Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Back, and feelin Prime

Here follows my thoughts on my day of arrival in Japan.

(Here will follow many a logical progression.  I’ve been awake for almost 17 hours, so my brain’s not quite right. Hold on to your butts)

I almost can’t believe I’m here.

What’s more is I can’t believe the feeling I’m currently feeling. But more on that later.

Let’s deal with the first statement. Where am I? At present, I’m on the highway about 10 minutes out of Narita airport and fiddling around with the supposed wireless internet that this limousine bus is supposed to have. I’ve given up and decided to write this instead while the feelings are still fresh in my mind.

A good question to ask at this point is how I got on a bus from Narita bound for Haneda, the smartass answer to which is that I walked up to the ticket counter and purchased a fare. The more detailed answer is somewhat more interesting.

I’ve returned to Japan for yet another stint of “Let’s teaching English.” Why? Yet again, simple answers. I’m a firm believer in simple answers. They make life less complicated. In fact, I’m reading a science fiction book right now called Voyage from Yesteryear that is dealing with that very idea; I highly recommend it and I’m not even finished! Back to my simple answers.

You see, on my first stint in Tottoritown, I fell in love – twice. One was quite generalized and one quite localized. If you’re reading this, chances are, you know who I am. And in knowing who I am you know there are a few things I love more than just about anything in the universe, which include (not exhaustively) Star Wars, cookies, video games, my family, George Carlin, and, of course, Japanland.

Tottori, being the place I spent most of my time, was the place that nurtured and cemented that love, and I’m not just talking about the beautiful, beautiful kanji of its name. The amazing nature, fantastic food, relaxed lifestyle, and last but not least, the incredible people all came together in a delightful combination that caused me to surrender completely and hopelessly in love.

It is also Tottori that introduced me to the second love: a seemingly ordinary, cheery young woman who turned out to be nothing but (she’s so much more!). During my time there, I got to know her first as a friend, then as something more, then as something much, much more. She’s caused me to examine aspects of my life and the world around me that I’ve never considered before and has (and is) continually forced me to grow as a person – not due to threats (though there’s a fair share), but from a genuine want of myself to do better. I am lucky to have found her and have her in my life.

Which brings me back to my original statement and its implication: what am I doing here? Well, after I returned to Canada in 2009, that fantastic young woman took it upon herself to move to Toronto for a year, simultaneously satisfying two lifelong ambitions: to travel and even live in a foreign land, and to endlessly torture an unsuspecting young man. I dare say that she succeeded on both fronts, and after that year ended this June, she returned triumphantly to Japan.

Where did that leave me? And she? And us? Even before she came in 2011, the question we were getting from just about everyone was, “So what’s gonnna happen when she leaves?” “So what’s gonna happen when she leaves?” I’ll tell no lie – I don’t think either of us truly knew what was going to happen. We both had aspirations and hopes, shared and private, but we didn’t 100% have a game plan. That was how it was until this May.

I came across a position on the grapevine, a teaching gig in Tottori, no less. It was (almost) exactly what I was looking for, one of those one-in-a-million opportunities. In a nutshell, I applied, and, after some tribulations with (getting to) the (online) interview, I got the job. I sprung it on her nonchalantly one morning as we enjoyed a breakfast by a river surrounded by mountains in Alberta. The look on her face was some of the best few seconds I’ve ever experienced. It’s really a thing to completely and utterly floor someone.
So that’s it! I gots me a job, and have returned to my favourite place to be with my favourite person. Can’t get more simple that that. Got a job, rode a plane, changed currency (man, the rates suck for coming this way), bought a bus ticket, here I am.

That brings you up to speed, to the minute, with where I am in life. I’ve not forgotten to talk about that feeling I mentioned at the start.

It’s hard to put into words. Since the Big Return of ’09, I’ve been back to Japanland twice on vacation, and I told people upon return to Canada about how natural and familiar it felt as soon as I got off the airplane. It has been about 18 months since my last visit, and that sentiment hasn’t change one bit. In fact, it’s gotten stronger! When I walked through Narita airport, I felt like I was in Pearson – nevermind all the Japanese people and language around. Then I got on the bus.

It was like I was just here yesterday. And not that nostalgic “oh, feels like yesterday”-yesterday, but ACTUALLY yesterday. As in the day before, 24 hours prior. Nothing feels exotic or missed. It all feels100% familiar and natural. The rice patties, the pachinko parlours, the love hotels, all normal, as if life couldn’t be any other way. (By the way, I’m now passing Tokyo Disney).

Did the last three years happen? That’s probably the best way to articulate the feeling. Of course, I remember everything about Toronto, and I should because I was there 12 hours ago. But, as strange as it sounds, everything around me right now feels natural and Toronto almost feels like a distant memory, as though I have to reach back to recall life there.

I’ll probably make more sense later, once I’ve slept. But don’t count on it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Way of the Force meets The Way of the Bow

Those who have Facebook and who stalk me on a whim will see from my display picture that I am currently taking kyudo - Japanese archery. I've been taking lessons for the last several months here in Tottori. I find it a great way to clear the mind, particularly after a long and grueling day of limbo and English. It has become such an enjoyable activity for me that I've even decided to purchase the equipment and clothing that I may continue to practice when I return to Canada.

Its relaxing nature is a huge appeal for me. On the one hand, it is quite demanding to remember dozens upon dozens of minuscule details as well as to use considerable force to push the bow apart. The trick is to work on one aspect at a time so that it becomes second nature, and then work on another, and another. Eventually, the entire process becomes so seamless and effortless that one doesn't even think when picking up the bow, and before one knows it, an arrow is embedded in the target and one scarcely knows how it got there. That time when your mind is clear and your focus concise is what many strive for in kyudo. More to it, it allows for the taking in of one's surroundings and a more general awareness of self. I think that some of my best memories will be shooting at targets 28 meters away while a gentle, silent snow gracefully falls between us, or practicing while noticing the blooming cherry blossoms out of the corner of my eye.

Most everyone who knows me knows that I have one of the worst memories in recent times. Most everyone who lives with me in Japan will know that I have a terrible memory when it comes to Japanese names. After a year and a half, you'd still be surprised at the sheer number of teachers whom I work with every day whose names I still have no clue about (I really just should study the seating chart...). Hence, it should come to no surprise to those at my kyudo club - if they knew these two facts beforehand - that I still don't know most of their names. A few I do because I talk to them regularly, but most of the other 15 or so members I haven't got a clue about. Then and therefore, my brain being the idle yet creative machine that it is, my friend (who also practices with me) and I have constructed a mechanism for identifying the lovely people we train with - we've given them Star Wars labels.
While he (perhaps) may not delve as in-depth as I do into the universe of the Skywalkers, we keep it simple enough so that anyone who knows the story even a little can pick up on who we're talking about without missing a beat. Here is a short list and description of those individuals (Real names removed to protect the innocent).
Yoda - A short and quirky man, Yoda was and is our main instructor. Like from the training of a young Skywalker, from day one, we were put into intense training that was constantly being critiqued and refined. He is knowledgeable about all things kyudo and regularly oversees everyone at the dojo (training hall). His endearing qualities include a penchant for speaking in ways that confuse most (including himself at times) as well as possessing an infectiously unique laugh, which is used often and at the slightest of things. I might almost go so far as to say that he likes to laugh more than he does to shoot. Don't let his charming personality fool you, though. When he picks up his bow (lightsaber), he'll nail ten targets in a row, then sternly come down on himself for not having perfect form.

Vader - If anything, I'd almost call him a combination of the quirky little 9-year old Anakin as well as the imposing and Dark Side-fuelled Lord of the Sith. When watching him draw, you almost wonder how he could be a kyudo practitioner, just as one looks at the sandy-haired Anakin and thinks, "You're going to be Vader in 13 years? Ha! No way!". He's an older gentleman (though not too old - perhaps in his 60's. Still has a dark head of hair), and when he draws, his arms shake to such a degree that one might think the bow to snap him in two. You'd never believe he was as skilled as he is, just as you'd never believe that a slave from Tatooine could have the highest midi-chlorian count in the galaxy (Ugh, midi-chlorians... What a bad move. /Sidebar). And full folly you to think such things, for just when he is about to release, the trembling stops and this moment of focus consumes him as he put the arrow right through the target, such that I'm surprised that neither the arrow or target doesn't explode due to the raw, surging energy. He'll then hit another target. And another. And another. And another. Such that one might wonder if the force is truly with him - such a force that smacks with the dark side, for no one can be THAT good.

Mace Windu - What can we say about Mace? He's just a badass, through and through. There is no one else in Hollywood who should be given a lightsaber than Samuel L. Jackson. Such qualities found shine through exemplary in this gentleman at the dojo. He moves here and there, instructing and giving advice to all those training, much like a second-in-command. Only when everyone's looking good and refined will he casually pick up his bow and just nail a few targets before pointing something out with another student. His serious, yet calm attitude, as well as a casual sense of humor just exudes badass.

Obi-Wan Kenobi - We named Obi-Wan Obi-Wan because he starts off (going chronologically) as a student before moving on to teacher and then master. This guy possesses the qualities of all three. He practises each and every aspect of the kyudo process with intense focus (master). He will also receive a few tips and pointers from Yoda or Mace on occasion (student). Very rarely will he give advice to the other students, myself and my friend included. However, when he does, one would be wise to listen as what he says usually is of a minor imperfection that will have major shooting ramifications later on (teacher). He is very focused and intense, and has that wisdom-beyond-years that only Alec Guinness could bring out.

Count Dooku - Dooku was just recently named, actually, as we couldn't think of what to call one gentleman. He possessed this maverick quality that we just couldn't quantify. The only person who would come close would have been Mace Windu - a name we had already given away. It was only when we considered the Dark Side that we did land on the Sith Lord. Dooku is a man of words and action. He'll draw in the other students with distracting yet captivating conversation, yet he also has the power to back it up as he elegant and graceful style will make an arrow happy to be sitting on the bow. As with Vader, his uncanny powers also reek strongly of the Dark Side.

Boba Fett - Boba Fett has qualities similar to Anakin in that you may think that such a cute kid would be incapable of unspeakable acts upon the targets, but charade will you be when you see him bust out his own personal arsenal of bows and arrows. He almost strikes you as a hunter, who if prey does escape him (or hitting the target escapes him), he'll soon be back like the Empire to rain shot after shot upon it. His pursuit of a hit may elude him at times, but it never has far to run.

Aunt Beru - This delightful woman has all the qualities of a grandmother or older aunt: She's always giving the kids compliments and teasing the other boys. One look @ her and you just think, "Auntie!" While she may not own the targets as much as the other Masters, her form is exquisite and shows that she means business.

Wedge - Wedge was a tough one to cast. We couldn't think of any other Jedi or Sith to label him as, so we instead realized that he was like the steady wingman that you'd want to have beside you any day. He's always talking to and supporting us. Usually, we'll just idle time away chatting about this and that. His easygoing manner has the air of a hotshot pilot just home from taking down a Death Star.

Palpatine - The ultimate in the Dark Side. In the movies, he's shown to be on par - if not slightly better - than Master Yoda; just on the opposite side of the coin. In reality, their affiliations are both of the light, but in terms of skill, this description isn't far from the truth. I believe he was there when we first arrive, but went away for a long hiatus. When he did return, it was as though he were a mysterious stranger who just walked in one day and starting hitting targets like it was his job. My immediate reaction was Dark Side from him. And while he looks like the oldest of us, the Force Lighting springs from his fingers to make it look like his arrow were possessed. His form and technique leave very little to be desired.

At present, we're still trying to cast Padme, Leia, and Han Solo. We're still deliberating, so updates will come after a few more practices and we test out their monikers in person.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I was just going to buy a pillow...

Went out today to get a pair of pillows after having a discussion with a friend of mine regarding not getting a decent night's sleep and us thinking it had to do with our sleeping equipment. Then and therefore, we went to the store last night to check out new pillows. Finding the selection somewhat lacking, we planned to go the next day to a larger and more stocked store. I also got it in my head to pop by the shoe store down the street as I desperately need a new pair of kicks (the store is somewhat far by foot and too cold by bicycle, so having my friend and his lovely car takes care of that problem).

At lunchtime today, maybe four hours ago, off we went to the local home centre. We did indeed succeed in locating new pillows, however he got it into his mind to pick up a new mattress pad while he was at it, thinking it could only do more good than harm. My idling while he unwrapped and test-slept in several pads led me to unintentionally locate a pad the same size as my bed - at a good price, too. Ching-ching. Extra purchase count: 1. The selection of pillowcases, though, was not as plentiful, so we decided to go back to the same store we were at the previous night to have a look.

Oh by the way. I decided to get one more pillow than I needed to.
Extra purchase count: 2.

Next stop was the shoe store. Perhaps the only shoe store to carry larger than a size 28 in a select number of models (To give you an idea, a Japanese 28 is about an American/Canadian 9.5 or 10. I typically wear 11, so that nets me a Japanese 28.5 or so). No success on locating anything good there, so we thought about going to the shoe stores in the mall that has the aforementioned no-pillow-selection-but-possibly-pillowcases store.

Arrival @ the mall. We go to the first shoe store, whereupon I locate a nice pair of runners. I found a great burgundy runner/dress shoe combo, however they didn't have my size. Nevertheless, the idea of brown/burgundy shoes stuck in there. My friend also saw shoes that he likes, but decided against them at the moment of truth: When he was at the register. However, now, he was also of the mind to buy shoes (that he didn't need).

From there, we got to the no-pillow-selection-but-possibly-pillowcases store. He didn't find shoes, but I found pillowcases. Since one of the those pillowcases was for the pillow that I didn't need -> Extra purchase count: 3.

On our way out, we pass the second shoe store, which at first glance appeared to be only women's shoes. At the last second, the vaunted corners of our eyes did spy some men's shoes. Ray in a shoe store + having it in Ray's mind to buy shoes + locating a pair of brown shoes in his size = Extra purchase count: 4.

ALMOST at the exit to the mall, my friend decided to look at his first cancelled pair of shoes one more time. Five minutes later, he had them in a bag in his hand.

So let's have a recap.

Original mission:
1 pillow @ $9.80.

Actual Results:
2 pillows @ $9.80
1 mattress pad @ $35
2 pairs of shoes @ approx. $60 each
Excess purchase amount of $164.80 = Fail

Thursday, March 12, 2009

And... We're back

Ok, so just yesterday I had to get a facebook post bemoaning me for not putting up a new blog in three months. I’ll totally concede that I have been lazy (busy, bored, unmotivated, unimaginative, etc.) over the last several weeks; strangely enough even, I even started an entry yesterday with the intention of putting it up by evening. However, with the kick to my butt swiftly delivered, I shall now give a quick taste of these past three months in a nutshell.

The biggest and most relevant news is already known to a few, so I may as well enlighten the rest so we’re all on even playing field. I’ve decided not to renew my contract with JET and thus I will be returning home to the True North, strong and free this coming summer. I’d like to say that it was an easy decision, but I can’t. Instead, I’ll say it was a simple decision (If you didn’t know by now, I’m an English teacher). It happened when I was talking to someone and they became the 9,000th person to ask me, “So are you going to stay another year?” Before I had the chance to give my detailed outline of an answer that indicated that I hadn’t, my brain shut down. Every thought evaporated, every image flickered out. I think I may even have forgotten to breathe for a few moments. During all of that, a single sentence remained both audible and visible in my mind’s eye, alone in the darkness: “You are going home next year.” Returning from my cosmic trip to the Astral Plane, I dwelled on the ramifications of such a vision, and every cell in my body lifted a pint to chime its miniscule approval to the course of action.

When I got the forms on which to indicate my choice, it was a very quick and painless thing to mark an x in the corresponding box. That was that, and for many weeks I didn’t even give it a simple thought. It was only January or February that a number of reasons for staying hit me like the wave that flipped the Poseidon. Salary, fun and excitement, studying Japanese… I suddenly found myself searching for the ctrl+z combination that would bring me back to October in a frantic panic and mini-breakdown. A few good talks and/or pints later, I came to realize – and still do – I think – that I have made the right choice in deciding to come home.

NOW the question has changed from “So are you going to stay another year?” to “So what will you do next year when you’re back?” For the first time in my life, I have no plan for the future, and I have no shame in saying that it scares the hell out of me. My only inkling into what I’ll get accomplished is that I’ll take a few weeks to get re-acclimatized to Canada again. This includes spending time with my family, looking up old friends, visiting places I haven’t seen in years, and eating tons of bad-for-me foods. Once all that’s done, I’ve got choice aplenty before me, and no compass to point me to the quote-unquote right choice. Now, there are a great number of people who seem to take delight in telling me that I’m young and have all kinds of time and nothing to tie me down to anything and that the world is basically my oyster. That’s all well and good to say, but I’d much prefer to not be ignorant as to my future, thank you very much. Now, I’m not saying that I’d like to know it all and be led by the hand by fate, but to have SOME idea, not matter how vague, would help to assuage some of this trepidation. Oh, by the way, giving some thought to becoming a teacher. Ha, there ya go.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Of all the onsen, of all of Japan, you had to walk into mine..."

Happened to find myself in an onsen town this weekend. An onsen town is almost like a resort - building upon building as far as you can see (which isn't very far since this is a town we're talking about) and all of it either ryokan or onsen (Japanese-style inn and hot sprint, respectively. If either of these terms is radically unfamiliar, I would direct you to wikipedia for details). It's the kind of place that Japanese people escape to to be Japanese for a few days. They thrust off the shackles of work and home life and spend a weekend wearing yukata (think kimono, but much less elaborate) and eating traditional meals. I was just there for the day to take in the leaves and onsen and relax from a busy week of two days' work.

So eventually I found myself in the changing room of one such onsen. Looking around, I noticed that everyone had a small wash towel with them to either spread water around or hide their shame. I had a quick look around and didn't see from where they had gotten the towels. I thought that perhaps they received them when they paid for admission, but as I was not properly dressed at this point, I dismissed that as a thing past. By the time I was good and read for onsen-ing, I felt slightly defeated and confused, and so decided to ask someone.

A much older gentleman was changing beside me and I noticed that he had one, and so I gently tapped his shoulder and said, "Sumimasen. Sono taoru wa..." (Excuse me, but about that towel...). The gentleman straightened up and replied, "I brought this towel with me from my hotel," - IN PERFECT ENGLISH. Before my initial shock wore off and I could think of what to ask him next, he continued with, "What hotel are you staying at?" Instinct still held me and so - being in Japan - I replied with "Ichi nichi juu dake" (Only for today). "Oh, I see," was his reply, "If you were staying, they would issue you a towel. But I guess you're out of luck, I'm sorry." I'm still reeling that this man, looking older than my grandfather, was relaying this info to me in grammar and pronunciation that would make a British linguistics professor squeal with delight.

His curiosity continued on: "Where are you from?" "Tottori," I replied, at this point in English. "I see. But where are you from in the world?" "Oh. Canada." "Canada, eh? (He said 'eh', and not in a patronizing matter) Toronto? Vancouver?" "Toronto. Very near to it, in fact." "Ah, Toronto. I've been once. Only for a few days though. Wonderful city." All this while we were continuing the conversation from the changing room into the onsen proper and then into the bath itself. To be honest, I don't know what surprised those watching more: The African-looking fellow walking into the bath, or the Japanese man speaking perfect English. Whatever it was, we seemed to entrance everyone's attention. He explained that his English had become so good as a result of business trips. He had been working for a cotton import company for more than 50 years and in that time had been to more than 50 countries across every continent except for Antarctica. "No cotton there," he said with a laugh. He was by now chairman of the company and his son was president, running the show. He mostly just attends meetings, which isn't bad for a 79 year-old.

He eventually excused himself and headed out of the bath, leaving me to contemplate. Of all the people I could have spoken to in all of the onsen in the city, I happened to speak to someone who'd reply in pera-pera (fluent; natural) English - who also happened to be probably one of the oldest people in the bath that evening. Furthermore, I had taken an entire course of Japanese Business and learned about the runaway economy of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and here I got to speak with someone who was first-hand at the forefront of it. Add to it the stories he told me of being all around the world while historical events were taking place. It just goes to show that there are surprises under every nook and cranny, every corner that Japan can fit into its California-sized borders. I'm just glad that I gave him another chance to practice his flawless English.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The World of Balance

This could be the mother of all late posts by this kid. The events of this happening occurred in mid-September. I started the post and then saved and forgot about it. A half hour ago, I rediscovered it, and can now finally finish it. It belongs in the September pile, but I figure that no one would notice it there, so here it is, albeit late. To make up for tardiness, I put lots of pictures.

Preemptive sidebar: If you can identify which Final Fantasy game this is from, you get ten points.

What do random rides in
BMWs, howling baboons, and love hotels have in common? This weekend.

It's funny that one can get cabin fever being in an entire prefecture. But this was my case up until a few days ago. Since my family's visit in mid-June (which I REALLY should write about...), I haven't been so much as across the border in a neighbouring prefecture in almost two months. All and all, it's not such a bad thing since I have many things around me to keep me busy. However, the patient realization of it all sort of hit me periodically like a metaphysical ton of bricks. Then and therefore, when I got the call from one of me favorite birds Renate to mission out for a long weekend, I gave it the green light and headed out me door.

A terribly oppressive morning later at 5 AM, I found
meself on an express train bound for Himeji, which was then followed by a shinkansen over to Nagoya. I was rather excited to be riding the shinkansen as I had been looking forward to such a thing since I arrived. The badboy was much more crowded than I expected and so we were forced to stand in the hallway for about half the trip. Once the train started off and we went to full power, I must admit that found it somewhat... underwhelming. Granted we were moving at an incredible speed, I was imagining us to be going so fast that the view outside would resemble the streaks of light you see going at warp speed on Star Trek. This was sadly not the case, and so it was more a measure of time than visual cue that told me we'd made a long distance in a short amount of time. What seemed like only thirty-five minutes or so later and we found ourselves almost three or four hours by car from where we were.

We went straight from there to another city north of Nagoya called
Inuyama. I myself would never have heard about it all all were it not for Renate researching and finding it. We had two reasons for going there. The first was the Monkey Park. No, I haven't been in Japan too long to not realize what I'm writing; yes, you did read that right. The Monkey Park. Essentially a zoo filled with various species of monkey. On paper, I thought her mad to seriously suggest such a place, but in the end it turned out to be quite fun. Especially because of the unexpected bonuses that came along with it.

For one thing, there were the kids. Being a place filled with monkeys, naturally many families were keen to bring their
lil'un's to run around and see the animals. Thus, everywhere you went there were kids, kids, kids. And to say that a single Japanese child is two levels beyond cute is an understatement. But when you enclose a space with hundreds of them, your cute meter goes right through the roof and you're put into this lolly-pop, fairy tale, cloud-9-dreamy, euphoric high brought about by seeing all the happy and bubbly kids. Anyone having a bad day need only to go to the Monkey Park for five minutes and your mood is instantly improved - you don't even need to see a single monkey.

After monkey madness had taken us over, we walked to Inuyama castle - which is more like a 25 minute walk as opposed to the ten minutes that is advertised. I thoroughly enjoyed it as it is still one of the "old-school" castles and not one of the modern renovations that has removed the interiors and instead rebuilt them as museums. As we buy our tickets, the lady behind the glass asks my friend whether we'd like an English interpreter to accompany us. We agreed, and not a minute later a woman comes darting down the path breathlessly. How in the world did she know? Beats me. Japanese telepathy, perhaps. She mentioned that she'd studied English for a year in Nebraska, which caused the both of us to tilt our heads slightly and wonder why someone from Japan would seek out Nebraska as a place to learn English. (Prove me wrong, Lincoln, prove me wrong!)

Lunch and a wee bit of shopping later, we trained it back to Nagoya and finally to our hotel just outside of the city centre. Throwing fatigue to the wind (by this time [late afternoon], we'd been up 13, 14 hours), we went back the way we came into the city to hit up an orchid garden that Renate had found in her research. I must admit that I was a touch reticent to explore this one at first since I'm usually a "look and move on" person when it comes to flowers.

The next goal was to try and track down a Moroccan restaurant that existed somewhere in the city. By this time, we was mad hungry, but decided to stick it out for the hopes of trying something new. One helpful subway worker later, we did indeed manage to find the place. Dinner came with a show as a rather nimble belly dancer made her way out about half way through dinner to wow the crowd with moves that would make many a
clubrat blush.

Stomachs satisfied, we returned to the hotel to partake in the spa. Our hotel fees covered a trip to a spa/
onsen resort that happened to be conveniently attached to the hotel. It was nice to be able to relax after a long day by taking a dip in a pool of steaming hot, skin-scalding, can't-breath-'cause-it's-too-humid water. However, I'm convinced that the blissful visit later reeked havoc upon my system. Perhaps it was the raised body temperature coming into contact with the air-conditioned room, I'm not sure. But whatever it was, Ray's body was not feeling good the next morning.

Next day, bright and
genki, was Nagoya castle. Two castles in one trip? Can we risk it? I think so! Now again, I love Japanese castles. You take one look and can almost feel like a medieval warrior being scared spitless and looking up at his own impending doom on orders to scale the badboy. For me, though, it's such a treat to see the original structures as they were laid out all those years ago. Nagoya, due to earthquakes, fires, and wars, was a reconstruct of the original splendor. Therefore, the interior was a modern museum, complete with AC, stairs, the whole nine years. Don't get me wrong, every castle is a mindblow and walking the grounds alone is worth the trip. Sue me, I'm just a historical funny pants.

After departing the castle, we happenstanced upon a Noh theatre just outside the castle. I had done a paper on Japanese drama, in particular Kabubi, however I was still nonetheless fascinated by Noh. Noh, for those not familiar, is a dramatic form hundreds of years old - a thousand, if I'm not mistaken. Everyone moves about painstakingly slow, wears masks and speaks in tongues I couldn't even fathom. Nonetheless, it's traditional, so everyone loves it. Back from the tangent, so we couldn't enter the theatre proper as it's only open during performances, but we could still see exhibits showcasing the theatres history, Noh in general, and famous plays.

After wandering the mean streets of Nagoya for another hour, we decided to hit up Ise at Renate's suggestion. Ise is a city a ways around Ise bay from Nagoya, taking about two or so hours by train. She had studied about a famous shrine located there that only the Emperor and a select few high ranking priests were allowed to enter. Commoners were (and are) not allowed to even see it; it's hidden behind a wooden fence surrounding all but the roof. I had no clue what any of it was about, but I was nonetheless gungho. We arrived in city and caught a cab ride from yet another infamous talk-your-ear-off Japenese taxi driver, who was quite endearing in his enthusiam, actually.

One more shrine up and down with, we soon found ourselves with the trouble of finding a way back to the train station. We'd discovered that the last bus was in about a half an hour, so we sat down in the shelter next to a young Japanese couple. Out of nowhere, an older Japanese man appeared and started talking to the couple. He was relating to them that the bus takes a good 20+ minutes or so, and how if they walked up one or two stops they could save a dollar or two on the fare. All the while we (Renate and I) were listening but making no indication that we could understand. He soon started talking about driving them to the station instead and asking their opinion. They seemed a little undecisive, and at this point the man metioned the "other people sitting there," - reference to my friend and I. I looked at him at this; he asked me if I could understand him. I told him that I did and that gave him further cause to press him point of driving. In my head, I figured that he was a taxi driver, however he wasn't wearing a uniform or anything and appeared to be quite casual. Doing the math in my head, I found it to be almost the same price split four ways if we took a taxi, so I said that I was willing. The other couple agreed and so we headed over to his car.

I was expecting to see one of the usual black, homogonous Japanese taxis that seem to be the standard in every city in the country. Instead, we roll up besides a brand new BMW sedan done up to the nines. NOW I'm thinking that this is some sort of limosuine thing that will cost us more. Starting to regret my decision, but I made my bed, so I figured I may as well lay in it. I popped in the passenger side and we were all off. I immediately noticed that there was no meter. Was it a flat-rate service? The whole way back the man was chatting me up, asking me where I was from, if I knew about the shrines in Ise, what I was doing in Japan, my life's story, basically. He was incredibly friendly and more than anything was curious about my home country and how I came to be there. Before I knew it, we arrived at the station. I figured that the bill was coming now, so I got out of the cab and drew my wallet, asking how much to pay. The man smiled and said (In Japanese), "Oh, no charge at all. I was just glad to talk with you. Have a good night!", and with that he climbed back into his car and drove off with a wave. Dumbfounded by the turn of events, I turn to the Japanese couple who up to this point hadn't said a word. The man looked at me and said (In English), "Lucky", and with a nod he and his lady walked off into the night.

We caught a train from there to Osaka where we decided to spend the night. Renate had made arrangements for us to grab places in a capsule hotel. An... interesting experience, to say the least. Yes, it had enough space for one person to be ok. Not luxurious by any means, but it gets the job done. If I had my call, I think I'd do an internet cafe next time. Leather couch and free drinks wins out. The reason that I mentioned love hotels in the preface was that this capsule hotel seemed to be in Love Hotel Central. Every building around it for blocks around was a love hotel. In my masculine immaturity, I'd take a look at a couple walking into one and think, "Ha! I know what you're up to!"

Shopping and walking followed the next day. Not too much excitement for those who know Osaka up and down by now. If I could put the weekend into a nutshell, it would be that monkeys are loud, Nagoya is a lovely city, and one should never underestimate the kindness of strangers in Japan.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Arie: A Taste of Home

For those who may not know, I've recently made the official call to return to Canada at the end of this JET year. Come next August, I'll lose my semi-ex-pat status and be among those called 'Canadian' once again. And y'know, it's funny. Now that the return plans have been etched in stone, I find myself becoming that much more nostalgic about the people and places I left behind, thinking about them more and more. Luckily, however, my melancholy state of mind has been curbed by the delicious, delicious events of yesterday.

One of my two schools had school festival yesterday. The theme of day one of three was food. Cooking, selling, producing, etc. Therein, I assisted one of the classes with the preparation of a somewhat familiar dish: Jerk Chicken.
Background: One of my students has quite a love and appreciation of West Indian music, particularly reggae and the like. Very nice boy who never speaks English to me, but often has me listen to the latest song he's bought or asks me a random question about Jamaica and my family. As school festival approached, his class decided to do jerk and, being the only one around who knows anything about it, I was asked to lend a hand. So I had some bottles shipped in from Canada and told them how to make it.

There was a small hiccup at the start as the fire for the barbecue wouldn't light, so I started to get a little apprehensive. However, assistance from one or two teachers soon had us with supercharged charcoal before we knew it. No sooner had we thrown the first few pieces on the grill did we attract the attention of students and local townspeople alike. It was almost a steady stream of selling pieces and throwing new ones on. I was a touch worried that we'd have leftover by the end of the day, but a good hour before the food stalls were to close, we'd sold the last of the 120+ pieces we'd prepared. What's more, I was a little worried that the taste and/or spice wouldn't agree with people, and yet I heard 'oishi' 's (JPN: Delicious) left, right, and centre, and marvels at 80 year olds tearing through it like it was nothing. It left me feeling quite pleased that I could pass on a bit of my own culture to people who may or may not have known much about it before. And I've learned that the best way to effect grassroots internationalization is through the stomach.

Footnote: Of course, I was taking little bits of chicken as the day went on. Even when a piece hit the ground, and it was the only one left at the end of the day... Hey! The other side was still good.