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Busy Weekend
Monday, September 3rd, 2007

     Well not entirely busy, but I did do a lot. I guess, maybe. Friday night the 5 Native Teachers had a meeting over dinner to talk about the state of the union (of native teachers). We met at 7pm at a cool restaurant called Bamboon. I have a point card there and forgot it which was stupid since I could have gotten tons of points as we paid for the meal as a group. Then we went to this cool, but small, rock bar with a live band playing “born to be wild” and other classic American favorites. There was a misunderstanding and the two girls just didn’t come in which bugged a guy in the group since he told the bar owner 5 people and there were only two. The other guy in the group (of three guys two girls) left with the girls. Then we went to a mellow, but pricey, Jazz bar called Monks. Finally we met up with some of the new Koriyama JETs at a place called Radio Bar. We left at 2am. Wow, that is late for me.

     Saturday I did nothing. I had some stuff planned, but I didn’t get around to them. I cleaned my apartment a bit and gathered some old clothes that I am going to ship back. I also tossed about 30 single socks. I have no idea how I keep getting single sock since I only take them off at home, and at the same time no less. I never use one sock for anything, but somehow I had about 30 singles. So I tossed them and will buy some new ones when I need them. Maybe I can wait until I go back to Atlanta in December and get some nice ones that fit. Sunday I went into town and had lunch with Chandon and then we went to Tsutaya, which is the video place with a nice café. I had 4 of the magical cookies and a mango drink, but when I got home they put me into a 4 hour coma as usual.

The Note.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007

     On Monday someone found a note in their shoe box. It was a big problem because it was rude I think. I only heard about a little of it. Then today I saw the vice principal comparing the note to some notebooks the students write in Japanese. I think someone student was displeased with another student for something and wrote an anonymous note about it.

     I, foolishly, tried to dress nicer today. I wore a nicer shirt and near-suit slacks. Apart from being overly hot and looking too formal, I hate the way they fit. Or don’t fit rather. I could lose 50 lbs around the waist, but these pants are too tight and my t-shirt is too short so the mixture of those three things make me look ridiculous. My lower half looks thin and my upper half looks like it is flabbing over my belt. I feel so stupid I am considering wearing shorts and a t-shirt like several other teachers. I’m definitely going to do that during the winter. Though then it would be a running suit.

Part 2.
Thursday, September 6th, 2007

     Seems the teachers were nearly content with letting it go when someone wrote another note. There was a big meeting with copies of the note and samples of all the students’ handwriting from various things they’ve written. I couldn’t read it and still don’t know what it was about exactly. Though I think it has something to do with the student’s club. There is also the possibility that she wrote the note to herself. That’s pretty clever in a way. I guess that would work if you want to bring an issue out and especially if you want people to think another person said it.

     On another note, it’s rainy cats and dogs. For about two days it has been a torrential downpour. I drove into town last night and on the way back it was blinding. There were times when I couldn’t see the road. Even the parts of the road where it was a hill had puddles on them. Last night it calmed down, but today it has been raining for about 6 hours just non-stop. Like a wall of water. I should check and see if a hurricane is nearby.

     I bought some blank poker cards (design on one side blank on the other) and I made a matching game since the kids love to play cards. I thought it was a brilliant idea and should go over great. But since I have a tendency to just do things without mapping them out, I found many problems. To be honest the card game annoyed me and I’m sure the kids hated it. I have to redo it, but hopefully I can use it since it would be helpful.

     There is something about Japan that has always bugged me and I usually just get over it, but now it’s building up and happening a lot. When I write anything in Japanese and make even the slightest mistake, any Japanese person nearby will make some comment about how funny my mistake was. Sometimes it will be subtle like a chuckle, but in class or in groups or at a party it will be much bigger. In class kids will laugh at loud at the sheer absurdity of me drawing a kanji character with a different stroke order or leaving off one small tick mark. I couldn’t imagine ever doing that. I mean maybe if a Japanese person wrote ‘fart’ instead of ‘fat’, that would be funny, but every little mistake gets a mountain of laughter.

     I thought at first it was just kids which would be universally understandable, but it’s everyone. Today in class I made a slight mistake and the kids erupted with laughter. I wanted to yell “you can’t even spell “ASK” and you are in the 8th grade. It’s three letters. I think that gorilla that uses sign language or some beeping box could spell it. A #$%&#% gorilla. COME ON.” But that would surely cause problems. I would imagine me using the argument “everyone laughs at me so I figured it was ok” wouldn’t get me very far.

Friday, September 7th, 2007

     There is some general stink related with me today. I took a shower this morning, but then I put on some clothes that were hung dry. Since it has been cool and rainy/moist over the last week or two, the clothes didn’t dry well so now I have some pre-mildew stench. Maybe no one can smell it, but I sure can. I had thought about buying a dryer and then I decided to get over it and not spend the money, but I am back to considering it again. It’s usually not an issue in the summer since clothes dry outside in an hour or less, but this summer was so cool and rained all the time I have had to hang them inside. I can get a new dryer for about $400, which I might consider this autumn.

     Tokyo is getting hit hard by the big typhoon, but here it’s just rain, rain, some wind, a bit more rain, then a lot of rain and the annoying thing is it will rain hard and then stop and your brain thinks “ok it’s finished” so you don’t take your umbrella into the store and then it starts to pour and you are soaked, or maybe you do take your umbrella and you have to run to your car and do that awkward dance where you try to get in the car without getting wet and then try to fold your umbrella up and pull it in the car, but you have to pull the umbrella over you to get it to the passenger seat and since it’s soaked it drips all over you and the inside of the car in such a way that you would be less wet had you not even used the umbrella.

Oh snap. That WHOLE paragraph was one sentence.

Monday, September 10, 2007

     There was a teacher’s meeting today, an especially long one, and the English teacher was kind enough to suggest I do something crucially important in the English room while the meeting went on, at least for an hour or so. I was in there watching some kids retake a test. Actually at one point I was just staring out the window watching the tennis club practice. It was cloudy and cool. Then BOOM, there was some loud snap like thunder, and then this wall (or floor I guess) of rain fell straight down. I could see it coming and it hit and soaked everyone outside. Then it kept pouring and everyone was running around trying to close things up. Some girls got completely soaked, but most gets just got really wet from the initial downpour. My parents always talk about some drought in the southern US now, and I have nothing to relate to that with. I just say “oh really, it rained for a week straight here.”

You must be wrong
Tuesday, September 11, 2007

     The phone rang and someone answered it and I heard her say “oh [student’s name] ok I will get that homeroom teacher”. Then she turned to someone and said “is [name] in the 5th grade?” The other teacher didn’t know, but I knew and said “no the 6th grade”. Since I lack the ability to hold someone’s attention as I have mentioned, she asked a few other people who all either didn’t know or thought the kid was in the 5th grade. Then she called the 5th grade teacher who quickly stated the kid was in the 6th grade. No apologies were made and I just sat there ignoring it all. I have learned that sarcasm doesn’t work in Japan.

     Hard to believe it has been 6 years since Sept 11th. Today is even a Tuesday which makes it feel all that much stranger. I remember where I was and what I said, which was inappropriate since I was half asleep when my roommate told me and I was confused with Madison Square Gardens. Someone told me recently that there was a brutal hurricane beating down on the area back in Sept of 2001.

You Wrote THAT?!?!?!
Wednesday, September 12, 2007

     It’s raining again, but it’s cool and fresh. I drove to school since my umbrella was in the car anyway. I made it on time and stood in the entrance as kids came in. It’s student council election time so there were more kids than usual greeting kids. All the electorates had their names and campaign slogans on their shirts, even though these elections are just about voting for who is the coolest.

     Anyway, I was standing there by the principal and this elementary school 3rd grader came up and handed me a notebook with upper level English and the principal saw it. He flipped out and started saying “you wrote that, oh my, you wrote that? It’s perfect English, WOW”. He didn’t even give her a chance to explain. Then I said, much to his dismay, “no it’s from her sister. Sometimes she comes by the school and I teach her English to help prepare for an upcoming interview”. But it was funny until that point since the timing was great.

     During regular English with the 7th graders, the teacher put them into 10 groups of three. Each group had a high, medium, and low level student. He talked about this last year and I thought about doing it, but he did it much better than I would have. When they finished doing some bonding activities I told them that these groups will be the same in my English Conversation classes as well and the kicker was the group leaders would get a bonus if everyone in the group turned in their journals. They were pleased with that even though I haven’t given them anything for earning points so far. I think maybe the mere fact that some kids have a lot of money and others don’t gives them some bragging rights.

Let there be light.
Thursday, September 13, 2007

     I noticed my headlight was blown recently so I went into town on Tuesday to buy a new one. I had to take vacation time and go during the day since I wanted to avoid driving at night. I got it and tried to install it myself but found it was nearly impossible. It looked like I had to disassemble half the frame since everything was so compact (being a compact car). Today I had no classes so I went to the local garage. I took the light bulb and asked if they could do it. Since I know the owner and teach his kids he got his best mechanic to work on it. At first he pushed and twisted the bulb and I was afraid it was something super simple, but then I was glad when it took him 30 minutes to actually change it. I could have started unscrewing things to get to it like he did, but if I did that I would have unscrewed something that could only be exposed in a sterile environment or something like that. Luckily it all went smoothly and they only charged me $10. I was expecting it to be much more, but it wasn’t.

     So far there are about 16 people signed up for the national English test called the Eiken. Ei means English or England and ken is part of the word for test. The opposite of the Eiken is the Kanken. Kan being part of the word Kanji, and ken still meaning test. It should be a good turnout and I hope many people pass it. Two boys are shooting for level 2 which is usually taken by high school seniors. That will look really good for me if they pass, even though they go to the local cram school and that’s why they would pass. The bad thing about this test is it is the same day as our big school festival. So everyone will be mentally focused on that, and probably do poorly on the test.

     Something I remembered from the long meeting yesterday that is worth mentioning. I forgot about it and was wandering around then I came in the teacher’s room just as they were sitting down. ARGH. They saw me and so I joined. Toward the end was the part that I find a gross invasion of privacy. It’s called ‘information sharing’ and we talk about who was sick and why and what their temperature was and other nonsense. Anyway, one teacher who loves to talk started on about some important issue and then got softer and softer since it was a really secretive part and the windows were open. At some point I could no longer understand her which I attributed to my poor Japanese. But after the meeting, I was chatting with another teacher and he said “have you ever noticed how X-sensei sometimes mumbles and then gets really soft? I can’t understand her when she does that and she always does it.” I was so pleased that it wasn’t just me.

Chocolate Butt?
Friday, September 14, 2007

     I was walking up the stairs to the 5th and 6th grade classes and two nice girls were behind me. They started poking me in the butt. That’s culturally acceptable in Japan and really annoying (I know it is hard for you to believe something about culture here annoys me). These two girls were not the type to do the butt poking so I was a bit curious as to what provoked the poke. Then they started saying chocolate butt. Poking me in the butt and saying I had a chocolate butt was pretty strange from anyone, but more so from these two. I asked what they meant and they said I had chocolate on my butt. Oh that can’t be good. I couldn’t see it since my neck didn’t bend that far, so I went into the bathroom and found I had in fact sat in chocolate or something. I wiped it off with water so I had an even bigger stain, but hopefully that part would dry soon.

     I was supposed to go to this nice okonomiyaki place tonight, which is Japanese omelet of sorts. But the girl hasn’t replied to my messages so I don’t know what is going on. It is a 3 day weekend and some people had talked about going camping at one time, but I have heard nothing along those lines in a while. Hopefully I will hear something soon or I might be sitting at home all weekend like last time. Next weekend is also a three day weekend and it is payday. I think we have the welcome party on Thursday.

Country Life
Sunday, September 16, 2007

     I really like country life in Japan. There are several reasons why, but mostly because the air is clean and the area is quiet. Another reason, which has happened occasionally, is the random fruitings. When a local farmer has too much of something they drop some extra in front of my door. If I am home they might knock, shove it in my face, and scurry away. One neighbor is nice and chats a bit. Another thing about country life is the random small festivals. Today the local firemen had some festival where they pushed a cart around with bells and drums on it while drinking sake. They would occasionally hit the drums or play some beat. I heard them going around our little area for a few hours this morning.

Here's a short video I made of it when they were parked by a neighbor's house blessing the home with a little jingle.

Link to the whole festival page will be here.


Stupid Japanese TV show of the day. Don't worry it's not dirty or inappropriate. It has some sound, but even if you can't turn the sound up you can understand how silly it is. Oddly, I see things like this a lot here.



Thought you knew…
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

     Back at our August meeting with the BoE, they mentioned we have to start doing observed classes for the other NTs. That’s no problem and quite beneficial since it will give us all a chance to see what the other teachers do and get some new ideas. So that was in August that they mentioned it and they also said the first time would be in September. On Tuesday I realized I hadn’t heard anything and emailed a friend and she said everyone received a memo about it and it was scheduled for Thursday. I asked around my school and found out they too received a memo, but assumed I already knew so they didn’t say anything about it. So I guess tomorrow I need to get someone to cover my classes so I can go watch another teacher.

     Tomorrow is actually a bit inconvenient for me since we also have the welcome party that night. I guess I will just go to the class and then get a hotel room and stay in town until the party that night since I was planning on getting a room anyway. It will just mean I have a few hours to kill between the class and party. The party is at a new place this year and we have to sit on the floor. I really never sit on the floor unless I am playing with a child or a dog.

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

     One of the things about Japan that is good about being a foreigner, especially in a small town, is that you stand out and are easy to remember. Sometimes this is annoying, but sometimes it's great and works in your favor. I had a package from the US and it was delivered on Friday, but I wasn't here. So I looked up some of the kanji on the delivery notice in case they asked for certain numbers or information. Then I called the number. Someone answered and went through this long spiel about who they were and the company. I responded with "is this Black Cat delivery", and the guy said "Oh hello Ryan, I can redeliver it before lunch if that is ok." So I said yes and I was finished. Not only am I the only foreigner on his route, but I am the only foreigner in this town.

     So Thursday was busy, but fun. I left at 11:30 and drove to the city hall where we took a public car to Constantine's school and watched him do a class. Next month we go to John's school, then in November they come to my school. We do this through January and then I don't know if we start over or not. Then I got a hotel in the city so I could drink and not worry about getting back to Konan. At 6:30 we had a welcome party for the 7 new people which was really fun. Some of the vets did the thing where you yell Fureeee (fu ray) and do a little cheer for new people or people leaving. It's some the standard rigid way you honor someone in Japan. Then we did it for the leader of the board of education since he really likes those traditional things.

     Then Friday morning I had a big breakfast which was included in the hotel cost, which was super cheap already, but amazingly nice. After that I had a Starbucks coffee and then went to the meeting at 10. After the meeting I had lunch with a few people and bought another gigabyte of RAM for this computer. This as in mine, not the one you are reading this on. Though I haven't done anything major to test the new RAM, but I'm sure it will be better. Last night I went to Jintei, which is this amazing place. There were 7 people though, which was getting a bit too big for my taste and a few people were getting loud. I don't like big groups of foreigners because we always get loud as a group and I am starting to get sensitive to that. Although there was one girl there who had this phrase I liked "shut the front door". She used it in place of something else.

     So that brings us up to now. I've got nothing major planned over the weekend. I might work on some web stuff or clean again since I cannot maintain a clean apartment for more than a day. Oh one thing I have to do is go to a convenience store and pay for some, hopefully the last, Japanese books I bought. They have English explanations for the tough grammar which makes so much sense. All my other books explain the complex Japanese grammar in Japanese and that is simply stupid. The reason those books don't explain the grammar in English, is because they can't speak English, but they pass it off as "it's better to learn the language completely in the language". Which in fact it is not.

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

     Man, I ordered those books Friday and paid for them at the convenience store on Saturday at 5pm and one of the books was delivered today. The delivery guy called me at 7am and asked if I would be home all day so he could deliver it. Wow, how fast is that? That's nearly same day delivery or at least within 24 hours. I think the other three will get here this week. I've already read some of it and it is great.

Monday, September 24th, 2007

     The rest of the books came today. Wow that is fast. I got next day delivery apparently and didn't even pay for shipping. Orders over $15 are free shipping. Anyway,  Sunday night I ended up going to the beer garden with some people, but I drove so I didn't drink. It's just a hassle when everyone drinks since you have to walk to the train and wait and take the train 3 stops and get out and take a taxi back to someone's apartment.

Feast again
Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

     Today at school Stephanie texted (not a word) me and asked if I wanted to do a BBQ by the lake around 6.  I said ok even though it would be dark. I got some meat and headed out and when I got to the place early I found it was tornado style wind coming off the lake. It was really a bad time to do it, but we hung in there and found a decent place behind a bathroom where there was minimal wind.  It was good food and good times, but it reinforced my desire for a table that fits around a grill. I am determined to buy one sometime.

When it pours…
Thursday, September 27th, 2007

     I was talking to a student in the hall on Wednesday. She’s one of my favorite kids. When I first came to this school I remember her always smiling with this huge genuine smile when she saw me. She’s a really nice girl and her brother and sister are as well. I’ve met her mom a few times and she is a hottie mom. I’ve always thought her mom was attractive and she is 35 just like me. I mentioned sitting near her at a party for the elementary second graders back in February or March I think.

     Anyway, I have to close all the windows and doors in the school this week. That duty rolls around once every few months since all the teachers take turns. I was in the art room closing up and this student was in there. I made small talk and one of the things I mentioned was “how’s your mom?” But I said her first name rather than “mom”. It was no big deal and I don’t even know why I typed that, or this. She said her mom was fine and “really wants to meet me again.” Ehhh, in what way? Like a date? Or just hanging out? I would love to date her mom (her father died 5 years ago), and I don’t even mind that she has three kids, but I think they would mind. Wouldn’t it be weird having a teacher hanging around your house? Plus I can’t live in Japan forever, and I’m sure they would want to.

     So then another friend of mine told me he knows a girl who recently ended a relationship and he mentioned me to her. She said she was interested and we chatted about that for a while. I didn’t give it much thought since I figured he was just yapping, but the next time I saw him he asked if I was interested. I got some details from another friend and everything seems to be in order so I don’t know what to do. Maybe we will all casually meet somewhere, but I hate blind dates like that. When people are just going to hang out and two people are interested, that’s different. But when you go somewhere specifically to check out another person for a possible relationship, it’s just too stressful.

     Last night I went to this okonomiyaki place with some friends. I’ve mentioned that before, it’s like a Japanese omelet. There was this little girl who was fully Japanese and went to an all English kindergarten and spoke fluently. She was shy which got in the way some, but she answered everything with a little bit of wit as well. We asked who her foreign teacher was and she said “it’s some strange name I can’t remember”. BOOYA. The all English kindergarten is a brave idea, but only a few parents do it. I wish it was mandatory, but there is this belief that kids may not develop their Japanese identity if they are exposed to too much foreign-ness. Rubbish I say, rubbish.

Energy Drain.
Friday, September 28th, 2007

     I had a class with my 8th graders. They seem a bit slow and just don’t pick up English like all the other grades I have ever taught. It’s strange how a whole grade can be like that. They are like that in all subjects as well. Anyway, I had a class with them where I tried to play Wheel of Fortune, even though I am still working out the kinks. It took the whole class period to do one sentence whereas the other grades usually get through three. It was such an energy drain because they would take forever to answer. It was like “uh, well we could pick G or maybe D” then they would sit around for 2-3 minutes just thinking and staring as Japanese kids do so well. Then I would say “ok either solve the puzzle or pick a letter” and they would think some more. You just can’t maintain any energy like that.

     Then the above mentioned student whose mother I find attractive told me her mom was coming to the school tonight to see the chorus perform. When she told me my eyes lit up and I said I will really try to see her since I too want to see her. The student said the phrase “she really wants to see you again” and I said I do too. The student doesn’t seem to freaked about me showing an interest in her mother. You know if we got married or something, I would have to take her name in Japan. That would be fat though I would prefer a name like Kobayashi or something really cool.

     I had a good class with the elementary 4th graders today. We reviewed capital English letters. I think English is the only language with capital and lower case letters. It’s annoying teaching the difference when you are learning a language like Japanese where there are no differences. The class was fun and we played some decent games even though it is really hard preparing for elementary school classes. It’s hard because you can’t have any down time or they get distracted and start chatting. They are kids. I did the same when I was young and even through high school since I have such a short attention span. It’s also hard having to always make a fun game since elementary school in Japan must learn fun English so no lectures. Like they would sit through that anyway.

     After school two wicked hot young student-teachers (college age) showed up in their standard black suits. They looked like FBI agents since you always wear black suits with white shirts. They came after school to meet and greet some people while not disturbing any regular procedures. Unfortunately they are not here for English just health and Japanese, but they are still cute. I think they live in my small town too. I don’t understand why we always have these cute student teachers who seem to be from my little one stop light crossroads, but yet I never see them walking around town.

     Speaking of my town, this morning I didn’t bring my bag with me. Actually I left it at school since I had nothing in it yesterday and it felt odd to take it home empty. Then half way home it felt odd to not have it. So then today I came to school without it and the ladies helping kids (as in two) cross the street gasped at me. I though my fly was down and Mr. Wiggly was hanging out or something, but they were shocked (yes shocked) to see me without my bag. Then on the way two kids both acted the same way. One kid was really confused and kept asking what happened. I had to show her the bag when we got to school.

     It was really bizarre that they were so concerned that I didn’t have my bag. I couldn’t even make something like that up, it was just way out there and yet I wasn’t really surprised when they reacted like that. I have found that Japanese people are concerned with things that I could not care less about. I care more about the average lifespan of the Fiji Bull Fly than I do about half the stuff they care about here. It’s just odd cultural differences.

     I had this bad conversation today with a student and I am not even going to write it out. I’m just going to cut to the punch line. It was a girl student so you can figure out how it went. Basically the way you say closet is o-she-e-ray. However, if you were to say o-she-ree-e-ray, which seems to flow off the tongue a little easier, you would then have said “insert something into the butt”. O-she-ree means butt and e-ray means to put in. I guess closet means “to push things in”, maybe they were overstuffed in the past. So basically I had this conversation and she kept looking at me funny. “Can I put these things in your butt?” Then I asked a passing teacher and it was all explained.

Rice Harvesting
Sunday, September 30th, 2007

     I woke up at 6:30 and left at 7am to drive into Koriyama so we could drive another hour to go rice harvesting. I've always wanted to try this, even though I live in the middle of several rice fields. It was organized by some Japanese non-profit group. I wanted to drive myself just in case there was an ambush situation, but that was frowned up. Then Dave showed up and said he would have to leave early so he had to drive, so I rode with him.

     An ambush situation is like when a local church says "Come by this Friday for FREE PIZZA". Yea alright, party on dude, who doesn't like free pizza? So you show up and then they say, the free pizza starts in 2 hours, but first we have this fun talk about why you should join our church. I was expecting something like that here, and sure enough that's exactly what happened. We drove for an hour and we get there during the opening ceremony. Then they teach us how to harvest. The hand blades are passed out and we go at it. You grab the stalk and chop the base and then tie a few bundles in a X formation and hang them to dry. Dave and I carved out this little alley that shot all the way across the field, which was only about 30 feet wide I'd say. We did it for about 15 minutes and they announced we were finished. Finished why? Are we changing jobs or what? Nope, that's it. Then we spend 2 more hours watching a local dance group dancing and then we played bingo in the rain. I really wanted to harvest rice for an hour or 2 or more, but as long as we had the appearance of harvesting, that was what was important. Summary of my Rice Harvesting Day.

     Don't get me wrong. The dancing was enjoyable and I wouldn't have minded if they would have said we might watch it. But the flyer said rice harvesting all day which is exactly what I wanted to do. This ambush thing is common here and I usually refer to it as "so Japan". They don't see it as an ambush, they see it as appearing to do one thing but having another intention. Here the intention was for us to watch this local dance group and try some sake from a local brewery. The rice harvesting was just for fun for 15 minutes. I also wouldn't have mind if we harvested rice for a few hours and then we sat down and had a warm bowl of soup and watched the dancing. That would have been pleasant, and not an ambush. That would have been like a bonus. Overall it was fun, but I won't be participating with this group anymore I don't think. As we were eating and watching, someone from the group that planted the rice back in the spring mentioned they planted for about 10 minutes and then went to visit some guy with a horse and then to some cake shop where they were given cake and coffee and then given a bill. That is so Japan.



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