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Squared Sevens Blogging Corp.
Monday, 27 August 2007
Events with Co-workers

This past week was pretty crazy. Tuesday, we had a going away party for one of our teachers, held at a local sushi shop. The food was pretty good, and everyone was in a good mood, so I went to the ni-ji-kai (second party) at a snack/karaoke place. Man, I forgot what a dump Mie can be sometimes, but I still managed to have a good time. Maybe too much of a good time, as I was getting ready to head into school the next morning and I just decided that I wasn't going to make it. I ended up calling in that morning, but since it's still summer time, no big deal.

Thursday, at baseball practice, I participated in some running drills with the team (Japanese baseball practice is often running til you drop). I was pretty whipped and I didn't even do half of what the students had to run. That evening, the father of another teacher passed away, so I took a shower and headed over to the service. That marks the third funeral I've been to in my year or so here.

Saturday was the big day, because yet another teacher was getting married. I had heard that nowadays Japanese weddings can be a little bit out there, but even with that knowledge I was still a bit surprised. It was like a Los Vegas show- spotlights, an MC, fancy music and video, an army of waiters, a bubble machine, three different sets of wedding dress (one Japanese and two western, just to have all the bases covered), and to top it off, the bride's entrance was from the ceiling- she was lowered in a basket/sleigh thing from the top of the stage. That's definitely one event I won't be forgetting. But everyone seemed really happy, and of course, that's what is most important.


Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:05 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 15 August 2007
August Update

Now it's Obon season in Japan, a holiday where everyone returns home and has various ceremonies for their deceased family members. Its not quite a national holiday though, so schools, post offices, etc. are still nominally open. So that means into work for me, with only the vice principal and maybe one or two other teachers showing up. Everyone else is at home though, meaning that shops, restaurants, and barbers are all closed. So its a bit of an inconvenience, never mind the colossal traffic jams that happen when everyone returns to city residences. Fortunately, there was one lady at the grocery store today, so I could grab lunch.

It's not so bad, you have the whole day at school to do pretty much whatever in a well air-conditioned room, so I just studied Japanese and read Wikipedia all day. You can come in a little late and leave a little early, so thats not too bad either.

Also the big national high school baseball tournament is ongoing now, called Koshien after the stadium it is played in, and it is no exaggeration to say that it is the biggest sporting event of the year. Every region in Japan is represented on National TV, in a single-elimination tournament, so the stakes could not be higher. Heroes can be made (most famously Dice-K Matsuzaka) and pro contracts all but guaranteed over the course of a few games. The Oita team won a game for the first time in six years this week and it was literally front-page news. I'd really like to go next year to see all the craziness for myself, but I have no idea about getting tickets, accomodation, etc.

Twice in the past two weeks I've gone swimming in some of the pristine local rivers here in the countryside, and afterwards a bunch of people had yakiniku on the river banks. Its a great way to spend the hot summer days, just as long as you watch out for the rocks and the sunburn.

Finally, I went to an English seminar camp for high school kids in Yufuin last week. Now normally I'm a junior high school teacher, so I think they only called for me in a pinch when they were running low on instructors, but I had a good time. The kids were all really good at English and fun to be around. Now Yufuin is probably one of the most picturesque areas in Japan, but unfortunately we spent almost all of our times indoors doing various English-related activities, with Yufuin's great mountains only serving as window dressing. You can't have everything. But like I said everyone was really sharp, the students and instructors all had a good attitude, and there were some fierce Othello games to boot. So even though I was exhausted and sick of eating Japanese-style breakfast, overall it was fun.


Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:17 AM EDT
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Sunday, 5 August 2007
Summer Update

Well, the typhoon's path took it right over Bungo Ono, but fortunately the damage was fairly light and I didn't lose power or water, so that was good. However, one of my teachers had a landslide take out a road right by his house, so I'm sure that was an unpleasant surprise.

This next week or so looks to be busy. Tomorrow, Monday, is the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, so all of the students will come to school and there will be a school assembly, a ceremony, classes about the importance of peace, and so forth. Tuesday, the city's Young Teachers Association (not sure what else to call it) will be having a cookout/river swimming party. so that should be fun.

From Wednesday to Friday, I was asked (well, politely ordered, really) to attend an English camp for high schoolers in Yufuin, about 90 minutes away. Looks like I'll be a group leader, assisting kids with general activities and encouraging them to use English. Well, I'm not a high school teacher, and I don't work for the prefecture, so I'm not sure how I was lumped into this, but Yufuin is actually a famous resort area so it could be really nice.

Also, I have slowly been working on putting up more pictures of my travels and everyday life, and you can see them on my Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/87219385@N00/ . Not all of them have captions as of yet, but I will work on it.

PS. I recently read a book about the testing and dropping of the atomic bombs called Shockwave: Countdown to Hiroshima by Stephen Walker. I bought it thinking that I would finish it by the anniversary of the bomb, but I tore through it like nobody's business, and finished it weeks ago. It's a really gripping account of the bomb program from the Trinity test to the aftermath of Hiroshima. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone that wants to learn more about this important chapter of history.


Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:40 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 1 August 2007
Let's Eat!

Japanese work groups often go together on trips to increase unity, camraderie, etc. and teachers are no exception. Last weekend I went with about ten other teachers to Nagasaki and Saga prefectures for a little sightseeing. Well, I say sightseeing but I think the trip was really all about eating.

First, Saturday, we all got on a rented tour bus and went to Saga for some gourmet crab. Interestingly crab just isn't something you see too often in Japanese cuisine. It was pretty good, of course I got some crab guts on my shirt, I guess that happens. Next on the menu was Nagasaki's famous champon, a noodle dish with a thick broth and lots of vegetables and seafood.

Sunday, for the grand finale, we had nama ika. What's nama ika? Live squid! That's right, the squid is all cut up for you, but it's still alive- moving, breathing, looking at you. Now I eat sashimi, raw fish, all the time, but this was a little much. After some goading I did have a couple of pieces, at least it didn't move on the way down. Later, they fried it up tempura style, which was pretty good and a little more to my liking. But the whole live squid thing, I won't be in a hurry to do that again.

Like I said, I think this trip was really all about the eating, but we did do some sightseeing in Nagasaki and shopping in Saga. I actually did not go to the Peace Park in Nagasaki, where the hypocenter of the atomic bomb was, but I did go to the Glover Garden, one of Japan's first European settlements, and to Oura Catholic Church, built in the 1860s. So I did get to see some parts of Nagasaki's rich history, but the peace park will have to wait for the next time.

In domestic news, Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party took big losses in Sunday's parliamentary elections. Just shows what happens when you are too concerned with pet projects like revising the constition or trying to inject more patriotism into schools, and forget about bread and butter issues like the economy and pensions. Add to that more than a  few scandals and bone-headed public statements, and bad things happen. Abe isn't too popular with the teachers for trying to influence the education system with his personal views, so I doubt many tears were shed over the results.

Also, it is only August, but another typhoon is already on its way, it should be here in Oita around tomorrow night. Great.


Posted by nc/frodaddy at 11:03 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 31 July 2007
One Year Later

It's been almost a year now since coming to Japan and I'm not quite sure what to write. I suppose I've been here long enough and becoming familiar enough with the language that everything feels more or less "normal".

What I mean is, that a lot of the mystery and excitement that I used to have during my previous travels in Japan has been replaced with an ambivalent familiarity. It just doesn't feel that special anymore, and after a while that is bound to happen I suppose. On the other hand, I'm not exactly living in Tokyo anymore either, which might have a little bit to do with my sudden lack of excitement.

I've come full circle in a lot of ways. After freezing my a$$ off in the wintertime, I'm back to the sweltering heat and humidity of summer. I've noticed that it's not the temperature, but he humidity that gets you here. The heat index is almost always over 100 degrees F everyday, which is just brutal. All of your shirts just get soaked with sweat no matter what you do. Now I never wear socks at home, and I'm sleeping only in underwear and shorts. To do something like that in say, February would be absolutely unthinkable. Living in a Japanese house, you certainly have to put up with a lot of temperature extremes, thats for sure.


Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:34 AM EDT
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Friday, 13 July 2007
Typhoon Alert!

Surprise! The 4th of July was only last week, but typhoon season is already up and running here in Japan. The exoticly named Typhoon Yon-go (ok, that only means typhoon number 4) just blew through Okinawa, and is heading north towards Kyushu as I type this. Tonight and tomorrow look like they will be fun with high winds and heavy rains, although as much as it has rained here recently I can't see it being much worse. I asked one of the student's parent, who is an EMT, if he thinks he would be busy, and he said It would be better if he wasn't. But with the heavy amounts of rainfall already occuring, and then the typhoon on top of that, it could get exciting in some places in Kyushu.

People seem more relaxed about it here than a similar situation in the States, maybe because people are used to catastrophe being only a second away in the form of earthquakes. On the other hand, it could just be because there are only 5 TV channerls here, and it lacks a Weather Channel or 24 hour media echo chamber. Anyways, I'll be stuck inside for at least the next day or so, trying to lay low and hope that the power doesn't go out (or worse). You can stay up to date on the typhoon by going here: http://www.jma.go.jp/en/typh/0704.html


Posted by nc/frodaddy at 7:56 AM EDT
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Sunday, 8 July 2007
School on a Sunday

That's right, we had classes yesterday, Sunday July the 8th. Why? It was PTA day, so a lot of the parents came to school to observe classes and have meetings. There was also a guest speaker, another foreigner who lives in Oita, and his Japanese was really, really good so I was pretty jealous. Then I learned he has lived in Japan for the past 18 years, and I didn't feel so bad. But the meeting just dragged on and on, and coupled with the fact that it was supposed to be a weekend day, it didn't put me in the best mood. In the evening though, the 3rd year students and their parents had a yakiniku BBQ and fireworks, so that was nice. But because Japan really doesn't have that Judeo-Christian tradition, there is no rule about resting on a Sunday, or going to church on Sunday, so that opened up the chance for school. Monday, today, is a makeup weekend day, so we still get our two weekend days, but for the first time in my life, I went to school on Sunday.

The weekend before that, I finally made it over to Fukuoka to watch a baseball game, something that I had wanted to do since I arrived here 11 months ago. While I am glad that I got to go, I'm not sure what it is with me and Japanese baseball games, as this one ran over 4 hours and 30 minutes (compared to the marathon 5 hour, 40 minute Yokohama Baystars game I attended). Despite a couple of exciting rallies by the Hawks in the 8th and 9th innings, the game still ended up a tie after 12. Try seeing that in Major League Baseball. Afterwards, we hit up a couple of spots around town, at one tiny bar, the bartender played some magic and card tricks for us, which was pretty neat. Ended up that we stayed out all night and just caught the first train back on Sunday morning. Needless to say I was pretty exhausted.

This week has been non-stop, torrential rain. We got a bunch of Flood Warnings on the TV, and some of the train lines breifly shut down as well. Elsewhere in Kyushu, there have been mudslides, fatalities, and all of that. In Kumamoto, the JSDF had to be called in to rescue residents of a small town whose bridges had washed out. As I type this it is raining pretty hard even now. All the playing fields have turned into mush, which rules soccer and baseball out of the question. Even though I want to complain about the everyday gloom, I am glad that it is keeping temperatures down.

In another purely slef-referential moment, I started growing out a beard again. It's an "Abe Lincoln" (just like ol' Honest Abe) and I got it because I became tired of shaving over a couple of days, looked in the mirror, and decided, "Hey well I'll give it a shot".

It's been interesting to see everyone's reactions. Some of the students like it, some of them don't, but they all say 'Hige'(beard, mustache) when they notice it for the first time. Most of the boy students tend to like it, seeing as how they are about 13 years old, and to them facial hair is the coolest thing. Some of the students try to touch it as well, but when you're a foreign teacher in rural Japan, you're used to kids touching your hair and stuff like that, so it's no big deal. As for the other teachers, most of them have been complimentary, but as it is with workplace relations here, you can never really tell if they are just being polite when they say it. So this little decision to grow out some facial hair has proven to be quite the socialogical experiment in Japanese schools.


Posted by nc/frodaddy at 6:13 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 3 July 2007
To Do List

Here's some new media, just released, that I want to check out. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments

Beastie Boys- The Mix-Up- An all-instrumental album, supposedly in the vein of the instrumental tracks on Check Your Head and Ill Communication. But, as I liked those, I think this is a good thing. Interesting to see how after To The 5 Boroughs, a very focused electronic hip-hip album, the Beasties make another album that concentrates on one part of their music. Maybe the mish-mash days of Hello Nasty are long gone.

Die Hard 4.0 (Live Free or Die Hard)- Well, I'm a big fan of the series, so I was probably going to watch this one anyway, but to my shock and surprise the movie is actually rating a 77% at RottenTomatoes- that's quite good, and a pleasant surprise as I didn't figure this latest addition to be worth much. Now, I definitely have to go see it.

The Legend of Zelda- Phantom Hourglass- Take the classic Zelda gameplay, and marry it with the DS's touch-screen capabilities, and hopefully you get another great game. The exciting thing about this one is that you control Link using the stylus pen- no button pushing. That may sound a little weird but reviews so far have been very, very positive. Zelda games are almost always as good as it gets and this one looks to follow suit.

Transformers: The Movie- It may be great, it may be horrible, but it is Transformers with some sweet looking SFX, so I've got to watch it. Doesn't come out in Japan until August though.


Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:02 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 27 June 2007
"Horrific Tragedy"
Obviously, in the world of professional wrestling, strange and bizzare things have a tendency to occur... but htis is too much. Former world champ Chris Benoit was found dead with his family, and police are saying that it was a murder-suicide, that Benoit killed his wife, his son, and then hanged himself. It leaves you with more questions that answers, first and foremost as to why would someone do such a thing. We may never know. There was no suicide note.

Tragic, but unfortunately fits the pattern of young wrestlers dying before their time... Eddie Guerrero, Owen Hart, Curt Henning, Brian Pillman, and others. However, the circumstances surrounding Benoit's death will make this one especially ominous in both the wrestling world and the public sphere. Benoit won't be remembered as a fearless performer, or as gifted athlete, or as one of the toughest, most imposing guys in the business. He'll be remembered as a murderer. Plain and simple.

Based on these damaging revelations surrounding Benoit's death, WWE has gone into full-on defense mode, pulling all of Benoit's tributes, posting a detailed timeline of WWE's knowledge of the events, and detailing several reasons why this couldn't have been a "roid rage" event (still a touchy subject for WWE, obviously). The lawyers and PR types will definitely be busy with this one, as Vince McMahon tries to deflect another tragedy.

WWE Links

http://www.wwe.com/inside/news/chairmanbenoit

http://www.wwe.com/inside/news/chrisbenoittimeline

http://www.wwe.com/inside/news/benoitpressrelease

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:32 AM EDT
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Sunday, 24 June 2007
Condition: Humid!
It is really, really, humid here. Like, cut the air with a knife humid. I think its about 80% humidity everyday here now, and coupled with the rain it makes for a muggy experience. I had wanted to hold off on the A/C for as long as possible, because it is pretty expensive, but I just had to give in. At least I have A/C, right? The school classrooms only have windows and fans to stay cool, fortunately for the students, summer vacation is about a month away.

One consequence of all this is the sweating. I just bought a bunch of "Dry" clothes from Uniqlo which are supposed to be good at evaporating the sweat and keeping you feeling cool, but who knows. Also, another consequence is losing all that water... I've had to drink a whole lot more liquids to keep up with thethe sweating. I've started drinking two servings of milk at school lunch, which doesn't always end up feeling so great. Of course, every morning I am still served scalding hot green tea every morning at school, I think I will have to lobby to swtich over to mugi-cha (Barley tea) which is served cold. My plan for this is to fill up a Thermos mug every day before school with ice water and just keep it at my desk. That way, I can get some refreshment, instead of some more green tea. Oh yeah, and taking along a "sweat towel" sounds like a good idea too.

At least it is only warm and humid now, instead of in a couple of months when it will be scorching hot and humid as well! Great!

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 4:25 AM EDT
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