Sunday, August 20, 2006

Going Through the Motions, Walking Through the Part...

Hakozaki Shrine in Hakata

Your daily dose of truthiness
"I think we can all agree with Mr. Henninger's flawless logic: if a woman in India marries a snake, gay people in America should have to justify it."

Learning from your fellow foreigner
The symbol for the medical community is called a Caduceus.

Read once again with me, our strange duet - my power over you grows strong again... I hope. I'd like to think I'm offering quality information about the land of the rising sun, so this entry has been long in the thinking process. Take note, future eikaiwa teachers: it's been approximately two months since I arrived in this fair country, and I believe I've gotten somewhat comfortable with my surroundings. Here are some Japanese habits, customs, unusual behavior (from a foreign standpoint, of course), random facts, and the truth of all matters.

Never, never, walk outside a nightlife district in the early hours of the morning. I'm not just referring to seeing so many people do the "walk of shame" from love hotels. Rather, early Sunday morning is when all these businesses toss out the worst, foulest-smelling garbage on the streets. That's the case in Hiroshima, anyway. Avoid Nagarekawa at 7 AM on Sunday.

Public sleeping is very common. I've tried it myself and felt perfectly safe. Many people are caught outside from a lack of travel plans going through, and have to sleep at the train station or nearby areas. They simply just don't choose to pay for a hotel, believe it's not necessary. Just find a park bench, pull a few clothes out of a small bag to use for a pillow, and you're all set. I even see people sleeping in the park next to my apartment, and this is a small town park pretty far away from the train station. It's really Forrest Gump mentality: "When I got tired, I slept. When I got hungry, I ate. When I had to go, you know, I went." Another runner who understands.

Point cards, like rebate cards, are very common, no matter how small the store. It works the same way as in other countries, just more commonly. If you shop at major supermarkets regularly you can get one, and I believe you can get a ¥1000-2000 return for every ¥50,000 spent. At chain restaurants like Subway it's easier to get a faster return - buy eight sandwiches, get ¥200 off your next purchase.

Here's something I've been struggling with a while - exactly how do you feel talking to someone when you don't know the language? Now, if I'm out in public, or with a large group, it's a given: I am the outsider, there is something wrong with me. But when I'm talking to a Japanese person one-on-one, it's hard to know exactly who is experiencing the difficulty. This happened as I was riding to Fukuoka - I sat next to a beautiful girl and she engaged me in some conversation, probably under the assumption that I spoke Japanese. Once she realized I wasn't fluent, we both struggled a little to understand each other, but the key word is: one-on-one. Who is to say that I'm supposed to be speaking her language, or her mine? it's just a matter of perspective, and it will only feel as awkward as you let it.

Green tea is available from every liquid-dispensing vending machine you can see. A common snack is a rice ball, typically seen more often than chocolate or granola bars. Called Onigiri, these rice snacks are sold at almost every store for about one hundred Yen. As a snack, they consist of rice with an outer layer of seaweed, and can be filled with almost anything, from mayonaise, to fish, or something with flavor.

In Hakata Station, there are so many places to shop it is beyond belief - it's an excellent place to pick up gifts if you don't want to go to Tenjin. Underground there are many restaurants to choose from - I found an excellent one offering good eel (unagi and unaju), yakitori, and tonkatsu. It's called Sengoku. If you're looking to get away from the chain restaurants, McDonald's, and pizza places, their sign is written in both Romanji and Kanji. There should be a curtain in the threshold.

Unlike America, which prides itself on its small towns with character along the highways, Japan isn't designed that way. I just spent four hours traveling from Hiroshima to Fukuoka through the more traditional side of Japan, and there was hardly anything to be seen but nature on the side of the road (not to complain about the sights, which were excellent). Japan isn't built around the drivers, around the highways, it's built around the rails, the Shinkansen, the local trains. Usually if you want to get gas along a major highway, you have to go into the town proper instead of merely visiting an access road gas station. I don't think they exist. Whereas there is activity even around the smallest train stations - Saijo Station has many restaurants and its nightlife district is built not fifty meters away from the entrance.

Pictures of my adventures are now up at Flickr, if you want to see more than the blog has to offer:


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