not feeling useless

Every so often you have one of those days where you don't feel useless here. Today I opened up a new bank account, paid for my car insurance (which was more complicated than it sounds) and sent a cash envelope (you can send cash through the mail here! ... in a special envelope). It was pretty exciting. I'm particularly happy about the bank account. As it was before I had one bank account at a bank that, while is nationwide, doesn't have branches anywhere. In addition you can't use their ATM cards at any ATMs but their own, which are impossible to find and open only at specific hours.

There have been a few times where I've been in Tokyo with no money because of this. Since JR has a better deal on a round-trip ticket for short trips, I usually buy it so I've yet to be actually STUCK in Tokyo with no money... but it's still inconvenient when you want to buy things. One solution I found was the iD system. Essentially it turns my phone into a low limit credit card. It's pretty awesome, as it's accepted at vending machines, AEON (chain) malls, convenience stores and lots of other places in Tokyo. At the very least it has helped me conserve cash, if not sustain my stomach for the train ride home. It's cool, but no replacement for real money. It does have a neat little application on the phone that gives you a quick view of your balance, so at least you know how much you've spent.

Another solution is the Suica card. It was originally designed to be used as a rechargeable train pass, but has since grown into a simple rechargeable cash card accepted in many of the same places that iD is (plus on trains and buses). Around the time I got here they also launched a mobile equivalent that uses your phone as the pass. I set it up, but have yet to get it to work. I'm trying a bit more in earnest now... but I forgot my password... and my the answers to my security questions. Although this may not be a big deal. I didn't realize you could charge your account at a convenience store, so my project for the weekend is to try that out.

All that aside, the bank account is the best. I can split my savings and spending and have a card that will actually work outside of Kurabuchi.

it's summer... or is it?

Just when weather establishes a pattern of soul-destroying heat and humidity, you get a day like today when it's cold all day and rainy. Sadly it looks like the weather is going to continue this cycle of way too hot and way too cold for at least the next week or so. I guess I shouldn't complain too loudly though, as I'd rather have occasional breaks from the heat and humidity before summer finally takes its horrible hold.

Things have been good lately. Lots of stuff to do, between Sanja Matsuri (huge festival in Asakusa), a trip to Disney Sea a Japanese baseball game and hundreds of other small things. It seems like my weekends are never entirely mine though. In that respect I very much miss Benin. There I was busy, but it was the sort of busy that let me sleep as much as I wanted and stay at my house the hours that I wanted to stay at home. Of course along with that came chores that simply don't exist here. Washing my clothes in Benin was a 2 hour affair, having to prepare things entirely from raw ingredients, and frequent market trips.
Even so, weather and business aside I'm having a good time.

Sadly though, we're now entering the season of goodbyes. It won't be but 2 months before most of my ALT friends will leave, or will have left. I guess that means we'll also be getting a ton of new faces, but they'll be annoying and new for at least a few months. Ugh.

marathon

The Annaka Ansei Toashi (or 'Samurai Marathon') is held annually, and it's a big deal. It's considered by many to be the first marathon to be held in Japan and is run along a section of the Nakasendo (the ancient trade route between Kyoto and Tokyo).

It was awesome. Previously people wore only samurai costumes, but recently it's turned into just a general costume marathon. I would say 85% of the people that ran it, ran in costume. My group was no exception. Inspired by a blingin' gold skull and crossbones belt found at Don Quixote (if you've visited me, you know the store) we were pirates. Pirates with foam swords and the will to attack small cheering children. There were thousands of people running in costume, thousands of spectators. It was glorious.

All of our group completed their goals, which is saying a lot. When we started this process, none of us was in shape to run at all. I couldn't run 15 minutes without wanting to die. But we all made plans, stuck to them and finished! Good feeling! I'm actually pretty impressed with us as a whole.

During the Haruna marathon a couple months ago, at the end of the race I broke away from Mindy in an effort to win. I ultimately did beat her by 1 second. I thought that after 21k of running, I might not have the energy for a repeat performance... neither did I think it was very sportsman like to ditch your partner at the very end. Imagine my surprise when for the last 50 meters she bolted ahead in an effort to beat me! I ended up beating her once more by a single second. Now though, I actually like this last 50 meter power dash. The people cheering at the finish line always think it's hilarious, and it feels good to finish strong.

For the records, I finished the course in 2:30:35. My goal was 2.5 hours, so I was quite pleased with the result. Our average pace was a bit below what we run at in practice, but there were some very tough sections of the course... plus the slow start (thousands of people, one itty-bitty road out of the starting area) and length slowed us down a little. I'm looking forward to the next local marathon and continuing running. I'd like to get my speed up quite a bit, or I'm afraid that my dreams of doing the Tokyo Marathon next year (and Wildflower... someday) might not happen.

busy and hot

This past weekend was Golden Week, which is the name for a series of holidays that falls all in a row at the beginning of May. Sadly this year, two of the holidays fell over the weekend... which meant Golden Week was short. Sadness. Even so, it was nice to have a bit of extra time over the weekend.

I can't say I was super productive, but I did have a good time. Saturday was largely spent running. I did a practice run of the marathon (coming up on Sunday!). I ended up doing around 19k. Sadly I started a bit late, so it was during the hot part of the day. After that I went to Isobe to try out their onsen. It was nice, and I think my favorite part was the cold pool. I was still rather warm from running, and while the onsen felt nice it was the cool pool that really was refreshing. I finished the day off with a trip to UNI-QLO and the mall for a bit of light shopping.

Sunday was dedicated to cleaning my horrendous house. Sadly not much after I finished cleaning my neighbor kids came over and we all proceeded to destroy my morning work with a foam sword fight and french-fry and wild onion tenpura making. Quite a nice afternoon actually, although my house still hasn't recovered.

Monday was the long awaited micro-brew beer festival in Tokyo. There were beers from all over Japan, and a few imports. More than 120 beers in all, and it was awesome. Good beer is something that's been lacking in my life for far too long. Niftily enough, I found that there is actually a microbrew in Gunma. I sadly don't know where their products can be bought, but at least I know it exists at all.

Before all that though was a stop in Akihabara, where I picked up a copy of GTAIV. I haven't had too much time to play it yet, but it doesn't seem to depart too much from the standards laid out by the previous 3. Which I guess is good. We'll see.

Tuesday I hung out with some Okayama JETs and Masami in Tokyo. Ate some Krispy Kreme and El Torito, and even got to drink a Negra Modelo. Interestingly not a week previously I'd acquired 4 Bohemias. If I get a Hoegaarden on tap in the next few days we'll have had the best beer week EVER.

Since then though I've been too busy. Additionally it's been really hot. Wednesday got up to 28 degrees! (83F) What the crap? We're in spring, not summer. I don't want to suffer yet. Thankfully it's been getting cooler, but at the cost of the sun. We're to get rain this weekend, which I'm not looking forward to at all.

We also had a rather strong earthquake early Thursday morning. Well, three actually. The main event was actually quite long, certainly the longest (and strongest) I've felt so far. It seems like my stay in Japan has been rather earthquakey in general actually. Since I've arrived there have been at least 3 occasions. Even back in California I'd only ever experienced one or two during my whole time there.

This weekend is the famed Samurai Marathon, for which I've been training since February. It feels all at once longer and not as long. In any case, it'll feel good to have set a goal and accomplished it. I'm not really worried at all about being able to run the distance, I just wonder what will happen after. I need a new goal, or I won't be pushed to keep on running... and with my love for McDonalds not running simply isn't an option =P

random select

Today my JTE surprised me with Krispy Kreme donuts from her daughter (whom I've never met). Donuts are the best surprise ever, and Krispy Kremes... well. A little tear came to my eye just now.

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Today in class the teacher asked the students "Why do so many countries use windmills?" (a question from our text). A student replied "Because I love you".

(aside - this was him being funny. One of our last lessons last year was about Mother Teresa. A dying man asked "why are you helping me?" to which Mother Teresa replied "because I love you". Of course when he said it today it was completely out of the blue, and we had to ask him what he meant)

Actually, I think that's a pretty good answer to any 'why' question. I'm going to start using that from now on.

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In the continuing saga of my hair, I visited the last elementary school that hadn't seen me since I'd gotten it cut. The first comment a student made when I came in was "ああ!前より格好いい!" (He looks cooler than before!)


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We're going to be pirates for the marathon, if anyone was still wondering. We found some awesome foam swords at Toys 'R Us and battled in the mall the other day. It was awesome. Almost as good was playing "Pirate Says" in elementary school and punishing students who didn't obey the words of the pirate with a saber slash to the chest.