Monday, August 30, 2004


Another typhoon is hitting Japan, this one the worst so far this year. They are really early this year. Usually they don't come round until September. Fair amount of damage in southern Japan, but nothing here. It was just rainy all day. Which is perfectly fine by me because that means it is cool! Of course the low pressure makes me sleepy. I ended up having a nap when I came home from work today. I also slept in really late yesterday. This is all good because I needed to catch up on my sleep. Hopefully this is a permanent decrease in the temperature. 25C is just so much easier to deal with than 39C!

According to the typhoon tracking chart on the news, Tokyo should start to get typhoon rain from right about now. We're just on the outskirts of the typhoon radius (it is going up the west coast). Tomorrow of course is scheduled to be hot - post-typhoon the sky is always clear and sunny. There isn't a polluted haze blocking the sun a bit. Beautiful sky, but I'm not looking forward to the heat. Summer please be over soon!

Sunday, August 29, 2004

No Canadian doping scandals!

Well another medalist was stripped of his medal at the Olympics. This Olympics it was Hungary however that was the culprit and not Canada as it has been for the last several Olympics. Hungary had three medals revoked. Wow.
Prior to the Olympics I was half-joking with people about which sport Canada would get DQ'd in for a drug violation. Nice to see we didn't have any this time round.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Fashion that drives me nuts

Tokyo has an eclectic mix of fashion, some of which is nice, but most of which are downright weird. Pink with red? Knee socks with short skirts? Platform heels? The photo-negative panda look? There are two however that just get me. I mean, how on earth can women think this is fashionable???

Culprit A- the mini-skirt. Mini-skirts are fine, but there is a point where they become unacceptable in length. Like the person that I saw the other day who was wearing a skin tight mini that, without a word of a lie, showed a good inch of her butt cheeks. Hello????!!! I don't even want to know what was showing from the front. This woman was getting all kinds of disgusted stares. I mean, how would you sit down in that thing?
What is even more worrisome is that young girls do this type of thing to their school uniforms. Wearing it just above the knee, or mid-thigh, is fashionable. But, here's a hint, if you have to hold the back of it against your ass as you walk up a flight of stairs - it is too short! I mean come on.

Culprit B- the porno lips. For some totally bizarre and unknown reason, lip gloss is in. I have nothing against gloss, but when it is slathered in such quantities against your lips that (sorry there is no way to put this delicately) it looks like someone has just come on your face, well that is gross. It gives me the shudders every time I see it. How can that look attractive? Most people that I know, refer to it like this - "Yeah, I hate that lip gloss thing. It looks like, uh, well, you know... (trailed off embarrassed silence)". So I'm not the only one who gets a certain explicit picture.

So those are my two pet peeves recently. Why do women feel that they have to walk around looking like prostitutes? That is not fashionable. I can understand sexy, even revealing, but come on ladies, lets learn the fine line of difference.

Anyway, I haven't seen the latest North American trends, but hear they have a prostitute look to them as well. Anyone want to vent about North American fashions that drive you nuts?

Thursday, August 26, 2004

AR5 - Episode 8

So here's my contestant comments for this week...
Ok, Collin is so uncool. Can we all say abusive boyfriend and spouse? Christy! Get away! Wow.
Nicole, I think you're letting things get to you. It really isn't unreasonable for someone to refuse to take another country's money. I mean if you were a taxi driver and someone tried to pay you in Mexican pesos, would you accept it? And quit bitching about the 100 bucks. That's how much it costs. Deal.
Chip and Kim - love 'em. Hope they win.
Bowling moms - boy do they ever have bad luck with airports. Still like them, but they have moved to second fav team now.
Twins - non-elimination round? You've got to be kidding. They'd better be eliminated next week.

I so want to go to Dubai now. It was already on the potential list because it is a major hub in the area. We'll probably go thru it when we leave Maldives. Definitely want to stay in that hotel (Burj Al Arab). How can a hotel be 7 stars? I mean just how much better is it than a 5 star hotel? For 1200 bucks US a night for the cheapest room, it'd better be pretty darn awesome. I, of course, will be admiring from afar... unless some nice, friendly, rich oil man puts us up out of the goodness of his heart. Haha.

Next week looks like Collin will show even more of his winning personality. India - can't wait!

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

I won something!

So my cellular phone provider is always sending out surveys in English to me. Well, I suspect they send them to everybody. I always do them, because I like surveys, and they are online. The Vodaphone surveys are about the only online content in English that I can get with my phone (you can access the internet with you cell phone here in case you are wondering what I am talking about). Usually they give away prizes for filling out the survey - if you are a lucky winner.

Well, I was a lucky winner! I got a cell phone holder with fifty million straps and things so you can connect it to just about anything. It is brilliant red in colour, but the blue-red shade that I like so that's ok. And it is a limited edition holder not available in stores. Wow, lucky. LOL Ok, it's kitschy crap, but I'm just so excited that I actually won something.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Oodles of bad luck

Tonight Hiroshi was cleaning the bathroom floor, and when he moved the shelving unit, my mirror fell off the top and shattered. Somehow this is my fault ... I'm not sure how that works seeing as I was nowhere near the shelf at the time, and usually shelves don't go anywhere, so you shouldn't have to worry about the potential of a mirror falling off if they were moved. So he was all grumpy and irritable. I tried to help him clean it up but got told to go away. Maybe it was my comment "oh no! Now you'll have 7 years of bad luck!" that did it. Hmmm. Seeing as he broke my last mirror as well, he is now doomed to 14 years of bad luck - I assume the bad luck is cumulative rather than concurrent.

Interestingly I found ways to counteract the bad luck by googling. You let someone else clean it up (see above - I tried). Or you can wash the pieces in a south flowing river (would only work if I actually knew which way was south from here - does a ditch count?). Or you can smash it into a bazillion pieces being sure to not see your reflection in any of them (that would be fun for anger management). Or you can just bury them (if only we had a garden). So seeing as we did none of the above, and a black cat ran out in front of us the other day, I say we're doomed ;)

Monday, August 23, 2004

I love veggies

Summer is great because you get lots of fresh veggies. The latest creation is cut up veggies dipped in miso. Delicious! It is even better when Hiroshi does the cutting! ;) My recommendations are cucumber and daikon (Japanese radish). Red miso is better than white miso too because it is sweeter. It gives the veggies a nice healthy zip of flavour without using heavy dairy. Soy is good for you.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Should we wait another year?

Here's the big dilemma of the day. It doesn't look like we'll be able to meet our savings goal for our RTW by next October. So the question is, do we delay going, or shorten the trip? And what about staying one more year in order to save up a whole bunch more money so we can have a huge nest egg. Then we would be set. Money for retirement, a down payment on a house, and money for kids when they come so we wouldn't have to worry.

Of course this would delay our trip by a whole other year. That would suck having to wait longer. And my ovaries aren't getting any younger. Oh there just isn't enough time! If only we were in our 20s LOL. Then we wouldn't have this dilemma. I hate having to balance life priorities.

If we stayed here one more year to save money, it would mean we were more financially secure in the long run. It would also mean that I would be 35 and Hiroshi would be 40 by the time we finished travelling and got back to Canada. That seems so old. :/ The kids would still be at home when Hiroshi retired. And there is always the fear that in the quest for money we'll just put off travelling again and again and never go.

So should we be responsible or just live our dream and worry about the life plan later?

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Catching up on the Olympics

I finally got to watch the opening ceremony for the Olympics. I know, I'm only a week late! Thanks to Cal who let me copy it. Overall, I really liked the opening ceremony. Ahhh, pageantry. Lots of costumes, good theme. I still haven't finished watching the whole thing - the parade of nations goes on forever. I think, well hope, I'm 3/4 of the way thru the parade. So far the African nations are fabulous. Their uniforms are just great. I liked Canada's uniform - very sporty and Canadian too. The US stole our Roots hats. Japan... well Japan was a fashion nightmare. For those of you who don't remember, they were dressed in white and the women had on this floral 'Laura Ashley meets patio chairs' pattern going on. It was just aweful. The designer should be sent back to design school.

I haven't watched much of the games themselves. Sometimes when I'm working at home I catch bits and pieces if Hiroshi's watching them. Not enough time to veg out in front of the TV - and as I said in a previous entry I don't really care all that much. I don't even know how many metals Canada or Japan has. *shrug* Oh well, at least I can say I watched (most of) the opening ceremonies now.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Everyone's taking happy pills

Everyone was absurdly friendly today. I mean, it was really weird. First off, some woman in my building started talking to me and we had a conversation in the lobby. This is just not normal, because usually the people in my building ignore each other, and well, just run away (ack! foreigner!) when they see me. And not only did she say hello, but there was a conversation! And it lasted several minutes.

Then as I walked to the station people not only smiled at me, but said good morning! This is a miracle. People in Tokyo look at the sidewalk. I thought there was a rule here along the lines of: whatever you do, don't make eye contact with people you don't know... and forget about smiling at them. So right about this time, I started checking myself - ok, fly is done up, nothing is smeared on my face, appear to be dressed normally. Ummmm what's going on?

Finally, as I was walking to my class in Shinjuku, some man came up and asked me the time - as a clear attempt to start a conversation with me (he didn't care what time it was). So we gabbed for about 10 minutes. I haven't had a stranger come up and talk to me in a long time. As long as I'm not in a hurry I don't mind - I enjoy talking to people and meeting Japanese... and I know it takes a huge amount of courage to come up and say hello to a foreigner. So that was cool because the guy was really friendly and nice.

So all of this friendliness has me a bit freaked out, but overall, it is really nice! That's one of the things that I miss about Canada - saying good morning to people. It really does make such a difference in your day.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

AR5 - Episode 7

This was a good episode. Collin is becoming more and more of a psycho freak by the second. Yikes. Kinda scary. The moms moved up - hurray! But, Chip and Kim are really starting to appeal to me. In fact, I might change who I'm rooting for *gasp*. They just have such a great attitude. They are always awed by the places they go. I was impressed by the fact that they sat around talking to the people they delivered the chairs to (and ate watermelon). That was great. The moms are still cool, but I think I might have to change my fav team.

And Charla and Mirna are gone. I really do wish it had been the twins instead. Gosh they're stupid. Charla is just pretty darn amazing. Phil, what were you thinking when you said "You have a pretty amazing partner" ... referring to Mirna???!!! I do hope you were trying to be sarcastic. Mirna was a dead log. Charla did everything and basically kicked ass. She's awesome. Too bad she had such a twit for a partner.

So now that I've reviewed the contestants... man, oh man I want to be there! Lake Manyara? On the RTW list. I'm exceedingly jealous because I want to be there! The little scam going on over the 100 bucks for the bus is just funny. The guys were really aggressive about keeping them on the bus though - that was a bit scary. I don't know what Hiroshi and I'd do in that situation. The little villages - very cool. Oh, I want to be travelling now!

As usual, Hiroshi and I paused the episode at the road block and see who would do it. Both of us knew it involved eating something less than appetizing, so neither wanted to do it. The ostrich egg is the same as eating 2 dozen eggs. That is just nasty. I thought you could die of a cholesterol overdose if you ate a whole ostrich egg. Clearly that is urban myth, although I do hope Collin keels over. Is that wrong of me? The zip cord looked fun, but they already did a zip cord, so I'm kinda disappointed. Come on guys, pick new and exciting tasks within the same season.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Uh-oh it's magic

Do you remember that song? I can't even remember who sang it, let alone if that is the actual title or just the chorus. Ah, all those 80s song tidbits floating around my brain. Anyway, yesterday was Hiroshi's and my anniversary. We've been married for 3 years - which have flown by just like magic. We've been married three years??!! Wow, where did all the time go? It sure doesn't seem like that long.

For our anniversary, we went to the Shinagawa Prince Hotel to see "Las Vegas Magic" at Club Ex. The show by itself is rather expensive, but there is a good dinner and show deal that we got. Hiroshi loves magic so he was very happy about the show. I knew it was based on slight of hand and the like so wasn't as thrilled as I used to be as a kid. When the magician pulled a duck out of nowhere though, I was impressed. That was good. There were also jugglers who were quite good. They were fun and entertaining. The name "Las Vegas Magic" comes from the scantily clad dancing girls that accompanied the show - you know, so men could drool and women could seethe with jealousy. ;) The big surprise of the evening was that the magician was not only from Canada, but upon surfing the net for this link, I discovered he is also from my hometown. How weird is that!? And no, I don't think I know him. Of course it may turn out we went to the same high school or something weird.

After the show we went to dinner. There is a nice restaurant on the 37th floor that has incredible city views, candlelight and steak. We didn't go there. I stupidly thought the buffet restaurant on the first floor would be better because it had shabu-shabu, crab, Chinese food, and sushi. See, thinking with my stomach instead of my brain! As it turns out the shabu-shabu was lousy, the Chinese food not great, and we didn't even eat the sushi. The crab on the other hand was delicious and we ate a whole bunch of that. The other things on the menu were so so. Oh well, bad choice. There were also lots of kids running around (where are your parents?!) making a lot of noise that was amplified by the acoustics of the room - it had huge high ceilings and was kind of like a swimming pool in terms of sound bouncing around. So not that romantic. It was different from the usual restaurants we go to though, so that was nice.

So that was the big anniversary thing. I'd be interested in going again when the tango show comes back - and the next time we'll choose the romantic restaurant.

Oh, and happy 55th birthday yesterday to mom in Kitchener. And happy anniversary yesterday to cousins Kevin and Renate. See, August 17th is a great day - look at all the special events.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Where are you?

Hey, see that new link under the 'Reader Map' section of the sidebar? Click on 'Place your pin' and put yourself on it! Let me know where you are and make me feel popular. Don't forget to pick your icon.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Where's the wireless?

Today I rushed around trying to find a wireless node so I could check e-mail and send something off. No luck. Wireless connections that were there last week, are no longer there. Whaaaaat? And then I heard a rumour that the company that owns all the free hubs folded. What?! You mean I'm going to have to pay for my wireless internet access now? *scowl*

This does not bode well... because, well, I'm cheap. Once free it should always be free. I don't want to pay. Besides, all the plans where you pay are only at specific places (like MosBurger - where I just can't go because I'm addicted to their teriyaki chicken burger and that doesn't fit in with my diet plans). That would mean I'd be locked into going to a certain store, rather than deciding, hmmm, I feel like a latte at Starbucks or a coffee at Excelsior. So hopefully this rumour is just that - an evil rumour - and I'll be able to happily surf the net between classes. Guess I'll find out the next time I hit Starbucks in the Yaesu underground shopping mall at Tokyo station.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Ahhhh, relief!

Oh my gosh! Today is positively frigid in comparison to the past month and a half. It is only about 20C today! Sure it was gray and overcast today and a bit rainy this morning, but I'm LOVING this temperature. Ohhhh please please please stay cool and wonderful so I don't become drenched in my own sweat every time I set foot out of air conditioned wonderfulness. I so despise this summer and 20C for the rest of the year would be like winning the lottery. Of course 20C won't happen, but maybe I can hold out for 25?

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Olympics are absent from my TV

I had wanted to watch the opening ceremony tonight, but it appears that there is no coverage on regular TV. That sucks. I'm too lazy to download it off the internet too so guess I'll miss it this year. It's funny because I used to get all hyped about the Olympics. Maybe because they were held in North American during my teens? Don't know. I wish I could the opening ceremony, but really, I'm not that bummed out about it. Some people have asked me what events I want to watch, and swimming and gymnastics come to mind, but again, don't care all that much if I miss them.
So, is this apathy about the Olympics time zone related, age related, or just because people in general aren't as hyped about the Olympics as they used to be?

Friday, August 13, 2004

Heatwave record

Today Tokyo set a record for the longest heatwave in it's history. I knew this summer was too hot. I love the quote about people wanting a taxi when they step out of a building - umm, actually, I want a portable air conditioner that wraps me in cool goodness even when I'm outside.

You may be saying, 30C is nothing... but really the temperature is hitting 37 or 38 every day, which is fine in dry heat. Add in 80 to 90% humidity, and I'm sure hell is cooler than it is here. To give those of you who live in dry heat a comparison, 37C (98F) at 80% humidity feels like 61C (143F). You don't want to know how hot it feels at 38 and 90% humidity. No wonder I feel like collapsing at the end of every day.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Anniversary present - what to get

Our 3 year anniversary is next week, so I'm trying to think what to get for Hiroshi. We had talked about going to a show - there's a lounge show in Shinagawa. Hiroshi wants to see the magic show, but I think it is tango right now instead. I wouldn't mind seeing the tango show. Then someone was telling me about a cat museum in Odaiba, where you get to play with cats! How great is that! The entrance fee is like US$12 a person, which seems expensive when we can pet the cats that hang out around our neighbourhood. Of course the ones at the cat museum probably don't have flleas and are a bit less mangy. Hiroshi would love that I'm sure. I'd have to listen to "I want a cat" for weeks though.... I want a cat too, but we'd have to keep the a/c on all day (way too expensive), not to mention we have to pay US$1200 more deposit on our apartment.
Also thinking about going out to dinner but not quite sure where. Would like french, but then you're looking at a couple hundred bucks for dinner. This is fine, but then you start to think about how much you can do on the RTW with 200 bucks and then it seems like you are over-splurging. So, if anyone has any great ideas, please let me know!

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

AR5 - episode 6

Yippee, someone put this week's episode on the net really quick! And... hurray, the moms are still in it! So the question of the week, of course, is - where have these people been all their lives? How can you not know what a scarab is. I mean, I learned that in grade school, but, haven't you seen The Mummy??
Comments on teams:
Charla and Mirna - I think I'm in shock. Mirna actually did a task! And she whined and complained about how hard it was and that she didn't think she could do it. Umm, Mirna, climbing 100 meters up a ladder with midget legs is hard. Picking up goats is not. Whiny twit.
Kami and Karli - wow, we're definitely missing brain cells. Please let them be eliminated next. I dislike Mirna, but I think Charla is spunky - and they make the episodes interesting, so the twins are the next ones I want to go.
Colin and Christy - Colin is starting to get psycho killer eyes a lot more. It's a bit frightening.
Marshall and Lance - glad to see them go. Too bad it was because of injury and not because someone whipped their ass. And what's up with Phil moaning about having to come out to a site in the race. Come on. Is it really that hard to leave the luxury hotel at the pit stop? Phil sounded rather pampered and spoilt with that comment. If I were Marshall and Lance I could see just giving up too. I mean, it is a waste of time. However, I do have much more respect for teams who stick it out. I mean look at Joyce - she ate 2 lbs of caviar even though they knew they were out.
Moms - glad they are still in, and they were great about getting money at the beginning of the race. But, after that point they didn't do anything for me this race. Since they don't seem to have much personality development, does that mean they are going to be eliminated soon, or is it just a trick by the producers to make you think that, when in reality, they are going to be in the last races?

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

A new grocery store

A new Pororoca store opened in Gotanda, pretty much exactly halfway between the station and our apartment. The exciting part? It's open 24 hours! Whehoo! Convenient shopping. Hiroshi and I went and picked up some things tonight. The prices are pretty good. I thought they might be a bit more expensive, but on average the prices are the same as the other shops around here. So this means I don't have to rush around to buy things before the stores close anymore. And - if I run out of toilet paper I don't have to make it to a store before 9pm because Pororoca carrries it. Very cool. Especially because toilet paper, shampoo and the like are normally carried only in pharmacies here and not in grocery stores. Ahhhh, one stop shopping :) Oh, and it is nice and bright with white lights rather than the depressing yellow / beige tinted ones that seem to be in every other store here.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Another nuclear accident

There was a nuclear accident just outside of Tokyo today. Luckily there was no radiation. The media is calling it the worst nuclear accident ever. This is because 4 people died and 7 are seriously injured. Now, the death toll is higher, but I still think the fiasco that happened a couple years ago still counts as the 'worst'. That would be where workers were mixing uranium in a bucket (I kid you not) instead of the special mixer for this purpose, and well, it exploded. Two people died, and more than 10,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes because of the radiation.

This does not bode well. Last year 17 reactors were shut down for not meeting safety standards. Very scary. When the bucket incident happened, I remember how aweful it was not knowing what was going on. There was no information.... well, there were lots of scary pictures on tv, but not information in English. People didn't want to go outside. No one knew how bad the situation was - and whether or not we were endangering our health by staying in Tokyo. This time at least I have internet access, so was able to find out what is going on. I guess the really scary thing is that I'm sure there are incidents all the time that don't result in injury/death, so they aren't reported. Don't worry about the big one (earthquake) - the chance of being vaporized seems to be a heck of a lot higher.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

And they will host the next Olympics

Chinese fans booed Japan during the Japanese national anthem at the Asian Cup Final. Then riot police had to be called in, and Japanese fans were detained in the building for several hours for their safety. More details can be found here.

So considering this incredibly unsportsman-like conduct, how will Chinese fans behave during the Olympics? Booing during a national anthem is just plain disrespectful. In my opinion, having to call in riot police and detain fans does not bode well for future Olympic security.

China is complaining that the news is over-exaggerated... but since when do you need riot police to deal with a "handful of fans"? People are linking it to politics, but I think it is just rudeness. Germany and Israel have played matches, but I don't recall Israeli's booing Germany for things that happened in WW2.

So if China doesn't get a medal in a certain event, will they stone the other Olympic teams' buses?

Saturday, August 07, 2004

I can download AR1!

Cal tells me that he is now addicted to Amazing Race. In fact, he let me know that most of season 1 is available for downloading. Whehoo! I have things to watch in between episodes of the current season. My question, of course, is - what happened to seasons 2, 3 and 4??? Someone get off their butt and put those up please!

Friday, August 06, 2004

Fun at the Sega game center

Tonight after work (I ran past Haagen Dazs ice cream with averted eyes) I went to the game center. I haven't been there in a while because I've been busy. When I went to withdrawal some of my tokens (I have a token balance from previous visits) my tokens were gone! I asked the attendant about this and he said they are only kept for 1 month, then they disappear. Oh no! Luckily, the attendant was super nice and he reinstated most of my tokens for me.
So I played the slot machines, bingo and mahjong for several hours... and lost LOL Hiroshi joined me later in the evening and contributed to the loss. I don't mind - I have tons of tokens still and it was a several hours of fun entertainment that didn't cost me anything. Perfect for relaxing after work!

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Thank heavens for non-elimination rounds!

What a great AR5 episode! I was so sad when I thought the mom's were eliminated, then so happy when they were back in, and now so worried that they don't have any cash. Go moms go! Hopefully Marshall and Lance will be eliminated in the next round. Mirna and Charla were less irritating this episode. Does Mirna do anything except yell at Charla? All she ever does is drive and complain - Charla is doing all the hard tasks. As for the twins, they are starting to irritate me. Chip, what were you doing telling them where to get the next clue? Not only did it ensure they got 6th place, but you dropped a place in the rankings. Come on! Who cares about the twins.

Anyway, the pyramids looked awesome. Hiroshi was even impressed. Maybe he'll stop whining about the Egypt stop on our RTW. It all looks so amazing! I want to be there! Well, I want to be anywhere but in Tokyo working, but Egypt would make a good start!

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

I can't find episode 5!!

Ack!!! No one has uploaded the latest episode of AR5 (episode 5) to the net yet!! Come on, it has been 12 hours since it aired. What's going on! I want my AR fix! I can't even read Erik's blog for fear of spoilers in the comments.
I did find a program called Nip and Tuck which I think is the program that follows people going thru a cosmetic surgery makeover. Is this for real? I downloaded an episode to watch. Do they give you liposuction for free? Cuz I'll volunteer!

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Yippee!! WeatherPixie is back

Ah, a bright moment in my day when I saw that my weatherpixie has returned. Once again, I can see if I need an umbrella without looking outside, and you can tell how disgustingly hot it is here in Tokyo :)

Monday, August 02, 2004

I didn't drop anything (aka a Japanese funeral)

Today was Hiroshi's dad's funeral. We started the day praying. As I had been through this before when Hiroshi's brother died, I knew what to say and the general procedure. My mother-in-law makes small stools that you can slip under you bum - perfect for relieving a bit of the pain from sitting seiza (on your knees with your feet under you bum). These are a godsend for me because I can't sit seiza for more than about 5 seconds. I still lost all circulation in my legs though.

In Japan, the deceased is not embalmed, but put into a plain unfinished wood casket and left in the house for visitation. The funeral home had packed dry ice in there, and the lid was put on top to keep things cool. At the head of the casket there was a small window that was covered with a piece of white silk. This could be removed and so you could see him. There was also a beautifully embroidered silk insulating cloth on top of the casket.

After we prayed, the funeral helper removed the lid and took out the dry ice. Then we placed twigs of a special tree inside (I don't know what it is, but it has fairly large, dark green, oval shaped leaves). Then the lid was replaced and he was taken to the hearse. Hiroshi rode in the hearse, followed by Keiko and I, and then my mother-in-law and two uncles (brothers of my father-in-law).

At the funeral home, Hiroshi laid incense on top of the casket, and then it was rolled into the crematorium. You actually stand in front of the hearth (I don't know what the proper name is for the burning room). This was really hard for Hiroshi and quite upsetting to me as well. It is the equivalent of the first handful of dirt thrown on the casket in a burial service. The doors closed and everyone prayed some more and then we went up to the waiting room.

In the waiting room we had some snacks and talked. One of my uncles-in-law is really talkative and full of life, while the other is quiet and introverted. Hiroshi's cousin (talkative uncle's son) had been in the Ohio working the last time we saw met Hiroshi's uncle, but apparently they had moved back home - into Hiroshi's uncle's house. We talked a bit about real estate and the cost of heating and gas, and then moved on to nuclear power - comparing North America and Japan. All of this of course was translated by Hiroshi (who did a super great job) because I had no idea what his uncle was saying. The quiet uncle didn't say too much except to make one joke. Actually, it was kind of amusing because his personality seems similar to Hiroshi's.

After an hour we went back to the crematorium area. Again, as I had been through this before, I was prepared. The first time I experienced a Japanese funeral I was a bit shocked. "Ashes" is a misnomer. I always thought when someone was cremated, that they turned into real ash - like you would find in a fire place. Boy was I wrong. In Japan, the body is burned at a temperature so that the bones are very brittle and crumble easily, but still remain intact. They are then placed on a large tray on a table in a special room.

The family then gathers around the table. In two's, you take very long chopsticks, pick up a bone together and transfer it to the urn. This requires not only skill at balancing a large bone (i.e. a femur) in extra long chopsticks, but doing so with another person. My greatest fear was that I would drop the bone, or worse, that my chopsticks would cross, thus flinging the bone in a twirling motion across the room. That would have been aweful. Luckily, everything went smoothly. (Note: this is why you do not pass food chopsticks to chopsticks in Japan). After each pair had put one bone in the urn, everyone just used their hands. As we placed the bones in the urn, a funeral attendant used a giant wooden pestle to crush them into small pieces. Finally, the skull bones were placed on top.

After that everyone goes to the sinks to wash their hands, the funeral organizer (that was Hiroshi) takes the urn (which is inside a silk box) and you go back home. Before entering the house, you rub salt in your hands and then pour water over them to cleanse yourself. Then you can go inside. The urn is placed on the family altar and everyone prays again. After that, a food offering is given (there are special small bowls for this purpose, and you also put pristine condition fruit on the alter). Food is offered daily, but I'm not sure for how long. I think it is for the full 49 days until the burial ceremony. The urn stays in the house for the 49 days, after which it is placed in the family plot.

So that is the Japanese funeral experience. Hiroshi had to say some things in super polite Japanese, so he had to memorize the sentences (polite Japanese is not spoken in every day language). I helped him with this in the morning... and actually remember part of it myself now.... despite not knowing what it actually means. He said the first half of the lines after we brought the urn home... but I didn't hear the second half, so maybe he got out of saying them since it was only immediate family present. That would have been lucky, because he had to write cheat notes on his finger in case he forgot what he was supposed to say. Ingenious idea - much less conspicuous than on your palm.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Shinkansen Adventures

I spent most of the day rushing to be creative - I am working on a development project at work and had to make 8 course outlines by Monday morning. I also needed to get down to Hamamastu as quickly as possible. I finally finished just after 4:00, so I threw clothes into my bag, grabbed a book to read, gathered the garbage to take out, and flew out the door. My mission was to make the Shinkansen (bullet train) that left at 5:14.

I arrived at Shinagawa station at 5:09 and ran to the vending machine. I hit all the buttons (in order) and then... nothing. I did it again... and the machine shut down!! So I called an attendant over and he directed me to the counter. Luckily there wasn't a line up, so I could walk right up. Time - 5:11. No problem, one minute to buy the ticket, one minute to run down to the platform and one minute to spare. Except the ticket man wouldn't sell me a ticket on that train! Arghhhh!!! So I asked for the fastest train and he gave me a ticket on the Kodama train - which stops at every Shinkansen station. (The Hikari only stops at the main stations and the Nozumi only stops like 4 times the whole length of Japan). So instead of it taking 75 minutes, it would now take 120 minutes. Well, ok.

This was all fine and dandy until five (yes five!) other Shinkansen passed my train! What???!!! Obviously the ticket man was being a dickhead. I did say fastest and not next, so that wasn't the problem. Despite leaving 30 minutes after my train, the next Hiraki train arrived at Hamamatsu station 15 minutes before my train did. I was quite peeved about the whole thing for a while... until I had a little self-talk about 15 minutes not making that much of a difference, so it didn't matter. Of course my irritation wasn't helped by the fact that there was a monster child... or maybe irresponsible grandparent... one row up on the opposite side of the train.

Everyone was quietly enjoying their ride until monster child and grandfather got on the train. Monster child was about 6. Grandpa bought him a toy shinkansen. Monster child then proceeds to shout the likes of: "The doors are closing!", "The doors on the right side of the train will open!", "No doors will open *loud snickering", "This train stops at Tokyo, Yokohama, ...". Now this would have been cute had he been speaking in normal tones. As it was, the people at both ends of the car (we were in the middle) were shooting dirty looks at the pair. Grandpa of course says nothing - just lets the kid continue. I was about five seconds away from leaping over the seats, grabbing the scarf of the woman on the seat next to me, and strangling that kid - or at least gagging him - when, finally!, they got off the train. Peace at last. What a nightmare. At least that snapped the biological clock back a few hours.

I arrived at Hamamatsu around 7:30 and my sister-in-law met me at the station. Every time I see Keiko, she has totally redone her hair and looks totally different, so I was a bit worried that I might not recognize her. I mean, I've only met her about 7 times... and she usually just says hi and runs up to do things in her room. So at 5 seconds a shot, I've been in her presence for less than a minute in all the time Hiroshi and I have been together. Not to worry though - I recognized her immediately, before she even saw me.

Keiko speaks zero English and I speak close to nil Japanese, so I figured the ride home would be an interesting one. It turned out well though. She spoke in simple Japanese and said things slowly so I was able to understand. Unlike my mother-in-law, she doesn't rapid fire ten totally different versions of the same sentence at you at once, so conversation was surprisingly easy. She wants to come and visit when Hiroshi and I move back to Canada. She's also going to come up to Tokyo in the fall and we're going to go to Disneyland together. So that's cool. Despite not having a common language, the communication is going ok and I look forward to being able to talk with her more... some day... when my Japanese improves!

So that was the shinkansen adventure. Maybe next time I'll fork over the extra money to go in the green car - first class essentially. I always thought it had something to do with the environment, or non-smoking, but it turns out the seats are just wider and more cushy, and you get a free drink. Still, it might be worth it if no monster children are in the same car.