dorchadas: (Do Not Want)
There was a hashtag about gaijin confessions on Friday on twitter. My favorite is probably "Also told someone I wanted to buy a human instead of a carrot once" (Carrot is 人参 ninjin, human is 人間 ningen), but there's a lot of good stuff collected here.

It made me think of my own #gaijinconfessions, so here's a few of them:
  • To this day, my breakfast is miso soup, rice, salmon, and pickles while sitting on the floor at a low table. This despite that most of our students ate "bread and milk" for breakfast, including the kimono shop owner who met his wife through a 仲人 (nakōdo, "marriage broker").
  • I also took the trash out at night, because there's no way I was getting up at 8 a.m. on Saturday just to get the trash out by 8:30.
  • Japanese cheese is garbage and we happily paid $20 a pound for good cheese at the import foods store.
  • The first winter I was there I survived mostly off canned chicken soup from the Foreign Buyer's Club because we hadn't quite gotten used to proper shopping for our 3/4th size fridge yet.
  • We spent a week in Singapore in and I thought everyone was unconscionably rude because I was used to a Japanese level of service.  photo emot-nyoron.gif
  • I got used to being able to talk about anything I wanted and would happy tell off-color stories secure that people around me almost certainly couldn't understand me.
  • Even though I'm American, I actually don't own a gun or eat hamburgers every day.
  • My favorite onigiri is the kimchi-ume one I bought while we were in Ōsaka for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd to take the GRE. It was only sold in Ōsaka and the Japanese people we told about it thought we were making it up.
  • I was never sure whether to use Japanese or English with staff in Indian restaurants.  photo shrug2.gif
  • I once boarded a bus twice with the same ticket after I forgot my laptop. I disembarked and took the light rail back into Hiroshima, retrieved my laptop from the ramen shop, and got on the next bus on the same line using my same ticket. The attendant looked at me nervously, wondering why a gaijin was going to Innoshima, and I flashed the ticket and walked on. Saved me ¥4000.
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
I woke up at 7:30 a.m. and decided not to go back to sleep, since we would be traveling today back to Tokyo for to last phase of our trip. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I lay around in bed for a couple hours, packed up our souvenirs and clothes, and headed out to find some breakfast. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's initial idea of Cafe du Monde turned out to be a dud because the one in Kyoto Station only sold drinks, but we found a small Italian restaurant in the dining area that had a morning set with panini and coffee or tea. Mozzarella, tomato, and pesto panini is exactly what I wanted to start the day.

After that, everyone assembled, we reserved our Shinkansen tickets, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I bought ekiben from a small shop in the station, and we got on the bullet train for Tokyo.


On the inside. My knees are a foot from the seat in front!

I spent the Shinkansen ride catching up on RSS feeds and listening to podcasts, and after two-and-a-half hours we were back in Tokyo. We got on the Yamanote Line and all got off at our destinations--this time, we were staying near separate stops--and walked back to the Sakura Hotel, arriving about five minutes after check-in time. We got our rooms, put some laundry in the provided laundry machines, and settled down to let it run, though we did go to the conbini to get some snacks since several other people had gotten food and we probably weren't going to eat until later.

Once out laundry was done, we put it away or hung it as befit its level of dryness and wandered out to find Otome Road. "Otome" (乙女, "little girl, maiden") is slang for female anime and manga fans, and there's a part of Ikebukuro dedicated to them the way that Akibahara is dedicated to male fans.

Well, more to tourists looking for electronics now, but the historical connection is there.  photo emot-awesomelon.gif

We went east through Ikebukuro Station and into the shopping streets past it, and after navigating past a few pachinko parlors and under an overpass, we found it:


Not visible: rows of capsule machines.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd dived into the capsule machine and won a Sailor Moon keychain on her first try, and then we entered the shop. It turned out that the main Animate shop had moved and this was the cosplay annex, for all your costuming needs. Cosplay in Japan doesn't have the same do-it-yourself impetus that it does in America, so there were pre-made costumes for a variety of characters. And pre-styled Sailor Moon wigs. Imagine a market big enough to support that niche.

The store was pretty neat but there was basically no way for us to get anything back to America without ruining it, so after a quick look, we checked the internet for where the main store had moved to--about 300 meters away--and walked there. It was a gigantic shrine to all things nerd, with a correspondingly large population of shoppers which [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd was happy to see were indeed mostly women, and we looked a bit around the first floor.


Uh, I'm not hungry, thanks.

Unfortunately, the crowds also meant there was a giant line for the elevator, and we pledged to come back during a less busy time and went back to Ikebukuro Station.

During Tokyo rush hour. Oops.  photo darksouls.001.gif

Actually, it wasn't that bad. The station was packed and so was the incoming train, but nearly everyone got off at Ikebukuro. We even got seats! And then fifteen minutes later, we arrived in Akihabara and met up with the others.


Neon and moe.

[livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat wanted to check out a hobby shop called TamTam a bit off the main drag and, hoping for Japanese tabletop RPGs, I went with her. It had an extensive collection of model kits, model trains, replica military gear, and basically everything I'm not really interested in. After casing the joint, I told [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat that I was going to head back and went off to find the others.

After dodging the maids and "schoolgirls" handing out fliers, I found everyone else at Kotobukiya, a hobby shop closer to Akihabara Station. It wasn't just entirely animu and mango stuff, though--there was an entire floor devoted to superheroes and Star Wars. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd bought a Captain America towel, and would have bought a Black Widow statue if she hadn't been worried about transporting it back to America.

We were going to go to Super Potato, famous retro game store, afterward, but Google lied to us and it actually closed at 8 p.m., so instead we wandered around in search of dinner. After a couple of false starts, including one restaurant I'm almost positive turned us away for being foreign, we found a place called Tsuki no Shizuku with izakaya-style small dishes and a touchscreen ordering system. They also had green tea tiramisu.


Amazing.

Full of food for only ¥1919 each, we went on to the Sega Arcade building, which in the way of modern Japanese arcades had almost no racing or fighting games and was overly full of UFO catchers, card-based games, and Gundam battle pods. Okay, admittedly the last one there is pretty amazing, but at ¥500 a play it's not super practical for more than a play or two.

Instead, I challenged [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek to Taikō no Tatsujin:


Locked in combat.

Unfortunately I ended up with battle damage on my hand, because the "1812 Overture" on hard is many more drum strikes than someone who doesn't actually play the drums at all is used to. That didn't prevent me from coming within 2% of my friend's score, though!

Despite a thorough search I hadn't found any danmaku games and some of the others were getting tired, so we called an early night. Early for Tokyo, anyway. We got back at 11:30 and it looked like the part of Ikebukuro we're staying in was just coming alive. But not us.

Steps taken: 14669
dorchadas: (Do Not Want)
(Bullet = dodged)

Background: Aya-sensei and I are reading 世界の中心で愛を叫ぶ and got to a part where Sakutarō is being an idiot. He's angry at Aki because the other boys in his class are bullying him for spending time with her, so he writes in to a Christmas Eve radio show with a song request, talking about how they were going to play Romeo and Juliet in the Culture Festival (true) but she got sick with leukemia (false) and is probably listening from her hospital bed (false). Aki confronts him the next day, and says that she doesn't mind if he talks about her, but there are people out there who are really suffering and she hates it when people are mean to them.

This led to a discussion about how Aki is the ideal stereotype of Japanese womanhood (大和撫子 in Japanese): soft-spoken, self-effacing, beautiful, courteous, caring, with long black hair. Aya-sensei mentioned the pressure that Japanese women are under to conform to this ideal and how she--being raised in America--feels like a lumbering barbarian (not her exact words) when she's around other Japanese women.

Then she asked me if I liked that kind of personality.

 photo kH7Tq9f.gif

I managed to deflect a bit by talking about [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, who has a lot of those traits. She's softer-spoken (except when advocating for students under her care), loves cooking for people, likes cute things, tends to think of others, dresses more feminine, and probably most importantly for the purposes of the question, Aya-sensei has met her. So we talked a bit about [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, and then the conversation moved on.

But I realize that that's actually kind of a reasonable accomplishment--I extracted myself from a conversational land mine in another language. I mean, it wasn't really a trap, but it was structured as one, and I avoided it. Points to me!
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
...is called Let's Speak English (though I keep reading it as "Let's Speaking English"), written and drawn by an ALT in Japan. It's a collection of 4koma comics about her life there, with plenty of episodes I recognized from my own time in Japan. Like how the centrality of rice to the traditional Japanese diet leads to odd ideas about American eating habits, or the questioning looks from small town residents who wonder why the outlander is there, or the problems of a language barrier, or how super bent-over old people actually exist.

They do, by the way. One had her hat blow off into a ditch while [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I were walking by and she refused all of our attempts to help. I hope she didn't get stuck down there...

Obviously a lot of my like comes from recognizing the situations she finds herself in, but it's written for an audience who doesn't live in Japan so it's not an inscrutable mess for everyone else. I'm kind of tempted to contribute to her Patreon campaign, since this is the comic I've been looking for ever since Life After the B.O.E. ended.
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
Walking Path
This is shown from pretty near our house. If you turn the view around and go down the road a ways, you'll be able to see it on the left. And you should probably turn the view around at least a bit, because this section of road's pictures were taken in fall and the trees are great. The momiji especially are spectacular.

This is the road that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I would always walk on when we went for walks. We'd go forward a ways, then turn right along the river for a short distance, then turn right again and walk down what was called the "old road." Considering that Chiyoda has a festival that dates back 500 years (which I'll write about in a later tour post), it makes me wonder if the old road has been there for centuries and the paved version we'd walk on is only its most recent incarnation.

Forest Shrine
I'm partially including this for the fall colors, but also as an example of the little shrines we'd stumble on when walking around town. There were at least three of them within a mile of our house--one of them is just down the road from the brewery, if you want to go back to Part I and look around--and there are probably half-a-dozen others around there that we missed. Japanese people are pretty famously irreligious, but I think a lot of that is just a different understanding of religion than the usual Western attitude. Nearly everyone I knew went to a local shrine on New Year's Eve, but they'd never characterize it as a religious thing. it was just part of being Japanese. Which is the traditional understanding of religion, really--the idea that religion is somehow separable from culture is mostly a modern conceit.

If you turn right and click down the road to the bridge, you can see the water-filled depression in the road that collapsed during a heavy rainstorm. We also caught two students necking under the bridge at one point, but we didn't say anything and just walked on by. Teachers in Japan and somewhat expected to police their students behavior when they're out and about, but neither of us bothered with that.

The Koyamas' House
The Koyamas were one of the families who came to the neighborhood English class we taught. I've written about their younger son Kazuo before here, but their elder son Naoyuki is the one who brought us the katana that's currently resting above our mantle and who once came by our house and asked if we wanted to go firefly-gazing. Relatively early on, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I walked by the house when the Koyamas were having a barbeque outside, and they beckoned us over and invited us to sit and eat with them. It was moments like that that really make me remember Chiyoda fondly.

We also did our part for tolerance, since Mrs. Koyama told us that before she had interacted with us during the class, she had been kind of scared of foreigners, but after meeting us she wasn't scared anymore.

Forest Path
Sadly the Google van didn't go down that path, because we'd walk down there a lot. Just around the corner there is a grove of bamboo, and then a few family grave sites, and then a set of weathered stone steps leading up to a shrine of Hachiman that we'd frequently stop at. One of the first times we went there, we ran into the shrine keeper and had a brief conversation, but every other time we went it was deserted. Sadly, I don't have a clean picture of the entrance or the shrine itself. You're always a terrible tourist where you live.

Stonecarver's House
At least, I have to assume it's a stonecarver's house with a display like that outside. A lot of what's there were graves, but there's also plenty of stone lanterns and just lawn statues like the owls right at the bottom of the image.

The reason I included this image can be seen if you zoom in a bit and look behind the stone table, just to the left of the two Hotei statues. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I always used to think of this as the gravecarver's house, and every time we would see that, we were happy that it wasn't somewhere out there decorating a child's grave. I realize now that it was intended as a lawn ornament, which makes me a lot happier.

Creepy Shrine
Most of our tiny mountain town fit the good stereotypes of a small town. We had neighbors invite us over for barbeque and to the local festivals, bring us vegetables and rice during harvest season, by us drinks when they saw us in local bars, all of that. They also talked about our house being creepy and looked into our basket when we went shopping, but on the whole, I think the good outweighed the bad by a lot.

Sometimes, though, there were scenes straight out of Fatal Frame. The stairway in our house was one, with narrow, steep wooden steps with no railing and a single bulb at the top. The entrance to this shrine was another. During full daylight it wasn't so bad, though even then the layout was a bit creepy. Those steps led up through the trees to an empty clearing of grass and dirt, and then there were more stairs at the far end that led up to the actual shrine. But if the sun was even a bit obscured...well, you get the picture there. At at actual night? We usually crossed the road to avoid the darkness that seemed to spill almost palpably down the stairs. If there were J-Horror ghosts anywhere in Chiyoda, they lived at that shrine.

The shrine was maintained by the neighborhood who had twice-yearly cleanings, and our friends the Kaminakas mentioned that they had taken a turn at cleaning it in one of the pre-class English "what have you done since last class?" discussions we instituted. I remember being surprised at that at the time, because he hadn't been killed by murderous ghosts. If you've lived in the country for a long time--and in Japan, "the country" has basically no streetlights"--you're probably used to that kind of darkness around, though.
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
I'm tempted to replay Portal through again, since the new one comes out on Tuesday (before Episode 3, which is the new Duke Nukem Forever to me, even though it hasn't really been all that long). So much else to do, though...well, all in due time, I suppose.

I just beat Arcanum, and I do admit that it deserves all of the praise that was lavished on it. And a lot of the complaints, too. By about level 14 (out of 50), I could beat groups of monsters twice my level by abusing the magic system. By level 30, I was an unstoppable demigod who probably could have killed everyone in the game. The plot and mechanics are really good, though. It's entirely possible to be a crazed murderer and still finish the game because any important figure can have their spirit ripped from the afterlife and interrogated for important info. Similarly, if you know the Resurrection spell, a lot of quests take into account that you could find that the only person who knows the secret info has been murdered by assassins, resurrect them, and then join forces against the person who killed them originally.

The end boss annoyed me a bit, though, mainly because it's another one of the "Death is better than life, life is suffering, death is peace, I will bring peace to the world through death" negaBuddhist omnicidal maniacs you get so often in JRPGs. Plus one for the option to get into a philosophical debate and convince the guy he's wrong, though. Also the option to join him and actually wipe out all life on the planet.

We just this week got back from Tokyo to see [personal profile] fiendishfanfares, her husband and a couple of her friends. We went to a lot of the standard places I've been before, as is our custom, so I won't go into that again, I'll just deal with the highlights. The first was when we went to Meiji Shrine, we ran into a group (around 6-7) of Japanese college students who came over to talk to us and asked if they could show us around. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had been there before, of course, but [personal profile] fiendishfanfares and the others hadn't, so we agreed. Some of the things we were told we already knew (how to properly purify ourselves, etc.), and some things were new, but the main neat part was talking to some people who obviously cared about learning English and were actually pretty good at it. It turned out they were students at Tokyo Foreign Language University and most of them weren't actually studying English. The one who showed [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I around was a French Major, there was a Czech Major there too, and one English major whose accent was frankly amazing. We ended up friending our guide on Facebook, and she's said she'll show us around there and the Imperial Palace when my parents come to visit. Neat :)

The second is the first real racism I've experienced in Japan ([personal profile] schoolpsychnerd ran into some at Mt. Fuji, of all places, but I didn't go on that trip). We went to an izakaya in Roppongi that had a 400 cover charge for non-Japanese people. I mean, I suppose it's possible they charged Japanese people too...except that it was only mentioned on the English menu and in English signage. Nowhere in the Japanese literature I read said anything about it. This kind of thing is still perfectly legal in Japan, even though the UN is always on the Japanese government's ass to do something about it. The government's response is usually that it would be "impossible to enforce" (which basically translates to "Fuck you gaijin, we don't care about your standards."), so there's no much I can do about it other than pay extra and be extremely annoyed. Oh, and I guess ask my sister if she wants to experience actual racism, which would be so ludicrously clueless upper-middle-class hipster I might do it just for the total irony that wraps back around into idiocy. Or something.

While we were there, a lot of people kept thanking us for coming. The college students at Meiji and the chefs at the sushi restaurant in Tsukiji (which was deserted. When we went there a year and a bit ago, there were probably 200 people waiting for seats on restaurant row. This time, there were maybe 20, if that) were especially kind.

The other weird things was doing translations. I mean, I really actually liked it, a lot (and wouldn't it have been fucking lovely to find something I'm good at, have talent for and enjoy earlier? I'm good at and have a talent [or so I'm told] for writing, but half the time I don't enjoy it :p), but I'm nowhere near even conversationally fluent in Japanese, so it was still a bit strange to be always translating for other people. The context-based nature of the Japanese language does help, though. Leaving stuff out, leaving sentences hanging, and so on is a fixture in daily speech, which worked to my advantage. When the fare adjustment machine wouldn't refund us the 10円 we had overpaid by, we went to the ticket counter, and I got as far as "Ticket Refund Machine" and a slight pause to think of how to format "isn't working correctly" (I think you can use 働く, which usually means "to work" in the sense of "I work at a movie theatre," in the "that machine doesn't work" way, but I'm not sure) and he ended up refunding us the money and writing us a new transfer ticket that got us all the way there. That was nice.

Also, totally random thought. You visit tons of planets in Mass Effect, and lots of them have ruins. If you look at the dates, it quickly becomes obvious that the ruins all date back in in multiples of 50,000 years. Foreshadowing!
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
So, about a week ago, Kaminaka-san asked my help in performing a trick (well, loosely-defined) on his neighborhood. I was to impersonate a US ambassadorial aide with a message from President Obama.

Now, I've lived here for almost two and a half years. I'm pretty sure everyone knows who [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I are, even if they might not know anything else about us, so I knew that they wouldn't actually believe the ruse. Nonetheless, I dressed up in a suit to keep the illusion at least partially intact and, it being a party, they played along with the speech. Here it is, if you want to read it:

In Japanese and English )

The speech went pretty much as I expected it would (I ended up getting complimented on my pronunciation, actually), and then I was given a seat and a bentō and chatted with people for a bit. The most interesting chat was with the 79-year-old man who told me about his daughter living in New Orleans when Katrina hit and how he had skied as a hobby for the past 70 years. He even mentioned one of the teachers who used to work at Chiyoda high school as a good person to go to if I ever wanted to learn how to ski (since I had told him I had never been).

He also asked me if liked living in Japan. Well, literally he asked me how was the Japanese lifestyle, but I knew what he meant. And I said yes, I really liked it, and that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I planned to return when she was done with grad school. And as I said that, I thought: "you know, that's right. I really do like living here." In fact, I'd say that in terms of places I've lived (not people who live there necessarily--I miss you all dearly), Japan is my favorite. I'm not sure I can point to any single reason why, but I can definitely say that on the balance, it's true.

Anyway, moving back is a long-term goal. We'll see how well it works out.

I was also invited to a middle-school children's class at the community center on Saturdays, but I wasn't able to understand exactly what kind of class it was. I wouldn't really feel comfortable going until I knew that. I can ask Kaminaka-san, I guess.

About an hour after I arrived at the party, I judged that I had spent sufficient time at the Itsukaichi New Year's party and told them that I had to get going, since the Yaenishi Tondo festival was the same day. I walked a couple of kilometers over to the festival and arrived late (that's three years in a row I've missed them lighting the bonfire (T_T) ), and was promptly loaded down with food and sake.

The most memorable part was when one of the Tondo organizers gave a brief speech, and then asked [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I to give a speech as well. So I gave a brief line about how everyone was incredibly kind to us, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd did the same, and then we saw that Santa Miki was crying, and that made [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd cry, and everyone said aww when I gave her a hug.

But, the bigger thing is the reaction in general--someone cried because we're leaving. I know we've been here for years, but we keep a lot to ourselves and don't speak Japanese as well as we should. While we live here, I don't really know that people actually view us as part of the community. Or, at least, I didn't know until today. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised: [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd is the teacher at the local high school (and two others beyond that), and both of us teach English lessons to children and adults. We spend a lot of time in Chiyoda because we're both here--unlike a lot of JETs or other ALTs, we don't need to go elsewhere to avoid loneliness to maintain a support network, so people see us around a lot (well, they see [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd a lot. I'm kind of a cave-dwelling troll). That's going to make leaving even harder than it already was.

It doesn't really have anything to do with living in Japan, per se, it's more living in a rural area. My friends in Hiroshima proper don't get their neighbors bringing them excess vegetables or rice or treats when they're sick, and I know those sorts of things happen in rural American areas. When we lived in an apartment building in America, we didn't know the names of any of our neighbors. We assumed one family was Indian, because we could frequently smell them cooking curry, but they might have just really liked curry. We knew one family had young children, because [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd saw them coming home. But that's it. Here, though, people know us. Even if we're members of a different culture, and sometimes have problems communicating, this is our home.

That's a nice feeling.
dorchadas: (Default)
We spent Christmas with [livejournal.com profile] libbymae and her husband down on Innoshima, which looks nearly the same as Chiyoda if you ignore the ocean. After forgetting my laptop back in Hiroshima, returning to get it, coming back and nearly falling asleep on the bus and ending up in Shikoku, the rest of the weekend proceeded quite smoothly. Christmas dinner especially was excellent--my favorite part was the vegetable quiche-like dish, though I don't remember its actual ingredients so I can't really give any hint of how to replicate it here. The chicken was good as well, stuffed with lemon but otherwise unseasoned. There was some kind of cheesy cauliflower dish, but I'm not a fan of cauliflower so I didn't eat it. The gluten-free lemon cheesecake was also amazing, and I kind of regretted eating so much chicken because I couldn't eat any more than a single slice of cheesecake.

We also watched a couple movies. One was Miracle on 34th Street, which I had never seen, and I guess technically I still haven't because I was starving halfway through (dinner was at about 3 p..m) so I walked out to the conbini to get some food. As it was a 20 minute walk, I missed everything after the Santa guy gets committed. The other movie we saw was Muppet Christmas Carol, which is probably my favorite Christmas movie (if I could be said to have one) of all time.

Maybe the most memorable part was on the way back from getting my laptop. I had gotten off at the first stop, 10 minutes from the bus center, and ridden the subway back. The problem was, the ticket to Innoshima cost \2000, and I didn't want to buy another one after I had barely used the one I had. So what did I do? Well...I gaijin smashed it. When the guy on the next bus stepped off, I stepped forward (about a head taller than him) and thrust the ticket at him. He took it reflexively, with a somewhat dazed look on his face, and stamped it, so I bowed slightly to him and got on the bus. Of course, due to the aforementioned nearly missing my stop, it didn't all turn out so smooth in the end, but that's 2000円 I can spent on buta kimchi cup noodles instead of another ticket.
dorchadas: (Do you speak Elvish)
So, as I'm sure people noticed, I didn't have the internet for three weeks.

What happened was, apparently we never paid the first NTT bill we received when we first got here back in 2008. After a while, NTT noticed and called us to tell us we had a late bill. Okay, fair cop, that was our fault. The part that annoys me is that that when we said we had paid (because we paid every other bill), they checked their records every time, saw we had paid the bill the previous month, and said, "Oh, we're sorry, you are correct." Then, they just shut out internet off. The first couple guys we talked to thought it was some sort of technical error on their end, and it wasn't for a couple days that we found out what the real problem was.

The reason it took three weeks is because NTT is a monopoly. They're required to approve any internet connection before an ISP can actually connect you with the tubes, and because of that they take their sweet time in doing it. After three weeks, they didn't even send anyone to our house. They just flipped the "on" switch back at their headquarters to start the electrons flowing again. *sigh*

Well, at least we have internet again now. And I managed to reset the wireless router even though it was all in Japanese, with the aid of what little Japanese I know and Rikaichan to fill in the gaps. (^_^)

I'm taking a short break from working on my NaNo, though I do have a few chapters still to post. I'll do that pretty soon.
dorchadas: (Genbaku Park)
So yesterday, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went into Hiroshima for the Flower Festival. She wandered off at one point, and I'm sitting in the Peace Park waiting for her when an old man comes up to me and says hello and asks me how I am. I say fine, ask him how he is, and he laughs and says he doesn't speak English well. So I switch to Japanese and ask him how he is.

We chat a bit, he asks where I live and where I'm from, and when I say America he gets down on the ground, picks up a stick, and draws a small circle.

"Genbaku Doumu," he says (Atomic Bomb Dome).

Now at this point, I'm preparing for the worst, especially when he draws an even bigger circle for the blast radius. Then he draws the streetcar line, and asks me if I know what the area north of that used to be. I admit that I do not, and he says it was a military area.

He then tells me that he was a 10-year-old in the military (a conscript, I assume) at the time that the bomb dropped.

Oh fuck, I think. Not really sure what to say, I nod and get ready to get chewed out, but then he says that everywhere Hiroshima is called the Peace City, with the Peace Park, Peace Memorial, etc., but back then it was a military city. He says that when the Americans came and bombed Japan, they brought minshu shugi (民主主義, something like "democratic principles") with them. And then he bowed and thanked me.

I was a bit stunned, and I muttered some of the standard Japanese responses to compliments (i.e., denying them), while he told me that the bombing was very sad, and many people died, but because of it, now Japan is peaceful and democratic. He bowed again and thanked me, wished me good day, and walked away.

I got his name (Takau Tarou) and Googled it, but nothing showed up. Maybe if I knew the kanji...but then again, maybe not. I was going to see if there was some sort of database on hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors), but then I remembered that they've had problems with discrimination against them in Japan, so there's probably no public record kept. Well...maybe I'll run into him again at the remembrance ceremony on the 6th.
dorchadas: (Broken Dream)
Hitting "Detect Location" had Tokyo pop up. Japan is small and crowded, but not that small.

Yesterday, on the way home from work, the train stopped at the Atomic Bomb Dome Park. There were a few other foreigners on the tram (Kiwis, by their accents), and one of them realized almost too late that we came to her stop. She got up and frantically rushed around until her friend directed her to an exit. Unfortunately, it was an exit without an attendant, which means she left without paying. Several of the Japanese people on the train watched her as she ran out with obvious disapproval in her eyes, and my first thought was, "You idiot, now what will they think of us?"

Then I kind of stopped, because after all, what "us" is there? I'm not one to greet random foreigners on the street or try to talk to them, because shared non-Japaneseness isn't really a useful starting point for a conversation. Plus, just because they look like me doesn't mean they are similar--they could be Americans, yes, but maybe they're Russian, or Polish, or Italian, etc. But, in Japanese, we're both 外人 (gaijin).

You may hear that this means foreigner, but that's not strictly true. Foreigner is 外国人. Even when overseas, Japanese people will still use gaijin to talk about the people around them, because its real meaning is more like "someone who is not Japanese." And if you want a one-word version, the kanji translate as "outsider."

Worried about the actions of others because they might reflect on how the majority sees me. It's an interesting perspective, coming from a town that's probably ~85%+ WASP. Not a moment of satori, at least for me, but I think most Americans should try living in a place where they're the minority for a while. They might learn something about our own society b
dorchadas: (Do Not Want)
At least, some people think so.

Tonight was the Yae-Nishi Neighborhood Talent Show, winter edition. I was originally supposed to perform an act in the summer talent show when they held it six months ago, but at that time I had caught a cold and wasn't able to sing. This time, I had no such excuse, so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I did Scarborough Fair as a duet (with her on guitar) and then I sang Skibbereen alone. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd also did a retelling of Momotarou's story in English and Japanese with the Wednesday night children's class (she read the Japanese, they read the English). Her students translated it into Hiroshima's local dialect, so all the old women in the audience got a kick out of her reading it. The rest of the acts were the standard fair--karaoke, hula dancing, traditional Japanese dancing, shamisen playing, and kagura. Basically, the same as last time. Still fun, though, and I certainly didn't do as badly as I was afraid I would.

On the work front, bad news--it turns out that Suzugamine isn't renewing its contract with Lang, so I won't be there full time starting next school year. I was initially worried it was because of my performance, but I think it's simple economics--the number of applicants to Suzugamine has fallen by almost 60% in the past 10 years (from over 1000 to down to around 400), which doesn't leave quite as much money for things like a foreign English teacher. They're going to ask the Japanese teachers to take on the primary duty for teaching the spoken English classes (which they'll hate--this year was supposed to be team teaching, but they pitched a fit and so I taught most of them alone) and have part-timers come in to help with the classes. This means that the teachers will have to plan all the lessons, explain them to the part time teachers (possibly multiple times per week, if different part-time teachers come), and then do most of the teaching. I don't expect anything good will come of it as regards the students' education, but...well, there's nothing I can do, really.

I talked with Yoshimi-sensei about it, and she told me that the younger teachers all have pretty crappy employment conditions--one year contracts that can be cut if the school doesn't get any enrollment, not many benefits, they have to teach homerooms, and so on. Meanwhile, the older teachers rake in fat paychecks for doing fuck all. No wonder Yoshimi-sensei and Arishima-sensei live with their parents. I imagine they aren't paid enough to live on their own. She and the librarian told me that it might actually be good, because I should go to a school where they're more kind (like Chiyoda, say). Next time I'll probably give her my e-mail address in case she wants to keep practicing English. She told me she kind of looks up to me, because she wants to move to America and teach gymnastics there, but her grandparents and parents want her to stay in Japan, marry a Japanese man and have babies, and keep saying that foreign countries are far too unsafe and she'll get killed if she moves. Then again, I have been asked how many guns I own more than once, so it seems that American media is doing its job. Yippie-kay-yay, motherfucker.
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For dinner tonight, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went to the ramen stand near one of the pachinko parlors nearby. It looked empty when we got there, but the door was open, so we went in and I asked (in Japanese) if they were open. The old man said they were, and then spouted off a string of Japanese so quickly that I had no idea of anything he said. We went through a lot of confusion before we finally got it across that we didn't actually speak that much, and then we ordered our ramen, which came with a shōyu broth base and was amazing.

About halfway through our meal, he brought over a "presento"--a little knick-knack that lit up blue and red when you pressed a button (I suspect he thought [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd was younger than she actually is :-p ). He asked us if we had been to the pachinko parlor, and I said no. When [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd said no, he said something that we think was, "Of course not, women don't play pachinko." He then asked us if we had pachinko parlors in the states, and we said no, and then he asked if we had karaoke, which we said we did. He then mentioned that it was good we knew some Japanese and that he knew he talked incredibly fast, but his English was limited to ABC's.

Note that this may be incorrect. Like I said, he talked incredibly fast so we could only pick up maybe 1 word in 3, and most of those we didn't know. I knew he mentioned he talked fast, because he said 速い hayai (quickly) and brought out a manga from the bookstand to demonstrate that reading was easier because you could go over it multiple times. At least, I think so. Well, he and the other customers sitting around chewing the fat seemed happy to see us, anyway. And it was damn good ramen.

Also, I have an interview. The time is yet to be determined.
dorchadas: (Do Not Want)
It seems like Tokyo, Aichi, Chiba and Saitama need a ton of teachers, but no one around here needs any. There were a couple really weird entries, though...like this one:

"
CONTRACT TEACHING POSITION. Part-time, Tue/Thur, 7:40-9:10pm. Teach basic English skills in a science context to second-year master's students. The course should be based on science content, but focus on the development of students' ability to read and discuss scientific topics in English. MA, familiarity with current approaches to task-based and communicative language teaching, and ability to design a course syllabus that develops students' abilities to use English for real communication required. Ph.D. or Ed.D. (in TESOL, applied linguistics, or closely related field), comfortable with scientific content, and background in science preferred. Application deadline ASAP. Position begins January, 2009. Apply by e-mail with letter of interest ("addressing the stated minimum and preferred qualifications"), CV/resume, and two references. Temple University, Japan Campus (TUJ).
"

...a Ph. D in applied lingustics to be a part-time English teacher? Talk about degree inflation. O.o A lot of the jobs also have extremely long periods between application and start, like "Applications due November 15, job begins May 2009."

The closest I've found so far to Hiroshima-ken is in Fukuoka, and that's like 3 hours away by bus so that's not happening. There has to be a way to get an ALT job at a local school...apparently a lot of the ones south of here don't take JETs, but are looking for teachers regardless. And Chiyoda Middle and Elementary schools have a non-JET teaching there. He had to get the job somehow. I would think it'd be easier because I imagine a lot of foreigners dont' want to live alone by themselves in the countryside, which is why JETs get placed there and why schools around here that don't take JETs would be a good place to apply to.

Which reminds me--we aren't the only foreigners in town. We saw the middle/elementary school guy riding his bike into Thanks one day, but we were on our way to catch a bus into Hiroshima-shi for the enkai, so we didn't have time to stop and talk. It'd be neat to meet him, but it's not like we'd necessarily have anything in common other than being gaijin.

Funny story: at the party we went to last weekend, we were the first ones there. When some other people showed up, they mentioned that they parked a ways away and were wanding around looking for our host's apartment. At the foot of the hill where she lives, a Japanese man on motorcycle stopped as he was passing. Before they could say anything, he said, "The foreign girl lives up there" and pointed up the hill to her apartment. Because foreigners all know each other, obviously.

That's not entirely facetious (at least, when commenting on Japanese attitudes). [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's students were asking her if she knows the guy who swam naked in the moat around the Imperial Palace (link contains naked man). The Japanese teacher apologized and said, "They think all foreigners know each other." :-p

Edit: Found one job--Tuesdays to Saturdays in Hiroshima-shi. Requires letter of introduction, though...hmm...

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