Konnichiwa! So…my musings for the day…
- School’s out in 15 days, 5 hours, and 28 minutes (how did that happen?)
- It’s been 293 days, 18 hours, and 26 minutes since we left for Japan in August.
- In exactly 20 days, 5 hours, and 31 minutes until I am home for a much needed visit.
- Then…43 days, 5 hours, and 30 minutes until we leave for a welcomed and most anticipated vacation to Greece.
- In 72 days, 5 hours, and 27 minutes we are back in Japan for our next round of Asian Adventures.
- We turn 32 this year (really? Should I do my math again…it never was my strongest subject)
- I’ve lost some numbers…then gained some…then lost some again (according to my scale that is)
- I’ve met 17 amazing children-and their ever supportive families
- We’ve encountered nearly 100 new faces that have become our extended family while so far from those closest to us..
- We’ve visited 5 new countries (and counting)
- driven over 300 miles in a new country, on the wrong side (yet it feels so right) of the road
- Spent 15+ hours preparing for a driving exam (which we finally passed, cheers!)
Why the numbers you ask? I was just thinking today and how far we come, what we have accomplished, and where we are headed next (as I tend to do from time to time). And the numbers just started running through my head (well, I had to look most of them up, but you get the point). As this school year draws to an end (much later than I am used to by the way) I can’t help but reflect on the year. Reflect on the changes to our life style, to our personalities even. We have faces many new challenges, overcame all of them, and started in the face of (no not danger, not in Japan anyway) change. and acceptance. and longing. Through this extremely eventful and adventurous (almost) year I have never fully let my longing to see and hug friends and family get to me. I knew it was always there, simmering in the back…but every now and then it sneaks up on me. The biggest number, the most important number, is 20 days. I know the moment I reunite with those dearest to me the flood of emotions that I know I have kept closed tight with burst forth-and probably scare everyone around us. But that’s ok. You might ask…is it worth it? My answer depends on the day. Overall, the answer is yes. always yes. Have I missed some events this year? Yes…birthdays, first Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day…away from family. That is hard. Do I enjoy talking to my mom and sister and friends on skype? Yes and I am so thankful that we have the means and ability to do so (I do hear horror stories of people who moved to Japan in the 80s and had to actually communicate with family via snail mail…). But I really am looking forward to hugging. Hugging my family. my friends. tight. my dog. so get ready.
Well, now that I have my head screwed on the right way…for some fun! And news and all those pesky day to day updates you are wanting to know about. Since dad’s visit in March, school has picked up and careened towards the end. We have concerts, and report cards, and parties happening all at once and we are full throttle. I love that about the end of the year. It all crazily leads up to the last day, where everything culminates and we all bow and breathe a sigh of relief. That we survived-thrived even (hopefully), and made new relationships and connections that hopefully last. There have been some fun trips to report on! May-Golden week-it’s a week of holidays really, as it’s an important time of the year for Japanese people (because of the many holidays) they officially dubbed the week golden. And many people take vacations then. It’s busy, and crowded, and getting warmer-so it’s a nice time to explore! We went to Osaka for a concert (electronic beach) and while there visited a Cinco de Mayo festival at Osaka castle. It was sooooooo good to eat so much food-man it was good. Our trip down was uneventful as we road the shinkansen (it’s only 70 minutes or so) and stayed in an airbnb right on universal studios property. It was a good location (must make note for next time)! The concert was good-it was pretty warm out, had good music, drinks and food. We rode the train home that night and went to bed about midnight….we did have to work the next day after all! For some sample wub wub check out Paul’s video of knife party!
And of course let me not forget to tell you the tale of the traveling iphone. Yes, so Paul (for I think the first time ever) left his cell phone in a cab. Here’s the 411. We catch a cab from Unversal Station and take the 2o minute, 1400 yen taxi to the beach for the concert. Paul pays cabby, and we get out of car. Cabby uturns and leaves…and by the time we realise we no iphono, he’s gone. Few moments of panic, who do we call…what do we cancel…how? when? and the moment of “who cares, it was an old nearly broken phone anyway..) Paul get’s his head back on and tells me to track his phone with my phone. brilliant. so we track it and realise that the cab is back at Universal station. We get thinking…this could work! let’s get back there! We had no clue what cab it was because they were all black cars, but as we realised with horror, there are about 3 or more cab companies. They all look the same and we don’t know which company we used! eeeeek…. We end up grabbing another cab, and heading back to the station, hoping he is still there. About half way there, the cab is on the move. Crap! where is he going? Would you believe me anyway? He was heading back to the beach where the concert was. Makes sense though…it’s one of the closest train stops before the park. So we head back to the station, the cabby we are in pursuit of is back at the beach. Now, we wait. and hope he comes back to the station. If your wondering how I would know who it was….wonder no more. I recalled our cabby was tall with a square face and shock white hair. Unusual for Japan…most men still have dark hair. So this was lucky for us. As we are waiting by the corner, the signal goes dead (dramatic gasp please). I am thinking terrible things about why this could have happened (apparently it was the tunnel-makes sense). A few minutes later the signal comes back on and the phone is approaching our destination (I am so thankful Japan can be predictable). Just as I am telling Paul to be on the lookout…he spots one…is it him? Nope! Not the right one, I would know after all. Then a second one is coming…I am looking at the map…maybe…maybe…Paul shouts at me…YES! He’s the one, stop him! We flag him down, Paul says phone…and the man hands it over. WOW. Can you believe that? It happened for real. Just like I am telling! We then arigato the man to death, and then ask him to bring us back to the concert. And just for fun, after the show we went back to the station to catch our train to go home, and I look for the cabby…and he spots us and waves with a smile on his face. I love Japan.
This past weekend I went to an onsen in Gero (2 hr drive, mountains) with a group of girls from work. We were celebrating a birthday so it was a perfect time to get away! Our hotel package included a buffet dinner and breakfast, which was yummy. We spent 3 hours in our private karaoke room (gotta love that about Japan) and tried to relax in the very hot natural springs the mountains had to offer. Now, that was for certain an experience, and my first while in Japan. You see, the onsen’s are public baths basically. Think like the romans…but more washing before and after. You wear your katana down to the bath-separated by men and women. You remove said katana and use your towel for any modesty you desire. You then move into the next room for washing. This space had an indoor hot spring (waaay too hot for that) and about 25 shower hoses, mirrors, and benches. Each area was open of course, and had body soap, shampoo and conditioner for you to fully wash yourself. In the same space as everyone else. That was weird… Then, you can place your towel back on the bits you’d like covered, for the short walk outside to the other hot spring that overlooks the mountains. There, you drop your towel again and climb nice and clean into the hot water (think hot tub) to enjoy your relaxing soak…with your 7 other equally naked coworkers…the 6 elderly women, 3 children, 1 toddler, and 5 teenagers who will be also sharing in your bath time. Though the experience was unsettling at first, I was soon way too relaxed to give a %$*&. After two onsen sessions, we spent the next day walking about town before our ride home. I would onsen again for sure…but the tricky part is never actually about modesty, or who you are bathing with…it’s the tattoos. Most places ban tattoos so yeah. This might be the first…and last.
Gero was a lovely little town in the mountains and the river through town is so pretty! Today was a HUGE day. I mean…mega. It’s really expensive, and tough, to get a driving license in Japan. We have been driving on our international driver’s licenses but those are only good for one year and in Japan, you cannot renew the IDL…you have to apply for a Japanese one. Yes, apply. You see, we started this process months ago. We are thankfully assigned to a company who helps with this part, lessons and translations but the process is still daunting. We first had to go to the ward office to get a document stamped that says we are actually living at the address printed on our residence card. Then, we set up an appointment to go to the center to officially apply. We get there about 3 or 4 weeks ago-wait in line to pay, wait in line to get a number, to wait until we are called for our paperwork to be approved…where the official goes through our passports, stamps approved (I assume) and then we are led to another area to wait for our eye exam…to be led to another room to sit a written test…to wait until we are told we passed…then we go to another building…where we sign up for driving class and our driving test. The first day took about 5 hours or so. Lots of paperwork. and waiting. We passed the eye exam (after having to get Paul’s glasses, which he left in the car, about 15 minutes away…) and the written test (which was super easy). Next, we looked at the driving courses. There are 2…A and B course. We signed up for our time, and then went about our daily business. Speed ahead to yesterday, Monday, when we met back at the driving center. We had each signed up for driving lessons with an examiner from the place. We each drove the course in separate cars with our own translator. I can’t even begin to tell you how nervous we were. These tests are serious…not to be taken lightly. They have a point system and deduct points when you make errors. There are fatal mistakes you can make that will instantly fail you. and it has nothing to do with how you drive. it has EVERYTHING to do with how well you memorise a course. We each drove course A several times being given pointers on how not to fail and what to improve on. Then we switched and drove course B with a different person (it was nice getting different points of view). Then we went home and tried to think about the course all night…slept fitufully, and was up at 6am for our actual driving test day.
Tuesday: We get to the center and of course wait in line where we register for the test and are told what course we have to drive (that’s why we practice both…because you don’t know which you get until you sign in). We are course B–hallelujah! After we are registered, we are able to walk the course one last time and talk it through. Yes, WALK the course…not drive. It was very helpful though I was still terrified. I haven’t been this scared in years! Moving across the world was easier. I have a picture of the course. There are 2 like I said, and it’s so confusing driving both. At 9:25 we line up according to our names as we were called and Paul goes first out of all 7 foreigners testing today. He does pretty good from what we can tell. Tristan, our guide, is commentating as Paul drives, but we are far enough away to only think he’s doing ok. Nothing major looked wrong and there is soooo much potential for wrong. Then, it was my turn. Sweaty palms, butterflies, the whole 9. I have rehashed the steps for you. Not only do you memorise where to go, but you have to:
- get prepared to drive in a specific order (sit down, lock door, adjust seat, adjust steering wheel, adjust review mirror and side mirrors, buckle seatbelt, foot on brake, start car, car into drive, remove E-break, then place blinker on, and begin to pull onto course). I mean for real, you could fail because of a mistake there.
- drive on the white line when turning
- speed up and maintain a speed of 40 km/hour, then slow down, then coast, then speed up again, then slow down and coast around a curve
- then change lanes following a very specific flow (blinker on waaay before the turn, look at rearview mirror, look side mirror, look over shoulder, look front, then move over to the right lane. On the B course we had to do the same thing again back into the left lane, then again into the right lane before turning).
- Then you drive on the white line (so bikes can’t pass you), place blinker on (waaay early), then prepare to turn at the little triangle in the road, with your tire on the arrow but not crossing the triangle (which would be an immediate fail)–turning into the right most lane (for our test course), still hugging the white line, for another right-hand turn.
- Blinker, look right, left, right then pull straight into the center of the road, tire on arrow but not on triangle, turn and look right then left again over crosswalk (pedestrians/bikes) then move into the left lane, hugging the curve
- Then bike check over left shoulder, left blinker, turn slowly hugging the white line, speed up a tiny bit, bike check over shoulder, blinker again, turn left hugging white line, then slow down, blinker left, bike check and slowly turn into the s-shaped tight turns (that represent what on the real road I have no idea).
- In the s-curve you can’t hit the curb at all or you fail…but you can back up to 3 times if you think you will (btw, did I mention we were driving old boxy buick looking cars? Eeek). Go through this curve-at least 6 tight turns then right blinker on, look right left right and pull straight ahead and into the left lane…
- speeding up to 50 km/hour and slowing down when you hit that mark, and just through that curve blinker on again, mirror, mirror, shoulder then move lanes, immediately hugging the right hand white line, right blinker back on, turn with tire on arrow not diamond, look for oncoming cars, then turn into the left lane. Stop at red light, look right, left, right before progressing slowly on green…
- half way through the light left blinker on, hug left white line, and make a slow turn without hitting curb…speed up slightly, hugging left line, and stop at the stop sign (not go over line or you fail).
- Left blinker on before stopping, look right, left, bike (shoulder), right, pull straight and then make left turn into right-most lane…hugging white line-blinker on,
- look at oncoming traffic, then make right hand turn back to the parking spaces, right blinker on, pull into spot with tire touching white line and stopping at the pole with the front of your car.
- then place E-break on, put car in park, turn off car, then unbuckle your seatbelt.
I mean, did you get all that? That was the EASY course (man we got lucky, thank you lord)! After that the examiner talked to our translator about some things they wanted to comment on…and then we wait 3 hours before we are given the results. We went for snacks at a mall we like down the road and killed time (anxiously…I don’t know how I ate anything) and went back at 12:30 for the results. Now we go to another waiting area where we wait for our name. 1) call our name, yay you passed. 2) don’t call your name, you fail and need to sign up again (and pay more yen). Paul was called second, me third and I could breathe again. O.M.G. We were ushered into another room, took pictures, signed things, blah blah, and there you go. My license looks like a mug shot. I was too hot to care and glad it was over. After that we went home and made celebratory drinks.
On Saturday I head to the Kerama islands off Okinawa island for some fun in the sun with my friends and teammates who are going off to new adventures at the end of the year. We are having our last hoorah by sunning, drinking, kayaking, and snorkeling for 2 days. It will be short, but oh so very sweet. We get back on June 1…Paul and I have a wedding anniversary on June 6 (as well as a major day of SAT testing and graduation), then it’s the last week of school! I make time for one more post after Okinawa and with the last days before we start our summer vacation. See you soon! xoxoxo K+ P **You made it this far BONUS pictures! Congratulations!