An Exciting July Continues

This post is so very late, because Dustin and I have been extremely busy with moving and summer school and general life happenings. Gomen nasai! (I'm really sorry!)

On to the really important things: Harry Potter. It had the same release date as the states, which means it technically came out in Japan before it showed in the U.S. Nah nah nah nah boo boo! And since I saw at 8:45 a.m., that means it was well before the midnight showing occurred stateside. "Why 8:45 in the morning?" you ask. Well, it was the first possible showing in Nagaoka, and it was the only time I could manage to see it before making it to work on a Wednesday night. I convinced two of my gaijin friends who are fellow Harry Potter fanatics to join me for this early-morning showing.

It was a drizzly morning and the theatre is across the bridge, so we had to catch the 7:55 bus. It was supposed to be a 10 minute bus ride, but none of us had ever ridden the bus during the early morning rush hour. As the time ticked on and the bus got more crowded, we worried that everyone would rush the theatre and we'd have the crappy seats that the theatre's less than technologically-advanced website had assigned us. When we arrived at the theatre 30 minutes after our journey had begun, a few high-school-aged girls got off the bus with us, but most of the passengers were on their way to work. Whew!

There weren't too many people in Nagaoka crazy enough to go to the 8:45 a.m. showing on opening day, so we had our choice of seats. Luckily, Cat knew about the Tempur Pedic seats that are supposedly so comfortable that discomfort is impossible while sitting in one, even for hours. I can neither support nor refute this claim, because I didn't notice anything at all about the chair while I was watching Harry Potter.

Armed with a breakfast of popcorn and soda (very healthy, I know), I readied myself for 153 minutes of joy. The first preview to flash across the screen was for Night at the Museum 2. I knew something was weird about it, but I was so focused on the looming presence of Harry, that it didn't dawn on me that the movie was dubbed in Japanese. The voice coming out of Ben Stiller's character was definitely not his own... Vivian turned to Cat and I and said, "Oh, no! Is Harry Potter going to be dubbed?" AHHH! The thought hadn't even crossed our minds. The next preview came on, Where the Wild Things Are (which looks amazing by the way), and it was in English. We spent the next few minutes with fingers crossed hoping and praying that Harry Potter wouldn't be dubbed. The big WB logo flashed across the screen, then the music started, and the whispering started and with the whispering... subtitles! Thank goodness! We let out a collective sigh, releasing the breath we'd been holding.

No one talked for the next two and a half hours, except for the moment when Cat turned to me with a look of utter confusion on her face and asked, "Why are they wearing shoes inside the house?!" Laughing, I replied, "They're not in Japan." She's been here far too long.

As for the actual movie, it was good while I was watching it, but immediately after it was finished, I was a bit disappointed in it. There were so many things in the book that they blatantly left out of the movie. I know it's difficult to condense such a large book into a movie, but why add stupid things that aren't in the book (What's with the opening scene, really?) and get rid of interesting side plots (Where were Fleur and Bill?). My biggest beef was the scene in the Astronomy Tower. In the book, Dumbledore forces Harry to don the invisibility cloak and then stuns him, so he can't move and no one knows that he's there, rendering him completely and utterly helpless. He really wants to stop Draco and Snape, but he literally cannot because of the spells he's under. In the movie, Dumbledore just asks him to hide under the floor, where he can look up and see what's going on and has more than one chance to send a spell towards Draco and/or Snape. It makes Harry seem slightly at fault for not helping Dumbledore. Bad move, Steve Kloves or David Yates, whoever made that decision. Overall, so-so. I still can't wait for the two-part conclusion to the movies!

ANYWAYS, as I said, the new pad is rocking! It's much bigger, brighter, more traditional, less moldy, more convenient, cheaper, and all around better. There are basically 5 rooms: bathroom/shower/laundry room, the kitchen, the living room, the office, and the bedroom. It's nice to have multiple rooms and doors. Dustin and I have survived the ultimate relationship test by living in such close quarters for 9 months, but we'll be a much happier couple in our new place. Once we get it perfected (There is one piece of crucial furniture still missing, and a few decorating kinks to work out at the moment.), we'll make a video tour of the place and post it.

We really lucked out and happened upon a sale on Marine Day. Marine Day is a day to be thankful for the ocean. Typically, you spend the day at the beach with your family, but Dustin and I spent the whole day shopping instead. Peppy had provided us with most of our appliances and furniture (which we had to give back when we moved out), so we had quite a bit to find. We found a little at the local recycle shop, but there were slim pickings, so we got a lot of our stuff at the Japanese version of IKEA. That means we spent the rest of the night, screwing together a shelf, a cabinet, and a desk. We got all of our appliances for great deals. Our TV was 50% off and the oven and washer were each cheaper than the used ones we'd seen at the recycle shop (which aren't guaranteed to work). Whoo-hoo!

We're super happy in our new place. We haven't gotten much of a chance to enjoy it yet, because it's Peppy's busiest time of the year: Summer School. Each school has a 5-day Summer School, with the Japanese Teacher teaching 3 days, and the Native Teacher teaching 2 days. So, that means we get to teach 6 days and then have 2 office days, during which we could be sent anywhere in Japan to cover for a Native Teacher who gets sick. We'll be saying many many prayers on those days that every Peppy teacher is extra healthy, because our office days happen to coincide with Nagaoka's festival, which boasts the largest fireworks in Japan. Hundreds of thousands of people come from all over Japan to watch them. I'm not big on fireworks, but I've heard these are not to be missed.

We're half-way through with Summer School now. After a few days back with our regular work schedules, we get a 5-day weekend (if no one in our area is late up until then) for Obon, the Japanese Buddhist custom of honoring one's departed family members. Since moving was such a giant expense, we're going to go the "staycation" route and explore Nagaoka a bit further, maybe go to the beach, see Neoteny Japan (contemporary Japanese art exhibit), and make a trip to Niigata for Round 1 and Thai and/or Indian food. The last part of our break will be spent cleaning out our old apartments. We took all of our belongings out on moving day and haven't looked back since. We finally say our last goodbyes to our first home in Japan on August 17. The only thing I'll miss about it is its proximity to Saizeriya (my favorite "fast-food" Italian restaurant).

Life in Nagaoka is very rainy and very busy, but very good at the moment.


Cute Bento

This is technically only Japanese-inspired, since it was made by what appears to be an American woman, but it's typical Japanese stay-at-home-mom style lunch box or bento. There's a whole slew of cookbooks in all of the book stores that show you how to make your kid's lunch look way cuter and therefore cooler (because in Japan, cute definitely equals cool) than any other kid's. The most common I've seen are popular cartoon characters such as Anpanman (a bread superhero) or Hello Kitty. This one I stumbled across is definitely the prettiest and most intricate. I hope I have the energy to be such a cool mom when I have kids of my own.

Here's the photo album where I got this: Wacky Food Art Time.


It's All Happening

The process of trying to find a landlord that would tolerate two devious foreigners such as Dustin and myself was a long and stressful one. About two months ago, we found our dream apartment, thought we had secured it as a residence, and were made to jump through hoops, only to miss the last hoop: a guarantor. Originally, we were to move in on July 6, the day after one of our huge work meetings where every Peppy employee in our prefecture gets together in one room. Unfortunately, we hadn't found anyone to sponsor us by the time that meeting rolled around, so I had resigned myself to staying in our little box on the boring side of town for however long we stayed in Nagaoka. At that point, I was leaning towards NOT staying here any longer than absolutely necessary.

After our loooooong meeting (I'm not used to working 6 hours in one day!), some of us went out for dinner and drinks at a local restaurant. Somehow, I ended up paying $50 for a salad and two drinks and Dustin ended up paying the same for a tiny plate of pasta and 3 drinks. Being poor, I was quite put out by having to overpay so much for a highly mediocre meal. I was so annoyed in fact, that I declared that Dustin and I would be going home immediately instead of joining the others at the bar they planned to head to as we now had no money left in our wallets. Our boss was sympathetic and suggested heading back to his place for a few drinks (free of charge) instead of going on to another establishment. Though I was still miffed about the dinner situation, I knew that Dustin wasn't ready to call it a night, so I headed back to Schyler's place with a few coworkers.

At some point in the night, one of my Japanese coworkers, Yuko, asked when we were moving into our new apartment. A few days after we'd first found the apartment and decided on a move-in date with the realtor, we'd gone to Round 1 with a huge group of people who were all subjected to a long description of how wonderful our new apartment was going to be and how we'd have them all over for a potluck and yada yada yada. Since those two months had passed, I hadn't really seen Yuko for any long period of time, so she hadn't yet had the pleasure of hearing my "Japan's discriminatory rental practices" speech. 

Once I finished my rant, she said casually, "So all you need is a hoshonin (guarantor)?"
Me, "Yeah... but I've asked everyone that I thought might possibly do it." Yuko, "Well, could I be your hoshonin?" Dustin and I looked at each other to confirm that the other had also heard Yuko's offer correctly. I said, "You would do that?" She proceeded to explain that when she was in L.A., she had similar experiences trying to find an apartment, so she knows how tough it is being a foreigner and how the simplest task back home feels impossible abroad.

After about a million thanks and Dustin removing the ring from my finger and offering to give it to Yuko instead (I'm pretty sure he was joking.), we made an appointment to go to the realtors that Friday and get our apartment. I spent the next week gathering as much cash as I could and worrying here and there that our apartment would have been snatched up in the month we'd failed to find a hoshonin or that Yuko would be too young to be our hoshonin or that they'd make us find a second hoshonin or... anything. 

When we walked into the realtor with Yuko trailing behind us, our realtor looked surprised to see us again. I said, "Hoshonin arimasu." or "We have a guarantor."  Her surprise turned into a smile and she said something to the effect of "That's great. It's been hard work, huh? It's difficult for foreigners."  She's a kind woman who has really tried her very best to help us through this despite never really talking to us directly. Since we don't understand most terms concerned with renting an apartment, whoever we've taken with us (our American friend who's lived in Japan for 4 years and knows quite a bit of Japanese, one of our Japanese bosses, and Yuko) has been our translator. She was so pleased that we found someone and she still had our file sitting on her desk, with our dream apartment's info page tucked neatly inside of it. We started to fill out the papers for Yuko to be our hoshonin. She asked when our contract was up and called the landlord who graciously decided that our lease would mirror our contract, so that we wouldn't be left with any extra months of rent to pay after our time in Nagaoka is finished. When the forms were filled out, we were told that Yuko had to be approved by the insurance company and we could come back the next Tuesday to sign the lease, pay, and get the key. We set our move-in date for July 19.

I was a bit more hopeful about getting the apartment, but I had a lingering fear that something would go wrong. Tuesday came and I took the money with me to meet Dustin and Yuko at the realtor at 12:00 sharp. I pulled my bike up to a very agitated Dustin, who barked, "You're late." I replied, "How can that be? I left extra early." To this, he replied, "You're only 3 minutes before noon. In Japan, that means you're late." "Ok, ok. Sorry... Where's Yuko?" I tried to keep my speech calm, but my inner dialogue was closer to "Oh, great. So, this is what it is. She's not going to come. Man, I really want this apartment. Will she come? Where could she be? Oh, no. I hope she's not hurt. WHERE IS SHE?" At some point after college ended, I went from eternal optimist to perpetual worrier. I guess that's what the real world does to you.

Luckily, she showed up soon after my mini-freak out. We spent the next hour and a half signing the lease. It wouldn't have taken as long if Dustin hadn't insisted that Yuko translate every word on the 20 page document. After adding up the deposit, realtor's fee, first month and a half of rent, and various other fees, we were nearly $3,000 poorer. We'll get a tiny portion of that back once we move out and we don't have to pay rent again until the end of August, but paying 5 months rent up front just to rent a place for a year seems pretty steep to me. We'll be saving loads of money once we finally do move in though. 

It didn't feel completely real until I had the key in my hand. I imagine it will feel even more real when the movers come at 9:30 a.m. on SUNDAY! Ah! It's so soon. I thought we had accumulated a lot of junk, but we got almost all of it packed up in a few hours time this week, so I guess we don't have THAT much. We're so excited! I'll post a video of the new place once we get all settled. Sunday and Monday are devoted entirely to making our new apartment a home I will actually be proud to call mine (for a year anyways). 

p.s. Please send any further mail to the new address at the right! Thanks much.


Happy Birthday to Me!

Back in February, I came across an advertisement for Cirque Du Soleil: ZED in Tokyo. I've been bugging Dustin about how much I wanted to see it and how it would make a perfect birthday present ever since. Last weekend, we actually traveled to Tokyo and made my dream come true! It was hard to believe we'd been in Japan for 9 months, and hadn't yet made it to Tokyo.

After our very expensive 2 days, I now understand why we waited so long to visit. It was costly and quite busy, but extremely fun and whimsical. When planning my birthday weekend, I chose things I really wanted to see and do to fill our time. It wasn't until our weekend was coming to a close that I realized everything I picked to celebrate my 24th birthday was something I would have chosen at the age of 10 as well. 

First on the agenda (after a short stop in Akihabara, so Dustin could pick up some computer goodies) was Cirque Du Soleil, the original excuse for the entire trip. I have only one bad thing to say about Cirque Du Soleil, and that is the fact that we put the performance at the very beginning of our trip rather than the end. It was the most magnificent thing I've seen all year, so everything else that weekend seemed a bit less spectacular than it might have had I never seen Cirque Du Soleil in person. I've seen performances on television, but I knew it would be infinitely more amazing in person, and I was not at all disappointed. From the very first act, I was convinced I had fallen into the storybook along with the funny French clowns. The next hour seemed like a mystical dream. The fantasy was only broken by the intermission. I won't even try to explain the death-defying and seemingly impossible feats I witnessed, because I could never do them justice with words. The show started with an incredible piece involving flying sprites glowing with bright colors and a giant bird-like goddess. Countless risky acts fell between this breathtaking opening and the best finale I've witnessed during any theatre piece. Before the show closed, every performer came onstage, and they all simultaneously acted out their talents. I was awed. I felt like I was in the middle of the ring even though I was closer to the ceiling than the stage and there was no ring. I nearly lost myself completely in the fantasy until I heard Dustin's commentary about it being too much for him to handle. If I wasn't so clumsy, I would have been convinced to join the circus immediately.

For dinner, we headed to Ginza for a "fantasy dining experience" at Alice Restaurant. We were greeted at the door with a hostess dressed as Alice. She led us to our secluded little table where another Alice handed us our cocktail menus, with all the girly Wonderland concoctions hidden behind playing cards. After we chose our drinks, we were served little cups of dried fruit adorned with "Eat Me" notes. I had a very fancy pizza sans cheese (There weren't too many vegetarian options.) and Dustin had some fancy pasta. Dustin mentioned that it was my birthday, so the waitress asked what my name was. She was having trouble pronouncing it, so I offered to write it down for her. Thinking she needed to know to insert it into the birthday song, I wrote it out in katakana, so she would know how to say it. When they brought out the elaborate Cheshire Cat cake/pastry/ whip cream mountain, "Happy Birthday デーナ" was written in whip cream. Ha Ha. I also got a cute little Alice in Wonderland birthday card that says, "Happy Memorial Day" on the front and has a picture of me in an Alice headband and Dustin in the white rabbit ears holding my cake in the inside. The whole experience was very quaint. Even in Tokyo, Sundays are not the most happening day. Alice Restaurant was closed by 10:30, and despite looking around for another bar to find a real vodka martini (something I haven't come across in 9 months), we ended up back at the hostel earlish.

I was keen to go to sleep a bit early, knowing that the next day we would need as much energy as we could muster, because we would be spending the entire day at Disney Sea. Disney Sea is in the Tokyo Disney Resort. It's a Disney theme park unique to Tokyo. Its most appealing element was Mermaid Lagoon, the area that housed all things Little Mermaid. Since it was the first movie I ever saw in the movie theatre, it will always hold a special place in my heart. It's probably the movie I have seen the most times in my life (I believe I remember killing a VHS of the movie from overviewing.) and it's still not lost its magic. Mermaid Lagoon was indeed magical, but all of the rides were for young children. We did hop on the Jumping Jellyfish, but they were pretty boring. The short show "Under the Sea" was pretty interesting. Ariel was suspended much like the performers we'd seen the previous evening in Cirque Du Soleil, but they made no effort to hide the wires from which Ariel hung. The puppeteering was very interesting. They had people dressed head to toe in velour of colors corresponding to their puppet. Most of the puppets came down from the ceiling. Very cool. The giant animatronic, Japanese-speaking Ursula whose tentacles filled the theatre was much more terrifying than I think they intended, but the effect was impressive. We rode the Caravan Carousel in Arabian Coast (Aladdin's domain), and though Dustin very much wanted to ride a Genie, he was outrun by all of the children in line. We also visited Sinbad's Storybook Adventure, which was pretty much It's a Small World, but telling the story of Sinbad (which I realized while on the ride that I did not know). We also did some boy-themed things such as the Indiana Jones ride, a few generic roller coasters dressed up in Disney, Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Tower of Terror. We tried to ride the gondolas in "Venice" twice, but each time they were closed for a water show of some sort. 

We decided to end our lovely weekend in Tokyo with dinner at Disney Sea. I checked the map for all of our dining options and found that one out of the thirty-four restaurants offered a vegetarian option, so that's where we headed. Ristorante di Canaletto, in Mediterranean Harbor, happened to be the fanciest and most expensive restaurant in the park. They also failed to mention on the map that by vegetarian fare they meant a five-course vegetarian meal. Once we were seated and had ordered our wine and beer (Yes, you can drink alcohol in Disney Sea!), we figured we were committed and went all out for my second of three birthday meals. I ordered the only thing I could and Dustin ordered an overpriced salad and some truffle ravioli. The food was gourmet, the atmosphere was classy, the staff was overly polite. Eating a piece of cabbage stuffed with various vegetables and drizzled in an unidentified sauce while sipping my wine and listening to some lovely classical music, I felt very mature and sophisticated for a few minutes. And then I looked around the restaurant and saw an exhausted girl sleeping on her table, a couple of Japanese teenagers with Minnie Mouse ears adorning their heads, and a girl whose very understanding boyfriend was helping her arrange her collection of newly purchased teddy bears in a high chair at their table. It was a wonderful meal nonetheless, and a very fitting conclusion to my grown-up fantasy birthday weekend.

As for my real birthday, today, it's been great as well. One of our coworkers quit a few weeks ago, so I had to travel 2 hours away to cover his school yesterday. Since it was so far away, I had to spend the night in a hotel last night, on the company of course. That meant that on my birthday morning, I woke up on a lovely and very comfortable bed, something I miss very much. By some luck of scheduling, I have my birthday, a random Thursday, off of work. So, Dustin and I went to my favorite restaurant for my third birthday meal, a chain of cheap, fast Japanese-style Italian food, Saizeriya. Dustin asked if I wanted to use the menu to indicate to the waitress what I wanted to order, since pointing to a picture and saying, "This one." is my method of ordering nearly anywhere we go. I go to Saizeriya so often, however, that I know all of the Japanese needed to order my preferred meal of focaccia and アラビアタ pasta without bacon. I refused the menu and proceeded to order in flawless Japanese. (My order there is one of the many phrases I've got down.) After the waitress left, Dustin suggested that I look at the menu again, and as I picked it up, an envelope slid out from between the pages. It was a gift certificate for a massage! Whoo-hoo. Hints work after all...  Our lunch was less than fourth the cost of either of the previous birthday meals in Tokyo. 

Dustin had to work today, so I got a rare seven hours of alone time! It was a lovely day full of listening to music as loud as I like, putting together a jigsaw puzzle of an adorable puppy, reading a bit, and dancing like a fool all by myself. The night will end with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. My fellow Harry Potter fans and I are trying to re-watch the first five Harry Potter movies before the sixth one comes out in a mere two weeks!!!!!!!!!!! It's been a lovely birthday weekend. Thanks to all who have (and will) extended birthday wishes. The only thing that could have made it better would have been a giant dance party with all of you present (and maybe a burrito from Qdoba)! December can't come fast enough...