Dec 30, 2006

Anecdotical Little Bits

I have plenty of amusing little conversations here in Nihon. "Do you have X in America," seems to be a perennial conversation topic. Here are a few of them:

Happy Birthday to That Guy

The 23rd was the Emperor's birthday, and therefore a national holiday. We had the day off. The day before, I was talking about this with Hip-Hop and asked him, "What's the Emperor's name again?"
He stared off into space for a while.
"Uh... Oh shit."
"You don't know?"
"It's not like the Emperor matters," he said.
"This is your country, you should know stuff like this!"
"Sorry, dude."
We had to look it up on Wikipedia. The Emperor's name is Akihito.

OMG! You Can Eat! Part I
I was eating an octopus salad for lunch, when the Lady Manager looked at me in sudden astonishment.
"You're eating octuopus?!" she said, her eyes bugging out of her skull.
"Do you like it?"
"Yeah. It's chewy and stuff."
She was still surprised, "I thought that only Japanese people liked octopus."
I was slightly put out by this.
"Nope," I said, "I like it. Especially fried. Squid's good, too."
"Do you eat octopus in America?"
"Yeah. Not all the time, but we have it."
"Wow," she said, her eyes still enormous. I'd have been less surprised by this if I didn't know that she'd lived abroad for two years in Australia and Canada.

"Do you have Street Fighter in America?" asked my Guy Manager.
"The video game? Yeah."
"You do!" He looked at me as if this was the best thing ever.
"Yeah, I love Street Fighter!" I said.
"SONIC BOOM!" He shouted, making Guile's hand gesture.
"HADOUKEN!" I replied.
This went on for a while. I guess you had to be there.

OMG, You Can Eat! Part II
I was out with some other teachers and a few students and...
"You're using o-hashi!" (chopsticks) said a student.
"Wow! When did you learn?"
"I don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know?"
"I don't know, I've just always used them."
"What? You mean in America?"
"You have o-hashi in America?"

Dec 28, 2006

Otsukaresamadessu: In Which I Pity the Managers

"It's an honorable, tired person."
That's roughly the meaning of "otsukaresamadessu," a common salutation/farewell here in Nihon. It's what you say to someone whom you work with when you see that they've been doing a good job, trying hard, and generally being productive. At work, we say this a lot.
Well, just to be funny, I sometimes say "Wow, look at that honorable tired person!" in English in a way over-enunciated fashion. This is funny only to me.
In particular, I say it to my two managers, both of whom put in an absolutely obscene amount of hours, in my alien gaijin opinion.
Now, Mr. Ecuador and Hip-Hop have explained to me that the work ethic in Japan is somewhat different. Quantity itself matters. Overtime and staying late on a regular basis is sort of expected, regardless of how much work you actually have to do. So, I regularly see the two managers sitting in their office late, doing all manner of emailing and paperwork, skulking blearily over computers and papers.
(I should point out here that they aren't managers in the sense that we use the term "manager" in the States, i.e., they don't have hiring of firing power. They basically manage the school and take care of clerical work, getting students to pay tuition, putting up with stuff from the head office, etc. So, they're not really my bosses so much as they are coworkers. If they could actually fire me I doubt I'd be nearly as sympathetic to them.)
I like both of them. One of them, the guy, belts out Nirvana's Lithium every single time we go out for Karaoke. Every time. After the Christmas party, while everyone else was singing seasonal stuff, he sang Lithium. I have the sneaking suspiscion that he wants the song to assume tactile, anthropomorphic form so he could hungrily make love to it and subsequently have it's baby. He loves it that much.
The other, the lady, is a bit more removed. I've been out drinking with her, but not really socializing. We get along alright, though.
Anyway, when I see these two, late at night, exhausted and covered in paperwork, I'm overcome by the urge to give them hugs and coffee. I don't- that would be unprofessional -but I want to. I do have the sneaking suspicion that they could probably get everything done in a reasonable amount of time and then go home with the rest of us. But, given the demands of Japanese business culture, I think that they would catch no amount of shit from the higher-ups if they did that, and must therefore "stretch" the work they have to do to last until eleven or so at night.
Poor managers. Poor paperwork swamped managers. You guys are awesome, but overworked. Otsukaresamadessu, guys.

Dec 26, 2006

Does Your Cerebral Cortex Need Glucose? No? Well, Too Bad!

I feel compelled to bring this most whimsical bit of "moving picture art" to your attention. I would like to stress that despite the name and the opening bubble bath scene this is not porn. Totally not porn. Sure, it's gratuitous in the way that Japanese pop culture seems to be perpetually gratuitious, so it's not really work safe, but all the naughty bits are covered. Stick around until you see the bad guy. He rocks. Also, she scarfs down a bunch of onigiri, which has rapidly become my favorite snack in the whole world.

Cutie Honey 01

This, I have decided, is why God made YouTube. This thing has everything! It's like a bit anime/sentai/slapstick/cop movie/superhero remix! Pure brain sugar.
This appears to be the start of a series or a movie or something, and I want more. More brain sugar. I can even make the excuse that watching this stuff qualifies as "studying Japanese," given that it's in Japanese. Whoo-hoo! Hooray for ADD style entertainment!

Update: So, I've just wasted a good portion of my life watching all of this. The middle part drags a little with a silly attempt at "plot" wherein the characters do dumb things like "talk to each other." Methinks they blew most of their sfx budget on the beginning and end of the movie. The middle does however, have more gratuitous semi-nudity, binge drinking and karaoke, a Ju-On parody, and the Chief tells Cutie Honey to stay out of her monologue.
So, that's less engaging. But damn, at least watch part eight. Part eight has fireballs and a musical number.
I am now painfully aware of my incurable geekyness. It kinds of stings.

Dec 25, 2006

The End of the Beginning

It's Christmas day, and also the two month mark for me.
This is the first Christmas that I've ever been away from my family, and I'm happy to report that it's by no means the depressing, lonely, suicide-inducing experience that one generally expects that sort of thing to be. I'm going to a get-together with some other westerners tonight, we're going to sing Christmas songs and bond over our mutal estrangements. Fun times.
At two months, I think it's time for a bit of reflection. I feel like I've settled into things, like the initial shock has subsided, and like I've adjusted a bit. It is the end of the beginning.
I remember when I was in SFO, having to transfer from Portland. I remember seeing a whole mass of Japanese people waiting for the plane, and hearing annoucements in both English and Japanese, and I remeber feeling weird and disoriented by suddenly being a minority. I'm serious. Being an English-speaking white American who had been inside the country his whole life, I was jarred by the fact that I was suddenly not linguistically or ethnically "normal."
I hardly notice it now, though. Walking around, I've come to be accustomed to being a stranger. I do miss being able to speak well, or being innocuous. But, generally, I've become used to being what I think of as the opposite of Ellison's invisible man- I am a visible, glaring other.
Now, I think I might step into pretentious territory here.
I'm a linguistic and ethnic minority here. I'm not trying to conjure up any pathos with that description, I'm merely stating a fact. This is underscored by the fact that I'm paid to basically be American at people- my language is my marketable skill here. At the risk of sounding trite, I think that this whole experience has liberalized me a great deal. I think I know, just a little now, what it's like to be a minority. Granted, I have it good. I have my own apartment, an alright job, and don't have much difficulty with things. But, I still have that whole "Visible Man" thing going on. It's not a bad thing, but it's not like I could ever get rid of it or put it down.
I'm sort of wondering how, if at all, it will change me when I get back to the states. I'm curious if I will think about things such as immigration and race in a different fashion. Already, I think that Spanish on ATMs is a great idea. Finding English language stuff in Okayama isn't that easy, so I am somewhat grateful when I see something that I can understand. I think I can identify, a bit, with non-English speakers in the States, and how they are probably quite relieved to see their own language on something.
So yeah- There's something. Spanish on ATMs, and on customer service lines. I used to never see it, but now that I'm here surrounded by different alphabets and innumerable pictographs, I'm all for making things easier for people with different languages. I didn't wholly "get" that until I got here.
So- Yay for bilingual education! Hooray for cultural immersion! Hell-yeah for multilingualism! Merry Christmas!

Dec 17, 2006

My Reviews of Japanese Stuff, Part III: A Book, a Point of Etiquette, and a Transportation Phenomenon

Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto
Oh, Banana Yoshimoto. You're adorable.
Back in my bookstore days, I remember shelving/hearing about Yoshimoto quite a bit, but never read anything by her. So, in my quest to delve into Japanese literature, I picked up Kitchen, her best known book. I liked it. Ok, it's not great literature. It's light and fluffy, much like an amicable cat or the delightful holiday film Love, Actually. Not super great, but fun and smile-making.
That said, I'm now going to way overthink the book's sexual politics.
I picked up Kitchen right after I finished Confessions of a Mask, and was surprised that I'd yet again stumbled on another big, gay, Japanese book. Kitchen, though, isn't the sex-hell that Mishima describes.
The two stories in the book both feature men who dress as women- the first has undergone full-on sexual reassignment surgery, the second dresses in women's clothing. I find it curious, that in both stories the men's sexual different-ness is construed as a reaction to grief. And it seems, that because she presents transgenderism as a dramatic reaction to grief, Yoshimoto tacitly justifies it for the given circumstances of her characters.
But, that's not good enough, methinks.
I don't doubt Yoshimoto's sincerity. Like I said, she's adorable. She seems to have genuine empathy for her queer characters, but perniciously portrays alternative sexuality as something arising from extraordinary circumstances, not as something that's part of (that big, pretentious term) the human condition. I know that she wrote Kitchen as a young woman, and I wonder if her views have matured in the past twenty some years.
Japan is a much less sexually liberal contry than the U.S. So, I'm wondering if maybe I should have a "take what I can get" sort of attitude when it comes to any gleaming of sexual liberalism. Yoshimoto is a happy, pluralistic utopia compared with the brooding stylings of Mishima, so maybe instead of being annoyed at her for not being liberal enough, I should just be glad she's basically on my side philosophically. Hmm.
The book is fun, though. It's not the "new voice of young Japan" that people have proclaimed it to be, but if you want to be distracted for an afternoon, then I'd recommend it.

Being Expected To Slurp
Ramen, that is. This one requires somethign of a story-
One night, at the local gaijin bar, I was speaking English with a bunch of people, when all of a sudden this rather colorful dude walks in with a girl at his side. The guy was maybe in his sixties, gray hair, lined face, but wearing a pair of shiny leather pants with an enormous rhinestone buckle. It was like Texas had invaded his abdomen. This guy was what the word "jolly" was made for. He was old, his face lined, but he was active and outgoing, and was promptly able to charismatically dominate the bar, even though he spoke practically no English.
Beside him, was a girl maybe a third of his age. At first I thought it was a sugardaddy/armpiece arrangement, but I figured out that they were just friends. She was obviously in "going out" wear, but nothing of her's really matched her geriatric companion's cow-made culottes or shiny belt bling. She, too, spoke practically no English.
So, this old leather pants dude starts giving the gaijin there improptu Japanese lessons. It's incredible. He speaks very slowly, is happy and laughs a lot, and and everyone likes him. Meanwhile, the girl is hitting on me, and asks me if I like ramen. "Yes," I say. "I really want some ramen," she says as a pretention of getting us out of the bar. However, the leather pants guy managed to overhear us, and happily invited himself to ramen with us.
So, me, her, and the old guy in leather pants all go out for ramen at about one thirty in the morning. We sit there, and with their sparse English and my bare-bones Japanese, we actually managed to have a conversation. Apparently, he is an architect, and she is a geography student. And, while eating ramen, they told me all about slurping.
"In Japan," he said, "you slurp." He made a long, loud wet sound as he ate the ramen, and looked at me with the universal expression for "now you try."
I did, and forsaking all instinct and ingrained behavior patters, slurped up the noodles.
This was very weird for met. I sort of get this. I mean, slurping means you enjoy it, right? Which is good. But, for me, the slurping motion seems wholly unnatural. I try to do it, to fit in, but I'd much rather just simply swallow my ramen and be efficient about it rather than tacking on a superfluous slurping step.
But, now whenever I'm in a restaurant and eating some liquid-intensive food, I just think back to meeting the leather pants dude and the girl, and how they said "good job" to me as I got on my bike to bid them adieu. "Now you can slurp," they said, each giving me the thumbs-up sign in the moonlight. I rode home. I didn't make it with the girl, but I was quite happy with my new culinary knowledge.
And I do slurp. Loudly. The other gaijin think it's disgusting.

Maybe this is just an Okayama thing. I've heard that in big cities, traffic is quite regularized. But, out here in the "definitely-a-city-but-there's-lots-of-country-and-rural-stuff-around" land of Okayama, the street traffic is maddening. I'm not talking about driving (I don't have a car here) I mean biking and walking. I'm serious. Walking is confusing.
Except for one glorious street, Okayama doesn't have any bike lanes. So, everyone here just rides their bikes on the sidewalks. You'd think that this wouldn't be too big a deal. The sidewalks are very, very wide, so you'd think that the bikes would be consigned to one side, and pedestrians another. No, this is not the case.
I'm going to digress for a moment.
I have a friend back in Eugene, K, who is absolutely maddening to ride bikes with. Maddening because she's extrodinarily slow. When I ride my bike, I don't actually sit in the saddle. I stand up, so I can extend my legs all the way, only ever sitting when I'm stopping or going extremely slowly. K actually sits down. She sits in the saddle and leisurely pedals forward. When I asked her about this, she told me that bike riding should be "relaxing." I don't understand this. I mean, it can be relaxing sometimes, but mostly I think of bike riding as a form of rapid transit/exercise, neither of which you get leisurely sitting in the saddle, slowly pedaling forward.
Everyone in Okayama seems to ride like K. Everyone. Old ladies hunch over handle bars going the approximate speed of a peg-legged chihuahaua. Business guys chatting on their cell phones, their personal transport a secondary task. Short-skirted schoolgirls creeping across sidewalks like some great, gradual uniformed mob.
Not only that, but Euclidian geometry is oftentimes merrily discarded by the populace of Okayama, and instead of walking in straight lines, folks seem to have this sort of meandering mosey that they do everywhere and anywhere. They zig, they zag, the stop for a moment or two. I don't get it. There are plenty of times, when I'm walking in a perfectly straight line, and I'll almost run into someone. How does this happen? How? I'm getting better at it. It's like it's a giant game of Frogger.

(For the record: I loves ya, K! Even with the slow-bike stuff. Seriously! You rock, and such.)

Dec 13, 2006

Meet My Students

So, this post is one of the reasons that I have yet to divulge my the name of my company or real name on this blog, as I could probably get fired or at least reprimaned for describing my students like I'm about to, if my superiors ever found out about this little project of mine.. But, whatever. The veneer of anonymity should be enough to "cover my ass," as we say in the parlance of our times.
For the record, I really like most of my students. If you are the type of person who has "foreign language" as a hobby, then you're probably a smart, nerdy sort- my kind of people. So, my opinion for the most part of the people I teach English to is generally very positive. Seriously, they're good people, all smart and interesting and such, and it's a pleasure to teach them.
On that note, meet...

Snuffles is retarded.
I don't mean "retarded" in the way that people say, "Oh, that's so retarded," or in the way that kids say, "No, you're retarded!" No, I mean that he has an actual mental disorder. It took me a while to realize this. He is mercifully signed up for private lessons.
Confusingly enough, the teacher before me just talked up how brilliant this guy is. Snuffles was my predecessor's favorite student, for some reason. I eventually found out that they just spent the entire time each lesson talking about video games and baseball, and barely touched on the textbook. So, it was just hang-out time for them, not lesson time. The result of this, is that my predecessor has gave me a highly distorted view of this guy, and Snuffles had different expectations as to what would be in a lesson.
So, when I've attempted to actually teach him something, I've failed miserably. I can't get the man to talk. He stares off into space, and makes this weird breathing noise, hence his nom de blog, "Snuffles."
He has no job, does not go to school, is maybe thirty or so years old, and lives with his parents, who pay for his lessons. He enjoys video games and baseball, and not much else. I've had to edit lesson material for him, because the textbook has lots of prompts like "talk about your job or school" or "talk about your girlfriend or boyfriend" that are utterly meaningless to him.
One of the things that's ironic about this, is that his English is actually quite good. When he does talk, he sounds perfect, albeit with a stutter. He even avoids virtually all of the common mistakes that Japanese speakers generally make with English. So, his English isn't a problem, his behavior is. The man's a linguistic Rain Man, but I haven't been able to connect with him yet. I might just give in and try talking to him about video games and baseball for a lesson. I don't even have an ESL certification, which is hard enough. Lacking special ed training makes this especially daunting. In the meantime, I'm going to keep trying new things with Snuffles. Something has to work.

Team Hyper Destructo Squad
This is a group of three kids, all young boys. They enjoy hitting each other.
I've frequently had to pry them apart or peel them off the floor, or separate whatever given two are beating up on a given one at a given time. The weird paradoxical part, is that they all actually seem to like each other. They laugh, talk, and play together, and then, for no reason that I can discern, start beating each other up. I'm sure a child psychologist could tell me why this makes sense.
They also enoy throwing things at each other. Now, I've got lots of games in my kids classes that involve tossing balls, but these guys are not content to simply do an underhand pass to each other. No, each one stands up, points at another, and makes some shouting pronouncement before they toss a ball. I'm pretty sure that they're imagining themselves as anime characters charging up, and shouting the name of, various projectile attacks, and are probably imagining the background as filled with motion lines.

Superkid rocks. He's a really smart, bright guy whose parents have made sure that he grows up bilingual. I think he's maybe fifteen or so, but the kid is one of my most advanced, fluent students. He constantly doubts his English abilities, and has a definite accent, but he has a vocabulary that's probably larger than some native speakers. He does his homework! He takes notes! He has interesting opinions! Yay, Superkid!

Team Genius Beginner Types
I have one class that's two doctors and an engineer. Technically, they are all very low level students, but they're making enormous progress. For instance, when I tell them something, they write it down, and then do it right from then on. It's incredible! They actually say "I don't have any questions," rather than "nothing," a very common Japanese-to-English mistake that even some of my higher levels (and managers) still make. It's sort of incredible how fast they're going- they do not speak very much English, but are rapidly, rapidly adding to their repetoir. They, like Superkid, also rock.

Drunk and Violent
Everyone hates Drunk and Violent. I first mentioned her back in this post, where she told me all about how she does not like people from "Latin countries." I've never actually seen her drunk or violent, but apparently she's been both with some frequency in the past. At school functions she proclaimed various students to be her "enemies" and apparently enjoyed hitting my predecessor quite a bit. So far, I haven't had very many problems with her. I suspect it's because I sort of scare the shit out of her, being significantly less of a pushover than my predecessor. Here's hoping she stays a little off balance.

The Twin Whirlwinds of Death
Two more kids, a boy and a girl. This week, the first thing they did when they came to my room was dump the wastebasket onto the floor. It didn't even enter into my conciousness that someone, kid or no, would do that. I mean, it's a garbage can. Who on earth dumps over a garbage can onto the floor of a classroom? Apparently the Twin Whirlwinds of Death do.
Then they screamed a lot. After that, they got in a fight and then there was some more screaming. "Let's use our words," I said as I tried to calm them down, "remember words? Those are what we used before we turned into howler monkeys." This, of course, was lost on them. And I ended up junking all pretentions of actually teaching them, and just kept them distracted enough so that they didn't destroy the school/each other. They seem to enjoy jumping.

I'm constantly trying to get better at relating to my students. I'll be honest- I want them, all of them, to like me. Well, I could care less about Drunk and Violent, actually, but I really do want to like and be liked by the rest of them. I'm even including the kids here. A lot of it is probably just time, really, but I've found something else that has really helped. Being able to say a little bit of Japanese to my students after class has helped immensely. When they see that I'm trying to learn their language, just like they're trying to learn mind, it helps with establishing a link. It's a sort of linguistic/academic empathy thing, and it does wonders towards gaining their trust.

Dec 12, 2006

The Hideous Joy of Teaching Children: "Oh boy, it's phonics time!"

So, I mostly teach adults. Well, mostly college students, actually, but every weekday I also have either one or two kids classes. I think that the phrase "love/hate relationship" was coined precisely to describe my relationship with these classes. I love them because, really, they are quite simple. But my job as a Hired Tongue For Kids is pretty straightforward. I hate these classes for reasons that I'm about to elucidate.
I had no idea what to do with the kids when I first got here. No idea. I think my forehead alone sweated a good quart when I realized that I supposed to teach the writhing mass of prepubescence before me, and that I would have to do it on my own. There was a very small voice in my head that said "run," and a very large feeling in my gut that said "ow," and I strode into the classroom and decided to just sort of wing it. You know in School of Rock when Jack Black tries to act like a real teacher? It was kind of like that, but without guitars or Jodie Foster.
Initially, the kids had two reactions to me- utter brattiness, and sheer terror. I remember, very clearly, meeting one of my meekest students, a rather small girl who I think is younger than the other members of her class. Her English is not that good, and I remember saying "Hi," to her the first time.
"Hi," said me.
"Hi!" I told her my name, "What's your name?"
Silence, but this time with shirking into a corner. Also, attempts to become much smaller.
"Hi!" I said again.
It was here that I noticed that big, wet tears were welling up into her eyes, and that I should probably just back off and move on before I had a screaming, crying child on my hands. Still, she said a grand total of nothing the first lesson. I thought about how her parents had paid a goodly sum of money for their child to sit there and be scared witless.
Another little boy actually did cry, loudly, when he saw me. I asked the mom into the classroom with him, and he spent most of the time curled up in his mother's lap while she tried to get him to let go and talk to me. The mother spoke barely any English, but I managed to make some smalltalk with her for a while, and the kid eventually disentangled himself himself from his parent. In the remaining time, we counted to five, played with a ball, and learned that "R is for Rabbit."
For the most part, though, the little 'uns have learned that I am not, in fact, some sort of hideous tentalcle monster which slimily desires to force their squirming and screaming forms into one of my several teeth-betstrewn maws. They've warmed to me, and even if some of them are still very shy, I don't think tears are a problem anymore. Brattiness, however, is.
Last week one of my students (a boy) kicked another (a very small girl) in the face. The week before, three rather rambunctious boys got in a three way punch fest with each other. The week before that, this one girl decided that it would be fun to empty my bookshelf.
Now, in my initial training in Vancouver, we were given this nice little primer on How Japanese Culture Is Different From Ours. The two trainers went on and on about collectivism vs individualism, and all sorts of stuff that would probably make Samuel Huntington grin like a Cheshire Cat.
One thing in particular that they mentioned was how Japanese kids are instilled with a sense of behavior and duty from a very young age. The man who talked about this (and, funnily enough, was Canadian) described how in Japanese schools kids as young as three all line up in neat rows and bow to their teachers, are obedient, etc. This man (who, by the way, was from Canada- a country well know for not being Japan) was full of what I like to call "shit." Japanese kids, methinks, are just as self-centered, rambunctious, violent, and shrill as children anywhere else. Not that that's a bad thing, mind you. In a way, it's sort of comforting to know (in a sort of We-Are-the-World/Kumbaya sort of way) that kids are nasty little snots no matter what country or culture they're from.
But I digress, ever so slightly.
As they've gotten used to me, and as I've settled into a teaching routine, things have gotten much, much better. I think I give a pretty stern "No!" face when I want the kids to knock a given thing off, and I've come to love, absolutely love, phonics time. Phonics time is when they listen to a CD which sounds things out and they try to spell words. It usually takes up about 15 or so minutes of class, and during that time, my brain goes somewhere else. It's a good mental health moment, something that thoroughly de-irony-izes my somewhat tongue-in-cheek exhortations of phonics.
It's not great. I prefer teaching adults to children, and I prefer teaching high level students to low. But, the kids are no longer the daunting pile of expecations that they were when I first got here. In fact, I think that some of them might even start to like me. Last week I got a hug from the little boy who at first wouldn't stop crying. It was cute. So, it's nice to see something that seems initially unmanageable and daunting sort of unravel itself and become routine.
It certainly is (as I said) simple once you get the hang of it, but the whole enterprise does require a fair amount of focus for me. I'm sometimes winded at the end of a kids class, and have to fight the urge to undo my tie. Sometimes, I have tell myself to be very, very patient in class, and to mentally check out for a moment or so. Sometimes I need an extra coffee before I start a class. But it's good, it's workable. I'll probably talk plenty more about kids here in the future.
Yay for phonics time.

Dec 9, 2006

In Which I Become Ridiculously Attired, But Am First Haunted by the Hungry Ghost of Perry Como

Yes, that's me in a Santa Costume. I've worn a lot of silly things in my life- a kilt, beret, a tuxedo, various capes and cloaks, an altar boy's alb, an executioner's hood, a nun's habit, pirate garb, a Boy Scout uniform, chainmail, a pith helmet, etc. But I thought that I had some sort of autobiographical immunity to ever dressing up as Santa. Hahaha! How wrong I was! Japan has seen to it that I must now "Santa Suit" to this list of Silly Things I've Worn. I was kind of hoping to give that one a pass. More on this later...

My parents have this horrible tape that they play every year. It's called Perry Como Sings Merry Christmas Music. This thing is awful. Pure waves of scholck and non-ironic kitsch radiate from the speakers when this thing plays. In my set of mental signifiers, the stress and travails of holiday travails are summed up nicely in the crooning cadences of Perry Como wandering through an insufferable rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas.
Wait, what I am I saying? That's totally redunant. All renditions of The Twelve Days of Christmas are insufferable. That repetetive, banal ballad is possibly the worst song ever. Even worse than Abracadabra by the Steve Miller Band. And who really wants a bunch of lords-a-leaping anyway? And when are the twelve days of Chirstmas? Boo this song!
So, there's this Perry Como Chrstmas tape that I can't stand. I thought that being in Japan would be a good opportunity to miss out on all the things that I don't like about Japan- the family stress, the horrible songs, the consumerism, etc. I was somewhat wrong about a few of these things.
You see, they have Christmas over here in Japan. Granted, it's different than in the States, but it's still very much here. The stores and malls are decked out with red and green, there are lights everywhere, and when you walk through any public space, you can hear hideous, hideous Christmas music.
Like Perry Como.
I was in Okayama station, and suddenly noticed the music on the PA system. It was familiar- very familar. It was something that I'd heard before, something familar in a strange way. It was, of course, Perry Como singing his hideous and saccharine version of The Twelve Days of Christmas.
Even with a Political Science degree, I hated American cultural hegemony more then than ever at this moment. No amount of intellectualizing can match the visceral disgust of audiophonic repulsiveness making its way across the vast Pacific. (Of course, I basically owe my job to American cultural hegemony, but that's another rant.)
Why couldn't it have been Tony Bennet or Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin or somthing? Those guys were cool. They were suave, well dressed, charismatic, and smooth and stuff. If Tony or Frank or Dino belted out some kitschy Christmas music, even they could probably make it sound nifty and sexy. But no. It was Perry Como, their insufferable imitator.
I cringed as I made my way to Kurashiki.

Every year my school has a Christmas party. And, every year, some poor sap has to dress up as Santa. The students and teachers all bring a small gift (nothing more than 500 yen) and everyone puts it in a bad, and Santa (this year, me) randomly gives everyone a present.
I basically got stuck with the Santa job because I'm new and everyone else said "not it" before I could. One of my managers approached me earlier this week and told me that I would have to be Santa, and that I had be be "genki" about it. "Genki" in Japanese literally means "healthy," but it's also used to mean happy, enthusiastic, and nifty and such.
Mr. Ecaudor obligingly dressed up in a reindeer hat to help me hand out the presents, and I must say that I do belt out a damn genki "ho ho ho!"
It was fun. Lots of fun, actually. Us teachers and a bunch of the students went to karaoke afterwards, for lots of Christmas karaoke action. British Girl and I sang a duet of Fairytale of New York by the Pogues, which is basically the best Christmas song ever, but the humor, irony and slight mournfulness of the song was lost on our Japanese audience.
However, a good time was had by all, and I returned home feeling downright festive. I'm missing Christmas this year- no friends, no family- but at least I got trussed up in fake beard and silly hat for the first time.
Ho ho ho.

Dec 8, 2006

Is this post emo? God, I hope it isn't emo. It might be. Oh well.

I'm starting to feel it- I'm starting to feel the first pangs of homesickness.
I'm not writing in despair or anything, well, not yet, but I'm definitely missing Oregon. It's weird. It's not really an all-pervasive thing- it's more like every so often, for a period of about fifteen or twenty minutes I will intensely miss home.
I was in a 100 yen shop (100 yen is just under a dollar, and 100 yen shops have basically everything in them) and this Marvin Gaye song started playing on the PA system. I don't know which song it was, but I recognized the voice. It had been Japanese pop a moment before, and suddenly it switched to Marvin Gaye. I was looking at plastic containers to use as classroom organizers, and stood far back enough so that I could only see the Arabic numerals on their labels. I squinted a bit, lost sight of the Japanese script below the numbers, and listened to Marvin Gaye for a few moments. For a few moments I thought about what it would be like if one of the salespeople came up to me and said, "excuse me, is there something I can help you find."
And that was it- that was my momentary fantasy and reverie for a period of about one minute in store. My fantasy had no weirdness, no sex, no outlandish things such as dinosaurs or UFOs- just a momentary daydream about being able to speak, however prosaically, to a stranger. I think that's when I knew that it was starting, that I was dropping ever so slightly down the curve of the chart, that I was about to find out what it was like to miss home.
Since then, I've had moments- nothing traumatic, but moments where the awareness of my incredible situation is eclipsed by my awareness of my separation. For a few moments I seem struck by a bizzare blindness wherein I no longer am curious about where I am, where I do not try to figure out Japanese speech, where I do not attempt to learn new things. Instead, I simply want something familiar.
After the fact, these moments are frustrating. I'm here to learn, and to have moments where I occasionally rebel from my ambitions seems emotionally and intellectually cowardly. However, I know that those after-the-fact reflections are in themselves immature, that homesickness is something natural and expected, an extension of one's love for family, friends, home, etc. It would be pathological in its absence.
I know that I will adapt. I know that I will develop something like a simulacrum of a "life" here (I'm already doing that, really) and put my mind at ease. But for now twenty minutes of sadness surprise me every so often. It will not lasts, but it pangs while it persists.

Dec 5, 2006

An Open Letter to a Cyclopean Modernist

This post has nothing whatsoever to do with Japan. Instead, it's about a book. Ok, there's a little about Japan. But it's mostly book stuff.

Dear James Joyce,
I'm sorry. I'm very, very sorry. I take it all back. Ok, most of it. There's probably some stuff I don't remember. Anyway, sorry about that.
The point is, I've talked a lot of shit about you in the past. Unjustified shit. Shit that I wish I could unshit. I'm very sorry. For some godunknown reason, I thought that it would be "cool" or "hip" to make blanket judgements about you. You see, lots of people really, really like you. "Hey, that James Joyce is really revered and respected," I thought, "that probably means he sucks!" And knowing what I did about the incomprehensibility of Finnegan's Wake, I thought that was probably true, that the only people who actually read you were musty literary professors and pretentious guys with beards.
I decided that I needed some justification for hating you so much, so I did end up reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. And you know what? I hated it. I felt so justified. "Yeah," I thought, "this does suck!" Now, I'm not taking that back. The first time I read Portrait, I did hate it. I'll explain why.
I identified with it far, far too much. Stephen's struggle with and subsequent rejection of Catholocism, his musings about aesthetics, and his longing to leave Ireland cut way, way too close for me. I disliked to book because it made me uncomfortable, like a stranger who can give you an overly accurate description of your situation. I was also in a somewhat bad position then- for a variety of reasons I thought that I was "done" growing up, that I'd put aside fancies and ambitions. Both I and my girlfriend at the time had convinced ourselves that we wanted stable, ordinary jobs. Reading about Stephen and his ambitions was too cutting. Here was a book about someone whom I related to far too much, who resolved to do the sort of thing that I longed for but had shirked from. The idea was disturbing, and so I said, "I hate this book."
I've recently reread Portrait here in Japan, and the experience was entirely different.
I did not approach it from a standpoint of frustrated longing this time. Rather, it was from a standpoint of doing. Here I am, now, in Japan, and instead of resigning myself to a life that I do not want, I feel I'm now "encounter[ing] for the millionth time the reality of experience." Here in another country I am no longer the shirking, guilt ridden Stephen who walks sullenly down the streets of Dublin demonizing his own desires. Instead, I feel much more akin to the later Stephen, the invoker of the "old artificer" who has gone forth to actually do something with his life.
So, Mr. Joyce, I loved the book. Loved it. When I put aside my cynisim and pretentions, when I approached it with a new perspective and an open mind, I thought it was excellent. Admittedly, I didn't think that it was necessarily the third best book ever written in English, but I believe that it was Tolstoy who said that "Shakespeare is actually quite good, despite all of the people who say he's quite good." I think the same could be said about you.
Something that I did not catch when I first read the book was that the writing style very clearly mirrors Stephen's mindset at the time. This is stupidly obvious, in hindsight, but from the first page with the baby-talk to the end parts which are reminiscent of a Socratic diologue, the novel does not describe Stephen, it is Stephen in a way. It seems to me that the very ending of the book, where the third person narration ends and the reader is suddenly plunged into Stephen's journals, represents a sort of epiphany and maturity on the part of the main character. It is as if, through the use of epistolary, he has gained the ability to be self-representative.
Quite frankly, the book left me feeling what I like to call "jazzed." "Yeah," I'm thinking to myself, "I want to have aesthetic epiphanies and do stuff! Whoo-hoo! Fire up the smithy of my soul, yo!" I admit it, Mr. Joyce. You make me feel all fuzzy and artsy inside.
SonicLlama, The Hired Tongue

I made a note of this passage when I came across it. Here, Stephen is speaking with an English priest and realizing that English was exported to Ireland, and that for his ancestors it was a borrowed language. This is a great passage (if a little unsettling) for one teaching or learning a new language:

"The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay."

Of course, when viewed in context of later events this passage actually takes on a hopeful tone. Not only does Stephen "accept its words," he does grand things with them. Here's hoping, then, both for me and my students.

Dec 2, 2006

Myst as Metaphore

I'm going to geek out in this post. A lot.
In Mark Haddon's most diverting yarn, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, the prepubescent autistic narrator must travel alone to London. He's never done this before, and his youth and autism both make the task something very difficult for him. To make the task easier for himself, he thinks of the whole thing like a video game, a video game he calls Train to London. He thinks of all the things that he needs to do to "solve" the video game- buying a ticket, figuring out the schedule, finding his platform, etc. He likens it all to Myst, a game where the player is simply dropped into an unfamiliar environment and must figure out what the hell to do simply given cues around them.
That's kind of where I'm at right now. Not speaking Japanese or understanding various conventions is a little like being bewildered and autistic, and the whole thing is a bit like a video game called Living in Japan. Every day I go out and try to "solve" bits of this game. Language puzzles mostly, but also exploring my environment and deducing social and cultural conventions by watching people do things.
I'm playing the fourth Myst game right now. At once it is quit nice to have something familiar- I've been following the series since the first game was released- but at the same time I'm sort of struck with the absurdity that I go out all day and puzzle things out, study Japanese and try to puzzle it out, and then pop a DVD into my computer wherein I try to puzzle out fictional things. Maybe I'm some sort of brain masochist.
But, the whole process is both frustrating and rewarding. It's frusrating that I can't fluently read hirigana and katakana yet, and it's frustrating that I get stuck on the "turn on the power" puzzles in Myst (because every Myst has at least one "turn on the power" puzzle). But, at the same time, both sort of experiences constantly yield intellectual rewards. Last night I saw "sareda" in katakana on a menu, and thought "yeah, salad." I was quite happy that I was able to read something so prosaic and utilitarian. Likewise, in Myst there is always the rewarding experience of making one more thing happen. More often than not it's not something big, it's more along the lines of "oh, so that's what this button does." Small "salad" moments.
Certainly, I will never get to the point with regards to the Japanese language or Japanese culture where I have dramatic moments. The moments in Myst where a bunch of gears grind together, the power turns on, and a bridge dramtically lowers. No, in the real world I'm going to have to content myself with "what does this button do?" Little things. "Salad" moments.
Incidentally, the fourth Myst game (Revelations, it's called) is as mind-bending as ever. It doesn't have the feeling of creepy alone-ness that made the earlier ones so good, but the puzzles are fun- there's even one where you have to work out the phonetics of a fictional alphabet.
Yay fictional alphabets! You're what I have fun with when I'm tired of working on real alphabets!
Yup, total brain masochist geek type here.

Nov 28, 2006

Unrespectable Mythology: The Htichhiker, Cursed Kleenex, and Hanako-San

You know the story of the Vanishing Hitchhiker, right? Today, I did what I thought was impossible- I scared someone with it. I thought that everyone and their dog had heard that story, but today I actually frightened one of my students with it. It's nice to know that if you haven't heard that story a million and a half times, the tale really does have a bit of ghostly "oomph" to it.
There's a lesson in our textbooks all about the past simple and past continuous, and urban legends are the topic of conversation. So, for one brief moment the textbook becomes much less like a staid english text, and more like The Transitive Vampire.
My student walked in, sat down, and looked at me. "I want to tell you a story," I said.
"Ok," she said.
"I was driving one night through a dark forest- there are plenty of those in Oregon -and was far away from town. It was raining a little and off to the side of the road, I saw a young woman with her thumb out." I mimed thumbing a ride.
"She wanted a ride?"
"Yes. I let her in. She didn't talk ver much, and I let her off at a house in town. But, when I got home, I noticed she'd left her jacket in my car." By this point, my student was fully able to tell that I was telling a "scary" story. I'd let my voice drop a little, let my left hand splay out on the table, and gestured broadly with my right. I might as well have had a flashlight under my face.
"What happened?" she asked with obvious anticipation.
"I went back to the house where I let her off the next day, and rang the doorbell. An old, old woman answered the door."
"An old woman?"
"Yes. I told her the jacket belonged to a young woman who lived there. 'there's no one like that here,' said the woman."
"What?" said my student.
"I was surprised, too," I said, maintaining my role as narrator, "But I saw woman's picture above the fireplace. 'Her,' I said, 'this is her jacket.'
"'There must be some mistake,' said the old woman, 'that's my daughter-" and here I looked my student directly in the eye and let it be known that I was pronouncing the zinger, "'she was killed twenty five years ago while hitchhiking!'"
"NO!" My student grabbed the ends of the table, and looked at me, startled.
"YES!" I said emphatically, "SHE'D BEEN DEAD THE WHOLE TIME!"
"YOU SAW A GHOST!" My student panted, and here eyes were approximately the size of dinner plates.
"No," I said, "I didn't. That never happened to me. That's an urban legend, a type of story, and it's the topic of today's lesson about the past simple and past continuous..."
In the prepared materials there were several other urban legends incorporated into the lesson, such as the Stolen Kidney Legend, the Hookhand Legend (one I've always found curious- If you had a hook for a hand, why would you try to open a car door with it?), the Man In the Backseat, and the ever-creepy Tale of the Babysitter.
I love urban legends,folklore itself is a fascinating area of study, and urban legends demonstrate that it's not just a hoary academic field exclusively about old German stories. Mythology is actually happening right now. And they have a weird creepiness to them- they come from nowhere, they star no one but stock roles, and the twists are as inevitable and often obvious, but they've got something to them.
So, I've yet to find a good website on Japanese Urband Legends, but I asked Hip-Hop about them, and he told me a few good ones:

A man was cleaning up one night around his restaurant, and found a stray dog rummaging through the garbage. The dog was mangy, dirty, and stank. The man hit the thing with his broom handle and said, "shoo, shoo." The dog turned to him, revealing a filthy human face, "don't bother me," it said, and went back to eating.

Apparently, this commercial is cursed, a la the video in The Ring. Admittedly, it's sort of creepy and weird, but the story goes that everyone who worked on it found only hideous tragedy, and that those who see it will face misfortune or death.

A husband and wife were on vacation in Paris, and the woman was in a dressing room in a boutique trying on clothes. The husband waited outside, and after some time, she didn't come out. He went inside, but she wasn't there. The dressing room was a blank square space, and he couldn't find her anywhere. He asked the boutique's staff, the police, everyone. No one could find his wife.
The man returned to Japan, and five years passed. One day, just as he'd finally gotten used to life without his wife, he saw her- in a carnival freakshow, missing her arms and legs.

And of course, Hanako-San.
Hanako-San is a very prevalent urban legend in Japan, and reminds me of Bloody Mary. The story goes that she was a small girl, one bullied and teased by all the other girls in her school. One day, she locked herself in the fourth stall in the girl's bathroom (the number four has negative connotations in Japan) and killed herself. Or she was murdered, the story changes.
Anyway, if you go into a school restroom at night, you can hear her crying. If you knock on the door of the fourth stall, you'll hear a faint voice give a small, cold "hai." She'll come if you simply say "Hanako-San" in a darkened bathroom, and she's rather curiously inspired a series of movies. Apparently, lots of little schoolkids are terrified of her and it seems that J.K. Rowling culled a bit from Japanese pop culture when she made Moaning Myrtle.

So, yeah. I got a fair amount of kicks today off learning about some Japanese urban legends. Incidentally, the lesson went great, with me and the student using all sorts of grisly and creepy examples to illustrate the past tense. More grammar lessons should have ghosts and such, methinks. Now, maybe I should go learn some respectable mythology while I'm here.

Nov 27, 2006

In The Korakuen Garden

Yesterday I took a bit of time to see Okayama's major landmark, the Korakuen garden. It was the sort of day that I'm freakishly fond of- one in which the clouds envelop the landscape like this great silent blanket. There was a breeze and a slight chill as I headed to the island in the middle of the city where the garden resides.
I have a fairly good impression of Japanese garden styles. Even though everything is all planned out in the broad scheme of things, it tends to look more naturalistic. The planning seems to be more along the lines of "we'll have a grove of cherry trees here," rather than "look at these neat little rows of plants." According to the handy-dandy English language brochure that I got at the entrance, the place is seasonal, so the best views tend to switch up around the year. Apparently, the maples are the big thing for autumn. They are pretty, but we've got Japanese maples in Oregon, so the tree wasn't anything too new for me, and the moisture on the floor of their grove tended to literally and figuratively dampen their showyness.
What I enjoyed more than the maples was the sheer size of the place. The garden, if anything, is big, with large lawns of grass stretching out in the middle around a central pond. I'd forgotten how calming it is to simply walk around for a long time while surrounded by plants. It's something irrationally stimulating, like petting a cat or playing fetch with a dog. Maybe it's somehow evolutionarialy linked to our persistent fascination with setting things on fire.
On the far side of the garden's large, central lake I saw the koi. The fish were something. Each of them was probably larger around than my own thigh, and with their moustache-like tendrils and mail-style scales they looked a bit like finned swashbucklers. One of my old coworkers at the bookstore had koi fish in his backyard, and told me about how he'd trained them to eat from his hand. I watched the fish for sometime, their mouths opening and closing constantly (I wondered if it was part of their breathing process, or if they were ingesting some tiny organisms) and thought about that, wondering if any tourists ever tossed them bits of something from the stone steps.
Towards the end of the path, there was a rocky hillock with uneven rocky stairs leading up to the top. I imagine that the small Kanji sign said "watch your step," or something to that effect. I stood there for a while, looking out onto the interior lake and the grass fields, at Okayama castle and at the swollen clouds. There were a few small children there, laughing and climbing on the rocks, and a mother worried over them that they might fall. Processions of umbrellas worked their way along the paths, and I sat on a rock for several minutes.
It began to rain in earnest. I told myself that I didn't mind, and for a while I didn't. But, my camera was getting wet, and I felt the sodden collar of my leather jacket rest uncomfortably on my neck. I would have sooner stayed another hour, but walked home in what became a pouring rain.

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Nov 25, 2006

Experiment Update

So I mentioned earlier that I want to track the effects of culture shock (handily illustrated-along with reverse culture shock- on the accompanying graph) on myself. According to the conventional wisdom, I should be in the "honeymoon" or "euphoria" period right now. I don't know if I am or not. To be honest, I'm kind of wondering if I'm too negative-minded to experience something like euphoria or a honeymoon period. Well, that's probably not true, but I don't think that I've experienced anything that could be called euphoria yet.
I'm having a good time here, of course, and am obviously taking active enjoyment of the experience, but my time here and my enjoyment thereof is generally tempered by a nagging thought at the back of my head that perpetually reminds me that I don't really belong here, that I'm taking a sojourn that I'll return from. The journey may be the destination, but the journey has an ending as well. This is all brought to mind, of course, by the practical considerations of not knowing the language, culture and general "feel" of where I am. So, I'm constantly giving myself these mental caveats when I have fun- that everything will always be at arm's legnth.
Make no mistake, I'm not trying to be cynical or give the impression that I'm having a bad time, but I don't think that at any point my enjoyment will overtake my reason.
On the other hand, though, I'm constantly recognizing that this whole venture is something singular. This is something that I'll probably talk to people about the rest of my life, as in "well, when I lived in Japan..." Thinking about that still gives me a nice little fuzzy feeling, so maybe that's all the honeymoon or euphoria that I'll be feeling.
I'm a little worried that I'm going to crash into homesickness rather hard. There have been a few moments where I've really, really missed home, and while they tend not to be overly strong, I'm worried about full-on incapacitating emo loneliness in the future. You know, the kind where you turn up the Joy Division really loudly and messily write "I AM SO ALONE!" in your own blood on what used to be a clean white wall. In other words, I have anxiety about the possibility that I'll have anxiety in the future. How dumb is that?
For the most part, things have seemed more or less normal. Not euphoria, not honeymoon, but good. Let's hope that persists.

Nov 21, 2006

My Reviews of Japanese Stuff, Part II

Those Creepy Noodle Babies
I saw someone link to this randomly a while back before I arrived in Japan, and didn't think much of it. "Haha," I thought, "it's a weird Japanese ad." Well, these things aren't exactly cultural icons, but they're definitely a well-recognized logo. They're on stickers, key chains, signs, everything. They freak the shit out of me.

69 by Ryu Murakami
Ryu Murakami is apparently friends with (but not related to) Haruki Murakami, and his novel 69 is a fun, lightweight, high school story that takes place in late sixties rural Japan. You won't find any deep revelations or existential yearnings here, but the narrator is an amicable high-schooler who walks a fine line between pretentious and precoutious. He talks about movies that he's never seen, books he's never read, and philosophical ideas that he doesn't really understand, all the while having no idea what he's actually talking about. I think I met this guy at every speech and debate tournament or model U. N. conference that I went to. I think I might have also been this guy a few times.
Anyway, it's a lot of fun. And it has an art film, political stuff, and an amusing little conversation where two of the characters discuss something that never has any sort of ideology. There's a yakuza, some graffiti, and at one point a character plaintively and sincerely wonders what Che would do. Admit it, you've been there, too.

My Allergies
Since moving out of Eugene, my allergies have pretty much vanished. Nifty.

Japanese Style Curry
How come no one told me this stuff existed? I was familiar with Indian style curry (fun stuff to make) and Thai curry (mmm... Thailand...) but until I got here I didn't realize that there was a Japanese variant of one of my favorite spicy things. This stuff is awesome! Seriously! It's thick, hearty, spicy, full of lots of different stuff, and you can get it pretty much everywhere. Also, people put everything in this stuff. Chicken, tofu, cheese, sausage, fish, pineapples, veggies- everything. I'm now on a mission to find the most outre curry admixture out there and devour it with great voracious relish.

Sitting in a Bar and Arguing Semantics With A Bunch of Drunk Australians
This is loads of fun. Try it sometime.

Nov 20, 2006

I Heart Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs are awesome. Dinosaurs are way better than dragons or Cthulu or Godzilla or anything. I mean, that stuff is all pretty cool, too, but dinosaurs are even cooler because they were actually real. Of course, they're not around any more so they now only exist in our imaginations, so when we think about them they can be almost anything we want. But we've got proof that they existed at one time, so we're not just dealing with amorphous fancies here. So, dinosaurs have just enough reality and just enough fantasy to be the sweetest things ever.
When I was a kid, I loved those wooden dinosaur bone puzzles. You know, the one's where the kid punches out the bones from a balsa wood template and then assembles the skeletons? I had tons of those. So, I was extremely pleased yesterday when I saw a giant-sized cardboard t-rex staring me in the face. The t-rex was made by "Fujidan," and I'm somewhat unsure as to whether that's a guy or a company, but it's basically a bunch of cool looking cardboard artwork. Have a look! 'Tis nifty!
Anyway, I was out with two of the girls that I met during karaoke the previous night, (the Iliad reading one and her friend) and we were hitting various art places and such. We first went to the Okayama Prefecturial Art Museum which was... well, it was ok. It was an exhibition of local artists, and while some were rather interesting most of it was precisely the sort of thing that you'd expect stuff by "local artists" to be like. Though there was this crazy psychedilic art film, which was cool.
After the museum, we hit this place which was a combo jean shop/gallery place, and I was extremely pleased to find out that such a place existed. Until I walked in, I hadn't realized that I was getting ever so slightly starved for a place that was full of pretentious artsy stuff. I think I spent almost an hour just looking at the graphic design books (some of which were in English) and the weird alternative comics that they had.
It was on the top floor of this place that I saw the big cardboard t-rex, as well as sundry other pieces of nifty. There were some cool looking abstract prints, a bunch of t-shirts (almost all of which were too small for me) various wooden sculptures, and some paintings of cartoon rabbits. Iliad Girl bought a couple of prints, and I got a small cardboard dinosaur kit from Fujidan. After seeing the big t-rex I couldn't resist.
While I was there, I learned my first Kanji pun. Apparently the group calls themselves "Kurashiki" which is phonetically identical to the nearby town, but also means "creative types." So, apparently if you speak Japanese, their logo is cutely humorous. Yay for pictographic puns! Yay!
Later that night we ended up at the apartment of this Turkish linguist studying at Okayama University. Yes, it was just sort of a "go with the flow" sort of day. If you're open-minded enough and just willing to go down the rabbit hole, you end up talking to this skater-looking linguist guy who has very strong opinions about beer.
Cool dude. Showed me how to write one of the readings of my name in Kanji, and made these awesome stuffed peppers. Also, he went on and on about how much he loved the Blues Brothers, which is an absolutely wonderful bad 80s movie.
So, anyway, here's my little cardboard triceratops that I got at the gallery place. Kawaii!

Nov 19, 2006

In Which I Drink, Think, and Sing a Sex Pistols Song

You know, a tie makes a great sleeping mask in a pinch. I can hardly sleep in the light, but tying up my fashionable neckware into something useful allowed me to actually sleep until 11:30 this morning.
I woke up in Kurashiki in British Girl's guest room feeling something between groggy and unconcious, the result of a sudden pull out of R.E.M. sleep. I wondered what the noise was, and realized that it was the South Park theme music. I pulled on my various garments, and stepped into a living room larger than my whole apartment where British Girl was watching cartoons.
"Thanks for letting me crash here."
"No problem. It's what having a huge place is for." British Girl's apartment is huge. She had a very rich student who moved to England for a while but didn't want to sell her place. So, instead, the student agreed to rent it to her favorite teacher for next to nothing. I thought that British Girl was kidding when she said, "don't worry about missing the train, you can crash in my guest room." Nope. She honestly has a guest room. And a wine closet. And two balconies. I seethe with envy. (And yes, I just crashed at her place. That was it. Now wash your dirty minds.)
"How are you?" I asked.
"I shouldn't have bragged about how I never get hung over," she was curled up in a chair clutching a blanket, "because I've got a bad one now."
"Ha-ha," I said, "I'm fine."
"Well, that's because you cheated."
"Yes. Pacing oneself is cheating. I wasn't going to get trashed after what happened with the night before last. Which South Park is this?'
"The one where the elephant makes love to the pig."
"Cool. Mind if I watch?"
"Go ahead." I hadn't seen South Park in years. Not since I was a sophomore in college and had cable, actually. It's still funny.
I left and made my way to the train station, the rain coming down in a way that made me feel oddly at home. I was still in my suit, and I could feel rivulets of moisture seep into my open collar. I quite liked it, actually. It reminded me of the countless other times in Oregon that I'd been stuck somewhere without an umbrella. The rain was a sort of balm, and I realized as I walked to the now-familiar stairways of Kurashiki Station, that I no longer felt "threatened," so to speak, by Japan. Even though it is decidedly an alien environment in which I do not speak the language, I suddenly realized that I had momentarily lost my anxiety about my situation, that I was suddenly comfortable being in a strange place.
I stepped on the train, and went home.

Two nights prior I had a horrible and embarassing experience. Mr. Ecaudor, who seems to have a very "gambatte" personality, wanted to introduce me to another gaijin bar here in town, this one a sort of Latin-themed affair. He mentioned that they were having "Retro Night" that night, and asked if I liked 80s music. Of course I like 80s music. 80s music is the universal guiltiy pleasure that everyone has, whereby it's kind-of-sort-of not a guilty pleasure anymore.
We got there around eleven or so, and began mingling nicely. I didn't really know what to expect, and spent the first hour or so sipping gin and tonics (my drink of choice) and talking to whomever walked in. "Hi, I'm new in Japan!" etc., etc. You know, bar banter.
The music was somewhat disappointed. Apparently the D.J.'s idea of "Retro Night" was playing the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. I longed for extended New Order remixes, but, alas, it was not to be.
After about an hour more people showed up, and the proprietor (a huge Japanese guy in a leather coat and tiger-stripe t-shirt) began walking about with a bottle of tequila in one hand and a double shot glass in the other.
You can probably see where this is going.
He began working the floor, and eventually came to me, pouring me a shot. "What is this?" I asked.
"Tequila," he said. The glass was substantial. I looked into its seemingly harmless transparent depths, glass and liquid bending the light. I should not drink this, I thought. Every single time I've ever had tequila, bad things have happened. A single shot is unpleasant enough. A double shot after two g&ts could make me puke. I knew this.
And I threw it back anyway.
In addition to the burning pain of Jose Curevo's rapier-like stabbling through my throat, I immediately felt my bodily system's approbations of my lack of reason. I began to feel all the wheels and workings of human digestion suddenly screeching into a dramatic reverse. The one upshot is that I was able to exert enough will actually swallow most of the vomit, forcing my noontime yakisoba back down into my guts where it belonged. However, during the process of swallowing, a small quantity of vom managed to escape into my mouth proper. It was too large a quanitity for me to retain in my mouth, and I was already engaged in the process of swallowing, so I ended up spraying it onto the dance floor like a chunky plant mister. (Two days prior I'd told two of my friends that I would never puke in Japan. They both said "yeah, right.)
The proprietor thought this was hilarious.
He grabbed a towel, cleaned stuff up, and directed me to the bathroom. When I got out, he was still laughing. He put his arm around me, ordered the bartender to get me another gin and tonic.
"Don't worry," he said, "that happens here all the time."
But I did worry. Even though no one seemed to care, even though everyone seemed to forget about it, I felt like a complete loser for the rest of the evening. Later, while we sobered up whilst eating pork fried rice, Mr. Ecaudor tried to cheer me up by telling me about all the stupid stuff he's done. It worked a little, but I still felt like a fool well into the next day.

The next day, fortunately, I didn't have a class until 1:00, and a fairly light schedule. I actually had time to go home in the middle of the day and have a nap, which was highly useful. British Girl mentioned that a bunch of people were getting together in Kurashiki for dinner and karaoke that night, and asked me if I wanted to come. I said yes. We went to the station straight from work, and met at a restaurant with thickly carved wooden benches. It was a substantial crowd. My manager (whom I'll refer to as Manager) was there, as well as his girlfriend British Girl Factor Two, Ghost Face (but no Catgirl), and another company worker whom I'll call Innocent for reasons I'm not going to go into here. There was also a flock of other people who worked for various schools around the area crammed into the place.
I ordered oolong. There would be no puking on this night. I also ordered Curry, which was delicious. We finished up, and made our way to a karaoke parlour where there turned out to be quite the wait for a box. I began to talk with a few people I didn't know. There were two other teachers who'd only been in Japan for a short time, and we started chatting.
"One thing that I wanted to do here," said a hipster-looking girl in a trucker hat, "is take some time to read cool books while I'm here, since I figured that I'm going to have a limited access to English language stuff." This was cool. This is the exact same thing that I'm doing. "So right now I'm reading the Iliad," she said.
"That's awesome, I said, I'm doing the same thing. I just started on A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man."
"I love James Joyce! That's so cool! You need to tell me what you think of it, when you're done."
"I'll do that."
"You know what's funny," said Ghost Face, "is that you can actually get English Language stuff here really easily." We just sort of looked at him.
"Yeah," I said, "but it's expensive."
"Yeah," he replied, "but you can still get whatever you want. And shipping from Amazon isn't that bad." We continued to just sort of look at him. I don't care, I'm still reading James Joyce and Laurence Sterne and stuff while I'm here, despite the easy access to other things.
We got a booth, and proceeded to sing our hearts out. I continued to order oolong. Ok, so I had two beers, but I stayed obstinantely sober whilst everyone else got trashed. I belted out Bullet With Butterfly Wings and Anarchy in the U.K. (with some backing vocals from the actual Brish people), tried my best to sing Fake Plastic Trees, and joined in a rousing rendition of Like a Prayer. At some point, someone decided that Mr. Roboto would be a good idea. They were wrong, though. Mr. Roboto is never a good idea, not even during karaoke. Fortunately, Love Shack is always a good idea.
While I sipped tea and listened to gleeful mutilations of pop music, I realized that a lot of these people were remarkably similar to myself. It seemed that lots of them had a sort of "quarterlife crisis" and thought "Well, why not go to a foreign country?" It was a room full of twentysomethings who had all almost impulsively shipped themselves to another country, with little clear idea as to why they wanted to abandon the familar for a time. Knowing this, I was much more at ease. The night before, I'd felt like quite the idiot and social failure, but all the foreigners here seemed to be in the same "place" as me. I'll only be here for a year, so I doubt that I'm going to make any lasting friendships (yes, I'm cynical about things like that) but I don't have any anxiety about finding people that I can at least temporarily connect with.

I missed the last train, of course, and hence had to stay in British Girl's guest room. When I got back to what I suppose is called "home" I took a shower and cracked open Portrait of the Artist. It's odd, getting comfortable without becoming familiar.

Nov 15, 2006

Knife Fights and Motorbikes

"Do you like martial arts?"
Well, yeah. I took fencing and Aikido in college, and thoroughly enjoy hitting people with swords. Though in this case it turned out to be knives, but those are cool, too. Mr Ecaudor it, turns out, is a total martial arts geek, and is constantly on the lookout for other guys to train with. There's another guy that he normally fights with (whom I met at the gaijin bar a while back) but he'd stepped on a nail, and was unable to join up. So, last night we went out to the darkened courtyard of Okayama Castle, and I learned all about Indonesian knife fighting.
It's a lot of fun, and both similar and different from fencing and Aikido- it seemed to have the stabby/cutty feel of fencing and the dodgey/movey feel of Aikido. And some other stuff. I didn't get all of it.
Anyway, Mr. Ecaudor was teaching me all this the Huge Geek segment of my brain started firing off- "This is so cool," it said, "I'm in a castle courtyard by night doing martial arts! Squeee!" Yeah. Doing martial arts in a gym is fun, but doing it next to the giant stone foundations of a Japanese castle in the middle of the night? Pretty badass. In situations like this, one can't help but mentally edit themselves into old grainy Bruce Lee footage. "You must die! I alone am best!"
Ok, to be fair, Okayama Castle-pictured here- isn't really all that great. Like the rest of Okayama, it was bombed in WWII, and most of it was destroyed. Some of the foundations and walls are original, but for the most part it's mostly a museum that happens to look like a castle.
Of course, I learned that if I ever did get in an actual Indonesian knife fight, I'd probably be short a few feet of intestines, maybe a lung, and probably a spleen. Still fun, though.
After a while, we decided to ride out to the 24 hour cheap food mart to acquire provisions. In the parking lot, I saw probably the single most hilarious thing that I've seen here in Japan.
There were these two kids on a motorbike, revving their engine to all hell. It's the noise that I like to call the "I have a penis" noise, and these kids were screaming it all over the place at 12:30 A. M. They had black ski masks on, and were promptly followed by a cop car.
Now, the cop cars here aren't the boxy land boats of the U.S. Back in the states, those things are basically mobile gun-laden mini-tanks of speedy of intimidation. Japanese cop cars look more like go-carts. Or something out of Pixar's latest movie. They're all dimunitive and light and stuff. Kawaii!
So, these two kids are on this bike zooming in loops around the parking lot all the while making the "I have a penis" noise. They zig and zag around cars and shopping carts, between signs and lamposts, and through the various gates. In the meantime, this cop car is on their tail. Now, this light little cop car can angle really, really well. It was actually sort of impressive how manueverable this thing was. But, the kids had them beat for speed. The bike was way faster than the cop's go-cart could ever hope to go, and as soon as they pealed out of the parking lot (whilst flipping the cops the bird, mind you) they were gone, leaving the cops in the dust like chumps.
Apparently, this happens all the time here. A year ago, the cops killed some kids here when they pulled them off their bike, and as a result they're no longer allowed to actually pull them over. So, they just follow them and try to manuever them into roadblocks, which apparently never happens. Because of this, the kids just get on their bike more now.
So, especially in the summer, Okayama is aswarm with high school and college students who pull up black ski masks, hop on bikes, and piss off the cops. It's like they're a bunch of juvenile motor-ninjas, and the cops are extras from the Blues Brothers. It's a bad 80s movie come to life.

Nov 12, 2006

"Je ne parle pas de Japonais."

A few days ago I went into a video game store. Whilst the titles were in Roman script, the rest was Greek to me.
Yesterday, British Girl showed me where the manga is. Of course, I could read none of it.
I must learn Japanese.
Sure, there's practical considerations. I'd like to be able to, say, interact with the world around me on a daily basis and do all sorts of practical stuff, but having lots of sweet looking comics and video games dangled in front of me is quite the carrot. You here that? "Awesome video games" is more of a motivator to me than "going to the post office without an interpreter." Watashi wa huge geek.
So, I'm diving into studies. Japanese doesn't actually seem that difficult. The spoken language is fairly straightforward, none of the bajillion rules and exceptions that we have in English, and all of the phonetic sounds in Japanese also occur in English, so pronunciation is a breeze.
But the written language is a little daunting.
The two phonetic alphabets don't seem that bad. I'm picking up the hiragana and katakana fairly quickly, but the fact that there are two completely redundant phonetic systems seems a little weird to me. Ah well.
And then there are the Kanji.
The Kanji are also completely redundant. All of the phonetics of the Kanji can be made using just the Hiragana (and sometimes are), but there are a number of homonyms in Japanese that apparently the Kanji clarify is written language. Personally, eye love homonyms, and don't sea how this is much of a problem. But people tell me that the Kanji have all kinds of subtleties, so I'll just take their word for it.
One weird thing, that's happening, though, is that the latent part of my brain that knows some French has started to become active again. I suppose that French is what I think of when I think of "crazy non-English foreign talk," and thus it's started to surface.
Now, I hated French in high school. Not because of the subject matter, mind you, but because my teachers were real chiennes. They hated me. I hated them. I gained a subconcious hostility to learning foreign languages for quite a while. In fact, my antipathy towards foreign languages is part of the reason why I've got a B.S. in Political Science rather than a B.A.- I decided that calculus was far more bearable than ever having to take a foreign language course again.
I blame my evil French teachers.
Hip-Hop speaks a little French (about as much as me), and we've sometimes interpersed it with English and Japanese, mostly to drive our manager crazy. The Manager is actually a really cool guy, and speaks pretty good English, even though he's always putting himself down. Partly because of my bubbling up memories, and partly because of banter with Hip-Hop I've started mixing in French, sometimes unconciously, when I've tried to say stuff in Japanese. I think I've said "pardonnez moi," on the street instead of "sumi ma sen." I've actually said "bonjour" to people, and I think that a "c'est vrai" came out once. As you can see, I don't even speak that much French. We're talking bare-bones high school remnants here, but they're reappearing anyway. I thought that I'd left French on the regrettable slag pile of high school memories, but it's come back, somehow. I'm interested in it again, along with Japanese.
So, I had an hour or so between classes a few nights ago, and was out walking. I looked at the various signs, and tried to pick out the kana and kanji that I could recognize (not very much of it) and I was suddenly struck with a sort of epiphany: I will not die monolingual. I'm in Japan for a year, living in a different language environment, and you don't really get a better learning opportunity than that. I'm going to learn Japanese, dammit. And I'm going to take another look at French. Hey, if two year olds can learn languages, I can to.
I figure I'm 26, so I've got plenty of time to practice. And English, Japanese, and French would be a pretty wicked trifecta of languages to know. English and French together can get you almost anywhere in Europe, and there's no shortage of cool stuff in Japanese.
I can do this.

Nov 11, 2006

Yukio Mishima: Beautiful Whackjob

Disclaimer: This post is long, unfunny, and about books. You've been warned.
One of my side projects here in Japan is that I've pretentiously decided to read Big Important Books. I have no idea why I think reading Ulysses in Japan is a good idea. Maybe I want to be confused by the English language, as well as Nihongo. Maybe I'm a huge nerd. Maybe my ego is insufficiently inflated. I don't know.
Anyway, I've decided that some of the stuff I read over here should probably be by Japanese authors. You know, since I'm in their country and stuff. Two of my Japanese coworkers recommended Yukio Mishima to me. Both of them, though, were quick to emphasize that he was "crazy." Well, one of them said he was "crazy and kind of fucked up." But crazy nonetheless.
And he was! He was a totally unhinged whackjob who killed himself with a sword. Fun stuff. But, when not kidnapping government officials or disemboweling himself, he wrote books.
Anyway, I picked up Confessions of a Mask, which is considered his Big Famous Book and read it this past week. The book is a semi-autobiographical account of a young man growing up gay in Japan before, during, and slightly after WWII. He is constantly alienated from his environment, as his sexuality continually mismatches him with the other boys at his school, with women, and with what various friends and family members expect of him. He desperately tries to decieve himself, to be attracted to women, to carry on an affair with one, to trick himself into heterosexuality. He fails. He fails to conform to the social standards around him, fails to complete his self deception, and fails to make peace with his nature. The book, if anything, is a splendid example of the effects of alienation.
One of the things that especially liked about it was that Mishima definitely makes alienation something sensual. In one of the book's most cringe-inducing scenes, he describes how his legs shake hopelessly as he tries to have sex with a prostitute (after improperly kissing her, mind you). He talks about how he stares at a woman's legs and feels nothing, yet is continually drawn to men's armpits. A hopeless relationship is summed up in a description of a perfectly penned letter, and he again and again gives us descriptions of how he conflates sex with violence, beginning with the narrator masturbating to painting of the dying St. Sebastian.
So, Mishima does something that I admire quite a bit; he deals in abstracts by way of the substantial. T. S. Eliot called this the Objective Correlative. He maintained that simply mentioning an emotion or idea was not enough to call it forth in the reader, there must be something that elicits it.
Mishima does this very well. Even his use of the passive voice I can forgive, as it adds to the distance and alienation omnipresent in Confessions of a Mask. As to his ideas, though, I have a number of criticisms.
First off, what's with the constant conflation of sex and death? I don't know if Mishima really understood his own "deal" or not, but both he and his semi-fictional narrator constantly knit together sexual desire and the desire to die or kill. I think I have an good idea about this, one that I got from, of all places, Phillip K. Dick.
In The Man in the High Castle (another novel where WWII and Japan figure prominently) Dick offers probably the best description of a Nazi that I've ever encountered. The Nazi he describes is an iconic one, a blonde German youth painted garishly on a propaganda poster, gazing off into some distant something. This particular image, says Dick, bespeaks an illusion of power. The Nazi is one who does not build some endeavor or create meaning. Instead, he fools himself into what he thinks is a sort of universal power- he imagines himself an agent of entropy and oblivion, and seems to think that he is somehow contributes to the inevitable. He thinks that because he contributes to and somehow aides that which is inevitable, he as achieved meaning. In reality, though, this is just a different sort of resignation and nihlism.
It is quite the opposite of what Camus (my favorite existentialist) called a "rebellion against absurdity." Camus says that even though entropy, death, oblivion, etc. will all come, that does not mean that we should embrace them or wish for them. He says that existence can be validated and made meaningful as a thing in the present. Death or an afterlife do not validate or invalidate the meaning that we create now.
If both of the summations above sound facile, it's because Dick and Camus were better writers than I'll ever be, and I'm just summing them up while drinking tea. Go read The Man in the High Castle and The Myth of Sisyphus. They're both short and highly worth it. Do it!
Anyway, back to Mishima...
Mishima seems to take the attitude that Dick describes with regards to his own sexuality. Never in Confessions of a Mask does Mishima long for love or understanding. He longs for sex and death- death of both his lovers and himself. Honestly, I think that the idea of real love with another man (you know, the kind where they'd go to Sunday brunch together, or pick out curtains) was something too enormous and sad for him to really want. I think that such an idea seemed such an absurd possibility to him (at least at the young age when he wrote Confessions of a Mask) that he resigned himself into becoming an agent of entropy and oblivion like Dick's Nazi, one who persues an ephemeral meaning by allying with one's destroyer.
Mishima also continually asks if love can exist without sex. "Yes, yes, yes," I wanted to shout at him. Such a question, based upon my own experience, seems naive and obvious to me, yet Mishima seems obsessed with it. In the second half of the book he attempts a heterosexual relationship with a woman whom he seems to love but does not desire. Yet that is my own interpretation. He wonders, constantly, whether he "loves" her or not. "You do indeed," I wanted to say at the narrator, "even if you don't desire her." However, neither Mishima nor his narrator inhabited a society where such a relationship (i.e., a friendship between a gay man and a straight woman) would be usual. The narrator seems to think that their relationship must be sexual or nonexistent, and thus the relationship is duly doomed.
A curious thing that I thought about Confessions of a Mask, though, is that there is no point in which the mask is ever removed. There is one self-critical section in the middle of the book where the narrator comes very, very close to being honest with himself, but he does not accept himself. Nor does he ever ask for acceptance. Nor does it occur to him to even desrire it.
I find this unusual. My personal opinion is that a cry of despair should also be a cry of "what is to be done?" Things Fall Apart, for instance, is not only a great book because of its storytelling, but also because it is demonstrative of the dehumanizing legacy of colonialism, and implicity (well, almost explicitly) it is a plea for cessation of barbarism.
Confessions of a Mask, though, is not a "gay liberation" book. Mishima does not raise his fist or voice in the air to ask for acceptance. He does not long for social or political change regarding his desires, and does not seem to think things could be different. (Perhaps this resignation explains Mishima's later desire for oblivion as he advocated militarism.) To my modern liberal sensibilities, this is bizzare. Why wouldn't you demand your society to change? Why wouldn't you protest? Why wouldn't let loose your barbaric yowp to the world? Because of this, Mishima and his narrator seem tragic beyond the scope of his fiction, and Confessions of a Mask seems to become the testament of a crying, troubled man.
At the end of the day, though, the book is brilliant. Mishima's writing style is something that I immediately took to, and even if he didn't intend to be so, Confessions of a Mask is, I think a great object lesson. Mishima is what happens when human love and desire is stunted and malformed, a tragedy of deception and unacceptance. The narrator's troubles existential troubles and self-hatred in Confessions of a Mask are wonderful arguments (even if they are unintended arguments) for liberalism regarding sexuality. Even if Mishima does not ask for acceptance, I will happily grant it to him.
I don't believe in an afterlife, but if there is one I hope that Yukio Mishima is in some gay S&M version of the Islamic heaven, surrounded by all sorts leather restraints and hot young studs. Maybe they could have some exotic piercings. I think he'd like that.
And don't worry- there will be more drunken ramblings, karaoke beltings, linguistic adventures and cultural mix ups to come. Not everything here is going to be a long literary ramble.

What it is I Do

So, I feel like I should give some explanation as to what I do here in Japan, and clarify the title of this blog- I work for an Eikaiwa, a conversational English school. All Japanese people get at least two years of formal English training in primary school, and many study beyond that into secondary school and university. However, most of the English education that they get emphasizes formal and grammatical aspects of language, and actual conversational skills are usually lacking. So, there are plenty of Japanese people who can tell you what the present perfect continuous is, but can't tell you how their weekend was.
This doesn't surprise me. I remember taking French in high school, and I spent quite a lot of time conjugating verbs and other such busy work, and much less time talking. Likewise, I can read french decently well, but can't speak it worth a damn. It seems that many Japanese people can also read and write English pretty well, but speaking is a totally different matter.
So, there are schools like mine that are all about teaching conversational English, stuff that's actually used by native speakers. I actually taught a whole class on using things like "um,""uh,""oh," and "hmm..." last week. It was way more difficult to teach than I initially thought.
Most of my students are college types and professors, which is nice. They're eager and interested and generally have a better grasp on English than most of the older people that I've talked to. Also, they're fairly easy to relate to. One of my students, whom I will henceforth refer to Mr. Hardcore, is an engineering student who is perpetually wearing the insignia of some dozen bands at any given time. Yesterday we spent a good while talking about how it was way too bad that Rage Against the Machine broke up (I know, that was a while ago) and that Audioslave is somewhat poor substitute. I've also got this married couple who are both doctors, and are just brilliant. They seemed very reserved at first but they "get" whatever I'm talking about very quickly. Smart ones, those doctors. So, my students are mostly very cool. (Drunk and Violent seems to be a nasty exception.) Some of them stare at me and say "What mean?" a lot, but mostly I think they have a good time.
And then there are the kids. More on them later.
A few of my coworkers, though, have mentioned that this place isn't about the language. "It's Dancing Monkey Time," said Mr. Ecuador, "I seriously think that a lot of people come here to hang out with Westerners, or to just be exposed to American culture. It's considered cool to say to your friends, 'I'm taking English lessons.' So they're here for the Dancing Gaijin Monkey." British Girl said pretty much the same thing, refering to classes as "Happy Gaijin Time." "Don't fall into the trap of thinking that you're a real teacher," she said, "if you help them learn English, great, but remember that this job is just a means to an end to be in Japan." I don't know if they're right about this or not. Not yet.
Now, there are a fair amount of students who are studying for English language qualifying tests, and Mr. Hardcore and others seem pretty intent on furthering their career goals by becoming fluent. I've told my students that they can ask me about whatever they want regarding English, and a few have taken me up on the offer, which has been cool. But I think that both of them may be partly right, that some people do just come here for the "OMG! Gaijin!" factor.
I've yet to become cynical about this. On the other side of the equation, I'm working for this company simply becaus of the "OMG! Japan!" factor, so I think that there's a sort of balance there. I am fascinated by Japanese culture, and if they wish to be fascinated by mine, then I think that's quite the fair trade.
In the meantime, I actually kind of enjoy getting paid to talk to people, hence the title of this blog, I am a Hired Tongue. I'm in Japan, selling my language to fund the venture. And a language, unlike a kidney, is something that you can keep when you sell.