30 October 2010


On my second day in Fujieda there was what I later learnt, is called a typhoon in Japan. Essentially it rained pretty heavily. And don't get me wrong, I dislike rain as much as anyone, 'any cold, wet thing, I don't really...', but it was not the mythical, exciting storm I was expecting when I heard about Japanese typhoons. In fact, now that I google it:

a tropical cyclone or hurricane of the western Pacific area and the China seas.
a violent storm or tempest of India.

And google image it:

You see, I'd wrongly assumed that I had the wrong impression of typhoons before coming to Japan. Surely, all these Japanese people calling heavy rain typhoons must be right, living as they do on the continent where typhoons happen, but apparently not. Maybe there's a typhoon somewhere very far away sending us a little rain? I figure that's the only possible explanation, confirming as my googling does that a typhoon's a cyclone/hurricane...ala the first scene of the Wizard of Oz. I can only hope that the predicted magnitude of the Tokai earthquake is being similarly blown out of proportion..

Despite the uneventfulness of typhoons, they're pretty annoying. Anything other than dry, mild weather is annoying when you have to cycle in it. On waking up for the first time in Fujidea to the familiar sound of rainfall, I was a little worried that I'd be blamed for bringing the weather with me. Luckily, I had an old ama-gappa (Japanese rain gear) consisting of a jacket and trousers that my predecessor had left me to weather my first Japanese storm.

As she predicted, it soaked through after a while. The trousers were kinda short, reaching about halfway up my calves on the bike. The hood was far too small for my head so that rain was flying full on into my eyes..unideal since my lack of cycling coordination was close to landing my in a ditch anyway. (A lot of the residential roads in my area are flanked by deep ditches about 10cm wide, hazard!) The worst part though, was that the sleeves had no elastic around the cuffs, so the water ran down inside them, up my arms.

I avoiding buying a new ama-gappa for a good while. In September, the next 'typhoon' hit and I decided that arriving at school with soggy trouser-legs, face and sleeves wasn't ideal! I bought a dress-type thing at Apita, a department store near Fujieda train station. I though it would be convenient for wearing skirts with. It didn't soak through and the sleeves were elasticated, but unfortunately it only reached down to my knees on the bike, so the soaking trousers, shoes and socks problem continued..

Today, the third 'typhoon' has hit, as predicted..though it's been raining on and off recently as well. I had somehow managed to misplace my dress ama-gappa so last night I set out on a mission to make myself waterproof once and for all.

It started with opening packs of ama-gappa in Apita, trying on different sizes and styles. I'm not sure that they allow that, but I was hiding behind shelves of rain-gear so the staff couldn't see me..several other shoppers stared, but that could have been a gaijin thing. The hardest part was stuffing them back into their little plastic packets. I can tell you that I ripped more than one pack in the attempt. Partly due to guilt, and partly because it was decent, I bought my new ama-gappa there. It's black, with super long trousers, elasticated sleeves and best of all that oh-so-Japanese transparent part on the front of the hood, which allows you to pull it down over your eyes without impacting your peripheral vision.

The other typhoon measure I had resolved to take was purchasing wellies. Of course I change my shoes upon arrival at school, but that's not much good if my socks are already soaked through..I looked in Apita, the shoe shop in Bivi and finally ended up in Seiyu, an amazingly cheap chain of department stores. I'm informed that they're a classier version of Wall mart.

The problem I have with wellies, is that I've humongous calves which refuse to be shrouded in tight-fitting, non-stretchy, rubbery material. I explained this using gestures to a staff-member who approached me in one shop, and she recommended wellie-shoes. Unsure of how to gesture 'kill me already', I just shook my head. They were like wellies, but just shoe size, and each pair sported a brighter and zanier pattern than the last.

In the end, I went with a compromise, short wellies...possibly men's' short wellies at that, which meant at least that they were available in sober hues. In Seiyu there were ultra tight-fitting women's' ones and massive, loose-fitting men's' ones with no in between. I bought the smallest man-size which are just a little too big.

The cherry on my water-repellent cake is the gloves. I found them in Seiyu and they cost nearly as much as the ama-gappa, but with them I can guarantee scalp to sole dryness.

Now that I'm all kitted out, I was of course eagerly awaiting today's typhoon. Unfortunately, my plans for going out have been cancelled because of the typhoon so now I'm lacking a reason to venture outside..unnecessary trip to the combini anyone?

20 October 2010

Tokyo Disney

Last weekend my boyfriend ('Irish friend' in Japanese) came to visit. After the ridiculously long-haul, transfer-ridden flight you can imagine how knackered and broke he was..but I insisted that we go to Tokyo Disney!

The original plan was to wake up real early to take advantage of the 6,000 yen we'd be paying. I though getting there for 9 would be ideal, but a Japanese teacher later informed me that if you want to actually go on the rides, you need to arrive at 8 and make a mad dash around the park grabbing fast past tickets. Then you can leisurely stroll around skipping lines of sucker tourists who thought that arriving at 9 was ok. I asked if what this was what he usually did - of course.

In typical us-fashion, we actually got there at 11, none the less genki though the sun was beating down and the crowds were swarming through the big blue gates ahead of us. There's something magical about Disney - going there is so much more exciting than it should be. I felt like a kid again..possibly because the other time I went, in Florida, I was 12. Not even the lack of pink paint on the castle (which was white) could dampen my spirits.

Once we had our maps (I'm obsessed with them), and had scrutinised them intensely for some time, we devised an itinerary that would take us around the rides on the basis of location and priority ranking...of course we were yet to see the cues. We headed off through the castle (actually, there's nothing amazing inside it, just a shop..shattered fantasy there). First of all we reached the teacups, but what was this huge crowd of people huddled alongside it, not a cue surely? And when the attendant passed by shouting san-jippun (30 min) I was sure I'd misheard. But it's the freakin' teacups..the crappiest of rides..and it's 11 in the morning. Nevertheless we cued up. Towards the front of the line I realised that they looked like waltzers, which tend to make me sick, so we spend the ride desperately clinging to the wheel to prevent the cup spinning too much! Fun was had by all.

Next of all I dragged my bf to the Small World ride, which I spotted from the teacups (we were in the fantasy land section of the park). This is a slightly more popular ride, which was reflected in the cuing time - 2 whole hours! But there's a fast-pass system of course, it was all explained on the back of our maps...you just go up to the fast-pass ticket booths, print your ticket and come back at the time printed on it. Simple...but no matter how many rides we tried, or Japanese attendants I bugged, we couldn't find any machines. They all spoke English, and directed us or said that the fast-pass for their ride was finished...what they failed to mention however, was what I learnt from my Japanese teacher yesterday, ALL THE FAST-PASS MACHINES CLOSE AT LIKE 815. Finally, during a rest stop alongside a ride, I realised that the big plastic things we were leaning on were the fast-pass machines, successfully hidden from view under plastic covers, ready to re-emerge at the crack of dawn the next day, ridiculous!

In the end, we realised that we only had time for 3 rides if we skipped lunch..which wasn't an option. Having confirmed that the cues for all the good rides were crazy-long (over 2 hours for Pirates of the Caribbean and god-knows-how-long for the Michael Jackson ride), we settled for walking around taking photos and eating popcorn (of which they had about 10 flavors on stands all around the park - butter n soy sauce being the most outlandish). We did go on the Small World ride and I'm proud to say that there was a really overweight leprechaun and some Irish-dancing farmers representin'. Honestly, I don't know how my students knew nothing about Ireland before I came to Japan..

The final annoyance of Disney was the Halloween parade. It's on everyday throughout October, and though I'm sure it's not continuous..it seemed to be blocking our way everytime we tried to move from one section of the park to the next. Call me a buzz-kill, but I didn't wana sit on the ground clapping along with the Japanese tots and watching Mini Mouse ride by on her fiery chariot, drawn by skeletal horses. I did want a photo with her, but she was never available, the parade absorbed all her time apparently. In fact the only character I managed to get a photo with was one of the cards from Alice in Wonderland. It was actually a statue rather than a person, and it wasn't even a numbered card so I can only identify it as a red heart.

In any case, we left Tokyo Disney tired and only partially disillusioned, vowing that if we returned it would be on a weekday..

08 October 2010

It seems I spoke too soon...

Since the cockroach incident, I've been keeping windows and doors locked..with one exception. After I shower I usually leave the bathroom window with just the screen on overnight. This is because I've been warned about mould forming if you don't ventilate that room when it's wet. There's a slight risk of insects with just the screen closed. The edges are made of a black brush/fringe material, which technically things can push through, since it's not solid.

The other weakness of my shower-room is the big round drain in the floor. The holes are the shape of paracetamol tablets, but maybe 50% bigger. I keep a brick covering it to prevent stuff crawling up. Unfortunately it's slightly narrower than the diameter of the drain..not by much though. I try to pour bleach down there regularly too.

The safety net of the shower room is the sliding doors which completely seal, unlike any other doors in the apartment. I figure that if anything gets in there, at least it will stay in there and not go wandering round the house.

So about an hour ago, I got home and went to take a shower. I went into the shower room in the dark and shut the window (which I'd left open since yesterday). Then I slid back the brick covering the drain with my foot (if I don't do that the room floods when the shower's on). I went to grab towels and returned, turning on the light. That's when I noticed a small movement at on the floor, in my peripheral vision...uhoh...

I left, closing the door and spent the next half an hour trying to decide whether I'd imagined it! Eventually, I went back, slid the door open a crack and oh-mother-of-God, there's a not so tiny spider peeking out from under the bath. Having assembled a spider-extermination kit: flipflop to hit it with, hoover to suck it up, basin to cover it with..I eventually went with the cockroach spray. It retreated back under the bath with a worrying crab-like, side-to-side motion..which I reckon means that it's a baby-huntsman, a newborn presumably cos it's legspan is only about the size of my palm with no fingers.

Having sprayed a lot more cockroach spray under the bath after it I closed the door to fumigate it to death. Unfortunately, when I came back a few minutes later I realised that the hall outside smelt like cockroach spray..the bathroom's not as air-tight as I'd thought. In fact, there's a pretty wide crack where one door doesn't stay closed properly without pressure on it, problem! Fortunately, I though up a scheme for holding it closed. I've always said I had too many rooms in my apartment anyway..guess I won't be showering anymore.

05 October 2010

First times: Shinkansen and Japanese festival

This weekend I participated in my first ever Japanese festival, the Hanagasa Dancing Parade in Ito, on the Izu peninsula. I heard about this through an invitation I received at school about 2 weeks ago. It was a postcard simply addressed 'ALT, Fujieda Higashi Ko'.It was a fairly short festival by Japanese standards..as I later discovered.

I left my School Sports Day and cycled hell for leather to the station to make my 430 train to Shizuoka-shi. From there I caught the Shinkansen to Atami, and let me tell you...the Shinkansen is every bit as complicated as it's cracked up to be! Having bought what I was fairly certain was an unreserved seat from a ticket machine which said Shinkansen over it, I boarded the train. I sat in a random seat, since I couldn't find any difference between the cars to distinguish reserved from unreserved. I figured that if someone claimed I was in their seat I'd move...

Lo and behold, along came the conductor. He said that I had to pay more to sit in the reserved seat..suprise, suprise..and after trying and failing to explain that I'd rather move to the unreserved section, I gave up and paid 2100 yen..more than the original price of my return ticket...curiouser and curiouser

The festival was tons of fun. There were a lot of ALTs there and we got to wear kimonos and dance a repetitive, uncomplicated dance. Afterwards we had a 'friendship party', which turned out to be food in the upstairs room of the kimono shop. I couldn't really complain since the total cost of the whole event was only 1000 yen. After dinner we dispersed to our homestay places, though luckily I was with 4 other ALTs in this huge house on the side of a hill. We had an entire floor to ourselves, with a kitchen, a dining room, a really cool-looking shower and incredibly, 5 actual beds..and there was I thinking I'd be futon-ing it!

The next morning there was a deadly breakfast spread with rareties like normal hot tea with milk and sugar, reverse culture shock! The homestay couple had though of everything and I really felt like we should have paid them or something...especially when the guy took us on a guided tour of the area!

It transpired that he worked as a tourguide. He drove us to a lighthouse and suspension bridge on the Izu coast, where there were some amazing views. He would randomly pick leaves of trees or some interesting fruit for us to smell or taste. The culmination of this was when, during the drive to the next place, he stopped the car and climbed out, telling us that he'd be back in just a minute.

Captivated, we watched as he produced a long pole from on top of the car and approached some overhanging vegetation on the road ahead of us. He extended the pole and it turned out to be a device for cutting things off trees as he began poking in the bush snipping bits off. We were totally confused as to what was going on! Finally, actually about 5 minutes later, he returned with sprigs of 'Japanese kiwi', which looked nothing like kiwi, and which weren't ripe enough to eat yet. So random!

Unfortunately, I had to leave early that day to get home and prepare for festival my second ever Japanese festival, which was on Sunday. Armed with the knowledge that the Shinkansen cars said 'reserved' or 'unreserved' on the screens on the outside, I was feeling lucky this time. As I went to pass through the second set of turnstiles, the ones just for the Shinkansen, the conductor stopped me and said that my ticket wasn't for the Shinkansen, but just the regular train. Needless to say I was pretty suprised...I'd used an identical ticket to board it the other way. He wasn't changing his mind though so I had to get the reliable ole JR..

I suppose I'd just had JR tickets all along...that explains why it was just 2500 yen return!