Monday, April 4, 2011

Almost Normal

Twenty-four days after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake caused a tsunami and nuclear reactor meltdowns, things are fairly normal again. Well, normal for Japan. Train service is limited, stores are dimly lit and have shorter hours, and many areas have rolling brownouts (to conserve electricity). We have not had any loss of power since the beginning.

March 17th marked our halfway point in Japan. Allan's contract ends Sept. 16, 2012, but we may stick around a little longer to see if another position opens up. What do you think about Italy or Spain?

Everyone should travel abroad. You never know what you'll see... like a monk on a corner. Or what you'll learn about the culture. March 3rd is Hina Matsuri (festival for girls). There's a festival for boys as well on May 5th. No mother's, father's or secretary's day, but two celebration days for children.

For girls' festival, Hina ningyo (doll) is displayed and the house is decorated, although I'm not sure what that entails.

The decorations are promptly removed at the end of the celebration, else the daughter may not marry. I can't explain chocolate rabbits for Easter, so don't expect me to explain this.

I've said before, students wear uniforms through high school. And colleges have some dress restrictions as well. This was last Sunday when Allan and I went to Kamakura on the train. These girls may have been to cram school, or something like Sylvan, private tutoring. They study English and one other language, with Japanese teachers who usually cannot pronounce many English words correctly. Then when the students try to communicate with westerners, it's next to impossible.

Japan is a cash society. I pay our electric, water and gas bills at the 7-11, and the phone bill is paid at the business office, which is close to base. As far as the rent, I walk to the agent's office every month with 290,000 yen in cash. That's a lot in any currency.

Speaking of the house, some houses are built in strange places, like this one over a tunnel or on such a steep hill there is no vehicle access. You can only reach it by foot, and it's usually quite a climb. Would you want to lug a stroller up those steps?

Here's my washer/dryer. They hold 1/2 of what yours do. The washer has no hot water, so Allan devised this hose from the sink using a waterbed attachment. It takes about 4 hours for the average load to dry, so I partially dry my laundry outside, then finish in the dryer. It's a bit of an inconvenience, but it's the price we pay.

Here's a common site on a sunny day. The Japanese say mother is always busy when the sun shines.

Tubs are for soaking after you've showered, and the water recirculates through a heater, so no soap in the tub. Nothing browns in the oven, which turns off when it's open. Sometimes it will come back with the start button, but most times you cancel and reset it. If you have an oven, it's very small, but everyone has a fish grill.

Houses have shutters, which are traditionally closed every night, but most are only closed when the house is empty or during very bad weather. My student Kimiko was shocked to see my shutters open when I was away for a week. Oops!

Not all rooms are air conditioned. We have a unit in each bedroom and two in our main room. We keep that door closed.

Your mailbox is public domain. Anyone who wants can stick something in your mailbox. So I guess it's not a federal offense to take something out. I wish someone would take my junk mail, please.

In Japan, we drive on the left, and people are very cordial. If you're driving on a 4-lane road and you need to stop, just pull to the left and take care of whatever. People will go around you without shouting obscenities, honking, or giving you the finger.

It's okay to slurp your soup. I don't think parents insist their kids slurp, but it's very normal to make noise. You can inhale over food, but don't blow on it. The rule is; in is good, out is bad. So don't blow your nose. You can smoke in a restaurant, but not on the street. Why? Because restaurants have ashtrays, so it's more about cleanliness than health. If you can find one of these, feel free to stand next to it and smoke.

Shoes that tie also have zippers. If you remove your shoes whenever you go into a residence and some restaurants, it's just easier.

The only sign for the girls' department in this Japanese store is in English. That's just weird. Signs are usually in Japanese first and English second.

This really isn't the paper bag section, but close counts and it's like a puzzle figuring out what a sign means. This one is easy, but some, you never get.

Handicapped and elderly people are accommodated on public transportation. A person in a wheelchair will get assistance from the driver, who will stop the bus, pull out a ramp and after folding seats to make room, wheel the rider onto the bus. He finds out the person's stop and does the reverse at that point. Any healthy rider will give up a seat to an elderly person or pregnant woman, or just someone who seems to be having difficulty.

A student gave me a 'Japanese towel' that I keep in my purse. It's smaller than a washcloth. Since public restrooms don't always have papertowels or dryers, they're pretty handy to have. I've needed it more than once.

If you want cream or a substitute for your coffee, you might get a product named 'creepy, so you can have creepy coffee or you could just drink sweat. Brian had this one. I must say 'eeuw'.

Speaking of creepy, most alleys aren't. Lots of good restaurants and shops can be found in alleys.

When I walked down my first alley in Yokosuka (it was nighttime), I admit, it was with some trepidation, but now I cruise along like I'm on a national park trail.

This alley leads to our favorite restaurant, Watami. It's an izakaya, a bar that has food. It's like tapas, small plates so you buy lots of different dishes.

And sometimes you find a yakitori stand. Yaki means grilled and tori means chicken. This booth has grilled chicken skin, chicken cartilage, pork heart, pork liver, pork tail (again eeuw!) and probably some beef.

I've tried many new things here, but I draw the line at standing in an alley eating only meat. Give me tablecloths and a nice bottle of Italian red. Yeah, that's the ticket.

No comments:

Post a Comment