Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Oh, Okinawa

We have arrived in lovely Okinawa, where it is wonderfully warm (mid 70s) and pretty. Want to know the best thing about Okinawa? AMERICA.

Look at how American sized that root beer is. Okinawa is the only place you can find A&W restaurants in Japan. In general, root beer is incredibly unpopular here. As a cruel joke on my students I once had them try it and write a review of how it tasted. One girl ran from class gagging.

All America is awesome joking aside, it is a little strange to see American military types wandering around a Japanese city, but thankfully they don't dominate the place quite as much as I had been led to believe.

We've so far struck out in the vegetarian restaurant department. We were really looking forward to going to a vegetarian Taiwanese place that allegedly had a menu of more than 80 faux-meat dishes, but it seems to have closed permanently. Then we tried another place and found it closed for the holiday (it's the Emperor's birthday). We did manage to find an Okinawan place with enough stuff to keep us filled. I'm not a huge fan of goya (Okinawan bitter gourd), but if you mix it with enough tofu and sauce it'll do the trick. We've also been enjoying some sweets. This thing is sort of a Twinkie with sweet potato where the cream would be, and behind it is delicious black sugar coated peanuts.

Tomorrow we're off to the aquarium and a pineapple theme park!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

SNOW!!!! and various other tidbits

It's snowing!

In typical California transplant fashion, on the first day of snow I was delighted and frolicked and skipped about joyously finding everything prettier with a little snow on it. Then on Friday the train was delayed and it was so windy the snow was blowing horizontally directly in my face. Also, Japan has an annoying lack of interest in both insulation and central heating. Thus our apartment is the same temperature inside as it is out in the snow. It is officially warmer in our refrigerator than it is in the kitchen it sits in.

A couple of weeks ago Greg and I took the JLPT 4, which is the lowest level Japanese proficiency test. We were already at the level of the this test when we first arrived, so we're both pretty sure we passed. Most of the people in our Japanese class took the level 3, but because my listening skills are rather terrible I think I'm happy with the decision to go for the sure thing rather than the "maybe if I'm lucky." If I can get my listening (and speaking, even though that's not tested) up to snuff, I hope I can maybe skip a level next year and go to the new "2.5" test.

Friday night was my school's bonenkai, a traditional year end party, the purpose of which is to drink until you forget all the year's troubles. It was at an onsen, but I managed to avoid the whole awkwardly taking a bath with coworkers thing by having my dip just 15 minutes before the start of dinner. After dinner it was on to karaoke. I, as usual, declined to sing. I find it amusing that when I tell people I can't sing they always say "I can't sing either, it's ok," and then 10 minutes later they're on stage singing brilliantly. I have yet to meet anyone here worse at carrying a tune than me. There was a bingo game and the first three prizes were pretty nice: a flat screen TV, a bike, and a digital camera. Beyond that were mystery prizes wrapped up. Naturally I got 4th place and had to go for a mystery box which of course was filled with 30 packs of meat filled instant ramen. Sigh. I had a lot of opportunities to practice my horrible Japanese before conking out in my room. The teachers must have stayed up at least an hour later than me and drank a ton more than me and yet they were all up at 6:30 am bright eyed and genki, waking me for breakfast.

What amuses me most about enkais is that because of Japan's very strict drunk driving laws (which prohibit you from having even a sip of alcohol before getting behind the wheel) the teachers usually take the school bus. I think that as a high schooler I would have been quite amused by the idea of my teachers, drunk and rowdy, cruising down the highway in the school bus late at night.

On Wednesday we're headed for Okinawa for a hopefully warm and pleasant Christmas.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Odds and ends

After a couple of months in employment limbo (I had been hired but wouldn't start until 2010), I have now been hired at a job that's given me immediate work and am actually going around to various places in Ishikawa and Toyama to impart my English-speaking-abilities and exotic gaijin-ness on various impressionable Japanese youngsters. I imagine I'll have more to say on this soon, but I wanted to share a couple of things I've found since I've been out and about a lot more.

First was something I found at a mall arcade. Gambling in the form of slot machines and pachinko parlors is ubiquitous here in Japan, and often you'll find it side-by-side in the same arcades with games meant for kids and teenagers. You'll occasionally see some surprising and odd versions of these machines (I can think of Super Mario-themed gambling machines just off the top of my head), but I've never seen a Pac-man one before. This is at the Apita in Toyama City:

This next photo is a little hard to read. It's a sign at a train station in Komatsu, Ishikawa, and it says in both English and Japanese: "DO NOT ENTER THE TRACK. When you drop something on the track, please tell the station staff immediately."

What's funny is that this station, like a lot of non-major stations in suburban and rural areas, didn't appear to actually have any station staff. All there is to it is basically a little shed on each side of the track where you can buy your ticket from a machine, plus a public toilet and bike rack. So, implicit in this sign's message is "If you drop something on the track and don't want to risk getting yourself pancaked like a cartoon character on the front of the train, you're SOL."