Tuesday, September 25, 2007

ass rashes and man-chickens

Sojourner's Highlight: Having a guest to play tour guide for is a great way to get off your lazy butt and play tourist yourself.

: When you walk into any shop or restaurant, you are greeted with something that might sound like "arashmyasseh", if you don't know what they're saying. What the one or two or ten people working there are saying, though, is "irashimaseh," which basically means 'welcome', and has nothing to do with rashes on your ass or theirs. Even walking into a conbini at 2am, you are friendily welcomed.

Such politeness is a token element of the japanese service industry. If somebody is going to serve you, 9 times out of 10 they will offer the most amazing service you could hope for. You can go into a store and ask for advice that has nothing to do with the shoes they sell there. You can ask for something tricky at the grocery store and the cashier will probably leave the till to go look, subsequently making no less than 4 loops of the entire supermarket at a near sprint as he looks for someone who might be able to offer more help. Then suddenly there are between 4 and 5 other workers standing there with you, trying to understand the difference between baking soda and baking powder, before they run up and down all the aisles to reconfirm that they are, in fact, out of baking powder.

At restaurants, servers aren't expected to wait on you hand and foot; they take your order, bring your food, and then mostly leave you alone. But any time they are dealing with you, you will feel like the most welcomed houseguest ever. And if ever you need something, grab their attention and they will come running to ask what. The almost always amazing service makes me wish that tipping was part of the culture here. But their awesome service isn't tip-worthy, it isn't above and beyond: it is simply expected of people in that role.

The fan in my computer hums noisily and the glare of the flourscent overhead beats down on my brain and angers my eyes. I'm tired.

But it's ok: I'm tired in a good way! My parents have been here and we've been running around being touristy.

Last Friday and Saturday, my junior high held it's 'School Festival.' Every school has a festival like this, to which every class and every single student contributes in some way. Every student either helped with a stage production or with decorating a classroom. For a month leading up to the festival, students and teachers have been putting in two to three hours of preparatory work at the end of the school day, every single day. I am not supposed to take too many photos of the students, and I am definitely not supposed to put them on the internet, so I can only show a small sampling of their hard work on my flikr. Highlights included a "Stomp" performance and an inspiring brass and jazz band performance. These, as well as skipping-rope and dance troupes were my favourite because the often timid students got up on stage with confidence and rocked the house with their energy. It was hard to only employ the accepted polite applause after the stomp performance, and not to cheer and stomp in response. The band performance was possibly the best school band performance I have ever heard. I don't know if I have ever been emotionally moved by a school band before; maybe I am getting sappy in my old age.
Ok, to stop rambling, the last highlight I will mention included the English Club's filmed "Wizard of Oz." The students spoke way more english in that film than they ever would otherwise. My favourite part, though, was when Dorothy arrives after the tornado to meet the 'Man-chickens' of 'Man-chicken' land. I don't know if this was a matter of mistranslation or politically avoidant script writing... after all, it's 'little person,' or 'man-chicken,' not *unchkin, right?

Saturday afternoon, it was hard to believe the rapidity with which the students and teachers dismantled the fruits of their labour. A month’s worth of incredible drawings and decorations that covered the school disappeared in a mere hour, with narry a trace of their existence to be found. For them it was a simple matter: the festival was over, the materials no longer important. In Japan, when there is a designated time for something to occur, it should occur precisely then – not start early, and not finish late.

For example, tabe-nomi-hodai enkai parties are usually two hours of all you can drink and eat, and then you promptly leave the restaurant. After the school festival, we had a staff enkai. These parties are very important in the workplace culture of Japan; drinking together outside of work is seen as important to creating a cohesive workgroup. The team that pays their 3500yen each and gets sloshed together, stays together. The party was at the usual kind of place, where you leave your shoes at the door, kneel on the tatami floor, have beer, sake, and more, and they bring you food galore.

I had to open the party with a brief speech saying how grateful I was to be part of the team, and how impressive the school festival was. Then, the kocho-sensai (principal) made an opening speech welcoming me and – very quickly – offering the first ‘kampai’(cheers) so everybody could start drinking. The rest of the night witnessed increasing gaiety punctuated with decreasingly coherent speeches by a pre-selected line-up of teachers.

My personal nijikai (second party) was particularly satisfying. Some of the teachers went on to another bar, some went home; I tagged along with three Japanese student teachers and went for more drinks and nibblies at a smaller restaurant. (There, you pay for drinks by the half hour increment.) No offense to English-speakers who I have gone drinking or partying with, or to any ALT’s here, but that half-hour-turned-into-two-hours with those student-teachers was far more rewarding. It was challenging to fit in with them and the rest of the crowd, instead of just accepting my sticking out as I do when with a group of foreigners. It was challenging to communicate with them, and to make it entertaining for all of us. Most of all, it was extremely rewarding to connect with some people who really live here, instead of just people who are visitors, strangers, like myself. I made a much more determined effort to use the tiny bit of Japanese I know, and I feel like I learned as much from a couple hours with them then all of my studying before! It wasn’t just that there were attractive girls involved, I swear: it was just fun to hang out with them!

Since then, I have been making more of an effort to use my pathetic Japanese vocabulary (‘tango’) whenever I can. It has helped, of course, that my parents arrived Saturday night. I was late picking them up from the train station (because of the half-hour-turned-into-two-hours), but they were merrily sipping some beer in a bar when I got to them.

Having a guest expect you to play tour guide is a great way to make you get off your lazy butt and play tourist yourself. We have explored Sapporo a fair bit as well as made a short trip outside the city, to a fishing/heritage/touristy town – none of which I would have done this weekend had my parents not arrived.

On top of that, because they depend on me slightly and because I want to show off, I try to use any Japanese word, any chance I get. So, they are very good motivation, and it is very good language practice. Otaru (the fishing/heritage/touristy town) was very beautiful and worthwhile.

As a consequence, I am at the moment having mixed feelings about my personal ‘accomplishments’ thus far. Having my parents here makes me realise that I have learned a fair bit about how I can make a life here, even if the language is slow in coming along. And indeed, though unacceptably slowly, my language is perceivably improving nonetheless. I was quite proud when at a conbini I asked for help buying tickets to a soccer game, and was able to discuss the date and time and such!! After dinner tonight, it was really nice to be able to make the server smile with gracious acceptance of our enjoyment of and gratitude for the tasty food (I only know ‘tasty,’ at this point; ‘delicious’ will come later). Also, as I mentioned, people do indeed seem slightly more willing to try and speak Japanese to me now… I suppose it is the way I carry myself; perhaps I was frowning in confusion a lot before, and that deterred people’s attempts. Now I grin in confusion, and that makes it a lot easier on them.

And yet, I am still a little disappointed in myself. I feel like I haven’t put enough effort into studying and practicing Japanese every day. I feel like I haven’t made learning and reading about the language and the culture enough of a priority in my day to day life. On a different note, I feel like I haven’t put enough into finding challenging and new experiences, whether they are cultural, social, or personal.

Namely, I still haven't gone on any exciting hikes out of town. That isn't a particularly 'Japanese' activity, but it is personally an important activity. I feel most alive when I am outside climbing a big hill somewhere. Plus, Hokkaido is renowned for its hills and hikes and natural beauty, so I do feel I am not taking advantage of my (geographical) place in life.

On top of that, hanging out with the student teachers makes me realize that I have been 'hiding' among the english ALT's and retreating to my apartment all too often. I need to get out there and talk to Japanese people more, otherwise I will never feel a real part of the place I'm in.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

possible progress

Randomata: 1. Just briefly, to flesh out the weak history in my previous explanation: written language in Japan first appears around 700c.e., entirely Chinese in form. Kana is a "native orthography for the phonetic representation of Japanese" developed in the 9th and 10th centuries, in a concerted effort to distance Japanese from mainland languages. So, I think it was fair to say that hiragana is an indigenous rehashing of Chinese kanji mixed with equal parts Japanese ingenuity and universal human laziness.

2. Just briefly, to return to my comment on music here: I forgot to mention that when they are finally playing a good song on the radio, they invariably stop the song about 68% of the way through. I'm not sure why they do this. I swear they let the crappy songs play all the way to the end. For example, shortly after I wrote that post on annoying music practices, I felt bad because U2's 'One' came on the radio - a song of which I am quite fond - only to have my annoyance reconfirmed when the song stopped before the last verse, not to mention the glorious climactic bridge.
Frustratingly, for someone trying to become slightly more immersed, there is a lot of English on the radio; sometimes it is hard to find any Japanese songs or talk at all.

Last Sunday, I went to the Sapporo Gay Pride Parade. You might be surprised to hear that, and rightly so. To put it mildly, Japan is not renowned for its tolerance of difference. Hokkaido prefecture (technically it is a "do" or 'circuit' and not a 'ken' or prefecture; a semantic split which I figure to be similar to the difference between Province and Territory in Canada (another difference about which I know next to nothing (which makes this another parenthetical explanatory addition that doesn't really help explain anything at all))) is one of the most accepting of homosexuality. The parade runs right through downtown (however it is only alloted one lane, so it has to share the road, as well as stop at red lights!!) and I believe it is the largest and longest running in Japan. The music and energy and awesome faces in the crowd all difficult to convey in words. So, I don't have much to say, other than that it was awesome! I proudly joined the march (along with a bunch of ALT's) to support friends with rainbows in their hearts, (or on their shirts, backs, faces, hair, or waving flag). There is only one or two buttocks in my photos of the event, so please don't be afraid.

Prior to that, I went to a Sapporo Consadoles Soccer game, once again at the impressive Sapporo Dome (where I saw a Fighter's Baseball game the week before). The field they play on is absolutely perfect: the dimensions are perfect, the lines are perfect, and it's level is perfect. Incredibly, the whole field sits atop a gigantic, hydraulically driven mobile foundation that allows the entire field to be moved out of the way for the baseball games.
The fans were, if possible, even more intense than for the baseball game. A sea of red jerseys, faces, and flags filled the far side of the stadium's stands. To my right, an entire section devoted to the opposing team's fans threatened to overfill with the thickness of yellow from their paraphernalia. These two sections spent the entire game in coordinated stomping, clapping, and singing in an effort to drown out the opposing song. The skill level of the soccer made it quite enjoyable, but the fans made it awesome. After the game, both teams line up and bow to thank the fans. The pictures don't capture the stadium very well, and there is simply no way to capture the feeling of being there.

In other news, the lummox has taken some baby steps.

Several times have I looked the right way when crossing the street.
Even better, I successfully asked where the rice was in the grocery store the other day, and I didn't even have to repeat the question!
At work I've actually said a good ten or so words that a real, live Japanese person understood, though I've only had one or two sentences meet with much success. Previously, I would look up a word, repeat in my head, immediately walk over and say it to another sensei, and they STILL didn't understand me.
Whatever I am doing, it is somehow noticeable, because when delivery people and outsiders walk into the teacher's office, they have started asking me questions, like where somebody might be. Previously, they would quickly blink away the surprised look on their face and seek someone more approachable. I can't understand half the question, and I don't know nearly half the names of all the teachers. But it doesn't matter. Somebody asked me a question: Somebody found it conceivable that I might know something, anything at all. That is pretty thrilling.

When anybody walks into the office, they quietly announce "shitsureishimasu:" basically 'sorry i'm BEING rude'. When parents and professionals walk into the office, the elsewhere mostly unnoticeable social hierarchy becomes more evident. Visitors often bow repeatedly, say up to 4 times!, as they say other things along the lines of "sorry," "sorry to bother you," etc. The principal and the vice principal are extremely friendly and helpful to anybody that comes in; nonetheless the visitor still seems abashed and apologetic, or at least extremely grateful for the grace bestowed upon them, with more bows and formal "farewell"s and "pardon-me"s after they finish conversing. As they bow their way out the door, they announce "shitsureishimashita:' 'sorry that i WAS rude'.

Speaking of visitors coming into the school, a coworker came up to me in the office to show me an 8 foot long metal pole with a foot wide biforkal prong at one end. He asked me what I thought it was. It looked like some sort of strange enormous cattle prong. He proceeded to use the pole to force another coworker trapped inside the fork up against a wall. Then he said "For strangers." So, I thought we was joking, and I couldn't figure out what the pole was really for.

Turns out it really is a 10foot-long pole used to pin strangers to the wall. The key word he left out was "For DUBIOUS strangers," which another sensei found on the internet. After I sounded out the word, the whole office giggled as they repeated 'DUBIOUS' numerous times. It is kinda a funny word, I guess. Anyways, the pole is called a sasumoda or something, and it is for pinning down strangers who come into school brandishing a knife. I am not joking about any of this, by the way, and I now know where the Dubious Stranger Prong (D.S.P) is stored, in case of an emergency.
Last week every single staff member in the entire school (myself excluded) learned how to use a portable defibrillator.
I wonder what next week's lesson will be.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

waste and welcome and "Life is so unnerving..."

Randomata: In one of my very early posts, I considered the impending difficulty of excessive waste packaging in Japan. I now believe that worry was well founded. Food is ridiculously over packaged in layer after layer of plastic, some of which is burned, some buried, and some recycled.
Shopping for food at grocery stores and cooking at home reduces some of this waste. I try to refuse plastic bags at the store whenever possible (though you go through quite a few with all the complex garbage sorting). If you shop at a conbini, you have to simply accept heaps of waste plastic.
Chopsticks are a huge waste of forestry resources, as you may have heard. Of course, Japan imports the vast majority of its wood resources, so the felled forests are elsewhere. Portable cases and chopsticks quite easily alleviate this waste, and this simple conservation tactic will (i hope) only grow in popularity, however slowly.
Another random and very noticeable waste, people seem to enjoy idling their cars for no purpose whatsoever, intentionally leaving them running, even when they have no intention of driving away.

Gaijin (foreigners) make up something like 1% of the population of Japan. The great majority of these are Korean; quite a few are Brazillian or Brazillian-Japanese; of 'western' foreign-residents, the greatest number come from the United States; the rest are from 'Other' places. There's at least five Canadians in the J-Spot, cause that's how many I've met... Embassies, International Communication Hubs, Numerous 'Gaijin Bars' and associations of various sorts provide a somewhat flimsy sense of community for those who miss it and wish it.

'Gaijin' literally means 'outside person' (read: unwanted outsider) and can be construed as rude. Gaikokujin is a more polite way of saying 'foreign resident.' Like the vocabulary, the reception to foreigners varies diametrically. Some people are stunned to see me (or a group of us), overtly dropping their jaws and starring unabashedly - and I mean starring nonstop for five or ten minutes. Some children scurry away. Many old people furrow their brows furiously or quite stiffly look away. All of these are fairly superficial reactions, and possibly don't tell us much about the mentality behind them, but so far they are all I have to go on.

Other people, of all ages, are very excited to see these strange looking people; many are eager to practice a small smattering of english (usually as a joke, and especially after a few drinks). On the subway the other day, a wonderful elderly man smiled and gave us a friendly greeting and, after making a origami Pikachu for the child next to him, quickly whipped up a beautiful paper flower for my friend. Many people, of course, embrace the foreign or the Western, taking trips and exchanges overseas, practicing their English or second language at school and with tutors. Students like this are the first to come up to me after class and engage in small talk. Every time I have gone to a bar, we have ended up very good friends with the bartenders, so they, at least, don't mind us. These all make a small sampling but, again, they are all I have to go on.

Any surprised reactions in a fairly large and connected city like Sapporo would likely be exaggerated in any smaller town. So far, my racial identity has only prevented me once from a given activity. I stunned the owners of a small coffee shop simply by walking through their doors, to then have them ask me by gestures and Japanese to please leave because, I guess, the shop was closed - even though it was only the afternoon. I am not at all bitter or offended, though at first it was somewhat hard not to take it personally. A reaction like this is understandable because foreigners are so extremely rare. Seeing me for the first time, of course this older couple was unprepared. Even my teachers, who have had foreign ALT's before, hardly know how the heck to act around me!

Oh, of my height: Yes, I am definitely above average height here, but No, I do not feel like a giant. I do feel like I have to slouch all the time, hunch my shoulders and chest somewhat, so as to be less intimidating, most especially at school where I do dwarf the munchkins.

The munchkins are slowly warming up to me. It helps that they now realise I will not yell at them if they speak Japanese. They are allowed to think out loud, and even try to communicate with me in Japanese, as I stare uncomprehendingly and they search for an English word to say what they want to say. I am trying to use my time with them to pick up Japanese words here and there; however, in their minds, I have to remain functionally noncommunicative to ensure their continued striving in English.

I had a hard task on Friday at work. I had to listen to two girls read a story from their textbook, to decide which student would enter a regional speaking competition. Both spoke very well, despite their extreme nervousness at orating in front of the big scary englisher, me.

The selection they read, in tone reminiscent of Silverstein's "The Giving Tree," was a heartwrenching story about the bombing of Hiroshima, as experienced by a tree on the outskirts of the city. I had accidentally stumbled upon "A Mother's Lullaby" earlier that day, as I flipped through the textbook. I was unprepared for its impact.

(rest of story on flikr)
Anyways, it was difficult to evaluate the speaker's pronunciation, intonation and animation of such a story, not to mention I hate being in a position where I have to judge the students.

On the other hand, it was nice to feel at all useful. I am beginning to think that my school doesn't really want an ALT, as they have me scheduled for very very few clases each day. I know that is me being overly anxious: once the school festival is done, things will calm down and they will have more regular classes again, with which I can help. It is just hard to go to school everyday and have nobody ask me for any help, on anything whatsoever. I have written short, individual responses to some 300 questions posed by some of the students, to show them that english actually will enable communication with a real human being. That has been... 'fun'. (At least it's DOING something!!!!)

Somehow, I am extremely tired and somewhat stressed at and after school, despite my lack of work to do. Being there with nothing to do is stressful, and not feeling like part of the team is most uncomfortable. I do not stay an hour or so late every day now to put in more 'Face Time', as I had been doing, because the positive effects were negligable. My friends advised me to relax, to stop wearing a tie and such nice clothing, and to make a few obvious blunders in front of everybody so that I am not so upright and intimidating anymore. To that end, I wore no tie and was late to work on Friday... the effect of this perhaps I will feel on Tuesday, after the long weekend has ended.

I really want to talk about the soccer game and the gay pride parade, but I don't want to stretch anybody's patience.
So, to another post those topics I relegate.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

an idiotic guide to language

Randomata: You've possibly already heard about the immense complexity of the Japanese language both spoken and written. I have not even begun to understand the nuances of the spoken language. All I know is that vernacular usage rarely seems to follow the dictionary's prescriptions, and can vary greatly depending on the situation and who is talking to who.

For example, I asked somebody how to say "I want to sleep" and she explained that you could say "netai," "nemutai," "nemurutai," or "nemuru shitaiimasu" (or something) depending on how 'correct' you wanted to be - and other factors that she couldn't explain. I have confused several native speakers by asking what the correct particle is for a given situation (de, no, ni, o, etc - at, on, of, in, 'n stuff); sometimes they can't decide, and sometimes they disagree with each other.
Also, like all people, the Japanese play with their language, shortening words and blending common phrases in a dynamic way that is extremely hard to capture in a dictionary.
Ok, and then the written language.

There are three systems: Kanji, hiragana, and katakana. (By the way, I am writing this just to convey my ignorance and confused learning, not to display well researched knowledge). Kanji was borrowed from China some 600 or 3000 years ago. Every swish and symbol in kanji can have phonetic/syllabic content, loosely iconographic content, and symbollic content - none of which words mean much to you or me, but each of which I use anyways. Further, a given form can have many many many symbollic meanings ascribed to it. So, one symbol could (theoretically, i mean) mean heart and depth and liquid pump and lungfish, as well as a 'sc' sound. There are thousands of individual kanji symbols.

Hiragana is a blend of indigenous Japanese ingenuity and laziness, originally derived from kanji forms. Katakana was simply a class or style of hiragana hundreds of years ago, but eventually developed into a delineated character set. The kana are nearly true phonetic syllabaries, so there are about 50 symbols in each system, with diacritics for voicing (ie to make 't' into 'd') and specific ways to adjoin the symbols to make sounds like "jo" (jo = shi voiced, truncated by adjoined yo).

Today, hiragana is used for indigenous japanese words, and katakana is used exclusively for those identified as 'loan words,' which have been borrowed into japanese from another language within some undefined span of historical memory. Some of the katakana closely mimics the hiragana. Some of the hiragana seems reminiscient of some of the kanji. All of the kanji is finely detailed and oversignified.

On top of this, romaji or roman characters pop up all over the place. Roman numerals are pretty widely used. Plus, of course, they use different fonts all over the place, which seem to completely change the look of the symbols to a novice like me.
What makes it so tricky is that a given sentence can mix kanji and kanas with no spaces between the writing systems or words, and there is nothing to mark off words with a specific grammatical purpose (like the predicates).

I haven't done a very good job of explaining the whole thing: it's much more impressive and complex than it sounds.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

i live in a japanse musical

Randomata: There is delightfully awful music everywhere. Pretty much all Japanese popular music includes random english words and half-sensical english choruses. Many stores have music in certain sections, setting the mood or whatnot. In the grocery store, they play adverts for milk or meat or fish. These are 7.5-second bites of high-pitched and chirpy synthesized singing/noise that repeat absolutely incessently for the store's hours of operation. Think of 20 small children butchering 7.5 seconds of a song, and then repeat it continuously in your head. In the hyaku-en store (dollar store, but 100 times awesomer), they always play awful pan-flute or synthesized remakes of old english music that was annoying in the first place - no offence to Rod Stewart, he's just not my bag. An ad on the radio just now consisted of something like panfluted theme to Jurassic Parts meets synthesized remix of the theme from star wars. I'm pretty sure it was an ad for a tutoring school.

----If this post is too long for you, please read the last 4 paragraphs about hookers, toddlers, broomsmen, baseball and the YMCA.-----

So much has happened, I hardly know where to start. I suppose I will start with that realisation.

I have settled in at Work ever so slightly. The other teachers speak very limited english, for the most part. Further, they are absolutely terrified of me. I don't feel like I am that frightening, but sometimes they noticebly shake with nervousness or simply try to avoid interaction by turning away quickly or engaging in conversation with someone at just the right moment.

That said, several speak very good English and they all speak better english than they give themselves credit for. What's frustrating is when the teachers or students are so afraid that they become convinced there is no way for us to communicate. Sometimes the students will refuse to listen to a word in English, or refuse to attempt to understand, even when I can see in their eyes they understand at least some of what I have said. Some of the students are completely uninterested in me or learning english. Sometimes others try to understand and I fail to convey my meaning to them; those exchanges are the most disheartening because the students get disappointed in themselves.

I have already learned some things about teaching, such as the incredible power students have over the teacher. The teacher has to act like a stone wall when it comes to distractions and insults hurled their way, and yet she has to be interested, sympathetic, and engaged with the students for teaching to work at all.

I am most excited when students feel like I treat them as individual human beings, so I try to show genuine interest in what they talk about, music and sports and lunch. It was pretty cool that one of the kids burned me a CD of a Japanese group because I said was curious to hear it. But what that sort of interest does is make you vulnerable, because the students can make fun of your interests, personality, or simply spurn the interest you show in communicating with them. It is so immediately draining when a student ignores you, openly avoids or dislikes you, or simly refuses to communicate. It hits you hard, no matter what kind of stone front you pretend to put up.

Every day teachers open themsevles up to be used and abused by the students - because even the students simple disinterest hurts on a personal level. I just have to remind myself that a student's behaviour is not really directed at me, or simply a direct result of my teaching; instead, it emerges from my energy and teaching as well as his life and personality and mood and the weather outside and the colour of his socks (etc). This means that I cannot take complete credit for the enthusiastic students who are enjoying practicing english. But I can try to join in that energy, and try not to be too personally drained by my failures to interest or communicate.

My status with the teachers was somewhat improved when I scored our only goal in the staff soccer game. The other team (from another school) won 2-1, but we had a good time playing together. And the next morning I was greeted by a round of applause from the entire staff, who were slightly less afraid of me that day. It was really nice to be out there on the soccer field with them, because everybody forgot their fear and the language gap was no longer such a big deal. I hope to find an indoor team to play with for the winter, but no luck yet.

To return to and mitigate the contents of the Randomata, I heard a really awesome brit rock cover band in this little bar in Susukino (the party district). The owner of the band was the lead singer and guitarist, and the staff of the bar were all the other players. They did four sets over the course of the night, though the last (at 230am) was just for 4 of us gaijin (foreigners). I couldn't understand half of the words they said, but at least they were on key the whole time. And technically, they were unbelievably skilled.

It was such a crazy experience to be in this random little bar tucked away on the second floor of some random shopping centre in Sapporo, listening to this incredibly talented group of young Japanese guys rock the hell out of these british songs that likely sounded like gibberish in their minds, as latin did to me back in my choirboy days. They absolutley rocked the house. I just wanted to add this disclaimer, cause I don't want to be hating on all music in Japan. There is also some good rock and folkish/acoustic-pop on the radio that I can't get enough of.

I am in really good spirits right now, because I have just very much enjoyed my precious weekend. It was a different story by the end of the workweek last week.

I was exhausted almost to the point of incoherence: I couldn't even communicate with myself any more. I have been nervous about fitting in and doing well at work. Then there is interacting with the students, which is exhausting even when it goes well. Then there is going to bed at 12 or 1 and waking up at 6 every day. I left the house at 730 every morning, and I didn't get back until 630 most days, 730 others.

You have to try and fit in other things, like shopping, making yourself dinner, seeing friends, cleaning the house, not too mention relaxing a bit and having some down time, in that few precious hours you have after you finally change out of your work clothes.

Which reminds me: the stereotype of Japanese salarymen and societal overworking is true. The other teachers do not leave the office until on average 645 every day. The subways are swarming with people coming home from work at 830 and 9 at night.

Crazier still, in my mind, is how hard the kids work. Many students are also at school, for sports or clubs or extra classes, until 630 or 7 every day. Plus, they all have some school related activity, even if it is just sports, on Saturday.

All workers try not to take their holidays. They use them for sick days, or they take short three day holidays here and there so they don't inconvenience anyone. Imagine squeezing a family trip overseas in just 3 or 5 days. The entire country, as far as I know, operates with this workaholic mentality.

Something that really impresses me about the Japanese people is how they act when drinking and excited. I went to a Nippon-Ham Fighters (the sapporo baseball team) game on Saturday in the amazing Sapporo-Dome stadium that was built for world cup soccer a few years back. Walking into the stadium was incredible. I can't wait to watch a soccer game there.

But, more to the point, the fans were incredibly coordinated in their singing and cheering, which did not let up for the entire game. Every single player who came to bat had one of several songs directed at them; every play had some crowd response, but the bad plays and mistakes received no jeering. Most impressive: the alcohol was kept flowing, by attendents with keg-backpacks, the entire game. And yet, nobody got stupid or rowdy or violent or even SPILLY. Back home (beer + excitment = idiocy) and I was inevitably annoyed after any sporting event.

And the beer festival that occurs at Odori Park in the centre of Sapporo, out on the streets, with no police attendance, would in Vancouver necessarily be accompanied by a strong intimadatory police force with baton in hand - because people simply get stupid and violent.
AND - imagine this - at the end of the game, pretty much everybody picked up their own garbage and carried it away with them. Hardly a crumb was visible. In a stadium that seats tens of thousands, that is pretty damn impressive.

By the way, this was my first professional baseball experience. Mike (and everybody else), I'm sorry if I ever made fun of you or your beloved baseball. It was quite enjoyable.

Because I am rambling and need to sleep soon, I will end here. Let me just relay one of the most hilarious and enjoyable moments I have had since coming to Japan:

After the 5th inning, the teams left the field and a hundred or so toddlers, a few mascots, and some 10 cheerleaders lined up along the diamond. Some field crew came out to sweep up the bases and such. All of the former led the entire stadium in the singing and dancing of a bastardized remix of the YMCA by the village people.

The cheerleaders in their skimpy outfits, who were simultaneously inculcating the future generations in how to gain the approval of thousands of people, were all-too enticingly shaking their hips rhythmycally in front of the little devils. The mascots were amusing and absurd, as mascots always are, though I have a special affinity for them, having myself worn a moosesuit with a head so large I could not actually make the 'C' of the YMCA.

Then there were the thousands of people enthusiastically singing a half-english, half-japanese song largely meaningless to them. There was just so many layers of meaning and absurdity in the whole thing, I haven't quite unpacked it yet.

But, the icing on the cake was sweeter still. Towards the end of the song, the field crew all hefted their giant brooms and subsequently engaged in a ridiculously enthusiastic, well-coordinated and well-performed broom-swinging and feet-kicking dance to the chorus of YMCA, with unassuming children, absurd mascots, and half-naked women in tow. The multitudes in the stadium enjoyed the show as something very enjoyable, but completely normal and expected.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

my garbage poetry

Randomata: Different garbage is picked up four days a week, with 'burnables' repeated on tues and fri. First, you decide if a piece of trash is not 'burnable' but 'non-burnable'. If it's not 'burnable' and it's not 'miscellaneous non-recyclable non-burnable', clearly it is 'recyclable non-burnable', and then you simply have to differentiate it specifically from the various other not 'burnable' nor 'miscellaneous non-recyclable non-burnable' 'recyclable non-burnables'. But don't forget to separate any 'burnable' or 'miscellaneous non-recyclable non-burnable' parts of the 'recyclable non-burnable' (such as the cap off your bottle).

I'm not a salaryman: that I know for sure.
I'd rather be out living, that's what salary is for!

Neither am I fond of the ten hour crunch,
the two hour train, and thirty-five lunch.

I need to do dishes and vacuum and sweep,
exercise and socialize and hopefully sleep.

I work hard - I do! - I'm not just lazy.
But living to work is a little bit crazy.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

me, my bread, and I

Randomata: The bread here lacks a certain je ne sais quoi,.. except I do sais quoi. It lacks good taste, whole grains, and has an overabundance of sweetness and awful flavour. You can't find decent bread anywhere (which, back home, was my bread and..., umm, back home, uh, bread was my butter?)

Where to start? Has it been only a week since last I committed to blogpost my mindless prattling? It feels like a day - it feels like a month.

After an email wherein I complained of this or that defficiency or limitation in my personality, my sage father most wisely pointed out that wherever you go, you take the source of the most difficulty in your life: you.

Total Arnold buffs might Recall a certain film where a dream-vacation company offered a possible solution to this problem. Unfortunately, the reality crisis that ensued was nearly devestating to our dear Governator's psyche.

My point is not simply to talk about the huge defficiencies of Me, nor to bring back painful memories of the three breasted woman in Total Recall. However, I am surprised at the blending and occasional collision of the 'old' me and the as yet undiscovered 'me'.

For example, and to be possibly overly personal, I still fail to take initiative and control of my own life and near future. I still follow rather than plan, accept rather than suggest. This means that though I know I want to do something - say, go hiking - I don't just plan a day and go. I wait for somebody else to take the initiative, and I follow when invited. This is a bad way to be.
What do I plan for my long weekends up ahead? What do I plan for Christmas? Many people have already planned exciting trips months in advance to look forward to. I slog away in the day-to-day, head down and digging into the quotidian, and go weeks waiting for someone to take me on a fun hike somewhere.

I'm not trying to sound really negative and down on myself; I'm just trying to be honest.

Now, what's interesting in contrast is the fact that I am also doing all sorts of new and challenging things that I never knew I could do. In one way or another, for better or for worse, I spent the entire week working with Japanese junior high and highschool students who spoke varying amounts of no english whatsoever.

I stood up in front of 600 or so students, the staff, the principal, etc, of my school and gave a speech in Japanese...

I worked with a small group of 4 students for two days at an overnight english camp. They hardly said a word, but they still performed (sort of) in english their adaptation of a favored children's fable reworked as "The Three Little Triangles"...

I had a ten and a half hour workday on Wednesday, because I stayed after school to participate in the soccer club with about 25 12-15 year olds who ran the practice themselves, but were kind enough to let me play. And when they all stood in a circle around me waiting for parting words, I had no idea what would be a good, friendly, cool, respectful, teacherly, and comprehensible thing to say...

...later that night, a building-mate gave me a cooking lesson. Me! Cooking!...

I woke up at 6 o'clock almost every day during the week, which is just wrong. I went to bed at 7am last saturday, 4am ish on thursday and 3am ish on friday and saturday, for a variety of reasons, including two hours of red eye political discussion on thursday, three hours of karaoke on Friday, and I don't know how many hours of exploring the city (ie being lost) on Saturday night...

...oh, and I am going about my daily life, eating, shopping, etc, in JAPAN!!!

Anyways, not to ramble too much: hopefully the Me I brought with me is a source of not only difficulty and defficiency, but of potential and, what's another good cheesy word... adventure!

celebratory yeehaa

YEeeeeeee HAaaaaaaaa.

My Saintly friend came over and said a prayer to the Gods of wires and world wide webs and now I am delightfully jacked up and online in the comfort of my home.

Now I can get even less sleep:)