Jonas's travels: Sapporo, October
Atrocious spelling ahead!
Since I use a laptop (weird keyboard layout and really small keys) with Japanese keyboard layout (even weirder than normal), many typing mistakes are made. If you feel the need to impress me with your proof reading skills, feel free to send e-mails to the address printed further down.
Japan, the country where they have more bureaucracy than in Sweden. I moved to Sapporo to do some research and hopefully learn some Japanese. Unfortunately, the deadline for applications to the Japanese course had passed (almost one whole week late) when I arrived, so there was absolutely no possibility at all to take Japanese courses at the university...
Off to an excellent start, the luggage did not travel to the same destination as I did. After filling out some "my luggage is missing"-forms, I was the only traveler left at the airport. This meant that there were plenty of customs agents to check what little luggage I had left, so all my chocolate boxes where x-rayed and so on. The second picture shows all the things I had with me, the clothes I was wearing and some chocolate. Excellent. This shows the kind of forward thinking person I am. One did not become a Ph.D. student for nothing.
My apartment. Not very large. It is however easy to get up in the mornings despite the jet lag, since people are building houses just next door... At least the subway is very close (the small white building).
I got a bike (though of course in Japanese "bike" means motor bike) for free from one of my colleagues. Excellent. It is however not in mint condition, but it takes me from home to the university with no problems. The bell is missing (and I probably will not be putting important items in the front basket since it has a large hole in the bottom), but no-one seems to use the bell in Japan (maybe it is impolite), instead you use screaming breaks to signal that you are about to run someone over. This bike is too low for me, with the saddle in the highest possible position. Everyone else uses their bikes with the lowest possible position. Maybe there is something here too that I do not understand.
There was a party for newly arrived foreign students at Hokudai. This guy challenged me to arm wrestling, because I "looked very strong" (probably because clothes here are so tiny it looks like you are about to explode out of them...), which he lost. There was another guy from Sweden there, so I got to practice my Swedish a little. There was also a strange version of bingo and some singing of the Hokudai song...
First time in Susukino (20051015)
Since I live quite close to the Susukino district (one of Japan's largest entertainment and red light districts) I went there to get something to eat when I finally had a night with nothing important to do. I ran in to pretty much the only two people (of 2 million) in Sapporo I know and went with them to a French hip hop club. The pictures show Japan as I always think of it, strange clothes worn by natives, a green thing that you are supposed to drink with a straw but which has the fluidity of ice cream, and a guy showing of his muscles at the club to much amusement. This was probably the first time anyone commented on how much like Michael J Fox I look. Since no trains or other means of transportation runs between midnight and 6 in Sapporo, everyone starts partying at about midnight and keeps going until the trains start, which is a bit tiring when you have construction workers building a house next to your window...
More fascinating bread (20051022?)
People have written and asked if I ever actually do any work, since all the pictures seem to be from when I am not doing serious stuff... So here are some pictures from my lab. The place I sit, some other parts of the room, and the view from the window. Evidently the agricultural department have their experiment fields next to our building. As evidenced by the two people in the front row sleeping during class (last picture), not everyone works like crazy all the time in Japanese universities. So I fit right in.
More bread (20051019?)
The new exchange students were taken on a trip to a ski jumping facility near Sapporo (you can see it from my lab). Nice view. The green thing on the left of one of the city pictures is part of the Hokudai campus, which is huuuuuge. I also have more excursion pictures. Don't forget to push dust in...
Salsa party (20051022)
When I was leaving one of the volunteer Japanese courses that I go to in the vain hope that I will some day understand what people here are saying, I found a note about a salsa party. It was quite nice, though I still pretty much suck at salsa as well as most other dances. The guy in the middle is the very nice salsa teacher, surrounded by my Japanese volunteer teachers (the guy in the middle of the other photo, wearing a shirt with Swedish flags is of course not the teacher, it's me).
I went to a bazaar where exchange students can by cheap stuff. They were not kidding about the cheap part. I bought two suits for 2 Euro each, a leather jacket for 3 Euro and these colorful underwear for 10 Euro cent each.
More apartment pictures (20051019?)
It turns out that the floor is not wood, it is plastic that looks a bit like wood. It is however much softer, so if you sit down on the chair, there will be marks in the floor. Though they disappear after a while.
Ramen street (20051019?)
A breath of Scandinavia (actually a bakery that sells the weird thing people over here call bread). Japanese people like the changing colors of the leaves in the autumn (so many people come to Hokkaido to see this, since the rest of the country is too hot to have seasons). Since everyone else on the Hokudai campus were tourists taking pictures of the trees, I took some too, though in Sweden I usually just think "oh no, rain and snow are coming" when the leaves change color in the same way.
Update on the bike (20051020)
I found a bakery that actually sells something that looks like it could be bread. For instance the one called Russian bread. Of course, I bought the slightly more exotic bread, with pickles, sausage and coconut flakes.
Sapporo Art Park (20051023)
Today I visited the Sapporo art park, which was very nice. There are many sculptures, all placed in a nice setting in the forest. Everyone takes a picture of themselves sitting on the "rest here please" sculpture. There were also some kids that laughed at me when entering the forest, saying I looked like Americans look (which I guess is true). I took a picture of one of them, who immediately took this cool pose.
Cool toys (20051023)
Since I do not drink alcohol and do not smoke (both of which is quite common in Japan, and still they live longer than all other people, go figure...) everyone seems to think I am some kind of health freak (or at least a freak). Since the restaurants in Japan are super cheap compared to Sweden I always eat out (also means I don't have to go look for kitchen related stuff in stores). Maybe not so healthy, though. On the left is what I ate, on the right what my Japanese guide had... I usually try to order something I have never had before, unless that looks really disgusting. So sometimes I end up with weird things.
More leaves (20051024)
The weather was great so I was sitting outside with my computer doing some work. I also snapped a few pictures of the trees the tourists invade the Hokudai campus to see. My relatives tell me they have snow at home now. Here I was sitting in my t-shirt (though of course, some of my friends think I do this when it is snowing too).
Today I had to open a new bank account, since the one I already have here in Japan does not want to accept money from Sweden (a bank that does not take money when offered, go figure). They have the excellent Barbapapa in some sort of commercial. The cash card I will receive later is also quite cool.
Toyohira river (20051026)
Today there was a fire drill where I live. Last week there was one at Hokudai, but nobody seemed to care when the fire alarm went off. Here everyone had to evacuate and listen to what sounded like a lot of important information (though only in Japanese of course...). Then you could play with fire extinguishers, which I have done before, but never in Japan so I tried one. It is basically just as exciting as the ones we have in Sweden, only with less water.
Welcome party (20051026)
After the fire drill there was some information, like how do you sort your garbage (if you do it wrong, it will not be collected...). After this, there was a party where all the new people like me had to introduce themselves. There was also free drinks, free food etc. Though why are there always dried fishes lying in the snacks? Japanese people like cute things, and babies are considered very cute, so people show me pictures of babies all the time. I snapped a photo of one of them. Here another person mentioned that I look a lot like Michael J Fox, though some did not agree (they thought I was the spitting image of Tom Cruise). My friends and relatives back in Sweden seem to have forgotten to mention this to me, so I have lived most of my life not knowing that I look like famous movie stars.
"New" bike (20051024)
Since I managed to break my first bike in under one week, I acquired a "new" (used) bike. This seems to be in good condition and I actually paid money for it (though not very much, maybe 25 Euro). Though the day after I bought it, I broke the bell.. hmmm...
Language studies (20051027)
I go to a language course (volunteer driven and basically free of charge) for wives of students (since I missed the deadline for the course for students). This makes me something of an odd card in this deck.
Gala dinner (20051027)
Today there was another party (life is hard sometimes...). It was an international charity festival. About 600 people, most of them in kimono or suits were attending (so I had to use one of my chic 200 yen suit jackets). There was a lot of good food. The thing that looks like Swedish sausage with whipped cream (which seems like a pretty disgusting combination, i.e. quite possibly popular in Japan) turned out to be some sort of sweet dessert, not at all disgusting.
Dinner company (20051027)
These are the people who had to sit next to me at the dinner. They only spoke to me in Japanese, so I mangled the Japanese language in my usual manner but nobody seemed to mind. At the end of the party everyone was supposed to dance some bon odori. As it happens, I have done this no less than two times before, so I sometimes get an arm or such going in the correct direction... Everyone of course told me that I was very good at this, though they are so polite that you more or less have to knock someone unconscious to be considered not good... The picture of me in a jacket is also something of a rarity, normally I only dress up for funerals. Of course, my Swedish "friends" being such nice and sensitive people commented that "goddamit, this is neither the 80-ies, nor Miami; buy a shirt". Maybe I actually want to look like an extra in Miami Vice?
During the dinner there were many displays of various Asian traditional dances and similar things. Unfortunately it was quite dark (and it didn't really help that people dancing are usually moving quite a bit...), so most of my pictures are really bad, though I have some pretty cool videos (that I don't have space enough for here).
The first picture shows my Polish colleague (on the right), who I met in Mexico. He was seated pretty much as far away from me as possible in this huge room. The other picture shows another colleague (and his family) from my lab. He was the one who got me the ticket for this party, many many thanks.
I live near the river. So does a lot of snow flies, evidently, so when I ride my bike along the river, the stick to me. I looked like this all over, the face, the hair, the shirt, the arms... everywhere. Not so nice, but I've experienced similar things in Sweden, where the insects also tend to bite you (which these did not).
Since it is my birthday tomorrow (and tomorrow is Saturday, so I won't be at work then), Swedish custom says I should bring birthday cakes and offer these to my colleagues. It was a bit wobbly trying to balance cakes for 25 or so people while riding my bicycle. It turns out that cakes are small and super expensive in Japan, even compared to the otherwise quite expensive Sweden. This meant that I only bought two, and they disappeared quite quickly. So I guess people appreciated the gesture at least. While waiting for my birthday cakes to be made, I found something that looked very much like a famous Swedish cake, though this was quite different upon closer inspection. I also found dried anchovies and shrimps hiding among the cakes. Why?
I had my first presentation at a seminar today. This is a picture taken later at the same seminar. Not everyone is working as hard as you might expect, nodding of etc. (and some foreigner was taking pictures with his camera...).
More partying (20051028)
I managed to be included in the professor dinner today, where I ate a flower, saw some boiled crab and fish head thing (eating fish heads does not really appeal to me though), ate the Hokkaido specialty Gingis Kahn (lamb, very good). Like many restaurants, it was "nomihoudai", i.e. drink as much as you like for no extra cost. Unfortunately, I don't drink alcohol, otherwise this is really a bargain for Swedes... though I did down a fair amount of juice and tea.
Last week I won a game of Scrabble, so this week a rematch was required. As can be seen, this was again a quite comfortable win for Sweden. I think the "not drinking alcohol" part helps quite a bit. As does the fact that we play in English (it is believed that there is no such thing as a Japanese Scrabble, though there is a Swedish one, but nobody wants to play that one over here...). The left picture is taken just before I played the triple word bonus "porky" for a nice 42 points.
Mr. Pigeon (20051029)
My name (Jonas) means pigeon in Hebrew, so I sometimes sign papers as Mr. Pigeon here. Mr Lakemountain Pigeon. The main reason being that the kanji for this are simple, and that it amuses the locals when foreigners do crazy things like this.
Birthday food (20051029)
Today was my birthday, and Saturday to boot, so I first went on language exchange during the early hours and then on Japanese lessons in the afternoon. They served some small cakes, with cute figures on. Afterwards I dragged a few people from the place I live along for dinner, which was good. Everyone but me got dessert. Afterwards I bought a cake.
Language exchange (20051030)
Today I went and had some language exchange again. I also ate a fish, now that I had a real live Japanese person on hand to teach me how you do this using chop sticks. Not that this made my eating seem cultured (through no fault of my instructor though), but at least I have had the theory explained to me. Then I saw a dog of a type I saw in a funny TV series. This was a puppy though, so it was moving too fast for me and my camera...
Cool wallet (20051030)
Since everyone always has enormous amounts of coins in Japan, my wallet broke. Naturally, I fixed it with some tape. This seems to impress people here. Several have, upon seeing it, said "cool, is that some cool design?". When I answer that "no, I broke it and fixed it with tape" they usually laugh at me. I figure people laughing at me is almost as good as people laughing with me (at least some of the present parties are happy, haha).
I have now received my two cash cards (and also have a discount card at the electronics store I bought my network cable at). The look of them is indeed very different from Swedish cash cards... and they also lack any visible magnetic strips or other non-plastic parts. The name is in katakana, which is cool.
My Swedish pen finally broke down after years of trusty service. Having bought an excellent Hello Kitty pen (the manly purple one, not the girly pink one) in the Tokyu Hands in Shinjuku earlier this year, I went to Tokyu Hands here in Sapporo to look for a new pen. I did not find anything really weird that I liked, so I settled for this very manly but still cheap pen.
There was a flower arrangement in the Information Science building where I "work". This reminded me that I keep getting snail mail spam with suggestions to try some Japanese flower arranging. Maybe it's because of my manly pen (see above).
Complaints should likely be sent to Jonas. If you would like to have a high resolution copy of one of these images (or some other you suspect I have), please feel free to let me know.