Teaching In Socks

Sophmorism and Sakura
March 31, 2009, 5:32 pm
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The last two weeks have been fantastically hectic–so much so, that I haven’t really had any time or energy to post or document any of the action. Since I’m still short on energy I’ll try and run through the two interesting points as briefly as possible–excluding a haiku format.

1. Of course during a visit from two good friends we found the first vocally xenophobic (or perhaps just anti-American) Japanese person I have encountered since I arrived. In retrospect, perhaps he was just the first one who expressed his disdain in English (I get a variety of looks on a daily basis), I’d know, but either way he was a total J-hole.

Completely unprovoked this fine gentleman was standing alongside a crowded path we were following to a temple in Nara and said, in discernible English, “I will drink Champagne when you leave Japan”. I must first commend him for the risky diss; what if we were French? However, the overall lesson I took from this experience is that this man was an incredibly  intrepid jackass. It takes some effort just to learn how to insult someone in their own dialect, let alone so elaborately. While simple f-bomb would have sufficed, something compelled this man to move further. Great job, Earth.

I was so taken aback my only reply was a lightly toned sarcastic  “thank you”.

In his defense, at least once a year, without fail a stranger lobs and unexpected insult my way; some are more memorable than others. In 2006, while walking in the West Village to pick up a package at  UPS Purgatory, I caught the eye of a man crossing the street perpendicular to me long enough for him to ask, “whatchew looking at fatass?”.

I don’t take these attacks to personally (that would be awful). I see it as God playing Cato to my Inspector Clouseau, keeping me on my toes.

2. Cherry Blossom season has begun. I have the feeling it’s a five week season that can be broken into four stages: two weeks of talking about how awesome the cherry blossoms will be, two weeks of staggered blossom fruition, and one week of talking about how awesome the cherry blossoms were.

Currently, we appear to be ending the second week of build up and anticipation. The few early bloomers light up the mountainsides and streets like fireworks, but it’s obvious by the amount of bare stems and branches that this is just the preamble.  Still the excitement is palpable.

Full blooming trees are often crowded by camera or cellphone wielding  admirers–it’s not a passion, it’s an obsession. An old lady backed square into me the other day as she was staring at particularly elegant early bloomer, and the clerk at my local convenience store has been using it as his stock bit of small talk for the last few days. The hype is to immense for me to really grasp a sense of whether it’s too big a burden for these trees to live up to, or an appropriate amount of brouhaha  for what must be an brilliant botanic spectacle.

Severe Delays
October 20, 2008, 1:19 pm
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Last week, I attempted to take advantage of the holiday weekend and a JR West ticket discount by day-tripping to Nara. For those of you unfamiliar with Japanography, Nara is an ancient capital city of Japan (710 A.D.), neighboring Kyoto, and just beyond Osaka. Nara is mostly famous for it’s wealth of beautiful temples and the wild, yet tame deer that populate the city’s central park. I really wanted to feed some cheerios to deer, i feel this is an essential element to my Japan photo-album.

Nara is about three hours from Ako by train, so this was a bit of a stretch for a one-day trip. Also, since it was a holiday, the trains were a bit crowded. However, I was willing to put up with the semi-rigorous travel involved because my expectations for badass deer hijinxs were building to a crescendo. I partially blame “Tommy Boy” for this.

The train got as far as Kobe, before we started to slow down, and eventually stopping. After a few minutes,the conductor announced over the intercom that not one, but two people had thrown themselves in front of trains in separate incidents ahead of us on the line. He continued that we would be waiting at a standstill until the scene had been cleaned up.

We waited for an hour before resuming on to Osaka. By the time the train reached Osaka, where I had to transfer, my motivation for riding another train had vanished and I decided to spend the day in Osaka instead, which wasn’t a terrible consolation by any means.

I did spend a good portion of the rest of the day wondering about what had occurred earlier in the train. Following the announcement, there wasn’t a somber mood the train or even the hint of an air of compassion. I admit, this response peaked my interested in how the Japanese process these incidents.

I think it’s widely understood amongst foreigners, that Japan–like many other civilized cultures–has a history of acceptance towards “honorable suicides”. I suppose it was my initial perception, and the perception of many other foreigners, that the current trend of train/gas suicides is an extension of this. Upon further examination, while I think there may be a thread between the two, the correlation is nowhere near as strong as many of us think.

These train incidents are quite different. This is not considered an “honorable” method for executing such a purpose. The families of the victim are charged a substantial fee by the train operator to compensate for lost fares during the delay. In a society obsessed with punctuality, some see train jumpers as hoping to exact some revenge upon the society that has forced them to this decision. Also, They are increasingly common (I couldn’t locate actual specific statistics that I would feel comfortable citing) but it’s safe to say that the average Japanese commuter has encountered several delays of this variety.

Personally, I get the impression the impression that these incidents are seen as a side effect the countries economic success. It’s part of the balance of being an economic superpower and as such is treated much like the weather. If you want to live in a planet with a sky, sometimes that sky will have to rain. You can’t do much to change it, and thus there is no sense in complaining about it too much.

I don’t want to give off the impression that they take a heartless approach to this. Clearly, is is a problem they want to solve and it’s documented that Japanese society is starting to rethink and readjust the amount of pressure and stress it places on it’s constituents. Such a massive transformation is difficult for a country where many social ethics can be traced back to the virtues needed for a rice based agriculture. Growing rice is a grueling process, and requires hard work a dedication for success. This same ethic has been brought into the work place.

However, a balance must be found and Japan is aware of that. In some instances overtime is being reduced and the school week and study practices are being reforming to lighter, more manageable loads. I believe and hope this will help address the problem and reduce the frequency of this type of train delay.

And now, since it’s nearly impossible to bring this back to a high note via writing, I will end this one with some more Japanese television: