Monday, December 29, 2003

This just in from Annie Taff, a fabulous idea, and one that i could definately see myself getting interested in.

speaking of breweries - please go to brewery school and opend a brewery
soon. first off, the machines are so satisfyingly big, like when i went
to a monster truck rally and it was satisfyingly loud. and second of
all, it would open up a place of employment for me - i could draw the
labels and give tours wearing a special 'ask me questions' button - it
would, i assure you, be brialliant.

I tried to be productive today and get shit done, but it was only marginally successful. I just didn't really motivate that fast, and then this computer game called out to me, "Play Me, Play Me, Waste your time getting disgusted with yourself." So i did.

Whilst running errands earlier, i saw this guy getting onto his motorbike at the 100 Yen store. He must have been about 120 years old, he could barely walk and he gummed his gums in the way that old folks without dentures will do. He gave me the once over and kept glancing at me in my bicycling attire, leg bands and yellow helmet cover. I tried to watch him as well; the guy just teetered and puttered along, coaxing his 50cc bike out of the parking space. He took several weak tries at the kick start before getting the thing going and then he just kind of puttered out of the parking lot.
Two reactions from this: The first is, "Wow, what a stubborn old man. How great of him for maintaining his independence."
The second reaction is, "Wow, what a crazy old man. He's gonna get himself killed for sure one of these days. There is no way that his reactions are fast enough to ride a motorcycle successfully in the winter in this city."
I've heard of the legendary stubbornness of old Japanese men, and this guy was the first real example. One has to wonder about the rigorousness of the driving tests for the elderly. WIth a population as geriatrically inclined as Japans, it's a wonder they don't have more accidents caused by drivers who are just too old. Maybe old folks just walk after a certain age.
The old ladies here all push along these little rolling chair/walker/purse type things. They're little quilted chairs that they scoot around the town with. They look doll sized to me, but really i suppose that they're handy for all of the shrunken, hunched over women here. Osteoporosis is hugely popular with old ladies and old men. Some are so stooped over from working in the rice fields and calcium poor diets that they walk along like ducks. They look awkward, and yet they're mobile, something that can hardly be said for the elderly in our country, who are often confined to beds or wheelchairs. I'm not sure of the reasons why, but it seems quite normal for little old people to hobble everywhere they need to go. Maybe theres just no transportation for them.
At any rate, i think that we'd all be doing well to be riding motorbikes at the age of this fellow that i saw today. Ganbatte kudesai

Sunday, December 28, 2003

I went sliding down a mountain on my ass today. I also had skis attached to my feet but for about 3 of the 4 hours that i was there they seemed rather inconsequential. My clothing also seemed to have a marvelous slippery coating that made me slide like superman for tens of meters when i fell, which was often.
For about the first two hours i was a big sissy, sticking to the kiddie runs and crashing a lot. then when i got my legs under me i went ahead and tackled the bigger runs, and crashed a lot. Happily i'm not hurt and only have a minor kink in my neck as a result of the day's festivities.

I liked skiing, as i assumed that i would, but i think that i'm going to get kinda bored with the resort thing pretty quickly (relatively speaking). I still haven't really managed a good set of linked Telemark turns, which is what i was sort of hoping to learn how to do, but i can see that overall it's going to be a matter of constantly challenging myself to do interesting things. Skiing is about 80% skill and about 20% fitness. I'm definately used to things that have the opposite ratio. Once you figure out how to ski, the only real challenge lies in doing crazier and crazier stuff. We'll have to see how it goes.

Maybe i should finally get health insurance.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

This is heartening news. It just goes to show that all is not going to hell, even if it seems like it. Apparently some group from Arkansas wanted to put in a new shopping mall right next to the priarie wetland area in my hometown of Ames Iowa. My parents thought that it was a foregone conclusion, but luckily, not everybody in the world has his or her head up his ass.

Land Use Policy Plan Update #13

News from 1000 Friends of Iowa

The Ames Planning and Zoning Commission, in a meeting last Wednesday, voted 5-2 to recommend that the City Council deny the LUPP change Wolford Development was requesting for the area at the intersection of East 13th Street and Interstate 35. In addition, the commission recommended a reevaluation of the need for a regional commercial area east of I-35. The responses of the five individual Commission members explaining their vote were thoughtful and reflected the real concerns about the best type of growth the Ames’ community needs.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

i was just putting the futon where i sleep away and a strange notion came into my head. I was feeling kinda lonely and isolated, i suppose listening to Radiohead didn't help.
I feel like the retarded kid in the inspiritaional and poigniant film that makes you feel like, "Boy if that handicapped guy can get on with his life, so can I."
The big problem with my self imagery is that, first of all, i'm not disabled, i can do lots of stuff and i should be smart enough to motivate myself past the crappy attitude that i've had the past couple of days. I suppose that its maybe something as trite as the christmas blues that are keeping me down. That coupled with a healthy dose of Japan and i'm feeling kinda shitty. At least next week is vacation. Thank god for that. I would probably go nuts without the welcome respite of the newyears holiday. Of course, that means more time for me not to do the things that i set myself to do everyday. We'll see how it goes.
Here is a new japanese word for you all, i'll try to put it into sentence form; Watashi wa kino domo futsukairoi deshita. That roughly translates into, "Yesterday, i was really hung over." Sometimes a hangover can be an asset, sometimes a liability, this day was a bit of both. I felt like shit, but likewise didn't give a shit about the stupid highschool girls. Whatever, they worship me because i gave them candycanes.

There is nothing like a christmas in a foreign land with one's girlfriend in a different foreign land to really make a bottle of whiskey look good. I was over at the christmas eve party of the aforementioned Nick and Al and felt the need to cut loose a little. I was up until three drinking and playing charades. Let me tell you, i am good when you get the juices flowing a little bit. Maybe not so good at the guessing, but damn i can act up a storm. I managed to pull off the reinactment of the title, "The Origin of Species". Guess what sexual word "origin" sounds like and you are halfway through my performance.
Really though, it's stunning what people can act out with just the few selected clues such as, book, movie, person, sylables etc. I always write down something that will be totally impossible but nonetheless someone whips right through the thing in 20 seconds.

I guess that there's just a limit on how creative my brain can be.
i bought this menthol shampoo yesterday thinking that it would be a great thing. All of the other shampoos around here tend to smell girly, weird or just plain grand-motherly. After cracking all the caps in the store to smell the contents, i settled on the minty freshness of the Tonic brand shampoo. I figured that the smell would invigorate my scalp and by extension the little grey cells of my brain.

Today was my first trial run of the new bottle.

All was good, it smells good, it looks good and it burns good. I don't know who got the bright idea of putting menthol in shampoo. Shampoo goes in your hair, which is usually located above your eyes. This is, i think, a good design. The only problem comes into play when you put a volatile substance into your hair and then try to rinse it out, and down, from your hair with the shower.


Bad things will happen. Luckily i had a ready source of water to flush my burning eyes, but let this be a lesson to all of you: Do not buy mentholated products unless you know what you're doing!
Yesterday was the emperor's birthday and also a national holiday. Jennifer left for Thailand at about 5:30 in the morning. Since it was a national holiday, one of the resident gaijin opened up his tiny restaurant for a brunch. THis guy's a fabulous cook, it was total Bobo quisine, there were scones, crepes waffles, chocolate sauce and some home baked bread. To top the bread you could have the chef's own rum raisin butter or his charcoal roasted hand-ground peanut butter or his home made preserves. Later on there was some fresh coffee and some bagels, made and steamed in his very kitchen. It was good food regardless, but made all the better by the fact that the people in the restaurant were having interesting conversations in ENGLISH. It was quite nice. I ended up running errands with Lara and Shane and then stopping by the house of Nick and Al, two gay JETs from England. They're putting on a super duper christmas party to which many JETs are going. I was tentatively scheduled to go as well, but opted not to since i prefer to teach english to reluctant, giggly, highschool girls than eat a well prepared meal with good company and booze.

After the brief stopover at the chez Nick and Al I came back home to mount up my telemark skis. It took about 3 hours to get everything set up and by this time it was pretty dark and pretty late, like 11:00. I had been screwing around with these skis for so long that i needed to get out and use them. I decided that i'd try to learn how to telemark ski on the embankment near the bridge overpass about a kilometer from here. I loaded up the skis in my backpack along with the poles and boots and headed out into the foggy night. I was pretty glad that it was so foggy because it made it a little less strange to be a lonely foreigner, trudging up and down the embankment with a big pair of skis. It must have been a strange sight.

It's probably good that i have a girlfriend or i'd be doing shit like this all the time, skiing on an embankment at 1:00 in the morning or some thing. It will be an interesting 3 weeks.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Here's a little Onion style tribute to my alma mater.

How Can I Use Feminism to My Advantage?
I was running the other night and i saw the first speedy Japanese guy here. You can frequently spot runners, but for the most part they're pretty slow and sweating heavily. This guy was going a little bit faster than the pace i had been going at but i doubled around to follow the guy and was able to match his pace from behind pretty well. I wanted to catch up and talk with him but then the thought occurred to me, "My Japanese is SHIT!"
I'm getting kind of frustrated by my lack of motivation on the language front. I haven't really been good ata ll about studying. I put in 3-4 hours a week, but that's not nearly enough. This is a complex and confusing language, not to mention they use a different set of characters from me. It's just a pain in the ass to learn. I can study a page for about an hour and still feel comfused about the whole thing. Pitiful really. What i really need to do is get off my ass and try to go meet people. THis is my problem however, since i didn't like doing this in the US, let alone in a country where i'm just another Novelty White Guy.
Oh well, if i don't learn Japanese i can always stay at home in my apartment and play computer games.
I've taken to a bit of rock climbing recently as there is a gym sort of close to our house. It's pretty fun except that there aren't any shoes in japan that fit me. I have tried the ones that they rent at the climbing gym but they more or less crush my toes while i have them on. Last time i went i brought along some athletic tape and stuck my toes into the shoe and taped the rest on. I tried climbing barefoot, but that's pretty painful.
I really wanted some shoes which led me to try to make a pair of my own. I figured, "How hard can it be?" And so i went to the store, bought some athletic tape, a pair of socks, some glue and an innertube for the rubber. It seemed like a simple type of thing right? All i had to do was to wrap the sock with athletic tape to support it and then simply glue on the innertube to the bottom like the sticky rubber climbing soles that most shoes have on them. No Problem.
I realized about one and a half rolls of athletic tape and 1 innnertube later that it is actually more difficult than i had originally surmised. Things did not go according to plan, shall we say, and i was left with a ruined and strange looking pair of socks.
This led me to search for some shoes online. I always hate buying shoes online. I've really had nothing but bad luck. If it weren't for the fact that there are no shoes in the country that fit me here, it's kind of difficult to do anything but order online. I've had to get 3 new pairs of shoes and 2 new pairs of slippers (well had to is strong for the shoes but i really wanted them) since coming here and all had to be imported, usually through the kindness of my parents.
At any rate, i bought a pair of climbing shoes online and had them shipped last week. They arrived really fast, which was super, but unfortunately they (a pair of Mad Rock Hookers, sz 13) were decidedly too small for me. Climbing shoes are supposed to be tight, but these were excruciating. They bent my toes downwards so sharply that my toe-knuckles turned white and developed little rings from the shoe material. It looked kind of as though i had been toe wrestling with an octopus or something, cool but not practical.
SInce they don't fit, not only did i waste my time but a valuable shipping expense as well. It costs about $35 for the dudes to send me the shoes and it will cost at least $15 to send them back and i still have no climbing shoes. The only convenient thing about the whole deal is that Japanese post offices always have a 24hour window for mailing things. I don't exactly know why, but it sure is convenient when you work late.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

I heard about this guy last year and i think that it's fitting to mention him now that we've supposedly celebrated 100 years of manned flight. I have to give props to the Kiwi who was the first man to achieve powered flight. Richard Pearse

Richard Pearse: "Mad Pearse", "Bamboo Dick", self-taught inventor, prophetic designer, trail blazing aviator and eccentric visionary. On or about 31st March 1903 a reclusive New Zealand farmer Richard Pearse climbed into a self-built monoplane and flew for about 140 metres before crashing into a gorse hedge on his Waitohi property . Even at half the distance Pearse must have felt the liberating but anxious exhilaration of flying. There is uncertainty about whether it met the definitions of sustained flight, but it came eight months before the Wright Brothers entered the record books at Kitty Hawk North Carolina on 17th December 1903.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

The 100 yen piece has a picture of the cherry blossom or sakura which is one of the traditional Japanese emblems. Cool right, the samurai favored the ideal of the flower because it fell from the tree while still in full bloom, symbolizing the honorable path for a samurai, who would prefer to die in battle in his prime rather than in old age. At least that's what the guidebook told me.
That's great and all, but what the emblem really means that the yen piece falls from your fingers with the transience of the cherry blossom. Jesus does the money fly out of your wallet here. I spent almost 30,000 yen in less than 8 hours for my visa stamps and train tickets to Tokyo. It's almost like gambling to see money fly that fast. Thrilling because it's still abstract to me, they're more like polker chips than dollars to me at this point. It's also crazy since i don't yet have a bank account yet and i just get my paychecks in cash, and a fad wad o'cash it is, har har har.

I've been pondering some things about Japanese automobiles. Here's one of them, in the form of an email that I sent to, an air pollution monitoring site sponsored by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a group out of Chicago whom I worked for in 2001 while I was studying there. Overall it's a great organization, it is one of the few non-profits that I've seen where I really felt like they were on their game and they were effecting positive policy change on a local and larger scale. Here's the email:

Hey there,
I recently moved to Japan for the next year or so to teach English and since I've been here I've noticed some interesting things. The one I'm most curious about is if the trajectory of diesel exhaust makes any difference in air pollution.
I ride my bike to work every day and I've noticed that all of the large diesel vehicles such as buses and trucks have their exhaust pipes at the standard automobile level. Consequently, I get a face full of fumes when they pass me. I hate this, but I could see some possible benefits to having a low trajectory for diesel exhaust; namely that particulates could possibly settle out faster and maybe the fumes would not rise quite so high into the atmosphere. So, my question to you is, is there any possible difference as far as immediate human impact and long term atmospheric impact is concerned? Are there any studies on the matter?
Any info would be quite interesting. It's not as though I can really effect any policy change here as I am not skilled in Japanese nor am I able to vote here, but for my own edification it would be nice to know.

Thanks, Aaron Ritz

I'm also really curious about the way they do the licensing here. They have two levels of car plates here. The yellow plates are for cars with displacement of 660cc or less in their engines. These cars are cheaper and also have the benefit of being taxed at a much lower rate as well as cheaper insurance. Something that surprised me was to see that the Toyota Prius, the hybrid car had a white plate, the same as the rest of the license plates in Japan. I suppose this is because the car has a larger displacement than is allowed at 1100 cc (approximately, thanks Toyota website) but the car also gets awesome gas mileage, much better than many of the yellow plate cars here. It seems to me that the car should be gauged more on its mileage than on its displacement. This shouldn't be to difficult to measure since each car here goes in for a checkup and taxation every 2 years.

Please tell me if my ideas make any sense or if I'm just thinking too hard.

Friday, December 12, 2003

I had to make a return trip to tokyo today and i chose to use the Shinkansen instead of the bus. While the ol bullet train is about twice as expensive, I think that it's worth it. FIrst off, it's convenient. You just buy tickets the day of from the machine or the ticket counter and then you hop on, select your seat and blast off. THIs brings me to the second reason the train is better- It's fast as hell! THe train takes about half the time of the bus. There is some superb thrill in rocketing along the earth at that speed. It's way better than an airplane. While there is some coolness in being 30,000 feet in the air, it's nowhere near as good as whipping by houses and mountains like you were fastforwarding a movie. A certain section of track which takes me 28 minutes normally in the train is more like 8 in the Shinkansen. If there weren't the immense fixed costs involved, i would suggest that the US bag the stupid airlines and get us some bullet trains! I think while the maximum speeds might not compare between a bullet train and airplane, the actual transit time could be lessened by the superb convenience of the train. No passport scanners, no waiting for takeoff, everything on time every time!

Thanks Shinkansen!

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Goddamn the Onion is funny. Just when you think the world is going to hell, you can turn to the Onion and find out, "Yeah, it's going to hell, but that's FUNNY!"

I particularly liked this one CEO's Maritial Duties Outsourced to Mexican Groundskeeper
I'm a little distressed today.
Recently, the Nagano Foreign Language Center merged with the Excellent English School which was located just down the street. No biggie, the Excellent crew just moved a couple of blocks down and pretty much just put their classes in our building and brought their 2 teachers, one of whom is a New Yorker by the name of Gaury. She's married to a japanese chap and therefore has some pretty wicked Japanese skills. I'm not sure that i like her, mostly that she's fine but we probably won't ever be buddies or anything. No problem there, but what really troubled me today was our conversation.

Gaury: So, what do you think of the people here?

Me: Well, i think that they're fine, but i don't understand much japanese so i'm not sure.

Gaury: Well i don't like the people at all! I think that they're reall assholes, particularly Bucho-san. They're just so rude to Kimiko (former owner of Excellent). I mean, she's really cool and they just treat her like crap!

Me: Well like i said, i don't know enough japanese to tell, they seem nice enough in English. I like Mr. Adachi (Tomo) a lot, i think he's a great guy.

Gaury: Really?!? Whoa, i don't know, this place feels like an english factory, like they don't care about the students. I heard from Kimiko that they lose like 30 students a month because people don't like it here. I mean all of my students hate it, some of them are probably going to quit because they don't like the environment.

Me: Hmm, i don't know, i hadn't heard that.

Gaury: Yeah, this place feels like a NOVA (the 800lb Gorilla of the industry). It feels like nobody wants to be here. I mean, even at AEON (another biggie) they have a better environment.

Me: Really. Well, that's interesting

This was kind of a shocker because i really think of my employers as assholes or anything before. I mean, Bucho-san probably does suck, i can tell that the guy is pretty much a cheauvanist crappy japanese business man, but really, i just don't know enough japanese to tell if anyone else is a jerk. For the most part they all seem happy and i haven't heard anything from my students, though maybe none of them would tell me if they didn't like me.
Realistically, i can see problems with how things are done and that maybe it's not as good as it could be, but i don't know about the claim that we loose 30 students a month, i think i would notice that.

Anyway, i'll chat with my English compatriot Paul about it sometime when there are no other english speakers around. My general impression is that my school isn't as bad as all that and that Gaury doesn't know the whole deal, though i can't really second guess her because i don't know any japanese.
We'll just see

Monday, December 08, 2003

I haven't yet had the time to figure out the procedure for putting up my own collection of funny japanese labels, but they already have some of the ones i've seen posted on it's pretty damn funny what people will think is good english in this country. It's really more of a decorator art. I'm sure that there is some of the same thing going on in our use of kanji in decoration, but nothing quite to the extent that you'll find it here.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

While to most folks in the US, and probably most folks in the world (including myself) it seems like a strange idea for a person to pick up and move to another country, be it Canada, China, Honduras, Guinea, Japan or whatever. Before i came a lot of people would inquire whether or not i had a japanese girlfriend. No, actually i don't, i'm just going to go adventure for a while, see a bit of this planet before i die and make a stand in a foreign society. Recently i've been pondering a little about what the hell i'm really doing here, and it came up, that i'm really just doing this for myself. I suppose that's not a bad reason to do something, and when it all boils down to it, few if any people really do something for someone else. Volunteering, peace corps, joining the army and fighting wars, running for elected office; all of these things come down to the fact that the people who are doing them can justify what they're doing as good deeds which in turn makes a person happy.
It is my somewhat cynical view that all philanthropy can be reduced down to a large extent on the effect it has on the doer of the "good deeds" rather than the recipient. I honestly don't think that anyone would come up with the initiative to begin and continue on philanthropic works if he or she didn't get something back.
I suppose that i could use the previous paragraph to launch into a diatribe against doing any sort of charity towards others, but that would be stupid. Helping others, particularly those less fortunate is good! It's just that many people don't keep in mind the reflexive nature of good deeds. I know i don't.
I was kind of inspired to write this post because Sarah, a friend of jennifer and me from highschool is now working for an NGO in Afghanistan. Damn, that's a perfect example of philanthropy. She's engaged in frustrating, difficult and useful work in probably the second most dangerous country on the planet, right after Iraq while i sit in probably the safest country in the world.
An illustration of my situation is the shocking crime statistics for my city. In the past year alone i personally experienced 1 bicycle headlight theft and heard about an unsolved murder about 13 months ago. Scary isn't it. What's more, no one has guns in Japan! How am i going to protect myself if no one has a gun and no one thinks he needs one? I'm going to have to go and get me some swords and ninja stars.
If you want to get pissed off about the bush administration for a reason which has nothing to do with the war in iraq, here is a great article written by Robert Kennedy Jr about bush's environmental record.
George Bush will go down in history as America's worst environmental president. In a ferocious three-year attack, the Bush administration has initiated more than 200 major rollbacks of America's environmental laws, weakening the protection of our country's air, water, public lands and wildlife. Cloaked in meticulously crafted language designed to deceive the public, the administration intends to eliminate the nation's most important environmental laws by the end of the year. Under the guidance of the Republican pollster Frank Luntz, the Bush White House has hidden its anti-environmental programme behind deceptive rhetoric, telegenic spokespeople, secrecy and the intimidation of scientists and bureaucrats.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Hopefully, i'll be posting my collection of amusing product labels soon. Keep Tuned!

Monday, December 01, 2003

I went to Tokyo yesterday to get a stamp on my passport and to change my visa status. In short: WORST TRIP TO TOKYO EVER!!!! And i mean that, out of my two trips to Tokyo, this surpassed by far the first one in shittyness. The day started out fine, i almost overslept my 6:30 bus and then sat through 4 hours of traffic etc while the bus drove onward. I woke up in the outskirts of Tokyo with rain slapping the windshield and happy squeaky noisies coming from the wipers. The woman behind me didn't stop her snoring though, i'd have to wait until we got off the bus.
In tokyo i followed the instructions given to me by some co-workers and ended up at the appropriate train station in no time. When i got off, i had a short 20 minute trudge through the rain to the immigration office which is conveniently located on an island in tokyo harbor next to the coolest garbage incinerator that i've ever seen.
No problem, i'll just go inside, whip through the forms and be on my way. I went inside and anyone who has ever been to an immigration office can attest, it is a place of despair and frustration, no matter how nice the staffers are. Realistically, the people working at the place were amazing. All of them were like quadra-lingual, and they were amazingly polite for public servants. It was just that the place reeked of frustration, first from the other people and shortly therafter a lot of it was coming from me.
As i was filling out the forms i noticed that there were some blanks that I had to fill out including the net worth of my employer, the NFLC, the yearly revenues and also the tax paid last year. WTF, how the hell am i supposed to know about this stuff before i come to the office. No problem i would just call the office and ask them for the info. But shit, i had forgotten to bring the phone number as well, i couldn't call anyone! So i stewed and pondered and then while looking through my Lonely Planet guide to Tokyo i discovered that there was free directory assistance from NTT the phone company. SWEET! So i called the office only to find that my boss was out and that i'd have to wait for an hour and a half to talk to him. This was just dandy. So i wandered around and had some lunch in the built in cafeteria next to some Filipina prostitutes and their 60 year old japanese pimp. No they never propositioned me, but realistically, what else would 8 Filipina women, dressed in hoochie clothes and accompanied by a single man who paid for all of their lunches be?
Several minor frustrations later I called back, go the info and was psyched to be going to actually get my papers processed. So i went up stairs and looked at the line "Now serving 200," as i pulled 427 out of the box. Shit.
An hour and 45 minutes later i was out of there, ready to find some stores, like the international market and the shoe store with big sizes in Ginza. As i had carefully planned my route, it took me more than 15 minutes to get lost, confused and bewildered. Really, i wasn't lost in the traditional sense, i knew that i was in Tokyo and i knew that there were some train stations around. I just didn't know which ones to get on or get off of and it was a bitch. I missed my stop and then got confused as to where to catch the other train so i just ended up walking. Not too bad because i wasn't far from where i wanted to go, but it was still a large pain in the ass, particularly as it was still raining. I kept the hood on the rainjacket up to prevent soaking my head, which in turn prevented me from seeing well. Trade offs, always trade offs.
Anyway, i managed to find the shoe store without too much difficulty once i was actually on the ground. Unfortunately i felt like an ugly idiot shopping there and looking for a single pair of shoes less than 10000 yen, the cheapest one i saw, and an ugly pair at that, was 14000 yen (about $128). So, i left kind of disheartened, and searched for the National Azabu Supermarket. What a bust. THe directions i got off the internet were bunk. Two minute walk my ass. SO i wandered around and ended up eating dinner at a Subway restaurant. Not a great sandwich, but better than in the US. Then i realized i was going to be cutting it close for time and began to head back to Shinjuku for my bus.
Easier said than done. As it turned out, when you don't know where you're going it takes a lot longer to get there. I arrived at the bus stop with about 3 minutes to spare, sugoi! unfortunately the bus was nowhere in sight. Apparently something got screwed up, because i waited for a minute or so, and then the bus came zipping by, I was like, "Sweet!" then about 2 seconds later i was like, "Shit!" as it kept on truckin down the road.
At this point I began to wonder which of the cardboard box houses i could most likely shack up in, preferrably with a bum with great english skills, a shower and some good food. As these were in short supply i decided to try to catch the Shinkansen back to Nagano. This meant taking a train all the way across the city again and then paying 8000 yen for the ticket. But hey, realisticaly, i arrived back home before i would have if I had caught the bus. THe other great thing about the day is that I have to go back when they actually mail my reciept for my Visa and do the process all over again!

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Happy thanksgiving everyone. I have to say, that it just isn't the same having roast tofu and eel farts for thanksgiving. I mean, don't get me wrong, eel farts are delicious and all, but turkey is better around the holidays for some reason.

I was talking with my boss on the way to a class last night (in a different town, we were driving) and i asked him if there were a lot of fires in the winter here. You see, everyone uses these big, dangerous kerosene heaters to heat their drafty houses. They're pretty cool in the summer, but likewise, pretty damn cold in the winter. They keep these heaters running, supposedly only when there are people around, but apparently every winter you'll read in the paper about old people getting burned or killed by exploding, spilling or burning heaters. This led directly into the discussion of mochi which are some sticky glutinous rice balls that are popular around newyears. Just as with the exploding heaters, many old people die every year by choking on these sticky balls of death. Tomo related it like this, "It's terrible, the old people eat them fast, they are so hungry, so they take too big bites and then... ack...ack...ghasp! It's terrible!" All the time he was giggling histerically. What a guy, i really like him. Apparently last year someone saved himself by using a vacuum cleaner to suck the mochi out of his windpipe.

Jeez, in the US old people die of heart attacks, cancer and normal things like that. Japanese old people apparently don't die unless you choke them or burn their houses down.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Nothing much has happened over the weekend. I guess the first cool thing was talking with some of the ol' CC crew, namely Jude, Ben and Paul who happened to be staying at my house over the weekend for the Living History Farms Race. It was great to talk to people back home. There are lots of great people here, but it just ain't the same.
Shortly after getting off the phone with those guys, I went hiking with our friends Monica and Steph. We went up to the waterfall that is in the initial pictures that jennifer has on the website. The change of seasons really makes a difference though. I, being the flatlander that i am, was totally amazed by the mountains as we drove up to the base of the waterfall hike. There is not much for snow yet, but at the higher elevations you can see where the frost line is. The trees are coated with a white frost from the passing clouds. Our waterfalls were not quite to that level but they were pretty cool nonetheless. Pictures will be arriving as soon as we develop the film. I always like roaming about in the woods here. I can't help but feel transported somewhere to Middle Earth (nerd? Hell Yes!) The gnarly tree roots, spectacular scenery and fall weather are just unmistakably linked in my brain with those 4 awesome books by the lord of Fantasy, JRR Tolkien.

Then sunday passed more or less plainly, I did some shopping for christmas presents to send back home. In the evening were the mighty Yebisko Fireworks. They're supposedly the best in the prefecture and some of the best in Japan. Jennifer and i staked out our perch and met up with some japanese people from the Japanese club that Jennifer studies with. It was frickin cold and it only got colder. This made shivering and cuddling necessary, but overall, i have to say that it was worth it. Never before have i seen such awesome fireworks. It is truly "Rocket Science". These dudes do some amazing things with pyrotechnics. THere were greater numbers, bigger sizes, different configurations and longer lasting rounds than i had ever seen before. It was great. Not only were the fireworks great, but the human spectacle was super too. There must have been 20,000 people watching the fireworks and there were consequently about 1Km of fast food stands set up in front of the main viewing area. There were also only 2 staircaises leading away from this staging ground. You can imagine the crowds. Japanese people can function just as well as sardines as humans.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Yesterday was a really up and down day. First off, i had to teach highschool, which straight-up sucks. Particularly the girls in the first year class. They suck. I mean, it's one thing not to understand english, but another to be an asshole. They think that they're cute, but saying "Aa-roon" and laughing hysterically when I respond is just plain stupid. I got my butt poked as well, and they were so loud that the teacher next door came in to shush them. Kind of embarassing, really.
But, then it was over, as it always is, and i busted out of there fast, came home and went for a run. Let me tell you folks, this was a good run. I went across the river towards the small mountains over there and as i was jogging up through the orchards i saw what i assumed at first to be a grandma farmer. I know it's not just me, because i've confirmed it with other people, but these women look awfully close to Ewoks when they are rummaging around in the fields. I could have sworn that i was on the planet Endor in a galaxy far, far away.
At any rate, i saw not an Ewok or an obasan, but a monkey! And as i went further on the road past the bamboo thicket, there were more monkeys, probably about 20 of them. It's not every day that you see monkeys hanging out in the forest. I'll bet that they would survive well in the Carolinas. I'm thinking that monkeys could possibly be the coolest invasive species yet. I mean, zebra mussels, purple loostrife, giant asian tree-borers, they suck compared with the awesomeness of monkeys!

As i continued on my run i also saw the coolest thing ever (maybe). There was an apple tree with all red apples, and one yellow one growing on it's branches. Sooooooo cool. So i picked it. I don't know whether or not to eat it, maybe it has super powers or something.

Anyway, i had to teach a class later yesterday so i headed off for work around 6:30 and was bookin it down the main street here and was about 2/3 of the way to work, making good time when some ass who was riding his bike down the sidewalk decided to veer out into the street for some odd reason. I hate it when people do this, and it seems like japanese people do it a lot. They take to the streets going the wrong way against traffic. Anyway, this joker comes cruising right across my path and as i try to avoid him by swerving and braking, he flips out and tries to avoid me, only he does this by cutting me totally off. We crashed.
As far as crashes go, it wasn't that bad, no major owies on me, but my front wheel is a little screwed up and i ground my knuckes off. He apologized profusely and so did I, it just seemed like the custom. And really, what can i do, i can't very well ask this guy for his bicycle insurance.
But, my lesson went fine and maybe i don't have to go to S. Korea afterall. Apparently the laws were changed so that i don't have to leave the country for a stamp. We'll just see.
Check out the new pictures link. Jennifer just posted some stuff and you can surf, albeit slowly, through our past escapades.

coolest website i've seen in a while. Maybe even better than the ones that alf put on his blog. See if you can figure it out.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

So, I just found out that I need to go to south Korea in a couple of weeks to update my visa status. Apparently, the Japanese cannot possibly change a visa from within the country, it would be unconscionable. This is kind of cool, I've never been to korea nor have i ever been to a foreign country alone. I'm gonna have to find out where to stay, what to do and where the damn japanese embassy is. I've got to take my reciept of visa application to the embassy where they stamp it, wait a day and then turn it back to me the next day. Sound like diplomatic bullshit? Well, i suppose that i'm glad that i'm not dealing with the good ol' INS back home, but this is far from streamlined, if you ask me.
Hopefully Korea will be full of western style products, conveniently labelled, with large shoe sizes and fabulously low prices. We can hope eh? If anyone has some tips on Korea, please share them with me so i'm not just wandering the streets of Seoul destitute and lonely. I hear that Koreans are much better with English than the japanese. It would be sweet if i could get some wonderful, middle upper class Korean family to take me in for a homestay over the weekend where i would be pampered, led about the town in style and for the simple price of speaking english to their son or daughter.
Somehow i doubt that it will work out that way. I'll probably be really frustrated and confused and overwhelmed, like always. I'll just keep practicing my "Smile and Nod" routine. I think that after two months of understanding jack-squat, i'm pretty well versed with the bit.

Monday, November 17, 2003

I taught a superhero lesson last week at the girls highschool. It went pretty well. I wrote Super Hero up on the board and asked the class what that meant. Since they are all ignorant, I said that i would show them what it was all about and i went outside, put on my balaclava and a blanket as a cape and then charged back into the room to the amusement of the class. I then asked them to think of their own superhero, but i was surprised when everybody started writing about this guy, Anpanman.

Check it out, quite funny.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

I've been lazy this week. Not a step run since the race last week. My motivation just drained out of me. Additionally I didn't have that much free time that it wasn't raining. not really an excuse but for me, i really need a goal to train for. There is a marathon in the spring but i'm not sure that i'm really up for it. That's a lot of miles to run and it's one of those things, i'd rather do it well or not at all. I'm not so psyched about slogging my way through 26 miles slowly and painfully. Fast and painful is ok, but not so much the slow and painful.

I just checked the web for the results to the Iowa/Minnesota regional meet. The course has got to be short, let me tell you that. Not that i doubt that those guys are fast, but that is just ridiculous.

The race that i will really miss is the upcoming Turkey Trot or Living History Farms Race. That is a blast. Nothing better than getting muddy with the boys and girls and then eating donuts and drinking hot apple cider.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Well, this has been a long damn week. For 3 of the days i was out at work for 11 hours. GODDAM! And now it's friday and i'm psyched because i don't have to work tomorrow so i bought myself some shochu made from sweet potatoes. I expected an interesting flavor with maybe some earthy and sweet hints of potatoey goodness but what i got was fuckin moonshine. I suppose you get what you pay for and i didn't pay a lot. Damn, now i'll have to either want to really get drunk to drink this crap or figure out some way to deal with it otherwise. Maybe it will flambee good. If nothing else it will probably kill most germs and be a reasonable household cleanser.

There is snow in the mountains here folks, winter is not far off. Time for HOT SAKE!! Or maybe hot cocoa would be better since sake tends to make me drunk. Hopefully i can get myself some ski boots to fit and learn me some telemarking this winter.

Also, i just figured out that the NFLC (nagano foreign language center) will be closed for a week around newyears and i might just swing a trip to thailand. If anyone has tips on what to see there please let me know.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I also saw my first public ruckus in japan not caused by me directly.
I was tooling around the Gondo, an area in Nagano city which is reportedly known for its yakuza presence when i saw the cops. This was cool because i've seen police about 5 times since arriving in japan. They were talking to some tipsy looking guys when i went into this supermarket to get something to snack on. When i came back out they were gone but this drunken guy (god i hope he was drunk) in a business suit was swinging his briefcase around and yelling some stuff at the building, some people and i think maybe the pidgeons as well. Crazy bastard. I wish i knew enough japanese to get the gist of what he was saying. Probably something like, "You hairy barbarians, i find that your parents are dishonorable and you are also not as intelligent as most other people!" From what i understand the japanese don't have much for good swears. "Fu-ku" had to be imported from english.
I've gotta get a little more current with the postings, but really, it's my blog, so I'll do what i want eh?

So we ended up running our road race on Sunday. They call everything running wise a "marathon" if it's short, it's a "mini-marathon" I found this foolish because a marathon is defined as a particular distance of approximately 26.3 (?) miles. Ok, so i don't have the actual distance memorized, but it's just not possible to have a shorter version of a road race and call it a marathon. Anyway, so we lined ourselves up at the starting line after warming up for all of 5 minutes. The weather which had been balmy on saturday had just turned to shit. Wet, cold, and crappy. Jennifer, Lara, Shane and I all lined up at the start with a bunch of mostly highschool aged kids from, surprise surprise, one of Jennifer's schools. So they all gave us the eyeball, particularly to me as i was a good 8 inches taller than the next tallest competetior. Also my orange shirt, eddy merckx bicycling cap and sideburns helped me to blend in with the crowd. The gun went off and so did everybody else. I had wisely coached my fellow gaijin to avoid blasting out with the rest of the foolish crowd, but i was surprised to see some pretty fast looking highschool and post highschool aged guys at the front, blazing ahead. The race thinned out pretty quick and i established myself in the top ten, out of 40. I was beginning to pick off the highschool kids, maybe they were middleschoolers, who can tell, towards the end of the race. Everything was going as planned and then i heard this pitter patter of little feet, and knowing that i am not expecting children in the conceivable future, i understood that this must be the competetion. Sure enough with about 500 meters to go a kid, probably a good 10 pounds lighter than my already waif-like brother Asa, pulls up beside me. I let him get a stride or so ahead, but then i realize. . . there is no fucking way that this kid is going to beat me. I can tell that it's been his only goal this race to catch up to me and beat me. And really, who wouldn't want to. The mighty foreign devil stomping on little highschool dreams reared his ugly head about 100 to go and i spanked this poor little 15 year old into the dirt. It was satisfying in it's own way, i felt like an older brother again.
After the race we discovered that runners are the same everywhere, they're pretty social and a little weird. We met up with this guy who had run the 10k and he made conversation with us and his friends for about 30 minutes while they sorted the medals out. I was bronze by the way with a time of 18:15. I would like to think that i could have easily broken 18 without the mountaineering and beer swilling the previous night. Also, i didn't have my flats, a big oversight, really. At any rate, this guy and his friends love complimenting us and we try to respond back, then they picked up on the subtleties of our (read: MY) physical differences with them. They were astounded to hear of a size 13 foot actually existing and likewise marveled at my 35 inch inseam. After I got my bitchin medal, we headed off to the onsen for some nude relaxation. THings were swell.
We got into the place and decided to have a snack. Some toothless and increasingly drunken japanese sake swillers were chillin at a the next table to us. Being the uber friendly guy he is, shane somehow gets invited to drink sake with them and soon enough i'm there on the floor with them. This is cool, we are somehow able to communicate in that most universal of tongues, alchohol. They speak about as much english as we do japanese, so there was a lot of gesticulating and pointing but overall it was a nice time. I tried some of the japanese disgusting alchoholic pickled vegetable that these guys were gnoshing on. What a deal.
Then we got naked and soaked in pools of fart smelling waters that rejuvenate the skin and soul.

Overall it was an interesting day, and i haven't even mentioned the hyper-genki woman in Obuse who forced apple pie on us and told us about japanese corruption in the school system.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

We climbed mount izuna on saturday. I have, a great love of hiking, probably generated by memories of tromping around in the woods with my parents at a very early age. I always have appreciated getting out of the house and climbing up things. This is all fine and dandy in the midwest when one is unlikely to ascend anything of more than 100 meters in total eleation gain. However, there are mountains here. Tall ones, steep ones, and lots of them. I had forgotten how difficult it is to climb continuously up for 2 hours. It's tiring, and it makes your legs hurt, but not nearly as much as climbing down a mountain for an hour. Nothing will tear up your muscles like running down a mountain.
Japanese hikers or trekkers as they call them here, are almost always uber equipped. You might as well be at everest base camp as well as some of these folks are outfitted. Everybody wears good boots, gaiters a hat, has hiking poles and also bear bells. I'm not sure that there are really any bears in japan outside of Hokkaido, but everybody has the bear bells. Most folks also have the fancy-pants gore-tex jackets with the fancy pants that match. They're all polite, but all of them give us strange looks.
Unfortunately, it was kind of foggy that day, so we couldn't see mount fuji, which is supposed to be apparent on a clear day. Supposedly one can see the ocean on one side and Fuji on the other. I took a couple of probably crappy pictures of clouds and sticks and stuff, we'll just have to see how those work out.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

After walking around a lot we drank a lot, ate a little and paid a ton of yen at a fancy pants spanish "tapas" bar in Ginza. Yikes, man Yikes. I have never had back to back 5000 yen nights before. We also saw this exhibit at the tokyo international forum, a cool building, i'll post pictures later. The exhibit featured about 50 rubberized bodies of chinese people. These were real bodies, pumped full of epoxy or something and then cut up in interesting ways and displayed in a funhouse/museum setting. It was interesting, but more creepy than anything. I felt that the japanese people looking the bodies over were more like circus goers than museum onlookers. I felt as though we were in the freak show.

The next day we got up early, shook off our hangovers and attempted to see the super duper fish market in Tsukiji, on a good day the place is 54 acres of fish and thousands of people working them over. The area employs 50,000 people in the fish industry. Unfortunately it was closed.

I was a little pissed, and then it started to rain. Then we ate sushi for breakfast. This was interesting and a surprisingly good cure for a hangover. I reccomend it to anyone suffering ill effects from the night before. The place we went was awesome. There were about 10 guys in the center hacking up fish and putting them into delicate arrangement and one guy in the back chopping the heads off of the live ones that they kept in a tank. It doesn't get any fresher than that my friends. Whenever anybody walked in to the restaurant, the whole place errupted in Irishimasee which is the customary greeting to customers, something like "at your service". I ate toro for the first time, it is the fatty belly of the tuna and is by far the most tasty of the sushis. Damn good, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

One thing that you learn in Japan is that cooking is for wimps. I've eaten so many things that i was told had to be cooked, and look at me now, i'm still alive and i've even got the dexterity to type at 5 words per minute.

So, we went home after a day of wandering and pretending to be interested in stuff and then i came back to Nagano Station in the rain to find my bike had a puncture and some asshole had stolen my light, my new one that i had just bought a week ago. Dammit.

But, overall, tokyo was good, though i can't imagine living there.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Woke up late on sunday in tokyo. Then we went to Roppongi, the party central area of tokyo. We ate greasy ass burgers, paper thin style at the "Freshness Burger" We met Drunken Dave here. Drunken dave had popped some pill earlier that morning, about 3 or so and then drunk a lot more alchohol. When we met him, he began with, "How the fuck, you doin mate? Do i look fucked up to you ?" as he played with Shane's drink. We spent the better part of the next hour trying to get rid of this drunken Kiwi. He ended up following us to the movie, "Prosti" where he slouched down across the theater (reserved seats, thank god) He ended up leaving right after the show, where luckily we had the opportunity to listen to the director respond to some questions. I was at first worried about the movie, but it was really good.

damn, sleepy again
oh well, needless to say we ditched Drunken Dave and walked around a lot.

more later

Monday, November 03, 2003

I guess that since i've never been to new york, i can't directly compare with an american city of similar size, but holy shit Tokyo is huge. It's weird because there is no one place where you can say, damn, i'm in the center of a really huge city. It's more like, "how long can this go on, i thought i just saw the same intersection last block." There is just no end to the big buildings, busy streets and hordes of people. It took us about 2 hours to find our friends at the train station. Admittedly it is kind of a big train station, but it wasn't so much the size as the sheer volume of people. Probably 1000 to 2000 people move through the Shibuya intersection every minute for most of the day. Just wait until the crosswalk sign illuminates and then it's like the running of the bulls or something. Tokyo is just straight up huge and crowded.

Now he'res the time line:
Jennifer and i left on the bus about 9 in the morning and i promptly fall asleep before i can learn any japanese. Then we arrive at about 1 in the afternoon when we have to check into the hotel and meet up with our friends Lara and Shane. We arrived at the hotel and found that the japanese man who owns the place speaks perfect english and loves to practice for hours at a time on all of his english speaking guests. We then left to meet up with lara and shane at Shibuya station. Unfortunately we didn't specify an exact spot and unfortunately it took us a long damn time to figure out where to meet but fortunately we did eventually meet up with them. I'm almost sold on the cell phone idea.
Then we went to find tickets to the movies because that was supposed to be the reason to go to tokyo right, to watch films. Unfortunately the only one not sold out while we were there was called Prosti and we weren't too thrilled by the prospects. We then decided to maybe see if we could find a showing of Kill Bill so we wandered around to a theater that was showing it. Shane and I waited in line for about an hour on the staircase to get into the theater. By the end things were sweltering and we were getting pretty crabby. Anyway, the movie was ok, but they must have gone through a tanker of the fake blood during the course of it.
We later wandered around and met up with some other people and proceeded to spend a ridiulous amount of money on drinks at a bar. Truly mystifying how it all flew out of my wallet so fast. We had to catch the last train home at 12:50, which is truly an early last train time for a city that is so big and so busy all night long. At any rate we weren't satisfied with the drinking and so we searched around for a bar or izakaya or something to top off the night with but were ultimately unsuccessful.

more about sunday later

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

So how familiar is everybody with the concept of "culture shock"?
I'm not too well versed but the basic premise is that for the first week, you shit yourself with apprehension and disorientation but after that, you start to be amazed by all of the interesting things about the host culture. You are constantly in awe of all manner of things, from the crazy little tricicyles that the grannies ride around on to the bizarre new language you find yourself surrounded by.
After that you start to become a little jaded and realize that everything is all rosy and that the place you are stuck in really sucks and is probably the worst place in the world despite the fact that it's really not that bad when you look at it objectively.

That's kind of what i'm dealing with right now. I'm even sick of mountains. Where i'm from, in the good country of Iowa, they have a nice, safe, flat place to build houses on. You can see the horizon. Chances are, i'm not going to be able to see the horizon for a long while, unless you call the ocean the horizon, which is totally different. I also miss corn. Rice paddies just don't have the same aesthetic. Also, i have to get used to working really late. The last class most nights ends at right around 9:15 or so, which is fine most of the time, but after a week like that it kind of wears on me.

I think it would be much better if i were able to speak japanese. It's strange though, after a day of bombardment with the language it just doesn't sink into my head, actually, i feel less motivated to learn japanese after a day of exposure to it. I think it probably just seems like a futile endeavor and i give up before i start.

Hopefully the upcoming trip to tokyo this weekend for the film festival will spice up my appreciaton for the country. More likely, i just need to better adapt myself and get used to the scene here.

Or, i could always just bail out, fly back to the US and live with my parents until i'm 40, maybe.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Hmm, lot's of beer posts. I guess i must be lonely.

For beer.
Sunday was pretty spanking good weather and today just as great. I'm not sure what the rest of the year is like here, but fall is pretty nice weather-wise. I only wish that i were a professional vacationer or something like that so I could be outside enjoying it all the time. Saturday was clear and i saw snowcapped mountains for the first time. The change was striking, last week everything was green flecked with red and brown, but now the higher peaks have a snowy sheen. Ridiculous shit i tell you, ridiculous.
On this beautiful sunday i went out to the birthday party of this "life-er" in the gaijin scene here Eric. He's a world travelling kiwi with a penchant for motorcycles. Overall he's a really interesting guy. He's been here long enough to really understand the scene here in japan. He's one of the seemingly many westerners to marry a japanese woman. Of the 7 other guys at this party 4 of them had japanese wives. It was nice to meet people outside of the little Jet bubble. I really like jennfer's cohorts, but it's sometimes a bit too much like heading off to college again. Eric is a bit of a handyman and he's got a stable of 6 or so motorcycles and one giant sized roto-tiller. The man also makes some of the best homebrew i've ever had. Alf, this stuff really kicked (most) of our beers asses. Apparently he buys dry malt directly from Asahi (japan's budweiser) in 20 kilo bags, and since there's a flat rate for shipping of 2000 yen, he buys it 6 bags at a time or something. Oh yeah, he also grows his own hops. There is something awesome about the smell of hops. Maybe it reminds me of beer.
Our jet friend Shane and i are probably going to start some beer sometime soon, once we round up the necessary equipment.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Jennifer just got me to wondering if there are any fake travel blogs out there. I mean, it would be potentially very easy to fake it. I could be writing this from somewhere else, maybe Iowa or maybe Minnesota or wherever. I'm not, but how do i know other people aren't. Hmm, actually I don't care because i don't really read any of them except alf's blog (and often my own when i'm feeling self congratulatory). If you are a person with a fake blog who happens to be reading my blog which is not fake, please understand that I am cooler than you are.
The japanese word that i was first told means cool, kawaii actually is more like cute. It also functions kind of like cool, but more in the sense that Hello Kitty, who has no mouth, is cool. I suppose she really is, afterall, there has to be something rebellious and cool about you if there is a vibrator shaped in your image.
So, last night I had my first really good Japanese beer. Not only was this stuff good by Japanese standards, it was good by the standards of the world of beer. From what I can make out on the can it actually won some awards in a European contest of some kind. The beer is called Yona Yona and is made in Nagano prefecture somewhere. Here's the website which is in Japanese, and is surprisingly humorous when you put the site through the babel-fish translator.
Probably the best standard beer is Sapporo or the sub company of Sapporo, Yebisu. The other pretty good beer that I had was the Yebisu Black, it was kind of a porter and it would be perfect with only a little light on the hops. A great website on beer is this one that I found while trying to find out more about YonaYona. Ahh, beer, is there anything it can't do?
Anyway, this beer totally made my day. I had been working on saturday because the other fulltime teacher had a soccer tournament. The same tournament, in fact, that Jennifer was at, playing soccer of all things. Apparently her team sucked. Rightly so, they practiced only one time, but she scored 2 of their 3 total goals for the tournament. Finding the first truly delicious Japanese beer made me feel a little better about the day.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Japanes women, particularly girls make some pretty funny noises. This is particularly apparent in the "pretty" highschool girl set, but also post highshcool, there are some great sounds produced. There is giggling, which while stupid, i think is pretty standard across the world, i've been giggled at by groups of young women in the USA, Europe and now Japan. The really peculiar noise here is the one that they express surprise with. It sounds like kind of a "haruuuuuuhhh??" Think of maybe the pondering "hmmm" crossed with a dry-heave and you pretty much have it. I just have to think, "Do they really consider that a cute noise?" They must because they make it all the time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Today was, how shall i say, shitty. First, there was the major problem of me having to do my job. Today that entailed the instruction of 16 year old high-school girls at the private girl's school that my employer contracts out with. Too bad I HATE IT! Mostly the problem is that the students, despite studying the English language for the past 3 years at least, are still at an appallingly rudimentary level. Really people, how hard is it to grasp the concept "I like ___." Really, i am speaking about one class in particular, it is Joshko Girls School Homeroom 1-A. That's right you little toads, you know who you are.
It would be different if they at least tried to learn, but jesus, the litte blighters put their heads down on their desks and pretend I don't exist, a real blow to my ego for one, and straight up disrespectful for two. THen they proceeded to not understand the concept of counting off by 4s. I pointed at each girl and said 1, 2, 3, 4, not a difficult concept to grasp i think, and they sat there like zombies. At least the rotten 8 year-olds i teach would have at least started punching eachother or something.
Anyway, enough about them and more about the rest of my shitty day. Well, really, just the morning was shitty. I started out towards school on my bicycle, bundled up in the rainproof clothes necessary for the rain. Then, as I was heading up the street, I was swerving around another bicyclist when I misjudged the distance to a sign and clobbering my handlebar directly on the plastic of the sign which through me almost immediately to the ground. It sucked. My shoulder is pretty sore from where i must have hit the sign and my ass from where I definately hit the pavement. The stupid thing is that I wasn't even bleeding in any meaningful (read: getting out of work) manner. Stupid internal injuries. Whatever, I'm done with the day, the rest of it wasn't so bad.
Just a note: part of the rest of the day which wasn't so bad was hanging out with my boss Mr. Tomo Adachi, or Adachi-san Tomo if you're a Jap. He is a really great guy, and also one of the first Japanese people I've met with a discernable and really good sense of humor. He has been around the world and even worked as a teppanyaki chef in The Hague. Teppanyaki is the knife flipping style of cooking popular in America. Anyway, more on him later, but everyone would do as well to have a boss like Tomo.

Monday, October 20, 2003

So, i got some ninja socks the other day. They are strange but cool. I have finally realized my childhood dream of becoming a ninja turtle. The socks have the big toe separated from the little toe, which is cool, because my foot looks like a deer hoof when i have them on. Not only that, but i can make the peace sign when i take off my shoes. There are matching pairs of ninja shoes that i would dearly love to be able to wear, but they only make the damn things in tiny (relatively) shoe sizes. I'm gonna have to find a ninja footwear shop/big and tall store. Japanese men like to wear these things both out in the field when farming and also when they go snooping around in the woods mushroom hunting. It's a popular pasttime here, the mushroom hunting. Now is apparently the season for it and groups of about 5 men will go tromping through the woods in their ninja getup to sneak up on the wily matsutake mushroom which is nearly as expensive as the european truffle. I saw some in the store the other day and it was like 12000 yen for 3 medium sized nubs of mushroom. Apparently this is kind of a bad year for the wild mushrooms, however and they have been very rare.

This brings me to a little aside:
Who was the sorry bastard who discovered which mushrooms were poisonous. Did troops of fungophiles just put whatever they found into their mouths until some of them dropped dead? "Hmm, well Yoshihara-san bit it, Kawasaki-san, Kobayashi-san, you guys alright? Sweet, put those ones that you ate on the good list." It just seems lika ballsy sort of proposition to be a mushroom taste-tester. But hey, this is the country that brought us mugu.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

here is a bit of editoral comment from my esteemed friend and predecessor in all things cool Matt Healy
a nice start on the blog. keep it up, bub. a small editorial bit, the
disposable chopsticks are called "waribashi," "wari" being the verb
stem of "waru" (plain form, nonpast) or "warimasu" (formal, non-past) which is
the intransitive of "to separate." "Bashi" is "hashi"--chopsticks--except
that the ha becomes ba when preceded by certain sound combinations, not in
any systematic way of course.

Apparently the real chopsticks are called ohashi. As i mentioned, i don't really know japanese. Luckily, i'm paid only to speak english.

Anyway, i'm making pizza today. Jennifer and i just got a M-oaster oven. That would be a microave oven with real oven capabilities, as a toaster oven does. The thing is almost too big for the small-ass space in which we live, but i plan on utilizing it regularly. With luck there may be some hiking in order today, but that is not certain since the sun sets pretty early now.

It seems like every weekend we've been able to get out of town a little bit. This is awesome, because the surrounding countryside is fabulous. Maybe people who come from mountainous country would be less impressed, but on tuesday i spent about an hour and a half cycling up a mountain pass that took me about 15 minutes to go down. There is something pretty scary about accelerating from 0 to around 50mph in 1 switchback. Thanks only to my superb bicycle handling skills and nerves of steel i didn't crash and die on the treacherous roads. Also, i stopped several times to avoid melting my brakes. I'm sure that it wasn't really that freaky, but chist, i'm from IOWA.
I assure you that sooner or later i'll be posting some pictures. also, i've had a suggestion from doug to put in a comments box, that would be cool, but i don't know how yet.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Shit, my first post eaten already.

Anyway, it was about the japanese chopstick tree.
The japanese go through a phenomenal amount of cheap shitty chopsticks called ohashi, which is the specific word for the throwaway kind. THe real chopsticks have a different name which I can't remember, mostly because i don't know Japanese yet. Anyway, they deforest the equivalent of maybe Yellowstone each year for these shitty chopsticks. But, apparently this is perfectly ok, as a sushi chef master told some friends of mine here, because the tree from which the chopsticks are made is useful for nothing else. This tree can only possibly be used for making chopsticks, so don't be shy, eat all you want and don't worry about environmental reprocussions, it is the tree's sole puropose to make chopsticks for us to use and then discard.

Ahh, the inagural post on my new blog site. I suppose that i should explain the meaning of the temporary title, Kentu-don. They have Kentucky Fried Chicken here. Cool, right, if nothing else i can fatten myself up on fried chicken. Well here, apparently the cool kids don't say KFC like we do back home, they call it Kentu, because its the japanese word for Kentucky Fried Chicken. There are also these things called Don-buri which are kind of huge take out bowls of rice topped with fried shit and then they have an egg cracked over them resulting in something kind of like fried rice, but bigger. So the amazing folks who innovate all of the innovations up at KFC decided to whip up some KFC don-buris, hence the fabulous Kentu-don. Another cool thing about KFC here is that every store has this fiberglass replica of the real Colonel Sanders with real fake spectacles! Apparently they wheel him in every night so the kids don't steal his glasses.