Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Okay, I've gotten about four hours of sleep, and now I'm back. Most stores and restaurants are closed today, so I'm still at home. I'm taking advantage of the down time to do some long-overdue cleaning.

Earlier today (while waiting for a load of laundry to finish), I took a walk around town. Even though everything's closed for the holiday, there was still a lot of traffic on the roads. Many people are visiting the homes of family and friends today. Last year, I got to go along with Dr. Kawabata, a local (retired) physician, as he made the rounds. I ate a lot of traditional New Year's foods, met a lot of people, had a good time, and was dead tired by three in the afternoon. (Late night, y'know...)

One service that was up and running this morning was Postal Delivery. Every year, people send "new year's cards" to each other. These are simple postcards, sometimes decorated, with a brief "Happy New Year" message. The Post Office accepts these for delivery around the 25th of December, and they hold them all until January 1st. This year, I got five of them; three from JET friends, one from the superintendent of schools (my boss), and one, surprisingly, from the principal of one of the junior high schools in town.

No one is surprised that I don't send these. My Japanese handwriting is atrocious; even worse than my English handwriting.

The sun is shining, so I'd better put out another load of laundry.


Well, now that Blogger's up and running again, and seeing as how I haven't been able to go to sleep tonight (it's what? 5:30 AM?), I might as well make a new post.

Happy New Year, everyone!

I begin this year just as I did last year, sitting in my apartment and watching TV. I did make the midnight visit to the local Shinto shrine, to pick up a few good luck charms, and pray for good fortune in the year to come.

I took a couple of days off of work -- Christmas, and the day after. Yep, those would have been regular work days. But, I had some leave that I had to use before the end of the year, so I was able to take paid vacation for those days. And, this entire week is winter break for the school system, so I don't have to go back until Monday the 5th.

[aside -- I just saw a commercial for a new TV show, starting next week. The (English) title: "Bewitched in Tokyo." It even has the same theme music]

While we were in Fukuoka for the Japanese language test, my friends and I had dinner at the Hard Rock Caf�. Just like Hard Rock in any other country, the food is overpriced. . . but that's actually normal for Japan.

It looked and sounded like any other Hard Rock Caf�, but there was one part of the menu that struck us as odd.

Do these look like "Japanese Specialties" to you? Okay, maybe the Teriyaki Chicken. . . .

Well, 2003 was kind of difficult for me, for a number of reasons. I could say that a lot of it was wasted time, in fact. I'm actually rather glad to put it behind me. (Some of you know some of these stories already.) 2004 looks to be a challenge, too, but at least I know about these in advance! For example, my job here in Higashiichiki will end in July. I have been debating looking for a new job here in Japan (though probably not in Kagoshima). I think I'll try this. I've already got a lead or two.

I saw The Last Samurai last week. It was much better than I was expecting (I don't normally go for Tom Cruise movies). In case anyone was wondering, there actually was a rebellion at around the time the movie depicted, although it didn't happen around Tokyo. Actually, it was around here, in Kyushu. The leader of the rebellion, Saigo Takamori, is still a local folk hero in Kagoshima, although not so much in the rest of Japan. Saigo was one of the leaders of the Meiji Restoration, helping to oust the Tokugawa Shogunate and reinstate the emperor. Afterwards, he did come to believe that Japan was moving too fast away from it's historical roots, and he led a samurai rebellion. After losing most of his troops in battle, Saigo committed suicide in a cave near Kagoshima City (now within city limits).

At the end of the movie, Emperor Meiji said something to the effect of, "Japan must become a modern nation, but we must not forget who we are and where we come from." This line really struck me.

I'm not sure that Japan ever really learned that lesson.

I hope that everyone has had a joyous holiday season, and I hope you all will have a good new year.

You know, I'm not sure that anybody reads this anymore...

Oh, well. Even if nobody knows about it, I still wish all of you a happy new year.


Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Teacher: Christmas is coming soon. Robert will now sing "Joy to the World."

Monday, December 08, 2003

Yesterday, I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, level three. It was from 9:45 to around 3:00, although the test itself only took about three hours. (Lots of break time between sections, I guess.) I am not too confident about how I did. However, at level three it only takes 60% to get a "pass."

The test took place in Fukuoka, which is on the northern end of Kyushu. It was a four-hour train ride, one way. We went a day early, and stopped at Daizaifu, which is a shrine where students traditionally go to pray for divine assistance on examinations. I got back here at around midnight last night. Thank goodness that today was an office day.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Oh. Mah. Gawd.

Normally, it's Laura who sends out e-mail about stuff like this, but when I found this online, I just had to say something. The headline from the fora at the Straight Dope says, "Tacky Asian Stereotypes for Kids -- New, From Lifeway!"
LifeWay : VBS 2004 - Rickshaw Rally
This is a "Vacation Bible School" program for Southern Baptist churches. The theme is supposed to be a Japanese setting. Things included:

� A theme song that has a chorus that goes: "Wax on, wax off, get your rickshaw ready . . . to the far out, Far East...."

� Name tags in the shape of Chinese (!) take out boxes.

� The entire VBS package is enclosed in an oversized tin again shaped like a box from a Chinese restaurant.

� One of the suggestions made on the website is to use oversized decorations, such as big "chop stix," perhaps made from old crutches wrapped in brown paper and marked with Chinese characters. (Most chopsticks I've seen are plain wood or have cartoon characters...)

� Another suggestion is to use an authentic gong to signal class changes. (?) One response to this one is that one church group will just go with a metal garbage can lid.


Some of the reactions from REAL Asian Americans can be found on the site Reconsidering Rickshaw Rally.