The Things We Do for Love
1) Begin life together. Adopt and raise very cute Akita puppy.
2) Cheer for law-school-in-Washington-applying wife, even though acceptance would mean leaving family, new home, great job, and awesome friends.
3) Move to Washington, bringing Akita dog along. Mourn loss of very cute, but congenitally ill Akita dog. Also, mourn existence of law school. Adopt wise, hard-luck Akita dog because husband loves his photo. Adopt very cute female Akita puppy because wife thinks she belongs in the house and makes other dog happy.
4) Good gravy, is there still more law school? Endure long-distance relationship while wife works in Philadelphia. Once home, frequently take snacks and cocktails down to the basement and layout-building husband.
5) Celebrate end of law school, but make dinner and do all chores during wife's bar study. Perfect repertoire of brunch dishes during series of parties to commemorate end of husband's Japanese class sessions.
6) Apparently enjoy blissful year of marriage during which nothing of note occurred. Seriously. I got nothing.
7) Buy second house together. Discover that prior owners' home improvements are completely random and nothing about house makes sense. Survive monthlong Plague House episode, trading congestion, respiratory distress, pinkeye, and insomnia.
8) Spend thirty nearly consecutive hours in car together during impulsive cross-country road trip from Washington to Cerrillos on Christmas Eve/Day. Then make return trip while both spouses are sick -- one drives, one dispenses drugs on a regular schedule.
9) Go through life-changing events together, then vacation in Japan. Discuss whether vacation was in fact recon trip.
10) Go though life-changing event together. Cheer for teaching-job-in-Japan-applying husband, even though acceptance would mean leaving family, home, great job, and awesome friends. Move to Japan and bring Akita dogs along.
Ten years behind us, a lifetime to go.
Okay, this isn't a densha
(electric train), it's a diesel. But that's okay, I'm not an otaku
(rabid fanboy), either. But I did finally get some track and a controller, so now I can run the handful of (Japanese) trains I brought with me to Japan.
Having lived in Japan for a little over a month now, I've been exposed to plenty of advertising. But not on TV. We don't watch TV. Ever. Especially not NHK. So NHK, you can stop sending your guy around to collect for monthly usage now, daijoubu?
Anyhoo, advertising. We don't so much get junk mail, although we do get newsletters and fliers for Strawberry Cones (yeah, I don't know either), the pizza delivery joint that charges 3,000 yen (approximately USD $30!) for a large stuck in our mail slot. Every couple of weeks, we get a big laminated binder of neighborhood information that we attempt to read, then pass on to the neighbors (clockwise around the block, as is proper). What are taking a bit of getting used to are the loudspeaker trucks.
Loudspeaker trucks, or vans in some instances, drive around town announcing various things. Some are selling laundry poles; others describing their used electronics pickup services. I can't understand most of what they're saying because, well, it's Japanese spoken over loudspeakers from a moving truck. One particular type, however, strikes fear in me as an American: loudspeaker trucks advertising candidates in upcoming elections.
Regardless of which party you prefer, you have to admit that this is one trend that you do NOT want exported. Seriously: imagine setting down the sheaf of political advertisements that your mailman delivered so that you can answer the phone, which turns out to be a call from Candidate X's campaign staff asking for your vote, then hanging up to hear a blaring ad for Candidate Y, followed by a blaring ad for Candidate Z in some other race. And, because our elections have been really contentious the last few years, you'd hear these much of the day . . . every day . . . for MONTHS.
I think we'd all vote for a big old pass on that, ne?
Last week, our friend Puller stayed with us for a few days post-dog transport. Because she has an interest in oni, Japanese folklore creatures similar to demons or ogres, we decided to make a trip to Kitakami's Oni Museum. The Museum is located about eight kilometres (yes, we now measure in grams, litres, and kilometres) from our house, a distance necessitating either a) a really long walk; or b) placing our friend at the mercy of one of the sketchy bikes.
So off we went, on an overcast but warm afternoon, Puller on my bike and me on Matthew's. We crossed the river via New Kunenbashi -- no need to make some kind of hazing ritual out of crossing Kunenbashi on a sketchy bike. (Sidebar: "bashi" is the Japanese word for "bridge." I'm not writing "New Kunenbashi Bridge" because it's redundant and redundancy is annoying. Yes, I did it in a prior posting, but I'm not doing it again for the previously stated reason. Which is that it's redundant.) Hundreds of rice paddies and one unprovoked and fear-generating gear change later, we arrived at the museum and parked the bikes outside, under darkening skies. Rainy season has thusfar been a big old wash, so we weren't too concerned about it.
The Oni Museum is very cool. You start in a room set up as a darkened forest, in which a short audio-visual presentation occurs. (P: "What's he saying?" SKD: "Uh . . . something about demons. And mountains. And maybe evil.") Then, you enter the beautifully designed, red and gold halls, where you find the interactive exhibits, demon masks from Japan and other countries, and murals. As you might expect this far north, everything is presented in Japanese, save for a couple of English-language brochures the staff were able to scare up.
P: "What's this guy?"
SKD: (reading plaque) "He's a . . . something . . . Oni . . . and maybe he eats children. That's why kids throw beans at the Oni during the winter festivals -- to scare them away."
P: "Where's he from?"
SKD: "Iwate Prefecture . . . something . . . river . . . something . . . onsen (natural hot spring bath). So maybe he's like the Water Demon. Or the Work-Life Balance Demon, manifesting the dark side of human nature by day, kicking it in an onsen with an Asahi in hand by night."
P: "Oh, these ones are eating people. See, there's a leg on the table."
SKD: "Is there beer?"
After a time, we bade the Oni farewell and got ready for the long ride home. Alas, it wasn't to be. Rainy season had decided to put in a rather fierce appearance, and as we watched the cascades of rain pouring down from the sky, we realized we had two options.
Option 1: Ride home in the cold rain, risking a) pneumonia; b) great bodily harm due to sketchy bike wipeout; or c) drowning.
Option 2: Call for a cab, risking a long, inadvertent trip to Hokkaido as a result of my rudimentary Japanese skills.
We chose Option 2 and crossed our fingers. Much to our relief, a cab arrived, driven by the World's Most Awesome Cabbie. Unfazed by my request to bring the bikes with, he started putting them into the trunk, only to discover that they wouldn't fit. We tried removing the front tire of Matthew's bike, to no avail. Eventually, he just put it mostly in the trunk and began securing it.
SKD: What about the other bike?
Cabbie: We'll put it inside.
SKD: *beat* Are you serious?
As Puller can attest, having ridden home in the doily-covered backseat of the cab, holding the wet front half of Matthew's bike in her lap and wiping up the rusty water running off the chain, he was.
It's a beautiful, sunny summer day here. The four of us just returned from a long Sunday morning walk to Interz for our weekly fix. Interz is a groovy little independent coffee shop where they roast your coffee while you wait. The owners, a husband and wife, greeted us and the dogs enthusiastically, and offered us the outside table while we waited (and drank fantastic iced coffee . . . mmm). The dogs, hot from the walk, lay in the shade and watched the street as people drove or walked by, staring at them. As we were settling up for the coffee, the owners chatted with us and pet the dogs, until Aki wandered away to lie down on the sidewalk. Another visitor to the shop also came outside to meet the dogs, giving Moki lots of pets and a big hug. Moki was in heaven, all swept-back ears and outstretched head, blissed-out look on his fuzzy black face.
We left for home with an invitation to bring the dogs back for a visit on our next coffee run, a bag of freshly roasted Kenya AA, and a pair of tired, happy Akita dogs. Life is good.
The View from the Passenger Seat
As anyone who knows me can attest to, I'm the sort of person who likes to be in control. And I love
to drive. Unfortunately, my international driving permit was left over from our vacation in Japan last year
and expired in May. I haven't gotten a Japanese driver's license yet, so for our trip to get the dogs, I was stuck in the dreaded Passenger Seat.
On the other hand, it did give me a chance to look around, and even take some photos. Taking photos as a passenger in a moving car can be a frustrating experience: no matter how good the view is right now, it's guaranteed to be obstructed by a hill, building, or passing truck the instant you click the shutter.
By chance, though, I managed to capture this dynamic sky near Sendai in Miyagi prefecture, about two hours' drive south of Kitakami.
Steam on the Kitakami Line
The D51 steam locomotive was by far the most common in Japan, with more than one thousand built between 1936 and 1945. As such it is well known and well loved - even by people without any particular interest in trains.
D51 498, which has been restored and is used by JR East for many special events, ran between Kitakami and Yokote (in Akita Prefecture) this weekend. I was sure I would miss it completely, because we were to be in Narita this weekend meeting the dogs and I thought the locomotive was scheduled to run on Saturday and Sunday.
Then yesterday (Monday) morning, I heard that distinctive whistle of a steam locomotive. So I ran up to the bedroom to check the view of the tracks... and saw a small diesel leading a steamer and a string of passenger cars over the rail bridge, towards the station
. Was I off by a day? Was the train running again? Where did I put the flyer that had the schedule?
I eventually found the flyer and learned that I had been mistaken about the dates, and that it was indeed running on Sunday and Monday! Reading the schedule, I also found out what time I would need to go out to get a photo of it on the return trip.
So that afternoon, I went out into the rain to the only spot I knew with a good view, a road crossing on a curve about a ten minute bike ride from home. There were a handful of other interested people there with umbrellas, and an official JR guy to try to keep us from getting on the tracks and to make sure traffic stopped when the train came through.
If there's one thing Matthew and I love, it's a good road trip. Road tripping in Japan is no exception. Driving on the opposite side of the road did not take as much adjustment as I anticipated, although much like I did last year, Matthew might beg to differ.
Prior to leaving, we sought advice on the best way to get from Kitakami to Narita Airport, located northeast of Tokyo. We were advised that taking expressways all the way would be best -- and would require that we go through Tokyo. The navigation system in the Cube ("Navi") agreed. So, being a mapless people with no further intelligence, we headed down the beautiful Tohoku Expressway toward Tokyo.
Navigating the Tokyo expressway system had sort of a latter-day "Cannonball Run" feel to it, between Navi's pinging and spoken directions, Matthew's translation of said directions, and proffering of snacks. The expressways themselves were narrow, fast-moving, mostly high-walled roads that were surprisingly easy to drive. Well, easy to drive as long as I focused on staying in my lane, and not on the tankers and tour buses passing me (properly) on the right. Or on the bridges. Especially the ones rising up into high, steep, banked curves. Then I felt like I needed to barf. Or have a beer. Or have a beer after I barfed. Overall, though, driving through Tokyo was easier than driving through, say, Nashville. We got onto the Higashi-Kanto Expressway and to Narita Airport without incident.
At the airport, we met up with our friends and tremendously generous hosts, the Ikezawas, and we settled in to wait. And wait we did. Puller appeared about an hour and twenty minutes after the flight landed, followed by Animal Quarantine Service (AQS) staff pushing carts carrying two...giant...crates. Giant crates meant one thing: FUZZY DOGS!
The AQS people were very efficient and helpful, and we were able to get through the paperwork and out of the airport in relatively short order. For Aki and Moki, this meant freedom from their shipping crates (which we will probably never be able to get them to enter again) and the opportunity to walk around the parking lot before returning to the Ikezawas' house for a relaxing evening and good night's sleep before the next day's trip. It also meant their first trip in the Cube, through the narrowest streets I had driven to date, after dark. It was like navigating streets in Georgetown, but even narrower, and on a different side of the road from the one I drove on for the previous eighteen years.
After a lovely visit with the Ikezawas, including the dogs' first walk in Japan, we piled into the Cube and headed north. We chose an alternate route home, up the coast of Ibaraki Prefecture (surfers -- woo!) to the Joban Expressway, and back to the Tohoku Expressway. Because the Joban Expressway runs sort of east-west across Honshu, we were crossing mountain ranges, rather than running alongside them as we did on the Tohoku Expressway. I believe "Joban" means "tunnel, bridge, tunnel, bridge, tunnel, bridge road" in Japanese, but I could be wrong.
Once we were back on the Tohoku Expressway, the familiarity of the road made us giddy. We knew where we were, and we were on our way home with the rest of our family -- sun shining down on us, descending into the valley overlooking the town of Ichinoseki as we crossed into Iwate Prefecture, and Talking Heads singing "Once in a Lifetime" on the CD player.
Here are Moki and Aki at home, taking a well-deserved rest in the washitsu
(Japanese-style room) after a long, long journey.
The flavor of Tohoku - it's Hello Kitty nattou
Reunited, and it Feels So Good
Thanks to a thunderstorm, Washington was a perfectly acceptable 73 degrees on Friday, well below the 85 degree no-fly threshold. Puller and the dogs arrived yesterday afternoon with only minor incident. We and the dogs stayed in Chiba last night and arrived back in Kitakami early this evening. Photos and longer post about our journey tomorrow!