[The American Years]

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Greetings from Japan, where the steam coming up from the sewer grates smells of Hai Karate. (Younger readers may have to Google that one.)


Here are the famously overpriced musk melons. I'm not sure if the $40 is for one or for a set.

The joke goes "The last time I paid $40 for a set of melons..." I'll let you finish that one yourself.

I would have bought one, but Kathleen says I'm musky enough as it is.

Wrapped in tissue paper? Is that necessary?


You Southern-Californians in this readership may not realize this, but Nagoya Japan is Los Angeles’s sister city. That information and 140 Yen will buy you a cup of coffee at Denny’s. (They really do have Denny’s over here. Can you make ‘Moon over My-Hammy’ with squid?) There is a monument here in Nagoya’s Central Park to the union of the cities. There is a lovely fountain which is more like a mountain stream running over rocks. Just like in Los Angeles(?) Hmmm. It reminds me of all the places outside of Los Angeles you can go to see lovely rivers. Actually a fake stream is a perfect tribute to Los Angeles…It’s completely artificial and contrived… yet still nice! And the City of Los Angeles donated the rocks as a sign of civic sisterhood. Rocks. Someone drove up into the San Gabriels, crated up rocks, and sent them on a plane to Japan to install in a fake river. Your tax dollars at work.

I don’t know what Nagoya donated to Los Angeles for their sister city tribute, but whatever it is, I bet it’s still in the crate in a warehouse in Norwalk.

The other part of the sister city tribute is a re-creation of a portion of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There are stars set into the sidewalk, but only a select 25 or so famous movie stars. They are set in alphabetical order, which is a bit odd. Nothing in Los Angeles is that ordered. And how did they decide on which movie and music start to include on the mini-walk? Hard to cipher that one. Alphabetically, right between Robert Mitchum and Anthony Quinn sits the star belonging to Olivia Newton John. Don’t get me wrong, I love Olivia Newton John. I just saw a movie called “Sordid Lives” which had a small but lovely appearance by Olivia. But add that movie to Grease and Xanadu, and that pretty much rounds out her film career. Not exactly a movie icon worthy of sidewalk space next to Mitchum and Quinn. Maybe they just needed a ‘N’, and couldn’t think of anyone else. Don Notts? David Niven? Jack Nicholson? Willie Nelson? Heck even Judd Nelson had a bigger movie career.

"Even a sheet of paper has two sides"
- Japanese proverb

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Greetings from Japan, where if the American presence on Japanese cable TV is any indication, Americans are big into golf, bass-fishing tournaments, infomercial shopping and professional wrestling... Hmm, not too far off, for Kentucky at least.

Would you buy and eat this cereal? It does have the word 'cereal' on it, so you know it's not catfood anyway. I did buy it and do love it. In fact, I know which stores have it and which don't, and that makes a difference in where I shop.

It is totemo oishi, especially sprinkled on yoghurt. You almost can't taste the squid.

In the bottom left corner of the box it says 160g. I think that is the fiber per serving.

If there is such a thing as world-class instant ramen, it would be found here in Japan. I have been searching, but that pinacle of instant ramen has yet eluded my chopsticks. The search continues, one styrofoam bowl at a time.


We’ve worked to figure out how to pronounce our family members' names using the sounds available to the speaker of Japanese. As I’ve reviewed before, ‘Kathleen’ requires special care to not come out sounding like ‘Gasoline’. ‘Veronica’ will be pronounced with a ‘B’ instead of a ‘V’, which is not so bad. Then there’s Zane. We’ve decided the best thing to do is call him ‘Zen’, like the little Buddhist that he is. Yep, self denial, rejection of pleasure, seeking the highest level of enlightenment; these are Zane’s hallmarks. Maybe he should start his own religion called Zane Buddhism, in which meditation is replaced by running and throwing and Nirvana is replaced by Chuck E Cheese.

I made my first ever post on youtube.com. It's a video I took of an automated beer pouring machine in the lounge at the Nagoya airport.Beer Pour Video. I'm getting this machine and bringing it camping next year.

(The automatic cappuccino machine served a better product but failed to be as compelling on video.)

Japanese proverb for today
"Darkness reigns at the foot of the lighthouse."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Greetings from Japan, where the two primary flavors of ice cream are vanilla and green tea. And it's not half bad!

These are pictures from a shrine in our neighborhood. I like the one showing you how to pray.

My relocation company was able to get a block of seats to see the Rolling Stones here. A free ticket! It was an enjoyable concert at the Nagoya Dome, where the Nagoya Dragons baseball team plays. There were a few oddities in the room. Before the opening act, a crew of ushers with megaphones went through the public areas yelling at everyone to go in to the arena to see the opening act. Thoughtful, but still yelling. And then there was no beer. I’m not sure if they ran out, or if it was some kind of policy. Either way it was a little disappointing, but made it easier to obey the yelling ushers and go in to watch the opening act.

The Stones did put on a good show, all wheelchair and cane jokes aside.

This thought occurred to me. Daughter Veronica and Mick Jagger, though they were born in different hemispheres and centuries, share 3 things in common: they both like to sing, they both have a body fat percentage somewhere in the single digits, and they both do a fair amount of skipping. Mick was Mick. Skipping and prancing like a 5-year old girl.

The most important Japanese to learn is the symbols for “Cancel” on the computer. With all the errors I’ve made, I’ve used ‘Cancel’ more than any other button. I think I’ve nearly worn it smooth.
Japanese proverb for today:

"If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty."

I guess my man John Keats was one tea-drinking man, with all his "Truth is beauty and beauty truth" talk.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

A Bit Less Like Camping.

This is the nice man who brought in my air shipment. Service. Japanese service is amazing. The guy gave the impression that this is the job he was born to do and that he loves nothing more than carrying boxes (at a walk-jog pace) unpacking them, and reassembling bikes for strange people. On a Sunday. It's his hobby, his calling. He does it whenever he can and thinks about it the rest of the time. That's Japanese service.

I’m very excited about the arrival. More clothes so I don’t have to do laundry. More bedding so I am not curled up under one Scooby Doo blanket every night. (I have Spiderman too, now!) My bike is here! Less driving! (And I have to learn to ride my bike on the left side of the road…) And cooking utensils! I now have a pot… to cook in, thankyouverymuch. And a pan, and plates. Oh, and did I mention 37 bottles of wine, and no corkscrew? (It’s OK, If I had a corkscrew then I'd have a cork, and then I’d have to figure out which recycling category it goes in. Anyway I’ve developed a taste for Australian screw-topped wine. The taste is not so bad, and it also works great as a basin-tub-and-tile cleaner.)

The pot and pan are a huge help. In my exuberance on my first trip to the grocery I bought eggs and hot dogs. So exciting, until I realized that I couldn’t cook either one. I did skewer a hot dog on a chopstick and roast it over the gas flame of the stove. That worked OK, but the same technique didn’t work quite as well with the egg. So they have sat in the fridge until this day. This glorious day. I have declared it Hot Dog and Egg Day here in Rose Hills B-1. Let the feast begin! I can also make coffee now, rather than buying it in single-serving cans. I can only make instant, but it’s a step in the right direction. And the Japanese have good instant coffee.

The TV also got delivered. But I have no DVD’s and no cable until Wednesday. So for now it’s watching me.

And I still have no chair. Bit of an oversight on my part. I was going to have the patio furniture sent in the air shipment, but failed to get it in there. So I’m still eating over the sink and sitting on the floor (as I write this even). But now at least I have better pillows to sit on.

Cherry Blossoms in Nagoya.

After a little trouble I finally got my Japanese banking information and card. It was held at the post office because I wasn’t at my house to sign for it. It almost got sent back to the bank which would have been further trouble. So I got it. It occurred to me that at no time did anyone in the process of getting the banking set up ask if I wanted 2 cards or just one. I haven’t figured out if they give you one because the man is supposed to have control of the dough, or that the woman takes care of all the finances and errand running while hubby-san is at work. Whichever reasoning better reaffirms the superiority of men is the one in operation here, I’m sure.

Get this: They don’t do checkbooks here. And it’s Ok. Very few places even accept credit cards, but that’s growing. ATM purchase is unheard of. They are largely a cash and carry society. But they do… passbooks. I kid you not. I have a passbook for the first time since the ‘birthday money’ account I had as an 8-year-old. Some of you might not even know what a passbook is. Sure the Japanese have advanced technology and talking robot dogs and the world standard of cellphones, but they still carry and use the Jurassic technology of passbooks. And the ATM’s will update them for you. There’s a slot for cards and a slot for passbooks. You put in your passbook and it prints out your recent transactions on it. Everything old is new again. A machine that automatically prints on a passbook? You might as well have an ATM which laser prints receipts on stone tablets, or a postal drop box that automatically and robotically ties your letter to a pigeon’s leg.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

View of the Higashiama Zoo from the Sky tower. The whitish blurs are the cherry trees in bloom. There is an elephant in the photo some where. _________________________________________________

This is a local Nagoya artist's impression after he saw me walking through the train station.

You might say that the figure portrayed looks a bit like a feminine form rather than masculine.

Hey whatever. The artist's impression is the artist't impression. I'm comfortable with my feminine side.

I got my Japanese test results back. You may recall that it was multiple choice, and completely unintelligible to me. So the law of averages says I should get about a 25%. Guess what: 33%! I think I must be nearly fluent! Or at least a pretty good guesser. Bring on the Japanese SAT’s

The timeclock system at work has me wondering. If you ring your badge in at 7:35 in the morning, it credits you with 8am. Similarly, if you badge out at 6:20pm, it gives you 6pm. It only works in half-hour increments, and always defaults to not give you the time. The first level of thinking is that they’re trying to jip their workers out of pay. But I think it goes deeper than that. They have strict overtime limits here. So if a worker is up against the limit for the month, he can get nearly an hour of work done each day without having it count towards their monthly OT. Most workers are up to their max OT each month, so I don’t think it’s as simple as the company not paying them for hours worked. I might be wrong, but that’s the deeper meaning I’m choosing to withdraw.
Let’s talk about driving in Japan. I got my car, but it sat in my parking space for 2 days while my neighbor drove me to work on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday he and I had to keep separate schedules, so I had to drive myself. I decided to train a little on Tuesday night. A little bit of liquid courage to steel my nerves, and I was rolling.

It was a brilliant move on my part, because it was lightly raining. You might think: danger. But it was perfect. You see, the levers for wipers and blinkers are opposite to what you’re used to. A common goof by every expat novice driver is to wipe when they mean to blink. But with the light rain, when I’d approach an intersection, it was perfectly OK for me to change the wipers speed. Nobody was the wiser.

Driving on the left is not that hard, if there are other cars to give you hints. Hints like: “Follow that car that is going your way,” and “Don’t drive toward the oncoming truck.” Fairly easy. It only gets difficult when turning on to an empty road.

And the sensation is strange. Everything is there, and it all fits together, but it all feels goofy. It’s similar to trying to write with your off hand. You know how it all works and what the execution should look like, but the getting there just feels strange. I reached to my left shoulder for my seatbelt. It’s on the right side, you know, by my door. I can’t get into the habit of looking in the rear view mirror. I completely forget it’s there because it’s not where it should be. And I’m hoping to correct that blinker / wiper problem before it stops raining.

If you have any friends in the greater Japan area, please advise them to stay off the road.

Japanese proverb of the day:
"A good husband is healthy and absent."

(I'm guessing he's at work.)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Let the Games Begin...

Cherry Blossoms in a tree near the office.

Sorry for the lack of focus. My camera has jetlag too.

There haven’t been updates for a while. Because I haven’t been in Japan for while. Now all that’s changed. Not only am I in Japan, and have been since April 1 (Happy Birthday to Joe Walusek!) but I’ve been without a reliable internet connection. So I’ve been storing up tidbits for the blog.

Now it’s time to share my tidbits. I mean that in the nicest way possible.

Let’s start with my arrival into Nagoya last Saturday. There are two lanes of passport control when you enter most countries. One for citizens and one for foreigners. I am a bit of a hybrid (how’s that for product placement!). I am a foreign resident with a reentry permit. So I come through the Japanese Citizen’s line. And it really bothered some people to see a foreigner coming through their line.

First the helper out front was pointing me toward the foreigner’s lines. I had to show him the sticker in my passport and give him an “Eee Desune” (‘It’s OK, isn’t it?’) for him to let me by. Then a very friendly lady just couldn’t stand to see me make a fool of myself. She came up to me in line and struggled to get some English out. “I think mistake. Japanese only.”

She was very nice. I don’t know how she spotted me. If you know me you know that I don’t like to stand out in a crowd. I was only 18inches taller and 100% gaijin-er than everyone else there. I couldn’t have drawn more attention to myself had I been outfitted with a one-man-band getup, actuating the bass drum and the cymbal with alternating steps.

But I got through OK. I raised some eyebrows with my ‘unaccompanied items’ customs form which claimed 37 bottles of wine and liquor arriving in my shipment. That got a “Sugoi” (‘Super!’) from a customs agent. Had I known the Japanese for “Kegger at my house” I would have used it.


I had a few minutes on my first morning here to get a little breakfast near the hotel before I had to meet my relocation agent to get let into the house. Found a nice little coffee type shop, with pictures of omelets in the front window. Perfect. I approached the counter and said omelet in my best Japanese accent: “Ah-Mu-Reh-To”. (Aside: Omelet and Amulet probably have the same pronunciation in Japanese. I’ll do more research and find if people ever wear omelets around their necks on accident.) Nice girl brought out a menu to show the omelets they had. It was in English even. It had three options: Rice Omelet (traditional). Rice Omelet (Japanese Sauce). Rice Omelet (House Sauce).

Hmm, decisions decisions. I picked the traditional one. I am a firm believer in tradition, after all. Even if tradition means putting rice inside eggs and putting ketchup on it. And serving it with a cabbage salad.

Don’t get me wrong, it actually tasted fine. And their coffee was good. But it was a further reminder that I’m not in Kansas anymore. And a further further reminder that the kids will have some pretty big food challenges over here. Kathleen, bring cracker packs wherever you go.