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Posting these on Facebook got such a reaction from my friends and family back home, it reminded me of how overwhelmed I was by the sheer oddness of Japan when I first got here. My first few months, I was always tired, from the constant overstimulation and barrage of weird stuff everywhere I went. Even a trip to the supermarket was like a trip to Wonderland.

Nearly four years later, it takes a LOT more to make me stop and think, "Wow, that's odd..." Fully grown man in a Pikachu costume dancing in the park? Meh. Sushi ordered via touchscreen, which arrives at your table on a plastic space shuttle? No big deal. Port-a-potty in a town stricken by a massive tsunami three weeks earlier, stocked with pink Hello Kitty toilet paper? Yeah, so?

Liam and I were at Don Quijote the other night, looking at camping gear and shopping for groceries. Don Quijote is a huge store which sells EVERYTHING. It's like Wal-Mart on acid. My local one sells everything from groceries, to adult costumes and "novelty items," to cell phones, to cars, and literally everything in between. When I first moved to Ota, our local Don Qui was quite small. Only one level, with only a small corner for selling non-perishable food, and was packed to the gills with stuff. I remember getting hopelessly lost in there one night, trying to find my way out of the labyrinth of boxes and random merchandise. I turned around and got smacked in the face with a hanging pillow shaped like boobs. Lost among the boob pillows...

About two years after I arrived, our local Don Qui expanded. HOOO BOY did they expand! They now have an entire supermarket, and cover two huge floors of the shopping center by Ota Station. Because it's just "spittin' distance" from my new pet kennel--oops, sorry, I mean apartment, I usually shop there for groceries, toiletries, make-up, household goods, office supplies, and pretty much anything else I might need. Liam and I took a few pics the other night. Seeing how my Facebook friends reacted reminded me how weird Japan truly is. We saw this stuff at the place we shop for groceries. (Also a few unrelated pics included.)

Make with the clickety! )

Tanabata

Jul. 3rd, 2011 10:22 pm
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Today is Tanabata, or "Star Festival." One of my lessons for the past month, which I prolly taught about a thousand times, involved me reading a passage about Tanabata and the kids taking notes. So, from memory, here is the story of Tanabata, as written by the bigwigs at my company:

July 3rd is the Star Festival in Japan. The festival is from an old Chinese story, where two lovers can only meet once a year. For the Star Festival, people decorate special bamboo branches with beautiful pieces of paper. On the paper, they write their wishes for the future.

Ha ha ha. Anyway, an NPO where Liam teaches (and where I occasionally taught when I was at my old job) had a little Tanabata festival for the kids. We stopped by to check it out.

Here are what the bamboo branches look like. I love Tanabata trees. So colorful and cute.


Photobucket

More crappy pics here; old camera plus cloudy weather equals bad pics... )
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Day 2 of a 3-day weekend, hell yeah! Too bad my allergies made me spend most of yesterday in a drug-induced sleep...

Rainy season is here, and I am dreading the end of it. When it ends, the never-ending, soul-crushing Humidity of DOOM will arrive. Yaaaaadaaaa... And I will sweat profusely until November.

I'm pretty sure I have backwards SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder.) Sunshine and heat, and ESPECIALLY humidity make me sluggish, frustrated, unmotivated, pissed off, and overall depressed. Last summer was AWFUL. This summer will probably be even worse, with everyone trying to conserve energy and refusing to turn on the AC. Even today was bad. I wanted to have a nice, leisurely look around the stores and shop for some things I desperately need (leggings, flip-flops, and other summer clothes) but ended up just grabbing whatever I found in my size as quickly as possible. Trying on clothes when you're sticky and sweaty both sucks AND blows.

I don't even think they are using the AC at my gym yet. It's getting ridiculous. It's a fucking GYM, come on! People are working out, for Pete's sake. So the whole place is one big sweaty, humid, B.O. bomb, and I literally drip sweat when I'm working out. So nasty.

So yeah, there's my rant about summer. I fucking hate it. One of these days, I will move to Hokkaido, so I won't have to sweat any more.

I'll leave you with this picture of something I saw in Don Quijote tonight... fake goatees and mustaches for men. LOL. They were in the beauty section, next to the mascara and nail polish... Ohhhhh, Japan!

Photobucket
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During my first trip to Tohoku with the tsunami-relief group, we drove into the coastal town of Onagawa. After working in Ishinomaki all day, seeing the destruction there, I wondered how it could possibly get any worse. Needless to say, it did.

Onagawa is a city nestled in a kind of valley, in an inlet on the coast. (Forgive me if I'm getting my earth science terms wrong, ha ha.) Because of the way the mountains sit, the tsunami hit the city even harder than most other places. I'd say the water was 6 to 8 stories high.

The word that comes to mind when walking around Onagawa now is "Necropolis." Complete and utter destruction. No one lives there any more. There is nothing our group can do to help. All that can be done is to dynamite what is left, and rebuild anew. IF anyone even wants to rebuild.

Because of the location's geography, the water was condensed in a rather small area. As we drove through, everything looked perfectly normal at first. Then we rounded a corner, and there was just... nothing. Nothing but twisted metal and busted concrete. 4-story concrete apartment buildings had been pushed over, their foundations still attached. All that was left of homes were a few floor tiles which managed to hang on.

There is a hospital on a high hill. I'd say the hill was about 5 stories high. This was supposed to the the town's evacuation spot during a tsunami warning. However, the water came in so fast and so high that even this spot wasn't safe. The first floor of the hospital was washed out. Only people who lived on, or ran to, even higher ground survived. I stood in the parking lot of that hospital, looking out on the lovely, calm sea, and wondering how in the hell that beautiful water could do what it did.

It was the worst thing I have ever seen in my life, but, though it sounds strange, I'm glad I had the chance to see it. It was mind-blowing, perception-altering, and well... cliche as this sounds, it was life-changing. I truly appreciate everything and everyone in my life now. Don't sweat the small stuff, guys. Take care of your loved ones while you can.

Pics of Onagawa this way. )
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Golden Week! Yatta! 7 days off. :D Today I've been giving my apartment a well-needed cleaning.

Last Sunday, I went to Ishinomaki, a coastal town hit by the tsunami, to do what little I could to help clean up. It was a horrifying, amazing, perception-altering trip. I wrote about it on Facebook, and posted two albums of pics. One of Ishinomaki, and one of a town called Onagawa, which was hit much worse. Here is a copy of my Facebook post. I'll try to get some pics up here when I can. There are tons, so it may take a while. Feel free to friend me on Facebook if you haven't already. I post all my pics there nowadays. I don't really post personal stuff on lj that much anymore. Just use it for the communities, and for stalking all of you, muah ha HA!

Tsunami cleanup story here. )
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Life is pretty much back to normal after the big earthquake. I'm lucky to live in a safe area. Today was the start of my first full week back at work.

Short, sweet, kinda boring. No warnings.

Photobucket





Come on down... )
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I'm sure most of you have heard about the big earthquake we had here in Japan today. Yes, I'm okay. Yes, I most certainly DID feel it. Still am, 12 hours later.

I got up early this morning and took a train to Isesaki, about 25 minutes away, for a staff meeting. After taking the train home a few hours later, I had the whole afternoon to kill before the single class I was scheduled to teach tonight. A one-hour junior high lesson, which would involve me taking the train one stop from Ota. Whoo-hoo! Easy day, then the following three days off.

So I get home after the meeting, put on my comfy pajama bottoms, make some lunch, and settle in to watch a movie (the Kenneth Branagh production of Much Ado About Nothing, if you are curious.) Eating, chilling, hey nonny nonny-ing, when the floor starts trembling slightly. Meh, earthquake, whatevs. Happens all the time. Keep on ogling Denzel Washington as he recites Shakespeare (siiigh!)... and the floor keeps trembling. Weird, earthquakes don't usually last this long... whoa, hold up, why are things actually SHAKING? Why are my neighbors screaming? HOLY SHIT. Did my picture just fall off the wall? I jumped up and got the fuck out. Ran out into the cold in my pjs and socks. No shoes. No coat. Nothing in hand but my cell phone. The shaking intensified more and more. The family next door was on their knees in their gravel yard, clutching their baby and crying. I could see and hear my apartment building swaying and creaking. Little bits of plaster started falling from buildings. All the bikes parked under the garage fell over. Everything was wobbling; the buildings, the light poles, even the road. I crazily thought of old rap videos when I saw cars bouncing on their wheels. Dogs and cats were going apeshit. I screamed, then stated crying. Then screamed again.

I stood in the middle of the street, figuring that was safer than being near any tall buildings. Tried to call, then text, Liam. Couldn't get through either way. Not wanting to go back inside my apartment, and not knowing where else to go, I walked to my former office (five minutes away) and checked on them. They were okay, but some big cracks had appeared in the building, and the ground below was littered with bits of plaster and brick that had dislodged in the quake. They told me that the power was out in Oizumi, where Liam was working.

I was so disoriented. I walked back home, went back inside. As soon as I was in, another tremor hit, nearly as big as the first. Back outside... A postman pulled up on his scooter while I was waiting, and went right on delivering mail like normal. While he was up on the second floor of my building, a third tremor happened... he was just totally calm, like it was no big deal. I told him to be careful as he scootered off. Rain, sleet, snow, hail, MASSIVE EFFING EARTHQUAKE... nothing can stop the Japanese mail! Heh.

At this point, I wasn't sure if I should even try to go into work later. We'd just had a meeting where they harped on about how we can never, ever, ever be late, except for "unpreventable" things. Was a huge fucking earthquake enough to warrant a cancelled lesson? Phones were down, so I couldn't get through to my office. I decided I'd try and at least get to the school if I could, and worry about getting home later.

So I went back inside, put on real clothes, and threw my family photos, my few pieces of real jewelry (all given to me by Liam,) and my Snuggle bear in my bag, along with my lesson plans (just in case) and my computer/internet hookup.

At the train station, guards were standing by the entrance, not letting anyone go through. There was a sign with a lot of Japanese I couldn't read, and a guy on the intercom whom I could tell was saying the trains were stopped due to the earthquake. No taxis were outside. People were still standing in the streets, not wanting to go back into their offices and homes. So I decided to just hang out at my old office, where I could at least be around people who spoke English should anything even worse happen.

Luckily, my internet was working fine. I got in touch with Liam, then e-mailed both our mothers to let them know we were safe. Got e-mails from my manager and from head office, saying that all lessons were cancelled and that they were in the midst of trying to contact everyone. The TV was showing BBC footage of the tsunami and quake. My god. That tsunami... it was like a kid playing with Legos in the bath. Effing HOUSES were just swept away.

A guy from my job training group was placed in Sendai, where the tsunami hit. I have yet to hear from him. No idea if he is okay. I'm not sure how close to the coast he lives.

After navigating roads with no street lights or signals, Liam returned from work. I just threw myself at him. Never in my life have I been happier to see him, nor felt so alone as I did when the big quake hit.

It is now 12 hours after the big quake, and we are still getting aftershock tremors every ten minutes or so. Many of them are strong enough to make my dishes rattle. I know it is silly of me, but I begged Liam to sleep over at mine tonight, even though he has to be up super early for work. He is up in the loft, happily snoring away. I have been up since 8 a.m. (and got only three hours sleep the night before) and just. can't. sleep. Every time I doze off, the building shakes again. I can't get the picture of swaying buildings, and the family next door huddled together crying, out of my mind. We weren't the worst hit by any means, but myyyyyy god, it was scary. I have tons of damage control to do tomorrow. Lots of stuff fell off the walls and shelves. I will be picking up my collection of minatures for days.

And seriously, the ground will not stop shaking.

Anyway, I'm okay, just very shaken up. Sorry for rambling. Just wanted to get this all out.
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These are from last year's (2008) Cherry Blossom party...

Saaaaakura... )

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