Archive | December, 2012

Call the doctor

15 Dec

I’ve had a bit of a cold for the past week or so.  Not a huge deal… or so I thought.  Sure, I’d been having trouble sleeping because coughing and other cold-grossness was keeping me up, and maybe by Friday I was feeling pretty gross.  But I thought, there’s no harm in asking the school nurse if she had any cold medicine that might help me get some sleep.  NyQuil is illegal here, and I’m not familiar enough with Japanese brands to be able to know what just type of cold medicine to get.  So I figured the school nurse at one of my elementaries, with whom I’m pretty close, would know what to give me. 

Instead, I found out that 1) nurses’s offices in Japan don’t give medicine out to kids, and 2) if you mention being sick in a Japanese work setting, all your coworkers might force you to go to the hospital. 

So instead of getting some drugs quick and easy, I was instead shepherded into the nurse’s car and taken the the closes hospital– or rather, clinic.  You see, in Japanese, it turns out, hospitals aren’t just hospitals.  Hospital is a catch-all word for any size medical facility, and most Japanese “hospitals” are a cross between what we would consider a doctor’s office and a clinic in the United States.  As far as I’m told, small hospitals don’t take appointments, which makes them have the feel of a walk-in clinic.  I was assured by all my coworkers that they weren’t usually crowded and that it wouldn’t take more than an hour… yet when we got there, the place was packed with old people and we were told that there would be a bit of a wait.  It was a Friday, which, my coworker explained, meant that tomorrow, the hospital would be closed.  

WHAT? you might be thinking, but it’s a true fact that many Japanese hospitals are closed on weekends.  Larger hospitals (ones that you would call a hospital in America) are open on weekends, but not smaller clinic-like hospitals.  So I was forced to wait 3 hours to be seen, and ended up missing two of the classes I was supposed to teach.  This, to say the least, quite vexing to me, since I had really wanted to teach fun Christmas lessons to the kids today, and my coworkers assured me when they forced me to the hospital that I wouldn’t miss my classes.  But there was nothing to be done, and so I finally got to see the doctor… who briefly examined my nose, throat, and the sound of my breathing before pulling up a cute program on his computer that seemed to be the doctor version of Kid Pix and using a blank template of the throat and what appeared to be the “inflammation” brush to show me what my throat looked like.  He pointed out a variety of pills, at the end of which I was expecting him to say “which seems like it best applies to your symptoms?” or something of the like… but instead he prescribed all four to me.  And then said I was also getting a shot.  

This all seemed a bit like overkill for a common cold, but I didn’t really have much choice, so I got my shot, and then headed to the pharmacy to get my drugs as well.  But on the bright side, with my national health insurance, the whole thing only cost me less than ¥3,000 out of pocket.  Yup, that’s right.  Four prescription drugs, a shot, and ~15 minutes of the doctor’s time all for about 40 US dollars.  Cool.  

So I did end up missing two of my classes.  But on the bright side, I also got to sleep through the night last night.

Monjayaki

6 Dec

ImageFirst of all, if my count is correct, this is my 50th post!  Hurray!  Thank you to everyone who has been following my blog.  I know my life isn’t that exciting, but I do have fun writing about it.  So I hope that I can make the next 50 posts interesting, also!

On to the subject of this post… on Monday, my coworkers at Showa Elementary School took me out for monjayaki for my birthday!  I really love everyone at Showa Elementary… they’re all wonderful teachers and very kind people who have been nothing but helpful, friendly, and understanding to me.  I asked two of the teachers if they wanted to get dinner for my birthday… and they proceeded to invite half the school!  I was surprised, but I had a lot of fun, and they taught me how to make monjayaki!

ImageMonjayaki is a type of Japanese food that I believe originated in the Kansai region of Japan (the area around Osaka and Kyoto). I’m a little unclear as to what all the ingredients are, but there’s some sort of watery batter-type thing, cabbage, small shrimp, and then other flavorings and ingredients– for example, we had one with kimchee, one with curry, and one with fried noodles.  Like other popular Japanese pancake-esque foods such as okonomiyakimonjayaki is cooked on a flat grill at the table by the diners.  One first uses metal spatulas to cut down the solid ingredients into small pieces, then adds the liquid and cooks it all together.    It’s then eaten while still incredibly hot with the diner’s own personal tiny metal spatula thing. This lends itself quite easily to the diner burning her mouth while eating, but it’s also quite delicious!  Apparently, the name of monjayaki comes from the fact that making it is sort of like writing a character (moji is Japanese for written character, eg a kanji, a katakana, an alphabet letter, a greek letter, etc), and somehow the name morphed to monja over time? And then yaki means to fry/cook in any way that isn’t boiling, basically.  

We also had okonomiyaki, but while konomu means “to like,” no one I’ve asked so far has been quite certain as to where the name came from.  I suppose the person who invented it really liked okonomiyaki.  

Happy birthday to me!

5 Dec

Despite the fact that it’s much less exciting now as an adult than it was when I was a kid, last weekend was my birthday!  To celebrate, S and I naturally headed to Tokyo for a fun weekend.  We had essentially nothing lined up for Saturday and planned to spend the day shopping and eating (who wouldn’t want to spend a day like this?) and then on Sunday, we had tickets to see a play, Johnny’s World.  Despite it’s… more-than-odd name, Johnny’s World was supposed to be a play to celebrate the fact that Johnny Kitagawa, president of Johnny’s and Associates, has recently achieved three Guinness world records, and both Sexy Zone and Hey! Say! JUMP were to appear in the show, so… of course, S and I got tickets.  Additionally, since a member of Hey! Say! JUMP shares my birthday, we had hoped that there would be a little something special– often, at concerts, on members’ birthdays, the other members bring them cake or some other surprise.  And so, it was with high hopes that we headed to Tokyo on Saturday morning.

ImageWe first headed to the Johnny’s Shop (naturally) and spend an obscene amount of money on photos before crashing at the McDonald’s on Omotesando street in Harajuku.  We go to this McDonald’s essentially every time we’re in Tokyo, but this time was the first time we managed to get a seat near the windows, and we were surprised and pleased to find that there was a very nice view. Omotesando is a much more ritsy area of Harajuku than, say, Takeshita street, and it looked quite pretty with autumn leaves on the trees.  It was nice to enjoy the view… despite the fact that it was, classily, from a McDonald’s.

ImageFrom there, we headed to Ikebukuro, where I picked up some Christmas gifts for my little sister, who will be coming to visit soon, and some supplies for work.  We meant to look for a winter coat for S, but by the time we made it to the mall, we were so exhausted that we ended up sitting in Starbucks for an hour instead. After that, we remembered that we needed a birthday gift for C, so we browsed the mall for a while, but came up empty handed.  Eventually, we gave up, and instead hit a Mexican restaurant in the Sunshine 60 mall– yes, there are Mexican restaurants in Japan.  They’re fairly rare and, in my experience, overpriced, but I was craving it, and even if it was overpriced, it was delicious.  At this particular restaurant, it seems as if they make the tortillas and such on site, because they’re always really good, and this time was no exception!

After dinner, we headed back to our hotel!  We usually stay in Otsuka, just outside of Ikebukuro where there are a lot of cheaper hotels.  I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about hostels and super cheap hotels with only one bathroom on the whole hall or cockroaches everywhere, and I am definitely not the sort of person who can deal with that, so S and I go for slightly more expensive (~¥4500 a night) places that have their own bathrooms and no bugs.  The rooms usually have complimentary tea, a TV, a blow dryer, and a shower/tub, and the rest is sort of here or there (sometimes you get weird art on the walls, sometimes there’s a radio, sometimes there are more or less mirrors, sometimes there’s a desk lamp, etc) They’re not exactly beautiful to look at and some seem like they haven’t seen renovation in quite a few years, but they’re always clean and perfectly livable, so for one night, we like them.

ImageThe next day, we went to see Johnny’s World!  It was being held at the Imperial Theatre… and sadly, it’s probably the only play I’ll ever see there, since I don’t go see big mainstream plays or musicals all that often.  The place was decked out with decorations heralding Johnnys’ 3 Guinness world records, including a lovely almost-life-sized image of two representatives from Guinness giving the records to a particularly popular Johnny’s idol, surrounded by the rest of the cast of the show.  This photo is particularly hilarious due to how uncomfortable basically everyone in the photo looks, and to make things better, quite a few girls were posing with their favourite member for photos.  Oh Johnny’s.  It doesn’t get any classier than this.

ImageWe found our seats fairly easily; we were all the way in the back of the balcony, but we had a good view of the stage anyway.  When we got there, a screen showing the Earth was the only thing on the stage (perhaps “Johnny’s World”?), but throughout the show, there was basically nothing that didn’t happen.  They basically seemed to want to use really involved sets and props, turn tables, waterfalls, wires, etc just because they could… and so they did.  The story of the thing (or… somewhat lack thereof) was ridiculous and hard to follow; a guy who kept messing up a show was taken away to some magical land to be taught the importance of going on (or something?) by his magic-using producer, who eventually died in a tragic waterfall accident, and whose actor came back playing himself.  The Titanic, the Hindenburg, Moses parting the Red Sea, outer space, the 47 ronin, and angels were all involved, and unnecessary English (spoken by the one idol in the show who’s fluent, thank god) abounded.  That, and Johnny’s invented “Tricember” aka the month after December.  Yeah, I really don’t know.

But! It was fun to watch anyway, and we saw the member get his birthday celebrated (sadly without cake), and we went home happy.  So all in all, even if the show was incredibly bizarre, at least we had fun!

visiting with friends and murdering yuzu

5 Dec

A few weekends ago, my friend J visited for the weekend.  If you’ve been following this blog since its creation, you might remember J as S and my friend from New York and Tokyo orientation.  She’s a friend of mine from college who currently lives and works in Yamanashi prefecture, which is about four hours from Kiryu by train.  It’s a little far for a weekend visit, but since the 23rd of November was a national holiday (Labor Thanksgiving Day or kinro kansha no hi in Japanese), we jumped at the three day weekend and used it as a chance to get together.  Since the last time we had seen her was when we attended the Hey! Say! JUMP concert together back in August, we were eager to get a chance to meet up again, especially since in college, we had seen one another essentially everyday and now we barely have a chance to meet.

While she does live somewhat far away from us, J obviously lives in a similar part of Japan, so there was no need to do anything particularly touristy.  Instead, we took advantage of the time together to do fun things that we hadn’t been able to do for a while, starting with karaoke!  Karaoke, a word made of two Japanese words smashed together, kara or “empty” and oke which is short for “orchestra,” is quite different in Japan from what one might be used to in the United States; rather than a chance at publicly humiliating oneself in a bar in front of complete strangers, in Japan, karaoke is done in private rooms with their own air conditioning, light, and, obviously, music controls.  One picks songs on a touchscreen remote control, and can change the volume of the music, the volume of the mic, and the amount of echo.  I really love doing karaoke in Japan, and since it had been a while since I had been able to do it with J– not since we studied abroad in Japan two years ago– I was happy to have the chance!

ImageWe also took J to my personal favourite izakaya, which is conveniently located close to the karaoke place.  J had never been to an izakaya before, just as S and I hadn’t before we came to Kiryu– in Tokyo, izakaya are often highly populated by salarymen, and drunk salarymen late at night are, to put it mildly, my worst nightmare.  I’ve been told by basically every young foreign woman ever that izakaya are not the place for young foreign women without male, preferably Japanese companions, so I never went while I was studying abroad.  But in Kiryu, izakaya are basically the place to go on a weekend night, and unlike in Tokyo, I’ve seen families with small kids and other groups of women there, as well.  I have really come to enjoy izakaya, so I hoped J would too.  The izakaya experience is slightly different to that at a bar in America in my experience; while it is someplace people by and large go to drink, the food is also a draw (obviously the aforementioned families with small kids aren’t indulging in too much alcohol), and one can order anything from sashimi to udon to karaage and french fries and other fried snacks.  ImageWhile on the unhealthy side, the food at izakaya is delicious, and it seemed as if J thought so, too!  The icing on the cake for the experience, though, came at the very end.  In Kiryu, shop owners often recognize their regulars, since it’s such a small town, and especially since we’re foreigners, it’s easy to remember us.  The owner of the izakaya definitely knows my friends and I, and is always friendly to us when we pay our bill, but that day, he also gave us yellow roses!  It was very sweet, and while I’m not sure why we got them, I was happy for the seemingly random act of kindness.

ImageOne last endeavor I attempted while J was here was to make a citrus drink for the first time.  J is generally into cooking and that sort of thing, so I figured it was a good project for her, but I ended up doing most of it myself!  A coworker had given me a huge bag of yuzu, a very sour Japanese citrus fruit.  They had informed me that one wasn’t supposed to eat yuzu as is, and that I could cook with it (or put it in the bath; yuzuburo, in which one bathes with whole yuzu fruits floating in the water, making the bath smell nice, is quite popular in Japan).  I wasn’t really sure what to make, so I settled on “yuzu-ade,” since that seemed like the easiest option.  Cutting and squeezing all the yuzu was an adventure, and at the end I felt like a yuzu murderer… but, for my first time making juice, it went fairly smoothly!  The yuzu didn’t make that much juice, but when mixed with water and sugar, there was a decent amount of a drink that tasted surprising like lemonade!  However, because there was so little, we decided to stretch it, and bought gin and tonic to make yuzu cocktails! They were delicious, and I highly recommend them… to anyone who can get their hands on yuzu.

We had fun, but for the time being, J has returned to Yamanashi.  Come back and visit again, J!