Wednesday, January 23, 2013

And how is the weather today, class?

Perhaps it was a mistake to complain about the snow last week-- because it's only picked up since. Did I say the snow was too great in quantity for my first, non-dump snow shovel? I accidentally snapped its head off on Thursday.

A night scene on the way back from Higashi, my short drive home. 
My staffroom contacts assert that things are worse than they should be at this time of year-- and though I doubted at first, lately even the mighty Japan Rail network has been hobbled by the weather: Although shinkansen service to Tokyo and points south continued as normal, the little two-car dinkies of the Oga Line were running (with five minute delays!) on a restricted schedule on Saturday, an event of such magnitude that Kenny was summoned to evacuate his country girlfriend from her city job, and I overheard local tongues wagging in Oga as if the Earth had suddenly reversed in its orbit. Did I lightly accuse the Japanese of leaning too heavily on the weather as a topic of conversation when first I came here? In Akita, they're entitled to it!


The work of an ALT is never done-- lately, in my out of class hours, I've been writing a presentation on very short notice for a prefectural sectional meeting scheduled for Friday, as dark rumors swirl about the fellow-- an acquaintance of mine-- who was planning to do the talk in the first place. Supposedly he walked to a doctor's office feeling a bit under the weather, and ended up being IV'd and ambulanced straight over to the hospital. Familiar as I am with the Japanese medical establishment's taste for billable inpatient care (1) I doubt he's exactly at Death's door, but dead or alive, he's not going to make it out on Friday.

Heaving a sigh, therefore, I give you a brief update:

Recall to mind Espressoda, the bargain bottle of coffee-pop I picked up on a lark at Amano. Doubtless you had some notions of what a coffee flavored soda might taste like. Perhaps a pleasant Kahlua-type aroma? Or perhaps you remembered my previous comments on Japanese coffee and expected something a bit less like coffee but not altogether unpalatable? Or did you fear the worst?

I assure you, whatever you guessed, your expectations fell far short of the truth. Espressoda ranks near to the top of the scale as possibly the vilest anything I have ever drunk. There are undoubtedly actual poisons that taste less disgusting. Imagine the worst coffee you've ever had: maybe the acid dioxin tang of singed truck-stop robusta, brewed before sunrise, and cold the next day in a styrofoam cup. Boil down a gallon of the stuff till it's thick and gritty and sweeten it with a twist of antifreeze. Serve on the rocks with club soda. Now imagine a concentrated jab of that flavor right where it hurts.

It should say something that I didn't even think to take a picture of the open bottle before throwing it away. Adventure finds me again. Maybe next time, I'll go for THE PUNGENCY!

[1] Not to mention injections, which loom disproportionately large in the popular mind. Things have officially Gotten Serious when the patient gets A Shot in Japanese media, and as far as I can tell, real doctors seem to be doing their best to keep up. Whenever sick coworkers are mentioned in the teacher's lounge, their condition is informally judged by how many injections they've gotten, and when I showed up to the nurse's office at AIU with an itchy (but relatively minor) allergic reaction, she couldn't stop talking about all the needles I was probably going to get jabbed with as she shooed me off to specialist care. (Thank goodness she was wrong!)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What the after Christmas-season does to mark down prices in the US, the post-New Year's period does in Japan-- even in the grocery store, as AMANO and the other retailers do their best to rotate out old stock (1). This wouldn't exactly be worth mentioning except for the fact that on deep reduction this post-holiday season are some truly inspired bits of Zany Japanese foodstuffs:

Readers who recall my flirtation with Boss Coffee will not be surprised to learn that premixed black tea beverages (2)  are likewise a regular vending machine fixture in Japan-- Kirin's "午後の紅茶/gogo no kōcha/ 'Afternoon Tea'" brand being one of the most popular. Apparently ZA PANJENSHĪ (as the helpful katakana pronunciation guide instructs us to speak the name) contains twice the tea leaves of regular Afternoon brand-- and 100% more English-Induced Cool.  I was on the point of buying a can against my better judgment (3) when I found another winner only a little further down the aisle:

If one needed further proof of the weird Japanese love-hate relationship with coffee, this stuff would do a fine job. I'll let you know whether the taste lives up to its whopping 28 yen a bottle price tag later...

(1) In order to make room for piles of beans (and related beanlike snack-products) for the mid-winter demon-banishing luck festival  of setsubun, and for chocolates by the pallet for Valentines' Day, which as all good, lonely armchair Orientalists recall, has been reinvented by Japanese chocolate companies as a festival for women to give sweets to their bosses, coworkers, and (if they have any money left), their crushes. 

(2) Generically termed "ミルクティー/milk-tea". 

(3)   I'll never forget the flavor of regular Afternoon Tea, which tastes just like stale Luzianne mixed with a heaping spoonful of Coffee-Mate.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Another of my trademark absences has again intruded-- for which, as always, a hearty Tardy Blogger's Apology. Since last we met, there has been much to blog and no blogging of it-- and here is the chief culprit:

The result of what NHK cheerily describes as "snow showers" in the parking lot of Oga Minami.  Snow days? What kind of softies do you think we are?

The snow has come definitively and in great quantity here in Oga. It lies on the ground in heaps. It falls from the sky and turns my car into a nightly-renewed snow sculpture. It lies upon the fallow rice fields in wind-sculpted driftscapes and blows across the road in blinding mini-whiteouts.(1)  It sucks the warmth out of the air to such an extent that I've taken to stashing my New Years' mandarin oranges in the fridge to keep them warm overnight when my kerosene heater goes off and the temperature in Green House A drops perilously close to the freezing point. By lengthening my commute, and hence the time I spend listening to NHK Radio's morning and evening request hours, it is exposing me to dangerous numbers of Shōwa-era pop ballads. It's sent me out to buy a new snow shovel because the one I was issued was too small. At least the snow has given me an opportunity to better meet my neighbors as it draws us all out from our homes to huff and puff our way through clearing our sections of the parking lot together.


 <Actually> the young mother from Apt 106 told me as we grunted together through a particularly heavy layer of damp snow on Tuesday, <You really can't say the weather's all that bad until the middle of February! That's when most of the snow falls.>

<Stop, you're scaring me!> I said. Already the drifts were tall enough to allow her son(3) to climb on top of the 2 1/2 meter concrete wall that divided the parking lot from the adjacent field and balance on the narrow, icy peak.

<Does it snow at all in America?>

<Depends on where you're talking about...> I started, looking back in the direction of the wall.  Mom noticed my questioning glance.

<Kou-chan, come down from there! What if your sister follows you up there?>

At this point, mustering an eye-roll that would have done a kid a full decade older proud, Kouichi held his arms out straight and reverse swan-dived off the top of the wall, landing with a "pomf" in the snowdrift behind the wall.

<For example, I never did that>, I said. I worked on in silence through the Parental Intervention that ensued.


(1) Mysterious cultural differences: Japanese drivers will put their lights on in a floodlit 100 meter tunnel but will resolutely refuse to do so in a zero-visibility blizzard.

(2). Real Akitans use conventional shovels only for light accumulation of a few inches or less-- mere touch-up jobs. When the going gets really tough, they call on the Mama-san Dump, all but the official snow shovel of Tōhoku. Every household I've seen so far has at least one of these huge bulldozer-style scoops, which let you put your whole back into scraping, then scoop up a big bite of snow and cart it off, wheelbarrow-style, to a convenient dump pile. 

(3) One of the HEY WHITE GUY crew.