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Thursday, 8 November 2007
A Long Day
Saturday, apparently gripped by a fit of madness,  I participated in the town's 42.195 kilometer walking competition. In miles, that's 26 and change, or in other words, marathon distance. Turns out that's how far it is from the Oita Prefectural HQ in Oita City to Ono Machi's town hall. Convenient, right? That's definitely as far as I've walked in my life. Last year I got out of it because I had tickets to see the TAO taiko drum group on the same day, but no such luck this year. I don't even like making this drive, let alone walk it. But I'm in Japan to do stuff, so let's go!

So yep, 42.195 kilometers. Or to but it another way, 42,195 meters (right?). How did it turn out? Here's the breakdown:

First 10 kilometers were just fine. The sun is shining, everyone is in a good mood, there are lots of drink vending machines along the course, everything is swell.

The next 10k or so, the course turned off the main road, on to a narrow street that followed along a river. Nice scenery, feet starting to hurt a little but still going strong, taking plenty of pictures with the camera, but boy this sure seems to be taking a long time, sun is starting to go down, the shade is a bit cold. I walk with Mishiro-sensei and have a nice chat, but it becomes clear that he's going to have to retire at the next checkpoint. I'll need to change into my jacket and gloves soon.

Next 10- from about the 20k mark to 30k- somehow I ended up with a group of elementary school kids, walking on a twisty two way street without any sidewalks. I make sure everybody has their reflective bands on, but the kids are singing silly songs, I try to teach them Old MacDonald had a Farm, but they just want to say E-I-E-I-O over and over. The sun is defintely down now.

The last 10k- suddenly it becomes a real test of endurance. I could have fun before but now this is no joke. I see some of my middle school kids and try to walk with them, but I can't keep up. It seems like my legs' range of motion has diminished, that I can't move them far or fast enough, and the kids are just going too fast. I walk a little, fall behind, run a little to catch up, and then fall behind again. It's not a pleasant situation and I'm wondering how long I can keep it up. The students don't seem to care. Again, we go through a part with no sidewalks, and a bus going at least 60k/h flies by no more than two feet away. Not cool.

I spot another checkpoint ahead and stop to get a drink. The middle school kids go on again, and I'm all by myself, struggling to stay on my feet. I think I start to hallucinate a little bit. I just have to remember to put one foot in front of the other. It's well into the evening now, very dark and cold. Hat, jacket, and gloves are needed. Runny nose too. I start to get angry, at myself for doing this, at the organizers for having the event in the first place. Another checkpoint for some tea and chocolate, then on to the last few kms. I give up all pretensions of keeping a good pace and try to just keep moving. It just wont end. The clock creeps toward 9. I run into some other students right before entering the main part of town. The town's 9 oclock siren goes off. We're heading downhill now, somehow the kids have the energy to sing Hello, Goodbye by the Beatles, one last left turn, and 9 hours and 3 minutes later, we're there.

There's tea and udon noodles near the finish, but I just sit down and can't move. I didn't think it was possible for my body to hurt like this. Finally I talk with some students, make it to my feet and walk over to the cafeteria to grab some noodles. They taste good. It's cold outside. I drive home and fall into bed, wearing the same clothes, and sleep most of the next day.

All in all, what's the point? It just seems so dangerous to me, having all those people (mostly kids) walking by the side of the road, it seems like something bad is just waiting to happen. I could take some nice pictures, but after that it's just pitch dark as an endless stream of cars, trucks, and buses whiz by. It it the Japanese obsession with gaman, perservering or toughing out the situation? Some kind of character building exercise? After than first 20k or so, it's just not pleasant and may be in fact downright dangerous. Perhaps it has some physical benefits, but the most common result would seem to be pure exhaustion. Developing appreciation for modern transportation? Possibly. I've made this trip plenty of times by car, but on foot you really start to appreciate how far it is. I'll never look at those same stretches of road again. But this whole thing isn't held next year, well, I don't think I would feel sad at all.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:07 AM EST
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Thursday, 1 November 2007
Update Tokyo

Well, I got back from Tokyo. And I had a pretty good time. Man, the travel is so crazy though. People wonder why I dont travel more, and thats the reason why. Let me explain.

To get to Tokyo (Haneda), I had to drive to the closest train station, take a local train, take an express train for 2 hours, switch to the subway, then check in and fly from Fukuoka. Then, I get to Tokyo, but then it's still two more trains before I get my my hotel stop, and once I got there, I still had to carry my bags to the hotel. Oh yeah, and there was a typhoon that brushed up against the coast that Saturday, so it was cold, windy, and rainy. I bought an umbrella only to have it break on me 15 minutes later. Oh, and to go back home I had to repeat the whole process again. At least the weather was good this time.

On top of all that, I made a mistake in my online reservation and accidentaly clicked on the ticket rate for handicapped passengers. I wasn't paying enough attention and just selected the cheapest rate. Anyway, that little mistake cost me an extra 10,000 yen at the airport. Maybe I'll be a little bit more careful next time.

So yeah, all of that traveling just in the space of three days (Saturday through Monday). Well, what interesting stuff did I get to do. Probably the biggest thing was going to see the Tokyo Motor Show way out in Makuhari Messe. All of the world's biggest car companies were there, and of course the Japanese makers were really putting on a show for the home crowd. This year's big theme seemed to be friendly, easy to use cars with a big emphasis on hybrid and other energy-saving technologies. That's good, but of course you had Ferrari, Lamborghini, Rolls Royce, Bentley, Lotus, Maserati, and all of the other exclusive car makers were there as well just in case you forgot what a monster car looks like.

 The undisputed star of the show was Nissan's new GTR sports car, making its world premier at the event. It was something like a rock concert, there were so many people crowded around taking pictures. Just insane. One car that stood out for me was Honda's CR-Z concept sports car. I really liked the styling, and the car promised high performance out of a hybird engine, which makes it even more interesting. Again though, just a concept, don't expect to see it in showrooms anytime soon.

I'll put some pictures on my flickr page here- http://www.flickr.com/photos/87219385@N00/

OK, so what else was there? I also got to eat dinner at Yokohama's famous Chinatown, take pictures at Minato Mirai, do some shopping at Yodobashi Camera, have dinner with Ayana in Yokohama, and free ice cream at Shingo's work (don't tell anyone). So I stayed pretty busy the whole time.

Cold update: So, yes I did get better from my cold. I think I found out what the cause was. Another teacher at Ono also got sick at the same time. Thing this, that was the same teacher I went with to watch the basketball game. Based on that, it seems more and more likely that we both picked up some bug at the basketball game. Oita Heat Devils Basketball- catch it!


Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:47 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 16 October 2007
Kaze Hiiitaaa!
Well, I went and done it again. By not taking care of myself, by trying to do too much in a limited timeframe, I've worn myself down and caught a cold. This happened to me back around the beginning of September, when a Saturday trip to Fukuoka followed by mountain hiking on Sunday left me waay to exhausted to be good for work the next week.

This time, it was a variety of factors. Wednesday and Thursday, I had classes at the elementary school, which can still be quite the stressful experience even after a year of experience. Then on Friday, like a fool, I stayed up way to late playing Halo 3 online. Saturday was busy- I had to wash clothes, get a haircut, head over to Ryan's to watch the Indians game, and then drive way out to Ozai to play futsal. That was followed by a trip to Joyfull and another long drive back.

Sunday, still without any time to get really good rest, I got up and went to watch an exhibition game of the local pro basketball team, the Heat Devils. It was a little bit better than I expected, sp good overall, but then I headed back to Ryan's again to watch game 2 of the ALCS, a good game but really, really long.

Then it was time to go back home and get ready for school again the next day, which just my luck, featured two demonstration classes that I had to participate in, these were heavily prepped and planned for classes, a very big deal, and one of them was watched by about 20 other visiting teachers. No, that's not stressful at all. Then, one of the older teachers who had taped the class gave us a thourough review of class, what we did right, what we did wrong, etc.

Well that ended at about 430/5 oclock, and I thought, alright I'm home free! But wait! Mishiro sensei, who meant well, was taking the 2nd years' teachers out for yakiniku- his treat! I couldn't say no, and we went and ate a ton of yakiniku- like three platters worth. Actually it was almost disgusting, but everyone left the place full, that's for sure.

By Monday I was already getting a scratchy throat, and conditions continued to deteriorate throughout the day. Next my nose started running, I got a headache, muscle stiffness, all of that good stuff. I mailed Ryan to let him know that I wouldn't be making it to watch Game 3, and with my classes over I asked to leave a little bit early. I spent the rest of the night reading Wikipedia, definitely not feeling too hot.

Last night was horrible. I spent the night in a half-asleep, half-awake daze, and it got really cold, so I was freezing too. I was really glad to see the sun coming up this morning. I called into work, and so far today I've been taking it very easy, and hopefully getting better.

I just have to watch it more often. In Japan, with its crazy work schedules and obligations, things can really sneak up on you before you know it. I obviously was overloaded with stuff to do, and then that just wore me down to a point where it was easy to get sick. My educated guess would be I got sick at the basketball game, being in an arena full of so many people, I probably picked it up then. The game was fun though. I just have to learn to take it easier sometimes.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 11:14 PM EDT
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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 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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