Halloween!

I had great plans for Halloween this year yet I did not expect to find myself in Japan. I have not found a costume store, nor a supply store, nor any place that sells anything for Halloween. Plus, my new found friends are more focused on getting ahead at work or to go on a trip than celebrate Halloween.

So perhaps next year will be a big celebration (although it is hard to top being Santa with two elves, a few gifts, a Christmas tree, Mrs Claus and a reindeer).

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The Curious Case of the Pigeon Toed Girls

I saw a sun dog today riding the bus back home. It made me smile and think back to the last time I saw one – over eight years ago.

A girlfriend of one of the teachers at TIS made a comment about how Japanese young women walk about and stand pigeon toed. I didn’t think much of it at the time (I had just arrived in Japan) but today almost all of the women that I saw were standing or walking like that.

It all started when I got off the bus in front of Sendai City Hall and walked over to the open air mall. When I was standing waiting for the light to change I looked down at my feet and noticed this girl wearing a very short skirt, stockings and furry uggs standing there pigeon toed. Then she crossed the street walking the same way. I’m sure I stood there dumbstruck for a moment making a weird face before I crossed the street.

Then when I was at Kaldi (a foreign food store) looking to buy espresso (although the sea urchin cream pasta sauce caught my eye) when this lady in heels saunters by all pigeon toed-like.

From that point on, I was hooked. I spotted another 22 women walking pigeon toed in two hours of which a good chunk of it was sitting sipping tea and writing out letters and post cards.

Next step will be to take some pictures of this phenomena and get some video footage up for you.

Abandonment

So I’m riding the bus downtown and I’m thinking / debating how to best go about learning Japanese culture when I realized that I have a very western, masculine and middle class way of looking at the world. Now, I’ve come to this realization before while traveling or when forced to debate certain topics, but I took this eureka moment to the next level when it dawned on me that I would have to totally abandon this outlook in order to gain a deep understanding of Japanese culture.

The question now becomes how does one go about selecting, refining and discarding assumptions and viewpoints that I’ve carried for most of my adult life? This is a question that I now wrestle with in my spare moments. This may also be something that many new immigrants to Canada must grapple with and either choose to integrate or to only associate with people with similar backgrounds. While I would love to live in a little bubble, it would defeat my purpose of being here. If you have any input on this, please share.

Last night over sushi there was a discussion at our table over corporate greed and the lack of ethics with businesses. I bit my tongue hard when the discussion turned towards how all companies care about is their shareholders and earning a return on their investment. Of course they do!

Delicious!
Not delicious and slimey

The second batch of post cards are heading out this weekend. My hand hurts from writing although I’m getting better at not smudging the writing (damn left hand writing). I’m looking forward to the weekend and the return of amazing weather.

Overflowing Box Saki (2 glasses)

Japanese Lessons

Today I made the trip downtown to register for free Japanese lessons from the Sendai International Center.  Not only do they find someone who is local to teach Japanese but the price is right – free! (Ok, the books cost money, but the ongoing lessons are free).  I can’t wait to start, but I’ve been warned by other gaijin (foreigners) that it can take a while before getting started.

This brings me to two items that I would like to experience before I leave Japan – sumo wrestling and geisha.  It is easy enough to ask a local about sumo wrestling, but it is decidingly more difficult to ask about finding a geisha (especially in conservative Sendai) and any protocols to abide by.  I’ve discovered that Japanese people love their unwritten rules when it comes to a variety of different situations from the mundane to the complex.

For example, when passing a business card you always offer it with two hands and accept it with one hand.  If you fail to take time to review the card before depositing it, kiss that relationship goodbye.  Same thing when getting change back from a store – the paper money is always counted out for you and offered with two hands.

Another example is the greeting you get when you walk into any store.  The employees always call out a greeting (I have yet to get a translation on this) but you should never reply.  Did I mention that this is not just when you walk into the store but from EVERY employee that you walk past?

The third example I can think of is finding places – no street names, just block names.  A great video to explain it.

Tomorrow will be another trip downtown in the afternoon and then out for birthday dinner of sushi.  I’ll be sure to get more pictures of downtown Sendai if the weather stays sunny.

Fitness

One of the biggest concerns that I have right now is keeping fit.  This week I have been running everyday for 30-60 minutes depending on how I feel, but once the snow starts to fly I need to find something that I can do daily for one to two hours a day.

The local gyms are small and overpriced ($70-100 / month).  Many of them lack basic facilities that you would find in North America and those that do are not easily accessible from my apartment.  As well, many of the ice rinks and ski hills are on the outskirts of the city or a 30 minute drive (almost 2 hour bus ride) outside of the city.

I have yet to find any sort of yoga or pilates studios in the city.  That being said I do not know what the characters are for yoga in Japanese, so I may be walking beside a studio every day.

There is an indoor tennis and soccer club just down the road, but it is geared mainly towards children and I have yet to see anything in English (which means I have to get someone who speaks Japanese fluently to go and help get registered).

Which brings me to another point – I have yet to find an easy to understand book on basic Japanese phrases that is relevant to everday living.  I’ve found lots of books that focus on picking up people at bars and making sure that they are not a prostitute, and other absurdities, but nothing on the basics of daily living.

I think I’ll focus on getting some sort of Japanese lessons first and worry about winter fitness when the snow starts to fall.

I don't have to be able to read Japanese to understand this sign.

Matsushima Bay

Photos of the trip

I love day trips!  A quick train ride from Sendai Railway Station to Matsushimakaigan (aka Matsushima Bay) and you arrive in a seaside town that looks out to 200 small islands.  Known as one of the most scenic places in Japan and with some of the best sea food in Japan, I loved this place.   The weather could have been a little better, but the atmosphere and people were amazing.  Like most tourist towns it is crowded and noisy along the main strip, but once your got off the beaten path you could find some real treasures (a large koi pond, a 700 year old fern tree, Atago shrine, and the observation tower).

Koi pond video

There were a few “not to miss” items like Buddhist deities carved directly into the rock, stone tablets engraved with poems written by Basho and Sora, and the monument of Raiken (Buddhist monk who chose the island of Oshima for his ascetic training and did not leave the small island for 22 years).

If I was to head back to Matsushima again I would make more of an effort to eat more of the local food and pay the money to go into the museums and temples.

Fall Festival (update)

All I can say is “wow, what an experience!”

The Fall Festival is a fundraiser for the Tohoku International School and it is one of the few events in the suburb of Izumi that has a lot of the local residents coming out in support of the school.

A number of the teachers dressed up in Halloween costumes and there were displays and games inside and outside around the school.  A number of parents of the students ran games and booths offering food from around the world.  There was also a haunted house run by the high school students, a disco, limbo, trick or treating, and a number of presentations including taiko drumming.

Photos from the Fall Festival.

Videos of the taiko drumming – video 1, video 2, video 3.