Friday, July 20, 2007

Bond, James Bond. In Japan!

So the enigmatic job title that I currently hold is CIR, short for Coordinator of International Relations. The title is purposely vague because you never know what might come with it - some translate and interpret all day while I run beach parties and wine tastings, with some English and culture classes thrown in there for variety. I've also recently given a speech about Maryland and attended a couple wedding parties held at work as a sort of liaison of sorts and will also get to go to a concert, a beer factory tour (beer garden visit included), and a baseball game when I'm showing a delegation around in a few weeks as interpreter and tour coordinator.

However, this all pales in comparison to this:

That's right, Bond! A CIR down in Kagawa Prefecture is parading around like Bond on tv and events in this Bond-obsessed area in attempts to persuade the Bond people to shoot their next movie there. Apparently there was a Bond book which features this prefecture in its climax, so they've petitioned for it and do all sorts of Bond events, including picking a local Bond girl to parade around with our young hero, Andrew Cockburn. Lucky bastard.

Now don't get me wrong - the cosplay photo shoots and hula dancing randomness of Shichigahama is cool, and I've been on tv and in print a few times myself, but this is one job that I think anyone could enjoy. Sad thing is though, I'm sure they picked a Brit specifically, and photos come with the applications so I'm sure they screened for that as well. Sometimes being blond sucks... but then there's the rest of the time, so I'll be ok.

By the way, there's vids and all here if you missed it above, so by all means check it out.

And here's a personal account from the lucky bastard himself from the CIR forums:
When I first arrived in Kagawa, there was already quite a lot of 007 stuff going on. The latest (absolutely awful) 007 novel is called "The Man With The Red Tattoo", and the climax of the book is set on Naoshima, an island in the Seto Inland Sea owned by Kagawa. In the book, there's a G8 summit on Naoshima which is threatened by terrorists with killer mosquitoes, and Bond naturally saves the day. When the people of Naoshima caught wind of this, they realised that if only they could get "The Man With The Red Tattoo" made into a film then THEIR ISLAND would be in a Bond movie!!!!

So starting in 2004, with the help of the prefectural government, Naoshima has been campaigning for the next Bond Film to be made here. So far, efforts have included an 80,000+ signature petition, the creation of a 007 museum on Naoshima (well worth a look if you go to the island - it's free and really cute), and several awareness-raising parties, including the one I participated in 2 weekends ago, with the theme of "Find Kagawa's Bond Girl", and one we had to coincide with the release of Casino Royale last year, which was called 「007電車でGO!!」, and we all took a train to the famous temple in Kagawa, Konpira Jingu, and watched a sacred fan dance and prayed for the success of Casino Royale and that the next film would be made in Kagawa. Then on the way back we had an hour long booze up on the train with live music (a harpist!), and a 007 general knowledge quiz. Truly random. At the party we had a couple of weeks ago, they had me up on stage in only my swimming shorts doing fire-poi at half time in the judging, and then after that some of the contestants wanted to speak in English so I had to interpret that to the crowd still half naked. A cool Martini, shaken, not stirred was very much in order once I had that over with!

It's pretty good fun being Bond.. Every couple of months there's a flurry of media interest in the campaign, and we get film crews coming along to film me and Naoshima, and I dress up as Bond and point my replica Walther PPKand run around catching bad guys! Also at the last party, the final winner was a really cool lady called Sachie Manabe who just got back from a couple of years' study in America, and so is awesome at English and from now on, we'll probably being going on tv together quite a lot. (For instance next Tuesday we're off to the KSB studios to be in a news article!!!)

That's pretty much the whole story. The parties are really good fun, in Kagawa people recognise me as Bond every so often, and I get to be on tv as an action hero!

Monday, July 16, 2007


There was just a rather large earthquake out here this morning - the 6.7 magnitude epicenter was on the other side of Honshu in Niigata about 150 miles or so away, but I still felt it! As you can see from the map so did at least half the country, but anything below the light green isn't even really worth getting up for and the white areas aren't even noticeable. They're still broadcasting about it on tv an hour and a half later, and there have been at least 8 aftershocks closer to the center. Videos they're showing are with broken water manes flowing through the streets and at least one or 2 older buildings totally collapsed... also, a few random cracks in the earth, and there are currently 200ish injured. These things still freak me out, so I'm really glad it wasn't out here!

So how strong is a high 6 you ask? Well Japan has their own scale to measure things separate from the Richter scale called shindo - basically, the difference is that Richter is based on the energy released and shindo is based on the amount felt in any particular area. Here's the breakdown on what each level feels like and my interpretation:

0: Imperceptible to people (did somebody fart?)

1: Felt by some people indoors (something's not right here....)

2: Felt by many people indoors. Slight shaking of hanging lamps (hold everything, feels like a shaker! this is what I felt this time)

3: Felt by most people indoors. Can cause plates to rattle (this would be the point at which I start to freak, as it's about the strongest I've ever really felt. These wake me up)

4: Most sleeping people awake. Unstable items indoors may fall. Felt by most walking people and some in cars. (this would be the point that most reasonable people would stand in a doorway or something - I'm still frozen in fear clenching my butt cheeks)

weak 5: Furniture may move. Books and dishes may fall. Glass may shatter. Could cause some structural damage in older buildings and softer earth. (Feels like Ryu and Ken are simultaneously dragon-punching the building, shaking it to it's core)

strong 5: Large vending machines and shelves may topple over. Driving becomes difficult. Some gas/water manes may break. (Vending machines may what??? I think I just saw Mothra fly by the window...)

weak 6: Difficult to stay standing. Window glass and tiles break. Doors won't open. Sometimes weaker houses collapse, and stronger ones may take damage as well.(Oh my God, we're all gonna die! Godzilla is battling Mothra and Godzilla just got tossed into the building next door.)

strong 6: People can only crawl to move, because standing becomes impossible. Most heavy furniture falls, and doors fly off their hinges. (Son Goku has just gone Super Saiya-jin level 2 - he and Vegita are in a battle of truly epic proportions that is shaking the world to its core. I think I'm dying!!)

7+: People can't move at will. The ground cracks open, landslides occur. Strong buildings take severe damage. (God hates us all - as Lucifer reaches up from the depths of hell opening large rifts in the earth, God's hand has just come down from heaven to squish Goku and quell the maelstrom, taking us all with him. After crapping my pants, I die... or maybe it's the other way around)

I seriously hope a truly major one never hits around me, but one is definitely overdue. Or at least so everyone keeps telling me. Then again, everyone was all worried about a typhoon that killed 4 and was supposed to come through here this weekend too. We got some rain, but if you didn't tell me it was the after-effects of a typhoon I wouldn't have known. Oh, and did I mention there were also smaller tidal waves due to the quake? Well, I'm around to live another day for now, but God still hates Japan. And with that, back to your regularly scheduled life.

EDIT: Just to update people, there have been aftershocks throughout the day of varying strengths, but nothing to be concerned about in my immediate area. The final count that I heard was 7 dead out in Niigata though. There was just a quake of the exact same strength off the coast north of Kyoto that somehow shook us here just as strong as the one this morning, but again no immediate danger here.

Here's an article on it from CNN as well as Japan Probe coverage. In addition to the quake, CNN also reports that the world's highest output nuclear power plant, which happens to be in Kashiwazaki, Niigata very close to the epicenter, took 2 hours to put out fires resulting from the quake.

Friday, July 13, 2007

I'm living on the other side of the world?

I've been out here for a little bit now - hard to believe it's coming up on a year. Now I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but I was driving down the street to the store today, and I just realized that this country feels entirely normal to me at this point. I'm not sure what you think of Japan, but to me I've internalized it to the point that it's totally lost that sense of exoticism... except for those giant flying robots and mutant hybrid monkey-birds. Seriously though, to me Japan might as well be New Jersey. Ok, well maybe New Jersey's sort of harsh - how about Pennsylvania?

Anyway, the point is that it's just another place, and although I certainly stand out I don't feel out of place. I remember when I was down in Chiba as an exchange student there were certain linguistic milestones I passed - my first full day not speaking one word of English and getting by, giving a speech in Japanese, watching tv and actually understanding what was going on... one moment that vividly stands out in my memory was this one day where I casually spit out a good chunk of lingo without the least bit of effort. At that moment I took a step outside myself and wondered where the hell that came from - it sounded like me, but what the hell? When did my Japanese get that good?

I guess today was sort of like that. It wasn't anything really out of the ordinary that sparked it this time, in fact it was probably more just the mundanity of the entire scene. Setting out on a day off to take care of some errands on a road that I travel everyday going to places I've been
a hundred times or more. I remember that when I first got here last year that I was more concerned with getting myself set up with all the daily necessities here than I was with gawking around at my new environs. There have been linguistic milestones this time around as well, like repeatedly being confused for a Japanese guy on the phone, or reading a 300+pg. Japanese novel, or understand what people at work are going on about in the local dialect, but I think to me the internalization and cultural adjustments stand out more in my mind. As with everything else in life though, the more you learn, the more you find out you don't know. Personal growth rules.

I still wouldn't go as far to call it home, but it is where I lay my head at night.

Friday, July 06, 2007

"Taking responsibility"

Gaijin Smash - "Taking responsibility"

Ok, politics time. This past week, the Defense Minister of Japan said in a public speech that he believed that dropping the atomic bombs back in WWII was an action that "couldn't be helped" (しょうがない), which is not a very popular opinion in Japan. As such, he has since resigned. The above editorial is a take on it from what is normally one of the most entertaining blogs I read... somehow he got through the article without one reference to Transformers or Street Fighter this time, but I feel he's got a pretty good take on things and makes an interesting point or two. It is disturbing the views some of the Japanese public have on WWII - I really wish they would've taken a lesson from the Germans on how to own up to things and not try and make themselves out to be victims. Anyway as he does, I hope this woman doesn't get anywhere close to elected in the upcoming elections at the end of the month.

I'm actually studying the Japanese constitution in Japanese with my tutor right now, so this came up briefly in the last lesson I had in which we were talking about the cabinet. The current Prime Minister's cabinet doesn't really have a very good track record right now - from what I hear he's got an approval rating rivaling Bush's in ickitude thanks not only to his bungling of the pension system, but also the blundering lips of the cabinet members he's selected. Thus far, one minister referred to women as "baby making machines", one committed suicide, and then there's Abe's own statements about "comfort women" that's even made waves in Congress back in the US. My tutor mentioned that there's talk (but no proof, like they'd let that get out) that the Minister of Agriculture offed himself because he wanted to quit but Abe wouldn't let him.

Now Abe actually tried to defend this past Minister's statements, but the way I understood it he stepped down partially to keep Parliament from putting a vote of no confidence on the cabinet, which would mean the entire cabinet is dissolved including the Prime Minister, and that in most all likelihood the majority party would not get voted in again for the replacements. The minority party already wants one, but you need a 2/3rds majority to get anything passed... last I heard the PM's approval rating in Parliament is hovering around 35% though, which means some even in his party are losing faith.

Ok, that's it for politics.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Enkai 101: Introduction to the Japanese office drinking party

Man, it's so easy to lose track of holidays out here... I totally forgot about Easter and kept on forgetting that today was July 4th, and that that actually means something! A phone call from my bro jogged the 'ol memory though, as did a couple emails and convos with people throughout the day who aren't as senile as I apparently am becoming.

So anyway, last night was a blast - we had a big party for everyone at work since we just went through the annual personnel shift. As documented before, there seems to be absolutely no rhyme or reason to it, but these kinds of things happen annually. In my town they did it in July for whatever reason despite the rest of the country doing things in April. To show you how nonsensical it is, my boss got transferred from the international relations department to... ready for it? The water department! Because I guess they really needed someone who can give things a fresh and wide perspective concerning the town's water gathered from years of international experience. His replacement? A guy from the cultural policy department who's international experience includes a trip to Hong Kong and... well ok, apparently just a trip to Hong Kong. Oh, and he tells me he doesn't like planes either, so I think he's the perfect choice for a job that includes him escorting children on tours of the US eastern shore board. He's actually pretty cool, but it still makes no sense to me to make people with years of experience start over from square one every few years.

Alas, I digress. So office drinking parties - the Japanese enkai. They're sort of like Vegas in a way - what happens at the enkai stays at the enkai (except in this blog =P). With places like Shichigahama where everyone's close, everything's really relaxed since it's like going out with family. You find out all the dirt on people and watch people make total asses out of themselves. I hear there are some offices where you're still expected to keep up pretenses and formalities, but here is definitely not one of those places. For instance, the other night the one girl we have in my office slapped both me and the facility director in the face at different points, as well as running around calling everyone by their first name (I've never heard the director called Katsuaki-kun... very funny stuff when you're used to everyone using 'san' and mostly last names). She was upset because at the last enkai we had a few months ago I talked her into drinking an Irish car bomb, after which she passed out sitting up in her chair for about 10 minutes and then spent about 20 minutes in the bathroom praying to the god of porcelain before someone drove her home.

Personally I don't think it was the car bomb that did here in as she had a nice little drink queue going before that as well. She's got all kinds of goofy drunken tales and adventures... and injuries. Like the one time she came in with a bandage on her leg from where she burned herself by curling up in front of her space heater in the winter and passing out after a night on the town. Or the time she couldn't sit down or walk right for a week because she fell right on her coccyx on the sidewalk on the way out of a bar. That, and she invariably talks about how much of the last night's festivities she doesn't remember - this time, it was at least half the night. So yeah, I don't think my one drink was the real problem there, no matter how much punch it packs.

Other things I've found out at enkais include the fact that one guy at work is separated but still married to a woman that does piano lessons here every week - they sat on opposite sides of the room at the party though and don't get along at all. Oh, and then there's the one guy that had a shotgun wedding yet is still happily married. Besides gossip, it's an opportunity to find out what you have in common with people and get closer to your coworkers, which is really the whole point. I first really got to know my best friend out here at the enkai, after which we've shared many a snowboard run and karaoke room, at which he can sing any Green Day song you throw at him. We've both helped each other out at work with different things as well.

So they have these ritualistic gatherings periodically- either for holidays like New Year's, or welcome/goodbye parties, or after big projects, etc. I hear that some offices have little games (some with prizes), or that sometimes people will dress up in goofy costumes and such, but in my office they just drink. A lot. No formalities or pretenses, just let it all loose and have a drink or 12. The next day, everyone shows up at 9 and suffers through the day together with that look of mutual satisfaction. From the sounds of it, I'm guessing Mike out in Korea gets the same treatment out there too. Yey asia! Where else can you go out drinking with your boss and call him a pustulating rectal wart and smack him in the face one night, then act like nothing happened the next day at work?

Monday, July 02, 2007

What's my job again?

So I constantly get asked what my job is and what exactly it is I do... even my one friend that works in the same facility (not my office though) had no clue what my job entails without further explanation. All he knew was that he'd walk in my office and see me pecking away at a keyboard all the time - if I'm busy I'm all over the place, but there's definitely a bunch of down time or prep time in this job depending on the time of year which sees me in front of a computer. Of course then there's my job title itself - Coordinator of International Relations. Could it be more vague? I mean sure it's accurate, in the sense that statements like "I eat food" or "on weekends I like to do stuff" are accurate, but knowing my job title doesn't really clear things up regarding what I do from 9-5, or sometimes 1-9 on the daily. It really is a rather random job though that has me all over the place at times.... coordinating international relations. Among CIRs across the country that I've spoken to however, it sounds like my office is definitely an exception as I don't hear stories of hula cowboys or cosplay photoshoots or salsa on the water from many others.

So I thought I'd share a story about one of the more bizarre functions that I perform. You see, in my time here I've found that if someone comes to my office and wants to speak English, that's actually part of my job. I thought it was sort of weird at first, but they've told me to just go and talk to people - sort of like a rent-a-friend one on one English club of my very own. Woo. I get random guests coming to visit every now and then, ranging from foreign residents, to students that want to study abroad or already have, to an old guy that retired and moved to the Philippines, to some goofy tall guy that came in wearing a cowboy hat and boots to go with his Johnny Cash bolo tie and all black suit, and most recently to a group of middle-aged women, which in Japanese I refer to as baachans, that have their own little baachan English club where they talk about baachan things. They have commissioned me to give a speech for them on Maryland next week actually, but that's not the interesting part.

The interesting part is the head baachan. Her English really isn't that bad actually - she's a tour guide out in Matsushima, a tourist attraction not too far from here, and does tours in English and translates tourist info sometimes. The funny thing about talking to baachans in English though is that they are totally Japanese about it, which among other things means acting all super-impressed at everything you say or do while showering you in meaningless compliments and asking me if it's ok before doing anything. She has complimented me on not only my Japanese, but also mysteriously on my English... because I have a spectacular American accent. Baachans are like the social equivalents to the guy on acid that's amused by fast moving objects with bright shiny colors - doesn't take much to impress them. If they see me use chopsticks to eat sushi while drinking green tea their heads might explode.

So this particular baachan, the baachan boss if you will, called me up one day. I thought she wanted to confirm some things as I had just sent her the title for my speech, but she just starts going on and on about totally unrelated stuff which I had no clue about. She went on for about a good half hour about this guy she knew and the missionaries in my town and some other random stuff which I've probably just mentally blocked at this point. Basically, she just wanted someone to talk to in English. Then for whatever reason I agree to help her with some translation with Buddhas and shiny scepters and stuff - fax it off and sure enough, her comes the phonecall.

The last call I got from her though was totally out of the blue and absolutely puts all the rest to shame. So she calls up last week for apparently no reason whatsoever, and recounts a harrowing tale of her struggles at a local middle school. She prefaces this story with the disclaimer that she hurt her shoulder and was at first too embarrased to share it with her physician why, but apparently felt perfectly fine telling me, a complete stranger whom she just met a whole month prior. I've found that some Japanese will share stuff with you before other Japanese people since they figure there's less of a chance of you telling people they know or something. It seriously sounded like she had scripted this speech out - sounded way too rehearsed but hilarious nonetheless.

First she tells me that she teaches some Canadian exchange students Japanese at the middle school - ok, fine. And apparently the principal of said school told her to use the handicapped bathroom when she needs to since it's the cleanest. This particular day however, she used the girls bathroom on the 2nd floor since she was up there for her class. Sounds normal enough. So all the stalls are full since they're between classes, so she waits. A stall opens up, but the door to said stall is looking a little iffy. It's a little crooked and she has trouble getting it closed. Uh-oh. After a slight struggle, she gets the door closed and goes about her business. Upon completion, she has a little trouble getting the door open again. Oh no, what to do? She yells for help, but everyone's now in class and can't hear her calls. I'm biting my lip at this point as she verbally acts out the scene through the receiver. Now next, she said she attempted to climb over the door but got stuck, then whacked her shoulder but finally got over. I was trying soooo hard not to laugh at this point - I mean, first of all who does this happen to, and more importantly WHY WOULD SHE CALL ME TO TALK ABOUT IT??? In exscrutiating detail, in English no less!!

But hey, that's my job right? Sure. I have other functions, but this has to be one of the more bizarre ones - English speaker, extraordinaire. I seriously do get the impression that they just pay me to be the white guy sometimes. Meh, it's a living.