Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Naganooooo way!

So months ago Japan had two national holidays in a row, on a Sunday and Monday. Since life in Japan was starting not to feel like life in Japan anymore--it was starting to feel more just like life--some of my friends and I decided we better get off our rear ends and do some traveling.

We went to Nagano.

Nicole, Alana, Andy, and I hopped on a train Sunday morning. Four hours later, we arrived in Yudanaka, a station about 40 minutes from Nagano station, in the Northern prefecture of Nagano. Yudanaka was extremely tiny from what I could tell. We stayed in a little ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) owned by an indescribably adorable old couple. I will attempt to describe them. To begin with, the man we called Mr. Yumoto, was very small and short. He spoke quite a bit of English, though in a very strange and robotic, sometimes Yoda-esque accent. Phone conversations never ended with a goodbye or a thank you. Mr. Yumoto preferred hanging up the phone at the moment when he deemed the conversation over, which may not necessarily have been the same moment that you found it appropriate to hang up on a person. Sometimes his end of the conversations consisted of simply one word:

Andy-san: Moshi moshi. (hello?)

Yumoto-san: Dozo. (go ahead)

Andy-san: Hai. (Okay.)

Yumoto-san: ... "click"

Then there were moments when Yumoto-san wanted to direct the course of our entire time in Nagano. You must go to Obuse, town with famous restaurant, chestnut restaurant, you eat good chestnut. You go to Sake brewery, drink good sake, must buy Sake. Must go to museum. Must buy souvenir, go to craft shop. Yumoto-san's wife and grandson were equally as cute and enthusiastic. When we went out for dinner the first night, when we arrived back at the room the light was on. We were freaked out thinking someone had broken into our room. When we entered, our slippers were all lined up, the table had been pushed to the side and our futons had been laid with care on the floor, all made up with blankets and pillows and little complimentary mints and toothbrushes on them. It was amazing.

The place was really fun because we stayed in a real tatami-mat style room where you do everything on the floor. We had little chairs that had no legs and a little table with a teapot and what seemed like an endless supply of green tea. We loved putting on the yukata robes (casual style kimono) and taking tons of ridiculous posed pictures of each other in our traditional Japanese clothing.

The next morning we were treated to a huge Japanese style breakfast. It was delicious: grilled fish, rice, japanese pickles, miso soup, salad, and I forget what else, but it was good and very generous.

We originally went to Nagano thinking we wanted to go to an onsen, but we decided some of Yumoto-san's recommended activities might be nice beforehand. The morning was wonderful, Yumoto-san drove us in his van to a monkey park where we saw live monkeys just walking around on a mountain, bathing in natural mountain hot springs, picking bugs out of each others hair, occasionally doing the unmentionable dirty deed, doing what monkeys do. Best of all, there were adorable little baby monkeys. It was insane because there were no fences or anything. We were just walking around with the monkeys. We could have touched them if we really wanted to. Though, they probably would have ripped our arms off.

Afterwards we probably should have just done the onsen (hot spring) thing, instead of following Yumoto-san's plan for us, as we of course got lost and then it started to rain heavily on us. But at least the famous chesnut restaurant had interesting food! Everything was, well, chestnutty..you know, made of chestnuts. They're kinda good, really sweet. After that, I'll spare you the part where we bickered about whether to return home early or still try to figure out where there might be an onsen. I'll just tell you that we decided to return home early and went back to Nagano station, ready to board the shinkansen. We saw a travel shop in the station and decided to go in and ask if they knew of any onsen's really close by that we could hit before returning home. We were tense and disappointed by a wasted afternoon. All we wanted was some hot water to get naked in. Luckily, there was one reachable by taxi.

Like I said, our original reason for going to Nagano was to enjoy bathing in an onsen (hot spring). We had made good use of the onsen in the Ryokan, but that one wasn't a real onsen. It was a good way to introduce Alana to the world of getting naked with your friends. Still, this was indoors, there was only one pool. Now she was introduced to the world of getting naked in front of everyone. She took it well though. She was a real pro, having worked at a health spa for a long time back home. The big, public onsen we went to in Nagano was huge. There were about six pools inside and then one large pool outside where you could look at a mountain side. It was very peaceful. Really relaxing. Just what we needed and a great way to end the trip. Nagano was a bit of a random choice, but I think ultimately it was pretty rewarding. I actually really recommend the Ryokan we stayed at, they were super helpful and accommodating and cute and hilarious and nice. There. Finished. Now for lots of pictures!

Monday, November 10, 2008

All My Children.

Well, don't ask me how it happened. I took great pains to protect myself from the possibilities of infection. I was afraid of them. I took great pains to avoid acquiring any kind of knowledge that might pertain to them. I took great pains to avoid developing any kind of understanding of them. I avoided developing the ability to feel any sort of comfort in their presence. To the disbelief and anger of my entire neighborhood, I rudely asked everyone to desist in requesting my services as a babysitter when I was in middle school.

I believe I had perfectly good reasons.

I hated it when they smelled bad. I hated it when they cried. I hated it when they complained. I hated it when they were small and I was terrified I was going to drop them on their heads and end up in babykiller's prison. I hated it when their parents expected me to somehow feed them. I hated it when they told me they were going to tell on me when their mother got home. I hated it when they insisted I lay down on the grass in their yard, in broad daylight, mind you, in front of the whole damn neighborhood, just so they could jump over me repeatedly, over and over and over, for hours upon stupid hours, while their ugly golden retrievers slobbered on my face and their saucy older sisters smirked and stifled giggles at my misfortune.

I didn't care how blond they were or how small they were or how chubby their damn hands were. They were scary. No, scratch that. They were utterly terrifying.

But I should have known.

I should have known when I accidentally fell in love with a pair of baby shoes once. I couldn't help it. They were irresistibly small. I should have known that I wouldn't be able to suppress my love of most things miniature forever. I mean, I once had a doll house. Didn't that tell me anything about myself? Who was I kidding?

But I said it. Many times. "I never want to work with kids. I probably don't want to have kids. I certainly never want to teach kids. In fact, I never want to teach anyone, anything, ever! So there!"

Well, here I am. I am in Japan. I am teaching, and I am teaching children.


You can't say I didn't try, though. I fought back for a long time. I almost made it 9 months without getting infected with child lover's disease. But in the end, I was fighting an uneven battle. I was teaching nine kids classes per week. Now that's tough. That's cruel. Screaming, crying, sneezing on you, trying to hide flashcards under my skirt (what a stupid hiding place, do they really believe that I won't think to look there?), setting timers to go off after 10 minutes while I'm in the middle of chorusing new vocabulary so it disrupts the class, putting bells on my cushion so I'll make a ringing noise when I place my dainty rear end upon it. The things one goes through. Honestly.

It started slowly, crept up on me without my noticing. It was Soichiro, the six-year-old troublemaker that slid into class on his stomach, wearing his shoes on his hands. He was always trying to do headstands, and purposely provided answers to my questions that were the opposite of correct, effectively confusing the rest of the class. What color is this? RED! No, it's blue. What number is this? 10! No, it's 5, (idiot). And the other kids had no clue. They'd look confused and then repeat his incorrect answer. uhhh oh, ok... RED! No no no. NOT red, BLUE! BLUE, I say!!

This was what I was dealing with.

But it was the day I realized he was the only one in the room who understood my sense of humor- understood me. He totally got me. When I pretended to eat a fake pineapple the way cookie monster would, he laughed so hard he fell over. When I jumped up and down like a monkey and made strange noises so the children would understand exactly what a monkey looks and sounds like, he was the only one who stood up and did it with me, laughing all the way. (I won't bother with the girl who simply sat there, pointed at me with a look of pure disgust and said, "baka," translation: stupid.) That was the day I noticed he didn't annoy me anymore. In fact, looking back upon that time, I understand better what I was feeling that day. It was the feeling of liking something. I actually found the little boy cute.

Then it was Shuu, the three-year-old boy who was so small, and so afraid to come into my class, even though the parents were there, too. It was the day he came out from between his mother's legs and shouted, "salami!" when I asked, "what's this?" Now that was cute: a little person just steaming with pure happiness, pure accomplishment, pure pride.

Then it really happened. Halloween arrived. I was dressed my little piggiest, so as to elicit the most number of "kawaiii"'s (cute) possible from the students. Well, wouldn't you know it? The damn children got dressed up for Halloween, too! Who do they think they are? One girl was a christmas tree (wrong holiday buddy, get with the program mom), one was a samurai, one was a king, one was knight in shining armor, one was a pumpkin, one was a skeleton, one was a I-have-no-idea-what-you-are-but-it's-hilarious, and there were plenty of pointy witch hats being displayed that week. Yes, that's right. Halloween was a week long this year. I dressed like a pig at work, five days in a row. I was subjected to helping little children make balloon ghosts and balloon spiders, and carve pathetically small, green pumpkins because the orange ones don't exist in Japan. They all looked so scared and uncomfortable in their costumes.

It was adorable...

People, the news is in: I'm hooked on kids, and I love teaching. Who have I seriously become?