Friday, October 31, 2003

My week in review:
Another slow week at the Junior High School. Between midterm tests and preparation for the culture festival, I had two days without classes. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what mood I'm in.
For instance Thursday I was feeling in a bit of a bookish mood, and was quite content to be left alone in the teacher’s lounge with a cup of coffee and my study materials. (Especially since the Japanese proficiency test is next month). By Friday I was feeling a bit more restless.
But when we don't have English class, I do find other things to keep me occupied. Helping out with the Home economics class (I mostly help with the eating part, but this week I also did some cooking with the students). I've been watching the rehearsals for the culture festival. And, I created my own stamp with my name written in its phonetic equivalent in Chinese Kanji characters (which are also used in Japan).
I had a couple good days at the Elementary school though. The games I brought with me took off really well. (Which doesn't always happen. Often my games will fall flat).

Sunday, October 26, 2003

I went to a record Museum yesterday in the town of Yufuin. Really fascinating place. They had all these old record players and phonographs dating back to even before the 20th century. Almost all of them were originally from America or England, so I suppose it was somewhat ironic for me to be learning about them in Japan, but they really had a nice collection assembled
We've all seen them in old movies, ect, but it was neat to actually see them up close. And the curator would play some of them for us. Fascinating the sounds these things could produce in the days before electricity. I expected them to have a static and fuzzy sound, but it was really quite clear.
Some of the phonographs with the large bells (those funnel shaped things where the sound comes out) on them had a very loud sound as well. And there was no volume control on it. It made me think it would be fun to own one of them. Imagine playing it late at night, and the neighbors are banging on the wall yelling, "Turn down your phonograph," but you would just have to shrug and say, "sorry, no volume control".
After the tour, they had a coffee shop with a bunch of old records, where we could pick anyone we wanted to listen to. In front of my Japanese friend I showed off my ability to pronounce the American musician's names correctly, and perhaps pretended to be more cultured than I was. But it was good fun
Spent Friday night hanging out with some Korean friends in Japan.
I've met several Korean friends at the free Japanese lessons given weekly at the international center, and have hit it off with a few of them. In fact this summer I was somewhat romantically involved with a Korean girl from this group, but that's a bit of a long story.
Anyway, it's interesting to hang out with them. In Japan there has been a long history of discrimination against the Korean residents in Japan. The group I hang out with is made up of only exchange students, not permanent residents of Japan, so no doubt they are coming at things from a different perspective than a long term resident.
But it is interesting to talk to them about how they are treated in Japan, because their experience seems to be the opposite of what I was lead to believe from the books I had read. Most Japanese people seem to be bending over backwards to please them, and none of them can recall any incidents of discrimination.
I am somewhat reminded of Angela Davis' Autobiography. In her autobiography, Angela Davis recalls how she was somewhat apprehensive about attending a predominately white University, and was determined to always be on her guard against any racism she might encounter. Instead, she said, she found herself with almost the opposite problem, that white liberals were overly solicitous of their few black friends.
I suspect this might be what is happening in here. Perhaps a lot of Japanese people, in an effort to prove that they are not racist, are overly kind to the Korean people they encounter. This certainly seemed to be the case with the Korean girl I was seeing this summer. It was really hard to get a free night with her, because she had been taken in by a group of middle aged Japanese women, who all acted like her Japanese mother. These women were really looking out for her interests, and in addition to taking her out for dinner all the time, tried to solve any problems she might possibly encounter in Japan, to the point of even giving her extra spending cash to go shopping with.
And last year in Ajimu, during the international festival, a couple Korean exchange students came from Beppu University to do traditional Korean dances. And they were also really treated like royalty.
I've enjoyed discussing politics with the Korean students as well. I've read in the newspapers that the current Korean president, Roh, was popular with younger people but hated by the older people. My friends have confirmed at least the latter. All their parents hate Roh. They themselves are somewhat ambivalent.
The subject of the U.S. military in South Korea comes up from time to time as well. All of the Koreans I've talked to still fell very angry about the two South Korean girls killed last year by US military. And whenever we talk about the subject, the Kwangju massacre invariably comes up. Kwangju was South Korea's Tienanmen square. It occurred in the 1980s, before South Korea became a democracy. And it was done with U.S. approval. There are still a lot of sore feelings about this.
I had never heard about this before they brought it up, but have since researched it a bit on the internet. A good article about it can be found here:

Remember last year, when there were a lot of anti-U.S. protests in South Korea? Remember all the editorials that ran in US newspapers about that time? "These ungrateful Koreans, don't they appreciate all we've done for them, blah blah blah." How strange that this little detail about the Kwangju massacre was never mentioned in the US press.
Update on the Kancho: Lest any of you think I'm exaggerating or making this thing up, I have a collaborating source. This is taken from the September issue of the "Tombo Times" the English magazine in Oita prefecture.
The Tombo Times is on-line, but the newest issues have not yet been posted, so I thought I'd take a minute to copy the relevant segment on the Kancho. This is from an article entitled "Tombo Times Top Tips". It's advice to new English teachers arriving in the prefecture.
"Walking Bullseyes: In the eyes of Japanese children, from pre-school to post-pubescent, you are a walking target. Breasts will be grabbed, dicks slapped, and perhaps most bizarrely, children have a martial arts move involving joining their forefingers together and ramming them up your bum when you're least expecting it. Always be alert, and retaliation is frowned upon."
So you see I'm not making this thing up. (Although I suppose the more skeptical among you will just have to take my word for it that I didn't just make the above excerpt up. It came from the magazine, honest).
It is true though, retaliation is somewhat frowned upon. Japanese teachers can't understand why foreigner often get so upset when the kids Kancho them. It has been suggested to me by my Japanese co-workers that my "hat out the window" policy might be overkill, but I've decided it was time to draw the line somewhere. As a first year I was willing to put up with it, but now that I'm on my third year here, I just explain that I don't like Kancho.
As you can see I've been gradually figuring out how to do new things with this blog, and I now have some links posted on the sidebar, specifically to Jared English, Tom from Guam, and SwissmissRachel.
All of these are friends from Calvin College, and I think I can sum up all of their blogs the same way: if you don't know these folks, their blogs are probably of limited interest. If you do know them, then you don't need any extra prodding from me go to check them out.
I should note as a disclaimer that I have not been in e-mail contact recently with old Guamo, but I saw his link off of Jared's blog, and figured he wouldn't mind.
Also, I'm referring to Guam and Swissmiss by their nicknames, because they don't list their full names on their respective blogs, so I thought I'd respect their privacy.

Friday, October 24, 2003

My recommendations:
Check out these cartoons. A bit dated now, but pretty right on.
My week in review:
The junior high school students were taking mid-term tests this week, so I spent two days at the junior high school with nothing to do. Of course a little boring, but I've learned how to entertain myself on these days. Cracked the books and got some Japanese studying done, chatted in the teacher’s lounge, etc.
This Wednesday we had a soft ball match. Once every trimester (Japanese schools have 3 terms a year, not 2) all the teachers from all the schools in Ajimu gather for a sports tournament. The sport is always changing, but this term we played softball.
Since I teach at every school in Ajimu on one day or the other, I have mixed loyalties, but I played for Fukami Elementary, which was the school I was at on that particular day. Good fun, nobody takes these things too seriously. I was up to bat 3 times. Hit a single each time. And then each time got out before I made it back to home plate.
Elementary school visits: two kids cried this week (see previous post). Slightly above average, but not too bad. Good news is that “Kancho”s have gone down dramatically recently.
Kancho” is a Japanese prank of putting your hands together and ramming them into some one else’s rear end. It is very popular in the elementary schools. Although even Japanese teachers are not safe from this, foreign teachers are a favorite target.
Hard to swallow, but every one who has spent time in a Japanese elementary school will attest to the validity of what I’m saying. I know in the West, children would never get away with doing this to a teacher, but Japanese schools have different standards. The stereotype is that Japanese schools are stricter, but I like to think of it as just different. Some things are stricter, some things are more loose. I could give many examples of this principle, but I don’t want to get side tracked from my main point.
I've gone through various ways of trying to deal with the “kancho”. When I first arrived, I was trying to please everybody and be easy going about everything, so my first response was to laugh it off. “Oh, hey, got me again. Ha, ha, ha.”
After a while, I tried to communicate to the kids that I did not appreciate this behavior, but they seemed unwilling to understand that.
Then I went through a period of physical retaliation, but that had its limitations as well. Half hearted retaliation only seemed to encourage the kids, and of course I didn't want to really hurt them.
But at last I think I have found the solution. When I get a Kancho now, I usually throw the child's hat out the window. If the child isn't wearing a hat, I turn them over and take off their slippers and shoes and throw these out the window. I try and appear good-natured about the whole thing, smiling the whole time to let the child know I appreciate the fact that they are just playing a friendly Japanese joke, and that I am just making a friendly retaliation. At the same time, I try and make the retaliation enough to discourage them from repeated incidents. Especially since we've had rainy weather recently, the children really dislike having their clothing thrown out the window.
Since my new “hat out the window” policy, the number of repeat Kancho offenders has gone down dramatically.
Monkey sightings: Actually this week I didn't see any Monkeys myself. (Although I saw one last week, see last week’s post). But I have been asking around about it, and apparently there have been a lot of Monkey sightings recently within Ajimu. So they are around I guess, but in my two years here, last week was the first time I ever saw one in Ajimu. Elsewhere in the prefecture Monkeys can be quite plentiful though. Especially this place they call “Monkey Mountain.”

Thursday, October 23, 2003

I had two days at the elementary schools this week (as normal). And managed to make two kids cry during that time. That's slightly above average, but it is not unusual for a kid to burst into tears under my watch.
Some of it is unavoidable. For instance one of these kids started crying when he couldn't remember the English names for the animals we were studying that day.
And then some of it might be more avoidable. I was playing dodge ball with the kids during noon break. I started hiding behind some of them, and using them as shields. The kids told me this was against the rules, but I pretended not to understand.
One kid in particular I picked up and used as a shield. He appeared to be having a good time, and enjoying the humour of the situation. He was laughing, and calling out that he was a human being, and somewhat enjoying being the center of attention.
And then the ball hit him. He said he wasn't really out, because I had been holding him. A brief conference was held, and it was decided that because I was on his team, he couldn't use that as an excuse. At which point he promptly burst into tears.
I tried to apologize to him, but he refused to talk to me other than to call me "Mukatsuku" which means "a person who causes frustration".
Since I am the only foreigner these children interact with, I do try and take my role as an ambassador seriously, and usually try and avoid making them cry. But it was hard to avoid laughing while this boy was sulking about being called out in dodge ball.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

My beard:
Looked in the mirror this morning, and decided it still wasn't time. Growing in a little scraggly in parts, so I just shaved every thing off, and figured maybe I'd try again next year.
Cheers to Jared English for mentioning me on his blog. If any long lost friends get referred to this site by him, give me an e-mail at
I'd post a permanent link to my e-mail address on the sidebar, but I'm still trying to figure out how this thing works, so in the meantime.....

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

I went to okagura last night again. I've been seeing a lot of okagura recently. It is the okagura season, and okagura also seems to be very popular in the country side.
Okagura is a Shinto festival which coincides with harvest time, consisting of traditional Japanese dancing and music. The dancers act out a traditional Shinto story about a dragon that is killed with a magic sword. The dancing is mostly improvised, and the thing can drag on for hours. Most of the older men just sit around and get real drunk.
Every little neighborhood within Ajimu has its own Okagura. Last night I got invited by a co-worker from the board of Education to her neighborhood Okagura. It was in a small little neighborhood in the mountains far removed from the center of town.
Quite a beautiful place actually. The mountains are all carved out into little rice fields, somewhat difficult to describe if you haven't seen them, but it looks like a bunch of steps on the mountain. In a valley, between these step rice fields, was a temple hidden away, and they did the Okagura there. There are often times when I wished I lived in a bigger city for a variety of reasons, but this is one of those times where I'm really glad I live in the country.
I spent a lot of time arguing with the old men, who wanted me to drink Shochu with them (Japanese whiskey). On paper Japan has very strict drinking and driving laws, but in the country side these rules are frequently ignored, and in the very rural areas they might just as well not exist.
Japan is a drinking culture, and older people are by custom able to demand at times that younger people drink with them. (Perhaps that's a harsh way of putting it, but it is rude to refuse when an older person tells you to drink). These old men refused to believe that the fact that I was driving was a legitimate excuse for not drinking. Even when my co-worker intervened, they were still quite upset. Eventually I gave in and had a couple glasses.

Monday, October 20, 2003

My Weekend:
Nothing too exciting, but I'll throw it up here anyway.
Friday night we threw ourselves a celebration party with the money we won from the Dream Ball dance competition in Beppu (a dance competition I entered with some other foriegn and Japanese friends). Good fun.
Saturday I showed a Japanese friend of mine around the sites of my town in Ajimu. Although she has spent her whole life in Oita city, she had never been to Ajimu before, so I showed her around the waterfalls and such. It's getting a bit cool out these days, so it's not swimming weather anymore, but it was still nice to look at.
Saturday night I went to Ryan's house, where he had a party to watch the England vs. South Africa Rugby match. I'm not a big Rugby fan, and I don't have a particular allegiance to either team, but I always enjoy a good party. Much to the annoyance of some of the diehard Rugby fans in the room, I chatted through most of the game.
Sunday was a bit of a slow day, as Sunday's tend to be around here. There was a festival in Ajimu that I went to watch for a little bit, but the majority of the day was just spent lounging around the apartment.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

As we've been getting ready for the homestay, I've been doing lessons with the Junior high school students on American communication. I have a bilingual book (“Do as Americans Do”) that talks about American manners, and it is often quite funny to try and teach the kids from this book.
For instance, the book had a section on eye-contact. In Japan it is often disrespectful to make eye contact with superiors, but the book said that in America eye-contact is important in a conversation. But, the book cautioned, staring too intently can make the other person feel uncomfortable. So the book said a good rule of thumb is to try and make eye-contact 60% of the time during a conversation.
Perhaps good on paper, but you can imagine these kids practicing their English conversation, and trying to get the eye-contact just right at 60%. They were so frustrated.
Last night was a lesson on small talk. Small talk doesn't really exist in Japan in the sense you would never strike up a conversation with someone you don't know. I had the students pretend that they were waiting at the bus stop, and that they didn't know each other, and to come up with a conversation. They wrote it out, and then performed it. It really made me laugh, so I’m reproducing it here. Mistakes are of course uncorrected

Ryosuke; It sure is a nice day, isn't it?
Marie: Yes, it is.
Nozomi: Yes, and I heard on the radio that it’s going to stay like this.
Ryosuke: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
Marie: Yes, I have two brothers and one sisters.
Nozomi: Me too. I have two sisters.
Ryosuke: Really? I have a sister. She is very fool. How about you?
Marie: Everyone too.
Nozomi: I think my sister is more fool than yours.
Ryosuke: Really? Good. Where do you live?
Marie: I live in Ajimu.
Nozomi: I live in Kamiichi in Ajimu.
Ryosuke: Really? I live in Ajimu too.

Perhaps you had to see the performance to really laugh about this. I endure a lot of mockery at the junior high school because of my bad Japanese, so I don’t feel too bad about enjoying the humor in their mistakes (I didn't laugh at this to their face obviously). That said, I could never have produced a dialogue like this in a foreign language when I was 15, so fair play to them.
I saw my first Monkey today in Ajimu.
I was playing tag and hike and go seek with the local neighborhood kids, as I sometimes do when I finish work. During a game of hike and go seek, I noticed a tree was swaying back and forth, and started asking which kid was climbing it. Of course it turned out to be the Monkey.
I knew there were Monkeys in other parts of the prefecture (most notably Monkey Mountain) But didn't know they were living in my town. And in fact this was literally just in the backyard of my apartment.
The kids were just as surprised as me, which indicates this is something of a rarity, and not just a case of me walking past monkeys every day on my way to work and not noticing.
The kids were very excited, and the monkey seemed interested in us too. He climbed down the tree a bit, and was pretty close to us at one point, and then retreated up to the higher branches, where he screeched a lot and jumped around.
The kids really wanted the monkey to come down and play. At first they tried to be really quiet and still to encourage the monkey to come down. They had a hard time achieving this (there was always some kid who couldn't be quiet, and then the other ones would make even more noise trying to hush him up). Failing that, some of them resorted to throwing fruit at the monkey, but I discouraged that. Eventually it got dark and we all went inside.
Last night I went out with Mike (the new Jet in town) on a tour of the back alleys in Ajimu.
Ajimu is a beautiful town, but it’s not known for it’s nightlife. Even on the weeknights, we rarely spend our time in Ajimu. We go one town over to Usa.
Mike was asking me the other day if there was any place at all to go in Ajimu, and I said there were a few places that were kind of hidden away in alleys. I suggested we spend a night exploring the local pubs in Ajimu.
There are actually quite a few little pubs and Karaoke bars hidden away on the side streets in Ajimu. None of them are visible off the main street, so you do have to explore the side roads a little bit to find them, but we found quite a few. Mike commented “Why are we driving to Usa every night when there is all this stuff right in Ajimu?”
And I thought, “Yeah, why am I driving all the way to Usa?” And then there was no one inside any of these places, and I remembered why I liked going to Usa.
We walked by several places, but only actually went in 3. All of them were small places with no one in them. We went in a Karaoke bar that had a drunk Japanese business man at the bar, but I'm convinced one of these comes standard with every Karaoke bar in Japan, so he doesn’t count.
The other two places had absolutely no one in them. Just us and the owner.
Beats me how these places stay in business. I think I'll still be making the drive to Usa most nights. On the other hand though, there is a bit of romance about these small, deserted pubs out in a small town like Ajimu in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by rice fields and mountains. Perhaps on a different night there might even be other people there, and we can observe the locals in their natural habitat. Small town life does fascinate me to a degree. Mike and I agreed to come back in the future and spend a few more nights exploring the pubs in Ajimu.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

This is the first entry, and I'm still not sure what I'm doing. A friend of mine pointed me to this service and I thought, "Hey, I'm an opinionated person who always likes to spout off his mouth. Why not start a blog."
More entries to follow as I figure out what exactly I'm doing.