Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 6 May 31st

This morning, in the light, we discovered, in English, the words “login” and “password” with sets of letters and numbers below each written on the side of the router. All we needed to do was enter them into our computers and we had internet. If it hadn't been dark last night we probably wouldn't have missed that.

We went back to Midori, the appliance store to buy an electric water kettle, rice cooker, and washing machine. Unfortunately they can't deliver the washing machine until June 9th so Craig's working on navigating google maps in Japanese to try to find a near by laundromat to get us by. They don't seem to use dryers here, every balcony either has clothes hanging from it or a set-up to do so. We're wondering if the laundromat will have dryers, it would be weird if it didn't.

We had our very first authentic Japanese Bento boxes for lunch. That whole spread only cost about $12. We thought the salad on the right was vegetarian but those little white bits had eyes so presumably they were fish. The soy sauce came in a little plastic fish shaped container. It was all pretty good. We think there was squid, shrimp, salmon, eel and some other stuff and shrimp tempura and some other stuff. It is a good thing we don't have food allergies because we've probably only known about 70% of what we've eaten since we got here.

Craig had to head back to Port Island so I took the kettle and rice cooker on the bus and managed to hit just about every person on the bus with the boxes when it was my stop – I'm doing a great job representing America.

I am trying to kick it up a notch in the wardrobe department. I am very happy in my sneakers, jeans, t-shirt, and cardigan but all the people here dress up. Of course we are surrounded by universities and there are constantly students walking around. I haven't seen a single woman under 60 in sneakers or any other practical shoes. Black tights or stirrup pants seem to be all the rage. Short skirts are prevalent, with knee high socks too. I figured I'd be taller and rounder than most women but on the street I don't feel taller because I'm in flats and most everyone (including some men) has on heels. The styles also seem to be designed to hide a lack of curves, lots of flow-y tops. If you go to down town the number of people in conservative navy suits is pretty impressive. We read that high school is very stressful and starting a career is stressful so college is when Japanese people cut loose. So, we figure anyone in a school uniform is in high school, navy suit in their late 20's and up, people with practical shoes are senior citizens and the 20 somethings are fashionistas.

Craig found a “koinrandori” laundromat that did have rather expensive dryers to use and yoga studio on the interwebs so we headed back down the hill. After successfully navigating a new part of the our neighborhood we picked a restaurant for dinner. We hadn't seen any with helpful pictures or models so we just picked one that looked good. It turned out to be a place specializing in okonomiyaki, a speciality of Kansai which is the region we're in. It's basically a pancake consisting of cabbage, egg and whatever else you want to add. I picked “tako” squid and Craig picked "buta" at random. Turned out it was something like bacon – he's got skills. They were very good “Oishi deshita” the wait staff always gives me an 'oh that's so cute' smile when I attempt Japanese. The table had a grill on it so they put your food right on it to keep it warm while you're eating it. The other picture is of a bus we passed that was made to look like a dog, the sides even had spots.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 5 May 30th

These are pictures of our view in the morning, after the storm but before things started to clear up. To the north/west is a national park, Craig can run to it in 10min so we're closer to one here than we were in Bozeman, you can see the forested hills in the picture.

To the south east is Osaka and further urban sprawl.

The island with all the cranes is where Craig works, it's called Port Island. You can sort of see them against the clouds; it is out in the water a little ways. With public transportation it only takes him about 1/2 an hour to get to work.

The background of the blog is our view once the sun came out.

Craig headed off to RIKEN this morning with Naoko. She lives in the same apartment complex as we do so they can commute together. I'm at home waiting for our varies deliveries. It is easy to feel like I've accomplished a lot when I've done very little. The internet guy just finished setting up our modem and I feel like I just climbed Everest. First he called to confirm someone was home, I think. I understood “internet” and “today” which he said in English and he understood “anytime” which I said in English, so he showed up about 20min later. I pointed to the room, he got it working and then tried to explain somethings. Between two dictionaries and a sort of English help line through the cable company I was able to figure out that in one week they will mail us our ID and password so we can set-up a J Com email address. I also figured out that we need to provide the LAN cable so I currently have a working modem but no way to hook it up to my computer – so close yet so far. I didn't even think to pack one. I called Craig and asked him to buy one on his way home. In doing this we discovered that he listed my phone number on all of his RIKEN paperwork because our numbers only vary by one digit and he got it backwards. We have cell phones that have English interfaces but not really. If you want to add someone to contacts you “register” them and further instruction is in Japanese, so are the buttons on the phone and they are too small for a helpful cartoon. We figured out how to call each other but still don't know how to text or see texts that have been sent to us.

I managed through two more phone calls from delivery men and received out refrigerator etc. I met Craig at the train station at the bottom of the hill and we tried finding some more restaurants. We ended up back at the noodle bar. We are literally across the street from Kobe University and just 5min from Kobe Women's University so you'd think there would be a stretch of road with bunches of cheap restaurants and other college-y type things but we haven't found it yet. We managed to tell the woman at the noodle bar what we wanted instead of having her come outside with us so we could point at the picture. We also tried grocery shopping. From what we can tell grocery stores are just grocery stores, no cosmetics, cleaning supplies etc. Eventually we will have to figure out were to buy that kind of stuff. They had bento boxes of sushi for what seemed to be reasonable prices, little containers of fried squid, and various other prepared pieces of seafood that all looked delicious. We ended up adding yogurt to our usual list of fruit, juice, and crackers. We will eventually have to go down there with a dictionary since going by appearance is only getting us so far.

Once we got back we decided to set up the wireless router and finally get internet. Well, remember how I said we have one light, it was not in the same room as the internet modem and it is such a pain to hook up we tried doing everything by flashlight. This should have been an easy process but we were tired, working in the dark and translating directions. We could not get it to work and Craig did figure out that the router company does not support English help calls. We decided to go to bed at that point.

Day 4 Sun 29th

I'm surprised by how much I miss Bridget Jones. She was my Sunday afternoon napping buddy. We got up, dressed, and walked to church in moderate rain but we've already bought big umbrellas which are ubiquitous here. We wanted to show up about 10min early so we could get all the handshaking taken care of. Remember how I said we haven't had internet in a while, we were going off of memory for the meeting start time and we were wrong. We got there an hour and 10min early. We just chilled in the chapel for an hour.

It is a very small branch, there are 26 adults and two families are moving in the next month so we're guessing we'll be speaking more than once in the next three years. We had plenty of time to shake hands before the start of the sacrament meeting. Everyone seemed pretty nice, one man knew about the fellowship that Craig has. He said it was very competitive. I think he must of applied too but was rejected (he's doing a post-doc at Kobe University through a different program).

Church is only two hours with sacrament meeting and Sunday school three Sundays a month and then Relief Society/Elders Quorum instead of Sunday school on the fourth. Relief Society/Elders Quorum only meet for a ½ an hour. I think this is because all of the women are involved in primary or young women, I was the only woman in the Sunday school class, so the men must have to take over for a half hour so there are women available for relief society and then they switch back.

Afterwards we figured the ox was in the mire since we don't have a refrigerator or stove and decided to walk towards the commercial district again. We opted for the first restaurant we saw because it was seriously raining by that time. It did not have pictures or models so the waiter/cook (there was only one person working in the entire restaurant) kept running back and forth from the kitchen to show us what we were ordering. Things came out one at a time and there was another family in there so we got to see what was coming a few times. It was pretty good. We had dumplings, fried toast with shrimp pressed into the top, seafood soup, salad, this rice thing that was wrapped in a leaf that we didn't think you were supposed to eat, and pudding that the cook said was onion but either we didn't understand him or he was using the wrong word because it was sweet but not something we could place.

Since things were coming out one at a time and we didn't really know what we ordered, we figured the meal was over with the pudding but the other family also had pudding but then he brought them out noodles and something in a big pot so we didn't know for sure. We also figured he'd bring us the check when it was done. We were wrong. Everywhere else we had to pay first or the waiter brought us the check except the one place where the end of the meal was ambiguous. The other family must have ordered something that had more food. We sat there for over a half hour before we decided to ask for the check – not too bright.

We'd heard from Naoko on Friday that Kobe was expecting weather from a typhoon further south and today we got it. It was raining and so windy we couldn't use our umbrellas. We thought there was a bus stop pretty close but there wasn't and we ended up walking home because we never saw a bus anyway and didn't want to just stand at an uncovered bus stop. We were quite the sight when we got home, the wind was so strong at times it literally slowed us down. From inside the apartment it is still pretty loud and we can't see downtown through the rain.

Day 3 Sat 28th

We woke up early again and decided to take a walk and find the chapel in preparation for Sunday. The walk to the chapel is straight downhill and the walk back is straight up. We needed to be back to the apartment by 9am in order to meet the mailman with our packages. We wanted to time ourselves so I wore my watch. It took us about 20minutes to find it. We passed a bunch of kids in uniforms presumably going to school on Saturday morning – I guess they don't do Saturday morning cartoons here. We figured it would take longer to climb back home and realized it was already 8:35am and really didn't want to miss the mailman so we booked it up the hill. We get home and Craig looks at his cell phone and we discover it is 8am, not 9am. I screwed up the time when I changed my watch – oops.

When a Japanese apartment is unfurnished it is unfurnished. There is no refrigerator, stove top, heater, or light fixtures. Since its pretty warm out we don't need a heater but Naoko gave us one to use that another foreign post-doc had left behind and a light fixture so we aren't in the dark when the sun goes down. However, we don't have anything to store perishable food in or a way to cook anything. So Saturday, after all of our packages arrived – yay!!! thank you Wendy! - we headed out to Nitori and Midori, a furniture and appliance store Naoko recommended and gave us directions to. We asked her about second hand stores but that doesn't seem to be a thing here, neither are internet cafes from what we've seen/understood so we haven't had internet since the first night at the hotel. They were actually rather unoffensive stores except Midori was pretty warm. Delivery is pretty common since so many people use buses and Naoko was smart enough to tell us to bring a typed copy of our address in Japanese characters so we just said please “kudasi” while holding the pen out to the sales people so they could fill out the appropriate information. We got a refrigerator, low table and cushions, and closet organizers because we have a bunch of space but it doesn't have a rod to hang clothes from and the shelves are so far apart it doesn't make since to just pile clothes. One thing that didn't go too well when communicating with hand gestures was setting up delivery for the refrigerator. The sales man kept gesturing towards us and then to himself and we thought he was asking if someone would be there to accept the delivery. We kept saying yes “hai” and pointing to me. He'd laugh and say no “Iie.” Eventually Craig heard the word for old and figured out he was asking if we had an old refrigerator that had to be taken away. No wonder he was laughing since I am not an old refrigerator that we want removed.

We didn't realize how much we'd have to pay for right away and don't want to use up all our yen before we've got more in the Japanese bank account. We can use our US credit card but there are apparently big processing fees and we'd like to avoid those. Naoko lent us a futon so we aren't sleeping on the floor so that wasn't urgent, so we didn't get too much stuff and we'll be sitting on the floor for some time to come. We also bought some food but, since we don't have the refrigerator or gas stove top yet and aren't exactly sure what things are, we've been limited to fruit, crackers, and baked goods. We got a green tea and black soy bean roll for tomorrow's breakfast hoping it isn't a super sweet dessert pastry but who knows. We've also been buying juice that has little drawings of all the fruits and veggies in it so we do know what we're drinking. After getting home with the groceries we decided to walk down to the nearest train station to see what restaurants were around. We found a noodle bar with pictures, bought some more organizer thingies at the 100 yen (dollar) store and headed back home to bed.

Day 2 Fri 27th

Thanks to jet-lag and going to bed at 7pm we were wide awake by 4:30am. We got cleaned up and decided to go for a walk to stretch everything out. If you remember, I had lugged around a bunch of stuff the day before, and had on a backpack and an over the shoulder laptop bag. Well, the next morning I discovered that the strap for the laptop case had rubbed a section of my neck and it was all irritated. It looked like a giant hickey. I wore a collared shirt but it was still visible. We took photos for our foreign resident registration cards and it was visible, so my official Japanese photo, besides looking tired and wilted because of the major humidity, features a big red splotch on my neck.

After our walk we enjoyed a complimentary breakfast of scrambled eggs, swedish meatballs, broccoli/tomato salad, and rice porridge with mix-ins of seaweed, we think dried slightly salty fruit, sesame seeds, some kind of pickled vegetable or crunchy fried noodle things. We checked out and waited for Naoko and the realtor in the lobby while listening to the Aladdin sound track. So far all the stores and restaurants we've been in have either played Disney music, classical, muzak or Celine Dion. It took two little Japanese cars to fit us, them and our luggage but by 11:30am we were in our apartment. Right now, since we have no furniture, it seems very spacious.

Of course there was no rest for the wicked and we left with Naoko immediately to go register for our ID cards. We took the bus, there is a stop 2 minutes from our apartment and it is 200 yen to go anywhere. 200 yen is a little more than $2 so it isn't super cheap for short rides but nice if you have to cross town. Oppressive and claustrophobic government offices must be universal because it was probably a good 10 – 15 degrees hotter in the office, we pulled out ticket 1 to be served but still sat around for 15 minutes before someone shuffled over to our counter, and then the older man moved at a snails pace. Once we got all the forms filled out we had to come back in an hour to receive the temporary certificate which we can use to get the actual IDs in about 3 weeks.

We grabbed lunch and although we told Naoko we were up for anything, I don't think she believed us because she's worked with foreigners who have told her they won't eat anything raw etc. Craig tried nato (fermented soybean goo) over cold noodles, I had soba (buckwheat) noodles with eel. After lunch we picked up our certificates, grabbed some maps and now took the train to downtown Kobe and Citibank. The woman there tried talking to us in English but it was really good that Naoko was with us. It took an hour for us to get an account set-up – we didn't have a phone number yet, the whole idea of a joint account warranted an exchange in Japanese, and then when the woman saw that my name was different from Craig's she needed to check with her supervisor, but in the end we got our bank account.

Naoko had scheduled the gas man to come by between 3-5pm to turn everything on so we'd have hot water and heat, which meant we had to be home by 3pm. Since the bank stuff was taking so long Naoko decided to leave us there and head back to the apartment. She told us the train, train stop, bus and bus stop we needed to get home and we were supposed to meet her once the bank stuff finished up. We managed to find the Hanshin train, bought tickets and were trying to find the right platform when we decided to ask an employee for help. It consisted of “Rokko?” while holding up our tickets and looking perplexed. We got an “Iie” which means no and he pointed to the exit and said “Hankyu” which was the train we were supposed to be on. Naoko had said take the Hankyu not the Hanshin train and we had gotten it backwards. Well, we'd already used our tickets to get on the platforms and you have to use them to exit too, so we walked to the turnstile, put in our tickets and got an anger flashing light and it wouldn't let us through. Thank goodness a guy passing took pity on us. He was very nice but one front tooth, the one next to it and then the canine were this weird red like he'd had ketchup but they were really uniform, it was a bit off-putting but he knew enough English to understand that we needed Hankyu not Hanshin and I was ready to give him a hug. He took us to a help office where they refunded us our ticket money and let us walk through actual doors to get out of the platform area. Hankyu is literally across the street from Hanshin and this guy walked us right up to the correct ticket counter. We got off at the right station, got on the right bus and made it home – a real victory for not having been in Japan for 24hrs yet, in my opinion. It was about 3:45ish by then and we were both feeling rather tired but the gas guy had come and gone and Naoko was on a mission.

We turned right around, got back on the bus and then train and went right back to the downtown area so we could get cell phones. Craig and I are not shopping people and – let's be honest here – not people people either and that cell phone shop would have been hellish if we weren't tired and overwhelmed already so just guess how much fun it was. A bunch of competing companies share one location, each with their own aisle of phones, sales people dressed in different styles so you know who is working for which company, and then there are little desk areas around the edge of the room for each company for people to sign up for contracts. There is a lot of competition happening in a pretty small area so the sales people were shouting something ALL of the time, each desk area is blaring their own commercials all of the time, muzak is making sure there is no lull in the noise and then there are crowds of people walking through. The process seemed more complicated than the bank or foreigner registration office but we got through. Then Naoko wanted to get some coffee and explain the internet situation to us. She took us to a four story McDonald's! We traveled all the way to Japan and found ourselves in a McDonald's on a Friday night! She drank some coffee, explained when the internet people are coming and then left us again in the middle of a ginormous shopping center in the middle of downtown Kobe.

We decided to get dinner before heading home. Our strategy was to find someplace with either pictures on the menu or little plastic models, they seem pretty common here. One interesting thing was that our table had a call button which we eventually figured out we needed to push before the waitress would even take our order. One theme has been picking a restaurant, figuring out what we want and then figuring out how we go about communicating that information to a waitress. I don't mean the language barrier, but using a call button or, in one place you use a vending machine to order and pay and then it prints out a ticket you take to your table to give the waitress.

After dinner we were wiped but managed to make it home all by ourselves. At this point I wanted to take a quick shower and go to sleep. First, I used the bathroom and right next to the toilet paper holder there is a button and I absent mindedly pushed that instead of the button on the toilet. We have this phone with a bunch of buttons in the living room that Naoko didn't explain to us and it started speaking to us in rather urgent sounding Japanese after I pushed the button in the bathroom. We had no idea what was happening and Craig just started pushing buttons. The thing started to flash red and make a siren sound, we thought the cops were going to show up. Eventually we got it to be quiet and figured out that we had to push the bathroom button again to get it to stop – all I wanted to do was take a shower and go to bed and we were nervous we'd contacted the cops or fire company or something, but no one showed up.

sort of Day 1 Thurs May 26th

We got off the plane at about 3pm Osaka time after traveling for roughly 24hrs. During the flight from San Francisco to Osaka I watched The Fighter, No Strings Attached, and The Mechanic. Bale totally deserved the Oscar, I'm glad I didn't pay to watch No Strings Attached, and, while The Mechanic failed the Bechdel test it was decently entertaining and I would have watched it a second time rather than sitting through No Strings Attached once.

What's the point of all this? I didn't sleep an awful lot during those 24hrs of travel which makes my first mistake in Japan a little more acceptable, in my opinion. Once we got off the plane we stopped at some restrooms to brush our teeth before meeting Naoko, the woman from Craig's work whose job it is to help foreign staff get set up. I walk into the bathroom, put some tooth paste on my tooth brush, ran it under the sink faucet that works on a sensor and started brushing my teeth. It took me a couple of seconds to notice but I totally put soap on my toothbrush. Yup, it was a soap dispenser not a water faucet and I had a mouth full of soapy-toothpastey-goodness. Of course I spit it out but for the rest of the day I'd suddenly get a soap taste in my mouth. So you don't think I'm a complete idiot, you should know that the soap was centered over and pointing down into the sink and the water was to the side and angled out a little. There was a picture of bubbles of the soap but I was tired.

After that we got our passports/visas checked, picked up our luggage, passed through customs and Naoko was waiting right on the other side of the exit. We took a bus from the Kansai Airport in Osaka to downtown Kobe, about 40mins away, walked the few blocks to the hotel, Naoko helped us check-in, we showered and then went to bed at about 7pm. It took longer than it sounds because we each had on big backpacks and laptop bags and were each pulling two suitcases. We couldn't fit all our bags and ourselves in the hotel elevator. The room was so small that with our luggage and the bed and desk we didn't have room to walk past each other and if we wanted to pass one person would have to walk on the bed. I should have taken a picture but my motor skills were greatly compromised and I don't think I could have worked the zipper on the camera bag let alone used the equipment.

Before going to bed we did check out the TV. We scanned the channels and think we saw baseball, news, shopping network and maybe a game show. We watched the news for a little while and figured out the weather, they used the numbers we recognize, not kanji, so the temperature is easy. The biggest story, as far as we could tell, was someone stole a donation box from a store counter, one of those plastic boxes with a slit on top for you to drop some cash in. We figured this out because there was a computer simulation of a person grabbing the box, running to an elevator, emptying the box of money while inside and then leaving the box behind. They other top story involved people trying to guide ducks back into some water. There didn't seem to be “Dirty Dining” segments or serious crimes to report on. We read in a guide book that if one of the bullet trains is running a few minutes behind schedule it will make the news, so the news doesn't seem to be designed to keep people scared and docile.