Archive for August, 2014

August 29, 2004 – Love Call Bell

We woke up in Ryokan Ooya to a massive breakfast. I think if I spent a week here, I would gain a lot of weight. We watched the news in the morning and heard that a huge typhoon was heading in our direction. Fortunately the weather held out for the day.

We checked out of the ryokan and went to an old gold mine which has turned into a museum. The mine is over 400 years old. Visitors can walk through and see the working conditions, complete with signs and models of workers in period clothing. The work looked hot and dangerous. I don’t think I would have liked working there.

After the gold mine, we went to Koibito Misaki (lover’s cape), a beautiful sightseeing spot on the west cost of Izu peninsula. The view was spectacular. To the we could look across Suruga Bay towards Shizuoka city. To the east were the green, tree covered mountains of Izu. Koibito Misaki is a popular tourist spot for Japanese people, but foreigners rarely visit. I think I was the only gaijin in the area today.

One of the highlights is the large “Love Call Bell”, which is a large metal bell with a rope attached. If a young couple rings the bell, their love will last a long time. We rang the bell, and time will tell if it worked.

On the way back to Numazu, we took the most windy, dangerous, crazy road that I have ever seen. At times the road ware barely wide enough for two cars. Other times the road suddenly went into endless S-curves up and down the side of a mountain. It was both fun and scary at the same time. I would recommend this road on a motorcycle, but never on a car.

Our weekend together was a lot of fun, and it was a great break from work. Japan is full of natural beauty, but you have to get away from the big cities to find it.

(2014 Update) Apparently there is a waterfall in Fujinomiya that has the opposite effect of the Love Call Bell. We didn’t go there.

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August 28, 2004 pt2 – Private bath at Ryokan Ooya

Private outdoor onsen at Ooya Ryokan

Private outdoor onsen at Ryokan Ooya

The Penpal and I left Mishima and headed south towards Izu Peninsula. Toi is on the west side of Izu Peninsula. The peninsula is full of tree covered mountains with small towns along the coast and in some of the flatter areas in the middle. The Penpal has a friend who lives in Toi, and wanted me to meet her. The friend was excited to introduce me to her young son. I would be the first foreigner that he ever met. The concept of “wow my son is going to meet his first foreigner today” may seem a bit strange to people outside of Japan, but I have been hear almost a year so it doesn’t seem unusual anymore.

We had a nice visit at their house, and then moved on to our next destination, Ryokan Ooya. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. The rooms have tatami mat floors and sliding wooden panels. Everyone wears yukatas, and they serve traditional Japanese food. When we checked in, I learned that I was the first foreigner to ever stay at Ooya. The Penpal knew the owner’s family, so we got upgraded to a huge room.

Our dinner was served in the room by yukata clad ladies. They started bring tray after tray of delicious looking seafood, soups, and things I had never seen before, all laid out on fancy decorative plates. It was simply the most beautiful food I had ever seen. There was probably enough food for four people, but the meal was all for us. We did our best but couldn’t finish everything.

After dinner, we had a reservation for one of the private outdoor baths. Reservations could be made in 30 minute blocks. Like most Japanese baths, we had to clean ourselves first, and then sat in neck deep hot water. Between the relaxing water and the amazing view, our 30 minutes went by very quickly. Thanks to the food and hot outdoor bath, it was an early night.

If you ever get the chance, stay in a Ryokan. Don’t think of it as a hotel, think of it as a destination in itself. And arrive hungry.

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August 28, 2004 pt1 – New religions

To get some relief from my insane work schedule, I took some unpaid days off and made plans with The Penpal to go to Izu for the weekend. Our plan was to visit one of The Penpal’s friends, and then stay at a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn).

The Penpal picked me up in her tiny car at Mishima station. We stopped at a nearby convenience store to get some snacks and drinks for the drive. At this point, The Penpal said that she needed to talk to me about something important. Usually when a girlfriend says that they need to talk about something important, it’s not a good sign. I braced myself for the worst, and then asked what was up.

The Penpal wanted to tell me that she belongs to a church in one of Japan’s New Religions, and was worried what my reaction would be.

In Japan, there are two main religions – Shinto and Buddhism. Many people use some elements from these religions at special occasions, but by and large most Japanese people are not what would be considered “religious”. There are also followers of other world religions (yes, there are Japanese Muslims), but the numbers are small overall.

In addition to the above, there are also a number of New Religions called Shinshukyo 新宗教. Japanese scholars consider any Japanese religion founded since the mid 19th century to be a New Religion. Followers are usually more active in their faith than the typical person on the street. Many, but not all, of the new religions are based on Shinto, Buddhism, or other “old” religions.

Unfortunately, the overall reputation of New Religions was damaged by the 1995 Tokyo Subway gas attacks, which were carried out by members of Aum Shinrikyo. Aum is a new religion church / cult that for some reason felt compelled to release sarin nerve gas into the Tokyo subway system. The attack killed 13 people and injured over 6000. The incident created a lot of apprehension about religion among a population that already was not terribly religious.

The Penpal told me that she belongs to a church with a very long name that is commonly referred to simply as Shinji Kyokai. She explained that her church is an offshoot of Shinto that worships one Goddess in particular, and was absolutely not a cult. She joined the church in University, and very few of her friends and family members know that she is a member.

Other than me thinking that her church was a cult, The Penpal was worried that I would want to break up with her because she belonged to a New Religion. I assured her that I liked her because of her personality, not because of her religion. I told her that I would likely never join her church, and if she was okay with that, I had no problems at all with her choice of religion. She was very relieved.

In the end, I was happy that we talked about it. Just like in the rest of the world, Japanese people have opinions on religion and politics, but most people are very reluctant to talk about either one. Preserving harmony is highly valued in Japanese society. However, in this case talking openly about religion helped us to preserve the harmony in our relationship, and brought us closer together.

(2014 Update) I didn’t write about this at all in my original blog. The Penpal still doesn’t talk a lot about her church with her friends and family for fear of negative reactions. Even though I don’t use her name in this blog, some of the readers know who she is. I checked with her before writing this to make sure she was okay with the topic and that I got the details correct.

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August 27, 2004 – Transfer in jeopardy?

No, not this Jeopardy

No, not this Jeopardy

Well, my Area Manager was transferred today, so I am a little concerned about how this will affect my pending transfer request. The new AAM won’t be based in Kawasaki NOVA, so it will be a little more difficult to keep track of what’s happening. Hopefully everything will stay on track.


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August 26, 2004 – More Twin Peaks

damn fine coffee

Today at work I talked to my area manager and found out that my transfer to Shizuoka will “probably” take place November 1st. I am excited!

After work I watched yet more Twin Peaks with Lux and Zoe. I seriously love this show.


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August 25, 2004 – First USB memory stick

Today is hopefully my last day at the internet cafe. I am downloading some drivers to make the ethernet card in my new computer work. Once that is done, I will be able to subscribe to a service provider and have internet in my room at Hello House.

I have also upgraded my file transfer system. Instead of the box of 3.5″ floppy discs, I am now using a USB memory stick. It is about the size of a keychain and can store 128mb, compared to the 14.4mb that my entire box of floppies can hold. My USB key cost 3500 yen at Yodobashi camera. Technology rules!

Also, congratulations to Jamie and Jessica on their engagement!

(2014 Update) Yes, technology has changed a lot in the past 10 years. I just checked Yodobashi Camera‘s website. They are selling Buffalo 8GB memory sticks for about 800 yen. For the record, that’s about 64 times the storage space for less than a quarter of the price. And I was excited about upgrading from my box of floppies…

I didn’t end up getting an internet connection at Hello House. I would have needed to borrow a native Japanese speaker to help with the paperwork, and since I had requested a transfer I was not sure how much longer I would be in Kawasaki.

For those keeping track, Jamie and Jessica have been happily married for just over 9 years now and are proud parents.

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August 24, 2004 – Yakiniku and Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks

Today was the second day of my first two day weekend since all of my visitors came earlier this summer. I celebrated by sitting on my ass and relaxing most of the day.

In the evening I went to Gyu-Kaku near Mukogaokayuen station with Lux and Zoe. In addition to the regular slices of meat, we tried out some pan fried scallops. The waiter brought us a tiny cast iron pan that sat on top of our grill, and a pat of butter. SOOOO GOOOD! During dinner the conversation turned to TV shows. We started discussing Twin Peaks and how amazing it was. I have watched the entire series with friends twice from start to finish, usually in 4-5 episode bursts. We agreed that we should re-watch the show together.

Zoe was one of the few people in Hello House with an internet connection, and used it to find a slightly illegal copy online with subtitles in a Scandinavian language that we couldn’t identify. It was one of the languages that has a letter “o” with a line through it.

After working crazy shifts for the last month and a half, a two day weekend was fantastic.

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August 23, 2004 – Nausicaa and American Pie

The Penpal took the day off and came to visit me in Azusa took the day off to come and hang out with me at Hello House. We decided to have a cultural exchange with movies.

The first movie we watched was Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (風の谷のナウシカ), which is a cool Miyazaki movie. Even though Nausicaa was made before Studio Ghibli was officially founded, it is often considered a Studio Ghibli film. Nausicaa and Castle in the Sky were some of The Penpal’s favourite movies growing up. I was surprised by the strong environmental message, considering the movie was released in 1984.

My movie selection was American Pie, which I still think is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. I recently picked up a Japanese DVD version on sale. The movie had Japanese subtitles, but really didn’t need them for the physical humour. A guy getting caught having sex with a pie is funny in any language.

It was pretty cool that two people who grew up in different cultures in different parts of the world could enjoy the same movies. Movies can be a great way to share culture, and are a great excuse to spend time with someone.

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August 22, 2004 – Cleaning?

After another busy day at work, I spent some time cleaning my room for a change. It’s amazing how messy a tiny room can get, especially considering how few things I own here.

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You are not alone

Sometime in August 2004, I don’t remember the exact date, I was woken up in my Kawasaki, Japan dormitory by the police.

A few officers were in Hello House East knocking on doors. Apparently I was the first person who answered. The officer at my door greeted me politely in passable English, and then showed me a name on a piece of paper and asked if I knew that person. I didn’t recognize the name, so I assumed that he lived in Hello House West, the nearly identical dormitory next door. I told the officer that he should ask Seiko the landlord, and gave him instructions on where to find her. The officer thanked me, gathered his colleagues who were knocking on other doors, and went to find Seiko.

I had never been woken up by police before. I assumed something was wrong, but I was still tired so I went back to sleep.

Later that day I found out the reason why the police were asking. The name on the paper was a teacher who lived in Hello House West. He had killed himself earlier in the morning by jumping in front of a moving train on Nanbu line. The officers were trying to find out where he lived so they could figure out how to contact his family.

I can’t imagine how horrible it would have been for the parents to receive the phone call notifying them of their son’s death. The other residents of Hello House West took the news very hard. Most of them missed the next few days of work while trying to deal with the situation. I am sure the memory has stuck with them in the years that followed.

I am writing this post in 2014, 10 years after the events of my blog. I notice that in my original posts I wrote a lot about what I was doing in Japan, but almost nothing about how I was feeling. If I had been, I am sure that my family would have been worried regularly. Being away from friends, family and everything familiar to you can be incredibly difficult at times. Some days the feelings of isolation and loneliness can be crushing.  Homesickness can overshadow all of the positive new experiences you are having. You start to second guess all of your decisions, and feel like a failure.

If you are away from home and everything seems terrible, you are not alone. Everyone has the same feelings at one time or another. Talk to your friends / roommates / co-workers about it; they have all been through the same thing. Keep in touch with family or friends from back home; they want you to be happy. If you are regularly unhappy you can always move home. Having a good support network goes a long way in helping you work through the rough times.

Hurting yourself is never a solution to your problems. If you feel like you are going to hurt yourself, PLEASE call someone. There are several free counseling and suicide hotlines in Japan that have English speaking staff. One of the biggest is Tokyo English Lifeline (TELL) 03-5774-0992. Don’t be confused by the name – they offer nationwide service. If you are not in Japan, information on local resources is only a Google search away. Since you are reading this online, you already have the technology you need to find someone to listen.

Please take care of yourselves and each other.

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