Archive for December, 2010

If you live in Japan, your Christmas packages might have been delivered by this type of Japan Post delivery motorcycle. These are the standard delivery vehicles for mail and small packages, thousands of which crisscross the country daily.

I spotted this Japan Post Honda Cub outside EPIC, the Ehime Prefectural International Center, idling where the driver left it to go inside for a delivery.

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Yuko and I just had a great Christmas Eve dinner. Christmas Eve is a big date night in Japan, even more so than Valentine’s Day as the occasion for a romantic evening.

I didn’t get the memo until it was almost too late, literally only a few days ago. By that time, it was too late to be sly about figuring out where she wanted to go and making a reservation. We ended up eating in a Japanese restaurant on top of the tallest department store in town, after I made a deal with Yuko that if she made a reservation anywhere she wanted, I’d pay for dinner.

After dinner, we went to “Betty Crocker’s,” a dessert cafe near the center of town, where they happened to have a live jazz duet performing jazz standards and jazzed up Christmas tunes. I was a little disappointed the staff wouldn’t let us sit closer because those tables were for larger parties, but I understood.

It was nice to relax in the ambiance the live music created, and if I go back it will be for the music, certainly not the paltry selection of sweets and basic coffee and teas they have.

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This is my old apartment in Kuwabara. It’s owned by ALS Matsuyama, my former employer, so when I left the company I had to move out.

It’s not a bad place, cozy-small, but the kitchenette was hard to work with sometimes. There was only one electric burner, built into the counter next to a sink smaller than most bar sinks, and the fridge and microwave were both dorm-sized.

I salvaged an unused plastic filing cabinet from work to use as a makeshift pantry because there simply wasn’t any suitable space otherwise.

The apartment was definitely built for a single person to live in, though at one point I had a 30-something couple and their infant living next door. I always wondered (a, how they kept the kid quiet at all times and b,) how they managed to keep from killing each other in such a small space. Maybe that’s why they moved out.

If you look closely, you can see four of my five bins for sorting refuse. If you look REALLY closely, you can see that the stereo has a front-loading slot for MiniDiscs.

If you’re interested, here’s a slideshow of the rest of the apartment:
http://www.davidhed.com/blog/2010/12/23/kuwabara-apartment/

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Bloody SinkToday, while walking back from the park with my class of five and six year old kids, I witnessed one of them take an elbow to the nose hard enough to cause blood to start pouring out of both nostrils at an alarming rate.

Our school is situated in a very sleepy residential neighborhood, with a convenient local park just a couple small blocks away. Every day we can, the two bilingual classes at MSP walk the three or four minutes to play for about half an hour at the park. It’s also a convenient time to teach the kids how to safely cross the road, and we practice at the small intersections along the way.

We have a chant that goes “Look to the right, look to the left, look to the right again. Are there any cars? No there aren’t, put your hand up.” The kids put hands to brow like they’re peering off into the distance, and swivel around to look in the direction they’re mentioning.

Well today, one pair of energetic boys was standing a bit too close to one another, and when it came time to “look to the left,” the left elbow of the boy in front caught the nose of the boy behind him with enough force to make a lovely squishing sound, like someone had just stepped on a wet sponge.

His immediate reaction was remarkable, face contorted like he’d just smelled the awfulest stink he never thought possible, followed immediately by two matching rivulets of blood running down his face, while the rest of the class quickly huddled around him.

To his credit, there were no real waterworks, replaced instead with almost a sense of embarrassment at having everyone looking at him while he bled out. I walked the class the last block back to school while my assistant helped him apply wads of tissue to his face.

That was about 11:30am. As we were getting ready to go home today at 2:30, I checked the tissue plug we’d left in his nostril to staunch the flow that hadn’t stopped before lunch.

You guessed it; still bleeding.

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Japan has hot drink vending machines (think cans of hot coffee), which is neat but unsurprising at this point. I think this is the only dual-temperature vending machine I’ve spotted so far, though.

The drinks above the red line are hot, and the drinks below the blue line are cold. In the winter here, you can easily find hot tea in plastic bottles, as well as the aforementioned hot canned coffee.

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I took this picture at a small neighborhood market near my apartment.

I took this picture at a small neighborhood market near my apartment.

In Japan, eggs aren’t sold by the dozen, they’re sold in packs of ten.

They’re sometimes even sold in packs of four, though mainly at convenience stores. Also at many convenience stores, you can buy just one hard-boiled egg.

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Matsuyama’s sister city in the US is Sacramento. It’s not a huge deal here, but most people know it because there’s a street named after Sacramento, and there’s a big plaque (albeit somewhat washed out now) in front of the main post office announcing that its sister post office is in Sacramento.

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I don’t even know what to say to this, really. Other than intentionally choosing a name that would drive away English-speaking customers, the only possible explanation for this shoe’s phenomenally bad name is that no one checked what the name actually meant in English.

If you find yourself questioning how a nationwide chain of shoe stores like ABC Mart might do something like that, feel free to browse through Engrish.com a bit.

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Those of you who live in Matsuyama will know that I’m not writing about this season, so I’ll start by saying that I took this picture last year.

This was at the height of water shortage fears, with rolling water shutoffs scheduled to start in only a few days’ time. I took this picture in a convenience store near my apartment, where they were selling these twenty liter water tanks (empty) and two liter water bottles (full) at a brisk pace.

This scene really struck me because Matsuyama is not a dry place. We regularly get rain here, and as a result things just grow out of the ground on their own. This is an astonishing fact for someone from Las Vegas, where everything not made of stone needs artificial irrigation. We’ve quite literally made an art form out of low/zero water use landscaping, called xeriscaping.

The thing is, Matsuyama city draws its water from a nearby dammed river storing rainfall, and if the rainfall level stays below the consumption level for long enough, the city just shuts off water, like rolling blackouts in times of power shortages.

Contrast this with the seemingly-interminable hemming and hawing over water controls we’ve had in Las Vegas since I moved there in the early eighties, while Lake Mead drops lower and lower every year. There’s never been enough water to support the population and growth rate, and yet we now have about two dozen full size golf courses.

If water in Las Vegas were priced according to its scarcity and replacability, no one would be able to live there. If, however, they just raised the price of tapwater a few percent, people might think twice about running the tap while they brush their teeth.

Anyway, to bring it back around, I’m occasionally startled by the clarity and efficiency of things in Japan. Enough so to share it with y’all.

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I found this live goldfish “UFO Catcher” (“Crane game” / “Claw catcher” whatever you want to call it) in an arcade here in Matsuyama.

You catch the fish using slotted plastic scoops attached to what looks like a normal claw. If you get one, the fish drops into a lower collection pool where an attendant scoops it up and puts it in a plastic bag for you to take home.

“UFO Catcher”s (as they’re universally known here) are supremely popular, second only to purikura photo booths in number. In fact, there are businesses that simply contain large numbers of these machines, and seem to be doing fine.

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