Saturday, April 29, 2006

Vacation Time At Last

Today marked the last day that I officially have to work for about a week and a half, which means that the day after tomorrow, I am in a car on its way to Tokyo. Excellent, most excellent .

I am so excited right now and relieved that I am free of work for a bit that I kind of doubt sleep will come easily tonight. Odds are, I will end up cleaning and prepping the apartment for Karie and Reid's arrival and playing some Simcity.

Its kind of odd, this whole coming to Japan thing was something I have always wanted to do and now I am here. Going to Tokyo and hanging out for a few days is something that has been on my "to do" list for almost as long as I can remember and now I will be doing that, intermingling with its 12 million some-odd residents with my friends. Its funny to think that I have knocked these two things off my list already. But, like pirating stuff, you can never be finished with it. I have been thinking about what I will do for Golden Week next year and I am weighing the pros and cons of maybe going to Malaysia for a bit. If not Malaysia, possibly Korea...India has also been popping up on my wanderlust radar. I suppose I will figure it out when the time comes closer. If India is in the cards, I would probably go there after leaving Japan, its a tad too far to go to on a week long vacation. Since coming to Japan, if anything, my travel bug has gotten worse. There is so much to see here that I am constantly gone somewhere it seems and I go on a business trip of one sort or another almost every month as well and that takes me to new places. All of this however, does not quench my thirst to roam about. I am very torn by this, part of me wants to go back to the States and start teaching history somewhere but there is a big chunk of me that says that there is too damned much to see in the world and right now is my time to take as much of that as possible in. The only happy medium I have been able to figure out is what I am doing now and maybe working as a teacher on an Air Force base in Europe somewhere. Either way, I will be here for at least another year and then I will move on to somewhere else. As it stands now though, my next serious girlfriend is going to have to like travelling or else there will be issues. :)

Anywho, I am now on vacation. If you need to contact me, you will be able to find me in Tokyo and in a city called Takaoka, I will be staying with Karie and Reid for a bit after Tokyo. I will post throughout the trip and am warning you now to ready yourself for some visuals. Pictures will be taken with maximum prejudice. Time for a beer, Cheers!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

My Fourteen Year Addiction

Recently, due to an abundance of freetime and my newfound internet connection, I have waded back into Simcity 4. Of all of the games on any console or computer, Simcity 4 and its predecessors have kept me occupied the longest. I was just thinking about it and it dawned on me that I have been playing the game since I was twelve.

It all started with my Super Nintendo and me renting a copy of the original SimCity for it. I was hooked immediately and started putting pressure on my parents to buy it for me. On my birthday, it paid off and I spent most of the days to come playing that game. It is really amazing to run an emulator of the original Simcity now and compare it to the most recent version, the difference is night and day.

After playing the game on the SNES, I migrated to Simcity 2000 when it came out while I was in junior high. Jake and I would play that game all the time, that and Pizza Tycoon. Simcity 2000 kept me busy through most of junior high.

When I hit high school, Simcity 3000 hit the shelves and many a day were spent exploring and building new cities. It sported much better graphics than the previous two games and new options to control and micromanage. Toward the end of high school, there were rumors that the same company that had created Simcity, Maxis, was creating a new game where you simulate families and neighborhoods instead of big cities but that was a ways off yet. It sounded interesting but I was still into Simcity.

After highschool, shortly toward the end of my first year of college, The Sims came out and I really got hooked on that game. When Mushi and I started going out, it scares me to think how many hours we spent playing that game and also playing with my extensive Lego collection. If I got paid hourly for playing The Sims, I would be a millionaire by now. Deep inside, I still liked the idea of designing big cities though and Simcity never left my computer.

Simcity 4 came out about four or five years ago and the Maxis was not pleased with how the game turned out. They thought it was too hard for new players to get into the game and that the learning curve was way too steep. This thought was correct, but for veterans of the game, it was a godsend. Maxis has all but abandoned Simcity now because The Sims franchise brings in the bulk of the money and in theory, they are designing a new Simcity game....we'll see. Anywho, I just felt the need to talk about that game for a bit. The funny part, is that I have yet to build a city since installing the game on my laptop a few weeks ago. I just keep thinking of things I want to do with the city and do not want to start playing until I know where I want everything to go. Simcity, when you take everything away, is all about control. I like control, I also like micro-managing things to the Nth degree. Anywho, I suppose that is what draws most people to the game. That and the community support for the game is amazing. All of the new content that players have added have really kept the game afloat. That is an aspect of Sims 2 that I enjoy as well.

What games has everyone else kind of grown up with? There are not very many franchises that have been around in gaming as long as Simcity, Mario and Luigi would probably be another prime example though. Let me know, I already know a lot of the games that the rest of you played or still play but I think it is a fun tangent to think about.

Monday, April 24, 2006

T Minus Seven Days and Counting

In one week, my friends and I will be in Tokyo. :) I can't wait, this week's schedule is extremely hectic and I will be glad to get it out of the way. Tomorrow, I am in a town called Miki and then Wednesday and Thursday I am back in my area in Miyazu. Then on Friday it is back to Miki and finally, on Saturday, I am in Himeji for a meeting and then freedom.

Miki is a two hour train ride into the middle of nowhere. The town is small and the classroom that I will be in is also claustrophobically small. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am not looking forward to go there for two days out of the week. It will be a change and I always welcome that but I really don't want to go.

Anywho, one more week and then the fun begins. And looking at the weather forecast, it should be awesome weather in Tokyo while we are there.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Throwing The Books Out The Window

In general, the group that I teach for is a pretty good outfit. This is especially true for really little kids. The munchkins come and hang out with a white guy once a month and the rest of the time are with a Japanese, English teacher. They play games and sing songs like the ABC Song and while the program isn't setup to be like a hardcore school system, it is really more of a daycare for them. Their parents get a free hour every week to do whatever they want and we get to hang out with their kids and along the way, they might actually pick up some English.

For the older kids however, I feel like Peppy kind of fails them. The junior high kids that we have are taking English classes in the regular school and Peppy does very little to supplement that very well. This is probably why there are very few kids in the higher echelons of the program when compared to all of the younger ones at the bottom. They are not coming away from their Peppy classes with anything they can realy use in their junior high classes. This ticks me off.

Last night, I had two of my smarter classes out of all of the ones that I teach and I decided to do something a little different. The first and younger of the two classes, consists of four girls. Two of these four are really really smart. They were able to translate everything I was saying to their other two classmates and then when I had a question about something Japanese, they were able to explain the answers to me in English. They were clear in their answers, full of questions, and very happy that I was learning Japanese. They were particularly curious about my family and pets and where I lived in the United States. So, I started answering all of their questions the best I could. Yeah, there was an assignment that was supposed to be done and pretty much everything I was doing was not in the cirriculum but I think what I did for them last night was a much greater service then what the standard cirriculum would have offered them.

Peppy hires native English speaking Japanese people to expose the kids to what Western people are like and let them hear how English sounds when spoken by someone who has done so since the time they learned to speak. The thing that kills me is the fact that instead of doing really different cultural learning activities with them, we pretty much teach them the same stuff that the Japanese teachers are teaching. There might a couple of very slight differences to the lesson but essentially, we are not doing anything more than re-iterating what the kids have already learned before. This is stupid and I feel like my company is blowing a huge opportunity with all of its Westerners that it brings into Japan.

The girls last night just kept asking me questions and I kept answering them. They were not goofing off, they spoke excellent English for their ages, and it was clear to me that peppy had pretty much given them all it had to offer. So instead of doing the assignment, we had a conversation the entire session. When I asked them questions they answered the best they could in English, which was pretty good, and they even helped me with my Japanese some. Anytime a person is competent enough to keep up a flowing conversation for a full hour in a foreign tongue, they have a pretty good grasp of the language. I think the four of them had a ton of fun last night and learned much more than they had in a while. When class ended they didn't want to leave. They were learning much more than they had in a while from my company. And I had fun too.

The second group of kids were older and there were two girls and a boy. They were not as talkative as the prior class but they are as smart. I looked at the assignment they were supposed to be doing and it was way below their level so I changed it up a tad. There was a big chunk of the lesson that was a conversation about a kid's trip to Australia. It was lame but I had the kids read through it aloud to me so they could practice their reading skills. This did not take very long. At the bottom of the page there was a tiny segment on past tense and how it functioned so I made most of the lesson out of that. The kids have a hard time figuring ot when to say "went" and it drives me nuts. I remedied that with the class last night. I know I was being effective cause both of the girls were taking notes on the little tricks I was teaching them to help remember when to use "were" and "was". The thing that made me happy was I was actually teaching and they were actually learning. I like the Peppy program because it lets me stay in Japan but some of the approaches they take to what teaching actually is, is as I said, basically a daycare. Either way, by the end of the night I felt useful and I felt that the kids had learned. I was drilling them on stuff and they were coming up with the right answers so I was happy. We also touched on when to use the word "you" when speaking to someone. The Japanese do not use that word as often we do because in regular Japanese conversation. Their rule is that if you are talking to a person then it is assumed that you are indeed talking to that person and you don't have to use a word to let them know that. Thats logical to me.

Anywho, it was a good night for both the students and myself.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Make Up Your Mind

Okay, I am awake again and this time, it is sunny as sunny could be and like 65 degrees out. What is with this weather and why can't it figure out what it wants to do. Having said that, I will take the sun over the rain any day of the week I have to ride my bike as my only means of transportation. :)

Time To Buy Rain Gear

As I type this, it is 3am and my prefecture is under a thunderstorm advisory along with all but two or three other prefectures in all of Japan. Further South of my location, they have actually listed warnings for thunderstorms and gale force winds. There are also marine advisories all around the islands. I am not really creeped out, there have been some mean thunderstoms here and I am kind of used to them by now, but man, when the Japanese talk about thunderstorms, they are serious.

To give you an idea of what I am talking about, I am on the top floor of my apartment and my roof has padding and what not on it to dampen the sound of the rain, 95% of the time I can't hear anything and some of those times, it has been pouring out. About ten minutes ago I started to be able to hear it. I went out on my deck to take a look and it looked like all of the ocean had decided to take to the air and try to swallow Japan into its depths. There was water shooting out of gutter spouts like a foot and a half into the street. To hear the rain as I type, it sounds more like someone is pouring out a big bucket of water from the roof on to the street below than droplets of moisture hitting the concrete.

If it is like this when I wake up, I think tomorrow will be a Simcity and Sims 2 day. It always does this when I have the day off too, its annoying. Anywho, as the title suggests, I think I am going to be buying at least some minimal rain gear in the near future.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Floodgates Have Opened

Or in other words, as of 9:30am Japan time, I have the internet in my apartment. All is well in the world now and the downloading is well underway.

As for speed, lets just say that at least an entire season of a tv show, one movie, one game, a set of magazines, and at least one album will be finished by this time tomorrow. To put it in numbers, that is about 10gigs of stuff. :) Now the question is, when will I need a new hard drive?

Saturday, April 15, 2006


Over the past few days, it has occurred to me that I am now pretty good at reading stuff in Japanese. When I first realized this, I started to test myself to make sure that I wasn't reading things and comprehending based on memory alone. I started to look for items I have never used or looked at in the grocery stores to make sure I was actually reading and comprehending and low and behold, I was.

My newly acquired skills only go so far though toward my goal of being about 70-80% literate by the time I leave Japan. To be more precise, they get me about 25% of the way. The character set I can read with very little difficulty is katakana, the set used for words foreign to the Japanese language. Once you have the characters down, reading katakana is a lot like reading license plates on cars; sometimes you have to use a little imagination. The other kicker to katakana is that it is based on how the writer hears the foreign word being pronounced, therefore, each person could possibly hear the word a little differently and write it slightly differently. Foreign names can get tricky because of this. For example, my first name in katakana is pretty straight forward and phonetic, which makes it easy to write. My last name I have seen written a couple of different ways. Essentially, any name that has a lot of "l" sounds is going to give them problems. Japanese people have a horrible time distinguishing between "r" and "l" sounds. If you have seen the movie "A Christmas Story", the scene where the family goes to the Chinese restaurant for Christmas dinner and get Christmas caroles sung to them by the Chinese guys, thats pretty similar to the way it is here. I have been doing experiments on different ages of kids to see how well they can distinguish the words "right" and "light". I will write a big L on the whiteboard next to a big R and have them point to the letter when they hear the word I am saying. I have even done this with some of the parents too, and 90% of the people, parents and kids, I have played this game with, cannot hear "l" sounds. In their brains that sound is automatically interpretted as being an "r" sound. Its not their fault or anything but I find it extremely interesting from an educator's standpoint. I like seeing how peoples' minds work.

Anywho, katakana comes pretty easy to me now. I know most of the hiragana character set but I have a hard time with it because it is intermingled with kanji and its pathetic how little kanji I know that is useful. The thing that sucks about kanji is that memorization is the only way to learn them. There is not a lot of teaching methods for the learning of kanji because you are just supposed to know them. Its a pain. I am happy though, I have been here less than six months and have a bit more than half of the characters down that are not kanji. My Japanese lessons start next month and I am excited to be able to practice more. That and I want to show off....accursed competitive mindset.....I will be the best. Yeah, I am going to stop typing now. :)

Oh, by the way, in theory I will have internet on either Monday or Tuesday. I am not going to get my hopes up but if that guy comes on Monday and says he can't get a signal in my apartment, he won't be leaving my apartment until there is one there. Pirating wireless is novel when you have internet and are just doing it for fun but pirating wireless as a survival technique sucks. Its like eating grubs and tubers when there is a Wendy's across the street.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Hint Of Things To Come

Weatherwise, today is an enigma.

I awoke today somewhere around 11am and realized it was raining again and went back to sleep. My boss then woke me up around 1:30ish, it was his day at the office and he was bored. After talking to him for a bit, I looked out the window again only to see that it was still raining.

Over the past couple of days, I have been trying to get all of my mp3s off of the dvds and back on the hard drive. This has been a tedious task. Out of boredom, I began watching Ken Burn`s Civil War yesterday and before I left my place to come type this up, I had just finished the sixth episode. That means that in the last 24 hours, almost 11 of them have been spent watching the civil war. That is a damned good documentary by the way. Anywho, I was geting cabin fever and needed to get out so I came here to type on the old blog and scour the internet for a bit.

If I had not come outside, I would have guessed that the outside temperature was probably in the low fifties and windy. The clouds and the rain added to the dismality and I was not looking foward to the bike ride to this place. My guess was wrong. I got outside and was met by a warm breeze. Despite the scary looking overcast sky and the steady drizzle, it was probably almost seventy degrees out. Basically, it would have been a very nice day had the humidity not been 100%.

From what people tell me, this is kind of what summers here are like. You will be sweating yourself silly and it will be pouring rain outside with temperatures in the eighties or nineties. The weather now is almost pleasant but I fear that within a few months time I will not feel the same way.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Tattoo Gig

So last night, I went to Tatto Gig, not really knowing what to expect. After locating the bar, I walked up a flight of steps and was confronted by two heavily tattooed Japanese women. Upon seeing them, I figured I was in the right spot.

I had seen posters around town advertising the event and I could have sworn the price of admission was either $25.00 or $30.00 at the door. Either way, they charged me $40.00 and that got me a free drink. I wasn`t too keen on the cover but I was bored and so I paid it and went in.

The inside of the bar was laid out kind of like an aisle in a store. On either side of the place there were booths set up and guys were getting ink done by various artists from Kyoto and Osaka. At the end of the aisle was a stage and a DJ spinning on it. The place was dimly lit and wreaked of smoke. The kind of smell that sticks in your clothing.

Anywho, I went to the bar and got my free beer and proceeded to walk around and check out the tattoos. I was very very tempted to get another one but all of the artists were busy and did not show signs of taking on any new customers any time soon. Within five minutes of me walking through the door, a guy walked up behind me and wanted to know where I was from. I told him I was American and he asked if I was an English teacher. I told him yes and then he ventured to the next logical question given the situation, do you like tattoos. I told him I did and then he wanted to know whether I had any. I told him I had three and at that point he demanded to see them. So I rolled up my sleeve and showed him my Evil Homer tat and then showed him my shoulders. He was kind of cracking up but really liked my Homer so he told me to stay where I was and he would be right back. After a few seconds, he returned with another guy who also asked to see my arm and upon seeing it, asked me to follow him. I hoped I was getting a free tat on account of my badass Homer ink but instead, I was being led to a photographer. The guy leading me asked if I would be okay with them taking some pics of my Evil Homer and I said that was cool. Within a few minutes, a professional photographer had snapped pics of a funny tattoo on the only white guy in the place and both of them seemed very pleased. After this, they thanked me and let me go back to looking around.

I had been looking for a few minutes when the music stopped and someone thank everyone for coming and then introduced a couple of women. The DJ started up again and the two women began to dance. Break dancing, micro-mini-skirts, suggestive moves, hot Japanese women. Yup, nuff` said.

Anywho, the semi-decent DJ quit spinning after a bit and another DJ replaced him and began mixing this weird, surf rock, punk, 50s sounding stuff. That is where it went downhill. The Japanese love surf rock and aggressive guitars and drum beats. I however, am not a fan. So after taking in an hour and a half of smoke, tattoos, and loud music, I departed, leaving behind a bar full of mostly men and yakuza members all singing along to the Japanese surf punk that was churning from the speakers.

It was an interesting experience, though it really wasn`t worth $40 but it was an experience nonetheless. Anywho, no new tattoos unfortunately and no hot tattooed Japanese women following me home. So I did what any single, half-decent looking, American guy does when living alone in Japan. I went home and sorted through my MP3 collection. Hmm...maybe I should have added nerdy to that last description.

Another Entry On The List Of Professions I Wasn't Meant To Work In

Hair Stylist.

So yeah, my hair has been getting kind of long, especially in the back and when I woke up today I decided to do something about it. No more $42.00 haircuts for me. Every place you can get a haircut in Japan is filled with "stylists" not ordinary barbers. This title lets them tack on an additional $15.00 to even the most mundane of haircuts. The last guy I went to here was good and gave an excellent scalp massage but, he was not $42.00 good. And on top of that, he didn't take enough off and I ended up trimming it down a tad when I got home.

Anywho, today I gave myself a full blown haircut and while not the most horrible cut I have ever seen on a person, its nowhere near great. I would call it passable....barely. Either way, my hair grows so fast, I am not too bothered by it. The only thing that annoys me is the fact that you can definitely tell I am right handed due to the uneven cut but I am not sure how to totally correct for it. Oh well, it all grows back and its not too bad. If anything, I have given the Japanese people a legitimate reason to gawk at me now other than my being white.

On another note, I am going to an event tonight. I am not sure exactly how to describe it so I am just calling it an event. There is a bar in town called Sound Ratt and I guess it is where all of the live music venues play while in Fukuchiyama. Either way, they are having what they call, Tattoo Gig, tonight. In theory, there are going to be a couple of DJs and a couple of bands and four tattoo studios from Osaka and the surrounding area. What they will be doing there, I am not sure. I do not know whether they are giving tattoos or just showing off some of their work in order to get people into their shops. Either way, I am intrigued and will be going to it tonight. Part of me says there is no way they would be doing ink jobs in a crowded bar due solely to the fact that when people drink, the alchohol thins out their blood and they bleed more. That is why most tattoo shops I know of will never tat anyone drunk. But then again, this is Japan and I have seen some strange stuff here so who knows. All I know is that I like tattoos, I like DJs, and I like drinking. Oh yeah, I also like women with tasteful, not scary tattoos. So this evening has the makings of something that will be entertaining if nothing else and if they are giving tattoos, then I may leave with another one. Who knows? Anywho, I will report more when I get back.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Another First!

Since coming to Japan, I have had a lot of firsts. But I just did something for the first time that I have wanted to do all of my life. I CAN TOUCH MY TOES!!!!!

Ok, I know that sounds dumb but I have never been able to touch my toes. When I was little, I would go to PE class and they would have those stupid little measuring sticks to see how far you could reach and my teachers always were disappointed with me because I couldn't touch my toes. Screw you all, you lame gym teachers, I can touch my freaking toes now! Ha!

Lately, I have been stretching more, this coupled with the fact that my gut isn't what it used to be, has finally allowed me to reach a goal that I have had for a long time. I tried to do it a few minutes ago and while I am definitely not comforatble in that position and I had to bounce a tad, I did it. I think as the days go by, I will be able to do it more easily. Anywho, I know this was kind of a dumb post but I am really excited by this for some reason. Now if I could only do a pull-up...that may be a while. When I used to lift weights, my trainer said that in order to do a pull-up most people have to have less than a certain percentage of body fat and I know I am not there yet, though I can't remember what percentage it was.

Trivia Fact of The Day: In order to see your ab muscles, men have to have less than 8% body fat and women must have less than 14% body fat.

And on that note, time to go find something for dinner. :)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Profile Updated

Not that it horribly matters because its not linked to this page anyways, but I have updated my blogger profile. I realized that I had not done this since I started this blog, so I have altered it slightly and updated my likes and dislikes. It seems like such a dumb thing to do because I think the whole profile thing is kind of shallow but I updated it just because I know people can search blogs based on interests. That and I was bored.

In other news, I have a new favorite cd, The Avalanches - Since I Left You. It is kind of a chill, house-ish, sounding album, but very upbeat. If I were going to throw a beach party in the South Pacific, this would be the cd that would be playing in the background. The group likes to sample a bunch of unique sources namely, Westerns, and old television shows from the early Seventies. At least that is kind of the vibe that I get from it. There is one song in particular called, Frontier Psychiatrist, that just rocks. The way the sampling is done on it is downright amusing.

Anywho, I am just killing time until classes begin. I have tiny munchkins today, three and four year olds. They are usually the cutest and funniest kids to teach though. That and the Japanese teacher comes and helps out with them and she's cool too.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Biking Fukuchiyama

After yesterday's massive rainstorm, Mother Nature decided to apologize and bath the town of Fukuchiyama in warm weather. Therefore, I decided to go for a bike ride.

Part of me really wanted to go to Osaka but I figured I would save my cash and just hang out here instead. There is a bridge in town and I had never been across it or near it for that matter so I decided today was the day. It turns out that there is even more Fukuchiyama than I previously thought existed. I went through an old shopping area and by a good sized park, eventually coming to the bridge I have been able to see in the distance but have never gone to.

I crossed the bridge and upon arriving at the other side, found a cool little bike trail that followed the river. Eventually, I went through a cluster of rice paddies via a small road and ended up back in the city itself, though in a place I had never seen. I found a store call "Video in America" and the cheesy name invited me in for a look. It was just another video store so nothing special. Though, the vending machine outside the door had mint chocolate chip ice cream so that made me happy. Mint chocolate chip is hard to find in Japan and it is also my favorite flavor. For one reason or another, mint and vanilla are two flavors that the Japanese do not seem to interested in. You can find vanilla ice cream but any other vanilla products are pretty much out...including my vanilla flavored Stolli Vodka. Oh how I miss vanilla Stolli. Anywho.

After meandering through town and finding the biggest bowling alley I have ever seen, I came back to the apartment. I probably rode about 15 miles today, so not too bad of a ride. Now, I must find dinner.