Archive for October, 2006

Drunk with Power

Monday, October 30th, 2006 by Steph

What *exactly* possessed me to teach the electric slide to classrooms of sixth graders last week? Maybe it was the idea of Texans fuming about a crunchy Californian teaching line dancing sans boots and belt buckle. Maybe I am so starved for dance action that I am starting to hallucinate lesson plans. Maybe I just wanted to see if a roomful of Japanese kids could boogie. I even made the kids put their thumbs in their belt loops and swagger and everything.

Well… we tried, at any rate.

What’s next, the macarena?
Someone stop me, I’m on some sort of horrible rampage.

Egads, eikaiwa!

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006 by Steph

They should call it land of the setting sun, as that is all I see when I get out of work these days. I never thought I would say this, but boy do I miss Daylight Savings Time. Wind and rain are becoming more of an issue. Festival season is long gone. And all the exciting details of living life in another country have now become a comfortable routine. Winter is almost upon us, and I’m trying to scrape together a warm work wardrobe out of the thrift stores in town. Noshiro isn’t exactly the pinnacle of the fashion world, so I’m having a rough time of it.

So I’ve done the research. I’ve asked around, and both experienced assistant language teachers (ALTs) and other Japanese teachers of English (JTEs) agree that my Japanese teacher is coming from left-field regarding the home arrest after class scenario. Which makes everything a little easier to deal with; instead of picking a fight with an entire country, it’s now down to the very manageable size of an interpersonal issue. So, hooray.

Chris and I have been chasing reports of stunning fall foliage all over the ken, with minimal success. We’ve found a particularly picturesque area called Juniko (12 lakes) just north of us, where the waters are unsettling colors of blue and green. We found a dam, and a few waterfalls, a really tall tree, and a zillion Shinto shrines, but the breathtaking I-am-one-with-nature foliage has remained elusive. We had to settle for merely pretty, which is great by me, as this is my first actual fall with leaves turning colors and everything.

Fall seems to have abruptly come to a close, though, as wind and rain have been whipping through Noshiro for about 48 hours now. And we’re not talking breezy crisp cute fall weather here. We’re talking about wind that rattles all your windows until your desk and computer are gently swaying back and forth. We’re talking about insidious howling and creaking that invades your dreams and gives you sleepless nights.

Last week I began teaching the first of a 10 part series at the community center, “Better know a Dialect”, otherwise known to the Japanese community as an English class, or eikaiwa. I had been a little nervous, as I’d never had my own academic class before. What will we do? What will we talk about? How can we possibly fill 2 hours? Everyone told me to chill, and I just took their advice and decided it would all work out. And so far… it has! My class is filled with mostly older women, all of which have great English accents and are adorable and willing to learn. This is such a relief in contrast to school, where I have to pull teeth to get my students to say… pretty much anything. The eikaiwa is much more my element, where I can hang out with people who actually want to learn. Plus I get to teach whatever I want however I want. A girl could get used to this.


Tuesday, October 24th, 2006 by Steph

Why are there SILKWORM PUPA sitting out for consumption in the teachers’ room?!?!?

10′s a crowd

Friday, October 20th, 2006 by Chris

Bread technology marches on. I was amazed to find this lovely apparition in the grocery store the other day:

10 Cube

The trouble is, no matter how many slices, the loaves are always the same size; the slices are just thinner. So now I have to eat two, which defeats the point. Guess I’ll stick to the six-slicers from now on.

Of course it’s too much to ask to put the whole loaf in the bag. I think they really like the perfect-cube shape and if they changed the size, it would no longer fit in everyone’s perfectly-organized fridge.

Culture Clash

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006 by Steph

I’ve been going to Japanese class for about 4 weeks now. It is a struggle to get myself to go; it’s never fun to feel stupid, and this is inevitably part of a sharp learning curve. However, I feel like I’ve been getting a lot out of class, and it’s at a good pace for me. In addition, the class is full of kids who come with their families, and there is a real sense of camaraderie that you don’t get with the usual college student foreign language class. We’re all there learning Japanese because we have to make our way through this confusing country day after day.

Several of the other English teachers in town make a regular appearance, and we’ve taken to going out to dinner afterwards. This is a great time to hang out, because we are all busy with our different schedules and don’t always get a chance to see each other. Plus there’s the bonding experience of just having survived Japanese class together.

So imagine my surprise when my Japanese teacher pulled me and Frank (British ALT) aside last class and basically forbade us from going out after class. “Promise me you will go straight home on Tuesday nights after class,” she said. Before any of you get too mentally creative, let me stress that drinking is not the main focus of our excursions. I never have more than 1 glass of beer, and I am always home by 11pm to prepare for teaching the next day.

This is a totally perplexing situation to me. The complaint’s premise was that the Japanese class is a family environment, and we may upset others, they may get the “wrong idea”… what idea, you ask? That we are in class only to play around afterward, and will not study hard. We give the class a bad name by being social after our studies. There was also something about how Japanese women must not carouse after 9pm (which is ridiculous, because I see my students out all the time). We tried to get a little more info with some Q&A:

What if we go straight home and go out again half an hour later? (no)
What if I want to go out with someone who wasn’t in Japanese class? (no)
What if we remove the female equation, and only the guys go out? (no)
What about cultural exchange? We can teach others that this is common social behavior in America/Brittain! (no)
What if we don’t drink, we just go out and eat? (no)
What if I go out by myself to eat alone and have absolutely no fun whatsoever? (no)
What if I have come straight from school and haven’t eaten and there is no food in my house? (no)

I am so upset, more upset than I should be. Especially because our Japanese friend Reiko has been out with us twice already. If this was such a universal social faux pas in Japan, why would she have come with us? The message I am getting is… if you want to socialize after class on Tuesday nights, don’t come to Japanese class. I feel like there is no respect for the fact that I am foreign and do things differently, that is it not good enough to study Japanese and take an interest in the culture and try to communicate… I must act Japanese. Which is ridiculous. I’M HERE FOR CULTURAL EXCHANGE, DAMMIT! Plus I just hate to be told I can’t do something, especially something that is fun and is so harmless. I live in a small town. Let me socialize. It’s one of the few diversions we have here.

So, what to do? I can say screw it, and do what I want, and openly defy my Japanese teacher. But I have to live here in this community, and I don’t want that kind of reputation. Do I suck it up and do what I’m told? That doesn’t go down too well either, and results in me resenting class and my teacher. Perhaps we’re going to have to work on some Underground solution.


Fonts in Japan

Friday, October 13th, 2006 by Chris

Just a quick link to a blog entry I wrote with my work hat on:

It’s “Appreciate Other Countries’ Hygiene” Day

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006 by Steph

Let’s review these amazing advances in restroom technology:

Toilets with a “small” and “large” flush function. Brilliant!

Sinks located *outside* the restrooms, so there’s no dirty handles to handle after you’ve washed up.  Plus, then everyone can see if you actually wash your hands or not. ;)

Heated toilet seats for winter.  And don’t get me started on the singing bidets.

BYOHankie instead of wasting paper towels (though this is annoying until you realize, hey, DUH, I don’t have to have wet hands for the rest of my life and can bring my own towel)

Tourist Traps

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006 by Steph

Last Friday I got out of school early, after a stressful and unsuccessful day of being observed and judged by teachers from a nearby town. It was raining and miserable. The only logical thing to do next was take our contraband car to the next town north of us for some ice cream. Ice cream definitely tastes better when you’re eating it in the rain and supposed to be at work. Hachimori has the strangest ice cream flavors around. So far we’ve tried wasabi, lavender, sweet potato, and rose. And I just keep going back for more.

Saturday morning my boss drove some papers over to our house so that sweet lord hallelujah, our car is now legit!!! We drove for an hour and a half through the miserable weather to the Oga Peninsula’s Aquarium to celebrate our newfound freedom. When Tohoku gives you rain, go visit the fishies, that’s what I say. I had low expectations for the “fish zoo” (as I like to call it with my limited Japanese vocabulary), but we found an excellent vertical wall of fish, complete w/ sea turtles and sharks. There were a few exhibits on strangenesses I’ve never laid my eyes on before, as well as some old favorites from the Japanese dinner table. There was also this great 3-D adventure… it’s not a Tohoku park w/o some crazy non-sequiteur game w/ flashing lights in the middle of everything… where you can sit down in a theater with these 3D glasses, where a polar bear is lecturing to fish. It all seemed to make sense at the time. Anyway… the sea mammals kept us entertained (polar bear, penguins, seals). And you can’t beat the aquarium location, nestled in a nook of jagged rocks right on the Sea of Japan. I mean, really.

Sunday was also stormy, which made it the perfect day for … a British Tea Party! We got together w/ some of the English folk in town and our favorite Japanese friends to have some “cultural exchange”. In other words, eat sweets until we were positively nauseous. Mission accomplished.

Monday we also got to go out and play, since it was a national holiday of sorts. We just drove up the coast to Aomori,and took in whatever weird wonderful sites presented themselves. This included a large defunct wooden waterwheel, and something called WeSpa, which involved a tram up a mountain, castle spires, carrot ice cream, windmills, a glass studio, a train engine, and hot springs. How all this fits together, I have no idea, but it was fabulously strange.

Spring Chicken

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006 by Steph

I am getting old.

This sucks.

I went to the town hospital yesterday to get the Japanese take on my back issue. The head of the English department, wonderful man that he is, came with me to translate.

I have already been warned about the public nature of one’s health history here… namely, that everyone’s all up in your business, because that’s just how it is here. It’s still a little unnerving for the vice-principal to come up and ask if I’m feeling better, when I never told him I had a problem in the first place. I just hate to think what would happen if I had a medical issue that was actually *embarrassing*. Well, more embarrassing than having to wear a brace for a month.

So. Back to being old. After 4 x-rays, the doctor says I have a herniated disk in my back, from “wear and tear”. You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m not even 30 yet. All you 25-year-olds out there who are laughing your asses off… enjoy it while you can, because things are gonna start breaking and falling off.

I have nothing but good things to say about my experience with the health care system here. We did a bit of same day physical therapy, and YES, all the machines sang to me. Thanks for asking. After x-rays, physical therapy, a visit to the doctor, pain medication, and a back brace, my total? $35.

Hot damn. If you’re going to get sick, do it while you’re in Japan.

Foto Funday

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006 by Chris

Two funny photos from Sunday.

Chris JamBeware the Bunny that Stalks by Night