I've been M.I.A. on this blog for a couple weeks because we've been busy traveling around a bit and enjoying some of the sights. A week ago we took a four-hour bus trip to Fukuoka (a big city in Kyushu, the big island to the southwest) and this past holiday weekend we traveled to Miyajima and then Takamatsu (on Shikoku, the big island to the southeast).
So I have plenty to write about. But first, Thanksgiving!
Amazingly, I forgot it was even Thanksgiving on Thursday until late in the day. I guess that's what happens when you're not inundated with advertising at every turn. Joe and I both went to school like usual, and I even stayed late to lead the English Club meeting. By the time I got home, I was starving, so we walked to the nearby Sunday's Sun. Sunday's Sun is a popular chain restaurant that serves Japanese food and American food (Japanese style, of course!).
It wasn't until we were halfway through with dinner that I realized this was our Thanksgiving dinner. It was a rather odd thought that we were both chowing down on double cheeseburgers instead of turkey with double helpings of stuffing on Thanksgiving. When I say "cheeseburger", I mean two hamburger patties on a plate (no bun, tomato, lettuce, etc.) The burgers were filled with cheese in the middle, covered with melted cheese on top, and accompanied by a tasty cup of salsa. We even splurged on the drink bar (a.k.a. fountain pop machine) to buy the privilege of refills on our Pepsi. This is an extravagence. Dessert was hot cocoa.
So, dinner was definitely a far cry from the gluttounous feast we're used to this time of year, but I was still happy to get a nice fatty burger because I don't get that very often.
Now, every other day is fair game for me to complain about this or that thing that annoys me about living here, but today I'd like to list 10 things I'm thankful for in Japan. This is aside from all the basic stuff like having a family, being alive, healthy, sane, continent, etc., etc., etc., that I'm always thankful for. It is important to mention that one of this year's greatest blessings was being able to spend the holiday weekend with my cousin and his family. Even though I'm more than 6,500 miles from home, I still got to spend Thanksgiving weekend with some family! (More on this trip soon.)
But for now, here's my list (in no particular order).
10) Excellent service — I cannot think of a single time when I've received poor service in Japan. It doesn't matter if you're at a nice restaurant or the corner convenience store, they will always smile, thank you, and get your order right. They never forget to give you a napkin, straw, spoon or whatever. Compare this to the states, where I was generally guaranteed to have something wrong with my order 75 percent of the time. I have no doubt that this will be one of the things I'll miss most about Japan someday.
9) Freaky lack of bugs — In the dog days of summer when it was so hot I was convinced I was melting, there's one thing that could have made it infinitely more miserable: mosquitos, flies, gnats, all those annoying little buggers that thrive in the heat. But there were practically none. We would leave the front door of our apartment wide open to get a little cross breeze going. There's no screen, but we still never got any bugs in the apartment. Maybe the city sprays a super-duper pesticide...maybe it's pollution. Either way, you won't hear me complaining.
8) Four distinct seasons — Case-in-point: It's almost December, and half the trees are still green. Fall seems to last all of three weeks back home. Here, autumn is making a slow, pleasant descent into winter. It's beautiful.
7) The efficient transportation system — Sure, I was sad to bid farewell to my blue Toyota Corolla when we left Ohio, but the mourning period is long gone. I now walk, bike or take the trains everywhere I need to go. It's better for my health and easier on my pocket book. I always felt like such a slug driving everywhere in the states. Now I don't feel that way.
6) The stunning history and culture — I'm still awed by all the ancient Japanese temples and shrines I see. It's just really, really incredible to see in person.
5) Picture menus — You can't always get an English menu in the restaurants, but lucky for me there are usually plenty of pictures. And a lot of places even have plastic replicas of their menu items sitting in a glass case in front of the restaurant, so I know exactly what I can get. If it wasn't for this God send, I'd be ordering a lot more surprises.
4) Respectful students — I'm amazed everyday by how well my students are behaved, on the whole. Yeah, there are a couple of class clowns but by and large they all follow directions and do what they're supposed to do. Maybe they're too sleepy to think of ways to misbehave. I also still haven't gotten tired of seeing the students stop dead in their tracks to bow to me when I walk by. ;)
3) Free Japanese lessons — For a year before I came to Japan, I was a volunteer ESL tutor twice a week. Now I benefit from free Japanese lessons offered twice a week at the Hiroshima International Center. Who ever said life isn't fair?
2) English skills of the Japanese — They often know just enough to make life a little easier. Not always, but a good bit of the time.
1) English skills of the Japanese, part deux — They may know just enough English to help out... but not enough to avoid constantly misusing the language. Go here to see what I mean. Combined with the Japanese culture of cuteness, this is a constant source of amusement for me. Take a look at this darling little notebook I just bought, for instance.
Really, how could you resist stuff like this?