Friday, October 31, 2008

No parties on the train please

Going home from work tonight, I spotted this interesting poster somewhere in the JR station in Osaka:
I though it was a rather peculiar warning, first of all it wasn’t just in Japanese but also in English, perfect English and not incomprehensible Engrish. But are they actually telling us not to have parties on the train? Who would want to party on a Japanese train in the first place? They’re always crowded with bored people, who are sleeping in every position thinkable, not really the ideal party location, you’d think. But in Tokyo they’re also warning people not to party on the train:
So something was definitely going on. A little research on the internet and I found out about the Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Train, a.k.a. the Gaijin (foreigner) Train.
This is a forbidden underground Halloween celebration on the JR Yamanote line in Tokyo every year. The party consists of mostly costumed foreigners, joined by enthusiastic Japanese people, drinking, eating, playing music, dancing, yelling and laughing loudly. This kind of behavior is kind of wild and shocking to normal Japanese society, so understandably they’re trying to stop it from happening, hence the warnings.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Halloween

My 7 day workweek is finally over, somewhere during this week I also caught a cold, making everything a bit more tiring. Honestly, I was really fed up with working on day 5 and was really not looking forward to the last 2 days. But now it’s over! When I got home today the first thing I did was lie down on the ground (I have a carpet so it’s pretty soft, and I was too tired to change to get into the bed) for a quick nap, I was exhausted with the work and the cold. Still, today was a pretty fun workday; we had a Halloween party for kids at the school.
Our manager loves Halloween and had the teachers decorate the school excessively a few weeks ago. And on Saturday Halloween week started meaning all teachers are teaching classes in costume for a week. We don’t have a Halloween tradition in my country, so I’m not really into the whole costume thing, besides costumes are expensive. So I just borrowed a cowboy hat from one of the other teachers and wore them with my jeans and cowboy boots. But we were teaching kids on carpets today, which means no shoes, and without the boots there isn’t much ‘costume’ left, so today the manager put a pumpkin hat on my head instead.
Almost all the children that came to the party were dressed up and they looked adorable. We played some Halloween themed games with them and in the end they all got to ‘trick or treat’ to fill their self-made Halloween bags. Afterwards we were posing with all the kids so the parents could take pictures… my jaws still hurt from all the smiling and my eyes are still blind from all the flashlights. This is how celebrities must feel. It’s hard work. But I think the kids had fun and they all loved getting their little hands on so much candy. I had fun during the party too, but the funniest thing we did today was go to McDonalds in costume to pick up some lunch.
We got a lot of stares and funny looks, but then again being a foreigner in Japan will earn you those stares and weird looks, even without going through the trouble of dressing up like an idiot. But this might have been a first for our Japanese coworkers.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Follow-up training

Today was the first day of my first-ever-7-day-workweek. I had a whole day of follow-up training at Honbu with the Welshman and 5 other teachers. It was a long day of going over everything we learned at initial training again and observing (pretending to be the student) and giving (pretending to be the teacher) model lessons. Of course, we also had to eat and we ended up having lunch at a very Japanese restaurant in a beautiful private room. Dinner (with well-deserved alcohol) was at an izakaya.
Overall, the training was fun and during some model lessons I laughed so hard I started to cry. What wasn’t so much fun was the fact that it was planned on a Monday, which is one of my regular days off, but it happens and we get compensated, so it’s ok. But as (bad) luck would have it, I also have to work in Senri Chuo this Sunday (my other regular day off), so I’m working 7 days in a row, surrounded by only one-day weekends… This is not really supposed to happen, though. So I guess I’ll just try to look forward to the extra money just before the holiday season, instead of the very long workweek.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Maiko in Osaka

Maiko’s job took her to Osaka for a couple of days including this weekend, so of course we hung out today, and she took one of her coworkers along for the ride. After a quick introduction to KJ, and a thorough search for a big enough locker for Maiko’s suitcase we headed to The Loft, to do some shopping. We didn’t buy much but we did have a go at the crazy Halloween costumes they’re selling there. Of course, we picked up some coffee at Starbucks and we did some purikura, as Maiko is the Purikura Queen. She even knew a way to get all the pictures, instead of the usual 2, sent to your cell phone, by using some infrared transfer instead of the usual email.
This excited me a lot until I found out my phone doesn’t even have infrared. Oh well, but at least Maiko got all the pictures and she emailed them all to my phone:
One other thing we love to do when we hang out is karaoke… of course. So we got ourselves a beautifully lit pink room at Shidax and sang some Bon Jovi, Linkin Park and J-Pop for an hour.
 
All the singing and wandering about Umeda made us thirsty and hungry so we stopped at an English pub for cocktails (mine was a sangria), fish and chips and more.
We saved the best for last, which was a trip on the unbelievably high Hep 5 Ferris wheel. We didn’t go in the afternoon, because KJ told us he was too afraid of heights, maybe even more than me, and I know this Ferris wheel is really too high to be enjoyable. But I guess he changed his mind, because later he announced to want to ride the red monster. So we did. And it was high, too high, again. I heard KJ whimper a lot and sometimes he screamed “Don’t shake, don’t shake” at the top of his lungs, when we moved about in the little red box. I tried to take some pictures this time, but it’s hard when you’re on a moving wheel and it’s dark. The trip was still scary (a bit less this time) but still fun too.
After we all survived our 15-minute trip above Osaka, it was time to say goodbye again, because all 3 of us have to work tomorrow. Even me, on a Monday… I have follow-up training at Honbu. It was fun to hang out with Maiko again and be crazy, luckily KJ was crazy too, so he fit right in!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Eating out in Tsukamoto again

Yasu and I decided to try another restaurant in Tsukamoto, instead of Osaka tonight. Especially since the last time was such a success. This time we chose a Japanese restaurant where tour guides apparently take busloads of foreign tourists to let them sample from Japanese cuisine. I don’t really remember the name of the restaurant, Kada-something, but I know where it is and how to get there (by bike) so that’s the most important thing. The atmosphere in the restaurant is so-so, as this was a Japanese restaurant which usually comes with those huge lights that over brighten the place and make me feel I’m in a factory instead of a restaurant. But the menu was extensive and looked very promising. It took us a while to decide what to order, but I think we made some pretty good choices.
The food was really good and it was fun to cook most of it on a small teppanyaki kept warm by some blue soap-looking stuff that burns. The only thing I didn’t really like was the raw octopus in my salad, but that problem was easily solved by throwing it on the teppanyaki and grilling it. I also had some ochazuke, which is basically a bowl of rice on which you poor green tea before eating. I didn’t really like it, but that could be because I poured so much tea in it that all my rice grains were swimming in an ocean of green tea. Yasu still like it, though.
Tsukamoto has so many restaurants and we’ve only tried 3 so far. It’s not because we never eat out, because we basically always eat out, but it’s that we always tend to go to restaurants in downtown Osaka. But they always have long lines and eating in Tsukamoto is more convenient, so next weekend we’re going to try another one here.

Lunch with students

Normally, I eat lunch by myself on a workday. Lunch is usually around 4 PM, so all the restaurants are almost empty, which makes service quick and gives me an hour of peace and quiet to relax and read a book or magazine while eating. On Saturdays, I start work 3 hours earlier than regular, so lunch is earlier too at 2 PM, which is still lunchtime for many Japanese too, including my students. After my last class before lunch, a high-level discussion class, a student invited another student and me to go have lunch with her. Well, why not?
So the three of us (sorry, no pictures of students allowed on the blog) went to an Italian restaurant near the school, and had the most unusual lunch I’ve had so far. I’ve never lunched with students during a work day before, but it was fun and really great to get to know them better and learn some interesting things about them.
More pictures

Monday, October 13, 2008

Meeting Yasu's American friends

Yasu is a very social person and he’ll talk to just to about anyone who looks interesting. Once, when Yasu was still a university student, he saw a tall American in an elevator at school and struck up a conversation. And now more than 5 years later Yasu is still friends with Paul, the tall American professor who arrived in Japan in 1982, and his wife Susan. He even visited them in San Diego for Christmas once. I’d heard a lot about these people but today was my first time to meet them.
We visited them at their Japanese apartment near the university in Sanda, which was the most wonderful home I’ve ever seen in Japan. The atmosphere was warm and homey and of course I forgot to take pictures. Paul and Susan used to live in Japan together, they even got married here, but Susan moved back to the States a couple of years ago, but visits her husband in Japan twice a year and Paul goes back for the states for a couple of months per year when the university has its annual school vacations. Susan just got back to Japan again, so Yasu and I went to their place to be treated to a delicious home cooked American meal.
The food was really great, but the best part was dessert, which was a crispy apple pie with vanilla ice-cream and absolutely divine. And of course dessert was the only part of the meal I forgot to photograph. Everything was really good and they had more than enough for seconds, but we were all way too stuffed. Not only the food was good, it was also great to meet these people and hear all about old Japan as they’ve lived here (on and off) since the early eighties. It was a wonderful evening meeting some of Yasu’s most interesting friends.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Indonesian lunch in Nagoya

Last night Kristin and I fell asleep after 4 AM, not because we were drunk and dancing around on the streets, but because we weren’t drunk and talking even though we ought to be sleeping. We ended up leaving Inuyama around 12 to get some food and do some shopping in Nagoya. Kristin took me to a Indonesian restaurant she discovered in the La Chic building in Sakae. Being half Indonesian, I have eaten a fair amount of Indonesian food in my life, and grown quite fond of the spicy goodness. I hadn’t seen any Indonesian restaurant in Japan before so I was very excited.
Even though the restaurant is on the 7th floor inside some huge mall, it still looks like some sidewalk café on some street somewhere. They had some cute seating outside, but we decided to have lunch inside where the interior was very modern, warm and beautiful. Of course I forgot to take a picture of that, but I did take a picture of Kristin showing off her Engrish t-shirt inside the Indonesian Café.
We ordered a some gado gado (cold vegetable dish with peanut sauce), lumpias, spicy chicken and beef satay in hot peanut sauce. It wasn’t really like the Indonesian food I know, but it definitely had some Indonesian tastes and it was absolutely delicious. Besides the gado gado came with krupuk (oily shrimp crackers) so I was happy!
After our wonderful lunch at Bali Café Putri, we continued our book shopping and both ended up with a very uncomfortable amount of books to carry home, still we couldn’t not buy the books, we’re quite the book fanatics. It was fun to be back in that part of Japan that kind of feels like home, and to see the many familiar faces and places that I’ve been missing. Now it’s time to go back to Osaka.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Lou versus Louana

In Osaka everybody calls me Lou, but in Inuyama everybody calls me Louana. I don’t like the full version and prefer the nickname Lou, and most people I know automatically shorten my name to Lou anyway, so I was never bothered with the sound of my full name (which for some reason I really don’t like). But in Inuyama (and Nagoya) people stick with the name you gave them during your introduction, so Louana was back and Lou was gone. And for some reason it was impossible to teach the Japanese the shorter and preferred version of my name… Stuck with a name I didn’t like.
So when I transferred to Osaka I made sure to introduce myself as Lou to everybody I met, and I even had Honbu put Lou on my nametag instead of Louana. By the end of training all printed materials even said Lou van Luttervelt, even though I prefer my full name when typed or written on some document, because it just looks weird without the ‘ana’. But I decided not to mention it because I got what I wanted: everybody was calling me Lou or Lou-sensei!
Anyway, being back in Inuyama it was weird to be called Louana again by my old students and coworkers and I sometimes had to stop myself from correcting them. But it was just for one evening so I decided I could take it. Tomorrow I’ll be back in Osaka where everybody calls me Lou, except for my boyfriend who always calls me Louana… I told him I don’t like it but I guess he does, and I let him do it, simply because he won’t not do it.

Party in Inuyama

Even though I left Inuyama that doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on there anymore. I still keep in touch with Kristin and I always check Sean’s (my replacement) facebook for the latest pictures, videos and stories from Inuyamaland. Apparently, one of the Japanese teachers, Aiko, has transferred to a new school this week and today was her going-away party.
Kristin asked me to come to the party and stay over at her place and that was a very easy decision, of course I’d be there! So today I hopped on a Shinkansen to Nagoya and more than 2 hours later I found myself in Kristin’s Inuyama pasting together a photobook which Kristin wanted to surprise Aiko with but which she hadn’t had time to make yet. Good thing I was there to help. Kristin added the finishing touch to the front while we were waiting for the other partygoers in front of a closed (!) Al Centro.
That’s right sadly enough the party was not held at Al Centro, as it’s closed on Sundays, so we went to some izakaya instead. The students didn’t know that I was coming to the party and it was really fun to see their shocked faces. And of course it was great to do some serious catching up with some of my favorite students! Some of the teachers also didn’t know I was coming to Inuyama and their shock was a little more audible and exaggerated. I brought Aiko some pastries disguised as takoyaki, an Osaka delicacy (although I don’t care for them much) and of course I put in a lot of work on the photo and comment book. Before Aiko received the book, we passed it around with a bag of markers so that everybody could write some comment in the book. And the end product was good, there’s something about colorful Japanese writing that makes everything look so pretty.
I love parties at Al Centro because of the familiarity and the chairs which making getting up and walking around very easy, but the main reason is the delicious white wine they serve. The food at this izakaya was very good, even better than at Al Centro, but the booze was quite disappointing and the atmosphere was very nice but the Japanese seating (with holes in the floor for your legs) made getting up and moving about quite bothersome. Especially when Moe, the manager, asked me to give a speech as the special guest! I had just finished telling Kristin that not working at Inuyama anymore relieved me from any of those party duties, but I was wrong. 
At this izakaya they had the typical alcoholic drinks I don’t like, like beer, shochu and sake, and they the cocktails or chuhais, but they were so watered down that they had no effect on my mental state whatsoever… Compare that to the all-powerful Al Centro wine that has the ability to make any great party a super party. After we moved the party to the karaoke place across the street, I kind of gave up on getting any kind of drunk and consumed ginger ale the rest of the night as that was included in the price.
But of course I still enjoyed the party while being sober, sang some songs with students and just enjoyed being around all those familiar faces. And this time being sober, I didn’t end up kissing everybody in the karaoke room, like I did at the end of my farewell party in May!
Of course I took loads of pictures, but most of them include students from my old school, and company policy prohibits me from showing students in the open on the web… So if you want to see these fun pictures, please become my Flickr friend or family.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Spanish dinner

I guess we’ve been a bit tired of Japanese food because for the last couple of weekends Yasu and I have been frequenting Outback, a Western steakhouse chain, to feed ourselves with some very non-Japanese food. But we’ve gone there too many times and now we’ve grown tired with that too… So tonight we decided to try a small Spanish restaurant we spotted in Tsukamoto last week:
They didn’t have an English or a picture menu but they did have a Spanish menu! And even though I don’t speak Spanish (in spite of having had some encounters with the language, like a mini course in University, playing in a Spanish guitar band and of course vacations in Spain), I can decipher some of the written language and was able to order with minimal translation help from Yasu. We ordered several dishes and of course I ordered some sangria, which wasn’t half bad.
We spent several hours there, enjoying the food and atmosphere, and we even ended up ordering dessert, which we normally don’t do. We also enjoyed watching the cooks prepare the Spanish delicacies as they had an open kitchen right in front of us at the bar. I’m sure we’ll come here again, as long as we don’t go too often because I don’t want to grow tired with this cute little restaurant too.

Pounding mochi

Every weekend it’s pretty busy in Senri Chuo and often some kind of event is going on like a dance festival with hundreds of teenagers in entertaining costumes, or another famous Japanese person is handing out signatures and performing on the Selcy stage.
These things can get loud and are usually very audible in my classroom making teaching and hearing my shy students’ replies rather difficult. Today class invaded by noises from outside again and in my break I found out there was yet another event going on. What the even was about I have no idea but I did find an interesting group of men pounding on rice in an effort to make mochi (rice cake).
These days they can make mochi with modern pieces of machinery but the traditional mochi-pounding ceremony, a.k.a. mochitsuki, is still very popular and very interesting to watch:
Japanese rice is pounded with wooden mallets in a traditional mortar, and usually two people will alternate the work, one pounding and the other turning and wetting the mochi. They need to work in a steady rhythm or they may accidently pound on something other than rice. The two person routine is scary to watch, because it looks like the turning guy’s hand will get pounded by the other guy every so many seconds. The guys I saw at work today just pounded for a while and only turned the mochi during pounding breaks, which is a lot safer for them and a lot less stressful for us to watch.