but what if you can’t read the sign?

Just a quick post.

So… we went to the laundromat for Eric to do his wash. The lady that runs the place is very nice to Eric, and always shows him what size machine to use and even gives him her detergent and fabric softener.

So. Any idea how to work this thing?

I noticed that, like a lot of places that are not tourist destinations, there were absolutely NO signs in English. You see English in the transit stations and major stores…places where gaikokujin (foreigners) are likely to need help. But Eric is living among the regular people. And he can’t read much of the 3 different alphabets and symbols they use. So he gets friends and strangers to show him what to do, what to be careful of and so forth.

It’s a giant guessing game.



I think it means “I gratefully receive”. Some Japanese people say this before eating (or when receiving a gift). Eric says it as a celebration of good food.

We went to a “Yakiniku” restaurant where you bar-b-que your food on a little grill right at your table. There’s an exhaust fan over the grill to suck up the smoke. You order from the menu and they bring out very thin slices of meat or veggies for you to put on the grill  for about 1 minute and then dip in sauce and eat.

I did not recognize most of the stuff on the grill. You would probably call it “weird” meat. When sharing food with people from a different culture than your own it’s tempting to refuse stuff you’re not used to. Of course if you are allergic, or have decided not to eat certain foods for health, religious or moral reasons you should follow your dietary guidelines and conscience. But if you can eat what’s set before you it makes the other folks very happy.

Sometimes, though, the people your visiting at testing you to see if you are brave enough to eat their national food. I have to admit there are times with somebody’s national food is just too far off my list and I have to politely decline. But I didn’t go to Japan to eat pizza or steak. I went to eat fish heads and beef guts. (Did I just gross you out? Ha ha!)

I can’t say I loved everything at the yakiniku restaurant. One chewy little number looked like grilled dinosaur skin. I ate it but would not have had seconds.  Other stuff was…well…actually quite tasty. Even the mushrooms looked strange, but they grilled up nicely. Our hosts were thrilled that I could hang with them and eat un-American stuff.

Itadakimasu! (Ee-tah-dack-ee-mahs)

hello-what is your name?

So I finally got to watch Eric teach an English class (that’s his job here in Japan). He works for the Tochigi YMCA. You may know the YMCA as a place to take swimming lessons or karate or go to summer camp. In the rest of the world the YMCA is one of the important places to learn English.







Yes, they have camp and sports and fitness and life skills classes too but it’s also known for language classes. The YMCA where he works is attached to a kindergarten school. His classes are sometimes in the mornings, mostly afternoons and often evenings. He teaches everybody from 4-year olds to adults (in separate classes, of course).







I got to meet his kindergarten kiddies. They were so excited to have a real-live American to practice on. It went kind of like this:

Me: Hello!

All of them: HELLO!!!!! (they yell a lot when they’re excited)

Me (to one child): What is your name?

Child: I’m Hanako. What is YOUR name?

Me: My name is Ann. Nice to meet you (I stick out my right hand)

Child: Nice to meet you (child sticks out her left hand—the one on the same side as the hand I offered)

Assistant teacher: whispers in Japanese “other hand”, child switches hands and we shake.

I had to do this, of course for all 6 kids several times.

Besides learning to introduce themselves they are learning color words, numbers, and animals. One thing they have to learn is how to end a word with a hard consonant. Many Japanese words or most borrowed English words end in a vowel sound. “Bus” is “bus-suh”, “ticket” is “chicket-uh”, “t-shirt” is “t-shaat-zuh”. Eric was teaching them to say “baTT” and go hard on the final T. He’d point to a drawing of a bat and say “What is this?” and they’d yell out “Bat-uh!” Eric would do his pretend-growl and make an X of his hands and say “not ‘Bat-uh’, ‘BaTT’!” and they’d yell “BATT!”  Then he’d make them answer in a sentence “IT’S A BATT!”. Then he would run around the room high fiving each kid.

They are very cute and they know a lot. They can count at least to 10, know most of ther colors, and a lot of animals. They know Up, Down, and can do Head-Shoulders-Knees-and-Toes. This song happens to be the only song I know in Japanese so I was highly amused.

I’m sorry I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the kids, but those are the rules.

It was great fun.

random cool stuff

I’m just taking a moment to post quick photos and explanations of cool stuff from my trip.

There was a party for me at a bar near Eric’s apartment. The owner gave the gift of a huge platter of sushi. There was also a cake!




We did our best to finish this platter!






I could not have done this by myself











It’s a combination birthday (for another guest) and welcome (for me) cake!





It is possible to buy baseball game tickets at the ATM at the “konbini” or convenience store. Most konbinis are either Lawson Station or 7-Eleven stores. You need to be able to read Japanese, though so Eric’s friend Yukiko did the honors and got us tickets to Wednesday’s Honshu Giants major league game in Tokyo!



Arigato gozaimas, Yukiko-san!




I have no idea why the Lala Square mall building has eyes. I do know you can see it on Google Earth. It’s an 8 story building with lots of shops. I went to a couple of stores and got some travel items and some awesome leg warmers for this coming winter.


Look for Lala Square, Utsunomiya on Google Earth and see the eyes.





This machine sells tickets for different noodle-bowl meals at the train station. You look at the picture, put money in the vending machine, choose the corresponding ticket and hand it in to get your meal.


Look at the photos and choose






Pay and choose your ticket




Utsunomiya is famous for its gyoza (Chinese dumplings). You may have had the same thing when you order from a Chinese restaurant at home. Why is a Chinese dish so popular in Japan? There’s got to be a story in that but I don’t know the answer. I do know that Makafuko’s makes excellent gyoza!


Crispy on the outside, soft and yummy on the inside!






We took a long train ride to an awesome area in the mountains called Nikko. (“Nee-ko”). It’s a series of huge temple buildings built in different styles. We were in a rush because we took the wrong railroad to get there and only had 90 minutes of touring time before closing. Also it started to rain. The area is lush and green, moss covers everything. The buildings have astounding carvings, statues, paintings, gold and other decorated metal. There are several sections where you cannot take photos. You remove your shoes to go into the more sacred areas. We didn’t get to everything but we saw the important stuff.



This is just one of many temple buildings









These monkeys represent “Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil, and See no Evil”







This is one of two giant statues that guard the main entrance.








Look closely at the designs hammered into the metal of these posts

where the streets have no names

I mentioned before that getting to an specific address in Japan is tricky. Here are two reasons for this: except for the really major streets, the rest have no names; and buildings are numbered in the order they were built. (I’m not 100% sure on this but I’ve heard this so many times that it seems true.)

So, let’s say it was back-in-the-day and you built a house on one end of a new street. You could claim house number 1. Let’s say after a couple of years 17 other people claimed addresses on your street, then you built a shop next to your house. The shop address would be 19, the next number available.

It really makes you think about how US addresses are numbered. In most of the US, every street is divided into plots or sections and those have been assigned numbers before anything is built on it. When you build a house, you already know what the address is going to be. You also know how far you are from the boundary line. The first block counting from the boundary line has addresses from 1 – 99 and even if nobody uses all 100 spots, the very next block addresses start with 100, the block after that starts with 200. On top of that, we put all the even-numbered addresses on one side and the odd-numbered addresses on the other.

This makes pretty much every city in the USA some kind of system. If you said you wanted to go to 506 Winter Street, Big Town, PA (I made that up) you know a lot: the state, the town, the street, the block, which side of the block and the house number.

I wish somebody would take control of the addressing system in Japan.

To get home from a party that Eric’s friends threw for me (which was fun!) I had to give the taxi driver a card that my hostel had given me with the hostel’s address. As an experienced driver, this gave him a general idea of what part of town to drive to but he still had to call the dispatcher to locate it properly. Instead of looking for a sign with a building number he was looking for the name of the hostel.  No numbers.

I forgot to get the card back from him, so I need to stop at the front desk today and get another one.

BTW (that’s “by the way”) the taxis are SO CLEAN it’s amazing. (Well, Japan is pretty amazingly clean everywhere). Every taxi has seats that are covered with sparkling white lacy cloth. Not: used-to-be-white-but-now-something’s-spilled-on-it, they are actually: just-came-out-of-the-laundry white. I wonder if drivers take them off every night and get them cleaned?


What does your house address say about where you are located? What number, side, street, town, and country is your address?

Do you know how to address a letter to yourself? In what order do you put the information? (Bonus: In Japan they put the prefecture first….what is a prefecture?)

What are some places in your life that are very clean or sanitary? Tell why cleanliness matters in those places.

the kindness of strangers

One thing travelers to Japan say all the time is that the people are so nice, polite, and helpful. This is really handy when you have a lot of traveling to figure out.

When I landed and got through immigration (permission for my “body” to enter the country) and Customs (permission for my “stuff” to enter the country) my son, Eric was waiting for me in the main waiting area. (By the way, there was sumo wrestling on the giant TV) he was happy to see me but a little frantic.

It takes about 3 hours by bus to get to his town, Utsunomiya, and the travelers hotel (called a hostel) registration window was due to close before we got there. Eric called the manager and explained the delay. The manager graciously agreed to stay late and wait for us.

Now we needed a faster way to get to Utsunomiya, so Eric traded in the bus tickets and we bought two train tickets. One for the Narita Express to get us INTO Tokyo and one for the Shinkansen (high speed rail) to get OUT of Tokyo and up to Utsunomiya.

Buying a ticket is easy. finding the exact-right rail line at a major station when most of the signs are in Japanese is hard. Between my elementary studies of Nihongo (Japanese) and Eric’s 5 months of experience we figured out the ticket and asked a lot of questions. Every major station has either a police officer or some other uniformed official standing by to help travelers. But you don’t have to always find a uniformed person.

When we were looking for where to stand in line for our reserved shinkansen seat Eric asked other people in line whether we were in the right place. Everybody we stopped was helpful. (Remember this, the next time you see foreign visitors looking puzzled….see if you can help!)

When we got to Utsu, we still needed to get the address of the hostel, Weekly-Sho and addresses in Japan are NOT ORGANIZED LIKE OURS!.  More later, perhaps on this. Eric asked the けいさつかん (keisatsukan) Police officers where to find the hostel. They looked it up on a giant map, wrote the address on a piece of paper. We took the paper to the taxi stand (helpfully there was a sign that said TAXI in English) and gave it to the driver. The driver called his dispatcher to find out where that address was actually located…because you can’t locate an address by any organized system and he drove us there.

The manager was waiting outside for us. What a relief!

I have been chasing the sun this whole trip, it was daylight outside the plane the entire 13 hours but most of us slept as much as we could. Still the time difference is disorienting. My body thought it was morning and the sun was just setting in Japan.

After a long sleep I’ll probably be adjusted.


Why do you think the addresses are not arranged like ours?

The way locals treat visitors gives a city or country a certain reputation. What are things in your city or country that give visitors a good opinion when they visit?

airport security

Well, THAT was interesting. I recently got a knee brace to help with a knee problem I have. The brace keeps my knee from wobbling the wrong way, and supports my walking so there’s no pain. I really considered not wearing it to the airport because the metal part of the brace would set off the security scanner.

On the other hand, I knew I’d be walking many blocks in Manhattan, traveling up and down escalators wheeling heavy bags and riding a bus and two trains. I decided to wear the brace.

When I got to JFK I looked for a restroom where I could get the brace off (it’s under my pants) but there was nothing in the check-in area. So I had to go through security, explain about the brace and have a “pat-down” from a female TSA officer.

She was very professional and I felt funny because I knew people were looking at me and thinking “Whoa! What did THAT lady do?” After she felt the brace she took a special wiping cloth and wiped it all over the brace then put the cloth through a machine that checks for dangerous chemicals.

It came up clean and I went on my way.

I think there is more food in JFK waiting areas than most restaurant districts. Every nationality, every level of expense.

So here are your questions:

What is the TSA and why do you see them at airports?

Name some things that people wear that might set off a security scanner.

Tell about a time you went through security at an airport.

My plane is about to board!