Saturday, January 30, 2010

Technically Incorrect

The other night at Monday evening Japanese class, our wonderful teacher was checking the pronunciation of both me and this other girl in the class who I think is more advanced than me in terms of vocabulary and grammar knowledge (and certainly in reading, being from China). She would have us read a sentence or two, or a dialog together out of the book.

For the most part, I'm pretty proud of my pronunciation. The first real compliment I got on my Japanese was on the way I pronounce the words I do know, and in the mornings when I yell out my greeting, Kyotosensei (the English speaking VP) always looks up to see if it's me. I can only credit an acute sense of mimicry and years under the tutelage of my native Japanese Vanderbilt faculty.

Anyway, back to this Monday night. The other girl read a sentence, then I read it, and to my ear it sounded just right. Our teacher had me read it again and then she said, "The way you say this part is technically incorrect. You say it like you're from Kansai."

Hot damn! I've picked up some intonation patterns from the local dialect. Which may be technically incorrect, but to me, basically it's awesome. Furthermore, when she said the sentence both ways (once in Kansai, once in Standard), I could not tell the difference. Which is a fairly rare occurrence for me (see: mimicry).

I want to be as adept at Kansai as I become at Standard, and I'm really glad that I still have teachers who will teach me Standard even as I live here and pick up the local speech patterns. I want to speak Kansai because I live in Kansai. I really do think it's a character mark, and I like the thought of my experience being built into my speech.

I've heard my main JTE (Mikan-sensei) switch between the two depending on the person with whom he's talking, or even the subject matter he's talking about. As a language teacher, he's a master of Standard, but he's also clearly a child of Kansai, and sometimes I hear him relating to students or joking with them using the more laid-back dialect. I desire this power.

In Kyoto, we stayed at a Guest House whose manager spoke flawless English with an Australian accent (having lived there for several years). It was really awesome. Nami-san, who was our hall coordinator at Vandy for several years, was really fun to talk to once I got here on the ground in Japan. She's from Kyoto, and that's part of Kansai, so she actually speaks Kansai-ben on a regular basis. But at Vandy, she always spoke Standard! "I had to; that was my job!" she told me.

Although I grew up in the south of the US, I don't have a noticeable accent. But I can produce one pretty easily, either on command, or because I'm spending time with someone who does have one (ie, The Other Georgian).

I really think that the reason my principal thought I couldn't speak Japanese when I first got here is because he has a super-awesome Kansai speech pattern and I stared at him like.. wha? Upon my first meeting. Really, it sounds like a whole other language. Check this out to hear the same exchange played out in Standard and in Kansai.

On the bus the other day, I heard a woman talking to the bus driver and realized from her accent that she is foreign, probably Chinese or something like that. I was excited to be able to pick up information like that just from listening. It means my Japanese ear is getting better. I also understand a lot more of the morning meetings now.. I can grasp the main topic (if I pay attention.. because honestly people talking to each other and not me in a language that isn't really mine is a great opportunity to zone out) if not the finer points. And when the school nurse wanted to send for the VP to translate her medical explanation of Jermaine, I insisted that it wasn't necessary. (How can you argue with "Keep!" ?)

So there is progress. There's something about being completely surrounded by a language at almost all times that makes it nearly impossible not to learn a thing, or maybe two.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hot Danger II: Jermaine

When I told people I'd "burned my foot" they again naturally assumed it to be the fault of that cute little kerosene device which has so many safety features, I'd be hard-put to injure myself if that were my intent. (It even turns itself off after three hours, just for good measure)

But no, something much more innocuous-looking was the culprit this time. And I consider this instance to be more severe because injury was done to my person.

Don't I just look like I would burn a bitch?

I have a hot water bottle, because as I may have mentioned, we don't have central heating, I don't want to fall asleep with my kerosene heater on (CO poisoning), blah blah blah. Long story short, to prevent my feet from getting frostbite overnight (exaggeration), I fill this cute little sheep with scalding water and stick it under the blanket.

There is a little warning label that comes attached when you buy one of these things. I can't read, but the picture of a little girl with pain zig-zags coming out of her head and a bright red foot was unmistakable. The instructions were, put this thing in the blankets to warm up the blankets, then don't leave it by your feet overnight.

Bah! Who ever heard of such waste of warmth? Certainly not I. And so, night after night I left that cute little thing in the sheets, and I never suffered the worse.

Until...

Last Friday I attended a certain Alice-in-Wonderland party (as Tweedledum, no less). After imbibing, I biked home to sleep. As usual, I filled the water bottle and went to bed. When I woke up, my foot hurt, and I couldn't remember harming myself at the birthday party (goodness, was I really like that..?). And the more I considered it, the more I was convinced I would have noticed the scrape or burn or whatever when I crammed my feet into shoes for the bike ride home.

No no, what happened was much more sinister. Overnight, while my foot rested against yutanpo for eight hours, it slowly cooked my skin.

Gross.

I went to the store and bought burn cream and bandages large enough to accommodate the freaking thing, which was too wide for band-aids. I bundled it up Saturday evening and spent Sunday running errands. When I took off the bandage at the end of the day, the creepy burn had turned into the biggest blister I have ever seen.

I'll spare you the pictures, although I did take some, just because I was fascinated with horror at the whole thing. The blister is now named Jermaine because it is too large and has been with me too long; it has almost taken on a life of its own as it proceeded to alter mine all week.

For one thing, it's about a half centimeter tall. Not long, not wide. Tall. Which made wearing shoes (at least correctly) out of the question. I went to work on Monday hoping to show our school nurse, but she was out that day. I was at this point a bit nervous because a friend mentioned having to have a burn 'drained' to prevent 'infection.'

Noooo, infection! No! But I also couldn't bring myself to do it myself. And I wanted someone who knew their stuff to look at it and tell me what to do with it.

On Tuesday, still wearing my regular tennis shoes and tromping all over the back of the right one, I went to the middle school after elementary time and showed it to her. She took one look at it and said "Oh! Keep! Keep!" and then explained to me in Japanese (which I am proud to have gotten) that new skin is growing underneath so I should basically keep the bubble as long as I can.

I promptly went to Jusco and bought backless shoes. I've been wearing the guest slippers at work all week (except that one day I brought my Jelly Belly slippers instead), which only made me feel strange in front of the kids' parents on Thursday. Otherwise I really wanted the kids to ask me why I was wearing them so I could tell them the story of my BADASS blister experience.

But by Tuesday night, the novelty had worn off; I haven't been able to really go for a walk or jog (or swim, either) all week, and now I'm sitting here, contemplating Jermaine's murder so I can wear real shoes tomorrow for my Kobe expedition.

World Citizenry

First landmines in Cambodia, now the Lake District in England...?

I'm actually kind of enjoying the way our textbooks' topics induce me to do a little research. For all that I'm hooked on education and have spent a good deal of time at my schooling, I know a great deal about a very few things. The vast empty spaces in my general knowledge are often overlooked..!

So today I want to go to the UK, because I've never been there, and because reading about the Lake District and looking at maps and reading the names of the towns and mountains and lakes brings to mind every good fantasy novel I ever read (which were all, I think, probably written by Brits anyway).

Last week, I wanted to go on Pepy adventures because I didn't know until I started looking into it for class how much landmines are a freaking PROBLEM. And, being in Asia, I want to explore Asia anyway.

Either way.. I'm glad my JTEs tell me in advance when I'm supposed to be an authority on this or that foreign culture. Because if it's not classical and it's not American (and even sometimes if it is), chances are....

Thursday, January 28, 2010

T-minus

Today was a much anticipated marathon day. Thursdays are always a bit rough, first because the workday consists of fifth and sixth grade at Big Elementary, and that (at least last week) is the ROUGHEST GIG IN TOWN. And second because the post-work time is full of both ikebana and then adult English conversation class (Salamander). It's just a full day.. which requires a lot of gear switching between elementary and adults. Given that most days I teach the same lesson 4 times and call it even, this is always a stretch.

Back to that rough gig: I don't know how they group the classes. When I was in middle school, we were grouped into teams, but it was all very random. That I was on 7-C is to say nothing of my GPA or behavioral status. But I think they actually separate these kids into quiet/well behaved and louder/less well behaved.

And it doesn't always play out the way you'd think.. sometimes I have far better classes with the louder groups just because they are usually much more willing to open their little mouths and give English a shot. Other times, the "genki" kids won't listen long enough to learn how to play the game right, so it all goes to hell.

Anyway, there's one class at Big Elementary, one fifth grade class... 1st through 4th grades I teach with the homeroom teachers, but 5th and 6th I teach with one particular lady, Youthful-sensei, who is a 6th grade teacher (she is HR for one of the two 6th grade classes, that is). Youthful-sensei is awesome, but she isn't the HR for any of the other three classes we teach together, so it's occasionally a challenge for her to handle them too. Oh, and she speaks English only kind of. So teaching Thursdays with her requires me to convey my meaning not only to these kids who don't know English, but their teacher, who knows only a bit more than they. She's really patient and we work around it (it's worked amazingly so far).. but imagine the frustration of knowing there are only ten minutes left in class and you'd really like to do this one last activity, but... the setup/explanation time are going to be exorbitant. Yeah.

So add to that this one fifth grade class which contains all of the behaviorally energetic kids, plus all kids with special needs. Subtract their actual HR teacher, add me and Youthful-sensei. What does it add up to? Last Thursday, it was DISASTER. This one particular kid tends to get really obnoxious on his bad days. He yells and runs around and pointedly refuses to cooperate. I think he's smart.. I can see that he often understands what I'm trying to convey because this little brat stares at me a minute and then does the exact opposite. You couldn't be that contrary unless you knew what I wanted in the first place.

Anyway, he quite regularly refuses to do what I want them to do, and quite regularly makes teaching the others very difficult. All of which I kind of ignore because.. well, what can you do? But last week, I passed out these beautiful alphabet letters made by my predecessor, all color coded (rainbowing from a red A with matching lowercase red a to a purple H and so on) and magnetized on the back so they stick to the chalkboard. And I passed out all the green and blue and yellow and orange ones and said, "Half of you have uppercase, half have lowercase, go find your partner." [and then acted it out with Youthful-sensei so they would get that]

And when they had done this, all the kids were kind of bending their letters and flapping them around or whatever, and that's fine. I saw him consider sticking his into the giant kerosene heater in the middle of the room. Lucky for us all, he thought better of it. But by the time we were teaching the kids to have a shopping conversation in pairs, he was stabbing through the lamination with the pointy end of a circle-drawing compass.

That shit is zenzen not okay.

I held out my hand to demand the letter T back from him, and he actually ran away from me. So I chased him. And tried to grab that letter from him. But he twisted so I couldn't reach it. So I gravely looked to his friend and classmate and said, "Take that from him and give it to me." He stared. I tried again in Japanese this time. He stared. Slower this time. He did it.

The stabby kid in question returned to his seat and quietly ignored my class for the rest of the period. Everyone basically tried to ignore that I had just lost my shit and attacked a child. Okay not really. But that's how it felt. Youthful-sensei looked like she wanted to say something, but we sort of didn't talk about it. After class, I went in the bathroom and cried.

So that was last week. Flash forward to this one. I was looking forward to Thursday the way a doomed man looks forward to his date with the gallows. Because I had the same old Big-Elementary linep, immediately followed by Open School at the middle school 5th period.

What is Open School? I'm glad you asked. Apparently, every so often, they open up a certain day or time of a certain day for kids' parents to come and see what their kids do in school all day. The moms stand in the back of the room and watch you teach/watch their kids learn.

EXCELLENT.

So my thought is: awesome. 5th graders are going to slaughter me just in time for my bloodless corpse to be paraded before the onlooking parents of the 2nd year (8th grade) students.

But by the end of the elementary stint, I was feeling pretty okay. I dedicated myself to not letting things frustrate or get the best of me. It's too damn easy, really, to get frustrated, because things will basically never go how you plan or even want them to go. So if you can just shrug it off and say "OH WELL! Shikata ga nai!" then you will save a lot more sanity.

So me and Jermaine (the name of my blister.. we'll get to that in Hot Danger part II) made it through 5th and 6th grade. We even maybe accomplished something along the way. And then I pranced my little dressed-up self over to the middle school feeling quite powerful. Bring it on, moms of the middle school. I CAN TAKE YOU ALL.

And we did a lesson, and the moms observed, and it was fine.

I've been so focused on getting through to this afternoon. Now I feel a lot more free. I'm not going to ikebana tonight because Salamander eikaiwa is a welcome party for our newest student, and that starts at 6 right next to my apartment. Win win win. And there will be karoke. Which I haven't done in approximately way too long.

There are a lot of things left to do, but this week of intensity is now officially on its way out. Yess.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hot Danger

I'm adding a new tag to the mix, "stupidity," which I will use to tag all the entries about stuff that happens wherein one of my first thoughts was "Whoa. I really need to not tell my mom about this because she'll worry unnecessarily." Having thought that, I still end up telling her about them, so there's no reason not to write about them here. Don't worry, dear readers, I've survived so far. Maybe the sharing of my stupidity will help others later scouring the net for answers to the same problem.

Today I will speak on the dangers of winter. Only dangerous when mixed with a good little does of stupid.

First: once upon a time, I almost started a fire in my house.

I may have mentioned before now that Japan is kind of cold. And that it has no insulation in the walls of buildings. Okay. Well to prevent death and hypothermia, there are heaters. They come in many shapes and sizes for many different uses.

There are huge round towers about two or three feet high, kerosene burners, which are installed in each room in the school. The halls are frigid, but the rooms can be pretty warm. I think when I told my fellow JETs I was getting a kerosene heater, they pictured one like this.

photo borrowed from a fellow JET's blog - she's a great insight into Japan and JET things! Check it out at http://yamaninjo.wordpress.com/

They expressed fears about open flames in my house. Little did they know... the real danger lurked not with my kerosene heater (although I did spill freaking kerosene ALL OVER the kitchen floor that one time...)

Compact, effective, and almost cute!

This thing, like all kerosenes, makes a pretty bad smell upon startup and turn-off, so I am always sure to ventilate well. And, it you so much as tap it accidentally, it shuts itself off immediately.

No, when I tried to burn the house down, I had to use more elementary measures.

Smaller electric heaters, called "stove"s are also to be found easily. I bought one when I was still searching for the perfect kerosene unit, and use it only rarely anymore. It's just a little space heater. Two wires that get hot and a grille to shield it from wayward material.

But the grille does nothing. Nothing I say! When you unseeingly kick a blanket onto the space heater. No really, I even smelled it and thought by way of a little joke, "it's funny that they call it a stove since it kind of smells like something is cooking."

Something WAS cooking.

Victim and culprit.

That blanket is super flame retardant, or the amount of time it spent on that heater should have set a lot more shit ablaze.


Second: once upon a time, I burned my foot so badly I had to buy new shoes to accomodate the blister that resulted.

To be continued...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Coldest Day

Yesterday as she brought me back from work, my co-teacher (for 5th and 6th grade, anyway) at Small Elementary told me this: "Tomorrow is the coldest day."

Legendarily, anyway. Whether or not it really is, she explained, well, whatever. I'm not sure how they figure this, but apparently, January 19th is supposed to be the depth of winter. Where I come from, February is about the worst; I'm not sure, though, if that's just because it's the GREYEST.

That notwithstanding, a warm front moved in today, and it was the warmest day I've seen in a very long time. According to weather.com (which has been wrong before), the high today was 14C, and the low tonight is predicted at a whopping 8C. I don't know what that is in F, but it's a big deal.

Today I celebrated the coldest day by going for a jog..! And running all around in the outdoor air. I also feel more motivated to do the stuff I've been putting off (suddenly, I'm dying to have a free moment to do bulletin boards, rather than hating and fearing them like some kind of disease).

We had a few days like this when I lived in Kansas, too. I had the impression going in that winter was going to be one long solid snowed-in period wherein we would simply not leave the house, nor would we accomplish anything, nor have any fun. But there were a couple of random days when temperatures reached right up to 68 or 70F! I remember going for walks with friends in sundresses, overjoyed at the weather respite.

The report says it's supposed to start dropping again after today, but it was a good break, I think.

Can you read this kanji?

As part of our "able to" lesson ("Can you ___?" "I can ____.") the textbook has examples of stuff to ask your classmates. Can you ski? Can you swim? I have a workpage from a different book (Planet Eigo) that is covered with such question helpers. One of them is "Can you... read this kanji?" with some ridiculously difficult/useless kanji. It has to be a difficult one, because it if were one of the kanji everyone knows, there would be no point in asking if you could read it.

Given my fairly prevalent illiteracy, it is generally safe to assume that in the case of a textbook presenting a kanji some students won't be able to read, I will also not be able to read it.

But.

This was the kanji.

檸檬

Yeah. Get a load of that. And you know what? When I looked at it, my jaw dropped. Because. I can read this kanji.

Hahahaha. Because it's the kanji for lemon. Most of the time, they just write レモン on things. As, of course, do I when I write my name. But this one time, one of my Salamander students gave me a cool placard with my name in kanji. I always thought it was weird to imagine that we 'ferners' could have our names done in kanji, but I realized that my name lends itself rather easily. "Lemon" is both the meaning and pronunciation of that kanji (as far as I know..) So when I made an example for the 3rd years (on Monday) of how to make a name poem, I used my "kanji name" as well as my English spelling (it was a name acrostic, which had sometimes hilarious results).

Which means I can read this kanji.

Window on Wandering

Today I got to play human tape recorder/stand there for a while in most of the 1st year classes I co-taught. This is okay, because the kids do need to hear my masterful intonation and all that.. but it is problematic in that my mind tends to wander. And I can't help but wonder whether the kids can help from wandering, if I can't.

Things I thought about today:

  • Writing a (screen)play
  • How long/expensive a non-shink train ride may be to Hiroshima
  • Letter writing
  • what might be for lunch
  • How many eggs were left in my fridge
  • GHP
  • American penpals for some of my Japanese kids
  • Weddings
  • Bulletin boards
  • Kobe
  • Latin and the teaching thereof

Monday, January 11, 2010

in which the cold is vitally important: スキーが好き*!

Because without the cold we could not have things like snow. And I'm not talking, this time, about a dusting that would make Georgia proud. I'm talking about feet and inches (or I guess tens of centimeters?) of snow built up over days and days in the mountains of Hyogo. I'm talking about Hachikita.

Hachikita is a snow park. I joined Miri, her boyfriend, and his friend for an all-day adventure towards the frozen mountain slopes. The boys are veteran snowboarders who apparently go skiing and boarding all the freaking time. Miri went on a ski trip with her school this one time ten years ago. And I, well, I had never strapped on a pair of skis in my entire blessed life. (Georgia, remember? But no, not even water skis.) I was way too excited about the amount of falling I felt sure I was about to do.

Even the drive was an adventure; as we got farther north, it got snowier and snowier, until we pulled over into one of the shoulders provided for just this purpose and added snow chains to the tires.

By we, I mean the guys did. Notice that we are not alone. Cars all up and down this area were pulling over to put on these things.


We are now much safer.


Which is a good thing, because the road started looking like this.


And we started seeing REAL SNOW or something.

Our snowboarding friends helped us find our way to the rental shop so we could get outfitted with the works. I love snow pants and snow jacket so much, I want to own a set, so I can wear them all the time and be forever impervious to the winter wet.

Miss M is our model. Snowboard friends, background.

My friend Beau had advised me to take a ski class if it were available, so Miri and I signed up to diversify the learning group (it was us and like fourteen small children, most of whom seemed to be a lot better at not sliding down the gently sloping snow by mistake).

We are SNOW DOPLHIN.

My first attempt at walking in skis was perhaps the most painfully frustrating moment of my life. I found myself literally sliding farther and farther backward/downward with every motion made intending to go forward/upward. It was torturous.

Eventually I developed some kind of coping strategy to deal with the fact that my feet were suddenly way too long, heavy, and slippery for any practical movement. It required a lot of poling myself around, which I suspect will come back to haunt me tomorrow in the form of amazing shoulder ache.

Ski school did teach us some important things like how to slow, turn, stop, and all that business, although by the time it was over I was really itching to get out there and start falling. Miri was for some reason less keen on the falling idea. I think it's because she has a bad back (legit).

Our snowboarding friend, from the top of the littlest slope.

We took the tiny slope a few times, I with the mien of an intent seven-year-old, quietly hurrying back into the conveyor belt lift line whenever I reached the bottom because I had to go again. I failed to fall on this small and gentle slope. The snowboarders then coaxed us into trying the adjacent slope and that's where my real career began. That slope started with such a bang (in the form of a steep drop) that I immediately snowbanked myself. The only problem with falling is that when your feet are like five feet long it is a lot harder to stand the ef up. More than once I got myself to a crouching position, only to find I was speeding off again before I had even got my hands back around my poles. Any time I started to go fast, I would put the brakes on, and when that didn't work well enough to suit my sensibilities, I would just take a snow dive sideways. Because those waterproof pants are awesome.

Miri and I conquered the bench ski lift, too. By the end, I was hardly falling at all except when I snowbanked rather than run over a small child. I think that might make me a hero. Not sure.

Our hero rockets down the mountain, determined and unafraid. (Dramatization.)

Another group of friends is going to Hachikita tomorrow, but I'm not sure I'm up for another round so soon. I messed up my shoulder a little bit doing swim strokes improperly, and it's pretty upset at me now for this afternoon's ski adventure.

All in all, it was a good day.

*スキーが好き, or "sukii ga suki" is me trying to be clever and play on the fact that the first "sukii" means "skiing," and the second "suki" means "like." So, "I like skiing!"

Friday, January 8, 2010

in which the cold does not hurt

I went swimming on Wednesday. I have no idea how they keep the big glass-walled pool area warm enough for me and the entire winter-swim-school to run around half-naked and not die, but they do.

There's a certain freedom in wearing less clothes, and in not having to sort of huddle or hunch to be warm. The freedom of motion available in the water is even greater than normal since you don't have to worry as much about things like gravity.

Now all I have to worry about it that I don't actually know how to swim any strokes; I'm just faking it. But I did a few laps, and when I left the place I felt warmer, even though it had gotten dark and my hair was wet. There's an inner warmth that allows you to be careless (at least for a little while) of how high your socks are pulled up or whether your scarf is wrapped around you, without which warmth it sometimes doesn't even matter how bundled you are because you won't feel warm. It's like being on the run, or playing defensive chess. Working with the negative (try not to be cold) instead of the positive (try to be.. something else?).

Mostly, I think it has to do with whether you get to move your muscles and stretch your joints. Shit gets brittle in the cold. I've seen more plastic break in the last week than since I've been here. But the sauna was pretty awesome, too. 90C is really, really hot.

So I'm going to try to get in there on a fairly regular basis, and see if I can manage a bus schedule in the mix. I was able to go easily on Wednesday because I had to bring my car to school, so the lease office guy could come get it from me and change the tires, the oil, add steering fluid, install a CD player, etc. Lots of things to make my life better.

Thursday morning, I woke up with the impression that a warm front must have moved in overnight. But actually, what had happened was, it got even colder, and snowed.

A dusting of snow on my "yard."

A dusting of snow in Ichinan.

I got sent home early that day because all the other teachers had some kind of meeting in Yamasaki, so I went out for tea with The Other Georgian.

I decided I actually do like Japan after all.

at the speed of a bullet

On the day of the 1st, we took the Shinkansen to Osaka. This is excellent because the shink does in three hours what a bus does in like eleven. The Doctor, being in law school, has work to do on the train. I feel this sort of hard-workingness is very Japanese. But the Japanese people around us are sleeping instead.

This is our "What up, we on the shinkansennn!" photo:

The Doctor throws the "very Japanese" finger-V or peace sign.

I settled in to read Harry Potter until DR's mom tapped me to ask which mountain it was we were seeing on the right and I freaked out because OH MY GOD YOU CAN SEE MOUNT FUJI!

You can see Mt. Fuji from the traaaaiin!!

On the way to Osaka back in August, our prefectural helpers had told us it was visible on clear days. But, being August, it was a hazy, not-clear day then. I had forgotten. You kind of go around it and see several sides of the mountain as you progress through the area (at like 300mph or something crazy like that). Sigh. Awesome. Back to reading.. and then..

Oh my God! It's snowing! Like... a lot!

The train does not go as fast when there is snow.

I thought this meant it would be a snowy Osaka upon our arrival, but that was not so.

Hoorah for the bullet train adventure.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

in which the cold does not help

I keep running into fits and starts.. wanting to write, not wanting to write well. Having something to say, not wanting to say it to the audience I have, or wishing someone would listen who doesn't.

Japan is cold, and that makes it a lot harder to love.

I have work to do, but meh.. it's the sort of thing that no one is making me do. And it isn't like being in school, where no one was necessarily making me do those things either, but oh God, I had to do my best so I could impress any and all teachers and staff.

The motivation is low. I watched koi swim in really, really slow motion in the pond behind Iwa Jinja yesterday. It was a sunny, fairly warm afternoon (for December).. up around 8C or something. There is plenty to do, as an English teacher, as a student of Japanese language and culture (with an emerging interest in history and geography). There is always more to learn. There is also plenty to do just as a person with an apartment.. cleaning, decorating, improving. And I don't want to blame it all on the cold, because I know the cold isn't the only problem, but the cold really, really does not help.

I should excercise. I know that I used to say, I don't excercise to look good (that's just a happy side effect); I excercise to stay sane. I've always tried to be at least a bit regular about excercise and eating healthy, because it seemed to have such direct impacts on my moods. When it was autumn here, and I was generally happy, I went jogging every couple of days.

A couple of summers ago, I was hitting the gym really hard at least every other day. I was an emotional wreck, but I was in the best physical shape of my life. Somehow, it evens out eventually and we make it through.

I think excercise would help a lot now to make me feel more energetic. If I could spend a little time with raised heart rate, I would probably be able to apply a lot more of my other time to things like writing, reading, studying, planning, and all the other stuff for which the /want/ lurks just below the surface of this slow who-cares film. Instead of just preferring sleep. It's like being a hibernating creature.

Excercise would help. But it is so. Fucking. Cold.

There's a sports complex very close to where I work, and I'm thinking of going there to start swimming. They don't have machines, they don't have an indoor track, but they do have a heated pool. I've never considered myself a swimmer. In 2003 when I "decided" to "swim laps" "several times a week" with one of the girls in my major... I went once, almost drowned myself in exhaustion, and never returned. Then again, I never considered myself a runner, either (I used to wonder why ANYONE would find ANYTHING about running or jogging 'peaceful' or nice in any way), until I just started doing it in 2007.. because I had to. Because I was totally broke, but also totally lost inside my head; and I had the Nashville sidewalks. It got me out of bed-- because the earlier you got out in August, the cooler you could hope for it to be-- and it had to be the morning, because if I didn't jog, I would be too nauseous to want breakfast.

But swimming? Really? With the drying out of the skin, and the chlorine hair and the way you look at the water and think, aw, pools are fun, right? And then you swim like ONE lap and feel like you are about to die? According to Big Bro JET, they don't use chlorine. He said he thinks they said something about cleaning the pool with "sound waves"... yeah. I have no idea. But I may go this afternoon to check it out. Maybe if I start out slowly, it'll be okay.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

In Japan, New Year’s Day is a big deal. I’d compare it to the American Christmas, when a lot of businesses are closed and a lot of people go home to visit their families. In fact, lots of people send out nengajou, or new year cards, which operate basically like your standard American Christmas card, notifying the recipient that you are still alive and well, despite not having seen (or perhaps spoken to) them for quite some time. I myself adopted this custom, a bit imperfectly, to my holiday season. I mailed haphazardly and late, so if you didn’t get one and you think you deserved one, make sure I have your address and maybe you’ll see something at Asian New Year time, which this year falls in mid-February.

Yeah. I have every reasonable excuse to procrastinate.

I rang in 2010 at Zoujoji, near Tokyo Tower. Having flown from America on the 30th, I am still pretty jet-lagged, but I have to say this has been a very good New Year’s Eve indeed! I’ve been staying with a college friend and his parents, and we’ll be taking the train down to Osaka tomorrow for some sightseeing there. I traveled with this same friend to Spain back in the spring of 2006, so I kind of already know the modus operandi for them. I’ll call him The Doctor.

I also got to see four other Vandy friends since landing in the late afternoon of the 30th, all of them previous residents of the language dorm where I spent several years. I felt like such a jet-setter, sitting on the monorail, passing under Rainbow Bridge just hours after landing at Narita. I collected my stuff, coursed through customs, and shipped my large bags home like a pro. Seriously, I had two bags both pushing 50lbs, and the total cost to take them off my hands and deliver them safely to my door in Shiso was 3600 yen.

You’re not in MarioKart, you’re in Japan, but it’s pretty much the same thing.

I didn’t feel like such a jet-setter when I was falling asleep at the table as the clock struck ten, but there’s only so much you can expect from one who recently underwent a time-travel like that. I had a good time seeing my friends, though. I severely underestimated the time it takes to subway across Tokyo and got in pretty late (okay like 11:30, but when your brain suspects that to be 9:30am, that’s pretty late), but it was no matter because The Doctor and I slept til 9.

Vandy reunion in Tokyo. <3

More Vandy kids, including your very travel-tastic heroine, at unusual levels of unwashed.

We walked around Daiba the morning of the 30th and glanced in some of the local malls, looking to make drag queens of ourselves on purikura machines. Went to see Cirque du Soleil ZED near Tokyo Disney, which was absolutely magnificent (that is to say, I sat there staring, with my mouth hanging open for most of the show). Delicious shabu-shabu dinner, and off to Zoujoji for the countdown.


O, Daiba.

Because there's a Statue of Liberty. And the Rainbow bridge is white by day.

Ostensibly a photo of The Doctor. Actually about those dogs in tracksuits.

We pass through an area associated with Tokyo Disney along the way...

Almost had "lunch" at Sweets Paradise. This photo is like.. a perfect moment captures on film. All you can eat sweets buffet, fountain, small Japanese children playing in a fountain.

We seemed to be enjoying quite a bit of good timing, as we got up to the temple steps just as some young people that looked like Boy Scouts were bringing torches out of the temple to light the fires. I think they were for burning last year’s fortunes.

video

We went inside the temple and I got to toss in a fiver and make a new year’s wish; shortly thereafter, all visitors were ushered outside the temple. We managed to use an exit that not many were using (as most people seemed to be trying to use the entrance instead), which led us out around the back of the temple, where there was room to breathe and a great view of Tokyo Tower. We explored this virtually deserted area a bit more before going back out front. They were pounding mochi there, under the light of the full moon (and a bunch of lamps too). Lots of ‘carnival food’ stands. The Doctor finally found a place to buy some mochi, and we got close to the bell outbuilding to await the coming year.

Mochi. Way more delicious than it looks here.

omg Zojoji! You can see the temple main building, the tower, and lots of balloons.

Two Vandy friends found us there and we waited as the crowd pressed closer still, many of them toting one of the special 3,000 balloons to be released upon the turning of the year. The temple monks began to chant and perform the rituals for the closing of 2009, and Tokyo Tower went dark. As midnight approached, the tower began to sparkle and flash, and at midnight, the crowd erupted into cheers, the tower burst into light, a ton of balloons were released into the air, and the monks began the tolling of the bell. At the New Year, they toll it 108 times to purify the 108 sins of humans.

video

After all that, we aimed for the entrance. The Doctor used his NYC-life skillz of crowd-press navigation to get us through to the entrance, which is impressive, especially because we were packed so close to those around us, it really felt like one had no real choice on one’s speed or direction of progress.

Vandy kids ring in the New Year.

We made it out in unexpectedly good time, and took a taxi to the nearby metro station, and wishing everyone a very akemashite omedetou gozaimasu, we were free to sleep.