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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!
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