Sunday, September 30, 2007

WHAT the...

The other day I returned from a walk to the store and saw this white truck parked in front of my apartment.

Did a double take when I saw the cartoon picture on the side. Let's take a closer look at that ...

WHAT the...??!

I see bizarre stuff like this all the time in Japan. What's this for? Your guess is as good as mine. Plumber? Toilet paper salesman? Potty training service?

The mystery lives on.

Another strange van came crawling down our street last week, too, blaring loud, peppy Japanese music. The only word I could catch was "Oishii!" which means delicious. At first I thought "the Ice Cream Man!" Peering down on the yellow truck from my balcony, I saw an older woman approach. The driver popped the back up and I saw he was hocking not ice cream, but bread and donuts. This seems to be a popular thing around here, as a bread truck like this actually visits my school each Friday. The picture on the side of this truck shows a baby munching on a loaf of French bread.

I'd still rather have a Push-up.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Apartment tour

Our apartment building.

We've got a tiny but cozy place here and I'm quite happy with it despite its tight quarters. In fact, I'm told that our apartment is large by Japanese standards. A teacher at Joe's school told him she lives in a smaller apartment with her husband and two teenage children. So we're pretty lucky!

Our apartment is three rooms plus a kitchen, toilet closet and shower/laundry room. I'd say it's about half the size of my first one-bedroom apartment in America. It's basically a big box with doors connecting all the rooms.

See it for yourself! If my wobbly videography makes you woozy, then just check out the pictures. Drink it up — I ain't showin' you personal space like this again! If I sound nasally blame my allergies.

This is the kitchen. You can see the miniature fold-up table we're using for now. You're supposed to sit on the floor on little pillows to eat at this table, but usually I sit on that little stool instead. Dining Japanese style was cute at first... and then it wore off. Our new, normal kitchen table is being delivered in two weeks, hurray! The kitchen space itself is sizable, but the refrigerator is ultra narrow and the counter-space is super tiny. I'm used to the stove now (really, when did I ever use more than two burners at once, anyway?) and I'm pretty fond of the little oven drawer it has to cook fish.

Next is a peek at our bedroom (ooooooo!)

As you can see, it's a bit empty. Keeping with Japanese custom, we're sleeping on futon mats on the floor. We fold them up and store them in the closet each morning and lay them out again each night. Failing to do so can have some creepy consequences — tatami bugs. They're microscopic bugs that live in the tatami mats (some sort of woven grass mat) that are built into the floor in our bedroom and family room. That's what they use here instead of carpet. Anyway, leaving out the futons can trap little bits of moisture in the tatami and lead to infestations of these invisible critters. They bite you in your sleep and you wake up with little red spots all over. Makes me cringe just thinking about it! So that is good enough motivation not to leave our pile of futons out all the time.

Now many of you know that I'm a very finicky sleeper. Sleeping conditions must be perfect for this sleeping beauty to get any shut-eye. But the good news is I found a memory foam mat and it's actually made sleeping pretty comfy. I still would have liked to have a regular bed, but the room we're using as the bedroom is the only one with decent temperature control since it has the air conditioner in it (an electric wall unit — no central air here in Japan, argh!). And considering that all four walls of this room have doors to access other areas of the apartment or the closet, putting a bed here just wasn't practical. Even if it was, I have yet to see a bed big enough to fit both Joe and me here.

Moving on. This is our family room, which at the moment just has the mirror and my one lonely chair in it. But it is a heavenly, comfortable chair. And it was free.

Here's the office, viewed from the kitchen.

And the office again, standing against the far wall and looking into the kitchen this time.

This is our toilet closet, which has the toilet in it and nothing else. I was surprised to see that the sink is actually built into the toilet itself so that when you flush, water that refills the tank comes out the spicket on top so you can wash your hands. Pretty nifty if you asked me (though I admit, the first time I saw this I wasn't getting my hands anywhere near that water!)

And then in a separate room off the kitchen, we have the bathroom/laundry room. There's just a tiny washer in here, no dryer. All the apartment dwellers around here hang their clothes out to dry on their back porch — knickers and everything.

Here's the shower. The tub actually comes with a cover that you can unroll over the top to keep warm water warm so more than one person can use the same bath water... No thanks.

And last I'll leave you with the view of our back porch. We've got a fabulous view of the Astram line, the tram we ride to go downtown. It takes about 20 minutes. It's not the prettiest view you've ever seen, but luckily the tram is pretty quiet. And I've come to appreciate our close location to the train station.

So there you have it! Now come see it in person!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mountain climbing on Miyajima

With the sun high in a crystal blue sky and a day off work Tuesday, Joe and I hopped on the JR train and zipped over the island of Miyajima on on the ferry.

Miyajima is an island on the Inland Sea. It is home to the Itsukushima Shrine, the famous orange shrine that is supposed to be one of the top three sights in Japan. The island's web site claims the shrine was built in the year 593. At high tide, it looks like it's floating.

One word: Glorious!

Not only were the shrine and neighboring Purification Hall impressive sights, but the island was also teaming with tame deer. Those of you who know my love of cute animals understand what a delight this was for me. The deer walk right up to you looking for handouts. They're quite persistent about it, too. I was caught a little off guard when one of them snapped up a paper dropped by a tourist, chewed it right up and swallowed it. Worrying about ill health affects to the cute little buggers, I tried grabbing a stray map away from one baby deer, but it just ripped it away. I even watched one deer trot up to a park bench and gobble up half a pack of cigarettes that had spilled on the ground. Do you think deer get a nicotine rush?

At Joe's insistence, we skipped a close-up view of the five-story pagoda (we'll catch it next time) in favor of climbing Mount Komagabayashi. I admit, this sounded like a much better idea at the bottom of the mountain. Halfway to the peak — 1,755 feet — I was quietly cursing Joe while my thigh muscles balked at the endless stairs rising up around every bend in the trail.

He was redeemed once we made it to the top. You can see why — absolutely breathtaking views of the Inland Sea stretched out before us. It was the perfect reward to such a murderous climb.

Joe literally wringed out his sweat rag at the top. We were completely drenched.

After marveling at the view from the top of Komagabayashi we began the trek to the bottom only to discover partway down that the path was closed due to landslides caused by a recent typhoon, essentially forcing us to trek back up to neighboring Mount Misen so we could catch the ropeway lift back to the bottom. Utterly exhausted, we opted not to drag ourselves up the last stretch to the very peak of Mount Misen on the way to the ropeway station. Technically speaking, Mount Misen is the highest point on the island but personally I thought it looked the same elevation as Komagabayashi, so we figured the view wasn't much different.

Turns out it was a very wise decision. We arrived at the ropeway station two minutes before the station closed for the day. We were the last tourists out, and it was a darn good thing because I don't think I had an ounce of energy left to go any farther, even if it WAS downhill.

My cousin (who also lives in Japan, in Takamatsu) informed me later that we missed the wild monkeys by cutting our climb short, though. That, I found disappointing. But it may not have been entirely a horrible thing. He informs me that people are warned not to meet the monkeys' gaze because the monkeys can perceive this as threatening, prompting an attack.

I knew I'd see a lot of unexpected stuff in Japan, but I never imagined I might encounter disgruntled monkeys! Maybe we'll pay them a visit on our next trip to Miyajima in the fall.

Saturday, September 1, 2007


Hurray! My baby blog has been born!

Originally my plan was to begin this blog chronicling my adventures in Hiroshima with a tour of my new apartment. But it took longer than expected to get my own Internet access and some really fun stuff has happened over the last few weeks that I'd rather tell you about now. We'll get to the nuts and bolts of my existence later.

First, I want to give you a little glimpse into my an English camp that I participated in shortly after arrival. My husband Joe and I joined a dozen other JETs at a YMCA in a rural corner of the world outside Hiroshima. We played English games, sang karaoke and just generally goofed off with a bunch of 15-year-old Japanese students from Akifuchu High School. That's not the high school where either of us teach, but it's in Hiroshima.

So this was my first experience with Japanese students. It was, without a doubt, an unforgettable experience. Just the first of many, I'm sure!

I was tremendously nervous the first time I had to speak in front of all the students, but I had to get over the stage fright quickly.

One of the super cool things about this camp was the realization that I was hanging out with people from all over the globe. At this event alone, I met other JETs from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Guam, Jamaica, Canada, and places all over the United States.

This video is one of my fondest memories of the camp. Of course, seeing my husband dancing around like a big crazy goon has something to do with it.

Then, of course, there's this fantastic performance...

Yes, Japanese girls ate this up! They kept screaming "Justin! Justin!" That's the guy on the far right - the one that actually bares a pretty close resemblance to a Backstreet Boy.

And I guess it wouldn't be fair to embarrass my husband without embarrassing myself, too. So here is a video of me singing karaoka to Dancing Queen. I have no shame.

Indulge me with just one more, now. I'm a bit proud of the video of my first group of Japanese students singing English karaoke. They sang "Every Breath You Take" pretty well, if you ask me.

So now I've had my fun fiddling around with my new video camera. Pictures are coming soon.