Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ding-dong, the witch is dead

Saddam Hussein, 69, executed by hanging in Iraq

So I awake this morning to reports of Saddam Hussein being hanged, and I'm not sure what to think. Sure he's a total douche of a scumbag and killed thousands upon thousands in not-so-nice fashion, and I totally expected this as the outcome of the whole thing - if anyone in this world deserves to be taken out, then he was definitely a prime candidate. I think the only people that would really dispute that fact are those that don't believe that capital punishment should ever be carried out under any circumstances, and I'm sure that for some if they were ever to make an exception he'd at least make the list of possible candidates.

There are some things with the whole situation that don't sit well with me though, and they definitely could've (and should've in my view) handled a few things much better than they did. First off, they executed him on the grounds of one incident of 150 or so Shias back in 1982, which means that the majority of the people who lost family due to atrocities carried out under his regime weren't fully given the recognition they deserved. I think that if they took him to trial for all the things he's done then not only would it have been more satisfying to a larger amount of Iraqis, but it would've also served to squelch some of the international backlash that is bound to rear its head as people worldwide start pointing their fingers back to the White House. It also would've been nice if he was tried in an international court instead of an Iraqi/US one so people can't complain about impartiality, even though I can't imagine anyone trying to argue that Hussein was actually an innocent little angel that didn't deserve whatever he got.

Another rather disturbing piece of news I saw along side of the whole Hussein thing was a recent John Hopkins study estimating that some 650,000 or so Iraqis have died since 2003, which averages out to about 500 people a day. Bush and Co. apparently don't accept the study, but both US and Iraqi governments appear unlikely to give alternate in depth studies any time soon. To me it's disturbing when they list Iraq casualties in terms of the US soldiers lost and discount all the others that die in the course of war. Of course they don't want to count the numbers of the dead among the opposition though... that would just remind them that they're human too. I think officially accepted numbers up to this point were somewhere between 30,000-45,000, which is still totally rediculous. The study says that of the people interviewed, deaths among those families are substantially higher now than they were before US involvement, and about 31% of the casualties can be directly attributed to US-led forces.

full article

Anyway you look at it, the whole situation has been poorly handled from the beginning - it's nothing but a damn bloodbath over there that we never should've been involved in.

Oh, and in other news: this guy is a total dork.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

My last day of work!!

Happy, New Year!!!

Yep, so today was my last day of work in the year of 2006 - it's been a fun year for sure! I get the 29th ~ 3rd off for New Year's since everyone here goes home and visits with family out here this time of year. Except for me, and a handful of other people I've come across in the past few weeks. So then what are my plans you ask? Well, I was graciously invited to spend New Year's Eve with the family of this lady that hosts a cooking show on a local cable station that I appeared on (don't worry, I'll have a copy of the broadcast as soon as it's done airing), so I'll be doing the whole traditional Japanese thing like I wanted to. For the uninitiated, this involves watching this cheesy karaoke-like show called "kohaku" while playing games with the adopted fam, then eating what's called toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles). There's also a special kind of rice wine that's served and some other weird stuff from what I hear. Anyway, then they go out to do a shrine (or temple) visit. This whole series of events is actually spread over a couple days usually.

So yeah, that's New Year's for me. If you're wondering how Christmas went this year, well not too bad actually. I had to work the entire weekend leading up to it because I played MC Santa at work at this "Santa Cafe"/music event, which actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. After that finished on Christmas Eve I went and did some capoeira, then on Christmas day I went out with a couple friends for some drinks and stuff - yes, karaoke was involved. All in all, better than it was in Chiba a few years back. If you check out my pictures I've uploaded a bunch of the event.

I have plenty of stuff planned over the next couple weeks to keep me busy... snowboarding, New Year's-ing, traveling, etc. So yeah, enjoy New Year's, whatever you do, and I'll see you on the other side in '07.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas in Japan - not all that different?

I have absolutely no idea what comes to mind when you think of Christmas in Japan, but you might think of a country with no long Christian tradition, thus meaning that it's nothing at all like back home, right? Well - yes and no. Yes, it's different in that it's not a national holiday so people still work, and it's not the big family holiday that it is back home. It's not common to give everyone presents, and the whole thing is sort of like Valentine's Day, only with a cake. Incidentally, it used to be common to call unmarried women over the age of 25 "Christmas cakes" since the day after Christmas all the leftover cakes are priced half-off... it has since become not that unusual to see older unmarried women, so now it's probably more like 30 or 35 or so. Maybe they should start calling it like osechi or something... cool, that even sounds sorta dirty!

But digressing, there are a bunch of similarities as well, especially in my part of the country. You see, Japanese people have really latched on to the more superficial aspects of Christmas: they love Christmas carols, the lights, Santa, and Christmas trees. I found a bunch of Christmas cards in the big stationary/card place in town with no problem. You can even buy Santa suits and decorations at the 100¥ store if you really want to, but you get what you pay for if you know what I mean. Christmas cookies, cakes, all that stuff.

Sendai in particular is quite well known for its annual Pageant of Starlight, in which all the main streets are brilliantly lit up between the 12th and 31st of the month of December as can be seen in the picture to the right. People decorate their own houses with Christmas trees and lights - a - plenty. Everywhere you go, including my own Kokusaimura, everyone's wishing people a Merry Christmas and looking festive. "But wait", you say, "that's only the commercialized aspect of Christmas!" Exactly.

And that's exactly why I say in many ways it's just like back home. Commercialism has taken over Christmas and distorted the whole meaning of the holiday, and that's just as true here as it is back home. Nowadays, what most people are worried about is giving off the appearance of Christmas and getting good gifts from friends and family. Look at things like the notorious "Black Friday" - the shopping day from hell. Do people usually look very happy when they're out shopping like this? No - it must be done. Have they ever thought that maybe you don't have to get someone that new PS3 or whatever in order for their kids to enjoy the holidays? Unheard of - kids will complain if they're the only ones that don't have one. I'm no different - as a kid I looked forward to getting oodles of presents more than anything else and didn't once think about the whole concept of the "spirit of giving" or any of that. At least I knew the whole back story of it celebrating Jesus' birth and didn't associate it with Santa really, but Japanese people know of the religious back story as well. And similar to a goodly portion of Americans, they latch onto the secular traditions as opposed to the religious ones because they aren't practicing Christians and it has no meaning to them.

So although it was known of and although there were a small number of Christian Japanese beforehand, Christmas didn't really gain popularity in Japan until post-WWII during the period of US Occupation between 1945-1952. Basically you could say that Japanese only know Christmas as well as they've learned from us, which leads me to postulate that they picked up all the commercialism as it already existed in the US. So in terms of commercialism, Christmas to me is the same here as it is back home
. The thing I definitely miss the most out here though is spending time with family and friends, which will never be replaced. I miss people the most this time of year, so don't forget about me!!

Oh, and just as another little factoid regarding Christmas, do you know how the day December 25th was picked?
The early Christian church did not celebrate Jesus’ birth, and therefore the exact date had not been preserved in festivals. The first recorded mention of December 25 is in the Calendar of Philocalus (354 A.D.) which assumed Jesus’ birth to be Friday, December 25, 1 A.D. When the Emperor Constantine eventually declared Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire in the Edict of Toleration in 312 A.D., the persecuted Christians exchanged the rags of hiding for the silks of the court. The predictable expediency to adopt the inevitable cultural changes caused many of the former pagan rituals to be adapted to their new “Christian” trappings. The date of December 25th, which was officially proclaimed by the church fathers in 440 A.D., was actually a vestige of the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, observed near the winter solstice, which itself was among the many pagan traditions inherited from the earlier Babylonian priesthood.
So December 25th corresponding to Jesus' birth is in fact basically the excuse the Romans gave to the Christian world to celebrate the winter solstice with them. Some people think the real birth took place around January 6th, and those following Eastern Christianity still celebrate Christmas at this time. Some other theologians insist that known facts point to a birth in the spring sometime, but no one knows for sure.

One last parting thing that used to always bother my mom:
Christmas is sometimes shortened to Xmas, an abbreviation that has a long history. In early Greek versions of the New Testament, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ (Χριστός). Since the mid-sixteenth century Χ, or the similar Roman letter X, was used as an abbreviation for Christ.
And with that, I wish you all a Merry Christmas season and urge you all to do something truly Christmasy. Give someone something for no reason. Volunteer your time to someone. Help people. Also, if you have the chance to spend the holidays with family then feel privileged - I wish I could have the pleasure. Unfortunately, oft times family's really one of those things you don't miss until it's gone. So on your mark, get set, Christmas!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Yes, I can use chopsticks

One thing I hear a bunch of people who first come to Japan saying is that in the beginning, meeting people in Japan can often be a rather arduous ordeal of monotony. Really if you think about it though, I think the same can be said of other groups as well, albeit it usually to a lesser extent. Really the biggest difference is the type of questions you get asked over. And over. And over. And... yeah. Basically what this means is that if you don't actively do everything in your power to come up with something interesting to say then things are going to devolve into the same old boring interview session that happens when you first meet people. I loathe this with a passion and will resort to making totally random observations or asking absurdly unrelated questions about whatever my mind happens to drift to at that moment.

As an example of what I'm talking about on the non-Japanese monotony tip, when I first came to Japan this time around I was in a convention center with a couple thousand people in similar situations to me - just got a job somewhere in Japan through the same organization doing one of two main jobs: ALT or CIR. So usually, meeting people meant answering many times over where you were from, where your placement was, where you had been in Japan before, what job you were doing back home, etc. In contrast, I asked people to pick between pirates and ninjas, and asked them if they could think of one situation that wouldn't be funnier with a monkey involved. And that's right off the bat too - I'm talking sometimes even before I asked what their name was - just to avoid the inevitable onslaught of loathsome queries.

So with Japanese people it's the same inquisition, just with a different set of questions/ observations. "Where are you from?" "How long have you been in Japan? Oh, only xxx? Then how'd you get so good at Japanese? You must be a genius!" "Can you eat sushi?" "You're really good with chopsticks!" Sigh. I guess to them this is original conversation... but I've answered all these questions so many times that I don't even have to think to spout out the answers at the speed of light. I could understand the lack of variety if we were speaking in English and the language was becoming a barrier, but I'm talking in Japanese the whole time with these people. It usually gets even more tedious when they speak English. The thing is though that like I said, you really can't leave the conversation up to people or this is exactly where it's headed oft times. You have to take the conversation into your own hands, or else you wind up riding the wave wherever it may take you. With most people you'll usually have a few of these questions until you fall onto something you both have in common and can go off on tangents with, but with such stagnant topics as my Japanese and my l33t chopstick skillz they don't really give me much to work with.

I guess the other big difference is that the Japanese questions are sort of pandering - they seemed amazed that you can do the most mundane of tasks. I can eat fish - wow, amazing! I mean seriously, how would you survive living in Japan for more than a week or 2 without using chopsticks? There are some restaurants here that don't even have forks and knives - what would you do? Sometimes I give people totally off-the-wall responses, like telling them I was raised by a caravan of nomad Chinese acrobats and thus was also trained in the mystic ways of the stick. Some people get the joke, some don't. Either way I've amused myself and thus my mission is complete.

The other day at the bonenkai (year end party) the new head of the restaurant here at work came up to me and started giving me book recommendations since he saw me reading a book in Japanese at the restaurant the day before. It was great - after that we talked about snowboarding and other stuff we had in common... it was just a normal conversation, and it was wonderful. It just takes time to meet cool people like that - you have to sludge through all the people too amazed at your existence to sit down and have a normal conversation to get to them though. I really am resigned to the fact that these kinds of questions usually are inevitable around here - it's just all about how you deal with them, and more importantly how you avoid them. There are some people that are pretty fun once you get them past all that, but when non-Asians make up around 0.5% of the population you have to expect that the vast majority of people have never really sat down and gotten to know one well enough to know how rediculous some of the things that tv feeds them about us really are. And that, my friends, is why they pay me - to break up their silly little notions and make them think a little (about pirates, ninjas, monkeys, and nomadic Chinese circus performers).

Because words alone totally blow

Ok, so I'm FINALLY getting around to uploading some real pics for youse guys n gals out there - check out my flickr account either here or on the little tab thingie that I'm pointing to right now, but since you can't see where I'm pointing just look to your right. No, other right you putz... yeah, that one. Hopefully that'll be enough to keep you happy for a while. Oh, and in closing Stevie Wonder rocks, and if you don't agree with me then you totally suck. ;P

And if that's not enough for you, here's the Headline of the Century!!! Courtesy of George.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

My body must hate me by now (Pt. II)

...and we're back. See, that was the weekend, but I wasn't done.

Then Tuesday, which I have off every week, was the bonenkai, or Japanese end of the year party. In addition to having a cool and appropriate name (bonenkai = "forget the year party") , these are awesome because it gives you a chance to do some "nomunication", which is a Japanese hybrid of the work for drinking ("nomu") and... well you get it. Anyway, it's a great bonding experience for all, you get to learn cool stuff and juicy gossip about your fellow workers, and it's entirely normal and almost expected of you to drink yourself stupid. Unfortunately Boss, who we last left with his girdle, is now in the hospital where he is scheduled to be through the new year (!!!) with a bad back, so he didn't join. I did go out with one guy from work to visit Boss before heading out to have a drink before the drinking commenced. Then after 2 hours of drinking, half of us went somewhere to drink. They had Guinness in stock when we got there, but I took care of that. Afterwards I dragged a few of them out to everyone's favorite, costume karaoke, after which I took a taxi back with some new friends somewhere around 2-3ish.

Things I found out - one of three big heads at work is seperated, and his wife teaches piano weekly at work despite the fact that they can't stand each other. They were both there. This one guy wants to go to soccer games with me next year and invited me to sing a few songs with his Blue Hearts cover band. The new owner of the restaurant and his assistant are not only about my age, but also enjoy among other things drinking, karaoke, and snowboarding!

So... awakened by my phone the next morning at 9:30, I slept in. I rush out to do a school visit, then out to the recording studio that afternoon... more on that next time. It was definitely good times though.

My body must hate me by now (Pt. I)

Before I get started here, one tidbit of WTF?!??!!!??? news: the days of Doug sleeping in the buff (or anything close to it) are over, or at least out of season. There is no way to sleep out here without anything less than 2 layers of clothing top and bottom, one being something with full sleeves and legs. The other day I went out in the kitchen to whip up some sweet grilled cheeses with the authentic Kraft cheedar cheese slices I found (quite happy about that), and I could see my breath!!!

Oh, and if you look to your left you'll see a little gem I ran across - "non-alcohole"! Reminds of the story I heard of that guy that died of alcohol poisoning when he found out that the large intestine absorbs liquor faster than most any part of the anatomy through direct contact....... ok, you get it? Because I'm soooo not explaining it any further.

Yeah... so this past week or so I've been pretty harsh to my body, but not without good reason of course. The other day, my neighbor Joe made a rather astute observation in that despite the fact that I say that I normally only drink a bunch when there's a special reason, lately there's been an inordinate amount of special reasons. ;P After thinking about it, I think it's because I'm still not totally satisfied with where I am socially around here and am really just trying to drown my dissatisfactions and frustrations. I think this part of the equation is slowly getting better though, as I've met some cool people along the course of the week and am having more of a social life. Another piece of advice I heard from a few people actually was to go out and do stuff as much as possible over the winter so you don't wind up holed up in your room glued to the kotatsu... mmm.... warm, toasty kotatsu...

So anyway, here's the last week or so in a nutshell. Friday, Matt was in town, so I go in town with my friend Kevin to show him a good time, which I definitely believe we were sucessful in doing. We first went to a gyutan restaurant, which is the most famous specialty of Sendai. So we get to this place and sit down, check out the menu and order. I yelled out our order as the waitress was walking towards us with plate in hand, which she promptly placed on the table almost before I could finish speaking! Apparently from what she said, since that's what the place is known for they knew what we were going to order as soon as we walked in the door. I found out later that there's another place that's known for the softer style (which is my preference) so I'll check that one out next time. Anyway, from there we head out to a great bar on the other side of the station, where a middle-aged guy was hitting on Matt (ie: he was highly and overly interested in the tall foreigner guy, who he insisted looks like Legolas from LOTR) and we met 3 girls with the same name that met each other online, which was rather surreal but very entertaining. After some time, we allegedly went to another bar and talked to more people, but I'm just taking Matt's word for all that.

Skip forward to the next morning, when I wake up in Matt's hotel with both of us still spinning from the night before after a couple hours sleep. He was there for work, so we go check out his exhibit thingy (experimental alternative fuel cells - hydrogen powered cars) and then I scuttle off to work attempting to drag myself through the day. Oh, and did I mention it was snowing? Here's the view from my balcony when I got back to change before work.

So after work I was beat, but I had already arranged for this Japanese guy Senyu to meet us so I dragged myself out for another night of festivities. I'm glad I did though as we had a blast - I saved my liver some trouble by driving to Sendai and playing designated driver. More craziness ensued. The next day was all about recuperation, and I needed it. All in all, a crazy weekend.

Oh, and the following message is for anyone named Matt, aka Legolas:

To be continued...

Friday, December 08, 2006

I'm special-er than I thought

...and not just because of my outstanding ability to turn a colorful phrase - because I'm left-handed! I remember hearing a while back somewhere that the ratio of left to right-handers is just a tad lower, but after a conversation with someone today at lunch I looked something up and found that the world's lefty population is around 10-13% or so - I knew that lefties were less frequent than righties, but I didn't think it was that lop-sided! Some of the other interesting factoids I found in my query:

  • More men are left-handed that women.
  • Although there are indeed more intelligent lefties than righties, there are also more learning disabled lefties including autism, Down's, epilepsy, dyslexia, retardation, etc, so things go both ways on that one. To illustrate this I embody both, as I am either a genius or a total retard depending on the situation and rarely am to be found anywhere in between.
  • Twins are more likely to be lefty, and in the case of identical twins if one twin is then the other has a 76% chance of being lefty as well.
  • Gay people may be as much as 39% as likely to be left-handed as straight people.
  • In 2006, researchers at Lafayette College and Johns Hopkins University in a study found that left-handed men are 15% richer than right-handed men for those who attended college, and 26% richer if they graduated. The wage difference is still unexplainable and does not appear to apply to women.
  • Left-handed people are always cooler than right-handed people. Honest!!! ;P
So the way the conversation went was that this guy at work was checking out my wicked sharp chopstick skills, as Japanese people like to do, and noticed that I was using my left hand. So apparently the guy sitting across from me was left-handed as well, but he uses his right hand with chopsticks and writing because that's the way he was taught growing up. I told him about how both my grandparents on my dad's side are righty and yet all 4 of their kids are lefties, which leads me to believe that they were also taught not to be lefties. I know that back in the day they used to teach lefties to do stuff righty in the US as well, and it's still said that with Chinese characters (which are known as kanji in Japanese) right-handers have a decided advantage in writing legibly because the strokes were designed to be written as such. I also reminisced about how when playing games in arcades as a kid I crossed my arms if I had to so the joystick was in my left hand.

Here's some more "leftist" reading for you:

Read me!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ode to the kotatsu

Ah yes, the kotatsu - what a wonderful invention! I'd say that I'll kiss the guy who came up with the idea, but apparently he's some ancient nameless Chinese guy, so besides the fact that he's dust by now and that'd be disgusting I have the feeling that searching for his remains in the first place would be an exercise in futility.

What was I talking about again? Oh yeah! The kotatsu and how it makes my otherwise freezing Durgicile nice and toasty! My toes are piping hot right now, like some Bearded Papa's Cream Puffs, and it's all thanks to the wonderous kotatsu. I broke this bad boy out today for the first time, and I honestly don't know what I was waiting for! It's the best thing since cheese, and that's saying a lot.

Elsewhere in the current winterfication project that is my apartment, I went out and got some bubble wrap to cover my windows. Why you ask? Because they haven't caught onto the whole concept of double-paned windows and proper sealing practices, let alone centralized heating. So if I turn on the heater with the windows wrapped, at least it stays warm for a little bit and I don't lose it all in the draft. The sad thing is that there's a whole section of bubble wrap and window sealing kits in stores - they realize it's a problem, so why don't they fix it? Ah well.

Some other nice little things I've heard to look forward to:

  • water pipes freezing: apparently it's a good idea to leave your faucet dripping overnight on really cold nights, and to turn off your water if you leave for extended periods of time.
  • frozen toothpaste(!!): and get this - someone's solution to this was to put it in the fridge overnight!!
  • in extreme cases... frozen toilets: I shit you not, someone's solution to this was to pour vodka or some other potent form of liquor in the toilet water overnight as it has a lower freezing temperature than water. Most toilets have heated seats around here, but mine's old so I just had to go get a cover as to not freeze my pasty-white tuckus (I don't care if I spelled that wrong, sorry).
  • unsalted, unplowed roads: for whatever reason, they don't believe in doing this, so if it snows heavily I can expect to find snow on the roads for up to a good 2 weeks. As a consequence, if you have not put snow tires on your car by the 1st of December, any accident you get in will automatically be deemed solely your fault.
In stark contrast to this, if you go further north to the island of Hokkaido they normally have it right when it comes to heating. Good insulation, good windows with modern seals and such, snow plows, and... are you ready for it? Heated sidewalks!!! That's right, no matter how high the snow may pile up in Sapporo (and it gets pretty high), the sidewalks are clear and ice-free thanks to heated sidewalks. They also apparently have a huge underground mall from what I hear too, but I've never seen it. And I shall leave you with a quote from a certain Canuckistanian, who shall remain nameless, regarding Hokkaido:
"Hokkaido is like Canada, just with a bunch of Japanese people running around."
Ok, it was Matt. I lied.

And finally, here's your Engrish fix of the day, courtesy of the local Rifu Jasco (the kids call it "Rifujasu" for short... the one in Tagajo is "Tagajasu"), where incidentally I happened to find a restaurant with real Quesadillas!!! Here you go:

It's the variety store of amusement... but only for 3 short minutes. Talk about a quickie.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sexless housewives?

So here's the links for the full articles:

article 1
article 2
article 3
article 4

So in my wanderings around online today, I wandered across this little gem. Ever heard of the Sex Volunteer Corps? This is a rather interesting (to me) development that arose due to the large number of sexually deprived married women in Japan. Reading through these articles, apparently it's quite common for guys to not get down and dirty with their wives - one article said,
"The problem among many Japanese men is that fairly soon after they get married, they begin to see their wives as their mothers, there to cook and clean for them. That makes it very hard to find them sexually attractive again."
One subject in her 40's said the perverbial ship had not docked in her harbor in some 20 years, and another said that even after being married for years they both remained virgins! The doctor had this to say on the topic:
"It's usually cases where the couple have remained virgins all the while up until their marriage, then botch their first attempt on their wedding night and lose the confidence to ever try it again," the country's most renowned sex therapist says. "Even when they reach an age when their biological clock starts ticking at a frenetic case, they're hamstrung because they don't know how to go about doing it, and neither does the husband. What they need is expert care the very first time."
Wow, just wow. Now if you haven't heard, Japan is greatly in fear of the threat of an increasingly aging society - not enough people are having kids nowadays, so along with a decreasing population comes the worries that there won't be enough of a working class to support all the old people.

Not only does this put a strain on the economy, it also has made them look into alternatives such as foreign workers and such. The Japanese Diet had a meeting talking about the issue of foreign migrant workers recently though, and you know what they decided? They discussed putting further restrictions on things and even the possibility of setting a ceiling limit of 3% for the foreign immigrant population. There are an increasingly large number of these Chinese, Brazilian, Peruvian, etc. workers that come over to do the cheap labor and factory work that Japanese people don't want to do though, and it does put some cultural strain on society. I recently heard that in one prefecture, Mie, 1 in 5 residents is a foreign national.

And all that just because Mr. Noda doesn't wanna bump uglies with his wife. She just wants some loving - come on, give it to her. Don't make her beg for it.

JLPT hangover

The word of the day is: blah. Yesterday I took a Japanese test. In the test room that seated 100 on this occasion, I was accompanied by 97 Chinese people. Yep, that's right - I was one of 3 people that were non-Asian taking this test. Yes, I counted. I'm sure not all of them were Chinese (probably a few Koreans as well), but all the names I saw on test booklets were Chinese, so I'm assuming the majority of them were. Remember, there's like 1.3 BILLION Chinese people in China alone, and Mandarin is more widely spoken as a mother tongue than English - if you're "one in a million" in China, that means there are 1,300 people just like you!!! So the test started at about 10 and ended at about a quarter past 3 for level 1, which means we got to spend a good 5 hours together. They stared at me a lot when they thought I wasn't looking. I was.

So following the aforementioned hellacious Level 1 JLPT which went down, a bunch of people went out to commiserate... er, I mean celebrate. I was only one of 2 there that sat Level 1, but quite a few people took either 2 or 3 (they count down). Despite a bunch of studying, I have little confidence that I passed, mainly because of the last section. Hopefully, I'm totally off on that prediction, but only time will tell on that one. Anyways, back to the fun part of the evening. They went out to dinner, I wasn't hungry since I just had a couple tuna-filled rice balls an hour before that I brought along, so I just got a beer. Then I had a beer to wash it down with for dessert. After that, we went to the coolest karaoke place EVER, and I'll tell you why. No, better yet I'll show you:

That's right - this place had costumes!! Here we see some guy in his spiffy rhinestone cowboy hat, and that other guy dressed up as the panda (screw names). The panda greatly resembles how I felt after 5 hours in a room with 97 Chinese people and that horrid test - fat, bloated, and with 2 black eyes.

...and here we find 2 young test-takers allowing their youthful exuberance to shine. There was undoubtedly some 80's music playing in the background at this time.

And finally, we have a picture of me giving some loving to one of the girls in the group... I don't think she was expecting that, but whatever.

I didn't really feel so hot about things this morning when I had to wake up and then ride over to where I left my car - took about an hour roundtrip to go somewhere that normally takes me about 5-10mins. to get to. I made it through the day though without passing out on my desk at work, so I consider that a personal victory. Yey me. This message has been brought to you by: "blah." And the letter "C."

Friday, December 01, 2006

We hope you all a happy Merry Christmas!!

So the above is what the caption on the lower right originally was going to say, but that's what they keep me around for, right? So it's getting to be that time of year around here and they are certainly into the decorations thing. Besides them working on the decorations around here for the past 3 days at work, I've seen a couple random houses around town that are lit up, which I never saw back in Chiba. It sorta reminds me of how way more people up in PA around my brother's place went all out for Halloween decorations than around my place in the 'burbs. So yeah, Christmas looks to be interesting - I'll try and get better pics once things are done and all lit up. I of course brought my Santa hat with me, which shall be for all intents and purposes glued to my skull for the better part of the next month.

And in other news, I would like to take this opportunity to say hi to Mike out in Seoul! I hadn't heard from him in a while, but I might have a chance to meet up with him in the not to distant future - we studied in Chiba together. Check out his blog if you want in the links. Oh, and as an aside, Mike's quote of the day was "feeding only breast milk 7 months aged babys may help in case of regurgitating babies." They have Engrish in Korea too!! Personally I like Chinglish... search around for some good Chinese English restaurant menus and you'll know what I mean. I also hear that they get Buddha's birthday off in Korea, and they call it Buddhanikuh. Ok, I made up that last part.

Now this weekend coming up is the annual JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test), and I'm again taking the highest level. I failed last year with a 60% (70% is passing, btw) and am hoping to do a little better this time around considering I've been busting my hump on the books and have a lot more daily practice now. Normally this test means that you have the basic knowledge required to apply to tertiary educational facilities as a normal student, so that'd put me at something like the level of a high school senior if I could actually speak up to that level. All I know is that half the stuff I'm learning now is the kind of stuff that I'll either never use or have to go waaaay out of my way to do so - or just read more I guess as some of it's literary stuff.

Oh, and finally basketball. Sweet, lovely college basketball. I leave the country for a year and what happens? The Terps take the frickin' championship for the first time ever! Then I come back just in time for the past 2 years of lackluster mediocrity. Now I'm out of the country again, and here they come! 8-0! So I hear this Greivis guy looks pretty good and we have a decent point guard and stuff, but I haven't gotten a chance to actually watch any games yet. I'm trying to set it up to have this guy record stuff for viewing online on his Slingbox, which is one of the coolest things to come out since Hello Kitty toilet paper, along of course with the rest of the fine line of Sanrio inspired products. So cross your fingers on that one - if they keep it up and I can't watch games anytime I want by the time the ACC season starts I will not be a happy individual.

Ok, time to go to my tutor's before I check out Yodobashi Camera to point and stare at all the people standing in line for the Wii, which shall be released at midnight tonight I believe. I'd love for someone around me to buy it so I can go over and play it for free... I know, I'm such a nice guy sometimes.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

My boss wears a girdle, and I have 2 month's worth of "pet bottles"

True story. So I'm back in town from Tokyo - had a conference in Shinjuku this past week and decided to go down early for a much needed vacation. I got a free ride down with a friend in his truck last Friday night, so I taught him some very useful English along the way. He now knows how to say "I gotta pee", "you are lame", "I'm a pimp", "you suck", and "I'll lay the smackdown on your ass." Gotta start with the basics, right?

So once we got down to Tokyo, the main 2 highlights were 1) food, and 2) meeting other CIRs from around the country. I had some pretty nice Korean BBQ, a Thanksgiving dinner starring pumpkin pie (but no gravy), some Mexican food twice, and some pretty good Indian food. On the people end, it was really good to network with people - in addition to fresh faces I got to meet a few people that I had talked to online but never had a chance to actually meet yet. It was fun.

Oh yeah, and there was this 20th anniversary dealie for JET, so they had a big reception and ceremony and stuff which I scored an invitation to - the crown prince of Japan was there, which was cool. Even cooler though was this one chick from Kyoto that spoke at the panel discussion they had in a really thick Kansai accent. If that means nothing to you, imagine some southern Georgia belle or a guy from the Bronx at a snazzy symposium and you'll get the same effect. I must say though that the Kyoto accent to me is totally hot! What can I say, I'm a sucker for girls with a foreign accent, even if it's a regional one in Japanese. Then again, Japanese accents in English are stupid to me, so I guess it isn't always true. Maybe it only works for girls that are already hot, in which case one could argue it's not working at all... ok, I'll stop now.

Where was I? Oh yeah, anniversary dinner which came with a free extra night in Tokyo, with which I went out to a club. I got to do my "tako dance"(tako = octopus). Then I come back, and my boss is wearing a girdle for back pains. He insists it's because he's too fat, but he's also been under a lot of stress because his dad's in bad shape - currently still in the hospital. So he says that he's as fat as an American, to which my response of course is that I'm American and he's fatter than me, which makes him fatter than an American. Then I told him maybe he should change nationalities. Since he's one of the like 5 people out of 20,000+ in my town that gets American humor he laughed.

And now for the other part of the title. What's a "pet bottle" you ask? Well, that's a pet bottle. Or more exactly, according to wiki... "Polyethylene terephthalate (aka PET, PETE or the obsolete PETP or PET-P) is a thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family that is used in synthetic fibers; beverage, food and other liquid containers; thermoforming applications; and engineering resins often in combination with glass fiber." Wiki is my friend.;P

See here's the deal: see that chart? That's a sample trash schedule from somewhere's in Japan. You're supposed to seperate things into like 6 different categories before you throw them away, and they give you this nifty color-coordinated trash schedule to sort out which day you're supposed to throw what stuff away. If you try to throw the wrong stuff away on the wrong day they give it back to you. If you throw the right stuff away but don't use the right bag, they give it back to you. If you don't get there by 8:30am when the truck comes, you get to hold on to it til next time. And the best part is that there are certain things, like these pet bottles, which only get tossed one day out of the month. That day happened to be last week when I was out of town, so now I have an overflowing pet bottle trash recepticle with 2 months worth of the things. I think I might have to saunter over to the local 7-11 in the middle of the night all ninja-like and dump them in their trash can, since that's about the only place you can find public trash cans around here. It's either that or wait until December 21st, the next pet bottle day. I wonder how many I could collect by then...

And finally, I'm cold. That is all.

Friday, November 10, 2006

An overdue update

Ok, so let's see - what's happened since last time... well lately I've actually been feeling rather stressed. Not really because of work, but more because even when I'm not at work I hardly feel like I'm relaxed. Any suggestions on relaxing activities I should get into? I'm reeeeally looking forward to heading down to Tokyo in a week for exactly that reason. There's a national mid-year conference for CIRs starting the 20th, so they gave me a rack load of skrill and told me to make reservations for myself... which of course means that I have $$$ left for, let's just say "extracurricular activities". So yeah, I'm going down the weekend before and know enough people in the greater Tokyo area to enjoy myself for that week. I'm basically thinking of it as a fully paid vacation, which is just what the doctor ordered!

So yeah, there was a pretty cool event last weekend after the Halloween party for Guy Fawkes Day with fireworks and a bonfire and burning stuff and... stuff. I don't feel like explaining it right now, so you'll have to settle for pictures. Wiki is awesome though - basically it's a Brit thing.

Now for those of you that have witnessed my phenominal dancing prowess (not really), you may be inclined to believe this is what the kids call a "raver", but you would be mistaken. He is a frequent client of the local party scene, but in this particular case those aren't glow sticks but rather actual balls of fire stuck to strings. He's doing what is apparently a traditional Maori (NZ) fire dance - you should've heard the "oohs" and "aahs" when he smacked them against his arms... and crotch. If you have the chance I urge you to check it out sometime - mail me and I can send you a video I took with my killer phone.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Ok, so to some of you this may seem strange, but I was never really big into Halloween when I was a kid. My mom's always been sort of anti-Halloween because she bought into the whole "Halloween is the devil's day" deal since it was originally a Celtic harvest festival often associated with spirits and whatnot. So yeah anyway, long story short they never passed out candy and I never really went trick-or-treating... I didn't really have a lot of fun with it until I got older and figured out how much fun smashing pumpkins and costume parties are (and no, I'm not talking about Billy Corgan).

...which segways nicely into this next picture. Not only did I carve this pumpkin this afternoon, but this is actually the first jack-o-lantern I've ever carved! I think it's a sort of weird experience for an American to go all the way to Japan to carve his first pumpkin for Halloween - I told one guy at work it'd be like a Japanese person going to the US and having their first piece of sushi or something. So yeah, I had a lot of fun with that, and hopefully people will appreciate it since it took me forever to get the stupid thing gutted and carved. That little hand-sized thing took me a good hour or so to finish because of the pattern I chose.

We're having a big Halloween party for kids this Saturday, complete with trick-or-treating, candy, apple bobbing, and even a full blown haunted house! I get to scare the crap out of little kids - I'm really gonna enjoy that one. ;P There was a mini-party at this elementary school I visited this morning, and all those kids dressed up and were sooo cute it's rediculous. It's too bad, because I feel like if I don't make at least one of them cry out of fear then I haven't successfully done my job as party coordinator and haunted house designer. It looks to be rather hastily flung together, but luckily Japanese kids have rather vivid imaginations and thus scare quite easily. I'll let you know how things go.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Blisters... woo!!!

YESSSSSssssss - I have the most awesome blisters in the world right now! They take up just about the entire front half of both my feet and are absolutely fantabulously spectacularific! If you're wondering why I'm so excited about such a weird thing as this, then I would have to come to one of 2 conclusions: 1) you're new around here and didn't know that I'm a total freak of nature sometimes or 2) you don't know what I'm about to tell you because I haven't told you yet. Yeah.

So here goes - the reason. I just got back from my first trip to the capoeira group in Sendai that I've known about for months but haven't gotten out to yet. It's on Sunday nights at 6pm, which means I have to rush to get out to it if I work that day, like I did today. Totally worth it though. They don't actually have a teacher per se, but there are a few people there that are pretty good... definitely good enough to teach me a thing or two and get me back up to speed from my extended hiatus of capoeira-ing. I'm so out of practice it's not even funny. Ok, so maybe it's a little funny. Go ahead and yuck it up if you like laughing at other people's misery - hahaha.

So yeah, if you're totally out of the loop and don't know what capoeira is and don't feel like clicking on the link, basically it's a Brazilian martial art that resembles a dance and is purportedly the forefather to breakdancing. I did it for like 4 months or so down in Chiba when I was there and it was a blast - totally looking forward to getting back into it from here on out.

So yeah - blisters... woo!!!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Analogies/metaphors thought up by high school students

He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.

John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.

Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Whisky! (and to a lesser extent, whiskey)

Don't know the difference between whiskey and whisky? Not to fret, neither did I as little as 2 months ago. Since then, I've researched, studied, purchased and even presented some. You see, the spelling "whisky" is only used to refer to Scotch whereas "whiskey" can cover the broader spectrum, including Bourbon and others. The spread you see above is what I wound up getting - 28 bottles in total.

I can't say everything went totally as planned without a hitch - we were supposed to have a guy present the tasting process itself, but he cancelled so I wound up doing that in Japanese and English, all by my lonesome. I was sooo mentally pooped at the end of the first round, but luckily my boss told me I could partake in the festivities myself like a good host should. The more I drink the easier it is to speak Japanese, so by the end of it I was presenting all bilingual without a care in the world! Besides the layout, planning and purchasing, I did the tasting explanation and the breakdown on the different types we were serving. We had a contest on who could guess which was which without looking at the labels, and the winner got to take home the bottle of his choice - I think he walked home with half a bottle of 18-year Glenfiddich. I myself took home about 6 bottles, which I shall save for a rainy day. ;P

Then of course no function in Japan is complete without the obligatory after party, which took place in none other than Sendai. The train ride was fun, as you can see from the picture. After a little wandering around trying not to get miffed at everyone's general gaijinness (ie: beligerance), we overlooked an Irish bar and settled on an all night karaoke place not too far from the station. Good times were had by all, including a Japanese guy we picked up along the way.

Oh, and for those of you that thought I should go up and get a picture with the cosplay girls I mentioned in an earlier entry (or was that just me?), upon the prodding of my neighbor Jo I went up and got a picture with some girl dressed up like a character from Evangelion. Yeah.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The story of the Brother's Club a quick translation of the title of the play I just finished up this past weekend. It ruled - I got to drink during the play in keeping with my role of drunken Army brat (it was Budweiser though. bleh), got to dance and get friendly with a pretty fine actress (get your thoughts out of my pants... you dirty, dirty person), and was then forced to bellow numerous obscenities whilst beligerantly altercating with another occidental. Yeah. The play itself only lasted about 20 minutes or so, and we were supposed to sing "Danny Boy" at the end, but most of us didn't really know the words so we faked it. No one was the wiser.

I would have to say that the culmination of the whole production was at the end - they most definitely saved the best for last. The first two nights, we were accompanied by a band of 4 - drums, bass, sax/clarionet, and piano. For the last show on Sunday though, they were joined by the brass section of a 40's style big band, and they added a couple swing numbers to their repertoire. Now the other nights the band leader invited people to dance if they wanted, but of course no one did so we had to. The last night though, a couple from the crowd got up and actually started swing dancing - rather well I might add. So yeah, better music, better atmosphere, more dancing, full house... good times to be sure.

And but of course there were after parties to go along with everything. We talked all the girls into coming out with us on Friday, so we dragged them out to an all-you-can-drink place (that's soooo much easier to say in Japanese) and kept them out way past our bedtimes. ;P There was also another party that everyone went to after the whole thing was done on Sunday, followed by a nice little karaoke session and a stop by a ramen place to cap things off before passing out. I can only think of one thing that might have made it better.

So - the Jazz Festival and now all this have shown me that Sendai has quite a jazz scene history. The play itself was written by this guy whose mother worked in the original "Brother's Club", which is an actual place in Sendai that was taken by occupational forces as the local watering hole post WWII. In addtion to being known as a jazz club, there was plenty of debauchery as it was a quasi-legal bordello from the sounds of it. Officially no prostitution was allowed though. The place itself still stands to this day, but is now just a restaurant that does a number of different styles from Chinese to Italian. This producer (and also the pianist in the band) just happen to do shows from time to time at my place of occupation, which is how I got the gig in the first place. I'll say it again - I love my job. ;P

...and on that note, I have about 2 weeks of laundry and cleaning to catch up to and haven't touched my Japanese books in about as long, so back to it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


I'm pooped... just trying to make it through the day here. I took a day trip up north a little to a place called Naruko and stopped by an onsen, then rushed back to run out to Sendai in the evening to make a practice for the play and did not get anywheres near enough sleep last night.

Here's a small compilation of funny videos I've run across in the past few weeks though for your amusement. I absolutely love that "old man bites tenderly" one, or whatever it's called. I'm pretty sure they're all SFW... as long as you can contain your inevitable outbursting fits of laughter.

In other news, if anyone's heard from or has means of smacking James upside the head to get his attention, tell him it'd be nice to hear from him once in a while to make sure his cats didn't eat him in his sleep or something.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Cosplay in the village?!?

So I was just sitting there minding my own business, hanging out in the international tea party thing they had going on for the locals, and what do I spy out of the corner of my eye? Some straight up cosplay girls, anime/gamer style. I don't know where they came from, but after asking around apparently they stop by from time to time since the scenery at my place is good. I also overheard some people saying that this time was ok since the girls were actually pretty good looking, but most of the time they're... well, not. It's supposedly for some webpage or something, and there were two different groups here today.

I did try to sneak a little peek while staying at my post just to give you an idea of what was going on, but the pic wasn't exactly the best - I didn't figure out how to use the zoom on my cell camera until after they had already left. The picture on the left is all I got... oh well.

Then of course I did what any guy would naturally do in such a situation - I searched the web for details. Sure enough Shichigahama + cosplay in Japanese, and a bunch of hits. The girl on the right was the first on the list, and I can totally recognize my work from the background, lol. Here are the rest if you're interested.

I did have a little issue later that's got me a little miffed though - I had to go into town for play practice tonight and so needed somewhere to park the car. I called up a fellow JET from the next town over to ask if I could park at her place since she has a space but no car, but she says her space is taken and suggests a place right around the corner. So I go up there and sure enough it's open... with one catch. I didn't check the signage too well, and missed the fact that the parking lot is only open til 9. And there were gates. So I come back at 10:30ish, none the wiser - needless to say I wasn't too happy, but then again I can't exactly blame that girl since she didn't know and I should've scoped things out a little more carefully. So that means I'll have to go over there at 9am tomorrow to pick it up.... *sigh* At least it's not a work day for me, being Tuesday and all.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Oh yes, the moment of truth has indeed arrived, for Doug has at long last found himself some wheels!! Ok, so I've had it for like 2 weeks now, so I guess this is a tad overdue, but I was waiting until I could snap a few pics and the weather lately hasn't exactly been condusive. I've been told it wasn't a typhoon but merely a "low pressure front", and to that I say pshaw. The rain and winds were frickin plenty strong and lasted for a few days. Mr. Sun came out today though, so all is good in Mr. Dargie's neighborhood now. And in case you're wondering, yes my car is exactly what I wanted and yes it is everything I expected it to be. It is quite easily the fastest car I've ever owned... which sort of goes to waste as I'll explain shortly. Here's a picture of the new Party Wagon - not to be confused with the not-so-recently deceased Party Wagen, the cash cow that met its untimely demise last year after racking up nearly five bajillion miles, getting hit thrice in the space of a year, then smacking into a wall (sorry 'bout that one George). So hey, I took a picture with my K-tie (cell phone), which actually has better resolution than my digital camera (3mega-pixels vs. 2). The interior's actually even nicer than the exterior with race-like Recaro seats all around, a momo steering wheel and a very solid feeling clutch/short-shifter. Double-din stereo that handles tapes, cds, and MDs - and now iPods. ;P Oh, and last but most certainly not least, there's a full exhaust and intake on it with a nice blow-off valve, so it makes cool swishy noises when I shift hard. I love that! Stock my car's rated at 250HP, so with the stuff on it I'm guessing somewhere in the neighborhood of the 270s. It's fast enough basically.

So ok, let me give you a little shakedown on all the crap you have to deal with to get a car around here - I'll present the good and the bad as well as I can. First off the good news: used cars are dirt cheap in Japan. I picked up my precioussssss for the low, low sum of 200,000Y (1,680USD currently). That's for a '98 WRX with 110,000 miles on the odo that runs perfectly fine and has no major exterior blemishes. The bad news? After all was said and done it cost a total of 417,000Y to get it on the road! There're taxes and fees for every stupid little thing - sales tax, registration fee (50,000Y!!), inspection fees, special car taxes, manditory national insurance (which isn't enough since you have to get extra insurance anyway), you name it. Still though, when you consider that I just sold a '00 RS (not even a turbo) back home for 11,000USD, a pricetag of $3,500ish for that car boggles the mind... or maybe I'm just easily boggled.

Alright, so I'll start at the beginning. Asking around online I found out that auctions are supposed to be the cheapest way to pick up cars in Japan, so this guy introduced me to someone he knew. Long story short, I wound up going down to Tokyo to check out what I was told was the biggest car auction in the world - something like 10-13,000 cars go out of that place a week. I took the overnight bus (5 hours from Sendai) and was supposed to meet up with my man on the scene to go to the auction. I was totally expecting to take the train, then this guy rolls up in a brand frickin new Z3! Sweet! So we drive out there, and I'll tell you it was any car guy's fantasy land - you name it, they probably had one for sale. I saw countless GT-Rs of course (I saw a hakosuka... Davis eat your heart out!), a few Ferraris and Lambos, even an old pimpin 60's Impala and a few nice old Bugs. They were all sitting in this ginormous parking lot, and you could go out and start the engine and inspect them all if you wanted. Lots of fun! I dunno, maybe dealer auctions are like that in the States as well, but I wouldn't know.

So yeah, the day I went, out of the 10,000 cars there only 5 met my criterion, and given my restrictively low budget I didn't get one that day. The guy I met was really cool though, and we went back to his office in Tokyo and checked out things online. He even gave me his password and all so I could browse the national auction inventory from home by myself. So that was last month sometime, and within a week we found something that worked and he picked it up at the price I mentioned above... here's where it starts to get a little hairy.

You see, in Japan when you buy a car there are a bunch of things you have to worry about. First off, there's the parking thing. If you live in a city or urban area like many do then you'll probably wind up having to shell out upwards of a few hundred doll-hairs to secure yourself a spot. Luckily I don't have that problem as my parking is free (go boonies!!), but you still have to prove you have parking in order to get the car registered. I had to go to the local po-po station and get some forms on which you have to provide dimensions and info on the car itself, then the parking lot layout which you have to draw by hand. Bleh. After that, I took it to my landlady, who in turn had to take it to the real estate company to get it stamped for approval. After I got that back I had to go back to the po-pos and give it back, along with money of course, to get a little sticker to put on the car. All that took a little over a week to sort out.

Then I got to take a trip to Japan's version of the DMV. I had to turn in the previous owner's plates after getting them pried off with the jaws of life thanks to some rust, and get new ones of my own. Thank God the auction guy drove the car up and helped me out with all that cause it looked about as bad and anal as the paperwork back home for stuff but in Japanese - apparently no one actually does that stuff themselves around here though. They have this little seal they put over your rear plate after the guy comes out to inspect it, and you have to get your plates changed every two years when you renew the shaken.

What's shaken (pronounced "shah-ken", not like the past tense of "shake") you ask? Well it's this safety/equipment inspection you have to go through every 2 years, or every year if your car's more than 10 years old I think. A new car's shaken lasts 3 years. It's prohibitively expensive, which is why used cars are so damn cheap out here. It makes them depreciate much faster. With many cheap old cars, a car might only be worth as much as the shaken that's on it - mine is still good for a little over a year in case you're wondering. So just how expensive is it? Well if you have a K-car (lawnmower-like engine and proportional speed, weighs less than 600kg I think) then you might get away with only paying like 50,000-70,000 or so, but for my gas guzzler I hear I should expect about twice that range. Oh, and there's an annual car tax as well I hear, like in Virginia. I don't like Virginia.

A couple other random tidbits I shall give you about driving in Japan - yes, it is weird (and yet really cool) to drive on the other side of the road while sitting on the other side of the car and shifting with my other hand. Also, the speed limits around here are rediculous - imagine all the numbers being the same as the US, but replace the mph with a kph. The highest local speed limit I've seen is 50kph, and the highways are set at something like 80-90kph. Luckily for me no one actually does the speed limit - you'll see people going anywheres from 20-40kph over the posted limit. I still haven't even cracked 100kph (~60mph), although I have cracked 6000rpm. ;P

Ah yes, and then there's gas. I got my "high ock man-tan" (full tank of hi octane, Initial D style) for the exhorbant sum of 8,000Y, so don't you guys go trying to complain to me about gas back home. Japanese high test is really clean though... I've heard high octane is something like 10 octane points higher, putting it at around 112 octane or so. Oh, and I have yet to pump my own gas since most of the stations around here are full service. With a smile even! It's like Jersey, but without the smell and I can turn left to my heart's content. ;P

I've been driving all over the place and it's a blast - gotta find new tires and a track or something quick though. I wonder if they have autocross in Japan... oh, and half the reason for me to get this specific car is for snowtime adventures to snowboard land, with a small stop along the way to doughnut central, or axis-spin city depending on how saucy I'm feeling. We're on the same parallel as Maryland, so I hear it snows plenty and the closest ski resort is a mere hour's drive away. Oh, but apparently they don't believe in plowing the streets so things might get a little hairy around here... especially since my town's like a big hill jutting out of the ocean. I do hear that it's usually a tad milder here due to shore effect. Still, woo AWD and snow tires!

Friday, October 06, 2006

I need work, foo!!

So you might be wondering what exactly I do on a daily basis - most of you probably aren't, but I'm still going to tell you. Just act like your interested and it'll all be over soon. Seriously though, my job rocks hardcore! So first off, let me show you my event schedule for the next month or so:

10/1: 3rd annual opera classic - Shichigahama's Awabi Legend. I wore a suit and did greeting and passing out pamphlets in addition to helping out with the kids.
10/9: International Cafe Chat. Talking about different tea traditions as an excuse to get all the grannies in the town to come out and talk to the local white guy.
10/13-15: 15th annual Sendai Arts Festival presents the Brother's Legend. The play I'm in. I play a drunk American soldier, so I cuss and fight and dance with cabaret girls and... generally act the fool. No problem there.
10/18: Mid-year Miyagi Prefectural training session. Attendance manditory. There's only 5 CIRs in Miyagi, so from the sounds of it we're going to meet up over coffee and just talk about what we do on the daily and how we could do more. I heard someone suggest going to Starbuck's. ;P
10/21: Whiskey Tasting! My first official event of my very own. I've bought 25 bottles of whisk(e)y, including 3 ages of 2 different categories of Scotch whisky, some bourbon, some Irish whiskey, a Canadian whiskey, and a Tennessee whiskey. We're expecting the attendance to surpass 60 people (I'm hoping for much more, actually).
11/1: Halloween party. The kids love this one apparently - we're going to have a haunted house and take them out trick-or-treating in some house in which we've planted some candy. I'm carving up a jack-o-lantern and dressing up to try and scare the crap out of little kids, so I hope they bring their spare underoos.
11/5: Guy Fawkes Day - bonfire on the beach. This one isn't set in stone yet, but is up in the air as a possibility. I still have to iron out the details. Sounds like fun though!

In addition to this I do school visits on a weekly basis and am heading up meetings for the local inter- national club. I might tell you more about it later, but for now I'll just say that the kids hang all over me... I sign autographs (lol), and yesterday someone called me a "super saiya-jin." Maybe I'll have to grow my hair out a little longer (see picture). I had a couple kids that just wanted to touch my hair, including arm and leg hair, and then shake my hand and stuff like that.

I've made up a couple powerpoint presentations which I work off of - I teach them stuff about foreign culture in Japanese. This month was all about halloween, so I broke into our generously abundant stash of decorations and picked out some stuff, including a fake jack-o-lantern and some tunes to show to the kiddies. They ate it up.

You should see what some of the full-time teachers out here get to deal with on the daily... check out my buddy Matt's blog (sugoigaijin) in the links section for some classic stories. This other guy that works at a problem school a little further out was telling me that one of his students got arrested last year after he stabbed a cop trying to steal his gun! *o_O*

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Boogie Wonderland

Tonight I have realized how much Earth, Wind, and Fire rock. If you have not done so then your existance is most likely hollow and sullen. You have my pity. If you wonder what this has to do with anything... well, stop now because it has absolutely no connection whatever to anything logical. I just felt like sharing. Sort of like how I am master of the pan flute - Zamphir eat your heart out.

In a lame attempt to make this entry have a point, I'll tell you where I hopped on the boogie train - a little place called Tsutaya. I love Tsutaya - it's like Blockbuster but you can rent cds! It's not quite as cool as it was 4 years ago since you can find basically anything online nowadays if you know where to look, but if you've ever tried to find Japanese stuff online then you know how hard it can be to find the latest and greatest out there - you know what I'm talking about, right? No?!? Oh well... anyway, buying cds is prohibitively expensive ($25-30 for one disk... no thanks), so in lieu of downloading I sometimes choose to contribute what I consider a fair price of 300Y or so for a disk as a rental fee - they do everything but tell you to copy it out here since they have blank cds/mds right there on the shelf by the checkout counter. "When in Rome" and all that.

Oh, and they have a bunch of Japanese movies too, which cost a bunch to buy whether I'm here or back home. I guess the only way to get those on the cheap is to go up to those shady guys in Chinatown up in NY and pick up those $5 VCDs or take a short trip to Hong Kong or something. Oh, and if you ever have the chance to pick up one of those don't pass it up - the subtitles are hysterical! I hear Star Wars: Episode III had an... um, interesting translation, and I remember watching Lord of the Rings with all the "ring ravers" - no wonder they wouldn't give up! Never get between a party kid and their plur!

So yeah, in conclusion: blah. I have no conclusion, this has just been a outlet for my random juxtaposition of Dougisms. Hope you either enjoyed the ride or are thoroughly confused. ;P

I know this is what you all come here for...

Ok, so I just got back from practice for this play I'm going to be in a couple weeks from now and it is looking abso-frickaliciously fantabulous and splendiferous in every way. It really looks like a lot of fun - I play a US soldier at a Jazz bar in post-war Japan who gets all drunk and starts mouthing off as he picks a fight with some other soldier. And you are just going to love this... I'm going to give you some of the Engrish script they gave us. They did try really hard on this and I appreciate it, but some of it's just hilarious. We've adlibbed the lines based on what they were actually going for in the Japanese script since we couldn't say it all with a straight face, but the original before we got to de-Engrish it is just too good not to share. There were such gems as:

"How come we can't share the time more joyfully much more than hate for all the time! Why the colour is so important more than human himself."


"The realty is nothing more than the death, We're all facing to fear to death."

and then there's this sequence:

"Hey you, I know you, you must be prostitute aren't ya?"
"This's not a right place for to make business, So why don't you go to ODAWARA."
"You telling big lies, It's you are the one came to ask me to make it something."

Seriously though, the guy they got to play the main role (a Japanese guy) is fabulous and definitely outdoes us... he had us all struggling not to smile while he said his lines - great delivery. We look like some total hacks up on stage with these guys since... well we don't know what the hell we're doing. They told us just to have fun with it, which is exactly what I intend to do. This play is going to rock - and I get to mambo! ;P

Monday, October 02, 2006

And this is me freaking out

Yeah, so I just got back from a short recess in my fortress of solitude (you may know it as the bathroom), and it was anything but relaxing. So I get in there, drop trough and sit down on the nicely warmed seat of the washlet toilet our fine facilities here at the Shichigahama Kokusaimura provide, ready for a relaxing 10 minutes or so. Then I look down and notice something - THERE IS A FRICKING BUG, IN MY BOXERS! Let me repeat that and let it sink in: a BUG, IN my BOXERS!!!!! WTF!!!11one!! I didn't want to know how it got there or, even worse, what it was doing that whole time nestled in next to my pasty white posterior, I just wanted it out. NOW. I quickly flicked it against the wall of the stall and watched as it scuttled across the floor out of my perimeter. Situation averted, all is well.

Oh, and last night I was rudely awoken by another earthquake. Apparently it lasted a good 20 seconds or so this time, but I was only awake for like 5 of those tops. If it isn't one thing its another though. Meh.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Boats... grrr!

Yeah, one thing I've noticed is that I use an inordinant amount of exclamation points (one could even say I... "spackle" my writing with them), or as I like to refer to them, "bangs." I guess if you know me that is sort of indicitave of my character though, so I'll just leave it out there as a simple observation. Things that make me go hmm... Oh hey, and before I forget, Engrish of the day goes to the guy on the train wearing a trucker hat that read "I lost my virginity in Madagascar." Priceless.

So today's theme is me being totally pooped. I cannot for the life of me sleep in, whether it's a weekday or my day off, whether I go to bed at 11 or 3, whether I went out the night before or whatever. The fricking sun gets me up at like 6am or so just about every day and I'm hating it. One thing that luckily isn't going to be a factor anymore is that there's no DST in Japan. American occupational forces did enstate it in Japan during the post-WWII occupational period for about 6 years, but as soon as we left it was one of the first things to go. That means that while you enjoy daylight until 9pm on some days during the summer, I enjoy the sun rising at like 4am. Yeah.

Sooo... that means I need some thicker blinds. I went and checked, and it looks like I'll wind up dropping like $50-60 on curtains big enough to cover the window in my bedroom, and the same goes for if I want darkness in any of my other rooms as well. Strangely enough this didn't bother me in Chiba for whatever reason, but it sure does now so I gotta do something about it. As soon as payday comes around that is- I already spent 420,000+ yen this month. Oh, and that's only like $3,500 btw.

And just to top it all off, today I was not awoken by our benevolent source of sustenance and life... oh no, he didn't even get the chance. You see, today I arose to the onerous sound of fog horns, most likely from boats all the way on the other side of my area of town. The bastages!! They got me up at like 5am! I think I might have gotten back to sleep for a grand total of 30 whopping minutes before I had to get up to go to work since there was an opera today I had to help out with.

So dragging along I make it to work, with said opera on the horizon. I must admit it was rather impressive to see this Japanese woman no bigger than yours truly belting stuff out with force without need or wont for a microphone. This girl wasn't your stereotypical shy and demure Japanese girl by any stretch of the imagination. She was an honest to goodness soprano and had range that would give Mariah Carey back in the early 90's a good run. She wrote her own material, which was lackluster, but it was more about getting the town's kids involved apparently so whatever.

The theme? The Shichigahama awabi legend. It's about these fishermen who went out to sea a long time ago and got stuck in a storm. The storm tore a huge hole in the bottom of the boat and they started to sink, so they start calling out to some local god that was supposed to protect them. They start paddling back and notice the water's stopped. When they get back to shore, they look on the bottom of the boat and what do they see? A big 'ol awabi, blocking up the hole. And there you have it.

Alright, well now that that's said and done I'm off to catch up on some z's. Snore.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

It's been a long week...

yes, it has. So much to say, so little time before I go out. I'm getting over a cold still which had my lying in agony for the better part of the week - started feeling it coming on Tuesday on my day off, left work early on Wednesday after visiting the kiddies at one of the local elementary schools, then stayed home Thursday. I even went to the doctor due to the insistance of everyone around me... must appease the masses after all. After a little interview and a thermometer in the armpit (their idea, not mine) they gave me a whole load of crap to ingest, which is good since Japanese medicine is pretty weak in general. Oh, and in case you're wondering, yes that's how they take your temperature here. At least it's not up the butt like they do with babies. I'm still sorta feeling it (the cold, not the thermometer), but really all I can do is rest up and not do anything that would really strain my body.

Yeah, so the mutant Japanese colds here rip through my feeble American immune system like Ginsu knives do toilet paper. They are the current bane of my existance. I guess I was sort of asking for it though- I mean, it is the season for it because of the climate change from Summer to Fall, and I did go out drinking pretty much all last weekend, waking up in rather curious environs on Sunday morning. I was almost vampiricly scuttling from shadow to shadow whilst squinting at the enblazening sun beating down on me from above as I slowly made my way from an overnight internet cafe to the nearest train home.

What's more, this Wednesday we got hit with some vicious torrential downpour, the likes of which you'll never find back home. Remember in Forrest Gump how he talks about "big 'ol fat rain" and "even rain that comes in sideways"? Yeah, that's here. It comes down, straight at you all horizontal-like, up from the ground in massive puddles that are ankle deep, all that. I took an umbrella, and even then my sleeves got soaked just walking from the car to the office, which is like 50 feet at most. It is actually typhoon season right now, but I haven't heard anything about typhoon effect coming through this time so it might've just been a really hardcore system coming through. There was actually a typhoon that went from Kyushu up to Korea and then back over Hokkaido a few weeks back that killed like 10 people or so, but it was off the coast here so we just got a bunch of rain and stuff. Most of the typhoons miss us since we're far enough north from what I hear, sort of like Ocean City back home. The other day I was riding with my boss though, and he pointed out that the rice paddies (yes, my town has many, many rice paddies) were all full of water, but they should be totally dry this time of year since it's harvest season.

Oh and speaking of natural disasters and the havoc they wreak on the whole of this tiny island country, there has been one earthquake that I've noticed since arriving two months ago. It lasted a few seconds, which was long enough for me to actually get up and look all pathetically powerless like my dog Spanky used to when a big thunderstorm would come through. That's definitely one thing I never got used to and probably won't for quite some time to come. There's a big one that's supposedly overdue for coming through this area, so who knows. I know I would freak the hell out if it came, that's for sure.

Yeah, Japan gets it all - typhoons, earthquakes, floods, volcanos... basically God hates Japan. It's sort of strange that a place like this that's 66% uninhabited due to mountainous terrain and has next to no natural resources (I forget the numbers, but Japan is something like 80% dependant upon imports for natural resources) is so overpopulated. Go figure. It's probably not a bad thing that the population is on the decline at the moment if you take all that into consideration.

Alrighty, well I have plenty of other stuff to talk about, but time's up so that's all I have to say about that. Until next time...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Today I didn't even have to use my AK....

gotta say it was a good day! Aww yeah, Ice Cube in the hizouse dropping it old school. ;P

So yeah, today was pretty good for various asundry reasons which I shall attempt to expound upon shortly, but first a quick comment: I think I fixed it so you don't have to sign up to comment anymore, so you can post under anonymous. I'd love to hear from people... whether through this site or skype.

And so, continuing on...

1) Weird as it may seem, today was the first Wednesday since I arrived here more than a month ago (week 7 by my count) that it did not rain. I didn't realize the streak was running until a fellow JET pointed it out to me the other week, but it's true! So yeah, beautiful day today, which is good since I've been riding a bike to work for the past 2 weeks or so. Riding a bike uphill carrying an umbrella = not fun.

2) Today was the first time I did a school visit, which was oodles of fun. From now on I'll go to the local elementary schools in rotation once a week to teach cultural understanding classes. I think it's a great idea since not only do kids get used to the fact that Japanese nationals aren't the only ones that speak Japanese and get to interact with a foreigner (that's me!), but it also shows them that learning English and international exchange are two seperate things. Sure, learning English is a step towards interacting with many people outside Japan, but it's only part of the big picture. Cultural awareness is something that's useful even to those that don't have a desire to travel abroad since it helps them get a broader perspective on the world and helps to break down some of the stereotypes that people hold onto around here. Some of the teachers fall into that mindset (international exchange = learning English), so it's good to get to show them a different perspective. That, and if I'm talking culture I can teach them a lot more in a shorter period in their language.

This time around was more of a self intro type thing with a little Maryland talk spackled in there, next time around they want me to talk about Halloween. I have some other ideas that I'll toss their way later, like greeting customs from around the world and what it's like to be a foreigner in Japan and stuff. Must... warp... fragile little minds! In a good way, of course - I love making people think outside the box.

3) Not only did I sort out another piece of the puzzle in getting mobile, but I also got to go shopping for whiskey. For work. I bought 10 bottles and need to get about 15 more before all is said and done, but today I was only buying the ones that were cheaper than the prices I saw online... every 20th of the month is 5% off day at the discount liquor store! I'm holding off on the car story until it's all done... shouldn't be too much longer now. More on the liquor once the time is right as well. Oh hey, and props to Rob Fairbairn for his wiki-like omniscience on the topic of scotch - my boss was very impressed and wishes you could be here as my guest speaker. ;P

4) I got to meet up with my Japanese tutor again who absolutely rules. He's this old retired guy who is doing it for fun, but he's quick to correct me if I say something wrong and I adore him for it. Today he busted out print outs of all our emails and pointed out all the areas that weren't natural sounding, then walked me through a slew of handouts on all the different sections of the test I'm studying for so he could guage my weak points. He says that I'm the first non-Chinese person he's taught, which was actually about his only worry when being introduced to me as a student since he can speak Chinese but is very rusty with English, which means he doesn't speak it at all. He actually told me that I'm at a higher level then his previous students as well, which I found surprising. Most of the Chinese exchange students I used to run into were way above my level, and I know that the Japanese ability standards for Chinese doing my job are higher than they are for Westerners - I don't believe I would have made the cut if I were Chinese.

So yeah, I think we're mutually amused by each other. He loves the fact that I want to not only pass this test I've been studying for (JLPT level 1, same one I barely failed last year), but also that I have aspirations of trudging on to even loftier goals, which he has said he'll be more than glad to help me achieve.

5) Finally, I heard some guy named Abe got named the new something or other today... oh yeah - Prime Minister, that's it! I guess that's a big deal or something, but the guy he's replacing had cool hair and did Elvis impressions on his last Presidential visit, so that's a tough act to follow. Maybe he could trying dressing up like "the Fonz" or something. Ladies love the Fonz.