Thursday, April 05, 2007

Japan: Nagano-ken, Nakano-shi, Toytota-mura (aka Rich's house)

I have come to realize that some of my postings may not be digestible in a single sitting, nor several single sittings. As such, I am breaking up the rest of my time in Japan (and from there on) into bite size morsels for you to chew and savor at your pleasure. Here, I'll even remove the wrapping for you to save the trouble...NORMAN PENTELOVITCH NORMAN PENTELOVITCH

It is important to note that while I have been a near constant traveler, my friend and compatriot Mr. Shelalalalalala has been in a different country doing something actually useful: teaching English (and occasionally...Engrish). Though my arrival was greeted with much hoopla and shenanigans (oh truly, shenanigans abounded), Rich still had a job that he was obligated to continue showing up at lest the kindly Japanese government decide to rescind their invitation to stay and play.

Thus, I found myself winding my way through lush green valleys, past the surprisingly large town of Nagano (though why i was surprised is a bit of a mystery as the Winter Olympics did occur here only a few years back). But we were not to stay in bustling Nagano, our destination lay further North, in cloud frosted mountains and endless twisting roads hugging narrow passes as we drove to Rich's home.

View from Rich's back porch...just imagine dueling banjo's, but a more peacful, Japanese kind of dueling banjo's

It should be noted that Rich's luck with regards to homestead is essentially superlative. While many of his colleagues (other American teachers) have very functional if quite small (think NYC...immediately post-college) apartments that are essentially just right for a person of modest means, Rich has the equivalent of a castle with ramparts and battlements and a drawbridge...guarded by a fierce and loyal dragon...

...the dragon occasionally needs a bath...

...a dragon cannot dry itself!

Ahhh!! A dragon...oh...look how small and furry he is...wait..he's not a dragon at all!

Okay if not a dragon, then certainly by a ferocious and greatly-in-need-of-neutering little yap factory. Rich, having fully embraced his new culture and adopting the customs of this wondrous land, creatively named his dog...Brooklyn...according to Richipedia...dogs were invented in Brooklyn. I feel that this requires some fact checking.

Rich lives in the former home of the principal of a school. This means that he has a huge dining room, an office with a porch, a living room, bedroom and bathroom. All of the rooms are separated by a light wood covered in paper door, which slide left and right to either allow access or hinder it. It is EXACTLY like when the Simpsons visited Japan, except that I only walked through a wall one time...maybe twice.

Rich cleaning some dishes. He's all domestic like that. He is here performing the ancient Japanese ritual of dishwasha-mura-cleanup-kictchen-honto

The point is, Rich's house is really...really nice. Which is why for my first week in Japan I barely left it. I was sorely in need of sleep, and the 3 thick futons that Rich laid down for me the first night looked like furniture heaven. For the first time in I can't-remember-when, I was able to sleep without tucking my passport under my shirt, worrying about if the door was locked, or if bed bugs were going to carry me off into the night. It is impossible to overstate how wonderful a little thing like "sleeping without desperately clutching your wordly possessions against theft from unknowns" is, and you cannot know until you have been vulnerable to such problems. The knowledge is preferable to the lack thereof.

Again, looking out of Rich's back porch. Lucky bastard.

And then we made a delicious concoction:

You wish you knew what was making him grin like that don't you...see below and I'll reveal our secret ways!

cornflakes + chocolate syrup + hot chocolate powder + vanilla ice cream = scrumdiddelyumptious!

Much of my time that first was spent lounging...I tried to update this very website, I read multitudinous comic books (Rich has an unparalleled collection, and I can't imagine that short of the manga hord's that this country perpetuates, anyone has a finer selection), and we ate hamburgers. LOTS of hamburgers. You would imagine that being in Japan I would eat sushi all the time, and that I would sample strange and exotic foods that our Western minds can little imagine.

Well I did that too, but largely, we ate hamburgers. And I'll tell you this, they were delicious. I won't elaborate because pretty, they were just tasty burgers, but a little bit of home in between the pop-pops (marble sized salmon fish eggs so named for the sound they make as they excrete pure fish taste onto your tonuge), raw shrimp (not peeled shrimp, RAW shrimp...its is not appealing) and octopus tentacles (surprisingly grabby), was a welcome change of pace.

Other craziness abounded at Rich's house. Notably, that though Rich had been living there for the better part of a year and change...he seemed to have never taken the garbage out. As I was to quickly learn is the norm (no pun intended) in Japan, everything is a little, shall we say...bizarre. Thus, the garbage from everyone's house must be taken to a dumping area but only on certain days, OTHER days apparently are taboo.

Did that stop us?

Lots of garbage... smelled bad...

I mean honestly...who has this much garbage in their houe at one time? Besides Oscar the grouch? And even HE would be amazed at this.

NAhhhhhh! And if that looks like a lot of trash to you, just try imagining driving around with loose bags on the hood and roof of the car. We were like the ninja-garbage men of northern Japan.

" vewwy vewwy quiet...we're hunting wabbits...and illegally dumping garbage.."

Most of our time at the house was passed in surpassing comfort, lounging on his tatami floors, watching old episodes of 24 and trying to understand the nature of the existential Tostitos. these chips are for export, it says so right on the bag, but there they were in Japan, having been exported, but then, the bag still says "export" and who are we to resist the demands of the bag, but then if we export them, whoever we export them to will believe that we have made a mistake since they were to be exported in the first place not RE-exported...thus the mystery of the existential chips, they exist both here and not here at the very same time. Einstein called it the "snack-coefficient quandry." It is mathematics greatest unsolved puzzle.

But there was a great big (metaphorically speaking) country out there to explore...onwards! To the next post!

Next: The insatiable curiosity of Japanese schoolchildren, and Norm gets a little funky