Monday, May 31, 2004

gettin frisky with the fauna (sea slug in this case). THe sea slug is pretty strange, you flip the little dude on it's back and in just one or two belly rolls it's right side up again. If only we had no spines...

The mighty sea urchin attacks

some lava from Sakura-jima (Cherry blossom island)

Sunday, May 30, 2004

They're playing Weird Al Yancovic on the weather channel here. We've got "Eat it" blasting as I look at the high temperatures and rainfall forecast. That's an awesome blast from the past.

in Sakurajima, night picnic Posted by Hello

on the shinkansen, lara and shane Posted by Hello

the Megane-bashi, or Glasses Bridge, nagasaki Posted by Hello

this little dude lives in Chinatown in Nagasaki Posted by Hello

we camped next to this hotel in Fukuoka. Posted by Hello
Ok, here's the deal, i've just figured out Blogger's new posting deal and I can apparently post pictures for free. Over the next couple of day's I'm going to be posting a simply massive number from the recent trip to Kyushu.


Saturday, May 29, 2004

Yasuko, one of my co-workers told me this story yesterday:

Earlier in the week one of the little boys from the elementary kids class pulled Yasuko aside and told her, "Yasuko, this is top secret right?"

"Yeah sure, what's up?"

"Well, when I grow up, i want to be like Aaron."

"REally, why is that?" she asked incredulously.

"Well, he's tall and he wears a pink helmet. I want to wear a pink Helmet too!"

That's it folks, I'm cool. I can honestly say that it's the first time in my life that I've been cool. Let's just pray that it's not the last.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

I got some of my classes switched around on friday nights. Apparently I'm to be teaching jr highschool girls because, "They don't like Stephen," my co-worker. He puts them on the spot and then touches them, probably innocently, but all the same, annoyingly. The japanese don't much do the body contact thing. Now since I'm from the midwest and we, like the japanese never touch unless we have to, I should be a safe bet to teach these little pukes.

Another little cultural aside, the japanese word for "pervert" is, すけべ which sounds like skebbey and is what my mom would jokingly call spaghetti when we were kids. Just a coincidence, but a strange one.
An interesting aside found by jennifer.

In an annual global survey of sexuality, Japan consistently ranks last
terms of the frequency of which people have sex. In Japan the average
a paltry 36 times a year, compared with a global average of 97 times a
year. When asked what activities they would rather do than have sex,
of Japanese said sleeping, and 13% said shopping. Japan fares better in
other areas of sexuality though, ranking 7th in the world in the number
of sexual partners, with an average of 10.2 partners compared with the
global average of 7.7. Japan is close to the average in the age of
sexual experiences at 18.2 years old, close to the world's average of
18.0. Another statistic of interest from a survey within Japan is that
almost half of Japanese men have paid for the services of a
sex-professional, 75% of those by visiting brothels in Japan and 25%
using prostitutes in a foreign country

Monday, May 24, 2004

I met my first gay japanese guy last night. He visited my class and is thinking about signing up. The "flamer" persona is a little bit strange when compared with the standard american male, discernable when compared with a stereotypical european guy and when it comes to the standard japanese guy it sticks out like a sore thumb. The japanese are famously stoic and this fellow was actually expressing emotions! What's more, when I suggested that he visit a class on Friday he responded, "Really, on Friday evening, you must be kidding." Not in all my time here has anyone objected to a Friday night class. It's just that they don't seem to do anything special on Fridays, no relaxing or whatever, it's just another work day on saturday for many. That was the clincher, gay.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

The idea for this weekend was a rock climbing expedition to someplace about 3 hours from here in eastern Nagano prefecture. We left at about 7 on saturday morning to some kind of hazy skies and then drove to this place called Ogawa Yama (big river mountain). The whole place reminds one of your archetypal japanese landscape painting. Strange rocks poking out of the forest canopy and mists shrouding various parts. Apparently this place is like the climbing mecca of central japan. The campsite was pretty full of people, almost all of them rock climbing. You can tell by the rugged look and the gnarly forearms. We got in and set up camp and shortly therafter we set out to go climb some rocks. We found a really easy pitch and two of the experienced women (5 women plus me and Shane) went ahead and scrambled up to the top to prepare the way down for the rest of us. This is when it started to rain. Steph and Ellium were up on the rocks and getting the smackdown from some increasingly hard rain. It was a little nervewracking but mostly just cold and wet. A wet rock is a slippery rock which makes it a dangerous rock. THis is no fun. Saturday was effectively shot since the rocks were all wet and there was nowhere that we could safely climb. So we went to the climbing festival that was going on. This was probably the single most fun part of the weekend because they had some super bargains on clothing and gear for the climbing minded. I got a new jacket and a new pair of pants for 8000 yen($77), both of the items significantly reduced from original retail, i might add. I also scored 2 climbing harnesses, one for me and one for Jennifer for the grand sum of 1000yen ($9.50). And i got a chalk bak for 300 yen. It was an extravoganza!!!

I had to think positively because the remainder of the weekend was quite the flop. The next day started positively, I honestly thought I saw the sun peeking out from the clouds. This was not to be however and as soon as we touched the rock it started to rain again, effectively ruining the day for climbing. We then headed back to Nagano and spent a couple of hours in the climbing gym to make up for lost time otherwise. Unfortunately for my carmates, I was the spitting image of Bloodnut the Flatulent and was uncomfortably ripping them all the way home. This was complicated by the fact that my window broke and wouldn't roll down. There are few things substantially more embarassing than calling out your incoming farts to your carmates.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

For some reason I bought a recorder, you know the musical instrument most favored by third graders, today at the music shop. I don't know what posessed me, but it certainly wasn't logic. Now i'm either going to learn to play it (unlikely) or to stash it in the closet. At least it wasn't the jaw harp that I was considering.
I just wanted to let Ben know specifically that I shaved myself a Fu-Manchu specifically for my recent vacation and I've got some pretty good photo footage of it. Believe you me, it's the first moustache I've had for more than a day, and it probably won't be the last.

Monday, May 17, 2004

I'm recovering from the weekend.
Saturday progressed from rather droll to nervewracking to embarassed to relieved to drunken to sleepy.

Saturday was the JET community's talent show. I mentioned before that I got roped into it somehow, well actually with the aid of some beers and flattery, I was involved. We left for Matsumoto, the cooler twin sister to Nagano city, about 60 km south early-ish in the morning and went through the obligatory practice, set up and whatnot. Things seemed to be going fairly smoothly (well not that bad at least) up until the show actually began and one of the performers began his drunken merriment. Leon, an alchoholic englishman who was supposed to be playing guitar in the middle of the show, had been up to his usual (so i've heard) stuff. Rather inebrieated at the outset of the show he was up and down all during the show drinking and yelling. When the time came for his act, he was actually supposed to be yanked since he was so drunk, he got onto stage yelled and wandered a bit and then proceeded to bang out some songs and then afterwards stomped his guitar to bits. It was a shocker to the japanese let's just say that. This was made worse by the fact that the Emcee, Tiffany, was pretty much inable to do her job effectively and kind of got into a tiff with the drunken Leon.
On the other hand:
Jennifer's act went pretty well. She and a host of other people in Nagano had been practicing a STOMP-like performance and they got through it with only a few minor glitches and the audience, which to this point had been full of rudeness, gave them good reactions for the first time.

I was up second to last and I was surprisingly not so worried once I actually got up onto stage. I kind of remembered the old rush from highschool plays and I just enjoyed hamming it up a bit. I did my introduction, sang my songs and had a nice time up there with the power of the microphone in my hand. There's something nice about having a mic. I think its the fact that no matter what some idiot yells at you, you can be louder without even really trying.

Afterwards, we packed it all up into Lara and Shane's car and headed over to the pub. See, matsumoto is cool enough to have an honest to god English pub. Certainly the beer is ridiculously priced, but hey, it's good beer. They had Kilkenney, Guinnes and Tetleys on tap and we also sampled from their selection of ciders.
Overall the night ended on a good note, I even ended up finding out that Leon's not really a bad guy, just a goddam alchoholic. It made me feel more sorry than angry with him. I was actually more pissed at the rest of the foreigners in the crowd, many of them having smuggled drinks into the auditorium and gotten drunk, would yell things at some of the acts. What a great impression to give to the Japanese people in attendance.

At least the whole sordid affair is over now. I'm happy to say that I don't have anything like that to do for a while.

Friday, May 14, 2004

We got the photos back from Kyushu the other day. Out of about 72 exposures there are 15 really good ones. I think that's about par for my average however. I'll work on posting them maybe tomorrow. Today jennifer and I are all busy with the JET talent show. Somehow I got roped into playing the guitar in front of people. My playlist includes "Just like Tom Thumbs blues", "Blackbird" and of course "Get your Copper Kettle".

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Blogger has changed its format in my absence. This is probably ok, since the old one continually ate my wonderful prose.

I'm back from 9 whole days of fabulous not work. It also happens to have been the most expensive vacation (per day) that I've ever been on, probably due to the fact that we're in Japan, which is ridiculously expensive to begin with. Thank god that we were camping most nights instead of staying at hotels.

The first day was pretty much spent just travelling. Jennifer and I took off from here at 8:00 on the bus and we met up with Lara and Shane later in Tokyo at the monorail stop. It was good to be underway and during some shopping time (shane's birthday was on Earth Day) I found that the Tower Records in Tokyo has Cyclesport Magazine on it's racks, IN ENGLISH!!
I gladly paid the $10 and happlily had something to read on the various plane, train and boat rides of our trip.
We flew domestically from Tokyo to Fukuoka, the biggest city on the island of Kyushu. Airports are pretty much all the same no matter where you are, but I was surprised that no one ever looked at our picture identification. This seems rather foolish to me. If I were a terrorist, this would be a pretty easy place to hit. Anyway, we landed without mishap and proceeded to eat the local Ramen specialty which consists of some greasy noodles and pork broth. It was pretty good. We then staked out our claim on a bit of the public beach there. It was convenient and free and the security guard who hassled us seemed generally sorry to have to bother us and assured us that if we left in the morning it would be just fine.

The next day we travelled to Nagasaki and saw the sights there. The city has a good feel notwithstanding the fact that it was blasted by the second A-bomb. What a major fuckup that was. The hypocrisy of american foreign policy based on WMD is never more clear than when you are standing among relics of a blast dropped by your own government. The hardest hitting display for me was the human hand bones fused into a hunk of molten glass caused by the blast.

Since it started to rain about halfway through the day we booked some rooms in a love hotel, complete with mirrored wall and S&M on the TV. What a great place, but cheaper than many other options. The shower was nice at least.

The next day was spent travelling to Kagoshima, home of the nastiest Sho-chu (japanese crappy distilled alchohol) in the country, and also of one of the more active volcanoes. We camped and ate on the volcanic peninsula of Sakura-jima and got pretty wet in the process as it rained all night. Lara and Shane had it worse since their tent was less than waterproof despite being more expensive than ours. We checked out the volcano and the seashore which was totally awesome for me since there were so many crazy things that I'd never seen before. Oceanic life is all new and interesting to me, an Iowa boy.

We then took the jet boat to the rainforest island of Yakushima off the southern coast of japan. THis place is kind of similar to the Olympic peninsula of Washington, but there is a more jungley feel to it since it's so much further south. We camped the first night at a campground that was half kooky garden, half woodcarving museum. The associated restaurant had a gigantic wooden torii shaped like big penises arching over a larger than life carved tiger. Pretty damn crazy. The island is famous for its really old cedar trees. Some are 7000 years old and we hiked to see some of them on the following two days. SInce the island has such a small population, there is no regular bus service and we rented a car for the 3 days we stayed there. The convenience was superb and we really "did" the island properly. We were also graced with the good fortune of beautiful weather for 2 of the 3 days. Yakushima also boasts one of the few co-ed, fully naked, seaside open natural onsens in the world. After meeting some really cool Brits at the campsite we went back to the onsen and soaked in hot water with the sounds of the seaside crashing just meters away. This place is super cool because you have to time it with the tides, at high tide the pools are submerged and a low tide they become hotsprings again.
I had always scoffed at people describing their island getaways as perfect paradaise, but realisitcally, after visiting Yakushima, I totally believe it. I really didn't want to go back home and still am dragging heavily at the thought of work in a few hours. Working sucks, no matter how good your job is (as far as I can tell.)

For our last day of vacation we travelled to Aso Dake, the most active volcano in the world. The hike was surreal, over the broken shards of volcanic spew and the stinky crater visible from the peaks surrounding it. It was stunning in its wastes. You can totally imagine what Mars or the moon look like up close. Also, I imagined myself slogging through the bowels of Mordor to Mt. Doom, it was just that cool.

Some general observations:
Kyushu is the place to go if you want to live in Japan and don't really have a giant thing for skiing. The people are super friendly (for Japan) and they actually want to have conversations about stuff, even if it is just the basic bullshit about your name, job, home country, etc.
My Japanese is shit. I had the worst Japanese of the group and so was consequently feeling a little embarrassed about it. I gotta get to studying and really be able to communicate the basics at least.

More to come and pictures will soon follow.