Monday, October 31, 2005

Close Encounters of the First Mind

I was out and about on my bicycle. Cycling eastward toward the mountains, wondering if I could actually reach them in a decent amount of time. Suddenly out of nowhere there appeared an interplanetary (or maybe only interstellar) ship. It had landed not far from our apaato, and here I was confronted with a developing situation.
Curiously, there were very few people about.
I wondered if it was a vessel made for a solitary evil smelling and ugly but gentle space creature (ala mork form ork) or if it was a vessel containing millions of little green creatures that were in a pissy mood, looking to bite the tip of your nose just as soon as look at you.
I surmised that perhaps I was an innocent bystander in a newly launched inter-galactic planetary hostile takeover. I thought perhaps I would be making first-contact and I prepared to be my most diplomatic self (oh where oh where did I put my Babel fish). My mind also presented other possible scenarios including that maybe it was just something as mundane as a large movie set for an upcoming epic production akin to that cough hack cough fine gem wheeze cough of a movie Independence Day.
But alas much to my disappointment this craft is none of the above but merely the architecturally interesting Namihaya Dome.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Good News

My kamera is back in action.

Friday, October 28, 2005


As my school term has been progressing, each day I have been improving my journey (both in terms of time and route) to school. I started by taking the easiest routes for the first few days. The last thing I wanted to do was to lose my way and end up in Kobe. The first two days it took me slightly more than forty minutes, but I was chuffed as I successfully completed my expedition and managed to arrive at school on time to boot. (Looking at it from arm's length, I find it interesting how one's measures of success change in a foreign land.)
By the end of the first week I managed to cut the time down to about thirty five minutes or so. In an effort to further decrease my commuting time, I thought I might find a (proverbial) shortcut. The first such likely spot to get noticed is the ruins of Naniwanomiya, which if I recall correctly is the site of a former emperor's palace. It is now a large park, and I thought I might jaunt diagonally across it (doing my best to recall my grade ten math and put Pythagoras' theorem to use).
So this morning (after doing a little preliminary scouting) I attempted the shortcut. At first everything went swimmingly, there were no stairs for me to negotiate, the park had a beautiful walkway for me to ride on. But then after making my way through most of the grounds, the stone walkway just ended. Well I didn't let it deter me and I proceeded up the grassy knoll, only to find a fence. I turned to follow along the fenceline, and encountered a number of temporary shelters where homeless people were still catching a few zzzs in the warm morning sunshine. I tiptoed through the slumbering folk and managed to drop my bicycle off the edge of a four foot wall, (with me jumping down after it), to the amusement and stares of several pedestrians. I found myself back in familiar territory.
It was indeed a proverbial shortcut, and left me to bust my hump to make up some time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Pelting Aukje

I was mentally exhausted, lying on the tatami. Vegging. Resting my mind after vigorously exercising and stretching it.
Aukje came by and tossed a little something into our cute little wastepaper bucket, and I noticed that I could read one of the Kanji (Chinese character) on it. My mind went back into action and I peered at the rest of what was on the label. I queried Aukje about some of the other Kanji. "What is this? Does that mean Kono? Does the romaji mean the same as the Kanji. What is that? Is this from Kobe"?
After subjecting Aukje to this barrage, she quieted me down by letting me know that I "sounded just like a two year old".
And I momentarily felt like a kid in my Dad's garage. I can clearly recall asking question after question of my Dad (as only an inquisitive child can) while he was fixing or building something at his workbench.
It is a memory that was buried deeply in my long term memory, until this moment, until the repeated experience brought it out.
It is curious how the noodle works.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Last Week...

I was running behind schedule, homework took longer than expected, I hastily prepared a little "leftovers" and wolfed it down. I left our humble abode a little late, no worries though. I hurried to the subway station at a quicker pace then usual to make up for my tardiness. As I was nearing the stairway that took me under the street and to the subway station, I realized my "Kaisu" card (a subway card which costs 3000 yen and then you get 300 yen for free) was empty. Time was getting tight now, my slush fund all but used up. I was still optimistic I would make my train though. I knew exactly where my 5000 yen bill was, and as I approached the machines that take your money and spit out cards, I saw that the machine that took big bills was available. Things were looking up, perhaps I could still catch my train.
I slipped my note into the machine and lots of buttons lit up. I knew I need to press the "Kaisu" button, but all my Japanese was completely vacated my consciousness under the immense pressure of the moment.
OH! There we go!! It is in Romaji!! (Western Letters). I pressed the correct button , my brand new card popped out and I'm ready to hit the stairs at a dead run.
But my change is not coming out of the machine, I paused, a little startled and wondering what to do.
Suddenly. A little door camouflaged in the bank of machines opens and out pops a station attendant's head. Summimassen he says with a smile, and disappears to rectify the situation. Mere eternal moments later I make off with my loot only to have missed the train.
Ahh, the joys of travelling by mass transit.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Todddling along.

Today I made several attempts at very broken Nihongo conversation. In contrast to the way I felt yesterday, I felt much like a toddler today.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A discovery

I was on my way to school, waiting for the light to change. I gazed at the street sign with out really thinking about it. (I momentarily enjoyed being in my own little world.) Suddenly I came out of my daze, as I recognized the kanji on the sign. (I only know about 20.)

Uemachi means Uptown.

It was almost an epiphany. After that I positively flew to school to get more of it.

Sunday, October 16, 2005


Today at church we were on the receiving end of the Omiyage custom. We enjoyed red pepper chocolate from Korea. It was an odd sensation, that smooth sweet milky chocolate burning in your mouth.


Today at church I was reminded of the "Hot Body" conversation from a while ago. Only this time there were more church ladies involved and they were laughing more uproariously than before.

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Smattering of Political Intrigue

A smattering of political intrigue.

Today the privatization of the Post Office went through at the federal government level.  The current Prime Minister, Koizumi has been trying to push through this reform for quite some time.  During the summer the privatization was put to a vote.  Koizumi said to his party members that if any of them were to vote against the bill, he would see to it that they would not be elected again.  The bill was defeated because some of Koizumi's party members decided to vote against the party line.  
So Koizumi called a snap election.  He was not in good shape going in, but went against the odds.  He installed new candidates for any of the seats who voted against his pet bill, to keep them from getting re-elected.  
The Japanese people loved this political maneuvering and supported Koizumi with a majority government, something normally unheard of in Japan.  Koizumi then went ahead and proceeded with the Post Office bill, and today saw its successful completion.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Second First Day

Today was my first day of school.
My class is composed of several Chinese, several Koreans, a Floridian, a Swiss, a Russian, A Ukrainian, two Nepalese, a Korean Canadian and a Dutch Canadian (me).  The common languages for groups of people are Chinese, Korean, and English.  We are all now trying to develop the common language of Japanese.  I find that interesting when I sit beside a Korean or a Chinese, knowing we cannot communicate (except with gestures and grunts), but perhaps after a while we will share a common language and communication will happen.
This morning they taught me, believe it or not, how to say I’m not Japanese.  
After lunch we were riding the elevator back to our sixth floor classroom.  The elevator was full, with many of my classmates and an administrator from our school.  The atmosphere was very quiet as we ascended and I couldn’t help myself.  I had to let everyone know I wasn’t Japanese.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

Yesterday, was not Thanksgiving in Japan, but it was a national holiday. Formerly, I'm told, it was an emperor's birthday, but now it bears the very generic and politically correct title of "Health-Sports Day". I'm not sure what a native Japanese person traditionally does on such a prestigious holiday. I'm quite sure they don't stuff a bird full of bread and stuff themselves with it, but perhaps they do something similar with fish.
In any case Aukje and I felt we should go hiking on a day bearing the aforementioned moniker, so we planned to meet a friend of Aukje's and head out to see the Minoh waterfall. On the way up to the waterfall, we met someone we knew who was with some friends also hiking to the waterfall. I'm not sure what the odds are, living in an area with a population of roughly ten million, of meeting someone you know when you know hardly any of those ten million people, but you will have to take my word for it. We really did meet someone we know.
We carried on as a group of seven (not the Group of Seven) and after taking in the waterfall, got ourselves a look at Minoh Dam as well.
As we sat down to eat our obentos (a lunch you take with you) we were ferociously assaulted by the local wildlife. Now most people who have been to Minoh would assume I'm talking about the scads of Monkeys in the park, but such was not the case.
It was actually some sort of bee. It was like a bumble bee on steroids that had not only been working out in the gym but also has been eating way too much. The perp hovered around us looking for more food or perhaps little vials of bee steroids. It unnerved the entire group and after the bee scattered us in all different directions, we regrouped and headed for safer ground for lunch.
Before you judge our collective "manliness factor" I will ask that you keep in mind that we are in the land of the evil giant hornet, and its legendary viciousness does indeed play with your mind.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

I've been scouted.

I received an e-mail from someone near Osaka.

My name is Shorty in Shin-Osaka.

I happen to find your blog.

It’s really interesting!

This must be a weird question, but I wanna ask you as Canadian…

Did you make hockey team,already?

If you don’t, what do you think about joining my team, “Umeda Mapleleafs”?



Friday, October 07, 2005


As the teacher was preparing us for the placement test, she explained that it would be divided in to three sections and at some point during the test we would have to go down the hall for a one on one interview (I had old mental images of going to the principal's office for an "interview" kicking around in my mind). The first section was a dictation, for us to demonstrate our ability in Hiragana/Katakana (the Japanese equivalent of an alphabet). The second part was the grammar section, and third was the nomimono section. Now I know from past lessons that nomimono means drink, but I honestly didn't think we were getting a drinking test. I just assumed there must be another meaning for the word or perhaps it was some sort of analogy. In any case I figured it would become evident when we progressed that far into the test.
As I proceeded from excited anticipation prior to the test, to hopefulness that there would be something I knew later in the test, to acceptance that the test was not going to get any easier, and finally to the reality of being beat up, I had some idle time in between. During one of those moments I wrote down what the teacher had put on the board about the yomimono for later reference, perhaps it would be a good idea to look that up in the dictionary since it had not become obvious what or when that part of the test was going to happen.
When I got home, I asked Aukje what a nomimono test was, and she, (bewildered) looked at me as if I was a gibbering fool. I said "Here, I wrote it down see?" Yomimono.
Well she laughed at me, because I had mixed up the yo and the no. I was right that nomimono really does mean drink, but I was wrong because that was not what was written on the board. It was yomimono which means reading, and indeed the third section of the test was a reading exercise.
Aukje welcomed me to living in Japan and assured me that I was making the inaugural of many such mistakes, some of which will be humorous, but some of which might be downright embarrassing.
I'll try to keep you up to date.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

My First Day

Today was my first day of school. I approached it with a little trepidation, feeling not unlike I did when I went to grade one. I packed my sandwich and bottle of water, a pen and a notebook, as well as some mental preparation and off I went.
I arrived to find the fifth floor abuzz with students registering, filling out forms and getting sorted into several common languages for orientation. I ended up in the English orientation (surprise surprise) and voraciously absorbed all (as only one who is starved for information in his native language can), that the person behind the podium said.
She then turned us over to a Japanese teacher, (who does not speak English) and we were handed a placement test. I have to admit I got beat up pretty badly by the test. I couldn't read half of it, I couldn't understand half of it, and I didn't have enough vocabulary for the other half. I couldn't even land a punch.
But as I had time to kill I remembered a time a little about a year ago when I went through a placement test for a part-time class I attended. And I didn't feel quite so bad, at least I wrote something down this time.
It turns out that classes don't start until next week, so all my trepidation was for nought, and I get to experience the joy of it all over again next week.
Ahh the blessings of a language barrier.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Toliet Training

When I reached the end of the toilet paper this morning the cardboard roll had a message for me.

Maido Arigato Gozaimasu.

Thank you very much, every time.

The opportunity to practice my Japanese pops up even when I'm on the pottie.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


Whenever a Japanese person travels for a period of time they have to bring back Omiyage, or souvenirs. The souvenirs are not for the travelers themselves but for other people, their friends and acquaintances who were inconvenienced by the absence. The souvenirs are usually given in the form of food and are normally tied to the place where you have been. So for all your family and close friends, the members of your church, (if you missed church while you were away), your co-workers, all the people in your English class (in my case)... You get the picture.
I brought with me a bunch of maple leaf cookies and several bags of Stroep Waffles. Yesterday at church over lunch we set out the Stroep Waffles. They went over quite well.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


Today is national census day! (I think we are supposed to be excited about it.)

A moment capturing Aukje's agony over filling out complicated government Census forms, especially when we don't fit into neat little boxes the way governments always feel you should.