Friday, February 26, 2010

Birthday

Thursday, November 8, 1990.

Today, I am 26. Aaaaaargh!

Well, it's my birthday. It's 7AM and I'm wondering when my parents will phone. It's a good feeling of security to realize that it's never an instance of wondering IF they will phone. Will they realize that Japan has no day-light saving's time? My worries are quickly squashed as they call a mere 15 minutes later after I get out of bed.

We chat only for 10 minutes. I talk to Grandpa for the first time since I left Toronto. I wonder how many more times I'll get to do that. Damn, that's morbid, but I suppose that is what happens when you start to get old enough to rue another birthday.

My folks ask about the girlfriend and my trip to Osaka and if I miss writing for the Toronto Star newspaper. Mom says there's a big package winging its way over to me and that my brother Ben will call on the weekend. I hope so.

School is boring. I do very little as Ken Sasanuma-sensei of Chikasono Junior High School explains everything in Japanese, as apparently the first-year class is unable to grasp the concept of Simon Sez. Hell, who does?

Tochigi AET leader Mary Mueller calls me at school and sings Happy Birthday to me. Wow. If only - naw! How the heck does she have the guts to not only call me at school, but figure out the phone number and talk enough Japanese to inform my school that she wants to talk to me?! Awesome!

My class of second-years and I talk about Canada for 30 minutes. It was a nice surprise. And while I wasn't prepared for it, it was about Canada - so how could it go wrong?

I visit the English club after school - they are great! I explain all of the underground slang words, gestures and sayings, like: How's it going, man (dude)? Cool. Ciao. See you. Take care. Eat my shorts (big laugh there!).
Chicken. Scaredy cat. I then mentioned to them the English disparity regarding Japanese-English slogans for "Speak Lark" and "I feel Coke" and bad English on clothing. Click HEAR (sic) for a previous blog on Japlish.

The club is totally fun. I then showed them the bad hand gestures like F.U., and... Well, that's pretty much it. Turns out they already knew that one. Still, wow! What a birthday present.

After class, one girl came up and wished me a happy birthday. She's really short ­ 4-foot-something, but really cute! Three other girls ask me for my home address to write to my brother Ben. How could I refuse my little
brother? I hope they write to him. I'd love to see his expression when he tries to read their letters. Ha-ha!

I head home at 5:10PM. Ashley is already there. Hands on her hips, she says in a Southern accent more Southern than usual: "What the heck are ya'll doing home so soon?" I guess she was going to fix the place up a little for my birthday. She's in a great mood, which raises my already good mood higher.

I had received a postcard from one of the students from Nozaki Chu Gakko, named Reiko, who wished me a happy birthday and asked a lot of friendly personal questions. It was beautiful. It's stuff like that that makes me glad I came to Japan. Other stuff like Ashley and Matthew, well, that goes without saying.

Matthew arrives at 6PM and Tim Mould (Kuroiso AET) comes at 6:10PM. Ashley gives me lots of kisses, flowers, a bottle of Kaluha and a set of dark crystal glasses and ice bucket. It's really beautiful. I'm so glad I
didn't go out on Monday or Tuesday and buy a replacement bottle of Kaluha. Matthew¹s present will come from Tokyo next week. Tim gives me a Lego F-1 race car. Neat!

Tim was given a real car by his employers ­ for travel purposes ­ lucky bugger. I'm not envious. I've seen the way people drive over here and I'm sure I don't want to be a part of it. His car is a Honda C ty  - the 'i' is missing. He drives all of us over the 3 Knights restaurant. Ashley orders a Shell au gratin appetizer and is shocked when it comes as a scallop. She thought it was going to be a pasta shell. Ha. My veal is wine-soaked and
tastes great as is my escargot. I have a tasty dark Guinness and a Labatt's Blue. Canada, eh?! It's a nice, quiet dinner. The waiters/owners attempt to talk Japanese to me ­ not the other three. Not even Matthew who in my mind can speak Japanese fairly well.

We don't understand a word we say to each other. I'm sure he laughed about it later, just as I did.

After the wonderful meal, we head back to my place and pop in a couple of Star Trek videos - the Borg episodes - and make some popcorn, drink a lot of beer and get a phone call from Kanemaru-san's little boy, Tomohiro. He says "Happy birthday, An-do-ryu". Damn. That's sweet. I nearly start to cry. I can't believe how great that is. I wonder if I ever will.

After the shows, everyone leaves and I escort Ashley home on our bicycles. It's the first time in a month I've been over. Too long, but then she's always over at my larger, warmer and place that contains Western-style furniture.

Talk, kiss and sleep. Together. Warm. Cozy. Secure. Happy. At least that's how I feel at this moment.

Somewhere looking for a birthday cake,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I, Me, Mine

Wednesday, November 7, 1990

Today is the last day of my self-introductions. The Chikasono Junior High School 1-1 class (class number one, of the grade 7¹s or first year's) actually ask me questions.

The 3-2 class (class number two of the grade 9's of third year's) is my 72nd and last self-introduction. When class ends at 11:30AM, I toss up my hands and say Yee-haw! People look me funnily, but chalk it up to my strange foreign ways.

I play video games on the school's computer, eat lunch again with the principal and vice-principal  - it's not natto, but a very tasty meat and vegetable stew that warms me up from the chilly day. It's about 7C outside
and inside‹there¹s no central heating in these schools. In fact, heat is derived from a boiler moved into each room when it gets really cold - apparently, this is not considered really cold despite the shivering students, teachers and gaijin (me).

After lunch I watch a kendo (Japanese fencing) class hammer a tractor tire with their wooden practice swords to develop good striking technique. Looks like it's working. I'll have to remind myself to never to piss off a
teenager in Japan in case they know judo, kyudo or kendo.

In the afternoon classes, we play'"Guess the word' featuring: "I like to watch ­(blank)".  Unfortunately, it takes 25 minutes for Sasanuma-sensei to explain the instructions to the kids (in Japanese). Hey! At least he tried something different! Apparently, the kids who were unable to answer a translation of the blank word room English to Japanese would be forced to stand until it was their turn to answer again. There were 30 kids in the class. Last kid sitting wins.

I real aloud the questions (about Australia) from a book. Yawn.

After school I join the table-tennis club and hold my own against these Olympic-level athletes whom I am sure are taking it easy on me. After I leave the gym, I can hear the speed of the ping-pong ball suddenly get louder and faster. Yup. They definitely took it easy on me. What nice kids.

I head home with Sasanuma-sensei at 5:15PM. Ashley¹s already there, and so is a package. It¹s from Jeff Seaman, a cool dude from Yuba City, California who accidentally stepped in a Japanese commode on our second night in Japan. There but for the grace of stronger kidneys plod I.

Jeff has sent me comic books. Jeff knows I have a large collection ­ around 20,0000 in 1990 ­ and Jeff, well, he wrote his Master¹s thesis on Batman: The Dark Knight, a four-issue graphic novel that redefined the super-hero as an anti-hero. Besides his choice of thesis material, Jeff is so even-keeled, charming and witty, there¹s nothing there to dislike.

No time to read the books right now, though. I hop in the shower and wait for Kanemaru-san to come and pick us (Ashley and I) up for kyudo. Every Wednesday.

I'm still pretty pissy, however when we go to kyudo. For one and a half hours I sulk as I can't participate because of my still sore ribs. Nothing broke, but I did bruise the bone‹and that always takes longer to heal than a break.

After Kanemaru-san drops us off back at my place, Naoko and Suzuki-san of the Ohtawara International Friendship Association drop by and I agree to start teaching on a full-time basis on Mondays at 7PM beginning December 10 & 17 (before the Christmas break) (Hey! Are they celebrating Christmas over here???!!) doing one-and-a-half hour classes. Ashley declines to teach, but Matthew joins up. He will teach the more advanced students owing to his more advanced Japanese language skills. I'm still not sure where or when he learned that, but even after just three-plus months here, he is light-years ahead of me on trying to pick up the Japanese language and Japanese women.

Suzuki-san gives Ashley and I a Christmas cactus and explains that it is supposed to bloom in Christmas. It's blooming right now, though.

Ashley and I relax, eat pizza, drink Coke and watch videos. Someone phones and hangs-up. Matthew comes over. Drunk. Damn. No sugar tonight. One day, I will get him back by snoring so loud at his house in Vermont that no one there will get any sleep. Hee-hee.

They all leave at 10PM. I call Jeff and thank him profusely for his kind gift in advance of my birthday in a couple of days. He's the only one in this country who calls me A.J., which is what all my friends back home call me. Who's Andrew?

I clean-up and am in bed by 11:30. I¹m too tired to do any ironing though. It may sound stupid, but prior to arriving in Japan, I had never ironed before, but there is something cathartic about it. I do a lot of ironing in
Japan.

Somewhere holding my own (thanks, Matthew),
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Kids Are Alright

Tuesday, November 6, 1990

I’m visiting Chikasono Chu Gakko this week. If I suffered from hangovers, this would be a good time to have one, but I’m not hungover. I never get hangovers. It makes it easier to drink when the worst problem is puking, but still being able to get up and be a functioning human being. No. I did not puke. I’m not a puker.
I meet Sasnanuma Kenichi (Ken Sasanuma), the English teacher at Chikasono. Who drives me to school in his race car (see VROOM for that story).
The school is stuck in the middle of some farmland—and from what I can tell, the kids are polite, shy and not as well off as their brethren at Wakakusa and Ohtawara Chu Gakkos.
In the teacher’s lounge, I chat with the principal (Ko-cho sensei) for about 10 minutes – his English is understandable, though not perfect. I’m sure he studied it well when he was younger, but 35 years later he probably never had much of a chance to talk to a native English speaker until myself and my predecessor Cheryl Menezes.
He shows me the blue-prints concerning the reconstruction of the school over the next two years. Newer, bigger and similar to the rest of the junior high schools in Ohtawara-shi (city).
The Phys Ed. teacher comes by and tells me all about bonsai trees promising to show me his trees later. Sounds interesting.
The opening school assembly is okay. I get a standing ovation from everyone, and I’d turn red if my complexion would let me. I sit on a chair on the stage while the ko-cho sensei speaks to the assembly about me. I then stand and listen to a welcoming speech given to me by a third year (grade 9) boy who does so in English. He speaks very well, indeed.
then give a speech in English that is translated immediately by Sasanuma-sensei – who’s English is superb. I talk about how I promise to try and speak to them in Japanese if they first try to speak to me in English. An international exchange, if you will.
There were no flowers for Andre, as apparently the florist screwed up – but I’m told I’ll get them on Friday before I leave. No big deal. I'm a guy. What do I know about flowers?
Teaching – I give four self introductions and make everyone laugh. The students are too shy to ask me any questions, so I start asking them questions about themselves – funny personal stuff that loosens everyone up.
I like that. School shouldn’t be so dismal. I want them to know that foreigners aren’t so foreign. I’m sure it’s not like that for all of the other schools where my fellow AETs teach. I’ve met hundreds of them already – and they seem to have a personality disorder. People like Matthew and I have a personality, and most of the others do not. Enough of the rant.
I eat lunch—it’s natto, and at this point in time, it’s not something I even want to at—with the teachers in the office and show them my photos of my life in Toronto. Basically, it’s another self-introduction, but it’s fun, so who cares. Still… life in an envelope.
After school, I go with Sasanuma-sensei (I call him Ken) and watch him do road work with the school’s long distance running team. They run. We follow in the race car. I’m exhausted and nearly fall asleep, which I guess Ken picks up on so he drives me home after the club activities.
Actually, he drops me off at the Nakamura barber shop in downtown Ohtawara that’s about a five-minute walk from my house. Yes, everything is a five-minute walk from my house. The barber there is Muneo Nakamura, one of the nice young gents from the Kokusao-Kouryuu-kai (Ohtawara International Friendship Association). Not only does he wash and cut my hair, he gives me a shave with a straight razor, and shaves my forehead and ears before giving the best massage I’ve ever had. I’d marry him just for that.
Afterwards, I go shopping at the local Momeseya for groceries and head home. There’s an Aerogramme (airmail) envelope on my table from Ashley. I suppose she noticed the letter from her sister Kerry on a table. Ashley writes that her sister thinks I’m a little homesick. Sure I am. But when I wrote to her, I was probably more confused about my relationship with Ashley and wanted her sister to know, in case she felt like talking to her about it. If she did, I never ever learned about it.
I call Ashley and small talk for 10 minutes. I make dinner—beef croque and corn soup (okay, I heated up a pre-cooked meal) and pass out at around 9:30PM. Must be getting old.
There’s no phone call from the Nozaki pain.
Somewhere Zzzzzzz,
Andrew Joseph

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fight For Your Right (To Party)

Monday, November 5, 1990

I’m up at 7:15AM. It’s an office day at the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) offices. I’ve been here for three months and I’ve got a routine going. I don’t have to do any real work at the OBOE, so I prepare all of my writing for the Tatami Times—the monthly newsletter for the Tochigi-ken AETs (Assisitant English Teachers). Hey, where do you think I first got the idea for a It’s A Wonderful Rife column. It was reasonably popular and I know I had it published in three OTHER prefectures (provinces) besides Tochigi-ken—plus in another English-language magazine in Tochigi-ken’s capital city of Utsonomiya. But that’s later.
Back to the now that is then.
At 5PM, I leave work. Did you know that in Japan the average Japanese worker NEVER leaves his place of work until his boss does? To do so shows a lack of commitment and means a loss of face—two no-no’s in Japanese society.
Me, not being Japanese, I leave at 4PM (an hour early), though I usually wait until 5PM or when Hanazaki-san says it’s okay for me to leave. I am in their country… I don’t want to spit on social customs too much.
Leaving the OBOE, I post my Tatami Times stuff to current editor Gasoline (Catherine Komlodi), and then head over to the bank and its ATM machine. Walking past, I notice Mayor Sembo waving at me and I reciprocate. No hangover for us!
At home, there’s a letter for me from Ashley’s sister, Kerry. How special. She sounds like a nice girl. She’s asked me to write back. Do I? How did she get my address?
Am I supposed to go to an enkai (party) tonight. Is Ashley coming over top my place? In my mind, it's "No", to both. I’m going shopping.
I’m home at 5:15PM. Kanemaru-san phones. He wants me at the OBOE enkai. Where is it? Kanemaru-san isn’t able to articulate it in English, so he says good-bye. Five minutes later, Matthew phones to say hi. Five minutes after that, my Nozaki Chu Gakko (Nozaki Jujnior High School) pain calls, drops the phone and accidentally hangs-up. Five minutes later, Hanazaki-san calls and says he’ll be over shortly to take me to the enkai. Five minutes later he’s at my apartment – and we walk over to a small restaurant where we have a large room all to our office-selves.
I’m exhausted. I tell him on the walk over (For the sake of comedy, it’s a five minute walk) about the Nozaki boy’s phone calls and ask him to make it stop. I haven’t even been to Nozaki yet, and I’m dreading it. Hanazaki-san promises to look into it. Unlike a lot of Westerners, when the Japanese say they will do something, they do it. If they say maybe or suck air through their teeth, it means it probably won’t happen. They don’t say no to a request… just a maybe or a yes.
The party is for the 20th work anniversary of Mrs. Ookubo and Mr. Hashimoto – the car driver (Ookubo-san is to the far right, and Hashimoto-san is to my immediate left). Look at that! It took me three months plus, but I finally know the name of the poor bugger who’s been driving me (and Hanazaki-san and Kanemaru-san) all over the place on work-related business.
Hashimoto-san says he will give me a bonsai tree (bonsai involves tree bondage to shape a full-sized tree into a dwarf version that fits in a pot). He’s drunk, so I don’t hold much stock in his kind offer. Mr. Mori dances with me, which isn’t as gay as you might think. We’re all drunk and having fun!
I sing karaoke – the Beatles Yesterday, which reminds me that I’m homesick a bit. However, I’m very drunk and manage to blurt out that I am ‘thinking’ of staying a second year in Ohtawara. In case you all forgot, we are offered three one-year contracts… though we don’t have to be offered anything, nor do we have to accept it. I've only been here for three months and I'm thinking about a second year?! Am I nuts or drunk?
Anyhow… I get a standing ovation. Not my idea to upstage the two folks who’s party it is.
I’m really tired and drunk, but it doesn’t stop our party from joining the enkai in the restaurant room next door. Apparently the elementary school I visited one afternoon (can’t remember the school) is having a party for the upcoming retirement of its principal Mr. Fukishima (ko-cho sensei or principal). He speaks English and is a real nice guy, so I agree to come and visit him at his school again on December 14.
Party over, Hashimoto-san, Kanemaru-san and Hanzaki-san and I head over to a sushi place near the middle of town that’s about a five-minute walk from our restaurant.
On the way there, the three of them kept staggering out from the sidewalk onto the road, and I had to keep herding them away from the traffic.
The guys order a butt-load of sake, while I try to stick with beer—as I have vague memories of my last encounter with sake back in August. See BLAARRGH for that story.
Kanemaru-san in his infinite wisdom and drunken state confides with Hanazaki-san that Ashley isn’t as smart as me. He says that while he has an arm around me to prop himself up at the table where we are sitting. Apparently he’s noticed that when we’re at kyudo (Japanese archery) and he’s speaking Japanese, I translate what he is saying into English for her. Hunh. I wonder when I started to understand the lingo? Of course, I do spend an inordinate amount of time talking with anyone and everyone. I guess it was bound to rub off.
Still at the restauranr/bar, Hanzaki-san keeps wanting to fall asleep with sushi in his mouth.
Hashimmoto’s wife arrives, bows at us, slaps her husband on the back of the head and drags his staggering form out to their car.
Kanemaru-san’s wife comes to pick up her husband, bows and slaps the back of his head, hands him a cigarette and helps him to their car. She drove from some function about 40 minutes away to pick him up.
Hanazaki-san and I stagger home. I offer to walk with him to his house first, but he insists he escort me back to my place. I pull him out of the way of an oncoming car and reluctantly agree.
I’m home by 10:30PM and in bed spinning by 11:30PM. I am dead tired, but I enjoyed myself thoroughly tonight. The OBOE are pretty cool people – all of them.
Somewhere holding onto the sides of my futon,
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Have A Drink On Me

Sunday, November 4, 1990.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that half a bottle of Kaluha was the beginning of me using alcohol as a crutch. Not where it became a problem, but still…
Ashley left at 10:30AM – maybe to go find a church, or perhaps to convert more unbelievers. What? I’m in a country filled with Buddhists! I know that Buddhism is more of a philosophy rather than a religion…
I clean up the apartment and fish tank and notice that me new goldfish has survived the rigors of festival life.
I then begin tackling the den and room on closet rooms (the two rooms on either side of my bedroom) when the phone rings. It’s the boy from Nozaki Junior High School who somehow has my number and likes to call and say hello – something he does everyday since I’ve been here in Ohtawara. He calls five more times. I think he even puts on his little sister who says “Good morning.” It’s 7PM! Obviously it’s a lot of cleaning that I do. Mostly it’s about putting away the goods I brought with me from Canada.
When Matthew calls, I grab the phone and almost tell him where to go assuming it’s my little pest. It’s my big pest, but him I don’t mind talking to. Matthew asks if I want to go an Ohtawara Friendship Association party. We go. We get blasted. Dance with a lot of cute women… including Naoko. Does she want me? She’s seems smarter than that, so I’ll assume ‘no’.
Later, a bunch of us go to a pub. Mayor Sembo is there and joins us. He buys me a whiskey which tastes pretty good right about now, so I know I’m blitzed because I hate whiskey. We all sing karaoke, before I stagger out for a five-minute walk home at 9:30PM. Arriving 30-minutes later, I realize I’ve forgotten to tape a movie for Ashley. That’s not going to be pretty.
I watch more television and go to sleep at midnight.
Somewhere the room is spinning,
Andrew Joseph

Life Is A Carnival

Saturday, November 3, 1990

I’m up at 7:30AM and I already feel exhausted thanks to the drinks and the panic. I dress in jeans and a t-shirt and head over to the festival located at the Nihon Tobacco Company Grounds, find the stage set up for my big radio interview that will apparently be done live on-stage for the town to see. I see the happy Mayor Sembo who comes over to shake my hand. The radio crew see him talking to me and figure I must be the guy they are going to interview. They are correct.
My first question by the CRT Tochigi radio network is in Japanese. I answer them with a flat “No.” They all look horrified. So, I smile like I’m joking and say I don’t speak Japanese.
The lady disc jockey asking the questions smiles and asks me her question in English – thank goodness it’s the real basic stuff, which she can easily translate back into Japanese for her audience.
"What do you think of Ohtawara?"
"How are the students?"
"Do you like Japanese girls?" She said this and squeezed my left leg just above my knee.
There were a few other questions, but after she squeezed my leg, I don't remember specifics... I'm sure I supplied candid rote answers. When it was over (after five minutes), she squeezed my leg again. She’s cute, but seems kind of old – maybe 40. (I see the irony of writing this out in the blog at the age of 45).
I wander around the festival and meet three girls from New Zealand – 14 and under, named Fiona, Rebecca and Melissa (see photo) who are in Japan because their dad is working for a Japanese company on a six month exchange. The youngest, Fiona, catches a goldfish for me in a game of chance, as I mentioned I have an aquarium.
These young kids like me because I don’t treat them like kids… I treat them like people. Everybody’s happy. And then I run into Ashley. She seems distant and bitchy and is looking for the Ohtawara Friendship Association. I accidentally steer her the wrong way before realizing it’s only about 15 feet from where I’m chatting with the Kiwi’s.
After she tracks them down, Ashley comes back to inform me that they want me to come and play the clarinet. I tell them I forgot mine at home in the rush this morning. She tells me they have one waiting for me. Zoinks!
While trying to tell them my ribs were still hurting from the car-bicycle accidents and it’s difficult to blow, they pretend they don’t understand English. Which they don't, so I'm screwed.
I play something for them – St. Louis Blues – a Dixieland piece (the clickable version is kindda how I played it, but with the clarinet doing the lead) to raucous applause, do some bowing, grab a Coke and leave to go purchase a table with short legs made of some very dark wood. The table sits maybe four inches high. I don’t know what to do with it, but it looks cool.
When I return, I see Ashley. Apparently she’s mad at me and gives me the whole Spanish Inquisition routine as she tortures me about my lack of religious conviction... and nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. I’m not sure where that came from. But I can’t defend myself to someone who knows they are right and that you are wrong.
Why am I even in this relationship? Oh yeah, the convenience of sex.
She heads over to my place later that evening, we have a spaghetti dinner and watch Quantum Leap, Letterman and Saturday Night Live.
She’s probably asking herself why she’s in the relationship. Oh yeah, food and television.
We go to bed and she hits me with the religion stuff again. I walk out into my living room and have half a bottle of Kaluha - the real hard stuff. Ten minutes later she comes out, apologizes, and we go back to my bedroom.
Angry make-up sex is good, or at least I assume it’s good for her. Half a bottle of Kaluha makes things impossible me.
I don't even know what the festival was for.
Somewhere looking for a happy ending,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, February 14, 2010

People Are Strange

Friday, November 2, 1990

It’s the last day at Sakuyama Junior High School, and I teach four classes in a row in the morning. It whips by incredibly fast because these kids are good and want to learn. It makes my job easier, to be sure.
At lunch I play volleyball with the nerds for 15 minutes and then get drafted to play net by the cool kids who like soccer. I know - cool kids who play soccer - it sounds like a contradiction, but I do prefer soccer to volleyball (hate volleyball actually, because I was 5’ tall until I was 17), and besides… I’m with the cool crowd now. I’m not their King, however.
After my goodbyes, I am driven by to the Ohtawara Board of Education (OBOE)to meet the Chikasono Chu Gakko (Chikasono Junior High School) English teacher – Ken Sasanuma, who’s 25 and likes Rock and Roll. He’s nice, but he looks like one of those cool kids who would have locked me in my locker back in high school. I’ll be at their school next week.
Back home, Ashley doesn’t come by, doesn’t phone either. Neither do I. It ticks me off, but to be honest, when I finally realize she isn't coming over and that she hadn't called, I realize it's probably too late for me to call her because she'd already be in bed - what with it being 8PM and all.
I watch lots of television – Return From The River Kwai (made in 1989), and suffer from three annoying phone calls from a boy who attends Nozaki Junior High School – he was the one I thought was an old woman calling…
At 10:15PM, Ken Sasanuma shows up at my door wanting to know if I want to come and see his school’s sports day/festival tomorrow. I tell him I will if my radio interview finishes early enough.
Mr. Hanazki (Hanazaki-san) calls moments later and tells me he’s happy to hear I will be playing my clarinet during my radio interview at the festival.
How the heck does everybody know everything about me? Am I important? If I am, can I get a raise?
Somewhere hoping there’s an English translator for my interview tomorrow,
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Would I Lie To You?

Thursday, November 1, 1990

It’s freezing outside, with a light frost on the ground. I’m still at Sakuyama Junior High School doing team teaching with the charming and witty teacher (sensei) Mrs. Sekiya.
I do a self-introduction in the teacher’s office to all of the teachers using my photos. It’s not the first time I hear the word sukebe (pervert), nor the last – as I show them a photo of three women friends I say are my girlfriends (hey, they’re female and friends…).
A second-year student (Grade 8) named Tomahiro stops by to talk with me in broken English and Japanese (I’m confused in two languages now).  He’s a bit of pain in the butt, but it’s apparent he just needs a friend. Guess who got elected? I like him – and when other nerdy kids see me talking to him, they come over one at a time. It’s like each nerd was too afraid to make friends with the other nerds. Silly nerds… there is always strength in numbers. It’s funny how they congregate around me… like they know I used to be one of them (used to?!) Now, I’m King of the Nerds, ma! I play volleyball with my new loyal subjects and have a good time.
It’s now 1PM and its super hot outside where we are playing volleyball. By the way, you ever see a lot of short nerds and their king play volleyball? It’s spas-tastic.
It’s an Indian Summer Day. The school’s vice-principal asks me why I call it that – so not wanting to look stupid, I answer: it’s because the colours of Fall are like those of an American Indian’s war paint – bright and warm, like a summer’s day. I don’t know what it means… it probably made sense to me then. It almost sounds plausible, eh? Hmm, not I understand the need to create bad English in Japanese advertising.
After school, I listen to the English Club (the only school I know to have an English Club!) perform Snow White. They seem surprised when I mention that Dopey doesn’t talk, and even more shocked when I say that they have to act like their dwarvish namesakes. Because the girl who played Snow White was sick, I take the role over and make it mine, complete with falsetto voice.
I head home at 5:30. Ashely is there and is in a better mood. So am I? King of the nerds, et al. We watch an episode of The Simpson’s and Quantum Leap. Our friend Naoko comes over to have dinner.
The lady from across the street comes by the place at 8PM  - with her yappy dog – to tell me about an upcoming festival. She begs me to come and play the clarinet (I guess she heard me practicing with the windows open). I don’t want to do it. Nerd shyness and all… but I do want to kill her dog.
Naoko doesn’t think she wants me to play at the festival this Saturday, but I’m not convinced.
Panic kicks in and I down five glasses of wine. I’m toast. Thank good ness everyone leaves at 8:30. I laze about watching The Osterman Weekend until 11PM and finally hit the hay at midnight.
Somewhere trying to come up with an excuse,
Andrew Joseph

Jealous Guy

Wednesday, October 31, 1990.

Up at 6:30AM, I get a ride to Sakuyama Junior High School from the math teacher who can’t speak any English and doesn’t say very much in Japanese (much to my relief).
I have three classes of English in a row, and do some pretty darn effective use of the text while team-teaching.
I have lunch with a first-year class (Grade 7), get punched in the nuts by one of them (but for some reason it didn’t hurt), and punch him back in the upper arm (I'm sure that one hurt). I head home at 5PM with the same silent teacher.
Ashley arrives at 5:30PM, with Kanemaru-san arriving a few minutes later to take us both to kyu-do (Japanese archery) practice at the local Ohtawara Kyudo Club. We’ve been going for about four weeks now, but after getting hurt in my two bike versus car accidents, my ribs hurt.
At the club, I get ticked off because I’m still shooting at a practice target, while Ashley has improved enough to shoot at the real target from the proper 60-foot distance. My ribs are killing me everytime I pull on the bow, and the pain interferes with my concentration – which like most things Japanese, is 80 per cent of the ability to do anything.
While at the club, Ashley asks me to go to an enkai (party) with her this very night. But I’m still pretty steamed at her/me for kyu-do, but mostly I’m angry because she and Matthew were invited to this party, but I was not. Age makes me forget what that party was for or where it was… just know I was angry (probably the Ohtawara Friendship Association). It didn’t matter that Ashley invited me (in hindsight, a very nice thing to have done), but it didn’t change the fact that the party-throwers didn’t invite me. Man… it’s like high school all over again. I hated my friggin’ teenaged years with a vengeance (it’s making me angry having to think about it right now). It's making me hate Japan.
So… I don’t go. I go home and make some chili for tomorrow and make myself a double bacon burger for dinner. There's nothing on TV but I watch it anyway.
Melissa (see HERE) calls me up and asks me to relieve her boredom. What I wouldn’t have given to really do that, but instead we talk and I get that long distance feeling to reach out, reach out and touch yourself. Still, it’s nice that at least someone thinks I can entertain her.
Somewhere, boring me is in bed by midnight,
Andrew Joseph

Friday, February 12, 2010

You Talk Too Much

Tuesday, October 30, 1990 – the Speech Contest

Matthew arrives at my place at 8:15AM, and we make the five-minute bike ride to the Ohtawara City offices to judge a speech contest featuring junior high school students from Ohtawara and surrounding small villages (where Matthew and Jeanne Mont Blanc teach. Jeanne lives in the same building as Ashley in Nishinasuno, and is a mature-acting, very intelligent young woman from Quebec who I’m sure likes to have fun, but is still a very private individual).

At the contest site, no one comes over to talk with us, except for Shibata-sensei of Dai Chu (Ohtawara Junior High School) and Suzuki-san (Matthew’s boss who was probably the funniest person I met in Japan and a super nice guy). Jeanne rolls in at 9AM – better she should have stayed away.

The speeches begin. There’s little difference in their reading styles, though the three girls I helped yesterday at Sakuyama are quite good and earn high marks from me. Oh yeah. We weren’t introduced at this contest or told how to mark the contestants, so I made up my own system – but we did get to sit right at the very front.

At lunch (it’s raining), we three AETs are served a bento box lunch by the female teachers, who also serve the other male Japanese teachers in attendance. Sexist or what?

Anyhow, after eating, we three head over to Mosburger for more food. I stop by the nearby Iseya department store and hand in some film and post a few letters.

We head back to the contest to listen to the remainder of the speeches. Boredom can’t even come close to how I felt. When its finally over at 4PM, all of the results are collected—but not ours.  Now I’m mad. Why are we here? Did we do something wrong? Is this our punishment?

Tomura-sensei (English teacher at Wakakusa Chu  (Wakakusa Junior High School) asks the AETs to make a few comments about the speeches we just heard. Wha-?!
I make up some stuff on the spot, as do Matthew and Jeanne. We’re all pretty angry as we ride home in the rain.

At 7PM that night, Ashley calls telling me she has no get-up-and-go (no kidding… it’s pretty much the cause of my friction with her). She says she knows she has schoolwork to prepare (She’s probably a far better teacher than me, because I have never prepared and will never prepare a single thing for my team-teaching classes in three years), but doesn’t want to do it. I want to call her a lazy cow, but think better of it. I know what I was like when I was her age (22 – I’m 26 in another week). I was lazy. I tell her to stop reading my Shadowland book and write a letter to her sister, folks and friends back home – her schoolwork can wait.

Matthew comes over – we make fried chicken (okay, Matthew does) and watch episodes of Quantum Leap and Max Headroom that his folks sent over in VCR format. I tell ya, that Matthew was a life-saver for my fragile mental and emotional health.

On a bathroom break, I pass by the room I call my den that has a balcony facing the west. I discover why my apartment is so friggin;’ cold—as my building superintendent must have come by to fix the lock on my den’s outside sliding door, and neglected to close it. I’ve had cold air blowing into my apartment for three weeks! The apartment quickly warms up, though a quick glance at my five-gallon goldfish aquarium shows me my fish are facing away from me with their large bulbous heads in a corner. I wonder if they suffer from depression. Does Ashley? Do I?

Somewhere asleep at midnight,

Andrew Joseph

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My Life

So far, you’ve read my observances of Japan – all fun and eye-opening, I hope.
For the next little while, I’m going to present episodes from diary, so you can get a better feel of what life was like for me in Japan.

Monday, October 29, 1990 – my first visit to Sakuyama Chu Gakko (Sakuyama Junior High School).
Up at 6:30AM, I am picked up by the school’s science teacher (Names! Names!) at 7AM. We chat nicely in his small white sedan, arriving at the school 20 minutes later.
After the obligatory introductions around the teacher’s room, I’m ushered into four successive English classes and perform my full-length, 40 minute self-introductions (#61–65, as I’m actually keeping count. Mrs. Sekiya is the Japanese teacher of English, and is a very nice person, with excellent English skills. She understands everything I tell her, and don’t have to repeat anything twice as she quickly translates my gobbledygook into Japanese for the dull students. At that time, I thought the students were a little dull – inactive – but really, I found out it was a combination of upcoming exam stress and the fact they were extremely well-behaved.
After playing soccer with some of the students after lunch, I was asked to speak in front of the entire school – as a kind of introduction. While completely unexpected, I’ve already got the hang of speaking my mind here – tactfully of course, despite my manner of writing here. I for got to bow to my audience, and began speaking before they bowed to me. – whoops. Stuipd gaijin (foreigner/outsider).
After school, I spent an hour or more helping three girls who would be giving speeches at a contest the next day at a sectional competition I was invited to judge along with Matthew and Jeanne. No Ashley, as she’s a high school AET (Assistant English Teacher).
At 5:15, I’m given a drive home by the vice-principal (Name! Hey, at least I got one out of three for this blog!)
Arriving at my Zuiko Haitsu complex in downtown Ohtawara (it really does sound more impressive than it is), Kanemaru-san jumps me in the parking lot, asking me to hanko (signing via a ink stamp) a document that will provide me with ¥21,000 (about $210) in expenses for an upcoming AET conference.
After he leaves, I go up to the apartment and find Ashley there. She seems kind of dull, too (Is it me? I know I’m very tired having just spent a weekend in Osaka with a Japanese woman I had never met before – details? Later). Matthew comes over, and I divvy up the presents I bought for them – special guilt ones for Ashley, I suppose. I tell them of my adventures in getting lost in Osaka, while they eat my food and leave at 7:30PM. After watching some television and cleaning up the apartment a little, I telephone Matthew and tell him the real story of my Osaka trip. What do I mean? Well... that's #2.
Somewhere in bed by 11PM,
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Photograph

As mentioned in the previous blog, Japan likes to make lists of its wonders - listing them in threes.
Presented for you visual approval are five photographs depicting two of Japans Most Famous Castles; one of its Most Famous Hot Springs; and two of its Most Famous Waterfalls.

All photos are taken by myself, except for last one, which was part of a photo album I purchased at a flea market in Utsunomiya for about $10 (1000 yen). The album contains photographs circa 1937 - that's my best guess. I will show all of these photos in about one week's time.

Three Great Flatland Mountain Castles: Himeji-jo, located in the city of Himeji, in the Hyogo Prefecture. This castle is called the White Heron.

This castle is immense, and was very difficult to capture with a 35mm camera. What a time to forget my wide-angle lens. I visited here with Matthew after a conference. I do have a model kit of castle that I am contemplating constructing in the next few months.

Click HERE for more information on the castle.





Three Famous Castles: Osaka-jo, Osaka-shi (City of Osaka), Osaka-ken (Osaka Prefecture). 

There is far too much information on this castle, so let me direct you HERE for more information. Personally, I think this photo is awesome. Try clicking HERE for a much higher resolution image.












Three Great Hot Springs: Nine Hells, Beppu, Oita-ken. The hot springs of Beppu are called the Nine Hells and range in the most breath-taking colors.

This photo is a close-up of Chinoike Jigoku also known as the "blood pond hell". It features a pond of hot, red water - red because of its iron content, I believe. Here's a link containing pix of all the Hells: HERE.








Japan's Three Most Famous Waterfalls: Fukuroda Falls, off the Takigawa River in northeastern Ibaraki-ken.
Its width is 73 meters, and is a cascading type of waterfalls with a total height of 120 meters. Click HERE for a nice site with a couple of excellent photos.   
Japan's Three Most Famous Waterfalls: Kegon Falls, located in Tochigi-ken on the Daiyagawa River that flows from Lake Chuzenji-ko.


While I do have a brilliant colour photo of Kegon Falls in 1991, it's locked up in a very nice frame. This photo shows the Falls prior to an earthquake in the 1940s that changed the way it looks today. In the late 1990s, another earthquake shrunk it to its current size of 97 meters. Click HERE for more info on the waterfall.

Somewhere wishing I had visited three of everything,
Andrew Joseph
Oh yeah... title is by Ringo Star: Listen: BARBARABACH 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Angel In A Centerfold

On a recent trip out to the town of Nikko, about a 40 minute drive due west of Ohtawara-shi, but a 40 minute train trip south to Utsonomiya and a further 30-minute trip north west, Ashley and I spent an enjoyable Saturday without any arguments.
We had previously visited Nikko in October of 1990 (which I’ll detail in another blog with photos) and checked out its wonderful temples and shrines, including one featuring the famous three wise monkeys… you know the one: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil. But, like I said… more later.
This time, we were in Nikko to check out Kegon Waterfall, one of the three most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. Strange, through it may seem, Japan has this thing for listing things in threes.
Along with the waterfalls, Japan also has a list of the: three most famous castles (I love castles!);
three most famous gardens; three most beautiful views; three most famous mountains; three famous Buddhas; three sacred grounds; three hot springs; three friendliest hands massage parlours; three best places to get drunk; three dog night; three months in a leaky boat. Okay, the last bunch after the hot springs entry were made up, to the best of my knowledge, but who, other than the Shadow, knows?
Anyhow, I promise that the next blog will contain photos of my favourites of some of these famous Japanese threesomes.
After visiting the waterfall, Ashley and I stumbled into a small, old shop on the main drag of town. It was quiet, wooden, and had a warm musty smell that was oddly relaxing. It was Dr. T. Takemoto’s Antique & Modern Fine Art Curios shop, and if you are ever in the area, be sure to check it out. A plump, friendly woman sat at the nearby counter, took a look at Ashley and myself smiled and in English welcomed us to her shop. She quickly ran to the back and brought us out a cup of green tea (o-cha) apiece, then went running back for some sesame crackers. Both were welcome additions, as it was cold and raining outside—what trip around Japan by Andrew would be complete without some rain?
I like antiques. I don’t know squat about them – this was well before the Antique’s Roadshow ever made it onto television—but I know what I like.
Ashley immediately gravitated over to the masks, and miniature statuary, but a look at the prices horrified my girl, so much so that she motioned for us to leave. Now, call me a sucker, but when someone gets you food and drink and welcomes you in from the cold and rain and speaks English, you set a while. Perhaps seeing Ashley’s look–probably having seen it hundreds of times previous from other shocked girlfriends, the shopkeeper asked if I would like to see some famous Japanese art called an ukiyo-e.
I had no idea what that was, so I said yes.
She disappeared up stairs and came down with about 40 folders, each one containing an ukiyo-e, otherwise known as a woodblock print - originally made utilizing cherry wood.These prints were often placed in magazines or books of the day, and often have a fold in them if they are overly large diptychs or triptyches.
They were beautiful. Women in gorgeous kimonos, vistas, action scenes, samurai, sumo, colours popping - in an art style I had only previously seen in Playboy when they used classic ukiyo-e's with witty captions. Who knew? 
Since it was my parent’s anniversary coming up, I purchased one. It was an 1864 print by Toyokuni from his series, The Story of Genji. While I have NOT included it in the photos HERE, rest assured that it sits in a nearby room, framed, and as immaculate as the day it first came out of the print shop back when the samurai class was still a samurai class.
The Story of Genji (Monogatari was written in the Heian-jidai (Heian era) in the year 1000AD, or there abouts. The tale is a work of fiction set in the Imperial Court of that era, with the story combining the only two elements then seen in Japanese literature: romance and poetry. It was written by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady in waiting to an Empress.
There are other ukiyo-e (size varies in ukiyo-e, but on average, mine are 9-7/10" x 14.5" or 244mm x 367mm)  in my collection showing off Toyokuni’s skills, including a triptych: three ukiyo-e, when joined to together form a single scene which I have framed and am too afraid (and poor) to remove in case I can't replace it; and a pair of 1860s comic books sewn together - each contains 10 two-page spreads and one single page of black and white imagery by Toyokuni. The comic books measure: 4.5"w x 7"h (112mm x 174mm), with the image at the top of this blog showing the comic book's colour cover.
I think it cost me about $250 (25000 yen - I'm staring at the receipt as I type... meanwhile in 2010, I have misplaced my coat) and to me worth every dollar of interest Visa charged me over the next 12 years. Actually, come to think of it, thanks to Visa, it probably cost be $4,047. Bugger.
Anyhow, over the next two and a half years, I frequented the store on average once every two months, where the owners taught me about ukiyo-e and antiques. It’s a shame I relied on my memory and have effectively forgotten more than I know. Yes, I know how that reads. I’m forgetful, not stupid.
Enjoy the ukiyo-e images. My thanks to Takako Hall for her help in deciphering some of the Series and Artist information I was unsure of.

Somewhere enjoying the view,
Andrew Joseph
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