Sunday, July 29, 2012

I finally have a local convenience store.

Considering these things exist on just about every block in Japan, I was surprised that I didn't have one within less than a 15-minute walk of my apartment. Until this weekend, when a 7-11 opened basically across the street.

Convenience stores (or conbinis) in Japan are nothing like what they are in Canada. For one thing, they actually are convenient, carrying more than just junk food (including freshly made salads, sushi, and onigiri), and the prices are pretty cheap. You can buy your coffee, your microwaveable bento lunch, your makeup, a fresh shirt to wear to work if you're out on the town all night (seriously, some people do that), a rain poncho and umbrella in case of sudden downpour, a beer, a hangover-preventing turmeric drink to have before the beer, tickets to see your favourite band or to fly to Hawaii or to bus it to Tokyo - whatever you need. And in Yokote, conbinis seem to be one of the only businesses that are growing - at least 5 new ones have opened in the centre of town this month.

On opening day, I went in to get stuff for a picnic because everything was on sale. There were three men with batons directing traffic into the tiny parking lot, another one waving a banner on the street corner, one manning an inflatable pool where children could fish for prizes, three more employees shouting out greetings and two offering me samples of melon pan (a kind of sweet bread) the instant I stepped into the refreshingly air-conditioned store.

So. Including the two employees stocking shelves and two more at the checkout, that makes...14 workers at one time in a tiny shop.

I think I understand why unemployment is so low in Japan.

Monday, July 23, 2012

What did you want to be when you were a child?

Just some more stuff from my ever-creative students. I think they outdid themselves this time.

The third-year junior highs had to write an interview script asking a friend about what they wanted to be when they grew up and various dream-related things.

...There was the heart-warming:

"A: What did you want to be when you were a child?
B: I wanted to be a doctor.
A: Why did you want to be that?
B: Because I wanted to help lots of people.
A: What will you need to become a doctor?
B: I will need a lot of knowledge."

"B: I wanted to be a great father."
A: What else?
B: I wanted to be a priest.
A: What is important to you?
B: I think that comics are important."

"A: What is important to you?
B: My family is important.
A: Why is that?
B: I love family.
A: Why do you love family?
B: They always care about me."

...There was the absurd - many students apparently wanted to be inanimate objects and plants:

"A: What did to want to be when you were a child?
B: I wanted to be a wheat."

Really? I asked. He showed me the word in the dictionary and described the plant to me - definitely was wheat. Silly boy.

"B: I wanted to be a tomato.
A: Why did you want to be that?
B: Because its colour is passionate."

"B: I wanted to be a doctor.
A: What else did you want to be?
B: I wanted to be a big dog."

Yes, yes, really.

"B: I wanted to be a worker at Google.
A: What do you want to be now?
B: I want to be a shell. [yep, definitely no mistranslation]
A: Why?
B: Because it's cool.
A: What else do you want to be?
B: A VIP man and has lots of money."

Also, "I wanted to be a pirate."

...There was the magical:

"B: I wanted to be a wizard.
A: Why did you want to be that?
B: I think that making fire with my hands is very cool!!
A: What is important to you?
B: Learning magic is important to me."

And finally...the future evil overlord, with words of wisdom we can all learn from:

"B: I wanted to be a world ruler.
A: What do you do now?
B: I am a convenience store ruler.
A: Why is that?
B: Because the world is bigger than I thought."

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The cherry race: 10km that I simultaneously remember and forget

Five months ago if anyone had asked me if I liked running, my answer would have probably been -

"Mmmm...not really. I mean I go running, *sometimes*, but I don't particularly enjoy it."

This is still the case, sometimes. But now, sometimes, I actually do like it.
It's not really something I expected to get into in a big way while in Japan - or ever, in fact. I think the main thing is, after a long run, the endorphins or whatever kick in and make me feel pretty good and manage to convince me that I truly enjoyed what I just did. Somehow all the discomfort of the run itself is forgotten.  It's all a mental thing, convincing myself to keep going, to forget about the hot pounding of my feet on pavement, that uncomfortable spot in my shoes, the shortness of breath, that point halfway through where I just want to stop and maybe never run again.

No, all of that is replaced by a sense of power and accomplishment and even elation at being able to cover a lengthy distance purely on my own strength. Everything I thought I hated about running is immediately erased from memory when the pavement-pounding ceases and I realize I've reached my daily goal.

Thanks to Kathie and Shirley, I've discovered that, while I'm still hesitant to say I LOVE running...I kinda like it. I had imagined myself one day in my life *maybe* trying a 5k race; instead, Kathie somehow convinced me that it was a good idea to sign up for a 10.
The race was in Higashine, Yamagata. A huge crowd showed up; whole classes of elementary students and families and babies and grandparents lined the streets to cheer and hold painted signs and high-five us as we ran by. Many people were costumed. Not the onlookers; the runners, especially the half-marathon participants. I even saw two guys going that distance in business suits; full-on business suits.

There was another guy who was just finishing his 21k as we passed on the way back to the car - he was wearing a long cape with the Japanese flag on it, some crazy gold hat, and carrying a giant golden ball. "Ganbare, ganbare! (good luck, fight, keep trying, etc.)". He stopped running, all smiles, and tossed us the ball, which appeared to be made of styrofoam. Not sure how he ran that distance carrying that thing, but he seemed to be having fun.
Cute babies! everywhere.

I was going a bit faster than I usually did in training - which I suppose is good, except I felt just about ready to pass out in the home stretch as I sped up to cross the finish line. And as usual, though I thought I hated my life for several kilometres and swore I would never put myself through this again, shortly after finishing I was already thinking about when I might try to do a race again and how it "really wasn't so bad". I'm not sure which side of myself I should believe.
Race swag.
It probably helped that we got cherries and onigiri for finishing the race. Yay Japan!