Only In Japan: Cute Construction Characters

 

Construction sites, while necessary, are some of the biggest annoyances on the road. They’re dirty, noisy, and cause a lot of trouble. Cars can get backed up for miles because of some city project or another, triggering road rage in even the most temperate driver. There’s nothing to be done about it, shoganai. We just have to resign ourselves to this irritating fate.

Unless you live in Japan, in which case there’s actually something to look forward to with construction. In many Japanese cities they have character road guides and blocks. In most cases the characters are animals or famous things associated with the city. For example, I often see the deer character in my city and in the city of Kashima. Kashima city’s character is the deer (shika). The city’s soccer team is even called the Kashima Antlers and they have a deer mascot.

The two characters seen in the picture below were taken at a construction site just outside my apartment. The deer is obviously from Kashima, but the giraffe was a new one. I asked a teacher why the giraffe and she told me that unusual or really famous cute characters, such as Doraemon or Stitch, are used to tell people that it’s a school zone or that there are children around in the area and to be careful.

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The giraffe on the right is to warn people “CHILDREN PLAY HERE.”

In Kamisu, there are dolphins and bunny characters. I only saw the dolphin character once in the three years I’ve been here, but I’ve seen the rabbits many times. The rabbits come in about three or four different colors. I’ve seen them in yellow, pink, and blue.

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Pink bunnies at a construction site near Kamisu City Hall

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Yellow bunnies seen in Tokyo near the Emperor’s Palace

The idea behind them is to kind of soften the look of the ugliness that we often associate with construction. Instead of getting as upset as we normally would, the characters are there to distract from the stress of the situation and to make people think of adorable things instead.

Also, the bright colors are meant to alert people in either the day or night time to use caution on the road. The big eyes are meant to sort of shock you, because when people see the eyes at night they might think it’s a child or some kind of animal for a split second, and so hopefully drivers slow down around the work in progress.

However, some people in Japan want them removed because they’re too distracting and may actually cause accidents. The argument they put forth is that these characters make it harder for drivers to just concentrate on the road and instead get their eyes fixed to the cute bunny or deer instead. And so then, the distracted drivers won’t be able to react to a situation going on in front of them.

Personally I love them. They do make the long stretches of stop and go traffic in the midst of construction more bearable in my mind, so I hope Japan decides to keep them. I hope to see more of them soon!

Itako’s First Snow Fall!

Today, I opened my door to beautiful surprise. Snow covered everything as far as the eye could see. My mouth actually dropped open in surprise. My neighbors were outside, too, looking just as shocked as I was.

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My street’s trees covered in snow!

In Itako, it maybe snows about two times a year. Usually, it’s only a slight powder that quickly turns into this gross brown mush on the sidewalks and streets. It never gets to the point where it can actually affect anything.

And yet for some strange reason, Jack Frost decided to pay us a visit early this morning, giving Kashima City its first snow day in who knows how long. Where I live, the school decided to have a late start, at 11 a.m, with only three class periods today.

Hinode JHS

My base school’s entrance

Back in Kentucky, this snow fall wouldn’t even be considered for a snow day, but Itako doesn’t have any removal teams. There’s no snowplows that go through the streets, just sometimes poor, unfortunate teachers and/or volunteers that come out with gardening shovels to remove the white stuff. Sidewalk salt is available at the drug store, but nobody actually buys it (until today).

All snow removal done by Hinode JHS teachers.

My school’s front car entrance and street sidewalks.

I love it so much! I wouldn’t want it to last forever, but this kind of snow reminds me of home.  When I went back to the U.S. for Christmas, I got to have snow. When I came back to mainland Japan, I felt instantly a little homesick because of the lack of snow. Not that I’d want to live in Hokkaido, the supposedly ever snowing north lands that could rival the cold of The Wall from Game of Thrones, but I missed the sight of snowflakes falling on the wind. I also found that I missed good ol’ fashioned snowball fights.

Luckily, some of my students were more than happy to hit me with a snowball today. I ended up going outside to welcome the kids for our late start. Some students looked absolutely pissed about the fact they were cheated out of a real snow day. Most kids, however, chose to get in as many snowball fights as humanly possible before they absolutely had to go to class. When I asked students how they were, most said, “Happy!” Some students playfully threw snowballs at me, so I shocked them by retaliating. We ended up having a small fight before they had to leave for class. I felt so, so happy, right before I got a shovel and started helping out my fellow teachers make the sidewalks snow free.

I will look back fondly on this day, but I will admit I won’t be terribly upset to see it go. I’m thankful I got to have a little fun with my students, and that I got a small reminder of home at my second home. Still, I know that just like back home, I would get so sick of the stuff within a week.

So thanks for the lovely present, Jack, but you can go now.

"You're welcome!"

Rise of the Guardians is amazing, by the way. Go see it!

Itako

I guess it only makes since to talk about the city I’ve been living in for about four months. It’s a very nice little town, it’s a quiet village. Everyday like the one before. Ok, an ode to Disney said and done. Seriously, people here are very welcoming and nice (Granted, I’ve yet to meet an openly hostile person in Japan yet).

Itako is situated near Kashima and Kamisu in Ibaraki Prefecture. Here’s a map:

The city’s biggest tourist season is in the summer. In June, they have an iris festival called the “Itako Ayame Matsuri” in Japanese. The pictures are gorgeous! I’m really looking forward to being here when the flowers are in bloom. Some of them were when I arrived, but apparently the iris park is something amazing to see.

This picture is brought to you by Wikipedia! The college student life saver.

As in it’s so ridiculously gorgeous!

There’s also boat rides! They’re kind of like the Venice boat rides, wherein people sit in them and get rowed around while looking at all the pretty sights around Itako. Every year, Itako chooses some young maidens to play the Ayame-hime, or Iris “Princesses,” for a big iris festival play. Out of the “Princesses,” an iris bride is chosen to “marry” an iris “prince.” My predecessor, Lauren Parker, was one of the iris maidens. Perhaps I will be one, too!

In the fall, there are other festivals. One of them I went to was pretty special. It was a candlelight vigil for the people lost in the big earthquake in March at the Itako Shrine. People’s names were written alongside the paper cups, and the cups had candles in them. Visitors to the shrine lit the candles in remembrance of all that was lost. It was beautiful. The entire place was alight, and the candles were put into formations. One was a heart with the kanji for, “Ganbare!” which means “do your best” or “fight”  or “hang in there.”My friend Nobuko took me, and I’m forever grateful she did. It was a wonderful, sad, yet uplifting experience.

Nobuko and I at the Candlelight Festival

Nobuko and I at the Candlelight Festival

I’m not entirely sure what goes on in the winter. From what I understand so far it’s get under the kotatsu and wait until spring. A kotatsu is the best damn piece of furniture ever invented. I’ve been living under this thing whenever it gets to 10 degrees C or below (my apartment has the same temperature as the outside).  Basically, it’s a low table that heats up. You throw a blanket over the top of the table, put the cover on the blanket, and the heat is trapped. I’ll go ahead and admit that I’ve fallen asleep under that thing more than once, which is really dangerous and if you own one you should never do that! Do as I say, not as I do.

Other things to do involve going next door to Kashima and going to an Antlers soccer game. I would suppose the Antlers are to Kashima what the Wildcats are to Kentucky. In other words, everybody keeps track of the games, traffic in Kashima is hell when a game is about to start (I finally realized that the sense of deja vu I felt was from the same experience in Lexington whenever Rupp Arena had something going on), and people will suddenly yell in the middle of a game while you’re at the mall (scaring you half to death and making you scream a little).

Kashima Stadium is huge! As in massive!

As to why the team is called the Antlers, I can only surmise that it comes from the mascot for Kashima, which is deer. See, Kashima is one of the oldest cities in Japan, and it’s home to one of the oldest shrines in Japan. Kashima Shrine (Kashima-jinju) has deer, because they’re considered connected to the god that touched down at the shrine thousands of years ago. Neat fact: the Nara deer came from the Kashima Shrine.

For some reason I never entirely understood, there’s also a story involving a warrior fighting with an underground catfish (yes, underground, and yes, catfish) because apparently fish cause earthquakes. There’s a statue and everything at the shrine. It’s really cool, and I highly recommend checking it out.

The Kashima Shrine is really something to see. It’s also a nature preserve and park. It’s beautiful in the summer time, and with the changing leaves right now it’s also really pretty. People come from all over to feed the deer and have a spiritual experience. I had fun going there with my Japanese teacher, Yamada-sensei, and her son, Aki. I really want to go back, but the kotatau beckons me!

I’ve been having a lot of fun exploring my town and nearby places. I’ve already found an awesome cafe thanks to Lauren. The chocolate croissants there are delicious! I showed the place to a few people. Samantha is one of them. She’s a new ALT in Kashima. She’s from New Jersey, and she’s a history buff. She and I have been hanging out and getting to know each other here lately. She’s got a sweet tooth and loves bunnies. She’s got blonde hair and blue eyes, so as you can imagine, people stop and stare.

That is something to report, I guess. People in Itako don’t gape at me anymore. I’m just the English teacher now. Instead, I’ve been getting parents stopping to say hi, and more and more people want to try talking to me in English. No one’s really surprised to see me walking around. Although, sudden ambushes by middle school students have happened. That’s always fun! I love my kids. They’re so cute.

Anyway, I also hang out with Mish. She’s my block leader. She’s from Hawaii and she’s all about Totoro. I don’t know if it’s possible to love Totoro as much as she does. I try. I bought a Totoro and he’s quite fuzzy and soft. Mish and Sam can play volleyball. I can pretend to play volleyball and hurt myself.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll try to catch up on my bloggin’ as soon as I can. I had a free hour so I decided to crank this one out really fast. I hope you all enjoyed it!

TTYL!