Sorry for the belabored titled. But it's true! There's probably tons more that I left out but those seem to be the most salient points. So, I'll do my best to recap the events in as orderly (and chronologically) a fashion as I can muster.
A few weeks back we spent some time walking around Jusco, which is the big AEON (department store), located in Yonago. I've probably mentioned that before, but I'll throw it out there again just as a refresher and to make sure everyone's caught up. We met up with another ALT named Alex and spent the day shopping around, but mostly picking up things that we needed for our respective places. We stopped at an arcade midway through our day and it was intense. I wish I was a kid here. Back at home we had crappy places like Nickel Nickel, or Nickel City. The idea was on par with 99 cent stores, except for arcades. Everything costs a nickel, or so it seems at first. Much as The Dollar Tree, or 99 cents stores would lead you to believe, most things are a dollar, or 99 cents, but many others simply end in the 99 cents or are close to some kind of dollar amount. As such, DDR (which I played the hell of out when I was young) cost FIVE nickels. ONLY FIVE!?! Little we we realize that was still a quarter, and thus there was no discount. But getting back on topic, the places were mostly run down, poorly maintained, and the selection of games was usually dismal at best. The types of games we saw kids playing with at this department store completely blew me away. I even managed to sneak a quick video of a horse betting game, which I so desperately wanted to play. Check it out right here. On that same day I managed to buy about four button up shirts very cheap. They're very thin as well, which helps when the heat picks up. I also couldn't pass up on a T-shirt with some fantastic Engrish on it. "Brainery The Blinding Fruitage". How can you not buy that for 4 dollars?
Gachaphon (Capsule Toys) are also something that is way more intense over here. You can easily lose a couple of bucks maybe even 10-20 dollars if you're not careful while browsing them. What makes them so dangerous is that the prizes inside them are way cooler than anything you'd find inside the capsule machines we have in the states. Make no mistake, none of the prizes are any bit more useful than a sun-roof on an motorcycle, but they're so cool, unlike the aforementioned sun-roof, which is just silly, really. The other danger factor is that they cost more than you think. The most basic ones start at 100 yen, moving to 200 yen, and the more extravagant costing as much as 300 yen. After a while, 100 yen starts to feel like a quarter because of the seemingly harmless nature implied by a multitude of cultural factors, mixed with my own American prejudices about money. As of this writing 1 dollar is roughly 78 yen, so 100 yen is well more than a dollar, naturally (~$1.28 right now). There is a fairly small sized coin for 100 yen over here, smaller than a quarter, thinner than a nickel, and since we don't generally carry 1 dollar coins in American, the next best value 100 yen starts to feel like is a quarter. Despite there being a 50 yen coin, and even a 10 yen coin, only the 100 feels remotely as a quarter would in your hand. The 10 yen is bronze and large, and the 50 yen has a hole punched in it. As such, they immediately come off as being foreign. This is why those machines are dangerous. When one feels as though they're only spending maybe a dollar or two, they might actually have spent as much as 10 on these fascinating little toys. All of which is to say be careful...but I needed that Miniature Light-Up Han Solo Blaster Replica!
On September 16th, my family facetimed me from my grandma's house, and it was the first time many of my extended relatives had a chance to see or talk to me, since I had left. I really enjoyed speaking with all of them, and catching up, showing them around this place, and talking about what Japan is like. My brother was able to show off his tattoo to me, which I liked. It runs down the length of his bicep to forearm, and depicts an octopus entangled with a man in a standard diving suit, pulling him under the water. Very cool. My grandma however, had not seen it before when he was showing it off to me, and her expression was priceless when she saw it. She wasn't upset, just more of a, "oh god, what is THAT!" face. Halfway through there was a huge mosquito-like bug that flew into the house while I was feeding the fish. It was huge. I swear. It's a good thing we bought a fly swatter at the Hyakin -> Hyakuen -> Hundren Yen -> Dollar Store that one time. It was funny because we had no idea what it was called and we had to describe it in a way that probably made us sound like kids. But we got one!
While walking home one day from the convenience store, we managed to catch a frog! His name is Mr. Frog, and he lives in a the brand spanking new tank we bought at the Hyakin, for 550 yen. We've been putting sticks we find in it to make it more hospitable for him. At night I go out to catch flies that hover around the nearby vending machine with tape that has been fixed to a paper towel roll. Works pretty well, I pluck them off and drop them in, he eats happily and all is well.
My nephew's first birthday came to pass on the 19th of September! Congratulations Rocco! He made his first few steps with me, while I was watching him before I left for Japan, and I was proud of him. It was very cool to be able to see something like that. He managed to fully walk on his own like a pro before his birthday too, which also made me proud and happy. Way to go buddy! I was able to facetime and be there for the whole happy birthday song, the presents and of course, the birthday tears!
One of the days that we visited Keiko-san for a bit, we got onto the topic of Fugu and it's poisonous nature, which was famously depicted in a classic Simpsons episode. We asked about whether it was really THAT poisonous and if people even died from it, because when you don't know, you just don't know. She concurred that it's very poisonous and that you'd probably die in a few minutes if you ate the bad part. Fortunately not that many people do, since to order it, you'd have to go to a very fancy restaurant where the staff is highly trained at preparing the fish. Furthermore, the poison sacs are located away from where most of the meat that people would eat is, so that greatly decreases the risk as well. So we probed more as to how many people a year died from the fish. She turned to Jiro-san and they talked back and forth for a bit, before turning back to us and saying that maybe 2 or 3 people a year die from it. I reiterated, "Oh so about 2-3 die from badly prepared Fugu..." and she quickly corrected me. The people who die are most often, if not always, fishermen who catch them on their own wherever they be. I interjected (in Japanese)
Keiko-san: ”そう、そう、できなかった！！！ ”
"Oooh, so it's like... 'I think I can do it...' ". She nodded, made a death animation with her body, and replied, "I couldn't do it!!!"
Amidst all of this we had been working a lot with a small group of students practicing their speech contest performances. I also managed to participate in a lesson at the kindergarten. On September 20th, I sat in on the meeting where the plans for the next day would be discussed. The meeting itself was rather terse, because most of what was going to be done had been laid out well in advance. We spent the next 40 minutes or even hour just talking about ourselves and chatting with the faculty of the kindergarten and the Board of Education Member/ Occasional Kindergarten Helper Kageyama-Sensei. He's a fantastic guy, and I was glad to be able to meet him, as well as the rest of the at the school. The seemed to enjoy that Mitsuko and I spoke as much Japanese as we did, and that we behaved in the manners that we did (very Japanese). After a while you just adopt it, or at least we do. It helps to fit in better. Everyone thinks at first that I'm just from Japan, and the always say that I have a Japanese face. I explain that my grandma is Japanese, my dad is part Japanese, and since I look like him it just skipped over to me. The kindergarten lesson was really fun. We introduced ourselves in Japanese and translated ourselves into English. After giving out little self introductions, they asked us questions and answered back in Japanese. We later learned about some basic body parts and the sang that song, "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" which I never sang in school, to my recollection at least... Good day though, tons of fun, and most of all, I think the kids liked it.
The ability to look like you're from Japan makes a huge difference as to the way you're treated in shops. Not in a bad way, mind you. It's just noticeable in small ways. When we visit shops, sometimes they'll have specials going on, promotions, or maybe something like a point card for frequent buyers. There have been many occasions in which Mitsuko was not offered a point card, while in the same shopping experience I was, to which I declined because I do not live here, yet. On the night of my birthday, I bought a donut for Mitsuko and one for myself to celebrate between ourselves. The lady working there asked me if I had a point card, I said no. She then asked me if I wanted one, and I declined that as well. When Mitsuko bought them last time, she wasn't offered it.
*pat pat* Sorry Mitsuko!
We did a lot of shopping that day. bought ourselves a new floor fan, so as to save money on the air conditioner, which costs a LOT to use. We also bought a really fantastic Canon printer, which I later learned is not even sold in America, meaning that there were no English language manuals or menus on the display. Oh well, we figured it out with a bit of dictionary checking. Later than night (birthday night) we went to Keiko-san and Jiro-san's house. She had prepared a birthday dinner for me, and even bought me a birthday cake! How nice is that? It was a great dinner, fried chicken, shiyobasa (salted mackerel, delicious), various vegetables, fried rice. Good dinner. She even bought me shirts a while back at a store called UNI-QLO, which I know about! They're both graphic Tees, one depicts a famous sake in Japan, and the other has the one and only SUPERMAN on it. Hahaha. That was a surprise. I definitely wasn't expecting it. I've already worn them. I love it. Afterwards we played Mahjong together. I've been slowly learning, and I bought myself a set a while back while at the department store. It's a complicated game, and there's lots to learn, but the core is not so bad to understand I think. Good day, good food, good company, and good night.
The English Speaking Contest.
What more can I say? Our boys did their very best. I'm so proud of them. I saw them getting a bit shaky before they had to perform, and I remembered what it was like to do things like that when I was that young. They deserved to place. Out of the three individual events they competed in, we walked home with no prizes. I think I was more distraught than the boys were. And that's perhaps what made me sad. They were expecting to lose. They don't have any idea how well they did, and because I feel they deserved it, I made my own awards for all their hard work, which I'll give to them tomorrow in person.
Shouta-kun, Sohei-kun, Shunpei-kun, you all did very well. We tried our best, and that's what counts.
Mitsuko and I are very proud of you. To us, you three are all winners.