Monday, October 22, 2007

Japan Talk: Almost another Month in Pictures

Selections from September 25th through October 22nd.

As usual I'm up to my same old same old. In other words, that means nothing new to report other than having a bunch of new stuff to report. Mainly, I am able to manage this feat through staying extremely busy.

Just as this past Friday (19th, Oct.) I accompanied my JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) to the 42nd Annual Hiroshima Prefectural Junior High School English Education Research Convention. I know what you're thinking, what a mouthful. I dare you to try saying that five times fast. Anyway, up in Chioda City, we had a fun Friday of enjoyable seminars. It was fun, because all the Japanese teachers, no matter their English proficiency level, were required to use English all day long.

This is one of the fun things about living in Japan, because the educated Japanese really do enjoy learning language. There is an exotic thrill to learning a foreign language, and if you don't mind making a fool of yourself, learning a language together can be fun and culturally eye-opening. However, there are the occasional Japanese punks who will try and tell you that they have no need to learn English, as they are contented to watch the whole world pass them by in intelligence and skill, but these nationalistic Japanese pride filled types often miss the point due to their lack of education.

Sadly enough, this closed minded thinking wasn't improved by the last Prime Minister of Japan, who cut ALL of the educational spending in regards to expanding Japan's cultural understanding in an attempt to isolate and boost nationalistic identity. Abe decided closing off harmful educational curriculum such as "English" learning and replacing it with "Japanese" morals -classes where my children must go to learn about how to think Japanese about Japanese related subjects, and then apply Japanese reasoning to it was a good enough reason to re-root educational money and boost military spending. It's not my country, so I have no place to criticize, but it is reasons like this which might be why Abe didn't even last a year as Prime Minister before getting ousted.

When I get stress I go for strolls to my favorite local Shrines and Temples. The top picture with the red bridge is a beautiful aclove near a Japanese Buddhist Temple. A short walk down the hill you find a trail leading over to a Shinto shrine where, you might have guessed it, my friendly fluffy little pal lives. The Shinto Poochi! I really must find out what the little guys official name is, seeing as how we're practically best pals already.

The Shinto Poochi looking all wise. I think this pose was just for show, you know, he really plays to the tourism. The Zen place must have a Zen monk, or even, a Zen dog who casts his placid demeanor like a seasoned pro. and wise beyond his years too.

Meanwhile, when I'm not going for invigorating walks I am being worn down by the little munchkins I teach. Here they were playing a variation of Japanese style "tag" which is called 鬼ごっこ Oni-goko. Basically one child gets (involuntarily) volunteered to be the "demon" or in Japanese "Oni" and has to count to a given number before chasing the other kids. This version was played on the monkey-bars. However, it was quite a fun variation as it seemed like freeze tag. If the "Oni" touches you then one must freeze in position until the little chubby boy, too hefty to make a proper get away, was the designated un-freezer. I joined in with them after lunch and was exhausted by the third lap around the school. Oh, I should mention that big scary foreign teachers always get (involuntarily) volunteered to be the "Oni". Oh well, I needed the excersize.

Below is a nice shot of the bridge over to my apartment. I really liked the atmosphere of the day. It was a warm dry day, with a cool breeze. With the swaying grasses and a bridge spanning off into the distance, the Japanese landscape behind, along with the smells of a summer fading into autumn, I had a very "Wow, I'm in Japan" moment. So naturally I had to capture the moment. It's moments like these which make living in a foreign country totally worth this. The experience is unlike anything I can describe, it is for the lack of a better phrase, awe-inspiring.

And then back to work again. At the 42nd Annual Hiroshima Prefectural Junior High School English Education Research Convention the middle school students gave a wonderful taiko "Japanese drum" presentation. Chioda City is famous for its very traditional Japanese arts. It was a real treat to watch and a nice break between class demonstrations and afternoon seminars.

Of course I didn't get back until around 6:30 PM Friday evening, the seminar was educational. At about 7:00 Sayaka and I rounded up the boys, Rickie and Arend (the other two JETs in Sera) and headed into Onomichi city to hit the gym. We convene every Friday to get some weight training and exercise in, but more importantly, to speak in real English with real English speakers. After working out we head to Gusto (a Perkins style family restaurant) where we spend two to three hours chatting it up. It's a great change of pace before heading into the weekend. Sorry I don't have pics of Gusto, I'll have to get some in the future.

As for the weekend holiday Sayaka and I headed into Fukuyama city to do a little shopping. At night I accidentally took a wrong turn driving while getting to downtown central. I ended up on the other side of Fukuyama castle by about four blocks, but found this amazing (AMAZING!) replica of St. Valentines Cathedral. Oddly enough, this ceremonial wedding facility was built to scale. There is something strange about seeing an ancient Japanese castle, roughly a thousand years old, and then just a few blocks away being witness to the finest European architecture western civilization has to offer. The feeling is almost 'out of body' in terms of being disoriented about where you are and what you are seeing. But once you get over the strangeness of it you can't help but admire the Japanese obsession with 'Western style church weddings'. So much so that companies will spend millions of dollars to replicate the authentic Western European cathedrals just to make the 'appearance' of the wedding that more authentic. It's bedazzling to say the least.

Finally we found our way downtown and I got to the music store where I needed to be. After which Sayaka and I headed to a nice Izakaya restaurant where we ate some real tasty yakkitori and chicken nanban. After which we did a little shopping.

In the video-game department of one of the larger department stores downtown I found this hilarious NINTENDO display totally covering up the playable X-Box 360 demo. If any of you were wondering how popular Microsoft's super next gen console is in Japan, look no further than this photo. It's popular enough to shove (un-played I might add) behind the latest Nintendo DS advertisement, and wedge it between the used Nintendo and Sony Playstation hardware and the Nintendo Wii rental stand off to the left. However, after taking this photo inside the store I had store security following me for about twenty minutes. I think he wanted to stop me and ask me to not take photos inside the store, but chickened out when he saw that I was a foreigner. Besides, he probably would have felt silly for reprimanding me for taking a photo of an unimportant thing like the X-Box 360.

I can imagine the conversation would go something like this, "Excuse me, but I'm going to have to ask you not to take photos in the store."

"Oh, I'm humbly sorry. I saw an X-Box 360 and wanted to document the Japanese reception and perspective of the console."

"An X-Box...what? Anyway, I can't have you taking photos in the store."

"Okay. Want to try out some Nintendo Wii with me over at the next display?"

"Oh sure! I love Nintendo!"

The End

The great news is Nintendo Wii is fully in stock for Christmas (at least here in Japan). Oh, Christmas wishes, I need to jot down. And that was my weekend. Until next time... the Japan adventure keeps rolling rolling rolling along.

Other things I did: Mini-movie marathon. I bought the amazing, yet loosely based, Spartan epic '300' (and wowza does it do a stupendous job of capturing the Frank Miller imagery of the comic), and I also purchased a super special mega deluxe four-disc special collectors edition of 'The Phantom of the Opera'. I guess I was in a Gerard Buttler mood, or something. I shelled out a whopping $60 (American) for this thing, but it comes with a superbly remastered sound, image, and black sued/velvet slip case with gold trim, containing photo postcards, 4 DVDs, and over 5 hours of bonus materials. Normally I don't like to re-buy movies unless there's a darn good reason, but as an avid film collector and all our film buff this was something I couldn't pass up. I only wish that they'd include all of the special collectors items on the high-def Blue Ray titles being released. I still refuse to buy hi-def, at least until the format war is substantially decided and when/and if they stop re-issuing new re-re-releases with only one minor re-cut scene or two minutes of alternate dialog. I really get tired of this whole 'double dip' contingency -especially when they neglect to include the special features I love to view again and again.

Next I rented 'Rocky Balboa' (or Rocky the Final as it is known in Japan), and Jackie Chan's new movie 'Project B.B.' (which in my opinion is the funniest Jackie Chan movie in ages).

Lastly, I rounded off the weekend with the horribly lurid and disturbing film 'Perfume' (right up there with the 'Passion of Christ' or 'Titus' for grotesquely intriguing, gruesomely beautiful imagery, explicitly enticing, visually disturbing, and all around upsetting cinematic art -none worth viewing a second time but interesting enough to warrant a one time screening).