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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Rescue Fire!

Normally on my way home from chuugakkou (JHS), I stop by Ponta's for some fried chicken. Today, however, Ponta's was closed for renovations, and since I had to go to the Board of Education to pick up some things, I decided I'd stop by Wakkou instead. Wakkou is a pizza place owned by one of my student's parents.

At Wakkou, I ordered a Salami pizza, and almost as soon as it came, a kids show came on. I could tell from the poses the actors struck in the opening credits, it was going to be corny. Very corny.
Team Captain- Fire 1-Tatstuya
Fire 2-Yuuma
Fire 3- Ritsuka
Fire 4- Tsubasa

Fire 5- Jun

Captain of Rescue Fire

(Notice how Jun's hand is in a different position. That's how they salute. They bring their hand into that position, before they go up to the salute the others are holding. It's the cheesiest salute ever!)

If you've ever watched Centurions, G Force, Captain Planet, etc, you know the type of story- team of super heroes. If you've ever seen Power Rangers movie, you know how bad this can be live action. However bad you think it was multiply it by a million. Have you ever seen something that was so horrible you couldn't look away?

The twist with this story is that the team is not only a team of superheroes. They are also a team of real life heroes. They are firefighters!

In the episode I watched, a girl called Asuka comes to visit them. Turns out that she is the niece of Riku, and her father, his brother is also inthis episode. Her father, Naoshi, makes tools for the rescue fire team and that's why they're in this episode. He's bringing some new weapon.

Fire 1 has difficulty piloting the new weapon because his "rescue soul" is damaged. So he has to go through a lot of training. After that, Fire 1 and 4, as well as Naoshi and Asuka and 2 regular firemen head out to a forest on a lakeside. One of the bad guys sees them and reports it to their superiors. (Maybe they wouldn't be so obvious if they didn't drive around in marked cars.) The cars are called the Rescue Dashes. There are 6 of them, one for each of the Rescue Fire team and Rescue Dash 6 is driven by the Captain.

The bad guys might just be the most hilarious part of the show. The pawns are called "Jackast" and are men wearing chicken looking fire suits! It's cry is "ja-ka" which also sounds kinda like a chicken.

The leader of the bad guys is called Don Kane (donkaen) and he is a ball of fire. Since he has no arms and legs, he doesn't seem to ever actually do much but lurk in the lair.

Don Kane and his followers are trying to unleash Super Fire on the world. The Super Fire was sealed a long time ago, using the freezing powers of 5 blue pearls, but they've been released by global warming so the Rescue Fire team was created to fight them. Don Kane is the last of the Fire tribe. Originally he was a dragon, but he divides his power into Jokane and the three commanders so he becomes just a ball of fire.

The 3 commanders: Sakane, Ukane, Chuukane.

Jokane, learning the location of the Fire 1 and 4, sets out to destroy them. As he arrives with the 3 commanders and a few Jackasts, Asuka and her father run away with the two firemen, while Fire 1 and 2 stay to fight. They use their megaphones ("Fire up!") to transform. A "spirit dragon" is shot out of the megaphone and turns them into their super alteregoes.

They fight the Jakast. Then the 2 remaining commanders, Sakane and Chuukane create a Fire Majin, who sets fire to a large area of forest. Fire 4 uses his Tri Basher in fire extinguisher mode to fight hte forest fire, while Fire 1 continues to fight.
Tri Basher

Meanwhile, Asuka has an idea to use her Blue Pearl pendant to ask for assistance from a dragon, and he gives her a little blue ball. Then Ukane finds her. He throws the two fire men out of the way, but her father wraps a string around Ukane's arm, and he falls into the river.

Back at the scene of the fight, Fire 1 has to transform into his second form ("Suit up") and this gives him his personal sword the X basher.

Hearing what's going on, Rick transforms headquarters ("Scramble"), and brings it to the scene.
The Phoenix- Rescue Fire headquarters which can transform into a plane and move!

He is about to be defeated when the rest of the Fire Rescue team arrive. Jokane combines 2 of the commanders into a Fire Majin (demon- which by the way, is always a gigantic bird or food covvered in fire, which can shoot fire). When Jokane does this, his face turns upside down! The team combine their vehicles to form "The Great Wyvern" (formed from the Super Dragon and the Super Jet Falcon), which gets shot down in a matter of seconds.
The Great Wyvern.

Then Asuka arrives with the blue ball and throws it to Fire 1. He charges up the X-basher, his personal sword with it. They combine again. This time they become the Super Fire Dragon.
Super Fire Dragon.

They extinguish the fire, then freeze the enemy using the Super Ice Tornado and Super Dragon Attack (in which the spirits of the first 5 Rescue dashes drive through the enemy and destroy it).

Jokaen screams that he'll remember this and disappears. Fire 1 collapses exhausted, but then stands up and they all pose.

The show airs on Aichi tv and is proof that truth is way stranger than fiction!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Shougakkou bunkasai

- or Elementary school culture festival, to English speakers.

I work at two elementary schools. There is really only one word to describe elementary schools in Japan. That word is: crazy!

The first of my elementaries held their bunkasai, on Sunday,Ostober 25, a day after the Middle school. As usual there were a couple of hilarious performances.

Sixth grade is the final grade in Japanese elemntary schools. Every year the 6th graders'play has something to do with the dreams for their future. This year, the kids spoke of their dreams in front of their "teacher" in a classroom. Now any good Japanese student production needs a twist. So, right after the children told their dreams, aliens landed! (These things happen more often in Japanese plays, than you would imagine!) The aliens said they had seen the future and the children would all become fishermen and rice farmers.

At that point, I got a little bit depressed, because that's quite possibly true. It's no secret that the emphasis is on "fitting in" in Japanese society. My town in semi-rural: farmers and fishemen fight right in.

But then the play took an unexpected twist- having lived in Japan for a year, the aliens were almost predictable- the kids refused to take the destiny the aliens gave them. They decided that they would be what they wanted to be. And the aliens? They had no choice but to leave.

One giant step for 6th grade. One small step for the town of Ichinohe. Maybe...

Another memorable play was the 3rd grade production. It was abotu Doraemon, probably one of the best known early anime characters. Those of you who grew up in Barbados, like I did, might know that cartoon as Albert and Sidney, because for some reason, that's what it was marketed as there. Anyhow. Back to the play. So these guys decided to kidnap Doraemon. Of all the places in the world to take him, he ends up in Ichinohe, where a group of schoolchildren find him. Then Nobito and company (including 4 girls who simultaneously play Shizuka) use the magic door to find him. But the kidnappers won't return him, unless they can answer some questions. Each time they get a question right they get a clue- a letter (or rather a syllable, because the Japanese alphabet is syllabic), but they miss the last question and so they have to do the town dance around the gym to get Doraemon back!

And by the way, the word they had to get was "to-mo-da-chi", the Japanese for friend.

I seem not to have any pictures o the second grade play. I found it hilarious, and I think it summarizes the Japanese take on Western religion and secular holidays.

There were 4 angels. They were happy in heaven until the Head Angel came along and blew them- yes, with wind- out of heaven. Why? Because they hadn't brushed their teeth! So they got blown to Ichinohe, and they saw the children decorating a Christmas tree and hoping to see Santa Claus. So they decided to call Santa and get him to come to Ichinohe, but they got his answering machine.

Being good little angels, they really wanted to give the kids their wish, so they decided to dress up as Santa and 3 reindeer! Then they summoned the children to the school in the middle of the night to meet Santa. When they did magic, they all had to shout, "Cupid Power!" I was absolutely dying!

When the children get to school, they start to freak out, because Santa Claus is there. They speak to him, and he answers in English. They think Santa is smart for being bilingual! Then someone asks where the presents are. The angels faces fall. They'd forgotten all about presents.

Then God arrives and he's hopping mad! (God, by the way, was played by the principal- who'd also already played an angel in May at Sports Festival!) God tells the children that Santa Claus is inside of all of them, and he makes the angels wish the children back home. "Cupid Power!"

The festival at my other school was relatively normal. It's a small school. Only 31 kids in 6 grades. For me, the highlights were first grader, Nanami's impression of an old lady and the fact that 26 of the kids were in the taiko (Japanese drum) band.

After the bunkasai, there was a mandolin player who sang and played, and had her songs interpreted by a deaf-mute. It was totally random, but there is nowhere in the world more random than that school some days.

That's all for now folks. Here's hoping you have a happy day, and if you don't, just scream, "CUPID POWER!"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Japanese school culture- JHS

So, I've been a bad blogger of late. It's been about 4 months since I've last spoken here. Apologies. There's a helluva lot of catching up to do. And it will be done- in time. For now, I'm just going to jump right back into the swing of things.

Last weekend was my bunkasai (Culture festival) at my Junior High and my big elementary school.

I was pretty exhausted since I left work after 6 every day because I was preparing posters on the Barbadian History and Geography and helping with practices for English recitation and speech contests. Last year, there was a part time English teacher here with me. Since Yuka wasn't involved in any of the other bunkasai preparations, she helped me with the preparations of the Barbados poster, and she translated it into Japanese. This year, Yuka is at a nother school which meant the translation fell to me. It took a long time and a lot of headache, but I managed to translate the major points of Barbadian geography and history into Japanese on my own. I had a teacher check it and I was proud of how few mistakes there were. I even wrote it out in KANJI all by myself. Maybe there is hope yet for me and Japanese!

Saturday was the Junior High School bunkasai. It started with the English Recitations which I introduced in English. It's really all for show, since I doubt any of the parents can understand more than "Good morning" and the names of the students. After the recitations, there was a Japanese Speech contest. This is always the point where it goes downhill for me. I tried to listen to the speehces, but could only understand snatches of what they were saying. Eventually I gave up and started on trying to translate the printed program and the copy of the Principal's and Student Body President's written speeches.

Then the band came on. This is always one of the highlights of my bunkasai. This year, they did Movie Sountracks and they played the Soundtracks from Aladdin and The Little Mermaid. I was so happy I could barely stay in my seat. I was dancing and singing along. I asked my English teacher (JTE) if he'd be doing anything crazy this year. Last year, the Japanese teacher, the Business teacher and the JTE had appeared and pretend sang a popular Japanese song as the band played. He laughed and said, No, but the Maths teacher would. In the middle of the rendition f "Under the Sea" some of the 3rd grade boys ran in, dressed as fish. Then the pushed out the MALE math teacher on a trolley. He was Ariel! Tail and all!

Immediately after the band there was a performance of a town legend by the first years. I don't know what happened because I couldn't understand what they said. But I do know that one of the characters got farted on twice! What a thing to perform in front of your parents.

At lunch recess, the school provided Chicken Rice and I bought an Ichinobe Melon Bread from the PTA. Melon bread is one of the crazy mixes that the Japanese actually got right. It is so good! Ichinobe is a local bread company. I'd never had their melon bread, but it's the best!

The recess was followed by the Choir competition. Each class has to sing as a class in this contest. Someone from the class had to direct and someone else had to play the piano. They do two songs and most classes have a different director and a different pianist for each song. I am always amazed by the number of people who can play the piano and how well they can play it.

The thing that really amazed me about this year's competition was that I actually knew more than half of the songs they sang! Have I been in Japan that long! 2-2 got a special prize for a wonderful a capella rendition. 1-2 won the first year contest, 2-2 one the second years and 3-1 the third. 3-1 won the overall prize.

Then they presented the prizes for the speech contest, the choir contest and the wall newspaper contest (groups of students had made little newpsapers to hang in the classrooms).

After the presentations, there were some more speeches and then, as a student was about to close the bunkasai, the 3rd years stormed the stage and began to sing. I was rather amused, in Japan it doesn't bode well to break the routine. I hope they didn't get into too much trouble and I can't hepl wondering what will happen next year, since the 2nd years are way crazier than the 3rds!

Stay tuned for new of the elementary bunkasai- Doraemon kidnapped, Santa and angels... fun stuff all around!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Surprise- It's the gynaecologist!

Two Thursdays ago, I went into my supervisor's office to give him some information and he gave me a form. I asked him what it was and he said simply medical exam, go to the hospital next Thursday or Friday at the times on the paper. I thought nothing of it. Every year, every Japanese Government employee has to have a full medical, including a chest xray.

I took the form and went on my merry way. On Thursday, I was at the school I have to take the inconvenient bus to get to. So I didn't want to leave there to go to the Health Centre. I would have had to take a taxi. So I decided to go on Friday.

On Friday morning I went to the school and showed them the paper. And told them I need to leave for my medical check. I went to the hospital and had to ask where the Health check was being held. The lady pointed down a hallway to a door that a stream of old ladies was flowing into. I went into the room and was handed a number.

I sat on the floor near a wall. There were 5 seats for patients in the room and those were all occupied by some of the older ladies. All the other patients were sitting on the floor. I started to try to fill out my form. I zoned out a bit, and only vaguely registered the lady saying a number over and over. I looked down at the strip I'd been handed. Sure enough, it was my number. I stood and apologized, loudly enough for the room to hear.

I sat in front of a lady at a long consultation table. She asked me if it was first time doing the town health check. I said yes. She asked me something else that I didn't understand. Looking at the paper, I was disheartened when I realised that it was the first of about 10 questions... This was going to be difficult.

She tried to explain... every month... once... only women... OH! A period! When was my last period?! Then she tried to ask how regularly my period was, and of course had to resort to sking me for days for each month... Then she tried to ask if I had any discharges... which turned "In your panties, yellow or white?" Had I ever been pregnant... Family history of illness (had to explain what diabetes is since I didn't know the word for it, and I didn't even bother trying to explain hypertension... made up a cancer since I wasn't sure which one my Grandfather had)... medical allergies and medicine currently being taken...

Then I went back to my seat on the floor. A nurse introduced herself and began to explain the process as well as the leaflets we'd been given. She told us when we were called behind the blue curtain that we should remove our pants and underwear. I thought I was mistranslating. Then she said something about breasts. It suddenly occured to me that there were only women there... All the patients were female. The consultants were female. The nurses were female. The only males were two clerical workers and the guy handling accounts.

They put on a video about mammograms. Every few minutes the nurse would call names and dispatch them the Health Centre bus outside or behind the curtain. I was trying to figure out the system- it seemed to me you went to the bus before you went to the curtain.

They finally called my name and sent me to the curtain. I wandered behind it. Sure enough, the women were taking off their undergarments. Those who wore pants were changing into skirts. I had no idea I would need to bring a skirt. Luckily there were some loaner towels in a basket. I grabbed one. As expected, it didn't quite fit my very Western behind. I changed and stood in line, waiting to get into the bus. The nurse came in and said, please go in as soon as the last person comes out. We don't want the doctor kept waiting.

When it was my turn I went into the bus. There was a lady ahead of me and 2 doors. The lady asked me if it was my first time. I said yes, but that was the end of our conversation, at that same time, one of the doors opened and a lady came out. The lady in front of me went in.

Shortly after the door on the left went in. Inside there was a short bed, with stirrups at the bottom. There was a curtain at the edge of the bed. I couldn't see the doctor and the doctor couldn't see me. A female hand came around the edge of the curtain. "Form, please."

I gave her the form and got onto the bed. The doctor examined me wordlessly, and then the lady said, "it's over". It was kinda weird. It was nice not to have the doctor see me, (although in my particular case, it would be sorta obvious since I'm possibly the only black woman in the entire prefecture) but it felt a little too detached, sorta like kissing someone, you don't really want to kiss or something.

I left the bus and put my clothes back on. I wandered around the curtain. I wasn't sure if I was done or not. At the same time the doctor doing the mammograms came out of her room. She approached me. "Do you have the white paper?" I told her I only had the pink one. "If you have no more papers you're done."

Oh! It was a gynaecological exam only! Who knew?

Afterwards, I realised that my supervisor must have known when he looked at the form. Poor silly Sugs. Oh well, all is well that ends well!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

T 4

I went to see Terminator 4 on Saturday, as I was in Morioka. The amount of time it takes to get a movie in Japan is ridiculous. No one can give me anything I consider to be a good reason why it takes so long. Take Twilight for example: out in November in the USA, in December in most other countries. The last country in which it was released was Japan. Release date: APRIL 4TH!!!! Seriously, what's up with that?

TOA and JET video

I applied to be a Tokyo Orientation Advisor. These are the people who receive the new JETs and guide them when they first arrive in Japan. I believe I am the first person from my country who's chosen to be a TOA. I was accepted and I am super-psyched to be meeting the new JETs. A friend of mine will also be coming in, so I am very excited about that.

I also got an email from CLAIR (the organisation that oversees JET) to participate in the JET video. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Breakdancing comes to the North of Japan

There really is never a dull moment in Japan, unless you're trying to have dull moments... in which case you will obviously succeed.

A new ALT has come to the North of Iwate. When he was back in the US, he used to break dance, so now he's teaching us all how to do it. Most of the ALTs in North Iwate go to class, and we do it outside the train station in one of our towns.

I went for the first time last night. It was loads of fun. And there was an unexpected perk. I realise that I am not going to make massive changes in the English abilities of my students or in the Japanese educational system. So, I just do the best I can. I am however, focussed on the goal of Internationalisation. This is the secondary goal mentione in both the JET program and Interac. It is soemthing that I do every day just by existing. It is something I do every time I participate in a Japanese event. And we were definitely doing it by doing break dancing in a space where we were clearly visible to the public. Every now and again Japanese people would stop by and try a little. Two of them even promised ot come back next week!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Blood!

Well it`s that time in the ALT year, for changing of the guard.

The school year start s in April here, so Interac and private ALT`s often change at this time. JET`s change to coincide with the Western school year.

We`ve just been joined by one new ALT in Ninohe, 1 in Kunohe and 1 in Karumai. And we`ve just found out who the new JET`s will be in my town as well. I`m superpsyched! (Although I really am going to miss Dan and Tyler :()

One of the new ALTs is married, supporting our theory of sterotypes here. For example, I replaced a black ALT, and I theroise that my post will be given to a Black JET until a black JET does something wrong. Dan`s married and so is his successor. That post will probably go to a married person forever.

At the schools, there are new teachers as well. Japan shuffles teachers around from school to school every few years. The only addition to my life this year, that I really can`t stand is the new Elementary English School book. They`ve decided, to make English teacing in the 5th and 6th grade of elementary school 'official'. SO now it has a text book. It doesn`t come on stream til next year, but they've started using the text book here.

I don`t like the book. For a million reasons.

Logistically: It`s set up for two people to teach together. The form teacher and ALT are supposed to teach the lesson together. Or rather, the form teacher teaches and the ALT supports. None of my teachers have made any effort to do any more than they usually do. Additionally, the teacher`s guide is written only in Japanese. I read enough Japanese to be able ot understand it, but not fully. The book itself is pretty much all pictures, so it`s indecipherable without the teacher`s guide.

The book is a step backwards, because the children will be taught things that many of them have been learning since Kindergarten, and will be taught again in first grade at Junior High. IN addition, it gives the impression, if not explicitly stating, that the importance is on the activity and not on any learning of English. That`s 5 steps in the wron gdirection, Japan. I`ve also noticed that they`ve changed the name of the class. Grades 1-4 have English class. 5 and 6 have Foreign language class... Hmmm... one wonders.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Black Pen and Cassiopeia Friends

Black Pen and Cassiopeia Friends

I was invited to be on a radio show in Ninohe called Cassiopeia Friends. The show was supposed to be recorded at 7.30 pm, so I decided to head up to Ninohe on the 5.19 train. It’s only 6 minutes to Ninohe so I was there in a flash. I went out to Honda to check out the prices on some used cars, since I’ve now decided that I want to buy a car. Then I walked back to the train station. The radio station is in the train station so I decided that I would have dinner in the restaurant upstairs to kill some time. I hadn’t expected to be back from Honda so early or I would have taken the train an hour later. I had katsu kare, I am such an addict. I can’t seem to avoid eating katsu kare ever. The katsu kare at Totoro, the restaurant in Ninohe’s train station, can not hold a candle to the one at Osaka, Ichinohe’s “mall” restaurant.

After dinner, there was still a half hour left, but there was nothing else to do, so I went downstairs to wait in the radio station. The station manager introduced himself and gave me his card. Then he had me do a tag (record a greeting with the station name). We talked a bit about Barbados and my life in Japan until the others arrived. Along with me, my Irish ALT friend, Jar, was also being interviewed, Yuka came along as a translator and Yuji and Morikawa were the program hosts.
The interview was fantastic. Somehow I understood everything Yuji asked, and was able to answer him in comprehensible Japanese! I was so proud! I haven’t really worked on my Japanese for the year, but it keeps getting better. Maybe I should try actually doing some work. I took a Krosfyah CD and I got to introduce Krosfyah’s song “ Yardie Graduation”. Then a hilarious scene ensued. Yuji attempted to dance. It looked very much like the caricature of an African chieftain doing a rain dance. So I got roped into wukking up in the studio. Lol! After that we played some Irish music and then we gave personal messages. I had a blast! I want to go back. I love radio! I am going to think up a concept for a 5 minute program and see if the station manager will let me do it.
After, the program, Yuka and I went to look at Cherry Blossoms on the river bank. They were so beautiful. I tried to read the Japanese signs… Reading is where my Japanese SUCKS!!! I have a LONG LONG way to go. From there we went to House of Picnic. House of Picnic is the first place I went out to eat in Ninohe, and my favourite place, but there is a table fee, so it can get expensive.
Jar was being his usual comedic self, and Yuji was playing right along. Then a group of doctors came in and it turns out most of them knew Morikawa and Yuji, probably because of their fields. Morikawa is a dentist, and Yuji owns a senior citizens home. (Morikawa is also one of my Principals’ little brother. The world, in small town Japan, is an itty-bitty place. )
Two of the doctors came over and sat with us. The one sitting next to me was the urologist, Susumu. He is absolutely crazy. I didn’t catch the name of the one sitting opposite me, but he was cute, and he was definitely staring at me. After the doctors had finished their own party, some more of them joined us, and the one who had been sitting across from me, went home. The ones we were joined by were a neurologist, a radiologist, and a paediatrician. According to Susumu, the neurologist and the radiologist are good boys, the paediatrician is a playboy, and he (Susumu) is the bad boy. He then told me, and I quote, “I single. I love you. My peh-niss black!” I have not laughed so hard in eons.
Somewhere along the course of the night, Yuji decided to have a house party and Susumu accused him of being kuchibakari (all talk). He said that he would have a party on May 15th and so I should see some of these hilarious people again. I am definitely looking forward to it!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Host Family

There are things about a country that you will never see as a tourist. These are precisely the things I like to see, the reason I like gallivanting around the world. It's not all about the Leaning Towers of Pisa and the Statues of Liberty, although when I am near landmarks, I make a point of visiting them. But the thing that makes a country for me, is the people. So I always make an effort to get as involved as possibe with the people (and as an added bonus, there is no better way to learn the language).

In February I handed in a form at Aiina requesting a home stay with a Japanese family. A few weeks later, Aiina emailed to tell me they had found a willing family and that the lady would be in touch. She asked me if the weekend of April 4th was okay and I, happy as a lark, said fine.

The family lives in Takizawa, which is a town on Morioka's border. I got into Takizawa at 6 the might, and my Host Dad came to pick me up. Now this isn't a massive station. Only 4 people got off the train and there was no one else waiting from anyone, so without introdutcion, we immediately found one another. We drove the 20 minutes or so to the house, which me mumbling in broken Japanese. When we reached the apartment, I was greated by a drawing of my flag, and the word "Youkoso!" Japanese for Welcome. I didn't even get past the genkan (Japanese style step up entrance) before I was bombarded by two little balls of energy. 2 year old I-chan ( aboy) and 5 year old Yuma- chan (a girl).

I off loaded my things in the makeshift guest room. I was quite surprised to have a room to myself. I thought I might have to share with the kids. Then I went into the living room, where we had dinner. Japanese people eat a lot. They don't eat mega-portions like in the US. But they will have meals with tons of sections. For example a restaurant set will usually be a main dish, a soup, a salad, and a drink. The size of the main dish alone is usually too much for me. I wonder how Japanese eat all that and are not fluffier than they are. Dinner was some meat ball things, some hash brown things, two types of rice (I-chan likes one and Yuma- chan likes the other), 3 different salads, and other miscellaneous. After dinner the kids showered and I-chan came running out naked as he was born. It was the first time I saw a naked Japanese male- lol!- although a few days later I would see a fully grown one on his porch in my own town.

The next day we went to Yoishi Open Market. Apparently it was the first one for the year, because it was the first week that it had been warm enough to have market. -chan couldn't come, because he had the cold, so I bought him an Ultraman mask. We'd all watched Ultraman the night before. It's this Japanese super hero series which is like a combination of Power Rangers, Godzilla and the first Star Trek. The episode we watched were from the 60's but they were I-chan and Yuma's faves.

That day I also had my first Remen. Not RAmen, REmen. Apparently Morioka is famous for it. About the Japanese word famous....Breaking it into it's parts, it is literally "has name?". So there is no difference in degrees of fame in Japanese. I think most of the time when Japanese people say famous in English, they mean what we would when we say well-known. Anyhow, enough linguistics, I also had Kuzumaki (nearby town) soft-serve and went home.

That night we watched more Ultraman and after the kids went to sleep, Shawshank Redemption came on and we saw that. It was my first time seeing the Shank. It was great.

On Sunday we went to the onsen. I had mentioned to my host fmaily that I had never been, so they took me. The onsen, is ahot spring, Japanese people go sit in a big hot pool in the buff. lol. It was actually pretty nice. I-chan had never been either. He and Yuma went pretty crazy and kept us on our toes so I don't think I enjoyed it like I could have. It's pretty relaxing though... and I didn't freak out as much about being naked as I thought I would have. After that we ate in the onsen-restaurant. I was pretty tired becuase of the heat.

We heard on the news that North Korea had launched its missile/comms satellite. It passed directly over my prefecture...It's a very interesting time to be in the East.

After the onsen we went to an icecream place and I had a rum and raisin and almond ice cream. Most places that have icecream in Japan only have Vanilla and Chocolate. I don't like Chocolate and I am all vanilla'd out, so I was happy.

Then, it was back to the train station and goodbyes. Yuma kept telling me to come again. I will.

Yesterday, I got a fantastic photo collage of some of the pics my Host Dad took on the weekend. It was great! I had such a blast. Host family is an experience I would definitely reccomend!

Soutsugyoushiki, Ninishiki, Ryuunenshiki

First off, let me say, I have no idea if the title of this post is spelled right. It's what it sounded like to my untrained foreign ears. :)

In Barbados, we have two major parades in November: Remembrance Day Parade aat some time early in December on the Sunday after/nearest to November 2nd and Independence Day on November 30th. Because these are the two largest military parades on the island, there are lots of practices leading up to them and the soldiers call it Silly Season.

In Japan, as a teacher, the March/April period is a Silly Season all it's own. The Japanese school year ends in March and starts in April. The first ceremony that occurs is the Soutsugyoshiki or Graduation. For Graduation, there will be an invited Board. At my Chuugakou (JHS), this Board included the 3 principals from the elementaries which feed into it, representatives from town government, representatives from the Bank and representatives from the PTA. They play music and all applaud as the graduands enter the hall (probably the freezing cold gymnasium). Once all the graduands are seated, the Principal goes onto the stage and reads the citation to the first pupil in the list. After that they just call names and give certificates.

At Chuugakkou, there was a speech from the principal then from the PTA and then from the government. The Government also handed out citation for not being absent in the 3 years of Chuu and in the 9 years of school (sho and chuu together). There were 2 kids of about 70, who had never been absent in 9 years.

Graduation was pretty similar at Shougakkou except the kids graduated in the Chuugakkou uniform... Shogakkou doesn't really have a formal uniform. AFter the speeches they all march out to applause...

All of that takes around two hours.

The second ceremony that occurs in this time is Ninishiki. This is the ceremony for teachers who will be transferring. In Japan, Principals switch schools every 3 years, and other teachers switch in 3 to about 6 or so years. SO every year there are between 2 and 10 teachers in a staff who will be moving on. For me, this was sadder than Graduation. My sho kids go into my Chu, and the kids live in town so even those moving onto High School I will see around the place. But many of the teachers live far away and I am closer to the teachers, so when they leave it's a whole nother kettle of fish.

I can see the practicality of changing teachers every few years. It's keeps the teachers on their toes and it makes sure that a school doesn't get saddled with a horrible teacher for 30 years, which could easily happen in the West. But still, the process is a pain in the butt for an ALT. As an ALT you work more closely with other teachers than most of the staff. Legally, a qualified Japanese teacher is alwas supposed to be in the room, so you ALWAYS work with another teacher. This means over the course of the year (or more) you've developped a rhythm with this teacher. Your classes are now probably fine tuned and synchronised. And then POOF! Old teacher gone, and you have to start all over building a new rapport.

The third of these ceremonies is Ryuunenshiki or School Year Opening Ceremony. This is a big to do. A representative from the Prefectural (state) government even went to the one at Chuugakkou. My teachers were amazed to find that we don't really have an equivalent at home. Also at this ceremony the new students are welcomed in a process very similar to that of Graduation, except that they don't get citations, just stand and bow when their name is called. There was a 6+ footer at chuu... that should be interesting :) As withe every Japanese ceremony, there were way too many speeches. (How much can they possibly say? It's the 3rd ceremony in a month!)

What really kills about all these ceremonies are the enkai. An enkai is a eating/drinking party with workmates. So after each of these ceremonies there is an enkai. For the one after graduation, the graduates also attend. For chuugakkou, no alcohol was served, but then they sent the kids home and there was tons of alcohol to be consumed in one hour at the after party.

Each of these enkai can set you back from 3500 yen to 5000 ($35 to $50 US). For me that is six ceremonies (2 schools- thank God the 3rd didn't invite me to stuff!) For some ALTs that can really rack up the numbers. I will be glad when I go to the last of my Silly Season enkai on Friday and pay out the last 4000 yen for food I would not willing purchase.

If you're ever coming to Japan to teach remember to budget for Silly Season. You'll probably spend AT LEAST $200 US more than in a regular month.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Safety is Relative (Murder in the market, murder)

I like to refer to Japan as the safest place in the world. It isn't, but it might actually be the safest of the developed nations. My predecessor told me that he's actually lef the house unlocked when he travelled overseas and that the biggest thing that happened was that a construction worker came in to use the bathroom. (I don't know how he knew.)

Anyhow, I've lived in the West too long to leave the house open, unless I am just swinging around the corner. Still I do lots of stuff here, that I wouldn't dare do at home. Like I will leave my bag in a chair in the train station while I go to the drink machine.

The further away you are from the big cities the more you can get away with. I had my camera disappear when I put it down for 2 seconds in Tokyo, but nothing like that happens in my dinky little town in North Japan. Or so we thought.

Yesterday, a Japanese Coworker from Town Hall told us there had been a murder in town. A murder! And not in some remote outlying edge of town, right by the minimart we pass on our way from our houses to town hall on office days. Now, we hadn't asked her how it happened. And only when my neighbour retold the story to friends from other towns at dinner, did somebody ask.

This is the story we got:

There were 3 guys, hanging out in a house, drinking. One guy went home. The other two guys continued drinking. Apparently the two guys that were left, one of them felt the other had slighted them sometime in the past. They got to arguing eventually and he CHOPPED THE OTHER GUY WITH AN AXE!!!

Not much crime here, but when they do, they do big. I guess evil can reash even into the farthest recesses of nowhere...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

I love Mori O!!!

So I decided to spend this Saturday in my capital. I have to get a memory card for my camera. I also need to get some books to study from. I need to take a book for a friend and hand in some papers at the International center in the Aiina building. And I’d like to get some little trinkets for my kids, who are graduating.

I wanted to come down to Morioka early in the day, but I also wanted to put together the bookshelf which has been sitting on my floor unassembled for a month or so, and thereby attempt to clean up the mess of books which litter every available space and use the spaces which are cluttered with books (cupboards and drawers for example) with other things. After attaching all the shelves, I realised I had attached them to the wrong side of the upright. What really got to me, was that I had done it according to the diagram.

Anyhow I finally caught the 2.50 train out of my town and got into Morioka just minutes 4. I went over to Aiina and dropped off my forms, then I discovered that the international center’s selection included French and Italian books. I am sure there must be some Spanish ones as well, although I didn’t really stick around to look much since I had to take the book to my friend. I went over to the hotel, dropped my stuff off, realised it was already 4.30, which was the time I told her I’d be at MOSS and decided to get a cab. Ran downstairs, hopped in a cab and went to the MOSS building. As we pulled up, I realised I’d forgotten the book at the hotel. Got out, paid the cabbie, called Laura, had a bite, went back to the hotel, got the book, and came back to MOSS. I wish my brain would work once in a while. Sigh.

I gave her the book, and told her good luck with the studies. I went straight up to the Forum, the only movie theatre I’ve been to in Japan, and the one I’m loving. 3rd time’s a charm. Lol. For some reason there is always a huge gap between about 6 and about 8. No movies start in that period. Mamma Mia was starting at 6. But I’d already seen that on the plane. High School Musical was also around that time. I might have chosen to see that… Except Changeling, Benjamin Button and Australia were all on. All big name movies I definitely wanted to see. But they were all around 8. I eventually chose Changeling, knowing nothing about it, other than it would let out first. I bought my ticket, marvelling at how easy it had become to converse in Japanese with cinema/ticket-buying specific vocabulary after only 3 visits. Then I went down to the 3rd floor to Junkyudo.

Junkyudo is my favourite thing about Morioka. I like it more than the Nigerian Hip Hop Clothing store, more than all the restaurants put together, more than the clubs, more than the Forum. Well not more than the Forum. That’s probably a tie. Actually it would have to be a 3 way tie with Shinseido- the CD store. Among the three of these things, I try hard to avoid Morioka, because I always spend too much money here. I never spend less than $100 in Junkyudo or Shinseido. I now avoid the entire North wing of the train station in order to avoid Shinseido. Lol. And movies are $18 US a pop here… :(

So in Junkyudo, I found some study books, which was the objective, but the book I actually came for I couldn’t buy. It’s a part of a 4 book series by Unicom. In December I bought 3 of them, then I attempted to buy the 4th in January, but bought one I already had. That’s the book I gave to Laura. So today I was almost certain it was a particular one, but I didn’t want to be wrong. I just bought the Kanzen Masters instead. And I forgot to buy a new Kanji Power handbook. Need to go back tomorrow. Unless I find one in Aeon Mall. But then I accidentally came across Winnie the Pooh- which I recently got on a list of classic must-reads, and I bought that, along with The Old Man and the Sea, the Great Gatsby, The Door to Summer and Alice in Wonderland. Somehow I didn’t pick up Breakfast at Tiffany’s which gives me another wonderful excuse to go back to Junkyudo tomorrow.

It was now 6.30. I still had almost 2 hours to kill until Changeling would start. I didn’t feel much like ambling around with 10 pounds of books, so I went up to the cinema, sat in the lobby and read Winnie the Pooh. I didn’t like the first chapter very much. It was a little confusing. I think it might have been less confusing if someone was reading it to me. It was in the first person and yet the narrator was invisible. It was a little weird for me. I started to get into it, maybe by the 3rd chapter, and I think having watched Winnie the Pooh helped. I wonder if the author really wrote the stories for her son. I liked it, but I won’t put it on the list of greatest books ever.

I finished the book at about 8.05. 15 minutes til movie start time. I went for popcorn and then into the theatre to wait for the show to begin. It was an amazing movie. I won’t say too much about it, in case you haven’t seen it and you want to. It was the story of a woman whose son disappeared and the police returned the wrong child to her, yet refused to acknowledge her when she told them it was the wrong child. It was amazing, and all the more so because it was true!
Another interesting thing I found in the movie was the fact that the main character worked in a telephone company in 1928. It was so interesting to see the early telephone system.

But the funniest thing of all is how I sat through the entire movie going, “That woman really has some Angelina Jolie lips” and then it turned out to be Angelina Jolie! Been out in the East too long. Although to be frank she is very thin in this picture.

Afterwards, I looked at the upcoming movie posters. Doraemon is out next weekend(for Barbadians that is Albert and Sydney), as well as Otto e Mezzo- I don’t know what it is, but it’s in Italian. Dragon Ball starts in 2 weeks. Valkyrie and Twilight, whoch have been out since forever in the West will be comin next month and the first week of April. I am also very tempted to see Yatta Man! Yatta means Yay!! In Japanese. It looks like it will be hilarious, talking fish and all. But I should be saving for India… Time will tell.

So tomorrow it’s off to Aeon. Aeon is this huge company that has enormous malls all over North Japan. I haven’t seen any in the South so far (but I’ve only been back down to Tokyo once). There are two Aeon’s in Morioka. I haven’t decided which to go to yet. I think that when I get to the train station, I will take whichever bus leaves first. Lol. I think I will probably leave my luggage here too. That’s one of the things I like about Japan, the hotels keep your luggage, so I can check out at 10, leave my luggage down by reception and come back for it at 3, and not have to lug it up and down in Aeon. Although I could just as easily leave it at a locker in the train station. It is only a back pack and a bag full of books.
Till next time folks. Same bat time, same bat channel. Lol.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Caterpokey-aka why you should always have a camera in Japan!

Today, was the Rokunensei (6th grade) Graduation Meeting. At least that is what my English Activity Coordinator called it. I never trust anything he tells me about events. He always translates the name literally and it makes no sense in English.

Anyhow, I was supposed to be in the gym at 9.35, so I went to the gym at 9.35.
The whole school was there. The 6th grade was in front of and an stage. The stage has a step right across the front, so some were standing on the court, some were standing on the step and some on the stage. The other classes were sitting in to either side of the stage and directly in front of it. All of the kids formed a square and the space in the middle became the performance area.

The first performers were sannensei (3rd grade). (This isn’t a meeting, thinks Claire.) The 3年生did a little skit and then played the recorder (hideous bane of my school existence…ew). They also did a dance. Of course, it being Japan, it had to involve 10 girls doing cartwheels. That’s almost half the class. I don’t think half of my class could cartwheel when I was 9. I most certainly couldn’t.

Then came the (ni) 2年生. The kids lined up in their rows with skipping ropes hanging around their necks. Music starts to play. They can’t possibly… Of course they can. The entire class is skipping. Well most of the class… one boy can’t seem to get more that 2 skips before he knot up. Cue image of boy falling on head and bursting mouth. Giggles. And it all went downhill from there. Next 4 lines sat. The line closest to me started skipping backward. Burs-ya-face seemingly trying with all his might to burst his face. Claire trying with all her might not to cackle out. The next line did a running skip. The next a hopping skip. The next a crossover skip (which failed miserably). More giggles. Some of the 3年生 ( I am standing behind them are looking at me funny.) The music stops and they stop. Everyone claps.

But they’re not done. Nope. How could they be? They haven’t made the friendly neighbourhood ALT cackle out loud yet… So on run Akasaka 先生 (sensei- lit. before students) and the Ajisai spare teacher whose name no one ever bother to tell me, with a big skipping rope, and then the kids are running in, skipping and running out. There goes Hyuuga-kun falling on his head, the boy two behind him knocks over another boy. Tears! And they refuse to stop. When they get to the end. They line up on the other side and keep coming again. Dying. Guffawing. Gasping for breath. The teachers are laughing too at least. And the 3年生 are laughing at me.

Finally the song ends. Owari desu. (It’s over!) Of course not. They invite the 6年生to try. Only Matsuo先生’s class (6-1) comes. I must admit they are the more athletic looking class… They get the whole class through, and they are doing pretty good on the second run, until Kakeru –kun tries to do a double axle, and Yoshiki-kun crashes into him. Eruption of laughter from the gym…

It’s 1年生’s turn now. (go) 5年生 scampers from where they’ve been sitting to the back of the gym. I wonder what’s about to happen. I expect to be impressed. (ichi) 1年生 is great at whatever they do. Chiba先生got them on lock- all marching around, like the little 1年生 army. They give a speech in parts, i.e. everybody has a line. It’s very common in Japanese schools. And then they march out to the centre with THEIR skipping ropes. They all all skip for a minute. Then the go and put their ropes down. And come back to the centre. The 30 of them line up in about 6 lines, with their hands on the shoulder of the person in front of them, and the music starts. Right foot, tap to right twice. Left foot tap to left twice. Jump forward, jump back, jump forward 3 times. Looks like a caterpillar doing the hokey pokey, I think. The caterpokey!!! Cackle. More strange looks from the 3年生. The music finishes and the invite the 6年生 to join. It’s hilarious. The 1年生(7 years old) are half the size of the 6年生 (12 years old) and just hanging on to them is interesting. And, since there are only 30 1年生 and there are 44 6年生, all of the lines have 6年生 at the front, so the caterpillars heads keep coming off. Lol. And the 6年生 at the back are doing all manner of antics not to jump on the 1年生 in front of them. Dying with laughter!

Next are the (yo)4年生. I already know that they will sing. They always sing. Both Tamayama先生 and Tomiyama先生 are musical. (Seriously?? What evil twist of fate caused them to put 2 teachers in the same year with ALMOST the same name. For 4 months I called them both mumble-Yama. But then Tomiyama 先生 got sick, and wasn’t at school, so now I remember who’s who.) After they sing, they do a bunch of skits about the clubs at the schools. I assume the kids in the clubs made up their own skits to imitate or praise the 6年生 who lead them.

Now come the 5年生. I know Taira先生 is a madman, so I am prepared for anything…They do a couple skits. Then the start to tap their feet and clap. Hmmm, I know this beat… We.Will. We. Will. Rock. You. Lol. I look around for Taira 先生. He’s grinning and giving me the thumbs up. I swear he does these things to make me laugh. No one else will get it. He was an English major in University. His English is excellent. Better than two of the English teachers at my Chuugakkou (JHS). But he refuses to be an English teacher, because he HATES grammar. So instead he teaches in Shougakkou (Elementary) and his kids speak better English than half the Junior High… Instead of we will rock you the kids are singing “Thank you, Thank you, Senpai.” Or really Sank you. Since Japanese never do ‘th’ right. And the next verse is Sugoi Senpai, followed by sutekina senpai. A senpai 先輩(lit. before group) is imported in the “honorific” nature of Japanese culture. If someone is older than you or they got somewhere before you, they’re your sempai. For example, if we both take judo classes but I start a week before you, I’m your senpai. Sugoi and suteki(na) both mean wonderful or something to that effect. After the song, they do an instrumental. Two girls are on upright organ and piano and a boy is on drums ( everybody in Japan plays and instrument) The rest pull out recorders or some weird instrument, you blow into it and play on a keyboard. Apparently it’s called a Kilimanjaro- yup- like the mountain in Africa. Taira先生says it’s a foreign invention. You learn something new every day.

The jou iinkai (learned that word today- there is a large likelihood it is spelled make an announcement and everybody files out. Just like that? It done?
I go back to the staff room. A while later the bell rings and I see everyone get up. I follow them back to the gym. The 6年生will now perform. The curtains on stage are closed, but now there only 2 rows of 6年生are there. I am trying to go across the line remembering their names. At Minami, I stop. I always mix up Minami and Shiho- simply because they’re tall. Come to think of it, I can’t see Shiho, or Yuri, or the girl that is always with Yuri and dresses like her and lives opposite PFC. They must be onstage. I know the 6年生 must have something up their sleeve. With teachers like Matsuo先生and Hayashida先生, how could they not. They make a little speech in pieces, and then the majority of them run off to stand in front of the sides of the square formed by 1 through 5 年生. 3 of them are standing on the court in front of the stage, 3 on the step, al of them are backing the audience. Yuri, Shiho and the other girl run out and join their classmates. The curtains draw back, there are 6 girls on stage in wigs. The front row of three is wearing sparkly silver. The far two have blond wigs, the middle two brown wigs, and the two closest have black afro wigs. Brows furrowed, I can’t see any of the girls missing. I like at the blond in the back. The dress cuts at mid thigh. I do a quick sweep of the auditorium again. The music starts. Noone’s missing. Unless… They wouldn’t… I turn to Taira 先生, who’s just materialised from backstage and is standing next to me. Otoko no ko desu ka? I whisper. He laughs. They spin around. And there, in wigs and dresses, are six of the boys in Hayashida先生’s class. The one in the brown wig and the fur lined coat, with the enormous boobs is definitely Ryouta, the class clown, and the defined legs that alerted me…definitely Yoshiya. I am dying with laughter again. And they’re dancing. Damn you, vile camera, with lost charger and no memory card. Tears.
Matsuo先生asks me if I got a picture. I tell her I don’t have my camera. She smiles, and takes me to the ‘girls’ and takes a pic of me with them. I must get my hands on that pic!!! Lol.

Afterwards they all got into 2 circles holding hands, 1-3年生 on the inside 4-6年生 on the outside. They turn on music and start doing a dance which involves clapping on either side, spinning around, lifting up your hands, putting them down, screaming Ich-ni-san-shi-go-rok-nan-hach (abbreviated Japanese counting 1-8) and then running around in the circle. I am standing near the stage quite happily until Tamayama先生 (yes, I’m sure it’s not Tomiyama-lol) reaches out and grabs me and drags me in the circle. Next thing I know I am screaming Ich-ni-san-shi-go-rok-nan-hach and running around having a ball.

Afterwards, the classes go back to where they were before. There is a big piñata looking ball tied to the basketball hoop (which is raised about 30 feet in the air). There are a bunch of strings coming from it. Shiho and Kakeru each pick a kid and take with them, they hold the strings and pull. In theory, they were supposed to pull the ball open and confetti was supposed to fall out along with a sign saying, At JHS, Fight! ( I kid you not. It said Fa-i-to- which is how the Japanese write what we pronounce as fight.) That was the theory though. In actuality, the top rope popped and the ball fell down. More laughter. Hayashida 先生 runs out and opens the ball, and holds it up high and lets the confetti fall out. Everyone cheers.
Of course it would not be Japan, if well enough had been left alone. One of the kids was sent for a ladder. They lowered the hoop down (it’s on an electronic pulley system) and kyouto-sensei (I don’t know his name, since everyone calls him and kouchou sensei-the principal- by their title. Ironically I do know the principal’s name- it happens to be one of the first names I could read) climbed up and reattached it. Then everyone lined up in pairs and the 6年生had to pass through while the rest of the school threw confetti. The boy’s wigs got the brunt of it. Lol

And I had to teach them the next period. Accidentally (on purpose) said girls instead of boys. Lol.

校長先生 (Principal) made a little speech and then Taira先生took the mike. He asked for a round of applause for the jou iinkai- these are the kids that run these ceremonies- the little MC's. Then he asked for a round for teachers. Half the 1 年生 turned to me, who had nothing to do with the production. I just smiled. Then he asked for one for the students. I walked between them giving them their applause.

So that was the send off party. Great fun. Never a dull moment in Japan! (Well,
that’s a lie, but there weren't any today!)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Best Valentine's Ever!!!!

Valentine’s Day was awesome. It’s not due to the love of any one man, but that of about 50 Japanese and foreigners. Today I gave my first “Chatland”. Chatland is an event held by the Iwate International Association to give Japanese people a better understanding of the rest of the world.

The day before the presentation,I was ready to crawl under my bed and hide for the weekend, but it worked out pretty good. I finished putting together the Power Point the same morning. And then had to translate 3 single spaced pages into Japanese. Since it was a speech, I just went through the slides and looked up the words I didn’t know. I was a bundle of nerves as I walked to the train station. But God is good and things appeared to distract me. My neighbour Kiguchi san who I had only seen twice before (including last week) was standing at the corner and she stopped to talk to me about how windy it was. It was windy. Ridiculous. But at least, all the snow is melting. The town is pretty much a river. It was so warm that melted snow was just gushing everywhere. Then I ran into some of my kids from my main elementary school (shogakkou). They asked me where I was going with a suitcase. I told them to Morioka. They asked for what. I told them to give a speech. The wind was so strong by this time that I had to even cross the road to hear them.

When I got to the station there was no one in the booth, so I bought the ticket on the train, because Japanese trains are just that cool! Since I get in the train station 4 minutes before I had to be in Aiina, I buy a McD’s and run cross the road. The wind was even stupider. I got blown into a bench. I am a Buffalo compared to the Japanese so they were blowing about like leaves.

Anyhow, I crossed the road without being blown into a car and found the room that my lecture was to be held in. As soon as I land, Oyama san reimbursed my train fare. Since I budgeted for this trip, that means I will definitely taking another trip next weekend. Maybe back to my capital or maybe to a city in the prefecture North of me (which is actually closer than my capital). Especially since payday was Monday. Legitimately speaking though, I need to go to the bookstore and to the electronics store and I promise myself a movie a month.

So I set my stuff up and went and eat my McD’s (Japanese McDonalds is a zillion times better than American one, but the burgers are still too thin). Then I went back to the lecture room to wait for time to start. Ooyama-san introduced me in her high-pitched Japanese voice. Right about then my heart was in my shoes. “Hi, I’m Claire. I’ve been in Japan for 6 months,” felt like an AA meeting. I was so nervous, but then I was telling them about slavery, cricket, education, calypso and Crop Over and it was all fading. I was switching back and forth between Japanese and English so fast that I know I started sentences in English and finished in Japanese. Lol.

When I reached the end of the presentation, I asked about questions. No one had any and I was just about to hand back over to Ooyama-san when Dean put his hand up and asked me about sports. And then the dam burst. Tons of questions from every which way. Education is free? What are taxes like? How’s the weather? (They love that it doesn’t snow!)What’s the South American influence? Etc. When they ran out of steam, I handed back over to Ooyama-san and they pushed the tables together and bruk out the food.

That’s when I pop out the Mauby, Guava Cheese and Mount Gay (local drink, local sweet and local-and world's oldest- rum) from my country. When I open the Mount Gay, one man insist I pour it in his tea, and then all of them did drinking Mount Gay and tea. They loved the mauby, which is odd. Mauby is very bitter and usually, people who didn't grow up with it don't like it. The Guava Cheese went well, it's a sweet mave from the Guava Fruit. I had to constantly explain that there is no cheese in it.

A lot of people came up and introduced themselves and asked about Barbados. I was a very happy camper.

After everybody cleared out at around 6 (from the 3 o’ clock presentation, yuh) I walked with Dean through the station. We ran into 2 other JETs at the station. Turns out they were staying at the same hotel, which is great b/c I wasn’t sure which hotel it was. There are two of the same brand hotel right in front the station. Moomoos! Then another foreigner joined us, pulled out his Bamboo flute and started playing. The bamboo flute is the instrument you may hear a lot in anime and not be able to identify. It’s before the theme song of Naruto on the Japanese version. I love how it sounds. I was about to think about picking it up when he mentioned it costs about a month of my salary. Thought lost!

Then we wandered into the hotel and checked in. I discovered my room had internet and started facebooking (sigh). For some reason the receptionist had given me a translation of instructions to get the internet to work. All I did was plug in the LAN, and it worked.

The 5 of us who were staying at that hotel met some others for dinner. The restaurant we wanted to go to (Monkey’s kitchen) was full, so they sent us to this other izakaya (Japanese restaurant and bar) about a minute’s walk away. They were pretty much full too. We split the 15 member group in 2, 10 left, 5 stayed. We got a table and had some delicious food, and I discovered a wonderful new drink, Hi no Tori, Firebird! Yum. After we were done, our waiter, who speaks wonderful English, informed us we were the first foreigners the restaurant had, since it was only 3 days old, so they made us special desert for free! I love Japan! I asked him why his English was so good. He said he didn’t pay any attention in school, but when he was 24, he did a backpacking trip from North to South America! I asked him if he spoke Spanish, he counted to 10. Lol. I really enjoyed the restaurant, especially since of the 4 people there, I had only known one before. One was from Singapore. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone from Singapore. (People must say that about me all the time. Lol) She pointed out that it was after midnight, so we paid and headed out to the club.

Faces/Colours is run by an expatriate Black American. I thought when I arrived in Morioka that the event I was going to (with trance and house music) would be the only one in the club. I was wrong. Our event was held in Colours, a smaller room, and the main event, A REGGAE FETE, was held in Faces. And you can walk freely between the two! I went and got me a drink. You get two free drinks with admission. I start off with a Tequila sunrise.

A Japanese girl come up to me and tell me, in English, that I am sooooo cool. Lol. That’s what happens when you’re the only Black female in the prefecture and you attend a reggae fete. Speaking of which 3 Black fellows turn up I never see before. One is on JET, so I introduced myself. The others might as well be unicorns, such mystical I am always amazed to see Black people in Iwate. But I am ashamed to walk up and go, “Hey look we're the same shade. Let’s be friends.”
At this point, and Peach fizz #2, having been given extra drink tickets, Banty Boot land. Now Banty Boot was the DJ of the night. The man pull out this long bunch of Jamaican slang with more bombas, and blood-, and everything. It would have been pretty disgusting if it wasn’t so amusing to hear from a Japanese mouth. He was playing familiar songs by familiar artists and before I knew it, my reggae-deprived muscles were reacting on their own. I swear!

The same drunk man that keep knocking me end up pun stage and get promptly put off by the biggest Japanese I ever see in real life. The big Japanese then managed to find me (I’m only the only Black girl in here- I don’t stick out at all) and ask me how the show was in Japanese of course. I told him I was having fun. He nodded as if that was a stamp of approval and went back to Banty Boot. The DJ change to a group called Aresenal. They wish Attsu, who I don’t know, a happy birthday, since is he bday bash and all, and sing the Jp version of the song, Happy Bass-day to you.

I wondered back in Colours, where the Bartender from Faces mysteriously appear and give me a Tequila Sunrise. I could barely drink it.I was so sleepy. Wait! It's 3 o clock. Hotel! I sad goodbye to everybody, Went and find the owner and let him know I was leaving. He told me to hurry up and come back, that I don't come to Morioka often enough. He is too right.

I finished the sunrise and left. Found a man outside the exit selling “shishkebab”, which turned out to be meat inside a Pita bread. Poor thing. I inhaled that in couple bites, and completely unphased, went to McDonald’s. Had a teriyaki burger. Hotel. Finally. After 4. Put on my Christian playlist on yahoo! Music, pull the shade- too much blinking light in the city- and went straight to sleep.

What a fantastic Valentine’s Day!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Dentist in Japan

Japan is far enough away from the world that we Westerners know that everything is an experience out of the norm. So on Friday I had my first trip to the Japanese dentist.

First off I noticed that there were inside shoes in a shelf. Japanese tradition is that you don’t wear your outside shoes any further than the genkan (entrance- usually one step up). But that is traditional and not practical in a world where you have people coming and going in stores and train stations and the like. So some places don’t observe it. Now I noticed it, and thought “Damn, I wore my outside shoes inside when I came to make the appointment.” They must have thought I was barbaric or maybe they chalked it up to being gaijin (foreigner).

I had to go to the bathroom. Now the dentist down the hill from me has two doors, an outer and an inner door, and the bathroom is just inside the genkan, between the two doors. So I go in, only to discover it’s a squatter. I’ve been in Japan long enough that squatters are no longer reason for a deep sigh and waiting til I get home. This particular squatter was a step-up one. I have never figured out if you’re supposed to back these and squat, step up and squat, or kneel. Stupse.

Anyhow, I went in to the receptionist and gave her my details ad my insurance card. Thank God for Japanese National Insurance- which covers ALL government employees for 70% of anything, officially making my root canal way cheaper here. We spent a while debating which was my last name and first name. Yes, I should know the difference, but it’s confusing here. Because Japanese use their last names pretty much all the time and I end up getting called Ms. Claire.

So a lady came and called me (Ms. Claire), and directed me to a seat. The office reminded me of an industrial garage. One where there are several bays next to one another and lots of mechanics working side by side. I was in the second cubicle. The cubicles were long enough and high enough that all you could see of your neighbour was their toes.

The assistant asked me what my problem was and I showed her my x-ray, my Japanese paper with root canal that Miyuki printed for me and pointed to the tooth. She looked at it, and took me in for an x-ray. Then she put a funny looking plastic frame in my mouth to hold it open and took pictures of my teeth. Another frame and pics of the inside.

Then she called the dentist. He smiled and asked in Japanese if I was spoke Japanese. “Sukoshi” – a little. And then he spoke to me in English anyways. He dug out a book with dental translations in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Korean, Chinese, Russian and God only knows what else. He looked at the tooth. Explained root canal in English (more than my dentist at home did). And then he injected me with the magic needle. I call it magic because I saw the vial of anaesthetic and I know he injected several different places but I haven’t seen nor felt a needle yet. He proceeded to dig out the inside of my tooth, warning me that if I started to choke raise my left hand. It seemed a strange thing to say. Or at least a strange way to say it, but it wouldn’t be in Japanese. Japanese doesn’t beat about the bush with euphemisms where English does, yet, where English is direct, Japanese is round-about.

Eventually, I did feel a pain and I get another magic needle. Another thing about the magic needle, is that whatever in the vial is immediate. Back home you had to go sit in the waiting room and wait for the effects for a minute or two. All this time the dentist is talking to me in English, which I was really impressed with. Before him, the assistant and the receptionist were speaking Japanese.

He stuffed my tooth with what I figure is gauze and told me (as the book said) “That’s all for today. This procedure will take about 5 visits.” The assistant told me not to eat gum or caramel and to chew on the next side of my mouth (in Japanese)- I know I’m gaijin but I ain’t stupid. Then I went back to the waiting room. The receptionist called me a while after. 2400 Yen, about 24 USD. Cheapest dentist visit ever. Loving my insurance right now. She asked me when I’d like to make another appointment. I told her next Saturday. I’d rather dread a Saturday than have to take time off work. So I wondered off and had some PFC for dinner as a treat for being a good girl. Hope next time goes as well as the first.

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