Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Demise of NOVA

(photos courtesy of random walking around in Hiroshima)

If you were ever interested in teaching English in Japan, you know, the country that takes people with no teaching credentials and most likely no desire to teach, then you surely know about NOVA.

NOVA was the leading ekiwa, English conversation school, in Japan. Not just leading, it was a towering behemoth of mammoth proportions. Imagine getting off a train... anywhere. You see the neon lights of NOVA. When you tell someone you work for a English conversation school, by default they ask if it's NOVA.

The NOVA business plan was, in a nutshell, get a lot of money from students up front, then spend all that money opening new schools. This led to an explosion. Like a wildfire, NOVA schools sprung up everywhere. Stock prices soared. Then slowly fell.

Imagine a company where all the cash went into new schools. Then throw in some shady business practices and a government ban on new sign ups. It led to the inevitable, the company is done. Roughly 4000 foreign teachers as well as countless Japanese are out of work and homeless. It's fucked up all around.

If you want the nitty gritty details, spend a few hours reading this guys blog. Not only is he a great writer and photographer, but he goes into great deal about all the aspects of NOVA that went wrong. Skip the podcast, though, unless you want to hear someone bashing on Americans for 30 minutes at a time.

If you live in Japan, you have most likely met a few NOVA teachers. They may or may not have been cool. They may or may not have been drunk. They may or may not have been in jail.

They may or may not be some of the coolest guys you've hung out with in the last year.

Monday, October 29, 2007


A 98% moon rising over the unlit signs of hostess and sunaku bars. Hopefully when you see this, you have some memories of the night before. Many foreigners here choose not to remember their nights out. It's really up to you. Are you being forced to drink your 8th beer from 7-11? Remember, most clubs give you a free drink ticket. It's all about moderation and pacing yourself. Unless it isn't. In that case drink up people.

Most Japanese will just ignore the 192cm tall Batman walking down the street. You can tell they aren't really ignoring, just pretending not to notice. Artsy street performers are very rare in Japan for this reason.

Batman- I'm at Hiyajima park.

Guy on phone (Bill I think?) - You are lost.

Batman - I know.

Bill - Did you turn right like I said?

Batman - I thought you weren't serious.

Bill - Why would you think that?

Batman - ...

Bill - Take a cab

Batman bounces from club to club. The Hiroshima crew sends Batman a text that says they are at Big Echo Karaoke across from 7-11. Batman looks at the 7-11 in front of him and sees nothing but an empty apartment across the street. Phone calls don't get answered. There might be alcohol involved. There might be more than one 7-11 in Hiroshima. Just a hunch.

Outside the club, a very drunk blonde girl Batman was dancing with earlier says she is scared to go out into the big scary world by herself to get a cab. He hails one without moving from his spot on the sidewalk. Drunk blond leaves. Batman is sober enough to realize that life is funny.

Batman rolls with Solid Snake. At the next club Batman and Solid Snake are the only people dressed in costume, and everyone is speaking Spanish. Immediately on entering, he sees a kindly Nigerian obviously trying to pick up 2 girls leaving the club. Batman decides to run a little wingman game and gets the Nigerian on positive ground. 2 minutes after leaving them he sees the Nigerian alone.

Batman - How's things working out for you tonight?

Nigerian - Man... I'm just trying to FUCK tonight!

Batman - Ganbatte I guess.

On the 6am train back to Kure, Batman removes his cape and cowl. The gaggle of genki junior high girls giggle. The salaryman next to him continues reading his newspaper. A quick glance reveals that his newspaper is pornography. Just a nice pictoral of spread eagle goodness to start the day. He turns the page and it's the sports section. Nippon Ham plays the Chunichi Dragons later today.

The leaves outside are turning bright red.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Another Saturday

You are an 8 year old Japanese boy.

You are forced to come to the English conversation school every Saturday. But, since you are only 8, you fully look forward to it. Maybe it's because your teacher likes bu~ bu~~~~ jokes just as much as you.

Luckily you can't read minds, cause you'd hear sensei thinking, "Oh fuck, I'm supposed to do a special Halloween lesson today." 3 minutes before your class. You wouldn't care anyways though, cause sensei makes bu~ bu~~~ jokes and lets you operate the CD player. And you love to sing. Not regular kids songs, like the Hokey Pokey, which sensei has been forcing all his students to sing lately, but the whack songs from your English book. Songs with lyrics like:

What are you doing? What are you doing?
I'm watching TV. I'm watching TV.
Can I watch with you?
Sure! Come and watch too.

Or maybe its the over the top 2 minute guitar solo in this song (total track time being 2:15) that makes it special. Or maybe its that there are about 10 songs at the same level as this throughout the book. And your teacher found that if he lets you operate the CD player, he can kill 30 minutes of a 50 minute lesson just watching you sing.

When your sensei wants to teach you some new Halloween words, he, instead of resorting to elaborate props from the 100-yen store, or teacher made games (it might seem like sensei doesn't enjoy spending money or making things), well he just starts replacing words in songs. The song about going to the store becomes a song about going to the cemetery. The song about counting cookies becomes a song about counting skeletons. And the song about watching TV? Well it becomes a song about spiders. Not being creative, sensei pulls a verb out that you already know, and it now becomes a song about eating spiders.

You fall off your chair laughing. You hit your head on the floor, but are not phased. You roll around in a fit of laughter in the cubicle size room.

Your teacher hopes you never grow up.

Your teacher likes Saturdays.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Hiroshima and the Sea

Where do I start...

The Peace Memorial Park is probably the first stop, maybe even the only stop, for many people visiting Hiroshima. This is a great place to people watch. Especially the foreigners. The truth is, people get very confused about how to act here. Many people feel extreme guilt, like somehow they, as Americans, are personally responsible for the atomic bombings. So you've got your groups of confused foreigners. It's Japan, so you've got some local touts, dressed in either over the top hip hop clothes, or cowboy/metal/biker styles trying to pull people into hostess bars. There's random bands that set up along the river to play whatever music they feel like. I even saw some British high school students, and this one boy was obviously trying to line up some pussy for later. All while their teacher read about dead children and the origami cranes that represent them. So yeah, this place is good for watching randomness.

But seriously, you should pay your respects and honor those who lost their lives in this tragic event. Spend some time reading all the plaques, most of them are in multiple languages. Walk down the Peace Boulevard. Follow the signposted walking routes. Read the plaques. Look at the pictures. Remember that photo of San Francisco in 1906 after the big earthquake and fires? The picture where everything is destroyed?

Memories of local history lessons and 5th grade class reports. This looks worse.

Infinitely worse. Not caused by a fault line or a volcano or god because he hates gays. Caused by people. People watch here. You will see a lot of emotion. A lot of people trying to understand. And thats a good thing.

There's a castle in Hiroshima. Rode the motorcycle around it, maybe I'll go back, but most likely not. I'm gonna assume the castle is a replica, and not the original from centuries ago. Just a hunch.

Actually I'm sure I won't go back. Japanese castles all look the same to me.

A random ride up and down random streets led to a random mountain with amazing views.

Hmmm... my review of Hiroshima is kinda crappy. There's lots of shopping. Hooray for shopping. I went in the Adidas store. They didn't have my size.

Oh yeah, I checked out the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art. There are 2 modern art museums in Hiroshima, this one looked to be better, but I'll go to the other one one of these days.

Their permanent exhibit is only a couple hundred yen to see, and it was very good. It explained (I was in Japanese) the valuing process of art, and the pieces were set in monetary value order. Seeing amazing pieces for a fraction of the value of hideously large ones really brings things into a different view. Not very crowded, this museum is set on a hill in Hijiyama park. I recommend it.

Oh, and it only takes 10 minutes from Kure on the toll road to get there! That's doing like 100km/h, which is kinda way above the limit. But 100km/h is seriously slow (60mph).

Life in Kure is very relaxed, but I'm also feeling stress at the school here. The children are kind of out of control. This is proving to be difficult for me, to actually have to deal with the kids. At all my previous schools, it seemed that a threat of no stickers would snap the students back into learning mode. This is what I call a zero-stress threat. Saying or doing anything negative in life produces stress. A sarcastic threat of withholding Hello Kitty stickers can hardly be counted as something negative. I'd even go so far, at my Kawagoe school, as to say I was going to tell a kid's mom that he was being bad. That always worked. And since Brian Sensei ain't no snitch, the actual action being threatened here would never occur. Presently, none of these style threats work in the least. I have to resort to Do you want to wait in the other room? This threat is actually valid, and feels negative to say. So I've got 2 classes that are like this, just out of control. But they are special classes so they each happen 3 times a week. And they are first thing in the morning. In Kawagoe, I'd play balloon toss with 1 year olds and their moms, then go to lunch and have a 3 hour break every day. Now I have a crazy class, 3 hour break, another crazy class, and then my regular classes.

But, in the end, it's all worth it for quotes like this:

Brian - "What should we put in our witches soup?"
N (8 years old) - "Dog pee!!!!"
H (8 years old) - "and dog poo!!!"
N (they are twins) - "and dog puke!!!"
H (they are girls) - "Yeah!!! Dog puke!!!"
S (another girl in class) - "What's dog puke?"

Halloween Music

You know that spooky LP that was just ambient sounds and shit that you would play in the background? Yeah, that record playing back when you switched from trick-or-treating to just hitting up the houses with the please-take-one bowl out front. That was the year you and your best friend came up on some hella candy! You remember listening to that vinyl the year the high schoolers tried to egg you and your friend from about 4 feet away and you dodged the bullets matrix style. You think you were even playing that track (now in CD form) when you took your 3 year old niece to the local haunted house 2 years ago. It's one of the purest musical associations available, the Halloween horror track. It's a very good thing. But check out this guys mix, it's downright down loadable. Hip hop beats, nothing too wild, thrown over old horror tracks and samples from movies. It's perfect.

Oh, and FYI , here's by far the greatest Halloween related track. Ever. Enjoy:

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Material in the Teacher's Room

There is a cozy little room for the foreign teachers at the school in Kure. Winter lessons are coming up, and rather than make things to teach with, using whats already made is a viable option. Here is a lesson based on Harry Potter. There was this gem sitting inside.

A picture was sent from the cell phone to a bunch of my teacher friends in Japan, but very few of them saw what you see. Let me clarify:

  • This vocabulary card is a year old at least, found among piles of old Santa coloring books and Rudolf mad libs.
  • When asked, "What is Harry's plan?", this was not a literal question, nor asking for real teaching advice.
  • Only one cell phone response referring to a cock. This is completely unacceptable people! Holy shit... do you not all see it right there!
Could be out of the loop, since Harry Potter has not been read... ever. Maybe in the latest book he rides a giant dick around on his wizardly adventures. Who knows. The ending of the last book, the last chapter, the one titled "18 years later" or something... There was no mention of a falic battle of any kind. Anyways... Japanese language study books are awesome!

Explanation of why this is funny will not be provided.

Monday, October 15, 2007

My Special Place

This is my special place... I found it first!

But you can come too, seeing as I have way too many grapes to eat by myself.

So let's all eat Japanese grapes and watch the sun set over the Seto inland sea. Deal?

Some people see such a magnificent thing and contemplate some sort of god or life's meaning or something philosophical. I think about what alternative dance moves I want to master. Thanks youtube!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Road Trip! Tokyo to Hiroshima.

Not as glamorous as it sounds....

I went out to Tokyo this past weekend. There was a sayonara party for Tara, who I had only met once before, but it should be fun anyways. And it was. Also, I wanted... nay needed to get my motorcycle. I'm like a fat kid without cake... I need to ride!

So Sunday was spent doing this and that in Tokyo. Some good food at this place called Chopsticks, kind of an izakaya but a little nicer, drinks at the rock and roll bar in Shibuya (it has a real name but no one knows it), some bad karaoke (is there ever good karaoke?), some ugly clubbing. ***BEGIN RANT*** Clubbing in Tokyo is epic. Seriously, there are some amazing places. But if you don't plan ahead of time, it sucks balls. Just randomly saying, "Let's go clubbing!" means you will end up in some dank place with bad music. Been there done that. Many times. It's just not fun. Give me a day's notice, lets check the lineup at Ageha, Milk, and Nuts. We can actually have a good time and not end up at Gas Panic or some hole in the wall Roppongi spot. **END RANT**

Monday I went back to Kawagoe, and rode the 12 hours back to Kure. It was overcast and rained off and on the whole time. My ipod ran out of batteries with about 20 minutes left on the trip. That's my story. I would have loved to take 2 or 3 days to take the scenic route... but this English ain't gonna teach itself!

I passed some amazing places where I would would have for sure stopped if I had the chance. Fuji, Nagano, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Himeji... I enjoyed these wonderful places by looking at the exit ramp flying by. Also, I left kinda late due to the desire to sleep in the morning, so these wonderful destinations weren't even visible in the least. Shogunai I guess.

Charred mackerel. They charred it with a blow torch at the table.

Beef stew type stuff on toast. This food was great, Japanese Western fusion type thing. So that just meant lots of sushi, and lots of cheese.

We snuck in booze...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

It's Relax Time!

My new students in Kure are starting to spurt out some random shit. As always, a lack of fluent Englishness and little kid antics make my day.

Homework for a 15 year old girl was writing about personality traits of people. The book is pretty advanced, and she was fine with words like energetic, egotistical, and earthy. So under the "think up your own" section, she wrote, "Komo is an alcoholic, she drinks beer every day." I didn't know exactly what to say. My response, "Who is Komo?" Her response, "My mom." Errrrmmmm. Luckily she just didn't really know what alcoholic means, she was relating it to workaholic. And the workaholic in question is her dad... go figure.

A class with four 5 year olds. They are all very fluent, having spent time in America. At one point during coloring time, one little boy jumps on another's back. He says, "Don't worry, Shintaro, it's relax time!" Then he starts giving him a full back massage for the next 10 minutes. And he actually knew what he was doing, like leg stretching and what not. "It's relax time!!!"

Another class has, among it's students, a troublemaker and the cutest little girl around. By troublemaker, I mean kind of a jerk, very mean to both me and the other students. During some challenging color this thing red session, she realized she didn't have a red pencil. He says, "Don't worry, we can share." He then snaps his red pencil in 2, and gives her the good half. Thug with a heart of gold.

Lastly, I have a little 3 year old who is obsessed with Lazy Town. I watched a lot of Lazy Town with my niece back in America, so I know most of the songs. Today we sang this one like 5 times off the CD she brought in.

She actually yelled at me one time to stop singing along, I guess I was getting too into it. Then when I started miming instead of singing, I noticed her trying her best to copy every action I did. It's also funny cause the other girl in class has no clue what Lazy Town is, but she totally wants to be Stephanie when she grows up. I'm totally gonna pick up pink wigs at the 100 yen store next time I'm there.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Kure Nature Hike

Just outside my apartment...

... is a mountain with a white... thing on it. I figured it would be fun to hike up to that... thing. Various maps and atlases indicated that there was some sort of trail up the mountain, so I set out to find it. One crappy shopping bike and one Jurassic 5 album later, I got to a trail head.

The kanji on the bottom sign is pointing to the mountain I want to climb... I think. Let me stress that all of this is based on a whim and shoddy Japanese maps that don't actually recommend anything about this hike. The concept of "climb higher and you will eventually get there" was in effect.

The trail starts out light, going along family burial altars. Most hills in Japan have burial altars on them, so this was nothing new. But then the trail split, and the choice was left or right. Left, of course! When you do a lot of random exploring, you have to have a set choice for situations like this. No debate, no coin tosses, no random number generators. Anyways, I always choose left. Today I chose wrong...

As you can see, this is what I came up. You don't see a trail? If you doubt me, check the sign.

So it was rugged, to say the least. But rugged also directly correlates to the amount of nature you will encounter. And encounter I did!

A few snakes. This one totally stared me down. We're cool though.

Snake #2. Good luck on your snakey adventures, and thanks for not trying to kill me.

This giant spider had a fresh butterfly in it's web. There were TONS of spiders. On the path. I got a face full of web at least 20 times. Then I started carrying a big stick in front of me as a preemptive measure and things got better.

Then I came across... something. Something evil. I was in a very remote, very quiet part of my hike, and I heard a noise. I stopped to listen. Then I heard a growl. Like nothing I've ever heard before. I'm serious it sounded like a jaguar or something. I stopped moving. I heard a growl again, from what seemed like the other side of the trail. "God damn homey, my mind is playing tricks on me". I have no idea what it was. Wild dog, bear, maybe a wild boar. It's low, throaty growl let me know precisely where I should be... be the fuck out! I wasn't too scared though. I mean, I had my anti-spiderweb stick on me. I could totally fling some webbing at him.

Not soon after my encounter, I came across an overgrown gazebo and benches. This whole route was overgrown, and I don't think many people hike here. I didn't see any other person until the top.

I made it. Here's the white thing that you can see from the city up close. Some sort of sciencey thing. Either that or a giant metal soccerball. And here are some shots of the 360 degree view.

This is the town of Hiro I think.

The city I live in, Kure.

After soaking up the views, time to head down. Took a different way, a very well maintained (relatively) way that put me to the right of that fork I was at earlier. Dondake!

Something about water. The katakana reads "Sapoto. Torekkigu. Guruppu." Sport. Trekking. Group. I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. I guess people do trekking courses up here.

In other news... It's October! Will Batman make another appearance? I still have the suit... and the skills.

And on a random note, I love this comic. From's comic about his year working at an Olive Garden.