dorchadas: (Chiyoda)

This weekend is the date of two of my favorite festivals in Hiroshima--Tōkasan in Hiroshima City and Mibu no Hanadaue in Chiyoda (とうかさん and 壬生の花田植, respectively). There's video of Mibu no Hanadaue here

It's really making me miss Japan. We went to both festivals all three years we lived in Hiroshima, because while we sometimes had a hard time knowing that any particular event was occurring, Tōkasan was the talk of the town for months, and our students invited us to Mibu no Hanadaue the first year we lived there. And now that social media is so big in disseminating information, I follow a bunch of Facebook pages like 北広島ほっと情報 (Kitahiroshima Town Hot News Updates) or the Tōkasan page. That means I have a constant stream of updates on festivals I went to, festivals I knew about but never got the chance to attend, and festivals I've never heard of but really wish I had. Plus pictures, of course. Get Hiroshima, the gaijin-run local events news source, posted this picture of Mibu no Hanadaue.


Source.

Re: my subject line, today's weather in Chiyoda was sunny and clear, with a 0% chance of precipitation.

Also, last night I installed Heroes of the Storm after my attempts to play an AI-enabled DotA Allstars in Warcraft III did not go well. It's the only map I've ever found that crashed WCIII, and some searching found that the map has problems with certain heroes' abilities. There's no way I'm playing DotA on Battle.net. Those days are done. I played DotA games for thousands of hours when I was a university student and have no desire to go back to the world of racist insults and people dropping the instance the other team scores first blood against them.

HotS seems to solve a lot of my problems with MOBA games. There's no items, so there's no need to memorize item combinations. There's no gold, so last-hitting isn't a thing. XP is team-wide, so jungling and people demanding solo mid don't exist. Also, it's free just like the original DotA Allstars was (WCIII was a sunk cost at that point), so there's no harm in trying it out. And you can play against AI so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd might try it out with me and see if she likes it.

I don't know how long I'll stick with it, but I'm glad I tried it out. It's much more fun than I thought it would be.
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
Here's a backdated index for all the posts I wrote about [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and my trip to Japan with friends!
  • Friday, July 15 to Saturday, July 16 - Chicago to Tokyo - Mostly on airplanes.
  • Sunday, July 17 - Tokyo - Meiji Jingu, shopping, and Shinjuku park.
  • Monday, July 18 - Tokyo - National Museum, Clothes shopping, meeting a friend of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd for dinner in Shinjuku, and the Final Fantasy cafe.
  • Tuesday, July 19 - Himeji and Hiroshima - Himeji Castle and a drinks truck in Hiroshima.
  • Wednesday, July 20 - Hiroshima - The Peace Memorial Museum, shopping, and a kagura performance.
  • Thursday, July 21 - Miyajima - Itukushima Shrine, climbing Mount Misen, and staying in a ryokan.
  • Friday, July 22 - Chiyoda! - Visiting and having dinner with our old students in the town we lived in!
  • Saturday, July 23 - Kyoto - Racist hotel, Pokemon center, and surprise festival performance.
  • Sunday, July 24 - Kyoto - Gion Matsuri parade, Fushimi-Inari, and parade at Yasaka-Jinja.
  • Monday, July 25 - Kyoto and Ōsaka - Sanjūsangendō, Shitennōji in Ōsaka, and the Tenjin Matsuri in Ōsaka.
  • Tuesday, July 26 - Kyoto - Hōnen-in in the rain, lunch in Gion, the Kanji Museum, and Torin yakitori restaurant.
  • Wednesday, July 27 - Tokyo - Otome Road, Akihabara, and gaming in an arcade.
  • Thursday, July 28 - Tokyo - Sailor Moon Cafe, the Ghibli exhibition in Roppongi, Super Potato, and dinner in Ginza.
  • Friday, July 29 - Tokyo and Toronto - Sakura manjū, one last ramen, and a flight home that worked out in the end.
What a wonderful trip!

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.

That was a week

2016-May-11, Wednesday 10:41
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
Thursday we had [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture over to watch Revolutionary Girl Utena, and then after she left I got a bit overwhelmed by my upcoming schedule and the fact that the pants I ordered arrived and didn't fit, and I ended up lying down in a dark room for fifteen minutes while [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd did some work in the kitchen.

The next day I sent back the pants and the replacements are in the mail, and then I got home from work, devoured dinner, and immediately turned around and headed out to Call of Cthulhu, which you can read about here. Then we came back home and went to bed.

Saturday was LARP and shopping day, taking up a large portion of the afternoon and all of the evening, but also the day where I received an email from my father with the subject "$" and then checked my bank and noticed a pending transaction for a substantial sum of money. Enough to pay for our upcoming trip to Japan multiple times over. When we called my mother for Mother's Day the next day and asked about it, their reasoning was basically that they're not getting any younger and who knows what might happen. So if you wonder why I'm all #doom all the time, well...

Sunday was the aforementioned phone call and the Beach Party of Hope, scheduled in February. Fortunately the weather cooperated, but those again took up a big chunk of the day. We also wrote a letter to Kaminaka-san, one of our old students from Chiyoda, since we're planning to visit Chiyoda on our upcoming trip to Japan and wanted to let him know! That took a bit of time mostly because I had to hand-write Japanese, which I'm not very good at and which always makes me nervous.

Monday was session six of Warlords of the Mushroom Kingdom, which i haven't written about yet because over half of it was Small-time Peddlers of the Mushroom Kingdom, so I'll do a combined six + seven post next week and edit in a link here when it's written.

Tuesday was Japanese class again, which actually went pretty well. 世界の中心で愛を叫ぶ is getting better now that they're getting into more characterization, and at least with the most recent chapter, I went into class thinking I had a lot of trouble with the reading and it turned out that I actually understood almost all of it. Aya-sensei mentioned that it's easy to get caught up in a couple small things you don't understand and assume it means that you don't understand the larger picture and that's simply not the case, and that's definitely true. I think at this point I'd keep reading the book even if I didn't have class anymore.

Tonight, I have nothing scheduled and I'm going to play Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and watch Aria with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, and the only thing I have scheduled that is of any importance is that we're going to write another card to one of our students in Japan. And this Friday we're going out to eat at Travelle and then I don't have anything scheduled for the rest of the weekend. Other than beating Symphony of the Night and finishing up my Ender-kun costume for ACEN. Just need to do the grass block!
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
I wrote a few months back about whether I actually hate LARPing, and since then I've signed up for [livejournal.com profile] drydem's Scion LARP starting in April. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I are playing scions of Izanami and Izanagi, respectively, since we've lived in Japan, know some Japanese, and otherwise are at least moderate qualified to do so. I was a bit reticent about this, because there's barely any information about either of those two. The 古事記 (Kojiki, "The Account of Ancient Events") has the story of them stirring the waters with a spear and the drops forming the islands of Japan, of Izanami dying in childbirth and Izanagi descending into Yomi after her, which goes as well as people doing into the underworld after their loves always goes in mythology. And that's about it, really. But I figured I could always do some more general research.

In pursuit of that aim, I'm reading Shintō and the State 1868-1988, which [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd checked out from the library and I asked to read when she was done. It's currently describing how Shintō in its modern form was basically invented whole-cloth during the Meiji Restoration out of various local cults and influential shrine practices for the political aim of unifying the nation. They repeatedly described it as not being a religion, because that way they could eat their freedom of religion cake while still having their compulsory state rituals.

Which gets to one of the problems I have with Scion. Most of them come down to "the rules are a dumpster fire," but that's not a problem in a LARP. However, Scion's depiction of the Shintō "pantheon" annoyed me because it has basically nothing to do with reality.

I mean, the Greek pantheon (it says "Greco-Roman," but Ares is a crazy berserker, so there's nothing Roman about it) is called the Dodekatheon, but if you asked a Hellene about it, they'd ask you "Which twelve?" At least there, though, there was an ancient concept that there were twelve Olympians even if there was disagreement on which gods counted among those twelve. There's nothing like that for Shintō. The most important deity for most ancient Japanese was the local diety of the fields or forests, or the tutelary deity of their family if they were nobility. Amaterasu was originally a tutelary deity of the Imperial family and was barely worshipped--and probably barely even known about--outside of that small circle.

As an example, the most important deity to the people of Chiyoda, to the extent that any deity is important to them--something like 75% of Japanese people describe themselves as 無宗教 (mushūkyō, "without religion), though that doesn't stop them from praying at shrines and participating in rituals and often just means they aren't part of a formal religious organization--is Sanbai-san, the local rice god who comes down from the mountain he lives on once a year to bless the rice planting.

Sure, it's a game that needs playable splats of roughly equivalent power level. As fun as it might be to play a scion of Sanbai-san, I wouldn't be on the same power level as a scion of Hera or Manannán. And other pantheons have the same issue, but I know more about Shintō so it bothers me more.

Then again, extending modern practice as though it were a glorious unbroken tradition into the past is a political tactic that itself is a glorious unbroken tradition, so White Wolf is just upholding that with Scion.

(And don't get me started on how the game has an Atlantean pantheon but doesn't cover the beliefs of over half the world's population in any way. Not even some kind of Canaanite pantheon.)

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)
Mibu no Hanadaue Field
壬生の花田植 (Mibu no Hanadaue, "The rice-field-planting of Mibu," like it says in that link) is held every year in Chiyoda, and has been for over five hundred years. I wrote about it the first time we went, when a student in our English class at the community center invited us to go. There's an account of the festival and what I thought at the time in that other link, but I didn't write about a lesson that we got in Japanese indirectness, so I'll mention that now.

It was extremely hot--probably at least 35ºC--and very sunny, and Kaminaka-san asked us a couple times if we wanted to leave. Initially, we thought that he thought we were bored, so to show him that we were definitely interested (which we were), we said that we would like to move to a different place to get a better view. On the second time he, it was very hot and we were sweaty and tired, so we agreed that it was time to go.

Later, we realized what was really going on. He was tired of standing out in the sun, but having invited us to the festival and knowing that we hadn't seen it before, he didn't want to be the first one to say that he was done watching. Therefore, he asked us if we wanted to stay, since us saying no would give him an easy out.

We went in both 2010 and 2011, and while 2010 was hot again, 2011 was cloudy and cool, and we managed to stay for the entirety of the festival. Somewhat sadly, it turns out there was no special ending, and people just drifted away after the dancing and the planting was done. Still, I'm glad we had good weather for festival-attending, and I am glad we stayed, because we left early in both 2009 and 2010 and staying the whole time was a resolution for us in 2011.

Mibu no Hanadaue Oxen Path
As might be expected of a festival that's been going on for five centuries, the planting done during Mibu no Hanadaue is done in the traditional fashion. None of those straight rows and neatly-placed rice plants that you get from mechanically-planted fields. Instead, the field is turned by hand, using plows pulled by oxen who are done up in elaborate headdresses and wrappings. Before the actual planting starts, there's a parade down this street, where a lot of community and school groups accompany the women who sing and do the planting, the men who beat out the timing of the planting on their drums, and the oxen and their drivers.

One event that changed [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's and my culinary landscape is that in 2011, we were wandering around the street looking for lunch and we found a couple selling Japanese curry out of their garage. I'm not sure if the husband was Japanese and the wife was Indonesian, it was the other way around, they were both Indonesian, or if they were both Japanese and had just had traveled to Indonesia before, but they had tumeric rice to go on the side with the curry, and it was the best カレーライス I had in my time in Japan. We haven't had it with curry rice anymore, but we make it a lot to go with chicken.

There was also a lovely tea house with a garden out back that we'd go to once a year, during Mibu no Hanadaue. We'd get the matcha, and the sweet along with it, and drink it while looking over the garden and listening to the parade outside.

Tondo Field
That's not actually the name of the field, but that's the main memory I have of it. On the right is the Yae-nishi Meeting Center, and on the left is the field where the Tondo Festival was held every year. Apparently it was a relatively new custom for the area (that link is to the festival held in Onomichi), but it got increasingly elaborate as we attended. The first year it was just zenzai and sake and pickles, and by the third year we had wild boar shot by one of the farmers for getting into his fields, and fish, and onigiri, and it was basically a feast. I wrote about that Tondo Festival here.

That wasn't the only event we attended there, though. The Meeting Center had spring and fall talent competitions, and we participated twice. The first time, I had a cold and couldn't actually perform, so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd played a guitar and sang, though I don't remember what the piece she did was. The second time, we did "Scarborough Fair" together, and then I sang "Skibbereen" a cappella. We never got any comments on them, and I still wonder what our neighbors thought of me singing what's essentially a dirge at a talent competition.

During one summer, we went to a 皆で手作り遊び大会, which translate as "Let's Everyone Hand-Make Toys Together Gathering!" That was where I learned that I'm hopeless at origami--I tried to make a frog, and while I got halfway done I couldn't get the legs to come together--and where a little girl seemed incensed that I had long hair and kept demanding to know whether I was a man or not. I assured her that I was, and she gave me a very suspicious look. I wonder what became of her?

Lake Yachiyo
In Japanese, 八千代湖. We drove by this place many times, but we went here once, the last year that we lived in Japan. During the spring, when the cherryblossoms were in full bloom, we packed a lunch and took it to Lake Yachiyo, and we ate lunch by the waters and then walked on the paths under the cherry trees, just [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I. I did like the other ohanami parties we went to--I especially liked the one in Shobara where we rented a rowboat--but that walk by Lake Yachiyo is one of my favorite ohanami memories.


And that's it! If people liked that, I can do another series for places in Hiroshima, or even other cities like Tokyo or Kyoto. I certainly have plenty to say if people want to hear it.  photo emot-c00l.gif
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)
The Corner Store
We didn't realize what this was for probably the first year that we lived in Chiyoda. It looks like it's called きもの ("kimono"), so we thought it was a clothing store or something, but it's actually きもと ("kimoto") with a stylized と. It wasn't until much later that we went and realized it was a grocery store with mostly packaged stuff but a small produce and butcher's section. They also had umeshu by the carton. It wasn't as good as the umeshu that our neighbor brought by, which looked like some kind of filthy water with plums floating in the plastic jar it was sealed in but which tasted amazing, but it was pretty good.

That store is also where [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd ran into someone who claimed that he had been to Europe and he could guess any foreigner's nationality. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd invited him to try, and his first guess was "Swiss!" His second guess was German, and his third guess was British, after which [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd told her she was American.

The response to all this from the shopkeeper was to the effect of, "How can you tell? They all look the same to me."

Poplar Conbini
There's two examples of what's usually called カタカナ英語 (katakana eigo, basically "Japanified English"). "Conbini" is an abbreviation of the Japanese pronunciation of Convenience (like Spanish, there's no V sound in Japanese) and it took me an inordinate amount of time to realize that the leaf symbol next to ポプラ (popura, "Poplar") meant it was the tree. The chain's website here here, though the usual warning about Japanese website design applies.[1]

We'd drive or walk down there when we needed a snack. Unlike America, Japanese convenience stores are actually worth going to. I mean, it's still not healthy, but it's not bottom-of-the-barrel packaged crap. They've got fresh-daily riceballs, bread from the Takaki Bakery just down the road (turn left and click down the Yae Bypass a ways if you want to see that), pre-assembled bentō with fresh rice from the conbini added, and so on. To this day, I still occasionally get the urge to head down to a convenience store for a snack before I remember that I've been to American convenience stores and very little there even looks appetizing, much less tasty.

The Ubiquitous Pachinko Parlor
That giant king there is one of the town pachinko parlors. Yes, one of them. If you turn the view left and look at the empty field next to the huge parking lot, there used to be another one there. The third one was there when we moved in, but closed and was demolished while we were living there. Apparently, the reason pachinko parlors are so common is that they're used for 天下り (amakudari, literally "descent from heaven"), the practice of public officials retiring and taking positions in organizations that they gave favorable considerations toward while they were government employees. Blatant corruption, basically. The associations that run pachinko parlors are owned mostly by former police officers, which makes the yakuza/pachinko connection even more unsettling.

To the right is a small ramen stand that we'd go too occasionally when we wanted a quick bowl of ramen. It was run by a roughly 150-year-old man who was quite possibly the friendliest person I've ever met. I think his advanced age meant we all looked the same to him as well, because he'd keep bringing out plastic toys and little trinkets for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd when we ate there, as though she was getting a ramen happy meal.

We also ran into him at a festival one day running an unagi stand. He was a man of many culinary talents.

Funky Tonky
This is almost certainly the saddest picture I'll post in this series, because that blank wall and empty storefront used to be Funky Talky. I wrote about the second time I ever went here, and it was probably the restaurant we went to most often in Chiyoda, usually going twice or three times a month. I say Tonky instead of Talky, which is what the little English on the menu said, because the inside was done up like a honky-tonk bar, with round tables, a carved wooden railing, a bar with a bunch of alcohol, and so on.

It was run by a woman and her son--we never got their names--and she did a lot to make us feel at home. Her mother brought her a ton of vegetables to use in her restaurant and sometimes she couldn't use them all before they would go bad, so she'd give them to us. I mostly got the yakiniku pilaf, which you can somewhat approximate by going to Sunshine Cafe in Andersonville and getting the Nanbanyaki, but it doesn't have the fried rice with bits of meat that yakiniku pilaf had. They also had a bunch of versions of American food, like the american hamburger that I mentioned above.

The sad part is that March of the last year we were there, right after the 東日本大震災, we went to go to dinner at Funky Tonky to find it closed. There was a note on the door, thanking people for coming, with another message below that I couldn't read at the time. I didn't think to take a picture and translate it later, because I thought it might be temporary closed. But it never reopened, and we never saw the owner or her son again. To this day, I have no idea why it closed.

I wonder how she's doing, and if her son ever put that French sommelier training he got to use elsewhere?

Iwata Izakaya
This is one I don't have a ton of memories of, but I'm including it for a couple reasons. The first is another example of how in small towns, shops often hide in the most innocuous of places. That's a restaurant, with houses on its side of the street and a lumber shop across the street. We passed this place dozens of times without realizing it was anything special until [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's jūdō club had an enkai there, and she called and invited me towards the end.

Izakaya are basically tapas bars, where the focus is on both eating and drinking. We mostly went to them for the food, though I'd occasionally get some umeshu (I really, really love umeshu), and Iwata had some great dishes. The main one I remember is 豚キムチ (buta kimuchi, "Pork and kimchi"), which was served all mixed together with these scooped rice cracker chips to pick it up and eat it. It was amazing. They also had 串焼き (kushiyaki, "Fried foods on a stick"), rice dishes, お茶漬け...all kinds of great stuff. I wish there were an izakaya to go to in Chicago, but as near as I can tell we just have upscale ramen restaurants.


[1]: Japanese web design is strongly influenced by the early availability of internet on mobile phones in Japan, so aesthetics are mostly based on optimizing for low-bandwidth phone connections even though smart phones are now common there. Packing tons of text in, no white space, bright-colored images with high contrast to be visible on 256-color screens, and so on.
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!

鴛鴦夫婦

2014-Oct-31, Friday 11:11
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
Checking back through my archives, it doesn't look like I've told this story. I was listening to Raindancer by Erutan (or katethegreat19, which is the name I originally found her by on OC ReMix, though the fantastic The Rose General) and the lyrics reminded me of the last enkai we went to with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's co-workers.

The lyrics themselves aren't incredibly inventive:
I will always love you
I love you
and with this kiss I make this vow
to love you forever
Like birds of a feather we'll be
You with me
but they do lead into the story. At the going-away party, they told us about how they always admired us and were a little envious of our relationship. In Japan, the kind of obvious affection [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I have isn't common--and I'm not talking about PDA, I'm talking about stuff like saying "I love you" before falling asleep or before leaving for work, or when talking on the phone, which is when her co-workers would always hear it. Or how [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd made me lunch every day (and still does 💖). They called us 鴛鴦夫婦 (oshidori fuufu, literally "mandarin duck couple," but figuratively "lovebirds") and gave us a banzai as we walked out.

In many parts of East Asia, mandarin ducks are the model for married couples, since they supposedly mate for life and stay by each other's side, even in harsh weather.
Midnight sleep was broken
But no friend to brush away the cold tears!
I envy the Oshidori which has ever its mate by its side.
-Lady Dainagon, quoted in the journals of Murasaki Shikibu
And hey, we both stayed here during the last winter,

鴛鴦夫婦. That's us.

Here's the song if you'd like to listen:
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
I wonder how long it takes for home to feel like home again.
-Carly Diaz, quoted in Kinfolk
It's been almost three years since [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I moved back to Chicago from Japan. We had lived for three years in a small town in Japan and at the time we left, we pretty much considered Chiyoda home. It's true that an imperfect command of Japanese and the fact that we were obviously American meant that we weren't entirely integrated into community life, but our neighbors came and left us bags of vegetables, people said hello when we went on walks around the neighborhood, we were invited to local festivals, and so on. Some of that was just our privileged position as the local English teachers, but that didn't make it any less heartwarming. Coming back to America, we definitely felt like we had been displaced and our plan was for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd to finish her grad school work, maybe work for a year to get some experience, and then move back to Japan as soon as possible.
Home is where one starts from.
-T.S. Eliot, "Four Quartets"
I'm not so sure anymore, though. I guess I should have learned from the example of Japan, where the first year we were pretty isolated in our tiny mountain town; the second year we knew more people, even if we didn't do that much because my job took up a ton of time and left me really irritable; and the third year we met a bunch of people we clicked with really well and it made it really hard to leave. I'm not sure what exactly I expected to happen when we moved back to Chicago, but pretty much the same thing happened here. Originally we didn't really know anyone, and my lack of a job and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd burying herself in her studies meant we didn't meet many new people, but we did meet a few, and they introduced us to more, and they to more, and they to more, to the point where now we probably have the biggest network of friends we've ever had.
Parting with friends is a sadness. A place is only a place.
-Frank Herbert, Dune
Maybe it was also the experience of moving from a suburb with mostly big-box stores and national chains to a small mountain town filled with local businesses to a major city filled with local businesses. Now we go to the local health food grocery store and the local butcher for our grocery shopping and go for dessert at the local frozen custard shop and walk to the local synagogue and so on. We're tied into the local community possibly to a greater degree than we were in Japan, and while people don't buy us drinks when we head to an izakaya anymore, the people at those shops chat with us when we come in. "Home" is a state that's independent of house or apartment and defined differently by different people, but I think for me, even though I'm pretty introverted, home has a lot to do with connections, and we've built a lot of them here.
What I love most about my home is who I share it with.
-Tad Carpenter
Two and a half years ago, I would have talked about moving back to Japan as going home. My time there has stuck with me, in the way I always call [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd "my wife" in conversation even if she's standing right there, or my tendency to bow whenever I thank people (though less now than before), or they way I reflexively sit seiza whenever I sit on the floor, or my sleeping preference for a real futon. But there are a lot of things I love about Chicago, too, like walking along the lake, or sharing frozen custard with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd on a summer night, or going to black tie parties, or actually getting to play in face-to-face RPGs. And while I miss the people we met in Japan, many of them are scattered throughout the world now. And leaving here, I'd miss the people we've come to meet.
Home was not the place where you were born but the place you created yourself, where you did not need to explain, where you finally became what you were.
-Dermot Bolger, The Journey Home
Now, moving away from Chicago would be leaving home, and while I might be able to fit myself back in if I moved back to Japan, it wouldn't be the same. And it might be that we loved Chiyoda, not Japan--[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's predecessor moved back and left after less than a year. I'm not so sure anymore, but I suppose that's what life is--uncertainty. And for the moment, at least, I'm home.

Kazu wins

2013-Feb-13, Wednesday 19:54
dorchadas: (Enter the Samurai)
I'm not sure why I'm remembering this story now, but I've been thinking about it for a bit, so I'll post it here and maybe some of you all will like it.

So in the children's eikaiwa at Chiyoda, there was the one kid. His name as you may have guessed from the subject line, was Kazuo, but everyone called him Kazu, though he started getting a bit annoyed about it towards the end, I think because he thought it sounded childish. Over the 2.5 years we taught him, he changed a lot, going from a wild kid with tons of energy who obviously hated being in class to a wild kid with tons of energy who tolerated being in class because he was taking kendō classes and was doing his best to live by his understanding of bushidō. Which was certainly really cute.

Anyway, like I said, he had tons of energy, and after he certain point, he decided that he had to beat me, so we started...well, I'd have to say "sparring" before class. It wasn't really wrestling, because he was definitely going for full-contact punches and kicks, but at the beginning he was 8, I think, and 11 when we left, so it's not like he had enough strength to really hurt me unless he got an extremely lucky hit in (which he never did). Obviously, he was maybe half my size and a third my weight, so I never responded in kind. I'd typically let him circle around, deflect his blows, occasionally grapple him or put him a hold and tickle him or flip him upside down, etc. And for his part, he seemed to accept that clearly I was huge compared to him, so I wasn't going to fight the same way he did.

Well, after a while, the whole thing kind of acquired its own momentum. He was obviously burning up some of the energy he started with in the daily sparring, and he became kind of obsessed with beating me. I'm not sure what he would count as beating, because even as he grew bigger he never even came close to being able to match my reach or heavier weight. He kind of got obsessed with it, though, and as we sparred, he'd repeatedly say to himself, 「負けんぞ!」 ("I won't lose!")

On the very last day of class, it was close to the Fourth of July, so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I made sausages, hamburgers, etc., and we had a banquet, the students' parents brought a shaved ice maker, and we all sat around and ate and talked. Near the end, it kind of spilled outside, and we got to the point where I was chasing Kazu around with an icecube. Well, being a Japanese mountain town, there were bunches of small walls, paths between the rice fields, narrow alleys, and so on, and in this competition, the advantages were all reversed. I was faster than he was on the straightaways, but there basically were no straightaways so it didn't matter. He spent maybe 10 minutes dodging me and ducking around corners until he got out of my sight a moment too long and I lost him. On the way back, he stepped out of an alleyway into my path and saw me.

He looked at me warily, but I held up my hands to show they were empty.

"負けた," I said. I lost.

That's my main memory of him now--the grin he gave me when I said that. In the end, his perseverance did pay off.

Be well, Kazu. 最後に、絶対負けなかったよ。
dorchadas: (Enter the Samurai)
We may have just been given a katana as a present.



We're going to check tomorrow. But if so...I don't even know what to say. (o_O)

The katana is really nice. Obviously a display piece, but it has a folded blade, shark-skin handle with cord grip, wooden scabbard, etc. The stand is cheap plastic. Naoyuki-kun told us that traditionally they're made of deer antlers, but a traditional stand is around $6,000 nowadays.
dorchadas: (Broken Dream)
Tonight was the farewell party for our Chiyoda adult English class.

I'm really going to miss them. A couple weeks after we arrived in Japan, a man showed up outside our house on a bicycle and introduced himself as a representative of community center English class. He was quite surprised to see two people, but he told us about how [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's predecessor had taught the class and asked us if we would be willing to do so. We agreed (it would seem like a total asshole move not to), and at that time, we didn't know what to expect.

And honestly, in the beginning we were pretty bad. We didn't have a good gauge of each other's teaching styles and we didn't really know how to properly make lessons for the class, which wasn't helped by the fact that their English levels were so widely spaced (from one member who had studied English in university and spoken conversational English to a couple who hadn't mastered basic English grammar). A lot of our early lessons were basically lectures, which is precisely the wrong thing to do in a language-learning class that only has 9 students. Nonetheless, they kept coming and over time, we gradually improved our lesson-making.

The thing I feel kind of bad about is that our Japanese got much better over those three years than many students' English did. Though, part of that is the way they treated the class. For some, it was just a chance to speak the English they already knew. For some, it was a diversion--once every two weeks, they learned English for an hour and a half, then didn't think much about it the other times. For others, it was a hobby, and you could tell the effort they put into it outside of class by their progress in class. There's no way to learn a language in an average of 45 minutes' study a week unless you want to study for 75 years, but it doesn't matter. We taught as well as we could.

Along the way, we learned about as much from them as they learned from us. Bits of Japanese, famous places in Japan and bits of Japanese culture, funny stories (I still remember the hairdresser saying he took a special trip to a spring famous for 蘇りの水 [yomigaeri no mizu, lit. "Resurrecting water." "Revitalizing water" is probably more natural] to put it in his hair), food from the places they went, and so on. 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.

Excuse me a moment. I think I have something in my eyes. Both of them.
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
As the subject says. My parents and sister came over to visit, and we ended up traveling all over the place. Tokyo, Kamakura, Nara, Kyoto, Himeji, Matsue, Izumo, Hiroshima, Miyajima...it was a ton of traveling. I probably walked over 100 kilometers, even with the times that we took public transit, and that doesn't count the extra effort expended from carrying my bags all over the place. On the other hand, we got to go to a ton of places I've wanted to visit since we came to Japan but didn't really have the time. Most of them were the same places I've already written about multiple times--Kinkakuji, Meiji Jingu, Himeji Castle, etc., so I won't repeat them here. But, I'll talk about the one that I think my favorite--出雲大社 (Izumo Taisha) in the eponymous Izumo. It's a shrine to the god of marriage, and fittingly, we saw no fewer than five couples in various stages of their wedding while we were there.

Funny story--apparently it's bad luck for a couple to go through the main gate to Izumo. Of course, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I didn't know about this until after we had already gone through it. :p Then again, there was a rope that people were trying to toss coins into (as in, getting them to stick between the fibers of the rope. It was about a meter wide) and I managed to make my coin stick on the first toss, so hopefully that will counterbalance it.

The shrine also had a museum on the grounds that had swords forged by Muramasa and Masamune, which were in amazing condition for being 500+ years old, and a lacquer box made in 1150 that looked like it had been made yesterday. Not bad for a small museum curated by one guy.
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
Well, not all that much, really.

Yesterday, the Kaminakas invited us to a local kaiseki restaurant run out of someone's house nearby (within a kilometer or so). The food was quite tasty--mostly related to spring, including mountain greens, young bamboo, potatoes, fresh wakame, and so on. It was somewhat unexpected it (the last time we got a personal invitation was two years ago), but when we asked, they said it was to thank us for having taught the class for all this time, which was quite kind of them. There wasn't quite enough normal food, but we got a giant tub of 竹の子 (take no ko) rice, which was really, really tasty.

The main thing I was happy about was that, other than a couple times where we used English because we didn't know the Japanese word (like e. coli. Had to look that one up :p) or where we didn't understand something and Kaminaka-san defined it for us, the entire night was spent talking in Japanese. A minor achievement, but every bit counts.

My parents are coming to visit on Friday. That'll be fun.
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
Today was the usual Wednesday children's English class, as it has been for week upon week upon week, but because [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's friend is here, it threw off our equilibrium, and we didn't remember until Ueda-san rode up on his bike to make sure that we were okay. We were originally supposed to have matcha and Japanese sweets, but Ueda-san's wife[1] was unable to come and since she was the one who was going to make the food, we didn't have any. Still, we taught them how to ask "how do you like?" and how to answer it, so they could at least ask us a bunch of questions. We've given them a solid English foundation (or at least I like to think so) for when they get to studying English in school. We still speak Japanese better than their English, but that's because we live here, which is a point I'll probably make on the last class we do.

One other thing I've noticed since coming here is that people rarely speak formally outside of work. I mean, sure, in a work situation people still use formal language, but even when meeting new people I haven't heard that much of it. When we met the 大川s, the husband (who I had never met) used casual Japanese when speaking to me, so I just copied him and used it back. I have a bit more practice at it than [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, who defaults to speaking more formally, but that's not really wrong (women tend to speak more formal Japanese than men in daily life). It makes me glad that I put in some extra effort to studying casual Japanese.

I've been working on an ORE conversion for Unhallowed Metropolis lately. I've always thought that UnMet was a great setting saddled with a somewhat odd and humdrum system--it's a bit confusing, and basically lacks anything special. ORE seems to be my go-to system for doing anything lately, so I've been using it to make a few conversions (plus some original stuff for extant ORE settings, but tinkering is something I'm fond of). Just need to finish up the social combat rules (it is neo-Victorian Britain, after all) and add the psychic and medium stuff and it'll be done.

And I really, really, really need to work on an outline for my NaNo so I'll be sure to finish it.

How did it get so late? Anyway, I'd better go to bed...

[1]: One thing I'm still unsure about is forms of address. Since honorifics aren't tied to gender, both Ueda-san and his wife are "Ueda-san." When addressing them specifically, I can use the formal words for husband and wife, but when talking about them to other people I'm not sure of the proper way to distinguish between them.

Fallout

2011-Mar-02, Wednesday 02:44
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
Well, it's not actually a green sky, because I modded it away.

I've been playing a lot of heavily-modded Fallout 3 lately (and somewhat neglecting both my Japanese studying and working on my novel). Last time I played, my game got more and more unstable as I went on, eventually reaching the point where it was crashing literally every 30 seconds if I was outdoors. I'm 40 hours in now and it crashes about once an hour--sometimes more frequently, sometimes less. That's actually pretty good, and if I can keep that level of stability I'll have no complaints.

My mod list, for the curious )

For anyone who's interested, I'll be happy to explain what any or all of those do.

I've also been working on/playing my Fallout PnP adaptation using ORE. As I (think I) said in a previous post, I'm running [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd through the plot of the original Fallout, which she has never played. It's been going well so far, though it's mostly been sticking to the plot of the game. Her character just joined the Brotherhood of Steel, and I'm planning on doing a bit more with that than the original game does (where being a member is basically "Hi, I'm here to take all your tech and then leave for months on end. Well, later!"). [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd is having a lot of fun, at least partially because she has a lot better luck in ORE than she does in White Wolf games.

I'm having a lot of fun tinkering with the system. I'm about at the point where I should start making things up (and marking them as made up), to provide some surprises for people who have played Fallout. It's not entirely my work--the basic stuff was developed by a guy on the RPG.net forums, who graciously agreed to share it with me--but I've been expanding it a lot. It makes me want to run it for a group, though I'd obviously need to make up my own plot then.

Last Sunday was the Yaenishi Bunkasai, and followed the tradition of similar local bunkasais in the past. Some people did karaoke, there were several exhibitions of hula dancing (called "Flower dances" in Japanese. They're inexplicably popular here), a story accompanied by pictures (there's a Japanese word for it, but I can't remember it Edit: 紙芝居 kamishibai, literally "paper play"), and, of course, the children doing a kagura performance of the first part of the story of Tamamo-no-Mae.

Our local eikaiwa (introduced as ジョイフルチーム, "Joyful team," though [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I both think they should have gone with "Hug my satsuma" based on a fondly-remembered screw-up during a game of telephone. Our students recited the story of the Three Little Pigs in English while [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I provided a translation in the local dialect of Japanese, which is pretty different than standard. I won't bother putting in a list of the differences unless people ask, but suffice to say that when [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd was practicing at school, her teachers kept telling her parts were wrong because they, in the immortal works of rednecks the world over, "aren't from 'round here."

It's hard to believe we're only here for five more months. Chiyoda is probably my favorite place to have lived, ever. Still, if all goes well, we'll be back to Japan. And this time, we'll be able to understand everything. :p
dorchadas: (Perfection)
Lately, I've been finishing 風の谷のナウシカ, aka "Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind." I'd read the beginning of it before, but I hadn't managed to find the other volumes until recently. I'm finding the background of the Sea of Corruption, the insects, etc. really evocative, and I think I'd love an Elder Scrolls-style sandbox RPG set in this world, or a world with similar themes and locations. It actually would slot pretty well into Fallout, I think. It's like a lot of other Miyazaki stories, with magical unspoiled nature which is happy and peaceful until humans come along and fuck it up, but I like the various societies and the fungal ecology depicted a lot.

As an aside, I laughed a lot when I saw that they had translated the sound of banners waving in the wind on one page as "fap fap fap fap." That's, er, an entirely different sound.

We went to Funky Tonky last night for dinner. We ran into the owner's younger sister at the Tondo festival (they look nothing alike, but the owner[1] told us that she was the elder) and mentioned that we would be leaving, and she said she would miss us and started crying. It was quite bizarre, for me, because when Miki-san cried at the Tondo festival, she was someone we interacted with frequently. We've been to her house for dinner, teach English to her and her daughter etc. But the owner of Funky Tonky, while we have given her presents occasionally and she gives us vegetables a lot, is the owner of a store we go to maybe once or twice a month.

Maybe it's because I'm an anti-social hermit who needs a few hours alone per hour spent in the company of others, but even after the last post I didn't realize we were that popular.

[1]: I feel somewhat bad that we don't know her name. We know her last name--Horikawa--but her first name has never come up. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd just calls her "Chiyoda okaasan," after a talk the owner gave her about how she kind of sees us as like surrogate children in a sense, and that's why she's always giving us excess vegetables, to make sure we eat right. :p
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
So, about a week ago, Kaminaka-san asked my help in performing a trick (well, loosely-defined) on his neighborhood. I was to impersonate a US ambassadorial aide with a message from President Obama.

Now, I've lived here for almost two and a half years. I'm pretty sure everyone knows who [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I are, even if they might not know anything else about us, so I knew that they wouldn't actually believe the ruse. Nonetheless, I dressed up in a suit to keep the illusion at least partially intact and, it being a party, they played along with the speech. Here it is, if you want to read it:

In Japanese and English )

The speech went pretty much as I expected it would (I ended up getting complimented on my pronunciation, actually), and then I was given a seat and a bentō and chatted with people for a bit. The most interesting chat was with the 79-year-old man who told me about his daughter living in New Orleans when Katrina hit and how he had skied as a hobby for the past 70 years. He even mentioned one of the teachers who used to work at Chiyoda high school as a good person to go to if I ever wanted to learn how to ski (since I had told him I had never been).

He also asked me if liked living in Japan. Well, literally he asked me how was the Japanese lifestyle, but I knew what he meant. And I said yes, I really liked it, and that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I planned to return when she was done with grad school. And as I said that, I thought: "you know, that's right. I really do like living here." In fact, I'd say that in terms of places I've lived (not people who live there necessarily--I miss you all dearly), Japan is my favorite. I'm not sure I can point to any single reason why, but I can definitely say that on the balance, it's true.

Anyway, moving back is a long-term goal. We'll see how well it works out.

I was also invited to a middle-school children's class at the community center on Saturdays, but I wasn't able to understand exactly what kind of class it was. I wouldn't really feel comfortable going until I knew that. I can ask Kaminaka-san, I guess.

About an hour after I arrived at the party, I judged that I had spent sufficient time at the Itsukaichi New Year's party and told them that I had to get going, since the Yaenishi Tondo festival was the same day. I walked a couple of kilometers over to the festival and arrived late (that's three years in a row I've missed them lighting the bonfire (T_T) ), and was promptly loaded down with food and sake.

The most memorable part was when one of the Tondo organizers gave a brief speech, and then asked [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I to give a speech as well. So I gave a brief line about how everyone was incredibly kind to us, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd did the same, and then we saw that Santa Miki was crying, and that made [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd cry, and everyone said aww when I gave her a hug.

But, the bigger thing is the reaction in general--someone cried because we're leaving. I know we've been here for years, but we keep a lot to ourselves and don't speak Japanese as well as we should. While we live here, I don't really know that people actually view us as part of the community. Or, at least, I didn't know until today. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised: [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd is the teacher at the local high school (and two others beyond that), and both of us teach English lessons to children and adults. We spend a lot of time in Chiyoda because we're both here--unlike a lot of JETs or other ALTs, we don't need to go elsewhere to avoid loneliness to maintain a support network, so people see us around a lot (well, they see [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd a lot. I'm kind of a cave-dwelling troll). That's going to make leaving even harder than it already was.

It doesn't really have anything to do with living in Japan, per se, it's more living in a rural area. My friends in Hiroshima proper don't get their neighbors bringing them excess vegetables or rice or treats when they're sick, and I know those sorts of things happen in rural American areas. When we lived in an apartment building in America, we didn't know the names of any of our neighbors. We assumed one family was Indian, because we could frequently smell them cooking curry, but they might have just really liked curry. We knew one family had young children, because [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd saw them coming home. But that's it. Here, though, people know us. Even if we're members of a different culture, and sometimes have problems communicating, this is our home.

That's a nice feeling.

お正月

2011-Jan-03, Monday 01:52
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had a few people[1] over for New Years, avoiding our error in previous years by not traveling anywhere. Well, other than to one of the local shrines. I asked Kaminaka-san if he knew of any place doing anything for 初詣 (hatsumōde, the first shrine visit for the new year), and he told us a couple. One of them, the one in Mibu (the same place that has Mibu no Hanadaue in the summer), has a small event for the New Year, so we all watched Firefly until midnight and then went to Mibu-jinja. I slightly misunderstood the directions at first, but after seeing which way everyone else was walking, we managed to find the shrine (and as a bonus, I now know how to say "T intersection" in Japanese).

In addition to the typical hatsumōde events, there was a service going on inside the shrine. We stayed for a moment outside, unsure what to do, but after seeing that people were entering and leaving freely we went inside. There were musicians playing (a bit similar to kagura, actually), and after some chanting, they had everyone come up, take a branch tied with a white ribbon, and offer it at the shrine. We did (I stood up first, the others took a little urging from one of the people nearby), and then we left, along with half the people inside. It makes me wonder if they just ran the same thing over and over in a loop, and people would drift in and out as they came to the shrine. I'm not sure to ask who would know, however.

Unlike any of the previous six months, we're ending this month with more than ¥10,000 in our bank account. First we had the Singapore trip, then car trouble, then a number of other things kept cropping up. We're actually quite lucky that we never needed to request a pay advance to withdraw money using our credit cards or anything, but now we're mostly in the clear. It was a bit harrowing, and somewhat humbling, since I considered myself good at financial planning (our savings rate in America was around 30% of our post-tax income. A rate high enough that if everyone did it it would destroy the economy) but we still kept running into problems. I think I got a bit lazy--I never bothered to save receipts in America, since buying everything with a credit card left a record of our purchases that I could use to determine where our money went. That doesn't happen in a country where everything is done in cash, though, so now I keep records.

I've been playing a game called Winter Voices lately, which is quite an odd little game. The basic plot is that the main character's father has just died, and the game (so far) is about her dealing with his death. All of the RPG-style combat that takes place is a metaphorical representation of her coping with her grief. As such, combat isn't usually about defeating your opponents, since you can't really destroy your own memories. Instead, it's typically about surviving a certain amount of time or reaching a certain spot on the board.

One interesting consequence of this is that success and failure aren't binary. Being "defeated" in most battles just means that you weren't able to deal with the past, so instead of dying you lose a percentage of the xp you'd normally get and have the option to retry if you want.

The story is a little slow (I've played for a couple hours and I don't know much at all, except that while the men in the village my character is in seem to like me just fine, some of the women are cold or dismissive. Mysterious...), but it helps fit the mood. What doesn't really fit the mood is the walking speed, which makes it take forever to get anywhere, and the animations. Memories in combat with you get multiple attacks and have relatively slow animations (and I'm not sure how to speed them up, or if you can), which means large battles can take forever because of all the slow animations taking place. The other minor issue is that the game is by a French company and sometimes there are translation goofs or odd word choices which do a great job of snapping you out of the mood they're trying to create. These are pretty rare, though. It's interesting, but I'm not sure I'll have the patience to play through all of the seven episodes they have planned. I may also have been better off not picking the hard-mode class to play on my first go through, though even so I'm doing pretty well.

This is the most I've written here in a while that wasn't a story.

[1]: My blog is hampered here by my policy of avoiding real names, I think. Still, nothing much to be done.

I have talent!

2010-Feb-28, Sunday 22:43
dorchadas: (Do Not Want)
At least, some people think so.

Tonight was the Yae-Nishi Neighborhood Talent Show, winter edition. I was originally supposed to perform an act in the summer talent show when they held it six months ago, but at that time I had caught a cold and wasn't able to sing. This time, I had no such excuse, so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I did Scarborough Fair as a duet (with her on guitar) and then I sang Skibbereen alone. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd also did a retelling of Momotarou's story in English and Japanese with the Wednesday night children's class (she read the Japanese, they read the English). Her students translated it into Hiroshima's local dialect, so all the old women in the audience got a kick out of her reading it. The rest of the acts were the standard fair--karaoke, hula dancing, traditional Japanese dancing, shamisen playing, and kagura. Basically, the same as last time. Still fun, though, and I certainly didn't do as badly as I was afraid I would.

On the work front, bad news--it turns out that Suzugamine isn't renewing its contract with Lang, so I won't be there full time starting next school year. I was initially worried it was because of my performance, but I think it's simple economics--the number of applicants to Suzugamine has fallen by almost 60% in the past 10 years (from over 1000 to down to around 400), which doesn't leave quite as much money for things like a foreign English teacher. They're going to ask the Japanese teachers to take on the primary duty for teaching the spoken English classes (which they'll hate--this year was supposed to be team teaching, but they pitched a fit and so I taught most of them alone) and have part-timers come in to help with the classes. This means that the teachers will have to plan all the lessons, explain them to the part time teachers (possibly multiple times per week, if different part-time teachers come), and then do most of the teaching. I don't expect anything good will come of it as regards the students' education, but...well, there's nothing I can do, really.

I talked with Yoshimi-sensei about it, and she told me that the younger teachers all have pretty crappy employment conditions--one year contracts that can be cut if the school doesn't get any enrollment, not many benefits, they have to teach homerooms, and so on. Meanwhile, the older teachers rake in fat paychecks for doing fuck all. No wonder Yoshimi-sensei and Arishima-sensei live with their parents. I imagine they aren't paid enough to live on their own. She and the librarian told me that it might actually be good, because I should go to a school where they're more kind (like Chiyoda, say). Next time I'll probably give her my e-mail address in case she wants to keep practicing English. She told me she kind of looks up to me, because she wants to move to America and teach gymnastics there, but her grandparents and parents want her to stay in Japan, marry a Japanese man and have babies, and keep saying that foreign countries are far too unsafe and she'll get killed if she moves. Then again, I have been asked how many guns I own more than once, so it seems that American media is doing its job. Yippie-kay-yay, motherfucker.

Wow. I'm slacking

2009-Nov-24, Tuesday 22:40
dorchadas: (Iocaine Powder)
I haven't written an LJ entry in over a month. To think that I used to write multiple entries a day.

The Suzugamine Culture Festival went really well. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd showed up and we went around and looked at the room displays, which were mostly about the trips that the different classes of students had taken (Etajima, Okinawa, and one class went to Bangladesh). The kanji writing went okay--I think that while my kanji was technically correct, it lacked artistry. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd told me that the old men in the audience with her were saying stuff like "ええ、祭?すごい!" (Wow, "matsuri"? That's amazing!"), so I impressed some people at least.

Most of my students who came up to us used it as an opportunity to tell [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd how cute she was or how white her skin was, which she gets everywhere, so that's nothing new. The only memorable part was when one student, who I will call Saki (for that is her name--咲, meaning "blossom"), followed up "You are cute" with "外国人になりたい" ("I want to be a foreigner"). That was a bit odd, though it's certainly a good story to tell the other teachers at Suzugamine. Having pale skin is huge in Japan--a lot of Japanese people tan really easily. You can tell especially with any of the students on the tennis or baseball teams. They tend to have very dark skin anywhere not under their uniform and pretty pale skin otherwise. Do not point this out to them.

Some of the teachers at Suzugamine kind of make me feel unwelcome, but just today I was talking with Yoshimi-sensei, one of the teachers I tutor in English, and she told me that they don't say hello to her either. In fact, she knew instantly who I was talking about without having to describe them, and said it was mostly the same teachers she didn't like when she was a student there, and now she says they haven't changed. The whole thing came about when she and the librarian (we meet in the library) asked me if I felt like I knew what was going on, and I said that sometimes I didn't but I didn't blame too many people. After all, there's a morning meeting every day where they explain what's going in, right? It's not their fault I don't speak super-formal Japanese enough to really understand it all. But she related an incident where she put up a poster and then got yelled at about how that was forbidden, and that other teachers too often don't tell you to do something and then get annoyed when you don't do it. Then we bitched a bit about teachers who wouldn't update their styles ("I've taught this way for 30 years! It worked then, it works now!"), and I taught them "The more things change, the more they stay the same," though not in the original French.

Last weekend was the first time since Tōkyō that I've been to karaoke. It was actually a lot more fun that it was then (because of the smaller number of people), and much more fun than in America. Unlike the "sing in front of the whole bar" way it's done in America, Japanese karaoke parlours have dozens of small private rooms that you rent out. You can order food and drink using the in-room phone that's sent up. They also have songs I actually want to sing, like Within Temptation's What Have You Done, Nightwish's Amaranth, and the ever popular Never Gonna Give You Up. Sadly, I did not manage to press the "pre-empt order" button for the last song. Anyway, I've learned that I need to go to karaoke more often because it's a ton of fun.

I've been spending time hacking the Cthulhutech system, specifically the psychic bits. I wrote a lot of extra powers (detailed here) and also deleted some of the extraneous rolls and the tendency for powers to cost an enormous amount. It's a good system at base, but it requires some changes to really work well. Then again, for the game I'm running, I have so little interaction with the system that I could probably run it using conflict-based resolution in Risus and not suffer a significant amount (Kily: Psychic 2, Therapist 5, Judo 2).

I may be becoming an actual RPG freelancer due to the aforementioned system hacks as well. More info maybe, depending on A) whether it happens at all or B) the terms of the inevitable non-disclosure agreement.

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