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Rants and Raves

Note that this collection of rants dates back years. For a somewhat more recent blog, my livejournal is at:

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June 30th

Sigh, where do I begin? So much is happening right now.

Okay, first things first, I now have contact lenses. If you want to read something really bizarre, here is what a Japanese eye exam goes like:

  • 1. You give the receptionist every piece of ID you ever had given to you.
  • 2. You wait until everyone else has gone ahead of you since they are terrified of dealing with a foreigner here.
  • 3. You sit at a machine and look straight ahead at a light while the nurse examines your eye.
  • 4. You sit at another machine and pressurized air is shot at your eye at close range
  • 5. You sit and stare at a chart of circles and tell which of the 8 sides has a section "cut out"
  • 6. You have an interview with the eye doctor explaining why you think you deserve glasses/contacts.
  • 7. You go to the glasses/contacts room and receive your merchandise.
  • 8. You receive a lecture on how to use/clean/take care of your glasses/contacts.
  • 9. You go sit down and wait for the cashier to call your name.
  • 10. You pay your bill and leave to choruses of "Arigatou Gozaimashita" by the staff.

    Okay, so what else is new? I've got a wedding to go to tomorrow. Should be no problem, but there is one part that really bothered me for a long while...the "money" gift. You basically give money (lots of it) as a present to the bride and groom, but there are many "rules" you have to obey. Here are most of them, I think:

  • 1. The denomination should be a multiple of 10000 yen
  • 2. The money should be in 10000 yen notes, not 5000 or 1000, and NO CHANGE!
  • 3. You must not give a multiple of 20000 yen (20000, 40000, 60000, etc.), as that signifies potential disharmony
  • 4. Money is given in a special envelope with either red and white, or gold and black tassles.
  • 5. Never use a black and white envelope, as that is for funerals.
  • 6. Money is inserted face up, towards you on the non-sealing side of the envelope (got that?)
  • 7. Your name, address, phone number, and amount you donated is written on the back of the envelope.
  • 8. On the front, your name must be written in old-Japanese script with a brush (my supervisor did this for me)
  • 9. Money may be given anytime up to the wedding itself.
  • 10. Money is given to any of the wedding party excluding the bride and groom.
  • 11. The envelope and money inside must be in pristine condition upon presentation as a gift.

    I have so many farewell parties coming up, I think the plan is to try and get me so drunk/tipsy/whatever, that I simply wake up in Yokohama one day and ask myself what happened.

    I had a JET meeting in Nagano city this week. I was shocked to meet some of the "CIRs" with their "superior" Japanese ability that couldn't form a proper sentence. Geez, if I had known that, I would have applied for the CIR spot, despite it being an office job with usually strict and non-understanding managers.

    Personally, I think JET has their goals backwards. They pay huge amounts of money to bring us here, and many of us are simply English "clowns" whose jobs are to entertain the students while "teaching" English along with the JTE (Japanese Teacher of English). If they really want students to know what a foreign culture is like. Why not send the students to a foreign country for a few months. It would show them first hand what the world is like (both the good and bad). Many students here, especially in the rural parts, simply cannot fathom what the outside world is like. Heck, some of them can not fathom how it is possible that I have naturally blue eyes, and nothing I can say or do will convey anything to them.

    Finally, I am confused about the music system in Japan (in JHS and SHS)? I have been conducting (yes, conducting) the bands at my schools, and I am surprised that the 3rd years have no idea of the difference between a minor and major chord/scale/key signature. Also, while I can almost understand them not knowing the Italian terms written on the music (though they really should know them if they want to play it the way it was supposed to be played), they couldn't read what the accented notes and breath marks were suposed to mean. I was lucky the flutes and clarinets knew what a trill was. I had started teaching these things, though one teacher did not react favourably to it (which one? One that will be at the wedding tomorrow. Oh, joy!). Pity I am not going to be around to conduct them throughout the rest of the school year, but I hope I am helping them in some way. Oh, here is an interesting point. Almost all (except one or two) members of the band are girls. Even the dominantly "male" instruments of brass are made up of girls. The boys are all playing soccer or in the "internet" club. Knowing my students, I think that club should be called the "surf the web for illegal games, movies, and music" club. I turn a blind eye to the whole thing (I am not seeing this. La la la la la...) since I don't think I should even be involved. Actually, I don't think the other teachers care, either.

    June 18th

    Okay, important lesson time: Be *nice* to the police here, especially if you are a foreigner. They can do very nasty things to you without needing a good reason. I found someone's cell phone lying in the street, so I foolishly decided to pick it up and take it to the police office. At first, everything went smooth; they knew who I was and welcomed me, and even were very happy for what I did. However, they asked a question which totally shocked me. After returning the phone, I was *asked* why my fingerprints were all over it. I had to reply with "What do you mean? How else am I supposed to bring it here?"

    Speaking of misunderstanding, I am constantly baffled by my co-workers and some members of my Karate club over my decision to stay in Japan. One fellow worker (who shall remain nameless) is convinced in his own mind that the only things a foreigner can do in Japan is be a tourist, and teach English. Was he shocked when I flashed my Hitachi contract. He was even conviced for a while it was illegal. I guess it is hard for some people to understand. For instance, he argued "Once you are done teaching, there is nothing left in Japan for you. You *have* to go back to your home country!". Once I said "There are many people here that are working in Japan and are here because they like Japan (and the Japanese lifestyle).", I proceeded to mention my friends at EPSON and how well they are all doing. This almost caused the said worker to almost go into shock. Maybe he has only ever dealt with JETs that flee the country when their contract is up...

    I have had the mother of all colds/flus recently. It has not been a very nice time for me. I had to take two days of holidays for being sick. I am not so much angry that I took the days off, but under better conditions, I could have used those days to go down to Osaka or somewhere for a long weekend.

    Speaking of which, Japanese medicine is something to behold. I went into a pharmacy in Matsumoto (since there are none to speak of other that Kiso Hospital in my home city) and told them as best I could about my condition. Afterwards, I was given a strange concoction of honey and some brown/black tar-like substance. It tastes awful, but after only 10mL, it certainly cleared up my throat. Who knows what strange/mysterious/dangerous/illegal chemicals are in it...

    I am still training hard for my black belt test on July 29th. Except for the kumite (sparring) part, I think I am doing all right. I know I have to pick up some one-day contact lenses or such for the test as glasses are not allowed (for obvious reasons I hope). What bothers me is that my contract ends July 23rd, my Hitachi contract doesn't start until August 1st, my successor wants to move in ASAP, and I want to stay in my house as long as possible. Looks like I will have to bum with some friends for a few days...

    Oh, and all those living in the Kiso valley can thank me now. Recently, *officials* from JR rail (wearing orange armbands and in suits) were riding the chou train line from Nakatsugawa to Shiojiri. They were acting like some sort of above-the-law group harassing people to show their tickets, marching up and down the train staring at people and taking notes, etc. You know, gestappo-like. Anyway, I mentioned this to the people at Kiso-Fukushima station, and they acknowledged they had received complaints about those people (they are from Nagoya it seems). Thanking me for my concern, they immediately phoned Nagoya station and demanded they stop harassing the people here. It seems they were *just* (ha ha ha) doing a check for "kiseru" people and the like.
    Okay, Explanation time. "Kiseru" travellers are those that pay for the first and last part of their train journey. If you travel any reasonable distance at all, you *can* save a bundle of money, but should you ever be caught, they can fine you, throw you in jail, or do other nasty things to you. In Kiso, many many people apparantely do this because JR prices in Kiso is *very* expensive (Kiso didn't give *adequate* funding for building the stations in this region, so they jacked up the prices to 2.5 to 3 times the average rate for the same distance elsewhere in the country. No wonder Kiso hates the JR *officials*... Anyway, the Nagoya *people* were driven back to Nagoya, but who knows when they'll be back.

    May 23rd

    Well, I have been invited to my English teacher's wedding on July 1st, but I will have to think about going because:

  • 1. It is in a remote region north of Nagano city and will take me hours to try and find it
  • 2. As tradition, guests have to bring a money gift of 20000 to 30000 yen in a finely wrapped box
  • 3. I really only just met my English teacher (at Fukushima)
  • 4. The menu consists of food I don't think I can eat with any degree of success

    Then again, it could be fun. Eh, I will think about it.

    Apparently, JETs (like me) may get the money for a plane ticket home even if I plan to stay in Japan. Heh, I hope so. Of course, we might just get the tickets, but I am certain I could pawn it on someone. Hey, one-way tickets are useless to me if I have a job in Japan after this.

    I have been cramming my head with so many kanji I can feel it hurt sometimes. I admit being able to read most signs, posters, and now newspapers (to a degree) is wonderful, and impresses the locals to no end, but is there a price to pay?

    I got a call from a girl who *may* take my spot here after I leave. She is in Matsumoto now, and is a real "big city" type girl based on her conversations. I tried to explain while it is considerably more rural than Matsumoto, the students and teachers here are wonderful, but I think she flipped out when she asked about convenience stores near my house and I responded "Well, there is one in this city, but it is a 25 minute walk from my house in the opposite direction from the train station, which is also 25 minutes away. You do live close to the train tracks, but they don't make that much noise, and trains only run through here once every two hours or so." Wrong choice of words???

    I have to make a speech on cultural differences at the end of June. Lucky me... I think I will avoid anything that may seem insulting to either country (and I do know a few things on both sides). i.e. in N. America, we are taught to grow up being an individual (which sometimes brings about a certain egotistical attitude), while in Japan, children are raised in school knowing mostly group work, which sometimes results on students depending on others. This means asking for personal opinions sometimes got me a nil response or a confused look.

    I get this all the time in class. I will ask something, and the first thing the student does is confer with his/her group of friends. When I have a situation where that is not possible ( i.e. at they are at the blackboard writing an answer or such), some students go into a total state of panic.

    May 4th

    It is golden week, but I had to work for part of it, I have a karate tournament coming up on Sunday, and I just haven't been feeling the energy to actually go anywhere special. Well, that and *everyone* in Japan, especially from the major cities, are travelling, so it makes travelling around Japan very crowded. In any case, us local *rural* people can play "spot the big city people" again. Those from the big cities don't understand, though my teachers are all very good at this, it seems.

    I get to write the national "Kanji Kentei" test next month to test my Kanji (Chinese character) knowledge. I am trying to pass it, but I am at a slight disadvantage given that native Japanese have 13 years to study for the level I cram for in 3. As long as I don't fail miserably, I will be happy. Note to others: it is *not* easy. 1006 kanji are bad enough, but knowing "every single" reading, meaning, usage, on-kun usage, stoke order (and count), radical type, formal radical name, etc. is driving me mad! The plus side is due to the immense effort I am putting into this, I can read more signs and notices with ease, and even write letters (by hand) in a reasonable time without a dictionary.

    Speaking of which, I noticed a site on the web (If I can find it again, I will post the address) when I was looking for Kanji help that advertised "To help with the daunting task of studying these strange characters, we will post 1 brand new Kanji a week to help you." Gee, thats great, 1 kanji a week. Okay, that is 52 a year, and to prepare for the Kanji Kentai level 5 exam (1006 characters), that is about 19.3 years. Thanks, but no thanks (it would take too long to learn anything). Tack on another 19 years or so to finish the basic "education" set of 1965 (or so) kanji.

    The Japanese version of "Who wants to be a millionaire" is very strange. Some differences to note are:

  • 1. Contestents who get the "hot seat" have a video played on who they are, they're history, and what they plan to do with so much money.
  • 2. The host has a very disturbing collection of facial expressions
  • 3. They will always cut to a commercial break after the contestant guesses an answer but before the correct answer is announced for the last few question. (Yes, this means *every* *single* *question*, and it drives me crazy trying to watch it). What is it, 1 minute of show to 3 minutes of commercials?
  • 4. The host will *SCREAM* at the contestants if they are right or wrong.
  • 5. To not bore the audience too much, the first few questions are always skipped for home viewers with a note saying they got it right
  • 6. They have these "STUDY!" points when a difficult question is answered. That is, why the answers are right or wrong (in explicit sickening detail).
  • 7. The grand prize is actually 100,000,000 yen, and the value of the questions does not increase in a nice linear way (that is double) as nice as the North American version.
  • 8. There are stats and test scores on the contestants before they start, including the *probability* of them winning the grand prize, however they come up with that.
    March 16th

    Regarding music (esp. Piano music), I have noticed the music here does not often go by it's native name. That is, the name chosen by the orignal composer in the original language. In Japan, the titles are changed very much, and also, as a consequence, most people here (including many music teachers), unless they have studied the piece and know the original name, don't know what song I am talking about unless I play the song for them. Mindboggling... Oh yeah, they pronounce "Bach", as "Baa-haa" here since they can not pronounce the "ch" sound at the end of "Bach".

    Also, I am always saddened to find out that my certificate(s) from the Royal Conservatory of Music mean absolutely nothing here (i.e. not recognized). The system they use here is, for the most part, okay, but they rate the difficulty of songs very differently from what I am used to. For instance, the song "Fur Elise" was a grade 6 piano piece with the RCM in Canada (a not-so-high level), but here, it is treated as a very difficult song to master. I personally am sick of the song (overplayed), but everytime I (am requested to) play it, I get rouses of applause for doing so. Sigh, I just can not explain this difference in music culture to them.

    I have got to stop remembering place names and people's names as the meanings of the kanji. I am getting more and more strange glances as I refer to people like "Fast River" [Hayakawa], "Barrier Mouth" [Sekiguchi], "Big Temple" [Ootera], and places like "Salt Butt" [Shiojiri], "Pond Bag" [Ikebukuro], and "Throw away Grandma" [Obasute].

    ...And this leads to the single most unlikely event I have ever experienced. When I was coming back from my Hiroshima trip, I had a few hours to kill in Osaka, and while aimlessly wandering the station at first, I bumped into my English teacher from Agematsu coming back from somewhere else in the Kansai region. Do you know how many people use that station a day? What is the probability of that happening?

    Many teachers changed schools from the Kiso area last year. Now, most of the teachers are pretty cool (including one at Mitake who is real hot ;) ), but the new teacher at my home school, while not sick, has an excessive amount of medication, and seems to be fascinated that I can use Japanese at all, or that I know *anything* about Japan. I believe his previous AET (Assistant English Teacher) was not very interested in Japan at all.

    At a school in Japan, make sure the "lunch-lady" (who decides and orders food for lunch) is a younger woman. You see, older lunchladies here still *LOVE* the taste of many bizarre meals (start with some fish meal, and then do strange things to it to give it a taste I have difficulty swallowing. The younger generation(s) seem to like to experiment with new food ideas as well, though most of them are based on Western ideas.

    Oh, I was watching TV last night, and I remember watching a quiz show where one contestant in particular didn't know about the outside world (outside of Japan, anyway). The poor guy was struggling through situations like this : (translated for the average native English speaker's enjoyment)

    Host : How do English speaking natives call "Nippon" [Nippon is Japanese for "Japan"]
    Old Man : What??? They don't call it "Nippon"?!?!

    Host : Now, name as many countries' capital cities as you can [i.e. Washington DC (USA), Ottawa (Canada), Paris (France), etc...]
    Contestant 1 : Eh? Eh......Washington (DC) *ping pong*
    Contestant 2 : Eh......America! *Bzzzzzzt* Eh?!?!?!?

    Host: The "I" in "IT" stands for "Information". What does the "T" stand for? [answer: technology]
    Person 1: Ma, nya...Ah! Computer! *Bzzzzzzzzzzzt* What?????

    Before March 16th

    Once, I introduced myself with much "Canadiana". During this introduction, I used the phrase "Here, I have something I want to show you", to which a student responded "Shouyu"? (Shouyu is Japanese for Soy Sauce). How do I ever know if they *really* understand me.

    Teaching "Three Little Pigs" is *VERY DANGEROUS*. To us native speakers, the phrase "Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin" really doesn't mean that much, but in Japanese..."chin" is slang for...[the male reproductive organ].

    The School year starts in April and ends in March. There is one month for Summer Holidays (August), Christmas is not a holiday, but New Years' is. Also, they get holidays for things people don't celebrate in Canada like "Green Day", "Day of the Sea", "Culture Day", "Old People Day", etc.

    There is no "Tim Horton's" here, just "Mister Donut", and they are very expensive ($1.60 per donut CDN). Regarding coffee though, fortunately, the quality here is far superior to just about any brand I have had in Canada.

    One of the fashion things here are platform shoes. Not 2cm, 3cm, but "6 inch" heels. How these girls don't fall flat on their face all the time I will never know.

    Keitais (cell phones) here now have MP3 players, Web Browsers, E-mail composers/readers, Cameras, and GPS (some have it all). Furthermore, they are still a fraction of the size and price of those in America. Very interesting.

    Contrary to belief, Japan is not *Unix* land. Sorry to make some of my old friends in the hi-tech field scream, but this country is Micro$oft(tm) land.

    Often, what people outside of Japan say is popular in Japan, and what actually is popular in Japan are two different things.

    In Nagano, anyway, many think I am a masterful skier/snowboarder. I am the most dangerous skier out there. When I mention that where I lived, we didn't really have mountains, so we learned how to skate/play hockey, the locals go into a state of shock.

    Mentioning you have not seen mountains except in pictures before coming to Japan will draw stares of awe for hours.

    My hair colour gets referred to as "Blonde", even though it really is more brown than anything.

    It is cheaper for me to have laser-eye surgery to correct my eyes permanently than it is to get permanent contact lenses.

    Bank machines are open 9 to 8 now after being extended by three hours! Not that all banks and bank machines are closed completely for a few days after New Year's. I hope you took out lots of money beforehand, because you ain't 'gittin any cash in that time.

    If you mention you know *any* Kanji, the Japanese native will sometimes ask "Yes, but can you write kana?" Err, you kind of have to know the kana first before learning Japanese, unless you are Chinese, and I am not Chinese. (Kana are the two phonetic writing systems for Japanese. Kanji are the chinese characters used in Japanese writing)

    Note to the locals here: Foreigners don't really like hearing about how good they are with chopsticks that much. I must hear this comment/compliment 3 times a day when I do not force myself to stay in my house. I think the reason they think it is very difficult to learn is because they have to learn when their motor skills are not quite developed yet (i.e. when they are young).

    Regarding the topic of food, many locals always ask me "Do you like Natto?" followed by "Do you like Umeboshi?" This has happened to me in Kiso, Kaida, Mitake, Agematsu, Matsumoto, Hirooka, Nagoya, Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Miyajima, Hiroshima, Minakami, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Yokohama, *and* Totsuka. ("Natto" is fermented soy beans, and "Umeboshi" is a very salty plum-type thing (unhealthily so))

    Not all police are intelligent (go figure, same as the rest of the world). A friend of mine at Epson used to be roommates with a guy now married and hence moved out. One day, when he (the married guy) was out working and his wife was home, someone tried to break in. Doing a very non-Japanese thing, she screamed and scared the would-be thief/stalker/whomever off. She then called the police to come over and investigate the whole situation. When he got home, he was formally questioned as to why *his* fingerprints were all over his wife's apartment.

    Also, at Epson, I heard of one of the other Waterloo students (a female) working in Kyushuu. After not too long, she found out she was making considerably less than her male counterparts. When she asked about this, her boss replied "What are you complaining about? You are making almost 2/3 of what a man gets." Being horribly insulted by this, she went home real fast. The sad part about this is they hired two Korean ladies in her place, and their combined salary was less than what they were paying her. It was a scary, scary incident, and I don't understand.

    See the other rants:
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