Thursday, July 29, 2004

Busy, busy, busy
Well, sort of anyway.  I haven't gotten that much done, but it sure has been a draining week.  This entry might read a bit randomly, but I guess that is a good reflection of how my week has been going.

With help from the board of education, finally got the apartment cleaned out Tuesday, right before the new guy came in on Wednesday.  Since I'm all moved out of the apartment, I'm sort of playing the Wandering Dutchman for this month, staying at friends' places here and there.  The plan was to spend most of the time at the girlfriends' place, which I think I will end up doing eventually, but as of now I've only spent one night there, as opposed to two nights at Mike's place in Ajimu, and one night at Harrison's place in Usa (the neighboring town).   Even though the new guy is here now, I'm still under contract until August 5th, and the Board of Education has asked me to stick around and help out with the transition.  Which I'm more than happy to do, but it means being in Ajimu during the day, while the girlfriend lives all the way out in Hita.  Which is why the past couple days I've just been crashing in the Ajimu-Usa area.

More good-bye parties.  Monday had a good-bye party with my English Conversation class.  Tuesday a good-bye party with the car company in Usa.  Also Tuesday night was Eion's big send-off.  Wednesday night I said good-bye to Jane.  All these good-byes can  get pretty draining.

This weekend was the Jamaican festival in the neighboring town of Innai.  I went to this festival 3 years ago when I first arrived, but the last couple summers I had been away (last summer I was in Hokkaido, the summer before that I went back home).   Anyway, really cool festival.  Lots of reggae and ska music.   My dancing was made fun of again, but it was a good time.

Went into the immigration office in Oita city yesterday to get my visa extended.  Boy was that a pain in the neck.  I had to fill out the same form 3 times.  The form I had filled out originally turned out to be out of date, so I had to fill it out again with the new form.  Then they realized they had given me the wrong form, so I had to fill it out again.  Same information each time,  just the heading on the form was different.  But I've got it all taken care of now.  Just waiting while the forms get processed.  Keeping my fingers crossed nothing goes wrong.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Sorry I haven't posted in a while, I've been pretty busy
but this time instead of being busy doing exciting things, I've been busy packing and cleaning out my apartment.

And boy is it ever taking longer than I thought it would. Which I guess is the way it goes for everyone, right? Everyone always underestimates how long it takes them to pack, or clean out a place.

I finished school last week Tuesday, so I thought a week of cleaning time would be plenty, but even then the process has really dragged on.

And this is even with the help of the girlfriend, who has so far this month donated a total of four days to help clean the place (two of those days were by herself while I was at work, and also once by herself in the morning while I was napping. She's really been quite helpful).

A lot of my friends have already asked me how this could possibly be taking so long, and I'm really not sure. Part of it is no doubt me and the way I can't ever seem to buckle down and clean. Although I do take comfort from the fact that many of the other departing JETs have confessed to me that the process of cleaning and packing is also taking them much longer than they ever thought it would.

But a lot of it is me. Some people just have trouble cleaning, and I seem to be one of them. I can do all the obvious stuff: wash the dirty dishes, pick up the clothes on the floor, throw away the trash...But after a while I get to a certain point where I think to myself, "I know this apartment is still dirty, but I'm not sure what to do next." Which is why it is good to have the girlfriend come over occasionally and tell me what to do.

When I came to Japan, I only had two suitcases. But now as I go through the apartment and pack everything up, I've got boxes and boxes of stuff. Where did all this stuff come from?

From the moment I moved into the apartment, it was never sparkling clean to begin with. Acceptable certainly. But my predecessor had left behind a bunch of junk that I never knew what to do with, and so it has just sat on my shelves all these years. Things like a miniature replica of the golden pavilion from Kyoto. I never knew what to do with it, but it seemed a shame to throw it away so it has just sat there for three years. In the bathroom is a bunch of half used toiletries from my predecessor that I've never used, but never gotten around to throwing out either.

This is in addition to all the stuff I've accumulated myself. Like the Beatles record. When I first came to Japan, someone found out I liked The Beatles, and wanted to give me their record set of "The Beatles: Red Album". I thanked him, and through my supervisor (I didn't speak any Japanese at the time) tried to explain that it was a very nice gift, but I didn't have a record player. My supervisor told me, "It's okay. He wants to give it to you any way." And so now that record has just sat in my closet these 3 years. And now I don't know what to do with it. It would be such a waste to throw it out, but I don't know anyone with a record collection I could give it to.

Two co-workers today came over from the Board of Education to help clean the apartment out and get it ready for the new JET. They were somewhat disappointed to find that I was still in the midst of cleaning the place out. But, in what I think is an interesting reflection of Japanese culture, they were almost more upset at my girlfriend than at me.

"She comes over to your apartment all the time," one of them said. "Couldn't she have cleaned it a bit more? What good is a woman who doesn't clean." (And this was from a female colleague as well).

I attempted to use this to as my defense from time to time, and it worked surprisingly well. When another co-worker joked, "Your apartment is so dirty, I'd like to hit you just once." I answered, "It's really the girl-friends fault, isn't it?" To my surprise, this defense was accepted.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Plans for Next Year
Last Thursday I was offered, and accepted, a job teaching English in Gifu prefecture. I'll be working in a Junior High school and Elementary school. On paper it sounds very similar to what I'm doing right now actually, but I'm sure a new location and new environment will bring its own unique challenges. I'll keep you updated on how everything goes.

Anyway, I just found out this Thursday actually that I had gotten the job. The plan previous to that was I was going to extend my visa a little, apply for the Peace Boat as a volunteer, and then go back home and just see how everything turned out. (Not much of a plan admittedly. I guess it's a good thing I landed this other job).

But even bad plans can be somewhat hard to rearrange at the last minute. Under the JET program, the return ticket home at the end of the contract is paid by the Board of Education. The BOE and I had previously been planning on buying a ticket on August 25th. I asked them if they had bought the ticket yet, and if it was too late to change plans.

Fortunately they hadn't bought the ticket. Now I had a decision to make. Training for the new job starts the last week of August. If I wanted to go home in between, the best thing to do would be to leave as soon as possible.

We had already scheduled a bunch of events on the assumption that I would be here longer. My farewell party was scheduled for August 3. I had told some of my students I would make it to the Bon Matsuri (festival for the dead) in Ajimu on August 7th. Of course a lot of this could be rearranged or cancelled if I went home earlier.

I had a hard time making up my mind. The BOE told me I could have one day to decide, but if they were going to buy plane tickets for the first week of August, they needed to know now.

I called home, e-mailed some friends, and checked with my new employer about what would work out best with the visa. In the end I just decided to stay in Japan through August. It was simpler all around. It works out better this way with the visa. It means I can make leisurely good-byes here as opposed to the rushed good-byes if I was leaving next week. It means I just have to make one move instead of two. And I wasn't too keen on making all my good-byes here, and then going home and having to say good-bye to everyone there again. One set of good-byes was enough. And there is also a girl-friend over here, which was another factor as well.

So I'm not coming back this August, like I thought I might. Sorry to everyone who was looking forward to meeting up. I think I'll be back probably around Christmas, or possibly (if I can swing it) for a friend's wedding in October. Again, I'll keep you updated.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Absolutely Appalling
I don't know if anyone ever pays attention to the links I have posted at the right or not, but Media Mouse has posted some very awful news on their website. Go to their web page and look for the July 19th article, the one entitled, "US GIs sodomised Iraqi boys".
Philosophy of Blogging Revisited
About six months ago or so, when I was in the middle of conducting the homestay with some of my students, I made an observation about what I consider to be one of the great ironies of our blogging age:  When there is nothing exciting happening, I have all the time in the world to update this weblog, but nothing really important to write about.  On the other hand, when my life is busy I have a lot of stories I want to put on the weblog, but no time to write them.  (I call it: Joel’s philosophy of weblogging.  Feel free to quote me if you like).
Anyway, it is time to once again reinvoke this principle, as I find myself in a similar situation.  After weeks of posting boring stories about nothing in particular, I find myself recently with a lot of exciting things happening and no time to write about it.  Lots of farewell parties and farewell speeches, as well as plans for next year which have been rapidly evolving.  If time allowed I would really have like to write about each individual incident in detail, but instead I’ll give a summary of what has been happening the past couple weeks.
Farewell Ceremonies
As I’ve made my last visit to all my schools in the past few weeks, I’ve had to do a number of farewell ceremonies.  In addition to the ceremonies at school, in the evenings I’ve been to four farewell parties this week alone.  I’m somewhat reminded of a joke one of my high school teachers told at his retirement ceremony.  After listening to the introductory speeches, he opened up his farewell remarks by saying, “After hearing all the nice things people are saying about me, the first thing I’m going to do when I get home is open up the obituary pages to make sure I’m not in them.”
A bad joke maybe but the point is well taken.  When you die or when you leave a job, people will only say good things about you and you have to take it all with a grain of salt.  This is true the world over, but perhaps especially true in Japan, a land famous for people saying one thing and meaning another.
All that being said, it is quite touching really to read the letters that the students have written to me.  The fact that the teachers had assigned them to write the letters caused me to discount them at first, but a Japanese friend read some of the letters and told me I should really be proud of their contents.  “Young children tend to be very honest,” my friend said.  “And although the teacher probably forbid them from writing anything bad, the fact that they wrote so many good things is probably an indication that they really mean it.”
Many of the children in the elementary schools told me they wished I could stay longer because they wanted to play more games with me.  But on the whole they seemed to take my leaving in good stride.  Smiles all around on the last day at each elementary school.  And some of the kids even took advantage of the fact I was leaving to “kancho” me one last time.  (Japanese play in which the hands are folded together and the index fingers are used to poke either the rear end or the genitalia, depending on which direction the kids come at you from.  Man do I hate the kancho).
The Junior High schools were a little bit more somber.  Since I have been here three years now, I’ve known all the Junior high school students since their elementary school days.  I gave a speech saying how neat it has been to see them grow up the past 3 years.  They all wrote me nice letters.  A few girls even started crying.  I got the impression many of them were genuinely sorry to see me leave.
In addition to the school ceremonies, I had several farewell parties this week.  One farewell party with the other JETs, one with the English teachers in the Usa city area, one with the Japanese lessons I go to on Thursday, and one with the students I took to America this Christmas.  Again, time allowing I would have loved to write about these in more detail.
I guess of all of these the last one, the one with the students I had chaperoned in America, was the most enjoyable.  I had taught all of these students at one time, but they have all graduated onto the high school now, so I don’t see them as much anymore.  Similar to the school ceremonies, they all presented me with letters they had wrote.  Very nice letters too, I was quite touched to read them.
I had been asked to give a short speech.  I told the students that I had really enjoyed getting to know them, and thought they were all wonderful people.  I said I was sorry I hadn’t spent much time with them since we returned from America, and I would have liked to talk to them more, but I didn’t want to embarrass them by talking to them in too much in front of their friends at school.  I then said a few short words about each individual student, and what qualities they had that I admired.
It was something I wanted to say, but I was worried that it would sound a bit cheesy.  Fortunately, it was received very well.  Although I’ve been making most of my good-bye speeches in Japanese, I knew my Japanese wasn’t good enough to convey everything I really wanted to say, so I gave this particular speech in English, and asked one of the older students to translate for me.  This slowed down the process a bit and proved to be a bit of a headache, but in the end it all worked out.
More to update on, but I think I’ll call this good for one entry.  Look for more news coming soon (hopefully).

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

On the Senate Debating a Constitutional Amendment to ban Same Sex Marriages...
Forget for a moment about all the obvious hatred and bigotry behind this amendment. Instead consider this: using a constitutional amendment to resolve this issue would be in contradiction to the usual conservative philosophy of small federal government and states rights.

Remember the "Defense of Marriage Act" already legislated that states do not have to recognize the same sex marriages of other states. So the only purpose for a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriages altogether would be for the federal government to restrict states from recognizing any same sex marriages at all.

What happened to the all the stuff about states rights we've been hearing for the last 50 years?

Of course it was always commonly known that during the 1960s and 70s, "States Rights" and "local control" was just code for "we don't want black people in our swimming pools". During the 1980s and 90s, States Rights and local control rhetoric was used against federal environmental regulations. States Rights was always just a convenient rhetorical trick to mask policies the right knew it couldn't get public sympathy for if it just said them outright.

But now the other shoe has dropped, and we see how quickly this "States Rights" garbage is abandoned. Remember this the next time those hypocrites start whining about the federal government and states rights.

This also brings up an interesting question. What exactly does today's Republican stand for? Fiscal responsibility? Well that's obviously gone out the window. States Rights and a smaller federal government? Apparently not. Somebody help me out. What exactly do Republicans stand for these days?

And why does anybody still support Bush? I never liked him in the first place, so perhaps I just won't be able to understand this, but I can't figure it out.

I'll try and say my piece without turning into an angry liberal rant, but really....The situation in Iraq really couldn't be going any worse. Everything that those of us who opposed the war said would happen has happened. There has been no WMD found, no link proven between Saddam and Al-qaeda. The country is unstable and we've been caught in a Vietnam like quagmire. U.S. soldiers torturing Iraqis, flawed intelligence that led us into the war, the situation is creating more hatred towards the US in the middle East, and undoubtedly nurturing new terrorists, etc, etc, etc. And Bush's approval ratings are still relatively high.

With the situation in Iraq like it is, combined with the Bush's administrations disregard of traditional conservative principles, the only reasons I could understand someone voting for Bush this November is if you really like tax cuts, or you really hate homosexuals, or you blindly support any American military endeavor.

But that's just me, the angry liberal. Maybe someone could explain to me why they support Bush.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Junior High School Drinking Party
I was in invited out Friday by the teachers at Fukami Junior High School to go to an "enkai" or drinking party.

A Brief Explanation
I noted in a previous entry that Japan is a gift giving culture. I should add to that Japan is also a drinking culture. Even though I knew it was coming, when I first arrived this was a bit of a shock. At 23 I was still getting used to the idea that it was perfectly legal for me to drink. Then I came to Japan and discovered that drinking to the point of intoxication was not only socially acceptable but encouraged.
Work related drinking parties are considered important for bonding with co-workers, and occur several times through out the year. Since I don't have a base school, I usually only get invited to the Board of Education drinking parties.
Which is cool, nothing against the Board of Education. They're all super nice people, and I enjoy spending time with them. But since the BOE is mostly old men, sometimes I wish I got invited to the school parties more. Many of the teachers at the schools are close to my age (in fact now that I'm 26, some of them are even younger than me), and the gender is bit more even.
I suspect the only reason I was invited this time is because it is getting close to my departure. The drinking party was supposed to mark the end of a research project (don't ask me for details) the school had been doing, but at the last moment they decided to make it a send off party for me as well. Since I get along well with all the teachers at Fukami, I was happy to receive this invitation.
Oh, except I don't like drinking. Minor detail.
I'm not opposed to it per se. I'm not against it on religious or moral grounds. I'll certainly have the odd beer when I'm at Tropicoco's. But after some youthful experimentation, I've just decided I'm not a big drinker. Don't like the taste of it all that much. And I don't like getting drunk. Some people don't. I especially don't like drinking and trying to speak Japanese at the same time.
Many JETs claim they are able to speak Japanese better when they are drunk, and a lot of Japanese people certainly seem to have improved English abilities when drinking. But I guess different people are wired up in different ways, because once I begin to feel the alcohol cloud my mind, I really struggle to spit out Japanese sentences. I feel like I'm swimming upstream (forgive the metaphor), and in the end feel tired and un- talkative and not that much fun.
Although some of the women get away with not drinking, it seems to be bad form for the men to not walk away slightly intoxicated. I try get away with drinking only what seems to be the bear minimum for politeness.
It's a bit tricky. I would go in and say, "Right, I'm only going to have 2 beers or so." But the problem is your glass is constantly getting refilled before you have a chance to finish it, so it is hard to keep track of how much you're really drank. So I go with a more subjective measurement. I try and stop drinking when I begin to feel the effects of the alcohol. Which is a fine line to navigate. Especially with the harder stuff, the Japanese Sake and Shotchu, the effect can be a bit delayed, and sometimes I end up going a little farther down the line than I was planning too.

The Bus Ride
As this was a drinking party, no one drove their own cars. We met at the town hall and rode in a bus together.
The bus had barely started when someone asked me the question that I hate. "What are you going to do when you go home in August?"
I gave my usually response, "I'm going to become vice-president of the United States."
"Why not president?"
Actually the real reason I always said "Vice-president" was because I got it from a Simpsons comic book I read in 7th grade. Bart was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he answered either the guy who fishes change out of the pool at the miniature golf place, or Vice-President.
It was a throw away joke of course, the obvious humor being the contrast between the two occupations. But the reason I still remember it all these years later is that I thought there was real humor in the subtlety. Everyone says they want to be President. When Bart said he wanted to be Vice-President, it implied that he had actually put some thought into it and that he was seriously considering it, instead of just spouting off a randomly ambitious job. I thought that was pretty funny, so I always answer Vice-President now.
Of course it ruins the joke when someone asks me to explain why not President. I guess in all fairness, it is the logical follow up question, but over the 3 years I've been using this line, I've never come up with a good answer to this. But recently current events have helped out a bit.
"The Presidential nominees have already been decided. But they haven't picked a vice-president yet." (Remember this was on Friday).
"Who would you be Vice-President for: Bush or Kerry?"
"Of course Kerry. I hate Bush." The bus broke into applause. Anyone how has been abroad in the past 4 years knows that Bush is not very popular in other countries, and Japan is no exception.
I have developed a reputation among the other foreigners, much like I had back home, of someone who is always spouting his mouth off about politics. But when I'm interacting with Japanese people, I find myself often avoiding politics. The conversation, I think mainly due to the language barrier, stays very simple and can often get self-congratulatory. And it can start to feel patronizing. The Japanese person will start telling me how awful Bush is, and how important peace is, and how I'm such a good American for being against Bush.
As was the case this time. I was showered with praise from the teacher sitting next to me. "Oh, isn't that wonderful," she said to the people around her. "He's an American, but he doesn't like Bush. Bush is really awful, isn't he? If only more Americans were concerned about peace like he is." Yeah, see what I mean. I start to feel a bit embarrassed. So I changed the subject.
"I really enjoyed your class the other day," I said. I have started sitting in on other classes recently. The teacher in question was a Japanese literature teacher, so the previous day I had sat in on one of her classes. The class was about a Japanese novel in which the author was writing about his little brother, who died during World War II. The title of the novel was "He never became an adult." I had never read this story, but I enjoyed listening to her talk about the book. I said the book sounded interesting, and I would like to read it some day, and she recommended several other books to me.

The Party
We arrived at the restaurant. After the opening speeches, congratulating everyone for working so hard during the research project, and a brief nod of the head to me acknowledging that I was leaving soon, the party began. At first people stayed in there assigned seats, but after a while people begin to move around and chat to others around the table.
Another teacher asked me what sort of things I wanted as souvenirs to take back to America. I answered things like Japanese music, or movies; stuff to help me remember Japanese pop culture. Then she asked me what kind of things surprised me when I first came to Japan.
"There were so many," I replied.
"Then just give me your top 3."
When I first came to Japan, so many things surprised me. But after 3 years, a lot of these things have faded into the background, and it is almost becoming difficult to remember which things really shocked me when I first arrived. I struggled to come up with 3.
The first one I guess was pretty obvious. "The Onsens". An Onsen is a traditional Japanese public bath. I remember the first time I went to one of these with my supervisor from the board of education. We went into the locker room, and I was feeling slightly shy about getting naked in front of a co-worker, but I changed into my bathing suit as fast as I could. Then I got a strange look from my supervisor. "What are you doing? We don't wear bathing suits in the Onsen." It was then I learned to my great surprise that everyone goes into the baths together naked. I couldn't believe I had been taken to such a strange place. But since then I've been to so many Onsens, it is hard to believe that I was shocked at first.
The teacher nodded understandably when I told her this. "You don't have Onsens in America, do you?"
"No. I was a bit shy about getting into the tub naked with everyone else at first."
"What else in Japan surprised you?"
Again I thought for minute, and answered that was surprised by the availability and social accepted ness of pornography. Which was absolutely true, that really did surprise me. At the same time though, I wondered if bringing up this topic was acceptable conversation in mixed company. A thought floated through my mind. "I wonder if I would have said that if I hadn't been drinking."
But the teacher seemed to understand, and said that she thought it was a big problem. She then when on to talk about the problem with teenage prostitution in Japan, and said it she thought it was linked to the culture of pornography. To illustrate her point, she asked, "You don't have the same problem in America, do you?"
We do and we don't. I had a difficult time qualifying my answer with my limited Japanese. Of course there is prostitution in every country, and I would venture to guess that a certain percentage of the prostitutes in America are probably under-age. But it is not really the same as in Japan. In Japan the problem is just bizarre.
Middle class girls from good families will often sleep with older men not because they need the money, but because they like receiving gifts and want to be able to buy all the latest fashion. I tried to explain that I thought this aspect of underage prostitution was unique to Japan. But I tried to soften what I was saying by adding, "Of course every country has its own problems. It is just that you don't notice the problems in your own country because you become so used to them. When you go to another country, you tend to notice the problems more. But America has lots of problems to." We then talked for a while about the high violent crime rate in America, compared to the virtually non-existent violent crime rate in Japan.
I stumbled a bit when asked to come up with a 3rd thing about Japan that had really surprised me. I ended up answering the school uniforms had surprised me. "But didn't you know Japanese students had uniforms?" the teacher asked.
Yeah I suppose I did. But I didn't know they would look so silly. "Like the girl's uniform," I explained. "Why does it look like a sailor's suit? They're not in the navy, they're students. Why are they wearing sailor suits?"
The teacher just smiled and nodded at this one. I could see I was on my own for this last observation.

Another teacher, after a few drinks, wanted to talk to me about the situation in Iraq. "Why does America like war so much?" he asked me.
I get asked this question a lot in Japan. And I never really know how to answer it. Sometimes I go into my speech about how the news coverage in America is different from the news in Japan, so Americans don't often think about the consequences of the wars they fight. But often I just have to admit there is no simple answer, as I did this time. I just shrugged and said, "I really don't know."

After the Party
At the end of the dinner, we all sang the Fukami Junior High School song. (Well, not all of us. There was at least one American who just mumbled the words). And then we got back on the bus, and headed back to the town hall.
Those of us who lived in walking distance from the town hall were just dropped off there. Which turned out to be me, the principle, the vice-principle, and one other teacher. I was back with the old men.
We started walking to the next bar. At one point the vice-principle pointed to the side of the road and remarked, "There used to be a movie theater there."
I couldn't believe there had ever been a movie theater in Ajimu. I opened my mouth to ask him if he was serious, but the other teacher beat me to the question. "Really? There was a movie theater here?"
"Yes, when I was a boy."
"Was this before the war?"
"What! How old do you think I am?"
So the others were just as shocked as I was to learn there had once been a movie theater in Ajimu. I have heard that the countryside areas in Japan have been rapidly depopulating the past 50 years as all the young people have been pouring into the city, so I suppose 30 or 40 years ago, Ajimu might have had enough people in it to support a movie theater.
What I wouldn't give for a time machine to be able to go back and see what things looked like back then. Back when there were enough people in the countryside areas to have a real living town, instead of these retirement communities the countryside has become. And back before there were all these pointless construction projects everywhere. Life in the countryside must have been pretty idyllic back then. I often try and imagine what it must have been like.
Perhaps that is why I like old music so much. It offers a glimpse into what life was like before you were born. I like to listen to the cheesy pop tunes of Japan from the early 60s, and try and imagine what the country must have looked like back then. With some of the really classically dated sounding stuff, like the Japanese version of "Do the Locomotion", I can perfectly visualize night time in the countryside, the whole family watching the new music show on the black and white TV, Grandpa yelling to turn in down in the other room, and the cicadas chirping outside.
We went into a small bar. There was nobody there of course besides the owner. This is the countryside after all. We sat down, and they asked me what I wanted to drink.
It had been a while since the last beer. Also I think the green tea that I drank at the end of the party had helped to clear up my head. I didn't want to cloud it up again. I asked if they had any cola.
"Cola?" the principle asked indignantly. "Cola? Here," he poured me a cup of warm sake, "Japanese cola." I smiled politely and drank it.
As the 3 others began talking rapidly among themselves, I started to feel excluded from the conversation. The news was playing on the TV in the corner, so I started watching that. There was a news segment on the leader of the Japanese Communist Party, and how he was becoming popular with young people lately because of his opposition to sending Japanese troops to Iraq. The JCP official himself looks like a real geek, a typical middle-aged Japanese man in a business suit with a fat face and thick glasses. But the news showed him at peace rallies, and showed all the young people eager to meet him, and girls giggling nervously when they talked to him.
Although the communist party has always been marginalized nationally, I read once that it was popular in the countrysides. This appears to be true in Ajimu since the whole town is covered with posters for the Communist Party. But it is hard to tell. Does this mean the Communist Party has a lot of support, or that its few supporters have a lot of posters? I decided to test the waters and see how much support he had in this bar.
"Is that man very popular in Japan," I asked, forcing myself back into the conversation. They stopped whatever they were talking about briefly, looked up at the TV for a second, then mumbled something I didn't really catch, and then resumed their conversation. Clearly they were busy talking about something else.
A short while later the principle got a phone call from his wife, and left the bar, leaving enough money to cover everyone's tab. Taking this as my cue that it was okay to go, I excused myself shortly after and headed home.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Haven't Seen the New Michael Moore Film Yet...
because I'm here in Japan (in case you forgot). So I can't vouch for the accuracy of this piece, but Phil's review was really thought provoking. It is posted on his web log. Recommended Reading.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Farewell Speeches
As mentioned a couple post ago, things are indeed continuing to wind up here. I've still got a couple weeks of school left, but because I'm on a bi-weekly schedule, I'm starting to make my last visits to some of the elementary schools.

I'm not a fan of big good-byes. In fact I think ideally I'd like to just slip away in the middle of the night and leave a note for people to find in the morning. But that is not how it is done in Japan.

Yesterday at Ajimu Elementary school, and today at Sada Elementary school, good-bye ceremonies were held for me. The principle gave a short speech, representatives from each class gave a short speech to me, and then I had to say a few words. It was all in Japanese, but after 3 years here I've got a bit of a footing in the language. If I had left after the first year, I don't know what I would have done. I suppose I just wouldn't have understood all those speeches given to me.

For some reason there seems to be some confusion about how long I've been here. Many of the teachers have been saying, "Wow, you've been in Japan for two years now, huh?" Actually it's 3, but I suppose this is a good sign that my time here has gone quickly for them. (Or more likely, this is a result of the fact that the teachers get transferred to different schools every year, so very few of them have been teaching with me all 3 years).

I've also been getting lots of gifts. I mentioned before this is a bit frustrating. Just when I'm trying to sort out what I'll have room to take home and what I'll have to get rid of, all sorts of gifts are pouring in. That said, I do have to admit some of it is pretty cool. The teachers at Ajimu Elementary School have taken note of my interest in Japanese oldies, and given me a collection of CD's of old Japanese pop groups. This should provide me with many hours of listening pleasure.

Anyway, it is looking like this is going to be just the tip of the ice-berg. My schedule is beginning to fill up fast with a lot of Sayonara parties for the next few weeks. A Sayonara party with the Board of Education, with my Adult class, with the students I took to America, with the other JETs, etc. I'll do my best to keep this weblog updated.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

American idiots
I was at the bar the other night with some other English teachers and a Japanese friend, and we were chatting away as usual when the Japanese friend said, "You know, it's not fair. You guys go to Japan and all you do is speak English all the time. When I lived in America I couldn't speak Japanese."

We all laughed about this, but he continued. "No, seriously. I was in Wal-Mart with another Japanese friend, and we were talking to each other, and a lady said to us, 'This is America. You should speak English.' So I said, 'Yes, I can speak English as well, but when I'm talking to another Japanese person, it makes more sense to speak in Japanese.' But she was so upset about it I couldn't believe it."

The other American and I could only shrug and say, "Yes, we do have those kind of people."

The thing that really bugs me about this story is it is not the first time I've heard it. It seems like just about every Japanese friend I know who has lived in America has at least one "Speak English you're in America" story like this.

But besides the standard "Speak English you're in America" story, some people return from America with even worse stories. I've heard of one Japanese friend on an exchange program in Tennessee who was attacked and beat up in what appears to have been a random racially motivated attack. When I was told the story, all I could really do was just shrug and say, "Oh, well, the South, of course."

Another friend was in America and saw "Pearl Harbor" in the theaters, and upon leaving the movie theater had several people glare at her and her other Japanese friend.

I suppose I hardly need to say that no one around here ever tells me "This is Japan, speak Japanese." And no one has tried to attack me, or hold me personally responsible for World War II. But you know, America, country of idiots.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Things are Winding up Fast
With less than a month of school left to go, things are indeed winding up pretty fast over here as my 3 years on the JET program are coming to an end.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what stuff I’ll take home with me, what stuff I’ll leave here, etc. It is a bit frustrating though, because just at the same time I’m trying to get ride of a bunch of stuff, people around here are giving me farewell gifts.
Japan is a gift giving culture, which I’ve never really felt entirely comfortable with. Besides the fact that I always forget to bring a gift when invited to someone’s house, I feel guilty about receiving anything too nice. It’s like giving pearls to swine. I occasionally receive some very nice gifts, such as Japanese dolls or even traditional Japanese instruments, which just end up getting tossed into a pile in the mess that is my apartment.
The board of Education asked me what kind of gift I want to remember them by. I told them I didn’t need a “thing” to remember them, but something like a picture with everyone in it would be nice. But they insisted they had to get me a tangible item. So they decided to get me a “Yukata” (Japanese robe) and Japanese sandals. The past few days we’ve been looking through catalogues to pick one out. I’m skeptical that they will be able to find one in my size, but they insist if they special order it, it will be no problem.
It’s a nice idea, and kind of cool I admit, but I don’t know when I’m ever going to be able to get a chance to use it. I mean it is not like I’m going to go to the bar back home in my Yukata and Sandals, and then say to the person next to me, “Hey, did I mention I spent sometime in Japan?”
Even within Japan itself I’d feel a little strange about wearing the Yukata around, as if I was trying too hard to fit in despite the fact that I’m obviously not Japanese.

Every day now I get asked the same set of questions, which is beginning to get mildly irritating. It is like when you are a senior in High School, and when you go to church all your parents’ friends keep asking you if you’ve decided where you want to go to University, until you get so sick of that question you just want to punch the next person who asks it, but you know you can’t do that so you just smile and try and answer politely. Or when you are finishing University, and everyone keeps asking you what you are going to do next, and you get really sick of that question. That kind of feeling.
Everyday I go into school now (and I’m in a different school every day of the week), I go through the same exact conversation with everyone there. They say something like, “It won’t be much longer now until you are finished, huh? What are you going to do next?”
This question is made more frustrating by the fact that I don’t know what I am going to do next. And in fact at this point I’m not even sure what day I’m going to be leaving Japan. So whenever I’m asked about the future, I tell people I want to be Vice-President of the United States. It’s a little running joke I’ve kept going over here.
Another comment I hear often is, “We’re sure going to miss each other, won’t we?” To which I respond, “Yes, I’m going to miss you too.” And really I will miss a lot of the people around here, but it is hard to sound sincere about it when I get asked this question 10 times a day. After a while the emotion just leaves my voice when I have to respond to this, and I think I passed that mark a long time ago.
Recently some of my students, especially some of the Junior High School students, have gotten a little upset and asked me angrily why I was leaving. I explained that it wasn’t my decision, but that the JET program is limited to 3 years. Which is true. But it is perhaps a slightly misleading answer in that it implies I would have stayed longer if it was an option.
I’m not sure that I would have. I’ve had a very good experience the past 3 years, but it is probably time to go on. The job has been a lot of fun, but I have very little real responsibilities over here, and I think it is time to move onto a job where I can use my talents a bit more. Of course I’d feel a lot better about things if I knew what that next step was.
The students have also been asking a lot of questions about my successor. They asked me if he was cool, and I said yes, he’s very cool. Then they asked if he was cooler than me. I said that no one was cooler than I am. They laughed because they knew it was true. (Um, at least I think that’s why they were laughing).