Saturday, December 31, 2005

明けましておめでとうございます!

It's been 2006 for the past two and a half hours, so HAPPY NEW YEAR! I went to 勝田神社 (Kanda Shrine) in Yonago City to watch them ring in the new year. (The Buddhist temple next door took care of the ringing part. 108 chimes, to cleanse the soul of the 108 worldly sins.) I found it interesting that, unlike the times I visited the shrine for New Year's in Kagoshima, the vast majority of people in attendance were under 30. Cool.

I hope you all enjoy the New Year's holiday, wherever you may be!

Rob

Friday, December 30, 2005

Born and Raised "Gaijin"

Erik Juhl was the head resident of Agnes Mellby Hall at St. Olaf College for the two years that I lived there. (One of those years, I was one of his RA staff.) He lived in Japan for a time after graduating from Olaf. When I got back in touch with him after I moved to Kagoshima, Erik commented that it was a rare thing when someone from Kumamoto (where he lived) could make fun of someone else for being more "inaka" (countryside) than them.

Now, Tottori is even more inaka than Kagoshima...

One of Erik's friends, Tom Dillon, writes a column for the Japan Times entitled "When East Marries West." Last week's column is an interesting essay on the concept of being "gaijin." In it's literal sense, it means outsider, not part of the group. It has taken on some other connotations, of course, but looking at it's root meaning...

"I was born a gaijin. I grew up a gaijin. I came to Japan a gaijin. It's always been as natural as gazing out a window and appreciating the landscape yet not being one with it. I fit in Japan because I matched the role. I was a gaijin from the get go. I suspect a lot of us were.

"More than this, I suspect there are many Japanese who feel like gaijin too, viewing themselves as enduring extras in their long-playing epics of life.

"But none of this is necessarily negative -- as all "true" gaijin will understand. For there is much to be said for being a gaijin."


Now, I've been gaijin all my life -- my brother and I were the only non-caucasian kids in the elementary school when we were there -- and I find much of what this column says to ring true, both good and bad. Give it a read. You might find it interesting.

Happy New Year's eve, people!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Waiting for a student

7:05 PM JST, December 26, 2005. I hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season. Yesterday, I went to Japanese class for the first time in a while -- just in time to catch the Christmas party. (Yes, I planned that.) We decorated Christmas cakes, chatted with each other in a mix of languages, and had a good time. And the cakes...well, we didn't know much about cake decorating, so...it turned out...interesting. I'll post a picture later.

There was only one other American there, and I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I don't remember his name. He came here on JET this past August, and he seems to be having a good time -- although he was definitely showing signs of "I haven't spoken English on a regular basis in MONTHS" syndrome. As such, without prompting, he explained many details about how he got on JET (applied, turned down; missed the deadline; applied, accepted), his university experience/major (international business), his Japanese language ability (hasn't taken the 日本語能力試験 yet but is probably between levels 3 and 2), etc., very quickly. (At least, I assumed it was IHSEOARBIM syndrome; you'd think that he'd be friends with the other JET participants in the area...)

Right now, I'm sitting at the computer at work, waiting for one of the adult students to show up. Takashi was supposed to be here at 6 or 6:30. As of this typing, it's about 7:20. We try to be flexible with Takashi's schedule, because his work schedule often changes without a moment's notice. He's going to do a 9-month training course in California starting in January, so he's been coming in for a lot of extra lessons lately. (He's improved a lot.) Anyway, Takashi's got about another week that he can still come in for classes, so we actually scheduled a few on my day off. I don't mind; there wasn't anything else I wanted to do today. But he's not here yet, so I'm doing this now.

Although he's still a little worried, Takashi will probably be fine in California. Meanwhile, as for me, I'm already starting to forget the Japanese I was cramming last month. Too bad (for me) that there aren't Japanese proficiency tests more often.

Rob

Saturday, December 24, 2005

メリークリスマス!

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year, folks. I'll try to maintain the increased posting level in the new year. Feel free to leave a comment, please...

Friday, December 23, 2005

NHK Educational is running low on ideas

So, I was sitting in one of the small classrooms yesterday, eating lunch. I had the TV on for some background noise (I couldn't find anything interesting to watch), and it was showing one of those "Let's Learn to Speak English!" shows. I vaguely noted that there was a cartoon illustration of some toga-wearing person in a spotlight.

I didn't pay much attention until I heard the following sentence being diagrammed and translated into English: "Then, something like fish scales fell from his eyes, and he could see again."

I looked at the television in disbelief, but it was true. They were using the story of Saul on the road to Damascus as an example for English class.

(And no, this wasn't a religion-themed show...)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Looks like it's gonna be a white Christmas.

Record snow causes injuries, blackouts across Japan - MSN-Mainichi Daily News

Most of Japan has been really snowy for the past couple of days. It doesn't usually get this bad until mid-January.

Heck, Kagoshima got over four inches of snow today, in addition to the inch or so that fell last week, breaking the December snowfall record that has stood for 88 years. The evening newscast had a shot of the Kagoshima City trams running very, very slowly past Tenmonkan, and a lot of cars spinning their wheels. (No one in Kagoshima knows how to deal with snow, it seems.)

Times like this, I really wish that building practices like, say, insulation, or central heating, had caught on nationwide. (sigh.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A story I forgot to tell earlier

There's a regional morning TV show here called "Mezamashi Terebi." (Warning: Link contains really loud J-Pop, and weird flash animation) A few months ago, the producers of Mezamashi Terebi ("wake-up TV") got in trouble for faking human-interest type news stories. For example, they had a feature where a pro baseball player is given a good luck charm by his girlfriend, and in the next game, he got four hits including a home run. Turns out that the good luck charm came from one of the producers ("say that your girlfriend gave you this") and the interview bits were scripted. The producers were sacked, and the show was re-tooled.

There'd be no point to this little story, but for the fact that a week before the scandal broke, I was actually interviewed for this show.

Sakaiminato is the home town of a famous cartoonist named Shigeru Mizuki. His most famous work is a series entitled ゲゲゲの鬼太郎 (Ge-ge-ge no Kitaro). Kitaro is a mystical character who protects ordinary folk like you and me from the supernatural -- usually things from Japanese folklore, but occasionally monsters from other countries as well. Part of his arsenal are the (sentient) wooden sandals on his feet (下駄, "geta").

During one of the annual local festivals, there is a geta kicking contest, where you kick for distance. I took part (I got 17 meters, the winner got somewhere around 30). After I was finished, I turned to put my socks and shoes back on...and all of a sudden two video cameras were in my face.

The "reporter" (it was a fluff piece, after all) interviewed me in Japanese, asking me whether I had worn geta before (no), how it felt (um...okay?), and what I was doing in Japan, among other things. Apparently, my answers were comprehensible, because they showed pretty much all of it on TV the next morning. (They even took a close up of my foot, which was about five or six cm longer than the average Japanese guy's foot.)

People still come up to me these days (MONTHS later!) to tell me they saw me on TV. I wanted to get a copy of it, but before I could call the TV network and ask, they had their little shake up, and my boss advised me to forget about it. Probably for the best. And no, there was not a causal relationship there.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Adventures in drinking

Well, tonight was the End-Of-Year party. Six staff and nine adult students went to the city to drink and be merry. It was fun. (I'll probably be recovering for the next two days or so.)

On our way out of the bar and to the cars, to head out to the karaoke place, a woman (who had previously been standing around doing nothing) latched onto my arm, saying, かっこいい!来た、来た、面白いクラブ。。。(Cool! Come with me, there's a great club --)

I, of course, gave her my best What. The. F**K. look, staring at her if she was crazy. I managed to spit out the first thing which came to mind, which was ああっ。。。ええとう。。。わたしはにほんごがわかりません。(me no speeky nihoneese). She then asked me where I was from (in Japanese), and I waited an awkward moment before mumbling, "America."

At this point, she shouted, "OH! Hau aaru yuu?"

I managed to extricate my arm at this point, and said, "Fine, but I'm going with my friends now." I jogged to catch up with them, and said somewhat loudly, あれ、見ましたか?

Naturally, the first song I did at Karaoke was "Roxanne."

(I don't suppose I could get someone to forward this to Dawn? She might be amused by it.)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

How things change in a year

So, when I first started this job a year and a half ago, there were occasions where I would grievously misread how sensitive a child was. The first time this happened, I was expressing mild disapproval with a boy who had failed to start his homework three weeks running. He burst into tears. I felt remarkably guilty, even though my boss and the child's mother both were on my side. (The mom made him go back to the classroom and humbly apologize again.)

Well, lately, he's turned over a new leaf. He shows up early, if he doesn't understand the lesson he stays late and asks questions, he always has his homework done.

Today, his parents decided to visit his grandparents, and they called us and informed us he would be absent from today's lesson. (Of course, we have no problem with this.) Apparently, he complained so much about missing English class, his parents felt obligated to bring him to the school. They were amused/bemused by the whole thing.

Wow.

(He showed up about 20 minutes late, and was about an hour late to his grandparent's place.)

I'd feel proud...if I could figure out what the hell I did.




I survived the Kid's Christmas Party with minimal discomfort (although the damned beard shed so much I felt like spitting hairballs for the next day or so). The end-of-year party (忘年会) for adults is this Saturday. I foresee...alcohol and karaoke...in my future.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Now THIS, I feel MUST be posted...

So last weekend, I went to Kobe to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. (More on that when I get the results...in February.) I saw a lot of foreigners in town, and I started noticing some patterns.

The foreigners, especially the young JET crowd, hung around in groups. Much like a Japanese sentai show, there were certain categories that HAD to be filled.

• The one with the somewhat overly-ambitious plan (the "Doug").
• The way too genki one (the "Jamie").
• The laid-back cynical bastard who inevitably came up with the best comments (the "Ricky")
• The REALLY laid-back everything-ends-up-rolling-off-his-back guru (the "James")
• and finally, the vaguely-dissatisfied-for-no-justifiable-reason mumbling bumbler who trails along at the back yet still goes along with everyone dude (the "Rob").

The "tes-TAY" position usually rotated among the above.

Man, it was creepy. I almost went up to one of the cynical ones to offer him 20 yen...

The most amusing observation of this was at the Hankyu railway station in Sannomiya. A local train pulled up, and a genki asked the plan dude, "Do we get on this one?" The plan dude responded, "Yep, hurry, we gotta go." They all filed onto the train. It didn't go anywhere.

A minute later, the limited express pulled up on the other side of the platform, and I promptly got on that one, followed by the other group who had to run to make it before the doors closed.

And then, on the way back to Sannomiya, there was a huge crowd of people beyond the ticket gates. I pushed my way into the crowd, only to notice that the crowd was in the area in front of the ticket gates ONLY. I moved to the left, away from the gates, and there was no-one waiting there. So, when the train came, I sat down in an almost empty car in comfort, while the next car was wall-to-wall foreigners.

Freakin' newbie sheeple. (^_^)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Only one word can describe this: LAAAAAAAAAME


For a refreshing time, make it...Final Fantasy XII time.

Japanese video game company SquareEnix and beverage company Suntory are teaming up to make a Final Fantasy-themed soft drink.

Its name?

POTION.

(of course, since I do happen to be the ÜBERGEEK, I will try to find a bottle of this when it comes out next year. Hey, 200 hit points can make a difference, y'know...)