dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
Last week I saw an article about snake people moving to dying Japanese mountain towns. It seems a bit overstated--I mean, how many rural mountain towns can sustain an economy on brewpubs, artist communes, or drone testing--but I love the idea, especially in spring or fall, when the sakura or the momiji are in bloom and I really miss Japan.

I'd never consider moving to rural America if I can help it, and reading this made me think about the difference. Some of it is political, but I think a lot of it has to do with distance. Even in Chiyoda, we weren't that far from anything. It was a forty-five minute bus ride on the highway into Hiroshima City, but the important thing is that there was a bus and it came three times an hour. If we had lived in Miyoshi, we could have taken the train. There were towns further in the mountains that were more isolated like Takamiya or Geihoku, but even then it wouldn't have taken that long to get into the city. And crucially, the only thing we'd need a car for is driving to the train or bus station. There are very few places, if any, where that's true in America.

I never thought I was a country kid until I moved to Japan. Like most 80s suburbanites, I assumed that there was nothing to do and "out there"--i.e., anywhere more populated than where I lived--was where it's at. That's part of why I decided to go to university in the city, an experience which proved that I really did prefer urban areas. But those three years in Chiyoda were wonderful and there isn't a week that goes by that I don't want to move back. If there was some way to do so and still keep my job, and for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd to not have to change her line of work entirely, I'd advocate for it in a heartbeat. But for some reason, the AMA considers working from home a perk of management-level employees rather than assigning it based on job duties, so even though everything I do is web-based now and could theoretically be done from anywhere, I still have to head down into the office every day. We'll see if that changes with the new database (more on that in a post next week, probably!), but I doubt it.

It wouldn't let me move back to Chiyoda, though. Probably nothing ever will.

Chiyoda!: Friday

2016-Jul-22, Friday 23:29
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
One benefit of staying in a ryokan is that you get both dinner and breakfast, so after sleeping in almost until the last minute, I was awakened by [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd with exactly enough time to make it to breakfast after a quick shower. And such a breakfast:


Get in my mouth.

We had to eat a bit quickly in order to make the ferry, and originally I thought we were going to miss the shuttle from the ryokan to the port and would have to walk. What was I thinking? This is Glorious Nippon, after all. They held the bus for us, loaded our luggage into it while we paid for the room, and then drove us down in time to catch the 8:25 ferry and the street car that was just leaving after that.

We didn't try to make the 9:40 bus after arriving at 9:35, so we popped into a 7-11 to withdraw cash and get snacks--I got a melon pan, om nom nom--and then up to the bus center, where we bought tickets and asked for the proper platform to board the bus. I thought it was eight, but I was misremembering. It was nine, like it's always been.

Also, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd accidentally bought us children's tickets instead of adult tickets and we were worried for a moment, but we were being silly. This is Japan, and the ticket counter exchanged them for free. They were actually the same price, so I'm not sure why the 北部 line even offers separate tickets.

On the bus, we learned that Pokemon Go had finally gone live in Japan, causing a frantic burst of activity as [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega captured every unclaimed gym in sight.

And then, we arrived in Chiyoda.


From the highway. That building with wings is the community center.

Kaminaka-san, Hattori-san, and Sunada-san were all waiting to meet us at the bus center, and after a round of hugs (hugs! In Japan!) we started on our short tour. First we went to the Geihoku Cultural Center, new since we lived here, that had exhibits about local folk crafts like weaving and rice growing, about kagura performance, and about the festival of Mibu no Hanadaue. Then we went to Mibu itself, walking down the shōtengai where the festival takes place and ending at Mibu Jinja, where we went for hatsumōde our last year in Japan.


Not as impressive now, without the snow and lanterns and crowds of people. I wish I had a picture of that night...

After that, we drove up to a viewpoint on top of a hill, and after a short walking path, we found our way to 壬生城跡 (Mibu shiroato, "the ruins of Mibu Castle"). I didn't see anything that looked remotely like a castle had ever been there, but there was a spectacular view:


Facing toward Ōsaka.

After that, we went to look at our old house, still pretty nice looking and still sitting next to the abandoned twin house next to it, and and then off to Chiyoda High School! Unfortunately, due to the Japanese policy of transferring teachers after only a few years, very few of the people that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd taught with were still there. There were a couple, though. Umeki-sensei, who teaches math, and Nishihara-sensei, who teaches science, and the school nurse were all there. We also ran into Koyama-san, mother of Kazu, who I wrote about in this post and who is now a high school student. We didn't talk for very long because Kaminaka-san had set us a schedule, but we looked around for a bit in the school and then continued on to the Yae-sogo Communtiy Center for lunch, where we were met by Nakamura-san, the other Hattori-san, and Bōno-san.

Lunch was amazing. They had remembered I liked sake a lot and brought two small bottles for me, one of local sake from Chiyoda and one from Saijō, where the sake festival is held every year in late August. We had conbini bentō and okonomiyaki, as well as dessert jello from somewhere. I got a grape and aloe jelly that tasted exactly like the drinks I used to get from vending machines. We chatted, and I did a lot of translating to and from Japanese, and there were only a couple times where I just brought the conversation to a halt because I couldn't think of how to express an idea. It was amazing. Why did we leave?

Oh yes. So [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd could go to school and fulfill her dreams. It's a good reason! And yet, when I'm here, walking around Chiyoda, speaking in Japanese in a way that I was very uncomfortable doing when I lived here the first time...

If I had moved here before knowing as much Japanese as I know now, I'd be conversationally fluent. But, well, there's nothing to do about that now. I just have to keep trying and keep studying.


また今度, I said as we left. "Until next time..."

And we will be back, someday. Sooner than five years.

After a three-hour meal, we had to catch the bus back to Hiroshima, so we took the taxi Kaminaka-San had chartered and packed away the hand-made pottery pieces he had made for each member of our group, including [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek, who wasn't there due to having not been in Hiroshima with us, and we got on the highway bus and started the trip back. After the trip, we walked to our hotel--not Hotel Active, sadly, because there was a weekend price spike that made it not worth staying in--but in Toyoko Inn on Heiwa-Ōdōri, which was further but not significantly so. We were scheduled to meet some old friends from our Japan days, who happened to all be here at the same time in a weird serendipity, and after we checked in that's what we set out to do, though [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega and [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat stayed behind because they were still incredibly full from lunch.

The tabe・nomihōdai was at Sōgo, not Mitsukoshi like we originally expected it would be, so it took a bit longer to get there than we thought it would. Not too long, though, and once we made our way through Sōgo to the special beer garden elevator and went up, we had a couple hours of drinks and food with friends. The food wasn't that great, but I got some nice use out of the bottle of sake that it didn't seem like anyone else was drinking from, and a lovely time talking to people I hadn't seen in years. And some Japanese practice with an acquaintance, though I think because of the beer, she forgot that I'm not that great and just launched into full native speed and I followed along as best as I could.

At ten they threw everyone out. Some people were going on to a bar called Koba and originally I was planning on joining them, but on the walk there I started getting more and more twitchy in a way that told me that it was time to go back to the hotel. So I said my goodbyes, walked back to the hotel with a friend, and read until [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd came back and then went to bed.

Steps taken: 14050.

Note: If you're interested in more about Chiyoda, I did a whole blog series about it here.

Obon in the inaka

2015-Jul-29, Wednesday 14:54
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
I came on this article about the depopulation of Japan's countryside yesterday, even to the point of relatives moving their ancestors' remains to the cities where they have all moved to find work. The main part that drew my attention is the mention that the author lives on an island in the 瀬戸内海 (setonaikai, "Seto Inland Sea") the sea between three of Japan's four islands. It's also the sea that Hiroshima borders.

I really wish I had pictures to post here, because Obon in Chiyoda was pretty memorable. If we went to Thanks, the town department store, it was absolutely packed with all the relatives who had come in from Hiroshima City and Kure and Fukuyama and Iwakuni and further afield to pay their respects. I always described Obon as like Memorial Day, which isn't entirely true because of the military aspect of Memorial Day, but I know enough people who use it as a general day of respect for their ancestors that I think it fits. We'd go on walks through the forest near our house and see the graves there decorated with flags and food offerings and bottles of sake, dappled in shadow from the summer sun filtering through the trees.

I'd hate to think of that being lost, but the universe is no respecter of tradition.
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
Shopping Center Thanks
Thanks was built back when the City University of New York had a branch in Chiyoda, and it managed to survive the closure of that university four years later by being the place where the surrounding even smaller towns, like Oasa or Geihoku, came to get goods. We went there a lot, because while it was primarily a grocery store, there were a ton of other smaller stores in there too. An alcohol shop, a bakery, a futon shop that later closed and was replaced with a travel agency (though fortunately after we had bought our futon), a stationary and book shop, a shoe shop, a hundred-yen store, two clothing stores, a pharmacy, a sushi stand...

We spent a lot of time at Thanks, though not as often as other people. While our fridge was around 2/3rds the size of an American fridge, we managed to buy a week's groceries at a time, instead of the two to three days' worth that's more common for Japanese families. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd got some stares due to our bulging shopping basket until people figured that out.

The sushi stand, called 亀家 (kameya), had sales at the end of every day. At 5 p.m., sushi was 20% off, and at 6 p.m., it was 50% off. If we got there in time, before the crush of obaachans picked the offerings clean, we could get a pretty tasty sushi dinner for the two of us for maybe $15.

Michizure
I'm not entirely sure what the rest of the building was for, but the bottom floor was a restaurant that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I would go to when we wanted to celebrate some event. It wasn't super high-end, but it was definitely more upscale than Funky Tonky or Iwata or Gusto. And while the internet at large is not too keen on it, we never had much to complain about. There are a lot of seafood-and-rice sets, some huge $100 sushi platters that we never got, noodle bowls, and really good appetizers. And basashi, which is amazing.

If you've heard me tell the story about ordering gekikara tantanmen and getting more than I bargained for, this is where it happened.

Coin Laundry
Yes, that's a raccoon on the sign. That's because the Japanese for raccoon is 洗熊 (araiguma), which literally means "washing bear," and the first kanji there is also the first kanji in 洗濯 (sentaku, "laundry")

We had a washing machine in our house that we washed all our clothes in, but we didn't have a dryer. That's not unusual for Japan, where hanging out the laundry to dry is very common, but during the winter hanging laundry outside is obviously out of the question so we hung it inside. And since our house was uninsulated and Japan is so humid, it would often take two to three days for it to dry completely. It was just awful all around.

It was [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's idea to start taking our clothes here, and while initially I was against it, I pretty soon came around when the benefits came through. We'd drop our clothes off, go shopping or go to dinner, change them, wait for 30 minutes, then take them home and they'd be done. Plus the laundry is heated, and the clothes are super warm when they come out. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd would dump them out on the futon and then just lay on them for a bit, soaking up the heat. I really don't blame her.

Hakkenden
This is another izakaya, though it's part of a chain and much more obviously a restaurant. The name comes from 八犬伝, the legend of the eight dog warriors, though they swap the middle character out for 剣, which is pronounced the same but means "sword." Because it's a chain, you can see their website here and their menu here. There's a ton of pictures, which is quite a change from Iwata, where the menu was just a solid block of kanji and kana in black on plain white paper.

I'm getting a lot of cravings looking at that menu. Hakkenden was the place where I learned about ochazuke and I always ordered that to finish off the meal, but there's a ton of other stuff there and now my mouth is watering. Kushiyaki, ramen and yakionigiri, gyoza and kara-age, spicy pickles and wasabi octopus, french fries and fried cheese, or--still a favorite--raw meat with raw egg and raw onions. Anyone who's seen me get grumpy when scanning the menu at a Japanese restaurant here in America, click those links and you'll understand.

We also ran into the owner of the local Poplar eating with some of his staff there once, and he bought us drinks for coming in and buying so many onigiri and cup noodles from them. That's service you can't pay for.

Town Hall and Community Center
That very uniquely-shaped building on the right is the town hall, where we only went a few times. We were there most at the beginning of our first year, when [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had to go get all her various papers and so on sorted out. Since she was the one with a job waiting for her, everything was in her name, so she had to sign up for utilities, register us for tax and immigration purposes, sign up for car insurance, and so on. Later on, I went there to change my dependent visa to a work visa, and later to look for work in the schools nearby.

The building on the left is the community center where we had our biweekly English class. It caught us by surprise the first time we were asked to teach it, and originally I think we didn't do that great a job, but we taught it for three years. A few people left, a few more people came in, and we honed our teaching abilities. There were some great moments, like when we had to go to a different room and ended up practicing directions by laying zabuton down on the floor, having one person close their eyes, and having the other class members tell them which way to go, or when we had a fake restaurant to practice customer interactions, or when we instituted "What have you done since last class?" time at the beginning so that no matter what, everyone spoke some English during class time.

I wrote a blog post about the last enkai we went to with the group. There's still a passage that sticks out to me:
At the end of the party tonight, we all stood outside and looked up at the full moon, and one of the students said, "When you're in America, you will be looking at the same moon." With all the friends I'll be leaving when we leave Japan, it's a good thought to remember.
I still remember that, sometimes, when I'm looking up at the night sky.
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
Walking Path
This is shown from pretty near our house. If you turn the view around and go down the road a ways, you'll be able to see it on the left. And you should probably turn the view around at least a bit, because this section of road's pictures were taken in fall and the trees are great. The momiji especially are spectacular.

This is the road that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I would always walk on when we went for walks. We'd go forward a ways, then turn right along the river for a short distance, then turn right again and walk down what was called the "old road." Considering that Chiyoda has a festival that dates back 500 years (which I'll write about in a later tour post), it makes me wonder if the old road has been there for centuries and the paved version we'd walk on is only its most recent incarnation.

Forest Shrine
I'm partially including this for the fall colors, but also as an example of the little shrines we'd stumble on when walking around town. There were at least three of them within a mile of our house--one of them is just down the road from the brewery, if you want to go back to Part I and look around--and there are probably half-a-dozen others around there that we missed. Japanese people are pretty famously irreligious, but I think a lot of that is just a different understanding of religion than the usual Western attitude. Nearly everyone I knew went to a local shrine on New Year's Eve, but they'd never characterize it as a religious thing. it was just part of being Japanese. Which is the traditional understanding of religion, really--the idea that religion is somehow separable from culture is mostly a modern conceit.

If you turn right and click down the road to the bridge, you can see the water-filled depression in the road that collapsed during a heavy rainstorm. We also caught two students necking under the bridge at one point, but we didn't say anything and just walked on by. Teachers in Japan and somewhat expected to police their students behavior when they're out and about, but neither of us bothered with that.

The Koyamas' House
The Koyamas were one of the families who came to the neighborhood English class we taught. I've written about their younger son Kazuo before here, but their elder son Naoyuki is the one who brought us the katana that's currently resting above our mantle and who once came by our house and asked if we wanted to go firefly-gazing. Relatively early on, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I walked by the house when the Koyamas were having a barbeque outside, and they beckoned us over and invited us to sit and eat with them. It was moments like that that really make me remember Chiyoda fondly.

We also did our part for tolerance, since Mrs. Koyama told us that before she had interacted with us during the class, she had been kind of scared of foreigners, but after meeting us she wasn't scared anymore.

Forest Path
Sadly the Google van didn't go down that path, because we'd walk down there a lot. Just around the corner there is a grove of bamboo, and then a few family grave sites, and then a set of weathered stone steps leading up to a shrine of Hachiman that we'd frequently stop at. One of the first times we went there, we ran into the shrine keeper and had a brief conversation, but every other time we went it was deserted. Sadly, I don't have a clean picture of the entrance or the shrine itself. You're always a terrible tourist where you live.

Stonecarver's House
At least, I have to assume it's a stonecarver's house with a display like that outside. A lot of what's there were graves, but there's also plenty of stone lanterns and just lawn statues like the owls right at the bottom of the image.

The reason I included this image can be seen if you zoom in a bit and look behind the stone table, just to the left of the two Hotei statues. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I always used to think of this as the gravecarver's house, and every time we would see that, we were happy that it wasn't somewhere out there decorating a child's grave. I realize now that it was intended as a lawn ornament, which makes me a lot happier.

Creepy Shrine
Most of our tiny mountain town fit the good stereotypes of a small town. We had neighbors invite us over for barbeque and to the local festivals, bring us vegetables and rice during harvest season, by us drinks when they saw us in local bars, all of that. They also talked about our house being creepy and looked into our basket when we went shopping, but on the whole, I think the good outweighed the bad by a lot.

Sometimes, though, there were scenes straight out of Fatal Frame. The stairway in our house was one, with narrow, steep wooden steps with no railing and a single bulb at the top. The entrance to this shrine was another. During full daylight it wasn't so bad, though even then the layout was a bit creepy. Those steps led up through the trees to an empty clearing of grass and dirt, and then there were more stairs at the far end that led up to the actual shrine. But if the sun was even a bit obscured...well, you get the picture there. At at actual night? We usually crossed the road to avoid the darkness that seemed to spill almost palpably down the stairs. If there were J-Horror ghosts anywhere in Chiyoda, they lived at that shrine.

The shrine was maintained by the neighborhood who had twice-yearly cleanings, and our friends the Kaminakas mentioned that they had taken a turn at cleaning it in one of the pre-class English "what have you done since last class?" discussions we instituted. I remember being surprised at that at the time, because he hadn't been killed by murderous ghosts. If you've lived in the country for a long time--and in Japan, "the country" has basically no streetlights"--you're probably used to that kind of darkness around, though.
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
I've wanted to make a post like this for a while, but I've always been stymied before because I didn't think of using my phone to take pictures everywhere until about halfway through my time living in Japan, and even then I didn't typically take pictures of daily life. Everything you do all the time seems ordinary even if other people wouldn't think so, after all. I could have used Google maps, but the only places the picture vans had gone were the major thoroughfares, and even then a lot of the major side roads hadn't been explored at all.

Today, I looked on Google maps and found that Chiyoda had been thoroughly mapped by Google Streeview, even to the point of a lot of the single-car roads leading to nooks and crannies all over! So here, I present a lot of the places I remember and my memories of them, with Streetview links so you can see them yourself.

You'll have to forgive the constant shifting between overcast and sunny in the pictures, but on the other hand, it does a good job representing Japanese weather.

Home Sweet Home
We lived in that house for three years. The discolored one on the left is abandoned and had been abandoned for years before we got there, but ours was in great condition. It looks like a cement block on the outside, but the inside is all tatami and wood floors, sliding panels, shōji screens, separate bathroom and toilet, and all the other elements of a traditional Japanese home.

It was subsidized by the Kitahiroshima Board of Education, so we got a huge bargain on the price--monthly rent was 170,000円, which was around $200 at the time and is more like $160 now. That's a big part of the reason we were able to save so much money and also why we never moved, even in the winter when it got incredibly cold--most Japanese houses are uninsulated, and ours had concrete walls filled with sand so it was even worse than usual--or the summer when it was muggy and hot.

We had holes in our shōji screens for a while before we learned where to buy the supplies to repair them, so our house enjoyed brief fame among [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's students as the creepy house.

A Picturesque Path
If you've ever seen those various postcards or pictures or anime sequences where children are walking along raised paths through the rice fields, while cicadas buzz or crows caw, then you recognize that picture. That was the route that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd took every day to get to school. Or at least, to Chiyoda's schools--she was at three other schools on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but since they aren't in Chiyoda and I never went there they won't feature here.

That route is also the path we always took whenever we went walking toward the town center or whenever we had to drive anywhere. It's about as wide as our car was, so it's a good thing we never ran into a car going the opposite way. There's a kind of car in Japan called a kei car that were narrower than normal and better designed for urban roads, but we had a Mazda Familia (which we affectionately called "Uncle Enzo"), so we sometimes had to be careful on the smaller rural roads.

Minimalist Intersection
This is what I mean about small roads. This is where we turned left after going down the path between the rice fields. It seems ridiculously narrow, and it was ridiculously narrow, but it's built for left-hand turns so we got used to it pretty quickly. If we were going to the high school, then we kept on straight ahead.

On the right at the side of the road, you can see an open rain gutter. These ran along the roads all over town, filling the air with the constant sound of flowing water even on hot summer days. Sometimes they had stone plates put over them with small holes to let the water in, but in Chiyoda at least, they were usually uncovered. We called them "gaijin traps."

Local Okonomiyaki
When we first moved to Chiyoda, this building was a bakery, but even though there was a sign out on the main thoroughfare and some of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's students bought bread from there, we never managed to get there when it was open because it usually opened early and closed early. The one time we arrived during posted hours, it wasn't open.

About halfway through our time in Chiyoda, though, the family who lived there (shop/house combos are very common in Japanese towns) converted their bakery into an okonomiyaki restaurant where they made okonomiyaki to order. We'd select from the menu--no noodles, plus dried squid and kimchi for me, mochi and cheese for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd--and then they'd make it on the grill in view and bring it over to us. It was amazing, and writing this reminded me how much it annoys me that I can't get good okonomiyaki anywhere in Chicago.

Local Brewery and Shop
I don't have many memories associated with this place, but I'm including it because we walked past it a lot and because we'd get gifts of sake from the various people we worked with--[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's co-workers, our students, and so on--and a lot of them came from here. The shop is actually quite small and you can see most of it through the door there. The building is primarily the brewery.

And yes, that is a booze vending machine on the right.

Chiyoda High School
I don't have nearly as many memories of this place as [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd does, but it was still kind of the center of our lives in the town, along with the two English conversation classes we taught. I'd walk by it a lot, we'd see [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's students and their parents, around town, and I'd go to the festivals they'd hold there, like Sports Day or the Culture Festival.

If you've seen any school anime, you might recognize the building. This is because all Japanese schools look basically the same, and we were able to instantly recognize them no matter where we went. The main building is on the left, and the building on the right was a theatre and gym.

Next time, more pastoral memories!
dorchadas: (In America)
In what's apparently becoming a yearly tradition for us, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went out to the suburbs to visit my parents and go to the Scarecrow Festival. Much (maybe even most) of our visit was taken up by [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I looking around St. Charles and Geneva antique shops for either a coatrack or a kitchen sideboard, and we didn't find either of those, but we find a cute fox mug and had an opportunity to look at the trees in downtown Geneva, which was good because we didn't get to head down to the riverwalk and look at the trees this year.

Scarecrowfest 2014 Tree

It's no momiji, but it's pretty nice.

My parents walked near the river on Saturday and said that the trees down there were disappointing, though. It might just be that there aren't the right kind of trees there to get good fall colors.

Anyway, the main neat thing we did this year other than go see the scarecrows was go to Kuiper's Family Farm at [livejournal.com profile] uriany's invitation. I knew there were these kind of farms around, because my parents moved to the western suburbs decades ago so they could be in an undeveloped area and while there's been some infill, it's still not far at all from their house to farms and cornfields, but I've never been to one until yesterday. It was a lot bigger than I thought it would be--there were two sides, one for pumpkins and one for apples, and while we originally thought about picking apples, we realized that we already had too much stuff to haul back to our apartment, between the new foreman grill we had gotten at a thrift shop and all the White Wolf books we were hauling back. So we went to the corn maze instead.

2014 Kuiper's Family Farm Maze

As [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd said and as I told her I would put here, "It was a-maize-ing!"

I told [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd a while ago that I used to play tag in the corn fields out behind my house, and her response was, "That's so midwestern!" It was the only opportunity she's gotten to skewer me for my upbringing, and I was excited to show her this great example of our fine civilization, and it was pretty fun. They had set up three difficulty levels--we picked Medium--and being seasoned gamers, we stuck to following the left-hand wall around, which worked great until we started going in circles. Fortunately, we had picked up a "passport" at the entrance that had questions, and by answering them correctly at certain crossroads, we managed to make our way out after not too long.

I'm glad it was bright daylight, because not being able to see over the stalks and the occasional wind that came through and rustled them was were both pretty creepy. It was a lot like the beginning of Signs when it was more about mood before the faith allegory came to the fore.

2014 Kuiper's Family Farm Corn

The view from a bridge in the middle of the maze.

Other fun highlights include a tire pile that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd climbed and a slide she went down, a crow in a cage that said "Hello!" to us as we passed (the first time I've ever heard a crow say anything intelligible), and a giant store on the apple side where we got bread mix, coffee, an apple-shaped dish that we can put spoons on instead of resting them straight on the oven, and apple cider donughts. The first donughts I've had in probably half a decade, and yeah, they were pretty good.

The actual Scarecrow Festival was better than last year, with the whimsical category still the best. There was another Minecraft scarecrow this year, though just a zombie and the legs were a really odd shape. I was a little tempted to vote for it until we continued on and saw a Slender Man scarecrow, which I gave the vote to on the basis that it was both neat looking and the scarecrow most likely to actually be scary, especially if we had been alone in a cornfield. There were some other great ones, like the giant straw chicken or the explosion of rainbows, but I didn't take any pictures of them this year.

I also poked around my parents' basement while I was there, but maybe I'll make that another post.

Bonus: another leaf picture:
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dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
The first weekend in December was the JLPT/日本語能力試験, which was filled with just as much bullshit as I expected it to be. [profile] schoolpsycherd and I took level 4, which we figured that living in Japan for three years would be able to prepare us for. And it...kind of was, in a sense. Our lack of formal schooling (well, mine, [profile] schoolpsycherd did take some classes at university) was a bit obvious. She thinks she passed, I think I failed, mainly because of the listening section. As part of the bullshit I mentioned, the listening section repeated absolutely nothing at all, requiring you to maintain laser-like focus for 35 minutes and preventing you from taking more than a few seconds to think about the answers. There was ample writing space provided, but I quickly learned that it was useless because if you took the time to use it you were already missing the next question (unfortunately, I learned this through experience). The rest of the test was also bullshit, but it's the bullshit inherent to language, like a bunch of words that have slight differences in meaning or all look the same, such as the difference between 料理, 科埋, 料埋, and 科理 (though that would be a better example if those were all real words, which they aren't. At least, not in Japanese. The first one is Japanese, the other three are Chinese).

We plan to take Level 3 next year whether we pass or fail this one. Even if I did fail, I was of an appropriate level where there wouldn't be much point in retaking it. That'll give me a year to study for the new level, too, which should hopefully be enough.

For Thanksgiving, [profile] schoolpsycherd and I took the train down to Kentucky to visit her family. We spent Thanksgiving Day with her father and his girlfriend, and the day after Thanksgiving with her mother and her fiance. Despite our initial misgivings, it actually went really well, and it gave me plenty of time to write (I think I banged out the last 7000 words of my NaNo while we were there). Both dinners were delicious. Dinner at her father's house was a more traditional Thanksgiving dinner, and her mother's fiance cooked a smaller one but made me a very rare filet mignon, which was incredibly tasty. Also, there were no awkward moments, shouting matches, or anything that we were worried about, though a big portion of that can probably trace back to her mother's refusal to enter her father's house, instead waiting for us out in the car. Still, it was what it was, and it worked out okay.

Last weekend, we went to visit [livejournal.com profile] melishus_b in Seattle! I had been to Seattle before, since my aunt and uncle live there, but [profile] schoolpsycherd had never been (except to the airport, which hardly counts), so we spent two days in Seattle, one day at [livejournal.com profile] melishus_b's house planning (and later throwing) a party, and then one day in the rainforest on the Olympian Peninsula. That last bit was probably my favorite, since I've never been to anything like it before. [profile] schoolpsycherd and I went to a tropical rainforest when we were in Singapore, but that's obvious not the same as a temperate one. Anyway, before we went to the rainforest we went to a little town called Poulsbo, which is the kind of place that the word "quaint" was invented to describe. Lots of little shops with tasty treats, including some of the best chocolate I've ever eaten, and some places where we stocked up on food before heading off to the rainforest. There's a ton of rainforest photos up on my Facebook.

In Seattle, we went to a little local bar the first night and did the tourist thing the second night, mostly around Pike's Market. We also went to the Museum of Glass on Saturday afternoon before the party. All in all, it was neat, and I'm looking forward to when [livejournal.com profile] melishus_b gets time off so we can show her around Chicago. (^_^)

And finally, something random, for those who've played Morrowind. The whole thing resolves around the Heart of Lorkhan--the disappearance of the Dwemer, Dagoth Ur's plans with Akulakhan, the Tribunal's power, the final battle takes place in the heart chamber, you spend a huge part of the game looking for the tools the Dwemer used to affect the heart, etc.

Now, listen to the Nerevar Rising, Morrowind's main theme. The theme that accompanies you throughout the entire game. Listen to the drums that kick in in the beginning and continue underneath the melody for the whole song.

What do they sound like?

(I <3 Elder Scrolls so much).
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
Click here and go to satellite view. That's our house!

And yes, all those fields visible on the view are rice fields.
dorchadas: (Ping Kills)
So, we were planning on going to kaitenzushi for my birthday, but it never actually happened because it was closed. Why, I have no idea. The hours on the door said that it was open from 1100 to 2100. There was a paper taped to the inside of the door, with something on it about May 25 and a bunch of other kanji I couldn't read that might have explained why it was closed, but... We thought it might have been closed on weekends, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd confirmed that with Yamasaki-san, so we tried going back today...except it's still closed. Now I'm wondering if it was closed for renovations or something? No idea...

I'm also annoyed because we were going to go to Funky Talky instead, but that was closed too, so we ended up getting sushi from the sushi counter at the supermarket and eating that. It was about as expensive as eating out would be and we still have leftovers for tomorrow. The yakiniku restaurant we went to instead of kaitenzushi was open (we saw people going in), but since that was the last place we went, we decided not to go there.

I really wish that restaurants would post their hours on door--or, for the ones that do, I wish they'd actually be open during those hours :-p
dorchadas: (Default)
...but this isn't really a problem. Anyone wanting to steal bandwidth would have to get a signal from like 300 feet away through a rice field or two, or park outside our house where they'd be really, really obvious.
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
A warning--this entry is ridiculously long, since it has all the entries I would have made over the past three weeks. As such, I'm LJ-cutting it. I'd like to think it's neat and interesting, but...well, it's lengthly. Individual entries have been separated to prevent the "Wall of Text crits you for 9999, you die" problem.

Long entry is looooooooooooooooooooooooooooong )
Footnotes )

Awesome

2008-Jul-16, Wednesday 23:47
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
We get a house in the middle of a spider-infested rice paddy!

Okay, maybe it's slugs instead of spiders. ^_~

It sounds like it's a pleasant country village surrounded by mountains, so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd gets to take the raised road through the rice paddies to school like you see in all those anime. Falling cherry blossoms in season only, I think. Rent is only ¥17,000 per month, which is ridiculously cheap considering it's a fully-furnished house. It's because it's owned by the Kitahiroshima Board of Education. There's one benefit to living in the country. Plus Hiroshima City is about 45 minutes away by bus (or an hour by car, which we'll get since the previous JET isn't exactly going to ship her car back to America).

Oh, also, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's predecessor is from...Naperville. Small world.

We have placement

2008-Jul-09, Wednesday 21:15
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
Kitahiroshima (creative name, ain't it?). Sadly, I know almost nothing about it. It looks like it's only been a city since the big city consolidation a few years ago. It's a bit country-esque (1000 sq. km, but only 29K people), but it's only 20 or 30 miles from Hiroshima proper, so that's not so bad. The actual distance depends on where in Kitahiroshima we get put (1000 sq. km is a pretty large possible area).

Sadly, I can't find much transportation information in English.
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
I cleaned my room! There is nothing on the floor anymore, my bookshelves are neat and tidy and everything is visible (no more two-rows deep to hold all the books). Now I just have to vacuum and dust more. The shelves and the dresser are dusted, but there are probably other places that need it.

My visit with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd was quite long (eight days), and a lot of stuff happened that isn't that exciting to recount, as is usual. Mostly just playing games, her knitting while I played games, me reading while she played games, and so on, so I will recount the highlights here.

The first highlight--and the one that made me feel kind of bad--is that her family got me Christmas/Chanukah presents. Several of them, actually. A wok set, including four rice bowls and four sets of chopsticks, four miso bowls, and a metric fuckload of candy, including neat stuff like ginger candy and muscat gummies (whatever the hell those are). Oh, and gelt. The reason I felt bad is because I wasn't expecting nearly that much (and it's not counting what [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd got me). I got them Frango mints, which were worth perhaps a bit more than usual due to Marshall Field's being bought by Macy's, but still--it's just mints. Then again, they probably didn't expect anything, so...

I beat Halo. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's brother owns an X-box, so I figured it was my chance. I can see why people liked it so much (and I do want to go back and try it on Legendary now...), but it wasn't the BEST FPS EVAR like I've heard. The quotes from the Covenant were hilarious, though, and I now have a better background on Red vs. Blue. Slightly. One more gamer milestone down.

As my previous post mentioned, I managed to avoid getting horribly burned on New Year's. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went to one of her friend's family farm for a party, and when midnight rolled around, we decided to set off fireworks. Unfortunately, one of the fireworks did not go up before it exploded. No one was seriously hurt, and only one person was even hit, and it was only a glancing blow that led to a scorched jacket and singed hair. An enormous green spark went by about six inches from my head, though. It was very exciting, for a moment.

We played Karaoke Revolution, too! I have discovered I'm pretty good, as long as I don't sing funk. I totally lack any ability to sing funk, which I guess should not be that surprising.

We saw Memoirs of a Geisha in the theatre...which was okay. I didn't like it that much. It was incredibly pretty (and Zhang Zi Yi is hot), but...that's all it was. I didn't get any sort of feeling of emotion from the movie, no matter what happened on the screen. The book was much better at evoking emotion, at least from me.

And we watched a bunch of anime and hung out. It was wonderful ^_^

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