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Musings of a Gaijin

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 05/10/2007)

Wednesday night  I made modanyaki for the first time.  Well, it was sort of modanyaki.  Modanyaki is Tokyo-style okonomiyaki (cabbage and egg mixed together and cooked round and flat on a grill – the equivalent of pizza).  Modanyaki is extra special okonomiyaki because it has yakisoba mixed in.  Modanyaki a la Quill is just cabbage, eggs, and soba noodles cooked in a frying pan in some sauce.  It’s nothing beautiful, but it tasted great.More...
As I was walking home from the supermarket Wednesday night  I heard a siren and bullhorn approaching from behind.  I turned around to watch a motorcycle speed by closely followed by a cop car.  “Motorcycle 26, please stop.  Stop now.”  The motorcycle zoomed by in the bike lane, dodging all the stopped traffic waiting at the stoplight and the cop car didn’t hesitate to just pull into the oncoming traffic and race down the wrong lane.  Japanese roads are small enough as it is and I can hardly see how they can handle two-way traffic with separate bike lanes.  Well, the cop car decided to make it three lanes and raced right on by, literally only centimeters from cars on both sides.  The motorcyclist was able to go places the cop car wasn’t and I watched him escape down a dark alley.  The cop car switched off its lights and pulled quietly back into the traffic waiting at the stop light and that was the end of that.  I’ve been noticing before how little attention people pay to cops and ambulances but as I looked around, nobody seemed to be paying any attention to what had just happened.  Cops in Japan and the US are about as different as they can get.  Policemen in Japan are extremely helpful but I don’t really know how good they are at enforcing laws.  Every time I pass the Koban (police box) there are a couple of cops in there just chilling.  Sometimes they will stand outside during twilight and stop passing bikes to make sure they turn on their headlights.  There are lots of security guards at important driveways that stand there all day to make sure people cross the street safely.  I actually did see an unmarked police car pull someone over the other day!  I thought it was just a car flashing its headlights but eventually a little red light appeared out the driver’s side window and was placed on the roof.  Cool!  I also watched part of the Japanese version of “Cops,” the tv show.  It was pretty silly because it was a pursuit scene and the whole car they were following was censored with a digital mosaic so it was just like watching a blob move around the screen.

Anyway, Tuesday night at my teaching appointment I talked with my students about the manhole covers in Hirakata.  They explained that there used to be a large boat that carried passengers from Kyoto down the Yodogawa to Osaka Bay.  Hirakata is about halfway between Osaka and Kyoto and the boat would stop there for awhile.  When they pulled in, many small boats filled with merchants and their wares would come up next to them and offer them food.  According to Tokimori-san, they would say “Kurawanka?” which is no longer used anymore in modern Japanese but might be translated as “Wouldn’t you try some?”

I’ve started listening to Japanese radio and I think it’s really helping my listening comprehension.  One thing that surprised me was how many English songs they play here.  Not only that, I hear French rap every now and then.  Of course there is lots of Japanese music too but the best part is listening to the DJs.  They sound just like DJs in the US except they talk even more and of course they’re speaking in Japanese.  Advertisements and jingles are just as ridiculous as they are in the US.  I listened to some sort of news program the other morning and they were talking about something happening in Mozambique.  I didn’t understand much of it but I heard lots of country names like South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Rwanda, and Rhodesia (which I think is the old name of Mozambique).  I heard the word “daitouryou” also which means president.  Anyone know what’s going on there right now?  There was also an advertisement for some sort of event coming up called “Samurai Kyoto!” and whatever it was it was expensive.

And now a word on cars in Japan.  There are all sorts of tiny cars and trucks, hardly larger than a golf cart, which is good considering the size of the roads and parking spots.  Parking spots are ridiculously expensive and during the day it is common to see 200yen per half-hour rates.  During the night the rates drop to 100yen per hour for the night.  I saw a Subaru rally car driving along the other day just like a normal car and behind him was a guy wearing a kimono riding a Vespa.  People drive backwards tricycles here too with the double wheels in the front.  Pachinko parlours usually have huge parking lots next to them and I think you can park there for free as long as you play some pachinko.

I’ve got lots more to say about this week so look forward to the next installment!

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