I am currently on vacation and will return to reply to comments and provide new content later. Until then, please enjoy an excess of doodles and comics about my daily life in the San’in region. See you in mid January!

One of the things you learn very early on about Japan is that walls are thin and sound travels.

That said, I don’t really have much of a problem with it, especially since I live around a bunch of fellow CIRs (which is fun). They say they don’t typically hear me singing in my kitchen unless they’re walking by, but I wonder if that’s a lie. After all, I met my neighbor’s mother one time when she was visiting, and she complimented my moon-viewing poetry reading. N-n-n-nobody was supposed to be able to hear that!!

When people ask me what is difficult about using Japanese, I usually tell them that talking on the phone is hard. This is for good reason–when you’re talking face to face, there are non-verbal cues to help you along in communication. However, you can only hope for a good connection on the phone so you can hear every syllable, including the crucial verb conjugation at the end of the sentence which will dictate the entire meaning of the sentence! What’s more, if it’s someone you don’t know, they’ll likely be using hefty of amounts of keigo–very formal Japanese–which even young native speakers have trouble using before they enter the work force.

It’s one thing when the person on the other line is someone I know, but customer service lines can prove especially challenging. Besides using keigo, they are usually talking about subject matter I rarely use in my daily life, and since this is what they work with every day, they tend to speak very, very fast, and many phrases tend to run together into single words. This is not just a Japan thing–based on personal experience on both ends of the phone, I’m willing to bet this is a world-wide trend for any kind of call center. I can’t fault the other party too much–if I had just been able to distinguish a few key pieces of information dropped throughout the course of the call, I could have saved us both a lot of time and confusion. Some things you only learn through experience.

On the other hand, I usually don’t have any difficulties with every day exchanges and errand running, so I sometimes forget that I look like I may not understand everything going on around me. I was thoroughly confused when someone made a chopstick gesture in the air at a grocery store, and I wondered why in the world she would be bringing up something about scissors.

That said, I really appreciated the person on the other line when I called my gas company. He asked if Japanese was okay, I said yes, and then he used normal Japanese–speaking in a clear voice at a normal pace. Sometimes that’s all non-native speakers of any language could ask for!

Twice a year, Japan does a nationwide traffic safety campaign. As part of the campaign in Matsue, the police bring in guests to help pass out information pamphlets and reminders to motorists. Maybe we aren’t as exciting as the Susanoo Magic basketball team that was brought in before, but we at least turn a few heads (Mikopi-kun helped with that).

We were told afterward that it was a very lucky day–the weather held out and the wind died down long enough for everything to do the roadside campaign, and there wasn’t a single traffic accident reported the whole day.

May this entry serve as a reminder to everyone, both in and outside of Japan: Obey traffic laws, don’t drive too fast, and always remember to buckle your safety belt!!

Looks like I’ll be eating 和食 (Japanese cuisine) for Christmas this year!

The typical Japanese way to celebrate Christmas is by eating Christmas Cake (a very pretty, very expensive sponge cake that doubles in size when you add whip cream and strawberries), which kids are very surprised to find out is not an American tradition (eating KFC on Christmas is also more a Japan-born tradition). I celebrated this year by doing four Christmas presentations, including one cooking class.

Unfortunately I cannot yet tell you what they taste like. Maybe next year.

I had my heart set on handing out candy canes to the kids at that one, but I soon discovered that candy canes are really, really hard to find in Japan, even at the import grocery store (at least I found chocolate coins there). I had hoped to see some closer to Christmas, but no such luck.

Thankfully there is a wonderful ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) in the area who had the foresight to make a bulk order for her own students, and she was nice enough to give me enough to hand out as well. Sure, they aren’t essential, but it made cultural exchange just as little sweeter!

Merry Christmas, everyone! I’ll post a New Years greeting card next week!

Mascots are a very normal part of daily life in Japan. Each prefecture has their own mascot (and they compete for the best mascot prize every year), companies and organizations will have their own mascots, cities will have their own mascots, even certain aspects of cities will have their own mascots–as is the case with Peony-chan, who represents Matsue’s… well… peonies. Their reputation may already proceed them, though. According to the Japan Times on 11/20/12, “Sales of peonies from Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, are booming in Vladivostok after hitting the market in Russia’s Far East in 2009, virtually selling out every year because of their variety of colors and longevity.” The day Peony-chan came to visit, she was preparing for a trip to Taiwan.

Matsue peonies are especially well known on Daikonshima, where they can be seen all year round–though I’ve heard early May is the best time to see them. That’s when I’m planning on going! The other flower that represents Matsue is the tsubaki (camellia), which I’m looking forward to seeing around the castle in winter.


While this is the only mascot of this size to pay a visit to my office, I don't see Peony-chan in my daily life as often as I see, say, Appare-kun, the PR champion of Matsue Castle!

Unlike most mascots he’s human(esque) and has a more varied set of expressions than just “happy” and “super happy”, but like most mascots, he can be made into any kind of product, especially edible ones.

I haven’t run into him in person yet, but I have seen his bride Shijimi-hime, based on a Shijimi clam (a specialty product of the area. Most of the Shijimi clams consumed in Japan come from Lake Shinji). This kind of encounter is also completely normal.

There is no mascot I see as often as Shimanekko.

Get it? Shimane (prefecture) as a neko (cat)? And notice the visual reference to Izumo Taisha, with the roof architecture and the shimenawa rope? You noticed that all, right? Of course you did.

Even if you didn’t, you can’t visit Shimane without noticing Shimanekko. Besides Shimanekko on the face of products from pencils to hand towels to cookies to bouncy castles in every place from rest stops to places of legend to your neighborhood convience store, there is also a Shimanekko dance.

Shimanekko and Appare-kun are so popular that they even get drilled with questions about whether or not they are friends and star in commercials for candy companies.

Furthermore, have you heard of the Yura-Chara Grand Prix? I didn’t until very recently either, but apparently many thousands of people did, and they voted for their favorite mascot characters. Out of over 860 entries in 2012, Shimanekko took 6th place! Good job being cute, Shimanekko!

There’s usually something different printed on my yogurt lid every morning, but this one made me laugh.

This is called an omikuji. It may be safe to say they inspired the modern fortune cookie.

You can typically find them in any Shinto shrine (or Buddhist temple), and pay a hundred yen or so to draw a number, and then receive a corresponding fortune. They usually range from “little luck” to “great luck” (with the infamous “bad luck” or “curse” every so often–the first two times I tried omikuji, they were both bad luck!). The rest of the paper will usually have a more detailed fortune about love, money, health, and what not, but the overall luck rating is a very easy theme to imitate. There are countless promotions and toys and things to buy that will randomly assign a luck rating.

Interestingly enough, it seems Izumo Taisha doesn’t print overall luck ratings like the aforementioned, but they will say something breifly about your wishes coming true (願望), your public works (土木), marriage prospects (結婚), illnesses (病気), moving/relocation (移転), finding lost items (失物), trade (売買), feng shui direction (方位), travel (旅行), as well as some overall advice for the year, perhaps about specific things to try or avoid. While other omikuji I’ve seen may drabble on about these topics to make them general enough to fit any one, Izumo Taisha is refreshingly direct: “You won’t find it. You have the advantage. East is good. Good.”

I’ve always heard conflicting instructions about what to do with an omikuji: “take it with you for good luck!” or “don’t take it out of the shrine!” or “you have to tie it here to dispell the bad luck!” or “don’t tie it here, or it will come true!” or “if you don’t tie it here, it won’t come true!” Frankly, I think you’re only half-way partaking in omikuji customs if you don’t tie it at the shrine. It seems that in general, leaving it at the shrine will dispell bad luck and increase good luck–the thought on bad luck being that if you tie it to a pine (matsu: 松) tree, the bad luck will wait (matsu: 待つ) there at the shrine instead of following you. Given how many omikuji you see at any given shrine and how comparatively few curses there are, I’m thinking most of the good luck waits at the shrines, too.

My yogurt says I have great luck, and that good things will happen today. Perhaps to make that come true I merely have to sort my garbage/recyclables correctly. What I find funniest is the necessary disclaimer at the bottom: “This has nothing to do with an advertising campaign.”