Saturday, April 17, 2010

Yes they fit nicely, but how do they taste?

From a local shoe shop - This is the same Pepsi that makes soft drinks...and unbeknown to what I suspect is the overwhelming majority of readers (All four of you...thank you google analytics) - they also make shoes. Price? 1,500 yen (about $16) and small piece of your dignity.

No word yet on whether they use real sugar or corn syrup.

My guess is the secret ingredient is sweatshop labor.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Season's Eatings

Bad pun...sorry

Anyhow, food in Japan is very closely tied to the seasons. Certain foods, fruits, and vegetables are closely tied to certain months or seasons. Late April/Early May is takenoko season (竹の子) - lit. child of bamboo, which is bamboo root. (the yellow part - not the green which is wakame)

It has a slightly crunchy texture - you may have had it if you ever ate proper ramen - a small piece of bamboo is usually part of the garnish. Otherwise it is similar in texture to a slightly boiled carrot.

Regardless (or irregardless if you are a moron) it is absolutely divine. Those in SF can surely find it somewhere on Clement or Irving St. and it has a very slightly sweet taste.

As for the dark green wakame - it is a seaweed, but rather different from the nori you find wrapped around sushi, or the konbu used to flavor soups and stews - it is as slimy as it looks and though I like it, most of my affinity comes from the fact that anything that dark green and resembling pond scum must truly be healthy (it is).

Eat up!

(Update - It has a sweet taste because it is boiled with a bit of sugar - duh!)

Kobe as seen from the mountains

A view of Kobe from the mountains behind. This is not taken from the absolute peak, rather from about half-way up the side. As you can clearly see, Kobe is a port city, though it lost much of its business to Osaka following the Great Awaji-Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 which left 5,000 dead and devastated much of the city. However, 15 years after the fact, the city has recovered (though the port has never fully recovered the lost business.)

Pertinent to my previous post about sticking things wherever there is space, note the large pale-green balls on the left edge - clearly a set of natural gas tanks crammed among apartments.

NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) is a concept that has little following here.

On a side note, Japan has many famous things in sets of threes. One set is the three great views of Japan. One of those views is the view of Kobe from the peak of Mount Rokko - a picture will follow as soon as the father-in-law inevitably drags my ass on a hike to the top sometime this year, but you are getting the essence of it here.

Tautological Redundancy

Are there other types of gases I am unaware of?

(logo copyright of Japan Air Gases Company - all rights surely reserved by them)

Yay Japanese Marketing!

Ok, so maybe the real reason I moved back was for packaging like this...

I couldn't come up with such a wonderful turn of phrase in a million years.


Just a quick thanks to those who are reading and who have sent me mail/comments to that effect. Nice to know this isn't just vanishing to the gaping maw of the internet.


Dan desu

Get a job (Sha na na na, na na na na na)

One of the primary reasons for pulling this trans-global back flip was for the purpose of securing a steady income - and since America's economy is down the toilet and lodged securely in the S-bend, it seemed that Japan might offer more prospects for someone whose primary work experience is as an "Eigo-sensei" (English teacher).

Now, although Japan's economy has taken a hit as well, the English teaching industry hasn't felt much of this pinch. However, the number of unemployable slack-jaws like myself who are washing up on Japan's shores with abc flash cards and a "Let's Go!" textbook has seemingly skyrocketed. This means the competition is fierce. There was a time when you needed only to have a passing familiarity with English and English cram schools would be kidnapping you off the street, thrusting thousands of yen into your hands and dropping you in a classroom, deaf to your protests that you may have blond hair but you were clearly German and on the way to an important meeting with the boys over at the BMW dealership.

Things have changed.

One big change is that fewer schools are turning to the government-run JET program for their teachers since, in short, they over-charge the schools and deliver a product of unreliable quality. (yes, I was on JET - and it was a two way street - we had no idea what kind of school we were getting as well - it was really just like an arranged marriage)
The second change is that the law now requires English education to begin in elementary schools, leaving the elementary school teachers, who never had English as a training requirement, completely boned.
The rub of it is that now the schools can demand a lot more of the prospective teachers. Two big requirements that were never there four years ago are 1)Experience in a public school (not a private "eikaiwa" or English conversation school which run hour long private or group lessons, often for adults) 2) Japanese speaking ability - not fluent, but enough to communicate with the staff.

So I have landed a job at a not-so-nearby board of education who will for now remain nameless. The application opened my eyes to the hell of job applications in Japan. This BOE wanted a Japanese resume, and Japanese work experience list. In Japan, the resume is not your chance to show off your clever skills at turning "mail room boy" into "Vital to the internal and external communications structure for over 500 people." Rather it is a very structured form with a specific order that must be hand written.

Let that sink in.

Hand Japanese

Needless to say that mistakes are not tolerated and yet have a soul-crushing tendency to somehow roll off your fingertips with remarkable reliability on or about the last line of the resume. It took me seven tries.

In addition, the entire interview was in Japanese along with a lesson plan you had twenty minutes to cook up before presenting it to a stern-looking consortium of elderly and unamused Japanese men.

Below is the entire collection of documents for just this one job.

Thankfully I landed this one and can put off posting about ritual suicide until a later date!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Not much comment really needed

Only to say that this sign is very large, and hanging on a major thoroughfare and elevated highway (of the looming type mentioned in a previous post)

In some way, the best part is that no Japanese translation is present making this a special present to all English speakers and likely a source of profound confusion to the roughly 1,000,000 people who must pass on a day-to-day basis.

This "only in English" is surprisingly common in signage here. True, most Japanese people can read enough to know what signs saying "bar", "coffee", "tobacco" and other such vices mean - but this one is likely just for us English speakers...

Also note, there is nothing being sold here - no address, telephone number, call-to-action etc.
(this looks like it was printed long before URL had a meaning) - so it seems to exist solely for the purpose of entertaining the few random passers-by who can decipher the meaning, making me treasure it all the more.

In America we call this a lawsuit waiting to happen

This isn't a real post about trains in Japan - but let's see how uploading a video works...

Yeah! Ok, so this is a freight train (duh) sluicing its way along the national rail tracks cutting between all the local, express, rapid express, and limited express trains running on the same set of tracks. It may not be going THAT fast, but remember f=m•a (force equals mass times accelration) and I'm guessing the "m" is the big part of this equation. Needless to say that standing behind the yellow line is a most wise idea, and poor timing with a arms-spread stretch waiting for your morning train could mean you only have to stretch one arm from now on.

The Neighborhood (kinjyo)

So, now that we have seen a map, the house (external) and the excuses for taking so long to get this all started, let's explore the neighborhood (or kinjyo −近所 )

As I mentioned earlier, the area we live in is called Rokko, which is the name of the two local train stations (more on Japanese trains in a future post)
The actual neighborhood is called Yahata-cho (八幡町)

A quick aside on addresses in Japan:

Japan is divided into 47 prefectures (usually suffixed ken −県, but Osaka and Kyoto are both fu −府, and Tokyo is to −都. In the case of Hokkaido, the northernmost island, the do −道is the suffix, thus the whole thing is called the To-do-fu-ken system - are you still with me?). These are further divided into cities (shi −市), or counties (gun −郡)
Most larger cities are further cut into wards (ku −区) and the wards are divided into smaller named areas.
The counties are simply cut into towns (chou −町) and after the town level, you have the aforementioned smaller named areas.

Once you have these smaller named areas (let's call them neighborhoods) you would think that you just name your street and address number, but the Japanese have a quirky (read infuriating) reluctance to name streets (except for truly massive avenues or numbered highways). Instead the neighborhoods are divided into sections (chou-me −丁目) which are divided into numbers (ban −番) and then a third number (gou −号) identifying each house. The trouble comes from the fact that the numbers are rather haphazard. 10 could be next to 3, and 4 could be next to 7, and the last number often seems pulled out of thin air (at one school I work, the school occupies an entire ban, but its third number is 57. (there is no 1-56...just a nice seemingly random 57)

so that wasn't quick at all - my apologies

moving on

In Yahata-cho, and in fact, all over Kobe, and for that matter, all over Japan, space is at a premium. The end result is that buildings are built basically wherever the space can be found. This means that you can have a street that goes School, steelworks, hospital, house, liquor shop, house, massive apartment, tiny house, fish market, rice paddy, porn shop (I exaggerate, but not by much)

here is a nice photo of a nearby street leading to one of the train stations:

Now, don't think I'm judging here - you gotta work with what you got, and on the whole the Japanese show a remarkable ability to get the most out of the little space they have. Remember that Japan is about the size of California, but is almost 90% insanely steep mountains and the population is about 136,000,000 (it's like putting 40% of the US population into 10% of California - and from the 10% you need to also grow most of the food as well as find a place for everyone to live) so space is at an absolute premium. It also means that a large city like Kobe (1.5 million inhabitants) is packed right up against the mountains so that you get scenes like this (looking north from the in-law's house):

This was taken in early March - the snow has long gone.

So as always - Japan is a land of contrasts. Old and new, dazzlingly ingenious and confoundingly backwards, quick to adapt some things and heel-draggingly slow to change in other areas.

The contradictions are easily my favorite part about this place.

More images below:

The local National Rail station (Rokko-michi)

A small street of bars and restaurants a stone's throw from Osaka Station (note the elevated highway looming in the background)

Akashi Castle taken from the platform of Akashi Station (this is where I went to fail my driving test - more on that in a future post)

43 days since arrival

Ahhh, so typical of Dan - he tells the whole world (or at least parts of San Francisco and Portland, Maine) that he is going to certainly and definitely set up a blog or podcast of some sort just as soon as he gets settled in Japan so he can keep in touch, then promptly lets six weeks slip by without so much as a peep to his peeps...pathetic isn't it?

Well, in my defense I have been mildly busy finding gainful employment (check) and a local bar where I can listen and occasionally understand some gaped-tooth local grandpa yammer on while half-under the table on hot sake (check) and making some attempt to learn the Japanese I supposedly know after passing the level 2 proficiency exam (kinda-check). So it isn't like I have been sitting around with my thumbs up my backside. However, six weeks is a bit much.

But enough of this self-flagellation; down to the business of this blog...