Archive for the ‘Family Mart’ Category

the july cocktail hour: farewell to sagamihara :-)   25 comments

Monday, July 31:  Cheers and welcome to my fourth and final cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local Family Mart again tonight. A few of us have already made a stop at Dai Trattoria (see below – at the end), so we’re slightly looped already.  I apologize for getting a head start without you.  Sadly, the second plastic chair here has broken; all that’s left is one plastic chair, a small lopsided stool, and a metal chair with the seat falling apart.  No matter.  We can simply stand and mingle; that makes for a better party anyway. 🙂

Please do tell me about your summer.  Have you traveled anywhere exciting over the summer months? Have you seen any good movies?  Watched any good TV shows or read any good books? Have you eaten fresh fruits and vegetables, or visited any pretty gardens?  Have you done anything exciting, or even anything quietly enjoyable?  I love how we can slow down in summer without making any excuses.  I don’t care for summer in general because of the heat and humidity, but I do like the laid-back vibe of a summer vacation.

I finished my semester teaching at the university.  On August 1, I’ll have my apartment inspection, get the 50,000 yen that was withheld from my last paycheck, and then I’ll be on the Shinkansen for Hiroshima.  I’ll travel around Japan for one week, then I’ll head back to the USA on August 8.

The biggest challenges I had to deal with my last month of teaching in Japan were: 1) marking 55 final essays; 2) dealing with the heat; 3) planning my one week trip around Japan from August 1-8; 4) trying to see all the things in the Tokyo  area I wanted to see before leaving Japan; and 5) wrapping up everything so I can leave Japan on August 8.

Here are some of the tidbits of my last month in Japan, as well as a few observations about Japanese culture.

Tuesday, July 4:  I love the Japanese postal system.  If the post office has a letter to deliver that needs a signature, or if they have a package to deliver, they leave a postal slip in your door slot and you can call them on an English-only number to arrange a time for them to try again.  They will schedule the delivery at a time that’s convenient for you.  They’ll deliver as late as 6-8 pm on a weeknight, or any time on Saturdays or Sundays, giving you a two-hour time slot.  The other thing they’ll do is come to your house to pick up a box you have to send.  Today, I arranged with the post office to pick up my first box to send back home by surface.  It’s outrageously expensive to send a package by air+sea, and even more expensive to send one by air, so I chose to send it by surface (11.5 kg) for 7,450 yen (~$68).  Add about $100 for air+sea and about $200 by air!  It’s so convenient, but then of course, the Japanese are all about convenience. 🙂

Wednesday, July 5: I have become quite a regular at Kenji’s fish restaurant, Kiyariya, which I pass as I walk my 30-minute walk home each night.  It’s not cheap, usually costing me about $16, but the food is so good that I’m happy to splurge at least once a week.  I love the eggplant dish soaked in oil with fresh grated radishes.  Tonight I get the grilled salmon and eggplant, accompanied by a cold beer. Every time I leave the restaurant, Natsumi, the server, or Kenji, the owner, walk out with me and say, “See you next week!”

Thursday, July 6: Thursday nights seem to be our nights for cocktail hours at the Family Mart.  Tonight Graham and I go; as always we enjoy ourselves over cold beer and talk of teaching and politics. 🙂  I love these nights because they’re easygoing, not at all pretentious, and cheap.  As we sit outside the Family Mart in our plastic chairs, students often walk past and stop for a chat.

Friday, July 7: My other regular place is the Indian restaurant Curry Naan, where I always enjoy vegetable curry, a HUGE naan, a salad, and cold beer that, when bought with the meal, costs only 100 yen (less than $1!). As always, Beatles music is playing on the sound system.  Tonight, it’s:

Jojo was a man who thought he was a loner
But he knew it wouldn’t last
Jojo left his home in Tucson, Arizona
For some California grass

Get back, get back
Get back to where you once belonged

I enjoy my meal in the cool dark atmosphere while listening to “Eleanor Rigby,” “I am the Walrus,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Something,” “Help,” “Yesterday,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and “Lucy in the Sky with the Diamonds.”

Who would ever imagine an Indian restaurant in a Japanese city with a Japanese chef playing non-stop Beatles music?

Dinner at Curry Naan

Tuesday, July 11: One of the projects I assigned my students was to create inventions.  They were to come up with a product, create a poster, and then do a sales pitch in front of the class.  Below are the products they created, which I thought were quite fun and original. 🙂

Inventions

Click on any of the following pictures for a full-sized slide show.

 

All my students had to turn in their final essays (after one revision) by Friday, July 7.  I have had a rule while teaching in Japan that I would get all my work done, both marking and planning, during our 9-hour workdays.  I rarely take work home with me. I figure if I have to be in the office 9 hours every day, I should be able to manage my time effectively enough to do this.  As of Tuesday, July 11, I have finished marking class G essays (18).  I celebrate by having dinner at Kiyariya once again. 🙂

Wednesday, July 12: Most days, I eat lunch in the student cafeteria, where we can get cheap hot meals.  I tend to go for the soba topped with vegetable tempura for 290 yen ($2.63). The process is to go to a ticket machine where we pay for a ticket for whatever meal we want.  Then we take the ticket to the window, shown below, where we lay the ticket on the counter and wait to be served our steaming bowl of noodles. I always feel like I am in line for the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld, although the ladies are always perfectly nice, unlike the actual Soup Nazi.  Usually I ask for “skoshi,” which apparently means a small amount of liquid (i.e., mostly noodles).  The ladies always know what we mean and serve us our soup accordingly.

Waiting in line for my soba with vegetable tempura

Thursday, July 13: Yet another fun Thursday happy hour at the Family Mart with Graham and Paul.

Monday, July 17: On this Monday night, which is actually a national holiday (we don’t get it off), Graham and Paul try to take me to their favorite izakaya, or Japanese gastropub.  Sadly, maybe because of the holiday, or maybe because it’s a Monday, the place is closed, so we go instead to Jonathan’s for dinner.  Jonathan’s is a lot like a Denny’s in the U.S.A.  As always, we have a fabulous time.

Tuesday, July 18: Today, I send a second box home to USA by surface.  I have to get a box from the post office, using the following Google translate message. This time it costs me 7,800 yen (~$71) for a 13kg box.

Google translation

Wednesday, July 19: My time in Japan is winding down.  I go to dinner at Kiyariya, where I enjoy grilled salmon, eggplant and beer.  I tell Kenji and Natsumi I’ll only be back in one more time.  Once again, Natsumi walks out with me and tells me they are going to miss me. 🙂

Thursday, July 20: Graham and Paul have to attend a meeting with Reiko, our curriculum adviser, about the fall semester.  The meeting goes on for quite a long time. Tobi and I wait and wait for them at the Family Mart; after a while, we give up waiting, leave, and end up having dinner at Curry Naan.  While waiting at the Family Mart, we wonder about this very strange poster on the Family Mart window.

strange sign at the Family Mart

One of my favorite snacks in Japan is onigiri; the snack is made from white rice formed into triangular or cylindrical shapes and often wrapped in nori (seaweed). My favorite onigiri are filled with salted salmon, shrimp or tuna with mayonnaise. Because of onigiri’s popularity in Japan, most convenience stores stock their onigiri with various fillings and flavors.  This is a picture of one of my favorites, shrimp with mayonnaise.

one of my favorite snacks – shrimp with mayonnaise

Friday, July 21:  On my last Friday when walking to the university, I finally stop to take a photo of these colorful houses I have passed every day. I’ve been thinking about doing this all semester, and I finally get around to it on my next to the last day of teaching.  I love the laundry hanging outside.

colorful houses I pass everyday on my way to work

Today, my “I” class wants to start taking pictures, even though it’s not even our last day.  In case you don’t remember, my “I” class is my most rambunctious and difficult to control class, the one that gives me too many challenges to count. Taken individually, they are each great, but as a group, they are out of control.

 

While Graham, Tobi and I are having lunch out at the picnic table, my two students Emiko and Rena, from my “I” class, stop by to join us and take some pictures.  These two girls were Graham’s students last year and mine this year.

 

Monday, July 24: Today is our last day of classes!  I am so excited that I never again have to walk 30 minutes to the university on steamy days, only to arrive at work to find there is little to no air-conditioning.  My classroom is always an oven upon my arrival. We have been told throughout the semester that the university must save money on energy costs since the tsunami and earthquake of 2011, which damaged the Fukushima Daiichi plant and caused a nuclear emergency. Thus, our office is always warm, and the university doesn’t turn on the air-conditioning in the classrooms until class begins.   We’re told they’re supposed to turn it on automatically at the minute class starts, and turn it off the minute class ends. However, they never do, and I always have to ask one of my students to call using the classroom phone.

For some reason the students find it really funny that I’m always hot and want the air conditioning on.  That despite them coming in dripping in sweat, fanning themselves frantically, and complaining about the heat.  As the person at the other end of the line is Japanese, I always ask my students to call.  However, we are told in one of our staff meetings that the administrative people have complained about students calling.  They say students call asking for the air-conditioning to be turned on, and then call again to ask for it to be turned off, all within the same classroom and period.  So, our program coordinator tells us we must call ourselves.  She tells us to say, “Air con mo skoshi suyoi shitte onagaishimus.” The problem with this is that the person on the other end starts rattling off some long sentences in Japanese, and I never know what they’re saying.  So I end up putting my students on the phone after all.  What a ridiculous rule!

Below are 6 of the 8 boys from Class “I” with me, pretending to make the ridiculous air-con call!

I class boys and me calling about the air conditioning

I gave each class a choice as to what we would do on our last day of class. My “I” class chose to play games and to bring their own snacks.  We played several rounds of crazy Pictionary, where team members chose mismatched slips of paper, such as “alligator — does jumping jacks.”  It’s fun, but after a while the students just want to take pictures, which they do.

 

My H class is always super organized and responsible, and they show their personality in our end-of-semester party.  They bring in a large pizza order, collect money, set up a group of tables and organize the chairs around it.  They are totally in charge, and I don’t have to lift a finger.  We all eat, laugh, and talk while they play their favorite music.  It’s my last class of the day and we have a great time.

 

My G class is my quiet class, and they plan their day in the typical “quiet” fashion that reveals their group personality. They order several pizzas which they place at the front of the class.  They also bring the movie, Frozen, which they watch quietly for the entire 90 minute class.

G class

Tuesday, July 25: On Tuesday, we go into the office to clean up all of our stuff.  After cleanup, some of us have lunch together at Jonathan’s: Rob, Tobi, Joe and me.  The others have to attend a meeting about next fall semester, but we don’t have to go as we won’t be returning to AGU.

Wednesday, July 26: On Wednesday morning I take a walk in the rain with Graham in the forest at Aihara.  In the evening, I enjoy my last meal at Kiyariya — eggplant, beer and barracuda.

 

Thursday, July 27: Today, we have individual meetings with our Program Coordinator and Curriculum Advisor near Ueno in Tokyo.  Here, we discuss the grades of individual students.  After our separate meetings, Paul and I walk to the tapas bar, Vinul’s.  On our way, we pass through Ueno Park, where we admire the lotuses blooming at Shinobazu Pond.

lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park

lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park

lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park

lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park

lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park

We get a table outside at Vinul’s and snack on tapas and drink wine. Since Graham’s meeting follows ours, he joins us later.  We enjoy our fabulous farewell dinner.  Sadly, I won’t see Paul again, but I’ll see Graham on Tuesday, when I give him my bicycle.

Graham and Paul at Vinul’s

Graham, me and Paul at Vinul’s

walking to the station after Vinul’s

Monday, July 31:  One thing I haven’t written about was an encounter I had on May 6, when I went to a Meetup at the Knight’s Club in Sagamihara.  It was run by a Californian who has an English school upstairs and a bar downstairs.  There I met a fantastic Japanese lady, Reiko, who speaks perfect English and who has traveled all over the world.  She immediately added me on Facebook and we started chatting with each other.  We even spent a day shopping together on a rainy Sunday in late June.

My colleague Tobi is a single guy and I thought he and Reiko might enjoy meeting each other.  After many failed attempts to introduce them to each other, I finally gave up and just gave each of them each other’s contact information.  They finally started chatting and then met for dinner.

Tonight, I meet them at Dai Trattoria, where we enjoy a fun evening eating pizza, drinking wine, laughing and chatting.  Sadly, though I have pictures, they won’t allow me to post them. 😦

Later, Reiko takes one of the pictures she took of me and dolls me up with a silly photo app.  These are the photos she sends me.

 

Tomorrow, August 1, I’ll have my apartment inspection, leave the apartment for good, and take my first Shinkansen to Hiroshima.  I’m going to miss so much about Japan, but not my tiny rabbit hut and not my job.

Here are a few observations about Japan:

  1.  Japan has the best public transportation system I’ve ever encountered.  The trains are always on time, to the minute, so much so that you can set your clock by them.  I love how, in Tokyo, white-gloved train conductors stand on the platform, pointing left and right to check that the platform is clear as the train pulls into the station.  After the doors to the train close, they do the same routine again, followed by blowing a whistle to signal to the person driving the train.  It’s amazing to watch.
  2.  As much as I like the trains, however, I hate the crowded trains and will do almost anything to avoid them.  For example, there’s a Rapid Express Odakyu train from Machida to Shinjuku, which makes only a few stops as it makes its way to the center of Tokyo.  That train is so crowded that people almost always have to stand.  I try to avoid that train as it makes me claustrophobic.  Sometimes I pay extra for the Romancecar, which travels the same route, has reserved seats and makes no stops.  Or, I take the Yokohama Line to Nagatsuta Station, where I take the Tokyu-Den-entoshi Line to Shibuya.  I almost always get a seat on this line.
  3.  I love how Japan is so clean everywhere.  Rarely does one see a piece of trash on the street.  Everything is neat and orderly.  However, the one thing that baffles me is why there are no trash cans anywhere!  If I get a snack when I’m out and about, there is no place to throw the wrapping.  Or if I get a plastic bottle of water, there is no place to toss the bottle when I’m finished.  I must schlep my trash around with me all day.  I’ve resorted to tossing my trash in the tiny trash cans in the ladies’ restrooms.  When I told my students about my frustrations regarding this, they told me that the Japanese government worries about bombs being left in trash cans.  Thus they don’t put trash cans anywhere.  I don’t know if this is true, or if the government just doesn’t want to pay people to empty trash cans.  It’s very frustrating.
  4.  The bathrooms in Japan are fantastic.  Even public bathrooms are generally clean and well-maintained.  Rarely have I come to a dirty toilet or one without full rolls of toilet paper.  Many toilets are of the electronic variety — bidet toilets, commonly called washlets — in many places.  These offer warmed seats, as well as deodorizing and bidet washings.  Sometimes when you sit on a toilet, a sound system plays bird songs and flowing stream sounds, as if you’re out in nature.  Besides the cleanliness and fancy toilet gadgetry, the toilets are ubiquitous.  At every metro station, both inside and outside the gate, is a public toilet.  Also, 7-11s or Family Marts are on many street corners, where bathrooms are readily available for public use. Especially at tourist spots and temples, toilets are abundant.  Why is it that other countries, most notably the U.S.A., seem embarrassed to admit the need for human beings to use a toilet?? I know that on the Washington metro, there are no toilets inside or outside the gate of a station.  If a person has to go to the bathroom when riding the metro, he/she has to leave the station and find a Starbucks, a McDonald’s or some other kind of restaurant; since restaurants near the metro don’t want people using their toilets willy-nilly, they often require the patrons to buy something to get a code to open the bathroom door.  It’s utterly ridiculous not to openly recognize that human beings need to relieve themselves periodically!
  5.  I love how shopkeepers always greet people with a sing-song welcome and a bow.  The bowing continues in perpetuity, that is until the customer walks out the door of the shop.  It’s such respectful behavior toward one’s fellow human beings.  We certainly don’t have that level of kindness in the U.S. these days.
  6.  Here’s a sign I found on one of the trains in Japan: “Please move to the other side of the door immediately after alighting.”  I love it – “alighting.” 🙂
  7.  In every country where I’ve lived so far, it’s been a simple and straightforward thing to wire money home to my bank account in the U.S.A.  However, it’s quite an ordeal in Japan, at least at Japan Post, where I have my account.  They take forever to get the wire transfer set up, and then they tell you that they will need 6 or 7 days to complete the transfer.  This is unbelievable in a developed country like Japan.  I never had any problem transferring money in Oman or China (not considered developed countries), or even in Korea; in all of these countries the money was in my account within hours after I sent it.  I thought Japan Post was possibly exaggerating the time to protect themselves, but in fact, the process did take seven days!
  8.  I don’t like the workaholic nature of Japanese society.  Most people seem to commute long hours and work long hours, with little complaint.  I found my students don’t envision this life for themselves. I hated the expectations placed on us as teachers.  That’s why I was determined to keep a work-life balance, never taking work home with me.  Most of my colleagues worked during week, plus took work home with them.  I simply refused to do it, and I still managed to get all my work done.
  9. Though I generally managed to eat healthy while in Japan, I found the array of available unhealthy snacks confounding, and tempting.  I developed some bad snacking habits, especially with ice cream or pudding.  My students often acted like our classroom was a cafeteria.  They’d bring snacks, Bento boxes, ramen noodles, anything a person could eat, into the classroom, and ravenously gobble down their food throughout the class session.  I’ve never seen anything like it!

It was a short but fantastic experience living in Japan. I hope someday to return as a tourist, as there is so much to see and do.  I’m sure I barely touched the country and the culture in my four-month stay.  In addition to simply traveling around, I hope one day to do the 88-temple walk in Shikoku. 🙂

 

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a june cocktail hour at the family mart   7 comments

Friday, June 30:  Cheers!  Welcome to my third cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local Family Mart again tonight. I find it hilarious to meet here because it’s so ridiculous and unexpected.  Who would have thought of having a happy hour sitting out in front of a Family Mart (like a 7-11)?  Of course, I give credit to my Brit friend, Graham, because he’s the one who started the ritual. We always have a grand time here, so I think you’ll enjoy. 🙂

I only have three more weeks and one day of teaching, and four weeks on my contract. But… who’s counting?  After August 1, I’ll travel around Japan for one week, then I’ll head back to the USA on August 8.  If I have time for a July cocktail hour, I’ll be sure to send out an invite!

Please do tell me about your summer.  Have you traveled anywhere exciting over the summer months? Have you seen any good movies?  Watched any good TV shows or read any good books? Have you eaten fresh fruits and vegetables, or visited any pretty gardens?

June here was a long and tedious month, teaching 5 days a week with nary a break in sight.  At least in May, we had the Golden Week break, but in June, it was just work, work, work. On the weekends in June, I went to Fuji Five Lakes, Enoshima and Hasadera, Asakusa and Senso-ji, The Big Buddha in Kamakura and Hasadera again, and back to a neighborhood near Ueno.  I also went on a couple of shopping sprees because June is the rainy season and some of the weekend days were tainted by drizzle and downpours.

The biggest challenges I had to deal with at work this month were:  1) the tedious marking of 55 poorly written academic essays; 2) long and stifling days in the office because the university wouldn’t turn on the air-conditioning until after June 9, and then only when the temperature was over 28C; 3) general lack of motivation and ability of the students, 4) the infernal dust in my apartment, hard to get rid of because I have carpet and no vacuum cleaner.

Work is drudgery, not at all rewarding except in rare moments.  I feel like I have reached the end of my teaching-abroad career.  Though my teaching gigs abroad have given me many opportunities to live and travel in a country, to delve deep and to experience a culture, I simply no longer enjoy teaching non-motivated students who have little reason to learn English. As miserable as the adjunct teaching jobs in America are, at least the students want to study abroad in America and are motivated to succeed.  This is not the case for the students I teach when I’m abroad.

Monday, June 5:  Walking to work this morning, I had to take a picture of my favorite pink house with laundry hanging on the balcony.  My half-hour walks to work have generally been fine, but now that it’s getting hotter and more humid, I’m not thrilled to be dripping with sweat by the time I arrive at the office; as the office is not generally air-conditioned, I’m in misery even after I get to work.  Oh, how I hate the summer heat.  I am a cold-weather girl through and through.

laundry at the pink house

Thursday, June 8: I made my weekly stop at Kiyariya.  This time, the server presented me with a poorly translated English menu in addition to Kenji’s beautifully hand-written and changeable menu. I ordered the gyoza from the English menu. Of course I had the delectable eggplant and my draft beer. 🙂 Everything Kenji prepares is fabulous. 🙂  Not only that, but the atmosphere, the service and the music are delightful.

Gyoza at Kiyariya

As I left the restaurant this time, the server, who speaks a smattering of English, walked me to the front door and said, “See you next week!”

Tuesday, June 13: Tuesdays and Thursdays are my nights to eat out because I get off at 5:40.  On M-W-F, I get off at 6:30.  I never feel like going out on those late work nights.  This evening, I stopped again at Curry Naan and enjoyed the same meal I always have: vegetable curry and a huge piece of naan.  And of course my 100 yen beer. 🙂

I love listening to the music in both of the restaurants I frequent.  I don’t recognize most of the songs I hear at Kenji’s, but I like them very much.  Here, at Curry Naan, you won’t find Indian music of any kind.  Here it’s all classic rock, especially the Beatles. A favorite here seems to be Paul McCartney’s “Listen to What the Man Said:”

That people will find a way to go
No matter what the man said
And love is fine for all we know
For all we know, our love will grow – that’s what the man said

There’s John Lennon’s “Imagine” and “Stand by Me,”  along with his version of “Happy Xmas (War is over).” Then there’s a whistling song I’ve heard before; sadly, I don’t recall the name of it. What an interesting array of music for an Indian restaurant.

Vegetable curry at Curry Naan

Thursday, June 15:  This evening, Graham and I headed to the Family Mart for a couple of beers.  We found it hard to believe, but some Japanese guys were occupying our chairs!  We ended up going to a park on the other side of Fuchinobe Station.  I had never been there before, but it had a nice pond with three swans in it.  There was only one bench with a back, and we sat there and talked for quite a long while.  He’s of the same political beliefs as I am, so we had quite an involved political discussion – of course, it was an agreeable one. 🙂

Friday, June 16:  June has been all about the hydrangeas. I’ve made several weekend outings in search of them, and here are some I see on my way to work.

hydrangeas in the neighborhood

Sunday, June 18:  A month or so ago, I went to a Meetup in Hashimoto and met a nice Japanese lady named Reiko.  She added me on Facebook and we’ve been in touch through Facebook chat.  As we were chatting on Sunday morning, I mentioned that I planned to go shopping; after all it was forecast to rain that afternoon.  She said she’d meet me one metro stop away at Kobuchi, and she’d take me to her favorite discount stores.  We did just that, walking quite a distance to get from one place to another, and enjoying lunch together at one of the shopping malls. I had worn my favorite sandals with heels, but with all the walking, I regretted that decision.  My feet were killing me! Total steps while shopping: 10,326 (4.38 miles).  It was a fun day and I came away with too many tops and one pair of pants. 🙂

Monday, June 19:  Our lecture topic this week was Cultural Expectations in the Classroom.  To give the students a feel for American classrooms, I showed them the Key & Peele Substitute Teacher video from Comedy Central:

I reminded the students of my first days in class with them, when I couldn’t pronounce any of their names. I’m not sure the students got the humor, but I certainly enjoyed it. 🙂

Earlier I said I don’t generally go out to eat on Mon-Wed-Fri because of my late work hours.  However, this Monday, I felt like a treat so I stopped at Kiyariya.  Once again, I enjoyed the wonderful eggplant, and this time I ordered grilled fresh barracuda.  It was delicious!

my favorite eggplant dish at Kiyariya

Kiyariya

Kiyariya

Kenji’s artistic menu

Tuesday, June 20:  We continued the theme of Cultural Expectations in the Classroom, with today’s lesson focusing on discussions about the topic.  I promised the students I’d show some classroom scenes from great American movies, so I showed several episodes from The Dead Poet’s Society. After showing two preliminary videos for context, I showed my favorite scene.  My students laughed as I wiped away the tears in my eyes and told them I always cry at this scene.

Thursday, June 22: Thursday night seems to have become our night to stop at the Family Mart.  This time, Dee joined us.  You can see our cozy little spot below.

Dee and Graham at Family Mart

Friday, June 23: Today was a special Yukata day on campus.  Many of the girl and boy students wore yakuta on campus.  Yukata comes in cotton fabric and is worn during the summer season. On the contrary, a kimono comes in silk fabric. I took some photos of my rambunctious “I” class.

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my students from I class on yukata day

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my students from I class on yukata day

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my students from I class on yukata day

Tuesday, June 27:  On my way home from work tonight, I stop again at Kenji’s place, Kiyariya.  This time, they have an English menu and I choose a delicious shrimp dish from that.  Every time I leave the restaurant now, Natsumi, the server, walks out with me and says happily, “See you next week!”

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Shrimp with sauce at Kiyariya

Wednesday, June 28: Today my students presented their inventions.  As I only have my G class on Wednesdays, their inventions are shown below.  They had to do a sales pitch for their product, telling why people should buy it, and what it does.  They were really cute and inventive. 🙂

Click on any of the posters to see a full-sized slide show.

Thursday, June 29:  Today we had debates in class where the students had to prepare for opposing sides on the topic:  Single-sex schools are better than mixed-sex (co-educational) schools. I divided the class in two and gave them time to prepare.

It’s difficult to get Japanese students to speak aloud under any circumstances, but this was an exercise in futility.  For one, even though they had plenty of time to prepare, you’d think I just asked them a question on the spot, for as long as it took them to formulate and speak their arguments. Then, when they spoke, they all, without exception, spoke in katakana English; in this botched English pronunciation, they add an “o” sound to the end of words.  Even my best students, whose English pronunciation one-on-one with me is great, resorted to this botched English, which is typically spoken between Japanese students.  Sometimes, I think the good students don’t want to appear too smart or too capable of speaking English, and in a whole-class speaking session, they resort to katakana to fit in with their classmates. It drove me absolutely crazy, and I wanted to jump into the middle of the debate and call them on it right away.  I restrained myself during the debate session but resolved that I would speak to them about it the next day.

After work, Graham and I headed to the Family Mart, but again, we found our plastic chairs occupied by a couple of Japanese guys. Graham said that he has never found people occupying those seats except when he’s been with me; he said I’m jinxing our Family Mart gatherings!  Haha.  Anyway, we had no choice but to go to the park and sit on our bench.  We had a very enjoyable conversation about a variety of subjects from politics to books to relationships to everything bizarre and wonderful about Japan.  A cool front must have been moving in because it was breezy and comfortable, though still a little humid.

After one beer, I went to use the public bathroom at the end of the pond.  Japanese toilets have all kinds of flush mechanisms.  Some are buttons on the wall and others are on the back of the toilet.  There are also other buttons of unknown purpose; they are actually to call for assistance, but it’s hard to tell which is which.  Tonight I accidentally pushed the wrong button and a loud beep burst forth from the toilet stall, and it kept going and going!  As I hurriedly walked out of the stall, trying to be inconspicuous, a man from the office nearby came running toward the bathroom to see what the ruckus was about.  I bowed and said, I’m sorry!  I pushed the wrong button!!  I’m so sorry!  He probably had a good story to tell his kids that night. 🙂

Friday, June 30: When I asked a couple of my strong students why on earth they were speaking in katakana English during yesterday’s debate, they said they wanted to make sure their classmates could understand them.  I told them they are perfectly capable of speaking correct English and they should not cater to their classmates, but instead be an inspiration and a role model for correct English pronunciation. They apologized profusely.  Speaking to the whole class, I told them all to STOP with the katakana!!!  I said I’m going to be on them from now till the end of the semester because if they go on their study abroad in the fall and are speaking like that, no one will have a clue what they’re saying!

Happy July!  I hope to hear from you all soon. 🙂

a may cocktail hour at the family mart   5 comments

Wednesday, May 31:  Cheers!  Welcome to my second cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local Family Mart tonight.  We’ll sit out front on the plastic chairs.  It happened quite by accident that I began stopping by this Family Mart on my way home from work. I’ll tell you about it after I get you a drink.

It’s either beer or wine here at the Family Mart, so take your choice.  My favorites are the Japanese beers, of course: Sapporo, Kirin, and Asahi.  Asahi and Kirin are my favorites. I’ll be happy to treat; just tell me what you’d like.

Please do tell me about your May.  Have you done anything unusual or just followed your normal routine?  Have you traveled anywhere?  Have you read any good books or watched any good movies or TV shows? Have you visited any gardens?  I took weekend or day trips to: Meiji Shrine and Harajuku, Sankei-en in Yokohama, Mt. Takao, Kameido Tenjin Shrine and the Nezu Museum, the Imperial Palace East Garden, Kawasaki, Odawara Castle and Hakone. Here are a few tidbits about my May.

Monday, May 1:  I went with my colleagues to an Izakaya, above the Pachinko parlor near Fuchinobe Train Station.  An Izakaya is an informal Japanese gastropub, a casual place for after-work drinking. Izakayas have been compared to Irish pubs, tapas bars and early American saloons and taverns.

We drank a couple of mugs of a delicious ale and I ordered an avocado topped with a kind of wasabi-gel, along with some sushi. My friend Graham ordered a kind of pickled mackerel. The whole evening was planned by our Aussie colleague Rob in order to celebrate our only holiday this semester, coming up on Wednesday: Golden Week.

The funniest part of the evening was when our Irish colleague Deirdre told us about these “uraynals” in London that pop up from the ground to allow men to pee after they’ve been drinking at the pub. She kept referring to “uraynal” this and “uraynal” that, and I admit that at first I had no idea what she was talking about.  Finally it dawned on me that she was saying “urinal.”  I said, “That’s so funny you keep referring to them as “uraynals,” because we call them “urinals” in America.”  My American colleague Joe said, “It’s like when we used to say Ur-anus and now we say Uran-us.”

Later, after the conversation turned to other things, I complained that if I kept drinking all this beer, I’d have to pee on the way home; and there was nowhere to do so. Deirdre said, “Oh, that’s never a problem in Japan.  There’s a 7-11 on every corner, so you can pop into one and use the toilet.”  “No,” I replied. “There is not one 7-11 between here and our apartment.  There is NOTHING on that long walk home.”

Joe said, “Don’t worry, maybe you can find a “uraynal.”  Just don’t forget to wipe Uranus.” It was hilarious, and we all laughed long and hard at that one. 🙂

Tuesday, May 2: After work, I stopped at a place called “Beauty” for a haircut. The stylist, Atsushi Matsunaga, wearing makeup and tiny-checkered pants, and sporting a helter-skelter haircut, tried to understand my desired haircut. I showed him the picture I always show everyone.  I pointed to the shaggy bottom of the model’s hair. He said, “Oh… shaggy!”  When he started cutting, I told him to make it shorter; he said, “Oh… short and shaggy.”

He started cutting the sides of my hair with thinning shears, but it wasn’t getting rid of enough of my hair. I always hate it when people use those scissors on my hair because it shows they’re going to be timid in their haircut.  I have very thick and unruly hair, and I often have trouble getting stylists to cut enough of it. I drew Atsushi a set of pictures to show I wanted the bottom straight and not angled at the bottom.  When he finished and they dried my hair, my hair looked like a helmet-head.  I knew it was because he didn’t put enough layers in the sides.

I drew another set of pictures showing a helmet head, thick and straight at the bottom, and another picture with a more rounded profile, sharp at the bottom.  He said “Oh, sharp! – Short, shaggy, sharp!”

That’s the haircut I got, though without enough layers.  When I came home, I stood in front of the mirror with my pair of dull scissors and butchered it some more, chopping more layers into the sides of my hair. 🙂

Tuesday, May 9:  My apartment was getting dusty, but as it’s carpeted and I don’t have a vacuum cleaner, I wasn’t sure how to clean it. One of my colleagues, Dennis, told me I could buy a roller with adhesive on the outside that I could roll over the carpet to pick up dust.  After the roller gets filled with dust and hair, you can peel it off and use the fresh piece of adhesive underneath. Tonight, I stopped at the 100 Yen store on my way home from work and bought one of these rollers, along with a Swiffer mop.  When I told Mike about the roller, he said it sounded like a large lint roller with a handle.  That’s about right.  Using it on my dusty carpet, after blow drying my hair every day for over a month, the roller picked up a lot of dust after just a couple of sweeps over the carpet.  I had to keep unpeeling the dusty adhesive tape, and using successive layers underneath.  It was quite a project.  I wish I were in a ground floor apartment as those have wood floors, easier to keep clean.

Thursday, May 18:  On Thursday night, I walked down a different street than normal to get home and I saw a cozy restaurant that enticed me inside.  The owner, Kenji, who speaks a little English, graciously welcomed me.  His fabulous restaurant is called Kiyariya.  Kenji is a talented and artistic chef, and he has created a lovely little place that I have decided will become one of my regular dinner stops.

You can see Kenji in the picture below with his thumbs up.

Kiyariya

Kenji handwrites all his menus daily in beautiful calligraphy.  I couldn’t read this Thursday menu, but somehow I was able to ask Kenji if he made shrimp tempura; he told me he did. He also served me his fabulous eggplant soaked in olive oil and herbs and topped with grated radish.  It was delectable; I wanted to linger over every bite. My meal of course was accompanied by a draft beer.

This is his large platter of marinated eggplant from which he serves small dishes garnished with herbs and grated radish.

eggplant at Kiyariya

Kenji on the right at Kiyariya

When he brought my shrimp, okra and potato tempura, it was artistically presented.

Shrimp tempura, artistically displayed, at Kiyariya

I sat at the bar at Kiyariya; a fabulous selection of music was piped in.  It was dark, with a cozy atmosphere, just the kind of restaurant I love.  Immediately, this became my new favorite place.

I took a picture of the menu and showed it to some of my students on Friday, and they told me most of the dishes were fish.  I love fish, so that only reinforces my love of this place. 🙂

Friday, May 19: On Friday night, I ran into Dennis next to a billboard right outside the campus gate. He was taking a picture of a QR Code and trying to pull up a map to an Indian restaurant called Curry Naan.  I asked if I could tag along because I love Indian food, so we tried to follow the map to the restaurant.  After losing our internet connection and the map many times, and going around in circles on the confusing streets of Fuchinobe, we finally found the restaurant on a side road off the route to our apartment building.

I was so excited to have found this place, and not that far from home.  Since this first visit, I have also adopted the habit of eating here at least once a week.  My meal is always the same: vegetable curry with a huge piece of naan, a small salad and a 100 yen beer. 🙂

Curry Naan

Tuesday, May 23: I had told some of my colleagues about Kiyariya, and this evening after work Tobi asked if he could come along with me to eat there.  We took our place at the bar, where Kenji showed us his fresh arrangement of fish choices for tonight.  The neatly lined-up array of fish stared at us from the tray, and Tobi and I each picked one to try.

Below is my favorite eggplant dish, Kenji’s menu and my beer.

Kiyariya

After dinner, as Tobi and I walked a couple of blocks down the street, we ran into Graham and Paul outside the Family Mart.  There were only three chairs outside, but one of the Family Mart employees brought us out another chair.  We enjoyed a nice long and boisterous cocktail hour right outside the Family Mart.  This has become another weekly event, except when we find someone else occupying our chairs!  It’s a blast!

Tobi, Graham and Paul at Family Mart

me, Graham and Paul at Family Mart

Wednesday, May 24: Tonight I went out of my way to the Gourmet City for a big grocery shop.  After loading up my basket, I remembered that I had forgotten to get cash, so I checked my wallet to see how much I had.  I had only 1,000 yen (less than $10).  As you can’t use the Japan Post debit card at stores in Japan, only at ATM machines, and my card didn’t work in the ATM at the supermarket, I had to go around and put everything in my basket back on the shelves.  What a bummer!

Thursday, May 25: Tonight Paul and Graham took me to one of their favorite restaurants, Jonathan’s, on the other side of the Fuchinobe train station.  It was sort of like a Denny’s in America.  I ordered a pizza and I told Graham to help himself to a piece.  He said he’d wait to see what I didn’t want.  As we talked and drank beer, without thinking, I gobbled down my entire pizza. I felt bad because I’d offered Graham a slice, and I think he was waiting, mouth-watering for a piece.  What kind of friend am I?

This month, I finally finished The Color of Our Sky (it was just okay) and started reading The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.  I also got involved in watching The Good Wife, which I’m enjoying immensely.  I tried to watch Amelie for about the millionth time on Netflix, but it only had Japanese subtitles. 😦  I feel like I’ve done a lot of exploring of Japan this month, mostly because we had that five-day holiday for Golden Week.  In June, the rainy season is supposed to be upon us, so I fear that will curtail my adventures. 🙂

 

an april cocktail hour at the yakatori grill   5 comments

Sunday, April 30:  Cheers!  Welcome to my first cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local yakatori grill tonight because my apartment is either a rabbit hut or a dog kennel, depending on who is labeling it. You can just order what you like at the bar.  As for me, I’m having my favorite Japanese beverages: a sip of hot sake followed by a cold swig of Sapporo beer.  My sister in L.A. taught me that combination, and I’m sticking with it here in Japan.

I hope all is well with you.  I apologize that I haven’t been able to keep up with all my fellow bloggers and friends as I would like.  I work 9 hours a day, walk a half-hour to and from work each day, and then collapse in the evenings.  Every weekend day I go out, trying to see as much of Japan as I can in the short four months I have.  Then I edit my pictures and post blogs about my explorations.  I simply don’t have the time to keep up as I would like.  I figure there will be time for that when I return home, as I’ll have no job and nothing to occupy my time.  But here, now, I must take advantage of this opportunity to explore Japan.

Please do tell me about your spring. I hope yours hasn’t been as cold and rainy as mine has been here in Japan.  Have you planned any travels or taken any trips? Have you seen any good movies?  Watched any good TV shows or read any good books?  Have you eaten fresh fruits and vegetables, or visited any pretty gardens?  Have you done any cooking?  Have you gone on any political rants?  (I have gone on a lot of those lately!)

As for me, this month has been all about getting acclimated to a new apartment, new job, new neighborhood, and new culture. This is just the kind of adventure I love, living and working in a place, getting immersed in the culture, digging beneath the surface.  It always gives me a boost of confidence when I am able to successfully negotiate challenges under these circumstances.  Here are a few tidbits about my month.

Friday, April 7:  Today was my first day of classes.  I teach G, H and I levels, a total of 56 students.  “A” is the lowest and “L” is the highest, so I teach the intermediate, or second from the top quarter, of the second year students. It went fairly well, except I realized right away that my “G” class was a very low-level.  A group of girls and two boys sat together at the back of the room and seemed totally disconnected from the classroom lesson. My “H” class was wonderful, but my “I” class, the last class of the day, from 4:50-6:20, had 8 boys who sat at the back of the class cutting up, and the girls were pretty chatty and noisy as well. Because of the “G” and “I” classes, I realized right away I needed to create seating charts. I created one immediately, separating all boys in the “I” class, and separating the group of low-level seemingly disinterested students in the “G” class.  This also helped me to learn the Japanese names; this was quite a learning curve as I knew nothing about Japanese names.  In China, all my Chinese students took English names, but that is not the case in Japan.  I didn’t know boys’ names from girls’ names; neither did I know how to pronounce any of them, so I was one confused teacher.  I’m sure my students found it quite amusing.

Our administrator met with us to talk about an urgent issue: the sponges in the “pantry,” which I would call the employee kitchen.  This kitchen is mostly for the Japanese staff, as we foreign teachers are pretty much relegated to our own office, caged off from the rest of the staff.  We’ve been told not to speak to the Japanese staff unless necessary.

In the meeting, we were informed that the two small pink sponges on the right of the sink are expressly for wiping the countertops. The large yellow one is for cleaning oily things like Bento boxes.  The large pink sponge next to the yellow one is for cleaning glasses and cups.

Our administrator said, “Sorry. You know — this is Japan,” and she laughed.  🙂

I have about a half-hour walk to work every day, and the first day my feet were killing me because I wore my work flats with the required knee-high stockings.  I decided I would need to wear walking shoes to work; it would be impossible to wear work shoes for a half-hour walk each way.

My first full week of work was stressful with planning and teaching; the students are a lower level than I expected, and they don’t seem motivated.  Planning time seemed in short supply, but my goal from the beginning was to never bring work home with me; after all, I am in the office 9 hours a day.  I was able to do this in Oman, and my goal is to confine my work to the office here too.

Monday, April 10: My Monday lesson was a “shock lecture,” the purpose being to shock the students into realizing how difficult this Academic (Applied Skills) course will be.  The students were to practice note-taking while listening to a high-level lecture about genetics and Mendel and pea plants.  If they managed to take any notes, it was just random words; they certainly had no understanding of the lecture.  It was long and boring as hell.  The biggest problems with the lecture for them were: 1) vocabulary; 2) the topic; 3) speed of delivery; 4) their inability to concentrate; and 5) the length of the lecture, according to a survey I did in class. In effect, everything.

Tuesday, April 11: It rained all day today. It was cold everywhere, classrooms included. In the evening, walking home, I ran into my colleague Tobi and we decided to stop for dinner at a Japanese yakatori grill on our way home.  The husband and wife owners were kind and jovial and the place was warm and cozy.  The menu was only in Japanese and the owners spoke no English, so it was a challenge to communicate what we wanted to eat.  We didn’t even know what kind of restaurant it was at the time!  We had sake and beer, peppers, mushrooms, eggplant, shishito peppers, and yakatori, a Japanese type of skewered chicken. The preparation of yakitori involves skewering the meat with kushi, a type of skewer typically made of steel, bamboo, or similar materials. Afterwards, the skewers are grilled over a charcoal fire. The bill was quite high however, and I wasn’t sure of the prices of each item we got.

a mom-and-pop yakitori grill in fuchinobe

The bar had a bunch of Hello Kitty things lined up on it.  On the wall over our table were unopened packages of weird things from about 40 years ago, such as stamped postcards and old miniature toys.

hello, kitty!

After leaving the restaurant in the wind and rain, I broke my second umbrella when the wind kept blowing it inside out.

Thursday, April 13: Less than one week after classes started, my “I” class was out of control.  The boys kept laughing it up, speaking Japanese, and being generally disruptive. One student kept putting his jacket on upside down and then passing it to his friends, who also put it on upside down. I could see the class was spinning out of control, so I had to figure out what I would do to solve the problem.  One of the reasons I don’t like teaching any students below university age is because of discipline problems, and this behavior was like that of middle-school students. I knew this semester would be a disaster if I didn’t get that class under control.

Friday, April 14:  I had a talk with my “I” class about their behavior.  I told them their disruptive behavior yesterday was a big problem for me.  I said, “They’re paying me a lot of money to come all the way from the USA (not really true!) to help you improve your English so your Study Abroad will be successful.  Yesterday, I felt like I was teaching middle school.  That’s exactly why I teach university students and I refuse to teach middle school because I don’t need those kinds of problems in my life. If you are interested in studying  with me, I’m interested in helping, but if you’re not, I’m not interested.”  At that point, I rolled out a new seating chart, separating all the boys.  They weren’t happy about that, but they finally settled down and worked well together. Near the end of class, I thanked them for being so respectful and cooperative and I allowed them to leave 5 minutes early.

The school cafeteria is pretty good and the food is reasonably priced; there, we can get hot udon or soba noodles, or a white sesame ramen.  My colleague Graham, a Brit, told me he tells the cafeteria servers to give him “squashy soup,” which means a lot of noodles but only a little broth. Later, I was informed by a Japanese friend, it should be “skoshi” soup.  When I went to lunch with my Irish colleague Dee one day, she forgot what she was supposed to say and she said “squishy soup, please.”  I got a big laugh out of that.

Dee told a story of hanging her laundry out to dry on her balcony.  One of her shirts fell off the balcony behind a wall.  A young Japanese man brought it back to her on a hanger all washed and ironed; he had found it and cleaned it because it had gotten dirty when it fell.  This is typical of kindnesses offered by the Japanese.

Friday, April 21: Today’s class was on counterarguments and rebuttals.  I nominated a student to do a role play with me at the front of the class.  The student was to play a teenager who asks his mother to borrow her car to drive to Nagano with 3 friends.  The teen just got his driver’s license 6 months ago and has driven 10 times with no problems.

In class “I,” what I call my rambunctious class, one boy student, Daigo, got up to play the teenager.  Here is the role play we had.

  • Daigo: Can I borrow the car to drive to Nagano?
  • Me: Who are you going with?
  • Daigo: My friend’s mother.
  • Me: Just you and her, alone?
  • Daigo: Yes.
  • Me: It’s not appropriate for you to go alone with your friend’s mother. She’s twice your age!
  • Daigo: But I’m in love with her.
  • Me:  She’s married!  You cannot borrow the car and you cannot go with her.
  • Daigo: But I want to go.  Her husband works and she’s lonely.  I love her!

The class was cracking up laughing at this ridiculous role play, and I was laughing right along with them. It was quite funny, but I’m not sure they got the whole idea that this was a counter argument and rebuttal, because later, when they had to write a thesis statement with a counter argument and rebuttal, their rebuttals were actually more counterarguments against the original thesis!

Another student in class “I” fell asleep in class.  I stood over him and said, “Wake up.  If you don’t wake up, I’m going to count you absent. If you’re going to sleep, then you need to leave the class.”  Then Lisa behind him fell asleep!  Ugh.  I hate these kinds of problems!

Saturday, April 22:  Today I went shopping in Machida, a busy commercial area two stops away from Fuchinobe. When I arrived, I bought a cinnamon waffle, which I’ve seen every time I’ve gone to Machida to change to the Odakyu Line. But there was nowhere to sit and eat it, and I remembered I learned that the Japanese think it rude to eat while walking.  I went to Starbucks and ordered a half a club sandwich just so I could sit down and eat my waffle!

I learned a few things while shopping in Japan.

  1. You have to take your shoes off before entering a dressing room, especially when there is carpet in there.
  2. You have to wear a hood over your head to protect tops from makeup or hair dirt or oil. The hood is made of a material similar to dryer sheets like Bounce. It’s a pain because the hood gets all caught up in the neck of the blouse when you pull it over your head, and it comes off anyway!

Monday, April 24: When I got home at around 7:30, after stopping at Gourmet City for some groceries, I realized that my company phone wasn’t in my purse.  I’ve heard we will be charged an exorbitant sum if we lose that phone, so, in a panic, after gobbling down some sushi and a few sips of beer, I hopped on my bicycle and rode at top speed to the university.  I knew I’d never be able to sleep at night without knowing if I’d simply left the phone in the office or permanently lost it.  Luckily, I found the phone sitting right on top of my desk.  Whew!

In April, I kept busy watching Frankie and Grace and Love on Netflix in my down time. I’ve also been plodding through The Color of Our Sky by Amita Trasi.

I hope you’ll tell me about your spring!  Since I’m so far behind on my cocktail hours, a May cocktail hour will follow shortly. 🙂

 

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