Sunday, October 11, 2009

It's always shocking to be called back to reality...

We have been here for over six months now. We are starting to feel comfortable and somewhat at home. It is still very interesting and exotic to be here, but a lot of the “gee whiz” has faded. Sometimes when we are walking down the street, we feel that we had adapted to Japan and no longer feel like such a foreigner in a foreign land. “We’re hip,” we tell ourselves, “We live here. We ain’t no dorky tourists…” We might even feel that we are starting to blend in…

Then we see another foreigner, usually a westerner like us. And it is startling, almost shocking, too see that person. They stand out so much among the Japanese, especially if they are dressed in the westerner tourist outfit, as compared to the usually well dressed locals.

Then, with a sinking feeling, we realize that’s us. That’s how we look. There’s no blending in.

The Japanese are very polite. You will rarely see them checking you out. You might catch a pair of eyes glancing away if you turn that way. The illusion that you are just cruising along, blending in as a “foreign local” is just that – an illusion.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Trying to be a better blogger...

Mom berated me yesterday to write more on our blogs. We had started out strong, but we both have faded. I have been focusing more and more time on seriously studying Japanese, and Joan has been learning how to be a teaching at our university. Also, this summer was incredibly busy with traveling, hosting many guests and escorting them around. It has been too easy to just say, “Oh, I’ll write about it later…” The problem is that something just as interesting happens, and writing about the earlier thing gets pushed further down the list.

Also, Facebook comes into to play. It is easy to post a quick status update, comment or upload a photo in the immediacy of the moment and leave it at that. The problem is that not everyone is on Facebook, nor does it lend itself to longer and more thoughtful commentary (most of the time).

Today was a good example. We had the big excitement of Typhoon Melor coming to visit. I wrote a few comments on Facebook about what was going on, but that might have been all I wrote…

So, back in the saddle!

Asia is regularly hammered by the powerful storms; the Philippines just got hit by two back to back and are experiencing horrible flooding. Japan gets them, too, but it has been two years since one actually has made landfall. We had bad typhoon related weather earlier this summer which caused some damage from flooding and landslides in the south, and a small number of people were killed. Today was supposed to be a big one.

Yesterday, many of the students said they were going to stay home. Our farmer friends were worried about their crops. The streets were strangely quiet and empty last night; many shops and restaurants were shuttered. It had been raining steadily but not too heavily for the last day or so, but in the night, the intensity picked up. We could hear it drumming on the roof above it, yet the wind did not seem too bad. By the morning, the intensity of the rain had slackened, but it was still coming down. It did not look too bad outside, and the sky was lightening.

However, we soon received a text message from our boss saying that morning classes were canceled. Hurrah! Typhoon day! (It doesn’t have the same effect as “Snow day!” does it?)

So I stayed home to continue studying kanji, and eventually Joan headed into to school to do some preparation for classes. We have a friend from Michigan visiting us for a week, and later that morning, we headed down to the station to send her on her way for some sightseeing.

As we stood outside the station, and I explained to her the train system and what she would need to do, we suddenly r that the train full of commuters we could see at the platform had not moved in well over five minutes. Usually, the morning trains are fast, furious, and frequent. What’s going on?

With a sinking feeling, we headed up the stairs into the station and saw something I have never seen before. Chaos! A broken down system! There was a milling crowd at the turnstiles, not being let through by the station staff. A uniformed man on a megaphone was talking to the crowd, which swelled and ebbed as more and more people came up the stairs and then left when they realized the world famously punctual trains were not running… There were some staff handing out slips of white paper, which commuters took in hand and left: a “the trains were shut down” note to give to the boss? Another staffer had a map booklet in hand and was offering alternative routes.

I went up the ticket window by the turnstile gates to check that no trains were running. He confirmed it and said he did not know when they would be running again. Behind him was the computer monitor that normally shows the train system with all the routes in their colors: orange, blue, green, etc. Today they were all outlined in angry, pulsing red. Well, well…

Back at the apartment, I checked in with Joan by email and found out that the afternoon classes had been canceled, as well, because the Chuo train line, the main one that students use to come to school, had been shut down due to flooding and high winds.

I read later on the Internets that about 9,000 people had to be evacuated due to flooding, some roofs were torn off and that one bridge had been washed away. The only fatality I have heard of was a newspaper delivery guy on his motorcycle was killed by a falling tree.

The weird thing was that by mid-morning, it was very warm and sunny, although windy. You wouldn’t know there had been a typhoon except for all the leaves and branches in the street, as well as the rows and rows of bicycles that had been blown over.

So, this afternoon, we rode bikes over to Kichijoji to show our friend some local sights. Also, I had to drop my badminton racquet off at Racquet Shop Fuji. I snapped the strings last night at practice. It cost 2,205 yen to get it restrung (about $24). On the way back, we stopped by the tallest building in Musashinosakai to go up to the 11th floor and look to the west. On a clear day after the rains, if the visibility is good enough… Yep, we were able to see Mt. Fuji outlined by the sunset. All in all, a pretty good day.