Monday, August 29, 2011

7-Eleven: God of Convenience Stores

In America, there is at least one 7-Eleven in your town. Sheesh, there are over 8,000 franchised stores in the country! I know there are at least two in my hometown (that I can think of). If you're American, you should have a pretty good idea of what convenience stores are like. 7-Eleven operates the same as any other convenience store you'll encounter in the good ol' USA.

In Japan, there are nearly 13,000 7-Elevens! In Tokyo alone, over 1,000 stores! As you can see from the picture above, the company also goes by a different name: 7 & I Holdings. In fact, the 7 & I Holdings company bought the US branch of 7-Eleven back in 2005.

The big thing about 7-Eleven, and Japanese convenience stores in general, is how they differ from American convenience stores. In Japanese stores, you can find (in addition to everything available in the US): large varieties of electronics, seasonal gifts, adult entertainment, books, ATMs, toiletries, hard alcohol, etc. In addition, they have clean public restrooms and large parking lots where drivers can relax during a long trip. Now you may be saying, "Nick, 7-Eleven also has many of these things." The difference is in atmosphere and volume. Visit one and you'll understand.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cutest Inhabitants of Japan

Tanuki. If you've never heard this word before, it may be due to lack of exposure to Japanese culture. Written using the katakana タヌキ, or the kanji 狸, the tanuki is an animal that exists on two different planes. In reality, tanuki are known as Japanese racoon dogs, native to eastern asia. In folklore, tanuki exist as shapechanging animals that enjoy mischief.

As real-life animals, tanuki are part of the Canidae family, related more to dogs and wolves than to racoons. Their strongest populations exist in east Asia and Japan, their native origin, and in central Russia, where they were introduced in order to improve the quality of local furs. The subspecies Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus is known more commonly as the Japanese racoon dog. It is this particular subspecies that lends itself to tanuki folklore.

In Japanese mythology, tanuki are considered naive pranksters. They are identified by several characteristics: large bellies, straw hats, sake bottles, and humourously large testicles (see above picture). According to Wikipedia, "Tanuki may be shown with their testicles flung over their backs like travellers' packs, or using them as drums." Tanuki have the innate ability to shapeshift, often assuming the forms of kettles, wandering monks, or even geisha. They also have a habit of cheating merchants by crafting fake money from leaves.

Tanuki are often seen in contemporary times in the form of statues. These statues can usually be found decorating shrines or shops. The Japanese symbol for the number eight, hachi ( ) is written on their sake bottles, representing the eight traits of good luck that tanuki possess. These traits are: a hat to be ready to protect against trouble or bad weather; big eyes to perceive the environment and help make good decisions; a sake bottle that represents virtue; a big tail that provides steadiness and strength until success is achieved; over-sized testicles that symbolize financial luck; a promissory note that represents trust or confidence; a big belly that symbolises bold and calm decisiveness; and a friendly smile.

For more information regarding tanuki, I recommend you check out the animated film Pom Poko, created in 1994 by the animation studio Ghibli. This film deals with a group of tanuki trying to save their natural habitat from the ambitions of mankind, and makes gratuitous references to Japanese folklore in the process. It's a fun movie for parents and children alike, and has a simple learning curve.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

School Affairs

Not that kind of affair, weirdo. I mean school business. Today was the official first day of the new semester, but my first class isn't until Monday morning, meaning I have an entire weekend to fret by myself. I have two lesson plans finished, but likely have many more to complete. I am still acclimating myself to Japanese-style education, meaning that I am constantly thrown for a loop by their customs and business practices.

Today, I was invited to attend the new semester's Opening Ceremony at one of my junior high schools. If you've ever been a child, you've probably attended a school assembly. Most likely against your will. At all of the schools I've visited in Japan, these assemblies are professional affairs. Students stand in columns according to their class number, and no one speaks a word. I am serious. You would expect kids to mutter and murmur throughout assemblies, but you could here a pin drop here!

While we're here, let's take a tour of the school.

When you arrive, you will notice that the average Japanese school is much taller than your school. In Oregon, my elementary and junior high school only had one floor each; my high school had two floors. In Japan, most schools have three or more floors. You will find classrooms on the upper levels, while things like the teachers' room, nurse's office, and genkan are found on the first floor. While this type of architecture is common, it is not true of all schools.

The genkan, as I have explained before, is a room found in all Japanese buildings where visitors and occupants alike shed their footwear in order to avoid tracking dirt into their houses. They will usually adopt a second pair of indoor-exclusive shoes. In this picture, notice that each cubby has a divider in the middle. Outdoor shoes go on the bottom; indoor shoes go on the top. Schools have seperate genkan for teachers and students. As a teacher, I am fortunate enough to have a door on my genkan, to prevent people from spying on my fashionable shoe style and copying it.

This is not my teachers' room, but all of them look similar. Unlike in Oregon, where each teacher worked out of his or her classroom and shared a teachers' lounge, all of the teachers come here between lessons and have their own desks. The desks are arranged like so: three desks near the entrance to the room belong to the vice principal, the head teacher, and a third party. The rest of the desks are arranged in two rows and, as you can see, piled high with papers. Japanese schools do not have air conditioning, so we suffer together.

Classrooms hold approximately 36-40 students, and each grade is divided into different classes. Example: Grade 7, Class 1/A/whatever. They sit at the kind of desk pictured here (uncomfortable) while the teacher stands at a podium at the head of the class. Regarding secondary education, lecture-style teaching seems to be the preferred method. English language classes are compulsory at this level of schooling, while only recently English classes have begun to trickle down into elementary school. Since upper-level schooling is optional in Japan, secondary school may be the only chance some students have to learn English in a classroom setting.

I've left a lot out, but seeing as I haven't actually taught a single class yet, my expertise extends only so far. I am still naive about many aspects of Japanese culture, so if you've noticed any mistakes, feel to correct me. Regardless of the specific accuracy of this post, I think you can pick up a lot of general things about Japanese school life.


Drinky Drinky

I drink a lot. Not alcohol, but carbonated beverages. I have an addiction to being well-hydrated. I like to think it's hereditary, because insofar as I know, none of my relatives has ever died from dehydration. As you can imagine, Japan has different companies and, therefore, different brands of sports drinks, soda pop, etc. Though both Coke and Pepsi have strong followings here, they are not the only game in town. While you can find Coca-Cola and Sprite on the shelves of grocery stores, it is somewhat tougher to find Mountain Dew and Pepsi. Additionally, there are tons of Japan-specific flavors like (believe it) Ice Cucumber Pepsi.

Honestly, I didn't even know Mellow Yellow existed until I came to Japan. It's Coca-Cola's answer to Mountain Dew, but since Mountain Dew is so scarce here, this drink is my only option. It was re-branded in June of 2011 in hopes of inspiring a larger following overseas. So far, at least in my hometown, it's not doing very well. It is not carried at my local grocery store and can only be found in vending machines or at convenience stores.

If you want to know what it tastes like, imagine regular Mountain Dew. I'm no gourmet, and my pallette doesn't discriminate, so I don't have a list of words to describe the essence of divine cuisine. This drink tastes like warm Mountain Dew. Not great, but tolerable.
Lifeguard is one of the drinks I frequently tasted during my home-stay in 2009, and it tastes just as bad as I remember. You can see the words "Royal Jelly" on the side. Jelly drinks are popular in Japan, which is why it pays to look closely at whatever beverage you're buying, in case you get one that is more solid than liquid by accident. This drink is marketed as a Red Bull-style energy drink, and the taste is similar, although it tastes like the sugar content was watered down. There's probably a lot less caffeine, too.
This is a rare one; I bought it because it has the cartoon character Freiza on it, a popular villain from the cartoon show Dragonball Z, which I watched when I was a child. The drink itself tastes similar to Lifeguard, but there's something about it that didn't mesh with me. I ended up dumping it into the sink.
Mmm... cream soda! Nowhere in Oregon have I ever found melon-flavored soda, except at Japanese import stores. You'd think it would sell just as well as other fruits. In America, we have apple, grape, orange, pineapple, etc. This particular drink is called "Gabu-Nomi," which according to my dictionary means "gulp" or "swig."

Yep, "Gulp Melon Cream Soda!" It's delicious and filling, and kind of tastes like a combination of melon soda and ice cream, which I'm sure was their intention. It says "Sapporo" on the bottle, so I assume it's produced either in the city of Sapporo or by the Sapporo Brewery, which ironically no longer brews in Sapporo, haha.

Next time, I'll try to cover more popular beverages. These are all less-than-famous famous brands. The heavy hitters are drinks like Pocari Sweat, Calpis, C.C. Lemon, Aquarius, Nachan, Boss Coffee, and Ramune. Most of them taste pretty good, too.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower! It is the second-tallest artificial structure in Japan, measuring over 1,000 feet in height! Tokyo Tower! Located in the beautiful region of Shiba Park, Minato, Tokyo, Japan! Tokyo Tower! It's obsolete!

Sadly, on July 24, 2011 Japan made the switch from analog to digital television. Tokyo Tower isn't just for show--it broadcasts signals for such high-profile companies as: Fuji TV, NHK, and TV Asahi. In May of 2012, digital broadcasting will be handled by the Tokyo Sky Tree, currently the tallest artifical structure in Japan. Its digital broadcasting will sync with its public opening, expected to be on May 22nd, 2012.

Though Tokyo Tower lobbied to keep the big television stations, it simply does not have the height to broadcast the frequency of waves for digital television to heavily forested areas or areas surrounded by high-rises. All of the big players have already decided to move their terrestrial broadcasts to Tokyo Sky Tree, leaving Tokyo Tower with slim pickings, mostly FM radio stations.

It's really too bad, because this means Tokyo Tower will not carry the cultural weight that it used to. The tower has appeared in media of all sorts since its inception and construction. It exists as an iconic structure, much like the Eiffel Tower in France. It is a frequent staple in Japanese Kaiju films and also the "subject" of the Japanese Academy Award-winning film Always Sanchome no Yuhi (ALWAYS 三丁目の夕日), which takes place during its original construction.

One thing that Tokyo Sky Tree will be lacking is Tokyo Tower's cool attractions, located at its base. The four-story FootTown includes an aquarium, a wax museum, and the Guiness Book of World Records museum. Pictured below: The Last Supper (of Wax).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Things I Miss: Garbage Services

In Oregon, we have ways of separating our trash. In my neighborhood, the blue bin is for recycling, the gray bin is for trash, and the green bin is for natural waste (tree branches, lawn clippings, etc). We even have a little red bin that we put out once a month with all the glass in it. Once a week, we put all the bins out on the sidewalk and the garbage man empties them. Rinse, repeat.

In Japan, there is a similar system. It shares many of the same qualities but is mired in convoluted rules and regulations. In Oregon, four categories seemed to be enough. In Japan, categories for trash can range from 10 to 34. You have specific procedures for brown bottles, PET bottles (plastic bottles like the ones soda comes in), burnable trash, non-burnable trash, used electronics, furniture, small metals, used cloth, etc.

Three times every week, the garbage man comes to my complex. We do not have bins here, in my village. Everyone carries their trash to a cage located far enough from all of the houses as to avoid the wafting smell, and the garbage man collects it from there. Monday and Thursday are for burnable trash, and alternating Fridays are for recycling and electronics/furniture/household objects. I usually run into the cage as fast as I can and heap my garbage onto the pile. If I'm fast enough, I can run away before the swarm of flies envelops my body and carries me away.

It's not over yet. I can't just put my trash in a plastic bag. I purchase special bags from my local convenience store. They are cheap and come in a variety of colors to help identify the type of garbage within. Red bags are for combustibles, blue bags for non-combustibles. Frankly, compared to some other places in Japan, I'm lucky. I don't have nearly as many categories as some places, although you can see from the picture at the bottom of this post that there are many.

If you have large objects, like old furniture or washing machines, that can't be thrown away in bags, you can call a trash collection service. In Oregon, we would have to drive our old furniture to the dump ourselves, so I actually prefer this. In fact, I believe the annoyance of sorting garbage is far outweighed by the good this practices does for the environment. "In the last four years, Kamikatsu has halved the amount of incinerator-bound garbage and raised its recycled waste to 80 percent, town officials said. Each household now has a subsidized garbage disposal unit that recycles raw garbage into compost." That's pretty cool.

 I try my best to divide my garbage according to the laws here, but it's hard when everything's written in Japanese and you're living alone. Sometimes, the garbage men will leave bags of garbage at the cage if they feel the bag was not filled with the correct category of trash. I guess it's meant to encourage you to do it correctly, because otherwise your incorrectly-packaged trash will fill up the cage and your neighbors will descend on you like an angry mob.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mo' Yen, Mo' Problems

I was appalled to learn that in Japan, they use a different form of currency! I had to change my dollars to yen at the bank before I came over here. You can recognize yen thanks to this symbol: ¥

Yen comes in several different dinominations, both paper and coin. The image to my right shows coin currency, ranging from 1 yen to 500 yen. Before the American recession, there was an approximate 1:1 ratio between yen and dollars. Now, according to Yahoo's currency converter, $1 is equivalent to 76.455¥. Unfortunately, that means that I lose more than 20% of every dollar I convert to yen.

Take a look at the image on your right. That big coin at the bottom, the one that says "500" on it? That coin is worth more than $5 in US currency. Psychologically, I am not fit to spend this kind of money. I've lived for 25 years in a country where anything that jingles in your pocket is practically worthless. 

Equally hard to remember is that yen isn't calculated with decimals to divide cents and dollars. $20.25 equals "One thousand, five hundred and forty-eight yen." Few times in my life have I been about to say I've had a thousand of anything in my pocket. It almost makes you feel like a rich man. That is, until you realize 1548¥ isn't even enough to buy dinner and a movie in Japan. Well, at least I have my health.

Paper money comes in four increments: 1000, 2000, 5000 and 10000¥. Japan is a cash-based society, so even mom-and-pop stores can break 10000¥ bills. In America, you'll often find cashiers don't carry enough change to break anything larger than $20. "Large quantities of yen are often counted in multiples of 10,000 in the same as values in Western countries are often quoted in thousands (3).

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Day of the Big Speech Contest

I guess you may be wondering what I'm up to jobwise. These days, my job is very low-key. Like in Oregon, there are no classes during the summer months. Instead, the students participate in various sports clubs or spend their time traveling. One of my schools has a dedicated baseball team, and I can often see them practicing from the teachers' room.

I surrendered my summer vacation because 1) I'd spent the last 6 months jobless, a sort of prolonged winter-spring vacation, and 2) I was offered the opportunity to help about half a dozen junior high students prepare for their upcoming Speech Contest. Each student memorizes a short script, about one page in length, and presents it in front of a group of judges. Based on intonation, pronounciation, vocabulary and stage presence, the judges award points.

I'm stuck in between the two junior highs in my village. It's a little odd to know that I'm helping two groups that will be competing with each other, so I can only hope their sense of community keeps them civil when we come together next week for group practice.

What have I been teaching them? Well, I consider myself to be an apt public speaker. I took a public speaking course in high school, but that hardly qualifies me in any capacity. I've done my best to help them through online research and my knowledge of the English language. Their greatest enemy is the pronounciation of English syllables and letters, such as "th" and words containing "L".

I also try to make them aware of things like body language and eye contact. In Japan, children are taught not to lock eyes with their superiors as a gesture of respect, since a shared gaze would indicate arrogance. It seems to be the exact opposite of Western culture, where looking away from someone suggests hidden motives. How often have you heard the phrase "Look me in the eye" when a person tests another's integrity?

One student has chosen to write his own speech, a daunting task for a boy who has only been studying English for a few years. While I'm quite impressed with what he managed on his own, his problem lies in sentence syntax. While a dictionary can give anyone the definition of words, it cannot convey the inherent context associated with synonyms and their appropriateness on a case-by-case basis. For example, he wrote "they act very active." This isn't necessarily bad grammar, but it certainly doesn't sound like the sort of thing you'd hear from any native speaker due to the fact that it uses a word as both verb and adjective in the same sentence.

This short period has been eye-opening for me, if only to show me what sorts of skills these students possess and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. I hope that, in time, I will be able to formulate a lesson plan that can address these problems tactfully. Despite my lack of experience in the field of teaching, I want to give it my all.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Japanese Lesson #18: Wasei Eigo

Today, let's talk about the relationship between English and Japanese. Ever since Commodore Perry's black ships landed on Japan's shores in 1853, there has been some degree of English in this country. Over time, English phrases have been indoctrinated into Japanese culture and language. Some of them have warped over time, losing their original meanings and gaining new, uniquely Japanese meanings. These words are known as "wasei eigo," translated as "English made in Japan."

What follows is a short list of wasei eigo words. Though you'd expect, as a native speaker of English, that you'd be able to understand them, you might be mistaken. As the words have evolved, their pronunciation and length have also changed.

aisu = ice cream
amefuto = American football
apato = apartment
biru = building
donmai = don't mind (i.e. "don't worry about it")
fantajikku = fantastic
irasuto = illustration
kitchenpepa = paper towels
otobai = (automatic bicycle) motorcycle
rimokon = remote control
serufu = self (abbreviation for "self service" gas stations)
zemi = seminar (often used to describe "lecture-style" college courses)

You can find even more words on Wikipedia's page. While in many cases there are Japanese synonyms for these words, oftentimes they are considered the most common or widely used versions. For example, both the words "zero" and "pink" are used more than their Japanese counterparts, "rei" and "momoiro."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Movie Review: Pontypool (2009)

I've been dying to watch Pontypool since it came out in 2009 and won some horror awards , but it was never released on Netflix. The film is set entirelly at a radio station in Pontypool, Canada. The protagonist, Grant Mazzy, is a DJ who dislikes living in such a small, dull town. Based on the evidence in the film, he was fired from his previous job and feels extreme distaste at moving down the ladder. While driving to work in the early morning, a strange woman bangs on his window and murmurs indecipherable words before fading into the darkness and the falling snow...

As the film progresses, breaking news from the police and eyewitnesses are relayed to Mazzy, and a picture begins to form. The town of Pontypool is under attack by strange mobs of people whose true purpose is veiled in misinformation. Since the three main characters are effectively stuck in the station during a snow storm, they try to glean the truth of the matter from call-ins, police radio bands, and reports from their weatherman. Eventually, Mazzy discovers that something horrible is happening to the citizens of Pontypool, and even the army is involved.

Stephen McHattie excels at his role. He has done narration for movies and tv shows in the past, and you can hear why. His voice is smooth and deep, rich and alluring. They could not have picked a better-sounding person to play a DJ. On the other hand, his acting never seems to match up with the scope of the terror he and his friends are facing. He remains calm at times when the normal response would be to panic, not out of stone cold courage but more likely out of disbelief and confusion.

The film was made on a shoe-string budget (shoe-string for a major motion picture, that is). An estimated $1,500,000 was spent on this film, which explains why the director only used one locale to shoot everything. The characters never leave the station, and the only scene outside is a short one at the beginning when Mazzy is driving to work.

Pontypool uses some unique conventions in its execution of a classic horror genre, the zombie movie. Other movies have gone this route. I think specifically of 28 Days Later and The Crazies (though a remake), movies which subverted the expectations of zombie fans by choosing to go down a path somewhat more believable than "reanimation of dead flesh." In a film where your cast and locations are limited, good acting and set utilization are key. While I wouldn't nominate any of them for academy awards, each actor manages to play his/her role competently.

If you're looking for a zombie movie without all the blood and a unique twist, check this film out.

お盆, Bon Festival

Today, I was invited to a performance during the Bon Festival in my village. This festival is typically celebrated from August 13th to 16th, which means I get a nice mini-vacation from school while the students visit their relatives. This holiday is a celebration of the deceased, a Buddhist custom that honors the spirits of one's ancestors.

My coworker Nozaki-san, who I often refer to as my 兄貴 (older brother), participated as a performer in the ceremony I attended. It was a casual affair that took place in the middle of an intersection. As the performers played their songs and danced, cars whizzed around them, sometimes almost brushing against them! They never broke character.

Some customs of Obon include: hanging lanterns in front of houses to guide ancestral spirits; performing Obon dances (known as the Bon Odori); visiting graveyards; making offerings of food at temples and altars. When Obon is over, floating lanterns are put into rivers to guide the spirits back to the afterlife.

One interesting fact about Obon is that it can be celebrated in July or August, depending on which region one lives in. The Japanese lunar calendar switched to the Gregorian calender (the modern, international calender) at the end of the Meiji era. As a result, some parts of Japan adhere to the previous calender when celebrating Obon, although the August version is more commonly accepted. I like to imagine what might happen if some people chose to celebrate Christmas in December and some decided to wait until January.

Obon is one of the three busiest holiday seasons in Japan. I can attest to this, as I drove to Koriyama after the event and got stuck in traffic. Many people were returning home to visit relatives and family graves. The other busy holiday seasons are Golden Week in late April and early January, around the time of the New Year.

I attended an Americanized version of Obon last year in Beaverton, Oregon. The local Japanese grocery store, Uwajimaya, held a small festival in its parking lot. Along with friends, I participated in the Bon Odori and played traditional Japanese games. Both last year and this year, I have enjoyed myself during Obon.

At Nozaki-san's request, I took many pictures of the ceremony. Perhaps he and I can use them in the next issue of my village's monthly newsletter. There will be a further ceremony on Monday, so I hope to take more pictures and experience some more of Japan's unique customs.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Movie Review: The Hole (2001)

I like horror movies, but I like specific types of horror movies. I prefer not to watch lurid slasher films and tend to stick to subtle psychological thrillers. As the students here are all out for summer vacation, I have a wealth of time to spend watching these.

The Hole is a 2001 film from the foggy shores of England, starring well-known actresses Thora Birch and Keira Knightley. Though these days Keira Knightley seems to be the shining light of the pair, due largely in part to her role in Pirates of the Caribbean, at the time of production Thora Birch was riding high off her acclaimed role in American Beauty. This film was actually the first significant role for Keira Knightley. On the male side, you have supporting actors from such works as Gosford Park, Shakespeare in Love, and the TV series Dexter.

The film follows a group of four private school students who decide to skip a school-sanctioned field trip and instead throw a private party in an old, abandoned bunker in the forest. From the beginning of the film it's obvious that this plan went horribly awry, and the rest of the film is made up mostly of testimony from Thora Birch's character, Liz. As the film progresses, Liz reluctantly reveals more and more about what happened in the shelter and how the four students freed themselves.

Of course, it's a psychological thriller, so expect some twists. The film lacks an ensemble cast, relying on the performances of six main characters. Although the flashbacks are played straight at first, around the first thirty minutes there is a Rashomon-esque swerve that can subvert your expectations. Liz has the biggest role, with her testiomony driving most of the film.

Thora Birch does a superb job of playing a shy, naive young woman who is forced to psychologically re-adjust to reality after surviving on scraps of food and dirty water for over a week. My criticism is that Thora Birch's character cannot pull of a convincing English accent, since the actress herself hails from California. Her love interest is played by an American and is labeled thusly in the film. Why couldn't they have just made her an American, too?

This is a good film. Not bloody (until the end), fascinating storytelling and stunning surprises await anyone with an hour and a half of free time to spare.

Cool Japanese Thing #42: Manhole Covers

You can find a variety of artistically-designed manhole covers throughout Japan. "Japan's manhole covers often include a symbol specific to an area or town as part of the overall design. In Kyoto, a turtle (a symbol of wisdom and longevity) is the main motif, in addition local landmarks, festivals or flora and fauna can all be incorporated into these works of art under our feet." (1)

The above manhole cover is from my village. You can see some unique designs. In the middle of the cover is what I believe to be the symbol for our village offices, resembling the letter for the first symbol of the village's name, hi (pronounced 'he'). Below is a manhole cover from Koriyama, a large, nearby city. You can see some other unique manhole covers with a simple Google search.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cars, Too

So, yeah. I have a car. In Japan.
It’s a cute little silver wagon with four doors and zero horsepower. Made for driving slowly down skinny roads and fitting into box-lunch parking spaces. If you aren’t brimming with questions about Japanese driving laws, you might want to skip this entry. Based on my experiences so far, I’d like to share a few things I’ve noticed whilst puttering about in my little automobile.

1) Left
It’s the thing most people will think of, but it’s not that big of a deal. Driving on the left side of the road is as easy as driving on the right side. It’s just backwards. I’ve driven almost every day since I arrived, and now it's a subconscious thing. Once you become accustomed to it, you hardly notice the difference. That doesn’t apply to the rest of the road rules, though.

2) Speed
Next time you are driving in the country and you see a speed limit sign, mentally add 20 miles to it. In Fukushima, I’m the only person driving the speed limit. It’s between 40 to 50 kilometers an hour here, which is between 25 to 30 miles per hour. It's slow, but it's the law. The roads in my village are filled with sharp curves and blindsides. There are no passing lanes here, so if you’re going slower than the person behind you he is sure to let you know. I try to pull onto the shoulder if there’s a long line behind me. Luckily, with country traffic, there seldom is.

3) Amenities
No cupholders. Did you know it’s rude to eat or drink while walking in Japan? Maybe the same applies to driving. If I need a drink, I’ll stop on the shoulder somewhere. With this heat, I always bring a bottle of water with me. It’s between 80-90 degrees Farenheit (30ish degrees Celsius) every day over here. My friend has a cup-holder, though. I don't know what to believe anymore.

4) Street Signs
Instead of “STOP” you have "TOMARE." Instead of vertical traffic lights you have horizontal ones. 90% of the roads I’m on are one-lane, so you’ll see signs that signify ‘no passing.’ As if I’d be crazy enough to risk passing someone on a road that skinny. There’s barely enough room for two opposing lanes.

5) Parking
I noticed, when reading the Japanese driver’s handbook, that people are encouraged to back into parking spaces here. Instead of driving straight in and backing out like Americans (or at least Oregonians) tend to do, the government says it’s safer to back in first so you can pull out when you leave. So remember, kids: be safe and always pull out.

6) Trains
The public transportation infastructure of Japan is so essential to its daily habits that I’m not surprised there is a rule about this sort of thing. No matter where you are driving, you are supposed to stop before crossing train tracks. Even if there is no stop sign or if you can clearly see the tracks are empty beforehand. It’s like how school bus drivers in America are obliged to stop before the tracks and open their doors to check for trains, lest we damage the youths who will become the future leaders of the free world.

Hmm, that’s all I can think of for now. Feel free to correct me if your experiences differ. Also, don’t forget: window wipers on the left, turn signals on the right!

Mata ne,

Friday, August 5, 2011

Momentous Occassion

Well, the day is finally here. I have internet in my apartment. Frankly, I couldn't be happier. The computer my company was letting me use didn't even have flashplayer installed on it. I couldn't open half of the documents they sent me.

You'll be pleased to know that my one-month anniversary passed on August 1st without a hitch. I've been successfully living in Japan for one month with relatively no problems. As of this post, I have comfortably settled in my apartment and possess all of the amenities one requires to live a normal lifestyle. Completely satisfied. As you can see from the photos, I've managed to give my apartment the sort of flair that implies "yes, someone lives here."

I'd like to give you a full write-up on my job situation in the near future. I'd also like to make this a place for observations about the lesser-known qualities of Japan. Maybe a food review blog, too. There are tons of as-yet unknown but delicious commodities to be found in the Land of the Rising Sun.

I promise to update this blog far more regularly than the pitiful few entries I submitted in July.

Jya, mata ne!