A Very Engrish Tourist Weekend

Long distance friends are complicated. Some people freak out about friending people on Facebook they don’t know in real life, and rightly so. Who knows… the person could Google Map your house and rob you… or worse.


Daibutsu-san says: You shall not pass!

The trouble is, when you relocate to Japan, all of your friends become long distance friends, so you have to find ways to overcome your inexplicable anxiety of making friends that would be long distance if you weren’t in Japan. The easiest way to do that: beg your Asian Studies major friend for help, get put into touch with a friend of his, and boom. You have an instant contact in Japan, an acquaintance who visits Nara with three of her friends and you all become… friends.

Or you get kidnapped.

Shika Snacks

Kidnapping: Almost as scary as a starving shika!

In my case, it happened to be both. Lauren, a friend of my friend, brought two friends with her: Kate and Annica. By our powers combined, we had mango apple soft serve ice-cream, wandered around Nara Koen, and had a good time being annoying-as-hell gaijins. And we played the role of tourists quite well. We fed the shika, of course, and we visited Daibutsu-san, which is an incredible experience I plan to have again.

We also ate lunch at Pinocchio’s, an Italian (etc.), very western-style restaurant on Sanjo Dori. The food was good, but we did find some LOL-esque things in the menu…

Menu Fail 1

“Bowl of rice with something.” It’s like Spam: we know it’s something. We just don’t know what!

Menu Fail 2

“…with some kind of sauce and cheese.” Two things: 1) What is the unknown: sauce, cheese, or sauce AND cheese? 2) WC Mode ON. This seems a little vague to me. Can you be more specific?











And don’t get me started on spelling.


One of these things is not like the other… For the record, Crrry sounds Grrrreat.

In all seriousness, Pinocchio has good food. If you’re feeling like you need a taste of the west… or the east… you should go.

From there, on our way back from Nara Koen, the conversation went a little something like this:

Lauren: Oh, by the way, we’re kidnapping you.

Me: Eh?

Lauren: And we won’t take no for an answer.

Me: Eh? But–

Lauren: No buts.

Me: H…hai… ;_;””

And so went my first kidnapping. We hopped a train to Kyoto, then went to a game center not far from Kizugawa. During this trip, I learned the following lessons:

  1. Starbucks is so much better in Japan.
  2. I cannot DDR worth a lick anymore.
  3. Karaoke is awesome.
  4. I apparently have the single greatest hidden talent of all time: riding a mechanical bull. And it was totally worth five days of cripping around like a ninety-year-old man.
Mechanical Bull

For the record, I maintained my decency courtesy of leggings.

My kidnappers dropped me off at the train station the next morning with expertly written instructions on how to get home without getting completely and hopelessly lost (unfortunately, one of my not-so-hidden “talents). It was really sad leaving them behind, but alas… I wanted to get back to Nara soon enough to write a few lesson plans, which I had totally neglected to do and which I could not do on the train because I was stupid enough to bring the books AND the blanks, but not the actual materials for the courses. I enjoyed the train ride and realized I already had a horrible case of Stockholm Syndrome. Until next time, I’ll remember being pissed about the absence of F.U.N.’s “We Are Young” on the karaoke machine, failing so epically at DDR that even the beginner level was excruciatingly challenging, and sleeping on a floor that was surprisingly more comfortable than my own futon.


Japanese Lesson 1: Take Everything with a Dab of Wasabi

There are some moments when you just have to look like a complete idiot.

Today, I moved into my apartment (I am writing this the day I moved in, even though it wasn’t posted until later). It’s a nice place… a regular little rabbit hole. The bedroom is spacious, but the kitchen is pretty small. Nonetheless, it’s the place I’m going to call home, so I’m making the best of it. Two minor panic attacks and three hours later, I have finally finished unpacking, so I sit down to plan my lessons and wait for someone to deliver my futon.

Three more hours later, I am still waiting. It’s 8:30 pm. The branch school closes at 9:00. What am I supposed to do?

I settle on venturing out. I need a good rest tonight so I can be at the top of my game tomorrow. I slip on a pair of shoes and begin trying to track down the nearest payphone, carrying nothing but my inert iPad, my wallet, a map of to the school with the school’s phone number, and a sheet of paper I got for the train ride with a very useful phrase on it:


Koushuu denwa wa doko desu ka?

(Where is a payphone?)

On my way out, I see my mailbox is glutted with coupons. I reach in to dig them out, then draw back. Wonderful. I have cut my finger deeply on a mailbox. I have no band-aids, and no antiseptic (I am not man enough to  try the cherry-blossom hand sanitizer on my table/desk). So, now I have to find a payphone and a band-aid. I walk around sucking the blood off of my finger, and I eventually find a Lawson by the train station. They have no payphone, but I still buy band-aids partly to show my gratitude, and partly because the girl helping me kept saying daijobu (are you okay). I bandage myself up and keep going. I’ve only got twenty minutes before the branch school closes.

A 7-Eleven by the train station proves equally useless. The clerk seemed a little rude when I asked her if she spoke English, but perhaps it was simply my frame of mind. Another failed attempt later, I am on to the Nara Information Center. The woman there was kind, and she pointed me to a payphone just outside.

By now, I am of course flustered beyond all reason and praying for someone who speaks English to answer the phone. A few seconds later, I am explaining my situation to one of the teachers there, who says, “Okay. Can you call back in five minutes?” I begrudge the loss of yen, but I really don’t have a choice. I need a futon to sleep on.

I try to call home. No luck. I can’t figure out how to exactly. I take a walk around the plaza in front of the office, contemplating dinner and lesson plans. Five minutes later, I call back and receive a rather bizarre request: “The company did not answer, but can you come to the branch school?”

This is a joke, right? Some sick, twisted little delusion I’ll wake up from in five minutes. It’s Nara at 9:00 pm, and I have the navigational skills of a blind, deaf, and dizzy cockroach. It’s dark. I can barely read the map. Am I lost? I’m lost. I’m so lost. It’s hopeless.

And then, there comes a little ray of light. No. I’m not lost. I’m walking the right way; I just don’t recognize anything. I can’t read names, but I can count traffic lights.

And thus, by an ingenious stroke, I wind up discovering that I am not entirely inept at navigating Japan, and I am now one futon closer to a good rest.

These are the kind of things you have to laugh about. One of my fellow trainees said her goal in Japan was to enjoy every moment. I confess I didn’t enjoy feeling lost. I enjoyed realizing that I wasn’t lost at all.

Just another day in Japan and another dab of wasabi.