Sunday, January 1, 2012

Break Time: Winter Vacation 2011/2012 Entry #2

At least I had a white Christmas!
So, as you can note between the gap of time between my last post and now, I did not keep up my live blog.  The main reason for this is quite complicated and rather strange.  Suffice it to say, after I ate dinner, I went to the onsen for the first time (which was HEAVENLY), and I met a guy there.  He was a local and offered me to take me around.  I accepted, but at a huge cost to my wallet, which I will not go into.....  That night I got home at around midnight and then woke up at 8 for my breakfast, which I thought was going to be plain and simple.  The breakfasts, as well, turned out to be course meals, too!!!  I got a call from the guy I met, and we went to the famous Matsumoto-city Castle.  The castle was kind of funny because the majority of it was devoted to the various guns (which are illegal in Japan) they used to protect the castle (with 80% of them coming from overseas).  We then ate famous Shinshu (the region Nagano is in) soba, which was heavenly.  Usually soba doesn't have much flavor when you go to many places in Tokyo, but this was delicious.  But yeah, that night was equally strange.

The next day was Christmas and was probably my worst Christmas ever.  I had 8 hours to kill between checking out of my hotel and getting the bus back to Shinjuku.  But I had severely lacking funds from the other exploits of the weekend.  This depressed me a little, since, if I had more money, I would have celebrated much much more.  But instead, I wandered around Matsuomoto-city station in the freezing weather as it snowed.  I also passed dozens of couples out enjoying this "couple's holiday".  Not only did it remind me of my current lonely status, it also annoyed the shit out of me because they would sooner die together than release their hands to you can pass them on the sidewalks.  I tried to find places just to sit down and read.  I exhausted my first option of the only Starbucks within a 5km radius early.  I then dicked around the gift shop, literally taking an hour and some minutes just to pick out gifts for friends.  I then found a chain cafe/bakery and sat there for an hour or so.  Finally, fed up, I decided just to head to my station I had to go to.  On the train, I was so relaxed because it was nice and warmed.  I toyed with the idea of just riding the train to waste the three hours I had left, but because it came so infrequently, I didn't want to risk it.  I was relieved to see that Okaya Station had a nice, warm waiting room.  For two and a half hours, I sat in a chair and read, as many people gawked at me, partially because I was a big, goofy-looking foreigner, partially because I was laughing and gasping at the book I was reading, and mostly for the fact that I was just sitting there for such a long time.  I decided to go check out where the bus was scheduled to be about 45 minutes before I was set to leave.  Another bus from the same company arrived just then and I asked if I could get on earlier.  I was thinking rigid Japan would add another item to my list of a terrible Christmas, but, miraculously, I got on and had a comfy ride back to Shinjuku.

To sum up my time in Nagano: I'd say it was interesting, but not worth the money I spent (in more ways than one).  On one hand, I can now tell my grand-kids how I was massaged by a 70-something-year-old blind man in my room.  But on the other, my wallet is looking a bit under-fed until pay day.

Thankfully, the rest of my vacation has been pretty much amazing.  I'll post about that later, though :D

Friday, December 23, 2011

Winter Vacation Live Blog 2011 Entry #1: Off to Nagano!!!

Day 1 of Winter Vacation 2011 Live Blog

6:37- I just woke up. I went to bed much later than I should have in order to finish up what I had to. Ugh, I kept saying to myself how this time, I was going to be so prepared for the trip and I wouldn't have to worry about anything. Oh well. I now have to catch a train to Shinjuku to go to the bus terminal. I've never been to the bus terminal, so I'm getting there a little earlier. I decided to take a bus because 1.) the Shinkansen was waaayyyyyy too expensive 2.) the bus ride is only 3 and a half hours long (and 5,500円 round trip!) and 3.) I can watch the mountain scenery as we approach Nagano. I'm still not that excited now, but it's mainly due to being tired. I think once I get to the hotel, I'll be really happy. I'm getting to Nagano 3 hours earlier than check-in so that I can explore a little and get lunch. Well, I'm going to change into my clothes now and get going!

8:24- Ugh, I finally got on the bus. The terminal was a zoo!!! I got to the ticket office and it was swarming with people with humongous ski bags and big backpacks. It was utter chaos. I tried to decipher from the tiny (and poor) signage where I was supposed to pick up my ticket. Thankfully, a nice attendant directed me to the right window. I got my ticket!!! But... I got there a half hour earlier than my departure time so that I could have enough time to get on the bus and get settled. But of course, just like Japanese movie theaters, you can only board your bus less than 10 minutes before the departure. So I waited on the most narrow excuse for a bus waiting platform crammed with travelers of all shapes and sizes. There were obnoxious couples who were incapable of leaving their lover's side for even a moment, blocking the path, there were the annoying middle-aged hobbyist mountaineers who blocked the vending machines with their gear, not bothering to move it even when I asked to use the vending machines, and, the worst of them, confused mothers dragging their children up and down the narrow platform, all the while looking at the electronic timetable and not looking where they were going. But, to be fair, my aggravation is mainly caused by the bus company. Their narrow platform, bizarre, impossible to understand route schedule, and strange judgement (like thinking, with only two bus stops, five full coach buses could be loaded up and off to their destination in 10 short minutes) were the real culprits. But now I'm on the bus, so everything should be easy breezy from here on out (hopefully). My current dilemma now, though, is my lack of breakfast. In my rush to get to the bus terminal early, I had no time to grab something to eat. I'm currently watching a boy eating a Family Mart fried chicken AND a hot chicken sandwich. If only there weren't so many people on this bus, otherwise I'd snatch them from him. I'm hoping this bus is like the other transit buses I've been on where they stop at a highway rest station every once in a while. Otherwise I'll have to go 3 and a half hours without food -___- 

11:59- Whew. Just arrived at Okaya Station, which is a half hour train ride from my final destination. The bus trip was completely comfortable. Even though I was a little tired and could probably use some, I didn't sleep at all. I just listened to music and read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In addition, I got to gaze upon the beautiful scenery. Today is a very clear day; not a cloud in the sky. The surrounding mountains that you don't get to see when you live in the center of Tokyo are amazing. I was a little disappointed, though, that only a couple were snow-capped. Almost all had green still on their trees with some without any leaves at all. Fortunately for my stomach, we stopped at a rest station. To me, Japanese rest stops are extremely fascinating. Back in the States, my family and I have been on many a road trip and stopped at dozens of rest stops. They usual vary in quality but are usually pretty decent. Japanese rest stops are much the same. The one we stopped at was much more open-air than the ones I'm familiar. It had a gigantic (but mostly empty) bathroom, a row of vending machines, a store to buy gifts and snacks, and a hot snack bar where you could get things like ramen and ice cream. I immediately perused the snack section and was pleased to find some delicious looking inari sushi stuffed with various things and good ole onigiri. Satisfied, I dumped my trashed and got back on the bus. As we pulled closer to our stop, we began to enter the town. It was very quaint. Definitely a far cry from Tokyo. All the buildings were pretty old, though, with my guess being that the newest building was probably from the early 70's. Still, it was nice to see a "normal" town as opposed to a megalopolis. It was also kind of funny seeing signs for 7-11s that pointed in a direction and said "1km". I thought there were convenience stores in every square meter of Japan?!? Jk jk jk. But, I arrived and am currently waiting for my train, which, it looks like, doesn't come very often at all. I also had a "city boy" shock when I found I couldn't charge my Suica at the station. Oh well. Guess I'll have to hold on to tickets more carefully now. I'm notorious for losing them. Also, even for this kid from Wisconsin, it's COLD!!! But the air is also fresh. Still, I'm wondering if staying here an extra 8 hours after my check-out was a good idea.....

17:53- So, I had some journey to get to my hotel (not really, but it sounds more dramatic that way). I hopped on the train which could only be described, honestly, as "ghetto". First off, you had to open the doors with your hands. Not automatic at all. If you only push one half of the door, than the other side still sits where it is.  Second, there was no electronic board to tell what station you were arriving at. Just the conductor's announcements. Finally, the track was super bumpy. But I made it just fine. I arrived there at 1pm, but my check-in time was scheduled for 3. The hotel said it was a 20 minute bus ride to the hotel, so I took my time and had a much deserves meal of udon and katsudon. I then decided to check out where the bus stop is just to make sure I knew if I wanted to explore later. I was under the impression that it was attached to the station but it was actually in the basement floor of this department store @_@ It was bizarre. I found the time table and searched for where I had to go. The next bus was going to leave in just 4 minutes and the one after that didn't come for another hour. I bought the ticket for the bus (much like a train ticket machine) and scrambled to find the platform. I walked past all the perfectly prepared gift foods being sold by nice women and found the narrow staircase to the bus stop (which seemed to be the only entrance). The bus I needed was there and about to leave! Thankfully, I got it. After a nice bus ride far from the station, I got to the area I was staying at, called "Asama Onsen" 浅間温泉. For the uninitiated, onsen means a hot spring. I then whipped out my (not so) trusty iPhone to see which direction I needed to go. I looked pretty lost, so this nice teenager on a bike stopped and asked if I was ok. I said I was, but I forgot to thank him. I feel bad that he did such a nice thing offering help to a stranger and he didn't even get a thank you :( I found my hotel, and to my surprise, on this board right by the entrance, they had "Welcome DeVito Anthony様(sama)" written in big letters. 様 us an honorific title equivalent maybe to a super duper polite "Mister". I was a little more than a half hour too early for my check in, but graciously they allowed me to go to my room anyway. To be honest, I wasn't really impressed because the pictures on the website made it look really modern, but you could tell it was outdated. My room was equally unimpressive, though big. It only has three outlets in the entire room!!! I had to unplug the hot water machine to make room for my charger. But it's very relaxing and so much bigger than my current place (and a gajillion times cleaner), so I can't complain too much. I'm off to eat dinner now!

Winter Vacation Live Blog

Hey, ya'll, I'm going to be "live blogging", so to speak, every day.  This essentially means that I'm going to write a short little entry on my iPhone throughout the day detailing what I'm doing/thinking then.  At the end of the day, I'll post the compiled list so you can see what I did.  So, stay tuned!!!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Move It!!! (Rant)

The king of craziness.  Appropriately named "The Scramble".
WARNING: What I'm about to say is very angry and generalizing.  If you get easily offended or just don't want to hear a 20-something complain, then do not read any further.  This is a rant and I'm angry, so that's what it is!!!  It's and observation on cultural differences between Japan and America and how what is normal to one culture can be extremely rude in another.  Continue at your own risk and no complaining, please!  YOU'VE BEEN WARNED!!!

So, don't get me wrong, Japan is a very polite place.  People in the service industry go far beyond what is expected in The States as a rule.  But there is one thing that I've experienced day after day that is just wearing me down and I feel, in a country that prides itself on politeness, is incredibly rude, no matter how you look at it.  What I'm referring to is the average Tokyoite taking their fucking sweet-ass time to go anywhere while walking and also constantly blocking sidewalks, train platforms, and entry-ways.

Tokyo is a very busy place.  As the largest metropolitan area in the world, there are tons and tons of people.  But, no matter where I'm heading, there is always a person in front of me walking slower than molasses in January.  I occasionally see the running student or worker who is late to school/work, but the norm is definitely a zombie shuffle.  On top of this, it seems like a large percent of them are incapable of walking in a straight line.  If you're crossing an intersection, someone WILL cut across your path.  Crosswalks are battlegrounds for games of chicken.  Is this person going to move left?  Are they going to move right?  You'll never know.  No matter how many times you guess, your prediction will be wrong.

A large reason for many of these behaviors seems to be just a general lack of awareness of their surroundings.  I could be breathing down a young couple's neck and cursing under my breath, but not until they actually see me are they going to realize that they were taking up the entirety of the width of the sidewalk with their not-let-go-for-any-fucking-reason handholding.  This also applies to groups of people coming towards you.  More times than I care to count, a group of four or five people have walked towards me on the sidewalk, setting up an impenetrable wall along the width of it.  WHERE DO YOU THINK I'M SUPPOSED TO MOVE?!!??!  Am I supposed to hover above you???  Am I supposed to crawl underneath you???  Sidewalks, like roads, are TWO-WAY STREETS.  This is a daily occurrence for me in my neighborhood and around my work.

Which leads me to my next point.  Japan, could you fucking make up your mind as to which way you want foot-traffic to go???  In the States (and Canada and France and Argentina and everywhere else I've been), foot traffic follows motor-vehicle traffic.  You always keep to your right so the people coming towards you can pass you on your left.  Simple, no?  So, in Japan, you'd expect it to be reversed.  But this is only true about 50% of the time.  In train stations, certain stairs will -completely arbitrarily -have some stairs where going down is on the left side and going up is on the right side and then have other stairs where it's the complete reverse.  In big train stations -where controlling foot traffic is quite vital to an actually functioning and civil transportation system -like Tokyo Station (my most hated train station to walk through), they have arrows on the ground directing you which side is which.  It switches with no rhyme or reason.  There is no consistency whatsoever which leads to absolute, utter fucking chaos.

This is why, for me, going to a train station is a recipe for high blood pressure.  It's a perfect storm of all these evils and more.  Five times within the mere 3 months I've been here, the door has shut in my face because of a.) people standing around, oblivious to everything, in the middle of the platform b.) Ms. Suzy-Q Shops-a-lot has her bags on the right hand side of the escalator, blocking my path c.) people who are exiting the station think that if you see a man in a suit who looks like he's in a rush to get somewhere important, it's the best idea to cut across his path d.) all of the above and more.  Even if I'm not going to work or in a rush, it just really bothers me that people are inconsiderate enough of other people to do things like going up the four escalators, which are the only means of exiting the subway, and stopping at the front of the third one and standing there while people wait behind you.

Let me just put this into perspective of another busy city: New York.  If people were to do stuff like this in New York, particularly the most common offense of couples taking up the entire width of the sidewalk and walking slow as shit, they would get pushed over without so much as an "excuse me". 

And, from my recent visit to the Laketown Mall, I can maybe see where it all comes from.  While in the busy food court, a little girl of maybe four was running full speed away from her mother.  In her haphazard dash, she almost seriously tripped one of the food court workers.  The mother, who was moseying along many yards behind, witnessed this and there wasn't so much as a "sorry" or "watch where you're going".  And this is not an isolated incident with children I've seen here.  The number one thing American (and I assume Canadians and other Western countries) children are taught in public is to be aware of there surroundings.  American children are constantly being pulled by their mothers or told to "get out of the way" in stores because they're blocking somebody's path.  To me, it just seems like common courtesy.  If you're being an impediment to somebody else's way, than that's not right.  So get out of my way, because I'm not going to be merciful any longer.


/end rant

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Economy of Vending Machines

Found within every square meter of Tokyo
So, anyone who has been in Japan for even a second notices right-off-the-bat that there are LOTS and LOTS of vending machines (or 自動販売機 jidouhanbaiki or 自販機 jihanki for short, which is way easier to say than "vending machine", so I'll be using "jihanki") in Japan.  You'll even find vending machines next to vending machines.  But that isn't what I wanna talk about.  What I want to talk about is the mystery surrounding these wonderful machines.

Everyone who knows me in Japan knows that I have a problem with jihanki.  I spend a good 600 yen a day on drinks from these things.  But the funny thing is, even if two vending machines are around the corner from one another and have the same offerings, one will be cheaper than the other.  Sometimes it is because one is on the main street (more expensive) and one is in a side street (cheaper).  But I've seen it where the same street has the same drink for two different prices.  Weird....

Vending machines are also interesting for their drink selections themselves.  Many of them have drinks that are either hard to find in convenience stores or are sold exclusively in vending machines.  For example, the DBZ "Power Squash" shown below has only been spotted by me in a vending machine (and out of the way vending machines, at that).  Vending machines also switch their menus seasonally, offer a larger selection of hot drinks during fall and winter time (as well as many of them selling canned corn soup.............. no comment).  But caution, these supposedly "warm" drinks can burn your hands, especially the ones that come in cans.  Their best enjoyed wearing gloves.

Finally, something that happened by my place a month or two ago was sort of a mysterious happening.  There were two vending machines on the corner of the block south of me that I really liked because they had 100 yen 500ml cans of CC Lemon and Pepsi.  One day, I went to buy some CC Lemon, but it was completely sold out.  So I got a Pepsi instead.  A week or two later, I had another hankering for CC Lemon, but it was still sold out, as well as more than half of the drinks in there.  The next day, all of the display bottles and cans were taken out.  And a couple of days later, the two machines were completely taken away!!!  And they were NEVER REPLACED AGAIN (sounds like a horror story, no?).  I don't know why they were taken away.  From what I saw, they were just as popular as other machines.  There weren't any similar machines around that area.  I guess it's just one big mystery.  But in my cumulative 7 months in Japan, I've learned a couple things about vending machines:

1.) Discount 100 yen vending machines are discount for a reason.
2.) Never pass up a good deal or a rare find.  It'll be gone before you know.
3.) Super-hero themed drinks DO taste much better.
4.) Use vending machines as an opportunity to get rid of all your 10 yen coins.
5.) Never ever try to understand how the vending machine economy works.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Let's Talk About....

I found this restaurant through one of my students!!!
So, I've been working pretty consistently since I was 14.  My first "real" job (where I got a paycheck) was bussing tables at the Wisconsin State Fair.  It was disgusting and hard and only payed $5 an hour.  Plus I'm pretty sure it violated child labor laws because we only had one half-an-hour break for our 8 hour shift.  Either way, it sucked.  Then, I was a cashier at Walgreens starting at 16.  I can't even begin to talk about how terrible this job was.  After that, throughout college, I had various jobs on campus.  These were OK since the work was very easy and the hours were light.  Still, not they were pretty boring and not the greatest.  Finally, this past year, I worked fulled time at an airline.  My job boiled down to people yelling and complaining at me all day.  Needless to say, I haven't really enjoyed any of the jobs I've had.  Until now.

My job teaching English in Japan is so super awesome.  I basically get paid to have conversations with cool people.  My hours are super reasonable, and with my normal schedule, my maximum commute time is about 30 minutes, which is unheard of in Tokyo.  Now, I won't talk about what company I work for (and for those of you who do know, please, do not mention it.  I'd like to keep this private), but I just want to say that they have been really good to me.  So now, I guess I'll talk about a "typical" day of work for me.

So first, I gotta look the part.  I get all gussied up and wear a fancy (second-hand) suit to look my best.  After I've collected all of my (unorganized) teaching materials, I head out the door and (rush frantically) to the train station.  I soon arrive (just barely on time) to work and get ready for the day.  I have a certain amount of slots available for people to take drop-in conversation classes with me.  This means that I don't have regular students unless they wish to see my (weird) face every week by (torturing themselves by) signing up for the same time.  The lessons are really free-form and casual with a wide-variety of lesson plans that I can choose as soon as the lesson starts.  We then go on from their (and I make stuff up along the way).

The lesson groups are divided by English language ability.  This presents both a challenge and a great benefit.  The lowest level is by far the hardest to teach.  It's hard to have a "warm-up" conversation with them because they have little conversation experience.  The lessons themselves can also pose a challenge to those who have literally no English ability previously.  But they can be very rewarding and it's awesome to see the progress the dedicated students can make.  The pre-intermediate and intermediate levels are a lot of fun.  They are comfortable to have some nice conversations and they are usually very eager to learn.  You can also teach them some nice vocabulary.  The advanced lessons are the most fun and can also be the most challenging.  They are so fun in that you don't have to grade your language down and you can talk about very complex issues.  I also often get these advanced students multiple times, so it's nice to develop a relationship.  But it can be extremely challenging because these students will know when you've made a mistake or that you haven't prepared.  And unless you can talk about something the student is interested in, your conversation is going to go dead faster than a goldfish in a toaster (that was a terrible analogy).

From all of my students, though, I have learned so much about Japan.  They've told me about cool places I should visit, new trends that are happening now, different cultural events (my favorite of which was a student demonstrating the Hakodate "squid dance"), and great restaurants around Tokyo (such as the amazing Chicago-style deep dish pizza place pictured above one student told me about).  They also are all extremely interesting people.  One student is a mother who moved from South Korea.  Another student is an operating room nurse (who has some of the most hilarious stories about the surgeries she performs).  Another is a worker at a cart parts factory who plays the synthesizer in a band that performs at music festivals around the Tokyo area.  A lot of my students are very successful business men that probably make more money in a year than I will ever see in a lifetime.  And so many of them have such great senses of humor!!!  Truly I learn much more from them than they do from me (partially because I'm such a terrible teacher @_@).

But with the good also comes some bad (but not as much as you'd think!).  Just today I had to do a children's lesson about Christmas.  Since I was a substitute teacher, I had never seen any of these children before.  Many of them were completely blanked faced.  But one little girl of the eight children there was..... well.......  After all other seven children had already taken their seats, she walked with her parents to the door to enter my classroom.  I greeted her like all the other kids.  But before this, she started crying and sobbing.  "I don't wanna go in!  I don't wanna go in!" she screamed (in Japanese).  Her mother kept telling her that she'd be right outside the classroom (which has really big windows and seats for the parents) and that she'd be fine.  This little girl was not having it, though, and she wanted her mom to go in with her.  She screamed and cried so loud, all in the entrance to the kid's classroom.  I had no clue what to do.  Her mom kept telling her "You're making problems for all of the other kids.  Go on in.  You can do it.", but the girl kept crying and stomping her feet.  Finally, the mom got fed up and said, "OK, then we're going to go home, then."  But the girl GOT EVEN LOUDER and started hitting her mom!!!!  I was in a state of shock, as the short lesson was being held up because of this cute, tiny, screaming little girl.  After some more arguing with her mom and a towel given to her to dry her completely drenched face, her father had had enough and pushed her into the classroom and closed the door.  I had NO CLUE what I should do.  I told her she could take a seat, but she just stood there, staring out the window, sobbing.  I just started the lesson, though, and pretending she wasn't having the most traumatic experience of her life that will probably make her hate tall, white, curly-haired, glasses-wearing Americans forever.  Finally, it came time to draw some pictures, so I dragged the table out so the other kids could write.  I put down an extra sheet for the crying girl and motioned for her to come over and draw.  The other kids even beckoned her over, but she just cried even more.  I then vowed for the rest of the class, not to even acknowledge her existence, lest I set her off again.  Finally, the lesson was over.  The cage was opened and the roaring tiger of a little girl was allowed out to her embarrassed and angry parents.  I gave her one of our little Christmas coloring pages.  I then started to clean up the room for the next class, but the little girl came back.  She was crying and trying to say something.  Her mom had made her come back to get the other sheet we were working on in class.  Her mom then glared at her to make her say "Thank you" to me.  And then that was the end of that ordeal @_@

So, moral of the story?  English conversation teachers have to be able to think on their feet and turn a sucky situation into a good one.  In my time as an RA, I dealt with medical emergencies, drunk fights, and pot busts.  But nothing prepared me for one tiny little crying girl.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What's Up [My Nose], Doc?

My sweet haul.
Ok, so here's a little background.  This past June, I was have a lot of weird symptoms I've never had before.  Every night for 2 weeks or so, I'd have all the symptoms of a fever (muscle aches, shivering, headache, etc.), but no elevated temperature.  During the day I'd feel fine, but with just a little headache.  I finally got my butt to the doctor and he told me it was a sinus infection.  I didn't believe him at first because I didn't have a runny nose or was sneezing or anything, but it turned out he was right and the antibiotics kicked it out.

So now, for the past week or so, I've had a return of these symptoms, with the addition of a runny nose and a sore throat.  Yikes.  The last thing I need at a new job is to get too sick to come into work.  I wanted to see a doctor, but I had been dragging my feet on registering for the national health insurance because I thought it was going to be a huge ordeal.  How wrong I was.  It took 15 minutes, tops, and I got my very own card and everything.  Compare this to the 45 minutes it took just to change a small detail (my room number) on my address with the bank.....  ANYWAYS, I finally got my card, so I was ready to see a doctor.  But how could I find one?!?!?

Well, that's where this amazing website comes in.  ひまわり (himawari, meaning "sunflower") is this awesome website provided by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government that lets you look up a doctor near you.  It breaks it down by specialty first and you can even see how much English fluency they have.  So, I searched for an ENT, and found the one closest to me who was fluent in English.  I then called to make an appointment, but they said I didn't have to and that I just could walk in with my insurance card and it'd be fine.  So, I put on my heavy coat to brave the cold, and made the 25 minute trek to the clinic.

When I got there, I knew I was in for a different doctor's visit experience than what I was used to.  I entered the clinic, and there was a "genkan", or the traditional Japanese entry way where you are supposed to take off your shoes and change into slippers.  I tried to find the biggest pair (they still weren't big enough), and made my way to the reception counter.  The waiting area was so charming.  It was like a Ghibli movie in that it was a fusion of a cute rustic European cottage with that Japanese flair to it.  I talked to the nurse, she took my card, and she filled out the paperwork for me (SCORE!).  She then opened the door to the doctor's room and told me to come in.

The doctors room was just as "rustic" as the waiting room.  The nurse told me to put my things into this small wicker basket.  I approached the doctor, who was this little Japanese woman who had to be in her late 50's or early 60's.  She told me to sit in the doctor's chair, which is basically like a dentist's chair.  I wish they had these in the US, because it's much more comfortable than sitting on a stupid bed/desk thing they have in their doctor's offices.  She then asked me what the problem was..... in Japanese.  I was hoping she was going to just speak to me in English, but we ended up switching between the two, with Japanese being the primary form of communication.  I told I thought I had a sinus infection and that my throat was sore.

Then came the....."different" part.  She took this long instrument that looked like the metal tubes the dentist uses to spray water in your mouth.  Except she put it in my nose and sprayed some sort of mist in it.  It was fine.  A little unexpected, but fine.  I guessed it was maybe just to disinfect/decongest my nose.  Then she took these 4 little sticks that looked like what you put in those diffuser air freshener things and dipped them into a little blue glass vial.  She then proceed to stick them up my nose.  Not just the inside my nose, but like INTO my sinus cavity, each time she saying "Sorry!" in Japanese.  I tightly shut my eyes throughout the process (to avoid seeing the long thing that was in my sinus cavity).  She then took a metal rod, and shoved that into my sinus cavity.  I didn't feel anything "spray" into it.  It just felt like she was just shoving it in (for what reason, I do not know).  I was waiting for spurts of blood to come gushing out of my nose from the pain that I was feeling, but luckily, it didn't happen (the only blood I saw was when I blew my nose afterwards....).  She then took and EVEN BIGGER rod.  I was praying she was going to put that in my throat.  I saw absolutely no way how that thing was going to fit in my nose.  But, she managed to do it.  And I winced and winced and winced.
I couldn't find a real picture of the instrument, but this pic definitely sums it up perfectly.

Finally, my nose was finished with it's torture regiment.  But then we had one last unpleasantry to get to.  She took a giant cotton swab and dunked it into some mysterious liquid.  She then took a big metal tongue depressor thing, and shoved the cotton swab to the back of my throat and held it there for a good 5 seconds.  I gagged a bit, and she took it out.  *WHEW* We can all breath a collective sigh of relief now that my torture was over and you don't have to read any more gross stuff.

She then told me she was going to write me some prescriptions.  While she was doing that, the nurse had me go to this big console machine.  I guess it was a nebulizer.  They hooked up this long tube to it that had two prongs for each nostril.  I then had to breath from it for a set period of time.  After that was finished, I payed my 1,400 yen and was given directions to the pharmacy.  There, I received the above pictured medicine.  He then explained to me how to take it.  THAT IS ONLY A 4 DAY SUPPLY.  So yeah......  That's my first doctor's visit in Japan.  Pretty memorable, no?

Does anybody else have any interesting/funny doctor stories to share????

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Importance of 仲良し and Coming to Japan Advice

Some of my 仲良し
For me, friends are an essential part of life.  Right up their with air, water, and food.  They are who I want to spend any and all free time with, and they help me to become the person I want to be.  It is not an overstatement to say that I wouldn't be in Japan if it weren't for my friends!  In Japanese society, too, friends are very important.  In Japanese, there's the word "tomodachi" 友達 that is the general word for friend.  But then there's also the word "nakayoshi" 仲良し, which means "close friend".  Let me tell you about how my 仲良し have influenced my life for the better.

I'm going to start off by saying that I only had 2 or 3 friends in high school.  I was pretty much a loner, yet I craved friendship.  Then I moved 2,000 miles away for college and did not know a single soul.  It was time for a fresh start.  And it was time for new friends.  The dorm that I lived in, Xavier Global House, had an overall international theme, and the 3rd floor where I lived was Chinese and Japanese themed.  I eventually ended up living on this floor for 4 years.  Over those 4 years, through the floor theme, I met many Japanese nationals and people interested in Japanese language and culture.  These people eventually became my best friends!!!  They also became a key instrument in my success during my study abroad in Japan in 2008.  For example, without having met my friend Yukari, I wouldn't have been able to get a cell-phone or set up a Suica commuter pass.  Without my friend Liz, I wouldn't have had as much fun as I did.  While there, I made even MORE new friends that are very dear to me, despite only spending 4 months together!!!

Fast-forward to the beginning of this year.  I moved back home to Milwaukee after I graduated to look for a job, etc.  I had a sum total of 1 friend there.  My social life consisted almost entirely of hanging out with my mom (who is awesome, BTW).  I was also working a job that was very stressful for a number of reasons.  In short, I was very unhappy.  I just needed.... more!!!  I needed Japan!  Or so I thought...  It had always been my plan to go back to Japan since I came back from study-abroad.  My original plan after I got my transitional job in Milwaukee was to save up enough money to go to language school in Japan.  Before, I would have been fine going anywhere in Japan.  But then I realized, why go anywhere when I could live with my friends, who all lived in the greater Tokyo area???  I think it finally hit me that the idea of being with my friends was more important than just going to Japan.  With this thought in my head, as well as a spur to action by my friends Caroline Josephine (pictured above in the black hat) and Julie, I decided to look for work instead.  This way, I could have it all: I could be self-sufficient, I could live in the country I love, and, most importantly, I could live near my friends!!!

Now I am here.  I'm almost 75% self-sufficient.  I'm living in an awesome city.  And I have the opportunity to see my friends whenever we are able to!  In the short 2 months that I've been there, I've started back up old friendships, strengthened current friendships, and made brand new ones!!!  I'm loving my life SOOOO much, and it's all thanks to my 仲良し.  I just hope I can be as good a friend to them as they have to me.  Here's to many more years with them.  And here's hoping that many of my state-side friends move here!!!!!  And here's to us, dear reader, potentially becoming friends!!!  If you live in the Tokyo area and wanna meet, I'm totally game!!!  Just drop me a line!!!

If you are interested in coming to Japan for whatever reason (study-abroad, work, etc.), my advice to you is to make some connections before you go over.  If your school has an exchange program with any Japanese college or university, become friends with the exchange students from that school first before you go over there.  That way, when you go there, they will be there too and they can assist you if you have trouble.  Also, it's a good idea to go over with any other friends that you have.  If you have a friend in Japanese class that you really like, talk about the possibility of studying abroad together.  This is one of those rare exceptions of a big commitment that will almost always strengthen friendship as opposed to leading to disaster, like living together.  Next, get in good with your Japanese teacher.  9 times out of 10, they still have connections to Japan and can offer you advice as far as living conditions or work opportunities.  Also, they've already had the whole "moving to another country for work/education" experience and can offer you helpful tips for coping with such things.  Plus, they're just really amazing people!!!!

But remember, DO THIS ONLY IF YOU'RE ACTUALLY GOING TO BE FRIENDS WITH THESE PEOPLE.  Don't do this just so you can have an easier time in Japan.  That's using people.  And that's a terrible thing to do.

Monday, November 7, 2011

OGS: Only Gaijin Syndrome

So, this post might be a little controversial.  It might rub people the wrong way and might make me seem butt-hurt or whatever.  But these are my "true feelings" on something I've encountered in Japan.  Apologies in advance.  Do not read this if you take yourself too seriously or take me too seriously.  Some of you who know me well may have heard me speak extensively on this subject.  If you have, please, for your sake, just skip this post.

So, from both of my experiences of being in Japan (studying here and working here), I've noticed quite a trend in regards to foreigners in Japan.  It's something that all foreigners exhibit at some point in their stay in Japan.  It's a debilitating disorder known as "Only Gaijin Syndrome" (OGS).

For the unfamiliar, 外人, or "gaijin", is a Japanese word meaning "outsider" which is used as a blanket term for foreigners (although, almost all Japanese are polite and use the term 外国人, or "gaikokujin", which literally means "a person from a foreign country".  Gaijin is used mainly by foreigners themselves nowadays as sort of a "reclaimed word").

OGS refers to the unwarranted sense of self-importance that foreigners feel stemming from the perception that they are the only foreign person in Japan.  They are the only white person who can speak Japanese.  They are the only Westerner who appreciates the taste of natto.  They are the only American who denounces the US's savage ways for the civility and peace of Japanese life.  In other words, they act like self-righteous pricks.

The symptoms of OGS become most apparent when two gaijin pass each other on the street.  Those within the throes of OGS will make painfully obvious attempts to avoid any form of contact or association with the other foreigner, lest they seem weak and unworldly.  They'll take another route from where they're going so they don't have to be next to you.  If they're with a Japanese friend, they'll do their best to speak as loudly in Japanese as possible to show the other gaijin how assimilated they are into Japanese society.  If eye-contact is accidentally made, the OGS sufferer will make a threatening scowl towards the hapless other gaijin as if to say "Get out of here!!!  This town's not big enough for two gaijin!!!".

There are several causes of OGS.  One of the more common root causes is to attract the ever elusive Japanese mate.  People looking to get with a native contract OGS when they feel that the only way to a Japanese person's heart is by showing how exotic and different they are while also totally into and a part of Japanese culture.  This display is accomplished by distancing oneself from all other foreigners, as their equal foreignness will just make the OGS sufferer look less foreign, and therefore less special and attractive.  The other main cause of OGS is the foreigner's neurotic desire to actually become Japanese.  This futile effort starts with them dressing in extreme Japanese fashion styles, getting stereotypically ridiculous J-Pop hair, only watching Japanese TV, and, finally, rejecting all other people of foreign descent from entering their presence, as that will somehow thwart their quest to become "purely" Japanese.  If you live in Japan, avoid these people at all costs, as they'll berate you for your lack of Japanese-ness and assimilation.

While Gaijin with OGS can be found almost anywhere in Japan, there are specific places where sightings are much higher.  The first is in any university's high intermediate or advanced Japanese language classes.  OGS sufferers will often come to the delusion that, because they're very good at speaking Japanese, they are Japanese!  Even though they have many traits in common with their fellow classmates (ex., Japanese speaking ability, delusion that they are actually Japanese, unwarranted sense of self-importance, etc.), they will almost 90% of the time never be friends with their classmates.  Instead, they'll engage in a constant battle of oneupsmanship over their Japanese language ability or how many friends they have on their Mixi page.  The next place you can find typically female OGS sufferers is in the hippest fashion sections of town (for example, in Tokyo, Harajuku or Shibuya).  Here, you'll observe such displays of OGS as foreign girls dying their hair in typical gal fashion colors while wearing a 10 inch thick layer of makeup done up so that their original non-Japanese race is so distorted you cannot tell what planet they hail from.  They will also be wearing an outfit that screams "LOOK AT ME!!!  I'M SUCH A FASHIONABLE JAPANESE GIRL!!!".  Finally, the virtual haven for the pandemic of OGS is non-other than the utterly useless forums!  Here, OGS sufferers take avoiding other foreigners to the next level by aggressively posting in ways to convince other foreigners not to come to Japan.  One need only look at a random thread like, let's say, this one, and see that these classic OGS victims have paradoxical minds.  Here, they can be seen convincing a new-comer not to work for an English school because they're horrible and a shitty job and people who work there are assholes, yet they themselves work there.  These advanced cases show that another symptom of OGS is becoming a bitter individual hell-bent on making others suffer in your misery.

While I'll admit that in the past I've suffered from OGS on a couple occasions, through my years of research and countless encounters with OGS-ravaged victims, I've discovered a cure!!!  The first step is saying out loud, "I will never, no matter how hard I try, become Japanese!"  Repeat until you actually believe this yourself.  Next, the OGS sufferer must become self-aware and contemplate how their actions were wrong.  They need to realize how self-righteous they sound when they say they're only in Japan "to study zen" or how ridiculous they look when their hairstyle makes even a host blush or how annoying they are when they refuse to acknowledge and discus English-language shows even if they're well-known in Japan.  In other words, the path to recovery starts by realizing you have a problem.  If you know of anyone who suffers from OGS or suffer from it yourself, please, get help immediately.  Have an intervention.  Help is possible!
While the above was a little tongue-in-cheek, the sentiments behind it are real.  Bottom-line: many actions that people like this display are borderline racist and ethnocentric.  I often hear complaints from foreigners of Japanese speaking to them in English.  Well, what if that Japanese person wanted to practice their English?  Many foreigners also lump all Japanese together and make them out to be just one type of thing when the reality is that they are all just as different as you and I.  The same thing applies to foreigners lumping everyone in their whole country together as well.  Either way, it needs to stop.  It's fucking annoying and just makes you look like an ass.

The bottom-line is that every society/culture has their good and bad.  America has a lot of faults, but so does Japan.  No place is perfect.  Just be yourself.  Don't try to be anything you obviously aren't.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mister Donut

He tastes as good as he looks, JSYK
So, thanks to my good friend Risa, I've developed a bit of an obsession.  Many of you who know me or have seen my facebook or Twitter posts might already know that I have fallen head-over-heels in love with the Japanese doughnut chain Mister Donut.  I feel like I annoy people with how much I talk about this place, so I feel like an explanation of my love is in order.

First, let me give you a brief history of my knowledge and relationship with Mister Donut.  When I first came to Japan in 2008, I heard some people talking about this place.  It seemed like nothing special, so I (STUPIDLY) never went during that time.  When I moved back here, my friend Risa and I went to the LaLaPort in Chiba.  It was there I first entered a Mister Donut store.  Surprisingly, we didn't have any donuts, since we had just eaten a delicious okonomiyaki meal.  We saw there was an appetizing drink selection, including a new item which was an icy fruit flavored "drink", but more like a sno-cone in a glass.  The line was long (a common trend in almost all Mister Donut stores I go to, since they're so damn GOOD), and while we were waiting, I had a good chance to stare longingly at the doughnuts.  They were perfectly made, had appetizing flavors, and some of them were just darn cute!!!  Risa was telling me about this one doughnut called a "pon de ring".  It basically looks like a doughnut ring made out of little balls.  She was telling me how it was different from a normal doughnut because of the texture.  I'll admit, I didn't quite believe her, having had many a doughnut in my time, but I was still intrigued.  I vowed to go to one and give this famous "pon de ring" a try (as well as eat and adorable teddy bear head!).

How glad I was to have given it a try.  Pon de rings are like nothing I've ever had before.  They have this unique soft texture that is just absolutely fantastic!!!  They come in a variety of flavors, and can be super cheap during Mister Donut's numerous sales.  In other words: if you ever come to Japan, it is your DUTY to try one of these!!!  Besides the pon de rings, the other doughnuts are delectable as well.  My favorites so far are the honey churro, strawberry ring, green tea bear head, and the chocolate french crullers.  They're all just so fantastically made with perfect presentation and cheap prices.  Every time I enter one, I get this rush of joy at all of the variety!!!

In addition to their wonderful selection, Mister Donut offers a point card system as well.  You can trade in these precious points for cool things that change every month or so.  I currently have 87 points and am hoping to save up enough for the coveted "Pon de Lion" plush toy!!!!  Agghhhh, I hope that some day, lovely readers, we can go forth together and partake in the utter joy that is Mister Donut.

The one in the bottom left corner is a Pon De Ring.  DELICIOUS!