Well, I want to start out with SUCCESS!

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I succeeded at getting detergent, batteries for my dead camera, and getting my webcam to work. The batteries I couldn’t have gotten without the help of a new friend named Carli (I hope I’m spelling her name right).

She’s a street-smart girl in both of my speaking and writing Japanese classes, where we met and got along right away. We agreed to go to a nearby 99-yen shop, which is a lot like our dollar stores – everything is 99-yen. When we got there, I was surprised to find that it was pretty much a grocery store, which meant that a lot of stuff was a great deal – especially half-gallons of milk. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but both milk and cheese are expensive (they didn’t have cheese.) I didn’t overdo spending, but I managed to get something I really needed – batteries!

So yesterday was absolutely crazy for me. Carli and I decided to go ahead and apply for our “gaijin-caad0”, or alien registration cards early yesterday morning, at 8:00. We have to go into Hirakata City for this, which is a hefty walk – perhaps an hour and a half from the seminar houses. So we decided to take the bus, and ended up getting into Hirakata about 20 minutes before the city hall opened. As we were sitting in the central park, a man approached us and started speaking Japanese.

Now recall that Carli and I are in the same Japanese class, which means we’re at roughly the same level (although she’s better than I am). However, living in the Kansai area complicates the area of speaking Japanese, because people speak the Osaka dialect, which is slightly different and, (I think) has a hefty accent.

So we’re sitting there with a man who I didn’t think was homeless, because when he opened his handbag, the things inside were not indicative of a person who was homeless. But he’s talking to us, and offers us water from a thermos, which Carli took hesitantly, not drinking any. Then, out of his bag he takes whisky and goes to pour it into the cup!

The legal drinking age in Japan is 20, which a lot of people here at college love. It’s one of the reasons turning 20 is such a huge deal in Japan. It’s your coming of age.

But Carli is 19, so she rejected it and hands back the thermos. He keeps talking and pulls out a photo of a waitress, which made me think she might have been his girlfriend. Then he pulls out a cell phone, sits on the ground (not the bench, mind you), calls someone, and gestures for Carli to talk on the phone.

We’re totally lost, and the situation was rapidly becoming awkward. Very, very awkward. A young man who I think was waiting for the city hall to open had been standing in the park as well, and he was subtly waiting in the background, watching us. From the way he was acting I think he was ready to step in or call the police if anything went wrong.

Carli, after speaking some Japanese, handed the phone back to the man, and, since it was time for the hall to open, we had a legitimate excuse to leave. We excused ourselves, and went on our way without any further trouble.

So we got inside to register. In the orientation on the subject, we were told to look for a number machine, which we couldn’t find. Another young man came in with his host father, who helped us to find the machine. While we’re waiting for our turns, Carli suddenly realized she had left her photographs in her room, which meant she would have to come back later that day. It made me feel bad, but I got my application in okay, and we got back to the university in time for our classes at 11:00.

In my International Negotiation class that afternoon, our class was told to complete a negotiation scenario. We each had to negotiate one-on-one, so I negotiated with a great Japanese woman named Ami. We got along pretty well. She’s a senior at Kansai Gaidai, and after talking a bit, she invited me to come to dinner with her and some of her friends.

I had a lot of homework, but I knew better than to say no to this. It would be the first time since I’d come back to Japan that I would be eating at a restaurant (as opposed to the cafeteria/store), with people who knew the region well. It was an opportunity to make some new friends.

They were going back into Hirakata City to eat, so I walked with them. Ami asked where I was interested in eating, and I told her any place, since she knew what was good. Anywhere except sushi. Ami and her friends were amused by this, and they took me to quite an interesting place.

When I walked in, I had to take my shoes off and put them in a locker. We were escorted down a hall with plastic tatami mats to our own room for dining. The seats were floor level, but the table was sunken down into the floor so that you sat on the floor like it was a chair – very cool. Ami asked me what I wanted to eat. The menu was hefty and written in Japanese, so I said pretty much any meat was okay – I’ve been eating noodles (soba, udon, ramen) for the entire time I’ve been here, with no meat!

They ordered for me, and we got the order in stages. What the group of girls (five besides myself) decided to do was dine family style – taking from the same plates rather than ordering one dish. So I got to try lots of things! I recommend looking things up in Wikipedia if  I don’t link to their articles, because there’s a lot of traditional stuff here! Recall my camera was out of batteries at this point, so I couldn’t take any pictures of the food.

We were given as an appetizer bowls of sweet beans, a traditional sweet in Japan. They’re okay, but you have to get your mind past the bean texture before enjoying the taste.

Then we were given two bowls of takowasa wasabi. Now, wasabi as I know it is a spicy green paste. But this wasabi was chunky and saucy – like pico de gallo to taco sauce. The sauce holding it together was that goopy, stringy type like you see in the movies all the time.

PIRATES_OF_THE_CARIBBEAN_2-2441 (Picture from screencapheaven.com. Pirates of the Caribbean owned by Disney, not me.)

It also turned out that this was octopus wasabi. I tried a little bit, and it was very, very, very spicy! I didn’t have any more, because WOW! That set my mouth on fire.

We also got a salad with sesame dressing and chicken, not unlike a Caesar salad, as well as some yakitoba, a type of Japanese noodle, with sprouts. 

There was nankokunokaraage, or fried chicken cartilage. It was definitely that. It’s a popular treat in bars, Ami told me.

(Picture from paulstravelpics.blogspot.com)

We had sunazuri, chicken liver, which wasn’t half bad. I wouldn’t eat a lot of it, but it was okay. On sticks there was pork wrapped around perilla leaves, or butataku no tomakikushiyaki, was very good as well. Some Japanese roast beef was presented very well on its plate, although I wasn’t expecting it to be cold.

I was served something akin to an omelet, wrapped around pork, called tonpeiyaki, and had pizza with grated yam on it. Now, traditional Japanese pizza is quite different than American pizza. From my experience, it’s usually ordered and made a foot in width, with a very thin, almost cracker-like crust. This pizza had no sauce, but I’ve seen Japanese pizzas with such toppings as corn and mayonnaise.

By far my favorite, favorite, Japanese food was one a foreigner would probably like. But it was so good! It was a type of mochi, which is made of rice starch, essentially. The rice is pounded until it’s a paste. This mochi was fried, with mashed potatoes inside, as well as a center of cheese. It was an incredible indulgence. A gentle crisp on the outside, with the salty cheese and great texture. It’s nigh impossible to describe. I’ll probably have to go back for some more before I leave Japan. 

We also got desserts to share as well –

chocolate volcano cake, tiramisu, green tea ice cream, and a chocolate parfait.

I remembered now that it’s a norm on Japanese ice cream sundaes and parfaits to put in corn flakes. I don’t really know why, but it adds some interesting crunch.

As well as vitamins, I guess.

So our evening went well! This group of Japanese girls have been tight friends since their freshman year at Kansai Gaidai. They’re all graduating soon and very worried about getting jobs, because it’s very difficult to do in this economy. The Kansai region (I keep talking about this. The Kansai region refers to the triangle made by the cities of Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara) is renowned for being a center of comedy, specifically a Japanese type called manzai. One of the girls commented that their boyfriend, for being from the area, isn’t very funny. Girls in the group showed some of the manzai behaviors, and one of them was an avid follower of manzai groups.

Manzai is performed with two people, with one being the “funny man” and the other the “straight man”, and has been often compared to Abbot and Costello. I found some clips of a pair called Taka and Toshi (see below) – they have English translations. There are lots of groups in Osaka looking to get famous in manzai, and there are some at Kansai Gaidai as well. But I think you can learn a lot about a culture from their comedy – what they make fun of.

[Warning: some language in the subtitles.]

 

 

So I went to Hirakata City twice in one day! I got back pretty late and had to do homework for a long while, but it all got done. An interesting day, no?

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