Archive | September, 2012


28 Sep

ImageAs promised, a post about Chuo Junior High School’s undoukai or “sports day.”  In anime and maga or other Japanese publications translated into English, undoukai is often translated, for whatever reason, as “sports festival.”  I’m not sure if that’s to make it match the only other school event of equivalent scale and participation, bunkasai, which actually does mean “culture festival” when directly translated to English, or if it’s an attempt to sell more volumes through making Japanese school customs seem strange and foreign, but whatever the case, I would hardly call the undoukai a festival of any sort.  While the name translates directly to “exercising meet” (運動 or undou means “exercise” and 会 or kai means “meeting”), it’s essentially the Japanese equivalent of the American concept of “field day”– a day where kids from each homeroom compete against one another in races, relays, and other miscellaneous fun sporting events.

The day started, as many days start, with confusion, because no one had any idea what the other ALT and I were supposed to do, and as usual, didn’t really care enough to try to tell us at all.  We wandered around feeling lost for a while before finally, someone made space for us in the teachers’ tent.  Hurrah!  From there, we could see the opening ceremony where the students marched around with their class flags, which each class drew and painted themselves.  The principal said a few words, and then the kids did a warm up and some stretches before the events were to begin.

First up with the races, starting with 150 meter and, second, 60 meter.  At this point, the music (which played continuously throughout the day) became rather strange; first, internet meme songs like Carameldansen were the musical accompaniment for the races (known in Japan as the “umauma” song, and known mostly for the tons of videos online of anime characters doing a silly dance with their hands on their heads).  However, after a few other Japanese internet meme songs, what began to play surprised me a lot: music from the Prince of Tennis musicals.  Granted, sports-related music was appropriate considering the circumstances, but as the Prince of Tennis musicals are a rather small part of Japanese pop culture, I was surprised nonetheless.

Up next was the “race while biting bread.”  This is exactly what it sounds like: the kids run with bread in their mouths.  Close to the starting line, some teachers and other students hold a pole from which a few pieces of bread are dangling.  The kids must grab the bread with their mouths then run a short distance the finish line.  As far as I can tell, this is something that doesn’t often appear in American field days, and it was very fun to watch (though some poor kids struggled to bite the bread long after other kids had crossed the finish line…).  One kid managed to not detach his bread, but ran the whole race with the entire pole!  It was quite exciting.

Next were the longer races… and also when they began to play music by Arashi! I haven’t mentioned it here, but I coached a student for the English speech contest back in August, and since then, we’ve been friendly, and since she was in the teacher’s tent to announce the results (kids had been taking turns using the loudspeaker to announce), she danced with me to the Arashi music!  It was a lot of fun.

After the 800 and 1000 meter races were the hurdles and a fun race called the “borrowed item race!”  Each student had to quickly grab a piece of paper, upon which an item was written.  The student then had to run and grab that item, which might be anything from a tennis racket to chairs from the PTA tent to some of the teachers, though thankfully not me.  It was amusing to watch the kids run around searching for the things, and occasionally having to drag their teachers across the field.

The next student event was the 4 x 100 relay.  But first, there was a PTA event… that, for some reason, the other ALT and I were expected to participate in? It was a game called tamaire, which literally translates to something like “getting the ball in.”  It was a really simple (and, I’m told by my JTE “very Japanese”) game where one attempts to throw a small ball into a basket that’s at the top of a tall pole.  Predictably, as I am the opposite of tall, I got zero balls in the basket.  Such is life.

After the relay, then, was lunch, and after that, the club relays!  It was interesting to see all the clubs in their club uniforms, but unfortunately, while some teams, like track and field, had a huge advantage, others, like tennis, were forced to do irrelevant tasks while running (in the case of tennis, bouncing a ball on their rackets while running).  Needless to say, track and field won.

After the club relays were group jumprope and tug of war, both similar to their American field day equivalents.  There was also the relay with everyone in each class, which was both the longest and most dramatic event.  But then, when all the points were being tallied came the last event: the folk dance.

I’m not really sure why there’s a folk dance in undoukai.  However, in every anime I’ve seen and manga I’ve read with undoukai, there’s always a folk dance, where the girls and boys line up and make a circle and… do a Western folk dance of some sort (I guess? I’m not a folk dance expert).  Approximately 30 seconds before the dancing started, the principal asked the other ALT and I to join the girls’ line, since there was a severe lack, despite the fact that we didn’t know the dance steps and didn’t really want to have to dance with fourteen year old boys.  But we somehow survived, hurrah.  Good think I’ve spent my life learning how to pick up choreography quickly

After the folk dance, the winners were announced, trophies were given, and then the undoukai came to a finish!  It was really fun to watch, and though I wish I had had a team to cheer for, I really enjoyed it (…the parts that I wasn’t suddenly asked to participate in). Unfortunately, because it’s against school policy to allow anyone to post photos of the students on the internet without explicit written permission, I can’t post many photos of the undoukai.  But… have a photo os the setup and of me and my fello ALT looking goofy?


Invisible woman

27 Sep

ImageSo apparently, the policy at my school is “don’t tell the brand new ALT who doesn’t fluently speak Japanese and who hasn’t been around long enough to know the routine when anything important is going to happen.”  I suppose I’m expected to ask when I’m confused about anything, but there are a couple of flaws with this plan: ① Everyone else at the school is (or at least seems) incredibly busy all of the time, so I don’t want to bother them to ask them stupid questions, and ② when I don’t even know enough to suspect there’s something I should be asking about.  A few examples of this problem:

❥ Today, the English teacher with whom I was supposed to be working left without me.  In the past, she’s left without the other ALT at the school, and then came back and impatiently asked why the other ALT hadn’t come (the usual policy at this school is for the ALT and teacher to go to class together).  I was afraid that for some reason she expected me to go on my own, but was hesitant to bother everyone else diligently working on their lessons to ask.  It turned out, the class had been changed to a study hall, but the other teacher I finally asked suggested I just “go look and see” so I ended up wandering around the school searching for the class, which was not in the classroom, but in the library instead.

❥ Last week, Monday was a national holiday, so all classes were cancelled.  However, no one told me this ahead of time, and I would have shown up at 8 am on Monday if someone from my elementary school hadn’t informed me at the last minute.  Awesome.

❥ At the undoukai or sports day (sort of like American field day at middle schools) yesterday, I was expected to take part in the PTA ball tossing game AND the students’ folk dance.  Since I’m not a part of the PTA, I did not expect this until someone came up to me and said “you should go over there now.”  I also was not expecting to have to pair dance with a bunch of middle school boys, and didn’t know the steps to the dance… which I was asked to join about 30 seconds before the dancing started, when the principal literally gestured to the kids on the field and said “go ahead” to me.  Needless to say, neither the middle school boys nor I were thrilled.

❥ Today, I’m supposed to teach some sort of “special” class.  I don’t really know what’s special about it, only that it’s two third years who take class separately from everyone else.  I don’t know what their English level is or what they’re studying.  However, two days ago, the teacher came up and asked me to “prepared some English activities” for the class.  When I asked how difficult, he was vague.  When I asked if they should be fun games or more like lesson worksheets, he said “either.”  When I asked for any suggestions, he literally said “anything is fine.”  I spent 2 hours of my time last night making worksheets that may very well be completely useless (too hard, too easy, too difficult to understand, etc) because I have no idea how the class is going to go.  I guess I’ll see.

There are only a few examples, but this is a constant pattern in my life.  I never know what’s going on at this school because everyone assumes that somehow, I either have telepathy or learned every since thing about everyday work life from my predecessor.  It’s not that big of a deal at the end of the day, but I could be way more prepared for things if I was informed ahead of time!

For now, I’ll leave you with another photo of a spectacular rainbow visible from my window at home.  Soon, I’ll post about the undoukai and have more photos, but for now, I’m going to go fret over what the heck I’m doing for that “special” class.

I think I’m going to have a heart attack and die from this surprise

21 Sep

Because this post is about food.  Again.

ImageNow that I’ve gotten accustomed to the fact that I can actually make food (wow!) I’ve become slightly less obsessed with photographing it and posting it online all the time.  But this past weekend extended to Monday because of a national holiday (respect for the elderly day) and to celebrate the long weekend, I decided to try to make a “fancy” meal… hanbagu.  Oh yes, so fancy, I know.  But since my meals are usually “throw vegetables, meat, sauce, and seasoning together into a pan and eat it over some starch” I thought making proper yoshoku on a plate would be nice, or something.  At any rate, I thought it looked nice!  I made hamburger patties out of ground beef (for some reason, the only ground beef S could find across three grocery stores was ground beef combined with pork, but we couldn’t taste the pork, so it worked out fine) mixed with granulated garlic and pepper, then fried mixed vegetables in the pan with the hamburger drippings so that they were deliciously fatty.  We also made “demiglace sauce” of a variety that comes in a can in Japan (partner to the generic “white cream sauce” which also comes in similar packaging… I still haven’t tried it, but I have a can sitting around, so we’ll see…!) to put over the hamburgers, and voila, hanbagu! It was actually fairly tasty, so perhaps next time there’s an “occasion” I’ll do it again!

ImageI don’t always want to cook, however, and trying new fast food in Japan is always a hobby of mine (because that’s just how cool I am).  As I mentioned previously, S and I are big McDonald’s fans (though I’m ambivalent about Japanese Burger King and have yet to try Japanese Wendy’s), and we’re frequent visitors to CoCo Ichibanya, our favourite fast food curry place in Japan.  We’ve been known to eat even more Japanese-style fast food (remember, curry is yoshoku) at places like Sukiya.  Basically, we like fast food in Japan, but one thing we hadn’t tried before is KFC!  KFC or “Kentakki” as it’s called in Japan (Japanese-ified “Kentucky”) is actually quite popular in Japan, and for some reason seems to be a popular food to be eaten on Christmas (I’m not sure why).  I constantly see very effective advertising for KFC on TV, and so, after a month of craving, we decided to pick up some chicken, biscuits, and fries from the KFC that’s conveniently about three blocks from my apartment, hurrah.

It was interesting, to say the least.  The chicken was just as fatty and delicious as it is in the US (I’m actually a fan of Popeyes, but KFC is good too), and the portion sizes were pretty normal (I’ve discovered that some Japanese hamburger chains, in particular, such as Lotteria, have portion sizes that, even as someone who often bemoans gigantic American portions, I find to be tiny).  The fries weren’t as good in my opinion as McDonald’s fries, but then again, I’m a really big fan of thin, crispy fries, and these were wider.  The biscuits were where Japanese KFC came up short, however.  I’m not sure why, but they came with a hole in the middle, and while the texture was fine, they were relatively tasteless.  I’m fairly certain the American recipe contains about 4 pounds of butter that the Japanese recipe neglects, because these biscuits were not the artery-clogging glory found at American KFC.  I was sadly disappointed.

ImageIn more snacky news, I bought a box of cookies yesterday!  For those who know me, you’re probably aware that I’m not a cookie person.  I prefer salty snacks to sweet, and in terms of sweets, I prefer fruit candies over chocolates and salty chocolate things (like chocolate covered pretzels or peanut-butter cups) to straight up sweets.  I don’t really like densely sweet things like brownies or chocolate cookies, and I’ve been berated by most of my friends and family for disliking chocolate chip cookies.  But there’s one thing that will win me over to any sort of baked goods, and that’s matcha.

I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned it here before or not, but matcha is Japanese green tea.  Unlike most green tea, which is steeped from leaves, matcha is made from a ground tea powder that is dissolved in water.  For that reason, it’s one of the most highly caffeinated drinks available in Japan; you’re actually drinking the leaf, rather than drinking some stuff that came out of it.  Matcha is an essential flavor to much of Japanese cuisine; while in America, chocolate and vanilla, and secondarily maybe strawberry, lemon, and/or so sort of nut (almong, hazelnut, peanut) are the major sweets flavors, most everything comes in matcha flavor in Japan (along with anko or red bean paste, the basis for most wafu or traditional-Japanese-style sweets).  Matcha also comes with a long and somewhat sordid history; it’s tied to chanoyu or the Japanese art of tea ceremony (which is definitely another story for another time) and is also generally thought of as a distinctly Japanese type of tea– while ground tea powder did originate in China, after it was brought to Japan, it, for the most part, died out in China whereas in Japan, it caught on and has been changed and refined since.

ImageBut long story short, I love matcha and anything matcha flavored.  Matcha softserve is actually probably my favorite ice cream ever.  I’m still trying to get S to make me matcha shortbread cookies, because I really think that would be delicious.  And sometimes, my willpower bends and I end up coming home from the grocery store with matcha cookies.  These particular cookies were butter suger cookies (with delicious amounts of butter added, unlike the biscuits) with matcha cream filling, and they were absolutely delicious.  Tangentially, they also provide a great example of Japanese packaging, which almost always includes bags within bags within bags, wrappings within bags within boxes, etc.  It’s not uncommon for Japanese sweets to be double or tripple wrapped, something which causes S and I to chorus “Oh, Japan!” (a popular chorus among foreigners from which I generally try to abstain for, I hope, obvious reasons).  But whatever, I will unwrap a thousand wrappings to eat delicious matcha sugar cookies.  

Rain, rain, go away

19 Sep

ImageRecently, the weather has gone from deathly hot here to deathly humid.  There had been typhoons in the south, but up here in Gunma, it’s simply very rainy.  In fact, some of my friends have had school canceled for heavy rain or typhoon conditions, and I heard that in Tokyo is was pretty abysmal, but we’ve really only seen nasty weather, drizzling or medium-heavy rain with the occasional thunderstorm.  Grey clouds have been appearing on and off on the horizon, threatening if not actually pouring rain, and the humidity index has gone from something like 80% to 100% humidity, joy of all joys.  

ImageSince I only own a bike (rather than a car or any covered form of transportation), this rain is all very unpleasant for me.  I happened to find rain gear left in my apartment, a black plastic cover that makes it look sort of like I made a death-eater costume out of a trash bag, and have used it once.  It keeps me dry enough, but not so dry that I’d feel comfortably going out into the rain and then going straight to work… too bad I don’t have any other method of getting to work, so it’s either endure the rain or lose my job.  Alas, first world problems.  

ImageHowever, this past weekend, we had some really interesting weather.  I got a text message from S saying that it started raining incredibly hard at her place (about twenty minutes from mine by bike), but when I looked out the window, I saw blue skies.  However, when I glanced up again a moment later, I noticed clouds blowing nearer, and that visibility of the mountains and landscape around my apartment was very quickly decreasing.  I realized after a second that the whiteness that was blocking my view was not mist or fog, but actually sheets of rain coming down hard and blown about every which way by wind.  About a second later, my balcony was soaked, and I was enveloped in the intense rain.  

ImageBut then, about five minutes later… the rain blew past and suddenly, I could see blue skies and green mountains again.  Besides the soaked sidewalks, it was as if nothing had ever happened.  It was very odd, but I suppose Gunma weather will just take some getting used to!  For now, I’m trying not to feel as if I’m swimming around work in this humidity.  

School Lunch

18 Sep

School lunch, I’m told, varies across America. Some private schools in my area when I was a child offered lunches that had never been frozen and included fresh fruit and vegetables.  Schools in some parts of California, I’m told, offer a variety of choices each day.  In my home school district in childhood, all the school lunches were pre-packaged frozen items that usually thawed to an unintelligible mush of meat or vegetable, processed, yellowish, and entirely unappetizing.  Needless to say, my mommy packed my lunches in grade school.

I’ve been told that school lunches vary across Japan as well, but school lunches in Kiryu are not even comparable to the school lunches of my childhood.  Recognizable, cooked at school, and mostly appetizing, I can honestly say that I look forward to school lunch every day.

ImageMany school lunches are Japanese style lunches, as might be expected in… you know, Japan.  Every lunch comes with a major starch, which, most days, is rice.  There’s also always a soup of some sort with both vegetable and meat, a veggie side dish, and then the main dish.  There is also often a small sweet item or fruit of some sort, like a packaged kiwi or pineapple piece or else a container of fruit jelly.  All lunches come with a carton of whole milk, also, unless someone requests otherwise (in the case of allergy or simply disliking milk, though I don’t know if students are allowed to opt out this way).

We started off the year with curry this year, one of my favourites.  Despite it being labeled as vegetable curry, I believe it had chicken in it, which was delicious, as well as regional vegetables like pumpkin, potato, carrot, and more.  The salad was also, I think, made of vegetables from the area, as well as strips of konnyaku (an unfortunate looking but relatively tasteless grey gelatin made from the konjac plant).  After hearing some unfortunate stories about what comes in school lunches at Tokyo orientation (knock on wood, I haven’t had any strange fish incarnations yet) I was thrilled to see this beautiful bowl of curry waiting for me on the first day!

ImageA lot of school lunches seem to be an odd mix of cultures, particularly Korean, Chinese, and Japanese.  For example, another lunch we had seemed completely Japanese… except the random side dish of kimchi.  I’m not the hugest fan of kimchi or anything pickled, but I managed to choke down the pickled cucumber bites, and the miso soup, fried fish, and rice were, of course, all delicious! Most of the time, though, school lunch is almost too big for me, so while I felt bad throwing out the kimchi bits (I almost never throw out any of my lunch) I definitely didn’t go hungry.  I did, however, enjoy my half of a kiwi~

ImageWhile most school lunches are at least Asian themed, every so often, a Western lunch will crop up, like this penne with meat sauce lunch.  I’m not sure why, instead of a vegetable, we got an omelette with this meal, but… there you have it, a delicious Western lunch of pasta and omelette.  Honestly, this is probably less odd than some of the things that are taken as “Chinese” food in America, and it was perfectly tasty!  Additionally, I enjoy the days with bread, since there’s usually extra bread to be brought home at the end of the day!  The soup with whole sausages in it was a bit bizarre, but still tasted pretty good, too~

ImageWhile the curry on the first day was a perfectly Japanese meal to me, if you’ll recall from one of my previous posts, curry is actually
yoshoku or a Western meal to Japanese people, because curry was brought to Japan in the Meiji period from Britain. Another meal in this same vein is tonkatsu, or battered and fried pork cutlet.  Tonkatsu with sauce is apparently a Kiryu specialty, and the school lunch version was pretty good, too! I was less of a fan of the pear jelly for desert, however.

ImageAnd then, today’s school lunch was particularly… special.  The main dish was a hotdog wrapped in egg (?) and the soup was some odd tomato-based soup with cabbage in it.  All in all, it was very odd, but the bread, the first wheat bread that I’ve encountered in Japan, was delicious, and I have my eye on the huge basket of bread sitting off to the side in the teachers’ room… hopefully I can steal some after this!

Left my heart in Tokyo

17 Sep

Like, um, almost every weekend, last weekend, S and I headed to Tokyo.  But this weekend, our goal wasn’t a concert… it was a play!  While recently, we’ve been more interested in the idol units under Johnny’s and Associates, S and I used to be equally devoted to the Tokyo small theatre scene, particularly a small acting group called *pnish* (don’t ask about the name).  We still love a lot of the actors (who are quite talented) associated with small theatre and we definitely still love the guys of *pnish*, so when we heard that my favourite member would be appearing in a play along with one of *pnish*’s longtime collaborators, we jumped at the opportunity to go.  Also, the opportunity to hit up all of the shopping and fun Tokyo has to offer (and, of course, McDonald’s… our love for Japanese McDonald’s is undying!)

The play was on Saturday afternoon, so we headed down Saturday morning, grabbed our McDonald’s for lunch, and then met our good friend C, who lives in Tokyo, to head to the theatre.  The show was in Aoyama Round Theatre, a smaller theatre attached to the large and well known Aoyama Theatre.  Aoyama Round Theatre was named aptly; the stage is a round platform in the center of the room and the audience sits around it on all sides; in essence, there’s no front or back and no wings.  The actors leave and enter through the aisles perform for an audience that surrounds them 360º.  It’s an interesting venue… for a very interesting play.

The play we were to see is called Corpus Christi and was a passion play… about Jesus being a homosexual man in modern-day Texas.  It was written in 1997 and first performed in New York City, but apparently, somewhere along the way, it was translated into Japanese.  Interestingly, the program had a section helping Japanese audiences, who are likely largely unaware of the culture surrounding Christianity, understand the play, including an explanation of passion plays, biographies of each of the apostles, and  a history of Christianity in Japan.  The play itself was really quite interesting, with each actor playing an apostle a piece as well as whatever other parts were necessary, including Mary and Joseph in the scene of Jesus’s birth, Jesus’s high school teachers, Pontius Pilate, and the voice of God himself.  Jesus and Judas were the only characters whose actors played only one role, appropriately, though everyone was dressed in generic white clothing.  I had difficulty understanding more than 10% or 15% of the dialogue considering that is was rather artistically presented and in difficult Japanese, but the portrayal of Jesus as a confused and conflicted teenager growing up into a driven and confident adult with a mission was quite well done.  The end, as one might expect, was serious and depressing, since the play ended with Jesus getting crucified (er, not sure how that works in modern day Texas, but whatever?), but the actors all did very well with the material.  There were a lot of rather uncomfortable sexual bits (uncomfortable since we were in the first row and had actors practically making out in our laps) but they definitely added to the play.  All in all, it was quite an interesting play to see in Japan due to its controversial gay themes and religious nature, but I quite enjoyed it!

ImageAfter the play, C, S, and I headed to Ikebukuro, where we met our friends to whose live we went last weekend, P and R.  The five of us grabbed dinner and shopped a bit in a gigantic mall in Ikebukuro, where I splurged a bit and picked up some cute jewelry I had been wanting.  Japan is full of cute and pretty girly accessories, and since I have a huge weak spot for cute, pretty, and girly things, it takes all my will power not to go wild.  However, I did get a few items I really like, including a new watch and a pinky ring that fits me!  Rings in America are almost always too big for me, so being in Japan definitely has its perks for me on that front, as well.
Once we got tired of shopping, S and I bid farewell to our Tokyo friends before headed back to our hotel one stop from Ikebukuro, in Otsuka.  It’s a cheap place at which we’ve stayed before, City Hotel Otsuka, and as a result, seems to have parts of it that haven’t been updated since the 80s, but despite being old, it’s generally clean and an easy and cheap place to stay that’s right in the heart of Tokyo.  Our room this time was a bit less new than our room last time, but on the bright side, we scored two beds this time and didn’t have to squish in together like last time.  There was also air conditioning and TV… so what else could one need out of a hotel?  I’m still trying to figure out if the tea they leave in the room is complimentary or if it’s an additional room charge, though…

ImageThe next day, S and I headed out on our own to Harajuku.  I don’t know why I end up in Harajuku so much recently; as I mentioned in a previous post about Tokyo, I’m really not a huge fan of Harajuku on a whole.  But S and I wanted to hit the Johnny’s shop again, so as soon as we arrived, we headed to a small park area on the corner where on begins the Johnny’s shop process by taking a ticket from the worker standing there.  That’s right– the Johnny’s shop is so popular that you can’t just waltz right in, you have to take a ticket with a time written on it.  At the time on your ticket, you can come back to that area and queue up to be let in.

ImageWe arrived in Harajuku around 11 am; our ticket was for 2 pm.  Seeing as it was a weekend, that wasn’t so unexpected, and so we headed off into Harajuku to spend our waiting time.  First, we headed to a shop called Skin Food, which is my absolute favourite cosmetics store in Tokyo.  In the past, most of what I’ve bought from there has been nail polish, because their nail polish is actually the best polish I’ve ever used before, hands down, but this time, I also wanted to pick up some eyeshadow and nail polish remover.  I haven’t tried the eyeshadow yet, so I’ll see how it works, but the nail polish remover was great; it took the polish right off without drying out my skin.  Skin Food, you’re the best! ♥

After Skin Food, we hit a few places selling cute accessories and grabbed lunch before it was finally our time for the Johnny’s shop!  We queued up in the park with all the other girls with 2 pm tickets and were finally led across the street and down the alley to the Johnny’s shop, where we were let loose to weak havoc… upon our own wallets.

The Johnny’s shop, essentially, sells one thing: photos.  Photos of idols either in concert or doing photoshoots for CD covers or recording music videos.  There are thousands of photos in the Johnny’s shop, all in glass cases on the wall, grouped by unit and numbered.  Customers take sheets of paper provided by the shop and write the name of the group (eg Hey! Say! JUMP or Sexy Zone) and then mark how many of each number photo they want (eg 1 each of photos 10, 45, 79, 200, and 349).  S and I like around 5 groups if you include Johnny’s Juniors and it takes us about an hour to go through the shop and choose what we want, just to give you some idea of the process.  Though that time isn’t all spent deliberating how many photos of our favourite idols we want; the room is quite crowded with girls all trying to see into the same cases, so some waiting, pushing, and shoving is inevitable.

ImageAfter one finally finishes with the photos, one gets into line for the register.  It usually takes a good 15 minutes to get through the line, depending on the people in front of you.  Each photo costs ¥150 and I’ve seen girls spend upwards of ¥10,000 (more than 100 US dollars) on photos, meaning that it takes the register a while to find all of the photos and bag them.  While one waits in line, there’s a small case of various goods, often which seem to be leftovers from concerts or other events, to pick from, in case customers haven’t already spent enough money on photos.  I happened to be one of those people this time, and ended up with a tote bag as well as my photo purchases.  For the record, the photos in the picture only make up a fraction of my total purchase… yes, this is my life.

After the Johnny’s shop, we rested and regrouped in a coffee shop before heading back to Kiryu.  We were exhausted, but luckily, today is a Japanese national holiday, so no work! I got to sleep in before heading back tomorrow for another full week of students.

What I do for… fun!

14 Sep

As much as it seems like all I do for fun is go to Tokyo and see concerts of boybands, this is not 100% the case.  For one thing, there are in fact a few fun things to do in Gunma!  For another thing, I haven’t changed from the hermit I was in college and also consider spending the weekend never leaving my apartment to be fun.

On the Gunma front, while Kiryu is fairly small and quiet for a city, it’s fairly nicely located in terms of getting places for fun.  It falls smack in the middle of the JR Ryomo train line, which connects Oyama in Tochigi, a neighboring prefecture, with Takasaki, the largest city in Gunma.  I live about a ten minute bike ride from the Kiryu station, and therefore I have fairly easy access to some bigger cities in Tochigi as well as Maebashi, the capital of Gunma, Isesaki, another large city in Gunma, and Takasaki.  There are malls in all three of these places and a movie theatre in Maebashi, but for shopping, I really like Takasaki for one particular reason: there’s a decent sized mall actually attached to the train station.

ImageI’ve never really experienced this in America, but in Japan, department stores or malls being attached to train stations is completely normal.  On a rainy, cold, or hot day, one never needs to go outside from the train to go shopping!  There are a lot of fairly cheap clothes stores with cute things, a hair accessory store, a few shoe stores, a book store, and a really delicious Indian restaurant in the mall in Takaksaki station, so I’ve been there to go shopping a couple of times.  One time, S and I went along with some other JETs from Kiryu, and it was a lot of fun!

One particular thing we did with the Kiryu JETs is another popular Japanese pastime: purikura.  Purikura is wasei eigo (as I explained a few posts back) for “print club” and is essentially the phenomenon of photo booths, only these photo booths blow their American counterparts out of the water.  Not only do the machines most often have automatic photo editing to make the subject of the photo’s eyes larger, eyelashes longer, and skin even (and even usually add makeup to the eyes and face, too!) they also have a huge array of decoration that can be added to the photos, from bows and hats to glitter and sparkles to words and stamps with the date.  Despite how odd it seems, I find it to be a lot of fun!

ImageOn the flip side, other fun things I’ve been doing include watching variety shows and dramas and other Japanese viewing media in the comfort of my own air-conditioned apartment.  I’m really enjoying being in a place where all the media I want is readily accessible, and where buying Japanese DVDs and CDs is as easy as placing an order on and waiting maybe a day or two (rather than using import companies and waiting up to a month in America).  Sadly enough, I’m also a huge sucker for the marketing ploys that Johnny’s consistently uses– almost every CD or DVD release includes a limited edition that often comes with a poster or stickers or something of the sort.  It gets me every time, and I’ve already lost willpower and bought a concert DVD… but come on, it came with a whole disc of bonus footage, a booklet, and six photo postcards!  How could I say no?  Luckily, JETs are paid well enough that I can save up while splurging every once in a while!