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Squared Sevens Blogging Corp.
Wednesday, 10 October 2007
Weather and Wedding Fatigue

It's noticeably starting to cool off here. I've been wearing socks indoors and putting on long T-shirts, the fan is about to go back into storage, and cold temperatures are just around the corner. As some of you may know I'm not a huge fan of Japanese homes during Japanese winters. Basically you freeze your balls off. So I was thinking about the upcoming months of frigid mornings and numb fingers, and I came up with my theory of Japanese weather. Basically, you spend the six months from April to September trying to stay as cool as possible, and then the next six (October through March) trying to stay as warm as possible (and often failing miserably). You might get lucky for a couple of transitional weeks, but thats about it. Either through the heat and humidity or the relentless cold, it gets you one way or the other.

I went to a wedding party for a former JET in Oita on Sunday. It was really nice, in a good restaurant, plenty of food, etc. and certainly very sweet for the two principals involved. But am I getting tired of wedding events. With my sister's in May, another teacher's in August, and this one, that makes three for the year. The thing is they are just such big deals, even the most lighthearted of them being really quite serious. There is just so much time, money, hope and emotion invested in the process that it can take a big toll. So even though they are usually happy events, they can be draining. And of course, why not. It's only supposed to happen once (ideally). But still, hopefully I'm done with that for a while, although at this rate who knows. Oh, and Congralutions Tomas and Eriko!

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 8:08 AM EDT
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Halo Madness!

With Halo 3 coming out, I gave in and bought an Xbox 360. There's a lower price on the hardware in Japan, so it came to about $400 total for the system and the game. As expected, it's a slick piece of equipment. with all the latest stuff (I especially enjoy the wireless controllers). I also bought an Xbox Live subscription, which makes sense since MS is really pushing the online angle this time around, with online being integrated to almost every game and function. And no surprise, seeing as that is where the big money is (or will be very soon). On the whole, everything is more robust and thought-out, making Live on the original Xbox seem like more of a warm-up to the 360 version.

As for Halo 3, it's also about as expected. Multiplayer is dynamite, the single-player is good with some great vehicle-based segments, but there is still lots of backtracking inside of levels and it's too easy to get lost. But we already knew about those strengths and weaknesses. At first I thought there were almost too many weapons in the game, but I'm slowly coming around to the point of view that more choice is good. For graphics and music, it's what you'd expect that the game looks and sounds great, while retaining that Halo flavor. The theather movie playback mode and an impressive level editor known as Forge will keep people playing this game for a long time. So overall, a very excellent title, although not without its faults.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 8:08 AM EDT
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Saturday, 29 September 2007
Batter Up! and How Do You Like Japan Pt. 735

Well, you never know when life will throw you a curveball of sorts... after months of being baseball mad, all of a sudden it was softball that seemed to be everywhere I looked.

First, probably one of the biggest things to hit the town this year, some early rounds of the National Womens Softball Tournament were played at the local sports ground. It was definitely a big production- lots of buildings erected, facilities upgraded, temporary scoreboards and grandstands, etc. Even the middle school's baseball field, used for warming up, had a new backstop net installed.

The tournament included all of the biggest company teams colleges throughout Japan, and the level of play was really high. The best company teams had some Olympians on their rosters, including the occasional foreigner. The entire school went one morning to watch a game, and I had the opportunity to talk with one of the American players for a couple of minutes, asking about softball life in Japan. Turns out the players are semi-pro- they work for their companies in the morning and then practice in the afternoon/evening. I didnt ask, but I'm sure the foreign players are well-compensated for their efforts. But that aside, everyone was really nice and it was cool to see something like that come to town for once.

I ended up playing some softball as well. The city had their fall tournament and I played for the local Ono Machi team. Well, the first game the other team was really great and they blew us out of the water, 24-4. They had a pitcher with the whole windup motion, a couple of really good female players, and it wasnt even close. After that, our team started to play better, plus a few more players showed up for our team, and we won the next three games by a combined score of something like 75-15. So I guess we had a tough time finding the right balance of competition. I think most involved had a good time though.

In the end, we won the loser's bracket, and our first opponent won the whole tournament. Of course, this being Japan, the only way to celebrate is to drink a lot of beer, which everyone did in due course. I wasnt so jazzed about doing it on a Thrusday night, but we won, so spirits were high and everyone was in a good mood.

Friday was a bad day in uniquely Japanese ways. First, I had a massive hangover from the more or less compulsory drinking with colleagues of the previous night. Of course, the day was jam-packed with classes, just my luck. The 3rd years, the oldest students, had one of the worst, most apathetic classes I've had the displeasure of being in. Good effort, guys! Then, I had some bank business to take care of, but because Japanese banks are just weird, I wasnt able to get it taken care of and I will have to go to another branch on Monday to get it done.

And for good measure, I have a demonstration class on Monday, so still with a massive headache I tried to work with one of the English teachers to make a good lesson plan. Unfortunately, his spoken English isnt that great, and neither of us were coming up with any good ideas, so it was a nice hour or so of fruitless, stilted miscommunication.

Finally, we worked out something reasonable, and then because in Japan you have to discuss everything endlessly, some other teachers and the vice principal came in to look over our lesson plan. The upshot of all of this is, the plan got changed around almost completely from what we had originally set out, and because Japanese people don't think twice about spending their entire lives at the workplace, it was nearly 6pm before it was all over.

Normally I don't mind staying later, in fact for sports practices normally end around that time anyway, but dont mess around late on a Friday after I've had a headache all day!

And I'm still not sure exactly what the whole plan is, as I more or less gave up on listening to the meeting. I agreed to meet up with the English teacher on Sunday to try and work it out because of course I will be going to the bank Monday morning before the demo lesson,  and we cant work on it then. Fantastic. 

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 12:36 AM EDT
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Thursday, 20 September 2007
Lack of Updates Pt. 3,271

Yeah, it has been awhile. First update in the month of September. Stuff has been going on, what can I say. Tuesday, my car broke. The fan belt had been making horrendous noises for a couple of weeks, I ignored it hoping that it would go away, and finally it broke. Problem is I was about 45 minutes away from home shopping at Park Place and the JAF guy said it would be about 200 bucks or so to tow it back. So I called the local hometown mechanic and he brought out a big truck and loaded my car in the back. He just fixed the belts, should be ready to go tomorrow, who knows how much the entire total cost will come to. I would like to get a newer car, but when you add it all up it just doesnt seem to be worth it.

This weekend our schools had our sports festivals, think Field Day Japanese-style. It is definitely a big deal- it takes a lot of preparation, and the whole school really gets into it. Anyways, it rained pretty good on both days, and I was pretty sure everything was going to be postponed, but the powers that be decided to go ahead with it anyway. Several events, mostly running, had to be canceled because of the sorry field conditions. Still all the students got to do their dance and cheering routines that they had been practicing hard for. But I loved the high-tech solution to getting the field ready. Everybody gets out a bunch of sponges and buckets, and sponges up all the mud! Rinse and repeat. I felt like a convict in North Korea. But in the end the students had fun, so in that sense it had to be a success.

The two sports days I went to were on Saturday and Sunday, and Monday was a holiday, so I got Tuesday and Wednesday off as substitute holidays. Two days of school on Thursday and Friday, and then its the weekend again already! A very strange feeling. Its gotta be a first for me.

So anyway with my car broke, of course I cant drive to school. So last night, I called another teacher to ask for a ride to school. When I talked to her on the phone, she seemed really preoccupied, and sure enough this morning she totally forgot to pick me up. Fortunately while I was waiting for the bus, someone from the town offices spotted me and offered a ride to school. So that was nice. Of course, this being Japan, the teacher who forgot about me literally apologized about seven times, making me feel somewhat guilty about the whole deal.

Going back a little bit further, I had a crazy weekend. On Saturday, I went Fukuoka for some shopping (got a really nice camera) and to meet some friends. I caught the last train back and by the time all was said and done it wasnt til around 130 that I got back home. The next day, I got an offer to go hiking, so I spent all day hiking the day after a big trip. Needless to say I wasnt doing too great when Monday came around, somehow I made it through, but on Tuesday I was completely toast and didnt even make it to lunch time before having to head home due to exhaustion. Guess the lesson is, dont push yourself too hard, kids.

Also, my keyboard is messed up... somehow I switched the defaults around or something, and the inputs just dont want to cooperate at all. Obviously I can type somewhat, but it can be a real pain. Now with my Japanese OS, it should be a joy to figure out just how to get everything back right again. Great!

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:47 AM EDT
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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 . 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:

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 7:56 AM EDT
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