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Thursday, 4 September 2008
Long Summer Journal
Well, summer is over. School is back in session and some leaves are even beginning to fall from the trees. As this could have been my last free summer is Japan, I was determined to take advantage of various opportunities, so I was pretty busy but I managed to see and do a lot of cool stuff. The big theme was travel. As a result my wallet was feeling pretty light for a little bit there but when you are traveling in Japan that's the price you gotta pay. But overall it was what I needed- a chance to get out and stretch my legs a little bit, see some new places while I had the chance.

First was a two-day trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima. I had never been to Hiroshima before, but this time it was mostly a train stop for the Shinkansen while we were on the way to Miyajima. We did have enough time for lunch, where were had special Hiroshima Okonomiyake, which is kind of a vegetable-noodle-seafood-pancake, and very deliciousbut I burned my mouth eating it right off of the grill! Oops. After that, we made a brief detour to Iwakuni, where there is a Marine base, a famous five-arched wooden bridge, and a reconstructed castle on a mountain overlooking the town, accessible by ropeway. It was all fairly nice and well-done, but the extreme heat kept us from enjoying things too much. We definitely needed a stop for some soft-serve ice cream along the way, fortunately there was a specialty shop that sold, oh, about 40 kinds of soft serve, the most I've ever seen in one place.

From there, we drove a little bit and then took a ferry to Miyajima. Miyajima was long considered a sacred island by the Japanese, so the shrine and it's attendant torii gate were built over the water so as to keep people from stepping foot on the land. As a result, when the tide comes in, the shrine and torii appear to be floating on water, and it's spectacular to say the least. Well you can walk on the island now, but still it feels different- there are pine trees every where, a lack of concrete and cars, plenty of ancient sites, and also like Nara, there are sacred, tame deer roaming the island to add to the atmostphere.

After taking some pictures that evening, we stayed at a hotel on the island for the night. The next morning, it was back to the main torii gate and shrine, and this time with the tide in we got a really great view. After some more pictures, strolling around the island, and some shopping, it was once time to head back to Ono.

Then, after a brief break, it was on to the next stop, a summer Enlgish camp in Yufuin. Many of the local JETs participate in the three-day camp, doing group activities, skits, games, dances, art projects, etc. The big catch of course is that being an English camp, everyone has to use English all the time. This year's theme was the "Wild West" and everyone really played it up with cowboy hats, toy guns, etc. For the students, it's a good opportunity to use English with native speakers and get a break from the drag of everyday study, so typically it ends up being a lot of fun, but the non-stop nature of the camp can make it pretty tiring as well. Still, a good time, and because it's for high school students, I can talk with the kids at a little bit higher level than with the Junior High kids.

The next morning after I returned from Yufuin, bright and early at 5:15 AM, the next trip got started. This time, I went with the Chitose teachers to the island of Shikoku, Japan's smallest and most isolated major island. Shikoku has a different vibe, being much more rural andnatural feeling, and much, much less crowded than the rest of Japan, it was a nice break from the nonstop crowds one would find almost anywhere else. After a ferry and car ride, we stopped for lunch at some of Shikoku's famous Sanuki Udon noodles, which are just fantastic. But don't take it from me, take it from the wait lines staggered outside the doors of the most popular restaurants. Man, I could eat that stuff everyday. Then we went to visit a temple, Konpira-san, high in the mountains and only accessible by climbing hundreds of stairs, and that was great fun in the middle of August, let me tell you. Next, we checked out Takamatsu, one of the larger cities on the island, and after some souvenir shopping went back the next day.

Next was something that I had wanted to do for a very long time, to go watch the National High School Baseball tournament at Koshien Stadium near Osaka. High School baseball is a big, big deal here. The whole nation watches every year on NHK, many future stars make their first appearances here, and all of the schools reall get into supporting their team. It's every young baseball player's dream to appear, and the top players get lavished with attention by the media. Furthermore, being a single-elimination tournament, every game is do-or-die, and even for the players who aren't graduating, there's no guarantee they will win their prefectural tournament and advance again. So the stakes are very, very high. And there's the stadium itself, opened since the 1920's, host to Babe Ruth on his tour of Japan, feeling very traditional and aged, but also an intimate atmostphere as well- much more than the mega domes that are standard elsewhere in Japanese baseball. It seems big yet small at the same time, and you've still got to look out for seats blocked by support beams, just like Fenway. Open and yet full of tradition, it's a great place to take in a baseball game.

So how did the day turn out? Well, it was long. Four games in one day, about eleven hours total. I bought a free ticket along the thrid base line, which was good for all day. I bought a bento box with me, plus there was a KFC of all things in the stadium, so I had enough to eat. The big challenge was beating the heat. Being out in the relentless sun all day was just brutal. Unfortunately, the shaded seating areas were pretty limited and were taken up quickly. By the end of the second game, I was doing pretty rough, fortunately I found a shaded seat for the thrid and fourth games. There were some dull games, and some exciting games, and one where a team almost rallied from a seven-run deficit, but the best game was the last one. Yokohama High and Sendai Ikuei, two traditional powerhouses, took on each other in a defensive battle that entered the ninth inning tied 2 all. But Yokohama scored on a wild pitch in the top of the ninth and held on for the victory, leaving Ikuei to go home to Sendai in defeat. By the evening, the sun had gone down and the weather had cooled significantly, so I had moved down to near Sendai's dugout. After the end, the Sendai players did the traditional scooping of Koshien dirt to take home with them, crying and sobbing. Seeing the kids' emotion after that tough loss was simply shocking, you don't expect to see it from Japanese people and it doesn't convey on TV enough at all. That might the memory I take most with me from Koshien.

While I was still in Kansai, I took the advantage to check out some other sites that I wanted to see. First was Himeji Castle, a National Treasure and World Heritage site, one of Japan's finest castles and one of the few to survive the centuries in its original wooden form. It's an impressive structure and certainly picturesque, the various defense mechanisms designed to repel attackers are really devious. Also I went for a brief stop to Nara, home to both a massive Buddha temple and even more of the handout-seeking sacred deer. Additionally I made the mistake of going to the incredibly popular Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium on a Sunday, where it was absolutely slam-packed with families out for the summer weekend. A 30-minute wait to get into an aquarium? You better believe it. By that time I was committed though, and while a few of the displyed animals were interesting, jostling with crowds the entire time made things difficult. Oh well. Plus, of course, a visit to Den Den Town, Osaka's electronics district, although I had exhausted much of my funds by that point.

So, in review, it was a very busy summer vacation, but one with plenty of good experiences and memories. For now, back to school, and trying to enjoy fall before it gets cold...

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:42 AM EDT
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Monday, 4 August 2008
Summer Part 1 (more)
This past Friday and Saturday, I went with the Ono JHS teachers to Hiroshima, Miyajima, and Iwakuni, three spots close to each other located on Japan's tranquil Inland Sea. All in all, it took about three of four good hours to reach Hiroshima by train. I had some real excitement Friday morning as I overslept and then parked at the wrong spot near Inukai station, just barely making the train to Oita. If I had missed that one... it could have been real exciting. Anyway, we rode on the Shinkansen from Kokura to Hiroshima, which is always a treat. It's just a slick operation, and there were new N700 trainsets, so everything was sparking clean. On the way back, I got to see one of the few remaining original 0 series trainsets, which was interesting. Anyways, once we arrived in Hiroshima, it was lunchtime, so we scrambled into our rental cars and found an Okonomiyaki restaurant. Okonomiyaki is basically a pancake with all sorts of noodles, vegetables, meat, etc. with sauce on top, and Hiroshima's okonomiyaki is real famous, so it was a treat (but I burned my mouth eating it too fast).

Next, we split up into two groups, and even though it was extremely hot, I elected to go the outdoors route and check out Iwakuni, where there is a famous bridge called the Kintaikyo, made of five wood arches and allegedly without the use of nails. It's a real interesting piece of work, quite beautiful actually, although the irregularly sloped steps can be a little awkward to walk on. At the other end of the bridge was a nice park, followed by a cable car ride up the mountain to Iwakuni Castle. The castle itself is a concrete recreation and is really more of a museum, but it provided a nice view over the river and city. Then we stopped for some ice cream and headed to our next stop, the sacred island of Miyajima.

Miyajima is a special place. It's an island, and when you stop off of the ferry, it really feels like you've been transported somewhere else. The island is full of pine trees, there is a refreshing lack of concrete, and tame deer roam the streets (much like in Nara). And of course, there is the famous "Floating Torii" (gate) that appears to rise out of the water at high tide. When we got there, it was actually low tide, so you could walk out to the bay and get quite close to the Torii itself. It's really huge, fits the natural setting perfectly, and is definitely an incredible sight to behold. Then it was time to head back to the hotel for the standard onsen bath/enkai party/etc. But I was just glad for the air conditioning and the sleep.

The next morning after breakfast, we headed back to the Gate, except that this time the tide was practically full so we could see the Torii "rise" out of the water. Then, we went into Itsukushi Shrine, which is also built on stilts and seems to rise out of the water, it's also an incredible sight as well. The way the light reflected off of the water and onto the shrine was remarkable. After that, we checked out a couple of different sights and did some souvenier shopping, then back to the mainland for lunch, this time anago-meshi (grilled eel on rice).

With only a few hours left before the train, there wasn't enough time to properly see the city of Hiroshima, so we just went to an outlet center for shopping. By this time, I was pretty tired, so there wasn't much I could do about it either way! After we returned to Oita, there was the big yearly Tanabata festival with lots of dances, singing, and food, so I stuffed my junk into a locker and walked around for a couple of hours. I gotta say, that was the first time in Oita that I've been concerned by the crowds and number of people- definitely a huge turnout for the big festival. But I met with Zach's former student and her sister, which was nice, and watched an enkai performance. Then, it was time to head back home for real. Definitely a long couple of days and quite expensive but I would have to say that it was worth it.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 11:01 AM EDT
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Sunday, 3 August 2008
Summer Part 1!
The first part of summer has come to an end, and I've got a little break for a few days, so I'll think I'll write about what has happened so far. First of all, as mentioned previously, it's incredibly hot here. It's incredibly humid and the intensity of the sunlight is really extreme. You've definitely got to drink to keep your fluids up and it feels like you need to change shirts every few hours. Fortunately I suppose, there were a few days where clouds and storms developed, at least cooling things off a bit, although we got hit pretty hard by lightning last week and I thought for sure the power was going to go out. Well we managed to keep the power on and thereforet the airconditioning on, but it made things a little exciting there for an hour or so.

Some big news in town in the new ALTs that are coming in this year, two Americans in fact. I went along with some people from the board of education to greet them at the airport, and then we spent the next couple of days getting everything set up. There's certainly a lot to be taken care of, and of course the new folks still had to be tired from the flight and Tokyo orientation, and I remembered what it was like when I first moved here, so I was just glad to help. Besides, it was one less day spent sitting behind a desk in the teacher's room. Anyway, I enjoyed explaining about the town, and It was a real chance for me to practice my Japanese, as I helped translate with getting a bank account and cell phone. I know it was a big difference from when I came here two years ago, I could hardly understand much at all myself, but you certainly get a lot of practice with Japanese living here in the countryside. Zach also helped the new ALT in Inukai get everything set up, hopefully they will be in good shape from here on.

It wasn't all just helping out though, I did decide to get a new cell phone for myself. It's a global-themed phone, in that it has GSM for overseas use, all of the conversion calculations built in, predicitive English text, dictionaires, some audio voice-phrases, two different clocks so you can keep track of time in different time zones simutaneously, etc. It's very slick, with a brushed aluminum cover, slim profile, textured plastic, etc. One thing that it doesn't have in one seg TV capability, but that signal doesn't reach Ono anyway, so no big deal. Since I've been with au for two years, I got a break on the price of the phone, but still it wasn't free, yet my old one was getting chewed up and it was time for it to be replaced.

This past weekend was the first of my summer trips. I'll write about that tomorrow if I get the chance.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:45 AM EDT
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Monday, 21 July 2008
A Day Off
It's good to have a break every once in a while, but too much of a break can be a bad thing. Today was a holiday, and even though I enjoyed sleeping in, in the end it seemed like kind of a waste of a day. Sure I went grocery shopping, did some book reading, vacuumed, and worked on my computer, but it just doesn't feel like I did that much, just sitting around and eating junk food. Maybe because in the end, even working on a computer isn't really much work at all, just move the mouse and stare at the little icons on the screen. And also being the first real holiday in awhile, it probably messed the schedule which my body had been used to for the past few months. On the plus side, I did finally reserve a hotel room and got my baseball tickets for Koshien, so I should be set to go for the Osaka trip next month. Well, back to school tomorrow, although with summer vacation and all, it will be a little more relaxed than usual. I've got to work on the elementary school kids' summer English classes as well, so there will still be plenty of time to be busy yet.

In other news, I keep holding on to hope that somehow my car will pull through for the next day, week, month, whatever. In an act of faith, I bought new windshield wipers and a new seat cover and floormat to try and spruce up the car somewhat, I also got the brake light fixed and got some rust painted over so at least it looks a little bit better. But as long as the engine keeps leaking in this heat, I don't feel like I can depend on it very much at all right now. Hopefully, it can get me around town at least for a little bit more. And hey, I've got a new seat cover!

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 9:36 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 9 July 2008
Dang It
It's been quite the week for teachers in Oita Prefecture. First, there has been a huge scandal involving the hyper-competitive Teacher Acceptance Test (aka kyousai). With a dwindling number of students and therefore full-time teaching positions, the competition to pass and get one of the limited number of positions is fierce. The #2 guy at the Board of Education got busted for taking bribes in order to get certain teachers to pass these tests. While this kind of thing shouldn't be too surprising, it stinks that it happened in your prefecture. It was actually the leading news story on NHK this morning, ahead of even the G-8 summit in Hokkaido. In other Oita teaching news, a teacher in Tsukumi got busted for looking up a student's skirt at the train station a few days. Way to go, champ.

Three people I know (including myself) have Xbox 360s, and all three of us have had them break on us. While the other two were the dreaded "red ring of death", the disc drive in mine kept scratching the discs, rendering them unplayable. Obviously this can be an expensive proposition with games these days, so I decided that I wasn't going to let it go. Being that I live in Japan and all the items that I own are Japan region, I got to deal with customer service in Japanese. Now on one hand, you can almost always count on customer service in Japan being really great, so that wasn't an issue. On the other hand, polite Japanese (like one would use when dealing with customers) is quite different from standard Japanese, from pronouns to verbs, so it can be quite difficult to make out at times (Airplane announcements are another tough one). And when I had to call Microsoft on the phone and talk to the customer service rep in said polite Japanese, it was pretty tough. Fortunately one of my coworkers was there to lend a hand when I got in trouble. Finally I got everything worked out, a new disc from Capcom, the system was repaired, and the it was actually good study to work with the polite forms. Still a lot of trouble just for a game though.

It's definitely summer time here and hotter than balls. When you step outside, it's really like an oven, and the real killer is the humidity... you definitely sweat a lot. It's enough to even make you dizzy at times, and it's not even August yet. At school, the teacher's room is air-conditioned, but the classrooms have to make do with electric fans and open windows. Not always enough to do the trick. Fortunately, summer vacation is right around the corner, but then the sports club practices get more intense, especially baseball. It can get pretty brutal, and no the gyms aren't air-conditioned either.

Fortunately with summer vacation coming up there are also some good travel opportunities as well. These past couple months it feels like I've been getting stuck in somewhat of a rut, every week seeming the same, nothing special going on, all of that. So I've been itching to get out and see some new places. The teachers at Ono are going to Hiroshima for a couple of days at the beginning of August (no, not that day) and the Chitose teachers are going to Takamatsu on the island of Shikoku. I'd like to go to both of those places, although of course Hiroshima will be awkward (this after going with them to Nagasaki last year). Also, like last year, I volunteered to help out at the English summer camp in Yufuin, in was pretty enjoyable last time so it should be nice. Finally, in the middle of August I'll be going to Kansai checking out some different things there (going to see the Koshien baseball tournament, Nara, Osaka, maybe Himeji or Kyoto). So it will be nice to get out of the ken for a little bit.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 10:52 AM EDT
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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!!!!


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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