Recently, I added Gen Kanai's blog to my list of Other Voices in Japan. It's a short list of blogs about Japan that I read and find entertaining or useful. Often, between them and the pitiful English local reporting here, you can begin to get a sense of what's really happening in Japan. Gen's blog, from what I've seen, contains good bits of insightful writing coupled with fascinating links. As all the others on the list, it's highly recommended. I don't often repost information I've found on other J-blogs, but this game is just SO damn culo. Even if you don't love sushi. (Lord knows I moved here for the stuff.)
The month of June is a time for flowers and love to bloom. For vacations to be planned and dead meat products to be set afire. (If you learn anything from Invader Zim, it's that America is meat. Mmm meat.) For hot weather and cold beer. And, at least according to my kindly web host, for Denial of Service attacks. For those who don't know what a DoS attack is, imagine your server's web connection is a sewer line. Then imagine some idiot has decided to send his personally-trained army of midget salesmen to block your sewer pipes. This asshole has a whole shitload of midget salesmen, and suddenly you've got crap all over your floor. Which is the only reason I can figure out to explain why some posts have appeared right as rain, and others have vanished into the ether. Hopefully those aspiring teen hackers probably the cause of these problems have found someone less popular than themselves in their neighborhood to torture, and can leave my poor web host alone to do its hosting thing.
Public transportation in Japan is about as perfect as mass transit can get. It goes everywhere, plus it's affordable, safe and reliable - unless of course some salaryman chucks his body and often financially-based problems in front of the oncoming express. It's a system born of necessity. On this archipelagic country, there're simply too many people to make owning a car reasonably affordable or sensible, given the massive urban gridlock and the user fees charged by the government. It's also unlike any other train-based system I've seen. Here, they treat all the trains - even the subway - as trains. As in, there's a conductor, a platform manager who holds a red flag in the day and a lantern at night, numerous and helpful station agents... Real trains. The government and the companies that run Japan know this, so most companies (including mine) subsidize my monthly train pass. I can get on or off as many times as I want, at any station I want, between my home station and my end station. This place must be heaven for a train-obsessed kid, and what proper child of the industrial revolution doesn't at some point have a train fetish? Even the toys here, and Japan is one of the great toy meccas of the universe, are bullet-train based. Affordable bullet trains that transform into robots and combine into bigger robots, and light up and hang off of your cell phone and can do just about anything except the dishes. Trains in Japan rock. Sure, there's buses and taxis here, but the taxis are unaffordable and the buses... well, let's just say that a good command of the Japanese language is recommended before boarding for the first time. Which makes this article, about the government trying to promote public transportation even more than it already does, seem more like a public service announcement than a change in policy. At least, it's nice to see that one country cares about the Kyoto environmental accords from '97.
Tonight I returned to one of my favorite haunts, The Pink Cow. As I've mentioned before, it's a hip little wine bar in the back alleys of Harajuku that also serves up some of the best Cali-style fusion "I don't know which ethnicity or geographical location exactly this came from but it's damn good" I've ever had. I usually go there to have a nice glass of wine in an environment that can be both chill and hoppin', and is always a good place to people watch. There's a good mix of gaijin and Japanese who frequent the place, and it works. But why was this night different from other nights? Because I was working. In exchange for food, drink and a bit o' cash, I cleaned and bussed dishes and generally did what was asked of me. No lessons to plan, no heavy thinking. Just don't spill that drink. (Don't worry. Years of martial arts training have resulted in highly-developed eye-hand coordination and fine muscle motor skills. I bumped into lots of people, but nothing got dropped.) Many of my students, young and old, male and female, openly admit to the relaxing benefits of household chores. By this point, it should be obvious to all that I have ethical problems with cleaning my room. But there is something calming in the washing of dishes. Maybe because it's food-based, and I've always had a great love of the general concept of food. Food, right? What's not to like? (Okay, mayonnaise on pizza, for one. But that's another column.) The repetitive motions, rinse soap rinse repeat; the locking-in of simple muscle coordination so that the mind can wander, or meditate; the free wine the bartender gives you. All these things contribute to a change of pace that's nice. But let's be honest: I have great admiration for those who can do this for daily work, because I'd wind up going homicidal if dishwashing was my primary income source. The few times tonight I waited or bussed tables were a-whole-nutha story. the benefits of getting to talk to random people are far outweighed by having alcohmoholics belch in your face or try to tell funny jokes about why your shirt says, "I'd rather be masturbating." Honestly. I'd rather dump this beer jammed with cigarette butts into your lap, assmunch. Rude customers are, of course, just part of the business. But give me dirty dishes any day.
It had to happen. There's only so long a gaijin can exist in Tokyo before a modeling gig lands in his or her lap, and this morning was my moment under the tungsten. Okay, so there wasn't any tungsten, just a gaggle of Japanese photographers, assistants, copywriters and other assorted individuals I couldn't identify. Oh, and Kristen, the other gaijin who got suckered into this gig. Okay, so we volunteered. A cry for help went out to the Japan bloggers mailing list - models needed for a photoshoot to promote the upcoming October CEATAC tech convention - and we offered our faces and bodies up on the sacrificial altar of the camera. It was a rather strange experience. Kristen and I seemed to have similar backgrounds, in that we were both used to being on the other side of the camera. Suddenly, being told to look at her, or talk to her but don't look at the computer, or whatever, was uncomfortable. I'm used to giving the orders, dammit. Or at least, I'm used to molding the world to my vision. Being included in somebody else's scheme, even if it is merely to hold a cell phone and pretend to talk, was extremely disconcerting. We got to stand around and talk, pretending to use computers. We got to sit in a car and play with its navigation system. Of course, the man in the picture (that's me, folks) got to "drive." I got to pretend to talk into a cell phone and ride an escalator. Pulse-pounding excitement, I know. There was a lot of standing around and playing with the toys in the Panasonic Center. It occurred to me that if this were the U.S., they would've hired real models to promote a tech convention. They would probably have been dressed in Matrix-style leather and PVC and not worn black business suits, as Kristen and I were asked to do. Now, Kristen is a lovely lady, and I've come to accept the fact that I do not have the most hideous face on the planet - second or third, maybe - but let's be honest here: This is not the start of a long and sordid modeling career. This is what happens when you live in a country where cutting edge basically means Western, and often white.
Sumimasen. It's perhaps the most important word in the beginner's lexicon of Japanese. It means, among other things, "I'm sorry." I must apologize for some potential mis-information that I wrote up in my recent entry about Uechi-ryu in Tokyo. I stated that [Uehara Sensei is] one of the few remaining who trained with the founder of the system, Uechi Kanbun. It has been pointed out to me that while this is potentially true - both were on Okinawa at the same - Uehara Isamu was a young boy at the time and most likely didn't train directly with Uechi Sensei. His father most certainly did, though. Again, sumimasen.
It's been a long time since I've talked about The Job. There's a big reason for it: teaching English in Japan is for most just that: a job. It's not my vocation, it's a paycheck. That's not to say that I don't enjoy the work, or that I'm not learning about myself and teaching. There's nothing quite as satisfying as when you notice a student who has been struggling finally gets something to click, or when a kid who's really shy in class eeks out a bit more than "Hi" in the hallway, or when I figure out a really effective way to approach a difficult lesson. But those people who take Nova seriously, who are corporate climbers and have high aspirations within the company and are willing to screw others in the process sicken me. Case in point: I found out today, quite by accident, that an overtime shift I had signed up for had been moved to a later time and at a satellite school. Fortunately, I have the proper paperwork, and all will be fixed before the day of the OT. What really makes me want to take the higher-ups at Nova out back and beat them like the bastard redheaded step-children that they are is that I know this "mistake" is the error of one of three people. It is not the fault of the Japanese staff; they don't have cross-school powers. So one of these three people on the teaching side decided he could fill a schedule nicely if he just moved me. Without asking, and certainly without telling me. If I hadn't caught this, I would be in a bind with the company, which is loathe to make concessions in favor of teachers. Good thing I've become paranoid in my old age. Okay, so I've always been paranoid. But just because you can't see them doesn't mean they're not after you, and just because The Company says that their signature is bond doesn't mean that the paper wasn't signed in disappearing ink. There is the tempation to buy The Powers That Be pairs of kneepads, in hopes that they'd get the metaphor, but it's probably too subtle for them.