Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-9

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

Finishing Up the Official Stuff

Originally posted on October 16, 2005.

I met Sayaka-san the next day after her first class. We went to City Hall again (by foot this time since there was no rush) and got me a piece of paper that will serve me as a substitute alien registration card until I get the actual card later this month.

The Japanese post office is one of the largest banks in the world. o_Oa (Photo by sekihan.)

With that, I was able to get a post office account and a bank account. These are both savings accounts. This is probably one of the weirdest things I’ve seen here. I couldn’t get a cell phone without a savings account at the post office, but I can only pay my bills to the city government through the bank. What??? I like how the latter works, since it streamlines your bill paying to the one office. The former really boggled my mind until I looked at the ATM books I got and realized that the post office one looked a little more formal, considering the fact that the post office had officially sealed my hanko into the book.

So yeah, I got a cell phone. It’s green and shiny. My cell phone ringer is a J-pop song, because it’s the best thing that came on the phone. Cell phones in Japan also come out of the box with sub par ring tones. One thing that was interesting to me about it though is that two of the pre-loaded ring tones have a visual component. Not impressive visuals, but I’m sure impressive ones could be made.

The last thing we did was sign me up for a student card. I need to take that to the cell phone company so that they have something official to base my 50% off month fees on. Hooray for student discounts.

After that, I started exploring. I went for a while on a random road away from the school. I found a lot of houses and a second way to the food store Sayaka-san had showed me the day before. I then went toward downtown to actually look through all the stores there.

I found a lot of different things. I went into the game store, but didn’t see any actual game systems for sale, and didn’t want to ask ’cause I didn’t intend to buy just yet. I also didn’t see Minna Daisuki Katamari Damacy. :( Ah well. It can wait. I found a ramen shop, an art gallery, a sewing shop (that was lucky, ’cause I need a needle and thread to fix the clasp on my cloak; the old man who ran it was really nice, too), what appeared to be a used book store (it had Harry Potter OotP, but it was the British version), an arcade (Haha! Right within walking distance of my house!), a pachinko parlor, and a karaoke place.

I went inside the karaoke place to do some karaoke for an hour and get a feel for how it works and how much they have in terms of English music. I had always been told that there are English songs in the back of the karaoke books, and I was not disappointed. In fact, I was surprised. The karaoke books were actual books, not binders like you find in America. These books were also the size of phone books. As for English songs, you can find almost anything in there. I even found a Blind Guardian song. The only things I looked for and didn’t see were System of a Down songs and the song “The Dolphins Cry” by Live. There were other songs by Live, though. I also tried a couple of songs I know in Japanese. Woot!

After that, I headed home. I’ve been battling a headache since I got to Japan, and sitting in a karaoke box… well, it didn’t help. I wasn’t doing too bad with the headache until I got halfway up the stairs to my apartment. Blarg.

I ate some different foods in this day that didn’t come up in the non-blow-by blow version.

Taste-O-Meter!

Melon Pan (Pan is Japanese for bread): 4
This is what Utsuki recommended to me. It doesn’t really taste like melon, which is good ’cause I don’t like melon. It’s got some kind of glaze on top that reminds me of sugar cookies.

Wantanmen (a random instant noodle from the loot pile earlier): 3
It was noodles with vegetables. It had cute little pig heads made out of what tasted like pork floating it, though.

Special Sweet Bread: 5
It looks kind of like cinnamon rolls, but I could tell before I bought it that it wasn’t. It is, as it claims, a sweet bread. I’m noticing that the Japanese are fond of sweet breads, which I am finding is really quite spiffy. While I ate it, I read the label, and realized at once that the label must be shared.

To this day, this is one of the most delightful bits of Engrish I've come across.

To this day, this is one of the most delightful bits of Engrish I’ve come across.

Aquarius, The Sports Drink: 3
I had to try it. The name intrigued me. This would rate a 4 if I liked grapefruit, but I don’t.

Sprite: 4
It’s different from its American counterpart, but still good. Reminds me of ramune — a Japanese drink that I have not had the opportunity to try yet in Japan.

Realizations of the Period

1) “Conrad” is very difficult to say in Japanese. I’m shortening his name to Con (pronounced more like “cone”) any time I mention him to Japanese people. Con-kun.
2) I have blisters on my left foot from walking around so much. :(
3) Since the one class is all about playing the koto, I have one guaranteed easy class. Yes!
4) I need to pull a Ted and set up an image gallery online. I’m taking way too many pictures for a blog.
5) I pasted this into Open Office to spellcheck it, and it’s 20 pages long.

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-8

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

City Hall

Originally posted on October 16, 2005.

Ishida-sensei gave Sayaka-san money for a cab, since there was only an hour until her second (and last) class of the day. We first hoofed it to a place to get some pictures of me taken (I’ve gotten my picture taken more times in the last three months than in the preceding year, by the way), then took a cab to the city hall.

Japanese cabs are funny-looking. Like American cabs, they have lit-up signs on top. However, they also have antennae (often v-shaped) symmetrically placed on top. The drivers all wear gloves, though there’s no standard glove type. One thing that’s really awesome about them is the fact that the driver can open the passenger door at the push of a button.

We got some alien registration stuff done, then went back to the school. Sayaka-san had her class, and I got to go to my first class. I had indicated an interest in music, and there was a traditional Japanese music class at the same time as Sayaka’s English class, so I went there. It sounded interesting; history, studying the forms, appreciation.

"Koto Strings". Photo by Adam Chamness, licensed under Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA).

This awesome koto photo was taken by Adam Chamness.

PSYCH!

How about, “Let’s play the koto?”

It was so awesome, especially since I didn’t see it coming. I got to the class, asked if I could join, and was heartily welcomed. I helped get some more equipment from storage rooms, and as we pulled things out of boxes I saw that it would be some kind of practical class, since these were obviously stands of some kind that we were putting together. When I saw the finger picks for the koto, I finally realized that this class was going to be WAY more awesome than I had thought. Score!

So after that, Sayaka-san and I went back into town on foot to get me a cell phone. The cell phone company had a brochure on rates in English, which helped quite a bit, as well as some phones for sale that were bilingual. Yay! But because I don’t have an account at the post office, I couldn’t get the phone yet. Alas. The next day, then, since the post office was closed.

But to get an account at the post office, I needed an inkan. The Japanese don’t actually use signatures, but stamps. The stamp itself is called a hanko, and the thing that does the stamping is the inkan. Up to this point, I had been using my fingerprint.

"Hanko this" by Neko1998, licensed under Creative  Commons (BY-NC-SA).

This is what shopping for an inkan looks like. I can read a lot of these now, but then? Totally dependent on Sayaka’s help. (Photo taken by Neko1998.)

We sought a store that Sayaka-san thought made inkans. Turns out that they had stopped offering that service, and that it’d take a week or so to get one personally made, anyway. We kinda needed it faster than that. So we went to the nearby 100 yen store, which had common-name inkans just inside the door. I obviously don’t have a common Japanese name, so Sayaka-san asked what kanji I like. I ended up with an inkan carrying the name Mizuki (水木). [2010 Edit: It turns out that my name is a common name in Japan if you go by pronunciation. They didn’t have any Rina (里奈) stamps in stock at the time, though, and it would have taken a week to get one custom-made at the professional inkan store down the street.]

After that, she showed me a decent-sized store near the college where I can get food and such, then we parted ways. I wasn’t tired necessarily, but I knew I would be soon, and my brain was starting to reject Japanese. I went home for the night.

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-7

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

Now What?

Originally posted on October 16, 2005.

This was the view out one of my apartment’s side windows. If my illiterate reading of the sign behind the fence at the end of the block was correct, this used to be a landfill. I wouldn’t trust that translation, though, if I were you. (Photo added to post on June 23, 2010.)

At this point, I was tired. But it was only like 15:00! So I decided to work on this blog post. I did that until I got to my recollection of waking up in the hotel room. Then I realized if I was to hand-wash my clothes with time for them to dry, I needed to do that. I’ll tell you what: hand-washing your clothes in a kitchen sink with no drain plug is interesting, especially if you’re using cold water ’cause you don’t want to use the gas to heat the water and are not wearing much ’cause you’re washing most of your clothes. Continue reading

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-6

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

Yay, I Have Stuff Now!

Originally posted on October 16, 2005.

So after that, Nei-san drove us back to my apartment. We pulled up to unload my loot and discovered that a guy had shown up to turn on the gas. We took all but the futon upstairs and let the guy in to do that. There was a lot (and I mean a lot) of dust inside the heater until it was turned on. :P After the gas guy and the girls showed me how to work the stove, heater, and water heater (You have to open and close the valves to each before using it, and the water heater works so fast that you don’t have to turn the power on until you want to use it), the gas guy left and we brought the futon upstairs. At this point, Utsuki-san and Nei-san took their leave to allow me to rest/set up the place, with my thanks for their help. ^^

This is the first time since I got to Kushiro that I had taken any pictures. I could have gotten pictures of the stores, but didn’t really want to while I was doing heavy shopping. So here’s my apartment, empty.

This ended up being the corner where I did most of my living. That box in the middle of the picture was the only heating in the apartment.

This picture was taken from the same spot as the picture above. All I did was rotate myself.

I put the curtains up before taking the pictures. As you can see, I accidentally put the one set up backwards in my desperation to get the sun out of my house and away from my migraine. The heater in the corner is gas powered and came with a Doraemon sticker on it. Seen in the kitchen is the shlack, the water heater (which also heats the water to your exactly specified celsius temperature — boilers seem so stupid now), my little gas range (no oven, but a place to broil fish), cabinets, and a sink.

Bathroom-1

The Japanese have separate rooms for bathing and peeing in. This is the bathing room.

The bathroom has a shower and a bath, in good old-fashioned Japanese style. Well, not old-fashioned; the Japanese have really gotten to prefer the removable shower head over the bucket for rinsing off. I forgot to buy a stool to sit on when cleaning — traditional Japanese bathing involves washing your self meticulously, then rinsing off and soaking for a while in hot water. It feels quite nice, actually. But the bathroom door is very skinny, and interesting to get through.

The bathing room was in the middle of the apartment; the toilet was just inside the door to the apartment. The plumbing for both this room and the bathing room were on the shared wall.

Toilet gets its own room. You can’t see it in this picture, but it’s one of the toilets with a big and small flush.

The wall that the plumbing there is attached to is the same wall the bathing room and toilet room plumbing goes into.

A place to put a washing machine. Yay! I need one of those.

Around the right side is a shelf high on the wall, with a rack underneath it to hang stuf on. Like you’d see in a closet.

I’ll try putting my futon over here.

The box on the back of the door is a collector for mail from the mail slot. It was jam-packed with junk mail when I moved in.

And the entryway, concrete ending where the floor begins. No shoes inside the house! Hooray for living in a culture that echoes what you were raised doing.

I kept these turned off as much as possible at night during the summer. I liked my windows open, ’cause it was hot, but there were a lot of strange bugs attracted to light in Japan.

This looks like an ordinary light, but I assure you that it’s actually special. It has three “on” settings — both fluorescent bulbs on, one florescent bulb on, and one weak yellow light on. There are two of these in the apartment, one of which is also connected to a power switch near the laundry machine spot.

So there’s my apartment. Let’s evaluate the day’s loot, shall we?

Total cost: 22,150 yen. Right about $200 at the time. Most expensive single item was the futon.

Not bad for 22,150 yen. And zoom in a bit…

The saltines were mostly purchased out of sheer, “Tee-Hee! Same brand and everything!”

Featured here are a plate, a cup, a bowl, three random instant noodle packages, one random package of bread, a bread chosen after asking Utsuki-san what she likes, bananas, Nabisco saltine crackers (“America’s long seller cracker” according to the box), a random yet tasty-looking rice dish with shrimp and wasabi, some cucumber rolls (I’ve already eaten two; I was hungry), a bread knife, a straight-edged cooking knife, and a cutting board.

Taste-O-Meter!

Cucumber Rolls: 5
Just like American ones, if you buy them at a place that does decent sushi in America.

Most of the kitchen utensils were purchased at 100 yen store — the Japanese equivalent of the dollar store. Unlike Alaskan dollar stores, 99% of the stores goods were the price advertised in the store’s name. The other 1% were 300 yen. (All plus tax.)

Skillet with lid, sieve, tea kettle, saucepan, spatula, ladle, spoon with holes, whisk, 1-cup measuring cup (the only non-metric measure I found, and the only one I need).

I went with the Dove brand hair products and body wash simply because it was the only familiar brand I saw.

Towel, various cleaning sponges, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toilet paper, laundry detergent, lemon dish washing liquid.

I was rather distressed when I discovered my inability to plug my laptop into the wall, due to the absence of a hole for the grounding prong in any of the outlets. This power strip had a grounding wire sticking out of it next to the power cord

Futon set, covers for the futon pieces, an alarm clock almost identical to the one that won’t get here for two days because it’s with my baggage, and a power strip that will let me plug my laptop into the wall.

Ultimate riches, yes?

Time to put them away. Yarr!

The previous occupant left this rolling rack here. That and the fact that it was a corner apartment with extra windows are the two reasons I picked this over the empty apartment on the ground floor.

I should probably put some of these in the cupboards, especially since I am likely to be hanging clothes on the rack to dry from here on out, but for now, this will do. Time to put my futon together.

Japanese-style futons aren’t quite like American futons, and not just because American futons come with racks that make them function just fine as couches. The futon was originally designed to be modular — you pick it up when you get up in the morning and you can air it out or fold it up and put it away. So a futon has three parts plus covers for them (sheets, essentially, only they zip up around the whole thing). The shikibuton is the bottom part, on which you sleep. The kakebuton is the part that goes over you. It’s like a really thick comforter. Then there’s the makura, which is a pillow.

Let’s do this.

I was so glad this fit in there. I dunno how I’d have arranged the apartment if it hadn’t fit. I can only assume the place was designed with this use in mind.

Success! The shikibuton fits the alcove exactly. Time to put on its cover.

Since the futon mattress gets covered up, I didn’t need matching sheets, but I got matching ones anyway.

The futon has now been covered up. O Snap! The reason the cover seemed way too big is that it was actually for the kakebuton. Let’s try that again.

Looking back on this post as I transfer it, I’m not sure why I took so many pictures of the futon getting set up. I was jet lagged and high on travel, but that’s a poor excuse.

Much better. Now, the kakebuton…

I found out later that the Japanese generally also get foam padding (kinda like the ones they sell here for camping) to put under the futon. I would need that now, I think, but at the time this was perfect.

Almost there. Makura! I don’t know what they put inside this pillow, but it rattles on one side. Very interesting.

Japanese pillows take time to get used to, but they stay cooler than western pillows, for some reason. They’re also only as big as they need to be.

Victory is mine! … Wait… something is missing. Oh, I know what it is!

Yep… I had put my teddy bear in my carry-on, but not a spare change of clothes. I no longer make that mistake.

Ultimate victory!

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-5

avatarMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

Operation: Lena Needs Stuff

Originally published on October 16, 2005.

So I met Nei-san. Nei-san is a fourth-year biology student, with a car. She took us to my apartment to drop my stuff off, then the three of us went shopping. We got a lot of things to get me started here, general necessities I was without either because I had no intention of bringing it or because my baggage didn’t make it. Stuff like a futon to sleep on, food, dishes, and soap.

We went to three stores; the first was a “home center”. It’s full of good fun stuff like mini-fridges, vacuums, towels, washing machines, alarm clocks — good, old-fashioned home necessities. I didn’t get a mini-fridge or a washing machine because with the futon there wasn’t going to be enough room in Nei-san’s car, but I did note that suitable but cheap ones would be about 28,000 yen in total. [2009 Edit: At the time that was about $260 US; now it’d be closer to $300.]

The next place we went was called “100 Yen Plaza”. It’s what a dollar store should be and isn’t, at least in Alaska. In Alaska, dollar stores rarely sell anything that’s actually for a dollar, and it’s all cheap, useless crap. This 100 yen store is chock-full of useful stuff, and (for those who understand this reference) about as big as the old Fred Meyer used to be in Fairbanks. It carried dishes, cooking utensils, measuring spoons and cups, dish soap, laundry detergent, notebooks, binders, small storage and organizational stuff, sushi mats, umbrellas, and a whole lot of other stuff I didn’t even look at. When I got to the register, the cashier started counting, then multiplied the number by 105 (100 yen plus tax). It was great!

The third place we went to had food. I didn’t get too much, ’cause I live near a convenience store and don’t yet have a fridge. This was a place to buy eating food, not gift food, so the fruit wasn’t of the ungodly expensive variety, but it was still more expensive than we’d expect to pay in Alaska. Four or five bananas each came in a bag at a flat cost of 198 yen. But I didn’t see a bad banana in any bunch. There was plenty of non-fruit, too. Whole fish, fish pieces, fish eggs, shrimp, other seafood, bread, more bread, crackers, snacks, cup ramen, cup other noodles, eggs, drinks, and a whole lot more.

This picture was taken later, after I’d settled in. I ended up getting a lot of my juice from convenience stores. This is a stack of apple and orange juice boxes waiting to be recycled. (Photo added to post on June 23, 2010.)

Now, the place that we got the food from was actually a store inside of what was a kind of mall. The Japanese don’t call it a mall; Nei-san told me it isn’t big enough. It’s called a Co-op. Like I said, it’s kind of like a one-floor mall as we think of it, but no mall I’ve ever seen seemed to have no truly secure way to close the shops off for the night. These stores also spilled out into the hall, sometimes almost halfway into the walkway. You could still tell where once place ended and the next began, but it was interesting. The only two stores that I saw which didn’t spill into the hall was another, smaller 100 Yen Plaza and the media store.

I wish I’d gotten to go into the media store. Over the low wall around it, I saw manga and anime and CD’s. The low wall itself advertised PlayStation 2 and Xbox and Gamecube, and the TV’s on either side of the entrance were all about the new Katamari game. But that wasn’t why I was at the co-op.

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-4

avatar

My first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, check out the Bright Green Gaijin Pants category.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them seperately, as they were meant to be.

Haha! Finally in Kushiro!

Originally published on October 16, 2005.

Hokkaido University of Education, Kushiro
This is the college I went to when I was in Japan. If I recall correctly, I took it while leaning out one of my apartment’s windows. Angle looks right for that. (Photo added to post on Jun 23, 2010.)
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Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Posts 1 & 2

The bright green gaijin pants for which the blog was named

My first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, check out the Bright Green Gaijin Pants category.

Going, Going…

Originally published on October 2, 2005.

But not quite gone. I am in the San Fransisco airport right now (wishing I had some gatorade). On the first leg of my trip (to Seattle), I was seated next to a lady with an adorable 1.5 year old daughter. Talked to them when we weren’t sleeping. For the second leg, I had an exit seat (Yay! Leg room!) with plenty of room — it was an aisle seat, and there was a guy at the window but no on in between us. I just slept on that flight. I leave here for Tokyo at 11:10 AM Pacific time.

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Kushiro, Japan – A Dying City? D’:

When I lived in Japan, I lived in Kushiro, a city on the east edge of Hokkaido. Its primary industries, as I understand it, are fishing and paper production. (I actually got to go on a tour of one of the paper mills, and boy was that exciting! Very much like the tour of a crayon factory they show you in… was it Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood? I forget exactly. Anyway, it was the coolest field trip ever. The entry fee was the best 500 yen I ever spent.)

Anyway, some random fellow who will be working in Kushiro in the near future sent me an e-mail to ask for any advice I could give him about going there, working there, etc. He also sent me this video he found on YouTube. It was uploaded in March of 2008, and it’s the most heart-rending thing I’ve seen in a very long time.

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