Teaching In Socks

What Hitchcock Missed
June 15, 2009, 5:05 pm
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News Bulletin:

I’m not sure to what degree this was discussed in American media outlets, but this week in Ishikawa prefecture it rained tadpoles and small carp. It happened on two separate occasions in different towns. No severe weather was reported in either occasion.

While this sort of news has been a nice break from the recent deluge of missiles madness and pandemics pandemonium, I’m not sure it’s less concerning. Amphibious animals are falling from the sky: if this isn’t some divine omen signifying plague and pestilence  ominous events to come, then at the very least it’s a notable an indicator that we are doing something terribly wrong to the environment (We are totally doing something terrible to the environment).

While experts have not been able to produce any concrete explanations  for the phenomenon, the current leading theory (rather predictably) blames birds. One duck observatory both proffers the theory that it could be birds dropping the amphibious specimens from their air while bringing them back to their young- they also dispute the theory based on the digestive rates of birds and the pristine states of the precipitants.  This little nuance enlightened me to the fact that I am glad that I am not a scientist who studies bird digestive rates.

Regardless of the real forces behind the tadpole rain (I blame Science), I think the initial accusations of feathered interference (and the possibility that it’s true) offers an important social statement of it’s own.  Clearly one of two things happened here:

1. The birds are angry about my rubber snake triumph (and subsequent boasting) and are taking it back by collectively ralphing water creatures across the country, one small town at a time


2. Japan has been inspired by my recent battle “nest v. rubber snake” and are enacting an elaborate “Sinking of the Maine” routine to begin a false, but publicly justified crusade against these feathered Dinoterrorist. They will hunt them mercilessly, and with generations of repressed rage from spite-filled emergency car-washes. Presumably when the extermination is finished, the citizens will populate the sky with flying robots and a few Herons kept around for posterity.

Like I said, I blame science.

Summer’s Christmas: Adventures in Cakesville and the lessons of Fern Gully revisited
June 10, 2009, 2:25 am
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Saturday was “Roll Cake Day” in Japan. It might have been Roll Cake Day other countries too, but my attentiveness to the Pantheon of Significant Days only has a 500 km radius. Also, I’ve noticed Japan seems to have a penchant for minor, humorous and  consumer-inspired holidays. Also, I don’t know how to say roll cake in French (and the internet won’t tell me how) nor do I know the Kanji for “roll cake” (maybe it’s a swirl) so I have no way of confirming the holiday’s provenance.

Still, why was Saturday Roll Cake Day . Did Thomas Roll roll his first cake? Did Marco Polo trade a swirled pastry for some noodles and ginger? Did a blind sushi master accidentally grab cake and cream, stumbling upon an ingenious delicacy?

Nope.  June 6th is roll cake day because he number “6” looks vaguely similar to the pattern of a roll cake (and June 6th has two of them, see- 6/6). Pictograph puns!

I celebrated by buying a roll cake on June 7th, when they were being sold at a day-old  discount, and then eating an entire cake in two sittings. It was a delicious and terrible idea. The human body is not designed to handle some much cake and icing–even if it is arranged in geometrically desirous right-cylinder/spiral shape.

The holiday/seasonal celebrations are a multi-headed monster though; it’s also Firefly season. The Japanese have this strange dichotomy where they love industry as much as Carnegie, but–almost universally–appreciate nature with the spiritual connection and wonderment of an Oregon Hippie.

It’s an interesting balance I haven’t quite sorted out yet. For example, they have these fairly popular firefly festivals, but as my student noted, fireflys are prominent in this area because they have the only clean unpolluted river in the area (I secretly thanked that student for justifying the absurd amount of money I spend on bottled water each week). The chemical quality of the water is interesting given that Firefly watching garners the same amount of enthusiasm a Monster Truck rally gets in the U.S.

I suppose that enthusiasm is really the take-away here. While I really enjoyed catching fireflys as a child, in retrospect, compared with my Japanese counterparts, I probably took for granted. I certainly never attended a festival devoted to th insect. Nor did I have a secret spot (as some of my students do) to watch them.  I did watch Fern Gully a few times though, and I memorized that song at the Zoo about saving the rainforest, I doubt Japan did that (who am I kidding, Fern Gully was probably huge here).

Under the Net of Bureaucracy
June 1, 2009, 4:41 pm
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I am trying to save up money and energy for my trip to Tokyo at the end of the month. This means I didn’t visit any new castles, get attacked by robots, or eat any interesting sea creatures. Thus, another week resigned to pulling substantive content for this blog out of the mundane.

Standard Tuesday Material

Standard Tuesday Material

Fortunately for me, Japan’s distinct personality and mores have the ability to turn even the most simple activities into a highly-shareable cultural anecdote.

For example, this past weekend my girlfriend and I went to play tennis in the public park. What would appear to be a fairly straightforward and routine event instead becomes another platform for the ungrateful foreigner within me.

I will preface this with, (and it may be unnecessary because I think this a well-known fact and certainly a motif of my experience), Japan loves rules and order. As a result, you often find yourself face to face with the bureaucratic machine when you least expect it. They can run cross country trains on time to the minute, but god forbid you want a tennis court on a Sunday afternoon.

Of course, I wanted a tennis court on a Sunday afternoon, thus I was forced to undertake the following standard protocol to obtain one:

First, call and make a reservation. For God’s sake, don’t just show up unannounced. There could be a tournament and you could wait hours. There might not even be a tournament but instead seemingly empty and playable courts are designated not to be used.

Once you have made a reservation and arrived at the park, proceed to the Park Office;  there you will be required to fill out a form providing them with your name, address, and phone number. You also have to pay 500 yen for court usage. In turn, you will receive a receipt for the reservation (and the 500 yen) printed on A4 (8.5 in x 11 in) paper and a confirmation sheet for your reservation, also on A4 size paper and stamped with two official Park Office seals.

You then have to walk the 200 yards to the Tennis Center (which is actually bigger than the park office, yet holds less park authority). Hand them your confirmation sheet, which they will examine and then assign you a court. Before proceeding to your court, you must to go to the net storage room to retrieve a net. This net must be carried down to the court, unfolded and strung.

Our reservation was a 5;oo, we began hitting balls at 5:22. Also, a court can only be reserved a for one hour.

After barely breaking a sweat playing, you are then required to take down the net and refold it to proper storage specifications. Also, since the courts are a sand-astroturf hybrid (emphasis on sand) so you have to brush the court for the next group.

As you can see, it’s quite an intricate hassle. While there’s a certain beauty to playing on a pristine, brushed court, with a fresh and plush net, it’s really a short-lived sensation.  It’s a bit much. Besides, wasn’t tennis invented by the French? Don’t they just light up cigarettes, find a field with string tied up and complain while smacking a ball around? Isn’t that what tennis is really about?