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!

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Elevated Level of Conversation

As preparation for my new job, a fax I got today requests that I achieve complete mastery of my interpretation and Japanese abilities by August:
日本語能力と通訳技術を完全にマスターすること。
 CLAIRでは、日本政府の大臣、政府次官、事務次官及び各国の大使館員、領事、外交官等政府的にもかなり高位な方々の通訳などが急に求められることもあります。このため、英語なまりのない発音や敬語など日本語能力1級以上の日本語能力が求められます。
 8月までにもう一度自身の技能を練磨してください。
Which means something like:
[PCs are requested to] attain complete mastery of your Japanese ability and interpretation techniques:
Japanese government ministers, vice-ministers, and other officials including high level staff from the embassies, consulates, and diplomatic corps of various nations may seek interpretation and other services from CLAIR on short notice. Therefore, PCs are required to speak unaccented English and have mastered honorifics etc. to a Japanese above level 1 ability of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.
Please polish your techniques before the beginning of August.
Polish my interpretation skills...? Waaaaa...?Considering the average conversation with my students is at about the lowest possible level of discourse imaginable, I think I need to hit the books pretty hard for the next month.
[Typical conversation:]
Student: "Jason, you are so hairy! Make a muscle! You look just like a beastman!"
Me: "Shut up you little brat! I am a human being. I demand my dignity! No, please don't touch me any more! No, I can't take the constant petting! I am a human being, no! Not again... No!!!!"
Student [stroking my armhair]: "You're even softer than my cat!"


At reast my accent when I speak Engrish isn't too bad, light?

The Greenhouse Effect

According to this study by scientists at the University of Georgia, in classrooms studied,
"as temperature and humidity increased, achievement and task performance deteriorated, attention spans decreased, and students reported greater discomfort. Cooler classrooms created increased feelings of comfort, activity and productivity."

I point this out merely because this week has been amazingly hot and humid, with Tuesday setting a new record high for Tokyo in June (36.2 degrees C, or about 97 degrees F). The heat index for days like that is well into the hundreds. Still, while my school does allow for a little ventilation with open doors and windows (no screens though, which just means it's fills with bugs, especially at night), there is still no AC anywhere except the computer lab, which is usually locked. Not to mention that all the open entrances pose a security risk (to which my school has responded by giving all the teachers anti-intruder spray to carry around, and putting some funny poles on the wall that can be used to ward off would-be attackers). But as far as I'm concerned, it's just barbaric that on hot days, temperatures on the top floor can already reach the low to mid 30s, and there is still nearly another month before summer vacation.

The flipside of the equation is in the winter, when classroom temperatures are regularly below 5 degrees Celsius (about 40 degrees F). At least each room is allowed a kerosine heater, which is sufficient to keep the one kid who sits right in front of it pretty warm. Because the school building is made of uninsulated concrete, it neither traps or keeps out the heat very well.

Of course, my fellow teacher in town, Paul, made a witty observation: who says that Japanese schools want to encourage comfort, activity, or productivity? After all, the art of being a true Japanese person is learning perseverence (我慢 [gaman]), self control to not complain, and the ability to look like you're working when you're actually doing absolutely nothing. [Ok. I made that last one up. But it's true.]

All this sweating at my desk is making me whine too much (>_<)

Monday, June 27, 2005

Japanese Internet Morals

Still no movement on the going home front...

In other news:
The people who brought you diggin on 12-year-old schoolgirls, the enshrinement of war criminals at Yasukuni Jinja, and the corporate antthink that values punctuality over safety at JAL and JR have decided to make their newest push for moral values in Japan: teaching kids to use their real names on the internet. Apparently if people use their real names it is supposed to cut back on anonymous internet crime. This is because, said criminals would now be, um, nonymous.
While this may be true, I think there just might be other things that we could be teaching Japanese kids, like not to try to blow up their parents. Or maybe they could spend time teaching Japanese parents that they need to spend time and love on their families, rather than their co-workers and the waitresses at hostess bars.
Actually, I'm just hoping that if they go through with this push for using real names on the internet,it helps cut down on obnoxious, annoying, or just really lame internet handles.

Oh! The librarian is heading for the door! I'm out of here!
~teh DaRtH SidIoUs

Muggy Weather

Generally I follow the unwritten rule that I don't leave school before the school librarian. Today it is so 蒸し暑い! (hot and humid) that I am seriously considering breaking the rules.
Air conditioning saves lives. So I hear.
Gaman. Gaman. Gaman.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Creepy Tarako Flash!

Juri sent me a link to this game, which is almost as amusing as it is terrifying. My personal record is 52 creepy mutant tarako cupies. In case you were wondering, tarako is cod roe. Make sense yet?
If you're still wondering where the adorable little infant/fish egg hybrid freaks come from, try clicking the image below to check out this page from Kewpie Mayonaise's homepage:
kewpie/
The site is in Japanese, but it's easy to see the spot where you click on the format of your choice, quick time or windows media player.
The lesson, as always, is that Japanese TV was seriously created by aliens who have no knowledge whatsoever of the human race.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Behold My Messy Desk and Be Awed

According to an article on the jobs website monster.com, the fact that my workspace is organized according to my top-secret formula, helplessly messy according to the untrained eye, actually means that I'm better educated and bound to make more money than the neat freaks out there.
Sayeth the article:
There are a whole lot of messy-desk people out there. And it is especially interesting to learn about the traits of these people when compared to those of non-messy office dwellers.

According to a recent study by Ajilon, messy-desk people (let’s call them MDP) tend to have higher salaries than non-MDP; specifically, while 66 percent of Americans making $35,000 or less per year are self-described neat freaks, only 11 percent of those earning above $75,000 claim the same. Also, the more educated tend to be messier; only 16 percent consider themselves neat, whereas the percentage for non-college graduates is 29.

Some other MDP-related findings, according to the study:

56 percent of women claim to keep their workspace organized, versus only 42 percent of men.

Northeasterners are more organized than their Western, Central and Southern colleagues; 59 percent of them keep their spaces streamlined, versus 50 percent of those in the Central US, 48 percent of Southerners and 46 percent of Westerners.

Whereas 60 percent of 18-24 year olds keep their spaces organized, only 36 percent of workers ages 55-64 claim the same.

The study also relates that your coworkers may be judging you based on your messiness; if you take three people sitting around you, for instance, one doesn’t care about your messiness, one will judge you for being messy and the last would say it depends on who you are.


So go ahead and judge away, you petty little neat-o-philes. When I'm your boss, I'll be sure to reward your clean looking desk by giving you more work to do, since you must not be that busy if you can spend so much time tidying up every day.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Here, Kitty-kitty

Nothing is more annoying than people with little dogs that they carry around with them. Except for people who carry their little dogs around with them and dress the dogs up too. Since space is tight in Japan, a lot of people who have dogs tend to have little tiny ones. You'd think the fact that small dogs are plentiful would make it cheaper to get one, but last year there was a chihuaua fashion boom (dog as accessory) and the little buggers retailed for about $2,000 apiece. All that for a dog that you can put in your Louis Vuitton purse. Or wallet. Now that little dogs don't seem to be as in style anymore, I wonder what happened to all those chihuauas? I also wonder how to spell that word. "Yo quiero taco bell" because it doesn't exist in Japan. One of the top reasons for my move to Tokyo is the prospect of real sort of Mexican food.

But that is not the point! The point is this website. Because my friend sent it to me and it made me laugh. Cats in clothes have to be incredibly pissed off all the time. I know for a fact that my old cat back home, Goose (may she rest in peace) would have ripped off a finger or three had I try to put a leapard print shawl on her. Even though the site assures me that "the shawl acts as a foppish muffler as well!" Well hell, now I'm convinced.
click
My favorite is the high school girl's uniform for cats. You sickos and your sei-fuku (school uniform) cosplay fetishes. Bad kitty! Bad kitty!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Cultural Returns

My boy Paully 'the The' (as Rudy calls him) has started a new blog, called Cultural Returns. Paul will be looking at his own reverse culture shock going home after 3 years in Japan, while also documenting his new Japanese wife's adjustment to life in the US. It's a fascinating concept and I'm looking forward to reading it, especially since I'm presumably going to have to go back someday and go through a similar experience. Not that I would ever live in Wisconsin... (^_-)
Check it out!
Po-ru

A Pretty Picture


It's almost 2am. I should be sleeping, but I've been up playing with some simple photo editing software I just installed. I've been able to do some good stuff. Like here I pumped up the lighting in the foreground (since Juri was totally backlit out), and now you gotta admit it's a lovely picture, if a bit grainy. 俺の自慢の彼女だぞ。(Amazing, considering I've never even read that book about attracting Asian women.)Plus it's got the whole symbolic new dawn in Tokyo thing going on which my life is totally digging right now. And the Tokyo Tower in the background. Can you believe that even Tokyo is pretty at 5am, in it's own way. And, I was gonna say something else but I forgot. Um. Sleepy=rambling. Time for bed.

Tempura Udon


Tempura Udon
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.
Udon is one of the reasons I'm gonna miss this place (Fujiyoshida).

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

How to Attract Asian Women

Hehehehehe. C'mon. Click. You know you want to know...

Minding Your Manners (or not)

I came across this article about manners, violence, and profanity in Japan while surfing through the blog at Vertical, an up and coming publisher of Japanese contemporary literature in the US (worth checking out). Anyway, given the strict tradition of manners in this country, which prompts older Japanese to take a deeply introspective view any time they violate some sort of moral code, (not like chain-smoking into people's faces, using cell phones anytime and anyplace, reading porno-comics on the train, groping female passengers, or spouting racist/sexist/jingoistic opinions especially when they think you can't understand them--which are all normal behaviors), it's just amazing that the young generation is turning bad. Poisoned by Western influences (like me?), they have started doing things like putting on makeup in public, eating while walking, and crossing their legs on the train! I might add (if I were feeling mean), Japanese youth also tend to have horrible fashion sense, questionable dental hygene, and tend to be horrible conversationalists (Yes. I do speak Japanese. No, I am not a genius. No, I do not have a gun because I am American, and no, I wouldn't show you if I did. I learned to use chopsticks when my real parents abandoned me in the jungle and I was raised by wolves. Why do you ask?). But the real shock may be that "fakkyuu" is becoming acceptable Japanese among young people looking for better curse words than (in order of rudeness), "foolish bumpkin," "the one in front of me," or "honored personage". That and the fact that they're throwing those smelly, creepy old-folks into trains (not in front of them!), which sounds bad, but I think might be more than half-justifyable at times.
By the way, I want to make one thing clear. I never touch up my makeup in public. Don't go pinning that one on me!

Tongari Kids "B-Dash!"

The fact that one of the top songs in Japan right now is a techno song that samples the theme from Super Mario Brothers and is put together by three nerds who have chosen incredibly stupid (and meaningless) names for themselves (Nipopo, Anabebe, and Hanihohenihaa) accords with so many stereotypes about Japanese people that it's almost not funny. That being said, I can't stop laughing every time I hear the song, cuz it's um... pretty good. Which is why in a fit of inspired boredom, I translated the lyrics...



"B-Dash" by トンガリキッズ

Maybe a little too fast, ya think? B-DASH!
Might fall into a hole, ya think? B-DASH!
Might crash into a turtle, right? B-DASH!
The pipes have secret rooms, eh? B-DASH!
You can breathe under the sea, can you? B-DASH!
And jump over mountains, too? B-DASH!
Maybe usin' Mario a bit much, eh? B-DASH!
Luigi's sulking a bit, ya see? B-DASH!

A mushroom boldly steps into the scene, who runs faster than you can imagine
This is an age where turtles fly in the sky, back in the day well who woulda thought?
Collecting coins is just a hobby, treasures from back in the 50s
It's ok for him to go around smashing bricks-- you know that nowadays he'd end up in court!
Heeeey... mom! What are you doing pulling out the plug?
And just when I had beat the level too? Do you really have to do the vaccuuming now?

Maybe a little too fast, ya think? B-DASH!
Might not get that fireflower, no? B-DASH!
But you might earn some coins, eh? B-DASH!
And maybe eat a few mushrooms, right? B-DASH!
Maybe a little too fast, ya think? B-DASH!
You might not stop on a dime, ya know? B-DASH!
You have to rush underground, right? B-DASH!
The princess might be a fake, ya think? B-DASH!

Riding on a fluffly cloud up in the sky, thinks about all the little people down below
25-minute, unassisted, undersea dive? Well that's just his latest record!
Sinking into drainpipes, he'll pick up some coins if he's lucky!
And he liked to pick flowers--nowadays they're all private property.
C'mon Dad! Don't go changin the channel!
I just got to a really good place! You watched sumo yesterday!

Crouch...wait... now jump just like that! Feels kind of good!
Headlong dash crouching JuMP! That really feels pretty good!

Maybe a little too fast, ya think? B-DASH!
Might fall into a hole, ya think? B-DASH!
Might crash into a turtle, right? B-DASH!
The pipes have secret rooms, eh? B-DASH!
You can breathe under the sea, can you? B-DASH!
And jump over mountains, too? B-DASH!
Maybe usin' Mario a bit much, eh? B-DASH!
Luigi's sulking a bit, ya see? B-DASH!


Maybe a little too fast, ya think? B-DASH!
Might not get that fireflower, no? B-DASH!
But you might earn some coins, eh? B-DASH!
And maybe eat a few mushrooms, right? B-DASH!
Maybe a little too fast, ya think? B-DASH!
You might not stop on a dime, ya know? B-DASH!
You have to rush underground, right? B-DASH!
The princess might be a fake, ya think? B-DASH!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Thank you haircut!

Best 990 yen I've ever spent.

(I got the job I wanted.)

Friday, June 10, 2005

Rainy Days

I just heard on the radio that the rainy season has officially started, and is expected to continue at least 4 weeks (until July 8th). That'll be the next time I see the sun. Great-o. At least I can start cultivating all those mold spores that I've been saving since last year's 梅雨 (tsuyu=rainy season).

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Japanese Last Names:名字

Japanese names are written in kanji, the characters imported from China. Currently there are about 2000 kanji that appear frequently in everyday usage, and many thousands more that are more specialized. The cool thing about kanji is that they mean stuff, so Japanese names have meanings too.
Most names are two or three characters long. Names are written last name first, first name last. In the past, family ties were even more important than they are now. There were huge clans that had the same or similar last names. In many two kanji names, one of the kanji might have been passed down to children who married to start their own families: in theory, someone named 石川 (Ishikawa, meaning stone river) might pass on the kanji 石 (ishi) to one of their younger sons who starts a family named 石村 (ishimura- stone village) etc. Of course, the oldest son would have kept the original name 石川. This practice is no longer continued, but I do know of at least one case of a younger son marrying and taking his wife's family name, because there were no males in that family to carry it on (usually, like in the West, women take their husband's name when they marry.)
Although the most common names are common anywhere, names seem to be concentrated in. For instance, some names are very common to Northern Japan, or Western Japan, or Tokyo and so on. Even within very small areas, names may be separated geographically. For instance, one part of my town has many people with one name that rarely appears outside of that tiny area. Likewise, one of the most common names in the next little village next door is very rare in my town.

Anyway, after lunch today, I took a quick look at my school's list of students and calculated the frequency of each name. This is by no way a comprehensive list for all of Japan, but it's pretty accurate for my own tiny little corner. There are also a couple of names that can be written in more than one fashion but are the same name (like, Johnson and Jonson, or Smith and Smithe). I counted those as being just one name. This list has pretty much held true for my 3 years here (though there is a huge upcoming crop of Takiguchis
Here are the top 10 last names among the 196 kids at Fujimidai JHS:

1. 宮下 Miyashita (palace-below: servants of the palace) 20/196 students and a teacher too!

2. 渡辺 Watanabe (also渡邊・渡部) (cross-edge/area: those who cross a certain region?) 16 students. This is probably the most common name in Fujiyoshida.

3. 滝口 Takiguchi (also 瀧口) (waterfall-mouth) 14 students. Probably a lot of these because of a waterfall in my part of town

4. 志村 Shimura (willpower-village: the collective will of the village) 7 students.

4 (tie). 羽田 Hada (wing-rice field) 7 students, 6 of whom are third year girls.

6. 高山 Takayama (high-mountain) 5 students. Hint: take a look at Fuji-san to find the inspiration for this one.

6 (tie). 土屋 Tsuchiya (earth/ground-house) 5 students.

8. 大谷 Otani (big-valley) 4 students. Again, geographically this makes sense, given the shape of Fujiyoshida.

8 (tie). 小林 Kobayashi (little-woods) 4 students. This is a very common Japanese name.

8 (tie). 山崎 Yamasaki (or Yamazaki) (mountain-cape) 4 students. There isn't much water around here, so I don't know why this one would be popular. It's a pretty standard Japanese name though. Cape as in the bit of land sticking into a body of water, not the article of clothing, by the way.


There are also a few rarer names (at least in this area) that I really like at my school. Here are a few:
  • 天野 Amano (Heaven-field)
  • 五十嵐 Igarashi (fifty-storm)
  • 内園 Uchisono (inside-garden)
  • 梅澤 Umezawa (plum-mountain stream/wetland)
  • 榎本 Enomoto (enoki mushroom/root)
  • 鬼切 Onikiri (demon-cutter) This girl's family is seriously Christian, apparently
  • 功刀 Kunugi (meritous-katana) Coolest name in school!
  • 稀代 Kidai (singular/rare/awaited-era)
  • 坂井 Sakai (hill-well)
  • 園山 Sonoyama (garden-mountain)
  • 波多 Hata (wave-many)
  • 武藤 Muto (warrior/martial-wysteria) Second coolest name!
  • 安留 Yasutomi (safe-stay)
  • 米山 Yoneyama (rice-mountain)
  • 和光 Wako (peace-light)

Because the names are written in kanji, it's hard to reproduce a Western name in Japanese characters. A few names lend themselves to being written in Japanese, but this is mostly coincidence. If I were to try to write my name in three kanji, I'd have to break a few rules about pronunciation to get a cool combo. Still, I suppose I could go with 望弐月 Bo-ni-tsuki (hope-two-moon), or maybe 棒煮突 (stick-boil-punch/thrust). If I really wanted to push it, I could maybe justify 暮爾吐(gravestone-thou-exhale).

Monday, June 06, 2005

So I Cut My Hair, Where's the Job?

I cut my hair and shaved off the top layer of skin for my job interview at CLAIR last Friday. Ridiculous razor burn on Saturday, just in time for a visit with my girl and another friend who I hadn't seen in months. In honor of the way I compromised my principles for the sake of the Man, my friend Pete (of Udon reviewing fame) sent me the lyrics to a song that I imagine I would know if I was 10 years older or so. Thanks Pete! (I wonder if your wife will approve of my new look...)

"Get a Haircut," by George Thorogood and the Destroyers

Grew my hair long and broke all the rules

I'd sit and listen to my records all day
With big ambitions of where i could play
My parents taught me what life was about
So i grew up the type they warned me about
They said my friends were just an unruly mob
And i should get a haircut and get a real job
Get a haircut and get a real job
Clean your act up and don't be a slob
Get it together like your big brother bob

Why don't you get a haircut and get a real job
I even tried that 9 to 5 scene

I told myself that it was all a bad dream
I found a band and some good songs to play
And now I party all night, I sleep all day
I met this chick she was my No.1 fan
She took me home to meet her mommy and dad
They took one look at me and said ("oh my god")
Get a haircut and get a real job

Get a real job, why don't you get a real job
Get a real job, why don't you get a real job

I hit the big time with my rock 'n' roll band
The future's brighter now than I'd ever planned
I'm ten times richer than my big brother bob
And he, he's got a haircut he's got a real job

Why don't you get a haircut and get a real job
I even tried that 9 to 5 scene

Use the Farm, Cuke!

It's not easy to find organic foods at the local supermarkets in Japan, since the average Japanese person seems to be more interested in how flawless a fruit or vegetable looks than how it tastes or what chemicals went into it. Still, I have sought out and found a variety of organic goods now and again--it's just a little harder than in the states, and even more expensive. I wish I could do more, but I just don't know where to go to find (and from what I know of the way farming works here I seriously doubt the general availability of) organic produce.

Now that I've seen Grocery Store Wars,I'm not quite sure if I'm more inclined to purchase organic foods than before. The evil dark side of the farm that turned Organikin Skywalker into the evil Darth Tader doesn't phaze me that much yet. In fact, I think the Death Melon looked pretty tasty. I am, however, now much more likely to have disturbing dreams about a head of lettuce in a metal bikini...


Trust in your peelings. May the Farm be with you.