Pre-Christmas December

December has been quiet and lovely.  We were surprised by snow, although not uncommon in Nagoya, its the first time in 16 years they’ve had it at the beginning of December.  We both felt a longing for Christmas festivities and cheer, since although tacky Christmas music blares in the shopping centres and Christmas displays can be found haphazardly in shopping malls, the tradition is celebrated much differently here.  In an effort to redeem some nostalgic festive feelings we’ve done a bit of emotional eating of chocolate, I found some Bailey’s that we’ve used liberally and plan to embrace the everyday normal activity of most Japanese people of eating raw eggs and make some homemade eggnog.  It’s probably culturally disrespectful not to.  Speaking of Japanese food here is some of what we’ve been eating:

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Matcha green cake and pumpkin soup.  We both were also given an entire loaf of bread each at this restaurant as a complimentary starter.

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I’ve been told this is somewhat of a typical breakfast.  Fish, miso soup and ‘pickles’ which can be any number of pickled things.  My friend taught me to do pickled red turnip, so that’s what we have here.

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I apologize for my photography skills, I realize this doesn’t look too appetizing, but I will not apologize for my cooking skills because this dish is actually really good.  It’s called Okonomiyaki and it means ‘as you like it’ so you can basically put whatever you want in it, but I didn’t go too crazy but stuck to the basic ingredients of cabbage/flour/eggs topped with fish flakes, seaweed, mayo, okonomiyaki sauce and of course bacon.

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Mussles from the pearl museum. If you can see in the background we were also served a tiny egg, we wanted to know what kind of egg it was and surprise surprise we were told ‘egg’.  We asked what kind and were told ‘small’.  We think it is a quail egg as I always see quail eggs in the supermarket.

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Takoyaki, a party favourite that everyone sort of helps out to make at a party.  The cheap persons version is to use hot dog instead of octopus.  We’ve also been eating more sushi which is strange for me to eat raw fish but I have to say it’s a pretty awesome food to have in abundance here.  There’s so much that goes into making sushi I refuse to even try preparing it even though no cooking is involved, but I’ll save that for another post.

I’ve got a nice shiny bike I’ve been biking to Ikebana with, and to meet my students, an army that continues to slowly grow.  I’m teaching English now to a little girl named Nana, who is 5 and so much fun.  We go to the zoo and make cookies and play games and sing songs and I get paid more than I did as a nurse to do it!  Obviously I’m working way less hours than when I was nursing but I still like to think of it as a pay raise.  Nana’s obviously very distractible but also such a sponge and picks up words and phrases easier than my other students who are driven and motivated and dedicated to learning English properly.  She shares my passion for chocolate in a all consuming, focused energy, primal instinct sort of way so she’s really easy to bribe too.

I have another student who is ‘crazy about Surfing’ and so we talk a lot about surfing for his lessons. Hideko, my Ikebana teacher is also still one of my students, she tells me awesome stories about her family, or her trips like when she went to Canada and stayed with her old English teacher who used to work in japan.  Her teacher took her to a dairy farm where she jumped on a trampoline and went 5 pin bowling, both for the first time in her life.  Needless to say she LOVED Canada.  She’s really into Japanese fine art and always has interesting things to share with me about tea ceremony exhibits and artistic masterpieces that she usually travels around Japan to check out each weekend.  She also tells me about different foods, and usually feeds me delicious things like Amazake, a winter drink.  It’s a sweet gingery white drink with sake that warms you up when it’s cold out.  I’ve bought the ingredients (the main being the ‘left over material’ from making sake’ which is like a white playdough) and plan to drink copious amounts to survive the winter.  Our apartments has a heater but the building is built so inefficiently we may as well be pumping our hot air right outside.  Despite constantly wearing long underwear, multiple layers, carrying around a hot water bottle and draping myself in blankets and shawls, the tip of my nose , my feet and often my hands are nice and chilled.  January and Februrary are supposed to get colder.  Oh well, it’s just like camping.  Here are some of my Ikebana projects that I’ve brought home:

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And this year’s Christmas tree (not really Ikebana but I threw together a bunch of scraps from left over projects.  Andrew insists despite their beauty I must eventually through these things out!):

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I’m also babysitting for a friend in my Japanese class her little 2 year old boy who she wants me to speak english around in hopes he will pick it up (they are Russian).  We had a pretty rocky start considering he’d try and push me out the door when I came over and his favourite activity included throwing blocks at me and laying face down, motionless on the floor.  But we’re alright now, he randomly says english words that I keep trying to hone in on him.  He’s got ‘pink’ and ‘jump’ and ‘pick up’ mastered.  We use ‘pick up’ a lot since he loves throwing anything and everything, but ‘don’t’ throw’ is still a bit of a mystery to him.

My other pseudo student is Ryoko who volunteered to help me once a week with the hope that in helping me she could practice her English.  She has dramatically improved the quality of my life and does way too much for me.  If I ask her a small questions about a dish, she’ll find a recipe, painstakingly translate it all and print it out and have it for me, along with pictures of the ingredients I need, their english and Japanese name (so I can ask grocery store staff where it is).  She’s organized for us to get farm fresh vegetables delivered to our apartment once every 2 weeks from a farmer in Gifu, as well as helps me book train tickets, hotels, find sales, find random things like deodorant and ponzu sauce.  She’s booked a hair appointment for me next week and helped me stock up on Medicine like antihistamine, pain medicine for headaches or congestions etc.  She makes restaurant recommendations and reservations for us, and gives me coupon books and travel guides.  She is really the best and I love just visiting with her every week.  Despite her english being quite limited, I understand her almost better than anyone else.

We spent some time this month watching a bunch of Japanese films and checking out some of the temples and shrines near our house.  Some films were better than others but I especially liked ハウルの動く城 Hauru no Ugoku Shiro, or Howl’s moving castle which seemed a bit random and arbitrary at the end but it was really creative and comical.   The much heavier 火垂るの墓 Hotaru no Haka, or Grave of the Fireflies was really depressing and about one family’s war experience.  Anime is huge over here, but it was very strange for me to watch a realistic, serious, adult film in cartoon.  Anyway all this anime watching has been good for our Japanese and I like to consider it studying although Andrew is a bit more skeptical.  Here are some pictures from around our neighborhood:

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Togan-ji (aka giant green Buddha that’s actually hidden and quite hard to find).

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Yokiso villa, a beautiful space villa built for the owner of Matsuzayaka, one of the biggest department stores in Japan.

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Some good lookin’ guy

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My picture doesn’t capture the huge quantity of land this enormous cemetery occupies, but I pass it on the way to one of the grocery stores and it looks a bit eery but beautiful at sunset.

Andrew has been working hard on his manuscript and has been telling me the funniest stories about his Japanese class.  There are 3 different scripts used in Japanese and we both know the first 2, the 3rd is Kanji which is the hardest (I think).  Instead of a character representing a sound, in Kanji a single character represents a word.  Of course to learn these 3 scripts we are given different memory cues to help us to remember the different symbols of each sound or character.   But some of these memory cues have provided quite comical.  The Kanji symbol for the word ‘cheap’ is:  安   The bottom portion of this symbol is the same symbol used on it’s own as the symbol for woman or female.  Andrew’s teacher adamantly insisted they could easily remember this symbol by thinking of the top part of the symbol as a house and inside there is a woman “See! Like cheap labour!”  This was said by a female teacher in a light and encouraging non-joking way! We laughed so hard, we were incredulous at how open she was about saying something like this since it is in fact so traditional for women to stay home and do all the cooking and cleaning and domestic work.  We later realized the same symbol for cheap is also used to mean ‘peace’ and many people remember this symbol by thinking that a woman in a house is equivalent to peaceful.

Also, the Kanji symbol for ‘child’ is within the Kanji symbol for ‘to teach’.  Andrews helpful teacher also suggested they can think of the ‘to teach’ symbol by thinking of child (子) inside a school, being beaten by a person with a stick!  Hence to teach:  教 .   Here’s a bigger picture:

A bit abstract in my view, but again the openness of these comments is a bit alarming.  Also, in the Katakana script, the script used  for words that are not originally japanese (like pizza and television etc) our textbook has some hilarious cues.  Katakana symbols each represent a sound (instead of an entire word like kanji).  The symbol for  the sound ‘ma’ is :  マ  I could think of a lot of ways to remember this, but our text puts a nipple on the end of it and the subscript reads ‘mama’s breast’.  We killed ourselves laughing about this with our Polish friends who are taking the same classes as us.  Embarrassingly I still always mess up ‘ma’ because the symbol for the sound ‘mu’ could also be ‘mama’s breast’.  This is mu: ム  It’s just a breast in a different direction!

Enough of this crazy language, we’ll update you on our Christmas and New Years on the next post. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone, I hope everyone has a great holiday and fills me in when they can.  Take care!

November – Inuyama, Ise and Kyoto

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In November we tried to take advantage of having such a nice long extended fall season and tried to get to some of the best places to view autumn colours.  Unfortunately I feel like our pictures don’t really do the colours justice, but also coming from a country where the maple leaf is on our flag for a reason, we couldn’t help thinking how awesome the colours can be back in Canada and no one makes a huge event out of it like they do here.  Places like Kyoto are in one of their peak tourist seasons during autumn because people travel far and wide to see the what’s called ‘momiji’ or the red japanese maple trees.

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One of our excursions took us to Inuyama castle, home to the oldest of the 12 original castles left standing in Japan. It’s a surprise it is still in place considering some of their revered structures (like Ise shrine which we also went to this month) get rebuilt every 20 years or so regardless of their condition.  They’re aren’t much for vintage here.  But at Inuyama,   IMG_1223tiny narrow wooden staircases lead you up to the top of the tower giving a nice view of the surrounding mountainous area and Kiso river, known as the ‘Rhine’ of Japan.  Made mostly of wood the castle is a bit of a glorified tree-house but is well preserved and very beautiful.  Randomly, on our walk from the train station to the castle we were invited to a ‘party’ by a Japanese man we met in passing.  It sounds a bit odd and we were a bit wary at first, but we soon realized it was totally safe.  Inuyama is famous for its bi-annual festival which showcases massive ornately decorated puppets and floats like this:

Different families living in Inuyama are responsible for different floats, and the guy that invited us to his party was in charge of one.  He told us maintaining the float, a job which he inherited, was his ‘most important purpose in life’, despite owning his own company.  The float has been in his family for over 300 years.  He couldn’t wait to tell us all about it, show us pictures and videos and even unpacked some of the puppets so we could see them.  The party was more of a sunday afternoon bbq but they treated us to beer, sushi, BBQ tofu, and one of my new favourites takoyaki (fried breaded little nuggets of octopus covered in seaweed and dried fish flakes). They were all keen to talk to us in English and we practiced some of our Japanese and met somewhere in the middle to learn a bit about each other.  It was so random but really awesome and we will definitely be returning in April for the next festival. IMG_1222
IMG_1238We finished the day off with some matcha tea at a teahouse where we had to sit on tatami mats, but because we were foreign, they know how inflexible our legs are I guess and gave us little stools to sit on.  Everyone else just sits on their knees or cross legged.

Sunday night we headed to one of the Jazz bars in Nagoya, Jazz being very popular here since it took off after being introduced after WWII.  We were blown away by the performance in a tiny smokey little bar called ‘Jazz Inn Lovely’.  Again with the not so understandable translation since it wasn’t an inn, albeit it was jazz and it was lovely.

My Japanese class is sponsored by the Lions club, which in Japan is loaded!  We had an all expenses paid day trip to Gujo city this month which was fantastic. Gujo is 2 hours from Nagoya, north and in the mountains.  We got to see a demonstration for making ‘moshi’, where they cook rice in bamboo type baskets over a fire burning stove, then after adding water and some other stuff and they pound the heck out of the rice with a bit sledge hammer.  It’s scary though because there’s a guy who does the slow rhythmic pounding and in between the beats, a little lady reaches under the hammer and folds the rice over itself every time.  I was sure she was going to get clocked a couple of times, especially when they let people from our group give the pounding a go. The rice becomes like a big gelatinous mass sort of, and they break it off into balls and then cover them with a powder that tastes a bit nutty on the first bite, then a bit ‘fermented’ on the second, and after that I felt I was coaching myself through the next couple of bites.  It was alright, but I’m not crazy over moshi like some people in my group were or like I am over the sweet red bean paste here.  Here’s a guy pounding the heck out of some moshi:

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After the demonstration we ate lunch at this gorgeous restaurant with huge windows on all sides and surrounded by colourful red, yellow and orange leaves, it was like lunching in a forest but we were warm and cozy inside.  The lunch was surprisingly high quality considering we didn’t pay a cent for this trip–it was all covered by our sponsors!  We had ‘aka u-o’, which looks like a red fish.  Conveniently when I asked around to find out what aka u-o is, my teachers and Japanese wait staff all helpfully explained to me it was ‘fish…red fish’.  Classic.  It came with curried potatoes, a edamame salsa, broth mushroom soup, rice and salad.  After lunch we lounged in a ‘foot-spa’, just a little room that had a hot spring bath deep enough for your feet and up to your knee.  It was such a cold miserable day, soaking our feet in it after lunch was pure heaven. These little awesome natural hot springs are all over the place and often the foot bath ones are free to use.  It makes cold, rainy weather oh so much more bearable.  Although Andrew is paranoid about getting foot fungus and after much coaching I finally got him into one one (in the middle of a train station!), with trains racing past us on either side we soaked our feet after walking around Kyoto all day.  I think he’s pretty much hooked now.  The next step though is that the full body onsens (natural hot springs) you have to go in completely naked after thoroughly visibly cleaning yourself in front of everyone.  We’ll see how that goes…

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Icing on the cake would have been a nice nap after that big lunch and hot soak, but we headed to a museum in Gujo Hachiman where we learned a traditional dance.  Gujo hachiman is famous for a festival it has every summer where people literally dance all night for the festival.  For a bunch of days they dance until the sun comes up! Crazy party animals.  We walked around gujo hachiman for a bit as the streets are lined with traditional shops and houses, and it’s really picturesque in the mountains, the castle sitting on  top of one looking over the town.  Conveniently the battery of my camera died.  Hilariously though when the trip was over our guide reminded us to “please forget nothing.  Do not forget bag, or camera, maybe forget only memories”.    I think she was going for ‘take only memories’ or ‘leave only footprints’ or something, but hey who am I to say.

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Teaching English has been such a great experience.  I try to organize exercises and homework and activities but people just want to talk. They just want the practice of having a conversation.  And it’s not hard because so far all my students have been so keen to learn about me that I don’t even have to be a very good conversationalist!  I am taking an ikebana (flower arranging) class and in return for the class instead of a fee I am giving my teacher an english lesson at her request.  She is definitely a teacher and not a student.  She is the type of Japanese person who really doesn’t know very much English but speaks so quickly and with such confidence in this weird miss mash of borderline random english words.  This is what happens when I try to correct her

Sensei: Yes yes but that is not must

Kelsey:  Ok, so what you mean is ‘I don’t have to’

Sensei: Yes yes yes, that is not must

So we aren’t making much headway but she doesn’t seem to mind.  Also sometimes I ask her questions to try to get her to use different vocabulary and she often just says ‘oh I don’t think so, much too difficult’ and changes the topic.  I’m not complaining though she’s so entertaining.  The only downside is Andrew and I both feel like our own English skills are deteriorating after talking to so many people in simplified slow english, where we tend to remove the articles.  We joke around and use this ‘not must’ phrasing because many japanese people do, but our favourite is ‘maybe’.  Many Japanese people use ‘maybe’ ALL the time and in really inappropriate ways.  A typical sentance almost always includes ‘maybe’. For example:

“hm, maybe it is not so far to the bus station”

“maybe it was not so long until the bus came”

“maybe I am getting a little hungry”

Each sentence meaning exactly what it would be without the ‘maybe’ ie it is not far to the bus station and it wasn’t long until the bus came. People use maybe when talking about facts, not things you are unsure or wondering about.  People use ‘maybe’ for even things that are definite.  I kid you not, one of my students that I meet on campus said to me when I asked her how her day was

“oh, very good, but maybe evacuation today”

Kelsey: oh! what for?

Student: ah, maybe bomb explosion

kelsey: …..

After much anxiety and questioning on my end I could tell she didn’t want to talk about it anymore, I don’t know if there was a bomb threat or something and luckily nothing happened, but seriously!? MAYBE bomb explosion. So now andrew and I always use maybe for stuff like that, like hmm maybe it’s okay but maybe house burn down, maybe fall and die a horrible death.  This same student also said

“maybe criminal” one day when I asked her what was wrong.  It took a while to figure that one out.

My friend Ryoko was telling me about how teaching english isnt’ always safe because “maybe some person get killed” (I guess someone was murdered a while back because they went into some strangers house for a lesson and…you know the rest).  This same student is pregnant and I was asking her how the pregnancy was going and she said she visited a nurse on the weekend who told her “maybe you are too fat, please, exercise very much everyday.”  So you understand now why Andrew and I are often throwing ‘maybe’ around, because everyone here uses it for every second word practically.

This month we also had to get our health insurance from the ward office, a place where we need Kazue to come translate for us.  She is Andrews lab secretary and although her English okay,I can’t explain to you how much we relate to this skit.  Ignore the subtitles and just watch the first 4 minutes or so.  It’s stops being quite so funny after that.

In terms of Japanese Andrews learning is speeding a long at rapid pace, mine is a bit slower since my class is way more relaxed.  We never have homework or tests or anything, but I’m still making progress.  In a way Andrew is learning just enough to get himself into trouble.  The more of Japanese we learn the more ambiguous and confusing it gets.  He’s learned ‘kirei’ the word for beautiful is horrifyingly similar to ‘kirai’ which means ‘I hate’.

IMG_1275We also did a trip to Ise-shi, where twice in one day andrew was forced to wear a bib to eat, we aren’t entirely sure way, but all I know is the wait staff didn’t press me to wear one, just him.  Ise is one of Japan’s most revered shrine, which means it was so packed with people we couldn’t actually get near the part where the ‘kami’ or god is allegedly enshrined where you go and make a prayer.  Despite all the people though the shrine is set in a big forest full of cypress trees.  The shrine is set to date back to 4 BC, and the deity is supposedly from where the royal family has descended from and is a ‘guardian deity’.  Upon entering the shrine you walk over a big bridge which symbolizes leaving the regular world and entering a sacred place.  Then you ceremonially cleanse yourself with these bamboo cups by washing your hands and then you are supposed to wash your mouth.  Despite being a way to cleanse yourself I think it’s a pretty good way to rinse your mouth with all the bacteria you picked up along the way on public transit and the bathrooms that rarely have soap here.  So I faked the mouth rinse part.

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After the rinsing you can make a prayer at the shrine, or buy these little things that from what I understand are sort of like good luck charms.  I don’t want to write too much about the shrines and religion since I honestly don’t understand it all very much.  Whenever I ask people about it I get very vague non committal answers about religion in limited vocabulary that doesn’t really clear things up.

After the shrine we headed to Toba, where the first pearls on earth were artificially cultured.  They remain one of the main pearl producers in the world.  It was actually really interesting to see the operation they perform on the oysters in order to implant the right material to make a perfect round pearl.  Before this system was developed it was up to these women of Toba who were thought to be a special breed with high lung capacity to dive for pearls.

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These women learn to dive to deep depths, holding their breath for over a minute to collect oysters and do so their whole life, hoping to pick up shells with a perfect pearl by luck of the draw.  Although this is a dying breed, having no longer a use for this job that looks freezing cold and sounds incredibly dangerous, some women still dive and they do so every hour at the pearl museum for all to see. Their little white outfits are supposed to keep the sun off their skin while not attracting sharks.  Even with the current efficient methods of culturing pearls, only about 50% of pearls end up being marketable. Others aren’t a perfect sphere or a perfect colour or have deformities or other imperfections.  These imperfect ones are ground up into vitamins and cosmetics.  They served some crushed pearl in powder form with my lunch at the museum where we ate the meat part of the oysters that is also harvested when the pearls are collected.  Andrew is eating Ise-udon, a local specialty of udon with a thick dark black broth.  Hence, the bib.

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IMG_1360Speaking of different food, here is just a shot of tea time, which looks  a bit different for us than in Canada.  The pancake type things are filled with sweet bean, or adzuki bean paste although in terms of sweetness, they are pretty mild.  The squares next to them are sort of like mochi, the pounded jelly rice, but made with wheat and are a Nagoya ‘souvenir’.  Each city has it’s own specialty souvenir snack and it is very kosher to always buy a souvenir from where you visit to bring back to your co workers or friends and family.

Also, I want to do a blog to showcase my Ikebana developments, although it’s a surprise I’m able to arrange any flowers with my teacher whose English I’ve already told you about.  Her instructions to me regularly include “please, feel the colour”, and “this is better”, when I ask her why she changed something that I did.  It’s difficult to learn an art with such subjective rules, but I am really enjoying it despite the fact I feel like I would be learning more if we spoke the same language.  But she serves me tea in her tea ceremony room which I LOVE and I learn tons of things from her completely unrelated to Ikebana but about Japanese tradition and culture.  Also learning by sheer observation is a different experience in it’s own way.  I like getting absorbed in trying to see where the flowers fit and what small adjustments do to the piece as a whole.  I must be feeling the colour a bit, because she told me a have ‘a nice eye’. I’ll go ahead and take that as a compliment.

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Despite that, capturing the arrangements have proved tricky.  Here’s a nice shot of one the cherry blossoms I used in one of my arrangements that I brought home.  I have to credit Andrew on this one, the cherry blossoms had so much potential and were so beautiful and had all these awesome branches reaching out in different dimensions but I took about 100 shots and couldn’t capture what I wanted.  Andrew literally woke up one morning and immediately got out of bed and took this picture.  Show off :)

Kyoto was our last adventure of the month, and we will now be hibernating until Christmas.  Despite horribly cold and rainy weather the first day we were in Kyoto, things cleared up that evening in time for us to see some lovely momiji.  During that rainy saturday we went to one of the most notorious temples in Kyoto, Kiyomizudera.

This is what it is supposed to look like:

But after we left, we saw a picture on a poster similar to this and Andrew said “I can’t believe we were just there”, and I was thinking to myself “What are you talking about I’ve never been to that place or anywhere remotely like it in my life”.  The weather and visibility was so miserable we didn’t really get to appreciate it for all it’s glory.  Based on this experience we assumed viewing other shrines would be similar, and instead went for tea and cake and waited for the rain to stop.  Luckily when it did although it was dark, some temples light up their trees during this season.  So we headed to a small temple that did that and took a billion photos.  Here are some.

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The train station at Kyoto is really impressive architecturally.

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IMG_1477The second day in Kyoto, we went to Arashiyama, an area near Kyoto famous for viewing fall colours.  We took a scenic train called the ‘Torrokko’ or ‘Romantic train’ that lead us along a river and a deep valley that was full of colours and really beautiful.  We just hung out in this area all day, took a walk through a bamboo forest, milled around some temples, and walked along the river.  It was lovely.

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IMG_1539 Despite all the great things I’ve been experiencing in Japan and how happy we are we have moved here, this week the first feelings of homesickness have set in as my grandpa has passed away at the legendary age of 99.  It’s a time I really wish I could be with my family and a time I wish I could be back home.  I know that this is part of living in a foreign country, there will always be things you miss back home, that you can’t be part of.  So this week I’m missing my family and thinking nice thoughts about my grandparents and remembering my grandpa often.  My dad told me that my grandpa had once said it’s important to travel, and that you should do so when you can.  I’m holding on to that and trying to make the most of it.  Still, love to all my family back home, I hope you all know how much I wish I could be in Milk River on Tuesday.

In December we hope to go to Nagano for Christmas, an area with a plethora of onsens, and maybe do some skiing or snowshoeing.  Until then, take care!

First month abroad: October

Our first month in Nagoya has been full of new food, words, sights, sounds and experiences.  Andrew is settling into his lab and adjusting to working in a place where English is not the dominant language and has been thankful for all the help that the English speaking people in his lab have given him.  I’ve started tutoring English, I only have 2 students at the moment, but it’s actually a good thing since getting settled (find grocery stores, getting a work permit, buying us transit passes, getting basic stuff for around the house, paying bills etc) has taken up a lot of my time.  Grocery shopping alone is an ordeal, being unable to read any packaging, or directions and trying to cook with ingredients that are foreign to me means that we initially ate a lot of stir fry!  But already after one month things seem much easier than when we first arrived.  If anything we are nervous about just how much we are falling in love with this place!

tiny bathroom with a square tub

Our apartment is small, but actually not as small as we had imagined.  Our bedroom/living room has a nice sliding door to the outside and the sun shines in making it nice a bright throughout the day.  Unfortunately just outside our door is a nursery, and a large one at that.  Screaming and crying children fill our room if our door is open from 7:30 am-8:00pm.  Luckily since the weather has cooled down it isn’t as crucial that we have the door open.

Our bathroom is about the size of a port-a-pottie, and the ‘stove/oven’ is comprised of 2 gas burners and a small drawer big enough to cook a max of 2 pieces of fish in.  But it is relatively quiet (with the door closed), it is clean and has  a good vibe about it.

the living room/bedroom

We have eaten so many new things since arriving (okonomyaki, miso katsu, tokoyaki and kishimen along with a bunch of other stuff that we have no idea what it was.)  I’ll write more and have pictures of food next time.

Staples that I am used cooking with were initially very difficult to find.  Brown bread, brown flour, brown or wild rice, rolled oats, quinoa etc are not available in most supermarkets.  Eating only white rice, white bread etc. caused a noticeable dip in our fibre intake!  Butter and cheese are uncommon (margarine is used way more), fresh fruit is quite expensive, frozen fruit is uncommon and peanut butter is ‘peanut spread’ that tastes like Reese’s Pieces filling.  Yuck.  Of course we knew food would be different here, but when we first arrived, navigating a supermarket to buy food for the next 2 days took me 3-4 hours just to have some weird collection of somewhat edible goods. Now I’m a bit better at using local/cheaper stuff, but what I’ve had to work with include things  like cabbage (so cheap!!), onions, burdock root, lotus root, bamboo shoots, japanese cucumbers, okra and potatoes, and my pantry includes things like ground sesame, dried fish flakes (really common), 4 different kinds of dried seaweed, fermented soy bean paste, 3 different (and apparently all necessary) kinds of rice vinegar and dashi (dried fish stock) to name a few.  The cooking situation is getting better all the time, but I can honestly say I have had a couple of epic meal failures that we were forced to choke down.

View from the roof of our apartment. Nagoya at dusk

Kazue, an assistant that works in Andrews lab as well as Ryoko (Andrews lab mates’ wife) have both helped us out a ton in getting stuff like bank accounts, cell phones, work permits etc worked out.  But spending time with them brings light to so many cultural differences and although both of them speak decent English, the language barrier can cause funny mix ups.  For example:

Culturally, I find there is a traditional expectation for men/women.  Kazue once asked me if I would have time to meet her since I might be busy “fulfilling my household duties to serve my husband”.  I tried not to openly gawk at her since I realized she was serious, but this isn’t just her own personal view, it has been reinforced to us in many different settlings.  I happened to come across this just this morning actually:

http://www.tokyotimes.com/2012/huge-differences-between-men-and-women-in-japan-report/

After going to Immigration to get my visa, Ryoko asked me how it went.  When I responded ‘Awful!’ (because it was incredibly hot, unairconditioned, and involved 3 hours waiting in a confined space with a man who threw a chair because he was frustrated), Ryoko immediately responded “Oh no!! Did you meet a dishonest person?!” I had to laugh because I wouldn’t have immediately assumed that this is what constitutes an awful experience, but when I thought about it my day definitely would have been a lot worse had a met a dishonest person.

Japanese does not translate well into English, the sentence structure is completely different and they are so unrelated that translations on signs, in pamphlets or on products can be really funny.  A couple that I’ve remembered for example:

On a can of tuna, the brand name is translated to : “Sea Chicken and Smile”
The tag line of a bag peas:  “Kasugai Peas and You”
We also buy tea called “Bendy stick”
Worst of all in the pamphlet we received on Earthquake safety and what to do in the event of an earthquake if you aren’t at home it reads: “Immediately put a bag over your head”.  I’m not sure what kind of mental image this draws up for you but I couldn’t help but question that this might not be the most productive course of action during an earthquake.

Furthermore, learning Japanese is very difficult.  There are 3 different scripts that they use to write in and knowing one is useless unless you know the other two.  Counting is different depending on what you are counting or using numbers for ( ie how you say the number 2 is different depending on what you are counting or if you are reporting the time), there is a normal way, a polite way and a super polite way to say everything.  For the word ‘please’ alone, we have learned 3 different words but they aren’t meant to be used interchangeably but for different instances.  It often feels like you learn one thing and then immediately learn something that contradicts what you just learnt.  It’s coming though and we are improving a little every day.  Ryoko helps me with my Japanese, although sometimes I’m not sure how productive our lessons are.  I ordered a chicken panini for lunch and asked her how I would ask for it in Japanese next time. She responded:

“Chikin pa-ni-ni onegaishimasu” (onegaishimasu is please).  That’s weird because I know there is another word for chicken.  Then I asked what if I orderd the curry and rice dish instead, how would I order that?

“Ku-ri Rei-su onegaishimasu”  Okay it basically sounds like English with a Japanese accent but ok!  Last I thought how do you specify ‘hot’ becasue they always ask me if i want my tea hot or iced.

“Hott-o”  Ok I give up.  If ever I don’t know a word I’ll just speak with  Japanese accent and hope they understand.

Some weird things we’ve noticed include there often being a ‘Disney’ option.  Like when we were getting our bank cards, they asked us if we wanted Disney or just a plain card.  No other options, just Disney.  Same with our cell phones, we could get the Disney cell phone or just the normal one.  It’s very strange.  Also toilets vary drastically! From the most basic  small porcelain covered hole you have to squat over, to a robot that senses your arrival and flips the lid up, plays music, has a heated seat, thoroughly cleans your butt, automatically flushes and deodorizes the room when you’re done.

We’ve hit most of the main attractions in Nagoya including Nagoya jo (the castle), Nagoya Jo - Nagoya, AichiTokugawa museum (home to many artifacts like samurai swords and armour from the Tokugawa period), we went to a Street Performers festival and saw Oiran (traditional courtesans from the Edo period) as well as Kin-Pun (crazy people basically naked and covered in gold dancing around and playing with fire).

Kin Pun

Kin pun getting ready

 

Part of the Street Performers Festival

While we were at the street performers festival Andrew was acting really weird and out of it.  When I asked him what was wrong he said: “Oh, I’m just realizing that we actually live here”.  I’ve had this same strange feeling every so often too, it’s finally settling in!

I went to the Noritake museum and learned all about the process of manufacturing bone china and how Noritake was one of the first companies to reach into foreign markets during the Meiji restoration (after 250 years or isolationist foreign policy in Japan), as well as we’ve gone mikan (what we know as Japanese Christmas oranges) and kiwi picking and we’ve also checked out some beautiful Japanese gardens.  I wanted to write a lot more detail about all these things but I realize this blog is getting very long.

Kiwis

Mikans

Us at the Tokugawaen Japanese Garden

Tons of Koi Fish at the gardens

Shirotori Garden

In November we have a trip to that National Park near Nagoya to see one of the biggest Shinto shrines in Japan, as well as a trip to Kyoto with some of the international students here to see the fall colours which are supposed to epic in Kyoto.  That’s all for now!