Sunday, August 2, 2020

Reposted: Mt. Tsukuba from December 2010

A couple of months ago I climbed Mt. Tsukuba (筑波山)with some friends and coworkers. The mountain is pretty well-known in Japan. It has two peaks, Nyotai-san 877 m (2,877 ft) and Nantai-san 871 m (2,858 ft). Apparently, housed within these two peaks are divinities, one male and the other female.

There's a legend about these two peaks. Apparently, thousands of years ago a deity came down to earth and needed a place to spend the night. First he asked Mt. Fuji, offering to bless the mountain if it provided him with lodgings. But with it's perfect shape and majestic height, Mt. Fuji was too proud and arrogant and said it didn't need the deity's blessings.
Humble Mt. Tsukuba, on the other hand, gladly offered the deity a place for the night, as well as food and water. According to Wikipedia, "Today, Mt. Fuji is a cold, lonely, and barren mountain, while Mt. Tsukuba bursts with vegetation, and is filled with colors as the seasons change." So basically, Fuji was jerk and now it's cold and barren... hilaaarious.

Anyway, Mt. Tsukuba is also kind of interesting because it's not part of a mountain range. It's stands alone in the middle of farms and rice fields, so you have a pretty fantastic 360 degree view from the peaks.

And that's really all I have to say about that.

However, at the base of Mt. Tsukuba there is a shrine. As we were descending from the mountain we came across a large crowd of people at the shrine. People, young and old, were standing below a stage holding empty plastic bags or other receptacles. They seemed pretty excited about something, but I couldn't see anything except for a couple of dudes on the stage wearing some sort shiny robes (probably cause shinto shrine people do stuff like that). Then we noticed there was a mountain of cardboard boxes stacked behind them. What on earth could be in those boxes?

That was when we realized that a large number of children, who until now we had been unable to see, were up at the front of crowd chanting, "Choudai, choudai! Choudai, choudai!" (ちょうだい、ちょうだい meaning roughly, "give me give me!") By our large powers of intellect we deduced that whatever these desperate children were screaming for, it must be whatever was in those cardboard boxes. I know, call it a long shot. But for some strange reason, we just had an intuition that it must be in those boxes. Hoping we were right, we stuck around to find out.

After much waiting and anticipation, the men in shiny robes multiplied in number and began tearing open the boxes. What is it? What it is!? The masses began to close in tighter, swarming around the stage with hunger and fierce determination in their eyes. Plastic bags rose above our heads. What was going to happen? What?! Suddenly, it began to rain. Screaming, shoving, kicking, the hordes began scrambling to catch. What was it they were catching? Why... it was... something white, and small. Bam! My companion got was slammed in the face by a small but very hard and round disk of mochi (Japanese rice cake). THIS is what people were waiting for? I couldn't believe it. But then, the sound and the size of the rain changed. Thousands of cup of noodles, and packets of instant ramen rained down upon our heads- the weather gods in their shiny robes hurling them with all their might- a vengeful look of pleasure in their eyes. One man had obviously played himself some professional baseball back in the day- because he was definitely trying to hurt someone. I almost got swallowed up in the sea crowd.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Bucket Potato!!

So, today I was teaching some kids how to order foods like barbecue ribs, pork chops, grilled chicken, all those things that they don't eat here in Japan and that these kids probably won't ever eat unless they go abroad, and by the time they actually go abroad, they won't remember this lesson know, stuff like that.

So, I'm flashing them the cards one by one. The kids are sounding out the words, trying to read them out loud together. I am painfully doing my best to correct their pronunciation.

I show them a card. "Ok, what's this?"


"Uhh, nope. French fries!"

"French po-TAY-to!" they cry in the heat of battle.

"French FRIES!" I repeat.

"French FRY-do!" they call back in a triumphant chorus.

"Um.........ok, close enough."

(I flash a new card)

"Roasto beefu!"

I correct them. "Roast beef."

"Roast beef!" they parrot back.

"Wow, nice one!"

I flash a new card.

"What's this?"

They tell me knowingly, with little smirks on their faces, "Sarada."

"Nooo, that's Japanese. In English, it's SALAD!" (Seriously, in Japanese, salad is called "sarada.")

They muster up some more strength, and then try again. "Salada!"

"SAAA-LID." I draw the word out, slowly.

"SaaalEEEEda." Oh dear god, they sound Spanish now.

"SAAA-lid." I make my body droop as I say the "-lid," emphasizing the intonation in a softer tone at the end.

"Saaaally," they say softly, their bodies drooping to the floor.

"Heh. Um, ok."

(new card)

"What's this?"


"Let's read it...what's this?"


"bbbb-....." I prompt them.

"buhhhhh...." they moan.

I give them a little more. "Bayy-..."

They give it back. "Bayyyy....."


All movement stops. The room is quiet. Everyone is looking at me, but I'm looking at 9-year-old Ayaka, my mouth frozen in a perfect "o" of surprise.

They watch me. They wonder.

I'm thinking in my head.... "bah-ked potato? neh-ked potato? naked potato?"

They look at Ayaka, the source of that.... whatever you'd call it, for some answers.

Finally, I burst. "Bwahhahahahhahahah!"

The kids take their cue, "bwahahahahahahha!"

Ayaka's relieved. She laughs and smiles. We're all crying with laughter, but it's time to turn off the waterworks.

"Haha, ok, that's funny. Anyway, listen. BAY-KT potato!"

"BUCKET POTATO!" they cry in unison.

"Hahahha. Um, no. Listen again. BAYYYKT potato!"

"Baaaaaaayyyykt potato."


The small kid in the back jumps up in delight, "BAH-KEH-TO PO-TAY-TOOO!!!" He raises his fist and does a little dance.


"Bwahahahhaha," the room explodes in a sing-song chatter. "Bucket potato, bucket potato, bucket potatoooooo!!!"

Alright, that's it. I stand up. I approach the whiteboard and pick up a marker. I draw. A little here, a little there.

Ahh... a bucket potato.

They roar in what I accept as approval. "Bwahahahhahh!"

I chuckle and mentally pat myself on the back. Oh you're a clever one, you are...

"Ok, next card! What's this?"

"BUCKET beanzu!" they answer decidedly.

Oh crap... no.

"Baked beans!" I cry out to the masses."It's Baked beans!" But they only continue to torment me.


Oh dear, oh dear. What have I done...?


30 minutes and a few hair-graying games later...

"Ok," I tell them. "Time to go! Cushions over there, line up at the door!"

"Wazzzzzzaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!" Cushions, children and stuffed elephants are flying everywhere.

"Ok, Nami, are you ready to order?"

"I'd like the roasto beefu ando za bucket beanzu."

"Ok, Nami... seriously."

"I'd like the roast beef and the the bucket beans."

I point to the picture of beans.

"Very close. But, what is this in English, Nami?"

"Ehhh to, bah---k---?


"Aahhh! Ahhh! Baked beanzu!"

"Oy, ok, good job. See y-"

"SEEE YOUUUUUUUU!" A stampede of children tramples me in the doorway.

" week."

Monday, June 6, 2011

Monkey Mako Chan

I seriously had a breakthrough with my private kid student yesterday. This kid has had me cradling my head and wondering how the hell I'm supposed to teach him anything if he doesn't want to be taught. After he threw the flashcards in my face and told me to go away (in Japanese, of course), I threw those flashcards in the back of my closet. I stopped trying to make him repeat things. I pretty much gave up and just decided to have fun and play with him. I just talked to him, mostly in English, a few Japanese words sprinkled in if he really didn't understand. But he almost never spoke a single English word. I felt like I was wasting his mother's money. I was a fake, a liar. I wasn't a real teacher. Sure, I can teach kids at my school. But that's different. They provide materials, lesson plans, a classroom, Japanese staff to help you enforce the rules. I had no experience in making my own lesson plans, and this kid didn't want them anyway. So, I chased him with stuffed turtles and caterpillars and let him throw plastic apples at me. I performed a play for him where I jumped on a futon pretending to be a monkey jumping on the bed. I fell on my head and I cried for my mama. Then I pretended to be mama, calling the doctor and telling them,"no more monkeys jumping on the bed!" Mako just sat there and laughed his head off while I threw away my dignity, his mother watching the whole thing.

But then something changed, Mako started to trust me. We became friends. I regained my confidence and starting getting more creative ideas. I slowly incorporated interesting ways of learning without him ever realizing it. I bought those plastic capsules filled with little sponges shaped like animals. You put them in hot water and watch them grow. We decided if they were fish, or turtles, or sharks, or starfish. I bought a big fuzzy dice at Tokyu Hands and some pieces of colored felt. I sewed a different colored square of felt on each side of the dice. I counted to three, he threw the dice at me, we looked to see what color and then we ran to find something that was the same color. This whole time he almost never repeated ANYTHING. But slowly, something was changing.

Yesterday, I came into his bedroom bracing myself for more plastic apple abuse, but something was different. Mako-chan suddenly wanted to learn something. We matched foam ABC letters to the letters on a mat, and he repeated A B C D E and F. We threw the dice around and he repeated all the colors as he touched them. We collected everything we could find that was yellow. Then we sat down on his floor and had a snack. We ate mango jelly and drank green tea his mother had brought upstairs on a tray. I felt like I was on a playdate, only I was 25 and he was 3. Recently I had been trying to get him used to hearing and answering the question "Do you like___?" So, I asked him, do you like mango jelly? Instead of answering in Japanese "Un, suki da yo," like he usually does, he said, "Yes!" and gave me a thumbs up. Wow, I thought, progress!

I rubbed my tummy and asked, "Is it yummy?" He nodded, "Yes!" Then he couldn't open his package of crackers and commanded me to open it, "akete!" I pretended not to understand. I made a motion like I was opening something and questioned "Open, Mako? Open?" He nodded and said, "Open!" I said... "Open, please?" He repeated, "OPEN PLEASE!" Well, how about that. I finally got him to say please. And then I opened it for him. Well, my work here is done, I thought.

But then, something even better happened. It was almost time to go and his mother had come up to collect our dirty dishes. I was cleaning up the plastic food toys that littered the floor. There should be seven french fries but I counted only four. I asked Mako, "Mako, where are the french fries? French fries please!" He raced to retrieve them from under the sofa and brought them to me. Trust me, he had never obeyed a request like this before. I said, "Thank you," and he repeated, "THANK YOU!" I laughed. Hmm.. maybe this was the the chance I'd been waiting for. I handed the fries to his mother and said, "Here you are." She said, "Thank you." I motioned for her to hand the fries to her son and say "Here you are." She did, and I can't believe what happened next. Mako said "Thank you," and then he passed them to me and said, "Here you are!" I was literally about to cry with happiness. For months, I couldn't even get him to say, "Thank you," and now he was saying, "here you are." This was too much progress for one lesson. I was sure he would soon be bored, I was ready to stop there and take the progress I could get. But then, Mako tells his mother he wants to do it AGAIN. Doubtful, I ask him, "One more time?" He says, "One more!" I hand the fries to his mother, we do our little conversation, she hands them to Mako, he says his lines perfectly, he passes them to me again, and we continue like this for maybe 7 rounds. Here you are. Thank you! gobble gobble gobble. Here you are. Thank you! gobble gobble gobble. Mako loved every minute of it. And so did I!

Now, I can't wait for next Monday.

A set of Very Hungry Caterpillar-themed cards
we sometimes "play" with

Oh. Hello again.

Apologies for the long absence. You know, busy with moving and worrying about earthquakes and radiation and whether all those people up in Northern Japan are okay. I just saw pictures taken by some friends who went to volunteer for a few days over the weekend. The piles of rubble are insane- as high as the houses sitting next to them. I would have liked to volunteer as well, but I noticed there were only men in the group that went up North. Apparently they thought clearing rubble was too hard for someone like me. (Yeah, fair enough, they're probably right.)

Anyway, the aftershocks finally stopped about a month or so ago. Every so often we still get an earthquake, but it's a small one. I don't even know what's happening with the nuclear power plant anymore. I haven't turned on my TV in a long time and frankly, I like it this way. I was tired of being nervous all the time. I just needed to get on with life.

Apparently, so did everyone else. Life in Tokyo seems business as usual. People are out and about shopping and eating and all those things they do.

Personally, things are pretty good right now in my corner. Being a newly single foreigner in Japan, I am excited to have the freedom and the independence to really get to know this place better than ever. I no longer have a Japanese guy I can depend on for help with translation, question asking, buying electronic appliances, etc. It can be scary to approach someone and try to explain something in Japanese because you never know what new word they're going to say that might trip you up, or whether or not they're going to panic and tell you they can't help you because they don't speak English, even though you're trying you hardest to speak THEIR language. Sometimes I just can't stand the awkwardness. I'm sure I make it awkward as well, but when we're both awkward about the fact that I'm not Japanese and my Japanese isn't perfect, it's just painful sometimes. But, in the past couple of weeks I've done a bunch of things that I have seriously put off for months and months because I was lacking confidence about my Japanese ability. Finally, I think I'm gaining some confidence in that regard.

1. I went to a hair salon and got a haircut using only Japanese. Granted, the haircut sucked afterward, but at least I got some Japanese practice. Now I know that just because the salon is close to my apartment, that doesn't mean I should go there. Seriously, this girl just didn't care. She parted it to the side, whacked off a couple of inches and said she was done. I mean, I know I told her to just cut it and then do what she thought was appropriate. Back in America they would put some layers in without even asking you, make it look nice. It wasn't until the next day that I discovered the worst part. If you don't get the part lined up exactly as she had it, then strands of hair fall on the wrong side and look at least an inch or two longer than the rest of my hair. I had to fix this with my craft scissors in the bathroom.

2. I went to the Suginami City Office and finally asked them why my recent health insurance bill had appeared to double, and whether it would continue at this rate. They did explain, and I mostly understood. There were a few points I didn't quite get, but I'm gonna chalk that up more to my atrocious math skills rather than any lack in my Japanese ability. Anyway, I was relieved to find out that everything made (relatively) perfect sense and from now on I'll be charged at the normal monthly rate. Thank heavenly goodness.

3. I called my landlord yesterday and asked if he could do anything about my clogged sink in my bathroom. It's been clogged since a week after I moved in. That was about four months ago. Right now, as I write this blog post, there's a dude in my bathroom fixing it. Truth is, I could have emailed the company that helped me get this apartment (they speak English) and they could have called the landlord for me and translated. But why not cut out the middleman? I've been studying this language for 3 years now. It's time to frickin use it! And now, use it I have.

Earth: a salon where the hairstylists don't give a crap

Life is also good because this weekend was especially fun-filled and relaxing. I did all my usual favorite things- studied Japanese in a coffee shop, sang karaoke for two hours by myself belting out Madonna, Michael Jackson, Weezer, Lady Gaga, and more. They didn't have Fiona Apple's "Criminal" anymore. Apparently her popularity has waned in Japan. I'm pretty upset about that one. That was seriously my best karaoke song.

Anyway, after that I went to the neighborhood Sento (public bath house) and took a nice long soak. Super relaxing. I was also surprised to see a girl with tattoos in there. She wasn't kicked out, in fact, no one paid her any attention. Usually these kinds of places, particularly Onsen- that is, natural hot spring- would strictly forbid people with tattoos from entering. Once upon a time the only people with tattoos were the Yakuza (mafia). However, I'm guessing since my neighborhood is famous for having lots of tattoo-adorned, thrift-store-clothed, guitar-toting young people, the most popular neighborhood sento has adopted a lax policy towards tattoos. No tattoos, no customers...

The other highlights of my weekend included seeing a Paul Klee exhibit at the MOMAT (The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo) and then going to a pop idol group concert. The exhibition was really interesting. I always knew Paul Klee was famous because we briefly studied him in art history class in college, but I never gave him much notice. It turns out... we have a lot in common. He loves yellow, orange and green, too! Every time I stood next to a painting, someone said something like, "Oh, you match the painting!!" I swear I had no intention in matching his color palette when I was dressing that morning. I did get a lot of enjoyment out of his colors though.

Below is a photo I took of a postcard of my favorite painting in the show. Then, below that is one of my paintings from my junior year in college, during my western phase. Note the abundance of yellow and orange in both images.

Paul Klee, 1922

Caitlin Stewart, copyright 2005

As for the pop idol concert, well it started with the visit to the art museum. I went to the museum with a few friends and acquaintances. One girl mentioned that she was going to her cousin's concert that evening. She explained that her cousin was in a teen pop idol group called Paspo (ぱすぽ), which is short for the English word "passport." The group consists of 10 girls all in their teens. Their costumes and songs have a bit of an airline theme to it, meaning they push suitcases around stage for a few seconds at the beginning and then salute the audience a lot. Some are short and cute, some are tall and model-esque. All are skinny, with long pony tails, short skirts, and high voices. I never expected to attend something like this, but my friend suddenly realized her other friend wasn't going to make it and she needed an extra person to take the ticket. That's how I found myself accepting an invitation to a teen idol concert. After a second's thought, I figured, well, I never made it to a Hanson concert when I was 10 years old, now's my chance to see what this sort of event is like. I had no idea what I was in for.

In America, one would expect to see an audience largely made up of young pre-teen or teenage girls, desperate to grow up beautiful and popular like their idols. But this concert was totally unexpected. I'd say 98% of the audience was male. On top of that, probably half of those males were over 30, perhaps even in their 4os or 50s. They knew all the lyrics and dance moves by heart. Some of them had obviously practiced together at home, or in the park. (On any given Sunday afternoon you can often simultaneously see dozens of various groups practicing dance moves, singing in a circle, or playing an instrument in Yoyogi park-perhaps I've seen some of these guys on a Sunday afternoon, faithfully practicing their Paspo dance moves). Anyway, there was one group of about 10 young guys (they looked about 15 years old) at the back of the concert hall with a huge pile of glow-sticks on the floor (backup, in case the sticks ran out out of juice). They held glow-sticks in each hand and did synchronized dances while singing along. The sticks made it feel a bit like a rave or something. What's more, everyone else in the audience was holding glow-sticks, too. Each girl in the pop group has a designated color- ie. pink, yellow, red, green. Our friend's cousin was the blue girl. So we wore blue glow-stick bracelets in support of our friend's cousin. Everyone in the audience held a different colored glow-stick depending on which girl was their favorite.

To be honest, the fact that there was so much importance placed on the idea of which girl was most popular, and that the entire audience was male, suggested to me that this whole thing was less about the music and more about fetish-izing the girls. I mean.. half the time the girls weren't even singing. They would put one of the more popular girls out on stage by herself and she would dance to a song by herself. The crowd loved it, but honestly it's apparent these girls aren't really dancers. It was mostly a lot of jazz hands and simple, easy cheerleader moves. No flips or anything fancy like that. At the end of the show, they announced that anyone who bought a CD could line up to meet and take a picture with their favorite girl. Each time a girl was requested, they would announce it over the loudspeaker and she would run to greet her fan and laugh at his jokes and give him a hug and take a picture with him. Some girls were called up over and over again, like 20 times, while others (including our friends cousin) got called over only two or three times. It was a big popularity contest. According to our friend, the manager is pretty mean to them, as well. I just can't imagine the terrible pressure and distorted self-image that weighs upon these young girls.

But there I go, trying to bring my feminist ideals into a teen idol pop concert. It was a fun experience though, no doubt about that. I especially enjoyed it when that group of boys lent us some glow-sticks and we tried to follow their synchronized dance moves. I can't say I'll ever attend another event like this, especially as my ticket was free this time, but I valued the cultural experience. Only in Japan, eh?

Get ready for take off, it's PASPO!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bad Man On Plane

So I'm sitting on a plane from Japan to New York. The guy next to me is some overweight American guy and by the window is his Asian girlfriend. Thankfully, I have the aisle seat, but the cute baby I admired earlier at the gate is now screaming bloody murder. And only two measly rows ahead of me. I accept the fact that I will not be sleeping on this flight. Time to watch some movies.

It soon becomes clear that my headphone jack is irretrievably broken, meaning that I have 12 hours and 45 minutes to NOT watch movies or TV. Well, that's great. Apparently Delta doesn't bother to maintain their equipment. An announcement overhead informs me that if I am interested in signing up with the Delta Airlines sky miles program, I should contact a flight attendant. Well contact this Delta.

I recall my experience on an American Airlines flight where I could choose from a menu of movies from my own personal TV on the back of the seat in front of me. And oh, how well it worked, too. On this flight, I have to lean out into the aisle and squint my eyes to see the screen all the way in the front of the cabin. At least now, it doesn't matter. I wouldn't be able to hear it anyway.

This is what they DIDN'T have on my Delta flight.

I politely ask the guy next to me if his headphone jack is working properly.

"Cause, uh, mine doesn't seem to be working." That baby releases a deathly scream that makes the hairs on my neck stand up. Talk about foreshadowing.

"Let me see. Yeah it's working."

"Oh, okay. So I guess it's just mine then."

"Yep, guess so."

"Hmm... this sucks. I wonder what I should do."

"You should tell them. Maybe they can fix it."

"Yeah, okay. I guess I'll do that."

The happiest flight attendant I've ever met conveniently comes sashaying down the aisle with her drink cart.

"Hey baby, what kin I git for you?"

"I'll have ginger ale, please."

"Okay, honey... one ginger ale, coming right up. There you go sweetie."

"Thank you."

"OH, you're SO welcome honey!" she says in a deep, appropriately honeyed voice. She seems overly pleased that I've bothered to thank her. Even though I overheard all three in the row ahead say exactly the same thing. I wonder if she'll be as pleasant at the end of the flight as she is now.

"By the way, my headphone jack doesn't seem to be working. Is there anything we can do about it?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, honey. There's really not much we can do."

"Are there any other seats available?"

"Well, not unless you wanna sit in the middle?"

"Ah, I see. Okay, I'll stay here then. Thanks anyway."

"Sorry, sweetie pie," she purrs over blood curdling baby shrieks. She glides away.

Oh. This is not good.

I turn to the guy next to me. "Sorry, I was wondering... do you think you're gonna watch any movies?"

"Well, yeah I mean I don't want to say I'm not, cause if there's something good, I definitely wanna watch. Sorry."

"Oh. Okay..."

"You know what I mean?"

"Yeah, sure, I understand."


I pull out a book and start reading as the baby continues to wail in despair. Yes, baby, I know.
This is seriously going to be the longest flight ever.

Here's Delta.. the worst airline I've ever flown...

I'm working on my laptop hours later, studying some Japanese, when I feel something slither into my lap. I peer down in the darkness. The guy next to me is grabbing my hand, yet he seems to be asleep.

I pick up the vile, ghastly thing and put it back where it belongs. His eyes never opening for a second. Okay, no one has to know.

Tap tap tap, I'm typing away. Tap tap ta--What the?

That beast's got his elbow all up in my space and he's still asleep. I don't even understand how he can sleep through all that crying and shrieking anyway. I give a good shove and make sure that revolting limb withdraws into it's hole.

"So," I think, "the jerk told me I couldn't use his headphone jack and now he and his lady friend are out cold. Two movies have played already and yet not one of us in aisle 27 has been able to enjoy them. Unbelievable."

I start typing again. Though, I continue to deal with the advances, ever increasing in frequency. It attacks, I thwack, it retreats. It worms it's way back, I smack, it recedes. Elbow-wrestling is on it's way to becoming a regular in-flight pastime. As I'm fighting to the death, for the right to some peace and a bit of space, super-happy flight attendant is cooing down the aisle.

"Would you like some water, honey?"

"Yes, please."

"Would you like some water, baby?"

"Yes, thanks."

"Would you like some water, sugar baby?"

"Um.... no?" Can't she see I'm busy? I search her eyes for any possible recognition of what I'm going through.

"Ok, sugar." And she's gone.

Man, it is like way past my bedtime.

I try typing with my left hand, using my right to keep that repugnant creature at bay. Tap tap tap, bam! Take that you repulsive creep. I stop typing. I sit. I watch, ready to block it's next move. I see it coming. Those horrid hairy arms uncrossing, the left one raising up in the air and reaching it's peak, and then it's coming, sailing down around my head. I freeze in terror, unsure, unable to react. And then...

Oh no you did not!

He has actually put his arm around me. It is resting on my shoulder, the hand like a spider on my back. He has a vulgar grin on his face. I do not like that face. Does he think I'm his girlfriend, or is something super scary going on here? And why won't he just wake up already? I mean, is he used to getting battered in his sleep? I don't even want to know what kind of relationship those two have. She seems all sweet and innocent, but who knows...

Well, it's time to send the beast running. I pick it gingerly off my backside and throw it back in his chest. My sleep-stunned opponent falls back in befuddled confusion. He turns the other way, with his over-sized rear facing me. Finally, now I can get some work done.

I'm in the zone. Tap tap tap. I am so productive. Tap tap. I'm gonna be quite the Japanese expert when I get off this airplane. Oh yeah, this is great, maybe it's--

That thing has come back for more. And this time it's enveloped me in both furry limbs, it's head nestled in the crook of my neck. Oh god, help me. Now it's attempting to lace it's digits in mine. This can not go on.

"Hello, excuse me.." I'm tapping on his arm.

"Hello? Um... please wake up." The tapping gets desperate.

"PLEASE. Come on. WAKE UP."

He snorts and a long, groaning, "Huh?" escapes his mouth. His eyes open for the first time in what seems a century.

"Excuse me, you're..."

"OH GOD!" The man recoils from my side-- as if I'm the one being a creeper.

"Um, yeah... wrong direction."

"Sorry. I, uh, I thought you were her," he stutters, jabbing his thumb in that general direction.

"Yeah, I see that. Whatever. Don't worry about it."

The girlfriend wakes up. "What's going on?" she demands.

"Well, I thought she was you."


"Nevermind, let's go back to sleep." He burrows his face deep into her inadequate bosom.

So they're really not gonna watch a single movie? Okay, fine. Time for justice buddy. I fish out my headphones from the seat pocket and insert them into his headphone jack. Looks like a good one is just starting. Too bad they'll miss it...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What don't you like about your job?

I know that learning or teaching a foreign language is a situation that naturally results in misunderstandings and awkwardness, but seriously people, today was something else:


Me: Wow, Fusae, that was great. Ask me another question using the grammar structure, "What don't you like about..."

Fusae: Okay. What don't you like about your job?

Me: Um... geez. Okay, ask me about my neighborhood.


Student: My parents had flower arrangement marriage.

Me: Um, sorry?

S: Ahh, my parents had arrangement marriage.

Me: Arrangement?

S: Ahh, I mean arranged marriage. My parents had an arranged marriage.

Me: Ahh, ok... Wow, really? That was pretty common in Japan in the past, right?

S: Yes. I have arranged marriage, too.

Me: Oh........ Wow, really? That's.... so interesting.

S: Yes. What do you think about arranged marriages?

Me: What do I think? Oh, gosh.. I dunno. I mean, it's so different from my culture. It's, well, interesting. So... uh... do you have any siblings?


female student: What is your personality? Are you outgoing?

male student: Well, when I meet new people I am usually shy. But, sometimes when I meet people I am outgoing.

fs: How about you Ken, are you outgoing?

Ken: Yes.

fs: Really, why do you think so?

Ken: I like to go outside. I like to play sports and traveling.

fs: ehh????

male student: ehh????????

Me: Um, do you like to meet people, Ken?

Ken: No.


So, I was tired of explaining to students that it is NOT okay to sit there like a dead fish while someone else is talking. How many times do I have to tell them that eye contact is important, and so is verbal response, whether it be a simple laugh or an "oh really?" This time, I didn't even bother with my speech. I came up with another solution. I liken it to when an audience is watching a live talk show. At certain designated moments, a flashing sign that reads "applause" tells people when to put their hands together.

Tonight, the usual male, intermediate-level students in their 30s sat around the table with their their mouths hanging open and their eyes focused on the carpet as Yoko the 40-something spoke under her breath-- literally, in a whisper, about her family. Her eyes, too, were focused on the carpet.

Me: How about you guys, are you more like your mother, or your father?

Yoko: I'm more like my mother.

Male student 1: dead fish

Yoko: Because my dad doesn't care about other people.

Male student 2: dead fish dead fish

Exasperated, I snatch my piece of scrap paper and scrawl at the bottom in BIG letters:


The students look at me expectantly. Any chance to get me talking is an even better chance to let them be silent. Good thing they're in a conversation class, right?

I point to the word REALLY?

Male student 1: Oh really?

Yoko: Yes. And he's very selfish.

Male student 2: speaking of fish, this one is DEAD

Male student 1: and this fish has up and died all over again

10 minutes later...

Male Student 1: I've run 10 marathons.

Yoko: dead fish

(I point to Wow!)

Yoko: Wow!

Male student 1: Yes.

(I point to Really?)

Yoko: Really? Where?

Male Student 1: In Japan.

Yoko: ...

(I point to Oh yeah?)

Oh yeah? Where in Japan?

Male Student 1: Near Tokyo.


Male student 2: dead fish that was eaten so long ago by other fish that they, too, have also died

(I point to Really?)

Yoko: Really?

Male student 2: maybe he's actually dead?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bon Bon Bon!

This summer break I went on a 5 day trip to Nagano prefecture. It's located Northwest of Tokyo prefecture (see above map for more detail). I've been to the prefecture before but that was to a different area. Anyway, the first few days I went to Matsumoto. It took about five hours by bus to get there. I don't remember much of that city, but here is the one thing I really do remember: the Matsumoto city theme song that was blasted on repeat for over 5 hours from speakers that hung from light posts around the city streets. ( Note to reader: I don't know why everything seems to be in five's in this blog post, but I will try to continue this trend now that I've noticed it.)

"Bon bon Matsumoto Bon Bon Bon. Bon Bon Matsumoto Bon Bon Bon."

So simple. So pure. So genius.

It's my fifth new favorite song and it will never leave my head, at least not for the next five months. For your own amazing experience of the Matsumoto Bon Bon festival, watch this video below. (Watch it five times if you please.)

After the festival, I remember seeing a castle that I assume was called Matsumoto Castle. I climbed to the top, I think there was probably a beautiful view. Mostly I waited in the dark unlit interior of the castle behind a long snake of people, as I waited to climb the dozens (or maybe there were five?) of identically steep and narrow staircases up to the top. I also remember going to a hot spring on a roof with an amazing view of the city and the mountains surrounding it. I was naked on the roof of a building. I have no idea if people could see me, but I guess in Japan they don't care about those things. Apparently I took pictures, more than five. (Are you sick of it yet?)

After Matsumoto, I went to Kamikouchi. It didn't take five hours to get there. It took one and a half. I stayed in a Japanese style inn (called a ryokan) with the traditional tatami mat floors. People wore the casual kimono (actually called yukata) and slippers around the place and took advantage of the free hot spring. I'm just crazy about hot springs- they are super relaxing. There is nothing like scrubbing every inch of your body clean and then soaking in a hot tub of water. There was also another private onsen you could use for free. They had to drive you to it cause it was in a cave. A cave I tell you! How cool is that?

But seriously, Kamikouchi is a beautiful place. It's situated in a gorgeous river valley among the something-something Alps (in case you couldn't tell, I can't remember which Alps because just about every mountain range in Japan is called "the blabbity blabbity Alps"). The river's water was so clean and clear you could see right through to the bottom and it was a gorgeous green color. It was also extremely misty, which made everything very mystical and mysterious. The weather was also extremely cool. We were able to sleep with our windows open to let the cool breeze in at night. It was quite a relief from living in Tokyo, where the heat is simply brutal.

Also, where else can one eat an ice cream cone, in the rain, while hiking in the mountains? Yes, there was a souvenir shop selling ice cream. I couldn't help myself. And it wasn't raining until I stepped outside of the shop with my freshly bought cone. Call it bad timing, or denial of iffy looking clouds in the sky. Either way, I felt a bit ridiculous, but also really enjoyed my ice cream.

The other exciting part was eating at a restaurant where I watched the staff pulling fish out the river, sticking them on skewers in one, big, violent thrust, then ripping out their organs, and putting them on an open fire to cook. A good while later at my table, a delicious set lunch of grilled fish, rice, Japanese pickles, miso soup, and other assorted goodies was set before me. I was told I could eat the entire fish-- head, tail, fins and all. You could even eat the eyes, the bones, the teeth! Oh my! My companion just bit right into the head and ate that whole darn fish in a few gulps. Craziness! I managed to eat everything, but the head. It was a mighty delicious fish, though. I've never had fresher.