Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Racially Profiled

I was pulled over by a cop yesterday. On my bike. It was a clear case of racial profiling.

I was biking between the post office and the grocery store. I crossed a busy street on a green light. Then I crossed a tiny, not at all busy, side street. Shortly thereafter a police officer rolled up next to me on his little moped. He asked if I spoke English. His was phenomenal for a Japanese person. He said I had failed to signal my turn.

Now, this was odd because a) I have never EVER seen anyone on a bike use hand signals in Japan. I was sure it wasn't even a thing here. and b) what I had done was run a red light--I'd give him that. I indicated that I was very sorry, didn't know I was to use hand signals and thought I'd be on my way. Apparently he wasn't done with his English practice though (when I gave him the obligatory compliment on it he replied that he'd spent a year in Australia). He proceeded to give me a warning card. It's a yellow card that says "yellow card" on it in English. He said I should be more careful and if I get caught breaking laws on my bike again I may have to go to the police station. For failing to signal on my bike? I know Japan is safe but surely there is something more pressing to prosecute.

The funny thing about all this is that the same cop pulled John and a friend of ours over a few months ago. They were on their bikes, doing nothing wrong and he asked to see their foreign registration cards. It's clear he's profiling us to practice his English. I wouldn't mind if he wasn't actually giving out warning cards for laws I see teenagers and old grannies violating all the time. I felt like inviting him to join the English for Travel class we're teaching at the town community center. There are ways he can practice his English without just pulling over every gaijin he sees.

In conclusion, racial profiling is the pits. I knew it before but now I know it firsthand. Now I have to be super careful on my bike. The one good thing is that my Japanese reading friend read my yellow card last night and I was actually warned for running a red light. So, I don't think I have to go around being the only one in Japan using hand signals while biking.

Monday, October 25, 2010

We came. We conquered.

We ran the 1/2 marathon yesterday. I surprised myself by running it in just over 2 hours with the help of some fast friends I ran with. John came in a little later overcoming knee issues and chaffed bloodied nipples. It was actually pretty darn....FUN. There, we said it.

We've never run a race in the US, but we're guessing these are things that you wouldn't see there.

1) Pre-race group calisthenics. Japanese people love doing stuff in groups. When we got to the race site there were scantily clad women on a stage leading the runners in warm-up aerobic moves. Hilarious.

2) Instead of firing a gun, they set off fireworks to begin the race. (Incidentally, they set them off at the end too - you had to finish in under 2 hours, 40 minutes to be counted among the finishers.) So, we were waiting for the race to start and we see a guy and a van across the water on a little strip of land. He lit the fireworks. At that exact moment, some birds were flying by. One bird was struck down by a firework. Just like that - bam - fish food. It seemed like a bad omen, but actually the race went swimmingly. The rain even held off until later that afternoon.

3) I'm sure all marathons have some runners in costumes. Sure enough there was a guy dressed as a cow, a monkey, a few dressed in drag, etc. But we also saw a guy in a samurai outfit, complete with sword. Plus, there were guys running in ninja shoes - you know, cloven shoes with rubber soles. Like this:
4) I have never seen so many fit elderly people in one place. It seemed like everywhere you looked there was some one with white hair who looked at least 65 and they were probably passing you. At one point there was an old guy practically running circles around our group of 4 very tall gaijin in bright yellow shirts (think we stuck out a little bit?). After exchanging a few smiles with us he asked where we were from. Once satisfied with our answer, he trotted off ahead of us. Pretty inspiring really.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Very Vanilla

While in Bali we bought vanilla beans. Back here in Japan we had to figure out what to do with them. So, I made vanilla tofu mousse. I made these vanilla scones with vanilla icing. I made vanilla sugar. We gave many vanilla beans away. One friend made vanilla custard. I made vanilla extract by putting the bean shell in vodka, but I'll have to wait a few months until it's done. We still had v beans left.

So, I decided to take advantage of one of the few things that is not "takai" (expensive, in this instance) and make vanilla infused vodka. Then, while I was at it, I decided to make homemade Tia Maria with a vanilla bean thrown in for good measure. We only have to wait about 2 weeks for these! My sister gave me the fantastic idea of swirling chocolate syrup in a glass and having chocolate vanilla martinis, which we will surely do in her honor once it's ready.
Happy Birthday, Molly!

Next we'll need to try the Japanese version of this - umeshu, or unripe plums steeped in shochu. Umeshu sours are delicious.

In other news, the school secretary showed me a giraffe skull that was in a box in the office yesterday. Just another day at Japanese Junior High!

Also, do yourself a favor and make this recipe for pumpkin amaretto risotto. Then eat it with a glass of white wine like we did last Sunday. Happy Weekend!

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Did we mention that we're running a 1/2 marathon next Sunday? We signed up last Spring but at first it seemed very far off and pretty unobtainable. Neither of us has ever run a race before. Alas, we started running, little by little increasing frequency and distance. Now I'd go so far as to say we've been "training".

The race goes around Lake Suwa - the lake our town sits on. It's been nice to train around because it has kilometer markers. Last weekend we ran all the way around it - 10 miles. Ouch.

Probably the most annoying thing about running our first race in Japan is the plethora of lithe 50+ Japanese folks practically sprinting around the lake in their top of the line running gear. Really makes you feel like a schmuck to get passed up by a 60 year old in perfect shape.

Here is a list of some of the things we've seen regularly while training around Shimosuwa:

1) Animals - egrets, herons, fish jumping in the lake, hawks and shiba inus galore!
2) Fuji-san - across the lake, on very clear days, Mt. Fuji is visible in the distance. It't not that frequent of an occurrence but it's magical when it happens.

3) Plants - wildflowers, bonsai trees in our neighbor's backyards, peach and apple trees, the rice harvest and now, leaves changing.

4) Rowing - very popular here.

Wish us luck!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

More Visitors!

Last weekend we had friends visit us from the U.S. They were sweet and brought us food we'd been missing from home. (Thanks T & K!) We had people to cook for and talk to and show our town to and play bananagrams with and....it was super fun. We stumbled upon a soba festival in Matsumoto, sang karaoke with a big group one night and showed them places like the 100 yen shop and pachinko parlor.

During their stay we were reminded:
  • of what we like about this place - the mountains, safety, fresh air, cleanliness, shrines and temples, polite people, quaintness, convenience, etc.
  • of quirky Japanese things that no longer seem that weird to us - like excessive bowing, foot onsens, people running after you to return something you meant to leave and people ignoring you because you're foreign (except for old ladies who shamelessly ask questions), and cute old men with their towels and getas heading up to the sento/onsen for their bath.
  • and that we actually do understand, speak and read a little Japanese now.
They were surprised that the town wasn't as small as I'd maybe made it seem. I mean, it does have a Denny's, a McDonald's, two grocery stores (one owned by Walmart, unfortunately), a Mos Burger, etc. It's basically a perfect example of Japan's juxtaposition of the old and the new. You can throw a stone from the 7-11 to the shrine. You'll be hiking in the mountains and come across a vending machine or two (with hot tea and coffee!).

Anyways, here are some pictures from the weekend.

Our town's Buddha

Rolling out dough for soba noodles.

The "strip" in our town. Too bad you can't quite see the Japanese on the Denny's and McDonald's signs.

Thanks for coming, T!

Friday, October 1, 2010


Last Sunday as we researched netbooks we heard eery chanting outside. We looked out and saw Shinto monks begging for alms.

Japan's like that. You're just plugging away on your superfast internet and then you hear the shrine bells toll or some monks chanting and you're reminded that while Japan is speeding towards the future, they're simultaneously preserving their ancient traditions.

(In case you're wondering what's behind the monks in the second picture, it's the covering for the outdoor pool at my school. I told you they hate the sun. Nah, actually, I think it's more for the noise factor.)