Sunday, June 16, 2013

Train buddies

Wow… It’s been a year since I last done one of these... Wow.  Oops, sorry.  Well, for my triumphant return I will talk about my train friends.  What are train friends?  I have no idea who these people really are, but I see them every day on my way to work and so I made up little names for them.  If I don’t see anyone of them, I look around and make sure I am on the right train.  So here they are, silly names and all:

The Badger:  This guy is always seated, and always clutching his backpack for dear life.  He usually is sleeping, or pretending to be sleeping, but if someone happens to wake him up he glares at them and grumbles.  I discovered this once when I accidentally poked him with my umbrella.

Au Natural:  This is a sweet looking girl, who like the badger, always has a seat.  What is unusual about her is that she looks up.  Everyone else looks down while reading, sleeping or playing with a cell phone.  I call her Au Natural because she is the rare breed in Japan who doesn’t wear any make up at all.

The Flash:  This guy cracks me up.  When the train pulls up, he gets into position to haul ass to any available seat.  He doesn’t wait for people to get off first…  Hell no! He charges in and jumps into a seat, because if he doesn’t, perhaps the world will end.  All during this time he has this panicked look on his face.  He always gets his seat though.

The salesman:  This is an attractive woman maybe in her mid to late 30s.  I think she is pretty hot, because she seems really comfortable in her own skin.  She is always reading something, and usually it’s on her Iphone.  I call her the salesman because she is so comfortable with herself, that her favorite pants, which she wears often, are these ridiculous checked things that look s like something a 1970s era used car salesman would wear.

No face:  This is the prettiest girl on the train in my opinion.   Everything about her is perfect.   Something that I found that was really attractive that I never thought about is the fact that she often reads a newspaper.  Odd right?  But I can’t recall a time when I have seen a girl read a newspaper.  I find that attractive… I know, I’m weird.  Now, why I call her no face is because she has no frickin facial expression.  It’s like her face is made of porcelain and if she were to smile or frown, her face would fall off.  That kind of creeps me out.  It’s 7 in the morning when I see her though, so I don’t blame her for having an expressionless face of the damned.

Tattoo:  This guy reminds me of a taller Tattoo from Fantasy Island.  He is always wearing something tropical looking and is very proud of his smart phone.  He wears it around his neck and never turns the screen off.  Its seems to me he wants everyone to say to him: “Gee, what an amazing phone.  Hence, you must be an amazing person.

The buzzard:  This is a high school kid who knows exactly what station I get off at, and so when he sees me, he rushes right in front of me (assuming I got a seat) and waits for me to get off so he can take the seat.

And those are my regular train friends… Making my morning commute something…

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

So, that's what Odysseus felt like...

(If Lady Gaga and Bjork had binged on Gummy bears and nickel candy, this is what they would throw up)

Went to my lesson again last night.  So far I haven’t missed a one, even though I have been tempted to cancel a few times.  Because of my schedule, I usually get there really early.  It’s either that, or go back to my apartment for 5 minutes before I have to leave again.  So it seems that when I get there early, the first person in is Student A (if you reference my last post).  Since we are the only people in the room, of course we are going to talk, it would be rude not to… Maybe being rude is the better thing in this case.  Student A has to ‘win’ the conversation, and is constantly one- upping.  If I take the conversation another way, Student A will start hinting at things they want to talk about.  When it was said, I am sore from working out so much (as a huge loaf of bread is hurridly being stuffed in Student A’s mouth) and they are so sore, but they are in a quandary because Student A’s art is suffering because there is only so much time for one.  This is kind of conflicting with the earlier “I haven’t been asleep for 48 hours” in combination with “I have become a huge fan of British TV, and I watch it all the time.”  I have decided just to ride it out until someone else comes into class and distracts them.  I almost laughed at the “suffering artist” complaint though, but it doesn’t really surprise me.  I left the art world because of the prevalence of that whiney attitude.  I made the mistake of asking advice for which graphic art tool to use since I was new to the game, and that opened me up to the flood gates of “I was a graphic artist major in College, and all the cool people use this program… What you have is the worst program (contrary to many other graphic artists I asked before downloading the program, ergo I am a total lame-o.  Anyways, once the lesson is underway and Student A is focused, it’s a pleasure being in class with them.  Outside of class, I think I would rather talk with some of the homeless people outside, they are honestly far more interesting and seemingly genuine.  What the hell do I know though, I see this person for only an hour and a half a week.  Just my impression I keep to myself and to you lucky random viewer.

There is a big issue in Japan with Chikan チカンor molesters in the train.  Generally speaking, they fondle women on the train hoping the innate shame felt by a lot of Japanese women will allow them to get away with it.  This has led to Japan having some segregated trains, which interesting enough, I have been told is avoided by a lot of women because of the toxic miasma of competing perfumes and that a car full of women will make some of them unusually aggressive when getting on and off the train.  When men are caught doing this, the consequences are similar to being caught on that good old show ‘to catch a predator’.  There have now been cases where girls have just told men to pay them off, or they will tell the police that the guy molested them.  There is almost nothing that happens to the girls, but their word is taken as true, and when it’s a ‘he said she said’ type argument, the guy is going to lose.  This has created some odd behavior in some men on the train around pretty women.  My favorite technique is for guys to reach up for the hand straps and almost handcuff themselves with both hands to the strap if they can’t move away.  So… why the hell am I talking about this?  Because it’s made me paranoid! Let me take today for instance.  On the train ride to work, I had rested my umbrella on a vertical hand-rail next to the door, and moved in front of a seat nearby.  The train wasn’t particularly crowded as Japanese trains go, but crowded enough that I had to stand.  Well, a gorgeous woman gets on the train and attaches herself to that rail and won’t let go.  It’s a peculiarity of some train-goers to hang on to that rail for dear life, and she is doing it with gusto, facing away from me… her very shapely behind resting against my umbrella.  It’s raining like hell outside, and I will need that umbrella, so there I am staring at my umbrella, pondering on how I can take hold of it without touching her… Alas there is no way.  Then I realize to myself, it actually looks like I am gawking at her behind… when all I really want is my damn umbrella!  I was saved in the end by a jack ass hauling off the train that nudged her enough that I could make a very obvious move for my umbrella.

I just want my umbrella....
Later on, when getting the bus back home, the only bus that is available is packed… I mean so packed I can only get one step in before the doors close.  Why is it so packed?  The women’s beauty college just let out, and I am on a bus packed with amazing looking women.  The first thing that shoots through my mind is… Truly, I am in Valhalla!  The place all good warriors rest in blissful eternity…  That lasted about 10 seconds until a new group gets on the bus and pushes me into the middle of the pack… and I am literally squished against them.  Now… the best way to describe how I feel is not a really happy happy man, as I should be… but instead, I feel like Indiana Jones when he fell in the pit full of snakes.  That really cute girl in front of me… yeah… that’s the uber venomous cobra…. Don’t move a muscle…  A new crowd gets on the bus and a few get off… So now I am pressed against a lot of amazing looking women.  The Indiana Jones scene has now switched to when the Nazis have taken out the arc, while he is screaming “DON’T LOOK AT IT!!!!”

I finally get off the bus, and I say to myself “So that’s what Odysseus felt like.”

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Double post

“The spring is sprung, the grass is ris’, now I wonder where the Robin is?”

Cherry blossoms outside my place

I don’t know where that came from.  When I was a child, my family would always go on a long trip by car, up to a 25 hour drive at one point, to my grandparent’s house.  There was this one sign with that odd little poem that was never taken down and it became a landmark of sorts for us.
That’s beside the point.  It is mid-spring in Tokyo now, and the cherry blossoms came and went in its usual, glorious fanfare.  The weather is slowly warming up to a very comfortable level now, but for some odd reason, I already miss the cold.  Don’t get me wrong, the cold this winter in this apartment was unbelievable.  It was almost like being outside.  There were plenty of mornings when the olive oil looked like orange juice concentrate because it had gelled up in the cold.
Lately it is still a struggle to survive on this income coupled with my wife’s.  Things are finally starting to look like home here and thank goodness we have an air conditioner now.  Last summer was god awful miserable with the humidity and heat.  Things we need to get still are a sofa, a microwave/toaster stand, a book shelf and a TV.  I have been without TV for almost a solid year, and I honestly don’t miss it that much.  I just want one to watch the movies.  Programming in the US was so horrible, that the commercials were often better than the show.  I got tired of paying to watch advertisement as well.
Work is going well, but the paycheck is irregular because of the long holidays.  The good news is, I got a promotion to be head teacher, and that pads my wallet a little bit, and I will be moonlighting soon with my first private student through a company that I had forgotten about applying with.
I would have to say.. all in all… that I am optimistic lately.

As for sight seeing, I went to Asakusa and inadvertently saw the new Skytree tower.  Its big, but honestly, I don't like the location being so close to the only traditional area in Tokyo.  To me it's like a giant middle finger to the area.
2 months later….

Ok, I completely forgot to post that, so this is a double post.  Since its past memorial day (no such creature exists in Japan) I suppose it’s now summer.  So far the temperature is pleasant, being in the mid 70 range.  If its anything like my previous experience in Japan though, the weather will just get unbearably hot one day, and stay that way for a while.  Like someone hit a switch or something. 
Anyhow, I have just started taking Japanese lessons.  My Japanese ability is really strange, and on average, I think I am better than most in the class.  There are enough holes in my ability that it is still worth taking the lessons though.  The class is an interesting, and chaotic mix of people.
Student A:  Loves to talk and not really listen.  That’s my impression anyways.  Getting into a conversation is like a verbal arm wrestling match.  Individually has been in the class a long time, so has a standardized progression of ability.  Loves to boast!
Student B: A citizen of Costa Rica.  Good Japanese skill, but likes to monopolize teacher time by asking strange questions and occasionally venting his frustration on certain words.  Can’t stand that the USA is commonly referred to as アメリカ rather than the less used米国, being from Central America.  Can be inconsiderate to other students, but I get the feeling it’s not intentional.
Student C: Quiet American, who is pretty tight with A.  Her Japanese is pretty bad, and her pronunciation makes me cringe.  I guess we all have to start somewhere.
Student D: Very strange American.  Seems to have an inability to carry a conversation in English even. He is quite happy to ignore that other people exist.  Seems to have a hard time with directions as well.  Loves apple products though, and loves to show them to everyone.  He shows up with his Mac, Ipad, and I phone so everyone can look at it.  Impeccably dressed.
Student E: Usually late Jamaican.  Japanese is pretty bad, but not as bad as C.
Student F: Phillipino whose Japanese seems to be very similar to mine.  Some good fluency points, but with a ton of holes in it.  Generally inquisitive, well mannered and a good classmate. 
Student G: Phillipino whose Japanese is a little below mine but, like F, is inquisitive, polite and well mannered. 
Student H: Australian whose Japanese seems to rival C, but has a brilliant dry sense of humor and is considerate of others.
Student I: Angry Jamaican, that’s how it comes off anyways.  Actually nice, but seems to have a hard time with a group dynamic.  Good sense of humor though, which always is a plus.
There aren’t any people that I don’t like here, but the personalities clash, and definitely take away from the lesson.  A lot of time is just spent bickering.  There are only 2 or 3 in this class I would actually enjoy hanging out with though.  Its a touch of a pain to get to, being all the way in Yokohama, and the travel fee is a little steep because of Sotetsu line.  The class starts at 6pm and finishes at 7:30pm.  Then its Negishi line to Higashi-Kanagawa station, transfer to Yokohama line and ride it all the way home, where I take the bus.  I could walk, but I am so damn tired and it would actually take longer and leave me a sweaty mess.  I usually get home around 9:30pm if I don't goof off.
On a totally different note, I got another private student interview this Saturday.  If they accept it will mean another 3,000 yen an hour,  bringing me up to 24,000 yen a month extra.  Works for me.

View of Yokohama from my classroom.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Why did you come to Japan/Why do you like Japan?

A question I get asked a lot is “Why did you come to Japan?” or “Why do you like Japan?”  It is not an easy question for me answer, so I always have to be vague about it.  I suppose it all started when I was in Elementary school in the early 1980s.  Ninja stuff was all the rage, and honestly I could not tell the difference between China and the rest of Asia.  There was a movie that came out, that now I look back on as being so incredibly stupid, but back then I thought it was awesome.  It was a series called “Revenge of the ninja.”   The video I posted just makes me laugh... what the hell is that they are doing with their hands!?
But what really clamped it for me was when my parents came upon a Japanese art shop that was closing down.  Everything was on clearance so they decided to decorate the living room in an oriental theme.  That included a large screen that went on the wall showing a pastural scene in the sumi-e style.  Being a kid that loved to draw, that was what really started me off.
As I grew up as a somewhat artsy kid with a big imagination, I quickly fell into playing Dungeons and Dragons and other RPG games.  Suddenly, a new expansion came out to D&D that I immediately had to get.  D&D Oriental adventures.  Reading this is where I really started to get a glimpse of Japan through its mythology.  D&D has always been based on the mythologies of many different cultures, and it was my first separation of Japan from say China or Korea, what really focused me on Japan eventually was the advent of Teenage mutant ninja turtles… Not the Saturday morning cartoon version, but the older black and white, very violent comics, through that comic I was introduced to Usagi Yojimbo, which is an anthromorphic comic roughly based on Miyamoto Musashi and retelling Japanese myth and legend.  Most of that comic is very accurate to Japanese history despite its cartoony nature, and the story telling is so good, I am still quite the fan of that comic.  Like all things though, I grew apart from it (until I picked it back up in my early 30s), and my interest in Japan went in torpor again until college.  Here is where I first started seriously studying Japanese history and took some basic Japanese language courses.
Scene from Usagi Yojimbo

After I graduated college, the fascination with Japan subsided a little, until a new card game and RPG came out using Japanese mythology as a center piece entitled Legend of the five rings which allowed me to use the little information I had picked up throughout my life.  It was more than most people knew about Japan, but it was still extremely basic information.  My interest in Japan was still at the potential energy stage, and did not really become kinetic until the release of a historical video game;  Shogun total war.  That let the genie out of the bottle…    The total war series is now a huge success in the historical video game world.  Its attention to historical detail is amazing, and it is through playing the game and devouring the readme files that got me permanently hooked.  I still had no intention on moving to Japan… maybe visit, but not move.  
The first Shogun video game

 It wasn’t until I had just graduated college and finished with my army obligation, that found a job working for a big English company called NOVA.  I hated my job in the US so much at the time, that it looked very appealing.  So why?  Did I come to Japan?  I hated my job and all the reasons before.  It was an impulsive move based on intuition and what my heart said rather than good sense.  But in the end it was the right move.  Now I am in Japan as a permanent resident.
So now I still read Japanese history as a hobby, and the total war series has put out a highly addictive revamp of the original Shogun total war, but including expansions for not only Sengoku jidai (戦国時代 Sengoku jidai) encompassing the 15th and 16th century, but for the Gempei war (源平合戦 Genpei kassen, Genpei gassen) (1180–1185, and the Boshin war ( ). 
Rise of the Samurai or the Gempei war

  Shogun total war 2 or Sengoku jidai.

Fall of the Samurai or the Boshin war

And that is how I became interested in Japan in a nutshell.  It’s a bit glossed over, but those are the key points I believe in how Japan came into my life.  Through history, mythology and imagination.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Ok. I'm back.

Ummm... Happy New Year.. 2012... In March... Ok I am late.
Wow! My last post was in November… and now its March.  Well, the lazy award goes to me for not updating my blog.  Like most of my journal entries of past, they were abandoned after a few months, but I still hang on to them… I don’t know why.
A nice little snack with the wife and mother-in-law.

Ye ole mini tree
Christmas was pretty good actually.  This being the first holiday season away from my family, but we had a video skype Christmas.  I was on the computer watching everyone open presents, which was kind of cool.  I also got to have the first Christmas alone with my wife, which is closer to the Japanese image of Christmas anyhow.  Christmas not being a family occasion, but rather a romantic thing.  I did set up a very mini tree and put presents under it though.  My inlaws also came through and took us into Ginza for dinner and some shopping and then to a jazz show at the Cotton Club Tokyo.  I had a great time there.

  Anyhow, in November, I hadn’t been to all my schools yet, and didn’t have a proper feel for them like I do now.  So now I do… Let me make fantasy names for them and describe them.   The fantasy names shall be:  Oomaru chu (chu being short for Chuugakkou, or junior high), Nakamaru chu,  Shomaru Chu, and Chibimaru chu.  There are infrequent trips to elementary schools too, but I won’t go into that.  Here is a video that shows pretty much what all my students are like:

Oomaru has the best view from the bathroom!
And for the schools, let me start with the biggest… 

Oomaru Chu.  This is absolutely the largest school I have worked in.  When the teachers meeting happens, it’s kind of like a model United Nations… Everyone barking over each other and shuffling around.  Each grade has 2 English teachers for a total of 6 English teachers.  The vice principle there is really cool, but the principle doesn’t like me much.  Its creepy kind of.  He avoids eye contact even when interacting, and I don’t mean by looking at the floor, he looks in the opposite direction.  One of the teachers told me that he really dislikes English and Music, so gets kind of an attitude there.  I still really respect the guy though, he is very active in the school and is constantly on the move, as opposed to most principles who aren’t really seen that much by the students.

Classroom from Nakamaru Chu
Nakamaru chu is one of my favorites.  All the teachers are really cool except for one.  That teacher is nice, but always seems to clash with the kids.  They don’t want to deal with the teacher and so act out when she is around, but are a little nicer with me.  I like that teacher, but working with them is hard because the class is rebelling.  The first year teachers there are really creative and always think of really fun things to do with the students, and they respond in good way too.  The vice principle is great there too.  He is the most laid back Japanese man I have ever seen, and in a relaxed, cool way.  Not a lazy way.  The students there are almost all really friendly.

Shomaru chu is the school I am at the most, and is also the most hostile of the four.  I don’t mean in a ‘Dangerous Minds’ kind of way, but in comparison.  There is almost always an incident going on were a student has destroyed something or got in big trouble.  Last week, one of the teachers was attacked in class, and the kid is still in school.  That particular kid is a Mega-douche too, and is the only one in the school system that has shown open hostility.  Usually it’s just noise making and being annoying.  The Japanese school system is unfortunately very fluffy and doesn’t punish kids for things which would be jail time in the US.  Some of them run rampant through the school and the teachers office with impunity.  Those kids are just a loud minority though.  There are plenty of really bright and fun kids as well.  Being outside the Japanese mind set though, I am not a target, and when I do talk to them, they aren’t sure what to expect.  
This particular spot on the way to Shomaru Chu has got to be one of my favorite photo spots.

Chibimaru chu is the smallest school and my favorite.  I just enjoy small schools more.  The corp de esprit among teachers is just amazing!  They are always cutting up and laughing.  It’s just an awesome work environment.  The kids here are a riot too.  I am rarely at this school however, and that’s a bit of a disappointment.

Let me make one thing clear though.  I love the kids at all the schools, and the teachers are, on a whole, awesome!
So… what has been up since November.  Well, I had a huge break where I did nothing but sit at home.  My wife lost her job, so we are just working on my income now, which is a little harsh.  She runs the finances though, and she is pulling it off.  Not sure if we are saving anything though.  Now that the school year is winding down, I am looking at another long break and a new contract with the city.  I got a promotion to head teacher now, so we will see how this goes.  I don’t know what to expect, but I hope I don’t become one of those people who is given a little bit of authority and drops the ball.