A Typhoon, An Earthquake, and Record High Heat!

Trip Start Mar 15, 2004
Trip End Apr 16, 2005

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Thursday, July 29, 2004

Hello! I hope this message finds you all happy and healthy and enjoying the summer. We have a two week summer vacation coming up, so I thought I should send an update now so you can have two small ones instead of one huge one!

Being Canadian, I can't resist discussing the weather, so please bear with me as I dwell on this a bit before getting into some of the more interesting things we've been doing lately (sumo, bike trip, etc.). Last month we experienced our first typhoon! It was actually a bit disappointing - just like a big windy rainstorm really (not sure what, exactly, I was expecting). Our school was too late in making the decision to cancel classes, so we were both forced to walk to the subway station during the peak of the storm. Both of our umbrellas were mutilated within seconds - the death toll is up to five (at least). I abandoned mine in some garage (after a bit of cursing) and, of course, Kyle dragged his back home so he can take a picture of it for posterity. I shall remember mine as a brave warrior who was pitted against a foe much more powerful than itself. By the time the typhoon was done with it it was unrecognizable - the material was missing, the spokes turned in every direction, and the shaft completely bent. The winds were so strong that at one point I was nearly knocked over (no wonder no Japanese people were out and about, they would have washed away in no time, they're so light). When I reached the subway station I could literally squeeze the water out of my drenched clothes (I stayed damp for the rest of the day, which was really gross). Apparently another typhoon is heading directly towards Japan - ETA: Friday. Japanese are unbelievably terrible at predicting the weather though, so who knows. Usually when the weather calls for rain it is perfectly sunny, and vice versa. Japanese online newspapers don't even link to weather forecasts, the weather reporting is that bad.

We also experienced our first earthquake the other night! We were lying down watching a movie, and were just gently rocked from side to side. It was kind of soothing actually! We were wondering what it could have been (again, not exactly meeting our earthquake expectations) and confirmed yesterday that it was in fact a quake.

So, the rainy season is officially over in Japan, which is really nice. We only had two or three days of rain which is unusual. People assure us that there usually is a legitimate reason for labelling that time of year the "rainy season". The bad news is that summer is now in full swing, so the mercury is really, really, really soaring. According to many, this is one of the hottest summers ever. Nagoya and Osaka get hotter than other areas of Japan because they are situated between mountains, so all the humidity never leaves. Kyle and I have submitted to the very popular hand-towel-around-the-neck fashion style, and rarely leave home without them. I think it really makes the statement "I'm a hot, sticky, sweaty, uncomfortable foreigner who can't acclimate to this freaking hot weather and please stop starring at me" loud and clear. I used to think the idea of using one of these towels was revolting, but now the thought of leaving home without my sweat towel is scary to me. Today the heat was 40 degrees with 56% humidity. Ew. Most women are so paranoid about the sun they wear sun block 24/7, wear gloves, and either carry parasols or attach full on face shields to their hats to protect themselves. They warn us to "be careful of the UV" frequently. For the first time in my entire life, I'm actually looking forward to winter!

Well, that's enough about the weather I guess. Maybe talking about food is more interesting. The food situation has gotten much better for us - we are slowly learning about restaurants that serve food we enjoy. We still have the occasional issues (for example when I asked Kyle to go out for flour and he came home with pancake mix, or, even better, when I asked Kyle to go out for vinegar and he came back with apple juice!) but on the whole we are enjoying the food here. Recently a few friends have had some traumatic food experiences. The other day a teacher told me that he was invited to a Japanese friend's house for dinner. To impress him they served very fresh shrimp. With the skillet set to high they plopped a large live shrimp on ... whole. He said he just watched it in horror as it twitched and bounced around. At one point a piece of lettuce fell over it's face and it started frantically trying to beat the lettuce of with it's little arms before it finally died ... and then he ate it (and said it was very scrumptious). Yesterday some of our roommates had some extremely fresh sashimi (which is just a massive hunk of raw fish). The fish was killed by simple cutting it open and separating the meat from its spinal cord - on the spot. For presentation, a piece of lettuce was placed between the still-alive fish and its meat so they didn't have to watch the fish watch them in horror as they ate it. How appalling.

Fish heads are considered a garnish here - I still don't understand how this can possibly trigger an appetite - I'm constantly asking myself, "what about plain-old parsley flakes?". To make things look more appealing they plop a severed fish head (everything, usually involving lips agape in a screaming-for-its-life fashion, and blank staring lifeless eye balls) in a bowl of soup or on the side of a plate. Every day we ride past a restaurant displaying a huge poster advertising a bowl of what looks to me to be about 10 different kinds of guts and a giant fish head on the side. Under the poster, sitting on a very hot steamy windowsill is an assortment of octopus tentacles, fish heads, fish bodies, etc. I'll get a picture one of these days and post it. There is always hot hair blowing onto the sidewalk that smells of dead seafood parts, so I always ride past with my mouth closed - from experience this is the only way to successfully make my way past without dry heaving).

We have so far been spared from cockroaches, but we were swarmed with flying biting flea-type things not too long ago. We thought we would beautify and purchased a lovely little plant ... turns out it was so cheap because it was infested. We lit several bug bombs so now everything is better. Our neighbours said they came home one day and saw a giant mouse-sized cockroach roaming around so we are counting ourselves lucky. The other night, after finishing a very satisfying meal at a local Mexican restaurant we spotted a cockroach meandering along the wall. Not exactly a nice way to finish dinner. I'm not sure if we'll ever go back.

We have managed to get out and about quite a bit in July. Earlier this month we visited the Higashiyama Zoo in Nagoya. As all zoos tend to be, it was a bit depressing seeing so many beautiful animals caged up. This zoo is particularly poor - the animals have unbelievably small cages, and are kept in a way that forces them to be active during boiling hot days. Things like keeping the elephants out in the sun with no shade and no water, so all they can do is pace around going crazy. It's really kind of sad. The Metro Toronto Zoo is way better.

Three weeks ago we went to see a sumo tournament. It was awesome! I don't think I've seen that many bums and boobs in one place before! The whole event was so entertaining, mostly because we have no idea what exactly is going on. Sumo levels are determined by skill, not by size, so unless you know the wrestlers, it's hard to tell if the bigger but slow sumo or the smaller but agile sumo will win. Before the action happens the wrestlers spend about 5 minutes "intimidating" each other. This involves slapping their bums and wiping their bellies and boobies off with a towel. They also squat and bend quite a bit, and stomp (sway from one foot to the other) and throw salt (to purify the mound against the evil charms of women). Just when you think something's going to happen, they stand up and start the intimidation rituals all over again. When they actually get into the wrestling, it lasts about 5 seconds and then it's all over - single elimination style. As this is going on, boys are walking up and down the aisles selling beer and bento boxes. It's great. We got the really cheap seats (bleachers), but most of the seating in the stadium is the sit cross-legged kind, each spot with its own cushion. The whole tournament was great fun.

Two weekends ago we took a bike trip to a town called Irago with three friends. We rode down a peninsula near Nagoya (Chita Handa peninsula) and then hopped on a ferry to cross over to the Irago peninsula. The ride there was not bad at all - it was a cloudy day and we left early so we didn't get killed by the heat and sun. The Irago peninsula is east-west facing, so the waves were pretty fun to play around in. Japanese are generally not too keen on swimming, and apparently totally avoid the "dangerous" waves in Irago - meaning we pretty much had a really nice beach all to ourselves. The first night we just set up shop and tried to go to bed early. Sleeping was really difficult because, well, we were camping! Does camping every yield a positive sleeping experience? Right before I went to bed an unidentified humongous slimy flying/jumping bug/lizard thing made its way onto my arm. That was what finally coaxed me into the sauna we called a tent. Since there was no breeze at all in the tent, I basically spent the entire night sweating and waiting for morning to come. Kyle and I were up to see the sunrise which was really cool (the little movie clip I posted is probably the best thing I included in this update, but it's 6MB, so it may take a while to see). We saw about five fishermen setting up for the day. Kyle whipped out his camera and had a nice little photo session with one of the fishermen, who ended up offered him a beer and eventually his first catch of the day (which Kyle declined). Kyle has about 5,000 pictures of this man, so I'm sure you'll see him in his next update!

On the second day, we found a nicer spot on the beach and set up again. We spent the day swimming and trying to escape the searing heat and sunshine. The new spot had a really nice breeze so we were able to enjoy a nice fire and have a decent sleep that night.

On the following morning Kyle and I were the only ones who were up for riding back to Nagoya. One person in our group (Chris from Seattle) had gear problems, one girl got sick (Jane from Toronto), and one was suffering from a bit of sun stroke (Chris from Toronto). They hopped on a train at the bottom of the Chita Handa peninsula. The weather was definitely not kind to us that day. The temperature reached a record high in Tokyo (perhaps where we were as well), there were no clouds in the sky, and as luck would have it the wind was super strong and blowing directly into our faces the entire way (the wind was so strong we had to pedal even to go downhill!). I did have three meltdowns on the way back. One because I rode directly into a concrete pole (I was riding with my head really low to keep the sun out of my eyes, and for some reason Japanese city planners thought it would be a good idea to start putting the poles in the middle of the sidewalk). I was more upset about the shock than the actual pain of smashing into the pole. I caught some drivers laughing at me as they drove past, which also hurt my ego a bit. The second meltdown was because of the heat ... we pulled over and I slept on the sidewalk for a couple of minutes because I was feeling dizzy. The third was when I thought we were five minutes away from home and we were in fact 10! The sidewalks here are raised, so every time you reach an intersection you have to go (smashing) down to road level and then back up to sidewalk level after you've crossed. Normally it's not so bad at all, but after six hours of that my arms didn't feel like they had the strength to take it any more ... but of course, they did and I was just being a big suck. Kyle was really good about keeping his pace down to my level! The trip back was a lot of work, and it wasn't exactly what I would describe as a "fun" experience, but I'm glad we did it. In total we rode 165kms there and back.

So we have both been working really hard at our two jobs and are really looking forward to our summer vacation (August 5 to 18). We are going to do some sightseeing around Japan. For about $130CAD we get 10 full-day passes to go anywhere we want in Japan using the Japan Rail local trains. Since we have two weeks we have the time to mess around with the local train system. The price is really a fantastic deal and we are lucky to be able to spend so little on transportation. We don't have any solid plans right now, but we are seriously thinking about Nagano (to escape some of the heat), maybe Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Hokkaido (northern island). Who knows.

I don't really have anything else exciting to say so I'll be off. I hope I didn't bore you with my stories, and I hope you enjoy the pictures! Cross your fingers for a typhoon for us, so we can have a day off work! Just kidding (kind of).

Take care of yourselves and enjoy the summer! We miss and think about you all the time.
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