Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Play by the rules

    The rainy season is living up to its name. It's hindering me from parkouring after work, and it's also hampering my attempts at laundry. On the plus side, it's keeping the temperature in the 70s most days.

   At preschool, the students come in by bus, bus since the school only has one bus, they do it in three shifts. So while we're all waiting for everyone to show up, I usually walk around and play with the kids. Among other things, there's a set of colorful plastic blocks in each classroom. It always fascinates me to see the different ways the kids used them. 
   The younger kids can't make much with them, although the little boys are very proficient at making guns. Sometimes they make cell phones out of two blocks, bent at the joint, and call each other on them. They say things like, "Yeah, I'm just leaving work," or, "I'm on my way to the company now."

   The older kids make more interesting things. They usually make cars, trains, and helicopters. One kid always makes this super cool "zoo." It has multiple stories and rooms, and it even has gates tha turn on their hinges and connect the different living spaces. 
   They also have this weird, smaller set of blocks, in which each piece is half of a cube, cut diagonally. The kids seem less sure how to play with this set, and the first time they introduced it to me, they told me I could make a house, and nothing else. They put three blocks together and showed me. "Cool," I said, and then I made a giraffe. It blew their minds.
   Little kids can sometimes seem to be obsessed with rules when it comes to playing games, and I think it's because the games they play mostly happen in their heads. Since they aren't imagining the same things, they have to make rules so that their hallucinations match up enough to happen at the same time. I remember when I was little, I used to play with my cousins sometimes, using a set of horses. We all wanted really different things out of the game. One of them always wanted to put on some kind of parade or competition between the horses. The other was really obsessed with naming them and splitting them into families. Sometimes I would get upset because tehy would impose personalites on the horses that didn't match up with how I saw them. So we would all have to think up rules for how to play so that we could play our slightly different games together.

   That door is way too fancy for that building. 

   I don't know what this building is! The kanji for fish is written on top. It looks like it's meant to store something, but I really hope it doesn't store raw fish. There were a couple of buildings like this in town.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Household remedies

   This week I got another cold. I used to get colds on a regular basis in college, but once I graduated they became more infrequent. Now they're back.
    I went to the drug store looking for something like Nyquil, to be confronted with this:

   Reading through a bunch of labels in Japanese looking for katakana-ized drug names that I barely remember in English was not something I was up to. Plus, some of them had pictures of ginger on them and looked more old-timey than I could trust. So I texted my friend, who informed me that the only way to get good cold meds in Japan is to go to the hospital. None of the drugs at the store were claiming to help you sleep, but apparently a doctor will prescribe you something similar to Nyquil.
   Nyquil itself and some other over the counter US drugs are illegal in Japan. I forget the exact ingredient that makes them illegal, but I think it's the one that helps you sleep. In fact, a month before when I asked a man at the pharmacy where I could find the sleep aids or even some Melatonin, he looked around for a minute before informing me, "I don't think we have anything like that." So maybe sleep-inducing drugs are more closely regulated here.

   I didn't have the energy to go to the hospital just to get cold medecine, so instead I drank a pint of orange juice, ate some spicy ramen, and slept for 12 hours. 
   Problem solved. 

   People seem very ready to tell you to go to the hospital here. A few weeks ago when I felt sick at work, my coworkers told me to go. I've heard other people receive this advice, too, usually over pretty minor symptoms like nausea or a cough. I suppose this is because national health care makes it a lot cheaper to drop in for minor illnesses. According to the Book of Knowledge, Japanese people visit the hospital four times as often as Americans do. I can only assume it must be a less harrowing experience here. Personally, unless I'm not sure the illness will pass on its own, I'd rather curl up in the fetal position and try to pass out, instead of trekking all the way to a hospital where I have to be coherent and alert.

      Hopefully I'll never find out how going to a hospital in Japan is, but it would make for an interesting experience.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

You haven't heard of cowboy hipsters? I guess they're too underground

   Have you ever taken a shower and then left the room without turning the vent on? You come back half an hour later to be met with a lukewarm sauna in your bathrooom. That's what it feels like all over Japan right now. It's currently at 97% humidity, and it's broken 90 degrees for the past four days.

    Today I bought a fan.

   I went to a town across the river that's a bit touristy because there's a famous castle there. I didn't visit the castle, though. Intsead, I wandered around. In my town, the mountains are too steep to build on, so people live on the flat stretches of land between them. But this town is built on rolling hills. It's really pretty.

   I was looking for a place to eat breakfast, but since it's touristy, most places looked expensive and non-descript. I wandered around for a while, exploring some side streets, until I finally came across a cafe that looked pretty legitimate in terms of coffee.When I walked in, I noticed that they were playing Sting, so right away I was sold. The curry they gave me was delicious and even had a hint of spiciness, unlike most Japanese curry. Best of all, the coffee was great.

   I noticed that they had 2-lb glass jars full of coffee beans near the register, so I asked if I could buy some. It turns out, they roast it themselves! When the guy told me, I said, "そうか、だからおいしかったですね!" (Oh, that's why it tastes so good!) and with typical Japanese demureness, he just said, "Well, please give it a try."

   I bought 100 grams of Kenya AA, and I'll be trying it out tomorrow.

   As I was leaving the cafe, a group of seven or eight of the coolest cats I've seen in the Japanese countryside sauntered in. They looked like a cowboy hipster motorcycle gang. But I don't have any proof of the motorcycles. They were wearing boots and jeans, some of them had leather accessories, most of them had piercings, and one of them had a visible tatoo on his arm (shocking!). They also pulled the typical American gimmick of asking the waitress what she would order if she was them. I really wanted to ask them who they were and how they came to have so much Personality. 

   The town felt really old-timey, with a few modern buildings thrown in. This clothing shop looked like it could have been straight out of the 60's, or Upstate New York.

   That white building housed a hair salon on the bottom floor. It also looked like a blast from the past.

   Apparently you can take a boat like this one down the river, but it's only a one way trip. I guess this guy was heading back after giving some tourists a ride.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Living just enough for the city

   This weekend I went to the city again.
   As I was walking towards the train station in town, two old ladies who were walking by called out to me and asked if I could read Japanese. Yeah, I can read a little, I said.

   "Oh good! We'd like to tell you the good news about the Bible."

   They handed me a little pamphlet with a picture of a (Western) man and woman lounging around in a field of wheat. Oh no, I thought. These two ladies are going to latch on to me and never let go until I promise to come to their Bible study group.

   Past experience told me that's what should have happened. Instead, the two ladies waved goodbye and went on their merry way. I skimmed through the pamphlet and realized I had just had my first ever encounter with Jehovah's Witnesses. In Japan, of all places.

   I did parkour on Sunday and now I'm super sore. My hands are finally getting tougher, though. Parkour is a nice balance to my workweek. Monkeying around with a bunch of young, free-spirited people is very refreshing. They even hug each other sometimes.

   This was a neighborhood a bit farther away from downtown. It was really hilly and pretty. There were also a bunch of fancy looking houses blocked off with walls and coated in security cameras. Yakuza homes? Politicians? Who can say? Speaking of yakuza, someone told me that they run most of the construction companies that maintain the roads in Japan. I don't know if it's true, but if so, they are doing a great job. The roads here are great.

   I took the elevator to the top of a weird modern monstrosity and took this picture from its roof. That's the park that cuts through the dowtown area.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A few things

Things I miss about home
  • ·         Food
All the food. But if I had to list the top three things, they would be rotisserie chicken, bagels, and cheddar cheese.
  • ·         Hugs
  • ·         People arguing about things
People aren’t very argumentative here. They don’t want to argue about which Harry Potter book is the best, or whether China is going to take over the world. They don’t want to play devil’s advocate just to mess with you. But you can have some pretty interesting conversations, anyway.
  • ·         Wild animals that aren’t bugs or birds
There are deer and monkeys in some parts of Japan, but not where I live. So far, I’ve seen one rabbit. But there are no deer or squirrels or raccoons or farm animals.
  • ·         People who look like they could snap me in half like a twig
I’m sure there are many people in Japan who could take me. But only a few of them look like they could.
  • ·         Convincing facial hair

Things I don’t miss

  • ·         Understanding even the most inane conversations
  • ·         Hearing about sports and celebrities even though I don’t care
  • ·         People acting like children are completely helpless
People here seem to let their kids try things and fail more often. I often see a bemused parent watching as their toddler struggles to put their shoes on or rip the plastic wrapping off their food. They also let their kids roll around on the floor or jump on things and wander around without freaking out and acting like they are about to shatter into a thousand pieces.
  • ·         People making out in public
Five feet away from you. Because they are bored.
  • ·         Needing a credit card or debit card
Here, you can order something online and pay the delivery man in cash. You can reserve a room at a hotel without giving them a credit card number. You can pay all of your bills, from national health insurance to electricity, in cash at the convenience store.
  • ·         People who don’t know how to be quiet and unobtrusive
Japanese people are so good at this. It makes life so much more pleasant. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The attack of the leaping cockroach

   I had the opportunity to talk to more Japanese people about hugging the other night. I was informed that in Japan, そういう習慣はない: "We don't have that custom here." I hadn't thought of hugging as a custom before, but it is, just like kissing on the cheek is the custom in France. Then she proceeded to offer this explanation: "Well, in Japan it's very hot and humid. So it's not comfortable to hug."

   That only explains why there's no hugging in summer.

   It has been incredibly humid lately. It's the rainy season, and when it's not raining, it's cloudy and foggy, and it feels like the only reason it's not raining is because the rain droplets can't squeeze through all the moisture in the air.

   I've been informed that soon the bugs will come out to play. Apparently, Japanese cockroaches are a little smaller than American cockroaches. That's great, right? Except that Japanese cockroaches jump. At humans. They jump at humans! They come flying off the ground and attack your face!!!
   I haven't seen any yet, so I really hope the locals are just having fun at my expense.

   There are a lot of insects where I live, and a lot of convenience stores and restaurants have these little bug death traps outside. They're fluorescent lights encompassed by electrified wires. The moths go towards the light, but before they reach it, they are zapped to death. The sound is really loud. It reminds me of the sound downed wires in Half Life 2 make, when they zap and dance around on puddles of nuclear waste.
   I really don't envy the people who have to clean all the moth corpses off them every night.

   This is an interesting post about Cultural Differences from a blog I sometimes read: