Monday, October 31, 2005


October 31st, 2005.


The night before All Saints Day. (I know this because Tyler knows...umm...because I teach at a Catholic high school.)

The one day during the school year that I might possibly be able to get away with wearing something besides a nice shirt and tie. (Dustin Info #62: I am not all that fond of wearing shirts and ties.)

So I asked my principal.

"Can I dress up for Halloween?"


Ahhh, yesssss. The word has come down from on high. Hallelujah!

So, today I went to school in my kung fu outfit.

Back in May of 2001, I had to go to Kobe for a re-contractors conference. I was just finishing up my first year on the JET Program. (I refuse to spell it with the extra "me" because it looks stupid. C'mon, U.K.! Loosen up a bit!) Kobe has a Chinatown which is known as Nanking Town. I went there for dinner the first night I was there, and found a shop that sold Chinese clothing.

There it was.

A kung fu outfit for $40!


Naturally, I snapped it up, and I have made use of it on every Halloween since then.

Including this year.

The students seemed fairly entertained by my outfit, as did most of the teachers. Some people, both teachers and students, had no idea why I was dressed the way I was. This struck me as sad, although unavoidable.

Halloween doesn't have the same popularity in Japan as it does in the States. In recent years, there have been Halloween parades held in Tokyo, but there's no general practice of Trick-or-Treating and Jack O'Lantern carving.

But, hey, I got to dress up in my kung fu outfit and teach English today.

I even had my "The Raven" class today.

Needless to say, I was in a pretty good mood all day long.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Man in Black

Yesterday, on my way back home from Sapporo, I stopped in Tomakomai and did some shopping. I picked up a couple of DVDs at the Tower Records store there.

What did I buy?

I'm not sure when this series started, but there's a series of DVDs out there called "Directors Label". The DVDs released in this series featured music videos, interviews, rarities, etc. of famous directors who got their start directing music videos. The first three DVDs featured the works of Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham, and Michel Gondry. Cunningham's stuff is a bit too bizarre for me, but I picked up the Gondry ("Everlong") and Jones ("Weapon of Choice") collections. Good stuff.

Four more DVDs were released in the Directors Series recently. Yesterday, I bought two: Mark Romanek and Jonathan Glazer. Jonathan Glazer's work includes the amazing Radiohead video "Street Spirit". A beautiful video to go with a beautiful song. The main reason I bought the Glazer collection was for a video by UNKLE called "Rabbit in Your Headlights". My good buddy Czar told me about this video. It was shown on MTV once and then never shown again (at least that what the VJ said). This guy is walking down a tunnel, cars passing him left and right. He gets hit. Then he gets hit again. And again. AGAIN. Then, a car is bearing down on him. You're cringing, because all of the impacts so far have hurt to watch, even though you know that it's just a computer effect. Closer. Closer. CLOSER. Then...


But it's not what you expect. This time, the car crumples, and the man disappears into the smoke.

Intense. And definitely worth the price of the DVD.

While I'm glad I picked up the Glazer collection, I'm even gladder that I bought the Romanek collection.

The unedited "Closer" video is a bonus. The "The Perfect Drug" video makes me happy. The "Novacaine For the Soul" video is great. But what really makes this purchase worth the yen I shelled out for it was...

...Johnny Cash, "Hurt".

Johnny Cash is The Man.

I was fortunate enough to see him perform live once, before his illness made it difficult for him to perform in public. Back when I was in college, there was a special event scheduled over in Spokane, Washington. I was going to school at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, at the time. Ellensburg is about two and a half hours from Spokane via I-90, and is located in (surprise, surprise!) the middle of Washington State. Anyway, there was a special event in Spokane called "Stars: A Celebration of Heroes" on May 21st, 1997. I lucked out and got tickets, so me and my good buddy Rue hopped in The Blue Neon and drove over to catch the show.

General Norman Schwarzkopf spoke. Heroes were introduced. This was all cool.

But it was not what I was there for.

Johnny Cash came out on stage. "Hello, I"m Johnny Cash."

The place went nuts.

He played an hour and a half long set that also featured his wife, June Carter Cash. He told the crowd that he was having serious health problems and probably wouldn't be touring much anymore. He told us that, but he looked strong and sang with as much conviction and strength as you can hear on his albums.

I consider that day one of the luckiest days of my life.

The day Johnny Cash died, I was in the hospital. I had done something incredibly stupid. I had eaten raw liver. And it had come back to kick my ass. I got food poisoning/intestinal infection. I had a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). I had to spend a night in intensive care. I spent the next day on IV fluids. All told, I spent four days in the hospital.

The second day I was there, I had been moved from the ICU into a regular sick person room. This was mostly because I had moved from "Near Death" to "Death Warmed Over". I was not particularly aware of what was going on. I turned on the TV and found CNN. The news ticker said something to the effect of, "Johnny Cash has died." I didn't want to believe what I had seen. One of the greatest figures of real country music (by "real", I mean anything that is not overproduced Nashville crap) has died? No way. Not Johnny Cash. He's just hitting his stride. He CAN'T be dead! Then, I got an e-mail on my cell phone from my mom.

Johnny Cash died today.
I thought you should know.
Get better.

I never really had the chance to mourn his passing, because I was too out of it to do it, and because I was focusing on getting better (and getting out of the hospital).

That is, until I saw the video for "Hurt".

If you can watch that video without crying, I doubt your humanity.

"Hurt" isn't even a Johnny Cash original. It was written by Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails fame. But Johnny Cash makes it his own, and Mark Romanek directs an absolutely devastating video for it.

Better writers have written better words about Johnny Cash. I don't want to try and emulate them. I just want to say that I think the world is a better place for Johnny Cash having lived in it.

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.
I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.
I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.
Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.
I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.
And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side.
Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You'll never see me wear a suit of white.
Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black.
- Johnny Cash, "Man In Black"

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Viva Sapporo!

I was going to post some photos on the site of today's adventures, but Blogger doesn't seem to like me very much tonight. If I can figure out what's going on, I'll come back and add some photos later.

And now back to our regularly scheduled blog. After three weeks of work work work, and only a couple days off, I was exhausted. Finally, a regular two-day weekend! YES! So I hopped in Wasabi-kun and headed north to Sapporo.

On the way up, I stopped off in Tomakomai for a snack and some coffee (see also: raspberry mocha). Unfortunately, the coffee shop was out of raspberry syrup, and the snack I bought had mayonnaise on it.

Tangent Alert! Mayonnaise. Uech. I had a particularly bad experience with mayonnaise once, and I can't stand it now. Back in college, I was feeling hungry one day, so I swung out to the local Burger King for a Whopper and fries. I ordered, paid for my food, went back to my car (the Shadow) and took a huge bite of my burger.

What I got was a mouthful of mayonnaise.

Suddenly, I wasn't so hungry anymore. In fact, I was nauseous.

Imagine it. You're really hungry. You order a burger. You take a huge bite, and mayonnaise oozes into your mouth, filling it. Where's the freakin' burger! Ugh. I feel a little sick just writing this.

After that, I just couldn't touch the stuff. The tragedy of it all? I used to like mayonnaise. (Side benefit: I eat a little healthier now.) Tangent Over!

Back to the main story. The snack I bought had mayonnaise in it. The coffee I wanted wasn't there. WHAT WAS THE POINT OF STOPPING IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!!

I got to see a reggae E.T.

Oh yeah. A store had an E.T. doll dressed up in Rasta gear. I'd post the picture, but Blogger hates me right now.

On to Sapporo! I get into town, park my car, and make my way to...

...Sombrero Mexicano! YESSSSS!!!! Enchiladas!

Following a fantastic lunch, I headed over to the Kiinokuniya bookstore next to Sapporo Station. I am teaching English essay writing to a few third year students at Starfish High, and I picked up some essay writing guides for them.

After taking care of the books, I decided to take a walk around and see the city. I passed the old Hokkaido government building, which has been turned into a museum. It's an old brick building which looks pretty cool. I'd post a picture, know.

There were some pretty cool historical exhibits inside. My favorite one was of the wildlife in Hokkaido. There was a seal that had been stuffed and put on exhibit, and it was looking up with the saddest expression possible. "Please Mr. Japanese Hunter Person, don't shoot me." Heh.

Outside the building, there was a swarm of these little tiny gnats. These gnats are called "yukimushi" ("snow bugs"), probably because they have some weird white stuff on them, and they stick to you like snow. Also, there was a big pond that surrounded the building (see also: moat) that had lots of ducks swimming around in it. Since it gets COLD in Sapporo in the winter, I couldn't help but put my hat on backward and ask people, "What happens to the baby ducks in the winter?"

After that, I headed back to the station to accomplish my main goal of seeing a movie. I noticed a blurb in the local newspaper that the latest movie by director Vincezo Natali was playing in Sapporo, and since I've enjoyed the two other movies he's directed, "Cube" and "Cypher", I wanted to see this one as well.

I told my students that I was going to Sapporo to see a movie. "What are you going to go see?"
"You don't know yet?"
"No. I'm going to see 'Nothing'."
"Well, if you're not going to see anything, why go to Sapporo?"
"No. That's the name of the movie."

I felt like I was in an old Abbot and Costello stand-up gag.

So anyway, I went to see "Nothing". "Cube" was a devastating movie about people trapped in a killing machine. The stuff that the movie was trying to say mentally kicked my butt so hard that I had to go home and write down my thoughts about it afterward. "Cypher" was a suspensful thriller that had a great twist at the end. "Nothing" was...


...bizarre. In a good way, but bizarre all the same. Two guys erase the world around them. Wipe it completely out of existence. The only thing that's left is there house and this bouncy white nothingness that stretches on forever. I really liked it. But as most of my friends will attest to, I like weird movies.

After the movie, I hopped in my car, swung back through Tomakomai to do a little shopping, and headed home. All in all, another good day.

Friday, October 28, 2005

What in the Crap? (Rated PG)

Man, I thought I had seen it all.

I thought I had all the answers.

I thought Japan had nothing left to throw at me.

I thought, "Six years? Oh yeah, I know what's going down."

This attitude is what the ancient Greeks called hubris. This overarching pride that encompasses everything and ends up leading to a bad end. You know what they say about pride...comes before a fall and all that.

I fell, and fell hard, today.
At the end of second period, I was heading back to the office, when right near the stairs, I saw it.

At first, I was confused. What was I seeing here? Mud. No, not mud. It looks like...


Is that? But, that's not possible. It can't be. It's...

...a turd.

That's right. Step right up, step right up. Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages. Come and see...the turd.

I looked around. Did it get tracked in? (It was, shall we say, smooshed.)

But there's no shoe tracks.

And this is the second floor.

That's an awful lot of brown for it to have been tracked in all the way to the second floor.

Another teacher comes over and we look at each other for a minute. "Is that...?"

"Yeah, I think it is."

"How did it...?"

"I have no idea."

So he asks a student to get some toilet paper out of the girls' bathroom. Then he starts to clean it up.

The coughs and gags and "Good GOD that stinks!" that came from him expelled all my doubts.

So, to sum up, there was a turd that magically wound up on the second floor of my high school. I don't even want to consider some of the possible repercussions of that statement.

Good old Japan. Everytime I think I've finally figured you out, you reach out and smack me upside the head and put me in my place.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Clean Shaven

I am now the Beardless Wonder.

In one of my classes yesterday, some students asked me about my beard, and why I was growing one in the first place. My reply? "Because I can."

I love it when my students try and hassle me about my beard. I just turn it around on them. "Hey there, Tanaka-kun, when you can actually grow facial hair, come back, and we'll talk."

So anyway, we were talking about my beard, and a couple of my students said, "Why don't you shave?" They must have caught me at the right time, because I actually thought it over a bit.

"Okay, I'll shave it off tonight."

Now, aside from Mr. Yamane, nobody here at Starfish High had ever seen me without my beard, so I was looking forward to how people reacted to a clean-shaven me. Double-takes, laughs, the "I think I've seen this guy before, but..." looks, some praise, some complaints, a lot of "WOW! You look young!" ran the reaction gamut.

My favorite thing about when I shave off my beard is the variety of responses I get in the "You look...different" department.

"Did you cut your hair?"
"Did you change your glasses?"
"Did you pierce your nose?"

Okay, the last one is made up, but c'mon, look at these photos, and tell me what the difference is. I'll give you a hint: it starts with"b" and ends with "eard".

Yeah, I know the first picture is cheating a bit (it's from back in April after I had let my hair and beard grow out for half a year). But I do it to illustrate a point. HOW CAN YOU NOT NOTICE THE BEARD BEING GONE?

Not anger. Amusement.

I had my beard for almost a year this time. After shaving off my beard, there's three things that always make me laugh.

  1. My face feels colder. "Hey, what is that feeling? Ohhhhh, air!"
  2. My face is a lot whiter where my beard was. This is not an easy trick to pull off, as I'm pretty white as is.
  3. Water on my face feels odd.

No air, water or sun on your face for a year? You'd feel odd too.

In other news:



'Nuf Ced.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

And the Lord said...

Starfish High is a Catholic high school.

The kanji characters is the school name can be read as the Japanese word for "starfish", but apparently it is also a code word for Mother Mary.

"Code word?" You heard me right. Code word.

See, in the 1600's, after Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated his enemies and united the country under a shogunate, he made sure that all foreign influences were shut out of the country. This included Christianity, which had been introduced in 1549 by the missionary Saint Francis Xavier (not to be confused with Professor). Tokugawa didn't pull any punches, either. He nearly wiped out Christianity in Japan with a combination of imprisonment, forced recantations, and executions. One of the most "popular" methods of forced recantation was fumie, which required the practicing Christian to recant by stepping on a picture of Christ.

The Christians who remained went underground with their faith, using code words for different religious figures. They kept everything very secret and hidden. To be found out meant to face execution.

I don't know nearly enough about the history of Christianity in Japan, but our school director, Father Kobayashi, is a local priest, and he teaches Starfish High's religion classes. I'll ask him more about it, and if I find out anymore cool code words, I'll post them here.

Funny story about Father Kobayashi's religion class: I was taking care of some stuff in the English Den, and on my way back to the office, I happened to over hear a bit of his lesson with the 2nd year boys.

Father: "Can anybody tell me which state is the state where Mormonism really took off?"
Me (thinking): "Insanity." (It's just a joke, people. Calm down.)
Student 1: "California?"
Father: "No, but you're close."
Student 2: "Texas?"
Father: "Getting a bit colder..."
Student 3: "Miami?"



I had to hold myself back from barging into class and laying the smack down. This is the kind of workplace I find myself at everyday.

I've been reading passages from the New Testament in our morning meetings for the past three days. It's one of the requirements of the job, apparently. My coworker, Jack, refused to do it, and I debated about whether to do it or not, but I figured, "Why the hell not?"
On second thought, let me rephrase that.
I figured, "Why not?" I read it in English, which makes more sense than the insane polite Japanese speech that the Bible is written in. Not a clue. I don't mind the Bible passage in the morning, but I wish we had more to choose from than just the four Gospels. The parable of the mustard seed is all fine and good, but I would really get into a passage about Samson smiting some bad guys, or David taking out Goliath with a sling.

This brings up a larger...complaint?...I have with the school. Not really a complaint, but I say that for lack of a better vocabulary. When I went up to interview for this job last November, I was surprised to see my friend Hiroshi (the Mr. Yamane of a previous post) crossing himself and praying. "You, of all people, are most definitely not Catholic."

"Nope. It's just part of the job."

This just rubs me the wrong way. I have no problem with working at a Catholic school. I have no problem with Catholicism, or with Christianity in general. I have no problem with the morning prayer, or the prayer before and after staff meetings.

So what IS my problem?

Aside from two or three teachers who actually are Catholic, these actions hold no real meaning to most of the staff here. This comes back to why I don't pray with everyone else, and I don't cross myself. I'm not Catholic, so it feels hypocritical for me to do that. I don't want to "just go through the actions" for the sake of appearances. I just doesn't feel right to me.

So I don't. But I make sure that I show respect for the prayer by staying quiet. I had to stand in for another teacher and run the morning and afternoon meetings for his class one day. During the schoolwide prayers, a few of his students were talking and screwing around. "Look," I said. "Pray or don't pray. That's up to you. But keep your traps shut and show a little respect!"

I don't understand my school.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Chop Shop

Pumpkins make great decorations for Halloween, but there's one big problem with them.

They tend to rot.

It's always a laugh when you see a half-collapsed Jack O'Lantern on somebody's front porch. It's a lot like someone having their Christmas lights up halfway through February, except a lot less sanitary. Throw it away, already!

Which is what we did at Starfish High today.

We managed to get rid of most of the Jack O'Lanterns by giving them away to students who attended our Open School last Saturday, but the two giant pumpkins were just not the kind of thing you can pick up and take home tucked under one arm. Unless you were really, really tall. And could bench 500. Like my good buddy P-Dog.

The big pumpkins were starting to develop patches of mold, and there were some places that were, for lack of a better word, leaking (see also: oozing). Okay, they needed to go, but giant pumpkins are not the easiest things to dispose of. Besides, what with the school having its own field for raising crops, we figured the pumpkins would make some good fertilizer.

So, after taking the pumpkins into the kitchen, students in the Art Club, Eisaku, and I started hacking away.

The sharpness of the knives at Starfish High is a little frightening. We dismantled two giant pumpkins in half an hour. Chopped them up into little bitty pieces, cleaned up all signs that we had ever been in the kitchen, took the pieces out to the field, spread them around, and then covered up said pieces with dirt. You'd never even know that a couple of pumpkins had been disposed of there.

Somehow, after it was all over, I felt like a criminal who had just covered up evidence of his latest crime.

One other thing. Starfish High is a Catholic high school. (At this point, if I was still DJing at KCAT/KCWU, Duke would have called in and requested the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Catholic School Girls Rule", but that's another story altogether.) There is a statue of Mary and...hmmm...what's the appropriate way to say this...the Christ child? a young Jesus? the Savior in His youth?...well, I'm sure you get the picture. Anyway, this statue is in the main foyer of the school, and we set up one of the giant pumpkins on a small table in front of it. After moving that pumpkin, there was some moldy ooze left on the table. So, I went to clean it up. After getting a bucket, cleaning fluid and a rag, I filled up the bucket with water and went to work. While I was knelt down on the floor wringing out the rag, Mr. Nakajima, one of the other teachers at SH, passed by.

"Hey Dustin, what's the deal? Have you realized the error of your ways and are confessing your sins?"

Huh? Ohhh...

I was kneeling on the floor with my head looking down, all in front of a statue of Mother Mary and Jesus Christ. I wish I could have seen that from a third-person point-of-view. Now that's comedy.

Monday, October 24, 2005


When I was younger, Garfield was always the first comic I would read when the newspaper came in the morning.

One thing I could always relate to was "I hate Mondays." That and "I love lasagna."

Today, especially, was one of those "I hate Mondays" days.

I didn't rest up nearly enough to make up for last week's craziness. So I was kind of cruising along in "Low" today. It wasn't too bad though.

My schedule looked like this:
  1. 2nd year Alpha - some of the students STILL hadn't done their homework assignment, so we spent all class continuing our study of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven". Somehow Poe was brought up in class (gee, I wonder who brought it up) a while back, so I decided to show them some cool American poetry. They seem to be enjoying it. I wish they would do their homework so we could move in to our Debate unit. And right now, every single one of my teachers is laughing and saying "How do YOU like it? HUH?"
  2. Open Period - made a pot of coffee (the good stuff from home)
  3. 3rd year Beta - the original plan was to let the students get on the 'Net and do some research, but we all know how well my plans go. The first year students had Information Processing classes in the computer lab all day, so no luck. So, I had them work on their projects in class. Their assignment is to describe a certain area of Hokkaido in English as a presentation (min. 2 minutes). It seems like everyone's progressing well there.
  4. Open Period - went and snagged some lunch - curry donuts. Mmmmm, curry. A local department store was featuring regional delicacies from around the nation, so I went and bought those donuts. I also picked up some for my co-workers. Good workplace karma. They paid me back...I just went and picked up the donuts. Good stuff.
  5. 2nd year Beta - Played "Guess Who", a game where you try to guess which character the other team has by asking Yes/No questions. The response was good. There were some pretty creative questions.
  6. Open Period - joined the 3rd year girls PE class and played some volleyball. I mentioned my health check results in class one day, and now my students keep telling me that I have to work out more. "Come play volleyball with us. Maybe you'll lose some weight. Ha ha ha ha ha." Think yer funny, eh? I showed them. My mutant blocking skills left them dazzled and amazed. I also got a few "You're not acting like an adult!" comments. (Mom, you can join in on this one.) Well, after all, I am a...KIDD! Bwa hah hah hah ha...umm, let's move on.
  7. After school - one of the first relaxing after school days I've had in a while. I went and checked out tennis practice (leaving my keys on the court, which required me to go back out there after dark and search around with a flashlight for them), made backup copies of the pumpkin carving designs, and worked with one of the 3rd year students on her Interview Exam practice.

Interview Exam? Well, this student is planning on studying English at a fairly prestigious university. One of the requirements of the Entrance Exam (see yesterday's entry) for this university is an English interview. Today was the second time we've practiced. She needs a lot of work. After we did a practice run-through, we sat down and talked about what was good (not so much) and what needed work (a lot). I'm going to be working with her some more on helping her find the right things to say. [At this point, people who knew me through high school and college are busting a gut laughing.]

After that, I packed up my things (after searching for my keys) and headed out to Horobetsu (translation: separated hood) to work out. I did some water walking (you walk around a small track filled with water. Good cardiovascular exercise...or something.) and then swam 500 meters (20 lengths of the pool). I love that pool. Great exercise, great stress relief, and apparently, I've always loved the water.

According to my parents, I was enrolled(?) in a swimming class when I was six months old, and I took to it like nobody's business. Makes for a pretty funny image for me, but if that was the case then, it explains why I like swimming so much now.

I did some shopping (stuff for my sammiches), came home, cooked up some dinner, and watched "Tampopo", a Japanese movie about a ramen shop. Great flick. The main story is about the ramen shop, but it goes off on some hilarious tangents. And it has Ken Watanabe in it, way before his "Last Samurai" days.

Well, I've been awake for far too long today. Off to bed to get some sleep so I can face the day tomorrow.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Day Of Rest...Sort Of

After I got home from work yesterday, I went right to bed. I slept for about five and a half hours. I must have needed the rest...
I woke up, went to my local yakitori restaurant for some grub and brew, hung out for a while, came back home, and hit the sack again.

The big plan for today was to go swing over to Cape Chikyu and pick up some presents for some friends and then drive out to Lake Toya for some R&R in the hot springs there. There's a place that advertises a hot spring in a cave! My kinda deal. That was the PLAN, anyway.

Here's what ended up happening:

I woke up and lounged around the house for a couple of hours, and as I was about to get ready to head out, I got a call from Jack, my fellow English teacher at Starfish High. "I'm over at Muroran University of Technology. Today's their school festival, and there's some rock bands playing. Come on over!"

Well, I can check that out for a bit, and then go and do that other stuff..."Okay! See you soon!" With that, I cruise on over to the university and check out what's going on.

The university was a pretty happening place today. Lots of stands where different clubs were selling all sorts of snacks. Different events all over campus. I headed on over to the stage area and found Jack.

We hung out, chatted, and watched some pretty talented bands. There were a jazz/funk band (see photo), a three-piece rockabilly band, a hip-hop dance group, and some other acts.

It was cool to see how good these acts were. After all, they're just college students, for crying out loud! You might think that...Aaah, but therein lies the deceptive nature of the Japanese education system! And here you thought I was just going to blab about my day.

Japanese students enter education hell when they start junior high school. How so? Because from Day One of junior high school all the way through the end of high school, the be-all and end-all of their studies is what is called "nyuushi": the high school and university entrance exams.

For six years, students are told to focus on these exams, and well they should, because it's a one-shot deal over here. In the States, we have the SATs and ACTs, but we can take those up to four times a year (if I remember correctly). The Center Test, which is the Japanese equivalent of the SATs, is offered only once a year. If you mess up on the Center Test, you're done for the year. Not only do they have the Center Test, but they also have to take an entrance exam at every high school/university they apply to. So kids here are under incredible pressure to succeed. Getting into the right high school means you can get into the right university. Getting into the right university means you can get into the right job. And all of this hinges on a few exams that every student in the nation takes.

Sounds nasty, yes? Yes, indeed, it is...

...that is, until they get into a university. Once you get into a university over here, it's smoooooooooooth sailing until graduation. Getting in is the hard part. Once you're in, life is good. This means students can focus their time and energy on club activities, because the concept of actually studying at university over here is pretty much a joke. This is why you have so many incredibly talented musicians in universities. They can focus completely on their music.

Of course, you also have students who focus on cross-dressing and pushing motorcycles across campus. (Pink outfits, front and center.) This kind of thing doesn't even faze me anymore.

Back to the topic: So Japanese students go through six years of sheer hell to get their four years of goofing off. This does not strike me as an effective way to run an education system. Not that I'm an expert or anything. Four years of goofing off, and then you join the work force? And they say that the U.S.'s three month summer vacation causes students to forget most of the stuff they learned over the previous year. What happens after a four-year long summer vacation? The companies that do any hiring have special employee training sessions for the first couple of months after hiring. Yep, real effective.

I'm not going to say that the American system is perfect, because it's not. I will say this: I am glad that I had it a little easier on the way up through junior high and high school, and a lot harder on my way through university. It feels like I got more out of my education that way.

Watching these bands perform, I was struck by a thought: they didn't look like they were having any fun. Music is supposed to be fun, right? They were flawless performers, but they lacked an element of "Hey, we're having a great time!" Jack and I talked about this a bit, and it seems that its that way with a lot of things. Lots of talent/skill, no sense that what is being done is being enjoyed. Kinda sad, really.

It was around 2 in the afternoon, and I decided that I needed to hit the road if I was going to get to all the places I needed to get to. So, I said some goodbyes and headed off...

...I made it to the street. Getting ready to cross, when...

...What the heck? That music? Is that? No, it couldn't be. Yes, it is! That's...


I run back to the stage in time to catch "non-stop the transistor" (see photo). Hey, that's the name of the band. I didn't make it up. Anyway, these guys are a Number Girl cover band. Number Girl was one of the coolest indie rock bands here in Japan, until they broke up in November of 2002. I saw them play a show in Seattle, and I caught them a couple of times here in Japan before they broke up. Cool stuff. Anyway, these guys played an awesome set of Number Girl songs: Sappukei, Invisible Girl, Num-Ami-Dabutz, Tattoo Ari, and Omoide In My Head. They even did some of the little things that Number Girl used to do at their shows. The lead singer picked up a beer, saluted the crowd, and said "Cheers!" I laughed at that one.

I chatted with a couple of the members after their set, and they're going to go see Zazen Boys in Sapporo in December. Zazen Boys is the new band that the vocalist formed after Number Girl broke up. We might end up cruising up together. Sweeeeeeeeeeeet.

So finally, I left. I drove out to Cape Chikyu to pick up some gag gifts for friends back in Shimane, and then, instead of going out to Lake Toya, I decided to hit a hot spring that was a little closer.

On my way there, I spotted this guy.

So I had my bath and came back home, feeling a bit more relaxed, but overall still pretty wiped from my week. Here's hoping that this next week will be a bit more relaxing.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

An Empty Shell

I am beat.

It feels like someone bent my spine at a 90-degree angle about halfway up my back, and then had the local Ground Self Defense Forces do some military exercises on it.

I'm feeling a little old today.

Starfish High's Open School (v 2.0) started today at 10 A.M. There was a mike check/set run-through scheduled in the morning, plus all the other preparations for today's event, so I had to be here at 7:45 A.M.

I woke up at 7:47 A.M.

A groggy look at my clock was followed by a panicked jump out of bed, half-stumble down the ladder out of the loft, and a jump in the shower. I showered, shaved, got dressed, and was at school at 8:06 A.M.

Sometimes I impress even myself.

I ran for the auditorium and caught the band as they were in the middle of the second song of the set. I ran around behind the stage and got in place. When Erika, the singer, called me out on stage, I was right on cue. The best part was hearing Mr. Yamane say "What? Dustin was here?" out of the sound booth. Made my day.

Everything worked out well with the run-through, so I went back and helped out with setting up. After that, I was on standby for the performance. After the absolutely embarrassing performance last week (on the intro), I was slightly freaking out backstage. "Don't suck this time!" "Don't mess up the lyrics!"

"C'mon, Dustin!"

I went out on stage, bantered a bit with Erika while everyone got ready, and then we launched into "Linda Linda".

We kicked ass!

The crowd response was fantastic, and my singing sounded a LOT better this time. It was so much fun. Not that last time wasn't, but after watching the video of our performance, I was a lot happier with the way things turned out.

There was a bigger overall turnout this time, so I had more students come to my demonstration classes. I think this group was a little less nervous as well. It was a fun experience all day long.

Today, Eisaku pulled off one of the most brilliant pieces of cleanup work I've ever seen. He told students that if they liked the pumpkins, they could take them home. Both the students and Starfish High win! The students are happy because they got a cool-looking Jack O'Lantern to take home, and Starfish High wins because we don't have to worry about what to do with the pumpkins after they go bad! We only have the two huge pumpkins left. Not a problem.

So, with all of the students gone and all of the cleanup finished, I sit here at my keyboard, exhausted, finishing this so I can go home and take a nap.

Overall, I think today's Open School was a bit more successful than last time's. A lot of students seemed really impressed with Starfish High, and quite a few of them said that they want to come here next year. So who knows, come April, I might just still have a job up here! Woo Hoo!

I will now go home and enjoy my one-day weekend.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Jack O'Lanterns Part 4: Citizens on Patrol

Well, this is it. Tomorrow is the big day. Starfish High's Open School (v 2.0).

Where the hell did the week go? With Monday as a day off (not complaining!), we were left with only four days to prepare for v 2.0. With all of the other general craziness going on, Friday got here REALLY quickly.

Today was insane. I had one class in the morning, then a double class of pumpkin carving in the afternoon, followed by a big cleaning effort in preparation for Open School (v 2.0), followed by more pumpkin carving, band practice, helping the choir with some English pronunciation, yet more pumpkin carving, a run-through of tomorrow's set, and back to the pumpkin carving/cleanup.

All told, we have 20+ pumpkins set up in different areas around the school. And yes, I KNOW, it's not Halloween yet.

I don't think I've ever been this glad that Halloween only comes once a year.

Here are some of the results of today's carving efforts:

The students really did a fantastic job of carving up those pumpkins. It would have been nice if more of them had stayed around to clean up, but what can you do? At least one student hung around to help me out. Good guy, he is.

The guy from Japan Agriculture brought us those pumpkins around a week and a half ago, so there was something I was a bit worried about: THE ROT.

We were lucky. Only two pumpkins had bad mold/rot problems, so we chucked them. The others will make it through tomorrow, and then we can chuck them too.

"How many pumpkins could a high school chuck if a high school could chuck pumpkins?"...Naah, doesn't quite work the same way.)

Group photo!

After several hours of stooping over low tables (see also: built to Japanese specifications) to work on pumpkins, my back felt like it was going to give out. I had no energy left at all. I don't think I was a very fun person to be around. But then , I got a phone call from Katie, one of the other English teachers here in Muroran. "Dinner and a movie at my place? There will be a few of us here."

The magic words: dinner and a movie. "Do I need to bring anything?" "Nope, don't worry about it." Sweet. So I drove on out to the edge of town, hung out with some English speakers, ate some good food, watched "The Wedding Singer" (Sandler at his finest), and had a generally good time. And then I trucked on home. Or Minicarred on home, I guess.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Jack O'Lanterns Part 3: The Search For Spock

Saturday is Starfish High's Open School (v 2.0). Soooo, today it was once again time to carve pumpkins. (Hey Mom, Dad, I'm getting paid to carve pumpkins!)

Since we had a lower turnout for pumpkin carving than expected last time, we had about 20 pumpkins left to carve. Plus, the kind folks at Japan Agriculture out in Date gave us two GIANT pumpkins to carve as well. Giant pumpkins don't respond so well to finesse and fine-tuned carving tools. With giant pumpkins, you have to use sheer brute force and show them who's the boss.

Which is what I did.

Although, I must admit, in this photo it looks less like I'm putting it in a figure-four leglock and more like I'm trying to lay an egg.

We had to put three candles in this one.

Here's some of the other pumpkins we carved today.

I asked the other teachers to let students know about the pumpkin carving today during their morning meetings with their classes. 3:30 P.M. (the time I told everyone we would start at) rolled around, and there was a grand total of...ME!

More than just a little disappointed, I got to work. Two days to carve 22 pumpkins, and with no help, this was going to take a while. As I got started, students started rolling in to the kitchen. Today's total ended up being around 10 students, and more students said they would help out tomorrow. Good news there. It's funny, though. All of the students complain about how much the pumpkins stink. I can't follow them. I've always like the smell of carving pumpkins, ever since I was a kid shoving my hands into a pumpkin to pull out pumpkin guts. It's like the smell of freshly raked leaves; it's an authentic "fall" smell to me.

Freshly raked/fallen leaves is not a smell you come across much in Japan. One time, on a Sunday afternoon in November, I drove from Izumo (where I was living at the time) over to Miyoshi, a city just across the Shimane/Hiroshima border on Rt. 54. I was taking some pictures for a photo collage I had planned, and I made a stop in Ozekiyama Park, which is known for the beautiful colors that the tree leaves turn in the fall. I went there a bit late to see the leaves on the trees, as they had mostly fallen off and were lying on the ground. As I walked through the park, snapping some photos, I realized that I hadn't smelled that "fall leaves on the ground" smell since I had moved to Japan. So I walked around the park, taking in the smell and thinking of when I was younger and living in Pasco. We had a lot of trees in our backyard, and one of the "helping-out-around-the-house" tasks I had was to rake up the leaves. That smell of the was so much like being back home that I lost track of where I was. I left the park that day with a big smile plastered across my face. There's nothing like that smell, nothing at all.

Strange, the things that can trigger old memories and take you back...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Health Check

Back in September (official date: September 27, 2005), all of the teachers and staff of Starfish High had a mandatory health check. Generally, I am not opposed to this. In fact, I think it's a downright decent idea. The fact that Japan has social health care that covers about 70% of all medical fees makes it that much sweeter. We didn't even have to pay for our health check at all! This is generally a good thing.

HOWEVER, I already had a health check back in May as part of the requirements of being employed at SH. I should have been good for the year, right? Wrong. "No, Dustin, you have to get one again." Then I would like my money back for the one I had back in May, thank you very much.

Here's the really annoying part: anybody who has something wrong on this check-up has to go in for another, more specific check-up on their own time and money. I'm sure you can guess why I sound a little more than annoyed right now.

THAT'S RIGHT! Judy Kidd's only boy got a bad mark on his health report card!

Too much cholesterol in my bloodstream, apparently.

Aaahh, this may indeed be so. But, pray tell, what is the standard that you are judging me on?

What's that? The average blood-cholesterol level for a 28-year old JAPANESE PERSON!

Umm, pardon me for being so forward, but last I checked, MY FREAKING PASSPORT SAYS THAT I WAS BORN AND RAISED IN THE GOOD OL' U-S-OF-A!

I'm not trying to say that I'm Commander Healthy or anything, but judging an American on Japanese health standards seems a bit unfair, what with the fact that our body makeups are pretty flippin' different.

Here's the best part: in the comments section of the report where they give an overall health assessment, the first line says, "Admit that you're fat."

Gee, thanks. Why don't you say I'm ugly and I smell funny too? Better yet, make some disparaging comments about my mother while you're at it.

I have been making a pretty big effort to be healthier since I moved up here.

1) I've cut WAY back on my alcohol intake.
2) I've started going to a gym/pool twice a week.
3) I've cut back on convenience store food.
4) I make a lot more of my own meals.
5) I watch what I eat. Non-fat milk, bran flake cereal, low-salt soy sauce and miso, whole wheat bread, more vegetables (in my sammiches).


Okay, I'm done now. I've vented.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Debuwagon: The Legend Continues

More pics from yesterday, as promised.
Outside the shishamo store, with all those shishamo drying on their stakes.

Eisaku chowing down on some shishamo sushi.
Me making various threatening noises and faces in the general direction of our frying fishy friends.
Eisaku chowing down on some fried dried shishamo.
Mmm, shishamo sushi. Available only for a limited time! Only while supplies last!

"Down by the riverside..."
The mountain from which the giant shimenawa is supposed to be strung.
Folks, I don't know about you, but this toilet looks extremely sketchy.
"Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go..."

Now that is one big shimenawa. Or as Eisaku said, "It kinda looks like a big blue turd."

He has a point.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Fish - The Other White Meat

Japan is an island nation, and as such, the Japanese get a lot of their dietary needs from the sea. This means that they eat A LOT of fish. This dependence on fish is reflected in the Japanese language, as there can be up to four or five names for the same fish, and which name is used depends on how mature the fish is. Much in the same way, Americans refer to cows in different ways depending on their age or role. Bull, steer, heifer, veal, beef, calf, Bessie...(scratch that last one).

There is sashimi (slices of raw fish), sushi (raw fish on rice), hoshizakana (dried fish), nizakana (fish boiled in broth), fish cakes, fried fish, etc. There are fish for every occasion and season. "Tai" (red snapper) is served at weddings, anniversaries, and other celebrations, because the name works as a play on the word "medetai", which refers to happy occasions. "Sanma" (saury) is so connected with the fall that the Chinese character for "fall" appears in its name.

I will digress here for a minute, but it will all come back together. Although my superhero alter ego is Captain Non Sequitur, no worries this time!

Today is Monday, but I didn't have to go to work. Word came down from on high (see also: the boss) that today, Starfish High would have a day off, as we all worked so hard at the Open School yesterday. So Eisaku, one of the other teachers at SH, and I made some plans for today.

About half an hour east of Tomakomai (which is one hour east of Muroran) is a town called Mukawa. Mukawa is a pretty small town, but it is extremely famous for "shishamo". I tried to look this word up in the dictionary, and I got...

..."shishamo smelt" or "Spirinchus lanceolatus". Thanks for the help, you good-for-nothing razzin' frazzin'...oh, uh, anyway, all I could figure out about it is that it belongs to the same genus as salmon. Well, that and Japanese people eat it a lot. Definitely not my favorite of the fishy kind. When I lived in Izumo, we would sometimes have shishamo in our school lunch. A dried whole fish with the head still on and the mouth gaping open in some sort of weird fishy death scream, plus a stomach stuffed with fish eggs. Not the most appealing of meals.

Back to why Eisaku and I headed out to Mukawa. About a month ago, we had a school introduction conference in Shiraoi for junior high schools in the region. I attended with quite a few of the other teachers, including Eisaku. A teacher from the junior high school in Mukawa came to our meeting, and we struck up a conversation before the meeting got started. The conversation turned to shishamo, as conversations about Mukawa are wont to do. The Mukawa teacher told us that the one month season for shishamo starts in mid-October, and if you time your trip correctly, you can eat shishamo sushi. Eisaku and I, as firm believers in the sacred tenet of food lovers ("There are two types of people in the world: those who eat to live, and those who live to eat. I am the latter." - Jeff Dong), both became very excited at the mention of shishamo sushi.

Me: "Sushi? That sounds strangely appetizing."
Eisaku: "Intriguing. The opportunity for a valuable research project is upon us."
Me: "Professor, shall we look into this on some further date?"
Eisaku: "This will require some serious research come mid-October. Mr. Kidd, I will require your assistance in this educational endeavor."

As October rolled ever so slowly along, we started making plans to travel out to Mukawa for some shishamo goodness. It just happened to work out that we had a day off today, so last Friday, I said, "Why don't we head on out to Mukawa this Monday, eat some shishamo, catch a movie in Tomakomai, and call it a day?" Eisaku gave the idea his seal of approval, and we set a departure time of 9 A.M. Monday morning.

Up in the morning and out of bed, I looked out the window to see a beautiful blue sky waiting for me. A good sign, this was. So, when Eisaku arrived at 9 to pick me up, I hopped in his car and away we went. About an hour and a half later, we arrived in Mukawa (translation: cockatoo river). After a bit of searching, we found our destination: The Ono Store.

YES! We're here!

So we head on inside and order some shishamo cuisine. I ordered the sushi, Eisaku ordered the sushi/soup set, and then we decided to order a stick of shishamo and bake them up on the hot plate on our table. While we assumed that the sushi wouldn't be bad, we had our doubts about whether it would be any good or not. One bite, and all of our suspicions were blown away. Shishamo sushi is some of the best sushi I have ever eaten. And the wasabi packed a Rocky-Balboa-uppercut-KO punch that was something to be remembered. You know you have some good wasabi when it makes the back part of your head itch.

The dried shishamo was really good too, and it looked nothing like the shishamo that I used to eat in school lunches. There is a rather insidious reason for this: the fish I had always been told was shishamo is actually a smaller, cheaper, nastier, European substitute. The real Mukawa shishamo deal is tasty, and has a nice amount of fatty meat on it, so when you fry it up, it smells good and tastes even better. Watch that first bite, though. That oil is HOT!

After eating our shishamo lunch, I sent off some shishamo to some friends in Shimane, and Eisaku sent some off to his family. After that, I suggested we head back to Tomakomai, but as we had a lot of time before the movie (SIN CITY!) started, and as Eisaku had never been to the Hidaka region of Hokkaido before, we decided to head on further down the coast and see some sights before heading back.

We drove on for about another hour until we reached Mitsuishi (translation: three stones) Town. One of the other teachers at Starfish High had told me about an interesting place to visit there, so we headed off to check it out. Houraizan Park is the name of the place, and the reason the other teacher recommended it to me is because I am really interested in Shinto shrines, and this park was supposed to have the largest shimenawa (a rope often seen at shrines) in Japan. Hey, sounds like fun! [Never mind that every city, town, or village in Japan tries to lay claim to the largest, smallest, oldest, tallest, fattest, thinnest, etc. whatever in Japan or the world. I've seen the longest bench in the world, the longest train station name in Japan, the tallest spruce tree in Japan, the highest suspension bridge for pedestrian use in the world, and so many other things I can't even remember. Heck, the town I first lived in when I came over here to work tried to get listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest somen noodle bamboo delivery slide in the world. Never mind that no other country besides Japan would even try to make a somen noodle bamboo delivery slide. At least I made it on national TV with that. Fun times can be had by all over here.]

So we went to the park, but there was no sign of the rope. So I walked out into the river and struck a funny pose, because I thought, "Hey, if not now, when?" Cool thing happened, though. (Look out! I'm tying this story back with the shishamo and the seasonal fish story at the beginning of the post!) It's fall here, right? Salmon swim upstream to spawn in the fall. I think we must have seen about five or six salmon swimming in the stream and jumping out of the water every once in a while. I've seen salmon swimming upstream in fish ladders at dams, but this was the first time I'd ever seen them in a natural setting. Quite the impressive sight.

Apparently, the big ol' shimenawa only gets strung up for a couple of weeks in July, so tough luck for this year, but we found where they stash the rope while it's not strung up. Believe me when I say it is worthy of the title of "largest in Japan". I've been to hundreds of shrines all over the country and have seen more than my share of shimenawa. I can vouch for it. Big. HUGE, even.

Time came to head back to Tomakomai and see "Sin City". So we packed it up and got on the road. I saw "Sin City" in the States back in April, but it's worth the second view (and third, and fourth, and...). Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, and Bruce Willis OWN this movie. I'd go on, but the "six-months-late" review has never been very popular. Good movie.

One more thing had to be done before we headed back to Muroran. According to some recent information I had acquired, there is a Seattle's Best Coffee in Tomakomai. Common decency required that I go there. It would be rude not to. Why? Because, my good friend, my favorite kind of coffee/espresso/whatever is a raspberry mocha, and the other U.S. coffee chain that is over here, S*A*B*C*S, doesn't have raspberry flavoring.

Just look. I look so happy! And it's not just because I'm wearing my Army of Darkness t-shirt under that flannel.

More pics of today's trip tomorrow, courtesy of Eisaku's digital camera.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Open School: Welcome to Starfish High

Yes. I know it's not Halloween yet. I figured this would be a good way to show off all the pumpkins we carved yesterday.

Today was Starfish High's Open School (v 1.0). Yep, I was slingin' English for The Man on Sunday. After all, Open School is one of our only chances to show prospective students what we're all about. With all the preparations leading up to today, this week has been what one might call "slightly stressful", especially if one's concept of "normal stress level" was dodging enemy fire on D-Day and "really stressful" was avoiding an alien attack like in "War of the Worlds".

You could say that people have been a bit "techy" all week.

I mentioned this in a previous post as well, but Starfish High isn't in the best of situations right now. Very few students, not that great of a reputation, shaky financial status...Scylla and Charybdis, my friends (see also: rock and a hard place). Good students at junior high schools don't even consider us; you could call Starfish High "Pasco" and the rest of the high schools in the area "the other parts of the Tri-Cities". We're looked down on by everyone else.

So today's turnout was not very encouraging. Today's Open School (v 1.0) was for prospective students in the areas around Muroran. We were hoping for around 100 students at least; we had maybe 60 students. Not a good sign. But, like the intrepid educators we are, we plunged forward, undaunted by dangers real or imagined, and kicked off Starfish High's Open School.

For the opening ceremony, Jack (the other native English teacher here) and I joined the school band to perform a couple of songs. Jack played bass on "Other Side", a Red Hot Chili Peppers song, and I sang on "Linda Linda" a song by Japanese punk gods The Blue Hearts. We had one of the exchange students videotape it so we could watch our performance later. Jack and I took a look at the tape in the afternoon, after things had calmed down a bit.

Wow. I really suck.

I mean, that intro was BAD. Ouch.

I actually had to run out of the room. I was that embarrassed.

I wish somebody had mentioned to me how awful I was on the know, before we had to perform live in front of a group of people!

But I think I was able to redeem myself once the song really kicked in, and the students seemed to enjoy it. We will have Open School (v 2.0) next week, and since we're performing again, now is not the time for fine tuning. Now is the time for a complete overhaul. Of the intro, anyway.


So after the opening ceremony finished, students started walking around the school, talking with our students, attending demonstration classes, or eating lunch. I had to teach three demonstration classes today, with respective attendances of...


...6, 4, and 2! Like I said, disappointing turnout.

One positive note was that I was able to wax nostalgic for the good ol' days of teaching English back in Shimane Prefecture, specifically the first three years when I taught at Hakuta Junior High School. Today's classes reminded me of how absolutely impossible it is to get a reaction out of junior high school students, especially third-years. There are tough crowds, and then there are Japanese third-year junior high school students. I'm a bit embarrassed to say this, but one of my students at Starfish High bailed me out of a tough situation by giving me an idea to motivate the class. His idea even worked!

I also realized how lucky Starfish High's students are. Being around Jack and I all the time, they have grown accustomed to foreigners (see also: strange-looking white men). We don't faze them at all. I think part of the problem today was that the junior high school kids just didn't know how to act around a foreigner. That, and it can really be tough to get a class of students you've just met motivated and excited about English in the span of 30 minutes.

All in all, today wasn't too bad. It would have been nice to have more students attend, but hopefully teachers will get out this week and do their recruiting jobs, and convince a lot of students to come to Open School (v 2.0) on Saturday.

I will be carving pumpkins again this week. But before that, I will be enjoying my day off tomorrow. The Lord may have rested on Sunday, but with all the English that was slung today, I will be taking my R&R tomorrow!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Jack O'Lanterns Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

Today was the last minute rush for Starfish High's Open School (Starts tomorrow! You'll pay for the whole seat, but you'll only need the EDDDDDDDDDDDDGGGGGGGGE! Actually, it's free.) So I cruised on over to school and met up with some students who volunteered to carve pumpkins.

Ever since I was a child and my family carved pumpkins together, there's always been one part of the carving that I enjoy the most: sticking my hand into the pumpkin and pulling out a handful of seeds and pumpkin guts. Still love that, even today. Then you wash the seeds, dry them off, put them in the oven on a cookie sheet, sprinkle some salt on them, and viola, you have the perfect Halloween snack.

I got the students started on carving, baked some pumpkin seeds, put a CD on, and we all had a lot of fun carving pumpkins. Here are the results:

Quite possibly the best carving job I've ever seen.

"Spiderman, Spiderman, friendly neighborhood Spiderman."

My pumpkin...creepy Jack O'Lantern goodness.

"Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio."

I would post some more pictures, but Blogger and my computer aren't getting along well tonight and I'm too tired to mediate. Perhaps on another occasion.

I also went bowling tonight. Every time I go bowling, I'm reminded why I don't go bowling more often. I'm a lousy bowler. I have accpeted this, however, and moved on. I enjoy my bowling mediocrity.

Well, I'm all typed out, and I need to be in top shape for Open School tomorrow. G'night!

Friday, October 14, 2005

"Fill your hands, you son-of-a-bitch!"

John Wayne is quite possibly the coolest. Person. Ever.

I would post a picture, but I can't find one that is legal for me to put on here.

Just finished watching "True Grit". Damn, he's cool. And yes, I know I'm awfully late in coming to this realization.

I ordered a Hawaiian pizza from Pizza Hut (Woo-hoo! Something that resembles real pizza!), sat down in front of the TV, and popped the "True Grit" DVD in the player. Excellent movie. Plus, there's the added fun of seeing Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall, and Dennis Hopper in it! That shootout at the end, 4 to 1, John Wayne says that line at the top, puts his horse's reins in his mouth and rides toward the four, shooting, spinning his rifle around to cock it, coming out unscathed...John Wayne is the man.

I had a pizza tonight to try and keep with the Kidd Family tradition of Friday night pizza. Mom and Dad's first date was at a pizza parlor. When we lived in Pocatello, we had friends who ran a pizza parlor, so we went there all the time. Even after we moved to Washington, it was pizza on Friday. In fact, I think I've eaten so much pizza over the years that pizza sauce flows through these veins. This is not a complaint. My favorite pizza has always been Hawaiian pizza (see also: Canadian bacon and pineapple). Funny thing about Hawaiian pizza over here, though. Now introducing our special guest topping: CORN!

Yep. Corn.

I don't know about you, but nothing says "Hawaii" to me like a bunch of corn on my pizza. This must be the Hawaiian pizza they serve in...hmmm...Honolulu, Nebraska? Yeesh. So with an added request of "No corn, please," I ordered my pizza. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm, tasty.

Sunday is Open School day at Starfish High. Today, in preparation for Open School, we had some pumpkins delivered to school from the nearby town of Date. That's pronounced Dah-tay, not date. Why pumpkins? Well, apparently for Open School last year, one of the English teachers carved some pumpkins for decoration, what with October being the month of Halloween and all. Our vice-principal asked me to do the same this year. With five years' worth of experience in carving pumpkins for schools, I told him, "I'm your man."

So today, I held a special "Jack O'lantern carving" lecture after school. I showed the students how to skin and gut a pumpk...I mean, carve a pumpkin. Tomorrow afternoon, a bunch of students and I are going to carve about 15 pumpkins to decorate the school. Better yet, we'll still have a big batch left over for the following week's Open School. Here's a photo of today's result.

I always try and find the humor in things, and I found it again today. I moved into my current apartment in August and could not believe the sheer amount of crap that was here. I would open a cupboard or drawer and find mountains of unnecessary crap. A bag of used batteries, used suits and shirts, "decorations" (or shallow representations thereof) that I didn't want, half-used bottles of shampoo, bottles of rotted wine. No joke. There was something growing in the bottom of those bottles, and it didn't look friendly. Anyway, my point is (and yes, I have a point) that the superstar pumpkin carver/drama dude/English teacher from last year had been the previous resident of this apartment, and all of that crap was his. [I met the guy once, and it was all I could do to keep from punching him in the face.] All over my apartment is all this junk that I can't use and don't want. Yet I find something useful that he left behind at school. He had his parents send him a pumpkin carving kit that has all of these little, precise tools. I used them today, and they were quite nice. I was actually impressed. Not that I will ever forgive that jerk for the state he left this apartment in, but I was a little impressed.

The humor of it all? The fact that I am talking about the sorry state that anybody leaves a place in. Mom, Dad, I figured you'd get a kick out of that.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Your Friendly Local Recruiter

Here's something new...

I went out to a couple of local junior high schools (Eastlily and Otherhawk) today to ask teachers to please please pretty please send some more students to Starfish High's Open School.

This is definitely a new part of the job description.

I think the schools were a bit surprised as well. I'd say I'm going out on a limb with this one, but I doubt that many private high schools send out their foreigner teachers to do recruiting.

We've been really busy getting ready for the Open School Day (this Sunday). There's cleaning, organizing students, planning demonstration classes, ordering lunches for the visiting classes, helping our third-year students apply to various universities, translating for our visitors from the Navy, and Lord knows what else. Most teachers are pulling the "running-around-like-a-chicken-that-has-recently-been-separated-from-its-head" routine. With my schedule being fairly open today, I offered to run out to a couple schools and make the Starfish High pitch.

Here's the thing: we're not the biggest school around. In fact, we are the smallest private high school in all of Hokkaido. If we don't get more students next year, we will be, as I believe the official term goes, screwed. The applications for our Open School have been far less than plentiful. We need to get more students out to see what Starfish High is about. So, even though I really had no idea of the correct way to go about plugging the school, I ventured out into the unknown.

I'd say it went pretty well. I was acquainted with the teachers in charge of student advancement at both schools, so that made giving the pitch a lot easier. It was a great experience, too. I never had to plug a school while I worked on the JET Program. Good times all around. I guess we'll just have to see how things turn out day of.

This evening, after school, our boys' basketball team played a game of hoops against some of the crew of the USS Lassen. You could tell that our boys were feeling a bit...overwhelmed by the whole situation. "Man, they're HUGE!" "I'm scared of them." To be honest, I figured we were going to get stomped. I mean, while they are a good team, they are a team of Japanese high school students going up against members of the U.S. Navy. Age difference alone puts them at a disadvantage.

Funny thing, though. They won.

Whodathunkit? I guess the stars aligned in just the right way. The refs were more than a bit biased toward our guys. The Navy guys were obviously holding back at bit (our team is playing in the All-Hokkaido Basketball Tournament in the first part of November and we can't afford any injuries). The biggest thing, though, is that it looks good for our team to have beaten the Navy. Kind of a diplomatic/politically-motivated victory. The Navy is looking at possibly using Muroran as a port (see also: naval base) in case of emergencies/bad stuff happening in the region. A little goodwill can go a LONG way in cases such as this.

Why Starfish High, though? Apparently, we were recommended by the Mayor of Muroran when the request came through from the Lassen. Why? Being the best basketball team in Muroran helps, but the BIG advantage we have is that we are a private school. With public schools, you have to deal with the Teachers Union. And the Teachers Union does not look kindly upon high school students interacting with military types. There are more than a few left-wingers in the Teachers Union. Know what? Their freakin' loss. Our kids never looked happier once they got out on the court and started playing. It's not about the military, really. It's about people from two countries who love basketball getting out on the court and playing some hoops.

Plus, Starfish High gets to be in the paper as the school whose basketball team got to play against (and beat) the U.S. Navy. Can you ask for better press?

"I want YOU to come to Starfish High..."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

In the Navy!

We'll sail the seven seas!

That was for my good buddy The Tsar.

Yesterday, I came into the staff room and found a letter on my desk. It was addressed to me, but the return address merely said:

Whoa. I've never received an official business letter from my own country before. Cool!
The letter was an invitation to a reception aboard the USS Lassen, a ship recently added to the 7th Fleet and stationed in Yokosuka. The USS Lassen landed at Sakimori Port today, and will be in the area until Saturday while the crew participates in some activities in the area and generally tries to spread some international goodwill.
So...what does the USS Lassen coming to Muroran have to do with lil' ol' civilian me? I'm glad you asked!
Tomorrow, our basketball team will play a game against a team from the Lassen. I will be translating and otherwise helping out the crew of the Lassen. How Starfish High's basketball team got invited to play basketball against the crew of a Navy vessel is beyond my capacity for understanding. Yes, we are the best team in Muroran, but that's not really saying much.

So anyway, me and my official invitation from the U.S. government (and Starfish High's principal) hopped in a cab and headed out to Sakimori Port this evening. I think we passed through about five checkpoints on the way to the ship.

We had our credentials checked, passed through the final gate, and headed toward the ship. I was geeking out like a madman. "Oh, wow, this is so cool! A Navy destroyer! Cool!" Then I saw the patrol guards with automatic rifles slung over their shoulders and thought that maybe I should quit geeking out so much and try and look respectable. On deck, I showed the guard my invitation, and some I.D. I never thought I would have to break out the Oregon Driver's License over here.

The reception was really nice. Cocktail shrimp, roast beef sandwiches, ham and cheese sandwiches (tiny ones, of course), punch, California wine (they were stationed in San Diego before being transferred to the 7th Fleet), sweet-'n-sour meatballs, spicy chicken legs, chocolate covered strawberries, freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies (see also: pure heaven)...

...and Samuel Adams beer. That's some good beer, that is. The high holy hoidy toidies from the city government were eminently pleased with Sam. Good eats, good drinks, good conversation...

I met and talked with some of the crew. Nice folks, very diplomatic. They seemed to be enjoying it over here in Japan. I also met the American Consul for the Consulate in Sapporo, Mr. Ogier. He's an extremely nice fellow, and we had a good talk about life in Hokkaido. It's nice to have people like him representing us over here.

There were some souvenirs on sale, so I picked up a commemorative coin (seen here on top of a napkin with the national seal on it...I can't believe I wiped my face on the national seal...does that make me a bad person, or do I have good personal hygiene?). I also picked up a coffee mug for work. I figured I can use it to get some bragging rights, especially with some of the other teachers going, "How come you get to go and I don't?" Well, being proficient in both English and Japanese HAS ITS PERKS! QYB!

One member of the crew and I had a really nice conversation about this, that, and the other thing. He's been all around the Pacific and Indian Oceans, participated in several events coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII, and he's from Washington State. Go, Pac NW! Anyway he gave Starfish High's principal and I each a commemorative bottle of water from the USS Missouri. "Makes for a good story, so keep the bottle!" Well put.

Time for bed. I need to be rested so I can translate/cheer on my students tomorrow.

"In the Navy, yes, you can sail the seven seas.
In the Navy, yes, you can put your mind at ease..."