Sunday, April 23, 2006

Chiiori, Day One, Shikoku, and Frisbee, etc.

So aside from the update on the stalker girl, I really haven't written anything significant since the LotR weekend. Which was about a month ago. Just what the heck have I been doing in the last month? I'm not too sure I really recall. I do know that the LotR post was typed up somewhere in the first week of spring break, when I went to school like three or four of the days that week. I also know that I went to my first Japanese class and and went to jujutsu that week. And there was a little music concert on the friday put on by the music club at the junior high. But mostly a slow week. The fun started on Friday.

(For your convenience, I have provided links to each of the main sections.)

Chiiori Lodge in the Iya Valley
Trip Around Shikoku
The Hostel in Kochi
Ultimate Frisbee Competition
Kochi, the Road Home, Sepia, Flowers, and Curry
Easter Sunday
Easter Quiz Game
Chaos at the Office, and the Party That Followed.
Stalker Girl


A long time back, Junya had invited me to join him and some friends up at Chiiori that weekend. I had never said yes or no, and that week I had finally decided (realised?) that it might be my last chance to ever get up there and check it out, and I would regret it if I was here all this time and never went. So even though I was loath to spend the ¥7000 to stay there the night, I decided to go for it. My dad's advice to not make decisions based on available cash was still ringing in my ears.

So I drove into town and met up with Junya, parked my car in a safe place and got in his car. We drove in along the Yoshinogawa river to this vegan/vegetarian cafe (in Yamakawa?). We had curry with brown rice which though not at all spicy was quite good. Junya had brought a wooden flute with him and I guess the craziness started with me trying to play an awa odori tune on it (unsuccessfully). However, 'Master,' the proprietor of the place, could. And did. And then when they heard that I have been in my town's Awa Odori troupe, they insisted I dance. Master's wife played the flute tune on a clay pipe (like the ones in Legend of Zelda, what are those called?) and he played the drums. So I danced. As did one of the other customers, a lady who does the women's dance. We danced until we were too tired and sweaty to continue. That's not to say that it was very long, because I, at least, am well out of practice. Then we somehow ended up with drums and other percussion instruments in our hands, and we ended up jamming for a good long time. (I have long dreamed of being a drummer. Like since early elementary. Never have done anything with that dream though. Still just a wannabe, really.) Junya is pretty good on the drums and is working on his flute skills, while 'Master' is really good at every instrument in the restauarant. And there are quite a few. He can even do the circular breathing on the didjeridoo.

Then, when the night had grown on well beyond the time which the restaurant would be open, we took our leave. We went to Junya's parents' house which was just one town farther upriver, a little closer to the next day's destination. Junya lives in Tokushima city, his dad lives and works out of prefecture, and his brother has moved away to university, leaving his mother and grandmother a large quiet house. The house smelled as thick with incense as a temple. I did my best not to have a massive sneezing fit. They really went out of their way to make me comfortable, bringing more blankets than I was likely to need. They also made us a big tasty breakfast. Most of Junya's friends are foreigners. His mom and grandmother asked me some of the typical questions, and I could tell Junya was pretty embarrassed. It didn't bother me at all though, and having been in Junya's position before, I realised that I too need to be more patient with my parents, rather than worrying so much about what the guest is going to think. Junya does a much better job of being patient than I usually do.

Then it was off to Chiiori. was down at the time I wrote this, so try checking out the Wiki chiiori page or this article from Time.
From Ehime, Junya had invited David T., Stacy, and Sebastian, who were there already when we arrived. The other Tokushima JETs he had invited came later: Nate, Anya, Kelly, Dan, and another David, who was a friend maybe of Anya? I feel like I'm missing someone.
Also, it was the last day for two of the staff. I think their names were Keiko and Rika. One of them had lovely smiling eyes. [Don't know what I mean? Eyes kind of like this --> (^_^) Girls who smile a lot just look prettier.] But even though they were leaving that day, they still prepared us a fantastic dinner, high in vegetables. That left only one permanent staffer at Chiiori, and two volunteers who farm (one of whom is a WOOFer. Bo, the remaining permanent staffer has her hands quite full at the moment. If anyone knows how to apply for government grants in Japan, or wants to be employed in fundraising here, you should contact Chiiori ASAP. Your services are needed.

Among the things that were done by me that afternoon were such things as:
- walking with Seb along the mountain roads up to muddier, colder and snowier areas and back, with a pause to check out some massive trees near a shrine of some kind.
- chilling out around the gas heater and talking with the Japanese folk
- standing and gazing at the clouds slowly climbing up the mountainsides.

When the Toku folks finally arrived and got settled, we all set off for the onsen. The Kazurabashi onsen has two floors, and on the upper floor they have three outdoor baths areas: men's, women's, and mixed. The mixed bath sounds pretty shocking, but in most cases it's not that bad. While it's taboo to let your towel touch the water in most other baths, the women wear a long towel into a mixed bath, or float it on the water in front of them. I have heard people mention that this is the way it goes at other onsens with mixed baths, as well as at this one. Of course the guys generally just hold their towels casually in front of their bits while walking and do the rest as per normal. My intuition was desperately trying to convey to me that the group I was with was unlikely to subscribe to the standard Japanese patterns of behavior, but I ignored it. I went into the men's bath area first to properly scrub myself down and relax for a bit. At some point all the other guys shifted locations to go to the mixed bath. I chilled for a bit more (partly in indecision, partly to be able to know what I was getting into), and followed a bit after.

Walking into the mixed bath area, my peripheral vision alerted me that something was definitely off. Unmistakably, there was at least one girl sitting out of the bath and not covering up with a towel. So now I was trapped. Now no longer having the option of wisely just not going, I was faced with the choice of either a) walking out right then and leaving the impression that I was a perv who just came to look, or b) go all the way in and face further temptations. So I took off my clothes and sat down at the washing area to stare at the wall and try to decide. Certainly a moment of mental chaos. Having already made the wrong decision, the decision to go in at all, I was trapped between a choice that would require humility, and a choice that would require brazenness. I'm sad to say I went with pride. I went into the bath. Doing my best to not look at anyone, and find a place to sit down, I closed my eyes and leaned against a sharp rock. Not that I wanted to lean against a sharp rock, as much as I didn't want to move closer to anyone where the rock would have been more comfortable but I would not have been. It was a very foolish decision. I was finding it unbearably difficult not to think about the flashes of female flesh I had glimpsed on my way in. I started trying to recite Romans 8 under my breath and in my head, but had MASSIVE DIFFICULTY in just getting the FIRST TWO VERSES which usually flow out with almost no thought at all. It was a real struggle to keep my mind focused on just going through the first half of the chapter. And then the conversation around me suddenly got quite sexual and it was definitely time to make my exit. The heat and having had my eyes closed for so long made my vision blurry when I opened my eyes, so I thankfully could barely see anything as I got out.

And to think this is the same me that had no problem with art school nude models. The difference? Context. Art school and a bath are very different atmospheres. It's different when it's people you know. One way or the other, the "energy" in a classroom is very different from the "energy" in that onsen on that Saturday night. I truly regret having gone in. Foolish, foolish, foolish. This is not to say I am making a judgement on the people who were there, but it is different when I am to have the mind of Christ, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I knew better than to go in, that it was wrong for me to put myself into that situation.

Anyway, the result of that was that afterwards, back at Chiiori, I had a really difficult time trying not to recall the bath when I was talking to the girls that had been in it. And now, two weeks later, if I see any of those four girls again I still have a hard time forcing down those memories. Blech. I would really like to be the kind of person who doesn't have to learn so many lessons the hard way.

So while that was certainly the most dramatic and frustrating part of the weekend, it was not actually the dominating thing. While there were many people there, (and those of you who know me know that I love to talk to everybody if I can) on the whole, I spent most of the two days talking with just one person: David Titterington from Ehime. He took a lot of pictures during the weekend, and I took next to none, so it would be worth checking out his post about the weekend. It would also be worth reading it to get the flipside of what I am about to write.

I don't know how to begin to describe what David is like. How about the basics: he's a painter from Kansas, incredibly friendly and energetic, and is a sincere Buddhist. He reminded me of one of my friends from Fine Arts named Cyrus, who was also vegetarian (vegan?) and very New Age-y in his outlook. David was really passionate, or at least excited, to talk about spiritual matters. Our introduction went something like this:

"Hey man, I'm Matthew."
"Hi, I'm David."
"Where are you from Dave?" (yeah, rude to change the name right away, but i couldn't help myself.)
"Oh, hey, I've been to Kansas."
"Really? What would bring you to Kansas?"
"Oh, in bible school about five years ago (has it been that long?) we went to check out Metro Christian Fellowship and the International House of Prayer."
"The International House of Prayer?"
"Yeah, they have prayer happening 24-7."
"Cool. We've got a lot to talk about."

I'm not doing David justice here, he's really polite and very friendly. Much moreso than I am. In general I think I have trouble listening to people. I like to talk a lot and often I stop listening to the other person and am just waiting for my chance to say the next thing I want to say. It's really awful. This weekend became a lesson in listening for me, because Dave certainly did most of the talking. Dave is very New Age in outlook. He's Buddhist and meditates, and believes that all religions have hold of the same thing, or perhaps in other words, are all correct. He was raised in a Methodist family, and if he ever believed in Jesus he stopped at one point and became the nihilistic punk that wants to destroy everything. It was reading a book about finding happiness (by a particular famous author whose name escapes me now) that turned him around. Somehow he ended up in India for two or more weeks listening to the Dalai Lama teach. And the Dalai Lama turned him back onto Jesus, in the sense of renewing his respect for him rather than in the sense of believing in him. And David certainly doesn't believe that Jesus is the son of God, not at least in the way the Bible talks about him. We come to why I say Dave is New Age in outlook: he thinks that we are all God, or 100% full of the essence of God, we just don't know it. So though I tried to explain sanctification at one point, he took it not as becoming more holy and more like Christ but rather as discovering more that we really already Christ. He does not accept the biblical point of view that the creation is separate from the creator, but instead that the creation is just an extension of the creator, a part of him and therefore him. So he thinks that we are already God. Which is a very New Age point of view. And there was more like this. A deluge of it. Jungian thought, new age thought, Buddhist teaching, lucid dreaming, advocating of hallucinogens for broadening of the mind and the like.

Honestly, I had no idea where to even begin addressing most of the various things he brought up. He's got the far superior thinking mind, he is more deeply curious about spiritual things, and obviously spends a great deal more time thinking about it. David is really smart, and I suspect very worldly-wise. Now while I have long accepted that one cannot argue another into the Kingdom of Heaven, that you cannot argue someone into faith, everyone has questions on their road to faith. I wish I was more prepared, more helpful. I'm not too sure how many of those things that Dave says on his blog that "we discussed" were actually discussion rather than me mostly listening to him. But it was certainly a learning experience. At least partly as a result of the conversations with David I looked up Carl Jung and what he was like and what he believed, which has led to me dicarding the Myers-Briggs typology system that has consumed so much of my though life and conversation in the last year or more. In answer to the many people who have asked me along the way, no, no I am not comfortable with the fact that MBTI is based on Jungian psychology.

David exceeds me in most things I would like to be good at. He's a far better drummer and beatboxer, he's a fantastic painter and his photos show a great sense of composition. He is kind and friendly and outgoing, and quickly directs conversation to spiritual matters. And but for the grace of God, I would be with him on the road to destruction. It's a crazy thing. The Gospel really can seem such foolishness and can be so offensive. And David is in some ways so close, and in other ways so far. Faith comes by hearing the word of God, but that faith is itself a gift from God, by his grace (which leaves us no room to boast about it).
At times I feel like the apostles, who asked Jesus, "Who then can be saved?"

And before anyone asks, yes, I am expecting David to read all this himself, seeing as how I gave him the link to my blog just a day or two - maybe longer by the time I finish typing all this up.

So in the morning we jammed on drums and anything we could find to make a beat. It was pretty fun. And then Junya, David, and I went back to the vegan(?) cafe called "Cafe au Gogo" from two days previous. I had the set meal, which was much better than I expected it to be, but not as tasty as some other vegetarian meals I have had. After lunch the instruments came out and it was another jam session. It ran long and I was almost late for church. I made it just in time though. And I was so desperately in need of that Christian fellowship. I was worn out and worn down by that point, and it was so good to get my focus back on Christ, worshipping with my brothers and sisters. Ahh. And after church it worked out that I was able to go to CoCo Curry House with Colin and Jim and was able to get the whole bath incident off my chest. Thank God for that! So at the end of the weekend I went home in a good state of being after all.

First Day of School

April 3rd, for you regular readers out there

The first day of the new term (not to be confused with the first day of classes) Includes such points of intrest as:
- A chance to pull that suit and tie out of the closet
- Official introduction of the new teachers
- The first staff meeting of the year (naturally, it's long)
- Finding out which teacher will have which class for homerooms
- Moving a lot of the desks around accordingly
- A bento box lunch
- A grand ceremony for handing out contracts (which I did not have to go to, yay!)

So while everyone went to the ceremony, I walked home enjoying the beautiful sunny weather. I think I could fall in love with most any place on a sunny spring or winter day. But this was definitely spring, because it was balmy.

And I got to sit at my desk in the sun, listening to the birds chirping, reading my bible, taking notes, writing other thoughts, and generally having a fantastic time. And then my pastor friend called from India, and he is so encouraging. I definitely feel like I get more out of the friendship than he does. He talks to me as though I deserve respect, though he's the one clothing the widows, preaching the Gospel, casting out demons and seeing people healed in the name of Jesus.

And then I got a call from the stalker girl. And it was mere moments after hanging up the phone with John Wesley. I wondered whether it was God's good timing or whether it was just there to be a disruption. If you read the post from April 3rd, I think you might agree that it was a disruption.

On Tuesday I went into Komatsushima to borrow a sleeping bag from Colin and Jenny for my trip around Shikoku. Colin and I went for a walk up the mountain near their place, walking through a stunning bamboo forest that went on and on and on some more. We talked about a lot of things, not the least of which was the stalker girl. Colin suggested that I talk with Jenny about it, because she can be much more hard-line about these kinds of things, and in a good and practical way. So we made plans for me to go over there for dinner on Monday night. And as we sat under some shelter waiting for rain to stop, we prayed. And after praying for some time about various things, we stopped. And my phone rang. And you can guess who it was. It was at this point that I came to the conclusion that it was more disruption than divine timing. So we prayed some more. And then walked back in the rain which showed no sign of letting up.

Shikoku Tour

Wednesday morning found me waking at the crack of dawn to go meet Jim near Colin and Jenny's where there was a place for him to safely park his car for a week. Shifting his stuff into my trunk, we were on our way! We took the slow roads to everywhere. Driving up along the 55/11 we took our time getting to Takamatsu. With the ipod we listened to the book of Judges, which was quite entertaining in its way. Our goals for Kagawa (read: Takamatsu) were pretty limited.
1. Check out Ritsurin Park
2. Eat some Sanuki udon.

Looking at the map, I thought that it might be fun to drop in on Lily/Gwynwong the one person I sort of know in Kagawa. However, that wasn't possible because a) we'd never actually met, I just know her from her blog, and b) I don't actually have any of her contact info.

So the plan was to get to the park by ten. We arrived in front of it at like 9:30, but then spent half an hour trying to find cheap parking before we gave up and opted for convenient. So we were right on schedule. (^ _ ^;;)
The park didn't quite live up to the hype, but it was quite nice all the same. It was an overcast and drizzly day, but the sakura were in bloom. We watched some ducks, and circled through most of the park's paths, doing the less impressive side first, and the more impressive side last, trying our best to avoid the massive tour groups led by guides with megaphones. The most memorable things were some of the black pines, which had been grown into unusual shapes, and whose bark was captivating. Along with the pines, the tea house was also a much needed experience. I was wearing sandals, but it was actually quite cold out, and when we took a break to sit and have our matcha and manju atop tatami-sized heated carpets. Just remembering it makes me want to write poetry. It was a serene and tranquil moment.

sitting in seiza
i warm my cold toes and watch
japanese tourists

We enjoyed it for a good long time: until it looked like a bunch of other people were coming in and would need the space we were consuming. Also they were noisy, not yet having settled into the moment.

After that we found a cheaper place to park the car near to all the covered arcades and went to go ask the tourism place near the station where we should have Sanuki Udon. Incidentally, just as Awa is the old name of Tokushima, Sanuki is the old name of Kagawa. And I know Kochi used to be Tosa. Did Ehime ever have a different name? Surely they must have. Now, where was I? Ah yes. The closest place that was known for good udon had several hours before they opened for the evening, so we walked around under the covered arcades and so forth. Going to the tourist center had really made it clear to me that
- there would be a lot we could do if we gave each prefecture more than a day
- it would have paid to have had some way to investigate all this stuff in advance. The Lonely Planet doesn't cater to road trips for people who speak Japanese. Next time I should have the wisdom to check out a Japanese tour guide. Actually, next time is only a week and a half away! Yikes! Note: remind self to find good guide to Kyushu.

So when we went to the udon shop they made us feel way more at home than we ever would have expected. The proprietress who served us knew metric TONNES of stuff about Tokushima, and was well familiar with both Hiwasa (where Jim lives) and Kamikatsu. She made us feel really welcome. And a huge part of eating out is atmosphere. I have proven before that I can't properly tell good udon from bad, I don't know what I'm looking for. So I can't tell you how it was other than it tasted really good.

Before we began our long drive to Hong's place in Ehime, we stopped in at a big sports store and then the giant bookstore beside it. At the sports store I picked up some volleyball kneepads for jujutsu, and let me tell you that has been some of the best yen I have spent in a long time. My knees are happy again. But back to the story.

We finished Judges and got through about half of 1 Samuel by the time we finally made it to Hong's place in Imabari (Namikata-cho). Hong is a girl who was in one of the last courses I took in university. It was Japanese Civilization, a first or second year course I took because I thought it would be easy and I knew graphic design would be too crazy for me to handle anything else at that time. She sat beside me in that class, and she gave me her email so I could include her in my bulk mailings about Japan. And then she got on JET the following year. I think she said she requested Tokushima because I made it sound really good, which would be why she got placed so close. However, so close is still at least six hours away from me by car, which is why in the past two years I hadn't yet had a chance to go up and say hello.

So then even though we didn't get there until like 11:30, she started cutting up volumes of apples and bringing out tons of snacks. It was cool to catch up. Oh yeah, there was a cool moment. The specific directions to her place were a little hard to communicate, so she had us wait for her at the Lawson's convenience store near her. Jim and I sat with the windows down watching traffic. We saw a kei-car pull up at some traffic lights some distance away. Noting it's gasping, choking, rattling engine, I commented, "Well, that one sounds like a JET's car." And it was pretty funny when the light turned green, the car drove right up to beside us, and Hong rolled down the window.

So despite not sleeping until reasonably late we still managed to get up decently early. This was even despite the fact that I had disregarded Hong's advice to turn on the heater until like six am when I had had enough of fitful frozen attempts at sleep. No, my sleeping bag was not as warm as I expected it to be, and yes I was humbled. And tired, but that's the way of vacationing.

We backtracked along the previous night's drive to Niihama, where there is a science museum that has the world's largest planetarium. Jim is a planetarium fiend, and had been wanting to go to this one for quite some time. And he seemed quite pleased when it turned out to be the same one from the strange Japanese coffee commercial he had seen some years earlier. But you are allowed no food and drink inside, you rebellious advertisers! The viewing experience was only slightly spoiled by some children getting really rowdy in the last 10 or so minutes.
But according to Jim, 45 minutes is a pretty long show for a planetarium, so there was every reason to be totally satisfied. It was all about the spring sky, and what constellations you can look for. It was quite educational. I hope I have a chance to go stand at the top of a mountain at night before spring moves on so I can look at the sky and put my new knowledge to use, lest it dissipate.
The rest of the museum was reasonably entertaining. My favorite part was the embalmed animal section, where it showed all the birds and wildlife native to Ehime, which I presume is identical to Tokushima. It turns out that I have seen a wider variety of animals than I thought. I'm still not sure whether I have seen a fox or not. Probably not, because they say there are none left on Shikoku, so it was probably a regular dog. And I've seen all three kinds of snakes. And I had no idea that the reason the cicada always looked so different from eachother was due to the fact that there are four varieties, and the male and female of each vary slightly. And of course there were the various stag and helmet beetles. And the various birds. I have only seen the regular owls, I have yet to see a horned owl. But let me tell you the regular owls are so cool to look at that it's no wonder they are considered lucky. (However, that whole luck thing is due to a play on words with their name. suffering or hardship is kuroh 苦労 and "un-" is fu 不. Owl is fukuroh 梟 = 不苦労. So when you change jobs or go on to a new stage of life, a little stuffed owl or something is a common gift to recieve.)
Owls on the bunny trails.

So after that we went into Matsuyama city, and we saw a LOT of sakura (cherry blossoms) on the way. Ehime seems to easily have more cherry trees than the rest of Shikoku combined. In Matsuyama we managed to find SUPER CHEAP parking at a rate of 50 per 30 minutes. And it was super close to the castle. We walked up to the castle and went as far in as we could without paying, enjoyed the sakura a little and then came back down. It was alright as far as castles go. Good view of the city, nice architecture. Cool place to have in town to walk up to and sit down with a sketchbook, I imagine. But as for a tourist destination, it's not so amazing. Then because time was still abundant to us, we walked the two kilometers or so from the castle to Dogo onsen. The onsen building itself was really cool. It's not often you get to go into an onsen that is so full of authentic architecture. Really, it's kind of plain if you are used to that kind of thing, and smaller than you might think, too. The bath areas are not outrageously fancy. In fact they are really plain, perhaps leading to disappointment for a lot of people. But the water itself was the hottest I have yet sat in. Onsens which heat their own water often have trouble getting and keeping it at a high temperature. Dogo is actually on a natural hot spring, so they don't have that issue. The water was good, and we left the place relaxed. It was different from other onsen experiences though. Kind of chaotic in its way. And then because we still had loads of time we went to Starbucks, which we don't have in Tokushima. Come to think of it, we had gone to Starbucks in Takamatsu as well. Jim is a coffee fan, and quality coffee establishments are harder to come by than one might expect. It was nice for me to have some nice coffee with biscotti for a change as well.

And then we took the mountain road back up to Namikata and Hong's place. We all piled into her little car and she drove us into "downtown" Imabari, which is like going to "downtown" Brandon, MB. But imabari is famous for its yakitori (chicken etc on a stick) and Hong had called up a friend and ascertained the best place for us to go to. Remember what I said about paying for atmosphere? But wow. You really can't beat the little hole-in-the-wall places. The owner was jolly and entertaining and friendly, and the food was so delectable, we just kept ordering more and more. Hong had eaten dinner already, so she didn't have much. But if there was a single highlight of the trip, that was it. I even had two beers! Now that doesn't sound like much of a statement, especially when that is well below my tolerance. But in this country I find I have to be very intentional to drink very little, lest my natural wildness be construed as drunkenness, or lest people mistake my having one drink to mean that I am willing to drink a gallon as quickly as humanly possible. So what me having two drinks says is that I was very very relaxed: I was comfortable and at ease in a way I rarely am when I go out, and I wasn't driving. ^_^
The owner's story was pretty cool. There were lots of SDF (Self Defense Force - jieitai 自衛隊) posters up around the place, and he had a military style cut, so Jim asked him if he had been a military man. It turns out that he had signed up for the navy. But he never made it fully in. He was on ship with the SDF for ten years, but he never passed the tests to become a full seaman. So eventually he gave up, moved to Hiroshima and apprenticed under a yakitori chef. And then he came back to Ehime and opened up shop.

After that the three of us went out for some karaoke and then purikura (print club) and Hong showed off some of her mad UFO catcher game skillz.

Friday morning found us sleeping in dangerously late. We had a lot of distance to cover, and the place we wanted to go in Kochi would probably close early. Leaving at about 10:30 we took the mountain road again and got onto the expressway. The expressway doesn't offer much by way of a view, but that was okay because once we got into Uwajima the scenery was astounding from thereafter. It didn't bother us that we had no time to check out Uwajima's infamous sex museum (read: porn through the ages), because we wouldn't have gone anyhow. We had no time for the long drive around the bottom of Ehime and far edge of Kochi, so we cut straight across towards Kochi city. This was still a four hour drive, but the road was lovely, the flowers were in bloom, and much of the drive was along the Shimantogawa river, the last untouched ("pure," as one sign said) river in Japan. It was pretty darn terrific. Good music playing, windows rolled down and fresh spring air blowing through, a winding road with gorgeous mountain vistas, it was all that could be asked for on a road trip.

As an added bonus, we made it to our destination on time to get in and check it out. We went to the Ryugadoh, 龍河洞 (dragon river caves?) which are these remarkable limestone caves just a short ways west of Kochi city. It was all I had expected Kamikatsu's caves to be when I had taken my sister a year previous. Basically it was a lot of phenomenal rock formations, the trickle, rush and thunder of running water, and a few bats. I think a normal tour is supposed to be only 30 minutes, but we were the only people in there, so our guide was happy to slow down her Japanese a bit and break away from her memorised spiels about certain remarkable formations. I think we took an hour total. Hurray for the off-season! However, she said that if we came in the middle of the rainy season or shortly after a taiphoon, the water inside is at its most impressive. Hmm. I wonder if I will have occasion to go back in late May/early June? Unlikely, I suspect. Maybe some other time. Like if I'm ever here with my sister in tow again maybe.

Then we struck in towards Kochi station. Jim needed to be back for Jam Camp the following morning, so he had to catch a train, and the last one was at 7:30. Though we only made it to the station and got his ticket purchased by seven, we still had hope to find a place where we could eat Kochi's famous food: katsuo tataki, a kind of fish prepared in a certain way. And we did! Right there at the station! Now surely it was not the highest quality that one could find, but they had a great set meal for just over ¥1000 which included it. I can definitely say the rice was bad, and the other stuff so-so, but it was in ample portion, and we were in no position to be fussy. So we successfully did the major sites and ate the major famous foods in the other three prefectures on Shikoku!

Jim caught his train, and I began trying to sort out where I could afford to stay for the night.

The Hostel

I had high hopes that I could just call a couple people in Tokushima and they would know someone in Kochi whose place I could crash at. Unfortunately, it would seem that friends of friends have moved home from Kochi, and nobody could help. So I was left to fend for myself. Obviously I wasn't the only tourist in Kochi that day. I went up to the tourist information booth at the station, getting there just before they closed at eight. There were three other foreigners there with their Rough Guides and Lonely Planets in hand, also apparently trying to find a place to sleep for the night. The girl at the desk probably spoke really good English, but one of the three was struggling through in what Japanese he had. That's the way! So I didn't butt in and try to help. Once or twice I could have sworn the glance the girl at the desk gave me was less a questioning glance about whether I was next than it was a gauging of how much energy she would need to reserve amongst her day's end mild weariness.

So when the other guy had gotten his directions and went off to lead his other two fellow travellers I stepped up and started to say what I was there for in Japanese. Now, I don't recall what it was that I said, but she was taken aback by how natural it was. I guess I said the right set phrase. And then I was able to get from her a different, cheaper place to stay than the others had. To be fair, this was largely due to the fact that I had wheels, and they didn't, but let's pretend it was ascribable to my fantastic Japanese skills, okay? The biggest compliment was when she was showing me the map, and asked if I could read kanji, and I said yes, she said 読めそう、ですね。(You seem like you would.) I kinda wished that I could have chatted with her longer. Did I mention that she was extraordinarily pretty? No, I didn't, did I? Well she was. But I am reminded of a short story by Haruki Murakami called something like "On One Day Seeing the 100% Most Perfectly Beautiful Girl" where he talks about passing a girl on the street who was for him the most beautiful girl, though for others she might not be. And like the girl in the story was to Murakami, this girl at the tourist info center was also probably older than me. I don't know what it is. A certain kind of eyes? nose? cheekbones? lips? voice? a certain kind of combination thereof? The fact that she smiled so much? Perhaps the clothes were part of the effect? Certainly the general lack of makeup (or appearance thereof) was an important factor. Haha, and yes I'm sure the compliments didn't hurt. Definitely the fact that she was on a raised floor helped; I don't find myself drawn to girls much shorter than me. Perhaps I was just in a mode for appreciating natural beauty. Perhaps it was just that traveler's loneliness setting in quickly. Whatever. Those are my thoughts.

So it wasn't until I was practically at the hostel that I realised I didn't have enough money in my wallet to pay for the night. But on explaining this to the owner and giving my address, he said it was okay for me to mail it to them later. I paid what I could, which was most of it, knowing I could get to a bank the next morning. For those of you who don't know, most ATMs close at 18:00 in this country.

I sat and chatted with a Belgian guy named Adel for a while. He was born and raised in Algeria, but went to school in Belgium. So maybe he was an Algerian guy? But he introduced himself as Belgian. He was doing a Japan tour with a few friends, and he was definitely in that "I am so totally enamoured with Japan" stage. He made me really conscious of the fact that I am in my third year and much of what he is in wonder about I largely don't think about anymore. The owner of the hostel is also a saké expert, having worked at a sake place (winery? brewery? saké-ery?). And since Adel had never tried saké before, he brought out three very different kinds for him to try. One was a kind good to have with red meat, another suitable for pasta or veggies and fish, and the third an unstrained and thus milky white saké.
I would have been sort of interested in trying, but could not compare to Adel's untainted wonder.

On a side note, Adel said that he finds French harder than English. Which got me to wondering, do we always find our Mother tongue to be the hardest? Because I certainly think English is harder than Japanese, and I know a lot of Japanese people think that Japanese has got to be the hardest language in the world. Food for thought.

And then instead of going to straight to bed like a good boy, I watched like two hours of nothing on TV, just because I could. One of the shows pitted worldviews against eachother. I watched the one where a serious university student is sent to hang out with a guy whose dream is to just chill out running a hostel-like place for the rest of his life. Kind of interesting. Made me a little interested in Okinawa (which is where they did it). A few things have happened lately to make me more interested in Okinawa. For example, Junya is obsessed with the place. I'm not sure if Junya is obsessed with Okinawa because that's where his girlfriend is from, of if he has an Okinawan girlfreind because he is obesessed with the place. Yeah. So now I'm not opposed to going someday.

(note: this is a really long entry, isn't it?)

So the next day I was up brighter and earlier than I needed to be, but I had slept REALLY well. The bed was super comfy; sumptuous for sleeping.

Ultimate Frisbee

Heading back east a little again to Sakawa town, I found a bank across the road from the famous 400-year-old sake company of that town. Quite a cool building.

The Ultimate games/tournament in Sakawa had been the excuse for the Shikoku tour. And well worth the going it was! Folks from all around Shikoku came down to play, and the teams were made on the day. We decided to start with three teams so that everyone could have seven on the field and still a few subs. We all put our names on paper into cups, a guys cup and a girls cup, and captains drew names. Looking at the team I was drawn onto, I was a little disappointed. They looked to be the weakest. Oh well, have fun anyways, right? Then because we had one less than everyone else, Chris, the Ultimate fanatic who organised the event joined our team. Cool. We needed a team name, and after throwing out a few suggestions, we became the Birddogs. Woof-chirp! Yeah! And we smoked the other two teams. The two girls on our team may have been shorter than any other girls playing, but they were high school and uni students, and they were in sports school clubs, and how could they run! and catch! and throw! The guys from team to team were pretty balanced as far as ability, but Aki and Shizuka really set us apart. It's hard not to have fun when you are trying hard and winning like crazy. I should mention that Chris's leadership was no small thing either, and Jessie (who was also from Niihama, same place as David T.) could get mega distance on his throws, making him and Aki a lethal combination. And then our other players just had loads of energy, Dennis and James in particular. Chris would still have to be the star player though. At least Nate (he's a Tokker) was on one of the other teams, Nate also being an Ultimate maniac.

So then after the lunch break we decided to reshuffle the teams from scratch and do four teams so we could have a proper playoff. There were prizes, after all. First prize was a big bottle of sake from the town's famous company.

Our team, simply "Team 3" or "The Lights" (we wore white shirts) got one of the two elementary school girls on our team. So seven people on the field with one sub was effectively six people on the field with one sub. We did our best to try to keep poor Ai in the game, but inevitably in our desperation to put up a good fight she was largely forgotten. She ran up and down the field a lot though. What a good sport she was. So we had a couple points against us right off the hop. There was only one other Birddog on my team, Dennis. The two other Tokkers were Smitha (who came to LotR day two weeks previous) and Rory, who is an all-around althlete/tank from Texas. We also had Sebastian (the same one I'd met at Chiori a week previous) who was fleet of foot, Eric who could throw farther than any of the rest of us, and Kieran, who hadn't played that morning, and who though he didn't know the rules upon arrival, was fresh.

Right, so we were down a couple points at the beginning, but some how we crystallised as a team and recovered, and then won! We were elated! We got to go into the final match!

It turned out that the other team who got into the finals had had the other elementary school girl on their team, so I suppose that it must have conferred some kind of advantage somehow, if only the motivation to try just that much harder.

Chris's team was the one we didn't play this time, the other team in the consolation match. But Nate's team was our competitor, and they had Jessie, and James, as well as Nathan I think (who had been a late-coming Birddog). And the elementary girls had to go home, so we shrunk it to six on field so we could still have one sub.
Our team maintained our momentum and took the first two points. Then "Aargh," the opposing team, took two and we got one. Then it was three all. then it was six in their favor with ten minutes left of the forty minute match. Smitha's knee started acting up so she was out for the rest of the game, leaving the six of us guys all on field together for the first time. With a bunch of "Yeah, we can do this! Graargh! Ten minutes! We will do this! Yeah!" we were underway. I had been covering Nate like tarpaper, so he was returning the favour by being all over me like green on grass. There was one moment when I was in the endzone but Due to Nate's blocking was unable to grasp the frisbee as is sped past my fingers, when out of nowhere Kieran flies in from behind with what at the time seemed like a 15-foot dive to catch the disc before it touched the ground. I'm sure at least one of the other points belongs to the Eric throw Rory run and catch combo. And we made it up to six all just as time expired. The championship game can hardly end on a tie, and it was the classic "Next point wins!" And the credit for game point goes all to Kieran who ran faster and farther than any of us could have expected, and caught a long throw with a dive and roll that would have been on showing off had it been intentional.

It was a great day. I ran myself into the ground. Dennis and I were the only two whose teams won every game. Surely that influenced how fun it was. But MAN WAS IT FUN! I don't think I have mentioned that there were also gale-force winds almost all day, and it was sunny and bright. So I think everyone went home with some sunburn and some windburn. Sweet. Then up the mountains we went to a lovely little campground that had the smallest grill area I've yet seen at a camp here. But that was fine because it made all of us crowd around in a smaller area, and it felt just that much more lively for it. It was a good night of chilling out and talking with people from the other prefectures. If it became an annual thing and I was staying, I would make a point of going every year.

I could probably say more about the big old scary spider I shooed out of the shower room for towel-clad Ellie, about the chanting people passing around sake and it's harder cousin, shochu, about James and the interesting conversation I had with him about Shikoku, Japan, and the world, and about learning language, but this time I will refrain. Except to say that James mentioned the phrase 「徳島はケチ、香川は金持ち、愛媛は偉そう、高知はアル中である。」which means, "Tokushima is stingy, Kagawa is rich, Ehime is self-important, and Kochi is alcoholic." And I can now see the validity of that saying.

At some point it got to the "it's time for the guys to play with fire" stage, a.k.a. bonfire time, which is a necessity to any good camp event.
And this time, to counteract any undue coldness (though Kochi is warmer than the rest of Shikoku) I saved my shower (hot water! yessss!) until just before bed, and then borrowed Jim's sleeping bag which he had left in my car and put Colin and Jenny's inside it. Cozy warm. I slept very well.

Kochi, the Road Home, Sepia, Flowers, and Curry

I had a show to go see in Anan (in the southern part of Tokushima) that Sunday night, so there was to be some rush back to Tokushima for me. But having come all the way to Kochi, and being there on a Sunday, it would have been a shame to not at least check out the famous Sunday Market. There were plans for people to have a second, more chilled out day of throwing the frisbee around, but I had really spent all my energy the day before. There was just no way. (It would seem that was the case with most people. I heard afterwards that nobody played any frisbee that day.) Smitha was taking the train back, so I convinced her to come into town with me to take the train from the city instead. She'd never seen the Sunday Market before either, despite living markedly closer to Kochi. So not much convincing was needed.

We walked around in the market area for precisely an hour from the car and back to it again. And that was enough. The length of the market was approximately eight blocks. The only thing that we bought was sushi though. But it was pretty remarkable sushi. Because it's spring the wild mountain vegetables are in season, and there were several stands that had totally vegetarian sushi with true variety and which looked really really tasty. Aside from the inari-zushi, there was a variety that was inarizushi shaped but made with konnyaku in place of the tofu, there was one with bamboo shoot on top, one with myoga ginger, one with that mountain veggie that looks like a half sprung leaf bud, and a bunch of others I can't recall at the moment. It was pretty good though.

And then Smitha was off to the station and I began my way around the last corner of Shikoku, out to the point at Muroto that looks out over the ocean and up to Anan city. I did it all in about four hours, getting me my destination just in time: Go Go Music and Cafe.

I was there to see the band Sepia, and the cover charge was only ¥500. And who is Sepia that I should make extra effort to get there in time to see them, you ask?

There is this guy named Tsubaki who sometimes works the late-shift at my local Lawson's who is like the stereotypical rocker. He's got the long crazy multi-coloured hair that makes you think "glam-rock mullet", plays lead guitar, and has a rock band that's constantly going through upheaval.
When my sister was here she thought he was sweet, and asked me to give him one of the purikura of her that she had done. Tsubaki told me a little while ago that he had put it on his cell phone, on the inside of the battery cover. That's where guys put purikura of their girlfriend. Awwww, isn't that sweet?

Sepia finally got a show together so I absolutely had to go check it out. It turns out that they were the fourth band up, so I could have taken more time back at Muroto to check things out and wander around for a while after all. Alas.

Arriving at the cafe really threw me. It was like a bubble of a world that wasn't Tokushima. Like a little fragment of Osaka was caught in a spatial anomaly which caused it to appear temporarily on the property of Go Go Cafe. But after I was there a while, I had to wonder if it wasn't just a wannabe anomaly, not true Osaka.
It was all the kids in the rock, mod, groupie, goth, pop-punk clothing that looked like it could have been straight out of a music video or movie. This made me feel disconnected from the group, as though I couldn't understand them. So by extension, it made me feel old. That is, at least until I was there long enough to realise that teenagers the world over are still basically the same. The mix of insecurity, needing to belong but needing to be different too, the underlying desire to find their own identities, the high energy that comes from having a venue to themselves separate from the control of people like parents and teachers, the wide array of personalities agendas and motives. It made me feel like I wanted to volunteer with a youth group. It made me feel like I could have been on TV.

The bands were both better than and about what I'd expected. Varying degrees of practice and skill, half of the crowd were going to perform at some point that night, the other half were there to see their friends' bands. The first band had a really talented singer/pianist girl who was obviously the reason the band existed. Their drummer looked like he had loads of potential, and the bass player wanted to be the star, but that wasn't going to happen that night. ^_^
The next band looked like they were in their late 20s/early 30s and did all their own stuff which was fun/alright classic rock. Then a high school band that did covers, and then Sepia. The Sepia guys are all just fresh out of high school, though a couple of them look like they could be much older. Well, one of them is. I guess they never did find a drummer, so they got a drum teacher who had been helping them learn better rhythm to play with them that night.

The lead singer has that type of mullet which in Japan has badass written all over it, and he poured tons of energy into trying to build up the crowd's energy. The crowd was already pretty pumped about Sepia playing, I think they might have been the main event, despite the fact that there were several more bands to follow.

Now, I already felt like I was in a movie because of all the kids in their super vibrant multi-patterned semi pseudo bad-kid rock pop fashion, but Sepia was the cherry on top. All of Tsubaki and the rhythm guitar player and the bass player ripped off their shirts when they got on stage, ostensibly to make it more rock'n'roll.

They were pretty cool, and definitely the most energetic, trying their best to be the true showmen on the little stage. Their style fits into a certain type of Japanese rock that I don't know what we would call. The singer's voice reminded me a little of the Kuroyume guy, Kiyoharu, if that helps. They put on a show I could get into, perhaps even rock out to, which definitely counts for something.

Talking to them afterwards, they seemed pretty pleased that I had come. I was the only foreigner there, afterall, and easily the tallest person in the place, so I stood out quite a bit. Not like it was a big venue, maybe the space we were standing in could have had enough room to give tables and chairs to 12 people. I think there were around 40 people at the show, and they could have probably done 80 with some squeezing.

Then I headed up into the city where a ton of gaijin were doing hanami. I got there towards the tenth hour of the party, and it turned out that nearly all the people I knew had just left. But Jim was there and in need of a ride back to Colin and Jenny's where he had parked his car a second time. Neither of us had had dinner yet, so after getting Jim to his car we went to CoCo Curry house for a momentous event: Jim eating the level 10 spiciness curry. Dan-da-da-daaah! He'd been working his way up the scale, you see, and 10 was his goal. As a prize he got back all the stuff he'd left in my car because it would have been too burdensome to take onto the train.

All Japan Rugby Tournament

What followed was a moderately uneventful week. Or should have been. I did some preparations for the Easter lesson at my conversation class (called an eikaiwa), but never fully finished prep because on the Wednesday afternoon I was told that they were going to postpone it until the following week's lesson, because only two of the many students were going to be able to make it. That weekend was the AJET touch-rugby tournament. Teams from anywhere in Japan could come join, but in practice it was only 16 teams or less from the western half of Japan, and I think at least 6 of them if not more were from Shikoku. If you remember me talking about the All-Japan ALT soccer tournament, (and not even I remember what I said way back then) this tourney is way more relaxed in attitude. This was at least partly because not only had many teams not practiced together at all, but also because there were several teams (like ours) 90% comprised of members who didn't know the rules, had never seen a rugby match before, or had never even seen a rugby ball before.
And we are the hosts every year! It's held on a field in beside the Yoshinogawa river and some beautiful mountain scenery in Mima town, in the west of Tokushima.

I had not signed up for it for whatever reason, but I think I was happy I hadn't. That meant I could stay up REALLY late Friday night watching the last of the commentaries on the LotR dvds so that I could return them to Tracy and know that I had watched all I wanted to (maybe 95%).

And then I could sleep in on Saturday. I really wanted to just not go, but I had told a ton of people that I would be there: Sebastian, Stacy and Hong from Ehime, James and Ti from Kochi, and probably a bunch of the Toku peeps as well. I think I finally left my place at just after 11 am, getting me to the rugby at about 1:30, in time to see three of Tokushima's six matches and a couple more. So I wasn't all sweaty and dirty like everyone else, and wasn't planning on staying the night, so I didn't need to shower (read: go to the onsen) or set up a tent.

And there were like two hours between the end of playing and dinner. So I went to look for the dinner planners and see if they had anything I could do. I was busied by roping off the cooking area, carrying out food, setting a little bit of stuff up, looking for things, conveying messages, and in general being the multi-purpose errand boy. It's good to feel helpful. Then because the Toku team was supposed to be grilling burgers in the kitchen area but most were nowhere to be found, I joined the few who WERE there in making a burger production line. Eventually the others came and we were the most lively (or at least loud) of the five cooking tables. Incidentally, those five were: Vegetarian (Ellie, Smitha, and others), Yakisoba (some Japanese guys who acted like pros), Hot Dog/Smokies (people from another prefecture), Choice Burger (Okayama folk; they made bugers and hot sausages to order), Speedy Burger (us), and there was also a table with a ton of bagels and very little cream cheese provided by the folk at Happy Raft.

So somehow I ended up on the "take the patties out of the pack and throw them onto the grill" step of the process, and at one point when I threw a patty down, it splashed grease back up along its angle of attack, into the small space between my cuff and my arm, and onto the underside of my forearm, leaving a lovely long burn. Ouch. It will still be a long time before that heals. Especially since I tore it open at jujutsu this past Wednesday. Yuck. ANyways...

One of the nice things was that I finally got to chat with Stacy. Despite having been at Chiiori with her for two days we'd barely had a chance to say anything. She's from Hawaii and is a third year JET as well, much like yours truly having come to Japan straight out of uni (in Rhode Island!). She stayed three years because she's been doing only elementary schools (very rare, especially as your first JET position) and naturally, she loves it. She said they threatened to offer her a fourth year position, which surely would have been hard to turn down, despite the need to move on. Hawaiian girls it seems are all quite a nice variety of girl. (Julie, Tracy, Sarah, and Stacy are the ones I have met, though I feel like I'm forgetting someone.)

Not being one to turn down some good socialising and loads of free food (they didn't want me to pay the ¥2500 because I helped out), I stayed quite late. At around 10:30 someone was looking for a ride to the station to pick up his friend. Being one of the very few sober people, I said I was happy to oblige. As we got to the gate, we found it locked. And I had foolishly parked on the inside of said gate. So the dude's friend ended up having to walk to the next station in the rain to hail a cab (nobody had a cab company number that was getting an answer, and the only phone book was in the lodge which also was locked up at 10.

And so I began to search for a place to sleep. Ron Page, a guy from church who was one of the organisers had mentioned that there was a spare futon in their cabin should I decide to stay. So I went to ask if the offer was still open and hope that they hadn't already gone to sleep.

Only the kids and one other of the several cabin people were asleep at that point, the rest were playing a game that was winding down, so I was in luck. They gave me a futon and pillow and blanket, which I set up as close to the door as possible. I said goodnight and then went back outside to continue with the fun. Except the fun wasn't continuing. All the lights had been turned out, so most everyone had gone to bed. Standing around in indecision, I came upon Hong again, and shortly after that, we bumped into Mark and the other guy from Happy Raft, who were planning to drive home. We were unconvinced that Mark was of sufficient sobriety to drive home, but he was not to be talked out of it. I took him to the gate to show him that it was locked and there was no hope, but on our way he said, "Hey, look, this guy looks like he'd have the key." And there in front of us and walking away was a Japanese man I had not yet seen that evening. Mark called out to him, and it turned out that he was indeed the guy to ask. It's been about a week and I haven't heard anything from anybody, so I presume they got back without incident. Probably in a different country it would have been fine for Mark to drive, it's just that Japan has zero tolerance.

But this got me thinking that I could leave, too.

But Hong forlornly asked me if I wouldn't stay and chat. Looking at the place where her eyes ought to be (it was really dark) I considered. Earlier she had said that everyone in her cabin was drunk and playing spin the bottle, and there were so many people she couldn't get through to her room. I thought about what it's like to be the only sober person in a room full of drunk people, and what it is like when you have no intention of drinking. I thought about how lonely it is to be at a major thing like this and feel like you have nothing to do and nobody to talk to. So I suggested that we go for a walk around the area. I don't know how long we walked and chatted for, but I think it was mostly me who did the chatting, and I know it was almost precisely midnight when we got back to the lodge and parking lot. So maybe we walked for 45 minutes to an hour?

But now I was not to be dissuaded from leaving. I could still get home by two, sleep until ten and have a regular day on Sunday. So we went to find the keymaster. He was found on the other side of a secret backdoor of the lodge, eating Koala chocolate snacks. I only had a glimpse of the brilliant white room he was sitting in, his black track suit absorbing all the light, but I could swear that there was a big pile of snack packages on that table. I guess he was bored, too. He was happy to walk out into the rain with his flashlight and umbrella let me out, though he was kind of surprised to find that I was another person who wasn't coming back.

I felt a little sorry for Hong, to leave her with nothing to do and probably some frustration before she crawled into the closet (which was where she had put her futon, she said). But it was time to go.

Easter Sunday

There were quite a few people at church on Sunday. And lots of Easter chocolate. I had only made my resolution to stop chocolate that previous Friday from eating too much while while watching LotR, and that was when I knew that Easter choco was going to be an exception. Jenny's mom had even sent a ton of Australian chocolate that I had never tried. Still, I held back from the volume I would have normally consumed. I had also brought a bag of little foil-wrapped chocolate eggs sent from home. But I'm getting ahead of myself. We did a little skit about Jesus' resurrection and appearances. Julie and I were the narrators, reading all the lines and other stuff, while some of the others did actions. Eiko and her puppet were the two angels, Jenny was Mary Magdalene, Noam, and Jim were Peter and John and then the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and Eiko came on again as Thomas. Colin was Jesus because he has a big beard right now and for some reason everyone imagines Jesus as having a beard. Probably that makes sense.
People seemed to think it was alright.

Ron mentioned afterwards that he had wondered that morning if the Rapture had happened, as my bed was empty and I had been nowhere to be found.

One of the other concerns had been about whether my stalker would show up to the service. Since I don't know what she looks like, Jim and Noam were warned not to get trapped in one-on-one conversation with a Japanese girl they don't know. After the service we went around and did introductions of everyone's name and place they live. She wasn't there. Relief. Afterwards Barbara mentioned that the girl had called her to say that she wouldn't make it after all, though she wanted to. So again, I thought it was all over.

Easter English Conversation Class

I'm stealing this post from one of my other blogs since I typed all of its contents out in the midst of working on this post. I'm going for my record longest thing ever typed, you see, and I don't think this is cheating. But maybe don't feel compelled to read this if you already read it on Shibui. Just scroll down to the next section, "Chaos at the Office".

Several weeks previous, I'd had my dad take some money out of my account to buy and send me several chocolate bunnies, mounds of cheap foil wrapped chocolate eggs, mini-eggs, creme eggs, and those marshmallow chickens. He also threw in a bag of those malt-ball "whoppers robin eggs" and a Lindtt white chocolate bunny. Unfortunately, the chocolates were in my apartment too long for the mini-eggs and creme eggs to survive until the Eikaiwa class. Also one of the bunnies with rice crispies in it went not so mysteriously missing. I gave out some of the malt-balls and a bag of foil eggs to the staff at school, and I gave each student a foil egg as well. I hid them for the smallest class, and they got to have an Easter egg hunt. Had the class not been postponed one week, there may have been a pack of mini-eggs and a lone creme egg and some of the whoppers left, but such was not to be.

So yesterday in my prep I learned that jelly beans are a major Easter candy. I'd never really noticed. But I know a place I can get jelly beans in my neighboring town of Katsuura. Also, the local Lawson's convenience store has recently had a "rasin and apple bun" that strongly resembles a cheap and crossless hot cross bun. So once my other prep for the class was over, I forayed into Katsuura to score some jelly beans and hot cross buns, and was successful.

My other prep included
- doing google image searches for "pysanki egg," "faberge egg," and "hot cross buns" and downloading the best results
- downloading and printing out some Easter worksheets from
- asking permission to borrow the school's little projector
- owning a copy of the Jesus film and getting my speakers from home
- looking up easter facts and things and then typing them up to form a quiz
- borrowing the gameshow style personal chalkboards as well as chalk and brushes for use in the quiz game

And then I got to the class (read: a room at the community center) early enough to hide two bunnies, more than 30 little foil wrapped eggs, and the box of marshmallow chickens. Also I had to aquire a screen for the projector and extension chords from elsewhere in the building.

But it turned out that most of our regular students were still really busy with beginning of year stuff (educational and fiscal), so only two came, and then a third emailed to say she'd be 30 minutes late. So in the first 30 minutes we cracked into one bag of jelly beans and did some of the bogglesworld worksheets (wordsearch, rhyme riddles) and talked about Chiiori (I have one of David's photos as the background on my laptop, which was being projected onto the screen in readiness).

Then my third student came and we began the Easter egg hunt! And they seemed to really enjoy it.
Once we had collected all the chocolate to the middle of the table, we started in on it and the quiz. The ladies lamented when I broke the head off of the Lindtt bunny (which I had never hidden) because he was really cute. But I wanted to taste his ears.
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So here is the quiz with all the answers bolded and typed in, followed by point totals at the end. Some questions I decided to give multiple points for, some were done in sections, and some were individual. Also, italicised stuff was stuff I said either when reading out the quesion or talking briefly about the correct answer later.


Easter Quiz Game


1. What is the main reason for the Easter holiday?
a) To have a spring holiday
b) To get lots of chocolate
c) To remember Jesus' death and resurrection 復活
d) To spend time with family and friends

2. When did Easter as a holiday begin?
a) after 100 AD
b) after 300 AD Constantine, who didn't care as much about theology as he did his country being unified, pushed for the bishops to set a permanent weekend date for Easter celebrations. Incidentally, he's the one who pushed for a Sunday main holiday rather than Saturday.
c) after 700 AD
d) after 1600 AD

3. What did Christians celebrate before Easter?
a) Nothing
b) Jewish "Passover"
c) Roman spring festival
d) Egg festival

4. Easter is celebrated on different days. Why?
a) Different calendars (Gregorian and Julian)
b) Nobody knows why.
c) Each country decides when.
d) Because the easter bunny comes at two times.

5. Lent is a fasting (断食) time before Easter. What do they fast from? Lent is 46 days long
a) They don't eat or drink anything
b) They only eat one meal Hundreds of years ago
c) They don't eat milk, eggs, or meat A longish time ago, still today to some extent, the reason for Easter eggs: people who couldn't eat them would still own chickens that would lay eggs, so they would boil them to store them and then they could start eating them on Easter
d) People decide for themselves what to fast. two points for D, one point for either B or C

Jesus Christ

1. What was Jesus' last meal?
a) Steak and potatoes
b) Fish and rice
c) Lamb and pita bread Not pita bread exactly, but easier to communicate than unleavened bread
d) Rabbit and corn

2. How did Jesus die?
a) Crucifixion Crucifix = cross
b) Head cut off
c) Drowning
d) Natural Causes

3. How long was he dead?
a) 2 days
b) 3 days The Hebrews counted days with the day ending/starding in the evening. So Jesus died at midday, was dead the whole second day through to evening and then was raised again on the third. Not a weekend per se, mind you: it was Constantine who made Easter a set feast on a weekend rather than keeping it around Passover, which is a movable feast.
c) 4 days
d) 7 days

4. How many people saw Jesus afterwards? After his 復活 resurrection.
a) less than 10
b) around 50
c) around 200
d) more than 500

5. What was Jesus' nationality?
a) English
b) Roman
c) Jewish Makes it that much harder to understand the Dark ages and persecution of Jews, doesn't it?
d) Arab


1. What does Passover celebrate?
a) Jesus' life
b) King David's birthday
c) Israel leaving Egypt They remember how they were slaves in Egypt and how God took them out. For example, bitter herbs are part of the flavour of the meal, to remind them of the hard suffering when they were slaves.
d) Building the temple in Jerusalem

2. The proper name is Pasch. Why is it Passover in English?
a) The people pass over the land to get out of Egypt
b) The angel of death passed over the Jews, not touching themThe angel of death killed all the firstborn sons in every building that didn't have lamb's blood on the sides and top of the entrance doorframe. The Jews at the lamb whose blood they put on the doorframe. So if I was in Egypt then, I would probably have died.
c) You pass the food over the table
d) Your day pass is over.

Easter Tradition Trivia

1. Why Easter Eggs?
Answer: Either, "Because they couldn't eat them at Lent," OR, "They are symbol of new life." One point for each, two points for both.

2. Which is a real tradition?
a) egg painting
b) egg rolling
c) egg hunting
d) all of the above<

3. Where is there a famous Easter egg rolling contest?
a) Canada's Parliment
b) America's White House They thought this was just a joke. Little did they know. The president watches it, you know.
c) England's Buckingham Palace
d) France's Notre Dame Cathedral

4. Which country is famous for its beautiful "pysanki" painted eggs?
a) Ukraine At this point I brought up the pysanki egg pics on screen
b) Russia
c) Turkey
d) Belgium

5. What is a Faberge egg?
a) a very big chocolate egg
b) a goose egg with special paint
c) an egg made from vegetables, for vegetarians.
d) an egg made from gold and jewels and then the faberge egg pics

6. Where does the Easter Bunny tradition come from?
a) Italy
b) Norway
c) Germany The same country that gave us Christmas trees.
d) Venezuela

America Easter Fact Trivia

1. Easter is the number two candy holiday in the States. What is number one?
Halloween -Taku-chan 1 point for the right answer, Noriko 1 point for knowing the correct word once Taku-chan said it.

2. How many billions of pounds (or kilos) of Easter candy does America eat every year?
7,000,000,000 lbs OR 3,200,000,000 kg

3.Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas all have expensive candy. Rank them from 1 to 4 as most money to least spent. (2000)
1. Halloween $2 billion
2. Easter $1.9 billion
3. Christmas $1.4 billion
4. Valentines Day $1 billion

4. How many million chocolate Easter bunnies are made in the States every year?
90 million bunnies - Watanabe-san

5. How do most people think you should eat a chocolate bunny? Ears first? Feet First? Tail first?
everyone 1 point - they had reacted to me pulling the head off of the white bunny and eating its ears, and Noriko had also first gone for the ears on one of the choco bunnies. Easy. For the record, the stats I had said: Chocolate bunnies should be eaten ears first, according to 76% of Americans. Five percent said bunnies should be eaten feet first, while 4% favored eating the tail first.

6. Do American adults like milk chocolate or dark chocolate?
everyone 1 point - Taku-chan was the slowest in thinking, but he deduced based on the chocolate on the table. My stats said: Adults prefer milk chocolate (65%), to dark chocolate (27%).

7. How many million Marshmallow Peeps are sold every year?
700 million Marshmallow Peeps every year. This was my first time to try them though, I think. Apparrently they are the number one non-chocolate easter treat, and come in yellow, pink, lavendar, blue and white.

8. How many billion jelly beans do Americans eat every Easter?
16,000,000,000 jelly beans.
Enough to go around the world 3 times.

9. Around when did Jellybeans become an easter tradition?
Around 1930

10. Chocolate eggs were invented in Europe. When?
In the 1800s.

Older Traditions

- Hot cross buns were among the earliest Easter treats, made by European monks and given to the poor during Lent.

bread counters:
a loaf of bread
a slice of bread
a piece of bread
a bun
a pastry
bread on its own is uncountable.


So I had that up on screen and bolded the answers and typed stuff in as we went along and gave answers and stuff. Having the questions up on screen and really colourful added to the gameshow score. I also had a separate window where we kept score. This isn't as pretty as the text I had, but let the record show that the scores were:
Taku-chan 4,3,1,1,0,1,2,1,1 = 14
Noriko 3,2,0,1,3,1,1,1,2,1 = 15
Watanabe-san 4,4,1,1,1,2,1,2,1 = 17

Chaos at the Office, and the Party That Followed.

Friday was the day that the computer guys came to change the network over. They brought in the new laptops for all the permanent teachers. That means not me, not the art teacher who comes only on fridays, and not the janitor. I guess they figured they only need one computer between the two English staff, which does make sense. Not that I'm happy about it. My internet connection stayed up all day, but it didn't seem to get any faster. I suspect that means that they had both networks running at the same time: the old one and the new one they were establishing. I think this because the gym teacher remarked on how fast the new connection was on the provided laptop once it was set up. But my connection stayed as slow as ever. It's surely too much to hope that I could keep that connection indefinitely. I don't think they finished everything on Friday, though they certainly stayed quite late. Unless they have been there all day today (yes, my typing has finally caught up to the actual date!) they will probably be there on Monday finishing up. I'll try to post this tomorrow (Sunday) from Colin and Jenny's house if I can.

At 6:30 at the onsen that night we had a Welcome and Goodbye Party. For some reason the Board of Education had suddenly decided not to continue the contract of the previous art teacher and instead get a new one. So the goodbye for our previous art teacher, Miss Minami, was mixed in with our welcome party for the other teachers. They are:
Mr. Tatekawa - the new "education head," a.k.a. vice-principal, whose hometown is Kamikatsu, but he hasn't been placed here in a very long time. His daughter is in the first year at our school (seventh grade). He was at one of Dave C-C's schools previously, so he has a very good image of ALTs. He's also a seventh level black belt in kendo sword fighting.
Mr. Nishijima - the new "duty head," a.k.a. money manager and secretary, who did the same job at the elementary for the last six years. If he follows the pattern for duty-heads at our school, he'll only be here for two years.
Mr. Tamura - the new gym teacher, he's a big and somewhat scary man. It's not surprising to hear that he's a fifth level black belt in kendo. He lead the kendo club at his previous junior high to the national competition, which is really something. He's very much the typical hard-core sportsman, the kind of gym teacher you would see in a movie. He is kind of nice in his way. But he's still the opposite of Mr. Masutomi, the teacher he replaced, who was maybe my best friend among the staff.
Miss Kohro, the new school nurse. She's 23 and fresh out of university. She's really shy and I think quite nervous about doing a good job at this, her first school, and first full-on job.
and Mr. Kimura, the new art teacher. He's 27, and though this is his first teaching job, he worked at a printing company after graduating, and has also spent several years as a "furita," living cheap, doing a couple part time jobs, and pretty much whatever he wanted. An appropriate lifestyle for an artist, I think. Like Minami-sensei, he seems very reserved, but he was quite chatty at the enkai (banquet/party). He said that he has the easiest time talking to people at enkais, more than at "compa" (a kind of group date) or regular office situations.

The atmosphere at the enkai was the wildest it's been at a Kamikatsu JHS enkai since I have arrived. Kohro-sensei sang the theme to Cutey Honey, but Yamato, the music teacher's 5 year old son, usurped the other mic and sang twice as loud and off key. I tried to sing a currently popluar song called Seishun Amigo, but I too was outstaged by the music teacher's children. Tatekawa-sensei sang a hilariously long enkai song ("No! No applause! It's not over yet!") and successfully kept the microphone away from Yamato.

The food was also great, by the way. The salt-broiled trout was excellent as usual, and because it's springtime, there were wild mountain vegetables amongst the tempura, and I love those mountain veggies.

On the whole it was a very enjoyable evening. The new staff make for a great office atmosphere for my successor to come into. I just hope that my successor speaks some Japanese, for I fear that I have over-acclimatised the school to having an ALT who speaks the language. If not, it may be a little difficult for everyone to adjust at first, but I think they will get by.

Time To Do Something About That Stalker

So today (Saturday April 22) I finally got tired of her calling me and decided to change the message on my machine to make her stop. Yes, I thought it was a little cruel, but enough is enough.

The message on my machine:

「Hello, you've reached Matthew Shettler, please leave a message. もしくはこれは中村あいだったら、もう電話をやめて下さい。」
Translation: "Hello, you've reached Matthew Shettler, please leave a message. If this is Nakamura Ai, please stop calling."

Nakamura talking over my message:

「Hello? ...あら!」
Translation: "Hello? ... Oh!/What!/Hey!"

I can't help but feel kind of smiley when I get a surprised reaction out of somebody, despite the fact that this was obviously quite mean.

Then she called back. She said 「もしもし?」over my answering machine message and then left this message:

「もしもしすみません中村です。あの、何回もあの、電話をさせていただいたのはマットさんと話しをしたいことがあったので話しを。。。が出来なくって、で、何度も電話をしたのですがマットさんはきっと忙しいんだろうと思っていました。で (inhales deeply)。。。また、あの、マットさんはこう私に電話をかけて下っさるべきだったのではと思っています。誠実さにかけると思っています。(正常質に?しつれいxx?)いたします。」
Approximate Translation: "Hello, sorry, this is Nakamura. Um, the reason I've called so many times, um, is because I have wanted to talk with you, and... but talking wasn't able to, so, again and again I called and I thought that you've surely been busy. So [inhales deeply] ... also, um, I think that you aught to call me back like I'm calling you. I think that you should call me back with sincerity. (Then she mumbled something that may have been a set phrase for ending a call).

So obviously she understands that if you call a certain number of times the other person should call you back. Most people take a hint and stop calling after a while. I suppose it's only been 18 days since the day I talked to her, but I'm sure she's called more than 40 times in that space of time, usually nothing for a couple of days and then five times in three hours, with the occasional wake-up call. I wonder where she gets that kind of determination?

I should probably mention her tone, for what good it will do. She used quite polite Japanese, which was something Derek mentioned she had a tendency to do, though I'm not sure I had encountered it until now. She may just have one of those voices which tends to tremble when she speaks because both Derek and Barbara have mentioned it. Maybe I'm just not very observant, but this was the first time I think I started to notice it. But she firmed up and started to lay on the "cute voice" towards the end.

Now, there is certainly a time and place for the "cute voice," and used correctly it can be coy and flirtatious. But it's like a spice. Thyme, even. If you use too much of it, it becomes obvious that you've put it in and it makes the whole thing distasteful. I can definitely say that some girls using the cute voice come off as very attractive, especially when they are not using it to try to talk to me. But if you try to have a conversation with me in that voice, I do lose patience with you. I want to talk to a real person, not a mask. So that is one thing about this girl that annoys me. But maybe that's not her fault. It could be just social conditioning.

Maybe it was a mistake to do the whole message thing. Perhaps if I had waited another two weeks she would have given up altogether. Or if I had waited another month. I think what made me do it is the fact that these days I can't ever answer my home phone until I hear who it is on the other line. And I really don't want to talk to her. Firstly, we have already clearly established that her ulterior motive is to acquire me as a boyfriend. And we know I don't want that. Secondly, I don't want to be having a lot of long phone conversations with any single girl with whom I am not already a good friend. It's tantamount to being alone in a quiet room together. Thirdly, her English sucks. That is to say, it's very basic. I'm happy to have the casual conversation with a person learning English, even to talk to them often. But talking to her makes me feel like I am teaching, like I should be being paid to do it. And maybe, just maybe, if she wanted to pay me ¥5000 an hour to sit in some public place and chat, then maybe I could be convinced. We would have no illusions then. I would be her English Language Prostitute. Selling my language for money.

But it's true what they say about persistance: it does get a response. I need to remember this lesson for when I'm applying for a job. Except that I know they'll answer the phone...

Jesus also used it as an illustration for prayer. But he also said not to think that our prayers will be heard for our many words. So does that mean it's persistence over word volume? Determination over pride, I suppose could also be the point.

Perserverance In Action:
"Hey Dad, can I have a chocolate bar?"
"Hey Dad, can I have a chocolate bar?"
"Dad, Can I have a chocolate bar?"
"Dad, May I please have a chocolate bar?"
"No you may not."
"Please may I have a chocolate bar?"
"Can I have a chocolate bar?"
"I said, 'No!'"
"Hey Dad, Can I have a chocolate bar?"
"I said, 'NO!'"
"...Dad, NOW can I have a chocolate bar?"
"Me? Chocolate bar?"
"Can I have a chocolate bar?"
"How many times do I have to day 'No?'"
"Can I have a chocolate bar?"
"Can I have a chocolate bar?"
"Can I have a chocolate bar?"
"Can I have a chocolate bar?"
"Can I have a chocolate bar?"
"Can I have a chocolate bar?"
"All right, fine! Have one if it will make you stop! Yeesh!"


The count is in! This is the longest thing I have ever typed! Even though I have technically typed it in four or more windows, it's all going in one final document, and all of it has been typed over a period of five days. Including all of the html code which I have typed in unison with the rest of the document, it comes out to just over 16,000 words. Wowzers!

And if you spot any errors, let me know in a comment so that I can edit them correct.


At 5:23 a.m. PDT, Blogger Smitha said...

Dude, this deserves at least one comment--otsukaresama! Have you heard of National Novel Writing Month? This entry puts you 1/3 of the way there! Nice recap of events--any time I think of something to comment on, though, I read on and think of something else and forget what I was going to comment on before. Oh, well.

At 11:39 p.m. PDT, Blogger Fletcher said...

does national novel writhing month happen in your nation, mine, or neither?

Ha, I suppose it's beyond reasonable to expect people to open up another window to type their comments in as they read...

At 2:00 a.m. PDT, Blogger Smitha said...

Well, since the comment link's at the bottom of the post, and since generally blog posts don't necessitate opening Notepad to write out responding comments, it didn't occur to me at the time, but I'll keep it in mind for future reference. ;o)

And NaNoWriMo's actually not limited to one nation (I keep forgetting about the "national" until someone brings it up)--it's a worldwide effort, you could say, though I guess it started in the US. Between November 1st and 30th, people from anywhere and everywhere try to write a 50,000-word novel. I'm not sure how it works if you write in a symbolic language like Japanese/Chinese, but I think they've worked rules for that out, now that this has gotten worldwide attention. I participated for several years and only succeeded the first time,in 2001. The website is

At 9:46 p.m. PDT, Blogger Tom said...

I laughed heartily at "English Language Prostitute." Oh, my.


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