Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When you know you’re not in America

G-man and I went on a little overnight trip to a town called Gotemba a few days ago and within that trip we had a little experience that had me realize I’m absolutely positively not in America anymore. Gotemba is a little, incredibly adorable, town that has a magnificent view of Mt. Fuji.
em142
Within that little town is a very beautiful and wonderfully ran hotel called Mars Garden Wood. Here’s just a little snapshot of their lobby.
photo (8)
When we checked in, we were starving since we traveled over two hours by many trains and cab to get there and as the front desk clerk gave us a tour of our room, we asked her where we could eat. She secured reservations for us at their Teppenyaki restaurant that is basically what Benihana is in America…only so so much better…and so so different.

When we arrived, we saw we were the only people in the restaurant and had one of the grills completely to ourselves. We love it when this happens. G-man ordered the seafood and meat dinner and I just got the meat dinner (this is all relevant, promise). When the chef came to the grill, he had a few platters with him, with one being the vegetables and seafood for G-man. He set everything aside as he prepped the grill, and I saw on the seafood platter was a huge fully intact prawn on its back, dead. When the chef picked up the platter to move it close to him, I saw the moment he set it back down, the prawn moved. Did you get that? THE PRAWN MOVED! It wasn’t dead at all! It was very much alive, and it had a skewer through its middle that I hadn’t noticed until after it started moving its legs. I audibly gasped and looked at G who had a look of shock on his face and I burst out into uncomfortable laughter.

How was this chef going to kill this prawn?! Chop its head off? I didn’t know! I couldn’t figure it out, until he grabbed it and stuck it face down on the hot grill. I grabbed G-man’s leg in horror as I imagined the prawn screaming inside in terror and pain. Yes, I was feeling completely horrible as I watched this prawn die a horribly painful death. But it got worse as the chef flipped it over and I saw its eye resting on the grill and I cringed at the thought of its little eye burning. Then he would press his spatula into its body and tail to fry it faster and all I could do was hope the thing was dead at this point. But I still saw, whether from aftershock or it still hanging on, it twitch on occasion.

It only continued to decline for the prawn as the chef grabbed his incredibly sharp knife and sliced into its shell to dismember it. At that point, there was no way the prawn was still alive, and I began breathing a little easier as I saw it in several pieces getting fried and sautéed. The moment the chef cleared away the head and left the meat and fried legs and tail (for G to eat), I was able to sit back in my chair a little easier.

Once we were done eating the last of our meal, and sat sipping on our tea, G-man said we could go back to the room so we could cry over the prawn, because it was that traumatic to witness. We didn’t cry, however, though I definitely found myself unable to stop talking about the shock of it all. We determined it was a witness that we, in fact, were no longer in America and here in Japan they view food as food and nothing more. I will be sure to remember that for the next time! And for anyone who ever goes to Japan (or any Asian country for that matter) and has their food cooked in front of them, let this serve as your warning, because trust me, you’re going to wish you had been warned. Pin It Now!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Finding the one American in a sea of Japanese

I’ve had a frustrating past couple of days academically, so to take my mind off of it, and keep myself from crying frustration tears, I thought I’d tell you the funny that occurred while at the train station.

After spending hours on a project for a class, G-man texted me saying to meet him at the Yokohama train station for sushi. We found a great little sushi restaurant there and enjoy going as often as we can. In case you think train station and have your mind go in the gross department, Yokohama’s train station is huge. It basically has two huge malls attached on each side of it, with a ridiculous amount of restaurants and sweets stands.

Any way, I make my way to the station, and go to use my PASMO card to exit, when it makes the bad “ding dong” sound and blocks me with the arms. I didn’t have enough money on my card to exit! It would be fine if I had cash on me but I didn’t have a cent, and I was literally stuck in between the stairs to the platform and the machines that let everyone out. It was the rush hour crowd and all I could do was fight the crowd like a fish going upstream, just to get out of their way to stand to the side.

I desperately searched any free wi-fi connections so I could text G-man, but couldn’t get any, and frantically searched every face that walked by for that distinct American one so I could ask for their help. Only, I couldn’t find any. I would say close to 200 people walked by me in the long seven minutes of searching before I finally spotted that one lone American. I ran up to him and begged him to help me. I’m sure he thought I was a little crazy, but once I explained I didn’t have money and no phone, he said he’d help. I asked if I could use his phone, but he offered to pay my fair adjustment instead. Surprisingly, he wanted to put $10 on my card but I quickly refused and asked he only pay what I needed to exit. We walked over to the station workers and I was .90 (Japanese cents) off. Just a measly .90 cents. The American laughed at the small amount, and gladly paid it, while I embarrassingly thanked him over and over. I offered him to walk with me to G-man to repay him, but he turned it down, and after thanking him over and over again, we parted ways.

I can’t imagine what would have happened had he or any other American not passed by. The throngs of Japanese that whizzed past were all on missions and couldn’t be bothered, so I was so thankful he appeared for me to snatch him. G and I had a good laugh once I finally made it to the restaurant, and we now have put money on my PASMO card so this won’t happen again but that seven minutes was the longest loneliest seven minutes ever.

                                                                   appropriate yet random train conductor photophoto (7)
Pin It Now!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A little sprinkle

Cherry blossom season is in full swing in Japan and everyone is out enjoying them. Last week, when I got to really explore for a day, I did the one thing you should never do: leave without eating, while telling yourself you’ll eat along the way, and naturally be starving before walking out the door. I wanted to make it to Ueno Park in Tokyo, which promises to be one of the best places to see the cherry blossoms. This was over an hour away, and having left late in the day, I felt pressed for time and just wanted to get there.

Once I finally got to the final station, I was desperate but there weren’t any good restaurants around, and I gave up and headed to the park. The blooms weren’t full yet; I was a week too early but the weather was beautiful, so I continued to walk among the throngs of people and hanami parties, finding those few trees that were ahead of all the others, and crammed alongside everyone to snap a few shots.

After close to an hour, I followed everyone over a bridge where I saw rows of food vendors. Perfect! I was about to die, but next thing my brain is making me do is pass them all up, and just keep walking thinking I’d find something better. Next thing my nutritionally deprived body knows, I start taking pictures of the pond, and trees, and people. Clearly I must be crazy, and find I can barely stand up from a crouched position without having things go completely black for a few seconds. Eating became my main priority, but the brain still wouldn’t register that as I kept taking more pictures.

It wasn’t until a Buddhist monk walked up offering “peace” in the form of a card, which I politely rejected and watched his face go from peace to disgust at my refusal (sorry buddy), that it was time to find food and get away from people. I stopped in front of a random vendor who didn’t care she had customers waiting on her while she talked on the phone. I debated to find somewhere else but I couldn’t move and waited for over two minutes before she finally helped us. I can’t tell you what I ate, but it was food that did the job and I was back up and moving again 15 minutes later.

One thing Japan doesn’t care about: Hydration. I swear, they don’t care that you haven’t had water in hours, they don’t offer it. You can’t find it. And sure as all get out, you don’t see anyone carrying water bottles around. You’re forced to accept the fact that you will remain severely dehydrated while sightseeing.

I’m dramatic. We know this. But I will say I did end up getting very dehydrated that left me very sick for two days straight. So, I guess I’m not that dramatic.

Any way, if there was a takeaway from all this, its this: Drink a lot of water before leaving. Eat as well (always helps). And see if you can’t stash a couple bottles of water in your bag before leaving because when you find a vending machine and think you’re buying water, it’ll turn out to be Squirt. And guzzling Squirt when you think its going to be water isn’t very pleasant. (This may have happened on a separate occasion)
A few from that fateful yet beautiful day
em139em136em134em135em137em138em141em140 Pin It Now!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Japanese hair stylist

Last week I took a big leap. Mainly because I was desperate and fed up but it was a risky move for this hair scared girl. I went and saw a Japanese hair stylist to cut and color my hair. Normally for the first ‘meeting’ with a new stylist, I’ll have them cut it only and make them straighten it so I can see every last bit of my hair in case they need to fix it.

em153


I’ve been known to make many stylists fix my hair after they thought they were done. I’m not in the habit to walk out unhappy… unless of course we discuss the time back in November, but that was an extreme case of ‘the more it was “fixed” the more it got worse.’ Any way, I’m happy to say, it’s been growing back quickly, and November was just a blur now.

My desperate measure came after G-man and I went out to dinner and my bangs that hadn’t been touched since the beginning of December were flat in my eyes. Most annoying thing ever (in the hair department). Oh, I take that back and add incredibly obvious gray roots to the top of that list…and head. har har

                                                                                                     proofem154
Most of you (just about all) didn’t know that I was expected to go back to the states last week, but as is typical, I canceled my flight to stay here through cherry blossom season. Japan is known for their cherry blossoms and the idea that I would have missed it is deplorable. Staying meant though, that I wouldn’t get my hair cut like I planned. After a quick search for my area, I came across a Japanese stylist who spoke English (major bonus) and used to cut hair in California and New York (extra bonus), and she was only 30 minutes away by train (that was high five worthy). I called, made the appointment for the next day and was ready to dive in.

It ended up raining all day that day, but I wasn’t deterred from getting my hair done. In fact, it made for a one-on-one experience in the salon which was quite nice. And let me tell you, this was the best experience I’ve ever had in a salon to date. The service was unmatched and you’ll soon see why.

I was greeted by Ana, her assistant and after she took my coat, scarf, and umbrella to hang, led me to the chair. After taking pictures of my “before”, she prepared me for Yoshiko, the stylist. From there, we spent the next forty minutes discussing the cut and color I wanted with pictures, color books, magazines and explanations, before fully feeling like we understood each other. Yoshiko spoke English, though it was still very thick with a Japanese accent, so we made sure we were both on the same page before she even came close with scissors. She cut my hair dry and once done, began coloring. But before she did, they placed ear muffs on my ears to keep the color from getting on them. Imagine mini shower caps on my ears. Raise of hands how many times a colorist got color all over your ears? I thought it was such a smart idea. After the heater was put over me, Ana came back with a list of beverages to choose from and after choosing hot tea, she left me alone until the timer went off.

Immediately, Ana brought me to the shampoo station where she spent the next 25 minutes washing and massaging my head. 25 minutes! But what was impressive was she placed a light washcloth over my face to protect me from splatters. (I can’t tell you how many countless times I get soaked because the person is carelessly splashing water all over my face.) Throughout she gave the best scalp massage I’ve ever had, and when I thought she was winding down, she lifted my head up, and placed a hot rolled up towel under my neck to soothe my neck muscles as she continued to massage my head. I almost stood up to hug her right then and there. A few minutes more of washing and massaging, she sat me up but told me to stay seated. She then began patting my hair dry with the towel, and continued to do so until it was no longer dripping wet. Do I need to ask how many of you are told to get up and walk back to your chair with sopping wet hair? This was the first time it was ever thoughtfully dried before I moved.

It was obvious to me at that point the attentiveness was beyond anything I ever experienced. Ana led me back to my chair and immediately began massaging my neck. She just spent 25 minutes on my head, and now she’s doing my neck! This woman, I love. She moves to my shoulders, and then lightly pushes me forward and massages my entire back! I did everything possible to keep a blank face like this was a normal experience, but I was freaking out inside over this treatment. >clearly easily pleases< She continues massaging my neck, shoulders, back and eventually moves to my hands and arms as Yoshiko comes back to look over my hair. Ana keeps massaging as Yoshiko and I talk things over. I just want to close my eyes and enjoy everything at that moment.

Soon they began drying my hair. Did you catch the “they”? Both of them; one on each side with dryers, worked on my hair. At that point, I had to begin documenting, and not so discreetly took a picture.
em151
As Yoshiko begins styling it, Ana becomes her accessories. Yoshiko doesn’t use clips for the hair; she uses Ana to hold the hair. Ana is there for whatever Yoshiko wants of her.
em152
Finally, everything is complete. I’m beyond pleased with the result and happily pay. It was a little expensive, but the beauty of Japan (and I’ve been meaning to write a post on this) is you don’t tip. So I paid a flat rate with no pressure, and after they pointed me to the bus stop, I merrily walked back into the rain.

em150
Taking a chance with a Japanese salon was risky, but my hair is so much happier for it. And what’s amazing is they could have given me the worst haircut ever, but I would still have raved over them because of their customer service. It’s a wonder to me, salons in America (or at least the many I’ve been to) don’t take the thoughtful approach and time out for their customers. I know we can get into the fact they rent spaces, and this and that and how it’s so expensive for them, yet, giving your client that extra special treatment goes much further beyond the dollar. Or at least this client thinks so. And because of that, I now proudly add Afrodita in Yokohama, Japan to my list of salons to frequent.

Pin It Now!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

One small step for me

Whenever I consider venturing out alone in a foreign country, I flash back to my time in London and my fears that kept me in the hotel room. G-man and I had big plans for the one full day we were going to be in London, but he got horrible food poisoning and the option to go out alone was paralyzing. I had never been in another country alone before, and the idea of walking around the unknown, albeit among people who spoke English, wasn’t something I could bring myself to do; much to G’s disappointment. So I stayed in the very small room, while he battled all the effects of food poisoning. Poor guy just wanted to be alone, but I couldn’t do it.

Four years later, I find myself in Japan alone, while G-man works. There are several more levels of difficulty I face than in London, but I was determined to break the little fears I had, and go explore by myself. I made sure I had everything I could think of covered. Several different train times to and from my destination and pictures of maps from the internet had me feel prepared. I don’t have cell service so it was important I thought of everything before I left, since I couldn’t do a quick lookup later.

I went to Kamakura and beside having to ask a station worker about a train, I got there without incident. I was cheering myself on in my head each step of the way as I clicked off each milestone. I walked the busy streets, and found myself at a busy restaurant eating delicious soba noodles and tempura over rice to celebrate my small victory of navigating the trains alone.
em121
If anyone goes to Kamakura, I’ll offer this one tip: Get a map. Get a map of where every single shrine, temple, and grave is, before even stepping foot out of the train station. I couldn’t find where the maps were, but that’s only because I had the restroom as top priority, and forgot everything else, but the map is essential to navigate you through the many streets. There has to be close to 60 places to see, and you have to decide if you want to go East or West out of the train station. Since I’ve gone West twice before, I decided to go East…again, without a map.

I followed the crowds at first, and when I thought I saw what looked to be an entrance, I made my way in. This actually worked well in my favor, but over time, when I was looking for shrines (and following the minimal street signs to them), I noticed I was walking 2-3 times more than necessary because I couldn’t find them right away. I backtracked a lot. Over six hours, I managed to see three shrines, one grave, and one temple. I was beat! Almost at the end of my day, at one of the shrines was a big map of the whole city that showed the location of every place. I tried to follow it but it only helped confuse me more but this gives you an idea of what the city offers.
IMG_9012
Here are a few (a lot) from the day. I had a great time and it helped give me a little more confidence for future adventures alone.
em129
The only way I could include myself in any shot was to do a selfie.
em120em123em122em127
The plum blossoms are blooming, which are more sparse than cherry blossoms, but none the less, beautiful.
em126em119IMG_8997em124em125em128em130em131em132

Pin It Now!

Monday, March 10, 2014

I see you seeing me

I planned to go into Kamakura, a city that has a ridiculous amount of shrines and temples, last Friday, for some fun photos, but I decided instead to stay in town and look around. I took the train in, and walked toward one of the two malls in town, and got a quick bite in the food court. Not before the woman joked to the cook about my struggles of ordering, and not before three teen boys openly stared and talked about me, of course.

I chalked it up to looking good that day… it helps ease the mind when it wants me to retreat back to the apartment away from all the scrutiny.

It goes without saying I get lots of looks. I’m tall. I wear knee high boots that for whatever reason gets a lot of looks. These ones to be exact, and maybe it’s because the zipper is on the outside; I don’t know, but they get their fair share of stares. I can’t quite say why I get side glances and quick peeks when they think I’m not looking, but I do. Maybe they’re curious. Maybe I have something on my face (which I honestly worry about when they stare a lot) but I do my best to pretend I don’t see them and go on my merry little way.

I stand out. As much as I wish I could blend in, I don’t; so I keep my eyes forward and ignore the world. There have been a couple instances where they’re friendly toward me, however. When I was walking around town Friday, a construction worker I was coming upon made eye contact, tipped her hat, and said konnichiwa (good afternoon), with a big smile; and I couldn’t help but respond in kind. It was so unexpected that it practically made my day. I never get random acts of happiness by people on the street here.

One thing that’s big in Japan is they don’t eat or drink while walking. Well, there are some that do, but its mainly the very disrespectful ones who aren’t looked on favorably…or the drunk ones. But it’s considered very rude to walk down the street and eat. Even when vendors are handing out samples of coffee or little cakes, people take them, step off to the side, eat them and only when done do they start walking again. It makes it harder to eat and drink on the streets with no trashcans anywhere. You’ll literally find yourself holding your trash for hours if you want to dare eat while on the run.

You won’t see the people walking with their Starbucks cups, or their travel coffee mugs, or their 7-11 sodas either. You just won’t. So when I decided to get a gelato after my lunch Friday and eat it outside to enjoy the warm 46 degree weather, it wasn’t surprising I got a couple looks.

em117


It helps to say I’m an American, so I can get away with it more. American has no respect…but at least I didn’t eat it until I sat down! That has to account for something, I’m sure. And I even tucked my trash in my purse to take back to the apartment with me. That has to account for something too, no doubt. I felt mildly validated when I began walking again and saw an old woman eating her lunch on a bench as well.

After all was said and done, I decided to avoid all trains and make the long walk back to the apartment. It may sound boring, but I’ve been wanting to time how long it would take to walk from a particular train station back to the apartment, so I started my stopwatch and got to walking. I actually loved the walk. It took all of 20 minutes, and that included me stopping to take pictures, and I was amazed it was so quick. What amazes me more is how much I hate walking in California, but love walking in other countries. I have driven four very short blocks to a store in CA, that’s how much I hate walking there.

I still plan to make the trip into Kamakura but I’m glad I got to walk around Yokosuka. There’s so much more of it to see that I’ve only just begun to explore it. Here’s a few more from that day.

about to tour Yokosuka’s port.

em115
the daiei mall (pronounced: die-aye)
em114
steep stairs are everywhere. I’m in stair heaven here with all the potentials I could run up for a great workout.
em116
I’m not sure how much they’re going to like me running them, but I think I found my new “bleachers”.
em118
Pin It Now!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lately

em113
Lately, I’ve been unable to finish a post. I get half way through and stop; and within a couple days what I wrote about has changed completely and the post becomes unnecessary. This has happened twice now, and I wonder if I should write at all since things keep changing.

Lately, I’ve been checking my college website to see my final grade for one of my classes. Two more assignments need to be graded but I’m still at an A and I’m really happy about that. My other class I got an A+, and that served to tickle me to no end.

Lately, I’ve been relishing in these days off from school, but I find I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m so used to being on my computer for hours on end each and every day, that now that I don’t have to, I’m left staring at my screen, lost. I have to force myself to close my laptop in order to go do something, anything.

Lately, I’ve been spending my time in Japan….yet again. This was a very last minute trip. As in, Sunday I looked at flights and Tuesday I was on the plane. Anyone who paid attention would know I was here only two weeks ago, and I admit, even I’m wondering why I went home for two weeks, but I’m here now and get to actually explore. Doing this reminds me of my trips to Hawaii and how they’d be very last minute and even extended. A 5 hour flight to Hawaii vs 11 hour flight to Japan is the only thing that is {painfully} different.

Lately, I’ve declared my love for Singapore Airlines. I can’t stop talking about it; they’re the most amazing airline I’ve flown, and I’ve flown A LOT of different airlines. 15 to be exact…or that’s how many airlines I can remember off the top of my head. I honestly might do a whole post on Singapore Airlines alone, that’s how wonderful they are.

Lately, I’ve had a really bad attitude. There’s no two ways around it. I’ve been in a rather foul mood, which is another reason I haven’t been able to blog lately. With a new bible study, and plenty of God’s help, I’m working on it; but life has been rough (mentally) for me lately, and I haven’t done a good job at surrendering it and not having it effect my every day.

Lately, I’ve been working out and boy has this made a difference in how I feel about myself. I know immediately when I gain 5lbs, and whenever I do, I feel nothing but the worst things about myself. Even knowing it, I was still reluctant to workout, and would beat myself up by the hour. I had to tell myself there were no excuses as to why I was getting soft, and finally began working out again. (I’ve been told I’m overly hard on myself). Now I’ve consistently worked out for almost two weeks, and am getting back to (my) normal.

Lately, I’ve been going through my almost 8,000 photos and deleting the ones I don’t want. My plan is to make photo albums for each trip and category I have so I can cherish them outside my computer. I’ve made two over the past couple years, and have approximately 20 more to go. That’s not daunting at all…

Hopefully I can begin sharing more of the places I’ve seen since being here. I have a lot of photos and experiences I want to share with you, so I’m hoping I can find the motivation to share them.

Pin It Now!

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...