Teaching In Socks

Kid Tested Visa Approved
July 28, 2009, 6:09 pm
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Today is 368 Days after my arrival to Japan. On Monday, I picked up a renewed Visa, permitting me to stay for another three years (I made an impression). While It’s not necessarily and achievement, it’s nice to go another year without getting deported.

In terms of the previous year, I think as these things tend to do, it has differed slightly from what I expected. Then again, as it has been a year, I can’t exactly remember what I expected. I stopped believing in time capsules and seventh grade and since then I have refused to play the Nostradamus game of writing down expectations and revealing either how naive I am, or how predictable life is.

That said, let’s review some facts.

In my year here, I’ve been to three castles and something like 15 temples. I’ve met enough new deities to throw a party, but most that are worshiped less than Wolverine at Comic-Con. I’ve either met no robots, or a bunch of really awesome robots that are too life-like for me to identify.

I have not been attacked by an Sea Monsters (or Monster in general) but if they exist, I probably have eaten them.   I have eaten parts of animals that I don’t know the Japanese names for. I have eaten animals and plants that I don’t know the Japanese names for. I haven’t thrown up once (there has been a close call or two). I have given up hope and eaten McDonald’s five times.

I have probably executed three correct bows; they probably weren’t the three I wanted to get right.

I have picked up a couple hundred words, but I can count the number of “successful” Japanese conversations I’ve had on one hand. I have probably said th word “hai” meaning yes 100,00 times. I say it when I’m confused, I say it when I’m nervous, I accidentally say it instead of “hello” sometimes. Just today a man came in to ask me about studying abroad. He squawked at me for 15 minutes, while I intermittently replied “hai” and somehow he didn’t seem to grasps that I had very little understanding of what he was saying to me.

The war has come up a few times, but it yet to be unmanageably awkward.

I’ve only seen three anime. I have yet to start dressing up like a cartoon character (besides Jon Arbuckle). I haven’t appeared on any game shows. I haven’t eaten any bugs. I sill have all my fingers.

I’ve been called Harry Potter a few times, I’ve made a few inquisitive kids double-take but the important thing is I’ve never been chased to the embassy–still somedays I feel like I’m only a poorly timed “hai” away.

Castle Boy
August 20, 2008, 4:13 pm
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The previous weekend was perhaps my most accompllished this side of the Pacific: a cornucopia of squid was consumed, a face was sunburned, and gifts were purchased. Entire continents have had less to show for a weekend–that’s right, I’m looking at you Antarctica. The success story started on Sunday morning. After much begging on my behalf,  my friend agreed to give me the royal tour of Ako. I for some reason decided that 11:30am would be a suitable time for us to meet at the train station and for the tour to begin. When I arrived at 11:45am we decided it would be best to start with something to eat and pedaled down to JusCo, which I might start calling Xanadu-Ako location, to patron the largest food court the prefecture has to offer that is also within the city limits of Ako.

I was persuaded to try Takoyaki, which essentially batter, squid, (which I still call calamari for my stomach’s benefit) and what the Japanese universally call “sauce”. Sauce is BBQ sauce, and I think the BBQ nomenclature is something this country should embrace. Let’s be specific Japan, “sauce” sounds a bit vague by virtue and bit suspicious–like something they give you at Jack In The Box (oh wait, that’s called “jack sauce”…still).

I know what you’re thinking, squid balls for breakfast? gross. I agreed, and consequently was compelled  reward my stomach for it’s cultural martyrdom with two scoops from 31 flavors. I won’t contend that BBSQ squid balls and ice cream is the foundation of a healthy breakfast, but at least it has more flavor than Special K

Having satisfied our culinary aspirations, the tour embarked. Our first stop was Ako castle. It was once a large castle built in the 1300’s but all that remains now are few castle walls and guard posts, a small temple building and assorted ruin among the footprint of the castle. We took few pictures, prayed to a few Buddhist gods, and then headed to the beach

The beach in Ako is small but adequate. It’s a place where I would recommend one build a sand castle, nor encourage any scuba diving, but a book can be read and a sunscreen-stubborn Caucasian boy can find himself with vicious sunburn. That same Caucasian also may have bruised my foot on a rock. It wasn’t my best moment.

Afterwards we headed to Ako’s finest restaurant for dinner, Sakuragumi. Sakuragumi is a fairly famous pizza place near the castle, and has full Napolitana accreditation. It happened to be prix fixe night, so we each spent around the equivalent of $55 for the meal, but it was a delicious eight course feast. Three of the courses were squid based.

The next day, my friend was nice enough to be my guide as I scoured Himeji for a gift for my mom’s birthday. They have a little broader shopping selection in Himeji and it’s small trip from Ako. to avoid any present revelations I’ll skip the shopping details until the gift arrives stateside, which will most likely be in October. Ships are slow.

After the shopping mission was completed, I kind of hinted that I might have an interest in walking through the castle. Himeji Castle is a world heritage site, and it lives up to it’s billing. The castle construction began in 1346 and was completed in 1618. It’s cool to touch things significantly older than my country, however the two castles in two days gave me flashbacks childhood summer trips.

Himeji castle, from below.

Himeji castle, from cellphone.

At some point in the mid 1990’s my family decided it would be a great idea to take vacations that involved extended road trips across the country. I’m not exactly sure why this decision was made, perhaps we wanted to put the family motto, “Fortitudine et Prudentia” (Fortitude and Prudence) to use–with an uneven concentration on the former, or maybe we had decided things were going a little too well and we needed to pursue a balance by spending thirteen hours in a car during the hottest months of the year. Catholic guilt can be a strange and persuasive motivator.

Regardless, these things happened and we spent eight hour nights at Hampton Inns in Ashville, NC and kept a running survey of McDonald’s Playlands from Memphis to Mobile. Often on our return trip, my dad would be determined to detour us to some arbitrary civil war battlefield that may or may not be along out route. It wasn’t bad enough that we were on a 13-hour road trip, it had to be educational too. To my father’s credit, I can only recall one such occasion where we pilgrimaged to one of these AAA “points of interest”. I think it was in 1995, but other than that all I remember was that it must have been 15 degrees hotter there than anywhere else in the world, and that I spent a significant amount of time in the backseat of our minivan beating the hell out of a a plastic child car-seat.

However, this past weekend both of castles kept a temperature that was five to ten degrees cooler than the outside, and I observed absolutely zero no car-seats were abused by frustrated teenagers,or anyone else for that matter . Clearly, my childhood could have been marginally improved with an American castle or two

I did make one error though; by visiting two castles back to back, with the same person, I acquired the “Castle Boy” nickname. I wouldn’t mind it, in fact I coined it, but the Japanese are crafty. If word gets out, it could only be matter of days before I end up with a finished, “Castle Boy” spandex and rayon outfit in my hands and the Japanese take gifts very seriously.