風になりたい! Kaze ni naritai! 

A look at life in Japan through big, round, gaijin eyes. Relfections on life in Japan, America, from the faceless streets of Tokyo. Let's blogging!

Monday, March 28, 2005

樹里のオーストラリア日記: Juri and Mi-chan Down Under! Part 1

[This is Part 1 of the adventures of Juri and her sister Minori in Australia. I am dutifully translating the rest... but it might take a little while for me to post it all.]

hi everybody. i`m juri k.im girlfriend with jason during he is in japan.

"Anyway, recently my sister and I went down to Australia, so here's my report about our trip. It was only a one week trip, but we kept busy, swinging through Cairns, Ayer's Rock, and Sydney before heading home.
First was Cairns. We got on the tour bus right at the airport, and went to a botanical garden.

Shokubutsuen
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.

"The garden was overgrown with tropical plants, just like a jungle, so we felt like real adventurers. All the weird trees growing there were really interesting. Tree roots twisted and turned like slithering snakes; I felt like there might be dinosaurs quietly watching us from somewhere in the humongous ferns. Too bad our obnoxious tour guide was going on telling bad jokes in Japanese the whole time, spoiling the primative mood. I kept on praying that a pack of velociraptors really would come out and eat annoying old man. Still, along the way a flock of turkeys came out to play, and we spotted some rare blue butterflies, so it was pretty nice.

"Next up was the zoo. I got to hug a koala! Maybe it's just my imagination, though but I thought my turn was unusually short. Maybe they just wanted to push through as many tourists as they could so they were cutting everyone short. If that's the case, I bet it's a pain for the koalas. Actually, it seems a most areas are banning people from holding koalas. 'There aren't many chances left for people to hold koalas, so this is PRECIOUS!' said the tour guide. Koalas are really cute on the outside, but they are unimaginably strong. It was clinging to me really hard, looking at me with sharp, frightened eyes. I wonder if koalas begrudge the tourists?

"After that, we went to a place called Paronella Park, about an hour drive from Cairns.

Paronella Park
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.

Supposedly, a Spaniard named Paronella wanted to realize his dream of living in a castle, so he created the park. For seven years he hauled the stones to make the castle himself. Unfortunately for him, half of what he built was destroyed in a fire, but actually the end result is that he created a strangely harmonious blend of nature and the manmade. Looking at it the crumbling castle covered in ivy made me think that no matter how much mankind tries to resist, in the end it's our fate to be buried by nature. I hear that this place was the model for the Hayao Miyazaki anime Laputa Castle in the Sky (「天空の城ラピュタ」). Even down to the patterns of the fountains, it was exactly like the anime. It was an incredibly romantic place; they do weddings too, it seems.


Scuba Juri
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.

"We also went scuba diving in Cairns, but it was right after a cyclone had blown through, so the water was really cloudy. At first, I couldn't breathe and I totally panicked. 'I'd better quit,' I thought, but I kept going. Once I got used to the water pressure and the breathing, I really enjoyed the mysterious underwater ocean world. Too bad that when I saw my sister's hair sticking straight up in front kabuki style, I couldn't stop laughing and my breathing got all messed up, and I thought I was going to die. That just goes to show you, for the sake of the people you love, don't forget hair elastics when you go scuba diving! Your dedication could save someone's life!"

[Stay tuned for more adventures in Part 2, coming soon!]

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Black Bass Adventure

I promised Yuta-kun we'd go fishing sometime, so now we're out in the middle of Lake Saiko hunting black bass.
Of course, this being Japan, a rental rod and rowboat set me back 4600¥.
Considering how chilly it is, I don't think the fish are coming out from their kotatsu.


Black Bass Adventure


UPDATE! 6PM: Well, like I thought, we didn't catch anything. No one else on the lake caught anything. There is no reason for fish to be out and about when there is still snow on the ground. And no, I don't know anything about bass fishing (nor apparently how to cast properly, which had Yuta cracking up all day), but I refuse to admit that there was any possibility of us catching anything.
By the way, it doesn't happen often, but I was wrong before. This being Japan, the rental rod cost 600円, the boat was 1000円, and the 1 day fishing license was 3000円. That's $30US... and you're not allowed to use live bait--only lures. Ridiculous country. Still it was a beautiful day, and at last I got some sunshine on my pasty white face, which is now a more healthy-looking pinkish. Woo. Now if only I didn't have to sit at a desk everyday all day...

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Otukaresama!

Otukaresama!

Today the 16th school year of the reign of the Heisei emperor came to a an end with the closing ceremony (平成16年度終業式) and PTA sponsered farewell party (soubetsukai 送別会) for departing teachers. It was a bittersweet celebration of the success and the breaking up of our school family.
Of course the details of the party are slightly off limits (at Japanese dinner parties, anything goes, but the next morning all is forgotten), but it was a great way to send off people I really care about: with a lot of food, drink, and song. Minna, thanks for all the hard work this year! 先生方のみんな、一年間お疲れ様でした!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

New Words Practice #1: umai!


umai!
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.

Since there have been some technical difficulties with Juri's big debut post (namely I have to translate it into English because she doesn't want the American-friendly, dumbed-down Japanse she used to make it easy for me up on the web embarassing her), I've scrambled to come up with a backup plan. Now, just like my students, you can mindlessly memorize vocabulary that won't really come in handy because you'll never have a real reason to use it. It's "New Words Practice! Repeat after me...

Today's entry is the word "umai." It's prounounced like it looks. Kind of like ooo-my. Where the ooo doesn't sound like oh. All Japanese words are pretty easy to pronounce, since there are only five vowel sounds and no consonants that aren't already used in English.

Umai is usually written in hiragana characters, like this:うまい. But according to the Japanese-English Dictionary Interface, or JEDI, umai has several meanings, and can be written in several different ways using kanji.

First there's 上手い or 巧い which mean skillful. Like for instance, 「お前さ、英語うまいっす」"You are skillful at English."

Then you've got 旨い, 美味い, and 甘い, which mean: (1) delicious/appetizing/(2) skillful/ clever/ expert/ wise/ successful/(3) fortunate/ splendid/ promising. So you might say, 「このうどんはうまいぞ!」 if you wanted to say "Boy, this udon is delicious/ appetizing!"

Which leads me to the real reason umai is a good word to know: most Japanese TV shows are about food. Sure there is another word, おいしい [oishii], that means delicious and is probably more widely used by the general public. But for some reason, umai sounds way cooler if you are a tough guy, especially if you purposely mispronounce it. When someone asks you, "What do you think of that ramen?" and you're on TV, if you want to look cool you have to pause for a moment-- and then look heavenward and say, 「うまいいぃぃい!」"UMAIIIII." You can also say "Uma!" 「うまっ」or "Umeee!" 「うめえぇぇぇ!」 and convince some people not only that the food is splendid, but also that you are really sweet because you mess with the endings on your adjectives.

Pretty much all Japanese TV celebrities do is go on shows where they A. talk for a little bit about how they ate something delicious the other day; B. eat stuff and say it is delicious; and finally C. eat more of the same stuff from a different store and try to decide which was more delicious. Basically, with one word you can watch 60% or so of Japanase TV and understand what's going on.

If I stay long enough in Japan, I hope to accomplish two things, really. I'd like to be in a karaoke video. And maybe more importantly, one day I'd like to be the token foreigner who is brought onto one of those food shows so that when they ask me, "Hey, how's that udon?" I can close my eyes, rock back in my chair, shed a few tears, and intone, "UMEEEeeeeeeei!"

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Tokyo Rockabilly Club

Tokyo has to be one of the most amazing places in the entire world. I've lived in Japan for almost three years and it never ceases to offer something new and unbelievable every time I go into the city. I have trouble explaining why I want to stay in Japan, but certainly a desire to experience living in Tokyo is one of the top reasons.

Sunday I went into Harajuku for the 2005 St. Patrick's Day parade. And because Sunday in Harajuku is their day, the cosplay freaks were out on the bridge in front of Meiji-jingu to do their ロリコン(lolita complex/fetish) thing.


Freaks
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.
Still, unless you're an amateur photographer wishing to capture the "essence" of Tokyo, if you're overly exctied by teenage girls/transgenders in fantastic costumes and gothic-lolita fetish outfits (and hopefully I will get a good picture up soon), you probably need to a referral to some sort of institution. Besides, just five minutes away at the gates to Yoyogi Park, there's something better.






I don't know where the Tokyo Rockabilly Club comes from or where it draws it's membership, but it was obvious these guys (and 2 gals) were having a blast groovin' to the oldies. Sporting heavily gelled hair, leather pants and jackets, fingerless gloves, and duct-taped leather boots, they were literally burning up the asphalt. I'm not old enough to have known the Fonz, but they were definitely that level of cool: from the way they held their Marlbouroughs and downed their Asahi Super Drys, to their sweet moves and air guitar prowess.

Rockabilly
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.

Blasting 50s-style rockabilly tunes from some big amps, the Rockabillys kneeled in a circle, running combs from their back pockets through their hair, and clapping out the time for dancers in the middle. The dancers rotated by song. From time to time, one or two of the guys in the middle would throw themselves into a running airguitar kneeslide across the concrete that would end at the feet of one of the guys on the outside. This was clearly the sweetest move in the repetoire that included everything from splits and breakdance style spins to handstands.




Get down
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.


Finally, as the sun got lower in the west, it was time for everybody to bust loose all at once. I am not ashamed to say that it was the most incredible thing I have ever seen.

Leather!
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.


I only hope that if do one day live in Tokyo, the day never comes where I am so jaded that I am not nearly moved to tears by this sort of thing.

After all, these are the coolest guys ever



The leader
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.

For more on the Rockabillies, including a video, check this blog of a guy who just happened to be in Yoyogi at the same time as I was.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

A Song I Like

Sometimes a song comes along and it's just the right song for the place you're at in your life. Right now for me, that song is the Ulfuls "Abaredasu." On the website, it says, ひとりだから切ない。ひとりだから優しくなれる。"Because we're alone, it hurts. Because we're alone, we can be kind."
Just- it's weird standing on the cusp of adulthood. Not physically being an adult, because that's something that just happens. But being like, a real adult.
Funny things happen. Time goes by quicker than you know. St. Patrick's Day is always that day for me. When it seems that everything is moving so quickly and it all spins out on the floor and I look at my life and I realize that I'm doing ok. I've got all this stuff in my life that matters. Or I realize I'm not doing ok, because I've got a lot of other people's stuff in my life and nothing of my own. But now, somehow it's ok... and that's what's kind of scary.

"God, who am I? Why am I always making mistakes all the time?"
"Even if you can do things for other people, you can't live for other people."
"God, am I doing all right? Really, not knowing anything at all like this, and becoming an adult? Doing the things I do?"

Plus the lead singer's name is Tortoise Matsumoto. I feel like that is a sign or something.

暴れだす

あぁ 神様オレは 何様ですか
どうしていつも まちがえるのか
悩みはたえず オトナはなれず
眠れぬ夜を 今夜もまた
あぁ 笑ってごまかす 声もむなかしく
飛び出すことも できないままに

あぁ 胸が
暴れだす 暴れだす
誰かそばにいて

あぁ あのコはなぜ 笑っているのか
あきれるほどの オレのダメさに
イヤな顔もせず 知らん顔もせず
少ない言葉で はげましてくれる
「泣いたりしたら 苦しくなるよ」
わかっているけど 止まらないのさ

あぁ 胸が
暴れだす 暴れだす
どうかそばにいて

もしも あの時 もっと心に余裕があればなぁ
今まで この人を悲しませずにすんだなぁ
人のために出来ることがあっても
人のために生きることはない

あぁ 神様オレは これでいいですか
本当に何も わからないままで
オトナになって やることやって
ケガの数だけ 小さくなって

あぁ 胸が
暴れだす 暴れだす
誰かそばにいて

あぁ 胸が
暴れだす 暴れだす
どうかそばにいて

"Ah, my heart-- is gonna burst. Somebody stand with me. Somehow, stand with me."

Crazy to think that this year's St. Patrick's Day was so good, and so long from the last one.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

職員会議ブルース:Staff meeting blues

It's the warmest day of the year so far, and it's going to rain the rest of the week -- so we have a staff meeting that probably will run until well after dark. It never fails. Still, once I'm out of here it's only 2 more days til a three day weekend (we get the vernal equinox off on Monday). And I might get to see Juri tomorrow if I can swing my way over to Narita tomorrow night. Plus Friday is payday! Too bad the meeting will likely be the end of me... 頑張らなきゃ~!ファイト!

I complain about teaching here often enough, but compared to the Japanese teachers, I feel like I've got it easy. A lot of the frustration that I feel comes from the restrictions of having to teach within an educational system and a society that aren't really compatible with my Western ideas about how kids learn. Still, aside from having to constantly make an effort reach across the culture gap, my actual duties aren't that demanding. That is not the case for my colleagues.

I have nothing but the utmost respect for the other people in the teachers' room, the large, noisy "office" where all of our desks are. 先生 (sensei) is a pretty honorable title to have, in theory, but from what I can tell, being a regular teacher in Japan is pretty thankless (especially financially, since I make more than most young teachers I know). It takes a special type of dedication and devotion to the students.

Interminable staff meetings are just the tip of the iceburg; it's a simple fact that Japanese teachers are at work a lot later than their American counterparts. There are meetings with teachers, students, parents, and other guests. Someone has to handle school lunch, maintainance, the PTA, school supplies, the computers, etc. There are club activities to administer and sports to coach. There are tests to grade and record. Japanese schools don't have guidance offices, and usually don't have counselling or crisis intervention for students. Everything is delegated to the teachers. They wear many hats.
My contract says I'm supposed to be at school from 8:30 to 4:15. Having been here for three years I've adjusted my schedule so that I usually head home around around 5:30 or 6pm, to try to fit in a little better. Still, I'm almost always the first or second teacher leaving school.

When I had been in Japan for just over a month, I went out jogging on a moonless September night at about 10pm. I was running along an unlit street, following the lighter colored concrete that had been paved over the drainage ditch on the side of the road. I could just barely see, but I had run that way a few times in daylight and I figured I'd be fine. I was only 10 minutes or so out from my apartment when suddenly I took a stride with my right foot that didn't connect with hard concrete, but empty air. The middle of my right shin connected with the lip of the hole over the meter-deep drainage ditch. My momentum carried me forward so I crashed down with my right knee scraping across the concrete as my hands and body slammed against the ground. My left leg dangled down behind me. A metal grate over the ditch had been removed for some reason, and I hadn't been able to tell in the dark. I pulled myself up, and assessed the damage. I could tell by the amount of blood that I had cut my right leg pretty good. The lip of the hole was metal, with little peglike protrusions to support the grate. I was pretty sure one of them had been in my shin.
I quickly realized I had to get home and probably to a hospital. I turned around and started jog/hobbling back toward my apartment. My Japanese was still minimal at this point, and I didn't even know the right emergency number to dial, let alone the location of the nearest hospital. To my surprise, as I neared home, I noticed the lights were still on in the gym at my school (which is in my neighborhood). Unable to think of anywhere else to turn, I decided to see if anyone was still there. Even though it was well after 10 at this point, several of the other teachers were working on preparations for the school festival, including my team teaching partner, Saito Sensei. After knocking patiently on the window of the teachers' room, I was met in by a puzzled coworker. "Good evening," I said in what Japanese I could muster, "I'm sorry to bother you so late, but my leg hurts. Can I get a bandage?"
A few minutes later I was on the way to the hospital in Saito-sensei's car, holding a gauze compress to the gaping hole in my shin through which you could clearly see the bone. The next morning, the story had gotten around and the other teachers were amazed that I could be so calm when I was injured. That was nothing, I told them. (Besides, I had lost enough blood at that point that it hadn't hurt anymore.) "What's really amazing is what are teachers doing at school at 10:30pm?" I asked.

Teachers here put so much time into other people's children, I sometimes worry how they get on with their own kids. Still, that's part of the way Japan works, I think. Teachers raise kids, not parents. Teachers don't teach their own kids, other teachers do. Parents provide for their children, but in a society that values conformity, it's not "safe" to let the differences between parenting styles have too much of an effect on the way the kids turn out.
Raising one child is hard enough--raising a class, or a grade, or a school full of them means a lot of late nights.

Speaking of which, the meeting ended 10 minutes ago, and 校長先生, the principal, just went home. It's now safe for the rest of us underlings to get out of here, which is what I'm gonna do.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

ホワイトデー and so on

Yesterday was White Day, or as one might call it if he or she were inclined to do so, "Clever Chocolate Marketing Ploy Day." (As I described here) on Valentine's day women in Japan give men presents, usually chocolate. White Day was the bright idea of some bitter, lonely cynic to capitalize on the men who got chocolate last month. Again, the emphasis is on 義理(duty), rather than 恋愛(romance). Men should buy chocolate for every woman who gave them something on Valentine's Day. So the typical Japanese salaryman obliges his duty by hitting the convenience store for some cheap stuff for the co-workers and the wife (if he remembers), and then buys a Louis Vuitton bag for the high school girl whose phone number he bought from a telephone club... er.... never mind.

Oh, and that reminds me! In case you're wondering, the obsession of middle-aged, married Japanese women over "dreamy" Korean drama star Yon-sama has generated an estimated $1billion (US) for the South Korean economy. That guy can really tie a scarf!

Sigh. All these links with dirty words in them are going to make the server at my mom's school ban my blog again. And I did get something for Juri for Valentine's Day, so I think I'm off the hook. Until she gets back from Australia on Thursday, that is.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Significance of Graduating JHS

Happy Monday. I spent the weekend in an udon induced coma. For details check out Pete's udon site. I really have to start showering on the weekends if he's gonna be taking pictures...

So by now you've seen the graduation pictures, and you've laughed at me wearing a suit. If you're from overseas somewhere, you're probably wondering, "It's just junior high, so what's the big deal?" In Japan, education in legally mandated for all children through the 9th grade: the third year of junior high school. After that, at age 15, kids are free to fall by the wayside. The first, obvious significance to the middle school graduation ceremony is that it marks the fulfillment of one's requirement to go to school. Back in the day, a lot of students started working after they graduated from JHS, and many of them could become pretty successful in family businesses, non-skilled labor, or the yakuza etc. Nowadays, however, over 98% of Japanese students enroll in high school.

If that's the case, then again, what's the big deal, right? Well, because of the way that the laws regarding school requirements are worded, there are some interesting effects on the middle school classroom, and ultimately on way students view junior high school. First, unlike American laws regarding truancy, the emphasis is not on the student attending class, but rather on there being equal educational opportunity provided for each student. Another way to look at this is that regardless of ability levels, all students have to be offered the same curriculum, tests, and class materials. So unlike in America where, especially in foreign language classes, students are divided by ability levels, in Japan everyone is lumped together. The class subject matter is designed so everyone can reach what is deemed an above average level of achievement; middle school classes are way too easy for some of the kids, way too hard for an equal number, and just right for a small minority. There are no incentives to excel, and there is no safety net if you are a slow learner. Another problem is that since teachers are required to present the same materials for all students, they can't kick students with discipline problems out of class or send them home, except in the direst of circumstances. So if little Takeshi-kun is fighting Akira-kun, the best a teacher can do is ask the students to leave the classroom. If the kids would rather stay and continue fighting, shouting, reading manga, or talking on their mobile phones in class, that's up to student, not the teacher (who can at least confiscate contraband materials). The flip side of this is that students don't have to come to school or go to class. A child is not punished for not taking advantage of the required education. School is where kids hang out with their friends, so the absentee rate is usually pretty low. But once they are at school, the system isn't flexible enough to deal with problem kids. After all, "good kids" go to class. At some schools, "bad kids" roam the halls during classtime, hanging out, playing games, sports or whatever. (The teachers probably prefer that they don't show up and disrupt their class!) Meanwhile, other children who are the targets of bullying may decide that school is not their thing, and stop coming. As long as it's not the teachers keeping them out of the classroom, that's allowed. Even if the student attends no classes over the course of a year, he or she will still move up to the next grade and still graduate junior high.

High school is different. Although you can pass out of junior high without ever hitting a classroom, your marks and more importantly, your results on high school entrance exams determine what high school you can attend. Like American students applying to college, Japanese students have to apply and get accepted to high school. High schools are tracked by ability: there are academic, vocational, and technical high schools. Kids who don't get into an academic high school pretty much have no chance of getting into a 4 year academic institution after high school graduation. The "bad" or "cool" kids in junior high who were very popular but didn't get good grades are pretty much eliminated from the possibility of entering the top strata of the Japanese socio-economic hierarchy. Almost [read: probably] nobody goes on from a technical high school to be a lawyer or a doctor, or a businessman for that matter. Junior high school is the last chance for many, if not most of the students to be on an equal footing with their peers. If you couldn't make it in JHS, then graduation is the end of the line.

Since high schools divide kids by ability, junior high graduation is also the last time students get to be classmates with their neighborhood friends. Up until 9th grade everyone born in the same area was together. Starting in 10th grade, they are all set upon different paths.

Junior high school is the place where children who were still very individualistic and independent at the end of elementary school learn to be "good" members of Japanese society. The beginning of junior high is the beginning of the journey from childhood to adulthood. By the time kids are in high school, whether they are biologically or mentally ready or not, they are pretty much adults, both socially and legally.

Graduation from the 9th grade doesn't just mark a transition to a new school. It really signifies the end of childhood.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

第23回卒業証書授与式

The 23rd Fujimidai JHS Graduation Ceremony


平成16年度の卒業生 Class of Heisei 17
(the 16th school year of the Reign of the Heisei
Emperor)


先生、ありがとう!Thank you!


ご卒業はおめでとうございます!Congratulations!


3年2の組担任先生 Yoshiko-T in traditional
teacher's hakama and kimono


涙も流した-Tears of joy


三年主任先生:人気者のSai-T!


"Cool boys" off to high school


Smooth ladies' man...? Jeison-T!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

謝恩式 Teacher Appreciation!

Spring is in the air and graduation is right around the corner (er, tomorrow). And nothing says spring in Japan like overwrought ceremonies (except pollen masks and getting drunk in public while looking at flowers).

Before I talk about today's event, some of you have asked about it, so I'll explain about the Japanese school year. In Japan, junior high school students go to school from April to March. There is a long summer vacation that usually runs 5 to 6 weeks during July and August, and another fairly long vacation that starts around the end of December (usually just after Christmas) and ends the second week in January. Graduation for the 3rd year students is in mid-March, and the rest of the students continue on another 2 weeks. A short spring break of about 10 days follows, during which several of the faculty is transferred to other schools. Usually about a quarter of the staff turns over every year, but I've heard rumbling that half the teachers will change here this year. That would be a real shame because my last few months would be with a lot of new people who I wouldn't get a chance to know very well before I'm done at Fujimidai. At the beginning of April, right when the cherry blossoms are in bloom in Fujiyoshida, the new students and staff come into the school.
All in all, Japanese students have about 220 days of school a year, though some times it seems that half of them are taken up with ridiculous ceremonies and activities that have nothing to do with school. Since they got rid of Saturday classes a few years back, I really don't think that Japanese students are required to work harder than American ones, though maybe I'm overestimating my own 180-day-school-year experience.
Since the majority of participants in the JET Programme come from Western countries where the school year starts in August or September, new JETs get shipped into Japan in late July or early August, and join the school staff at the beginning of the second term, after summer vacation. I guess it makes sense to bring us in then, but it was tough to come into the school in the middle of the year, and it will be even tougher to leave with "unfinished business."

Anyway, today's ceremony was actually my favorite of the bunch, partially because the 謝恩式(shaon-shiki) is where the graduates express their gratitude to the teachers for 3 years of instruction. As a teacher, it's often hard to see that anyone (parents, students, my non-teacher friends) other than other teachers appreciate what I'm doing. The students don't have a choice whether to hold it or not, and the ceremony is only about 15-20 minutes long and rather informal (the other reason why it's my favorite). Also, it doesn't matter whether the teachers have been at this school for 3 years or 2 months, everyone gets the same sort of thank you. Still, it seems genuine.
Last year, the class clown gave a funny speech about each of the teachers, eliciting much laughter from his classmates. This year's ceremony was a little more by the book. There was a bunch of bowing and clapping back and forth, accompanied by a couple of serious speeches from students and the principal. Then two students, one boy and one girl, lined up in front of each faculty member. The girl presented a small bouquet of flowers and the boy gave a packet containing a bound copy of the students' graduation essays and a cd with 3 years worth of the class' choral performances. Also included are a few letters written by the kids specifically to their favorite teachers, and a staff photo (I look dorky). The 2 students who present to each teacher generally jockey to get their favorite teachers, so it's nice to get something from kids who you have a good connection with. Last year I even got a marriage proposal (in English, no less!) with my flowers, but this year I had to settle for a peace sign and a hand shake.
Finally, tomorrow's graduates sing a song. It's the same song every year, called "旅立ちの日に" (which translates roughly as "To the First Day of our Journey"), about travelling off in different directions. The kids really nailed it today, which was nice. The ceremony ends after one last speech.
Afterward, one of the male teachers said, "I'm glad it's 花粉症 (kafunsho--cedar pollen allergy, which aflicts over 60% of Japanese people) season. I was rubbing my eyes, and the students probably thought I was moved to tears." A couple of the other teachers quickly agreed. Sure...花粉症...riiiiight.

Interestingly (to me), if you change the first kanji and make the word 謝恩 (sha-on), which means gratitude or appreciation, into 呪恩(ju-on), you get the title of a scary movie you might recognize. I'd like to see that ceremony...kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkrrrrrrrrrrrrkkkkkkkkk...

By the way, I did turn the girl down. When she proposed to me last year. I mean, in case you were wondering...(yes, I'm clarifying for your sake, Eugene.)

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

贈る言葉

I have had a pretty emotional day. So forgive me if I'm a little sentimental tonight. And it's been a long day, so maybe I'll come back and clean up typos in the morning.

Today, or rather at this point, yesterday, was the 送る会(okuru kai) for my san-nensei students. This is when the ni-nensei and ichi-nensei put on a show to send off their senpai to graduation. The 送る会 is one of the nicer aspects of the senpai-kohai (elder and younger student) dynamic. Everyone will become a third grader and be sent off by their kohais, just as they sent off their senpai before them. It's a never ending chain of respecting and being respected.
Per usual, there were choral performances (including the most awful I've ever heard, put forth by the ni-nensei). And per usual, the homeroom teachers, staff, and 学年主任(head teacher for the school year) all gave speeches to the soon-to-be graduates. (At my school, that's only 4 people--not so bad as some of the bigger schools.) First-year teacher Nezu-sensei's tearfully delivered speech was particularly moving. He will alwas remember this first class of his; it was powerful to hear him say 「 ありがとうございます」--"Thank you so much" to the students for the last year. When he was a student, he said, he never imagined how much students mean to their teachers. It was a reminder of what I'll be giving up in August.
The truth is, because I'll be leaving, the entire ceremony was very bittersweet for me. It was my 送る会 as well, even if the students don't know it yet. There is no way I can stay at Fujimidai Junior High School once my contract expires, even if I wanted to. This is the last class i'll get to see graduate--I won't get to see the graduation for the soon to be 新三年生(new san-nensei), who were the first class to enter Fudai during my time on the faculty.
While I watched the teachers speaking on the stage, I was thinking of what my goodbye speech to the students will be like. Will I cry (for the first time in a long, long time)? Will I sing a song? Will I say something silly in English? Will my Japanese be OK? Will I tell the story about how a few months ago one of the ni-nensei asked me to perform a song with him at the 学園祭 school festival in September and how I promised him I would do it if I could, even though I knew I would be gone? That was the first time I really realized my time at my school would come to an end. I didn't want to lie, but I didn't want to admit to him or to myself that I wouldn't be around after summer vacation. Will I apologize to him during that last speech?

Later in the evening, while I was still feeling kind of melancholy, thinking about then end of my time in Fujiyoshida and my steps toward the future, one of my friends said something to me that caught me totally off guard. "I don't know if I've told you, but I really respect you, and I feel honored to be here working with you, and to be your friend." He went on to say so many kind things, I was completely speechless. I'm sure my face burned scarlet. I mean, people, espeically guys, don't usually give their friends such unexpected words of kindness. I totally respect and care about my friend who said that- I think he is a brilliant, amazing person who I care about and am very happy to have in my life-- but I can't imagine telling him (or any of my close friends) that just out of the blue. "I just sometimes feel I don't let my friends know how much I appreciate them," he said.
In August, I'll be leaving not just the school, but Fujiyoshida, and Kamodanchi behind. The relationships and friendships I have here won't go away, but it will difficult not to drift apart. I'm sure many of the people I've grown close to here will be close to me for the rest of my life-- but even as I'll be moving to a new (and hopefully exciting) phase of my life, it'll hurt to have to leave. You know, that's life, right?

Words of kindness are a real gift. I didn't need the kind words from my friend--but having received them I am infinitely happier. I don't think it's some ego rush either. It's just a warm feeling that I want to share. I'm inspired to tell all my friends how much they mean to me... [I'm probably going to start with the "so half drunk" friend who is IMing me right now.
After the speeches, the san-nensei teachers had one more present for the students. The four of them sang a Japanese song called 贈る言葉 (okuru kotoba). I wouldn't sign them to a record deal, but it was a really touching gesture. Literally, the title means "Words to give (like a present)." Aptly enough it's about letting the people we love know before it's too late.

暮れなずむ町の 光と影の中
去りゆくあなたへ 贈る言葉

悲しみこらえて 微笑むよりも
涙かれるまで 泣くほうがいい
人は悲しみが 多いほど
人は優しく できるだから

さよならだけでは さびしすぎるから
愛するあなたへ 贈る言葉

夕暮れの風に 途切れたけれど
最後まで聞いて 贈る言葉

信じられぬと 嘆くよりも
人を信じて 傷つくほうがいい
求めないで 優しさなんか
臆病者の 言いわけだから

はじめて愛した あなたのために
飾もつけずに 贈る言葉

これから始まる 暮らしの中で
だれかがあなた を愛するでしょう
だけど私ほと あなたの事を
深く愛する ヤツがいない

遠ざかる影が 人混みに消えた
もうとどかない 贈る言葉
もうとどかない 贈る言葉

To all my friends, in Japan, back home, or wherever: much love.

Monday, March 07, 2005

"Josh Meyer's Beard is untouchable"

Little update here (=boring) :

Another Monday rolls around and I'm another weekend older. Did the usual: slept too much, had udon on Saturday (see Pete's site for the details), and did a load of laundry (unfortunately I left the water connected to my washing machine and it froze inside of it's hose last night... ugh). Won my third YETI pub quiz in four tries on Saturday night, on a team named after Josh's copious whiskers (he was not on our team, btw, though he was in attendance). Our dominance in the early rounds prompted opponent to declare that we were "untouchable." Skipped out on karate practice to attend the quiz though, meaning if I don't get my butt to the dojo more often over the next two months, I won't have to worry about advancing too far in my next tournament on May 15th. I will have to worry about a 上段回し蹴りto the head though.

This Thursday is graduation for my 3年生 from junior high to senior high. It may not sound like much, but for many Japanese students, heck for many Japanese adults as well, it's the most important event of their young lives. Sigh. It's always uncomfortable to be the only person in the entire gymnasium who is not crying. I'm planning a graduation special edition on Thursday. Actually, I've got a grand total of 5 hours of class all week, so I'm hoping to get some quality posts up.
I'm also hoping to move on to the next stage of my job hunt: actually sending out resumes and applying for jobs. I'd like to be in Tokyo, but I'd be willing to move anywhere in the world as long as I don't have to cut the ties I have here. I've got a pretty good sense of what type of jobs are available now, and what the salary ranges are for different fields. Plus I know where to look, for the most part. Last week's conference in Yokohama gave me some good leads and some good contacts, so I want to get serious before that ball stops rolling.
Yeah, this pretty much means I've decided to give up on teaching from August. Yeah, that's scary, since I would say things are pretty sweet now. And yeah, if you've got any ideas where I can find a job, please shoot me an email.

Alright, class number one of five is coming up shortly. Until next time, ponder these two problems:
1. Should blogging function on a metatextual level where the blogger is constantly affirming to his or her presumptive audience that "hey, this is a blog!"?
2. What are the objects Oberon, Titania, and Ariel? (Hint: I'm not talking about fairies.)

Friday, March 04, 2005

押忍!

Yesterday night I got a call from my karate sensei at about 10pm. He was at the welcome party for a new French co-worker who speaks English. After explaining the situation to me, and presumably to the co-worker(英語OK!), Sensei handed over the phone. The following conversation ensued:

"Hello?"
"Hi, nice to meet you. You work with Sensei?"
"Yes. He's been drinking, so now he'd like me to talk to you."
"I know. Welcome to Japan."
...


This story makes complete sense if you live here. Trust me.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

抹茶クリームフラペチーノ

I just got back from a three day conference in Yokohama (more on that later). One of the benefits of getting into the big city is that I can finally get a good cup of coffee. The stuff they sell around here is not so great, and even the ubiquitous Starbucks has only one store in the entire prefecture that I live in.

The difference in coffee culture between the city and country is staggering. It's not that they don't drink coffee here; it's just that almost everyone drinks nothing but instant or canned coffee. Even in "cafes," generally you're served instant coffee in Fujiyoshida. As for canned coffee--it's everywhere (city or country makes no difference). You can get hot or cold cans of coffee in any convenience store or 自動販売機(jidouhanbaiki-vending machine). Vending machines abound in Japan and are worth another post of their own some other time. The point is, I'm not the biggest fan of canned coffee (though an ad on the Yamanote line trains in Tokyo says that about 80% of commuters in Tokyo drink canned coffee every day--just staggering if you think about it) and I'd much rather have a real cup of joe from some overpriced chain store than have to drink the instant stuff .

In big cities like Yokohama, there's a Starbucks, Detour, Excelsior, Tully's, or some other coffee shop roughly every other building (alas, no Dunkin' Donuts). From Fujiyoshida, on the other hand, I'd have to drive at least an hour for the nearest frappachino. Pretty sad when you consider that there are probably two or three Starbucks in North Dakota even...

Speaking of which, スターバックス・コーヒー in Japan has a slightly different menu than your local Starbucks in the US. Generally the menu in the US and other countries is more varied, but there are a few signature items only found here (as far as I know). For instance, the current promotional item of the month is the Coffee Jelly Frappachino, which is a Frappachino with coffee-flavored Jell-o cubes lumped at the bottom. Yummy stuff--maybe.
By far the most delicious of these special drinks is the Matcha (green tea) Cream Frappachino. It's a smooth green concoction that looks like a McDonalds Sham'rock Shake (...oh the good times) but tastes of subtly sweetened green tea with milk or cream. Actually, I can't figure out for the life of me why Starbucks hasn't tried selling this in America yet. Easily marketable as a healthy, delicious, Asian tea product, it would probably be very trendy and sell like hotcakes.
Apparently I am not the only one who thinks so:

Begin forwarded message:

> From: "Customer Relations" <info@starbucks.com
Date: Thu Feb 17, 2005 2:02:31 PM US/Eastern> To: "Todd
Johnson"

Dear Todd,
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us regarding
Green Tea Macha Frappuccinos.

Your feedback is essential to Starbucks' continued growth and
progress. Therefore, I documented your request in order to inform all
appropriate departments; and from what I've recently heard - keep your eyes
open, they may be coming soon. Ask store management when you visit for any
updates.
Should you have additional questions or concerns, please call our Customer
Relations department at (800)-23-LATTE to speak with a
representative.

Best Regards,
Stephan
Customer Relations Representative
Starbucks Coffee Company

Good work, TJ. Now you can spread your green tea obsession to the masses. By the way, I'm putting the 50 Matcha Kit Kats in the mail today. You should have them by Tuesday or so.

出てる釘が打たれる

In the morning it's back to school following a three day "special leave" absence for a conference in Yokohama. After a few days of constant motion, I should have plenty of spare time at my desk to get back down to speed. I've been moving way to quickly for anyone at my school to have been comfortable with me.
The big question is: how long before the differences between my own personal rhythms and the beat of this country come into real conflict?



It seems to me that so-called "good" Japanese people all march to one drummer. This picture from fellow Fujiyoshida English teacher Linda Yu's photoblog, eyeSee, offers some perspective into the Japanese educational system. This is a senior high school graduation ceremony; these are not the kids who are graduating. There is something of the prevailing national character here as well.

For more from Linda and many of my other friends, take a look at the links listed here. They're all superbly done pages and blogs done by people I respect. Long live the blogosphere.
じゃあ、もう寝なきゃ。おやすみ.