Sunday, March 23, 2008

Gentle and a little stupid

I've been in my new hometown since yesterday, but I couldn't figure out the internet at first. I took the train with three people, and I got off at the stop before them, in Utsunomiya. The company hires Independent Contractors - usually housewives with a decent command of English - to bring new employees to their apartments and show them around the area. Mine was a pleasant housewife named E-san, and she brought her daughter with her since this is their spring break. K-chan was quite amused at my general ability to do simple tasks, such as open an onigiri (rice ball) wrapper. I was actually a bit ashamed at that, since I've been eating the same brand from Uwajimaya for a while now, and hadn't realized that even though the rice and the nori (seaweed) are separated by plastic (to keep the nori fresh) it's possible to pull the wrapping off without unfolding the whole shebang.

I was a bit dismayed when I first reached my new home. It's directly off the main road that brought us from Utsunomiya, and it looks exactly like a motel. I can hear traffic but it's not bothersome - it didn't keep me awake. The apartment is right next door to a KFC - E-san and K-chan giggled about that at the same time I did, so I wondered if it had the same connotations here as in the States. Well, at least It will be easy to tell people where I live - "Just look for the guy with the beard."

I was most concerned when I saw the door to the apartment. It looks like a safe door, seriously. It looks like the big metal ones in banks that swing open and there's stacks of money there. The keys, when E-san handed them to me, look like dog-tags that haven't been printed yet, absolutely no identifying marks. I'm still not sure how it unlocks the door when I slid it into this tiny slot, neither am I sure how anyone with a piece of tinfoil is prevented from doing the same. But this is the land that invented onigiri wrappers, so I'll take their word for it.

Once inside I felt better. It is small enough - 21.81 square meters - that even E-san apologized. But I've always liked tiny rooms and figuring out ways to fit things in so I'm comfortable. The place for a bed is on a raised platform so there's quite a lot of space underneath. E-san kindly showed me a hyaku en - ~dollar - store - only six minutes away, so I bought all sorts of utensils and objects. Then we got a futon. What with that and with me hanging up scarfs things all over, the room has a bit of color now.

I have a television with nine channels - I get a huge kick out of Japanese programming. I have a table that folds out, a closet with a rod, and a couple of shelves. The stove is electric and thank goodness E-san showed me the right kind of pots to use on it - I can just imagine blowing myself up the first day. She also explained the garbage sorting process, which is insanely complex. The toilet and bath are in separate rooms, and the latter is set up to shower outside the bath and then soak once you're clean. The former has a sink on top of the toilet tank, so that you wash your hands with (clean) water which then goes down the drain to refill the tank. Now I miss the heated seat in the hotel because it gets quite cold here - I spend a good deal of the time bundled up in my futon.

I tried out cooking rice sans rice cooker. It turned out fairly sticky, but wasn't bad with curry. For all I'd heard about how expensive fruit is here, it was still a shock to see one apple for 1400 yen (about 14 dollars)!!! That's an extreme, but no variety was less than 100 yen each, so I sadly walked away from that aisle. It's a hardship for a Washington girl, but maybe if I budget myself I can get the occasional piece of fruit.

Today I practiced the walk to my school. It took 45 minutes, but I was going at right angles so I think I can make it faster if I figure out a shortcut. I cross a bridge over a beautiful river, and there are some neighborhoods with lovely gardens. Halfway there is a beautiful park where I'm hoping to catch ohanami - cherry-blossom viewing. Today there were hundreds of parents walking with small children, and older kids playing soccer and biking.

It's not a big town - walking across it to the school I almost walked right out the other side without noticing. But it has a very comfortable, clean feel to it. Tomorrow another IC takes me to get my Gaijin - alien - card, and to open a bank account. I'm going to try out that bath now.

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