Two weeks ago all 14 of the ALTs went out for dinner and Karaoke which, I’ll freely admit, was more fun than I’d expected. When we all trooped into a 7/11- like convenience store I assumed everyone was just picking up snacks or something. Nope; everyone bought beer from the coolers, took off their shoes and went upstairs where there are sofa-lined individual rooms for parties of up to about 15 people. The ALTs refer to it as “convenioke”. Each room is equipped with a huge TV and a couple of “boxes” for choosing an impressively large number of songs. When one ALT chose “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, every person in the room (including the Americans ) spontaneously stood up, linked arms and sang. I’m not a particularly “sensitif” kinda guy but I must admit it was pretty moving!
I thought I’d take a bike ride through the Ginza District (the oldest part of Niimi) the other day in search of a pub that ALTs have been frequenting now for some years. The Ginza is a large labyrinthian area chock-a-block with markets, shops, restaurants and pubs so finding it was a pretty long shot. All I knew of it was that it was known to play jazz and served Heineken. On a small lane I stopped when I noticed a Heineken sign in front of a small pub. I thought it might be the place but had no real intention of going in as it was only shortly after noon and most pubs don’t open until 7:00 pm in any case. As I stood there a Japanese woman walked up from behind me and asked if my name was Terree? Seems she had been told about me by one of the other ALTs. She invited me in. A John Coltrane cd was playing and there was a poster of him, and another of James Dean on the wall. Books lined the whole bar. Clearly my kind of place. There was no one else in the bar. She made me a great lunch and, using her translating app, told me she loved the movies of Stanely Kuberick, Marteen Shoresee and Daveed Leench. I couldn’t believe it – it was like a scene from a movie.
Niimi is stretched out along both sides of a river bank but there is little level ground between the mountains and the water. As a result there are places where the hills and impenetrably thick forest literally encroach into the town.From the supermarket, about a block from my place, you look up into the trees and stands of bamboo canes as thick as your arm, and hear this cacophonous sound of birds and cicadas – just like those old jungle movies you saw as a kid.
Shopping is interesting. People tend to grocery shop on a daily, rather than a weekly basis so they use hand-held baskets rather than shopping carts. You place your basket of groceries, at a 90 degree angle to the immediate right of the cashier. She takes the items from your basket, scans them and places them in a second basket to her left and adds an empty plastic bag or two to the basket. You place your money in a small tray, she takes it and places your change in the same tray. You retrieve your change, bow, and take the second basket about five feet to a counter where you bag the groceries. To western eyes this may seem like excessive deference but I find it appealing that respect for others and their personal space manifests itself in so many subtle ways. Regardless of where you are (restaurant, bar, or cafe) people seldom directly hand over cash. Interesting because it is a cash-based society – you just don’t see debit or credit cards and it can make paying bills a bit awkward when you are not conversant in Japanese.
The Japanese tend to use a “hanko” rather than a signature. A hanko is a personalized stamp about three inches long with the circumference of a pencil that is used with an ink pad. It is required for almost any banking or legal transaction.
There are no garbage bins to be found on the streets because it is considered rude to eat outdoors. I heard a story, possibly apocryphal, about an ALT who was called into the principal’s office because a neighbor had reported her for eating while walking to school.
Japan is not as expensive as I’d been led to believe. Fruit however can very costly. $10:00 for a pound of grapes or $7:00 for a peach (in fairness though, for sheer essence of peach, pure “peachiness” if you will, absolutely nothing compares with an Okayama white peach. Not even close!
Fewer than 15% of Japanese have ever tasted turkey. Meat is sold sliced rather than as whole chickens or roasts. Many Japanese do not have ovens. Well-marbled thinly sliced meat is often served with fried onions on a leaf of lettuce with a great spicy sauce and then rolled up. Delicious.
Pubs almost invariably serve complimentary snacks and provide either a moist hot or cool towel.
Plots of rice (now being harvested ), are everywhere in Niimi. They are irrigated by channels of diverted river water that flow throughout the town. If one sound is ubiquitous in Niimi, it is the sound of flowing water. Concrete and metal “bridges” link residential driveways to the roads everywhere.
Q: Why would the Japanese want to have a separate room for the toilet?
A: Why would you want a toilet in the same room you bathe.
When students wave and say hello I must discipline myself not to say hi, as it is pronounced the same as hai meaning yes.
Ta for now,