Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Terrible TV Update

I almost didn't watch the last episode. School is out and I don't need to study up on Things Teeny Boppers Like again until early April. I could have skipped the proof that I was right all along about the ending of Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge. But duty is before all! I told You The Readers to check back in seven weeks, though I hadn't realized that the drama had already aired its seventh episode. The shows here have between eight and eleven episodes, and really popular ones often end in a long special or a cinematic feature film. Some have both. YNSH has but ten episodes, enough to be torturous but not enough to kill me.  I told you to check back, and so for the sake of this blog and my reputation I rolled my eyes for an hour and restrained my gag reflex. Ten episodes, by the way, isn't enough for the ravenous fans—all of the comments on this show are squeals of delight, repeat OMG's, never-ending exclamation points, and declarations that the final kiss scene is the best thing since glitter.

You might wonder what has happened between the garbage of episode one and the nuclear waste of the finale. This happens:

The body roll is at 1:37, just in case you don't enjoy uncoordinated choreography to the sound of dying cats. That's the important part. This was on every episode as the opening credits until episode 9 or 10. Though it's never less painful, it does get funnier with every viewing. Remember that these are sexy, sexy men.

So, update: I was right. Dude continues to be a complete jerk and idiotically, insistently insensitive. Girl runs away because dude hurts her feelings, gets in trouble because she's dumb, dude saves her and they realize their love for each other. Urk.

However, this final episode threw in a few bonuses for our viewing pleasure. We get to see guys runs like morons. I don't mean that they run without purpose. I do mean that the archetypes of male attractiveness swing their arms from side to side, bent at the elbow, while they run. I don't want to stereotype that as effeminate, but I'm pretty sure that slows you down. It also makes you look stupid.

Another bonus is seeing our heroine, Sunako, dressed like a stripper. She gets tricked, you see, into doing a fashion show that's actually a masquerade for human trafficking. The models get sold on the black market. Of course, our heroine is so naive/ignorant/just plain dumb that she doesn't suspect a thing when dressed like a Playboy Bunny on Halloween. Nor is the pole dancer at the end of the catwalk in the least alarming. Nor is the venue in Kabuki-cho (Tokyo's red light district, for crying out loud) a good enough reason to leave it all behind. Sure, the girl is nervous about how short her outfit is, but the sly devil who conned her in the show tells her that it's the only way for her to shine.

Ah, then by all means, go ahead. Shine. It gives our male friends a good reason to display their weird running. "Shine" means mooning a bunch of men in suits because your skirt is too short, right? I suppose that counts as a passage into adulthood or something.

We also get the extra super bonus of racial and foreigner stereotypes. Yay! Dante Carver is the black guy in the picture. He's famous for his role an a series of SoftBank (mobile phone service provider) commercials featuring an unconventional family. He's the big brother, the dog is the dad. I don't get it, but the commercials are pretty funny. He speaks fluent Japanese though his accent is distinctly American. His popularity is growing and he's getting more acting gigs and does some modeling. This culture loves to give its celebrities nicknames as much as America likes to condense couples into a single name (Brangelina, Bennifer). Dante Carver's nickname is Yosou Guy, because yosougai means "unexpected," and who expects a black guy from New York to speak Japanese or as a member of a Japanese family, hah hah?

In the final episode of this Bedazzler-ed black hole of a show, Mr. Carver is first seen in the angry jerk's dream. Dude can't move his feet, girl is running around in fright, black guy stalks girl, shoots her in the head. Dude wakes up in a sweat.

Go ahead, roll your eyes.

Then Mr. Carver's character, Greg, shows up in real life. Gasp! Don't worry, though, Greg is an African man who was sent by the heroine's father to fetch her. Totes trustworthy. Also, he scouts models.

Wait a cotton picking minute.

Yep, Greg is not only a killer in Dude's dreams, he's also a human trafficker who tells idiotic females that "shining" involves Fredrick's of Hollywood clothes. After convincing the heroine and another of the achetype's girlfriend (whose voice is higher than Snow White's) Greg calls the dude and tells him to pay a ransom. What a turd.

Angry dude to the rescue!

Oh, in the meantime our heroine gets really nervous and almost backs out. But no, she must do it, because she remembers the jerk she loves; he told her not to run away from obstacles. Yes, this is an obstacle, and she will never grow as a person unless she joins the pole dancer on the catwalk. I think we're supposed to be proud of her. I nearly broke my computer screen.

So she prances out, and who happens to be at the end of the runway but her four archetype housemates? They had to get past Greg the African, who pulled a gun on them, but there they are. Shocking. Then she walks back down the runway, and the four guys start beating up everyone in the room in what is arguably the worst fight scene I have ever witnessed. Oh, I might not have mentioned this before, but the heroine's complex about her appearance means that if anyone calls her ugly, she sees red and starts pummeling everyone nearby. Or expels ghosts. You know, whatever the episode calls for. Anyway, she fights; they fight (in manners befitting their appearance, of course).

Then, when the enemy has been vanquished and has magically disappeared within three minutes, suddenly African Greg is there, holding a pistol to the heroine's head.

Let's all roll our eyes together.

Suddenly Dude can't move his feet again. He watched his beloved die in his dream already. He can't go through that again. Love flows from his eyes in the form of manly tears, and he offers himself in place of the idiot who wasn't paying attention to the only black guy in the room. Don't you know that black guys carry pistols on them, girl? They will sell you to a brothel, just like my grandma feared when I studied to France.

So dude cries like a baby, and I wonder if Dante Carver lied when he said he didn't want to play stereotyped characters in Japan. Dangit, Dante.

He's going to shoot.


The whole fashion show was a setup to get angry jerk dude to confess his feelings for the girl! It was all so that he could understand how the fear of losing someone he cared about! African Greg is only pretending to fill a stereotype for the sake of true love, and whatever compensation he received for playing that role.

Please take the time to tie a pillow to your head. This show is not worth the goose egg and brain cell damage that will result from knocking your cranium against the wall unprotected.

All the guys that were beaten, and pole dancer, and the fake Chinese girl-buyers—it was all an act. The streetwalker getup? Er…that was…necessary for the…uh…shining. Anyway, scratch that racial stereotype bonus guys, it's all good. Does Dude get angry? How could he, having been taught such a valuable lesson? Once they're back home Dude tells the girl he loves her, they suck face, and then things go back to normal. She cooks and cleans, he and the other archetypes eat, but at least they all learned how to tell someone they love of their true feelings. Remember this lesson for life. The End.

Give me my life back.


A bonus for you:

I'm sorry that I couldn't figure out how to make it play specifically at the start of the fight, but it's at 4:44. Stop the video at about 7:30, or forever waste the rest of your life. Spoiler alert, Greg's pointing a gun at Sunako.

Also, the Bedazzler commercial is here. According to advertising, bedazzling is back and bigger than ever. I haven't been in the states for a while, but I'm pretty sure that this is a lie.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bad For My Self-Esteem

One of the parts of becoming an ALT that I had feared the most was teaching at junior high schools. If I had a dime for every time I heard, "Well, you'll be teaching Japanese students, so they'll be much better." I was reluctant to ascribe to the stereotype that uniformed Asian students did not have the behavioral issues of their American peers. Rightly so, I dare say, because my junior high school students can be as surly as a bear in Spring and stubborn as donkeys.

I think I was mentally prepared for the junior high schools. My junior high schools are like zoos—you know there are animals there, but sometimes they're active and sometimes they're not. A day at the zoo can be thrilling or a drag, depending on whether or not the polar bears are doing anything interesting. The additional benefit is that there are zookeepers who know the animals well and can intervene on the visitor's behalf. If I am really having trouble communicating with junior high school kids, the English teacher isn't far away.

Teaching in an elementary school is as close to extreme sports as I need to get. There's no adrenaline rush like playing tag after eating too much for lunch, then realizing that the entire class is gunning for me. Fight or flight kicks in almost immediately, and I pelt across the schoolyard, shrieking comically at the top of my lungs to disguise my real fear of being trampled by a pack of wild second-graders. I've been manhandled and sexually harassed by six-year olds (sounds harsh, but what else can I call it when I'm writing on the blackboard and a kid comes and pokes me right between the buttocks?) and endure daily run-ins with xenophobia and racism. Not only that, but sometimes that brutal honesty which is characteristic in all children who aren't old enough to understand social niceties can be downright hurtful.

Only once have I been so frustrated with a class that I've neared tears. Elementary school. After I'd exhausted my lexicon of Japanese in efforts to get the teacher to help me manage her badger-like bunch of 6th graders, what was I to do when she shrugged and told me in Japanese, "I don't understand English, sorry"? I tried being stern with the disruptive students and was met either with the same reaction as the teacher's, or with mimicry. Imagine one of the Mario Bros. being kicked in the head by a horse, filling his mouth with peanut butter, and trying to list his favorite pastas. Apparently that's what I sound like when I talk.

Let's examine my Wednesday this week. I was at Sogabe Elementary, which hosts one of the best teachers I've worked with and the most insane first and second-graders I've ever encountered. The day started pretty well. I taught with Ms. Yumiko Okita, who has created an environment that is so positive towards English that her students actually take the initiative. They write their daily schedule in English, call each other Mister and Miss, and always answer "yes" instead of "hai." At the end of class they asked me to explain the first verse and chorus of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," then we sang it together. Fabulous, I say, fabulous. And not one of them told me I look like Michael Jackson in his youth, so that was even better.

Let us now skip ahead to fifth period. It was after lunch and recess, both of which I had spent with the sixth grade. I had barely sat down to make my notes on the morning's classes when a couple of first-graders came to fetch me for their class. I grabbed The Very Hungry Caterpillar and skipped after the boy. The teacher of the first grade class, while a very sweet woman, is disinclined to involve herself directly in the instruction of English. She stands to the side and wanders up and down the aisles, making sure that the students are seated and facing me. 

During this most recent visit the Sogabe first-graders seemed to have been injected with massive amounts of taurine. They stood on their desks, yelled over me, and could not seem to focus on the only book I've ever used that had yet to maintain group attention. Come on, kids, count how many pears the caterpillar ate. Ignoring my cheerful invitation "How many? Let's count!" the students discussed whether or not they wanted to eat a pear, and what fruits they liked. When we got to the part about how the tiny caterpillar had grown big and fat, they all laughed and said that the rotund larva looked like the teacher.

I don't know how that woman kept smiling.

The thing about this is that the students are actually sweet as candy. They are always thrilled to see me, and often pull me into the classroom when I'm just passing by. Sometimes I can't make it back to the staff room because a group of of first-graders is crowding around me. If buttons are cute, working around these kids is like diving into a pond of shiny, mother-of-pearl buttons. It just so happens that they are also mischievous and insane, so like candy with habanero inside, or buttons that pinch you in the swimsuit area if you aren't vigilant.

Charmed by their eager welcome and baby faces, I didn't hurry from the class at the end. The students reached up to touch my hair and I didn't stop them. This was seeing candy without noticing the habanero inside, or more plainly, a mistake.

Allowing one child to pat my head and exclaim, "Wah! Fua fua! (fluffy)" opened the door for the rest to swarm like hornets. One tiny hand became ten on my head. I kept hearing a word repeated as they asked me questions.

"Katsua? Katsura desu ka?"

Whenever they used the word katsura the students would gesture as though taking something off their heads, or would pull their hair back.

I used the only word I could remember. "Jige desu." It's my natural hair.

Still, the students kept repeating katsura and trying to expose my hairline, and suddenly I understood. Katsura means "wig." My hair looked like a wig to them. I told them no, reiterating that it was my natural hair. The students didn't believe me. I know this because they exclaimed, "Eh? Honto? Honmani?" (Huh? Really? Really?) and pulled my hair.

Allow me to emphasize this point. The students pulled my hair because they couldn't believe it was grew from my head.




I reacted to this as best I could. I asked them to stop, told them forcefully to cut it out, and did my best to separate the fingers that were causing me pain. Meanwhile, two more students were attempting to tickle me. Being young and inexperienced in the art of tickling, what the children were actually doing was turtle-pinching my sides. Still, it was not half as uncomfortable as feeling two small hands running over my backside, patting gently and dipping into my pockets.

"nnNNOOOOoo, thank you," I yelped, and put my teaching materials down to grab the culprit's hands. The girl was completely unabashed; she smiled at me and reached up to my head. I retrieved my supplies and shuffled out the door with six and seven-year-olds attached to my sides like adorable malignant tumors. I could see the relative safety of the teacher's office at the end of the hall, but at that moment it seemed impossibly far away, lined with a gauntlet of hyper children with grasping hands. Distracted by the task of dislodging the cute parasites from my legs and back pockets, I took little heed when a familiar little boy approached.

I should have known. This boy was particularly touchy-feely; he liked to hug me and hold my hand, and would play with any zippers or buttons on my clothes. The child had once tried to fit his toothbrushing cup over my breast while I was talking to other students. I had made it very clear that the lack of cup etiquette was unwelcome and he hadn't tried anything too strange since. Still, the school-of-piranha-viciously-devouring-a-fluffy-lamb atmosphere was enough to change the most obedient children into a bunch of crazypants. This boy was no exception.

As I detangled my hair from the last of the clutching fingers, the little boy took the chance to unzip my left jacket pocket. This jacket's pockets were vertical, situated on the front so that it would look super cool and indie rock if I were to walk around with my hands in them. As it was, the boy saw something more than indie rock; there was a golden opportunity for him to reach inside to feel where my ribcage began, then to turn his fingers upward and reach for my mammaries.

"BAH!" I shouted, unable to voice anything more comprehensible in my flabbergasted state. The fingers in my hair finished untangling themselves, the students were so shocked by my violent exclamation. The little boy laughed and ran back into his classroom. Booger.

The worst was yet to come. As I bade the students a firm goodbye and gave the teacher and apologetic boy, one last little girl approached. She held her arms out for a hug, and since she was one of the quietest students I allowed the embrace.

“Yes?” I asked the little devil in cherub’s clothing.

Akachan mo?” she asked sweetly, patting my stomach.

Akachan is “baby,” mo is “also”.

The child was asking me if I was pregnant.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hannah Comes to Town part 8

We’re winding down in our journey through September’s chronicle of Hannah Comes to Town. On Saturday the 26th Hannah and I chose an easy day. Since the rabbit had been discovered and I hadn’t reconstructed its cage, the two humans in the house paid a visit to the 100 yen shop. Hannah and I browsed for a bit, laughing at all the terrible English that peppered the packaging and stationery, and I recall encouraging her to buy something she probably didn’t need.

In our western friend Seiyu the 100 yen shop is on the basement floor and the groceries are on the ground floor. With a few plastic table cloths in tow (remember how I bought a bed? The rabbit had to stay inside) Hannah and I made a tour of Seiyu’s finest foods. We picked up ingredients for cookies and Hannah found some weird foods to bring home. This is when I convinced her that a whole dried squid was an excellent gift for her brother-in-law. I think shopping with Hannah proved nothing if not that I would make an excellent trophy wife—if my husband is unable to think of a good reason to spend money, I’ll find one for him.

Japan’s most renowned donut establishment is Mr. Donut, an American-born chain that did much better overseas than in the motherland. Japanese donuts are a little different from their American brethren. There are fewer sprinkles (if any) and many more varieties of cake donuts. The love for mushy, or “mochi mochi” textures has infiltrated many of their donut creations, as has soy and matcha flavoring. Like curry, cake, and mayonnaise, donuts have become part of Japanese cuisine, and therefore Mr. Donut was a necessary stop on Hannah’s food tourism circuit.

After covering the new bed in plastic and making sure the rabbit had food and water I borrowed Margaret’s bike. Hannah and I set off for adventure. We swung by Mr. Do to grab a couple donuts apiece, then headed over to the nearby moat to eat our sweets and soak up the sun. We looked good doing it, too.

Since Hannah had yet to see much of Kameoka our next mission was a bike ride. We went up to the Galleria Kameoka, a large building that serves as both an expo and community center. There’s a chapel on the 3rd floor for weddings and a library on the first. It’s a beautiful, well-constructed building, which was made slightly less beautiful when I accidentally dropped the ice cream I’d purchased on the floor. Do you remember that episode of Reading Rainbow, the one that featured the book The Swamp Band (Mama don’ allow no music playin’ ‘round heeeeeeeere)? Lavar Burton was eating ice cream in a park, and the ice cream fell off the cone and landed on his shoe, and he looked so sad that I nearly cried the first time I saw it. It was like that. Except few tears and more scrambling to clean up the mess before someone noticed. And no alligators, which was both a relief and a disappointment.

Hannah and I ended up taking two routes that day. The first was to the Galleria using a roundabout back way to let Hannah see a variety of neighborhoods. After a break the second was across the Hozu river to an area that I don’t ever visit. I’ve been driven through the area on the way to Kameoka’s best cherry blossom site and another time to a taiko performance. Riding past the rice fields and elementary baseball games and traditional neighborhoods was nevertheless a first for me. Hannah and I pedaled around until we had decided it was time to be lazy in the privacy of my home. It was the kind of experience that I can’t describe without turning poetic and lyrical, and this just isn’t that type of story. Visit me and see what it’s like to ride with the late summer breeze at your back while the sun sets quietly behind the mountains, then stroll through a field of sunflowers and listen to the rustle of wind through dying leaves.

Then see what it’s like to rent a couple of movies from iTunes and eat nothing but fresh chocolate chip cookies for the rest of the night. It’s good, people. It’s good.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Why I Don't Watch TV

When I was at Betsuin Junior High School I spent my last class with the 3rd year students. They were to listen to a random, real conversation between the teacher and me, and then to think of three questions to ask me. Of course the topic went to the Olympics. A student prompted Mr. Yamashita to inquire after my loyalties. For whom did I cheer, Japan or America?

Did my thoughts turn to patriotism or conflicted allegiance? Nay. They turned to the memory of watching a Dutch commercial during a winter Olympics more than twelve years ago. Some blond Viking speed skater was sitting, supposedly nude, in a bathtub full of ice cubes. At some point the viewers were urged to buy a product. I only remember his chest muscles. During the long tradition of Choose Your Own Olympian Husband tradition with my sister, I don't recall a fiercer argument than after seeing that commercial. And I've said before that blonds don't turn my pages. What a liar am I.

So I was honest with these fifteen-year-olds. After all, this was the last time I would ever teach them.

"I choose the handsomest men and vote for their team," I replied. "It doesn't matter what country."

"Handsome?" asked the boy who had prompted the question. Mr. Yamashita explained my answer and a few of the girls giggled. We moved on to other topics, but it seemed my preferences in men stuck in these students' minds.

Question time came soon enough. The students consulted with Mr. Yamashita for anything they couldn't translate by themselves. The first questions were pretty tame.

"If the world will end tomorrow, what will you do?"
"Which do you like better, soccer of baseball?"

These questions I answered easily enough, spelling out the words in my answers for them and signing their papers for verification. Then it seemed that one out of every four questions was something about men, or my tastes in men. Sure, they asked me about Japanese actors. I only know the name of one skinny guy and Ken Watanabe (heaven help me if they conclude I have a taste for older men. I'd never hear the end of it), so I feigned enthusiasm for the star of Nodame Cantabile, who does have the credit of being a good actor. But they also asked me some weird questions, my favorites of which were from a baseball boy—"Do you like body builders?"—and from a couple of girls—"Who is the best boy in the class?"

God bless the study of comparatives.

To the first I answered with a laugh and a resounding "No!" The boy found my response and the subsequent mimicry of bodybuilding poses amusing. The second was a little more difficult to get out of. Sure, I could have pointed at any boy in the class and said, "He is," but slay me if I ever mislead junior high school students into thinking that I find them attractive.

"I don't know," I said, shrugging.

The girls weren't content. They circled their faces with their fingers. "Good, etto, good face. Who? Who?"

Fighting the temptation to choose a nice kid who was clearly the least popular in class, I shrugged again. The girls pointed at their classmates. "He? He?" One boy who had heard the conversation looked between the girls and me, and then deliberately stepped behind a female classmate. His friends laughed. "He? Him? Him?"

"Listen," I said, holding up my hands. "I am twenty-five years old. They," I waved a hand at the boys in the room, "are fifteen. Too young. They are ten years younger than I am."

The girls nodded, satisfied. As females, we can agree that immaturity is never a desirable trait in a man. Bonding.

A couple of other students asked me what my favorite TV program was. This is a weakness. I'm not a fan of Japanese television; it's an assault on my senses. The dorama (anything that is fictitious, from mystery to comedy) are usually acted by young, pretty people whose mediocre talents span singing through their noses, wooden acting, and dancing like a drunk Backstreet Boy. There are a plethora of silly romantic comedies starring members of boy bands. Picking a band and following them from hit single to quiz show to drama is a surefire way to connect with students. One could have a whole conversation consisting of "I like~" and inserting a member of the band, a song they sang, a show they were on, or a TV special in which they made an appearance for the tilde.

The upside to terrible TV is that it's pretty easy to understand. The "good" shows are tougher for me to figure out when there are no subtitles. Bad TV has catch phrases, slapstick humor, jokes that are as far from subtle as I am from wearing pants to bed. Americans, compare Gossip Girl to 30 Rock and know why I used the one show whose name I could remember at the time (I watched three episodes without subtitles and gave up. Keep secret!). "Masuguna Otoko," I answered, and basked in the immediate bonding.

"Oh, that's a good one," they replied excitedly. "Do you know Getikototogotogotoshmendai?"

"Er," I replied, "no." The glow of cross-cultural bonding was fading as quickly as it had appeared.

"How about Nakamegidigidigidigidigo?"

"Um, no." The light was dim.

One student thought for a moment. In careful English she suggested, "How about Yamato getktitotitijdsjsdflaks?"

At least I had caught the first part. "When?" I asked.

The two girls conferred. "Saturday. Ten o'clock. Night. At night."

I made typing motions. "I will find it," I assured them. "I will search and watch it on the web."

True to my word, I did. I suffered through an episode of that craptastic wormhole of bad acting and obviousness. I was determined that sustained horrified laughter on my part was not a sign of worthwhile television. When simplified to the main story arc only, the plot is as follows: Ill-tempered young man, cursed by a beautiful face that prevents women from ever loving him as he truly is, behaves like a dirty buffalo's anus to a superbly weird, subservient (yet classically beautiful, but with a complex about her looks, natch) girl. They fall in love. Their friends rejoice, having seen it all along. I roll my eyes, having seen it from the first ten minutes of the show. Mind, I haven't seen more than the first episode and a half at this point. Check back with me in another seven weeks when the show is over for confirmation.

"Check back?" you say with ample incredulity. "But it's not worthwhile!"

It isn't, no. But at a different junior high school the mere mention of this show brought so many squeals of delight that I have seen this whirling tar pit of terrible media in a different light. This light is that of common ground, something I can share with my students. They'll never know my true hatred for the feather-haired girlymen who have to be in kissing range to say anything threatening or masculine. No. I will find the real names of those sissies and listen to them screech at me in poor imitation of singing. I will watch their performances on YouTube and pretend that I love their jazz hands and body rolls. And in sweet return I will earn the love and respect of all girls ages fifteen and under. And die a little bit, every day.

And now, you can, too! Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge episode 1
Don't worry, the groper gets his. Also, guys mess with each other like that all the time here, kind of like how the six-year-olds mess with me. Tell me what you think, and consider yourself educated in the archetypes of male appeal according to modern Japanese society.

All of this comes after telling a cousin that watching TV is a great way to improve one's Japanese. I'm sorry, Richard. That was before I learned of this show.

Also, I looked up that commercial with the naked skater. How did I not know that it the commercial was for lotion?