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Thursday, November 1st, 2007

     I have narrowed down most of Japanese culture, possibly all, to 4 aspects which are: group, rank, appearance, process, and possibly exactness if I want to add the E in GRAPE. When I think about the culture in this way, I can usually figure out why something happens. For the appearance aspect, one example is how we have to wear a suit when we enter the school in the morning and then leave at night, but while we are here during the day we can wear nearly anything. Teachers wear track suits, shorts, t-shirts, cut offs, sleeveless Tees, etc. One teacher wears things that I wouldn’t even wear at home if some came over to visit. That is perfectly ok as long as we keep up the appearance of the suit, but me not wearing a tie is frowned up. Even if I stay in the nice tieless outfit all day and look much nicer than most, that is a variation.

Possibly the world's ugliest car.

This popular pillow...

it's just a woman's lap.

Another shot I took last week.

A different view of the walkway from the shrine.

A different shot of the hidden shrine in the woods.

Another shot of a gate by two tall trees.


     I actually had a few people email me about the photos I took last week of the small shrines in my area. Perhaps this weekend I will go back out and take more since I am apparently and suddenly really broke. It's my Ryan Syndrome again. I was 100% positive, beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had a total of 5 payments on my car and the September one was the last one. May to September, 5 payments. But nope, it was 6 payments. One at $589 and five at $570. I mean if someone put a gun to my head and said "tell me exactly how many payments you have on the car and when is the last one" I would have said 5 and the last one was in September. And I'd be dead. I checked and double checked about 10 times, but I was wrong. I was absolutely completely positive that I didn't have to pay this month. Then when I see it came out of my account, I added the payments up on my phone and found the 6th payment was exactly how much I owed. I seriously have no idea what I was adding all those other times.

      I bought some flash cards for my kids last week from my favorite store Trial. I thought it was a trial sized store for the longest time and didn't go in, but it's a wicked thrift Wal-Mart type store. They were 45 cents each and I thought that was a great deal. Then when I gave them to the kids, one kid told me they were 25 cents at the dollar store (4 for 100 yen). Awesome. So I went there tonight and bought more for my 8th graders. Then I had sushi and updated my bank book. I think that cold medicine changed me somehow. Recently I have been eating so much more than usual. I ate 10 plates of sushi (2 per plate), then ran two errands and was still hungry so I went to McDonald's and got a full meal. When I go there I tell them to put it in separate bags because it is for myself and "a friend". Even after all that I wasn't full, I merely stopped eating since there was no more food and I had already eaten way too much, but I wasn't full or satisfied. I am a fat greasy slab of hog meat.

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

     I have narrowed down most of Japanese culture, possibly all, to 4 aspects which are: group, rank, appearance, process, and possibly exactness if I want to add the E in GRAPE. When I think about the culture in this way, I can usually figure out why something happens. For the appearance aspect, one example is how we have to wear a suit when we enter the school in the morning and then leave at night, but while we are here during the day we can wear nearly anything. Teachers wear track suits, shorts, t-shirts, cut offs, sleeveless Tees, etc. One teacher wears things that I wouldn’t even wear at home if some came over to visit. That is perfectly ok as long as we keep up the appearance of the suit, but me not wearing a tie is frowned up. Even if I stay in the nice tie-less outfit all day and look much nicer than most, that is a variation.

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

     I had a pretty busy weekend even though I didn’t plan to. Well after 12 I should say. Saturday I drove around town looking for thrift stores with used stuff. I found 1 new one that focused on furniture. I might go back there and look at sofas more as well as dryers. They had a cheap dryer that was the same model as what I have been looking for at the new stores. The other store I already knew about had a better selection of used cameras. It’s a bit of a ways away, but it was worth it. They had a lot of used digital cameras and I might consider that place. The only downside is they don’t fully get the concept of “used discount pricing”. Most of the things were too close to the retail new price. Then I ate at the curry place and had my favorite cheese curry with level 1 spice. It goes up to level 10, but you actually have to sign a waiver after level 6 or so.

     Then Sunday my plan was to really clean the apartment. I managed to stay in bed until 10ish and then I forced myself up. I usually can’t stay in bed until 8 and then I feel nasty, but for some reason I was able to keep rolling over and dozing off again for an hour or so. Then around 10:30 the phone rings, as in the land line, and when I answer it I realize I hadn’t spoken or even opened my mouth all morning. I croaked out a true frog sound and there was nothing. I cleared my throat and said “hello” this time and it was Stephanie inviting me to a picnic in this mushroom park I have been wanting to find. It has rocks shaped like mushrooms. Actually they are shaped like phallic symbols (the penis), but I figured that wouldn’t be the best selling point.

     The picnic was good overall. Keiko cooked Nabe (nah bay) which is a Japanese soup and rather tasty. There was some meat on a grill. There was a mix of Japanese people and foreigners. We ate and then went for a hike to see the penal rocks. They were interesting, though nothing really amazing. Then we came back and chatted a bit and then play some light soccer in the sun since our area was covered in shade. Then it was time to go, but someone suggested we go to a nearby onsen. I wasn’t dressed for it (I had socks and several layers and no towel), but I am trying to avoid my initial instinct of saying no to things. It was fun and I felt great as I always do after onsens. The water was the perfect temperature and the outside air was brisk. There is always this peaceful feeling after being in an onsen for a while. Your body is all warm and relaxed. The name of this onsen actually means “relaxed and peaceful”. Then I came home and did nearly nothing for a few hours, except overeat my dinner.

They hate it, but I don’t.
Monday, November 5th, 2007

     I have asked and then re-asked and even nearly begged to do something the other teachers hate. During the winter time we have a different bus cycle with two new buses that do nothing but pick up kids. For some reason the teachers have to ride along maybe to make sure all the kids get on the bus. I have asked repeatedly to suffer that burden. Mainly because I live so close and it would be much easier for me to get here early than other teachers, and also so I can do my part. But for some reason I am not needed or unworthy of this job. I’ll keep trying and update as needed.

     I have three classes this week and they are all on Friday. AWESOME. Well during the week I have some classes where I act as an ALT, but my conversation classes are on Friday. I only have 2 with the seniors and 1 with my preferred class of the juniors. No class with the 1st years which I really needed. I gave them flash cards last week and told them to use them to learn some basic words that they haven’t learned in weeks, and this week we were going to check them and move on, but nope.

     Well hopefully this week I can get some planning and preparation done. I’m really behind on some things. I can also plan out my lesson for the observed class. I think paragraphs should have at least 3 sentences so I added this to fill it up.

     Today through Wednesday there are parent teacher conferences. I truly wonder what they talk about at these since you can’t really say anything bad about the kids. I guess that’s the case everywhere in the world, but it seems like I remember having teachers say “Ryan needs to stop ___ and work on ___” in a more direct tone. I remember teachers saying things like “you could fail if you ___”, but since you don’t fail here I guess it’s just good things.

     I spent most of the day working on making more Japanese flash cards. Now that I have a million, I need to actually start using them. I need to start flashing myself more. I have some really good books for learning kanji, grammar, and reading comprehension and luckily for me the test is a year away. If I study like this all the way until then, I should be able to ace it which would be great. I would also be considerably better at Japanese and wouldn’t sound like a chimp when I spoke.

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

     I have been doing this little thing where I exchange small notebooks with some kids. I usually have them write some basic English like “dear Ryan” and then from their name. I’ve been doing it for almost two years since I got tired of so many notes. The kids like it and I enjoy it, although more and more kids have been asking for notebooks and it was getting to be a hassle. Anyway, today I was running in the morning with the kids and a few stopped and said they were said that their teacher said they couldn’t do the notebook anymore. I was a little sad to hear it as well, though slightly relieved. The thing that bugged me was the indirectness of it all. He could have easily come to me and said “the notebooks are being a bit of a distraction in class, so I’m going to have to tell the kids they can’t do it”. That would have been fine and I would have completely understood, but instead he told the kids who then leaked it to me. I’ve learned other things that way since the teachers won’t say anything to me directly. This indirectness is a bit annoying sometimes. Well most of the time. I get that we are probably too direct in the US, but never getting to a point is really hard for me to understand.

     They’ve finished the extension of the ski grounds behind the school. There is an area between a hill and the woods where it gradually slopes down and we use it to teach skiing since we get so much snow. Until now it was gradual and then got steep at the end, but they added dirt and extended it out a bit so now it’s gradual and much better. I plan to learn to snowboard on it. Here’s a before and after drawing.

     I had a class as an ALT with the first years. I didn’t say a word in class. Well I said some stuff to the kids, but as a teacher I said nothing. The regular JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) said and did everything. All the “repeat after me” times and anything else was all done by him. I actually tried to say something once and he started talking at the same time so I let him go. So technically I said “I..” It’s such a waste sometimes here, but there’s always something to make me to keep me going. In this case, when I was walking back somewhat depressed due to my lack of use, an elementary first grader came up and hugged me for no reason in the hall. That recharged my battery for a while.

     I had a slightly humorous language mishap, but I really didn’t make any mistakes. Maybe I was annunciating a word wrong or something, but I thought it could be taken in context. Anyway, it was all in Japanese so here we go:

A teacher: You should go to the doctor again since you are still coughing.
Me: I’m ok, I was just too prideful. (hokori)
Tchr: You shouldn’t worry about that, just go if you are sick.
Me: I’m not sick, just took in too much pride. (hokori)
Tchr: We are all like that sometimes, but we go to the doctor.
Me: There’s no medicine for pride (hokori) and it will pass. I just have a reaction to it.
Tchr: You should try to put that aside and not think about it so much.
Me: Well I can’t help it, it just comes in when I do things.
Tchr: How do you say “hokori” in English?
Me: Dust. Hokori means dust.
Tchr: Oh, I thought you meant pride.

     So I was saying pride instead of dust, but it’s the exact same word. Hoe Koh Ree means both dust and pride. Afterwards when I looked them up I thought to myself that it should have been obvious and I was even doing the “up my nose” gesture.


     I really want to figure why it is rude to wait in SE Asia. In Thailand and Cambodia cars drive like they have to be somewhere in 1 minute, even if you say don’t hurry. If there is a car in front of you for any reason, they will pass that car. Once I even went on the sidewalk in a taxi. In Japan when people stop in the road, which is legal, the cars behind it will swerve into the other lane regardless of what is coming towards them. When people are stopped at traffic lights it’s like a requirement to get around them as fast as possible. At school when someone calls to speak to a teacher for any reason, that teacher has to break his/her neck getting to the phone no matter where they are. Unless we are in a meeting, and even then not always, you never ask to take a message. You call the teacher and he/she races to the phone. When I check out at a store, as soon as I get the receipt after paying I am brushed away so the next person can start their transaction. Usually it’s ok, but sometimes I have been in the middle of putting my change away and the next person moves in. It’s something about waiting or being forced to wait or something, even though Japanese will wait in lines for hours. I’d like to get to the bottom of it.


The ATM withdrawal limit here in Japan is $20,000.


New Idea.
Friday, November 9th, 2007

     I had no classes (of my own) Monday through Thursday and then all my classes on Friday. It was odd, but whatever. The two classes with the seniors were boring, but needed. They worked on a printout preparing them for their final exams (even though the term ends around DECEMBER 20th). While they were doing that I called them to the front one by one and said various things to them and they had to reply appropriately. I said things like “I lost my mobile phone” or “I passed the test”. They had to reply in some way that wasn’t stupid. Most did great, though some were too worried about it. I pulled them out into the hall so they wouldn’t get embarrassed in front of their friends. Overall it was ok since it added that speaking and listening element to my class. With the juniors I had them write flash cards and I taught them how to use them. I promised a movie as soon as they learn all 50 of the words on the cards.


Monday, November 12th, 2007

Warning – Foul Language Ahead

     I nearly passed out from laughing during an interview practice today. The sad thing is the kid thought I was laughing at his English, but it was much more than that. They had to describe a photo. The first question was “what does the girl have in her hands?” The answer was “she HAS a soccer ball.” No problems thus far. The second question was “look at the man in the t-shirt, what is he going to do?” The answer was “he is going to sit on the bench”, but I think whoever made the book knew the kids would mispronounce it and it would make some foreigner laugh. Most kids got through it just fine and I didn’t even expect the problem, but then one kid came in who can get hyper sometimes. I asked the question and he was stumped. Then he figured it out and exclaimed the answer proudly and loudly. “He is going to shit on the bitch”.

     I burst out laughing and couldn’t stop for a bit. Had I even thought of that in advance I would have picked another practice test. I had this problem when we were teaching the juniors about “can I sit here”. There is also a story that many kids pick for the speech contest and one part says “the man went to sit under the tree.” It always cracks me up to hear that story. There is another one where some guy is a “skillful robber”, but that comes across as a “skillful lover”. The best is some story about a dancer who dies or something. In the end, the audience laughed and crapped (though most likely they clapped, but the L and R thing…)

     I have to make the video for my big open house class next week. It’s going to use some video trickery (or treachery) and hopefully be really impressive. Maybe it will work, but it definitely won’t if I keep putting it off. I heard today only 3 teachers have signed up to see the English parts of the open house.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

     Rank, being the second most important part of the Japanese culture, gets a bit restricting at times. I understand it’s importance and I know how well it works in situations like the military (but oh no, Japanese culture could never be compared to that. Students are ranked, even though that is based on their names. The powers that be could easily say “line up by name”, but they need that ranked reinforcement in there as well. One thing I noticed yesterday that made me realized how often it happens, is that men are always ranked higher than women. Even I as a foreigner am sometimes ranked higher than Japanese women who have been working much longer than me. When I told the kids to get in order among themselves for the practice interviews, I realized they were in random order within the first group of all boys and then the second group of all girls. When kids line up in the gym for some presentation, the boys are first, then the girls. At restaurants men are handed the menus (and then food) first and then the women. Men are actually supposed to order for everyone at the table, but I usually don’t do that.

     I think Japanese women/girls who go to the US/Canada/Australia/England etc, have a hard time coming back. In those countries they see how women are treated as (far closer to) equals and then when they return they start to see how Japan is completely male based. It’s not even hidden really well. When we have visitors at the school some high ranking person will literally snap at some women to come serve tea. Could you imagine how many times a Japanese boss could snap at some American women at a company “hey you there, come serve tea for us”…”excuse me…” That’s why the Magical Japanese Management System of the 80’s and 90’s fell apart. People realized it couldn’t be copied and was based on centuries of people being submissive to higher ranks.

     When I enter the teacher’s room, I am supposed to drop my bag and take off any coat I might be wearing and go immediately to the highest ranked person and properly greet them. It’s supposed to be a clear and direct “good morning” in Japanese while bowing about 45 degrees. I usually drop the coat and bag and walk to the vice principal or principal and say the clear and direct good morning, but I only bow a little. Once I was in a mood and did this exaggerated greeting to everyone I met and I got comments on how skilled I was at the Japanese greeting. I was being silly, but that was the level they wanted. In the US my boss would think I was a brown-noser if I greeted him/her with this special out of the way greeting all the time.

     Some of the rank related stuff makes sense, to an extent. Like when a teacher or staff member leaves the school for any reason, we have to tell the highest ranking person. I can dig that since someone needs to know where everyone is. When someone comes to the school for any reason they check in and immediately greet the highest ranked person.

It’s Wednesday.
Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

     For some reason, I cannot remember it is Wednesday. I missed part of my second period class (where I was only assisting) then I told some girl to meet me at 2:50 for the interview practice, even though that is dead in the middle of 6th period. There were some other smaller things, but I won’t go into all of them. I can’t figure out why I am confusing the days.

     I am starting the preparations for my big observed class next week. Actually I don’t think many, if any, people will be there. I found out there is another English class in the elementary school at the same time, and only a few teachers signed up to see my class anyway. Still I have to do something nice to get people talking positively about me and the NT program. The video I make should be great, but I am afraid no one will see it.

     Today I had 4 classes total, though technically 3.5 since I missed part of one. The seniors went to some chorus performance in town and sang our town song and something else. In my class with the juniors I did the flash card thing and it went over well. Friday I have a class with the elementary 3rd graders. Apparently the teacher didn’t say the kids couldn’t exchange the little notebooks with me since a few kids gave me their notebooks. Anyway, the class will be about body parts and I am going to play a game called Body Zombie. Two kids meet and then do rock-paper-scissors. The winner tells the loser to touch a body part. If someone loses twice he/she has no more hands for the RPS and has to walk around like a zombie. Then I will magically release them after a while.

Friday, November 16th, 2007

     I overslept for some reason and woke up at 8:01 (hence the clever title). I 100% absolutely remember setting my alarm, so the only thing I can think of (excluding Ryan Syndrome) is that it didn’t set when I set it. I remember seeing the alarm-has-been-set symbol, but maybe it didn’t. I don’t remember turning it off, which I always do remember after I wake up. I just woke up and said “hey I have an hour, wait that said 8:01 not 7:01. Large bag of poo.” But I managed to make it to school. However, one hair or a small faction of hairs have decided to stand up in rebellion and it is driving me crazy. I have wet my head a dozen times and it still stands up. I can feel it which is far more annoying that merely seeing it.

     Last night we had a bowling party with the board of education and many of the foreign English teachers. I did horribly as in I scored an 84 and then a 67. The second game was understandable because my arm started hurting and I decided to just practice different ways of bowling rather than shoot for a top score only to be shot down. I tried to spin the ball like the pros do, but I spun it right into the gutter. Then I tried to change my style a few times, and just had no luck. Luckily one of the girls in my group was having a bad 2nd game as well and really sucked, as in she had a 7 on the 7th frame. In the first game she had a great score so the second game was odd, but a relief to me since we scored close to each other.

     After that a few of us went to dinner at this semi-nice family place. It was great and I am glad I went. It was a nice selection of people. Sometimes there is one who dominates the conversation or gets really loud, but we were all about the same at everything. It was a pleasant dinner with special friends. Sorry I just felt like being cheesy once.

     Someone in charge of the computer networks for the school system has it locked down so tight it’s painful. My friends complain about stupid stuff like, “I can’t get to Hotmail OR Facebook at school”. Yea, you’re an idiot. My problem is the stupid software blocks anything with “game” in it. ANYTHING, such as “Fun GAMES to teach Kids English in no time at all” and so on. There was a site that would allow users to input URLs for things that were wrongly blocked, but it will not unblock anything with GAME in the title or even on the page. It’s uber annoying since I have to do all this stuff at home and save it to print it out here. Today I just wanted to find an activity about making a murder mystery game, but it’s blocked. I suspect the “murder” part might also have something to do with it though.

     It’s a good feeling to have a few classes on a Friday in the morning and then have nothing to do in the afternoon. It’s just a relaxing well-done type feeling. I have a shed-load of stuff to do tonight and this weekend though. I have to completely make the video and PowerPoint presentation for my Tuesday observed class. It needs to be really nice so I am going to spend a lot of extra time on it. Tomorrow around 5 I am going to Fukushima city with some people from Koriyama. We are going to eat gyoza at one of the nice places.

     I was pushing a girl on the swings earlier and it was fun. She’s one of my favorite kids because she’s always happy and smiling and I have only seen her cry once. Then some elementary 1st and 3rd graders came over. They are somewhat pushy and bossy, even the 1st graders. Not all of the kids just these few. I was pushing them and doing this thing where I grab the seat when they come back and they jump forward. They love it and it’s fun. Then I went over to do it to one of the 1st graders, one of the bossy ones (probably #2 bossy queen) and she started crying. I thought she was kidding for a minute and then asked what was wrong and she just kept crying. After a minute I got fed up with her and said in Japanese “if you are going to act like a baby I am leaving” and I left. As I was walking away, I heard the other kids saying “why are you crying, you made him leave”. I started to feel really bad about it and found her later to apologize. She was still whining and crying and whimpering about stuff and actually sitting in the corner. I tried to apologize, but she was crying so I said it and then left. It’s ok if babies cry (though still annoying), but 1st graders crying when they don’t get their way is a real bugger for me.

     I am really and truly overwhelmed by the amount of paper we get here sometimes. Today I was doing the last bit of interview practice for the English interview test on Sunday until 3:30. Then I went into the teacher’s room to find a teacher’s meeting underway. When I sat down there was a stack of papers that were just passed out. Most were previous memos with minor changes, some were copies of memos other people got (just so we were all informed), and others were things that could have easily gone on the non-existent bulletin board that I dream of. It was about 20 sheets I think. Only 3-4 were remotely relevant to me, but I had to keep the others for a while because it is “rude” to toss things that other people could see. “Oh you tossed my memo about ways to stay healthy in the winter”, “uh yea, because it just says gargle daily and you won’t get sick”.

      I was in a stall earlier and the phantom flusher came back. I haven’t heard from him a in a while so it a bit nostalgic. Why on earth must someone flush constantly while peeing? I can understand (in an old man sort of way) flushing once to get started or to mask the sound of it, but it was constant. I would guess it was 15-20 times. He was almost holding down the button.

It’s Winter.
Monday, November 19th, 2007

     It’s officially winter since it snowed about 6 inches last night. It’s also frigidly cold and the wind was blowing like mad. That’s a big change from the weather Saturday which was sunny and cool. Saturday was rainy and cloudy and generally nasty, and then it got really cold and said rain turned into said snow. I had to search for my big coat since I have been avoiding the fact it was turning into winter and haven’t prepared anything really. Well apart from my heated blanket and humidifier.

     Saturday I went to Fukushima city with a new Koriyama JET named Sarah (not as a date) since we both loved gyoza. It was good having gyoza again and we managed to have gyoza at two of the three well known places. First we went to Manpuku, then to Yamame which was the one near my old apartment and I went there nearly every week with Liz. The gyoza at Manpuku are slightly smaller and softer (30 per plate) whereas the ones at Yamame are bigger and a bit crunchier. When we got to the first place, Sarah said “I think I can eat about 15”. In the end we ate about 45 each. I was still slightly hungry, but full enough. I think my record with Liz was about 120 total, so roughly 60 each or so.

     Sunday I stayed in and finished my presentation for tomorrow. I am 90% done and it looks pretty good overall. I am hoping to impress the teacher that makes the usual videos for school so maybe I can make one of the bigger opening/closing ceremony vids. I already have an idea for a graduation vid, but this one would be for the student party ceremony moreso than for the official ceremony. The official one has to be really nice and uplifting, but the one for the party where the 2nd and 1st years say farewell and thank you to the graduating 3rd years, that one can be funny and less serious. I want to make some animation thing about what these kids will do in 20 years. Like one will be an astronaut, another an Olympic medalist, and so on. In actuality, most will probably just be office workers somewhere, but that would make a boring video.

     I remember last winter and the one before, I would come to school and drink two canned coffees and two little dough balls full of pizza filling. That’s an actual food here, not something I threw together. Then I would go to the bathroom since the coffee runs straight through me. I have virtually cut all that out and I feel better, even though the coffee did give me a big caffeine kick in the morning and then all day. But overall I feel better without drinking the coffee and other crap.

Some random, unrelated photos from my phone:

How to be famous in Japan:

Look as stupid as possible, and do some self humiliating dance over and over and over. That's it.

I was in mid-stream when the window opened and some young elementary school girls were asking me to push them on the swing. Actually, it was pretty obvious.
Alex, I'll take things that can't be fun to park in Japan, for 500 please. The 3rd graders have this elaborate McDonald's restaurant set up in the library. Someone spent hours on this menu.
They even have some currency.
I had gyoza on Saturday night in Fukushima city. In class the 8th graders were learning "There is / There are" and one kid had to explain this to his/her partner.
At one point it said "there are two students under the desk" and they had to act it out. Part of my presentation for the big open house is about the phrase
"Nice ____".  So as an example
I am doing "nice glasses".
Something from rice harvesting to balance out the photos.

A Tad Down.
Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

     I’m a tad down today because I only had one of my own classes this week. I was supposed to have two, which in itself is sad, but it was swapped with a math class so they could prepare for the term end tests next week even though we aren’t near the term end. I understand, in one sense, that English is merely a second language class and is pretty low on the totem pole, but my classes get cut or swapped at the drop of a hat. I usually get them back at the end of the term, but sometimes I need weekly classes to teach and review. It’s hard to teach something one week and then the next class is 3-4 weeks later. Sometimes I show movies and those really don’t need to be broken up over several weeks. Showing them over 2-3 weeks is already a stretch, but a month or more is rough. I have had about 3-4 elementary classes this term since August. I am going to request two per month starting in April, as well as visiting the kindergarten occasionally.

     My class on Tuesday went ok. Not as great as I hope, but not bad. I got rave reviews from the onlookers, but that was because I resorted to flashy tricks that I knew the other teachers hadn’t seen. I made a video with a split screen of myself talking to myself, and I had some sound effects from “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” for my quiz section. I was sure it would take too long and I built in a few shortcuts that would skip sections in case I was running over, but I ended up finishing 3 minutes early. I actually think time stopped for a bit since I saw there were 8 minutes left and started into this section that takes about 10 minutes, but then right as I was finishing I noticed there were still 6 minutes left. I don’t know how I squeezed the 10 minutes into 2. I truly don’t.

     Wednesday I went into town and bought some snow tires, which was perfect timing because it has been a blizzard ever since. That was $350 I would rather have sent back, but whatever. The good news, for people not living in the US, is that the dollar was down to about 108 yen which was a great transfer rate. If it drops below 100 yen I will actually make a profit and probably send most of my check back in December. Sadly I sent nearly $1000 back and it’s already spent. I might not be able to pay off that one loan by this year, but then again maybe I can. I only owe $400 more on it.

     I had a class with the 1st years as an AET, but when I got there the teacher said they didn’t need me. He said it in a way that seemed to mean “go away and don’t bother me while I prepare them for the test next week”. I guess I am a bother because sometimes I clarify things. Many teachers have their own style and don’t like me giving input into the classes.






     As I was typing this, the schedule teacher came over and told me some other teacher wants to use my class next week for her class. She wants my class period so she can give back the big tests and have it so that does not interfere with her regular class. Simply awesome. I could never imagine asking another teacher to give up their class and I imagine it wouldn’t even work if I tried. But for something as petty as this, wow that is annoying. But hey, everyone sure was polite about it.

     Those kids mentioned above with the restaurant in the library have progressed much further than the fancy menu. There is a whole world in there with two restaurants, a dry cleaners, a drive through store, a bank, and a few other things. I came in and the kids were scurrying around with deadlines and meetings and lists of things to do before they go home (pretend library home). "Oh I had better drop off these clothes and go by the restaurant before heading home..." I tried to get involved, but I was told I would have to start at the very bottom. Yea, whatever.

     The seniors are starting to fill out their high school applications. First they write them in pencil and then they go over them in pen. Mistakes will not be tolerated. They meet with various teachers who advise them about various things in various ways. When some were sitting at the table in the teacher's room, I walked over and suggested they use the pen I was holding to fill out the applications. It was a huge black magic marker. I always do stupid things like that, and they have grown to expect it.

     When I first arrived in Japan there was this strange thing we did. We got on something called a Beer Train and rode for an hour to an onsen in the middle of no where and then after another hour, we came back. On the train we drank beer and had some food and sang karaoke. Then on the way back we did the same. I thought it was some stupid little local thing, but then today I found a book about trains in Japan and the Aizu Beer Train was in it. WOW. I am going to scan some photos since it had much better images of the train than my little camera would take.

Happy Birthday to Me.
Sunday, November 25th, 2007

     It was/is my 36th birthday today. As with most of my birthday's in Japan, I spent it alone. One student who I knew from one of my traveling schools sent me a birthday message each year. She is usually the only person (apart from my family) that sends me a message on my birthday. It's always strange to get a message from her since we were not really THAT close. I think she was in charge of the English Club at Adachi High school which I visited for 2 years, but I rarely stayed since they met on a different day. I don't even remember how she knew about my birthday, but it's really nice getting a message from her each year. I think she went to the Catholic girls college which produces the best English speaking graduates. Whenever some girl starts talking to me in near perfect English I say "you went to sakura no seibo didn't you?" They almost always did. I just finished practicing English interviewing skills with a girl who is trying to get into that college.

     Anyway, today I did nothing except lie around the house watching the final day of sumo. Then around 6 I went into town to rent some movies for the kids this week. I wanted to get "A Christmas Story", but no place had it in Japanese or at least with Japanese subtitles. Then I had sushi at the slightly more expensive place, I figured I could splurge since it was my B-day. I ate alone as usual. I could have invite some people, but recently everyone is using the excuse "oh I am too busy now, I am studying for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test), so maybe later". But then you see these same people out having dinner with other people. It all depends on who asks.

Another Day…
Monday, November 26th, 2007

     I showed a movie in class for my kids. I rented Ace Ventura, Pet Detective since I remembered it being really stupid funny and pretty clean. Yea, it’s not as clean as I remember. In an early scene a client says “should I pay you now or take off your pants?” then he’s wiggling around with his pants off. I forgot about that as well as the ending with the whole Einhorn being a man thing and the underwear showing a “package”. So now they are halfway into the movie so I can’t just stop it. ARGH.

     I had one class 3rd period and we watched said movie. Then after lunch all the JHS kids left since we have to balance out big tests over two days. I can see that, having two days of 4 tests, but it would seem like they could stay around and study or something. After lunch the teachers went to the local (low level) high school for an observed class and then a meeting. About 60% of that school is made up of kids from this school and the rest are from a few other small schools around the area. This year only about 10 (out of 44) will go to it, but next year it will seriously be the majority. There are 34 juniors and I would truly estimate that 25 or more will go there. There are only about 2-4 kids per class that I can see going to bigger schools in Koriyama. There might even be less since there are always kids that go to it that I wouldn’t have guessed.

     I made the mistake of giving one elementary school kid an eraser with the Stitch character on it. I have given kids things before and the same thing happened so I don’t know why I fell for it again. I gave it to her and said “this is only for you so keep it secret”. I think it was a secret for about .03 seconds and then a dozen other kids were begging me for one. Luckily they were cheap so I bought more, but then it spread to little sisters and the one that was previously mentioned as a crier. She insisted I give her one, which I did, and then she insisted I give her one so SHE could give it to another girl. I said ok, and then saw her holding it like a carrot in front of a donkey. So the next time I gave it directly to the recipient, but now a dozen people or so want one. I’m going to try to wait them out and hopefully learn my lesson.

     When I got home I watched an English show about the tsunami from 2004. I wonder who made it since it seemed to be all about the British people affected by the wave, but at the same time it didn’t make the British local embassy look good. When they arrived in the area the first thing they did was look for a proper office with air conditioning and then get some tea. There were several other scenes that made them all look inept, so I wonder who made the film. It’s a two part series and the other part comes on tonight.

     Then, as if by magic, when it finished I was thinking about how it was an earthquake that started it all and how long it has been since there had been an earthquake around here. Within a minute a rather large one hit. I’m sure my brain sensed it somehow since everything is connected, but it was still odd. Later on the news I saw it was a fair sized one that hit off the coast of Fukushima. It was a level 4 on the Japanese scale, but only a level 3 by the time it made it to my area. The J-scale is a bit bigger than the other Rictor scale. After the earthquake I started thinking about the $100,000 that dropped into my lap, but that never actually materialized.

Everything is Fixed.
Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

     It’s still a mystery to me trying to understand the group vs. individual systems of the US and Japan. I’m ok with the American me-me-me system, but the Japanese group first way is mind boggling. It’s not even group first so much as no personal gains or interests. The new thing is I received a card in the mail last night. It said, in Japanese, “since we are still mourning and will be mourning, please don’t send any new year cards”. This is a common thing in Japan, but I had never received one. People in Japan mourn for a fixed amount of time. Not until they (as individuals) are over the deceased, but until the fixed time ends. It lasts 49 days. I think because 4 is read shi “she” which is the first part of “death” and 9 is read as nu “new” which is the last part of “death”, so death is read as shinu (she knew).

http://whyfiles.org/048grief/main4.html (scroll down to Japanese Buddhism)

     This 49 day period caused me to realize my relationship with an ex-girlfriend was over a few years ago. We were scheduled to go see sumo in Tokyo in January and her grandmother died in December so she had to mourn (and do nothing fun) for 49 days. That part was frustrating, but ok. However, on the 50th day I assumed she would rush to me and be so happy to see me. She went out with her friends and I finally emailed her later that week and she said she was doing fine. I realized it was all over then and just a matter of time.

     I don’t know why this even surprises me. Nothing in Japan is really based on individual interests. I’m not saying that is a bad thing, it’s just hard to understand sometimes especially for someone coming from a totally individual country. Some things are much better here, such as minimal personal lawsuits, and no stupid lawsuits. I think the US has the highest number of stupid lawsuits and many of them actually go to court.

      I read more of the article from the link above. It seems other cultures have fixed mourning periods as well, though most are shorter than 49 days. In one sense a deadline might be nice. Without a deadline you just go on until you feel better, which could be a long time. With a deadline you have a point at which to say “time to move on”, which you have to do at some point.

     Perhaps the part that is odd to me is how they send out pre-emptive cards saying that they are currently mourning so no Christmas or NY cards should be sent. That seems a bit odd really since the cards might be cheerful or show people care about them. Furthermore, they are just cards and why should people who are mourning have to worry with sending out these cards, but that is a whole other ball of wax. When someone dies or someone’s close family member dies, people are expected to send a fixed monetary donation. That’s fine, but then the mourner is required to immediately go out and spend something like 75% of the donations on thank you gifts. It’s so odd and would be so annoying if a parent died and I had to run around picking out nice gifts with the money people donated to help ease the burden of losing someone. I’m fine with just giving the mourning family the money and saying “use it for whatever you need” and I usually feel bad when I get nice gifts after THEIR loved one passed away.

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

      I had a tiny little goof today, which wasn’t even really a goof so much as me meaning to think something, but then I said it. I was telling a class that we had a class that would be observed by some other Native Teachers as well as one person from the Board of Education. The man’s name is Hotta (Hoe Ta). However, Hotta is also the past tense of the verb “to dig” and is part of a popular phrase in Japanese that sounds like English when spoken. The phrase is “hotta imo ijiru na”. It means “don’t touch the potato that was dug up”. So when I told the class his name someone said “hitto” and I said “no, it’s Hotta”. Then I meant to think “as in hotta imo”, but instead I said it. So then the whole class was laughing and saying it over and over. The teacher had to tell them to not say that on Friday. There are some kids that might repeat it to be funny. “Are you the potato that was dug up?” He’s way up the ladder and that would be just awesome. Awesome as in not awesome.

I can’t…
Thursday, November 29th, 2007

     In Japan it’s rude to say “I can, I want, I do, I + anything”. Not so much rude, as just not culturally acceptable. That result is that students will say “I can’t speak English”, which is a I+ thing, but it usually means “I don’t stand out of the group, I don’t excel at anything beyond the group’s ability”. It gets really annoying because several people in fact DO stand out and CAN speak English, but culturally they can’t. When the national English test comes around, people will continually say they can’t take the test even when they get perfect grades on their tests. There is another test application deadline coming up on the 14th of December and so many kids are saying they won’t take the test, but at the last minute about 12-20 probably will sign up for it.

Friday, November 30th, 2007

     I’m finished with my observed class by the other Native Teachers. I was really stressed about this because I couldn’t B.S. then. If I did something stupid they would know instantly, whereas if I make some mistake during the parents’ observed class they don’t notice. They are just happy to see their kids speaking English.

     There was one absolute classic Ryan Syndrome moment. In the middle of my second class just before I showed the video the computer simply stopped working. It was still on, just not showing on the projector. It was working fine 1 minute before and I wasn’t even near it when it stopped. I was watching it though. I was standing there watching it as it blinked and the screen turned some odd blue. Then it went to the TOSHIBA screen which means the projector wasn’t getting any input. It worked out in the end though. The vice principal, who was in the room watching, came up and did something (although I think I fixed and it just happened to change when he came up) and then it came back on. Then he walked out and went into the hall and back around to the back door. When he did that I had all the kids do the special clapping thing where we clap for a second and then I say “now” and we all clap three times and shout BOOYA and point at someone. We did that and it was funny and went over well, but there was absolutely NO reason for the computer to stop. I love being me sometimes sarcasm.

     Tonight I think I am going into town to have dinner with Paula and then going to Lydia’s birthday party. You don’t know these people, but I used their names anyway. Paula came today to watch me since she is another NT. Lydia is from India and is an ALT in Koriyama. Paula and I will go to dinner somewhere and chat about the lesson and things in general. I enjoy hanging out with all the NTs and ALTs, but I find that I usually can’t talk to the ALTs about class stuff since our jobs are so different. We usually don’t chat about work anyway.


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