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Unicycling is not an uncommon activity for elementary school children in Japan.

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Here’s what it looks like when they refuse to collect your garbage. It’s often because something is wrong with the way you’ve prepared your recycling, or you’ve put the wrong kind out for that day’s collection (as I believe this person has done); you get a nice little sticker explaining why they didn’t collect it.

This picture was taken before Matsuyama got stricter about plastic collection. You used to be able to put bags of mixed plastic like this out for collection, but now you have to take the labels and caps off PET bottles, and put just the bottles out on another day.

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I mentioned on Facebook last month that it felt odd to not have a passport in my possession because I’d mailed it into the Osaka Consulate for renewal. Well, I’m happy to say I received my new passport book. It’s a bit different than the old one. First of all, they gave me the 52-page passport even though I only asked for the standard 28 pages. I’m guessing that’s because people renewing from outside the country are assumed to have a higher likelihood of filling it up.

Also, I wasn’t sure how they’d handle my valid visa- whether they’d just invalidate it or issue me a new one or what. They ended up just sending both passports back to me, with holes punched in the old one except for the page with my visa, complete with complimentary retro-style hanging chads!
“But David,” you might ask, “haven’t you renewed your passport before now; didn’t you know that you get to keep the old one?”
“No,” I’d answer, “I’ve never renewed my passport before.”
Even though this is now passport number three for me, it’s my first renewal. For an explanation of that math, take a look at this photo of the inside back cover of passport number two:

You can see the holes they punched in my old passport, as well as the new picture they stapled to it. The old one was issued by the Los Angeles Passport Agency, but (presumably because it was issued outside the US) the new one is issued by the United States Department of State, which bestows a benefit of cool +1.

The new passport has an RFID chip in it to enable another layer of authentication. If you look closely, you can see the icon on the front cover. Also, the front and back covers are much stiffer than before- they feel like they have stiff plastic embedded in them, which I guess is to protect the chip from bending and breaking. Aside from the outer cover, the photo and info page has moved from the inside front cover to page three.

The renewal process wasn’t too bad, but had some unusual requirements. You send in a PDF generated by their site after filling out a questionnaire on the State Department web site. The form is, of course, letter-size, but the closest paper size in Japan is A4, so I had to shrink it to print. You also need a money order for $110 denominated in USD- which, surprisingly to me, is available at the post office for the (not very) low cost of $20. They can issue postal money orders denominated in a number of foreign currencies, but the form is very tricky, and they don’t allow mistakes. For instance, there are two fields for address, one associated with your ID, and one with your residence. In my case, my ID shows my old address, so I wrote that in the field for ID, but my actual address in the address section. They made me fill out the form again with matching addresses. >:( Also, the photo size (2″x2″) required isn’t standard here, so I had to print a larger size and trim it down. Sending it in just required a pair of prepaid postal envelopes, which are easy enough to get.

Then it’s just a waiting game. Mine took about two weeks, just like the woman on the phone said it would before I mailed it all in.

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It’s not unusual for me to go a day or two without using “regular” utensils.

We were out shopping a couple days ago and Yuko asked me a question I never imagined I’d hear-
“Do you think we need another fork?”
-and it reminded me that until last weekend we had exactly one fork and exactly one (table) knife.

In our “silverware drawer,” there’s a section for cooking utensils (including two pairs of 30cm chopsticks and standard slotted spoons and whatnot), a section for chopsticks (filled to overflowing, in fact… just counted, eight pairs), and a section for miscellaneous utensils (including a couple muddlers, four full size spoons, a few dessert spoons and dessert forks, and the utensils you see pictured here).

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Yesterday morning, my dog of 14 years finally succumbed to the lymphoma she’d been fighting for almost a year.

As Amanda said, it’s hard to believe we all watched her grow from a tiny little puppy to become an elegant old lady and pass away.

She came to Reno with me when I went to UNR and back to Vegas with me when I returned to UNLV. In 2000, she had a litter of eight puppies and was probably at least a grandmother by now.

Her last few years were spent with my mother while I’ve been here in Japan. Ellie enjoyed how busy my mom’s house is and all the people she got to meet while my mother taught music lessons.

She entertained younger siblings and parents alike, and she helped my mom’s house feel a little less empty after my brother and I both moved out of the country.

She will be sorely missed.

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Here’s a video of me riding my bicycle to work. It’s really not all that exciting, but I wanted to try recording with my friend Tomas’s camera just for kicks. (If you’re interested, it’s the GoPro HD Hero2 with fisheye lens housing mounted loosely to my handlebars using an old flashlight mount.)

It’s “unlisted” on YouTube out of a vague sense of… not privacy concerns per se, but because I’d rather not have directions to my apartment searchable on YouTube, really.

Anyway, it’s only five minutes long, so even though the mount is pretty shaky, you can probably suffer through it. ;-)

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I mentioned Sala Sol once before, but here’s an actual video I took inside the place a few weeks ago.

Between the reality of its small size and the lack of real options in this relatively small city, it’s regularly full to capacity. Sometimes I’m amazed the wait staff can still wade through the crowd.

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Here’s my Thanksgiving day turkey dinner.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that turkey is an uncommon meat here in Japan, let alone whole turkeys. Whole birds are available from a select few mail-order importers, but they run close to $50 each. And that’s assuming you have someplace to cook the thing, as “full size” ovens are also rare.

With the double meat I got, this is easily the most turkey I could get in a reasonable meal.

Oh, also note the wet towelette (御絞り - おしぼり - oshibori) in the plastic wrapper. This is Japan, after all. ;-)

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I present to you: a bag of glucose.

None of that mamby-pamby table sugar here, this is the pure stuff: bane of diabetics and enricher of their doctors, this is pure dextrose, or grape sugar as the bag says.

I found this in a regular supermarket, in the baking aisle as I recall. This 150g bag will set you back a little over $3.

Let’s make our own Pixy Stix!

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Here’s another “Hey, that’s a good idea” moment.

Convenience stores in Japan often sell small buckets already filled with ice, as well as individual plastic cups filled with ice (including lids and straws, if you look carefully).

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