Monday, December 13, 2004

Juu-san: Nihon ni wa, fukou de wa nai!

originally an email

thirteen: It's not unlucky in Japan!

(many old apartments don't have a fourth floor and some don't have apartments with the nine in their number. Apartment 49 could be "the apartment of death and suffering;" or at least it might have been taken that way sixty or seventy years ago.)

Today the teacher I work with is away on a business trip, and because the law does not allow a class to be led without a certified teacher present, this means I have no classes today. Thus I have decided to make an account of my last month and a half or so.

Date Synopsis:

5 (sun): earthquake (I mentioned that in the last mailing, right?)
11 (sat): soccer practice
18: (sat): soccer practice
20: day off
21: day off but went in to school to help the girls with their speeches
22: elementary in morning, jhs in afternoon to hear speech presentations to school
23: Autumn Day (nat'l holiday)
24 (fri): Speech contest. Also, visitors from Wakayama-ken arrived.
25: soccer practice; went for dinner with Wakayama folks.

1 (fri): Bunkasai (culture fest) prep all day
2: Bunkasai at junior high, danjiri matsuri in Anan city in the evening (danjiri: big wood things they ram into eachother on city streets)
8: finished reading the DaVinci code for the JET bookclub
9: went out on the town in Anan with the Anan JETs, bowling, playing guitar, karaoke, etc. it was okay.
10: eight weeks left to JLPT
14 (thurs): Thanksgiving party at evening eikaiwa class
15: drove into town to meet up with soccer team for dinner
16: Soccer tournament (and 24th birthday)
17: Soccer tournament
20 (wed): Very destructive taiphoon and related adventures
21: field trip day
24: six weeks left to JLPT
29: book club meeting

3: volunteered at friend's bunkasai in donari-cho. Got free udon.
6: The last day of the Queen Vic
7: four weeks left to JLPT
13-4: camping in Iya valley again
15-23: troubles sending packages home
21: two weeks left to JLPT
22: Saw Howl's moving castle with the Midori Kyouryokutai girls
23 (tues): celebrated american thanksgiving with friends
26: Open mic night
27: housegroup communion night (first time in a long time)
28: one week left to JLPT

3: support meetings in tokushima city
4: orphanage visit in Anan in the morning; crashed at Derek's in the evening
5: Japanese Language Proficiency Test in Takamatsu city!!! Also, last big church service.
6-7: post test haze
11: Hanoura orphanage visit in afternoon, Jet Xmas party at night
12: Hanoura Int'l Assoc. Xmas party (I was the tall lanky Santa)
12 evening: housegroup a wash; watched seabusicuit and ate food at Colin and Jenny's

Looking ahead:
December 16: Eikaiwa Xmas party
December 18: go to Takamatsu, then back for carolling in front of Tokushima station
December 23: Emperor's birthday
December 25: Catch ferry to Tokyo; maybe eat white cake with a strawberry on top?
December 26: Arrive in Tokyo, go see Wolfgang Tillmans show.
December 30: Catch Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano
December 31: New Year's Eve
January 4: Catch bus back from Nagano
January 9: Ni-dan black belt test
January 11: school resumes
January 14: Book club meeting
January 22-3: Burns night
January 27-8: Mid-year conference
January 29: Soccer match?
February 9-13: Hokkaido Snow Festival trip
February 20: "175R" (i-na-go-raidaa) concert
February 26-7: English camp:
First two weekends of march: musical performances
Middle of march: Graduation
Last two weekends of march and beginning of April: family is here on vacation
So between now and mid-April I have one weekend without any plans.

And now I am going to talk about things randomly.

The county speech competition went okay; there are only two junior high schools in Katsuura county: mine in Kamikatsu town and Tom's in Katsuura town. So there were only five students in the competition; this year they were all girls. The judges were two of our JET friends from the next closest town (Komatsushima city). One of the Katsuura girls took first place with a speech about Anne Frank, and one of the Kamikatsu girls came in second with her speech about waste disposal. The other one of my girls did a little poorly, because her topic was probably too challenging: Her opinions about what is happening in Iraq right now, and what she thinks of America as a result.

Sports day was a lot of fun. Last year it was at the elementary, this year it was at the JHS. The forecast for that sunday had been 70% chance of rain, but we woke up to blue cloudless skies, so it was decided not to postpone it. It was a lot of fun and the weather stayed sunny until about noon, when it got a little cloudy. Not long after lunch comes the most interesting and exciting part of sports day: The grade 456 elementary kids perform their marching band, and then the junior high kids (divided into the red team and and the white team) each do their team "oengasen" (cheer?) which takes about 15 minutes per team. They do choreographed dances to music, cheers for their team and the town, taunts against the other team, and so forth. There are two guys waving massive team flags at either side of it all as well. While the marching band was performing, the sky became very cloudy. The red team performed their oengasen (oh-en-gah-sen) and stayed dry, but just as they finished it started raining and soon was raining quite hard. The white team had not had thier turn yet. Whoever I was standing next to turned to me and said, perhaps in jest, that I should pray that the rain stops. So that is what I did. I asked God to stop the rain for just 15 minutes so that the white team could finish their cheer. God answered: the rain stopped in short order. The white team did their oengasen. Just as they were finishing, the rain started again, and then the floodgates of heaven really opened. It only rained for twenty minutes or so, but enough water fell to turn the field into a single massive puddle. They had to cancel the rest of Sports Day. That was really a shame, because it is one of the two or three biggest fun days in the school year (not sure graduation is a fun or a sad day, but it and bunkasai are the other two of the three biggest events). The students were definitely crestfallen at having to end early, but the cheers are the thing for which they spend the most time preparing and practicing in the preceeding weeks, and it would have been far far worse if they had not been able to do them. Thanks God!

Do you know what Tatami Timeshare is? Do you know what a tatami mat is? Tatami mats are the traditional flooring material. They are about 1m by 2m in size, made of a kind of grass (or straw?) and fabric, and are much nicer to sit on than a hardwood floor. They are, however, damaged very easily by footwear other than socks, which is why I suspect the Japanese are so strongly opposed to having shoes ever truly enter the house. Judo is played on special foam filled and vinyl covered tatami mats that are built onto a spring frame so as to absorb the blow of falling a little better. Houses and room sizes are measured in tatami mats (as well a japanese unit of measure which I am not familiar with but which is used for land and houses) rather than feet or meters. Tatami Timeshare is a program which I have probably mentioned before, and is something JETs can pay to be part of. When you are a member of the program, you get a list of all the other members names, locations in the country, floor space, languages spoken, whether they smoke or not, and so forth.
All this is a roundabout way of me getting to the point that I had four people from Wakayama come and crash at my place, having gotten a hold of me coutesy of TT. They were all first year JETs. One of them, Todd, a former Microsoft employee from Seattle, had previously lived on Awaji Island with a girlfriend who was a JET. Having now become a JET himself, he wanted to take a tour of Awaji and Tokushima again, hence the trip. The friends he brought with him were another american who was also from the west coast and who was a Fine Arts grad as a painter, and an intensely vegetarian Canadian couple from Alberta. For some reason, I got along much better with the American guys, even though the painter was attempting to introduce "canadian" as a negative adjective for anything. "I don't like this _____ , it's too canadian." But something about the flat seriousness of the pair of Canadians made that understandable. But for good humour you need a straight man, right? It was cool to have people come and see Kamikatsu, and, well, visit. I rarely get anyone come visit. Tom has only come over twice in the past year, and aside from my conversation class students on movie or curry night, I'm not sure I've had any company over.
Another nice thing about having guests; it meant I got to play Settlers two nights in a row. Score!
On the Saturday night I met up with them in Tokushima city after my soccer practice and we went for dinner at Casablanca, which has some really nice vegetarian dishes, and a ton of other amazing food as well, not to mention cool decor. It was the second time I had been there.
It was fun having company; I hope I get asked again.

Soccer practice was fantastic this year, because God answered a prayer I prayed last fall: He sent me a goalkeeping coach. Our team captain, Anthony Uno, teaches at a high school and had started going to the school's soccer practices. Somehow he convinced the young soccer coach to come out to help us and kick the ball around with us on our Saturday practices. Guess what position Tominaga-sensei had played when he was in school? That's right, Keeper. He gave me a ton of tips on keeping, got me to stand correctly so as to have the most effective movement and ability to block, showed me how to drill and practice, how to kick farther, and in general gave me everything I needed to quadruple my confidence when in net. I don't think Anthony was thinking of me specifically when he asked Tominaga sensei to come, but without a doubt I got the most out of him being there.

Evidence that things have changed came at the soccer tournament. Last year, I was a worse keeper than the guy who was maybe the laziest guy on the team. Ouch. I only played one half of a game in net last year. This year, I played all but one of our games in net, and because we actually won a game this year we played more games, but we only had far less goals against than last year.
But the credit there does not belong to me; the whole team was better this year, and we were smaller: 10 ALTs from tokushima, 1 Japanese friend of ours, and 1 ALT from Kyoto (which didn't have a team this year). That meant fewer subs and more running, but it also meant that everyone could play positions much better, which meant that strategy actually meant something. Moreover, because we went in with no delusions of grandeur that we could actually win the tournament and get to play in the finals at the World Cup stadium near Tokyo, we had a lot more fun. Last year, we didn't even get to play on one of the two nice fields, having had to play instead on converted softball outfields lovingly referred to as the potato patch. And we played against three of the strongest teams. This year the draw put us in a more balanced group, and when we arrived on the scene we were informed that we would be playing our first three games on the nicest pitch-- the one that England trained on for the last World Cup. Sweet.

So here's how it all went down. Upon finding out that we were playing on the nicest pitch, we set about warming up and finding a good place to put our stuff. Finding a nice shadowy spot on some concrete seats we got ourselves ready to play. We faced off against Shimane, which is the smallest prefecture in Japan. The night before we had figured we could take them. On the day of, however, they were one of the largest crews at the tournament; it's possible that every jet in their ken came along. (ken = prefecture). We did well against them, feeling mostly on the same level.
The problem was that our ringer of a striker had to back out before the tournament, and we didn't have much power up front. It doesn't matter how good your defense is, if you don't score goals you can't win the game. They ended up with three points: One fantastic goal, one really dumb goal that never should have happened, and one penalty which I guessed correctly on, but dove too high and it went under me just before I hit the ground. Bummer.

After that (or was it even before that match?) we figured we would do well to have one more sub, considering we only had one. The team from Kagawa-ken was sitting right next to us, and shouted to the surrounding teams a request for one more player. Uno, our cap'n agreed to send someone over in return for an extra sub. Thinking about it, I figured that 1.) as a keeper I don't run around so much, so I would probably do well to have some chances to run with and pass the ball; 2.) would be the least effected player that could go over, even if they made me a midfielder. So I volunteered. Walking over to the kagawa crew as they got together for their pre-game pep talk, I introduced myself as their eleventh man.
"What position do you play?"
"Well, I can play defense or striker, but I'm a keeper."
"Good! We don't have a keeper. Welcome aboard."

We didn't know it at the time, but the team we played against was the worst team in the tournament. It felt really good to get have those first five goals. I almost went through the game with a clean card, but their one good player who I had been stuffing all game managed to hammer one in from the side, grazing the fingertips of my gloves as I missed it. It sucked big time to have that one goal go in, but I did feel happy for the poor guy, because he had been trying so hard. He deserved it. (^_^)

And then right next, with scant few seconds to take a swig of some sport drink, I was back on the field with my own team. That game was against Fukuoka, who won the tournament last year. Last year we had been grouped with two really strong teams who had been real jerks to play against. Fukuoka, on the other hand, despite wooping us like 6-0 were loads of fun to play against...


sorry to cut that off in the middle like that, but I was interrupted a month ago and only now had a chance to come back. And a month ago I had picked it up after a month of waiting only to write less than 5 paragraphs. I kind of regret not having tried harder to get back to the computer to type, for now all the stats and specifics of the game are gone from my memory. I do remember that for the games where I was keeper my average number of goals let in was 3 per game.

And I remember that the soccer played at that tournament was one of the most fun times I have had in Japan so far. All the teams we played against and both I played for had great attitudes this year, and the competition was close enough to keep us from losing heart. It was just so much fun.

Culture day is now far behind us, and I guess it didn't leave such an impression on me this year. Some things I remember though are
-being two extras in the third years' play (lackeys of characters in Urashima-taro/Cindarella)
-playing Naruto (cartoon ninja fighting game) and DragonballZ on the Gamecube and PS2 against students and getting my but wooped
-being made fun of by two of the third year girls in their manzai act (a kind of comedy duo).
-the best Udon (a kind of noodle) that i have had in my entire life
-getting stuffed because I just HAD to try some of everything that every class made.

As for the Danjiri matsuri I went to afterwards, it would be better for me to try to explain it in person and with a sheet of paper so that I can draw pictures. Don't worry, it's not the kind of event you can really forget, but it's really hard to concieve how intense it is without being there. Even pictures don't do it justice. Fun though.

So there was a taiphoon the day before our field trip that dumped an unusually high volume of water onto the country. This in turn led to lots of landslides, especially in Okayama prefecture, which has a great new amusement park that we had plans to go to. Moreover, there was a landslide in kamikatsu. For some reason I decided to go to the next town to buy lunch, and the landslide happened before I got back, cutting off my return and forcing me to follow a stranger the long way around over a whole bunch of extra mountains. It was so much fun driving in the warm torrential rains! (>_<) Anyway I got back safe and enjoyed my meal and a long distance phone call to the sound of the rain and the river.

The next day however, the landslide had not yet been cleared, and it wasn't until 10:00 that the school could depart on a field trip, three hours too late to go anywhere really good. So we went to a place called "England Hill" which was themed loosely on England and some of the commonwealth countries (there were koalas, emus, pelicans, etc, various wierd bicycles to ride, archery to do). It was okay, but there were no roller coasters... At least they had some of the best melon-pan I have had yet in this country and that is something. Also, the students seemed to enjoy themselves, though they were a little low-key.

The Eikaiwa (english conversation) class Thanksgiving party was really good. I made a few dishes I normally have at Thanksgiving (mashed potatoes and turkey gravy out of a pack, glazed carrots, bean salad), someone else made a massive pumpkin pie, and everybody else brought something. I prayed and blessed the meal and then we sat around a massive table and ate and chatted. Afterwards two of the people played some music (guitar and sax) and we took turns singing different songs. Taku-chan on the guitar called it "nama-oke" (nama means fresh or raw, or draght in the case of beer). A good time was had by all, but I think I enjoyed myself the most, as it was the first time I had tasted anything resembling turkey gravy in like 18 months, and it all felt just like a real Thanksgiving. Almost as good as being home with family.

The book club meeting was good in that there is a variety of people and the levels of intelligence and humour are quite good. The book we had read was The Da Vinci Code, and the general concencus was that the whole book was rather stupid, most of the conclusions and art analyses were inane, illogical, and silly, but most people enjoyed reading it as a kind of day-at-the-beach need-to-relax kind of book. Nonetheless, everyone wanted something much deeper and inspiring for the next time around. The next book we will read is "Kororo" by Soseki.

The last day of the Queen Vic was a bit sad. The Queen Vic was my favorite place to go have a beer, and now they are done for good. It will be missed.

The Iya valley trip was as nice this year as it was last year. The onsens were still the same and just as good. The weather was nicer this year, and because it was a clear night we were able to see some of the annual meteor shower this time, as we lay on the cold rocks in the middle of the river at night. At one point I lost my wallet, but it was at an onsen, so it I got it back the next day. The hike up the mountain was even more gorgeous than last year because it was clear at the start of the hike, and we could see much farther this time. Again, with no real intention to press on and win, somehow I ended up being in the group that arrived at the top first. Weird. The only downside was that this year the trip was squeezed into two days because the national holiday hadn't lined up with the weekend. oh well. The drive back was kinda fun too, despite making a majorly wrong turn. We ended up singing along with the first Jars of clay CD most of the way back. I really have become a karaoke fiend. I think it was church that did it to me.

Canada post are jerks this year. They fear a terrorist attack through christmas presents. WHO WOULD DO A TERRORIST ATTACK ON CANADA? WE DON'T STAND FOR ANYTHING! The only terrorists we get are Canadians to begin with, and terrorists waiting to get their green card to go to the states. So this postal paranoia meant that I took my package to the post office, "sent it" and the postman brought it back to me a day or two later and told me that I wasn't specific enough on the label. This happened two or three times until I listed ABSOLUTELY EVERY LITTLE THING in the box, how many there were, how much they weighed, and how much they were worth. And I had to do this with CHRISTMAS PRESENTS! So much for surprise and mysytery. As a result, I doubt that what I sent will arrive before January. It was and is very frustrating.

Hauru no ugoku shiro (Howl's Moving Castle) is the new movie by Miyazaki Hayao (last name first), who is responsible for such films as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Nausicaa. He's like the environmetally conscious, non-evil, deep-thought Walt Disney of Japan. Everyone awaits his movies with eager expectation, including me. Always being one to loathe going to movies alone, I got together with the two Midori Kyouryokutai girls who work at the mushroom factory (plant?) in town, and we make the hour and a half trek to the good theatre. We were none of us disappointed by the movie, and I was especially pleased because I felt like I understood most of it!

Later in the week, off of , I was able to pick up a cheap copy of the origional story. It was written by an american author and is teen fiction, and was really not all that special. The ways that it was changed and re-envisioned for the movie are far superior to the book. How about that eh? The movie was better for me in my second language than the book was in my first. The book did clarify some things for me that I had mis-heard in the movie, so that was good.

Most of the holidays in Japan are former emperors' birthdays. The 23rd of November was Labour Thanksgiving Day, and being only two days before American thanksgiving was a convenient day for all us church folk to throw a big party at the missionary's place, which is a house imported from the States, and has an oven, which means turkey! It was like a little bubble of north america for a day. After dinner we sat around playing board games like Risk and dominoes.

On the friday of open mic night I had intended to go to judo, especially having missed the previous class. I parked my car outside the gym where we practice and promptly fell asleep. I woke up an hour and a half later, and no one from the class had come. It was sad to miss judo, but that nap came in handy when after the open mic (which was mostly rehearsed stuff) a bunch of us went out to karaoke and had a blast.


So despite the fact that this is such a long email, it really aught to be much longer. Why is it not? The Nihon-Go Nouryoku Shiken has sapped away my time! For the two months prior to December 5th I gave many many hours to the study of Japanese in hopes of passing. To cut the suspense short, I don't think I did. I felt like I got about 40%, and a pass is 60%, but who knows, maybe when I get my marks back in February I will be surprised.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed all the studying and especailly the day of. The closest place that I could take the test was in Takamatsu city, which is the capital of Kagawa, the prefecture north of us. To save myself someting of a drive, I crashed at Derek's the night before and then took the two hour train at six fifteen in the morning. I even scored a free meal at Danny's the night before while I was waiting for Derek to get off of work. All I had to do was cook the chicken! It's good to have a really big and healthy meal on the night before an important test. It's somehow calming.

So the test had three components:
Kanji (chinese pictograms) and vocabulary-- 35 minutes
Listening comprehension-- 35 minutes
Grammar and Reading Comprehension-- 45 minutes

in between each section was a 30 minute break, and there was 15 minutes of writing your name and number on the different sheets before each section began properly.

I don't know how it was so enjoyable. Maybe it was just being on a university campus again, and being amongst hundreds of keeners, or maybe it was just the change from the ordinary. Regardless, to quote one of my friends who took it last year:
"It's fun... in a geeky, test-y sort of way." -Claire Kinder

I have repeated that quote a couple of times and most people who have taken the test agree.

After the test I got back in time for church, and we had our last service with most everyone there before people head home or on vacations. There were many more people than usual. I was happy.

As for the Jet Xmas party, it was ok, but I was kind of in my own little world, a tag-along for a team to help solve the trivia questions and then just dancing and getting all sweaty to the music. Since coming to Japan, I think I agree with my brother's sentiment that watching most people dance is rather funny, and punk shows probably are the most fun. But when you are not drinking and there is floor space to be had, dancing for hours on end can be fun. Besides, none of the drunk people care how bad a dancer you are. They think you're amazing. Everything I do feels kinda like Awa Odori now, so I figure it must be that which has given me whatever dancing fever I have. I even find myself wishing I could still do that Ukrainian dancing my parents forced me into as a kid.


So that brings us mostly up to date. Surely that's not all that I could have written about in the past FOUR MONTHS, and we are all losing out because I haven't made this writing a priority, but I'd best send this off now before the school closes. Tomorrow I'll be busy getting stuff ready for the Eikaiwa Xmas party on thursday, and i can't imagine finding more time to write. Probably the next installment will be after Christmas sometime. Or in April... (O_o)
Just kidding!

I think.

So with that,
Kurisumasu omedetoh! soshite, yoi o-toshi o!*


Mashuu Shetoraa

*This means: "Merii Kurisumasu ando happi niiuu yiiaa!"

PEE ESS: If this is the first of these you have gotten, let me know and I can send you the rest. this is number thirteen. If you missed a couple, let me know and I'll get them to you.

PEE PEE ESS: If you know anyone who wants to get these, send me their email addy.

PEE PEE PEE ESS: I wonder how they write "P.S." in Japanese?


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