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Squared Sevens Blogging Corp.
Sunday, 1 June 2008
Odds and Ends.... no, Just sports
Yesterday I went to see Oita's pro soccer team, the Trinita, play a game at the "Big Eye" dome here in Oita. The dome, nicknamed the "Big Eye" because of its unique roof opening mechanism, is a world class facility and hosted a few games at the 2002 World Cup. It was also a very pleasant spring day, and with some discount tickets I got at school, I went with fellow JET Zack to check out the game. It was a good game overall, with Oita jumping out to a two goal lead at the half, but the opponent Yokohama F Marinos pushed hard in the second half and managed to score an equalizer late, making the final score 2-2. Of course, there were plenty of passionate fans there, but overall the turnout was pretty low... announced attendance was around 14,000 in a stadium with 40,000 capacity. So despite a pleasant May Saturday, a competitive team, and discount tickets for students and teachers, there were still a lot of empty seats. Come on Oita-jin!

In Kyushu, there's not only soccer, there's baseball too. I went with a group of folks from basketball to watch the Softbank Hawks play at the Yahoo Dome in Fukuoka. Now, Japanese people take their baseball very seriously, and there were no turnout problems this time. Pretty much a full house, but despite the fine weather, the dome was kept closed. Well, the game was fairly exciting, but after getting thrown out at home three times, including twice in the same inning, the Hawks lost, 4-3. But it was nice to go to the "big city" and to see the sights and get some food, including Hard Rock Cafe which is really just like an American restaurant, down to the French's mustard and free drink refills.

So what's this basketball group that I mentioned? It's a group of people in their 20s and 30s who get together on weekday nights for a couple of hours at a local junior high school gym. It's a pretty loose affiliation, teams are made at random every time using a rock-paper-scissors system, traveling and fouls are rarely called, although some recent somewhat-rough play has prompted requests for some kind of referee system. Additionally, there are people of all kinds of skill levels on there, so sometimes the quality of play can be a little rough. But I think's it good to have an open system like that, and overall the environment is pretty good. The purpose is really more for getting exercise and meeting people, but if you can improve my basketball a little bit, then that's not bad either. The only problem is, that the basketball is almost always late in the evening on a weekday night, a good hour or so away in Usuki, so I don't get back until late, and then I'm pretty whipped for the next day. The price one has to pay, I suppose.

Also, speaking of sports, we had our annual "Sports Festival" day at Ono a few weeks ago. It's roughly similar to the Field Days you may have had as a kid growing up, but it's a much bigger production and the whole school really gets into it. There's standard stuff like 100m dashes, tug-of-war, relay races and obstacle courses, but there are also some more unique events like the kibasen, where the players try to grab each other's headbands, while being carried by three of their teammates (easy to understand if you see it). Each year, the individual teams to a little cheer-type dance thing to popular songs, and this time the dances were really funny and inventive, so that was a real highlight. Also, we finally had good weather this year too, after really heavy rainfall spoiled last year's event somewhat.

Well, I didn't plan to sit down and only write about sports, but that's what happened. But with the nice weather in Spring here, you've got to take advantage of it one way or another.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:37 AM EDT
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Friday, 16 May 2008
The Vacation That Wasn't, Part 2!
If you haven't already, read Part 1 below first!

So, it's Monday morning. After spending most all day Sunday doing, well, stuff, it's time to get up early and go to basketball practice back in Ono. To get there, we need to take a shortcut that wouldn't cut it as a road in most developed countries, Single lane, mountainous, isolated, rough (but paved), and soon to be underwater as part of a resevoir in parts, it's not exactly Sunday driving, which I am sure to point out to Sugisaki several times. That he is driving it like it's a rally time trial doesn't help things much either. Anyway, normally this wouldn't be that big of a deal, but once we are almost there, at the top of the hill, a strange sound starts to come out from the front left. Yep, we've got a flat.

All that commuting over the months on that rough road has to take a toll, and in fact the tire was completely worn through, all the way through the different layers and metal wires. It's time to change it out for a spare, we're late for basketball. and for the first time, Sugisaki seems to be concerned about the time. Fortunately, he had a jack and a spare, and the tire change went smoothly enough. So, finally we get to school about 15 minutes late, and of course all of the students give Sugisaki crap for his busted tire and dorky-looking spare, all in good fun of course. Then it's time for basketball practice, and we have a full-on session, with lots of running, layup and shooting drills, and 3-on-3 scrimmages. Fortunately, it wasn't too hot in the gym, but after a few hours of that, I was pretty crapped out. So we're sitting outside the gym after practice, and after all that's been going on the past 24 hours, I'm ready to go home and recuperate, and I probably could have just walked home at that point.

But, there was the question of lunch. Sugisaki thought we should grab some food, and I suggested some local places in town, hoping to get just a quick meal, and of course with the spare on the left front of the car, I didn't think it was such a great idea to be driving around so much. but none of those were acceptable. So, and I'm still not sure quite why, but somehow Sugisaki wanted to go see Harajiri Falls, and by this time I'm too dogged and brow-beaten to really have any say in the matter. So, I'm really tired, and in a poor mood, but we drove another good half an hour to Harajiri, and ate gelato there and then walked around the waterfall, which is a very pleasant place, but that's really not the point.

The whole time while trying to figure out what to eat, we ended up calling Mishiro, the former English teacher at Ono JHS. Even though he just got transfered to the elementary school across the street, we really don't seem him that often, so Sugisaki thought we should give him a call since he lives faily close to Harajiri. Anyways, he invited us over for some lunch. Which is all good, but he lived even further away in the mountains almost in Miyazaki prefecture, taking us farther away from Ono. So we drive there through some incredibly isolated roads to get there, and I noticed of course that I still haven't showered after playing basketball, and have I mentioned that we were still driving on the donut spare the whole time?

Fortunately, we made it there in one piece, and after exchanging greetings, we sat down to watch some baseball and eat shika sashimi (that's raw deer meat, but when we ate it is was a little frozen still). Of course, mixed with soy sauce, garlic and green onions, it was quite excellent- don't underestimate Japanese people when it comes to making just about any locally available food really delicious. After that, Sugisaki and Mishiro talked about school stuff for the next few years, fortunately I managed to find a pillow and a coach and caught some Z's.

So, they finished talking, we ate some good food for lunch, it's starting to get a little bit dark outside- definitely time to start heading home, right? Well, not so fast. It's yakiniku time! Back when we all worked together at Ono, it was a semi-regular thing to go out and get yakiniku together. All well and good, except that it was standard practice to totally gorge on the stuff every time out- seriously, I think even some Americans would be shamed by the amount of meat consumed at one of the places. Fortunately, the yakiniku place was on the way to Ono, and maybe just this time I would get to go home afterwards. So the three of us got a family dinner plate, plus lots of extras on the sides, and managed to get it all down without too many problems this time. Mishiro, being the swell guy that he is, sprung for the bill. So in the end it was nice to get some real food, on the other, I was still tired and sweaty and ready to lay down and maybe soak my head.

Now, almost evening and still rolling on the spare, we bid Mishiro goodbye and headed back to Ono. Finally, well over 24 hours having left, it was time to go back home. I thanked Sugisaki for all of the two day's work and trudged upstairs, wondering if I would get a phone call again from Sugisaki needed help from his stranded car after the donut gave out on him. (Apparently, he made it back alright).

So, let's take a look at the postgame. First, it can be a lot of fun to hang out with your Japanese coworkers. You can do a lot of fun stuff, eat some really great food, and develop good relationships. On the other hand, sometimes people won't take no for an answer, and thanks to the whole Japanese thing, you feel obligated to do a lot of stuff that you wouldn't be doing otherwise. So I did spend a lot of time during my long vacation with coworkers, talking mostly about work, and even doing work type stuff at school. I understand that's pretty standard fare for Japanese folks to spend their free time focusing on work, but I really would like some more separation between the two, which is of course the standard American attitude. Well, at least it gave me something to talk about, right?

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:07 AM EDT
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Monday, 12 May 2008
The Strange Golden Week! (Pt. 1)
First of all, this year's Golden Week stunk because it was set up to be much shorter than usual, as I covered in my last post. So that wasn't so hot. Second, my car's cooling system finally decided to crap out, so it was in the garage for a major part of the week. No car, no trains, limited bus service= even less hot. I also had some goals that I wanted to accomplish, for example finishing a book that I was reading, watch some movies, play through Gears of War, continue to work on cleaning my room, and even just be lazy if I felt like it.

Things started off on the wrong foot Friday night, as there was yet another drinking party, this time in my hometown of Ono with the local PTA. So we just had one of those like two weeks before this, but apparently it was already time for another one. So Friday night was spent drinking and eating with the parents and co-workers. Then, Saturday morning I had agreed to go to school again, this time to watch the volleyball club play a scrimmage game. Well, they actually did play really well, and I went with one of the other teachers to grab lunch, but that was even less time spent doing actual vacation things.

Well, the rest of Saturday was spent more or less normally, I got some things done and actually watch Cliffhanger of all movies, but the real fun was to begin Sunday afternoon. Things started out innocently enough, when Sugisaki, one of the Ono teachers, came to pick me up from my house. He had said he would be there at 1, but he came at 1250 and I still wasn't ready- not a good start. So we went from there to Joyfull, which is a standard family diner restaurant around here. Now, normally you go, sit down, have a meal and chat for a little bit, no big deal. But thanks to waiting for several people to come, and then waiting for those people to eat, plus in general chatting/time wasting, were we there for around three and a half hours- I think that may be some sort of record. Well, I don't like sitting in one place for that long, but what can you do? Fortunately, there was an all-you-can-drink bar set up which helped to pass the time.

Well with all the people that we had, it took a while to find an option that would be acceptable for everyone, but finally we decided to head for Park Place, a local shopping center. There, seeing as how I hadn't been out shopping much due to car problems, I bought a couple pairs of shoes, and was ready to go. Then some people wanted to get McDonalds, and then I thought I should check out the Sports Authority, and after that some people headed to the arcade, looking around at HMV, there goes a couple more hours. While at the Sports Authority, Sugisaki thought it would be a great idea if we got matching shirts to wear for the upcoming sports day. I thought, alright, I could use a new shirt, and I got a navy blue soccer jersey thing. Sugisaki being the stylish guy that he is, got some sort of pastel peach colored shirt, but I guess it would work out for him. So time will tell if anyone will get a kick out of the shirts at the sports day.

Then, eventually, after a couple of those dangerously addictive"dropping medal" games at the arcade, we got everybody back together again, and decided to go bowling. Well, that led to an incident in the car, when I tried to eat a natto roll, and some of the natto fell onto my shirt. If you don't know what natto is, it smells really bad, and soon enough the whole car reeked. I caught some shit for that.

Bowling was fine. I saw one of my older teachers that I used to work with, and that was interesting. Thing is, I bowled pretty well. I was knocking down spares like nobody's business and at one point almost pulled off my first triple, getting two strikes and then a nine. So that was all well and good, but you know it's now past midnight, and I'm getting rather tired. But certain people in the group aren't ready to give up the ghost just yet. So we go to yet another family restaurant, this time Skylark Gust, and sit around for oh, another hour while people talk, and talk, and eat ice cream, and talk.

Being the nice guy that he is, and knowing that I really don't have a choice in the matter, Sugisaki offers to let he stay at his place, where I met his Dad and his Mom cooked me a really good breakfast. Really early in the morning, because we're going back to school. And things will just get crazier from there!!!!

TO BE CONTINUED>>>

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:50 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 29 April 2008
Tuesday Special
Today is a really strange day, because it's a Tuesday, and there's no school. It's actually a national holiday, Showa Day, named after the previous emperor of Japan, known as Hirohito in the West. Whether or not it’s a good idea to a holiday named for the guy is certainly up for debate, and I’m not really trying to get into that here, but... yeah. Probably the last thing that you'd want to do as a government would be to possibly remind people of your atrocious wartime past, but I guess they just couldn't help themselves. Well, take it for what you will, but I think most folks around here are just happy to have a day off, period.

So, we have the strangest of weeks, one with only Tuesday off, and the rest of the week as usual. So, a bit odd, but looking at it, it's nice to have a day off wherever you can get it. And actually, having an odd day off can have it's advantages. For example, last night I went to Usuki, a town about an hour northwest of where I live, to play basketball. Normally, after playing we would have to drive back pretty quickly to get enough sleep for the next day, but thanks to having Tuesday off, there was enough time to hang out afterwards and get some food and drinks. Also, having this seemingly random day off, I could just spend it however I wanted to, with no pressure that I had to "get something done" like it can be on some weekends. So I cleaned up some, read a book, and in general relaxed and enjoyed the spring weather. But the weird thing is, it's back to work again tomorrow. just like any other Wednesday. Just feels strange. Good news is, Monday and Tuesday of next week are off as well, but with my car still leaky and acting up, I'm not sure what I will be able to do exactly.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:44 AM EDT
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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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