Thursday, January 13, 2005

December wrap-up - Part One

December - Part One

So here’s my recap post for the month of December 2004. I might relate some of my Xmas/Holiday stories in a separate post, but we’ll see how long this one gets first.

First up I forgot to mention in my November wrap-up what I did for Thanksgiving... basically, nothing much. I had to work that Thursday and then after work a group of us JETs got together in Izumo and had dinner at an Okinawian restaurant. Some interesting Japanese food that left a few of us still hungry, so when we hit McDonald’s later that night for dessert, most us also had a hamburger or fries as well. After Mickey-Ds we went across the street to the large SEGA WORLD arcade, a two-story fun house packed with video games and photo booths. They have a cool one where you have to taiko drum to the beat (kinda like DDR), which Dustin is really good at. I ended up playing air hockey, an old favorite, with Lisa, who turned out to be good competition. I was able to take her in a tight match, but Rusty was no match for her ferocious air hockey style.
Sure would have liked to have had some turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes, but turkey is really hard to get here and none of us have ovens big enough to cook even the smallest bird. Maybe next year I’ll head out to the annual Matsue feast put on by JETs who are raising money for charity. I heard the spread was ample and tasty.

OK - on to December...

I was extremely busy in December, running around to all 5 of my shoogakkoo over the course of the two weeks leading up to winter break. I’ve already posted about the death of my friend and JTE, Ishitobi-sensei. This certainly cast a pall over the month, but I was determined to be in good spirits when I was with my elementary kids, and simply being around them during this sad time helped me from slipping into some bah-humbug funk and rekindled my holiday spirit a bit.

Wednesday the 8th was my deadline for submitting articles to the Shimane JET publication, The Black Taxi. I’ve been writing a column each month for the past 4 months and I’ve written a few other shorter pieces as well. I enjoy writing, especially about Pop Culture, which is what my column is about, so it’s usually a pleasurable experience, but the aforementioned passing of my JTE took the wind right out of my sails and I had a hard time finishing my column. I had wanted to help Mark and Fintan, the two Irish editors, as well to craft some holiday-themed articles, but I wasn’t up to it. Luckily, we had worked on writing some of the funny stuff the weekend before I found out about Ishitobi-sensei, and Mark and Fintan are both very capable writers and editors so they got along just fine with my minimal assistance. You can check out a online version of the Black Taxi Here, but it’s a truncated version with only the text pieces included due to computer restrictions at this time.

Wednesday, the 15th, was an eventful day. I get paid once a month on the 15th, so I had arranged to meet up with Lisa, who has a car. I wanted to do some shopping and her car would allow me to buy some bigger items. We hit the “Hard Off” which is a used-goods store in Izumo. “Hard Off” is a generic term for a discount store - you’ll also find used books at the local Book Off, etc. They have some awesome stuff at the Hard Off since japanese people tend to take really good care of their stuff and many sell their used items within a year or two of original purchase when they upgrade or move. I was searching for a heat fan, since it was getting colder by the day, and I found a decent one with a remote for about 3000¥ ($30), so I bought it. We did some other shopping at the grocery store (I can usually only get two bags with my scooter) and we also bought a birthday gift for our friend, Rusty, since it was his birthday that day. He didn’t give us any advance warning, so we had an impromptu dinner at CoCo Ichi, a local curry chain restaurant he likes and then just hung out. Good night, but we all had to get up for work the next day, so we cut it short at about midnight.

Side note about getting paid. I send money back to my American checking account via a quick and reliable service called Go Lloyds. It’s a bit pricey (costing me $30 in fees every time I do it) but with the time difference the money is in my American account the same day i send it from Japan. I’ve mastered my local bank’s ATM, even though I can’t read most of the buttons or read out. ATMs here are still not quite as convenient as in the States. My local one (JA Bank) is only open Monday-Friday 'til 6pm. It’s open on Saturday, but they charge me 100¥ for withdrawing on Saturday. It’s closed all day on Sunday. I always have to be aware of how much cash I have because almost nowhere takes credit cards and they don’t have anything like the debit cards that are standard back home now. It’s a cash society. Moreover, it’s a coin society, as they smallest denomination bill they have is the 1000¥ note, which is the equivalent of a $10 bill. They have a 5000¥ note, but I rarely see one, so most people carry around lots of 1000¥ notes and 10,000¥ notes, which is like carrying around hundred dollar bills. Takes a little getting used to. 500¥ ($5) and 100¥ ($1) are coins, so you end up with lots of change jangling in your pocket, which I think is a conspiracy with the vending machine companies so you’ll always have 120¥ to buy a Coke or Pocari Sweat (like Gatorade) or a hot coffee in a can. (I’ll have to write a whole post on the amazing vending machines they have here)

I was Santa-san 4 times the week before Xmas, and each time was a little different. When I went to Usagi Sho, which only has 8 students, they knew it was me immediately - no foolin’ them. But at the other 3 schools, I was more accepted as the “real” Santa since I’d never been to the separate Kindergartens before. And I’m the first male ALT in like 10 years, so I’m the first Western man that’s played Santa at these parties that these kids have ever seen. The last day I had to do it was Friday, the 17th, and that yochien had almost 80 kids. I had to have my picture taken with small groups of them and hand out presents to every student. I also took part in a short skit based on a popular Japanese series of children's books featuring the characters Guri and Gura, who are two little mice. I had to come out on cue and give Guri & Gura a “Christmas Cake” and then put on my scarf, hat and shoes and wave goodbye. Gasps and applause at some of the schools - then the encore of giving presents and answering questions as if I’m Santa. Of course the questions were in Japanese, but I did my best, making up stuff as I went along if I didn’t know. Many Japanese think Santa is from Finland, so I said I lived in the North Pole, which is just above Finland. And one school had me read a children’s book aloud while the Japanese teacher read the Japanese translation. Funny thing was that the book was about Father Christmas, which is what they call Santa in England. So the book was full of British expressions and slang, and I read my part in my best English accent, but I think it was all lost on the 3rd and 4th graders who were listening since they mostly paid attention to the translation. My costume got better as the week went on as well, so I wasn’t as worried about my pants falling down. It was really fun overall, and I should have even more fun doing it next year now that I know what to expect.

I went to three parties over the weekend of the 17th to the 20th. The first one was Friday night - the bonenkai (year-end party) for my BoE, but I’m gonna post about that separately as that’s where I got my new digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix 4100. Then on Sunday I got invited to a local party taking place at the Shimane Winery, which is right by my house. Nice Korean-BBQ style food and some nice people made for a good evening - there was even a small gift exchange where I got a nifty candle holder.
On Monday night I went to a very informal bonenkai for just the 9th grade teachers at my Jr. High. The one 9th grade JTE, who speaks English, wasn’t able to go, so I was left to struggle through with the other seven teachers as we ate nabe style food while sitting on the floor. It was fun and relaxing though and I’m glad I went.

OK - that’s enough for now. I’ll post again soon with details of Xmas week and how I got the nifty digital camera I now use.



Emily Watkins said...

Only $30 to send money home through GoLloyd's? It costs me at least twice as much (it was more, but lately the yen-to-dollar exchange has been better). GoLloyd's takes out almost $20 to start with; then it goes through Wachovia, and finally to HSBC, my US bank.

I think the original Saint Nicholas is from Finland. And the Finns are really serious about it, too: Santa Claus IS from FINLAND.

Emily Watkins said...

Whoops, my bad. The original Saint Nick hailed from what is now modern Turkey. At least, according to Wikipedia:

Which makes me wonder, where do the Finns get off?