Travel Journal of my Time in Japan

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October 23, 2002

I'm having some computer troubles so if you don't hear from me for a little while - please don't worry! It turns out I probably need a new C:/ drive... eshk. So emails and updates may be sparse for a bit.

I gave a small dinner party this weekend
Do you remember Tadashi and Tetsuya? They took me out one of my first nights in Nagaoka. Well I had them over for dinner last weekend. They brought a friend, Yoshiko, she works with them. I made spaghetti (it's the easiest and what I am best at). We sat and ate, drank and talked. Over the course of the evening, Tetsuya was given the nickname Mulder, and I was Scully, Tadashi was the smoking man, and poor Yoshiko was the victim - the standard complement for an X-Files show. :-) It was very fun. I hope we do it again soon. Here's a photo of me and Tetsuya (aka Scully and Mulder).

Wine Tasting Party
My landlord, Suzuki, invited Conor and me to a wine tasting party. There's a group of people who get together about once a month and taste different wines, eat good food and have a few laughs. They are very nice people. They gave me welcome gifts because it was my first time at their meeting. They gave me a lovely key chain for my apartment key, a hand mirror, and some vitamin C drops. (Japanese like to give practical gifts.) They are things I will always treasure. I enjoyed myself very much. It inspired me to want to work harder at my Japanese. Some of the wines we tasted were Swiss, French, and German. Oh, there was a lovely German ice wine - yum! (Wolfram and Constanze - I thought of you!) And a French cognac, that was a first for me. And, of course, some Japanese sake and a plum wine. I drank quite a lot, but I kept a surprisingly clear head. Suzuki's wife, Cheiko, told me I was a good drinker... another first!

After the wine tasting party there was a "second party". Japanese like to have second parties, and third parties, etc. Basically it's moving the party to a new location. I went to the second party too - below are a couple photos from the second party. In the right photo is (from the left) Hisashi, Suzuki, Todd (Canadian) and me. Todd recently married a Japanese woman (Shizuka, she took the photo) and they're settling in Nagaoka.

Plans to go to a Hot Springs
Suzuki assured me that he has not forgotten about going to a hot springs. I very much want to do that at some point while I'm here. There are hot springs all over Japan. Water heated by the volcanic activity. I guess they are often outside (although sometimes a roof is built over them) but generally they are outside in the woods. People either wear swimming suits, or their birthday suits :-o and sit in the warm water, with the steam floating around the woods. He promised we would do that - Suzuki, his wife, me and maybe Conor or some other people. Should be kinda cool.

My nickname has become Chicago!
Oh, by the way, Conor has taken to calling me Chicago. I love it! One time earlier this week, I was riding my bicycle - running a bit late for work. I was very focused because bicycling takes all my concentration, particularly when I'm in a hurry. So I was tooling along, and all of a sudden I hear "Hey Chicago!!" with an Irish roll to it. I look up and there's Conor on the other side of the street (about 4 lanes of traffic between us) waving from his bicycle, in his kelly green sweatshirt. (It was his day off, so he was bicycling in the opposite direction.) Made my day! After that being a minute or two late didn't seem nearly as awful.

So... Many of you are asking about what the Japanese think of the US/Iraq thing...
Generally speaking many Japanese have told me the Japanese are not very interested in global politics. But they are interested in this. I've talked to a few Japanese people, including my discussion class students, and I think I have a glimmer of understanding on the Japanese perspective. The Japanese seem to often contradict themselves. And this issue is one example. Of course, the Japanese do not want war, although who does? Yet a few Japanese people have asked me why the US is focusing on Iraq, when there are other countries that also might have weapons of mass destruction. They don't come out and say it, but I think they are wanting the US to attack North Korea. (Remember, North Korea is another element of Bush's "Axis of Evil".) Japan and North Korea have a long history of conflict. Yet recently, North Korea has been "making nice" with Japan. The North Koreans abducted some people from the beaches of Japan, decades ago. I mean, they snatched people from the beaches, put them in sacks and carried them by boat to North Korea. Only now is North Korean admitting that they took them. Apparently, the plan was these Japanese would teach North Korean spies the Japanese language. North Korea even let the "abductees" come home to Japan for a one week visit. These people have started families in North Korea (gotten married, had children, etc.) But these families in North Korea were not allowed to accompany their Japanese relatives on the visit back to Japan. Many Japanese saw this as a form of hostage taking. And so now there is talk of North Korea allowing another visit, this time the North Korea families WILL be able to come. So why is North Korea admitting all these things? Why now? Some of the Japanese I've spoken with think it's because of the pressure Bush is putting on Iraq - maybe North Korea thinks they could be next. Many Japanese are worried that North Korea is trying to put Japan off guard, for a future attack. And the US has some obligations to protect Japan because of treaties following WWII - not allowing Japan to have any military beyond defensive. I don't know the very latest status of those treaties, but I'm sure the Japanese are thinking of that. It's difficult to get a line for sure on what Japanese are thinking, because of the cultural differences. So don't put too much stock in these thoughts. They are the best I can manage for now. Of course, I'll keep my ears open and see what else I can learn.

Personally I don't know what to think on this whole Bush/Iraq thing. Of course I don't want war, but I also don't want to look back on 2002 as the year that Bush tried to warn us, and we didn't listen. It's difficult to trust Saddam Hussein with such weapons. But I wonder if my distrust is based on biased information from the media. But maybe he IS as evil as Bush says. But I still don't want war if it can be avoided. But if Bush is right, I'm glad he's pushing so hard. He's definitely making things happen all around the world - including Japan. Some of these changes are for the better, some are for the worst. But they are changes! You know, the other day, while writing a letter to my friend Laura, I got to thinking it would be interesting if Bush was simply playing "bad-cop" to the UN's "good-cop". Maybe the Bush Administration and the UN are allied - with the goal being to get inspectors into Iraq. Maybe Bush is providing an excuse for the UN to be more forceful, and yet not be seen as the "bad guy". Maybe given a choice, Saddam will open up to the UN, rather than risk a US attack. Maybe not. There are so many elements to this, and I am far from being an expert. But it is an interesting thought that maybe all of this has become like a big chess game, with VERY high stakes. Maybe led by Bush, or maybe Colin Powell, or Cheney, or someone else. It would make a good movie anyway.

Local Japanese Election Coming Up
The election is actually on October 29th. And I will be SO glad when it's over because the candidates have these cars with REALLY loud speakers. They drive around neighborhoods (including RIGHT in front of my apartment) and play these little speeches. Oh my goodness, is it LOUD!! I mean, I fear for the ear drums of small children. Even if all my windows are closed, they still vibrate things inside. That's how loud. The first time one when by, I was worried, because I couldn't understand what they were saying. I was afraid there had been an emergency, and they were evacuating everybody. I look out my window to see if people were scurrying about, and they weren't. Then I wondered if they were advertisers and was annoyed. I finally noticed a candidate's poster, and put two and two together - and realized it was about an upcoming election. Like I say, I'll be glad when it's over. :-) Some of my Japanese students are annoyed by them too.

Care Packages Welcome!
Thanks for the mac and cheese packets, Laura! Such care packages warm my heart make me feel like you are all not so far away. :-) Mac and cheese is always good, chili is good, BBQ sauce would be welcome. Photos of y'all would be fun. Or video/sound recordings would be awesome. I have a VCR and CD/tape player. I'm needing a calendar for my classroom. If anyone sees one with Chicago (or Illinois) photos that would be great. Or maybe a calendar with photos from the National Parks. If I get two calendars I can always hang one in my apartment. Or give them as gifts to students. Japanese are big on gifts to say thank you. And it seems I'm always saying thank you for some kindness, particularly to Suzuki, my landlord. :-) I brought some gifts with me, but an American calendar would be a special gift. Oh, I'm thinking I'd like a good image of corn fields in Illinois. You know, how you drive down I-88 and see corn all the way to the horizon. I don't think they can imagine such flatness, and SO much corn. So if you see a good photo like that in a magazine, or on a postcard - please send that along to me. Okay? (thanks!) Of course a letter is ALWAYS good. Emails I can only read in the International Center, in a hurry. It's nice to have a letter to read over a few times.

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

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on to November 2, 2002