Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Out on the Town with the JETs/What's for dinner?

July 31st and August 1st
My first weekend in Japan and in my new apartment. Saturday I decided I would walk from my aparto to the BoE to see how long it takes me. So I set off in shorts and a t-shirt to explore a bit. It was really muggy and rain clouds were gathering on the horizon. I left my aparto, headed down the back street to the main road (which is a one-lane street that accommodates traffic in both directions) and started off toward the town centre. It took me about 25 minutes to walk at a leisurely pace, but the heat had me sweating in no time. I walked up the main street in "downtown" Taisha and passed a few shops looking for somewhere to eat lunch. I found a noodle place up by the IzumoTaisha shrine, and went in. I ended up spending 1,000¥on lunch, which felt a little pricey for what I got, but it was tasty, hot soba noodles in a broth and Japanese "Ice Tea" with miso soup and some salad on the side. Full up on food, I walked back toward my aparto and it started to rain. We were supposed to have typhoon conditions and this was the start.

The only problem with the rain was that I was supposed to walk back to the bus/train station later that day to take a bus to Izumo station, where I could then get a train to Matsue, the prefectural capital. A bunch of new JETs and some returning ones were meeting to have some food and drink in Matsue.

Not wanting to get soaked walking back to the station, since I didn't have an umbrella, I called Utani-san and asked him if he could call a taxi for me. He agreed and 15 minutes later I was on my way to the station. I thought I would have the driver just take me directly to Izumo station, as it was only about 15 minutes away by car, but this was a mistake. The bus from Taisha to Izumo eki (station) costs 490¥ but the taxi cost me 550¥ just for getting in. By the time we got to Izumo eki, the total was up to 2,230¥ or about $22. Way too expensive, and I HAD to take a taxi home that night since the last train back from Matsue arrived in Izumo at almost midnight, but the last bus from Izumo to Taisha leaves at 9pm.
I got on the train to Matsue with little problems, as I learned the kanji for the two towns to help me at the station. It cost 570¥ one way to Matsue and it took about 45 minutes to get there, making 7 stops along the way. The train was prompt, immaculate, and air conditioned - thank god.

Met up with the JETs outside Matsue station at our meeting place in front of Mr. Donut - a Japanese donut chain that serves passable donuts but nothing to write home about. A mixture of new JETs from the U.S., the UK and Australia and Canada was mingling with veteran JETs from the area surrounding Matsue. Matsue itself is a big city, the largest in Shimane, and has 30 JETs and a number of CIRs. We headed off to eat and drink and be merry.

The first place we hit was a restaurant where we had to remove our shoes and sit cross-legged around two large tables. We split into only-drinking and eating and drinking tables and I was hungry, so I sat with the eaters. We ordered little portions of different things, sorta like dim sum, and I had my standard Coke, while most others ordered beer or gin & tonic or their favorite liquor drink. One thing that looked good on the menu was the fried chicken morsels, but when they arrived they turned out to be deep-fried chicken knuckles and almost inedible. Everything else was tasty, but small.

We moved on to a gaijin ("outsider") bar, that is mostly frequented by JETs and other foreigners. I tried a vanilla milk-shake, which normally would have included some alcohol, and it was ok but a little pricey at $7 (700¥). This bar, called Filaments, was pretty small, and stacked all about the place were piles of CDs, which you could sort thru and pick to have played.

We then moved on to another gaijin bar called Kaya's that was having a Yukata party. A Yukata is an informal summer kimono and many of the patrons were wearing theirs, men and women included. At 500¥ for a Coke, I decided to have one more drink and head for the station to make my way home. While on the last train back I was sitting down the bench from a Japanese woman on her own. We didn't interact the whole journey until she got up to leave one stop before mine and then she turned, looked at me and said in very good English, "Have a nice night." Weird. I guess she wanted to practice her English and I must look like an English teacher - why else would I be out in rural Japan, right?

After another $20+ taxi ride home, my spending for the evening now totaled about $80, but it was nice to meet other JETs and be among English speakers for a few hours.

It had stopped raining but the clouds still looked ominous.

Sunday was fairly uneventful - I slept in and decided that today was the day I would try out my bicycle (jitensha). It's a granny bike with a basket in front and only three gears. The worst part is the seat is fairly low and is so rusted that we couldn't move it up after trying a number of times. But it was to be my primary form of transport until I decide if I'm gonna get a scooter or maybe even a car.

So I headed toward town and it only took me about 10 minutes to cover the same route it had taken me 25 minutes to walk the day before. I turned around and headed back to my place. I changed shirts due to sweat and then decided I should also bike over to the nearest grocery store and pick up some supplies.

My local grocery store is pretty small, but carries all the essentials and even a few recognizable brand names. Unfortunately, Japanese people tend to like lemon flavoring in their beverages, so the only Pepsi they have is Twist, or Pepsi with lemon. I got some bread and milk and some yakitori strips and a few other things, keeping in mind that I had to fit everything in the basket on the front of my bike. I spent about 2,500¥ and the checker bagged everything into one tight bag with amazing dexterity. They tape everything closed here, which is a little odd at first, so she taped the bag closed, gave me my receipt and I was on my way. It started to rain again just as I reached my street, so I made it inside just in the nick of time.

I cooked rice in my very handy rice cooker and microwaved the yakitori chicken skewers and settled in and watched a good soccer match on the terebi (TV).

I had to prepare a speech in Japanese to give in front of the town council on Monday morning and then it was off to bed.

NEXT: Speechifying and the language barrier

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