Thursday, December 15, 2005

A bit of seriousness for a moment…

I was seriously disturbed to hear that a fellow ALT and a good friend was assaulted by a ninensei (8th grade) student the other day. Apparently this kid is a 6 ft. + Goliath, and he straight up punched my friend in the face. It turned into the WWF Smackdown when other teachers intervened, the police were called and my friend had to go to the hospital to get checked out – I mean the works. This anomaly, in conjunction with a string of child murders that have occurred recently, have burst my Japanese-as-gentle bubble. Obviously, in a country with a population as large as this, there is bound to be some straight up what-the-fuckery, but it is something that I, and probably many ALTs, have not given any real thought to.

A few other things are coming to light such as the prevalence of hentai and rape porn and huge big box porn DVD/book stores, a general lackadaisical attitude in addressing problems with students, or just unpleasant problems in general, and a certain cultural isolation. The porn issue is a strange one because Japanese women are, for the most part, quite reserved in dress and action. Save for the high school girls who wear inappropriately short skirts, Japanese women don’t show as much skin as those in the West, if any at all. But there is a culture (I hesitate to call it a subculture because it is so insidious) that demotes women from humans to sexualized things to be consumed and expelled. I’ve seen Japanese porn in its 3-D and 2-D forms and I believe Western porn pales in comparison. I think what is particularly disturbing is how it features young looking characters in school uniforms being penetrated by obscenely huge members and/or things, all the while being depicted as simultaneously crying through and enjoying the experience. Go to any conbini, and you can pick up your own magazine or book. It’s interesting because these products are out in the open, yet there seems to be a sexual repression en masse. I’m not even going to get into my take on marriage, dating, foreign specific dating and sexual relations.

Another issue I’ve had firsthand experience with is the lack of foreign culture interest and exploration. This is to say that it seems than when “the other” enters the Japanese bubble, they are more than willing to ask questions and learn, and that’s great. However, most of my teachers of my school have never left Japan. A precious few have lived in other countries, but from what I can understand from the Japanese folk I talk to, most people don’t want to leave, even for a visit, because they love their country so much. I can understand this, as I love my country very much and I know that I will settle there, but I wonder if there is more at play here. Are they just scared? I don’t know and I’m not pretending to understand this aspect of the cultural psyche, but as time goes by, I hope to gather more information. Side note – I am more than aware that many Canadian and American’s have left their native soils, and while I find this a bit quizzical, it is more understandable as these countries are multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, while Japan is overwhelmingly heterogeneous. Save for international restaurants, multi-culturalism is non-existent here.

I’m not complaining at all, as I believe I have the exception-to-the-rule placement and my people seem to be pretty straightforward, honest, open and progressive (this may be attributed in part to having a sister city in Canada and yearly home stays). But I’ve read a few rants and heard stories from foreigners to backup ethnocentric stereotypes and theories. Regardless of this, I’m truly happy and not at all perturbed by this very alien culture (though the assault of my friend and the spate of child murders are more than a little disconcerting). I try to make no judgments just because things are different here. We all have our faults and I’m grateful that I’m just allowed to live my life the way I want. I guess I just had put this down as a sign that I have both feet on the ground. I have been very fortunate but I’m not naive.

With that being said, I suppose this is as good as time as any to announce that I will re-contract for a 2nd year. Everyone of note has been informed so I can tell my little e-world. I haven’t signed the document yet (they can sweat it out for a little while longer), but it’s pretty damn obvious to me (and probably to you, too). My abstract ideas are becoming more concrete every passing day, but it’s still too early to reveal them yet. Suffice to say, this experience has been above and beyond anything I could have possibly hoped for and believe there is much more for me to do here. And let’s be honest – I wouldn’t be able to fit all my travel plans into 12 months.

Wow, 2 posts in one day. I guess a byproduct of being cold all day is being more energetic. Lucky you, lucky me.
Gosh, things are getting busy…

Yesterday and today were snow days, and I’m actually glad that I had to go to school even though it seemed stupid and a tad dangerous to venture out. But I got a lot of work done for next week’s lessons and I got to update this thing as well. I have a couple of more hours to go before quitting time, but I’m sure I won’t be bored.

It was another awesome yet backbreaking morning at school today. All us teachers had to make a semblance of a path, and though there were no snowball fights or snow jobs, it was tons of fun:

It snowed all night and finally stopped sometime before noon today. I don’t know how much we got, but the snow was pretty high as I walked to school. I know it’s difficult to tell, but some of the teachers could have been buried alive if the natural snow walls collapsed…

But the sun is shining again and has started to melt the snow off the trees, but the white stuff is here to stay. I really don’t mind a bit.

I will be heading to Ena-cho to visit Dave tomorrow, which is about 3 hours from me. I’ll be doing a bit of shopping, a bit of eating and a lot of chilling. Then I’m off to a nice ALT Christmas party at Jeff’s place, which isn’t too far from me. I’m going to try to go to sports activities on Monday or Tuesday or both (if not, I’ll just work out with Billy Blanks); have my English conversation class on Wednesda; go to my work bonenkai (year end party) on Thursday and then crash at Druinie’s for the night, and then finally, travel to Osaka to get to Kansai International Airport to meet Melissa and her friend Teresa and fly to Beijing! There are still some last minute details to iron out, but we’re almost at the finish line. I know that I’ll experience some culture shock in China because it’s nothing like Japan, but I’m all about the adventure (except when it comes to public toilets). But I’m sure the food will more than make up for it. But then again, there’s that small matter of bird flu to consider…

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The snow brings out the kid in everybody…

Today Neo JHS and Elementary School had their first snow day of the season, and what a day it was! Neo mura is the proud bearer of the Most Snowfall in Gifu-ken Title. This morning, we weighed in at 126 cm, and it’s still snowing. The kids were safe at home while the teachers had to drag their assess to school, and I was cursing this fact like a semi-retarded sailor when I woke up this morning. Luckily, I wasn’t too despicable as I slept with my denki (electric) heater all night. I hauled ass and left my apartment 10 minutes earlier to meet my neighbours and we proceeded to shovel the car out of the snow. What was normally a 2 minute drive turned into a 15 minute odyssey into the Great White school parking lot. Takayama-sensei was the first to arrive and attempted to plow through the snow with his 4x4 and actually made good headway…until he got stuck. So we had to double back to the jutaku (teacher’s residence) and park in the driveway. We then took the treacherous walk along Route 157 to get to the JHS. It took us about 15 minutes to walk back and then we had to get to the building. By this time, the snow was around waist high and people were falling into the soft, soft snow. Luckily, this fate did not befall me as I was bringing up the rear (heh heh). We finally made it into the building and then left again to shovel a pathway for cars. Unfortunately, things just degenerated into a snowball war between the men (Usami and Moutou senseis) and the women (Kawai and Fukuda senseis, and I), complete with snow jobs, collapsed forts and snowy treason. I failed to mention that Usami sensei is the P.E. teacher, so he kicked our asses, but we didn’t go down without a fight. Obviously, we had too much fun as we jumped into the snow and made each other eat it. I’ve seen these people animated before, but never like this. We returned to the teacher’s room about an hour later, cold, wet, tired, hungry and satiated.

The fun and games didn’t end there as we had to prepare lunch for ourselves. Luckily, Tomomi the homemaking sensei was present and the women (ahhh sexism, so omnipotent!) got down to preparing homemade takoyaki (pieces of octopus covered in dough and cooked until golden brown), onigiri (a triangle shaped rice “ball” with some kind of stuffing), miso soup, skaimono (pickled daikon [radish]) and tea. It was really delicious and it was so fun to cook with these women, even though a few were pissed off when I pointed out the gender inequality…

After lunch, kocho sensei, the science teacher and I went around Neo to survey the awesome spectacle of snow in a mountain village. I think the photos can speak for themselves:

Gosh, you’d think I’ve never seen snow before, but never this much, even when vacationing in Northern Quebec. I’m going to Nagoya this weekend so I will be sure to pick up some decent boots and a snowsuit. Wish me luck!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The snow started falling a week ago...

But thankfully, a lot of it is gone. But I had quite a bit of fun in it. We got 40 cms in about 36 hours, so on Tuesday, I had some snow fun with my elementary kids. I wish I had photos because it was so fun. I got to fire snowballs at them and give them snow jobs and laugh gleefully when I pelted them in the chest and back areas. But trust me, it was an unfair fight. There were about 10 of them making snowballs as big as their head and launching them at me at the same time. I actually had to stop and explain the rules: no hitting Kaki sensei in the head (those who are close to me know I can't take it when my head gets hit), and no snowballs bigger than a fist. But I got my revenge on the kiddies and my throat was hoarse with laughter. Good times.

The arrival of the snow also made me realize how shit my boots are and that I will need to buy a new pair ASAP. I'm looking at these:
The unfortunate things is if I find these in Japan they may cost me around 300$ CDN. Though I have bitched about Uggs in the past, these are quite sexy and would look great with jeans or a short skirt. That really hurts but I need good quality boots now, especially since I don't have a car...

Well, it's Sunday night and I had a really good weekend. Dave and Shiloh came over and we went to the onsen to soak our week away. Though the temperature was around 0 degrees, we took our naked bodies outside and enjoyed the contrast of temperatures on our skin. We also talked ourselves into near oblivion and realized that we were late in meeting Dave. After we spent 100 yen on a massage chair, we got a bite to eat and headed to my place for a spot of tea and some Family Guy. Later on, we headed to town for dinner and had an amazing meal at a Chinese restaurant we've never been too. We had a helluva time ordering, but we got everything we wanted and then some. It was truly a mouth watering and satisfying experience...
Well, I'll be leaving to China in about a couple of weeks and I'm so excited. I'm looking forward to the exploring and the eating and the adventure. I hope it goes smoothly, but of course it will all be written about here, possibly while I am there.

Feeling sleepy. Time for a shower. Oh yes, I started seeing my breath in my apartment on Monday. This is not alarming considering the inadequate insulation in Japanese buildings. My co-workers are genuinely surprised by the fact that buildings have insulation and central heating/baseboards in Canada. I will never understand it. Okay, it goes to about -5 here, but still, when you can see your breath indoors, there's a problem.

Also, I went to dinner on two seperate occasions at a neighbour/co-worker's apartment. The Japanese don't usually invite people over so it was a nice feeling to be in her home for a nice home cooked meal. Luckily, I wasn't alone because she doesn't speak any English, but it was quite fun.

Til next time.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The snow has started falling...

It's beautiful outside. The snowflakes are fat and delicious and as I was observing them, I was struck with the feeling that Japanese snow was somehow different from Canadian snow. I know that must seem weird, but up here in the mountains where I'm far away from a fast paced life, it just felt so far removed. I don't know. But I like it.

I had a fab weekend in Neo. Yes, that's right. I stayed home. For the whole weekend. My first since getting here. Granted, I had company, but it was delicious. Phone calls home. Finally giving my apartment a thorough scrubbing. Curry chicken with brown rice, snacking on Pocky, feasting on (Japanese)sausages, hash browns and hard boiled eggs. Watching Family Guy, Trainspotting and Catch Me If You Can. Lounging in the warmth of a kerosene heater, far away from the city, from making plans, from everything. It was the sweetest thing.

I don't really have anything to report except that, and the fact that I rocked in the classroom last week. My JTE was late for 3 classes, so rather than twiddling my thumbs with the kids, I told them to go ahead and open the class ("Let's study English! Yes, let's study English!"), and led them into spelling games and discussions about their weekend plans. It may not seem like a lot, but it was definitely indicative of how well I've settled here and how easy things are at school. Well, most of the time. I had an absolutely crazy ninensei shogakko class -I was sure someone put crystal meth in their miso soup. Absolutely fucking bonkers. I couldn't believe my eyes and ears, but god, aren't they stil cute even when they are out of control???

Goodnight. Sweet dreams.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

What makes/keeps me happy...

So I recently informed you about the absolute kindness of the people around me. From the beautiful cream coloured scarf I received, to the gifts of food, the little things remind me of the beauty of people and the comfort one can receive from things. So here is my list of what makes and keeps me happy.

1) Getting gifts/treats. Okay, I know this sounds a little wrong, but think about it: how do you feel when you receive a gift that is totally out of the blue? Amazing, right? Well, that's what I'm talking about. It means so much when at the end of a rigorous work day, you receive a couple of ripe kakis (persimmons), or a little box of mini cheesecakes. Or when your neighbour brings you a container of homemade food, just because she was trying out a recipe and had you in mind. I've been caught like a deer in the headlights when I receive gifts, but it never fails to amaze me just how grateful I am. Honestly, arigato gozaimasu is simply never enough.

2) Being adored by children/teenagers. Ok, I'm a bit of an attention whore, and let's face it - being Black in Japan warrants a heck of a lot of attention. But nothing really compares when the elementary school aged children think you're hot shit because you can jump really high, skip really fast, say somethings in Japanese or when you can write a non-sensical paragraph in hiragana. Seriously, these kids go apeshit and make me feel about 6 feet tall and 15 pounds lighter. I love hearing them scream their "sugoi's" and giggling when I'm being a goof. I also love it when the JHS kids think I'm cool when I talk about Hard Gay and Orange Range or sumo. It didn't take too long to win their respect, but now that I have it, I don't take it for granted.

3) Living in a very decent apartment. I've never actually lived in a honest to goodness shithole. I've had apartments that weren't the greatest, but never a shithole. But I've seen some and I can clearly imagine it, so I am very happy with my apartment. It's fairly new, clean, has all the amenities, comfortable, roomy enough for several people to hang out comfortably and just the right size for me. I am very grateful for that. And I'm really happy that I have these two bad boys, plus my A/C/heater and kotatsu (coffee table with a heater underneath) to keep me warm. My only gripe is that it doesn't have central heating, but this is symptomatic of all Japanese structures.

4) Packages from home. It's the end of the day at the shogakko (elementary school). The kids have been super genky all frickin day, you're hungry, you're tired but you still have to keep going until at least 4:30. But then there is a knock at the door, and the mailman has a package...with a red, white and blue symbol. It's the Canada Post symbol. The package is for you! You wave your hand before he can even say your name. You try to be patient and open it in the privacy of your home, but you can' wait, you just can't wait. Rip envelope. Spill contents on the desk. Hug the contents. Sigh. The other day I received another package from one of my sisters. I knew what was going to be in it, but still, to receive it was such a joy. I've been pouring over my Glamour and Essence magazines like a coke addict, and I did the Tae Bo tape the afternoon I got it. Really, who needs food, money and sex when you've got that??!? (Ok, I confess, I need all the others too, but packages from home is THE SHIT). Thanks, Lisa.

5) Invitations out of the blue. I went to a yaki niku (BBQ meat, as in grill your own, fool!) restaurant the other night with a couple of ladies I play indiaka with and two of my neighbours. Even with the language awkwardness, it was a fun evening with lots of great food, jokes and dare I say, bonding. And the most awesome part was that we only had to pay half of what was owed because the payee insisted on that. I love that.

6) Gettin O Magazine in the mail. Ok, so there are 2 issues missing from my subscription and I was checking my mailbox everyday like it's going out of style, but when it came, I nearly did the dance of joy. I love Oprah, I love magazines, I love reading. This is a no brainer.

7) North American television shows. I think there may be a total of 4 English shows here, including Murder, She Wrote! (Go get 'em, Jessica). But it's an absolute pleasure to watch t.v. in your native language, you have no idea! What's even better, though, is watching the latest shows in English. Unfortunately, I only have an ISDN connection so it takes way too long to download, but when I get to watch them, I'm tickled pink.

8) Having great friends in this country. I believe that one truly needs to have the love and support of friends and family in order to survive. I have brillant friends and an awesome family who love me back home. But unfortunatley, they are not here, and though I miss them wildly, I am so happy, and I feel so blessed to have amazing friends here. Thought I've only lived in this country for 4 months, I feel like I've forged good, solid relationships with people from all over the world. They make me laugh, they are dependable and we share at least one common bond (Japan). And that makes me feel safe and warm, and all gooey inside.

9) Being surrounded by nature. My friend/predecessor Dave said he took for granted the natural beauty of Neo and really regrets it. I am aware of his mistake and I use all my senses when I'm outside to fully appreciate my surroundings. It is so beautiful here, it's breathtaking. Sure it's cold, but I wouldn't want it any other way. I mean, I saw snow falling on the mountains further north yesterday, and it was amazing. Simply beautiful. I'm a lucky miss.

10) Living in the moment. It was extremely tough for me to live in the moment prior to getting here. But Japan has already taught me the importance of doing so. I'm so plugged in, it's dangerous. I guess it's a combination of still being wonderstruck, of not knowing what the future brings, and simply being content in my relatively quiet country life (well for 4-5 days out of the week, anyway).

So there you have it. I've been meaning to share this for a while, but whoop, there it is.