Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Useless Lesson.

I have to get the most important item out of the way:

Tah Dah!  or, alternatively, Shyan! (シャ ン!)
Check out my new distinguished soap dispenser.
Last week I was listening to some stand up comedy mix while I worked on a few things for FINvites, and one of the bits I heard was talking about how you can tell poor people from not poor people.  I don't have a better way to phrase that, stand up is generally a blunt art form.  But the observation the comic made was that if you go to someone's house and they have their plastic bottle of dish soap on the edge of their kitchen sink, they're poor.  At the time I giggled a bit.  Except then every time I've done dishes after that I've had this inner monologue of "People will think we're poor if we keep this jank bottle of ¥100 dish soap out on the counter.  I need a proper dispenser."

Do you ever get an idea stuck in your head that YOU know, logically, is REAL dumb?  
But it sticks anyway?  
Tell me about it in the comments!

I let that weirdly eat at me for about a week.  Today I realized it had festered too long.  Just go GET a dispenser already if it bugs you, Kp.  So I did.  I walked 3 miles to the big mall and bought the pretty dispenser you see.  Also I bought the bottle brush, but that's irrelevant to the story.

Moving on.

This is more or less a continuation of the last post about coffee.  As you may recall, I make a point to grab a Venti drip-coffee on my way to my weekly Japanese class with S-San, because
A.  It's a nice treat
B.  My lesson is in the morning
C.  I need coffee to be a decent, functioning human being in the morning
D.  All of the above and more.

Except yesterday I was running late.  Just a conglomeration of little things all piling up as I was trying to get out the door to get on the train, and I realized if I had any hope of making it to class on time, I was not going to be able to stop at the Starbucks for the 3 seconds it now takes for me to get my order (Side note: perk of being a foreigner in Japan?  If you stand out like I do, and go to the same Starbucks and order the same thing enough times in a row at the same time each week... they'll start making it for you when you round the corner in front of the store so you just have to give them money).  So I went to class completely un-caffeinated.  It was predictably a train wreck:

(I borrowed a tactic from another Japanese Expat's comic: from here on, assume that if I've used Japanese quotation marks:  「」that the words are actually in Japanese.)
I need you all to appreciate how awesome S-San is for her confidence here.
Japanese women are so traditionally demure, and she just laughs in the face of
that expectation to pantomime an explosion so that I can understand
Smokey the Bear does NOT need to get on a flight over here ASAP.
And then when my brain completely crapped out, she switched gears and just started practicing her English a bit.  Which is much easier for me to process:

Thankfully S-San is an insanely patient person, so even though I was completely unable to focus on anything long enough to understand her, her questions, or what she was trying to teach me yesterday, she didn't chastise me at all until I was packing up after the lesson, whereupon she just smiled and said "don't forget your coffee next time, Kristin-San!"

today's tiny language lesson
ko-en ni doubutsu ga imasu.  Shima-uma no tonari ga imasu.  Kirin wa asoko desu.
The animals are in the park. The elephant is next to the zebra.  The giraffe is over there.
(aka the grammar I was supposed to be practicing yesterday)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A quick note on coffee.

We have a coffee maker in the house here.  But every Tuesday morning I have my Japanese Lesson.  To make sure I'm coherent and alert for my lesson,  I use Tuesday lessons as an excuse to treat myself to Starbucks.

I'm fairly convinced there are as many Starbucks in Nagoya as there are in the entire US.  It's a two minute walk from where I get off the train, to the building where I have lessons, and I pass not one, not two, but THREE STARBUCKS on my way.  

Now, I know there are coffee snobs who might see I'm patronizing Starbucks and give me some kind of grief about corporate monopolies destroying the American Dream, or just pout that S-Bucks coffee isn't the best coffee that's ever occurred because it's not made by a hipster with a french press, topped artfully with artisanal whip-cream into an artful design, while a ukulele plays in the background.  I don't care.  I will continue to give Starbucks my money on a regular basis here for two very important reasons:

1.  Smoking in restaurants is allowed in Japan.  Nowhere is this more obvious than a small cafe, where getting a cup of coffee involves wading  your way through a wall of smoke so thick they should install a light house above the cash register so you can properly navigate inside the store.  But Starbucks is an American company, and they have banned smoking in their stores WORLD-WIDE.  So it's a coffee store that smells. like. coffee.

2.  A tiny country full of tiny people serves equally tiny portions of coffee in their cafes.  But Starbucks continues to have GIANT, Venti (20oz) cups of drip coffee (hot, no ice because ice is not caffeinated and it just takes up space in the cup!) which I can buy to get a reasonable amount of caffeine into my blood stream without twelve refills.

That said, Starbucks did take on Japanese customs in a few ways.  Like the to-go bag.

I start to drink my coffee as I walk to class, which is seen as fairly strange here.  In fact, my Japanese teacher called me out for it this week.  She didn't have a real good explanation for me besides taking the time to enjoy your coffee once you can sit down and relax.  So yes, Starbucks will put your to-go cup of coffee in a paper bag for you so that you might carry it to work before you enjoy it.  In any case, this conversation between us involved a great game of charades where I messed up my hair and put my glasses on askew to convey how badly and quickly I need coffee in my morning.

So this is another one of those areas where I will happily take the "weird American" card and just hold it high.  Which I can do, because I have enough caffeinated energy in my system to keep my arm up in the air.

How do you take your coffee?  Tell me in the comments!

today's little language lesson
benti, hotto, duripu ko-hi, onegaishimasu.
venti, hot, drip-coffee, please.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What We Have Here Is A Failure To Assimilate (1)

I put a (1) up there in the title because I’m sure there  will be more of these post types.  Let’s be real, folks.

Cultural differences is sort of the name of the game here at the KpQuePasa blog, yes?  I’ve had a few areas where I’m failing to fit in with said cultural differences, and I want to talk about ‘em today.  But I’m feeling a little lazy in the segue department, so you’ll excuse me if this ends up as a numbered list (spoiler alert - it’s a numbered list)

Have you ever gone somewhere you didn’t fit in?  
Were there points that you were OKAY about not fitting in?  
Tell me about it in the comments!

1.  Americans are (aka THIS particular American is) hairy.
Not all Americans.  Specifically, I’m speaking of those members of the “Melting Pot” who have a few chips in the Northern European pot (also, as The Mister would chime in, the Italian pot).  I would like to excuse this through the rationalization that Swedes, Germans, Brits and Bohemians had rough winters, and a little extra fur could only help.  It was an evolutionary perk.  One that’s unnoticeable in the States, I might add.  

But I HAVE noticed that when it’s humid all day every day,* extra body hair not only keeps the humidity trapped next to your skin for that extra un-sure feeling, but compared with the hairless-wonders that are Japanese people, it makes you an unsightly yeti.
I think, if I’ve learned anything from my travels, it’s that deep down, I am actually a VERY vain person.  Hey, we all have character flaws, right?  At least I know one of mine.  The long and short of that vanity is that I managed to make it to month 4 of living here before I got really embarrassed about the amount of dark hair on my arms.  This is particularly funny because I remember back when I was taking Japanese lessons in the states, there was a day when my instructor told me I might want to think about shaving my arms to avoid ridicule.  And I thought she was out of her mind. I dismissed her so quickly.  “HA!  No, not necessary.  I’m not that hairy.  This is normal.”

A week ago I took a no-no!™ to my arms.

Have you heard of no-no!™?  It’s supposed to be a pain-free hair-removal that stunts future regrowth.  What it actually does is burn your hairs off so they’re really short and stubby, plus blackened because you essentially lit them on fire (this smells really good too, by the way).  The part about inhibiting growth has proven to be a serious misnomer on all fronts.  Also it does all of the "hair removal" in a really uneven manner.  So I no longer have gorilla arms, but I do have arms with “stubble” and patches of longer hair that resisted being burned at the stake.  It’s a great look.  I’m totally not more self-conscious about patchy arms than I was about gorilla arms (I’m TOTALLY more self-conscious).

And now it’s a waiting game to grow that hair back so I at least look natural.  *eye roll*  Moral of this story?  no-no!™s are a no-no!™

2.  I tried and tried and tried and tried, but I cannot magically will myself to be petite-sized.
Wouldn’t that be great though?  Meh.  Though I am a normally-sized American person, I am by all accounts, very tall for a lady in Japan.  So I’ve been able to find clothes which physically fit on my body… but said fit can be a bit awkward.
In some cases, this is fixable through the magic of owning a sewing machine.
Had to get a 'XXXL-size' in order to get it over my American (M) sized boobs.
Length is supposed to be a dress but on me is a bit of a mid-thigh scandal.
Minus some fabric, plus some elastic in the back to take in the sides... now it's a shirt.
In other cases, specifically pants, it means I’m thankful for “high waters” being a trendy fashion this season.  And also thankful for people who are willing to go on a witch-hunt at American Old Navy stores to find me the proper pair of pants in non-petite sizing.  Hopefully within a timeframe that I receive pants in the mail before I manage to walk through the crotch of my current last pair of jeans.  Fingers crossed there.
non petite, straight, boyfriend-cut,
dark blue old navy jeans continue
to mock me by being perfect.
and perfectly out of stock online.
3.  People don’t feed the birds here.
We’ve had a few birds sit on our balcony here, and Bubba’s enjoyed the “cat TV.”  Thus I wanted to put out a bird feeder and “amplify the signal,” so to speak.  You’d think I’d figure out people don’t really feed the birds by my utter inability to find a bird-feeder for sale after searching in hardware and pet-stores alike over the course of multiple weeks.  Alas, this realization didn't come to me until after I bought a water bottle and some flower-pots, then spent a day cutting and gluing them back together into a very adorable bird feeder.  …A bird feeder which two weeks later still has yet to have a single avian visitor.  Because if the people of Japan don’t feed the birds (and they don’t), then the birds have NO concept that this bird feeder holds bird food. So though we have had other birds on the balcony, not a single one has touched the feeder.  hmm.
*shrug* oh well.

2. Toilets both spoil and terrify me.
There’s two kinds of toilets here in Japan:  
  • Bidet style toilets, which are like American toilets except they have a control panel on the side which allows the user to do any/ all of the following:

-Warm his/her butt while sitting to a temperature of your liking (or if you’re The Mister and I, this feature turns more into a war-like scenario where he accuses me of trying to burn his butt hair off while I accuse him of trying to give my butt frostbite)
-Issue forth a cleansing spray of water onto your nether regions (front or back)
-Warm that cleansing spray to a temperature of your liking
-Adjust the force of said cleansing spray of water to make sure you achieve your desired level of cleanliness
-Play a musical / flushing / tinkling noise (depending on the bidet) to hide the sounds your body is ACTUALLY making from those within ear shot because modesty is no joke here.
Bidet control panel.  Because if I wasn't me I would think I was kidding.
You know what?  I LOVE BIDETS.  I, KpMcD, LOVE BIDETS, and I will shout it from the mountain-tops (or at least from the 11th floor of this apartment complex)!  I want one in every house I ever live in ever again for the rest of all time.  Forever.
I was skeptical on my first use - but it really only takes one use to make a convert for a bidet-afficionado, I believe.  And I can’t really type that amazingness into words.  You’ll just have to visit us and try our bidet.  There’s a reason for a 12 hour flight.

But wait!  You say.  KpMcD said there are TWO kinds of toilets in Japan!  What’s the other kind?
  • The “Eastern Style Toilet,” as it’s called in polite company.  Or as I like to call it:

               A dirty hole in the ground.
how do you go from a bidet to this and be okay with the situation?!
Sure, there are attempts to make these holes look nicer - they’re framed with porcelain so they echo the sentiment of a toilet.  But the fact remains that I’m somehow expected to squat-hover over that hole and also somehow expected to not pee directly into my pants.  I have no idea how someone would do that without taking their pants all the way off?  Or alternately, I have no idea how someone would do that without accidentally falling backwards, bare-ass first, into the hole in the ground where hundreds of other people have *ahem* squatted.
I didn't draw this one, but it made me
laugh too hard not to share.
Check out the rest of this artist's American in
Japan adventures at!

If you’ve experienced an Eastern Toilet, 
feel free to tell me about it in the comments, 
but I’m telling you right here and now that 
I am too stubborn to want any advice about how to use them.

That’s right.  I refuse to use an Eastern toilet.  And maybe it makes me a snobby American, but I think in this one area, I just… I totally don’t care.  I’ll take the snobby American card.  And I’ll hold it proudly.  Just like I’m holding my bladder because I’ve still got a half-hour train ride home before I have access to a toilet I can comfortably use while simultaneously checking my Facebook account from my phone.  Because that’s what freedom is all about.   'Murica.

today’s little language lesson:
ないゴリラ - 私はアメリカ人です。
nai gorira - watashi-wa america-jin desu.
I am American - not a gorilla.

*My Japanese teacher taught me a new word**:  むしあしい(mushiashii):  For the season of constant high heat and high humidity.  It literally means "steamed legs".  She also taught me that we’re in the middle of said season right now (I could have guessed), and it’s gonna last another month or so.  God help us for whatever season is next.  I’m betting something along the lines of “Devil’s armpit” 

**She also taught me the word for a onesie:  着ぐるみ (kigurumi)!  
it will be mine.  oh yes. it will be mine.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Little Bunnies Foo-Foo.

The Mister and I have finally started our Language lessons here.  They're private lessons, so The Mister's classes are separate from mine in order to progress at our own paces.
For me that means once a week I meet with a wonderfully patient Japanese woman who explains Japanese grammar and sentence structure to me… in Japanese.  

There’s a lot of research out there that supports the idea that the best way to learn a language is “total immersion,” meaning that you are forced to learn to speak the new language because no one is using a language you’re already comfortable in - you have to speak Japanese because there's no chance punking out and saying something in English is going to be understood any better than whatever you're trying to poorly pronounce already.

I… honestly have some conflicting thoughts on this. Yes, having a teacher who does not speak English does force me to speak in Japanese, but. I feel like it means that I’m speaking Japanese but it’s not correct Japanese.  And knowing it’s not correct makes me too embarrassed to use it in the real world where people aren’t as patient to put my words in the right order. So I will instead invest more time in just wandering around until I find whatever I need on my own.  Guess it's good for developing my sense of independence?

What are your thoughts on language learning techniques?  
Tell me in the comments!

I can learn vocabulary through repetition games and flash cards on my own.  What I need in a teacher is someone who can explain the rules to me, and the 'whys.'  Because I, personally, remember stuff way better when I have a reason beyond “just because that’s how it’s said.”  We had a similar "total immersion" experience in Mexico with our Spanish teachers, and it made me so frustrated that I quit our lessons pretty early on.  

All that said, for a woman who doesn’t speak English, S-san (for the purposes of this blog, I shall call her S-san, but she does have a longer name than this, obviously) is pretty awesome at playing charades with me, so I don’t get that frustrated feeling so much.  
for instance, this is how she taught me the word for “Ambulance.”
I’m pretty sure I will remember it forever.

During today’s lesson, she was asking me about the pets I have had over the years, because she’s quite enamored with the fact we don’t just have one, but TWO critters with us here in Japan.  She asked if I ever had bunnies.  Here was my response:
This is stupid charade signals for "no.  my cat would kill bunnies."
Which is not to say I dislike bunnies.  In fact, two weeks ago, I dragged The Mister to one of Japan’s quirkier cultural ideas:  The critter-themed cafe.

Pets can be difficult to keep in such a fast-paced, small-spaced country, and as such it is very popular for coffee shops here to sell time-slots to sit with a small fluffy creature while you drink your cup of joe.  Cat cafes are the most popular by far, but I’ve heard mention of sheep cafes (since it’s the year of the sheep) and owl cafes (there's one in Tokyo.  I must go there and be Harry Potter!). 
just in case you didn't believe me that these places are real.

The one The Mister and I visited was a bunny cafe.
It occurred to me when I sat down to write this post, that I don’t actually have too much to say about Usagi no Wonderland (Bunnie’s Wonderland), but I do have a bunch of pictures of the adorableness.  Click any picture to embiggen it.

They had portraits of each bunny on the wall with arrows to indicate the relationships within the bunny "pack."  What's a group of bunnies called... *googling* ah yes, it's a herd.  

So long story short, the top two buns with the pink arrows are sisters.  And everyone else... is in love with the baller-bun in the middle (who's name is PUMP).  And Pump?  Returns none of that love.  Pump? More like PIMP, amirite?! Ha.

This is the bunny (named Berry) we hung out with most during our 30 minute time slot.  We even bought rabbit chow so we could bribe her into sticking around.  But since you're not allowed to hold the bunnies against their will, she was pretty deft at eating the good bits of our bunny food and then hopping away to steal those same bits from the other cafe customers.

This is Pancake.  I don't have anything to say about Pancake other than she was featured on the shop's brochure, which I'd put out on our dining room table the week before to hype this adventure.  I had spent the whole week pointing at her picture and telling The Mister that I wanted to pet Pancake.  Dreams can come true, guys.  

We figured out pretty early on that this sort of cuddly experience is one that is mostly catered toward women in Japan.  Sorry Mister... he was the only guy in the place.  This is his best "I'm trying hard to not look like this brings me joy so that you will feel guilty and I can convince you to Karaoke with me later."  Whoops.

Before we left, we were introduced to the newest members of the cafe staff: the kousagi (BUNNY CHILDREN)  Which, I mean, come ON.  Cutest little fluffy face you ever did see, right!?  
The babies that aren't going to join the permanent staff at the cafe are for sale as pets.  They were trying to convince me that Bubba and Mac would love a bunny sibling.  (see above cartoon depicting scooping up bunnies and bopping them on the head).  

But what tickled my funny bone is this:
The "staff" bunnies all have adorable names like Popcorn, Pancake, Princess and Berry Bon-Bon.  The mother to these tiny bunnies?  Her name is Brenda.  BRENDA.  I snorted.  ...Maybe you had to be there.

This trip's conclusion?  Bunnies are cute, but they poop everywhere. And often.  So often in fact that patrons all receive a lap blanket upon arrival so they don't get crapped upon.  I think maybe no pet bunnies for this family.

Besides, dogs are clearly better anyway, even when they're frantically sniffing your pants because said pants smell like bunny. :)

Have you ever had a close encounter with a bunny?  
How about an animal experience like a critter cafe?  
Tell me about it in the comments!

today's little language lesson
うさぎはどこにありますか?うさぎの匂いがあります。あなたは  "ポップコーン" を言いましたか?
Usagi wa doko ni arimasu ka? Usagi no nioi ga arimasu. Anata wa 'poppukōn' o iimashita ka?
Where's the bunny? There is bunny smell.  Did you say 'popcorn?'