Monday, September 29, 2008

Bunch o' Monkeys

I’m currently at Minamitsutsujigaoka Elementary, waiting for class to start. The English teacher here is pretty amazing. Her lesson puts the standard small talk into the context of international communication. I’m here to encourage the students to use their English skills to find out more about the people they meet from other countries, and to make them aware that Japan is not as homogenous as they might think. Huzzah!

Now I'm waiting for them to come get me for lunch. Class was alright, though I had one punk in every class. The first class is always awkward. It’s an experiment, to see how the lesson will work with the class, the teacher, and my alertness at that time of the morning. It never goes “well,” it always just is. Today I was under the impression that the English teacher was going to be with me when I taught, in the same sense as the junior high situation. Turns out that when she said, “I teach the second grade,” she meant all the time. No wonder the lesson plan was so detailed; I walked in and thought, crap. The lesson plan is a little complicated for me to head on my own, and the teachers, well, I’m working with them for the first time. I’ve only spoken with one of them. The remaining two will be a surprise. I hope they speak English.

Technically I should go to the classroom early and talk to the teacher, explaining how I want to be introduced. I’m a bad, bad ALT.

The kids here look really familiar, like I should already know some of them. I’m trying to remember where I’ve seen them before. I think one of them was at the cultural festival, with the guy Slavian guy and the movie about FGM. She was helping her mother with a display on Korean dress and traditional dance.

Monday, September 29, 2008
To play catchup, aikido on Thursday was great, I did very little on Friday but watch the movie “The Fall” and get all emotional and the eat cheese and then Gchat with Nina (shout out, hollaback), and then Saturday hit.

Ah, Saturday. It started off with a phone conversation with m’good friend Hannah, then some brunch by the moat with Margaret and a visiting ALT named Matt. Then, after losing my internet connection in one spot and carrying my laptop around until I got a signal, I talked with my parents. Scrumtrelescent. Then I joined Margaret to head to Arashiyama, where the monkeys are. Two Ugi ALTs met us at the station, and the four of us traipsed through the scenic area to the Monkey Park. And here you have the following:

A Monkey Montage

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Takoyaki and Taco Pahty

Oishi so! If you want an explanation of my calligraphy landscape in the background, ask and ye shall receive.

From right to left: Margaret, Kim-Chi, Nanami, Yumi (another calligrapher and a teacher
at one of Kim's schools), Mayu.
The Kansai-ben discussed, if I haven't already said it, is a regional dialect in our area whose American counterpart would be Creole or Amish Dutch.

I'm kind of going backwards, which means I'm working on typing out everything that I had to say before this post. This is just a teaser, to keep you lookin'.

Dewa matta.


End of September 22: First order of the day was, of course, to irritate Inoe-san with my travel plans. Tuesday’s a holiday, so I took a half day. I met Margaret (who has the whole day off) and we grabbed bentos to eat by the moat. While at the grocery a random woman came up to me and started telling me that it was bad for me to be there with Margaret, because that wouldn’t help up to practice our Japanese. She was smiling, and phrasing it like a joke (according to Margaret. The woman was not speaking English), but it was nevertheless uncomfortable. After our delicious lunch, we decided to hike up to the lookout point for Japanese studying (shut up, old woman in grocery store. I’m doing my best). It seemed to stick a little better this time, which is of course a sign that I must always study out of doors.

At taiko that night we were finessing the rhythm on which we had worked since beginning. The leaders split up the group at the end, making jokes about Team America versus Team Junior. Translation: the foreigners versus the students (ages 10 to 17, in this case) plus the one guy who came late. Next day’s a holiday, so decide to do something when we get back.

That night was more Arrested Development at Liz’s place! Finish disc 1. On the way back we see a live mukade. See reaction below.

I heard that part of the reason why mukade encounters result in painful swelling is because the poison is also delivered through their nasty little legs. If a mukade is on a surface, and a creature attempts to remove the mukade from said surface, the mukade will grip the surface with it’s face pincers and legs, thereby distributing the poison to the surface. The poison legs sound a little farfetched, but I don’t want to experiment to see if it’s true.

September 23: Wake up at 1. Sweet, sweet slumber. I cleaned and did laundry, swept half the porch (harder than it sounds. My brooms are crap). Hit up the 100 Yen store (yes, it’s exactly like what you think), clean till the cows come home in prep for the party.

September 24: Well, tonight’s the night. Tacos and takoyaki, featuring myself, Margaret and Kim, and Nanami, Mayu and another girl from shodo named Yumi (there’s also a woman in shodo named Mayumi, but she’s not coming, so that’s neither here nor there). I need to cook meat, vacuum and chop fruit before they arrive. I’ll put up some pictures of the event later, provided I take them. Hey, Mom, wish me luck.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I wanna be like Steven Seagal

Monday, September 22, 2008

It’s yet another exciting day sitting on my backside at the BOE. The other two ALTs are working in their schools today, so only I sit on this side of the desks. I have the lesson plans from the schools I’ll be visiting from now until October, I calculated all my travel expenses for church and schools until January, and helped my supervisor figure out how to pronounce the name Kenkel. I could just hear the Oklahoma accent slip in as the urge struck me to pronounce it loudly, “Kay-uhn-kel,” then slap my thigh and don a bolo tie and spurs. That I did none of those things is indeed a testament to my self-control.

As you might have guessed due to the infrequency of my updates, my schedule here is packed. I usually wake up at 6 (I may leave the apartment at anytime from 6:50 to 8), work until 4:15, get back to the apartment between 4:30 and 5:15, then have some sort of evening commitment. So, for those of you who wish for Skype appointments, please let me know an exact time, because on the weekends I power down and recharge. That means I sleep a lot.

On that note, a quick correction to the glossary. I listed shodo as the name for my calligraphy class. It should have been shuji. Shuji is basic penmanship (brushmanship?) and shodo is the fancy stuff. No hoity-toity fancy writing for me. I gotta learn the basics.

I’ll try to stick to the highlights, but it’s hard to gloss over anytime when I’m outside my apartment. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that unless I live here for years upon years (don’t worry, Mom and Grandma. This is completely hypothetical), every interaction with the outside world is an encounter. Every time a junior high kid nearly crashes his bike because he’s staring at me, I think I gotta tell someone about this. No conversations are mundane because I’m expending so much energy in the communication process. It’s surprisingly difficult to speak using the vocabulary that one thinks the listener will comprehend, then further simplify if the words are still too complicated.

To give an example, I’ll use the conversation I just had with my supervisor about travel dates as an example.

Me: Sumimasen (excuse me). I have the dates for when I will travel.

Inoe-san: Hai. Chotto (hold on a sec. Literally a little).
Retrieves calendar.

Me: Hai. I will leave here—point to the 21st of December

Inoe-san: Twenty one.

Me: Hai, hai. And I will return, come back, on January 12. Make a face that I hope indicates I want to request the 13th off.

Inoe-san, after sucking air through his teeth: Ah, please, come back, here.

Me, seeing that he’s pointing to the 7th: Ah. Well—Rub chin, suck air through teeth—this is difficult. There are no planes. No seat for me.

Inoe-san: Etto, school, on seven, opening ceremony, please come back here. Points to 5th.

Me: Gomenasai, I asked. I asked the travel company, can I come back here—pointing to the 5th—and they said, “No planes.” All the seats are taken. I can only come back here.

Inoe-san’s face changes. Clearly irritated.

Me: I will check again. It’s a white lie. THERE ARE NO FLIGHTS AVAILABLE.

Inoe-san: Please check. Yes.

Me: I do not think they have a place, but maybe if someone cancels, changes his mind. Then I might get a seat. But, it is very busy. I do not think there is a place for me.

Inoe-san: Yes. You check. Yoroshiku.

All three of the Oklahoma JETs are leaving and returning at the same time, so poor Inoe-san had to have this same conversation twice more. Then he went upstairs to ask Margaret to tell us that our return dates, collectively, are a problem. Not really her job, but she relayed the message. So I’ll fall from my boss’s esteem from now until Christmas, then slowly work my way back up through hard work and never, ever taking vacation again.

To rewind and update since my last post, again I give you the bulleted Week in a Nutshell:

September 11: A moment of silence for our nation. I didn’t realize how old I was until some of my school kids had no idea why 9/11 is an important day in the U.S. Even my oldest students would only have been 8 years old at the time. That Thursday was also my first Aikido class! Dara came along to help me understand what was going on, but for the most part (since it is primarily physical) I was able to understand the jist of the activities. Everyone spoke enough English to at least say, “Okay, yes,” when I did something right. Ah, it felt good. Steven Seagal and I are now practitioners of the same martial art. Can’t wait till I, too, start wearing nothing but Chinese pageboy-inspired leisure suits and leather jackets. He, by the way, is umpteen times more legitimate here than in the states.

September 12: A fairly mundane office day. All three ALTs were grounded, and I think we spent most of our time comparing our school experiences. Well, that and fretting over upcoming speeches. Do we butcher Japanese, or apologize repeatedly for speaking in English? I wrote a short speech in both, but the Japanese was really just a repeat of what I had said at the very first introduction. Negative points for creativity.

That night was the enkai, during which the short speeches were required. An enkai is an office party, most often to welcome someone into the fold, and that night it was Kim and I who were the honored guests. At 6:30 sharp we walked into the Bonne restaurant (some sort of Chinese place). Kim and I were handed microphones and asked to speak. Kim spoke in Japanese, talking about how she loved it here, and that everyone was so kind, blah blah blah. I spoke in English, speaking very, very slowly about how I loved it here, and how everyone was so kind and welcoming, blah blah blah. Food was eating, and after a little imbibing on the part of my coworkers, English was spoken. At one point I was called to another table to speak with someone who had spent some time abroad in Canada. That table soon became the English-speaking table (and not all members were intoxicated, mind you. Just some) with people coming and going to try out their foreign language skills. We talked about why eggplant is a funny name for a vegetable, how mukade and centipede have the same meaning, Kansai-ben, and peppers. Now that I think about it, the larger portion of the conversations I had that night revolved around local produce.

September 13: As usual, I was exhausted, and feeling the aftershocks of aikido class on my untried, doughy muscles. However, I dragged myself out of the house to bike for 35 minutes to Nantan High School with Liz. She was going to see her students play a tie-breaking baseball game, and I was going because I would have stayed in the apartment all day otherwise. Baseball and softball games were going on at the same time, which was interesting. It was hard to cheer, though, because the baseball uniforms of the two teams only differed in sock color (both were striped and mostly white to boot) and the tiny emblem on the sleeve and breast of the shirt. I would cheer quietly for Nantan baseball, look over to softball to see what was going on, return my attention to baseball and only after a few minutes realize that there had been a change on the field, and I had been rooting for the wrong team. Once baseball was over, Liz and I and our brand new farmer’s tans stayed to watch the softball team finish their game. We were the only fans, so I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me when girls in Nantan uniforms hail me on the street/in the grocery store with a friendly, “Ah! Eigo no sensei!” Ah! English teacher! There’s no mistaking me for anyone else in this town. It’s not as thought that other short biracial foreign woman was hanging out at the highschool softball game.

That night I met up with Kim and Matt and J.S, two other ALTs from elsewhere (Ugi, mayhap?). I had been industrious, cleaning my apartment, and decided that I had enough of productivity. It was already late, which meant that I wouldn’t have to stay out very long. Spread Bar, here I come! The bartender had spent a month in North Dakota when he was a teenager, and recounted how every day for lunch they had either hot dogs or pizza. So much for dispelling stereotypes about unhealthy, fat Americans. We also discussed the difference between Korean and American barbecue, about which I had no authority to speak. I and my Coca Cola hung out for about thirty minutes, then went home. Then I remembered, as I tossed and turned on my futon, why it’s a bad idea to drink Coke right before going to bed. Argh, 4:00 a.m!

September 14: Nothing of note but church. The pastor for the evening service was and will be in the U.S. for a few weeks, ergo the church’s senior pastor preached with a translator. Yipes.

September 15: Respect for the Aged Day, a national holiday. Grandma, I raised a bottle of melon soda in your honor. Taiko at night.

September 16: Late pickup by Tsutsuji Elementary. Good times with the grade schoolers and a game that doesn’t make any sense. Dad is Barack Obama and I have an afro. Kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi) with Nanami and Mayu (both calligraphy members), then found Dr. Pepper. Sushi is delicious, but it takes some convincing for Mayu to try Dr. Pepper. Success.

September 17: Timely pickup by Tsutsuji Elementary. Little that was remarkable. Margaret, turns out, was making a presentation to the International Club after my classes were finished, so I went along with her. The kids asked a lot of questions, oftentimes things like, “What do you think of the Statue of Liberty?” or “How large are the wheels or American cars?” Deep, man. Deep. One of the boys told his teacher that he hadn’t known hair like mine existed. Breaking down barriers, that’s what I do all day. Shuji/shodo at night.

September 18: Takeda punks, falling asleep on me. This junior high had some of the most welcoming staff and the most irritating students. They yelled questions at me, or would yell, “Nani des ka?” (what’d she say?) at the teacher when I would respond to them. I had distributed picture cards to the students, and they understood (thanks to the teacher, mostly, and not me) that they were to hold up the card when they heard the key word. The cards, if undesired, could be passed to a more willing participant. In two different classes I had a student take a card, put his or her head down on the desk, and fall asleep. I was ready to hurl chalk at their heads, but instead gently shook them (when they should have been holding up a dang card) and cheerily announced, “Ohayo gozaimasu! Good morning!” while the others looked on uncomfortably. It worked in one class, but only because the student was too eager to show off his English skills to the new ALT. The other student was immobile until it was time for them to introduce themselves to me. Then she came up to the front, yawned, told me her name and club, then went and stared out the window. Angsty teenage years. Ah, how I do not miss thee.

Aikido that night was an awesome stress reliever. The head teacher was there that night, and was definitely a tough love kind of guy. He got on to me for not knowing Japanese, which no one has done yet, but then later he congratulated me for learning so quickly. I also met a girl named Nana Ando, who was given the task of teaching me everything I needed to know. This smart cookie is a high school student from the nearby town of Sonobe, so her English is pretty fresh.

September 19: Biked to Takeda with Liz. The teachers were astounded that I would ride so far, though it was only thirty minutes or so. It reminded me of the Midwest, actually. The day was long, and I was sick of talking about myself for an entire class period. It rained on the way home, through my rain jacket, and I was soaked down to my skivvies. I was wet, had a headache, and was a little cranky. I needed comfort food. Hello, Mickey D’s. I feel like a stereotype every time I visit, but the Nihonjin are there, too. That night we had an Arrested Development initiation! Of the six ALTs in town, three of us had already been exposed to the magic that is AD. The other three needed schooling, obviously. We watched the first three episodes, and I reveled in the jokes that I could now repeat without looking like a complete idiot. Incredible. I’m having and incredible year.

September 20: Lazy crash kind of morning, then biked around Kameoka with Liz, Phil and Margaret. Committed to leading song service at church. What?

September 21: Way late to church. Thanks, typhoon. I was supposed to have arrived at church 40 minutes ahead to go over song choices, but my train was 30 minutes late. Another girl from Kameoka was there (had been dealing with health issues) who took the job of heading up, so I just harmonized and concentrated on not fidgeting. It was indeed awkward; I didn’t know where to look, and was concentrating too hard to close my eyes, raise my free hand, and sway like a good spiritually-involved worship leader. Good sermon. Kameoka girl drives me back, turns out she is certified to teach Japanese to foreigners, and will do so once her energy returns. New bestest friend.

The pictures here and in the following post are a sort of montage from the last few weeks. I am still reluctant to whip out my camera and gawk unless I am a) alone, or b) surrounded by other Japanese tourists who are doing the same. Ergo, the mishmash of photos.

Moment in Engrish provided by fellow foreigner:

Enjoy Cocaine

To the gentleman’s credit, the bottom right of the short said, “Die early.” I postulate that the wearer’s intention was to put the appeal of drugs on trial, and thereby open the eyes of the general public to the “fine print” reality of drug usage. Right?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

See You In September

It has been a while since my last post, so this one is really, really long. I warn you, you might want to read this in phases. And there aren’t a whole lot of pictures, for you visual folk.

And now, allow me to quickly recap Tuesday, August 26—Tuesday, September 2. Warning, all sticklers for proper grammar! Complete sentences will not be used!

• August 26: Work on pricing tickets for Christmas vacation. Debate selling my soul to pay for a round trip.
• August 27: Another Nodame Cantabile night. Brilliant.
• August 28: Nothing of note, at least nothing that I can remember…
• August 29: Seminar in Kyoto. Not entirely boring, but it approached. New municipal JETs (those who teach elementary and jr. high or who are CIRs) only. I made my lunch and it was gross. Nighttime=tabimorimachinkofac√©. Or whatever it was called. An all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink buffet. Glorious. Also, I sang Pirates of Penzance on the streets with two other JETs. A couple of Nihonjin applauded and one sang along (technically he just warbled and mimicked us).
• August 30: Chill and recuperate.
• August 31: Meet up with another foreigner in Kyoto. We attempt to see a kung-fu class. Class canceled. Attempt to see a class at the large budo (martial arts center). Not allowed. Try again for Kyoto Assembly Church. Fall asleep on train, end up at a racetrack way past where I should have been. Failure. Go to bed really early and sleep off the disappointment.
• September 1: Panic because I don’t have lesson plans or schedules from any of the school’s I’ll be visiting within the next two weeks. Sell my soul to Galaxy Travel. Taiko is, again, amazing.
• September 2: Receive one fax for the next day’s visit. Panic because I don’t have a fax from the school for the end of the week. That evening is dinner with Nanami, who takes me and Margaret to a ramen shop and then to the Baskin Robbins in a nearby department store. Nanami was in a year-long exchange program at Broken Arrow high school and then spent two years as the University of Tulsa. It’s nice to be around a Japanese person who appreciates the beauties of Hideaway Pizza, and who can confirm to Missourian Margaret that yes, Hideaway is the best pizza in the world.

Now we can slow down. The last week, being fresh in my fatigued mind (you figure it out) necessitates a little more detail. Buckle up, kids. We’re heading for Detail Land.

I never thought I'd say it, but it's good to be back in the classroom. I taught at my first school last Wednesday, Shotoku Shogakko. I had three classes, first, fourth, and sixth graders, and reinforced my hypothesis that being a ham leads to cross-cultural understanding and internationalization. With the first graders I led them in reciting the alphabet (using ASL until I got to L and had to concentrate on how to make the dang sound in the first place) and Simon Says. Fourth and sixth grade played Twister to reinforce right/left and hand/foot, or rather, “Righto and(u) refuhto, hando and(u) footo.” I also ate with a sixth grade homeroom; the students ignored me for the most part while I ate curry rice and onion soup. Yes, it was a little awkward. Also awkward was when I had to introduce myself to the entire school and say “how I feel about the students.” Blah blah blah, I hope that we will have fun learning English together, I sound like a boor. Dozo yoroshiku onegaishimasu. See you next month, kids.

That night I resumed calligraphy. This time around the kanji was
yama, or mountain. More flowers! I do love that class. They’re very encouraging, and it helps my Japanese.

On Thursday I met my supervisor, Inoe-san at the Umahori station, got lost with him (a.k.a. started walking toward the wrong school) and then arrived late to Shotoku Chugakko. That day I had one 2nd year class and one first year class (and a lot of time to sit at my desk). Class went well; the students really liked to shout, “Hello! Nice to meet you!” at me, no matter the distance between their mouths and my ears. The 1st year students made me self-introduction cards with pictures of themselves and gems like, “My favorites animal, a dog, yellow?” and “My dreams. Smile. Happy!”

Then lunch came. Had I known, I would have brought it. I had read that I could order it or head to a nearby convenience store. Turns out that no, I can do neither of those, and ergo someone must cough up a bowl of ramen for me. How embarrassing.

It did not end. I do not like to fill up my bowl-o-noodles to the top with water because I prefer less juice. The teacher watching me kept saying, “More, little more,” and pressed the button on the water dispenser for me until the water level had reached the line inside. Great.

I sat down, wrote a brief summary of the morning class in my journal, then turned back to the bowl of yet-uncooked noodles. I poured the packet of seasoning in, separated my chopsticks, and prepared to stir the seasoning into the noodles. The teacher came rushing over, waving his hands. I put the chopsticks down.

“Not yet, not yet! Must wait sreeeeee minutes.”

I told him that I understood, and that we had instant ramen in the states, too. I even explained the joke about the college students Ramen Diet.

He nodded and held up three fingers. “Wait sreeeee minutes. Not ready.”

“Hai, wakarimashita,” I said.
Yes, I understand. I won’t stir my dang noodles. “Three minutes.”

“Sreeeee minutes.” He then put the paper lid back on the bowl, then set a larger box on top of it. “You must wait.”

I had a sudden flashback of a moment at the day school, pulling a child’s hand away from a bowl of soup and saying firmly, “No, ma’am. You must use your spoon.” When the hand went back in, I pulled the bowl away. “Where is your spoon? I want you to use your spoon, please.” I pushed the bowl back to the toddler, who grudgingly stuck her spoon in the soup.

I nod vigorously at the teacher and say, “Hai. Thank you. Wakarimashita.”

I turned back to my journal and organized a lesson plan. I wasn’t starving, so I continued to ignore the ramen even after the three minute mark had passed. Unsurprisingly, the teacher visited my desk.

“You can eat now,” he said encouragingly, taking the box and the lid off the bowl. “It has been sree minutes. It’s ready, okay?”

“Okay,” I said. “Thank you.” Another Day Schools flashback.

I picked up my chopsticks and I ate.

On Friday I misread the train schedule and missed my train to Shotoku. In my defense, train schedules are not written in English. Feeling foolish, I called Paulette to see if she had the list of numbers for the schools. She read it off and I wrote it down, trying to calm my rising anxiety about a phone conversation in Japanese.

I entered the number in my keitai and waited. A man picked up, and somewhere in the sentence I heard, “Shotoku.” Alright.

“Sumimasen, gomenasai,” I said, edging away from the other people within earshot. “Eigo okay desu-ka?”
English okay?

“Etto,” the man said slowly.

“ALT desu,” I said.
I’m the ALT. “I missed my train.”


He didn’t understand, so I repeated it. “I missed my train. I will be late. Gomenasai!”

The man paused, then said something in Japanese that again involved the name of the school. Did he say
shogakko? “One moment, please.”

It suddenly dawned on me that I had called the elementary school, and he was trying to tell me that I wasn’t even supposed to be there today. “Iie, iie,” I said quickly. “Wakarimashita! Wakarimashita!”
No, no, I understand! I understand! No one responded, which meant that the man with whom I had speaking had gone to find someone who spoke better English. I hung up.

I dug through the papers in my backpacks, managed to find the number to Shotoku Chugakko, and called them. I explained, the English teacher laughed at me, and I apologized over and over again. I’m pretty sure that all the teachers had a good laugh at my expense (appropriately so), especially after I admitted that I called so late because I had mistakenly dialed the elementary school first.

I got more introductory notes from the two classes of 2nd years and the class of first years. Some of my favorites:

“I like dog and My boyfriend!
What do you like? Tell me.”

“I am basketball team.”

“My favorites
a hot dog

“I do not like English
but I like Social Studies.”

I also brought my own lunch. For the record, I did replace the bowl of noodles that I ate. The teacher who had supplied it was very impressed.

Earlier in the week it had been suggested by some JETs that we go into Osaka (about an hour and a half by train from Kameoka) on the 6th to go dancing. I had thought it would be a little bit of a day trip—meet up, find someplace to eat, go dance my legs off and catch the last train home. By Friday it had turned into an all-night pub crawl. Cross my name off that list, please and thank you.

Saturday I was in hermit-mode until Margaret called down and asked if I wanted to go out to eat. I dragged myself off my futon and met her and Phil for dinner. Mmm, tempura.

Afterwards they wanted to head to GooBea's Rock Bar around the corner from my apartment. Sure, I'll sit there and talk with the owner about our mutual love…for music from the 60's. He even put on a compilation CD and I provided some mild entertainment by singing along to every single song that played. So thanks, Mom and Dad, for discouraging me from listening to pop music while growing up. It's turned out that the Oldies station prepared me to bond with Nihonjin.

Also, I learned that the letter T in American Sign Language is the same as giving someone the finger in Japan. Good to know…Made me really glad that I stopped using ASL when I did at did at the shogakko. And lastly I learned that the Italian version of “Cheers!” is both the English onomatopoeia for the sound two glasses make when tapped against each other and a nihongo euphemism for male genitalia. Take note, Italianos. Learn to toast in another language.

By the time we left I learned that the younger bartender, Haruo-san, was in a not-half-bad band, and that they had a show in Osaka on Tuesday night. He took down our names (and Kim-chi’s, who had been there the previous weekend) to reserve tickets for us. On the three-minute walk back to the apartment my party had confirmed that yes, it was a bad idea to go into Osaka on a weeknight but, yes, we were going nonetheless. Come on, folks. The kid reserved tickets for us to buy. And he works at the neighborhood watering hole. And he has a perm.

How could we say no?

Sunday morning was lazy. I tore up a cardboard box that had once contained a set of shelves. I wrote in my journal. I did some laundry. I paid off the sleep debt racked up during the week. I texted Dara Han, a former JET who’s still in the area after 8 years, who had volunteered to help me find an aikido class. See you at 7 on Thursday, fellow self-defense enthusiasts. At about 3:00 p.m. I roused myself for reals and showered, getting my backside out the door to find church and no excuses.

I found God! Glory be, I found Kyoto Assembly Church. Third time really is the charm. The music is so-so (and there’s a lot of it), but it was so nice to be in a group of believers that I just sung my little heart out and didn’t care. Then I drank tea and talked with the pastors and other church-goers. The Nodame Cantible-watching party was to start at eight, so I made ready to leave, passing out my contact information to the people I had met.

And then. Oh, and then.

There are some people in the world who never learn to use the orifices on the sides of their heads. Perhaps their jaws are so used to movement that it is actually more difficult to stop talking than it is to find something else to talk about.

Lest I sound uncharitable (or since I do, rather), I will lay out my thought process. Let us keep in mind that I have an appointment, and church ended at 6:15.

Wow, this guy is really open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Wow, it must be nice to have God speak to you so clearly through Engrish signs and shirts. I get vague feelings.

Wow, this guy has a lot of stories.

Wow, this is a really long story.

Is this part about the difference between Canadian, Texan, and Japanese cockroaches necessary or a tangent? Maybe it connects to the part about God telling him through a t-shirt that he had an ant problem.

It’s definitely a tangent

Wow, I need to leave. It’s already 7:30 and it’s 30 minutes back to Kameoka.

Wow, I can’t even get in a word to say that I need to leave.

Wow, this guy just won’t quit.

Dude, shut up!

I felt guilty for my thoughts while he yacked, but that didn't stop them.

Monday/Yesterday I finished up my time at Shotoku Chugakko. I woke up late, threw on a dress (don’t worry, there was personal grooming and hygiene involved), grabbed my backpack, and rushed out the door. The half hour before eight o’clock is rush hour, with businessmen and women rushing to work and students heading to their schools. The road to the train station is especially busy, since several. About halfway to the train station I noticed a crisp breeze blowing in an area where I shouldn’t have felt it. I stopped walking.

My stomach dropped, my heard started pounding, and adrenaline coursed through my blood vessels. I reached back and brushed at the back of my dress, feeling bunched fabric and the edge of my underwear.


Logically speaking, in order to moon half of Kameoka, 43,000 people would have had to walk past. I know I did not expose my left lower half to that many people, but it sure felt that way. I pulled my dress out as quickly as possible, took a breath, and continued to walk as though with blinders on my head. I think I might have actually blushed. I know someone got to work or school and told everyone they knew about the dark-skinned foreigner whose striped panties were showing. There might even be cell-phone pictures floating around. Perhaps I’m being paranoid. Perhaps.

To top it off I missed my train again, then in a panic decided that even if it was a 40 minute bike ride, if I left immediately I’d still only be ten minutes late as opposed to 30. Plus it would be a way better excuse than, “Sorry, guys. I got out of my house on time, but it turns out that I walk too slowly. Darn skirt always hiking up and slowing me down.” I walked back to the apartment (pulling at the back of my dress with every other step), I got on my bike, panicking, and within ten minutes had arrived at the school. I was early. Turns out that it takes longer for me to walk from Umahori station to the school than it does for me to pedal there from my apartment.

I only had one class that day because one of the teachers was giving a test. I had been scheduled for two classes with her, so I pretty much sat at my desk all day and pretended to be writing something important while I journaled. I also studied some Japanese, none of which I retained. Other ALTs claim that they roam the halls of their schools and find things to do if bored. Maybe next time. The teachers here are always busy—if they’re not teaching they’re preparing for another lesson or leading a club. I never see them just sit and relax; even during lunch they’re going through the mountains of paperwork that they have to deal with.

That night I beat some drums at taiko with the gang. Taiko is the best club ever. The best. They pick us up, it’s free, they use as much English as possible (beat-o, uh-ryzum-uh, Japanese du-rum-u etc.), they feed us snacks afterward, and they made us our own taiko sticks. They made us drum sticks. Made them. The Japanese people did. For us. To keep. Plus, they let me play the really big upright drum; the experience is nothing short of creating one’s own earthquake.
I love taiko!

Today I discovered why Betsuin Chugakko had been my predecessor’s favorite school. Well, at least, I did after two bus rides and panicking when we kept going further and further into the wilderness. After riding both buses to their last stops the English teacher picked me up and drove me to the junior high school. Betsuin is the smallest school in all of Kameoka, with only 70 students. Perfect.

Even the most bashful of the Betsuin (I can’t write or say that without thinking of Bedouin) were at least minimally involved. I was able to pass my props and pictures around the classroom rather than simply hold them up. They asked the teacher questions about my lesson, not hesitating when they needed something explained. They laughed when I imitated a lemur’s run (it’s in my presentation. Leave me alone) and told me that my grandmother is cute. More points for Grandma. Tell her, someone. I also have in the presentation that she’s 97 years old and still energetic, so I’m fulfilling her wishes even from across the waters. A point for me.

I was also able to spend one period with the school’s only student in the special education classroom. She, the English teacher and I had some quality time together, letting her guide the lesson rather than me just talking about me. We talked about how to escape a tornado, why I’ve never been to a Disney theme park, and where wild horses live in the U.S. Cross-culturalization at its finest, if I do say so myself.

When all my classes were finished my supervisor picked me up. We went back to the BOE, where I typed most of this. To make the concert my fellow fools and I would have to hop on a train by 5:37. At 4:20 I prepared to depart the BOE, Inoe-san stopped me to inquire if I knew how to reach my school the next day. I replied that yes, I had instructions from two former ALTs on how to reach the school. Inoe-san and the other men in the department decided that they needed to make sure. They looked for maps, bus routes, bus times, called the school…At 4:50 I picked up my backpack and nodded many a time, telling them thank you so much for finding the name of the bus stop. Yep, in 30 minutes all we found was the name of the stop where I needed to alight, which I already had.

I rushed home, made and posted a birthday video for Barron, changed into casual clothes, looked up the train schedule, reviewed my instructions for the next day, repacked my bag, and left again. Margaret and I walked to Kameoka Eki to meet Kim and Phil for our grand adventure. Traveling to an unfamiliar Let me tell you, it was a tense, tense transition from Kameoka to the basement club in Osaka. Tense. Is repentance pointless if the sin is repeated? I was pretty quiet on the trip up. For a similar experience, review my “Nantes Trip” entry in the Angers Effect. It was like traveling with piranhas, and that’s as expository as I’m going to get.
We finally found the place and paid for our sweet, sweet reserved tickets. The first band up was Leonald (from Texas), who had an honest-to-goodness groupie following. The herd was only ten strong, but considering the number of people present, it was pretty incredible. Also, two members of this following turned around to see four foreigners (and three non-Asian faces) and jumped. Literally. They jumped and squealed and giggled like they had just seen hilarious ghosts.

Whatever, little girls. At least I can do more than headbang when I dance. I don't need to dye my hair blue to get stared at.

Leonald (from Texas) was all punk, all the way, right down to the roots of their bleached blond hair. Ah, it was priceless. I was put in mind of those children on kiddie leashes I’ve seen in grocery stores, pulling as hard as they can on the leashes attached to their backs. Watching Leonald (from Texas) was like watching those children break free, running up and down the aisles, flailing their arms and eating the coffee beans that fell out of the dispensers. Sure, I threw up the rock sign and clapped, but I laughed the whole time. Kim and I would occasionally turn to each other and say, “Are you serious?”

Next up was MMP, which we learned later stands for Make Money Project. Nice. This band took more of an alternative route, totally emo and endearingly into their rocky, soulful sound. The closest thing I can think of to their sound is Switchfoot with a little of the Backstreet Boys thrown in for good measure. If their songs came on the radio, there’s an 80 percent chance that I’d leave the dial alone.

Now I sit on the train, heading home from the concert with the piranhas. Sure, it was an unquestionably bad idea to go all the way to O-town when I have to be on a bus by 7:04 tomorrow morning. However, Haruo-san (the guy who works at the Rock Bar, remember?) and his band were great. For amateurs they were genuinely impressive. My props to Lewdic Juice and their funky, funky style. I thumb my nose at sparkly J-pop. I will take button-up shirts and alternative funk any day. I happen to be a sucker for a good slap bass.

The nice thing about being the only gaijin in the building was that every band member came up to us and thanked us for coming. Leonald members talked to us about how they had never been to Texas, but introduced themselves as Kevin, Paul, etc. Liars. The members of MMP said no,
we were great for coming to the show and gave me a high-five. Haruo-san actually hugged me (or opened his arms, then I stepped in and squeezed his middle. Yes, it was awkward) when I ran up to him told him how much I loved his band. And the Japanese don’t do hugs.

By the way, I’ll edit this later and put some pictures and video in. Right now they’re stuck on my phone, and I’m stuck on a train, and as soon as I get home I’ll hit the post button on this s(t)ucker and pass out. Rock and roll, kids.

Engrish moment of the day, courtesy of a taiko member’s hoodie. When I noticed it, I almost followed the instructions:

Gladly Smile

Yell Lustily

Wet Oneself Laughing

This post's glossary, in no particular order:

• shogakko—elementary school; grades 1-6
• chugakko—junior high school; grades 7-9

  • ichinensei—first graders (can be for any school)
  • ninensei—second graders
  • sanensei—third graders
  • yonensei—fourth graders (shogakko only)
  • gonensei—fifth graders (shogakko only)
  • rokunensei—sixth graders (shogakko only)
• Nippon—Japan
• Nihonjin—Japanese people
• Nihongo—Japanese language
• yama—mountain
• keitai–cell phone
• gaikokujin—foreigners (gaijin for short)
• eki—train station
• jitensha—bicycle
• genki—energetic, vigorous, active, etc.
• hajimemashite—“first time.” Used as “Nice to meet you.”
• (dozo) yoroshiku onegaishimasu—“Please be kind to me.” A closing version of “nice to meet you.” Used in other situations, but I don’t yet know why.
• Onegaishimasu—please
• J-pop—Japan pop.

The Who's Who:
Municipal ALTs: Paulette, Kim-chi, Yours Truly
CIR: Margaret
Prefectural ALT (at high schools): Liz, Phil
Former Muni ALT who stayed for eight years: Dara
Japanese girl/lady who introduced me to calligraphy and studied in Tulsa: Nanami
My supervisor at the BOE: Inoe-san (pronounced Ee-no-eh)
Guy who works at the bar and has an interesting perm and a band: Haruo-san (pronounced Hah-rue-oh)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008