Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Oh, the Places I Go

I wrote this on Monday, by the way, which is why the days will be a little off.

I realize that it has been a near-unforgivably long time since last I blogged. Lots has happened; it’s a little easier to recount in a succunt form. Also, if I took the time to explain all my vocabulary uses and give a breakdown of the people mentioned, it would take forever. If you’d like a glossary and a who’s who post, let me know and I’ll do my best to oblige. A Week’s Worth of Blogging starts now.

Thursday and Friday, August 7, 8

I met the people in charge at the ten schools where I’ll be working for the next year. On Thursday it was the man who sits across from me at the BOE who took me around to the city schools. We talked during the car rides between schools, but when we got to the schools he would pretend that he didn’t speak any more English than most of the people I met. I didn’t realize that’s what he was doing until I got to a school at which the English teacher wasn’t present and the principal’s English was as bad as my Japanese. By the gesturing and vocabulary use—Nihongo (Japanese) and Eigo (English)—and Higuchi-san’s head shaking, I got that they were asking if he was acting as my translator. I smiled and bowed and apologized every time the word Nihongo came up. The principal finally attempted some English, which I didn’t understand at all. They looked at me, tried again, and I looked at Higuchi-san. He looked at them, looked at me, and asked quietly, “What kind of music do you like?” The other two teachers burst into laughter, basically giving my colleague the “Oooh, you liar!” treatment while Higuchi-san protested.

On Friday it was my supervisor, Inoue-san, who drove me to the mountain schools. I won’t go into details about driving and mountain roads and curling my toes inside my shoes, but it was an adventure. Inoue-san claims that his English is not very good, but it’s all lies. Of course, it’s a little tough to tell when I’ve used English to fast or complicated for the Nihonjin to understand, because either way they’ll nod and say, “Ah,” when I’ve finished talking.

What I learned: I’ll be doing some serious transit this year. Huzzah for the wintertime. Hope I packed my boots into that box of clothes Mom and Dad are supposed to send me. Also, I should probably learn some Japanese, just in case I have to communicate with someone at some point.

Also, on Friday morning I gave out my staff omiyage—Dove chocolates. They were thrilled to find that there was English on the inside of the wrapper, and would ask Paulette to help them figure out what “Follow your instincts” meant. My supervisor’s supervisor stopped me as I was going past his desk to thank me. This was how it went.

Him: Sank you

Me, waving hand in front of face: Iee; it’s nothing.

Him: Doh-buh?

Me: Dove

Him: Dohb

Me: Dovvvvve

Him: Dob

Me: Hai, very good

Friday night Margaret, Phil, Paulette, Liz and I got together for some chill time and the viewing of an awful/awesome Japanese doorama (drama) called Nodame Cantabile. I think it’s based off an ongoing manga and there’s an animated series as will. This live action version contains a sinfully beautiful lead actor, terrible acting, hilariously bad special effects, a Japanese man playing a German guy with a terrible accent and some of the best classical music ever written. I won’t go into much further detail, but it’s totally worth a look. Even Phil likes it.

Saturday, August 9

I met up with Margaret, the JET who’s American-standards fluent in Japanese, and we went for breakfast at Mr. Donut and some local exploration. Mr. Donut had green tea-flavored donuts. The green tea donut and the other chocolate donut I bought were chewy and shaped, appropriately, like teething rings. It was okay. There were the traditional glazed, sure, but I didn’t see anything that remotely resembled a sprinkle, so I’m not sure if I can quite count Mr. Donut as a success or not.

Margaret and I found a moat filled with whatever these are, mayhap lotuses (loti?), mayhap lilies, mayhap neither. It was gorgeous, so we took pictures. A middle-aged man walked past when I was sitting on one of the leaves, and laughed at us. Good bonding, Nihonji.

Margaret and I continued around aforementioned moat to find a raked gravel path leading into a park-like area. We entered. It turned out to be the ruins of a castle and a large temple, plus a few other shrinelike structures (or large stones) with complicated kanji written all over. It was incredibly serene; we only saw a couple of other people as we were walking around, and I wished I had brought a blanket and a book. It’s a place that is hard to describe, mostly because there was so little need to break the silence at the time. Sure, I climbed a little bit on the ruins, no respect at all, blah blah blah. Nevertheless, I could have stayed there for hours. Provided that I had brought bugspray. I didn’t, so we left.

That's Margaret on the wall, by the way.

As you can see, my hair was down, so I startled a boy in Seiyu when Margaret and I stopped in for beverages after our morning foray. Afro 1, Nihonjin 0.

We got back to our apartments at 11:00 or so, which meant I had plenty of time to cut up the nasty old burned/moldy futon cover that was left on my back porch and refused by the garbage people. I did laundry, sang to Whitney Houston at the top of my little lungs (neighbors, schmeighbors), and took a fantastic nap.

That night four of the Kameoka JETS (Me, Margaret, Paulette and Kim-Chi) met up with a Kyoto JET in Kyoto to see The Dark Knight. Wow. Um, wow. The movie theater had amazing caramel popcorn. Also, the movie was really good. I am not afraid to cover my eyes and ears when the music gets all Psycho-violins and dangerous, so I missed the infamous pencil trick and pretty much didn’t watch anyone die. Still, not a movie for kids, no matter how much Batman: The Animated Series they watch in their free time.

A note on Japanese audiences: They’re silent. Sure, I was warned ahead of time that they wouldn’t be yelling at the screen or laughing uproariously. I wasn’t prepared for their complete lack of reaction to the film; very time we JETs gasped, or laughed, or mostly just gasped, we did so alone. There was a lady sitting next to me who was completely silent until the credits, when she poked me and shushed me when I whispered to Margaret about how horrifyingly convincing Heath Ledger had been,


During the credits.


First off, we were whispering, and had not done so until the credits rolled. Secondly, what was the obasan so interested in? The music? Go buy the album, auntie. It couldn’t have been that she was actually reading the words rising from the bottom of the screen. I don’t know what the heck a best boy or a gaffer does, and who gives a snow monkey’s liver about Mr. Bale’s driver? Why is Mr. Bale’s driver even given a spot in the credits? I wanted to punch that woman in the mouth. Shushing me. How dare she.

Sunday, August 10

I was all excited about going to an awesome church with an international service in Kyoto. Whoo hoo! I checked hyperdia.com again on Saturday night to make sure I knew my route into the city, and was confused as to why the trip would take two hours. What the heck? I checked again, tried to read my train schedule, and attempted calling the number listed on the site. No deal. Then I looked up the area on the map, and subsequently gave myself a good smack to the forehead.

The church was in Kyotonabe. Not the same as Kyoto. Kyoto is 25 km to the east. Kyotonabe is a two-hour train ride to the south, at the bottom of the prefecture. Dang and double dang. And then, rapturous joy, I lost my internet connection. Blerg! I found the name of a Catholic (listed on the map as Cathoric) church, and another church whose site was completely in Nihongo (there my lack of Japanese goes again, getting in the way), so I admitted defeat for the weekend and resolved to do more research during the week. Church of the Bedside, baby. Members: 1. Service times: after I rub the boogies from my eyes. John Rutter and his choir visited for the offertory.

So, since I had missed church I went with Margaret, Liz ,a prefectural JET in Kameoka, and Todd (some crazy veteran JET from the other side of Kyoto) to a Real*K Hip Hop and Reggae Fest. I could be fudging the title a little, but it was never really clear. Out in the middle of a Nowheresville park was a gathering of Nihonjin who love them some reggae and hip hop. Waiting on a train in Kyoto, I saw this, and thought of my father…

Ah, so much to say. There were a few Djs, one who dropped in a “yeah, yeah,” every time he finished a phrase. It’s kind of funny to hear the Japanese interpretation of ebonics. There were some performers, some who were good, some who were awful, one duo that blew my mind, and a dance demonstration. My favorite were the itty-bitty Tomboy’z Bunny’z, who later went to play in the wood’z. That’s not a joke; the Bunny’z really did go play in the woods. I thought it was funny. The girls in the video were precious, of course, but the chorus of this particular song horrified me. “It’s me, b*tches!” the rapper yells a few times (I’m sure there was other cursing, but it was hard to catch. Plus, the dancing was more interesting than the music). Of course, I can only understand musical swearing in English, so I’m not too worried about those girls growing up scarred and damaged (like Grandma would imagine) because of some incomprehensible yelling. Really, it was only shocking to the Anglophones in the audience. All four of us.

My hair was a big hit. As one of four non-Japanese and the only naturally dark-skinned person in attendance, I think I lent an air of authenticity to the fest. Self-proclaimed (smashed) Japanese Tupac saw my hair, let out an “Ey!” and came to talk to our group. He had very few teeth, and wasn’t taking good care of the remaining ones. Ah, Japanese dental hygiene at its finest. He showed us the Outlaw tattoo on one forearm and Thug Life over his stomach, and I laughed. When I admitted that I preferred Biggie Smalls, he made a bunch of noise and pretended to shun me. Later, while buying shaved ice with Liz and Margaret he appeared out of nowhere for a surprise group hug. So I guess Afro 2, Tupac 0, Nihonjin 0. Tupac’s friend did pull him away, apologizing for bothering us. Nihonjin 1. I also had a kid named Kenji offer to be my Japanese guide and tutor. Poor boy didn’t know what my demurring saved him from, ne? He was in a band that was setting up, and said, “I play the—“ and made an ambiguous typing/wrist-flicking motion. I asked, “Drums? Keyboard?” and wasn’t given a direct answer. Ergo, I was highly amused when that typing motion turned out to be sign language for a synth board. As in, one step up from Guitar Hero, one step down from pianica; an almost-instrument. Afro 3, Kenji 0. Oh well.

Sunday and Monday night I cut up some more futon cover and cleaned out the dish cabinets in my kitchen. I also downloaded Nancy Wilson’s Guess Who I Saw Today and the soundtrack to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Dad, what would my life have been without Nancy? Arigato gozaimasu.

Well, I have decided to separate the next couple of postings so that I can actually do work while at work (guess where I am right now, pretending to type something important in Microsoft Word). The weekday activities will be smushed together, I’ll put up some more video and pictures, and we’ll just have a grand ole time. Even a grande olĂ© time.

And now, since I’ve been sitting here since 8:20 (it’s now 11:15) and haven’t gotten up save to get coffee at 9, I’m going to pretend to go to the bathroom while I actually do lunges in the handicapped stall. Jaa mata!

Engrish Moment, provided by Wanda Coffee by Asahi, Cool Vanilla flavor:

For a rest, enjoy this coffee as a man’s dessert.

Guess the target demographic. You have a 50% chance of getting the right answer.


  1. Why do those little bunnies dance better than I do? There's this one awesome move they do that I will be practicing at home. Thanks for the dance lesson. Wow, you are a celebrity. If Japanese Tupac wants to show you his tats, you know you've arrived.

    Hey Dad! The Japanese man clogs at the train station - it's time for you to do the same!

  2. WAHAHAHA!!! Those dancers were flipping awesome! I've got to learn the choreography. Also, no wonder your hair is garnering attention. It's freaking huge (in a cool way of course).