Two weeks ago, there was a class that got cancelled. We had a safety drill instead. Ah! you say, It’s good to know Japan has fire drills! Or tornado or earthquake drills! These are important things!

It wasn’t a fire drill, or an earthquake drill, or a tornado drill. It was a drill we never had in my schools, in fact: this had nothing whatsoever to do with natural disasters.

This was a “What to do in the event that a stranger forcibly enters the school” and featured kids and teachers waiting in the gym while male teachers ran around with metal implements to trap the intruder. These metal tools were sort of like aluminum pitchforks, with the center tines removed – wide enough to fit around most torsos, keeping the person beyond arms’ length and pinning them against a wall.

We had a Tuesday off because it was Showa Day (possibly the birthday of the Showa Emperor? Not really sure) so I went with one of my fellow ALTs to Tonami, where they’re having a huge tulip festival. Tonami, apparently, is the tulip capital of Japan, and wow. They really deserve to be. There were more different kinds of tulips there than I could ever have imagined existing. Not just colors, though they did have them in every shade of the rainbow, including some gorgeous dark purple ones that were nearly black, and lots of variegated varieties. No, they had tulips with petals that were feathered, with heads that were long and narrow, with blossoms that opened like poppies. They had tulips that were doubles that had as many petals as a peony, they had small ones the size of a bite size candy bar and huge ones bigger than my fist. It was incredible.

Also, they had people dressed in tulip mascot costumes, which was super awesome in a dorky, Disney-ish sort of way.

Sadly, I forgot my camera at home. However, I did have my phone, which has a shitty camera inside, and the friend that came with me took some pictures, which I still have to get from her.

I didn’t do too much for Golden Week. I went into Takaoka, and if it had been a nicer day I’d have checked out the Zuiriuji Temple – it’s supposed to be some sort of national treasure, and I’ve got a free ticket, so I’m definitely going there at some point. However, it was raining, which isn’t really good photo weather, so I went to a big department store called Daiwa instead. I found the International Center on one of the top floors, but given that it was a national holiday it was closed. Still, now I know where it is, and I had fun looking through the department store too. They’ve got a section in the basement of the store with food, which I’d heard people raving about. I think they were actually talking about the Daiwa in Toyama City, but the one in Takaoka was still nice.

There are lots of different sections selling stuff that was imported or a little exotic, and fancy sweets to buy if you’re on vacation, and hot takeout food.

It was a little disappointing though: for all that it had nice things, it wasn’t that different from being, y’know, a really nice grocery store. The way people talked about it though, I had imagined something more like… the food section at Harrods.

Which, okay, shut up, is totally an unfair comparison. Harrod’s is one of a kind. Not to mention, the things that British people consider important at their high end groceries – 8 billion kinds of cheese, fancy pastries, attractive if somehow also unappealing terrines – aren’t exactly the kinds of things that Japanese people are leaping out of their seats to buy. Cheese is really … not that popular here.

It kind of makes me want to die, actually, that their cheese options are so .. pitiful. I mean really. Much as I could never move to New Zealand because of their ridiculously expensive book prices, I can never move to Japan permanently because of their utter utter lack of delicious cheeses. I would slice off a toe for one of those giant wedges of asiago.

Still, unfair comparisons to internationally famous institutions aside, the Daiwa was fun. And I’ll have to check out the one in Toyama City, to see if that’s got anything better.

One Tuesday, I hung out with the geography teacher at one of my schools. She has very good English – she’s been to Portland, OR, actually – and she suggested we hang out over Golden Week if I didn’t have other plans. I thought, actually, that we’d be going drinking, but instead we walked to her house (she lives very close to me, actually, like three blocks away) and I met her parents, and then we drove into Takaoka so she could show me the Library and the Aeon department store. (They have a yarn store! I WILL BE STRONG. I WILL NOT SPEND ALL MY MONEY AT THE YARN STORE.) Her parents were very nice, and gave me homemade bread because they are awesome.

On Wednesday, when I went back to school, I had two classes at the Junior High, and my first two classes at the Elementary school. I was totally intimidated by the thought of small crazy children, but it turns out that the classes were really really fun.

I wouldn’t want those classes every day, because I can tell already that you have to be really energetic and in a good mood. The kids feed off your energy, and if you’re excited or can fake it they will be, but if you’re not, they really won’t be. It turns out, incidentally, that the trick to working well with kids is to act like a total moron. They love it.

I also found that the English teachers at elementary schools … don’t exactly have a lot of English. Like, I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be doing, and we had a difficult time coming to a mutual understanding of what my lesson would be. Given that for the first time ever, I had the whole lesson to myself, this … could have been a bad thing. But between the charades, and the fact that you have to go over things a LOT more with elementary kids than JH, it worked out really well. Also, I got to do my introduction again, and nothing wins kids over faster than demonstrating things like “I don’t like spiders because they scare me” and “I don’t play baseball because I’m really bad at it” in over the top, exaggerated ways.

I knew that acting would come in handy some day.

Then, for mysterious reasons (read: the kids were on a school trip so there were no classes) I had Thursday and Friday off as well. This was fun, but it would really have been nice if they’d, y’know, put those days together. I could have gone somewhere away from Imizu.

On Thursday, a different ALT and I went into Toyama. She needed to talk to some people at a travel agency, so I tagged along. After that, we went to a shopping center – not the Toyama Daiwa, a different one – and we ogled clothing that we had very little intention of buying. I did buy a short sleeved sweater, because it turns out that I’m wearing my long sleeved pink one A LOT but it’s getting just a touch warm for the long sleeves. Also, it was on sale! It’s a nice top – soft enough to wear without an undershirt if I want to (but not to school, because it’s too low for that) but also good for pairing with a tank top or a sleeveless shell for summer days at school. Also, it’s a good color!

A lot of the stores were really expensive, and really, most of the stuff I’m not even tempted by – it’s all too small, because almost everything is sort of One Size Fits All! which is such a bad plan, except for how it actually works here in Japan because OMG, they’re all SO GODDAMN SMALL. So I see something, and think “Oh, cute!” and then hold it up and realize “ahh, yes, this skirt will hold ONE THIGH.”

Some of the salespeople were really persistent though, even as I was showing them how the clothing would OBVIOUSLY NOT FIT, (Me: chisai des! (small) See? I have breasts! Saleslady: Ah! Stretch! Me: Yeah, it’s nowhere near that stretchy.) Every now and then, there would be something that fit – there was a skirt that was nice, and the saleslady was pretty talented at making a “look” for me – the skirt was kind of puffy, so she found a belt to cinch in the shirt I was already wearing, and yeah, the outfit was pretty nice. Still, the skirt was 6000Y and the belt was 3400Y, and there was just no way in hell that I was spending that kind of money.

Sadly, I haven’t found a good store for clothing yet. I mean, okay, some of the stuff at that shopping center was reasonable because it was on sale, but .. that’s hard to count on. The place next to me that has clothing is cheap, but … it is cheap both in price and in quality, sadly, and I really don’t like anything they have. It’s all either really thin jersey with bad hemming or scratchy sweater-y things, with a huge variety of “sweater with fake collared shirt attached” thrown in.

So Friday, I was again thinking of going to the temple, except that then the same ALT I went to the tulip festival called, because she’d been hit by a car, and she was hurt and in shock so I called up Interac and got them to call her because she wasn’t really thinking very well and was trying to talk to the guy who knocked her off her bike except that while ordinarily her Japanese is very good, she’d just been hit so she was having some trouble. I waited for her call to let me know she was okay, and then she needed some help getting around – she hurt her knee, so she’s not walking that well – because she had to pick up her bike from the school and check for damages, and go to the police station to file a report. We wrangled her bike into my car, though the trunk wouldn’t really close, and I hung around until around six or seven, at which point I was starving so I went home. (She really needed to just take some pain killers and pass out anyway.)

Today, it is suddenly freezing – like, maybe 60 degrees! in May! It’s been more like 75 and 80 lately – which I didn’t realize before I went to watch the Lion Dance. It was, fortunately, very close to where I live, maybe a 10-15 minute walk. I got lots of good pictures, and my FJH was there – her son was performing – and I’m going back tonight because they’re performing again with torches this time. (I’ll be a lot more warmly dressed, though.)

It’s cool to see the dances here. When you go to, say, Chinatown in Boston or Chicago, and they’re having some sort of festival, there’s always a sense of gravity and importance to the whole thing. An air of “We are representing Our Culture in a Foreign Land, and it is Serious Business.” Today? The performers were kids, and they were just dancing through the streets, and people didn’t really care though they would take a moment to throw open their windows and watch from the balconies. Two of the performers were small boys, and there were a couple adults whose job was to wrangle them – to make sure they were there at the right time and hand them the right props to “fend off” the “lion.” The musicians – two guys with one big drum and some flute players – weren’t in costume, though they looked like they were having a good time. It reminded me a lot of my old dance recitals. And there was nothing about those that meant Serious Business.

I think I’ll make pasta with meat sauce tonight. I’m basically out of my Mutter Paneer. It came out kind of funny, but was better the next couple days, and I’ll have to tweak the recipe and try again. Also, Doug, you didn’t mention how much milk it takes to make not much cheese. I was disappointed, and had to make a second batch. It was a pain!

Happy Mother’s Day, mom! (I told you I would post!)