Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Getting a Saipan Driver's License

So anyways, I’ve had a Saipan driver’s license before, well, actually I’ve had a Saipan driver’s permit before. I was 16 at the time and I had to have a permit for a few months before they allowed me to take the test for my license. Unfortunately I didn’t stay on-island long enough to graduate from a simple permit holder to a proud license holder. I had to go back to Florida for my Senior year at Winter Park High School.

(By the way, that permit could be anywhere now. That was in 1995. Since then, my Mom has moved our home twice, well three times if you count moving to Costa Rica, and I’ve lived in several different dorms, houses, and apartments in Virginia, Florida, and Japan.)

But I’m getting off the subject. So like I was saying before, I’ve been to the Saipan DMV before (in 1995) and I had a vague recollection that it was near the court house.

So I drove to the courthouse.

There was a large sign on Beach Road near the courthouse that read Department of Public Safety (or something like that). It had a subheading that read Department of Motor Vehicles (or something like that).

I turned in, but didn’t see the DMV.

I asked a guy riding a bike on the side of the road if he knew where it was. He knew where it was on Guam, but had no idea where it was on Saipan.

I decided to run into the courthouse and ask if anybody in there knew where it was. I parked the car and ran inside, telling Emily to follow me in if I didn’t come back after 3 minutes.

I went in and asked the two guards where it was and they told me that it was the blue and white building right behind the courthouse. Then they told me that if I went there that the good people at the DMV would just send me back to the courthouse to get a license clearance. They suggested that I get the license clearance and then head over to the DMV.

I followed their advice. Getting the license clearance was very simple. All you have to do to is to pay for it in advance at the cashier behind door #5 and then go to door #1 to have it printed. It costs 50 cents.

I like those kinds of prices and I like that kind of simplicity. And, oh yeah, Emily came inside after three minutes.

License clearances in hand, we strode over to the DMV to get our licenses. Inside the blue and white building there was a sign listing the three steps for obtaining a new license. The first step was to get a license clearance, which we already had. We were on a roll.

The next step was to pay the license fee at the DMV cashier. No problem. We got in the cashier queue and paid $15 each.

Like I said, I like those kinds of prices.

Finally, all we had to do was to fill out a one-page application form at window #1, show our receipts from the DMV and the courthouse, and get our pictures taken. We had to show are Florida driver’s licenses, too.

A few minutes later they handed us two freshly laminated CNMI driver’s licenses. That was it.

On a side not:

I noticed that on Saipan the DMV is in charge of issuing driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations. I don’t know how they do it in other states, but in Florida the DMV only handles driver’s licenses. The Florida Tag Agency handles vehicle registrations.

Whatever. I’m not trying to suggest that one system is superior to the other. I just noticed that they were different.

Paseo de Marianas

Paseo de MarianasThis is the main tourist drag in Saipan, Paseo de Marianas. It used to be a street where cars could drive, but they recently turned it into a single pedestrian, um, thing (I'm sure a pedestrain thing has a name, I just can't think of it).

This picture was taken on a Tuesday night, so there aren't too many people milling about. The islands are experiencing some rough economic times, what can I say?

We went to Paseo de Marianas this past Thursday to go to the street market. The place was packed with people. I had a rice croquet from the Caprisiosa (sp?) stand. It was yummy.

Too bad I forgot my camera!

We'll go to the street market next week and I promise to post some pictures.

Bye the way:

That's Saipanda on the bottom left hand corner of the picture. Speaking of Saipanda, if the Japanese think Saipanda sounds like Rhino-panda, does that mean that they think Saipan sounds like Rhino-bread? It must.

Getting Settled

Rent car...check
Get local driver's license...check
Get cellphone...check
Go apartment hunting...check
Run into a few cousins and friends...check
Get invited to nephew's 5th birthday party on Sunday...check
Get sunburn...check

To do list:
  • Choose an apartment
  • Find permanent transportation
  • Open bank account
  • Haircut

Monday, March 27, 2006

Proof that I was there

Nagoya CastleYeah, no big deal. That's just me standing in front of Nagoya Castle. Try not to let the beauty of my mullet take away from the majesty of the castle.

Speaking of my mullet, Emily has informed me that we have to, in order of importance, find a place to live, find a car, and cut my hair.

24 Hours in Nagoya

24 hours is not enough time to get a feel for a place, but 24 hours is all we had in Nagoya, so we did our best to see the city.

We arrived Sunday afternoon around 3. From Nagoya Station we took a cab to the hotel that Eri had arranged for us. We could have easily walked, but the thought of dragging our luggage through the city was numbing.

The taxi dropped us off in front of the Nagoya Supa Hoteru. There is a hotel of the same name in Takaoka (sans the Nagoya part). You can see it from our apartment balcony. It looks anything but super.

Checking in was quite an experience. Instead of paying at the front desk, we had to feed money into an ATM machine in the lobby. Then, instead of having a key to open our door, we were given an access code.

Fun!

It turned out not to be so bad (in Nagoya at least, I can’t vouch for Takaoka). The room was small, but adequate, and the bathroom was smaller, but clean and bright with an endless supply of hot water. And all this for the low price of 5980 yen.

The hotel was only minutes from the station and a glance at my trusty Fodor’s Japan guidebook told me that we were within walking distance of Nagoya Castle.

I told Emily that if we could just go look at the castle that I would do whatever she wanted for the entire evening. She agreed.

Nagoya StationJapanese 711As the sun started to set, we walked through the city towards the castle. Nagoya is a huge city of about 2 million people. The biggest cities I have ever lived in are Orlando and Richmond, and Nagoya made them look like villages. It was great.

The castle grounds were already closed when we arrived, so I got to look at the castle poking out from behind the castle walls and then we jumped in a cab back to Nagoya Station.

My guidebook says that there are two sections of Nagoya known for shopping and entertainment. The first is central Nagoya and the other is the station.

Next to the station are two 50 story towers. The first 11 stories of one of the towers is dedicated to a department store called Takashimaya. This made Emily very happy. The 12th and 13th stories of this same tower have a bunch of restaurants, several of them with patio seating.

That is where we spent most of the evening.

We took the elevator up to the 12th floor and then wandered around until we found a Starbucks. Coffee in hand, we found a seat and spent an hour people watching.

Then we walked through both floors of restaurants trying to figure out where we wanted to eat. None of the restaurants were Western chain restaurants. It was great. We ultimately decided on an Italian place where we both got one of the set menus accompanied with a glass of wine.

The food was delicious. My only complaint would be that the servings were too small.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and went to bed.

I woke up really early, pumped to spend the day in Nagoya and to fly to Saipan later that evening. I immediately packed up our stuff and got us ready to check out.

There wasn’t really a check out procedure. The Supa Hoteru is really a kind of fancy hostel. You pay in advance (using the ATM machine) and are expected to vacate the room by 10 AM (even if you are staying another night). If you are staying another night, I guess you just pump more money into the ATM and if you are leaving, you just leave.

We could have just left, but we needed someone to watch our luggage for the day. Eri had called ahead to make sure that Supa Hoteru offered this service, which they did. It was really embarrassing trying to squish all of our bags behind their tiny front desk. Sumimasen. Gaijin desu. But what could we do?

Before heading out for the day we dove head first into the continental breakfast. We filled up on egg salad sandwiches (with the crust cut off) and coffee.

Then it was time to hit the streets.

We agreed that we would split up for the morning and then meet up at 2 PM for lunch. I wanted to see the castle and maybe a shrine and Emily wanted to go shopping. There was no way we could have gone together and accomplished all of that, so splitting up was the way to go.

Emily spent the morning at the department store, Takashimaya. She bought herself a starbucks mug and a pink lacoste dress.

I, on the other hand, went to visit Atsuta Jingu and Nagoya Castle.

I visited Atsuta Jingu first. It is supposedly the second most important Shinto shrine in Japan. It was amazing. The other shrines that I have visited were tiny in comparison. This shrine was at least the size of Kojo Park in Takaoka, if not Kenrokuen in Kanazawa.

I am so not qualified to give a run down of how one shrine compares to another, so I won’t even try.

Shinto Tori GateShinto PriestSake BarrelsJapanese PondI did notice a few things though.

At most other shrines you see lots of cedar trees. I saw a lot of camphor trees at this shrine. I don’t know if that is because my experience is generally limited to what I saw in Hokuriku or what.

There also seemed to be a lot of shrines within this shrine. I followed an old couple around for a while and observed them worshipping at each of the shrines. I particularly liked one stretch of shrines that were lined up together. Worshippers walked down the line of shrines and bowed to each shrine in consecutive order. Kind of like praying the rosary, perhaps?

Shinto ShrineOh yeah, I got a stamp, too.

Next up was Nagoya Castle. I was running short on time, so I had to take a cab from the shrine to the castle gates. I’m glad I did, because the taxi drove straight through central Nagoya. I saw the Gap, Toni & Guy’s, a Hummer, and a ferris wheel built into the side of a building. Too cool.

Central NagoyaJapanese GapJapanese DennysThe castle was unbelievable. I’ve been reading James Clavell’s novel Shogun for the last few weeks and visiting this castle really helped me to visualize the things that the Anjin-san must have seen (although in the book he goes to Osaka castle and not Nagoya castle…details, details).

I had to pay an entrance fee to get in and in exchange I was given a pamphlet guide in English. The pamphlet suggested taking a counter clockwise stroll through the grounds, so I went on a counter clockwise stroll.

Nagoya Castle Rock GardenI couldn’t have asked for a better day or a bluer sky. The weather in Nagoya is much nicer than in Takaoka. I don’t think Takaoka has seen such a nice day in about 3 years.

Japanese Festival LanternsI took more pictures of sakura blooms than I care to admit. I noticed that the umi were already dying. It made me smile. Back in Takaoka I was so excited about the umi beginning to bloom, but here in Nagoya there were already dying.

Plum BlossomsMy favorite part of the castle was the main building (the proper word escapes me…it starts with a d). You can walk up if you want, but I took the elevator up to sixth floor for a panoramic view of the city. Breathtaking. Even in 2006, you felt like you were on top of the world. I can’t imagine how it must have felt to be the daimyo of this castle in the 1600’s….well, maybe I can.

Nagoya CastleNagoya CastleI took about two hours to stroll through the grounds. I would have liked to have stayed longer, maybe write a few haiku or something…yeah right. But I had to get back to the station to meet Emily.

I met here at 2 PM just as we had arranged and we found a nice restaurant on the 13th floor of the tower next to the station. We sat out on the patio with a spectacular view of the city. I ordered beef and she ordered fish. When the food arrived, she ate my beef and I was left to munch on the fish.

When we finished lunch it was about time for us to start thinking about getting to the airport. We knew where to find the shuttle because we had stumbled across it earlier that morning. We saw a bus with this painted on the back:

Nagoya Airport BusThe bus pulled into the train station parking lot and stopped in front of this sign:

Nagoya Airport ShuttleWe were a little confused by the arrow on the right side of the sign. The bus was right in front of us and the only thing behind was McDonalds and the train station. We turned around anyways and saw this:

Nagoya Airport ShuttleOK, no problem. Isn't this country convenient? We just had to go back to Supa Hoteru to get our bags and buy our tickets.

It wasn’t easy, but we dragged our luggage to the station and bought our tickets. I think they were 1000 yen each. The bus ride took about an hour. We drove through the city for a bit, but we started seeing farms after about half an hour. It was a nice ride. We both opened our windows to take in the fresh air.

The airport was amazing. It wasn’t nearly as busy or as big as Narita, but it had the coolest shopping center I’ve ever seen in an airport. It was designed to look like a city. One side looked like an old Japanese village and the other side looked like Italy. I don’t get it either.

They were doing a photo shoot on the Italian village side. There was a girl with a shockingly pink jacket and a guy with a Japanese fashion mullet. We kind of looked at them, shrugged, and said, ‘hey, that’s pretty cool.’

By the way, if we show up in some fashion ad or an ad for the airport in the upcoming months, it is because they sat down next to us while we were having a snack and started snapping pictures while we were in the background.

The only bump we hit was on our way through immigration. The immigration officer asked Emily to turn over her gaijin card, which she claimed she didn’t have.

She honestly didn’t think she had it, but this answer obviously wasn’t good enough, because they pulled her into the office off to the side.

Not the office off to the side!

They started making phone calls to God knows who and in the meantime, Emily started a frantic search through her carry on for the card, which she eventually found. Disaster averted.

Then we were off. To Saipan!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Atsuta Jingu

Shinto Shrine StampI got another stamp while in Nagoya. This one is from Atsuta Jingu, which is the second most important shinto shrine in Japan because it enshrines the Kusanagi no tsurugi, which is one of the three Imperial symbols (this is obviously important).

I expected my shuin to be much more elaborate. Instead, it just has a stamp, the date, and two characters.

...not that I'm complaining.

93 more stamps and I can become a shinto priest!

Navigating the Trains, part IV

This was my fourth cross country trip in Japan. The first was when I first arrived in Japan (eons ago), then 10 days later I did it again while on my way to Saipan, then on New Year’s Eve I took an overnight train cross country.

You’d think I’d have it down pat by now. Not so much.

Everything went well until we boarded the train. I bought the tickets a few days ago at the station office. It was no problem. There is a direct limited express train between Takaoka and Nagoya and the service ends at Nagoya, so there was no danger of falling asleep and missing our stop. It all seemed super convenient.

Several different trains make the journey each day. We decided to take the 12:01 because it would get to Nagoya around 3 PM. That was late enough for us to be able to check into our hotel, but still early enough for us to go exploring Nagoya.

So like I’ve already mentioned, we threw our bags onto the train at 12:00 and waived goodbye to everyone as the train pulled out of the station at 12:01.

That is where the fun began.

We bought a non-reserved ticket, which limited our seating choices to two non-smoking cars and one smoking car. We boarded one of the non-smoking cars, but the only car with an open seat was the smoking car, so we had to drag our 8 bags through the non-smoking car to get to our seats in the smoking car.

I had to carry the bags through the train one at a time, so we were halfway to Kanazawa before we were settled and I could sit down. I managed to fit all but three of our bags in the overhead compartments. The other three wouldn’t fit, so I piled them up on the two seats behind us.

Cough, Cough, Smoking Section, Cough, Cough.

Things were fine, cough cough, for the first two hours of our trip. Things got interesting as we neared Maibara Station, which is a station where a lot of people disembark to connect to the Shinkansen (bullet train).

One of the conductors started asking the people seated near us if they owned the luggage that I had piled up on the seat behind us. We admitted that it was ours, but our lack of Japanese and his lack of English led to a very awkward situation.

He told us to wait a moment and then he walked off. When he returned, he spent about 5 minutes contemplating what to do, then finally rearranged the bags so that they only took up on seat. Then he told me to sit down next to them. A few minutes later, a Japanese man came along and took my seat next to Emily.
That was Embarrasing Moment #1. Embarassing Moment #2 happened when we pulled into Maibara Station.

The train pulled into the station, dropped off everybody that was connecting to the Shinkansen, then everybody on the train flipped there seats around to face the other direction, and we pulled out of the station heading in the same direction we had just come from.

I’ve noticed that most trains have seats that can swivel around to face either front or back, but I always assumed it was so that a group of four people could swivel around some of their chairs and face each other. I guess not. I guess they swivel because in Japan it is absolutely necessary to face in the direction that you are traveling. To do otherwise would shame your ancestors.

Emily and I did not know this. It took us a good five minutes to figure out that we had to swivel our chairs around. By then everybody on the train was already happily sitting, facing in the opposite direction, and waiting to see what the two gaijin would do.

Then Emily started to panic because we started moving in the direction we had just come.

Lord, give me strength.

So anyways, I have a feeling that embarrassing moment #2 might have caused embarrassing moment #3. We were pretty startled from the seat turning episode and we did it pretty hastily. In the ruckus, Emily managed to lose our train tickets.

I don’t know how it happened. One moment they were in her jacket pocket. Next moment they weren’t. We still haven’t found them.

I’m not really too sure when we noticed they were missing. I think it was when Emily asked me to look on the ticket to see when we arrived in Nagoya. I told her to look at the tickets herself, since they were in her pocket.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

This wouldn’t have been too big a deal if it hadn’t been for the ticket checker guy. Everyone knows about the ticket checker guy. You have to show him your tickets and then he stamps them.

Never mind that we had already showed our tickets to the ticket checker guy. That fact is inconsequential. All that mattered was that we didn’t have our tickets when he came around this time.

I was mortified.

I did my best to explain that we lost them, but I’m not sure if he believed us because he spent a good ten minutes shaming us in front of everyone on the train.

But as with all things, our shaming came to an end.

Getting off at Nagoya was thankfully easy because the service ended there. So instead of the customary 60 seconds to get off the train, we had about 90.

Getting through the ticket gates was easy. We just went to ticket window and told them that we lost our tickets. They asked us where we got on. I told them one station over. They only charged us a few hundred yen.

And that was my final train adventure in Japan.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Last Hours in Takaoka

It was a really interesting morning, our last one in Takaoka. We were ready to go when we woke up because we had finished packing the night before. The only things we had to do before leaving were to pay the utility bills and have the land lord inspect the apartment so that he could return Emily’s key money (the deposit she made at the beginning of her stay in Japan.)

Emily’s supervisor, Honda-sensei, came to the house at 9 AM to help us accomplish this.

The man from the gas company came first. He showed us a slip of paper scribbled with some dates and some amounts and then told us we had to pay an exorbitant amount to settle our account. It seemed kind of high, but what could we do?

We paid.

The land lord came next. He didn’t do too much of an inspection, he kind of just peeked his head around and decided that we hadn’t caused too much damage. He decided not to fine us for anything (there wasn’t anything to really fine us for anyways, we did a good job of taking care of the place.)

But wait! There’s more!

He told us that he had already paid the electricity and the water and that the amount would have to be deducted from the key money. That was fine, we felt like he was doing us a favor by paying the utilities for us.

While he told us this he was writing down the amounts on an official looking document that was folded in half. The top half, which was where he was writing, faced up and the bottom half faced down. He walked us through the numbers as he subtracted the amounts of the utilities from the original key money amount. The amount he came up, the amount that he was going to return to us, was around $800 (in yen of course).

He counted out the cash and ceremoniously laid it out on the table in front of us. We were astounded. We didn’t expect to get any money back, never mind $800.

It was too good to be true.

With the cash still lying on the table, he flipped over the piece of paper and showed us the other side. He wanted to charge us about $100 to clean the A/C unit and about $300 to clean the apartment. We tried to raise a stink, but what could we do?

We paid.

I took about $400 out of the pile of money he had just given us and handed it back.

We were probably getting ripped off, but when you consider that we broke the lease four months early, we probably got off pretty easy.

With that all taken care of, all we had to do was help Honda-sensei carry the school’s applicances (washer, heater, fridge, TV, and fan) down to the moving truck that would take them back to the school.

She gave Emily a beautiful furosuki as a final going away gift. A furoshiki looks like a large hankerchief. It is used to carry something, like say a bento. You just wrap up the bento and then tie a knot so that it is easy to carry (or something like that). She told us that the Japanese Minister of the Environment (or something like that) has asked the Japanese populace to use a furoshiki instead of a plastic bag to help protect the environment (or something like that).

Then before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye. Carl helped us take our luggage to the station, where we were met my Chiharu and a gaggle of Emily’s teachers. Everybody came down to platform 4 to see us off.

When we boarded our limited express train to Nagoya, I felt like I was in some cheesy Hollywood movie. When the train pulled into the station, we threw our 8 bags on and then jumped on just in time to watch the doors close behind us. As we pulled out of the station, through the door we waved goodbye to Carl, the teachers, Chiharu, Takaoka, and the third largest Buddha in Japan.

Goodbye, Takaoka

OK, CHI-ZU....

JET ALTOK, ima, KU-RE-ZIIIII!!!!!

JET ALTOK, ima, purikura good times!!!

PurikuraPurikuraPurikura

Friday, March 24, 2006

End of Story.....well, End of Chapter, at least

About two years ago, Emily and I decided that we wanted to apply to the JET program. We spent several months preparing our applications and getting our letters of recommendation together. Then we finally sent them in to the Japanese Embassy sometime around October-November 2004. After sending in our applications, I started this blog, so I don't need to recount what we've done since that point, since you can read about it in the archives.

It has been a wild ride...and it ended today.

A while back Emily turned in her resignation (broke her contract early) at Fukuoka High School. Today was her last day. A while back I told my anonymous little English school that I wouldn't be able to take the job. I never had a first day, so I didn't have a last day, either.

Our reasons for leaving Japan are both personal and professional.

And no, Emily is NOT pregnant.

We are moving to Saipan to seek our fortunes (and to get a great tan and eat loads of chicken kelaguin). Our train leaves Takaoka on Sunday at noon. We fly out of Nagoya on Monday night.

I'm really going to miss this place. I've only been here for 3 months, so even though I feel like I had the opportunity to experience a lot (see archives to see what I am talking about), I didn't get to:
  1. Climb Mt. Fuji
  2. Visit Tokyo Disneyland (or Tokyo DisneySea)
  3. See the largest and second largest bronze Buddha statues in Japan
  4. Visit an onsen (even though I have 3 tattoos)
  5. Visit a love hotel (I've still got 3 days!)
  6. Drive through the Tateyama Alpine Route
  7. Eat at a Yakiniku restaurant
  8. Watch the sakura blossom
  9. Visit Osaka or Kyoto
  10. Drink Sapporo in Sapporo
  11. Play pachinko
Oh yeah, and I still don't speak Japanese.

I don't want my readers (both of you) to think that all I care about are all of the things that I DID NOT do in Japan. I spent the last three months writing about all of the things that I DID do in Japan. I think I'm allowed to lament on the handful of things that I missed out on.

I guess I'll have to come back.

Edit: My friend Mik sent me the following picture of Saipan's location. It isn't exactly correct. I think that the company that made the map was trying to make Saipan look like a far-off, exotic destination. Saipan is isolated, but it is not THAT isolated.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Happy Spring Equinox!

Today was a nice relaxing day.

Emily and I both woke up kind of late. The Spring Equinox is a holiday in Japan, so she didn't have to work.

The coffee was already brewing when I decided to roll out of bed.

When I flipped on the TV I saw baseball. It was the final of the World Baseball Classic! I spent most of the afternoon on the couch watching Japan play Cuba for the championship. Go Team Japan!

The game wasn't even close. Japan scored four runs in the top of the first and never looked back. It got a little tense when Cuba came within 1 run in the eighth, but the Japanese blew it wide open by scoring four runs in the top of the 9th.

In other news:

This weekend promises to be an exciting one. After watching the game, we spent the rest of the day getting ready for our big trip to Saipan. We are going to take the train to Nagoya on Sunday, hang out in the city on Sunday and Monday, and then Monday night, Saipan!

Fuuuuu!!!!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

This has nothing to do with Japan

God Bless America!!!





You will have a full understanding of American "culture" when you understand why this video is funny.

On the World Baseball Classic:

On Team USA:

You put A-Rod and Jeter on the roster? And you're suprised that we lost? Those two princesses haven't won a World Series ring this millenium. Unbelievable! The Yankees are cursed. Want proof? They made Johnny Damon cut his hair for Christ's sake! Oh yeah, and not a single Yankee is playing in the final. Yankees suck!

On Cuba in the final:

Am I going to be put on the suspicious citizens list if I support Team Cuba? If that's the case, GO JAPAN! I'd love to give my support to the team with no professional talent, but then there is that whole, um, communist nation, human rights, dictator, um, thing.

On Japan in the final:

THANK GOD Hideki Matsui chose not to play in the WBC. He understands that the Yankees are a cursed ball club and that if he played Japan wouldn't have made it out of the first round. He understands that a win in the final will give Japanese baseball some mad street cred. (Hell, if they win maybe we'd even consider letting them compete for the title of World Champion every fall.....nah, that would be crazy.) But anyways, GO JAPAN!

On the Cubs:

Will THIS be THE year? Probably not. Sorry.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

and they're off...

I put the family on the 6:25 bus to Toyama Airport this morning. Their flight out of Toyama leaves at 9 AM. They'll be back in South Carolina in about 24 hours.

It was a fun two weeks, but it feels like they just got here. Now they're gone.

:(

We'll miss you guys!

The James Visit Japan: Day 9

Today the James family went shopping in Toyama. I have no idea what they are doing and they didn't bring a camera, so I won't be able to post any pictures.

It is cold and rainy out today. I've been holed up in the apartment for hours.

I think I might go russle up some grub soon. White Gyoza opens up in 2 and a half hours. I might go get a set dinner.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The James Visit Japan: Day 8

On Day 8 we retraced the footsteps from my daytrip to Shinminato (or is it Imizu?) last month...well, sort of.

We got an early start and, after a quick healthy breakfast at McDonalds, boarded the tram around 10 AM. We got off half an hour later at the second to last stop.

Our first stop was the big ship (kaiwo maru) docked at the park (kaiwo maru cohen). The park was empty, but the ship was open. After posing for some pictures and buying some ice cream cones at one of the shops, we each paid 400 yen to go on a self guided tour of the ship.

The tour was bilingual. We were each given English guides and all of the points of interest on the ship were marked in English and Japanese. There were also a few places on the ship that ran a continuous commentary in English and then in Japanese (or was it in Japanese and then in English?)

The view of the Tateyama Mountains was amazing. It wasn't as clear as the posters they sell of Amaharashi with the mountains in the background (which have to be doctored), but it was clearer than I have ever seen.

When we started walking away from the boat to head towards the fish auction we kept turning around to check out the view. It was so beautiful. The mountains just rise out of the horizon. (I am so not doing this explanation justice).

We went from the park to the fish auction down the street. On our way there we noticed that we were surrounded by pussy willows. I didn't know that they had pussy willows in Japan!

The scene at the auction was similar to the one I witnessed a month ago, except this time we got to see them separating the crabs according to size. I noticed one particular crab that had been pushed aside. It must have been a meter long from tip to tip. I wondered how much money that baby would catch.



In addition to crabs, we also saw a bunch of fish, several of which I had never seen before. Yum! We also checked out the tsumnami wall next to the auction. The James were a little timid about climbing up:














After strolling through the auction we crossed the street to visit YET ANOTHER shrine. I got another stamp and bought another ema.

Then we made our way back to the Manyo tram line and Takaoka, where we had lunch at Shangri-La (the restaurant, not the mythological place where they've never heard of money). My curry was so spicy that I could feel an ulcer forming with every bite. I loved it! The grandparents liked it, too. It was their first time eating Indian food.

Shangri-La just happens to be on the other side of Kojo Park, so we strolled through the park on our way back to the hotel. The sakura are really starting to bud. Although 99.99% of them haven't bloomed yet, the buds are starting to turn pink and white. I'm really excited about the sakura; I can't wait to see them.

When we got back to the hotel, the gramps decided that they were done for the day. I couldn't blame them, we'd been out for 8 hours. I went back to the apartment and got ready for yoga.

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The James Visit Japan: Day 7

On the 7th day of the James' visit to Japan, God looked down upon Takaoka and said, "I think this place needs some snow." And then there was snow. God looked upon the snow and said it was good. The James' looked upon the snow and cursed God. Literally.

The 7th day of the James' visit to Japan was also the day we all went to Emily's school to meet some of her students and fellow teachers. They (still not too sure on exactly who 'they' is) set us up with a group of rising second year students, two JTEs, and Carl-sensei.

Keep in mind that the kids are all on their winter break. Graduation was two weeks ago and the new school year doesn't start until April (the new school year coincides with the sakura blossoms). The kids come to school everyday to study for NEXT year. The kids we spoke with were working on thier English, but there were also kids playing musical instruments, working on math problems, and quietly reading in the library.

You just don't see that in America. The only time American students go back to school during a holiday is to steal metric scales from the science lab to weigh their drugs or to tag the school with their gang's symbol.

But I'm getting off the subject.

They put us in one of the few rooms in the school with a heater (yeah!) and lined up 4 chairs in the front of the classroom. The kids were all sitting at tables that had been pushed together to form three conference tables. The boys were all huddled together at one end of one table and the girls filled in the rest. The chairs in the front of the classroom were for Jerry, the gramps, and me.

The four of us introduced ourselves and then we all had an impromptu American geography lesson from Carl. He explained that the James were originally from Maine, but that the gramps lived in South Carolina and that Emily and Jerry lived in Florida. Carl drew a map of the US on the board and outlined Maine, South Carolina, and Florida.

Then Carl asked the class if they knew anybody else from South Carolina.

Silence.

He repeated his question, "can you name another person THAT YOU KNOW who is from South Carolina?"

More silence.

Then he added, "can you name another person THAT IS IN THIS ROOM who is from South Carolina?"

Still more silence.

I'm sure Carl would have liked to have added, "All of you are from Japan. NONE of you are from South Carolina. None of your teachers are from South Carolina. We have determined that the gramps are from South Carolina and that Emily, Jerry, and Angelo are from Florida. Who else IN THIS ROOM could be from South Carolina?"

Once again, silence.

Finally, Carl had to say, "I am from South Carolina!"

The class erupted in "Ahhhh Sooooo" followed by fits of giggles.

After this initial hiccup, we were barraged with questions from a dozen excited students bursting at the seams to use their English. They asked so many questions that we didn't know where to start.

Just kidding.

The kids were really shy and nobody wanted to ask any questions. Carl had to whisper questions into the kids' ears to get them to say anything. We answered them as best we could and told them important things like what type of Japanese foods we liked and disliked, where we had visited in Japan, and what we thought about the Japanese people.

After that, we broke up into three groups to continue the interview. At the end of the interview, each kid would be responsible for standing up in front of the class and introducing the person they had just interviewed, so they all had to participate.

I gravitated over to the boys table with Carl. We started off by going around the table and introducing ourselves. Each kid said their name and then added a little fact about their lives. They told me important things like "my hobby is listening to music" or "I like soccer." I asked each kid a follow up question and amazingly enough they were all able to respond.

The interview questions came slow at first. Carl had to plant the seeds for a few of the questions by saying things like, "You should ask him what his hobbies are." They would whisper to each other, giggle, and then one of them would say, "What are your hobbies?"

After a few more questions, their confidence was buoyed and the good questions started to roll in. They asked me, "why do you love Emma?" and "when are you going to marry Emma?" They all giggled at my answers. They also found great pleasure in the fact that I like tako (octopus), but not tarako (grilled fish egg sac) and natto (fermented soy beans).

The subject of Razor Ramon HG (aka Hard Gay) even came up. I figured out that the boys loved him and the girls hated him.

Interesting.

After that enlightening discussion, one of the boys pointed at another boy and said, "He is gay." Then, while pointing at a third boy, he added, "He loves him."

This was obviously hilarious because the boys erupted in laughter.

The subject of one's sexual orientation came up again during my introduction. I have illustrated what was said in the following picture:

After that fun experience, eight of the female students, Carl, and Emily took us on a tour of the school...but not before we took a group photo:

Carl did a great job of explaining everything on the tour (thanks, Carl!). He even translated the school's alma mater into English for us. I asked the eight girls who were following us around to sing the anthem for us...and they did!

I thought that only happened in movies starring Morgan Freeman!

When our tour concluded we were given gifts from the school and caught the train back to Takaoka, where we had dinner at Ruru (again) with Chiharu.

Sorry for the abrupt ending to this post, but I have to go take a shower now.

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Houjouzu Hachiman Jinja

Sorry to kill you with the stamps today, but I got another one today. However,instead of putting the stamp in my stamp book, the man at the jinja office gave me a piece of paper with the stamp. Doh!

Oh well, I guess this stamp collecting thing is a lesson in cultural misunderstanding.



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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Kanazawa Jinja, Ishiura Jinja, and Oyama Jinja

I got three stamps (shuin) for my nokyocho (stamp book) when we were in Kanazawa the other day. I like two of them, but I'm disappointed with the third.

When Laura went to Kanazawa Jinja, the shuin they made her was so beautiful that the girl at Ishiura Jinja made a photocopy of it. When I went to Kanazawa Jinja, the old man in the office couldn't find his brushes, so all I got was an hanko and the date written with a black marker.

Thanks, Kanazawa Jinja!

The other two shuin were fantastic, though.

I didn't recognize the person in the jinja office at Ishiura Jinja. You might remember from a previous post that the last time I visited this shrine with Laura and Ellie I was given a personal tour of the inside of the shrine (and walked home with a free gift). Not today. I just got my book stamped, bought an ema (those wooden picture boards hanging all over every shrine in Japan), and went on my way.

Oyama Jinja charged me 300 yen to get my book stamped. It was the first time a shrine has charged me. Every other time that I went to get my book stamped (all 5 times) the person in the office told me that it was free or that it was OK not to pay. Maybe because I'm a foreigner? Who knows?

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Monday, March 13, 2006

The James Visit Japan: Day 5 and Day 6

We didn't do too much the last two days. On Sunday we had lunch at Ru Ru and dinner at Shangri-la then yesterday we had lunch at Big China and take out dinner from White Gyoza.

Everyone did a lot of shopping in between meals.

That's about it.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The James Visit Japan: Day 4

On Day 4 the James' visited Kanazawa, the city where old Japan meets new Japan (I just made that up). We couldn't have picked a more beautiful day. I think it will end up being the prettiest day of the James' visit.

It was my fourth visit to Kanazawa since I came to Japan, so I had a pretty good idea of how to get around. We took the Kanazawa Loop Bus from the station to Kenrokuen, paid a 300 yen admission each, and walked into the largest of Japan's three most famous parks.

The park hadn't changed too drastically from my last visit. You could tell that Spring was on her way because all of the trees (especially the cherry trees) were starting to bud. A handful of trees were starting to blossom, but there weren't very many of them.

In front of the three or four cherry trees that were in bloom were literally dozens of camera happy Japanese. You might wonder, "what's the big deal?" I guess the Japanese feel the same way about a cherry blossom the way Americans feel about a bald eagle. One is just a flower and the other is just a bird, but each means so much more to each respective country.

In addition to looking at the beautiful naturals, I dragged them all to two shrines right near Kenrokuen so that I could fill up my shinto shrine stamp book.

I was disappointed with my stamp from Kanazawa Jinja. When an old man who looked like the Japanese version of Ben Franklin came to the office window, I got excited because I thought that old guy equaled great calligraphy. I was wrong. Old guy equals NO calligraphy. After putting the stamp in my book he spent about 5 minutes rustling through the drawers in the office and never found anything. I have a sneaking suspicion that he couldn't find his brushes.

The stamp (and accompanying calligraphy) I got from the other shrine, Ishiura Jinja, was very beautiful though. I'll post pictures of both stamps soon.

I could have spent the entire afternoon in Kenrokuen, but we had a whole city to explore. Our next stop was Kanazawa Castle Park and her accompanying castle.

We didn't explore the park too much, but went straight for the castle, paid our admission, took off our shoes, and marveled at the castle's woodwook while I played with my camera and my tripod.

I like the picture I took of the castle gate with mountains in the background, but I think the other pictures I took sucked. Therefore, although I played with my silly camera the entire time I was in the castle, the picture to the left is the only one you are going to see.

It was late afternoon by the time we finished our castle tour and the family was tired and ready to head back to Takaoka, but Emily and I wanted to stay in the city for a bit longer. We compromised, so after a little visit to Mr. Donut for coffee and donuts and a quick stop at a third shrine, we took them back to Kanazawa Station, bought their tickets, and put them on the train with detailed instructions on how to get off at Takaoka Station.

With the family safely on the train, Emily and I took a stroll through the Samurai district of Kanazawa (The Samurai district is gorgeous; I don't even want to think about how much a house there would cost) and then went shopping in the shopping district, which begins where the Samurai district ends.

After a few hours of shopping, we ate some McDonald's french fries and caught the bus back to Kanazawa Station.

When we got back to the apartment in Takaoka, the grandparents went to bed, Emily cleaned up the apartment, and Gerry and I went out for white gyoza at a little hole in the wall place very popular with the JETs in town.

Then we went to bed.

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