Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Carving pumpkins. Wearing costumes. Trick-or-treating.

I grew up participating in these Halloween traditions (as maybe you did, too). But for Japanese people, these are new and fascinating concepts.

So I've had a lot of fun teaching my students about Halloween and showing off "Kabocha-san" (Mr. Pumpkin) -- my round, orange, permasmile friend -- who I carved on Wednesday night. Here is the "pumpkin family" that the ALT's created...

Aren't they cute!? From left to right: my beloved Kabocha-san, Oliver's pumpkin (Jack from Nightmare Before Christmas), Mayla's pumpkin (named Beth), Liz's pumpkin (named Mayla), and Jemma's pumpkin (which as far as I know, is nameless.)

Kabocha-san was an instant star at Mugyo Jr. High School on Thursday. The teachers there just ate him up! Ooooh, bad word choice! Anyway, they loved him, and everyone wanted to take his picture. I was such a proud Momma. :)

Kobacha-san and I pictured with Atsumi and Kohei from Mugyo. I look like a Mugyo student in my maroon track suit, haha!

After telling my students about jack-o'-lanterns and the creation of my orange friend, I let them try the pumpkin seeds I roasted. Next, I talked about the tradition of dressing up and asking for candy, introducing them to the phrase "trick-or-treat." We then acted out trick-or-treating, and I gave them some American candy. (Yay, Skittles! Thanks, Grandma.) The English teacher, Ms. Ishikawa, quizzed them on my Halloween speech.

Today at Misaki, the students made masks for the mock trick-or-treating. Many of them ran out of time to make it creative and had to resort to using a blank piece of paper with eye holes cut out of it. Oh well. It was still a lot of good, educational fun!

This is the mask I received from Kenji's sister yesterday. (What a nice lady and a nice gift!) It's being modeled by one of the teachers at Misaki, haha.

At school today, Kabocha-san was once again a smash hit. Oooh, and once again, bad word choice! As I write this, the office lights have been turned off temporarily so everyone can see Mayla glow. (Liz's pumpkin, not Mayla the ALT!) It's pretty funny how impressed everyone is. Makes me smile. Like a jack-o'-lantern. :)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas...

...and it's not even Halloween quite yet! (Reminds me of stores in America, haha)

It's downright cold outside today. I turned the heat on in my car, which I have yet to do in my apartment, and drove to Yamane. On the way, I saw a sign that indicated the temperature -- a whopping six degrees!

Of course that's degrees Celsius, not Fahrenheit, but still; just seeing that little six made me want to shiver. (I just looked it up on a handy Celsius/Fahrenheit converter site, and it turns out that 6 degrees C is 42.8 degrees F, which doesn't seem all that cold until you think about it as being only 10.8 above FREEZING.) Anyway, it's the biting wind that really gets you.

While the sudden temperature drop has made me think about winter (brrrr), the last two days have reminded me of Christmas because I've received a couple of very nice gifts!

The first is this bike...

I found it outside of my door with a note (like a present tag) that said the bike was for me, from Kenji. It used to be his daughter's, but it's mine to use now since she doesn't live in Kuji anymore. I've been borrowing Liz's bike recently, so I'm sure Liz is just as happy as I am that I have my own bike.

The timing of this gift is a little off since I don't enjoy cold air smacking me in the face, but I'm still very appreciative! It amazes me how many people I've seen riding their bikes along the street today, despite the wind.

And to tell you about the other gifts, you have to know something first....

I joined a Japanese dance team!!

I saw them perform a couple of weeks ago and loved what I saw! Plus, they looked like they were having so much fun. So with Sean interpreting, I asked if I could join their group. I was accepted with open arms! Here's a picture of my dance team performing. :)

Last night was my second dance practice (it's every Tuesday), and I really felt like part of the group because I was given my very own pair of "clappers." I don't know what the actual name of them is, but "clappers" is the best I can come up with. One of the members then placed a necklace with mini "clappers" around my neck, so I guess I'm an official dance team member now. Yay!

Here is the "clapper gift set." I'm ready to get my groove on...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A whole lot of culture

I've been busy.

In just one weekend I did all of the following things:

  • Watched the movie "The Five People You Meet in Heaven."
    I recommend it.

  • Enjoyed eating raw squid dipped in squid guts. Yes, again!

  • Ate the best sushi I've ever had in my entire life. Granted, I haven't had much sushi in my life. But from now on, this will change!

  • Went to a Hachinohe -- a town over an hour away -- with Kenji and the other Kuji ALT's to pick up pumpkins that we'll carve on Wednesday. Yay!

  • Played two games of bowling in Hachinohe. Minus the Japanese signs on the walls, it felt like we were in America.

  • Tried a piece of green vegetable cake. Not too bad, but not near as delicious as something like...fudge pie!! (Now that's my kind of dessert.) :)
  • Went "festival-hopping." (as I call it) In two days, I attended four different festivals!

The last item on the list is primarily what kept me busy this weekend. These weren't festivals like the one last month, which involved the whole city and had parades with grand floats. The festivals this weekend were culture festivals, (called a "bunkasai") where students display their everyday achievements and demonstrate performing arts at their school.

Festival #1: Yamagata Junior High School -- On Saturday, I went with Mayla to see her students perform a play and sing. Neither one of us understood the play's plot, but it was still entertaining to watch. The singing afterward was wonderful! It really doesn't even matter that I have no idea what the Japanese songs mean, the beauty of all the voices in the chorus blending together just about moves me to tears.

Festival #2: Yamane Junior High School -- Yamane was my first stop on Sunday, and I stayed long enough to see my students perform a cultural dance. (pictured below) I think they sang later in the afternoon, but I had a schedule to keep, so I couldn't stay.

Festival #3: Community Culture Festival --This was a different kind of culture festival since there weren't performances involved, and it took place in a community center. It reminded me of a craft fair because people from the neighborhood had tables displaying their handmade goods, such as these sandals...

And here's a wide shot of the festival...

I met up with my friend Kevin from church, who was working in the dining area. A variety of homemade Japanese foods (most of which I can't begin to name) were being sold at the festival by volunteers. Kevin asked me if I could stay and help serve since they were so busy. Sure!
I had fun working, and was given a to-go container of soba noodles for helping.

Festival #4: Okawame Junior High School -- I arrived at Okawame just in time to take this picture, and see all 90 of my students sing a song together.

After the group performance, each grade sang a couple of songs. Again, the music was so beautiful! I asked the English teacher what they were singing about in Japanese, and he said, "They want to fly." :)

So that was my fun weekend of culture and activity. This week I'll be teaching my students about an aspect of American culture -- Halloween! Should be a ghoul time, haha.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Showing you some Shinto Shrines...

This shrine is located near the Baptist church I attend.

While there is only one Christian church in Kuji -- the small Baptist church that I wrote about last time -- there are several Shinto shrines.

I'm not sure exactly how many are in Kuji, but I have found four different ones during my walks, two of them being only a couple of minutes away from my apartment.

All of the shrines I have discovered have been on top of a hill, surrounded by trees and somewhat hidden and secluded from civilization. They all have the same elements, which you can read about and see pictures of by clicking here.

By scrolling down on the link, you"ll see a List of Famous Shrines. The Toshogu Shrine in Nikko is toward the top of the list, and is shown as being one of the "best of the best." I saw this shrine last month when I was in Nikko, as well as the Futarasan Shrine. In Tokyo, Sara, Aaron and I visited the Meiji Shrine, where we used a purification trough and saw hundreds of prayers written on pieces of wood.

The shrines in Kuji aren't near as big and grand, and they aren't crowded with tourists like the ones in Nikko in Tokyo. In fact, I've seldomed seen people at the local shrines.

This shrine is next to the park -- the one I found a couple of weekends ago that's close to my apartment. Notice the shimenawa (the rope with papers hanging from it) that is on the furthest torii.

When I got up close to this post, I was really surprised to see that it had English on it. It reads (in perfect English, no less) "May Peace Prevail on Earth." Amen to that!

Monday, October 20, 2008 English sermon!

The small Baptist Church in Kuji was founded by a missionary from its sister city, good ol' Franklin, Ind. The church sits on a hill, overlooking Kuji.

I've been anticipating it for a while.

More than once, I have gone to church thinking that the sermon would be in English. And every single time, it's been in Japanese.

But this past Sunday, I finally heard an English message! It was given by Kevin -- a native of Texas, who has lived in Kuji for 17 years. (As a side note, Kevin and his wife have two precious little kids, and I told them -- as in the parents --that I would be more than happy to baby-sit any time. I really miss baby-sitting.)


Kevin read from Colossians 1 and talked about the supremacy of Jesus. Verses 21-23: "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel."

So this is the first sermon in over two months that I have actually understood, which is pretty exciting. :) Usually during the sermon, I read my own (English!) Bible and study/reflect on the text.

Besides being a place where I worship God each week, going to church provides a great opportunity to practice reading Japanese. The hymns are written in hiragana, so I can practice reading..err..singing...the characters.

Many of the hymns that we sing have familiar tunes, but I don't always know the lyrics in English. However, a couple of weeks ago, we sung "How Great Thou Art," which is one of my very favorites, and I could sing it in English. I'm trying to memorize "The Old Rugged Cross," another personal favorite, in Japanese. That's a work in progress.

But even though I can't understand everything at church, I enjoy the fellowship. Just knowing that I'm surrounded by Japanese believers is a comforting thought. :)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Top 10 list of little differences

Of course you already know that there are a lot of differences between Japan and America (as well as several similarities, too -- but that's for another time).

I've written about some of the major differences -- the language, the food and the toilets! But there are other aspects of the culture that make living here a unique experience. Just for fun, I've made a list of the top ten little things about life in Japan that came as surprises to me.

#10. The "Shoes off" policy. I knew before moving to Kuji that I would have to bring a pair of "indoor shoes" with me to each school. Otherwise, I must wear the guest slippers. (The shoes I've been wearing outside are forbidden to go further than the lockers at the front door; this keeps the school cleaner since outside dirt isn't tracked in.) However, I did not know that this rule would apply in my apartment, too. So like everyone else, I never, ever wear shoes inside my place. Fine by me since I don't usually wear shoes inside anway....besides, it keeps things cleaner!

At most of the schools, I have my very own locker for my "outside shoes." (bottom right)

#9. The trash situation. Two mornings a week -- Monday and Thursday for my area -- I carry my trash bags out to the main street and put them under a big, green tarp where everyone else has their trash bags hidden. And if I'm a minute after 8, I'm too late.

#8. The teachers' room. In Japan, the teachers move classrooms, and the students don't. So there's a teachers' room that serves as the "headquarters," where each teacher has a desk. I also have my own desk in the teacher's room at each school. :)

#7. The "Attention, Kuji!" announcements. Every once in a while, the loud speakers that are all over Kuji give the entire city a message. I never understand the Japanese announcements, and no one ever bothers to tell me what's going on, so I don't worry about them. However, one time I was in the office when there was a city announcement, and when I asked Yamadate to translate, he said, "It will rain soon." Great. So yeah, no need to worry about those!

#6. The way I pay my bills. First of all, I can't even read my bills since they're in Japanese! So I always take my bills to the office and ask Yamadate what they say...and where to pay them! You see, my electric and water bills are paid at the local convenience store. (Interesting, huh?) And other bills are paid at City Hall.

# 5. The "sick masks" that people wear. It's apparent when people have a contagious cold beause they wear a mask.(think surgeon mask that covers your nose and mouth). I've been told that during flu season in the winter, people will also wear masks to prevent getting sick.

#4. The common usage of "family names" and the absence of middle names. I'm getting to know people on a last-name basis here. (haha) I sometimes mention my boss, Yamadate. (See #7 & #6 as proof.) Yamadate is actually his "family name," or last name. I don't even know what his first name is since it's never used. Neither is anyone else's! And I just learned on Monday that Japanese people don't have middle names. Tomoki (the boy I tutor) was amazed to learn that I have a middle name! He kept saying it over and over.

#3 The "lunch time is still education time" rule. That's what I was told when I had chips to eat as part of my school lunch at Misaki Jr. High. (As a side note, the chips came from Tomoki and were shrimp flavor.) Ever so politely, the English teacher explained to me that I wouldn't be allowed to eat my chips for lunch because it sets a bad example for the students. I need to teach them to eat nutritional meals! Chips are a snack food. And besides, it's not good for me to eat something that they can't have right in front of them. Fair enough. I couldn't help but think back to my own junior high school lunch experience and the kids who would eat junk food every single day! No wonder America has an obesity problem and Japan doesn't!

I wasn't so sure about Tomoki's shrimp chips at first, but they're actually pretty good! Too bad they're prohibited at school.

#2. The lack of swimming. Where are the swimmers around here? That's what I want to know. I can't believe there is only one swimming pool in all of Kuji. It's an indoor public pool at the top of a mountain, and I plan to go there soon. And I have yet to see someone riding the ocean waves....or even just standing in the ocean. This truly blows me away!
And finally...

#1. The oh-so-generous and polite people! I'd been told by my predecessor how nice the people in Kuji are, but their generosity and politeness have surpassed my expectations. The teachers like to give me things (I recently received apples, which made me very happy); Tomoki likes to bring me things (like the forbidden shrimp chips); and the people at the office give me things, too. (other than direction on where to pay my bills!) Kuji is a nice place to live, and I'm glad I've chosen to make it my "home away from home" for a while. :)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The squid saga continues

I'm starting to think that maybe I could be a contestant on Fear Factor! (You know -- the reality T.V. show that requires brave contestants to eat bizarre things.)

But according to my Japanese friend Kenji, I definitely qualify to join "The Japanese People Society." :) This is because I ate raw squid dipped in squid guts (eeps!), just like Japanese people do.

And the crazy thing is, I really liked it!

I know, I know, you'd think I'd be done with squid since I had a bad experience with the one I boiled in my apartment. But I thought it deserved another chance, especially since it was prepared differently this time.

This squid was lying on a bed of ice, situated next to other sea creatures that had their eyes still intact. Yipes! They'll be staring at me during the whole meal as I sit at this counter right in front of them, eating one of their "friends." Ummm...I did not know this would be the case when I agreed to come to this seafood restaurant!

First, Kenji dared me just to touch the slimy creature. After he put his finger on the squid's eyeball, I decided that it was safe for me to do that, too...

Ok, so far so good. Challenge number two is to actually put it in my mouth and swallow! Kenji agrees to eat the squid if I don't like it, so why not give it a try? I have nothing to lose -- other than maybe the snack I had a couple of hours earlier!

Step 1: The cook picks out my soon-to-be dinner. Keep in mind, this is all happening right in front of me!

Step 2: Off with its head! (This will be smashed and made into a dipping sauce...yum.)

Step 3: Peel off the skin and then slice the meat.

And finally, the finished product! It looks a lot more appetizing than it did at first, huh? I find it easier to eat things that don't have eyes!

To my surprise, I've learned that I'm a fan of this Japanese delicacy. Now that I've "conquered" the squid, I must secure my place in "The Japanese People Society" -- so it's time for challenge number three -- to face my fear and eat an entire little fish, head and all! And yes, that includes the eyes. *Gulp.*

Ok, here it goes...(head first)...

Well, who woulda thought? I like this, too!

It turned out to be a fun dining experience, although I wasn't so sure about the place at first. I found some new foods that I like; I made a new friend (the woman below, who owns the restaurant and kept laughing about my squeamishness!); and I became a member of a "society." Kenji also said that I am the only ALT in Kuji history with the guts (hehe) to try raw squid with the special dip. Fear Factor, here I come!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A weekend of walking and discovering

Recently, you accompanied me while I drove 'round the mountains to three different schools. But this time (since it's the weekend, and there's no school), I thought we could get some exercise and go on a stroll around Kuji together. Sound good?

You might want to grab a jacket since the breeze makes it a little cool. It's feeling like fall now, after all. Let's turn right out of my apartment and walk that way, with no particular destination in mind. You never know what we could discover.

As we get closer to Amber Hall, there seems to be a lot more cars and people around than usual. What in the world is going on around here? We see several tents, and oh look! There's a firetruck for some reason, and we can't help but notice this guy....

It's not every day that you see a giant inflated bear outside of Amber Hall. We learn that we've just entered the "Industrial Festival," where several different organizations and companies are represented. Interesting. I had no idea this was going on this weekend. Those mountain-climbing ALT's don't know what they're missing!

Since I have a nose for food, I've already noticed the tents to the left, where all kinds of different "goodies" are being sold. Let's go over there and see if they're giving out samples. :)

"Konnichiwa!!" It's my friend who sells fish right outside my apartment! *Smile for the camera.*

Looks like she's brought her business to the industrial festival. I really need to practice my Japanese so I can talk to her more. She's such a sweet lady.

And just a few booths down from my friend the fish lady is...mushroom juice!?!

They're giving samples, so I'm going to try it (even though I'm not a big fungi fan). Hmmm...not wonderful, but not horrible, either. My dad would like this!

Now that we've been moseying around all the booths for over an hour, let's head out and explore some new territory in the countryside.

Whoa, it's an American-looking house! And right next door to it is this house...

...which looks like a typical Japanese home, complete with a garden and bicycle.

How are your legs? We've walked for quite a while. The good news is that it's all been flat ground! Isn't it nice walking out in the country, by the rice fields? Now that it's harvest season, sights like these are very common...

Now we're very close to my apartment, but I'm not done exploring yet. I wonder where this staircase leads...

Well what do you know, there's a park up here! What a neat discovery! And there's this cool playground with a funky airplane jungle gym. I also see a couple of my students from Okawame Jr. High School, so I'll go over and attempt to talk with them. :)

Thanks for joining me on my walk; we made some fun discoveries! When I go on walks by myself, I like to listen to my iPod. Just for fun, I'm going to share some of my new favorite songs that I enjoy listening to while I'm strolling. (You can click on the song title to see the music video if you want.)

Must Have Done Something Right by Relient K -- I appreciate the clever lyrics, and I really like the tune. This song makes me smile.

Would You Go With Me? by Josh Turner -- YES, Mr. Good-Looking Amazing Voice Turner, I will gladly go with you! I wouldn't normally consider myself a big fan of country music, but you, sir, are an exception. :)

Proud by Heather Small -- It starts out slow, but it really gets going! "I can feel my sprit rising!" What an uplifting song! Gives me something to think about, too: "What have I done today to make me feel proud?"

Answer = Made some discoveries and got some good exercise by walking!

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm no mountainwoman

I'm writing from the comfort of my lovely loveseat right now instead of huffing and puffing up Mt. Iwate with a group of 30 other assistant language teachers.

At this very moment, they are climbing--with their heavy backpacks on--toward the summit of the highest mountain in Iwate prefecture. They are spending the night in a cabin near the top, then waking up at 4 a.m. tomorrow to go the rest of the way, in order to see the sunrise. I'm sure it's absolutely gorgeous, but I'm content to see the pictures they take.

From what I've been told, the four-hour ascent (which would probably take at least six hours for me!) is treacherous and steep, there is snow at the top of the mountain, and the dangerous descent is especially hard on the knees. Not to mention hiking in the freezing darkness at 4 a.m.!

So thanks for the invitation, friends, but I'll have to pass on this one.

I love a good adventure, but I also know my physical limitations. I enjoy my life and don't want to die this weekend. :) If I had spent months training for this mountain climb, that would be a different story. But not only am I out of shape, I don't have the right equipment. No backpack. No sleeping bag. No hiking boots. So it's a no go. (this year, anyway)

Besides, I can already say that I've climbed a mountain in Japan! Mt. Hakkohdaoahdake, to be exact. (Not that it's easy to say!)

According to Mayla, last weekend's mountain climb was ten times easier than climbing Mt. Iwate! So hearing that reconfirmed my decision to say "No way!" to Mt. Iwate. I thought last weekend's trek was grueling enough! I went up slow and steady with the help of my new best friend for life, Yasu, who was so good about encouraging me and let me borrow his extra pair of gloves. Here's us high-fiving our successful journey to the peak...

I don't think Yasu has ever seen someone so thrilled to be at the top of a mountain! :)

Here are a few more pictures from last weekend...

Group photo at the summit!

Mayla and I pose in front of the scenic background.

So beautiful! The picture didn't capture the sunrays as well as I hoped it would, though. It looked like God was reaching down from heaven. *sigh* Absolutely breath-taking.

I really do love being out in nature. Last weekend's hike was extremely scenic, and although there were some rough spots during the climb, I enjoyed the natural high (literally!) that I got when I stood at the summit. Overall, it was a nice time.

So far, I'm having a good time this weekend. (By the way, it's Saturday evening as I write this, and not Friday like it shows for some odd reason.) I went on a nice, FLAT, mountain-less walk around Kuji today, and it was great. :)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Holding it back

I've lived in Japan for exactly two months.

From the beginning, the adjustment to my Japanese life has been smooth. Now I'm completely used to hearing and seeing Japanese everywhere. I've grown accustomed to driving on the left side of the road. And I don't have problems with the food (for the most part, anyway).

But there's one thing I just can NOT get used to.

The toilets.

I don't think they can even be called toilets, really. "Hole in the floor" is a more appropriate name. When you think about the word "toilet," I imagine that the image of a porcelain chair comes to mind. This is what I've always thought a toilet to be

But now I know that not all toilets are created equal. The image that you have is actually a Western-style toilet. Now let me show you an actual image of a Japanese-style toilet:

I despise this hole that I must squat over. As a female, I feel that it's downright unnatural for me to aim when I'm doing my business.

Unfortunately, there are no Western-style toilets at the office, and three of the four middle schools where I teach don't have one either. So unless I absolutely, desperately have to use the bathroom, I will hold it until I get to my apartment for lunch break.

If I've been holding it back, it's such a beautiful sight to see my Western-style toilet when I run through my front door, I almost burst. (and not just with joy!)

Believe it or not, my apartment toilet even has a seat heater! So it's a special kind of special. I will probably be using that a lot in the winter. Who knows, I might just live in the bathroom and write blog posts from the nice warm seat of my toilet. Ha!

There it is. The toilet in my apartment. What a beauty!

So living in Kuji has made me realize that I've taken Western-style toilets for granted my whole life. I have a new appreciation for flushable toilets with seats. So much of a new appreciation that I decided to do a little research on the subject, to see who I owe my graditute for coming up with the idea of a chair-like toilet.

I discovered that John Harrington is the inventor of the first flushable toilet. I know because I just looked this up in the office, careful not to let anyone see the pictures of toilets that came up on my computer! After all, that might make me flush...err, I mean blush!

To be fair, there are actually several other men involved in the history of the toilet who must share the credit for what a Western-style toilet is today. As an article from Plumbing and Mechanical (my favorite magazine, haha) says, "By the turn of the century, water closet innovations were occurring on a nearly daily basis." Fascinating.

You know, since I've occasionally had no other option but to stoop to the hole toilets (literally) for the past two months, I've been meaning to write about this subject for a while now.

But I've been holding it back. Only appropriate, huh?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Elaborate, Elegant, Exquisite....Excessive.

I wrote about the wonders of wandering the Universe in my last blog post, and now I'm going to portray what it's like to shop at a 15-story department store in Tokyo -- a universe of it's own!

Let me first make it clear that I dislike materialism, I really do. And I've never been one to love shopping. (or "follow the leader" as I called it when I was younger since I tagged along behind Mom.) Shopping gets exhausting quickly, and I don't like spending money.


I admit that it's easy to get caught up in wanting to buy stuff in Tokyo. There are shops all over the place with cutesy and classy merchandise displayed -- the kind of stuff that when you see it, you want it. And many of the women you see shopping look so darn trendy and chic, accessorized to the max and stylin' with their smart hats, high heel fashion boots and big, brand name bags.

But oh, to look like that you have to pay for it. Big time.

Some of the prices I saw in Tokyo blew me away. Check out the gorgeous material above. It looks like the price is $525,000, but since that's in yen and not U.S. dollars, it's really only $5,250. Only. Outrageous, huh?! Maybe it includes real gold thread or something; I don't know. Hmm, I wonder how many struggling families could be helped by that much money? That's just how my mind works, which is why I have problems spending much money on myself.

I thought I wanted to buy a kimono in Tokyo, but not with the price of fabric being so expensive! Honestly, Dana, when would you ever wear one anyway? But gosh, the thought of buying a kimono in Tokyo just sounds cool! And the kimonos on the mannequins (womanequins?) do look lovely. I ended up buying a cheap--but nice-looking--shirt instead. And who knows, maybe I'll find a good deal on a less expensive summer kimono at some point?

These dresses immediately caught my eye. (Why wouldn't they!?) They're princess dresses! So as I usually do when I see aparel I like, I browsed through the rack. Then I noticed the price of the one I had my hands on. $2,000!?! Ohmygoodness, I'm touching it!! I've never touched a $2,000 dress before, and I probably never will again.

On another floor of the department store, I came to the toy section. Actually, it was more than a mere section -- it was a maze of rooms full of toys! As soon as you get off the escalator, a giant "Hello Kitty" greets you. I've never seen so much "Hello Kitty" merchandise in one place in my life. What a child's (and maybe a cat lover's) paradise!

On yet another floor of the store, were several different cafes (ooh la la!) and restaurants. This little tart almost looks too pretty to eat! Almost. But at $7 a slice, I must pass. Dana, just walk away. Take a picture of the beautiful masterpiece, then just say no.

I am proud to say that I resisted temptation. I went shopping in Tokyo and didn't buy a single elaborate, elegant or exquisitely expensive thing, even though I was surrounded by them. It was quite an experience.

But I'm content with my slow pace lifestyle in Kuji, where the women I see shopping don't look like runway fashion models and the most happening place in town is the grocery store!