Tag Archives: teaching

Turn not pale, beloved snail

There’s this game store in town that I sometimes go to that has an inventory that has essentially not changed in two years. It is a little sorta room, and every time I go in there without fail the same man is sitting behind the counter. He sits in this chair against the wall so that you can barely see his head peeking up over it. I figured oh, maybe he has a little TV or somethin’ just behind the counter and he is playing a game because this is a game store. But I took a peek and there is literally nothing there, he just stares at the empty back of the showcase all the time. There is no feasible way that he makes enough money from that store to even live, I have no concept of it. All the games are overpriced, you would have to be crazy to buy almost anything from there, every time I go the exact same games are there nobody must ever buy anything except sometimes I buy something for a buck or two if I find it. Sometimes the radio is on, but never tuned to a real station, it is like half horrific static and half almost-melodies. I bought a copy of Wrecking Crew cause it was easier than paying the Yahoo Auction transfer fee and shipping, the guy sat back down after he handed me the bag, I guess the back side of that showcase is really something special.

The kids are graduated again, which means that there is officially fuck-all for me to do for the next month. For this situation I am excellently equipped, having only the best role models surrounding me, real experts, real savants on how to appear busy while not actually doing anything. For starters, I can type lots of words into the computer. This has the bonus side effect of making absolutely nobody even bother me at all because of all the crazy letters that are coming out and I am just typing so fast! Actually behind me some guy is literally coughing up pieces of his lungs, I am afraid he is going to die before long. Oh he just walked by me and belched sorta under his breath, like a secret. “Don’t tell anyone what I am about to share with you. This is my bond, my promise. Listen close child and keep it under your pillow at night do you understand me.” Hey while I am remarking on the crazy antics of my coworkers how about my office lady who just sneezed and then treated it like a shocking horrible revelation. She screamed in terror and shouted and raved, oh I sneezed, oh my goodness, oh. She does that for every minor occurrence in this office, like if she drops a pencil case or something it is the next great Japanese tragedy, a pencil case was dropped at school today, the news reporters will announce, and there were two Japanese pencils among the dropped, and some other foreign pencils.

Sometimes when the students come in here to get toilet paper they have to like squat down to get the toilet paper right in front of me, cause the box of toilet paper is under a table next to my desk, and I just am like man, look at you grabbin’ up that toilet paper, well, I know what you’re gonna do with that.

The heaters are on here in the office today for some reason even though it is kinda nice outside. It is still not hot enough to be considered “atsu” so of course the teachers still run in from the hallways screaming “samu, samu, aaah samu” even though it is fuckin’ gorgeous out there. But the Japanese language does not have any words for “the weather is inoffensive” because it was designed by masochists and it is easier to just say things that don’t mean anything. Ha ha I am just kidding. muzukashii

CURIOUS JAPANESE DERPS OF THE HERP
– my lunch today is a “wrap” and on the package it says “tortilla (ham cheese)” and it is basically a “wrap” but instead of it being like wrap stuff it is pretty much just a Japanese ham and cheese sandwich in a tortilla, which means it is 98% mayonnaise with a dusting of shredded shrimp farts
– my pal made a list of the best band names in Japan and it features such shocking names as Husking Bee, Yuji cut the man T, and Coaltar of the Deepers, you can read it here
– none of them will compare to my unmentioned personal favorite Japanese band name, Snail Ramp
WELL IT IS TIME TO STOP MAYBE

In the dying hours of last Saturday I half-drunkenly flipped through Japanese television after a spirited round of Jeopardy with a friend of ours, and stumbled onto a TV program I have seen before, entitled “BAKASOUL” featuring some guy in thick blackface impersonating James Brown. Baka means fool basically and boy were they ever. It featured “comedians” which means that they come out and say some catch phrase and then wait for people to laugh, which they do for some reason maybe because they don’t want to be left out. Last year I saw a band on there called “TOTALFAT” and it was pretty great. The last act that I saw before we turned it off was those comedians who are famous for wearing only Speedos, jesus it was stupid. In conclusion I love Japanese television.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , ,

Must swim three times

I am surrounded by men, women, antsy kids, Jessy, and television screens in a multi-floor building as nice as a hotel. I’m near Shin-Kobe station, and on the third floor of this big place, where a man has hung a little plastic card around my neck that says Guest. In a tiny room adorned with what I can only classify as “exotic brick-a-brac” we watch the television screens together. It’s a live broadcast from an area near Mount Fuji. Highlights: man screams and shoots an arrow into a bush which is then lit on fire, man chops at the air with a sword to cleanse it from barriers to self-realization, old lady wearing little hat does hand motions while holding tiny sticks, which are then tossed into the fire. Together the people chant around me in a language I cannot understand, a situation I figure I should be more used to than I am by now. I am attending a special Buddhist service as a visiting member of the Shinnyo-en school, which literally means “Borderless Garden of Truth.” As believers we seek the awareness of the self through meditation and Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Am I a believer? What’s there to believe but that I am or am not? I figure in general it’s harder to not believe in stuff than it is to believe. After temple I buy a bag of chickpeas because we’re gonna make some hummus this week.

Japan is currently doing what it is it does, gearing up in much the same way as it did last year for the full arrival of fall. Though fall is technically officially here it’s still occasionally warm enough for people to get the wrong idea, and until the light scarves and jackets come out I hesitate to wave the flag. My true barometer is merely the appearance of special food products and fall-themed drinks, which haven’t really started popping up yet in any great numbers. I did spot new Cup Noodle flavors today, Beef Stew and Cream Stew, which I guess are kind of fall-y, but these seem to be some sort of microwave-requiring things which is just a bunch of crap. To be perfectly frank I myself am dreading the end of fall, which is slightly preventing me from enjoying it now: in the middle of December I’ll likely be embarking on a grueling couple-dozen hour journey across the ocean and back to the rolling plains of Iowa to spend the holidays, my first trip back to home soil since I arrived here. I am “not fond” of flying, which means it is my least favorite thing in the entire world except maybe getting stabbed.

Speaking of favorite things I think I’ve come to the conclusion that the root of my existential angst is not that I don’t have enough free time, but merely that I like too many things. My pesky nook e-reader has done precisely what I intended: made acquiring books so painless and reading so simple that it is my new default activity for my morning and evening commute. I read nine books in September, and the PSP and DS weep, because they want attention too. I will not even start in on the home activities, which command not only the time there but often the television. The result of all this is that I am forced to choose one of my hobbies at a time and I never get too far with any of them. It’s good to have options, I guess, but it means it just takes twice as long to do what I want. There is no point to these ramblings, just a sort of reminiscent defeatism: remember when you were 16, had no social life or significant obligations, had virtually nothing other to do than play games, and did so most veritably? If only I could go back in time and relive the same late November snow day for years and years.

Speaking of years, I ran the numbers the other day and figured out that since I’ve lived here for fourteen months and had the equivalent of about two months where I taught no classes, I’ve essentially taught twelve months of about fifteen classes a week. If you add it all up that comes to seven-hundred-and-eighty classes that I’ve taught now, which at least outnumbers the Nomadays, N-Sider articles, and every journal entry, poem, and story I’ve ever written, combined, in number (though just barely). What else have I even done 780 times this year? I’ve only woken up about 432 times. I suppose I’ve had at least 780 meals since arriving. Have I eaten popcorn 780 times in my life? Have I watched over 780 movies? Surely I’ve played over 780 video games since the age of ten or so.

At any rate I encourage you to run your own numbers, to become shockingly aware of the time we spend, without concrete markers, doing what it is we do.

Yet another thing that I’ve been doing lately is attending Japanese classes, which is enjoyable in that I am actually learning more concretely how to communicate with the people who literally surround me every single day. These skills also assist me with things like navigating the internet and securing exciting products from various websites, products which excitingly get to compete with everything else that I do for my attention.

There’s a bakery on the basement level of the Sogo department store and it’s called Donq, a name that you might expect to be the only Donq-sounding place of business in Kobe but in fact there are two others: Don Quihote (shortened colloquially to just Donki) and Bikkuri Donkey, a restaurant which literally translated means SURPRISE DONKEY. It is a hamburger steak restaurant, and scarily I enjoy eating there, perhaps because I enjoy the taste of donkey when I am expecting something that is not donkey. Anyway I have been enjoying going to Donq and buying baguettes lately, really delicious crispy-crusted bread with chewy, stretchy crumb. Last night after work I got one and had a big hunk of it eaten before I even finished walking home, then assembled a chicken breast sandwich with it and some mozzarella cheese, lettuce, and some Cookies’ barbecue sauce, a bottle of which I brought over here last year and which I still steadfastly am working at using up. I think it will take a lot of chicken sandwiches. The moral of this story is that I love Donq.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK
– My psychotic Japanese cat, who sometimes believes so fervently that the little stuffed mouse is stalking him that he’ll take one swat at it and run away so fast that his feet cannot provide enough traction to prevent him from sliding sideways into the wall like an out-of-control racecar
– A trip down memory lane at my soon-moving pal Jools’ place, during which I laid eyes upon 6+ years of gaming goodies, including but not limited to an unopened case of Cowboy Bebop gashapon figures, Morrigan and Lilith bookends (these came home with me), a variety of Japanese DS games, a couple Club Nintendo prizes from 2004, multiple variations of special peripheral controllers used to simulate shaking/strumming/beating/dancing, and a stack of Edge magazines that found their way into my apartment somehow
– My new favorite donburi place, where I can slide a bill into the machine, press two buttons, and be given an ice-cold draft beer and a big bowl of rice topped with thick slices of juicy fire-grilled skirt steak, lettuce, and spicy sauce for about nine bucks (you can also get grilled dark meat chicken or Korean beef)
– One of my teachers here at the night school, or more specifically the huge plastic bag full of green and red peppers and eggplant that he dumped out over next to the computer, which he grew on his farm and has extra of, and the resulting pile of vegetables, of which I am going to take, bring home, and nom
– A beverage I drank during a break, which said “hot cake flavor,” and was indeed a sweet, milky drink that tasted like a cross between drinking pancake syrup and cereal milk
– There’s a special red Nintendo DSi coming out for the Mario 25th anniversary, and the first I heard about it was seeing a video advertisement on the LCD screen mounted to the back of the cash register while I bought a melon soda at 7-11
END OF CURIOSITIES

I always manage to get through it all but I’m so tired today that I’ve almost fallen asleep at my desk twice. The bad news is that since it’s my late day I won’t even be teaching for another three hours, and I likely won’t be home for another six. Tapping my foot isn’t really doing it and I already ate my two string cheeses and drank my soda. I took a little stroll down the hall to the restroom too, just to see if I might snap out it. No luck! If I have the energy once I’m out of here, I am buying the nicest beer a handful of change will get me, and sucking it down as I breathe in the wind on the way to Kosoku-Nagata and home.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No such thing as a stranger

WHEREAS one cannot possibly consider an abundance of space an important comfort; and WHEREAS the value of an experience may not necessarily be based on its relative uniqueness; and WHEREAS the mere act of looking at something is critical enough to necessitate three-hour-plus-each-way road and rail trips; BE IT RESOLVED that going to Yoshino, near Nara, in Japan, to view the cherry blossoms before the following day’s impending rain blows them away, is A GOOD EXPERIENCE and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that it is FUCKING DUMB. APPROVED, on this, the 14th day of April in the year 2010, by unanimous action of the Brandon, at his desk, fingers a-tappin’.

Racked with early Saturday-morning distractions (weird guys in spandex suits fighting monsters on TV, early registration for a Japanese language class, Oreo cookies with milk), we finally leave the house around noon, prepared for a trip that is going to take a while longer than we really figured.

Three-and-a-half hours later, halfway up the mountain, which is split by a winding road illustrated on our complimentary bus map (two-person fare Y700), I start listening to the young couple behind us, both peering out the window, and begin to decipher her Japanese language yelps of glee. They amount to “So pretty! It’s pretty, huh? Really pretty! Wow! Look look! Preeeeeeeetty!” Following this I become acutely aware of the fact that everyone else on the bus, the rolling definition of stuffed to the gills, sardines in a tin can, bursting at the seams, is saying these things too. For fun, I lean over as best as I can to Jessy, and say “IT’S PRETTY NEEEEEEE?????” She is not amused.

This is Yoshino, where “they” say you can see a thousand cherry blossoms in one view, one solitary gaze off into the distance. It would not be a stretch to say that if you were high enough, you could probably also see that many people milling about, waterfall-streaming from the bus drop off and bouncing around like the white dots of a badly received TV signal, pass the Chee-tos. The paths to wherever, where wherevers are places that you would be happy to unroll your tarp or blanket and sit, are lined with stores, restaurants, and (not) surprisingly enough, the houses of the poor bastards who have to actually live here and deal with the throngs of humanity pulsing in every spring for their shot at that hundred million yen view.

Salmon denying instinct, we push against the flow at one place where they’re grilling sticks of chicken meat slathered in sweet sauce on little metal grates over hot coals (the beloved yakitori). I can’t tell if it is an established business. I am leaning toward “some guy’s house” because the coal pits look kind of like emptied-out flowerbeds, and I think I can see into his porch. For a few hundred yen, I embrace the flavor. Later on down the line we stop into what actually is some guy’s concrete-paved yard, outside anyway, and feast on the goodies of the full-sized flat grill/deep fryer he’s standing behind. Hot, crisp tofu donuts (just like the ones from Kyoto that we love so much) and some sort of sauced, deep-fried tofu wedge open the way, and then I lust explicitly for one of the enormous hamburger steaks he has cooking, but the line has become far too long, and we have flowers to look at!

By the time we meet up with the people we know, we have already confusingly walked the perimeter of the village outskirts, cutely arriving atop a hill from which we can easily see the place the bus dropped us (we went north, and now we are south). They are packing up, some of our people, but not before I sample some homemade umeshu (this is a kind of sweet plum liquor) from a paper cup. I contemplate how early these people must have had to leave to get here, and then another friend arrives, having been ground to meat in the transport gears of Kansai, opting for the cable car instead of our bus route. Finally we’ve made it nowhere, and as I pass through a nearby cemetery confusingly littered with a handful of lost Yu-Gi-Oh cards, I figure looking ahead to the mountainside must be that hundred million yen view, sakura everywhere I can see, so long as I tilt my head up a bit to exclude the high-and-tight power lines. They are every shade of red and pink and lavender and white and eggshell and slightly pink eggshell and slightly eggshell red and all of those other ones and the hillside looks like hundreds of flowery birdshot wounds. It is pretty, and I left the house so long ago, and I figure that next spring I will find just one tree close to home, stick my head up inside the branches, and open my eyes. I joke with another person that I will merely tape glossy printouts of the sakura to my ceiling, which would be funny if I hadn’t been so close to considering what fun it would be to have such a colorful ceiling.

After an hour or two, which is all we have left if we want to catch the last bus to the station, excitingly departing at 6:00 PM, we make our way down the side of the hill past people who appear to have made the decision to wait it out, that pesky nightfall, and defy it like pitchfork villagers with rackets and badminton birdies, bags of Calbee consommé double punch potato chips, and, by now, mountains of empty beer cans, be gone knave!

My idea of food-based revelry comes to pass back in Osaka, with the most traditional of Japanese foods: Indian. I have been here before, and order the set and a half-price beer–spicy chicken curry and hot naan has tasted this good before, but not today until now.

We did it though, for the sake of doing it, for saying we did it, which I tell myself I am pleased of even though I am certain it is the same reason every other person in Japan went there. I wonder, have they seen sakura before? Is this their first time to Yoshino? I imagine a man, who, unable to deal with the concept of himself, attaches long strips of Velcro to his arms and fingers like jellyfish feelers and snaps at everyone wearing fuzzy coats just to pull them near, to be surrounded by a pulsing blob of mankind, and stands for a few hours, and decides to do it again soon. I am scoping out my tree already, a nice one with a view of my balcony.

HEY WANNA KNOW SOME THINGS ABOUT JAPAN THAT I FOUND ODD THIS WEEK?
– Too bad I don’t feel like thinking of any today
YEP THAT’S ABSOLUTELY EVERY LAST THING

As promised, classes have definitely begun. I had my first set of them at high school yesterday, the same awkward affairs of my arrival but honed by a wiser and more experienced hand: group work from the get-go, a brazen and unabashed class devoted entirely to Me, and things about Me and forcing the kids and their groups to come up with questions for Me dealing with things that pertained to Me. I do it so that to balance the karma, next week will be solely about Them, and Them talking about Themselves endlessly, the things They like, hate, and are indifferent to. I will use it as an opportunity to get their names (in both Japanese and English lettering) on papers with their student numbers, information cards of a Total Student Profile that I can consult easily any time I am tired of referring to a student as “yes, please” or “you.”
As we move forward I shall subject my kids to the rigors of my first year of work, those poor original guinea pigs, with all of the disgusting chaff cleanly nipped away and in its place polished shiny grains, morsels of streamlined edutainment, entercation, twenty-five minute action-packed fun-fests filled with me drawing cute elephants on the board and informing the girls that if they want to know my exact height (180.34 cm) or my birthday (I’m a Scorpio) that they had better bring presents.

My night school students, I am sure, will continue to not care about anything except cell phone e-mail.

Still, even though it’s initially a bit nerve-wracking to know I go up on display again, I can’t help but catch myself having fun from time to time, watching the minutes breeze by, enjoying how effortless it feels now to stretch two sentences on a class outline to an entire period, to gesture wildly, write Brandon in huge letters on the board without screeching the chalk.

WHEREAS I am finally in a position to carry out the duties of my job description; and WHEREAS spring pushes forward, leaving the fallen petals of the cherry trees in its balmy wake; and WHEREAS I am invited to two different school drinking parties in the next two days; and WHEREAS I finally start Japanese lessons in May; and WHEREAS we have some pals from Canada visiting the country soon; and WHEREAS I ordered an eBook reader and will finally be able to browse English-language manga on the train; and WHEREAS everything old is new again; BE IT RESOLVED that things are pretty NICE and GOOD; APPROVED, on this, the 14th day of April in the year 2010, by unanimous action of the Brandon, at his desk, fingers done tappin’.

Tagged , , , ,

In full bloom

It’s still Spring Break, in so far as that I am teaching no classes. This will all have changed by the time you read the next Nom, which is a fact I’m not sure if I should be stressed about or not. To be sure, actually filling my day with some kind of activity other than idly browsing the Internet, typing these articles, or reading whatever book I can get my hands on will almost certainly be an exciting and welcome change, albeit one requiring slightly more effort than total stasis. Do I even remember how to do this anymore? I can literally barely remember the last class I taught. I am pretty sure it was like the 23rd. Of February.

But anyway, think of it! A whole grade full of fresh first-year high schoolers, all mine to destroy. This time, they are mine from the beginning. I will remember their names, interests, pets, and favorite foods. (Yeah right.) The boy to girl ratio with this class is, unlike my first group’s 1:1, tipped significantly in the favor of those bearing the double X chromosome, which seemingly foreshadows a high occurrence rate of more of these kinds of student poems during our haiku lesson:

He is a big smile
His face is very smallish
His name is Branton!

The changing of the term has brought a variety of personnel changes as well, as I have mentioned before. Though I haven’t yet had to deal with many of them significantly enough to form concrete opinions, I do have a new co-teacher at my night school who is now in his first year teaching at a not-cram-school, and he greeted me today with “what’s up, man,” which I am firmly in support of. He also invited me to go out to the vending machines for coffee, which puts his “voluntarily offered to do something with me” count at 1, on parity or higher than the counts of nearly all my other co-workers. As a somewhat young fellow, he has been very forward in approaching me, which I also firmly support. Also he has a propensity to, perhaps because he spent a year living in Leeds, insert the word “fucking” seemingly at random into his speech. If you were wondering, this too is an action I support, firmly.

Another consequence of the regime change at night school is that finally, after nearly eight months, I have a power outlet via extension cord on my desk, with which to plug in my computer. The best I can figure is that this is a result of me brazenly running my netbook’s power cable across the floor to the other outlet every Wednesday for months on end, resulting in a variety of nearly broken limbs and joints. Still no Internet here, which I figure will never happen. No matter–the lack of this distraction gives me time to catch up on eating peanuts, staring listlessly into space, and talking to myself with a keyboard.

HOW STRANGE, THESE THINGS, WHICH IN A WAY SERVE TO COMPARTMENTALIZE MY CULTURAL EXPERIENCES
– Last Saturday, after the tapering off of a game of Scrabble, brought to the point where virtually no play opportunities or liquid word formations remained and turn times approached infinity, flipping through the TV channels idly and settling on oil wrestling, wherein grossly mismatched men and women threw their respective body types into each other for no more than four seconds before violently slamming into the ground all lubricated with viscous, mucus-looking snot-goop
– Serious personal consideration of a potential purchase of a specialized metal file which retails for 2100 yen and which has only one purpose: to be gently abrasive against bits of plastic left connected to larger pieces of plastic which were once connected to even larger pieces of plastic, manipulated for the sake of assembling tiny models of imaginary robots
– A smallish embroidered patch for clothing, spotted at the craft store, drawn in a juvenile fashion and intended to be placed presumably on childrens’ articles, bearing a representation of a colorful police vehicle, lights swirling, with the English text “GOING PLACES”
– Being presented with some sort of mysterious business card from a representative of what seems to be some kind of retirement consultant, “life plan advisor,” or “total life consultant,” while sitting at my desk, following a string of Japanese I could barely understand, and uttering merely in said language “thank you very much,” to which I got the “your Japanese is very good,” was assaulted with another string of impenetrable speech that may have contained the word for “three,” and then being bidden farewell to
– Met at my apartment door by two men, one tall and attractive in a dorky way, the other short and homely, and being convinced to upgrade my Internet service by way of the terms HYAKU MEGA! and SPEED UP COST DOWN, then watching the short guy beg the tall guy for a chance to use his props, which included a large magazine-sized calculator and a pop-up book with a 3D modem in it, shortly before the tall guy smacked him on the head with a folder
THAT’S ALL THERE IS TO LIVING IN JAPAN

On the home front, things are generally as usual as ever. We are cruising through anime and movies nightly at a pace I have never experienced, turning to the visual arts to both “do something together” and in some odd enough reason experience our new culture (or a sub-element of it anyway). The humor comes in when considering I initially scrounged up some other anime more Jessy-geared than Gundam, so I could get her okay with watching Gundam (my true desire). Now, though such distractions are likely no longer necessary, I have accumulated dozens of series and movies totaling hundreds of hours of video, which we move through just the same. Next into the rotation is a show called Canaan, which seems to be about some sort of foreign assassins. I am okay with that.

Last night, to accompany our viewing with nutrition and satisfaction, I boiled some chicken legs in bouillon stock with onions, garlic, and carrots, then shredded the meat and tossed it back in the broth with a bowl full of hand-dropped dumplings just like mama told me how to make. They were hyper delicious, and accompanied by a totally unsatisfying All Malt Beer, the likes of which disturbingly taste less and less shitty to me as the last memories of decent brew pass through my mind like bananas in a pasta strainer.

As though I, or the fine people of this fine country, needed any other sort of excuse, let alone a seasonal one, to drink, one has finally begun to arrive: the viewing parties which are now occuring all over the place in honor of the blooming sakura, the cherry blossoms adorning a variety of trees. To properly hanami, or engage in a party of this nature, it seems that one needs to complete a variety of tasks:

1a. Get some beer
1b. Get some liquor that is not beer
2. Get some food
2.75 (optional) Get some people
3. Go outside, by some of the cherry trees
3.5. (optional) Find “some shady”
4. Watch them

I am not sure I have yet fully grasped the nuances of the hanami, but with enough of tasks 1 and 2 I think I might grow pretty receptive to learning.

Once spring ends, it will be summer. Did you know that Japan has four seasons? It does.

Tagged , , ,

Moeagare, Moeagare, Moeagare

It seems that the people of Japan are primarily disinterested in being Taros-of-all-trades, or at least you would not be far off-base for thinking so upon your first trip into one of the large hobby stores to be found around here. For the purposes of this examination, the Yuzawaya in downtown Kobe, a multi-floor gargantuan packed with all manner of crap, though multi-floor around here means far less than single-floor. Back home, people dabble, or commit casually to some time-gobbling pursuit: the knitter, the cook, the card player. In Japan, I can come away with no better observation than to say that people pick one, and commit hard. On my favorite floor there is a jigsaw puzzle section larger than a variety of restaurants I frequent. There are puzzles there, arranged by series, and not lumped in with board games: licensed character series, environment series, photos of Japanese attractions series, sorted by piece count, price, and god knows what else. There is also a section of frames, which are not frames for pictures, oh no. These are frames for puzzles only, the puzzles that you have built, applied one of a variety of clear coatings to, matted with one of the hundreds of colors of puzzle-sized papers you can buy, and presumably displayed in your house. There is everything for puzzles.

Other things there are everything for: everything. Next to the puzzle everythings: tiny trains, and the motors, axels, wheels, fake scenery, and electrics to make them work.

In the spirit of everything and Japan, I evaluated my recent mental state, and decided that because I am unable to refurbish pinball machines due to cumbersome size, non-existent availability, and impossible expense, I would build small scale-model plastic robots from boxes of injection-molded colored pieces attached to plastic skeins, which must be clipped away tenderly, sanded, assembled, tenderly inked, possibly painted or clear-coated, posed, and admired lovingly. I started this hobby like any reasonable American would, with a handful of cash, having done no research, and owning no essential supplies. I was ready. Until I opened the box and realized I had no way to separate the parts from the plastic they were attached to. But a hundred yen trip to the coin store later and I was crudely on my way!

This hobby is known colloquially as “gunpla,” a portmanteau (the Japanese love portmanteaus) of the words Gundam, which the model robots are based usually based on, and plastic, the substance from which the models are crafted. The models themselves are called Gunpla, and the act of and/or practices relating to building them is/are also called gunpla, such to the extent that one who gunplas Gunplas is a gunplaer, one who enjoys Gunpla, and gunplaing said Gunpla. I, as a first time Gunpla gunplaer, Absolutely Suck.

This is the result of two hours of work, and it looks larger than it is. It is my own, meticulously crafted, remarkably enjoyable to have built five inch tall Gundam, the HG RX-78-2 Ver.G30th, a variant of the original Mobile Suit Gundam from the anime series made in 1979-1980 (hence the 30th, for the 30th anniversary). Do you see all the little tiny pointy parts sticking out everywhere? These are the places that I failed, and there are at least three of them on every one of the hundreds of pieces that make up one of these goddamned things. This is because I was using a pair of crappy 100 yen wire cutters.

The beauty of gunpla is that the models themselves (these five inch versions, anyway) cost no more than ten or twelve bucks here in the Land of the Rising Fun, and even one like this, which I brazenly set out to complete as quickly as possible “just to see,” was a considerably decent cost-to-time-entertained value. Where the deal is sweetened is in the Hard Commitment, and what a rich canvas of options the gunplaer has to choose from. From the methods used to remove the pieces from their trays, the tools used to do this, the surfaces one works on, the incorporation of “panel lining” (where one traces in the ridges of parts using special Gundam Markers to add an offset emphasis), painting, clear coating, and who knows what else, the Fun Literally Never Stops. It actually continues forever, until it reaches the end of forever, which cannot happen.

Having seen these damned things stocked up in piles taller than even the grandest umbrellas, but not knowing exactly what they were before I took up this hobby, I now find myself with a new paradigm of Japanese Culture to explore, and explore it I shall: tomorrow I have a paid day off, and I am going to Osaka, and I am going to buy more stupid Gundams, because not doing so would be dumb.

SHIT OF THE WEEK WHICH IS WEIRD
– Frying a slab of fish with the skin on and being like oh hey that is not very gross
– Gunpla, obviously
– seeing a 2 liter bottle of Coke at the grocery store, the biggest container of soda I have seen in seven months, proudly touting +500ml! on it, 500ml larger than the normal large containers, available for exactly the same price as the small ones, and being ignored, because welcome to Japan (I bought one it barely fits in my fridge)
– Being struck with the revelation this morning that some cheese would be good on my curry, and putting seven or eight little anemic bits of shredded cheese on it, and saying oooh it’s so cheesy
– Getting my mail, looking through it and seeing a flyer with a completely naked young woman on it, a list of sex acts, prices, and times, and thinking “oh it’s just another flyer advertising sex for money”
ENOUGH OF THAT

This is the time of year for farewells, as I mentioned last week. During this time, a variety of every school’s teachers are randomly selected to be uprooted from their jobs and moved to other schools entirely. Excitingly, the person who I met first, my go-between, the one who coordinates between myself and my main school, who picked me up and drove me to the school from nowhere and helped me get my bank account and took me for a coffee, has been transferred, as has my go-between at my night school, and one of my three main teachers at my blind school! Also both of the principals at my main and night schools. Also every young, cute, or decent-at-English person I work with save for one or two lifers who have been transferred to other grades in the same school, and thus away from where I sit. This leaves me now in a somewhat bizarre position, outlasting the people who served to get me acquainted to these totally weird environments in the first place, and in some places reducing my “people I am friends with here” count to 0 (a number relatively challenging to bolster when you speak virtually no conversational Japanese and no longer have the “I’m the curious new foreigner try to talk to me” thing going anymore).

They all say they will do their best and they know they have to do it but here’s how it sounds to me: You’re fired! but here’s a job where you don’t know anyone and which will require you to change your life and routine entirely now pack your shit you have a week left bye! The rest of you: you could be next! One guy was there for twelve years now oops, time to go. The wheels of Japanese bureaucracy grind ever onward, leaving exactly what was expected in their wake. “These blind adherences to procedure and policy are often neither beneficial nor effective, but by doing things this way will we be doing them the same ways we’ve been doing them for years dammit and by god we are going to continue not doing anything to change that!” I am stricken again with one of those inconvenient observations of discord, where the seams peel back and you see underneath for a moment, with the ironic contradictions between ideal and policy: the harmonious Japanese Wa, the peaceful unchanging balance, the togetherness of the workforce, upset by things like the transfers, the unbalance. The expressed desire to integrate with cultures and harmonize, offset with the negative perception of the Inquisitive American vs the gaman spirit: do not ask questions, just accept your situation. Let’s live peacefully, all by ourselves, with everyone!

Note to self and concerned know-it-alls: I am not an angry person, I am not undergoing culture shock, I am trying not to stereotype, I am not “finally seeing Japan for what it really is,” I am not jaded or bitter or disenchanted, my “fantasy” was not “better than my reality,” this is not “the first step,” and I make no presumptions about being any sort of cultural anthropologist, nationalistic apologist, blind Japanophile, deaf Americanist, or curator of the world’s great unjustices. I am just a guy who is happy with his life, and a little irritated about certain things that happen in it as a “member” of the Japanese work force. Other things that irritate me: American Idol, umeboshi candy, and iCarly. Time for some fried chicken with mayonnaise on it!

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The early dawn, the shades of time

The conversations of my world occupy a strange battleground between background noise and inescapable linguistic immersion: at times so impenetrable as to be no greater than trying to understand the language of crows, and at other times glimmering with rare brilliance.  This is what nothing sounds like, this is what everything sounds like.

I try not to talk too much about school in here, but today at my school for students needing special attention in regards to their visual and mental capacities (as close as I can put it to the Japanese, in English), I was shown how to do a special folk dance by three kids, and how to do the “radio stretch,” which you may be familiar with from seeing a huge field of Japanese youth doing stretches while a voice barks out over some series of speakers.  They taught me so that on Saturday I can attend their school’s sports day and participate in the activities. At lunch in the cafeteria we had Mapo Doufu, a dish consisting almost entirely of huge chunks of tofu, which I somehow ate happily and totally enjoyed (one of my fellow educators suggested a way I could cook it at home and make it more spicy than the tame version they served to the kids here, as “Mapodon,” or this dish over rice, or in other words, right up my alley). I drink milk out of a glass bottle here. Just now a little girl and her teacher came in and sang a song then the girl used the keyboard and I listened to it say those mechanical letters outloud, once more with every tap of a key, a a a a a a a a i i i i i i i i i u u u u u u u u u u u u u e e e e e e e o o o o o. One teacher says she will be my mother while I am here, and brings me cookies and shows me how to use the hot green tea machine. A small boy in a wheel chair asks questions and has full conversations with me about Michael Jackson in better English than several of the teachers can speak. He is completely blind and has the use of three fingers.

My ability for the language waxes and wanes like any sensible moon: today I fully read the two kanji for “densha,” meaning train (電車), and so what if it’s only cause I know them as part of a Japanese TV drama series. The full context I saw them in was as the name of a sports day activity on our program called DENSHA DE GO! which barely means anything, but pretty much translates into GO BY TRAIN! It is a game for kindergarteners, and involves them I think holding onto each other and running around like a big train. I will also see how to play “floor volleyball,” and “soft baseball,” which are both modifications allowing the sightless to participate in some of the most popular of Japanese sports.

Last night I cooked an honest to goodness double hamburger in my fry pan from some store-purchased after-20:00 half-price ground beef, coated it in black and white pepper for that authentic Japanese burger flavor (really, their burgers are all peppered), then melted shredded cheese on it and nommed it with ketchup. Aside from the occasional ¥320 box of imported Mac and Cheese, it was probably the closest I’ve gotten to replicating the flavor of America for my own tastebuds in the last 47-odd days. I savored every bite, and washed it down with a totally American Yebisu All-Malt Beer and a Caramel Salt Kit Kat.

I’ve put a combined 32 hours of gameplay time into Dissidia: Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core (two PSP games) in the last three weeks or so.  I basically only play on the train, which gives you an idea where most of my (and many Japanese people’s) time goes.  The sick part is how much I love it.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Is this the real life

Did I suddenly run out of things to write?

Life has become more normal.  Now that we are able to relax at home, normal-life things are no longer so alarming!  What is interesting is that I am finally teaching real actual classes with real actual students in them.  I teach at a few different places, which is interesting: I teach kids who have been given disadvantages by the world who speak fantastic English.  I teach kids who have everything and don’t even try.  I teach kids who know it all and are so shy they won’t look up from their desks.  I teach kids who know nothing but want so badly to learn that they never stop talking.  Every class, every lesson is something new, a brand new job every single day to adapt to, take on differently, and look back on with fresh regard.

I think that’s what I enjoy so much about teaching, the thing I never really thought about before: your “career” is not always about some sort of grand final ambition, the ultimate task.  Sometimes it is less defined, more simple: today, I am doing something new.  Every day I am doing something new.  It is discomforting, unsettling, but perfect.  The nerves of what cannot be anticipated begin to fade.  Instead of lamenting the unknown I embrace it because it is an inevitability.  I am perpetually aware that I am the outsider, the American, the tall white guy who every single kid thinks is cool (or an idiot) just cause he’s different.  It wears off on me, I feast on their curiosity.  I am my own brand new enigma, unravelled to every class differently, at my own pace.  To me this is what I always intended when I considered the idea of changing my life by coming here.  Not just the things I do but the way I approach events, thought processes, attitudes.  It’s exciting!

Also, there are so many snack foods and candies and chips and dried fish jerkies and restaurants that I could never try them all.  I can get a new drink from the vending machines every day for months. 

We are anticipating the delivery of an IKEA as-is clearance mattress which is in perfect shape but was returned by someone and stuck in the clear-it-out room for ¥9900.  It is a glorified futon, and I can’t wait to wake up without feeling like my spine is made of walnuts.

Tagged , ,