Japan Diary Page


This is a public diary about my trip to Japan.

It covers events, people, dates, etc., that I arbitrarily thought worth sharing. Appreciate the variety, if not the choices.

A few excerpts from e-mail I have sent are put in for the first few sections.

Do check back often. Do send me e-mail. Do read my home page, as it will tell me where I am living. Thanks!

This is dedicated to friends and family, and to those that have made my trip to Japan possible.

October 1997

I won't guarantee the accuracy of these dates. A lot of other entries belong here, but were not dated. Reason is, I have no exact recollection of when certain events occurred.

September 30, 1997 (Seattle)

Drove from home, baggage in the back of Tim's car. I had my bicycle against my head in a box. The remark was made that I didn't really think I was going to Japan, for ten months. Could you believe it if it was happening to you?

At the airport, there was a check in area specifically for Japan air traffic. They took my bicycle on the plane for free. I waited awhile at the terminal, with students from the University of Washington who were participating in similar exchange programs. Adding to my manic excitement, was a Grande Mocha from Starbucks.

Boarding the plane, it was easy to look back and see my family. Ten hours, it seemed, wouldn't be long enough to have them ten months away.

Luckily, they gave us business class seating. Plenty of leg room, better service and comfort, though ten hours of sitting couldn't be completely comfortable no matter what the service. I was with Standy, a goofy guy who sort of was like a Chinese Mr. Bean, and I got to know him pretty well.

Off the plane, we both had one hour to be processed by immigration, get our bags, ship our bags, find our train, buy our tickets, and board.

Everything went well, except the ticket machine didn't take certain denominations. Even though a little grafic girl was politely bowing on the display, there was a lot of kanji in red. We were fortunately saved by a kind girl who knew Standy and I were gaijin in distress. She took my money from my hand before I could say "nandayo!" (what the hell?) and returned with 1000 yen notes that the digital vendor could take.

She joined us on the train to Tokyo station, where we would transfer to the Sendai Shinkansen. Her name was Kyoko, and her friendliness shined when she smiled. She taught us some useful phrases for when we got to the station.

My carry-on tote on wheels wobbled and flipped. Running to the ticket booth, I practiced my mantra of "kippu ga kataindesuga, ...", eyeing every sign I could read, and being eyed by the commuting Japanese. When money exchanged hands, I almost left without my tickets. Somewhere in the complex was our train, just minutes until arriving -- then leaving.

The train we took to Tokyo station was the cheaper (meaning: slower), since Standy is such a tightwad. As the commuter train rattled through the rice fields of Narita, and eventually to the heart of Tokyo, I knew panic was inevitable now.

But, the Shinkansen worked out, except there was constant doubt we had taken the right train. Some Japanese businessmen were happy to point out we were on the wrong train. Uso! (Lie!) Two hours is a lot of time, when already it felt like 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. I passed the time with music, and watched the other passengers interact.

Manga and snack foods were favorite ways to relax. Sleep was popular among the businessmen. Some passengers stood in the in-between parts between cars, staring blankly out the windows, contemplating suicide?

It was hard to enthusiastically greet the men waiting to meet us at the station. I mumbled enough arigatos to not seem too rude. At the International House, about ten minutes away from the station, several details were covered, which I had no ability to pay attention to. We were given "care packages", and shown to our industrial style rooms.

Dinner was cold Kentucky Fried Chicken and milk. The next morning, which was about 4am in my case, there was some disagreement between brain and body, I had white bread and ham and cheese. Maybe a banana, cold from the dwarf fridge.

October 2, 1997

At about 9:30 in the lobby, Standy and I, passively met our Japanese "mothers", who were to show us around town, and handle some of the paperwork for our alien registration/visa, health insurance, and bank account. Somewhere, somehow, I had lost my pictures (all 8 or 9), and an additional trip to a photo shop was made.

The bus system in Sendai, as it probably is for the rest of Japan, operates with prepaid cards. (As I later found out, most every daily service can be paid with similar cards.) I must have inserted the card in wrongly at least ten times that week.

For lunch, the group Mori, who were helping us that day, took us out to lunch at a Chinese restaurant. We talked about America. Even though the group supposedly all spoke English, most had the habit of saying what they were thinking in Japanese first, then saying it in English.

October 4, 1997

Somewhere in here, I went out for a walk to buy rice at the rice store down the street and my wallet popped out. Whoops! I spend the next few days looking for it, eventually finding out it was located, but someone of course took all my money. There goes 30,000 yen, about 250 dollars!

October 20, 1997

I don't know if it was this day or a day earlier that I had a talk with Michaela about money. Moving out has given me a bit of stress because it is very expensive in Japan. I do know I can and I will move out, it was just fear in the next few weeks that money will be running out. I have been keeping track of daily expense, and minimize excess. I count every yen, well, every hyaku-en (100 yen).

It was nice I was hugged, since I haven't enjoyed such warmth in many days. When hugged, I often wonder if it is for my sake only, and the result of possible self-pity, I need to enjoy more happiness before I enjoy hugs guilt free. Hugging is something that bridges the emotional gap most effectively, rationalizations cannot as easily give comfort and security.

It is not as if I feel sorry for myself. I just don't enjoy the constant nettling I instinctively do to myself when I spend, when I am short on cash. Dad has suggested I worry less and plan more, this I do, though I have not taken into account the possibility this month of moving out.

My fear of money is more like my fear of loosing time. Money can be had by trading time. Ten months seems so short, I worry I am losing out on experiences instead.

I am not like that all the time, luckily. I wouldn't call it depression, it is I hope merely being overwhelmed, I get overwhelmed quite often in Japan, for many reasons.

I made curry, which was very good. It makes me happy that I can fill my own stomach, which often is unsatisfied.

The Japanese call the stomach, or hara, the seat of emotions. I know it is important to eat well. As also Dad says, it is a season where eating and I suppose getting fatter is instinctual.

October 21, 1997

Typical day at school. There was a COOP fair, meaning food booths and I suppose club sales in the front of the dining hall.

I went jogging with the research group, except I couldn't keep up, and got lost, so I came back the shorter way. I know I can do better, it is a matter of time.

October 22, 1997

Wednesday, and of course Monday, means three hours of Japanese class. I have a good sensei on Wednesday, I enjoy the class, even though he throws a lot of new vocabulary at us. It is hard enough learning the lesson's words without more. I study my flashcards every day, though I wonder if any of the words will eventually stick.

I had okonomiyaki with some of the Europeans again. It's good.

I enjoy Hell Teacher Nube, one of the few afternoon anime we get in Sendai. Today it was about a boy who was actually an animated mannequin. I begin to understand more and more dialogue. I should tape the show and watch it over, maybe transcribing the dialogue.

I played a bit of Resident Evil, except I have been getting tired of not having Ink Ribbons, and then of course I get a whole lot at once in the end of the game. Baka! Two of the serious flaws of the game is loading time, and having to wait through cut sequences. Otherwise, it is pretty fun.

I visited Michaela. As usual, we had sandwiches together. For some reason, the topic of conversation ran into sex. She described the hookers in Sendai, girls dressed in pink nurses outfits, and others in furs. Also, the cost for various services. Personally, I like nurse's garb, I did mention I like spandex too. :) Who knows what she thinks when I talk of such things. The fact that her boyfriend is in Germany, and that she and I visit each other almost every night might be indications of something more serious, though I consider her a friend only.

Michaela gave me money for some of the payment towards the household necessities we were to buy from the current owners.

October 23, 1997

I won Resident Evil, with 23 saves and in under eight hours of game time. I got the so-called-special ending with Jill, so in the new game, I could unlock a room and put on some tight looking cleavage-wear. Yippy-skippy. ^_^

I spent the day mostly inside, I cooked eggs with green peppers that Michaela got cheap and gave me. I had earlier rice with cooked apple in milk. I went outside, and walked around the neighborhood, stopping at a temple on the hill overlooking Sendai. The weather was very nice, almost hot.

At after four o'clock, I hurried to Aobayama campus, my time was about half an hour from the dorm. I attended a meeting with the research group, alas, none of it made sense. I had the gall to ask a question at the end, a brave and brief attempt to be facetious, though I turned my initial question into one that probably will get me into trouble.

Toshi-sempai, my tutor, took me to a research group party, where all the tutors and tutored students can enjoy food and drink. It was mostly party food, but good -- including sushi, real cheese, and of course beer. In typical Japanese custom, I was asked to give a short speech.

I spent some time during the speeches to talk among the group. I discussed as best as I could in broken Japanese differences of pronunciation. Henry was there to assist, though I would prefer he not always be helpful, so I may practice myself. :)

I wrote several e-mails and responded in Usenet to a topic I posted about going to Japan to watch anime. This is my post. I don't entirely agree with what I wrote. It didn't really generate meaningful discussion. :/

October 24 to 28, 1997 Wednesday

A lot of school, a festival at the International House, I met my conversation partner.

My conversation partner, Tomoe, took me out to a Italian restaurant, and I had fun making her laugh about the differences between food in Japan in what it "really" was suppose to be like. Also, my somewhat indecisive uncertainty seemed to entertain.

We went to Karaoke, which I did enjoy. Her voice is better than mine, though I have to cringe when she sings in English. The songs we chose were almost all in English, she picked ones she knew, and I picked ones I knew. Popular American songs in Japan are different than ones in America.

I need to work on my singing, suffice to say, and I have found it difficult to sing certain songs because I had no idea what the lyrics really were.

I do want to see her again, not for romantic interest, but because she does like to have fun.

October 29, 1997 Wednesday

I had a long day at school, or so it seemed. I got in touch with the American Club, Nemoto, only to find out that the lady who does the schedules was not in. I waited for Michaela to get back, since I knew Thursday was when we were to move out.

Luckily she got back that evening, and I had a chance to talk. I think my interested piqued when I heard her mention Manga artist. She has a lot of things going on for her in Japan, and she had a chance to meet a lot of friends in Tokyo. It sort of reminds me that my network of friends is unfortunately very tiny.

October 30, 1997 Thursday

This is the day I moved out. I spent much of the day cleaning and getting packed. I was planning on meeting Michaela in the evening, and getting stuff over to the new place via taxi. I spent a lot of time waiting and went to 7-Eleven for a snack.

I make a point to try new foods in Japan, or at least new snack foods and drinks. There is a thing called Strawberry Milk, which I expected to taste like Yogurt, but instead it was thin and not sour at all. It wasn't very good.

I found out at 3:00 that they expected me to clean my dorm room, as I was expecting the inspection the following day, I was caught somewhat off guard. I did have the place clean, except all my belongings were in bags inside the room, since we could only get into the house later that evening. So, I carried my belongings and put them into an adjacent room, and had the inspection done. I ferried some stuff from the dorm to the house by bicycle when waiting.

I waited in the lobby of the Int'House for Michaela, who was unfortunately late. I talked to a lot of people, many who were meeting in the lobby that evening for a new resident orientation session.

During the meeting, Michaela did come back and she got packed, and a taxi carried all our stuff in two trips. Things were good, we went out, though there were a few problems that caught me off guard: 1) There are cockroaches living under the sink. 2) There is no heater. 3) There is no hot water, for the next four days or so. 4) There is a shortage of bedding. 5) The house is about as insulated as a cardboard box. 6) The floor of my room is completely uneven. Once some of those problems are worked out, it will be fine.

There are some good points. I do enjoy the smell of fresh tatami mat, and at least now we have plenty of room and a nice place to live. Winter will probably be pretty tough, though I couldn't imagine living in the dorm any more. I am happy that I did decide to move out, it is not something I regret, but it will take work to settle in.

At the house, I discovered bedding was in short supply. I felt somewhat gipped when Michaela took the good bedding, as well as I soon found out the room's floor was quite unlevel. I plan to restrain my anger in these cases, since arrangements were made so I do not pay as much rent as her.

October 31, 1997 Friday

Is there Halloween in the air? No, though there is a lot of things going on that I have no need for a holiday today. I don't think the Japanese really "practice" Halloween, except I know they do enjoy the excuse to drink and dress up. Anyway, I have neither inclination. I just moved into the house yesterday, and there are a lot of things going around in my mind, such as money, things for living, being warm at night, etc.

This morning I biked up the mountain, only to find out class was at Kawauchi campus, at the bottom of the mountain. Additionally, I find out classes were canceled that day. Except, as it turned out my professor did come when I was deciding on going back or not.

Michaela made spaghetti as our first home cooked meal. She tried hard, though what can one do with limited ingredients? And what I can say about Halloween when there wasn't one?

Last year, I remember having to stay at home and answer the door for trick-or-treaters, and I watched Marmalade Boy on video. I really do love MBoy, but for some reason it was hollow that day, holidays seem to make me feel more disenchanted, opposite of intention.

November 1997

November 1, 1997 Saturday

A lot of things can happen in one day, I've found. First I went to the recycle center with Michaela. She got lost and decided to ask for directions. It was more biking than I would have liked to a place so close.

In the recycle center, they have furniture, electronics, appliances, etc., which people have thrown away and apparently some men repair the goods. Women staff the "showroom", and next door there is a small entertaining place for kids to bounce around and find out about recycling. We did find a working heater, and were about to head home with it in tow (somehow -- how could one put a 20 pound heater on a bicycle?), when a kind woman (housewife), offered to take it over to the house for us. The Japanese have a way of offering assistance and expecting nothing in return, which for some reason bothers me.

We returned to the house, I getting lost and leaving Michaela in the dust. We went shopping at a discount store, buying a frying pan and other such things. I wondered about how we were to split expenses, because there are things I obviously want no share of. Michaela waited for the woman to stop by. During this, I shopped and prepared dinner. We ate, though the rice was practically ruined :P, and went to Zazen.

I did enjoy Zazen, though I was physically uncomfortable the whole time sitting. It was rather cold. The Japanese seemed positive about gaikkokujin participating, which I wasn't sure to expect. Next time, I will dress more warmly.

Afterwards, I hardly believed I would be going out. I managed the trip fine, though I felt awkward the moment I went to go in. They have a lot of security at Bar, Isn't It?, and my ID was checked. I hate suspicion and pushiness. Also, I had to pay 1000yen to get in, though this included a drink.

I spent a long time looking for Chizuko, my conversation partner, who apparently did not show up. The music was loud, the place was smoky, I was alone, and my drink was more like vodka than white wine. I sat and watched, occasionally looking like a fish out of water, as I tried to see if she was there. After an hour and a half, the Europeans showed up, and I began to enjoy myself.

I did ask a girl to dance, and we did for a long time. It takes a bit of work to get a girl on the dance floor, as I noticed. I don't know if I can really look like I dance, though I move with the beat, am I sloppy or sharp? Mostly dance is about finding gestures and patterns. Still, even though I liked being with her, she left around 1:00am with her friends.

The dance floor at Bar, Isn't It? is very small, and very crowded. Can you believe people actually try to walk through it, and many try to stop and talk on their cell phones?

Part of my dislike of security comes from being constantly monitored. I wonder what they were looking for? I somewhat grabbed both girl's arms, since I wanted her to be more enthusiastic, and earned the angry disapproval of a security man.

As time went on, it did thin out. I was seated with some Japanese guys and girls, who seemed nice, though I never could figure out if they had boyfriends or not. I did also ask some other nervous girls to dance, but they had boyfriends already -- a lie?

It was my first experience seeing a girl pass out and throw up, my first time trying to interact with a sleepy drunk, my first time sharing alcohol with about ten other people, my first experience in a real bar, first experience with security, stupidity, and first time being introduced by someone else to a girl.

I realized I can't dance very skillfully, though who cares?

At 4:00, the place shut down. I went home, and someone had taken my bike helmet. Chikusho!

November 2, 1997 Sunday

Not much, except sleeping and studying and reading. :)

November 3, 1997 Monday

Day off, I went to campus to use the computer, but since the computer lab was closed before noon, and Michaela wanted to use the lab, she decided to run off to "her lab" and ditch me. I think it was a shitty thing to do, should I get angry at her? Were we really supposed to be together today? Should I expect her to "do her things" some other time.

November 4, 1997 Tuesday

I still have been upset about yesterday, though what is to explain? Why did I get very upset? Michaela has a lack of sensitivity that can only be explained by knowing her. Though, the reason of my distress is perhaps more complicated.

November 5, 1997 Wednesday

It was either this day or Thursday when I got in touch with the American Club and found out I was lied to. They said I was to start work this month, but never notified me. What a load of bullshit.

I got teary eyed and blustery, getting alone in Japan has been a bit tough and getting dogged by people is the last thing I wanted. Also, my video player did not work, so I had to take it back. Generally, things were falling apart at that time.

November 6, 1997 Thursday

Went to a museum by bicycle which was about ancient people of Japan. Nice, recently built museum. I was with Michaela, so of course afterwards she disappeared someplace. ^_^; I went home and worked on finding jobs, by calling every single place on a list given to me by the International Student Center. A girl from Canada who was from the JET program talked to me, I though I might go back and get to know her better.

I called nearly every number on a list of English schools. I hate, I mean really hate, calling businesses. If I go to hell, I know what it will be like -- a phone and a list of every one's phone number in the United States.

I also found out that I should get a work visa, and got an offer for a Friday job, 3,000 yen an hour, one hour only though :) .

November 8, 1997 Saturday

Day of many things. First was a party at the river, the Kadan community, next to downtown. This was for my Japanese teacher, who has only three students, including me, in his class. It was fun, although I got lost. Most annoying was a construction worker who told me to get off the road, as if I had any desire to bike on a sidewalk with stupid pedestrians and wobbly bicyclists -- more dangerous than cars, really. Lots of beer, sake, and smoked food; also many genki kodomono. Fall colors of Japan are very beautiful, Seattle does not look nearly as good in fall. I felt pretty buzzed, and fairly dizzy, but not yet drunk. The Japanese have a way of keeping your cup full.

Later, I watched the closing ceremonies of the run. Sorta sad, since I decided(?) not to run. I pretty much wished I didn't go to the party afterwards, since all there was was strange food and I had to give and listen to speeches about the run I didn't see or go to. I gave mine in English, though no one understood it.

November 9, 1997 Sunday

The Lion's Club invited a number of foreign students of the Int'House to come on a expedition this day. It was probably a bad plan to start early at 7:00am.

Generally, I feel the Japanese really do like foreigners, though they are afraid of interacting with us. Although I did like a number of the men (they were all men, older, retired, with purple and yellow hats), it took a bit of work to even spare a word or two. A lot of time was devoted to keeping track of who we were -- name tags, attendance, etc.

First, we went on a train to someplace south ... ^_^; We received candies and snacks, and were asked to board buses at the station. What can I say? I love girls in uniform! I had no idea the agenda for the day, in fact, before this trip, I was told only I was signed up to go. The first stop was to take a trip down and up a river. Next, we went to a museum of sorts, which was just an old group of houses belonging to dead Japanese. Many artifacts, and large -- for Japanese -- construction.

For lunch, it was back to the place we left on boats originally. Gourmet obento and beer -- Yebisu -- were served. Little flowery basket pillow thingies were given as gifts. Jason, who was asked to come in part because of his Japanese still, and also because he was supposedly willing to write a report, gave a pretty lame speech.

Later, was the space museum. It was more of a place for little kids, and there wasn't much there anyway. The best was the huge tower, which gave you a panoramic view of the surrounding area.

Afterwards, I went to YMStation, the huge electronics store, which would be my personal place in heaven. I felt pretty bad, since I have been finding out it is apparently not allowed to ship things back to the states like VCRs, LD players, stereos, etc.

November 10, 1997 Monday

School and research activities. I got introduced to the project, more definitely, and hopefully resolved issues of what to do. I was given 100,000 yen to correct a very badly written scientific paper in broken Japanese.

November 11, 1997 Tuesday

Study, etc. I forgot my resume, so I did not do the errands I was planning to do. Many people ask why I haven't had a party yet. I still haven't done the anime club flyers, and still haven't done the call back forms yet.

Did Michaela like the video, From Dusk Till Dawn? Well, it's a kick ass movie. She was disappointed the girl Kay didn't end up with Seth, the bad guy in the end.

November 12, 1997 Wednesday

Oh you! I need more sleep. I posted something about being a closet otaku. I'll put it on this page when I get some sort of response.

November 13, 1997 Thursday

Did Byorn come this evening? Anyway, I got to see Mononoke Hime again, meeting Michaela and Byorn downtown. I do love the movie, just there is not much I can really follow. Though, this time I did understand a bit more, I guess Japanese class has helped.

I have written a bit about Byorn in my people section.

Did Byorn come this evening? Anyway, I got to see Mononoke Hime again,

November 14, 1997 Friday

How can I forget getting hit by a motorscooter?

It was wet and raining, I was going through a yellow light, and suddenly I was hit by a girl turning left. It was exciting, I thought, something about the experience I liked. I wasn't injured, the bike wasn't hurt, the girl wasn't hurt, and I wasn't scared. I even think of asking her out on a date, though she wasn't so cute.

It must have been adrenaline. Though, I find out the next day what it is like after such panic, it's like being drained, and I am very tired.

November 15, 1997 Saturday

Went to the lab, worked on getting my anime club information put together. Then, ran into Anton and others returning from Downtown, and was invited to the dorm to meet the 'Europeans'.

I went to Zazen, the second time. I was at the front of the room, so very conveniently, everyone could view my mistakes during practice. I learned that page fifty starts on the other side of the book, the pages are a continuous binding, like an accordion. I also lead the prayer walk, but went the wrong way, twice.

I talked to a monk for a few minutes, he showed me pictures of people in Thailand who skewered their faces with knives and all sorts of other fun sharp objects.

I realized it was 8:00, when I really expected to be meeting the Europeans at the dorm. I hurried back, and left. I did not expect to go out with Michaela, or at least that is how things were going lately.

It was a lot of fun just being in the small dorm room. There were some Japanese people from the Biologist's research group. "Steve", a Japanese guy, who's very sweet, came in too. Eventually everyone left to go to Karaoke. Steve got his motorbike stolen, so much for Japan being the "gentle country" like Michaela says.

I went out to Karaoke with the Europeans. It was fun, though I seemed to pick songs no one knew. Afterwards, after two hours, we went to a bar. You know, I don't sing too well, but that's not much of a problem. They had anime songs! I'm going back with the lyrics, dammit.

November 16, 1997 Sunday

Byorn left this day. I felt sad about being mad at such a nice guy, though he is pretty much terrible in conversation, he seems interesting. Seems very loyal, kind of like a lonely puppy.

Talk with Michaela about things. Most of our problems come from not understanding each other because, I think, we are from different countries. It felt like a lecture, generally since she had nothing to say really.

I know I need to make an effort to make it at least appear like I am invasive, though that is her perception. I'll spend more time in my room, even though there is only heat in the living room.

Apparently Michaela's mother is mentally ill -- hmm, am I treading on thin ice? I think it only fair if I talk about my family, she talks about hers. I feel like a fool sometimes because I don't know why she doesn't share things with me.

November 17, 1997 Monday

Rain today. Ugh. Gave people info on the anime club, will twenty or more people arrive in our small living room?

Presentation, I suppose advertising for next year's students, in the Nemoto Lab.

November 18th, 1997 Tuesday

I often write diary entries about what I did a week ago. So, I do forget a bit of the important things or everyday things I would like to say. And then, I have to come up with something unremarkable instead.

Michaela's mom is not mentally ill -- I just misunderstood her. She apparently has an ear infection of some sort. Yes, she read this and got mad at me. Sheesh.

Oh, I do remember of course being invited to dinner with the Sunaga's, of which the mother helped Michaela and I with getting the heater from the recycling plaza to our house. Very nice meal, all vegan (no sugar, meat, milk, etc.), although little kids were crawling all over me the whole time. Michaela chatted the most with the father, Mao, who is a monk -- and also teaches cooking to Japanese housewives over the phone... ^_^; I brought in a origami Elephant, which took me forever to remember the steps for, since I had no book. It was probably my best Elephant, though it took a lot of glue and water to get the thick paper to work right. Of course, it is has probably been shredded by the kids now.

Origami is one of those things -- it's like anime, no one takes you seriously when you talk about it.

November 19th, 1997 Wednesday

Got a package in the mail from the folks. It didn't take me long to realize it was probably a bad idea sending things. .00 or so for mailing my boots, with some extra clothes they bought. The orange fleece coat they sent had the zipper orientated backwards on the left side. I do still love having this warm clothing. It makes me happy to be fuzzy and warm.

Before that, I was in the lab, and I typed up a list of stuff I would like Michaela to get me in Tokyo. Ah, I am jealous, but I know there isn't anything for me to do there. I'll find a reason, and I'll find some money. Yes, after paying the rent for this month, I have not so much EN, and so I do really want to get a job!

Earlier that day, I found out about several ski trips, which I will go on next year. Also, there is a trip to Yamadera (mountain temples), with Japanese students, which I plan to go on.

November 20th, 1997 Thursday

Interview at NOVA, English School. Also, stopped by the ward office, though I had forgotten my Insurance papers for the address correction. Alien registration is annoying.

But the interview was okay. I think they expected me to know right away how to deal with teaching, even though twenty-four hours of training takes place before I start anyway... I have my doubts I will want this job. Also, three annoyances: No relationships with the students (clients), it is unlikely the same students will be taught by the same teacher again, and of course you have an obligation to teach five days a week. The pay is pretty decent, I'll find out on Tuesday if I got the job.

I did see Jason -- I always manage to run into Jason! -- and he had on his arms a girl, Yuca(?), clinging to him. I suppose they are "going out", though I never expected such a relationship to develop. Shows how much I pay attention. Interesting notes: Jason's a big slacker (though, everyone at the University is), and he says Japanese 3 is really easy. He mentioned that some of the guys were planning on going to Bar, Isn't it? on Saturday.

I did call the lady who wanted lessons. She called me about ten zillion times since then. I am happy to teach, but being hassled is my weak point.

November 21th, 1997 Friday

I like Crayon Shin Chan.

November 22th, 1997 Saturday

Called the lady Hiroko, who helped Standy and I with the TVs. She's from group Mori. Got her to help move another heater from the recycling plaza to the house, though this one was extremely massive. I miss driving. It was raining, and I do love the rain.

Did Zazen, there were only three people, newbie, old dude, and me. They skipped the chanting at the end, and so I was doing mediation there for an hour and a half.

Met the lady afterwards who wanted me to teach English to her. Although it was said it could be at my place, at her place, she decided on the COOP, which is fairly far away.

Got to the bar, and met up with friends from the dorm. Danced, had fun, then I had too much and stayed too long. I did meet a nice Japanese guy. I have decided not to go back for more than a few hours, staying until 4:00 is just stupid.

There are a lot of gaijin, meaning foreign people, at the bar. It was a lot more gaijin than the last time, and a lot of them were obviously there to get laid.

November 23th, 1997 Sunday

This was the day my parents called. And I was somewhat surprised to hear they actually read this diary, and so from now on I better watch what I write. A lot of what I do enter are mere undeveloped impressions. There is a lot of things that are left unedited, or reflected.

It was somewhat embarrassing to come out of bed at 10:00 with my hair full of smoke and ears still hurting from the music last night and with a sore throat from smoke. The call reminded me I ought to take better care of myself, even though Tim and Mom didn't care. I wasn't in the mood to talk.

I do like hearing their voices, though they all were on the phone at once. The most disappointing thing about the call was realizing my parents weren't going to visit, and that these ten months were going to be pretty damn long.

Does Tim always have to spin off some comment about manga being mere comic books? It's pretty insulting to half of Japan who reads them, insulting to manga artists and writers to say such things. Of course he says such things to annoy me, though he plays the ignorant snob so often I wonder if he really is one. Anyway, the only books he reads these days are those silly paperback Star Wars novels.

Michaela and I went somewhere. She made dinner, but my suspicion is she can't cook. Yes, she thinks smilies are only used by gay people in e-mails. ^_^;; Welcome to the Internet community!

November 24th, 1997 Monday

Day off. I was fairly unambitious, so I went biking to a park and the really big statue up north. I still can't find my way around Sendai! I spent a few hours in the park figuring out how to get out, and I ended up on the opposite side I was imagining. I looked at the sun and realized I had been supposing north was south.

Michaela's gone, so the whole house is to myself! I know I'm going to hate it when she comes back with Reto. Mainly because I know any boyfriend of hers is probably well under her thumb, and therefore a potential weapon. ^^; I'll see.

November 25th, 1997 Tuesday

I slept in the living room, for various reasons. It's hard as hell in there, not again! I do like my room better, though I need some posters and things in there. I miss my anime girls.

I wrote about what anime series would be popular in ten years, and people responded -- some about what series from ten years ago that have been forgotten. And then I went home and watched some anime that I was planning on showing, since I wouldn't get to see it if a lot of people came.

November 26th, 1997 Wednesday

Call from Nova, where I interviewed last Friday. Apparently, they "are not interested" -- when I asked why it was said because the interview went poorly. What? Well, I admit I wasn't very happy about the company, and I made my displeasure known. In any case, it was the fact I was on hold for about five minutes on a long distance call to Tokyo to talk to this lady, and that she basically bullshitted me the whole time.

In general, I hate dealing with women in business. I may not be sexist, but every time a women interviews me or is in some sort of authority, I always get screwed with. It's something to be happy about in the computer business, since very few are qualified in the field.

November 27th, 1997 Thursday (Thanksgiving, but not in Japan)

The day I have my anime club! So, I run errands, like getting my visa permit -- I can "only work 2 hours a day" bullshit -- and updating my insurance information with my new address. I spend the morning cleaning and rearranging things.

I did get a happy package from my Dad. I hope he reads this, since I do think of him, and would like him to know I'm okay. In any case, yes, my diet has been lacking certain nutrients. Candy in Japan is somewhat sub-par -- though there is a lot more variety of crunchy chocolate type foods. I will type in the note, since I thought it was funny. It probably cost more to send the box than to buy what was it in, however for me, it is worth getting such gifts. Especially since Thanksgiving turned out to be a complete bust...

As it turned out, no one came to my anime screening. I did make maps, I did talk to people, I thought it was going to work out. So I spent about 2, 3 hours sitting around waiting for people. No phone calls, no notice.

I was fairly upset, because of two things: 1) I had gone to some effort preparing, including renting tapes (expensive), I made maps and posters and spent money on photocopying. 2) I had expected people to come, and tell me if they weren't. I would have invited more people, however, with a living room the size that it is, I could only invite ten. It would make no sense to invite more than I had space for.

So, on to next week. I will try again. Tomorrow is drinking time. :)

[Every time I write a smiley, I am reminded of Michaela's words of wisdom. Of course, coming from a complete computer and Internet neophyte, they mean nothing. But she said that "I thought only gay people put smilies in their e-mails." Compare with: "I thought only kids watched animation."]

November 28th, 1997 Friday

Another failure in communication. So much for going out with Jason and his friends. I spent a few hours trying to call either Jason or Henry.

November 29th, 1997 Saturday

Taught English in the morning. One of the ladies was late, the lesson went about half an hour later. They chose material that was so difficult, I had a hard time explaining a lot of it. Every other sentence was difficult for them to understand. I had them read alternating, and then asked questions in English about the content. Most of the questions turned into explanations. They brought in a Dilbert strip, and I think humor is probably the most difficult to explain. A whole hour could be devoted to it.

I would have liked to use other materials. Oh well, at least I got 3000 yen out of one hour, though all of it went to buying food and things for the week. The money I seem to get ahold of always seems to disappear into these sorts of expenses.

I was planning on going to a Koto concert, though I forgot about it, and when I got back from the store, it was too late.

Then I went to Zazen and spent an hour and a half meditating. The guy next to me was from Thailand and didn't know English or Japanese very well.

In the evening was a party at the dorm house, unfortunately by the time it got going around 10:00, it was shut down around 11:00. Dorm policy and all. They allowed people to bring their own CDs in. It was being run by some sort of Vietnamese organization, raising money for some cause. They seemed fairly unorganized and confused about how to raise money for their cause. They sold raffle tickets and awarded video tapes with music videos on them.

I have begun to dislike the Europeans. Mainly, Antoine who seems to "run" the group -- although the individuals are nice, they all seem to turn to him when decisions are to be made. Oh well, he's going in six months. I'll have to change my description from "children" to "scared children" in regards to these guys.

November 30th, 1997 Sunday

Party in the International House. Mori group set this up. They always have a lot of food and always they are very generous. I was planning on meeting Ms. Oouchi afterwards to go to her house, and I spent the morning folding another origami elephant to give her. I have forgotten how badly I miss pizza -- they had pizza, which I ate about six slices of. There was also sushi and stuffed rice balls.

I ran into Henry who said it wasn't his fault about not communicating, since he didn't know I was planning on going too. Oh well, they got drunk and it is something I don't mind miss seeing.

Standy, Stanley (I call him Standy though I think his nickname is really Stanley) missed the whole lunch. He and I went downtown to a new electronics store, and I got electronics envy pretty bad. _If_ I get a job, and if I find out about import rules, I have on my list: Stereo, MD player, and LD/DVD player.

December 1997

December 1st, 1997 Monday

Holy Moly, another month in Japan! For better or worse, only eight more to go. I suppose it depends on if I get interested in staying longer or have a load of cash or get married.

Dad's been writing me e-mail about what I want for Christmas. Christmas? Well, I really have no idea what Christmas in Japan is going to be like, especially that my parents and best friends aren't around. I've been working late at the research lab. Late night working never seems to bother these guys. I came home and made some eggs with curry, and went to bed.

Regarding research, I'm supposed to be working on a new method of segmentation of Japanese written text. However, I am usually distracted by many other things at the lab. Even just spending time getting my computer set up, answering email, writing in this diary, etc., can mean four or five hours.

December 2nd, 1997 Tuesday

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. First day of snowfall in Sendai, and I hate it. It's pretty, but because I have classes on a mountain, it means I can't use my bike. I'm stuck taking Joe Metro Sendai, which is a ripoff.

Since it was just starting to stick and of course somewhat wet, it meant my shoes were soaked through by the time I got home. There was a bit of a hold-up on top of Aobayama with the busses, so I decided to walk down, which meant nearly tumbling down on my ass on the slush a few times.

Note: I spellchecked this diary, although who knows if there aren't other errors like grammar and punctuation errors. Also, I have gone back and added information to some earlier entries, so maybe take a look.

December 3rd, 1997 Wednesday

I got e-mail from Kevin, yes, Kevin Steffa, that guy who climbs a lot of big hills and takes pictures for the rest of us. I guess I might have to come up with something for him for Christmas. And I did get e-mail from Ian, it is good to know I'm still a big barnacle and he misses me a truckload.

Kevin has read this diary, and I guess my Dad started to awhile ago.

Anyway, the pictures are quite good, though a bit dark. I'll use them as my wallpaper on my computer until I find a suitable anime girl to post.

There is still snow, so I have to be careful. I did manage to bike up the hill in the slush, though getting down is another matter.

Oh, speaking of pictures, I did get pictures from my parents awhile back with my clothing that was assembled wrong. I thought the pictures were good, though blue ink from the captions on the back of some ruined a few of them. There are some more trips I will go on.

Well, if Ian or Mike or Kevin read this, I hope they consider applying for an opportunity to go to Japan. It was as easy as filling out some forms and getting letters from teachers, and then I ended up here.

December 4rd, 1997 Thursday

Day off, start of my anime club at my house.

Well, not surprisingly only a few people showed up. And I wonder if they'll ever like it much. I got the feeling most of what I showed they got lost watching. Particularly Wings of Honneamise, which is not an easy movie to understand. I figure I'll move my showings to Sunday, when more people can come. Most have lab or other responsibilities during the week.

Amid, an interesting guy from Bangledesh was one who attended. I doubt he has a clue about the genre, but I'm sure he'll pick it up.

Big news in the electronics department, I bought a surround sound stereo system, which I bartered and spent using a credit card at 130yen/. It'll be delivered (for free) to my house next week. I look forward to it. It's the Yamaha AV-1, which is very small, minus the subwolfer, so I'll take it back to America.

I need to get money in my American account for the Laser disk preorder, which is now the LD order. I love Kimagure Orange Road, what else can I say?

December 5rd, 1997 Friday

Ah, yes, had two girls (Tomoe and Junko) over for dinner. I cooked of course, and we drank beer and wine and played video games. Junko reminds me of a little girl, though she's 25 or so, and she explained how she likes Beavis and Butthead, and Star Trek, with her toothy giggly grin. They're hardly affectionate, and very passive, and I can hardly figure anything out about them.

As Japanese practice, it was worthwhile. I sorta hoped they'd stay later than 12:00, since they got over around 7:30, and dinner seemed to take an hour and a half. It was the only aggressive statement Tomoe made the whole night. I suppose then I thought I was boring them, maybe it was more of a message than a statement.

December 6rd, 1997 Saturday

Reto - I'll put something about him in my People section. He arrived with Michaela, around noon somewhat unexpectedly early. I was still crawling around the living room after my 11:00 breakfast. Then both of them left unexpectedly.

Both of them left. I went to Zazen and met an interesting, for me anyway, accountant who at least seemed somewhat intent of making a relationship. He bought me dinner and we exchanged business cards, actually I just gave him my address and phone number. I plan to have lunch with him sometime.

December 7rd, 1997 Sunday

I started reading an intersting book called "Dreamland Japan", about Japanese Manga, the previous night, and finished it this day. I would highly recommend it as a way of understanding Japanese popular culture and as a new "serious" medium unique to Japan.

Both Reto and Michaela left again. I got calls during the day from a Japanese guy and his half Japanese/American wife, who were going to give these two futons. I will have to create a list of things given to us for free some time.

Christmas reminds me of how I miss my family and friends, I really got depressed around dinner time, though things went the other way when dinner started and there was much rejoicing :)

I do like the poster of the lady in bondage I have stuck up in my room Michaela got me. Quite lustful, and nothing beats anime girls. I got a hold of a American porn magazine, actually I found one, discarded on the side of the road. They do porn all wrong in the US.

December 8rd, 1997 Monday

Maybe I need a list of goals for Japan. So I came up with this, although it is tentative. This is unordered.

List of things I plan to do:

  • Bike trip to or around Kyushu or Honshu or someplace cool
  • Tokyo - Comike
  • Skiing as much as possible
  • Homestays
  • Buying electronics
  • Learning Japanese, and enough Kanji to read manga
  • Getting a job teaching English to cute girls
  • Getting a girlfriend, and doing various things together
  • Buying and watching anime, hopefully making other's interested
  • Zazen
  • Climbing Fuji-san
  • Get to know my research lab, Abe and Toshi especially
  • Become good friends with Michaela and Reto

    I spend too much time in research doing things like this diary and e-mail. I will have to either work longer or do less of this. Well, things seem so slow here, it doesn't matter much what I do I suppose. I don't spend the time drinking, smoking, and downloading things like nekkid girls all day like some, so I could be on equal terms.

    December 9rd, 1997 Tuesday

    The though has been occuring to me, since I have been quite aware of increased noise and "territory" conflicts since Reto moved in, I will ask Michaela to reduce my share of the rent to something below 40% and my share of utilities to 1/3.

    I tried to show them the Wings of Honneamise, which is probably one of the best anime films. Michaela couldn't understand it, and Reto didn't understand it. I thought it would be good for me to post why I enjoy this film so much. I do have this in my LD collection at home. Rent this at the video store, in the English dub or sub, and tell me what you thought!

    December 10th, 1997 Wednesday

    I found out a way to make 26000 ( or so) or so through the government, one time. I will use this money to pay back Michaela or save it. Since I am not going to do any major trips this winter break, perhaps several smaller trips, I will save a bit of money.

    I will probably go out with my lab team on Christmas eating and drinking. This is around 5 or 6pm. The lab does this once a year, or so I gather.

    I am starting on writing my code in Java, though this language is very difficult to install properly. I took me about a week of tweaking to get right at Starwave. Once this is done, I figure about 40 hours of work will demonstrate my project idea. I have decided on my method of implementation, after reading several scientific papers.

    None of the lab seems to know anything about real programming style or Object Oriented design. It would seem practical to have some experience before doing research.

    I would love to send gifts to everyone for Christmas, though this may not happen. I have been saving money every month, but not a lot. I want to adapt this skill before I return. However, I probably won't keep the money I saved at the end, since of taxes. I'm not too clear about customs and taxes in Japan.

    December 11th, 1997 Thursday

    Did I mention I opened up a gift given to me by Dad and Stephanie: silk underwear. It has a very unique feeling when you wear it, that you probably don't want to get concentrated in certain places. However, it is very warm, and preferable in many ways to polypropylene.

    As a bonus, I got my stereo system and set it up, though I had to immediately leave it once set up. Reto and Michaela seem to be increasingly worried about me turning "an innocent Japanese room" into a techonological horror. I can't figure those two out, they are quite fickle. I often turn around and they have some odd request to make, or some certain thing bothers them.

    Micheala, as I have found out over these last few months, is someone less easy to live with and relax with. Often I wonder if she wants me around at all, the policy of late is to ignore and segregate at mealtimes and other times. I do wonder if she thought I someone else when we met. It is probably just because she does have Reto now.

    So, I found out about the money thing, I'm going to get it "done" on Tuesday. I also went to the YMCA and they are interested in having me for the Christmas camp.

    There was a CD sale at the COOP on campus, but only for people with membership cards which cost about . Darn, CD's are quite expensive, especially the ones I want to buy. I might as well wait until I can pirate them with a MD player.

    December 12th, 1997 Friday

    Class and the computer lab. I'm trying to get Java to work. I'm in no hurry, though. As it turns out the computer I use now doesn't do Java, so that means an X Station or some other box.

    I went up to the roof of the building and there are GREAT views. So, I heard they were doing "elimination" in Sendai, and half expected to see police cars and yakuza. But, what Toshi meant, was really "illumination" in Sendai -- there are lights on the all the trees along Aoba-dori (the street leading to the station), and it is a coordinated event at 6:00pm until New Year's.

    I found out that I get to go to a homestay this weekend.

    December 13th, 1997 Saturday

    So, with a mere 6 hours of sleep the previous night, I got up and biked to the district office downtown with clothing enough for my stay. No homestay gift, unfortunately, so I would have to come up with some excuse in Japanese.

    I met a girl by the name of Rome. About men of Japan she would moan. (I would like to make a dirty limerick, but not now). A lot of western women seem convinced that the Japanese, in respect to how they treat women, are as backwards as cannibals and communists.

    Gosh darn it, maybe I was born of the 50's, but the fact that women don't have to work 50 hour weeks and they can provide for their children doesn't sound too bad. In America, where women have fought for the right to work, just gave everything up, and now the economic structure makes it impossible to have someone at home. Do women have time anymore in America for their children? When Ms. Rome felt disgusted about the whole thing, I just felt she was as ignorant as the group she was complaining about.

    Feminists don't seem to realize as they fight to be equal to men, they're leaving (what I think is real) feminism behind. Which, is being a mother, a provider, someone who is sensitive and soft. Oh well, there goes my female readership.

    The homestay is actually part of a larger group of events in this very community-oriented town in Japan. Rice paddies everywhere. It seemed like everyone knew each other else. They had various events at the town meeting hall, including mochi pounding (where I got to don a red robe and smash some rice goo), lunch, and traditional games.

    As for the homestay, I know I will be having more of these. They generally work the same way. This one was particularly interesting, since I got to interact with the children. I used my funky Japanese, which will eventually get sharp, I know. The problems I usually have with using Japanese is knowing whether or not to use formal or informal, or if they throw in words I don't know (which is fairly often of course).

    There was a middle school girl and young high school girl. "You" was the boy's name, who I spent most of my time with. He's been to America, and I got confused when I asked him about Christian camp, and going to Christian school in Sendai, since as it turns out he isn't really Christian at all.

    I watched Aliens, it was stupid and not scarey. They leave the TV on in the dining room 24/7, the grandparents that live there (a chatty Grandma "baa-chan" and roujin Grandfather "jii-chan") like it.

    December 14th, 1997 Sunday

    What happened to the father? I almost thought he was dead or something, but he showed up the next morning after breakfast. He looked like an apologetic boy, and his wife didn't seem to care much for him anymore.

    I liked the boy, I think I'll invite him over for an evening sometime.

    When I returned, I spent a bit of time at the station waiting for my conversation partner. Oh, and I got an haircut. As for this evening, it was another disappointment, though I know I will work out sometime. I chose the tactic of being friendly and insistant, enthusiastic, slightly agressive, and comically honest. As for getting her to speak English the whole evening, it never succeeded, and I gave up at the end. She seemed like a pretty interesting girl, but have I scared her?

    If I haven't made this clear, I'm interested in conversation practice and friendship, not a "date", though nothing has really happened yet. I have about twenty girls on my list to call, I might end up talking to every single one. What do these girls really want from me? For all I know, they're waiting for me to take them to bed or maybe they feel sorry for me.

    December 15th, 1997 Monday

    I got a package from Tim and Mom, haven't opened it, I'll wait until next week. I figure it can probably wait. Seventy dollars to mail whatever they sent.

    I forgot to talk about my anime club. As for that, I will try every week until I see results, and I plan to move it to Sundays next month since every seems to be busy for different reasons. I will try to make inroads with the people from California, which are fairly friendly, but seem like a closed circle.

    As I write in this diary, and its previous entries, I feel somewhat nervous about it turning into something detrimental to my relationships with people. I see no reason to be dishonest here, and I don't want to watch what I say, except I often won't explain myself, and I guess people will "get mad". I often hate the fact that dishonesty is often the only way with some people.

    I suppose that is why I miss my friends and family the most, I don't have a comparable community, and "real friends" are a rare find. Michaela I thought was a rare find, though her interest in me has either disappeared temporarily or permanently, or maybe I was somehow fooled.

    The only things I intend to leave out are sexual thoughts (yes, I'm twenty, and I am ruled by my hormones, I get headaches and dizzy from the level of testosterone in my blood when I'm around girls), since I need to draw the line somewhere, though I suppose if you send me yours I'll send you mine. Fair's fair.

    Dad did call, and I called him back. Why was he so annoyed at me since I was hard to reach? He had no idea my address and phone number changed. He was calling the dorm when I had moved out weeks ago!

    December 16th, 1997 Tuesday

    I've come down with some sort of illness, which has been somewhat less serious than annoying. I would like to blame Stanley, in my Japanese class, for coming to class on Monday coffing, though I don't think I am as worse off as he. So, I skipped research and went home earlier.

    December 17th, 1997 Wednesday

    My cold has gotten somewhat worse, though I went to class. I've been considering calling more conversation partners, though my voice is somewhat shakey.

    Pocket Monster, a TV anime, I missed this day, but was reportedly the cause of illness and seizures. In typical Japanese fashion, everyone apologies, and they make a huge fuss about it, including cancling rebroadcasts, setting up hotlines, etc. Even stock in Nintendo, who make the portable game version, went down, even though they had nothing to do with it. For a country with little crime, there isn't much else to get excited about.

    December 18th, 1997 Thursday

    Went to the recycling center. Reto and Michaela "bidded" on ridiculous items like a 50 kilo electric organ, and a huge white vinal chair used in beauty salons. There is no chance of us ever getting anything from there anyway, apparently most items, like furniture, are bidded on by hundreds of people. (A bid is just a card that you fill out that says you want a certain item, you can make three bids).

    I hurried to the YMCA to practice activities before the camp, though I felt sick and left early.

    I did laundry, and let me mention that laundry in Japan sucks. There is no such thing as washing with hot water, and since the water is very "soft" detergent is often left on clothing. I ended up soaking it in the bathtub after my bath. Of course, we have no dryer, so instead laundry is hung up, sometimes inside when we use the heat.

    About dryers, which sometimes do exist, they do not dry clothing, so you're better off just using your heater. Any type of sythentic clothing and wool (which is what I wear mostly these days) dries very quickly.

    Surprisingly, the "Europeans" with the exception of Robert, came by to watch anime. Antoine and Jessica showed us some news program on TV in which they appeared discussing some sort of Japanese language learning program. As for the anime, I thought it went well with the audience, although I was impressed with Escaflowne (it rocks with my sound system), who knows if they "got it". At least we had beer and a chance to talk.

    Oh, and I made curry, which I managed to burn, even though the burner was on the lowest setting, it still is too hot. Crazy Japanese things.

    December 19th, 1997 Friday

    I got e-mail from Kevin, he may come to Hokkaido on a travel scholorship. If anyone could do it, it would be him, who is a super student by any measure. I wonder if I could convince any of my friends back home to try for a Japanese exchange.

    I'm going home early to watch my favorite show in TV, Kodomo no Omocha, children's toy. And rest of the day I will probably do little, since I'm still a bit sick, and my throat is raw. Tomorrow I am teaching Japanese and meeting my conversation partner.

    My break starts today, I have not decided how to spend my time, aside from the camp, drinking with the lab, and a bike trip. I may consider Comike, though going alone without much money may be somewhat boring. Whatever happened to promises about work?

    December 20th, 1997 Saturday

    My conversation partner canceled for some reason. I still had my English lesson, which was of course over an hour, but I got at least some more opportunities, to teach Yuriko's son.

    I haven't been feeling so hot again.

    December 21th, 1997 Sunday

    I slept in, and I decided since I had nothing better to do, I'd write letters to everyone. I walked around the neighborhood for stationary, and spend about three hours in the International House keeping warm.

    The letters have a bit of a dreamy, almost depressed tone, for which I attribute to missing family this holiday season. I was thinking of shopping, but I never thought of anything to give. Michaela and Reto bought presents, these were simple gifts like top-ramen, chopsticks, hanko (signature seals), etc. Since they were having a friend deliver it in Germany, it was cheap.

    But, I did buy one gift, a tokatsu (heated table) blanket, which we didn't have for ours, and sort of gave it to Reto and Michaela. I had a feeling I might be getting some sort of gift, and wouldn't want to come up short.

    December 22th, 1997 Monday

    Went to a park, the Biological Gardens, which was closed, but I snuck in anyway. I walked around the perimeter, and I read "Dave Barry Does Japan". I thought Dave Barry didn't have enough material to write a book, as most of it was filler material. He was serious in some parts, and often very insightful, though he really came across as an ignorant American. He did have the courage to admit that he was, and that three weeks wasn't enough to understand a country's culture.

    I had "camp practice" at the YMCA, and spend 6 dreary hours doing stuff like cutting construction paper, making copies of materials, I thought I was back in grade school. But, I got to meet the other volunteers, Pubudu & Shimeru from Sri Lanka, Yachi from Taiwan, and two girls Hanae and Midori.

    I thought it was fairly ridiculous that I had to cut out little name tags in the shapes of gingerbread men/women (which were of course ripped up or tossed aside a few hours after the kids got them) for about 30 kids.

    For dinner, I went to a Chinese place, and ordered something by random, since I had not a clue what any of it was. It was eggplant and nutto, nutto is a substance from the planet of the armpit people, that is sticky and clear, like alien mucus. Actually, it wasn't so bad, it was pretty plain tasting. I talked to a guy who was a businessman who talked really loud and probably an alcholic.

    December 23th, 1997 Tuesday

    I got up bright and early, and biked to the YMCA. I was quite tired and nervous, and somewhat ambivilent about going since last night was a pain in the ass. I'm no slacker, I just hate doing work which is mostly frivilous. The Japanese have an attitude that any kind of work is worthwhile. Instead I found I was actually in a nice situation, there were only ten guys to watch.

    I had to make a speech in Japanese, I'm sure it was quite obvious I don't know Japanese that well. Oh well, I was off on the bus, and the ladies took over the entertainment. Hanae acted the part of tour guide and there were games and practice learning aisatsu (greetings) in different languages.

    I kind of relaxed the whole way, and I didn't have any idea what the heck I really commited myself to.

    The Japanese kids are the best behaved in the world, these were no exception. They never, ever cried, fought, whined, did dangerous things, complained, expected more than what was given; they always shared and were respectful. However, being first through third grade (some a bit older, but most this young), they were always rowdy, rough, and lively. I mean really lively.

    A lot of the younger girls and boys liked to crawl on me, and say nice things to me. They almost treated me like a favorite teddy bear. Problem was, they spoke Japanese which was a bit difficult for me to say, it was loud and quick and short. They never, ever understood I didn't know Japanese so well, it seemed impossible for them to believe.

    After lunch, which was not enough, but good anyway, we were to walk to a community center. I had tons of rowdy kids wanting piggy-back rides, and I took one and had the stupidity to run with him up the hill. So of course I fall, on my face, quite actually, and manage to rip my jeans, silk undies, and more painfully my knee, hands, and face. Ouch!

    It wasn't the pain as much as the embarassment and shock that I could have seriously hurt the boy. Hanae helped me out get cleaned up, I felt pretty stupid, and I got teary eyed about it. Oh well, just one or two weeks of healing scabs.

    But, I had to return to the action, which was various crafts. I knew the candle making would create the biggest mess in the universe, dried wax over everything! I tried to be helpful, but as usual, the girls seem to manage everything.

    After dinner, well, it was kind of a blur. Though, I stayed up really late, since there was a heck of a lot to do. I cleaned up the mess in the kitchen with the wax on the floor. All the beds had to be made, all the kids in the bath, everything cleaned up, etc.

    Wrote in a little diary in Japanese. I forgot pretty much everyone's name, so I made stuff up. Anyway, they're all well behaved, happy kids, I don't worry.

    December 24th, 1997 Wednesday

    Christmas in Japan? Kids got up really early, like 5:00am or so, and I felt like running back to Sendai. The day was full of tons of little craft projects, decorating, and some games. Meals meant serving 30 people, usually quite complete meals that took time, cleanup, and dishes by hand. The volunteers serve everyone else first, and wait around until the kids are done.

    I folded a little golden turtle for Hanae, for what she did yesterday, and well, I think she's pretty cute. But, as it turns out, she recently met a grade school crush, and he's planning on fulfilling promises made in 1st grade. She goes fishing with him this weekend.

    I made Christmas cake, and there was a candle ceremony, and several games sort of like musical chairs. Christmas meant a visit from Santa, Katou-san in a santa suit, pretending he didn't know Japanese and spoke only English. We all got presents. The presents were towel holders with stuffed bear hooks. Aw, how cute!

    I stayed up with Hanae and the other female volunteers, and spoke in Japanese the whole time. I guess we flirted a bit, and had silly laughter. I got Hanae and Midori's names confused, so I was really embarassed. Everyone is also very surprised I don't have a girlfriend, but Hanae suggested this was because I wasn't careful about learning her name.

    To bed at 4:00 and alive(?) about 7:30.

    December 25th, 1997 Thursday

    Last day, so this meant even more cleaning and clearing. Futons are a pain in the ass, since they have to be up and down every morning and night. Cleaning was hard since kids like to leave stuff everywhere, there was boxes of wasuremono (forgotten items), which were sorted out.

    Christmas was pretty much forgotten about, since Japanese Christmas ends the night of the 24th. Everyone was exhausted, after our games, I helped clean the kitchen, and we ran for the bus. I was back around 4:00, but there was a meeting, and of course speech at the end.

    I surprised the hell out of the mothers, and it was explained that I hurt myself. I laughed and wanted to cry at the same time. I don't know why. It must be from a mysterous disease I have caught from watching mushy anime. Anyway, I know I'll be gaijin/scar face for a week or so. The mother of the boy apologized and I apologized back, bowing and all that, so I could hide from the situation.

    I said goodbyes, for some reason I said I'd like to come back, then again, even though it was too much work for what I really wanted, I do love kids. Kids are happy and affectionate being with anyone, being close and touching each other is mainly lost as we go through elementry school and on to middle school, and into adulthood the Japanese start bowing to family.

    So, I hope to see at least Hanae again. I'll write about her in the Biography section.

    I biked to Aobayama campus, and was planning on joining the lab's drinking party. I was too late. Well, I spent some time figuring out where they were, with the help of several Japanese, but I had no idea. I really didn't care to go, especially since I was so tired.

    Instead, I went to the European's Christmas, sort of univited, but I dined on a feast of food that I could relate to. I had lots of wine and snapps until my head wobbled, and then went to Jessica's room for talk. I had my picture taken numerous times, except I really didn't want to be reminded of it.

    I came back and said hi to Reto and Michaela, opened my stocking and presents. Thanks Mom, I really didn't want anything. :) But, I love the clothing, which is very nice. I felt really awkward around Reto and Michaela since they didn't really get much.

    December 26th, 1997 Friday

    Got up and went to Yamadera. Nice place. I took numerous pictures, it was a beautiful day. I got home around 4:00 and wanted badly to each lunch.

    Didn't do much, except that evening watched a horrible movie. I wanted to watch anime, but is usually moved to next year, due to the holiday season.

    December 27th, 1997 Saturday

    Tried to meet Maki, didn't show up. She apologized on the phone explaining she was in bed.

    Met more conversation girls, I explained a role-playing game to them. I thought it would be good practice. This was about two hours long, and I was more tired than if I explained it in English. It was a simple fantasy setting, and in that time, we created characters, and they found a place to stay for the night.

    Afterwards, dinner with two of them. One's pretty cute, but they're 25 year old office workers. As usual, I was my goofy self, and I felt so tired that I went into scary goofy. I spent about 2000 yen on dinner which didn't satisfy me, yet again. I'll see them again, I'm certain.

    Walking to my bike, I heard music, and it was a band playing Beetle's music. Very well done, the sound was full and authentic. A careful listener might note that the "R"s and "L"s were somewhat similar. The main man looked even like John Lennon.

    Finished Andromeda Strain, a Michael Cricton book, which was a quick read, but not really "suspensful", like the reviewers claimed. Things happened, and they were over. I checked to make sure I didn't skip any pages.

    December 28th, 1997 Sunday

    Lazy day, and not so proud of it. Quite a few hours in the computer lab. I sort of decided to go to Matsushima on the 5th of January. I have no major travel plans besides this for the break, I cannot trust the weather for a longer bike ride, and would prefer not to take the train or bus.

    Can I bike 100 miles in a day? If so, I'll go up the coast another day. It really depends on the road.

    December 29th, 1997 Monday

    My parents call (Dad and Mom), though they don't reach me. Tim supposedly sent me e-mail. I know I haven't heard from anyone since Christmas, but I don't mind.

    December 30th, 1997 Tuesday

    Somehow, I get invited to go with Bjorn, Michaela, and Reto to go to Zao mountain, which is not far from Yamagata. I suppose I was really surprised they wanted me along, though it seemed to me I was invited for no other reason than I was there.

    Okay, I did end up having a good time, and I did feel somewhat welcome. Since Bjorn almost never talks, and Reto's and Bjorn's English isn't so great, I spent most of the day listening to German. Maybe I'm not the best conversationalist, but I felt a little put off, so I spent a bit of time reading a book. I really think Reto is a sweet guy, and although he's "over 30", he certainly acts often childlike -- especially I thought was funny when he started playing with his cellular phone.

    The phone was in Mos Burger's, perhaps comparable to Kid Valley in a way, the food is quite excellent. My main complaint is the portions are very small, but this is a Japanese chain, not an American one.

    We stopped at a small arcade, and I played my favorite game, which is a horse race, where you hop up and down on a plastic horse. It is fun, and exhausting. I may have a picture of one, I'll put it up sometime. (Yes, I have promised to put up pictures, but I'm lazy, and forgetful.) I sort of followed everyone to the Youth Hostel, where we were planning to spend the night. On the way there, I noticed the countryside was quite ugly, actually extremely ugly, like a combination of bare patches and Lynnwood -- a thoughtless, random sprawl of suburbia. I ended up filling out forms at the Youth Hostel, to become a member, since I know I will be coming back to these places.

    There wasn't much to do, except I noticed they had the largest collection of manga I've ever seen outside of a bookstore. Someone there must be a big fan, there were shelves and shelves of different series. I picked up Maison Ikkoku out of curiousity, since I had seen the anime, and spent a bit of time translating it. My biggest hurdle is not knowing the kanji, so I hardly got through volume 1 (out of about 30).

    At dinner -- dinner I knew would be nice -- we all sat silently sort of pretending to be watching the television. There was a really nice old Japanese businessman out skiing, and I did talk for a bit. Even though everyone there was off to do the same things (go to Zao mountain), there wasn't any conversation. Alas, it was good food, so I was happy.

    Everyone was expected to go to bed fairly early, except the "crew" and I stayed up until after 12:00. I went to the bath, and believe me, I felt like my skin was being fried. It was extremely hot, the kind of intensity which fogs your head after ten minutes, and after twenty minutes causes minor hallucinations.

    So, after twenty minutes, I put the cover back on and fumble merrily to bed. My cold was quite a nusiance, perhaps having a hot bath wouldn't help my congestion.

    December 31st, 1997 Wednesday (New Year's Eve)

    Up at 6:30 or so, out the door at about 7:00, and on our way to Zao mountain, for the Onsen. Or, that was what I thought. I realized I was getting close to out of money -- remember, there are no "cash machines" like in America, the only ones are specific to your bank branch, and open only when the regular banks are open. There are no checks, and credit cards are only useable in certain stores -- foreign credit cards only accepted in few stores.

    Luckily, there was some unbelievable exception to this rule, since this was I suppose a tourist spot, at the top of Zao was a cash machine that unbelievably worked on a holiday and on both Michaela's and my cards. Though, I was charged 200 yen on the spot.

    I really needed this money, since there was talk of snowboarding, renting snowboards and going up a lift. I was sort of surprised, but eager to try. We rented snowboards and spent an hour trying them out when we waited for the specific gondala reserved for us. Reto did not want to try.

    The snow, frankly, sucked. Icy, thin, often bare patches of grass and sometimes rocks were visible, and the slope was severe. Reassuringly, Micheala said it would be better up at the top. But, this was practice. I couldn't even get on top of the damn thing without falling. I basically crawled around, bending my legs, as I tried it out. Surely, I would do better where there was actually snow.

    I was pretty much out of about 6000 yen for the rental and lift if I didn't like it, and I talked myself into learning. I did figure it out, about the last few times on the board. My camera seemed to freeze, so I missed a few shots of the trip. I fell on my stomache a few times, knocking the wind out of me, and my ankles were weak with pain. When I did get the hang of it, it did make up for all the suffering. I actually started liking it, though I often wanted to cry for mommy.

    Since -- I think this is strange -- you are charged for going down the lifts, it was decided to decend on our own. We've been practicing on the "beginner's slope" for the whole day (though with ice it was probably just as brutal as anywhere else), what would happen on the "real thing"? Actually, it wasn't so hard, though the last part, near the lodge, was extremely steep and icy, I often thought it better to walk. Of course, the good snowboarders didn't seem to have too much trouble, I did often see them fall over.

    Reto took the lift down with the last tickets, and met us at the rental place. We went into the onsen, and I spent a bit too much time. Michaela got mad at me for being supposedly late and making everyone wait. She said "I should have noticed", like how the hell was I to notice, when you can't see five feet in front of you. Supposedly, it was decided we were to leave at 6:00, but who had told me? I didn't understand the plan of theirs, since they all speak in German. So, she uses this as an example of how I'm really a selfish, unsensitive child. One of these days, I'm going to get in a big fight with her.

    Oh yes, she also tried the old angry line "Since I so [such and such] for you, why don't you do it for me?" recently, indirectly accusing me of not taking a phone message when she was gone. Which, was of course not true, and I hope she felt stupid afterwards when I explained I did write everything down.

    Anyway, back to the mountain. Finally back in Yamagata, we went to Mos Burger, where energy was low, but there is a lot of bliss that comes from eating a satisfying meal after an exhausting day. We attempted to cheat the train, and bought the most inexpensive ticket, but the conductor figured it out.

    Back home, there were plans to go out to a New Year's party, and yet again I was invited to go along. However, I couldn't find my keys for my bike, and I got that feeling that I always get when I know I've lost something. So, I went to bed early.

    The next part of this is in the 1998 diary.

    The action continues in 1998...

  • People

    Generally, just a description of some people I have met or are in contact with.

    I ought to describe which groups some of these people are in. Now of course my impressions change, these are just my initial feelings.

    • JYE People - Junior Year Engineering students, or people like me at Tohoku University who get to take various engineering and Japanese related courses. I am not a Junior now, but what can they do about it?
    • Korean People - Who I will refer to as a subset of JYE people. They come from either the Korean university, or are Korean and hang out with each other.

      They are nice people, just somewhat isolationist.

    • Europeans - Swedish or Holland people. They hang out together, naturally. They have had no years of Japanese study. I hope none read this, I consider them akin to innocent middle schoolers, not cruel or stupid, just naive and somewhat simpleminded about things.

      Although they enjoy themselves, they seem to not understand much of Japan or the way of Japanese life. They seem somewhat uninterested.

    • UW Students - Standy and I, from the University of Washington. Not really a clique, per se, but we get along as a unit.
    • Californian People - Those fortunate enough to have three years of Japanese study or so, and are not in JYE, except for Jason. They were together in Tokyo for intensive Japanese study, so they have their own group too. They belong to a separate study program, which is I believe entirely Japanese language study.

      I have a bit of respect for the Californians, since they tend to isolate themselves the least of the cliques I've come in contact with. They are very smart, interested in Japan, and have more excitement than the rest, who are generally fearful.

    • Other JYE - Namely that guy from Princeton, Shawn. Smart, just somewhat alone, probably bored because he has a girlfriend in the states.
    • Mori Group - Mori means nurturing, or so I hear. Supposedly they are mothers, and they act like moms alright, I would say too close to the real thing. Sometimes impatient, often not so intelligent, can become annoyed. I'd say very generous.
    • Sensei - Teachers. The English-speaking sensei seem to have a hard time with English. Generally very friendly and nice, probably a little afraid of foreigners.
    • Research Group - A bunch of nerdy Japanese guys. Chummy, somewhat immature. Friendly, though I wonder if I ought to try my Japanese or use English. They seem to have a lot of patience with me, even though I have somewhat avoided getting really involved with them yet.

      Since it is a fairly large group, it seems not everyone is really good friends with each other. All are busy, with what I cannot always tell. It seems a lot of time is spent goofing off. The nature of business in Japan is based on communication, perhaps they are simply busy mastering that skill by reading and writing e-mail all day. :)

    • Osaka/Kyushu Exchange Students - Once a group that was a target of my envy. This group consists of students in a similar program, where students are not expected to know any Japanese and are taught by English-speaking professors. Colleen Altstock was accepted to the more "liberal arts" program at Kyushu University, which meant of course I didn't want to have anything to do with Kyushu anymore.

      I was accepted to the Osaka program, but due to complicated bureaucratic nonsense, I did not receive a scholarship from the AIEJ people. Here is the letter forwarded to me by David Fenner.

      I may have preferred going to Osaka, but as Sendai is pretty damn nice. Lots of things to do, not so large and overwhelming, and I suppose cheaper. Though I still loathe the Japanese in charge, I don't loathe the _decision_ of the people in charge.

    • Me - Elias Ross - I wonder if it is worthwhile to discuss myself, since anyone who reads this knows me already. I'll come up with something to say later.
    • David Fenner - I include him first on this list since he was faithful, helpful, and fair throughout the process of applying to the various study abroad programs. Although I don't know how useful he was really, at least he worked hard to answer my questions.
    • Colleen Altstock - Gave me a place to put my negative energy, and feel better about myself when I didn't hear about getting to Japan.
    • Standy (Lam) - He's nice, and often fun to be with. He and I spent a lot of the first week or two together. He is a bit too concerned about money, he talks about prices and worries about getting a better deal. He is also a bit of a letch.

      He is Chinese. He looks sort of goofy, kind of like Mr. Bean, and smiles maybe too much, and laughs at his own jokes. (I have that problem too.) I did notice he changed clothes about twice a day. He brought about four pairs of shoes I noticed. He tends to change his mind, and not too firm when he makes a decision. Standy seemed certain to study very hard, though I don't believe he kept very diligent.

    • Jason - Probably the second foreign person I got to know in Japan, I think I met him the first night. I was very happy to see another white guy, for some reason I thought he was very cool even though I didn't know him yet. Jason is short, has a shaved head, and is built somewhat heavy.

      I notice he has a lot of charisma, more than anyone else from California. The girls seem to like him, or maybe not. Jason is often humorous and likes to talk, though sometimes he may not be friendly. Jason has relationships with others, though of what nature I cannot fathom.

      He has blue eyes and a toothy smile. Attractive in a somewhat feminine way, though his body is masculine in shape.

    • Henry - Chinese but reminds me of Jason physically in a few ways. Perhaps just because they hang out together. Somewhat quiet and "dark", intelligent. Friendly. Shares the same enthusiasm about Japan that Jason does.
    • Michaela - I only mention her now since I met her later. I don't know why or how I really got to know her. Our relationship seems somewhat unique, Michaela hasn't really made really good friends with too many of the others in the foreigner groups.

      She reminds me of my older sister, although somewhat less bossy :) and a lot more adventure-some. Michaela wants to be thought of as a neo-beatnik, she has many plans in mind, projects to do. Generous. I began to share personal matters with her right away, even though it wasn't evident she cared quite yet. I feel more ordinary with her around, as if my adventures won't match hers.

      Michaela has diverse interests, too many to list. I expect her to travel someplace new each day, or meet someone she knows each week. She is eager to try new things. I might get her interested in anime, however anime is more for the mono-maniac like myself.

      When I want to discuss social matters, social theory, etc., I know I can always get her interested to hear about it. We agree maybe more than I would like, there never seems to be arguing, we see each others side and simply leave it at that. I would appreciate more debate.

      She is German and has red full bodied hair. Good full figure, a bit heavy boned, her face is also a bit weathered. She does have a friendly youthful smile, and gets somewhat pleasantly embarrassed around humor. Good sense of irony and satire, which comes from a lot of reading.

      Michaela studies hard, for the sake of self improvement more than for grades it would seem. She works hard to improve herself intellectually. She enjoys school a lot more than I do. Her Japanese is very good, though she claimed to have studied for four years, and I know she was over in Japan for awhile.

      She is an older sister, and seems to have a lot in common with my older sister. Generally, Michaela's faults are the result of behaving like one, when there is no need. Often, things are managed or taken care of without my knowledge, or her expectations of me go below my own. Also, it is hard to be critical of her, even with such things as correcting her English. Her English is good, though I'm sure she often thinks in German.

      Emotionally, her feelings are often withheld, and instead opinions are used. Is this because we can't get very close? I have found friendship allows such things.

      Although she seems like a potential girlfriend/mate, she is taken, although I respectfully acknowledge who she has chosen. Anyway, Reto, her boyfriend, looks like a neo-Nazi, so I wouldn't want to make him mad. No, I'm sure he's kind, though probably he is more dominant than I could ever be.

      I knew she likes older men, is it true what Freud says about fathers and daughters? Often, women go for older men since they enjoy more emotional maturity and experience, and perhaps better sex. I do admit I'm woefully inadequate.

      She writes many letters and e-mails, I wonder what she writes about me, or if she does.

    • Chizuko - A girl I had dinner with. You wouldn't believe how frustrating meeting her was. She's very pretty. I think there was some emotional gap, due to being a foreigner. Innocent, and eager to serve, although I couldn't establish the role as dominant. It is not what I'm able to do. The opposite of Michaela in social contexts, I would like to know her better. I can't seem to remember her name very well.

      She goes to a specialized business school, to learn English. I forget how she wanted to apply her English. I hope to meet her again.

    • Toshi - Short Japanese tutor. Nice guy, smokes too much. Clown-ish, friendly, chummy, probably more likeable than anyone else. Has a girlfriend who teaches English in Japan. Always able to accept the situation, and my needs. I feel odd calling him sempai (upperclassman), but I try to have him direct and suggest my role in the research group.

      I think he takes what I say too seriously, as he can't seem to understand when I am being facetious or sarcastic. I'll work on being more obvious. He tries hard to understand me, though I try to match his speed in Japanese with my speed in English. ^_^

    • Abe - Another short Japanese dude. ^_^; I promised to write about him. Although they have made strictly illegal most drugs like pot, I often wonder if he gets a hold of them anyway. Either that, or he gets drunk every night. Maybe he is an odd form of computer otaku. He digs UNIX, so he's alright in my book. Abe says he's more "clown-ish" than Toshi, but I have yet to experience any extreme behavior.
    • Byorn - What can I write about this guy? Aside from knowing he's some sort of friend of Michaela, and coincidentally Reto, studying Japanese and looking for industrial design -- he doesn't say much. Or he didn't say much to me. Maybe because his English is not very good, though he was always correct when he spoke. He lives in Tokyo, I may visit him when I want to go to Tokyo next.
    • Chiba Nozomi - I have neglected listing any of my professors, because most of them have been pretty unremarkable. Chiba is the epitome of an office lady in Japan. I think I like her because she, like all the other Japanese professors and people at school, seems very awkward around foreigners. But, she laughs.
    • Reto Rettich - Finally, I came face to face with "the man" -- and I felt somewhat relieved, though not very surprised the first day I met him.

      He is somewhat more likable than Michaela, friendly, honest, humble, simple, and gentle. I expected somehow to meet someone loud and strong and demanding, though having been roomates with Michaela for about a month, I knew it would have to be someone she could control.

      His interest is industrial design, or so I heard. He came to Japan primarily for Michaela, though there is a lot to learn about design in Japan. I feel somewhat bad he doesn't have a group he belongs in -- in Japan having some sort of organization makes you what you are. Most everyone has school, or a club, or research. He is learning Japanese, though how he manages will show if he really has a strong interest in Japan or a lot of self discipline to learn on his own time.

      He is German, from Berlin I think, and I don't know how he met Michaela exactly -- supposedly there was some cooincidental circumstances. With his shaved head and wire circular glasses, he does look like a neo-nazi, but I know he would never be one. He doesn't fit into any groups, just like myself, and what he follows or believes in is through self-education.

      As for him and I, I haven't really gotten to know him well, though I think if he gets away with Michaela and if he shares some interests with me, maybe he will get to know me.

    • Hanae - Teenage senior in highschool with big plans, and an attitude of hope. Soft and cute, especially when she speaks in English, which is actually not so horrible. I met her at the YMCA Christmas camp, well, before really, but I got to know her at the camp where everyone worked very hard. Belive me, it was hard work, even for half-slacker like myself. She worked maybe the hardest of all of us, even though there were people paid to do it.

      My biggest complaint is she works too hard, and doesn't have the power to let go of the burden. She claims she needed glasses in Middleschool since she studied so hard, it hurt her eyes. Does she sleep regularly? I know if she goes to a university, maybe life won't be so brutal, though she'll try her best to make it.


    Of Japan, there are many things. I could devote hundreds of pages to just kinds and brands of snack food. And who knows, I might. :)

    Onsen (Hot Springs) - October 12th

    Last weekend, October 12th I think, Michaela and I were to bike to an onsen she had thought was good. The previous night over tea, we planned to leave at 9:00. She was going to lend a mountain bike (Panasonic brand), from an Australian dorm-mate, Scott.

    With a departure time like 9:00, over sleeping was bound to happen. The wake up call service did not get her up.

    I was donned in full bike gear. I looked like a true road warrior / wanna-be-power ranger type. Since it looked like sun and relatively warm for October, I wore only shorts and a long sleeved poly-pro bike jersey.

    It was clear from the map where we had to go. Though, it wasn't when we got on the road. We received assistance from a 50-ish Japanese couple who we talked to at the bottom of the hill, and again at the top when they were pushing their single-gear 40-pound commuter contraptions.

    The rest of the way out of town was straightforward. We went through a sort of housing development. It wasn't unlike the housing in the city, even though the houses were out in the country, they were clustered against each other.

    Eventually, we made it to a dam, under the mountain we were to go up to get to the hot springs. At a small town, there was a temple with many small markets. Men and women shouted their wares in Japanese.

    For lunch, Michaela and I had washoku, or Japanese food. Since Michaela has had 4 years of Japanese class, she asked about the particular spring we were set to go to. Of course, it was closed(!)

    This wouldn't have annoyed me as much, had the rain come, and wind came in gusts. We decided to go to Sakunami, already we had gone about 40 kilometers. I kept warm only by taking breaks, since then the wind of biking would be reduced, or by pedaling like hell. I wasn't going to make her pedal fast since she was already warn out.

    Eventually, we made it about 15 more kilometers to a hotel, which had supposedly an onsen. I wasn't going to argue the differences with the Japanese. It was very hot, about hot enough to scald skin in certain parts. It was very clean and there was a view of the hills (mountains?) outside the large glass windows.

    We took the train back to the city, instead of riding, and for some reason, we didn't have to pay. Supposedly, also, you cannot bring bicycles on trains, at least unwrapped. There are special bags for carrying a bike on train.

    I do have pictures, which I ought to develop...

    Soda Pop - October 19, 1997

    Prevalent are:

  • Coke, though perhaps more due to hype, coke seems somehow un-Japanese tasting.
  • Fruity drinks, usually citrus or berry. They vary in sweetness.
  • Sports drinks. Taste seems unimportant. Bleah.
  • Cold coffee. Bitter to sweet.
  • Hot coffee. Bitter to sweet.
  • Hot tea, with or without milk.

    The cans for coffee and tea come in different sizes and shapes. It is possible to get thin cans, and sometimes glass bottles. It is not possible to buy six packs. The largest size of plastic bottle for large amounts is about an American "big slam" size.

    Usually, from vending machines, a drink costs about 110 yen.

    Streets of Sendai - November 12, 1997

    Of all the things I noticed the first day in Japan, the streets were probably what stuck in my mind the most. I was nearly claustrophobic walking down to the 7-eleven. Imagine walking along a single lane street with walls on all sides, with cars attempting to go both directions. Also imagine, all the corners being blind. I felt like a mouse in a maze. It also took some getting used to the cars driving on the opposite side of the road, and often it is easy to forget and notice cars appearing where you thought there were none.

    There aren't any sidewalks outside of downtown Sendai, except in a few places along somewhat major roads. Major roads are roads with lines down the middle.

    Imagine, in addition, on these roads, bicyclists swerving around on both sides of the street going both ways, motorscooters maneuvering around cars at lights, buses maneuvering around narrow roads, people pulling in and out of blind driveways, cars left on the sides of the road when the driver makes an errand, frequent pedestrians, again on both sides going both ways, the occasional cart of stuff being pushed by old men, crowds of little school kids, at night construction work and construction vehicles and construction men in the streets, and the rare mutt or kitten -- how would a pet survive in such traffic?

    A favorite pastime of teenagers is driving around neighborhoods with loud motorscooters or occasionally real motorcycles.

    As a bicyclist, perhaps there is a lot to worry about, though most of the time traffic is too slow for me to possibly get into any serious danger. Since I am one of the few "real bicyclists" in Sendai, I ride on the streets with traffic, obeying when appropriate traffic law. Though, this seems to make most everyone upset at times.

    Drivers are the friendliest I've ever seen. Very patient and very cognizant. Occasionally, they drive too fast, however.

    [November 1997 Update] Okay, so I've been run into by a motorscooter, and nearly killed by several bicyclists, as well as a few rude taxi drivers. Forget what I said.

    Zazen - November Topic

    Zazen is, I guess, a weekly Zen mediation practice. It is somewhat like going to church. Well, actually it's pretty different. It is easier to explain by example.

    At the temple I go to, every Saturday at 6:30PM, I walk through a gate, up a long stretch of stone stairs to a building with sliding glass doors. I leave my shoes at the door, next to the rest of the people who practice, and these days, there are usually only five or six pairs. A small staircase leads me into a mediation room, I suppose intended for the monks, and at least it seems and feels different. There are statues, as well as electric blankets over tatami and gas heaters to keep them warm.

    Up a ladder, there is a large drum that is beat. While waiting, you are supposed to sit in silence patiently until this drum is hit a few times. Socks and jackets are left behind, after going around the edge of this room, people put on slippers and pass across an open area to another building.

    Zazen is a very antisocial activity. However, during practice, you become aware of everyone in the room, and they of you. I don't feel ignored, I feel very conspicuous and very open and vulnerable, but not threatened, simply naked. People face away from each other (towards the outside) during zazen, and it is for this reason, I think.

    Following a long session of meditation is what is called the mediation walk, which is a slow moving silent precession for stretching out one's legs. After more meditation, the congregation reads from a book. Although I know only a bit of Japanese, most of it seems simply for the sake of reading not reflection or understanding. It is read slowly out loud syllable by syllable, and comprehension is not really easy.

    There are three reasons I have been interested meditation: 1) I am curious about mediation practice, in particular Zen. 2) I have always been curious about why my father is so interested in Transcendental Mediation (although he insists it is very different) 3) I have wanted something to regularly take part in my life in which I could reflect and think, in a disciplined fashion. I hope this can make me a better person.

    In any case, I seem to have a lot of time to do things in Japan, and so I can easily keep up with it. I may keep up practicing until I return to the US, and then I may or may not do practice.

    Wings of Honneamise - December Topic

    What exactly is the movie Wings of Honneamise, is it a story about one man? Space travel? Spirituality? The importance of progress of society?

    What makes this movie special, is that it sucessfully combines all these themes into something that is beautiful, natural, and soft. The presentation is done as well as any epic, anime or not.

    Shirotzugh, the main character, admires planes at an early age, although is unqualified and is forced to join the Royal Space Force. He is used to being second best, he like the other people, know what being second best means: Don't try, don't complain, and find your joy through lesuire on weekends and evenings.

    It's worth a look, it's not in the "anime style" for those of you who don't like that. It was recently shown in Tokyo, with new Dolby Digital sound, sort of like the rerelease of Star Wars. Though Star Wars is praised for its ingenuity and contribution to the genre of Hollywood sci-fi, WoH is to be praised for its contribution to the world of animation.

  • Email

    Stuff I sent, maybe interesting to look back on.

    	From eross@u.washington.edu Mon Oct 13 20:55:33 1997
    	Date: Mon, 13 Oct 1997 20:55:32 -0700 (PDT)
    	From: Elias Ross 
    	To: Tim Dunn , David Ross ,
    	Eric J Soiset ,
    	Kevin Donald Steffa ,
    	Jeremy Blackman ,
    	"M. Bloch" 
    	Subject: Hello from the land of the Rising Sun

    In Japan, in the city of Sendai in Tohoku, on top of Aobayama hill, in the engineering campus of Tohoku University, on the third floor, in front of a computer screen, writing a note on a keyboard, each press sent thousands of miles away back to Seattle, I greet you.

    There is certainly a lot to write about. I've been here almost two weeks now, a novel could perhaps be written about the things I've noticed and done already. Absent, I think, would be a cast of characters I have left behind in the previous volume. Call it The New Adventures of Elias.

    The author still misses them.

    I would like to here back from all of you, and I would appreciate having addresses and pictures, so I can exchange "story panels". I think the list of addresses at the top is a minimal scope, so please pass this correspondence on to other friends and family.

    When I do have time, I will go into more detail about life in Japan. Perhaps I will post some sort of online diary.


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    Send email to me at: genman@noderunner.net

    This is a public diary. Anything too personal or offensive probably wasn't left out. Read at your own risk of embarrassment.

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