Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pray for me

Photo of a Japanese prayer tablet, taken in Kyoto.

I'm going to try to start to post a photo a day.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Crazy Person Drill Day

I remember fire drills when I was a student. I remember them being in summer and standing under the shade of large trees as a relief from the heat. At my school in Japan, the fire drill is in winter and students stand in the middle of the baseball field in the freezing cold.

Last month, at school, there was an earthquake drill. There may have been something about getting under the desks, but I may have imagined that.

Today, there was a drill for a crazy person. There was some announcement about a crazy person being near the school. I don't what the students were supposed to do, they just ignored it and went to their next class.


Imagine the sound of a drill, very similar to a dentist's drill, going all day long.

Imagine that this has been going on for months.

Imagine a hot classroom where you can't open the windows because of the noisy construction outside.

Imagine having to yell over the construction noise, just so students can hear you, even though you have the windows closed.

Imagine going, not just a little bit, batty.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Meeting in the Real World

Wow, I can't believe it was a week ago that I was in Tokyo. This last week just flew by and other than marking tests and teaching, I can't even remember what I did. Oh, that's right, slept, trying to get some energy back after the big weekend.

One exciting thing I did while in the big city (Tokyo still blows me away with the number of people and the size of everything), was to meet my first blogger in the real world, La Fuji Mama! I was excited and really nervous at the same time. It was a bit like meeting an internet date. Will she like me? Will we have stuff to talk about?

I had nothing to worry about. She was such a delight, and my only regrets were that I only had a couple of hours to spend with her and that she doesn't live closer so we could do it more often. I also immediately fell in love with her little girl. As if the ever-so-blonde hair, the bright blue eyes and the gorgeous little smile weren't enough, this little one can talk more than me! And that's really saying something! The whole time, she happily chatted away to herself, joining in our conversation in her own way.

La Fuji Mama is a real foodie. So often, when reading her blog, I get really hungry and want to reach through the screen to taste her latest delights. This girl loves to cook and it looks like she's great at it. She's even made my all-time favourite Japanese sweet, ichi-go daifuku, rice cakes with strawberries. Yummm.. see here I go again, hungry now...

Trying to figure out where to go for a late lunch was a little hard, with so many great options. We ended up at a place she'd had recommended to her, Café-Creperie Le Bretagne. I went for the smoked salmon, sour cream and chives crepe, and it was delicious.

Just look at these girls, just how gorgeous are they!

The rest of the post is in honour of La Fuji Mama. I was telling her of a book, The Japanese Kitchen by Kimiko Barber. I bought hoping it would inspire me to cook Japanese food. Or actually, to cook at all. It goes through, often with a double-page spread on each Japanese ingredient. It explains how it's grown, its appearance and taste, its health benefits, how to buy and store it and how it is used. It then usually gives a recipe or two.

I have to confess, I haven't cooked much from it, but love to flick through it and dream of things that I will cook one day.

Monday, May 19, 2008

My Space-age Sleep-over in a Capsule Hotel

Sleeping in a capsule hotel was one thing I never thought I’d get a chance to do. I’ve always wanted to, but almost all of them cater only for men.

The capsule hotel is a place often used by drunken salarymen who have missed their last train home. Rather than having to sleep on a bench and arrive to work smelly the next day, the capsule hotel offers a cheap place to sleep and bathe before another day in the office. Or in our case, traveling around the city.

On our recent trip to Tokyo, my friend Christine and I decided to check one out for ourselves as a cheap and novelty form of accommodation for one evening. The Capsule Inn Akihabara is one place we found that allows female guests.

Check-in wasn’t until five in the afternoon. We were there before the door opened, eager to drop our luggage off before checking out the famous electronic stores the area has to offer. I was surprised at how many other people were checking-in at the same time. We took off our shoes and placed them in a locker at reception. The foyer had three computers with free internet, soft drink vending machines and free mineral water. A glass cabinet hinted that most of the guests were men who hadn’t planned the stay; it had a variety of men’s socks and underwear for sale.

We were given a green wrist strap with our capsule number and three keys; one for the capsule room, one for our tall but very thin locker and one for the shower room on the tenth floor.

At the Capsule Inn, the women’s floors are from eight to ten. Other than the reception and lifts, the hotel is totally segregated. Not an ideal place to stay with a partner of the opposite sex. There were about twenty identical capsules on our floor, all a faded lime green laminate that would have been the rage in the 1970s. Below the narrow opening to each capsule was a number. I was number 803. Into the capsule had been moulded a TV, shelf, light, radio and alarm clock and a bamboo blind provided some privacy. Air conditioning was let in through the vents at the head of the bed as well as through the bamboo blind. We were supplied with a futon, a pillow filled with beads that crunch through the night when you turn over, two small and one usual sized towel, a cotton sleeping robe and a toothbrush. There was internet (both wireless and cable) available to use on our laptops. Toilets and a basic washroom were on each floor. The basin area had tissues and hairdryers as well as chairs to comfortably sit in while doing makeup. The toilets provided were both western and Japanese squat type, and as evidence that the hotel was originally designed purely with men in mind, urinals.

For the most part, I slept well in my one by one by two meter, open-ended coffin. I am a person who likes small enclosed spaces as long as I have it to myself, but would not recommend it to the claustrophobic. I woke a few times in the night and early morning as other women came and went. Getting out was what I found the most difficult about the stay. It’s not unlike trying to exit a small one-man tent, except the tent doesn’t have a hard TV to smack your head into if you’re not being careful as I did. I still have the bump. I was very glad that I wasn’t in the upper deck. I’m not terribly dexteritious first thing in the morning and could imagine that I may have fallen the one meter drop.

We had to go from our room on the eighth floor up to the tenth for a shower. There was one private bathroom and one room with three showers, separated by curtains but sharing the same change area. At night, the private one was occupied, so used the shared room, I luckily had it to myself. Not only was there the usual “Rinse-in Shampoo”, and body soap, but also a facial cleanser. The next morning I got the other shower and what a treat it was! It was a body shower and offered water coming from six different angles, all at the same time. The feeling was a bit like running through sprinklers like I used to as a child. It was certainly not as good as the one I used in our five star hotel stay in Malaysia, but then again, we did pay a lot more for that room.

I was curious about the other women staying there. Other than some surprised and amused looks and a few smiles, we didn’t have any contact with them. It seemed to be the type of place that people wanted to keep to themselves. The next morning, the few that shared our room left with little or no luggage, and most were in business suits. There was one woman, who we never actually saw in person. The only evidence of her existence was her luggage; a small black overnight bag with pink Hello Kitty sandals carefully placed on top and a black jacket and washcloth on a hanger. If it wasn’t for the fact that the jacket changed between the times I went to sleep and awoke the next morning, I would have never known that she’d been there.

I don’t think the hotel would be the best place to stay over a number of nights. It was only open between 5pm and 10am and there is no entry other than during that time. The locker was very narrow and so most luggage is either left outside the capsule or in the foyer. Japan being as safe as it is, we were not too concerned, but I did sleep with my camera bag and wallet and other valuables in the capsule with me, above my pillow. This is only really a comfortable option for short people such as me. At 4000 yen (about $40) a night, I found it a great place to get a cheap night’s stay. This particular hotel is very foreigner friendly with not only an English website, but we were also given an English version of the “Capsule Inn Akihabara – Instuctions for Women” pamphlet with details about the hotel and surrounding area. If traveling to Tokyo without my husband, I would do it again. As the pamphlet says “Making the Best Out of a Small Space.”
I still have so much more to blog about last weekend, but for now, it's time for sleep.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Why I'm not a member of the Japanese doctor's fan club

I've been feeling a bit unwell for quite a while now. For much of that time, I've found excuses as to why I was feeling that way, and so didn't do anything about it. Recently, I ran out of excuses and decided it was time to get to the bottom of what was causing me to feel ill for so long.

I'm not a fan of doctors at the best of times, and especially haven't had good experiences with Japanese medical professionals. One yelled at me when I asked a question (something you DO NOT do here, dare to question the doctor) and had a dentist tell me I had cancer, even though he knew well that I didn't have cancer, but he thought it was a good analogy.

I could no longer put it off, and so visited a doctor that we were pleased with when hubby got sick a year or so ago.

The conversation went a bit like this (in Japanese - doctor, and broken Japanese - me)

Doc: "What's wrong."

Me: "I've been really tired for about six months."

Doctor laughs.

Me: "No, seriously. I'm exhausted. I'm struggling to stay awake at work and then I often go home and have to go straight to bed. On the weekends I often can't do anything because I'm too tired."

Doc: "Everyone's tired. That's not a problem. Is there anything else?"

Me (shocked and upset): "Well yeh, for the same length of time, I've been getting these really bad stomachaches."

Doctor has me lie down and pokes my stomach a few times while I cry out in pain.

Doc: "Yes, you do have a stomachache. Maybe you have an ulcer. I've give you medicine for an ulcer."

Me (not feeling so confident in his abilities by this stage): "Well, I've also had reflux and heartburn."

Doc: "Heartburn, that's caused by the oesophagus, I'll give you medicine for that too."

The consultation goes like this for a while. Most symptoms the doctor ignores. I was gradually getting more and more frustrated as he treated me like a stupid hypochondriac. I was going to him because of a bunch of symptoms that had all been happening for about the same length of time and were all getting worse together. I suspect that something is causing them all, possibly a food allergy issue or a bug that I picked up in Vietnam last year. I was hoping to get answers and not a bunch of drugs to mask separate symptoms.

Me: "I've also been really lightheaded and dizzy. I've nearly fallen in class a few times."

Doc: "Dizziness. That's caused by the ear. I'll give you some medicine for your ears."

I have to say, he never even looked at my ears.

Me: "Well, I'd really prefer not to take medicines unless they're really necessary."

Doc (rolling his eyes at me): "Well you want to feel better don't you?"

There was no point during the whole consultation that he tried to connect a single dot to another. He just told me that things were wrong in all parts of my body and insisted upon different drugs for each. He never asked for more information and never asked about my personal or family medical history.

During the visit I insisted that I wanted to be tested for gluten intolerance. My mother is coeliac, a genetic condition that shares many of my symptoms. The doctor wasn't happy about it, and didn't even know what the condition was. He figured though, that it was a way of getting rid of the stupid foreigner.

Monday was the day I needed to go in for the blood test. I did something a little naughty. I pretended that my Australian doctor had written me a note asking me to be tested for the Vietnam bugs and to have my iron checked as well. I had my Japanese boss translate it before the appointment. The Japanese doctor was not happy at all, but luckily still did them. Once I get the tests back next week, I think it's time I find a new doctor.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

That's Right! I'm Heading Off To....

Tokyo! And I'm so excited.

Initially, the trip was just going to be Saturday and Sunday with hubby dear to go to the Tokyo Design Festa in Odaiba. Then, I scored a couple of extra days off and to make it even more exciting, my good mate, Christine, is in the country and has some time off from work at the same time.

Christine and I first met in 2000 when we were flatmates, sharing a company apartment for an English school we worked in. We became partners in crime, living, working and partying together for a year. Since then, we've been great friends. We seem to keep crossing paths, swapping times when we're living in Japan or our shared hometown, Brisbane. It's quite a treat when we're in the same place at the same time.

The weekend is going to be great. Chris and I have lots of shopping planned in Shibuya and we'll stay in a capsule hotel the first night when it's just us girls. Then hubby will join us, we'll go to the Design Festa, visit Harajuku and may go to see some Sumo. Sadly the Ghibli Museum was all sold out for the days we had a chance to go.

Watch out Tokyo! Here we come!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Guess Where I'm Going... Part 3

These hints are a total giveaway, so this is the final chapter in the Guess Where I'm Going game....

I'll be trying to find my way around on this.....

I'll be seeing this lady.....

I'll be going shopping here.....

I might be seeing these guys in action....

I'll be seeing this view one night....

I'm hoping to get a few more photos like these....
I'm hopefully meeting this lovely woman.....
And the main reason for the trip is because I'll be going to this!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Where Am I Going Next Week... part 2

I'll be seeing this guy......

Photo by Ray Fujioka

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Guess Where I'm Going Next Week...

... I'll give you a few hints over the next few days...

This time next week (well not to the hour, unless it's been a REALLY big day), I'll be sleeping in one of these...

... and I may very well pass a few of these....

A certain blogger out there knows exactly where I'm going.. so no giving it away just yet....

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Bar Flower

Yah! My copy of Lea Jacobson's new book Bar Flower just arrived today. Lea writes the ever interesting blog Geisha, Interrupted. This book, as the subtitle explains is about her "... decadently destructive days and nights as a Tokyo nightclub hostess." I've really been looking forward to the release of her book.

Now, I can't tell you what it's like yet, I haven't had a chance to start it, so instead, I'll open up and a random page and find a random paragraph for you...

"It was only when I reached my bed in the gaijin house
that I began to attempt to reconstruct the events of the night before. My
memory was basically a pile of detached events and images, and putting the
events together in a coherent narrative was less than possible."
(page 151 paragraph 4)

Yep, can't wait to get stuck into this one!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

What not to ask 12 year old boys in class...

Today in two classes, I had boys with nosebleeds.

The second time it happened, I asked the class (in broken Japanese), "This is the second boy that's had a nosebleed in my class today. Why?"

I was imagining it had something to do with all the hay fever that people were suffering. Instead, the girls remained silent and the boys eagerly piped up,

"It's because of you sensei!"

"What?" I asked, "What do you mean it's because of me?"

The boys got very excited and started saying something in Japanese that I didn't understand. I asked "What does that mean?"

Meanwhile, the girls remained silent.

Suddenly, I remembered reading somewhere that in Japanese manga, nosebleeds are used as a euphemism for, well, a certain type of attraction. I needed to end this conversation quickly.

"Ooohh, it's because I'm scary! You're all scared of me."

From the back of the class, one of the boys said "No, sensei, it's because you're cute."

"Well, aren't you a nice boy. OK everyone, turn to page 13 of your text book and please repeat...."