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Thursday, 6 November 2008
The View From Japan

This year's election was unique in many ways, for myself, it was my first presidential election away from the US. Of course, I sent my ballot in by mail weeks ago, so there was no problem there. But I didn't really hear about the results until lunch time, when the principal told me Obama won Pennsylvania and Ohio, and I was like, well it's over then. Right after I finished lunch, the nets started calling the election for Obama. I spent the rest of the afternoon (no more classes) surfing the net for just about any information I could find, and checking out the crazy reaction and celebration scenes in Chicago. Some of the local JETs got together for an Obama party dinner, of course the local restaurant made lots of food and gave all of the dishes an Obama-styled name. Still, we really didn't talk about the election too much- I think there just wasn't much else to say, and most people were just glad that it was done and over with.

Well, generally there is a positive feeling over here about Obama. Almost all of the kids know about him and seem to like him. His speeches have been getting a lot of play time over here and have been getting a favorable response. In every news segment they are really bringing up the change theme every time. Obviously, it's successful if it translates all the way over here. I think Obama being President is an opportunity for the rest of the world to get involved or at least interested in America again, and I imagine this pattern is being followed elsewhere around the globe.

One of the teachers asked me if he thought things would change, and I replied that things already have, if a black dude was able to be elected president. I've been trying to explain the significance of the moment to my students, but Japanese people don't have as much of a history with slavery, struggle for civil rights, discrimination, etc. so I'm not sure if they can fully grasp the gravity of the situation. Still, it's a good chance to bring up American History and talk about how hopefully things have changed for the better. I no longer feel like I have to cringe when the topic of the President comes up, and I think that is a good thing.

Some co-workers have expressed surprise that Obama is so young, others have mentioned that they were impressed by the turnout and scale of the election. I forget the exact translation, but something along the lines of how strong American democracy is. Japanese folks don't directly elect the Prime Minister, so comparatively it must be a pretty big difference in feeling.

So again, there's this feeling of hope and reserved anticipation, there are plenty of challenges up ahead, but we've just got to stick together and see what happens. 

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 7:21 AM EST
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Saturday, 27 September 2008
Computer's Busted, Odds and Ends
My computer broke on me. I was minding my own business, watching Unleased starring Jet Li on DVD, and it suddenly shuts off. Power Outage? No, the lights and fan were still on. Not good. I try plugging it in to different outlets, checking out the cords, but no dice. Fortunately Ryan was to the rescue, he had Zack's old laptop laying around so I've been using that. Thanks guys.

The National Sports Games are almost here. Sort of like a national yearly olympics, it's a pretty bug production and this year is Oita's turn to host the games. There's a big opening ceremony at the "Big Eye" stadium and sports events will be held all over the prefecture. Locally, we've got Canoeing, Kendo, and Equestrian competitions; Ono is hosting some softball games so there has been a lot of work getting ready, and crews have been cleaning up and landscaping the town all week. Next Monday everyone from the middle school will go and check it out and cheer on the teams.

And I can't forget to mention Mejiron. Mejiron is the mascot of the Sports Games and is loved and adored throughout the land. Mejiron is a very round, very bright green bird that has been litterally everywhere in the Prefecture since I got here two years ago. Mejiron even has his own song. And what's great is, everyone from kids to old folks just loves Mejiron. Mejiron has become a real symbol of Oita and I wouldn't be surprised to see him sticking around even after the conclusion of the games.

Tuesday I went to Hita, a city in Oita that's actually much closer to Fukuoka. I was invited there by some students that I met at Yufuin Summer Seminar. Overall, things went well. Hita is a good smaller-sized city, there are things to do but it's not too big that you can't walk around. We checked out an old sake factory and went to one of the local shrine festivals. It was good to get out of town for a little bit and see some new things, and the kids were really great, trying out their English and being good guides.

Last week, one of my middle school students had her English speech contest. We had practiced that a lot and made a lot of improvements, but still I knew that the competition was going to be really tough. Well, two speakers before she was going to go on, this poor girl fainted right on stage after missing some lines and going over the time limit. Not a good sign, but Miyuki was tough and didn't let it get to her. She had a fairly good speech, unfortunately in areas such as intonation she made a lot of the same mistakes we had tried to eliminate previously. In the end she didn't win a prize but I think her English improved a lot and her self-confidence also increased as well, so I think that it was definitely worthwhile.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 3:44 AM EDT
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Saturday, 13 September 2008
Long Week
It's been a long week.

The fact that I'm writing this on a Saturday, and not a Friday, should tell you something. But let's get back to the beginning.

It all started on Monday, with great news actually. I get on the computer and see that the Panthers defeated the heavily-favored Chargers with a last minute touchdown by my man Jake Delhomme. It's a good start. But then Mr. Goto, the English teacher, is sick for the day, so we can't advance in the textbook, so I have to fill in and try to get the kids to do self-study (various notebooks and workbooks that they have to complete). Well, obviously some of the kids can't sit still for that long or just hate studying English, so they start goofing around, harrasing the other students, etc.  

After two class periods of that, it was feeling like a pretty long day, and in fact, I was thinking of "tomorrow" as Wednesday even though it was still just good ol' Monday. But it wasn't over yet, helping one of my students prepare for the English speech contest, and practicing the same speech over, and over, and over. On the plus side, she is really improving, so that is a bright spot.

On Tuesday, I had my conversation class, again with the 3nen seis, but the problem is they just won't conversate- it's very depressing trying to get these kids to talk, in an elective class where the whole point is to practice talking. But hey, I did get them into new assigned seats, and that seemed to help out a little bit. More speech practice in the afternoon.

Wednesday, it was time to practice for the Sports Day festival, so we did a run-through of almost all of the ceremonies and events, complete with lots of setting up and cleaning up, all in the nice hot outdoors.

Thursday, I was so tired that I could have slept the entire morning. And without any English classes, that's almost what I did. Trying to study Japanese, I would fall asleep at my desk. Now that happens quite often, but it seemed to be really bad that day. I was really incapable of doing anything. Fortunately, after lunch I got some of my wind back for more Sports Day preparation.

Friday, Mr. Goto was back at Ono, and the kids must have been in some kind of rotten mood, because they decided to be total jerks. Not listening, not paying attention, being disrespectful, etc. For everyone who might have told you that Japanese school kids are well behaved (including me possilby), don't believe it. More speech practice in the afternoon.

Well, the week's not over yet- Sports Day is all day Saturday. So, got to school bright and early, and was assigned the job of photographer. No big deal, so spent all day running around, trying to get the best shot. I also participated in one of the events, running a three-legged race with one of the students, as well as one of the little dances that the students did. It was all good fun, but enough to get you plenty tired, especially considering after all that you've got to clean up, take down all of the tents, etc. And this being Japan, there was a nomikai dinner afterwards, with plenty of drinking and socializing and whatnot, fortunately I managed to get out of there after too long, although some miscommunication meant that is cost me a $35 taxi ride back home (no, I didn't expect it to be that much).

So that was my really long week. Hope that you enjoyed it. Good news is, Monday is a holiday here. I will be looking forward to sleeping in.

Posted by nc/frodaddy at 8:56 AM EDT
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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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