The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

New Year's in Hiroshima

Hello all. I am re-resolved yet again to post more faithfully, and as I have many travels to transcribe hopefully I will stick with it this time. This post describes my trip to Hiroshima from 1/1-1/2 this year. Also, all of my photos from this trip and others are on my flickr account, and you can get there by clicking on the flickr widget on the left. The photos are organized into a Japan collection and then sets by city or region.

I arrived back in Osaka after a long flight from Maui on New Year's Eve. Daniel met me at the airport and we took the train to Nanba. I was exhausted from travelling but ecstatic to be back with Daniel. It had been eight months since I'd been in Japan and four months since I'd seen him. Still, as we walked down Sennichimae Dori from Nanba to the covered arcades at Bic Camera, everything was so familiar that I felt like I'd only been gone a few weeks. We turned into the arcade and stopped in the McDonald's, which was pretty much the only thing open. It was nearing midnight and we still had my large bag, so we got some food to go and hurried home.

Daniel had explained that the Japanese do not celebrate the moment that one year turns into the next with the same exuberance that western countries do. They celebrate the solar new year, but at midnight there are no fireworks or confetti or loud horns, just a solemn ringing of a large bell in a Buddhist temple. It's the same sort of bell that is usually only rung at funerals, so I'm not sure what to make of this. We turned on the TV and watched a few minutes of old-fashioned Japanese love singers before the anti-climactic ringing of the bell, then went to bed. Despite the fact that I had just arrived from Hawaii, we were taking off in the morning for a trip through southwestern Japan, starting with Hiroshima.

We took a bus from Umeda in central Osaka to Hiroshima. There was a bit of going up and over the mountains and just a little bit of snow, so parts of the drive were quite scenic. We stopped a few times at highway rest stops, which dot the major highways in Japan. They are typically large gift shops featuring packaged local foods, especially cookies, that you can take home to hand out as souvenirs. In Japan souvenirs are pretty much mandatory. If you go anywhere outside your prefecture, you're usually expected to bring back a small souvenir, typically a cookie or sweet, for everyone in your family and workplace. These rest stops also have large restrooms and various convenience foods. The one we stopped at had a long row of stands outdoors selling traditional foods like fried squid, but it also had a Starbucks so I got a hot tea for the bus. I know, you're thinking I should have got the squid...

We arrived in Hiroshima in the afternoon and took a trolley to our hostel. It was one of my favorite hostels in our entire experience in Japan, actually, because it was the first Japanese-style room I stayed in. We had a private room with tatami floors and two futons. It was simple but comfortable and very charming, to me at least.

The next day we went straight to Peace Memorial Park, which is only a few blocks from the hostel. We went to the Cenotaph first, which is the primary memorial for the victims of the atomic bomb. It is a stone box containing the names of those who died, covered by a stone arch. Next to the Cenotaph is the the Peace Flame, which will not be extinguished until all the nuclear weapons on earth are destroyed. Around the park are dozens of monuments to various different groups, such as Koreans, mobilized students, and others who were killed in the bombing. One of the most famous is the Children's Peace Monument, which has a statue of a young girl who died from radiation exposure to the bomb, and who believed that if she folded 1000 paper cranes she would be cured. School children from around Japan and the world fold paper cranes and send them to the monument, where they are housed in protective boxes. We also visited the Peace Memorial Museum, also in the park, which has exhibits on the war, the events leading up to the bombing, the bombing itself, and the effort to eliminate nuclear weapons. To this day, any time a country conducts a nuclear test, the mayor of Hiroshima sends a letter to that country's leader asking for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

I was very moved by the way in which the city of Hiroshima, and Japan as a whole, has channeled the tragedy of the bombing into a call for peace in the world, instead of a cry for vengeance. Daniel tells me that in general there is a sense of shame in Japan for their aggression in World War II, and an agreement that Japan's actions in that time make them at least partly (if not mostly) responsible for the loss of Japanese civilians. I am amazed at the ability the Japanese have to take responsibility for their part of the conflict and form an alliance with the United States after such a horrific event. I realize that the atomic bombing is a very complex issue that cannot be fully discussed in a single post, and it is an issue that I've been torn about for a long time. I'm glad that I was not the one responsible for the decision to drop the bomb, because I cannot fully condemn or approve of it. I can only say that the great loss of life caused by that single act still makes me very sad, and I have tremendous respect for the Japanese for the way they have reacted to it.

This all made for a rather depressing day, of course, so the next day was more upbeat. We went to a shrine near Hiroshima castle to celebrate the New Year, and the grounds were packed with festival vendors a large crowds. We stood in a long line that wound its way all through the festival and finally made it to the shrine so we could toss in our coins for good luck in the new year. We tried a few different kinds of festival food, including a candied orange and some yaki soba (fried noodles). There were children running around everywhere with decorated arrows, a traditional gift for the new year. We returned to the hostel around sunset, and settled in after a long day of walking around in the cold. The next day we would be off to the sacred island of Miyajima. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mele Kalikimaka

I've been away for a while. The last eight months of my life haven't given me much that I want to write about publicly. Privately I've filled several pages, but it will be a long time until I'll be able to shape this year into something that makes sense.

I want to come back to writing, though, and blogging is an easy way to do it. I'm traveling again, so I figure now is as good a time as any to start back up again.

Dad, Seth and I decided that this year we should do something different for Christmas. Some friends of ours invited us to Maui, and we all thought that sounded like a pretty good idea. Seth's girlfriend Kim also thought it was a good idea, and decided to join us. We left Christmas Eve morning from the small airport in Bentonville, Arkansas (for some strange reason, it's cheaper than Springfield). We arrived in Maui around 3:00 in the afternoon, local time, and the humidity in the airport just about knocked us over. I folded up my coat, put it in my suitcase, and left it there for the rest of the week.

A few hours later, after settling in at our hotel, we had Christmas Eve dinner at a beachside grill. We were very tired, but we wouldn't rest for very long. I had heard that one of the best things to do on Maui was to go see the sun rise from atop Haleakala crater, but you had to get up at 2:00 in the morning to do it. Someone suggested that we do it the first day after arriving, because our internal clocks would be wacky anyway. I figured that made sense, and I also figured that riding a bicycle down a volcanic mountain was about as far away from our traditional Christmas morning as you could get, so I booked us on a tour to see the crater and then ride 6,000 feet down the mountain afterward.

Getting up in the dark when we were already exhausted from the flight was rough, and standing on top of the mountain in the freezing darkness was rougher. Everyone had said that it would be cold up there, but I have to say I didn't really believe them. I mean, they live on Maui, right? How cold could it actually be? Trust me, it was effing cold. If you ever do this, really, seriously, it's cold. Bring a sweater, hat, scarf, gloves, blanket, snuggie, whatever, it's cold. The tour company I booked was really good, I have to say. They knew no one would dress properly, despite the warnings, and so everyone was issued jackets and long pants to wear at high elevation. I had worn clothes for biking with a ¾ sleeve hoodie thrown on as an afterthought, and I was hugely grateful for the extra clothing. I was also wearing thin sneakers, which are great for cycling and crap for standing on a cold volcano.

Seth, Kim and I huddled on the rim of the crater, staring hard at the horizon. It was dark. It was cold. It was windy and strange, and even though we were surrounded by lots of other people, it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. As the sky started to lighten, we could make out the shapes of clouds around us. They weren't above us, but out to the side, just beyond the edge of the mountain. We waited for what felt like forever in the freezing dark, anxious for the sun to rise and bring us light and warmth. The sky grew gradually lighter, and suddenly a cry rang out from the silenced crowd. Our guide had told us that a Hawaiian woman often comes to do a sunrise prayer from the top of the crater, and in Hawaii they pray in chanting songs. A moment after her voice sounded, a small blaze of orange broke above the distant clouds. The sun flared in our eyes, growing steadily larger, as her bittersweet song echoed across the crater. I didn't understand the words of her prayer, but the sound of it pulled forward all of the grief and hope I had struggled to contain that year.

In the end, it was perfectly fitting way to experience that Christmas morning. I feel like I've been waiting in the cold dark all year for a little light to return.

A few minutes after the sunrise, we got back in the tour bus and were driven down a few thousand feet to where we could get on our bikes. The summit of Haleakala is about 10,000 feet, and it rises that high from sea level in just 37 miles, making it the highest elevation gain in the shortest distance of anywhere in the world. We got on the bikes at about 6,000 feet, and followed the mountain road through its hairpin turns. On the straightaways we could glide along steadily enough to take in the view from the mountain all the way down to the coast. The air became steadily warmer and heavier as we descended, and soon we cast off our extra layers as the morning air thickened around us. We rode down through several climates, breezing past rocky slopes, then cattle pastures, then eucalyptus groves, and finally lush flower gardens filled with birds of paradise. As we flew past each grove and field, the scents of each new growing thing filled our breaths.

We ended our ride in a small town at the foot of the mountain, where we stopped in a cafe for a much-needed breakfast. I had fresh guava juice and crab cake eggs benedict, which, while a little slow to arrive were worth the wait. After stopping back at the tour company's headquarters, we were driven back to our hotel on the other side of the island. I felt like I had accomplished more than a full day's worth of adventure before noon, and decided to take a well-deserved rest while Seth and Kim went down to the beach.

That evening we went down to our friends' condo for dinner. There was plenty of grilled meat, along with baked potatoes and green beans. It felt more like a summer cookout than a Christmas dinner, but that was fine with me.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Oh Help.

Today is not a good day. This week is not a good week.

In general, Mom is doing better. She had another chemo on Monday and was feeling pretty good yesterday; we even went to the mall for a while. Today is not so good.

My Grandma (Mom's mother) had a full knee replacement yesterday, and we thought it went really well... until 2:30 am this morning, when my Aunt called me and told me that my Grandma was having trouble breathing and they had taken her to the ICU. She was very upset and said the situation was very serious. She wanted to let me know in case I wanted to go to the hospital, but I was sleeping in Mom's room and knew that there was nothing I could do anyway. I lay awake for a while, then about a half hour later my Aunt called again and said the doctor had stabilized her. I think she's still stable today, but her condition is very serious. She has aspirated pneumonia as a complication of the surgery, and has to be intubated.

My Grandma isn't just my grandmother, she's also one of my best friends. She's been one of the only people I've been able to talk to through this whole ordeal with my Mom. She's one of the only people who seems to really understand what I'm going through and care about how hard all of this has been for me. Sometimes I feel like she's one of the only people in my life who helps keep me sane. The thought of losing her is terrifying. I'm so stressed out already I think I may have reached my limit, and I wonder if my fears about losing her have even really hit me. I know I'm running on adrenaline, because I'm certainly not running on sleep (or, for most of the day, food).

To top it all off, when I took Mom to visit Grandma in the ICU today, Mom started having severe pains. I think the stress of seeing her mother like that, coupled with the effects of the chemo, was too much for her. She was really scaring me so I took her down to the ER and they gave her extra pain medicine. They ran a bunch of tests but there was nothing new or different; just the same pains from the same reasons.

Things seemed a little better yesterday. Mom had good news from the oncologist (he says that in general she is improving, her blood work continues to look better), she felt good, Grandma's surgery had gone well, and we even went shopping together. I got a new outfit. Now everything is right back in the proverbial poo hole, x1000. I feel so helpless. There is nothing I can do to make Mom or Grandma better. I live in constant fear that something is going to go horribly wrong with either or both of them (more horribly than it already has, that is). I'm exhausted but I can't relax. I feel trapped in fate's cross hairs, like my life was too good before and now the shit canon is aimed straight at me.

Plus, I miss Daniel.

What do you do when you feel like the world is out to get you? Apparently you blog about it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Hello, friends. It's been a little over two weeks since I arrived back home, and I'm becoming adjusted to a caretaker's routine. Mostly I do housework and wait on Mom; sometimes there are doctor's appointments, sometimes errands. I get a lot of reading done, but for the past two days I've been taking a break from that because I actually started to get a little burnt out (and that's saying something).

Mom had finally had her second chemo treatment this past Monday. Unfortunately, it was delayed two weeks (it was supposed to be on 4/26). The first week she was too weak to have the drugs and the second week we had some drama with her port (a small object under her skin used to help deliver chemo drugs). It was infected and had to be taken out, so she couldn't get her treatment. Then we had to wait until she could have a pic line (another type of delivery system) installed, and wait some more until there was a free spot at the chemo place. So. Anyway, hopefully she can stay on schedule with her treatments from now on.

She's been doing better this time than after her first treatment. She gets up and walks around a lot; probably more than she should. She had a rough night last night so she's been spending most of today in bed, but for the past week or so she's been up and about most of the time.

As for me.... I'm mostly keeping it together. I was handling things pretty well at first (I think), but as time goes on I've gotten more and more fatigued. The problem is that while I have a lot to deal with, I can usually hold it down if I'm able to get some "me" time and regroup. I have a lot of negative emotions swirling around all the time; fear for my Mom, worry for other family members, missing Daniel, and a whole heck of a lot of generalized anger. There's also a healthy dose of jealousy for anyone who isn't me (yes, mature, I know). Sometimes when I hear people complaining about things, I get a little festering seed of rage going in the center of my chest. It's not rational, but all I can think is that they have no idea how lucky they are, not to be in debilitating fear of losing someone they love, and having the ability to do basically whatever they want (work, go to school, go out, live where they want, etc) with relatively small responsibilities. That's not really true, of course, but occasionally it's how I feel.

Anyway, I can usual handle all of that just fine, but I suck at hiding my feelings in the best of times; when I'm tired or hungry my ability to put up with things plummets dramatically. It's been hard for me to get much sleep because Mom needs pills every three hours--even at night, and then I feel like I have to get up between 8:00 and 9:00 am because that's my only opportunity to talk to Daniel. I usually need a decent amount of rest to function, so sleep deprivation coupled with emotional exhaustion leads to occasionally to me being a complete wreck. Most of the time, though, things are pretty steady.

I don't know much about Mom's illness at this point and I don't want to. All the internet research in the world isn't going to make a difference, and I feel like the less I know, the fewer specifics I have to worry about.

This entry makes it sound like things are really depressing around here, but honestly most of the time they're just mundane. Springfield friends, feel free to call anytime to make plans. My Mom's friends come over some afternoons to give me a break, and usually my evenings between 7:30 to 11:00 are free. It does me good to get out of the house sometimes.

Thanks for all the support from the last entry; as I said before, though I may not respond to everything, I do appreciate it all.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Back Again

I've been avoiding writing this entry for a few weeks now, but at this point I think there's just no getting around it anymore. Part of my avoidance has been a resistance talking about this, and another part of it is weariness at dealing with all the drama at people's reactions. That sounds horrible, because I know that I should be grateful for expressions of sympathy and support, but I guess it's just hard to deal with sometimes when I feel more like hiding under the covers than talking to anyone. That said, don't feel like you can't say what you want in response to this entry, or even email me or call me or something. I really do appreciate it, I just may not be very responsive.

So, with that hype, here it goes. My Mom's cancer came back a few weeks ago. I found out the Wednesday after Easter. Daniel had just got a lead on a job and in fact was out at an interview when I heard the news. Everything happened very quickly. I decided to come home on my return plane ticket, which was set for May 13. Daniel got the job and decided to take it. Mom's condition got worse and her first chemo treatment (a week ago) left her very weak and in pain. I decided to come home sooner. Last Tuesday I decided I'd have to leave earlier than I thought, and on Wednesday I booked a plane ticket for Sunday, April 25. I flew home yesterday, and now I'm back in Springfield.

As much as I wish Daniel were here with me, we talked about it a lot and we decided that this arrangement was the least awful of all the possible awful arrangements. He has the job he's always wanted, and if he came back with me now he'd have regrets. I don't want our relationship to be based on regrets and and endless game of who owes what to whom, so we're back to the long-distance thing, which blows. Hopefully we'll be able to see each other in late June when his best friend gets married in Seattle, and he'll be able to spend the month of August with me. His job contract lasts until next January.

When I think about everything ahead of me--what *could* happen, what *might* happen, just *how long* it could last, I get overwhelmed and start to panic. The thought of being separated from him for nine months is so horrible that I just can't really accept it. Worrying about my Mom and her health is just as frightening and just as difficult. So, I'm trying that whole one-day-at-a-time thing, though for now it's more like "one-minute-at-a-time" or "one-second-at-a-time."

I'm trying to have faith and focus on being a positive support for my Mom and for Daniel. I want to be a source of comfort, not a drain on it. It's difficult, but I think I can do it if I keep my mind in the right place. Prayers and good thoughts are useful on this front.

So, to my friends in Springfield-- I'm back, and I would like to see you sometime (though at this point I'm not sure when). To everyone else, I'm sorry to be such a depressing story right now, but I didn't want anyone to feel left in the dark (and, more selfishly, I don't want to have to tell my depressing story over and over again). I'll try to keep things updated here. Thanks in advance for all your friendship and support.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

就職 Job Search

Hello dear readers. Daniel and I have settled into our apartment pretty well at this point. Monday (3/22) marked one month since we moved in (yay, rent day!) and everything is starting to seem familiar. We have a handful of meals that we (rather, I... sorry dear) make in rotation. Our favorite is fried chicken and mashed potatoes. I am quite thankful that potatoes, chicken, flour, oil, and eggs can be found almost anywhere in the developed world. Once a week or so I make a big batch of it and we have leftovers for a few days, which yields us barbecue chicken sandwiches and chicken parmesean. However, the last time I made it, we somehow ended up with no leftovers at all, even though I fried 11 chicken tenders... hmm....

Most of our days are taken up by computer activity, which I would like you to think is chiefly comprised of job-hunting... but other things get thrown in there too (check my Word Challenge score to get an idea of what takes up much of our time). Slackers we are, we do a fair amount of work throughout the day. Honestly, the job hunt is in full swing now. We check for new job listings on a few different sites, and apply if something looks good. Daniel has been doing a lot of work for the English classes he's teaching at the Korean Baptist Church down the street. He's not getting paid (yet) but it's really good experience and he's taking it very seriously. He spends hours making worksheets and lesson plans. He's almost finished with a series of coloring pages for the kids, one for each letter of the alphabet. While he does that, I study Japanese or hunt for jobs... or write blogs.

For a while the job hunt was a bit discouraging because we felt like we were sending out a ton of applications and not hearing anything in response. We've been encouraged lately, though, by various things. Daniel has made some good contacts at the church, and I've had two interviews now. My first one was in Kobe a couple of weeks ago with a major chain English school. It was a very long, stressful, tiring day (lots of hoops and lots of jumping) for me, but at least Daniel got to go site-seeing in Kobe. They ended up offering me a job, but they wanted to place me in Kyushu, which is on a different island from where we live now, and we don't want to move out of Kansai right now. I wasn't sure at first if turning it down was the right decision, but I had another interview yesterday, so I'm feeling better about the opportunities still available.

My interview yesterday was at a preschool where they only speak English... most of the teachers are native English-speakers, and soon the kids are all speaking it too. I had at least five 4-6-year-olds come up to me and say “Hello, how are you? What's your name? My name is ____” without even being prompted. I was astonished not only at their speaking (which kids pick up easily at that age) but also at their writing. There was writing on display that looked like something a first for second grader would write in America, and these kids were not just pre-schoolers but also writing in a second language.

I think my interview went pretty well, but I won't hear an answer until next week. Something sort of funny happened, though. The woman interviewing me said that Daniel could wait in the school lobby (it was cold and rainy and no coffee shops close by), so he was sitting out there reading Japanese stuff the whole time while I played with the kids and such. A couple of times I looked through the window and saw some guy talking to him... I assumed it was one of the fathers or something. Much later, after my interview, the lady interviewing me introduced me to "her boss," who I guess is the owner... and it was the same guy. He talked to me and Daniel for a while and seemed very impressed with him. The boss started telling my interviewer about him, saying stuff like "This guy's been to 18 countries in Europe!" He suggested that we open our own school and such, which I guess is a good sign for me... if the owner thinks we're that cool, then I guess he'd probably like me to work at his school. Anyway, after we left, I said something to Daniel like "well, nice job impressing my possible future boss" and he was all, "huh?" He'd had NO IDEA, even the second time, when we were all talking together, that this guy was the owner of the school. So, blah blah blah everyone thinks Daniel is awesome etc.

Anyway, I won't know about that for a while but I have another interview on Saturday for a part-time position. I'm not sure how that could work out... if I get the preschool job, I might be able to fit the part-time gig into my schedule for extra money and experience, but if I *don't* get the preschool job, I'm not sure the part-time people will take me without a work visa. So we'll see.

Other than that... not much has been happening. It rains a lot here, which I suppose is a seasonal thing. We went out to eat with some people from the church last week, and had Japanese/Korean-style food, which was pretty good. The only thing that was a bit strange to me was the sauce. It was a fried pork chop, covered in a sweet sauce that had an oddly familiar taste. It was red and sort of looked like enchilada sauce, so I supposed it was tomato-based. At first it didn't bother me much, but after eating most of it I found that the sweetness was getting stranger and stranger to me until I just couldn't finish it. I finally figured out what the oddly familiar taste was... it was apple. The sauce was a tomato-apple purée. It was good a first, but just too sweet after a while. Daniel happily ate the rest of my portion, and I focused on the sprout salad and miso soup, which were delicious. Afterward, we went to the Vacuous Coffee Shop, which was enjoyable as ever. The waiter remembered us and we tried a new dessert... chocolate cake with fruit. It was good, but not as goo as the strawberry parfait we had the first time, so I think we'll stick with that in the future.

Things are still a little up in the air for now, but I have more faith that we'll eventually end up on solid ground. じゃ、また!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

First Week in Japan!

Like most of my blogs, this one is long overdue. I always want to catalog every single thing that happens, and with each day that goes by the task seems more and more insurmountable, so I put it off longer and longer. As usual, in order to break the cycle I have to compromise and forget about chronicling every detail. Sadly, this means that you only get to read the abridged version, but I'm guessing most of you don't want to spend four hours reading my adventures. I'll try to hit the highlights.

Daniel and I arrived in Japan on Saturday, February 20th around noon. Our journey started on Thursday the 18th when we left my house in Springfield at around 9:00 am to drive to the Tulsa airport. My parents drove us there, and we met one of Daniel's aunts in Tulsa for lunch before heading to the airport. Our flight left around 5:00 pm for L.A. In L.A. we had quite a layover, then at 12:30 am on the 19th (L.A. time) we left for Seoul. We landed in Seoul at 7:00 am on the 20th, then had one last short flight to Osaka. All told, we were traveling for about 36 hours (from the time we left my house) until we got to our hotel room in Osaka. I don't sleep well on a plane, so I was running mostly without sleep for that time. It was not a great experience... I hate being on airplanes. Still, as uncomfortable as it was, everything went smoothly and we were on schedule the whole time.

I was a bit nervous about immigration, though I really shouldn't have been because we had proof of a return air ticket dated within 3 months of landing (a tourist visa lasts 90 days, and that's all we qualified for upon entry). We waited in the immigration line for the better part of an hour, and when we finally got up to an immigration officer, he looked over our documents carefully, then decided to let us through. Japan requires you to fill out a landing card, like the UK, so we had to hand that over along with proof that we weren't going to overstay our welcome. Then (and this is the best part), we were fingerprinted and photographed by the immigration officer before we could go through. About a year ago, Japan started doing this for every person who passes through immigration. They say it's for the "prevention of terrorism," though I'm sure they use it to prevent illegal immigration too. I don't have a problem with it necessarily, but I imagine that it would not go over well if the US government tried to implement a similar practice. I'm sort of torn on how I feel about the US using something like that... on the one hand, we are at a significantly greater risk of terrorism than Japan and a system like that would probably help catch people, but on the other hand it's a little Big Brother.

When we finally got into Osaka, we rested up in our hotel room for the rest of the day.... mostly just emerging to find food. On Sunday we went to the old palace and scouted out the neighborhood we would be moving to on Monday. There was actually quite a lot to see, because our apartment is about 5 minutes' walking distance from Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi, which are major shopping/entertainment districts in Osaka. We have walked around both of them quite extensively now, and I was thrilled to see that a *huge* new H&M is opening in Shinsaibashi on March 6th! I think you all know where I'm going to be this Saturday. It's opening right next to the Lush in Shinsaibashi-suji (street), so the shopping addictions I acquired in London three years ago will continue to be indulged.

On Monday we dragged our 200+ pounds of luggage from our hotel to our apartment, which was no small feat. I had suggested that we might make things easy on ourselves and just take a taxi, but Daniel was confident we could handle it ourselves. I figured we *could* handle it, I just didn't particularly *want* to, having been through a similar ordeal twice before and not finding it particularly enjoyable. It was just as unpleasant as I had imagined it would be (and a good deal more unpleasant than Daniel had expected), but after two subway stations and several blocks of narrow sidewalks, we arrived at our apartment.

The first time I saw it, I very nearly cried. I have now resolved to be grateful for my circumstances, as I will have the most extraordinary character after surviving this place, but it was quite a shock at first. I knew it would be small; and really, it's not the size that bothers me. I got used to living in a very small space when I was in France, and though my place in France was roughly the same size as this one is, I definitely prefer my French apartment. My main issue with our place right now is that there's no light at all. Even though we have windows in every room, if we don't have lights on in the middle of the day, you can barely see well enough to shuffle from the bedroom to the bathroom. All of our windows open onto cinder block walls, so even though we don't go down stairs to enter the place, it feels like we're living in a basement.

The second bad thing about our apartment (and this ties with the lack of light) is the toilet. I was really afraid that we would end up with a Japanese-style squat toilet, but Daniel assured me that that was unlikely since it's an apartment for foreigners, so they should have western-style appliances. Well. That would have been nice, wouldn't it? When I first saw our toilet my heart sank, but at least we're getting the authentic experience, right? Right.

The last annoying thing about our place is the tiny, tiny kitchen. I had a tiny kitchen in France, and honestly I like a few things about this one better, but the thing that kills me is the lack of counter space. There is literally no work surface at all. I have a gas range with two burners (which I like very much) and a sink. Then there's the fridge, which is nice and roomy (bigger than my French one), and on top of that a microwave and toaster oven. If I want to chop or prepare anything, I have to take it in to the table in the main room. Also, doing dishes is more difficult because I don't have anyplace to dry them or drain them, so I basically have to wash, rinse, and towel-dry each dish individually and put it away. I've taken to washing and drying the largest dish first and placing it on one of the burners, then stacking all the other dishes on top of them.

Besides those things, the place is fine. I like the shower/bath room, because we have a nice deep (if narrow) bathtub and a Japanese-style shower, which basically means you get to sit on a little stool as you shower instead of having to do all that tiresome standing. =) We have a gas water heater and *never* run out of *extremely* hot water, which is more than I can say for my home in the States (hi mom and dad!) =D. Our main room is cozy and has an electric heater so we stay pretty warm most of the time. I love our kotatsu, which is sort of like a coffee table with a heater on the underside, and a blanket attached under the tabletop. You slip your legs underneath the table, surrounded by the blanket, and get to stay nice and toasty.

For the past week Daniel and I have been getting settled in our new place. This mostly entails figuring out how to use everything, how our routines are going to work, and in general how to go about daily life here. We have found a few different grocery stores and are experimenting with what products we like and what sorts of things we can cook at home. We've been exploring our neighborhood and where and how to get what we need. A couple of days ago Daniel went to a big electronics store nearby, Bic Camera, and got us set up with a Japanese cell phone.

Last Friday was our one-year anniversary (of the day we met in London), so we went to a fancy-looking coffee shop across the street from the nice grocery store we like. It was really great. We shared a strawberry parfait and he had coffee while I tried a "royal milk" tea, which I figured was probably English-style tea. All of the cups and dishes were china, and the waiter was very nice. It felt very fine and formal yet also relaxing, which is great because it's name is "Kajin, Relax Coffee Shop." Like most attempts at English in Japan, their sign was full of funny grammatical errors and awkward phrases. Above the door it says something like "It creates a vacuousness in the head." Because of this, we've taken to calling it the "Vacuous Coffee Shop," but it has become one of our favorite places and I look forward to going there again.

For the last couple of days we've been doing things like putting our resumés together and looking up job opportunities. Today I started feeling like we were really getting somewhere, because I was contacted for a job interview! I'm really excited about it really puts me at ease to feel like we're making progress. We're also going out to Ibaraki tomorrow (a suburb of Osaka) to talk to some about ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) jobs. Things seem like they're moving along so I'm feeling better about our prospects, and hopefully we'll both be employed within a few weeks! I'll keep things updated. If you want my address here send me an email; I always love letters!