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Japan Memoirs

Thursday, May 25th, 2000
A note about airplane bathrooms: (on international flights)

Ok. Dig this. This should put to rest any speculation about whether or not an airplane traveling over the
ocean vents it's "liquid waste" to the out side or not. On a Canadian airline flight to Narita airport in Tokyo
Japan, I went to the bathroom (no big surprise there). Always in the back on my mind, I wondered if during
long flights over the Ocean, (or even land for that matter) airlines vented their wastes to the outside instead of
storing it in a tank. Well, in true experimental fashion, I found out.
I went to the bathroom. Flushed the toilet, it SUCKED the waste out of the bowl. Interesting but not
conclusive. So I took a small paper cup and filled the bowl up to about a depth of about 3 inches…. Maybe
about 1 liter, then FLUSH!!! The water was sucked out this time with a much longer evacuation cycle, so I
put the little paper cup on the rim… I jumped back as it was SUCKED into the drain! YIKES!! Not very
scientific I know but hey. Conclusion. If you see a high flying aircraft over head don't look out and open
your mouth.


A further note on international flights

The food is rather better than that of domestic flights! On the flight from Toronto to Vancouver we were offered
a sort of pretzel mix, non-alcoholic drinks, and a choice of a manicotti pasta lunch or a chicken breast thing with
rice…with roll and salad of course. Last flight I took, I had th4 chicken and have decided to avoid of forever
more on any flights. It was rubber I believe - a chewable grade of rubber. So, the manicotti it was - and half was
in white sauce the other half in red. Drinks you paid four bucks for!
But from Vancouver to Narita…aaah, a different story. A very complete meal - salad, roll, wine and tea and
whatever to drink (I had bailey's coffee)[for free M] a beef dish with mixed veggies and potato. Mike got the
chicken - and it was so good we ended up swapping. Kinda Chinese style, a sweet sauce on rice with some
greens (Spinach?) Also came with a roll (that's like sushi, but without the raw fish, just seaweed and rice and
stuff) and some kind of rice dumpling in a fried wrapper. TWO chocolates count 'em. Two. Lindt, very nice.
Service is very nice too; we got hot towels to wipe up with. I drank two white wines in quick succession, and on
top of the Bailey's I'll be ready for a nap shortly. I don't know whether it's the height (we are at eight thousand
metres above ground) or because I am so dead tired from the fuss of packing, but I think I'll be having a nap
shortly! Night, folks.


Friday, May 26, 2000
Around 8:00 am

Well, here I am again, after about five or six hours sleep, coming after being awake for about thirty. Arriving at
Narita, the first amusing thing I saw was a Japanese Airliner painted with giant Pokemon on the side - Snorlax,
Squirtle and Pikachu. There were three other known Nova teachers on the plane out from Vancouver, Dave,
Barry and Cameron, all about my age. One other guy, and he was in his forties - didn't catch the name. We
had to go through a huge lineup for foreigners, and fill out a foreigner registration card thing. Nova guy Rob
met us in the lobby after some confusion, and our bags were taken to be shipped to us - I guess this is because
they don't allow oversize luggage on the trains. And hour on the train into Tokyo, then another forty-five minute
train ride to Takasaki. There was indeed an auspicious Daruma Doll on display in the train station, and yes, the
phones were a horrid avocado, limey green. Most of the signs out this way were in English and Japanese. Our
landlords, Mr. And Mrs. Shuhei met us in Takasaki, fed us Chinese for dinner and showed us around the
I am confused about the 3 bedroom rating - as far as I can see, the one room that is considered a third
bedroom is more like a living/sitting room. The doors all slide, the toilet has a little room on its own, and the
bath room itself meets most thoroughly with my approval - being a small sort of surround of acrylic with a short
but very deep bathtub, and a separate area for showering next to it. The plugs here are two prong, with a sorta
screw for a wire to ground things (?), and the lights are all fluorescent. You hafta turn on a switch to warm up
the hot water for a bath. No oven here and a fridge we would consider bar-sized at home. We're on the first
floor, up a few steps. No yard really, just two small balconies front and back. Back one overlooks a weedy
scrap of land. Ha! Not a yard, but then maybe people in apartments don't care about such things.
Oh, yes, I almost forgot. We have two futons, which we shove up against each other. They roll up and go into
a closet. Hugely thick comforters, but short for us! Anyway, we hafta wait around today for our luggage to
arrive. I think I'll send Michael out for cokes. They come in skinny cans, and there's not enough for four gulps
but sometimes you just need to have one. Tastes pretty much the same.


Friday, May 26, 2000
A note about the traffic here: THEY DRIVE ON THE WRING SIDE OF THE BLEEPIN ROAD!!
Man is that ever unnerving. Well, after a sorta good night sleep, we ventured out into the "great unknown"
trying to get our bearings. Neat little city.
The extremely clean garbage trucks (painted a brilliant green) play little electronic ditties like "fur Elise" or
"Beethoven's 9th" or a myriad of other unidentifiable tunes as they go about there business. Odd.
You either get ignored or the people stair at you. Odd.
Every so other a fleet of boy and girls go silently riding past dressed all the same, for school I presume. Odd.
So we ventured forth and found the train station, the Chinese food joint they (our landlords) took us too last
night, the Karaoke joint they want us to meet them at today. I guess they own the place.
As for the city itself, every one seems to be moving just a tad faster than they do in Canada or the US,
moving with a sense of urgency if you will. On the sidewalks there are there little yellow raised plastic ridges
leading to the train station and a different pattern at all the street corners. Initially we had no idea what they
were, we asked our hostess and they said, "These are provided for the blind", neat eh.
For the immediate future we still need to have our luggage delivered, we need to find a phone so we can call
home, we need an internet connection (ISDN?). So we will keep you posted.


Friday, May 26, 2000
Today at the grocery we played that game called, "Guess what it is and maybe we'll buy it…" The one thing
that got me was BlackBlack, a gum with nicotine in it, for pick-me-ups. Waugh. We ate some lunch at
Denny's. Similar décor, but not many American dishes. The mango smoothies are excellent. It's bloody
humid here, thank god we have an air conditioner. Apparently we've arrived shortly before the rainy month.
It'll rain hard for a month and the humidity will be worse…mildew galore. I take back what I said about the
skinny coke cans - they have cans that are up to 500ml, like the bottles back home. I had some iced coffee,
pretty good. Our luggage arrived - huzzah! I can finally get some clean socks. We're sorry now I didn't pack
the toothpaste (I was afraid of it being squished all over our clothes in the luggage, and our carry-ons were
full) because the stuff here is like salt, baking soda paste with a chaser of mint, real gag-o-rama.

The houses around here are strange - all pretty small of course, but the most squalid ones will have a small
gorgeous green garden, with an expensive car somewhere. Or a really nice house will have a gravel and
weed patch…I'm sure there's something Zen about the fact that they prize one or two things so highly and
don't give a wet slap about the rest.


Saturday, May 27, 2000
I have another very good nights sleep last night, even if my pillow sucks, but hey what can you do? Today so
far we have gone to the Nova school to pick up out Shinkansen (bullet train) ticks to the Nova orientation on
Monday in Tokyo that should be interesting. We really must give Jen a call (Jen is/was our point man) we
sent her ahead so if she got eaten or went crazy we wouldn't go… nice eh? What are friends for!!! We
also found that ordering from a noodle counter was significantly easier than ordering something from the
McDonalds. Go fig. Last night was a hoot. We met one of our Apt. Building mates, a man from St
Petersburg Russia. Funny guy, talk your ear off. So now its up and try to find the Internet place, and a place
that sells alarm clocks… this should be good.

Ok we're back. Couldn't find the Internet place, and we were to tired and shagged out after a long walk to
go and find the electronics store. Still need a fan too, Why? Because in the summer months (July and
August) it apparently gets REALLY FREEKIN BLOODY BLOODY HOT! And humid… did I mention
the humidity? I guess they have imported a special kind of air around here that holds more moisture per
cubic foot. You know those Japanese, always innovating.
The both or us are still a little leery about teaching but fear of the unknown, although one of humanity's
greatest fears, is also one of the most irrational.


Wednesday, May 31, 2000:

Breakfast at Denny's is sort of reminiscent of one of my anime, Cat Girl Nuku Nuku. The waitresses all yell
"Irrashaimase! (Welcome!) " As you come in. Luckily this restaurant has a non-smoking section, which is
always very sparsely populated. The waitresses all wear these cute green little dress uniforms, with a white
stripe at the hem of their full shirts, and a little white apron over the skirt. They carry little handheld
computers, with which they take orders and send them to the kitchen. I like the breakfast menu best - tastes
of home in the platter I get, eggs, a slice of bacon and a sausage, pancakes with butter and syrup, orange
juice, and a small salad (?). The salad kinda completes the nutritional requirements of the meal. Mike always
goes for the Japanese breakfast with rice and nori (the flat toasted seaweed you wrap rice in), eggs
scrambled with veggies, and some soup we can't really identify. Coffee here is excellent in flavour and
strength, but tend to be expensive, ranging from $1.50 to $2 a cup. Denny's does refills for free. So for
Christmas or something I want a coffee press and a can of Folgers.

Takasaki is indeed in a valley, we are surrounded on three sides by mountains not too far in the distance.
Onsens (hot spring baths) are in the mountains, so I hope to go to those some day.

Cars are hilarious here, at home high school football teams would put them on someone's barn as a joke,
they are that small. Minivans are mini - short, and very narrow, and absurdly tall for the general size. The
one van I saw that I would consider a North American minivan is probably considered a maxi-van here!
You see every now and then a North American drive vehicle, with the driver's wheel on the left side. Is that
even legal in North America, to have a right-hand drive vehicle for every day usage? Saw a VW bug- a new
one the other day. Yellow. Not much in the way of colours for cars here - seems that grey is the
overwhelming choice. People also do absurd little motifs on the dashboards of their cars --one I saw had a
little beach scene, with plastic palm trees and beach chairs and stuff. Omigod! Tacky. Hello Kitty is another
extremely popular theme here for car and home décor. I could literally decorate my entire house with Hello
Kitty's insipidity. Also with Coca Cola or Snoopy. There was a huge store in Harajuku devoted entirely to

We took the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Takasaki to Harajuku; an area in Tokyo like Missisauga is an
area of Toronto, for orientation. It's an amazingly fast trip - apparently by normal train it's over two hours to
do what it took us forty-five minutes to travel by Shinkansen. We are getting the hang of train stations now -
aside from totally not comprehending the kanji, it's a lot like Toronto's subways - big, clean, white tiled
stations. No panhandlers - Yes! Every now and then you see a homeless guy, but they pretty much keep to
themselves and don't bother anyone. We had to make one transfer to a regular commuter train - took
bloody 30 minutes to get to the right stop. On the way home it was hugely crowded (to our eyes). We stood
gripping rings brushing against other people tightly packed against us all the way back.

Harajuku was amazing - for the first time I realized that Takasaki is really a smaller city, like Windsor to
Toronto. The street the head office was one was a marvel of traffic jams, amazing shops and neon.
Starbucks, Armani, The Gap - all here! Mike and I are frothing to go to Akihabara, another 'burb of Tokyo.
Think about four city blocks of electronics stores…this is called Electric Town. The electronics store on
Takasaki took us four days to finally find and even here the range of products makes me want to weep.
They have all the Cowboy Bebop's on DVD out. Minidisk players for music are very common already. So
we can't wait to 'visit' Peter in Tokyo for a few days to see Akihabara. Tucked away in the very crowded
area was a Shinto Temple we stumbled across in the twilight, lanterns lit and glowing. A nice garden and a
temple by evening - nice. Got some good pics, though the light was fading.