Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mad Props, Cousin

I couldn't legally watch the 4/27/09 episode of The Colbert Report with the Decemberists, so I downloaded it from iTunes.

Shara Worden, I am so proud of you!

I've watched that part at least four or five times today, not counting the every-time-I-should-be-doing-something-productive from yesterday. Then I showed it to Margaret when she came over for lunch yesterday. It went something like this:

Margaret: Wow, that's your cousin?

Me: Yep.

Margaret: She's really good.

Me: Oh, wait for it.

Margaret: Wow, she's really good.

Me: Yep.

Margaret, sounding surprised by herself: I'm really impressed.

Me: Yep.

I mean, I don't know what these people thought when I told them that my cousin is an amazing  songstress. They give props to my brother and father; is a cousin too distant of a relative for me to be telling the truth? Maybe they've been jaded by American Idol. When I say something like, "Hey, I have a song you might like," and after being asked how I know Indie rock kind of bands admit that I am related to a sparkly gem, I don't mean that it's familial responsibility that makes me bring the topic up. I mean that I have a cousin who is not only one of the world's best people ever, but who sings like it's her job. And it is her job. And she's good at it.

Shara, my hat is off, my roof is raised, and I have nothing but highest accolades. WooooHOOO!

Have Another Slideshow, Friends

Again, if you want to read it, go to Facebook. In my humble opinion my witty comments make the whole thing much less mind-numbing. This is from November, by the way.

Have A Slideshow, Friends

Sorry that the subtitles are small. I'll put it up on Facebook, too, when I get the chance.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Have Some Videos, Friends

I'm loading these on Facebook so that you can see the titles more easily

A little bar concert. I don't think they actually stock Heineken, by the way.

These are random videos I took from throughout the year.

Let's be enjoying videos of things in which I do not appear and in which you have little to no emotional engagement. Also, let's be enjoying the present continuous tense. You know why they do that in Japan? I'll tell you: there's no future tense. One says either, "I'm enjoying this," "I'm enjoying this today," or "I'm enjoying this next week." There's more of an immediate tense connotative of what is happening right now, but the average present tense translates into English as present continuous. Weird, huh? Grammar. Booyah.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Wrong Kind of Conservative

Japan is a country that, for the average non-Japanese-speaking tourist, is fairly easy to navigate. The majority of high school graduates can at least read simple English, say, "Go straight," and in major tourist areas they're accustomed to having bewildered foreigners approach to ask for directions. The subway recordings are in Japanese and English. Restaurants will often have an English menu or plastic food displays in front of the store (pointing and saying please always works). The roman alphabet nears overuse. After my time here I can't imagine being a foreign tourist in the U.S. without speaking English or at least Spanish. There is little patience for accents and less for obvious tourists.

Despite my run-ins with language barriers and culture shock, I feel valued here. Strangers stop to talk to me. The owner of a local cafĂ© gives my foreign friends and me special treatment when we show up, giving us free fruit, crackers, or small discounts on our bills. Insulting to those who can read Japanese or no, it's still incredibly considerate of someone to go find the English menu for obvious foreigners. I have been invited to events to which I would never have gone—cultural fests, language exchange sessions, local music performances—simply because I'm foreign. Sure, sure, there's rudeness and frustration and waitresses who fight over who has to deal with the English-speaking person. But what job could I have found in the states to just come in and be? I was hired because I speak my native language and have the tenacity to survive severe culture shock (and seasonal depression). That's considered skilled labor here. Awesome? Yes, it is.

Of course, Japan isn't all smiles and open arms. The New York Times recently ran an article about how Japan is basically deporting foreign unskilled labor. Most of these workers are Brazilian or Peruvian citizens of Japanese descent and were part of a Japanese recruitment program. Now they're being asked to leave, offered a few thousand dollars to take their families, and forbidden from ever seeking work in Japan again (this also applies to their children).  Check it out:

This development makes me appreciate my native country more and more. There is no such thing as "America for Americans," unless everyone without Native American heritage were to pack up and skeedaddle. Most Oklahomans by now would probably be okay. Thanks, horrible Trail of Tears. My own father was able to become an American citizen with a sound knowledge of American government and history. The vast, vast majority of American citizens are of foreign descent. Of course, there are plenty of instances in which the U.S. has acted in a xenophobic manner (or what's the word for being afraid of natives? That, too). A giant wall, for example, or Elian Gonzales. I've known a few Asian-Americans who have been complimented on their English (really, America? You think there are only two races?), and there are some people who have to be told that "Mexican" is not a racial slur.

Compared to Japan, though, America looks like the bosom of Abraham.* It is nigh impossible for Koreans to become Japanese citizens. There are people whose great-great-great-great grandparents emigrated, who are issued a Korean passports. Though they and their parents and grandparents all speak Japanese and were raised within the Japanese system, these people are not considered Japanese citizens and are given no opportunity to become such. Teachers have told me that as recent as 10 years ago, students of Korean descent would change their names to common Japanese names for fear of bullying.

I respect that for the sake of their own economies countries cannot permit entry, employment and citizenship willy-nilly. I don't respect governments that allow organizations to blast anti-foreigner propaganda over vehicle loudspeakers, or drive through the streets screaming about the cultural Armageddon to which the country is doomed if they don't close their borders. I also lose respect for the people who simply ignore that kind of hatred, or shrug their shoulders and say, "Oh, no one pays attention to that, anyway." No one? Japan's recent actions prove otherwise. 

Final note, because I have to hop in the shower, pack a lunch and catch a train: One of the men interviewed in the article states that he feels Japan should never become a multi-ethnic country. I'm multi-ethnic all by myself, and your government brought me here! I teach your kids English! I'm a RESIDENT, SUCKER!  I WIN! Grassroots internationalization strikes again!

*After a Google search I realize that this isn't the most applicable use of "bosom of Abraham," but it still sounds good. It's maybe a B- usage.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Here's what's different:

1)New schools. I had ten. They took four of my elementaries and gave them to other ALTs. Then they gave me four new ones even farther away, plus two alternative schools. Now I have 12 schools. I will die.

2)New staff. On April 1st Japan undergoes massive staff changes. A lot of it has to do with the school year ending in March and the influx of college graduates ready to earn a living. Usually transfers occur within a company or corporation. This means that my favorite buddy at the BOE got sent one floor down, one of the office guys at my favorite mountain school now works on the fourth floor, and when I walk into the six schools I already knew I don't know 40% of the staff. Awesome? Maybe, maybe not. I did get a great new teacher at Ikushin, which almost makes it worth the 40-minute transit on a bus crammed with giddy high-schoolers who think I don't understand the word for foreigner. I've only been to two schools so far; we'll see what the rest brings.

3) Socializing. I already said yes to almost anything to which I was invited. The difference now is that people without children my age are coming out of hibernation. Through a English conversation meeting I met a young guy and his Chinese wife. He had graduated from OSU in 1995 and currently spends half the year in Japan and half in China. He's a fancy pants kind of guy. He and Kim-chi (reminder: other Kameoka ALT) and I exchanged emails and went on our way. A couple weeks ago he and his wife invited the two of us out to view the cherry blossoms and barbecue. It was raining and chilly, but it was awesome. Even when they eventually switched to Japanese entirely and Kim and I just sat and stuffed our faces, it was fun.

I'm also reconnecting with other foreigners. A guy who works at an English school in the department store had a birthday. For his birthday a group went out to Maruyama park in the Gion are of Kyoto city. At night the more popular cherry blossom sites light up. Cherry blossoms at night are now on my list of must-sees for all visiting foreigners. Come at the beginning of April and you shall see. Oh, but you shall.

I had my first houseguest last weekend. The honorable Rachel Sreebny came down from the inaka to grace us with her presence. I lead a group of six JETs up to the restaurant where the aikido group had gone. We ate, we laughed, we loved. Margaret and I went into Kyoto with Rachel the following day for some cherry blossom picnicking in celebration of the evanescence of life and another chill girl's birthday. Note: if you say "chill girl" in a swallow-your-words Lady Catherine de Bourgh voice you'll see it rhymes.

This past Saturday I went up to the Ine area (think Lake of the Ozarks, but smaller and Japanese, then go more into the boonies) to visit Rachel in return. Her local BOE tries to make up for their podunk location by giving the teacher a whole two-story house to inhabit. It is the perfect size for slumber parties. Margaret and I hitched a ride up there with a JET who has a car, stayed overnight for some good clean fun, and socialized with some folk whose to-Kyoto travel takes a couple of hours. On Sunday afternoon I rode home with a Japanese couple who live about twenty minutes away. I got an invitation to a birthday party out of that ride, and heck yes I'm going. Then today one of the teachers at Ikushin invited me to a barbecue next Sunday. Not American style, don't get your hopes up. Japanese barbecues, I have found, involve small pieces of meat, cabbage, dipping sauce, and occasionally some large intestine. The last, by the way, has the texture of a lugie. Disgust. But the other meat and vegetables are absolutely delish. I am looking forward to that hearty party.

4) I've decided to change the way I post. Now that Blogger has handy Big Brother-style ways to post, I can update my blog without worrying as much about firewalls or internet access. Hello, irritatingly short mobile phone blog entries with grainy pictures and emoticons!

5) It's not cold anymore!

Spring is here and it is the best. Washington D.C, your cherry blossoms ain't got nothing on the abundance of sakura here. There is a phenomenon known as hanami, the direct translation of which being "flower viewing." Japanese people go more bananas over cherry blossoms than autumn leaves. They lay tarps under the trees, crack open a few dozen beers, and get loud. It's amazing. Trees that masqueraded as ordinary foliage suddenly burst into bloom, lining parks and walkways with pink and white and dotting the hillsides. Suddenly folk aren't so depressed about life and I'm feeling more optimistic about handling a dozen schools. People who I forgot existed had emerged from winter anti-socialism to ooh and ah at the beautiful blossoms. Within a couple weeks of blooming the petals start to drop in a storm of white. Spring time is windy time, and there are few things more picturesque than a whirlwind of petals skipping and gliding over a field of growing rice. The air even smells like cherries. I thought that cherry candy was a made-up flavor, like how blue raspberry flavor actually tastes nothing like a blue raspberry. Once the sakura bloomed I understood from whence the flavor came.

These pictures were taken just a little bit before the flowers were in full bloom at the local Kameoka moat. It was a castle before WWII, now there's just the moat and a cult. The last is from Maruyama park. When I was trying to find the area I was told, "We're by the big tree." I replied that there were a lot of large trees in the park, and may have added a cute little term of endearment like, "Doofus," or "Idiot." Then I came upon this sight and felt like a cute little term of endearment, myself.

Ah. The big tree.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Break A Leg, Barron!

But not really. Nonetheless, I wish more than anything that I could be there to see you play and cheer at inappropriate volume from the audience! I'm ridicu-proud of you!

Friday, April 3, 2009


WARNING: This video is kind of loud due to emotions.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Chair Murderer

I mention the time because I leave work at 4:15. Also, there are about 65 people who work on my floor and no cubicles. Use your imagination.