Sunday, July 23, 2006

Naato is fucking gross

Part of my experience in Japan is trying new food. Granted, I've already tried most Japanese style food, but there are some new ones to be had. One of those is called naato. How can I describe this... treat?

I learned about it from one of my students. We do warm-up games, usually Jenga or Uno, and each time it is a kid's turn they have to ask a question. So I asked one of them what their favorite food is. Nato was the answer. Soon after this, and asking many children if they like naato, I had to try it. One of the Japanese teachers at my school said she likes it too, and would take me to a place that has it.

Naato is fermented soy beans. So far, sounds like it might be funky...but isn't miso fermented soy bean paste? And miso is delicious. So I figure naato is like whole soy beans, but miso flavored. Wrong. Seriously fucking wrong. Can you tell I didn't enjoy my lunch today?

Naato is soy beans covered with what I could only descibe as snail slime. It's a texture thing. If you touch fresh snail slime, it is really hard to get off your fingers. It's also really hard to get off the inside of your mouth. It doesnt really taste like anything either.

So there you go, if you want to experience this delight, just lick a slug's ass, and you are good to go.

Friday, July 21, 2006

I think I might suck at teaching

I think I suck at teaching the baby classes. I think I got multiple complaints. Its fucking hard to keep a 1 year old kid's attention AND teach him English. They know like 2 words in Japanese. I might as well just read the dictionary to them. Actually, I think I'll do that next week.

I have a bilingual student. We were flipping through the dictionar looking at random words. I landed on Rob Roy. Should I teach my 9 year old student how to mix cocktails? I've been teaching him how to shuffle cards like a pro, so he can impress his dad. I think mixing dad a nice dirty martini would be better.

Tokyo (again) and fireworks in Yokohama

Another day in Tokyo. Ueno Park is where a bunch of museums and the zoo are. Its nice. I'll go back to the museums on my own. Tracy didn't seem down when I said I'd probablly spend about 5 hours in the museum looking at things. So we went to Ginza.
Ginza is the rich shopping street. If you go on a Sunday, they close off the street to all cars. Chanel, Tiffany's, and a bunch of other shit I have no idea about was there. I don't claim to know a thing about fashion. I buy clothes from REI or the internet or Old Navy sales. I don't think I'll ever buy $300 jeans from Ginza, but at least I can cross it off my list of places to see now.

After Ginza, met up with some heads from my training in Okayama. Then we randomly ran into Latrice and her friend Temperance. We were all headed to see fireworks in Yokohama. Our group managed to stay together for the train ride, then we all lost each other in a sea of Asians. Ended up with Tracy, Latrice, and Temperance. Sorry Suwen, Margie, Branda, Andy, Andy's coworker, two random guys, and the group Latrice and Temperance met with. When I stepped over the police barrier, with a policeman shouting at me, I figured you would follow.

That reminds me. If you are white and in Japan, you can use many Gaijin powers. One I call "Gaijin Ignorance". Pretend you don't know any better, and you can do stupid shit to make your life easier. Like walking in the middle o the road, hopping police baricades, eating while you walk down the street (the Japanese don't do this I guess), etc...

Fireworks shows in Japan last like 2 hours and go really slow. Kinda lame. This one had advertisements for NTT (telephone company) every 2 minutes. Anyways, I want a Kimono. Everyone at festivals wears them. The male ones are kinda funky fresh. I saw some cheap ones for sale in Kawagoe. Like $10. You can easily spend $200 for a normal Kimono. "Real" ones are more like $5000. At the shopping malls. I don't even want to know what the real deal off somewhere serious would cost. Like at Ginza.

Tokyo - Back the next day

I was gonna hang out in Kawagoe on Monday, but my boy Eric from back in the day called me up. I hadn't seen him for about 10 years since high school. He's unemployed in Tokyo. He told me to come out, so I had to head back to the city. It's only a 30 minute train. The exact time from my apartment door to Hatchuko in Shibuya is 1:15. I could probablly cut that down to 1:05 if I hit the train changes perfect. Anyways, its not long.

With Eric was another friend from way back when, Aaron. So we hit up the area. The weather was nice, so we went to Meiji shrine. You go from concrete jungle to pristine wilderness in like half a mile. Very cool. I also drank my first and last Chu-Hi. It's like those smirnoff or skyy drinks you can buy back home. Fruity booze things that are a little stronger than beer. Tasted fine, but I'll stick to the Asahi. A friend from the states told me to drink a chu-hi for her. I had grapefruit flavor. Yumm. Eric gave me a crash course in beer. Hops are heavily taxed, so there are like 3 levels of beer quality. So thats why I had to pay $15 for a six pack a week ago.

Had dinner at the top of some skyscraper. We could see Mt. Fuji from the elevator, and a crazy view of the city from where we ate. They were making fresh soba noodles in the restaraunt, and they only had a few to serve up each day. We got some of that, some different yakitori type things, and some fried tofu in soup. Japanese food is good.

I saw a melon that costs about $120. It was square. Japan is wierd.


The club let out early in the AM. Trains dont start till 5am ish, so thats about when I headed home.

Tracy, my co-native English teacher (NET) took me back to Tokyo on Sunday. We checked out a litle bit of Ikebukuru, which is the first stop in Tokyo on the train I take. It's Actually, most of Tokyo is just shopping. Actually, most of Japan seems to be just shopping malls. They love that shit. In Kawagoe there are like 4 department stores near where I work. By my apartment, though, just back alleyways where you get stabbed (yeah, I found more signs...)

We went to Shibuya after that. Shibuya is famous for it's super-intersection. The one that gets like a trillion people crossing it a year. If you've seen stock footage of Tokyo, or any movie in Tokyo, you've seen the intersection. Look at my photos, you'll see a picture of it. Exciting, I know. There is also Hatchuko, a really famous Dog statue that people meet at. If you are meeting someone in Tokyo, just say, "Hatchuko at noon", and you are good to go.

Shibuya is a fun place to wander around. There are bright signs everywhere (just like all of Japan), a funky love hotel district, and lots of food. Love hotels... $35 for a "short" stay, or $70 for all night. They seem to have themes, like there was a castle one and a carrbean one. I heard of a rumor of a Hello Kitty themed love hotel.

Tokyo - At a Club

Wu Tang Clan ain't nuthin to fuck with. Thats why when Latrice, the English teacher I replaced invited me to a club to see Ghostface Killah making an apperance, I had to go. Also, I wanted to see what clubs in Japan are like. I had heard some funny things. Some absurd things. Things which are all true.

First off, the club was tight. Ageha is the name. Google that shit. Anyways, it wasn't super packed, it seemed just about the perfect amount of people for me. The perfect amount of wierd, disillusioned Japanese hip hop youth.

You go to a club in the States, you see a thugged out guy, you can tell if he's serious or not. I didn't see one Japanese who I could take seriously. Someone got a hold of a Source magazine, and cut out the most off-the-wall bits from Ludacis, 50 Cent, and I think they must have got a back issue, Kriss Kross. This is your average Japanese "hip-hop" kid. Sagging pants, fubu head to toe, gold chains, bandana, hat on crooked, sunglasses... everything you could think of. The point is not that they were trying to be "hard", its that they wear so many accesories. I laughed a lot. I saw a group of 4 j-thugs outside the club, all of them wearing the same bandana that I'm sure they bought from the same Nigerian guy selling "American" clothes on the street. It was funny, but kinda sad too. They were all admiring each other's gold chains. I imagined the conversation... "Yo, we are thugs!" "I am like 50 Cent!" "I pimp the chronic and smoke hoes through my bong."

How to dance at a j-club. Face the DJ. Don't turn away from said DJ. When the DJ changes tracks, get REALLY excited. The DJ doesnt really do anything besides mix tracks together (no turntable-ism here), so don't expect anything to happen. Rinse, repeat. Its really fucking boring.

There was a j-reggae section, with a Japanese DJ with a fake Jamacian accent. Hilarious.

The Ghostface appearance so. He started off tight, then brought out some j-beat box crew who kinda sucked balls. All downhill after that. Drunk uncle at the family reunion was what Temperance and Latrice called him. Spot on.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

"Kawagoe is kinda the cuts"

To quote a friend of mine who lived in Kawagoe, "Kawagoe is kinda the cuts." I've had to define "cuts" to a few people. Cuts is off the beaten path. Cuts is usually kinda ghetto. Cuts could be considered the hood. Everything felt safe though...until I saw the signs. So decide for yourself:

Hmmmm, looks like some shady folks are creepin in the shadows...

Freaky fools are strapped in the hood. Since they dont have guns in Japan, you gotta carry a blade...

Sexy schoolgirls beware. You're about to get stabbed up in Kawagoe...

Yup, thats the cuts.

Monday, July 03, 2006

I'm a teacher!

Training is over and I passed. I don't know if it was possible to fail, but thats besides the point. On our last day we had a practice lesson with authentic Japanese kids. We got to deal with normal ones, ones who wouldn't pay attention, and ones that I think were eating candy all day. The best part of the day was when me and Greta were getting lunch and 2 of the students happened to walk by and ran up to talk to us. That shit was too cute.

Ill probablly be overwhelmed by the cuteness factor for a week or 2. I teach babies in the mornings. So young they dont even speak Japanese yet. I also teach all other sorts of ages up to mid teens. Oh, Im the only male teacher at my school, so hopefully tat will work in my favor. Either that or all the kids will be scared of me...

Tourism in Okayama

Read the guideooks, and they say not to go to Okayama. Okayama has always been a major train hub. Because of this, it was bombed quite a lot during WWII. So anything historic is no more. That said, the 2 main "attractions" are a castle and a garden. The castle is a recreation of an old one, and its pretty boring. Skip it. Take a photo outside, but dont bother going into it. Save yourself the 300 yen.

Near the castle is one of Japans 3 biggest gardens. I consider myself a huge fan of gardens. A typical day in San Francisco usually involoves a visit to either the Japanese tea garden on the Botanical gardens in Golden Gate Park. Anyways, I guess this is supposed to be a major garden in Japan. All in all it didnt have the feeling of a Japanese garden. It was very "British", with huge lawns and patchwork planting.

Other than that, my off time in Okayama was spent wandering around. I found a cool sports complex that I could run at in the mornings. There are little restaraunts and shops all over the place. A few of us found the "fancy" shopping street near the opera house one day.

Drinking in Japan is done a little differently. Instead of big bars like back home, there are lots of little places for you and your friends to go. You'll end up in your own cozy little space usually. We found an absolutly awesome place to watch the World Cup matches. They would keep bringing us snacks and lots of beeru, and they even stayed open late for us to finish watching the game.

Training in Okayama

Training to become an Amity English teacher was an intense week. Also, the 10 other trainees were all some of the best people I've met. 2 guys from the UK, and 8 girls from all over the USA. Everyone was down to have a good time. We drank much "beeru", saw plenty of sights, and there are even rumors of a romance among 2 of them (I wouldn't know, cause guys never talk about that sort of thing with each other). In this picture is (from left to right) Cristal, Greta, Suwen, Corrie, David, Lacy, Margaret, Andy, and myself. Kriss and Branda must have been off chasing Japanese boys.

If any of my fellow trainees read this, thanks for a great week, and Ill be seeing all of you soon.

If you're curious what training was like, it was about 9 hours a day of learning how to make lesson plans, teaching skills, and technicalities like the tax system and what not. There was a lot to take in, but it wasn't overwhelming (for me at least).

Japan... the flight over.

I always get to the airport early. If I'm not in a hurry, Ill volunteer to be bumped if the flight is overbooked. I've gotten hundreds of dollars worth of vouchers, free food, upgrades to better seats, and even a free roundtrip ticket to the UK for doing this. Today though, I had to be in Osaka to meet my trainers, so I didn't volunteer. I did, though, ask for an exit row seat. Being the tallest one on the flight I got my request. I sat with John. Then the fun began.

And by fun I mean booze.

You see, John is a marine. And marines can hold their liquor. We started with a few glasses of wine. A couple beers with dinner. Then we went to vodka and gin. And since John is a marine, we get 2 each time we ask. So many drinks later in our 13 hour flight, and I found myself "napping" in the lavatory. It wasn't a complete disaster. I was able to make it out by the end of the flight, and fake soberness to the trainers and my other trainees.