Friday, August 29, 2008

Summer Camp in Yamanashi

I've been thinking a lot about dukkha lately. Dukkha relates to suffering. It's kind of a catch-all word. Being caught in a mild rain without an umbrella is dukkha. So is having a lit match fall on the tip of your penis (it'll take a few drinks on your part to get that story out of me). Anyways, trivializing any suffering that comes your way is an interesting coping technique. Give it a shot!

I don't know where I'm going with this. Well, I kind of do, but I don't want to spurt out negative shit about things like summer camp. I mean, we're talking about summer camp for 200 elementary school kids. How can that be bad? If I ignore the monstrously sucky times, after a couple weeks all that will be left will be my photos and positive memories. Take that reality!

A factual acount of the 5 day long English immersion summer camp I taught at would include such gems as:
  • My god, do Japanese peope eat fried chicken and pork for breakfast every day? Can I just get some coffee and a Calorie Mate?
  • It's 10pm, time to have a meeting to discuss our 10:30 meeting. Please take notes, as there will be a follow up meeting at 11.
  • The beer vending machine in the lobby was empty by the second night.

Cute kid! Unfortunately, I'm ethically unable to post any pictures of the elementary school kids that were in my charge for the week. Something about laws or what not. You are, however, privy to some photos of random kid's hats.



Leave NO Trace

Random Engrish aside, it was interesting to see how a summer camp is run in Japan. The idea that summer camp means going outside a lot and getting dirty was trumped by the idea that Japanese children are delicate little things that must be protected from all harm. A hike was called off because there was a chance of lightning, and a couple years ago, someone was almost hit by lightning. Not someone from our camp, just some random person in a country of 127 million was almost hit by lightning... somewhere. A half day spent frolicking in the river was canceled for safety reasons as well. So, much of our time was spent indoors. Fresh mountain air? Fuck that noise!

All the babying (there's a well documented "mama's boy" epidemic in Japan these days) led to a god damn hilarious camp fire the last day. More like a bonfire, this shit was wild. We did all sorts of pagan dancing, set off fireworks, sang "Crank Dat Soulja Boy", and essentially overloaded some of the kids. There is a word in Japanese for it, but I don't remember. Something about being overwhelmed with emotion. I saw about 5 or 6 kids bawling their eyes out to the tune of "Country Road". It was special.

The month long summer vacation is now over. Back to school lunches and sleeping 14 year old kids with hair primped and waxed, standing a foot in the air in what is considered cool style. Back to a job that is emotionally satisfying, yet leaves my pockets like a gaping void. Back to school!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Getting a Driving License in Japan Part 5

In the Japanese language the "P" sound and the "B" sound are so similar. Take ブ for example. Looks like a 7 with little quote marks. Now I submit プ. Change the quotes to a tiny circle. The former is, of course, boo. And the later, well that one is poo. Hehe... poo.

At 12:30, the time of my test, I sat waiting, helmet in my arms. Today I dressed down. Previous attempts at the Japanese motorcycle license test had all been done in my proper riding gear. Armored jacket, sturdy jeans, and steel toe boots. I read somewhere that if you show up looking "innocent" you have a better chance of passing. An Adidas track suit and running shoes should suffice. Looking like a before model for motorcycle safety (the after shot being some poor dude in the hospital with road rash and a long recovery ahead) I started the 750cc Honda.

  • Stop well before the line... check.
  • Stand up when going over the bumps... check.
  • Exaggerate your glances over your shoulders when changing lanes and turning... check.
  • Head up, eyes forward, avoid cones... check.
It was a good run. There was even an unexpected section, which I will label "downhill braking on slippery leaves in the rain", which I had no problems with. I stopped the bike, dismounted and looked to the judge.

パース... Pa-su... pass! I stared blankly, making sure I had heard right. "Pa-su?" "Hai, Pa-su". I raised my hands in a celebratory fashion.

But remember, "PA" is so similar to "BA". And "SU" is so similar to "TSU". ぱ。。。ば。。。す。。。つ。。。

Put your dictionaries away, I'll translate. "Batsu" means penalty. I made one turn too wide. Not into the wrong lane or anything, just slightly too wide.

Some people have unique views of what karma is. A lot of Westerners think of karma as a relatively direct corelation between actions and reactions. Kill a bug in your kitchen and sooner or later you will get stung by a bee. Give money to charity and somehow you will get that raise at your job. Ride illegally on an expired license and suffer by... not being able to get a license.

I won't write about this again until I pass. Unless something really funny happens, like the bulldozer (yeah, there is a bulldozer at the driving center) from the bulldozer driving test goes out of control and I have to jump from the bike onto said bulldozer, thus saving the day.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Uyoku vs. Sayoku at Yasukuni Shrine

Uyoku = Ultra nationalist right wingers who love the emperor
Sayoku = Super liberal left wingers who hate the emperor

Yasukuni Shrine, the shrine in Tokyo which holds the souls of Japan's war veterans, including a bunch of souls who did some seriously fucked up shit. If you want a history lesson, try google search, you're not going to get it from here.

August 15th, the anniversary of the end of WWII for Japan.

People protesting... I guess. People protesting Japanese style is a better description.

If you've ever spent an extended amount of time in Tokyo, you've certainly seen the Oyuko's big black trucks parked outside some stations blasting music and long winded speeches into the air through their massive loudspeakers. There's usually some numerical data about how foreigner suck next to American or Chinese flags, but it's so much kanji that you usually just walk by without caring. If you are in Shibuya, there is usually an even louder advertising truck blasting Koda Kumi or Avril Lavigne or some other bullshit new pop artist passing by. Next to you is some guy screaming at people to come eat at his izakaya. Apparently they have really delicious food... according to Mr. Screamy. Behind that are eight shop workers yelling "Welcome" to their shoe store. A little down the road is a clerk at a glasses shop freestyle rapping into his megaphone about the new style of lens wear. Conclusion, Tokyo is loud and it takes more than loudspeakers to get me really interested.

Ok, so on August 15th, the Sayoku have some protest march. The Uyoku try to stop them. It sounds like a recipe for some crazy violent good times. Let me state right now that I don't care at all about either side's views. The minute you start acting militant in front of subway stations, or dress up like a mythological beast, your point, whatever it is, is moot.

Riot police EVERYWHERE! This could get awesome.

Or it could just be totally lame. There were groups of yelling dudes, maybe 6 or 7 strong, and they would get swarmed on by 30 police. The police would kindly encourage them to move somewhere else, and they would comply.

"Half Japanese half Chinese are not welcome. Koreans should go home, you aren't welcome in Japan. Oh, what's that? You want me to move? Yes sir, right away sir."

There were about 10 police for every racist yelling guy.

I felt totally safe standing next to a group of people who obviously wanted me to die, even if there weren't any police there. Japan is like that.

So that was that. We wandered around with the crowds for a couple hours, getting sunburned and bored. I remember the Democratic convention of 2000 in Los Angeles. It broke out into a riot. I saw some old dude get blasted with a bean bag shotgun point blank because he couldn't run from the cops fast enough. I saw blood and broken glass. I saw Rage Against the Machine.

If you want action, don't bother with Tokyo.

Jyunren and Ichiya Ramen in Tachikawa

Here they are, the last 2 shops from Tachikawa's NY Ramen Square. I've spent the last couple months going there for lunch on the weekend. From Hokkaido to Kyushu, a lot of ramen styles are represented here.

純連 from Sapporo

純連 translates to "pure tribe". Sounds like some sort of Aryan Brotherhood type stuff. Good thing this is Japan, where no form of xenophobia has ever been known to exist.

Anyways, standard miso ramen. I've grown to dislike miso ramen a little but lately. It's got that salty miso flavor that is like gold when you first start eating, but by the time you slurp your last noodle, you realize it was just rolled up tinfoil spray painted with gold model paint. If you are a fan of the miso, this was the only one at NY Ramen Square, so enjoy. The soup is made with seafood and mountain vegetables, giving it a slightly more unique flavor.


This one is your standard Tokyo style ramen. The soup is a shoyu - soy sauce - base made with chicken and fish. A normal amount of abura, those floating particles af fat that help people live to be over 100. I'm convinced thats the secret. Recently I read some parts of a book where the author says to never drink water, because it dries you out. I'm getting off track, but yeah, normal shoyu stuff here.

The problem with shoyu ramen is that the really really good ones are only slightly better than the really really cheap ones. A massive bowl of shoyu ramen can be had for as little as 190 yen, that's less than 2 bucks, in some places.

There it is, all the shops at Tachikawa's NY Ramen Square. I'll go ahead and say that the 2 Kyushu shops, Nagi and Samurai, are the best. With Nagi taking a slight lead because they had some unique toppings to add to the ramen.

If you're ever in Tahcikawa on the weekend, hit me up, I'll be eating some noodles at lunch time.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Grafitti in Yokohama

For some reason, there is about 3km of commissioned graffiti along the train tracks in downtown Yokohama. I just happened to be wandering around the area on a hot Friday afternoon and stumbled upon it. I stopped counting, but I think there were about 50 massive pieces.

A lot of styles, from interlocking letters to abstract art to some that looked like something from my Junior High School student's class banner. Of course, the commissioned stuff had almost all been "added" too by some obviously un-commissioned works.

There were a few places I wanted to head to to photograph the graffiti. One was along the Tokyo Bay waterfront, but when I finally retraced my steps to where it was, the government had painted over the work. The other is along the Chuo line on the way to Tachikawa where I work on the weekend. I'm usually not in the mood for some guerrilla style photography at 8am.

Its safe to say it's not an illegal piece if the artist puts his web page on the bottom.

Rock on Tokyo graffiti artists. Now start hitting up some more risky areas.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Getting a Driving License in Japan Part 4

I was thinking of deleting my posts about failing the motorcycle test. It's an ego thing. From an outside view, I look pretty incompetent. The first time I failed, I told someone at my guesthouse, and he replied, "You failed a driving test? Did you just learn how to drive?" Then, like when you tell a lame joke, I had to explain myself.

So, yeah, I failed for the 3rd time.

The guy from my last time was there, a seriously cool dude with a restored 70's Honda CB400, who is trying to get his 大型 (big size) license so he can buy a classic 70's CB750. This type of valiant effort deserves a license. I think my want to tour the Japanese countryside deserves a license too.

He went first and completely choked. Foot down at the very beginning. It was sad. The first thunder crack of what would become a torrential downpour sounded in the distance. I started the motorcycle.

At the beginning I stalled. Oops. Not an instant fail though. Start back up and continue. As before, I did fine on the 1st set of obstacles. But then I got to the section where you must make 2 90 degree turns on a street just wider than the bike. I watched in slow motion, floating above my body like an enlightened Buddha, as I took a turn too wide and plowed through about 6 cones. Nothing cute, like a light tap, but a full on mow down. If this test was to simulate driving into the parking lot at my Junior High, there would be 6 dead 1st graders in a bloody heap under my wheels.

In frustration, I gunned it and flew through the next set of cones at about triple normal speed, not touching a one... perfect execution.

This time, the instructor's advice was, "You need more training." Then it started pouring rain in the 35 degree heat and I rode my bicycle home.