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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Welcome To My Nightmare

Since tonight is Halloween here in the West, I thought I'd share with you a bit about a wonderful Halloween party held in Japan back in 1993.
A quick perusal of Internet stories about Halloween in Japan state that it's a pretty recent phenomenon. It's true. I think us JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme folks brought it over with us. I'm not claiming we were the first to hold a Halloween party in Japan, but we may have been one of the first to get a lot of young Japanese adults involved.
What is Halloween? Take a look HERE.
My buddy James Jimmy Jive Dalton held a Halloween Party at his tiny little apartment. I don't believe any of the other AETs (Assistant English Teachers) from my neck of the woods made it down, but I sure as heck did. Jimmy Jive was a very funny guy who could fart on command. Really. No stinky or anything, but a simple fart. He also taught me how to pretend to walk into a pole (making the smacking sound) and then how to stagger about in a daze while women rushed to your aid. He was a true showman.
For some reason at Jimmy Jive's high school, he was able to convince some of his teachers to join him. As well, a lot of other AETs managed to find dates - and not just with each other - but rather, they brought Japanese folks!
The way I figure it, if the Japanese are interested enough to date a gaijin (foreigner/outsider), then they are probably interested enough to learn about one of our stupid traditions - dressing up and trying to scare people into giving you candy to go away.
So... you want to know what I dressed up as? A Japanese school girl. It probably says more about me than any word I've ever written in these 200+ blog entries. But, like all things mentioned here, don't read too much into it.
My costume had a blouse top, Catholic school girl like skirt, one-size-fits-all-gaijin orange fishnet stockings--okay, right there I'm thinking I've dressed up to look more like a Japanese porno actress rather than a student might look like - plus I borrowed a pair of high heels, from a lady friend of mine. I didn't have a wig, but with my hair getting long, I did put my hair in pig tails. Oh... I also had on some fire engine red lipstick.
I was not going to get laid tonight. Onani? See HERE.

Still, ever fearless, or perhaps just wanting to see what sort of reaction I would get, I dressed up in my costume, left my apartment wearing a trench coat, rode my bike to the train station and then rode the train down 45 minutes south to Jimmy Jive's place.
Arriving in his home town (I can't remember the name!), I was stopped by a local policeman. He asked in broken English where I was going. I said: "James Dalton-san's".
He replied. "Ah, wakata! Dalton-sensei, chotto bakka. (Oh, I see! Dalton-teacher is kindda stupid."
He said bai-bai and walked away.
The party was great I think. Lots to drink, lots of snacks to eat. Lots of blurry people to talk and have fun with. And... we had lots of local Japanese people dressed up in costume! A splendid time was had by all. And the police only had to come twice to ask us to--I'm assuming--turn down the music... I mean, everyone was too drunk to understand what he was saying.
You know what the scary part was? Excluding the Japanese natives, I had been in Japan the longest (27 months) and actually knew what the police were saying.
Want to see some photos? Click HERE.

Somewhere Halloween is NOT the drag it used to be,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by Alice Cooper. He's still cool. You will have to crank up the sound, but it's the original video: KACHINA (Alice's pet boa constrictor).

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Take Off

Originally entitled: Ne It Again, San.

Regular readers of this blog know that I am on the Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Programme. As such, every once in a while, I'm forced to go to something called a team-teaching demonstration. And while it is a day I'll never get back, I do tend to learn something. These events take place in cities nowhere near where I live, so often I I have to leave my apartment ridiculously early in the morning, to ensure I get to this particular school.
I know... why don't I leave a day early and spend the night a a fellow AET's (Assistan English Teacher's) place? Truthfully, I think the women know I will probably try to sleep with them - and while that isn't usually a problem, I'm sure they'd like to get a good night's sleep considering it's probably them that is giving the demonstration with a Japanese teacher of English.
Stay at a guy's place? While NOT homophobic, the thought never even entered my mind. If I wasn't going to get laid, I didn't need to be in a hurry to get anyplace.
Oh yeah.
The lack of action for the first 25 years of my life were in the past. The future is unwritten. All we have is the present,  so waste it not. I love zen Buddhism. I also love presents, but neither are part of this blog.
Anyhow... just so you know... I did spend the night after the demonstration with a lovely woman named Amanda - and her friend Letitia - though both of them were just friends and fellow JETs.... meaning they didn't want to sleep with me. That's fine. It's always good to know where you stand. Of course, it didn't mean squat to me, as I wanted to sleep with them... in keeping up with my long-standing horniness.
This blog is about things I learned while spending a day or two at a team-teaching demonstration.  
So... what have I learned? Well... one should never wear a silk shirt whenever there is a chance you may sweat. As well... as the team-teaching demo is in the city of Ashikaga-shi in Tochigi-ken (see map above), I learned that the students at this junior high school make my students look like a bunch of idiots.
I also learned that no one in this damn city knows what the "kaga" of Ashikaga means. "Ashi" means leg or foot, or something like that.
And, hanging around with Amanda and Letitia, I learned that Ouija boards are fascinating when played with gorgeous women.We had the pointer whipping around and it was pointing to letters - though whatever the message was to me, it was garbled. Letitia... her message from whomever was something that scared her. Were we forcing it... I know I wasn't moving it.
Oh yeah... I also learned that the Japanese say the word 'ne' a lot. And that's what this blog is about.
Once I noticed the 'ne-ing', that's all I was able to notice. After every sentence that mentions the weather (every other sentence in the average Japanese person's vernacular), the Japanese add the word 'ne' to it... actually, it's true regardless of the topic.
This point was actually hammered home by Letitia and Amanda as they used a sing-song voice a la the Japanese women to drive me nuts. These two babes added the word to every possible conceivable sentence. In fact, there was more 'ne'-ing from these two fillies than there was from the last three Kentucky Derby winners combined. Of course, that's just a guess. I have no idea what manner of talk goes on behind closed stable doors, but if I did, I imagine it would sound like this:
"Whoa - did I blow by Mister Magoo, neigh. 
I was fast, neigh? 
I'm going to neigh now.
That was a good one, neigh?
That smells, neigh?"
Still, these AET's were parodying the Japanese - or was it horses? On the way back home via the train, I decided to listen in on some of the Japanese conversations. Luckily for me, it was around 5PM on a Saturday, so the four-hour school club activity had just finished. I had ample high school girl subjects to study... uh, their speech, that is, and not their legs... though I did notice that only 47% shaved their legs, but that 100% of them have blotches or bruises. Too much club I fear. Although these little fillies had lovely hair and cute uniforms, their constant stamping of feet and ne-ing made me wish I had a riding whip and some spurs... er, just for some light entertainment purposes, and not anything remotely deviant... much.. .well, hardly at all... and who's going to tell? It's a good thing no one can read my thoughts.
Now... where was I? Oh yeah. Those girls also used the word 'ne' after every sentence. 
Actually, the Japanese ne-ing and sucking of air through their teeth (when they don't want to say "no" to you - it's like they are thinking about it...), is not any more annoying than hearing a Westerner "umm-ing" or "uh-ing" or saying "like" or "y'know". Worse yet, Westerners (not cowboys) think that "Dumb Blonde" jokes are funny.

Somewhere trying to remove the bleach from my hair, ne...
Andrew Joseph
Today's song is by Bob & Doug McKenzie - TAKEOFFYOUHOSER and features singing by Geddy Lee of Rush from Toronto.
PS: Here a video of Bob & Doug from the SCTV television show. While Canadians may still say 'eh' often, we're not nearly as stupid as the guys in the video. Maybe. HEAR
PS: When I first heard the Japanese saying 'ne' a lot - it really bothered me - until I realized every culture has its weird speech patterns and slang, ya know what I mean, eh?  Now take off, you hoser!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Gee Whiz

One of the things I get to do living out in the country - far away from Tokyo... like about 200 kilometres away... I'm afforded the luxury of getting away from people.

Despite my reckless abandon and wild persona, I'm actually kind of shy and prefer the shadows to the limelight. It means I value my privacy.

Sounds like complete bullcrap, doesn't it? I mean, here I am baring myself to you, oh gentle reader, with nary a thought for my own ego.

The way I figure it, it happened. Learn from it. Let's move on. It's also kind of funny, eh?

Ohtawara-shi is a city. There were about 50,000 people in this smallish burg, in the province of Tochigi-ken. Sounds like a lot, but the city was spread out over quite a large area.

Anyhow... I get to ride my over-sized (by Japanese standards) blue bicycle, that was cobbled together by one of the hundreds of bicycle shop owners that populate my city.

I have a lock for it, and because I'm from Canada, I actually use it - old habits die hard, I suppose. From what  I could see - Japanese folks are by and by the large part very trustworthy. Okay... that's only sort of true - at least as far as bicycles go.

In Tokyo, I did observe a lot of locked bicycles - but then again, there are a lot more gaijin (foreigners/outsiders) around. As well, at the local Nishinasuno eki (train station) that's about a 20-minute ride to the northwest - there are a lot of bicycles locked up.

But at my schools, no one locks their bikes. And, I can honestly tell you, not once did I hear about anyone having their bike stolen.

But trust and bicycles are not what this episode is about.

While riding my bicycle through the roads disguised as pathways that cut between the rice paddies here in Ohtawara, I have noticed that during every single trip, there are rice farmers--Japanese gentlemen--relieving themselves right there in the paddies.

I'm unsure if this is part of Japanese irrigation techniques, or if this actually part of Japanese farming techniques. I mean really... have you ever tasted Japanese rice? It has a very unique flavour.

Somewhere relieved this blog is over,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title was brought to you by me. But was sung by: Carla Thomas
She's Number One in my books: HERE
Pee Ess: I've sometimes found Japanese rice to have a nice warm sake (Japanese rice wine) flavour, though that could just be my warped imagination.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


In Japan, there is no letter "L". It's why when trying to speak English, they transpose the "L" for an "R".

I know Matthew and I (and probably every other English language teacher to ever visit Japan) have tried to teach them how to place the tongue in the mouth to make the proper sound. It's not impossible - just very difficult.

Here in Canada in 2010, I'm trying to teach my nearly five-year-old son how to pronounce letters clearly. Even though I'm afforded the luxury of working with him daily, few English teachers get to do that with their students. It's not something that can be taught in just a few classes - it takes hours and hours of practice.

I believe in China, folks there use the letter "L", but lack the letter "R". Strange? Naw. It's just the way it is.

Back to Japan... okay... so now you know that there is no letter "L" in the Japanese alphabets (Katakana, Hiragana and Kanji)... so why is it that the Japanese manufacture so many cars using the letter "L"?

There's the: Lexus brands; Toyota's Allion, Corolla and Liteace; Mazda (aka Matsuda in Japan) Carol; Suzuki Club Cultus; Nissan Fairlady and Bluebird--and these old cars are just the ones I remember!

That's a lot of "L" to pay!

You might say that the Japanese are creating these names for the American market - and that the Japanese also love to buy things with English words on them. All true. Whether that's good or bad, I'm undecided.

However... I can tell you no one in Canada or America wants to drive anything called a Bluebird, Fairlady or Carol. No one. Though I'm pretty sure I might enjoy riding in a Carol. They are too feminine-sounding. And while automobiles are no longer the domain of the man, there's still a macho image surrounding cars. We want strong names - like the Mustang or Firebird! Bluebird? No way. Even if the Japanese could pronounce it properly and knew what a bluebird is, even they wouldn't buy it.

Unfortunately, the Japanese tend to buy things willy-nilly - as long as it has English-looking words on it, it must be cool.

Somewhere I just got hit by a Toyota - oh, what a feeling,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by Martha and the Vandellas - Listen to this sweet tune here MOTOWN.
PS: And for your amusement, there was a song by John Goldsmith called You're Not Safe In A Japanese Car. Obviously it was meant to hit back at Japanese economic expansionism into the U.S. I'll let you in on a little secret... it failed. In Canada, between my dad and I, we've owned a Mazada 323 (white), Nissan Stanza (also white), Toyota Camry (2), and a Mazda Tribute. I've also owned the Korean Hyundai Tiberon... and to show we don't always hate American cars... we've owned a '67 Ford Mustang, '73 Chrysler Scamp, a Saturn, and a Ford Escort... which broke down so often it lived up to its name, demanding money every time I rode it. No "L's", though. Since writing this, I have (as of 2016), owned a Saab 900, Mazda 6 and a Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight Anniversary Edition, the latter a car of the 90s. Yeesh. It runs, well, however.
PPS: The photo above shows my 1986 Mazda 323 and the 1987 Toyota Camry. At the time I went to Japan, the Mazda was mine, and when I came back, I inherited the Toyota.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Girls, Girls, Girls

Interesting photo, isn't it?

It is a hagoita--a paddle used for an old-time girl's game called hanetsuki that was played usually on New Year's day (January 1... I only write that date down because, well, other cultures do have different New Year's days...).

Similar in scope to badminton, a shuttlecock (hane) was whacked back and forth between two girls. Obviously... this front highly decorated portion of the hagoita was not used to hit the hane - the reverse flat side was.  

Apparently there were no nets involved - just keeping the hane afloat like a game of hackey-sack - was the point. However, should a girl miss the hane, her face would be smeared in ink. The game would continue until one girl's face would be completely covered in ink. Sounds like fun, ne (eh)?

The hagoita paddles are part of a ritualistic health blessing to the girls given at birth, and is thus a good luck charm. Rumor has it that it was also a way of providing protection against mosquitoes. If so, it's the world's best looking fly-swatter.

The game is no longer played in Japan, but like all things in life, the hagoita paddles have become collectible decorative items--which explains why I have one.

This was given to me by a student over at Nozaki Chu Gakko (Nozaki Junior High School) - what great kids (now adults and parents probably in 2010!)

Traditionally, the front artwork is created through the Japanese art of washi (hand-molded paper), through mine has elaborate needle and thread work. It's three-dimensional plush and pasted to the wooden paddle to protrude like a relief. Mine depicts a beautiful woman in kimono--in this case, I believe it is a geisha - though other hagoita features portraits of popular Kabuki (style of performance play) characters or actors, or the more modern anime (cartoon) figures.

The reverse of mine is painted with a bamboo grove design--as well, mine is a more traditional paddle size of about 60 centimetres (2-feet) long. 

There is a Hagoita Ichi Fair held in the Asakusa-area of Tokyo on December 17-19 every year. Started about 350 years ago during the Edo jidai (when Japan was essentially closed to foreigners - read about it HERE).

It's set up at the Senso-ji (ji means temple) grounds with about 50 kiosks set up with vendors hawking nothing but their hagoita wares. It's a spectacular fair with some 300,000 visitors annually attending. 

Somewhere there is ink smeared on a young girl's face,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by Motley Crue - HAIRSPRAY.
And, since that sexist hair-metal song may not be everyone's cup of tea... maybe you'll enjoy this clip about paddles from a Simpson's substitute elementary teacher. It's one of my all-time favourite lines to quote: JASPER.
PS - Today's entry is my 200th Blog of Rife. Happy Blog-day to us!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

See You In September

This one is for my mysterious friend in South Korea who reads these blogs pretty much every night minutes after I post them. Thank-you for reading. My e-mail is at the top right - feel free to say hello, should you wish.

This is a short one.

During August when there is no school, I was at the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) when Hanazaki-san, my boss asked me to accompany him to Ohtawara Chu Gakko (Ohtawara Junior High School). It's a short five-minute drive from the office to the school.
I was unsure why we were going there - I know it's the summer vacation, and I assumed the teachers were there - but why did he want me to go with him? Probably correctly figured I was bored.
Still... when I arrived, the school was a beehive activity. Not just teachers present - but students, too.
Believe it or not, teachers were actually in class giving lessons to the students who wanted them. Usually during regular classes there are anywhere between 25 and 30 students. Guess how many students were there? Yup - 25 to 30. It was pretty much at full capacity.
Oh my goodness! It's the summer vacation! Why are you at school, kids? Go home! Relax! Give the poor teachers a break!
Just because your parents don't want you around is no reason to torture your poor, underpaid teachers!
You know... in Canada and the U.S., the only time a kid enters a school during the summer is because he or she is breaking in to cause trouble!

Somewhere with a crowbar,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by The Tempos - You can sit in class and listen to it HERE.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers

Originally titled: Moldy Cheese And Fine Wine

This one takes place during my third-year of rife in Japan. There will be a few things similar to one blog episode written previously - just know that it's actually a different event - with many predictable results.
The day before I was to debark for yet another Assistant English Teacher (AET) Mid-Year orgy, I mean conference, I celebrated my birthday. I was 28-years-old. Like most of my 28th birthdays, I spent it at the Utsunomiya International Festival... an event celebrating all things gaijin (foreigner) in Tochigi-ken's capital city, Utsunomiya.
There in typical 28-year-old fashion, I dragged screaming little kids up onto a stage to perform Simon Sez and the Hokey Pokey with me, though not at the same time. Just as we were about to begin, a blast of feedback was emitted through the speakers. Now that I was more mature, I writhed in fake pain on the ground. It got a laugh, so what the hey, ne (eh)?
I guess starting my new-found non-youth in this fashion was a good indicator of how I was going to act at the orgy... damn, that keeps slipping out. I meant the conference. Turns out, it wasn't really that good an indicator after all. Sort of.
So... even though I no longer remember where the heck the conference was, I have the rest of the trip written down, as apparently I was a bad boy. Sort of.
My first night at the conference was spent with my friend Colin McKay (a great guy from Calgary, who was a couple years older than me, though just starting his second-year here... he was a senior high school AET in Kuroiso, a town about a 20-minute car ride north of Ohtawara-shi. He and I were hanging out, having a few drinks when we came across this guy from another province, who had apparently never heard the name Colin before. Here, for your amusement is that conversation Mr. Kansas had with Colin.
"So... where does the name Colin come from?"
Colin answers: "From Scotland."
"Oh, what part of Ireland is that in?"
"It's in Scotland."
"Is that in Ireland?"
Colin is already getting steamed: "No, it's in Scotland."
"How do you spell Colin?
"Isn't that Coleen?"
"Huh?!" answers Colin, screwing up his face. We looked at each other and then back at this dumb American (I know, not all American's are dumb - but this guy was!). Colin and I politely excused ourselves to go and get drunk.
Now... somehow, the two of us ended up in the room of these two women. Colin is drunk, but you'd never know it except from a redness in his face. Me? You could tell.
Me: "So, you're Jewish?"
Woman: "Yes."
Me: "So... you know my grandmother was a Jew."
Colin: "That's your best line??!!"
Apparently I tried to pick this woman up by bragging about my dead grandmother's religion. Oy vey! Worst pick-up line ever!
Colin ushered a dejected Andrew out of their room, and back down to the bar.
It was a good thing that he did, because I needed to get some practice in.
The next night, I got into yet another classic blitzkrieg sake drinking challenge with Mr. Arakawa, a bigshot at the Kensho (the educational office) for I think Tochigi - or perhaps he was THE liaison between the Ministry of Education and the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme. Whatever his position, the boy could drink. Last time we had 47 drinks apiece - but since we had each started earlier by ourselves, we gave up at 36 shots of sake, called it a draw and went our merry ways. Last time we had nearly 50 shots apiece. Okay, it was 47. I know that because I wrote it down a few lines earlier. I'll try and keep up...
How the two of us could walk, let alone breathe is one of life's many mysteries... He went to yet another meeting, while I went dancing, threatened a bouncer, insulted another AET, hurt my knee dancing, strained my neck while tossing my very long hair about to the beat of the music... ouch. At least I felt old, even if I didn't my age.
The next morning, though, I was chipper, and Arakawa-san had a headache. Old man.
The next night, Colin and I were up to our gills swimming in alcohol again. I want to make sure you know that Colin isn't normally a drinker to such excess - and neither am I - this was a special event. And I had just turned 28. I think that was what Colin was doing for me - he was helping me celebrate.
So... after the dinner, and the beers and toasting et al, Colin and I were still on the prowl for more beer - I mean, this stuff was free, so why go out anywhere else when you'll only have to pay for it?
So, we began taking half-empty beer bottles from other tables, but when we determined that searching other tables for beer was cutting into our drinking time, we began to find un-drunk glasses of beer - and poured those into our own glasses. Yeech.
And then there was a young lady I had a crush on - the beautiful redhead Trish (more on her later!) (I had a crush on a lot of women, didn't I?). Because she liked me as a wacky friend - and perhaps because I was more toast than bread, I delivered an insulting, blurry note (I couldn't read it!) from her to some guy from another prefecture who had been trying to pick her up these past few days...
Naturally, everyone seemed to think that the note was from me - perhaps because the lovely Trish signed my name to it.
By the way... Trish, who was also Jewish later told me she wouldn't have fallen for my pick-up line, either. Good to know. Click HERE to read some more bad pick-up lines.
Anyhow, early the next morning, I was forced to visit the hotel's lost and found and get my watch, coat, gold pen, a few drunken notes I had scrawled (this blog), my liver and my self-respect. Needless to say...

Somewhere still looking,
Andrew Joseph

Today's title is brought to you by ZZ Top. TRESHOMBRES
PS: You might think that now, nearly 20 years later that I would be some sort of full-blown alcoholic. Sadly... I mean, hurrah! I've had less than 30 drinks over the past 10 years... which wasn't even a night's work back in Japan on those special occasions, of course.
PPS: What's with my original title? Obviously, those are things that get better with age.
PPPS: Worst pick-up line ever!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sympathy For The Devil

Now well into my third year of living in Japan - I've had my ups and downs. It's been pretty much self-induced - girl troubles et al, and has nothing to do with what I have experienced here. It's been pretty much all good. Oh sure, I may have whined every once in a while to my bosses at the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) or to my friends (Matthew, Kristine, Colin and Jimmy Jive), but it has been a wonderful rife.
I have managed to develop a keen relationship with darn near everyone in my office, schools and city. Communication is the key to internationalization... though sometimes I wonder where the lock is.
One of the factors in proper communication, is understanding the cultural and individual differences that exist between people. Having met many foreigners since arriving here in my city of Ohtawara, the populace has had the opportunity to determine for itself that not all gaikokojin (the proper way to say 'foreigner'... really gaijin implies 'outsider') are the same. Ohtawara-shi (city of Ohtawara) knows I am an idiot.
Every time I see one of my Japanese friends, they can be sure I will say (in Japanese) - "Hello. How are you? (Konichi-wa. O-genki desu ka)". That's pretty much it. I don't speak any more Japanese than that. It's not that I can't, It's just that I don't want to. 
That sounds wrong, doesn't it? Truthfully, I'm afraid to get close to them.
Part of the problem is that I have absolutely no idea what their name is. You've seen it before in this blog, and I'll belabor the point again. I know them, but I don't know them. To me, it's hypocritical of me to try and get to know people better when you're too stupid to know who you are talking to.
"Mister Nakazakiyamahanamurasuzuki-san... it's 'san', isn't it?"
Sound impressive, but 'san' means 'Mr/Mrs and perhaps even Ms'.
I mean... I know these people... it's just that - for example, when I first met the people at the OBOE, I had been in Japan for less than four days. I had never heard Japanese spoken before, and when I did, it sounded like another language to me. You know what I mean.
Other times, I would meet people at enkai's (parties). I'd be introduced to them, but they'd either be drunk or I would be, or we'd both be.
I used to say: "I am not 'yopari'. I am drunk." Which is kind of like being welcomed to the Department of Redundancy Department.
But I'm the gaikokojin, here. When they say their name, they don't really cut me any slack. They speak like most people do over the telephone: (in English) "Herro. Mai ne-mu izu..." now this part, because it is Katakana English, is said extremely and painfully slow. It's this next part that screws me up: "Nakazakiyamahanamurasuzuki-san."
It's said at a speed exceeding the sound barrier (Hey! Maybe the sonic boom impedes my understanding of the name!). Of course they say their name fast - it's all in Japanese.
Generally, they say they want to be your friend and get English lessons from you - but no one ever tells you their first name! Even if they do, it's said so quickly you'll end up butchering it ... which is okay, because they can't say your name either. I'm not Andrew... I'm An-do-ryu.
Since arriving here I've been An-do-ryu, Man-do-ryu, An-do-re, Hurricane An-do-ryu, Mista Dragon and Gaijin-san - hey, at least they call me Mr/Mrs and/or Ms.
Of course, 99 per cent of the people here are unaware that An-do-ryu is not my family name. But that's cool. That doesn't bother me... I just wish I knew who they were.
Why don't I have more real Japanese friends?  Okay, I suppose I should have learned the language like Matthew or Kristine - but honestly, I'm not that good at languages, though I do speak English swell.
What am I going to small talk about with the Japanese? Hey, how's the wife and kids? What? You don't have a wife or kids? Oh.
I have noticed that the Nihonjin (Japanese people) tend to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing the weather. I think that's because Japanese protocol won't allow them to discuss personal particulars with each other. How many times can you ask someone how their family is when you don't even know if they have one. If he doesn't, your insensitive question could offend him for life--not that you'd ever find out, because discussing personal matters just isn't done... though they do seem to want to know a heck of a lot about the personal life and grooming habits of foreigners.
I have said 'him' a lot in this blog... mostly because I find the Japanese women a tad too timid to talk too. Most look like they'll explode if you talk to them, though so far, none have.

Somewhere trying to blow-up a woman (not an inflatable one) (yet),
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by the The Rolling Stones: LIPS.
PS: People - when you meet someone, say your name slow - and the same goes when leaving your phone number on an answering machine - slow... I shouldn't have to listen to a message six times to figure out a number or name!
PPS: Remember - the people of Ohtawara were, for the most part, already familiar with who I am... saying my name has never been a problem because the Japanese tend to break all English words down into Katakana English to make it easier for them to pronounce. Personally.. that's cheating.
PPPS: Even my bosses - Kanemaru-san and Hanazaki-san... I know their first names because I have their business cards (which Matthew translated for me)... but calling them anything but Mr. Kanemaru et al, just wasn't done... My girlfriend, Noboko and Shibata-sensei are two exceptions - where I could call them by their first name... Noboko obviously, but Shibata Ryoichi - heck, he allowed me in a step closer. Cheers, buddy!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Originally entitled: Return to Oz. If you haven't read or seen the movie, The Wizard of Oz, you really are missing out on something fantastic.

Even Dorothy went back to that wild and wonderful technicolour land a few times. Now it was my turn.
I had to visit a whole slew of primary schools (Grades 1-6). Munchkins! Munchkins everywhere!
My day began innocently enough with a hangover courtesy of some weekly large-breasted girlfriend who had picked me up a couple of days earlier at my local bar, the 4-C. Although I was in a good mood, my body told a far sadder tale.
I sat down at my desk at the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) and began to type out a story on my Fujitsu computer that had been configured to allow me to type in English, rather than in the three Japanese alphabets. It was monochrome, and despite it being 1992, no one here had heard of the Internet yet - not even me, although truth be told, I had been "surfing" with my computer since I was maybe 14 years old in the late 1970s with my computer, visiting message boards and talking to what I hoped were professors at various universities throughout the world. If any of you should be happening to read this blog (only one professor I know does! - from Australia), I was known as Professor MaryAnn. Now you guys know why we could never meet. Yeesh.
Anyhow, when I went to print my story, all five pages of it mysteriously disappeared in a writer's worst nightmare - the system failure zone.
Weeping as I repeatedly bashed my fists against the terminal, Kanemaru-san showed up and began talking to me. Something was strange. He was using pretty good English. 
Suddenly, I was grabbed from behind and had a gag put over my mouth--believe me, that wasn't easy--and had a set of handcuffs snapped around my wrists. Was I back home with my girlfriend du jour? I then had a blindfold placed over my eyes, and lost consciousness as something blunt and heavy made repeated contact with my he-----
When I awoke, it was to a thunderous headache. I wasn't sure if it was last night's bourbon or the smacks to the head. Opening my eyes, I found myself sitting in a small plastic chair and was no longer fettered by my chains of entrapment. 
Now chancing a look about, a cry of "Herro!" split my brain. I closed my eyes again. "No," I thought to myself, "this can't be happening." 
Three times I clicked together the heels of my white Reeboks and whispered, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home." 
I opened up my eyes and peeked. Nope. It didn't work. They were still there. Hundreds of little people, tittering at me in Munchkinese. Some of them grabbed me by my arms and made me stand up. I looked down at them down there between my ankle and knee and began clicking my heels together in even greater urgency. Still nothing. Maybe you really do need ruby slippers. Where did I leave mine?
And, while Dorothy may have enjoyed her visits back to Oz, I had a misgiving or two. At least Dorothy could speak the same lingo. Me? Not so lucky. And the kids? Well...
They began to sing and dance in a circle around me. With arms linked they sang (and I kid you not): It's a Small World Afterall". Next I recognized the theme song for the kid's anime Totoro (an Earth elemental), and then a strange piece called: "Tuwinkaru Tuwinkaru Ritta Suta" (I'll you what it means later, in case you are unable to phonetically figure it out).
It was all very touching and confusing, but I knew my nightmare was only just beginning. The Munchkins made me sit down on the floor, as the entire village of Muchkinland gathered around me pointing, staring, laughing and drooling.
One by one, they stood up and asked me a question. Because I had been in Oz for a couple of years now, I did understand a smattering of their vile and evil tongue.
They wanted to know what I liked to eat (47 times); why I had an earring; why I wasn't married; how old I was; and why I wasn't dead yet.
However, by far the most perplexing question was put to me by a little fellow who said he was six. 'Six' what, I had absolutely no idea.
Our conversation was exactly as follows: 
"An-do-ryu-kun?" (Andrew old boychick?)
"Haiiiiiii. Nani?" (Yesssss. What is it?)
"Gaijin desu ka?" (Are you a scuzzy outsider from a foreign land that isn't Japan/Oz?)
"Haiiiiii." (Yesssss)
"Naze?" (Why?)

Hmmm, the little bugger had me there. Why? I could do nothing but laugh at his inquisitiveness. Why. I love that.
They then bade me to sup with them. I nodded a yes (hai). I was hungry, and I wasn't sure if the Munchkins were edible or not.
I was lead by hundreds of pulling hands to a large dining area where they gave me a portion of their local cuisine they called spa-ge-ti-me-to-sa-su. It looked pretty good to me, but the odd eating utensils made eating this food that looked like spaghetti and meat sauce a difficult chore.
I watched how the locals ate it to get a better grasp of the situation. Some simply picked up their bowl of food and slurped, while others picked up this noodle-like thing in a grubby little hand to place it to their mouth before slurping.
Me-to-sa-su was flying in every direction: It landed on the table; their strange garments; faces; and hair. Some even managed to get it into their mouth.
I was quickly losing my appetite as many of the Munchkins had mucous running from their nose - some even tried to help it out by sticking a finger up the cavity or by sneezing. My heel clicking was on over-drive - but still nothing!
Finally, it was over. Several of the larger Munchkins (obviously slaves to the small ones) came and took my still-full plate and then hosed me down with cold water.
Then came a horror I had been fearing... I had to pay for my supper. I had to sign my name 1,000 times. I did it on pieces of paper on text books, and when that ran out I was made to continue signing on articles of grubby clothing splattered with me-to-sa-su. The final indignity was when I was forces to sign their body parts.
As suddenly as it began, something blunt and heavy again made repeated contact with my he-----
When I awoke, I noticed I was back in front of my hellish computer. My 'friends' at the OBOE all smiled and grinned their metallic toothy grins at me.
My boss, Kanemaru-san then walked up to me and grinned a grin so wide that it began and ended at the back of his head. He said: "Tomorrow." 
Uh-oh! What did that mean?

Somewhere wondering if mucous can be removed by dry cleaning,
Andrew Joseph
Today's Title is by Chris Impellitteri - he is one amazing git box strummer: LISTEN
PS: I actually enjoyed myself visiting the primary schools during the month of March while the junior high schools are locked down in final exams.  And while my method to and from Oz and the Munchkins is highly exaggerated, the rest of the events did indeed transpire. Tragically.

Friday, October 22, 2010

You Talk Too Much

Originally entitled: The Broken Language.

Herro. Afta rogingu foti monsu heah, I habu kumu to disuriku Katakana beri muchi.

Any idea what I just wrote? I said: Hello. After logging 14 months here, I have come to dislike Katakana very much.

Recently, I was given an eight-page list of everyday Katakana words. Katakana is an alphabet (one of three) used by the Japanese to describe words that are foreign to the country of Japan. Katakana is a phonetic sounding-out of foreign words by using this Japanese alphabet.

This list was written entirely in Katakana, so I had to decode it into recognizable Romanji (English letters). I was left with over 75 per cent of the words still unrecognizable. It lends credence to the old joke: Why is it that he is speaking English, but I don't understand him?"

I was confronted with such Katakana words as: Akado. Is it some sort of martial arts? No. It's an 'Arcade'; Obakoto is 'Overcoat'; Erebeta is 'Elevator'... and just when you think you've got it, they toss out words like Konkuri-to and se-ta. Take a moment and see if you can phonetically sound it out to see the English equivalent.

Give up? It's 'Concrete' and 'Sweater', respectively. Add a prefecture (provincial) accent, and you will no longer wonder why I don't understand the Japanese, and they don't understand me.

Iffu I donto speaku Engarishi wizu a Katakana acucento, I ammu notu andastoodu.
(If I don't speak English with a Katakana accent, I am not understood.)"

Nowhere is this more apparent that at the sebben (seven) junior high schools I entertain at. How can you teach someone proper English diction when they insist on transposing your English words into Katakana? You kan-to.

"Wa didu yu go yastudae, An-do-ryu?"
(Where did you go yesterday, Andrew?)

I replied: "I went to Mosburger." (I emphasized the 'went'. Oh, and Mosburger is a Japanese fast food burger chain that is almost as popular as McDonald's - yet some of my students believe it to be an American restaurant.)

Here is where we add the sound effects of crickets chirping and pencil cases dropping.... as no one understood what I had said.

"Okay, okay... I wento to Mosu-baga."

"Ah, so desu ne. (Ah, okay.)"

For your edification, no one in Japan has, since World War II, ever uttered the phrase "Ah so." It's an ugly American stereotype expression that only exists in television and movies. Yeesh.

I'm also going to lay a bit of blame on the Japanese food industry for helping perpetuate the Katakana crap. I had asked some students at Ohtawara Chu Gakko (Ohtawara Junior High School): "What do you want to eat?"
One answered, "Shichikon."
After making the student repeat the word four times, I had to ask the teacher, Shibata-sensei, just what the heck 'shichikon' was. He went through his Katakana dictionary and said that the word means... are you ready?... 'Sea Chicken."
What the heck is that? A dolphin that tastes like chicken? Then it hit me. No, not another car, but rather inspiration. Does anyone in North America know: "What's the best tuna?" "Chicken of the Sea." It's a tuna commercial slogan that I remembered from the 1970s! Sea Chicken = White Tuna. Here's a fairly recent commercial of that famous brand: HERE.
Red tuna meat is what the Japanese know to be real tuna. The white tuna meat that we North Americans associate with tuna is considered by the Japanese to be the 'garbage' meat of the fish. But... if the Americans like it...
Man-oh-man! Can you believe that several generations of Nihonjin (Japanese people) think that all white meat tuna is called 'sea chicken'?

Sumuwa goingu ku-re-zi,
An-do-ryu Jo-se-fu
Today's title is by George Thorogood & The Destroyers. SHHH.
PS: Check this OUT and remember I first wrote about this back in October of 1991 - which is re-presented here in this blog.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


What's the big difference between Canada and Japan? Two words: cultural identity. Canada lacks one, while Japan has it in spades. Part of that is due to immigration issues regarding its borders: Canada can't say no, and Japan can.
From 1633 until 1868, Japan was Sakoku (鎖国 which translates to 'locked country'). It was Japan's foreign relations policy that essentially stated no foreigner could enter nor could any Japanese leave the country upon penalty of death. Pretty severe, huh? 
The policy was enacted by Japan's ruling shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, through policies enacted between 1633-39, and remained until Commodore Perry sailed into Japan in 1853 - though it was still illegal to leave Japan until 1868, the so-called Meiji Restoration
But, you know what I find very interesting? The word 'sakoku' was created in 1801 by Tadao Shitsuki who was translating writing by German Engelbert Kaempfer, who wrote about Japan. It was inspired by a foreigner, in other words.   
So... why shut out the world and keep Japan secluded? Well, the Tokugawa family who ruled Japan had in 1616 killed the Toyotomi family who had previously ruled. While Tokugawa Iemitsu's father and son's were warriors and thus more respected, Tokugawa Iemitsu wasn't. 
To maintain control, he essentially became a pain in the butt. Lords of the provinces had to visit Edo (old name for Tokyo) every year bringing tribute - and even had to leave their wives and children there as hostages. Paranoid? Yup.  
Then there was the thought that foreigners were conspiring to rise up the populace in rebellion - and here, the shogun may not have been paranoid. He thought the Spanish were interested in overthrowing his reign with their Christianity.
Even further back in the 1570s, Portuguese Jesuit missionaries were welcomed by local rulers in the western Kyushu area of Japan, who benefited from the lucrative Portuguese trade in Chinese silk. 
Then there were more foreigners arriving - Spanish friars, English and Dutch traders - all in competition with each other. 
In 1587, the initial tirade against missionaries began - first decrees expelling them, and then actual action. In 1597 in Nagasaki, 26 Christians, nine foreign missionaries, and 17 Japanese laymen were - in a unique bit of irony, crucified. Take a look at the photo up above - that's the memorial for the Nagasaki massacre.  
Now... you have to understand... I'm not making excuses here, but the Christians did have a way of marching into a country and stripping it of its beliefs to save the poor heathen bastards, and by 1597, there were some 300,000 Christians in Japan.    
Back to Tokugawa Iemitsu... between 1622 and 1633 he had 131 Christians executed in public spectacles seen by thousands of people - to ensure the rest of the country got the message that while Christianity might be good for your soul, it is rather bad for your health. 
After a rebellion by 37,000 peasants and ronin (masterless samurai) in 1638 - most Christian converts--the Japanese shogunate massacred them.    
The closing of the borders was made to protect the shogunate, though for some reason, the Dutch were allowed to continue trading - but only in a small area of Nagasaki.  
With the regime change in 1868, an estimated 30,000 "hidden Christians" came forth to revive the Christian church in Japan.  
All well and good, right? But Japan still was a some-what closed society. 
While foreigners may indeed have been allowed back in to Japan, they stuck to the larger cities, like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagasaki, and others. The rest of Japan, never got to deal with foreigners all that much--something that continued on well into the 1990s (World War II excepted, of course).
I think that is a reason why locals in the smaller towns will stop and stare and say, "Hora! Gaijin-da! (Look a foreigner/outsider!)"... we're still a bit of a rarity.
Even nowadays, Japanese folk when talking to a foreigner--like myself--will always say things like: That is a Japanese kimono; or those are Japanese chopsticks; or ask if I like Japanese rice. There's a sense of pride - it's not really bragging, because if it is, it's kind of lame. 
The Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme is a fine way for Japan to get foreigners into the small towns and cities. It's not like we are really needed for English teaching--at least not back in the 1980s and 90s. I think we were there mostly to internationalize the Japanese - to let them know that we aren't a threat, but mostly, that despite a few cultural differences, we are just like them.

Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by The Sunshine Underground - listen HERE. It's a cool little song from a U.K. group.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


This was originally called: Welcome to Munchkin Land... and just so you know, I wanted to use the Prisoner song by the Killer Dwarfs, but couldn't find a version of the song for you... so I found something heavier.

Part of the regular duties of a junior high school AET (Assistant English Teacher) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching ) Programme, is to visit primary schools (grades 1-6) during the month of March while the middle schools are completing final exams. Yes, the end of the school year is the end of March - and no, they don't go on vacation until August. I'll show you a list explaining the number of school days. Really. One day soon. (It's 2016, as I write this sentence, and I still haven't done a list. I think. Maybe I did.)

It was a Friday - my office day. Lucky bugger that I am, all us AETs really only do teaching four days a week and are supposed to spend the fifth day at the board of education offices writing up reports of the weeks events or teaching people there English. I did both for about a week. And then it was just kind of never brought up again. If you think about it, how the hell is anyone just arriving in Japan supposed to teach anyone English. At least at school, I had a Japanese teacher of English. Back to the long-winded story.

As I sat down at my desk near Hanazaki-san, he told me that I would have to visit a primary school soon. Apparently soon meant today.

At 10AM I was whisked away from the security of my desk and computer and was tossed into the backseat of a white Cherry Vanette (a popular mini van built by Nissan). My driver, whose name I did not learn for months - Hashimoto-san, explained to me (in Japanese) that when we arrived at Ichinosawa Sho Gakko (I now realized I was going to Ichinosawa Elementary School) for the afternoon seeing as how I had failed to provide weekly reports to the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education). Of course I didn't do reports. I'm from Canada, and unless you ask for one every week by actually asking about it every week, I'm going to conveniently forget about it. At least that's what I remember about this situation.

After a short 15 minute drive, Hashimoto-san removed my blindfold and handcuffs (he didn't have to apply the handcuffs and blindfold, that's just something he liked to do). Looking about, I certainly wasn't prepared for the sights before me. All I could think was: "Don't look now, Toto, but I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."

I was surrounded. Peeking through the car windows, standing on their toes were thousands of Munchkins--all of them jabbering away in a strange tongue I later came to call Munchkinese. Not having a command of the language, I was loathe to leave the sanctuary of the car. My hosts thought otherwise and dragged me screaming hysterically from the vehicle.

I was paraded through the school to the freezer room that funnily enough looked just like the unheated gymnasiums I had come to know through my 20 years of being a student back in Canada.
Pete Rose's haircut
Here I was welcomed to Munchkin Land by an eight-year-old boy with a Pete Rose haircut who screamed a welcome into a microphone - in English, thank goodness! I was touched.

Just like the movie The Wizard of Oz, it was evident I had nothing to fear from the tiny creatures.
We sat cross-legged on the cold, hard floor and began to build our own kites - because it was March and it was windy, and perhaps I could use it to escape Munchkin Land. I drew a rocket ship on my kite--one of the little fellows pointed at it and asked: "SCUD desu ka (Is it a S.C.U.D. missile?)"  Who the heck teaches little Munchkins this kind of stuff?
Anyhow, following the kite-building, there was a 20-minute autograph session. Who knew that the news of my new found sexual prowess had reached Munchkin Land? No, that couldn't be the reason--I'm sure I was the first real-life foreigner they had ever seen in the flesh. I suppose all the other foreigners they had met were on TV or in the movies, and are thus famous--ergo, all foreigners are famous, so we better get this guy's autograph just in case.
Finally, after running out of ink, we went outside to fly our kites, As luck would have it, we had a hurricane (sorry, typhoon)-like wind blowing.
Wonder of wonders! Our pathetic little kites worked! Aviation pioneers around the world would have been proud! But things in Munchkin Land are never as smooth as they would first appear. In this, my first ever attempt to fly a kite (really!), it flew up a few metres and crashed to the ground, killing one of the poor unfortunate Munchkins. He let out his death scream: "Bakayaro! (Ya stupid idiot!)", and then expired. Good grief.
My next attempt at kite flying was better as I managed to use up all 1,600 metres of string. Ah, what fun. There were kites and bodies everywhere as the poor Munchkins tried to get their creations in the air. I helped as many as I could--but when I tried to help a little girl Munchkin with hers, I asked a boy Munchkin to hold my kite. He hasn't been seen since. Perhaps he made it back to the Kansai Region (could that just be a misspelling of Kansas?)
Thankfully (for them), it was soon lunch time. They made me sit in a tiny chair at a tiny desk, with tiny amounts of food on a tiny plate. It was then that I first wondered if Munchkins were good to eat. Didn't matter anyway--I couldn't really use the tiny chopstick-like utensils they gave me that they called hashi.  
Afterward, they made me sing a song from my homeland--so I sang the Canadian National anthem, O Canada. I couldn't remember the words - stage fright, I guess - but my embarrassment quickly disappeared as I realized they didn't know the difference.
Next, they gave me one of their costumes--a large, dark blue tracksuit--and then really started to pile on the gifts they called omiyage. Then someone found another pen and they forced me to sign my name onto various parts of their hairless bodies. It was tattooing or branding, and I got the feeling they were saying we were now a part of one another.
After spending 20-minutes saying bai-bai (good-bye), Hashimoto-san drove me back to my apartment in Ohtawara. No handcuffs or blindfold was provided this time. Awwww.
Catching my breath, I examined the worth of the presents they had given me: cookies, candy, manga (comic books), flowers, photos, a hand-sewn hanky with my name on it, an Ultraman action figure, and potatoes (I got three of them!), I determined that visiting a primary school aka Munchkin Land can be very beneficial to one's knowledge of life in this strange country.
The next day, I was taken to Udakawa Primary School, where we did a lot of Conga Line dancing. PHOTOS.

Somewhere over the rainbow,
Andrew Joseph   
Today's title is played by Iron Maiden. Listen here with EDDIE.
PS: I wish I could show you a lot of the things I got that day - but I lost many things in a house fire a few years back. It really does suck. That handkerchief with my name on it was great--how long had they known I was coming?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Here's a little something I tossed out about one month into living in Japan. And like everything I write, it's all true. And to save time, the term gaijin means foreigner/outsider.

This little gaijin went to market...
and bought something that looked like a milk container
but it sure didn't look or taste like milk.

And this little gaijin stayed home...
because she didn't really like the Japanese folks
pointing and calling her a gaijin.

This little gaijin had roast beef...
and got food poisoning
because it wasn't really cow meat.

And this little gaijin had none...
because he didn't know how to shop
but that's a moot point because he couldn't cook either.

And this little gaijin went wee-wee-wee all the way home
because he refused to use
a Japanese toilet at work.

Somewhere four out of five gaijin in this story were me.
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by The Beatles - listen to them SQUEAL
I love the harpsichord - but the best part is McCartney's bass playing - it sounds like a grunting piggy!
PS: Personally, I didn't care if the Japanese would stare, point or call out the word "gaijin". In many instances, we were the first foreigners they may have seen up close and personal that wasn't on television or in the movies. Their actions were not malicious. As a visible minority growing up in Canada, I know the difference between shock and awe and bigotry. I never came across any bigots while in Japan. However, I'm sure they exist here - just like in every country or culture. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

I Will Follow

On Wednesday, October 17, 1990, I was invited to travel with the 3rd year students from Nozaki Chu Gakko (Nozaki Junior High School) on a trip to someplace called Nikko. Famous for the original Three Wise Monkeys (see HERE), I didn't know that at that time - to be honest, I knew absolutely nothing of Nikko - or Japan.
I'd only been here for two-and-a-half-months, and this was the first time I had traveled anywhere outside a small radius from my apartment - except for a homestay organized by one of my bosses, Kanemaru-san, from the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education).
I'll spare you the details of the long trip et al - because I have no recollection of it.
Nikko - it was a fairly dull day, grey day. It did not rain, but it had the night before. It was the day before  I was hit by a car while riding my bicycle - perhaps it's why I have no memory of my journey to and from Nikko. You can read about that HIT here.
Why were we going to Nikko? Again -not much is ever explained to me - or maybe it was, but it was probably done in Japanese... and that's okay... their country, their rules, I should figure it out. Twenty years later - I have a clue.
We went to see an annual festival called Nikko Toshogu. It's a two-day festival, with the first day showing off yabusame (horseback archery), and today's event: the sennin musha gyoretsu (Procession of a Thousand Warriors).
The procession/parade started at 11AM departing from Nikko Toshugu Shrine finishing at Otabisho near Shinkyo Bridge at 1PM. Shinkyo Bridge is one of Japan's most famous bridges - so I'll write about that soon.
What is the Toshugu Shrine? Well, the founder of the Edo Bakufu government was the Shogun (aka leader) named Tokugawa Ieyasu. He is enshrined within the Toshogu Shrine. Just outside the shrine, is a beautiful gate called Yomeimon that is decorated with detailed carvings of mythical creatures. (See Photo below).

I have taken a lot of photos of the procession - I'm not going to win any photography awards here, but you can get an idea of the types of costumes, the locale, the number of people there - and you get to see the six students who babysat me. PARADE.
Although... not one of my babysitters warned me that when I ate a snack food involving takko (octopus) on a stick (I was expecting a tentacle only), that the doughy ball was going to contain an entire baby octopus - crunchy beak and all. It was tasty, but the crunchiness in something you expect to be rubbery was a tad unnerving.

Somewhere still trying to digest everything I saw and ate,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is brought to you by U2. You can listen to their song: HERE.
PS: I have no idea who these kids are now. I'm sorry. They would all be about 34 or 35 in 2010 - if you are out there - let me know!
But... if you look at the photo at the top of this blog, you'll see two of the girls I was with join a line of priests - as a joke. I just love their spontaneity, and as such, it's one of my favourite photos taken by myself while in Japan. 

PPS: Check out the photos of my students... if you were ever curious about the fancy dress outfits worn by Japanese students, the photographic evidence will learn ya!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I'm An Adult Now

One day in January 1991 - just a few months in on my stay in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken in Japan, I was riding my bike, looking, if memory serves me correctly, for a way back to my apartment. Me and getting lost are partners in crime.
While I kept thinking I recognized where I was, truthfully, I did not. I just didn't want to admit to myself that I was lost. It's a childish part of me to be sure.
I was on a bicycle path, when I spied to the left of me, a temple - but what set it apart from all of the other ones I had seen these past four months, was the fact that there were a lot of people wandering about in what I could only assume were full traditional Japanese costumes. Young women in exotic-looking kimono, with a winter wrap, and young men in black suits.
I had absolutely no idea what everyone was doing here, so I did what any normal person would do - I asked someone.
I had previously placed my bicycle into a rack and was standing timidly at the entrance to the temple - unsure if it was a place I was allowed to enter--maybe it was something sacred and profane.
So... turning to the first man I saw, I said: "Konichi-wa (hello)".
"Ah! An-do-ryu-sensei! Konichi-wa! O-genki desu ka (Ah, Andrew-teacher! Hello! How are you?)"
"Genki desu. (I'm well). So.... (in English), what is going on here?"
(In English the man replies) "Ah! Eigo-ga wakirimasen! (I don't speak in English)"... (and then to emphasize the point he adds) "I donto speaku Engarish."
My response of "You just did." fell on deaf ears as the guy had already run away from me. Un-discouraged, I hid in the bushes near the entrance to pounce on my next victim. 
I saw a pretty young woman who would make an interesting person to pounce on, but remembered I needed information and not a prison sentence, I decided to wait for another guy... better safe than sorry.
As I settled back into a spot near the bushes (not in it), I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the first guy I met here... he was back with a priest. Both bowed to me - though the man again quickly ran off.
The priest--in halting English--explained to me what the heck was going on.
It was Adult Day (though I have since learned a more proper name for it is Coming of Age Day aka  成人の日 Seijin no Hi.) My host (see photo above of him blessing a red car in the hopes of turning it into a white car) said explained that this is a National Holiday (which explains why I had the day off, what with it being Monday and all) held on the second Monday of January.
Despite my weary protestations of how cold and wet it was - today, it was a nice day - almost Spring-like. In fact, the whole year (a week or so) had been warm enough to almost not need a coat.   
Anyhow... Adult Day is held to essentially congratulate everyone who has reached the age of 20 - the age of majority in Japan - over the past year. Congratulations! You are now an adult!
While the ceremonies are usually held in city offices, afterward, many visit temples like this one in Ohtawara-shi, and offer up prayer: "Thanks for helping me make it this far" or "Please oh kami (god), let me make it a bit further".
So, I guess this was kind of the tail end of the ceremony that I saw - though that priest opening up the car doors and the hood to pray over it - that was the best.

I shouldn't  laugh - and I'm not - but the Japanese do have hundreds of good luck charms that they hang from their rear view mirror to protect them. I suppose it's no different from the Christians who hang a rosary about them or car mirror. It is different from those of you who have placed a Native American Dream Catcher around their rear view mirror - people, are you nuts? Dream catchers are meant to capture your dreams! You aren't sleeping while you are driving are you? And that's why I dislike trampling over other people's religious beliefs without knowing what it is I am talking about.

Somewhere it's 20 years since I first got to Japan - though I'm still considered immature,
Andrew Joseph 
Today's title is brought to you by Toronto's The Pursuit Of Happiness: Awesome song! IHAVETOWRITESONGSABOUTWOMEN.
PS: You'll notice that the first person I talked to knew who I was - that was true. I don't believe there was a person in Ohtawara-shi who didn't know their local gaijin. I'm unsure if it was the same for Matthew - who lived IN Ohtawara, but taught in the villages outside of it. It's funny - I  have no idea where that boy taught!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Eight Miles High

I guess if I was to describe myself in one word, it would be 'complex'. But since I don't have to, the point is moot.
I have a new girlfriend. She's kind, funny and demure. She's also Japanese - meaning I've truly become comfortable here in Japan, as I was always slightly reluctant to become involved in a relationship where language was always going to be an issue. Fortunately for me, my love at first sight moment occurred at a junior high school I taught at when I met this Japanese teacher of English - Noboko. You can read about our first meeting HERE.
Noboko is perfectly happy staying at home watching television, though I'm still trying to get included in that activity. Her idea of fun, however, is something called hiking, or what she calls it: bush-walking.
Not a bad activity, you say? Well, I beg to differ. On our first excursion, she took me on the trail to Hell. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!
On a crisp Saturday morning, we set forth in tiny little pedal car to the area called Nasu Yama (Mount Nasu) (see top photo showing the Nasu mountain range after a major rain storm), in northern Tochigi-ken (Province of Tochigi). We drove until we came to an area at the base of the mountain called the "Life-Death Stone".
(See photo to right and below) The Life-Death Stone is actually a large area where nothing is able to grow because of either a high concentration of sulfur or a battle between some gods. Perhaps the gods used sulfur bombs, I don't know.
Why sulfur? Well, Nasu Yama is actually an active volcano - okay, maybe not burping fire and brimstone into the air, but it is constantly venting steam from various orifices.

We got out of our car and marched over to a trail hidden by some thick bushes. Why they don't put them out in the open where people can see them, I'll never know.
We glanced at a map at the start of the trail showing it to be 5.6 kilometres. Well... that's not so bad. I used to be athletic 10 or 11 years ago. And besides, it wasn't like I had stopped playing sports. I was sure I could beat anybody on darn near any video game.
Before starting off on the walk, I asked her if we had enough food and drinks. She shyly said she had packed us a lunch - Awwwww - and had a couple of soft drink cans, too. I had brought along an extra pair of track pants in case she fell down and got muddy, and a couple of sweat shirts in case it got cold up this snow-capped mountain that is venting hot steam.
We began hiking. Trees and plants and dirt everywhere. It was cool enough that there were no insects buzzing about. For that matter, there were no birds chirping, either. Hmmmm. No wildlife on a volcano.
Well, we did meet 40 people from an old folk's home who were staggering by in the opposite direction. The giggled when we told them we were going up the 5.6 kilometer trail - and we had no idea why. I always find it ominous when I see a mass exodus of people walking in the opposite direction I am going and laughing about it. Always.
After a couple of hours of hiking up a fairly steep incline, we stopped for lunch beside a small stream. I dipped my hands into the cool water to wash away the dirt that had accumulated after wiping out 14 times. My girlfriend, the mountain goat, was unscathed. A sign near the water said there was only 3.6 kilometres to go. We were traveling at one kilometre per hour. Yeesh. And when was this trail going to start heading back down.
We ate and drank everything. Not a good thing to do - after all, I hadn't seen any food vending machines in the past half-hour. Nor any people.
We marched on. Higher, higher, ever higher until we reached quite suddenly broke free of the trees. We looked around and noticed we were about three-quarters of the way up the mountain to the left of Mount Nasu. A sign said we only had two kilometres to go. To where? Dante didn't have this much climbing when he descended through the circles of Hell.

After five hours of climbing (it was now 3PM), we saw signs stating we were only 0.1 kilometres away from our goal. Thirty minutes later, we reached the top. I looked behind us and noticed a very dense fog moving in quickly. We were thirsty, and I was cold and hungry and really wanted a Coke or a beer. I was not a happy camper. Noboko? She was in her element as a mountain goddess.
We found a trail which led over to the Nasu Yama peak - which was news to me, as I had thought we were on the Nasu Yama peak. Noboko was moving with grace and agility towards it, while I was crawling and holding onto the rocks along the side - holding on for dear life as my fear of heights quickly amplified into severe vertigo. She actually came back to help me along by kicking my butt and calling me a chicken (in English!) With her helpful abuse, we made it over to Mount Nasu and its ropeway. A ropeway is apparently a cable car. Who knew? I'm glad it wasn't what I thought it was. (See photo at below showing the view from the top of Nasu Yama, with the rope car line and exit station below).

Because we had just missed a ride down, we had time to grab a quick lunch at a kiosk.
The trip back down was actually uneventful, except for my screams of mortal terror which delighted the large group of geriatrics in the cable car with us.
Anyhow, my girlfriend understood that I was too stupid to admit my cowardice beforehand, and that the Japanese don't know the difference between bush-walking and mountain climbing.
Since I wasn't needed to help her up the mountain...

Somewhere saving my videogame princess,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by The Byrds: LISTEN
PS: That fog that was rolling in, really did make the last leg of our journey quite perilous. We could see maybe three feet in front of us - and that was it. There were also venting steam holes maybe 10 feet away where the volcano was belching at us. Was it hot? Believe it or not, I wasn't stupid enough to stick my hand in and find out. Sorry.
PPS: What a day. It was pretty much a 12-hour journey from start to finish back at my apartment. Part of my problem was that I still had a sewer soaker from stepping into the open space where a sidewalk tile should have been (see HERE). Okay, and the fact that being in shape doesn't mean you can climb a volcano or do bush-walking. 
PPS: The Nasu volcano group consists of a N-S cluster of five stratovolcanoes and lava domes at the N end of the Kanto plain. According to Wikipedia, it consists of:
  • Sanbonyari Peak 1916.9m
  • Chausu Peak 1915m
  • Asahi Peak 1896m
  • Nangetsu-san Peak 1776m
  • Kuro-odani Peak 1589m
I have NO idea where I actually was now. Yeesh.