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April 2006 Archive

Hanami Adventure
Wednesday, 19th April

The cherry blossoms, or sakura, have come into bloom in Fukushima. And they're a wonderful sight indeed.
For centuries, the Japanese have taken the fleeting bloom of the sakura as an opportunity to ponder on nature's beauty. Countless works of Japanese literature and poetry are peppered with references to Japan's unofficial national flower. As well as being used as a handy metaphor, the bloom of the sakura also symbolises the end of winter, and the coming of warm weather. With the arrival of a clement outside temperature and the impressive view of the cherry blossoms, the Japanese make sure to take part in a `hanami` or cherry blossom viewing party. Essentially, this means getting a bunch of friends together, sitting on a rug under a sakura tree, and drinking a shitload of alcohol.
So, last night we'd planned to do just that. Moe, Kenichi, Alex and I had stuff to do today, so the getting pissed part would have to be subdued. We were fine with that, so we headed for the peak of the quaint Shinobu mountain to have our hanami.
The park at the top of the mountain was an exciting cacophony of the young, the old, and the drinking. The atmosphere was somewhere between an international food fair and a primary school fete - stall-owners peddled their cartoon character face masks whilst the takoyaki men touted the tastiness of their fried octopus balls. A few metres away from the hustle and bustle, under the canopy of a cherry blossom tree, Kenichi, Moe, Alex and I set up camp for the night. A packet of Milky Ways were torn open, the cap of Alex's 600 Yen wine was twisted off, and so began our viewing party.

Earlier that afternoon, I'd gotten myself a snack from the local Yooku Benimaru (pretty much the Japanese Bi-Lo) - a partially warm fried fish fillet and a tub of apple flavoured yoghurt. I wasn't sure of the bacterial integrity of the fish whilst I was eating it - and after a white peach UDL at the hanami, I was sure something was amiss. A trip to the lavatory was in order, so Ken and I shuffled off to the nearest toilet.
We located it under a large, inflatable Godzilla. Logical enough.
As I entered, my over-sized Cons accidentally brushed against the foot of a portly man who was on his way to the basin. I doubt he could've barely felt it - but as I offered a mumbled `sumimasen`, his eyes met my nose. Adjusting for the height difference, he looked up into my eyes. In his shocked stare was an expression of disgust and unbelief, as if I`d just urinated on the grave of his samurai ancestor. Noticing I was a hairy, big-nosed foreigner who obviously can't speak a shred of Japanese, he turned to my friend Kenichi. I couldn't understand a word of the interaction, but Kenichi happily translated it for me later.
"These foreigners have pretty big feet, don't they?", the fat man said, washing his hands.
Ken offered a bored `yeah, right` in agreement.
The fat man switched the tap off. He turned around to face Ken, their noses mere inches from each other. The air in the bathroom, though already quite thick, became hot and unbreathable.
"You're supposed to say `yes`", the man said, flicking water into Ken's face, "not `yeah`. `Yes`. Understand?" he growled, annunciating his point with another flick of water.
I'd entered the toilet with the express intention of using the facilities, not starting a fight between my friend and some balding idiot.
Being the level-headed, sensitive guy Ken is, he politely agreed with the man, and the situation was diffused. I think the chances of Ken elevating an argument into a fist-fight are about as likely as a cat farting the theme from St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion).

With that, and other toilet-related unpleasantries out of the way, we returned to our camp for a night of alcohol, conversation and laughter
I also looked at these funny chicks heaps, though unfortunately I wasn't able to get a good picture.

Check out some more sakura pics here.

Yo Yo
Sunday, 16th April

I`ve been really busy lately, what with attending school and not really understanding anything. I also went around today and took some more photos. It`s cherry blossom season. Expect some pics later.
Also, I just got back from an orientation for new students. It was absolutely amazing. I`ll doing a big write-up about that soon, I`m sure.
In the meantime, please enjoy this story I wrote before my internet was working.

I'm not a porn star, I'm a latter day saint
Written Monday 3rd April

Today was the coldest day yet. There wasn't a hint of snow, however there was an evil, evil wind slicing it's way through the streets of Fukushima City. A frailer person than I would have surely tipped over, as was the strength of the gale. I'd chosen to go out to take some photos of the place.   
I paused for a snap when I heard a timid voice from behind me. "Herro, how are you?" it said. This was a common occurrence in China: residents would often approach a foreigner, say hello, then walk off. This was Japan, so I was not sure of the local customs concerning foreigners. I turned around to face two young men. I matched the voice to the face: it was a young Japanese man with soft features and a genuine smile. I figured maybe he wanted to practice his English. I had nothing else to do besides freeze my tits off, so I was happy to talk to him.
Then, I noticed his badge: Elder Takakasugi.
Uh-oh. Elder?

The Mormons have penetrated Japan. 
His partner, who I hadn't really paid attention to, started talking. Somehow, I hadn't noticed that he was a foreigner. He asked me where I was from.
"Definately not where you're from," I replied, noticing his American accent. "Want to guess?"
He sort of mumbled something. I don't think people like guessing that, so I told him where I was from.
"Ah yes. Great. Can you guess where I'm from?" he replied.
I paused for a second. I looked at his badge. Elder Jones, of The Church Of Jesus Christ And Latter Day Saints.
"Um, Utah? Salt Lake City?"
He was a little surprised, as I was completely correct. Then he asked me what I knew of his religion. I tactfully recited all the knowledge of Mormonism I learnt from South Park, Orgazmo, and John Safran vs. God.
I'm sure you've all been accosted by evangelists, so I'll let you figure out the rest.

           *           *           *          

The Japanese guy is in yellow. Is wearing a helmet whilst riding a bike one of the tenants of Mormonism?
We stood talking and pausing uncomfortably in the unkind April wind for nearly half an hour before they put on their helmets and rode off. Onward peddle ye men of faith. They were quick to ride off, but I managed to snap a cheeky photo of them

All told, they were both pretty nice guys. I didn't believe for a second that the American had, 'a pretty wild time' in college, but I guess they're told that empathy is more important than truth when you're trying to save someone's soul. Luckily they didn't have much literature written in English, so I escaped with just a small pamphlet.
Their church is quite near my place, and they offer free English conversation classes, just as long as the conversation is about Jesus, Joseph Smith, or protective underpants.
As an added bonus of the experience, I got to learn Jesus' name in Japanese: Iesu Kirisuto.  

Welcome. Irasshaimase!
Sunday, 9th April

It's been a long time coming, but finally, my Japanese website is up and running.

Sorry for the delay.

Anyway, things are going quite well here. I inherited a lot of stuff from my apartment's previous owner, so so far things have been pretty smooth. I even got a sewing kit and a big tub of sugar.

Uni hasn't commenced yet, though there was an opening ceremony for new students. I attended, but only as an audience member. I don't have a suit, so I couldn't really take part without looking like a turd.
I think anyone fluent in Japanese would have found it boring enough, but since I could only pick up every 20th word being said, I found it more boring than most. So, I left early.  

Fukushima City is a really nice place. From my apartment window I get a nice view of the Abukumagawa River, which is far cleaner than Brisbane's. It's actually the cleanest river I've ever seen: ducks frolic freely against the tide, and there's nary a moss-covered shopping trolley to be seen. If you're up for it, a free afternoon can be spent taking in the serenity offered by the natural beauty of Fukushima City. It's best enjoyed by bicycle.
That's another thing I inherited: A bicycle! I call her Hayako, which I suppose means fast girl, or something like that.

Check out some photos here, here, or by clicking the full stop at the end of this sentence.




Images (most of them anyway) and words Matthew Strain 2006.
Additional translation by Shitagi Dorobo