Teaching In Socks

More words about the pictures; also, less pictures.
January 28, 2009, 5:23 pm
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Compared to last week, I really have nothing of supreme interest or intrigue to report. I didn’t almost faint anywhere in the past week, and any cultural faux pas I committed have yet to flourish into repercussions as of this writing..

On Sunday, I went to farewell party for another teacher in Himeji, and had quite a good time. I was introduced to a cornucopia of friendly, interesting Japanese people. The only notable setback of the evening was that the bar didn’t stock have any good Scotch in stock. Luckily, I was able to overcome, and like always, conquer adversity.

The weather was terrible on Monday, so I settled on an comfortably late wake up and hitting up the movie rental store for the first time. Usually I just grab something off the Itunes store and save myself the trip outside, but I wanted to grab something with subtitles so my Japanese friend could watch.

At my movie rental shop, the selection is pretty evenly divided between Japanese films and Foreign, Anglophone films. There’s a substantial selection dedicated ot American Television shows. I think this layout is pretty standard.  As you might imagine, the organization and categorization of Foriegn films is a bit of a farce–a defeating prospect to anyone searching out a particular title.

First, Alphabetizing is attempted, but it is a wasted effort. I foolishly spent twenty minutes trying to make sense of it all while looking for my favorite movie, Rushmore. I even considered that it might be alphabetized in Roman characters, but by the Hiragana alphabet this theory held no water. There would be spurts where “E” would follow “D” and maybe “M” sequenced into “N” only to be stonewalled by a slew of Jim Carey movies (alphabetized, nor arranged chronologically) before moving on the “S”. On the bottom shelf there were the mutts: a season of “Da Ali G” show, a Meg Ryan movie and multiple copies of every what I imagine (read: hope) is Police Academy movie ever made.

This was just the beginning of the labyrinth. The comedy and drama section were by virtue of misinterpretation, presumably by someone has a very serious sense of humor, interchangeable. The Shawshank Redemption was in the comedy section– a very dark comedy if you ask me.

In retrospect, It’s not surprising that both genres were also jammed back in the corner,  farthest from the entrance, and the least desirable shelf space by far. I can’t tell if it’s because the films are the least popular, or if because American Humor vs. American Drama binary is an entity the staff prefer to pretend doesn’t exist–like getting a “D” on a history exam and then refusing to acknowledge that the Crimean War  ever happened.

I could understand why a store or a worker might take this reaction. Especially when “Ace Ventura” and “Old School” were placed in the “Love Comedy” section. This is not entirely a misguided placement,  but designating these titles as “Love Comedies” could be viewed as someone’s interpretation of “love” as an entity that crude, sophomoric, and slapstick (wait, it’s not?). Frankly, I’m not sure which culture this would be an indictment against.

Despite the perplexing organization and the fact that I couldn’t even find one Bill Murray film, it wasn’t all chaos and entropy.

The “Foreign Horror” section seemed to carry an established logical sequence throughout the cannon. I wonder if this says something about the genre, Japanese culture, or that it was simply a product of the particular shelf they were on having more empty space, allowing an employee to keep things organized effortlessly.

They also had a rather impressive collection of French and German cinema, and a collection of older classics as well.The price was hard to eat as well. Three movies, for eight days, 700 yen (about $8). As long as the returns go down smoothly and they pass the litmus tets of not accusing me of “never returning Batman” (I’m looking at you Blockbuster) I won’t have to cut up my rental card in protest.

You might want to shorten that title.
December 15, 2008, 2:43 pm
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As seen in Himeji;

"we help you short time"

"after we leave--sharp mind will go play nintendo"

I don’t know what’s more perplexing, the tedious and elongated title or the suspicious looking company logo (It’s not just me right? that does look like a cartoon sketch of a derrier, no?) I guess at least one of them is accurate.

American Jokes and Language Inspectors
September 29, 2008, 12:44 pm
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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 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.


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.



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.

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.