Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lucky Thirteen?

Our wedding anniversary has long been something of a dilemma for me and my wife. The problem isn't the usual date amnesia that tends to plague so many men; on the contrary, I can't recall a single time when I have forgotten it, particularly since the date (10/9, or 9/10 if you're in Europe or Australia)is so easy to remember. The problem is being able to celebrate it at all.

It wasn't quite so bad during the first few years we were married. When my wife was an elementary school teacher, and I was employed at the Kashima Oil Company English school, we always had lots of free weekends. Even after my daughter was born, the in-laws were only too happy to look after the baby any chance they could, so getting out was never a problem. That was then. This, however, is now, and it's a completely different story.

As if the music club and other things at Ye Olde Academy didn't tie me down enough, the junior high school where my wife now works basically doesn't allow its faculty to have lives, period. It's a common problem at public junior high schools around the country. The teachers have a contract obligation to work eight hours a day, five days a week, but they're expected to work at least thirteen hours a day, six days a week, if not more. The workload and level of responsibility are nothing short of preposterous, yet the government is determined to reduce the number of teachers for the sake of cutting public spending. When my wife first got yanked out of the elementary schools and stuffed head-first into the junior high system, she tried to make allowances for the fact that we had small children (i.e. sticking as close to the contracted schedule as possible). She just wound up getting yelled at by coworkers and parents alike, accused of being lazy, spoiled, and irresponsible, until her principal more or less ordered her to give up her evenings, weekends, and holidays.

The in-laws weren't much help, either. Once the kids were both old enough to walk, the in-laws refused to look after them unless it was a work-related event. One year we tried asking them to babysit the kids just once so we could go out for dinner to celebrate our anniversary, and all we got was a curt, angry negative followed by my father-in-law boasting about how he never celebrated anything in his life because he was always so totally dedicated to his work. (Actually, everyone in Namegata city if not all of southeastern Ibaraki Prefecture knows he went out drinking with his coworkers and/or people of importance virtually every night until he screwed up his health and the doctor ordered him to stop, but for some reason he keeps trying to insist it never happened.)

Last year we somehow managed to scrounge up a free weekend on our anniversary, mainly thanks to a convenient national holiday, so we went ahead and took the kids with us and enjoyed an overnighter at a hot spring resort in the coastal town of Atami not far from Hakone. It was kind of a nice trip, but the nasty cold I suddenly caught and the even nastier migraine it gave me kind of dented my enthusiasm. Of course the in-laws were upset about that, too...because we didn't take them with us! (Story posted here.)

This year, ironically our thirteenth anniversary, also saw the same national holiday falling on a Monday which happened to be just the day before our anniversary. We were thinking of using Sunday and Monday to take another overnight trip somewhere, but my wife wound up getting manacled all day Sunday by her new position as assistant coach of her school's volleyball team. That shot our plans to tiny bits and left us with only the holiday itself. But then a miracle happened. The kids informed us that the family of my daughter's best friend had invited them to join them for an afternoon outing to a movie theater and amusement center. We happily granted them permission to go. We now had virtually a full day to play with, just the two of us.

Monday came. We were all up early so we could get the kids ready and out the door as quickly as possible. Once that was done, unfortunately, my wife was suddenly hit by a nasty case of "housekeeper syndrome" and decided to get some extra chores done before we left. We wound up getting out of the house several hours behind schedule.

Our plan from the start was to go somewhere we really hadn't been before, so I aimed my BLUE RAV4 for a short-cut I had recently found up to the city of Hitachi. It was a moody, gray day, rainy and chilly, but we were happy and thankful to have the time to enjoy together. Everything was fine until I got as far as the town of Tokai (famous as the site of Japan's worst nuclear accident back in the late 90s). Then my wife started complaining. She was hungry, she wanted to use a rest room, and she wanted to go shopping. (Arrgghh...the S-word...) Remembering an ad she had seen for a giant, new shopping mall in the Mito area, she asked me to change course to go there instead. First I pulled off at a rest stop so she could drop one reason to complain, and I set about trying to find the mall on my navi system. I couldn't. It was too new. Instead, I tried plotting a course to a landmark in the same general area, figuring we'd probably find a sign or something along the way. Then I headed out into totally unfamiliar territory.

We were both quite hungry by now, so we decided to stop somewhere to eat. As it turned out, we spotted a strange-looking building that at first looked like a rest stop or church or something, but when we passed it we saw that it was a bakery/restaurant. We decided to reverse course and stop there for lunch.

Meijiya Tokai-1

Meijiya Tokai-2

It looked a bit unlikely from the outside, and it was in kind of a strange neighborhood (adjoining what looked like a camp or something), but it turned out to be a great choice. The name of the restaurant was Meijiya. The whole atmosphere there suggested hand craftsmanship, i.e. everything looked handmade, even the hand-tooled, ceramic sink in the restroom! The layout suggested that it used to be a traditional Japanese restaurant, but now it's a "healthy Western" establishment. It was crowded, but we came in just as a whole group was leaving, so we quickly got a table. We both ordered one of the lunch specials, which got us a bowl of "mountain delight" spaghetti (spaghetti topped off with various herbs, leafy vegetables, mushrooms, and tuna) and access to their salad buffet, which reminded me of a potluck dinner. Instead of just fruit and vegetables, the salad buffet included a number of (rather experimental-looking) casserole-like concoctions, all of which were fresh and tasty. Their handmade bread, though in rather small pieces, was excellent, too, as was the Saza coffee available for self-service refills. Needless to say, we filled ourselves up, and all of it was for less than a thousand yen each.

My wife said that alone had made the whole trip worth it. I wasn't sure I'd go quite that far, since I was enjoying the sheer adventure, but it was still a good place for lunch.

Our course brought us into traffic, as I'd feared, and the going got slower. Still, it wasn't as bad as I'd expected, and soon we were cutting through downtown Mito. It wasn't long before I remembered exactly where the new shopping mall was because I'd seen it under construction the year before. I shut off the navi system and drove the rest of the way on my own.



(Not my pics. Sorry. Source with more pics and info [in Japanese] here.)

It turned out to be a new Aeon Shopping Mall like the one we often go to in Narita. However, it seems to be bigger. It has three floors of shops (compared with Narita's two, though the Narita mall seems to be a little longer). The selection of shops also seems a bit better in some ways, e.g. they have a Tower Records and an even classier musical instrument shop. It was already late in the day, so we couldn't stay there long, but we did some exploring and...er...shopping. We bought some things for ourselves and each other (and fortunately talked ourselves out of buying certain things). Then we headed for home. It really wasn't all that far from home in terms of lateral distance, so the trip was surprisingly short.

We arrived home to find there had been quite a comedy of errors and confusion there in our absence. Naturally, the in-laws were miffed. Oh, well. It was an anniversary adventure, something that only happens once a year...if that. I think everyone can just put up with it.

12 Comments:

  • I have profound admiration for the woman that can put up with YOU for thirteen years.

    (spoken with a pompous Queen's English accent with tongue-in-cheek)

    (If you actually tried that you would sound like the upper class twits from Monty-Python, but I digress)

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 2:20 AM  

  • You be nice Bandana man or there just might be consequences.

    By Blogger Phillipa Scratch, at 4:52 AM  

  • Consider your self so fortunate that you have a wife who can't get time off! At least you get to share a bed. I share my bed with a black lab.

    By Blogger Maximilian Strange, at 8:39 AM  

  • Some of the best things in life come without planning. Happy anniversary, MM.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 1:19 PM  

  • Hehehe... I really enjoy reading this post :D

    Happy Anniversary!!!

    By Blogger Selba, at 3:17 PM  

  • Happy Anniversary... and it is always good to celebrate such an important date.

    More so, if you appreciate all the kindness for her every day.

    And shopping therapy is also good.

    By Blogger Robin, at 3:55 PM  

  • Congratulations. Ditto Robin's comment.

    Companionship, good food, good shopping - what's not to like?

    Well, next time perhaps, "take the A train".

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 8:25 PM  

  • Congrats
    May there be many more.

    I think the secret to every marriage is to look at the woman every morning as if it were the first morning, and to remember the anniversary

    Mind you I'm good at giving advice, I'm still single (and never married) - lol

    All the best!

    By Blogger QUASAR9, at 3:11 AM  

  • Happy Anniversary!

    What a domesticated anniversary that was. At least you two got to go out, but...shopping...again...

    I think y'all need a vacation from Japan! To actually have a string of free days to yourselves.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 10:25 AM  

  • went shopping ha ha that sounds familiar...

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 11:57 AM  

  • you're a good husband, moody! i like that you guys take adventures... it brings excitement into your lives.

    i know what you mean about the in-laws not watching the children. ours are the same. she says she will but then gives him to the housemaid to watch. which, i have found to be okay. this girl is good w/ the baby and he likes her... so i think we've found a good babysitter for naief! :)

    you know, i met a guy recently (he's a blogger) and he is doing his degree in japan. he told us how a lot of japanese go into work w/ their working hrs being 8 hrs but they wind up working at 11 or so because it's rude to leave work on time. i can't imagine it!! i feel for your wife and for you. you both work so much. do you get paid overtime there?

    i wonder what it is about certain societies and why so much is expected from ppl w/ families. here it seems to be the opposite. which is nice. i enjoy the fact that ppl respect mothers and family is important.

    the restaurant you guys went to sounds delish. i love casseroles and i'd prob agree w/ your wife when it came time to saying what the best part of the trip was.

    glad you guys had a nice time... and happy anniversary!!

    By Blogger Um Naief, at 7:31 PM  

  • Woah... sounds like you had quite an anniversary... that restaurant sort of like, saved your life that day, eh? As for that arrgghh... S-word... same case here... someday, I might just organize an Anti-S Day... someday...

    By Blogger Lrong, at 2:21 PM  

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