Sunday, October 21, 2007

Japan e-mails: Aug 23, 2001


Thanks for the message Ribsy. Sorry the first one got lost when Hotmail crashed. If it makes you feel any better, that has happened to me as well on Hotmail. Frustrating, isn't it? If you find something that works better than Hotmail, let me know. Otherwise maybe you could type it out on Word Perfect and then cut and paste it over to hotmail. Because I do appreciate those long messages. I mean, I know I've only been gone a couple weeks, but I really do want to be kept updated on the homefront, and I'm counting on you because, let's face it, I think contact with the rest of the boys is going to be sporadic at best. Bless their hearts, but most of them aren't regular e-mailers. (Although thus far I did get one e-mail from Rob, and I one from Brett).

Yes, it is too bad we couldn't hang out more this summer, but that's how things go. I understand you were really busy with the new job and everything. Besides, we had a good four years of hanging out at Calvin, right?

What's up with me you ask? Well I don't remember what I wrote you last, so you'll have to excuse me if I repeat myself.

First of all, it's amazing how much I stand out here. I guess that's just stating the obvious, but it is hard to get away from out here. And I seem to get a lot of looks from girls too. If any other the boys ever complain about being single again, send them out to Japan. It's unbelievable how much I get smiled at and stared at by girls...Although that being said, I have to admit aside from the sidelong gaze it hasn't done me much good.

I got back from orientation in Beppu yesterday. Beppu was a big city, which was nice after a week and a half of small town life. But things in my town aren't bad either. I've been finding ways to keep occupied out here, and the scenery is absolutely beautiful. There's one other foreign English teacher in my town, a New Zealand guy named Ryan. He's quite a character, and I mean that in the best possible way. (I'm sure you understand what I mean. We hung out with quite a few interesting characters over our time at Calvin, didn't we?). He is Maori, and has been teaching me a lot about the Maori culture of New Zealand (which up until two weeks ago I didn't even know existed). He has a body shaped liked a sumo wrestler, complete with the long black hair. And he has a great singing voice, and he's not ashamed to use it. We'll be walking down the street and he'll break into song, and all the Japanese people will stare at us. At first it used to embarrase me, but now I just laugh.

What else, what else? Oh, they have these things in Japan called Hot springs. It's kind of like a big hot tub or something, but everyone goes to them naked. (They're not co-ed though. At least usually they're not co-ed. All the ones I've been to have been all male). The first time I was taken to one, I didn't know about the whole naked thing, and that really caught me by surprise. But I'll tell you, it's not so bad once you get used to it.

Tell all the boys I said Hi. Tell Rob he can go to Hell. Tell Butterball he's a son of a bitch. Tell Cakes I miss him most of all. And keep me updated on life back in Michigan.

I've been having a good time so far, and managing to make some friends. There is one other English speaker in my town, a New Zealander, and we hang out a lot. And there is a Welsh JET in the neighboring town just 10 minutes away. Otherwise when I'm talking to Japanese people I just talk slow, use lots of gestures, and don't say any big works. Most of the time it seems to work. So I'm not completely miserable.

There are lots of stories about JETs returning back to America and having a hard time speaking English again, and I can certainly understand some of that. I'm already starting to do some of my thinking in broken English.

Last weekend I went to a Reggae festival in the neighboring town, and danced to Japanese Reggae and ska music. It was a bit surreal, but a lot of things here are. For example Tuedsay night we went out to a club with a 1950s theme, and saw Japanese Elvis and Buddy Holly impersonaters.

I indicated I was interested in the Japanese Peace Movement, and my supervisor has been helping me locate books about it. He even took me to talk to a few of his friends who had been involved in the Japanese student movement. (Classes haven't started yet over here, so we've all got a bit of time on our hands at present).


Dear Brett, Good to hear from you old buddy. I've got a couple of funny stories I've been saving for you because I don't think anyone else would appreciate them quite as much. I went to a Jamaican Reggae festival this weekend, which was a trip in itself, seeing all these Japanese people who were really into Reggae, and all these Japanese groups groups singing Reggae music, and Japanese people wearing punk shirts and with dreadlocks. I guess in and of itself there's nothing too weird about that, but it felt weird because it didn't fit my image of Japan. I expected everyone over here to act Japanese all the time, but they do a lot of the same stuff we do over here, only everyone looks different and speaks a different language. At times it feels like I'm in some sort of parallel universe or something.

Anyway, Ryan, the other JET from my town and I went to this festival on Saturday. On Sunday it was blazing hot, so we decided to spend the afternoon by one of the waterfalls, and go to the festival later. Because this is a mountain town, there are lots of beautiful waterfalls around here, some of them are more crowded than others. The one we went to was kind of a tourist spot. It's still beautiful, but with lots of people around. Kind of like that waterfall we went to Senior Year Spring Break with Bear and Prodigy.

Now, you kind of have to picture Ryan for this story to be funny, and I'm not sure if I can do his description justice over e-mail. He's a big guy. He's got long black hair, kind of a big build, and a big body. Many Japanese people comment that he looks like a sumo wrestler. Anyway, he wants to swim by the waterfall, but he's a bit nervous because there are so many Japanese people standing around, and no one else is swimming. I feel the same way, but I'm egging him on to jump in nonetheless. Eventually he just jumps in. And he's swimming around in the water, and creating a scene, either because he's swimming or because of his size, or both. And all the Japanese people are gasping and pointing and giving me this look like, "Do you know your crazy friend is in the water?" Then he swims across the water and gets by where the waterfall is, and he wants to stand up and get directly under the waterfall so I can take his picture. As he gets up his suit was sagging slightly, and this was again very amusing to the Japanese crowd. Then as he walks over to the Waterfall he slips a bit on one of the rocks and the whole crowd gasps at once.

The second funny story is a lot like the first one I sent you last week. Yes, I went to another one of those Naked Baths. Despite my initial extreme embarresment the first time, it wasn't really so bad once I got used to it the first time. And this time I was with a bunch of other JETs at the orientation in Beppu, and they were talking about how nice the sand baths were in Beppu, and a group was going there, so I decided to go with them. It's like a naked bath, only instead of getting in the water naked, you get buried in the sand naked, so I thought it would be the next step up in the experience.

Anyway, what I didn't know was that they have old ladies who shovel the sand on you. So when I walked into the room and saw these old ladies, I didn't feel like stripping down and getting naked in front of them. On one level I guess it's no big deal because they were really old, so it wasn't like there was any awkward sexual tension or anything like that (which is why they have the old ladies doing this job I guess). But it was nonetheless another comfort barrier I had to adjust to, you dig? So I was standing around and thinking if there was any way I could just leave now (except we had already paid). At any rate I didn't want to be the first in our group to strip down buck naked, so I was waiting around for someone else to take off their pants first. The thing was, that sand bath was really busy that night and had a lot of costumers, and the old ladies were getting really cranky that we weren't moving along fast enough. They started yelling at us, but I didn't understand what they were saying, and they didn't understand what I was saying.

Eventually we stripped off our clothes. Next there was a small tub where we were supposed to wash ourselves before getting into the sand. Apparently I wasn't doing it right and they got even more upset with me. Then they had me lay down in the sand and they shoveled sand onto me. It wasn't like a nice kind of shoveling either. They would just throw huge chunks of sand onto me, and the first heap landed right on the old family jewels, which was a little uncomfortable I don't mind telling you.

Anyway, I survived, but I can't believe I paid the equivalent of $8 just to get yelled at by old Japanese ladies while I was standing around naked. They sure do some funny things here in Japan.

In other news: school still hasn't started yet. School will start on September 1st. Until then...well I don't really know what is going on between now and then. More of just sitting around the office at the Board of Education I think.

The town I'm in is only 8,000 people. It's not too big, but there are towns even more rural than this that JETs get put into, so I guess I'm doing all right. And there's a bigger town only 20 minutes away. The weather is pretty hot and humid. It's not unbearable. It's about like West Michigan on a bad day, but the killer is over here they have that kind of weather every day. But they love their air-conditioning over here. Every place I go has the AC blasting. I thought as a foreigner I would be the one unused to all the heat, but the locals complain about it more than I do.

We do get a bit of rain, but it always seems to be in short dashes. I think the mountains may have something to do with that.

My apartment is pretty nice, a lot like Rob's studio apartment actually.

That's all the news thats fit to print for now. Until next time...

Link of the Day
Another video that's great to have on in the background whilst you're doing something else:
Noam Chomsky - Exception to the Rulers: Media in Democracy

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