A blog detailing how a strong, overweight Jewish engineer, whose only teaching experience is summer camp, fares at teaching English to Junior High School students in rural Japan.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dan's Encounters With Japanese Police

This is going to be something of an Anti-Japan, Anti-Establishment, Anti-Japanese kinda rant, so I want to warn you ahead of time to realize that while I am a little bitter about this, I love Japan and love living here. This is just something I had to let out, and since I had already written it, I mine as well post it here.

I dinged a guy's car last night in a conbini parking lot. There is nothing like a visit from the police to put your Japanese to the test. I don't think I will forget the word "menkyojou"(vehicle registration) or "hoken"(insurance) again. It wasn't a serious incident, so I don't think I will get in much trouble. Fortunately, I went through the hell of getting a real Japanese license and had all my papers in order, so it was treated as though I wasn't a foreigner. Well, that was going to be the case, until they decided to do the "is he legal" check. Allow me to explain.

Japan, especially the government, has been pushing this idea that most crime(and problems in general) within Japan is due to foreigners. The so called "rise in foreigner crime" is a huge issue and basically accepted as fact. The real facts are this, removing Visa violations, foreigners are significantly less likely to commit crimes. Over half the reported crimes are simply them overstaying their work visa and such. The real "problems" in Japanese society are much deeper, and deal more with a disillusioned youth generation, a disconnect from the culture of old, a rapid modernization of culture, and such.

This foreigner check is a combination of the belief that foreigners are always suspect and more likely to be criminals, combined with a police force that is, in my opinion, simultaneously ineffective and without anything better to do. Whenever they encounter a foreigner, which around here is probably a bit rare, they immediately feel they have to do practically a full background check. I mean, I had a Japanese License(not easy to get for Americans, and it looks the same as a normal Japanese persons. I also had a vehicle, registered in my name, along with information on my address and place of work not a mile away. Still they had to take my foreigner card, check all the dates, compare it to the license, call it up to make sure it was legit, and then started badgering me with questions about how long I had been in the country, if I had moved, if it was legal. All of this, of course, was in Japanese. But to be honest, this incident alone isn't the problem.

Last year, I was in Matsuyama(capital city of bordering prefecture). After a great night with great music, I was driving home around midnight. I had 3 girls I met at the music event driving in front of me to show me the way out. Then came the problem. For the first time ever, I saw a Japanese checkpoint(for drinking, I guess). I couldn't avoid it, so I pulled up at the right moment, documents in hand. At the time, my Japanese was significantly worse and I only had an International Driving Permit, though legal. After about 3 minutes, I knew this was going to be a problem. He decided that I was holding up the line, and had me pull over completely. Then began the fun.

He asked me for my passport, which I didn't have. Why? We were told that with the exception of leaving the country, our foreigner ID cards were as good as passports. In fact, it was a good idea not to keep them together in case you lost both. He tells me he needs to see my passport. I tell him I was told, by the government, I didn't need it. He tells me it is too late at night to call my prefectural office, so they can't verify it. They need the passport. I tell them I don't have it. Then they say that they haven't seen an IDP like this before, and ask me where I got it. I point to the various AAA seals stamped on it and explain that it is the American version of JAF(Japanese Automobile Federation). I tell him that this is the standard American IDP. He starts examining it, and I can tell instantly that he has both never seen an American IDP before, and can't read any English at all. Yet he proceeds to check it as though he knows what he is doing. He literally pretended to read using his finger as a guide. I might have believed him if his wasn't trying to read from right to left.

So things are getting sticky. He tells me that I should get a license. I tell him I probably will, but I don't have one now. He says it's easy to get and that it IDPs are often fakes. I am not getting his point. At some time, one of the girls came back to help me. Her English was not so good, but better than my Japanese at the time. She starts telling me that the problem is that without my passport, they can't tell when I entered the country. I tell her it is right on my foreigner card. The policeman says that for a IDP to be valid, you have to come to japan, then leave for 3 months, then return. I tell him that he misunderstands the law, and that the rule is you must leave for 3 months to renew an IDP. You can't just stop at home and get another year of driving. He doesn't understand. I found out later from a friend that this discrepancy is actually common, that most police didn't read the memo about it carefully enough.

Anyways, things start to escalate, and I am starting to worry he is going to take me down to the station. We are arguing heavily, and even though I know he is wrong, he won't budge an inch. He says that until they can clear it up, I can't drive. Now it is around 1AM, and I got a 2 hour drive ahead of me. He is telling me I can't drive at all. I ask him what I am supposed to do, but he just reiterates that I can't drive. Finally, I get one of the girls to drive my car to the city limits, then I switch back and hope that I don't get pulled over again.

I know it sounds anti-climatic, but this has given me a quite negative view of Japanese police and such. The fact was that he was pulling people over to check for drinking, which I obviously wasn't, and then used the excuse to mess with me because I am a foreigner...Okay, that is the end of my rant.

PS: I should mention that while these were both negative incidents involving police, in the interests of full disclosure, I will admit that I have asked them for directions a few times and they have been helpful. They also act as a lost and found for cell phones, bags, etc. One time, a few of us guys, fairly drunk(this one of the rare occasions that I decided to drink), were walking around Kanonji looking for the next bar. We had heard of one from the place we left(it had closed), and so we set off. Navigating the city wouldn't be so bad if we weren't drunk or knew where the place was, but after 45 minutes of walking, we decided to find somewhere to ask directions. We happened upon a police station, and the sole officer sitting there bent over backwards to help us find our next drinking establishment. Pulling out all kinds of map books, making copies, etc. I think we could have gotten a police escort if we had asked. So in this case, the police worked in our favor.

Here is a copy of what I wrote my supervisor at my school last night afterwards:

I had a little problem.

A little while ago, I hit a stopped car while backing up in ***'s Family Mart. Don't worry. He and I are fine. Also, my car scraped his car just a little bit. Therefore, tomorrow he will call *** Junior High School. I told him to speak to Mr. *** about insurance. I'm sorry for the trouble.


さっきOOのファミリーマートの駐車場でバックさせた時に止まってる車にぶつかりました。心配しいで下さい 。私と彼は大丈夫です。そして、私の車を彼の車にちょっとだけ擦りました。だから、明日に彼はOO中学校に 電話します。私はOO先生に保険について話して下さいと言った。しつれいします。

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Becoming Assimilated

I have a little time on my hands and haven't posted for a while, so I thought I would update people on what has been happening. This post is unlikely to be that funny, though I will try to put some humor in, if possible. It is mostly for my parents and friends back home who are wondering about my general condition, not people looking for a good story. I will write one of those later. I have now been living in Japan for about 15 months, and haven't left the country in 6 months. Actually, I haven't even left my island, Shikoku, for 5 months.

As you might have noticed with my lack posting, I find myself usually very busy in Japan, and I have only been getting busier over time. With my good friend Steve having left Japan in August, I have started hanging out with a lot more of the other foreigners and making friends with Japanese people. Given the low level of English in my rural area, combined with the lack of young people aged 18-29, and general social customs, making friends was quite difficult for me my first year. Sure, I got to become acquaintances with some people, but only in the last couple months has my Japanese improved such that I have I met people and made friends outside the "gaijin social circle", which includes the foreigners and the Japanese who hang out with various foreigners often. Not just friends, but people who I can call up, hang out with, ask questions, or do whatever I want. They also have a variety of jobs and hobbies, which has lead me to doing things like Octopus hunting and knowing good mechanics to get a sound system in or get my Shakken(Japanese Vehicle Registration) done for cheap.

My Japanese has been improving(I have been studying, just not enough), but I go back and forth between feeling like I am starting to get very good and feeling like I will never get to where I want to be. My mood has, for the most part, been fairly upbeat(though tired), but it seems that one moment or incident can make you feel really depressed for a short moment sometimes. I feel like I need a really long vacation, but when I have time off, I tend to spend most of it doing things that make me even more tired.

I am also somewhat conflicted about where I want to go in the future. I am enjoying living here, making decent money and learning Japanese, but as my father pointed out to me, my engineering degree will become worthless if I leave it collecting dust for too long. Talking with several friends, I realize that graduate school is the best option for me, but the choice of where to do it(Japan, America, Binghamton, Albany) when to do it(After this year, after my 3rd year, after my 5th), and what to do(Bioengineering, Business, Japanese, Politics) is still difficult for me. Also, affording graduate school will put me into debt, which is not something that I like to think about. I also have a perfect Math score for my GRE that will expire eventually.

I also feel like I am starting to assimilate to Japan, and not always in the best of ways. I think I have lost a lot of my morality, and it is falling even faster. I am getting used to things that I should be outraged about, and I do or consider things that I would never have thought about doing back in America. In a country were sexual harassment is a joke and seems like it is welcomed half the time, your sense of decency and morals start to waver. I now can tell how old Japanese people are, see the differences between them, really understand the culture, and have a general feeling of knowing the ropes.

The constant feeling of being out of place has started to subside and it is being replaced with the feeling of being a local. This has the added effect of making me even more upset when someone freaks out in the supermarket just because I am not Japanese. I normally humor most people, and thought that I would never really get angry just because of stupid questions, but when you walk into a place, read the kanji on a menu, they know you have lived here for over a year, you speak local dialect phrases with your Japanese, and they still ask if you can use chopsticks, or worse, have ever had udon(basically the standard food in my prefecture, and the only type of restaurants in my town...I have had it 1,000s of times), it really annoys you a bit. Though it is fun to hang out with Japanese friends, go places(movies, restaurant, stores), and have them see and watch the way you are treated. It gives them a totally different view on things.

I once argued with a friend that I couldn't be seen going into the adult section of a book/game/video store because I was a foreigner. Since going into such a place isn't abnormal in Japan and people usually don't mind or say anything about it, even for a teacher, they didn't know why it would be a problem. One shopping trip to Utazu, where in every store we went, I was stopped by students who saw me and then asked me 20 questions convinced her otherwise. That the rules of privacy in Japan only apply to Japanese people. After a few lessons like these, it is fun to see your Japanese friends get defensive for you. "Of course he can use chopsticks." "He can speak Japanese, you know." "Why do you care?" It is kinda nice.

Anyways, it is taking me a lot of time to adjust to being busy with full time work and life. You end up, after essential things, having maybe 2 nights during the week and 1 day and 2 nights during the weekend to do things like socialize, study Japanese, clean your apartment, meet new people, go to parties and events, visit temples, exercise, or even just relax. You get really worn down, the coffee can't keep you going any longer, and you just crash, having wasted a day on sleeping and yet still feeling just as tired the next day. I have so many things I want to do, but they all seem to cancel each other out. Anyways, I gotta go eat lunch with the students, so I am going to go now. Don't worry, I promise the next post should be funnier. I have a group blind date(4-5 Foreign guys meeting 4-5 Japanese girls at an izakaya) this Friday, and a lot of other fun, story generating things have happened as well. Oh, by the way, if I hadn't mentioned before, I got my Japanese Driver's License.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Year 2 - Hajime!

So a couple people wanted me to update my blog...I thought that I should give in finally. I will likely find something funny to talk about, but this is mostly an update of what is going on in my life.

For those of you that didn't know, my first year ended at the end of July, and now I have begun my second year of JET. Summer break has ended and this is my first week of classes in a while. Unfortunately, no one told the sun that summer was over, so it is still pretty freaking hot. I didn't really do very much this summer. I wanted to, but they actually make you go to work EVERYDAY during the summer even if the kids aren't here. Of course, this is Japan, so most of the kids come in for club activities during the summer, on the weekends, and whatever. This leads me to the first rule in my Generalized Theory of Japanese Society.

Generalized Theory of Japanese Society

Note: Due to Western Influence, many of the younger generation are no longer bound by these rules. Therefore, this is mainly for traditional Japanese society, not the pseudo-counter culture of Japanese Hip-Hop and such

Rule 1: Free time, also known in some scientific circles as "leisure time", is a very bad thing. Having any of this means you aren't a hard worker, and therefore a bad Japanese person. In order to improve your position in Japanese life, all free time MUST be converted into unpaid overtime work or a hobby of which you put your full work ethic into and can't possibly enjoy by any American standard. Unlike Western society, where free time is a goal to be achieved, here it is a bug to be squashed.

For example, the students go to school sometime between 7-8 AM and school ends around 4 PM. Not too different from America. But then they add something, club activities. Pretty much every student is expected to have a club activity, which requires them to stay another 2 hours each day, plus show up on weekends for extra practice. Missing a single day is like missing class and club activities are treated as supremely important, second only to class itself. This of course, also forces the teachers to stay, which is why I think club activities might have just been an excuse to give teachers something to do. Even without students here, they will often stay until 6 or 7, even though school is over around 4-5. But do not confuse productivity with the amount of work Japanese do, because they are unrelated. Which leads me to my next rule.

Rule 2: Productivity is irrelevant. The amount of time you spend "working" far exceeds the amount of work you accomplish. In fact, being productive is actually counterproductive to "work".

For example, if it takes me 15 minutes to create a worksheet, a Japanese person with the same skills will stretch it to 3 hours. He will be considered a better worker because he spent 3 hours on it, while I only spent 15 minutes. Even if I were to create two worksheets in 30 minutes, him creating one worksheet in 3 hours is better. In fact, I have gotten this feeling that completing assignments quickly is actually rude somehow. Like you are saying that you didn't consider the assignment worth a lot of time or that you aren't given enough work by your boss.

The worst example of this is how Japanese people will stay late with no work to do. Seriously, not a thing to do, but have to stay 3 hours after for unpaid overtime. I ask why, and it is because it is necessary for being a good Japanese worker. When I tell them they should just go home, they look at me as if I were some sad little child who just didn't get "it". Well, here I am saying, I GET IT! I JUST THINK IT IS STUPID! The same thing happens with my students. I ask them if they HAVE to go to club activities, and they say yes. I ask them why, and they just say they are supposed to. I should note at this point that these are still optional after school activities, but just aren't treated as such. They will sometimes tell me how tired they are and I tell them they should skip. That these aren't mandatory classes. They give me the same look as the adults like I just don't get it. This leads to the next rule.

Rule 3: There is no difference between what one should do and what one has to do. Here is the simplified equation: Optional == Mandatory

I honestly believe there is no difference in Japan. Granted, sometimes "optional" things in America are not optional, but this is like everything. If coming to a day at work is optional, every teacher will be there. I could think up more examples but it is not needed. I think you get this one based on the last Rule's example.

Rule 4: Lack of knowledge does not prevent a person from answering a question definitively.

This one gets really annoying really fast. Ask a Japanese person a question, and you will normally get a direct answer. It just often won't be right. What is worse is when you know for a fact that they are wrong, but can't call them out on it either. Here is an example conversation:

"Can I buy a ticket with my credit card?"
"Definitely not. You can't do that here."
"Are you sure? A couple friends said they have done it before."
"Nope. Not at this place."
Ignoring the Japanese person, you go buy a ticket with your card.
"I was able to to buy one."
"With your credit card? Really? Wow."

I guess they just assume that if THEY haven't done it before, it can't be done. Either that or they take an educated guess, but with a Japanese school system that pushes memorization over critical thinking, they aren't good guessers.

Anyways, I will get to some more rules later. Here is the rest of what has happened to me.

I saw Matsuyama(Biggest city on Shikoku, it is in Ehime Prefection) and Kochi(capital of the prefecture of the same name below me). I have gotten better at Japanese, bought a Nintendo Wii(only have used it at a party so far), bought a kanji game from my DS, bought a tempurpedic double sized bed so I don't have to sleep on futons, and had some medical issues come up.

I also dressed up like a ninja for a Pirates vs. Ninja party, failed my Japanese driving test twice, saw a bunch of my friends leave and a bunch of new ppl come. Some are really nerdy too, so I might have some classic geeky fun this year.

Well, first period just ended, so I guess I will post and maybe post later(big maybe). I have been considering another, more anonymous blog that only some select people will know is me so that I can post some less clean rants. My parents, grandparents, and some family friends read this, so...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Student Journals

Well, it is that time of the year and I am back to checking papers. In this case, specifically the journals from my 2nd year English elective class. When I first did this, I would have to stop every few pages because it was hard to take so much laughter. After being in Japan for a while though, I barely even realize it's funny anymore. I have a small stack in front of me right now though, and I decided that I should quickly write down to my blog any funny ones I find.

Note that this is not an anthology or "best of the best" post, just a real look at what a normal stack of 15 journals would have in it. I will not exaggerate, reword, edit, censor, or change in any way the words that I see. In the interests of time of course, I will only past sentences that have at least some glimmer of humor. Remember though that this is about 15 journals with about 1-3 sentences per journal written. I will post the journal number as well. There won't be that much material. So without further ado:

Translator's Note: "Birugeitsu" means Bill Gates

Question: Who do you want to be like?

1. I want to be like a maid cafe.
2. I want to be like sister. The reason is that it is terrible anything can be done. I want also to hold out like the elder sister.
4. I want to be like "Birugeitsu". He have a lot of many. And he made "windows". He is exciting. So I want to be like he.
7. I like taking a photographer.
13. I want to be like cat. Cat is a No. 1! like.

That is it. I know, not that great. I will try to do a best of the best at some later point, perhaps. I hope this just gave you a basic idea of what one small stack of papers is like.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Most Awkward Moment in Japan

I know I have written in a while, but it really is because I am enjoying myself too much to take the time out to write. However, something happened today so shocking that I feel I must write about it.

When I came to Japan over 8 months ago, I had already done plenty of reading to prepare myself for life here. Of course, nothing you can read could possibly prepare you for the level of awkwardness you will be subjected to during your tenure as a foreigner in Japan. That being said, I came with a positive attitude, and up until today, that has carried me through some of the more...difficult moments of adjusting to Japanese culture.

I have been stared at constantly, everywhere I go. People will talk about me as though I am not there. I have had people refuse to serve me, or assume things like I can't use chopsticks and I must want the big portion. I have been asked highly inappropriate questions(How many girlfriends do you have? Do you play sex? Do you have a big "thing"? How do you get to a Love Hotel?), etc. Those same questions have also been used as declarations(You have many girlfriends. You play sex. You have a big thing.) Of course, then there are the just general moments where you always have to explain you don't understand, go to the wrong place, or make some mistake because you couldn't follow directions. And much much more.

But none of that reached the level of awkwardness of today. I mean, I actually had to look up in the dictionary how to say "awkward" in Japanese afterwards so I could tell my supervisor just how awkward it was. Thank god it happened at the end of the school day, because I needed some time alone after this.

It all started around 3:15 today. I am not allowed to leave until 3:45, so as usual I walk around the school to kill time, saying hi to the kids, and generally letting my presence known. I did the same thing yesterday, but wearing an elephant mask. But that is another story(If I remember, I will post it after this). Anyways, I walked around for a while, even visiting the music room which I normally don't go to, and then eventually heard the sounds of a movie as I was walking by the stairwell. So I went upstairs to the 3rd grade(9th grade American) floor and saw a projector setup with all the kids in front of it watching.

There was a classic Japanese style to the film, one which I recognized well because I had taken Japanese Cinema back in college. It was your standard Japanese people lazily doing something that I think is boring(Tea Ceremony, Laundry) and putting it to soft, slow music. I am sure a Japanese person would tell you it somehow demonstrates the nature of the Japanese spirit, but I just thought it was boring. Now, I watched for maybe a minute and I started to get this really weird feeling. I slowly started to back away from the screen(I was towards to back of the room) and make my way to the stairs. I made it about halfway before it happened. BOOM!

The second I heard that sound and saw the white flash, I knew I was done for. By the time the mushroom cloud formed I was already a goner. And by that, I mean I got the fuck out of there as fast as possible. It started to form in my head what this film was about, and things started getting a bit weird. Now I thought, "Not all the kids saw me. Plus, they are pretty dumb, maybe they won't make the connection. Maybe it 'wasn't' what I thought it was?". Now, I know it probably wasn't that bad. It isn't like the kids are going to attack me or something. But I was kinda afraid that the movie would remind them "why" I am teaching them English in their schools now. It was about 3:38 before my supervisor returned from the movie. My supervisor is a pretty light-heartened, Western-knowledgeable guy, so I wasn't too worried about him being angry. I thought I was probably in the clear. Then, the moment when from "kinda awkward" to "very awkward".

He turns to me and says, "Good movie. Nagasaki. Give me my parents back!"

Now for the life of me, for about 15 seconds, I honestly thought he was talking about his parents.

I can almost imagine my face as my eyes go wide, my skin goes white as a sheet(a clean sheet), and my heart starts racing. Normally, an awkward moment can just be brushed off with an "I don't understand" or a "Whoops" or even just ignoring it. But this time I had no idea what to do or say. I turned and looked at him and was actually trying to figure out how I was going to apologize for killing his parents. My mouth actually opened and started forming the words when I realized that, while not smiling, he didn't seem to have the anguish of a person accusing someone of murdering your mother and father. I mean, Japanese people can be hard to read sometimes, but not that hard. I realized pretty quickly that he must have been quoting the movie after I left and was kind enough to translate it into English for me.

I just sat there for about a minute and thought about how awkward a moment that just was. I realized it was so awkward that I had to tell him. So I grabbed my electronic dictionary and looked it up. Then I showed it to him and he is like "Ah yes. Awkward. Now I remember." Then he looked at me and for the first time realized why it may have been awkward. "Oh, I get it. Atomic Bomb. You are from America, who dropped the bomb. Awkward." He said with a smile on his face that he has when he understands a new word. I just looked up at the clock, grabbed my bag, said goodbye, and left. I left 3 minutes early.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I am getting dragged to Singapore for a few days in March, it seems...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Ramen Stand Girls

While I like Udon, Yakiniku, Yakitori, Yakisoba, Yaki-anything that isn't too disgusting, I absolutely love Ramen. The way it is always served hot but not enough to burn, with just a bit of meat, vegetables, possibly a slice of egg, and of course, noodles. The way that Ramen is eaten with chopsticks, but comes with a spoon too. The way you can slurp your noodles and even lift the bowl to your face and drink, without it being impolite. The way it is served with a steaming bowl of rice and, if so desired, a six-pack of meaty gyoza. The way it is made quickly, and the large number of ramen stands that are open late hours and located everywhere, even in rural Japan. But one thing I really like are the Ramen Stand Girls.

I should probably clarify one thing first though. While they do exist, none of these places I visit are actually stands. They are a way. More like a diner, actually. I just like the way that "Ramen Stand" rolls off the tongue, especially when you pronounce the "Stand" as though it were "Stond". Ramen Stands are often featured in anime, but in rural areas, you mostly see real buildings. They are normally family owned and family run, perhaps with some hired hands if needed. This leads me to my original topic, Ramen Stand Girls. At most Ramen Stands, or at least the ones I go to often, there is a Mom and Pop running the show. Helping them out is always their cute daughter who is my age. They are never beautiful in a model way, but more the "wearing a stained apron and bandana with many hairs lose and a polite smile on their face, girl next door that you want to marry" kind of look. Being younger, they also tend to know more English then the parents, so they are often the ones you interact with the most.

Of course, I find the Ramen Stands to be one of the best places to socialize, so talk a lot with these girls and their parents. Since I am a foriegner, I am automatically a memoriable customer after one visit and they are eager to talk to me. Now, this isn't a Ramen Stand thing exclusively; many places like Udon Stands and Hardware Shops also have the same cute daughter setup. However as I said, I love Ramen and I find Ramen Stands to be one of the best places to socialize around town. Something about all the different types of people that come and go, and the fact that Ramen makes everyone happy. Well, except for stiffly stiffersons.

PS: I will try to post some pictures of my favorite Ramen stands later when I get internet back.

A Long Shogatsu(New Years)

I lost internet and hot water, but found an awsome arcade, bought a car, and learned a little more Japanese. With the car I managed to find all new shops, rent videos easily, and leave my prefecture for the first time(except for heading to and from airports to go home). For New Years Eve, I went with a few foriegners and friends to a temple(I got to help ring the giant bells with a swinging battering ram). Then we visited a drumming performance at another temple. Finally, I went to Konpira-san, the famous temple with somewhere between 800 and 1300 steps to the top. I made it the whole way without breaking down, and even bought one of those cool pilgrim hats(pointy straw hats like the one Raiden from Mortal Kombat wore). All in all, it was a fun time.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Pornographic Karaoke

Though I normally don't drink on a weeknight, I had my last class for a few weeks yesterday, so I called up a friend and we headed out to Kanonji. Kanonji is a small city that I have not explored very much, but that will be rectified soon. After walking aimlessly for a while, we found a place off of a side alley of a side alley with the description "Naito Pubu" or "Night Pub". It became a tossup between that location and another, high class place we saw called "Baby Face Planets". We settled on the "Night Pub".

Upon first entering, we already could tell that this was not an ordinary place. You walk in and are faced with a mirror, which messes with your head for a second. As you head in, the bar is shaped like a semi-circle, with a single curving bar and bench. It took a bit to slide your legs between the overhanging bar and the bench, and even longer to get out. Having visited a lot of places since I got here, I could already tell this was a bitof an abnormal establishment. I was enjoying myself fairly well, grabbing the Karaoke mic and having a beer or two. Then things came to a crashing halt.

The Karaoke machine had porn on it. More than that, you had to sing to get the porn. The better the performance, the better the score, the more seconds of porn you won. What I figured out about the system was that out of 1000 possible points:

600-700 was 5 seconds
700-800 was 10 seconds
800-900 was 15 seconds
900-1000 was 30 seconds

The highest score of the night was by the owner, who managed a 975 and got us a full 30 seconds. I ranged 600-800 normally, which often wasn't enough to see anything good. The porn seemed to be randomly selected from a few scenes, so 15 seconds might just get you a girl licking a banana, while 5 seconds might be action. I started laughing at the banana clip, and the Japanese people were half humored, half amazed that I got it, which made my friend laugh even harder. Japanese people seem to think foriegners wouldn't understand anything of their culture, which nowadays is very often stolen from American culture. It is not uncommon for a Japanese person to ask an American if they have McDonalds or KFC in their country.

Anyways, a lot has happened to me this week, and maybe I will write about it later. I got an enkai(drinking party) tonight, and I am still shaking off the effects of last night. Bye!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Takase Izakaya Explorations

Now, I realized when looking back at the list that I can't really post half of those stories here because they all involve things I don't want my parents or grandparents reading. Unfortunately, they are also the funniest stories. I will set something up so that my friends can read them later, at least. Now, onto a...cleaner, but still alcohol fueled story.

My town is very nice. It is quiet and beautiful, with almost no crime and a very relaxed pace of life. Unfortunately, it is also very small, rural, and pretty much everything besides one 24/7 conbini is closed after 6 PM. This wouldn't be so bad if the trains didn't stop running around midnight. That means going out to Marugame, Takamatsu, or even Kanonji ends around 11:00 PM, costs $5-15 roundtrip, and for the most part, isn't worth it. Fortunately for me, there is Takase.

Takase is the town next to mine, and with a good 15-20 minute bike ride, you can find yourself surrounded by...slightly more places to go to than my town. It is also home to my friend, Steve, who also doesn't feel like leaving this area all too much. (The other gaijin or two around here often spend the night on someone's floor in Takamatsu or something along those lines.) The real key with Takase is that unlike Mino, Takase has many izakayas and similar food accessible locations.

Note: An izakaya is a Japanese bar. Izakayas have plenty of drinking going on, but they also normally have a decent selection of food and almost always around here, they have kareoke for free. Basically think of a cross between a bar and a small restaurant.

Therefore, Steve and I decided to add a new job title to our resumes: Izakaya Explorers. With our "Momma Cherry" bikes(basket and bell in front), we ride through the night, searching for new izakayas to try out. Izakayas normally have a flashing orange light in front of them, so we often goto nearby hills, looking for the lights.

Ground rules are simple:

We commit ourselves to trying every izakaya, even if it seems shady from first glance.
We try more than one a night.
We make sure we stay out of trouble...mostly.

So, the following are a few of the interesting places we have found. Unfortunately I don't know the name to many places, so I have given them their own.

Name: "The place next to that Ramen shop near the Korea House." or "Next to that place where Andy saw you know what."

This was one of our first discoveries, and it went pretty well. I had about 3 chuhais(stronger than a beer). One common thing in Japan is that people will give you stuff for being foriegn. This place gave us food. It was pretty good, but my dislike for vegetables clashed with my desire to be a polite guest and eat the free food given me. This would bite me in the ass later that night. But I digress. This place is also memorable for the 3-4 old women sitting at the bar(we were at a table) who seemed to enjoy our presence. They were definately at the upper end of 40-60, so it was mostly just funny. Of course, as we started to leave, some of the women asked us to stay and sit next to them. They offered to pay for us if we would. I decided to pass on having a 60 year old Japanese lady become my sugar momma for the night, a decision I would later regret.

The next stop that night was "Starless" or "That place next to Korea House."

Starless was somewhat nice. Good kareoke setup, nice long bar, and the people there were a bit younger. Steve and I went to the bar, where after the basic pleasantries, Steve got ambushed. You see, Steve knows Japanese. I don't. When the 60 year old guy wants to talk with the foriegner, he gets stuck on talk duty. Unfortunately for me, I got stuck on drinking duty. As Steve talked with the man, the man got into the standard "Japan is such a great, nice place" routine. Steve hates this because the people always say the same things, but at the same time, they often pay for us. This was such the case.

The man didn't make his offer until I was about 2 more chuhai deep. Chuhai are a kinda fruity drink, so it tastes good. The man wanted to buy me a drink, so I felt almost obligated to drink. That is where I made my big mistake. I forgot that unlike in America, finishing your drink is a signal that you want another. If you are ready to stop drinking, you leave your glass with some in it. So, I would keep finishing the drink to be polite to the guy, and then I would end up getting another. After that 6th or 7th drink(3rd or 4th at this place), the rest of the night is somewhat a blur. However, I remember a few things and Steve helped me with a few other details.

I had somewhere around 12 chuhais total(3 before and 9 at Starless). This was way too much. I believe I broke a glass around drink 8 or 9. According to Steve, I seemed to start to zonk out around my 7th drink, laying my head on the bar and such. However, I regained my energy(prob form the sugar) around drink 9 or 10. I had a conversation with the guy to my left in decent Japanese. We were both totally drunk, but according to Steve, we seemed to be understanding each other fine. I kinda remember talking to him, but not what I said. When we left, I went outside and laid on the ground for about 5 minutes. I didn't remember this at all. I rode my bike to Steve's place fairly well and went to sleep.

About half an hour later I started feeling really sick. I started doing my standard "drink a lot of water to lower the effects of the alcohol". Up to now this has always it made it worse. A few minutes later, for the first time in over 10 years and the first time ever from drinking, I threw up. I managed to make it to Steve's bathroom and aim for the toilet, but it just exploded out everywhere. About 50% went forward into the can, but the rest hit the floor and walls. This was the first in a series. After about 2 hours of off and on puking, I finally felt a little better, and using all of his paper towels and toilet paper, I cleaned up 99% of the mess I made. Fortunately it was confined to the bathroom.

I really wanted just to get home where I could take care of myself, so right around dawn in the freezing cold, I started biking home. I made it home without puking, and started taking a warm shower. The puking returned. Fortunately this whole time, it was purely clear liquid that came up. The chuhai is clear and a large part water and I hadn't eaten much that day. Anyways, after another 2-4 hours and some advice from a friend back home, I was alright. I hadn't really slept since I started drinking, but I didn't want to get off schedule. I wasn't really up to eating food that day, but Yom Kippur was beginning that night, so I had to get something in me before a day of fasting. Anyways, that was one night of adventures. I will post about some...less messy nights at another time.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

Basic Conversations

I know I have been pretty weak with posting here, but I actually have been somewhat busy. I apologize though.

So, a lot of things have happened to me recently, and I feel I should rant about them a bit.

This past week, I realized that I was now capable of basic conversation. I could both say and understand things like, where do you live, what did you do last week, how did you get here, have you ever been to america, how are you feeling, what are you doing tomorrow, do you have a boyfriend, do you like to watch movies, etc.

This revelation has seemed to untie my hands a bit. I first learned about month after getting here that with my Japanese at the time, I couldn't really talk to anyone. Steve and I were in a bar with two girls, and while his Japanese level is through the roof, I couldn't even ask them what their name was. Now after a couple more months of being stuck in rural Japan and actually studying a bit, my Japanese has improved quickly. This seemed to come to a head this last week.

First, I had to visit a new elementary school in my town. This is the one furthest away, and requires 20-30 minutes to get there from the school by bike. This elementary school is a pretty amazing place from a distance. Located on the top of a hill/mountain(they just stick up around here), it is mostly concealed by trees. The playing field has large spotlights for baseball/soccer games, which makes for an unusual image. This school looks like a maximum security prison. You just see a drab stone building on top of a mountain, concealed by trees, with giant spotlights surrounding it. The only ways up the mountain are steep paths on each side, which are nearly impossible to bike up. Anyone who makes it to the top is sweating like a pig, fat or no.

Anyways, at this school, I got there about 45 minutes early, which meant 40 minutes of getting poked and prodded by the school staff. Now, this consists of the standard questions, showing of pictures, and embarassing fawning by 40-80 year old women. Only this time, it was different. Instead of sitting there just nodding my head and grunting, I actually understood their questions. I found myself capable of answering them as well. My study of grammar also allowed me to figure out which words I didn't know and ask them about it specifically. I actually enjoyed myself a bit. I even told some good jokes, my personal favorite being the Danshi joke. You need to know some kanji to understand that one, but it has to do with the fact that danshi means young boy and my name is Dan.

Anyways, the conversation went well, and of course right after it was all over, one of the women had to goto a meeting with the principal of my school. Now, I don't plan these things, but I seem to have an insane amount of luck with the principal and teachers at my school. Whenever the principal walks by, I just happen to always be talking to the kids in the hall, teaching them some American game or cool English word. When he is not around, I am rough housing with students, setting them up for pile drivers, giving them light smacks to the back of the head, and saying vulgarities in Japanese to them. It just happens he always sees me doing good things. Or, I will meet some random person at a festival, bar, or shop, hit it off, and it will happen that they know someone or know the principal and it gets back to him. Already I have gotten the impression that I am welcome to recontract for next year, and my supervisor has actually told me directly that he wants me to stay.

Now I know there weren't a lot of good stories here, but I want to segment my posts so I can post more often but smaller stories. Besides, who will read this far into a post to get to a good story. But just a hint of coming attractions:

Crazy Enkai(Having the parent of a student come onto me)
Proving to Andy that I am not all talk
Joining the gym
Politeness or flirting
Trip to Utazu(Junk section of Hard-Off and Giant used goods and collectables store)
Halloween Bash in Takamatsu
Marugame Castle Party
Takase Izakaya(bar) Explorations
Crazy questions from students
Funny shirts, labels, and mistranslations