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Squared Sevens Blogging Corp.
Monday, 14 April 2008
Back on the Horse

It's the start of teh new school year in Japan, with all of the accompanying cermonies, meetings, parties, gifts, and whatnot. There's plenty of ceremony, lots of coming and goings with the other teachers, but without classes, things can be a bit dull. But with all the farwell parties for the old teachers who left, the welcoming parties for all the new teachers that are coming in, year-end parties with the PTA, along with getting ready for the new junior high schoolers, it can stay busy. One thing is the teachers are moved around to different schools quite regularly. I know that growing up in the States, there would always be some teachers who had been at your school for decades (you all can remember a few I'm sure). But here, the longest that I have heard of is a six year stay, and most seem to be for three years or less. This is all decided by the board of education, and the teachers themselves do not appear to have much say in the matter. And for the "Part-time" teachers, they can pretty much expect to be moved about every year (if they are lucky enough to retain employment, that is).

I know it has been awhile since I have written anything. A lot of it has to do with the cold. I just don't feel like typing when my fingers are all numb. Well, now it's April, but things still seem to be a bit cool, and there have been several rainy days recently that haven't helped with the temperature. Now I know very soon I will be complaining non-stop about the bugs and humidity, but I don't remember it staying this cool for this long last year.

So, what have I been doing? A lot, but maybe not as much as you would think. February brought one of my bigger trips of late, as I went to see The Police play their reunion tour at the Kyocera Dome in Osaka. This was actually my first time in Osaka, and while I didn't spend enough time there to get a real feel for the place, it seems alright. I took the overnight ferry from Beppu, which was actually quite reasonable, and after a long, long day of walking around Osaka, I went to the concert with some other Oita folks. Now, I thought possibly this would just be a cash-in tour for the Police (and the tickets certainly weren't cheap), but they did a great show, and 60-something guitarist Andy Summers ripped it on guitar. It had all the bells and whistles that you'd expect in such a major concert, but that said, the Kyocera Dome is just too big for any concert, in my opinion. That, and the "No Jumping" signs posted everywhere, detracted from the experience just a little bit.

So that was all well and good, and then late in March, I went to Kagoshima with some of the other teachers at school. Kagoshima is way down in the south of Japan, and I had never been there before so it was pretty cool to go. We enjoyed some of the various geological features of the area, first by going to see a big, semi-active volcano, and then trying hot sand baths on the beach. We also ate way more food than anyone in their right mind should, thanks to the hotel buffet dinner and breakfast.

Also on the food front, my birthday came and went in March. Another year gone by already. Again this year, Mishiro sensei was nice enough to take me and a few teachers out for a birthday dinner, this time a nice yakiniku joint in town. And Zack and Ryan, two other ALTs in the area, got me gift cards that can be used at one of my favorite places in Japan, convenience stores. Lawsons, Family Mart, Everyone its all good.  

But things arent always so great having a bunch of teachers around all of the time. One night, after a PTA party in Ono, I offered to put up a few teachers in my apartment for the night. This was after I warned them repeatedly about the sorry conditions of my room mind you, but still they were surprised by just how filthy it was. I didnt expect guests that night, and my room is never that clean to begin with, thanks to the wonderful bachelor lifestyle I am living in, but it was still particularly bad that night. Well anyway, word got around school about how messed up my room is, and I really heard about it for a while. Guess Im Mr. Messy Room foreigner. I did throw a bunch of stuff out, trying to clean and organize, and while things are better than that particular nadir, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

And I had been thinking about this for awhile, but I finally decided to man up and buy an LCD TV, a Toshiba Regza. Its not very big at all, only 19 inches, but I dont need anything bigger than that really. Having high definition is a real step up in my view, and its been great for the Xbox 360 and for watching movies, but I havent bothered to move up my TV signal yet not sure if I want to spend the money that way. But if I can get NHK and some of the basic channels inexpensively, I might go that way.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, Ive been playing Halo 3 online with my good buddy Chris who is back in America. Due to the time difference, game sessions are pretty much limited to Saturdays or Sundays, but its fun to get together and shoot the bull over voice chat as much as actually playing the game. Win or lose, its a good time (seems like more lose than win recently, but thats how it is sometimes). And here in Japan, Raiden Fighters Aces was just released. Its a compilation of the three Raiden Fighers arcade shooting games, released for the first time on home consoles. I used to play Raiden Fighters Jet during class breaks at RCCC, so its cool to be able to enjoy it again. Plus, the game comes with a Super Play DVD showing all of the games secrets, which is a nice bonus..

Also, although my car starts just fine now and has stopped making loud, annoying noises, at some point it has started to leak antifreeze/coolant at a pretty decent rate. I know this because I can smell it just about any time I drive the car for longer than 15 minutes. Ive been to the mechanic twice, and he cant seem to figure it out, although we tried replacing the radiator cap to no great effect. My theory is that the coolant is leaking only when the car is in motion, if the car is just sitting idle, the fluid wont leak out in the same way. Just a hypothesis. For now, all I can do is keep a jug of antifreeze in the car with me and top it off from time to time. Not so great, but better than ending up with a junked engine.

Well, thats all for now, if I can think of anything else I will be sure to post it up!

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 12:46 PM EDT
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Sunday, 9 December 2007
Car Issues
I wanted to go shopping in Mie today, but I couldnt. Thanks to the cold, my car wouldnt start. This happened a lot last year, and I had kind of forgotten about it. but sure enough it looks like it will be a problem this year too. On top of that, I cant use the defrost in the car either- the mechanical slider thing wont move over. So I can use regular heat, thank God, but I cant use it on the windshield. This was a big problem last week trying to get the frost off of my car in the morning so I could drive safely. Using some warm water and the wipers I can get the ice off, but of course that takes a long time and I was late on Thursday because of it.

So the car wont start when its cold. The defrost doesnt work. The fan belt, which completely broke on me earlier this year, still makes noise when I starting from a standstill. The upholstry is coming apart, the paint chipping off. Id like to look at getting a new car, but with the money I put into the Shaken inspection earlier this year, it doesnt seem to make financial sense. It doesnt help that going to the Tokyo Motor Show in October showed me all of the cool cars that I wont be driving any time in the near future. Living where I am though, I really need a reliable car and I dont know if this one is going to cut it much longer.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:26 AM EST
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Ryuehi Kawada

About Saturdays speaker at school- actually, it was pretty cool and I feel totally ignorant for not knowing more about the situation. The speaker, Ryuhei Kawada, has quite the life story to tell. Diagnosed as a hemophaeliac from an early age, he contracted HIV at thed age of 10 by using tainted blood supplies from the Green Cross Corporation. That is sad enough, but on top of that, Green Cross had access to safe, heat-treated blood, but did not use it due to business concerns. In the end, hundreds of Japanese hemopeliacs contracted HIV from these blood supplies.

 In the legal battles that followed, he came out as an HIV infected hemopheliac and campaigned for nationwide support. The victims won the various court cases, he went to college, and now he was just recently elected to the House of Councilors in the Japanese Diet. Even more remarkable is that even after having HIV for 20 years, he is still going strong and has yet to acquire AIDS. So like I said, quite a remarkable story, and now as a politician Ryuhei Kawada may make an even bigger impact in the future.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:26 AM EST
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Friday, 7 December 2007
Six Days a Week
Well, I had a nice, full week of classes at school, and being Friday and all I thought I was all set for the weekend, but not this time. Turns out we are having class on Saturday, because a special guest speaker is coming in the afternoon. Normally, we'd get a day off the following week to compensate, but no such luck this time- it's been tacked on to beginning of winter vacation, on a day that I was going to take yearly leave on anyway. So yeah sure, that means I have another vacation day in the bank, but I'd much rather be sleeping in on Monday morning that having some vague yet-to-be-defined substitute day, know what I mean?

So about the speaker. Well, the school has been studying AIDS a lot recently, which is good, because even though AIDS is not as prevelant in Japan it still presents a danger. So there have been classes and special activities, and one of the culture day plays was about AIDS. So the guest speaker is an AIDS victim who contracted it through a blood transfusion, and apparently had a big court battle with the government over it. So it's officially a big deal, the vice-principal will pick him up from the airport and take him to school, the kids will sing a special song, all of that stuff, and it definitely makes sense to plan a school day around it, even if it is a Saturday.

With all this big stuff going on, and Christmas coming up soon, I got a haircut today. There is a local barber here, right next to the post office, who does a pretty good job at a very reasonable rate. I can go there and practice some Japanese, and it's nice having a regular person cut your hair, because you don't have to explain what you want every single time. I look at something like that as one of the advantages of living in a small town, if I was in the city, getting a hair cut might turn out to be this big deal. But out in the countryside, I can walk there from my house, I know the guy, and like I said he does a good job. I also shaved my beard off today, I was getting rather careless with it and it was getting on the shaggy side, and enough was enough. Of course, now I look like I'm about 20 again, but oh well.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:16 AM EST
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Saturday, 1 December 2007
Big Day
Tomorrow, for one day only, humble ol' Mie Town in Bungo Ono City will be the center of the Japanese sports world. The Sumo wrestlers are undertaking one of their periodic training tours through the countryside, and it just so happens that this will be the tournament where "disgraced" champion Asashoryu will make his return to the sumo ring. Asashoryu, who is Mongolian, got suspended for fibbing to the Sumo Association about his injuries, and his subsequent lengthy suspension, depression, and return to Mongolia have all made plenty of headlines this year for the papers.

So it's been quite a year for the guy, and his first step back will take place in Bungo Ono City.

But I won't be going to check out the craziness. In a wonder of horrible timing, the once-yearly Japanese Language Proficiency Test is on the same day, and I've gotta take it. I'm going for the 2nd level, (1 is the best) and unfortunately I didn't do the best job preparing for the test and I don't think that I am quite there yet. But I'll try my best, and if anything at least it I can try again next year.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:52 AM EST
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Tuesday, 13 November 2007
Hunker Down
Well, today was kind of a sad day. I finally had to bring out the kotatsu. For those that don't know, a kotatsu is essentially a table with a little heater under it. But some blankets underneath the table top part, and voila, you have a way to survive the winter.

What's sad about it is, I am mentally conceding to months of freezing weather. There's no going back now. From here on out, it's only going to get colder. I know I talk all the time about how cold it can get in Japanese housing, but really it's all I can think of. Having temperatures in your house being in the 40s or 30s is a really, really miserable way to spend several months of your life. Numb fingers and toes become an every fact of life, and let's not even talk about taking showers in the morning.

But the kotatsu is a life raft in a sea of cold. It can be freezing outside, but under that table and blanket, well, it might as well be Miami for those few cubic centimeters of space. So it's a necessary thing to have, but that doesn't mean that I have to like it too much.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 8:27 AM EST
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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-

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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