Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Day

Today is remarkable only in the fact that it's the first Christmas in my life that I didn't wake up and immediately sneak myself into my brothers' rooms, issuing hushed calls for them to wake up. I'm not a celebrator of Christmas in almost all senses. But, I do miss my family today, and especially my brothers, because I know that in a matter of hours, they'll wake up to feel as strange as I did today. They'll wake up without me standing over them, prodding them with my foot, so we could all share the quiet of Christmas morning together. But, what's a gaijin to do about it?

I suppose listening to all of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on repeat isn't helping matters much.

Although, in two days' time, my girlfriend will come into Japan. So, I have little room in my heart for sadness today, when I keep things in perspective.

On a funny Japanese-style note, I was invited to the annual Bounenkai, or End-of-the-Year-Party. I had a really great time, and my co-workers were more than accommodating to my lack of Japanese skills (Nigel had decided not to come this year, so I was the lone gaijin). I ate a lot of Japanese winter foods, hot pots and stews and things. The most notable thing, however, was a big bowl of magenta-colored wide noodle-looking things. I asked the only English teacher what I was about to eat, and he thought for a moment, smiled, and replied "Guts! You're about to eat guts!" ...Oh, really? You have my internal gratitude, thank you.
Actually, the guts were fine. It's only in retrospect that my stomach jumps at the memory of the texture. Rubbery on one side, mushy on the other. And on that note, I'm off to read awhile before seeking "Christmas Dinner" at an English-style pub in nearby Omiya with a few pals. It's not exactly Christmas morning, but it's better than sitting around and reading Engels all day.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


This is not related to my life in Japan. This is about my frustrations with humanity and the country I am from (which, in a way I suppose, ties in to my experience in Japan as an American abroad).

This economic bailout thing is totally destroying my faith in humanity. I'm totally baffled about the whole thing. How can a "conservative" government start two wars, put the country billions of dollars into debt and recommend a 700 billion dollar SOCIALIST (I'd like to add that I don't think there's anything wrong with socialism, in the abstract. I'm against socialist help for corporations, but complete for socialist plans to help the lower classes) bailout plan for private loan companies? And people call Obama a socialist. Jesus Christ, look at where the money is going. They had 8 years to build a fascist state, but luckily the were just plain incompetent, otherwise we'd be worse off. Still, it bothers me to think that by finger pointing and name-calling, Americans can be deceived so easily into thinking that Obama poses some kind of Socialist threat because he wants to "spread the wealth around," while Bush is giving 700 billions dollars to the owners of productive capital to ensure that they stay on top of the dogheap. It's socialism in the worst way! Not only are we expected to morgage our homes and take student loans from these people to pay for the rising cost of living, but they're getting even MORE out of us through our tax money because of these bailouts.
Which effectively means that not only do I owe Sallie Mae 30,000 dollars, but I'm paying something like an extra 4,000 dollars to make sure that they stay in business so that I stay in debt. ...What kind of fucked-up sense does that make? Seriously?

The worst thing isn't the debt; it isn't the misdirection of the American people. The worst thing is that our tax dollars are so easily mobilized for private handouts to giant corporations. The worst thing is that all the funding to stop AIDs, genocide, rape, starvation, homelessness, etc. is not even a drop in the bucket compared to the money they're throwing at private corporations, headed by millionaires. So, I'm ashamed to be part of the race that kills for possessions, and I'm ashamed that we (or at least our tax dollars) can be so easily mobilized in defense of global capitalism (despite it's cost in human life, and repression of human rights in America and elsewhere including healthcare and education), but we can't stand up and declare that every human being deserves humane treatment. Rather, we're up in arms to throw all the taxes we haven't even collected yet at this economic problem.
Rather than spend this money to build the infrastructure in America, that would create American jobs, to increase the standard of living, we're giving it to people so they can build more Escalades, and continue collecting our debt-money. The worst thing is that we're being taxed, and the economy is doing so poorly that we won't be able to buy the Escalades we're giving them money to build a year down the road, either. Hell, even if we can afford them, we can't afford the poison they put in the enviornment.
I'm just incredibly outraged. I can't believe how disappointed I am, really. The human race is capable of great things, but most of our work and hard earned money is being spent to make sure that the great goal of mutual humanity and prosperity and cooperation will never be reached. What is it about us that makes us so opposed to helping other people?
If "Democracy" means starting a war for no reason, spending billions in the war effort,and giving an additional and almost inimaginable amount in billions of dollars to failing private corporations, then Democracy sucks. If "Socialism" means that we make every effort to take care of the poor and disenfranchised and grant them their human rights, look for international cooperation in our efforts against Global Warming and Genocide, and ensure a quality education for our children so that they can participate in the future of the world, then I don't see what the problem is.
Anyone can wrap themselves in a flag. One in a million can uphold the values that make that flag anything more than a empty symbol. ...And frankly, those odds suck.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A certain future makes an less certain man

I was part of the meeting today. It was not was I was hoping for to say the least.

Nigel and I walked into a room with one teacher from every school, and our supervisor, codename: Moneychild (it's a reference to the kanji in his name, not just a random moniker). The Jr. High teacher that was supposed to assist with translation couldn't make it today, so it was down to Nigel and my own abilities of comprehension...not, that the teachers made it easy on us. They wouldn't pause to give Nigel time to translate, and were talking fast, of course.
In short, the understood my complaints and wished me luck on my month-long journeys into Hell. I'm surprised the new textbook they handed me wasn't branded with a large "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here," or that that phrase didn't feature prominently on the new schedule or something. The teachers paid quick lipservice to the complaints that had been communicated to them through the aforementioned absent teacher previously, so there was no need for my explaning them again.
The new textbook, well that's worth a barrelfull of laughs, actually. The textbook that I use now is in Japanese (for the benefit of the teachers, despite the fact that I handle ALL the planning at 3 of 5 schools). At least it has pictures.
That's right. The new textbook, the textbook that I have no teaching materials for, is 90 percent Japanese. Complicated kanji, no pictures, Japanese.
And by waiting so long to give me this information, I can't even begin to have someone translate the chapters for me, and next Wednesday is my last day until I begin teaching at the Elementary school, after my girlfriend heads home.
They still want me to plan everything. New. For every lesson. In Japanese. While teaching the legal maximum of classes every day. After riding my bicycle up a small mountain. Five days a week.

Everyone who knows me back home knows how extremely lucky I am. I'm extremely fortunate because I have never encountered a problem or issue that I couldn't surmount alone, with a bit of elbow grease and the good ol' college try. I've never accepted something as outside of my ability to change it. And, this of all things is making me wrestle with this issue. ...And I put myself through college almost entirely alone ... in America!
It's a strange paradox for me. If I sacrifice my time off and work my ass off to study japanese enough to read the book, stay after work to make new materials, go into work early up a mountain in winter (I sound like my grandfather!), I'll be a good teacher; my ultimate goal. BUT, the downside is that my employers won't even appreciate it. They'll just come to expect it from me and everyone else that works here. So, by succeeding to myself and my students, I encourage the irrational treatment that will likely ruin my life for a whole month.
If, on the other hand, I only work during work hours, expect teachers to help me with translation, explanation and materials production (which they certainly won't), and basically try to shrug off the anxiety, I will fail my students. Employers be damned, these kids want to learn and I can teach them! But, if I teach them, my employers will all chuckle and know that they can work me this hard as long as they like, and expect me to carry on this way until I leave.

So, the best thing that could happen for me is illustrating how stupid and untenable this plan is, though I do so only at the expense of the kid's education.

On the plus side, this is a "Trial Run," to last only two months; one month I'm at elementary, and the next, it's Nigel. So, it's not like their education would be "ruined," just postponed. After two months, we'll have another meeting. If I can clearly prove that the plan is not succeeding, and is fact making me a much less effective teacher, they'll be more willing to cooperate.
I suppose I shouldn't feel so torn about it, but I do. I don't give a damn about the people I work for; in fact, they've proven themselves to be a bunch of stupid assholes. But, I can't look the kids in the eye and not try my best. I'll have to think it over over vacation.

Goddamn it, you guys. Goddamn it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

An uncertain future makes an uncertain man

Well, it's not all that dramatic. The meeting is tomorrow. That's right; the meeting. After two months or so of fretting and worrying, tomorrow decides (as Virgil may render it, "The Meeting Decides All"...or that's the hope, in some dreamlike democratic Japanese school system protocol) what next year will hold for me, as early as Jan. 15th.
Now that it's gotten to this point, I find that most of my frustration and anger are gone - squandered in waiting and blog-bitching. So it goes. With a level head, I can represent my worries and hope that they take all things into consideration. I'm still quite mad at the way in which I've found out about the whole deal, though, as well as the great reluctance to inform either Nigel or I about the plan. Demo shoganai ne?

I have a long list of things I want to say here about my weekend; I should be heading to bed, getting all the beauty rest I need for tomorrow.
...And yet I remain.
I spent Saturday night in Kabukichou with Josh - one my oldest and best friends. We've known each other since college, and he cracks me up harder than anyone else. Kabukichou is a notorious district of Tokyo. It's full of prostitutes and no-good yakuza and other undesirables. ...It's also full of vintage arcades. That's right. Awesome arcades. When I moved to Japan, I was actually quite upset at the lack of state-of-the-art arcades here. They have arcades, sure...but they suck. It's mostly like, 70 percent UFO/claw machines full of either Dragonball Z or Hello Kitty peraphernalia (depending on gender of the crane operator). Needless to say, I was more than a bit disappointed. I thought this place thrived on stuff. Well...myth busted, much to my dismay.
Anyway, Josh and I went to this arcade and I almost got the highscore on a 1943 machine! And this is an otaku arcade! People go here to practice and to break world records and stuff. I was pretty proud of myself. I might even go back and try to break that record.
It was a really crazy night, in quite a few ways. After the arcade, we went to a nearby pub-style bar, and met some cool Japanese people. Unfortunately, one of them got so drunk, he was thrown out of the bar. On his way out of the bar, he decided to put his hand through a plate glass window of a nearby karaoke bar. Needless to say, the police picked up our new friend and whisked him away to whatever the Japanese equivalent of a drunk tank is (I bet it's a drunk tank!).
Well, somewhere walking around Kabukichou, my keys fell out of my pocket. So, Sunday morning, when I got back from Tokyo, in the cold winter rain, I discovered I was locked out. So, I had to contact my boss and see about getting the spare from the town office. Only...there wasn't a spare! So, I hung out with my boss on a Sunday from 9.45-12.00 trying to get a locksmith to let me in to my apartment. I was drunk AND hungover at the same time, and I know that I looked/smelled that way. Needless to say, I'm a bit embarassed over the whole ordeal...and my wallet's about 150 dollars lighter for having met a locksmith. I'm trying to not let the whole thing weigh me down. Money's for spending, and I like to spend it in better ways than repairing the effects of my stupidity. ...But, then again, sleeping soundly in my warm bed at will is worth a whole lot more than 150 dollars.

Anyway, I'm off to bed. Wish me luck on the meeting. I just may need it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cultural Relativism

I realize I've just updated moments ago. Already I feel poorly about the update; far too whiny to be any good, to just about anyone but me. I'll actually apply a little intellect and discuss a topic I've encountered while in Japan.

I have heard it said many times, by many different JETs teaching in Japan for a handful of years, that the "smart people in Japan speak English," or something to the same effect - the point being that English ability is a necessity to have a broad world outlook, or understanding.
The statement is, of course, ridiculous. I fear that it's linguistic (to follow the political) hegemony, especially as much of Japanese culture is immersed in English. It's on the products I buy, with decent translations. It's on the clothes I see, with horrible translations. It's on the television, it's in the movies (though they are subtitled in Japanese). Post-war Japanese culture is immersed in English. Students are forcefed it from elementary school as a required subject, and foreigners are shipped in by the thousand to aid in this endeavor (hey, ma, look at me! I'm employed to vindicate cultural empire overseas!).
I think statements like that assume the cultural and linguistic supremacy of English-speaking countries, which is more than a bit offensive, however. By virtue of our creating a bomb and blowing up civilian targets, we gain the ability to turn our nose up at those poor creatures who cannot understand English?

It is true, however, that foreign language acquisition does amazing things for a person's understanding of the world. It offers them an outside outlook on their own cultural habits, as well as offers them a window on the cultural habits of foreigners. In learning how a foreign language operates, we better understand the mechanics of our own language, with obvious merits for literacy and eloquence.
It is true as well that English is the most widely studied foreign language in Japan. Therefore, by a slight stretch of the imagination, and a willingness to forgive the poor turn-of-phrase, I can see the point of the English speakers; as a rule, people who are forced to examine their language and culture are sharper than those who aren't. After all, how many bilingual Republicans are there (Ohhhh, diss!).
...No, seriously. Think about it.

Though the culture is already immersed in English, and it's taught from gradeschool, the level of English IS low where I live. Which is okay with me. How much algebra do you remember from elementary school through high school? How much chemistry? After all, this area is a lot closer to Tokyo than it is to New York. It makes sense that people speak the national language, and not cater to the few thousand English teachers here every year.

I guess I got worked up about this because of its implications. Only English speakers are smart, only people who understand foreign customs are smart, only people who can have a laugh over Japanese customs are smart, only people who would rather be white are smart, etc. I hate the slippery slope argument. That's not exactly my point. It's just...that we can't force these people into our preferred shape. Cultural relativism is important. It's absolutely vital to foster cultural understanding - both ways - rather than ridicule those who don't already understand my way of thinking and speaking.

*deep breath* Thank you.

A little personal...

I'm getting depressed. The last few days, things have just been hanging heavy on me. Of course, I'm quite schizophrenic when it comes to these things, and it seems like I'm always slingshotting back and forth between joy and despair. In some ways, it's the natural progression of the winter, and it's effect on my outlook. In other ways, it's the feelings of isolation I sometimes can't get rid of.
I'm guessing that it's the meeting next week, about my job in the Spring, that's weighing me down extra. I'm gonna be clear and honest, and get through it. It won't be so bad, I'm sure. But...just knowing that on the other side of my girlfriend's visit and my winter vacation (which I am really pumped and grateful for, don't get me wrong!) is the hellish workweek of elementary school every day ... kind of ruins my day. Also, and this is probably indicative of the type of person I am (and whatever deep emotional flaw I have) that I'm already upset that my girlfriend's leaving, and she hasn't even gotten here yet. But, I should just take some deep breaths and take it one day at a time. I'm liable to lose my mind (in this, or any other endeavor) if I don't.

It's just a combination of a lot of things. Everyone who knows me knows how much I rely on my friends and family, as well as a flexible and understanding worklife. Being in absentia of all those things is just something I need to quit thinking about and start living through.
This was surprisingly cathartic. Thanks for the outlet.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


Just a kernel of interest, that had me laughing to myself earlier. The first few days I was here, and I couldn't do anything on my own, speak any Japanese, etc. and I didn't have the internet or anyone's phone number or anything, and I was supremely unhappy, for various reasons, with no outlet. I will always remember this moment and the concurrent emotion distinctly. I was searching the apartment for something I could watch/listen to/read in English, and the only two movies in the entire house were Encino Man and Major Payne. So, I made spaghetti, and eagerly watched every minute of Major Payne. Twice. I seem to have lost that desperation in the ensuing months. ...Then again, that is probably a good thing.

I'll keep it short and sweet.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Lagoon

Have you ever seen a badly translated Japanese T-shirt? Something like "Everyday can be refreshed. Believe in hope" or "Just this one chance. Dragons." Well, in Japan, they're everywhere. Despite a culture that is totally mired in English logos and words, the average Japanese person probably can't understand an English T-shirt (from my own personal experience, in my area of Japan. I don't like to make generalizations). Or, if they can understand them, the company that writes and presses them has no ability to write coherently. And really, who writes them? I've seen shirts with up-to-date slang, though totally misused. How can Japanese companies be so clued in, and so clueless? This is my story...

The friends that I've made in the nearby town of Higashimatsuyama all hang out at a bar, that I frequent once every one or two weeks. Lately, I've been hanging out with many of the Japanese locals there, when the other English teachers aren't around. They're all really great people, fixed-gear bicycle enthusiasts and entrepreneurs. There's a bar owner, a norwegian furniture importer and salesman (as well as his staff) and they collectively own a T-shirt company. Can you guess where this is going?
One night, after a few too many drinks, I was giving bad English lessons in exchange for some Japanese tutoring. I taught my friend a "scale of cool" with Awesome, Sweet, Cool, Sucks, Shitty, etc. all on the list. Seperately, because they are all bike enthusiasts, I taught them the phrase "to eat shit," meaning to fall off your bike and hurt yourself. Well, I guess they had a few too many drinks, or I wasn't so good at explaning. In any case, I come back three weeks later, and another friend of mine is wearing a shirt that says "Religion, Eat Shit" with a star of David in mid star-swipe across his chest.

I'll give you a moment to think about this.

Finished? Okay ... so, I immediately complement him on his shirt. Honestly, it does look awesome. So, I ask him what it means, and he launches into a pretty bizarre explanation about how all religions are the same, and help people and they need to recognize their common beliefs and such. Then he mentions something about how Japan was founded by Jews...but, I chose not to probe that comment too far. In any case, I told him what it really means, but I'm not sure that he fully understood. there's a couple crates of these shirts around.

Where do these shirts come from? I'm not sure if I should be pleased or disappointed in myself, but I can say with the utmost certainty that they (sometimes) come from me. I am prepared to take my spot in the Japanese history books.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving? ...When was that, again?

Yeah, Thanksgiving came and went, and I don't think I even stopped to think about it once until after. No reason to, really. I miss eating with my family and spending all day watching football (which in truth, I don't care about at all), and trying that one experimental dish on the periphery of all the classics. I miss the laughter and my constant assertions that Thanksgiving "just celebrates the theft of a country from its genocided inhabitants" and that "really, there's a whole lot more to be sorry about than thankful for,"....much to my family's constant amusement.
In short, I guess it just doesn't feel much like any kind of holiday. But, if I were constantly reminded of it, it might begin to bother me, only because I miss my family and I would note with a heavy heart their absence on a day that we used to share together. But, hey, it's over and done with and next year, I'll probably be carving up the tofurky ... much to my family's amusement.

Josh came to my house this weekend, and I'm thankful for that. I had a really long week, teaching Elementary school every day... just a sneak preview of what's to come next year. The kids were overwhelmingly great, actually. My Japanese is getting good enough to have conversations over lunch and I even made my first joke in Japanese! I'll relate it:
I had just finished class, but the room I was teaching in has a special flooring, so you can't wear your shoes inside it. I was putting my shoes back on, and one of the 6-grade girls pointed at my shoes and said "Gaikokujin" which means "foreigner", just to illustrate to her friends how big my feet are, I guess. But, I pretended I couldn't hear correctly, and replied "Eh? Nani? Gaikutsujin?" which means like "Eh? What? Foreign-shoe-person?" In retrospect, I should've tried for "Daikutsujin," which means "Giant-shoe-person". Perhaps next time.
Anyway, I had a long week of smiling and dancing and singing and washing my hands before and after everyclass (kids are germs in school uniforms, man), and it's so great to be able to sit around and drink expensive scotch (a little gift to myself) with a good friend and watch horrible horror movies all night.

Anyway, there's a whole lot to be thankful for, and I guess I am. Though, I still maintain that Thanksgiving is built on a strange Disneyfied American myth ... I guess I can afford to take a moment to reflect on how lucky I am to be here, as the first person in my family's history (like, genetically, back to the origin) to get drunk and watch the sunset over Mt. Fuji.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Karaoke overdrive

I've kept my loneliness on a long leash the last few days. In fact, I've been so social, it's hard to remember why I'm lonely in the first place. Both Friday and Saturday nights, on this beautiful and mercifully extended three-day weekend, I stayed out late, singing my guts out until late in the morning.
Friday, I met with some fellow English teachers in the nearby city of Higashimatsuyama. We ate at a great Korean restaurant and then went to my favorite local bar (not local exactly...but, the next town over), The Blue Lagoon. It's a bit of a Gaijin bar, with a number of foreign English teachers and a number of Germans working at a Bosch plant in Higashimatsuyama. The upside is that I'm picking up a little German, though it's just the bad stuff that you shouldn't say. On a lighter note, I've been enlightened as to the nature of the German custom of sitspinkel (spelling is definitely incorrect). Basically, I guess it's generally accepted that men have to piss sitting down. I have so far refused to participate in this experiment - and not because I'm a chauvinist pig. I aim for porcelain, and generally avoid backsplash. Anyway...
We met with some of my new Japanese friends - the fixed-gear enthusiasts - at the Blue Lagoon before heading to a nearby karaoke place. Karaoke lasted until about 2, and then all of the Gaijin went home. I felt a strange sense of accomplishment sitting in a room full of my new Japanese friends, with no other white people to translate or comment in slang English with. I felt like they were really my friends, and not just an interesting form of scenery, or something. We were actually talking about real things that I care about, which is incredible. I'm really glad that I memorized the Japanese word for Capitalism - Shihonshugi. I'm sure I caused some confusion, but we all had a laugh, and my new friend Saiko-san even drove me home at 4 am! How nice is that?
And the next day, I woke up and hung around the house for a little while before visiting my old friends Josh and Shannon, who as I've mentioned before, just moved to Tokyo. This fact single-handedly destroys any possibility of loneliness. I'm just so happy that, though I can't see them on a weekend night for dinner or something, I can always visit on the weekends and stay over. If I don't snore too loud, that is.
Anyway, we all met up with my new French-Canadian friend Martin. Besides bearing a passable resemblance to Will Moffitt, Martin's a really funny guy and has been teaching me some Quebecois French slang. He's been here for a number of years, and has been studying Japanese and Japanese culture pretty seriously, so he's also a great guy to help explain Japanese history and things. We ate at a traditional Izakaya, which is an old-style Japanese pub, sort of. We ate some great stuff, including grilled squid, and I even tried a natto omlette. Natto is fermented soy beans, and it kind of tastes like feet...and the taste sort of lingers and the smell permeates. Live and learn.
One of the most amazing things about Tokyo on Saturday was that Martin showed us an AMAZING record store, tucked away on the 8th floor somewhere, and while I was perusing, I got quite a shock. I found a Bluesanct Records cd on the shelves. That doesn't sound that impressive in itself, but Bluesanct is in fact my ex-boss MKL's basement-based record label. I nearly shit a brick, seriously. How amazing is that. Something recorded and packaged and sealed a few blocks from my house in Bloomington is now residing on the other side of the world with me. I really like I ran into MKL himself in Tokyo, or something. It was like finding an old friend there, among the Will Oldham records. I also have a much-increased notion of how famous MKL probably is, on the international scene, and of what a pleasure it was to get to know him and work with him at the record store.
After all this, we went to Josh's favorite bar in the whole world - Bar Plastic Model. I grew to love the place during my time there. It's an 80's themed Otaku bar, with great Japanese new-wave music and anime and VHS tapes of Japanese commercials and stuff. It's also about 8 feet wide by 15 feet long. It's amazing.
And to top it off, we decided to stay out until the first train 5.41 am. So, we went to karaoke, and managed to run into some really drunk Japanese guys that were really nice. They paid for most of the bill, and we drank a lot and sang all night, and I even managed to keep up singing in Japanese! The guys were totally crazy, and kept shouting that we needed to "Keep drinking!" By the end of the night, one of them was passed out cold, and another guy just kept on hugging us. It was really, really, really fun.

This post is going to remain positive. It was an amazing experience. I really love that I can be with Josh and Shannon here. I remain really worried about what my job might be, as I have been, and as I will be. But, for the present, I'm gonna have some tea, read a good book, and just smile and be glad that I've stuck it out, and I have friends here now, and a social life to go to when I'm feeling down. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kawagoe, etc.

Winter is taking hold of my little agricultural town, and though the weeks are speckled with sunshine and clear skies, there's an overall sense of retreat and return. Like the grizzly bear and the shrew, I too retreat into my hole to hibernate. I have been spending a lot of time napping and watching movies on the internet at home, with possible detrimental effects to my mental well-being. To rectify this, I decided last weekend to get a large-size dose of social life.
I went out drinking with some other English teachers at one of my favorite nearby bars, and decided to spend the night at my friend's house in order to accompany the group on an English tour of the nearby city of Kawagoe the next day. Kawagoe was beautiful, and I'm really glad I went. We walked around an old buddhist temple, saw over 500 hand-carved statues of monks, and went to the old-town district (Ko Edo - Little Tokyo), and walked through an open-air lane of candy makers and sellers. Really great time, to be sure. It did a great deal more for me and my spirits than sleeping in and taking a bath ever could - and really, I'm only 22. I have a bad habit of acting like a middle-aged woman from time to time (but read wine, a good book, and a hot bath are really the cure for most minor ailments.) When I'm out doing new and fun things, I hardly think about my situation, or how lonely I can get to be away from friends and family. And I'm a little more determined to keep getting out there, seeing if I can try to find a new place once a week, or enjoy an old one in a new way.
On a related note, my friends from around Osaka moved to Tokyo yesterday, in fact. I will be taking many day-trips to go visit them soon, which, while bad for the pocketbook (about 20 dollars to get there and back, plus whatever incurred expenses), is great for the spirits.
The same day as the Kawagoe tour, I experienced a different kind of cultural event - the red light district. I was meeting some friends in a bar in a different city, closer to Tokyo, and had to walk through what is known as "Whore's Alley". It's not as sketchy as it may sound, but basically it's a lot of "Snack Bars" and "Massage Parlors" with ladies standing on the street trying to catch your eye. It's a little awkward, but then again, it's one of those cultural things that are difficult to avoid. I even saw a family pushing a baby in a stroller through the alley, though! ...So, it can't be all that sketchy.

As far as the changes to my job in January go, I am really fearing the worst. Every time I try to talk to anyone about my concerns, I just get shooed away or directed to a different person. Basically, there are three people deciding everything, and each of them tell me to speak to someone else. But, I have scheduled a meeting, only it's scheduled in mid-December...which is pretty close to the January inaction of the changes. My worry is that it will basically serve more as a meeting to tell me what the schedule IS rather than what it could be. And, if that proves to be true, I'm going to get pretty upset, because I've been trying to air my concerns and work with my employer to find a mutually beneficial plan with the main goal of helping the children learn English to a higher degree. I think I've said this before, but they see me more as a teaching tool, like an English tape, than as an employee. And, if they just lay this horrible plan into my lap in December, I'm at least going to threaten to quit, and see if that gets them in a more cooperative mood.
Don't think that I'm ungrateful. I'm really happy to have gotten this great opportunity to come to Japan and teach and learn so much. It's been really wonderful. But, as far as the administration goes, I've received very little help of any kind. The only people that have been interested in helping me to get comfortable in Japan and embrace my role as a teacher are Nigel and S-Lan, and this new plan only serves to keep us from each other. I depend on their help so much, I really don't know how I can do a much more difficult and demanding job than my current one without any of the help I'm receiving now.
As far as quitting goes, though it is a bit dramatic, I just don't want to find myself working for a group of people that don't care anything about me or my well-being. They see me as an object, and parcel me out as they see fit, despite my wanting to just talk the plan over, and air my worries and concerns (that could be remedied easily, if they'd just listen). And frankly, I just don't know if I want to continue a working relationship with someone that won't even give me the decency of a meeting (except once the plan is already de facto enacted, and any discussion is rendered useless).
So, in any case, there is a dark cloud hanging over my head that is accompanying the oncoming winter. It's a kind of deep nausea of uncertainty, and it isn't likely to go away anytime soon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sick Again

The scope of this blog may be too wide. I feel a bit too out of it to give a proper update; this will just a couple of non sequitors about what I've been up to lately.

Last weekend, I went into Akihabura. I felt as if I'd gone to a totally different world. The contrasts between my rural town and Akihabura are vast; one a small agricultural community on the one hand, and a multiracial, neon-light-populated technological wonderland on the other. For those of you not in the know, William Gibson's depiction of the super-modern Japanese techtown must've drawn heavily on his experience in Akihabura. Nigel needed a new computer, and so we kicked around Akihabura and dodged around a crowd of people that never seemed to die down to look at used computers. I have never seen so many shops. Easily, within a couple blocks of the station, there were a few dozen if not a hundred electronics stores. ...It was a practical sensory overload.

The greatest thing about Akihabura was the food. I was mentioning to Nigel on the train how much I missed Middle Eastern food now. I haven't eaten hummus or falafel in months now. I was really missing it desperately, and as soon as we stepped out of the station, there was a kebab place nearby.'s not exactly falafel, it was in a pita and tasted awesome. I am really so happy to find things like that where I'm least expecting them here.

And today and tomorrow;
Nigel and I are at a conference for our job with other English teachers from around our prefecture. Of course, I became miraculously sick the night before these conference. It isn't too terrible, but I'm realizing how weak my body's defenses are here. All the germs are different from the germs back home, and my body hasn't been itnroduced to any of them before.
"Single White Gaijin, prepare to be sick all winter!"
"Aye aye, cap'n."

Anyway, the conference was fine today, except I was sick. I am sure that right now, there are 100 English speakers blowing off steam in some fashion or another, but I got coffee with someone before hurrying home to sleep for three hours and relax. Eh. While the situation isn't ideal, I gotta look on the brightside. Maybe by coming home early today, I freed myself up to hang out a little tomorrow. Maybe.

I gotta find something to eat, and eat some medicine. Thanks for reading, I miss you guys.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Just like all the rest...

This is my addition to the millions of blog pages written about the same subject.
...Mine is even a few days late.

Barack Obama is going to be the new president of the United States of America.

I have never been more proud of my country, and this is a strange, new feeling for me.

...maybe I'll be able to go to the Dr. when I get home, without worrying about bankruptcy.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

100 days...

Can you believe it? As of Monday, November 3rd, I will have 100 straight days in Japan. I'm not sure how I feel about that, in all honesty. It feels like it's going all-too-fast, but sometimes I feel like that's how it should be, because I can miss home so much. In any case, the sun rises and the sun sets, and I guess I've just been losing count until recently.

Anyway, yesterday was Halloween. This is the first year of my whole life that I haven't dressed up or done anything fun. I watched a bad horror movie online and then I slept for 11 hours straight. I talked about Halloween to the Jr. High kids here, and it's sort of shocking how much people don't understand. I was really struggling to explain why getting 10 lbs of candy (they don't know what a lb. is...), and having some middle-aged guy chase you and your friends around with a chainsaw is totally awesome. It's a peculiarly American thing, Halloween - as Nigel is quick to remind me. There is something amazing about Halloween - the night when the suburbs are full of dads pulling scary tricks, and kids are so buzzed up on Walmart bulk-buy candy that they can't see straight. *deep sigh*

Anyway, I suppose I'll just have to Halloween twice as hard next year.

I talked to one of the Jr. High teachers about my concerns concerning my elementary school deployment, and the teacher was totally receptive. I mean, these are real concerns, and not just means of escaping work - I am not trained to be a full-time teacher, I cannot speak fluent Japanese, and I don't think I can work five classes a day. She seemed receptive, and she scheduled a meeting with my boss. My hope is that I'll be able to tell my concerns and have them heard and adapted for; time will tell how it all pans out.

But, I am less afraid of the future than I was. I think, if I am honest and hardworking, that the teachers will see that and respond accordingly. I think that if I cannot work as much as scheduled, they will meet my pleas, and that is perhaps as much as I can ask for at this point. They will meet my pleas, and I will be considered a partner in the Japanese education system, and not a resource. Because, I am not a fountain of English; I am a human being, just like everyone else here. And even though other people might be afraid to say it, I can't stand working too hard and being underappreciated.

I'm a scared boy. I've learned a lot, but I'm still a scared boy a long way from home, and I need a friend, not an increasingly demanding job. We'll see if things pan out. Until then...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The elementary experiment, cont.

I have nothing but bad news to report to you kindly people back home. Last week, the elementary school teachers, the Junior High School teacher in charge of elementary relations, and my boss had a meeting. At this meeting, they were going to decide if either Nigel or I were going to teach full time at either the Jr. high or the elementary school, which I believe I have mentioned previously, would be a total nightmare. Hear me out:
It's not that I'm afraid of hard work, but five classes a day five days a week at the elementary school is bound to be a horrible idea. For one, the students' English capacity is barely over greeting and grouped vocab (foods, animals, etc.) For two, to take the lessons to the next level, one would need a much higher command of Japanese than I currently command to explain some grammar and functions of words in Japanese. For three, there wouldn't be any time to plan out the much-more-time-consuming elementary school lessons, because I'm busy teaching each period of the day, except the last 45 minutes, which is enough time to review the book (which I will have to disregard, because there won't be enough lessons to teach this often ... oh, and also it's all in japanese, so I need someone to translate it for me anyway) and write down some ideas. Four, the few games and songs that I have been turned on to during my time here are already getting stale, which requires the invention of new games and new songs. It's already too hard to explain simple games to the teachers, let alone inventing or reinventing new games with new vocab, or a new song with new choreography.
So, bottom line: this totally sucks for whoever has to do elementary school.

In any case, our boss walks in to our office today, and literally says "By the way, has anyone talked to you about next year?"
"No, why?"
"Because in January, The Single, White Gaijin has to go to elementary school every day...
"...and Nigel has to go every day in February."

So, we're alternating months, which I guess is something, but it really appears like the worst of both worlds. At Junior High, one person will be teaching double the usual load, and one person will be handling the entire elementary load all by themselves (without the much-needed and relied on help of our friend S-Lan!, because she probably can't accommodate to taking us to school once or twice every week). It causes all kinds of other problems, too. For instance, if I attend the Jr. High graduation on Saturday even though I'm teaching the elementary schedule, do I still get the following Monday off as a substitute holiday, or am I just stuck with any extra day of work?

It's actually really frustrating, and it seems like things just keep getting worse, a little at a time...though, this is the biggest all-at-once. I definitely have to request that the schedule be changed, maybe alternating weeks, or teaching only four classes a day and having help from the teachers to make lesson plans (like they're supposed to do anyway!), or something. I don't want to sound like a drama-queen, but I really might be coming back to America a little sooner than I planned on. I'll air my grievances, and make recommendations (if anyone will listen), and I'll give January a shot. But, if I feel like killing myself (living in a house with no insulation, biking an hour in the cold to work to teach five lessons with no help, and being expected to stay overtime to plan my lessons for tomorrow, so I can return after sunset to my cold house alone, too tired to do anything but sleep and wait for the next day...) I'll just quit, and tell 'em better luck next JET.

I sound like a wiener, huh? I hope I don't sound irrational - I know I am working and all. It's just...with the cultural and linguistic differences and all, on top of all this new stuff, it seems like a bit too much to deal with. So, if I don't think I can, I don't think I will.

But, hey, January is a long time away, right?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The elementary experiment

Hello, good reader. It's been over a week since my last update - with good reason, too. All this time spent at the elementary schools has left me feeling verymuch under the weather. Feeling about six feet under, to be sure. For the first three days, I thought perhaps I had managed to catch SARS, but thanks to generic American Dayquil, I was able to manage through the last week.
Elementary school was fine, in fact. No students tried to manhandle me, and despite some minor annoyances, the time flew by without much incident. I worked this Saturday, attending my Junior High's chorus competition, and so got this Monday (today) off work in exchange. It's nice to have a day to sit around and run some errands, to be sure. Many thanks to the nice ladies working at the post office that helped me stumble through the forms required to send money home.
As I mentioned in my last entry, Miranda July has an art exhibit in Yokohama, along with a couple dozen other artists including Yoko Ono. So, a couple of my friends and I met up on the way to Yokohama to go see what we could see of the world modern art scene. I had a really good time, saw some really good exhibits, and had a great day just getting out of the house and into a new city. Our visit coincided with some Thai festival in the bay area, which was fine with us, because we could eat cheap Thai street food and have a couple of Thai beers after trudging through the art areas.
My favorite exhibit was Pedro Reyes' "Baby Marx" - a socialist puppet show filmed and made into a movie trailer. Really great puppets, really wonderful video. Watch it!
Of course, Miranda July's exhibit was really good too, and I took a bunch of photos of myself there.
I've been slowly adding photos to my photobucket account. My name is allhailinformation, and you should look up my pictures, if you want. I will probably add a link at some point to make it easier...but, I'm not all the way done uploading stuff yet. So, enjoy and leave comments please.

Until next time, dear reader.

"What am I that can't help wondering what am I that can't help wondering what am I?"

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Things are changing for the gaijin

On Friday, a new and good friend of mine came into town. I met Alan in Hiroshima, when I was visiting there with my friends Josh and Shannon. He was checking into the same hostel as we were at the same time. Later, we saw him at the Atomic Bomb Dome, and after that we were pretty inseparable. We karaoke'd twice, once for about six hours. Alan is on a Asian tour, of sorts. He flew from London to Moscow, and caught the Trans-Siberian train from Moscow, though Mongolia, into China, and got a ferry from Shanghai to Japan, when we met him in Hiroshima. He's gotten to take something like 8 weeks off from work, and this is his last week in Japan.
I immediately liked Alan. I think he's a very honest and kind person, and he's really quite appreciative of the people who are helping him through his trip. Not only is it good for me to get to hang out with someone who has become a friend of mine, but it makes me happy to help him with his trip, and meet up with him in Tokyo like I did today. But, before all that...
He came in on Friday, and we went out to meet some other English teachers at a nearby bar, and then something wonderful happened! I started talking to Japanese people in English and Japanese! Enough to actually have a conversation. And the bar owner and all of his friends are fixed-gear fanatics! So, we started talking about bikes, and I told them that I used to have a fixed gear, which is a lie, but I DO know how to ride one, and I like them fine. They told me that they're excited to be my friend, and I taught them some really bad English, and I'm pretty pumped to see them again. I made friends! I feel like a kid in Junior high, who's new to town and just ate lunch with someone he has something in common with. It's a pretty nice feeling.
So, Friday was good. The guys even let me ride their fixed gears, though I was drunk and the toeclips were really small, so I played it careful and called it quits right away. And Alan and I got to do some discussing about our favorite horror movies, and picked strange cocktails for one another. A really good time, actually.
And Saturday, Nigel, Alan, S-Lan and I met with S-Lan's friend, Haruko. We went to an Italian restaurant, and absolutely stuffed ourselves full of all kinds of food. I think between the five of us, we ate four pizzas, two big salads, some risotto, and a piece of desert for everyone. And after that, we stopped at Haruko's on the way home. S-Lan's family was there, and they were all barbecuing, and I had a really amazing time. I really like that some things are universal. In Japan, dudes like to get drunk and grill all kinds of food and hang outside when it's nice, just like back home; only here they grill squid and some kind of weird, smelly fish called Sama.
Today, I met with Alan in Tokyo at Yoyogi park, which is like Tokyo's Central Park. It's really amazing. Because space is limited, there are bands all over the sidewalk playing and practicing - I saw maybe 15 today throughout the day. I really love how open everyone is. In America, I think people would be way too afraid of criticism to play out in the open like that, in lieu of practice space, but it just goes to show how laid-back Japan is about that kind of stuff.
One of the craziest things about today was that every Sunday, some dozen Japanese men dress up like greasers, and claim part of Yoyogi park to dance to Rockabilly music, and show off their pompadours. It was a cross between watching Grease on fastforward and the more melodic sections of a Guitar Wolf show. Definitely wish I had taken pictures.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Nightmare on Elm St. 3 has Lawrence Fishburne in it...

To celebrate Halloween, and get into the proper spirit, I'm watching The X-Files and every Nightmare on Elm St. For the record, Nightmare on Elm St. 2 is one of the worst movies I think I've ever seen...
Anyway, today was a new elementary school, which is always a little nerve-wracking. I feel a little like I'm stuck in a time-warp, like that Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day. Here's why; 1) the lessons are the same. I have been introducing myself 4 or 5 times a day at every elementary school. When I've visited once or twice, I might luck out and have a class or two for the second time. A new school just means that I definitely have to introduce myself at the beginning of each lesson. 2) The new teachers and principals (and the Hajimemashite's [nice to meet yous]) always put a little stress into the day. Usually, there's a low level of English, so yet again, I end up having the same limited conversation in basic English or basic Japanese (depending on the disposition and ability of the teacher/administrator). I don't want to be rude, and I am interested in meeting new people, but I hope you can understand how this could be a bit trying for me on occasion. 3) Every time I'm through introducing myself, I can predict exactly what questions will be asked of me. Despite the fact that one of my major talking points is what my favorite foods are, some kid will definitely ask (Ski na tabemono desu ka? What's your favorite food?), some kid will ask what sports I like, some kid will ask if I have a girlfriend, and some kid will ask what my favorite animal is. I mean, again, I understand that it's all new to kids, and because of the limited language, superficial exchanges are as deep and meaningful as we can get, but it can feel like I'm living the same school day over and over again.
Today was a little different. My Japanese is a little better, so I could muddle through a bit more serious conversation with the administrators and the coffee lady. And, hey, today I petted a rabbit and it licked my arm and my hand for like, ten minutes. I suppose there's nothing that bad about getting some affection. Lord knows I've been without it for long enough. I don't think I've hugged anyone since I hugged my brother in Chicago in July.
Ah, hell...I had a whole 'nother topic in mind for an update, but this'll do for now.
As an aside, I just found out about a Miranda July art gallery in Yokohama, which is maybe an hour and a half away. So...maybe that just became my weekend plans.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Otsukare sama deshita.

Alright. I suppose it's time that we sat down and faced the facts, you and I. My blog is getting boring, isn't it? I suppose it's only natural that as my life begins to stabilize, and I am not spending every night nervous about the next day and the rest of the year to come, and my encounters with pervo Japanese boys gets stale and less jaw-droppingly shocking, my blog would begin to slow down as well. As such, I understand if you quit reading. I mean, we've had a good run, you and I.
For my part, I intend to continue my recording of this experience, and I will try to make it as entertaining as possible.
But, the honeymoon is over. When I first got here, when I would take a dump, I would be giggling and thinking "I am pooping in Japan, on a crazy Japanese toilet! This is incredible!" And now, well...pooping is just pooping, taking a shower is just taking a shower, and riding a bus is just a riding a bus. Perhaps I'm losing my American perspective. It is a possibility.
In fact, today I was speaking with S-Lan (the great friend, who is the polar opposite of L-San, remember) and another English teacher about America. And these two middle-aged women could not believe that people live in a country where guns are allowed, and in some states, carried on people's bodies into public places. In fact, S-Lan told me about a Japanese exchange student some twenty years ago, who was killed by an American with an itchy trigger finger. It was Halloween, and the Japanese student dressed up, to go out and experience his first Halloween (they celebrate here, but my understanding is that they don't really trick-or-treat or anything). I think the student his friends were looking for a houseparty, and they stepped onto someone's porch, and the old man inside told them to "Freeze!" Well...since "Freeze!" is a really obscure word, certainly not in most foreign-speakers of English's vocabulary, the Japanese kid didn't know what to do, and started to run, and he was killed on the sidewalk in front of the house.
I guess that's the kind of thing that I would just shrug off in the states, and admit the "accidents happen," but my time here has really shown me how accidents don't really have to happen, and that safety is important. And, I'm not talking about gun-control. Just a manner of thought peculiar to America, where everyone is out to take what's yours and "community" is just a another word for church. On the other hand...
It's crazy to live in a country that didn't invent punk-rock. I mean, honestly, think about it. The counter culture here has accepted the fashion and the sound (though, how many Japanese kids can understand the deep meaning in CRASS songs, or the playful irony of NOFX?), but the kids here never stood up and said "Hey, fuck you and your whole way of thinking. We're on the outside and that's fine with us, because we think you're fucking insane."
It makes me wonder if you can have both; the American rebellious streak and the drive for individuality and particular counter-cultures as well as the warm sense of community and teamwork that I see everywhere in Japan.
Well, it helped me a little to write that out, even if it didn't help you to read it. Thanks for reading, in any case.

Big up to NC.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Three-day weekend.

After being deprived of my weekend last week, in favor of the school sports day, an enkai and a speech contest (not to mention helping out my little visitors), I finally get repaid this weekend, with an extra day off. Today, in fact! Happy Sports and Health Day, Japan! You know what I did to celebrate? I certainly didn't do anything healthy or sporty, and I spent a lot of time indoors. Thanks, internet!
I actually spent a considerable amount of time this weekend on the videophone talking to people back home. It's awesome the Skype is free, from computer to computer. Imagine if I had tried this trip 15 years ago. I'd probably have been sending letters and buying phonecards. You certainly wouldn't be able to read this blog right now. Instead, I can have instantaneous communication from one side of the world with another. I guess technology does have it's ups, as well as its downs.
The only kind of sporty thing I did today was help Nigel fix his bike up a little bike. Japanese bikes are different in a lot of ways. Like I have said before, we ride mama-cherries here, and it seems like everyone else does, too. But, there are a couple of things that make a lot more sense than the bikes at home. For instance, just about every bike has a tiny headlight on it, with an attached dynamo, powered by the rotating front wheel. No batteries, nothing. Just a tiny electrical engine that hardly takes any energy at all while pedaling. Also, almost all bike locks are attached directly to the frame, making it impossible to forget your lock at home (like I always did in the states). Anyway, Nigel and I figured out what Japanese degreaser looked like, got some lubricant and I cleaned up his chain and cogs, worked out a simple electrical problem with his lamp, and put on a new lock. Tiny maintainance, but it reminds me of how good it feels to work, even just a little bit, to better something right in front of you in a finite amount of time. Two hours later, Nigel's riding a lot better than he was, and it cost about 10 bucks.
I'd almost like to be a bike mechanic when I get back to America. But, that's only if my career as busboy/dishwasher doesn't pan out. Oh, boy!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Okay, guys. Life is going on as life does. With school life settling into a groove and me finding my way as a teacher, familiarizing myself with the material and becoming more comfortable speaking Japanese and gesturing in English class, time is passing quickly. The weeks seem like the days did in August. It seems that I have to make a plan two weeks ahead of time to sufficiently prepare for it. All in all, I suppose this is a good thing; not that I am wishing away my incredibly valuable time here in Japan, but at least I am not achingly aware of the apparently slow passage of time. As it is, I can focus on the task at hand, do a good job and relax afterward without having anything close tot he high-stress situation earlier in my trip.
So, things are good.
My Japanese is getting really good, too. I mean...I can't understand everything. Not even close, really. But, today I spoke primarily in Japanese, and everyone could understand me. And, even though the coffee lady in the office insisted on speaking long chains of difficult Japanese, with some difficulty I could understand the gyst.
Although, today wasn't all farts and daisies. I thought I had to go to Kita elementary school, when in fact, I had to go to Toni elementary. This doesn't sound like a huge problem, really. The biggest issue was that Kita is about 30 minutes north of my my house by bike, and Toni is about 20 minutes south. So, after getting tired riding to Kita, I had to turn back around and ride for around 45 or so minutes to get to the other school. Hey, I could use the excercise, though.
During my long bike ride, I was listening to Dethklok to get me pumped up for the journey. And, you know what? Bizarrely, America isn't the only place that enjoys a tongue-in-cheek portrayal of metal bands. There's a Japanese version, too : . Well...not really a VERSION, you understand. But, it seems really similar. Basically, a young japanese boy moves to Tokyo to try to make it big playing Swedish pop music. One thing leads to another, and soon he's playing metal under the guise of Johannes Kaiser II. Check it out.
It's strange that things like metal irony translate, but other things like...oh, I don't know, not talking with your mouthful are totally incomprehensible. *shrug*

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Welcome, dear reader. This marks my first ever post from the comfort of my own home - that's right, we are internetted, people. It's strange how surreal it is to have the internet now; I really feel like those chimps in 2001: A Space Oddyssey, just banging on this damn thing trying to remember how it works, and what is worth looking at on the internet. Not that I've had much time at all type update, or just poke around the old internet. I've been busy with school and other things. I don't even have a weekend this weekend! Allow me to inform you...
Firstly, last night marked my first-ever official school enkai. Enkai means drinking party. They're really common in Japan, and they're viewed as a really good way for an entire officeful of people to blow off steam and get tanked. Nigel even came! He always told me how much he didn't like them, because once the teachers get a couple of drinks in them, who knows what they're liable to do/say/grab(!?!)/etc. Anyway, we went together and had a good time, and I really got to try all my japanese skills out in a real life situation. I'm learning a great deal, in any case.
And today, I had to wake up at 8 am to pick up Jay and Charlie from the nearby bus station. I met Jay and Charlie at Tokyo orientation within my first couple of days in Tokyo. Jay is a huge Radiohead fan, and is travelling Japan to attend every single Radiohead concert in Japan, and they are playing tonight and tomorrow night in a nearby city. Back when I met him, he asked if he could stay, so I'm setting him and his friend Charlie up here...but, there goes sleeping in Saturday morning. And at noon, I was shuttled off (to leave Charlie and Jay to sleep in my spare room) to attend a local highschool speech contest, to show support for a student that I have been helping with his speech; sure I didn't HAVE to... but, it's easy enough to sit and listen to kids' speeches, and it means a lot to him.
I just got back from that (and a little chilling and eating with Nigel, and a really cool friend of ours, S-Lan [her name is like L-San, but she is the polar opposite in disposition]) and I am so tired, I can hardly stay awake while I write this. It's good that I'm so tired, because tomorrow, I have to get up at 6 am to attend a town sports day. All day. From 7.15-??? Needless to say, I am so excited and thrilled that I can hardly contain myself. Seriously.

And after all that, after the total demolition of anything resembling two days of rest (hungover, boring, waking up early, helping out Jay and Charlie, watching townsfolk run laps and such), I'm off to work Monday morning, 8.30 like usual.
I have elementary school twice next week...but, hey, elementary school stuff is the subject of a whole other update. Right now, I am going to have a tall, cold drink, watch some bad TV and go to sleep. Goodnight, moon.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Been a long time...

That`s right, dear reader(s?), it has been a long time. But I come bearing gifts. Gifts in the form of good news...for myself. Okay, not proper gifts, where they benefit you, but rather the gift of good news, and not like, Jehovah`s Witness Good News; actual good news.
That`s right. After finagling, panicking, and having a gaijin freak-out or two, the internet will be installed in my apartment soon. Please, hold your applause until the end of the blog. I am handing most of the credit to every ALT`s friend, one Mr. Jimmie Jenkins at YahooBB, the resident english speaker. He told me how unlikely it was that I`d ever get internet with YahooBB, but then filled out and submitted an application for their rival in the area. Above and beyond, Jimmie. Somebody buy that man a beer.
On another note, today I had to go to the Board of Education to sort out some paperwork. I couldn`t exactly understand, because there wasn`t anything resembling a translator yet, and my japanese vocabulary does not cover "insurance plan" and "beneficiary in case of death or incapacitation". Anyway, we muddled through it, I signed a few forms, designated a beneficiary (my mother, of course!), etc. Then I received the form dreaded by most ALTs; the statement of intent for the 2009-2010 year. Of course, I am now only planning on staying one year; Japan is pretty awesome, but I think I wanted to visit, pay some bills, learn a bit of a new language and have an adventure before I came home - I didn`t want to move here full-time.
So, of course I indicated that I only wanted to remain through the end of this which my boss typed into his electronic dictionary a word that translates as "horrifying, regrettable, unfortunate". When I told Nigel about my encounter, he told me that opting to stay only one year reflects extremely poorly on me, in the mind of the Japanese worker. It shows that I hate my job, don`t like my co-workers, etc. or something. But, it`s not just that. Nigel and I will both be leaving at the end of this year, I out of choice and Nigel out of necessity, as he has served a full-term with the JET program (five year max). The BOE does not have enough liquid cash for ALTs to buy two plane tickets home the same summer (so Nigel tells me), which is strike one. Also, they have been relying on old JETs to be the translators for the new JETs every year, because the level of English is so low at the Board of Education, so when the two fresh-faced ALTs get off the plane, they won`t have anyone to help them through the transition. I do feel bad about that, though I am determined to send them pages of email detailing my experience here, send them my blog addy, etc. If you`re reading this boys or girls, I`m sorry if my departure casts a horrible shadow on your experience; you shouldn`t let it. At least you two can laugh it off together. And, hell, you can always email me.
I think maybe two months ago, this would be the type of thing that would upset me and make me nervous, and question my decision in an attempt to cater to the needs of my employer, or successor. Now, more sure of myself, more intent on doing what I want and getting what I want, a gaijin just has to shrug his shoulders and think to himself "Geez, if these people wanted me for two years, they should`va had me sign a two-year contract."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The L-San...

Okay! It`s not so bad as you might think. I haven`t heard from L-San in a very long time, and I have no reason to expect that she`ll contact me.
This is just a post in response to the oft-asked "can we get some L-San stories?" question. I feel bad slandering this woman to all you fine readers of the English language back home without offering proof. The following story DID NOT occur to me. Rather, I had heard about it from both Nigel and the ALT that preceeded me at my position here.

My predecessor`s first week in town, L-San asked him and Nigel to go out to dinner with her family. Nice enough gesture, right? Well, L-San, as previously mentioned, enjoys alcohol, but has a hard time maintaining her composure while drunk. Regardless, it perhaps a reason to celebrate, and celebrate she did. She had a few drinks through dinner and became very drunk. So far so good, being drunk isn`t a crime. But, then her family just...leaves the restaurant. They drove Nigel and the new ALT as well as L-San, but they just leave them in a city about 45 minutes from my town, with no explanation or anything. So the two ALTs are stuck with a drunk japanese woman who is becoming increasingly incoherent, shouting in broken English in a resaurant, drawing embarassing glances from all nearby tables.
Nigel has no idea how to get home, and his japanese skills were not as advanced as they are now. Regardless, he knows they have to start heading home, or L-San will pass out in the restaurant, and they`ll be forced to spend the night in town. Then, L-San starts trying to hold their hands, and is clinging all over them while Nigel tries to call a cab.
Eventually the cab comes, and L-San takes the front seat, near the driver. Then, to everyone`s horror, she tries to grab at the wheel, and starts to touch the driver on his legs and stuff, and make like, weird verbal passes at him. When she grabs the wheel, Nigel tried to pull her off of the wheel, and she BITES HIS HAND, and begins to call him all kinds of English curse words, and a choice couple of japanese insults (they don`t really have curse-words as such). The rest of the drive is spent with her moping and verbally berating everyone in the car, including the poor driver.
And all this was the first time that she and the new ALT had even met.
So, anyway, it sounds horrible because it would be horrible, and I had to be a bit of an asshole to avoid these types of situations myself. Lord knows the last thing I need is some 60 year old woman hanging on me, forcing me to take care of her because she`s too drunk.
That`s one.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sports and holidays

September is apparently the month for holidays and special events of all kinds. All last week, the junior high school I work at readied itself for the annual school sports day. It seemed a little strange to me, because we don`t have anything close to equivalent to sports day in the United States. Students are seperated into colored teams by their homeroom classes, and those colors compete in some pretty strange events over a ten-hour span on a weekend day.
Last Saturday, I put on my only orange shirt and rooted for my team through such events as the 5 legged hundred meter race, some kind of elevated cornhole-type game, 20 person jumprope, etc. I can`t remember what the strangest was called, but it struck me as very odd and very dangerous - kids line up four wide and ten lines deep, forty or so in all, and the four kids in front carry a long bamboo pole as they run around two traffic cones, and as they return to the other kids in formation, they lower the pole as they run and have the other kids in line jump over it. It almost always smacks against the poor kids` legs on the way back. But, even worse perhaps, when they reach the end of the line, they lift the pole up, and run back to the front of the kids, the pole just inches from the back of everyone`s head.
In any case, I came in early on a Saturday morning, and I stayed late, but through it all I was giving high-fives, getting hugs and really interacting with the students here. It was a really fun day in retrospect, even though I was worried about potential kancho, etc. during the day`s activities. I really wish that I hadn`t lost my camera`s battery charger, because I lost some really great photos Saturday. When the kids were all seperated by color, standing across a field under their team`s banner, with colored bandanas tied around their head, it had the feel and spacing of a Kurosawa movie, though much less epic in scope.

And as far as holidays go, they`re happening constantly. Yesterday was "Old People Day" in Japan. I celebrated by meeting my friend Jade in Tokyo, and walking around Shibuya, Harajuku and Yoyogi station. It was a really great day, full of conveyor-belt sushi, a couple of strange japanese pop t-shirts (I bought two; they are yellow and purple, both extremely strange colors for me to wear, far out of my color repertoire). Yoyogi park is beautiful - it`s like a really clean, friendly Central Park. Because space is at a premium, a lot of bands and dance troupes and anything else you can name are all practicing everywhere, giving it a really cool feel.
Then, I get Thursday off work, because I came in all day Saturday. No plans yet. I may just relax and read a book, maybe get dinner in a nearby city.
And then Saturday, I`m headed back to Kansai to stay with Josh and Shannon. I`m really excited because I had such an amazing time last time. They`ve just made reservation for Hiroshima, and it will hopefully be a very cool visit there. I`ve always wanted to go; I`ve felt that it was one of the necessary American prilgrimages to make. As an American, I`ve certainly got a lot to atone for, or at the very least, a lot of horrible truths to face.
I`m taking next Monday off, to extend my trip, but I get Tuesday off as a holiday, anyway. That said, this week and next week will be short and sweet. And frankly, I wouldn`t want it any other way.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Six weeks now...

That`s right. It has officially been six weeks now since I applied to YahooBB for internet. The long end of their estimate has come, and there will be a reckoning! ...Or, more likely, they`ll tell me they are sold out of internet (WHAT?) and that I need to seek another provider and wait another six weeks, or something equally dumbtarded. Man, I really can`t believe how backwards things like this can be sometimes. Perhaps it is shortsightedly American of my to talk poorly about a system that I have not yet come to understand, but, seriously people, six weeks? For nothing? Man, no wonder you guys lost the war...
Okay, maybe that was a bit harsh. Definitely harsh. But, please understand where I`m coming from: specifically America. It`s hard to try to stay in touch with everyone back home. I`m not even indoctrinated by American media anymore!
On an equally frustrating level, yesterday I answered my door. Perhaps in any other country, this would not be a problem (save for the occassional Mormon or Jehovah`s witness), but in Japan I realized that this should`ve been on my list of things never to do. In Japan, simply owning a TV means that you have to pay the cable company for its services, regardless of whether or not you receive them. ...Think about how ridiculous that is. There is no free TV channels, and the fact that I moved into a house that already had a TV in it means that I complicitly agree to pay the associated fees. Well, I can see how that could make sense if everyone had to pay them, and the money went towards public broadcasting or some such thing. ...But everyone doesn`t have to pay them! And they don`t go to public broadcasting programs, they go to NHK, a private stallite provider!
Instead, only the idiots who answer their doors to the NHK people (for that`s what they are called) have to pay. Once you answer the door, you`re in the system and they just send bills to your house for your TV usage (I hardly even watch the damn thing, because I can`t understand it). But, if like the other ALT in town, Nigel, you refuse to ever open your door to these people, you never get in the system, they stop bothering you, and no harm no foul. Well, don`t I feel like a right ass?
Basically, my plan is this: I`m going to call next month and tell them that rather than pay their stupid fees for television programming that I can`t watch, I threw my TV away, and now I`m inelligible for the fee. I`ll never open my door for them to verify that my TV is gone, but neither will I pay the bills.
It`s hard, because in America I would know my rights forwards and backwards. I would say "You, sir, are a blackguard. I am not paying you money simply because I own a TV that I don`t watch. Now, get off my property before I let my dogs take a good, long look at you, sir." But, here, there`s little I can do. Sho ga nai, yet again...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sho ga nai.

I feel as if my posts are being extremely restricted lately. School is in full swing, and with teachers always in the staffroom, and with no internet at home, it`s hard to find the time to put anything meaningful on here.
I was talking with my girlfriend back home the other day, and I realized that I am just switching back and forth between extremes all the time. This makes for the "up in the air" feeling that I seem to be constantly dealing with. One moment I just can`t fathom how I`ll survive a year alone here (the internet will undoubtedly help...probably, will fix the problem I`m discussing). Twenty minutes later, I`m all smiles and I`m enjoying the Japanese experience. Either class is fun and encouraging, or it`s boring and disheartening and hard.
Also, I am a little bit worried that I might some kind of health issues, possibly related to the stress of moving here, and introducing myself 300 times, and all the social anxieties that are amplified by not understanding anyone. In any case, today I felt horrible after waking up. I usually do. I almost always feel nauseous and tired - I have for about as long as I can remember. Anyway, today it was so bad, and I could hardly eat the half a bowl of cereal I had poured for myself.
Once my days starts, however, it usually subsides. Today, my stomach still feels no good, and I still feel very tired, but I`m a million times better than this morning. I really hope that I`m not giving myself an ulcer, or something. That would be, most likely, a bad thing.

Anyway, teaching has been fine so far; if anything, I am really worried about being bored out of my mind or unhappy every day, but having to smile and be enthusiastic about teaching simple material. Especially when I will teach the same lessons several times a day, every day for the year. (Then again, maybe elementary school is worse in this way from Junior high. I have more classes, they`re simpler, and they`re certainly more repetitive).

I did the math. With all the different schools I will visit in the coming semester, I will have to introduce myself between 200 and 250 times. Talk about boring.
My introduction is mostly falsified anyway. ...Perhaps more on that later.

Oh! And today was my first weiner-touching incident. I hate little japanese boys. Apparently, it`s totally okay here to touch another man`s weiner while you are shaking hands. They quit once I pulled their hands away, and they realized I was scowling.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

So it begins . . .

September 1st, the big one, is now here. The official first day of my school experience. But wait - you would think that the first day would entail teaching of some kind. Not so, the single, white gaijin is surprised to find out. Instead, a short speech in front of 700 junior high school kids, lunch with the teachers, and more time reading in the office.
My short speech was...really, quite short and, truth be told, not very eloquent. Something like "Hi, my name is _____. I come from the United States of America, close to the city of _______. I am excited to meet all of you in the coming year. Hopefully I will teach you some English. Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu."
...Then I got a bouquet of flowers. That`s right. Flowers. First time in my life to ever get flowers (factually inaccurate; I received flowers from my girlfriend, though they were picked, not bought, regardless...), and they were from a little boy named Raimu. I admit, I was smiling huge as he shook my hand and said "Let`s enjoy learning English together." Yes, Raimu. Let`s.

Later, as I was helping with cleaning time (cultural note: in Japan, it is the student`s job to clean the classrooms and hallways. The teachers help. So...despite janitorial work not being in the contract, I`m gonna get dirty every now and again. Anyway...), and a student walked past me in the hall. He started at me feet, looked me all the way up, stared into my eyes before he muttered "....Superman"

...It`s nice to know that these kids have a sense of humor.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Just a quick one...

Just a few quick notes, some cultural, some personal.

What`s up with Japanese groceries stores? They are, all of them, hilariously named. I wish I had photos. Let`s see, there`s the Blooming Bloomy at the Kounoso station and the GigaMart (which sounds like some kind of Power Rangers villain) in Metsuyama. Those are just the two that I go to regularly. There are all sorts of Headias and Welcias around as well.

Speaking of photos, I don`t think I brought my battery charger for my camera. I`m incredibly bummed out about this, obviously. I distinctly remember packing it when I had used it in Tokyo...but, it was probably lost somewhere along the way. It`s hard enough to get something like that to replace a lost one in the states. I might give it a shot and just bring in my battery itself, learn a couple of vocabulary words for charger and lost, and see if they can figure it out. The photos that I have already taken, however, will be online as soon as I get the internet at my house. Monday makes week 5, and I can`t imagine it lasting longer than the 3-6 week estimate I was given.
Since we`re on the photo tip, I`m gonna mention the personal photo experiences. Before I left Japan, I let some people leave videomessages for me on my laptop that I could watch when I was lonely. I watched them all for the first time last night. My older brother`s was by far the most touching of them all - I don`t believe anyone believes in me as much as he does. For someone who used to hit me often and with gusto, he`s certainly changed his tune in the last couple of years. And his sentiment just seems to grow stronger. I hate to I feel like I may have taken his lesson overt encouragement for granted in the past. I just won`t take it for granted anymore. My mother left a message just as meaningful and deep as my brother, but it`s different to get such a message from my mom. I always joked when I was younger that I may be an emotional mess, "but my mom thinks I`m a real catch." My friend Eric left a really great message, too. He said that Japan has a lot of history - and now I`m part of it. And it`s true and amazing, even for just one year.
There was another video, one that I will probably watch hundreds of times in the coming year. Laying on a couch with someone, kissing her forehead, and her kissing my shoulder. Brief, silent, but simultaneously disheartening and emboldening. Geez, I miss her sometimes.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

August nearly done...

Well, it`s been about a month now. What am I saying? It`s been a month exactly. One month ago today, I came to my quiet, little town without any idea of what would be waiting for me. Here I am, one month later, with just the slightest inkling of what my `real life` here will entail.
School will start here on September 1st, as it does all over Japan. I expected to teach then, but apparently, I just need to hang around the office for two or so weeks until my schedule is finalized. That means I still have time to figure things out, but at this point I feel like the only way out is through. The only way that I will learn what is waiting for me within the elementary and Junior High school walls is by going there, dealing with it on the fly and with confidence.
This whole trip has perhaps become a confidence-building mission for myself. No man is an island, but I certainly feel like I`m on the lonesome side of a drawbridge.
Today, I returned the town hall where I had left a bad first impression on everyone that I met. I went there to teach a conference about team teaching (newsflash: I`m new at this, and am certainly not certified to discuss it with any type of authority). I am a little upset at the teacher that was supposed to help me with this, whom we can call `Lupin`. Lupin asked me if I could help him with this presentation, as Nigel would be on vacation in Hawaii, and I said that would it be fine, I just needed a little help to know what was expected. The help never really came. Yesterday, he asked what I had planned, what games I had invented, boards and cards I had made, etc. He was not very helpful and seemed to not be listening to what I was saying. I would say "I need your help with this project. I`ve never been a teacher before, I`ve never invented any games, and I don`t know how to teach a room full of adult teachers kids` games without it being very boring. Can you help me?" to which he replied "Tomorrow is your first day as a teacher. Good luck!". ...Thanks, Lupin.
Anyway, I got a few activities down, worked hard yesterday to do some planning, and today worked just fine. Where I failed and insulted a month ago, this time I laughed and talked casually. Of course, I made mistakes, but I never panicked and kept on going. Lupin was still not very helpful, with directions such as "Go ahead and do the activity." Oh well.
Anyway, I feel like I can do this now. I feel like I`m ready to get some kids screaming "APPLE, BANANA!" as loud as they can. ...I`m pretty much Barney without a costume.

But Goddamnit, I will be the best costumeless Barney I can be. One month at a time.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

All-nighter in Kyoto.

That's right. I'm down in the Kansai region of Japan. It took me about 4-5 hours to get here from my tiny town farther north. I came to visit my really good friends Josh and Shannon in the town of Hikone. They live across the street from an old castle. It is really amazing. The moat is wide and deep, and just across the street.
It's been great and rejuvenating to be able to spend time with old friends on the other side of the earth. Josh is easily one of my closest and best friends. We were remarking last night how we can just take for granted that we'll understand each other's off-the-cuff joking. He's easily one of the funniest people I've ever met. And he really encourages me, as a professor once advised me, to "follow my weird." Shannon has always got a smile and an encouraging word for me. Which is incredibly meaningful here in Japan, as I'm more often than not left to my own self-motivation.
It was also good to see them because we really had a great time going out drinking. The first night here, we went to one of the best bars in town, Yab's (the slogan is "Let's Get Shit-Faced!"). It was really cool and I met some of Josh and Shannon's friends. We....well, got pretty shit-faced and then karaoke'd nearby. I am really getting better at the karaoke thing. I even have pictures. Last night was by far the best night of the trip, though. We decided to take a trip to Kyoto, and just walk around and do whatever we wanted. I bought a couple of books (some study, some pleasure) at an English bookstore. Awesome. As the night progressed, we were laying on the banks of the Kamogawa River, drinking "American Taste" beer from a nearby convenience store, just watching the skyline and making each other laugh. Pretty great, really.
Then we got takoyaki. Takoyaki is squid balls, like squid tenticles in a doughball, with a lot of sauces on it. It was my first time, and although squidballs sounds perhaps a little gross, it was actually really delicious.
After that we went to a bar with 200 yen ($2.00) cocktails. I drank maybe half of them on the menu, from the Peach Princes (Josh ordered it for me) to the Dirty Mother. It was a weird scene in the bar, sort of. We met some Swedes and a couple of Canadians and just kept drinking til early in the morning. Apparently, bars don't really have to shut down in Japan. So, we stayed until 5 am, got some breakfast, and caught one of the first trains home......that was full of salarymen and schoolchildren off to their respective Monday morning activities, while I tried not to look too much like a bad gaijin, slyly sipping chuu-hai and looking a bit disheveled, trying unsuccessfully to avoid the collective Japanese ire.

I feel like I can cross something off my things to do before I die list. "I just pulled an all-nighter in Kyoto, getting drunk in a $2 cocktail bar" sounds way too cool to not make a big to-do over.

Consider it to-done.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Lesson One

Today was an important day for me as a teacher. I have learned something invaluable: don`t read something, or teach something that is very emotional for you.

I had to hang with L-San today at the library. She has roped me into it as a last-ditch effort to get me to spend time with her. The plan is to read books in English to children, although she has plans all day. I left halfway through, much to her displeasure, because I had other business to attend to. She has, however, called my boss and asked him to fill any slots left in my schedule with her plans. I negotiated it down to one more day of reading to kids...which, God willing, will not spill over into any kind of hang-out time with the L-San. Time will, of course, tell.

But, back to lesson one. I picked out The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. As a young boy, this particular book taught me the bittersweet pleasure of unrequited love, and the million different shades of suicide that selfless love can lead to. It has done more for me in understanding real world relationships than the Berenstein Bears can shake a stick at.

Anyway, none of these poor kids could follow what I was saying anyway. My voice began to shake as the boy asked for money and sold the apples. My hands began to shake when he used the branches to build a house. I had to cough intermittently to keep my composure once he cut the tree down to build his boat. And when the old man sits on the stump, I barely uttered the words `The tree was happy. The end.`

Now, hopefully, the kids don`t think that I`m a weiner cry-baby. Hopefully they just think I get nervous while publicly speaking (I do). I suppose I could fret over it, or worry, but it was too touching a moment for me to not experience, and now it seems to funny to worry over.

If I can laugh at myself and almost simultaneously cry, I think I`m ready to be a teacher.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Chotto hen, ne?

August 15th marked the day that Japan surrendered to the Allies, bringing World War II to a close. Japan admitted a full defeat and a full surrender. The emperor denied that we was a God, and the Japanese began to follow Western rule of law, bowing the military control of the United States. They still do to this day, as military bases are the only legally military institutions allowed in Japan.
One interesting and little-known fact about modern Japan. Yasukuni shrine lies in Tokyo. It is dedicated the emperor and his cabinet and as such glorifies, at least according to the leftists, war-criminals. It has been a point of criticism for Shinzo Abe, who prayed once a year at the shrine for `guidance`. It had greatly erroded foreign relations with China and Korea, the two major victims of the war crimes. Every year on August 15th, the right-wing pro-emperor nationalists form a defensive ring around Yasukuni shrine, and every year the japanese and international leftists march toward the shrine to protest. I`ve heard differing things; it`s as close to rioting as Japan gets, the streets are full of angry protestors wrestling with nationalists. Or, alternately, the violence is all staged, the `riot` is controlled by police and kept under their supervision and control, etc. It appears the August 15th is still an important day here.

On August 15th, last week, Nigel and I were walking back from a nearby city after we had missed the last bus on the way home from Tokyo. It was a long walk, about an hour and a half. On the way, we realized what amazing changes have swept through Japan in the last 60 years. Sixty years and a handful of days before our night walk home, we would not have been welcome. Our visit would have hinged solely upon our silence and ability with a rifle, two Gaijin walking through the quiet nighttime countryside. An American and a Brit in the modern era, we rely more on our wit and willingness to be embarrassed than our martial skill. In fact, rather than a military imposition, we are revered and even employed because of our nationality and language.

Things truly change here, despite all the history and tradition.

It`s very nice to be welcome, even if I am welcome as an outsider.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Okay, it`s been a little while since an update. Things are the school are getting a little tighter. Have to come in earlier, stay later, etc. totally fine with me. Just a quick personal update now;

I spent last Sunday in Tokyo with the other ALT in town, whom we`ll call Nigel, because he`s British - like, drinking tea and watching cricket British. He`s also, incidentally, a very nice guy. He`s very interested in the Olympics, and specifically how well Great Britain is doing in relation to Japan. Aaanyway, Tokyo was really cool. It got very rainy, and we stayed inside coffee shops and all sorts of stores and things, but it was very cool. We even went to a Mexican restaurant that night! Mexican. In Japan.
It wasn`t exactly El Norteno (which I am now missing terribly), but it was good enough, if perhaps a little too expensive. We even went out for a drink at a British style Pub. Good scotch, what else do I have to say?

The teachers here are all really crazy people, it seems like. There`s a really effeminate male teacher, an (according to himself) uber-rich large man who I`ve taken to calling Mr. Big, a faux-feminist stickler, the lazy and irreverent Principal, etc. All really funny people. I just have to take some deep breaths and try to just have fun this year, and not be worried about what these people think of me, or whether each lesson plan goes over well. I`m getting nervous lately, but I really have nothing to be nervous about . . . besides faiing as a teacher. But, I`m stubbon and determined enough to not let that happen.

This Friday is my day with L-San again. Then next week, Tuesday. I can`t wait for those days to pass by, because they`ll look a lot better in hindsight than they do now, I`m sure. And this weekend, I`m going down near Osaka by shinkansen (bullet train!) to hang out with Josh and Shannon. For those who don`t know, they`re two of my favorite people in the world. It should be a good weekend, even if I have to use up a sick day Monday to make it worthwhile. That`ll propel me through L-San`s `lessons,` I`m sure. ...I hope.

I have very few funny anecdotes or stories on the edge of my mind right now. I would`ve updated many times this last week, but still no internet at home and my access here in the office is getting increasingly limited. I`m actually calling my internet provider today after school to ask if they can expedite the process. I don`t want to be a jerk, but I feel like I just need to say `I am American. I will drop a bomb if I have to. Hook me up to the interwub, dude. Be quick about it.`

Next time, I`ll try to write something interesting...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Return of L-San

That`s right! Today, I had a meeting with my boss (hereafter named Honcho) at the office at 9. Luckily, a great translator had come with me to help me navigate the meeting. Once I got there, Honcho informed me that we had to head over to L-San`s place of employment to continue our meeting. I was horrified. I was then informed, before headed to L-San`s, that I would need to go to her place of employment every day until Sept. 1st, for her to give me `japanese lessons`.
... I grew faint.
I pleaded with my translator to inform them that I didn`t want to study japanese with her. I tried to think of nice ways to get around it, without being too rude or forward (thought of as rude in Japan). I started by saying that her English was hard to understand, and it made me feel a little ... stressed. I then said that I had majored in another foreign language (which you should all know, but again ... for anonymity`s sake) by studying on my own, and that such a style was more conducive to my way of learning. I think people were a little offended that I would so blatently refuse an offer to have something to do, especially as I spend most of my days at work just reading or being on the internet, at least until school starts.
Anyhow, we went to L-San`s place anyway. Although, we went simply to say that I would be handling my own study habits, and would continue reporting in to the junior high. I consider it a major success. However, I do have to go to her place of residence to run a private book-reading session. At least...that`s what she said in English. I think I will read like...the hungry caterpillar, or something. ...I can`t imagine that it will take all day. Things during the meeting with L-San were a little tense...but, I stuck to my guns, tried to be as polite as possible and managed to retain my sanity.
On a bizarre note, however: After all this rudeness and awkwardness throughout the day, I went to get some lunch from a local convenience store only to find, quite to my surprise, L-San standing next to the sandwiches. It was, to say the least, awkward.
Rude American though I may be, I intend to study japanese harder on my own than L-San could prod me to. I`m off to do just that. Ganbarimasu!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Things change for the Gaijin

That`s right. I`ve now got a keitai (cell phone). That means whole new corridors of Japan are now open to me. Fast communication with my friends near Osaka, or the other JETs in the area will now replace the quiet nights at home in isolation. Speaking of other JETs, we had a prefectural meeting yesterday, which...was perhaps not very helpful. But, it was good to hang out with people and get a chance to cut loose afterward. We went to a British Pub and I had a few drinks before we went on the karaoke til the night wore on. Unfortunately, since I have to catch a train then a bus, I had to leave earlier than others. And, to top it off, I missed my bus on the way home! Luckily, My one great japanese contact in my city, we can call her Ms. Awesome, came to the rescue and picked me up from the train station. Ms. Awesome is almost the polar opposite of L-San (though their names are almost weird is that?). She`s helpful, not controlling, not patronizing, and generally nice to be around. I`m certainly thankful that I`ve got such a nice person on my side.

Now for the real update:
I never thought I would say this, but I am pretty upset at the Olympic coverage here in Japan. Japanese television is, of course, horrible. I was excited to watch the Olympics, maybe feel a spark of jingoistic patriotism as I watched the Americans take medal after medal. ...Or at least, due to the simplistic narrative of the Olympics games (bunch of people compete, some of them win), understand what is happening on the television for once.
...But, no. In Japan, they are only showing events that Japan is competing in (and have a good chance of winning). And, if Japan wins something, they`ll just show the last seconds over and over and over again, all day. I think I`ve watched the female judo winner like, 13 times in the last two days. And to top it off, the commentary is really bad. ...Not that I can understand it too much. But, in the states, we would have like, former Olympic medal winners talking about events. Again, in Japan, things are different. They just have Paris Hilton-style TaRenTos (talents) from reality television comment after events, saying things like `Such a shame!` or `They did it! Great!`
Anyway, WTF Japan? Way to crush my blossoming patriotism. ...Oh, actually ...seriously, thanks, Japan. I almost lost it there for a moment, in the monotonous mental chanting of `USA! USA! USA!` It has been replaced by `Let the best (wo)man win ... and let me read about it on the BBC days after the fact`.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Some things are universal

Ah, today is blessedly cool compared to the last couple of days. Japan can be quite enjoyable, when you`re not sweating your ass off.

It`s really quite funny. Here in Japan, the emphasis on the workplace is how busy you LOOK, not how busy you ARE. It`s a nation full of paper-shufflers and desk-rearrangers. As I said previously, this place may have birthed Bureaucracy. Apparently, the private sector is very efficient and the public sector (like, oh...public school) is very inefficient.
So, because we have to look busy, it`s required that the teachers come into the office even when school is not in session, such as is the case now). Only...where are all the other teachers? Apparently, the other ALT and myself are required to come in (even though we have literally nothing to do), and the other teachers can take off and do whatever they want. fine with me. Internet is nice! Also...what else have I got to do? It`s just unfortunate that, as one of the two white guys in the city, I am pretty high profile. Anyway...I don`t really mind at all. But the other ALT does. Alot!

On a really funny note...

The other day, I was being transported to get my keitai (cellphone) by a nice japanese guy who works for the school department. Only...he doesn`t speak hardly any English at all. So...I knew the word for music and listen, so I asked what kind of music he listens to. And, all the sudden, the floodgates of communication open. It was hilarious! He was like `American Hip-Hop!` And we had a whole conversation by just naming bands and indicating whether they were good or bad. It was like `Eru Eru Kooru Jei (L L Cool J.) *laughing*` `Shai Pu Resu Hiru (Cypress Hill) *more laughing*` `Ennu Dabyu E (N.W.A)` etc. Then I was recommending bands like `Beastie Boys? ...Bi su ti bo i su?` `hai! Kakkoi (cool!)`, and then, the best, I was like `Wu Tang? Wu Tan gu?` and this guy, out of nowhere was shouting in bad English that he probably didn`t understand `Wu Tang Clan ain`t nothing to fuck with, Wu Tang Clan ain`t nothing to fuck with!...Dorra dorra biru yaru! (dollar, dollar bill y`all). ...Priceless.