Saturday, December 20, 2014

10. All the Small Things (aka squid and perverts)

And no, this post isn't about public baths in Japan. 

Before coming to Japan, I had heard all sorts of things.  I had heard that used schoolgirl panties were sold in vending machines, and that everything was super technologically advanced.  So far the vending machines have been disappointingly food-oriented for the most part, and some of the teachers at the schools here think email is unnecessary.  However, I did find a vending machine that sold beer without requiring an ID, which I still think is hilarious.

Here you go, kids! $1 USD
I have seen my fair share of unnecessarily high-tech things and total cultural disconnects, but a lot of what surprised me was the little things that I didn't expect to be different.

First up.  Groceries.

It's impossible to find anything, because all the writing is in Japanese, first of all.  I found this thing next to the jelly that looked like peanut butter, but turned out to be peanut-flavored frosting.  Not as delicious as you think.  I eventually did find peanut butter, but it was roughly the same price per kilogram as cocaine and similarly difficult to find.

The fruit here can be pretty expensive.  I've seen watermelons go for $50 USD a melon, but usually they're closer to $20.  Often the fruit that we would normally buy is a lot more expensive, but also dressed nicer.  Many apples have their own (usually pink) sweaters:

Oh honey.  Pink is really not your color.
Mushrooms here look like they're from fern gully, or at least from a cave in a video game or something.

I tried mixing these with a Daedra heart,
but no restore health potion so far.
I still check for fairies in these
before I cut them up.

 I've bought things that looked strangely like candy, but turned out to be dried fish.  Because seafood is so readily available and cheap, there are quite a few dried seafood products on the market.  This includes squid jerky, which unfortunately tastes just like you would imagine.  Speaking of seafood, here are a couple of my favorite examples that you can buy in the grocery store right next to my house.  This squid was inkless, and fairly easy to get the "spine" out (really just a cartilage feather-shaped thing).

The hardest part was getting them to
hold still for the picture.
You are no match for my sword,
vile beast!

The next time I bought squid, it was not so inkless and looked quite different.  Squid is really tough to cook - you put it in for about 60 seconds, and it can get really rubbery if you leave it in too long and really slimy if you leave it in too short.

Only $2 USD?  That's like 2.5 cents a tentacle!

You can also buy big ones, but I was worried about my ability
to defend myself if ever met one of their relatives in the ocean.

Octopus, apparently, is supposed to be barbecued or put in an oven.  Having neither of those things, a sandwich press had to do.

You can buy the same size you would see in
a zoo, but somehow that seemed more wrong.
Probably my favorite breadless sandwich
I've had yet.

There are a lot of things out there that I have no idea what to use them for, but this was one of my favorite.  Maybe you put them in soup?

Not so roly-poly in real life.
For some reason, both of these had
drastic price reductions.  Can't imagine

There are a lot of strange things about groceries in Japan, so I'm sure I'll keep you periodically updated with more.

People in Japan are often very worried about people being generally creepy towards women, and rightfully so.  Interestingly enough, one word for "pervert" in Japanese is the symbol for "foolish" followed by the one for "Chinese."
Trains are one of the biggest places where people worry about these "foolish Chinese."  Apparently some men try to brush against women on crowded train cars to get some human contact.  This has led to a number of harsh punishments for real or perceived unnecessary touching, as well as...

This is a train car, as my exceptionally well-planned
photography is unable to accurately show.
Another strange result of this widespread perv-phobia is cell-phone camera sounds.  When you take a picture with your cell phone, it makes a shutter sound on full volume, which is a feature you cannot disable.  This is supposed to make it harder to be a subtle pervert.  My friend Alejandro says he saw some dude take a video of a girl on a train though, which makes a lot less noise.  Where there's a will, there's a way!


For some reason, everyone always backs into parking spots here (except us foreigners!).  Everyone I've talked to just seems to think it's safer.  People have very strong instincts to do it, even when there are no other cars around.

Spot the foreigner!
Instead of signing papers with a written signature, everyone carries a wood-carved stamp with a slightly artistic representation of their name.  Most people carry inkpads, but often inkpads are provided in places where people often sign.  Mine is written in English, so it's a little different, but it's still kind of fun and interesting to use.
Forging signatures in Japan mostly involves being good at whittling.

Speaking of which, someone assigned a set of Kanji to my name!  It is 音人, which means "sound" and "person."  Pretty cool, huh?  Also, those Kanji are relatively easy to write, so I don't have to write my name in Hiragana like a kindergartener would.


But back to things you might care about.

I've run out of good general ones, so here's a few other miscellaneous ones:

-FM radio stations are tuned differently.  In the US, we have frequencies between about 88 and 105 MHz or whatever the units are.  In Japan, it's about 76-92.  In practicality, this means that my American alarm clock can only pick up one station in Tamba, the station that plays classical music in the morning and smooth jazz at night.

-Things are super hard to throw away!  Everything is separated into "burnable trash" and "plastics except bottles and egg cartons," which doesn't leave you a lot of wiggle room to throw out miscellaneous stuff.  There is a considerable amount of large junk in my apartment that I have not found the means to throw out yet, but will probably get to in the next 7 months.  Or I will make the next dude deal with it.

-Soy sauce is plentiful here.  It's all very good, but there is some that is exceptional.  This was expected.  However, for some reason it is an abomination to put soy sauce on your rice.  When I tried in public, people told me, "Nate... you can just eat it plain, you know."  They then offered to get me some new, unsullied rice.

-Japan is super cash-based.  No one uses a credit card to pay for anything, so when I travel I'm often carrying on my person more money than I've ever seen in my life.

-ATMs need their beauty rest.  I live in a town that is mostly a farming community, but there is a shopping center, so it's not that rural.  However, ATMs go on vacation at night.  They are still physically accessible in some places, but because the actual bank closes its ATM doors from 8pm-8am, you cannot withdraw money.  This happened after the ATMs all unionized in 2005.  Once they went on strike, it was hard to find the resources to oppose them.  Seriously though, it would be super easy to give me money at nighttime.

And the obligatory strange English T-shirt to finish things off.  I will note that this one is technically grammatically correct.

How inspirational.  And then outspirational.  And then inspirational again.

Picture credits on the Hanko stamp:

Saturday, October 4, 2014

9. Rain and marriage prospects (aka day trips I've taken)

I've taken a lot of day trips while I've been here, mostly due to my inability to speak Japanese and unwillingness to organize a place to stay at night.  Also I have a car, so I can come back as late as I want.  My car is tiny, but surprisingly roomy inside and it gets over 40mpg so that's pretty cool.  Also it's a manual, but the gearshift is on the left side of me because you drive on the left side of the road here.
It's a good thing I have that spoiler.  It's pretty handy when drag racing through the rice patties.
Cars with yellow plates are called Kei-cars.  They have a smaller engine and are generally tiny and less safe, but get better mileage and are cheaper. Even pickup trucks are super tiny here.  These things have the same dimensions as my car, and all the farmers around here use them.
We have REAL trucks in Amurrica.
Roads here are super narrow and have sharp dropoffs into mini ditches on the side, which makes me having a tiny car even cooler, because I can turn super sharp into a random alleyway (good for drug deals and illicit gambling) and know exactly where all parts of my car are.  Here are a few of the day trips that I have taken in my trusty white speed-pod.

Takeda castle
   This my first trip, and it was pretty high on my to-do list, because I took a look at a picture of it, and it apparently looks like this:
Never trust a picture.
 It might actually look like this, but we chose to go on the day the typhoons started.  We spent the entire time shivering and just being super wet in general.  From our point of view, it looked more like this, and we were actually walking in the ruins of the castle itself:
I think I see the peak!
The typhoon was actually super destructive to Tanba in general.  It washed away quite a few roads and bits of railway.
I went and volunteered one day to help clean up the mess, and I was surprised to learn that some of the people who were helping alongside me had driven 3 hours to help out.  I guess whenever there is a natural disaster (frequently in Japan), the government organizes buses to drive people to help out, and lends tools (from shovels to backhoes) to the places in need, even if it's someone's private property.

Kyoto and Daimonji
My second misadventure was going to a festival in Kyoto, which was actually really cool in retrospect.  However, it was raining so hard that the main street of the neighborhood we were in turned into a river.  We visited a famous bamboo forest with some very big bamboo, which looked exactly like many forests in Tamba - still very cool though.
I swear I sometimes change my clothes.
We also visited a lot of temples, where often the rain would pick up and we would be stuck huddling under the overhang of a building that we were too cheap to pay to go into.  We did go into a few overpriced restaurants to get out of the rain, where we paid $9 for a cup of bitter tea.  Oh wait, the tea wasn't bitter; I was.  That's right.  The temples were pretty cool though.  Kyoto is a beautiful city. 
It looks sunny in this picture.  It wasn't.
This store only sold chopsticks.
Gotta have my sandwiches.  This is pre-rain.

They stopped offering rides once it flooded.

There's a "big" fire on the mountain!

We went to a festival where they light fires on a mountain to outline certain Chinese characters and other pictures, the most famous of which is the Chinese character for "big."  I have no idea why.  Probably some cultural significance or something.  A very cool trip which unfortunately was rained on rather harshly.

Fukuchiyama and a Barbecue
One of my Japanese friends invited me to something he described as a large culture festival where he would be playing Irish harp.  I went and checked out the city it was in first, and I went to a pretty cool castle there.  Immediately after, it started raining super hard (no flooding this time though!).
You can't quite make out the McDonald's sign in the town below. Or as they say, Makkudonarudo.
I used google maps to go to the address that my friend sent me, and ended up 10 km away from where I was supposed to go, at a random Buddhist temple.  I asked the people there about it, and they had no idea what it was.  They were very kind, and let me try to wait out the worst of the rain in the temple and hang out with them.  The monk-in-residence apologized to me that he wasn't wearing his monk outfit that day and was instead wearing jeans and a t-shirt.  We got to bond over the fact that we both liked playing upright bass, but didn't own one.  I guess he used to play a lot in the jazz scene in Kobe before he started tending the temple full time. 

Anyway, the rain never died down, but I eventually made it to the festival, which was a bunch of people huddled under a tent in the middle of nowhere.
You know it's good when the people at the front apologize to you for how the party is a failure and don't let you pay the entrance fee.
It was actually great fun.  It was an international festival, so I met people from all over the local town and Eastern Europe, the latter of whom were on a business learning trip.  Later we went into somebody's greenhouse and had a barbecue, which was really cool.  My concept of a barbecue has usually been limited to hamburgers, steaks, and hot dogs.  Maybe fish if you're very open-minded.  These guys barbecued equal parts vegetables, meat, and noodles, and then smothered everything in a special sweet-and-sour barbecue sauce. It was delicious and awesome.
I asked this guy if he liked the Yankees, and he said "who?"  In retrospect, that's probably good because I don't know enough to have a conversation about any kind of sports.
The Beach!
 I finally managed to take a trip where it didn't rain, and it was the perfect one to have good weather on.  We went to the beach of the Sea of Japan, which was perfect swimming temperature, and really beautiful.  We swam around in the ocean, and my friend Tyler found something red at the bottom.  We came to the conclusion that we would poke it with a stick.  It turned out to be this gem:
Oops, I dropped half my Jetski in the ocean.  Oh well, that's its new home now.
As we lounged on the beach with our newfound treasure, a local woman approached us and told us she came to the beach every day to feed the cat that lived there.  We all started talking in Japanese (by which I mean Tyler spoke to her in Japanese and we listened intently), and she seemed very nice.  We ended up talking for about 2 hours.  She wanted to be friends on Facebook, so we did that.  After we got back home that night, we all got messages from her in Japanese.  It took me about 10 minutes to decipher her message and reply, at which point she messaged me back immediately.  I gave up.

The next day Tyler told us about his interaction with her, in which she told him "I like you.  I love you." in English, and that she wanted to be his girlfriend in Japanese.  Later that day she upped the ante with "I wont to marriage with you."  Tyler managed to avoid a phone conversation with her, saying that it was too difficult. We were all fairly amazed, but the best part happened later that night.

I got a message saying that she wanted to "secret chat" with me.  I thought that maybe she wanted to dish some juicy gossip on her feelings for Tyler, so naturally I was into that.  She called me, and I answered against my better judgement, because I know how difficult it is to understand another language over the phone.  She didn't mention Tyler at all and instead focused on how much fun our time at the beach had been.  Then she decided to tell me how much she wanted to get married, which she immediately followed with "Do you want a Japanese girlfriend?".  I tried to tell her that I liked to take things slowly, but my Japanese wasn't up to the task, and she kept interpreting it that I wasn't interested in women.  Eventually I agreed with her to save time.  She stopped talking to us after that, but we haven't ruled out the possibility she'll go after the rest of the males in the group.

 Since littering is a huge crime, and throwing things away is super difficult here, I ended up taking the half a Jetski home with me.  Now it's all I have to remember an interesting trip to the beach and a woman who was probably on the prowl for more than cats.

Highlights of random English apparel I've seen:

T-shirt:   Is it in?
Purse:    Do everything you can to succeed.  Make-up can make you happy.
T-shirt:   Are you move? Recently I began to become sticky in my lifestyle.
Hat:        Boner!
T-shirt on a 12-year-old girl:  I feel like making love.
T-shirt:   This is a spicy message from blue cross girl.

Picture credits

Sunday, September 21, 2014

8. It's raining men! (aka sports and alcohol)

      My last two weeks at school have consisted of a lot of sitting around combined with awkwardly trying to find some way to be helpful.  There were no classes the second week of school, which meant that the students practiced for sports festival about 9 hours a day.  The majority of this time was actually spent practicing how to march out to each event in a coordinated manner.  This was especially evident in the introduction to the event, when 130 middle school kids marched in step around a track, then formed up in a very militaristic marching pattern in the center carrying four flags (one for each team, one for the school, and one for Japan).

     Most of my time during this week I alternately sat in the bleachers watching the kids practice, or I moved around equipment that for some reason was stored in high places that nobody else could reach.  I occasionally got to fire the gun to start races.  My favorite was watching the kids practice, because I got to see them try the games before they were any good at them.  Here are some of my favorite events:

Centipede racing
This is where 6 kids line up as if they're in a chain gang and have their ankles tied together with bicycle innertubes.  They then get in a conga line and race each other.  People didn't actually fall down as much as I would have liked, but when they did it was spectacular.  I can't post pictures of my students, but here is an image that I shamelessly stole from the internet.
Nobody actually got hurt too badly from this at my school so I'm not a terrible person.
17 person 3-legged race
This was probably my second favorite.  It's exactly what it sounds like.  17 girls line up side-by-side, tied together tightly at the ankles, and then try to navigate a slalom course at high speeds.  This never goes well.  They have to count in to start, which involves all of them jumping up and down and chanting, which is funny in itself.  Then if one girl hesitates a little, or if they have slightly different ideas on how far each leg will step, the whole chain has to stop.  If they stop at different times, then everyone falls over.  It's hilarious.  Then they have to shuffle to get back in position, which usually means that other people will fall down in the process.  It can take several minutes for a hundred meter course with a few difficult turns.

35 person jump rope
This is just lining a ton of people up and getting them to jump in unison over a giant jump rope.  The teachers have to coach the kids here, because they've seen this year after year and they know what works and what doesn't.  The rest of the festival is run by the kids.  Each class has to jump over the rope as many times as they can in 2 minutes.  The first years have never done this before, and they have 35 people in their class.  They got 3 times in two minutes.

Tamaire (ball toss?)
In this, you take a basket, and put it on a pole that is about 20 feet tall, then you give the teams of about 65 students a ton of soft(ish) balls and a 2 minute time limit.  This consists of a storm of balls being tossed not very skillfully (and often not even high enough) and landing on the faces of the people on the other side of the pole, who are also tossing balls into the basket.  I held the pole up on the actual day of the event for the parents round (twice as many people - two parents per kid), and I am still traumatized from how many times I got hit in the head and shoulders.
imagine this but with 65 students per basket, and a way larger supply of balls.  It looks like confetti from far away.
 Human Pyramid
  This is far and away my favorite.  Human pyramids in the US, I realize, are insanely boring and safe.  I've never done one higher than three people high.  They do have a section where they do three people high pyramids, but they jump into them in less than a second from everyone lying down or crouching.  Our human pyramids are also very limited in that they are two dimensional.  The students at my school did have some two dimensional pyramids, and they got up to five people high, which takes 15 people.  The secret there was climbing up from the side rather than the back, and being very organized so the pyramid could be built quickly.

But wait, you say.  Don't the kids get hurt and fall down?

Yes.  All the time.  So many kids fell down from the top I felt that it was raining men during pyramid practice (hallelujah!).  However, they actually never got hurt from that.  One kid did somehow manage to dislocate his shoulder from being on the bottom for too long.  Of course they never considered stopping.  There was a five high human pyramid built in a circle with the top three levels standing up, which was crazy.  The finale was a 7 person high pyramid with a triangle base.
This looks almost exactly like the one at my school, except they were all boys and wearing blue shorts.
On Friday after school, I was told many of the teachers would go to "take a bath" together, so I decide to join them.  We have a staff party planned for Saturday, but I thought it couldn't hurt to get to know some of the teachers beforehand.  So us males go to a Japanese public bath, and wash ourselves together for way longer than I thought necessary.  We go into a hot tub, sit for a while, and then come out and take a sitting-down shower next to each other.  As one of the teachers makes sure to point out, we all have penises.  We also go into another bath with flavored tea water, which apparently is invigorating for my pores.
     After the bath, we go to a traditional Japanese restaurant where I am again caught in a no-chair situation.  I only have about 40 minutes of cross-legged sitting in me, and stretching my legs out under the table causes me to accidentally get to know my coworkers a little too well.  Halfway through the dinner, my coworkers decide that I should "sit between the beautiful women."  Thinking they were joking, I laugh, however I was eventually told by everyone again to please stand up and go over there.  So I did.  Everyone's always looking out for my best interests here I suppose.  I drove to this event, so I am not drinking because in Japan it is illegal to have even one beer and then drive.  However, some of the other teachers are getting quite sloshed.

A sloshed teacher in his natural habitat.
After we leave the restaurant, somehow everyone decides that it is a good idea to pick up some beer at a convenience store and go back to the middle school to drink it.  We then proceed to sit at the same desks we are all at during work, and finish the beer that we bought.  The vice principal is even sitting at his position at the head of all the desks, so it feels vaguely like a morning meeting, except that one of the teachers just threw up in the students' bathroom.  He decides to sleep in the teacher's lounge, and is ready to roll for Sports Festival the next morning at 7:00.  Way to hold it together, teaching staff.

When actual Sports Day comes, everything pretty much goes as planned.  Blue team wins, probably because they have this excellent banner:
It looks surprisingly angry considering its wings are made of rainbows.
 After the sports day, we have another staff party, which it turns out involves another bath.  I am so clean.  This is an expensive event, and the dinner that we eat is served on two million plates, each with one slice of pickled vegetable on it.  We are being served by women wearing the traditional yukata (what we think of as a kimono - I'll try to keep the pretentious italics to a minimum).  One thing that I think is pretty cool is this basket.  It has a flame underneath it, and when the flame runs out, that means that it is done cooking.  Unfortunately, its contents turn out to be one mushroom.
It was a good mushroom.
     During the dinner, everyone gives a speech about how they thought the Sports Festival went.  Unfortunately everyone sits in Japanese tea ceremony style (sitting on your ankles) during these toasts.  After the first two, I am told by the guy next to me that if I have to make that face when I sit like that, then I should find a different way to sit.  Also unfortunately, this toast thing includes me.  After a few sentences in attempted Japanese, I am informed that I should just speak in English, and the English teacher will translate.

     After the dinner, I am about to get a ride home with the one of the older teachers, when someone runs out and pulls me out of the car, and informs me that I am not done drinking yet.  The younger teachers and I go out for beer and dumplings, which turns out to be delicious.  I have a great time, and I desperately wish I could speak better Japanese to be able to fit in and understand even basic questions directed at me.  I am definitely going to enjoy working with these people.

As a closing note, these are some bathroom slippers I saw at the staff party:
Greenpeace isn't my favorite NGO, but I wouldn't make a slipper about it.

Picture Credits:

Darrell McIndoe, Flickr (someone who had my same job, but didn't feel an obligation to comply with rules about posting pictures of students)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

7. Stand! Ready! Bow! (aka my first week at school)

This past week marked the start of my work at the middle school I'll be at for the next 6 months. It was pretty wild and I'm super exhausted! Ok I'll spare you the whining.  The other teachers said my main challenge would be staving off boredom, which has not been an issue at all so far.  I'm not allowed to post pictures from work, so here's some completely unrelated pictures to satisfy those of you who can't read:
Actually it's alright, but it's hard to get over the name.  Please note the slogan on the yellow bottle to the right as well.
These are statues of Buddhas or something (Hindu gods? That doesn't make sense.  They do have a lot of arms though)

They're all standing or sitting.  Except this guy, who really needs his beauty rest.
Day 1

As I arrive at school, I am introduced to my desk and to a very enthusiastic woman in front of me who immediately says all the English words she knows in a row (hello! Thank you! Goodbye!  My! name! is! Kishimoto! Nicetomeetyou!).  Certain teachers who speak English come over and say hi, including the principal.  In the morning meeting, the principal says a few facts about me and asks me to introduce myself with my prepared Japanese speech.  In his introduction of me, he has just told everybody about 3/4 of what I was going to say.  I forge ahead blindly! Before lunch, I am told the students clean their classrooms.  I offer to help, thinking it will help me bond with the students.  I get to the class just in time to see them start. They all get in position, move all the desks all to one side, and sweep the other.  Then a few of them push towels while they run across the floor instead of mopping.  Then they change sides and repeat.  It seems very efficient.  Little do I realize that this will be the most coordinated version of this I will ever see.  Usually it's three kids working and the rest standing and giggling.

I am told there is no school lunch today and I immediately panic.  Fortunately, the other English teachers decide to take me out to lunch at a very traditional Japanese restaurant.  Unfortunately this means that there are no chairs, but it's cool.  I've sat on my butt before.  On the drive over, this conversation happens in English:
"Mr. Hirota, tell me about your trip to Poland to visit your girlfriend" (they call each other Mr. all the time)
"Ok.  We went to a good museum and I learned about fish"
"No Mr. Hirota!  That is boring!  I want to hear interesting things. So does Nate."
"Ok.  I met her parents for the first time.  They are nice.  She has a good family."
"Sure, Mr. Hirota, sure.  Please tell us the interesting part!"

Unfortunately, neither I or Mr. Hirota knew what that meant (or at least we weren't willing to guess).
 All in all, a good first day.
This was on the outside of my car when I left for school, and on the inside when I got there. After growing up watching a lot of nature documentaries, I knew not to mate with it cause it might bite my head off.

Day 2

 I mostly spend the second day grading summer homework. Many girls wrote about their favorite band, which was usually this:
This is a band formed by a corporation that auditioned members considering the "sexiness of men" according to wikipedia.  Members range from age 14 to 20 years old.  There are more suggestive pictures of them, but I thought I'd spare you.
The homework has a multitude of fun English moments in it, some of which I will recreate now. This was probably my favorite snippet:

"I saw a movie.  The title is Transformers.  It was very moving."   (was it really?)
"abusive language may sometimes be vomited to a friend."

Many of the students had to write about their plans for the future.  A lot of the resulting sentences sounded quite profound.  Here are a few of those sentences put back to back as if they were an overly artistic poem.
 I exist a lot now in the world
that is an animal.  I play baseball in hot middle inevitable
death. There are a lot of future.  But
after hurry the future,
just I die.

Blindness in one eye is improvement
in crime prevention consciousness.
The words of transformation
are both
a shield protecting a person
and a pike making a lifetime wound.
It is no use: I never split open
even when I play the piano.
I have my first school lunch with the students today.  It's probably more awkward than my first lunch period in high school.  Here is my attempt at conversation:
[giggles with friend]
"do you play sports?"
[talks to friends to confirm what I say.  Her friend translates what I said.  First student looks at me, then looks down and resumes eating]
"What is your favorite movie?"
[no response]

I come away from lunch with a strong desire for connection in some way with the students, since I will be eating with them all year. Later this will influence my decision to tell the students that my favorite band is One Direction.  I should probably listen to at least one song of theirs.

Day 3

The third day, I have my first class that I "teach." For the first week, I just give 50 minute long presentations about myself.  I have thrown in some juggling, music, and magic tricks into these presentations because I don't want to be boring.  Hopefully they won't catch the sexual innuendo in the lyrics of the song I'm playing.  Turns out not even the teachers have a hope of understanding much wordplay in English.

I'm not sure if this happens every class, but every time I am present, the class starts with "Stand! Ready! Bow!" and all the students bow, which is weird to me. The presentation goes fairly decently, but when I go to lunch with the students, it is just as awkward as the day before.

One thing I forgot to mention is the structure of lunch.  All the students wait (relatively quietly) outside the cafeteria while the lunch ladies set out a lunch tray for everyone.  Then someone announces: "first years, please proceed quietly."  Etc with all the students.  Everyone brings their own chopsticks and spoon, and when lunch ends, everyone breaks down and cleans out their own milk carton.  Then they sort the dishes into different piles (they are required to eat every last bit of food that they have on their plates).  They put the plastic straws into their original wrappers and put them all in a designated container.  It's very methodical.

These are my utensils.  Chopsticks are still the biggest obstacle to me getting enough to eat here.
Day 4

I have presentations all day (5 total, 50 minutes each).  I think the English teachers are tired of hearing about my life.  Today the students are much more responsive.  Apparently it was just the third year class from yesterday (15 years old) that think they are too cool for me.  The one handicapped student in the school asks to have lunch with me today, so I sit at his table and have a great conversation in English.  He tells me he wants to be an English teacher, but they won't let him study abroad (at least right now) because he's in a wheelchair.  He also tells me that he is on the tennis team, which is super cool.

In the evening, I meet a guy who plays South American wood flute and panpipes and a guy who plays guitar.  They seem keen to play music together at some point so we'll see if that 'pans' out (ok that was dumb, sorry).  It turns out  I need to buy more clothes for work.  I head to the store and get some short sleeve "cool biz" shirts (that's what the summer dress code is called).  While I'm there, I pick up this gem as well.
Note the "since 1879" and the picture of the Volkswagen bus.

Day 5

Today I go to elementary school in the morning.  I am a celebrity because of my height and willingness to make sound effects and funny faces.  Immediately after my first presentation, I am swarmed by small children who literally drag me out to the field and do a complicated eeny-meeny-miny-moe to pick teams.  Then we play the extent of soccer that 6-year-olds can play.  After a few more presentations, I go back to the middle school and have a great, conversational lunch with teachers and students.  One of the male teachers likes to tell me often that I am a handsome guy and that I should come to basketball club sometime.  We'll see how that goes.  I am terrible at basketball, despite my height and apparent attractiveness to the middle-age Japanese male math teacher demographic.

OMG SPORTS FESTIVAL PRACTICE!  In the afternoon, they begin practice for sports festival, which involves no team sports of the conventional kind.  They do partner acrobatics, human pyramids, and some kind of thing which involves throwing yourself on the ground creatively whenever the PE teacher blows the whistle.  It actually looks pretty cool.   They also do this thing where they all wear black coats with white on the inside, and sit on bleachers.  Then they chant and beat drums.  On certain beats, certain children open the coats as if they were flashing the audience (they are wearing clothes obviously) which makes certain letters and shapes appear in black and white.  They change shapes/letters every beat - it is very cool, if you can understand at all what I'm saying there.

A great first week.  I am excited for the next, and for the sports festival and ensuing staff party.

Here are some random pictures:
Hmmm.  These remind me of something, but I can't put my finger in it.

The worst part is that this actually describes perfectly what is in the package and I'm a terrible person for laughing at it.

You too should be part of "Association of ProtectNature" if you aren't already.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

6. Knee-hone-go and ingurishu (aka communication troubles)

I have been studying Japanese furiously, but somehow not making too much progress.  I have a myriad of study tools that my predecessor left me, including these great flashcards that are made for little kids.  I studied them on the train down to Osaka, and at one point I dropped them at the feet of this old lady who chuckled as she handed them back.
I don't study this one because I hear this word muttered wherever I go.
Reading Japanese is next to impossible, because all of the nouns, verbs, and adjectives are written in the Chinese alphabet, which has a different symbol for each word.  Even when it is written in one of the phonetic alphabets, sometimes it's in some weird font.  This says "ramen," but you'd never know it.
Why did we give the calligraphy brush to our 3-year-old?
 Here are just a few things that I have recently learned about Japanese that I thought might be interesting.

-The symbol for "like/love" is the symbol for 'woman' next to the symbol for 'child.'  Cause you know, chicks love kids.

-The word for "clean" is the same word for "pretty."  I feel like that idea is engrained in the culture as well.

-The symbol for "tomorrow" is the symbol for 'bright' followed by the symbol for 'day.'  Awww, that's so optimistic, Japanese!

-Mountains are people too!  On certain mountains (high ones?), you add the same honorific you add after a person's name (it's not the same symbol, but when you say it aloud it sounds the same).  Mr. Fuji, Mr. Everest.  It could be a woman too I guess, I'm not trying to be sexist.

-Speaking of sexist, the symbol for "content" is a woman in a house.  Also, one of the symbols for "wife" is the symbol for "woman" next to "inside."

The Japanese people in my town have had ample opportunity to laugh at me attempting to communicate in their native tongue.  I find it only fair that I get to find amusement in some of the English writing I see around.  Here are some of my favorite uses of Engrish so far:

Invitation from my supervisor:
Yes, I am convenient.  How did you know?
This sign near my house:
This isn't wrong, but for some reason I enjoy it immensely.

My contract, of course:
See you guys next Jury!

And finally, this shirt I saw in the mall:
The tag on it says, "Value."  I wonder why.
Some other T-shirts I've seen that I enjoyed:

-"It knows the limit of the possible: all people have wonderful courage."
-"Dirtee Hollywood"
-"Got Drugs? I don't"
-This was on the side of a bus: "Boys be ambitious."

I'm sure I'll see lots more of these, so I'll try to throw them in where I can.