movies and haircuts

It's been raining for the past couple of days, gross. It's also getting a lot colder all of a sudden, which is no good for me. It's actually pretty sad, when it gets below 22C (71.6F) in my house I run for my sweater. Lately it's been getting a lot colder than that when the sun goes down... sometimes as low as 13C! (55F) Of course it's to be expected, as it is now officially fall. I'm still not quite sure how thrilled I am for these cold temperatures though...

... but I should be more thrilled. I bought a used snowboard today in preparation for the upcoming snow season. Only about $70 for board and boots, I was pretty stoked. Only a few more months until I can actually use it!

Today I went to the movies. (I saw the new Evangelion movie, that I didn't know existed until my students told me about it) Based on my one time experience Japanese movie theaters don't seem to be really that much different than their American counterparts except in four categories. Number one: price. Movies are expensive! It was 1,800 yen to get in! Number two: matinee? No, here the movies get cheaper after 8pm. This is to take advantage of the hours public transportation runs I believe. Number three: time; I wasn't allowed into the theater until exactly 10 minutes before the movie started. And, lastly, four: pick your own seat. When you buy your ticket you get to select which seat you want to sit in. That's right, they're assigned! It's cool/weird/I'm not sure how I feel about it. So that was exciting. The movie was good, although not really that dramatically changed from the series. New fancy CG, and real product placement (For Eva fans: Shinji shops at Lawson's and Misato's cupboard and fridge are filled with Doritos and Yebisu/Kirin now... Wait a minute, so are mine!)

After that I got a haircut, which was a harrowing prospect. My salon vocabulary is limited in Japanese. Okay, maybe limited is overestimating. I know how to say "long". That's pretty much it. Even so I braved it, and it worked out fine... better actually than my first haircut in Benin (and I knew how to say a bit more in French, funny that). Actually it was really fun. The guy that cut my hair was really nice, very talkative and patient with my crap-Japanese answers.

On the Japanese language front, I am learning. I've definitely improved in the past 2 months, but have still a long way to go. Kanji continues to be a challenge, but an enjoyable one. Sometimes though I feel really dumb for not knowing the Kanji for place names. Roppongi sticks out in my mind. It's composed of three really, really basic Kanji: "ro" - six (六) "pon" - book, root (本) and "gi" - tree (木). I can try and pretend that it was the sound changes that tricked me ("pon" is usually "hon", and "gi" is usually "ki") but I'd be lying... Other times though I'm surprised to see that I can in fact read things because they're parts of other things I know. Kawasaki (川崎) I was surprised to find I could read. The first character "kawa" means river, the second part "saki" means "cape, or peninsula". The first character is probably one of the first few kanji you learn in Japanese (it's also in the name of a school I teach at; Kawagura) and "saki" is in Takasaki. It's sort of cool to occasionally be able to read something, so it'll probably be really cool when I can read most things!

updates

Yes, I've finally broken down and done it. I put up some pictures. Don't get too excited, my photo taking is not what it was in Benin, so in the past couple months I've managed to take only about 30 photos. In any case you can get to them at http://jet-7.net/gallery/

I'm still waiting on some code, so please pardon the ugliness of the gallery.

in the city, students leave before dark because of perverts...

The days are getting shorter. Post equinox (which I got Monday off for) schools force students to leave school grounds by 6pm. In the cities this was because of problems they had with strange men harassing, and in some cases, kidnapping school girls. (Tim) In Kurabuchi we don't have this same problem, yet we do have the same policy. Why? Bears.

Yes, you read correctly. Our students must leave early because of bears. Just last week there was a bear sighting near school, so the teachers are being extra vigilant in enforcing this policy. What a strange, strange world you are Kurabuchi.

Of course, the policy makes sense. I've just never lived in an area where bears were a serious consideration.

On another note, today was a school marathon. A welcome break indeed. The students ran a short (well, it was pretty long actually) course in the morning. Teachers got to stand at various points in the course. It was actually really nice. Today's weather was perfect, there was a light breeze and it was sunny. I didn't want to go back inside truthfully.

In the closing ceremonies, teachers gave small presents to randomly selected students. Mine was the best. I'm currently looking for a comfortable chair for my living room, so I went to the second-hand shop in Takasaki last night. It's called "Hard-Off" for the record. Done chuckling? I'm not... Okay. So, I didn't find a chair, but I did find the best gift in the world. It was a set of two plastic katana in a stand that you connect to the TV. It turns the TV into a ninja slashing game with sword swinging action. All for the meager price of $5. Hard-Off is awesome, they have everything you could possibly imagine and more. Sometimes things are ridiculously cheap too. Last night I was tempted to spend 15,000 yen (~$150 USD) on a 36" amazingly awesome Sony TV. I didn't, but damn. The only thing wrong with it was its lack of remote. Damn.

In McDonalds news, the Mega-Mac is coming back on Friday. I couldn't be happier. The current burger of the month is the "Tsukimi Burger", a burger with an egg on it and some sort of crazy sauce. I liked it.

**Cultural note**
Tsukimi is the celebrated at the full moon around the equinox. Evidently you eat moon cakes and look at the moon. I'll keep you posted, as it is, in fact, tomorrow evening. There are lots of Tsukimi-themed things at this time, like tsukimi-udon and obviously the tsukimi burger. If you go to the McDonalds website you'll notice the advertising has rabbits for no apparent reason. There actually is a reason, the Japanese see two rabbits in the moon pounding mochi (not a man, or green cheese).

As for the question on sauces available at McDonalds, it appears that they have only 2 sauces regularly available: Barbecue and Mustard. Naturally they still have ketchup too, but it seems to hold an equally honored place as it comes in similar packing. How sad.

tokyo (redux)

In celebration of a friend's birthday it was time to go to Tokyo again. Okay, that's not the whole story.

Saturday started with Sports Day at the local elementary schools. It was way cooler than I thought it would be. Essentially the kids are divided into three teams and compete with one another for points. There are the standard running, baton pass type events. But they had some crazy, outlandish events as well. For example a relay race involving 2 kids climbing inside a large flattened cardboard box and crawling against the wall to move forward (think tank-tread) then they had to get out and each get in the legs of comically huge pants and run back. . . why? I don't know. It was fun to watch though. I even got to participate in the teacher's event. It involved blowing up a balloon, popping it with your butt and then searching for a hard candy in a pan of flour using only your mouth.

Post that I made a quick run to Takasaki to catch the train to Tokyo. I didn't have enough time to take the local trains, so decided to splurge on the Shinkansen (bullet train). It was a smooth and very fast ride to Tokyo. I wish I was richer so I could take it all the time! I was really surprised how much different an hour felt compared to the two it normally takes. I barely had enough time to eat my lunch and start playing DS.

Arriving in Tokyo I took the complicated (but shortest) route to Roppongi where I was to meet up with everyone. On the way from the train station to the subway station I accidentally found the Imperial Palace, and made note to return. At Roppongi it was like suddenly being transported back the the US. There was a Cold Stone, Tony Roma's, Banana Republic and a ton of foreigners. Interestingly I also heard a spot of Ibo (Igbo) mixed with some 'small small' English. Yup, that's right: Nigerians. I was surprised too... but Wikipedia's article on Roppongi confirms that many of the establishments are owned by Africans.

So, for dinner that evening (at request of the honored guest and organizer; Ross) was T.G.I. Friday's. Yup that's right. It was awesome. I feel like so many birthday people take the usual route of sushi. That's just crazy. Ross has it right on. You can get sushi anywhere in Japan. T.G.I Friday's now.. that's different. It was as you'd expect, down even to the flair present on all employee uniforms. It was a very surreal experience, but I did get a delicious BBQ Bacon Burger and very large black beer (the Japanese aren't as anal as Americans when it comes to typing their beers on menus. It was simply marked "Kuro biiru", black beer).

After paying we headed back to someone's (JET) hotel. It was amazing, I don't know what the group was paying in total... but they were on the 32nd floor of a really nice hotel. Their room had a great view of Tokyo Tower and Roppongi. Not to mention it was one of the nicer hotel rooms I've been in. I mean, they had a TV in the shower!

The night rounded off with a cab ride to Shibuya, a club and ended with a capsue hotel. I think most people Japan bound run across the term and are intrigued. It was just that. I've been told the one that I ended up in is pretty upper crust. Cost was 3750/night (~$32USD). It sounds a bit expensive, but in reality it was awesome. You come in, take off your shoes. Head up to the locker room to drop your things off and grab a comfortable robe. From there you can head over to the shower area and take a nice hot shower and have a soak at the in-house onsen. Everything you could possibly need is provided, including toothbrushes, razors, combs. They even have a laundry service so you can get your clothes washed overnight. It was pretty swank. The capsule itself (your bed) has a TV and some controls. It's nothing to write home about, but it served its' purpose.

The next morning I woke up early (8:30) to head over to the Tokyo Game Show. Wow, it was pretty sweet. TGS is sort of the E3 of the west. A huge trade show, but in this case specifically for video games. I spent hours wandering around looking at the latest releases, soon to be released, and maybe released someday. There were tons of playable demos, and freebies, and booth girls. It was pretty awesome. Games that really stuck out as awesome were Little Big Planet, MGS4 and Nights (a remake of the SEGA game for the Wii). All in all it was sweet. I'm going to have to go again next year.

After that I had time to kill (as in it was still light out and it would be silly to go home to clean my house when I could wander around Tokyo). So I decided since I had to go back to Tokyo station anyway, I would walk over to the Imperial Palace. The Imperial Palace is awesome. Well, the grounds surrounding it in any case. Really very pretty, and it gives you an odd feeling sitting under a tree in a park by an old castle when across the street are skyscrapers. It was really nice.

After that I wanted to make a quick stop in Akihabara before I went back home to see if I could find a modchip for a PS2. I sort of found one, but realized more that I needed to research the problem a bit more. Then I came home and slept. Ah... sleep.

The more I'm here the more I'm glad I spend the extra money each month for an unlimited data plan for my phone. It's really neat to be at a tourist site and pull up the wikipedia article about it standing there. For instance when I was at the palace I learned that during the 1980's real estate bubble, the land the Palace is on was valued at more than all of the real estate combined in California at the time. Even more though the navigation value of the GPS is amazing. I have access to train schedules, station locations, route planning and so much more. It's an absolutely invaluable tool... which made Sunday difficult when the battery died mid-morning. Thankfully I have a fairly decent recognitional memory, so I could pick out the stations I needed to transfer at. It was not cool though. Even so, Japan being as it is, gives you options for recharging where ever you are. I grabbed a battery based cell-charger after TGS and was back in business. If I'd found a DoCoMo store though they actually have little lockers with charging stations. You just slide your phone in, set the combination and come back later. It's pretty cool.

Today I'm doing nothing, cleaning the house, and going to a meeting. A pretty light day after a hectic week.

i'm lovin' it

I went to Tokyo for the first time since orientation yesterday. The main reason I went was to goof around, but I also wanted to check on computer prices. I'm glad I ended up going actually, I found a place that sells a computer better than what I was going to buy at more than $100 less. I was pretty stoked.

So, Tokyo. Rather than fully explore one section of Tokyo (unlike Odelia's more scientific approach), I thought I would just go to every place that I'd ever heard of. Thankfully JR provides a discount ticket for just such a situation. The Rinkai Furii Kippu is sold for 2-way travel to Tokyo, and provides for unlimited rides while in the city. Just 3,790 yen and you're set. On first glance this might not seem like a good deal... just buying a normal ticket gets you to Tokyo for 1,890 yen (x2 = 3,780). (These prices are all Takasaki-centric, your mileage may vary) If you're just going to one district you will, in fact, save 10 yen. However, if you even take one extra train ride while in Tokyo you'll save money. For my crazy station hopping I ended up saving plenty.

One drawback of the ticket is it only works for 2 days. If you're staying in Tokyo for longer than that... well, I haven't figured out what the best situation is yet. Still, it was great not having to wait in line at any of the ticket refill stations... just pulling out my super ticket and hopping off and on as I pleased.

So, back to the story. I started in Akihabara... a crazy, crazy place. Akihabara is known the world over for being the place to get electronics, anime and video games. In short a nerd paradise. Walking out of the station you're greeted by women dressed as maids promoting one of many, many maid cafes. I can't think of a more perfect introduction to "Akiba" as it's often shortened to. Shops everywhere are packed with geeky stuff. The real reason I was there, was to find a computer. I did that in relatively short order and explored a bit. I checked out GAMERS, which is probably one of the more well known anime shops. It was scary. 8 floors of geeks. It was too much, and I had found what I was looking for so I thought I'd head to the polar opposite of nerd-run Akihabara: Shibuya.

Shibuya is one of the main fashion districts of Tokyo. You can buy clothes, and well... that's about all I saw. As I came out the station it seemed as though there was some sort of political demonstration on... and my Peace Corps instincts kicked in and I ran away. Well, I ran into 109... probably one of the most famous department stores. Maybe department store isn't the correct term though. It was 9 floors of women's clothes. Oh, there might have been one floor of accessories. Not really all that interesting to me, but it was without a doubt the polar opposite of GAMERS.

Seeking a nice middle ground I thought I'd head a station down the Yamanote Line to Harajuku: the Champs-Élysées of Tokyo (both for it's fasion and crepes... seriously, they have crepe stands every 10 feet). I walked down small and busy streets and saw many oddly dressed people. I wandered over to Jingu Bashi to see the Goth-Loli girls, and wasn't disappointed. They were out in force. There was also a man wearing live goldfish in small jars as earrings. Very strange. Harajuku really felt like Shibuya and Akihbara had made sweet love and produced a strange offspring. Lots of subculture freaky people, lots of haute couture, all mixing together in a way you'd never see anywhere else. It was cool.

Finally I headed off towards Shinjuku where I had dinner and wandered around a bit. Shinjuku is home to the only Krispy Kreme in Japan, which I stopped by to see. It was insane. It was like Disneyland. I don't mean in the fun way though... I mean there was so many people they actually had a multi-part people maze setup with traffic direction. Insane. Shinjuku is also home to the world's busiest train station. It's estimated 3 million people pass through. It was very confusing and hard to find my train home.

That was about all I did... but a pretty productive day as far as sightseeing goes. Tokyo is pretty sweet.

The title of this post however has nothing to do with Tokyo, but McDonalds. I'm obsessed. I love McDonalds. I know... I didn't ever eat it in the US. I don't know if it's just better here, I'm fast-food deprived, or what. It's horrible, Big Macs and Bacon Lettuce Burgers haunt my dreams. The McDonalds I frequent happens also to be a really small store, so their fries are always right out of the fryer. Mmmm... it's making me hungry just thinking about it. (Oh, the monthly burger specials... also AWESOME)

school finally started

This past week has been tests. It's sucked for the students, but it's sucked for me more. If they have tests then there is no need for a foreign english teacher. But that doesn't mean I get to go home... it means I get to sit at my desk and one by one discover which websites are blocked. Today though should more than make up for my past boredom. In the proud tradition of Thursday I'm teaching all 6 periods. During lunch I'm helping a girl with her speech for an upcoming competition, and then I'm driving down to the city for Japanese lessons. I won't have a moment of free time until I get back tonight at around 10pm. >_<

doritos

One of the great things about living here is the access to foreign goods and services that didn't exist in Benin. Those that have followed my blog in the past no doubt remember the day that Doritos came to Parakou. It was very exciting. Seriously one of the most exciting days, sad? Probably.

I've been shopping weekly about a 20-30 minute drive from my place at a giant sort of grocery store/k-mart (Beisia). It reminds me a lot of Kora in Cotonou (only not half empty). For those not in the Benin-know Kora was a "Hypermarket", somehow more super than your average supermarket. It was, in that it had all sorts of useless crap beyond food. Beisia is similar in that regard, but better. It's got books, CDs, toys, fireworks, clothes, a cellphone shop, a small arcade and a full supermarket. Not to mention an in store McDonalds. It's great, and pretty convenient too. Even better though, I found out that right next door there is a place that sells/rents DVDs, CDs and video games... plus has a fairly decent book selection. Pretty exciting stuff going on in Haruna I tell you.

So Beisia really has almost everything, my favorites including Dr. Pepper and Doritos. Of course the Doritos have a uniquely Japanese twist. For one the... the "Party Pack" (the largest size available) is a mere 190 grams. Laughable in comparison to the smallest non-snack size bag in the US which weighs in at a hefty 369 grams (13 oz). It's fine for me, although it is sad to finish the "Party Pack" at the end of the week and realize that there was in fact no party.

Another great thing is the character endorsements:




Yes, that would be Rei from Evangelion. Evangelion came out in Japan in 1995. I feel like it that would be the rough equivalent of having Might Morphin' Power Rangers endorsed Doritos in the US now.

Actually on the subject of Eva. One of the questions I get a lot in school is "what Anime do you like?" I haven't watched anime in really any great amount since my 2nd and 3rd years of university... so I'm a little out of it. My staple answer is Eva. These kids are younger than the series, but they all know exactly what I'm talking about and think it's awesome. That show has some lasting power!

I went to Kindergarten today. That was awesomely fun. It's like the teachers don't even care if you teach English, they just want you to play with the kids. Not a problem when the kids are as cute as they are. Sadly it only last 2 hours and I had to go back to the drudgery of my desk at Jr. High. This week is finals for them, so I have no teaching to speak of. Sadness.

In the mean time I'm shopping for a new computer. I still haven't decided exactly what I'm going to get, but the prices here depress me. I could get a lot better deal in the US I feel... of course my Japanese google-fu is fairly week, so maybe I just don't know where to look. I've found a couple of custom building PC sellers, and I'm probably going to go with one of them. Dell.co.jp is sadly one of the most expensive. Except for on their displays. I'm totally getting a Dell display.

Eh, that's all.

why my students are cooler than me

I recently started going to the Kurabuchi Kendo club. For those that don't know kendo, it's fencing... Japanese style. It's pretty awesome. Naturally I'm horrible at it. Mostly I think because of fencing. The footwork is similar, but totally different. Advancing and retreating are the same, but there is a second dimension to take into account. The shinai (bamboo sword) is oh-so-tempting to hold like a golf club... and did I mention that some of the 'older' students in my class are actually my elementary school students? Yeah. What's better? Many of them are also my neighbors.

It's really fun though, I'm having a great time... and quickly discovering how totally out of shape I am. I don't know if I'll ever get used to 11 year old girls out-ranking me, but I suppose that if I ever have a bad day at school this will be a community sanctioned way to beat my students!

typhooey

Japan is abuzz with talk of the latest typhoon. It's coming this way, and it's big. Granted it rained harder, and the wind blew harder than it has in the past month... but you'd think it was quite a bit worse from the way people have been acting. They sent the students home today after lunch. It barely even rained all morning!

Of course the real typhoon has yet to hit us yet, so perhaps in the near future I'll be eating my words. Hopefully this won't occur with me floating down the river or perching atop my house surrounded by water.

It was a bit crazy this morning, I woke up at about 5 to a calm in the storm and a really strange yellow lighting. The recently risen sun was hitting the clouds at a strange angle and it lit up everything in an odd way. It was then that I noticed the usually calm river I can see out my bedroom window had turned into a muddy attack river of death. Well, not that bad... but it was quite a bit higher and browner than it usually is.

Should be an interesting couple of days!

answers

No doubt I'm way worse off in my Japanese, but it's funny how even grammatically correct english sentences don't work.

So the answer was:
"Do you want a cat?" (a teacher to a student, on the topic of pets)

Some great responses were:
"Do you want any cats?" (lots of students wrote this one)
- a sketchy guy wearing a long trench-coat in a back alley.

"What, do you want cats?"
- an chain-smoking pet store owner who hates his job

"Do you have any cat?"
- Ordering dinner at the finest Chinese restaurant

my light is broken

The light in my living room for no apparent reason has stopped working. It's highly inconvenient. Thankfully the one in the adjacent kitchen still works. I don't really know what to do though, in Benin I'd call an electrician and he'd fix it for like 50 cents (seriously).

Students are busy taking tests this week, so I'm pretty much bored. Actually that's not true. I've been studying Japanese like a madman. I finally got a subscription to japanesepod101.com. If you're interested in learning Japanese you should really check them out. Peter can be a little overly excited sometimes, but it's good quality material. I learned a lot just from downloading the podcast (for free) and taking notes. The paid service is awesome. They have quite a bit of material to reinforce what's in the lessons, stuff for the JLPT, and a great community. Well, that's enough plugging. Why am I studying so much? Well beyond wanting to be able to talk to people in a manner vaguely resembling intelligent speech, I'm taking the JLPT this December.

JLPT, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is the way one can officially test their language ability. 4 Levels, offered once a year. I'm taking level 3 (level 1 is the highest). It should be interesting. Test is December 2.

elementary school and disjointed topics

Taught my first elementary school classes today. Wow, what totally awesome fun that was. Seriously. The kids are so damn cute you can't even stand it. The classes themselves were me talking about the US and Benin and totally blowing kids minds with the appearance of money from AMERICA! and AFRICA! It was funny. Then we did colors, animals, and well lots of different things depending on the grades. I did the whole range today, 1st-6th grade.

At lunch I ate with the 2nd graders who were incredibly funny. They were all amazed by my arm hair.

All in all it was an awesome day and I can't wait to go to the next elementary schools on Thursday and Friday. Next Monday I go to Kindergarten for the first time, which should also be awesome.


My Jr. High students all keep journals in English that I go through each week and correct. I really like it, it's interesting to see what they write about. So far it's been mostly sports and "It was so hot today, I was really tired". Since they have to do journals in English that I have to correct, I decided I am going to do a journal in Japanese for them to correct. I think it should be fun (and funny). I've already run it past the head teacher and she loves it. I hope it works out.

This weekend, among other adventures, I got taken to a tiny little hole in the wall jazz club. It was pretty bad ass. The music was great! The drinks were a bit pricey, but I think the biggest appeal about it was that it was totally a locals scene. Even more though anyone can play. The seem to have a sort of standard weekly band, but anyone that wants to can get up and play a set with the members. I'm practicing now, I really want to play!

things that are awesome about japan

Convenience Stores
- You don't need a credit card to shop at amazon.jp If you want to pay you just print up a barcoded receipt and go to your nearest 7-11 and pay there.
- You don't have to write checks to pay bills, you can just go to your nearest 7-11 with the bill and pay there.
- You can buy a bacon wrapped hot dog on a stick for 100 yen.

Cell Phones
- I can use my cellphone as a low-limit credit card ($100). I just wave my phone in front of a sensor at the point of sale (vending machine, store, etc) and I can spend money. I'll get charged on my next cellphone bill
- I can use my cell phone as a train pass. I can periodically put money on it and just wave it over the train gates to magically ride as I please
- I can use my cell-phone as a coupon holder. Some places have electronic coupons that are stored in my cell phone. I wave my phone and get the discount. If I'm not going to use the coupon I can send it to a friend by waving our cellphones over each other.
- My phone has GPS and navigation software. If my friend is lost I can send them my exact location with a map, and even attach a picture of where I am. If my cell phone gets lost, I can track it via GPS.
- I can browse the internet on my phone.
- I can make video chat calls with my phone.
- I can play Katamari Damacy on my phone.

Internet
- It's fast. A LOT faster than in the us. 50 Mbps if that means anything to you.
- You plug your phone into the back of the router and it magically becomes an IP phone. You still have normal access to your land line, but all calls you make to other YahooBB customers are detected at dial and re-routed through the internet. That means free calling to anywhere in Japan. It also pulls international calls for much, much, much cheaper rates.
- For about $30/month you can get YahooBB TV. Essentially it's cable, but streamed over the internet in super high quality. If I didn't like the NHK channels so much I might consider buying this.

Gas Stations
- Full service (yes Myles, like in Oregon). Pull up, say "fill 'er up" and they'll empty your ashtrays and clean your windows.

Food
- Unlike everyone seems to think... it's not expensive to live here if you live like the locals do. Plus it's delicious.
- Eating at cafeterias is a no speaking process. You go to a machine, you select what you want and pay at the machine. A ticket pops out, you hand it to the lady who gives you your food. Easy.
- School lunch: mine so far have been really, really good. I hope the trend continues because the price is right: ~$1/day

Bars
- Some have all you can drink for a set price. Around $20-$30 gets you 2-3 hours of as much as you can drink and eat of (sometimes) delicious bar food. Simple, easy, and cheap!

Getting around
- Trains are fairly easy to navigate and not too expensive. A local train to Tokyo from where I'm at is ~$16.
- Taxis have automatic doors that open and close for you (actually the driver has a lever, it's not as technological as it sounds) they are relatively inexpensive if you use with friends.

Japanese TV
- Well, I can't even say much more than bizarre, but wonderful. The game shows are spectacular and make no sense.

The Japanese
- So nice, so welcoming. Just as nice as the people in Benin (but with fewer "yovo" songs)

ATMs/Banking
- Japanese ATMs are crazy! They can do anything in the world. Things you didn't even think you needed to do can be done. My favorite so far is the bankbook. In the US you get a check book and register. Here you get a register... but you don't fill it out. You stick it in the machine and it prints up every transaction you've made and your balance.
- The girls in my bank branch are cute.

Sleeping
- They have sheets that are like huge towels. It's brilliant! I wish I'd has this in Benin. When it's hot and humid you don't end up in a pool of sweat!
- I have the perfect summer blanket. It's big and poofy but keeps no heat in at all. Sadly it's been cold lately so I've been using something else.

Vending Machines
- They are everywhere. If you are ever thirsty you needn't walk more than 100 feet in any direction and you'll be quenched.

Change
- While some coins are useless and annoying (1, 5, and 10 yen coins... you can't use them in most vending machines) the others are awesome. The biggest coin here (500 yen) is worth quite a bit of money. I've actually been saving these as I get them, so I've got $50 or so saved just by virtue of the fact that I keep change. In my car I have a huge pile of 100 yen and 50 yen coins. It's great to be able to fish through my change and with no effort come up with enough to buy a huge meal.
- Some vending machines accept 10,000 yen bills. That's the rough equivalent of a US $100. Awesome.


That's about all I can think of right now. There is probably a lot more too. Of course there are also inconveniences as well. I'll expound on those at a later date.