Travel Journal of my Time in Japan

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October 10, 2002

I've been a bit of a homebody the last couple of weeks
I've been doing a lot of reading about Japan! The library has quite a few titles in English. In fact, I found a section with dozens of classics in English. It was quite a relief. But so far I've only checked out books about Japan. I read "Hiroshima and the Atomic Bomb," "A Brief History of Japan," and "Japanese Folk Tales." Now I'm reading "Religion and the Japanese Culture." Religion in Japan is very interesting because Japanese usually follow more than one faith. Most Japanese consider themselves Buddhist and Shinto. They take the best of each and apply it to their lives.

Japanese Language
And of course then there's always Japanese language to work on. (Hey Dean and Steph! the "Japanese for Dummies" book is coming in handy, thanks again.) The Japanese use these little books of flashcards - perfect for learning a foreign language. They're about 1 inch by 3 inches, have one ring holding them together. I have one for my Japanese words. A few are sinking in. The language is so different from English, it's amazing that anyone can learn one if they grow up with the other. For instance, in Japanese you put the subject first, the OBJECT second and the verb last. So instead of "Mary told John", the Japanese equivalent is "Mary John told." So different! It's made me appreciate the efforts of my students. Also, I'm learning quite a bit about my native tongue in the process of teaching it to my students. I've had to explain so many things I just do naturally. Let's see if I can come up with a good example. Oh, why do we say "big, blue ball" and not "blue, big ball"? Never thought about it before, have you? Neither had I! And why do we say "the alarm clock went OFF" when it STARTS buzzing? It actually turns ON at that point, doesn't it? I've gotten in the habit of saying "crazy English." It's usually good for a giggle out of them. And when they have trouble pronouncing something I say, "it's difficult... easy for me" and that makes them smile too.

Apartment Sweet Apartment
Since I've spent so much time in my apartment these last couple of weeks, it seem appropriate to finally include some photos of it. It's very big compared to most Japanese apartments for one person. The other AEON teachers, particularly in downtown Tokyo, have apartments 1/4 the size. Actually these photos here show only half the apartment. There is another room the same size as the bedroom, and a bathroom/laundry room the same size as the kitchen. AND I have a dryer. AND 3 closets. AND a balcony. AND a western style shower/bath. AND a western style toilet. I am very lucky. Perhaps you're wondering what a non-western toilet looks like. Well perhaps I can discretely get a photo of one to show you in a future update. Anyway, here's my abode. I need to hang some more things on the walls. I have some maps I want to hang of Japan, Paris (from Kenichi, a student) and Jamaica (it was Jamaica week last week at the International Center). And I'm always on the lookout for wall hangings that draw my eye. You can see on the floor of my bedroom and living room are tatami mats. They are made of straw, very tightly woven together. In the past, rural Japanese people made many things with straw - hats, coats, even boots! Straw is a good insulator. I hope so because winter is approaching fast. Although from what I can tell, it won't get all that cold here - at least compared to Chicago. I've told some of my students that it has been -20 F in Chicago and their eyes get very large. They say water freezes in Nagaoka, but only sometimes. So I think I'll be fine this winter. My challenge will be trudging through all the snow. Right now we're in typhoon season. Last week a typhoon passed by. The AEON teachers in Tokyo went home early because of it. But all we got was a bit of intense rain. The canal near my apartment got a little high, but my apartment is on the third floor so no real worries.

Anyway, that's my kitchen on the left. The window over the sink opens into the corridor, but I'm at the end of the hallway so no one really walks by. The window to the left of the sink opens out onto the street. Like I say, I'm on the third floor so it's not too loud. The tracks for the bullet train are RIGHT across the street raised up high like the elevated train in Chicago - but even higher than my third story apartment. I very rarely hear them - they are so quiet! The black box along the left wall is my refrigerator - small, but it meets my needs just fine. My rice cooker is on the the table along the right wall and behind it is a toaster oven, no microwave. I'm shooting this picture through a sliding paper doorway. It's not quite like in the movies (light doesn't come through it), but close.

This is my bedroom to the right. It's unusual for a teacher to have a bed that's up off the floor like this. I imagine all the other teachers I trained with just have their beds right on the floor. That sliding paper door (JUST like in the movies) to the right of my bed opens up onto a shared balcony, and looks down onto a parking lot. I should include photos of the view. Maybe a later update.

And here are photos of my living room. My bedroom is beyond the wall (actually a sliding door) behind the couch thingy.

Food Update
"We have salsa... I repeat, we have salsa." I found salsa at the grocery store yesterday. MUCH joy! I don't have tortilla chips, but I'm thinking I can put the salsa on scrambled eggs. I almost have taco fixin's... there are NO Mexican restaurants in Nagaoka. I'm surprised to find I Miss mexican food. AND I found cheddar cheese. Now... if I can just find some BBQ sauce.

(Thanks Mary Ellen for the wonderful care package. Besides of thoughtful card from herself and another homemade card from one of her daughters, she also sent two mac & chez packets (minus the mac), a can of beefy chili, some candy, some thank you cards and a box of Nutty Bars. YUM!)

Dewa sono uchi ni
"See you in a little while"

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on to October 16, 2002