The Witless Clunkery of a Third-Rate Mind

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

My Day Out

Today was a typical day in Japan: half frustration, half fun.

The frustration part was also typical: bureaucracy (and people being unable or unwilling to do anything except absolutely by the letter) preventing me from getting seemingly simple things done.

In my case, I wanted to transfer my Canadian license over to a Japanese one. Canada and Japan have some sort of reciprocal agreement, so it should be a simple matter of showing somebody my Canadian licence, giving them a photo, and presto-change-o, out pops my shiny new Japanese licence.

But of course, things never work like that here. I don't feel like going into detail, but suffice it to say that I won't be getting a licence any time soon.

On to the good stuff. I went for a hike with Karen, the other teacher. Since she is a seasoned trekker, it was more like a "short walk" for her but it was a hike for me. We went up a mountain in back of Beppu. There was a great view of the city from up there, and the weather was nice.

Below the look-out point was a quiet little temple, with a waterfall. It was quite striking.

After our walk, we felt that an onsen (hot spring) would be nice, so we went to a very old, traditional one. It has extremely sulfurous hot springs as well as a bubbling mud bath. The mud bath says "mixed" (i.e., men and women bathe together) but I was assured by the lady at the ticket counter that in practice, the men's and women's sections are separate. Well, imagine my surprise when, buck naked (having just put down my towel) I walked into the mud pool only to see Karen sitting there, comfortably immersed up to her neck. Oops. I usually try to wait a few weeks before exposing myself to my co-workers.

Anyway, no hard feelings, I guess. After that, we went for a walk in Beppu. This picture is kind of neat (I think) because it shows how steam just rises up in random locations all over Beppu.

We went for dinner at a "revolving sushi" restaurant, where the plates pass by you on a little conveyor belt. It's nice because you can see what you're getting. It also tends to make you eat a lot. I had 10 plates.

Of course, Japanophile that I am, I opted for only the most traditional dishes, like "hamburger sushi." It was delicious!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Japan, Day 2 (or 3?)

Last night I had a "date" with a really cool woman that I met on the airplane from Tokyo to Toronto. We kind of hit it off, so we agreed that we'd meet again once I got back to Tokyo. We went out to dinner to a very interesting Chinese place, and had a nice time. It kind of made me sad to think that I don't live in Tokyo, because living in Oita means that it will be some time before we can meet again. This, in turn, got me to thinking about all the different places I've lived in Japan thus far, and all the nice people I've met, and how it's too bad that I can't see everybody. (Which also applies to everybody in Canada...) It would be nice to be wealthy enough to be able to travel around and visit everybody, wouldn't it?

After dinner, I was feeling a bit jet-lagged, so I went to bed at a good time and woke up this morning feeling pretty good. I think I'm over my jet-leg now, mostly. Today, I kind of hemmed and hawed about what to do. I had an appointment to meet another friend out in Abiko (where I used to live) around lunch, which left me a few hours this morning. I was considering going shopping for English books to tide me over in Oita (they're a bit harder to come by down there) but I wasted enough time to make that difficult, so I stuck around the hotel and then went out to Abiko in time for lunch. I had a nice visit there, and came back to the hotel.

The train ride to Abiko takes almost an hour, so I had a couple of hours to think about how weird it is to live in Japan. Well, perhaps "weird" isn't the word. I guess the thing I noticed is that I keep having the same thoughts when I ride the train. People in Japan scrupulously avoid making eye-contact with other people on the train. Staring at another person is rude, so they are careful not to look at all if they can help it. Often, they just close their eyes and try to fall asleep. Of course, as a foreigner, I just look around as much as I like, so occasionally I'll catch someone's eye, and they'll look away, but they'll always look back at me after a while to see if I'm still looking at them. ("Why is that foreigner staring at me?") That continues back and forth for a while... but I always feel kind of bad for Japanese people. I appreciate the overall level of politeness in Japanese society; the feeling of security, and so on; but by the same token, sometimes I feel like Japanese people are trapped by the elaborate set of rules they've created. Everyday, they travel on packed trains, and they try to make it as stress-free as possible by being completely non-confrontational (not even making eye-contact with each other) but when you think about it, what could be more absurd than a traincar filled with 200 people, all trying their hardest to pretend that the other 199 don't exist? If you've ever been in an elevator filled with strangers, you know the feeling. (By the way, elevators in Japan are even worse, because they rarely ever have Muzak, so it's so quiet you can hear a pin drop... or hear the other people breathing...) I think riding the train alone every day would drive me absolutely insane. In fact, I'm kind of surprised that more people in Japan don't snap and go on murderous killing sprees... to their credit, I suppose ...

Anyway, as you can see, I didn't do much today. Tomorrow is training, and then after that, we fly down to Oita. I won't miss Tokyo, but I will definitely miss my Tokyo friends. You can't have it all, I guess.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Japan, Again

I arrived safely in Tokyo yesterday. The direct flight from Toronto takes about 13 hours, and I left at 1:30 pm, meaning I got into Japan at about 2:30 am, Toronto time, which was 3:30pm Tokyo time. I can rarely sleep on the airplane. Usually, it goes something like this: get on the plane, have a drink and snack, start watching the first in-flight movie and get drowsy and fall asleep for about an hour, then get woken up by the first meal. Then, try and fail to go back to sleep for the rest of the flight. Usually, I can't sleep because I am too uncomfortable, my back and butt start killing me, and I end up fidgeting for the entire time.

I was lucky to have gotten a really good seat this time, right up behind the bulkhead. It has extra legroom, and through some fluke of good luck, there were 3 empty seats beside me. I was tempted to lift the armrests and make a bed to lie down, but I couldn't bring myself to be that flagrantly rude. The downside of this seat was that it was near the washroom and the little room the flight attendants take their breaks in. So it was pretty much steady traffic the whole time, and people kept bumping into me. Oh well; as I said, I couldn't sleep anyway. There also always seems to be some moron at a window seat who insists on opening their window when everyone else is trying to sleep. When the interior of the plane is completely dark, the lights are turned off, 90% of people are asleep and the other 10% are watching the movie, what kind of ass opens the window? It boggles the mind. And yet, there's at least one on every plane; some sociopath who is unable or unwilling to even think about the people around them. Anyway, changing topics:

I just want to say at this point that I had a really nice visit to Canada. I saw *almost* everyone that I wanted to see, with a few notable exceptions. (You know who you are; I apologize for not being more organized and meeting up with you.) And without exception, I wished I could spend more time with everybody. There were a few people that I only met for literally a couple hours, which was really shamefully brief.

Many people commented that they read my Blog, which was news to me. But heartening news, just the same. It was nice to know that I'm not beaming these messages off into some sort of void or something. (If a Blogger blogs in the forest...) Also, if you read one of my blog posts, you don't have to comment on the blog itself, feel free to send me an email and let me know how you're doing. I do hope that this becomes more of a 2-way communication kind of thing.

I also felt, this last time around, that I experienced a lot less "reverse culture shock" when in Canada. In fact (maybe this is good news for those among you who hope I will move back to Canada soon) I felt kind of reluctant to go back to Japan this time. Part of this was a feeling that I just wasn't ready to go back to work, but part of it was a feeling that I am really missing my family and friends, even more than usual. Don't worry; once I get back to work, I will forget about you all again soon, haha.

Anyway, since I'm not working yet and have a few days free to do whatever I like, it feels good to be back in Tokyo. I am staying in a nice hotel right smack in the heart of downtown, so I think I will do a bit of sightseeing. I am at a bit of a loss as to where to go, since I have already been to most of the major attractions. I could hit the streets and see where I end up, but this is sometimes a bad idea. I'll let you know how it goes.

Bye everybody! See you in ... a while ...