hello america

22 04 2008

Thinking about my two-week vacation to America is fucking with my head more than I thought it would.  About a week ago, I was swearing off my job about how boring it was, and how I had no friends in my town blah blah blah cry me a river.  And now, all of a sudden, I’m a perky as a percolator.  What happened?

Well, honestly nothing.  I’m not doing any more or less work at school (well, today I had to grade the first years’ handwriting assignments and save a student from a nose bleed of epic proportions).  Last weekend was plain Jane—I met up with friends and watched It (not scary!).  I’m not running any more or less than usual.  So my conclusion is that it has to be the fact that I’m flying home tomorrow.  For a VACATION.  Time off.  No plans (OK, minimal plans).  No work.  No studying.  No linguistic crises.  Staring at other people instead of being stared at.

But, it’s not like I planned this trip home on Monday.  I’ve had it in the works for months now, so I guess the only difference is its proximity.  The time is nigh.  I must pack.  I must print my tickets.  I must GET MONEY FROM THE ATM OF DOOM.

The irony of it though, is that now that my spirits are lifted (because of the trip?), I’m feeling energetic at work and thus a little guilty for leaving while things are on the upswing.  Rather than the usual of just being different, I feel like I’m making a difference (especially with my first year students who have just started learning English).  I suppose this is a good thing; at least I won’t be dreading my return and staying for another 14 months after that.

On a slightly related topic—if you’re someone I’ve lost contact with and you want to meet up during my break, just email me and I’ll try to work out a time.  I’ll be in the United States in various States (of the union) and states (of mind) from April 24th to May 8th.


a visitor

26 12 2007

There’s something about riding on a train that reminds me of a zoo. You only get these quick little glimpses of life between the backs of buildings. Kids playing soccer in a park; people walking their dogs; shop owners peddling their wares. And in the train are a bunch of people who are entirely unaware of the world outside themselves. Virtually everyone is talking, or writing, or playing on their cell phone. I read an article about the internet/connectivity obsession of the youth in Japan (and honestly, America too) and how the more engaged people are with their connected life, the more isolated they are from the world. Even now, I’m sitting on a train writing, but I’m essentially connected—I’m sharing my thoughts with you, aren’t I? I don’t feel particularly isolated, but since all this writing is so introspective, I suppose, de facto, I am.

I forgot about how different life is in a city compared to the inaka. I had the same sudden realization (and subsequently forgot it) when I arrived in Tokyo to head home for my sister’s wedding. All of a sudden instead of 6,000 people in my entire town, there are that many people in one city block. The weirdest thing about it though is that the people here are just as lonely as those of us that are hours from a large city. How does that make sense? Why can people feel alone when they’re in a crowded room? (I admittedly stole that from someone’s away message, which means it’s probably from a song.)

My thoughts immediately jump to Lost in Translation again: the idea that people are generally unable to convey all their feelings and thoughts. How do you translate yourself in a way that other people understand? How can other people translate themselves so that you understand?

I think that’s enough introspection for now. My head hurts.

Find out what else hurts…AND pictures!

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.

More about things other than food, and pictures

the red ribbon

30 09 2007

I don’t think there’s a way in hell that I can hide the cynicism and sarcasm with which I want to present this fine piece of work that the authors of my junior high textbook whipped up. I guess they weren’t expecting an American to be presenting it, but even so, why would you use the most depressing story ever written to teach students to read. As of 8:50AM tomorrow, I will be person feeling most awkward on the island of Hokkaido (except for Awkward Anthony). Anyway, without further ado, I present “The Red Ribbon.”

When I first met Rumi, she was sitting alone on the seashore. She was looking toward the sea. She was a cute little girl.

Her mother and father went to Hiroshima on August 5. It was just before the last war ended. Before they left the island, they said that they would only stay overnight.

One day passed. Another day passed, and still another day passed. But her parents did not come back.

Rumi’s uncle took her to Hiroshima to look for her parents. They walked around the burned-out city for four days, but they could not find her parents.

After they returned to the island, Rumi went to the seashore every day. She waited there alone for her parents. I felt sad whenever I saw her.

Rumi had a pretty yellow ribbon in her hair. She loved it. It was made by her mother.

One day, I found that her hair was falling out. I said to her, “I’ll make a red ribbon for you when your hair gets better.” She smiled, and then turned toward the sea again to look for a ship. She said, “Mom and Dad said they would only stay overnight.”

A few days later, I saw Rumi on the seashore. She had a hat on. She said, “My uncle gave me this hat. My hair is sick.”

I did not know what to say.

A couple of days later, I found Rumi in her uncle’s arms on the seashore. When I saw her face, I was very surprised.

I hurried back home and made a red ribbon for her. Then I brought it to her. She slowly opened her eyes, and gave me a smile. Her teeth were red with blood.

“Thank … you,” she said weakly, and closed her eyes again. Tears ran down my face.

Two days later, she died in her uncle’s arms on the seashore.


Nakamura Shuko. Sunshine English Course 3. Tokyo: Kairyudo Publishing (2005).

everything can be a metaphor

24 09 2007

As a writer I’m having a lot of difficulty finding the fine balance between too wordy, and lacking in description. So I, per usual, apologize for this post—it’s been a busy week/weekend, and I’m feeling somewhat disorganized.

Thursday, the kindergarteners took a trip to 自動車学校 (jidousha gakko, “driving school”). My recollection of driving school is riddled with memories of absolute boredom and fear of being in the car with the instructor again. Mr. A forced me to learn how to parallel park by “feeling” my way on a rainy day in a car with no rear defogger. So what the hell are kindergartners going to do at driving school? Watching a mannequin be completely mangled and have its foot disembodied by a speeding car. Fun! There was probably more to the lesson than that, but I certainly didn’t understand anything but the damaged dummy.

On Friday, because the high schoolers have midterms next week, the teachers let them study on their own, which resulted in the only English lesson being the exchange of equivalent phrases for “studying the backs of his/her eyelids.” I ended up teaching a few mini-lessons about random subjects: the differences between male and female brains, the application process to the JET program and why trees’ leaves change color. A friend once referred to me as “the guy” who explains everything. I wonder if that ever gets annoying to my friends.

Read on, there are pictures!

大二先生 (dai-ni sensei )

17 09 2007

I have a lot of pictures this week, so I can finally write less than a thousand words. Not to mention I’m at a point where most of my time is spent doing the mundane.

The not-so mundane:
On Thursday, I went to a horse park/farm/extravaganza with the kindergarteners, which was another overwhelming cute overload. The farm also had an amazing playground with the longest slide (the roll-y kind) I’ve ever ridden—it puts American parks to shame. Except for Penny Park in Evanston; that place was the shit.

Friday and Saturday were spent at my junior high school’s culture festival, which was 48 hours of 11- to 14-year olds singing, dancing, giving speeches and public service announcements, performing plays, and showing off their freshly made paintings, newspapers and tako (giant kites). I understand now why all club activities shut down for the weeks leading up to the festival—the amount of work put into it would be clear from even a quick glance through the gym doors. If you spent any time in the festival you would see that for their age, the product of their is grossly disproportionate to anything in the States. It’s actually sort of sick. When I was their age, I could barely keep my voice from cracking, and here they are belting out songs with four part harmonies.

Perhaps most impressive/memorable/scary was during the variety show when one of my students impersonated Kojima Yoshio to the T: even his costume (watch the video…this also gives a nice glimpse of Japanese TV—it’s literally nuts).

Read on, there are LOTS of pictures

after the storm/haze/blaze

10 09 2007

I was totally ready to sit down and write this post, and suddenly there was this terrifyingly loud siren going off, and having no idea what it was I panicked a little. I turned on the TV expecting some warning about a tsunami or something. With no reason not to go outside I left and saw few people running. I followed them to the cause of the alarm: a building whose second floor was engulfed by flames. For the next 90 minutes I watched my town’s firefighters rip apart the building while thoroughly soaking it (and some bystanders). Everyone is okay, thankfully and I have a renewed respect for firemen after having inhaled only one lungful of smoke blown my way. Even after I left at 2:00 AM the firemen were there until at least 3:30 AM (I heard one come home next door). All seriousness aside, it’s more important to note that the firemen have the sweetest digs ever: super shiny silver jackets.

Back to the post as planned: I had an awesome week. Or maybe it was just the weekend-ish half of it, and so I think the entire week was awesome. Yeah, come to think of it, Monday through Wednesday was (were? I think either is justifiable) completely mundane. The only highlight was when I played basketball at lunch and landed a 7/8ths court shot jokingly made in frustration at my inability to score any points. Of course that’s when the giggling posse of girls happened to walk in, so they all think I’m some basketball superstar now. Add “can you dunk?” to the standard list of questions.

Thursday was a kindergarten day and we were going to a horse-resort-farm thing nearby, but it was rainy so we stayed in and played for a few hours (and taught them “Head, shoulders, knees and toes”). I also found out why the young’ns have such bad teeth—every day the kindergartners have 30 minutes of “chewing gum time,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Kids chew gum and share candy with each other. Even with like, three rotten teeth and a whole lot of gum (both organic and chewing), they are just SO ADORABLE. I’ll have pictures next week, when we actually go to the horse farm.

Oh, I also realized I like kindergarten because I can read Japanese books to them and understand. Yes, my ability to read Japanese is now officially at the level of a five year old.

Thursday night after kendo, I took more lessons in Japanese cooking; this time the recipe was the lunchtime favorite of おにぎり (onigiri, a rice ball usually stuffed with fish). They’re actually just as easy to make as they sound. My lesson, though, ended up turning into an English lesson on the subjunctive tense, which I guess is rarely used in Japanese. By the end of it I was using my dry-erase board and wildly gesturing with a crumpled ball of paper to help demonstrate (IF a ball is in the air, THEN it will fall to the ground; IF students like learning English, THEN they will learn it faster and better). Easy as pie.

Bad weather and pictures