Travel Journal of my Time in Japan

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September 26, 2002

Going to a Taiko Performance
This past weekend I went with some people to a town called Kashiwazaki, sorta west of Nagaoka, right on the Sea of Japan. We (I went with two other English teachers, Alan and Annette) took the train there to see a Taiko performance. I got to stick my toes in the Sea of Japan because we had a few minutes to waste before the start of the performance, so we walked down to the beach and swished around. I could see Sado Island in the misty distance. And then we walked a bit down the shore to a small, outdoor stage. I didn't know what to expect, except I knew drums were involved. As it turns out, Taiko involves a lot of drumming, as well as flutes, dance, masks and costumes. According to the brochure, it is a "manifestation of an ancient music tradition that extends back into prehistoric Japan." And it looks it! It was wonderful! Some of the players (the senior players) wore masks representing characters from Japanese mythology. And they drum, and sometimes shout a word or two, and they do some dance as they switch drums. Then there are quite a few junior players who play smaller drums and flutes. They seemed to be more for rhythmic and less for the drama. They did not wear masks, only matching outfits. I'm sure there's a japanese name for them, but I don't know what it is. If I can find photographs, I'll put one up here. A friend of a friend, of a friend knew someone in the group - a junior player. That's how I found out about the performance. The person in the group is a Canadian of Japanese decent. She's teaching English in Kashiwazaki with her husband - I think he's also Canadian. Anyway, the Taiko group is a volunteer thing and she seemed to love it. She was sitting there smiling as she drummed along, shouting out now and again with the group, smiling at the other junior member drumming next to her. In one number, ALL the members of the group took a solo on the big drum. She took her turn, and she was great! She inspired me to get moving on finding a hobby here, so I can have regular contact with Japanese folks outside of class. In class I have to be "on" all the time - professional, I can't be relaxed and goofy if I want to. So it's different. I haven't played baseball yet, so I'm going to try and find a team or club I can join. Should be interesting! Of course I'll keep you posted.

Getting out of Nagaoka
Going to Kashiwazaki was my first time out of Nagaoka since I got here. It made me realize I need to do more of that. Next weekend I might venture north to Niigata. I've heard of an English bookstore there. And I know a couple other teachers who work there for the same company I do - one offered a place to crash if I want to stay over night. (Her name is Laura, which is amazing because she looks ALOT like my friend Laura from the US - hi Laura!) She's really nice and likes to do outside walks and stuff. Should be fun! I'm also beginning to plan other outings. I hear that it's wise to plan ahead because all Japanese travel for the same weeks every year, so accommodations can be difficult to find if you wait until the last minute. I get my first paycheck tomorrow - so then I'll know what my budget looks like based on take-home pay. (Gotta pay Japan taxes!) Some possible destinations include Hiroshima, Kyoto, Sado Island, and Sapporro. The people at the international center offered to help plan any trips I want to take. They are very helpful. I have established an acquaintance with Kentaru, one of the people who work there. The photo to the right is of him and another foreigner (British), James. Unfortunately, Kentaru is moving to Australia in a couple of weeks. (Well, unfortunate for me, good for him, of course.) But if he and I can't finish my travel planning, I'm sure someone else will be able to help.

Learning Japanese Language and Names
I've started studying Japanese, finally. I'm using flashcards, and I quiz myself now and again. I'm still not close to forming real sentences, but Japanese names are starting to seem less foreign. Now that I've learned a couple of names, I can relate the others to these first few. Whenever I meet a man/boy named Hiroyuki, now I can remember Hiroyuki - because I have a reference point with the student who took me for sushi (see September 20th entry). Or when I meet a man/boy named Hiroshi, I have something to start with - the Hiro part. From there it will grow. Each day I learn a couple more names to faces. Today was a woman named Keiko. Oh, and today I had a breakthrough! I recognized a student in the street, and was able to greet her BY NAME!!! "Hello Midori!" It was very nice. We had a short conversation. It was difficult for her because I caught her off guard. When the students come to class they are prepared to speak English. But on the street it takes them a moment to get in the English speaking mode. But she did very well. In fact, she corrected herself on pronouncing "very". "V"s and "B"s often get confused. I've decided that pronunciation will be the legacy I shall leave during my time here. It's very easy to let "very" sound like "berry". But I stop them and try to show them how to say "V"s. They seem to appreciate it. But it is very difficult and frustrating for them sometimes. So are "Th"s, "L"s, and "F"s.

To the left is a photo of two students that stand out in my mind. I think mostly because they make such an effort to stand out in my mind. :-) They try to practice their English with me much more often than the other students. They try to make jokes. They are much less afraid to try. The guy on the left is Etsushi. I can remember his name because I remember "sushi" and put an "at" sound (well, it's almost an "at" sound) before it. The guy on the right is Hidokazu. I remember his name because I can remember he's the friend of Etsushi. They think it's so funny and strange that I think that way, but it works. I can always greet them by name and that always surprises them when I remember.

This photo is also interesting because it shows some of the posters and signs that hang in the school hallways. I took this picture when these guys were waiting for their class to begin.

Food and Diet
Last week my body was craving some kind of food, but I couldn't figure out what it was. Every night I came home from work and sat in front of the refrigerator, taking forever trying to decide what to eat. I was hungry, but I didn't know what for. I think it was beef. Because last night my landlord invited me to dinner with his wife and daughter. We went to a nearby Korean restaurant and had grilled beef. It was kinda neat. The server brought marinated bits of meat, and then we grilled it ourselves on a little grill in the middle of the table. There were also potatoes, salad, and other more familiar things. I think my landlord knew what I craved. He and his daughter had just gotten back from a trip to North America. Three nights in a row he and his daughter had dinner at three different homes - unfortunately ALL three served them steak. All had good intentions, but Suzuki and Akiko were overwhelmed by all the beef. So I think he knew I would probably be missing it. It did feel good going down - filled most of the void. I still feel a little bit of a craving, but it's not nearly as bad now as it was last week. Mental note: eat beef whenever I can. There is definitely less sugar and fat in Japanese food. And it's more fish, less beef, and there is generally more salt. OH! I found a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Nagaoka - right by my school. I'm planning on going there for lunch tomorrow. I just have to. I'm sure with time my body will adapt to the new diet - and I'll probably be better for it. Just the same, when/if you visit, please sneak a few nutty bars in your suitcase. Or maybe Entenmann's chocolate chip cookies, or canned chili - the beefy kind. ;-) There are some good things here too. The bread is amazing! The slices are huge, and there are many kinds of baked goods that are very delicious. A foreigner must be careful though. Some may have something pronounced "nahto" in them as a filling. This is a bean paste, spells awful, tastes worse. But the Japanese love the stuff, they eat it every morning for breakfast.

Oh, on September 11, 2002, Suzuki delivered to New York the 1,000 cranes his wife folded for New York. (See September 11th update.) His daughter showed me a photograph of the cranes hanging on the fence near Ground Zero. That took a great deal of effort to fold the cranes, assemble them together, and haul them across the globe without damaging them. Very nice people.

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

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on to October 10, 2002