it's cold

It's finally happened: 0 degrees. Actually, our overnight lows have been ranging as low as -3. This is degrees Celsius of course, but it's still damn cold. I was shocked the other day to find ice on my windshield: ICE. The denial is over. I finally bought kerosene for my heater, and next week I'll have to buy snow tires.

Fall has finally arrived at my altitude, and all the trees are changing color. The mountains are now slowly changing from the speckled orange and red, to mostly brown. Actually, the mountains nearest me are covered in pine so they're still green... but further away. The other day I was going to the mall in Takasaki. Once you get down the mountain it's really flat... so on a good day you can see for miles. To the North you could see the tall mountains of Gunma... all capped in snow. Nearer to me, Mt. Asama has been capped in snow for at least a month. Soon it'll be here.

Beyond that not much to report. I'm studying a lot for the JLPT. I have a 4 day weekend this week, which I'll use to head down to Okayama to visit Ethan. That's pretty much it really.

wine and women

This weekend was the annual Harvest Festival at the Coco Winery in Ashikaga. Wow, what an awesome time I had. The short of it is you pay about $20 and are issued a bottle of wine, a glass and a corkscrew. Then you sit in the vineyards and drink wine. There was tons of good food, cheese and people. The vineyard itself is in a really narrow valley, so you're surrounded by trees and nature and stuff. I attended with many of the JETs from Gunma, there must have been at least 40 of us... and that's not even counting the random Japanese friends and JETs from other regions. The event itself is huge, there must have been at least 1000 people.

It was a perfect day, and the type of event I like the most. Sitting around, drinking good wine and eating great food. If you're ever in Japan in late November, put it on your calendar.

******

This story is from the a few weeks ago when I was on my way to Tokyo. I was just sitting on the train listening to This American Life on my iPod minding my own business. Since I got on at the beginning of the line (go Takasaki!) I had a seat. As you get closer to Tokyo, the train fills up and you generally have someone standing in front of you. I didn't for a few minutes, and the train stopped. I noticed a somewhat rotund, middle-aged woman in red get on. I didn't notice her for any of those reasons though, but rather because she had a huge booger hanging out of her nose. Of course she came over to stand directly in front of me, where I was forced to avert my eyes from her snot-stalactite. Eventually I couldn't help but notice that she was standing a bit closer to me than strictly necessary. I looked up only to catch her eye. She exhaled and said "かわいい" ('cute'). Not wanting to be rude I took a headphone out and said "ええ?"('huh?'). She repeated "かわいい".
"だれ?" ('who?')
"あなた" ('you')

Uncomfortable.

"そのことはない。" ('no, that's not true')
"チョカワイイ" ('Super cute')

At this point she's indicating her face with her hand. I didn't know what else to do but smile, look away and put my headphone back in. Sadly she stayed on the train for at least another half hour, still standing near me... gazing.

Creepy. Funny though!

a trembling of the earth

I had a great weekend. Not particularly productive, or really filled with anything that interesting... but fun nonetheless. I spent Saturday in Annaka with awesome people doing pretty much nothing. We played frisbee in the park, taste tested Calpis vs. Premium Calpis, drank endless amounts of tea, coffee, soda and other things, and finished off with Full House.

So, the endless amounts of tea, coffee, soda needs a bit of explanation. At most American-style cafeterias (Denny's, Coco's, Gusto [ガスト]) they have what's known as "Drink Bar" (ドリンクバー) This is possibly the greatest innovation in cafe service ever, and one of my top 10 favorite things about Japan. Essentially it's a soda fountain, only it's so much more. In addition to soda, they have many teas (hot and cold) an automatic espresso machine (that makes lattes, espresso and many, many other drinks) and a hot drink machine with hot chocolate, and a variety of other things. The drink bar at Coco's actually has an entire tea selection with as many as 25 different loose teas ready to be brewed in tiny tea sets. For about 300 yen you get access to it for as long as you care to sit at the restaurant. Naturally all of these raw ingredients are best enjoyed mixed.

The people I was with are mix-masters, with drinks as varying as the 'midori-creme' (green tea in warm vanilla milk), the 'melon-creme' (melon soda with creme), and the 'orange-pis' (calpis soda and orange juice). I think I did pretty well myself with additions like the "co-pis" (coke and calpis soda... which was strangely reminiscent of vanilla coke) and "va-cho-cho" (vanilla milk and hot chocolate). Probably half the fun is coming up with a name for your drink.

Yesterday I slept till noon and played video games. It was awesome. I finally picked up a PS2, so I started playing FFXII. I'm trying to limit my time on it, as I'm also playing through Trusty Bell (Eternal Sonata). Of course the Japanese version has no English, so it's actually been good practice in Japanese. I buzzed through an English summary of what I've gone through so far, and was surprised at how well I knew what was going on. Of course there was some failure. I knew there was a reason these people were traveling and that it was related to a kanji I couldn't read. Turns out it was tax. I never would have guessed that. I also learned that a set of three kanji of which I could read 'flower' means 'floral powder'.

This may be a new trend. Since many of the newer games have spoken dialog and subtitles it's great listening and reading practice. It also helps that a failing in one (but not both) leads to learning. I can't count how many kanji I've learned (and words) from going through. I've another friend that's been renting J-Drama on DVD and watching with subtitles. If I run out of good games I may switch to this as well.

Last night we had a small earthquake. No big deal, in fact I had to ask myself afterwards "was that an earthquake?". It was short and over before I knew it, but it's the first one I've felt here and the first one I've felt for a very long time. (I think the last time was the Northridge Earthquake in 1994)

This week should be quiet for me. Well, relatively. The ninensei are off at various businesses trying out careers and I'll teach elementary twice this week. Not however today, which is my normal day. So that I won't miss as much class when I go to elementary they have me scheduled for only one class on Mondays. As fate would have it it's a ninensei class, which means I have nothing to do today.

a monster named hitler

Today we did Halloween type things. Partially because that's where we are in our textbook (we're a little late) and partially because my teacher didn't have a lesson plan. So I threw together some talking, some pictures and an activity. The activity was basically 'draw what I say' in the thinly veiled guise of Halloween monsters.

There were some very creative monsters that fit my description (so many ears, so many eyes, etc.) The last step was to name your monster. There was a 'bread monster' (パン モンスター), E.T., a Katherine, and my personal favorite: Hitler. Who names their hand-drawn Halloween monster Hitler? Who names ANYTHING Hitler? Oh students.

****

In other news I'm almost not sick, my visitors are gone and I'm getting back into my routine. It was a lot of fun having people over, and getting to test out some local tourist places. I should be uploading some photos later this evening or tomorrow. So look for them in the gallery.

Last night I finally got (borrowed from the school) some kendo armor. Sadly my gi and hakama (shirt and pants) are on special order. So rather than the giant, white car that they feared... I just look dumb. A chest plate over track pants looks so, so dumb I can't help but laugh at myself every time I see me.

Next week maybe.

special bonus

After telling one of my co-workers about the Japanese/America word warping game she came back this afternoon with a question an elementary student asked her:

"パン作ったことある?" ('pan tsukutta koto aru' - Have you ever made bread?)

It was only when she had replied that she had and he started laughing that she realized he was actually asking:

"パンツ食ったことある?" ('pantsu kutta koto aru' - Have you ever eaten underwear?)

four short stories

We've been studying "the place I want to visit" in the 3rd grade (三年生, 9th grade US). A student wrote the following in his short essay:

"... Next I want to visit Heaven. I want to eat delicious food and see beautiful flowers. I want to sleep all the time. I want to meet angels of cute girls. I will have a good time there."

Brilliant.

*****

The other day in Kendo I was asking about the colors of uniforms. There are blue and white ones. I've never seen a guy wear white, but I've often seen the girls wear blue. So I was wondering if there was any meaning. Just prior to this we were talking about how I wanted to buy the uniform... my question about white was misinterpreted into being interested in buying a white uniform. The conversation went like this:

"So, do the white uniforms have a meaning?"
"Oh, you don't want white. You'll look fat. You know, how a dark car looks small and sleek and a white car looks big and ugly on the road? It'd be the same with you."

Wow. And they say the Japanese aren't direct.

******

When I was a kid a great source of amusement one day was that if you held your tongue while saying "My daddy worked on a ship to get my mommy some apples" it sounded exactly like you were saying "My daddy worked on a shit to get my mommy some assholes". I never in a million years thought that this type of humor would translate to anywhere else. Turns out I was wrong. If you pull your lips away from your teeth (two or three fingers at each corner of your mouth) and say "Gakkyu Bunko" (school books) it sounds like "Gakkyu Unko" (school poop).