Monday, November 26, 2007

2 Weeks Left

In 5 days, it's hotel time again.

Goodbye ideal apartment in a tiny town, hello tiny apartment in an ideal town.

Goodbye work, Hello Work.

Goodbye warm heater and fluffy blanket, hello 11 hour overnight motorcycle ride to Tokyo in winter. Yeah, I kinda need to be in Tokyo by 3pm to do paperwork for the guest house. The day after finishing in Kure. The only way to make it work is an overnight ride, starting at 2am-ish. Memories of a ride across the Japanese Alps in the snow are haunting my dreams.

Once again, the national holiday of Japanese Labor Day falls close to Thanksgiving. Another excuse for foreigners to get together and drink. And eat cake.

An impromptu karaoke session was narrowly averted.

Top 5 office customs and rules which Japanese people want abolished according to a survey.
  1. Service Zangyo - unpaid overtime. Pretty standard. Be at work early and stay later, even if you aren't doing shit. But make sure it looks like you are doing something. Minesweeper doesn't count.
  2. Compulsory attendance of year end parties. The Japanese staff at my school has to do this. And it's not about having fun type of parties. I see fear and loathing in their eyes.
  3. Required participation in employee group travel. We have something like this, where if a school branch meets their financial goals, they get to go on a trip. We went to Kyoto about 6 months ago. Maybe it's not as good with other companies. A free trip to Kyoto isn't anything to complain about.
  4. Valentines and White Day customs. Sorry ladies, but you are kind of required to get chocolates for all the males in your office on Valentines Day. Things are reversed here, where girls give chocolates to guys on Valentines Day, and guys are supposed to reciprocate on White Day, 1 month later. I've heard stories of women having to spend hundreds of dollars on fancy chocolates for their officemates, out of tradition. The funny part is, that you (a dude) only give white chocolate to the 1 girl you like on White Day.
  5. The seniority system. Senpai, gotta treat them different. Of course management has a different role, but even teachers treat each other different based on who got there first. This whole system has a terrible effect in the long run. Promotions aren't based on merit or ability, but how long you have been around. Brilliant young people who would be a CEO in an American company are stuck bowing to older men who have no idea what they are doing. Changing careers in your life is very uncommon, due largely to this notion.
Does my company behave like this? Sort of. The Japanese staff of course has a much more business feel to them. Those who have lived abroad, which is a lot at an English conversation school, tend not to last as long as those who have only traveled a bit. Each school has a very different atmosphere, largely dependent on the manager who runs the school. When it comes to company business events, things are a little on edge. The perfect example is our annual training. Foreign teachers arrive with bright eyes and smiles. It's a time to make new friends, build up your social network, populate your facebook. And drink. For the Japanese staff, it's a time to get yelled at because your hair isn't black enough and your sample lesson performed to the boss lasted 1 minute too long.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

3 Weeks Left

This is what we do for 50 minutes in his class.

This is what we do for 50 minutes in their class.

This is what we do for 40 minutes in her class.

"Yeah, I get to live in a Buddhist temple... so what? Oh... you're jealous? Well neener neener neener."

The countdown with the current English language school is very tangible now. Weeks are totally the new months. It's time to pack again. Fitting my average-for-a-guy size wardrobe into boxes once again proves a task. Space is a valuable asset. The new $15 coffee maker may not make the trip. It's recommended in our orientation guide that we leave something personal for the apartments when we leave. Sterile white walls and a coffee maker will be my legacy.

And certainly my neighbor will be happy. Although she hasn't said anything, it's 11 at night and Trent Reznor is screaming Starfucker at an unreasonable volume level.

It helps get the chores done.

Links for ya! All of these are RSS-able. Word:

Thursday, November 15, 2007


A 3 year old student of mine, squinting at her hair in front of he eyes, exclaims in awe, "I can see rainbows in my hair!"

An older student asks about nuclear physics. I spend an hour on the internet at work researching nuclear science, so that I can not only easily answer what the difference between fission and fusion is, but be ready for any more complex related questions about the weight of molecules and how it related to Einstein's theory of relativity that might come up. His response when I tell him, "Oh. Thank you."

When I force my younger students to do the tree form yoga pose, the crazy one starts chanting "Namyo Horen Gekyo." The same thing I was chanting during my unusual prayer session in a random building in Kochi last weekend. Questions posed to said youngster are met with farting noises.

Seeing eyes light up when I demonstrate how to do the hand motions of The Itsy Bitsy Spider song.

Good things.

I need to ground myself in the good things at my school. Because the bad things are so strong. I was always surprised when people complained about their work environment at different schools in my company. But now I'm living in their shoes. I empathize with the girl I replaced, the girl who quit after 6 months. I question how she lasted that long. I countdown the days left on a crumpled piece of origami paper in my pocket.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Autumn Colors, Motorcycles, and an Island

Shikoku (四国)

Day 1

Shikoku is the smallest of the 4 main islands of Japan. You've got Hokkaido, where it is cold. Kyushu, where it is warm. Honshu, where all the people and cities and jobs are. And then... Shikoku.

I told you it was small!

At first glance, Shikoku is very... country. After riding around the island for 4 days, I have to say Shikoku is very... country. It's a good thing. Sometimes we need long mountain roads, and nice old people, and whatever the opposite of high fashion is... low fashion I guess. Sometimes we need all that.

My trip began with a trip over the Shimanami route. Dozens of small islands have recently been connected by shiny new bridges. You get to cross them. It costs a lot. But it's super pretty! Yeah!

I highly recommend riding a bicycle! There is a separate bike lane along this whole route, and it's really cheap to do so. You can rent one at one end and drop it off at the next. Seriously, if I had any friends out here who enjoyed riding bicycles, I would do this in the future. Unfortunately I'm all hitori when it comes to that sort of thing. Hitori means alone. It sounds better in Japanese.

About $40 in tolls and $10 in ice cream later (the white one is flavored with local Ehime salt) and it's time to head into the mountains. Don't want ice cream? Have a nice bottle of fish. Only $10! (Most omiyage is $10... all part of the omiyage conspiracy in Japan)

Once on Shikoku, you are met with... OMG... could it be... it is! MORMONS!!!!! Fuck yes!

Do whatever it is you do when you see members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Personally, I get really excited; giggling and jumping up and down. They remind me of those cheesy "do unto others" commercials that were all over the TV in the 80s. Also my childhood friend Eric was a Mormon, and he totally had real ninja stars at his house when we were like 10.

Since it's autumn now, everything is all red and brown and orange. Take pictures of it, apparently thats what all the locals do.

I camped under some ancient vine bridges in the Iya Valley area. I was totally hitori that night. I wonder why...

Because it was fucking cold! Holy shit it sucked that night. I awoke the next day in the fetal position, nay the frozen fetal position, and immediately decided to skip my planned hiking adventures and head to the coast, where various sources say it is a lot warmer. Various sources would be random Japanese motorcycle riders.

Day 2

For lunch, found a little shack on the top of a mountain crest. Their specialty?

Udon noodles with boar meat. Hook it up!

So anyways it was off to Kochi to me.

The bike lot at the beach was filled with Kawasaki Ninjas. I had to park like 200m away all by my hitori self. I wanna be part of the cool club too!

Spent the day sitting on the beach.

Spent the night at a campground next to the beach. This was a weird campground. First, I noticed it was free. By free, I mean there was a massive homeless camp there. But also families out for a weekend of s'mores and Frisbee. After setting up the tent, I made friends with the 20 or so feral cats that were living there.

How was the sleep? Warmer, but every 15 minutes a Bosozoku group would come by and wake me up. And at one point I heard some rustling outside my tent. I grabbed my knife, ready to go into battle with whoever was trying to murder me. Then I heard peeing on a nearby tree. So I assume either a dog or a drunk businessman lost on his way home.

Day 3

So there is this whole deal with Shikoku. There are 88 temples. You go on a pilgrimage to all 88. You are supposed to walk it, and it's 1200km and takes a couple months. Or you can take a tour bus, stay in hotels, and leave the walking for the suckers! Take that ancient, meaningful spiritual journey.

This is number 32.

Number 31 is pretty massive. Lots of moss and statues and what not. Is it just like every other temple you've seen in Japan? Pretty much. But these things never get old, they are all amazing.

After visiting 2 of the 3 local temples, I went back to the campsite to pack up and head out. I wasn't 100% on where to go, but had an idea.

That's when I met the cultists.

The religious cultists.

I don't know what to say. I will write something in the next few days... this deserves it's own post. Let's just say that an hour later I was in a small room, I'm not exactly sure where, and I was holding beads and chanting the same thing "Nam-myo-ho-ren-ge-kyo" for 20 minutes. Must... research... somehow.

Took the roads inland a bit, into the mountains. I saw that there was a rider's inn not far away. Rider's inns are usually family owned restaurants with cheap accommodation for motorcycle riders. Along the way I stopped at a rest stop to check the map. By the light of the vending machine, I found my way. When I looked up another rider had parked. We exchanged formalities, "Good evening, it's cold, where are you going." Turns out he was heading to another rider's in. He suggested issho. No longer hitori, I was now issho with my new friend Kensei.

The place was covered with motorcycle club stickers and photos of past guests. The owner was a fun little old guy who didn't seem to get that I didn't understand his speeches in Japanese. None the less we all spoke the international language of beer.

Here he is pointing to an old black and white photo of himself with his old '47 Honda motorcycle, which is now in a museum on Kyushu.

A closer shot of a younger rider. I gotta stop smiling in my motorcycle photos, the pissed off scowl is so much more bad ass.

I perused through about 15 years of guest's writings in a stack of notebooks. Then I had a hot bath and slept in a real bed.

Kensei and I are seated. The inn master is on the right. Not sure who is in the center. The guy on the left in the off road riding gear said he was a monk. They could have been fucking with me.

Day 4

Woke up and said goodbye to the inn master, his grand daughter with the mullet hairdo, and Kensei. Kensei was off for another week or so of riding, but I was headed home. But first a quick tour of Matsuyama. I say quick because it was starting to rain, and I didn't have any rain gear. It fell off my bike a couple months ago. Sho ga nai. That's life.

Dogo Onsen is the oldest onsen in Japan.

Ok, I saw the sight, now time to get back home. A few minutes to the ferry, and pretty much door to door service back to my place in Kure. It was essential to get back to my computer, since Kensei had emailed my phone with a bunch of Kanji and I need the internets to help me decipher that stuff. His important message... "I'm drinking beer."

Hey people, check this shit out!

Japanese lesson for the day. Ni ni ni ni ni ni!!!! (2 2 2 2 2 2)