Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Day 2

So, I began the day with the "European Breakfast":

From top left, clockwise: Salad (mmmm), orange, yogurt (well, flavoured milk to be precise), water, (the good bit) bacon with scrambled eggs and CARROT, and beautifully thick toast. The most exciting thing about this to me was the blueberry jam, which I used to smother my doorstop bread... yes, so they didn't quite get the Western breakfast right, but it was still nice!

I had been talking to Saba over the Facebook group (Interac 2010), who told me that she was arriving in the morning. By my estimations, she would be at the train station by 10.07 - Japanese trains are never late! I wandered around the 7-11 and Family Mart for a while. They are convenience stores, which sell not only food and snacks but a range of useful items (I saw make-up, stationary, hot food) and have ATMs and photocopiers.... I waited for Saba for a long time but didn't see her, so decided to make my way back to the hotel. When I entered the lobby, someone shouted "Gwyn!" and there she was! Turns out the train arrived at 10am, and she'd had to find her own way to the hotel with two massive suitcases in the wind. Damn... if I'd been there 2 minutes earlier I would have caught her!

Anyway, we decided to explore Hamamatsu. It was the second day of the Dance Festival, so the streets were full of dance troups, all in amazing costumes. Some turned from one outfit into another will a pull of a cord (Bucks Fizz, eat your heart out) and the amount of objects these people have stashed away in hidden pockets was unbelievable. I also suspect that being a collectivist culture makes choreography a much easier job!

Some other observations that we made. Japanese men are not ashamed to dance around. Most British men would think "I'm not doing that, it's gay!" - but Japanese men, nah, they put their hands in the air like they just don't care... that is REAL manliness! ;) Also, Japanese people are very reserved in their applause. It made me smile, because it reminded me of home, whereas Saba is American and used to the loud whooping and cheering that American audiences are famous for!
So, we then explored the ZaZa shopping mall... pretty arcades, clothes, a supermarket.... apples cost 198 Yen each!!! (£1.45 ish) - I had heard that fruit was very expensive here, but I hadn't thought it would be that much. Even better was the melon that was 1980Yen... and yet, upon researching I find that this is cheap! Apparently a melon catch fetch for anything from 5000 to 20,000 Yen... yes, that's a good £150 for a melon. Why, you ask? Well... melons are given as gifts here, and are grown in very specific conditions. This is not just something you buy to throw on your fruit salad (unless you are very rich). For more information, have a look at this article!
Traumatised by this expensive piece of fruit, we eventually found bowls of beef and rice for 280 at Sukiya, which seems to be a chain of reasonably priced eatieries. The most exciting part of this lunch was not the unlimited free iced green tea, but the waiter calling bell! A small bell on the table which you press when you are ready to order... GENIUS!!! No more annoying waiters hanging around, asking if you're ready to order when you clearly haven't looked at the menu yet. No more looks of disdain from waitresses as you catch up with your friends.

Then, jet lag hit. I had a long nap. By the evening, we had one more hotel-mate in the form of Bryan. By this time, we were ready to eat again, and the quest for evening food began. We ventured into a few places where we couldn't communicate enough with the waiters to get a table! Other places felt like secret passages into the unknown.... and we all shared in the feeling of our gaijin-ness, being outside the "group" - it is like every Japanese person is a part of a secret society, of which we will never become a part of, the rules of which we will never truly understand. Eventually we may stumble upon the secret, whereupon a huge door will open and a group of Japanese and Western people will be sitting around a table together, pouring soy sauce over white rice and stabbing food with their chopsticks, outdoor trainers on their feet, laughing at us for believing that all their social etiquette was important!

We eventually managed to sit down in Doma Doma, where I had some udon noodles with some seafood-esque thing. We glanced at the table next to us for cues on how to eat and what to do! Quite surprisingly, smoking indoors was totally OK, and a lady next to us filled our food and lungs with her smoke. The bill also ended up being a lot more than the menu prices led us to believe... hmmm! Nevertheless, it was fun, and the waiter spoke enough English to ask us where we were from and what we were doing in Japan. When we said we were teaching English, he went "ohh! sensei desu!" and bowed. Teachers are very respected here... it's strange, considering that back home it's not really seen as that great a thing to do. Well, it's not massively respected, anyway!

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