Thursday, May 20, 2010

Samurai Spirit

I taught ultimate frisbee to the elementary school girls softball team today. I happened to show up and talk to the coach right before practice, and, since it was raining, he invited me to teach ultimate. I had told him it was the only sport I could play. It was super fun.

A word about the softball team, which is really what this is about. There are 8 people on the team, you need 9 to play, so they never actually play games. Instead they just practice for 2 hours, 4 times a week with 8 year old girls swinging full size aluminum bats (barely). I mentioned, "you just need one more player, eh," to the coach and he told me that there aren't any teams around Kushiro so all they can ever do is just practice. Practice begins and ends with a bow and one of the many ritualized greetings of Japanese. Without an opposing team present, they turned towards a phantom team and thanked them loudly and confidently, removing their matching red baseball caps. It doesn't seem sad or insane at all, not with their enthusiasm, discipline and ridiculous grins.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I wrote this in an email to my boss. Her English is quite good, but sometimes if I write something out of the ordinary, she just doesn't respond to me. I think sometimes its because I'm being hard to understand. I've adopted this style.

"I noticed that I am scheduled to teach 1-1, 1-2, 1-4, and 1-5, but I am not scheduled to teach 1-3. Maybe class 1-3 is first period but the teachers think that it is too early for me. I don't know the reason why I am not scheduled for 1-3, but I am worried that they think the schedule is too difficult. Maybe there is a different reason I don't know. If they want me to, I can go to school for first period, it is not a problem."

Tottorinishi JHS is where I'm headed tomorrow. I have a lot of difficulties in communication with that school, its generally too big and they've been known to forget that I was scheduled to come: scrambling, looking shocked at my sudden appearance in the teachers room. I'm scheduled there for 3 days in a row, teaching 1st and 2nd grade, but one class is conspicuously missing from my schedule. I think this is stupid. I'm there for 3 fucking days and there is no reason I should teach 4 out of 5 groups of students, only to come back in two months. I don't know why the schedule is the way it is. I'm trying to deal with the fact that decisions are often made in mysterious for mysterious reasons.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I've felt for a long time that people in the US get too uppity when it comes to certain aspects of communal thinking. Some things that happen regularly here might seem rather Orwellian to a majority of Americans... and probably most of Western Europe.

Many of the aspects of the beginning of the new school year have reminded me of what a strange place this is, and illuminated certain value differences between here and my home. I drove to school yesterday surprised dozens of uniformed men and women at every intersection on our small town main street. I can't say whether the purpose of their presence was more about safety or simply the idea that this was an important day. The town speaker system was also in use. I can never understand it well, its usually spoken in a way beyond my normal range of politeness, but it must have been asking the citizens to watch out for students on their way to school. The speaker system is usually used exactly twice a day monday through friday to announce the departure of students from schools (once for elementary and once of middle); it was a special day indeed. The feeling you get of first hearing this extremely polite woman's voice echoing off the hills surrounding Akan is quite odd, it was creepy exactly just very different.

I think the notion of dystopia is quite different here. I'm not quite sure what it is, but it is not a fear of being told what to do. Taking a quick tally, it seems to be a universal theme in dystopian literature. This needs a lot more looking into, but I think an ultimate fear here is isolation and disconnection. The voice echoing through the town, telling you what to do isn't so bad.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Two days ago I was at the onsen at a ski resort. It was a pretty international place so I had the opportunity to read the prohibitions sign in English. People prohibited from entering were, those under the influence of alcohol, those with tattoos, and "members of organized crime syndicates." I decided I would make more of an effort to record strange things as they come, because they are losing their strange quality (although its never a challenge to remember ones position as an outsider in Japan).

The Onsen is apparently a staple of the tourist industry and Japanese life, at least in Eastern Hokkaido. I am pretty sure that entire towns have been built entirely around the presence of naturally occurring spring water. When staying at a hotel, the quality of the onsen is quite often the pride of the establishment. American hotels have pools, Japanese hotels have onsens. Some of them can be quite extravagant, with over a dozen separate giant baths, indoor and outdoor, cold and hot; others are just a little hot bath.

The nakedness can be a bit awkward for people sometimes. Upon entering one is supposed to find a little open shower stall where you squat in front of a mirror and rinse off before entering the actual bath. At all times people carry a little towel, often used to help clean yourself when showering, but most importantly for covering your dick when your walking around. Most people don't really care to cover anything up, but it comes in handy when you run into someone you haven't seen in a while and an awkward conversation ensues. One might also be happy to have one when the bath lady comes in. I'm not sure what exactly they do, but there invariably a 55-80 year old woman who periodically enters the baths to check around and take care of business. There is a very long list of things that just wouldn't fly in America, this is one of them.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

too big to tweet

Today I went up north to the little tourist town of Akanko (Lake Akan) after being impressed upon by the English teacher there to come and help judge a speech contest. 8 hours later I was sitting in a nice coffee shop when, for the sole reason that I was young and white, I was approached by a tall American and his Japanese wife. This is the second time I've recently been approached by someone in a coffee shop in such a way; having these two characteristics, I am undoubtedly an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). Turns out the other American had also been an ALT and made his status permanent. Its a bizarre community of ex-pats here, but that's for another day. Anyway, I was encouraged by this Japanese woman to begin a blog, then she launched into the story of her stomach cancer (from which she is mostly recovered) and invited me to her big foreigner party next month.

I was in the midst of writing about the play today on facebook but this is a better forum for honest opinions. My actions are more public while I'm in Japan. For example, the other day I was buying a coffee (and paying my phone bill) at a random 7/11 in the middle of Kushiro (a town of 180,000 people) and the woman at the register asked me about my hockey playing. Three days earlier I had joined the elementary school hockey practice for the first time. I mentioned this and asked her (in bad Japanese) if her son or daughter played hockey. She said, "no," and then, pointing to the door, "over there," which I took as my cue to get out of the way of the next customer and leave. I have no idea how the fuck she knew I was practicing hockey.

Finally, back to the school festival today... After the short English competition, there were various presentations and choir and brass band performances. Everything was fairly normal except the 8th grade play which was singularly creepy. It began with a single student, sitting center stage at a desk and staring out over the audience in front of a black background (and yes that was the entirety of the set) while various other cast members entered, spoke to her and left. Occasionally she would write letters to her mother, explained by a voice over of the text. The creepiest moment, aside from her attempted suicide and eventual successful suicide via pills, occurred when a particularly quiet young actress delivered a 5 minute monologue that was entirely and completely drowned out by the heavy rain on the roof of the gym as we sat in the dark.