I don't have much to say on the passing of Mr. Rogers, he who made up a large chunk of my formative TV watching years, along with Sesame Street. Thank God Barney or Wee Sing didn't exist back then. There's a feeling that something should be said, some little rememberence for a guy who, more or less, tried to be a mensch. There is good in the world, it just talks softly and hopes you can hear it. But there's just not much to say. And my nonexistant memories of Mr. Rogers have been forever tainted by an anecdote a friend told me, when he ran into Mr. Rogers in a Pennsylvania store. The kind-hearted personification of politeness got to the register, realized he forgot his wallet, and exclaimed, "Shit!" No, nothing is sacred.
Before today, The Washington Post had never made me cry from laughing hard.
Okay, you're thinking, who doesn't like sushi? (Well, back in the States I can think of a few people, and I've met one Japanese person who doesn't like it, but I digress...) The other day I was working overtime, in what my Aussie co-workers call a "mad dash for cash." Those wacky Aussies: they like abbreviations, they like rhymes. Some of them like sushi. Anyway, I was on a mad dash for cash Tuesday, and was working overtime in a school just outside the borders of Tokyo. Nice area, wealthy, with all sorts of shops, from clothing to food - not just ghetto ramen and Mickey D's. There are questions that students who have never met a teacher before are inclined to ask: Where are you from? Where did you live before Japan? Where do you live now? What was your job before Japan? As you might imagine, these sentences are usually not spoken in the most clear or even comprehensible English. It gets boring answering the same questions eight times a day, so I've come up with varying responses to these questions, all truthful. When I get asked why I cam to Japan, I often say, "I came to Japan for the sushi." So, conversations with students generally take one of several set paths. These routes are kind of like commuting. You see the same road signs, the same stop lights, and often the same people get on and off the vehicle at the same points. Without fail, students pick up on the fact that I like sushi, and just about every other Japanese cuisine. Except natto - that stuff's just gross. Fermented grapes I can handle. Fermented soybeans - having tried them - uh uh. No way. Right. So, this one student, a kind old man three years from his retirement with dreams of visiting the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, just ignores the roadsigns. You ignore roadsigns, at worst you find yourself getting rescued by the Jaws of Life. At best, you find yourself in someplace ridiculous like Yreka or New Hampshire. This one conversation wound up in the Japanese-gaijin conversational equivalent of New Hampshire. He thought I meant that I wanted to become a sushi chef. Being a sushi chef would be a fine occupation, but I'm not much of one for taking orders. The poor guy had such bad hearing, and such a finite English vocabulary, that I just agreed with him. Yes, I said, I'm here to become a sushi chef. Oh, he replied. Which restaurant do you want to work at? Dai Sushi in Tsukiji, I said, naming a place I've heard only good things about. Good sushi there, he said. And so we continued for nearly 40 minutes, talking about his dreams of visiting the National Parks in the U.S. and mine of becoming a sushi chef. He didn't ask why I was teaching English, though.
It's not easy right now to be an American Jew and politically active, or at least politically aware. On the one hand, you've got morally and ethically complacent twits from the left assuming that Jews have subverted the administration of the Insane Chimp, and that we're the only reason America has become involved in the campaign against Iraq. The other five fingers are holding up a steaming ball of political poo, as well. How do we reconcile our liberal/progressive past with the fact that Israel's leader is a socially and fiscally conservative war mongering politician, in the worst sense of the word? Only now, when faced with Israel's political destruction in the U.N., does he consider ever-so-slightly the concept that maybe, just maybe, some of the West Bank settlements aren't worth fighting for. How do you balance, the modern left-leaning American Jew asks, the survival of Israel and the eradication of anti-Semitism with the generally anti-war stance we have taken since Vietnam? The answer I think lies in the importance of refusing to be pigeon-holed - as a people, and as individuals. Dubya claims his policy has been pro-Israel, but it seems to me he's been ignoring the whole Middle East situation rather than a staunch supporter of Israel. He has less interest in the survival of Israel than he does in winning over the "Jewish" vote. As we used to say in elementary school, what a renob. What I'd like to see in the States is a large group of granola-eating, tree-hugging politically savvy Jews from sextagenarian Diane Feinstein down to my teenage sister and her pre-pubescent cousins holding up signs saying, "Anti-War and Pro-Israel." I also like to visualize world peace in my spare time. Sigh.
Warning: This post contains geek-stuff. So I think I've fixed the stylesheet problems between IE 6 and Mozilla 1.1. If anybody is bored and cares to test these and other browsers, you'd be doing me a favor. Yessssss...
Figured I take a moment to gratefully acknowledge the legions who are apparently reading a site that had no intention of gaining a following. In addition to the comments which you, fearless reader, can make at the bottom of each entry, I've been getting some email. Here we go. First, from Jon. He asks a lot of good questions, so my responses will be intercalated: I'm a graphic designer, but I haven't found any work here in the past few months. I wanted to see Japan and live in entirely new surroundings, NOVA didn't sound like it would be impossible, and did the interview and got in. I'm really curious, do you still enjoy working for them? In a word: yes. Originally, I wasn't going to say much more than that, but since students who give one-word answers to open-ended questions tick me off, I'll give you a bit more. There are frustrations that go along with every job. But the work at Nova is so intuitive, it's easy to see how some teachers turn their work at Nova into their life. The approach that works for me is to treat it as a means to an end. When the final bell sounds at 9:00, I leave boring lessons and boring students at the school. Plus, talking to students is a great way to get questions you have about Japan answered. They just may not understand you. Do you have time to enjoy any of the holidays or see any cool shrines or good places for photography? Sure. Currently, I haven't been doing much on my weekends except work overtime, in an attempt to save money for several upcoming visitations from friends and family. It is frustrating, though, when you want to check out some celebration or event and you can't because you're working. When you moved there, how was your living situation? No one mentions their first roomate in any of the blogs. I'm nervous because I'm bringing my laptop and my video cameras, are the rooms fairly safe? Can you switch roomates with other people? My first two roommates were a Brit and a Aussie. The Aussie left two months after, and I moved to Hiroo about two weeks after that. They were both good gents to live with, and I still grab a drink every once in a while with the Brit. The rooms have doors but no locks, so you wind up trusting people you've never met. I haven't heard any stories about kleptomaniacal roomies, but it wouldn't surprise me if there were. It's just one of those risks that you take when you move here. Even though the crime rates in Japan are on the rise, they're far, far lower than in the U.S. If you're really worried, it's probably a good idea to not announce to your roomies the $5000 camera you brought from the States. Also, when you arrived, are the locations mostly in suburban areas? There's no way to choose where you want to wind up right? Where are some cool locations to work? You will be living in the 'burbs, if you go for a Nova apartment. They're all at least 30 minutes from Tokyo, and often further. There's no rule that says you have to live in a Nova apartment. If your heart beats for the urban Tokyo lifestyle, go for it. A Web search for "gaijin houses" will get you going in the right direction. Where you want to work depends on where you wind up living. I've done the ultra-brief commute, living a 10-minute walk from my school, and I've done the traditional Japanese commute, 80 minutes and two trains. Without question, the long commute sucks necrotized donkey testicles. But you shouldn't have to deal with that unless it's self-imposed. Cool places to work depend on your working style. Do you want a breakneck pace to your day, or do you want a school where you'll be on a first-name basis with every housewife and salaryman who comes through the door? If you can handle the heat, Shinjuku or Ikebukkuro are the busiest schools around. Heck, they're probably two of the busiest English schools in the world. Ebisu is a cool place to be, but it's not as busy as the 'Juk or 'Buk. Other good places whose busy-ness I can't vouch for would be Ginza, Hibiya, Akihabara, Yokohama, Minato or Takadanobaba. Hope this has answered your questions. And now for something completely different - here's Tween: The NekoBasu(from Studio Ghibli's release of "My Neighbor Totoro/Tonari no Totoro", an anime movie) is used at the BurningMan. If you don't know about the BurningMan, or Totoro, get a search engine! =D Tween is referring to this photo, from my trip to Burning Man last summer. I won't mock Tween any more than necessary, since he obviously doesn't know how to take a thorough look at a Web site before sending off rude little missives. Since Tween brought up the subject, my commentary on Burning Man is available here. (Which is really just me trying out the PermaLinks.)
A student said to me recently, "Was living in America safe?" Not much flummoxes me, but I didn't know how to respond to that one. Safe? Compared to what? Am I going to leave my door unlocked, like Michael Moore's depiction of Canadians in Bowling for Columbine? Probably not. When I dug a little into the reasoning behind her question, I learned that she wanted to know more specifically if I was worried about being shot. I asked her if she was worried about air pollution. She said that she was. I asked her if she was worried about the Japanese economy. She said that she was. "Worrying about being shot in America," I said, "is the same thing." "But aren't guns scary?" You betcha. Which brings me back to the brilliant Bowling for Columbine, and Moore's argument in it. I think people will be drawn to the movie because of the gun issue, but the real crux of his position lies with the fear-mongering that goes on in the U.S. It's perpetuated by the plethora of news media, and it's perpetuated by politicians who are more interested in being re-relected than doing their damn jobs. While it's easy to point fingers, the real blame should be shouldered by we, the people. It's sort of obvious when you're in the States. How early in life are we told that we can't believe everything we read in the newspapers? Or see on the television? So now that you see young black men involved in shootings every night, you're suddenly going to believe that it's representative of the entire populace? It's human nature to be afraid; most recently in Japan everybody's been conditioned to be afraid of the economy. But the economy is still better than in the States, and the economy just doesn't kill people. Not like a handgun.