Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Takeshima Day

Takeshima Day

I hardly know what to make of this, so better that you educate yourselves.
Ask your favorite search engine to return webpages containing the words "Takeshima," "Shimane," "Japan," and "Korea."
Then run the same search again, only replace "Takeshima" with "Tok-do."

And since most of the results for either search will be for Japanese news outlets, make sure you hit a Korean site, too. They'll tell you why exactly South Korea is so pissed about this. The Japanese news is notorious for reporting that the Koreans are pissed, but rarely give any explanation.

Takeshima means "Bamboo Island."

Friday, March 25, 2005


N'kay, where was I?

I'm glad the schools here have ceremonies to say goodbye to the teachers who are leaving. When I was in tenth grade, I made the audition for the next year's show choir at my school. Mr. Windheim was going to be our teacher, as he had been for the past, oh, twenty-something years. That September when I got my schedule there was no teacher listed next to Show Choir, only a line of asterisks. During math class on the morning of the first day of school, I asked Matt Pellow about it. "Mr. Windheim retired," he said.
"He what?!" Why hadn't he told us the June before? I never got to properly say goodbye.
The school had hired a new music teacher, but she couldn't leave her former school without giving them x weeks notice, so our class went through several substitute teachers during the first month, none of whom knew a thing about choir directing. One guy tried to make us write papers about some kind of music history. Took us to the library and everything. We decided we'd all do a bit of research for the same paper. I went home and typed it up, making the appropriate number of copies, and Aimie printed out different cover pages for each student in the class. I think it was on Native American music... I really don't remember a thing about it. On the due date we all handed in our identical papers. Never did get any feedback on it.

But I digress. Last night's enkai was one of the better ones I've been to, maybe the best so far. I hate to say it, but I think I prefer the enkais where everyone pays attention to me. I mean, of course no one likes to be perennially ignored, but if I am dining with other English-speaking foreigners, I can participate in conversations without being the subject of those conversations. I can listen in and add my own thoughts whenever I like. But my Japanese is still very poor, and when I dine with Japanese people, I'm usually the only native English speaker in the room, so in order for me to participate in conversations, everyone around me must deliberately speak in a way quite different from the way they would if I were not there. If I am to enjoy talking with others, they must be acutely aware of my presence and make changes accordingly. Consequently, these conversations tend to focus on me, what I like, what I think. If there's a JTE nearby, she's usually dragged in to translate from time to time, which sometimes is helpful and sometimes is annoying. At Yokota's graduation enkai last week, for instance, the fellow sitting to my immediate left called down to Ikeda-sensei, a few seats to my right, and asked her something. She replied with, "Nuu-yohku shuu" (New York State).
"Did he just ask where I'm from?" I called down to her. She nodded. "Oh come on," I said to nobody in particular, "I could have answered that." He certainly could have phrased his question, even in Japanese, so that I understood. And this fellow even speaks some English; he's said too much already, he can't fool me now.

But having Ikeda nearby was very helpful at the second party last night (oftentimes after enkais, a smaller group will continue on to another, less formal party, at a nearby late-night restaurant or karaoke bar). A couple of guys (one married and one not) and Kimachi-sensei (my JTE's wife) were sitting across from me, and the married guy tells me he has a question for me right about the time Ikeda gets up to use the bathroom. So he starts telling me about the single guy, how he's 26 years old and lives with his parents and plays tennis and is looking for a girlfriend between the ages of 26 and 36. All that took about three minutes to explain, and all the while I'm thinking, What do I have to do with this? Kimachi-sensei wondered the same thing. "Me too. Why?" she said, looking at them. When I knew that I didn't meet the age criteria, I relaxed a bit, but I still kept on guard for the possible set-up.
"Ikeda-sensei," I whimpered when she returned. "What are they talking about?!" They filled her in quickly and she started to explain everything that I already understood. "I get it," I said, "I only want to know why they're telling me this. Are they just making conversation?"
A few more words passed between them, and she said, "They want to know, do you think it can work? Ten years age difference. That is like if you marry a 14-year old. You are 24?"
"So, fifteen years old. San-nensei," she smiled.
"No." I chuckled. "No. No. But when people get older.... My mother is 50 and my stepfather is 41."
"Really?" she said, surprised, and started to tell the other three in Japanese.
"Wait, wait, lemme do it." So, with a bit of help, I managed to explain to them the age difference. "Good marriage," I said. That made the single guy happy. The married guy told us that his wife is six years older than he. I get the feeling that marriages between older men and younger women, sometimes with a significant age difference (more than ten years) are much more common in Japan than they are in the States... but I have no idea how common marriages between older women and younger men are.

If Mr. Single Guy (I swear, that's gonna be my nickname for him now) were living in the States, my first piece of advice would be, "Move out of your parents' house." But in Japan it is very common—and socially acceptable, it would seem—for single people to live with their parents. Even married people sometimes live with the parents of one spouse. Tane-sensei grew up in Nita, and lives with her folks in Fuse (that village in the north part of Nita) now that she is teaching here. Ikeda is from Matsue, and while Matsue is a little far to commute every day to Yokota, she goes up on the weekends and stays with her folks, even though she has an apartment here. I guess with all the shuffling around they do, it's nice to have a fixed point to call home.


My recent absence from the blogosphere is in no way related to the recent earthquake in Kyushu. Just in case you were wondering.

Today is my last day at the Nita Board of Education. Ordinarily I'd be at Nita Junior High School on a Friday, but yesterday was the last day of school, so the next two weeks are Spring Break. Not that I get time off; I have to use personal days to get out of work, so instead I'm just reporting for duty at the BoE. Which means I have lots of time to blog in the gaps from the last two weeks. I think the thing I'll miss most about this place is having a computer at my desk. It's slow as an ojiisan in a Carry Truck, but it works and it's online. The people, yeah, they're all nice, I'm sure, but I hardly know them. Yokota BoE has always been my "real" BoE, which is to say that they're my contracting organization, so I know the people there better. Next week when the towns merge, I'm not sure if anyone from the Nita BoE will move to the Okuizumo BoE, or if it'll be staffed entirely by Yokota BoE people. For that matter, I don't know who will be rotated out of the Yokota BoE at the end of the month.

I had thought it was just teachers, but it turns out many professions shuffle their employees about their prefecture, moving every three to six years. Yushi is a police officer in Nita, and he sometimes attends my English conversation class. Last time I saw him, he said he was packing his belongings, because he suspected he would be transfered elsewhere at the end of the month (the, I guess, fiscal year begins in April, and this is when these moves take place). He didn't know for sure, and certainly didn't know where he might be transfered. So not only is it stressful to move—and more so for those with families, who must decide whether they will all move, or if just the one who is transfered will move—but they are given very little notice. Maybe two or three weeks. Tane-sensei told me on Tuesday who would be leaving Nita JHS (but made sure I understood it was "top secret" until the 24th when the students would be told). Ikeda-sensei held out until... well, I never did find out from her, but from Kimachi-sensei, one of my Nita Japanese Teachers of English, whose wife works at Yokota JHS. And I found out from him yesterday, at the same time as the students.

So of my five JTEs, Itohara-sensei at Nita JHS will be moving to Daito JHS. This is not such a bad move for his family, because Daito is immediately north of Nita, and his family lives in Fuse, the village in Nita which is closest to Daito. He'll have a slightly longer commute, but that's about it. My two favorite JTEs arrived just last April, so I knew they weren't going anywhere, but I'm a little sad to see Itohara go. I like all my JTEs, and I don't know how well I'll like the woman who will take his place. Kimachi says she's from Hiroshima, but that's all anyone knows about her. Maybe we'll get along swimmingly. Kimachi was not so optimistic. "I will be the only male English teacher!" he lamented.

Oh, someone just turned on the TV here, and the local station is broadcasting some program about the history of Nita, it appears. Mostly a narrated slideshow. A bit of nostalgia before Nita and Yokota are absorbed into each other.

I feel fortunate to be here now, being able to know each town individually, and witnessing their merger. Not that life will change dramatically after March 31st, but... well, I don't know how it will be different. I guess we'll all find out.

This slideshow is part of a larger ceremony taking place a couple of blocks from here, and televised live. There are lots of old men in the audience. Oh, and the head BoE guy at Nita, he's on stage now. I hardly wondered where he was going when he left here an hour ago.

All this is mildly interesting for me, and about a tenth as interesting for you, so I'll stop the play-by-play.

Yesterday was the farewell ceremony for the teachers who are leaving. Six each at Nita JHS and Yokota JHS. Since this is a Nita week, I attended the Nita JHS ceremony. So Itohara is leaving, and so is Kasuga-sensei, the art teacher. She speaks some English, and last year she used to come to my apartment with Tane every week for some English/Japanese lessonness—I think we spent 90% of the time on English, but I did learn some things about Japan. She lives in Izumo and drives over an hour to get to Nita every day; she'll be transfering to Hiikawa, a small town immediately east of Izumo, so her commute will be shorter (and less treacherous, avoiding Rt. 26 during the winter). The other four teachers I hardly knew. At Yokota, the only teacher I really knew was the music teacher (and I didn't even know his name), so I'm not too sad about their leaving. It'll be interesting to see who comes in to replace them.

Last night both schools had farewell enkais. The folks at Yokota asked me a week ago if I could attend, so I accepted their invitation. The folks at Nita asked me one day before if I could attend. Nope, sorry, Yokota booked me first. But it was good to participate in some sort of farewell event for each school. Kyoto-sensei at Nita joked yesterday, shortly before I left for Yokota, that I should be split down the middle and half of me taken to each enkai. "Ow ow ow!" I exclaimed.

Got a women's luncheon to attend with the Nita ladies now, so I'll write more when I return.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

One-Point English Conversation Class

Trevor, down in Akagi, does this little mini-eikaiwa on the local television station. He showed us some video clips from a DVD. The shows are mostly kinda boring, with classroom-style English lessons, but in each episode there is a skit. A really funny skit. When we saw them, I fairly begged him to put them online. And now he has.

One-Point English Conversation Class

You'll need to download each one to view it. My personal favorite is "That Stupid Girl."

Someone of influence up in Unnan City caught one of these programs and liked it, so they're going to be broadcast up there soon. How much longer can it be before this crazy show takes Japan by storm?

Edit 3/21/05: For those of you having trouble watching the movies, Trevor recommends downloading the XviD Codec at this site:
You don't need to know what XviD or a codec are; just pick the one you need (for Windows or Mac; if you use a different OS, you probably already know how to fix this problem) and install it.

Friday, March 11, 2005

You probably heard it here first.

Nita and Yokota will be merging on March 31st, and the new town's name will be Okuizumo. "Oku," as Tane-sensei pointed out to me, means "back" or "bottom," and Izumo is the name of the eastern region of Shimane Prefecture. Nita and Yokota are tucked into the lower eastern corner of the prefecture, so I guess the name is appropriate. The name is already associated with this area, as there's already some stuff around here called Okuizumo this and Okuizumo that. The Okuizumo Orochiloop is the only thing that comes to mind right now, but I've seen it elsewhere.

The towns' Boards of Education: I don't know if they're merging employees, or if just Nita BoE is getting the axe. The "new" BoE will be the Yokota BoE, and I have no idea who will be staying or going, but I'm glad that at least they chose to use that building; it's newer, and the AC works better.

Whether or not I'll be moving to Yokota in July is still up in the air. Though I think I've reached the point where I'd rather move (for a variety of reasons) than stay where I am, though if you'd asked me five months ago, I would have said I wanted to stay in Nita, given the choice. The towns have always shared the junior high school ALT evenly, so they alternate which town the ALT lives in, and those who stay for more than one year have to move to the other town. Now that they will no longer be different towns, it seems (judging by what Tokue-san, my quasi-supervisor at Yokota, said to me last week) that I could just stay in Nita. I'll see what I can do about moving, but my guess is that wherever I end up in August is where every JHS ALT will live until... well, until the end of the JET Programme, I suppose.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I'm not even kidding...

If you send me Cadbury creme eggs, I will send you Hello Kitty toilet paper.

Send me e-mail to the address at the bottom of the sidebar, and we can discuss details.

Monday, March 07, 2005

I can't believe

I just bowed to my supervisor
over the phone.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The birds and the bees

Today is one of those days that feel like a midsummer morning, just before the air has gotten hot. It's a balmy 6C outside right now, and the sky is blue blue. And after visiting the Nita Town Board of Education every other Monday for seven months, I've finally realized that the nests that hang under the eaves at the neighboring town office aren't those of wasps, but some sort of bird. I should have known better, because the openings are much larger than what wasps require, but today is the first day I can remember actually seeing anything in those nests. And they are full of birds.

They look cozy.

I'm enjoying the relative quiet of the BoE before I go to Minari Elementary in half an hour. I have no idea yet what I'll be doing with the second graders, but that's not unusual. The fifth grade teacher faxed me a lesson plan, photocopied out of an English lesson plan book.

Oh, wait, I just realized I do know what I'll be doing with the second graders. The second grade teacher is the mother of one of my students at Nita Junior High School, and she (the student) gave me the lesson plan two weeks ago. And it's still in my purse. Safe safe.

After lunch, I'll be off to Fuse Elementary (that's "foo-say," not the thing what's used instead of a circuit breaker). I think I've seen the fifth grade class there before, but almost every time I go I'm there to teach the sixth graders; I haven't seen any of the younger kids, except to walk by them in the halls. I guess that makes more sense than spending all my time with the younger kids and not teaching the older. So today I'll be talking to the sixth graders about graduation ceremonies in America. I don't know when they'll be graduating, but it'll be soon. The senior high school students have mostly all graduated, and my junior high school students will graduate next week. I look forward to seeing the sixth grade students as first grade students in the junior high school (U.S. seventh grade is the same as Japanese first grade junior high school). I'll probably be the only teacher any of them know at their new school, and the experience of other JHS JETs is that the sixth graders who move up to JHS are their best buddies (and also more likely to pull the dreaded kancho, but I think they're less likely to try to pull that on a female JET).

Coupla links

Signe's brother found this website containing several articles written by a JET in Kyoto: I am a Japanese School Teacher

And I stumbled upon Japundit on Saturday, and thought this particular article was interesting. Most of them are, actually, but anyone who can demonstrate that the Guinness Book of World Records has made a mistake gets kudos from me.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

On finickiness

Dad e-mailed me yesterday to ask what I wanted for my birthday. I thought about it for a while, then wrote back and told him what I really wanted:

IBC root beer.

Every time I tell someone out here about root beer, I have to spend four minutes explaining that, no, it's not beer, no, it doesn't even taste like beer, and no, I don't know why they call it root beer. Except for Joe's theory, that it used to be called "herbal tea," but in order to increase manly man sales they changed the name to something more "masculine."

No, I don't know who they are, either.

So if Dad mails the root beer on Monday like he said he would, I'll be able to bring them to eikaiwa a week later on my birthday. Woo! Nothin' like kickin' back on a chilly late-winter evening in your local community center with some cold ones and watching your eikaiwa students politely sip on their non-beer carbonated beverages just to be polite.

I'm sure that's exactly what's going to happen, cos most of the Japanese I know are such picky eaters that one marvels at how long they've maintained their member-in-good-standing status within the international community.

Mabel and I have discussed this several times. I think my problem in understanding this pickiness is that, to me, Japanese food is exotic and, well, the Japanese eat lots of Japanese food, so they must like exotic food. I never consciously thought this, but after being surprised several times to see Japanese people turn away food that I thought was delicious, I realized that's exactly the presumption I'd been operating on all along.

In November or December, I attended one of my first Japanese classes, at the invitation of the traveling school councelor at Yokota JHS who is one of the volunteers for the group. Some of them (including the aforementioned Ueda-sensei) had just returned from a trip to Thailand, and in true Japanese fashion had brought gifts of Thai desserts to share with the group. There were these lovely, little sandwich-type cookies, very light and with lovely flavors like pineapple and coconut. Wegmans sells things like this, and when I worked there I used to hork some of the broken ones from the freezer. Yum! But not for everyone else there that night. These things aren't very large, but they broke them up into smaller pieces and nibbled at them. "Oishii, yo!" I said, popping a whole one in my mouth. But they could not be swayed.

I'd told my eikaiwa class about Reese's Peanut Butter Cups ("PeaNUT butter!") in December, so when I was in New York during the holidays, I picked up a box of peanut butter cups at Sam's and included it in the packages I mailed myself. After the packages arrived, I brought some peanut butter cups to the next eikaiwa. "These are Reese's Peanut Butter Cups," I proudly proclaimed. Mabel was there, too, and she'd never had them before, either, so this was a new experience for everybody. I distributed the peanut butter and chocolate orange goodness... and everyone ate exactly one cup. No one touched the second one in their package. Except for me, of course. But even I had become accustomed to the Japanese diet, and said, "Wow, these really are sweet." When I was in high school, I would buy packages of minis when they were on sale (especially after holidays when CVS was trying to dump the holiday-themed packages) and eat them like I was going for the world record. But no longer. I'd also bought a 44oz bag of the peanut butter cup minis and small KitKat bars, which I keep by my computer desk and do not share with anyone; after two months, I'm about three-quarters of the way through.

But I digress. It didn't bother me so much that no one thought the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups were oishii, but that, as Mabel told me later, one of the guys had made a yuck face after eating his. She didn't tell me who it was, and I didn't see it myself, so I'm glad I don't know who it was. But we agreed that we have three words for any Japanese who turn their nose up at Western food:

Raw. Horse. Meat.

Mabel went to an enkai with her teachers where they tried to get her to eat this stuff. She vehemently refused. Gag me with a spoon. I think raw fish is delicious, but keep me away from uncooked mammals, thank you. Or birds. Or amphibians. In fact, let's just stick to the fish.

And earlier this week the Yokota school lunch included a large helping of natto salad. Natto doesn't make the school menu here nearly as often as it does in other places, but that's okay cos it's a taste I don't feel any pressing need to acquire. Natto is slimy slimy, and tastes like vomit. So the teachers kind of chuckled when I finished the rest of my lunch and returned to the lunch table to dispose of my natto salad, virtually untouched. Watanabe-sensei proclaimed, "I like natto very much."
"Do you want this?"
She paused. "Really?"
"Yeah, I'm just going to throw it out."
"Ah, thank you!"
Cool. Got rid of my natto salad, and didn't feel like a loser for chucking it.

So I think I'll just bring one or two bottles of IBC to eikaiwa with some paper cups. If they really like it, I'll bring more the next week.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Let's Asking Originally!

I've spent the last six days reading through the comments on this post on Chez Miscarriage.

Wow. For two reasons, wow. One, that people dish out flak like that. Two, that I actually read through the whole thing.

I was going to post a comment of my own, but since it was somewhat off-topic, I thought I'd just post it here.

Some people commented on the distinction between a true "drive-by" and insipid questions or observations. By the time people had started bringing this point up, I was already noticing the trend myself. While some suffered at the hands of egregiously insensitive people, others complained about nothing more than hearing the same things over and over again, and getting sick of providing the same answers.

Story of my life. Or, at least, the last eight years of my life.

When I was finishing high school, conversations always seemed to go,
What college are you going to?
What are you going to major in?
Oh, physics! That's hard. I could never do that.
... Okay.

When I started college, it was,
How do you like college?
I like it fine.
What are you majoring in again?
Oh, physics! You must be smart. I could never do that.
... Okay.

When I was finishing college, it was,
Are you going to grad school?
Not right away.
What kind of job are you looking for?
I'm not sure yet.
You know, I'll bet you could teach.
Yep. I bet I could.

After I graduated from college and was working part time, it was,
So, have you found a job yet?
Not yet. Promise I'll tell when I do.
You know, I'll bet you could teach.

After I found out I was going to Japan, it was,
Tell me again when you're leaving for Japan?
July 24th I fly out of JFK.
You're going there to teach physics, right?
No... they have their own physicists there.
You must be excited.

When I arrived in Japan, it was,
Do you use chopsticks?
[brief demonstration]
You are very good at using chopsticks.
Thank you.
Are you accustomed to Japan?
A little.

When I went home for Christmas, it was,
... What?
Ah. Ohayou gozaimasu.
How's Japan?

The problem with the curt answers I sometimes give, out of sheer boredom with the conversation, is that they turn people off. Sometimes that's okay, as most of the offenders are friends of my parents and I feel no obligation to maintain anything more than a superficial relationship with most of them. But during the holidays I met up with people I liked whom I hadn't seen in months, and the only thing they could come up with was, "How's Japan?" I think some of them may have interpreted my Emilyesque "Japanerrific" reply as a desire to end the conversation, but closer to my true motivations was that I was simply trying to reflect the nature of their question in my own answer.
How's Japan?
Okay. Economy's good, but the birthrate's down. Koizumi's brought in an entirely new cabinet to boost his party's popularity.

And I'm sure that's not what you want to hear.
Work with me, people! Ask specific questions!
Before I flew home, I was reading on BigDaikon about how most JETs who had moved back home had learned that it was best if they didn't talk about their experiences in Japan unless asked directly—I'm sure this goes for anyone who has lived overseas. Most of their friends and family were curious at first, but quickly lost interest because their experiences over the last few years had had so little in common with the JET's experiences in Japan. So, for the most part, I tried to keep my mouth shut unless I was asked. This was a big mistake. I was only home for three weeks: I should have blabbed about Japan non-stop until everyone was sick of my company. The thing is, I don't know where to start, because everyone's curious about different things. That's where you come in. Wanna see my visa? My foreigner identification card? Some Japanese cash? I'm happy to play show and tell.
But please, for the love of heated toilet seats, don't resort to, "How's Japan?"