Lightning Show in Tokyo

Photo credit: tamegoeswild

Last night was crazy!

I was to meet my son, Zach, at Aeon Mall after work. I was sleeping inside the train (as always!) when a frightening sound woke me up. I looked around and saw the surprised and scared faces of the passengers. The train was still moving so I knew that there wasn’t any accident.

Then it came again…first a flash of light, then a sound which was so loud that for a moment, it felt as though my heart leapt out from my chest. Thunder! I looked out and it wasn’t raining. I checked my phone and the weather said that there won’t be any rain. Good!, I told myself. I didn’t have an umbrella with me. Then, another flash of light and that loud, cracking sound again.

Inside the bus, the thunder and lightning came nonstop. I was just about to fall asleep (again!) when I suddenly heard a continuous and a very loud rapid dripping sound from the roof of the bus. I looked out and there was heavy rain already. I got worried because I was just three stops away from where I will get off. Uh-oh, this isn’t good, my brain told me over and over again.

At my stop, I braced myself for the rain that was waiting for me the moment the door opened. I let out a shriek once I got off because the rain poured heavily on me. How heavy? It was like someone was continuously pouring a bucket of water over my head. So by the time I got to the mall (which was, by the way, just less than a hundred steps from the bus stop) by running, I was soaking wet.

To make the long story short, both Zach and I were soaking wet by the time we were home. Apparently, Zach didn’t bring an umbrella because he said, he checked the weather forecast on his phone and it says: 0% chance of rain. Yup, hooray to Iphone’s weather app for accuracy!

Maybe some of you might ask, why the hell didn’t we just buy an umbrella from the mall? Well for one, umbrellas inside that mall are freaking expensive! The cheapest is around 1,800 yen! Also, during our trip in Kawagoe a few days before, we already spent unnececessary yen just buying umbrellas which we never used. That story will come up on one of my blog posts soon.

Anyway, I have compiled some pics from last night’s lightning storm. They are so beautiful and scary at the same time. Nature can be so freakingly amazing sometimes.

photo credit: twitter @iyphotooffice

photo credit: twitter @KAGAYA_11949

photo credit: twitter @KAGAYA_11949

Bon Odori Matsuri

It was an unusually cool August evening…it was the perfect timing for a Bon Odori Matsuri.

Bon Odori is a festival dance which is held in the evening during Obon. In the old days, Bon Odori is performed to welcome the spirits and to send them off again. The people danced while wearing a yukata to the beat of the flute and the Japanese drum called taiko. But nowadays, Bon Odori is usually done as part of the summer festivities of the towns or villages.

My son, Zach, and I went to a Bon Odori in our neighborhood this evening. At first, we were just walking around, trying to find something to eat from the stalls that were aligned in the different corners of the place. They held the festival inside a big bamboo park.

After munching on some popcorn, we lined up for yakitori. Yakitori are grilled chicken skewers. The sellers were volunteers around the community so these yakitori were home made. And I tell you, they are 100 times better and tastier than the commercial ones.

After we finished the yakitori and the cotton candy which Zach tasted for the first time, we decided to watch the festival dance.

There was a make-shift stage and the main dancers were on the stage while the people playing the taiko (Japanese drum) were on the upper most part of the stage.

Below the stage, the other dancers performed and guests such as ourselves were welcome to join.

The dancers were so lively that one will be enticed to join them. So I did! I danced with them for the last 30 minutes of the festival with Zach joining us later on. There was one very nice lady who taught the steps to us and to some Junior High School boys while we were doing the dance.

We definitely had fun and it was one of those moments when how I wished I can speak fluently in Japanese so I can tell the people there how much fun we had. But since I can’t, all I could utter, especially to our “dance instructor”, was a heartfelt Arigatou Gozaimashita!

Obon Yasumi in Japan

photo source: Wikipedia

Last Monday, I was so surprised when I got in the bus…it was practically empty! The more surprised I was when I saw the main road— there were only a few vehicles and so the usual 25-minute ride to the station took only less than 20 minutes!

At the station, the train was almost empty as well. Then I remembered that it was, after all, the start of Obon Yasumi here in Japan.

August is considered the “ghost month” by the Japanese. Obon Yasumi is something like the Halloween in the United States or the All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in the Philippines which fall on Nov 1 and Nov 2 respectively. However, this Japanese celebration usually lasts for 3-4 days or sometimes a week long in other prefectures.

Some Japanese say that Obon Yasumi falls on the third week of August. But others are more specific. They say it starts on August 13 and ends on August 16. Actually, the date really depends on where in Japan you are.

But what really is Obon? Obon is a Buddhist tradition in Japan that is meant to honor one’s ancestors. My Japanese co-teacher said that for them, it’s not really about ghosts or those entities which we believe to be lost souls. Obon is about being reunited with their ancestors who passed away.

They say that on the first day of Obon, they need to go to the grave sites and bring lanterns or anything that can light the way for their ancestors. This light will guide them on the way back to their homes. Then on the last day, they will have to guide them back to the grave sites. In other places, they would bring the lanterns near the river and they let these lanterns float away to guide their ancestors to the other world.

photo source: Japan Rail Pass

So around this time, the Japanese people go back to their hometowns which is usually outside of Tokyo to honor their dead loved ones, which explains the empty buses and trains in Tokyo. Obon Yasumi is like a big family reunion for most of them.

But for the modern Japanese people who are not very traditional, this is the time to travel outside of Japan wherein they use up their work holidays and the kids enjoy their summer break. Plane tickets to go abroad tend to be higher around this time.

Another interesting thing to note is that during the Obon weekend, Japanese TV shows usually feature ghost stories…and I tell you, these are very scary because for one, they happened in real life!

For this year, Fuji Terebi (Fuji Television, Channel 8) has one on August 18, Saturday, from 9pm to 11:10pm. It has the title Honto ni Atta Kowai Hanashi ( Scary Stories that really Happened). I always look forward to shows such as this here every year.

The Japanese people have a very beautiful culture. They have a lot of very colorful celebrations and many holidays that are very unusual like Ocean Day or Mountain Day. I will try my best to explain how these holidays came to be and I will share them with you as they happen.

Some of the Things You Need to Remember when in Tokyo

I say “when in Tokyo” because aside from Tokyo, I haven’t lived in any of the cities or prefectures of Japan. Everything I will write here is based on personal experiences and some are opinions or ideas of my Japanese friends. They are the most basic reminders to help you get through your visit.

Recently, I have seen and I have heard of people I know who were in Tokyo, who are now here in Tokyo or who will be in Tokyo anytime soon. So I thought that it will be helpful if I can share some of the things that they have to know to enjoy their stay here.

  • Your credit is good, but cash is better. Yup, as modern as Tokyo is, there are still certain establishments that do not accept credit cards. Usually, the smaller shops, like the traditional ramen shops, only accept cash because they make use of the vending machine-like method of ordering food. You drop your money in this machine, press the button of your order, then a small paper will come out and you give this to the people in the counter. The paper has your order written on it. So in short, you pay in cash as you order. If you don’t see these machines near the entrance, there is a possibility that the restaurant or the food stall you entered into will take credit. So before eating out or before buying those precious souvenirs, it will be a good idea to first ask if they accept credit cards. If they do, they often accept VISA, Mastercard, AMEX, or JCB. If the cards you have are not the same as the ones mentioned, please don’t hesitate to ask those who are in charge.
  • Tips are not necessary. When you eat out, you don’t leave any tips on the table. One time, I was eating with my kids at a restaurant in Roppongi and the foreigners on a table close to ours left some cash before they headed towards the door. The waitress who was about to clean up their table saw the money and she chased them outside just to give it back. So to avoid the embarrassment of being chased down by waiters or waitresses, it’s better to just keep that yen in your wallet.
  • They have slow lanes and fast lanes in escalators. When using the escalator, it is not a good idea to occupy the entire space you are on, not unless you want to experience being yelled at or being pushed by people who seem like their lives depended on how fast they get through those flight of moving stairs. It is pretty simple actually—the left side is for those who have all the time in the world at that moment and the right side is for those who seem like they are running for their lives.
  • There are unspoken rules by the door. The rule of thumb: when entering a door and someone is coming out, you will have to wait outside before going in. This is especially true at the stations— bus and train stations alike. When the door opens, you will have to let everyone out first before you go in.
  • Being loud inside the train or the bus is a big NO! When inside the train or the bus, people should be talking quietly. I admit, I sleep inside these public transport  everyday when going to and from work…and honestly, I appreciate the peace and quiet. Also, and please remember this, no one is allowed to talk (except for emergencies) or chat on the phone while inside the bus or the train…oh yes, especially in the bus! I learned this unspoken rule the hard way when one day, I did just that: I was inside the bus and I was on the phone. I was whispering through the mic of my earphone so I know that I wasn’t being loud. But then obviously, the driver heard me in spite of the silence because, while using the mini microphone attached to him, he announced for everyone in the bus to know that talking on the phone is not allowed. He even called my attention by saying “Okyaku-sama! Okyaku-sama!” (Ms. Customer! Ms. Customer!). When I looked up, he was looking straight at me on the rear-view mirror. Just imagine my embarrassment!
  • It is very safe. You can walk along the streets in the middle of the night without the fear of being mugged…just the fear of seeing something supernatural like a woman in white and with long black hair. Remember Sadako from The Ring and Kayako from The Grudge?
  • Tokyo doesn’t have a 24-hour train. Tokyo may be a very busy city but the trains (or the people working at the stations) need some rest as well, right? Usually, the last trains run between 11:30 pm to 1:00 am. You can always hail a taxi, of course. But it will be very expensive. I know someone who didn’t catch the last train because of work and had to walk 4 hours from Tokyo to Saitama…whew!

For now, these are all that I can think of. If I missed something, just drop me a note then I can include them in my next post.

Determination

It was in 1999 when I first came to Japan. My reaction: I was totally astounded by how clean and beautiful Japan is. (Well, until now, I feel the same way and I still think that I am lucky for the chance to live here.)

I was excited and happy the first couple of weeks.  But as the following weeks went by, culture shock, homesickness and the language problem had set in. I couldn’t read and speak any Japanese at that time so it was always a frustration to go out of the apartment to do anything.

It was the time when computers were not popular and the internet was nonexistent. My mobile phone was a small rectangular device that can only do two things: to call and to receive calls. Touch screen phones were still a thing of the imagination. So, in short, I had no way of translating anything instantly. My only help then came from a pocket-sized Japanese-English dictionary that was with me all the time. The people I knew were so busy to help me out that most of the time, I was left to do things by myself.

In spite of the frustration, I forced myself to be useful and to learn the basic. And as expected, experience (mostly embarrassing) was my best teacher. Like that one time when I didn’t know that I took the express train instead of the local one or that one fateful day when I went to the wrong train platform at the Shibuya Station. Of course, in both instances, I didn’t reach my destinations so I had to go back to the station where I came from and board the correct train.

When I did my grocery shopping, there was a time when I was supposed to buy salt but got the sugar instead. So just imagine how sweet my chicken adobo had become. Yes, I know what you are thinking…I made the mistake of not tasting it before I put it in the pot.

So to avoid these blunders…one day, I decided to stay inside the supermarket for as long as I needed just so I will remember which one is which. And when I was done memorizing the grocery products at the Tokyu Store, I felt this deep sense of fulfillment! Yay!

So many times, I had thought about going back home out of frustration. But I didn’t. I was able to surpass all the obstacles through determination.

If it hadn’t been for my determination to make a life in Tokyo, I wouldn’t have been here with a job which I realized just a few years back was the job that I really wanted: teaching kids.

So how did I end up being a teacher? That’s another story.