Well I just finished off my first weekend in Japan. It's so nice to be in a new place with my favorite person. Everything is an adventure when you're in a place you've never been--buying food, finding your way around, wandering a department store. The novelty of being here hasn't worn off and I doubt it will any time soon.
Friday night we went over to Tetsuyah's house for my welcome party. We went with him and his two adorable kids to Bell Shine, a really nice grocery store/arcade in Miyada. It makes sense that the home of some of the strangest and most popular video games in the world would also have the craziest arcades. There were crane games with every kind of prize you can imagine--ice cream, beef jerkey, live salamanders in little plastic tanks, real fur dyed crazy colors (not a fan of that one). We took pictures in a Japanese photo booth, which has about 30 different options to make your photos as crazy as possible. After picking up some sushi and wine we headed over to the party.
Tetsuyah invited all the people that he has introduced Zack to so far. They were all married couples with children. It's so hard to tell how old Japanese people are because they age so well. We had a blast drinking with the men--Japanese women typically don't drink much--and comparing America to Japan. We taught them how to play "flip cup," my personal favorite drinking game, and they seemed to really enjoy it. They showed us the Japanese ball in cup game and noodle stream. A noodle stream is when they send noodles down a little shoot filled with water. You have to try and catch as many noodles as you can while they go down the shoot. Zack and I tried to catch noodles with the kids but my chopstick skills are really not up to par. I have to learn to quit being so sensitive because Japanese people love to make fun of foreigners learning to use chopsticks and speak the language. It's in good fun, but it can be hurtful when you're making a legitimate effort to try out their customs. Tetsuyah's family has really adopted Zack, kind of like an exchange family. The women were very friendly to me, too, even though I was holding a beer instead of a baby the whole night. They said we would go to the onsen (Japanese bath house) sometime. I can't wait!
Saturday we took our hungover selves to Matsumoto, a nearby city where we were supposed to go to a barbecue with some people from the JET Program. It rained on us for a while and of course we forgot to bring umbrellas. We sought shelter in this giant store called JusCo that puts Wal-Mart and Sam's Club to shame. They sell everything in there, even cars! We saw an older couple walking alongside a new car that some salesmen were rolling to the exits. Cars here are super small and efficient. There are laws and heavy fines in place to ensure that cars don't fall into disrepair, so often it's cheaper for people to trade in their old car for a newer one every three years or so. I haven't seen a car older than probably 2005 since I got here.
The girl hosting the barbecue didn't answer her phone and we didn't know who else to contact so we decided to hang out with Zack's friend Dirty Jerid and his wife, Yuki. We went to an Irish pub, this neat little dive bar called Elbow Room, and ended the night with an underground dance party (it was literally in a basement). There was a DJ playing awesome techno and house music. We danced like crazy and chatted with some hip Japanese guys and girls until 3 in the morning. It was so fun! I really want to go back to that club again. The next day, suprisingly not hungover, Zack and I wandered the city looking for Matsumoto Castle. Along the way we found a shop with beautiful and expensive Japanese antiques. We also found a crazy video game shop. We went to the castle, walked around but didn't go inside because we were running low on funds, and headed back to the train station. From there we went to this store called "Hard-Off" that sells new and used electronics. Like I said, they recycle everything here. We bought a keyboard and a DVD player out of the junk corner, which is where they keep electronics that are slightly or completely broken. You wouldn't believe all the old video game systems they have laying around--Nintendo, Sega Saturn, Super Nintendo, N64, Xbox--all for less than $10! We'll probably be going back there again really soon. The keyboard is really cool, although we just have to guess what all the buttons do since it's written in Japanese. We're going to try and make some 8bit music together!
After that, we were exhausted (Zack had been hauling around a computer monitor that Jerid sold him all day) so we hopped on a train back to Miyada. The train system here is pretty confusing so we had to switch trains a couple times to make sure we were going the right way. Luckily, people are really understanding and helpful to lost gaijin. We'll figure it out one of these days.
I'm so glad to have made so many friends already! We can't party this hard every weekend because it's tough on the wallet, but we definitely plan on having lots of adventures. Now that we've seen a bit of Japanese city life/shopping, we're going to start exploring some of the beautiful places in nature that are nearby. Zack and I want to hike up one of the smaller mountains soon so we're going to start working out. My running routine kind of fell apart in the last few weeks because of all the chaos in my life but now I'm going to buckle down and get back in the game. All this walking is giving us good exercise, too. Yay for being healthy!
It's become apparent that while Japan strives to live more in tune with nature than the U.S., their animal rights record is probably appalling. People leave dogs confined to small pens or tied to short ropes pretty much all day. I've also heard rumor of the Japanese eating animals that are still alive, like squid and fish, though I've never personally witnessed it. Whaling is also a controversial industry for the Japanese; many people see it as a right or necessity for the little island nation, but animal rights activists and environmentalists see it as a destructive, outdated tradition. Some signs for food companies feature dolphins, too. I'm not sure if it's just for design purposes or to indicate that they eat dolphins, but I'm doing some more research on the food industry here.
I'm going to be on my guard from now on to make sure I'm not eating whale or dolphin or supporting the fur industry. I feel kind of bad for eating fish because I respect them as a life form and know the toll that the commercial fishing industry has on the oceans, but until I learn more Japanese, eating fish will keep me from going hungry. I've been eating mostly ebi
I'm so grateful for the opportunity to live in a place so different from the U.S. but so inextricably linked. I can see how some traditions are surviving in our globalized world while others evolve or die out. This is a country that still has its own unique identity despite the world becoming more and more homogenized. I hope that being here will help me see my own heritage in a new light, help me appreciate my own traditions and culture finally.