Friday, June 29, 2007

Wow, that was weird.

We just had an earthquake.

It was the weirdest one EVER. I was sitting on my couch, debating going to bed (it was about 11:48 p.m.), when I heard a noise like a door being closed in another room, and then one-two-three quick shockwaves rattled my room just a little bit, like waves hitting a boat in quick succession, in a strange up-and-down fashion. I've never felt an earthquake like that. It really felt like a ripple moving across the surface of the earth. And it was so fast. About three dishes in the kitchen had time to rattle, then it was over. It lasted about 2-3 seconds.

I waited about 5 more uneasy seconds to see if more was to come (sometimes that is just an initial shake, then there is more), but nothing. So then I called Randal...except my phone was already ringing. He'd felt the same thing.

I'm such a fast blogger, it's not even on the JMA's radar yet. Ah, here we go:

And now I see why Randal called first - it happened in the west end of Gifu Prefecture, so he would have felt the shock first. Anyway, it's ringing in at 2.0 in the west end and 1.0 over here. Seems like my earthquake kit shall go unused for yet another evening...

Oh, crap.

So it seems death is not the only thing lurking on Mt. Fuji. Here's a photo of the finest of fine summer vacation destinations, taken near the summit of this most-venerated mountain, a mere two days ago (that would be, yes, June, not January, 27th):

Climbing season officially starts on Sunday (also known in some circles as "Canada Day"), and Randal and I are headed there in about 6 days, next Friday. Did I already say, "Oh, crap"?

Apparently Fuji-zan got a lot more snow than usual this year. Really? You don't say. Triple crap. :)

Monday, June 25, 2007

(Soon to be) On the road again...

So those of you who actually pay attention to these things (and who read my blog on my blog and not on Facebook's feed) might have noticed that Randal and I are headed to Mt. Fuji in about 10 days. We're going the weekend of July 6, though we haven't decided yet exactly which day we shall climb it. Or, rather, I should say which night we're going to climb it, as we plan on doing the classic climb-overnight-and-arrive-at-the-summit-in-time-for-sunrise hike.

Anyway, there are two problems with the Mt. Fuji hike:

It's probably going to be crappy weather. We had dinner on Saturday with one of Randal's teachers, and we were telling him and his wife about our Fuji plans, and after telling us some horror stories about climbing it (it's not easy), they started worrying that tsuyu was likely to unleash its fury upon us at the same time. It is that time of year. Ugh. Sounds delightful.

I'm probably going to die partway up. While, since my arrival in Japan, I've been bicycling more than I ever did in all my life to this point, I don't generally feel I've been as active as I was at home. I even started jogging about a month or so ago - the last thing most people probably ever thought I would do! - and while it is somewhat enjoyable, I am, to be honest, not very good, nor committed, to jogging. I'm hoping sheer determination will get me up that mountain. After all, that's pretty much all I've got!

In other, non-Fuji and non-rain news, plans are starting to solidify for our return home. Our last day of work is July 27. On July 28, I am moving out of my apartment. Randal plans to do the same on either the 28th or 29th. We'll get a hotel in Nagoya. On July 30, we are flying to Thailand! The plan is to spend about 2 weeks in Thailand, and 2 weeks in Laos. I can't wait. I love Thailand, and Laos sounds fascinating. Then, on August 29, we fly back to Nagoya.* Then, on the 30th, we fly home to Toronto via San Francisco.

As if that wasn't enough, after a few days in Toronto, we're heading to Winnipeg - either by plane or by car - to visit Randal's family and collect our pooch. Probably about 2 weeks there, and then back to Toronto. After that, we don't know: Ottawa is looking like the more likely option these days, though I have recently applied for a few Toronto jobs, so we'll see.

I'm exhausted just thinking about it. Either that, or it's 12:21 a.m. and well past my bedtime. ...Ah yes, the latter. Urgh.

* Before you have a chance to ask, our tickets home to Canada are paid long as we fly from Japan.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Tsuyu time

So the rainy season is finally getting underway. It's a little late this year, and it may last anywhere from 2-4 weeks (depending on who you ask). Longer in other areas, I think, but if Gifu has anything going for it at all, it's that we don't tend to get as extreme weather as some of the rest of Japan.

Japan has two rainy seasons - one through June and one through October. Last October's tsuyu was virtually non-existent. Two weeks ago, someone told me that tsuyu would be starting soon. Last week, after one day of rain, I was told that the Japanese weather people had declared tsuyu officially underway. But we had sunny and heat and humidity all week until today. It's supposed to rain through the weekend. But even when I ask, I am told, "Oh, no...real tsuyu will be much heavier rain and much more humid." Sounds marvelous.

Rainy day
Castle and mountains, gone.

Anyway, this post is just an excuse to show off how fashion-conscious I have become since coming to Japan. I learned long ago (from my days in Halifax) that when it rains steadily and hard all day, there's just no real way to keep dry and be stylish at the same time. I have taken to bicycling to school in a raincoat with hood, and oh-so-chic plastic pants.

She's got legs...and knows how to cover them.

It's a great look, I know. My old plastic pants were transparent, but this new pair is even better since I can hide the fact that I'm actually wearing a skirt underneat (which I am in this picture). Which means I don't have to be ladylike about pedalling to school in a skirt in the rain. Because no one can tell. I love it.

The Japanese way of cycling in the rain, however, astounds me.

Japanese cyclist
Abunai! (Danger.)

This lady is not wearing any rain gear at all, and is just holding her umbrella above her head with one hand, and steering her bike with the other. I see people doing this all the time. And what really gets my goat is that, no matter how hard it is raining, and no matter how wet and dripping yours truly is, these umbrella-wielding fools arrive at their destination DRY. I've tried to bicycle like this and refuse to do it anymore - it's dangerous as hell. I can barely pedal in a straight line with both hands on the handlebars, let alone just one and the other precariously holding an umbrella in high winds. Honestly, there's many better ways I can think of by which to die. No thanks!

Flooded roof
Flooded roof next door.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Earthquake...minus the earthquake bit

This morning at school, we had an earthquake drill!

As if that wasn't exciting enough, we all got to wear our indoor shoes not only OUTSIDE, but to the dirtiest, dustiest part of the school grounds, the sports field behind the school (the designated evacuation area)!

I now feel like I've truly experienced Japan.*

* It was a nice break to the day. I also couldn't believe that 1,000 students could clear out of a building so fast - in less than 5 minutes. I was walking with a bunch of non-English-speaking Japanese teachers, and they taught me the word for earthquake (which I already actually knew), jishin, and asked me if we had earthquakes in Canada (yes in some parts of the country, but none so big that we EVER have earthquake drills). Then, for some odd reason, they followed up the earthquake drill with a 20-minute awards ceremony for students who had recently won honours in karate, track and field, broadcasting, and handball. All under the bright, blazing sun. In my indoor shoes, outdoors. Crazy.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

V for Volleyball

When I was in high school (long, long ago), we played the same four sports every year in gym class - soccer, basketball, volleyball, and softball - with a bit of badminton and (urk!) dodgeball thrown in for variety. Not being the most athletically-inclined duck out there, I tended to loathe gym class. But volleyball in particular holds a special place in my heart - I hated it so much, I was actually thrilled to see spring roll around, when we were sent outside in the damp spring chill to play softball. At least with softball, you can stand in the outfield and know that you're fairly safe from the wrath of most balls (at least, you are if I'm at bat).* With each volleyball class, on the other hand, it was a down-and-dirty competition between my best friend and I to see whose arms more closely resembled a lobster post-game; aka, who was worse.

So, a few weeks ago, when I was asked whether I wanted to join the teachers' volleyball team, I breached Japanese protocol and laughed. Long and heartily. Then, having regained my composure, in a mix of Japanese and English (it was a non-English teacher who asked me), I made it perfectly clear : "Juri - baréboru - damé, damé - watashi wa ... very, very bad." (I'll be bilingual in no time, I'm sure.)

Whew. Having dodged that bullet, I went back to my less-than-spectacular life. Then last week, chatting with one of the English teachers after teaching a class with her, I speculated that perhaps her students - who were normally quiet but that day had been somewhat rowdy - were looking forward to the sports day that we were having the next day. Yes, she replies, and then says something about volleyball.

Uh. Yes, I heard right. Sports day is actually going to be volleyball. All day. Oh, crap.

We had a sports day back in early September, and it was so much fun. My memories of "sports day" from my high school days (we called it "field day") is a mish-mash of track-and-field events (relay races, javelin-throwing, and a game of basketball or two), a day in which most students sloughed around trying to figure out how to avoid the high jump or ring toss. Not so these kids, and not so this past sports day. They had been split into 4 teams (of about 250 kids each, mind you; almost as big as my entire high school!) and had spent the better part of the previous week under the tutelage of the student cheerleader teams, learning chants and cheers for the pep rallies that would form part of the sports day (practicing one to two hours a day). They played capture-the-flag, giant games of tug of war, "windsurfing", and much more, with just a bit of relay racing in the late afternoon. And lots of cheerleading, of course.

Piggyback Fights (2)
The always-popular "Piggyback Fights".

But volleyball all day? Ugh. In addition to my general dislike of volleyball, Randal had had to endure a sports day last fall that was entirely volleyball, and he was not pleased to report back that it was B-O-R-I-N-G. I wasn't therefore looking forward to it; however, I figured I was willing to watch. Really, I mean, it's not like I had any choice.


Well. Who knew volleyball could be so much fun?

Deck of cards

I forgot that when my school does something like this, they tend to go all out. Here, second- and third-year students had decked out their gym uniforms with various themes. It was hilarious just to walk around all day and see what I could find.


Sannensei boys

Sannensei alien chicks


As for the volleyball itself, there were something like 40 games going on at any one time (until the elimination rounds started in the afternoon), so there was always something to watch.

40 games

See the entire set here.

*Honestly, it's a miracle I ever passed gym class and was allowed to graduate.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Kyoto is coming! Kyoto is coming!

Randal and I are headed off to Kyoto again this coming weekend. We've taken vacation on Friday, so are headed out Thursday night until Sunday evening. Hopefully transportation there and back will go smoother than last weekend's Osaka outing (more on that another time).

So, uh, in anticipation of our upcoming return to Kyoto, I decided to finally post the pictures from our LAST trip to Kyoto, which was, uh, in August. Oops.

If you're wondering why I haven't been posting a lot lately, it's because not much has been going on other than travels here and there, and really - who wants to hear about travels??? Sheesh.