< class="pagetitle">Archive for the “Social Life” Category

AbsintheI had an interesting night last night. A friend of mine was working her last night at the local gaijin bar, so a number of our mutual friends went out to support her. I got there just before her shift started at 10pm, and discovered the the bar had been rented out for a party- a party for middle school kids. And it was apparently still going strong at 10pm.

While we sat talking for a few minutes, I was surprised to notice a bottle of absinthe behind the bar. It was a reasonable Â¥800 (~$8), so I ordered a glass. If you haven’t had absinthe before, it has a very sharp anise flavor, somewhat tempered by the sugar cube with which it’s traditionally served. I like the flavor of black licorice (but not licorice itself- strange, eh?), so I rather enjoyed the flavor, but not so all of my friends to whom I offered a taste.

That very same night, my friend Alex was using his comedic skills to warm a crowd for a local band, so I stopped by there to see how his evening was shaping up. Our conversation turned to our shared Japanese teacher (three of my friends also share the same private teacher as I have), and I learned that she’s been putting out feelers trying to find me a taiko teacher. A while back, she suggested I get involved with a traditional Japanese art. I guess when I replied that I was interested in taiko, she asked Alex’s shamisen teacher to find me a good taiko teacher.

Matsuyama is pretty small, so I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised, but unexpected connections like that still catch me off guard.

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I just got back from an event at the Matsuyama International Center called “Marukajiri, Eat Up! South America.” It was basically a cultural introduction to Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and Peru, at which representatives who live in Matsuyama spoke about their native countries against the backdrop of PowerPoint slide shows of their photos.

I was introduced to Yerba Maté from an actual maté gourd, had some dulce de leche, got to try a Brazilian social dance, and learned about a South American restaurant here in Matsuyama. But perhaps best of all, I made a couple new friends and was invited to play soccer on Sundays and dance salsa once a month at a local pub. Sweet! 😀

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Tonight was a fun night. It started at Katrina’s apartment (where I was quite late due to the fact that I get off work at 9pm and everyone else had been partying for three hours already), then went to a little dive bar with karaoke, then ended at a gaikokujin bar near Okaido.

This may make very little sense to you, and that’s okay, because here are my takeaway lessons:

  1. Japanese bars have the coolest karaoke machines. The tiny place we went had a WiFi remote for their karaoke machine. The remote had a touchscreen that let you search by song name or artist name, and the microphones were also wireless.
  2. As much as I may like (or not like, depending on my mood) my apartment, Katrina’s is better. She has three (albeit smaller) rooms to my one larger one, with a full-size couch (it’s a pullout!) and a regular western-style bed.
  3. Japanese people really know how to cut loose. At Sala Sol (the gaikokujin bar near Okaido), I saw a number of Japanese businessmen that were totally plastered. It was a little surprising, because although I’d heard of the stereotype, I’d only seen Japanese people during the daytime with their professional faces on. I was introduced to a whole new part of town, with a multitude of watering holes and stumbling suits.
  4. I discovered that there really is a foreigner contingent in this town outside of the JET ALTs. In Sala Sol, I met a number of native English speakers who have nothing to do with JET (okay, two, but that’s independently surprising just the same).

Anyway, it was a fun night (morning!). It was my first real night out on the town since coming to Japan, and I was so very glad to have it (even if it did involve fixing Katrina’s computer). 🙂

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Last week I started the “Summer Intensive Japanese Class,” basically a classroom setting for a two week Japanese class with ten lessons, two hours each day. It’s timed each year to be the two weeks immediately after the new crop of JET Programme ALTs arrive, and conveniently provides them with a crash course in survival Japanese if they haven’t any existing skills, or improves their skills if they’ve already started studying the language. As I already have some Japanese under my belt, I’m in level two of five, and the class is perfectly suited to my level. Like me, everyone can read Hiragana and Katakana, and most of us can read a few Kanji.

One of the neat things about meeting all of these new English speakers is that my social circle suddenly doubled in size (at least). Unfortunately, I work in the evenings, when the JET ALTs are getting together and being social, but Sundays are good for everyone.

Well, I started talking to a JET from Britain, and we decided to hang out today, and it turned out to be the best day I’ve had in a while.

The main activity of the day was making Tobeyaki pottery at this place. Tobeyaki is handmade pottery from Tobe, a small town to the south of Matsuyama. It’s something I’ve been interested in doing for a while, and this was a great opportunity to be social and accomplish one of my goals.

Getting down there was pretty easy. Navigating the bus system is relatively straightforward if you’re armed with a list of stops. Even though our list was a little confusing because it didn’t include all of the small neighborhood stops, I still recognized the kanji for Tobe. The bus driver even helped us figure out the closest stop to our destination (a service I wouldn’t expect in the states).

We had a couple hours to kill before our 1:00 appointment, so we ate a fantastic Indian lunch at a tiny restaurant we wandered into. Just walking in the door, I could smell the authenticity, and the food didn’t disappoint. My mutton curry was even appropriately spicy (something I’ve found surprisingly unusual in Japan).

It was the first time Vicky or I had used a pottery wheel, and we were both glad to have aprons.
We both made a few pieces. My plate and tall cup were a bit awkward, but my soy sauce saucer, bowl, and small cup turned out pretty well. The largest piece you make is free, and the rest (that you choose to keep after seeing how your pieces turn out) are ¥200 per 100 grams of clay.
Vicky’s pieces are on the left, mine on the right.

Total cost of the 45-minute session with instructor, and the purchase of my two extra pieces: ¥2800 (~$28.00), which I think is a pretty good deal. Our instructor was a really cool twenty-something Japanese guy who graduated with an art degree from the University of St Cloud in Minnesota (I requested an English-speaking instructor when Ms. Semba helped me make the reservation).

These kids started as we were finishing. (A for effort!) Their mom was shooting up a storm on her digital camera.

You can see their instructor’s grey toe socks in this shot.

Now, they fire the pieces in a slow kiln for four (?) days. We go back in a few weeks to paint the pieces, then they glaze them and they’re ready for pickup after that (or they’ll mail them to you for a small fee).

The bus ride back to Matsuyama was uneventful. We each grabbed a green tea doughnut (an unusual taste to be sure, but quite good if you like matcha) from Mister Donut, and walked over to Starbucks for a chat.

Like I said, the best day I’ve had in a while. =)

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The beer garden evening was a success!

The “beer garden” itself was indoors, a convention room like you’d find in many Vegas hotels. They decorated it with outdoorsy stuff (trellises and greenery) to make you feel like you managed to get into the rooftop beer garden (whose reservation slots are full a month in advance, hence our indoor digs). I was actually kind of glad to be indoors, as the heat and humidity are oppressive right now. There was a tasty buffet with a wide variety of Japanese food (surprise!), a small open bar, a few carnival games with silly little carnival prizes, and a projector set up playing music set to Japanese 80s cartoons (Gundam, anyone?). The atmosphere reminded me of a Japanese take on the Hofbräuhaus. The neatest thing was the automatic beer dispenser, though. You put your glass on the little metal platform, and push a button. The machine then tilts your mug up so the dispenser nozzle almost rests against the inside of the diagonal glass, and dispenses exactly enough beer and foam to almost crest the lip as it lowers the glass. Totally worth the Â¥3000 (~$30.00). 🙂

My Japanese however, was not so good. It’s much easier to compose an email in a foreign language than it is to speak it; I struggled to put about 5% of my speech in Japanese. But I tried, and what I couldn’t express, my Japanese teacher was there to translate. Oh, didn’t I mention that? There were four of us: my Japanese teacher, two of her Tai Chi students, and me. She was constantly trying to get her students to invite me out to do the things they like to do. I think I have plans for a sushi lunch next week, but I’m not 100% sure.

I guess I’ll have to put together another email and find out.

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I wrote my first email in Japanese this evening. My Japanese teacher wants me to meet a couple of her Tai Chi students who don’t speak English, and we’re setting up a time and date to meet at a “beer garden” downtown. (I almost feel like she’s showing off one of her grandkids or something.)

Anyway, I’ve had a few exchanges with this woman, and I hope I haven’t inadvertently insulted her best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend or something. I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

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