Tales From A Broad

My year of teaching English in Japan is up. Next mission: backpack Asia before going home to the U.S.A. Currently HOME!

Osaka Castle

Friday, March 31

Osaka is not a sight for sore eyes during the day. It’s def a place to be seen at night. The exception to this rule is Osaka castle which springs out of the surrounding glass skyscrapers and steel buildings. Although it is not the original version (the original was bombed during WWII), the view from the top is really stunning.

Japanese Fact #56

Thursday, March 30

Capsule hotels are not coffins.

Thanks to Justin, the travel guru, we stayed in a capsule hotel right in the middle of Osaka’s nightlife. It was my first time staying in one and once I got over the coffin feel of it, it was actually really comfortable. You even get your own radio and mini TV (although it mainly shows really bad Japanese porn).


This spring break, I chose to do the responsible thing and stay in Japan. So, Justin and I took the slow train from my town to Osaka, which was an 8 hour trip, but the view was so beautiful. Lots of rice fields and mountains.

My first impression of Osaka is that it looks like a Japanese Las Vegas. Super flashy, borderline tacky neon-lights everywhere and lots of people out at all hours of the night.

The locals are not your typical Japanese and I found them a little rough around the edges with a little more attitude than normal. My kind of people.

This square is where all the young, striving dancers come out to practice their moves. There’s a big mirror ball in the center and huge mirrors against all the walls. Teeny bopper music in the States looks artistically fresh (that’s a scary thought) compared to the overly fabricated and extra packaged music groups of J-pop. These kids were practicing in groups of 7 or more, danced to super hyper techno and were wearing the usual spastic get-up: neon clothes, orange-highlighted mullet hairstyles, “f*ck me” boots and oversized belts.

"Food" I've Eaten in Asia

Thursday, March 23

Don't hate.

1.) raw horse
2.) raw pig ears
3.) raw whale
4.) raw chicken (bird flu?)
5.) raw eggs
6.) raw squishy sea urchin
6.) every type of raw seafood you can possibly imagine (too many to list here)
7.) squid on a stick
8.) kimchi (fermented cabbage, smells like a fart, but tastes good and spicy)
9.) natto (fermented soybeans, super stringy, smells and tastes like a fart)
10.) boiled octopus
11.) whale bacon
12.) pickled everything (think of any veggie right now..yup, I've probably had it pickled)
13.) fish eggs of all shapes, colors and sizes
14.) seaweed and spaghetti
15.) fish flakes and pizza
16.) sweet red beans in every dessert form imaginable
17.) quail eggs
18.) grilled buffalo
19.) seaweed salad
20.) This space is reserved for raw blowfish--a local delicacy--which I've been dying to try, or trying then dying..I dunno which will come first. ;)

While I'm all about trying new things, and I haven't regretted anything I've eaten, I had to stop myself from trying dog in Korea (and I won't eat whale again b/c of the obvious environmental implications). I got to draw the line somewhere!

Funeral or Graduation?

Monday, March 20

For a minute, I forgot I was here. Things used to turn my head and leave me with a puzzled look on my face about 15 times a day, but now I'd say, it's down to about 5. But, I had a reality check a couple of weeks ago where I was left thinking, "Whoa, I'm in Japan."

I went to our high school graduation and it was the most solemn and intimidating event. Everyone was dressed in all black. With thousands sat in the gym, not a single cough, sneeze, shuffle or sniffle could be heard. It was military style. I couldn't spot one person in this entire crowd who wasn't sitting straight, legs uncrossed, and hands straight out. All this pomp and circumstance made me want to stand up and start screaming to break the silence. Even the fully coordinated bows were sharper than usual with not a single student out of sync.

This made me think of American graduation and any other "formal" ceremony we have. Everyone seems to be cheering and family members sometimes bring foghorns to grab their graduate's attention and be ghetto. Even in weddings, supposedly one of the most intimate and sacred occasions, there's always room for interjecting estranged lovers or senile parents. "Speak now or forever hold your peace..." Could you even imagine something like that happening at any Japanese event?! Even if there was an opportunity for people to speak up, no one would take it unless they wanted to commit social suicide. There would be no more of those jelly green tea sweets on their desks. No invitations to ride their bikes together to "Seven Erreven" (7/11). Shit, you can just forget about getting a good spot next to the poisonous kerosene heater.

All the 3rd graders (these are the seniors; J-high schools only have 3 grades as opposed to U.S. high schools which have 4) went outside to celebrate after the ceremony was over. I must admit that I will miss these kids, even if the boys giggle like girls everytime they say, "Hello!" or "I am sexy man"..and the girls insist on grabbing parts of my body that shouldn't be grabbed.

Press Play

Friday, March 17

To all my American friends, especially the ones back home (and to anyone else who's curious),

My sister sent me this video (thanks again Lili) and, after watching it, I have to pass this on to you. It's long, about an hour and a half, but you owe it to yourself to see it. I'm not sure about the validity of it, but it def should make u think. This has nothing to do with being a Republican or Democrat or whatever else you are. There's really nothing more I can say. Please watch it and pass it on. Lemme know watcha think.

If you want to watch it on a bigger screen, go to Google video and type in "Loose Change."

The Late-Night Noodle

Thursday, March 16

My town, Tokuyama, is no gem. If the picturesque 80's skyline of protruding methane factories don't get your bags packin', then surely the air pollution will. Yet, Tokuyama has one thing that redeems itself: the late-night ramen stands around my apartment. Most of them are manned by one or two people and they are usually crazy. This guy is my favorite. He's also crazy and has no teeth, but he makes the best ramen anyone could ask for at 4 in the morning. Screw an apple--a ramen a day will keep the hangover away. It doesn't hurt either that he's known for giving gaijin free beer and spontaneously putting female gaijin in a headlock (you OK Louise?!?). So, cheers to you, crazy late-night noodle man with no teeth!

P.S. As you can see, I've been blogging a lot lately. With no classes at work, I've had lots of free time on my hands. I've even tried to give my blog another makeover, but there are still lots of glitches. Does anyone know how I can get the menu back up to the top?

Japanese Fact #17

Tuesday, March 14

Even gaijin (foreigners) can be firefighters.

Here's Steph, the artist formerly known as El Diablo, posing as a real firefighter for the day. Her small town chose her to be a volunteer firefighter and pass out certificates of appreciation to little kids in the crowd. I tagged along for emotional support (read: I sat in the audience laughing and teasing her the whole way through. What are friends for?!). But hey, at least we got to ride in the crane of a firetruck.

When, oh when...

Monday, March 13

No other nation is as obsessive and naive* about the changing of the seasons as the Japanese. Can you blame them? In a country where climate control** is still a thing of the distant future and with such extremes between the brutal humid summers and bone-numbing winters, fall and spring are more than just welcomed. They are celebrated with parties, drunken old men, countdowns, festivals, drunken old men, charts and more drunken old men. With the spring comes the infamous sakura (cherry trees). All the news channels do full on presentations about the exact timing of when these iconic trees will blossom with graphs and all. The best way I can explain it is like this: I've never lived or been anywhere where my lifestyle was so influenced by the weather. I've got a portable heater that heats one room and layers upon layers of clothes in my own house. As a result, I've turned into a winter hermit. Hate to complain, but this Floridian has had enough. Thankfully, spring is so close that I can almost taste it.

* Any Japanese person will tell you that Japan is the only country with 4 seasons, and some will even go as far to say that, with the rainy season, there are 5. With such conviction, who wants to burst their bubble?

**The dichotomy in this country is astounding. They can invent the fastest, safest train in the world--the bullet train--but they cling onto to basic rudimentary ways to stay comfortable by shunning centralized heating and cooling. Instead, I'm left with a toxic kerosene heater at school in the winter and a paper fan with a picture of (insert cheesy, too cute cartoon character here) in the summer. Inefficient? Absolutely. Typically Japanese? Without a doubt.

For the girls

March 3 was the Hina Matsuri or Doll festival where Japanese parents show their love and appreciation for their daughters by building tall tables adorned with miniature dolls. Some of the dolls are figurines of emperors, warriors, etc. and they are proudly shown for weeks before the big day. Every year until they get married, the parents bust out with this display for guests to "Ooooh" and "Aaaah" over. There's a catch: rumor has it that the daughter will never marry if they don't put the dolls away on the actual holiday. Check out this picture with the kindergartners at my favorite elementary school. It`s out in the middle of nowhere, rice paddies and all, but the kids are the cutest. Note the girl on the bottom left who looks like she trying to eat a fly as we told them to smile big. Don't worry boys, there`s a holiday for sons in May. More later...

Hooray for Japan

Thursday, March 2

Professional figure skater, Shizuka Arakawa, won Japan its first gold medal at the Torino Winter Olympics. I love to see the under dog win and its especially warm and fuzzy to see everyon's reactions firsthand. It's the best thing to happen to Japan since heat-up toilets seats and the Japanese dude that won the Nathan's hot dog eating contest.


Wednesday, March 1

Ladies and gents, I need to write about this b/c us, foreigners, have been subjected to this epidemic for far too long: English-speaker stalkers. They’re leeches and they are on the prowl for natives in all big cities and rural towns throughout Japan. I’m talking about complete strangers who are far too keen to strike a conversation with us in situations where it’s socially awkward, and usually with the most inconvenient timing. Japanese people are typically shy, so one should be suspicious when approached by a person who is friendlier then most sane people by western standards. Of course this can’t be written without acknowledging and crediting the Japanese people who make conversation because they’re genuinely interested in learning about us and our countries. Most people I meet are beyond any politeness I’ve ever experienced back home and the spontaneous acts of kindness are always appreciated. Props to those peeps. Everyone else, read on b/c you may either be a victim or a perpetrator. Beware all you stalkers: I am not a free walking English conversation lesson!

Case 1: The Stretching Samurai

Scene of the crime: on the stretching mats of my gym
Date: about 2 weeks ago
The suspect: A far too genki (active, energetic) man in his 50’s,
Description: While doing some crunches, I noticed the Stretching Samurai trying to make eye contact as he faked some stretching exercises. I was busy so I pretended like I didn’t notice. My beat red cheeks or headphones didn’t deter him from asking me the ever so vital question, “Where are you from?” Seemingly harmless at first glance, I saw him again the following week. This time I was getting on the treadmill. Seeing me from across the gym, he dropped his weights and rushed towards me for a crash course on how to start the machine. Even though I had used it a million times before and was pressing all the right buttons, he insisted on translating them in English.

Case 2: The Tuesday Tea Lady

Scene of the crime: the office at one of my elementary schools
Date: once a month during my regular visits
The suspect: a happy house wife/part time tea lady; last seen wearing a pink nurse apron
Description: She is a silent killer. The kind that peers over my shoulder to see what I’m doing. Naturally, I sense her watching me so I make eye contact. Then, she locks me in. “Book,” she said, pointing at my copy of ZenZen.* I nonchalantly swept my hand over the R-rated comic strip I was reading. What follows is an earnest attempt to understand what she’s trying to tell me in the almost non-existant English she knows. “Book waano...interesting…Japanese study? I English…learn.” My brain always hurts by 2nd period. Although unarmed, she preys by staring and getting awkwardly close, crapping on her prey’s personal space. Avoid eye contact at all costs.

Case 3: The Ogling Obaachan

Scene of the crime: the sauna
Date: last month
The suspect: an obaachan (grandma) well in her 50’s, my height, wearing white hand towel draped over the southern region
Description: While basking, half-nude on the wooden bench, I had almost fallen asleep with my head against the wall until the Ogling Obaachan gently tapped my shoulder. “Are you OK with naked?” I shot her a startled look, still tiptoeing between consciousness and sub-consciousness. I replied, “Yes I’m ok with being naked.” In case I was OK before, this assured me that I wouldn’t be anymore because now the 4 other ladies in the sauna chimed in with their broken English. Queue the comments about why my arms and legs are long. She then proceeded to ask me the standard questions…”where are you from…what do you do…can you use chopsticks…???”

Please save yourself, your children, and your children’s children. If you have been a victim or know someone who has, please get help or comment below.

*For those of you back home, ZenZen is a raunchy indulgence published by some English teachers in my prefecture. It’s filled with gossip-worthy stories and humiliating pictures of our parties.