Travel Journal of my Time in Japan
September 20, 2002
September 12, 2002 - A Happy 36th Birthday in Japan
My birthday in Japan was great! No national holiday, so I worked as usual. I started the day reading cards that happened to make it here on the 10th and 11th. (Thank you mom, pop, Carolyn, Mary Ellen, Erin, Anna, Emma, and my cat! Yes, somehow Julie managed to send a card, not bad for no opposable thumbs. Thanks Mary Ellen!)
Then at school there was a banner that had "Happy Birthday Anne" written on it - which was very nice. Unfortunately, it was hung swag-like, and so low that I had to duck significantly to clear it. Conor too. There's also another low-hanging sign for a sales campaign going on. So for the day, we had TWO obstacles. But it was fun! So I lead my first class into the classroom, closed the door and suddenly all my students are wishing me "Happy Birthday" and smiling and bowing - yes, the Japanese bow quite a lot. My bewildered expression led them to point to the back of the door - another sign that had "Happy Birthday Anne" written on it, this one with my photograph. :-) Sayuri, a Japanese teacher/co-worker bought little cakes for me. They were sort of like soft waffles, folded with mousse and whipped cream in them. My birthday cake for the year. There was no singing, and I'm alright with that. :-)
At my "lunch break" (around 4pm) I went to the international center to check email, and there were a slew of birthday emails. I can't even begin to list everyone, so I won't even try. Instead, I'll just say "Thanks ALL!" :-) Towards the end of the day, I finished one of my classes and headed back to the lobby to collect my students (from the 20 or so in the lobby) for my next class, and... "SURPRISE!!!" With loud bangs and streamers coming at me. Some of you know how easily I jump at sudden noises, you can imagine my reaction. I about jumped out of my skin which made everyone laugh.
The next day I got more emails. Technically these weren't late because Japan is a day ahead of the US. So, in a way, my birthday lasted 48 hours. Gotta like that! In the last week I've gotten a few MORE cards and emails, and a student gave me a gift tonight - a children's book in Japanese. So when I learn enough Japanese I'll be able to read it. All in all, I felt remembered, which makes for a perfect birthday. Definitely one to be remembered always.
Yeah, this is me. Look at those ears, and all that hair!
Somehow this photo seemed appropriate around my birthday.
Have a good giggle! :-)
First Japanese Sushi
We sat in bar stool type seats, at a bar kind of table, and behind the bar was the sushi bar owner, and on the bar were glass cases of... well, of piles of raw fish. Hiroyuki talked to the owner and ordered our meal. The owner put out a few dishes, chopsticks, and a wet wash cloth. And then he began cutting off pieces of fish and putting it on our plates. I was doing very well. I was trying everything the man put on our plates. All the while having wonderful conversation with Hiroyuki about history, politics, current events, etc. Every now and again the sushi bar owner would put something else on our plates. Although he didn't speak English, every now and again he would point to some pile of fish in the glass case and say "challenge?" - asking me if I wanted to try it. I managed to graciously say no, with Hiroyuki's help, and thankfully the sushi bar owner kept smiling. But then, the miso (spelling?) soup...
Hiroyuki asked if I would like miso soup. I told him I'd never had it, but I would try it. I figured if I could eat all that raw fish, I could manage a little soup. So the server comes with two bowls, each with two pinkish-red things sticking out of it, that look like twigs. The thought did occur to me they could be antennae, but I tried to block that thought. Luckily the soup was cloudy, so I couldn't confirm what the twigs were attached to. But before I could blindly try the soup, Hiroyuki pulled on the "twigs" to show what he considered a prize on the other end - the head of a shrimp. I about passed out. "Oh Hiroyuki, I wish you hadn't shown me that." "Why?" he innocently asked.
For the next 30 minutes I sat there trying to muster up the courage to try the soup. The sushi bar owner was right there - and Hiroyuki, my host, the person nice enough to take me out for real sushi, he was right there. They were waiting for me to try it. Meanwhile, Hiroyuki was sipping out of his bowl, the antennae tickling his nose. I just couldn't do it. I didn't want to offend anyone, but it just wasn't going to happen. In an attempt to be helpful, Hiroyuki said "Look, I will show you it is alright, I will suck on the head, it is tender and delicious." Luckily I managed to turn away before he actually put the shrimp's head in his mouth. Finally, Hiroyuki gallantly offered to take the head out my soup. He took my bowl, turned his back and Voila! the antennae and head were gone from my bowl. He assured me there was nothing else scary in the soup, but the damage was done. Hiroyuki kept trying to reason with me, he really enjoys miso soup very much and wanted me to enjoy it too. So, I told him, "For you I will try this soup, this is how much I like you. Just for you." And I did. And it did taste good, but that shrimp's head had been in there, and that was that. I tried to explain to Hiroyuki. I asked him if he'd ever been asked to eat something in America that seemed scary. We couldn't think of anything - I realized then how tame American food is. But he did remember that once he had been asked to eat bee larva, and another time grasshoppers. He just couldn't eat either one, no matter what line of reasoning was offered. "That's it, that's how I feel! Even eating this raw fish has been difficult, the shrimp head is just too much." And then he understood, and gallantly took my soup and drank the rest of it himself, even though it was cold.
All the time the sushi bar owner was watching, smiling, waiting to see if I was going to try the soup. Hiroyuki explained that the shrimp's head made it difficult for me. But the sushi owner was smiling, I think he was enjoying the fun of freaking out the foreigner. He even asked Hiroyuki to tell me that some of the fish was still alive. Hiroyuki told me, pointing to the fish he was talking about. It was right in front of me, so I leaned in very close to the glass case to have a good close look. I couldn't see a face or anything. I could see tentacle-looking things, like an octopus would have, but nothing else looked familiar - it was just a pile of flesh like any of the other piles. I couldn't see any evidence that it was still alive. There was no breathing, no blinking. But then the sushi bar owner flicked the pile of fish with his finger and AHHHHHHHHH! It moved on it's own for a few seconds afterwards! My eyes must have gotten huge, and the sushi bar owner laughed and did it again. "Challenge?" NO, thank you! The next day I didn't feel quite right in the stomach. So I think maybe sushi is just too much for this silly foreigner. The Japanese call us gaigin, or foreigner, or 'from the outside'. I've found the Japanese are very patient with gaigin - I suppose they have to be.
Learning More About Things Japanese
I Have a New Bike
A Little about Japanese Streets
Below is a photo of a rare open field right in town - I think an old building had just been cleared to make way for new construction. I took this because the open field makes it possible for you to get an idea of what the houses generally look like.
The Japanese "Wa"
What I Miss
I'd really enjoy receiving a pile of photographs from a party I missed. Or maybe an audio recording of familiar voices. :-) Or you know those "cheese" packets that come in the Kraft macaroni and cheese? I don't need the noodles, but the cheese packets would be awesome. And one would be easy to put in a card or letter. Just a thought. Oh, and if anyone comes across a calendar with Chicago photographs, I could use one for my classroom. And a box of thank you cards would be appreciated. You should try to buy "thank you cards" when you don't know which cards say "Thank you" and which cards say "Happy Birthday", or "With deepest sympathy" or who knows what else! I wish you could send milk, because the milk smells and tastes a little sour here - of course it's not - but it does smell different. And so I think that's why the cheese and other dairy products all smell and taste... different. Oh well, I take my vitamins like a good girl, so it's okay if I don't drink quite as much milk as before.
I think of you all often.
Dewa sono uchi ni