Saturday, September 30, 2006

Tarako Pasta Sauce

I suppose I am putting too many of these Youtube videos here, but they're just too hilarious to pass up. Youtube also happens to be the only place that happens to host all these videos in one place.

This is a commercial that's been floating around in Japan for some time, but has recently resurfaced. I was taught the song over a year ago by some friends of mine (a bunch of giggly girls at a bar), and my kids find it hilarious when I mock the song. Unfortunately I have never had the (privilege?) of seeing it until I was in the supermarket and it was blairing on a TV set in a product display the other day. Its Tarako Pasta Sauce. It means something like fish child, and it is a fish egg sauce you put on spagetti. It must be seen to be believed. Tarako, ne.

So I quickly bought the pasta sauce and tried it with some spaghetti. Not too bad really. A little bit salty for spaghetti though. Perhaps salty isn't the correct word. However, I probably won't be buying it again though. I'm just not much of a spaghetti man, unless its accompanied by a big meatball.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

New Japanese Driver's License


One of the most difficult experiences of my time in Japan is finally over. This experience left a terrible impression on me, something akin to the nasty aftertaste left in your mouth after vomiting profusely. After nearly six months, around 850 US dollars, 10 hours in driving lessons, 6 vacation days, and 45-50 hours of waiting on a bench in a depressing 4 storied cinderblock, I finally have a Japanese Driver's License at long last. Am I bitter and resentful? NOT A BIT.

Now, many of my longtime friends and family already know that I purchased a car my first year in Japan and was cruising around the rice fields to the castles, hot spring resorts, and ski areas. Less of you probably know how all that came to an abrupt halt my second year, when Japanese law required the procurement of a Japanese license.

I postponed and procrastinated for a variety of reasons, including my extremely busy schedule, my nature of procrastination, problems identifying and aquiring the proper documents, and the inability to find time off work to go get it. A trip to the "menko centaa (center)" from Koriyama involves an hourlong bus or train trip, followed by another half hour on a bus in the city of Fukushima. The center in Koriyama gives licenses to Japanese people, but foreigners have to travel an hour away (for some people in my prefecture, it can be over 3 hours to this city). Am I resentful of the double standard? NOT A BIT!

My first trip to the Menko Centaa took place sometime in April. I arrived right on schedule before 8:30 AM in the appropriate office. I had carefully gathered all the necessary documents the previous night, double checking after hearing all the horror stories about the "menko centaa." I had taken 4 hours of driving lessons the previous week, at a total cost of approximately 50 USD per hour. Much to my charign, what should have been a day of relatively mild bureaucratic torture was cut short at approximately 9:30, by their realization that my passport was issued in Tokyo. Because my passport was issued in Tokyo (Due to losing the original while in transit from Thailand), and my American DL is from Arizona, they had no way of determining if I had ever actually lived and driven in Arizona. I finally was able to prove that I had lived in Arizona, but only after a lot of headaches. Am I bitter and resentful of such anal retentive civil service employees? NOT AT ALL!

I returned the second time, again with all my documents in tow (including a few new ones to prove I lived in Arizona). They gave me a questionaire about my American license. How many questions were on your driving test? Was it multiple choice or true-false? How many options were there on the multiple choice? How long was the driving test? Was it on a closed course or public roads? As I hadn't taken the driving test in the USA since I was 15, I made stuff up that sounded about right. Then this woman came out and said they were going to check with the Arizona DMV. They said if I wasn't completely accurate, that they would refuse me my license. She wasn't real nice about it either.

This is the point when I began to stop taking them seriously, as I knew she had no means by which to corroborate my claims on that particular day. She could barely read the English on the American documents I provided, and even if she did reach anyone over the phone at the Arizona DMV at 8:30 PM on Sunday night, she couldn't speak much English either. And if they did have a Japanese database with detailed information on American Driver's license Tests, why were they going to the trouble of asking me all these questions? Did I take umbrage at this obviously empty threat on the part of the Menko Centaa Nazi Woman? No, not me!

From the beginning, they were always quite cantankerous with me. I never once sensed that these people felt they were government workers funded with public tax dollars and were required to serve the public. It was more like they were trying to be an obstacle. One critical democratic concept that appears to be lacking in Japan (or at least far less developed) is the idea that government exists to serve the people. Believe it or not, the experiences and interactions that take place at an American DMV are far more pleasant as the customer service mindset exists. Did I make negative comparisons between my current situation and dealing with the fantastic efficiency and delightful amiability of Arizona's fine government instutions? Me? No Way!

After another hour and a half of waiting, they came out again and told me that I would not be able to get a license without ANOTHER document from the Arizona DMV. They couldn't explain what this required document actually was or its purpose. This was not due to my still limited Japanese, but rather their lack of specificity. (Another American was there with his Japanese girlfriend to help translate when I needed help.) They could only say that because my license says "Under 21 until..." that I require SOMETHING from the Arizona Motor Vehicles Department!

Prior to this second visit, I had several Japanese friends and colleages familiar with the government call and clarify everything about all the documents ( they apparently require far more documentation and paperwork than they officially advertise). We had double and triple checked with everyone in the menko centaa over the phone, and the consensus (over the phone) was that I had all the necessary documents. They even knew my name before I got there. Now this same woman and another man was telling me otherwise. Having fought the urge to strangle this woman several times, I was about to snap. In the paraphrased words of William Blake, "my wrath did grow".

I've been in Japan long enough to know that showing emotion, especially anger, is rarely, if ever acceptable. This is one reason that I dreaded going to the menko centaa, as I was afraid it would bring about the absolute worst in me. And it did. While I never exploded in anger, I was never proud of the way I conducted myself. And while I exersized as much restraint as I could, everyone could plainly see my exasperation, frustration and anger, which probably didn't help my case. I thought about my character, primarily my ability to deal with mild adversity. In the grand scheme of things, it was extremely trying, but ultimately not something worth getting angry over. Yes, it was a lot of time and money, but ultimately, life would go on just fine without a license.

Fortunately before I did anything really stupid, I demanded to see their boss. I'm glad I did this because he came out and quickly reviewed everything and said it was all OK! There was no need for unspecified documents from Arizona! The two subordinate civil servants were wrong, and I was right! I looked at them and asked them why they were asking me for these documents, and then double checked with their boss, to make sure there was no misunderstanding. Smart people please correct me if I'm wrong, but I was only able to draw two logical conclusions from this encounter: 1. The underlings were actively decieving me and countering my efforts. 2. The underlings were incompetent, and their propensity for ineptitude was costing me a lot of time and money. The underlings looked at me sheepishly and quickly apologized as their supervisor went back into the office. Do I resent having to judge the professionalism of Japanese government workers through such infuriating deductive reasoning? NO, I'M GONNA BE POSITIVE!

Following this episode, the Nazi woman handling my case changed completely. Whereas she was previously an antagonistic obstacle, actively hindering my efforts at aquiring a license (or at the very least appearing to do so), she quickly turned into my willing ally, being helpful and curteous. And while I failed the test that day, she was kind and at least appeared genuinely sympathetic. During my next two trips she was disturbingly friendly, almost a completely different person, even giving me tips about the test and smiling and making small talk. Its a shame too, because she was very tall and actually very pretty. Picture a former model turned shrewish amazon battle-ax in a cheezy martial arts flick. Unfortuately, my opinion of her was already sealed.

I got to take the test that day, but I failed. I had to take the test 5 times. You can only take the test once a day. You MUST wait around a minimum of 3 hours before you take it. Actually you must wait 4-5 hours the first time, largely because they give you the driving history interview, vision test, and a 10 minute written test. None of those things should take longer than 40 minutes. Technically I only had to wait two hours before the second test, but due to train schedules, I wound up waiting there 3. You MUST wait a minimum of 2 hours for your results. Then you learn that you must come back another day. Canadians, British, Australians and most European nationalities do not have to take this 10 minute driving test. Am I resentful about this double standard? NOT AT ALL! (This is largely because the USA doesn't offer a simple transfer to Japanese drivers coming to America, so everybody write your Senators RIGHT NOW!)

The driving test is ridiculous. It has little bearing on driving safely (I actually wonder if a few of the things they want you to do aren't more dangerous) but is more about your ability to follow a script. I think I could have passed it after the second or third time, were it not for the fact that I was taking the test with a clutch (because that's what my car has). With the clutch, they told me I failed because I was in the wrong gear (either one gear too high or one gear too low on turns or the long straight section of the test (where I was supposed to be in 5th gear instead of fourth, even though the length and speed don't really justify it). They are also finicky about how "smooth" you are, whether its a clutch or automatic. The test evaluators will make a big dramatic show of rocking back and forth in the passenger seat if you aren't "smooth." Its pathetic drama, and you can almost taste the puke in your mouth when he does it.

Anyways, I've got a licence again now, and I drove up to the mountains this weekend and did some off roading. Off roading is fun when your car is a 2 door 600 cc Suzuki Alto that could fit in the back end of some American SUVs. The bitter aftertaste of my time at the menko centaa is fading, just as the piquancy of vomit and bile slowly disappears with a glass of water.

If you want to learn more about the driving test, read Ryan's website on the side. He describes the test in detail.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Alison Yeardley in the Race for the Cure on Saturday!

I just heard from my old friend Alison Yeardley recently! She is British, but living in Houston Texas now and is working at a British Primary School for all the pint sized English expats. Those of you who do know Alison will attest to the fact that she is one of the most cheerful, happy, generous, and kind people you will ever have the privilege of meeting.

I was lucky enough to meet Alison years ago (Summer of 2002) where we spent the summer working for YMCA Camp Marston in Julian California. She always has a smile on her face and has the unique ability to cheer up even the grouchiest amongst us. She is outgoing, fun loving and eternally optomistic. I have never heard her say anything that wasn't positive, funny, or encouraging. I can say with authority that she brought the very best out in everyone around her.

She also came and briefly visited me the following summer when I was working at Bright Angel Lodge in the Grand Canyon. And unfortunately, that is the last time I have seen her. But I will see her again. In the first picture she is on the right. I don't have as many of the Camp Marston scans as I thought I did.

Anyways, the reason I'm writing about her now is that she is running in the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's Race for the Cure and needs our support. All readers of this blog are hereby obligated to contribute money to her cause! In her own words, "

Dear Friends and Family,

I recently accepted the challenge to raise funds to support the Komen Houston Race for the Cure on September 30, 2006 in the fight against breast cancer. One in seven women will be stricken with breast cancer in her lifetime and the more we raise, the more the Komen Houston Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation can give back to fund vital breast cancer education, screening and treatment programs in our own community and support the national search for a cure.

Please join me in the fight by pledging in support of my
participation in the Race or contributing generously to Komen Houston. Your tax-deductible contribution will fund innovative outreach and awareness programs for medically underserved communities in Houston and national breast cancer research. It is faster and easier than ever to support this great cause - you can make a donation online by simply clicking on the link at the bottom of this message. If you would prefer, you can also send your tax-deductible contribution to the address listed below. Whatever you can give will help! I truly appreciate your support and will keep you posted on my progress.

Thank you so much for your time and support in the fight against breast cancer! Every step counts!"

I'm not sure if those were her exact words or some website editor in Houston, but either way, she needs our help. So if you can, please contribute to her cause. This is her site for the race. You can contribute at her site. She'll be grateful for anything you can do to help. In the picture she is the one on the right. I'll have to ask her for a better picture, because I never finished all those scans.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Kamakura and the Daibutsu

Last weekend, I went to Kamakura, which is just South of Tokyo. Being famous for hundreds of temples, shrines, and a large Buddha, Kamakura is on the list of places to see if you live in Japan. I visited a number of famous sites there, including a bamboo forest, several famous temples and shrines, and the famous Daibutsu statue. The statue wasn't as big as I thought it would be, although it was quite large.

I found the entire area to be quite charming. I visited the town with my friend Erika, whom I met previously in Australia. She showed me around and read Chinese characters I don't know.

One shrine I recall particularly well, and Erika explained what several of the dieties represented. Perched atop a steep hill, we climbed a set of moss covered steps to reach the top. We removed our shoes and stepped in, where the statues representing various dieties were arranged. One statue she explained, was dedicated to children who died in miscarriage. Numerous toys and baby formula lay piled near the shrine, offerings from women remembering their deceased children. At another statue, you could pay 300 yen (3 USD) and write your wish on a thin slice of balsa wood. When enough sticks are accumulated, priests will burn them as an offering.

Overall, the trip was great, despite being somewhat short. The only real problem was the rain! Clouds threatened rain all morning, and followed through with the threat for most of the afternoon. What a drag! I still had fun though.

週末は鎌倉へ行きました。鎌倉の大仏を行って見ました。私の友達と一緒に行きました。行ったときに、インドのカリー食べました。とても辛かった。で私の友達は食べることができなかった。 日曜日神社と寺院と大仏に行ってきました。竹の森をはじめて見ました。竹は高かったです。午後は雨でした。 4月からこれで四回傘を買ったことがあります。それから私たちはヤキニクを食べました。 本格的な韓国のレストランですのでペヨンジュンの写真がありました。

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Befuddled Old Coin Dealer

Well, my Japanese Numismatic adventure began with a splash! I took the local train from my city south to the rustic little abode of Shirakawa (picture Little Rock with terraced rice fields). Armed with my tiny little Internet Map print-out with an address I couldn't read, I set out from the train station on foot. I quickly reached the post office that should have been 5-10 meters away, but could find no obvious coin dealer.

I asked some man in a barber-shop where the place was, and he told me it was the next block just behind me (a street which was conveniently deleted from my print-out). He told me to ask for a "matsuda san." After going over there however, I noticed no coin business in the location he mentioned, only another barbershop. There was a third hair salon with a couple women in it and I asked again, thinking I must have forgotten my Japanese in Italy. She however, confirmed that Matsuda-san lived there, and told me to ring him.

Matsuda-san's barbershop looked closed, but I rang anyways, only to have some old man answer the door, drop his jaw and gasp. Under his breath I caught him utter a faint, "gaijinne! (Isn't it a foreigner!). He quickly came to his senses, despite being in the presence of a pasty white guy 20 centimeters taller than he. He enthusiastically invited me in after I asked if he was indeed the coin dealer I had been seeking.

The "coin-dealer" as his business was advertised on the internet, was actually about 70 percent barbershop, with a glass retail counter on the back wall for his coins. He ran into the back room as I perused his collection. He came back out with some tea, and quickly asked where I was from. After learning that I was American, he smiled and eagerly showed me a whole leather album full of nothing but Eisenhower Dollars. After politely listening to him talk exitedly about Eisenhower Dollars, I asked about some older Japanese coins, but he kept showing me Dwight Eisenhower and State Quarters.

For whatever reason, he couldn't seem to fathom that I would have any interest at all in Japanese coins. I finally got him to show me some Meiji Silver 1 Yen pieces, which were quite nice. I finally bought one that dates to 1904 for about 4000 yen, or about 35 US dollars. I also bought the Japanese version of the "Red Book" which is the book that lists all the coins ever made in Japan.

For those of you who don't know, Japan does not officially count years from the birth of Christ, but rather, the number of years of the current reign of the Emperor. Thus, the current year is not 2006, but Heisei 18, and this is what appears on all the coins. When a new Emperor takes the throne, it starts at 1 again. So the coins to look for in circulation now, are ones from Showa 64, which is when the previous Emperor died shortly after the start of the new year. Because of this, very few Showa 64 coins were made, as most of the coins that year marked the beginning of the Heisei reign. So if you find one in circulation, you can count yourself lucky.

The Silver 1 Yen coin I bought dates to 1904 and features a cool looking dragon on one side. Its about the size of the old American Silver Dollars.

Matsuda san was a very sweet and generous old man. In light of his hospitality and charming disposition, I'm sorry to say I wasn't terribly impressed with his collection. Things were VERY disorganized, and often not properly stored. The man also had very poor eyesight. After misplacing his glasses on the counter, I had to give them back to him during his, "help I can't find my glasses!" fit. I certainly wasn't going to let him cut my hair or give me a shave.

Another thing about Shirakawa, they have about 2 barbershops or hair salons on every block! I have never seen so many barbershops in my life! What's up with all the barbershops?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Coin Collecting & Kamakura

Today, I'm going to Shirakawa, which lies between my town and Tokyo. After considerable and exhaustive research, I have located a store that sells Japanese coins! Only a dork like myself could ever possibly get so excited about such a thing. I'm interested in adding some Japanese coins to my collection.

Being the eccentric nerd that I am, I collect coins from time to time, primarily American coins including Lincoln Cents, Indian Head Cents, and Walking Liberty Half Dollars. Made in America in the 1930's and 1940's, the Walking Liberty Half Dollars feature two of the coolest designs I have ever seen on a coin. The "Walkers" are my absolute favorites, and are the most beautiful coins I have ever seen to date. See the picture. There is a French 5 Franc coin with a similar design that dates from the mid-seventies. I have a few of those as well. Don't quote me on the dates.

I don't collect terribly rare and valuable coins so much. The only notable pieces I have are some nice "Walkers" in very fine and slightly better conditions. I mostly collect what I find in circulation. In the USA, the State Quarters are keeping myself and other collecters plenty busy. But I'm having more fun collecting while I travel. I visited a dealer in Australia and found some interesting Australian and British Coins. I bought a 1981 commemorating the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana!

On the Continent, My father and my friends Pat and Heike will attest to my endless search for European Coins. According to my friend Pat, the Euro coins are all designed and issued by each European Country. Each country gets to issue their own designs, so there should be dozens (hundreds?) of varieties to find. On the Italian coins, there were designs of Leonardo and the Colluseum. In Belgium there were designs of the Belgian monarch and the Belgian Atomium, a large steel structure that looks like a iron crystal molecule. A Spanish coin I found has Cervantes' portrait on one side, etc.

This will be my first visit to a Japanese Coin Dealer, so we'll see what I can find. There are a few very 500 Yen peices commemorating the Nagano Winter Olympics floating around, but I haven't found one in a condition worth keeping.

With Monday being a Japanese National Holiday, I also intend to go down to Kamakura for the 3 day weekend. Kamakura is famous for an abundance of shrines and temples, as well as a large Daibutsu, or Japanese Buddha. I will report about it in my next update, so stay tuned!

This Week's Caption Contest

Hey Everyone! Be sure to participate in this week's caption contest, otherwise, it will go to Skilz every week!

You all know the rules:

1. Everything stays under PG-13

2. Participation is mandatory for readers of this blog.

Caption Contest Winner

Well, here we are with the winner: Once again, the grand prize goes to Skilz, with:

Working at his after school job, Chong Li ponders the English cliche` he learned in class that day, "bite the bullet", and hopes he's not taking it too literally.

The Aerobics Instructor


Some of you may wonder what I spend my time doing after school. Unlike most of my Japanese co-workers, I DO NOT stay at work and pretend to be busy until 7 or 8 at night. I go home at a reasonable hour and between 7 and 9 you can usually find me at the gym!

I went last night and took the aerobics class. I take the aerobics class about once a week now, as it provides a break to the monotony of weight lifting. In the summer time, I run outdoors, but during Japan's cold winters, I'm stuck on a treadmill. So I thought that I would be able to do some of that cardio excersize doing silly dances with a bunch of giggly middle-aged Japanese women. A couple of the single middle aged men do the aerobics, but I suspect their motives aren't as noble as mine.

The gym I go to is actually quite small. They have a very crowded weight room with a set of circuit trainers, some stationary bikes, and 5 treadmills that are ALWAYS being used. Like all Japanese gyms, you have to change your shoes before you can go inside. There is a pool with 5 lanes that is 13 meters long on the first floor. One must turn around after only 4 strokes. You have to wear a swimcap or they won't let you in. There is also a room where they do aerobics, dance classes, and yoga. It really is too small to properly do aerobics, but we do it their anyway. Because I find the other instructors really annoying, and I don't care so much for their taste in music, I only go to Aerobics on Tuesday nights. I went yesterday only because I had nothing better lined up.

I suppose it isn't much different from an aerobics class in the states, except that its all in Japanese. The aerobics instructor is too thin, too energetic, and too happy, even for someone of her chosen profession. My biggest problem is that my Baptist heritage and heredetary skin color severely inhibit dance moves and rhythm. Sometimes its quite difficult for me to coordinate my legs and arms with the speed of the music. I can do legs OR arms, but I can't seem to do both at the same time. A couple times, the instructor looked at me during the class and started her counting and instruction in English (she isn't very good at it), probably thinking I couldn't understand her. I could understand her Japanese just fine, I JUST COULDN'T DO IT!

That class was particularly difficult, as I can usually hold my own. Here is a video you may find amusing. Rest assured, my workout is much more intense and lacking in lame English lessons! The Amusing Video

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

My Weekend in Japanese

週末は岩手県へ行きました。私の友達花巻市に住んでいます。大学の同級生です。ブレンデンさんは日本で3年めに入りました。私も3年めに入りました。祭りのために岩手県にいきました。ブレンデンさんとブレンデンさんの彼女は御輿をかつぎました。 たくさん生そばと焼き鳥を食べました。

This is a much abbreviated summary of my weekend in Iwate for my Japanese students who might be reading this. Not entirely sure how many of my students are reading this, but I figure I better write something in Japanese if I want them to read it. Its also great writing practice.

Monday, September 11, 2006

I can also use chopsticks.

I thought you all might enjoy some new links to play around with.

The first is Ryan's website, who teaches here in Koriyama. He wrote a good website with a lot of information, both funny and serious, about what life is like for a foreigner in Japan, and covers it all pretty well.

The second is HomeStarRunner, which is a bunch of crazy cartoons and games I used to watch when I was in college. The old school stuff is the best.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Festival in Hanamaki

During the weekend, I traveled to Iwate-Ken, which is North of Sendai. Like most of Northern Japan, Iwate-Ken is abundant in rolling hills and mountain ranges covered in green forest with terraced rice fields growing up in the basins and valleys between them. The rice appeared slightly yellower up north than it is here in Koriyama, as the crop that defines this landscape and culture edges toward another harvest season.
And just as Americans prepare to celebrate another Halloween and Thanksgiving, the Japanese also mark the harvest season in their own way, with local festivities and events in their areas.

I went to Iwate to visit an old friend from Northern Arizona University. He invited me up because he, his girlfriend, and a couple friends were going to carry one of the many portable shrines (mikoshi) through the parade in the streets. He and two other Americans had joined the team last year, and apparently had such a good time they were going to do it again this year. They payed a fee for their uniforms and the cost of food and drink that was provided to the group. Their group provided everyone with drinks and food before and after the 2 1/2 hours of marching through the streets of the town. Not carrying the shrine, I showed up for the preparation. Dozens of different groups, comprising schools, civic groups, companies, and other organizations all carried their shrines through the streets on their shoulders. A similar festival takes place in my city in October.

While I didn't carry the shrine, my friends had fun carrying it around. I left shortly before they started to carry the shrine off, and got lost in the labrynthine mess of streets in this town. By the time I finally found my bearings, I couldn't find their shrine to photograph! Regardless of this minor disappointment, I did enjoy the food that often accompanies these events, which includes yaki-soba (fried noodles), yaki-tori (grilled salty meat on skewers), and choco banana (take a guess). The first two taste great with beer.

The shrine carriers often try to make a show of being very dramatic, often lifting, pulling, spinning and dipping the shrine around to entertain spectators. The carriers of the mikoshi shrines also yell out cheers and chants, directed by the rhythm of old men blowing whistles in 3/4 time. Fueled with the stamina and energy of Kirin Lager beer, they sometimes get a little carried away, and wind up trampling the spectators lining the streets! I witnessed this a couple times as the whistle-blowing directors failed to steer their shrines away from unsuspecting spectators. I don't think anybody was hurt.

After this, I met up with them again at the after-party, where we had more food and drink. The entire group then rented out a karaoke place somewhere else in town, where we all went. It was a spectacular event with all the trimmings. While I had the luxury of taking a day to recover from the evenings' merriment, many of the participants have to carry the big thing on Sunday night as well. As in Koriyama, the festival is a 3 day event. In fact, they are probably marching through the streets in Hanamaki as I write these words!

The next day, Brenden cooked pancakes and eggs and we talked about our jobs, politics, and our two favorite professors from Northern Arizona University. In fact, I think I'm going to drop them a note sometime soon and let them know what we're up to.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Motomiya Song

Today marks the return to my new Japanese class. As some of you may know, I stopped taking classes in my own city and now go with a neighbor to a nearby "suburb" where I study with a group of volunteers, most of whom are really wonderful folks.
Being quite groggy from the endless insomnia I have been experiencing, I was dreading classes because in this class, you work with a tutor and I hadn't prepared anything to study that day.
Having spent two years in Japan, I shouldn't have been at all surprised to discover the entire 2 hours would be spent doing an opening ceremony, self introductions, and learning to sing the town's anthem. They handed out sheet music for Motomiyamachi's official song, and we went through it 3 times, doing all 4 verses each time.
I'm not sure how to describe the song, except that it could have been written in the 19th century, with the express purpose of putting elderly people to sleep. Sheet music is almost always written in Hiragana (the easy script) so my usual iliteracy excuse failed. It was the kind of song that evokes nostalgic images of one's hometown, the Japanese countryside, and Motomiyamachi. Due to my still somewhat limited Japanese, and unfamiliarity with local references, I couldn't understand the entire song. But it repeatedly mentioned the seasons, the the rice and some traditions of the local area.
Perhaps I was supposed to break down and start sobbing about 'mom and apple pie,' but I wasn't particularly moved.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Pictures from Pisa and Mons

Here are two more pictures for everyone to look at. The first is me at the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. Like my Dad said, I found the place to be somewhat tacky. A beautiful Romanesque Church and accompanying Baptistry sat in what could have been the most beautiful Piaza in all of Italy, save for 2 big flaws. The biggest flaw was the endless row of hawkers and vendors selling kitsch garbage and souvenir junk to all the hapless tourists. The second imperfection was the lean in the tower itself, damaging the pristine aesthetic effect of the other 3 buildings. I was a little more forgiving of the latter.
The second is a statue in a large Gothic Cathedral in Mons, Belgium. Mons is the town where my friend Pat lives with his partner Heike, and is very close to France. We visited this Cathedral in Mons shortly before I concluded my trip to the continent. It was quite nice, and I wish I had spent more time in Northern Europe touring these beautiful Gothic Structures.

I will try to put some more pictures out tomorrow or Friday. If you have any requests for pictures from my trip, I will see if I can accomodate you. If I went there, I'll put them up.

Google Earth Disclaimer

I just wanted to say, I looked for many other friends' houses and things in Google Earth, but couldn't always locate them! Until I learn to use it properly, (and not gingerly grabbing, scrolling, and skipping my way across the 2 dimentional semi-omnicient digital model of planet earth). I'll be looking for everyone's house soon enough, so clean up your yards please!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Today at School

Well, today was another day at Asaka-chu, which is now my largest school. I only had three classes, so I decided to wander into the "Industrial Arts" section, where a bunch of kids were making wooden spice racks and boxes. They were quite industrious, and most of them were making some really cool stuff. Nevertheless, there were several students I noticed who followed the "measure once, cut twice or thrice" doctrine of woodworking.
Anyways, I had great fun helping the kids cut with the saw and sanding around the edges. Things were going just great. Until I realized that the "Industrial Arts" classes are 2 periods long instead of one, making me five minutes late to my next class! Not good in Japan. Two other teachers were looking for me when I realized my mistake. So, I have a new policy: NO Industrial Arts until all the classes are done for the day, and the next day's lessons are all planned.
Also, I found Google Earth on the Computer at school! I asked the teachers if it worked and I was able to show them where my parents live in CO, except that on the Google Earth picture, there is no house there, only empty lots covering the block! I could see Chatfield Reservoir, Wadsworth, and our old house on Ottawa Drive.

With mild astonishment, and of supreme importance to my ego-centric self, I also found the following:

  1. What I think is my Uncle David's place in Tempe.
  2. What I think is the Hanson's House in Scottsdale (They all look the same from the sky).
  3. Couldn't find Jonathan and Jessica's place, but I found the route 60 and the 101 freeway overpass.
  4. My old summer Camp in Julian CA, YMCA Camp Marston. (The lake was bigger in the picture than it was in real life)
  5. My friend Pat's old Summer Camp, YMCA Camp Surf in Imperial Beach (the parking lot gave it away)
  6. My Old house at Redbud Trail in Memphis. (All the Japanese people were excited to see, and now think that everyone has their own pools in America. Should've shown them a trailer park.)
  7. My Alma Mater, Houston High School. Go Mustangs.
  8. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
  9. The Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House in Sydney.
  10. The Coluseum and Vatican in Rome.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find much of anything in Northern Arizona. I looked for Prescott and Flagstaff, but the photos were not that detailed. I had heard about Google Earth, but unfortunately my computer doesn't have the capacity to run the program.
For awhile, I was able to entertain some teachers with what I could tell them of the pictures, which was fun. Most of the Japanese were especially shocked at the size of parking lots in Phoenix, often thinking grocery stores were entire malls. Commercial Buildings do tend to be smaller here in Japan, for a variety of reasons I think. Anyways, if you haven't already, check out Google Earth.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Belly Button Weekly Caption Contest

Well, here we are again. Skilz won the last competition, which leaves him undefeated for 2 contests in a row! Come on people, help participate!! I know, I should practice what I preach. Anyways, you may now behold this week's photo. Again, make a caption. No rules, anything goes but let's keep it PG for the kids.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

New Pictures

Here are some more pictures of my trip in Italy, this time in Cinque Terre and Porto Fino, where I went with my Dad. As you can guess from the size of the yachts, Porto Fino was a ritzy place.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Daily Belly Button Lint Back in Action!!

Hello everyone,
Well, it turns out the fix to my blog was simpler than I thought it would be!! I'm back in action now!! Unfortunately, since my blog has been out of commission, a great deal has happened here.
Perhaps the most exciting news is that I'm now working at two new schools. I am relatively pleased with both of them. I will try to have some new pictures up soon enough.
But all is not well in Japan, as I have tried again, and failed, the Japanese Driver's License exam. Dealing with the Japanese DMV has truly been one of the most frustrating experiences of my life, and I cannot think of anything positive to say. It is quickly leaving me with a very negative impression of this country.
As for some other business, the winner of the Daily Belly Button Lint Caption Contest is: Skilz, with "Hush little baby don't you cry, grandma's gonna smell like formaldehide." Goes great with the picture of the dead grandma with the screaming toddler doesn't it?
Anyways, here is a picture from my summer vacation in Italy. These two shots are of the Island of Capris, which is Southwest of Naples. Capris was very nice.