mickey, marathon and marriage

Disneyland was great. It was everything it had been promised to be, and like many places and things in Japan it had the scent of familiarity but somehow held a unique identity. The actual layout of the park is very similar to Disneyland in Anaheim, which was interesting, but also somewhat confusing. The orientation however is upside down. Things that were "north" (Disneyland Anaheim is laid out on the compass; Main Street runs North-South) were actually South-East. Not really a huge deal, but it was slightly mind-blowing. Although now it makes me wonder why Anaheim is laid out North-South. Tokyo makes sense; it's laid out more or less perpendicular to the ocean. Is there a mountain view to the North of Anaheim?

Tokyo Disneyland's castle is also way, way cooler than the one in Anaheim.

One thing I found particularly interesting was the Calpis. For those not in the Japan know, Calpis is a delicious, yoghurty drink sold here. It's often mocked for the way it's name sounds a lot like "Cow Piss", and as a result in countries outside of Japan it's marketed as Calpico. At Tokyo Disneyland they sold it; but on the Japanese language menus they referred to it as Calpis, and in the English menus it was Calpico.

There were other strange things, like the churros and popcorn offered in one of several flavors depending on your location in the park, or the 'Big Bear Restaurant' in Frontierland that served curry (certainly authentic California gold rush curry). Probably the most strange thing was the number of people that were dressed up. There tons of little girls in princess dresses, and more people than not wearing Mickey or Minnie ears (those who wore the ears' sex had no relation to which of the mice they chose to represent). And perhaps most strange of all was our method for paying for the day.

I think I've probably related before my money saving technique for Japan; the 500 yen coin. It's great, it's big in value and easy to save. I'd been saving them since I arrived, and bought a Playstation in short order after my arrival entirely in 500 yen coins. Mindy, D and I thought it would be fun to have a day where we spent nothing but these coins, and Disneyland was the resulting trip. So, our entrances were paid with coins, our food throughout the day, you name it. All 500s. It was great, although odd to have a sock full of coins worth more than $300. Somehow, through the magic of the day I didn't spend hardly anything and now still have a huge stock. Time to make a new goal I suppose...

We left Disneyland a bit earlier than we might have otherwise because the next day Mindy and I were to run the Haruna Ume Marathon. We were promised 11k running through beautiful plum blossoms on the hills of Haruna. We got that, sort of. Well, we got the hills part. Sadly the cold of winter had not quite been shaken, and only a few of the many trees were in bloom. Still, it was a nice run. We even had supporters in the form of D and Joyce who waited at the finish line with hand made signs. I finished in 1 hour 18 minutes and 50 seconds. Not the best time in the world, but considering that 7 weeks prior I don't think I could have run more than 15 minutes at a stretch I feel pretty good about it. Of course this is really just a practice run for the Samurai Marathon coming up in May: 22 kilometers, all up hill and in costume. Should be interesting.

After the marathon we went out with a principal at one of Mindy's schools. Delicious yakiniku, delicious beer and random appearances on the part of teachers I teach with. After stuffing ourselves for hours we were invited back to the principals house to see his collection of Hina-matsuri dolls. We were fed even more. Between running, not sleeping enough and overeating I was exhausted, but satisfied. Hanging out that whole day was awesome, so many funny moments and odd little experiences.

The week post marathon was busy, and included a haircut I'll never forget but don't possess the prowess with words I'd need to properly describe it. Ask me.

This weekend I was invited to the wedding of one of my friends and teachers at elementary school. It was really, really fun! The food was amazing and plenty, everyone in attendance received gifts, and I won $25 worth of purchases at convenience stores for my amazing dart skills at the post party. The highlight for me though was the flower tossing ceremony. I was surprised when the bride was handed a bouquet. I thought it would be strange to see the same competitive spirit exhibited by so many women at our weddings in Japanese women. So, it didn't come much as a surprise when in a modified version of the ceremony the winner of the bouquet was chosen by ribbon raffle. What came next was comedy masterpiece. The best comedy is funny on multiple levels, and the building of the next routine was wonderful.

It was then the grooms turn to throw something to the single men of the audience. I've seen garters tossed before, so assumed that something like that would make an appearance. I've also heard of bouquets though, so when a green wrapped bouquet-shaped object was placed in his hands it wasn't so surprising. As typical, he put his back to the throngs and everyone counted. It wasn't until it was in the air that I realized that this bouquet was no bouquet at all, but broccoli. In perfect timing with the catch, the groom turned and seemingly from nothing produced a bottle of mayonnaise. Snatched from his hand by the eager broccoli captor, the mayonnaise was applied and broccoli bitten. It was poetry. Only then did I realize something strange. Japanese don't seem to eat broccoli raw, ever. It's unnatural and strange, which I find interesting in a country where raw fish, raw eggs and raw horse are all kosher. On first glance I thought that this man had taken a bite of raw broccoli but no: the bouquet had been cooked. It was at this point I lost it. The layers of comedy were just too great; throwing broccoli, having mayonnaise on hand, and finally the care and preparation that went into cooking the broccoli ahead of time... brilliant.

All in all it was a great day, really fun and funny. Also, really well prepared. It was at a place that gives weddings as a business, so things were so smooth. It was more like a dinner show or a Disneyland experience. Cast members made sure we got where we were going, there were costume changes, audience participation, a soundtrack, and even closing credits.

Wrapping up the weekend was slow. I spent most of the day at home yesterday cleaning up and enjoying the fine weather we've been having. It's finally starting to be warm during the day, so spring may finally have come.

intermission

lots has happened, and I'll get to writing something up later today... maybe.

In the mean time please enjoy this journal entry by one of my students:

--
March 13th
I was surprised because I was studying my homework. I had a nosebleed suddenly.
I said "nosebleed!".
My family said "You got excited!"
I said "The worst has happened! Help me!"
My brother said "Don't worry."
--

I think I enjoy far too much the quote "The worst has happened! Help me!". Don't be surprised if it pops up the next time I spill tea, throw a plate of raw fish on the ground, or have another similar disaster.

preparation

I think I'm finally ready for the impending visit of mother and aunt. Arrangements are made with the school, hotels are booked, plans have been made. Of course there are still some loose ends to be tied up, but all in all I feel like I actually have a plan. So, that's good. It'll be good to have them, but it's like Benin all over again where I'm freaking out about what to do and if my language skills will be good enough to do any of it. I guess Shane and I survived, and I even ordered from Pizza Hut one night. (That was an adventure)

Beyond that coming adventure, things are going well. We're now officially at the end of the school year. Classes are counting down. Only about 8 classes left in each of my sections. For the 3nensei we actually had our last classes this week. Next week we bid them farewell, as they're graduating and moving on. Scary for them, scary for me. It'll be sad to see them go, but I also welcome the start of a new year. It'll nice to no longer be the new guy. We'll likely have some new people on staff, and a whole bunch of incoming 1nensei (who I've already been teaching... so I'll actually be the only teacher they will actually know when they start!). It will be really nice to know more than someone in something besides English for once.

This weekend, as usual I'm busy.
Tonight: Mexican Food!
Tomorrow: Disneyland!
Sunday: Haruna Marathon (11k... wish me luck!)

karuizawa and naked celebrity

This weekend I went skiing with Masami. Okay, I went snowboarding... she went skiing. This whole two verb thing is not working for my life though. When I say 'I went skiing' the action I'm describing is going to a snow-covered mountain and riding down it with your feet attached to something. In my mind, it's not important what your feet were attached to... the more interesting information is that you went to a snow-covered mountain and engaged in winter sports. And at my level of skill, it REALLY doesn't matter what I had strapped to my feet, as regardless the over-all experience would have still been lots of falling down, pain and subsequent bruises. We need a more generalized verb that doesn't have the academic overtones of "I engaged in winter sports"... But, I digress.

It was great to finally break out the board I bought earlier this year from another JET. I got it for only about $70, which included boots in my size. A great deal if you ask me, as rental equipment alone would have been about $50. It is getting late in the season now, but I hope I'll get to go at least once more. I was really surprised to find how close it really was. Only about 90 minutes by car! There is another route I'm going to try out at some point, that might be even faster.

I sucked super hard at snowboarding, of course. The last time I went snowboarding was at Sierra Summit with the BU... about 3, 4 years ago? So I fell a lot, but near the end of the day I felt like I was actually starting to get the hang of it. The weather was nice, we had a good mix of snow and sun. And I had the most amazing sandwich for lunch. If you're ever in Karuizawa, across from the station there is a place called Karuizawa Flat Breadz. Mmm. I'm dreaming about it now.

Post that, we hit an amazing onsen... which was exactly what my body required at that point. I think my favorite feature was that there was a small section in the outdoor pool that had spa jets. Finally we headed to Mindy's for another of her famous game nights. I've always been somewhat competitive, and these nights seem to really bring it out. I think the weird thing about my competitive spirit is that I don't really care if I win or lose, I really just like to talk trash. I think somehow because of this, I've earned the reputation as a serious Catan player. When in fact I don't think I've even won more than once or twice out of many, many losses.

The next day I thought I would try a new onsen in Kurabuchi, as there are 5 and I've only been to one several times. (It's close to my house, cheap and I like it! Don't blame me!) After an adventure drive that left me in the middle of the forest, I decided to go to the other onsen near my house (actually closer to my house than my current preference). I'm not sure if each onsen has a particular culture. They've all seemed fairly uniform to me, but this one on Sunday was unique. First it was ALL old guys. Usually there is a healthy mix of old dudes, young guys and 3 year old girls. Second, there was conversation! Usually it's quiet. If friends are together, or children present there are usually hushed words, but rare is the time when strangers talk. Finally, and most surprisingly, I was involved in the conversation.

When I entered the outdoor part of the bath, it was quiet. Maybe 3 guys, 2 of which finished up quickly. The remaining guy started up a conversation with me... and slowly the bath filled with more people. The conversation didn't stop, but rather snowballed. Everyone wanted to chime in. It was like ask the foreigner hour. At one point there was at least 12 guys in the bath, and I was taking my rest of the hot water sitting on the marble. Elevated, I gazed down to see they all were hanging on my every stuttered word. I was a naked guru giving forth the teaching that California (just one of the 50 states in the US) and Japan are the same size.

Actually, it reminded me a lot of the local beer market in Benin. Often I'd find that just by being foreign, not standoff-ish and willing to try and speak the language I'd become a something of a short-lived local celebrity. When combined with a friend or two, crazy things could happen. I'm often reminded of the french language rap battle we had, or our dear, dear friend Pi-pi Nyegu whose antics were far too many to catalogue here. This onsen trip was a lot like that, or at least could be. I look forward to the day when I have a naked Japanese language rap battle. Really though, I just like interacting with people in a way different from the day to day. But for now, I'm going to have to find out if that onsen is like that every week.