The mystery of the undelivered chest of drawers has been solved! And it wasn’t nearly as painful as I thought it’d be. I was building myself up to be properly annoyed that they hadn’t delivered it Monday/Tuesday when they promised, and also to just sort of put my head down and barrel forward through all the arguing that I was sure would follow.

It turns out, though, that it was all indeed miscommunication, but not the kind I’d suspected/feared: actually, the extra ¥3000 I paid, thinking that was the delivery charge, was because I was buying the pre-assembled floor model. (I’d have to assemble it myself otherwise.) I misunderstood the woman who was explaining this stuff to me because when people use honorifics it’s almost like they’re speaking a completely different language; there’s so much extra stuff that gets in between the intended meaning and the translation of the phrase. The cost to deliver it was an extremely exorbitant ¥550–$4.60–so I gladly paid it.

They’re delivering it after 2 PM tomorrow, when I’ll be back at the BOE, and I know they’ll let me duck out to go help haul it up the stairs, since they feel guilty (or at least my boss does) for dragging their heels on getting me the leftover furniture from Dave’s old place.

There was a problem with one word: “kumitate,” which sounded vaguely familiar but which I just had no clue about. Finally, though, they gave me enough words (in Japanese and English) that hinted at the meaning that it clicked: building/construction. I was able to jump in and say, “Oh, so this cost is because I didn’t make the chest?” (tsukurimasen deshita–I’m sure there are better words out there, but “tsukuru” is one of those universal sorts of things, introduced in our cooking lesson in Japanese class, but also used to mean “build” and “put together”) to which they exclaimed, “Yes!” and we all started cheering together.

One of the clerks and I guess a delivery-type guy actually gave me a ride back to my apartment so that I could show them where it was, because they couldn’t find it on the book of Ikeda maps they pulled out. It was a really nice gesture on their part. I’ll definitely be looking forward to their call. I’m glad we can do it during the day (at least, I hope so), so I don’t have to worry about making sure to make the same train as the others traveling down to Iya, where we’re crashing so we can go caroling at all our junior highs, starting in the Iya Valley, and working our way north (coming to Ikeda for lunch–I really hope we eat at La Tavola, the awesome Italian place with a chef who actually studied in Italy) and east.

Some other good stories lately:

So every few days, they play these town-wide announcements over the loudspeakers. I can’t stand these things, because the woman drags her words out in this really annoying tone of voice and has these excruciating pauses after every few words. It’s also loud enough to drown out whatever I have on in here, since the speaker’s not too far from my building. Well, an announcement came on while I was walking home from Daily Mart the other day; I was taking a road that puts me past several houses that have dogs. As the announcement came on, every single dog started to howl. It was all I could do to not crack up, but I was grinning for the rest of the walk home.

And today, at White Background Elementary (it ended up being my last class for the term, but I didn’t realize it until after class ended; I’d told the principal I’d have to take the next 2 weeks off due to my India trip, but I hadn’t told the teachers–which reminds me, for any of you doing eikaiwa/adult conversation classes, tell your students if you have to miss class, but don’t forget to tell the people who actually coordinate the classes, too! Whoops.–anyway, they also ended up canceling the class during the week before winter holidays begin, too), I was sitting around for 20 minutes, killing time till I had to go catch my bus, and I started chatting with a teacher. She asked me what I thought of the students, and I told her I was having fun in the class, and their English was pretty good. She then told me, in a mix of Japanese and broken but very understandable English, that the students thought I was “very kindness.” It was a sweet gesture on her part to go out of her way to tell me that, and it made my afternoon a little sweeter.

Oh, and I was an idiot and bought a bunch of fresh vegetables last weekend, even though I should have known I wouldn’t use them all within the week (I’m leaving Monday afternoon for Osaka). Well, my stomach acted up overnight Monday/Tuesday, so I was going pretty easy on it all day yesterday, and ended up coming up with the perfect way to use up a bunch of veggies at once: vegetable soup. I may make it for myself every night this week–good, filling, and it empties my fridge!

A bad thing: I ripped out a hem in the bottom of my awesome swishy olive green slacks today, and I was thinking that instead of messing with sewing for the first time in many years, I could just get my mom to do it next week. (I’ll probably attempt it myself, though, and only bring it to her if I really screw it up…I have a sewing kit for a reason, right?) I really need to start packing–I’m going to be in Hyderabad this time next week!


I should be asleep, but I finally got around to uploading all the video clips I’ve captured (no matter how mundane)–you can check them all out here.

A quick rundown:

1. taken from the bus from the Keio Plaza Hotel (location of Tokyo Orientation) to Haneda Airport. I was sitting next to a cool guy named Robb (who graduated from UGA!) who was going to Kagawa-ken, I believe; the Kagawa and Tokushima Group A folks were sharing a bus.

2. you can’t see anything (oops), but you can hear the Awa Odori music…this was the weekend we broke up into the groups we’d be in the following weekend at the Kamiita English Camp, and my group came across an Awa Odori ren (dance group–not just a Pirates of Dark Water reference ;P) rehearsing, and they invited us to join in. No, I didn’t curse at the end. (My battery was dying, though.)

3. a panning shot of the Arasowaren (foreigner ren), hanging out at Well City in Tokushima, before heading out to do some actual Awa Odori dancing.

4. a shot of a receding ren of kids, really close to my apartment here in Ikeda. I don’t really know why I captured this–I think I was hoping it’d turn out better.

5-8. Awa Odori in Ikeda! 5 is of the women’s dance (especially hard to do in those shoes), 6 and 7 are of the lantern dance (I love the way they twirl the lanterns), and 8 is some of the drummers. The way Awa Odori works is that a bunch of different rens come together to dance in designated areas at designated times. Each ren has a “ringleader” at the front (holding something that designates that group), the dancers (usually of several styles), and the musicians in the back, and there can be dozens of them. We ended up joining in with the teachers’ ren, though there was also one for the town hall, which we were actually invited to dance with (but didn’t).

9-10. me being a dork and taking footage of everything flying by as I was riding a shinkansen (bullet train) from Koriyama (Fukushima-ken) to Sendai. Compared to Shikoku’s trains, this was just stunning.

11-12. A couple of shots of The Ugly Men performing “Hotel California” by The Eagles (and an unsuccessful pan of the bar–too dark to pick anything up but silhouettes). The dude in the back actually hit the guitar at the solo dead-on! I would’ve captured the whole song but I didn’t have enough battery juice or memory stick space for it.

Argh, I did it again!

Whoops, I didn’t mean to title that last post with the name of the journal…properly edited now.

(Haha, and I did it again with this post–“Gmail – Inbox” is not an apt title.)

I got an e-mail from Kanno-sensei, one of my Japanese professors at Tech! I should have responded in Japanese, but I’m not quite up to par for that yet. I’m pretty sure she comes to Japan yearly, either with LBAT or to see her family…maybe I can go see her for a long weekend if she comes this summer. She’s such a wonderful lady, and I miss dropping by her office to chat–maybe now I can use more fluent-sounding Japanese than I ever could while I was in school.

The open mic night went pretty well–just 4 acts, but while we got started an hour late and mine was by far the shortest (15 minutes, tops), the program went for 2 solid hours, and a lot of people showed up. My music did indeed require the most sobriety to listen to, and more people came in after my act, so the bar got a little noisier, so there was something to be said for going first. It was a blast, though, and I’m already trying to come up with a playlist for the next one, so I can be prepared. I may collab with Jeff in Naruto on some bluegrass music, which would really rock.

I ended up crashing at Will and Yuri’s place in Sadamitsu and caught a train home yesterday morning, but I was stuck in that post-slumber-party sluggish mode, so I went to lie down and rest off my headache around 6:30, and fell asleep for 3 hours. I woke up, looked at the clock, thought, “Screw it, I’m just going to sleep,” and I did…I woke up at 4 AM and fell asleep again at 6, but yeah, a really, really full night’s sleep. It’s left me feeling really refreshed–it’s amazing how work and everything just really take it out of you.

I’ve done some cleaning today, but not nearly enough yet…I have a lot of groceries and supplies to pick up, and I have to start packing because I LEAVE FOR INDIA IN JUST OVER A WEEK! I already know I’m taking 2 suitcases–the smaller one being my carry-on, and I’ll have my shoulder bag inside it–because I’m going to be bringing home way too much stuff for my one suitcase to handle. (Wow, check out this weather forecast…it’ll be so weird going from the chilly weather here to more tropical climes and then back again. Almost 80 degrees there!)

I had a really awkward bit of miscommunication with the people at the local home store, where I’d bought my chest of drawers from…they’d called Wednesday, but I missed their call so I called back on Thursday, and it turns out they could only deliver the chest the following Monday or Tuesday. Since I’d given them my cell number, I told them I’d come in after work to talk to them about it. Well, I came in…and they already had the chest downstairs, ready to load into my car–except for the obvious problem of my not having a car. They misinterpreted my “I’ll come in after work to talk to you about it” as “I’ll come in after work to pick it up.” Seeing the friendly smile on the cashier’s face suddenly vanish is making me feel awfully guity…at any rate, they’re still delivering it early this week as planned. I can’t wait–it’ll clear up so much clutter!

I have no inspiration whatsoever for this week’s double-length Tuesday class. This class is already ahead of all the other ones…all I can think of is to play games with them for the full 80-90 minutes. Hellooo, Teamwork Tokushima…

Strange stuff

Yesterday was the big Thanksgiving feast in Kawashima–a lot of fun, and it was great getting to see people from the east and south that we Westies so rarely meet up with. There was plenty of vegetarian fare–the stuffing was divine.

I took a train in with Julie and Ellie yesterday, and a couple of stops before ours, a guy came by to punch our tickets. I’d stowed my bag on the shelf overhead, so I stood up to get it, and as I was pulling it down (I was at that point where I knew I wasn’t completely balanced), the train pitched to one side, and I let out a slight, “Oh,” and went toppling backwards and crashed to the floor. Everyone was staring, and the ticket guy was simultaneously flustered/concerned/trying hard not to laugh…thankfully, the only thing hurt was my pride. It made for a good laugh all around, at least.

We also had a carousing game of charades, where I ended up with some random movie I’d never heard of, and Katie (scorekeeper) let me know it was a p.orn movie, and I blurted, “I am NOT acting that out!” And completely randomly, despite my doing nothing but standing there and looking flustered, Elliot just lazily dashed off the name (Debbie Does Dallas, maybe?), out of absolutely nowhere. So it worked out in the end, at least.

The weird thing about the day was that it was a midweek holiday, so we had to duck out to catch a 9:40 train that put us back out west around an hour later, so we could get to sleep early enough and make it into work. I was really tired and out of it for no good reason today, though, despite getting to sleep in a bit because I didn’t have to be anywhere till 9 AM. I actually drank 3 cups of coffee in the afternoon before finally coming out of it a little bit…it was crazy.

Another weird thing about today…I get to Horse Street Elementary nearly an hour before my class due to the bus schedule. This is the school with the principal I have a really good relationship with and who’s regularly invited me to bring my violin in and play for everyone. For a while I’d just go sit in her office and hang out there until I could go to class, but since there have been special visitors to the school, she’s had me sit at her desk in the teachers’ room instead, so I’ve just been doing that lately and chatting with the other teachers. For whatever reason, though, today we hung out in her office and talked for a bit, before she actually invited me to go back to the teachers’ room and chat with the other teachers. In essence, she was kicking me out of her office. It was just sort of strange all around…if she had guests coming, she could have just asked me to sit in the teachers’ room to begin with. But on top of that, she also followed me into the teachers’ room and hovered over the teachers and actually asked them to talk with me. I don’t know if I was acting strangely or something…I ended up chatting with the vice principal, who came in after the principal finished hovering, and I’m pretty sure the principal asked her to chat with me while they were in the hall.

There’s also another teacher who sits on the end of that row–well, I think she’s a teacher, or maybe she’s the school secretary (actually, she probably is, come to think of it); she’s just 3 years older than me and we chat every time I come to that school, so I do look forward to seeing her every week. It’s cute–we have the same cellphone, and she has a Toy Story desktop wallpaper, and I have a cellphone charm of one of the green 3-eyed aliens from Toy Story (yay, ¥100 store!), so that was pretty cool. She also checks out my Flickr account regularly now and is really interested in looking at my photos, and she shows them to the other teachers–the principal was asking me about a couple of them today.

And actually, even more weirdness…about 20 minutes before my class, suddenly we heard this rumbling, and the windows above the sliding doors leading to the rest of the school started to shake. Everyone looked around at each other in alarm and wondered if it was an earthquake (which would make it my first)–I looked outside, though, and the kids were still playing in the yard, plus I hadn’t actually felt a vibration in the ground…but it wasn’t a helicopter that caused it, because we would’ve heard it.

I really should get to sleep…I have my final 2 eikaiwa classes of the year (all the Miyoshi-gun ALTs are canceling our classes so we can go Christmas caroling at our junior highs and the Hashikura special needs school, and I’ll be in India after that, and then it’s one holiday after another), as well as my 5th and final class for the semester at Three Ropes Elementary (this class is so behind, poor things–I have other classes that have met 10 or 11 times!)…the last class I had there was a Halloween party, so I’m torn between planning something fulfilling or just having them have fun with English and western culture. I’m pretty sure the latter will win out. And right after work, I have to run home, get changed, grab my violin, and run to the train station so I can meet Andy and carpool with him into the city for Open Mic Night at Bell’s Bar, where there’s a grand total of four acts. Great! I’ll probably go first, since people will have a higher tolerance for non-rock music when they’re sober. I’ll be bringing my camera and having friends take photos of me playing, so hopefully a few of them will come out okay enough for me to post them somewhere…I’ve actually been wanting to bug one of my photographer friends to photograph me with my violin for a while now.

Oh, and today…well, now yesterday, since it’s past midnight, was my 4-month anniversary of arriving in Japan. One-third of the way there! Recontracting is sounding a little less daunting, now that I realize how quickly the time’s going to go…plus, it means 20 more vacation days next year, which I can use to properly go volcano-watching as well as do more international travel, maybe back to the US. Anyway, we’ll see–still almost 2 1/2 months till I have to decide either way.

(Ethan–30-35 minutes. ;o))

Where everybody knows your name

A bit tangential, but wow, the massive GM layoffs at home are even hitting Georgia, and the huge Doraville plant is being closed…it’s been there as long as I can remember, and Doraville and the GM plant kind of go hand in hand. It’s going to be strange returning home and finding it essentially abandoned.

I went to Daily Mart tonight to find plasticware and cups and to stock up on veggies so I can make a big salad for the Thanksgiving potluck the ALTs are having tomorrow (it’s Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan), and while I was there, I saw a bunch of people I know: two students from the beginning eikaiwa class, a student from my intermediate eikaiwa class, one of my speech contest girls (the kendo girl–she always gives me a huge, warm grin and wave whenever she sees me), the music teacher from my junior high, the teacher who “supervises” my class at Horse Street Elementary, and even someone I didn’t immediately recognize (who I saw again at the ¥100 store upstairs).

Actually, yesterday when I was walking home from the bus stop, an older man on a motorcycle and decked out in full biker gear got off a quick, “Smitha, sayounara!” (goodbye!) as he passed–which was really cool, except that I have no idea who he was. And while leaving the train station on my way home Saturday, I passed an elderly couple who also greeted me in a warm and familiar way (which made a high-school-aged guy walking nearby start commenting to his friends in Japanese slang about me (I got, “What the hell was that? Who’s she?” before I passed out of earshot)–heh, silly punk). And on that same topic, earlier that day, I’d been browsing thick down winter jackets at Uniqlo and was looking through the men’s jackets, and a couple of guys (high school or college) walked by and stopped by the jackets, without even really looking at them, and one of them made a comment about me browsing the men’s clothes…never mind that, you know, I’m bigger than the average Japanese woman, and I was taller than them. (Hahaha, dorks.)

I love being able to understand people when they talk about me. It’s just too bad that I don’t have the Japanese ability to be able to dash off spontaneous responses. Despite speaking so much Japanese, even at Daily Mart today, I kept blurting, “hi!” Not even “hello,” and definitely not “konbanwa” (good evening) or “tsukaresama” (thank you for your hard work…heh, Mat, I’m not a tired shark this time!). That was surprising–maybe I’m just tired today. I do need to keep studying, though. My Japanese has gotten a lot better since I got here, but I really need to keep up with it. The JLPT is coming up–I’m not taking it, but I honestly don’t even know what level I should test for. Sankyuu? Definitely not nikyuu, that’s way out of my league…but I had a shot at it once. Maybe I can pull myself up to that level again sometime.

I will miss you when you are across the sea

I almost wonder if someone requested this for me, or maybe for another to-be JET Programme participant.

We drove 2 hours yesterday to Kitajima, to the Fuji Grand theater there, to watch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (good, but lots of things I wish were much better…the Really Important Part was stellar, though, but the very end left a sour taste in my mouth), then Julie and I headed into Tokushima, where we found the music store! I bought a stand and inquired into having my bow rehaired and whether there are any orchestras actively looking for new members (yes, one week and a couple thousand yen; and they weren’t sure, since the person who would know wasn’t in that day), and we had Julie try out a 3/4-size violin, which she felt really comfortable with. We also went by Uniqlo (I wanted to buy a jacket but didn’t have money, so I’ll probably buy one in Osaka next month, unless I find myself back in Tokushima-shi with time and $70 to spare before then) and had dinner at Big Brothers, which is an American-owned bar/restaurant that caters to Tokushima’s foreign population and is a kind of comforting presence. We then ran to catch a slow train back out west.

Today, I bought a real chest of drawers! No more depending on cramped plastic ones for me! Unfortunately, I’d have to assemble it myself, but fortunately, the only one left was the store display one, and they said they’d deliver it this week (I think…I still have major problems understanding really polite/formal/honorific-laced Japanese, with all the “itadaite”s and “yoroshii”s and whatnot). The wardrobe they had would have really clashed with this room, and I have an aversion to white-painted furniture…let’s just see how this chest of drawers does, though, in case it works well enough that a wardrobe might not be necessary. I do miss being able to hang up my shirts and suits, though…

I have so much Christmas/holiday shopping to do. I have to pick up gifts for the orphanage, figure out who to send gifts to and who to write cards to, buy things for my family, pick up something for my Nightly Secret Santa…too bad that the only stores I know about in Ikeda are the grocery stores, the stationery store, and the 100-yen store! This should be fun.

Fuyuyasumi plans

It’s confirmed: my family will be in Osaka for Christmas (hellooo, Loft) and Kyoto for the new year! Thank goodness for Toyoko Inn chain (which I’ve never stayed in but have heard great things about)–incredibly enough, one of their Kyoto locations actually has (or had) vacancies. We’ll probably be back in Ikeda in between, so I can go cash in one day of work before the winter holidays set in, and we can take a day trip to Hiroshima or something like that, which would also give them a chance to take the Shinkansen (bullet train–Hikari, specifically; I love that name) between Hiroshima and Okayama.

I’m sitting under my kotatsu (oooh, my kotatsubuton are double-sided, so instead of the slightly-clashing-with-the-teddy-bears bright tan, I have a more gingham-inspired blue that complements the teddy bears quite well. I hope my successor isn’t male…I should have selected a more gender-neutral set of kotatsubuton, but after leaving behind the ones at the Daiki Home Store in search of more selection and going to Ikeda Family, I didn’t want to drag my boss back to Daiki once I realized that most of Family’s were really crappy-looking). If you’re wondering what all these words are, a kotatsu is a heating table. It has a grill on the underside, and you plug the table in and flip a switch to turn the grill on. It also has a removable top. You take your kotatsubuton (two individual futons) and put one on the floor underneath the table, and put the other one on top of the uncovered table, and you put the cover back on and sit under the table. I’ll be sure to take a photo for Flickr at some point.

However, now I have the problem of figuring out where to put my actual sleeping-on futon…

Okay, I have a few stories I want to begin to relate, from that list of topics I’d compiled yesterday, and then I should get to sleep.

Yesterday (Wednesday), I was walking to White Background Elementary School, which is closest to my junior high. As I entered the schoolyard, I passed a few girls who were outside on the playground equipment (I guess younger kids’ classes end before the older kids’ do?), and we had the following conversation:
Them: “Hello!”
Me: “Konnichiwa!”
Them: “Ehhh?? Nihongo shaberu no?” (You can speak English?)
Me: “Hai, sou desu ne.” (Yep, that’s right.)
Them: “Doko kara kita no??” (Where’d you come from?)
Me: “America kara kimashita. Daigaku de nihongo o benkyoushimashita.” (I’m from America. I studied Japanese in university.)
Them: “Uwaaa~! Zenbu eigo dake shaberu to omotta…” (Whoa! I thought they all only speak English…)
Me: “Iie! Takusan hito wa gaikoku no kotoba ga dekimasu.” (No! Many people can speak foreign languages.)
Them: “Ehhh, sugoi…” (Wow, awesome…)

They were completely amazed and fascinated by it. I was grinning on the rest of my walk across the schoolyard and into the main building. That’s me, shattering stereotypes left and right…

And one more before I go to sleep: in my 1st-year junior high classes on Monday, the JTE was conducting a memory game (which I really blatantly spiked and used in my elementary school lessons this week, mwahaha), where all the students received action cards depicting “studying” and “riding a bike” and “cooking” and other stuff like that. The person who started would say, “I’m playing basketball.” The next would say, “She’s playing basketball, and I’m eating lunch.” And so on, with each person listing all the things in order that the previous people were doing. After half the class went, the teacher turned to me (during the first class) and asked me to recite the entire chain thus far, which I was able to pretty much do.

Between the first and second 1st-year English classes I team-teach on Mondays is our hour lunch. During that time, I have a tendency to forget everything that went on in the first class. As a result, when the second class was in session, I was just sort of watching stuff and not really paying attention to details or absorbing anything. And then the JTE turned to me after half the class had gone through the game, and I wondered what he was doing at first…but then it hit me, and I blurted loudly, “Ohhh, crap.”

The kids burst out laughing and my JTE really got a kick out of it, too. (Hey–I was teaching English slang!)

It won me a few pity points, because while the kids weren’t allowed to help each other, a few of the kids were very kindly correcting my mistakes or forgiving unchecked ones I made. One of the perks of being a teacher–We Can Do No Wrong. [Palpatine]”Unlimited POWWWAAAHHHH!!1″[/Palpatine]

Heh, anyway, I think I should go to sleep now. TGI-freaking-F!

Reclaiming my feminist side

During the past couple of days, they’ve been showing a lot of (or at least, marginally more than usual) footage of Princess Sayako, since she just wed a commoner and must say goodbye to Japanese royal life as a result–under Japanese law, if a woman in the royal family marries a commoner she’s no longer royalty, since she as a woman is ineligible to assume the throne. (They’re thinking about changing it, though, since the princess’s brother and his wife have only been able to produce a female heir. A lot of Japanese people are in favor of letting a woman rule, which would be a big step.)

It makes me so angry, though. And I’m not talking about her not getting to rule and having to give up the life of a noblewoman. I’m talking about how she constantly has this maddeningly calm and cute smile on her face, as if she refuses to let herself display any real emotion because that’s not how a “true lady” acts (no, that‘s not a “look of love;” that’s the same vapid smile she wears in every single media image!). I’m talking about how in every image, moving or still, of her with her husband, she’s always two to three steps behind him. She never, ever walks beside him. And I’m talking about how she’s made the decision to marry this man and become a housewife. She’s a member of Japan’s royal family, and she’s going to become a housewife? (Well…apparently she does have experience with a part-time job as an ornithologist, interestingly enough.) According to the articles I’ve read, she’s being seen as an inspiration to many Japanese women that they can find love later in life…but she should run with it and show them that they don’t have to buckle themselves down and become “the little women” when they tie the knot.

This is where the cultural divide hits me the hardest, I think. It’s so disconcerting to come from a country that stresses gender equality, while this country is blatantly male-dominated. I know that it’s seen as a real honor to stay at home and take care of the family–and I definitely am not looking down upon women who choose to give their all to the raising of their children, because it’s an honorable decision to make. It does bother me, however, in instances where the woman voluntarily decides to serve her husband, where maintaining the household becomes her sole duty in life and she looks up to her husband instead of the couple regarding each other as equals. In Japan, that seems to be the case quite often, and the media images of Princess Sayako are proving to be no exception.

We’ve had this “talk show” project in our 3rd-year (a.k.a. 9th grade) junior high classes, where pairs of students will come up to the front of the room, with one being an interviewer on a talk show and the other being a special guest, who’s there to talk about how they split up the housework. In these scenarios, I’m the commentator, who provides closing suggestions for each pair. I actually have to restrain myself from cheering on the women who make their husbands do everything and claim that, “I think we are sharing the housework very well.” I should have joked along, in hindsight, and said that I agreed that they split up the housework well and it was nice to see the wife taking a break, but instead (in the case of kids who “wash the dishes and clean the rooms and take out the garbage”), I always would say something like, “I’m sure your children are very busy with homework, so you should help them by doing a few more chores.” I did take great pleasure in berating the guys who did nothing while their wives did everything. (These are completely hypothetical families, and this was all completely in fun, and everybody knew that.)

Today, though, I got this sudden but very passionately strong urge to start up an after-school Women’s Empowerment Club at my junior high. (Yeah, like that’d go over well with the kocho-sensei.) I know that I’m being extremely critical, and I don’t want to be–these are the sweetest kids, the most cheerful girls, and they’ll always strike up conversations with me whenever they’re in the teachers’ room on other business, and I really adore them. But I just cannot stand how, any time they’re confronted with anything remotely challenging, they start giggling, whining, stamping their feet, and flailing their arms, as if they’re little children. It absolutely horrifies me every single time I see it, and that’s not an understatement at all.

I know that middle school students in the US aren’t particularly mature, but speaking from my experiences, while there were girls who made themselves look clueless (usually because they thought it’d make themselves attractive to guys), there were thankfully few of those at the schools I attended, and many of my classmates’ parents have worked to install a much greater sense of equality and self-worth. My parents never taught me to believe I was any less than my male counterparts; on the contrary, they’ve pushed academics throughout my life, and I never was even aware of gender inequality as an immediate issue I had to personally face until college (Georgia Tech, 4:1 male-female ratio–especially pronounced during my first 2 years, when I was a Computer Science major, which has roughly a 13:1 ratio; I distinctly remember there never being more than 10 girls in any of my 100-plus-person lectures). All my friends’ parents are the same, at least in the sense of instilling a greater sense of equality and self-worth.

So, coming from a background where I routinely competed with girls and boys academically and otherwise without gender ever being an issue, it’s appalling to me to see these girls acting like this. I wish I could figure out a way to tell them to kindly please grow a backbone, though that’s harsh and awful and it’s not completely their fault, since they’re a product of the society and culture they were raised in. (God knows the pop culture totally perpetuates this “childish female” role…yet another reason why I can’t stomach watching most of it.) But I wish I could make them aware of the fact that they don’t have to dumb their personalities down like this, that there’s no reason for them to doubt themselves at all, that they’re smart and wonderful and have the potential to grow up to be strong and capable women, and all they need is self-confidence and the will to just be themselves. They just have to believe they can do whatever they set their minds to, and there’s no reason for them to dumb themselves down to appeal to the tastes of their classmates, because if they shoot high, they’ll eventually end up with men who want more than just pretty faces and submissive personalities, and these men will respect and complement them, instead of viewing them as “the little wife.”

(whew, that felt good. I have more lighthearted stuff to relate, but I’ll end this on this warm-and-fuzzy moment for now.)

Anatomy of a sweat drop

I was thinking the other day about how several of my major-specific classes are really doing me some good, or at least making me aware of issues I wouldn’t have been conscious of, like semiotics/symbols and signs. I was drawing a sheet of verb images to make into cards for my elementary school kids, and it hit me how different some of the symbols and general imagery is here. Back home and in the west, everything’s just really simplified, but here, everything’s really manga-fied, which comes with its own way of depicting emotions and settings. I’m pretty sure the kids will be able to figure out what my “stick figure” dudes are doing (far easier to do stick figures than actual illustrations), but even on road signs here, the way they convey meanings is really fascinating, since they actually use manga figures several times, for animal crossings and other things.

Maybe it’s not strictly a semiotics issue, since semiotics deals with the reasonings behind why certain symbols have certain meanings…but at the same time, how did the sweat drop and the big eyes and the smooshed bodies with big heads come to be? What meaning is there behind the big eyes (well, that one’s sort of obvious) and the sweat drop and all the different mannerisms/idiosyncracies of the medium? How did these signs come to become the primary, if not the only, way that Japan and Japanese people depict simplistic things? I know that Osamu Tezuka essentially invented the anime style with Astro Boy in the 60s, but he alone couldn’t have been responsible for how completely entrenched in Japanese society that style is today.

Well, it’s something to think about, anyway. It’d be fun to do some research into the history of Japanese animation and apply these representational theories to it and see what we get.

Wow, I have a social life

From today’s second class for the first-year junior highs…

“Hello, everybody!”
“Hello, [Mr. JTE] and Miss Smitha!”
“What day is today?”
“Fine, thanks, how are you?”

It was scary how simultaneous that was. It’s a running joke that the response to, “How are you?” is so mechanically ingrained into these kids, and I’ve definitely seen evidence of it in my junior high classes (my predecessor taught all the elementary school kids various reactions, like, “I’m so-so/sleepy/great/sick/etc.,” so I get a variety there. But I didn’t realize the question itself was seemingly predetermined, too!

So, upcoming events…

  • maybe dinner/bowling tonight with the Miyoshi-gun folks
  • hanging out with Miyoshi-gun folks later this week
  • Thanksgiving dinner at Katie’s house? (As long as they don’t reschedule it to December 6th or so. I’m really, really craving a real American meal like that. Minus the turkey, of course.)
  • Tokyo Symphony Orchestra concert with Kelly and Jim next Monday
  • a couple more violin lessons before the holidays
  • Christmas caroling at all the junior high schools in Miyoshi-gun all day on December 2
  • getting my butt in gear on grad school applications and everything they entail (it’s already too late to apply to one of the schools on my list–there’s no way everything will fall into place by the beginning of December)
  • donating gifts for orphanage kids…there’s an annual orphanage visit, but it’s happening while I’m in India
  • INDIA! Three weeks!

It’s weird how much my schedule for the duration of this year has suddenly filled up. Half of that is due to e-mail/AJET forum activity just today.

I didn’t think to start Christmas shopping this weekend…whoops. I don’t even know if I’ll really get a chance to, to be honest. Hopefully just seeing me for the first time in 5 months will be a big enough present for my family. ;o)