Sunday, July 30, 2006

I Miss A Good Kitchen

Tonight, I wanted good food. I wanted to make something that was not out of a box, not pre-cooked, and not beef. Since turkey is basically non-existent here and I am not a pork or fish fan, chicken was the meat of choice. I like chicken and I know quite a few ways to cook some good chicken dishes; the downside is that most of my favorite chicken dishes require an oven or a barbeque grill.

I have said it before but man, I miss having an oven. I miss casseroles, coffee cakes, muffins, cookies, everything. I miss having a fully functional kitchen.

To give you an idea what I am dealing with here, this is an inventory of my cooking equipment:

(1) Gas Burner: I do not mean one set of four gas burners, I mean one very lonely, solitary burner.

(2) Butter Knives

(2) Cutting Knives: I have a big psycho style carving knife and one paring knife. I weep at the thought that I used to have a full knife set.

(1) Measuring Cup

(1) Frying Pan

(2) Medium Pots

(1) Strainer: Technically, I have two but I only use one.

(1) Spatula

(1) Cooking Spoon

(1) Ladle

(1) Microwave

That is pretty much the ballgame when it comes to what I can cook with. I do have a very small toaster oven but I have never used it because I have a hard time making anything fit in it. Obviously, I do not have a lot of options open to me as far as cooking goes. Not having an oven puts a crazy dent in the dishes available to me.

There are a couple of upsides to having a limited kitchen. First, I have learned how to plan my meals much more thoroughly. I need to know what order things are going on the burner and how fast foods cook. I have gotten much better at this since coming here. Second, I can make a mean grilled sandwich now. I have taco variations of a grilled cheese, there is my exemplary patty melt with blue cheese that I whip up from time to time. I am a grilled sandwich master. Lastly, you learn how to make a few ingredients go a long way.

This evening’s dinner was an example of that last point. I ended up making a blackened grilled chicken breast with lemon and garlic accents, as well as grilled red peppers over the top. To go along with the meat, I made a fettuccine alfredo with broccoli that was very tasty. I have to say though, the chicken I made tonight may have been my best chicken ever. I bought a big lemon and squeezed it into the pan with a little bit of butter and some garlic and it was to die for. Next time, I will go a little lighter on the lemon but the taste was extremely refreshing. It was a light dish flavor-wise, but very filling and it gave me plenty of leftover chicken for tomorrow. I think for lunch I am going to make some fried rice with the leftovers and see how that goes. Or a may just have some chicken and rice. If I get really ambitious, I will try to make a soup for dinner out of it tomorrow night. The cool part is that by making that chicken, I have a plethora of options open to me for tomorrow.

The thing that sucks about living here when it comes to food is that I am learning how to cook much better dishes here but I do not have a kitchen to make them in and experiment on them. I have wanted to make chicken and beef stocks for use in soups and other dishes but I do not have a pot big enough to do it. I also cannot do without that one burner for as long as it would take the reduction. When I come back to the States, I will be a cooking god. I do not think I was too bad before I left but now, I will be better. In my free time here, I watch a lot of cooking shows and download tons of cookbooks. Lately, I almost wish I had a degree in culinary arts. Another thing that I WILL have upon returning to the U.S. is an oven with gas burners. Everyone always says how gas is so much better than electric and now I know why. You can be much more specific with your heat and its instantly there, no warming up.

Anywho, I am not sure why exactly I made this post. I guess for a few weeks now, I have been getting sick of food and eating and tonight, I had something that actually made me happy and satisfied.

I have mentioned it before, but there are few things in this world that bring me peace like cooking does. My blood pressure goes down when I make a simple grilled cheese sandwich but to be able to relax while cooking and then eat a fulfilling meal is icing on the cake.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Summer School

Tomorrow will mark Day 4 of my eight day summer school marathon and I must say, its better than I expected it to be. As I thought, my worries were unfounded and teaching the classes has been a cakewalk. The parents that sat in on my fist two days were happy with the lesson and all of the kids enjoyed it as well. For some reason, the parents cannot get over the fact that I am 26 years old. Everytime I play the game where the kids try to guess how old I am, whenever the kids figure out my age, there is this gasp of awe from the parents. I am not sure whether they thought I was older or younger than 26 and I am not sure why it makes a huge difference or if its better to be older or younger. Its odd.

In other news, the new girl I mentioned a few posts ago quit or was fired yesterday. I am not sure which, maybe a bit of both. Either way, my boss's boss called me yesterday to tell me that I was now going to be teaching one of the new girl's summer school classes and that it was one of the busiest in the area. I guess there are six classes a day so that should be...something. One of my classes today had 13 kids in it and that was crazy. Most summer school classes only have four or so kids in them. The kids were very well behaved but there were too many of them to get through all that I wanted to get through without worrying about the younger kids falling behind.

Now that I am taking all of the new girl's summer school classes in Kasai, I will be in a hotel there for at least one night but probably two. Then, the next day that everyone has off, I am going to Toyooka to teach a makeup class because of the day that the rain closed the train station down. Then, I will get a day off. The second week of August, I get four days in a row off so that will be sweet. I also submitted my time off request to go to Tokyo the last week of September so I am looking forward to that as well. The two days at TGS is going to be cool. I am hoping I will be able to play the Wii before it launches.

It sucks that the new girl quit because that means the rest of us have to pick up all of her slack until her replacement arrives, which will hopefully be toward the end of August. The way I figure it though is that maybe this replacement will be better looking and acting than the previous one. As far as my boss is concerned, he will be happy if she can show up at any given place on time. I can't blame him.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


This really should not bother me enough to post but it does. It drives me absolutely insane, despite the fact that it really doesn't affect me for the most part. Its the principle of it.

When I was little, my class would be taken to get a sip of water from the drinking fountain and we all had to line up, "single file, no pushing or shoving", and get a drink. People who took cuts in line were demonized and made to feel like they alone, had just wiped out a tribe of Native Americans. Cutting was evil, pure and simple. This anti-cutting doctrine was embedded into my brain at a very young age.

Fast forward twenty years and here I am. While I am not the guy that gets so bent out of shape as to say something when people cut in line, the whole principle that someone has taken cuts in a line bothers me. What makes it worse for me is that the people that do this are old people. Sneaky, sneaky, ninja-like, old people. These are people that if you saw them on the street, you would mentally prepare a list of things to do in case they collapse in front of you, dialling 119 for instance. Yes, 119 is the Japanese version of 911, anywho.

Not a day goes by that I do not have an old person cut in front of me while waiting in line for a train. In Japan, there are five national pastimes; baseball, drinking, smoking, steeling bikes and umbrellas, and if you are old, cutting in front of people to get on trains. All but baseball drive me crazy, but none so much as the cutting. There are basically three varieties of cutters that one will encounter while in Japan.

First, the "in-your-face" cutter. These are the old people that I respect the most. You will be standing in line, hell, you may be the only person in line, and you see them coming toward you. Usually, cutters of this variety are male and in their prime, they were probably the hardcore, go-getter type. These guys will come up to the line, look at all of the people in the line, and then while looking at you, they proceed to cut to the very front of the line. After seizing their territory, they look back down the line and squint. They see me looking at them and they return my gaze with a firm, unyielding stare. They are daring me to say something to them. They know what they have done, they know I saw them do it, but they do not give a damn. I can respect this, these men have balls. Oh yeah, when these guys cut, they don't just pick the middle area of the line to cut into. They don't pick the part of the line that may be three of four people from the door, oh no. They go straight to the absolute front of the line. When the door of the train slides open, they WILL be the first ones on.

Next we have the "party" cutter. These queue screwers are usually female. This works more like a clever scam than an outright cut and the deviousness of it bothers me more than the cutting itself. The way it works is you will have a group of three or four ladies, all of them gabbing and being merry. You will hear their conversation before you see them and then once they hit the train platform they head to a line. They work like raptors preparing to sweep in on an unsuspecting paleontologist; as a group, they simply merge into the middle of a line. This is natural and they do not break a beat in their talking, one minute you were six people from the door of the train, now you are hoping to break into the top ten. These women are oblivious to the fact that they have just shafted half of a line or, they simply pretend not to notice. Either way, you just got cut.

Lastly, we have the cutter that I despise the most, the "inchers". These cutters can be either sex and they always work alone. Unlike the "in-your-facers", the "inchers" know what they are doing is wrong but do not have the piss and vinegar to go straight to the front of the line and stare down would-be complainers. Instead, the "inchers" start at the back of the line. After being there a second or two, they walk forward a tiny bit. After securing this new ground, they scan the area to make sure they are not being watched. Then after they are comfortable that no one is watching, they shuffle up a little more. They stop, scan, and shuffle. Rinse, wash, repeat. After five minutes or so of baby steps, they are now in the front of the line and you just got screwed by a passive aggressive, geriatric wanting a window seat.

How does this happen? Easy, Japanese people loathe outright conflict of any sort. They would much rather get bumped from a train or their desired seat than be seen as a gripe that was trying to make waves. As the saying goes, "the nail that stands up must be pushed back down". Its not good to make waves. Japanese people are by no means stupid and they know they are getting cut in front of, but to them, its easier to let that person have their way than it would be to tell them off. The person will be bad mouthed in private, amongst friends, but never to their face. I have never seen anyone confront a cutter. The thing that cracks me up is that if this were to happen in the United States, either the person getting cut would say something to the cutter or move their body in a manner as to pre-empt the cutter. Either way, the cutting would not stand. Even if a person did manage to cut in line, the person behind them would probably end up making a noise or funny eye gesture or something. You would not see many people who would take the cutting the way Japanese people do.

The other reason that the cutting is probably tolerated is because 99% of the people who I have seen do it are old. In Japan, there is a sense that old people can pretty much do whatever they see fit. They have lived longer than you and therefore, must know more than you and somehow in their infinite wisdom, saw it fit to screw you. Older people are respected much more here and in a way, they deserve more respect than most of the aged in the United States. Even into their seventies and eighties, older people here are very active. They will go swimming, gardening, volunteering, you name it. Old people in Japan are what Americans would classify as a spry old person. Its a common belief here that when you stop being active, your mind and body deteriorate, so old people tend to be very active in an effort to combat Father Time. This could be one reason Japan has the highest life expectancy of anyone in the world. I have theories as to that as well but that is another post in and of itself.

Now you have it, my complete anthropological study of Japanese line cutters. Somehow your life is more complete than it was a few minutes ago, your welcome.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Bad Mood

Today was kind if a waste and I am kind of pissed. I went into Osaka expecting to find a party atmosphere and parades and fireworks. Instead, I found squat. No parade, no fireworks, nothing. For being the third biggest festival in Japan, I expected to see more information pointing people in the right direction and whatnot. Nothing.

I do know that today was indeed the big festival day, however. I have never seen so many women wearing kimono. It was like Japan was dangling carrots in front of me(some very very nice looking carrots) but not giving me the actual festival. You can take that to mean whatever you want, it works however you approach it.

So basically, I tooled around Osaka, saw countless extremely good looking women, and came home. If this has taught me anything, its the need to plan and find out where this stuff takes place ahead of time and then go there. The lack of information really peeves me though. Couple that with the fact that of all of the Japanese people I asked, all of whom have lived within two hours of Osaka their whole lives, have never been to it and did not know where the festivities were located either. I've said it before but a lot of these people really don't get out a lot.

Summer school starts tomorrow and in some ways I am excited but in others I dread it. I think everything will be cool once I start teaching. That tends to be the way it works, I freak out before I teach and then once I start, I rock. It sounds cocky but there are a few things in life that I think I was put here to do and teaching is one of them. I do not know another way to explain it, for all of the doubts I have had about doing it for the rest of my life in the past, it is one thing that I think I am genuinely good at and now, I can't imagine doing otherwise...for the most part. There are still I few jobs I would take over it but not many. Actually, there are only three jobs I would take in place of teaching. Being a paid historian/archivist, a video game designer, or a travel writer/journalist would trump teaching. I would also seriously consider working as a professional antique appraiser for an auction house if the money was right and the work was steady.

Anywho, that got off-topic. :) I don't have a ton more to say and most of the rest that I could say would be negative and I don't feel like typing it because I know when I wake up in the morning I will feel better. Nite!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Sea of Green

Here is another rice paddy update! It is crazy to see how much the little sprouts have shot up. Soon, I will probably be able to see the grains forming. I think that will be a few weeks away but its definitely getting to be about the time to see some actual rice.

It was kind of cool to be able to go to the paddies today because it was just about to rain and everything was very calm. There was an old lady tending to her garden that talked to me cheerfully...I think...and it was just calming to see these waves of green below a murky gray sky. As I approached the paddy that I have adopted as mine, a couple of very small frogs hopped to safety; the tadpoles I saw earlier are all grown up now.

Shortly after I took these pics, the rain began and has not stopped since. Right now, its pouring and I hope it does not affect my train ride tomorrow into Himeji. I am subbing for another class and I will be staying in the illustrious Sun Route Hotel once again. I do like that hotel. On Tuesday, I have an office day and so I am doing the right thing and going into Osaka for my last day of freedom before summer school hits. Evidently, I festival started in Osaka today and on Tuesday, I will be able to see the last day of it. I will try to take pictures. There may be fireworks but I will probably have to leave before then. As it turns out, this festival is the highlight of summer in Osaka and most of it takes place on the river. Think Boise River Festival, only 1000 years older. Oh yeah, the name of the festival is Tenjin Matsuri.

Well, I do not have a ton more to add to this post so I am going to end it. I will post my festival findings when I get home Tuesday night. Later!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Third Mario Brother

So I am teaching class today and one of my older students walks in, a big grin firmly implanted on his chubby face. He then leaps into the air, his fist above his head, and one knee thrust up to his waist, just like Mario does when he gets an item. Normally, I would have looked at him and just shaken my head but then I heard a sound. This was not a random sound, rather it was the sound that occurs when Mario picks up an item.

I laughed.

For the next five minutes, this kid jumped around the room like Mario with the accompanying sound effects. It was easily the hardest one of my students has ever made me laugh. He also had the sound effect for when Mario collects a coin, the Japanese have a phrase for this action, "coin get". The sound effects were each stored in their own little plastic case and went off when a large button on the side of the casing was pressed. The way Koname was setting them off was he had positioned them in his pocket so when his knee went up, the button was pressed. This kid normally drives me nuts but today he redeemed himself.

Koname, my pudgy, thirteen year old student is indeed, the third Mario Brother. I will call him Sorrio.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I Need Another Vacation

I am getting worn out and the fun has not even started yet.

I am not sure why, but long train rides really start to take it out of me if I get a bunch of them all together. Between the business trips I have been on, the train rides to and from Toyooka, and the classes I have been teaching, I am worn out. Put the fact that I have a cold/flu/allergy thing going on to top everything off, and that does not make anything better. Oh yeah, I pulled my shoulder tonight and that means I have a killer headache at the moment, despite having downed three aspirin.

On the upside, its raining pretty good right now and I know the railroads still haven't totally recovered from the rain that came two nights ago. Here's to hoping for another rain day tomorrow. If it happens, I am keeping all weight off of my right shoulder and will probably crash for most of the day. If I can get one easy day, I know my shoulder pain will subside and everything will be kosher. I need that shoulder to be good to go because I know next week, there will be no rest.

Next week, I am out of town again on Monday and will probably be in a hotel that night. The following day is an office day but I have a feeling I will be teaching somewhere, more on that in a sec. On Wednesday, summer school starts. What that means is, I am in a new town every other day, I am teaching three new curriculi, and I do not get a break for at least eight days. To add to the joy, for the youngest kids, their parents will be attending the lessons and interacting with the kids during the lesson. I am usually pretty good with the parents and most of them love me, but they really are a burden for the most part. When parents are around, the kids are different, and usually, not in a good way. The upside is each class is ten minutes shorter than usual and in theory, the kids I am teaching, all want to be there. The thing that cracks me up is I have one class I know for sure where there is only one kid attending and one where there are only two. That will be interesting. Smaller classes mean quicker lessons. I know by the end of those classes, I will be doing card tricks. The best part of summer school is that I found out that I do not have to teach my Miyazu classes during that time. Miyazu is my hell school and I will not miss them one bit. Out of maybe forty kids that I teach there, there are about ten that I like, ten that I do not mind, nineteen that I wish would go away, and one that I wish would get kidnapped by monkeys and forced to live in a cave for the rest of his life. Odds are, the monkeys would get sick of him too and drown him in an onsen or something. Yeah, that sounds bad but I would hate him a lot less if I never had to see him again starting three months ago.

To add to all of this fun, my group of teachers got a new member a few weeks ago and she has proven to be a tad...trying. She has already been late twice, she has cancelled one class for stupid reasons, and she has been sick multiple times. Tonight, my boss had to teach her classes for that very reason. She also did not do well at the big meeting we had to go to the other day. She was my partner and both of us had to give demonstrations. My lessons rocked and the big boss liked my performance. Her's were less than stellar and the big boss was not impressed by her. I tried to help her out but the ship was sinking faster than I could bail water, but my boss noticed I was trying to give her a hand and was glad that I was trying to be a team player. Basically, none of the rest of us think she will be around much longer. Which sucks because if she gets fired, it will take them another couple of months to replace her and that means that all of us will have to pick up classes. Other than my vacation, I have not had two days off in a row in a couple of months. I am not the only one that has this problem though, so I don't feel too bad. There are not too many redeeming features about the new teacher for me to miss. She is not cute, she kind of gets on my nerves, and she has no idea how to be on time for anything, let alone her classes. I hate lateness. If you cannot be on time to go drinking, what good are you?

Anywho, that pretty much sums up my mood and how the next couple of weeks are going to go. They will probably be kind of fun but they will be tiring. I will be glad for September and the little break I am trying to pull together then. We'll see. I also remembered that I did not post rice pics on Sunday. That is my bad but you aren't missing much. The rice has grown some but looks pretty much the same. I will try to get some pics on here very soon. Speaking of pics, I need to update the official picture site. I know I have not done much since I started it and its been because I have been busy. Just know that I am planning on updating it, it just may be a while. On my days off, I have not been wanting to sort and rename pictures. I haven't been sorting my mp3s properly either so everything is getting neglected equally.

As for right now, I am done. I am going to sleep early tonight. Wish me luck for the upcoming weeks and for getting more cool dreams like the ones I have been having the past couple of nights. They are really messed up but fun. :)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Rain Day

I have always liked rain and today, the rain returned the affection.

I went to the train station to jump a ride to a town I teach in called Toyooka. Of all fo the places I teach, Toyooka as a whole is my least favorite place. The kids are okay but not great and the city itself has no real draw for me. Oh yeah, to teach there I have to take the train an hour and a half each way. Not a bad ride but doing the same route eight times in a row gets tedious.

Anywho, I went to the station and for the first time, there were no train times being displayed on the schedule boards. All inbound and outbound traffic had been cancelled in the direction I was heading. In fact, almost all of the trains were cancelled with only a few exceptions that they were announcing on the intercom.

The reason for the traffic shutdown was my friend, rain. Last night, it rained crazily for about seven hours nonstop. This was enough precipitation to flood various parts of the countryside and cause standing water on the rails and in parts, submerging them. Therefore, the railroads decided to play it safe and put almost all traffic in the area on hold until the water dries up a bit.

Hopefully, the rain will have me stuck again tomorrow but I doubt it. It was actually really nice today and did not rain at all during the daytime. The best part, I got paid for the day because the reason for cancelling the classes was beyond my control. I do love the rain.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Kitchen Confession

I want to preface this post by saying two things. First, if you are about to eat or having just ate and have a weak stomach, come back to this entry later. Second, I am not a total slob and live in a pretty clean environment. Yes, I occasionally indulge in the bachelor lifestyle but I wash clothes on a very regular basis and the dishes as well...except for this one time. And it will be the last.

So, I have had a busy few days. I have been subbing for different classes and had a big meeting in Himeji that I had to attend. For the past two nights, I was put up in a very nice hotel and lived it up in a bigger city which was nice. Today, I came back to the apartment, it’s been pouring rain and I was soaked to the bone. I dropped my luggage in the doorway and then ran to the grocery store to grab some hamburger to make something for dinner. Upon returning from the store, I jumped in a hot, refreshing shower and was thankful to be home again. After getting out of the shower, I decided to do some dishes that I had left in the sink, having forgotten to do them before I left a couple of days ago. When I left, I did so in a hurry because I did not realize that my hotel accommodations started on Sunday night instead of Monday. My boss's was being nice to me and rewarding me for doing some favors for her over the past month or two. Either way, when I left Fukuchiyama, I did it in a hurry, and left dishes in the sink.

Now to be totally honest, the dishes had been there for a day or two before that. I had good intentions of doing them but either things came up or by the time I got home from some kind of long days, I didn't want to do them and put them off. Never, ever, ever, ever, will I do that again.

When I started to clean the dishes, I realized that there had been some pieces of hamburger left in a pan and mentally chewed myself out for leaving it for so long because I did not want to get cockroaches and whatnot. I have been fortunate having only seen two very small cockroaches ever in my apartment. By small I mean smaller than a house fly small. These are not uncommon in most parts of Japan and so I have not felt bad about them, they keep me on my toes. Well, after chastising myself, I see the second of the two cockroaches I have ever seen in here, and as I said, it was very small and I did not think much of it. I was mad at myself and in my mind, had narrowly avoided getting a bigger cockroach.

Then I noticed something. On the wall to the left of my sink, there were a couple of bits of either rice or something from the spaghetti I had made sticking to it. So I brushed them off but noticed that when I brushed them, they kind of squished and were gooey. Hmm. Odd. Then I saw the first living maggot I have ever seen in a household. My parents are clean people and they raised me to be that way as well, but sometimes I have been known to slack off in that area. Never again will I let my dishes set in the sink. Over the course of the fifteen minute dish washing session, I found a few more live maggots and a handful of the ones that had dried up and died. At that point, I wanted to die as well. There isn't a lot that can cause me to lose my appetite but that did it. Especially, when one crawled on my finger.

After finishing off the dishes, I washed all of my food preparation area with soap and ran scalding hot water in my sink for a few minutes. I also took the dish rag and the towel I used to dry the dishes and put them outside. Then I took another, hotter shower. I scrubbed hard and realized that I was almost reenacting the scene from the Crying Game, frame by frame.

After getting out of the shower, I washed my hands and came out here to type this post. I hang my head in shame and want the entire world to know, I usually am a pretty clean person but I messed up and paid the ultimate price. Don't let this happen to you.

This public service announcement was brought to you by your friends at the Council For A Bug Free Kitchen. Please do your dishes regularly.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

My Inner Nerd Screams In Frustration

Geography quiz time. Where in the world is the Nintendo World Store? Where is the Nintendo World Headquarters?

I will answer the last question first, the Nintendo HQ is in Kyoto, Japan. Its about two hours away from my house and lies in the southern section of the city. I know this because I think I just found the address for it. I am going to make a pilgrimage there as soon as I get a free day.

Ok, now since the Nintendo HQ is in Kyoto and Nintendo has been a fixture there for 117 years, one would think that the Nintendo World store would be in Kyoto. If not Kyoto, then at least somewhere, anywhere, in Japan. Wrong. The Nintendo World Store is in the Rockefeller Center in New York City. I want to punch someone. Why am I angry, its simple.

When the Nintendo Wii comes out here on October 30th, which is the date that is circulating in these parts, I was hoping to be at the Nintendo World store, partying with a bunch of my Japanese otaku compatriots. I was even going to try to get the day off of work. Now, I will simply go to my gaming store here in town and pre-order the system and pick it up without any cool fanfare. Meanwhile, all of the tools in New York are going to be lined up for blocks, partying, dressing up, and basically being nerds, while I sit two hours away from the company HQ of Nintendo and don't get any cool party whatsoever. The upshot, I will have my Wii weeks before any of them. That is unless Nintendo decides to pull a worldwide release and screws me out of a couple weeks of nerdy smugness that I would get while lording the wonders of the new gaming system over all of my Western friends. If they do that, I will cry and I do not want to cry.

All I want to know is what makes New Yorkers so special that a Japanese company will cater to them without even doing so for their own people...and me? I am hoping that there will be some kind of event here and if there is, I am going to it. I do not care what city its in, I will be there, gleefully collecting all of the kitschy freebies I can get my hands on. I am a video game nerd living in Japan, dammit, I want some perks.

Business Trips Galore

I figured I should probably let everyone know that I am going to be out of town a bit this weekend and that I may not get to post again until Sunday.

Tomorrow, I am going to a school several hours away to substitute for a teacher that is on vacation and they are putting me up in a hotel nearby for a night. The following day, I take the train back to one of my regular schools and teach there for the day and then return back home. On Monday, I have a big meeting in Himeji and they are having me stay there for a couple of days because I am also subbing for a class of three and four year olds there. That should be fun, the tiny kids are usually the most fun to teach and hang out with for a bit.

Tuesday, stuff gets back to normal for a little while and then the week after that, summer school kicks into gear and I am going to be crazy busy for eight days. Once summer school finishes up, the rest of the year should be relatively normal and straightforward. I know that summer isn't even half over yet, but I am so sick of this humidity that I want fall to get here. That and fall is the best time of year on the whole calendar. That is one reason I am stoked to be probably going to Tokyo in September is that the weather should be very nice and I should be able to get around there without drenching myself in sweat like I do now if I so much as get up. Y'all in Idaho have absolutely no clue what humidity is.

Anywho, not much else going on. I randomly stumbled onto a new blog that I read everyday and I actually talk to its author pretty much everyday now as well. Her name is Blondie and if you would like to take a look at her site, you will find the link in the sidebar on the right. She's pretty funny and cool and she updates her site more than me I think.

So I will talk to everyone later and I will definitely post another rice paddy post on Sunday.

Monday, July 10, 2006

I Learned A New Game

This morning, I had to go to a meeting in Kakogawa some two hours away from my town. While at a stop along the way, one of my co-workers got on the train and we began talking about how our vacation had gone. His parents visited a couple weeks before mine.

Anywho, we got on the topic of a red light district in Tokyo in the Shinjuku ward because his family had stayed in a hotel near the area without knowing what part of town they were in when the hotel was booked. This conversation brought up an interesting and quite frankly, illegal and degrading game that Japanese men like to play. The game is called, Chikan. The word "chikan" means "molester" in Japanese, so this should give you an idea of what kind of game this is.

The rules of the game are very simple, you get on a crowded train, you find an attractive woman, and you try to grope her without her being able to tell who touched her. The game can also be played in clubs and anywhere else where the possibility of anonymity is high for the perpetrator. Going against that logic, bike parking lots are also a hotbed for chikan because of the amount of women in skirts bending over to unlock their bikes.

Now, if that sounds revolting to you, this next tidbit will blow your mind. There are clubs and organizations that support chikan and even promote tournaments to see who can grope the most women. I knew men here had a tendancy to have wandering hands, but I had no clue how widespread and organized it was. This is just messed up. I think the thing that bothers me the most about this is that the men insist that it is a game and some will come right out and tell you its a hobby. My co-worker mentioned that he had read somewhere that a poll was conducted to see what hobbies men were most interested in and chikan actually had enough votes to make the poll. There are even fetish cartoons and movies that involve chikan. There is even a Wiki on the topic and that is where I learned some of the info that I have posted here.

This has become such a problem that the Japanese railways have started "women only" cars on their busier routes, especially in Tokyo. I have seen these cars in Osaka and I knew that they were being used to cut down on groping but I had no idea that the groping was THAT prevalent. The train cars themselves are kind of cute, the exterior is usually painted pink or has a pink stripe that runs down the side and the women really do enforce the "no men" policy in these cars. I have seen guys that have had to pass through them to get from one car to the next and they get death stares from every woman in that carriage, even if you can see the guy means no harm. I am reasonably sure that if a guy were to sit in those cars, they would be beaten by the female patrons that inhabit them. For the longest time, most of these guys that were doing this got away with it because the women were too embarrassed to admit they had been touched while riding the train but that is starting to change. The implementation of these train cars and harsher punishment for offenders is evidence of that, as is the more aggressive attitude held by many of the female riders.

Anywho, that is the "game" of chikan. If I ever saw a guy do that, I am reasonably certain I would punch him. I've had to stand in front of some women that I know on the trains because the guys were giving them creepy stares but I have never seen a woman get groped. To have it happen in such a common, public place, would just violate a woman's sense of safety and privacy. I can see how it may become hard to use the trains after something like that. I think that is the part that drives me nuts, it alters the way people conduct their everyday lives.

Oh, on a sidenote, I guess it is now a rule of thumb for chikan practitioners that if you grope a woman and she invites you anywhere and promises certain things, you never go with her. She may want to screw you but the way she intends on doing it involves the police and one of their abundant "kobans" or police boxes. Imagine a police station the size of your bedroom and that is a koban. They have these in all of the big train stations and about every two or three blocks in the cities.

As I wrote a while ago, I want to do a post or series of posts on the trains here and the culture that surrounds them. I did not particularly want to start that series this way because really, the train system here is awesome and most of the people involved with it are very nice and helpful, it just happens that I learned about this whole chikan thing today and wanted to share it. For the most part, the rest of my posts on the trains are going to be about good things. This just happens to be probably the worst thing about them and you got to learn about it first.

In closing, I know that this post will probably anger a few that read this and it rightly should. In terms of sexism, Japan has a ways to go before I would say that women are treated well or fairly here. But keep in mind, this is their culture and this is centuries of practices and ideas that are being changed in order for that equality to come about. That kind of change does not happen overnight and while I can say women are treated better in Japan now than they ever have been, there is still a lot more that can be done. As long as quirks like chikan are about, they still have a lot of work to do.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Midnight Run/Jog/Walk

Today, I have had an energy surplus. Having lots of energy and being "genki" as the Japanese would say, is great until you have nothing to exert that energy on. Usually, when I am like this, it means that I do not sleep and I do not want to get into that rhythym again.

So, in keeping with my vow to go nuts on my body, I decided to go jogging. I grabbed the iPod and my running earbuds (yes, I have earbuds just for running) and took off. I have not ran in two weeks because my family has been here and they did a good job of getting me out and about and walking. Most of the days, I have walked more than usual so I felt that a nightly jog was not in order. But tonight, I wanted to punish myself.

I set off on my usual route that leads me diagonally across my town via a covered mall and then doubling back, going through the redlight district, and finally arriving at my apartment. By the time I hit the covered mall, I knew that the normal route was not going to be enough to get out all of the energy I wanted gone. I added an extra block to the run and still, I felt I could go farther, much farther. Once I hit the street my building is on, I made the decision to go to another place that I had jogged to once before, a hotel that sits atop a very steep, very high hill.

The first time I jogged up to the aptly named, Skyview Hotel, I thought I was going to die. I had to stop several times and the climb really took it out of me. I wanted to feel that exhaustion again. Starting up the winding hill, I knew that there was no way my legs had it in them to jog to the top so I decided to speed walk and made myself promise that there would be no stopping. I love doing this area late at night because there are no lights on the road up to the hotel. In most areas, it is pretty freakin' dark to pitch black on the way to the top. Adding to the fun is the fact that there are thick bushes and trees all along both sides of the road and at night time the chatter of the insects is enough to make me need to turn up my music. It is a vaguely creepy place to jog and if you know me, I am on a never-ending quest to find ways to weird out and scare myself. I watched way way too many slasher flicks as a kid. I made it to the hotel without stopping and did a lap around the building. The hotel itself is kind of odd, I am not sure why but something just feels weird about the place. It is a modern Japanese version of the Bates Motel. I have never seen guests there, I never see cars come from there, but I do see weird lights up there from my apartment. The place is probably crazy expensive due to its location; you can see all of Fukuchiyama from there, but you would think you would see advertisements for such a nice locale, there are none that I know of. Its just a creepy destination at the top of a dark, creepy road....that I like to run to. :) I did see a car up there tonight though, but I do not think they were guests of the hotel, more like a couple of people that did not feel like getting a love hotel.

Anywho, after the hill climb to the Bates Motel, I came back to my apartment, dripping with sweat. I did not stop during the hill climb and I think I actually could have gone longer than I did. This is a good sign, it means my body is getting back into the mode it was in when I left Idaho. Alas, now it is time for bed. With all of the running, I did manage to burn off most of the energy that I was building up and now I am kind of sleepy. Night Night!

Friday, July 07, 2006

And They're Off

I am once more left to my own devices, as my family left Fukuchiyama a little before 10am, to begin their trip back to the United States.

While they were here only two weeks, they travelled more of Japan than most Japanese see in several years. From Peace Park in Hiroshima to the nightlife of Shibuya in Tokyo, they pretty much saw all of the major sites Japan has to offer. While they were not fans of sleeping on my hardwood floor and finding food my dad and brother liked was sometimes a tad trying, I think all in all, they had a good time. I also enjoyed having them here; it was good to see them and talk to them again.

I must say though, I do not envy what is in store for them when they reach Boise. While in Japan, their house sold and the bid they put in on their new house was accepted. My cousin has been watching my family's dogs and has been in charge of dealing with home inspectors and repairmen coming and going from the house and has done a wonderful job packing up my family's belongings from what I hear but, my family has to be out of their old house by this coming weekend. They are going to be busy. The trade off is that when everything is said and done, they will have a swimming pool to relax in. I confess, that makes me jealous. Thanks to my tattoos, I have not been swimming in seven months. Damned anti-ink rules.

Anywho, it was good to see all of them again but I must say, I like having my place to myself again. It seems much bigger now that its just me in here. :) I am starting the apartment renewal project today and after popping a small shelf into my bathroom, that area looks more organized than before, now its the closet's turn.

I leave you all with what I think was the nicest picture to come from my family's visit, all of us standing in a courtyard with Himeji castle looming behind us.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Seven Missiles In One Day

Ahh, that nutty little Kim Jong Ill is at it again. A week or so ago when I posted about all of the stuff about North Korea's missle testing possibilities all came to fruition yesterday and in a big way.

Early this morning, North Korea fire six missiles. Five of these missiles were short range rockets that landed in the Sea of Japan and the sixth was the longer range prototype that in theory, had the capability to hit Alaska. The key to a missile hitting the United States is that it has to keep from blowing up forty seconds after launch. So far, North Korea hasn't figured that out. Which in a way is too bad, I wanted to see if the US would test out one of its interceptor missiles on it. You see, the government has been developing interceptor missiles for quite some time; you may remember the Patriot batteries that we deployed during the first Gulf War. What we have now is much more theory. I am kind of a nut about this stuff and so I follow it, but for those who don't, the modern United States anti-missile missiles only have had about a .500 batting average in testing. This is pretty good for a baseball player but when you consider that the government is toting this missile defense shield and it only works half the time under perfect conditions, I was hoping for a real world demonstration. There would be pressure if a real world firing occurred because the United States would look foolish if a missile was fired and missed its target, which it could very possibly do.

Anywho, that was all fun and good and it got the Japanese, Chinese, and Korean governments riled up. Then North Korea must have figured and rightly so, "Why not fire another one for fun, they are already mad at us." Hence, the firing of a seventh short range missile. You have to hand it to the crazy dictatorship of that country, not many people get the United States government as on edge as they do. But, I think it will come with consequences this time.

It may not happen tomorrow or even a month or two from now, but one day, Kim Jong Ill is going to wake up to a set of cruise missles blowing up all of his missile and nuclear facilities. We are spread too thin now to make any meaningful and lasting change in that country and to attempt it now would not bode well for America. We have too much on our plate as it is. But one day, the time will come and when it does, Kim Jong Ill will probably wish he hadn't pissed off certain countries like China. But hey, that just my two yen.

I will update if anything else happens but everything I have said on here is old new by now. Anywho, time for me to get some sleep.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Progress Report

Well, its been almost exactly seven months since I first sat foot on Japanese soil and I feel some benchmarking is in order. How has my life changed in seven months? How has it stayed the same?

First, I am definitely better at Japanese. I can read and write hiragana and katakana with relative ease. I am also getting much better at kanji. Speaking-wise, I am still struggling a tad. I think this stems from not talking to a lot of people very often. I am trying to figure out ways to change this but so far, the only solution I have come up with is to go to bars more often. While I like drinking, I do not like it THAT much. We will see what else I can come up with; it just aggravates me that there are not more places to meet people in my town than bars. My Japanese lessons are okay but not what I expected, I need to find someone that can teach me more fundamentally and on a more regular basis than the free lessons I am taking now.

One of my other goals for this big experiment was to get into better shape. If you read this blog with any regularity, that has been a theme for the last two years. Since coming here, I have lost quite a bit of weight but not enough in my opinion. Starting next week, I am going into a "go crazy on your body, ultra-narcissistic, must get chiseled" mode. I have a plan...kind of...and we will see how that works. Seeing that I walk and ride my bike a lot, my focus won't be on my legs so much as my upper-body. My legs actually look pretty good. Even some of my students have commented about how they can see ripples (good ripples, not pudge ripples) in my legs. My calves are built, and kids have hurt themselves when trying to kick me there. I rock. My new diet that I have been hammering out is ready and I am already trying to make a couple of converstions to get ready for it. Starting next week, any beverage that is not healthy and has calories is going bye-bye. Downside to that is the going to bars more often thing, need to work on that.

As far as my mental state goes, it varies. I think being here has made me more happy and at peace with myself overall. There are still days that are weird but I suppose everyone has those. I still don't sleep a lot, or more accurately, I still don't sleep regularly. I have come to the conclusion that my body is just wired to function at night. I think I sleep a tad better when I do sleep though. My life was so messed up when I left the States that I do not think my sleeping could have gotten much worse. At least here, I do sleep. Over the past month or so, my sleep has deteriorated again but I know why and I am trying to correct it. I think it may just be an annual thing for a while to not get a ton of sleep in June. Hopefully, this June was the last time it will happen, I think it will be.

As for other stuff, I am a better person now, as a whole. I see the world, life, and pretty much everything for that matter in a different way now. My confidence in myself has never been like this. I honestly, pretty much feel like I can do anything. Experts say that most teenagers have a mental state during puberty that helps them to feel immortal and bulletproof. While I do not feel immortal, I do feel somewhat bulletproof. Things don't bother me like they used to, people don't bother me like they used to. I for one reason or another, feel like I can pretty much take everything in stride now, regardless of difficulty. While I have never had the best self-esteem or self-confidence, I can certainly say that confidence is no longer an issue. Still working on self-esteem, I don't think its may be esteem so much as it is image. I have grown more concerned about how I look to other people and what other people think of me. I never used to do that, but I think part of this stems from the fact that some of my students tease me about my weight a lot. That is the way Japanese people convince other Japanese people to lose weight, they ridicule the daylight out of them. While its not the nicest way, it works. My mom pointed out to me that I am very concerned with how I come off to other people. I never cared when I lived in Idaho but the more I think about it, I care a lot now. I think that is what drives me to learn Japanese quicker and I know that is what drives me to lose weight and look better. Having seen the foreigners that come here, a lot of them look like dipsticks and I do not want to be one of them. It amazes me how fat most white people look to me now, myself included. This may be why I avoid mirrors more now than ever, despite the fact that I look better now than I ever have. My self-image is the biggest issue for me, I just do not like the way I look. Period. But I am really trying to change that.

My daily life in here has gotten simpler. I can go anywhere and do anything that most Japanese people do with ease....except speak. My apartment will get a new look soon and that will be nice. Oh, I forgot to mention, this blog had its two year birthday a couple of weeks ago, way to go little blog.

2006 is definitely different than 2005. So far, this has been a better year by a longshot and I do not see that changing a ton. From last year, it can only improve. Stuff needed to change though and it did. My life is better for coming here. So for this progress report, I am giving myself a solid B+. Things can improve but so far they have been pretty damned good.

On that note, I leave you all with some pictures that I have been taking over the past week or so.

First, you will see a cool looking flower that I have found tons of here, I love their colors. Next up, a pic of the Golden Temple in Kyoto, followed by a wall that is in a park in Kobe. Lastly, is a pic a took from the ground level of a little walkway that went through a rice paddy behind my apartment. More pics will be displayed on my pic website this weekend.

Paddy Pics: Part 3

Ok, I know the title sounds like a bad porno but I am running out of titles for my rice paddy observation series. As I said earlier, I am sorry about the delay in pictures but with my family here, today has been my first real free day since their arrival. They are in Hiroshima today and I opted to stay home and let them roam free. When I go to Hiroshima, I want to do it on my own time and be able to take the whole experience in without having to worry about whether my family is enjoying it or not. That and I have to teach class tomorrow and I would not have been able to make it back to town in time.

Anywho, as you will see in the pictures, rice grows quickly. In the three weeks since my last rice post, these buggers have grown like crazy.

And there are the rice pics!

Other than that, I have done so much stuff this past week, I do not know where to start talking. Upon returning from Hiroshima, there really isn't a ton of major stuff left for my fam to see. We have been to Himeji castle, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, and a bunch of places in between. They have seen the nightlife in Shibuya, the restless nerdiness of Akihabara, nearly driven to hearring loss by Pachinko parlors, everything. As far as making sure they have seen it all, I think I have done a pretty good job and I think they have enjoyed it all for the most part. If anything, they have visited a place that they are not likely to see again and they have seen more of it in two weeks than most Japanese people do in several years. I consider my mission complete.

Having my family here has been an experience for me as well. Going from a lifestyle that includes an abundance of alone time and quiet time to a situation that is anything but solitary or quiet is odd. On the other hand, I now have a handful of new ideas for how to decorate my apartment. I am not much of an interior decorator unless you like extreme minimalism. I am not a fan of having stuff on walls. I do not like picture frames clogging my vision. I just like empty. The funny part about that is usually I find junk to sit on or stuff into my empty spaces. Anwyho, I am going to try to spruce my place up a bit and maybe hang some of the pictures I have taken. I do like black and white photography and I have a few pics that I really enjoy so I may have them blown up and framed. I am also going to try to move some furniture around and see if I can't come up with a living environment that is a tad more lively and hip. We'll see how that all goes. My biggest problem with this apartment is how quickly space vanishes around here. This is in part, due to the size of the place but I am partially to blame too. I am going to try to get better at putting stuff away and being mindful of how others might see my apartment. As I said, we will see how this all goes.

Right now, I have a lot of stuff I could type but I really do not feel like doing so. Perhaps, tomorrow or this weekend I will post a lot of pics and update the pic site I have as well. I am starting to realize that I really enjoy photography and I tend to shoot a ton of pictures when I have my camera out. Anywho, thats all for now and I will add more later. See ya!