Sunday, June 27, 2010

The diary of a foreigner in Japan – Part 1…

Each day I witness something out of the ordinary, something foreign to me, however it is I who is the foreigner in this country. I have been told that after 6 months, things will no longer seem so strange to me, I will have adjusted and customs that the Japanese do will be of routine to me. Therefore I was also advised to take pictures of it all now, to document it while it is still new and interesting. So here goes…

Toilets in the ground...I have yet to attempt this! Luckily most places will have both Japanese style toilets (toilets in the ground) as well as regular toilets that you can sit on! Obviously, given that I am 5'9" I go for the toilets that are higher off the ground.

This sign was in front of a bathroom at a shrine... My question is, where else would you put garbage if you couldn't throw it away?

No this was not in a fish market, but in a regular grocery store! Their meat section consists of lots and lots of fish, whole raw this lovely octopus, YUMMY!
And all these other un-beheaded fish!

The equivalent of Jack (whisky) and coke in a can…Genius! (Jenna, this one's for you!)

Mini balls of frozen yogurty/Popsicle type dessert! Comes in a package with around 10 balls, and there are several flavors! (They melt in your mouth not in your hand, but WAY better than M&M's) This is by far my favorite treat I have discovered...I have now had it 3 times!

Who knew that fruit could be so expensive? In Japan fruits like, watermelons and peaches have to be pre-ordered and their prices are outrageous!!!
You don't see these fruits sitting out on the stands at the grocery store...sad what we take for granted in the States!

Last, but not friends and I were out to dinner one night this week (Nick was there, he was the one taking the picture) and we were looking for this Thai restaurant that we heard was good. We got up to the place that we thought was it and were greeted by this sign: "Japanese Only"!!! I was completely taken aback!
It was the perfect time for a photo op...but next thing we know, a little Japanese lady opens the door and shakes her finger at us telling us to go away!

I was warned that I would encounter this...but it still was shocking when it actually did! Apparently places will put this sign up, or simply give you the "X" when you try to enter their facility for many different reasons - because they are too full and can't accommodate you, because they don't speak English and can not/will not try, or simply because they don't allow foreigners in their place of business. It is fortunate for Americans that this is no longer allowed in the States, because as I have now experienced in Japan, segregation does still exist!

Dual Drivers License

I cannot describe the feeling of freedom Nick and I have felt now that we have our Japanese Drivers license. Being in a brand new country but without the means to drive and explore that new country has been, well, quite frustrating! Friday we got our certificate of completion from our orientation class, which meant we were finally eligible to get our drivers license. We rushed over during our lunch break, picked up our new cards (which don’t have a picture on them, by the way) and immediately felt a sense of relief! Nick says to me, “Britt, we can drive again!” (Ironic, I know, but without that little card, it was illegal for us to be behind the steering wheel!!!)

After class ended late on Friday afternoon, with our new licenses in hand we headed to the VRO (vehicle registration office) to get all the paperwork completed in order to buy our car! We were handed the keys from the previous owners and enthusiastically got behind our new (to us) set of wheels!

Nick and I didn’t have much time to explore on Friday because we had already made plans to go to sake tasting on base that evening. The tasting consisted of a Dutch man (yes Dutch, not Japanese…again, very ironic! In fact, he’s the first non-Japanese sake master) giving us a 3 hour presentation on how sake is made, the different types of sake, how to drink it and what to drink it with, etc. etc. It was interesting, but the Dutch sake connoisseur was a bit long winded for my liking. Nonetheless, we got to try 8 different sakes, as well as delicious sushi, kabobs and ice cream brought out to us appropriately according to which sake was being served.

It was a fun night, but I still am not too fond of sake…no offense to the Japanese!

Driving a car in Japan does in fact mean learning to drive on the opposite side of the car as well as the opposite side of the road (opposite to those who are used to driving in the US). This is something Nick and I have been eager to tackle.

Saturday, after a long day of house hunting (7 houses, to be precise…Nick has started telling people I am the house hunting Nazi!) and a long nap, Nick and I set out to explore the area and drive our car. Being the smart husband that he is, Nick decided that I should drive around base for a while so I could get myself accustomed to driving on the opposite side of the car and road. Good thing he suggested this, because without even thinking, I automatically started driving on the right (as in opposite of left, not right as in correct) side of the road! Nick had to correct me a few times, as well as to remind me to stop. The stop signs in Japan are not octagons, in fact they are upside down triangles…but fortunately they are still red!

After a weekend of having wheels, Nick and I have (sorta) gotten the hang of the backwards way of driving here in Japan. More importantly, we are enjoying the freedom that comes with having a car all over again!

Nick officially starts work tomorrow and I am on my own (car keys in hand) to explore! Can't wait to see what awaits us this week!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ask and you sometimes receive…

Today, as we hoped, it did not rain! That meant we got to go see the Temples and Shrines we wanted to. We went to a city right outside of Kamakura called Hase. This is where the Big Buddha is.

It was a long day, with lots of walking and doing very touristy things (aka - taking pictures of everything!) It was weird to be one of the only Americans in a cluster of hundreds of people. Even though it was a weekday, the shrines and temples were crowded with tour groups, students on field trips, and ordinary people simply visiting the temples and shrines to worship or pray. The difference was, ALL these people were Japanese, and there were only 6 of us Americans! Talk about a homogenous country! Many people stared at us, several kids tried to speak to us in English (which they would do and then laugh amongst themselves for being so brave as to talk to us “gaijin” or foreigners) and others even took our pictures. In the train station there were some schoolgirls about the age of 13 or 14, and they were staring Nick down like he was a super model. They were quite obvious about it too, they didn’t try to be discreet, they just pointed and loudly talked about him as we walked by. (Of course Nick got embarrassed and started blushing!!!) This comes as no surprise, Nick isn’t hard to miss, he was by far the tallest man in the train station, as well as every other place we visited today!

The good thing about the places we toured today was that even the Japanese people were taking pictures, so we didn’t hesitate to pull out our camera for, well, everything! (We did kind of get a little picture happy…)

Nick and I took way too many pictures to share them all, but I will provide a “few” from our day of site seeing:

The entrance to one of the shrines

The Japanese are very superstitious and full of rituals. They have statues for everything, they do ceremonious things for specific reasons and have strong beliefs in spirits. This scary looking guy behind the cage, must have been some kind of mean spirit, to be locked up for all eternity!

The water fountains like in the picture below are in front of every shrine. These are there for you to clean your hands before you enter the shrine...something about having to be pure before you enter a holy place! The school kids were playing in the water and others drank from it...I found it rather dirty that everyone washed their hands in the same fountain of water, but what do I know?

The Great Buddha was the main attraction for the day, the whole reason we went to Hase. Needless to say, we took tons of pictures of this famous piece of architecture.

We were told this is the season for the beautiful hydrangeas…and sure enough, they were in full bloom around every corner along our route today! They smelled amazing!

What an interesting occupation, don’t you think? Imagine how much his back aches after pulling people on a carriage all day!
The next few pictures are of a shrine/temple that we found off of the beaten path...don't know what it's called, but it was very interesting! It sat on top of a hill and the greenery was breathtaking!

The Hase-Dera Temple

Millions of what I think are considered grave stones…people leave flowers to pay respect (and as you can tell, sometimes they even dress them up!)

A little prayer cave...very very short...we practically crawled through it!!!
This was in the middle of the cave, where you were supposed to be able to stand up...of course, Nick still had to duck!
The tiny little statues all throughout the cave....I couldn't read what these represented (obviously because it was in Japanese) but there was a stand with a box, for anyone to pay money and purchase one of these statues to place in the cave, sort of as a memorial/tribute to someone who has passed away....There were thousands of them!
We think this girl was a model...we saw her several times throughout the day and she had her own paparazzi!
And this is where a Japanese man was taking my picture...haha...silly gaijin!

In Japan, you take the train everywhere!

The train conductors are precise, they carry these watches around their necks and do everything by the exact minute!
My favorite part about the train stations are the vending machines!!! The ice cream in Japan is quite different and I have made it my mission to try them all!

This particular ice cream that I got today was like a breakfast waffle with green tea ice cream filling! Might sound gross, but it was delicious!!!

Big man in a little chair...

Tomorrow is the last day of our orientation classes. We "graduate" then get to get our license and pick up our car! Whoohoo! Yeah for driving on the opposite side of the road!