Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Picture This...

Random Thoughts Set to Pictures...

On our days off, my husband and I usually explore sections of Tokyo, with our newest hobby being drinking beer in the park. After living in parts of the United States where cops will practically beat you for carrying a dreaded "open container," it's quite a novelty to be able to drink a beer outside.

My favorite beer/park moment was the time my husband and I went to see the cherry blossom trees in Ueno Park, only to be caught in the cold, pouring rain under the already fading blossoms.

Hooray beer for making a potentially disappointing experience memorable.
Thankfully, we've had better luck on most of our other outings. In our Tokyo explorations, my husband and I have stumbled across various temples, shrines and street markets, all of which make for that "Wow, we're in Japan!" type moments. Here are a few pictures we've taken...

If it weren't for picture menus, I don't know how my husband and I would manage to eat out. Nearly all of the restaurants here in Japan have picture menus or some sort of wax food displays. Obviously this is a huge help. Generally we don't visit a restaurant unless we are sure they have picture menus or unless we have a Japanese friend to translate for us. I think this is a good policy. The one time we visited a place without picture menus we accidentally ate chicken liver and fried tendons, both disgusting.

Speaking of disgusting, check out this horrifying menu option. Severed fish head anyone?

Although I haven't sampled simmered fish head or raw horse meat, I now regularly eat things I refused to eat in the States. For example, large chunks of raw fish, plump, orange fish eggs, squid, seaweed and various other slimy, gooey or otherwise moist objects from the sea.

Here I am eating something green and slimy in this horribly unflattering photo.

As my husband and I are unable to read Kanji, we are often forced to invent business names. We've been to the restaurant pictured above and below at least three times, but have yet to learn its actual name. We refer to it as The Crab Place. Imaginative, I know. There's also The Karaoke Place, the Barrel Restaurant, the Indian Place in the Department Store, etc.

Fortunately, a lot of restaurants have English names, such as the one pictured below...

We have yet to visit the Beer Saurus Beer Restaurant, but with a name like that it's only a matter of time.

In my experience, 80-90% of English language school teachers are raving drunks. If we wanted to, my husband and I could go out drinking every night as there is always a group of teachers boozing it up somewhere. Most of the drinking takes place at various izakayas (bar/restaurants) up and down the local rail line, and it just wouldn't be proper to end the night without creating a drunken spectacle.

However, that's not to say that Japanese people don't get create their own drunken spectacles. You may remember this post.

My husband took a picture of this guy at a karaoke place. For some reason the place had a horse mask and Santa suit available. There was also a gold, sequined jumpsuit.

My students are surprisingly open about their drinking habits. Several students have responded to my "How was your weekend?" opening question by relating stories about their drunken karaoke nights and the resulting hangovers.
Thus, concludes my random picture blog entry. Dear readers, is there anything you're curious about or would like to see a picture of? If so, please ask.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

In Memoriam

My favorite aunt died a couple of days ago. She went to the ocean to swim and watch the sun rise, and then apparently got swept away by a strong current and drowned. There was no one else around and a shrimper found her body in a nearby creek a few hours later. She leaves behind a husband of nearly 30 years, five children and four grandchildren, with another on the way. They seem to be a tight knit bunch, so I can't imagine how they must all be feeling now. She was 47 years old.

I only recently reconnected with my aunt and my cousins, so we weren't all that close, but my husband and I visited her four or five times in the last year and she was always generous and kind and great fun to hang out with. She was outgoing and free spirited and spent her days creating mosaic furniture, enjoying the beach, throwing seasonal parties and spending time with friends and family. She was popular in her small beach community, and I have no doubt that she will be greatly missed by many people.

I was annoyed, and hurt, because she didn't come to my wedding like she promised or write or call to say congratulations, so I stopped emailing her. Now I wish I hadn't been so petty. I always wondered if she was mad at me for some reason, but now I guess I'll never know. I wish my husband and I could have visited her and my cousins one last time before moving to Japan. Maybe we would have if I hadn't been so stubborn.

I like the ocean, but I doubt I'll ever go swimming in it again. This past fourth of July, my husband and I watched helplessly as a man drowned in the ocean not twenty feet away from us and now it's my aunt who's died in the waves. She commented on a blog I wrote about the 4th of July experience and told me about one of my cousin's friends who also drowned. The ocean can be a real bitch.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sexual Fantasy Venues, Random English

I could be mistaken, but I believe the signs pictured below are advertisments for sexual fantasy venues. I've read that there are places in Japan where men pay to grope women on fake trains and in fake office settings, but this is the first evidence I've seen for myself. My husband and I happened by these signs on a side street in a section of Tokyo known as Ikebukuro.

There's nothing better than a little sexual harassment after a hard day at the office. Har har har!

Tell the sexy nurse where it hurts.

Did you notice that the signs are in English? One thing that puzzles me about Japan is the random English signs. I'm willing to bet that most customers of the above mentioned businesses are Japanese and that most of them don't know the words sexual harassment or version. So why are the signs in English and not Japanese? Similarly, there is a holiday week called Golden Week and though the holidays are solely Japanese, they call it by the English name rather than whatever the Japanese words are for golden and week. I asked a Japanese co-worker why this is and she said they use English because they think it's hip. While this is mostly convenient to a native English speaker like me, there are instances when it's frustrating. See Exhibit A:

Oh look, it's a drink menu. It clearly says so in English. In fact, English is the only language I see on the menu. There are no Japanese characters in sight, so surely there must be English inside. Right?

Wrong! There's not a lick of English in the entire menu except for the subheadings. The food menu was the same way.

Now I don't expect to see an English menu in every restaurant, but why tease me with English titles and labels if all of the important stuff is going to be in Japanese?

I guess I'll have to quit being so lazy and learn Katakana.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Earthquake, Privates

***I experienced my first earthquake on Tuesday night. It was a small tremor, barely worth mentioning, but it was enough to rattle the doors and the furniture. The entire thing lasted maybe 15 seconds and all I did was sit on the couch and stare at the rattling television in confusion. It was interesting to realize that some shift in the earth hundreds or even thousands of feet below was causing the shaking, but that was the only interesting thing about it. My husband's reaction was far more exciting than the quake. Earlier in the afternoon, he proclaimed it to be an Earthquake Day, but he is always making "psychic" predictions so I didn't think much of it. When the shaking began, he bellowed "There's the earthquake!" and then darted from the room yelling "Hold on! Hold on! Hold on!" He claims he was forming a safety plan in case the tremor got worse, but I'm not convinced. Thankfully, the shaking ceased before he dragged me under a table or something. I know a small tremor is no big deal to those used to such things, but it was a novel experience for us. We've had our share of tornado and hurricane experiences, but earthquakes still seem quite exotic. The odds are good that we'll experience another before our time in Japan is up, so we shall see how the next one goes. With my husband's psychic warning system and calm safety procedures, I don't see how it could go anything but smoothly.

***I've acquired a group of private students from another instructor. The current instructor is transferring to Okinawa (lucky thing), and I've agreed to take on her three students. Private means that I am their freelance instructor and can therefore teach whatever I want, however I want, whenever I want. Although it's not techincally against the rules to have private students, the language company where I work strongly discourages it as one of our teachers was recently murdered by a private student, or so the rumor goes. Now don't worry, I met the students on Wednesday and they're a group of three older women in their fifties and sixties, so the chances that I'll be murdered are quite slim. Besides, they'll bring me an extra $300 per month and I'll have the freedom to teach how I want, rather than following a rigid, often monotonous formula. Now, if only I could find 8 more groups...

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


I know most of my blogs have had "Japan is Wacky and Weird" and/or "Wonderful and Exciting" themes, but I would be lying if I said that every day is filled with wonder and awe.

I have a touch of homesickness today. I miss Charleston, the beach, English TV programs, Target, palm trees, Sonic, Taco Bell, sports bars and a dozen other small and ridiculous things. I had a dream last night that I went to Target to buy a computer game and I was kind of sad when I woke up and realized I was in Japan. Quite random.

There are other teachers who have been here for two, three, eight years or more, and I just can't imagine staying here that long. Almost all of the guy teachers who came to Japan single (and some who did not) have Japanese girlfriends. Maybe that's one reason they stay so long, although there are girls who stay awhile as well. My husband and I are definitely not staying longer than one year. We are just approaching month 3 of 12, so I'd best get my act together.

However, it is nearing that time of month, so maybe it's PMS rather than homesickness that's causing this melancholy. Stay tuned.