Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Strangers in a Strange Land

It's hard to believe that we have only been in Japan for six days now. So much is different that it's hard to post all the details. I'll try to give you some interesting little details here, to give you a better picture of our current lives.

Firstly the important things, that all you family members are worried about: our apartment is spacious, safe, and comfortable! (If you haven't seen the video yet, please find it on the previous posting! It may take a little while to download, as it is a little over 5 minutes in length). We have been eating - lots of rice and noodles- despite the fact that grocery shopping has proved tobe one of the most challenging projects thus far. The frustrating/difficult aspect of it is the inability to read most labels on food. Nonetheless we have been able to locate real fruit juices, canned tuna, fresh & frozen vegetables, bread, honey. So, rest assured that our base needs are covered.

Now for a few other interesting details and stories:
- 100 yen shops (equivalent to a "dollar store") are a great source for pretty much anything, and we've been able to get some extra home furnishings there for quite cheap (cleaning supplies, tupperware, etc.).
- there are lots of snacks around, even potato chips and cookies, but these seem to be quite overpackaged, and only available in small portions....this probably isn't a bad thing!
- so far the only things I have seen in vending machines are drinks (mostly iced green tea, cold coffee beverages, sodas, juice, and occasionally a beer vending machine) and cigarettes.
- when sales staff speak English it is extremely limited, but they try their best to accommodate us. Yesterday we had a guy at a cell phone store call his company to get a translator. They are often extremely appologetic for their lack of English, to which I say "Hey man, it's better than my Japanese!"
- bikes are parked everywhere here, and usually not locked to anything. They have a keyed mechanism that locks the back tire in a vice. In the video of our apartment you can see the area where people on our floor park their bikes.
- I bought crazy Japanese Felix the cat bubble gum
- Mats was our first official guest here! Matsutaro was born in Japan, but grew up in Canada. He lives in Oakville, but his family still lives here.
It was lucky for us that he was visiting his family in Osaka (about 40-50 minutes away by bullet train), and was able to come stay with us. Though he only speaks a liiiiitle bit of Japanese it was enough to help us through some of the first challenges.
- our apartment building houses about 200 English teachers, we've met our neighbours on both sides (also teachers), and both have offered to help with anything we need
- everywhere there are tons of restaurants, pachinko parlours (a strange sort of pinball slot machine gambling game), arcades, and karaoke bars
- the public transit system seems pretty great, though we're still getting the hang of it
- alcohol in stores is hilariously cheap: ex. 750mL Smirnoff Vodka = about $10-11 Canadian, or a 750mL bottle of tequilla for around $14.
For my dad, and Des: a 750mL bottle of Glenfiddich single malt 18 year old Scotch goes for about $44 Canadian (compare with approximately $88 on the LCBO website). They also have Maccallan's, and I think that was even cheaper.
- you do see a lot of funny English t-shirts, and the popular style seems to be punk/80's inspired.
- just because there's English on a store sign, or in their ad, don't assume that anyone in the store will have any idea how to read it. It seems to be popular advertising scheme to have an English slogan or sign, but most people don't really seem to know what the signs mean.
- people will go out of their way to help you without questioning you at all.
example: asking directions in a convenience store, the clerk came outside and took a good 5 minutes trying to explain directions to us. In the end we still didn't know exactly where to go, but we were headed in the right direction. Later down the street we asked a random pedestrian who actually took us down into the subway station, made sure we bought the right tickets, and then walked us over to the right spot to wait for the train, then just left without saying anything.

Like I said, there's so much happening at once, and so much that's different that it's difficult for us to even keep track of it all. Hopefully now you have a slightly better idea of how things are for us here. We already have much more to report including our first day of training and a party with our Aussie neighbour.

Much more coming soon!
- Ian


Derrick M said...

Hahha, sounds like you are getting along well...

And yay for half priced alcohol!!

Meaghan said...

oo people sound so nice. I wish people in north america were so awesome. Here if you can't speak the language or are new people get angry and are mean to you. I want to go there!

it sounds so......not here. i'm glad that you can drink as much as you want without having to worry about prices..(we all know that that's the REAL reason you left :P) haha

Daver said...

Wow! It all just sounds so amazing. I just hope you guys settle in nicely with learning a few more phrases to help out. But it almost seems you don't need to at all with all the super nice people. I know no one around here would help that much to complete stragners. Well I can't wait to hear more from you guys!

Mom (Ian) said...

In Will Ferguson's book-Hitching Rides With Buddha- he consistently talks about that 'go out of their way' friendliness, guess it's true. Yesterday I was at Western and an Asian girl asked me for directions- she had just arrived-I gave her a quick tour and was thinking of you.

Ali said...

I'm glad you guys are settling in and doing okay. Your apartment is so cute!! Looks like Ian won't have to go stay in a drawer hotel when I come visit.
I knew you guys going to Japan would make me more tolerent of Japanese people in Starbucks that I can't understand. It must be difficult, and I will try not to get frustrated anymore.
Ummmmmmm, I guess that's it. Your dinosaur picture made me laugh because I love dinosaurs. Keep up the good work, kids. Have a good time training!!

Ali said...

Ummm...I just read my comment and realized I sound like an uneducated 7 year old. Next time I will use bigger words and proper grammer. I'm embarassed and ashamed of my literacy skills. Argh.

your friends in Japan said...

Ali - I never knew you had such a think for dinosaurs. Clearly that just adds one more reason to the list of why you must come visit us!
As for your post, don't worry - I talk like that every day now at work. Eventually it will become habit and I will always talk as if I am speaking to a 2 year old. That will be fun.
Training is intimidating but we are trudging our way through it. It feels kinda like starbuck - they teach you things in a few steps and then kinda dump you in and see how you do. I had my first full lesson today (or 3 of them). 2 were alright and one was Awful. Haha. I am sure it will come in time though. Its just memorizing orders (like memorizing recipies!).
Anyways - off to bed now. Thanks for posting though!! Tell everyone I miss them more than you could imagine right now...Haha.
Talk to you soon!

Alexandra said...

I can't believe your REALLY in Japan!!! I told all my friends that
I'm getting a kimono and they're SO
jealous!!! So, wanna know what I'd like to see in REAL life, NOT just
pictures?? A japanese dog called the shiba inu!!!!



Jake said...

I like your apartment. I wish I could be there so I could be in it. Love Jake oxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox

your friends in Japan said...

Derrick - yeah, even if the food is expensive, it looks like we'll save money on drinks, so it should balance out providing that I spend as much money on alcohol as I do on groceries.... <:|

Meaghan - Look at my mom's comment below yours. She's awesome!

Luke - No, the real reason was to get away from you and your angry fist shaking!

Dave - yeah, fortunately people have been helpful when we don't understand, but we really want to learn the language so we can experience more of the authentic restaurants, and communicate somewhat with the locals.

Mom - thanks for balancing out the North American karma.

Ali - Nope, there's plenty of room in our apartment, but I do have to remember to duck. I've hit my head on so many door frames!
Every time Tara and I go shopping we want to take pictures to further entice you to visit. You'll love it! Everyone has crazy-cool style here, it reminds me of you.
And you really can't go wrong in a city with a dinasour themed aqua spaceship galaxy platform in its downtown.

Alexandra - Hi!!! It is VERY cool here, there is a lot to see, and so much that's different. But it's also hard because I miss everyone back in Canada too. I like getting lots of comments on here, and hearing from everyone!
The kimonos look pretty cool! They'll be really jealous when they see you wearing it next year at school.

Jake - I think you'd like our apartment because we have really big closets, with tall shelves in them. I know how you like to live in closets! Our closets would be like mansions for you!

Loveya, missya all.

Arlene said...

So, I'm happy to see that you are getting along without me. I didn't know you could. I have some questions...
First, what's happening with the teaching? That's what I want to hear about.
Secondly, why don't you talk about what's happening with the teaching?
And third...does the water in the toilet run the opposite way? (That was actually the well-known Justin Sanchez's question.)
And last, and definitely least..are you teaching and what are you teaching and how's the teaching going?
Hugs....Justin Sanchez's mother

your friends in Japan said...

Alexandra - I think I have seen a few Shiba Inu's since I have been here!! I want a puppy sooooooo bad! We can't have one in our apartment though. When I do get one, I know what I will name it though!!! Won Won!!! Thats how dogs bark in Japanese! I have also been scouting out for some Kimono shops for you - we keep getting lost when we go out, but I will find out eventually. I have seen a few people wearing them - they are soooo cool! You're friends will be very envious when they see you in one!!
Lots and lots and LOTS of Love!!!

Jake - I wish you were here too!! I think you would like Japan - Its crazy and random - Just like you!!!
Miss you tons!!! Lots of Love!! xoxoxoxoxoxo

Arlene - There will be plenty of teaching info coming soon - we just started 2 days ago!! It is going well though! We have officially finished training (the really like to just throw you in and see how you do!). We have kids training next week, which we have heard mostly bad things about, but I am looking forward to it nonetheless! Its pretty straight forward - the lessons are all planned - you just follow them to a 'T' and no one complains!
But like I said, a more indepth post will be made tomorrow regarding our 3 days of training - we really did come here to work - I promise!!!
Thanks for checking up on us!!

Miss you all!!
- Tara