Friday, January 18, 2008

Beddo nai desu. Futon ga arimasu.

Let’s talk about the bed situation. Or the lack of a bed situation. First some history: When I moved out of my parent’s house two years ago and into an apartment, my father informed me I would not be taking my bed with me. Just in case ten random people showed up at the same time needing a place to sleep he would have a place to put them. He was very disturbed when my mom threw out the bunk bed in my sister’s room that slept three people, (it had a double mattress on the bottom bunk) and downsized to just a double bed. Where would people sleep when they came for a visit? He asked alarmed as he hauled it down the hall and out the door.

“But where will I sleep?” I asked him ten years later as I packed up my stuff.

“On a mattress you’ve bought,” he told me. This, I’m sure, was all part of his plan to make me a responsible adult, but at the time it made me look like a whiny teenager.

In the long run, however, it turned out to be a good thing because I took a good portion of the money I had been saving to buy furniture and spent it on an enormous mattress with an Amish made frame, premium inner spring coils, a very fluffy pillow top on both sides, and a 15 year warrantee. I spared no expense on this bed and then for Christmas my mother bought me 600 thread count sheets. There were days when getting out of bed appeared very ill-advised. Nothing the day could offer me would surpass the wonderfulness that was my bed.

And then I moved to Japan.

Where they sleep on the floor.

The pillow-top on my mattress is probably twice as thick as one of my futons. And yes that’s plural because I have more than one. I am a wimpy, spoiled, scoliosis-suffering gaijin who needs a foam pad and three futons to feel even remotely comfortable, and I still wake up achy. I’m only 25 but I feel old trying to climb up off the floor on a cold January morning.

Although I shouldn’t complain too much because until two weeks ago I had just the pad and one futon. When we went to Kyoto over winter vacation, my sole request was that we stay in a Western style hotel so I could sleep on a real bed. I took a picture of them I was so excited. I think I was more excited at the prospect of a bed than seeing the famed Golden Temple. And it was the best night’s sleep I’ve had since I got here.

But finally my friends Keely and Jovan visiting provided me with the excuse to buy additional ones. They weren’t for me! They were for my friends! They needed something to sleep on when they came to stay. I can blame it on my father who lives in fear of a mass horde descending on his house demanding a place to crash for the night.

The difference being, of course, that dad doesn’t sleep on all the extra mattresses in his house like I do in my apartment.

My futons and foam pad

Traditional style hotel room with traditional sleeping arrangements which leads to a traditional pain in the back for me.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Winter Break

Sunday December 23 – Nathan (fellow English teacher), his brother Ryan, and I walk to Takagashira Park. The original plan was to play Frisbee but the ground is too wet so we hike up the mountain instead. Sitting on a large rock jutting out the side, we can see the Pacific Ocean, the Bay, and all of Tahara. We contemplate world peace and how we can become more bad-ass. Then it’s off to Toyohashi to visit Nathan’s girlfriend, Miyuki, and her family. We eat shabbu shabbu, which consists of taking meat and cooking it in boiling water and then dipping it into sesame sauce.

Monday December 24 – I get up early and meet Miyuki, Nathan, and Ryan back in Toyohashi and Miyuki drives us to the small town of Seto, famous for its pottery. We have an appointment with a pottery studio where we learn how to throw our own rice bowls, tea cups, and in Nathan’s case Dr. Seuss inspired vases. The sensei will fire and glaze them for us and then ship them to Tahara when they are finished. In the meantime, we wander around town buying up more professionally made dinnerware and eating udon noodles. In the evening we get lost on our way to the onsen, but once there we have a relaxing bath before heading home.

Tuesday December 25 – I get up early and open presents on the webcam, and then make brunch for Nathan, Ryan, and my other neighbor Jason (also an English teacher.) The rest of the day is spent lying around, watching Superbad, and relaxing.

Wednesday December 26 – We get up and catch a train out of Tahara at 6, meet Miyuki in Toyohashi, where we catch a train to Nagoya. Then it’s on a bus to Kyoto. We stop in at Starbucks before checking into our hotel, and then it’s on the city bus to the Golden Temple. After lunch we go to the Path of Philosophy and the Silver Temple (though we decide not to go in since it’s getting dark.) It’s all very lovely but I’ve started to realize that I have a knack for visiting beautiful places in the winter when nothing is in bloom. Versailles in January. Alhambra in February and now Kyoto in December.

We do some shopping for Nathan and Miyuki, eat ramen for dinner, and walk around looking in more shops before calling it a night. And I get to sleep in a bed! Although I have to have Miyuki call the front desk to bring me new blankets since I am allergic to the feather down comforters they left.

Thursday December 27 – We’re up early and back at Starbucks. And then it’s off to Kiromizu Dera, a lovely wooden temple that has an amazing view of the city, (but would be even more spectacular in the spring or autumn.) We have a tofu set for lunch, a dish which Kyoto is famous for, and which I prefer to leave in Kyoto. We walk around looking at some more temples, a beautiful park, and then do some more shopping before catching the bus back to Nagoya. And then two more trains back to Tahara.

Friday December 28 – I spend recovering.

Saturday December 29 – I clean the apartment and buy futons because my American friends (who happen to live in Japan) Keely and Jovan are coming to visit me. They arrive late Saturday night, but I can’t go out to eat with them because I have a webcam date with my rolly-polly nephew Kenny. He’s getting so big!

Sunday December 30 – Keely, Jovan, and I go out to lunch with a lovely couple, the Okuba’s. Later that night we have dinner (more shabbu shabbu) with our mutual friend Yoko and a new friend Keiko and her two young daughters. The great thing about kids is that a common language is rarely necessary. Just tickle them and pretend to eat their arms while saying MMmmm delicious! And they think you’re the best thing since Pokemon.

Monday December 31 – Keely and Jovan go to lunch with a friend while I stay in and rest. All this socializing really takes it out of me. But I’m ready for some more by the time Emiko stops by and we head to the local crepe shop for a snack. Keely introduces me to the owners who spent several years in California, so they speak English AND make crepes. I think I might have found my new best friends here in Japan.

We have some sushi for dinner and then head to Nathan’s for a New Year’s Eve party. At 11:30 we head to Tahara Castle where we wait for the Shinto priests to ring the gong, signaling the New Year. After we throw in our coins and say our prayers for a lucky 2008, we head off to karaoke.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


So far in Japanese I can introduce myself, exclaim that it's cold, and talk about food. Yesterday I had my longest conversation in Japanese to date with a fifth grader.

Me: What's this?

Girl #1: Dried fish parts. (Ok so that's not the real name but that's what it was. Seriously.)

Me: Dried fish parts?

Girl #1: Dried fish parts.

Me: Are they delicious?

(Girl ducks her head)

Me: Do you like them?

Girl #1: No, I don't like them. (turns to another girl) Do you like them?

Girl #2: Yes, I like them.

Me: Are they delicious?

Girl #2: (shrugs shoulders) They're okay.

And she was right. They were just okay, which is pretty good when you consider that they were dried fish parts.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Pharmacy Adventures

And no I don't mean here in Japan, although I've had some of those already, but back home in Ohio, where my poor mother has run into some trouble trying to get me the prescription drugs that I need. She sent me the email below today because it was so funny over the phone that I told she had to write it down.

I went to the pharmacy yesterday to get a prescription of birth control pills (for cramps dont ya know) for Jennifer, who's in Japan. I give the script to the pharmacy tech ( whom I'll refer to as smart pharm tech) and give her Jen's info. I tell her I'll wait. They call me up to the counter a few minutes later and ask for "the" insurance card. I tell them, no insurance card, she's in Japan. Ok, so pharm tech no. 2 (whom I'll refer to as dumb pharm tech) calls insurance co. and finds out there is no coverage. OOPS sorry I forgot to mention that. Anyway dumb pharm tech then informs me they can't fill the RX because there's no insurance. WOW I didn't know that millions of American's across the country can't get RX meds because they dont have insurance. I tell dumb pharm tech, I'm planning to PAY for the meds, and she just looks at me like I'm crazy and says OK.

The cashier, guy from Africa, looking very confused rings up the purchase for 33.37. Now I'm confused, because I'm sure 10 months of BCP's is going to cost alot more than that. I then ask African guy how many packs of pills are in the bag. He says well just one. I ask about refills?????? He informs me no refills. Now I'm really confused. I explain the original Rx was for 10 packs and I need all of them to send to Japan, because Jen can't get them there. Then the pharmacist gets involved and is explaining to her staff WHY my daughter can't get her Rx in Japan.

Then smart pharm tech yells at dumb pharm tech, stating that she put it in the system for all 10, and why did she only give me one. To which dumb pharm tech answers, because that's all the insurance co. will cover. OH MY GOSH!!! I'm getting frustrated, the African guy is really confused, and all I want to do is pay for 10 months supply of BCP, which I will ship to Japan, because my daughter can't get them there. Smart pharm tech finally gets this. African guy cashier finally gets this. Pharmacist finally gets this. I think even dumb pharm tech finally gets this. Good, so now we're all on the same page, Yeah!

It was then that smart pharm tech drops the bomb. Oh yes, by the way, we can't fill the Rx, because we don't have 10 packs available. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Can you come back
tomorrow when we get our shipment delivered?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

I rang in the new year Japanese style this year. There was a party with drinking and games and frivolity, hosted by my American neighbor and attended by Japanese, Americans, and even a Mexican, but there was no Dick Clark (or Ryan what his name) and no ball dropping. We didn't even count down from ten. But we knew that 2008 had arrived when the gong sounded and the music began in the temple.

Starting at 11:30 we walked over to Tahara Castle and gathered with other Japanese waiting for midnight by drinking sake, eating dried squid (squid jerky as one friend described it) and warming ourselves by a large bonfire. I saw several of my students there and wished them a Happy New Year in English and then waited my turn in line to throw in a 5 yen piece and say my prayer for a successful 2008. We bowed twice at the waist. Clapped twice, then paused for our prayer. Another bow and we were done and the group behind us began. I was glad we got there early because the line stretched nearly out of the castle by the time we left.


Then it was quickly off to the local karoake joint for two hours of bad singing. Originally the plan was to stay up all night and then drive to the beach to watch the first sunrise of the year, per Japanese tradition, but since more people showed up than anticipated there wasn't enough room in the few cars we had available and so the plan shifted to hiking up Mount Zao. Driving to the beach had sounded good to me, but hiking up a mountain in the dark after staying up all night did not. What can I say I am an old 25. Besides my friends who were staying with me had to get up early to catch their train home, so at three we stumbled home, unrolled our futons, and went to sleep.

I have a feeling that this is going to be a good year. If nothing else, it will certainly be interesting.