. You heard me. The ATM's here are only open from about 9 am to 5 pm. I'm assuming this is due to the fact that Japanese ATM's are run by gnomes who have organized themselves into unions with labor laws. Also, you don't accrue interest on savings accounts, and there is no online banking. Oh dear.

7. Gas stations also have hours of operation. The most flexible gas station I've seen is open from 7 am to 9pm. I wonder what truckers do when they have to drive all night. Or do trucks not drive at night here? Anyway more than once when driving late at night I've prayed, prayed prayed that my car doesn't die out in the mountains somewhere as my the meter tips lower than empty . . .

8. Japan is a cash based society. That means that no places around here take credit card. Last Japan trip when I was in Tokyo, there were some stores that took card, but nowhere in Shimane does. It also means I often walk around with the equivalent of hundreds of dollars in my wallet. A slight change for the girl who, in the States, NEVER carried cash.

9. In Japanese schools, there are no janitors. Why? Because the students have to clean the schools. Every day. On one hand, this is a great idea because it cuts down on costs and it teaches the students responsibility. On the other hand, I have to question how clean anything actually gets as most students mostly just go through the motions of cleaning rather than worrying about the finished result. Also, they just clean everything with water. I don't know about you, but I like my public bathrooms Lysoled, thanks.

10. The Japanese language has many loan words called gairaigo 外来語 that are taken from other languages and transliterated to suit the Japanese phonetics. Some of these words retain the same meaning as the language they came from, like aisu kuriimu means exactly ice cream, but some (known as false cognates for you linguists out there) have different meanings from the native language. One of the more interesting examples is baikingu バイキング from the english word Viking. But in Japanese バイキング actually means an all you can eat buffet. So the first time it was suggested to me we go to a "viking", my trepidation was understandable. Also, although many natives assume most of the loan words come from English, many come from other languages such as French, German, and Portuguese, and the pronunciation mirrors that of the language from whence the word came. So it all can get very confusing for a non-native speaker.

And these are just the things that stand out. Every day I am surprised by many nuances. Some days I am enchanted by all the new things I am experiencing, and some days all I want in the world is to withdraw money at 8 pm. Either way, it's a great journey.