Or, why I'm glad I don't work at the factory next door.
Actually, having an exercise routine built in as part of your work day might not be a bad idea. The Japanese people are traditionally pretty healthy, and this kind of health program has surely contributed.
Self-Aggrandizing Photo Op
In "Let's Sharing!"'s introductory post
, I mentioned that there had been riding of bikes while wearing cute shoes and carrying cute handbags. By popular request, here's photographic evidence:
Yes, Mona, it's the MoojooKen bag. Word of caution: heels as bike footwear can lead to catching on your pedals, which in turn can lead to falling over in parking lots. Or so I'm told.
Tonight, we made okonomiyaki
for dinner. Okonomiyaki
is, in a word, awesome. It's a frittata/pancake-like thing made from an egg, flour, and naga-imo
(Chinese yam) batter. Mix in some cabbage and whatever fillings you like (we had shrimp and white "slice cheese"), toss on the griddle and cook like a pancake. Once it's done, serve it up and top it with okonomiyaki
sauce, mayonnaise, shaved bonito flakes (the heat makes them wave around, which is either cool or freaky, depending on how you feel about your food moving), and pickled ginger. Tabemashou
! Let's eat!
In Japan, it is considered good luck to see a spider in the morning, and bad luck to see one at night. Alas, there seem to be many spiders around our house that come out only at night! Almost every window has one of these guys there to catch any small insects attracted by our lights.
He (she?) wouldn't sit still to be measured, but I estimate it's about 2cm (3/4 inch) across, including the legs.
The Tohoku School of Language
Out and about in Kitakami, we use our textbook Japanese every day. Through the generosity of our neighbors, friends, and co-workers, we are learning the nuances of Tohoku-hogen, or the dialect of the six prefectures of northeastern Honshu. A few weeks ago, over a Chinese dinner with some friends, we spent a goodly amount of time discussing the word "dabe." "Dabe" is frequently used in Tohoku in place of another phrase, "deshou ka," to mean "might be." So, instead of "Nan deshou ka", people here might say "Nan dabe" to mean "What might this be?" They were tickled that a neighbor had taught Matthew "dabe," so we spent the evening making each other laugh by busting it out at every opportunity. Matthew and I continue to entertain ourselves by using it whenever possible.
So it was to my surprise, and another person's amusement, that it came out quite naturally in conversation. We were standing in a group where someone was passing out sheets of paper printed in Japanese. She was handed one, I was not; perhaps it was intended that we share. I looked over at her sheet and asked:
She giggled in surprise, and explained that it was lyrics to the song that was about to be sung. I later overheard her telling her husband about my question. I think we're going to fit in just fine.
Lost, Regardless of Translation
Q: What do Arlington, San Francisco, and Kitakami have in common?
A: They all have lovely bridges. Also, I've gotten lost there.
Whatever changes living abroad will bring, being able to orient myself geographically is unlikely to be one of them. Doesn't matter whether I have a map, doesn't matter whether there are recognizable landmarks. As anyone who's ever depended on me for directions knows, I can't find my way out of a paper bag. I blame my brother, who apparently got all the navigation genes.
With this knowledge, I optimistically set out on my bike for a nice long workout ride. I crossed the Waga River via the New Kunenbashi Bridge to check out more of the other side of Kitakami. I rode up hills, past pachinko parlors, gardening stores, and rice paddy upon rice paddy, whizzing by green mountains and Buddhist shrines. As the sun began its descent behind the peaks to the west, I turned for home. Because I was returning via a bridge that Matthew and I had crossed in reverse earlier in the week, I felt comfortable that I knew my way home. After passing a recognizable landmark, I decided that I would turn earlier and explore a new, but parallel, route home.
Oh, if only.
Pleased with my expeditionary streak, I pedaled past more rice paddies, small houses, and convenience stores until I came to...the shinkansen tracks.
Huh? I shouldn't reach the tracks before I reach home. Actually, I shouldn't reach them at all. Confused, I turned in the direction that I thought would lead home, which turned out to be a small farm road between rice paddies. However, the elevation of the road allowed me to see the Hotel City Plaza Kitakami and the neon kanji of the cement plant beyond the shinkansen tracks. Ah! Home was that way. I just needed to get to the other side of the tracks.
I rode back out to the main road, turned right under the tracks, and down a major road with almost no shoulder. It was late enough in the afternoon that rush hour was well underway, and even though Japanese drivers are respectful of cyclists, I was still pretty uncomfortable riding on this road. At the earliest possible time, I turned, hoping to find a less busy road home.
Instead, I was soon surrounded by rice paddies, which were bordered by what appeared to be a high embankment. Yes! If this were the embankment of the Waga River, I could simply follow the road home. Because it was not the embankment of the Waga River, I could simply follow the road between the two vast expanses of rice paddies and greet the chatty neighborhood rice farmers with a fast bow and a reasonably controlled "konnichiwa." Until it ended, at which point I would have to go back to the busy road and back under the tracks.
Up to this point, I had managed to keep my innate skepticism in check by reasoning that I knew where the sun was, which at that point in the day marked west. Also, I had managed to orient to the shinkansen tracks, so if I could just guide from them, I could get home. I would solve this problem.
Assistance came in the form of the first sign I saw. The sign, in Japanese, pointed the way to the Sakurano shopping center in Central Kitakami. Ahh...direction. Home was not far. I could live with the cars flying by on my right as I rode with traffic, watching the tall pink top of the Sakurano draw nearer. The shoulder narrowed further, the road wound through a more populated area, and a bridge loomed ahead (?), marked by a slightly rusty, faded sign announcing its name.Kunenbashi
As I stood with my bike in the five-foot-tall weeds growing along the side of the road waiting for the rush hour traffic to clear enough for me to cross to the side of the bridge with the clank-clanky deathtrap bike path, I realized that I had never crossed back over the river. I incorrectly remembered the location of the landmark. And now, my contentedness at successfully bringing my inadvertent adventure to a close was tarnished by two things: the realization that although I'd achieved my goal of finding a "parallel way home", I'd had no effing clue where I was; and the specter of Kunenbashi ahead.
Damn you, Kunenbashi.
Miyazawa Kenji (the cocktail)
2 oz. Suntory Whisky1/4 oz. Sweet VermouthDash of bitters
Shake ingredients with cracked ice in a cocktail shaker. Pour into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an awful maraschino cherry (or substitute a decent maraschino cherry if you can get one).
This drink is basically a Rob Roy made with Japanese whisky instead of Scotch. It is named after a famous writer who was born in Hanamaki, the next town over. People in this area are quite proud of Miyazawa's heritage here. More information about Miyazawa Kenji can be found on the internet
The name is not particularly tied to this cocktail; we just chose it because we thought it should be named after a famous Japanese (as the Rob Roy is named after a famous Scot), and decided that Miyazawa gave it some local flavor.
Adjustment and the Next Big Thing
Two-and-a-half weeks in to the Japan adventure, I'm beginning to realize that everyday life isn't so different from life in America, but it's different enough that it will take some getting used to. I go grocery shopping almost every day because Japanese cooking places so much emphasis on fresh ingredients, including fish. Earthquakes rumble you awake and rattle your windows, but don't register otherwise. The routine footwear changes: shoes to house slippers; house slippers to toilet slippers; toilet slippers back to house slippers; house slippers to bare feet in tatami rooms. Fragrance-free soap and detergent -- not so popular. The less said about available cocktail garnishes, the better. And inexplicably, yesterday I had a wicked urge to go for a run. I don't run. I can only assume the warm sunny day and the fresh mountain air inspired that particular madness, which was great at the time, but certainly took its toll.
Additionally, there's the matter of the house. Take the kitchen. The kitchen in our house in Maryland isn't spacious by any stretch of the imagination, but it does take up more than the width of one short wall in a room. And speaking of short, I'd like to pitch an idea to all the inventors out there: Hydraulic Kitchen. Matthew and I are of different enough heights that a standard 3-foot-high American kitchen counter is dandy for me, but too low for him. The 2-1/2-foot-high sink and cooktop in our Kunenbashi kitchen are backbreaking for him (he's allegedly knelt to work at the sink) and uncomfortable for me. Hydraulic Kitchen could easily solve these problems by allowing the user to adjust the height of the kitchen workspaces to his or her needs, then return them to the standard height after use. Added benefit: you can raise the appliances for easy floor cleaning.
Please contact me for instructions on where to send the royalties.
The side benefit of Hydraulic Kitchen becomes apparent when you consider the nature of dust here in the 'Bash. We leave the windows open most of the time because we don't have central A/C, which is not uncommon in Japan. You might imagine that a certain amount of dirt blowing in through the screens would be normal, and in fact, it is. We're stumped by the Swiffer(tm)-loads of lint that we pick up every day. Like, a washcloth worth of lint. As best we can figure, our socks are the major contributors. Or maybe something about the Jetsons washer/dryer renders our clothing exceptionally linty. In any event, lint as dust = confusing to desert rats.
Ooh, Matthew just came home with his dry cleaning and a bag of maple buns. *angels sing* Maple buns are some of the best things about Japan.
For anyone keeping track of gifts, yesterday's trip to the post office garnered a postcard masquerading as a fan. Good luck sending that through the US Postal Service.
When we made our plans to come to Japan, friends and family often commented on the "big adventure" we were going on, or "all the adventures" we would have in Japan. Heck, we even used that word ourselves when talking about the move. But since we've been here, have we really had any adventures? It seems like all we've really had time to do is get settled in, work, and simply live life.
This was something I pondered as I was making breakfast, toasting bread in a frying pan because we don't have a toaster. When it was ready I sat on the floor in our tatami room and ate it at our Japanese-style low table, next to the window that was admitting a gentle breeze and the sounds of the river. Then the phone rang, which I answered, moshimoshi? Without caller ID, we have to assume any caller is Japanese.
And now, I'm about to go start a load of laundry. Our washing machine has a confusing array of buttons, lights, and LED displays, all neatly labeled in Japanese. The washer has about three hundred functions, and I've managed to figure out two of them.
So far, our lives here have been mostly mundane things. But it turns out that even the mundane things are adventures.
Finding Japanese classes in Kitakami is proving to be somewhat challenging. Given that it's not a city drawing huge numbers of gaikokujin
, perhaps it's not so surprising. It's problematic, though, because I very much need to be studying formally. So, at least for now, I've decided to take matters into my own hands.
Accompanied by my copy of "Japanese for Busy People," a notebook, and a columned kana practice book, I set out for a study venue. I was a college student in the early '90s. I know how this goes. Studying occurs in coffeehouses, and my destination was clear: Cafe Goo-Goo.
Cafe Goo-Goo is a mod little cafe on the main street that runs by our house, a short ride past the motorcycle shop and the love hotel (it's pink!). At the top of some very clean white stairs, one encounters a door inlaid with blue glass ovals, which opens onto a white room containing a bar and four tables. I was greeted by a cheery Japanese hipster boy (CJHB) and invited to sit wherever I liked. I wanted the chance to streetwatch, so I took a glass-topped table overlooking the street, rather than a 60's soda fountain seat at one of the round tables in the back.
I ordered a choco-banana parfait and an iced coffee from CJHB and settled in to study. Being mostly obscured by large, Pucci-ish, pink-and-orange decals, the window was not so conducive to people watching. Fine -- I was there to study and eat a cute, tasty dessert, which CJHB produced in short order, complete with chocolate wafer cookie and adorable pink and white star candies. The unexpected genmai flakes at the bottom provided a delightful crunch at the end. Ahh -- good parfait, good study session (bonus points for communicating with CJHB about my peanut allergy!), good new place to grab snacks. Really, anyplace that drops "Let's Groove" into its already awesome J-Pop soundtrack is okay by me.
The way home takes me past two bridges over the Waga River, which I previously hadn't crossed. Maybe it was the view of the mountains ahead, maybe just a continued desire to explore, but something inspired me to cross the one nearest our house, Kunenbashi ("nine-year bridge").
in America, we went to dinner with our friend Yoshino. A minor difference of opinion arose, which caused her and Matthew to debate in Japanese and resulted in this classic phrase: "It is not daijoubu
." Translation: "It is not okay."
Well, having done it twice now, I can state with relative authority that riding your sketchy bike across Kunenbashi is not daijoubu
. I'm sure the attached side path is completely secure and no one's ever accidentally plummeted from it to a watery demise, but the combination of moderate wind, rushing water below (visible through the not-quite seam between the path and the bridge frame), hollow-sounding clank-clanky metal, and my fear of heights made me glad to be back in rush hour traffic on the other side. Until I remembered that I'd have to cross it again in order to go home. Damn you, Kunenbashi!
My ride took me down to a beautiful, serene park alongside the Waga River. I heard the five o'clock music for the first time since I arrived, passed some older gentlemen practicing chipping at the golf course, and met an Iwate dog (like an Akita dog, but smaller). The day was cool, windy, and overcast, but the lack of sunshine was easily overlooked by the sheer pleasure of being alive and out in the mountains -- in Japan! Woo-hoo, I live in Japan!
Being a New Mexican, I love mountains of all kinds. I admit a special fondness, though, for Japanese mountains. They frequently erupt with clouds of steam from geothermal activity. They're also big enough that their tops mingle with clouds on a regular basis. I'm not sure which is going on in this photo, but I'm inclined to think it's a combination of both. Whatever -- it's cool.