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Amparo Bertram

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09:00 pm: The first two weeks in Moriyama
I made it to Japan safely. It took me a while to get an Internet connection, due to some unforeseen setbacks, but I should be all set now. That saga and more in this Special Edition journal entry...


Arrival
The good news: I managed to fit all of my cheese into my carryon. The bad news: Airport security now makes everyone remove not only laptops but also videocameras from their cases, which I hadn't encountered before. My videocamera was packed beneath several pounds of cheese. <sigh> It wasn't so bad taking it out, but putting it back in after the contents had shifted to fill its space was inconvenient.

I was slightly worried when my plane was 40 minutes late taking off, but they made up the time in the air. I sat next to a Japanese woman who is an English teacher in Wakayama. She was quite eager to chat with me. (I should add that I never initiate conversations with people next to me. She had to carry most of the burden of the conversation.)

Here's a first: They actually served a meal I enjoyed! The main dish was pasta with cream sauce, but what really amazed me was that I had a decent dessert--a brownie. Granted, it was an "all natural, 100% vegetarian [i.e. no egg], kosher, fat-free" brownie made with fruit sweeteners and soy flour, so it tasted a bit odd, but hey, it's a huge leap forward for the airline food industry as far as I'm concerned.

I got through customs at about 7pm and was driven two hours to my apartment in a chartered bus. I was given the grand tour of my apartment, which had a number of surprises.


  • The closets and cupboards are *packed* with stuff. Really random stuff. As if no one has bothered to clean them out for the past five years at least. As soon as the garbage situation is explained to me--every city in Japan has its own special rules about how to separate garbage, and here you have to write your name on your garbage bags so they know whether you did it right--I'm going to be taking a major load to the trash collection area.


  • I have a push-button water heater for my bathtub! <dances with joy> The information I had received had a diagram of the water heater, which was a lot like the one I had in Niigata. For those who haven't heard the story, it's a gas heater that takes about three dials to manipulate--and in the winter, the dials freeze solid, so I had to bring hot water from the kitchen to thaw them out just to light the fire--and even then the temperature control has about three settings: cold, hot, and scalding. I had resigned myself to living with that again. When I saw that I had a new water heater that turns on at the touch of a button and has digital temperature control, I really thanked my lucky stars.

  • My bike is bright orange. It's a decent bike, for which I am grateful, and I suppose I won't have to worry about confusing it with someone else's, but...I mean, *bright* orange.

  • My couch is quite hard. It feels like a thin layer of cushion laid over cement blocks. I slept on it that night because it's in the room with the air conditioner, but I don't know if I can put up with it for very long. When I start receiving a paycheck, a new couch is near the top of the list of things I need to buy.

  • My refrigerator is generous by Japanese standards. It actually comes up to my *shoulders*. I was able to fit all my cheese in it with room to spare, thank goodness. The toaster oven, on the other hand, is a total mess. The bottom is completely crusted over with burnt drippings; it looks like no one has ever bothered to clean it. I'm debating whether it's worth trying to scrub it or if I should toss it and buy a new one. Just turning it on, the burnt smell is awful.

  • Supposedly the apartment had an Internet connection...or so I was told. I thought all I would have to do was plug my computer in and get started. Apparently not. No one I asked had a clue where I should hook up my laptop; there was no sign of the Yahoo broadband box that my predecessor was said to have used, and no note explaining whether the service was still connected or if I had to call to start a new account. That was rather frustrating, because I had no way to tell whether I just hadn't looked in the right place, such as when I was searching for the towels and, after checking everywhere I could think of, finally located them in a dresser in the guest bedroom.

  • Speaking of no notes... There were several bunches of keys left by the door, but nothing explaining what they are all for. Luckily, one of the English teachers helping me managed to pick out one that unlocked my bike, but most of the rest remain a mystery.


Anyway, the grand tour took about an hour. Eventually I went to sleep, rather woozy from jetlag. One final welcome: I was awakened in the middle of the night by an earthquake. It really brought home that I wasn't in Michigan anymore.



Tuesday
To start off...I thought it was Monday all day. It wasn't until I was flipping through my TV channels at 7pm trying to find Inuyasha that I realized I was a day behind. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I was told to rest in the morning and show up at school sometime after lunch to receive some information. I'll tell you, I was *so* glad to finally take my morning shower. I was told there weren't any convenience stores nearby, so, since I woke up at a quarter to five in the morning, I figured I had to find some way to occupy my time before the grocery stores opened. I got to work clearing off the bookshelves and tossing stuff from the kitchen cupboards. I only made minimal progress, though, because I'm still not sure whether I'm using the right garbage bags. One nasty discovery: a large bottle of quasi-fruit drink that had been started and then left in the back of a cupboard for who knows how long. Ewww. The yeasty fermented smell was terrible. Overall, though, I must say that the place is clean...just cluttered.

I took my bike out and headed in the direction pointed out as the location of the train station. I first came across a grocery store that is apparently open twenty-four hours. Even more amazing, they carry skim milk--in *liter* cartons! Wow. I took home a bikeload of preliminary groceries, then set out again to locate my *real* objective, a bookstore. I finally found two, and I spent nearly eighty dollars at each one, seeking out the comics and novels that I had missed since I left in May. I didn't manage to find everything on my list, but I do have a quite satisfying pile on my floor now.


I went to the school and received a briefing about the classes I'll be running for summer events this month. I also noticed that this is the first school I've ever seen where there are no lockers in the entrance for changing shoes. You have to walk into the building and across the hall to get to the locker room. Huh? So are we supposed to walk in wearing our street shoes (usually a *huge* no-no) and change in the locker room? That seems really bizarre. <shrug> Well, whatever works for them.

That evening, as I mentioned earlier, I flipped through the channels on my TV. I was heartily disappointed to find that I apparently don't get TV Osaka, as I had hoped I would. (That's the station that airs most of the good anime, such as Naruto.) Instead, I get some Kyoto station that, as far as I can tell, has no good programming whatsoever. Drat. The apartment doesn't appear to be set up to receive satellite, either, the way it was in Niigata.

I keep reminding myself that I have a clothes dryer. That makes up for a lot. And the push-button water heater. Can't forget about that.



Wednesday

I woke up early again and spent most of the morning cleaning the kitchen. I threw out about two garbage bags full of stuff. Example: One of the cupboards contained, among a mountain of other things, five colanders. FIVE! I don't know about you, but I have never made so much pasta that I needed FIVE colanders to drain it all. Now, I'm as much of a packrat as the next person, and I can certainly understand keeping things that look like they may come in handy someday, but when it comes to rusty pans and cracked margarine tub lids, a line must be drawn.

I was supposed to have been taken to get my gaijin card and open a bank account during the afternoon, but it was postponed until the next morning, so I suddenly had a lot of free time. Since I had a lot more space in the kitchen cupboards, I decided to go shopping...but this entailed locating a post office ATM to withdraw some more money. I *thought* that would be faster than exchanging the traveler's checks I brought with me. After all, I had a map with the location of the nearest post office on it. Little did I know, that branch didn't have an ATM. They did, however, have another map with the ATM marked on it...but it wasn't exactly to scale, so I wound up driving past it. I had to stop and ask directions twice; a lady working at a nearby grocery store walked me outside and down the block to show me where it was.

During that search, I stumbled across some young women trying to recruit customers for Yahoo's broadband service. I asked to sign up, but when they checked my phone number, they found that my predecessor had not canceled her service. This left me with three options: 1) Locate the box necessary for connecting to the Internet, which I still hadn't found after two days of searching and which my predecessor may have either taken with her [why?] or thrown away [why??]; 2) have my predecessor cancel her contract so that Yahoo can start a new one with me; or 3) change my phone number. Well, #3 is right out. I don't have contact information for my predecessor, either, so the closest I could get was calling my parents and having them ask her to either tell me where I can find the box (if it's still hidden in the apartment somewhere) or cancel her service. <crosses fingers> I have a friend who had to wait *months* for her predecessor to do the latter, so I am sincerely hoping I have better luck than she did.

Then I went shopping. I bought more than I expected to, but I managed to balance it all on my bicycle well enough to get it home. I will admit once again that the orange bike makes it easy to spot in a crowded parking area.

I came back and settled in for an evening of reading in my one air conditioned room. I tried going without the air conditioner, but it's so darned HOT here. I set my air conditioner for 80 degrees, and every time I enter the living room from any other part of the house, it still feels like an Arctic blast in comparison. It said on the news that temperatures have been up around 95, and that's not even taking into account the humidity. Yeesh. (No, I don't want to know what my electricity bill is going to look like...)



Thursday

The Yahoo box mystery was finally solved. It turned out that my predecessor had turned the box in to the school office (which is why none of the English teachers I asked knew anything about it) and asked them to cancel the service. Her account was canceled over the phone last week, but the Yahoo representative said it would take about a week to process and he would call back to verify that it was done. When I talked to the recruiters, the cancellation must not have been processed completely, because the account was still listed as active. That means I should be able to set up a new account any day now...

One interesting side effect of all this is that, while I was searching the closets to see if the Yahoo box had been tucked away somewhere in the apartment, I found a hot air popcorn popper. I had been planning to buy one, since I don't really like the taste of popcorn popped in oil quite as much. (Well...it's not the taste so much as the fact that I can't bring myself to pour butter on it when it already has oil all over it. I know some people prefer to put olive oil on their popcorn instead of butter, but I like the flavor of butter more.) I don't know if the machine actually works, since I haven't cleaned all the dust off it to try using it, but it would be nice if it does.

I was taken to City Hall to sign up for my alien registration (a.k.a. gaijin) card by Minobe-san, who works for the Board of Education and has been doing most of the arrangements for me. Next I was taken to have the garbage situation explained. The garbage collection situation is so incredibly complicated, they have printed up a separate calendar for each section of the city that has each day color coded to explain what kind of garbage can be put out when and in what bag.

***Quick rundown of Moriyama's garbage collection system***
There are three types of garbage bags: burnable, non-burnable, and recyclable plastic. The bags for burnable and plastic garbage have written on them exactly what types of garbage fit into their categories, and they have a place where you must write your name so the garbage collectors can return the bag to you if you have put the wrong things inside. These special bags can only be purchased from City Hall--and when you buy them, you have to record your name and address in a record book. I was told that, particularly for the burnable bags, the first set (that's supposed to last me through the end of December) is relatively cheap, but if I put out so much garbage that I use them all up and need to buy more, the price for the extra bags is increased by about ten times. This is one strategy to make people throw away less (or at least recycle more). In contrast, non-burnable items (such as old pots and pans) have to go in clear bags that can be purchased from any supermarket or convenience store. However, since those bags have no place to write your name on them, you have to affix a special tag to each one and write your name on the tags. These tags are also acquired at City Hall. Then there are special categories for recyclable items, such as cans, bottles, magazines, and so on. These items must NOT be put in bags; instead, each has its own separate collection day and receptacle. In addition to the calendar, I was also given an entire booklet that lists every household item imaginable and tells you into exactly which category it fits so that you will know how to dispose of it.
***End garbage explanation***

I was taken around to greet many different people, including others who work in Minobe-san's office. There I met Jon, a JET who is also assigned to Moriyama. He majored in Japanese in college and also attended JCMU.

Next I went to open an account at Shiga Bank. As I mentioned, I already have a post office account, but a bank account is more convenient for the school because they can direct deposit my paycheck. I also already have a personal seal, which was made for me when I worked in Niigata, but the school here made me a new seal as well. (I told them that I already had one, but it was made using kanji and apparently they preferred that I use a seal spelling my name out in katakana. Personally, I think the kanji is a lot more elegant and doesn't seem as squashed, but oh well...)

I ran into a problem at the bank. In order to open a new account, they needed proof of my address. My passport doesn't list my address, so while that served as proof of identity, it wasn't good enough. We had the paperwork saying that I applied for a gaijin card, and the gaijin card will have my address on it when it is made, but the paperwork itself doesn't list my address. We stood there stymied for quite a while, with Minobe-san and the teller having what in Japan is considered a serious argument. ("I'm very sorry, but we need some document to serve as proof as address." Translation: There's no way you're getting an account. "But this is all we have, I'm afraid." Translation: I'm not leaving until the account is made.) Finally I pulled out of my purse a letter that had been sent to me by the gas company with the form for having my bill paid directly from my bank account. I had brought the letter with me, knowing that I would be setting up an account, on the off-chance that I would need to fill out the form. Since the post office delivered it to my name at the apartment address, I figured that perhaps it would serve as some kind of proof. The teller had to go consult with some other people, but finally they accepted all of the documents together and made my account. <whew>



Friday

I spent some time in the morning cleaning some more. I got the main bedroom mostly organized...although the floor is covered with full garbage bags and stacks of recyclables that I can't take out until next week.

I headed in the opposite direction from the station to check out the shops in that area. I found another bookstore, where I picked up another load of books. I've pretty much caught up on the things on my book shopping list from the past three months. Now all I have left is to read them...which may not take as long as I expected. Without an Internet connection, I don't have much to do but sit around and read.

I'm also slowly stocking up on the things I want in my kitchen, but it's hard when I can only buy as much as I can carry back on my bike. Just one bag of potatoes, onions, milk, and bread nearly fills up my bike's basket, not to mention larger items like new frying pans to replace the ones I tossed because their non-stick surfaces had worn out.

I stayed indoors most of the afternoon because a typhoon is starting to hit and the weather has turned rainy. I did make one trip to the supermarket that had the Yahoo recruiters before, but they weren't there, so I decided to call the new account phone number in the morning.

Speaking of the Yahoo recruiters, I thought I'd mention a little incident that really brings home how difficult it is to get along in a foreign language. When I first talked with the recruiters, they needed to know my phone number so they could check whether they could provide service. I didn't remember it, of course, and I had left all information about it at home. They tried calling the phone company to see if they could get my phone number by providing my address. At one point they turned the phone over to me so I could tell the person on the other end my address. Now, I feel that I'm pretty good at Japanese, but I didn't have a clue what the man was saying. I asked him to repeat it, and he said "104," but that still didn't make any sense. I had to return the phone because I didn't know what else to do. Later, when I was looking something up in the phone book, I noticed that "104" is the number to dial for directory assistance--the man must have been telling me to call that number for the information I wanted. I was lacking that bit of cultural knowledge, so that even though I could hear and understand that he was telling me a number, the number itself had no meaning for me. It was really humbling.



Saturday

I tried calling Yahoo in the morning, and things were going okay (the prior account's cancellation had finally been processed) until I was asked whose name my phone number is under. I had no clue. When I worked in Niigata, the phone line was owned by the school; I had to get their permission for any changes involving the phone service. I reasoned that the same situation probably applied here, but when asked for a specific name, I was stumped. Would it be the principal? Someone in the school office? Someone on the school board? The Yahoo representative told me to call the phone company's information line to find out.

That seemed simple enough, so I did. I said I was trying to start an Internet service and provided the phone number and asked whose name it was under. The man asked me my name, so I told him. He then asked me to guess. That's right, *guess* whose name the phone was under. He refused to tell me. I'm sure it must be some kind of policy, but what good does that do me? He seemed incredibly suspicious that I would be using the same phone number as the person who had the apartment before me; I explained that I'm taking part in an exchange teacher program and every teacher stays in the same apartment and uses the same phone. He said that sounded "strange" to him. I tried asking if it was my predecessor's name, but no dice. I told him that it was probably someone involved with the school, but that obviously wasn't close enough for him even to let me know whether I was on the right track. I asked how I was supposed to find out if he wouldn't tell me. His suggestion: Ask the person who lived in the apartment last. I told him she already returned to America, so he followed up with, "Try looking up the first person to live in the apartment." Huh? If it's not under my name, nor my predecessor's name, it almost certainly isn't going to be under the name of a teacher who returned to Michigan years ago. So, I was forced to give up on that tactic.

Next I decided to go to the school to see if anyone there knew. However, it being not only summer break, but a weekend, there wasn't anyone there. Both the office and the faculty room were locked. I ran into one teacher-looking person, and I tried asking him, but he didn't have a clue. He said, "Can't it wait until Monday?" Well, sure, it could wait. But here I've already gone a *week* without Internet access, and even after I call to start a new account, it will no doubt take some time for the new box to arrive for me to connect. Waiting another two days without even calling... <sigh> Withdrawal is a painful thing.

Since that wasn't working, I went home again. I tried calling the cell phone number one of the English teachers had given me, on the off chance that he might know. Unfortunately, he didn't answer. I left a message with my problem on his voice mail, but it cut me off after less than thirty seconds, so I'm sure the message will sound quite odd whenever he gets it. Even if he had answered, though, there's no guarantee he would have been able to help.

Thus, I had to resign myself to another weekend without email. I couldn't go out shopping, because the typhoon has brought with it fierce rain, and I definitely didn't want to get caught in that. The up side is that the temperature wasn't as hot, so I didn't feel confined to the living room. I tackled the enormous task of cleaning out the guest room closet.


Okay...I can understand people storing holiday items, because those can be used year after year, even if they do get rather tattered. But there were some things in there that should have been thrown out long ago. I found, buried in the mess:

  • A stinky, ripped pair of jeans crammed into a cooler. (Why?!)
  • Over a pound of melted salt water taffy (and, boy, was *that* ever fun to clean up, particularly after it dripped on the tatami).
  • Broken pieces of wood that appeared to have once been a chair, or at least part of one.
  • A box containing nothing but wadded up newspaper that must have been used to transport something fragile.
  • Five pounds of potting soil.
  • Two cooking pots. (Why were they in the guest closet? Why not in the kitchen, where they might actually be useful? Oh, right, because the kitchen cupboard was full of colanders.)


At some point, this becomes ridiculous.

In any case, I managed to tidy the closet up enough to satisfy me for the time being. I will probably throw out more later--there's still a pile of random totebags and purses and even an old, slightly mildewy suitcase in there--but I'm running out of room to put all the trash. I now have about five full garbage bags and a number of mostly full ones plus recyclables covering the floor of the main bedroom.

And still no Internet. <sob>



Sunday

The weather looked nice in the morning, so I waited until nine and rode my bike to the next town's train station to check out their supermarket. Since I'm situated roughly 1/3 of the way between Moriyama station and Rittou Station, it was only about a ten minute ride. Unfortunately, it turned out that the supermarket didn't open until ten, so I had to wait around quite a while. I bought a few groceries, but my main purchase was a toaster oven that can go up to 480 degrees (F). The microwave that came with the apartment, though nice and large (if a bit complicated to use), can only get up to 390. Since I needed a new toaster oven anyway, I figured I'd splurge on one that can help handle baking.

Carrying the toaster oven home on a bike was an adventure. Across the street from the supermarket was a hyaku-en store with a huge selection, so I went there and picked up a bungee cord. Fastening the toaster oven on the back of my bike took some creative tying, but I finally managed (after a few tries) to bind it tightly enough that it wouldn't slip. By the time I got home, it was already noon, and the temperature had once again returned to sauna levels. I holed up in the living room and proceeded to polish off my stack of remaining comics.



Monday


I reported to work in the morning, as requested by the vice-principal. I turned in an official schedule of my work plans for the month. Since it's summer vacation, I have no duties until the English workshop on the 17th. I will report to school the day before that, to speak with the other English teachers about planned activities, but until then I'm supposed to keep myself occupied.

First of all, the faculty room is air conditioned. I was shocked. Second, it's organized differently from the way I'm accustomed, with the vice-principal sitting at a desk all by himself rather than at the head of a row of desks. I managed to get the information about whose name my phone is officially listed under...it isn't actually a person at all, as it turns out, but a company in Osaka. Okay. Whatever.

The official schedule form taken care of, I spent the morning sitting at my desk and reading. That's what I would be doing at home anyway, so why not take advantage of the free air conditioning while sitting in a chair more comfortable than my couch? After that, I went home and tried to sign up with Yahoo again. This time I got further than before, but I ran into yet another roadblock: After my predecessor canceled her service, not only did Yahoo have to process the cancellation, the phone company had to do some kind of work on the phone line. That work is supposed to be done sometime today, which means I couldn't actually sign up for a new account until Tuesday. Right, then, tomorrow it is.

I should mention, trying to talk on the phone is just a humbling experience all around. It's especially bad when the person on the other end is spewing out technical jargon at high speed. At one point the Yahoo lady rattled off a list of something, and I had to sit there stalling for time until my brain caught up with the random sounds and picked out that she was asking me how fast I wanted my service to be. I'm sure I sounded like a complete babbling idiot.

I then went out shopping. I spent over an hour looking at cell phones, reasoning that having one would come in handy as I coordinate visits with friends this year (now that I will have money to travel). After discussing the various merits of different models with the salesman and settling on the one I wanted...it turned out I couldn't buy it because I didn't have proper ID. Neither my Michigan driver's license nor US passport was good enough. The only ID the store will accept from a foreigner is a gaijin card, which, as I mentioned earlier when setting up my bank account, I do not yet have.

Is this a Japan thing, or is it this hard for foreigners to get things done in America too?

On an up note, I tried making "tofu with sweet ginger marinade," one of the new recipes I brought with me. It was quite tasty, though I think it would have been better if I ate it with rice.



Tuesday

I called up Yahoo first thing in the morning. I think I finally managed to sign up for Internet service, though as always, my telephone skills were laughable. It should take about a week for everything to be connected, but at least the ball is rolling. I should mention that I tried looking up "Internet café" in the phone book, thinking I could at least check my email, but it only listed one in the entire prefecture.

In the afternoon, I went to meet the superintendent and receive my official certificate of employment. I did all right when everyone was just sitting around chatting, but when asked to give a brief speech about my hopes for the upcoming year, I babbled like an idiot. I have a bad habit, when speaking Japanese, of starting a sentence and then not knowing how to end it. I wind up just adding more and more phrases onto the end, until what I'm trying to say becomes mostly incomprehensible. Oh, well.

I cleaned off the popcorn popper that I found in the closet, and it seems to work decently. I tested it on some popcorn that was left here, unopened. Only about half of it popped, but I imagine that's probably due to the state of the kernels rather than the machine. Goodness knows how long it might have been sitting on the shelf. I'll have to try it with fresh popcorn to know for certain, of course.

Wednesday

I set out in the morning to visit Moriyama's main shopping center, Lala Port, slightly over 10 minutes away (riding at a snappy pace). I hadn't expected to make any large purchases, so I didn't take my bungee cord along. Boy, was that a mistake. I found that their Shuttle Chef selection was on sale, so I went all the way back to my apartment for the cord so I could buy one and tote it home. (A Shuttle Chef is a Japanese invention, similar to a crockpot but using a large Thermos to keep food at the right temperature.) I had intended to mail-order one when I arrived, but what with my Internet connection taking so long, I'm glad I found it at the store. I suppose the exercise didn't hurt either.

I also picked up some cell phone information booklets from the major companies, figuring that since I have to wait another two weeks for my ID to buy a phone, I may as well read all the details and make the best choice. Now, I have never previously bought a cell phone in Japan, so I'm only used to America's rates. The plan I had for my cell phone in Michigan was something like $40 a month for about 2000 minutes (not that I ever used that much), with free voice mail and call waiting. It wasn't unusual to see plans with offers such as "unlimited weekend minutes." Comparing the various Japanese plans, I was shocked at how expensive they all are. The same $40 here only buys about 55 minutes per month--that's if you never use the email or web functions--with voice mail and other features several dollars extra. There's even one plan where, if you use it exclusively during daytime hours, 60 minutes of talk time over a month would cost nearly $100. Whoa, what a difference.

Thursday

Another day, another sauna.

A typhoon went by again last night, bringing tons of rain, but it didn't cool the temperature down any, nor did it decrease the humidity at all. I swear, if I didn't have an air conditioner, I would now be nothing more than a puddle on the tatami. My glasses fog up when I leave my living room, that's how hot and steamy it is in the rest of the apartment.

I used my new Shuttle Chef to make beans in the morning. It worked pretty well, except I neglected to take into account that none of the water would boil off while it was cooking, so it turned out much soupier than it should be. Next time I'll remember not to use so much water, and it should be okay. I was really amazed at how well it kept the pan insulated. When it says it can keep food hot for eight hours, it isn't kidding around.

In the afternoon, I went down to the train station area and picked up a bunch of travel brochures and the city bus schedule. I reasoned it would do me good to know what the best places to visit might be. Travel guides geared toward Japanese tourists emphasize different points of interest from travel books for foreigners (note, especially, I have not yet found a single travel book for foreigners that lists the Sapporo Chocolate Factory--what are they thinking??), so I might discover something new. I want to get some really good pictures of flowers, architecture, and other sights in the area to help give people more of a feel for what it's like.

I returned home to find a spider on my kitchen table. It wasn't particularly huge, but it was FAST and it could JUMP. I had to chase it around quite a bit before I could get it. Ick.

Friday

I did more shopping, picking up some supplies that I'm hoping will be useful for my classes. I also bought some things to fix little problems with the apartment, like burnt out light bulbs and a plugged up drain. While I was out, I stopped by the public service center in Lala Port (I *think* it's run by City Hall, though I'm not entirely certain) and picked up a brochure about various parks and museums in Moriyama. I'm hoping to visit at least a few of the spots of interest while I have the chance, before the flowers all go out of season.


I have noticed that Moriyama seems particularly proud of its fireflies. Leafing through the brochure, I notice that there's a special building devoted to firefly information. The shopping district in front of the train station even has lampposts designed to look like fireflies.

Saturday

I had intended to check out at least one of Moriyama's parks today, but the ominous gray clouds convinced me to make different plans.

I think weather reporters have a different idea of percentages than what is taught in math class. In the morning, the report was a high of 30% chance of rain. Now, to me, that means there's a 70% chance there will be no rain. That's more than double. Yet by afternoon, a thunderstorm had rolled in, and there was a flood warning over the whole region. Huh? Sometimes I think they're just picking numbers out of a hat.

Sunday


Today I rode around looking at flowers. Unfortunately, most of the parks are near the lakeshore, which is a really long distance away. I could take a bus, but spending money on transportation always makes me calculate how many books I could be buying instead. ^_^; Anyway, I braved the sweltering heat and rode my bike pretty far out to visit Oumi Myouren Lotus Park, where the flowers are in season.

On the way back, I found the local Book Off (used book store), which was quite a bonus. It's a couple blocks down from Lala Port, which makes it a bit far for convenience, but it's still closer than the 45 minute bike ride it took to get to the one in Minami Hikone while I was at JCMU.

While I was book shopping, I picked up a cookbook full of recipes that can be made with just a rice cooker. Put the ingredients in, push a button, and wait for it to do all the work. That's my kind of cooking.

I returned to my apartment, nearly wilted from the heat...to find that my air conditioner wouldn't turn on! I ran out to buy new batteries for the remote, but that still didn't do any good. I tried fiddling with the cord, thinking maybe it wasn't making a good connection with the outlet, but still nothing. I even checked the breaker to see if something had blown, but that wasn't it. I tried plugging it into a new outlet; a green light started blinking, yet it refused to turn on. I was about ready to run to the school to beg for help from anyone who might be there on a Sunday, when I lifted the cover over the filter and saw an arrow pointing to a button that would turn the machine on if held in for several seconds. It took two tries, but I finally got it to work. Now I'm just afraid to turn it off again...I wonder what happened to make it act up. Maybe a blackout or something due to the thunderstorm last night?

Monday

Noon rolled around and I still hadn't heard anything from Yahoo, so I called up their customer support line and asked how my account was doing. I was assured that I was scheduled to receive my modem today. I was worried when it didn't arrive with the regular mail, but sure enough! Just as I was watching the opening credits for Meitantei Conan at 7:30pm, a deliveryman came to my door and brought the modem.

I was shortly thereafter also visited by the NHK money collector. ^_^; I haven't even gotten a paycheck yet, and already I'm having to dish out money for Japanese public television. Once that was taken care of, however, I returned to setting up my Internet connection.

So now, here I am!


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Comments

[User Picture]
From:bentleywg
Date:August 9th, 2004 06:33 am (UTC)
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This is fascinating. I've always been interested in that kind of trivia and detail about everyday life (e.g., garbage collection, shoe lockers, trying to keep online access). Please keep writing. btw, what's a post office account?
From:spacealien_vamp
Date:August 9th, 2004 01:44 pm (UTC)
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The postal service in Japan (which, BTW, it seems the Prime Minister is working on privatizing) doubles as a bank. You can open an account with the post office just as you would at a bank, which makes it extremely convenient because--unlike banks, which are often regional--there are branches of the post office everywhere you go in the whole country, so it's very easy to find an ATM. In a country that rarely uses credit cards, finding an ATM is extremely important.

(Another bit of trivia, for a country that relies so heavily on ATMs, they have not yet figured out that the whole point of an ATM is to be able to use it when the bank is closed. Most ATMs only work certain hours--my bank's ATM only works between 8am-9pm, and it charges a service fee between 8-8:45am, 6-9pm, plus on weekends and holidays. Most ATMs are closed on holidays, particularly over New Year and Golden Week, so if you haven't withdrawn enough cash beforehand, you're completely out of luck for the rest of the week.)

The extra convenience of a post office account is that, as a foreigner, the cheapest and easiest way to send money back and forth with one's home country is by using an international postal money order.
From:searaw
Date:August 9th, 2004 08:16 pm (UTC)
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I'm so very envious of you right now. *g* I'm going to sound like a hopeless loon, but I love the idea of projects. Sounds like you can have fun with your apartment. Buying new couches, playing with your popcorn maker, drying clothes. ...Shopping for a milder coat of paint for your bright orange bike.... ^__~

I had a push-button water heater in one of the hotels I stayed in in Europe. 'Course, that was for, what, two days? You *live* with one. How so very cool.

I've heard the hype about the vending machines over there. Is it true they have *everything*? (The say-so of one of my friends who, though she's never been to Japan, has sources I sadly do not.)

Too fun!
From:spacealien_vamp
Date:August 9th, 2004 09:56 pm (UTC)
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You know, there was a can of paint left in the guest closet...

They certainly have a lot of things I would never imagine putting in a vending machine. Drinks and cigarettes are most common, but there are also ones with ice cream, soup, lunch items such as roasted rice balls and noodles and French fries, ten-pound sacks of rice, batteries, spare underwear...I've heard that there are some with used girls' underwear and porn, though I've never seen any personally. (I have apparently walked past a porn vending machine without seeing it.) I read an article about a man who started a vending machine selling beetles, which was wildly popular with city kids who couldn't go out and catch their own, but I think he was forced to shut it down.
From:searaw
Date:August 10th, 2004 10:07 am (UTC)

*blink*

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Beetles? *Shakes head* Won't ask. Won't ask. Won't ask. (City girl.)
[User Picture]
From:mereflair
Date:August 11th, 2004 02:26 am (UTC)

Welcome back!

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Too bad I am leaving so quick tho!
We'll have to keep in touch by the e-mail!!!!!!!!!!
AND I'LL SEE YOU ASATTE!!!!!!!!
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