Friday, April 28, 2006

Random Reason I Love Japan #39218

So I'm jonesing for a cup of hot coffee, so much so that I'm willing to buy a can of hot coffee from one of the many vending machines in this country.

Alas, I come to the Boss Coffee Machine, not unlike this one:

All the coffee is cold, because we are on the cusp of summer weather. I'm wanting hot coffee. I see a coffee shop across the street, so I decide to order a "take out" coffee. "To go" is not normal nomeclature here. The proprietor looks at me, and says "Doko?"

I don't get it. "Where?" What does he mean? "Take out," I resiliently repeat. "Hotto," which is "hot." He looks confused for a minute, then shrugs and throws some coffee from a cold pitcher (everyone here LOVES cold coffee on warm days like today) into a pot on the stove, and warms up a coffee mug for me in the microwave. An empty coffee mug. I don't know what he thought he was accomplishing.

He then proceeds to give me the full set - ceramic mug, saucer, spoon, cream, sugar, and even the seating treats. I'm confused. "No, no, no...take out," I say, motioning as though I am taking out. He smiles and nods, pours the coffee in the mug, puts saran wrap over the top. "San hyaku-en," he says proudly. 300 yen.

I tell him I will bring it back and he nods and smiles and says, "Ii," which kind of sounds like "e-e," and means "sure," or "it's okay."

So I march back to work with my mug of hot coffee, because I'm technically on the clock, even though I'm not teaching (stupidest thing ever) and so now, as I write this blog entry, I'm enjoying a hot cup of take out coffee in nice crockery. Hilarious.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Expats in Japan and Visitors Coming

Fucking dorks most of them. Or mildly to grossly unstable in some manner or fashion. It is really uncanny. I'm sure there are plenty of normal expats here, but until the last few weeks, we haven't encountered them.

Oh, we think we have. And then watch as this normal person freaks out when he gets drunk and calls Judaism a cult. Or when another person entirely flakes out and quits the school to embark upon a several week long career of partying, which, while I consider such behavior a noble pursuit, this person leaves everyone else kind of hanging in the balance with her lack of responsibility. Or when another expat meets a J-girl, and gets married on April 26th because it is his favorite student's birthday. He's only been dating J-girl for 2 months. He was quoted three days ago as saying "I have a slave if I want one." If there was a Japanese Jerry Springer, he could find a career's worth of material canvassing expats.

But it seems upon the threemonth's eve of our departure from this bizarre pool of expatriots, we have found two normal ones - a married couple who act like regular drunk human beings when they are drunk, as opposed to blithering idiots. Of course, that's this week. Next week they'll probably try to talk us into joining their ritualistic blood cult or something. Stay tuned.

All of this leads up to the anticipation of showing some more friends from stateside our little slice of Japan. I'm looking forward to meaningful conversation that I know will only delve as deeply into bizarro world as I'm used to. Looking forward to you all coming, J and Car. Godspeed, and bring me a can of Lone Star. This Japanese beer is wearing on me.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Teaching English is a Joke Redux

At least at my current school. It is unbelievable. I have to build upon the post I made yesterday.

Things are extremely comedic. I work at a new elementary school taught entirely in English with some Japanese thrown in for fun and national standards and all. It is such a fly by night operation. Our Japanese office staff, while two of the nicest ladies in the world, and who are supposed to be the bridge between the English teaching staff (one other guy and me), speak VERY limited English.

So, we get these awesome notes from them about things that they have obviously cut and pasted from the translator. Things like the following:

"Yuka Nakamura has the egg allergy.
Please take care no lick of her of the egg when you use the egg with the cooking.
Only if the egg places to the skin, it is safe.
The heated egg is safe, if eating."

Now if that isn't hilarious, then you have no sense of humor. It goes back to the difficulty in translating Japanese words and feelings into English. The culture is so infinitely different that there is a shitload lost in translation most of the time. That may be an entire other post.

But back to my school...So I have the at least one of the owners two younger daughters in every class I teach, except maybe one. Basically I am a salary-paid babysitter. For instance, I have them both in the creative writing class for which we developed curriculum. Yet they just had that class on Saturday, and this is considered the same week of curriculum for an elective, one day a week class. So, in one half hour, I plan to give them the same exact activity they did on Saturday. That should be fun.

Then, after that, I have the two daughters in PE, another supposed one day a week class that I babysit them three to four times a week doing the exact same activity. Luckily, it is only them in PE, so I'm going to take them to the park and say "go play." If mom and dad bitch, then I'll open up a can of bitchass on them and tell them I'm not going to be their babysitter.

That should also be fun.

Alas, the trials and tribulations of an grossly overpaid fashionable babysitter.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Teaching English in Japan and Hanami

It's a joke. I mean, it's really a joke. We are getting paid an exhorbitant amount over here to really fuck around.

I've started my new job, and while the kids are pretty smart and cute (by the way, I'm convinced that there is not a cuter population of kids than Japanese kids) the school is run by two people who are idiots. I don't know how they have run a relatively successful school this long, except I do know. A lot of their students are from their Mormon Church. I should refrain from saying anything more. But you all know what I'm talking about.

But even overlooking my current stint, it is universally true here, from what I can gather. My friend Steve in Tokyo says the same thing. He used to teach in China and Hong Kong, and basically said that when he was there, he felt like he was allowed to teach. Here in Japan, he feels like he is babysitting.

I feel like a workbook whore at my current job. I keep cracking open the covers of these ridiculous workbooks, but I've been told by my boss that the parents would rather the kids finish a 35 page workbook than get halfway through a 100 page workbook. Whatever. Onto better things, like HANAMI!

Seriously, I have watched the cherry blossom season here in Japan with something akin to complete awe. First, there is the anticipation. It is all that anyone is talking about for weeks beforehand. The weather report concentrates pretty heavily on the progress of the sakura, or cherry trees.

Then, suddenly, you get up out of bed, walk outside and there they are on Sunday morning. There really is little other warning. And then everybody goes fucking nuts.

Literally, life stops in a way. There is no workday. There is only hanami, and this is when you see the Japanese in their full throat. It's amazing, appalling, beautiful and disgusting all at once.

The methodology is simple. Everyone buys a tarp. Everyone buys beer and food. then everyone goes and "admires" the cherry blossoms, by spreading a tarp underneath and eating, drinking, and being merry. Salarymen getting stumbling drunk. University students having chugging contests and yarfing into the bushes. On Sunday night. Then on Monday night. Then again on Tuesday night. Then again on Wednesday night.

I shit you not. And it really is beautiful. The wife and I had hanami almost every night the cherry blossoms were out. Maybe 9 days. The short length of the beauty might have something to do with how crazy everyone goes. The Japanese do "drunk" maybe more artfully than any other people I've seen. It's great.

Pics forthcoming in a day or two.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Wow. Has It Been That Long?

Yeah, uh, sorry fair readers for my long lapse from blogging. I'm sure all three of you were waiting with bated breath.

It's been plenty busy lately, what with changing jobs, hanami, visitors coming in from out of town, etc. And I realize that I still owe you a penis festival post. Rest assured, that one is in the queue. But current events are knocking hard at the door, and I need to answer before they get pissed.

So I traveled to Tokyo a week and a half ago. My time there was a whirlwind of activity from the moment I stepped off the shinkansen right after my last day at my old job. Met my friend Steve, hung out for awhile, then hit the sack, knowing I'd need rest for when Jess arrived. Of course, I severely underestimated the amount of rest I'd need for my Tokyo experience.

Holy shit.

Woke up the next day, and started drinking with Steve in the mid afternoon at a Thai restaurant. Left there, and went to meet Jess at Shinjuku station. Then the madness began. We went from there to Tsukiji, the famous fish market in the middle of Tokyo. There we met up with several people and ate some of the best sushi I have ever had. Fresh, falling apart in your mouth sushi. I'm ruined forever on sushi. When I come home to the states, I won't be able to eat the schleck they dredge up and and for which most places charge outrageous prices. I'm spoiled. There were ten of us eating and drinking, and the bill topped out at 16,000 or so yen. That's maybe $150 on a bad exchange day.

We went from there to find an izakaya with this same group of people. Jess and Tracy were troopers, as they hadn't slept but maybe an hour and they were suffering pretty bad from jetlag. Nonetheless, they came with us to the izakaya, and partied until 1 AM. They left to catch a cab back to their hotel, leaving the rest of us to party until the wee hours of the morning. We got home at maybe 5AM.
Jess wanted to make my blog so, SO badly.
So, I gave her two pics. Also included: Aka, Tracy, Steve.

After sleeping a good four hours, we began anew and refreshed. Well, sort of refreshed. We walked around the famous parts of Tokyo, taking in a few sites and some shopping and whatnot. Then it was dinner, and the asian specialty of karaoke. We figured that Jess and Tracy might not like it, so we booked the room for only 2 hours.

Well, at 5 AM after a six hour karaoke marathon, we decided it was probably time to go. We covered such greats as "Born in the USA," "Let's Get Retarded," and Steve's personal favorite, "I Want It That Way." Of course, I killed with a stirring rendition of "Blaze of Glory," and we had some of Steve's Taiwanese housemate's Chinese songs sprinkled liberally in there as well. "99 luftballoons" is a lot harder than you would think. And some random Thai songs.
Steve's sex appeal is a fucking magnet. God knows it's not his voice.

All in all, it was a success. But good God, it was taxing on the old body. I don't even want to know my liver's opinion. But it was a good time - one of the best I've had since I've come here.
I am not a rock star. But when I'm drunk I feel like one.

A few thoughts on Tokyo:

1) It's is retarded crowded. I mean insanity everywhere. But the strange thing is that people treat the crowding so naturally that it almost becomes second nature. I was only there for two or three days, and it felt natural by the time I left. As a matter of fact, when I came back to Nagoya, I felt like I was missing something.

2) The nightlife is off the hook. There are always people out. Certain streets are as bright as daylight at 2 AM.
Bright, huh?

3) The variety of food is much more diverse than we get in Nagoya. It's so much easier to stumble into a good restaurant there than it is here. I imagine it is a lot like New York in that characteristic.

4) Did I mention the crowding?

5) It wasn't as expensive as I thought it would be. From what I can gather, prices are pretty static across Japan. I mean, the shopping was a lot more expensive, but I'm not interested in Dolce & Gabanna or Coach or Loewe or Louis Vuitton or any of that shit. Hell, we got that stuff here in Nagoya (they have the major brand names EVERYWHERE), and I don't really get off on that anyhow.

But I'm talking about food and drink. Not too bad. I mean, I spent a decent amount of money, but it was a lot less than I expected to spend. Which is always a good thing.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Lot Has Been Going On

Sorry for the lack of posting here. Been really busy.

I've been partying a lot, been to a celebration of the penis (more on that in a post next week, and believe me, it will be worth it), and tomorrow evening I'm going to Tokyo to visit with some friends of mine coming into town from America. Happy day.

The real reason that I've been partying a lot is because of these great new Japanese friends I've made. One is a DJ and knows all kinds of crazy clubs to go to where it is ridiculously easy to lose track of time and walk out into the sunrise. Just a fun group to hang out with.

Plus, as I've mentioned, I've quit my job in order to take a full time job for three mnths before I come home. It has been a lot harder than I thought.

The kids have been awesome, drawing me cards, and giving me pictures and hugs. I'm such a big sap, too. I really am going to miss some of these kids, and some of my adult students. But that's kind of the way it goes.

n any case, I'll have some great blog entries coming up soon. I haven't forgotten about you dear reader. But I'll be out of town for a couple of days enjoying the super-metropolis of Tokyo.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Writing Haiku With Japanese

For a long while I have promised you folks a description of the local snakku. Well here it is. Basically, it is a place where one goes to escape the normal shit of life. In Japan, this is very important. So this place is a bit of a safe haven. You go, you might buy a bottle of booze to drink, which the mama-san will put your name on, and you will drink. You might sing karaoke, you might talk with the folks around you, but ultimately, the place is a perfect example of what you want a bar to be. It is a place to forget about the bullshit and have fun. The Japanese are really good at this.

In any case, tonight, I found myself at the snakku. The wife was asleep and I went there for shits and giggles. I met a few folks who could speak a pauper's share of English. So of course, we somehow ended out in a haiku contest.

Now I speak a little Japanese, and the emphasis is surely on little, but I entered a haiku contest under the understanding that I coudl write in English. there were only three competitors. Strangely enough, there were only three people drinking at the bar. Coincidence? I think not.

In any case, I knock out a bullshit haiku in English:

I see the Ume.
The flowers ride in the breeze.
I feel complete peace.

After much translation, the haiku is understood and awed, far more than it should be.

Then it is Matsuno's turn. He writes something funny.

O-osaka no
Ume no shurui no
o-osaka na.

This is a very clever poem, because it plays upon Japanese linguistics.

Basically, translated:

Ume's kindness is
very very nice.

More or less.

Then comes Maho. The girl in the company.

Watashi no, ko
koro mayo-u wa
hare no chi kumori.

Roughly translated:

In my heart,
I see sun, then the clouds,
But I know the sun will come again.

Damn. And I thought mine was pretty good. But she kicked my ass.

Author's note: Ume means "plum blossoms," and the author will post pictures later this week.