Teaching In Socks


American Jokes and Language Inspectors
September 29, 2008, 12:44 pm
Filed under: Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
One for every State, Sufjan!

One for every State, Sufjan!

I found this in a used bookstore in Himeji today. How appropriate; the book’s prominent display must have been deliberate. I flipped through it, and here is the only joke I can remember offhand:

Knock Knock

Who’s there?

Aleutian

Aleutian who?

I need Aleutian for my feet.

Aleutian Islands jokes, brilliant!

Also, over the past few days I have seen some pretty interesting English signs.

In my Kyoto pictures, some of you may have noticed the “No Smorking” sign. I don’t know why, but “No Smorking” kills me. Personally, I propose we change the word “smoking” to “smorking” I think this potential change has countless benefits.

In Kobe the other day, I passed by a fairly fashionable pizza parlour. Outside, they had their menu written up on a chalkboard. Next to the pizza selections, there was a section with the header “Paste”. Unappealing culinary images appeared in my head. They had to mean “pasta”.  I asked my Japanese friend to confirm the the items under the header were indeed pastas and not some form of edible paste, and we both had a brief laugh.

Finally, I was in a department store in Himeji today with some friends. We were on the ground floor, Women’s Accessories, which was plastered with many signs next tables of hats reading, “Knit or Far?” I was perplexed by the possible relation of these two words. What could one have to do with the other?  I asked my Japanese friend, who looked at me like I was an idiot. “You know, Knit or Far?” Then it clicked for me, they meant “Fur”

These incidents got me thinking: I wonder if American businesses bungle the words when they produce literature in other languages?

It only took me a short time to realize this was a stupid questions. As much as I like to patriotically tote the brilliance of my homeland, we can’t even keep the “R”  in “Toys R Us” facing the correct direction. Not to mention that our understanding of our native grammar frequently has a few glaring defincies (this blog often included). Furthermore, we have Taco Bell restaurants nationwide. I’m sure the “Drive Thru” (seriously) menu at that establishment has some linguistic combinations that might be lexicogrpahy hilarious and digestively horrendous for native spanish speakers.

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Kyotofest

I admit, I have a crippling fear of looking like a tourist. I’m not sure if it’s the fanny packs, the stupid sunglasses or the complete naivety to their surroundings, but I know I dread being associated this dangerously curious group. When traveling,  I try to blend in as best as I can, however, in Japan, despite my best efforts this has it’s limitations. Short of wearing a mask at all times, I will always be immediately identified as an outsider (and let’s face it wearing mask doesn’t do much to ameliorate that situation either).

Strangely, one of the personal benefits of Kyoto was the abundance of tourists. To score points with the natives, all I had to do was be a bit more subtle than the loud, pushy Europeans at the next table. Also, for  three days, as I was surrounded by other caucus folk,  I wasn’t a novelty item.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the attention, but being one-of-a-kind goes both ways.

In terms of the city; Kyoto is a fantastic place. It’s rich, historic, nestled among mountains, and you can feel the connection to Japan’s past and the sublime surrounding nature. It’s abundantly clear why Kyoto is a big draw, and some of the ways the foreign influence has changed the city.

Some of the most picturesque and significant sights now primarily serve the visitor’s camera lens and not the people of Kyoto. I won’t lie, I wanted to get some of these places on record with my own camera. They make impressive images to show your friends and make them jealous–and why travel if you can’t make close friends question their own life-choices?  Also, while many of these places can feel like hostile tourist traps centered around a monument, one of the more famous shrines Kiyomizudera still retains it’s spiritual essence and and ability to convey awe. It might have been the large, imposing and menacing looking statues (not pictured) or the fact that the temple sits alongside an impressively high cliff.

Still, I wanted to get as much of a feel as I could of the real attitude of Kyoto, or what the native Kyotocan (Kyotian?) feels every day.  Fortunately, Kyoto has a lively cafe culture that I decided to take advantage of. In between temples, castles and shopping it became culturally necessary to stop for a bit and have a tea/beer. This was my favorite part of the trip. Often these places were of trendy yet humble, modern design, filled with young locals and piping good music through the stereo.  One of them also served bagel sandwiches, and opportunity I did not pass up.

The only time I felt somewhat out of place was when we went to a small organic tea house rumored to have the best chocolate in Kyoto. The house is run by a Japanese confectionist and his wife, who is from Vancouver. Despite the service being run by a white person, the set up was still very formal. No shoes, kneel on the floor and women wore a kimono. Towards the end of the meal, the waitress and began talking. She told me that she used to live in SOHO so I stared updating her about New York, and the changes in the neighborhood, She was quite friendly, but the entire situation made me nervous. Much more uncomfortable  then when someone tries to speak to me in Japanese and I can’t understand (aka all the time). I think what was so unnerving was that in the back of my head, I knew this women had gone through what I had gone through and so she more than anybody would not only  know when I made a faux pas, but perhaps she would even feel embarrassed by me, instead of for me. I’m fine with making a fool out of myself, but i hate it when I let the team down.

eat this, friends.

eat this, friends.

Fortunately for me, within five minutes she started babbling something about how children from the countryside in Japan have much “brighter eyes” because they’re happier, and painting her accent with a hippy tone. Thus, the tables turned  quite abruptly as my Japanese friend started looking at me with wide and confused eyes while I tried not to laugh. I did my best to pretend like this was a normal way to hear a person talk but as soon as we walked out the door impressions of her summer of love accent became the running joke of the trip.



Kyoto in Media
September 24, 2008, 6:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

I will provide a written explanation of my trip tomorrow. wanted to get some pictures up for the time being.

(turn up your speakers for some light music)



Language detective & Other news
September 24, 2008, 7:47 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

I’m heading to Kyoto for an extended weekend. Hopefully I’ll return with a boatload of pictures and a luggage case full of spiritual enlightenment. I heard a rumor that they have a few temples and shrines there.

I know I mentioned a while back that I was going to stage some sort of elaborate thesis on Japanese politics and the value of honor within Japanese society, however, I have returned to the old philosopher’s crux that the more I think about it, the more I realize how little I know. I’ve only been here two months, so maybe this is a subject I will return to when I feel more qualified to do so. I’ll certainly provide some highlights and insight on the upcoming Japanese Prime Minister election, especially if my students offer me any interesting information on the subject.  So far I’ve mostly received sentiments of cynicism on their part. I can’t blame them, they have had something like thirteen Prime Ministers in the last twenty years. I’m surprised they remember who is in charge, or that they haven’t turned the whole election into an American Idol style competition.

In the meantime, today I stumbled into an unfortunate episode of “Ted Reilly, Language Detective”. During some pleasant lobby talk with another teacher and one of my students about text message abbreviations, the other teacher shared an anecdote about the encounters of her father as a young boy in Japan, with the arriving American GI’s. Her father told her he could remember three things they used to say to him, but he spoke no English, so he didn’t know what they meant.

The first one was “sunavubit”, which she had realized was probably “son of a bitch”. (Everyone in the lobby shared a polite chuckled when she said this.)

The second saying her father had remembered was “gudaamut”. She had determined that this was “god damnit”. (The students and I laugh, pretending to be shocked by the language.)

The third saying her father would recall, was “caasuuka”.  The teacher then says that has never figured out what the one was and she is interested to know what it was and what it means. (All eyes in the room turn to me)

“Do you know?” asked the other teacher.

I stupidly replied honestly, not even remembering to inflect any sort of reluctance and answer until half way though, “Yeahhhhhhhhhhh, I know what it means

My student, curious, eagerly urges me on, “What does it mean?”

“You know, it could be a lot of things actually…” I said.

“My father probably did something to make them angry, right?” asked the teacher.

“Well, you know, the army has it’s own language and it’s own way of speaking, it’s not necessarily a bad thing….”

“But it wasn’t a nice word, was it?” she finished my sentence.

“No, not really” I said, sheepishly.

I guess there were both better and worse places we could have ended the conversation, but we decided to do it here, at that point, I was comfortable with that. These days they might deport me for saying the word in question to a room full of Japanese women. Later, when I used the school computer I saw that the teacher had tried to use “Yahoo:Answers” to figure it out on her own. Someone should tell her about Google, although I doubt she wants to Google this finely crafted bit of slang.

You know, I knew this war thing might lead to an awkward moment or two, but I didn’t realize it was going to be a weekly occurrence. Thanks FDR.



bizzarafari

This past Monday was “Appreciation for the Elderly” day in Japan. The age demographics of Japan are a bit top heavy, so there was quite a bit of appreciation being doled out across the nation. A thick air of appreciation filled the air like summer humidity. Even the bugs were respectfully quiet for the entire day (well, until 7pm, elderly bedtime).

However, like any holiday, some families celebrate this holiday with more enthusiasm than others. While some of my students visited their ancestral homes to maintain their family shrine, my close friends decided to show my me how to authentically celebrate this holiday by going to an amusement park. Needless to say, the park was devoid of the elderly, yet brimming with tackiness.

While i felt the aura of respect, the joy of a holiday was lost on me. Monday is already included as part of my weekend (I work on Saturday), so this wasn’t much of a holiday from my perspective, rather part of my regularly scheduled weekend. Also, my Japanese friends get up at normal hours so really this was a weekend day where I had to get up before noon–which barely happened.

Drowsy and inhaling coffee (well one of us was), we headed to Himeji Central Park a thirty minute train ride and twenty minute bus ride from Ako. The name "Himeji Central Park" is a bit of a misnomer; as far as I can tell, it’s not really central to anything of importance. It’s not in the center of the city–far from it in fact, and it certainly wasn’t the center of attention, not on elderly appreciation day at least.

Regardless, it is the Japanese version of Busch Gardens, and i mean this in every way you can imagine. First, I was greeted by bus that well, could only be made in Japan. Secondly, the park has an amusement section, with roller coasters, rides, and low budget live performances, as well as a water park, and a “safari” park.

The Harbinger

The Harbinger

It was raining so I didn’t see a single ride or roller coaster running. I’m not sure if this the same safety protocol they follow in America, but I imagine Six Flags would catapult you into a tornado if they thought it would make you buy a few more funnel cakes. Americans don’t respect the weather the way the Japanese do.

With the rides shut down, and the rain making the water park uninhabited and obsolete, the "safari" became  main attraction. We looked into what times we could embark on the "safari" and realized we had a little bit of a wait. In the meantime we decided to catch "the show" which was explained ot me as some sort of illusionist show.

We filed into a giant performance hall with bleachers, 200 kids and parents, and a small, ground-level stage. There was castle motif to the building, a circus-inspired stage, and I was immediately worried. My fears were immediately confirmed when the Adam’s Family theme began playing over the loudspeaker and strangely choreographed dance number commenced the show. I might be wrong about this, but I get the feeling that they don’t pay royalties on the usage of that song. Raul would be proud not to be a part of this performance.

What followed was a circus montage of goofy jugglers, strange magicians and small dogs forced to perform small and humiliating tricks while dressed in costume. I believe at some point the dogs were married to each other. Cousin It never made an appearance, but maybe  he was supposed to be one of he dogs.  My only noteworthy observation from this tragedy was that most of the performers and stage hands appeared to be foreigners. I opted not forgo engaging in some foreigner bonding with them so my only assumption is that France has some sort of exchange program.

Afterwards we headed to the safari, which happened to partake on that very same bus. They actually drive this monstrosity through small enclosures with cheetahs, lions, tigers and various herbivores. They separate the animals out of food chain concerns, but the only between you and the animals is the thin, tinted window panes of this ridiculous bus. It’s direct and violent taunting of the animals.

While the animals are the attraction I think the stupidity of human beings is what’s on display. First, the place looks like a miniature Jurassic Park.  Didn’t these people see the movie…it ends badly. Secondly, we are the only species crazy enough to design a bus to look like a cartoon tiger and then drive it through a small enclosure FULL OF TIGERS! These Tigers are insulted, people. It only takes one missed meal before they get sultry enough to assault a luxury coach and ensue and massacre on the “camera-faces”.

That said, I did get a nice picture of an elephant in the rain.

hello.

hello.

Awaiting news of band of rogue tigers loose on the countryside and the arrival of my first typhoon (#13), clearly the horsemen are on the loose.



small sacrifices
September 14, 2008, 5:12 pm
Filed under: Japan, Teaching, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Coffee in Disguise

Coffee in Disguise

I’m not entirely sure which demographic this coffee targets. Clearly, the rainbow themed packaging would have a different connotation in the United States. I won’t even mention the Freudian “Suntory Boss” logo. Although, I will admit, on its own I think the Boss logo is cool– this may be inspired by the fact that on some of the ads, they use a picture of Tommy Lee Jones. I’ll drink any coffee that is Tommy Lee Jones approved.

Regardless, inside that purple top is a Transformers action figure. He is small and there is some assembly required, but he comes totally free with this coffee. Thus, I purchased the can and am now the proud owner of both a caffeine buzz, and empty rainbow coffee can and a Decepticon action figure. I am not surprised I fell for this gimmick, in spite of the packaging.

The ad wizards have known that  free robot action figures have been my Achillies heal in the past. It’s not like my house is swarming with them, but I am confident that somewhere in Corporate America there is a Dossier titled, “Ted and the McDonald’s ‘Free Toy Robot’  Happy Meal Giveaway:1988-89” that floats around and is occasionally cited in grandiose power point presentations.

I won’t go into too much detail, but with the exception of the time they interrupted “Muppet Babies” to show the protest in Tienanmen Square, all of my memories of that year consist of greasy hands and Chicken McNuggets. I may have consumed thousands of Chicken McNuggets.

In fact, if the advent of the TV-Talk Shows and Fast-Food backlash had come a bit earlier I’m sure my experience would have merited a free trip to the Maury Povich Show where studious audience members would have berated my parents with shameful insults while I, oblivious and greasy, played with robots 4-7. You can’t blame my parents though. My desire to collect the entire series of robots was instinctual, primal and  unstoppable.

Old habits die hard and I’m sure the next few weeks with my find my blood pumping caffiene and my apartmetn litered with preference-ambigous rainbow cans.

(Note: I now have two, and had to talk myself out of #3 this evening also, it appears this advertising agaency Suntory has chosen have recieved some accolades for their work: Award for Tommy Lee Jones)



essentials, fringe benefits, and the beginnings of an “honor” discourse

I am currently riding the sonic waves of another productive weekend. I returned to my new favorite city, Kobe, made a deal with the devil, and found myself the new owner of a used guitar. It’s been almost two months since I’ve put my fingers to a fret so it was a relief to get back on an ax and find the chords still familiar and remember that the vocals still need work.

There may be consequences though. I fear that the trim thickness of my apartment walls and my irregular working hours might dictate that my neighbors and I a new familiarity with each other soon. I’m trying to keep the guitar fest to a minimum after midnight, but occasionally the musical urge disrupts my biological clock and I find the notes flowing at an unreasonable hour. It appears my only legitimate chance of salvation lies in the possibility that my neighbors enjoy mediocre, acoustic Stones covers and don’t own any large knives. Sadly, this is Japan, sharp knives are aplenty and my chances look slim.

I hope to go out rocking harder than ever (note to self: polish up that mean “Freebird” solo stat).

In the continued tradition of naming my larger Japanese purchases, I will name this guitar “Mr. Katana”. I was going to go with Guitarzilla, but my cell phone has already claimed “Cellzilla”, and a sequential continuation would just seem so unoriginal.

Friends in battle.

Friends in battle.

I also put my newly purchased soccer ball to use this weekend. It was an interesting experience. The field I used was large and empty, but primarily dirt. I had a few spectators in several elderly Japanese athletes who were using the surrounding track.  Between their uniform looking attire and the way the kept glancing at me with stoic faces, I kept thinking one of them was going to come inform me I needed a permit to use the field or that I wasn’t honoring the facility properly, but I kicked around and left without incident.

Games play a large role in my life in Japan and I’ve begun to relish and appreciate their presence.

I think the Japanese agree; Rock, Paper, Scissors (they call it Janken) is the preferred method of dispute resolution in Japan.  I think this is a fantastic policy.

In my classroom, I also get to play a lot of hangman and Jenga. Hangman actually could be one of the five pillars or learning. I’m not sure what the other four are, but if you want to learn a new word and ensure you remember it, fear of fictional, cartoon asphyxiation is a great motivation tool. I wrap up a class with a rousing game of hangman at least five times a week. I’m thinking about going Pro.

It’s hard to determine if my students enjoy the game anywhere near as much as I do, but as long as I have the control of the whiteboard (which is always), the scaffold and stick figure has a place on the board.

I also know what you’re thinking…JENGA? How does he get paid to play Jenga? I can’t actually take credit for this development. My previous teacher had the genius idea to write some English letters on Jenga blocks. If you make the kids pronounce the letters as they remove the corresponding blocks, you have an unstable learning structure of excitement. If given the choice, I would want to learn everything in Jenga format.  My students agree; the popularity of this game with children (and myself) is immense. I also think the fragility of the Jenga structure provides and interesting social insight.

I think it’s fair to say that most of the world looks upon Japan as a culture that champions “honor” above all other virtues.  For a number of reasons that I will address in a future post, so far, i would confirm this assessment as generally accurate.

However, people often misinterpret the attributes and jurisdiction of Japanese “honor”.

TONY says, "THESE FLAKES ARE MOST HONORABLE AND DELICIOUS"

TONY says, "THESE FLAKES ARE MOST HONORABLE AND DELICIOUS"

I think that several of my friends are the assumption that my child students are incredibly well-behaved due to this invisible honor specter that keeps them in line. This is not the case, or if it ever was the case, the powers of the ghost are eroding with younger generation (very possible this is the case). It appears in the majority of the “developed” world, the days of regimented, militaristic instilling of obedience to authority have ceased. (debate this and the virtues of such practices on your own time).

Honor is very alive in Japanese society, but my younger students are no more well-behaved or disobedient than children I was in charge of at summer camps in America. Even with Jenga–attraction number one for these kids, I still have classes where the average game lasts less than two minutes because there is the kid (or kids) that achieves enjoyment in sabotaging the tower every chance he gets.  Through clenched teeth or anger and disappointment, I appreciate the cultural similarity.

I want to share some other encounters I have had with the Japanese honor system– in didactic enterprise, eating and politics, as they have been extremely relevant as of late, but they will have to wait as the require their own separate and esteemed post….