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.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Yey for old people

Ok, see her? She's old. We in Japan would call her a "baachan," and today we celebrate her and her ilk. Look at her all get gettin down old school style... woo hoo. So today was 敬老の日, which basically means "yey for old people" day. It's cool because it means that I didn't have to work and get a 3-day weekend for once, but isn't that big of a deal since I pretty much just stayed at home the whole time. Ah well, I did get a bunch of stuff done I guess. Like laundry. And dishes and cleaning. And studying for the big Japanese test I signed up for at the end of the year, which I've been slacking on a tad.

You know, I don't think Japanese really respect old people the way they used to traditionally, but it's cool they have a "respect your elders" day that's actually a national holiday. They have a bunch of weird holidays though, seemingly for no reason. Then again, maybe I just don't understand what's going on. The way I understand it though, it's meant to offset the whole workaholic syndrome that Japanese are well known for. People used to work themselves to death, literally, and so the state's solution was to manufacture a bunch of days that people were supposed to take off in order to force people to rest. In addition to "Respect for the Elderly" day, there's also "National Exercise Day", "Green Day" (go Billy Joe, err, I mean plants! Go plants, woo!!), Ocean Day, Culture Day, and a few others... see the full list here. I don't think it's working too well though, because I'm pretty sure my office was still open today even though I was given the day off.

I've heard that in a lot of Japanese offices, you still get that feeling that you're supposed to stick to your post until your boss is ready to go, even if you don't have any work left and have better things to do. That's why you hear of Japanese people sticking around in the office until 10-11pm - it's not necessarily because they're working that late, even if they're still at work. Very inefficient use of time if you ask me. Things are slowly changing though, and I hear they're warming up to the idea of leaving for home at a reasonable hour and spending more time with the fam. Then again, I'm sure getting off at 5 for some just means more time to go out with co-workers and practice a little "nomunication".

So yeah - go granny, it's yer birfdey!

Oh hey, and if you've read this far then check out my neighbor's blog in the link section. He's a French Canadian, but I forgive him. Just kidding, he's good people. ;P

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Be ye ready to talk pirate? Yarr!

Pirate talk... arr!

Avast ye salty dogs 'n saucy wenches! The red dusk bodes well for the day's sail. Be ye afeared? If ye be wantin' to talk like a pirate click on the link. Harr! This here be almost as funny as Hard Gay... almost.

Friday, September 15, 2006

I'm cold!

Ok not right now, but I was freezing in my apartment when I woke up. I checked the temperature and it read 18! Yeah, that's Celcius... in case you forgot the conversion formulas I'm sure you learned in like 4th grade, it's (C*9/5)+32. I'll give you time to bust out the calculator. Got it? So that may not seem too bad, and it isn't (unless you're just wearing boxers), but what makes it chilly around here is that Japanese apartments don't have any insulation in them, and the windows aren't sealed properly or double-paned or anything. There also isn't central heating/cooling, so if I want to use heat I have a couple options: 1) external heater, 2) blankets and layered clothing INDOORS!!, 3) a kotatsu (explanation to come), or any combination of the above. Unfortunately, I didn't pack any of my winter gear as I planned to have it shipped later, and it hasn't gotten here yet (hurry up with that package dad!!!).

So what's a kotatsu you ask? That's a kotatsu! It's this little table with blankets around it that has a little heater attached to heat the area underneath. You sit there with your legs under the table. You'll see the whole family sitting at these things, and if you check out the picture apparently some people use them to sleep as well. I've seen them but never really had to use one since Chiba doesn't get that cold and I didn't have the room anyway, so this'll be a first.

The funny thing about the whole situation is that I hear if you go up to Hokkaido (the Japanese version of Canada basically) then they DO have insulation and better heating and such, so despite the fact that it snows like every day, even in July (ok, I'm exaggerating a little... it doesn't start til August ;P), it's still more comfortable up there. I was up there in the dead of winter for the Snow Festival during my last stint in Japan and didn't have any problems at all indoors. To give you an idea of temperatures up north, my Canuckistanian friend Matt even said that he needed a touque (Canuck-speak for a skully, ie: wool cap) and gloves outside, and some locals told us that when they tell you the temperature in the winter, 5 would mean -5C since they take the negative as a given. If it's actually that warm (rare), they'd say +5.

Oh and it's 64.4F- you lazy, lazy person.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Back to the Future!

Ok, I've spent the last 3 days watching the Back to the Future trilogy with my neighbor Jo... due to a slight shortage in currency because of a quite large purchase on the horizon and the fact that payday is next week, I'm really glad that I brought 100+ movies with me right now. What blows is that I have a 3-day weekend coming up, but no money to do anything!! Ah well, it'll all be worth it in the end. Hopefully.

So yeah, back to the movie. We were just talking about how cheesy some of it seemed and over-analyzing everything and stuff, and I got to thinking (look out world!) - check out the timeline:

-Doc Brown invents the flux capacitor in 1955, and completes his time machine in 1985 in the first movie.
-Marty takes the Delorean back to 1955, then the 1955 Doc Brown helps him get back. does that mean that Marty was the actual impetus that convinced Doc that he'd succeed and thus made him press on with his crazy dream of time travel? But wait, I'm not done...

-Doc Brown (of 1985), after helping Marty fix his mistakes resulting from their excursion to the future, accidentally gets sent back to 1885 due to "one point twenty-one jigawatts of electricity" striking the car while the time circuits were malfunctioning and showing 1885.
-1885 Doc Brown (from 1985) can't repair the Delorean with existing technology, so he buries it and leaves schematics for 1955 Doc Brown to rebuild it using technology of the day.
-1955 Doc Brown then proceeds to repair the vehicle that he built, but hasn't built yet, but now knows how to build thanks to the plans that he gave himself. basically that means that Doc told himself how to build a time machine, which begs the question that if he didn't tell himself how to make it, how did he figure it out the first time? Or does that just mean that he figures it out earlier and sits on it until 1985? If Marty never went back in the first place then would the time machine ever have been built, or would crazy old Doc Brown just have put his zany scheme and flux capacitor (what the hell does that do anyway!?!?) up on the shelf and forgotten about it? It's all just one big cycle!

And when Marty gets back after what I think was about a month of time travel, does he celebrate his birthday a month earlier? What about Doc's kids - does he just keep track of how many days they've been alive and tell them when it's been another year? GREAT SCOTT! 1.21 Jigawatts!!

Oh hey, and if you go back and watch the movies again, just sit there and listen to all the Doc-isms spackled throughout... pure genius. And finally, yes, I am a card-carrying dork.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"He died doing what he loved"

Ok, I know it's a tad late, but yes I did hear about Steve Erwin the other week. I'm sure a lot of people feel the same way that I did when I heard it too - yeah that sucks since he was a cool guy and he's leaving a family behind, but given what he did it was just a matter of time and what would do him in. I also wonder if his kids (yes, he did reproduce) will follow in daddy's footsteps and carry on the family business - after all, his wife used to go on little adventures with him, right?

So yeah, it was brought to my attention that the phrase on the lips of many a newcaster when pressed on the issue was "he died doing what he loved", which is true but very bland. And what's up with that phrase anyway? I mean, it's not like you would ever say that about a drug addict, although it's basically just as true. It's always saved for people that risk their lives doing weird (yet cool) stuff like croc wrestlers, snake pokers, monkey tamers, daredevils, racecar drivers, etc. What up with that? If some frat brat died of alcohol poisoning, or someone died mid-coitus or something I wouldn't say something like that, would you? What about if someone dies in their sleep - and they really, really like sleeping? Like they're always oversleeping and what not. Hmm... maybe it has something to do with dying while doing your job... if you like your job that is. I couldn't see someone saying that about someone dying at a desk job, but then again not too many people keel over and die on their desks.

Ok, that's all I got.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Finally got internet access going at home - anyone up for some skype? I should set it up pretty shortly here.

Don't ask me why, but for some reason it takes them like a month to get out here to set things up - I applied the first week I got here, and they just now got out here to install it. Of course when they got here they took all of 10 minutes to set up my phone line and drop off the router with instructions. They didn't even offer to do it for me either, the girl just dropped the box off and ran! Whatever, the important thing is that it's done and now I go back to wasting away online while I wait for... stuff.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Ok, so it's been a full month now since I got here. I now have my first event on the horizon: a whisky (or whiskey if you prefer) tasting event next month which promises to be quite the attraction. Talking around with people, it appears that my venue is known amongst the local JET community for having cool drinking events due to our supple budget and nice grounds. Alcohol-related events (or at least events with alcohol present) are good when dealing with mixed international events since it loosens people up and makes them more willing to actually mingle, which is a big thing for a lot of Japanese people who are normally ultra shy about using English with foreigners.

So moving right along, this past weekend was pretty cool I guess. Every year in Sendai there's a big Jazz Festival, which although quite the misnomer was quite entertaining. It just so happened to be going on this past weekend, Saturday and Sunday. Before all that though I need to tell the whole story, so we'll rewind things a little to Friday.

So Friday evening I get an email from this guy Matt who lives over in Fukushima Prefecture - I'd have to pull out a map, but he said it's west and takes 5 hours by bus. So yeah, he and some friends were coming to Sendai for the afore-mentioned funfest and all the hotels were booked, so he wanted to know if they could stay at my place Saturday night... all 6 of them. Now normally this would be no problem whatsoever since my place is plenty big and I'm such a sweet guy and all, but this particular night it just so happened that I had something planned for the next day which involved me getting up at 5am! I made it work though - I just slept over in my neighbor's place and left my door open so they could stumble in in the middle of the night after an inevitable race for the last train. I went to sleep, but around 3am there arose such a clatter that I had to look out the window to see what was the matter. Sure enough, it was Matt and 3 others being way louder than I'm sure they were aware of on their way up to the 5th floor.

I asked him about it later, and he said that what happened is that when I sent him my address and told him to show it to the cabbie at the station, he assumed that I meant he could take a taxi or a train when what I actually meant was that you have to take the train AND a taxi. So some of the people left on the last train and made it fine, but the other half decided to stay later and got raped with a nice $70+ cab ride from Sendai at 2 in the morning - ouch. I was thinking there was a good chance they wouldn't find the place or that something odd like that would happen, so I guess it's good that they did finally make it in the end.

Ok, so onto Sunday now. After being interrupted in my slumber so rudely before, I wake again at 4:40 and access the situation as I grab my toothbrush and shoes in my apartment. All sound asleep. So Jo and I set off to meet my friend whose father happens to own a boat docked close to my place and goes fishing every week. This week we go with him so he can drop us on this island for a BBQ. The boat was cool and the view was spectacular, but the water was choppy as all get out - my friend and one of her father's friends both got sick, and I wasn't really feeling too hot myself so I just laid down. Surprisingly, it was better when the boat was moving - and of course once we got off. So we spend the morning on this beach on an island about an hour off the coast. The water was nice and clear and it wasn't crowded at all, so it was a great place for a BBQ!

So yeah, got back from all that around 3ish, said goodbye and headed off to Sendai to finally check out the Jazz Festival for myself. Once I got there I ran into Matt and crew at the station and saw them off, then just started walking. I figured I would meet up with people eventually, and I was totally right. At first I just went towards the loudest stage, and I found this pretty cool Earth, Wind, and Fire cover band. They were all pimped out in fro wigs and straight-up flower child gear - definitely a sight to behold. They were actually pretty good and even had dancers, but I just couldn't get over the outfits! So of course I have a few beers (yey legal public drinking!) and eventually run into some familiar faces. Everyone had someone with them that I hadn't met before, so it worked out pretty well. My boss told me when I got here that "nomunication" is an important part of my job - nomu = to drink, so you figure it out. Connections are huge around here, so I gotta get out there and be seen! It started drizzling a little after a while, so after a bunch of people deserted I decided to go to a popular bar that's not too far. More people, more good times. I made it back in time to get picked up before my neighbor went to sleep, so it worked out pretty well.

So now here I am, slightly sunburnt and really tired, at the end of a day's work. The end, kthxbi.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Multiethnic Japan

Ran across an interesting article today that'll probably show you a thing or two about Japan that you didn't know or never even really thought about. The foreign population in Japan is absolutely miniscule compared to the US, but as with other parts of the world, times are changing and there are definitely visible growing pains associated with them. Much like in other parts of the world such as France and England with Muslims and the US with the Latinos, there are language barriers to be overcome as well as many complaining (sometimes blindly) about immigrant crimes.

The paragraph that really stood out to me was this one:

"Consciously or not, ordinary citizens and government bureaucrats still cling to the notion that Japanese society is a unique, homogeneous culture. There is a conspicuous lack of public debate about how this insular country should adjust to the reality that more immigrants are coming—and that those already here are changing Japan. "The government has no [comprehensive] immigration policy," says Marutei Tsurunen. Rather, the approach is piecemeal, with different agencies issuing often contradictory regulations. Tsurenen should know. He's a former Finn turned Japanese citizen and the only naturalized member of the national Parliament, or Diet."

Phrasing it like that though makes it sound as if Japan is already a multicultural society, when the fact of the matter is that even if there is a foreign population (of a whopping 1.5%, the vast majority of which is either Chinese or Korean), they still greatly tie outward appearance and blood ties to nationality. Only ethnically Japanese are truly accepted as citizens and if you find a white person that can't speak English then you'll blow their fragile little minds. As the article alludes to, this "Island Mentality" as it's commonly referred to is slowly fading into history, but it's still rather prevalent. The media around here doesn't help things at all - any time there's a foreign crime it's all over the paper, and in many cases blown way out of proportion.

full article here: