Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Left Japan; On the Road

Hi folks... still working on getting up to speed on travel plans.

Happy New Year! Happy Inauguration! Happy Happy!

Decided it was time to leave Japan and get on to new travel prospects in Asia and the rest of the world. I'd like to post some more about the Japanese experience, but it will have to wait until I get a few more bearings on what to write about that.

Until then, though, I'll be traveling in the US before heading back to Japan, Thailand, and other destinations Asiatic.

My current itinerary:

Presently in Atlanta, GA with my folks and extended family, helping my Grandfather recover from some recent ills and now my mother from breaking her wrist during dancing. Having fun lazing about and enjoying some missed American lifestyle. Everything's so big! ;)

January 29, I go to Oregon to visit my Aunt, Uncle, Grandmother and dearly missed friends for a few weeks. Be nice to be in the cold and rain for a bit... er... yeah.

February 19, I head back to Japan for just one more week of enjoyment of Japan as a semi-tourist and last minute western-style life before leaping into the unknown of Thailand.

February 26, I go to Bangkok, Thailand for at least a month of adventure, excitement, and otherwise. Hoping to get in a week of Vipassana Meditation at a retreat, some detox and healthy living, visit the sights, and get a bit of partying in on some beaches if all goes well.

Planning on looking into some nearby country hopping to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Then off to India.

After that, who knows.

I'll be trying to stay in contact here a bit better when I am on the road. I seem to like blogging best while traveling. But feel free to keep in contact with my email in the sidebar as well.

Take care all!
Be well!

Thursday, August 14, 2008


(The title says: dan o torimashita. Literally: I took [dan] rank.)

I know it's been a long time since I blogged. Trying to change that. I've been living the good life in Japan, trying to get healthy, and many other things.

I did manage to have the opportunity to test for first degree black belt (shodan;初段) at my Aikido dojo (Fukaya Aikikai;深谷合気会).
My dojo members. The three of us to the right of sensei in the front row (me in the center) tested for shodan.

Most of the action shots from the test were too blurry, but this video turned out well. (Also on my YouTube account.)

The test was shorter and easier than my ikkyu test, but I did learn a lot about how the Japanese do their testing. Not my favorite, but it's what they wanted. My dedication to bushido should be fine though.

My rank certificate and yudansha booklet.

These cost me quite a bit, and I can begin to see why some of my sensei's didn't want to subscribe to certain aspects of Aikido politics. I had to register for the national Aikido federation (about 8000円/$80) and pay for the shodan test itself (about 10000円). Further dan ranks increase by another 10000円 each level. Luckily they paid for the belt/obi itself (which I'll have to take a picture of), which also has my name and Fukaya Aikikai on it (in kanji of course).

Me and my new hakama in front of our dojo's shomen.

And then I had to buy my hakama (25000円). I did splurge on that and got the traditional indigo dyed cotton style (#6000 thread count) with extra long straps to tie it traditional style on my big hips. It was a serious pain to wash by hand (five times in the tub), but it looks pretty bad ass.

And kanji-fied my name on it as well. It's not perfect, but it'll do.

心 Shin (Heart) 道 Dou (Path) 羅 Ra (-)

So, Schindler, in this choice of kanji (of which there were many), means The Way of the Heart. The 'ra' is a phonetic place holder for words that need it, and often doesn't show up much in Japanese (save, Rashōmon, etc.; so far as I know--please tell me otherwise).

Now I get to wear a rather hot dress while I do my Aikido. Huzzah.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Christmas 2007

Merry Christmas everyone!

This is the Christmas Card that I made for the kids at school. You'll see it has all kinds of useful Christmas words.

On the back I put the following:

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus
By Francis Pharcellus Church, Editor of the New York Sun,
in response to a letter by Virginia O'Hanlan (1897)

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

Dear Editor,
I am eight years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in the Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O'Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.


I'm going back to the US for a few weeks this winter vacation. I'll have two weeks with my parents and relatives in Atlanta, GA, and then another week for New Year's with friends and relatives in Oregon. It'll be too short, I'm sure, but packed with fun.

Have a good new year! Here's to more blogging in the future!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

One Year and Counting

I've been meaning to post here for some time. I wanted to make a post for my year anniversary that came up a few weeks or months ago, depending on when I first landed or when I first started my job. I've been meaning to catch up with some of the daily minutiae that I could write about, but usually abandon when I realize I really don't care about it. I realize others might, but on the whole, it's disinteresting work for me. I could write books and books about it, still fail to cover it well, and still would miss it entirely because I don't have it from the perspective of the Japanese. That said, I'll continue to write when I can.

Much of my job currently consists of being a human tape recorder and a monkey to play with and watch, but not really or truly interact with. I admit I could probably do a better job sometimes of thinking of good ideas to do in class and with people, but the students don't know enough English, and I not enough Japanese to do anything that intense to learn from. The kids who really want to learn English are, and likely out side of class. They really like the rote text-book stuff here, as dictated by law. And it's too difficult to change the teachers mind, and we've been warned against it, that the teacher would follow their career path ideas rather than challenge the system. They're Japanese, after all.

Which is not to say I know the proper pedagogy and praxis to do it properly. Still working on that.

Anyway, I mostly lament the fact that the interesting poeple I meet here, save one or two neraby, are an hour and a half away from my city in Tokyo proper. The writing group I joined is there as well. Most of the community orientated, non-English-teaching, events are outside of my local travel area. I have to spend 2000 yen just to get to Tokyo to do it. It's hard to feel active or appreciated in the community when everything is that far away. I am still just a tourist, or possibly worse.

And so I look for where my next home should be. If I have the money, enough to make it, then I will move on to another country. If I don't think I can, I move to Tokyo. India has a good potential for a chemistry teaching job at a high school, and that would be wonderful I think. Perhaps some brief stint in Thailand and SE Asia.

I lament that the language seems to be the biggest barrier, and, if I tried applying myself better to those ends (which I have), it would all work out better on every front. But, I see my other friends who've lived here four and six years, those that can speak Japanese fairly well, still walled off from the affection of the Japanese community--still not have any friends they trust.

I have made at least one decent friend from my Aikido Dojo and will go out after practice on Sundays, have dinner, and chat in English and Japanase. Exchange a few emails. So, I should say it's not so bad integrating. Took a year, though.

Perhaps it takes time, but I know people in other countries that I would trust implicitly and forged bonds faster, and I don't find that here. I don't know if that's what I was looking for, but I guess it is something. I don't think the Japanese are any less trustworthy than any other humans, but perhaps less willing to share it? Less invting of it? Something like that.

Which is not to say I haven't been having fun though. I have many sources that are still working for me, but they all involve English and ex-pats. I have a beautiful girlfriend, and though sometimes complicated, works for now. I have a decent RPG group, and am planning on running the new Changeling game soon as well. I've been writing more and more, watching plenty of movies and TV, and have been making at least some more money teaching English to private students. I have some Aikido, and neglect to go often enough to the gym to get in better shape.

Went to Disneyland with Tiffany. Pretty busy place during a holiday weekend. Much of what you'd expect from a highly commercial and crazy place like Disneyland--except everything in Japanese. Long lines, though they did have these cool fastpass tickets you could get that allowed you through the fast lane. Could only get a few at a time, but it seemed to work well. More or less got to wait in line for two rides at the same time. Felt like we were being worked like a statistic, but the ends worked too. Many fun rides. The second day we went to Disney Sea which had some nice steam-punkish/pulp-sci-fi rides and attraction areas, and the place was less crowded for the Monday holiday. More pics and stuff when I have some time later.

On to pictures.

Yep, that's us at Disneyworld together. Fun times. I hope that doesn't have to mean anything. ;)

And I got a transforming pillow. It Rocks.

...oooh... aahhh...




I still lament the lack of ideal vegetarian food, especially in Disneyland (and Sea, which is trying to do the whole international flavor thing), but am managing.

The rain's are back and influencing my plans of camping... as well as poor communicating teachers, but I'll live in the trees some other day.

I'll be doing Nanowrimo again this year and hope to be planning a bunch of the novel in October so that, come November, I'll have a better shot at finishing something pretty decent. And editable by Christmas. It's another faerytale fantasy, but I can't seem to write much else right now. Some short stories are starting more though, so hopefully after I'll get down on finishing more short fiction. If you would like to read some of my more recent short fiction, I've been keeping some track of it over at my writing blog.

And then planning the rest of the stuff out, including a pending trip to the US come early Christmas.

Be well all!

Monday, May 28, 2007


Well, that was an interesting thing scratched off the list I didn't expect.

45th All Japan Aikido Demonstration
(in the Tokyo Budokan no less)

Our small little dojo in Fukaya was on one of the five huge Aikido-tatami mats inside for a one-minute-thirty-seconds Aikido demonstration broadcast on NHK television (maybe...). If the cameras saw us at all that is. But, Aikido we did. And then watched another 4 hours or so (click on the program). Had to fight off sleep a little bit, but
it was interesting to see all sorts of styles of apparently sanctioned Aikido going on in the world. Some decent looking weapons work at some too. My dojo mates decided to head back around 4 pm (got there around 11am) and drink beer, but I stayed a bit longer. Hung in the park for about an hour while the longer programs of various dojos did their thing, and relaxed under the trees. Then went back and saw the last shihan and doshu do their thing. Movies to post soon hopefully, though YouTubing them would probably work better as my camera is not great. Impressive to see Aikido nice and alive still.

Afterwards, did some shopping in Jimbocho and found a good selection of RPG books here in Tokyo; spendy but good to know. Then met a ladyfriend of mine in Tokyo for some okonomiyaki and shaved ice.

And then Sunday, high seas gaming adventure with the homemade D&D game. A nice weekend indeed. We were rocking pirates indeed! Took down our first boat with no casualties, and our captain unconscious the whole time! I need long range psionics.

I'll try to write up a more recent collection of activities, but I've been having trouble getting to writing. Soon if all goes well.

Friday, February 16, 2007


Happy New Year folks! Not a great start for that here, but I'll continue nonetheless.

Mostly working and doing the same as usual here. Still haven't gotten my visa figured out yet. I went to South Korea to visit some friends over my winter vacation break from school, and didn't know that, while my visa was in processing, I couldn't leave the country. Couldn't even pay for a re-entry permit. Had to cancel it all and go through the entire process again. The burocracy here is amazing, as I expect it may be similarly in the U.S. Utterly craptastic. Ah well. Should be any day now... still... for the last five months...

Gotten in with the Aikido club here in town though. Their classes are on the weekends unfortunately, so I've only been able to make one a weekend as other activities tend to schedule themselves on the weekend as well.

Winter has been pretty mild, so folk here are saying, and very dry. It's starting to warm up again and a few blossoms are getting ready. Cherry Blossom season should be upon me soon. Much prettiness in store.

Cthulhu has a new roommate.

And another from the Cthulhu files. This is the one from Miyajima. I thought I posted this, and may have in a draft, but I couldn't find it.

I'm going to try and update some of the old drafts from previous in the summer. A lot of my posts never got fully published as they still needed editing.

Maybe even some more recent activities as well! ;)

Monday, November 13, 2006

And Finally Some Pictures

Hey everybody,

My apologies for the last post. That's what I get for not having my own connection... I think it posts, but it doesn't. Oh well.

So, besides a quick update, this should include some of the pictures I've been neglecting to update and post for everyone.

Last week was my birthday. It was odd having it away from home for the first time in as many years. But, I did manage to find some decent company around the town, mainly consisting of the other English teachers I've run into at the supermarket or shopping for housing wares. They also planned the late Halloween costume party which was its main them, so that got two done with one party. Generally a fun and fantastic evening. Pics below should everything go well.

I've been having some foot trouble on and off for the last few months. When I went to Nikko the other month, got rained out and consequently had everything wet, including my shoes, and my feet got infected with something. I thought it was a reaccurance of some athlete's foot I had back in the day (which hadn't made an appearance for awhile for my usual treatment), but the usual treatment of tea tree oil wasn't doing it. They eventually got infected and then I decided to see a doctor.

So, finding out about the Japanese medical institution has been interesting. The doctor at the general clinic my friends at work refered me to was an interesting fellow. The friends spoke of him tentatively though, using a word (I can't remember right now) that translated as "dreadful." Luckily, he wasn't so bad. Spoke enough English to get by with my bad Japanese luckily. He essentially said the foot meds I had been using had caused it (which I am skeptical) and it wasn't athlete's foot (which I quite agreed) and that it was some kind of other dermatitis (oh fun). After that, some antibiotics and other anti-inflamatories (god knows what kinds), and a B2 vitamin (for the antibiotics), and some various cremes (again with god knowing) and my foot got better. They're like new, almost.

Except, after the party, the other one (one was more infected than the other, though they both had something in the beginning) got re-ifecte. Blame the alcohol, or whatever, but last week was another one of hobbling from class to class and wearing sandles so my feet could at least fit in a shoe. But, another round of antibiotics seems to have done the trick again.

Now, to figure out what's up with my chi and get it realigned. Something chronic going on perhaps. Oh well.

But, enough about my feet.

I did learn that my work visa has been approved. No word yet when it will actually show up, but my company said sometime this month (oh, yay...). Then, another week for the foreginer registration card to come... and then I can be a real boy. Get me a cell phone, internet, and... er,... um... get legally paid... yeah.

I've also been slacking on doing my nanowrimo attempt. Got somewhere around 15,000 words and have been entirely lazy about doing it regularly. Must do so. Tomorrow's a holiday in all of Saitama Prefecture, so here's hoping I get to at least a good stint of it.

I've got two RPG groups to attend as well, with plenty of other opportunities awaiting, though most of them a fair bit away. One is currently playing a game called Polaris, which is very interesting and a bit hard to play, but very enjoyable. The other is a Shadowrun game with a bunch of hippies who don't want to kill anyone, myself included. We'll see how they go.

Learned there's an Aikido group in town that meets at the Fukaya Big Turtle at some point, so I'm hoping to get to that once my foot's good enough and they'll let me in (with my pending gaijin card). Still need to get more than the bike commute's worth of exercise though. More yoga for sure, but perhaps some jogging is in order. The winter is beginning to set in rather good now and I wouldn't want to fatten up too much.

Otherwise, not much else to report.

On to the pictures:

First, I went to Nikko back in late September. Nikko is a good two or so hours by train from Tokyo, which I went through in order to get a better ticket price. Nice place. Best known for the fall colors, and a decent place to see the spring ones as well--it also has a large congregation of natural hot-springs, making it a tourist attraction for locals and internationals alike. Spendy, but that didn't stop me.

I got a late start on Friday so got there late at night. Took the last bus as far as it would go, which got me in the middle of no-where's-ville and a little hot-spring resort with not much else. Not even a convenience store, which is hard to do here. Dipped my feet in an outdoor foot dipping place. Found that and eventually befriended a young couple who were also there past curfew. They were meeting other friends that worked at a resort a bit later, and eventually wasn't able to hang out with them, but they did direct me to a place I could get a bath (baths usually being part of a resort deal stay as I found out). Took a nice bath in the sulfurous waters and camped in a park nearby. Rained a bit, but nothing much.

Next day, lots of hiking. Saw some sights. Pretty. Found out eventually that there was a big storm blowing in, part of a typhoon apparently. Decided to camp it out anyway (there was a hostel back in Nikko, but I was only half way). Tried to find another bath, but to no avail. Got rained on hard. Blowing winds soaked me and the bivy sack got flooded. Woke up mostly wet and my shoes made better cups than protectors. Forgot to pack sandles. Slosh around all day did I.

Which eventually wore on the morale. I had planned on catching the, also touristy, temples and interesting structures back in Nikko. I did take a quick look, but didn't want to pay and check out any of the temples. So, tried to leave as quickly as possible. Got some quick gifts and was back to home.

I don't think that was the same weekend I bought my computer, which I had planned on doing soon or already that weekend when I got back into town. I think I did. Got a computer, took awhile, and eventually got home on nearly the last train around midnight.

Oh yes, pictures.

Me at some falls in Nikko. When I get the chance I'll try and look up the map points better. Suffice it to say that the one full day I was there was pretty and nice, so I ended up hiking around a lot and enjoying the scenery in the outer parts of Nikko which were mountains and hot springs.
The other end of that rapids behind me. Can't remember the name of the lake though. Darn.
I believe these were at the bottom of the previous two. Nice, if blurry.
Or this one... Or both. I seem to remember there was a few along the way. It went on for a bit, rather.
An interesting little set of monuments and a grotto on one of the riverside paths.
I think this was the smaller lake near where I started the day. Hum... notes are a good thing. This one was fed by a rather odorous hot-spring which I completely failed to take any pictures of. Lots of interesting bits of sulfur salts and corrosion and stuff at its origin.
Nara out by a shack on a trail just off of the river. Rather tame as well.
Mmmm.... Japanese mountains.
Tree and roots on the path as well. Did I mention I went hiking a lot... Like, a lot.
Mmm... Japanese mountains in the mist.
This was one of the bear gates at the end of one area of preserved flora. As you can see, it's also Cthulhu proof... or at least as much as anything is.
Me being very wet and mostly unhappy in Nikko.
A cute bug I found while I was waiting for my bus back to the train in Nikko. Looks like a samurai, neh?

Okay, now on to some pics of Fukaya!

This would be a water tower (I hope) on my way to school every morning. That would be a negi and tulip in the name, Fukaya's stantions.
The other side. Happy churipu [sic] indeed!
And the fields of negi right next to the watertower. Oh, how there are many of them. And when the farmers harvest them, they usually hack off the top half of the green-leafy part and leave them in piles, so one can catch a decent whiff of onion-y air every now and again. Also, due to the agricultural nature of the town, the fertilizer "smell" is often apparent from time to time. Reminds me of home (Corvallis) quite a lot actually. Nice touch.
So, a few weeks back there was a local harvest festival. Not much more than seeing this cart, or at least others like it, being drug around town. Lots of god-awful noise, but nice on the whole. I think we got a day off for it, but I couldn't find any more interesting festivities other than noise making. I'll spare you for now, at least.
Also at the harvest time, there were a bunch of these kinds of paintings displayed (if a bit haphazardly) around the train station (which is also a cool red-brick sorta new-old-fashioned deal I'll have to post sometime). This was one of the more creative ones, but the others had cool flowers and foliage.
As such. Actually, they were more about kids and surrealism now that I think about it. The flowery one was a long panel set and I need to photo-stitch it together sometime with software I don't have on me.
And again. I like these.
Fukaya's own attempt at a nice laquer-style bridge. It's not, but it is pretty nonetheless. This is right near the station, about a block from me, right in front of one of the three temples I know about. I pass the other two on my way to school (away from the station).

So, a few from Tokyo on some occasions I managed.

A sign right on the station wall of Harajuku. I'm still not entirely sure what it means.
This, taken in the vast underground section of terminal in Shinjuku station, is the Japanese take on Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Yes. Everything in Japan is, or will be, cutified.
Um... Detail...
A poster on the walkway at Harajuku. Don't know what it says, but I know it's Kino's Journeys in the Beautiful World. Good anime. Looks like either a movie or a new series coming out next year. Will work on translation.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Hey folks. Still alive. Doing well actually. Many apologies again. I still can't get internet at home, and since I'm still technically living off savings until my first pay check comes (they often delay your first paycheck a month here, don't know why, but I don't see money), not that I'm officially supposed to get paid until my visa approval comes (which it won't for another good three or four weeks probably), I've been needing to conserve my resources as much as possible (edit: paycheck came today--hooray!). I've also been using my credit card a fair amount as well, which probably isn't good, but can't be helped. Hopefully all that will resolve itself fairly soon once my visa is approved and I get to be an official human being here. Yay international bureaucracy.

Since you've been so patient, I'll make this one a longer post (I'm writing it at home anyway), but do forgive me if I ramble on and tangent off a lot. I need practice anyway. I'm planning on doing nanowrimo next month, so writing will be my friend.

So, what pray tell, is the life of this ALT (assistance language teacher) like nowdays? Here be the lowdown:

On a typical day I get up around 7:30 am, sometimes woken up earlier by the searing rays of the sun coming in through my southern porch window. Japan doesn't observe daylight savings, so it's an early day and early evening. I eat something: the healthiest I've found so far has been some (relatively) cheap fiber cereal from the discount drug store--the least healthy being convenience store bread products that have none of the afore mentioned fiber (white bread the whole country wide). Few foods here seem to have much in the way of fiber, except, of course, the actual fresh vegetables.

I leave my house around 8 am for a decent 15-20 minute bike ride through the agricultural and residential outskirts of town. Besides being on high alert for just about every Japanese driver that inadvertently will try to kill me as I try to get to my destination, it's a fairly nice ride, so long as it's not raining. It's been raining a lot recently. Those are less pleasurable days--cold and wet by the time I get to school. I've got some decent rain gear now, but it's still generally cold, and getting colder. It does at least provide some exercise though.

Getting to school around 8:20-30, I do my best to cool off from the ride and manage the drenched garments. Obligatory changing of shoes, of course. Most of the students and teachers have already arrived (around 8 am?), but since my contract says I start work at 8:30, and I usually arrive early anyway, there's really no reason to come any earlier.

And then I start my job.

My job basically consists of going to a number of English classes throughout the day and being an English speaker. There are two English teachers at my school, both with a reasonable, if basic, understanding of English. I tend to be able to communicate with them, whereas everyone else I really can't. It can be a bit of a challenge sometimes, especially if someone not one of the two teachers wants me to do something. I've also found that very few people here tend to do much of the pointing and making with hand signals (the cornerstone of surpassing language problems), and give up fairly quickly if I don't know what they're saying. Oh well.

The day is split up into six periods, though Monday and Friday both don't have a sixth period of classes. I've still not actually been able to figure out what exactly they do then, but it's some other activity or homeroom class or something. My schedule is made by one of the other English teachers, usually before I need it during the week, but sometimes not. I also get a schedule of general week activities in Japanese, which I can at least vaguely figure out if there are going to be large gaps in the schedule (which there usually are). I have about three or four classes a day, typically with either the first or third graders (grades here are renewed each school, so first graders in junior-high would equal seventh graders in the US, etc.). Whether it's a scheduling error or intentional, I have seen the second graders rarely (less than half as much as the others). I take my text book (thin, paperback thing of about 100 pages), and my worksheet collection if it's first or second grade class, and am off to read my English.

Which is on the whole boring. The text books, of course, are written to introduce language appropriately for the grade level, and tame to take into account usual Japanese politeness, so I can understand why students couldn't be more enthralled. Some of the chapters do introduce some useful English speaker attitudes and social customs (one about how Americans will greet store clerks and elevator girls--which isn't done here). The younger, more energetic (genki) students don't seem to care as much (whether it's that or the fact that they don't understand what they're parroting), but it is what it is and I don't really have an opinion. So I read them their vocabulary and their selected conversations and reading excerpts, sometimes questions, etc. Depending on the teacher (the two that are at my school are a bit different in their methods of teaching, to various and interesting results I'll have to mention at some point), I'll do my reading in English, have the kids repeat, and trade off duties of translation and Japanese grammar explanation to the Japanese teacher. This is, roughly, how it is done all over Japan as I understand. They listen to me primarily for the pronunciation, accents and pacing, and the teacher does a better job of explaining the finer grammar points.

Occasionally I'll invent some kind of activity or game or bring in a track of music that might relate to some vocabulary or point in one of their current units of study. Generally I am just an English parrot though.

I've also been pressed into helping students with English speeches they've been preparing to present (more on that below). So, I'll go over pronunciation of words, how to correctly have the accent on phrases, and how to improve the flow and presentation of dramatic speaking. It's gone fairly well.

I've also done some reading examples for their midterm tests that occurred last week. They had to report answers from my recorded reading. Fun.

In between classes, and during down time or unrestricted time during class, I'll try to engage the students in some way. Usually this amounts to not much more than, "Hi. How's it going?" (that was a good one; it's a typical greeting, but colloquial so it throws them... they will still answer the traditional, invariate and disgustingly cardboard "I'm fine thank you" answer though... still working on breaking that). The third graders have been doing better at asking more interesting questions, though still rather simple as their vocabulary is still rather slim--rather, their usable vocabulary. Many of the older students actually know a decent amount of English when written, it's the speaking ability that they need the most, and presumably one of the other reason's I was hired.

When I'm not scheduled for a class, I'll keep myself occupied with thinking of things to do with the kids, or trying to browse the internet on the (terribly) old computers that have the internet filtered so I can rarely get through to my email or any sites of use. I've been finding better ways around this lately, but it's still a slow process. And I study my Japanese using my various books and resources.

At 12:30, the lunch cart comes in to prepare the teachers' lunches. I tried out the school lunch program for the first week before entirely giving up on it. I tried to explain that I either needed to have a vegetarian lunch (which I didn't expect them to make for me) or not to give me the meat portions since I would just abandon or throw them away anyway. After a few days of reminding them I gave up and just ate around the sections I could, which were few. Somehow, the Japanese have managed to add meat to everything here, even when simple things don't really call for them. Most of the soups would be just fine without that little bit of extra bacon or whatever it is they will add. And even at the supermarket deli (which is, on the whole, hard to find), the one tofu dish they provided had a meat sauce with it. Perplexing indeed. So, I've been bringing my own lunch ever since. I cook a lot at home as well.

Most days I bring a salad I've prepared the night before. The produce at the grocery stores is rather fantastic. Fantastically expensive to match, but perfect foods do have a price. And all the vegetables are perfect. They have one kind of carrot here--and they are cartoon perfect, symmetrical, blunt and bright orange Bugs Bunny carrots. Same goes for apples (often individually wrapped in their own styrofoam jacket protectors). Grapes are (unseeded) succulent, bulbous orbs straight out of a painting--often costing about 5 times as much as anything you would see in the U.S. Melons are tiny (and perfect), often having the stem retained--and can go for upwards of $20 or more each. Bananas and some greenery (locally grown thing that looks close to spinach but is not) are about the only thing that are about the same price as back home, so I tend to get these in quantity. There is also the ginormous Japanese radish (daikon) that I can usually only buy half of a small one before it starts to go bad; they usually come about half a meter in length (perhaps only slightly shorter), and about 10 cm in diameter (for much of the length). Huge they are, and cheaper than the dirt they're planted in (usually about a dollar US for a whole one). Relatively bland (unless you really let them sit in the fridge for a week as I have found out...), but make for a decently crunchy salad, which seems to be what the Japanese do with them. They're usually cut into thin long strips and made with a light yogurty or vinegary dressing. The other fairly cheap, and apparently healthy, veg is the Japanese cucumber (small, pickle like, plentiful, cheap, and crisp). They are often combined in a similar manner with the daikon to make the afore mentioned salad.

I've also gotten a rice cooker recently and been making more creative dishes at home that, pending leftovers, will often go to lunch. And with the timer function, can have my natto for breakfast as well. Finally found a grocery store that had a (very expensive) curry paste (without meat in it as most every pre-packaged curry meal does) and made myself a rather decent "red curry" with some yams, lotus root, and onion and garlic. Couldn't find any coconut milk though. I have managed to also find some decent brown rice. Most brown rice in the stores is extremely expensive. I have figured this is primarily because the pre-packaged brown rice (genmai) is rarely eaten, and must therefore be premium grade to appeal to the Japanese palate. I have since found another place that will sell me genmai at a fraction of the regular store price (about a 1/4 as much). I think this is because the cheaper genmai is actually intended for customers to buy (in it's un-polished state) and have it polished in store while they do their shopping. The place had a number of genmai varieties and some large machinery nearby, so I can only assume. The cheaper genmai seems to be polished less than the premium stuff I was buying, and has a bit more of the chaff on the outside. Still tastes fine by my standard, which is significantly different to the Japanese's.

When I first started my salads I would get quite a few interesting looks from the staff. Many were impressed by their size (I usually fill a ziplock cube container with salad--plenty enough even to fill me up) and their lack of anything else (though I have been adding red beans and garbanzos to the mix, as well as some nice snack crisps that work well as crutons). I will often also supplement my lunch with some inarizushi (little fried and seasoned tofu pockets filled with sushi rice) that can be found in any supermarket's deli section (and often half-price if you go later in the evening).

The Japanese lunches tend to have some sort of main meat product (often a fried fish), a small bowl of soup, some vegetable (steamed broccoli or the afore mentioned salad), and sometimes a bread item (which they cal pan--as the Portuguese gave them the idea for that).

After 15 minutes of lunch, everyone else puts all the dirty dishes back on the cart, discarded food back in the (invariable) (literal) bucket from which the soup came, folds their half-pint milk carton (everyday!!!) and stacks them in a neat pile. Then there is the 15 minutes cleanng period which every student in the school does some kind of cleaning either in their classroom or some schedule of rotation in other parts of the building. After the first few days I was pressed into helping clean the teacher's office, though happily. However, it's mostly a show of good faith--though I try my best. The students tend not to clean so much as polish off areas already cleaned the previous day. In as much, real cleaning would imply moving objects and getting areas that might build up dirt, crevices, underneath desks, and the like. But no. No objects, save the occasional chair for an obvious piece of grit, do the students move. I've found rather large dust bunnies (kurokuroske) lurking in plain view, that take little more than a creative movement of the broom to remove. This is assuming the students do much toward cleaning in the first place. Sometimes they don't really even try to look busy.

This period of cleaning also has a soundtrack, the exact same sequence everyday, broadcast school-wide:
-Main Theme to Indiana Jones
-Chariots of Fire by Vangelis
-Ghostbusters (main theme song with English lyrics)
-Chariots of Fire again

After putting in a good 5-10 minutes of sweeping and occasionally trying to encourage the students to do some actual cleaning, I finish and return to my desk, awaiting the next class, or go back to the internet or Japanese studying. After lunch are the remaining two periods and a short period of end of day nothingness. I am officially allowed to leave at 4:15 pm. Many days I stay late just to use the internet longer since I try to not look like I'm hogging the computer during the day.

However, two other teachers at school, around my age, accosted me early on to have me teach them some English. I have no idea how to do this officially, so I mostly just hold a basic conversation time with them, cover simple aspects of English small talk, and mostly use them to help figure more out about the town and life in Japan. We usually try to meet on Wednesdays and Fridays, pending actual schedule conflicts, meetings, and holidays. They've also helped me go shopping, figure out what to say and translation items. So, it's nice to have a few friends at least. I'll usually end up staying till about 5 pm or even later depending on my after school schedule (which is still fairly non-existent).

On the whole, the above daily schedule has only actually happened once or twice. Almost every week thus far (I count eight) has had some kind of holiday or major school activity that doesn't allow for the regular schedule. So far there have been two holidays: Mondays so far, though next week there's a Friday off. There was the all-school sports day: this involved about two weeks of abbreviated class schedules (45 minutes each as opposed to the usual 50 minute periods for each class; and only 5 minutes to the usual 10 for in between time) to allow for training and practice for their team games, track and field type activities, etc. One day was the actual sports day competition, which had no classes, had parents come in to cheer them on, etc (another post on this sometime later). Or, like this weekend, we had Thursday off to switch the school day to Saturday for an all day cultural exhibition. It mostly consisted of each grade and class singing a selected song and then performances from the school artistic clubs (dance club, jazz club, flute club, band, etc.). They also showed off some of their other class activities on posters around the school (one I managed to find out was a dying experiment using household agents to dye white yarn and test its adherence when washed). A fun show in general. I also got to participate with the song performed by the teaching staff and gave a brief demonstration of what entailed my English speech coaching: several students chose to write a speech in English, memorize, and perform as part of a competition. One of my students actually did very well, though had most of her training and speech done before I came on the scene.

After all that, it's another bike ride home. The way back is significantly easier as it seems to be mostly downhill on return, making the morning a bit more vigorous. Along the way I also pass several interesting landmarks.

One is the Nagano shinkansen (famous Japanese bullet trains) track that runs split through the city (the shinkansen track leads NW out of Tokyo to Nagano and the north-west shore of Japan). Our city isn't actually a stop on it (that's two train stops away, but still reasonably convenient, if also very expensive). I often see it blazing past in the morning or afternoon.

The other is the recently built, still novel, gigantic multi-purpose facility for Fukaya known as the "Fukaya Big Turtle." It is literally named Fukaya Big Turtle (in Engilsh). It's an arena facility with an attached physical fitness area and such, architecturally bearing a large green tome over the arena section giving it its name. Only popped my head in briefly as I still need my alien registration card to use the facilities. Soon... Soon... hopefully...

And lastly there's the reasonably sized park reserve next to the Fukaya Big Turtle, which also has a Shinto temple or shrine on one section of the grounds. Some nice forested areas that have some jogging tracks and areas to sit in relative secluded nature.

The rest of Fukaya is residential, bedroom community sprawl intermixed with small family farm plots.

Fukaya is also known for two major agricultural products (as it was primarily an agricultural town before it became said bedroom community). Negi (which are large Japanese leek style onions) and tulips (which are more of a spring thing, so I'll keep ya posted). Their individualized man-hole cover has the tulip detailed. The negi are everywhere else in force (which are also cheap at the grocery store, though I've yet to figure out a good use for it as it is a *whole* lotta onion). I've also seen a fair amount of cabbage and lettuce like plants being grown for harvest, as well as plenty of rice (all over Japan).

Incidentally, one of the free English entertainment and activity magazines produced out of the Kansai area (Osaka/Kyoto) called Japanzine (the other being Metropolis for Tokyo) has a back page taken after the Onion that has named itself "The Negi", complete with picture. I also recommend the interesting Engrish flavor of Ask Kazuhide; a Japanese with enough English to manage writes a rather hilarious write-in column..

When I get home I undress from my shirt and slacks, often replacing with t-shirt and regular pants, and am free.

To do very little. No internet, few friends to speak of, and not much to do in Fukaya. Still working on that. Truth be told I've managed to get into some gaming groups and find some other people to talk to, though they tend to be generally spread all over Tokyo, which is hell on transportation costs.

I've talked briefly with a few of the other ALTs here in Fukaya, usually meeting them in the supermarket (everyone eats, and there's not much else to do here...), complaining of the distinct lack of night life and activities for young adults. There are plenty of restaurants, and pachinko parlors, just like everywhere else in Japan. But no coffee shops, few if any recognizable bar-clubs--not that I tend to frequent either, but the former would at least be a start. Presumably there are activities for other folk like me, but it's hard to find them without the language ability, or internet (and even then, the northern Saitama area is not covered terrible well online--unless you know Japanese). Working on learning Japanese. It's a hard language.

So, many of my nights are spent reading or watching DVDs borrowed from the conversant/friends at work, or playing some of the video games I've managed to find online when I do finally go (a decent 15 minute bike ride) to the internet/manga/relaxation cafe (this one's known as "The Club") and pay for my time there. Occasionally I'll go biking or exploring via train to the nearby cities and places, hang out in the park. Now days its usually dark by the time school gets out though. It's still hard to discern what's available without good language ability, and other cities I'm also limited to foot travel if I take the train, so that can limit distances. But, I'm doing okay. I got a fair number of books when I found a few decent and used book shops in Tokyo, and I don't currently find myself bored.

So, all in all, a perfect time to write a novel. Yeah, sounds good.

Thank you if you've read this far. I will hopefully make more numerous, frequent, shorter posts. And especially when I can actually get internet in my apartment.

Till next time. Take care!

Monday, September 11, 2006

New Apartment

Hey folks, sorry again for delays. Finding internet here in my new home was a bit challenging, and, as is, is a bit of a 20 minute bike ride. At least until I can find a computer. Still debating whether to bulid my own or buy a used something. Decisions.

Nonetheless, teaching at the school now is interesting, of which I'll go into more depth later. For now, I will grace you with photos of my new place.

City, it is... the road is a bit noisy, but not too bad at night at least. Palace, I should say not, though my actual living space is decent, the bathroom is small for a japanese person, and the kitchen non-existent. But, I'll survive just fine.

Mine's at the back right. Walk is slippery as hell when it rains though. Hazardous.

The view from the loft. Yay loft. Though, it's too hot up there to live currently. I bought a fouton like thing and that's in front of the porch doors now. Works out reasonably well.

His new domain...

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

First Impressions

Are, generally, not my strong suit. I'm working on this.

Of the things that are bad to do in Japan, being late is high on the list of no-no's. So, what do I do on my interview day? Arrive two hours late to the interview with the board of education. I got lost on the train to get to the city the job is in (Fukaya, Saitama, Japan), didn't know about the transfer, had to backtrack, and then had trouble calling my pick-up. But, I did eventually get there.

And the interview went fairly well, at least after I explained how I got lost and it'll never happen again. Important cultural learning experience to be sure. Mostly I have to remember to talk slower and not use my extensive vocabulary. These are, after all, junior high students and I don't want to lose all of them the first day. So, I've got some homework already.

For Friday. I start Friday. Holy crap!

So, things are moving quickly. I'm trying to finish up anything else I'll need here in Tokyo (as much as I can manage) before heading out to Fukaya. The agency that helped me get the position has already found me a place to move into on Friday and will be fronting me the key money from my future salary, so that's pretty cool and nice. All I have to do is find a bike and a bed. I am pleased.

Otherwise, doing well. I did loose my wallet last week, which is the other reason I've been busy. I need to call the lost and found places again to see if it's shown up since, but so far no luck. Could've been picked, could've fallen out. Hard to say. Luckily I still have my passport and nothing entirely vital was lost. So that was fun.

And, along with the balloon thing from last post, in Yoyogi park the same weekend, there was also this rather extensive dancing display (Super Yosakoi Festival). Several dozen ameteur dance groups gave street and stage performances, much like the one below. It's an odd mix of modern and traditional stylings, I figure at least. Some were pretty decent, though some were quite ameteur. Enjoyable nonetheless.

My apologies for the video quality. I had to hold it above my head and it was hard... ;-) Does anyone else have trouble with the audio synching? The fans should pop out on the music cue if anyone is wondering.

Well, I'm off to check out a used english book sale (yay 30% off half-of-cover-price... needs stock up before I leave town... foreign books are expensive here), buy some more business wear, find some shoes, and a belt.

Oh, and on other notes, if anyone is interested in chatting me up online, right now I've got gmail and that's about it (schinji@gmail.com). And, if you'd like a postcard from Japan, just send me your address as well. I'll let ya know when I get set up for a Skype account.


Yes... King of Mouse! Not to be confused with the Rat King...