Saturday, December 06, 2003

number 6

Originally an email.

I figured I had better write another account of what's been going on the last couple weeks seeing as how there is a soccer tournament this weekend, and after that, I won't want to write about anything else. Just like what happened after Visualogue.
If the truth were to be told, you would find that my last few weeks have been busily uneventful, or at least in comparison to how I think they could have been.

The only event worthy of mention that week was my birthday. In Canada, in recent years I have had the somewhat humourous habit of forgetting my own birthday. I generally remember that it is coming a few weeks beforehand as I look at my dayplanner to sort out schedules, but once the week rolls around I am so busy with what I need to do, that I generally neglect the date altogether. The fact that it frequently lands on weekdays only aggrivates the problem.Anyhow, this year would have been no exception, but that someone back in August had asked me when my b-day was. Two days before the 16th my principal, Kunio Seto, asked me if I had any plans for my birthday. If not, he wanted to have me and another teacher over to his apartment (he lives there 4 days a week) for a small party.

Now, the week previous I had contemplated making some kind of plans, but I was having a hard time trying to think of some friends I could do stuff with who would not think the only form of worthy celebration would be getting sloshed. I had no answer.

Thus, when Principal Seto asked me over I was delighted. On the day itself, just after school two of the third year students dropped by my apartment with a cake from my JTE (who had been out that afternoon). After that, it turned out that Tom was on his way up to go to the onsen, and invited me along. It was as relaxing as one could hope.

The party was just Principal Seto, Masutomi-teacher (teaches PE) and me. We chilled out, ate the cake that the principal brought, drank a little bit of beer, and muched on snacks. At one point I ran back to my flat (two apartments over, just up a little hill) to get a couple movies. We ended up watching Tremors. After the movie we talked some more, and ended up talking about Jesus and Christianity, which was in my opinion a good way to finish up the evening.
by the way, that was a thursday the 16th.

On friday I brought to the office the cake that Nakanishi-teacher had given me. It was smallish, but I managed to get enough pieces out of it for everyone.

I read Silence by Shusaku Endo on the saturday and sunday, as there was little else to do. Upon completion, I treated the book with the respect I thought it deserved: I threw it across the room at my door. It was a distasteful book about a man losing his faith in God. Endo successfully leaves no room for hope for the man by following him to his death. If for any reason you feel the need to deprive yourself of hope, then by all means read the book, but otherwise I would not reccommend it.
There is always hope.

On Sunday, while standing in the warm sun outside beside my washing machine, a postman walked up with a package for me. The contents? a birthday present from home! Yatta! (victory! or, Yesss!). The contents:Werther's candiesCadbury Dairy Milk bars (plain and almond)a medium sized tobleronea Prairie Alaphabet BookA white "Schwartzenegger for Governator" t-shirtan Eat-More barcarons d'Ache (face) paints [requested]a carda TwoThirtyEight cd (title: You Should Be Living)small bag of Tostitos nacho chipssome basset's licorice all-sorts

Within a week or so all the candies and foods were gone, but in my life I have never before eaten such a small bag of chips so slowly. I think it lasted three days. I savoured that savoury snack.

I put the CD in my discman and listened as I finished my several loads of laundry. Don't get me started on that washing machine, let's save that tale for another time. The CD was good, and was everything I would have hoped for out of Silence by Endo. The album is perhaps what you would get if you crossed a regular folk musician and christian rock band: most of the topics on the album are pained tales of life's grit, but there is always a thread of hope or promise in the background somewhere. To quote 90% of my students when they describe anything whatsoever: "I like it because it is interesting." (in Japanese, "omoshiroi" means that it holds your intrest, so it can be used to mean any of fascinating, captivating, entertaining, or funny)

That afternoon was soccer, and I wore my new Schwartzenegger shirt out to play. (Where else can I wear a shirt like that?) Our team captain, Anthony Uno asked me, "Mat, you from Cali?" There was similar confusion on everyone else's part. I simply explained it away by saiyng that the members of my family, particularly some members of my extended family, are "Schwartzenegger Freaks". I did not feel that was too much of an exaggeration.

After that was church. I think I neglected to mention in my last mail that I had found a small church to go to. Or rather, it found me. Colin and Jenni, two of the other new JETs this year had the contact info for this place, and after they had been once they invited me along too. They were a young youth pastor couple at a Vineyard church in Perth, Australia before they left. Considering the similarities between Gateway and the Vineyard churches, I figured that if they liked it well enough, so would I.

It turned out that there was actually an English service, perhaps the only one in the city (not counting the english service at one of the Catholic churches). As a result, it is a kind of inter-denominational international service. There are maybe 8 or 9 jets in total who go there, as well as several others from across the globe. There are maybe 30 people in total.
After the service everyone chills out and chats while munching on snacks which everyone has brought.
This then was my second time going. There is not much else to say other than that I made plans for the next weekend as well.

On Moday the 20th I had my first Eikaiwa class, which is an English conversation class I do for the townspeople. Three of my students, the Azumas (sannensei Terumi, ninensei Rieko, and ichinensei Hiroki) all come as well. Aside from them and a two or three university students here as agriculture volunteers, most of my students are parents of the kids I teach.

Another event worthy of mention was the following friday October 24th. Every year every class has some kind of excursion. The second years take four days and go a long way away, to somewhere such as Okinawa, or in this year's case, Tokyo. The first and second year students (grades 7 and 9) on the other hand go somewhere nearer for a day-trip. Each class gets to pick among some options. (The ni-nensei had to pick Tokyo while they were still ichi-nensei. This years first-years have also chosen tokyo) The options for the day trip had to be in Kobe, seeing as how it is the closest major city. The first year kids went to the aquarium, which is kind of like a "Kobe Sea-World". The third year students picked the amusement park. When offered the choice myself, I naturally joined the third-years, both because the amusement park sounded the better option, and because I can actually talk with them.

I suppose there is little to say about the park, but I will probably say a lot anyhow.
Firstly, I have had a track record in Japan of sleeping in for important things. This time I planned ahead. I had to be at the bus stop by 6.50 am. The bus stop is a 7-10 minute walk from my apartment. I planned to get up around 6, which would allow ample time to get ready. Just to be on the safe side, learning from that time back in August, I got ready everything I would need, and made sure I could just run out the door. I chose not to wear my night-guard. As it was, my phone rang at around 6.45. I woke like a man doused with cold water. It was Nakanishi-sensei, asking where I was. I told her I would be there in ten minutes. Somehow I managed to wash my hair, dress, grab an apple and my bag, and bolt to the bus stop in a record 5-7 minutes (the 5 clocks in my house are not syncronised).

Thankfully, I beat two of the students to the bus stop, so nobody was waiting on me. Yatta!It was a charter bus. I went back to sleep for the first 45mins.I suppose I could give all the boring details of the ride, but here I will restrain myself. There is even little to say of Portopialand other than that it was smaller than I expected, and it is located on a man-made port island accessible by a bridge from Kobe.

Aside from the fact that the menus at the park were in Japanese, and that the place was overrun by junior high aged Japanese kids dressed in navy-blue winter school uniforms, it could have been anwhere in medium-sized town North America. It was better than the Red River Ex, but could not hold a candle to a Six Flags or Canada's wonderland. It was a 4-coaster park. NB: Roller coasters are called "jetcoasters" in Japanese.

If you recall, back on culture day the students had been doing different things to raise money. I had helped the san-nensei (3rd year students) make takoyaki (tako = octopus). They raised enough money then to cover all their own entrance fees, ride passes, and more besides. The more besides seems to have included my entrance fee and ride pass as well. Sweet! Three cheers for lending a hand! Also, the park offers a free lunch (up to $5) for teachers acting as chaperones. Once again, this included me. A very slick deal indeed. What's more is that I was able to get a filling and tasty lunch for that 500yen. Gotta love those Japanese chicken fingers. I guess they're less like fingers than lumps, but the principle is the same and they are so very delicious.

One of the attractions was the the cold house. Imagine a tiny haunted house. Now, make all of the decor white. Remove most of the objects. Now imagine that the "house" is more like several very large walk-in freezers linked together. The idea was that you were to experience some kind of unbearable cold and walk through very fast. The first room was a dry minus ten degrees. The second was, at coldest, minus twenty-five. Not a problem for your average winnipegger. Taking the lead, I took off my sweater and casually strolled through, stopping to admire the frost in the colder room, my body blocking the way past and keeping the guys behind me trapped. Eventually I let them pass and followed them out. There was not a single goosebump on me. We went through that house several times that day, and I did the same each time. It was good. I enjoyed the cold.However, when you bring the cold into my apartment, when everyone knows that cold is meant for outside, I am not a happy camper.

So we rode the rides and a good time was had by most. (Some, like Yuji and Ryo, became a little motion-sick, and one of the girls, Terumi, would have preferred the aquarium). Such is the way of amusement parks.

We were there from (I think) 9.30 to 14.30, and that was certainly enough time to get all we wanted from the park. On the bus ride home they played a movie: Lupin III. I had heard of it back in Canada, and had played a mod of a Lupin the Third game for the SNES. It was interesting to see it now. I still didn't understand enough of the words, but I could get the gist from the action.

Sunday, once again was a day filled with plans. I got together with some people from the little church and their friends for breakfast, a hike and a movie. Breakfast was pancakes, the british way, which means "thin like crepes". Even so, they were good enough. Breakfast was meant to be at 11 on Sunday in the city, but I couldn't get my rear in gear quickly enough to get there before 12, but that was no problem. At some point we all packed up and headed for Bizan (mount Bi; in japanese, the suffix -san, when used in reference to mountains, means mountain. With people it is just an honourific. Hence Fuji-san the mountain, and Kuni-san the person). Bizan is is the small mountain (or very very large hill) which is located just west of the middle of Tokushima. It took us a little over an hour from the base to slowly hike/walk all the way up. It was a very good workout, but I felt it more in my lungs/heart than I did in my thighs/legs. I was a good practice run for the hike I did the following week.

After the hike down, I split off from the group to go look for xmas presents to send home. Once all the stores were closed, I called one of the hiker's cell phones and met up with them again to watch a movie. We watched the modern adaptation of Great Expectations, starring Ethan Hawke. It was okay, I guess, but not something I would ever watch again. We skipped bits more than a few times.

Tuesday the 28th held a break from the norm. I joined Tera-san in going to a one day conference in the city, meant to help give some inter-cultural understanding between JETs and supervisors. It was fun-ish. I had the privelege of hanging out with JET people some more, and we did some Role Play stuff, but I'm not sure that anyone came away with anything more than a few snippets of helpful information. Good waste of a day, though.

Friday the 31st was an open house at the JHS, and as such we had a demonstration class for English. Nakanishi-sensei was nervous, but not me. I hold no responsability! Once the class got started, I just forgot about the parents standing at the back and conducted things as per normal. In advance, I had picked a game that would be sure to impress the parents with the swiftness and intelligence of their kids, so I am sure it went well. Nakanishi seemed to think so.

The first weekend in November was a fantastic weekend. I took part in the annual JET camp/hike/onsen weekend. To give you the highlights quickly, we hit two fabulous onsens, hiked to the highest point in Tokushima, walked across vine bridges, had two enjoyable evenings around the campfire, and saw one really messed-up museum.

But now it is Friday, and I must be off home to prepare for the soccer tourney tomorrow, so I'll finish this later. Depending on how I feel on monday, this account may be interrupted by endorphin enduced tales of triumph from the tournament.

Well, as you have probably guessed by the fact that this letter is so late in coming compared to when I started it, we did not do so well at the soccer tournament. Believe me, that is a major understatement, but it was fun anyhow. I'll get to that in a moment (ie, a few pages).

Let's talk about that hiking weekend. There was a long weekend (fall is rife with them here) so the trip was a saturday to monday thing, which was good enough for me.It's a two hour + drive from my house to the place where we were meeting, which was in turn a one hour drive from our final destination. Two others, Sally and Vivi by name coordinated with me to get a lift out there from just west of the city. The drive was well enough, and the weather was still nice enough for me to wear a sweater and drive with the window down.

my day in times: woke at 6.45ish, packed my stuff, loaded the car, double-checked, ate etc, left at 8ish. picked the girls up in Kamojima town at 10ish, were in Ikeda at 11ish, were meeting everyone at around 1. What can I say? I way prefer to be stinking early somewhere to being slightly late, especially when there are many things that could go wrong, like getting lost. Suffice to say, the closest we ever got to becoming lost was to miss a turn in Iwate, but we found a roundabout way there anyhow.

All that extra time was at least useful, in that we all still needed to buy some food for the weekend. I picked up some meat and other things to complement the vegetables i had brought for my own yakiniku barbeque.

Of course we still had loads of time, so we parked the car (a small miracle in and of itself: we parked for free!), and went for lunch. I had yakisoba, which is a kind of noodle served mixed with some vegetables and a tasty sauce. There may have been meat too, but if there was, it was only a little. Both of the other girls are older than me, one having a masters in French (that's Sally, she's British) and the other, Vivi, is a Vietnamese-Texan girl who is a reporter. Conversation was standard fare.

We met everyone at one, but our guide was late, as were, to be honest, most everyone. The wait was nice, the sun was warm, and we were wondering if we all really need have bothered bringing warm clothes. Little did we know the difference a little elevation can make. A few were REALLY late, so we left without them, but they found their way in the end. We were a convoy of four Daihatsu Miras (two white, two purple) and a white old Corolla in the middle. At one point, I noticed that the Mira ahead of me was being dwarfed by a biker. Small cars indeed. Austin Minis are white-plate vehicles (ie, larger, or at least faster and more sturdy).

The first major stop along the way was at Piss Boy. He is called Piss Boy (or P-Boy for short) because he is a little bronze statue of a boy peing, and he is fixed to the edge of a cliff, facing outwards, along the roadside. If you happen to look at the Iya Valley pics on Joe's website, the one with all of us posed along a fence (and me on a post) is taken at Piss Boy.I'm not sure what Piss Boy's name is in Japanese, but I imagine it's not nearly as fun as calling him Piss Boy.

From there we went to the camp. The campgound was near the Kazurabashi (Kazura Bridges). We split up into three cabins, and I managed to get into the quiet cabin. There is always a party cabin, and I did not want to be in it. It was a near thing. Dan kindly gave me his place in the quiet cabin and went to the party cabin instead. He's very generous, that guy . Though the cabins were all co-ed, being adults, everyone was surprisingly responsable (at least in the quiet cabin...).

Anyway, once we were all settled, we hit one of the two onsens in the town. This one was a small outdoor onsen higher up on a mountainside. There was a ???? that took us up from the hotel to the onsen. (????= lift? Tram? I'm losing my perspicacity. It was one of those rope-drawn thingies that has a winching-machine on the end, and a counter-balance, and takes you up the slope. What are those things called?) The ???? only went up about 30-40m, but it was a nice touch all the same. The pools were small, and the only thing that kept you from being seen from the hall while changing was a carefully placed imitation-bamboo wall. If, say, you stepped back a pace, you became visible from the hallway. Not that it mattered, I guess, seeing as how there were three sections: men on the right, women on the left, and co-ed in the middle. We all opted for the segregated ones. However, as per normal, our presense drove away all the Japanese in the bath, presumably to the co-ed onsen. It was relaxing. After that, still at the top, there was a complementary tea-house and fire, which we chilled out at for a while before returning down and back to our campsite for dinner over a fire-pit. I made my japanese-style barbeque which I have grown to love so much, and it was good. (beef, eggplants, kabocha squash, onions, green peppers, sweet potato, and shiitake mushrooms all lightly charred and dipped in Yakiniku sauce. MMMMMM. oishii! (tasty!)

Scary thing: the best beer Japan has to offer is a Lager, and I am actually starting to like it. Aren't you worried for me?Send donations to the I.A.F.M Fund. that's the Import Ale for Matthew Fund. Make out cheques to Matthew Shettler, or just send some good ale, why don't you?
Well, then again, maybe I can survive a couple years without a proper beer. But if I come back a mere shadow of the man I
used to be, you'll have some inkling as to why!

The next day, Sunday, we started early and went to the Kazurabashi, which are replica vine bridges, made after the style that the Taira clan used when they were hiding from the Heike back in the days of Feudal Japan. (that war ended around 1340, if memory serves). I can say with confidence that they are replicas, though they look convincing enough. How do I know? The steel corded interior was a dead giveaway. You could see it between some of the vines. Impressive nonetheless. They Taira used vinebridges because they could cut them when on the run, ideally with a few enemies on the bridge at the time.

After that, it was off to Tsurugi-san (Mt Tsurugi), the highest point in Tokushima, for an afternoon of hiking bliss(ters). For me, it was one of the highlights of my time in Japan so far. It was a rainy day, though the rain had stopped. I had my backpack on, with my camera and raincoat inside, and I was wearing my rainpants over my jeans. My shoes were mere cross-trainers. I had not hiked like that before, and kind of expected to take up the rear. Ther path up the mountain began, just like Bizan, at a temple at the top of a long flight of massive stone stairs. Stairs are easier for me if I take them in twos, and I wanted to save strength, so I ended up at the front of the column, along with a scottish bloke named Collin, who recently proposed to his girlfriend, Cristin. They will get married next August. Anyway, in my estimation he was far more fit than I, and he took the lead, setting a quick pace. The result? Two pairs of burning thighs, and two people way ahead of the rest of the column. At one point I paused to take off my rain pants, because they were just too stinking hot. We maintained our strong lead all the way to the halfwaypoint, even after I took a turn in the front and intentionally slowed our pace. It turned out he was pushing himself too hard, too. He's a smoker and his lungs don't like all that cardio stuff so much.

There was a restaurant at the halfway point, and that is also where the ski lift ends. Two of the members of our crew took the ski lift up, one because she has bad knees, and the other because she did not want to hike at all, and in the end, she didn't. Collin and I waited a bit in the cold cold blowing mist, and then decided that we were warmer when we were moving, and set off again. The three people who had been closest behind came along with us too. They were Jamie, and Joe and Dea (Joe is a JET, Dea is his fiance, who has joined him here).Seeing as how we were so far ahead of everyone else, we decided to take the longest route to the top. When we reached the top, more than a kilometer later, we were still way ahead of everyone else. We made our way to the marker for the pinnacle, took a couple of pictures, and then doubled back to the restaurant which was down just a little ways. Because everything was shrouded in mist, there was no real view to speak of, but the sense of looking off into oblivion was breathtaking in its own way.

Lunch was a plate of curry-rice with oden potatoes (taters on a stick, cooked in oil and tasty sauce) and a Kirin Lager Beer. The atmosphere of the place was fantastic. It was a place filled with hikers coming in from and going out to the cold, eating drinking and being merry, the sound of the till and the fryers a constant, the TV playing in the background, but largely disappearing into the din. It was like something out of a well directed movie or a nostalgic book. It was great. We sat long enough to see the last of our comrades make it to the top and then decided it was time to head back ourselves.

The hike down was super easy, especially after Joe gave a couple tips on how to save your legs going when down by rocking back and forth. At the bottom, we still had a long time to wait, and being the only person with energy to spare (or raging endorphins, but what's the diff?), I grabbed my soccerball out of my trunk and kicked it around in the parking lot.Could the day get any better? In a word, yes.

After the mountain, we all made our way to the second onsen in the town, which is really new, and by far the best I have been to yet. It had two of these massage things which are just steady, thick gouts of water from massive taps eight feet up the wall which you sit or stand underneath and maneuver to let it massage your back. There were two other stand-up spray massager things, too. There were jacuzzi chairs, and of course the standard massive onsen bath. There was also an outdoor bath. There was a "tea" bath, which is a bath that has two massive bags of fragrant something floating in it. The piece de resistance, however was the salt sauna. It was a little cooler than the standard onsen sauna at only ~90degrees C, but it was shaped like a letter 'O'. You sit with your legs in the interior of the O, at the bottom of which is a ton of salt. in the middle of that, there is a wooden box of salt which you take handfulls from and rub all over your body to exfoliate. Watch out for those cuts! After 5 to 10 minutes in the sauna, you step out and rinse off in a shower, and then smear yourself with a little moisturiser. Admission was only $5. Zounds.

We ate dinner at the onsen hotel restaurant. I once again had those delicious chincken finger things that I have grown so fond of. I am on the verge of remembering what they are called in Japanese. .... Well, maybe another day.
After all that, it was back to the camp for another bonfire.

Monday was uneventful except for nearly walking in on one of the girls changing, and after returning to the city, losing one of my bags out of the back of my car. Some citizen kindly took it to the local Police Box (which is an office/station like the one on Portage and Edmonton in Winnipeg). I was able to reclaim it there, and the policeman gave me the phone number of the person who brought it and told me to phone them and thank them. At home, I did.


sorry, it has been a loooooong time since I have worked on this email, and it is now nearly mid december, a full month after the soccer tournament.

One of the teams in our group couldn't make it and were replaced at the last minute by a local high school team.
Our first game was against Mie, (mee-ay) who were one of the strongest, most disciplined teams of the tournament. We played most of the game in our half, but only conceded two goals. We all came away from that game a little bruised, and our captain, Uno took a blow to the knee hard enough to sit out the next game. Even so, we had nothing against Mie. They were the better team.

Our second game was against the high school team "Tsuna High School." They may have been smaller than us, but they train every day. We are lucky to scrimmage once a week. They dominated us. We conceded 5 goals. That hurt our pride, but the accuracy of those kids was astounding. We should have pressed them more, but we had not the wind to do it. Mie beat them though.

Our third game was against Hyogo, which is the prefecture containing Kobe. They were not a pleasure to play against. Why? because their tactics were foul. Number 7 especially deserved to be red-carded several times. He kicked one of our players, knocked himself unconcious against the head of another (one of our best defenders, who had to stop afterwards), and ultimately fractured the kneecap of Uno's other knee. Regardless of whether it was all ill-intention or if it was just reckless play, by FIFA rules, #7 would have been out. Uno was taken out in the first five minutes of the game. He had to leave the field. After that, our tactics were shot to pieces, and the guy who had been helping Uno was not capable of leading the team. We conceded two goals. Perhaps we may not have been able win, but had Uno been there, I do believe that we would have done much better.

There was a party that night where everyone was meant to mingle with all the other JETs, but most everyone was too tired for that, and it looked like teams mostly kept to themselves.At the party, we got word of the rankings for the first day. Mie was second, Hyogo had gone on to the top 8, and Tsuna HS was 9th. We were at the bottom of the heap. That meant we would face Tsuna again the next morning. I decided to be happy to be playing and enjoy the game. I may have been the only one.
Everyone was quite dispirited the next morning. We lost track of how many goals they scored on us, but the most conservative number was 9. 'nuff said. I think I was the only one who left on a positive note: we had played. Now, I am not at all pleased about losing, but I can still avoid a really bad attitude when I can see it coming. It was a fun tournament, and we played hard. It is true, however, that sport is even more fun when you are winning. Well, maybe this spring. Hopefully Uno will be free of crutches by then, and maybe even able to jog.

I'll try to get to writing more later, and for now I will send out this long overdue, shorter than expected mailing.

later all


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