Hamanasu Express, between Aomori and Sapporo

Yesterday I packed, visited my host family's hapyokai (performance day), helped my host dad change the tires on his car, and at about 7:30 took off to get on a night bus to Sendai. At Nagoya Station, I inadvertently tested the myth that you can leave your wallet sitting in the middle of a busy area in Japan, walk away, and come back to find it right where you left it. Myth confirmed, thank goodness. Phew.

The bus ride was 10 hours, and I had a middle seat (there were three lines of sleeper seats down the bus). The people with window seats preferred to draw the curtains and sleep instead of watching outside, so I didn't have much choice but to follow suit. Next bus I'm booking earlier.

This morning in Sendai, I bought a Hokkaido & Higashinihon Pass, a special pass that lets me ride on any non-express JR line in the region, plus a few other lines, like the one I'm on now. I caught the local Tohoku line to Ichinoseki, a wonderful old train meandering through the countryside. Nowadays it's been shorted by the Tohoku Shinkansen, sort of a route 66 deal. I was in the second car of the train, and about halfway I looked back and saw that I was now in the last car; a few cars had been dropped at a station because there were so few passengers.

I wandered around Ichinoseki for a bit, then caught the next train for Morioka, still part of the old Tohoku line. At Morioka, I took the Aoimori (sic) line to Hachinohe. While waiting for the next train there, I wandered through a nice little public exhibit of local industry.

From Hachinohe I got back on the Tohoku line to Aomori. I wandered around Aomori for a few hours, then got onto the train I'm on now. I need to sleep, we arrive pretty early.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I hadn't done much preparation for my trip to Tohoku this week, so I've spent all day doing that. I needed to go in to the Labo Center to mail something, so I printed out a bunch of stuff while I was there. I stopped at Osu for some last minute Christmas shopping.

I leave tomorrow, if everything goes as planned.

(no entry, AU IY program)

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Yesterday I visited Osaka Castle and walked through the park. Got pooped on by a pigeon. Then I went to Itami Airport for the arrival program. The plane was delayed an hour. Then we stayed at a different "hostel" next to Shin-Osaka.

Today I escorted eight delegates to Gifu-Hashima, Nagoya, and Hanamizukidori. Now I'm back in Nagoya for the time being.

I'd love to elaborate on the IY program, it was very exciting, but I'm really wiped.

J-Hoppers Hostel, Osaka

Can't write much, I'm in a dorm and don't wanna keep the computer on too long.

I met up with Katie at lunchtime. We went to Tennoji and Osaka tower (forget what its name is), then to the famous Umeda Sky Building. Ate delicious ume spaghetti.

Met a couple from Holland and talked with them a while.

J-Hoppers Hostel, Osaka

I'm in Osaka! Much to my surprise, not everyone is staring blankly and rambling about sea slugs. They do stand on the wrong side of the escalator and cross the street without regard to the light, though.

The first thing I did (aside from getting lost in the Osaka rail system) was head to Osaka Den Den Town, the famous otaku shopping district. Even after I managed to get to the station, I wandered through at least two other districts before I got there (a gambling district and this huge fish market. They had live fugu for sale, swimming around in a little pool).

Den Den Town is a little like Akihabara, with less of an emphasis on bulk electronics. I found a Magic card shop called "Yellow Submarine," they had pretty extensive stock in both English and Japanese. I found a Tintin DVD brand new, on clearance, I got it for my host family.

Now I'm at this hostel, it's the same people I stayed with in Kyoto (they have three locations, the third is in Hiroshima). I'm sharing a dorm room with seven other people, though they're all still out as I type this (it's about eleven). I wandered down the street and found a supermarket and bought dinner. Guess I should be more careful buying dinner at a supermarket when I haven't eaten any lunch, these eyes are big. At least I'm not hungry anymore.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was my last scheduled office day and/or Labo Party for almost a month. There were like 50 people there (Kitatani tutor). it was plenty of fun, but I didn't get home until like ten.

I messed around with videos for a bit... there were some problems, youtube would truncate the video way down, so I had to put it into a different format and I tried Google video instead. After finally successfully uploading five videos, I now see that there is no userpage to link to. Google video sucks.

(Next best thing I can do is link to one video, and you can see "more from user." I'll probably reupload them somewhere else later, too.)

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Tomorrow is my last office day for a couple weeks. I'm going to Osaka Thursday for a little bit of vacation, until Saturday for the Australian International Youth arrival program. Sunday I return to Nagoya, and the following week I have off.

I think I want to go to Tohoku. Maybe I'll even get myself all the way up to Hokkaido. It's the middle of winter so I'll pretty much have the whole place to myself, no other tourists. Should manage a White Christmas that way, too.

Thing about a trip like that is that it would not be so cheap, even by poor bus and hostels. Maybe I should try the Kintaro method, haha.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Mostly hung around the house today... caught up on sleep and caught up with my host family. Not that interesting.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I went to some kind of senior mate meeting this morning, then did my speech again at another orientation gathering. Then I came back to Nagoya.

Sunset was pretty.

Kawamura House, Kanazawa

Got up nice and early to get the train back to Kanazawa, and visited Sugihara Party. Then I went to Kurachi tutor's house and did two parties. Now I'm staying with a member of Kurachi's party, Haruhi.

My first host father Mitsuda Tokio sent me an email today saying that he read my site and saw that I'm in Kanazawa, and that he actually grew up here. Awesome!

Matsumura House, Nanto

I visited two separate kindergartens with Kokaji tutor, and then went to Matsumura party in the evening. For lunch Kokaji tutor took me to a really nice tofu restaurant, it was really good. Don't wanna know how much it cost though. Went out to dinner with Matsumura, Kokaji, and a few of Matsumura's Labo kids. One of them was named O, he was pretty cool. Matsumura's house is way out in Nanto, so it was like an hour drive home over some mountains.

Kokaji House, Kanazawa

Lots of fun today. I did two parties of about 50 kindergartners each with Iwamoto tutor in the morning, and two more with her in the afternoon. Then I took off to Toyama and visited Matsuki Party, and now I'm back in Kanazawa with Kokaji tutor.

I was in the office of the school with Iwamoto, and I looked over and saw a little basket full of Hikaro no Go erasers. They were one of the few HnG related objects I've found so far here (guess it's out of style or something), so I pointed them out. Turns out that one of the people working there is a bit of an anime aficionado, and he gave me one of the erasers. Then he helped me explain to Iwamoto how gravity and Gs and orbits work.

There was a bit of a rainstorm going on in the evening, it made some of the trains late.

We watched a late night show where some dudes tried to break the Guiness world record of most T-shirts worn at a time. The record was 224. They got up to 169 and couldn't go any further. Still entertaining.


Iwamoto House, Toyama

Today I had two Labo Party kindergarten sessions with Kokaji tutor in Kanazawa, then two sessions with Kida tutor in Komatsu. They all went great. Now I'm with Iwamoto tutor near Isurugi.

Man I'm wiped. This journal would be really interesting this week if it weren't for me doing so much stuff and being hardly able write a comprehensible sentence. I'm seeing lots of cool stuff, I'll leave it at thatzzz

APA Hotel, Kanazawa

This was my one vacation day for the trip. I went down to Kenrokuen Gardens, I took a lot of pictures. Did a lot of walking; walked all through the gardens, and then through Kanazawajo Park. I went to the downtown area and walked over to an old samurai district, with these neat mud walls. It started raining about then. I did a lot more walking and saw some other things, too.

Kitao Apartment, Kanazawa

I'm in Hokuriku! Yay! Brrr.

Took the Hikari Shinkansen (the "slow" one that makes more stops) to Maibara, then transferred to the Shirasagi line. Lovely train ride, it had apparently snowed this weekend. Hardly any snow here in Kanazawa, but it's still plenty chilly.

The Kitao family is pretty nice, I'm staying with them for tonight. There's a four year old and a nine month old, Asuki and Yotaro. The party went ok for the kids being as young as they were.

long day, sleep...

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Ugh test. I'm so bad at standardized testing, especially super-ultra-standardized Japanese testing. I studied and studied, but it didn't occur to me to study any math. On the first portion of the test, I miscalculated/lost track of time, and all of a sudden pencils went down before I could go back and fill in the ones I didn't know (multiple choice). So, on the first test, I know I got exactly 65%, because that's the amount of questions I knew for sure and marked.

The second test, the listening test, went ok for the most part. There was this kid behind me who was practically snoring awake, and it got bad enough that I missed a question because of it. I have no idea where I landed on the third test (grammar), though I kept track of time pretty well. I think I did well, but particles are the sort of thing that are easy to get wrong at the top of your lungs. I'll find out sometime next February.

There were thousands of people taking the test, I think every foreigner in Aichi was at that university today. The poor little train station was packed, but on the bright side it made it really easy to figure out where I was supposed to go for the test. Moo.

I spent the rest of the day organizing and packing for my trip tomorrow (and we went out to dinner, nom). I'm going north to the Hokuriku area for a week, staying at various tutors' houses and going to a ton of Labo Parties.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Went to a neighborhood party today down in Nagoyako. Also visited a "gashapon museum."

I need to study and sleep for my test tomorrow.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

After spending a few hours at the office calling all the tutors I'll see next week in Hokuriku, I went to visit Suzuki Party. The party itself was fine, but the interesting part came afterwards. Suzuki's father, a Go teacher, visited with some problems and little go boards for everyone. He gave everyone sets of beginner problems to work on, while Suzuki's son (6y/o) and I did some lower-kyu problems.

That didn't last too long before everyone had to go home, and we ate dinner. After dinner, Minoru (I think that was his name, I just called him "sensei") and I played a full game. He's a licensed amateur 6 dan, and he gave me nine stones. He played a good teaching game, but I didn't realize just how much control he'd had until after we counted our territory; he'd pulled an Akira and tied the game. I was sure impressed. I recorded the game, too.

At that point it was ten, I didn't get back home until after eleven. Late trains are nice, not so crowded.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Went all the way out to Toyohashi today to visit the Furui party. Yay fun! I'm tired.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Word is that the fire was started by tempura oil. No one was hurt, but the building is totaled.

I got a package in the mail from Grandpa and Grandma today, containing a nifty new backup hard drive and some tins of really nice tea. My data is all backed up now, so if anything should happen to my laptop's hard drive (like what happened to my iPod) I won't lose all my data.

When I got home I walked in on my host mom's Labo party gathering, it was winding down and all the mothers were doing their yakky mom thing around the coffee table. We all tried some of the exotic pear honey tea, it went over pretty well. My host dad came home and had some too. It was described as hot, yummy, and sweet... it didn't taste that sweet to me, although compared to the more common green or black teas here, I can see where they're coming from.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

This morning I went to a kindergarten Labo Party with Yamaguchi tutor. It was three half-hour sessions with 30 kids and 30 moms each. That's a lot of people.

I went back to Labo Center and studied a bunch, my test is coming up this weekend.

I hung out with some college mates before their meeting started, taught a few of them how to juggle.

Walking home, I looked up and saw the crescent moon next to bright planets Venus and Jupiter. It's rare that I see much in the sky at all, so that was kind of a treat.

I've been bonking my head against Terminal, trying to get a wireless upload working with my DS. I must have a unique version of netcat that refuses to actually run. It's very annoying.

Oh yeah, and a building about a hundred meters or so away went up before dinner. Smoke and flame and tons of fire trucks and sirens. We don't know anything about it yet, but it seems like the firefighters got everything under control. One of my host mom's friends lives there, I hope they're ok.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today I had lunch with my host mom and a couple of her friends at the indian place. I understand I'll be seeing them again this friday, some kind of party.

After that, I trucked down to Kanayama to visit a Go salon. It wasn't too intuitive to find, but I was lucky and stumbled across it. It was exactly what I had expected, just like in Hikaru no Go. There were a lot of old dudes... well, all of them were old dudes... and it was smokey. I explained to the lady at the desk that I was 11kyu, but none of the people there were my strength (presumably they've all been playing for a lot longer than I have). I guess I was interesting, though, 'cause a dude who looked like the manager came up and volunteered to play me. He gave me nine stones, and I still lost by about 50 points. He went over the game with me afterwards and gave me some tips, that was nice. Then he hooked me up with another guy, who gave me four stones. I played two games with him, and lost both of the in the endgame by resignation. They were fun games, I managed to outplay him in one spot, even if it wasn't enough to win the game. After that he left, and I figured it was about time for me to go home too.

I had gotten an SGF editor on my DS and was all eager to try it out, but I ended up not using it; it was hard enough fitting in without playing with some fancy gadget. I even forgot to take any pictures.

On the subway platform waiting for the train, I missed my hat. I kinda panicked, thinking it was probably still back at the salon, and started walking back. Then I found it, on my head. All good.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I gave the speech today. There were way more people than I expected, about a hundred or so. I didn't choke, so I consider it a success.

On the way back I stopped at Osu again. This time I explored the northern portion, which turned out to be full of electronics and computer stores. Everything was ridiculously cheap. And to think, just last year, I paid $40 for a four gigabyte flash drive and it was a steal. I walked away with some various flash cards, and maxed out the RAM on my laptop.

I got home to find my host mom about to finish the final puzzle in Rush Hour. In less than a day. Now she wants the super railroad edition I mentioned, although it seems that it hasn't been released in Japan yet. According to the website, they have released a couple expansions at least, so maybe I'll be able to find those.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today I went back to the Labo Center to pick up some things for tomorrow. It's Saturday, though, and no one was in the office. Luckily one of the tutors was hanging out in the meeting room area, and she helped me procure a key from the guards (with a little help from Terajima over the phone). So yeah, a bit troublesome, but I got what I needed.

On the way back I stopped at Kamimaezu and explored the Osu Kannon shopping area. I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, but I did find a bunch of cool toys, including a set of Professor Layton gashapon and a (Thinkfun) Rush Hour set for my host family. They seem to like it.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I visited Inoshima Party today, the second time I've been through Jinryo Station in like two weeks. The party was ok, but man were those kids all over the place. I am wiped.

I went online and checked out some of the black friday deals. The sites with deals won't ship to Japan, though, so oh well.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I found a Subway in the building kitty corner from the Labo building. I don't know how I missed it for two months. It was a little more than I usually spend, but it seems to have survived the transition from the US pretty well. They even still had footlongs.

I went to see Osada Party today, way up north. The train ride was nice, I like that line. Fun party, too.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I wrote a speech today. I'm gonna give it on Sunday, to a bunch of kids getting ready for a homestay in North America next summer.

I went out to lunch with Ono and Yamazaki, we went to the udon shop.

On the way home I went back to Oasis 21. There are some neat shops there, including a Pokemon Center, a Shonen Jump shop, a Ghibli shop, and a Tomika center. (Tomika is a toy company that makes matchbox-style model cars and trains.) Most of the licensed stuff was ridiculously overpriced, but I found a couple nice Tomika toys; a shockingly yellow Hako Bus, and a truck carrying penguins. They gave me a little catalog too, which my host brother Seia has been poring over since I got home. He's even working on a letter to Santa.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today I visited the Suzuki Party out in Kaguyama. I had to take a bus to get there, which meant I had to go to the Oasis 21 bus terminal in Sakae. The place is more like a shopping center with a UFO hovering over it than a bus terminal, it's really cool. I'll be visiting it again soon.

The party was great (played a traditional game called "hana ichi monme," I was pretty lost but it was still fun). The tutor dropped me off all the way back at Hoshigaoka station, so I didn't get to ride the bus again. The subway had just pulled up when I got to the platform, and I went towards the nearest car. A station attendant politely pointed me to the next car down, and I realized I had been about to board the women-only car. Oops. That would have been embarrassing.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

We went to Durga, the indian place down the street, for lunch again. Yum.

I got some photos up, that took a while. Now I remember why I put it off so long. Also found some Go salons online, should be fun to visit one later.

Check it out!

Photos taken with my camera phone are really low-res, sorry about that. The good news is that in the process of getting them off the phone I figured out how to switch the settings to use the full normal-sized 3.2 megapixels, so no more teeny pictures. I think I figured out how to record movies too, so maybe I'll even get something resembling a youtube channel online soon.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today we drove out to Inuyama and visited the Inuyama Castle. It's believed to be the oldest surviving castle in Japan, built some ~600 years ago. I didn't figure this out until just now, but Inuyama has a sister city; one Davis, California. Neat.

We spent this evening over at the neighbor's house, lemon pepper pasta and pizza. I was asked for suggestions of American pizza toppings, and I said pineapples, black olives, and artichoke hearts. We couldn't find any artichoke hearts, so they decided to use hard-boiled eggs instead. They liked the pineapples, at least.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today I went to Nagoya Castle with my host family. it reminded me of the imperial palace area in Tokyo a bit. The castle itself was rebuilt after it burned down in WWII, and they went ahead and stuck in some elevators and turned it into a museum while they were at it. There was even a little theater, where we watched a short 3D movie about the history of the place.

After the castle, we went to a shopping center next to the Nagoya Dome stadium. I bought some puzzles, including another 3D puzzle, this one of a heart. There was an import store where we found some more lemon pepper, along with some gnocchi and alfredo fettucini.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Man, I just can't stop digging, can I.

Fukuda Party. Not gonna forget that.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I went to a Labo party today. I left early, didn't get lost, and arrived at the station early, so I poked my head into the little minishop near the wicket. The lady behind the counter asked me where I was from/what I was doing, and surprisingly enough she knew about Labo and the local Sato Party I was visiting. (Labo isn't really a publicly visible organization.)

The party was fun. The kids had a great time playing with my juggling balls, it's a miracle they didn't break any windows. The tutor wasn't like most tutors in that she didn't really ask me to provide anything to the party. I just participated in what they were doing already and played with the kids. She didn't ask me to come up with any games, or even to show my album (though I did pull that out at the end of the party anyways). Usually tutors are pretty insistent that I be center stage the whole time, but this was a nice change of pace.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today I wrote a letter to the new Australian interns who'll be arriving in February. Oh yeah, and I got my next assignment: after the month in Tokyo next year, I'll spend my last six months in Kyushu, the Fukuoka office. Emma will be in Nagoya.

Instead of going straight back to the station, I wandered around the north part of Sakae for a bit, and saw the Nagoya TV Tower. I got off a stop early and walked the rest of the way, stopping at the Apita for the heck of it. I bought a DS guitar sim, M-06, it was on sale. It works by holding the buttons to make different chords and strumming the touch screen. My host dad really got into it, apparently he likes guitar a lot.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Not all that much interesting happened today. I showed my host family Go with the little set I bought in Nara. The kids seemed more interested in losing the pieces and playing othello with it, but my host mom figured out enough to play a whole game with me. She liked it ok, but she seemed way more interested in it after she won.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

This morning I checked out of the hostel and tried the breakfast buffet in the attached bar/cafe. It wasn't that good, but they had cereal... I hadn't realized just how long it's been since I've eaten that.

I walked down to Kyoto Station. Simon suggested using a locker to keep my big heavy backpack in, I don't know why I hadn't thought of trying that yesterday. Anyways, all the lockers I could find were full, until I found a huge room with banks and banks of them in the basement. After some wandering, I found the bus heading to Kinkokuji.

On the bus it was really crowded. I stepped too close to the exit door and the bus asked me, rather conspicuously, to step back, and I did. A lady sitting in a seat facing me turned to her friend and said something about that guy being such a foreigner. I turned to the lady and said, in proper Japanese, "ain't that the truth." She didn't say anything else about me after that. I was feeling kind of annoyed about that, and I was getting a bit smothered. No sooner do I distinctly tell myself that I just want the bus to get on it's merry way so we can all get off, then the driver shuts the engine off. The reduction in noise revealed the rhythm of a snare drum. I looked out the window and saw a marching band ambling its way across the street directly in front of the bus, followed by a full-blown parade. I quietly laughed at myself and just enjoyed the show.

The bus took a little longer than I had thought it would, but it was worth it. Kinkokuji is a famous temple plated in gold leaf, and it looks absolutely brilliant in the sun. Even better, the Mirror Pond was calm enough to see a really good reflection. Really, this building is something out of King Midas. I bought a little charm talisman for good health and long life, more because it was neon orange and gold than anything. Being healthy is icing.

I took the bus back to the station and waited around the meeting area for Simon. (He had taken off to do his own thing really early in the morning.) His bus was late or something, and while I waited this old Japanese dude randomly came up to me. He spoke fluent English, and proudly informed me that he had graduated from UC Berkeley in 1953. After talking for a bit, he pulled out some papers and asked me to proofread a few of the sentences on them. It was pretty well written, save for a few interesting points, including using the word "debarked" in the context of skinning a tree. Then he had a train to catch and ran off.

I kept waiting, listing to my iPod. Despite a dozen Japanese people also clearly waiting to meet someone by the conspicuous statue of Astro Boy, I must have looked suspicious. A pair of policemen came up to me and asked if I was waiting for a friend. I said yes. Right on cue, Simon walked up and joined me. The policemen asked to see our ID cards, luckily we both had them with us. They asked us some random questions and copied down our info into their notebooks. After a few strained minutes, they decided we weren't making any trouble and let us be on our way.

This kind of thing does happen in Japan; merely looking like a foreigner is a good enough reason for a police officer to demand your ID or passport. It apparently happens to interns pretty regularly, although Simon said it was the first time they'd done it to him. The law is one of the few places that Japanese racism really manifests itself. They don't make it any secret that being a foreigner is the problem they have with you; from the point you enter the country and they record your photo and fingerprints, it's pretty clear. This is the kind of problem Labo is working to mend, but we've clearly got a long ways to go.

Simon and I took the train to Fushimi-Inari, and met Katie there after looking around a bit. Fushimi-Inari is temple/forest, it's pretty famous too. It's got a main temple area, but then it has a series of trails over a mountain. The trails are lined with thousands of huge torii, it's really an amazing experience to walk through them. Well, it's a walk at first, but it turns into a full-fledged hike, with lots of little shrines and graveyards. It took us a couple hours to get to the top, and another to get back. I got plenty of pictures. Oh yeah, there were kitties too.

We went to an italian restaurant in Kyoto station for dinner. I ordered a tomato salad, which turned out to be a skinned tomato drizzled with dressing. It was pretty good, but calling it a salad is stretching it I think. We had a great time, but I needed to get home so I had to leave first.

I talked to the dude at the JR ticket window, apparently there weren't any more direct trains on the cheaper Tokaido line, the one I had planned on using (it was about 8). He handed me a printout with a bunch of transfers, my best bet by normal train would get me home really late, not sure if the subway at the end of the trip even ran that late. I was (am) still exhausted from all the hiking, so I just said screw it and paid a little extra for a Shinkansen ticket. I walked up to the platform, and half an hour later I was in Nagoya station. Yay fast.

K's House Hostel, Kyoto

This morning I took a shower, turned out they had shampoo and stuff after all. Before I left, one of the employees gave me a map and marked some interesting places to see.

Outside Kintetsu-Nara station there was a huge shopping bazaar, sorta like Asakusa but with a lot more variety. I found a nice place to eat breakfast and then explored the area. I found this wonderful little shop full of anime themed action figures, puzzles and card games. Everything was half off, too. I was carrying two days of clothes etc. in my backpack, so I couldn't just buy everything in sight. I did find some kind of cheap Hikaru no Go trading card game, I got a starter and a few packs. No clue how to play, but the cards are nifty. I picked up a little portable 9x9 go set at a dollar store, but it turned out to be (surprise) really cheaply made. Oh well.

I saw a mochi shop doing their thing, it was a kind of rhythmic thing with two dudes with hammers pounding away. Then they switched to one dude with a smaller hammer and another who flipped the mochi with his hands between hits, and they cranked it up to a really high speed. They really trusted each other and had really good rhythm to do that, it was amazing.

I met with Katie and her friend Kaz at 1:45 at the station, although I did some hiking trying to figure out which station we were meeting at. We went up to a restaurant on the 8th floor of the station, the tallest building in the area. We got a corner window table, it was an awesome view.

We walked through Nara park, saw lots of completely fearless deer. They would come up to you and bow, in the hopes of getting biscuits you could buy at little stands. We visited the Todaiji temple, it cost to get in, but it was really cool. Todaiji is the home of the Daibutsu, the largest buddha in Japan. The temple that houses it is the world's biggest wooden building. I bought some souvenirs, including a little fortune dispenser. I tried it twice and got 'normal' luck both times, and decided not to push it. Katie got 'terrible' luck, and Kaz got 'good' luck. It took some considerable willpower to resist getting the pink deer antlers and the plushie katana that squeaked whenever you whacked anything with it.

After we saw that, we went down to Kofukuji, another temple area. It was getting dark by the time we got there, so then we headed back to the shopping area to look around some more. Then Katie had to leave, and Kaz walked me to the JR Nara station.

The train ride to Kyoto took about an hour, although I was on the local train. Kyoto station is probably the coolest station architecturally I've seen so far. Kyoto is a lot more urban than Nara, something that was apparent as I walked to the hostel. (Turns out I was right about Nara being old; it's the oldest capital city in Japan, about to celebrate its 1300th anniversary in two years.) As you walk out the station, you're greeted with Kyoto Tower, a space-needly thing on top of a hotel. The directions were a bit less clear, but I found the hostel ok. This place is totally different from the one in Nara. It's two buildings, three and five stories, with a very modern aesthetic and card keys and stuff. There aren't any Japanese people staying here either, that I've met in the common area at least.

This was about 9:00, so I went out to find something to eat. There were some restaurants, but it's not that interesting to eat out alone. I found a convenience store and got some soba and natto. The soba turned out to be on some sort of jellied broth that was supposed to liquify in the microwave, it wasn't all that good. The natto roll was good though. I'm finally starting to get a taste for the stuff.

I ate and hung out in the common room until about 10, when Simon showed up. We've been figuring out plans for tomorrow and chatting, now he's reading a book while I type this. It's pretty late, I should go to bed.

EDIT 11/24/08: blogger ate the luck. Fixed now.

UGAYA Guest House, Nara

I got off to a rocky start this morning. First I forgot my jacket, then my toiletries. I made it just in time to the interviews.

Yumi (the coordinator of the program from Tokyo), Terajima (the director of the Nagoya office), and I interviewed six applicants for the North America year-long high school exchange. It was remarkably similar to the interviews I did for this internship, only I was on the other side of the table. All six of the applicants were pretty good, luckily I don't have to be the one make any final decisions.

After the interviews finished at about six, I hurried over to the train station to begin my weekend journey. I went to Nagoya station and took took the Kintetsu Urban Liner Limited Express, transferring at Yagi and Sandaiji. The express was really nice, and although it was dark out, what I could make out was really pretty. The moon was just past full and was peering through wispy clouds, in the way you would see in nice paintings.

I arrived in Kintetsu-Nara at about 9:30...

whup, my roommate is going to sleep, I'm gonna be nice and finish tomorrow


Let's see... after I arrived at the station, I followed the directions to the hostel. I checked in and the dude showed me around. It's a pretty quaint place, with a great atmosphere. All the bunks are full, so I get to sleep in the tatami room for bunk price. Yay.

It occurred to me that I might need my own little soap and shampoo for the shower, so I asked if there was a place nearby I could get some. They pointed me to a convenience store nearby. I walked through the neighborhood, it was after ten by now. Nara isn't exactly rural, but it feels pretty antique. There are the low buildings you see in museums, with the stylized roofs, and the streets are really narrow. From what I can tell, this place must have avoided the WWII firebombings that "reset" most other cities, architecturally.

I picked up some dinner at the store as well, and headed back. There's a community area in the lobby of the hostel, and I hung out with a few cool Japanese dudes while I ate. One of them had walked around the island of Shikoku dressed as a monk, another had biked around the largest lake in Japan (took him 26 hours). We talked about a whole bunch of stuff, me practicing my Japanese and them practicing their English. There was a big poster board map of the world on the wall, they had me stick a pin where I was from. There were pins all over the place, but only two in the SF area and one in Sacramento (none in KC). I stuck mine in Davis.

I went to bed, I'm sharing the room with a girl from France, Amy. She's doing the rush tour of Japan, she's got a big backpack and a tight schedule.

Anyway, yeah met some cool people here. I like this hostel thing.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Spent the day preparing this weekend. Tomorrow I'm going to be involved in some sort of interview process for the year-long high school exchange program. Then I'm going to Nara to visit Katie, and then I'll go to Kyoto with Simon. Gonna be fun!

My host father's parents were just diagnosed with cancer, and he drove out to be with them for the surgery. From what I hear it went ok, they still need to do some follow-up scans and stuff though. Hope they pull through alright. I'm not exactly sure where the town is, all I could get was that it's an 8 hour drive away.

We watched a program on TV this evening. It was a documentary about a dude and his pet goat. It ended with the goat getting some kind of bacterial infection and needing to be euthanized. They had a drawn-out shot of the goat dying in the dude's arms, it was pretty sad. They were talking about how when the dude was a boy, they took his dog away to become lion food after the dog bit another kid. I don't think this kind of thing would be too popular on American TV.

Also, something has been bugging me about TV here. If you thought laugh tracks were bad, that's nothing; it's common here to have a picture-in-picture video of the reactions and emotions of a studio audience.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today I visited the Usami Party 40th anniversary bonanza. It was at a kindergarten; two sessions of ~60 kids each, followed by a normal Labo party. We went out to an italian restaurant afterwards, joined by two of her older Labo students.

We talked a lot about temples and shinto and interns and homestays and haiku and traditional comedy theater and all sorts of stuff. She gave me a few presents, as well. Usami tutor is one of the longest standing and most respected tutors in the district, if not the whole organization. I'm pretty wiped, this entry should be way longer. Sorry.

Oh yeah, I finalized my switch to my fallback Independent Study Project of Igo. Virtual Labo is cool and all, but I am not going to keep spending this year indoors programming it.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I'm sitting in the office, and Ono says something about influenza.

"What?" I reply.

He says something about camp, with hundreds of kids on a mountain in the middle of winter.


He says something about medicine. Prevention.

"Ooooh no..."

He says we need to get shots.

"We? Like, me as well?"

He says we leave at 3:30.

"You aren't kidding, are you." I look down at my watch. It's 2:30. I spend the next hour trying, and failing, not to think about needles. Needles with holes on the ends... needles with huge cylinders full of gimpy viruses... needles injecting said viruses... under... my... skin. I find my hand unconsciously grasping my shoulder. The clock's needles--I mean, hands--move slower than usual. Eventually I am summoned away from my desk, nothing more grasp onto then a feeble "halp" IMed to people cities away.

I morbidly follow Ono and Ponde as they make their way through Sakae, farther away from the station than I've yet wandered. One building is surrounded by the scent of an immolating Cuban cabana. Another building plays a cheerful synthesized melody at me. Outside yet another building are hot dogs made of catfish hanging out to dry. My captors--sorry, coworkers--slow down and look around as if they'd lost their way. Just as I start to hope we can turn around and go back, "oh, there's the clinic." Darn.

There's no one inside. Despite my astute observations that no one was present and that, hey, we tried our best, we waited. After a while, a nurse emerged and gave us some forms to fill out. Forms in Japanese. Medical terms, it turns out, are not the first things people learn in a new language, English or Japanese. After an entertaining game of charades, we determined that I am not athsmatic, that I do not have seizures, and that I have never developed skin pocks from something I ate, among other things.

We return the forms, and proceed to the level 2 waiting room. We wait, but too soon our names are called out. We're summoned into a room that (if I remember right) is labelled "Disposal," with a menacing diagram of a syringe. They sit us down and... have us wait some more. Then they bring one last form, some sort of disclosure paragraph, they ask Ono to translate it for me. He says it's fine, that it just says I might get really sick because of the shot. Apparently mistaking my double take as a gesture of acknowledgement, he circles the OK and hands it back.

They do him first. The doctor offers to let me watch the procedure closely. I politely decline and turn around. I'm next, and before I know it I've been pierced. Like a wasp stinger or a snake fang, it injects the neutralizing agent into my bloodstream. No sooner then the band-aid is applied, we're whisked back into the waiting room. Ponde follows shortly, and once more we're waiting. Waiting, because that's what you do in a waiting room.

I ask what we're waiting for, and it's explained that we need to pay. Curious, usually that the first thing hospitals back in the US take care of. We wait a good ten or fifteen minutes to pay for the privilege of being so brutally violated. At least Labo'll reimburse me.

Today, after I got home, I did a grocery run and made dinner for my host family. Lemon Pepper Pasta, they loved it. My host mom liked it so much, as soon as she tasted it, she put a little into a tupperware and ran next door to enlighten the neighbors. She said she'd never tasted anything like it before in her life. I made a light caesar salad to go with it, too.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

After I left the office today I went over to the Apple store to see if I could get my mitts on a working iPod. A bunch of people have helped me out in this ordeal, big appreciation due there. Thanks!

I walked into the store and took a look at all the options. I was pretty underwhelmed with the classic. The new firmware is terrible. Half the screen is taken up by random album art, which is not only visually distracting, it keeping holding up the rest of the system while it spins up to load more random images. It took twice as long to even select anything, and from what I understand the only way to disable it is to not have any album art whatsoever. Also, it's not compatible with more than half my games.

The Nano looked a bit nicer, but it had its own problems in lieu of the hard drive. For starters, the accelerometer is kind of annoying, particularly it and cover flow. The nano has the option to switch off the menu art, but no option to turn off the accelerometer. I would have to put my music library on a diet to work with 16gb, not to mention podcasts or videos. It's also not compatible with some of my games.

I figured I might as well give the genius bar a shot, so I gave the guy the iPod, showed him what was going on, and he gave me some options. They had a new iPod of the same model that they would replace it with for the ¥15800, or they could give me ten percent off a new model in exchange for it. Now I had three options.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not too good with decisions, especially expensive ones that I know I'll regret. I spent over an hour in that store, looking between the three models and making comparisons online. All three had things about them I really liked: The classic was humungous, I'd never have to worry about storage. The nano was light, and more robust. The 5g had plain vanilla firmware that didn't suck, and it worked with everything my old ipod worked with. In the end, however, I realized that only the old model didn't have anything about it I intensely disliked.

I'll hang on to this for another couple iPod generations, at least until the nanos surpass 32gb and Apple fixes its firmware. I'm happy with it.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was another study day.

My ipod has officially snuffed it. I called the apple support line, they said it would cost ¥15800 (about $150) to replace the hard drive and battery.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

We went on a road trip to Seto city today. My host mom and siblings had some sort of performance to attend, a children's musician from what I understand. There weren't enough tickets for me and my host dad, so we wandered around the area finding ways to kill two hours. First we went to a ramen shop for lunch, although we made some family circus style dotted lines around the area trying to find one. Really, the GPS thingy had a dotted line trace our path, it looked like a bunch of drunken ants.

After eating, we spent twenty minutes trying to find a golf shop my host dad had seen earlier, but all we found were more ants. We gave up and headed back to a bookstore we saw, but it turned out to be a comic and game store. Interesting enough for me, but not something my host dad was into. There was a big supermarket he'd seen on the map (Apita) and he knew they'd have a book section. We spiraled in on that, then out away from it, then back in, and finally found an entrance to the parking area.

By the time we actually got there, we didn't have that much time left to kill. I did find a puyo puyo gashapon, which turned out to be a puyo superball. It is awesome, and I consider myself lucky that I haven't broken anything with it yet.

On the way home we stopped at a McDonalds (the rest of the family wasn't with us for ramen), and crashed their little play structure. Seia swiped my puyo ball, took it in the structure, and promptly dropped it through some canvas netting or something. The area underneath the structure was locked off, so they had to bring a dude with a keychain to climb in there and retrieve it.

There happened to be a golf shop next door, so we visited that too. My host dad had the grips replaced on some of his clubs, and while I was waiting I got a chance to look at some of the things on display. Two points about those big drivers: they're expensive, and they're light. I'm surprised I've gotten along this far without ever picking one up, but for some reason I had assumed the big heads on the things were there for weight. They're not.

After we got home, I gave them some of the gifts that my mom sent out. They are appreciated!

Oh yeah, and we watched the final game of the Nippon Series baseball championship. The Giants lost, but only barely.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I walked down to the local grocery store to see if they had the remaining ingredients for the lemon pepper pasta I've been wanting to make. They pretty much did, but the pasta came in teeny little 100g packets, pretty expensive. There's an import store that sells real pasta for a reasonable price back in Sakae, so I guess I'll hold out until next week.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I went to a Labo Party today. It was the biggest one I've been to yet (as an intern), there were about fifty kids, plus some parents. Had a great time, but man do those kids wear you out. It went pretty late, so I didn't get back home until about ten.

Imoto tutor dropped me off at the station. The next direct train wasn't coming for half an hour, so I got to wait out on that platform. My iPod is still busted, so it was just a quiet evening... nice and relaxing. The silence was punctured at one point by some random happy music coming from some loudspeaker off in the distance. I'm no poet, I can't properly convey what it was like out there. I'll just say that waiting alone on a rural train platform on a tranquil night is one of those underrated experiences that I wouldn't give back for a million bucks.

Well, maybe a million... heck, maybe for the price of the train ticket, just so I could do it again.

Yeah, definitely not a poet.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

...is all I need, apparently. While everyone else is wearing long sleeves, all I've got is a T-shirt and shorts and I still feel warm. Today was... not so interesting. A full day at the office.

When I got home my host mom's Labo Party was wrapping up, so I played Legos with them for a while. One of the folks from the Labo office was visiting too... Yama... Yamaz... still working on the names. One kid requested I build a bunny, so I did, but by the time I'd finished she had left. I built a tablet bearing the word ラボ (Labo), and a set of balloons (referencing a balloon themed Labo songbird). They were duly impressed, so polite.

Election wrap-up... I watched the most recent South Park. Kudos to those guys for getting it out so fast, that was what, 24 hours? Not even. Of all the movies to parody, it was nice of them to choose one I'd seen so recently.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I spent the whole morning in the office following the election today. I never had any doubt that Obama would win, but I did doubt whether the machines would let it through. The numbers (for the popular vote) were a lot closer than I thought they would be, Americans never fail to amaze me. Missouri is really close, it's been called for McCain, but there are some reports of shady business (voter intimidation) in St. Louis.

Prop 8... ugh. I hope that last 5% of precincts pulls things together. I blame it on the spectacularly poor No on 8 campaign, but I really would have thought of Californians more highly than this. For the next amendment, let's make the state constitutionally recognize that it's pronounced "toMAto." If you still feel like your blood pressure is too low, check out what Alabama did.

Had another party today, had a great time. It was made up primarily of elementary schoolers, they picked up on the games I had pretty fast. They defeated the matching game, for example, in less than one rotation, the first time any party has managed that.

Funabashi tutor was pretty nice. One of her daughters stayed in Kansas and visited St. Louis this last summer, so she helped me elaborate on the pictures of the Arch and Zoo in my album. It seems she remembers the Zoo for the cockroaches, I didn't gather whether she meant cockroaches on display or in the zoo cafe.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was just another day at the Labo Center office, until about lunchtime when all of a sudden I got summoned into another room. It was a bilingual performance of Stone Soup, by some Labo tutors that I gather were graduating from some sorta tutor training program. After the ceremony we all got fed, but it was only a plain old stone-less bento box.

I went to a Labo Party, not so far away today. It was at a kindergarten, but the kids in the party were as old as 7. There was one kid who ran around like a maniac for the first half of the party, attacking me and running off with my juggling balls. In a quieter part of the party, I looked down and found that he had fallen asleep on my lap. He must have been one of the oldest kids there, but he was out for the rest of the party.

Sakakura was a good tutor, she picked up my juggling balls and pulled off a 3 ball shower (!) for at least five catches or so. The nearest traditional Japanese equivalent of juggling is Otedama, a kids game involving three small bean bags thrown in a shower pattern. According to the mother I was talking to, a lot of people Sakakura's age are good at it, so that would mean it was popular back in the 50s or 60s.

Sakakura emailed me some photos after I got home, the first tutor to do so so far. Sweet.

Oh yeah, it's Election day, polls are open now. Hope there's some good news waiting for me when I wake up.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was another holiday. We went to this big playground/park area the next town over, and had a picnic. The place was really cool, there were tons of interesting play structures, most of which probably wouldn't survive litigation in the US. Wavy ones, bendy ones, wooden ones... many of them were not like any I'd seen before. There was a "bridge" of suspended logs across a river, but the logs weren't connected to each other so they'd swing all over the place when you stepped on them. You could very easily slip between them and take a bath if you weren't careful. There were ziplines, mazes, huge roller-slides, and crazy jungle gyms. There was a pool and some kind of pedal-powered go-kart track, but the pool was closed and the track cost money. The place was big, too; we spent all day there and I didn't get a chance to see everything. I think there were some old fire engines there too.

There were tons of people there, we were lucky to get a table. Aside from playing on all the cool structures, we played with a soccer ball for a bit. Out of the crowd the kids managed to befriend an older girl who hung out with us for the rest of the day (I think her name was Kita? Keita?). Anyway, we had a great time.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I spent most of the day messing around with my website. There's now a map you can use to see some of the different places I've been to, and I put my album online after figuring out how to get it down to a realistic filesize.

We watched Spiderman 2 in Japanese, but the kids all fell asleep halfway through.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today my host mom had a big Halloween Labo Party. We went down to a nursing home and performed some songbirds for some grandpas and grandmas. They seemed to enjoy it, especially the part where they got to hand out candy to trick-or-treating little kids.

It never comes up other than in my own head, but one of the interesting things about this country is the fact that circumstances were very different about 65 years ago. WWII is nothing to me but a few grainy photographs and some important lessons of things not to repeat, but a significant amount of people still remember it first-hand. All the time it happens, I'll see a more venerable gentleman or lady on the subway, and imagine: what would I think of me if I were them?

You see it all the time in America, people saying Asians all look the same. It's not something to be surprised at; our perceptiveness is tuned to the kinds of people we grow up and live with. This goes the other way, too. I've had people tell me that westerners all look the same, without any hint of prejudice. I do my best to stand out, but there aren't a whole lot of other foreigners for me to stand out against.

I wonder, then, what kind of stereotypes am I falling into? This is entirely moot, because people here are very good at not expressing their thoughts (out of politeness, the whole "wa" culture etc.). Still, that makes me all the more curious.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Happy Halloween! I bought a package of fun-size Butterfingers from the import store for the office. They liked them, it was mentioned that there aren't really any Japanese candies that taste like them. Peanuts and chocolate just haven't taken off here, I guess. I haven't seen anything resembling Reeses here either, now that I think about it.

I stopped in Kamimaezu to check out the Osu shopping area on the way home, but things were closing down by then. Walked around, but I didn't really find anything. When I got home we played Legos and watched Ocean's Eleven on TV.

Man, I don't feel so good.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today I visited the Yaragisawa Party in Kozoji. I made extra sure the trains would work out and everything, and left extra early. At Chikusa, I caught a Rapid train going direct, without any more stops in between. What the schedules didn't say, however, was that this particular Rapid cost extra. This wasn't mentioned until after I was on the train, so I had to pay the conductor lady an extra ¥310. Oh well.

The party itself went great, made friends had a good time had to say goodbye et al, same routine.

I met a dude on the way back, he came up to me at the station. He seemed like one of those nice Japanese guys who strike up random conversation with foreigners to practice their English, except that he really didn't talk that much. He just sorta hung around and made sure I got on the right train, which happened to be the same one he was riding. He got off a couple stops later and waved goodbye. I waved back.

In unrelated news, I think my iPod is finally running its course. The battery is at (guesstimate) ~40% efficiency, and the hard drive does funky things when the battery is too low. It decided to screw up a sync at the index level, so it had to re-sync the entire thing. This is kinda important, I spend so much time on trains. Oh well, hope for the best.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

My first big screw-up was today! I guess I'm initiated now.

So I get to the Labo center, and find a note on my desk about my party today. The tutor's father died yesterday, so another tutor arranged to pick me up at the station. Poor lady. Of all the days I could choose for me to be at my best, today would be it. I double-check the directions given to me by the tutor, cross-check the route on the computer, and leave a good 45 minutes ahead of schedule.

I get to Kanayama just fine, I had gone this way last week as well. All I needed to do at Kanayama is find the train that goes to Gamagori. According to the fare map, getting there cost about two hundred yen more than I expected (11** instead of 9**). Right then and there I should have figured something was amiss. It was the only Gamagori there was, so I figured I didn't have a choice. Bus fares back in the US rise by another dime every year, so it wasn't that strange to me. I bought the ticket and went down to the platform.

There were trains all over the place, Rapid Expresses, Limited Expresses, Special Expresses, you name it. After hopelessly trying to figure out what was going on from the posted timetables and maps (all in Kanji, and even so I couldn't find 蒲郡 anywhere), I asked a helpful-looking station attendant what train I needed to be on for Gamagori. He nodded and said "oh, you want the one after the next one on that side of the platform." Before I could thank him and go, he went on to say that I needed to transfer at Kirayoshida. Transfer? The computer didn't say anything about that. Seeing my confusion, he went over to a little lockbox, pulled out an English map of the line, and gave it to me, indicating where the transfer was. It seemed pretty straightforward, and according to the map it was the only way to get there.

The train pulled up, Rapid Express to Kirayoshida. I figured it doesn't get much faster than "Rapid," and this was the train he told me to take, so I got on before the doors shut. On the way, I had some time to look at the map a little closer. It didn't look familiar, and there were a lot more stations between Kanayama and Gamagori than I had expected. The computer said it should only take 35 minutes between those stations, and the more I thought about it, the less I was convinced that sort of time could scale to this many stations. It was an express train, so it skipped most of the stations, but it still wasn't adding up to me, especially with the transfer.

As I was looking at the map of this line, I noticed that "this line" was not the line I remembered seeing on the computer. I had taken the Meitetsu line, and I was pretty sure that was wrong. I futzed around with my work cell phone, trying to get it to dial my scheduler, Ono. I swear, this thing is harder to figure out in English than my personal one in Japanese. I managed to get it to make the call, and we pulled into the transfer station. As I transferred to the next train, Ono figured out how late I was going to be, then called the tutor to work things out.

I was on a relic of a train. Two cars, and they asked people to walk to the front to give their tickets to the driver before leaving. It was a single-track line, so we had to wait at one station for another train to pass the other way. Ono called back, instructing me to take a taxi to the party. I wasn't going to be very late, just a little late; thank goodness I left as early as I did.

The taxi driver was an interesting character. I actually managed to carry on something resembling a conversation with him, that was awesome. It's a fantastic feeling, breaking through these kinds of barriers learning a new language. He asked if I was Brazilian (it was dark out by now). As we got to the Chuubushimi Center, the light came on as I opened the door, and I saw that his hair was a shock of blue. Neat dude.

The Labo Party itself went great, aside from my slight tardiness. I hardly walked in before we started dancing, no introduction or anything. There were three Labo tutors and about three parties' worth of kids. The matching game worked out nicely, we took exactly as many turns as there were kids, so everyone got a shot.

After the main party, there was a smaller junior high party with about ten people. Things went peachy, introductions questions album etcetera, until I pulled out the hacky sack. They loved that thing. They sucked at it, but that didn't really matter. Had a great time, it was over too fast, like always.

One of the tutors gave me a lift to the station, and came in with me to make sure I got on the right train. She loaded me down with food, which was great because it was late and I hadn't eaten. I ate on the platform waiting for the train, there was hardly anyone else there. The train ride back was fast and luxurious, real seats and everything. It pained me to know that I could (should!) have been riding in style earlier instead of spending an hour and a half on that ancient choo choo, although the scenic route probably would have been fun if it weren't for the appointment.

Guess I learned my lesson. Also, my scheduler rocks.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I visited a Labo Party way off in the boonies today (up in the Mie prefecture). I gotta say, Japanese boonies are pretty cool. There were pretty mountains and fields all around, even though it was only an hour and a half from Sakae. The station had an island platform, meaning I had to step down and actually cross tracks to get out, and there was a dude taking tickets instead of an automatic wicket.

The party itself was an open party, there were only five or so Labo kids, but there were a couple dozen visiting kids. Nishikawa tutor was really focused on making the party work, we stayed on a strict schedule. Us and the Labo kids got there 45 minutes early, and decked out the room with a big pile of paper pumpkins, streamers, and other decorations. I did pretty well with the shy ~5-year-olds (most of the kids weren't even used to Labo Parties, much less interns), they warmed up to me before it was over. I sorta wish I had a poster-board edition of the album, with this many people (their mothers were all there too) it becomes more like a class lecture than a group of friends.

We didn't know the train times, and as luck would have it a train came up just as we parked. Nishikawa tutor called to the station attendant, and he actually held the train for a few extra seconds for me to hop on, that's never happened to me in the city.

Oh yeah, before I left, while I went out for lunch at the Labo center, an odd thing happened. I took the stairs, which meant going through a business fashion shop on the fourth floor. As I walked in, an old lady, whom I'd never seen before, approached me, saying something to me in really fast Japanese. Before I knew what was happening, she reached behind my collar and tucked in my tag. Then she smiled, turned around, and walked off, leaving me bewildered and slightly neater.

OCD spasms like that aren't exactly common back in California, but I wouldn't be all that surprised if it happened there. In Japan, though, it's unprecedented to the point that the only explanation is that the lady did know me somehow. She must have been a Labo tutor who'd seen me at my desk in the Labo Center, I'm not exactly the conspicuous type. Yeah, that's probably it, seeing as how most Labo tutors are old ladies. (The rest are ladies that no one, in conscious self preservation, would ever call "old.")

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was a Monday, which means yet another study day. Other than working on my project, I cleaned up my room, it looks almost as nice as when I got here now.

One of my host mom's friends visited, and I got to do the album routine again. We ordered pizza, that was nice. Neither my tongue or my heat is going to get used to this mayo pizza anytime soon. I swear, I'd die if I ate as much of this as I normally eat when it comes to pizza.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I must have blinked. I've been here for a month already. Damn it, I knew this would happen.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today my host dad took me down to the golf place, along with Leona and Seia. We didn't go into the big driving range area, instead we went to a beat-up little green nearby. This was my first time hitting a golf ball with something other than a putter. We had an hour there, out of all that chipping I managed to get one ball technically in. Technically because the flag was lopsided and propped the ball with the edge of the hole so it didn't actually fall in, but I was assured that counted.

I didn't spend the whole time chipping, though. The kids found some plants with some nasty burr things, and decided it would be fun to whack everyone with branches. Throughout all my adventures in the US, I've never seen anything as evil as these things. They're small flakes, covered in some kind of abrasive superglue. Even one is hard to remove; if you can get ahold of it, the adhesive is strong enough to put up quite a fight. But there isn't just one, I had patches of hundreds on all the areas they had hit me with. You couldn't just brush them off, it was crazy. My fingers were bleeding before I had finished removing the ones I could find, the glue was strong enough to take bits of skin with it. Seia had such a great time with them that his dad was outside picking him clean for half an hour after we got home.

Went out to sushi tonight, I don't even want to think about how much it cost. Thanks, Nakatani family. After dinner, we went to a grocery store. I found a nifty 3D plastic jigsaw puzzle, an apple. When we got home I put it together while we watched the Chunichi Dragons (the local baseball team) get smooshed by the Yomiuri Giants (from Tokyo). A cleanup hitter named Ramirez hit a 3-run homer, and after he high-fived all his teammates, he did a spontaneous choreographed dance with an orange rabbit in a skirt. Japan can make even baseball interesting.

This rabbit.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Nothing all that special happened today. It was a half day at the office because the party went late last night, so it was nice to get the extra sleep. Although it wasn't really that much extra sleep, yay two-year-olds. At least my cough is going away faster than it did last time.

On the way home, I stopped by an AU store to try and pay for my cell phone. They had apparently sent the bill to my old host family, and although I think they forwarded it, I still haven't gotten it. The AU store had no problem taking the money, though. It was pretty expensive, I wonder if they charged me for two months in one go. No one spoke english there, so I tried not to make it more complicated than it had to be. I got it set up so that they would automatically bill through the bank instead of mailing to past host families. Still would like to see what drove up the bill, the only thing I've really been using the phone for is email, and there's a cap on that.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was my host sister Leona's birthday, she turned 7. I got her Ice Age 2 and Robots, she seems happy with them. They went out to dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, but unfortunately I had a Labo Party at the same time. I didn't need to go into the office today because the party yesterday went so late (if a party goes past eight, interns don't need to come in for the first half of the day) and because I had a party in the afternoon.

The party was way out in Akaike, pretty close to Hara. I arrived at the station half an hour ahead of time, so I got to sit out front and enjoy the atmosphere for a while. The weather today was really nice, cool and overcast with a crisp breeze, raining just lightly enough to not need an umbrella.

The party itself went really well. The tutor, Shimamura, was a nice old lady who sorta hung around in the background and let the Labo kids run things. The kids ranged from 6 (a few even younger I think) to 24, and there were a couple dozen of them. This party was a lot less shy than the ones I've been to before, they were really active, running all over the place. I had a great time; juggling, hacky-sack, and a few new games I tried out all went over pretty well.

Coming back on the subway, I found out firsthand that trains stop going directly from Kamimaezu to Nagoyako somewhere around eight. You need to transfer at Kanayama if you want to go home later in the evening. I'm rather proud of myself for figuring this out on the fly, albeit with some assistance from a bored sounding station attendant (he probably has people asking him the same question I did all the time).

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I woke up this morning feeling pretty yucky, coughing and leaking nattou. I was wary of popping the strange pills my host mother had, so she cooked up some sort of ginger tea concoction. That helped for a while, at least.

By the time I came into the office, my host mom had apparently called and given them a heads-up as to my condition. Throughout the morning, office people came up to me to say that they'd heard I was sick, and to ask how I was doing. Awfully thoughtful of them. After lunch, my coordinator arrived and, along with a lady who just happened to have a brand new sealed bottle of cold medicine, all but shoved three pills down my neck. I found that I am not good at taking pills. He gave me three more pills and told me to take them after dinner.

I visited the Hashimoto Party today. After a less-than-intuitive transfer to the JR system through Kanayama station, I arrived in a quaint little town somewhere to the southeast. The tutor actually had two consecutive parties, first being the younger party. I read (and half-translated) a picture book ("What is Halloween?"), juggled a lot, played the memory game, and got to stand behind a door to hand out candy to trick-or-treating Labo kids. We did a few songbirds too, of course. Had a great time! Oh yeah, and I did all this in front of a shutter-happy reporter for the local newspaper.

The second group was even better, mostly high-school/college kids who knew enough english to converse. We had sort of a pot-luck dinner, mostly rice balls of various sorts. Played some hacky sack, that's always fun. We did a theme activity, a story about Frederick the poetic field mouse. I got cast as Frederick. After the activity, we had a discussion about colors (a subject featured in the activity) and differences in perception. Some interesting differences: In Japan, one describes unripe fruit as blue, not green (that holds true to describe youth or newbness, e.g. greenhorn). The sun is not yellow, it ranges from red to orange throughout the sky. I explained a part of the story that didn't survive translation (a gotcha rhyme), they were really into that.

The party ended at eight, but through various train schedule misunderstandings (none of which were on my part!) I didn't get on a train until almost nine. Yay late.

On a side note, I think this entry could use maybe one more set of parenthesis. (There, perfect!)

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today I visited the Kato-Hiromi Party. It was only one subway stop away, so I decided to hoof it and enjoy the nice day. Beforehand, I went down to Loft to track down something resembling a halloween costume. I was thinking cowboy hat or pirate bandana, but the only cowboy hat they had was made of plastic, and the pirate hat (it was pre-shaped) didn't fit me. I settled on a little plush pumpkin (kabocha) that clips on top of my head, with vines and leaves. It's light, small, and durable enough to ride in my backpack, and it's sufficiently orange. I am a pumpkin for Halloween.

The party itself was pretty big, 25 kids, half of them with mothers. Unfortunately, with a party that size it's difficult to get to know all the kids. With smaller parties, there's usually a period of shyness, but it passes pretty fast as the kids get to know you. With a party this size, unless you're exceptionally charismatic, some of the younger kids manage to stay shy through the whole thing. Oh well, I did my best.

On the way back, I stopped by the Labo Center to pick up a couple "Labo" T-shirts from my scheduler. I haven't tried them on yet, but I'll be surprised if they're big enough for me.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Aurora was nice enough to let me sleep in again, today. Grr.

Mostly phutzed around with Ren'py during the day. In the evening, I built a big cargo ship out of legos, and a car and shipping container to put on it. My host dad works for a shipping company, see. When he got home, I asked him how mine compared to the real ones. He said it looked pretty neat, but his company's ships carry 4000 cars at a time. My ship could carry maybe two cars at the scale I built them. Even using 2x1 blocks for "cars," my ship's capacity was still an order of magnitude short.

Oh yeah, and building a container at an 8x8.5x20 ratio is hard when you don't have any plates.

On a side note, 100 posts! I bet some of them are even worth reading.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I got a chance to introduce my host family to my Dad's family back in California. It went as well as one might have expected, putting eager kids in front of a camera. At least they didn't put a transformer through my laptop screen.

Didn't really do much else interesting today... mostly just coughing and watching kids.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I woke up today to a rabble of Labo kids and a few parents, kind've a surprise. We went to the Nissan University's festival day, pretty neat.

There were different tables where students were selling cheap yakisoba, okonomiyaki, etc. Upstairs, they had a little course set up with some remote control cars. They had a stage with some bands playing, and a comedy troupe. They were using stencils in and airbrushes in the body shop to give temporary tattoos.

I met one of the students there, a Russian fellow by the name of Eddik (or however it's supposed to be spelled, I'm not familiar with Russian names). He spoke fluent English and Japanese, and he was the same age as me. It's inspiring to meet someone so accomplished, but at the same time kinda humbling.

After the college event, we wandered around the park for a while and stopped by the supermarket on the way home.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was my host brother Seia's birthday, he turned five. On the way back from the Labo Center I stopped at an HMV and picked up a copy of Happy Feet and a Tom and Jerry DVD (it was on sale). I was looking for a copy of Ratatouille (actually titled "Remi's Delicious Restaurant" here), but it was pushing 40 bucks. 50 for blu-ray. No wonder broadcast TV is so popular here.

When I got back home, he was actually asleep on the couch. When he woke up, I presented (har) him with the gifts. I was braced for some kind of "I don't want it, wrong penguin movie" 5y/o melodrama, but he loved them. What took me off guard was that my host sister (the older one) broke down when she didn't get anything. She didn't speak to me for like half an hour. Her own birthday is in less than a week, on the 23rd.

We went out to dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory, the same franchise from Portland and Sacramento. It survived the transition to Japan better than Denny's did; although there was a "Japanese style spaghetti" section on the menu, they had the same mizithra cheese special I ate two years ago in Sacramento. We got to eat inside a train car, and the staff even did the (very American) sing-to-the-birthday-boy thing.

After we got home at around 10ish, Seia convinced his mom to let him stay up and watch the Tom & Jerry DVD, four ~10 minute eps. After that finished, he managed to finagle in the penguin movie too.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I had a Labo Party this morning, my host mother's younger party. There were around six kids (≤3歳) and as many moms.

At lunch, Nakatani-sensei called my scheduler and asked if I could just not bother going in to the Labo Center, so I could stick around for her afternoon party as well. He said ok, so I did. It was the same party as last week, except a few more kids came this time. The matching game was a huge hit, which was just as well as they had already seen my album.

I really need to start getting to bed earlier.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

The Labo Party turned out to be a playgroup, pretty laid back. There was a 3y/o, a 2y/o, a 1y/o, a baby, and three mothers. Had a great time, the matching game went over well. We had a small lunch there, too. The tutor, Shibata tutor, is apparently an avid baker, and she made some bagels for us. They were certainly up to par from what I could tell, although my palette might not be quite calibrated.

Bleah, late.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Office. Yay.

Emma drew a halloween-themed memory game, it's pretty neat. I printed it out, made some backings, and laminated them. It looks pretty good. A couple of the pictures are kinda scary... it's just as well, I probably won't be using all twelve pairs for younger kids.

Got a Labo Party tomorrow morning! Hope it goes well.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was a holiday. My host family and I went out for lunch... we went to this sushi place, but there was a half-hour wait, so we crossed the street and went to another restaurant.

We went to this supermarket/variety store place. There was a pet section, with puppies and kitties. There was one fluffy little kitten who would whack at your finger if you put it up against the glass, it was pretty cute. I wondered how no one had bought him yet, until I figured out that he cost over fifteen hundred bucks. Meow.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Had another sports day this morning. This time it was at Seia and Eria's kindergarten/preschool. I spent the latter part of the event over by the playground, teaching hacky-sack to a bunch of elementary-school-age kids.

We went out to lunch at the indian restaurant again.

Over dinner, we played that one game where you say a word that starts with the last letter of the last word. After, my host mother pulled out a ~forty-year-old scrabble set and we gave that a try. It didn't work too well, mostly because it was difficult to anagram with three energetic kids prancing through everything. Maybe we'll try again later.

Oh yeah, I've had a headache since around noon. Probably just dehydration, at least I hope that's all. Not looking forward to being sick again.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya


Saturday! Slept in, or at least tried to. My host siblings were making so much noise when it was early that I clamored through my pack and dug out my earplugs.

We went to the supermarket next door for lunch/shopping. There was this apple danish in the bakery that had an entire half of an apple inside, instead of slices. It was delicious.

Picked up a couple more Anpanman gashapon, too. This time I actually got Anpanman, yay. Our fridge is now adorned with four of these magnet/figure things.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was my first real actual go-somewhere-on-my-own Labo Party! It went really well, none of the kids hated me. Hey, I consider that a success for my first time.

We were planning on doing a theme activity, but everyone was having so much fun playing duck duck goose and hacky sack that Okita-sensei I guess forgot about it. All that preparation, oh well. Had fun anyways!

Apparently I was the first intern Okita Tutor has had for almost ten years. She was really nice... I don't wanna say carefree, but that high-strung feeling I get from most tutors I've met wasn't there. Her daughter went on an exchange to Wisconsin last year, and she and her son are going to Washington State next year.

It's kinda hard to say goodbye at the end of these parties... you make a whole bunch of friends, and then you're never going to see them again. I suppose I'll need to get used to that.

There was a Book-Off right near the station, so before I left I stopped by. They had two games I had been looking for, and they were pretty cheap too. One was that Aha! game I'd been showing the demo of on my PSP to everyone back home, the one where you have to identify the change in the photo. The other was Minna no Golf 2, sorta like Mario golf without the Mario. My host dad plays golf (he gets up at 5 every morning to practice at the driving range down the street, and he's been in two company tournaments since I've arrived), so I've been trying to get back into that. Maybe I'll get up at 5 with him one of these days and see if I can learn how to not miss a golf ball.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Labo party was fun. We spent the entire allotted hour doing songbirds and a theme activity, and the next half hour juggling. For future reference, I will not attempt to teach at a party unless I'm equipped with a bucket of balloon balls or something. This was the same party I walked in on when I arrived here almost two weeks ago, so they'd already seen my album.

I'm beginning to see how these things might wear someone out when done in high quantities.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Another office day. Stuffing envelopes and studying kanji. Tomorrow should shake things up a little bit, I've got a Labo Party in the afternoon. My scheduler has me starting off easy, though, it's my host mother's labo party.

On the way home I went to the Loft store in search of some shorter posts for my album. No luck in that regard, but I did get to scour the Sofmap on the top floor again. I found a Yakitate!! Japan DS game, it was really cheap. After bringing it home, I figured out why; it's sort of a cross between Monopoly and Mario Party. Not exactly the cheap Cooking Mama one might have expected.

I got a couple of Anpanman gashapon for Leona and Seia. Neither of them were main characters, but the kids liked them anyways.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I managed to forget my wallet this morning. About halfway to the station (which is only a block away) I realized this, and had to turn back and get it. Still made it to the office on time ok.

I had an intern introduction thingy that had to be done by noon. I had already finished most of it, so I spent the morning getting the pictures right. I couldn't find a picture of the Hyperion redwood online, so I ended up using one of a different tree. Oh well.

I went to this import grocery store to find some food. Some of the items on the shelves would have been familiar if it weren't for the price tags. I'll have to buy some of that food one of these days and bring it home and make dinner. Sometime when my funds are a little freer, maybe.

I've been having to hit the coffee/tea a little harder recently, I need more sleep. In completely unrelated news, I beat the Ace Combat game (the one I bought last week) last night, it's lotsa fun.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was a study day for my cultural study project. Ono told me not to bother coming in to the Labo Center and do it at home, so I spent a good four or five hours on it. Man, I hope this thing will be as cool as I envision it.

Playing Legos, I noticed the nameplate I made yesterday was gone. It seems that my host dad liked it enough to bring it into work with him. So, among the other things I put together, I made a Lego rendition of 中谷, the name in kanji. Not sure if he's seen it yet.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Dreary and rainy today. There was a community sports day at the local junior high school, which went on until about lunchtime when they decided to give in to the rain. It was fun until then at least, I met some neighbors, including a guy from Korea who had come here and started a family. Simple Japanese was all we had in common as far as language (he knew a more than I do at least), but you can say a lot even just through that.

Played with kids and hung out inside where it was dry for the rest of the day. Built lotsa Legos with more Ice Age playing in the background. Having flashbacks to 'Cre'bles. I have been dubbed a Lego "tensai" ("genius") after making a plaque sorta thing saying "なかたに," my host family's name. I ought to put myself on the fast-track to be a master builder at Legoland, maybe I could get the job with a plaque saying "Kristiansen."

We had Takoyaki for dinner, my host mom made me some containing conyaku instead. Yum.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Weekend, yay! It's kinda late so this'll be brief.

Mailed in my ballot! I had to pay like three bucks for it though. Maybe I should have pointed out the "postage paid" thing on the envelope...

Went out to lunch to this nice little Indian restaurant down the street, I understand that the Nakatani family comes here regularly. It was pretty good, even though all we ate was some curry and a bunch of nan. The waiter was an interesting guy, a second generation Indian who knew four languages. He can't have been much older than me. He was really patient with us, three loud kids climbing around everywhere, we sorta abused the unlimited nan deal, on top of it all were using a coupon... the sort of meal you'd tip like 50% on in America. Guess he made sort of an impression, although him being the first non-Japanese person I've met in a week might have had something to do with that.

We went off to a Toysrus. I bought a big pile of Legos for the Nakatani kids, their poor little bucket was getting stretched pretty thin between the four of us. Also found some Magic cards that Denis had asked for, and a moderately hard shell for my PSP.

Stopped by another shop on the way back, I bought them an Ice Age DVD. We watched it when we got back, everyone liked it a lot. Seia demanded that we watch it again after dinner, and my host dad said that now he understands why some people become vegetarian.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Ono-san took me out to lunch today, a little soba restaurant hidden in Sakae's underground shop maze. After lunch, he took me a few blocks out to a spaceage-looking seven floor mall place. He directed me to the top floor, said there were "games and movies" up there. After navigating up a set of escalators reminiscent of Hogwarts, I found the top floor occupied by a Sofmap.

Sofmap is pretty sweet. It's one of the best game stores in Akihabara regarding both selection and price (despite being so huge), so I was pretty excited to find one so close to here. I didn't have much of the lunch hour left for browsing, but I did grab a few figures and a guide for my Haruhi game. Woot.

At 5:30, as I was leaving, I stumbled upon a group of Labo college students preparing for a meeting. I jumped in and started talking, made some friends and showed my album. They said they meet every two weeks, so I ought to see them a few more times at least.

Pizza for dinner, nom. The nori and cheese one was certainly something I hadn't tried before.

Why hello there, Slashdot! Thanks for checking out my journal.

Please let me know what you think!

EDIT: ...or not. I guess nobody actually ever clicks there after all. Oh well.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Oda-san came back today, but he and pretty much the whole office were in a staff meeting all day. They brought bentos in, so I got a free lunch. Nom. I spent the day studying kanji and setting up my culture project on my work PC.

Oh yeah, and Nintendo announced their new DSi today. I wonder if I should get one, my old lite is getting kinda worn out. I wonder if I'll get the chance, seeing as how much the demand will probably be...

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Cripes, is it October already? Maybe I oughta think twice about this living in Japan idea, life is short enough as it is. This is gonna be a fast year. I mean, a fast 10 months and change. Yikes.

Ono-san (my scheduler) was gone today as well. I did some studying, stuffed some envelopes, and researched Halloween games. At lunch, I went out with Ponde and... and... I'm pretty sure his name started with a G... anyways we had udon. My "plain" udon came with a neat pile of bonito flakes on top, but it wasn't a problem that couldn't be mitigated by spoon.

I met some college members (there apparently aren't any "college mates" here, as would be normal in Labo). They were nice, but they were kinda preoccupied with some project, so I only got to talk to one of them for any length of time. Didn't quite get their names, oh well.

On the way out I wandered around Sakae for a bit, looking for a games shop. I found one without too much trouble, a nice one at that. I got the Ace Combat game I've been wanting, and they had the cheap used copy of Ouendan 2 Denis had asked for.

My host mother took it to heart when I told her that just because I was a vegetarian, I didn't mind if they had meat on the table. Tonight each of the kids and their dad got a whole cooked fish, head and everything. It wouldn't have been so bad if Eria hadn't chucked his on the floor (twice) and Seia wasn't playing a puppet show with the entrails.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was my first day to go to Labo Center alone, and wouldn't you know it, the route we took yesterday was blocked off by construction. I got around ok, but pushed the clock a little more than I would have liked.

Ono, my scheduler, was out on a business trip today. The other coworkers helped me out a bit, but for the most part I simply went through my desk. There are tons of folders and papers, documenting interns at least as long ago as 1997. Pretty interesting to go through, there is a lot of history behind this desk.

I bought a nice box of anko-mochi sweets at the shrine yesterday, and I brought it in and gave it to the office. From what I understand, employees do this kind of thing a lot in Japanese offices.

One of sempais (I'm working on everyone's names, not quite there yet. I think her nickname is Ponko? Ponda? I know it's not Ponyo.) showed me a good place to get food for lunch, a sort of conglomeration of bakeries and take-out shops across the street. At an onigiri shop, she asked which one I was going to get. Not knowing any better, I answered, and she bought it for me before I realized what was happening. I tried to pay her back (I even had exact change already in my hand), but she wasn't having any of that. I'm still getting used to this whole gift culture, it does catch me off guard sometimes. The only problem with participating in such a culture is that you need to give back appropriately or the system breaks down. If you do it wrong, you run the risk of appearing moochy, cheap, rich, or sending a message completely different than what you meant. Anyways, the rice ball was delicious.

On the way out I stopped in the bookstore at the bottom of the building. I bought the second volume of that kanji mnemonic handbook, and almost bought a Tintin book for my host sister (they had a bunch of them in hardcover, even the color Congo one, the old Soviet one, and Alph-Art, which hasn't been released afaik in the US). She's about to turn seven, which is I think the birthday I got my first Tintin book. I just haven't seen her reading a lot, so I wonder if she'd actually give it a shot. I'll probably get it for her anyways.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

This morning I rode in on the subway to the Labo Center in Sakae. It's a waaay shorter commute than the one I had in Tokyo, glad about that.

I met my coordinator and the rest of the office, it was a rather formal introduction. My coordinator is a pretty cool dude, can't be a whole lot older than I am. After the introductions, he gave us some money and instructions to get a commuter pass, and gave me the rest of the day off.

Ms. Nakatani took me to the Atsuta Jingu, the second-biggest shrine in Japan. She bought me a health charm, a little zodiac dragon. I'm not sure if I'm really a bunny or a dragon; I grew up thinking that 1988=dragon, but some sites on the intarwebs tell me my birthday was before the Chinese new year. This not being China, both my host mom and the shrine maiden selling the charms agreed I was a dragon, at least by their terms. I'm still not convinced, but maybe I can compromise and at least be that bunny-dragon thing from monty python.

We ate lunch at a sorta western-style restaurant near the shrine. They had some gashapon machines up at the front, I bought a pokemon one while waiting for the food. I got lucky, pikachu.

It's been getting cooler and raining a lot. I hear word of another typhoon maybe coming, wonder if it'll be as devastatingly pleasant as the last one.

We were discussing my picky eating habits at dinner. My host mother has really taken to it, and has been trying this vegetarian thing out herself for the last few days (she's apparently into dieting). This is much to the chagrin of my host dad, who has been caught up as an innocent bystander in the whole thing (in Japanese households, the mom decides what's on the menu). Coming to terms with the idea that I haven't eaten any meat since I was four years old, my host dad asked, with a completely straight face, what I had eaten to get so big. As my host mother (who is a little bit more in-touch with western culture) facepalmed, he went on to ask my weight. I managed to tell him without cracking up too hard. I could see her face getting red as he got up from the table and went to fetch a reference book to translate the pound figure I had given into meaningful terms. After a little head math, he proudly announced his resulting figure to the dinner table, then did a double take and said, looking me over, "is that all?" Poor Ms. Nakatani... we got a good laugh out of it, at least.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I pretty much hung out with the Nakatani kids all day in the house. Watched a movie (Nemo in Japanese!), built legos and a marble structure, juggled, etc. That and did a bit of internet catching up, I actually have a connection here.

Bleah, don't feel like writing much atm. First day at the Nagoya Labo Center tomorrow, looking forward to it.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

This morning I left Matsudo, Ms. Yokoo accompanied me to Tokyo Station. We visited a bookstore for about an hour, then had lunch at a little Italian pasta shop. She saw me onto the train and I introduced her to Katie... they seemed to hit it off pretty well, but the train wasn't gonna wait for us so we had to say goodbye. I've had to say goodbye a lot in the past couple days, goodbyes suck.

This was the first time I've ridden a Shinkansen, I was on the Nozomi line. As we went through Tokyo it just sort puttered along at normal train speed, but after we stopped at Shinyokohama and picked Coral up the train sped up a bit. It was awesome. The most apt way of describing it is to imagine being in an airplane that stays near the ground. Most of the route is pretty urban, so you're seeing houses go by at hundreds of kilometers per hour, right outside the window. It was a really surreal feeling, one that I'd had hundreds of times in my dreams, but this was the first time I felt it while fully conscious. And I was only on the medium-speed Shinkansen, I wonder what the fastest one is like.

Unfortunately that kind of speed meant that my trip was over pretty fast. My new host mother, Ms. Nakatani, was waiting for me as I stepped off the train.

When I arrived at the Nakatani home (a sizable 8th floor apartment just a block away from the train station), I was greeted by approximately eight kids, all very eager to get to know me. I'm not exactly how many there were as they were moving too fast to count, but from what I understand three of them are my host siblings, the rest being members of Ms. Nakatani's Labo party.

They ranged in age from about two to six, and had a ton of energy. They started by dumping out a big bucket of Legos. I built a six-sided color spiral cylinder out of 4x2 bricks, they liked that. I taught my 6y/o host sister, Leona, how to build the structure, she was really into it.

The mothers were all there too. I presented my album, that went over well. From what I understand, Ms. Nakatani lived in the SF Bay Area for a couple years before she lived here.

We had negi-okonomiyaki for dinner, watched 101 dalmatians, did some other stuff, but I'm really tired. I've got an elevated bed here, can't wait to test it out.