Monday, May 30, 2011

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.

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