Wednesday, June 28, 2006

To Tokyo By Train

In a tad more than eight hours, I will be jumping a train to Tokyo with the fam. I am looking forward to the trip because we will be stopping in Takaoka to eat lunch with Reid and Karie and then jumping a shinkansen to Tokyo. The trains we will be riding into Tokyo on are supposed to be pretty speedy and I am anxious to see what they look like. Having said that, I really should do an entry on trains around here so you all can get a look at a few of them. Many of the upper-class trains really do look like jets on rails. I will make a post on that soon.

As you can see, no rice paddy update. I think I will just wait until this next Sunday to do it because I am not sure when I will get around to taking pics around here before then. Sorry, my family keeps me busy.

On that note, we went to Himeji today to see the castle. I do love that place; if you are in the neighborhood, you really should stop at Himeji Castle and take a look. The place rocks.

Not much else to report, babysitting my family is pretty much a full time job. I like doing it for them and I enjoy being able to have them here but man, translating for and keeping track of them can be a chore. I did not imagine doing this stuff could be so tiring but right now I am in the position of being a live in tour guide for them. In Tokyo, I think I am going to try to escape for a bit and do my own thing but I am not sure where I will find the time to do that. If I cannot, I am going back in September probably anyways. Only then, I think I will be by myself and I will be able to see everything at my own pace, including TGS, the Tokyo Game Show. If you play video games and know about a convention called E3, the Tokyo Game Show is the Japanese equivalent and I will have a couple of extra vacation days to burn that I can't roll over so, I figured I would attend. I am looking forward to that.

Then after September comes Christmas. While I am not certain as to what I will be doing then, I think I am going to go somewhere. We shall see, I have a few ideas.

Yesterday, we all ventured to Kobe and that was fun. I like that town! I ate a Kobe steak and must say, while they are very tender, they are not worth the price tag some places put on them. My steak was about $16 and that was a fair price for the meal. It was a good lunch but it was not the $65 good that some restaurants are asking. Kobe is like a mix of the Bay Area and Seattle, the city is very lively and unique. I am definitely heading back there to explore by myself at some point before the end of summer.

Lastly, I am pleased because I found out that there is indeed a gym in my town and, while it may not be Gold's, it should be good enough. The best part is that it is only two or three bucks a session. If I go three or maybe four times a week, it will be the equivalent of what I would be paying for a gym membership anyway. I have been wanting to get back into lifting since I had to quit when I came here and now it looks like I will be able to. A lot of bulk in my arms stuck around after I quit lifting and I don't think it will be too hard to get the rest of it back. The nice part is that while I am here, I really don't have much to focus on other than myself so this will be a great time to go nuts on my body without blowing a couple grand like I did last time and then having to ditch out. Lifting will also do me good because I get a strong dose of cardio almost everyday to balance out the muscle workouts. There is hope to get even more out of my body yet. :)

Anywho, if I post tomorrow, it will be from Tokyo. If I do not post, you at least know where I am.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Eagle Landed....A Day Early

One of the keys to planning vacation travel in a foreign land is making sure that you know what time and day you are landing in that far away place. Between my family and I, we got our dates jacked up and my loved ones decided to come to visit a day early. After a couple of rushed phone conversations and a five minute bike sprint to the train station, I was chugging toward my family almost three and a half hours away. I felt really bad about not being there to greet them and I felt worse when confronted by the cold hard fact that we may not make it back to my house that night due to train schedules. Fortunately, everything worked out in the end and we were able to land a spot on the last train to Fukuchiyama for the night. We ended up getting back to my house at almost 1:30am.

From the start, my parents were emerged in some of the finer Japanese cultural experiences, such as drunk guys talking them. While aboard our final train ride of the evening, we were befriended by a sloshed and very talkative kid. He actually spoke pretty good English but for what he didn't know in English, I knew in Japanese and for a half an hour we conversed with our inibriated friend. We spoke on topics ranging from our belief in God to the Beach Boys and frankly, I feel my family is better for it. They now know what I go through at least once a week.

Soon, they were all confronted with the paradox of Japanese toilets and that was also fun. Finally, I led my mom into a convenience store at 4am and let her behold the world of Japanese snack food. After that, everyone crashed....except for me. My family, myself included, are not a group of quiet sleepers. I have a tendancy to talk in my sleep. My mom snores rather loudly and my dad and brother do their part in the nocturnal orchestra as well. I however, have slept in total silence for the vast majority of the past six months and was not used to this aural onslaught. I think I slept a total of two or three hours last night. Oh yeah, they realized my apartment looks bigger in the pictures than it does in real life; I warned them.

Today was pretty fun. It being a Sunday here, everyone is chilling with their family today and we went to my local department store to people watch. My family now shares my opinion that Japanese kids, girls especially, have to be about the cutest kids in the world. We were also a four person freakshow for all of the natives and while I found it kind of unsettling, my family got a kick out of all of the stares. Everyone likes Japanese grocery stores and their funny marketing gimmicks and the abundance of vending machines is enjoyed by all as well.

Tomorrow, depending on the weather, I am going to take them to either Osaka or Himeji. If its nice, we will visit the castle, if its rainy, Osaka. Either one should be new for them and I like both places as well. I will post later on how all of that goes. Its good to see all of them again and I am enjoying their reactions to some of the aspects of my daily life.

I know today was supposed to be a rice paddy update but while we visited the paddies, I did not take any pictures. I will try to get them on here tomorrow, the paddy is growing swiftly. As for now, I think I am taking them to my favorite ramen place for dinner. It should be mildly entertaining to watch my brother try to tackle eating noodles with chopsticks. I have money riding on him giving up after ten minutes and making me ask for a fork for him. Maybe I will be surprised but if I were a betting man, I would be putting strong money on Western eatting utensils right now.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Eagle Is In The Air

As I speak, my brother is probably watching movies, my dad is probably looking out the window, and my heavily sedated mother is hopefully not freaking out, as my family climbs to a cruising altitude of about 42,000ft. over the Pacific ocean. By this time tomorrow, I will be in Osaka awaiting the arrivial of their flight. Once they land, I think I will be in for an interesting pair of weeks.

I am looking forward to seeing my family, my brother in particlular, but more than that, I am intrigued to see how they all handle Japan. My family loves to travel but their experience outside of the United States has been sparse, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean are the only destinations that come to mind. When I travel, I usually try to get a pretty good idea of what to expect when I get to my destination, I am not sure if my family has any idea what to expect other than what they have seen from movies. They have all seen "Lost in Translation" and they all hated it, but really that only shows them what Tokyo looks like. I live in the sticks and not many movies shed much illumination on the backwater of Japan. They have seen my blog but I really don't think I have shown too many pictures of my actual town. I think they will be surprised by how green it is here.

The next thing that causes me some anxiety is the fact that my dad and brother will be tricky people to feed. According to my mom, my dad is now pretty handy with chopsticks. This is good. My brother however, won't use them for more than five minutes if at all. When he sits down to eat, he likes to eat and not be challenged by uncooperative eating utensils. My dad is also not a big fan of rice or eggs; both ingredients are used heavily here. My brother does not like fish and the one time he tried sushi, he was not a fan of it. While I am not a fan of our aquatic friends, I have come to terms with the fact that since I live here, there are just times when I have to deal with the taste of fish. Though, I do like sushi, tuna especially. My mom is really the only one of the trio that I am sure won't starve. My dad and my brother may develope an intimate relationship with one of the three McDonalds in town. Ugh.

Lastly, all of them will be staying in my apartment with me. Yeah. This apartment is spacious when I am the only one occupying it. It becomes a tad cramped when two guests stay the night with me. I am not sure how two weeks with four people crashing here is going to play out. I am not worried per se but I think entertaining times will ensue from the tight conditions. For example, my bathroom is small when I am in there, there is no way two people can share it unless one of them is in the shower at the same time.

All in all, I think it will be a lot of fun to have them here and to show them my life now. I have warned them that their vacation will be in no way a relaxing one. I have two weeks to show them Japan and that makes for a lot of train riding and sight seeing. They want to see Tokyo, we will be there are a couple of days. They want to see Osaka, we will be there. I am going to take them to Kyoto at least once for sight seeing and maybe once more for shopping. They will see the seaside city of Kobe and the resort town of Miyazu. They will see Himeji Castle and Fukuchiyama Castle. I hope they will see Mt. Fuji but can't guarantee that. All in all, they will see more of Japan in two weeks than most Japanese people see in two years.

I may post rice paddy pics today because I am not sure if I will have time tomorrow. Other than that, I will post more once my family gets here and I can gauge their reactions to all of this. I am preparing for two pretty odd but pretty good weeks to come.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Mogwai's Guide to Simulating Japan's Rainy Season

Step 1: Get dressed. Whatever you would wear out in public will do, hopefully, that does not mean a sweatsuit, I hate it when those are worn in public for something other than jogging or working out. Anywho, get dressed.

Step 2: Turn on your shower. Make sure the water is slightly warm but not too warm. But not too cold either. Just right will do.

Step 3: Get in the shower and count to twenty.

That is how long it takes me to go from my train station entrance to my bike, Butterfly Battle. That is how wet I got in that amount of time. My clothes are dripping dry in my bathroom as I type this. The ride home did not make me any wetter than I was in that first twenty seconds. After that brief period of time, I could not have been more soaked.

Having said that, I like it when it rains this hard. I like the smell, the sound, the look, and the feel of the drops hitting my skin. There is not a lot I dislike about the rain, to me, it is one of the most soothing things in the world. What I do not like is having a bike as my only means of transportation. Even then, the bike ride home was quite nice.

Soon, I am hoping to see paper ghosts dangling in the trees throughout the countryside. The ghosts are thought to scare the moisture away and make the rainy season pass quickly. If I have any sightings, I will post the pics.

In other news, tomorrow is my last work day before my vacation. I am getting excited to see my family and how they react to this place. I also had my first hardcore Japanese lesson today and I thought my mind was going to explode. Nothing helps you learn kanji quicker than old ladies making you translate a complex song and berrating you with sentances like, "C'mon, thats the third time the character for "kai" has appeared in this song. You should know it." Needless to say, I will sleep tonight, haunted by dreams of "kai" hovering over me and hiding in the shadowy corners of my apartment. The funny part, "kai" is not a horribly important character. It is what the Japanese call a counter. Basically, it is a word that goes behind a number to indicate what it is that the number represents. In English, if one were to say, "I have thirty bucks." Bucks, would be the counter word. Anywho, the Japanese method for teaching people kanji appears to be to drown them in it and see if they can swallow enough of it to keep their nose above water. I am not sure if I like the method, but I do know several new kanji because of it.

Monday, June 19, 2006

No Launch Yet

As it stands now, the whole North Korean test launch that was supposed to happen yesterday looks like its either not happening or not happening soon. Much of the fervor that surrounded this event yesterday seems to have died down quite a bit.

Japan is now saying that it would not take a missle coming down in its territory as an attack. The government now says it would just not be very happy about it. It also said that there would be severe consequences is such an test launch occurred. By severe consequences, they mean going to the UN and asking the security counsel to debate the issue. Wow, those are stiff consequences...NOT. We all know nothing ever gets done in the UN, so basically, Japan would pigeon hole the problem until it got worse.

The way news agencies have covered the story kind of annoys me because none of them can seem to get their facts straight. Depending on the site you go to, they either say that the missle that North Korea is testing could hit the United States, causing people to panic and boosting site views or the tell it like it should be told and that is the fact that the missle could only hit parts of Alaska and Guam. While Alaska is part of the United States and Guam is a protectorate of the US, the people in the lower forty-eight have nothing to fear from this missle. The sites that do not mention this are fear mongering in my opinion and that drives me nuts.

Something else that seemed misrepresented was the payload that the missle could carry. In all of the articles I have read in the past few days, most agree that the missle is not capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The missle could easier carry a biological or chemical payload but not a nuke or at least not a nuke that could hit the United States. I am not sure why this is but that is what the articles have said. Places like Digg had articles that told people that the missle was capable of carrying a nuclear payload to the United States and that seems untrue. Then again, Digg should most definitely not be considered an official new source for anything. Half the time, I think the site and the articles submitted are run and written by fifteen year olds. Anywho, not the point.

People are now saying they are unsure that the missles were ever fueled as well. This is something that everyone said happened yesterday but now that looks like it may not be true. All in all, the news reporting of this event has been somewhat scrambled. But there is one thing all of this did achieve, Kim Jong Ill got what he wanted, attention.

If the North Korean government does not fire this missle, I will be more ticked off than if they did. If they don't fire it just shows that little, crazy, Kim Jong Ill realized the United States was not paying attention to him at the moment and he wanted to steal some of the spotlight from Iran. Of all of the stupid governments in the world, North Korea has to be in at least the top three. How many countries can you think of that actually want the United States military to pay attention to them? Now add into the equation the fact that North Korea knows the US does not like them. Kim Jong Ill is truly unstable and is acting in this instance, like a five year old who thinks its siblings are getting more attention than they are. And people wonder how I could support government sponsored political assassinations sometimes.

Anywho, that is my little missle crisis of the past couple of days. On an odd note, Japanese television was not even reporting on it when I was watching yesterday. I monitored two Japanese news programs and North Korea was not even brought up. Its odd sometimes what Japan decides is news and what isn't. Then again, the same could be said about any country probably.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ready For Launch


Well, I just went to CNN's website and they are saying that North Korea has fueled and prepped the missle and it is pretty much ready to launch. They also say that at this point, it would be pretty unlikely to scrap the launch do to the difficulty of extracting the fuel from the missle and if the weapon were to sit fueled for more than 48 hours without launching, the fuel would actually start to damage the missle itself.

I am heading out now to go to my local electronics store to see if they have anything about it on television and see if I can gauge what everyone else thinks about the situation. The way I figure, either the World Cup is going to be playing and no one will really care about the missle launch or everyone is going to be huddled around the televisions waiting to see if North Korea does something stupid.

I will post again once I return. I feel like a news correspondent. :)

UPDATE: Still no launching of the missle and Japanese news is not being very helpful. If anything happens I will post about it.

Recent Happenings

Firstly, I found out a few minutes ago that my Great Grandma died. I feel bad about this because I really liked her. On the other hand, she was almost 95 years old and it is hard to get too upset for a person that had such a good run as my great grandma did. She was in pretty good health up until a few years ago and until recently, had very good mental capacity. At 94 years of age, we should all hope to be so lucky. I will miss her and the way she decorated her Easter eggs. She was a good person.

Not to dwell too much on that, I went to Kyoto today with my Aunties. It was pretty fun and they spoiled me again. I got treated to lunch by one aunty and then my other aunty bought me a Japanese pajama set. Next time we go out, I am going to pay for everything, they really do spoil me. Motoko's mother came with us for most of the day and is a very sweet lady but she has Alzheimers and can't really take care of herself anymore. I tried to not let it bother me but seeing her, it reminded me a lot of my grandma and I could not help but to be a little saddened at the sight of her. I also saw the temporary care home that she was going to stay in while Motoko went on vacation. I forgot how much nursing homes bother me. More thoughts of my grandma. Upon seeing all of the people in wheelchairs looking at me, I had to try very hard to not excuse myself and wait outside. If I ever get that way, I want to be shot. Seriously.

We also spent some time at Motoko's house and that was fun. Her step-father has a nutty butterfly collecting obsession and I got to look at his massive collection. It was crazy how much work he has put into his butterflies. I guess there are even a couple of species of them fluttering around Japan somewhere that are named after him. As I said, the guy likes his butterflies. I was also shown a live specimen of the Japanese national turtle. The States has the eagle, Japan has a turtle. The thing that sets this turtle apart from others is it can totally close its shell. When a normal turtle gets scared, it retracts all of its extremities into its shell but there are still openings in the shell where the legs, head, and tail were. With this turtle, there are only two openings in the shell, the front and the back. When the turtle gets scared, it pulls its extremities in and actually brings up the bottom of the shell like loading ramps and totally seals itself inside. It was kind of cool to see. Motoko has named the turtle, Kame-chan. Or Miss Turtle...creative, I know. And if a butterfly collection, and the national turtle of Japan weren't enough, I also saw a Tanuki in her backyard. Tanuki are odd creatures that I have a hard time describing. The best I can do is to say the thing has the face of a raccoon without the mask, the body of a fox, and the snout of a badger. They are truly odd looking animals. If you did not know what you were seeing, you would probably think that it was a very tall, emaciated raccoon that looked messed up. Anywho, that was the Japanese wildlife spectacular for the day.

Tomorrow could be kind of weird. I have the day off and if the event happens, I will be able to monitor it and all that transpires from it in real time. In theory, North Korea is going to test fire a long range missle that would be capable of hitting Guam around 2pm tomorrow afternoon. Though it is not thought to be big enough to carry a nuke, it could easily store a chemical or biological warhead in the event that North Korea decided to attack someone. The whole trick to test firing a missle is that you have to fire it over somewhere. In this case, that somewhere is Japan. If this happens, it will be for the second time; North Korea fired a mid-range missle over Japan in 1998 and that gave Japan the excuse it needed to seriously start thinking about re-arming itself and reinstating a full fledged military, something they have not had since WWII. If North Korea tests this missle, Japan is going to be pissed to say the least. If for some reason North Korea miscalculates the trajectory of the weapon and it comes down within Japanese waters, or heaven forbid, Japan itself, the government has said it will take it as a military attack on the country of Japan. I doubt this will happen but if it were to, that would give Japan the legal right to attack North Korea under its constitution. That is when stuff could get really weird. As I said, I seriously doubt this will happen. On that note, it may be that North Korea doesn't even test fire the missle and is just staging stuff to mess with peoples' heads. As it stands now, it looks as if North Korea is prepping the launch site and moving fuel into position at the site. This is all based on satellite photos taken in the past day or two. I have also read that the North Korean government is telling their people to watch the skies and their televisions at 2pm for some kind of announcement. Great.

Now to be fair and unbiased, in North Korea's defense, they have said that the missle they are preparing is going to be used to put a satellite into orbit. People agree that the size of this missle could indeed do that. The downside is, this is the same story North Korea used in 1998.

Anywho, Japan has at least one, if not four destroyers in the Sea of Japan at the moment and all of them are equipped to track any missles that may come from North Korea. If the North Koreans do launch a missle tomorrow, Japan will see it coming almost as soon as it is in the air. In 1998, the launch came as a surprise and I think that was part of the problem. I will keep everyone posted as I find stuff out, I am going to try to be near a television tomorrow afternoon.

In another event that may be related or totally unrelated to the North Korean stuff, the Kyoto train station was bristling with police officers and bomb dogs today. I also saw one person arrive at the station with a full bodyguard escort and was quickly ushered inside by guys in suits, sunglasses, and radios in their ears. It may have been an official on the way to a meeting about the whole North Korean situation or it may have just been a rich somebody that felt like bodyguards were a good idea for today's outting, dunno, but security was higher there today than I have ever seen anywhere in Japan and there were security guys in suits looking all secret servicey hanging out as well, which I have never seen here until today.

Last but not least, today is Father's Day. Happy Father's Day, Dad! :)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Curry Ramen Recipe: This Is For You, Tony

Warning: I have never actually made this for myself. I go to one little stall in a town I teach in, put money in the machine, and take the ticket it spits out at me to the counter. They do the rest.

Having said that, I have a pretty good idea how to make it and its pretty easy.

First, make your curry. I would probably opt for a pork cutlet for the meat but chicken would work too. Keep in mind, this is going into a ramen dish so dice veggies and meat pretty small. When cubing carrots and potatoes, I would say anything over a half inch in diameter is too big. At least, this is the way that it all looks when its served to me. I know that most of you curry makers out there like chunky, good sized portions of meat and veggies. The Japanese think the exact opposite. Cut everything small. If it helps, remind yourself that this is a soup dish, not a true curry dish.

The curry that is used in this case is pretty much carrot, meat, and potato. There is onion in there too but not as much as I usually use when making curry.

Okay, now you have made your curry. Pat yourself on the back, the hard part is done.

Now, get your ramen. I would go with either pork or chicken ramen, depending on what meat you used in your curry. Cook your ramen. If you do not know how to complete this step, boil water and then once the water has hit a good rolling boil, pour it on yourself.....err....I mean, put your ramen in. Then add your flavor packet.

Okay, ramen is done, curry is done. Get yourself a bowl, pour your ramen, liquid and all, into aforementioned bowl. Get yourself a ladle and pop a glob of your curry into the ramen. How much curry, I will leave to you but remember, this is supposed to be curry flavored ramen not ramen flavored curry.

Lastly, sprinkle a little bit of chopped green onion over the dish for flavor and grab your chopsticks. Its time to swirl the mixture up and eat.

In Japan, the dish is also served with a little pink and white cracker thing that floats in the bowl that is made of ground fish. It has the texture of tofu and tastes kind of like fish (bet ya didn't see that coming). Anywho, I am not a huge fan of them and you will probably have a hard time finding them outside of Asia so I would mark said cracker as an optional accessory to the dish.

They also serve udon the same way here so, if you want to use udon instead of ramen, you would still probably be in for a half decent meal. Hope the recipe works for you and if you try it, let me know how it went. I pretty much just made all of this up just now but it will probably be pretty close to what I get here. Enjoy!

Life Keeps Getting Easier Whether I Want It To Or Not

Every week, I have to call my company's regional office and do a schedule check with my boss's boss. She is a nice lady named Kiyomi and I don't mind talking to her. Now by saying a don't mind talking to her, what I actually mean is I do not mind talking to her when I absolutely have to. During the past six months here (it seems crazy its been that long already) I have learned that its extremely wise to fly as far under the radar as one possibly can when employed by my company. In general, Peppy Kids is a pretty good employer but the whole Japanese idea of what work is and what work entales bothers me. If you are doing your job in a Japanese corportation, you are basically creating the illusion that you work your ass off. When in reality, what you are actually doing is pretending to look busy and delegating most tasks to people lower down on the totem pole than yourself. I know what you are thinking, "Well duh, Tyson, thats every company in the entire world." But rest assured, its different here. Anywho, thats another topic for another time. Mostly all of the coorporate pep nonsense gets dumped on people higher up that I and as long as I do not draw attention to myself, I do not have to deal with it. Thus, my reasoning for talking to Kiyomi as little as humanly possible.

Anywho, I had to call her today to do a schedule check and was pleasantly surprised when she told me that the business trip I was going to have to take on Tuesday was cancelled, giving me a three day weekend. Last week when I talked to her, she told me that the business trip I should be embarking upon tomorrow was cancelled. So I have the day off tomorrow, I work on Saturday for four hours, and then I have a three day weekend after that. Pretty sweet. It gets better. After my three day weekend, I work for two days and then go on a two week vacation while my family is here. In theory, I was supposed to work a couple of days here and there during my vacation but it looks as if that won't be happening either if everything plays out like I think it will. Basically, now that I have grown up enough to try to get serious with my job, buckle down, and find a career, my jobs get easier and pay me more money. I don't get it.

Peppy Kids is definitely not a career job, not by a long shot. But I figure it will look good on a resume and in very loose definitions of the term, this IS teaching experience. Oh yeah, and I am in Japan. :) I suppose I really should not be questioning my good fortune, but I truly want to start on my career, even if it ends up paying less than what I make now. The way I am looking at my time here is kind of like an educator's basic training. Most of the kids I teach will not be as crazy as the ones I am teaching now, most of the cities I live in after this will seem like a metropolis, any housing I live in after this will seem like a palace, and any actual teaching position will feel like I have been promoted to CEO of a Fortune 500 company. My situation here is not at all a bad one, but it can get much better in a variety of different ways.

Having said that, I think I know what my next move will be after teaching here. I do not what to travel to Europe anymore, instead, I think I would like to live there for a while as well. I am trying to figure out how to get an interview for a job that would have me teaching history on one of the United States' numerous Air Force bases scattered over that part of the world. Germany is the place I am most interested in and failing that, Turkey would be my next choice. But the way I see it, those are real high schools on those bases with real students. The pay is pretty decent by U.S. teaching standards and I would be living in another place that I want to visit. That would also give me another opportunity to learn another language. I am realizing that I very much enjoy learning languages, though they do not come as easily to me as I would like. For one of the first times in my life, I have found something that does not come easily to me right off the bat and I like the challenge. Math is another one of those things but I have pretty much given up on the department. I like math theory and history but I despise actually having to do it. Numbers are one of those things that I can appreciate without fully understanding how they work.

Anywho, that is my next step and its a year and a half off. I am happy though because this is the farthest into my future I have ever really planned without the details getting all vague and just expecting things to take care of themselves. If the teaching in Europe thing does not go through, I would also be very happy teaching anywhere in the United States. At this point, if they are willing to hire me, I am willing to teach as long as I am teaching history or another social science like economics or government.

Now I should go to sleep, its almost 4am Japan time and I am finally starting to feel drowsy. Good night!

Monday, June 12, 2006

I Did Nothing and It Was Everything I Hoped It Could Be

That is one of the better quotes from Office Space, one of my all time favorite movies. It also sums up what I have done the past four days, almost absolutely nothing. When I said I was getting four days of relaxation a few days ago, what I actually meant was that I was in for four days of sheer boredom.

Japan is a great place, when you have something you want to do or somewhere you want to go. Or if you have a couple of friends that live in the town you do, that also helps. Seeing that I had none of the above, I have pretty much sat around on my kiester the entire time I have been off. I feel lazy but honestly, there was not a lot I could have done. I cleaned my apartment a bit, I did dishes a couple of times, but that was it.

Oh, I have been very good about running everyday, I have been doing that. Though I am not going to tonight. My knees felt kind of odd yesterday and though I think its probably because they are mad at me for running on concrete and not a machine, I figured I would let them rest today. Over the past five days, I have been running three times and each time has been a little more than three miles. Not a bad way to ease back into the habit if I do say so myself. I have found a really cool route that takes me through the whoring district of Fukuchiyama (yup, there's a red light area) and then through a covered strip mall that is closed at night and stretches the better part of half a mile. I like running through there because of the way it is dimly lit at night and kind of creepy. To add to the ambiance, last night when I was going through that area, someone was practicing on their koto. They were playing a tune called Sakura. Think night time, ninjas, and cherry blossoms, and you pretty much have the atmosphere in which a ran last night. The funny part is, when I was looking to see what the instrument was that I heard exactly, I came across this page that actually has the tune that I heard last night as the example of what a koto sounds like. Check it out:

In other news, about the only other mentionable event that has happened lately was another pair of earthquakes that woke me this morning. To be more accurate, I woke up about one second before the quakes started. I think I have dog senses or something, it was odd. Either way, these quakes came back to back. The first one, was a four magnitude and the second was a three. The keep getting stronger and lasting longer. Its like they are on viagra. :) Sorry, I had to, I just read that last sentence and it sounded so wrong I knew it had to be right. :)

Tomorrow, I start back to class and I must say I am happy to be going. It at least gives me something to do. That and the shopping area next to the class has a little shop that sells really tasty curry ramen. Mmmm....curry ramen....ahhh. Anywho, this week should not be horribly eventful. I will have my language exchange with Mari on Thursday, so I am looking forward to that. My family will be here in two weeks as of yesterday so I am getting excited for that too. I am mildly intrigued to see how they will take everything in. It will be nice being able to show them everything I have told them about, I am looking forward to their visit.

Well, that about does it for now. If something nifty happens tomorrow, I will let y'all know. Later!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Back To The Paddy

Two weeks ago, I posted my initial findings on the rice paddy that I am going to observe over the course of the summer. The little sprouts were pretty sickly looking and limp. Each sprout only had a few leaves and they looked as if a strong wind could probably uproot the fledgling plants. Two weeks later, I am happy to say that they are thriving and you can actually see a change in them.

Here is the close up shot:

Here is the whole paddy:

You can definitely see a difference if you glance back at the other post. It is kind of cool to see that they have changed so much in two weeks. I think the farmer has also been working the paddy a tad because there are to tracks going through the sprouts now. Either way, there is a definitive change in the field.

The other thing I noticed during my visit was the crazy amount of frogs and tadpoles that now live in my paddy. The frogs I saw were pretty small tree frogs but the tadpoles that were swimming about were huge. I think they are bullfrog tadpoles because they are almost as big as the tree frogs I saw. At night time, if I am visiting a train station in the town of Tanikawa, the frogs are so loud that you actually have to almost yell into your cell phone in order to be heard by the person your talking to. The downside to the frogs is that they are there for a reason. Yes, it is wet but there is also an abundant source of food, bugs. Lots and lots of bugs. Ugh. Anywho, here is another pic of a little guy that I think I was scaring the daylights out of while I was taking my pictures. Can you find him?

More rice paddy pics in two weeks!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Four Days of Relaxation

It seems like everything is coming in fours these days. Anywho, this past week went by quickly and smoothly, which is all I can ask for really. Now, I am rewarded for my travelling and meetings and whatnot. I have today and the next three days off!

Today, I have been getting caught up on all of the administrative work of keeping the apartment in running condiditon. Laundry is caught up on, dishes will be done soon, garbage is picked up and getting ready to be taken out, and I have been cleaning in general. There is still some work to be done but it looks much better now than it did a while ago. The tidiness of my apartment comes in spurts. On the weeks that I have to travel, my apartment tends to get kind of trashed. I usually have to leave earlier and I get home later on those days and I just don't really feel like cleaning on those days. What I have learned is that most of the time, its not teaching that wears me out, it the train rides. The longer train rides I have, the more tired I get. I like riding them but they just gnaw on me after a while.

To combat this boredom, I usually read a book or play video games but lately, I have been going through stuff very quickly it seems. I finished a 430 page book yesterday that took me a total of six hours to read. It was a good book but I was hoping it would take up more time than it did. English books aren't as cheap or as easy to get ahold of here, so when I find them I try to savor them. At the rate I have been going through books lately, my family will get here to replenish my supply just in time. As it stands, I have two books left here that I have never read and I do not think either of them will take much time to go through.

Other than that, not a ton has happened in the past few days. My big meeting yesterday was little more than a friendly social gathering that I was forced to attend. It was actually a nice meeting but nothing of dire importance was accomplished. After I get the place straightened up, I may see if Mari wants to come over for dinner or something tomorrow or Sunday. We'll see, part of me just wants to be lazy for a couple of days.

I talked to both of my "aunties", Mariko and Motoko last night. Evidentely, Motoko's computer is going crazy and Mariko bought an iPod she is not sure how to work. I told them that as a favor, I would come down and help them but I am not sure when that is happening, maybe tomorrow. The thing that cracked me up was the Mariko called me at midnight last night and then her last email to me came at almost 2am. That lady stayed up later than I did. It will be funny to help Motoko with her computer because she will need to translate different things for me while I am working on it. She tried to do that over the phone to me last night but that wasn't going to happen. Between her lack of computer and English savvy and the lack of my Japanese knowledge, I reasoned it would just be easier to go to her.

Oh, I tried a new snack the other day and was surprised by how good it was. They were hotdog flavored potato snacks. They really did taste like a hotdog too, one that had been BBQ'd over a fire. They were really good, or maybe I was just in the mood for a hotdog. I would kill for a Polish sausage with kraut and ketchup right now. :)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Nihongo Lessons

Today, I woke up early and went to my first meeting for my Japanese lessons. It is humbling to sit in a room filled with five Japanese women and one Korean woman and one get about a third of what is said, if that. I have a LOT to learn....but then again, thats why I am taking the lessons.

I looks like we are meeting two or three times a month, in the mornings. This works perfectly into my schedule because most of my classes don't start until in the early evening or late afternoon. They asked me what I expected to get from the class and I explained to them my desire to be able to read more Japanese and learn more kanji. By the end of the meeting today, I had memorized two new kanji, the one from Spring and the one for Beauty. The lady that will be teaching me for the most part was very nice and I think I will be able to learn a lot from her. I am the only student in the class so I will be getting a lot of attention. The Korean lady has lived in Japan for 18 years and the lady helping me said she knew Japanese better than she did.

Everyone is the class thought it was funny that I knew all about Japanese history and culture but had not learned the language as much. I told them I was learning backwards and they all laughed. They were all very happy that I knew my katakana and hiragana and I think they will abide with my wishes and teach me more kanji now because of it.

Our next meeting is on the 21st and it is kind of show and tell day. I am supposed to bring pictures of everyone in my family and group of friends and talk as much about each of them as I can in Japanese. That means my speech will last all of five minutes. I think it is kind of funny that I am the only person there that really needs help and there will be three people there to help me. I kind of feel bad for making them take time out of their lives just for me, but at the same time, I think I will be able to learn a lot. Oh, another cool thing, after each lesson ends, I can come back for another two hours for additional help. If my schedule allows, I am going to utilize these people to the fullest and get my money out of this....even if it is being offered for free. I am pulsing with excitement right now.

Since, I don't need to teach until later, I have been doing laundry and target practice with my Airsoft gun. My roof makes an excellent shooting range other than the occasional gust of wind. Today, I executed four choco pan prisoners. Their crime, being stale. The penalty, death by firing squad. In my apartment, I am judge, jury, and executioner. Justice is swift and comes out of the barrel of my gun. Choco pan make great targets. They are essentially little slabs of sweet bread pastry filled with chocolate pudding stuff. The BBs make an extremely satisfying thud upon hitting them and everyonce in a while, I am rewarded with the sight of pudding shooting out of the exit wound in the back of the pastry. All in all, quite fun. The other nice part about using choco pan as targets is that they are cheap and biodegradable. When I am satisfied with the justice I have wrought, I throw them off the roof on to the train tracks below, giving the birds a tasty snack.

Tomorrow, I am in Kakogawa for a meeting that will last most of the day but after that, I have four days to myself and am looking forward to them. But for now, I must get ready for my train ride to Miyazu.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Four Towns in Four Days

That is my upcoming week. This time of year, everyone starts to take vacations, myself included, and that means I have to substitute for peoples' classes.

Tomorrow, I am in a town called Kasai, Tuesday a place named Tamba, Wednesday is Miyazu, and Thursday is Kakogawa. I am going to be busy...actually, not that busy, just on a lot of trains and moving around a lot.

Either way, I probably won't post for the next bit because of that, so I figured I should post now.

Today, I got my new weapon against spiders and other insects. It is a .45 caliber Socom pistol with an under barrel light and silencer. That will teach those pesky creatures. Oh yeah, it shoots BBs and not lead, I should probably mention that. Since this is an apartment, I can't have slugs putting holes in the walls.

One of the fads in Japan is something called Airsoft. Basically, since most Japanese people don't own firearms, they like to pretend. You can go to stores here and pretty much pick out whatever make and model pistol, machine gun, rifle, or shotgun you want and take it home with you that day. It may not shoot live ammo but the weight, look, and feel is almost exactly the same as the real deal. There is a store in Osaka that sells a full SWAT uniform if I were to want it to go with my gun. You can pick up holsters, scopes, you name it, if it goes with a gun, these stores sell them. And the fun part, they are all legal and they are all toys. Hey, some people want to dress up like anime characters, some want to dress up like Navy SEALs.

Not a whole lot else to report, just that I am going to be busy-ish for the next little bit. My family comes to visit at the end of the month and it will be a nice vacation for me. After the next couple of weeks, I am going to need one.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Another Quake

I just felt another earthquake! This one lasted longer than the previous one and had about the same intesity of shaking as the last one. The wesite hasn't updated yet which I find kind of odd, but this was for sure another small quake. It is almost 1am and the trains don't run this late so it had to have been one.

Ahh, the website just updated. It was a 4 magnitude quake in the prefecture next door to mine. The highest intensity felt in a city was a 3 magnitude in the city of Fukui. I was in Fukui about a month ago and its not that far away from me, maybe three hours. It looks like my area was hit with between a 1 and a 2 magnitude quake. As I said, this one lasted longer than the last one I felt so I think this was a tad stronger than the previous one.

Earlier today, the area just outside of Tokyo had a magnitude 4 quake as well. The strongest felt in a city was a 3 magnitude there. Fortunately, no tokai earthquake warnings have been issued so it wasn't anything to get too worked up about.

Anywho, I think I am going to head to bed, just thought I should post something about the rumblings.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A New Look

Ok, I hope you like the new layout, because this is how its going to be from here on out. I would like to thank Phear for tweaking the CSS code to the way I wanted it. Anywho, in a week and a half, this blog is two years old, so its about time the look changes anywho. I will be making some minor alterations in the coming days but this is how it will probably look for a while.

Sorry about the weirdness of yesterday. As I said, I really need to learn more about CSS and how it works.

Obvious Malfunction

So if you are reading this and you aren't blind, you have noticed that everything is different. #%#$ed up is a better way to put it. :(

I was trying to fix my hit counter and in doing so, proceeded to mess up the layout for the entire page. When I tried to fix that mistake, I got even more in the whole until I realized I was in way over my head. I had to change the template for the time being just to keep it readable but I hate the way it looks now.

I am kind of upset because while I have been wanting to change the look of the site, I wanted to do it smoothly and of my own accord. The template I was using, I had customized quite a bit and that is totally gone now. If anyone who knows what they are doing in CSS wants to help me get a new template up and running, please get ahold of me. I know what I want to do but I am not sure I can do it by myself. Your help will be rewarded in Japanese goodies.

Anywho, please bare with me for a few days until I can get everything sorted out. Sorry about this, I really need to learn more about CSS. :)

Queue network test pattern now.