Wednesday, October 29, 2003

itsutsu (number five)

originally an email, and without question the longest I have ever sent. Upwards of 14,000 words.

Sports Day was unlike anything we have in schools in Canada. That was three weeks ago. For whatever reason, I always write one of these before something significant happens. Shoulda written this one two weeks ago. This time I'm gonna do a little bit of non-sequential order, just because I want to put down what is fresh in my mind before I dredge up the weeks that preceded it. There's a lot to write.

The quick chronology is :
undokai (sports day) > Speech contest part A > bunkasai (culture fest) > Speech contest part B > prep > one day of school > Visualogue > this week.

I am going to start with Visualogue.


As I gather my thoughts, I wonder to myself whether I should include all the little details which could help you understand my actions, or whether I should leave a few insignificant ones out, so as to make it funnier. Because I write these as much for myself as for anyone, I'll probably include everything I can, and if it's funny, that's bonus.

I'll start with tuesday, which is the day I left. The plan was to catch the night bus from tokushima to Nagoya. The bus left at 11:30. The last bus from Kamikatsu left at 6:58, and would arrive in Tokushima around 9.00. I knew this for certain because I have the schedule posted in my bedroom. Even so, tuesday at lunch I drove down to the bus stop and double checked. I noticed a discrepancy, but couldn't remember if there was a discrepancy the last time I took the bus too. This schedule said the last bus was at 6:20. I knew where another schedule was posted, so I checked that, and it coincided with my own. I had my suspicions, because the school just altered its schedule, but...

After school I made dinner, finished getting everything together, washed the dishes, and was 100 % ready to go at around 6.15. Enough time to hurry to the bus stop and wait, potentially for 40 minutes. Like a fool, I decided not to go. I'm sure you can guess what happened next. A whole lot of nothing. I did nothing at my apartment, and when I went down to the bus stop, nothing happened. Too much nothing for too long. I called Nakanishi-sensei, my JTE (Japanese teacher of English) and she said she would double check for me. In the meantime i examined the bus schedule very closely. Kanji dictionary in hand, I was able to determine that the schedule had been updated three days previous. It was very new. Oops. Before Nakanishi-sensei called back, I called Tom, my friend in Katsuura. Nakanishi lives in katsuura as well, and I knew that as soon as she sorted out that I had missed the last bus, she'd want to come get me. I figured it would be easier to get Tom to let me pay him back for the ride than for her (she would only see the whole thing as her mistake), so I asked him to come get me. It really didn't take much asking, he practically ran out the door when I told him I missed my bus. I'm very thankful.

Thing is, Tom doesn't exactly know the way to my apartment. It would take him 30 mins by car to get to the onsen nearby, and me 25 by foot. That's where we decided to meet. The stretch of road I was walking along was a good wide straightish road, with nothing much along it between the bus stop and the onsen. Here is my though process as I walked:

Wow. Pitch black. sure gets dark quick here in the mountains...

You know, this road is way darker at night when you don't have headlights...

I don't think I've ever seen anyone walk along this road before...

The limit is 50, but I sometimes hit 90 coming down here...

I probably wouldn't see pedestrians at all in this light if it weren't for those reflectors they always wear.
Hang on... I'm dressed in a dark navy sweater, with navy bluejeans, and carrying three darkly coloured bags. I'm invisible!

...I usually pull in close at that turn...
. . .
. . . . . . If I don't move fast, that could be it for me!

... I'm only visble when I'm in a streetlight, and they are rather sparse around here...

... I wish I had one of those reflectors. Oh, wait, I do, it's just back at the apartment...

... I'm really taking my life in my own hands like this.

... What I wouln't give to have head lights right now. Even a flashlight would suff– ... Wait! I DO have a flash light!

I did not have to wait all that long for Tom to come, and I got to ride in his brand new Toppa for the first time. He'd only had it for four days, and being British, he had never driven an automatic transmission before. That was something else.
Even with all that shenanigans, I still ended up arriving in Tokushima at around 9.00. Because parking is such a pain, Tom just dropped me off and returned home.

With so much time to kill, and seeing as how it was a cool evening, I decided there was only one thing to be done: go get ice cream from Lawson's (the biggest convenience store in japan; more common in Japan than 7-11s are in Canada.). Sadly, the convenience store staple, the slurpee is not available here in Japan. I guess slurpee fruit trees (or wherever slurpees come from) just don't grow on this side of the planet. You'd think they'd import them or something...

Anyhow, I got the kind of ice cream that you dig at with a spoon, and sat down on the concrete near where my bus would come. I didn't think consciously about it then, but that icecream was probably the closest thing to a slurpee you can get from a conbini here in Japan. as I sat, a street performer was singing Japanese songs not to far away. when he had no other people listening anymore, and I was forced to move by a metal screen being electronically closed over the window i was leaning against, I went over to talk to him.
(and if you ever need to buy a run on sentance, come talk to me; i got loads of them)

Turns out that he has performed every night since January, even when it was snowing, and even during the taiphoon that hit us. He is a University student studying law, and he wants to be a famous musician. He's even gone to Osaka and Kobe to do street performance, and when he does, he usually just sleeps by the river. He can't afford a room. His busking makes enough for him to pay for his ticket and get him an extra $50 on a weekend in Osaka, but in order to return with that money, he doesn't eat much of anything while there.
I'll probably see him around in town.

Anyway, he left at 10.30 because he was freezing cold.I went into the station to kill some more time. Bought myself a can of hot coffee from a vending machine, and ate some white chocolate M&Ms I had also bought at Lawson's. I saved the KitKat Big (chunky in canada) and green grape Fanta for breakfast.

White chocolate M&Ms are just a bad idea. It sounds good, but trust me, it's not.
The hot, black, 'Boss' coffee made up for my sickeningly sweet mistake.

I got onto my bus without mis-hap. I fell asleep listening to Sam Roberts, whose music I like more and more all the time.
I had weird dreams, which is really not uncommon for me. The people who have been appearing in my dreams the most lately are my dad, my brother Adam, and my friend Jared. One night on the trip my sister Andrea made an appearance, and that madae me happy because for some reason in my dreams I had been thinking that she was notably absent. Phil appears often too, but he is usually just there, not doing anything, just being there while stuff happens.
I don't remember much of my dreams other than who was in them, and THAT is unusual for me.

The bus left at 11:30pm, and at 5:30am arrived at Nagoya station.

So there I am, Nagoya station, heavy bags, no idea which direction is north. I shoulda packed my compass, those things are so handy when you don't know your way around!Anyhow, I may have mentioned before that I was going to make use of the tatami timeshare. Through much frustration I was able to get the nagoya list (or part thereof) emailed to me. 14 people. Some guys, some girls, one married couple, some had phone numbers, others only email. On the Thursday previous i had gone down the list of guys with phone numbers, talked to two of them, and one Justin Schoneman said sure.

He said he normallly gets up at 8am. He also gave me some directions on how to get to his place, or he could come get me at 8. He said he lived not far from the station. I wrote down what he said, but somehow neglected to write down wether I should initially go left, right, or straight from the station. Upon arrival I saw that the roads in front of the station made a T-junction. I seemed to recall that I should go left. I went left for a while, but found nothing postitive, and so backtracked. Upon reaching the station again i went straight from the station. I walked even longer in that direction, but still to no avail. Returning to the station i walked a long way to the right and eventually gave up and sat down to eat my KitKat Big and drink my Fanta Muscat (green grape?). The kitkat was good as always (though the Nestle chocolate here isn't as addictive as it is in canada) and the Muscat flavoured Fanta was awful. I'll stick with my sumomo flavour from now on. (sumomo is a fruit that straddles the fence between plum and peach).

After sitting a while a postman happened past. I asked him where Ushijima-cho was. He said it was back in the direction of the station. I thanked him and began my backtrack to the station. I asked several more people along the way and they all pointed in the direction of the station. At the station they all pointed to the left.


So this time I went farther left until i finally reached some signs that said 'Ushijima-cho'. Once there I asked where Mansion Freeball was. The second person I asked pointed to a building just 50 metres away. Easy. By the time I was standing in the foyer of Justin's apartment block, it was still only 7 am. Though my shoulders were killing me from dragging my bags around, i decided to take the stairs to kill some time. I was on the twelfth floor by 7.15. Still 45 minutes to wait. I found apartment 1201 and waited. there was a good view of the city at hand and the train tracks, and looking at that is how I spent most of that 45 minutes. Oh yeah, I should mention that I have not been to an apartment yet which has indoor corridors between apartments. The railings are generally high enough to keep even someone as tall as me from accidentally plummeting to my doom.

I did not want to knock just in case I had the wrong apartment number. As 8 drew nearer, I watched the time count down on my cell phone. At 7:58 a westerner exited apartment 1203 and checked his cell phone. hmm. I looked in my dayplanner again and saw that the apartment number I had written down was indeed 1203 and not 1201 as I had initially thought. oops. So I called him.
Once again the westerner exits 1203 and this time answers his cell phone.
"Hello," he says.
"Hello," I respond. I look towards him.
He looks towards me. "Hello?" he asks.
Nodding my head I once again say "Hello!"
Putting down his phone he inquires "why didn't you say something before?"

So I got my stuff sorted, changed into slacks and a collared shirt, and he showed me the way to the subway. I went in, and he went off to work.

Registration for Visualogue started at 10am. I arrived at around 9.15. I waited again. I had filled my bag with too much stuff. They let me register at around 9.45, along with perhaps 50 other people. I had to pick between two particulat sessions right off the hop, knowing very little about them. One kept catching my eye, but i waffled nonetheless. I picked that one. It was called 'Design dissolving in behavior'. The other was called 'Parallel Realities'.Having checked the box for the first, i then registered. I was given a bag with a bunch of stuff in it. The things of note were the free tee reading "better by design" and the well designed binder with all the info and stuff for the conference. Immediately I looked inside for info about the two sessions I had to pick between and found I had made the right decision. On thursday that was confirmed for me, as it was perhaps the session which I enjoyed the most. But I'll get to that later.

After looking through my book for a while, I realised that I was taking up a whole bench with all my stuff layed out. I cleared it off, and motioned to a japanese guy who had just walked past that he could sit down if he wanted to.
He did and we got to talking, mostly in japanese (broken on my part, and with dictionary assisstance). He was a student in Tokyo, and he was waiting for a couple friends and a prof to arrive. We talked for a while and eventually went to get some lunch. It was a good way to spend all that time.

Did i mention that the conference only started at 3?

Well at around 1, the japanese guy, Yusuke [yooss-kay] figured he should go look for his prof again. I went and looked at the bookstore. I went to check out the sponsor room. Then i went to look at one of the poster displays that was set up at the conference center. there were three different exhibits. I only had time to go through the one largest.

Three was approaching, so I went and waited for them to open the doors to the hall where the opening ceremonies would be held. The other people who were waiting turned out to be students from El Salvadore. I ended up sitting with them in the front row. Excitement seemed to follow them around, and I hung out with them a few times throughout the congress. (Have I mentioned that Visualogue was not a just a conference per se, but was called a congress? This is because all the members of Icograda had an official congress on the sunday and monday, which was not open to the public.)

There were two parts to the opening ceremonies. First were the formal bits which included some video clips and cool things, and then there was the first session, which was by a Japanese guy named Kouhei Sugiura. He talked about drums, but only two kinds of ancient drums, one from japan, and one from korea. In my opinion he could have at any time brought it back to design and made it relevant, but he chose to save that for a single sentance at the very end of his long boring art history lecture. Now, I am a Fine Arts gradurate, and I have had to sit through my share of boring art history lectures, but this one has got to be at least in my top five most boring. At least he only talked for an hour and a half.

After that we had a great reprieve: the Welcoming Party.Now the party itself was little more than tables of food, beer, other beverages, and Pocky scattered throughout a large room, with massive four story projection screens on each wall, and a large low square stage in the centre. In a word: kakkoei (cool).

There was an opening toast wherein Richard Saul Wurman said that we wouldn't remember any of the sessions anyways, and that what we would remember would be all the conversations. For the most part, he was right.

I started out with Yusuke and his friends, and then with Robert Peters (The then-President of Icograda, and owner of Circle Design in Winnipeg who invited me to come to Visualogue.). In the course of talking with him I also met the other people on the counsel and some others. After that I cruised around and met some other people, including a couple from Austria who had just been to Tokushima-ken (unfortunately, they were in Naruto, which is a city with little to offer other than access to Kobe), and a guy from Seattle named Devon.

All in all a good night.

After that I returned home to Justin's place to find him watching Simpsons on FOX. Excellent. After that we chatted for a bit and he gave me the stuff to set up what was to be my room. He also set his cell phone as an alarm for me, and I set mine as well.

thursday 8:00

Justin opens the door and asks me if the alarms went off. I realise I had shut them both off and laid back down. I said "Yeah, thanks. I'm getting up now." or something to that effect.

the previous day I had noticed that the overwhelming majoity of people were Japanes design STUDENTS, and that most everyone was dressed in casual clothes, so I too dressed far more casually, regretting that I had brought so many semi-formal clothes. I prefer to dress cas. It seems that most of the other designers do as well.

First session was Richard Saul Wurman talking about what he tries to do and why. That was a good session. He is formally trained as an architect, but primarily heads up large teams of designers and illustrators to do books about things he doesn't understand. That is, he doesn't understand them before he does the book. His intention is to make books about complex things and make them accessible to people who have no knowledge about them. For example, he has done an intuitive road map book of the united states, a book about the US government (which he gave a copy of to everyone in the audience), a book about the olympics (records, what is involved in training, why things are difficult, what they have to do etc), and is working on a book about health care. So he is not a graphic designer or an architect, but is an information architect. This session, which was for everyone, was one of my top 5.

After that was a panel discussion which was not a discussion per se but rather 5 people who said their little piece about something and finished. It was mish-mash and merely ok.

Then there was a short visual presentation about Icograda and what they do.

Then was lunch, which was provided. there was a choice between ham and egg sandwiches, onigiri, and a vegetarian meal. I almost went for the veggie meal because it looked tasty, but went for the ham sanwiches instead. They were ok, but as I ate, I saw other people eating onigiri (rice balls with something in the middle and seaweed on the outside). The onigiri looked way better.

Lunch was in the same room as the party had been the night previous. This time theer were bleachers pulled out and chairs set up for people to sit on. The four massive screens displayed short animations which had been put together by designers and design students for the congress. Actually, only two were proper screens. The other two were just projected onto the walls. Because the concrete walls had concrete walkways along them at each level, the screens were slightly broken up. That was ok, it was good effect.

After lunch was a special lecture by Eiko Ishioka. It started with a 20 minute video presentation of what she has done. She was trained as a graphic designer in Japan, but somehow ended up in New York doing a lot of costume design. Everything she has done is creepy. She did some costume design for Bram Stoker's Dracula and all the costumes for The Cell (a jenifer lopez movie about some mass murderers brain), and a bjork video where bjork is cocooned by little red ribbons. None of these things much appealed to me. She has also done costume and set design for plays and operas, and the one thing that she did which I would like to see was a movie based on a famous Japanese writer, but done by a european director. It was called Mishima (or Mushima?) or something like that. It looked fascinating. She also did all of the costumes/outfits for the last winter olympics. Do you remember thinking how all of the entrants (especially the speed skaters) looked like comic book super heroes, and looked so amazing? They were all done by her, and she said her intent was to make them look like comic book superheroes. Nice.

After the video she came out and said a lot of boring stuff which didn't add a whole lot to what we were able to gather from the video. Oh well. That's what you get when you expect everyone with any talent to be a brilliant public speaker.

Next was a choice between four simultaneous sessions. I opted to hear John Maeda speak about design by numbers. He is a programmer who is now a prof at MIT. It was interesting and sometimes funny, but not especially relevant to me. I don't regret going at all, though. He spoke in Japanese (there were recievers available at every session to get the english/japanese and sometimes english/japanese/chinese/korean translation in one ear) and I found his japanese much easier to understand than anyone else so far. It turns out that while his Japanese is good, many japanese people found it a little strange.

The following session was again a choice of four. Here, I regret my decision. I chose to go hear a Japanese guy talk about humour, and not to see Stefan Sagmeister. I thought the humour would be more helpful to me in the short term than seeing another famous name show pictures of his work and then jabber on. I was wrong. The translators in the humour session were awful, and one of them kept laughing. I was thoroughly bored and frustrated. Shoulda gone to see Sagmeister. Everyone raved about that session. Rats.

After that humour session I was destroyed. My opinion of the conference was at an all time low and I questioned why I even came. I had not enjoyed a single native Japanese speaker (Maeda is American) and whether it was due to the japanese or due to the translators I decided that it was just not worth going to see another japanese person talk. Looking at the schedule I saw that next up was IT Visualogue 1, which was the session I'd had to choose at registration time. His name was Naoto Fukusawa. Japanese. It would be in Japanese. Needless to say i went in with a bad attitude.

He started off by saying that some people get frustrated talking to him, because he often stares off into space, and people think he is not listening. He said that while it might be true, staring up into space is one of his favorite things to do. You can miss a lot of the beauty in life if you never stare into space. He inter-spersed his lecture with pictures of power lines against a blue sky. Oh yeah, this session was in the same room as was lunch and the welcome party, so all four screens were made use of.

In truth, Fukusawa is an industrial designer, but because he talked the whole time about his philosophy of work and what he tries to do, it was directly applicable to graphic design. The first thing he talked about was some fashionable bags he had designed. In Japan, when a building is under construction or rennovation, the scaffoldings are covered by blue, white, grey or red-orange canvas-like material. He used the same material in the constuction of very simple bags. As a result, the bags both stood out and blended in with the urban environment.
I was very impressed.

Another project was a watch he helped do for Seiko. Fukusawa went with one of the guys from Seiko to a train station, and the other guy held two straps above and below a clock at the station while Fukusawa took a photo. Then they went back and designed a watch to match those clocks, which are common, but have their own distinct square shape. They called the watch "Station". Simple enough, but genius. I would buy it.

I could go on, and probably will. It was by far my number one favorite session of the congress.
He also talked about a project he just finished for a cell phone company, and at the end of talking about it and showing pictures of the process, premiered the commercial. But that was just the middle of the session, and if i go into detail about that, I'll have to talk about everything else too, and there was just so much that I really liked. Such as his moving wall videos - wind blowing wa four story wall of ivy to look like waves on water, or blowing a canvas covering on a scaffolding to look like 7 stories of grey ocean wall...

Quick! Let's get to the finale before i go on! For the grand finale he had taken a video out of the window of a train; it was only the power lines against the blue sky. To top it off, he had a violinist playing in the middle of one of the projections on the walls; she was standing on one of the walkways, and had a microphone for her violin. What she played coincided perfectly with the motion of the power lines moving up and down. It was like they took that childhood experience of leaning my head against a car window and watching the powerlines and changed it into a moment of beauty and wonder.

Then he had a second finale, which was more subtle than the first. I'm not sure it will mean the same to everyone accross the water, because exit signs are different here. They do not just say EXIT. In Japan, exit signs are long horizontal glowing green signs with a white door in the middle being utilized by a green man. The man looks about the same as a washroom sign man, except that he is in a running pose rather than standing.

Fukusawa had replaced one of the many such signs in the hall with his own slightly different version. There was a camera in front of it which was projecting onto all four screens exactly how different it was. We watched, and for a moment it seemed perfectly normal. Suddenly, the green man un-posed himself from his running position, and bowed. Then he did some exercises and other things. There were between 15 and 20 animations, including sitting on the can just behind the door, a busty green girl walking past, and him following. For some westerners I imagine it was not so special, but you need to understand how much of a fixture that sign is over here. It's the kind of thing you practically ignore because they are absolutely everywhere. When the animation first started there was a gasp around the room from all the Japanese, and that gasp was followed by laughter and squeals of glee.

The man is a genius at taking everyday things, twisting them slightly, or changing their nature but leaving the overall appearance the same, and putting them back into the environment from which they came. The sign was left up for the duration of the conference.

After that session I looked on the schedule to see if there was any kind of social event planned for the evening, and saw that there was an "application only" party, and that there were only 210 allowed in. It was held at three venues in the same building. Alas, had I only known earlier I could have gone...

I bumped into my El Salvadorian friends, but they were all headed home. They were staying with home-stay families, and the families wanted to spend time with them. So I shrugged and walked to the station. In line to buy my subway ticket from the machine, I saw a fat young westerner with a beard whom I had been wanting to talk to. He was with a pretty Chinese girl. I asked them what they were up to, and he said they were going to the party. When I asked how, he said he had gotten the phone number of the place, 'put on his puppy dog face' and begged. They took his name and the people at the door said they would let him in. I expressed my regret that I had not thought to do the same. I was inwardly kicking myself at not having looked at the night's schedule earlier. I got back into line, and as I was mentally prepping myself for a dull evening, he came over and said they could probably sneak one more in.

SCORE! who says that being an extravert never pays off?
So I bought a ticket for a different destination and went along with them. Turns out that they are both master's students in Fine Arts at a university up in Iwate, which is the northernmost prefecture on Honshu, second most north in all Japan. His name is William, "but call me Billy" and her name is Yanting, but her Chinese nickname is Dudu. Billy was also a Jet for three years (in Iwate), and before that was a Graphic Design student, much like myself. He said that I was the first GD JET he had met. He's been here 6 years now. He's from Georgia. I didn't learn much about Dudu, but she speaks some english and a lot of Japanese. If she didn't understand the English for something, Billy explained it in Japanese. Neither of them had ever studied Japanese before coming here. So we were let into the party, and were sent to a venue which had no other non-Japanese in it. It was our names that got us in. It was a buffet and drinks were included. Eventually one other westerner, one of the Speakers, came too, and she joined our table. Aside from a bunch of fun conversation and food, the only thing that came of the evening was that I met a few graphic designers who live and work in Osaka. They gave me some contact info and said to look them up when I arrived.

When I got home, Justin was about to go to bed. I told him I would probably not see him the next day, I would be back very late.

friday the 10th

I set my alarms to wake me around 7 and this time I listened. I got up, ironed my best shirt, and put on my suit. The Gala Dinner was tonight, and I probably would not have time to come home and change.

I arrived on time for the first session, but not early enough to get into the session I wanted to. (again it was a choice of four) So instead of that one I went to see Gerd Baum from Siemens company in Germany talk about how he does design. He spoke in German, which was then translated into Japanese, which was then translated into english. It actually worked ok, because the Japanese translator sat beside him, so he paused to let her speak. That gave the English translator time to translate well, too. Like the Germans are reputed to be, he is very methodical and structural in the way that he works. Most of his design is strong on typography and his layouts are based on mathematical formlae. He primarily uses Fibonacci, which at first glance is a very simple method of getting a visually appealing balance. Gerd Baum, however, takes it to an extreme, overlapping it in different ways and using it to sort out the relationships between all sorts of elements. It was amazing. My jaw was so slack it was hard to write notes. What he did was pristine and precise, but I could never work like that. I'm glad I went. His wife was there too, and she said some things along the way.

Unfortunately he was followed by a boring japanese guy, who, though he had done work for a lot of famous Japanese companies, and many big name logos, had little to say other that what he had done. I did this. Then I did this. and this and this and this. I suppose his actual words were more ivolved, but that's what it boiled down to. I could get the same from just looking at the pictures and seeing his name and a date beside.

He went long, too. That made me angry because I had to run to make it to the next session (another choice of four) which was Neville Brody from England. I missed the first minute or so, but I saw all the important stuff. He referred to Sagmeister's talk a couple of times, which made me kick myself even harder. Anyhow, he was good, he talked about the kinds of things that he tries to do, and gave a lot of the 'hows' which are the interesting bits. He came across as a bit of a revolutionist at heart. His lecture was called "Tearing up the Plans." After Neville brody, it was lunch time. I bumped into Billy and Dudu again, and we went to get our food. This time i had the onigiri, and was glad I did. Japanese-made japanese food can be far better than Japanese-made western food, because it's the only time you can be sure that their way is probably the best way.

The first lecture after lunch was downright painful. And it was for everyone. No options here, folks. The speaker was Dr. Robert Moog. Next to him were two musical instruments. He starts off by saying, "I am not a designer, and I am not a musician. I am an engineer." there was a collective inward groan. How can an engineer who knows nothing of music or design be of any relevance to a graphic designer? The question remains unanswered. That session sucked, no two ways about it. I did my best to sit through it, but at one point it was just to much, and glad to have sat so near a door, I walked out.
For the next afternoon session we all wanted to go to the same one: The Future Of Asian Scripts. It was a double hit of a man from India named R.K.Joshi, and a lady from Hong Kong named Ester Liu. Joshi was fascinating in that he had saved several written scripts of india when printing came along in force, and he also talked about how the different ways of writing in India work, thus removing some of the mystery. It also both satisfied and fed the flame of curiosity in at least one graphic designer in that room.

That's one thing I learned during that week about graphic designers on the whole. We have a voraicious curiosity and ask tons of questions. At least, the western variety does.

Then Ester Liu talked about what is becoming of calligraphy and classic chinese now that printers and computers have primacy. It takes a very long time to create a font for Chinese. Whereas English has but 52 characters plus punctuation, Chinese has thousands. She showed the progression of Chines writing over the last several hundred years, and what is becoming of that now. Until very recently, there was no Chinese word for Typographer, and even now no more than a handful of people among that billion are willing to be called that. A good portion of her talk, then, was to bring to light the dozen or so people who have been working very hard in China to create new fonts and maintain the written language.It was interesting, but RK Joshi was moreso.

The last session was a kind of russian roulette, where only one chamber is not loaded. There were four sessions to choose from, and only one was good, it turns out. I did not pick that one. But that's just my opinion. Billy happened to go to the same one, and rather liked it. The dude who was talking was a Japanese guy named Makoto Saito. He does not put much thought, if any, into his work, and just sort of does whatever he wants, and if it directly relates to what he is designing for, well that's bonus. Some of what he did was good, but I just have no respect for that way of working. The one project he did which he did think about was also (coincidentally?) the one of his that i really liked. It was some kind of ad for a Buddhist temple and something about health. He took a human skeleton into the forest and left it there for six months. When he collected it, it had moss grown over it in places. He then placed different parts into boxes of naturally treated wood, and took pictures of them individually. They were visually striking and were relevant to the topic at hand.

Next up was the Gala dinner. There was three hours to kill, and Billy and Dudu had to change.They were both staying at the same ryokan (a traditional japanese hotel, usually cheap). I went with them, because their place was not far from the place where the gala dinner was to be. We went for food first, not knowing how much there would be for us to eat, and thinking it was better to be prepared. I had a gyudon (rice mixed with onions etc and shaved beef on top). It's a popular kind of fast food. After that we went to the ryokan, chilled out a bit, drank tea, and then they got changed. I had kinda half wondered whether they were dating or what, and found out that they were in different rooms; Billy has a Japanese wife. It was too expensive for her to come, and she's not a graphic designer anyway. They've just recently had their first baby.

We had killed more time than we thought, and kinda pushed it right to the line. We called a cab and told him to hurry. In the end we got to the place a few minutes late, but it had not started yet. I took the opportunity to go say hello to Richard Wurman and chat a bit.There was a request for everyone to find a seat. I saw Billy again, and we agreed that it would be best to split up and meet back later.

I found a table that looked good to me. In the end the people who were sitting there were two from India (one girl from bombay and one guy from delhi) two from japan, one of the counsel members who was norwiegan (sp?), a guy who works for the UN, a guy from Korea who is nominated for the counsel, and someone else I didn' get to talk to, so I don't remember who it was. There was an empty seat beside me. The conversation was good. I talked with the guy from the UN for a while, but I can't remember where he was from, because we talked about several places. He was a speaker who had been invited to talk about what kind of impact designers are capable of making on poor situations like poverty etc. I listened when he was talking with the guy from Korea. Better than the news.

The Japanese girl was cute, but was sitting too far away. We talked enough to find out that she was the same age as I was, 22, and a little beyond that, but not much. The Japanese guy who was sitting beside her and was 44, offered me his seat. He didn't speak any english though, and I would have been cutting off a lot of conversation for him, so I politely declined. I talked with him a bit too, but he didn't have much to say. I took a photo for the guy from Norway. The best conversation of the night was when the guy from Delhi came over to sit in the empty seat beside me. We talked design, and he told me about how it is being a designer in India. I'm not sure what I could relate to you about the conversation, but it was fascinating for me, having a vested intrest in design and an intrest in India. He seemed kind of hopeless about the future of design in India. My attitude was more positive, but I don't live his life. So for me, it was healthy. He had to leave early, so I was able to go take his seat between the girl from Bombay and the cute Japanese girl. Divya, the Indian girl proved to be a better conversationalist. So that's who I talked to. She was much more positive about design in India, but perhaps that has to do with the fact that Mumbai (Bombay) is so much more cosmopolitan than the rest of India.

Somewhere in all of that there was a program as well. There was a performance which was like Noh theatre in fast forward, followed by some amazing taiko drumming.

After all was over, I tried to talk to Neville Brody, but he was being made a celebrity by a bunch of people, and not subscribing to the whole celebrity thing, I had a hard time talking to him. I just said a few words. He was going out on the town with a group of people, including one of my El Salvadorian friends, and I was thinking of tagging along. As we were on the way out the door, I bumped into Divya and an Aussie guy named Russel who I had just met earlier, and an American named Stu, who I had not met. They were going out as well, and invited me along. This seemed the far better option. The place we ended up going to even had a proper Guiness. That was good.

We chatted and drank and muched on appetisers until around 1.00 am. Divya and Russell lived very close to where we had gone, so getting home was easy for them. Stu was staying at a place near Nagoya station, just as I was, so we decided to team up. First we tried the subways. Much to our dismay, the subways had closed at midnight. We contemplated a taxi, but thought it expensive. So we decided to get our bearings and try walking back. If it turned out to be too far, we would then hale a taxi. It took us about an hour to walk back, and had good conversation along the way.

As promised, I got back long after Justin had gone to sleep. I'm glad he left the door open for me.

Saturday the 11th.

I slept in.
Not much, mind you, but enough that by the time I got to the congress centre, I had missed the first 45 minutes of the first session. I could have yet gone into one in progress, and in retrospect half-regret not having done so, but what i did was good as well. I sat. I checked my email at one of the courtesy laptops, and then looked through the bookstores that had been set up. I got myself some breakfast. I looked around at the other two galleries I had not had a chance to see before. For the second morning session, I almost went to another Japanese speaker who looked okay, but I remembered that the night previous Stu had said the Ehibition Design session looked promising. It was a good thing I paid attention to that. I heard afterwards that the session I had contemplated was poor. Even better, the Exhibition Design session was perhaps the second best session of the whole conference.

The speaker was Massimo Pitis. His design firm was asked to take a year to plan an exhibition about asphalt. The idea had come from the fact that asphalt is practically everywhere in the world, and as such, especially in cities, is something we take for granted and actually know little about. They were asked to give one day a week to this, (Friday, I think it was) to have a meeting. The ramifications of that, however, are that they had to do preparation for those meetings, and other work, and of course, thought time gets consumed as well. They said yes.

They were partnered with a team of scientists and researchers who fed them information continually, and being graphic designers, it was up to them to sort and present that information in an appropriate fashion. He talked about the difficulties with a museum space, such as trying to guide people through the space gently, but knowing that inevitably people could and often would go wherever they wanted to. He mentioned how high, large, simple captions and quotes were there to help people to interpret what they were taking in, regardless of how packed the crowd might be. He talked about how the atmosphere they created was the best thing to use to motivate people through the space. Create an appropriate atmosphere. The exhibit itself had something like 12 different rooms, each dedicated to a "specific purpose, a single thing to explore."
He talked about how it was to be a graphic designer, someone accustomed to 2 dimentional space, to work and plan for three dimentional space. He noted how for a graphic designer the space always seems too 'something' (too large, too small, ceilings too high, too low, etc). He emphasized that as a Graphic Designer there is no need to be specialized. I really enjoyed it.


Umm... Ah! After Pitis spoke, it was lunch time. I had started talking to a Japanese guy beside me before the session had started, and after, so we went for lunch to keep talking. He spoke really good English. Perhaps the most fascinating thing for me was to clearly get the opinion of a Japanese person on the Japanese speakers. It turned out that he had been to some of the same sessions that I had, and some of the speakers I loathed he quite liked. So, for some of them I retrospectively chalked it up to poor translation. Others, well...Anyhow, this guy seemed to have been at least a slightly unconventional Japanese, in that at after Pitis was done speaking, there was time for questions. This guy asked a question right away, in Japanese, even though his english was fine. When I later asked why, he said it was because none of the other Japanese would ask questions until someone else set precedent. Interesting, no?

After lunch was a summary panel discussion to wrap up the conference. Initially, it was supposed to include Wurman, but for whatever reason, it ended up being just one japanese guy talking, with another to interject a comment from time to time. I can't really tell you what it was all about though. I was there for the whole thing, but only in body. I fell asleep. Really asleep. It was nearly two hours long, and I only woke halfway through. I felt really bad at first, like I had been disrespectful. I looked around to see if anyone was upset with me, and realized that half, if not more of the audence was sleeping. That noted, I went back to sleep.Somewhere in the mix of all that, I got up to go to the washroom (I was right beside a door). When I came back, the dude was still speaking what could have been the very same sentance he was when i left. No progress whatsoever. Yikes. Back to sleep.

There was a short break, and then the closing ceremonies. A letter was read from one of the main speakers who had gotten into a car accident and couldn't make it. They gave out two awards to people who had done extraordinary work in some kind of design education or politics. One of the two people, a japanese lady named Leimei, refused the award on the grounds that she hated awards because they are not fair to all the people who had helped and been part of the team. Unfortunately, she did that after the other guy had accepted his award. There was some awkwardness, but the person doing the awarding was very tactful and smoothed it over nicely. The last bit of the ceremonies was Rob Peters talking about Design for the World, which is an organization which coordinates designers to use their skills to help in needy countries and situations. Visually communicatind important things to illiterate people was one (important: safe sex, drug caution, bad water etc) as well as in other forms of communication. It was well spoken, delivered in a regular voice, doing little to stir the crowd by emotion, but instead taking a very rational approach. There were some pictures which could be considered "appeals to pity" but he did not play up on those as some might. i was impressed with how he spoke, but truth be told, I remember little of it now.

Afterwards was a farewell party. I floated around and talked to pretty much all the people I had met before, and one or two new ones. I made a point of talking to Massimo Pitis as well. All in all a good party. Afterwards, I went out with Billy, Dudu, and another guy from the states who I had only just met. Before getting food and drink we cruised through the JAGDA (JApan Graphic Design Association?) poster exhibition, which had a TON of posters, all designed just for this event. They were displayed in an open venue. If there is one area of graphic design where the Japanese have real flare, it is in posters. They seem to hold more prestige than other design forms here, and people are willing to pay the price to do them nice. Things like 16 different inks seem par for the course. There are no holds barred when it comes to posters here. So you can imagine that the temptation towards theft was great for me at that time. I managed to control myself. After that we went out for food and drink. The other American guy whose name I now forget had not found any Japanese food he liked, so we ordered a lot of small dishes of tasty stuff. The one that was perhaps strange and tasty enough to mention was fried gristle. Imaging KFC popcorn chicken, where the popcorn is really just deep fried battered cartiledge. Perhaps mentally offensive, but so very tasty. Better than KFC. 'Twas an enjoyable evening. Billy was leaving early sunday morning on a plane, but dudu was leaving sunday night on the ferry, so we exchanged phone numbers to see if we could connect. Hey, any opportunity to chill out with a pretty chinese girl is a good opportunity, right?

Sunday the 12th

Slept late, until around noon. The Nagoya city festival was on, and I thought it might be worth checking out. Justin said that he knew a good authentic Indian curry joint not far away, so we decided to go. I wasn't that hungry, but upon viewing the buffet, there was just no way I could have anything else. Good naan, good vegetable curry and chicken curry, but the choicest part was the mutton curry, which I had two solid helpings of. I stuffed myself nearly to bursting. I could feel my skin stretching. It was worth it.

We walked around until we found the parade route, then we followed it until we got to the destination. We missed the parade, but got to see some of the on-stage stuff at the central park. Saw some of the better looking parts of the city, including the brand new UFO (which is a nickname; I can't remember what it's really called). It's this massive disc suspended over an underground mall built in a hill. You can walk around on the disc. there is a fountain pool in the middle. We also saw some Awa Odori dancing, oddly enough. They had a showcase of differrent dances from around the world. At some point, around 6, Justin started feeling kinda ill, so we headed back and rented 'Catch Me If You Can' which neither of us had seen. It was good.

Oh, you are probably asking yourselves 'what happened to Dudu?' Me too. I phoned her a couple of times, but always got some kind of busy signal. Later I would check my phone and see if she had called, and if so, called right back. Once I missed a call by only a minute. I had my phone on ring and vibrate, and it had been right against my leg, but still i missed it. After trying a several times, I just decided that it was not to be.

So, it would seem there is a downside to sleeping until noon. I couldn't fall asleep until something like 3.00am. When lying in bed at around 12 I realized that was to be the case, I prepped all my stuff to leave, half expecting that I would sleep really late again, and have to run for my train. I also read from a couple of books and sent a bunch of emails to phil from my cell phone, because there is only so much packing you can do for three hours until you feel sleepy.

Monday the 13th

Woke up no problem at around 10.30. Showered etc, double checked my stuff, and I was at the station at 12.30 waiting for my bullet-train which was to come at 1.30. Overpreparedness and nothing better to do, what can I say? I did forget something though, and I'll get to that in a minute.

Bullettrain was not super exciting. It took two hours to get to Kobe, and on the way I got a decent view of both Kyoto and Osaka. In my opinion, Kobe is better looking than either. The first two had just a lot of concrete, kyoto punctuated with an old building or two, but kobe had clean, well designed buildings and a lot of trees.

In kobe, I had to wait 40 minutes or so for my connecting bus to tokushima. As I boarded the bus, 5 minutes before departure I realized that I had forgotten to buy omiyage, little souvenir snacks for everyone in my office. Now, my butt was covered by the fact that my predecessor never did either, but I know that it is a hugely important Japanese thing, and I was kicking myself for forgetting. It was even too late to get some Kobe omiyage.Next time.

In tokushima I called Anthony Uno, the captain of our soccer team, to let him know that I was back and could give him the money for my team jersey. He left to meet me at the station, and I went to the ATM and took the money out. The window for all that to take place was only 25 minutes between when I arrived and my last bus back to Kamikatsu, but he got there quickly and it was no prob.

The busride back was around two hours long, and it struck me as amazing that it was only then, after 6 hours of standing waiting and sitting listening to music while traveling, that my mind stopped buzzing and allowed me to start processing the previous week. Crazy. That two hour ride was the most enjoyable part of the trip. Perhaps the fact that it was familiar territory helped.


so now i have a dilemma.
do i send this email now, and go home (10.15pm my time) or do I wait until monday and hope that I have time to sit and type some more about sports day and culture day?
At this point, i think I'll hang on to the email, and send you all one very long update.


Sports day.

My last email was just before this, I think.

If you recall, Sports day had a complicated schedule to make sure it happened on a nice day. Sunday was the first potential day for it, and lo and behold, it rained. The plan was to come to school in that case, and come to school we did.Trying to hold school on a sunday which you were hoping for a fun exciting event is a difficult thing to do, moreso when it is a rainy day. None of the teachers especially wanted to be there, and even less so the students. All the students had been at the school on Saturday to practice for the event. yikes. We did Sunday on the Monday schedule, which means that at least I got to do my favorite class: the extra english class. That kinda made up for it.

One way or another we were going to miss tuesday, either due to a national holiday or due to sports day, so you would think that Monday's classes would be the tuesday schedule, but no, it was the monday schedule again, which was alright with me.

Tuesday, when I woke up and looked out the window, it was sunny with a few clouds. I got a call shortly after to tell me that sports day was a go.

Knowing that parking at the elementary is severely limited, I carpooled with the gym teacher, Masutomi-sensei, who speaks decent English and Spanish. (he lived in Peru for three years) Masutomi-sensei lives in a neighboring block of two teacher housing apartments.

When we arrived, the skies showed signs of rain. Hoped it would hold off.No such luck.We managed to get everything set up and ready (including canopies for everyone to sit under when they weren't doing anything.) before the rain started. In my opinion, it began at the worst possible time: just as the kids were doing their opening march before the opening ceremonies. It was not a heavy rain by any means, more like a falling mist, but at that point it was too late for any of the kids to put on sweaters over their t-shirts. The junior high guys all had long pants on, but all the girls and the elementary aged boys were all wearing shorts.

They did a parade of sorts around the whole grounds, and then lined up in ranks to stand through the opening ceremonies and speeches. They also had some warm up exercises etc, but it was a rather cold time for most of them. I think it lasted 20ish minutes in total, perhaps a little longer. After the ceremonies was a pause before things got started, and most everyone put on long pants and sweaters over their other stuff.

The order of things was an alternation between the elementary doing a game, and the junior high doing a game. The elemenary games were all co-ed, but the junior high games alternated between guys and girls. I think that in the end the Junior high had more games than the elementary did. Both schools had a red team and a white team (colours from their flag) but the scores between the elementary and the junior high were kept separate.

Somehow, the way the teams split in the Junior high put all the strong kids on the white team. The red team, on the other hand, had far more extraverted kids on it, and they really wanted to win. The red team (Akagumi - akai: red, gumi: team) had practiced far harder than the white team, but come sports day, the white team dominated the first half of the day.What were some of the games? Let me see...There was a relay race (everyone), tug-of war (girls), two multi-legged races (one for guys, one for girls), two obstacle courses (guys), a scavenger hunt (girls), and of course the grand finale: the team cheers (everyone).

There were also some other things mixed in, such as a folk dance which the juniour high did, oddly enough to western music. It was a kind of line dance, except with couples, but with and inner ring and an outer ring, and the two rings moved in opposite directions, so all the guys danced with all the girls, or would have had the song gone long enough. They had to practice for this, too, and some of the girls had mentioned in their english journals how much they hated having to do it.

They didn't like having to hold all "sweaty boys' hands". No complaints from the guys, tho...But back to the story. Some more of the other events were the adluts' relay race, which actually had 5 teams: Elementary teachers, JH Teachers, BOE employees, Parents, and City office employees. We didn't do so well. I think we came in third or fourth. One of the non-teacher teams won it.There was also the marching band performance by the elementary 456's, which I think I talked about in a previous mail. It was as good as their practice was. One of the last events of the day was the non-student tug-of-war using only one rope. I joined in too. I don't think any of the other teachers did, but one of the parents invited me. My team lost both rounds.
The games were always set up by someone who would not play that particular game. For example, the JH boys set up most of the games the JH girls played, and vice versa. All of the set-up and take-down was practiced (I talked about that day before) and it went very fast.

The elementary games had a lot of races, and a couple of traditional games as well, one of which is kind of like a pinata. It's this big hard ball hung on a stick. There was one for each team, and the whole team pelts it with little balls until it breaks. It took what felt like 5 or more minutes of hammering on the things before one of them split down its only seam accross the centre, dropping a scroll to hang, saying something in Japanese. I was disappointed, I expected at least some conftetti or something. There were a lot of little balls, and the balls were team-coloured as well. There was also a game where a basket was on a pole and they had to throw as many balls into the basket within the allocated time. The score on that one was something like 80 balls to 60 balls. There were still a lot on the ground. It was mesmerising to watch, kinda like an umbrella-shaped-water-fountain-made-of-balls flowing in rather than out.

For those of you out there who have been to church youth groups and so forth, this may remind you a lot of gym nights or something; I'm not sure what other context we do these kinds of games whithin in Canada. I think this is the only time Japanese kids play these kinds of games.

If I recall correctly, one of the guys obstacle courses was up first. It was set up around the gravel track. Each team had two lines of people to run the course. Every set of four runners started to the sound of a pistol, and upon completion were lined up behind the numbers one to four, according to how they placed. Some of the elements of the course were crawling under a net which was tied down, walking along the thin side of 12 foot long 2x4 suspended only a foot above ground, chugging down a cola from a glass bottle, dousing you face with water, fishing out a candy from a box of flour using only your face. There was a distance to run between each thing. Points were awarded for how many people from your team placed in each rank. Lots of the games used this point system; all of the race-type ones, at least.

At some point the elementary also had a its own obstacle course of sorts. Can't remember how it went...
The tug-of-war was three ropes of varying length and thickness-- thin and short (light) to thick and long (heavy). The teams could allocate as many or few people to each rope as they desired, getting to keep any rope they pulled far enough over to their side, or which was more on their side when the time was up. Moreover, people could run from rope to rope and redistribute strength on the fly. It made for a much more interesting tug-of-war. Akagumi won the first round, which was a shock, but Shirogumi (shiroi: white, gumi: team) won the next two rounds. The teams switched sides after each round. In no round did a single team take all three ropes.

Somewhere along the line the elementary also had a kind of tug-of-war, but only using one rope. Intead of pulling along its length, however, they pulled along its width (making the rope into a squiggly line). The idea was to get just one part of the rope across your own line. They also redistributed strength on the fly. The same team won both rounds, though it was a near miss both times on the other team's part.

The guys multi-legged race was a centipede race, where everyone's feet are tied to the same two ropes, and they are lined up one behind the other. At one point the centipede metamorphs from its pupa state- everyone crouches down, and the person at the back spreads his legs and shuffles over. Once he has gone over the person in front of him, that person stands up and follows. It takes timing and teamwork, because of course you only have about a foot of slack between your feet and the person in front or behind you. At the end of the maneuver, the line is in the exact opposite order. Then the team leader (the person in front) dons a cardboard cenitpede head, and the team marches the 50m to the next metamorphosis point, after which the person in front dons butterfly wings, and they hurry to the finish (another ~50m)

In practice, Shirogumi's athleticism had them set down as the sure winner, but on the 'day of', Akagumi's practice paid off. They left the white team in the dust. they moved fast and effectively. They got to their second metamorphosis point while the white team was still busy in their first (quite an achievement!) Sadly, the red team got tangled in their second change, and by the time they could get it sorted, the white team made it to the finish. Very disheartenting, but they finished the race even so.
That cost the red team big time, and gave them a long way to catch up with regard to points.

I can't clearly remember the results of the relay, but I think the white team had first and third, and the red team had second and fourth. That really was not a big surprise, seing as how the white team had Chu-san, Yuto, and Marie, who along with Hironobu are the four fastest kids in school, were all on the white team. Hironobu held his ground against Chu-san, but he could not overtake. What really surprised me was that Terumi held her own against Marie (ma-ri-ae), who is really tall. Though Terumi could not pass Marie, she somehow managed to close some of the initial gap. It was a very exciting race. The first and second places were only a pace or two apart, and not long behind them the third and fourth places were close as well.

At lunch time the scoreboard showed that Akagumi had their work cut out for them if they wanted to win. Though I tried to cheer for both teams, my heart was with Akagumi. How could I not cheer for the team who had the lesser ability and greater desire?

Normally, I would eat with the students, but their families were all there, so it was a picnic in the gym. I ate with the staff in the cafeteria. The families brought their own lunches, but earlier in the week we opted to order bento, which are the Japanese equivalent of a purchased boxed lunch. I sat across from Masutomi-sensei, and it was then that I realized how unbelievably fast the man can eat. Junior High boys in the middle of their growth spurts cannot hold a candle to that man. Since then I have noticed that he is always the first one done, and he eats a lot. I have never seen anybody eat so fast. What's more, he's not even trying to be fast. I asked him if he even tastes his food. He said he tastes it quickly.

Now, I have not been giving you the day in its precise order, because I just cannot remember what that order was, but I think you are getting the gist of it.

The girls multilegged race was a horizontal variety, where they were tied together side by side. They had to march across an area, and then circle a pylon, with one girl acting like a pivot. Here again Akagumi's practice paid off: they schooled the white team. Shirogumi had no problems, they just weren't as fast.

The other obstacle course the guys had was transporting balls in pairs. There were three balls for each team: a big rubber ball, a basketball, and a softball. A pair of guys had to hold the ball between themselves without using their hands to hold it in place. While doing that, they had to weave through a few pylons, step over a hurdle, and go under a limbo bar, then run back. Each team did each ball twice, descending in size. The final softball pair ran ahead to a table rather than back. On the table were two pumps and two long thing balloons of the sort that you make balloon animals with. The first team to pop their balloon was the winner. Shirogumi trailed most of the event, but actually got to the balloons first, with Akagumi nipping at their heels. Akagumi managed to burst their balloon first. Huzzah!

I don't know what to call the girls other event, but scavenger hunt is probably right. Each team had two lines, so that there were always four girls running. Much the same as the guys first obstacle course, each set of four began at the sound of the starter pistol.

They ran up to a table, picked up their respective cards, yelled something through paper cones, and then ran to the crowd to find someone or something who could match the description on the card. One example was 'The elementary school principal'. Another was'a basketball' They then took their person or thing, ran back to the middle, circled a pylon, and ran (hopefully) through the winner's tape. Scoring again was the same as the guys first obstacle course.

Finally, there were the team cheers. The Red team had caught up to within a few points of the white, and this round really was the decisive round. There were two aspects to the cheer: the chants and the dances to songs. There were a few kinds of chants; some to their own team (how they were gonna do their best and win, I imagine), some to the other team (how they would beat down all opposition), and some the town and to the school (how much they loved them: " O-y! O-y! Kami-chu-u! # O-y! O-y! Kami-chu-u! # Watashi-tachi daisuki Kami-chu-u! # We all love Kami-chu-u! # The team leader lead the chant, and then the whole team repeated the line. ("#" marks the end of a line.) There were fast chants and slower chants. Also the kind of things that they coreographed were really impressive, considering that they are just junior high students.

Shirogumi was up first, and for the only time of the day they got to wear more of their team colours than just a headband. They all came out in white collared shirts untucked over black skirts and shorts, with black ties loosely around their necks. They had blue and white pompoms on their hands. two of the guys had swapped their pants for skirts, and one of them even got a wig. The other has long hair anyhow. It was really funny. A couple of the girls were wearing pants, so I imagine there had been a swap.

They did well, except that Shin-chan, the leader of the white team and president of the school counsel, forgot one of his chant lines, breaking the rhythm of the chant. oops.

It made no difference though, because this is where Red Team really shone. They went overboard in thier dance part, their whole piece being significantly longer than the white teams. They started with a skit, where three students dressed particularly crazy, using lots of red in their outfits, pretended to drink from enourmous cans and litter them on the ground.(they were actually three wastepaper baskets transformed with tinfoil and construction paper into Pocari Sweat, Coke, and Quu cans). Then, as from out of nowhere, Kentaro appeared and dashed accross the field. He was wearing a fantastic black kimono (formerly his great-grandfathers, I think) and reprimanded the three for not recycling (if you recall, Kamikatsu places huge importance on recycling, and Kentaro's dad is one of the main advocates). Kentaro Whisked the cans away, dropping them in an unintentional moment of comic relief, and as he took his place at the front (he was the team leader), the rest of the team rushed up into position. Everyone was dressed in red shirts and black pants, with obvious effort to look super-cool. Most of the girls had hiked up their skirts for the occasion. (On a side note, there does not seem to be a skanky skirt length in this country, any length is fine, but if a girl shows of the least of her belly or shoulders, she would get loads of dirty looks. More than a few western girls have in the summer lamented having to choose between looking skanky or feeling skanky.) Anyways, their routine was great, both chants and dances, and they finished it off by doing a couple great poses for the judges. They won.

A bunch of the kids on the red team had never won in the JH undosai [(oon-doe-sai): sports day] and especially those among the third years were elated. Kentaro, the team leader (always a guy) and Terumi, the vice-leader (always a girl) recieved the awards on behalf of the team. They were two who had wanted it the most. Terumi was on the verge of crying, she was so happy.

After all was said and done, everyone helped clean up, and when that was finished, some of the JH and shogakko teachers went into Katsuura for a party. I of course went too.

I guess there really wasn't much to be said of the staff party, other than that it was much like any other enkai i have been to so far: 35$ for bottomless beer and a bunch of food. the food was not bottomless, but it was sufficient. Yes, 35$ is expensive, but any drinking function in japan costs about that much, and you just accept it. It really shocks some westerners, but I expected Japan to be expensive, and found out that's just big cities, so that the odd little thing costs a bunch doesn't really get to me.It was all guys, with the exception of the elementary school principal, who came for the first 40ish minutes. After she left, it was just the male teachers. I presume that the reason none of the lady teachers were there is that they all have families who live close, so they'd rather be at home with their kids. Or something. Though I speak not enough Japanese to really understand what was said at the party, it seemed not too raucus, with only a little coarse joking. then the place (it was in katsuura town) provided a lift back for all those who had been drinking. (the legal limit in Japan is zero percent.)

The next day (wed sept24) was technically a day off, but I agreed to come in with Nakanishi-sensei (my JTE) to help two of the third year girls practice for their speech contest. I was there from noonish to fivish. The two girls were Natsumi, by far the best English speaking student in the school, whose speech was about not understanding hate crimes, and how homosexuality is not wrong; and Terumi, whose speech was about a voyage she went on with kids from six other countries to find out about environmental problems. Nakanishi-sensei also brought a tape from NHK (a tv station) about the sea voyage Terumi went on. Terumi was embarrassed, because on the program they mentioned how she was having a hard time because her English was not good enough. They also had her crying about the same thing on the program later on. On the positive side, all the trouble from the trip has really motivated her to study hard at english, and that's why she wrote her speech.

Thursday was a day off too.

Monday was the speech contest. It was the competition for our 'gun' (county) which only includes Kamikatsu and Katsuura. Tom and his JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) brought four students up from their school, and the competition was held here. The Judges were two other ALTs who are also new this year, Jenni from Perth, Australia; and Heather from Ontario. Natsumi won. Hurray! Go Kamikatsu! (although it's prolly because Natsumi really likes english and western music, and so gets a lot of english intake)

Then the rest of the week was devoted to preparing for Bunkasai. Whereas undoasai was the sports festival, bunkasai was the culture festival. My only real involvement was in the sign language club. We did a super-condensed version of the Wizard of Oz. I was "Buriki" (Tin Man, lit: tin). I had to learn my four or five lines both in Japanese to be spoken and in JSL (japanese sign language) to be performed. I also made the mask for Oz, and an ax and costume for myself (can you say, jeans, white gloves, plaid shirt, clear sunglasses, and tinfoil on my head?) When it came time to act I moved like I was dancing 'the robot.'

Friday especially was crazy. The gym got set up as an auditorium, posters and signs splashed all over the place, video game consoles and mini-garage sales got set up, skits were rehearsed, songs were sung, preparations were made.

I will describe in as much detail as I understood what was going on.First up was the opening ceremonies, where the principal said a few short words, and Shin-chan the president of the student counsel said a few short words. Then it was underway.

First each class did a skit. The first years did a modified version of the Japanese folk tale plum boy. Nakanishi tried to explain the origional tale to me, and what was going on, but all I was able to sort out is that a boy gets born from a large plum, gains friends by reluctantly giving them food, and expels demons from an island.The second years did some kind of love story during a some kind of war. One of the teachers, the math teacher Mr Saito, dressed up and joined in. At one point he wore a school sports uniform, which brought peals of laughter from the students.

The third years did a story about a girl who runs away from home and joins the circus and falls in love with a boy there.After that the music club did their performances. All the flute players were excellent, playing at a level I would not have expected from my high school (technical school that it was).

After them was our sign language skit.

Following was a time to wander around, pay money to play console video games, buy food, and buy other wares. The money from everything went towards the students class trips, which were to commence two weeks or so hence. I tried all the food and then helped the third years make takoyaki (octopus balls: batter, vegetables, and a chunk of octopus all cooked in a large frying surface filled with half spheres, causing the ball shape.

From around three o'clock were other special performances which the students put together themselves, and volunteered to do. there were such things as magic tricks, different comedy routines (lost on me, but apparently funny), etc. Everything seemed much more in proportion to a junior high level than the music had been. Somewhere in all that the teachers also had a bit: we sung some song in Japanese. It was all in the japanese alphabet (no kanji) so I could read it, and sing it, though what I sang of I know not. It all wrapped up around four.

Sunday (Oct the 5th now) was the prefectural speech competition. I went along with Natsumi and Nakanishi-sensei. There were 27 entrants, and some were quite good. The judges were three japanese people and two ALTs. In the halftime intermission I discussed the speeches with some of the other ALTs who came to cheer their students. We were sort of on the same page as far as who we thought was in the running to win. Natsumi was in the second half, and was already super tired from bunkasai the previous day and all the prep that had led up to it. Unfortunately she followed the speech which was uncontestably the best of all 27. Natsumi's confidence and energy was down, and I think that had she felt better, she would have presented her speech better. She could have been in the top three and gone to tokyo. As it was, I mentally slotted her as fifth overall, which still ain't bad.

The results were horrifying. the four best speeches did not make the top eleven (which was all they gave awards for). The awards seemed more to go out for sympathy than anything else. If anything, it was like the judges picked them by the titles that would sound best for the newspaper the next day. (that's just me being cynical). It was very disappointing. There had been one speech which nobody will forget due to the student's unbelievable stage presence. He was not recognized at all. The only upside to the whole debaucle was that Natsumi came in fourth. I attribute all the craziness to the Japanese judges, who were true to reputation and picked bad speeches. Ah well, whaddaya gonna do, eh?

Monday was a transfer holiday from bunkasai on sat the fourth, and I used it to get ready for going to Visualogue. Tuesday was class, and then I left for visualogue in the evening.

Now, undoubtably I have missed some details, but this email is just too long already, and I'm eager to be done it. So, if it's alright, I will send it now and talk about the last couple of weeks in a new email, ok? Ok

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Xmas list

Originally an email to my dad. Posted it cos I felt like it. Xmas lists are to give ideas and a broad spectrum of options. Don't take this as though I was asking for all these things.

I really have no needs that I cannot fulfull here or do without. It is a 'First world' country, after all. So all I can put on a list is my wants.

The gist of it would be music, books, and food. Even when it comes to music I have access to a lot of stuff on the english version of

So, first on the list, seeing as how you are sending it by surface mail and not air:
1. Beer. Some good beer would be very welcome. Send cans. Maybe send a composite 6-pack and two tall cans. Like, 2 keiths, 2 Rickards Red, and 2 Sleeman's honey brown, and then 1 guiness and 1 Newcastle Nut brown.
2. Xmas stocking contents. We have always done xmas stockings. Don't send me the one you hang up, put it up at home. Just get a cheap stocking fromthe dollar store or Walmart, and fill it like you normally would. Then wrap it or bag it to hold the contents in.
3. Pictures/photos. Just a few, to see how you all look these days.
4. Any kind of sweets or potato chips are much appreciated. (I have a hard time not eating them all at once)
5. Another fruit of the loom thermal t-shirt. I have one, and it's great under a collared shirt in the cool classrooms. Another would be convenient. It's possible that they have them here in Japan, but I have not seen any. I like sweatshirts too, especially hoodies.
6. Aunt Jemima pankake batter
7. Kraft creamy/smooth peanut butter, the largest size.
8. A subscription to Print magazine (expensive) or a copy of the current issue (at times much more expensive than your average mag). It's my favorite magazine.
9. Music- I gave dad a list before.
10. Books - not sure what to ask for, maybe just walk into a Chapters or McNally and see if there's anything I might like. Honestly, I rarely know what I am going to like, and just kind of go on other people's reccommendations. I also pick up books on whims, but that is much harder to do here. Come to think of it, I have bought several books on whims and only read them much later... anyhow, difficult to do here. I think the best way to describe what I like in literature was something I wrote on a sketchbook cover once: "I like stories." Even the leadership books I have really enjoyed have been held together by the stories the authors used to illustrate their points. I guess I can leave this one to your discretion, I'll eventually read anything you send me.

Ten items is good enough for a list, yeah? Should be enought to get you thinking.
Oh, and don't worry too much about getting it here before Xmas. Looks like I'll be going to visit Atsushi at that time, so I won't even be home for xmas. You know, when in Rome.