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Dan's Adventure in Japan

Less than a month before pizza and chicken wings

The TV in my room has been substandard since I arrived. I assumed that was
a consequence of poor reception in the building. When Jon Collings (19
year-old student from Canada working at Kameda) moved in and I spent some
time watching TV in his room, I knew that this was not the case. His
reception was crystal clear. I concluded that it was the TV. Based on this
conclusion, I decided to replace my 19-inch set with a much smaller one that
had been in the closet. The reception was very nice. I watched a baseball
game and enjoyed it much more than I had with my other set. However, when
the NHK bilingual news came on, I discovered that the bilingual function did
not work on this TV. D'oh! I just can't win.

On the other hand, one of the Japanese networks broadcast the first
Terminator movie, completely unedited, the other night. Since I own this
film on DVD back in Iowa, I was extremely appreciative to see a DECENT
American movie for a change. The last one I saw was the wonderful and
cerebral film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman. Wow...

Last week, I accompanied Chiaki's husband, George to a coffee shop in
Tatayama. Tatayama is a small town near Kamogawa. We spent a couple of
hours there, speaking with a small group of English-speakers. On the way
back, George gave me a surprise visit to a Pachinko parlor. I mentioned to
him that I hadn't seen one and he took it upon himself to show me. There
was a cloud of smoke hanging in the air. A group of older men sat in rows
of machines. George explained that "dirty old men" are the types that play
Pachinko. The game was a little difficult to comprehend. You purchase
small steel balls to feed into the machine. You can control the rate at
which the balls descend. A digital readout, like a slot machine, with
rotating pictures (sevens and bags of gold) determined if you won or not.
If you won, steel balls came out of the machine. Many people had cartons
filled with the steel balls. At the end of the night, you poured the balls
into a counting machine and received a ticket. The ticket could be
exchanged for prizes. The mystery of Pachinko is solved.

On Friday, I taught the English class again. The class usually goes for an
hour. However, the students seemed to desire a longer class after I offered
to wrap it up. We went on for almost two hours. The idea was to discuss
things that are exchanged between Japan and the United States. We ended up
talking about fast food a lot. That led into a discussion about doughnuts.
The doughnut talk led into talk about kalimari (fried squid, served in
doughnut shapes). I found out that almost all octopus consumed in Japan is
imported. The domestic octopus is too expensive. I tried domestic octopus
once at a barbacue. I couldn't tell the difference. Perhaps my palate for
the rubbery stuff isn't so astute. I also learned that whaling boats use an
interesting approach to bring their catches back to shore. They harpoon the
whales and pull them to the boat. A door opens on the side and the animal
is pulled in. The door closes and fishing continues. Most boats can hold
two or three whales. That was something I had never thought about too much.
Next week, I am slated to go out with the class after we wrap things up.
That should be fun...

This weekend was a very active one. I worked on Saturday morning. The
biggest earthquake I have experienced here happened that morning. There is
a volcano going off on a nearby island, so seismic activity has been higher
than usual. The morning went by quickly and I went home. Jon was waiting
for me. We were going to Kamogawa Sea World with a friend of his named
Noriko. Kamogawa has the largest Sea World in Japan. I have been meaning
to go since I have been here, but am just now getting around to it. The
experience was a lot of fun. The most entertaining things were the sea
lions and seals. These animals were trained very well and knew dozens of
tricks. The dolphins were, as you would expect, acrobatic and interesting.
The killer whales were dull. They only had one cool trick--the animal would
leap out of the water and swat a ball suspended above the tank with its
tail. The final outdoor exhibit was the pelican area. We were passing
through as the pelicans were being put in their pen. They walked down the
path in a neat formation. I crouched on the ground and ended up getting an
excellent picture of them. There were also tanks of fish and penguins in
several buildings around Sea World. The mascot of Kamogawa is the sun fish.
Sea World had a big sign above the sun fish tank, describing it as the
MASCOT FISH. The sun fish has to be the ugliest fish I have ever seen. It
is large, flat, and has a gaping, toothless mouth. I would hope a town
could find a better mascot than that. It was also interesting to see the
Japanese people marvel at the river fish tank. Common North American fish
filled these tanks. The Japanese people probably enjoyed watching my awed
reaction to the common Japanese ocean fish in the tanks. It's like getting
excited at seeing a chicken or squirrel at the zoo.

After Sea World, Jon and I went to Kamogawa's McDonald's, an establishment I
had not yet tried. The ordering process was surprisingly difficult. They
have picture menus. You point at what you want and they ring it up. I also
say "Coca Cola" to specify my beverage choice. I think the cashier tried to
verify the order. They ultimately gave up on that and gave us our food, as
ordered. The sandwich was pretty good. The fries were okay, but Jon
pointed out that there was no ketchup to be found anywhere. The drink was
tiny, as I was warned about before I left. The double-cheeseburger value
meal I had was $5.50. I forget the American price...If someone knows,
please drop me a line...I am curious about how much I am being gouged here.
To make up for the small meal, we stopped by the yakiori stand on the way
back...Yakitori is meat and vegetables on a stick.

To wrap up the night, Jon and I tackled a bottle of liquor someone left in
his room before he moved in. It was something called Shochu. We ended up
drinking the bottle of shochu and a little beer while watching 12 Monkeys on
TV. All in all, a good day. One thing, if you are ever in Japan, don't
drink shochu. It is pretty substandard drinking fare. Stick with beer...I
also taught Jon a useful phrase: "Liquor before beer, have no fear. Beer
before liquor, you've never been sicker."

The next day was spent quietly through the afternoon. I worked on the image
section of my web page and pulled all the new pictures off my digital
camera. Around 5:00, Jon stopped over. He lost his keys at the beach and
needed help. We walked back down to the beach to find the "needled in a
haystack." Of course, we had no luck. I decided to take him to Todd
Swanson's house, since he has room. On the way, we stopped by Mos Burger, a
Japanese burger place. Ordering there was considerably easier than at
McDonalds. I pointed at the picture menu and it went smoothly. The only
problem was that we couldn't get cheese on the burgers. I thought that was
strange. I looked around while waiting and saw a Snow Brand Milk logo.
That dairy was recently shut down after selling milk that poisoned people
with Staphylococcus aureus. I see why they don't have cheese. It's
probably for the best.

After dinner, Jon and I ended up at Todd's house. He wasn't there. We
walked to Mr. Wocher's house to see if he could get the keys for us. His
wife made a few phone calls and we got the keys. That was a relief.
Hopefully the old key stays in the ocean for a while.

At work, I have been spending a lot of time getting the English language web
page for Kameda updated. Todd Swanson (Director of Medical Education)
designed an education section. Throughout the process of preparing it, I
made corrections and helped to improve the look and feel of the site. It is
now in a pretty solid interface, containing a lot of information about many
aspects of Kameda. We also have the passwords to make changes as needed.
Mr. Wocher ordered Front Page 2000 to make changes after Todd and I are
gone. I will be configuring it when it arrives. Mr. Wocher also ordered a
scanner to add images to the web page. I will also scan some of the
"analog" pictures I have been taking here and post them to the web. Most
interesting among these are my pictures from Mt. Fuji.