Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Day of the Dogs

Today, I ventured to a place I had never been before with my coworker, Terri. She is in love with this suburb of Osaka called, Takarazuka and this morning Terri took me there.

Takarazuka is the what Quail Ridge would be to Boise if Quail Ridge was a small city and not a neighborhood. The people that live here are usually well-off Osaka businessmen and their families. As soon as you step outside of the station you see the difference between a normal suburb and Takarazuka. First, there are houses on the hillsides that surround the town. For the most part, the Japanese consider big hills and small mountains off limits to housing development. Once, I asked Maya why there were no houses on the mountains that surround Fukuchiyama and her reply was a simple, "Because they are mountains." Not sure why that stops Japanese people but either way, most of the time, hilly areas go undeveloped in Japan, just not in Takarazuka.

There is also an abundance of art, elaborate architecture, and niche shops in the town. We passed a shop that only sold accessories for doll houses and took note of some of the crazy prices that such a small curio can sell for. It is also hard to miss the extremely nice cars that navigate between the well-groomed shopping areas and walkways, you would think that the bulk of German automakers all had plants nearby from what the majority of the cars were that passed us. Other than being a haven for the well-to-do, Takarazuka is only really known for two things. First, if you know who Astro Boy is, and most Japanese do, his creator lived here and so this is the official home of Astro Boy. For non-nerds, Astro Boy was the first Japanese cartoon to make it big on television and was actually aired in the United States as well.

Second, Takarazuka is home to an acting troupe aptly named, The Takarazuka Review. Since all things Japanese tend to have a gimmick, the kicker for this specific group of actors is that they are all actually actresses. This is the oldest and first all-female theater group. They were founded in the 1920's by women who were angry that Noh and Kabuki acting troupes were male only and barred women from performing. All of the parts of any play they have ever put on have all gone to women, male parts going to taller women with more masculine features. Other than the all woman rule, the troupe is everything you would expect of any other professional theater. They do big name Western plays like "Phantom of the Opera" as well as lesser known and regional plays. Terri has been to a performance and said it was spectacular so I may have to go at some point. One of the big reasons we went to Takarazuka today is to feed my addiction. The troupe was recently granted the honor of having Hello Kitty merchandise made in the style of their troupe. Therefore, I get a new and rare Hello Kitty cell phone dangly thingy. :)

After the trip around the shops and the Takarazuka Review theater, we headed to another place Terri wanted me to see, which leads me to why this post's title is "The Day of the Dogs".
To appreciate this experience, you might need a little background on Japanese and pets. During the Tokugawa era (think ninjas, swords, and samurai) it was illegal to own a dog as a pet. The reason being that dogs have a tendancy to bark at really inappropriate times. Think of how ticked off we get when our neighbor's dog won't shut up and we are trying to sleep. Now, imagine yourself in a one-room, wooden house with no sound-dampening insulation, and both of the outside walls of the house are shared by your neighbors to either side of you. Now imagine a medium sized dog that won't stop yapping three houses down and the owners are not around to shut it up. Put yourself in a city the size of Seattle with twice as many people and you pretty much have what it was like to live in Tokyo during that time. People were stacked on top of each other and right next to each other, therefore one barking dog can piss off thousands of otherwise happy, Japanese citizens. Oh yeah, the Japanese used to eat dogs too.

When the law against owning a dog was lifted, the trend toward just not having one remained. Gradually, people started liking the idea of having a four-legged companion around and more dogs were introduced to the country. Today, the idea of owning a dog is appealling to many Japanese but the space issue still remains. Most Japanese live in apartments and just like in the US, not all of them are friendly to animals. Even if the apartment allows pets, you have to take it out and walk it and whatnot. Since you don't own the apartment and you don't have a backyard for them to wander in, a doggy door is out of the question. Bottom line: for most city-dwelling Japanese, owning a dog can be a hassle. Also, many Japanese view dogs as merely a material possession and not part of the family like Westerners do. If a person gets a job somewhere else and his new apartment doesn't accept pets, he will give the animal to a friend or to a shelter without much hesitation. Somehow, many of them maintain a barrier that allows them to see the animal as an item, not a relative. This goes for all pets for the most part with the exception of the traditional Japanese fish, Coi. Keeping a pond of Coi is seen more as the maintaining of Japanese tradition than the keeping of pets. Many Japanese keep and care for Coi and will usually go to great lengths to keep them happy. That is not to say that dogs do not get love here and today's trip proved that.

Terri took me to park dedicated to serving our four-legged friends. This place was something, there was a store that caters only to dogs. In the store, there was a photo studio for people who needed a portrait of fluffy dressed up like a sunflower or whatever suited their fancy. There were gourmet dog biscuits and treats, toys, a clothing section, a supply section, you name it. If it involved a dog, it was there. If you ever need name brand, designer doggy collars you can get them in Japan. You need a Louis Vuitton leather collar, it's yours for just under $400.

Outside the store was a park. You had to pay to get in but once inside you are free to roam around the play area that is equipped with toys and jumping bars to entertain your dogs. This also gives your dog a chance to socialize with hundreds of other frolicking, fur balls. It was very fun to watch and worth the price of admission. Yes, I paid to get in, but I wanted to visit another area of the park, the petting zoo. I miss my dogs, I miss Lucky and Bungie and being able to sit around and have one of them curled up next to me. I miss playing with them and talking to them and doing all of the things that you would normally do with a little, albeit, evil dog. Fortunately, I am not alone. For people that cannot own a dog, they can do the next best thing, visit a doggy petting zoo. Basically, you walk through the gate and pick what size dog you want to pretend is yours. Having picked the small ones, I went through another gate on my right and into an area with about ten or fifteen different dogs. All of them were very well taken care of, clean, and docile; there was nothing left for me to do but sit down and start petting them. To be a dog in this place is probably akin to winning some sort of canine lottery. The area that they rest in is probably about 100 sq.ft and outdoors. The ground is concrete but all of the dogs were given blankets and pillows and beds to lay on. There was a roof over most of the area and there were two or three massive gas heaters stationed under the awning. The blankets and bedding were extremely clean and all of the smaller dogs had sweaters or coats on to keep them even warmer. Since the dogs were especially fond of the heater area, I also got to sit near it and was warm as well as I gleefully petted an assortment of breeds of wee doggies. If there is anything these dogs don't get, its alone time. There were dozens of other people in the area, all of them rubbing down or admiring the animals. I saw many families come to the petting area because for smaller kids, this is a safe environment to meet animals that are not going to bite them. As I said, if you can't own a dog, this is the next best thing. Though with the stares I was getting from kids, I was left to wonder what the bigger attration of the petting area was, me or the dogs.

After petting the wee beasties for a bit, I went with Terri to the larger dog area. Again, same layout, same imaculate cleanliness, just bigger doggies to love and cherish for as long as you want...or closing time. Speaking of cleanliness, I actually saw one of the attendants take a lint roller to the sweater that one of the dogs was wearing, while the dog was still wearing it. I also forgot to mention that each area is always supervised by at least one attendant who's sole duty is to make sure that dog/human relations are on par and to clean up after the animals if nature calls. There were no wet spots or other danger areas in this place, it was CLEAN. The only downers of the trip was leaving the petting area and watching some of the other people play with and watch the dogs. One guy was sitting on a bench, looking truly lonely, just watching the dogs play and grinning. I wanted to give him a hug. Its awesome to see the calming power that dogs can have on people, especially when a person is alone or depressed. Here are a few pics of the beasts and those that pet them in their natural petting area habitat:

While there, I made two other observations. If one were to select a dog to eat, NO, they don't eat dogs anymore, but if they were to start up again, these dogs would be choice. All day long, these little guys are pet and stroked and massaged, these dogs would be the canine equivalent of Kobe beef. Grain fed and tenderized, while being spoken to in loving tones; this would be excellent, well-marbled, meat. But we don't eat dogs because they are cute and furry.

The second observation was one of slightly different nature. We were basically, visiting a doggy whorehouse. Here are these animals that are cared for and lay around all day, while people pay for the pleasure of stroking them and whispering sweet nothings to them. When the people have had their fill, they leave the park and new customers replace them. To prove my point, I took this picture:

This is a name board that shows each of the dogs featured in the large dog petting area for the day. Each pic is accompanied by the breed of dog, their name, and their personality/likes/dislikes. The reasoning behind this is so visitors can call the dog by name and it will respond as if the animal was their own. This can also be a test drive of sorts for people looking to buy a specific breed of doggy. The opposite side of the board shows the name and breed of the dogs that will be visiting the petting area in the coming days. That way, you can plan your trips accordingly. The small dog section had the same type of board as well. The funny part about these boards is that the hostess bars and strip clubs here use the same method to show off the women.

When you exit the petting area, there is a large hand washing and cleaning area. Having made sure our hands were clean and checking for doggy hair, we ventured off. We had other things to do and unfortunately, could not spend all day playing with our furry, four-legged buddies. For the first time in a long time, I did not feel sorry for the animals behind the fence, but for me. I really miss dogs and cats and I don't realize it until I have pet one of them and walked away. If someone were to let me, I could easily play with their dog or cat all day long. Today pretty much cemented me buying a pet upon returning to the US. The $6 I paid to get into the park was well worth every penny and I wouldn't be surprised if I went again sometime, just typing this post has made me feel slightly lonely. On the upside, today was a fun day and it was great to see that the animals were so well cared for. It would be cool if places like this one started springing up in the United States. Animal shelters could be relieved of some of the overcrowding and people unable to have a pet could at least pretend for a short time. Man, I miss companionship sometimes.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

First Good Walk of the Year

The weather here has been phenomonal lately. Its been getting into the sixties and has been quite sunny. The other day, I went out to lunch with Maya and we went to Indian food. Afterward, we went to Mister Donut and had a donut and some coffee. After an hour of sipping iced coffee and munching donuts, May had to teach class and I was left to venture back to Fukuchiyama.

The weather was great and I was in the mood for a walk, so when I got back into town I went to an electronics store on the other side of Fukuchiyama. I had never walked there before because it is quite a ways away and takes a while to get to on bike, not to mention walking. Either way, I went to the store and looked around for a bit. Upon leaving the store, I made the choice to take the scenic route home and was glad I did, despite the two hour walk home. I wound along the river and crossed several bridges. All the while, a very nice sunset loomed behind me. This is a pic I took with my phone but it still turned out pretty good:

Anywho, it looks like the jogging season is coming up fast. I bought some ankle weights a couple of weeks ago and am anxious to see if they can help wear me out a bit faster when I run so I don't have to run as long to break a sweat. Yay, Spring is almost here!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Fun With Private Lessons

Today, I had my private lessons and they were pretty fun. I have two boys who are obsessed with all things Pokemon and sometimes don't pay attention to my lessons because of Pokemon. So I decided to incorporate Pokemon into my lesson today and centered the whole lesson around the game.

I basically turned the Pokemon video game into a pen and paper one and it worked great. I printed out some sheets, each with a Pokemon, one or two unique powers, and a fixed number of life points. I then had the two boys compete in a series of English tests; each time I awarded the winner with a special power he could equip his two Pokemon with. At the end of class we had a battle between the two students' Pokemon and the winner got some licorice rope as a prize. Licorice is not a staple candy here and no one had ever tried it so I thought it a good prize. Anywho, the boys had a blast all class and actually paid attention to me. My class of younger kids also went much better than usual for some reason. All in all it was a good night.

Lately, while not being overly thrilled with the way Peppy runs things, I have been enjoying teaching more. I have been inventing new games for everyone to play and coming up with new stuff to motivate the kids with. I had gotten sick of how I normally teach lessons and needed something new. Also, the more intricate the games are, the longer they take and the faster the class goes. Everyone wins when I start getting all creative and whatnot.

In other news, there isn't a ton to report. Sleeping is still slightly monkey funky, though not as bad as it was for a while. Oh Heather, I had a messed up dream that you and Jake had not gotten married yet and for some reason you guys put me in charge of all of the details for this huge and elaborate wedding and I had to make sure it went off without a hitch. All the while, you had a really good looking bridesmaid that was hitting on me and being quite distracting. It was a very stressful dream but just so you know, the wedding went well. Congrats. :)

Tomorrow, I am meeting Maya in a nearby town and we are eating lunch in this really good Indian restaurant. I have been in the mood for Indian food for a week and since I am off tomorrow, I figured it was a good time to scratch that itch.

Well, I am warming up taco leftovers and they are about done so its dinner time. Later!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Weird Dreams and Other Stuff

Sleep has once again decided to mess with my mind. For the past couple of weeks, I have been having some of the most bizarre, vivid, and surreal dreams I have had in a long, long time. It’s not even so much that they are bad dreams, they are just dreams of random events. Some of them I have actually woken up from and been disappointed that I was back in reality. One of them I either woke up talking to myself or the stream of thought flowed from my sleep into my wakefulness and just never stopped. It’s all been very odd. I also had another dream that I woke up screaming from...or I dreamed that I woke up screaming. The reason it all gets kind of confusing is because instead of sleeping straight through the night, I have been actually getting woken up by the dreams I have been having. I have been counting and there have been some nights where I will have like five or six dreams and those are just the ones I remember. It’s very odd. I have some theories as to why this is happening but only time will tell if I am right. Oh and another winner from the dream world, dreaming about being worried about money and how to save it. I actually had a dream where I was coming up with real life, honest to goodness ways for me to make and save money when I wake up.

The most morbid dream was of a serial killer that was preying on a specific family and killing off the kids one by one in order to teach the parents where they went wrong in raising all of the kids. There was a blonde daughter that was killed and her corpse was put on one of those folding beds, only this one was really trashed and dirty and when the cops and mother discovered the bed and the girl's body in an alley, the girl was already starting to decompose underneath the frayed and dirty sheets. I remember the girl's face and her eyes and that dream was a couple of days ago. They never caught the killer either, he slipped away after the daughter's body was discovered and hid in a warehouse I think. The part I feel bad about is I actually woke up and was happy I had that dream. I saw it like I would if I was watching a movie and I have to say, it was a really good movie.

I guess what gets me is how vivid the dreams have been. It’s like someone installed HD into my brain and everything just pops out; it’s all so crisp and colorful. Anywho, this is what happens to me when I sleep lately.

When I wake up, aside from remembering all of these peculiar dreams, I have been having the most messed up and random music playing in my head. For example, on Thursday, I woke up with Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" going through my head and no matter how many times I listened to it, it was still there. Why in the hell is "White Rabbit" playing in my head?! Other notables include Johnny Cash's "When The Man Comes Around", Yellowcard's "Ocean Avenue", Frank Sinatra's "The Way You Look Tonight", Jane's Addiction's "Jane Says", Simon and Garfunkel's "Only Living Boy In New York", etc. These are just from the past week.

My mind is doing the whole working overtime thing again and it’s just kind of strange. I know some of the reasons for all of this but when is enough, enough? I am okay with my mind working at a normal pace, the rate its going now is wearing me out.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Where Have I Been?

I haven't posted in a few days, but I assure you, I have been busy.

On Saturday, I taught four classes and then jumped on a train to Himeji. Once in Himeji, I jumped on another train and went to Kakogawa. This series of rides was a three hour trip to go to my boss, his wife, and another coworker's goodbye party. This was one heck of a goodbye party too.

It started in my boss's apartment and then moved to a karaoke bar a few blocks away. Once in karaoke land, the singing began and the drinking continued. Never turn a place down that has orange and mango chu-hi. Normally, karaoke binges last an hour or two and then you call it a night. This one lasted for almost five hours and the nine of us were saddled with an almost $600.00 bill. As I said, it was a heck of a party. Thanks to Guns N' Roses, my voice was almost nothing by the time I left the place. And this was only the first quarter of the adventure. Oh yeah, anytime you have the option to here the Japanese translations of Beatles tunes, take it.

After singing, we all headed back to the apartment and stayed there for another hour or two. By this point it was almost 4am and people were getting sleepy. A few of us got a ride to another coworker's apartment and we stayed up for another couple of hours talking to him. He let me crash on his floor but that only lasted about half an hour and then I was up and at it again, I had other places to be; that and since he didn't have any spare blankets, I got a little chilly and decided riding a train would be warmer.

After sneaking out of the apartment, I headed for the train station. By this point it was almost 7am and I was sobering up quite nicely. The voice was still gone (damn you Axel Rose) but other than that, life was good and the sun was rising. Next stop, a train bound for Takatsuki, a place between Osaka and Kyoto.

While on the train, I fell asleep in the warm morning sunlight. The seats had the warmers turned on and so I was nice and toasty and sleep was the best way to pass two hours. There is a downside to sleeping on intercity trains though. You see, I am from the sticks and usually there is only one set of tracks in between cities. Therefore, when two trains pass each other it is at a station where the tracks split for a few yard and then go back to a single line. When you are in the cities, there are usually two sets of tracks so trains can pass each other at full speed with no worry of collision. When two trains pass within two feet of each other and they are both doing sixty miles an hour or so, the vacuum between the two trains makes a startling crashing sound. Between that noise and me sleeping harder than I normally do on a train do to my night of fun, each time a train passed it scared the crap out of me and I went from sleeping well to bolt upright in the blink of an eye. On the first instance, I was so startled I jumped quite violently and scared the living daylights out of the poor guy next to me. Once he realized how asleep I had been and I had apologized to him, he and the people around me got quite a kick out of it. The two people behind me kept a lookout for oncoming trains so they could watch my reaction each time one passed and woke me. I became less and less startled as the hours dragged by but I was a good source of entertainment to several people.

Once in Takatsuki, I grabbed a couple of donuts and a Starbucks. I was meeting a person that I will call, Nighthawk, for the first time. Nighthawk is in training with Peppy Kids at the moment and I told him that I would meet him and show him around Osaka for the day. I had never actually seen Nighthawk, though I had been emailing him for the better part of six months.

Meeting Nighthawk was quite interesting because I knew a little about him and we had emailed so much that it was neat to meet him in person. One odd and unintended consequence of blogging for as long as I have, is that people can pretty much find out everything I have done in the past few years just by reading it. It was odd because Nighthawk knew so much about me and it was like we had been friends for a while. He isn't to blame for it but it was kind of creepy. The internet has become such an odd creature. Nighthawk was actually a pretty cool guy and we had fun cruising around Osaka. We also went to Osaka castle and I had never done that. It was burned down in WWII but has been rebuilt. The castle grounds are all original and quite nice to walk through. There was a battle of the bands or something going on and we watched that for a while. Actually, we watched the fans of these bands for a while. The thing about Japan is even if you aren't big nationwide, when you have a fanbase, they will be the most loyal fanbase in the world. One band had amassed quite a following of women and all of them knew these choreographed moves for all of the songs. So if the band played one song, they would all flip their hair around like mad or go go dance. It was quite amusing.

After parting with Nighthawk, I headed back home. It was early evening and I hadn't slept good sleep in a couple of days. I told Nighthawk I felt bad because he seeing me on a day when I was at 60% power and with no voice for the most part. He was unable to experience the full Mogwai effect, who knows, maybe it was for the better. I have been know to make people soil themselves at the mere sight of me, maybe he was just lucky. If you would like to read his adventures in Japan, go here.

I slept through most of the train ride back and woke up in Fukuchiyama quite refreshed. Being so refreshed at 8pm is not a good thing, especially when I really had not had quality sleep in a day or two. When I finally did crash last night, I went down hard. I woke up once at 1:30pm and fell back to sleep. I was woken up finally at 4pm by my phone letting me know that I had a text message. I have to say, I haven't slept that hard or that well in a long time. Just for fun, I have decided to post a couple of pics from yesterday, enjoy.

Here are the crazy girls trying to give themselves whiplash:

This is Osaka castle:

And these are two guys from some band that didn't have much of a crowd but I gave them an A for effort:

Overall, it was a pretty good set of days, just a tad tiring.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Mogwai's Guide to Haircuts in Japan

Today, was haircut day. It used to be that I didn't mind getting haircuts, it used to be that I could speak to the person cutting my hair and I was confident that they understood what I was saying.Getting a haircut in Japan is an interesting experience for several reasons and depending on the person getting and giving the cut, your mileage may vary with what I am about to say.

First, if you are a Westerner with curly hair and are going to be staying in Japan for any length of time, may God have mercy on your soul. Most Japanese stylists from what I have witnessed, I have absolutely no clue how to deal with naturally curly hair. It will show on their faces and it will show on the curly person's hair. That is not to say that curly haired people won't be able to find a good haircut in Japan, it just means that they will have to do a little searching and will pay for it when they do. The reason behind this is most Japanese people...most Asians...have straight, black hair. It is the dominant gene in this section of the world. Curly hair is uncommon, as is any other hair color other than black or dark brown. As for hair color, uncommon may have been an understatement; I read somewhere that finding a naturally occurring Japanese blonde is akin to winning the lottery statistically speaking.

Having said all of that, I am lucky in that way. My hair is straight and dark brown to black. Any haircut a Japanese guy would normally get will work fine on me without any adjustments. This is about the only fact that gives me confidence when getting ready to get my haircut.

Haircuts here are either really spendy, kind of spendy, or dirt cheap. Those are the three choices. If you going into a place and the people behind the counter call themselves, "stylists" your screwed. If a Japanese barber is a stylist the cost of your haircut has just jumped $30. This was the case with my first Japanese haircut. I had been told about a particular place in my town that was friendly toward Western hair styles and I ventured there after days of putting it off. As soon as I walked into the place, I knew I was going to end up paying more than I wanted. But I was new here and I had my courage all worked up and so I stayed. There was a kids section to this place that had the chairs in the shape of robots and whatnot and Pokemon was playing on the television. There was the scalp massage section of the building where people were getting their domes worked over with a loving tenderness that can only be purchased. And then there was the actual adult cutting floor with a pit crew of five or six stylists going at hair with the aid of their assistants. Yup, for every two stylists there was an assistant. I was so screwed.

They were very nice to me and had me fill out a customer info card. Then they directed me to a large sectional leather couch and told me to wait until I was called. Upon being called, I was taken to the shampoo station that was also in the scalp massage area. After a thorough scrubbing, my scalp was deemed tense and the extremely good looking scalp rubbing girl went to work rubbing my head. I have to admit, the scalp massage almost made the bill worth what I paid.

After my head had been tenderized I was led to the guy that would be my stylist. Not much to say about him, he was like any male hair stylist worth his salt, quasi-gay looking, nice smelling, and well-dressed. This is where I learned the second rule of getting your hair cut in Japan; the Western definition of short is the Japanese definition of very short. Japanese guys tend to where their hair longer and with more hair spray. The Japanese models you see in Western magazines with the straight hair that is spiked out and blown dry in all sorts of directions are sporting a hairstyle that is extremely common here. I think you could refer to it as a bedhead look if you had pretty long hair. Anywho, it reached the time in the haircut in which I had already told the guy to take more off the top, twice. We kind of hit a point where he was having a minor conniption and I was starting to get a tad tired of not getting what I wanted. After a bit more, I called it good for the sake of the sanity of the stylist and the inaugural haircut was ended. Then came the bill. For women who are used to paying a bit more for their haircuts the amount probably won't be that big of a deal, for me, I was almost ready to kill; it was just under $50. And then I went home and cut the rest of my hair myself.

Fortunately, I have found a place in one of the towns that I teach that cuts my hair for a more reasonable price of $17. I may not get a scalp massage but both of the people that work there don't have problems with cutting my hair shorter than the Japanese norm. As a basis of comparison, I like my hair probably about 3/4 of an inch long, maybe a tad shorter, and on the sides I like a #2 razor guard. I figure that if I can see my bangs my hair is way too long. For most Japanese men, if you can see your bangs, that means you have just finished walking out of the salon. The only real exceptions to this rule are the athletes. Most Japanese athletes have their hair cut more to my specs. You can also tell which schoolgirls play sports because they all have a hair style similar to each other and pretty short by Japanese schoolgirl standards. The term I have heard used with similar hair styles in America has been "The Dyke Cut" only in Japan, the hair is a bit longer.

They don't exist in my town, but I have also had my hair cut at a place where you put your ten bucks in a vending machine and it gives you a ticket you hand to the guy cutting your hair. Ten minutes and ten bucks later, your hair is done. I can't remember the name of the place but their motto was the three Q's: Quickness, Quality, and Quest. Honestly, I think they ran out of Q words after Quality and thought Quest sounded cool. I liked that place though because they did as good of a job as my current place and for $8.50 cheaper.

One last note about haircuts in Japan, razor guard sizes are different here. What would be a #2 guard in the States is a #9 guard here. If you ask for a #2, expect to get that haircut that was really popular in 1991 where you have no hair on the sides and a bunch on top. I know from experience, thankfully my hair grows super fast. Also, if you are a person that wears gel in your hair, bring some with you to apply after your haircut because you won't be getting it there, at least I don't. I think the Japanese have their own words for "hair gel" and "I want it spikey on top". They laugh at me when I say, "spikey". Usually, it’s easiest to just bring in a picture of you with the hair style that you like and just point at it and grunt like a monkey. They will do the rest. The other, wiser, option is to learn Japanese.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Colds, Birthdays, Weddings, Divorces

Okay, I don't have a cold so much as some congestion and the sniffles, but its still annoying. I guess that is Mother Nature's birthday present to me. Oh yeah, I turn 27 tomorrow. woohoo. We are not talking about it, lets just say I would rather ignore it altogether.

So my brother's wedding is in June and I will be flying over a vastness of water called the, Pacific to get there. I have been telling my kids that I am going back to the US for the wedding and I was not expecting the responses I got, mostly from the girls.

This is the English translation of how most of the conversations go:

Me: Yep, in June I am going to America for my little brother's wedding.

Girls: Really?!

Me: Yes, really.

Girls: Are you married?

Me: No...

Girls: So, your little brother is getting married before you?!

Me: Well....

Girls: How embarrassing, you need to get married. (Also substitute shameful for embarrassing on a couple different occassions.)

Me: Hey, I was married, I am divorced.

Girls: Really, what was her name? Why did you get a divorce? etc. etc.

Girls: Well, I guess its okay that your brother is getting married then.

Me:'re all mean.

In Japan, as in other Asian countries, familial hierarchy is very important, especially between brothers and sisters. If I ask a kid if he or she has a brother or sister, they then ask, older or younger. Older siblings usually have more significance than younger ones and everyone in the family knows their place.

In the event of weddings, if a younger sibling is married off before an older one, people start to question what is wrong with the older sibling. I have heard of some Asian families having rules in which the younger kids cannot get married until their older brothers and sisters get hitched. This isn't so much a Japanese custom as it is a Chinese and SouthEast Asian one. But, if a younger sibling gets married first, it can sometimes be a great shame for the family and the older sibling. People wonder if the older sibling is a too ugly, too old, not very bright, not good with people, etc. The topic of weddings within families can be a very nasty one.

Times are changing though and Japanese women especially are waiting until they are in their late-20s and early-30s before tying the knot or even looking for a serious relationship. The latter is a downside for me, every woman I am interested in is either in a relationship or not even remotely looking for one.......Maya.... Either way, it sucks.

Fortunately for me, I am divorced. Being divorced means you are good enough to get married but for one reason or another, things didn't work out. The key is that you were indeed married, if only for five and a half minutes. Therefore, I am not to be shamed by my brother's wedding and people will not be speaking ill of me any more than usual, what a relief.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Not Sure If I Like This

So I just went into Blogger to make a new post and it looks like Google has taken it over and I had to sign in using a different user name and password than usual. It doesn't look they have changed much of what I usually do when posting a new blog entry but they moved some buttons and whatnot. I liked the way I was doing things and they didn't need to be improved but oh well I suppose.

Its odd, I am extremely protective of this blog. Whenever I change the format or something happens to where I have to access it differently, I get kind of freaked out. If I lost this page and all of my previous posts I think I would have to punch babies and old people. That being said, maybe its time I make a pdf file of this site so I can access it if something ever does happen. At least then, I can print it all out and make a hardcopy.

Anywho, I was originally going to post that I made a donut run today and satisfied that hankering. Now if I could only satisfy my hungering for a Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger from Jack In The Box. It sucks when you have a craving for something and you can't quench your desire for a few days. It sucks worse when I have had a craving for somethign for going on six months and its going to be almost another six months before I can bite into that warm, inviting burger and feel the ketchup and onion mayo ooze out on to my lips as I munch on a couple of beef patties with cheese and some soggy bacon. Man, Jack In The Box was okay when I lived in the States, now it is the Holy Grail of fast food for me. If I could find a JITB in Japan, it would almost be worth the train ticket to go there and feast. My luck, the menu would be all crazy and I would not be able to have my coveted Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger. The funny thing is that when I do get to eat that meal, I probably won't be able to finish it, I am not used to those portion sizes anymore. Oh well, I will at least put a dent in it. :)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Big Meetings

Its now getting to be the time of year when my company insists all teachers go to these fancy meetings called CM's or combined meetings. This would be all and great if they were not a pointless waste of time.

First, the meeting name itself is totally absurd. Combined meetings are supposed to be meetings in which Japanese teachers and Western teachers get together to go over new material. We are supposed to be working together. In reality, you go to the CM and then get split up when you arrive, Westerners with Westerners, Japanese with Japanese. Therefore, we are not really combined, we are just in the same building.

Second, the meetings are always held in a central location within the district. This means that the meetings are at least two hours away for me and the Japanese teachers in my area. So not only are the meetings a waste but I lose four hours of my life to a train commute, four hours that could have had a point had I been doing something or going somewhere else.

Lastly, the material covered at the meetings is pretty pointless. I feel bad for the Japanese teachers because they have to put a ton of work into these teaching demos and they really stress out over them. Native teachers on the other hand basically do nothing. In theory, we present demos too but no one really cares what we do as long as we look busy and productive. The whole Japanese concept of looking busy despite your workload is really getting to me. I am sick of pretending that the administrative aspect of my job has a point and I am sick of having to make up things to do just to fill time. This is the main reason that I am not the district manager of my area's native teachers. If I wanted to take the supervisor position, which was basically offered to me, I would have to move to a city and devote at least two whole days a week to pretending that I am doing something productive in an office full of crazy, over-zealous, Japanese people. I despise the office and that is the main reason I didn't take the job. I don't think I could pretend for that long without going nuts and killing co-workers. The one upside to working in the office is watching the Japanese workers perform their daily calisthenics routine and chanting together to get themselves worked up for a day of boredom. I call them Wakey Wakey Exercises and have actually heard people refer to them as such.

Anywho, I am sorry for the rant but I really don't want to go to the meeting. The only reason I am looking forward to it is so that I can pick up my new weight set from one co-worker and play Nintendo DS with another. I am pretty sure that is going to be the majority of the day tomorrow. Here is to pointless corporate bonding time.