Culture shock is at least 1/3 dietary, in my opinion. Food makes up such a huge part of our lives that when it changes, either in flavor or nutritional content, it can really affect our mental well being. When you ask someone what they miss about home, they always mention food. I saw first hand the difficulty that my exchange student friends had eating American food and the stress which resulted. I experienced the same stress when I moved from home in Hawaii to school in California, and suddenly my diet contained much less rice and fish, and a lot more potato and beef. Knowing the stress of alien food in an alien place, I made an effort to adapt as best I could to Japanese food while I was still in California. I acquired a taste for Miso, Soba, sweet egg, and other Japanese staples. But the one food I could never master in California was none other than the infamous Natto.
Natto has a reputation in Japan as the food which foreigners hate the most. I have even heard it described by social conservatives as the food which foreigners are incapable of eating. Why do people hate it? It smells funky, it has a texture that is both slimy and powdery, and to the unaccustomed it tastes rotten. Which it is, in a sense. Natto gains its flavor from bacteria that grow in fermented soybeans. It is sort of like the plain unsweetened yogurt of Japan: commonly eaten with breakfast, and enjoyed by the elderly and health conscious but avoided by the general population.
Well, much as I came to love plain yogurt, I have finally come to love Natto. I eat it at least once a day now. Not only has it begun to taste delicious to me, but it is good for your health and is just about the cheapest thing you can buy in the supermarket. Liking Natto also has some interesting social implications. People are shocked that I enjoy Natto, and I found out that my neighbor Brigg (who works as an ALT in another school in town) that one of the teachers at his school even knew that I liked Natto.
Now that being said, please direct your attention to this picture. Natto and raw egg yoke sushi, I discovered, is just not that tasty.
So, enough about food, and on to the story of last weekend. Keiko had organized a trip for Manabu and I. We were all supossed to meet, go to the Subaru factory, and then go do "Ko-yo" or fall leaf viewing. Unfortunately, Manabu got sick during his trip to Izu last weekend and had to cancel. So, on Saturday morning I met Keiko in Ota and together we drove to the Subaru factory for a tour that she had reserved.
The Subaru "factory tour" turned out to only a guided tour of a Subaru museum. I was a little disappointed that we didn't get to see any machinery, but I can't really complain since I did get to hang out with Keiko. After the tour we went to a 7-11 and got lunch, then had a picnic in the park.
As it turns out, Keiko went to high-school in Ota, so she knew the town well. We next went to the national Kiku flower championships, which were being held at a local temple.
In reality, it is a little late in the year to do Ko-yo, but I was sick for the really beautiful part of the year. Anyway, as it turned out, the best place for Ko-yo last weekend was none other than Shibukawa! So back to Shibukawa we drove. We then walked along my daily jogging trail, which I saw for the first time in the daylight.
I never knew that the thing that I have been jogging through everyday was a park, but I did know that Keiko is a great sport. Any adult that is still willing to go down a slide is cool in my opinion.
So, then I thought it would be a good idea if we had a nabe (a winter dish in Japan that is basically a stew). So we went to the store where Keiko bought the ingredients. Then we went to my place where she cooked for me while I sat there feeling useless and conflicted. What I find I often what to say to girls, but don't have the Japanese skill to say yet is "Look, I consider myself a feminist, so when you so everything for me I feel like a real shmuck, so please at least let me do dishes." After dinner, Keiko wouldn't even let me do the dishes. By the way look at her beautiful Nabe!
The Nabe was delicious, and was just what I needed as the next day was my big race. Here I am at 6 A.M. outside Chau's house waiting to go to the Marathon. Temperature: ~4 degrees C.
And here is the starting line for the race. My race had over 2500 people in it.
during the race.
Another picture at around Km number 7.
And me after I had finished.
My results. For I ran 10 Km in 47 minutes and 46 seconds. I placed 615th. I am pleased with the results, but I had a lot of energy left at the end of the race. I am not used to running with so many people. I passed people the entire time, which means I probably should have gotten to the start line sooner so I could be nearer to the front. Oh well, it was a fun race, and I would like to do another, longer race now.
By the way, everything in Japan has mascots. Here are the mascots for the Gunma Kenmin Marathon.
Well, Keiko's nabe was so good that I decided to make a nabe of my own on Monday night (which is why this entry was not posted right away). I bought way too many ingredients, as you can clearly see.
So then on Tuesday I went to the local Japanese class for the first time. Brigg has been urging me to go, and the thing he finally said that convinced me was that is was more like conversation than a class. Indeed, he was right. I finally learned the names of shapes in Japanese. I can say oval now! I also met Go, a Japanese guy who is learning English so that he can move to Ireland in 2 months. Go and I kind of hit it off, and decided to go running the next day. Then after running, I treated him to dinner, then we drove to the top of Haruna to see the night view of Shibukawa.
While we were on the top of Haruna, we also got to see some authentic Gunma drift style street racing. Haruna is famous for drifting as it has many very sharp turns.
Alright, that is all for now. Happy Thanksgiving!