Archive for the “Matsuyama” Category

This has been around for a while now, but I’m not sure anyone uses it regularly. I started it the first time I needed to see a doctor, using a list I got from MIC. Since then, I’ve added a few places I’ve found (and removed one when it closed). If you find any new places that do speak English or listed places that don’t, email me at David@DavidHed.com.

I even made a permanent home for it here on my blog, up there to the right. Here’s the link if you want to go there directly: http://www.davidhed.com/blog/english-speaking-businesses-in-matsuyama/.


View English-speaking businesses in Matsuyama in a larger map

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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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Do you know how a sumo match works? Basically, the loser is the first one thrown out of the ring or the first one to touch the ground inside the circle with anything other than the soles of his feet. Now imagine for a moment that you’re watching a sumo match; except instead of a pair of 350 lb men, the competitors are 350 lb shrines carried on the shoulders of forty men. Now imagine that there are men standing on top of these shrines taunting the other team as they crash into each other at a full run. Does what you’re imagining look about like this?

This is a picture I took yesterday at the Matsuyama Mikoshi festival, just before impact. A mikoshi is a portable shrine, a spiritual vessel used to carry around the patron god of a normal Shinto shrine once a year when it’s paraded through the streets of the surrounding neighborhood to bring its inhabitants and businesses good luck.
Speaking of good luck, the chosen route for my neighborhood’s shrine took it right past my apartment on Monday night. I took this picture and video leaning out the window by my stove.
They’re louder than I expected, but I still have no idea what they’re saying.
The men’s shrine was followed shortly by these two teams of cute (kawaii!) kids carrying their smaller versions.
 
Surprisingly, they left the shrine in the empty lot next to my apartment overnight before the matches Tuesday morning. Here’s the team about to maneuver the shrine into the place.
 
Here’s the team actually setting it down.
 
And there it sat until morning.
 
So I took some more pictures.
 
Most of the actual matches took place early in the morning on Tuesday. The crowds were thick on every available viewing place.
 
What does it actually look like in action, you ask? Here’s a video I took of an actual bout taking place. You can see the initial charge with the whole team pushing on the backs of the men in front of them, the initial impact when the shrines hit each other, the teams slowly turning while each team is trying to push the other backwards (100 men in a giant disorganized pirouette…), and the shrines and teams pulling apart when the match is over.
 
The winners were happy enough to do some crowdsurfing from the top of their shrine.
 
After the bouts were all over, there was a closing ceremony with all eight of the shrines that were in the day’s competition.
 
There were also some food vendors set up to catch the foot traffic.
 
I bought a frankfurter on a stick and fresh french fries from two of the stands. Then, feeling rather weighed down by the grease, I stopped by a Lawson’s convenience store (it’s so much easier to just say “conbini”) and grabbed an onigiri rice ball and a drinkable carton of active-cultured yogurt. Walking away from the site, I was surprised to see some of the contestants and other event participants leaving in the backs of open-bed trucks.
 
Overall, a highly enjoyable and exciting festival.

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I got my work visa! Technically a status “Change Permit” which changed my “Temporary Visitor” status to that of “Specialist in Humanities”, this little postage stamp-looking thing means I can earn money in Japan. More importantly, it means I can get my Alien Registration card, which I did, post-haste.

Look! My Alien Registration Card! (Neat hologram, eh?) Now I can get health insurance! And a cell phone! And internet service! I signed up for NTT’s ADSL service on Tuesday. I should have it up and running in two weeks, thank the gods!

While I was at the city office, I also registered my hanko. That little rubber stamp I showed you before can now be used as a legal signature here in Japan. Neat, huh? Now if I can only remember where I put it…

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Today was an interesting day for a couple of significant reasons.

I woke up at 5:45 this morning and decided to go for a run. You might not have thought anything of that last sentence, but I haven’t been able to run since I broke my knee last year (exactly one year and one month ago). Last time I tried to run was when I was chasing my beagle Ellie at a dog park a few months ago- I got a few painful steps in before I had to stop. This morning I figured it was about time to try again, so I took a Percocet and aimed for a hillside shrine near my apartment.

I quickly discovered that it was still painful, but not nearly as bad as it had been. What was weird though, was that it felt like my right leg was longer than my left. Each footfall on my left side felt as though I was falling from an inch or two higher than my right leg, and I ended up with a really awkward, off-balance gait. Between the increasing pain and the symmetry weirdness, I changed to a brisk walk after I got to the shrine. (I think I’d like one more session with a physical therapist, just to see what they have to say about my gait issues and what I can do to resolve them. I assume I’ll be able to run again at some point, I just don’t know how to get there.) I spent the next hour or so power-walking up and down the small roads that line the hillside citrus gardens near my house. I didn’t have my camera with me because I was wearing workout clothes, but I want to go back and take pictures of the neat little monorail tractor things they use to get stuff up and down the steep slopes easily.

The other significant thing about today was that it was my first dispatch lesson without Ms. Semba. I handled ringing the appropriate extension and announcing myself from the unattended reception phone. I went through the worksheets and activities without using Japanese (not that my Japanese would really help). I answered questions, and basically just conducted class without relying on Japanese translation or directions. It was a great feeling, like I’d graduated high school or didn’t need a babysitter for the first time or something. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Ms. Semba’s support and the worksheets she made from my lesson plans, a fact of which I’m acutely aware. So it looks like I’ll be running those lessons solo from here on out, a fact which is simultaneously empowering and a little intimidating.

In other news, I found out Japan has Jehovah’s Witnesses when a pair just came calling at my door. Each wore the standard missionary attire- slacks, Oxford shirt, and conservative tie, and carried the same bag full of books ready to hand out to interested parties as you’d expect. The experience was a bit surreal though, kind of like watching a tired old movie for the hundredth time and suddenly discovering that the dialog’s been dubbed into a language you don’t understand. They apologized for not speaking English, and pulled out a book of translations of different languages that all basically said “I’m sorry I don’t speak your language, but if you’d like information on how to improve the world and live in a place without worry or hardship, I’ll be glad to supply you with materials in your language that tell you about Jehovah.”

The only Jehovah’s Witness I’ve ever invited into my home was when my second cousin coincidentally knocked on my door when I lived in Sparks. She and her friend came in, had some ice water, and we chatted for a while, and then they went back out in the heat of the Nevada sun. So I was rather relieved when my two Japanese gentlemen callers pointed to the line about supplying me with more information in English, and said questioningly “No thank you?”

“Yes,” I agreed, “No thank you.”

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Today was another great day. Last night I stayed up to watch “Frantic” on TV and slept in ridiculously late this morning. For the week or so since it opened, I’ve been meaning to get over to the Ehime Museum of Art to see the traveling “Trésors du Musée Fesch; Collections d’œvres italiennes, napoléiennes et impressionistes corses.” I thought I knew exactly where the exhibition was, but first stumbled into a free showing of modern calligraphied Japanese scrolls. (A happy little “I can’t read Japanese” accident.) It was a small show, about the size of the gallery at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, if that helps you. If not, it was a large (~50′ by 30′) room divided into two halves. The scrolls were very artistically painted and displayed, but being almost illiterate in Japanese, the part I found most interesting was the bit at the end where they showed the ink blocks, brushes, stands, and intricate stamps used to make them.

Between the building I found first and the larger exhibition hall with the exhibit that brought me to the museum, there’s this peaceful little earthy courtyard. (Please excuse my multiple-photo attempt to pretend I have a wide angle lens for my camera.) The main hall is an impressive building, with a large (~45 foot tall) lobby that opens onto the first floor’s space for rotating exhibits and the second floor’s permanent exhibition space, and has enough floor space for two separate gift shops. The show that brought me there had lots of Italian and French paintings, with some sculpture thrown in for good measure. As you’d expect of very old French and Italian pieces, the exhibition was probably 90% religious works of art centered around the birth and death of Jesus Christ. There were a few portraits and busts of cardinals and other rich old white guys, a still life or two, and the remainder was dedicated to Napoleon the 1st and his family. Although I didn’t write down any names, I was really impressed by the use of light in some of the paintings, and amazed at the skill used to blend tones to the perfect shade to give the illusion of active light and falling shadow.

Tickets to the rotating exhibit also include access to the permanent exhibit, but I didn’t find it as impressive. It included about as many Japanese scrolls as the first exhibit I saw, but at least this time the placards next to most included printed versions of the text on the scroll, and a few even had brief English translations. Other than the scrolls, they had paintings by Ehime artists and a smattering of modern and classic Japanese sculpture. It was all certainly better than anything I could do, but didn’t really wow me.


(On the left is is a picture I stole from Wikitravel.org of the actual French mansion in Matsuyama, not the model.)
They also had a room with posters of the touring exhibits the museum had hosted, and in the middle of that room were two models. One was of Bansuiso, an anachronistically French romantic-style mansion built in Matsuyama in 1922, and the other was an architectural model of the museum complex itself. I probably wasn’t supposed to take pictures but I figured no one would tackle me, as I was just shooting a model of the museum and not the art on the walls. Anyway, there was no docent in this room to stop me, so on the right is the picture of the model of the museum.


Before I moved to Japan, I thought they only had Japanese toilets in high-traffic public areas, with Western-style toilets everywhere else, but I soon found out that most restrooms have one or two of each type. Please don’t think me weird(er than you already do), but I took a picture to surprise my pre-Japan self. Here’s a snapshot of a very classy bathroom stall in the museum, replete with Japanese-style toilet.

After I left the exhibit halls, I wandered through the gift shops, then hit the museum cafe for a nice lunch of cold soba noodles and tempura. Feeling artistic (and glad I brought my camera for once, even though it was threatening rain), I took a few snapshots that I think came out pretty well.

Here’s a uniquely framed angle of Matsuyama castle. The art museum is built on part of the extended castle grounds inside the moat at the base of the hill crowned by the castle.
You can get a sense of the architectural style of the museum from this shot (mid 1970s?).
On my way home, I stopped to do a little grocery shopping, and took a couple of pictures I’ve been meaning to take. Here’s a mailbox just down the street from my place, still in active service even though it looks like it was plucked from the 1920s. Across the street from the mailbox is some random blue car. Yes, this beast lives within crawling distance of my apartment, and it brightens my day whenever I pass it.
Just a little further away is this seemingly unmodified STi. I feel bad for the car; I’ve never seen it not parked there, and there’s always rust on the brake rotors, which tells me it’s driven rarely, if ever. It’s a sin to let such a fine automobile rot and rust. :-/


I felt positively provincial riding home with my bicycle’s basket full of groceries, especially with a large baguette poking out the top. So of course, I had to take a picture. If I had to name my bicycle, it would be “Rusty.” From this angle you can see the empty enclosure where Rusty’s headlight used to be, my umbrella tucked under the seat, and the collectors’ edition rust-based patina Rusty is developing. I think I’m going to rewrite Adam Sandler’s “Ode to My Car” for my bicycle one of these days. When I do, you’ll be the first to hear about it.

So that was my day. I came home and watched the US women’s volleyball team beat Japan’s in a very close game, then watched Raiders of the Lost Ark on TV while writing this (lots of Harrison Ford movies on TV for the leadup to the release of Crystal Skull). Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get some sleep so I can wake up for my Japanese lesson in the morning.

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I just had a man run his hands through my hair and tell me my hair color was beautiful.

One of the things I worried about when I came to Japan was getting a haircut, because I knew I wouldn’t know enough Japanese by the time I needed one to describe how I wanted it done. I realized it was getting about that time a couple of weeks ago, but wasn’t quite sure how to address it. While procrastinating though, my hair was getting longer, and I was getting more anxious.

Bringing in a picture of a model from a magazine or something just seemed silly, but then someone suggested I bring in a picture of myself with my hair cut the way I like it. I thought that was a smashing good idea, and realized that the head shot I took of myself when I was applying for jobs in Japan was taken right after my last haircut in Vegas.

Ms. Semba magnanimously agreed to let me print a full page of color from the office inkjet, and once I got over the name, I decided to visit the hair salon closest to my apartment. Yes, that would be “Hair Studio Rookie.”

I have never paid more for a haircut than I did for this one- but let me tell you, for the services I got, and not knowing how these things work in Japan, I was literally prepared to pay twice what I did. It was relatively painless showing the guy the picture and getting started. He knew enough English to get through without too much fuss, and actually complimented me on my hair color at one point (hence the lead-in). Rather than writing a paragraph about it, I’ll just give you a bulleted list of the services I received:

  • Shampoo & Condition
  • Scalp massage
  • Facial Mask (with “Bitamin Shee”)
  • Light facial massage
  • Old school shave (involving a hot towel, a boar’s hair brush, & a straight razor)
  • Forehead shave (??) (with slight eyebrow edging)
  • Haircut (obviously)
  • Neck shave (also with the straight razor)
  • Neck, shoulder, and upper back massage with an electric massager
  • Hair rinse (presumably to get rid of the clippings)
  • Style and gel

This was my first shave with a straight razor, and with my head flopped back on the chair, I was seriously hoping the man with the very very sharp knife at my throat was not a fan of Sweeney Todd (or epileptic for that matter). I also found out later that a forehead shave with a straight razor is normal with your haircut in Japan. Does that seem weird to anyone else?

Every time he asked me if I wanted something (I invariably said yes), I wondered how much more I’d have to pay for it. I had almost ¥10,000 (about $100) in my pocket, and was wondering where the closest ATM was in case I needed more. As you’d expect, he was very friendly and personable. Oh, and straight- his wife and their infant were also in the salon. I told him I was a teacher at a nearby English school as his wife was ringing me up, and he apologized for his English. I told him he was far better in English than most of the rest of the city, and he seemed happy.

Keeping in mind that you don’t tip in Japan and that I didn’t need to hit the ATM, how much do you think I paid for the best haircut experience of my life?

Give up?

¥3300 ($33)

Yes, that’s $33. And I got a punch card that earns me a free piece of low-end jewelry of my choice after ten haircuts. Not that I need a gold-plated rope necklace, but still. Can you believe it??

I know where I’ll be going for my haircuts while I’m in Matsuyama. 🙂

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I found out a couple weeks ago that ALS had just penned a deal with a solar cell manufacturer here in Matsuyama to provide English lessons for sixty of its employees. The contract has me there for one two-hour lesson each week, for a succession of three eight week classes, twenty students in each.

That’s all well and good; I have lots of experience teaching larger groups of adults. The problem is that the company doesn’t have any specific goals, and I had just less than two weeks to create the entire course. If you’ll recall, this is my first TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) gig, and I’m just over one month into my actual teaching.

I sat down and wrote an outline of what I thought would be useful for them to know and reduced it by what we (I) couldn’t teach in sixteen hours. Ms. Semba and I sat down and hashed out a thing or two that she wanted to include, then we both sat down with Mr. Teshima, and he added a pinch or two of his own, and I somehow managed to come up with a workable set of lesson plans from everything that we all wanted to see. Let me tell you though, that was a seriously stressful time. Not as stressful as hearing I have a job in Japan if I could pack my entire house and move to a foreign country in a week and a half though, so I figured I could handle it.

Well, the first lesson was this Wednesday, and it went pretty well. Ms. Semba was there with me, and I’m very glad she was. No one there really spoke any English (what were you expecting?), so just getting to the classroom would have been a project, as their reception desk was an unmanned phone and a list of extensions (in Japanese). Also, she planned an exercise that we ended up using because they whipped through the material I had prepared faster than I thought they would.

The first lesson was good because it helped me figure out their level of English (higher than I thought it would be), and because I got to meet the students, feel out the class, and get an idea of what things will go over well and what won’t. As I’m sure Shannon (and Shannon) will back me up in saying, every classroom is different, and adjusting your plans to the audience is a crucial part of making a good lesson. My lesson plans are basically cave art at this point, scorched sticks crudely scraped on stone, so I need every little boost I can get. I’ve created handouts and set out goals and exercises, but I’m still not sure they should be called “lesson plans.” Ms. Wood tells me that creating lesson plans will soon be second nature, and I hope that’s true, because right now, just thinking about this project causes me stress.

Anyway, I have another meeting today. Wish me luck. 🙂

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Originally written two weeks ago. Sorry for the delay. 🙂


Today was a seriously good day. We had a brief rain in the morning and cloud cover all day, so even with the extra humidity, it was still nice and cool.

50 points if you know why I didn’t wait for the red car to get out of the way before I took this photo. 🙂

While making my shopping list this morning, I got a wild hair and decided I wanted to learn how to cook tempura. So I rode my bicycle down to the co-op, stopping to put on my shoes and grab my unbleached cotton bag on the way out the door. My aunt Julia would be proud. And yes, I’m totally serious; I have a reusable cotton bag that I use when I shop at えひめコープ (literally “Ehime Co-pu,” but they chose their own weirdness and write it “Coop Ehime”), whose 20th use will net me a coupon of indiscernible benefit.

I figured I would find the ingredients while doing my regular semi-daily shopping, but it took me a bit of dedicated searching to find the tempura batter and oil. Then I had to look at the backs of all the bags for the ones that had pictures, and try to piece together the process for making the batter and frying the food from there. That was my hope, anyway.

Here’s my now full refrigerator.

I got back to the house, put away the groceries, and decided to turn right back around and get back on my bike, destination unknown, just to explore while the weather was beautiful. Mindful of the recent adventure I had trying to find my way home, I chose one major road and decided to take it as far as I dared. I took Iyotetsu Road southeast near my place, and just kept riding. Along the way, I passed an indoor ice skating rink with an outdoor waterslide and pool complex, a Mazda dealership, a Nissan Red Stage dealership with a new GT-R in the showroom, and saw a lot of local flavor. The road started petering out after a while, and eventually became what turned out to be a secondary inter-city road. I took it about 13km out of town, to the outskirts of the next town, passing through increasingly light commercial and residential areas which became solitary homes, gardens, rice fields, and streams, and was surprised to see that it intersected with another major road that also runs (relatively) near my place.

There’s a pedestrian crossing bridge over the intersection of Iyotetsu Road and Route 11, about twenty feet above the road surface. I paused with my bike to soak in as much as I could. I really wish I’d had my camera with me, because there’s no way I can describe the beauty of what I saw. I love overcast days with a slight chill in the air, and I may be romanticizing a bit because of it, but the countryside I could see took my breath away. The rice fields are newly sprouting bright green right now, and the sky was this mottled pattern of steel grey and dark backlit blue. I had an interesting vantage of the surrounding fields, organically arranged against the hills and streams, all cut with the rigid lines of the highway, and the businesses popping in single file to line the road and catch traffic as it passed from one town to the other.

Reasonably certain it would get me where I wanted, I took Route 11 back to Matsuyama. Along the way, I found something that made me happy- a Subaru dealership. They were closed because of the string of national holidays called Golden Week, but that just gave me license to wander the lot unmolested. They had a number of interesting models, some modified with aftermarket parts, which you don’t normally see dealers selling in the US. Next door to the Subaru dealership, I discovered something else that got my heart going- a used performance car lot. Absolutely astounded at my luck, I wandered around looking at the Nissan Skylines, Mitsubishi Evolutions, Subaru STIs, Nissan Fairlady Zs, and many other high performance vehicles that have never been sold in the states. Some even had aftermarket parts that looked to be straight off the track, but not in a trashy, “body by Bondo” sort of way- the Japanese know class, and these cars were all put together really well. And I really need to start carrying my camera.

As I got closer to my part of town, I recognized a section of road I traveled while I was lost and had a silent chuckle at myself. I also passed a second Mazda dealership, as well as Daihatsu, Alfa Romeo, and Suzuki (automobiles, not motorcycles) dealerships. I guess Route 11 is something of an automall.

The rest of the ride was uneventful, but when I got back to my apartment, I decided to not even go in this time- I just stayed on my bike and headed off to find a sembe (rice cracker) shop my manager told me about. I didn’t know exactly where it was, but I remembered the general directions she gave me. Her directions put me back on Iyotetsu Road of all places, but I still didn’t find the shop. This time I decided to follow Iyotetsu back to my neighborhood and call it a day.

Now I just had to tackle my dinner project. I won’t make a long story even longer by giving you the play-by-play, but let me say that making tempura is surprisingly easy. It turned out quite well, and here’s a picture to prove it. You can see the shrimp I peeled and deveined myself, with the red and yellow peppers and the asparagus (which I wouldn’t have thought to get but for the picture on the package). It all turned out really well (and with the mixing, prepping, frying, and eating, made a mess that positively consumed the kitchen), but I’ll probably wait a while to make it again. It’s a lot of work, and as light as tempura-fried food is in comparison to say, KFC, it’s still food that sits heavily in the stomach.

All in all, it was an exceedingly satisfying day. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a food coma to sit out while I try to understand the evening news.

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Now that we all know I’m in Matsuyama, perhaps I should talk a little about the area in which I live.

Matsuyama City (松山市) is the largest city on Shikoku, one of the four main islands that make up Japan. Matsuyama is home to Japan’s oldest onsen (hot mineral water spring bath house), and is the birthplace to the poetry form now known as haiku. (Two semi-famous authors were holed up in a shack just out of town, a la Walden, and one started writing in the form while the other was laid up sick.) Matsuyama is also famous for its citrus fruit, which I just found out today is exported all over the world, and the quality of the fish available here. This last bit is great for sushi lovers like myself- you can actually walk into most supermarkets here and buy sashimi-grade fish.

My area of town is Kuwabara. I still haven’t figured out how to search for Japanese addresses using Google, but here’s a map of my neighborhood.

Here’s the post office nearest my apartment.

The Japanese postal addressing system doesn’t use street names and numbers as (the normal parts of) the US does. Cities are broken down into named neighborhoods, which are then broken down into numbered sections, blocks, and buildings. F’r instance, here’s the address of Matsuyama City Hall, from their English web site:

7-2, Nibanchou-4choume, Matsuyama city, Ehime, 〒790-8571 Japan

From widest to narrowest piece, this tells you that it’s in Ehime prefecture, Matsuyama city, Nibanchou neighborhood section 4, block 7, building 2. The T-looking thing (“〒”) is Japan’s postal mark, to identify a postal code. Basically, what all this means is that unless you know a neighborhood, trying to find an address is essentially a fool’s errand. They do try to give you some help by posting nameplates on the blocks and individual buildings, though.

Here is my block’s nameplate posted on someone’s fence near my apartment, and a closeup describing the information it presents. All you have to do to find an address is already know where a neighborhood is, then circle each block in that part of town until you find the nameplate of the block and building you want. Simple, right?

Anyway, the area around my apartment is pretty sweet. There are about a dozen restaurants, ranging from ramen shops to robo-sushi to nice Italian to pizza joints, the hair salon pictured at left, and a dry cleaner in the building next to mine (thankfully, because I don’t have a car to drive my work clothes to and fro). Ten minutes by bike will get you to two department stores, two home improvement stores, half a dozen pachinko parlors, half a dozen supermarkets, a local onsen, two shrines, and two car dealerships.

Fifteen minutes gets you downtown to those shopping arcades I visited right before I got lost (fifteen minutes one way, four hours the other ;-)). Everything you could want to buy is right there, including a really nice shopping mall, a movie theater, and a 10-story ferris wheel on top of a 10-story building.

From the left, there’s a shot of my apartment building (that’s my futon hanging out the window), a shot west along the street, an eastward shot taken from the base of the white pillar visible from the other two shots, and my rustbucket of a bicycle (the closest one in the covered parking area for my apartment and the juku downstairs). I just realized that last picture shows my building’s address plate on the wall below the juku’s mailbox, so there’s another example of that.

There’s always more to say, and I’m probably forgetting something important, so tune in next time for more of the ongoing story.

さよなら,
-David

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