clearing the docket

18 12 2007

If I don’t publish this now, this chapter of life in Japan will become nothing except notes in my computer. In less than two days, my same-name friend from home will be arriving, so I’m hoping there will be wackamamy stories aplenty after that starts.

A lot has happened since I last wrote. I’ve written several half-assed attempts at summarizing all of the goings-on, but they’ve all become outdated. To save space, I’ll just make a list of things major events:

1. I finished my translation for the G-8 press tour and ate a lot of free food at it.
2. I went snowboarding for a weekend in Niseko on my brand new board. I ate a lot of overpriced, but tasty food. I also ate AMAZING pizza.
3. I made tacos and ate them.
4. I made latkes and ate them.
5. I took the level 4 JLPT (and probably passed), and wasn’t allowed to leave the building to buy lunch. I was very hungry and ate an entire 7-11’s worth of food then ran 16 miles.

I’ve been eating so much lately; I honestly think that 80% of my expenditures are food. I remember my times of training for the Philly marathon fondly, when I had my free, all-you-can-eat pass to the dining halls. Now I’m spending a lot of money to barely keep up with my metabolic needs. And yes, they are needs not wants. For every mile I run, I should eat an additional 100 calories. I run about 50 miles a week. You do the math.

I’ve been beginning to feel like I’m in some sort of stasis, so the upcoming winter break has me in all sorts of high spirits. Our current plan is to tour around Hokkaido a bit including regional favorites like the Edo-period ninja museum, onsen, and “Santaland.” I can’t even begin to imagine the opulent displays of our favorite fat guy. I heard a rumor that somewhere in Japan there is a crucified Santa Claus as the result of misunderstanding Christian symbols. What better place for it than Santaland?

The most exciting recent event was last week’s bon enkai: a party where the idea is to forget the past year as we move on to the next. This, however, wasn’t just the regular let’s-all-eat-and-drink-until-we’re-bloated party that I’m used to. You know all those Japanese game shows you’ve seen on YouTube? Well, this was the real-life version. The most outlandish part was a four-person eating-relay race (wrong hyphenation here would be funny). In addition to each person’s individual item (500mL of beer, 15 saltines, 2 energy drinks or a giant cream-filled pastry), the whole team had to down 2 liters of ice cream. Rich, rich ice cream. Needless to stay, my stomach hurt for the entire weekend (I was the beer drinker for our team), but I also rescued us from last place (we finished in 2nd) with my heroic drinking/eating efforts. I think the pain was well worth it.

On to scattered thoughts and writings from the last few weeks:

-I watched Lost in Translation tonight, and it has a totally different feel to it now that I’ve spent time in Japan. No less spent three days at the hotel across the street from where it was filmed. I basically understand what the Japanese people are saying, but contrary to the easy superficial reading of the title I took when I saw it last time, I think what’s actually lost is in the translation from feelings to words. Bob phones home to his wife and is unable to explain what is eating away at him; Charlotte calls her friend and fails at her attempt to describe her reaction to the ritual at the Shinto (Buddhist?) shrine. Yet at the same time, the two seem to understand each other perfectly. I think in my particular state of culture adaptation, seeing the contrast of the Bob’s and Charlotte’s reaction’s to Tokyo’s culture, which is presented in such a rapid-fire manner, made me suddenly aware of all the things here that I had begun to accept as normal. Between that and facing similar issues as Bob and Charlotte—trying to translate my own thoughts into something organized and/or understandable (hence my disorganized writings)—the movie ended up having a much more profound effect on me than my first viewing.

-The JLPT was administered on the campus of Hokkaido University, and even though I’m in a different country, being back on a university campus, surrounded by youth, curiosity and discovery immediately jolted me back into the feeling I had at Penn. It made me excited for graduate school, whenever that happens.

-A lot of people seem to desire to stay close to home in Hokkaido. It’s rare that you find someone who comes from another prefecture, and except in Sapporo, most people seem to live relatively close to where they grew up. I always thought it normal to want to experience as much of the world as possible; you know, live in different places—break out of my comfort zone. I guess as I’m getting older I’m realizing that I’m probably just a little crazy (as a Japanese man at a restaurant told me last night).

-It seems that there is some movement towards cracking down on the isolationism that Japan is perceived to have. English discourse and international exchange are the direction of the future, and there are some government-types in Japan who worry that it will be left behind. Most English teachers agree. At the conference for ALTs two weeks ago, there was a general feeling of frustration with the fact that unless change happens from higher up (read: university entrance exams), the current English classroom environment will not change. It will stay textbook based until more value is given to communication than being able to memorize pattern sentences and vocabulary. We want to teach communicative skills, but how can we risk jeopardizing students’ chances at doing well on college and high school entrance exams? Furthermore, for the student who wants to get away from home, it’s often financially impossible. Maybe more students would want to aspire to greater futures if there were a better chance of upward mobility.

-I saw a TV show that showed female celebrities’ outfits and the price tag for it. Some of them were a little pricy, like ¥100,000 ($1,000), which isn’t terrible, given that the outfit’s value included accessories like diamond earrings. But, the “winner”—the most expensive outfit—nearly made me vomit. It cost ¥15,000,000 ($150,000), and it looked AWFUL! How is it possible for people to spend so much money on clothing when there are endless ways to better spend your money? (Yes, I have a split infinitive back there—shoot me.) I’m not even talking about humanitarian or philanthropic things: why not buy something that will last longer, or be more fun, or make your life better? I just can’t understand it no matter how hard I try. And yes, I realize this is the same issue in the U.S., but at least most people consider Paris’ lifestyle “lavish”. The other guests on this show were barely disturbed by its cost.

-Everyone has the flu. Three teachers (who all sit at my cluster), 15-20 students a day at the junior high, about 30% of the kindergarten kids have it which has led to cancelled clubs, shortened days and cancelled classes. I got a flu shot, so hopefully I’ll be safe from the countless students who sneeze and cough into their hands. Someone commented at a party recently about how unclean we are (both in the West and in Japan) when we’re teenagers. It’s no wonder we all got acne and smelled bad. It’ll likewise be a wonder if anyone without a flu shot makes it through this season unscathed.

And in closing, some recent metawriting thoughts:

A few people have said that my blog reminds them or reads like a novel. And I was thinking about the idea of this as an autobiography, and realized it’s sort of weird how you can write this stupidly long … thing … and at the same time, have it be so focused on so little. My immediate surroundings are alive with changes–babies being born, people moving out, baseball teams winning, newspapers being written–and yet here I am, focused on such a miniscule aspect of the world: me.

I don’t feel like that’s particularly conceited, or that there’s anything wrong with it. It’s just hard to think that if this were a book, and people were reading it in the future, that they could do so and understand so little about what was going on in the world. Or, is it like those books you read in school, where you have to search for the allusions to what is going on. Is there something in my language style that evokes a sense of turmoil in the world? Fighting in the Middle East, the world falling apart (and irreparably so, thank you U.N. for finally making a statement that is more threatening than an angry letter), diseases running rampant. Maybe my short sentences indicate the short lifespan of people in developing/third-world countries. Maybe my long sentences allude to the ongoing oppression by military regimes.

The truth is, it doesn’t, or I didn’t intend it to if it does. I wonder sometimes if the great authors meant as much by their word selection as literary critics say. I certainly don’t (though I sometimes I include excess alliteration because I like it). And so, while the world around us falls apart, I’m continuing to write about kendo and cooking and the day-to-day life of a foreigner in Japan. Not a very good book, I say.

And yes, I realize that by writing about this, I’m writing about exactly what I said I didn’t write about. Now I’ll have to wonder forever if I should have left this part out.

PICTURES (click to enlarge):

high altitude sunset

apparently sunshine up here is pretty rare

great timing

early slope-hitters

artsy fartsy

too bad that damn pole is there.  see the moon?

GREAT pizza

GREAT pizza

hey santa

the German Santa Claus in Japan (and his one Jewish friend)

sapporo does christmas
Sapporo does Christmas right.

too good

inappropriate advertising in Sapporo.




3 responses

30 12 2007

So as I read this entry a lot of different things went through my head. The first of which is that I’m glad to see that in the real world little things mean as much (or as little) as they do in this artificial collegiate world that I currently live in. Perhaps people note that your writing is novel-worthy because of the style; it is hard to find someone who speaks in a manner similar to your writing and thus, the blog seems more scripted? It’s interesting that you attempted several times to summarize what had happened and failed. At the end of this summer, I, having realized I changed an enormous amount and learned a great deal about myself, decided to start writing a book. However, every time I wrote, I became so caught up trying to fit in everything that nothing garnered the attention it deserved. Perhaps that is why your blog is so beautiful? It focuses on the miniscule and minute. It travels distances down one path and then down another. In life, we will never fully grasp all of the world. We won’t ever really see the giant huge picture and we won’t ever really know exactly what is going on. Instead, we can learn as much as possible about the small things and piece them together to create a semi-coherent web of thought. That is why your blog could be a novel. Because it is simply one path in a myriad of roads and one arm of a giant tree. People would read it and people would love it and it need not be about the turmoil in the world or everything that is going on because it is about one thing (one thing that some of us back here at penn still like to read about): you.

9 01 2008

Herro! Check your mail if you haven’t already, and regarding your meta writing section:

I generally agree with what Jana posted, but to add to her thoughts… The components of the “big picture,” the small stuff, is what makes everybody’s perception of the “big picture” different – which in turn, makes an individual’s story interesting, exciting, and beautiful.

Also, that pizza looks horrible, Zach.

11 01 2008

it is not horrible, scott.

it’s buffalo chicken, and if i suppose if you weren’t expecting beautifully sauced chunks of chicken, it’d just look like gross chunky pizza.

horrible picture, great pizza. i promise.

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