Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Trusty Toyota: What a Waste

The phrase 'mottainai' is a common Japanese phrase used to describe wasteful situations. I often hear it when school lunch goes unfinished. Or, perhaps, when shoes are thrown out because they were found on the back porch upon moving in.
A friend of mine moved to a different apartment, discarding old spices (that had probably been in the kitchen for years). His garbage bags of seemingly useful condiments did not go unnoticed and he said he heard a series of "mottainai" in his move.
I sort my garbage into six different types. This is a fairly common number. And to throw out any large appliance one must pay a fee. Japan claims that this is because they are eco with a "mottainai" mantra.
BUT I have to pay $1200 to KEEP an old car that is running perfectly.

Every two years Japanese cars must have a sort of inspection to renew the shaken. My shaken ended May 13th. When I went to the repair shop to get my shaken renewed I was laughed at and told my car should be scrap. Everyone thought it ridiculous to spend that amount of money on that car. Especially because it has a dent in it.
Shaken simply exists to keep old cars like mine off the road in Japan.

It is hard to justify spending $12oo on a car when I will be leaving in two months and cannot find anyone who wants to buy it from me. And when I realized I would have to pay a $370 car tax and renew my expensive car insurance to keep my car I gave in and decided to scrap it.
Hopefully Japanese society is happy now that I got rid of a perfectly good car that has (in my opinion) aged gracefully.
Sending this car to the junkyard is the most wasteful thing I have ever been a part of. But I was not willing to give up $1800 to prevent this waste.

Japan is priding itself on not committing the "mottainai" crime as everyone drives around in new cars and refuses to waste rice from school lunch but will walk away from sashimi at a work party.
So I gave over my car keys today and some man with bad teeth in dirty mechanic's clothes will come pick it up tomorrow.

A lot of kilometers where put on that car. By some people that I never even met. I put about 40,000 of those kilometers on it. I drove myself to work almost everyday. Happy to not have to rely on someone else to get me there when I have to rely on other people to help me with virtually everything else I do. I spent Monday mornings driving across Tokushima, after spending Sunday nights eating relaxing dinners in the company of a friend. I drove about an hour from home on solo thrift store trips when loneliness was heavy and used clothing was as familiar as anything could get. I drove over mountains on Thursday nights to spend the evening with a family member and sleep in a bed.

One of the first seemingly adventurous trips I took in the Toyota one was up the narrow, gravel road to Hashikura temple.

The last was a trip around Kyushu.
last car

When the Sunday of my 25th birthday weekend came my car had gone west to have thanksgiving with family, east to do karaoke with friends, west (again) to give a speech about Obama, back (a little east) to dance with smoke machines at a club, east to give Christmas gifts to orphans and finally back a little west toward home. With the end of that weekend my car was scattered with empty champagne bottles, birthday gifts from friends, birthday cards from students, wrapping paper, and probably some weird food.
Countless other adventures were had in that car. Some of which are so precious they will only exist in my handwritten journals. Some of which are just weird and I would not want to write about them on the internet.

Thus is the beginning of a series of memories that will be associated with Japan, more specifically Shikoku.

RIP Toyota Tercel
Me and my trusty Toyota


And what a waste.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

How I come to school

Last March the junior high school I spent almost 20 months driving to closed. The building was not up to any current building codes (though I do not think too many buildings around here are). Somehow no natural light made it into any of the rooms and the staffroom either smelled of kerosene or was unbearably hot.

I now have to actually be at work at 8 a.m. which is both unfortunate and difficult. But the new school is close enough to walk to. Spending the first 10 minutes of my day walking to work as opposed to driving improves everything about the very beginning of my day.

I listen for my neighbor to leave, wait a moment, and enjoy 10 minutes of solitude, in the sunshine, on my feet.



I walk past the weird old liquor store. Up the hill, staying to the left of a temple. I watch the elementary school children, who clearly do not want to go to school, pick up rocks or take a long pause while they drink from the water bottle that hangs around their neck. I can completely empathize with those students.
I then walk past the elementary school and the nursery school.


Then I get to the new junior high school building. Which uses solar energy and has a ton of windows allowing for natural light. The staff room and many of the classrooms smell like new wood.

And once I get there by foot it is a little easier to deal with the weird things that go on inside, despite the buildings pleasant appearance.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It was so fun I could hardly hold a camera

Last weekend Ashely celebrated her 25th birthday. She rented a few bungalows on top of a mountain in the town of Mino. We barbecued and drank beer and wine. I have been to this bungalow area a few other times before to lay on the rope pirate ship/ castle structure and star gaze. Never though in the company of so many people.

A bunch of twenty something English teachers slide down the slide to arrive on the rope pirate ship. I sat next to Brad and Christine and reminisced about my first weekend in Japan when I went up there with a few people that live near me. That evening I remember talking to Brian about my teaching goals and feeling confident that Ashely would become a friend I could confide in. At least, I think I reminisced about that with Brad and Christine, I cannot be entirely sure what was going on.

One thing that I do know, I had so much fun I was only able to take these pictures:


And the next day standing up was hard.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I found those shorts in the supermarket lost and found and they fit me like a glove.

On Sunday I believed that that day was one of the worst days of my life. I suppose having the worst day in your life in a fairly standard procedure for many people. Typically, mine revolves around the fact that I did not do some productive thing I was supposed to do or wanted to do due to some seemingly tragic circumstance. I then lay in bed till an obscenely late hour and do not eat enough. Chances are, I will spend time in my head feeling anger towards most people I had any sort of recent interaction with.
I think that is a common worst day of my life scenario. That was Sunday.

On Monday I did not have to go to work. Neither did Ashely and Brian. I wore shorts that I found at a supermarket. The three of us had a pizza picnic and we waded around in a river because the countryside we live in is beautiful in the springtime.

That day made the worst day of my life seem really far away.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Kyushu Road Trip

The beginning of May is Golden Week in Japan. Or a succession of holidays. On Saturday I reset my car odometer to zero and Brad, Dianne, and I set off to the town of Yawatahama to catch the ferry to the island of Kyushu.
My car came on the ferry with us. Our first destination was Mt. Aso, an active volcano in the center of Kyushu. Once we arrived in the Aso area we drove past a sign for Ubuyama camp grounds. We debated making the right turn towards the camp. Dianne chimed in with a certain "yes" and making that turn was, perhaps, one of the better decisions that has been made in my lifetime.

The campground turned out to be abandoned. But a friendly elderly lady came to tell us that we were more than welcomed to stay there. So we did. She told us that it had been abandoned for two years. And assured us that the vicious sounding dogs were in fact cute.

We set up the tent, built a campfire and drank whiskey. We wrote a number of songs next to the camp fire. Perhaps the most memorable being, "Nobody Goes to Shikoku".
It was a perfect evening. Freestyle camp fire songs and whiskey are about all I need to keep me happy.
We emerged from the tent the following morning to play on the bull at the campsite and pack up the car to drive towards one of the largest active volcanoes in the world.

We wanted to walk to the volcano as opposed to drive. I do not think many people walk as we could not find any sort of path. Luckily, the volcanic terrain kept many trees from covering the hills so getting lost while wandering did not seem too likely.
We made it to the summit of some mountain and decided to continue towards the famous crater as opposed to scaling back down the side of the steep hill we pulled ourselves up. By the time we got to the base of the crater it was closed do to the toxic gas that volcanoes emit. A policeman gave us a ride back to our campsite. Though we were unable to make it to the volcano all the citizens of Shikoku were elated to just be outside, surrounded by so much green grass.

Rain hit the tent through the night at our campsite next to Mt. Aso. And the following morning we drove to the crater, just catching a glimpse of it through the rain clouds. With gray clouds in the sky we decided to take a drive further south to Takachiho Gorge.
The gorge was picturesque, but full of Japanese tourists with their cameras.
I payed about $3 to go into the Fresh Water Aquarium. Which was basically the goldfish section of a pet store.
The three of us then came to the decision to drive back to our beloved Ubuyama campsite. After an onsen and supermarket stop I drove in the dark, through the rain to arrive well into the night at the abandoned campground. Only a few minutes after our arrival did the friendly old lady pull up in her car to greet us once again and let us know we were still welcomed.

We woke up to the sound of weed whackers and lawnmowers. We played frisbee in the grass and Dianne and I showed proper appreciation to the egg gift that the friendly old lady had given us upon our first visit.
The last day was spent in the onsen town of Beppu. Despite all the complaining I do about Japan I am certain that Beppu is one of the most special places on earth with it's 400 plus hot springs.

After one of the worst dinning experiences of my life we took the bus to the mud onsen. Sulfuric gas naturally heats the water and mud under your feet. Dianne and I covered ourselves in the smooth gray mud and crawled around like monsters with a Japanese child who we befriended.

After four full days in Kyushu we boarded the ferry back to Shikoku. By the time we arrived in Ikeda I had clocked in just under 900 km on my car.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Bathtub

When I lived on Walker Avenue this boy, Matt Goldman, stayed in my home for an extended period of time. We use to listen/ watch this:

I am pretty sure he is now living in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Currently, my absolute favorite place to be is my bathtub.