1159 words about…

22 08 2007

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. Sorry to the one or two of you who were so captivated that you’ve slowly rotted away waiting for an update. Last week nothing happened. This week, a lot happened, and I find myself somewhat overwhelmed with how much I want to say. This will be a bit scatterbrained, gomen nasai. Also, pictures will come later tonight.

When I have nothing to do at the office, I study Japanese, so I studied a lot of Japanese last week. But as some karmic reward for my patience and diligence, I got a small food processor, finally got car insurance (and can now drive) and got a BRAND NEW keitai (cell phone), which is way too cool to explain in its full coolness. It can trade information via IR ports, send little icons in text messages, scan barcodes and report prices and nutrition info, and is completely waterproof. Whoa mama!

Last week there was another festival nearby where I spent my time hanging out with the local JET and some Italian guy who was on vacation from his job in Tokyo. We internationalized (whatever that means) by watching fireworks, traditional dancing, and not-so-traditional Japanese-men-dressing-in-Vaudevillian-getups-and-blackface. I couldn’t do much more than laugh; it’s a situation where we had to remember that we’re the foreigners, and this isn’t our home country.

The weekend following that was my town’s bon odori festival, which is a Shinto practice where people return to their hometowns and engage in non-stop dancing, non-stop taiko drumming and non-stop merrymaking for a few days. Rather than doing the usual of having drinks forced down my throat, I spent the entirety of this festival mingling with students. Some were being insistent that I learn their names; some guys were wearing dresses for some ceremony (sounds familiar, no?) and others tried out their “limited” English faculties on me. I’ve discovered that students, too, know more English than they let on. Even the elementary school students were eager to communicate, and despite having no formal education, were able to creatively explain, through big gestures and simple Japanese, rules of a game we were playing. So while the town drank away, I played soccer with kids. It was one of the most pleasant nights I’ve had in Japan.

The last three days I’ve spent in Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital and largest city (I think). It was refreshing to be surrounded by boatloads of people and shops and food and weirdness. I took a bus up at 6 A.M. the morning following bon odori, and groggily wandered the streets exploring most major attractions: the TV tower, the Hokkaido University Botanical Gardens, Tanuki Doji street, Odori Park, the Akarenga and stood next to harajuku wannabes watching street performers singing terrible songs in English. When I say terrible, I mean T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E. The lyrics, which were screamed at deafening levels, went something along the lines of “Suck my f***ing c*** you f***ing b****.” Ironically because no one understood, no one took offense. I guess that also explains the blaring gangsta rap in shopping malls. Japan’s funny like that. People will gladly incorporate English, even if it’s incorrect, improper, misspelled or inappropriate, into whatever venue it can. Engrish.com has compiled a giant photobank of examples of this, but I never realized that in 10 minutes walking down the street, I’d see more examples than they have in their entire library. That didn’t stop me from snapping a few (hundred) shots.

The nights in Sapporo were spent in completely bacchanalian excursions. Tabehodai and nomihodai (all you can eat and all you can drink, respectively) are wonderful things, but they can be killers too. I don’t think my meat-to-other-foods ratio was ever as skewed as it was those three days. If it tastes good, why stop eating? Same thing with drinking, but that didn’t get me into much trouble except a nasty headache for the orientation lectures Tuesday morning. In my defense, it was a work-sponsored party—I was better off than the person who ended up in the hospital, even though she remains completely unaware of those 8 hours between Booty (our afterparty venue) and the next morning. I’ll quote a musical theatre masterpiece: “live in moderation and everything’s alright.”

We spent the last night playing video games at an arcade including the super-fun taiko drumming one. (My arms are sore, is that sad?) I’ve realized people don’t stay healthy here by eating small portions or fancy diets, they just play calorie-burning video games like DDR, Guitar Hero, Beatmania and others of that ilk. There were men at the arcade who would rock out and blow away anyone else—still wearing their suits from work. Again, Japan is a weird place, but that’s why I love it.

Besides those happenings there were sporadic and frequent heated discussions about global politics and the economy. There were weird/creepy expat men who stay in Sapporo for “the ladies.” There were lots of giggling women (who felt it necessary to prod me to test my fitness). I thought the giggling thing was a problem that just plagued the schoolgirls, but apparently it continues into adulthood as well. I guess it’s a natural thing to giggle and seem to be what other Western JETs have referred to as immature. It’s not necessarily childish. I don’t think that one can say that because this cultural phenomenon has developed that the people here are any less mature as a whole. That’s just our Amero-/Euro-centric projection or something like that.

One of the more startling cultural things I saw was the unwillingness of some JETs to adapt to the Japanese culture. It seems stupid that someone would choose to work in a foreign country, but not try to fit in. Even weirder was the startling fact that many JETs make no effort to learn any Japanese. That bothers me a lot. I’m generally of the “to each his own” mindset, but this just rubs me the wrong way, and I wish I could explain it more than that, but I find myself lacking the words to do it. I guess I’m just a firm believer in the “When in Rome…” policy.

I start teaching tomorrow. My first class is at a small elementary school with 22 students total across six grades. I’m freaking out a little bit because it’s the night before, and I still don’t know what and how much they expect me to teach. The class slot is just over an hour and a half, but I can’t imagine doing a self-introduction for that long. It’s nerve-wracking to go from a lot of theory—A LOT of theory—into practice. I just have to remember to be genki and I’ll get by. Friday is my first day of high school classes, and I’m more excited about that. At least I know what I’m supposed to do there.

OK. I just hit 1100 words; I should stop now. I doubt anyone has even read this far.

PICTURES (click to enlarge):

cape erimo

almost as south as hokkaido goes

pretty water

beautiful water

odori kids

odori kids

odori scene

odori dance

pretty flower

hokkaido rose

I <3 NY

i <3 NY…er, it says car wash (洗車)

sapporo reflecting pool

sapporo reflecting pool


the akarenga

odori park

odori park

what’s that in the window?

where’s prince harry now?

puttin the tanuki in tanuki doji

puttin the tanuki in tanuki dojo

sapporo from above

sapporo from the tv tower

sususkino at night

susukino at night

the drink i drank


bowling in japan

bowling w/rainbow hair

stuffed bear

stuffed bear = emblem of hokkaido

ancient hokkaido

historical village




6 responses

27 08 2007

I read it all. I’m very excited for you. You will be the hottest teacher EVER! Good luck <3

27 08 2007

Unfortunately, I read it too. You just don’t know when to shut up, do you? I’m sure that by ‘hottest teacher’ Nell means that you will be warm because of the climate change. Don’t screw up too badly…love you!

27 08 2007

Enjoy your teaching. You rock, Zach!
Love you, Mom

27 08 2007

If all else fails, talk about Bleach.

28 08 2007

If anyone stopped reading before the end, then they don’t deserve the privilege of access to your blog. Good luck with the kiddies, and watch out for those high school girls, they’ll fall hard and fast for the hot American teacher.


1 09 2007


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