Saturday, July 2, 2011

Number 11: "Finders Keepers" Does NOT apply here...

We were teachers at a conversational English school prior to working at Tamasei. One day at work I overheard another teacher talking about what had just happened in one of his lessons. A student (these were mostly adult students) had gotten frustrated with the teacher because the teacher had said that if he found an unmarked envelope with cash in it he wouldn't turn it in to the police. To the student this was unthinkable. Actually, the other students in the class room felt the same way. That the envelope should, indeed, be turned into the police. The reasoning? because that money isn't yours. It belongs to someone else. At this point the English saying, "finders, keepers" was brought into the lesson and the Japanese couldn't believe we had such a saying. The concept alludes them. It doesn't apply here.

I miss that about Japan. If you leave something some where, camera, purse, money, phone, or even a sweat towel you can be sure it will be there when you come looking for it or if it's not there it is probably at the nearest koban (police box).

A Koban


Seem weird that I included a sweat towel in the list above of lost items? Well, let me tell you about that story. It was our first encounter with the social rule of "leave things where you found them". In the summers in Japan it is HOT. But, not just regular hot but HIGH in humidity hot. The sweat just pours off of you and you NEED a sweat towel. A little towel about the size of a wash cloth but not the consistency of a washcloth. It is a much lighter weight. When Jason and I first arrived in the hottest month, August, we quickly learned the necessity of having a sweat towel. One day on the way to work I couldn't find mine. No idea where it had gone. We had a 20 min walk to the train station so I couldn't search long and we had to head out. As we approached the station there was my towel. Someone had picked my towel up off of the ground and draped it very nicely over a railing so that the person who lost it could see it and/or so it wouldn't get trampled on if it remained on the ground. I was so shocked. I had never seen anything like this.

The Japanese so trust that people won't take things that aren't theirs that often when I pulled my bike up to our grocery store bike parking, unmanned bicycles had groceries or items previously purchased else where just sitting in their baskets. The guarded, ever-suspicious American in me could never bring myself to do this.

Once when we were traveling through China we left our camera in an airplane seat. We never got that camera back and all we could think to ourselves was that if we were in Japan or had lost it on a Japanese airline that camera would more than likely have been returned to us. We were that sure in this social norm of the Japanese.

If you go to Japan remember that "finders keepers" doesn't apply in this culture. And if you lose your camera or anything else valuable (or not so valuable) you can almost be certain that it is either where you left it or someone turned it in to the police. That is, if a Japanese person picked it up, of course. :)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Number 12: Tamagawa Seigakuin

I have to admit, I've been avoiding this thing. Not sure why. But, let me just say this...I really miss Japan. How can I count down all the great little idiosyncrasies I love about that country? How do I make that which may be abstract to you become as tangible as I have experienced it? The reality is I can't and that frustrates me. So, I avoid writing anything completely and just say I miss it. People then ask what I miss and I just can't explain it so I throw out the generic, the easily explainable, "food, people, and just the culture overall." But, I think I should push through this silly negativism and finish the list already!! I have also been motivated by the approaching one year mark of us having left Japan. I can't believe it's nearly been a year already.

So, here goes the long overdue continuation of the list....

Number 12: Tamagawa Seigakuin (the school where we worked):

the students...These girls are not your average teenagers...well, not your average American teenagers, anyway. American teenagers scare me sometimes...seriously. So much attitude and chips on the shoulder (now, I know they aren't all that way and, yes, I AM making a generalization. I do know several teens from the states that aren't like this.) which can make it difficult to sometimes just step in and have fun with them. It seems like there needs to be a stand-off first or something to prove to them that you can "handle" them and be trusted. Not with these girls. They are fun (yes, some have attitudes but it's rare) and have a friendly disposition overall towards their teachers. They laugh easily and try to talk with you in what little English they know and they try hard. It's precious. Sixteen and seventeen year-olds love Care Bears, Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse and basically any other love-able cartoon character. There's an unexplainable innocence to them that is endearing.

They also do really funny things when they see us. I miss having some really funny interactions with them. For example, when we first started at the school they were very excited about my husband and me working there. I guess because we were foreigners AND we were foreigners that were married. I assume that in their minds we were like the couples they see portrayed in American films. Every time they would see us together they would put their hands into the shape of a heart and say, "lub, lub" for "love, love" but some times they can't pronounce the "v" sound. So cute.

One girl once took a particular liking to Jason, my hubs, and the first time she met him she leaned in and sniffed him!! Then, she ran away screaming with glee and excitement and hands flailing in the air above her head. Jason and I just looked at each other like, "What? Did that just happen?!?" We laughed so hard.

Whenever our students would see us out in public in a casual setting (not school functions in the community) and there was a group of more than two of them we were often met with screams like they had just seen their favorite celebrity. Pumps up the ego for sure. :) Once, my husband and I were at a concert that featured a band from the states and when the concert was over we were walking out amidst the large group of people and past workers when we ran into some of our students. They screamed with so much excitement and at such an ear-piercing pitch that one of the workers (he was a foreigner) leaned over to Jason and said, "great show, man"!!! The reaction of our students seeing us made that worker think Jason had just performed in the show!! HA!

I miss these girls. They are just precious to my heart and I am so thankful for Facebook because I get to keep in touch with them even though we are an ocean apart. Tamasei students, I miss you a lot!!

the teachers at Tamasei...
We had some great co-workers at Tamasei. First, the foriegners. Jason and myself were two of five Conversational English Teachers who worked at this school of 80+ faculty and over 1,000 students. The rest of our colleagues were Japanese. And, embarrassingly to myself, most of them could speak English (I am excluding the Japanese English teachers) better than Jason or I could Japanese. I mean, here we are in their country and they are trying their best to get to know us through OUR language! Such a hospitable attitude (another thing I love about these people)!

It was interesting being in the minority along with our three other foreigner co-workers. We had our own little sub-culture amidst the larger one of our school. When we would get frustrated with some of the cultural things within the school, especially the things we didn't understand, it was nice to have people around us who could relate. We were the rookies of the bunch. Mike and Roger had been in Japan for close to 20 years each and Amanda close to 10 years. It was so nice having them to explain aspects of the culture that can allude you. I miss these three individuals. They are amazing people. Here's some pics of them....

Amanda is the beautiful lady on the far right of the picture and she is standing there with her beautiful family.


This is Roger. I love this picture of him. He has such a soft heart.


Here's us with Mike. We did lots of things with Mike. He's awesome. These were the students that screamed when they saw us at the concert. This is that same night. :)




Then, there was the Japanese English Teachers. They were so much fun. Some even became my dear friends. Here's some pics of these great people. I always enjoyed conversations with them. Sometimes I could give them English pointers and they would give me Japanese lessons. Such gracious people. Here's some pics of these great people...

Here is Kato-sensei; Suzuki-sensei; and Sato-sensei. Super lovely ladies.


Some of the English teachers. Hiromi-san and Sayaka-san. Sayaka and I were pregnant together. I will write more about her in a future post. :)


Harada-sensei and Hatori-sensei. Hatori-sensei is always one for a laugh!




The school did some pretty fun things too. Here's some video of the "sports festival". They do some activities that would NEVER fly in the U.S. seeing as how we tend to be a "sue-happy" society. The overall tendency of our society to try to squeeze every little penny out of a situation has robbed us of being able to do some fun things. See below....

video 1 is of a relay
video 2 good ol' fashioned chicken fight. :)


video video

Monday, June 28, 2010

Numbers 15,14, and 13...

The next few on my list don't need much explanation so I have decided to include them all on one entry. I think this may be my M.O. for the next several posts so that I can get them all in before we leave Japan in 18 days!! What?!?! How did time sneak up on me so fast? I'm not ready in so many ways, but time marches on, as they say, and there is no stopping it. Anyway, back to the list....

#15: Walking Everywhere
On average I walk about a mile or two a day. It's about a 12 minute walk to the train station, about a 10 min walk to the grocery store and about a 15-20 minute walk to some of our favorite places in Jiyugaoka (the name of the area where we live). If it's raining and you run out of diapers you have no choice but to get out there. I put the rain cover on the stroller, pull out the umbrella, and if it's really coming down I put on the rain boots (gum boots, galoshes, or whatever you may call them in your country) and off we go. Also, we don't walk just in our neighborhood necessarily but where ever you end up you walk a lot there too. In the US, if you want to go to the movies the process may look like something as follows: walk to your car, drive to the theater, get out of your car and walk 100 meters or so (but if it's too far we shamelessly ask the driver to drop us off at the entrance...no sense in the whole group having to exert a little bit of effort) to the entrance. Going to the movies here requires a lot more than just that. It's not exhausting it's just...different. You walk...you walk to the station, you walk from the station to the theater and all that walking will take around 20 minutes or more... it's just the way things are.

At night people are walking all through out the neighborhood. This is somewhat of a strange sight for this American at 9pm when you come across about 10-15 other people on their way home at night from their various activities in the day. I just never saw this when I lived in the US. In the states I remember feeling a little scared and apprehensive and wondering if the person who was coming up behind me or coming toward me had ill thoughts towards my well-being and I would begin to think out my plan of escape if I were to be attacked. I made sure I left my house with pepper spray in hand. Here that just isn't the case (in entry #3 will be missing the feeling of safety). I will miss walking everywhere. In the states (New York city excluded), if you want to walk you have to carve some time out in your day. Here it's just part of the normal goings on of life in Japan.


# 14: Our Grocery Delivery Service
Delivery services are common in Japan and a rule of thumb in the "mama" realm in Japan is once you have a baby you get a grocery delivery service. The reason being is, again, you don't drive...you usually either walk or ride your bike to the store and with a little one in tow this makes for quite a tricky journey.

Once a week my fruits, vegetables, milk, break, eggs, tofu (hey, this is japan), diapers, specialty items for baby, and other japanese items comes to our front door. It is fabulous. The cost of delivery...a whopping $2 and the prices aren't much more expensive than that at the grocery store. If any of you reading this blog know where I can get good grocery delivery service I would be more than happy to know. There is a big difference, however, in the frequency of trips to the grocery store in Japan in comparison to that of the US. It is common to go once, maybe twice a week to pick up items you need for that night or the next day's meals. You don't buy in bulk. You buy a little but go often. I don't like going to the store that's why our grocery delivery service makes my countdown. Yes, I will miss this for sure!

Our frozen items, cold items, and dry items come in these nifty little bins that the delivery man will pick up the following week so they can be reused.


My order forms...you name it they've got it. Stuff for babies, clothes, shoes, household items, cleaning items, and food. The pink form below the catalogs is my order form. Thankfully they also have English assistance available. Lucky me!



#13: Small Portion Sizes
I heard it once said that the Japanese only eat until they are 80% full. That's smart eating right there! It shows too.

When I lived in the US I was diagnosed with IBS (irratable bowel syndrome) and it sucked! My stomach ached ALL THE TIME!! Once we moved to Japan, however, my stomach troubles ceased to exist! It was incredible and such a relief to be living free of stomach/intestinal pain. When we would go back to the states to visit my stomach troubles would return again. This can only lead me to conclude that American food is bad for my health! We eat tons of red meat and smother our food with cheese and then we deep fry it all. UGh...just the thought makes my stomach hurt. Plus, we eat REALLY BIG portions. The portion sizes in Japan are considerably smaller...and it's wonderful. I have never left a Japanese eating establishment overly stuffed and in pain because I gorged myself on too much food. Plus, the presentation of the food is simply beautiful.

I am nervous about leaving this style of eating. I am going to have to really exercise self control and restraint once I move back. It is all too easy to fall back into the eating habits of the good ol' U.S. of A. Jesus, lead me on!

The next two pictures are from one of our favorite restaurants. Don't you just love the presentation. So pretty and everything on the menu if very healthy.




Sigh....pushing out all three of these items made me sad. Oh, Japan, how I will miss you and your ways. Hopefully, one day, we can come back to stay. :)

Monday, May 31, 2010

#16: Public Transportation

Here in Japan we don't own a car. Really, there's no need and that freedom is nice. That is why I have put public transportation on my list of things we are going to miss about Japan. It's somewhat convenient and earth-friendly. :)

Deacon loves the trains!


A rare occasion....a bench all to ourselves. :)


This is the inside of the station we use the most, Den-en-chofu.
video

Figuring out the train system in Japan is a daunting task. But, once you've accomplished it everything starts falling into place and it's quite easy from that point.

A map and the listings of how much it costs to get from where you are to where you're going. Underneath the map are the ticket machines.


In America a teenager looks forward to the day they turn 16 because with it comes a driver's license and with that, a new-found sense of freedom. Here in Japan that just isn't the case. Many people don't even have a driver's license, or if they do they got it much later in life than 16 years old. They don't need it. Getting somewhere one doesn't need to rely on always having a licensed driver. Just hop on a train. You can get almost anywhere in Japan via public transportation. Be it train, bus, taxi, and/or ferry.

Little guy waiting for his train to get to school.


We have been able to go to a lot of places in Japan thanks to an amazing rail system. Here we are on a shinkansen (bullet train) with our friends.




My wonderful and dear friends, Jennifer and Evonne, came to visit us in Japan. We took a trip out of the city and I was asking them where we were going. As you can see, no one was all that excited that I was taking this video. :)
video

Trains have a lot of great amenities. We took a trip down south to the Izu Peninsula and on that train ride our train had a children's play room. Deacon had a blast. :)


One thing, however, I WON'T miss about public transportation is crowded trains. They are AWFUL. Seriously, packed. Just when you think no one else can get on five more people seem to fit! It puts the stuffing-clowns-into-a-car feat at a circus to shame. It's that bad. If you have ever heard rumors of people having to be pushed into trains by station attendants just to get the doors of the train to shut because they are so crowded the rumors are true. I have seen it only once (it's mainly during the morning rush hour which I try to avoid) and it makes me stare. Even though my mama taught me that staring is rude, I just can't help it. It's unlike anything I have ever seen. I have posted a video below from youtube.com. We have never taken a pic...I think we were too busy staring in amazement to think about pulling out a camera.






I posted this on a post a long time ago but I figured it needed to be re-posted for this entry because it's just so funny. This happened to me after we had been here maybe two months and hasn't happened since. I'm so glad we got it on video.

video

Thursday, May 6, 2010

#17: Mt. Fuji

The first four months we were in Japan the majestic Fuji was elusive to us. We even went to a spot where it was almost a guarantee we could see it but it never appeared. I like to think the mountain is shy often hiding behind clouds. My first glimpse of Fuji was in May of 2008. It was breathtaking. It's like I was looking at a painting or a picture or huge backdrop or something. It just didn't seem real. I took a pic that day but as always with majestic scenery the pictures don't do Fuji justice.



Jason has climbed this beast and we hope to do so again at the end of July just before we leave Japan. I can't not climb this thing! :) This mountain (or dormant volcano) is beautiful. I love it because it stands alone and it ascends gradually when you look at it from far away. I am so thankful that I have been able to see it on just more than one occasion. I will miss having the possibility of seeing it. Seeing Mt. Fuji is not part of our daily life but it is one of those things that have made this place, this country, beautiful for us.

These pics below aren't ours but I wanted to post some that showed a more "thorough" view of Mt. Fuji and some with cherry blossoms (also one of my favorites).





#18: Seto

Tucked away on a very tiny street is a small restaurant named, Seto. Seriously, it's tiny. There is only space for about 7 people to sit down at a bar. The chefs, a precious little elderly couple, have a very small space in which to maneuver. This place is fabulous for more reasons than just delicious food. The atmosphere is comfy and familiar. People come in and talk to one another. It's the Japanese version of the local dinner/coffee shop of the U.S.

Whenever we go we always get the same thing...chicken katsu. Basically, fried chicken but not fried chicken like in the U.S. There are no bones just succulent chunks of chicken, battered in a flaky breading and smothered in a delicious sauce that is common to Japanese katsu. This sauce, however, is homemade and better than any other katsu sauce I've had in Japan. The rest of the dish is served with a cabbage salad (love cabbage now thanks to Japan), the best miso soup, pickled daikon (a root vegetable that is a staple in Japanese foods), and a bowl of rice. I will most certainly miss this little place, the people, the feeling of it, and the food.

The front of the restaurant. This picture shows the width of this place...see, it's tiny.


The precious elderly couple who own and run this place. It's just the two of them. :)


Jason took this pic from the outside looking in. Where the picture cuts off on the right hand side is where the wall is. Walking between the wall and the stools is like scooting between people in rows of seats....slide front foot out, bring the back foot to the front foot and repeat the shuffle as you scoot along to your stool.


Enjoying some fabulous food. Jason's cousin, Ryan, was in town visiting us. Jason took this pic from the outside, through a little window, looking in.


After the meal Deacon and I hop onto the bike to head home. He loves riding in the bike and where his helmet...or "hat" as he calls it. :)








Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hiccup in the countdown....

We lost our camera on our trip to China in March. Hence, I have been delayed on my countdown. Having no camera to easily tote around to capture the shots necessary to document all that I need/want to has caused me some slight delay. However, there is good news...we have just received our new camera in the mail. I have been taking pics and so the posting will commence. Hopefully at a some what rapid pace because I have a lot of catching up to do.