Wednesday, February 19, 2003

For some reason, even though the weather was a bit dreary and I've been running a little low lately, I found myself in unusually good spirits today. On my way home from the town hall, the song "Something's Coming" from West Side Story kept running through my head. I don't know, maybe something good is just around the corner. Maybe. I'll keep y'all posted.

I spotted Chairman Kaga (from "Iron Chef") on TV today, I think. I wasn't entirely sure, as this guy's hair was normal, and he had a mustache, and normal clothes, or at least, normal clothes from about a century ago. Still more normal looking than his outfits on "Iron Chef" or "Time Shock," though.

It's now almost 2:00 AM, and that song is still at the front of my thoughts. "The air is humming. . . and something great is coming. . . ."

"Could be. . . . Who knows?"

Monday, February 17, 2003

I've been reading one or two. . . kind of depressing books, lately (Dogs and Demons, Stupid White Men, to name some examples), and in order to balance it out, I've also been reading some of the books that my predecessor left in the apartment for me. Some of them are kind of silly (Towing Jehovah), some are thought-provoking (Learning to Bow), and some are just fun. Books like The House With a Clock In it's Walls, for example. You know. . . "Children's/Young Adult fiction." Good stuff for escaping reality for an hour or four. That, plus the occasional really really simple manga title helps me cope with things. And, perhaps a movie every now and then.

One of my friends keeps on badgering me about starting a band together. James is a pretty good guitar player, and with me on keyboard, he thinks we could have a lot of fun. I'd like to, but buying myself a decent keyboard is kind of out of the budget range right now. So, what did I do? I bought an inexpensive guitar, and he's going to give me some pointers (my guitar chops are actually worse than my piano chops right now). James envisions us doing coffee shop gigs and the like. I can see the reviews now: "They sounded good, but for some reason, all of their songs were in the key of G." Just kidding -- I've only had the thing for a day, and I'm already showing some improvement. I think. (^_^)

Before I forget, I should make note of the fact that I am an idiot, and I forgot that Cecil's Deli is actually in St. Paul, not Minneapolis. Either way, I still can't get a Loxburger, dang it!

Final tests start this week. I hope the kids aren't too stressed out.

Hell, I hope I'm not too stressed out!

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Yesterday (Tuesday, February 11) was a holiday -- National Foundation Day. I'm not entirely sure of the significance of this date, but what it means in the immediate sense is that most people get a day off of work or school. Even still, many students went to school anyways for club activities. And, since Monday wasn't a national holiday. . . I had to take a day of personal leave to get my four-day weekend.

I went into the city yesterday, and was wholly unsurprised to see (and hear) the big black vans driving around, spouting nationalistic slogans and songs. Wait, let me back up and explain:

There is at least one "ultra-nationalistic" political party here in Japan, and I've been told that one of the basic tenets of their platform is, "Foreigners are bad. Expel all of the foreigners." Every once in a while, they drive around in big, black, bus-sized vans which are decorated with nationalistic slogans and symbols. Usually there are two flags hanging from the back. One is the old military "rising sun" flag with the rays extending from the sun, and the other (around here, anyway) is a black flag with the Satsuma clan crest -- a circle with a horizontal and vertical bar intersecting in the middle -- with the Imperial chrysanthemum crest superimposed upon it. The vans also have gigantic loudspeakers mounted on the roof, through which they shout slogans and play patriotic music, loud enough to echo back from distant mountansides.

Anyway, these vans make an appearance maybe once or twice a month, depending on where you are. But, yesterday, in the city, many of them were cruising around all day. Every ten minutes or so, another one would pass by Tenmonkan, where i was waiting to meet with friends. Happily, I am able to report that the majority of Japanese that I could see were just as annoyed with the vans as my friends and I were.

Surprisingly, the temptation to wave as they went by was almost irresistable.

As we were walking around doing our usual thing (eat lunch, go to the arcade to play Taiko no Tatsujin, eat Haagen-Das, shop and/or karaoke, go home (are we in a rut? at least it's a comfy rut)), many people went out of their way to be extra-polite and friendly to us, as if to say, "Don't worry. . . we're not all like that."

I would like to note in passing that, if I'm out and about by myself in the city, people don't really react to me in the same way that they react to other foreigners. This is apparently because I don't stand out from the crowd like those blond-haired blue-eyed pale people do.

I am. . . STEALTH GAIKOKUJIN! (^_^)

Actually, there were some white SUVs with speakers driving around the city yesterday too. I'm not sure if they were part of the same party or not, since I couldn't understand what they were saying, although I did recognize when they played the national anthem.

All right, I'll tell you one of the things that's stressing me out.

The Japanese have this word: kataomoi. Literally translated, it means, "one-sided feelings," which is an apt description of. . . naah, you figure it out.

Yah, I write too much. What can I say, I need the practice.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

I note in passing that I didn't say any of the other reasons why the last few weeks have been stressful. I'm gonna hold off on telling those for a bit, in the hopes that they will resolve themselves soon. Well, I can dream, anyway.

I'd like to clarify that, living in Kagoshima, there are still a lot of wonderful, natural vistas to be seen. The islands are quite spectacular, in fact. And, although the the trees around Nishi Eki are newly shorn of branches, many other streets and hillsides still have some beautiful trees.

The Shinkansen (a.k.a. the Bullet Train) is finally making its way down here to Kagoshima. They're expanding Nishi-Kagoshima station for it, and it's been quite the drawn-out process, sadly. The expansion involves adding a floor above the existing station, and several floors below, meaning that they ripped out the garden area in front of the station to build a new building underground. Well, it may look nice when it's done. . . which will be just about the time I'm finishing up here and leaving. Oh, well.

I got ADSL access last week -- Yay! That sound you're not hearing is my phone bill dropping by about $150 -- $200 a month. That will help quite a lot!

Random craving of the week: A Loxburger from Cecil's Deli, in Minneapolis. (I think that was the name of the place. . .) One of the local coffeeshop chains has a "Bagel Sand. A" that is somewhat similar, but an order of magnitude smaller.

The latest in PlayStation 2 games that will probably never come out in the States: "Taiko no Tatsujiin" (Master of Taiko). Think Parappa the Rapper, only more traditional Japanese. It comes with a taiko drum controller, a mini-drum that you plug into the PlayStation in lieu of the regular Dualshocks. Tempting. . . but I'm trying to stick to a budget.

No, really!

Monday, February 03, 2003

Um. Okay, so I don't know what to say about what happened with the Space Shuttle apart from the obvious, so I'm not going to try for the moment.

It's been a stressful couple of weeks. For those of you musicians who are reading this, you may be amused to know that last week I was once again called upon to conduct an ensemble in performance. It was a chorus this time, comprised of all of the first- and second-year students at Kamiichiki Junior High School. Also, instead of the school's culture festival, it was at a Prefectural Junior High School Music Contest. Last year at this contest, Kami-chu earned a gold award (equivalent to Minnesota's "superior rating"), and they hoped to get another. So, no pressure or anything.

I did get to rehearse the song, "Seishun no ichi page" ("the First page of youth" or somesuch) with the group a few times in the two weeks before the contest. Now, it's been a while since I had conducted a chorus (although I did get to conduct To-chu's brass band once two culture festivals ago), and I was a bit nervous.

So we get on stage, they announce us, I bow, get on the podium, and raise my hands -- and I hear a jingle from my coat pocket.

Basics in Conducting, unwritten rule number 1: Remove keys and loose change from pockets before you start.

I begin the song, and I have to concentrate on not speeding up. Meanwhile, the audience is murmuring because my conducting "style" is not like any they are used to seeing. You could say it was avant-garde, but you could also say that it was frantic and unpolished. Also, about halfway through the song, my left hand started spasming out of extreme nervousness, with the result that my ring finger twitched out of control for a good chunk of the performance. Well, whatever else you say about it, it was effective.

According to the music teacher, the judges all commented on my directing, saying things like "unique," "interesting," and the like.

The way I see it is that a lot of schools went with student conductors, while a few went with other teachers as conductors. In a number of cases, the students appeared to be conducting to some sort of set routine in their heads, not reacting to what they were hearing, and generally mirroring the beat with their left hand. Some conductors would stop the beat when arriving at a long note, merely holding out their hands until the cut-off.

I, on the other hand, remembered at least some of the things that Dr. Bob and Dr. A tried to teach me, and directed expression with the left while keeping time with the right. Meanwhile, I apparently used my whole body to add emphasis to my conducting. I felt I must have looked like a spaz. A few parents came up to me afterwards and said that I looked like I was dancing. Go figure. I had fun, though, and the students all were very happy as we left the stage.

We were one of the last performances before the lunch break. As our students were lining up to return to the bus, the chairman/chief organizer of the festival/contest came over to us and made a few compliments about our performance and my conducting. That was a surprise.

(we got the gold award, by the way!)