Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Transfer haircut

Japanese people are always in a hurry because they are always busy with work. They don’t have enough time to sleep at night so they use the trains they commute to work with to catch up on some sleep. Women don’t have enough time to do their make up at home so they bring huge bags filled with big mirrors and cosmetics to do their make up on a moving and busy train. Men don’t have enough time to go to a hair salon and maintain a decent looking hairstyle, so they get their hair cut on a train platform while waiting for their transfer train.
Yesterday, I discovered this hair salon where you can get your hair cut within 10 minutes for just a 1000 yen, on a train platform in Osaka. I was very surprised but Yasu said it’s very common and that he himself had been to such a place for a haircut several times…

Monday, September 29, 2008

Osaka Castle

Saturday was the first cool day since the insane summer heat and it’s still cool here, I think maybe autumn has finally arrived. Sadly, the comfortable temperature is paired with a lot of rainfall, which is kind of annoying but still a hundred times better than the summer weather. I have a rekindled desire to see Japan and all it has to offer, and I convinced Yasu to do some sightseeing with me today. He offered to go to Kyoto or Kobe, but I wanted to start close to home today, so we decided to pay Osaka Castle a visit.
From the outside it looks like a typical Japanese castle, but on the inside it looks like some insignificant office building. They’ve totally rebuild and modernized the castle on the inside, they’ve even installed a couple of elevators. Seems like there is nothing authentic left inside, or perhaps in some hidden rooms, and you really have to remind yourself you’re in a castle because it looks like a regular museum in a boring building with some old things on display. But the exterior is pretty and it is pretty damn convenient to use an elevator and regular stairs to go up and not have to climb down impossibly high and slippery steps on your socks with a constant fear of breaking your neck. And outside the castle we could pretend to be the rulers of the castle and that is always fun.
We had lunch at a restaurant/omiyage shop next to the castle, and I decided to take the castle specialty named after its ancient ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (whose grave we discovered on Koyasan a couple of months ago). It was basically rice with some special taste (a little too special for me but Yasu liked it) and regular udon served in a super bowl, maybe Hideyoshi liked to feel small or something. It was fun to eat but way too much for lunch. Later on I tried another weird ice cream flavor (previously tried are green tea, sesame and salt) which Yasu translated to ‘some kind of rice’ and the lady behind the counter told us that it had a touch of ginger. So I guess I’ll just call it ‘ginger rice ice cream’, and I liked it. The only I didn’t like so far was the most common and popular green tea, and my favorite is still sesame.
Even though it was raining so much that we got soaked, and I didn’t have an umbrella with me, and even though the inside of the castle wasn’t the least bit impressive, we still had fun discovering an (to us) unknown part of Osaka.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Body bag

Even though it’s Sunday I had to work today, this happens every so often and we get paid overtime, but if it were up to me it would never happen. I’d choose a full two day weekend over a little extra money everyday, so I was very eager to leave Senri Chuo when it was 5 PM. But when I went down to the subway station the trains weren’t running and hundreds of people were just waiting around hoping for a train to depart. What happened someone had jumped in front of a train, again! I waited with all the others feeling irritated of being robbed of even more free time on a Sunday. Japan has a grim reputation as one of the world’s worst suicide nations with someone killing him or herself every 15 minutes. It’s really insane how often someone jumps in front of a train just here in Osaka, I mean I’ve not even lived here for four months and I’ve already seen dozens of train delays due to suicide jumpers, and it’s a big nuisance. New stations have suicide prevention platforms with anti suicide walls, but there are still more than enough regular stations and the most popular way to kill yourself in Japan is still jumping in front of a train.
I’m lucky and 15 minutes later the train already leaves the station. A couple of stations later during a regular stop people start looking outside with frowns on their faces. I turn around and see lots of firemen and policemen and gather this is where it all happened. I start to look away when the old man next to me points at something he thinks I need to see, I look again and find myself staring at a grey body bag with the remains of the human being that decided to end his or her life today by jumping in front of the Midosuji train. Moments later the old man slaps me in the face, not on purpose but his movements are too wild when he’s talking about the horrific scene right in front of our train window. The rest of the train ride I find myself wondering what’s so wrong with the culture in this country that makes more than 95 (!!!) people per day take their own life…

Saturday, September 27, 2008

How-to Kaitenzushi

They do things differently in Japan, and they have a proper way to do everything with numerous unwritten rules. Although I wouldn’t be surprise if there was this huge library somewhere in Tokyo filled with rulebooks telling the Japanese how to do everything, because if there is something the people in this country love its rules and they all abide by them without asking questions. Of course, rules also apply to consuming food and I like teaching you about the food rules I encounter. Like how to cook nabe-for-one, how to prepare your food at a kushiage restaurant, how to correctly eat Yamachan’s tebasaki and how to get the onigiri out of its package without the whole thing falling apart. Today: kaitenzushi a.k.a. conveyor belt sushi a.k.a. the sushi-go-round.
Step 1: Go to a kaitenzushi place (I recommend Kurazushi), get seated, and take a plate off the conveyor belt, preferably with something on it that looks attractive to your taste buds.
Step 2: When you don’t find what you want on the conveyor belt, feel free to order the missing thing with the little computer hanging over your table. Some Japanese skills are required though, but not too much, because I can kind of do it too.
Step 3: Repeat steps 1 and 2 until you’ve gathered a sizable collection of delectable-looking sushi on your table.
Step 4: There is box, with a see-through lid, on the table which contains a lot of wooden sticks. Which are, yes you guessed it right, chopsticks. Take some out of the box, because it’s not ok to just stuff the sushi in into your mouth with your hands, no matter how much fun it may seem.
Step 5: The chopsticks are like Siamese twins and conjoined at the ass, so you have to hold one in each hand and start pulling. Be careful as you don’t want any wood splinters flying about that might endanger your eyes or more importantly your sushi.
Step 6: Use all your strength and yell out an intelligent warrior cry (I recommend ‘Oowey’) at the final effort of actually separating the chopsticks. If you are too weak to do this, you could also just use two pairs of still conjoined chopsticks to eat your sushi.
Step 7: They have two kinds of soy sauce, regular (which is a little bit salty) and sweet, make your choice and add that to your sushi (I recommend a mixture of the two).
Step 8: If you are like me and you like your food spicy, then locate the little pot filled with green wasabi and use the miniature spoon to scoop some up and add it to your soy sauce.
Step 9: Now hold your chopsticks together and quickly move it around circularly in the soy sauce and wasabi, a.k.a. mixing the two. Don’t forget to enjoy the highly entertaining action.
Step 10: Open your chopsticks again and hold them in the pick-up-food position. Put the end of each of your chopsticks on the opposite sides of your sushi, squeeze and lift up your hand and with it your sushi moves from the plate.
Step 11: Move your hand in such a way that the sushi is transported from your plate to your open mouth and insert the sushi. Close your mouth, chew (without making any sounds please) and swallow, this whole process may be recognized by some as eating.
Step 12: Keep repeating step 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 until you’ve emptied all the plates and then the real fun can start: clearing the table of plates! There’s a hole under the conveyor belt where you dump all your plates either gently or try to throw them in from a distance. There is a small Japanese clerk waiting in the basement to count the number of plates you throw at him and he communicates that back to the little ordering computer above your table. This information then enables the waitress to write you a check for the right amount. Pay when you leave at the cash register strategically placed next to the exit and that’s how you do kaitenzushi in Japan!
More pictures

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Croc love

Everybody knows those colorful soft sole clogs named Crocs right? The ones with the cute little crocodile on the side, well if they are real. Well, in Japan they definitely do. I think it is the iPod of shoes in Japan, everybody seems to have them. I sometimes even think they are considered highly fashionable here. Hell, I even have a pair, pink of course, but I bought them in the Netherlands not here. Well, I like my Crocs, they are comfortable (except for the stones that keep entering through the holes in the front and sides of the shoes) and easy to put on and take off (not unimportant in Japan).
They are unbelievably popular here, everybody wears them, men and women, young and old. I’ve seen them in all colors and all sizes, and all kinds of weird version (sometimes even with heels or laces) and also at least 10 different kinds of rip-offs. In every class there’s at least one person wearing a pair of Crocs or fake Crocs, and when I teach kids, almost all of them are wearing them and theirs are usually decorated with those jibbitz thingies.
More pictures

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Girl talk

This week was counseling week at school. Meaning lots of classes were cancelled and that we were teaching special classes. I was teaching a special movie class, where we analyzed and practiced a scene from ‘How to lose a guy in 10 days’, and a girl talk class, where only women were welcome and we discussed girl stuff. During girl talk today one students revealed that she was part of some complicated love triangle at work, and it was so complicated that we needed to draw it our on the white board to make sense of it. Very interesting though! And during girl talk class last night, I met one of my students’ sister who’s married to a Dutch farmer and lives with him on a cow farm in the Netherlands (she’s on vacation in Japan now). Her name is Aki Nieuwland (note the Dutch last name) and… she’s speaks Dutch!
Today we met up after work for some dinner and some continued girl talk, only in Dutch this time! We went to this small Korean restaurant, and talked for two hours straight! We were talking so much that at one time the waitress came over to warn us that our food was getting cold, well it was already stone cold by then. Good thing Korean food also tastes good when cold. It was so much fun to talk to Aki, and to hear about her experiences in the Netherlands, and all the culture differences, only now from the other perspective. It’s too bad she’s flying back next week.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

You can run but you can't hide from your homework

They put me in charge of some project at school. Which basically meant making a poster to motivate students to study harder at home and finish their materials on time:
It was actually quite nice to do something a little more creative than teaching the same kinds of lessons over and over again. I would have rather done it on the computer though, but we’re kind of ‘old school’ at work so I had to use paper and markers.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Quick stop at Osaka immigration

I’ve been dreading going to the immigration office in Osaka for weeks, ever since I picked up my new passport at the Dutch consulate. As nobody gave me any deadline for transferring my visa to my new passport, I decided to go there after Obon. I just didn’t feel like spending hours waiting in line in some stuffy Japanese office building, again. Lots of foreigners want to travel abroad during Obon and need a re-entry permit from immigration, which they all tend to go get at the same time, and at the last moment.
So I went today, and it turns out that waiting till after Obon was a good idea. There were loads of people in the office waiting, but the counter I needed to be at was empty, there was nobody in line for a visa transfer or a re-entry permit. Ha! The office is a really nice and clean building, and they even have a konbini inside just in case you get thirsty or hungry during those long waits. Too bad I was finished so quickly… or not.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Lou's Cup Noodle

In August, I went to the Cup Noodle Museum with the Dutchies to make my own Cup of customized Noodle, but I don’t really like instant ramen… But my boyfriend loves it! So today he did the honors and prepared the Cup of Lou noodles and then devoured them, and he let me taste some of it too.
It’s a shame to open a package that I worked on so hard, but the noodles expire after one month and it would be a greater waste to never eat them of course. Yasu loved the noodles and can’t wait to pay that museum a visit himself. And I actually kind of liked the noodles myself, they didn’t taste bad at all, I might buy some Cup Noodle in the future for personal use.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Too high

After work Yasu and I met up in Umeda for dinner at Outback. We spend several hours eating and making good use of the free refills on drinks. After dinner we walk to the station and Yasu suddenly says he feels like going somewhere high… Eh alright? I immediately think of the Midland Square Building, but that’s in Nagoya, and the Umeda Sky Building is too far away. So I offer to take a ride with him on the red Ferris Wheel on the Hep 5 Building. It might not be that high but it was late and his request to go high was quite random anyway.
Did we underestimate the height of the Ferris Wheel? We most certainly did! It’s the scariest Ferris Wheel I’ve ever been on. It’s so unbelievably high it started to freak me out half way up and at one point Yasu couldn’t take it anymore either. Of course, we were perfectly safe and we survived the trip without a scratch. And we are going to have to do it again, as I didn’t have my camera with me and we had some awesome views from that little round car, and I want some pictures!