Wednesday, September 29, 2010

WTF?!


I just received a piece of political junk mail in the post today! I don't know anything about this Jim Boyd but, HOT DAMN this made my day!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kobe Part 3

As soon as everyone finished beating up the security guards, we began to stroll to our next, improvised destination: China Town. Yes folks, there are only 3 Chinatowns in all of Japan and one of those just happens to be in Kobe. It is basically one long street with vendors peddling Chinese d├ęcor, food, and toys. Maybe a few fake brand name products if you look hard enough.



[ Side story: At the pub quiz (trivia event) a couple weeks ago, I pulled out a very sketchy looking chair wondering if it could hold my weight. This was a very tiny chair, much like one would find in a kindergarten classroom. I asked everyone, “You think I’m safe to sit in this chair?” Someone answered, “That depends, is it made in China or Japan?” I held my breath and sat in the chair. Nothing happened, the chair was fine. All at once, everyone answered “Japan…” hehe]


Every food vendor was selling the same meat buns, fried chicken, shaved ice, etc. I guess even in foreign countries, the Chinese restaurants still buy from the same company. We stopped midway to check out a random (I say random, because I had no clue there was event going on) performance in the main square. We stayed for about 5 minutes while 5 older women danced with fans. After our ears began to bleed from the annoying Chinese music, we moved on, envious of the deaf.





Close to Chinatown, is the Kobe Port. There is lots to do at Kobe Port. We first checked out the Earthquake memorial. A large earthquake wrecked Kobe Port in 1994 and decimated the local economy because imports and exports were halted as a result. A small piece of devastation has been left in its original shape in memorial of the disaster. Bent lampposts, cracked and uneven concrete, and other debris litter this small area.



Japan even put up some columns with pictures of the destruction and snippets of history about its effects. A small video played nearby with clips from the local news stories 15 years ago. It was actually kind of a humbling experience.

As the sun went down, the lights came on. Port Tower looked gorgeous at night. The colors are constantly changing so it looks really cool. In the distance, one of the Nara JETs noticed more light across the bay. There was a small theme park across the bay, a sight that made everyone very excited. When we arrived at the theme park, we saw motorcycle-sized furry, robotic animals ripe for riding. For 200 yen, each of us hopped on top of them and battled at 1 mph. Imagine: a group of gaijin (foreigners) riding robotic large animals toward each other yelling “CHARGE!!!” We don’t attract attention, we DEMAND it. We also rode the Ferris Wheel, which, by the way, is not much fun. Ferris Wheels are lame. The view of Kobe from the top of Mt. Roko was way better.




For dinner, we ate at a Hawaiian restaurant owned by a friend of one of the Nara JETs (he did a study abroad, so he knows people). The dinner was AMAZING! I ate teriyaki loco moco which is: A beef steak over rice covered in teriyaki sauce, served with homemade potato salad and normal salad. I ate everything and even asked the chef for more potato salad. Yum! The owner also makes peanut butter ice cream in house so that was a real treat too. . The owner even taught me a song on the ukulele. I can now play 2 songs on the “uke.” Awesome. The best part? It was about 3500 yen ($35) cheaper than the Kobe Beef place.

This concludes Part 3 of my adventures in Kobe. I hope you enjoyed. I’ll try not to break up the posts in the future, but this was a big one.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Kobe Part 2

After our return down Mt. Roko, we went to a restaurant to eat the famous Kobe Beef. The meal was a complete disappointment. It was 4 course meal and very expensive. The Kobe beef was good, but I received very little for a $50 meal. I think for $50, they can cough up more than 4.5 oz. The bulk of these expensive Japanese meals are shit I wouldn’t eat if I were starving. That’s not to say I wouldn’t eat it if peer pressure was exerted…and it was. I had a little bit everything because EVERYONE was watching. So yes, I nibbled at the tofu, ate a bit of the bean sprouts, tried the root of some plant.




I came out of the restaurant lighter than when I walked in (I’m guessing the money I spent was heavier than the food I ate). I should have learned my lesson about fine cuisine in Japan when I visited Tokyo 2 years ago, but alas, I had to try the Kobe beef (the beef was delicious however, small).



We took so long eating our “delicious” meal, that we missed our opportunity to see the Ukiyo-e Paintings. If you couldn’t feel my anger through this blog post, please understand, at that time, I was dissatisfied with an expensive meal and I had just missed the reason I was in Kobe in the first place. Suddenly, however, my luck changed just as our plans did.

Stay tuned for Part 3

Kobe Part 1

7 other Nara JETs, 1 Kyoto Jet, and myself set out on a journey to the land of beef, Kobe. Initially, the plan was to visit the herb garden on Mt. Roko and see the U-kiyoe Paintings exhibit on loan from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. One of these events did not occur. Let me explain.

I woke up early Thursday morning to catch the trains to Sannomiya station in Kobe. All of my trains (that I had meticulously scheduled), were late. They were really late. I have experienced trains that were late by 5 minutes, but on this morning, they were late by 30 minutes. Did I mention it was a rainy day too? What luck!

Once I FINALLY arrived in Kobe, we all really wanted a pick-me-up. Thanks to the handy iphone, a starbucks was located and my hot chocolate craving was sated.

We walked, trained, and sometimes skipped to the base of Mt. Roko, where the herb garden is located. We paid to take the cable car up the mountain. It was a damn good decision. The view from the cable car was stunning. We could see all of Kobe, regardless of the obscuring mist and rain. We even had a magnificent view of a waterfall on the mountain.




We went in two groups because the cars could only fit 6 people. My group arrived at the top of the mountain safely, but the 2nd group was stalled on the cable, probably 100 meters from the top. Apparently some asshole pressed the emergency button. All was soon resolved and the trip continued.



The herb garden incorporates a large part of Mt. Roko. There were fields of lavender (yes, I frolicked in them), and many other spices. I particularly liked the smell on Mt. Roko. The mountain smells like rosemary, mint, and other pleasant herbs. At the gift shop, we special ordered some Nikuman. Nikuman are meat buns. They were filled with meat and onion.



I also got my mother a magnet from the store (I am trying to get you more Mom, but magnets aren’t a big thing in this country). On a cold, wet day, they were heavenly. We also went into the green houses to check out the tropical plants. We all found an herb we really enjoy and rubbed our hands against the plants to get the smell on our hands. My hands smelled like rosemary. MMMMM…it was nice.






Part 2 is on its way!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Seiza

I visited Tea Ceremony club today. Everyone, including participants, must sit in a style known as seiza (pictured below):



Me: "Oh my God, I-sensei, it's only been 40 seconds and my legs are already hurtin' like hell."

I-Sensei: "You can feel your legs?"


fail.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dinner Talk

Today's lesson for the Seniors was about conversation at the dinner table. The teacher and I set up a dinner table in the middle of class and even provided props for all the characters. Just to get the kids laughing, I donned all the props at once.



Father: Glasses
Mother: Apron
Son: Baseball Hat
Daughter: Snoopy doll
Grandma: Blanket

Tokyo Game Show

Last weekend I went to the Tokyo Game Show with some Nara JETs and Kobe JETs!

Friday Night:

I took the nightbus from Osaka to the Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. There are basic bus seats, but I paid a bit more for the ultra seats. The chairs were bigger, more legroom, and all around more space. The bus company provided blankets for everyone. It was dark and silent the whole ride. Curtains covered the windows and even blocked the windshield. The bus ride took 8 hours, with about 3 stops along the way. I picked up some food at one of the stops, but other than that, I battled the forces of discomfort to achieve about 4 hours of sleep.

Saturday:

I joined the trip late, so I did not get a ticket to the Ghibli Museum. Studio Ghibli is the animation company responsible for movies like "Spirited Away," "My Neighbor Totoro," and "Princess Mononoke." They are like the Pixar of Japan. Disney always helps release their movies in the USA. Instead of going to the museum, I dropped off my bags at the Hotel and headed straight for the Tokyo Game Show (TGS)!


It was HUGE! TGS is held at a convention center in the Chiba Prefecture. This convention center is the biggest I've ever seen. TGS encompassed 3 gigantic rooms.

I explored the first room on Saturday. I found the Konami, XBOX 360, Retail, and Square Enix boothes in this room. Also, I found the Behemoth game design company showing off their new "Castle Crashers" style of games. I even met the "Ash" from the popular web series "Hey Ash Whatcha Playin."





After I spent a couple hours at TGS, I met up with another Nara JET, R, in Tokyo. We ate some good Japanese style curry, and geeked it up in Akihabara. Akihabara is full of stores for comics, video games, movies, and electronics. We ate Burger King for dinner (there are NO Burger Kings in the Kansai area). Good 'ol fashion Karaoke took us the rest of night when we finally decided it was time to get some sleep.


Sunday:

We got up bright and early (I had a bagel for breakfast. I miss bagels.) and met up at the train station for day 2 of TGS fun! When I went to TGS the day before, it was noon, so there was no line. We arrived on Sunday at the opening time, so the line was LONG. It was so long in fact, that it wrapped around the ENTIRE CONVENTION CENTER. Standing in line to go in, cooking in the sun...did someone order Yakijoshua (cooked Joshua)? The Good news? My group seriously found 8 tickets on the ground outside the arena. We took them...and used them. We got into TGS for free. We are bad people...or just Gaijin.

I checked out the 2nd and 3rd rooms on this day. The 2nd room had the Sony, Capcom, Bandai-Namco, and others' boothes. They were gigantic. Sony is really pushing for the Playstation Move, their answer to the Wii. Microsoft is also pushing hard for the Kinect, their answer to the Wii. Lines were long everywhere, but I got to play the game I was looking forward to, "Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2."

I also went to the Capcom booth movie theater (yes, a movie theater) and watched all the latest trailers for their upcoming games. I collected free swag from all areas of TGS, except for the stuff one only gets if you play their game. Sorry Japan, I'm not waiting in line for 40-120 mins to play a video game. Not ever.


The 3rd room was reserved for food vendors and video game fighting competitions. It was the championships for "Street Fighter" and "Arcana Hearts." It was kind of cool to watch pro-gamers duke it out on large screens, but the excitement wore off when I realized I was watching pro-gamers duke it out on large screens.

To finish the TGS experience, I snapped a few pictures of Japanese Cosplayers (people who dress in their favorite character's costume). They are light years ahead of American cosplayers in Japan. I would NEVER do it, but color me impressed by how enthusiastic these people really are.



Another Nara JET and I left around 4 and took the bullet train back to Nara. It was a nice trip. Exhausting, but nice. I used the Monday holiday to recuperate, get internet installed in my apartment, and finally skype with family. All is good with the world.

Now I leave you with this:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Student Homework

The student's homework was to write instructions for anything.
(I.E. how to make a cake, hot to get to school from the train station, etc.)

This is an example of one of my student's homework:

"The egg is broken.
It is mixed.
It is fry.
Stay dishes."

...brilliant.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Foreign Sports...at least to me.

I played Rugby for the first time last Sunday. This sport goes against all my American instincts.

Me: Excuse me sir. How do we make progress on the field?

Douchebag: Oh, once you have the ball you can run forward.

Me: Oh good. I am a big guy, so I will be difficult to stop.

Douchebag: Actually, we play touch rugby. When someone touches you, you must put the ball on the ground.

Me: You mean like a tap?

Douchebag: Ya, all they have to do is lay a finger on you.

Me: Oh ok, well at least I can throw the ball to someone else before I get touched.

Douchebag: Well ya, but you can only throw backward.

Me: FFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUU...

Every time I got the ball and I threw my weight behind my run, someone effing tapped me and I had to stop. I hate this aspect because I can never make enough progress. I fight my American Football instincts not to throw forward.

I can't throw forward and NO ONE runs for more than 2-3 secs before getting touched (unless they miraculously get a break away).

Seriously though, this game is completely backwards to me, but is really, really fun. I actually enjoyed myself at the practice. Rugby isn't as exhausting either, unlike Ultimate Frisbee. The tournaments for Rugby are next year, but some wanted to start the practices now before the winter rolls in and everyone begins their hibernation.

I am not sold on Ultimate Frisbee. Way to much running and a tremendous amount of pressure on those who are slow (like me), can't throw a Frisbee well (like me), and have shitty endurance (like me). The Ultimate tournaments are in the Fall, so I may join anyway just to burn time.

Monday, September 13, 2010

School Festival


School Festival (Thursday):

Last Thursday was the culmination of all the students' determination to avoid home, the School Festival. The students, teachers, and staff have been working on School Festival preparations for months now, many students foregoing their summer vacation to come in and work. Seriously, do students ever go home? Even now, some stay at school longer than I do, and I get paid! Anyway, the festival started with an assembly in the gym where the students showed me that they can be talented and creative. The theme of this year's festival is "Colors." The stage was decorated with rainbows, there were streamers everywhere, and various paints on the walls. The gym looked like a pride parade in San Francisco.

The assembly began with a few boring speeches by the Kocho-sensei and other staff. Then the brass band performed. They were awesome! They played big band songs that made me miss swing dancing and even performed a song from the show "One Piece." It was a great time. I got permission from the band teacher to record their next practice session tomorrow. He was flattered I even asked. The rest of the morning was filled with dance routines, small plays, and other bits of semi-entertaining morsels.



I then set up my booth in the English Club classroom. We had lots of snacks, cold tea, and games like scrabble set up. People mostly visited our room for the snacks and tea. It was a hot day after all. I had my Desoto activity book, map of America notepad, 50 states word search, snooty plush, and some fact sheets about Florida set up at my booth. The kids loved the word search. Word got out many visited my booth just to grab a word search. By the end of the day, only 4 students finished it. Most gave up. So much for Japan's Fighting Spirit.

After watching my booth for about 2 hours, I decided to explore the rest of the festival. There were many themed rooms. Most were set up with walls of Japanese text probably about history or interesting facts about Nara. Wasted on me. I did visit a room modeled after that children's book with the caterpillar. See Below:



As I entered another room to check out the commotion, I-Sensei ran up to me and yelled, "Joshua, please make a wish to the Pooh God." WTF? There it was, a giant effigy of Winnie the Pooh, also known as Pooh-San here in Japan. I guess there is a tradition at some Temples in Japan to write down a wish and pray to God it comes true. I wrote a wish, taped it to the bulletin board and hoped that prick, Christopher Robin, wouldn't curse me. Don't believe me? Here is Pooh-san:



After my run-in with the stuff of nightmares, I attended the traditional tea ceremony. This is a highly ritualized, traditional art that one must be certified to teach. I ate sweets (getting sick of sweet bean paste) and drank green tea.

Some students even drew a picture of me on a balloon. For your enjoyment:



School Festival Day 2:

I went to my booth early on Friday. It was a mostly empty day for the English Club Room because there were snack booths set up outside for all (who bought a ticket) to enjoy. I was unaware of this ticket system. I went hungry for hours until a couple of student found me lifeless and lean in a ditch begging for food. I got a hotdog and some shimichi (noodle thing). Yum!



After the morning, there was the big acapella contest. I thought someone invited a teams of feral cats to compete, but it turns out they were teams of students. They tried their best, but even I have my tolerance for humoring children. I ended up retreating into the teacher's office (several others had the same idea) where my ears could rest. I don't know who won, but I don't care either.




I'm guessing my school spent a good part of their budget on the last performance of the festival. We invited a professional accapella to perform in the gym. They were AMAZING. Cheers, Horyuji, cheers. I will leave this post with one more picture: the opening gate of the festival:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Good week....so far...

Last weekend was the M's party! It is an overnight party down in the south of Nara...where civilization becomes difficult to find. It is also called, Yoshino-gun, or, The Goon for short. It took roughly 2 1/2 hours to get to Marty Party from my town. Japan doesn't really have highways (when they do, they are fucking expensive to use) and the trains can become scarce the farther south one goes. I rode in a car with 3 other JETs. Yes, we traversed mountain passes (constant state of almost-death), and flew through mountain tunnels, but we finally reached the party around 3:00PM. I chipped in for the keg and the party began. We played Ultimate Frisbee first. It was fun. Really exhausting, but fun. Probably wasn't a good idea to play an intense sport with beer in my stomach. Lesson learned.

After Ultimate, we went for a dip in the nearby Yoshino River. It was cold, but after playing around, it felt nice. It was very shallow (probably 3 ft where we were) so my groin found several rocks as I floated along the river. Following the river portion of the party, was the BBQ portion. We all brought various meats and veges for the 4 grills that were set up by M's school. Oh ya, did I mention this party took place at his school? Amazing no? (Don't worry, we had permission) We grilled, ate, talked, and drank. It was a good time.

Someone even opened up the gym for us to use. I played volleyball and basketball until 11PM when my batteries began to run out. At midnight, the JETs sang me the "Happy Birthday" song. It was sweet. We all passed (SLEPT for the slang-impaired) in the gym on the judo mats. I got up at 6:30 for the early bus because my TV was being delivered that day and I would not miss it. The TV came in, it works, and life is now wonderful.

At school, I've given my self-intro probably 9 times to different classes. I am all self-intro'ed out. Today, C and I watched commercials the Seniors made over summer vacation. The acting was terrible, the camera work was atrocious, and the English unclear. I held back from laughing my ass off the whole time. I guess Japanese students aren't known for artistic creativity. I am hoping to score a copy of the videos so I can show family and friends what I'm talking about.

Today, I watched more commercials with the Seniors. After that class, we have spent the rest of the day preparing for the school festival taking place 9/9 and 9/10. Th festival is a BIG DEAL. The students have been preparing for this event for months. I set my little booth in the English Club's room. I printed out a 50 states word search, pictures of flags, fun Florida facts, etc. I also signed up for a 15 minute massage with the student massage club. For those of you asking, yes, I am weirded out by the idea of being massaged by a teenage boy, but I was asked by their teacher so I couldn't really say no.

A's bday on Friday, movie night on Saturday, and Touch Rugby practice on Sunday. I will be busy again! More updates to come!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

First day of school

Yesterday was the first day of real school, not just an opening ceremony. I did my self-introduction for 4 classes.

1st Class: The first period was dead tired. Just like in America, students in first period are useless. I couldn't get any participation. Most did the turtle (heads shrink low, possibly into their shirt) when I asked them a question. The question game that followed the powerpoint worked...but was still not very fun considering how tired the students were.

2nd Class: This class has 2 specific students that are "too cool for school." I actually don't mind their class clown antics because it made the class more lively. Other students felt more comfortable answering questions apparently when these two were being asshole. It's a win and lose, I suppose.

3rd Class: I liked this class. They laughed at all the right points, participated in the game, and asked relevant questions.

4th Class: Same as the third. This class is cool.

One of students asked me how much I weigh. Haha, I did tell them they could ask me anything...