Sunday, September 26, 2004

Week in Review, Odds and Ends
Still dealing with limited e-mail access over here, so a dual apology for all the unanswered e-mails and for not updating this weblog as frequently as I used to. Because of the limited access I'm going to just combine all my thoughts and stories from this week into a week in review type post.
First off, my friend Aaron in his blog responds to one of my previous posts about the application for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I do realize that I am probably severely testing the patience of any regular readers of this blog by writing too much about the application process for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, but anyone interested can check out Aaron's blog in which he vouches for my claim that they don't make it easy.

This week was actually very similar to last week. I had another Sports day on Saturday, followed by a drinking party afterwards. The difference was that this week Sports day was at the Elementary School. Basically the same thing, a couple small differences.

For instance, the 6th grade students had been trained in fire safety by the local fire department, and exhibited their skills by putting out a fire. They also marched around the field in a their Junior Fire safety uniforms, in a display that to me looked disturbingly militaristic. More disturbing was watching the practices the week before, in which the teachers marched along side the students to get them to goose step in line, and turn their heads to the right or left when ordered to do so. It seemed like something straight out of a North Korean film.

Although Japan is a strongly pacifist country, the educational system can occasionally show the society's militaristic roots. The school uniforms are modeled on the army uniforms for boys, and on the navy uniforms for girls. (Which by the way, when I first arrived in Japan, I could not get over how ridiculous all these girls looked like running around in sailor uniforms. Now I've gotten somewhat accustomed to it).

Sports Day, with all the marching and flag waving, was apparently identified as being to militaristic by the American occupation forces, and temporarily banned, but restarted after the occupation ended. It's been softened somewhat, but it still can make westerners feel uncomfortable. I tried to soften my criticisms on Saturday by disguising them as compliments ("Isn't it great the way the students are marching together? They march so well I can't tell whether this is an army or a school."), which I feel still gets the point across.

Saturday night was a drinking party. Sunday a teacher from the Junior High School took me out to see some of the local sights of the area.

Nice guy this teacher. He's the same age as me, but, as Japanese people can sometimes do, looks about 10 years younger. Seriously, he could easily pass for 16 in the States. A lot of Japanese people just have very young faces.

He is not, I am discovering, as innocent as he looks however. Although he seems very professional at school, he enjoys a bit of indulgence on the weekends. And, to my surprise, he picked me up Sunday morning accompanied by a former female student of his who had recently graduated from high school. The two of them apparently go out drinking together quite frequently even though she is below legal drinking age. (She's 19, drinking age is 20 in Japan). And during the day he gave her several cigarettes even though the legal smoking age is also 20. They both seem to be heavy smokers.

It all seemed a bit sketchy to me, but I have gotten the impression that it is more acceptable for male teachers in Japan to have close relations with some of their female students. Although I do have to confess I don't really know, and I thought it rude to ask directly that day. She was, however, pretty, energetic, and a pleasure to have with us during the day. Actually both of them were a lot of fun and great company. Sometimes I feel like a lot of my Japanese friends can be very serious or studious people, and it was a really refreshing change of pace to hang out with the two of them.

We did a bit of hiking, played badminton and Frisbee in the park, got some pizza. In the evening we went to see the "Ukai". The Ukai are these birds that are used for fishing. They have bands around their neck so they can't swallow the fish, but they dive into the river, retrieve fish, and then cough them up into the fisherman's boat. It is a traditional way of fishing in Gifu, and a bit of a tourist industry as well. We road down the river on traditional Japanese boats light by lanterns and steered by two men with poles, somewhat reminiscent of Venice. (I've never been to Venice, but you know...). After wards we went to a "view spot" which was a good place to see the city lights and filled with couples. We made ourselves very popular with the couples there by setting off fireworks.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Sports Day, Drinking Party, Go-Cart Racing
This past Saturday was the Sports Day at Godo Junior High School. Sports Day is on of the more bizarre aspects of the Japanese schools, and this is the fourth time I've observed it. However as far as I can remember at least this is the first time I've seen it at the Junior High School level. I'm trying to remember now if there were sports days at Ajimu Junior High School and I just never went, or if were no Junior High School sports days in Ajimu. Josh, Aaron, Mike, if any of you are reading this maybe you could help me out.

Anyway, yeah....Sports days are bizarre, as any foreigner in Japan will attest to. For instance josh has written a little bit on his blog about Sports days in Ajimu. This blog is still less than a year old, but all the previous years I've been here I think I've written long e-mails about the event.

The word "Sports Day" is somewhat of a mis-translation in that it's not really sports so much as a bunch of silly games, such as "Three-legged race" or "steal the other team's flag" type game. It would however be a mistake to think that because all the games are so silly that sports day is not taken seriously. On the contrary. They take it very...very....Seriously.

Practice for the Sports Day starts about a month prior to the actual event, and the last couple weeks before the sports day normal classes all but grind to a halt so that they can practice. But (and here's the really bizarre thing) most of this time is not spent practicing the games themselves but practicing the opening and closing ceremonies, the lining up in rows and bowing in unison, and the cheering.

The lack of practice for the actual events themselves can sometimes be very apparent when the games start. My favorite memory of sports day is from the first year I was in Ajimu. I've retold it several times, so some of you might have heard this before, but it still brings a smile to my face whenever I think of it:

There was a uni-cycle performance at the elementary schools. The kids were riding around on uni-cycles, and had this whole choreographed performance planned out were they were riding together in formation. But they were just falling of these uni-cycles left and right. Most of the time it was just a little fall, where they would catch themselves before they hit the ground. But then sometimes they would really biff it. The Sports Day music is sort of a cheesy "Here come the clowns" type circus music. So imagine if you will this music playing on the loudspeakers, the kids all falling off their uni-cycles, and me in the stands laughing so hard my sides were hurting.

But I digress. Back to this year's sports day.

I was assigned to the "Blue Team", which really meant nothing more than wearing the team's colors and cheering for them. Out of the 3 teams, my team came in dead last, which was a huge blow to the kids, but they took first place in the jump-rope part of the competition, so they were able to console themselves with that.

That night the teachers had a drinking party to celebrate all the hard work everyone had put into Sports day. Drinking parties, like Sports days, are another bizarre aspect of Japanese culture that I have already written about several times since I arrived.

The difference now is the school I'm at is bigger than the schools I taught in at Ajimu, which means there are more teachers, which, by simple law of proportions, means more young people my age. So it is no longer just me and the old men. In fact, there are several teachers younger than me at this school. A sign I suppose that I'm getting older. When I first arrived in Japan at the age of 23 I was the youngest faculty member at all of the schools I taught at, but now some of the Japanese faculty I teach with are now actually younger than I am.

Anyway, it's amazing how much more fun these drinking parties can be when you're around people you're own age. I had a great time.

The following Sunday a Japanese co-worker and her husband took me out to go go-cart racing. Besides following around at amusement parks, I had never done any serious go-cart racing before. And this was a bit more serious. The go-carts were racing around at very high speeds. I had to wear a helmet, and even a special suit to ride in the things.

Doing something for the first time in Japan is always a bit embarrassing because you stick out so much more. If I was a Japanese person doing go-carting for the first time, no one would pay attention to me, but I feel pretty silly being the big goofy foreigner everyone is looking at who has no idea what he is doing behind the steering wheel of the go-cart. Plus I could barely even fit inside the go-cart, which made me feel even more ridiculous. But I swallowed my pride and drove the go-cart around the track a few times, and it was pretty fun once I got into it.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Me Again
Still dealing with limited internet access over here. Hopefully in the next couple days I'll put up another update. In the meantime an interesting article in the Japan Times: "9/11 conspiracy theories enthrall Japanese audiences". Included in this category unfortunately is my girl friend. We've been debating the subject via telephone.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Odds and Ends
Just a few odds and ends in case anyone is interested.
1) I missed the deadline for the Japanese Proficiency Test
They're pretty strict on this deadline. Every year a lot of people miss it. It happened to me this year.
I obviously enjoy living in Japan as you can probably guess by how long I've stayed here. But it is not without it's frustrations. Some of us ex-pats have a saying that "Nothing is ever easy in Japan," and this monkey business with the application for the Proficiency Test is a perfect example.
The application needs to be sent by certified mail according to the rules of the test. So I can't just drop it off in the mail box, I have to take it to the post office. And the post office in Japan is open very inconvenient hours if you have a job.
At my old job I would have just asked if it was okay if I could go the post office during work hours, but I'm new here, so I just waited for the weekend. I need a photo for the application, so I had to search for a photo shop place to get my picture taken. By the time I sorted it all out, it was too late to send it in the mail on Saturday, but I wasn't worried because the deadline for postmarking the application wasn't until Sunday.
Except (as I found out Sunday morning), they don't do certified mail on Sundays. Which begs the question of why the post mark deadline was written for Sunday, September 12th. But I won't moan about it too much.
Since I passed level 3 last year, I was set to take level 2 this year. Which I probably wouldn't have passed anyway, so I console myself with that.
My Weekend
Still don't know that many people around here yet, but a teacher I work with and her husband were nice enough to take me out for the day on Saturday. We went to Nagoya to eat at a French Restaurant, which seemed like a long way to drive just for a restaurant, but I was just happy that somebody was taking me out. Afterwards we went to the shopping mall and the movies.

Sunday I went back to the Church I had gone to the previous week. Since I had joined the choir last week, I ended up standing up and singing in with the choir during the service, even though the songs they were singing were ones I had never practiced before. Or heard before. And it was in Japanese. Really I probably shouldn't have been up there, but they were really eager to have me sing with them. This particular church has white choir robes just like you see in the movies, which we all wore. This probably falls under the category of "It's only funny because it's in Japan" but imagine me standing with an all Japanese choir in white robes up at the front of the Church trying to sing a song I don't even know.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Notes From The Mailbag
A couple weeks ago a friend currently residing in Washington DC wrote me to say,

"--the whole political atmosphere is just so asinine at the moment. I know you're keeping up with whats going on from your weblog--trust me, it's worse than you know. "

As you can imagine, this statement got me a bit curious, so I wrote back to ask him what was going on that I didn't know about. He wrote me back and expanded on his thoughts about the political atmosphere in Washington DC. I thought it contained some interesting insights, so asked him if I could post it on my weblog. He agreed, with the following condition:

"Also, can I ask a favor? Please don't print my name or location. I am being honest with you when I say that some of the information I work with is sensitive, and we are constantly warned about telling others that we work with the kinds of people that we do. I alluded to it in my diatribe and that's about as far as I want to go. If anybody has comments or questions, can you just forward from your address? Thanks."

(He later added I could say he was in DC, because it was pretty obvious anyway, so don't worry I'm not betraying any confidences with that information.)

Anyway, here is his piece. As stated above, anyone who has any questions about this can e-mail me and I'll forward it along.

Thoughts on the Political Situation
I'm just speaking about the tenseness that seems to pervade everything here in DC. Tangibly speaking, DC is about 90% Democrat so it’s not hard to find people who support Kerry--but seeing as how DC and NY are essentially the epicenters of the political debate in this country during this election, you're constantly flooded with dissenting arguments and opinions, etc. This is usually a good aspect of a political debate, but ever since I returned to DC, it just seems like everyone is banging their head against the wall on both sides, without making any constructive progress. I will make no pretense about being unbiased on this argument; I’m a Kerry supporter. I am just trying to present what it’s like here in a city dominated by Democrats and a White House and Congress full of Republicans.

Right now is the whole flap over the Swift Boat ads and Kerry's service in Vietnam. Now, a majority of people say that Kerry himself has made his service the focal point of his campaign, and has opened himself up to examination and criticism--that is true, and it is fair that you look at his record. And now there are ads lambasting his service, saying he lied about his wounds, lied about his service, etc. The only problem is that the party that the ads support have a candidate who, yes, did serve in the national guard, but there was no way in HELL that he was ever going to be sent to Vietnam (say what you will about the “possibility” of Bush going into service; I can almost guarantee you it was NEVER going to happen with Bush 41 at the controls), and a Vice-President who deferred 5 times because he "had other priorities in the 60's". Kerry volunteered for service and they didn't; they made an active effort to stay out. Now, when you bring this up with Bush supporters, their argument is that it’s the principle of the matter--lets say that Kerry DID lie about his medal(s); does the fact that he volunteered make it right? The problem with this argument is that OTHER people had to sign his papers--he didn't give himself the medals. It’s amazing that all of these doctors who have come out to say that Kerry had self-inflicted or harmless wounds, etc 1) actually remember these supposedly insanely harmless wounds out of the thousands they treated during the war, and 2) I think in most to all cases, their names aren't even on the treatment forms.

Another problem is that every person who is in these Swift Boat ads never served directly with Kerry (when they say "served with", it means "they were in Vietnam at the same time he was"). A third problem is that every soldier Kerry DID serve with supports him and his version of events. Pretty much everyone and their mother have proved these ads false, yet they continue to run. So there's that. Oh yeah, now Bush has asked McCain to help him stop all 527 ads. This is the same McCain that Bush tried to smear in terms of his decorated military past in the LAST election.

Then we have Kerry's claims of war atrocities committed by American soldiers. Bush supporters say they’re "appalled" at the allegations, but as far as I know, no one has come out to refute them. My question is: what motive could Kerry possibly have by creating lies like that? I mean, if he was lying, what could he possibly stand to gain? He had to have known that he would have been labeled a “war criminal” right along with his comrades. I don’t see it.

Then there's the whole Iraq situation. No WMDs, soldiers still being killed, Osama still on the loose; 7 Marines were killed in a car bomb yesterday (9/6). And you have Bush making these asinine speeches stating "America is safer, America is safer" and then later saying "America is in danger!" to justify the war and the Patriot Act--these are verbatim comments from his recent speeches. And THEN you have Bush come out on NBC News last week and say “I don’t think the war on terrorism can be won.” Naturally, the minute the words left his mouth, the White House staff pounced into action to “articulate” what he was saying and reiterate that the war can be won. You get the feeling that keeping people in a seemingly never-ending war against, not a people, but an ideology, is very favorable in terms of the Bush “doctrine.” By the way, you should have seen Michael Moore on the O’Reilly factor a few weeks ago—I don’t always agree with Moore, but this time he totally thrashed O’Reilly--it was awesome.

Then there are the arguments over the wealth of the Kerry-Heinz family versus the Bushes. It’s interesting to me, that suddenly, the fact that someone has $80 million is vastly different to someone who has $30 million. The right-wing loves to argue that Kerry and Teresa have “all of this family money” and “they can’t relate to the common man.” Wait a second. Bush went to Yale, like Kerry, then to Harvard Business School. He and his family are worth tens of millions of dollars. Yet SOMEHOW they are more apt to “relate to the common man” than Kerry because they have a ranch in Texas or something. I read an Ann Coulter article a couple of weeks ago and she argues for Bush because “he has the lowest amount of wealth of any of the presidential candidates.” I guess that means I’m voting for Bush because he’s only got $30 million (I don’t know the exact numbers but you get the point) instead of Kerry because Kerry has $80 million. Bush must have a much greater understanding of me since my income is SO much closer to his. Sheesh.

Finally, something that I can see directly. I work for a defense consultant. My project at the moment is working with all of the CIO’s of the entities of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to formulate their response to the 9/11 Report Recommendations. Examples of DHS entities are: the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, Border and Transportation Security, etc. While I can’t mention a lot of the detailed information that we've been working with, I can say one thing: this nation is not nearly as prepared as Bush says it is. Yes, some important programs have been implemented since 9/11, but they are marginal at best and a great deal of information is still slipping through the cracks, and will continue to do so for some time.

So this is how we see it right now--the Bush administration acts as though every Monday is the start of a new news cycle, and pretends to completely forget everything that happened in the last week. And the problem is that so much new news is being created from all of this crap, he can do it and get away with it. And every time you talk with a Bush supporter, these are their main arguments:

-on WMDs: "but isn't it good that Saddam is out of power?" 
that’s not the point! The world would be a better place with HALF of its leaders out of power! We went to war because Iraq was an "imminent threat", which turns out to be completely false. And now we have over 1000 soldiers dead and have spent almost $150 billion. Oh, and by the way, Congress never declared war. I guess Bush should label himself an “armed conflict president” rather than a “war president.” 
--on Vietnam: They turn the entire argument back on Kerry, trying not to talk about Bush and Cheney balking on Vietnam; it’s amazing. You have National Guardsman and a deferrer picking apart his SILVER and BRONZE STARS and his THREE PURPLE HEARTS on "principle.” Regardless of any of the arguments made about what happened once Kerry was in Vietnam, Kerry volunteered to go. He volunteered his life, and earned various medals because of it. Absolutely amazing. 
--on terror (with a severe INCREASE in the amount of terrorist acts in the last year): the only thing they ever say is "Bush is strong. Four more years!" 
--What does that mean? He's strong? What the hell kind of reason is that? Yeah, you can be strong and lead the nation into a destructive war and be weak and lead the nation into a destructive war. His policies should be the focal point of the argument; not his ability to be “strong”, whatever that means. And because the country has become so polarized, there is absolutely NO constructive debate occurring. And that’s where the "banging the head against the wall" aspect comes in. The problem we see, as Kerry supporters, is that the facts obviously refute almost everything that Bush says, but all Bush supporters retort with is "Bush is strong. Kerry is a flip-flopper." [Side note: The Daily Show did an awesome editing trick on Bush last week. They had Governor Bush debate President Bush on the aspect of nation-building, with clips taken from speeches. Governor Bush was adamantly against it, and President Bush is obviously adamantly for it. I have every belief that all politicians are flip-floppers in some regard depending on what they think will get them elected (in most cases), but let’s be fair here. Bush is a politician just like the rest of them.] It’s as though Democrats point to a list of facts and say "what have you done besides take us to war on false pretenses and piss everyone off?" (it’s more detailed than that, obviously) and Republicans look back and use some kind of visceral response like "Bush is a good man; a strong man. He's a good president. You’re looking at skewed facts." --But where the hell are YOUR supporting facts and data??! (They try to use the “we’re turning the corner” set of explanations, looking at very slight recent upturns in the economy and job market, even though as a whole the entire economy is still in the dump and Iraq is FUBAR). It’s completely asinine. [Side note: Coming from a background in International Relations, I have to say that this whole idea of “Bush doctrine”, which is a slightly differentiated version of Teddy Roosevelt’s expansionist policies, cannot work in today’s international environment. You cannot just “play the hegemon” anymore. And those who think they can are naïve and ignorant.] I could honestly write about this for an hour but I'll stop now because I have work to do. Needless to say, you can’t live in DC and not have a strong opinion about this stuff. I'll just say that regardless of the any debate going on, I will be glad when November comes so maybe we can stop talking about this stuff all day, every single day. It’s stressful and frustrating as hell. I'm gonna head off and watch another bush speech about how we're safer because of his magnificent leadership.

P.S. These are the thoughts of a man who is bored at work. Bored at work and getting tired of this political “debate.” Both sides have their points; both sides have their counter-points, no matter how ineffective they might be. No one is listening anymore. Except for the magical 3% of the population that can’t seem to make up their mind (I, for one, haven’t met a single one of these people), the nation is seemingly on autopilot until the election. Sigh.

 Addendum: Anyone who's up for a little more reading should check out this piece by Aaron on the debate about the war record.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Typhoons, Earthquakes, and Going to Church
The weekend was a bit on the quiet side, as I'm still newly arrived in this town and don't have a lot of friends yet. Saturday night I went to the movie theater by myself. Somewhat pathetic perhaps, but whilst I lived in Ajimu the nearest movie theater was an hour away. Here the movie theater is practically within walking distance, and the movies here are cheaper than they are in Oita Prefecture. So with a movie theater so close, and so cheap, and with nothing else to do, it seemed like a forgone conclusion. I ended up seeing "Harry Potter 3" which I viewed as somewhat research for my job, since so many of my students are avid Harry Potter fans.

On Sunday I found a Church to join. I had started going to a Japanese Church in Oita Prefecture after being invited by a Japanese friend (who just assumed I was Christian because I was an American). I found it to be a positive experience, and was interested in finding a Church in the new area as well.

After getting in the car and driving around, I was able to find a church in the neighboring town of Ogaki. The people there were extremely welcoming and friendly. I had barely even walked in the door and they were encouraging me to join the choir. The invitation was extended again after the service. I thought that it might be a good experience, if for no other reason than to say I had been a member of a Japanese Church choir. We had a brief choir practice after church, and then we had lunch together. After lunch, the church went down to a retirement community (or old people's home) to perform a skit based on "The Prodigal Son" and sing a song for the old people. I was invited to come along. Since I had never been to a retirement community in Japan, I thought it would be interesting to come.

Obviously I had not practiced the skit or the song before, but I was a big hit with the old people there. They all wanted to shake my hand. Actually, it was somewhat similar to my job at the elementary schools.

Funny story actually. And this may well fall under the category of "You just had to be there" but I'm going to give it a go anyway. For the song we sang "Father Abraham." I was familiar with the song from my Sunday School days, and it turns out they have it in Japanese as well. I don't know how many of you know the song. It's pretty simple, but after every verse a new motion is added. First you have to swing your right arm, then your left arm, and then your legs are added, next your head, then you swing your hips, and finally you have to do all the motions while turning around in a circle.

It's a great song for kids. Probably not such a good song for old people. These were really old people at this retirement community. Many of them could barely stand. Most of them were permanently hunched over as a result of working in the rice fields all their lives. So picture this: we're standing in front, and the song leader says to the old people, "Now for this song, everyone stand up. Okay, everyone who can stand, please stand up. Actually, you can sit down if you like." And we go through the song, and try and get the old people to participate, and the whole time I'm just thinking to myself, "Whose idea was this?"

EarthQuakes and Typhoon
I experienced my first earthquake on Sunday. Somehow I managed to make it through three years in Japan with out ever being in an earthquake until know.

That I know of anyway. Apparently some of these earthquakes can be pretty subtle. For instance on Sunday we actually had two earthquakes, one at 7 and one at midnight. I didn't even find out about the one at 7 until the next day.

I was driving my car at around 7 o'clock. I don't know where I was when the earthquake struck, although I do remember at one point being stuck at a traffic light and thinking to myself, "This car sure shakes a lot when it is in park. Maybe I should have it looked at." In retrospect, I'm thinking that may have been the earthquake. And now I'm wondering how many other earthquakes I might have been oblivious to over my time here.

But the earthquake at midnight was unmistakably. I was sleeping at the time, and woke up when my apartment started shaking. I was somewhat stupid from sleep at first, and it took me a while to realize what was going on. But it lasted close to a minute, and finally I realized, "Hey, this is an earthquake. I can't wait to tell everyone back home I experienced my first earthquake." And then I went back to sleep.

There was a lot of talk about earthquakes the next day at school. Apparently geologists are predicting that the area of Japan I'm now in is due for a major earthquake in the near future. The principle told me if there was ever a major earthquake, I should get out of my apartment. He joked, "Keep your shoes ready in case you have to get out quickly." I tried to one up him. "Maybe I should sleep with my shoes on." He became serious. "This is Japan. We don't wear our shoes inside the house."

Today we had a Typhoon, so afternoon classes were cancelled at noon. I know we just had a typhoon last week, but what can I say? (My friend Aaron comments about the many typhoons recently on his weblog here.) Fortunately at least this time around my windows are safely shut.

I was giving my self-introduction to a class today at the Junior High School. The Lights started shaking and the Japanese teacher yelled out, "It's another Earthquake." Turned out of course that the lights were just shaking because of the strong winds, which the students (who were somewhat more aware) corrected him on quickly, but you can imagine it was not a great learning environment in school this morning. Probably just as well the students went home at noon.

Friday, September 03, 2004

What Things Are Like Up Here
I mentioned in the last post that I was reluctant to say too much to soon about the new environment. After all first impressions are almost always mistaken. In the first couple months I was in Japan, I sent out a lot of e-mails containing a lot of misinformation, writing about things I didn't fully understand and making generalizations about isolated incidents.

But I've been getting asked a lot of questions, and I suppose I can't put this off forever. So I'm going to try and write about the new environment up here, and if I later find out some of my first impressions were mistaken, so be it.

A lot of people have asked about the distance between the new place and the old one. The best answer I can give of course is to just look at the map. I used to be in Oita prefecture. I'm now in Gifu prefecture. For anyone who doesn't have a map of Japan handy: it's pretty far. It took about four hours by Shinkansen (bullet train) to get up here, and if I make the trip again I think it is easier and cheaper to fly. I do hope to be going back to Oita a couple times throughout this year, but it is far enough away I can't just pop down for the weekend.

The new town I'm in is called Godo. In the Japanese classification, Godo is still a "machi" or town, just like my previous home in Ajimu. It is also technically considered part of the Japanese "inaka" or country side. But it is really nothing like Ajimu.

There is one other English teacher in Godo, which is reminiscent of my days in Ajimu. The first couple years in Ajimu it was just me and Ryan, and we kept each other sane. Then it was me and Mike. Now I am in a different town, but still have at least one other English teacher to confide my frustrations in. The difference is that the other teacher, Monika, is of the female persuasion. Which means (and anyone who has spent time in the Japanese country side will be able to see this coming) every time we are out in public together it is assumed we are a couple. I've already began battling the rumors.

Monika, like me, has spent the past couple years on the island of Kyushu. Together we've been making lists of all the things that we notice up here that are different from Kyushu.
Over the past 3 years I've been making a lot of generalizations about "Japan" in general, when in reality my experience was limited to a just a small part of Japan. One of the neat things about moving is I get to discover how many of my generalizations were wrong. Case in point: I used to tell people that Japan did not have suburbs in the sense that we have suburbs in West. There is either the city, where everyone lives on top of each other, or there is the country side, where almost no one lives.

This was true enough in Oita Prefecture, but the town I'm living in right now seems like the suburbs I grew up in back home. In some ways at least. There are no big yards or white fences. However All the luxuries of city life seem to be here, but spread out a bit more and designed for access by cars. There is a shopping mall and cinema complex nearby. Technically within walking distance from my apartment, but designed for access by cars. Monica commented that shopping mall/cinema "just screams `North American suburb'".

I sold my car to my successor, Josh, in Ajimu (who comments about it here), and am driving a company car up here. It is what is known as K-car in Japan, or small compact car. A bit tighter fit than my old car, and a bit slower as well. But on the plus side, a lot easier to maneuver on the small Japanese roads. As mentioned above, the city I'm in is designed for driving, but with a car just about everything is a short distance away. Shopping malls, movie theaters, western restaurants. After living for 3 years in the boon docks, I feel like a kid in a candy store. So many fun places to go to, I can't decide which one.

The job I'm doing is essentially the same job I was doing back in Ajimu, but the relationship between me and the schools is slightly different. In Ajimu I was employed directly by the town board of education. In Godo I'm employed by a private company, which has contracted me out to the schools. So instead of being in a employee-employer relationship, it's almost more like the schools are a client. Which means I'm on my best behavior. Not that my behavior was all that bad before, but I'm more careful about things like using the school computers for personal use. (Which, again, means my e-mailing and weblog updating during the next year might be a bit sporadic. Bear with me).

As in Ajimu, I'm teaching at a Junior High School and an Elementary school. In Ajimu I was juggling 7 schools which I visited. Here I'm just teaching at one Junior High School, and one Elementary school. I'm hoping this will give me a chance to get to know the students better.

The Junior high school is much bigger than any of the schools I taught in at Ajimu, but the students are very friendly. I was thinking that since I was moving into a bigger city in a more centrally located area, being a foreigner wouldn't be quite such a big deal. Not true. In fact if anything these students seem more fascinated with me than my students back in Ajimu. This could be partly due to the fact that the previous Assistant English Teacher had been a Japanese American.

The first few days in the Junior high school were filled with comments about how tall I was, how big my eyes were, and screaming junior high school girls. I've received a bit of flack about this back in the teachers' lounge from my Japanese colleagues. I thought I'd get brownie points for interacting with the students in my free time, but the other teachers have been teasing me and saying, "look at him, he just wants to go out and talk to the students because it makes him feel like a movie star." Or "Look, our very own pop idol Joel."

Although I did not receive quite this much attention back in Ajimu, the first few weeks were somewhat similar. I naively thought that this level of attention would continue for the rest of the year, but the students soon got used to me and calmed down, and some eventually even gave me a bit of attitude. I'm expecting the same will happen here after a while, but it is nice honey moon period.