Salsa

So it’s a Wednesday. Winter has fully arrived with rain in the morning and rain at night. Within two weeks the second semester ends and Winter Break is here. Yet school is in full force with interview tests for the third years and worksheets to correct for the younger ones. So, what is a foreigner to do?

Ever since arrive I’m pretty often finding myself a little late to the party. I’m not quite sure if it’s always been like this, but some time long ago I really kind of just stopped paying attention to Facebook. I’d even considered deleting it, but in today’s age–in the long run–I think that’s just simply madness. So it was when I arrived to Japan, and even still I hardly use it except to occasionally check in and communicate with the less available people in my life. In those cases, it’s pretty easy to miss out on the things people plan. If someone–especially someone who lives outside of the same city–puts up an event online sometimes they just sort of let it go off on its own without any sort of promotion. So after a while I started to become vigilant with emails and Facebook events (including the things I did around Thanksgiving). Thus after being recruited by Carmelo, I wound up looking forward to this Wednesday event quite a ways out.

Really it’s a strange occurrence that we mostly twenty-something adults have the system in place to create such a space. Voluntarily submitted to the somewhat isolating experience of living in a foreign country, I wonder how this community formed at first. Maybe it’s something the program put in place all along, or maybe it’s something that developed organically. Either way it’s something I don’t think most people are lucky enough to have. That’s mostly last year New York me talking, where even with the greatest city in the world at my doorstep I often found it hard to figure out what to do alone with my free time.

So a small group of us looking to escape the toils of monotony convened in the small dance studio at the whim of one of the coolest Brits I’ve met (granted I haven’t met many people from England). It’s hard to describe what happened in the following three hours, but it was all a lot of fun. Basically imagine us getting into teams of six and doing winter themed…well, not really winter themed, but games that involved the silliest of silliness.

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It started pretty simple, some college games using solo cups and ping pong balls, but let’s just say it escalated quickly.

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This was kind of like reverse limbo, and well, I’m just gonna let you figure it out on your own. Just a note, though, I wasn’t wearing those green tights to begin with.

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Photos courtesy of www.whereisamber.com, she’s my neighbor and a new JET too, with a lot more wanderlust than me, so check out her website.

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Really, it’s cool to do these kind of things every once in a while. Like really, I feel like I’m constantly forcing these types of activities on my students so it’s good to be in their shoes and experience how to make things fun and have fun doing things completely random and unattached to anything important in life.

I was thoroughly exhausted by the end of the night, and it only emphasized how ready I was to take a bit of a break soon. I’m planning on sticking around to work on some awesome lessons for the next semester, but that hopefully won’t mean I don’t get down time, then again hopefully that means I won’t be too lazy either.

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Halloween

It’s funny to think that one of my most memorable Halloween would come not only in my twenties but also in a country that until this century didn’t even know Halloween existed. I’d begun to see the candy sold in the stores, and then the themed signs and advertisements up, as the conbinis even started to add in a couple of halloween themed songs to their evening mixes (mostly, though, just “This is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas). Truly, it seems that anything that can rack in sales from commercialization can become a global phenomenon.

It started in school. Of course, two American English language teachers can hardly pass off the chance to dress up and amuse their students with a day that mostly revolves around them. All the teachers seemed to be on board with having a big party, and although the board outside our language room was void of any decor I think we managed to introduce Halloween pretty well. For about a week I gave the same presentation, and found out a lot about the holiday myself. Turns out, plenty of cultures have a days similar to the roots of Halloween. Japan has a festival called Obon during the end of the summer that I’ve really been looking forward to ever since my third year in Japan class when we had a unit about Japanese festivals. Sad to find out I’d have to wait a year until we got to that point.

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Somewhat strange to report on something so modern. The presentation wrapped up with how long lines for Haunted Houses can get and the fact that a dozen new scary movies winds up featured across movie theaters. Still got to mention the differences between a hundred years ago and now the evolution between the two, so I don’t feel like it’s a complete waste of educational resources.

At the apartment complex the Thursday night before Halloween we had a bunch of students from a nearby junior high school and even some younger ones come around a go trick-o-treating. With over ten doors to knock on it seemed like quick the hit. I spent over ¥2000 on candy and ran out half way through. I didn’t even have a costume at that point, relying on a pirate skull daizo mask that one of the teachers lent me. I was surprised how much fun I’d had, only realizing just now that it is the first time I’ve actually been the one in charge of passing out the candy… weird. My grandparents have a neighbor who used to take care of me, and every time I trick-o-treated there he’d creep to the door with a god awfully scary mask. I suppose I learned a lot from him, as I crouched next to the peep hole in my door, listening and waiting for students to get close. Once the reached out for the doorbell I’d crack open the door with a “Boo!” All night I was a bit worried I’d wind up toppling one of the kids with my antics, and it’s just my luck that on the very last one another ALT happened to get rammed by the door.

So, two days before Halloween and I was rounding out the night in high spirits, looking forward to the weekend. You see, Fukui City’s international club had this annual gig going where they hosted a Halloween party. The only catch is the party was hosted in a city almost two hours away. Well, I guess that’s not the only catch because in order to get there the IC rented out a train, old style since retired by the main transit, and to make sure the party went as long as possible decorated that train with black lights and sound systems. It’s something I’d been told was one of the best events this side of the New Year, so I’d been wanting to go. However, the tickets initially sold out, a pre-sale that I’d never even been privy to. Luckily one of my friend hit me up right away when the club was selling the remaining tickets, all I had to do was be at the station an hour before take-off.

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After a Friday night out for nomihoudai and some karaoke, Saturday comes and everything is good, except that I’m going to a Halloween party, and I have yet to get a costume. After pedaling slow in the morning I rushed out in the afternoon to trek to the not so near mall in search of black duck tape. Yes, because what other material would you have in mind for a last minute costume. Actually, I must admit, a lot of help came from the Internet (the true killer of creativity). Originally the night before I’d borrowed a cardboard box used for bulk microwavable popcorn and had initially decided to make some sort of mask out of that.

If you look back at my earliest Halloween photos you’d be hard to distinguish year from year. Not because I remained a chubby cheeked adorable kid for five year, but since I remained a chubby cheeked adorable kid in a Batman costume for five years. Honestly, looking back on it I have know clue when or where the Batman obsession came from since even in my pre-teens I was definitely rooting more for the Marvel/X-Men side of things. But in those early years it was only the wealthy, detective solving, crime fighting, bachelor I wanted to emulate. Thus, it seemed a worthy costume to attempt in the course of four hours.

I ended up buying the last roll of black tape they had in stock, and with yellow for accents as well as some fingerless gloves and black trash bags I was on my way to making the best costume yet. It had been a while after all, since I had come up with anything to wear for Halloween. Last year, I hosted a party for fifty in the space of my 300 ft living room and kitchen, so ain’t nobody got time for costumes, and every before that I’d been able to rely on my aribeito at Ragstock to provide me with endless Halloween fun. I knew the toddler sized pumpkin outfit would be a tough one to top, but I think I did it this year.

With four hours before my train left, I thought I’d be able to round out a decent helmet and utility belt. I stuck a plastic bag on my head, whipped open the tape, and scissors already on my hand, pulled up this quick and easy instructable. Perhaps, it’s a little too quick and easy. Of course, at first I felt like a fool, and wishing there was more documentation on the website clearly under stood why there isn’t. I didn’t only look like a fool, I was whole-heartedly foolish for a least an hour into the process. You’re basically just rolling tape around your head, while starting to break into a sweat because hey, it’s duck tape layered plastic you’re strapping to your head and that’s generally not a good way to allow breathability. I ended up using the popcorn box to form the nose and that’s when I felt like I was finally getting somewhere. That’s also when I realized there was no way I’d be able to finish off the costume, run to the station and make the train in time.

Luckily, Mac came to the rescue, offering a ride to the station. I wounded up shaping the eyebrows and attaching the ears to the mask before donning anything black in my closet, shoving all my materials into a shopping bag and rushing out the door. Of course I looked even more ridiculous halfway into the costume buying a ticket and waiting for the train, but thankfully I ran into two other ALTs; one dressed as a pirate and the other wore a hand sewn Popeye outfit brought all the way from South Africa.

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By the time our train arrived in Fukui station my outfit was complete. Needless to say we were gawked at by many people, but once there was a decent crowd of foreigners we were also asked to pose for multiple pictures. I think I was actually surprised by how many Japanese people were also dressed up, and not only those who were going on the Halloween Train. Mostly younger, but all wearing some form of cosuplay and bloodied makeup. It was a lot of lingering around for the next hour after I’d gotten my ticket, but also just a crowd of giddiness as people showed up in more and more ridiculous outfits. I think Ghibli themes win out, but I must’ve seen at least and equal amount of Marios and Luigis.

The train ride was gradually epic. I hopped on with a slight buzz, and once everyone got comfortable in the tight quarters and rolling experience it was really all new and cool. The one thing that I’m always anxious about in these situations, though, is recognizing people, but never remembering their names. We’re all spread across the prefecture so it’s really hard to remember so many names without ever seeing them often. Add to that the amount of first years and veterans mixed together and I’ve gotten used to never assuming anyone, Japanese people included, can 1) teach English and 2) even speak Japanese.

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Hard to describe the atmosphere of the train apart from that as part social club part night club (and I guess, also, at the very front part kid’s venue where all the parents brought their Minions (literally dressed as minions from Despicable Me) to chill and be all cool with their roles as parents in Japan’s society), and I won’t go into much of the feeling apart from decent music, the occasional bumping of the train off the tracks, and  really you sometimes had no clue where you were relative to everyone else.

On the train time didn’t seem to pass quickly or slowly. I hadn’t checked my watch when we got on so at any given time I had known clue to know when we’d arrive or how far we’d come. Eventually the train slowed, and everyone filtered off. We were literally herded off the platform and through the tiny station where a crowd of people had gathered to greet and take pictures of us all. I felt somewhere between a celebrity and saved hostage. Everyone wanted to see us, but I had no clue why. Not of course, til I got outside and saw the filling dance floor.

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It was definitely a new experience to add to the unexpected ones I’ve had in Japan. We basically had a huge party in the station parking lot. Many people cruised across the street to raid the remains of the closing supermarket. I felt I was good for the night, but ran into their backroom to use the toilet. It’s funny, but I could sense a difference in the way people reacted to me. Being Batman kind of gives you this sense of trust or protectiveness, probably along with some sort of invincibility, so it’s pretty good I was staying tame that night. On the whole. I took many a pictures with various people, and even found a tiny Batman (a me of years past?) and accompanying Cat woman. At some point, somehow, I got onto someone’s shoulders, and I’m not quite sure. One of my neighbors went as Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, so I can only assume he was strong enough to hold me. It was during the song Jump (the Kriss Kross one), and I was pumping my hands in the air getting while everyone was getting as high as they could. Pretty sweet moment.

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Surprisingly the night ended with everything still in tact. I thought for sure the cape wouldn’t make it on the train ride back, but it actually acted well, being slippery enough that anyone who wanted to squeeze past me had no problem. When we made it back to the station and said our goodbyes many people were headed to the after party at a venue nearby. Looking back it probably was a missed out opportunity to meet new people, but I decided to go back with Mac and some the neighbors, thinking two nights out would be pushing it for Monday morning class.

 

Kyoto

The past week seemed to fly by. I was all aches for Monday and Tuesday still from the mountain trip, but my classes were very subdued. All the students have been studying more and more recently, focused on upcoming tests that Friday, so most other activities and classes were cut short. On Thursday and Friday me and my co-ALT had hardly anything to do except knock out revisions of the tests one by one. Of course it’s still mind numbing work, but in the swing of things it’s manageable and gives some leeway for me to spend time studying Japanese or be preparing for random lesson plans.

Come Friday, though, I was already looking forward to the end of the weekend.

In the beginning of October my school started implementing morning English lessons (improperly called “English Club”). In small groups of four or five I would ask the students, “where do you want to go in Japan?” I got some varying answers, but typically it came down to five places: Okinawa, Hokkaido, Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. These places were actually the most sought after that I would have uncanny moments during the conversation where my responses and their answers became verbatim to discussions I’d had groups before. Later I joked about this fact with one of the English teachers and mentioned that I had only been to Tokyo out of that group. He suggested that we should go to Kyoto sometime, maybe a weekend at the end of the month and I politely agreed.

You see, from what I’ve heard from the JET grapevine, invitations (in the future tense) to do things or see places operate in about the same state as Americans treat meetings among their acquaintances. The “let’s do this again sometime” adage comes to mind. You say it as an obligation, and although you probably wouldn’t mind to do it again, you’re just never actually going to have the time. Thus were my expectations with this. Something along the lines of “Oh, you silly American, you’ve never been to Kyoto. It’s so close and easy to get to, I will make you cultured and take you there myself.”

So come Monday I was a bit surprised when he (sitting in the desk next to mine) asked casually if I was excited for this weekend.

I tilted my head for a moment wondering and asked, “Why? What’s this weekend?”

“Oh?” he said, “We go to Kyoto.”

I flicked up the calendar on my computer to see that it was indeed the end of October and he was indeed being true to his word. Another Japanese cultural myth busted.

“Alright,” I said, trying to act like, of course, I’d known. “I’m excited.”

Yet, as the week went by, I got my salary and had enough to go, the feeling still remained like: are we really doing this?

After all, this is Kyoto we’re talking about, probably the second most well-known city in Japan my foreigner standards, and arguably the city with the longest history. But Sunday morning came and I was ready with a rain jacket and camera packed in my bag.

The English teacher, who I’m used to calling Isopp, is the same age as me a coincidence I’m pretty grateful for because we’ve got a decent amount in common. He’s the one who’s gotten me into League of Legends, and will be the savior in helping me navigate Japanese computer parts when eventually I can afford to build a computer. He picked me up at 10:30, a little later than planned, but we shot off to catch the train at 10:50. (So much for Japanese punctuality.) Apparently there had been some sort of volunteer group the teachers participated in to pick up trash around the local river, so he’d already been up for three hours. (Side note, there are certain things that go on at school that as ALTs we’re never bothered to be told about. I feel like had I known, I probably would’ve gone and enjoyed it. At least I know to ask.)

The round trip the train cost about $60, and again it only shames me to think of all the weekends I wasted in Minnesota, not deciding to cheaply travel elsewhere. Hopefully–at least the way things are going–one thing I’ll learn from living here is how to seize the location or get out and explore the world a little better. I’ve made the argument that American cities are so far apart from each other (L.A., New York, Chicago, D.C.) but that’s also pretty contrary to my socialist beliefs of supporting the local communities in between.

Anyway, the train ride takes a little under two hours on a Thunderbird train so I had plenty of time to think. We both were pretty tired so after a couple of ear popping tunnels we fell into napping.

Off the train, though, was completely awakening. Kyoto’s main station is huge by any standards I’ve meet. Sure, Tokyo Station is vast, but it’s still all underground, so it feels more like a labyrinth. Here, though, seems more like an airport. As we waited on the platform for our train, the departing passengers flew out like a swarm of locust, a mash of people coming and going on the narrow track. It’s always a strange feeling now to be instantly surrounded by so many people.

We stopped for a quick bite at a Lawson’s conbini. I got a nikuman, and a sports drink, although I could’ve eaten more. Had we not only had the day to spend there I probably would’ve forced us to get a proper lunch, but being frugal I was fine to be on our way. The sun was bright with clear skies and I was thankful being that it was a torrent of rain the night before (rain I got stuck in walking to and from the grocery store).

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The first place seemed to come out of nowhere. I still actually don’t know what it’s famous for, but it is a zen temple on the outside of town known as Tenryu-ji, or (based solely on learning certain kanji in my students’ names) I would guess it means heavenly dragon temple.

The temple actually takes up an extreme amount of space. From our entrance we walked along a long pebbled road, passing by various smaller huts and temples. We stopped outside a small Shinto altar and I learned the proper Japanese way to pray for a wish for my ¥5 offering.

We first paid ¥500 to enter a building with the sole purpose of looking at the dragon painted on its ceiling. Now, the dragon is pretty large, as you might see on the website, and it’s even pretty inspiring, but not only as someone who studied Japanese art history, but with the western values of the Sistene chapel I can tell you it wasn’t worth ¥500. Especially because there were no photos allowed. But, no matter because I was soon to find out that basically everyplace worth site-seeing in Kyoto cost ¥500. And as someone who earlier mentioned that I should have no problem supporting local communities (not that they need that much support) I put the cost of the trip behind me and decided to indulge.

Isopp with not Daruma

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The gardens of Tenryu-ji

The temple would actually be a great place to lounge around in the day, and the gardens surrounding it are beautiful, but I think it’s most known for its bamboo forest. Now I thought I had known what a bamboo forest would be like. After all, throughout my life I’d seen my fair share of bamboo fight scenes.

Tenryu-ji's Bamboo garden

There’s something overwhelming about the sheer size that bamboo to get to. I was thinking that a thicket would be all pressed together and smothering, but instead this forest was incredibly tall, easily reaching 15 meters, with each shoot a good stride apart from each other. If I went again I would suggest probably going in the summer when the bamboo is more green, and definitely on a day with less people (if that were ever possible).

Pose at the Bamboo Forest

Short on time I didn’t get to see if there was more to explore, but it didn’t look like it. We cruised back down the hill, I hadn’t realized how high up we were, and found an outlet along a river and popular tradition bridge. Eventually we walked to a different station with smaller old-style trains and got our ticket to head to Kinkaku-jiI, the golden temple.

The Golden Glory that is Kinkaku-ji

The approach to this temple is similar to Tenryu-ji, where it’s a long walkway to get to the actually entrance. After paying another ¥500, we were mashed with a line of people shuffling along the narrow road to the view of this temple. It was particularly cool to see it in real life after briefly studying it in my Japanese art history class. Despite the tranquil facade the pictures often elude to–an insolated beauty in the mountains of Japan–the place is over commercialized, and it’s pretty hard to really enjoy among the mass of people. The fact that it’s actually leafed entirely in gold, though, is pretty stunning in real life as it radiates a special shine in the sunlight. The rest of the park is actually worthwhile, too.
After rushing ahead of the school trip and Scandinavian tour groups, we decided to take a break to get some matcha (again for ¥500). There’s a specific way to drink traditional green tea, which I learned, and it was pretty sweet that our little sugar/salt/anko dessert came with gold leaf on top. The warm matcha was well worth the pause.

Matcha and sugar snack Making an offering Shrine at Kinkaku-ji

By now it was nearing four o’clock, and we still had one more stop out of the many options to go to. Apparently, it’s Isopp’s favorite place to visit in Kyoto, and seems like the general must see place. After flopping around to find the right bus, we finally got on the right one, cramped but seated, and made the forty minute ride across town.

That’s probably what surprised me most. Kyoto has its own subway system, but nothing near to the extent of Tokyo. Still, the city is spread out, and it can’t take a while to get from one side to the other. We got off the bus and found our way along a famous road full of a majority of shops selling omiyage and souvenirs. Seriously, not a place to spend a quick day. It was super effective in getting me to see what Kyoto has to offer, but I’m already thinking about what do to when I go back.

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A temple in Kyoto

Isopp orders crab

We took a brief pre-dinner stop at a random temple intersection. Once we got up the step and saw all the food stalls there was no stopping the hunger. Especially seeing the crab for (the trendy) ¥500. It’s been a long while since I’ve actually had crab (since a delightful dinner in Port Angeles, WA summer of 2013), and apart from the typical costs I don’t know why I don’t eat it more often. This was a great snack and lead us away from the busy street, almost magically, into 19th century Japan with the streets of Higashiyama.

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With the sun setting and the lanterns turned on, this place really felt like a different world. Around certain parts there weren’t many people, so even though we were getting low on time, I still could enjoy the feeling of being in the heart of Japan.

Of course, then we hit the final stretch up the hill to the famed Kyomisu temple and it’s iconic red pagoda. The streets were packed with stores solely selling omiyage and souvenirs, and people in kimonos, and foreigners afoot. It was bustling for a Sunday past 5 o’clock.

We made it to the temple with half an hour left to peruse what easily could’ve taken half the day. Isopp through some change to the ticket counter and led me up steps and past altars.

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“You can see it?” He asked as he flew strides ahead of me past the aforementioned pagoda.

“Yeah,” I replied snapping a quick and grainy photo.

“Good.”

We made it finally on one of the higher platforms past the main building when Isopp finally slowed down.

“This is my favorite spot. When I come to Kyoto, I always go to here.”

It’s funny, when something is so well known for it’s location and history it’s usually completely overlooked for the littler things it has to offer. I feel like during the day this view of Kyoto would’ve been neutral and mundane, but at night it really justifies the beauty of Japan was like. Among the places and the people I got to see a lot. Plenty of kimonos and old buildings mixed with school uniforms and souvenir shops.The country’s culture has evolved so drastically in the last century, yet it still tries to maintain the values it’s held for the last millennium.

View of Kyoto from Kyomisudera

Ultra

The next morning I woke up with all the fatigue of travel and aimless wandering wiped away. I slept pretty soundly, which surprised me due to some of the stories I’d heard about capsule hotels being sleazy places. I got up at a decent time in the morning, around 8 o’clock, and decided to wash in their public bath in order to get rid of the smell now radiating from my armpits.

Bathing in Japan is a completely different experience, since most of the time you’re hard pressed to find a standing shower-head. In the long run, I feel like it’s a much better way to clean yourself: you still have a shower nozzle, but you’re sitting down so you can actually scrub the hard to get places. Maybe it’s from my time on the cross country team or just because I’ve been to Japan, that I don’t feel embarrassed to do this kind of bathing, but it’s always referred to as a more scandalous cultural difference. Instead I think it’s a strong point for Japan not to teach people to shame their bodies or automatically give nakedness an implicit sexual connotation. If you ever got to see my senior art show, it’s something I tried to analyze with that.

So freshly shaved and somewhat less smelly, I departed the capsule hotel that morning–this time passing two men smoking in the stairway–only to realize that I was still in Shinjuku. It was a bit strange, to in a place so associated with nightlife and tourism yet with none of that going on. As I made my way to the station I passed by a series of people doing as we usually call it ‘the walk of shame‘. It was pretty amusing and baffling to realize the type of work that goes in those places. There used to be a good documentary on Netflix that gives an enlightening overview. In a city with 13 million people it takes all types of nightlife. A couple year back when I first studied abroad I had a couple weekends to experience the process. Subways in Tokyo stop pretty early, sometime around midnight, so if you want to go out you’ve only got limited options. Especially since most places don’t really start the night until 10 o’clock and taxis typically costs what Uber only dreams about charging, the only economical option is to stay out all night (until the subways start running around around 6 or 7).

Originally I was planning on saving this type of night for Monday (having the whole train back home to recover), but seeing the aftermath I was starting to doubt its appeal. As I almost got to the main street down Shinkjuku a couple, a girl and guy, walked towards me on the same side of the street: giggling, stumbling, and in their own world. I didn’t have much to do but pass by, until the girl by some mystical magnetic force connected her forehead right into my shoulder. The guy started laughing, and the girl without making a sound just slumped to the ground. I asked if she was alright, ready to assist in getting her back to her feet, but she just slowly rolled over and continued giggling. As I walked away, cars now trying to pass the narrow street, and her refusing the man’s  attempts to get her to stand up, I had to make the connection that it’s the foreigners that are always told not to get drunk and cause problems in the city.

As I mentioned, when I went to sleep last night I knew I needed to start this day with a plan and so I made my way to one of the bigger sightseeing places in Tokyo, Sensou-ji often called Asakusa Temple, where I also hoped to snag a great breakfast.

Sensouji, Asakusa Temple

It is a very bustling place, but nonetheless enjoyable. Basically, you start by entering the front gate, and walk all the way down past a slew of tiny shops selling sovenir, food, and traditional artifacts. It is truly one of the free places in Japan who’s sole purpose is sightseeing. I ended up getting green tea mochi on a stick, while walking to the end. There were a number of food stalls at the back gate that didn’t exist the last time I visited and if I wasn’t so mean with my money I probably would’ve ordered something from each. There was yakitorikaraage, crab, dumplings, all too much for my nose to handle. In the end I settled on yakisoba, one of the best I’ve tasted yet, and ate it sitting down in the nearby shade. Already a great start and perfect contrast to yesterday.

Sensou-ji courtyard

It was kind of luck that  I started off there, because the second stop on my trip, Tokyo Sky Tree, was actually in the same part of Tokyo, almost visible beyond the building’s horizon at the temple’s court. I took a short shuttle there and followed in a small mob of people the way out of the station, around the aquarium at its base, and up the stairs to the entrance of the tower.

Taking a brief time to look around at the entrance’s mezzanine, however, I was stopped by a girl dressed like a backup dancer for Justin Bieber but holding a clip board. “Ah, hello,” she asked, “Do you have a moment to answer some questions?”

Of course, my natural American instincts went to work in coming up with a reason not to talk to her. So far my only experiences with someone in Japan asking if I have a moment has resulted in filling out a survey about my electronics shopping and politely declining to listen to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Alas, it’s not like I had much else to do, anyway hadn’t I been complaining about not talking to enough Japanese people?

We ended up having a pretty cool conversation. She was a high school student doing a project for her English class to talk to foreigners. It was kind of nostalgic, because I had been in that same situation when I studied here in college, but I was also flabergasted by her fluency in English. She said she is planning to go to America (*California, like everyone else I’ve met) next year, and was pretty happy to hear that I was an ALT. It offered a cool insight to the types of lives my students–with their identical uniforms and hairstyles–might eventually lead in their future. In the end she took a picture with me (for proof), and I felt like even on vacation I was able to do a little work.

Tokyo Sky Tree

Now I think this is dubbed the tallest tower in the world, and all my students have remarked in their essay’s about its beautiful view, so I felt compelled to check it out for myself, and maybe it’s coming from New York, but when I got to the base it didn’t seem all that astonishing. I went inside where there was a decent queue and no definite direction on where I’d actually go to get a ticket to the top. They had this counter where people were lined up that was labelled in english; rapid line, but that had the type of connotation that you’d be paying a little extra. In the end I couldn’t find a ticket counter, but I did see a sign that had prices on it. The wait was half an hour and the price was ¥3000, otherwise a bit above my budget for the “beautiful view” that consists mostly of concrete slabs, an ocean if you’re lucky, and a glimpse of Mt. Fuji you’re divine.

I knew of a place in Shinjuku that allowed you to visit the observation deck for free (somewhere I’d gone on my first study abroad trip here) and decided that that would be enough of the view for enough of the trip. I did peruse across the gift store, mostly just fuji-tv themed key chains and omiyage. I did pick up a pretty sweet Attack on Titan sticker, and a Sky Tree themed Evangelion folder for less than ¥500 so at least I’ve got something to take back with me.

It was still before noon by the time I got back on the subway, so I decided to spend a little more time alone before meeting up with the people I was going to the concert with. By now I had looked up some things going on in Tokyo and had come up with a couple of options. Strangely, plenty of places around Shinjuku and Shibuya were celebrating Octoberfest, and there was a huge beirgarten I had been interested in checking out. Alas, it also happened to be the weekend of the Tokyo Art Book Fair at the Tohoku University of Art and Design, and I had been Jones-ing for any aspect of art in my life for a while.

Tokyo Art Book Fair

It was perhaps the best decision I’d made all weekend. It really does seem so long since I’ve been involved in anything artistic. I’ve tried (poorly) to do whatever work I can in my free time, but these whole past couples of months were all full of saying goodbyes, packing, moving out, moving home, moving in, trying to study Japanese, and avoid leg injuries at all costs. Now that I’m in Japan I’ve been only vaguely looking for the materials I need to start printmaking again, and trying not to resign myself to the loss of living in the rural and not being able to figure out where to start to look. It honestly isn’t that hard and apart from start-up costs it’s just one more thing I’m waiting to start when I’m finally settled.

Anyway, back at the fair. At the entrance there were a bunch of stalls selling all assortment of foods that you’d likely find at a twenty-something’s street market in the Pacific Northwest. They had honeyed sweets on a stick, homemade tamales, crafty obento, even organic wine, and already I felt at home. Maybe (and it’s probably the case) it’s because I was completely surrounded by like minded people in the first time in a long time. Even with a grumbling stomach I skipped past the stalls and headed straight for the open rooms lining the inner courtyard.

I think I was just eager to see real actual physical handmade art, too, because I didn’t really try to absorb anything that I was seeing. I just sort of wondered around.

Tokyo Art Book Fair inside

By the end I was feeling so optimistic. I’d bought three prints (actual hand made screenprints) to take home with me and finally get up on my bare walls. I met a crew that worked out of printshop and design company that I will definitely visit if I ever get to Singapore. I also talked with two fantastic artists, one who I bought a print from, who were former JETs. It was so reassuring, like looking at some potential version of my future. Both were Australian, one who went to school at Tohoku and another who traveled back and forth doing various art pieces. They both seemed to have had eccentric lives, but like me, spent their time on JET in the inaka. After talking with them the interesting thing that stood out was their pieces of most important advice were the same: they both said to learn as much of the language as I can. I wound up getting some of that organic wine because hey, treat yourself.

I left with a goodie bag and a bounce in my step and messaged Carmelo to find out where in the Tokyo he wanted to meet up. I wound up at Harajuku, which on a normal day is packed but I suppose on a Sunday holiday is egregious. Understand that I’m slightly exaggerating when I say it took me forever to get from the subway platform to the front of the station, packed in like fish in a net, but really even Shibuya crossing didn’t have that many people. The day turned out to have a good amount of sun and it’s lucky that we’re both over six feet and people of color, because otherwise I don’t think I could have found him. Even when we were both standing at our chosen meeting point it took a couple minutes of looking around.

We basically chose Harajuku as a meeting point and then it was back into the fishing net to troll along to the platform. Harajuku is a pretty good place to visit (also for the previously mentioned shrine), but unless you have fat stacks in your wallet and are generally a woman in your early twenties, it’s basically only good for getting crepes. Instead we found our way going to Shibuya to kill some time. I should mention that we could’ve gone to the concert grounds by now. The stage opened at 10:00 and I did pay for the entire day. But really, I was kind of still worn out or at least not ready to get into a party scene. So Shibuya, known for its mass people crossing and its Starbucks was the place to chill.

Carmelo, his girlfriend and I decided that it was food we needed most. By now it was hitting well after 2 o’clock and I hadn’t eaten anything since my morning break at Asakusa. Heading down what looked like the main street we sort of kept revolving trying to splice out which places were for food, and of those places which one we wanted to eat at. I can’t say I was craving anything in particular, but the thing that stood out in my mind was sushi. I think because another guy we were meeting up with at the concert said he was going to Tsukiji for the dawn fish auction and I was half tempted to wake up that early just to eat absurdly priced cuts of fish that were less than three hours out of the ocean.

After a bit of waffling we went into a kaitenzushi place that seemed like it wouldn’t break our budgets. If you’ve never heard of kaiten it’s basically a conveyor belt buffet, which seems like it would actually have been something created in America (if not maybe for some FDA regulations). You pay by plate, each color coded by price, so it’s both easy and dangerous to keep track of what you’re eating. For example, I got one small plate of salmon that was ¥200, and decided to get another, and I also got a delicious ¥300 plate of something, and a couple ¥100 plate dishes (cuz hey, they were only 100), add on ¥500 for a beer, and you’re easily hitting a $15 meal. Although being that I was on holiday with literally the most amount of cash from a paycheck I’ve ever had, I tried not to pay too much attention to it.Conveyor Sushi

With full stomachs we departed from Carmelo’s girlfriend at the station and made our way to Odaiba, a man made island the likes of lower Manhattan now featured highly in tourist type attractions, where the concert was located. It tooks us longer by maybe an hour than expected, both at fault for taking multiple wrong turns. We rushed to find a locker to store our stuff and finally got on the right subway line. At this point I have to plug in how efficient a Suica card can be for a lot of travel around Tokyo even if you’re only there for a weekend, so if you plan on traveling there definitely invest.

Once we got there we found our way to Anton, the final link in this bro trip. Many places around Tokyo are pretty easy to make arrangements to meet people. There is usually one odd landmark that sticks out among the crowd. I think in that category Odaiba takes the cake, though, for it’s ‘life sized’ Gundam fighter.

Odaiba Gundam

Now, I’m not certain what kind of reference an anime series like Gundam can use to call something life size, but either way it is a pretty sweet feature. We actually hung out around the base for a little while chatting, and I think unconsciously it was just because it’s so cool to stand by that thing.

We went into the mall behind it for a brief drink pit stop, and needless to say it was packed. Now it was curbing six o’clock and I remained doomed to be impressed with how many people were out. Not since leaving New York had I ever seen as many people as I have this weekend. It was quite overwhelming. Yeah, but that was also before we got into the concert grounds.

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We started off in the back and after realizing how crowded it actually was made some quick decisions. Now, I’ve been frequenting concerts ever since an emo phase back in junior high when I went to a warehouse in downtown Minneapolis to see a show of somewhat obscure rock groups including Houston Calls, As Tall As Lions, and June. And during that time I learned the first lesson that everyone needs when going to a concert and that’s how to stake out your ground. Most recently I’ve been frequenting the local shows: mainly Rock the Garden, and the hits that comes to First Ave. So (as all Minnesotans are passive aggressively polite) it hasn’t been since Soundset my freshman college summer, since I’ve needed to deal with the subtleties of a mosh pit.

I looked to the guys and made sure to tell them, “If we do this, I’m going in and not looking back, so make sure to stick with me.” At some point I’m sure I quoted Pirate’s of the Caribbean.

It’s a good thing too, because by the point we stopped moving we ended up without Anton and it was just Carmelo and I and a surprising amount of foreigners. I ended up next to a woman from Washington D.C. and a guy from Ireland, and that was before the crowd started moving in.

DJ Snake

We landed there during the mid-beginnings during the second to last set, DJ Snake. Now I can only describe him as potentially the club version of Pitbull. His music is really catchy, he’s decent on featured songs, but for some unknown reason you just tend not to like him. He did in fact determine the entire pop scene last year with his number one hit song, both blessing and curse, so at least I get to say I saw him live.

Then onto the final headliner, after an awkward break while they changed equipment, and Carmelo and I pushed even further to the front. Not that we weren’t satisfied, and I actually worried about going too far ahead to get out of the ambiance of it all. Then he, Skrillex, in all his long haired ray-ban glory, finally took the stage and started. The crowd of course went wild, myself included, and it wasn’t long before I worked up a necessary sweat.

Soon into the set I was hitting a natural high. I didn’t really drink too much, just enough to get a buzz going, and I really just felt like I was melting into the atomosphere with the amount of the music. It’s a bit funny the first huge EDM festival I go to didn’t involve a single whiff of marijuana or encounter with the guy who’s tripping way too hard. The drug laws in Japan really keep away a lot of problems. Not to say that all you can drink buffet hours are a good thing, but the amount of zero tolerance on substances (even for driving after any drink) is admirable.

Back to ear melting, eye blinding, body shaking rave parties.

Ultra Hands Up

I wasn’t keeping track of time, but every time I thought the set was calming down and about to finish it would restart and get going again. It’s funny to hear an American DJ speak English at a Japanese crowd. It’s like, every time he says “Put your hands up” or “Get low” you really have to wonder how many people can actually understand. Luckily, I was one of them, and there’s no form of submission better than giving full control to a world renowned DJ.

I’m pretty sure, though, overall the whole scene was a little dampened. I’m not quite sure if maybe it was because it was outside, because it was the audience, or the venue, but I’m certain the bass could’ve been just a little louder, the sound just a bit more booming. I suppose it just saves my hearing a couple years down the line. Between the shouting of the people and the air tossing of my head it’s a wonder I heard anything at all. There was a point where I realized I hadn’t drank enough alcohol to give excuse to my actions and I was in full control of my body. I wonder what it would’ve looked like if I was the only one at the concert but still moving as radically.

Skirllex on Stage

You can check out the full setlist and somewhere on the interwebs you can download most of the sets.

It ended with multiple flames, fireworks, an all girl Japanese ‘heavy metal’ band, and some flag waving. Strangely content I feel like I came down from the vibe at just the right time. I had hardly a buzz, little sweat, and my voice still had volume.

Another feat of Japan efficiency was how long it took us to get out. It did seem like a long time, but there was such an organization to it I felt like herded cattle, and it definitely halted any bottleneck effect. Outside on the mounds surrounding the Gundam under little lanterns in the trees, multiple groups sat to continue the night.

We ended up not finding Anton but meeting up with the Brazilian girlfriend of one of our neighbors. After a not so quick stop at McDonalds (oh the pain) we wound up back on the crowded subway. I think it’s pretty common to hear that they pack people into Tokyo subways like sardines in a can, and that might be true on particular weekday mornings during rush hour. I definitely experienced it years ago when I first came, but really had yet to be crushed against anything this time… until now.

The unfortunate thing about this man made island is that there are very few ways to get off and on it. Mainly in our situation, it required a train disconnected from other parts of the subway system. Actually on the way to Odaiba, after taking our wrong turns, I saw a couple with two young children rush onto the train right as the doors were closing. When they took a breath and looked down they realized they only had one child. Still standing on the track, on the other side of the closed doors was a cutely pathetic six year old Japanese girl, staring indifferently as her parents zoomed away. Granted, they were able to quickly do some gesturing with their hands for the girl to stay there, but the whole scene seemed so cliched there was hardly any anxiety. In fact, it seemed like the parents might’ve encountered this situation before as they got off on the next stop and waited to go back. Always one to make comparisons, I can’t help but think of the drama and severe panic that would ensue on both parties if that situation happened to an American traveling in New York (of course New York is a bit dire, but I think any big city would do).

Getting off the subway, we also were rushing through the station to get to the locker to find our bags. At first it didn’t look so good, as the station was pretty winding, and many areas were closing down because of the time. Thankfully my knack for retracing my steps kicked in under pressure. Although, after that we had a bit of a problem figuring out where to go. We were trying to figure out if we wanted to spend all night partying or if we just needed to wind up in a spot we could find a place to stay. Because of the time it would take to get from where we were to where we wanted to go, by the time the trains stopped running we couldn’t do both. We opted for the latter, of calling it a night, and headed to Shinjuku.

We ended up walking around to a couple of different capsule hotels, until we came across one with some vacancy in the heart of Shinjuku. We dropped off our stuff and then almost one in the morning headed out to find some food. After all, we didn’t really get dinner. The decision came to Korean or Yakitori, and since the latter is not always reliable depending on the restaurant we went for the food that would be harder to find back in Fukui.

It capped the night off perfectly. I ordered bibimbap (shoutout to Stefan) and cruised easily to sleep. The place wasn’t as nice as the capsule I was in last night, but with a day like that anything was fine.

Recuperate

This weekend was absolutely indescribable. So much money spent, so many freshman mistakes. I can only be glad the ceremony and party was on Friday so I had both Saturday and Sunday to recover. First, the ceremony had all the pomp and circumstance that I went out and finally bought my first pair of dress shoes since the winter formal of my sophomore year in high school. Another couple of expenses for cool biz apparel and factoring the party for the night and I’d already broken in an eighth of my paycheck. Needless to say we’ll gloss over the night I don’t remember (apart from the two Japanese women who gratefully drove me home from a piece of torn off paper Emer had given me with her address on it).

The next morning was fantastically (and deservedly) cruel.

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It took us all a little while to get moving, the picture was taken at 1:00, but for me it was especially tough. We had an exquisite breakfast made by Emer and Ashleigh which I got to participate in towards the end. In the late afternoon we finally accomplished our goal of leaving the apartment and starting the day. We went to a bunch of stores to deplete our paycheck even more, but I was a little more stingy (with the aid of a kei car full of people and luggage). We went out to dinner after the errands and I finally felt lively, I was disappointed that I was finally coming to. As Atmosphere raps, “mad that I gave half the day to last night.”

Sunday I did little to nothing, except for visiting the dollar store and finally buying some essentials for the house (all but a refrigerator) and finally placed the order of my Amazon wishlist consisting mostly of American amenities and above all a nice pair of headphones. I don’t know if I mentioned that I left mine at home (like, didn’t even bring them to the airport), but it’s really had a subtle impact on my overall emotional state to the point that every time I get in a car with radio I can feel myself becoming more calm. It’s kind of like peanut butter, too. Magically, in this backwards land that has yet to discover peanut butter, Emer was able to find the smallest of jars at God knows what supermarket and shared more than a spoonful with me. You really don’t know what types of things you miss until you realize they’ve been missing from your life, and apparently peanut butter holds a huge place in my diet.

One thing I don’t miss about my Midwest of America is the overall lack of bugs. I didn’t ever think I’d say this, and actually it’s not true, but really the mosquito isn’t so bad compared to the excess of spiders, dragonflies, cockroaches, and various other creeps. For instance, this gal who just decided to post up outside my doorstep.

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Incarceration

This past week has been probably one of the ways I would least want to spend my third week in Japan. On Monday I went into school and gave a small introduction speech in front of the entire school– all 684 students in the overheating gym. It was incredibly painful, both physically and emotionally. First, I tried not to limp, which was a problem because I definitely needed to limp with my fresh stitches. Then I had to introduce myself using both English and Japanese, but clever as I am, I wanted to try and make some sort of joke. I think I actually did OK, but I probably sounded like an idiot. Anyway, by the time I bowed and got off the stage my shirt was soaked through, my mind was exploding, and I was probably bleeding through all my bandages.

I took next two days off, and then there was a Japanese holiday for the rest of the week. Apart from the fact that I’m still getting settled into my apartment, it was probably one of the worst weekends to miss in Japan. It seems like every night there was some type of fireworks festival going on. Very tempting, but in the end completely not doable with my limping abilities. Instead I was stuck to Miyazaki films and Friends marathons while I lied on my futon cursing my luck. In the end it was probably a good thing since (after visiting the hospital three more times to get my foot still without health insurance) I am down to my last 2,000 yen.

I did actually have some fun Wednesday night going out to perhaps the cheapest Karaoke I’ll ever find, and singing my heart out with a group of other ALTs, former JETs, and friends.

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We ended on Miley Cyrus’ Party in the USA, which only seems most appropriate. It’s weird, the Karaoke was so cheap because it was BYOB, and even though I only brought a conbini mixed drink (like a 9% Mike’s Hard) and a smoothie version of that which came in a pouch I felt a deeper sense of buzz. Definitely helped that on the way back we stopped at another conbini and I got some sort of phylo chocolate baklava desert and karage chicken. Not a bad highlight for the week.

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What a ridiculous past week it’s been. I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s just say it started out great. I came back to camp all riled up and ready to go. We had half days at school on Thursday and Friday and our supervisor took Coral and me to Nitori (which is basically Japanese for Ikea), and I loaded up on a lot of things for my apartment. In the end I budgeted ¥40,000 and spent ¥39,200 which worked out perfect. Although, that night I started going through everything I had and organizing it all, and sadly once I got it all into place I really was sort of back to square one with an empty apartment. Basically everything I’d gotten just when into a closet of some sort. I still don’t have a refrigerator, couch, any sort of table or chair to sit and work at. In fact, the only necessity I purchased (which did end up making up half the budget) was a bed and sheets. But even then, I only got a futon that goes on the floor and can fold up and get placed in my closet. (It’s a surprisingly comfortable bed for it’s design, but that’s beside the point). I’m definitely getting cabin fever over the lack of anything to do in my apartment, and if it weren’t for the view I think I would really consider trying to move.

IMG_2074But as far as views go, this one’s hard to beat. The sun sets pretty quickly, but if you watch it just right the amount of colors in the sky are spectacular. So I’m happy with or without the amenities. Like all things that are slowly applying to my life: once I get paid, I’ll be much better off. Especially after this weekend.

Throughout this week I’d been talking with another ALT named Carmelo about going to a beach in Kanazawa for the weekend. Carmelo is on his second year and it seems is always in the know about the best places to be. Such it seems was this weekend. Him, another new ALT, and I left a little past noon on Saturday for the three hour drive to the northern beach in the Ishikawa prefecture. Along the way we swapped cars and met a Japanese friend of Carmelo’s who’d drive the two hours from Fukui city.

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I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but as soon as we arrived at the beach I new it was going to be a whole different experience. The view from where we parked the car was pretty awesome, but from the moment I stepped out I was blasted with the bass of house and dance music. It was so strange to have this scene and the middle of the day cut by what you’d typically hear in a club in Roppongi, but hey, it was already three o’clock. The place was a bit peculiar, but would only increase in population and fanfare as the night set in. For a while we avoided the dance floor, instead setting our things down, making a toast, and heading toward the beach.

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I think there’s a joke that could be made about how an African-American, Russian-American, and Mexican-American all go to a Japan beach, but I’ll just skip over it for PC sake. Because the Ocean, man, the ocean. It’s been a couple of summers since I’d been in one, but that was nothing like this. The water was perfect, fairly clear, and a pleasant temperature. The waves were just large enough to lap over you, but not strong enough to knock you over. We all split up and started to talk to whoever we could (read: women). It’s funny how easy it is to approach strangers here, I mean, I still think there may be the idea of “stranger danger” that we use in America, but for me it’s like obviously I’m a foreigner, so obviously I must be a n00b and probably non-threatening.

Apart from a beer in the car (because yeah, that’s legal here), and a couple of swigs before our toast, for the rest of the night I don’t think I had any alcohol, which considering how giddy I was is pretty surprising. Once we left the ocean, plenty of people had gathered back at the stage, and they were rounding off sets of using the foam machine. At first the four of us mostly stood back and watched, but eventually (maybe once we saw how everyone else did it) we joined in the fray. One of us even got up on stage (though, he was quickly brought off). So I guess, drenched in foam, pumping my first in the air, and bouncing up in a down, in the center of a crowd singing BigBang’s “Wow, fantastic baby,” I should’ve expected something wrong to happen.

And it was then, while my feet were sloshing in the foam soaked sand, sinking even further with every up and down, that I felt the simple slide across the bottom of my foot of something that shouldn’t have been. Through the adrenaline it took me another jump before I decided to reach down and feel the arch of my left for assurance. When I brought my hand back my fingers were splashed with blood barely visible in the laser and torch lights. It’s sad how sober I can become in situations like that. Not even panicked or frustrated, just efficient. Knowing that I was standing in a vat of sand and soap and sweat, with god knows whatever sort of rust and diseased covered sharp object sliced through my foot, I snaked my way through the crowd, already beginning the limp, to head to the restroom.

Once I was there (literally a shack with a tiny flap over the open doorway with the kanji for man on it) it’s amusing how quickly things went into action. Outside I passed a couple of girls waiting for the women’s stalls to be open, but once they saw me limp they rushed into the men’s toilet with me. Both clad in bikinis, one held my shoulders while the other grabbed my foot and brought it up to the sink to begin flapping it with water. It seems, or at least in my mind, that this was also the time all the men decided to take a leak because I swear at least eight more guys entered the room in the next five seconds. Some stared, some went about their business, but eventually I had to escape (even though the one was still splashing water on my still bleeding foot) and I hobbled outside to a barstool.

I got some weird looks. People asking me “daijyobu?‘ and a lot of whispering. I defiantly smiled back wearing nothing but short plaid swim trunks, while cursing my bad luck. I think at that point I knew I’d need stitches, but I didn’t really have a choice in the matter of getting them since none of us would’ve know where the nearby emergency room was (let alone, I don’t even know what type of operating hours emergency rooms might have out here). Instead I eventually waddled back to the ocean, a plenty distance away, thinking that salt water was probably the best option I had in making sure my new wound wouldn’t get infected.

The water was still impressively warm, and I waded in to my waist and stayed there for a while. Even in the darkness, with hardly any stars, I could hear people out there, see some silhouettes on the beach, and the occasional flash of fireworks. It was truly an OK situation for me, and even with the cost, I’m glad I broke away from the flash of the foam party to experience it. By this point it wasn’t even midnight, and I still had a long night ahead of me. I hobbled back to the main part of the beach and fell into one of the hammocks that were placed up by the stage. At least I wasn’t the first who’d be passing out.

I woke up over two hours later, and went to check and see if the car was still there. From the hammock I’d tried to keep an eye out for the guys I was with, but eventually I dozed up. Luckily I caught them as they were on their way back from the car to do one final sweep for me. We got in an cruised the ride back, stopping once at a Seven-Eleven and momentarily conversing with the odd crowd that frequents a conbini at three in the morning.

When we got back to the apartment complex, I knew (from the oozing redness around the crusted blood) that I’d have to go into the hospital. But at that point I told them to get some sleep and Carmelo offered to take me to get my foot checked whenever I woke up. It was five in the morning, and all I could do when I stumbled up the stairs and into the apartment was stick my foot into yet another sink and try to wash all the rest of the crud off. I stuck a sock on it so it wouldn’t bleed all over my new sheets, and went to sleep for as long as I could.

I woke up five hours later, and thankfully Carmelo had just woken up as well. We drove to the hospital and I hopped in while he parked. Now, I think my three years of Japanese classes will get me through most day to day situations I’ll encounter here, but visiting a hospital was definitely not something I’d studied for. Luckily my ailment was external and so all I had to do when I approached the receptionist was point to the bottom of my foot. She got me situated and after enough repeated successfully determined that I’d probably cut it on a can, I’d washed it several times, and had no allergies to any medicine. When we got to that last point it really hit me how screwed I was for not knowing how to communicate. Like, luckily I’ve been healthy enough not to have any lasting concerns, but if I did how the hell would I know how and when to tell them.

Inside the (for lack of a better word, or maybe it’s the right word anyway) operating room, I met the doctor. There were at least five nurses all dressed in scrubs, and my doctor is sitting at a desk wearing a moss colored t-shirt tucked into blue jeans. I mean, I know it was Sunday, but still it took me off guard. They quickly laid me down on my stomach and the doctor said the word “painkiller” in English. Thank god the cut was on my foot, because I looked back enough to see him pull out a needle and then didn’t look again. The painkiller was the worst part, though, as he had to poke me several times around the cut. “Painkiller is the worst part,” he said, again in English. I got a couple more “daijyobu”s from the nurses before they went to work. It was actually quite an easy process, and despite the anxiety, didn’t hurt at all. On the way to the hospital actually I kept thinking I would vomit from the pain, but once my foot went numb I felt normal again.

In the end I got “seven stitches” again in English, “it’s a lot, no?” The hardest part was probably what came after. I got handed a couple of sheets and figured out that they wanted me to come back in the morning to get it changed again. I also had to pay in full since my health insurance hasn’t kicked in yet. It’s shit like this that we need Obamacare for. After paying for the apartment, amenities, food, I had to give in all the cash I had left on me. In US dollars it only equated to about $200, but that was the money that was supposed to last me through the next two weeks. After I paid they directed me to the pharmacy to pick up medication. That has got to be the most confusing conversation I’ve ever had in Japanese. The pharmacist just wouldn’t slow down using his Japanese and if I didn’t know the words “hitotsu” and “hirugohan, bangohan, asagohan” (otherwise no Japnese language) I probably could’ve just packed up and hoped they didn’t have to amputate after an infection. But hey, I was fixed up, the painkillers were still working (and when they stopped, I would know), and I had gotten over the first real life crisis of my time in Japan. All that, and I’d only been here two weeks to the day.

Respite

I forgot to mention in the last post what a pretty wonderful weekend it was. Seems like a lot of the JETs in Fukui are pretty close and the people living around me are all close enough to visit with. Strange enough one of the first things we did was drive Saturday over an hour away to Ono where there was a pretty sweet swimming hole. It took us a while to rally together and in all our sweat make our way, but once we were in the car with the windows down it made for a good drive.

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010Despite the unruly heat and humidity the water was still an absurd amount of cold. I think in the pool it just sits in the shade and without a current or sun gets all the heat out of it. Still made for a good dip once you got over that fact that you’d lose your testicles, and it definitely kept me cool for the rest of the day. It was mostly just the best to relax with everyone and really get to know these people for the first time. I even got to chat with some Japanese people. I think I’ll quickly overload my social media with completely random people. For example, I met a guy from Osaka who speaks pretty good English and you know if I ever want to go to Osaka, even if  I don’t speak to him until then, he’ll be the first I look for in finding a place to stay.

17On Sunday the group in my apartment complex went and ran errands at the local mall. Even though I churned over not having a reason to shop for anything because I didn’t actually know what I’d need in my place, it was still fun to tag along and see everyone get excited about the new ordinary stuff like dish soap and lotion that they would have.

That night we went out to dinner and had ramen at a local restaurant franchise. It was pretty delicious and super affordable. As we walked in the place was packed and we actually made our orders from the waiting room. I was the most fluent out of our group, and tried to do my best to order for us all. One of the girls needs a gluten-free diet so that was the most challenging thing to get across, but in the end it worked out. I think if I could I would eat out every day and try something new, but with the amount of fried and buttered food I think my diet would suffer more than my wallet.