Monday, March 31, 2003

Hello, folks. Yep, this is the first update in three weeks; unfortunately, it'll be the last update for another two or three weeks, as I will be sending my computer in to Apple Japan once again, this time because the screen is malfunctioning a bit. Drat. How am I going to watch my region 1 DVDs now?

So, graduation has come and gone. This year I went to the smaller of my two junior high schools, Kamiichiki. They had about 20 students in the graduating class, so there was lots of time for some interesting additions to the program. For example, they had a computer and projector set up so that, as each student went up to get his or her diploma, various candid photos would be projected on stage. While this was happening, a teacher would recite a poem that the student had written about their feelings about graduation.

Then, after the speeches were finished, the students presented a mini-concert. The first- and second-year students sang songs for the graduates, and vice versa, after which all of the students sang songs for their teachers and parents. It was quite moving.

Now, when I got to school that morning, as I was drinking tea with other "special guests" in the principal's office, the principal handed me a copy of the program for the day. I noted with interest that "Seishun no Ichi Page," the song that I conducted at contest back in January, was on the program. I then noted with some alarm that I was conducting it again. However, after a quick review of the score, all was well.

One of the interesting things I noticed this year is that schools keep very good track of how many students have graduated. Have you ever wondered what number graduate you were from your high school? At the graduation ceremony at Tsurumaru Elementary School, as the principal gave the last graduate her diploma, he informed her that she was the 3,245th student to graduate from Tsurumaru. That was the point where many of those sixth graders couldn't hold back tears anymore, although I don't think there's a causal relationship there.

So, next week, April 7th is the entrance ceremony for the junior high schools, and the 8th is the ceremony for the elementary schools. I'm looking forward to seeing it. But, until then, I'll be going to the school board office every day. One of my supervisors has actually started apologizing for the fact that I've got nothing to do there. (^_^) But, now that I can read enough kanji to be able to sort things by school, I've become a bit more useful than last year. You know, sorting handouts, filing paperwork, that kind of thing. That, plus I can converse at the elementary school level! Yaaay!

Of course, that's not too helpful when I have to write my bi-monthy article for the town newspaper. Well, I always end up writing the article in very, very, simple Japanese, and then Matsuo-sensei asks me questions about what I wrote, so she can add in the details that I don't have the vocabulary for.

And, there are still people who think I don't understand any Japanese at all, and thus direct all questions to my supervisor. They then are suprised when I can answer some things without waiting for a translation. On the flip side, many people who come to the school board office to ask questions about school lunch, register their children for school, etc. will walk up to my area and try to ask me to help them. Because of this, I have had lots of practice in saying the polite form of "just wait a minute."

I've been studying the oddest vocabulary lately. I bought a game for my PS2 that involves giving spoken commands to an on-screen character. Although some of the words I've learned are useful (jidohanbaiki, hikidashi, senmendai, modere, shiraberu), I kind of doubt that I'll be using the term kaenbin* anytime soon.

*in order: vending machine, drawer, (bathroom) sink, back off, examine, Molotov cocktail.

Bob Sapp lost a K-1 (boxing/kickboxing) championship match last weekend. Could this be the beginning of the end?

They've started showing American Major League Baseball on NHK again. This year, there will be three teams in the league: the Mariners, the Dodgers, and new for this year, the Yankees. And, I suppose, a generic team that they play against. (^_^) During spring training games, whenever the Yankees were at bat, there would be a counter in the lower left corner: "Matsui made ato GO nin" -- Matsui will be up after FIVE people.

Life is having it's ups and downs, as usual. I might be able to squeeze in one more update before Apple sends the delivery service to pick up my computer, but if not. . . see ya in a few weeks!

Monday, March 10, 2003

As mentioned previously, Bob Sapp is the current "most popular gaikokujin" in the Japanese media, and over the weekend I saw more evidence of him milking it for all it's worth. Last month, one of the entertainment variety shows took a crew to his home to congratulate Sapp on his upcoming CD. Bob was taken by surprise -- it was the first he had heard of it!

Anyway, his CD, Sapp Time, came out last week, and I saw a bit of a video for the title track -- a rap song -- on the big board at Tenmonkan dori. Let's just say that Bob should stick to his day job. . . .

Graduation is on Thursday, results for the public high schools' entrance exams come in on Friday, and an air of mingled anticipation and dread hovers over the 3-nensei hallway. Soon, the third year students will line up outside of the gym, the band will begin to play "Auld Lang Syne," and the students will solemnly process -- what? Yes, I said "Auld Lang Syne." Here in Japan, it's known as Hotaru no Hikari, I think, and that translates into "Light of Fireflies." The song's lyrics speak of studying together, by the same window, by the light of fireflies in the summer, and by light reflected off of snow in the winter. Interesting fact: The kanji for "alumni association," if read literally, means something like "group of people that studied by the same window."

Of course, I left the book that details this info at work. If I've remembered it incorrectly, look for corrections in the near future.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Time marches on. . . .

Next week is graduation for the junior high schools. Some of the san-nensei have previously taken and passed their entrance exams for private high schools (once again this year I was privileged to see several of them get the good news), but most of them are taking their tests (for the public high schools) over the next couple of days. I wish them luck.

That "something coming?" Well, unless it's just a generally better attidude than usual, it's not here yet. I'm gonna try to not knock myself out worrying about it, though. Like many 2nd year JETs going into their third year, I've been a bit bitter about some things lately. But, y'know, life's too short.

I just recently saw the photos from the prefectural music contest. Now, I'm a big guy (yeah, yeah, I know), but standing onstage in front of a chorus of Japanese junior high school students makes me look gigantic! I'll see if I can get a digital copy to post in my photo album. It's great!

Say, does anybody remember some guy named Bob Sapp playing for the Vikings a few years back? He came to Japan last year as a pro-wrestler (I think they call it "entertainment wrestling" here. . . truth in advertising!). Since then, he has become the most popular foreign "tarento" in the Japanese media. He's doing commercials, TV dramedy guest shots, and a rap CD, and is mentioned quite frequently in the TV news shows. Meanwhile, many of my fellow JETs bemoan the fact that every time he appears, he sets back the image of foreigners in Japan by leaps and bounds. (Hey, he's a pro wrestler! He makes faces, jumps around, and acts like a buffoon as a profession!) (The position of "most popular foreign talent" changes every six months or so, although Bob Sapp is the first one I've seen who speaks Japanese worse than I do. (^_^)

Speaking of the image of foreigners. . . . Late last year, a seal from the Bering Sea somehow found it's way into the Tama River near Tokyo, and is now making his home there. As a little publicity stunt, Nishi-ku, a district of Yokohama, announced last month that they were going to declare the seal, now known as "Tama-chan," a resident of the district, and issue him an official residency certificate ("juminhyo"). In many cases -- like getting a loan, for example -- the juminhyo is used as proof that you are a resident of where you say you are. Now, foreigners -- even those living here permanently -- can't get juminhyo. So, some foreigner's groups have started pointing out that, although Tama-chan is a welcome addition to the community, there are many other mammalian residents of Japan who are equally as deserving. . . . (^_^) For more information, check out this site.

My Japanese ability is growing by leaps and. . . no, more like hops and stumbles, but it is getting better. Good enough that I can many times get the gist of what people are saying, even though I don't understand each and every word. Many times people are surprised when, while they are searching for simpler words to explain things, I say, "Wakarimashita." Of course, this also means that sometimes people don't realize that I understand, and I overhear things. . . . ;-D

I finally got to see "The Two Towers" a couple of weeks ago. Good movie, but I don't remember Faramir or Theoden King being such jerks in the book. I guess I have to read them again!

oh dear, amazon.co.jp now has ordering in English. . . and Citibank upped the limit on my card -- ahh, I'd better not. I've indulged in enough retail therapy for now. I wonder how much of this stuff I'll end up shipping home. . .

And, for no apparent reason, I'm still unreasonably cheerful these days. Some of my friends are wondering why, but I couldn't really say.

Anyway. . . more later!

Rob