Thursday, August 27, 2009

Exciting things to look forward to!

Although I still don't really have anything to do at work other than work on my CIR newsletter article, I have added a few very exciting things to my calendar for the next few weeks! S teaches English once a week to a retired doctor who has season tickets at Yahoo! Dome, which he occasionally gives to S when he is unable to attend. Well last night S texted me and said that there is a game next Wednesday that the doctor can't go to, and would I like to go? Would I ever! Apparently they are excellent seats between third base and home, pretty close to the field. I can't wait to go to my first Japanese baseball game! I'll be sure to take the clappers I got when I registered for my cellphone. Go Softbank Hawks!

I will actually be going to another Hawks game on the 12th a bunch of Fukuoka JETs, but those will probably be nosebleed seats. Fun, nontheless!

Let's see, what else... Oh yes. the weekend at the beach house from the 4th to the 6th of September. That's actually coming up quite soon. I will finally get some proper knitting time in!

The kicker is the pair of inexpensive plane tickets I just purchased to/from Osaka for our 5 day national holiday from September 18-23!!! I met this guy through all the current JETs, who does master's swimming, speaks perfect English, and has his own travel agency. He always helps Fukuoka JETs find the best prices on travel packages, tickets, and such. I contacted him about whether it's possible to get bullet train tickets cheaper than the regular 15,000yen each way (more than $300 round trip), and instead he found me discounted plane tickets. In many cases, flying would not be the most convenient way to travel (and it can be pretty expensive to fly domestically in Japan), because some of the airports in Japan are located somewhat far away from their respective cities. But in the case of Fukuoka and Osaka, both have airports RIGHT in (Fukuoka) or nearby (Osaka) the cities, so it actually works very well. One way will cost 13,000 yen, the other 12,000 for a grand total of 25,000 yen. Fifty bucks or so may not seem like much of a discount, but it will help me get to and from the airport/Sarah's house/Kyoto, which all adds up. I also will have to buy a souvenir box of something delicious and Kyoto-ish for my office mates. And I will have to take souvenirs to my host family from Fukuoka (mentaiko). Needless to say, I'm glad I got the discount. I did some research and I discovered that I can get on Keihan right near Sarah's house and go straight to Tofukuji station in Kyoto (the closest station to my host fam's house!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) in about 40 minutes. I am SO.EXCITED. I am filled with such joy, just imagining returning to Kyoto!!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pleasantly occupied (except at work)

I have been quite busy over the past week and a half, although things at work are still slow and will continue to be until I receive the Japanese draft of the October Rainbow newsletter sometime by the end of this week. By the way, before I forget! You can see firsthand what occupies me most regularly at work by taking a look at the Fukuoka International Association's website and checking out the Rainbow newsletter and the Mail Magazine. The September issues of both publications are the first ones I have worked on. Translating is actually quite a fun challenge... I just wish I had more of it to do. I've heard from a lot of other CIRs that the summer is often slow, so I'm not too worried that my entire career here at FIA will be task-less. I know that when the delegation from Ipoh, Malaysia comes in Decemeber there will be plenty to do. That month there will also be the annual English speech contest for Japanese high schoolers, for which I wil be a judge. And starting in January, I will probably be quite busy for about 4 months as I prepare the international troupe for the Hakata Dontaku festival parade (which is at the beginning of May), while maintaining my regular translation duties.

To pass the time, and make it appear like I have work to do, I have volunteered to write an article for the CIR newsletter. It's been harder to develop the article than I imagined, since I've only been here a month, but in general I am writing about what my expectations for the program were, what the realities are, and what I'm doing/going to do to make it the best experience possible.

So like I said, I've had a pretty busy social schedule over the last week and a half or so. Last Wednesday I met S from NZ at Jusco (cheap shopping mall near our apt.), where we cooed over the puppies at the pet store and ate hiyashi chuka (good for hot weather). After work on Thursday, one of my female coworkers and I went to a trendy multi-bath hot spring next to Bayside Tower near Hakata Bay. We ate delicious tonkatsu, my first since coming to Japan, then spent over an hour lounging in the various baths/hot springs. We finished the night by going up Bayside Tower (which isn't as tall as Fukuoka Tower, but which is FREE) and the city at night was simply gorgeous. I would love to post a picture of it, but of course I didn't have my camera. And even if I had, I don't think it is powerful enough to capture a really great nighttime shot. You will all just have to visit me and see it for yourselves!!

Friday night was my welcoming party, which we had at a Thai restaurant in the nearby swanky Daimyo district. Normally such a party would have happened the first week I arrived, but everyone was insanely busy with the Oakland delegation and all the subsequent piles of paperwork (the rainforests are weeping), so it was pushed back a few weeks. I didn't choose the Thai place, but everyone knows I will eat just about anything so they decided on Thai food. Which was fine for me, but unfortunately a lot of my coworkers ended up not really liking the food (too sour/spicy for their sensitive tongues). But that wasn't my fault. One of my section leaders, who is very excited about practicing his English, sort of monopolized me for the evening (I was in the "birthday seat" at the head of a long table, so I was kind of far away from most people). But it was still pretty interesting. And we got a 20% discount because their AC was broken.

Saturday was quite busy. The gas guy came to check out my busted gas water heater unit by my sink (if I understood him correctly, it isn't dangerous, but the inside of the unit is something like 18 years old and no longer stays on for more than 5 seconds, so it needs to be replaced). Then I went to Hakata station, where I met a veteran JET and a newbie, and we took the Green tourist bus around the city. We ate lunch at Canal City (shopping a go-go), then checked out the Yahoo! Dome on the west side of the city. The Fukuoka JETs are going to a Hawks game on the 12th of September, and I CANNOT WAIT for my first Japanese baseball experience! I hear it's NUTS. I will definitely not be forgetting my camera that day :)

Around 4pm the other girls went to Ohori Park, but I went back to Hakata station and caught a train to Fukuma, which is about 6 stations or so away from the station closest to my apartment (Chihaya). Fukuma is outside of the Fukuoka City limits, and is the beginning of the countryside. My advisor's younger brother, who I met at that get together a few weeks back, invited me to the BBQ he and his friends had organized, and he picked me up in his (quite gigantic for Japan) car at the station, then we drove to the beach. It wasn't a pristine beach, but it was still the ocean! And the water was actually warm (I walked in up to my knees). Turns out there were about 40 people there, most of whom knew no more than one or two other people, but we got to know each other (especially as we continued to drink) and it ended up being really fun. We grilled endless piles of meat and veggies on portable grills, danced around to weird mo-town-like music, made shaved ice, and generally had a merry time. Once it got dark, some of the participants performed songs, and my advisor's bro rapped with a couple of his friends. It was quite hilarious and an interesting/fun experience. There were only a few instances of awkwardness, like when I first arrived and all the boys pulled out their camera phones and immediately began snapping pictures of me, and when I had to make a speech after all the performances were over, because I was one of two foreigners in attendance (the other was a guy from Denmark). Overall, I'm really glad I went. Since I'm a bit shy in those situations, I may have otherwise declined the invitation, but I am trying to say YES to as many things that come my way as I can handle.

That being said, I still think I overdid it a little on Saturday (in terms of fun-having/dancing/etc., not drinking, don't worry), because on Sunday I got up a bit early, caught a bus to Tenjin, caught another bus to Marinoa City (a huge outlet center with 2 gigantic ferris wheels in the western part of the city) and frolicked around with a few other JETs, trying to reform one of the boy's fashion sense. S from NZ's Japanese-New Zealander friend came with her UNIMAGINABLY ADORABLE year and a half-old daughter, who is learning both Japanese and English, and whose favorite word is "Elmo." We are going to this friend's husband's family beach house at the beginning of September ^_^ However, I crashed around 3 in the afternoon and had to excuse myself to be a vegetable in my apartment for a few hours, before I tried to finish cleaning and straightening up. There is one pile of junk left on my desk, mostly stuff from Tokyo orientation, that needs to be put away, but the apartment is just about ready to be photographed.

This week my goal has been to bring my bento box lunch to work 4 out of 5 days. It's a good way to save some yenners and control portion size, and today I hit bento number 3, so if I can manage to take my lunch tomorrow, then a coworker and I (the one who went to the hotspring with me last week) will eat ramen at Ichiran on Friday. I hear Ichiran is better than Ippudo... but I will report back on that matter.

The same coworker and I went out to eat okonomiyaki last night, which sounds and looks kind of disgusting but is INDESCRIBABLY delicious. I hadn't had it yet since being back in Japan and I had a mad craving for it, but going to okonomoyaki by your lonesome is no fun, so luckily my coworker was able to go with me. Another of our officemates recommended this place in Yakuin, just a 10-15 minute walk south of Tenjin. OH MAN. I think it was the best okonomiyaki I've ever eaten, no lies. I wish I had had my camera with me last night. I did take a picture on my phone, but the color is a bit off, and I'm SURE I will be going back to that restaurant again, so then you will be able to observe its gloriousness.

Ok, I think I have covered everything. More later this week!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

$$$$$ (more like ¥¥¥¥¥)

I deposited my first salaried paycheck in the bank today. Feeling pretty good ^_^

Snorkel Rice

Cool. I wonder if it's tasty.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


It's nice to see that people with outside perspectives are able to recognize the good things about America. It does make me proud :)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Afternoon Trip: Munakata Taisha

Today I finally decided that I need to start exploring, around my own neighborhood and beyond Fukuoka city limits. Yesterday was a bit rainy and gross, and I was physically whipped from swimming laps for the first time in ages the night before. I went to see a movie (that will be $20, thank you) that is a continuation of a popular TV drama series I have watched in the past. It was entertaining, though still a bit like watching TV on a really big screen.

This weekend is Obon, the three days when most Japanese people return to their birthplaces to clean family graves and honor their ancestors. A lot of people also take off time from work to do this, so my office was really quiet on Thursday and Friday, and the two people I would otherwise hang out with this weekend are away in Nagasaki and Kagoshima, respectively. One of the most interesting things that happens during Obon is the okuribi in Kyoto, which I hope to see in person one day. The biggest of the five burning characters (which, not too coincidentally, means "big") is the 大 dai on Daimonji-yama, really close to Kyoto University. I have lots of pictures of it from last year. I guess I will watch it on TV tonight. And while I would like to be in Kyoto right now, I also am glad I'm not, because Osaka and Kyoto have annual daily temperatures hotter than Naha, the capital of Okinawa, which is waaaay south from here. It is plenty hot in Fukuoka, thank you.

So anyways, today I journeyed just a bit northeast of here to Munakata, a city where my friend KBH studied abroad when she was in high school. She wasn't kidding when she said it was nearly straight up countryside. It only took about 20 minutes to get there from Kashii station, which is a 10-15 minute bike ride from my apartment. I left lots of time before my train because, as expected, I got lost on the way to the station from here. But now I know my way, which is good for when I want to go somewhere on JR trains without taking the bus into Tenjin (downtown).

My main reason for going to Munakata was to see the Munakata Taisha, which is apparently a quite old and important-ish Shinto shrine. It was pretty to be sure, but suprise! It looked like almost every other shrine I've been to, plus it was quite small. But I still had a nice trip there on the train/bus, and a little adventure getting back to the station. Buses in the bufu only come once an hour, and I had just missed one, so I decided that I didn't want to wait for the next one and began walking back to the station. Which was 5.5 km away. My plan, of course, was not to walk the whole way (especially once the sun came out and it became unbearably hot), but to catch the bus at a closer stop. I popped into a little store selling soft cream (like soft-serve ice cream) and when the store owners saw how hot I was, they asked me if I was out walking. I told them yeah, I was going to walk towards the train station. Before I could explain that I was only going to walk a few bus stops closer, an older woman and her 40-ish daughter offered to drop me off at the station, which was right around the corner from their house. They were done with their errands and heading back anyways, and so I gratefully accepted their offer. They were incredibly nice, and very excited to speak to a foreigner in Japanese. The daughter explained that the foreigners who teach English at her child's school don't really speak any Japanese, so it was the first time she had ever had the chance to have a real conversation with one of my kind. That made me feel kind of cool, heehee. I thanked them profusely when they let me off at the station, and they drove away smiling and waving. It was a nice Japan moment ^_^

While I was at the shrine, I bought an obligatory omikuji, which tells you your fortune in respect to all kinds of things (health, work, love, travel, etc.). I was pretty lucky and got 吉 kichi, which means "good fortune." The best you can get is 大吉 daikichi, which is "great fortune." If you get a daikichi, you are supposed to fold it up and put it in your wallet so that your good luck will go with you, but for all the other fortunes (especially bad ones), you tie to a tree. My fortune came with a tiny amulet, which in my case was a little gavel that, when shaken, grants a wish and helps one amass a great treasure. Doesn't sound too bad to me.

When I got back I bought an inexpensive hot water pot so I no longer have to use the Iron-Age tea kettle that my pred left. I also cut down the old gross clothes line out on my veranda and replaced it with a nifty pink one that holds clothes hangers in place (from the 100 yen store, of course). In a continuing effort to make this place feel like my own, I reorganized all the glasses so that all the old ones left here that I have no intention of using are way up high, and the ones I do plan on using, including some I have bought myself (100 yen store), are within easy reach.

I think there is a cicada on my veranda, because it is VERY LOUD. I will investigate, and then it's dinner time!

** Oh, and because I haven't figured out how to write captions for my pictures here on blogger, I will explain the photos here. The first photo is of a sign I encountered during my walk from the shrine, which encourages people to eat locally grown, Fukuoka-prefecture rice. "It's delicious!" The second is of the sassy seat covers on the train. Next, a lovely scene in the middle of nowhere. Then, of course, the shrine, and my omikuji.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Few Things

The three phrases I use most on a daily basis, without a doubt (applies for every single employed person in Japan):
1) お疲れさまです otsukaresama desu, translates somewhat literally as "O honorable exhausted one." I say this as a greeting, when answering the phone, and when leaving the office. The idea is that you are acknowledging how hard everyone else is working.
2) すみません sumimasen, perhaps the most often used work in the Japanese language. Means "excuse me/I'm sorry/forgive me for any inconvenience I've caused." You get the idea.
3) よろしくお願いします yoroshiku onegaishimasu, has the nuance of asking someone for their help or for a favor, but is used regularly when hanging up the phone or discussing work with coworkers.

Pregnant women in Japan have the same status as hand-capped drivers, in that they are allowed to take the sweet parking spots near the entrance to anything.

Sorry, no pictures of the apartment yet. I made major progress this week in getting things sorted, but I think it will take a few more days until it's pretty enough to photograph.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


I cannot describe how hot and humid and generally miserable the summer in Japan is. From the moment I wake up, I begin sweating. I know I could turn on my airconditioner and sleep in the other room (new apartment has quite large couch that converts into a bed), but that would be expensive, plus I don't even sleep all that well in when the AC is on. Until October rolls around, it is going to be pretty gross around here.

Ooh, there's so much to tell, but where to start? Now that I'm settled I will try writing a bit more often so that I don't have to recap so much.

On Tueday night my adviser invited me out to a welcome-back-to-Fukuoka party for some of his college friends. It was an interesting group of people, all around 30 years old, and I could keep up with some of their conversation. We ate many little plates of food, among which was 馬刺, raw horse meat. Don't knock it 'til you try it, for it's quite delish. I wish I'd had my camera with me at the time. But I'm sure I'll eat it again :)

I'm soooo relieved to finally be in my apartment. It was convenient to live right downtown (5 minutes from work), but now I will really be able to settle in. The apartment is quite big (2 tatami rooms, a dining area, kitchen, bathtub room, toilet room) and it is completely furnished. The only things I have had to buy so far are a set of sheets, a new pillow, and a bathmat. I will probably buy a few more things to make it a bit home-ier (my predecessor was a 25-year old male... enough said?), but I really have everything I need. I may also replace a few things as time goes by, but for now, I'm set! I'll take some daytime pictures over the next few days (my bedroom is flooded with light in the morning!), but for now I will leave you with the views south from my veranda, morning and evening.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Boredom Hotel

If I leave my hotel, I will either buy things or eat things because I am in TENJIN, the center of Fukuoka. It will be good to have a real place to live.

Work today was quite good, though I didn't chat enough with people around the office. It is my goal to be as friendly and outgoing as possible, despite being shy and terrified of making mistakes in Japanese. But it's early. I must take my time.

Yay, time for Buzzer Beat!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Simply awesome

Food, glorious food

Quick food post! I'm sure there will be many of these to follow because Fukuoka is a notoriously delicious city.

Friday was the 31st of July, so double cones were 31% off at Baskin Robbins (called 31 here). It was hard to choose, but I decided upon the flavor of the month, "Tea and Scones." It's black tea flavored, with chunks of actual scones and strawberry jam throughout. Really, REALLY good.

Today I did a fair amount of walking around (though still mostly in Tenjin, the center of downtown), so I treated myself to my first bowl of ramen in Fukuoka. Well, ramen and a half-gyoza set. Someone at the goodbye party last night told me about Kurume, where the thick, white tonkotsu ramen originated. I looked up the small chain they recommended, Kurume Taiho Ramen, which is only about 15 minutes away from my hotel on foot. Well, as another blogger once said, Kurume Taiho~ly sh*t! For 780 yen I was able to enjoy what is probably the best tonkotsu ramen I have ever had. Plus, I managed to only get the tiniest oil spot on my shirt, despite some intense slurping action. I am very proud.

My First Few Days in Fukuoka

It's been a truly crazy week, but somehow I survived and I THINK I'm almost over my jet-lag. I can already tell that Fukuoka is going to be a great place to live. It actually feels similar to Kyoto- I think because the buildings are pretty low, the crowds on the sidewalks aren't packed, and there are oodles of people riding bicycles. There is also often a wind off of the sea, so even in this stinking hot, miserably humid weather, there is usually a refreshing breeze.

So what have I been up to... There isn't a lot to say about Tokyo orientation because most of it involved sitting/listening/trying not to fall asleep from exhaustion. It was also not my first time in Tokyo. And I'm still not even sure if I like Tokyo. But anyways, S came to pick me up and we hopped on a plane to Fukuoka on Wednesday morning. I couldn't believe how easy it was to check my suitcase and get through security at Haneda. No removal of shoes, no wrestling my laptop out of its case. I think it took about 30 seconds to get all the way through. How civilized!

That afternoon I dropped all my stuff off and went to work to do official greetings, or aisatsu. They were pretty terrifying, but I got through them fine. I had only slept about three hours the night before, and it wasn't an official work day for me, so I went back to the hotel and slept for about 10 hours.

Thursday, I shadowe my pred and he explained that my day-to-day stuff will primarily involve translation. I imagine it will get tedious at times, but I also know it's going to be really great for my Japanese, as well as my writing skills. He also explained everything that's necessary for the Hakata Dontaku International Troup, of which I will be the head organizer. I will start the preparations at the beginning of the new year, and they will continue until the festival is over at the beginning of May. Wow. It's going to be a lot of work, but hopefully quite rewarding too :)

Friday, we walked around the whole day with the visiting high school kids from O-land. It was nice to get to see some of the city, though I wasn't wearing proper shoes (not fun). There was farewell party in the evening, and after that my section went out to an Okinawan restaurant to wind down. I didn't stay terribly long because I was once again quite exhausted, but I hope that's the last time I have to leave early by a long shot. Everyone is so kind, and being with them is very comfortable.

I'm feeling a nap coming on, so I will leave you with this photo of my lovely new cellphone, which I was able to procure all by myself. It's an "old" (spring) model, so intead of paying it off every month (an extra $30-40 to your phone bill), I don't have to pay anything for it. It's very cute and easy to use, though I'm still getting used to some of its functions. Anyways, I'm in love!

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