The “kawaii” factor

The phone in my landlords’ house can be heard by every tenant in the building. It’s currently rung just over 60 times, with no fewer than 2 hang-up-and-try-again pauses. Something tells me they aren’t home–I wish someone would tell the caller!

On my way in to school, I noticed a brightly colored tarp in the genkan under a planter, and some familiar looking character designs. It was a tarp of the Wacky Racers! There were four characters on it, and I could immediately make out Dick Dastardly, Penelope Pittstop, and Muttley, who’s my mom’s favorite. Ahh, 1960s Hanna Barbera animation…natsukashii. It reminded me of when I would watch that when I was younger.

Amazingly, that isn’t the only example of anachronistic American animation I’ve seen in Japan–one of my 3rd-year girls last year had a pencil case with Magilla Gorilla on it! There was no way she could have known what that show was about. Another one had a case with the Flintstones on it; I really don’t know how widespread that sort of thing is over here, and whether they would have watched the Flintstones when they were young. As far as I know, it hasn’t been on any major TV station in the US in at least 10-15 years (not counting Boomerang, Cartoon Network’s “classics” spinoff network), and none of them are older than 15 years old…

Spongebob is another one. Each of the homerooms has a blackboard in the back where the students write some kind of witty or inspirational message representing the class, or where they draw fun pictures. Spongebob was up there in homeroom 3-B last year (and the expression they drew on him was his “I have to go to the bathroom” look), but as far as I know, Spongebob Squarepants has never been shown on TV here! Now sketches of Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory and Bart Simpson are on the board in one of this year’s homerooms. There’s a chance they know what The Simpsons is, since there have been plenty of pop culture references to Japan in the show and since I believe it’s available over here in at least a limited capacity–but I have no idea how they would know about Dexter’s Lab.

My only guess? The “kawaii” factor. Pencil cases and other school-supply-related charms feature these sorts of characters a lot, regardless of whether they’ve made appearances in the mass media here or not. It’s similar to how the Playboy Bunny is big among junior high and high school girls (there’s a store in the basement of the HEP-5 in Osaka that sells a ton of clothes with Playboy emblems all over them), but they have no idea what it actually means. We had a discussion about it over a year ago on our JET messageboard. I definitely was stunned to receive a thank-you notecard with a Playboy Bunny on it from my speech contest girls my first fall here, but time has essentially explained this phenomenon.

(Yes, I do seem to be writing long entries on a daily basis these days, why do you ask? Oh, and the caller so desperate to reach my landlords finally gave up.)

Otousan suicchi go, otousan yokudekimashita

(The title is a reference to Pitagora Suicchi (Pythagora Switch), this adorable and clever kids’ program that comes on when I’m getting ready for work in the mornings. [NHK site/English Wikipedia] The “Yokudekimashita” is what’s really stick ing with me right now for some reason, in that prolonged and memorable way young kids have of saying words like this.)

(And wow, who in Yamaguchi searched for me on Google by name? I don’t even know anyone there!)

I spent all morning worrying over my speech, and my boss went over the whole thing to catch any strange grammar or errors. She really saved me–she’s amazing. She came with me this afternoon to serve as an emergency translator–did I mention she rocks at English?–in case somebody asked me a question I couldn’t understand. I ended up starting over 40 minutes late because the previous talk went way over, and in that time we just sat and chatted, which really put my nerves at rest. She’s actually just a year older than me, which I just found out last week, so it was definitely cool getting to hang out with her for a bit away from the office.

The audience for the speech was around 60 strong, with maybe two or three men and the rest all women, roughly the same age as my eikaiwa students. Once I got up there it was fine, and they were a warm and receptive audience, nodding and “mmm”ing along and even “ohh”ing at new and unfamiliar information (like the fact that gelatin is made of cartilage/bone, and the nutritional information I gave them about various vegetables/legumes) and smiling and making sounds at interesting stories (like the stories of the ALTs who had people–a JTE in one case–intentionally trick them into eating meat/fish! Thinking about that makes me so angry). They also took notes, which I was very gratified to see–they really took this subject, and me, seriously.

Ironically, the one question I couldn’t understand came from Gasping Lady (who I’m sure will come by tonight; we’ve joked that we should put black blinds over our kitchen windows so she won’t know when I’m home)–she was kind of the coordinator of the event, or at least of this specific talk. I asked her to slow down and say it again, and she used exactly the same difficult grammar forms, even though we both know she can speak basic English–but my boss hurried up to the front and reworded her question in far simpler Japanese for me (“what do you do if you’re eating something and you discover halfway that there’s some kind of meat or meat product in it?”).

Really, the audience was pretty relaxed, so this wasn’t a big deal, but it was at the same time. It was just meant to be a simple talk on vegetarianism (and as long as I didn’t wear jeans, I could wear whatever I wanted, but I wore a dress shirt and skirt and nice shoes, which I’m very glad for in retrospect–it made me feel like I had that extra authoritative oomph), but it was also a really major opportunity that most vegetarians here don’t receive, a chance to truly educate people on what it’s like for us here, on the challenges we face in day-to-day life and even in acceptance from the people. I really felt like today was a major accomplishment, and I hope that it’ll really make a difference and that these people will begin to spread this newfound knowledge about vegetarianism throughout the community, to help future foreigners with similar dietary restrictions who may come to visit, and to just facilitate a better understanding of cultures and ideas among other people in the world. That’s what we’re here for, after all.

Green light

We got the notification today that the new Ikeda ALT’s reply form came in. Caitlin, check your e-mail!

I took a half-day today because I woke up with a headache that refused to go away–the same headache I had yesterday, even–so I went to the doctor, who immediately declared that I’ve spent too much time lately staring at screens. (After Star Wars last weekend…yeah.) However, today’s the day I need to finish working on my vegetarian speech for tomorrow, so after I drugged my headache away, I took my laptop in to my BOE for several hours in the afternoon and my boss very kindly helped me out with every question I fired her way, and she’s offered to go over it with me tomorrow to make sure my Japanese is okay. I’m so glad she’s coming to hear this tomorrow–it’ll be nice to have a familiar and friendly face in the crowd, because I really am getting nervous now!

I didn’t get a chance to put together any kind of handout for the people (I would’ve had to send it over today for the woman to make copies of), which I now regret; it would’ve been good to mention things like world stats on vegetarianism, and how bacon/sausage/ham/etc. aren’t meat, [EDIT–got that mixed up: they ARE meat, but they aren’t seen as meat in Japan] in something they can take with them. I hope they take notes, because I really hope this makes an impact and that people will remember this.

Just like college, right down to the procrastination

So I wasted a lot of time online earlier, then went out for a few hours–to get some gelato because it was a hot day (not like I needed that…but anyway), and then to the Kurozou Marshlands, which I’ve seen signs for all over town but have never visited (gorgeous–beautiful, pristine, calm, and wonderful natural scenery, with amazing-smelling trees, nestled right up in the mountains in a secluded niche a 40-minute drive away from the “hustle and bustle” of “downtown” Ikeda; I got there late in the day so I couldn’t spend a ton of time there, but I’ll definitely be back). And then I had a headache, again, so I came home and rested my eyes for an hour and a half.

Anyway, that’s the reason why I haven’t started on this vegetarian speech yet. I have an outline in my mind, but now I need to go find facts, statistics, and anecdotes to flesh it out, and put together a worksheet. All in Japanese. At 9 PM the night before I need to have this ready to go, so I can minimize the amount of help my super-busy boss will need to give me, and so I can e-mail the handout to the coordinator so she can print it out. Man, I wish I’d studied Japanese regularly this past year, or kept up a Japanese-language blog, or something.

Oh yeah–for anyone who may care, the article Andrew had asked me to write on kousa/Asian Dust for Awa Life, the monthly Tokushima foreigner community newsletter, is online in the May 2007 PDF, on page 4. Whee, I’ve been published!

Bridges and sunshine in Ikeda

It’s nice to wake up early on a weekend sometimes, but it’s best if you went to sleep early the night before, which I definitely did last night. I got a lot of sun fairly early in the day and had a headache from mid-afternoon on, took a nap for several hours, woke up and ate dinner, realized I felt worse, and lay down around 8, falling asleep around 9, and waking up several times this morning before I finally got up around 7:30-8:00. Everything feels so still and fresh now. It’s nice, very peaceful and calming.

A few of us met up for karaoke on Friday night–Brian and Julie met Miwako and two of her friends there, and I joined them a bit later (after cleaning my place frantically for 3 hours). Ashley came by later, and Genna and Ange caught a train out west to join us. After we were kicked out at midnight, Ashley, Genna, Ange, and I headed back to Ikeda. After dropping off our stuff, we went out to Bar G, the pricey but really nice bar in town, and then went to Lawson to get some snacks, and hung out at my place for a while. It was a cool girl’s night out.

Yesterday we got a late start and decided to go on a “30-minute” walk of Ikeda (Ashley’s time estimate–it ended up being around an hour and a half, but that was okay). Genna and Ange had never spent much time in Ikeda, so it was cool giving them the tour and showing them the cool sites in town. They really liked the very cozy neighborhood feel that our area has, something that I haven’t really felt around any of the other ALTs’ homes.

Longtime readers–you may or may not remember me writing (almost exactly a year ago, coincidentally) about a pedestrian bridge across the Yoshinogawa (River) that I tried to cross but wasn’t able to, because the surface was all wire mesh and you could see the river rushing below, and a fear of heights/falling is a phobia I possess. We went there yesterday, and I made it partway across before backing off again, and the other three decided to go across and then come back…but then I figured I would just try it again, not expecting anything of myself, not setting any goals for how far I would go, and tuning out the part of my brain that was very aware of the rushing river a couple hundred feet below me. And then, several windy and bridge-swaying and nerve-wracking moments later, I was on the other side. It was a cool moment–the three of them were grinning and clapping for me, and my knees were still shaking for a bit afterwards, but the overwhelming sense of relief at actually making it was much stronger.

(Right before everyone started to cross it, a dog and his owner caught up with us. He was a beautiful dog, with a thick white coat, and very friendly, but with an injured leg. He promptly started across the bridge, but apparently he was as afraid of heights as I was. He made sure to walk so that his feet were directly over the one central support running down the center of the bridge, but turned around a moment later, too nervous to continue alone, and only went across when his owner was right next to him. It was an adorable moment. (photos by Genna.))

We walked down the road on the Nishiyama side of the river, then across the dam and back to our building, and went to Paparagi in Mikamo for lunch and to hang out for a couple of hours (mmm, fresh waffles), where I had to break the news to the mama-san that we probably couldn’t do the open mic after all. She was really cool about it, and just urged me to let her know if we did find time for it before I went back to the US.

My headache kicked in then, so instead of driving Genna and Ange out to Bamboo Park in Yamakawa to play frisbee and eat gelato at Dolce, I took them to the nearby train station and they caught a train back. It was after I woke up from my nap (3 hours later) that I realized that I’d gotten a sunburn on my shoulders in the couple of hours we were outside, the first sunburn I’ve gotten in years. I didn’t put on any sunblock, so it was kind of my fault. I guess I’d just gotten too much sun–it’s really intense out here, which I learned the hard way a couple of months ago when playing frisbee in Yamakawa, which resulted in my pulling over in the parking lot of a convenience store on my way home and throwing up because the sun had made me so sick.

Anyway, I’m well-rested today. My big goal is to write a 30 to 40-minute speech about vegetarianism–completely in Japanese–that I’m presenting to a group of 50 or 60 people at the health center Tuesday afternoon. My boss is going to help me out with it tomorrow afternoon, but ideally I’d like to write it out in English first, then translate it and go back for the words I don’t know, and have her help me with my grammar.

I also want to find some shampoo/conditioner combination that doesn’t leave my hair completely sticky after an hour. The heat and humidity kicked in hard-core on Wednesday–I finally set my heating/AC unit back on AC yesterday (it’s cool that I now can pretty much understand every button and function on the remote except for a couple)–and my hair’s been disgusting ever since then, even though I wash it thoroughly every morning. I guess it’s time to retire Lux and maybe switch back to Herbal Essences, and not condition my hair on a daily basis anymore.

Have a good weekend and a happy little Sunday, guys.

30 years and going strong

Happy birthday, Star Wars. As completely dorky as it sounds, you’ve changed my life, and I’m grateful for it.

I would not be the same person if not for those fateful few weeks in the 3rd grade when we watched and analyzed Star Wars: A New Hope. I still remember redesigning Darth Vader’s costume and changing it to red–I hadn’t yet seen Return of the Jedi, so I wasn’t aware of the Imperial royal guards and their red costumes. I remember my friend Michael making a diorama using straws that he glided little X-wing figurines along to recreate the Death Star run. I remember being cast as Obi-Wan in the Cantina scene when we did skits in class, and being so excited over being cast as Obi-Wan that I forgot to learn my lines. I also remember other kids acting out the garbage compacter scene, with volunteers pushing in chairs on either side to simulate the walls closing in.

Mom and Dad, if you want anyone to blame for my lifelong fanaticism, you can blame Kincaid Elementary School.

This does indeed relate to Japan, because it’s a common area of interest that many of us have. When Pickles and I were chopping onions at the rugby tournament, the topic of the (then-)proposed marathon came up, and we ended up having a really good conversation about how meaningful these films have been. Genna and Victor and I discovered that we all were pretty hard-core fans of the films and that we’d read the books, and we started throwing around references to Mara Jade and Kyp Durron and others (I also discovered that Victor’s a big Pirates of Dark Water fan and I’ve since converted Genna, but that’s another story entirely). Joey, James, and I were all in favor of doing Star Wars for the musical, but we were outvoted–but we ended up using Chris’s plastic lightsabers as sword/fight-scene props, and Joey came up to me at one of the rehearsals and commented, “I thought we weren’t doing Star Wars: The Musical?”

Another way this relates is that I was very tempted to plan a trip from here to Los Angeles for this weekend, because right now, several of my online friends are over there for Star Wars Celebration 4. It was a pretty foolhardy idea, though (it’d have eaten up too many vacation days, plane tickets would’ve been too expensive, and the jetlag would’ve been brutal), and obviously it didn’t pan out–but it also didn’t pan out for about 80% of the other people I knew were set on going, either, so of our messageboard crowd, only a small number are in LA right now. Still, it would be amazing to be there. I’ll be at Celebration 5 for sure, though.

I may regret posting this publicly, but to celebrate the occasion, I’ve uploaded this one mp3 I downloaded back in university, about 7-8 years ago. It’s a 20-minute medley involving melodies from episodes 1, 4, 5, and 6; it came out in 1999, shortly after The Phantom Menace was released, and a few months after I started school at Georgia Tech. It’s a fan-made medley and very, very well done, and it was really making the rounds for a while. I have space and bandwidth to spare, but please right-click the link and save it to your hard drive, and don’t just listen directly off my site. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. It’s a good retrospective.

So now it’s midnight, very early on the 25th of May, and I’m finally in the clear to post this. Happy Birthday, Star Wars! May the Force be with all of you who are reading this.

End of my term

I just removed my status as Administrator of our AJET forum. It feels weird to see my name in regular old blue now, instead of the distinct, bright red of an administrator. I also always grow attached to whatever webmaster position I helm, so it’s strange to just pass it on like this, even though I knew when coming into this that it was a temporary position only.

However, I didn’t realize that I can’t change my custom title, which is now set at “Lame Duck” (to be read with “Administrator” on the following line, so now instead of being cute, it just looks kind of dumb). I need to bug Victor or someone to change that for me.

At the same time, it’s nice to know that it’s no longer on my shoulders if something goes wrong with the site. I know Victor’s going to be coming to me with questions for a bit, but those will be pretty rare.

So…that’s it. Goodbye (admin post), good luck (new webmaster), and good night.

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter

So the Star Wars marathon/30th birthday party went fantastically well. Most of us weren’t too burned out, though people did come and go and not all the attendees were together at any one time. It was cool that way, though–people could come to see what they wanted to.

I picked up Genna Friday night, after getting a late start out of Ikeda, and we got to Chris’s by 9 PM, where he and Sarah were waiting. We watched Spaceballs and the first half of Empire of Dreams that night. It’s a great, great documentary–I’d like to track down a copy to watch pretty soon (maybe Friday, on the actual 30th anniversary of ANH).

Saturday (Prequels/Clone Wars day) we took our time getting up. Genna and I ran to Kamiita to pick up some stuff, and while we were gone, Joey and James arrived (very shortly after we left, in fact), and we met up with Olivia near Chris’s place on our way back. Sarah stayed till midday but had to leave for an enkai that night. Chris’s friend Gerry, an English professor at a university in Naruto, also came out for a few hours.

We had a few traditions and jokes we kept up throughout the films: taking turns reading the opening trailers in different voices, dubbing everything the Jedi did as “Force-” whatever (Force-angst, Force-stare), blaming everything on faulty power couplings (you know you’re at a geek gathering when…), and so on. We started the drinking games in earnest during Clone Wars, taking a drink whenever the Jedi emoted too much, when Anakin had angry eyes, and when anything or anybody spun (because, as Anakin put it in TPM, “That’s a good trick!”).

In place of Episode 1, we watched The Phantom Edit–I’d really like to get my hands on a copy of it, so it can replace the original as my definitive version of Episode 1. The only change I didn’t approve of was how this edit minimized Shmi Skywalker’s character; she was a minor but very moving and steadfast figure, especially as one of the few prominent female figures in the series. However, the rest was fantastically done. After TPM, we went to a nearby park to play some SW-themed games Chris had come up with, and just to get out and walk around a bit. We made it a point to take several breaks like that throughout the day; we went on a grocery run halfway through the Clone Wars cartoons, too.

On the whole, the prequels were every bit as bad as we remembered, and I think we all agreed that Attack of the Clones had the most awkward moments of all. It was really horrifying to see how much George Lucas had degenerated as a filmmaker over these last 30 years. How could he possibly watch these and think they were a good idea, especially considering how gorgeous and human the originals were in comparison? We all lamented the utter lack of real props and sets and the inability to use a puppet effectively throughout the recent films.

We wrapped up at 1:30 AM and went promptly to sleep, and got an early-ish start the next day (Original Trilogy day), wanting to start at 9 since people had to leave early, but not starting for an hour after that. Olivia left after the first film, having reached her saturation limit, and Sarah and Pickles came over. James and Genna left after ESB for Yoma’s barbecue, leaving the five of us: Chris, Pickles (also named Chris, but…yeah), Joey, Sarah, and me. There were a few no-shows, but on the whole it was a good and geeky crowd.

We paced these out really well too, with breaks to go out and walk around for a while. And…yeah, the difference between the originals and these is like that of night and day. These films are still so brilliant, even after all these years. We were talking and joking left and right through the prequels, but there were many more stretches of silence through these, and during the amusing and awesome moments, people were still laughing and blurting, “That’s so cool!” as if we were watching for the first time all over again. There were also definite periods of silent awe, and there were moments that sent chills down all our spines. The Yoda/Luke training scene in ESB was one, for sure. Even despite the prequels “taking away from” the suspense of the originals, there’s a power in this trilogy that can’t be denied.

It also was just cool that I was able to watch these films with people who love this series as much as I do That definitely made a difference, and it’s really an amazing thing to know that these films, which I’ve been obsessed with since the moment I first watched ANH in the third grade, have touched so many people from so many different walks of life around the world.

So, in short: 7.5 films (6 SW movies, 2 hours of Clone Wars, half of Empire of Dreams), 9 people, 48 hours, and one incredible weekend.

I left not too long after the films ended, since we finished around 7 PM. I caught the river road (successfully, Genna!) but then got lost getting back on the main roads, but found my way eventually, and I crossed the river in time to pass the Sri Lankan restaurant, which was still open at 8:30 PM on a Sunday (unheard of in rural Japan!), so I had dinner there, and I got home by 10.

This week’s gone by slowly, but it’s strange that it’s already Thursday tomorrow. I’ve been working on some design commission stuff, and I’m waiting anxiously for the day that I can contact my successor–though now I’m not sure if the girl I thought was replacing me is indeed my successor, since she may not have sent in her reply form! The suspense is really getting to me.

(85 days until I leave Japan. I really want to redo this design, too, so when I add in the inevitable JavaScript countdown, it’ll all work a little better.)

Here we go

I think it’s starting–someone in the US (my referral stats didn’t list anything other than the country) Googled “tokushima-ken, miyoshi-shi” and found this blog.

(And by “it,” I mean “the new ALTs receiving their placement information.” But “it” also could refer to the push by contracting agencies to find information about their ALTs online, because lately I’ve noticed that someone from Ikeda’s town office has been making frequent visits to this website.)

I actually already have the scoop on the 3 new ALTs coming to our fair six-towns-that-masquerade-as-a-city, and have known who they will be for a few weeks–unless they’ve rejected their placements, two are American and one is Canadian, and my successor is an American girl from the eastern US. The American coming here who isn’t my successor is a guy of Asian descent. Ooh, 50/50 odds. Hey there, to whoever you are!

And hello to any other incoming Tokushima JETs who find this! I extended this offer last year and I’ll do it again–I’ll gladly answer any questions for you until you get in contact with your predecessor. My blog’s been picked up pretty well by Google, so a lot of incoming ALTs last year found this almost before they found any of the “official” info on Tokushima. Part of why I created this blog, besides chronicling my time in Japan, was to attempt to create a window into the experience, because other people’s blogs and websites helped me out in an indescribably huge way with the interview and preparations, and it’s just cool to feel a sense of cameraderie even now when I read other JET blogs and know that there are people all over the country experiencing something similar to this.

(So the main reason I’m awake right now is because I got back only an hour ago from hanging out with Gilly, Kirsten, Christine, Rob, Sally, Ashley, and James for Gilly’s birthday dinner out in Wakimachi. It was a lot of fun and worth the 45-minute drive. I do need to get to bed ASAP, though, since I have two eikaiwas and a shougakkou class to teach tomorrow before heading out for a weekend of unadulterated Star Wars geekery at Chris’s in Matsushige, in honor of the 30th anniversary of the release of A New Hope on May 25, 1977. (I can just see my dad rolling his eyes and muttering something about how I’m wasting my time on this Star Wars crap. Love you, Dad!) The marathon was my idea, but just as a one-day thing; the others have taken it and run with it, and it’s a Friday-Sunday affair now. Spaceballs and other bonus/parody materials tomorrow, prequels Saturday, original trilogy Sunday!)

And with that, I’m off to bed. Oh–I’m almost totally better, though I still have a bit of a cough I can’t shake, but I’m almost there!

Burritos and nostalgia

Still sick.

I feel like I managed to take a step forward and a step back and have ended up somewhere different. I feel much better, but I have this really persistent tickle in the back of my throat that’s been making me cough all day long. I also was as tired as I was last Wednesday, when I asked if I could leave early because I felt so drained. Luckily, though, I’m only tired, and not actually ill anymore, so I guess the actual illness is mostly gone but I still have some viral remnant or something.

Though at the time of writing the above paragraph, I was tired from the viral something-or-other; now I’m tired because I ended up going on an hour-long walk in really beautiful weather from Ikeda to Tsuji Station in neighboring Ikawa, about 4 miles away. I left at 6:20 and got there at 7:30, and ran into several of my former students, who attend the neighboring high school now. We caught the train back to Ikeda together, and I came home, and Ashley came up a few minutes later to let me know that Brian, Julie, and Sally were at her place making Mexican food for dinner, so I joined them around the kotatsu. It was like a nice little family dinner–we westies haven’t had a chance to just hang out at someone’s place like that in a very, very long time. I’ve hung out a fair amount recently with Kiet and Genna and others from the Awa-area group at their apartments, but it’s different because each region just develops its own “group” by default, and I’m a latecomer to theirs.

Oh, unrelated, but I wanted to mention that yesterday I heard the song “Ashita Ga Aru” playing at our supermarket. We’d spent some time going over the lyrics to that song in one of my Japanese classes in university, and it made me think fondly of those classes and professors. I’d been wondering if I would hear it here, since it was apparently a major national motivational song while I was in college.

I also watched last year’s musical last night. Ahh, Peter Pan…so many memories.

On the Tokushima JET Facebook group, former JETs have posted some group photos, and it’s a crazy feeling to know that people I’ve never met and never will meet but whose names I’ve heard numerous times (thanks to former musicals, Teamwork Tokushima, and the like) have lived here and had experiences here many years ago. It’s also funny that they view us as newbies–which is how I totally viewed the first-years until they settled in, and which is how I already know I’ll view all the ALTs that come after us. It’s crazy, to have seniority and to be so close to leaving all this, and at the same time, to not have seniority in terms of the 20+ years that JET and private ALTs have been in Tokushima. Looking back…we’ve done and seen and experienced a lot, being here, and it’s so easy to feel like nobody else has done this before, when we’re just the latest in a line of many, with many more coming after us in the years to come.