I awoke from my gummy bear induced slumber the next morning to the sound of my alarm bell. I fished around in the dark with eyes half shut, trying to find the – Wait, I don’t have an alarm clock…and usually alarms don’t even have bells. That must mean – THE DOOR!!
After realizing that someone was ringing my doorbell repeatedly, I came to and quickly got up to check who it was.
” Sorry sorry, I thought it was my alarm..” I blocked the sun with my hands because my eyes were still adjusting to the light. Through my fingers I saw that the culprit of my sudden wakefulness was none other than my sempai Ken.
” Dude..were you crying? “, he asks with a smirk on his face
” What?? Uhh..naww..man..err..well. yeah. Whatevs.”
” Don’t worry about it dude we all go through it. ”
I recalled the anecdote of one of the speakers from orientation a couple days before and how he had a stage 2 culture shock break down while unpacking, and wondered how many of the other JETs had or would experience the same thing. It was really interesting. One thing about me is that I tend to enjoy analyzing and studying my experiences to see what I can learn from them, and the whole culture shock phenomenon and my experiences with it are fascinating because the lessons I’m getting from it are indispensable.
Anyway, the first thing on our to-do list for the day was to drop by the local super market to pick up some essentials. So the two of us walked down the street, up a block, and literally crossed the street to the supermarket. It’s that close.
When I went inside, it looked much like any normal supermarket (not sure what I was expecting to see), so I grabbed a trolley and started walking the aisles trying to figure out what to buy.
I couldn’t figure out what to buy. I sort of got that complete blank out that you sometimes get at a test or exam where your mind just freezes up. I stood there in a sort of daze as I tried to recall what things I would usually buy. Eventually, in half a trance, I managed to fill my trolley with milk, eggs, tuna and ramen.
As I wheeled around from aisle to aisle, I made note of the following observations:
– the katakana for canned tuna is “sea chicken”. Tuna is known as literally – the chicken of the sea. Interesting!
– as I noted in the previous post, servings are 2/3 the size as in Canada. Thus, for example, cartons of orange juice might be the same price as in Canada, but the amount you’re buying is 2/3 what it would be.
– the concept of bulk pricing hasn’t really caught on in Japan. For example, a single can of beer might be 200 yen. A 6 pack of the same beer would most likely be exactly 1200 yen. There is no benefit to purchasing the 6 pack other than the convenience of the packaging!
– prepared meals are really cheap at the supermarket. After 6pm, they start cutting the prices even more, so by 8 pm, you can often get lucky and be able to score a full meal for 300 yen (down from 450)
– as a result, if your time is valuable, it is ALMOST not worth it from a cost standpoint to buy ingredients and make dinner yourself, as the prepared meals are pretty tasty. Probably not that healthy though.
Once I was finished being indecisive, I paid for my purchases and we walked back to the apartment to drop off the groceries before going to the BOE again.
This time, I met my supervisor’s supervisor’s supervisor’s supervisor, as well as his supervisor, and the big dog of them all, that guy’s supervisor who was such a big shot that his office was in a separate room (unprecedented!).
What followed was an extended episode of “Hajimemashite”s and “Yoroshiku onegai shimasu”s and lots of deep bowing. I was complimented on my Japanese and pronunciation to which I humbly denied ” aa, iie!”. The supervisors all seemed to love this, as well as my repeated self introductions, which I gave with all the eloquence of a Japanese preschooler. But an enthusiastic one!
After the BOE trip, Ken drove us around, pointing out various places of interest around Fujioka. Some of the interesting things I learned were that there is one good pizza place in Fujioka (Pizza Stadium), one vending machine that sells Dr. Pepper (to which I have now developed a taste for. Damnit!!), one turkish restaurant, and a host of other places that were apparently the only ones of their kind in the city.
There was a lot of driving around that day, but the next notable stop was at Cainz Homes in Saitama prefecture (Fujioka is right at the border of Gunma and Saitama). Cainz Homes is a big box store that is kind of in the same vein as Canadian Tire back home. I picked up an electric fan (my new best friend), some garbage bins, an extension cord and some other miscellaneous stuff that I can’t quite remember. The funny part about this stop was that Ken would consistently go “Alright, it doesn’t look like we’re gonna find it here, let’s go check somewhere else.”, upon which point we would IMMEDIATELY stumble upon exactly what I was looking for several feet away. This particular phenomenon seems to happen so often that it is apparently some sort of eponymous law which I have since dubbed
"The probability or likelihood of an occurance is inversely related to the degree of certainty that Ken possesses about the aforementioned occurance."
(this picture is from google but they all look like this)
After the Cainz Homes stop, we drove around some more and somehow decided to drive up one of the local mountain roads to a place called Sakurayama; literally Cherry Blossom Mountain.
One of my favourite aspects of living in Gunma so far are the beautiful forests and mountains just outside the downtown core, a 5 – 10 minute drive away. Even driving up the mountains, the views are so incredible that I’m at a loss to describe them. The calibre of my writing is just not high enough to properly articulate the majesty of the scenic vistas. They should have sent a poet. Fortunately I have a camera. Pictures a bit further down below.
The other great thing about exploring the mountains of japan are the incredible winding roads that go up and down them. My area is well known for mountain racing, and in particular, a Japanese variety called Drifting that involves racing up and down the mountain roads and breaking traction around corners as to slide into and out of the turn. It was along the same roads that racers and drifters hone their craft, so we drove up them at a brisk pace, enjoying the views and relishing the fantastic drive. It was then that I decided if I’m to get a car while I’m here (and I probably will in a couple months), it’s going to be some type of sports car, because these roads are the ones enthusiasts only dream of having the opportunity to drive.
After driving for awhile, we reached a parking lot at the top of the mountain where there was, of all things, what appeared to be a strip mall of restaurants, convenience stores and vending machines. Ofcourse.
The buildings were all closed and locked down so it was probably seasonal, however the vending machine was still fully stocked, which leads me to wonder who the heck refills it day in day out all year??
In the middle of the strip mall was an old beaten down path leading to a steep flight of stairs. The stairs led to a beautiful and deserted zen garden bathed in a yellow hue from the impending sunset.
It was serene and the sense of stillness was almost palpable. The perfect spot for meditation. It looked like people hadn’t been around for months.
Continuing down the path led to a hiking trail with stairs carved out of the earth. There was a sign that identified this as Sakurayama; or Sakura Mountain due to the 7000 sakura trees that made up the forest.
However these are special cherry blossom trees – they are very rare and are only found in a few places around Japan. Unlike the normal cherry blossoms that bloom in the spring, these bloom in the winter.
Mount Sakurayama is an unbelievably stunning mountain with equally stunning views of the surrounding landscape. We arrived at the summit just as the sun was setting, which made for an amazing photo opportunity. I cannot believe the following pictures are from my backyard, a mere 20 minute drive away.
That is Onishi, it’s a small town of around 6000 people that was annexed by Fujioka. It is now technically a part of the city although most locals still consider it to be its own town. To get to Sakurayama, we had to drive through Onishi.
At the summit there was also a small shrine. Ken and I took turns ringing the bell and leaving some coins as an offering,
Ken ringing the bell really hard. It echoed across the entire mountain
There were also a couple other interesting things up there. The first was a sign that explained the history of the mountain.
A long time ago, when a great Buddhist monk had subdued the demon that lived on Mt. Mikabo, the demon threw down the stone he was holding and fled. The place that stone fell to earth became known as “Onishi” (demon stone), and to this day the stone is worshiped as a holy object of the Onishi Jinja (Shinto shrine). – according to Ken
Isn’t that an awesome story? There is so much lore and history everywhere. One of the things I really love about Japan is how much the history and modern society intertwine to form the fabric of Japanese culture.
The other interesting thing to be found at the top of the mountain was this:
If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you’ll understand why I was stunned to find a garbage bin at the top of a mountain. If not, I’ll explain again – there are practically NO garbage cans ANYWHERE in Japan. It is an exercise in frustration and futility to even begin attempting to find one. And yet there one was, at the very top of a deserted mountain. It was like some sort of cruel ironic joke because it was the one time I didn’t have any garbage on me to throw away. This calls for the second of the eponymous laws I have come across in Japan (I’ll write about the last one at a later post).
Law of Inverse Garbage Availability:
"The likelihood of coming across a garbage can in Japan is inversely proportional to the amount of garbage you're carrying."
After enjoying the view for quite some time, it began to get dark so we began the trek back to Fujioka. Ken explored the limits of his tires’ grip as we tore down the mountain, past Onishi, and back into Fujioka proper. Unfortunately around this time is when my battery died so there are no more pictures from this day.
My supervisor (quite possibly the nicest lady I have ever met in my life. No actually, she definitely is) allotted us some money for a welcoming dinner, so Ken and I went to the most expensive sushi restaurant within walking distance of the apartment. The reason was we wanted to have a few beers and there is an absolute. Zero. Tolerance. On drinking and driving.
The sushi restaurant was a very traditional place about a 5 minute walk, a couple blocks away. You would never have known it was a sushi restaurant from the outside.
The actual food was delicious. It was some of the tastiest, freshest and most mouthwatering sushi I have ever had. The thing about eating at a really expensive sushi place is that you only get maybe 8 pieces of sushi per order for quite a princely sum. There may be some sort of psychological effect going on; I suspect that the more expensive your meal, the more your mind will justify it by rationalizing that the food tastes better. You will actually really and truly believe that the food tastes better (and since reality is subjective anyway, who’s to say that it doesn’t?). But before I get all metaphysical and philosophical here, I’ll just stop and say that the food was really delicious, and it was made even better with some fantastic beer and the company of a good friend.
Still I wasn’t full enough after eating, so we stopped by one of the many 7-Elevens, and got some more beer and fried chicken on a stick (skewered karage). 7-Eleven in Japan makes some GOOD fried chicken. After the combini run, we walked over to the park near the apartment. There was a big cage with a duck named Gary inside it, so Ken, Gary, and I just hung out at the park for the rest of the night, occasionally feeding Gary potato chips and doing pullups on the jungle gym (I did 18 in a row, not bad for being out of the gym for over a month!).
Eventually we went home, and I flopped onto my futon, completely exhausted from the long day. And that concluded my second day in Fujioka.