August 31, 2005

How I caused the end times

I appeared on tv today. During my appearance, I think I murdered the Japanese language so severely that I've created a lingual-vacuum that will swiftly gain critical mass and transform into a verbal blackhole soon fated to encompass the world and cause a linguistic fallout the likes of which we haven't seen since the tower of Babel incident. Gather your loved ones now, and tell them you love them, for tomorrow you won't even remember how to pronounce their names. I just saw a horse walk by, shouting, "The end is nigh!*" He was being ridden by Diphthong, the third horseman of the linguistic apocalypse. Accompanying Diphthong where the other horsemen, Gerund, Alveolar Consonant, and Lisp.
Oh and now there is a Japanese guy on tv, saying, "Increase your hip power with or medicine of much thrust suporto." But come to think of it, that's normal.

*:actually, he could have said neigh now that I think about it. Oh crap! A pun! I just made things worse!
So I visited a bunch of elementary schools yesterday. The kids are fascinated by me. You should have seen them studying me when I drew a self portrait. Oh, and if you shake one kid's hand, they will swarm you with a flurry of outstretched digits and palms eager to make your acquaintance. So much fun.
I was reminded once again how different the rules are over here when we arrived at one school and half the boys and girls where running around naked. I guess it was bath-time. Not something that would fly in the U.S., but like I said, things are different over here. Just relax and avert your eyes.

Anyway, it reminded me of one of my more humorous childhood anecdotes. At my elementary, there was this one boy that would always pull his pants and underwear all the way down to pee at the urinal. The rest of us would look at each other and do the old head-eye motion that said, check out this crazy mofo. How could the kid not know that this was weird?
Years later, I saw some comedians playing kids. One of them said, "Yeah, we're gonna get together and poke that one kid --that pulls his pants all the way down to pee-- in the butt with a stick."
Did your school have one of those kids too?

August 30, 2005

Take no Shintaro-san

Living in Tara, far from most Jets and in rural settings, I sometimes wonder if I'm missing out on anything. But then I remember that 1)I have more reason to practice Japanese due to my isolation, and 2)People in the big city often waste their time going out to the bar every night. I could do that in Tara-cho if I was so inclined.
Another reason I like living in this town is the history. Shrines, temples, castles... we've got it all. I read of the folksong "Take no Taro-san" today, and found it really interesting, because of the backstory. If you find Japanese Buddism, Shinto, Christianity, and other such stuff interesting, you'll probably find it interesting too.
Expand this post to keep reading...

Compared with other prefectures, Saga seems to have fewer folksongs. However, one stands out and has been sung in the southwestern part of our prefecture since the late 18th century...
It sings of a good-looking monk, Shintaro, who was an idol among the village girls. The young monk named Shintaro was working at Kinsenji Temple up in the mountains. It was not allowed for women to be in the mountains because they were believed to be sacred and people thought women would disgrace the atmosphere. There was nothing for the girls to do but wait for Shintaro to come down to the village on errands. Whenever he came, they cheered him along the way.
There used to be a faith in the mountains themselves during the 9th century or so. People believed lived gods in them, and came to worship them. Kinsenji Temple, where Shintaro had been working, had a history as long as the previously mentioned faith in the mountains.
The Taradake Mountains lie between Saga and Nagasaki prefectures, rising nearly 1,000 meters above sea level. Mt Taradake, the 2nd Highest*, has been a sacred mountain. Since the 8th century, monks have trained at the shrine located upon it.
A little down south is Kinsenji Temple*, built at the same time as the shrine. The monks recognized the two places to be united, and also believed in the concept that the gods ought to be saved by Buddha. Over 70 shrines in Kyushu had been placed under the authority of Taradake shrine. The idea that gods are another phase of Buddha remained quite long till the late 19th century, when the Meiji government banned the keeping of Buddism with Shinto gods in 1868.
A revolt by Christians in 1538 resulted in a lot of shrines and temples, including Kinsenji temple, where burned down. The head preist, Shunkei, escaped from the temple with three images of Buddha on his back. After some time the temple was rebuilt, and the images were reinstalled.
For some reason, the Meiji government declared every shrine to be seperated from the temples, and baned financial protection (why the Meiji guys were such jerks I don't know), and Kinsenji Temple, being so remote, fell into decline. Taradake shrine, on the other hand, has been taken care of by the local people.

So anyway, who was Shintaro? He was a warrior-monk who servd at the mountainous temple and the shrine at the same time. In those days, warrior-monks doubled as secretaries quite often. Locals think Shintaro may have been from my town. He was considered ridiculously handsome.
During 1780, a song named "Zanza-bushi" spread through Japan. Saga people adapted the melody and used it in "Take no Shintaro-san."
When Shintaro comes down,
Let us light a thousand lanterns along the way.
He's so handsome and charming!

When Shintaro goes back,
Let us make his way slippery with water.
He's too handsome to be set free!
--1st and 2nd stanza.

*: You may have noticed that these are the same places I visited in this post.

August 29, 2005

Such drama as to pain the very soul

Wow. Jake puts my hopeless romanticism to shame. Read the latest installment of his personal crisis,about being torn between chivalry and duty to God. And pray that he gets the girl in the end.

August 28, 2005

New look for a new country

Woot. I seem to have the new site layout working. Probably best to view it on Mozilla though. I love having graphic-designer training. Please, email me if you are having problems viewing it (be sure to let me know your browser).
So I thought today would be a good day to share Brad Pitt with you. Not the Pitt you know, but rather the Japanese Brad Pitt. He's pretty famous over here, and almost synonymous with Americans it seems. Besides his constant appearances in random places like this manga, I found he stared in a lot of Japanese jeans commercials. In one example, he messed up the simple line "Go Maru San" (lit. five zero three) and inadvertantly started a fad among Japanese youth where everyone started saying Mari instead of Maru. Then Brad dealt with the fallout in this commercial. You can see tons of his and other celebrities' secret commercials here.
Very late.
I listen to the rain tap against the window that
earlier, a gecko crawled across.

August 26, 2005

Japanese humor

JP:Clay, there is spider on your head.
You got me, man
Just one day after the train post, I must hang my head in shame for missreading the train scheduals, but some nihonjin helped. When I got onto the right train, the conductor was like, "Ah, you're the baka gaijin that's causing all the trouble. Here's some explicit instructions."
Photo dump
Japanese-style morning calestenics at the recent meeting of Jets. The lovely Mel is laughing too hard to participate.

Train too crowded for surfing ala last post.

Amusing pic of bikes parked around the no bikes sign.
As long as I'm mentioning the last post, people were wondering as to the origin of the fish head song. I found that the song was played by Barnes & Barnes.
Note: This is said to be the most requested song on the Dr. Demento program.
Note: One of the members of this duo is Bill Mumy, actor on the old "Lost in Space" and the current "Babylon 5" television series.

August 25, 2005

Things to do when bored on a densha (Japanese train)

I have to sit for about an hour each way whenever I visit Saga city. And seeing as how my job and social life demand I commute periodically, I've been coming up with ways to pass the time.

1: Pretend that the train is a surfboard and stand in the space between the doors while riding the "wave." This is suprisingly fun. Even better if you can see out the front of the train.

2: Sit next to women. It makes them uncomfortable a little, but part of my job is to break down barriers, right? Besides, it's funny to watch them squirm. Or sometimes they will sleep and drool which also entertains me, which brings me to my next one...

3: Sleep. If you can manage it. My anxious nature prevents this, but none of the Japanese seem to get proper sleep and so they pass out on the train. Lucky...

4: Study Japanese. You're gonna need it anyways. I'm rather proud of the fact that I figured out how to ride trains to the destinations I want at the times I need, and my abiity to ask if I'm on the right train when all else fails. I'm even learning Kanji. Some stations have weird names, like Ryuuoo (竜+(king kanji);), which means dragon king. But I digress...

5: Wave back at the kids that are waving frantically at you from the next car. For ten minutes. Okay, it's not that exciting kids.

6: Listen to iPod. Sweet, sweet ipod. I've never had an infatuation with a mechanical device before the pod.
Huge digression: However, it cheats at solitaire. I swear. The pod's games are all evil. I need to download some more ebooks to the pod and read them. I was reading Hagakure's Way of the samurai a while ago, and I realized how strange it was that hundreds of years back, an old man wrote a treatise on Bushido, and in modern times some white kid was reading his words through a little box powered by electrons.
Then earlier this week I reflected upon how strange it must be that I was most likely the first person to listen to an ipod at these ancient mountain shrines, and certainly the first to listen to Fish Heads.</Digression>
no happy ending for you!
So I got my hair cut yesterday. I was done Japanese style, with the fuzzy, split ends. I was rather disappointed though; while I did get a vigorous shampooing, I didn't get the head massage that I had been told happens.

-->My ugly, out of focus mug with Kawaiifabulous haircut
Incidentally, I somehow became the owner of 18 volumes of a manga and a magnetic travelling go board. I guess my homework will be translating these puppies. Now if only I could find someone interested in traveling and playing go...
Did you know there is an entire channel dedicated to the games go and shogi (japanese chess)?

August 23, 2005

Japanese Apotheosis

Well, I've officially found my calling in Karaoke. The first song I sang was "Piano Man" by Billy Joel. Couldn't help but think Ben would appreciate that ^_^
Seriously, Karaoke is funner than I ever imagined. The closest think I'd experienced to it before was dancing with Rachel and singing on a pretend mike that we would hold in our hands.
I'd rather dance with you than talk with you
so why don't we just move into the other room
there's space for us to shake, and hey, I like this tune

even if I could hear what you said
I doubt my reply would be interesting for you to hear
because I haven't read a single book all year
and the only film I saw, I didn't like it at all

I'd rather dance than talk with you

the music's too loud and the noise from the crowd
increases the chance of misinterpretation
so let your hips do the talking
I'll make you laugh by acting like the guy who sings
and you'll make me smile by really getting into the swing
--Kings of Convience
Earlier in the day, me and some old guys from the office went around the town looking at graves and shrines Some were thousands of years old. We ended up on top of the tallest mountain in the prefecture. At one point, we went through a spider-thick patch of forest to see a primeval grave, and I realized one of the old men had a huge spider on his hat! Now what's the proper Japanese for "You have a freaking huge spider on your head!"?
Anyways, he died. Just kidding. I mumbled "Chotto and took his hat off, being sure to show him why I had done this."
Okay, picture time!

So, it turns out that the process of becoming a god (kami-sama) is relatively simple in Japan. You just have to do something ridiculously well. Take this guy. He jumped from one mountain to another. The old men I was with called him a Japanese "Supa-man."
When I was at Saga castle in Saga city, my tour guide showed me three scrolls of odd looking fellows. Each one had gone through the process of apotheosis by his own strange means. "This one study very hard, and his arms and legs fall off. Then he becomes a god," was her simple description of the transformation.

Is there anything more beautiful than fog rolling over forested mountains?

Rare Christian graves.

I roll with the old men.

The view from Tara Dake (mount Tara)

Imagine my surprise when I encountered an amusement park in the middle of the mountains. Like something from a dream... Anyways, this windmill was part of it.

Shrine at the top of Tara Dake. Not sure what kind of entity is within.

Path to a temple.

Buddha wept. Actually it was raining so it looked like his statue was weeping.

Close up of dragon carvings on the temple

Path from the temple to the sea.

This flower looks like a flock of birds.

This post is abbreviated, so if you want to see all the pics (and you would be missing out if you didn't), click the link below.

August 20, 2005

that's just dandy

Metrosexuals stuck in Japan, rejoice! You now have Dandy-house to take care of you. Who taught a Japanese person the 19th century meaning of the word dandy anyways?

Anyhoo, I never thought I would say this, but I am in desperate need of foot lotion. Your body changes when you move to a different climate it seems. The Japanese have a very diffent concept of lotion from what I've seen thus far at the drug store.
Beat Takeshi is some sort of supernaturally omnipresent actor. He's the old guy in such films as Sontanine, Battle Royale, Zatoichi and the movie I saw last night: Izo. Also, I should point out that Izo was directed by Takeshi Miike, who's name you will know as the greatest/most prolific director in modern day Japan. Izo is confusing to say the least. I think it was a movie along the lines of Suicide Club, about how Japan is destroying itself.

Right now I'm watching a movie about a desperate criminal being pursued by a drugged-up 7-11 clerk and a Yakuza. Tre funny. A quick internet search helped me find the title: Non stop.
Click the link to see today's pics:

I gave my coke an origami-samurai helmet

A blinged-out... tricycle?

A dead weasel I think? Never seen this animal before. When I photographed it, I realized there where two women staring at me. Probably thinking Crazy foreigner is morbid.

Look at the board there. Then tell me I don't have every right to complain that Japanese language is hard. The teacher is in the act of throwing a chalk-board marker at me for getting a question wrong.

?? Which Of The Greek Gods Are You ??

August 19, 2005

500 bowls of ramen

Happy about knowing how much money I actually have to spend. Here's a hint: My paycheck today could pay for 500 bowls of Ramen. That's athentic Japanese restaraunt ramen, not the 7¢ stuff you buy in the U.S.
Talked to a girl from Germany today. Introduced her to E Nomine. ipods are truly conversation starters.
Ate Unagi (eel) today. I even ate the head. Very tasty.
So the crash-coarse method of Japanese study... I'm not a fan. I've learned (glossed over) so much that I've basically retained nothing and am right back where I started. But on a positive note I can finally read hirigana competently. Time to study on my own. Time to translate some manga too...

August 17, 2005

So many stories, so little time

The preview for this movie, oddly enough, reminds me of my time in Japan thus far.
Today, language lessons. Then uncouth attempts from your quiet protagonist to be social. The lessons were bad and awkward; the socializing considerably much less so.
We ended up at a rugby-themed bar. I had walnut-curry on rice. Very good, but quite expensive.
People who come to Japan... we all have our reasons. We all have a story. Take the Irish bloke. He's a former P.h. D. candidate that worked with optical physics. Owned his own business. Decided, sod it. I'd rather go to Japan than be a working stiff!
Or New Jersey Jew, a vegetarian who is much more interested in Eastern religions than that of his forbearers.
Then there is I. When I told them that I was an Art baccalaureate who has drawn 300 hundred comics, Jersey Jew said, "I knew we all had stories. We're all crazy!"
In good company. But I had to catch a train, so I said my goodbyes, payed and got photographed by the barkeep, and ran to the station.

I wonder how many random Japanese people now have pictures with me in them. It's probably a large number.

Unpleasent dead"pan" suprise

oy. Leave it to the Japanese to put sweet bean paste in the middle of a sesame seed bun. I need to open a gaijin restaraunt and show them how pan (pan=bread in nihongo) should be done.
The rice fields are ripe, and I think harvest is soon upon us. Then it will be time for wheat to take the rice-fields' place. Gotta have wheat if they're gonna have beer. Bread, however, will remain rare and screwed up.
To make a prarie it take one clover and one bee
One clover, one bee, and revilry
--Emily Dickinson

August 13, 2005

Japanese barbecue

Okay, first I must rave about the new series of Dr. Who. I love it. Example scene:
The last human, "And now, as we watch the earth die, let us listen to an Earth classic befitting of this momentous occasion." A jukebox starts to play Toxic by Britney Spears.

And the daleks! They are actually intimidating. I'm tickled that they are in the series. "Ha! The mighty alien is stopped by a staircase." The dalak starts to fly. "Oh, crap! What's it doing?!"

Also, as far as shows go, I am enjoying Full Metal Alchemist and Dragonball Z in the original Japanese each day. Back when I drew this, some people complained that it looked like a mix of the two.
Today I joined a family that knew almost no English for a barbeque. It was a trial for sure. At one point I was eating chicken neck wrapped in nori and dipped in mayonase. But I enjoyed it and most of the food was really good. The best way to anything grilled in Japan seems to be with mayo. Redeemed the squid. Dang, those Japanese eat a lot. I find it hard to keep up.
After dark, we lit fireworks. I impressed them all by holding a bottle rocket in my hand as it went off.
Oh and finally, I was challenged to arm wrestling. I lost to the son of the guy I work with, but beat the father. I wasn't sure if I should have lost on purpose to help him save face. I hope not. I hope they enjoyed my presence and that my manners didn't seem barbaric. Really fun.

August 12, 2005

Funniest thing ever

okay, I get it. You guys* aren't interested in esoteric jokes about cogitating Japanese.

*:excluding Ben, whom I'm glad I entertained.

But today, I bring you a hilarious and totally random discovery. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Ryan Green blogring. In particular I like this entry and this one.
"Ryan, I'm standing outside your window right now. You want to know whose been leaving road kill in your truck bed. It's me baby."
But ignore the first blog on the ring; it seems to not be with the joke.

August 11, 2005

日本語を勉強すると頭が変になる (study Japanese and you will go mad)

EDIT FROM A COUPLE YEARS IN JAPAN'S PERSPECTIVE: Man I made a lot of mistakes back then.
Okay, so there is this word, meshiagarimasu, that is a polite way to say eat or drink. However, if you use a dictionary, it won't be there unless you cogitate it into its dictionary form (meshiageru). But the Japanese don't use/say the word meshiageru, only meshiagarimasu!* It's insane. Things like this make me laugh like a lunatic.
*:I checked this out with my supervisor and she said that maybe the emperor uses the suru form of the word. I guess important people are allowed to use rude versions of polite words ;)
If a commoner wants to use plain language they must use taberu (eat) and nomeru (drink).

August 9, 2005

Only in Japan

First: Tragedy...
I met a very nice and pretty girl today. She even speaks fairly good English, making it quite possible to hang out with her. I don't know that dating would be possible though, because she is older than me (29), and while I don't care*, that is reportedly a big deal over here.

*:For heaven's sake, she still looks like a teenager!
I conjecture that only in Japan will you find a garbage center where women handle the garbage right alongside men. I also think that only in Japan will said garbage handlers bring your group some cold Pocari Sweat to drink. And I also think that only in Japan do they give away brown liquid at the garbage center that is for bathing in. I'm not sure what it was, but it is filled with micro-organisms (according to the printout they gave me), and it was free.
Japan is a unique place; I'm reminded of that fact every day.
Hey fans of Suicide Club, this is the address of the bbs that the bat posted on in the movie, it really works; too bad the dots address doesn't (though I did find this substitute).

Here's some pics

A laserdisk player? A jumbo-CD player? I have no idea. You know, they still sold betta-video players in this country until about a year ago.

Me at work posing in a scary mask with the guy that made them. Legend has it, the residents of Tara-cho long ago protected themselves against invaders with these masks.

This is the first restaurant meal I've had (besides the nice deliveries by a lady at lunch) since I came to Tara-cho. In addition, I ordered it myself (went to the restaurant alone and everything); just wish I knew how to ask for in the cold, summer style. Still, oishii yo. The noodles are called Udon.

August 8, 2005

Festival weekend minuets

Okay I just got home, and turned on my saletite tv while I started to unwind in front of the computer, and I hear a weird mechanical sound, and I look at the tv, and I see a mamogram, right there, everything showing, and it looks very painful and embarassing.
So this weekend was a festival in Saga city, and I joined the other JETs for good times. I rode the train, and am rather proud of my abilty to ask for help in Japanese when the whole process gets too confusing, but I did miss the first train back tonight. Apparently, though I took the time to establish that I need to wait on track 2, I didn't realize that there are two parts to it, and the train only stopped at the first part. So I arrived home quite late.
Squid on a stick is not all that great. I think I'm done with squid all together. Maybe octopus is the way to go. In any case, festivals have great foods, and I recommned melon-flavored ice covered with sweetened condensed milk.
The other JETs seem to think I have a commanding handle on the language, which makes me glad. I will be studying hard in my quest to become fluent.
As usual, my non-drinking status is a hurdle in relations, even with other gaijin. Last night: "You don't drink. Anything?! How do you have fun?!" By being in the moment, my friend.
I dealt with my minor agoraphobia by listening to my ipodmini in the bars. A Canadian girl accused me of being anti-social. Not by choice, lady. Don't they know it's cool to be a lone-wolf in this country?

After we left the irish pub (yeah, you read that right), I accompanied a very drunk english guy to the place where we were supposed to crash. Our host was not yet in, to our suprise, so we started to look for a Ramen shop. Ended up at the supermarket, having to endure him bugging every last person for things in broken Japanese. I apologized profusely to everyone for him. We got yakitori and ramen and eventually our host showed up so we could sleep.

Had brunch at the Japanese equivilent of a Dennys. Turns out that you get a big bowl of rice with a burger if you order one.

Overall, a fun weekend full of ethnic food, dances, and a little flirtation with female jets. Gotta go back soon.
Pic dump time, mostly from the festival. click to zoom; I don't think they really need captions this time, except for the first two.

This is Tara tower. A pint-sized structure next to my city hall.
This is a logo I see everywhere.

August 5, 2005

The unique challenges of being a tall, blonde foreigner in Japan

Life's not all roses here in Nippon. I've made a list of some of the challenges you will face should you come here.

1. Really confusing train schedules. Click here to see what I mean. You are allowed to scream.

2. Every five minutes I am offered alcohol, coffee, or ocha (green tea). When I have to politely refuse, they look really sad.

3. Everyone speaks some weird dialect of English over here that sounds like another language or something. Oh wait, it is. Seriously, cogitating the "tte" form of a verb in polite-distal past-tense depending on what gerund precedes it is surprisingly fun*, but very hard to do.

*: Fun in the sense that it's like solving a puzzle on a decoder ring; but every phrase turns out to be, "you are bad at Japanese, please drink more Ovaltine."

4. Not getting invited to parties if you don't drink. But I finally did go to a party with the PTA when the junior high went camping. After the kids were all in bed, the teachers and some parents got together. I didn't drink, but I did enjoy stuffing myself on their food. We're talking all kinds of foods, like Tara-town's Japan-famous crab, and a googolplex of seafoods and meats. The Men turn into 13 year olds when they drink, and brag about how well endowed they are and how they'd like to grab the women on the other side of the room. Tré entertaining.

5. Not knowing if the kids are trying to get you to say something compromising. "Do you like so-and-so?" What, exactly, do you mean by like, kid? Cause I'm pretty sure you just used one of the Japanese words for love...

6.Hitting your head on doors when you walk into a room because you are too tall. Dang, I do this a lot.

7. Using squatting-style toilets. Ew. I had to do this today (at city hall of all places), I don't know if I'm too tall or what, but this was not easy, and I looked like I was breakdancing or dodging bullets in the matrix, or something. And after watching that movie linked right there, I now realize I was facing the wrong direction Must not touch the ground! I felt better when I got out and all the people from the office gathered around the stall clapping and saying, "Oh, you poop so good, Crayton-san!"*

*:People who have been in Japan will get that joke. But no, that did not really happen ;P

8: Being asked the same questions over and over again. "Where are you from? Do you have a girlfriend? Why not? Why aren't you drinking the tea?" And if drunk: "which of those women* do you want to have?"

*:said well within earshot of the women in question

9: Enduring heat and humidity. I'm from cold, dry Wyoming. I'm not used to rivulets of sweat suddenly soaking me. And my neither-regions itch all the time... is that natural, or did I pick up crabs from a squat-style toilet?!

10:Not having some of the foods you like. Took me forever to find marinara sauce at the grocery store, and it turns out it's in a pouch instead of a jar. BTW, snoopy is on everything here. If you go to the 7-11 (yes, they have one of those in my rural town), you will see snoopy on all the food products.

11: Being too attractive... yeah, that counts as a challenge. I intimidate the girls a little bit, and have to listen to them whisper about me, but they rarely approach me unless they are shoving their friend at me for an introduction.
Except for the junior high girls, who insisted I cook with them when I went camping. Then they insisted on serving me. Then they insisted on doing my dishes... etc.

12: Bugs. Japanese houses don't have many ways to keep out bugs. Or insulation, or proper kitchens... I could go on.

In conclusion these are really minor inconveniences. As the McDonald's commercial here says, "I'mu roving it!" [sic]
Now, more pictures! I forgot to take my camera when I went camping with the Junior High, which is a shame cause there were so many cool things going on. Next time...

Tetris is not just a game over here; it's a way of life.

Look at that view. Click to enlarge and breathe it in. I'm dang lucky to be here.

One of the signs it's summer is hanabi, or fireworks. The ones shown here are from the festival we just had. People were dancing, and I had Yakitori... ah, good times.

Another sign it's summer is all the Cicadas. This one has lived out it's one-week life. Every time I get annoyed by the sound, I try to remember this haiku:

Shizukesa ya The tranquility
Iwa ni shimiiru Permeating the rocks
Semi no koe Voices of cicadas

Fire works


Japan is such an open-minded country that apparently you can choose a drink as your life partner.

It appears Abe has succumbed to blog depression or something, so I moved her to the dearly departed list. But I added Steph to the land of the living.