Archive for January, 2007

Tress distress

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007 by Steph

I wasn’t sure how I would respond emotionally to coming back to work after vacation. Upon returning to Noshiro, I had a week left until school started, which meant sitting in the office from 8:30 to 4, wiling the hours away in a meaningless fashion to pacify parents (yes, I’m at school, yes, I’m “working”, thanks for providing my paycheck).

However, there’s enough down time here that the timbre of this vacant week didn’t feel very different from a normal work week. As a surrogate for being home for the holidays, I used the home ec ovens to bake coffee cake for all the teachers. This is one of the foods I bake in America for the holidays, so I wanted to bring a little piece of that here to share with others. Japan doesn’t really have specific “breakfast foods”, and certainly no one’s ever had this mystery substance “coffee cake” before. It was a pretty big hit, except for those inexplicable individuals who have a low tolerance for cinnamon (how can you not like cinnamon???) I also tried to untangle the deeper mysteries of karate by attending practice a few times in the school dojo.

Shortly after school started, one of the English teachers approached me during a quiet moment in the teachers’ lounge. She asked if we had a dress code in the US. This was, of course, prompted by a student flouting the dress code at my current school. What had this juvenile offender done to rock the boat? Her hair was now a Little Less Black.

Dying one’s hair is expressly forbidden for students at my school, as are crazy piercings, jewelry, makeup, untrimmed fingernails, nail polish, skirt hems too high, pants too low, or non-school issued shoes (with shoe trim color coded by grade, of course). However, this creative student had only bent the rules… she had not dyed her hair, it had not been bleached; it was simply lighter than the day before. And the day before that. And the day before that. A subtle enough change over time for her to deny that she had done anything unnatural at all (though the school apparently has pretty straightforward before and after pictures). Nevertheless, non-black tresses (not mine) could be easily spotted amidst a sea of otherwise uniformly black hair.

Wanting to genuinely know the answer, I asked the teacher as innocently and politely as I could: “What’s the worst that can happen if one girl has dark brown hair?”

And neither I nor my colleague really know what to say. We both understand that hair color is in this case a proxy for a more complicated and less tangible issue: personal autonomy vs. institutional authority. As a homeroom teacher in a Japanese high school, it is the teacher’s duty to look after her students and make sure they are respectful during and after school. Unlike American schools, teachers as well as parents take their kids’ behavior very seriously, and are responsible for their actions.

My colleague is so stressed out because her options seem to be:
1. confront the student’s parent, basically calling her kid a liar, or
2. fail her duty as a homeroom teacher.

The parent has also gotten involved and threatened to take the matter to the school board. In a country that values group harmony, I don’t envy my colleague’s position. All I could do was tell her that I came from a country where, when I was 15, one of my best friends had a nose piercing, pink hair, and wore lingerie as outerwear to school. And she didn’t turn out to be a sociopath. I hope that helps, sensei.

Good luck, whatever you decide to do.

Prairie Home Comparison

Saturday, January 27th, 2007 by Chris

Have you ever noticed this striking similarity?
GroundhogGrover Cleveland

See Stephanie Swim. Swim, sensei, swim!

Friday, January 26th, 2007 by Steph

I finally roused myself from my winter stupor to go check out the gym across the river. Dousing myself in water is just about the least appealing thing I can think of in this snowy winter weather, but desperation for exercise drove me to try it at least once.

I went to the local gym, where the protocol works a little something like this: After removing your shoes at the front entrance, you purchase a ticket for your exercise option of choice from a vending machine by the front door: 300 yen to swim or gain access to the exercise room. You must also buy a swimming cap if you are clueless like me and fail to bring your own. Showering before entering the pool is mandatory. If you’re me, you forget your pool ticket or your goggles or your swimming cap or some combination thereof in the locker room; if you are a normal human being whose short term memory lasts longer than 2 microseconds, you proceed with these things to the pool, where you hand over your ticket (possibly wet from the shower) to an attendant.

If you are lucky, will you find that the pool is filled to capacity with 15 year old boys from every one of your English classes, all happy to yell out “sensei!” and stare in horror and fascination while you feebly attempt to swim. Share with me now the joy of living in a small town.

I’m not really sure about the etiquette of swimming, so I ask around: are there fast and slow lanes, do I swim counter clockwise? What’s the deal? I don’t really get any info out of these inquiries, so I just jump into an empty lane. After my first (painfully slow) length, I surface to find a freaked out Japanese lady waving her arms at me “dame dame dame!” I’m in the wrong lane, which has been reserved for high school practice. Sigh.

My second trip to the pool, I’m feeling good, I know the drill, I remember my ticket, my goggles, I figure out the “dame” lanes. I know which direction to swim. I see the baseball team doing drills in the water again (Hello, boys….). When I am five minutes from the end of my swim, the baseball coach from my high school waves me to the edge of the pool. I’m thinking, dear god, what have I done now (“no backstrokes allowed!!!”), and he has me follow him clandestinely over to the side of the pool area, where he asks me how to say “tattoos are forbidden in the pool area” in English. What? Now? Why? So I oblige and go about my business.

I was relieved to find that swimming isn’t a cold activity, at least not in Noshiro. The gym and the showers and the pool are pleasantly heated, so that by the time you’re done exercising, you’re actually hot. I can’t think of a better way to warm up during the winter than to go swimming.

The other great surprise is that swimming isn’t boring. I have no idea why; it totally should be. No book, no ipod, no strategy. Instead, parts of my brain kind of turn off when I exercise, the busy analytic, introspective parts that almost never stop. Combine that with the hypnotic breathing and pretty colors, punctuate it with the occasional challenging social interaction. I just might come back for more.

Java Photos are all up!

Sunday, January 14th, 2007 by Chris

Photos available for your browsing enjoyment:

Tradition Motorgoat Yellow Java #1 Whole Package Joker Detail Underwear with Belts? I want one Big Mosque Active Rambutan Neighborhood Kids