Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!!!

There’s a 99.45% chance that I’m missing YOU right now. (ie friends and family) I hope that you are enjoying your time with family and friends and christmas dinner.

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Ellie’s winter snow tour 2011-2012 edition

hopefully i'm come across a snow pikachu on my travels

its winter break, and those words are music to my ears. But that doesn’t mean I’m taking a break. Oh no, I’m out and about to see what Japan has is store for me.

Step 1) Christmas eve in Osaka

Step 2) Christmas in Okayam

Step 3) Skiing in Nagano (thats right winter olympics ’98)

Step 4) Nara and New Years Eve in Kyoto

Once again the JR rail system and I will get to knew each other real well. I’ve got some great playlists and books saved on my ipod so I’m really to roll.

semiautomatic doors

I’m automatic door challenged. Strange, but possible. The automatic doors in Japan open just a little bit slower than what I’m used to. Instead of maintaining the same walking speed I have to slow down just a bit so the doors can open. Since it is such a subtle difference I have difficulty remembering to slow down. Because of this I have walked into sliding doors on more than one occasion. Then there’s the semi-automatic doors. They open, you just have to push a button or touch a certain spot. These are where things get really dicey. First I have to recognize that the door requires effort to open. Then I have to figure out the magic spot. This is harder than you would think. I once spent several minutes frantically hitting the door to Yoshinoya while the lunch eaters looked at me like the crazy person that I was. Japan, I love you but your automatic doors make me feel stupid.

just say NO to kancho

This has been a difficult topic for me to write about, but I feel that after 16 months of exposure, most of the shock has worn away and I can address it calmly. I’m talking about kancho’s. This is a word that can/will stir of fear in even the strongest of ALT’s. What’s a kancho you ask? I’ll give you a hint, its the Japanese word for enema. We were warned to look out for it in training, but even when I had my first one it took me by surprise. They can strike at any time, and sometimes I still find myself falling into kancho traps even after more than a year of experience.

This is all still a little cryptic so let me be a little more specific. The kancho is a children’s prank much like the butt slap or wegie, but so much more violating. Children make their hands in the shape of a gun, but they aren’t playing spy. Those fingers are about to be shoved right up your bum. I’m not talking about some weird sex practice, this is something that happens everywhere especially schools. Since it happens in schools, obviously all clothing is still on, but there is still touching where touching shouldn’t be happening. Kids do it to each other as sort of an unpleasant joke. But it doesn’t stop with students kanchoing each other, they go right after the teachers as well. And since it is a generally accepted (not encouraged) practice I can’t really complain about it. Even though in any other circumstance that would be considered sexual misconduct. I mean politicians get in trouble for having their hands graze a woman’s leg and go just a little too far. These kids just go right for the target. (shutter). There is no teacher to teacher kancho, THAT would be a HUGE problem.

I have been a victim of this joke more times than I want to talk about. It happens every week or so, and would happen more often if I wasn’t so great at the block and dodge. There are students that I have learned to look out for in the hallways. Even if they raise a hand to wave a me I dive to the other side of the hall for fear of stray fingers. I’ve had some strange kanchos. A student substituted his head for his fingers and head-butted me in the butt, brooms during cleaning time are also popular, there’s also the jack-hammer where 1 kancho just isn’t enough and they just keep going. Sometimes after playing during recess I have to spend some time just sitting alone to recover from the shell shock of too many children’s hands.

This isn’t done maliciously, its like a display of trust or “you’re in the club.” Its done innocently enough, and its a really strange way for the students to tell you that they like you. Younger students are more apt to have stray hands but I have heard of Jr High teachers getting the kanch by some of their students. I’ve tried to keep an open mind about Japanese culture, but this is still something that I can’t wrap my head around. Japan is such a shy culture, they are still reluctant to shake hands b/c of germs and touching, but the fingers up someone else’s bum is aOK.

I don’t think I can talk about this anymore. Too many harsh memories. I was lucky enough to dodge all attempts today and would rather not think about any more Kanchos.

a kancho arcade game: this is so wrong I don't even know where to begin

street art

Street art has been becoming much more main stream thanks to artists like Banksy and the movie Exit through the Gift Shop. But street art in Japan has been everywhere for years in the form of beautifully decorated manhole covers. Just about every town in Japan has its own design for manhole covers, sometimes they’re even painted. I’ve tried to find each city’s version in my travels and these are just the beginning.

Uno City, Okayama Prefecture

Maniwa City, Okayama Prefecture

Otaru City, Hokkaido Prefecture

Kurashiki City, Okayama Prefecture

Kurashiki City, Okayama Prefecture

Kurashiki City, Okayama Prefecture

unstable ground

you don’t have to watch the whole thing, just the first 3 minutes.

I always knew that Japan was a seismically active country, but this video really shed a whole new light on just how much Japan shakes. Theres at least 4 earthquakes everyday in the country. It also really puts the 3.11 earthquake and aftershocks into perspective. Since watching this I’ve become earthquake parinoid and have convinced myself that I’ve felt earthquakes when they were just wind or a shakey bridge.

*I don’t understand everything in this video, but I know that the circles are earthquakes and the bigger the circle the bigger the quake. That’s enough info to get something from this vid.

Breaking my two year turkey draught

Last weekend I was invited to help cook thanksgiving. Yes, I know that thanksgiving was 2 weeks ago and yes I’m still in Japan. My friend Ryo wanted to share thanksgiving with some of the people in his town so he rented out his town’s community center kitchen and recruited a few other americans to make the meal.  Considering its been 2 years since I’ve had turkey that wasn’t in sandwich form I was thrilled to help out. 

  

However just because I’m american doesn’t mean I’m a expert on making thanksgiving, I’m just an expert at consuming thanksgiving. The night before I picked my mom’s brain via skype and sent out my question into the facebook universe. Luckily I was put on pie duty and the more experienced cooks took over the birds. Just getting the birds took more effort than usual. Ryo had to order them frozen from a foreign meat website. 

 

 

 

Apparently there aren’t turkeys in Japan. There’s chicken, but just no turkey. Its really difficult to describe a turkey to people who don’t know what it is. Many Japanese asked if its a roast chicken. Well not really, its like a chicken but bigger, and kinda tastes like chicken but not really. When I’m lazy I just say “yeah roast chicken.” 

 

I got to handle something I had more experience with, pie. I love baking but I don’t have an oven in my kitchen, there isn’t even room for a toaster oven. So I jumped at the chance to bake something. The only trick was converting American measurements to metric and trust the 100 yen kitchen scale I had. The ovens also had the tendency of turning off from time to time for reasons that I was unaware of. Regardless of the obstacles, the pies came out fantastic if I do say so myself.  The 5 year old sitting across from me didn’t seem to agree. She spit the pie right back out after putting it in her mouth. I appreciated her honesty even if her mother was extremely embarrassed. 

 

 

 

We had a great time chatting with people from around the town, and it was interesting to see people’s reactions to american foods. Surprisingly mashed potatoes are a new food that some of the kids didn’t take to well either. There were also a couple boys that loved the food, went back for 3rds and took leftovers home. They also jumped at the opportunity to eat the huge drumsticks without forks. 

 

 

As with every other thanksgiving I went home in a turkey induced haze and spent the rest of the day watching tv and doing nothing productive. It was great celebrating thanksgiving this year, even if it wasn’t on the exact date. 

I’m basically Japanese

I bow to people without even noticing, slurp my noodles, can use chopsticks without hesitation, drink more tea than water, can back into parking spots like a pro, and now I have this sweet track suit* to look the part. All I need to do is learn the language and I would blend right in, never mind that I’m white and a head taller than most of the country.

*In case you weren’t aware the track suit is an essential part the of the Japanese wardrobe. It serves many functions, leisure wear, workout wear, elementary school teacher uniform, extra curricular activity identifier, and uniform of the “bad ass” dyed hair convenie loitering crowd. Honestly I don’t know how I’ve lived here so long without one.

** In other news I just bought a white faux fur / shag rug for my apartment. Although it doesn’t add to my Japaneseness it is the best purchase I’ve made in a long time.

fall time trekking

A couple weeks ago I took in some of the natural beauty in my area by climbing Ishizuchizan, a mountain southeast of Kagawa. Ishizuchi is the highest mountain on Shikoku Island, with an elevation of 6503 ft. Since it is much higher than our area we got a sneak peak of the fall colors.

Climbing mountains in Japan is rarely a solitary experience. I guess that’s to be expected in a country with such a high population density, but it still shocks me every time I’m stuck on a trail behind a couple hundred other people. Fortunately this trail had a couple options so the crowds became more tolerable at times. One portion of the trail offered some decent rock climbing. We scaled a wall with the assistance of chains. Not a huge challenge but a good way to shake things up a bit. Once we reached the shrine near the top the crowds once again became very apparent. People were practically sitting on top of each other to eat lunch.

 

We continued on to the end of the trail to escape the crowds and get a better view of the mountain. The views from the top were amazing, its been a long time since I have seen a mountain range, most mountains in Japan are stand alone. From there we could see the coast on one side and a mountain range on the other all decorated for fall by mother nature. The hike was a great way to take in some last minute mountains while the weather was still warm.