Saturday, December 31, 2005

Izumo's Rockin' New Year's Eve Party

Day Five. New Year's Eve.

Today was going to be a busy day, so I got out of bed early, cleaned up, and was out the door by eight.

First stop, the Yamane household in Yasugi. Hiroshi's parents. They have been really nice to me since I first came to Shimane. They took me to see the sumo wrestlers when they came to Shimane. They fed me when I would go out to Yasugi with Hiroshi to teach English at the cram school he worked at. They made sure I knew what was okay and what was taboo in Japan.

A lot of times, most people will let foreigner goof-ups slide because, hey, we're foreigners. At least that's the logic. So something that we assume is okay may actually not be, but since the people around us let it slide, we never get the chance to correct our mistakes. The Yamanes made sure I knew what was okay and what was "no way".

After I moved back to work here, they helped me get set up in my new apartment, helped me get a kotatsu when it started to get cold, and still kept the offer to feed me open. Hiroshi's mom even came over and cleaned my apartment a couple of times for me. Anyway, they've been really nice to me, and I wanted to go and see them.

The drive out was pretty miserable, as I was still carrying the emotional baggage from the night before with me. But when I got out there, it was good to see them, and I let that other stuff go.

We ate some sandwiches, had some tea, and talked. This was a talk that I needed to have. I talked about my job and my working relationship with Hiroshi, and how difficult things had been for me at Starfish High. I didn't even really realize how much of a rough time I'd been having, until Hiroshi's father talked about his son's attitude toward me.

"You know, he knows you can do a good job. He's set a high standard for you, so there are times when your simple questions about work annoy him. But that's because he knows you can do well, and because he doesn't understand that there are a lot of things you don't know about the inner workings of that school. I want you to understand, though, that he has complete faith in you and what you can do there. He also knows that you have the skills to do your job without a lot of coaching from him. So he'll let you do your thing, but he is keeping an eye on you. If he sees that you are at the edge, that things are too rough for you and you're at a spot you can't handle by yourself anymore, he'll be right there to pull you back. He may seem cold at times, but he will never let you go under. He'll be right there to help you."

I almost started crying. Part of that was probably from the stuff that had been bothering me from the day before, but it hit me that I'd been having a really rough time at work. There were a lot of times that I felt alone...and here was Hiroshi's dad telling me that his son won't let me get in over my head. There were times when I hadn't been sure about that. But I understood. I knew it was something that Hiroshi would never say directly to me, but it was true all the same.

It was a talk I needed to have.

After visiting with them for a little longer, I headed out to my old hometown, Hakuta. There were a lot of people I needed to see out there.

The Miyamotos. I worked with the wife at one of my elementary schools. I also (kind of) helped their daughter get into a program where she could go and study in the U.S. after high school.

The Hamasakis. Another family I've known for a long time. The husband and I were in the same taiko drumming group. The two sons were students of mine at Hakuta JHS. Their daughter was a student of mine at Mori Elementary. The wife and daughter participated in my English conversation class for people in town.

The Nawas. The husband runs a candy store in town that makes some good candy. He was in the taiko group as well. He was drunk and asleep when I went to visit, so I talked with his mother and wife for a bit.

The Yamamotos. The wife worked at the community center and helped organize the English conversation class that I taught. I got to know the whole family through her. I translated the MC for their daughter's wedding ceremony. She and her husband had come back from Columbia just after I left Shimane, but I was able to talk with them as well. Their son had just gotten married, so I congratulated them on that.

The Nagatanis. The wife and the husband's mother run a little bookstore in town, and I ordered a lot of books and magazines from them. I would sneak over during slow days at the BOE and drink tea and chat for a while. It was a nice getaway spot for me. The husband worked at the BOE, and he and his wife are big movie lovers, so we always had something to talk about. Their daughter had just gotten married recently, so I congratulated them, too.

Mari. She had studied at The University of Washington (BOOOOOOO!!!!!) and helped me out a lot when I first moved into town. Apparently she is engaged to get married, so I congratulated her, too.

The Yoshigis. The three children were all students of mine. The wife attended my English class. The husband is an amazing cook. The grandparents are really cool too. I had dinner with them,  and sampled some of that good home cookin'.

The Hadas. I worked with the wife at Hakuta JHS. Their three children were also students of mine. Great kids.

After making this whirlwind tour of Hakuta and visiting all of these friends, I had to get back to Izumo before midnight. Why? Because of the Izumo's Rockin' New Year's Eve Party.

Back in June, a new concert hall opened up in Izumo. It's called Apollo. Tonight was my first trip out there. Nice place, if a bit small. Anyway, this New Year's Eve Party was organized by the Daikan-cho crew (basically the good folks over at Liberate, some others chipped in to help). Live music, some DJs, and a countdown at midnight. I made it there with half an hour to spare.

A lot of folks I knew were there, and it was fun to just get stupid and dance around with everybody. It was an all-you-can-drink extravaganza, which would have been nice, except it was cheap booze. I suppose that's the way you gotta roll when you roll all-you-can-drink.

"Everybody that doesn't have a drink, get one and get back in here!" went the call from the stage. I grabbed a beer and headed back in.



Everybody took a drink, and the show started up again.

As is de rigueur with parties organized by the good folks at Liberate, there was a performance of "Tequila". Usually a DJ spins it, but tonight, it was played LIVE. Also, as is de rigueur with these parties, the song stops right after everybody shouts "Tequila!" and starts over at the beginning. This gets repeated ad infinitum. Why? Because shots of tequila get passed around, and you are required by party law to drink after shouting "Tequila!"

I was called up on stage...umm, I lost count after the fourth time. It was cheap, nasty tequila, not fun to drink. You didn't even get any salt or a lemon with it. Time constraints, of course. The second time I got called up on stage to drink a shot, just as I was about to toss it back, somebody bumped my elbow. Most of the tequila missed my mouth and hit my eye.

Have you ever gotten tequila in your eye? It burns...much like napalm burns jungles.

The party continued on well into the night. I think I left around 3:30. Somehow I managed to get back to Lisa's apartment. Out like a freakin' light.

End Day Five.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Get a Haircut and Get a Real Job!

Up and out of bed. Time to write some more New Year's Cards before I do anything else.

I wrote a few, got tired of it, cleaned up, dressed and headed off to Matsue.

Matsue is the capital of Shimane Prefecture, and it's also the first place I lived when I came to Shimane as an exchange student all those (seven and a half) years ago. So there were quite a few people in town that I wanted to see while I was there.

First, I drove over to Isoda, a hair salon near the train station. I was introduced to the kind folks at Isoda by Dean, a guy who worked for one of the many English conversation schools in Matsue and who lived right around the corner from the salon. I got to know him through a mutual friend, and he told me about how great the haircuts were at Isoda. Shampoo, shave, scalp massage, shoulder massage...the works. And if you're lucky, you get a cup of coffee and something to snack on.

Needless to say, this description intrigued me. So one day, I went in with him, got introduced to the mother and daughter team that work there, and got a haircut.

Ever since that day in the spring of 1999, I've gotten my hair cut there (except for the year I was back in the States getting my degree). Great place. The day before I left to head up to Hokkaido, I swung by and got a buzz cut, so that I would be relatively comfortable during the humid humid humid nastiness that is summer in Japan. Even though there's a barbershop right next to my apartment, I held off from getting a haircut until I was able to go back to Isoda.

Today was that day. I went in, said hi and that I wanted to get a haircut. Unfortunately, they were backed up a bit, so I made a reservation for 3 PM and headed across the street to Butsudan no Harada to visit the Obamas.

How I met the Obamas is a weird story. I used to go drinking at a bar near Shimane University called "Gracias". One day, I met a guy who ran a construction company of some kind. He was pretty interesting and said we should go drinking again sometime. So, I gave him my phone number in my dorm room and figured that would be the end of it.

Nope. One day in February '99, I was sitting in my room, when my phone rang. It was the guy from Gracias, and he said, "I'm down by the bowling alley having some beer and sushi. Get on down here!" So I biked on downtown to where the sushi restaurant was. I went in, and sat down with him and his lady friend to enjoy some raw fish and rice. There was a family of three (father, mother, cute daughter) sitting over on the other end of the counter, but I didn't really pay attention.

They, however, noticed me.

Apparently, a white guy speaking Japanese fairly well in Matsue is a rare sight (or at least was). They started talking with us, and after a while, all six of us were having a good time eating, drinking, and chatting. As we were leaving, the father told me that he ran a butsudan shop nearby, and I should feel free to come by anytime.

Nice folks, fun time, but there was one thing that bothered me. When you study about Japan, you learn that there can be a big difference between what people say (tatemae) and what they mean (honne). So I took this "invitation" as a mere social nicety, and never took him up on it.

Fast-forward a few months. Dean (the guy from the hair salon story) and I went out drinking at Filaments, a really cool bar in Matsue. We ran in to some people he knew there. In the group was this really cute girl (who unfortunately, had a boyfriend who was kind of a scuz and was also there). We got to talking, and Cute Girl and her friend offered to take Dean and I over to check out a Buddhist temple with a really cool view of the city sometime.

Dean and I said...hell yes.

So the day came around and the four of us went out for some soba noodles (an eastern Shimane delicacy) and then we headed up to the temple. Fantastic view. You could see straight across to Matsue Castle and you had a gorgeous view of the whole city. Dean and Cute Girl's friend were walking around somewhere else, so I was talking with Cute Girl. I asked her why she was interested in temples, since most young people aren't, and she told me that her Dad took her there and she really liked it. She said that her dad worked for a company that was connected with a lot of temples in the area. He ran a branch of a company that sold butsudan. I asked her where. "Oh, right over near the bowling alley, over near where Dean lives."

Something clicked.

"Wait a minute. Your Dad sells butsudan at a shop near the bowling alley? Did you and your family go out for sushi in February some time and strike up a conversation with a nother group that was there? And one member of that group was a foreigner? And did your dad invite him to come check out the shop sometime?"

Her eyes widened. "Was that you?" was.

So we had a collective freak-out moment at this temple overlooking the city. She told me that her dad had really meant it when he invited me to come over, and was really disappointed that I never showed up. A few days later, I took steps to redeem myself. I went over and visited them. Ever since then, I've got along really well with the whole family.

So we talked for a while. They told me they were heading up to Hokkaido for New Year's, which was pretty funny. If I hadn't gone over that day, we might have just passed each other in the air.

After talking with the Obamas for a bit, I headed over to visit Sakai Sensei.

Sakai Sensei was my advisor and teacher for the first six months I was at Shimane University, and although he retired from Shimane U. at the end of those six months, we have kept in touch ever since. He's always willing to teach me about Shimane and Japanese culture, which has helped me out when I've had questions or confusion about things here.

We went out for soba, and then headed back to his apartment and talked about life and different activities we're both involved in. One of the things he asked me about was whether or not I had any plans to get married. I said no, and although I appreciated his offer to help, I told him that it was something I still wanted to try and work out for myself.

I had a plan, you see. I wanted to meet up with Crab Girl. Wanted to see her. Wanted to tell her how I felt. Wanted to spend time with her. Wanted to talk to her about what had been and what could be. This was one of the main things I wanted to do while I was in Shimane. E-mailing and talking with her while I was on my way up to Hokkaido helped me have the strength to keep going. After I got up to Muroran and was feeling generally miserable about life in general, being able to get in contact with her helped keep me sane. Even though I have been through two miserable long-distance relationships and am very gun-shy about going through another one, I felt like if I was with her, we could make it work.

I didn't tell Sakai Sensei about this, though. I just told him that I wasn't quite ready to rely on help from others just yet. We talked until about three, and then I headed back over to Isoda to get cleaned up.

Haircut. Shave. Scalp massage. Shoulder massage. At the end, I was feeling good, and looking good. I paid, said goodbye, and boogied on back to Izumo.

I went back out to Ottachi to meet up with a former student and his family. His dad picked me up at Ottachi Elementary and drove me up to their house, way the hell up in the hills. We were in a huge van driving on these incredibly narrow roads. I had dinner with them (sukiyaki!) that evening, and we played cards and talked about the kid's foray into the world of youth soccer. He's pretty good. After chatting with them for a while, it was back to Lisa's house to feed Jiji and work on those New Year's Cards. No Daikan-cho visits for me that night. Those cards had to be finished.

While working on the cards, I tried to get in touch with Crab Girl. So far, my efforts to meet up had been futile. She had made plans to go to some concerts at the end of the year with a friend of hers, and unfortunately, these plans had been made way before I had bought my tickets to go back to Shimane. Some crazy things had happened with her family earlier in the month, so I knew she was busy with a lot of things at home, too.

But it just seemed like she was avoiding me. And it really hit me hard that night.

Here I was, back in Shimane, in a cold apartment, by myself, and all I wanted to do was meet up with her and talk. And I couldn't even do that.

I think I stayed up until around 3 AM. Couldn't sleep, depressed, wanted to cry. Finally, I ran out of energy and fell asleep. End Day Four.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Zombified Goodness

After watching King Kong, I had to:

1) Drop off Kasumi.
2) Get back to Izumo for a party.
3) Stop by Cosmo.
(not necessarily in that order)

Kasumi and I had swung by Cosmo that morning before heading out to the movie theater. I had some folks out there I had to see.

Let me explain a bit about the Yonago Cosmo. It's a combination bookstore (1st floor) and CD/DVD/video game/miscellany store (2nd floor). Guess which floor I spent most of my time (and yen) on.

After I bought a Playstation 2 at the beginning of my second year in Hakuta, I started buying DVDs with a vengeance. Not games so much as DVDs. Don't even ask about my CD buying. (Ask my Dad.) I became a very familiar face out at Cosmo. So familiar, in fact, that I started making friends with the staff.

First was Nekko. She used to live out in Hakuta, and she recognized the address from all of the reservation slips I would fill out. So one day we struck up a conversation and hit it off as good friends.

From Nekko, I was introduced to some of the other staff. Shiba, who works in the CD section. Kaa-chan, a huge Number Girl fan who transferred over from Tottori and was transferred back a couple of years later. Kakari-cho, one of the higher-ups in the company, who had an Osaka accent and an Osaka sense of humor. Aya, one of the register workers. We would hang out, catch concerts or movies together, and generally joke around every time I visited the store.

Shiba, Nekko, and I at Cosmo last July.

Shiba introduced me to the wonderful world of zombie movies. Now, I'll admit a love of the Evil Dead series (I, II, III aka Army of Darkness) prepared me for my foray into the wonderful world of zombies. But I gotta say, I luv 'em. The Living Dead Series (Night, Dawn, Day, Land) is absolutely awesome. I even watched the "Dawn of the Dead" remake with Kaa-chan and her mom. Classic theater experience.

Land of the Dead was being released here in Japan on DVD at the end of December, so I e-mailed Nekko and asked her to reserve me a copy. "Why? Can't you buy it up there?"

Of course I can. But I'm not going to be "up there", I'm going to be in Shimane.

"Wow! Sure! Come on by when you get it!"

So I did. But Nekko wasn't there. Only Shiba. So Shiba and I talked for a bit, and then I noticed it.

The Grail. Of zombie movies.

The Night Of The Living Dead in its original form, not the re-edited and cinematically violated edition that was released on DVD a few years back. It was a limited edition three-disc pack with the original, a colorized version of the film and a DVD of George Romero extras.

(Cue angel chorus singing "Halleluiah" as a beam of light shines down from Heaven upon the DVD set)

Must. Buy. Zombie. Movie.

So I had Shiba put it on reserve for me, and then I said I'd be back in the afternoon, after King Kong finished.


Cut to the Yonago Cosmo, around 5 PM. There's Nekko, so I go over and say Hi. We talk for a while, and then I shell out the yen for my new zombie DVDs. I bid Shiba and Nekko farewell, drive Kasumi over to a video rental place in Yasugi where her dad will pick her up, and then cruise back to Izumo. I get to Lisa's place just in time to feed Jiji, put my new purchases away, hop on Lisa's bike, and pedal on over to Bamboo

This evening, I was meeting some teachers from Hokuyo Elementary to have dinner at Bamboo. There was a group of four teachers out there that I got along with really well, and I introduced them to the Okinawan culinary delights to be had at Bamboo. When I left for Hokkaido, they told me, "Let us know when you'll be back. We'll all go out for dinner at Bamboo again." We actually ended up following through on it.

The Hokuyo gang and I.

So we got together for dinner, talked for a while, ate some good food, and generally had a good time. After the party ended and we all left, I headed over to Soul for some drinks. Soul is the bar run by Masaya, the tall guy I ran into my first night back. Another really good friend of mine, Daisuke, works there as a bartender. I went over to talk with him for a bit.

Daisuke and I on the night before I left Izumo. It was a tad...emotional.

I had a couple of drinks, talked with Daisuke, paid my bill, and went back to Lisa's apartment, where Jiji was waiting for me.

Good night, Jiji. End Day Three.

Ladies and Gentlemen...I give you...KONG!

Up and out of bed early today. I had to get out to Yasugi by 11, and I couldn't keep her waiting.

Not her. She wasn't even in town. More on that later.


Kasumi is one of the coolest students I ever had. Loves movies, loves English, plans on going to study at a university in the U.S. after she graduates from high school. Apparently some of the reason for that is thanks to me. I'm just glad her family didn't put a contract out on me for encouraging her when she wasn't getting any support from her school. (Another reason that she's cool: She went down to Kagoshima Prefecture to take a test that would qualify her for the exchange program she wants to go on. I jokingly asked her to pick me up a bottle of good Kagoshima shochu. When I picked her up, she handed me a bag that had...a bottle of good Kagoshima shochu in it. Kasumi rocks.)

We e-mail back and forth quite a bit, and when I told her I was coming back, she said, "let's go watch a movie!" I thought that was a fantastic idea, so I had her check up on what was playing out at MOVIX, the excellent movie theater out in Hiezu that provided me with five years of movie-going entertainment.

Great place. They even had a member's card that you could get. If you had one, you got 10 points for every movie you paid for. Every 60 points, you got a free movie. Not a bad deal, considering the sheer amount of movies I watched. The late show was always the cheapest, and when I lived in Hakuta, I was only 20 minutes away, so I usually watched the late show. The thing that made me mad as hell was that two months before I moved to Izumo, which was now an hour (at least) from the theater, they started a Men's Day.

Now, before you get the wrong idea, let me explain. MOVIX always had a Women's Day. On Women's Day (every Wednesday), if you were a woman, you could watch any movie at any time for 1000 yen (about $10). This is incredibly cheap, by Japanese movie-going standards, as the usual cost is around 1800 yen. Even the late show is still 1300 yen. So there was always this Women's Day there, and I thought it sure would be nice if there was a Men's Day.

Two months (TWO FREAKIN' MONTHS) before I leave Hakuta, they start one.
I was not pleased. But I made use of it, all the same. And after a while, the pain subsided. Heh.

Anyway, Kasumi and I talked about what we should go see.
"Harry Potter?" "Seen it."
"Mr. and Mrs. Smith?" "Could be fun."
"Some Korean movie?" "Umm, no."
"King Kong?" "King Kong."

Luckily, I'd done a little preparation for just this scenario and watched the original a couple of weeks earlier. But this really did not prepare me for what I was about to see on the screen.

Now, mi compadre, my friend, my brother...Czar, I'm going to have to take offense with the "definitely a crappy movie" comment you posted on your blog.

King Kong kicked my simian ass.

Cheesy dialogue? Seen the original? They pulled most of the cheesy stuff straight out of it. I thought it was a nice tip of the hat, myself.

The scene where Kong is on display recreated the original island scene beautifully. I was grinning my dopey grin the whole time.

It wasn't all great. It was, as a lot of people say, a tad long. I didn't notice it that much, but I can agree with the criticism.

Some of the effects looked a little fake, like the actors were superimposed on the action. A tad annoying, but the action was so intense that it didn't bother me that much.

Andy Serkis having to die twice sucked, I thought. Hey, either you get it or you don't.

But the good far outweighed anything I could complain about.

The action was incredible (once it got started).
Kong was beautifully designed.
The bugs (shudder). The bugs.
Kong vs. the dinosaurs. HO. LY. SHEEEEEEEE. IT.
Central Park.
The Empire State Building.

I'm such a softy. I was crying at the end. Sad, sad movie. Especially since you can see the end coming.

Now, I'm not going to call it the best movie of the year or anything like that. But I will say this. Kong was a damn fine movie, well worth the three hours and thousand yen I spent (Men's Day!).

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Stomping Grounds

Up and out of bed around nine.

Ouch. Head hurts.

This was not a surprise, considering the deluxe Daikan-cho bender I went on the night before.

However, the headache was not of the "Oh God Please Strike Me Dead Where I Stand" pain, or even the "Athena, is that you springing from my cleft forehead?" pain. It's more of the "Hmm, maybe I shouldn't have had that double shot of rum and vodka to cap off the night" kind of dull ache in the back of my skull. Comparatively speaking, not a bad headache.

Today was the last day teachers would be at school before the start of winter vacation (for them...students had started their vacation on the 23rd). I wanted to cruise around and see if I could catch up with some of my former coworkers.

Clean up a bit first.

Then out to Lisa's car (THANK YOU!!!!!) and off to the Izumo BOE.

The kind folks at Izumo's Board of Education took very good care of me for the two years I was there. Not that Hakuta treated me badly, mind you. They were also very kind to me. It's just that while I was the first ALT to work solely in Hakuta, Izumo had been hosting ALTs for quite some time, and they were used to handling them, much like animals in a zoo (the ALTs, I mean). Trust me, with some of the people that make it over here on the JET Program, the animal comparison is not as far off as you might think. There were times when I would think, "What does this say about me that I was let in on the same standards that these yay-hoos made it in on?"

Hopefully I am not being judged by the same standards. Hopefully some of the other JETs I consider myself fortunate to have worked with are not being judged by the same standards. Hopefully.

But there are times that I worry.

Anyway, I cruised over to the Izumo BOE to say hi to everybody over there. Up the outside stairs to the second floor and on inside, where I see everybody working. I nonchalantly say "Good day, everyone," and pull up my old chair and sit down.

The reaction was similar to that of the night before, although I think some people were concerned because there was this strange white guy walking in and pulling up a chair like he worked there. Then, recognition set in.

"Dustin! I was wondering if you made it back okay."

Snow snow snow snow snow was the weather report out of Hokkaido. A lot of people thought my plane didn't get off the ground.

Well, I'm back!

First off, a chat with Mihara-san. Mihara-san is the savior of the BOE, at least where us JETs are concerned. She has been working as the JET supervisor for several years, and she's pretty familiar with all the weird quirks that we can have. She also knows how to help us out with all of the stuff we have to take care of upon arrival, and all of the weird problems that tend to pop up during our time there. In other words, Mihara-san rocks. I can't even begin to express how much she helped me out while I was there. There were times when things started to get too crazy with work, and she was always there to help me out. She also took me to the hospital the night I almost died from that intestinal infection. I have her to thank not only for my sanity (or what's left of it...according to some of you jokers), but also my life. Mihara-san rules.

It was good to talk with her. She's had to send me some paperwork a few time since I moved up to Muroran, and she always puts in a little note of encouragement. Hell, that's saved my sanity more than a few times. We talked about life in Hokkaido and in Izumo, how thin I looked (flatterer), how English education was going in Izumo, how her family was doing, and how my job was going.

I also talked with all the other folks at the office. It sure was good to see them. Some of them didn't even realize that it was me sitting there. Apparently, I looked so natural that it seemed like I had never left. At least that's what they said.

After spending some time interrupting everybody's work, I decided to get on the road and try and catch a few teachers. First up, Yotsugane Elementary.

Out of the fourteen (fourteen!) elementary schools I worked at while I was in Izumo, Yotsugane was probably my favorite. Ms. Taihei, the teacher who coordinated my schedule on the days I taught there, was absolutely awesome. Although, the first time I met her, I was a little worried.

I transferred to Izumo in July of 2003. In August, we had a meeting with teachers from all of the elementary schools (fourteen!) in town regarding how we should go about having me visit schools. Basic procedural stuff mostly, scheduling, what kind of English activities to do, please meet Dustin, that kinda stuff. Ms. Taihei asked a lot of questions about things and seemed to be a little frustrated with the whole process. I thought, "Wow. I don't know if I want to go teach over there."

But after going there, I realized that the school, the teachers, and most of all, Ms. Taihei, were exceptionally cool. I always looked forward to going out there. There was a little break room in the back end of the office. Having one of these is not as common as you would think. Plus, Ms. Taihei would often have some snacks for a meeting we would have before I went to my next school.

Plus, Mr. Katsube works at Yotsugane.

Mr. Katsube, or Kat-chan, is one of my best friends in Izumo. We hit it off really well from the time I first met him. He's really in to getting his students motivated to speak English, and he's got an energy level comparable to mine. Which means that if you put us together in a room to teach, look out! You'll need to take some speed just to calm yourself down! He invited me over to ring in 2005 with his family last year, and on my last day at Yotsugane, we had a nacho party with his class, and he made a really touching speech that had both him and me in tears. One of the best friends a guy like me could ask for.

I saw him over in the gym coaching the basketball team, so I went over to say hi. We made plans to go out for drinks and whatever while I was in Izumo, so there will be more on that later.
In the office, I caught up with Ms. Bandai, aka Tomoko. She studied English while in college, and was also a really good friend to work with. I saw a lot of other good friends there, including Principal Suyama, who took me fishing once my first year in Izumo. I caught a puffer fish, which was cool. I was reeling the line out of the water and the thing kept inflating. It was making these weird kissing noises. Since they are so poisonous that you have to have a license to prepare puffer fish to eat, I pulled it off the hook and threw it back. But I can say that I have caught a puffer fish.

So I got to see a lot of familiar faces. Unfortunately, I didn't catch up with Ms. Taihei. Bummer.

But I drank a couple of cups of coffee. Not enough to burn off the headache, but enough to get caffeine in my system so I could continue my journey.

Off to the next school...Takamatsu Elementary. I wanted to see if I could meet up with Mr. Kawakami, another really cool teacher. He is another teacher who is really enthusiastic about teaching English. He's a great guitar player, and a big outdoors guy. Last May, we got together with a couple of other teachers and went river rafting on the Kandogawa River. That was an awesome trip. More on him in a few days.

I got out to Takamatsu and chatted with the teachers out there. Mr. Kawakami was not one of them. After a cup of coffee, I was off again.

Next, I went out to Nagahama Elementary. In my confusion, I forgot that a teacher I had worked with out there had transferred to a different school in Izumo. Yep, I'm an idiot. It talked with the teachers and staff out there, and then asked one of the teachers to call ahead to Kandogawa Elementary, where that friend of mine now worked.

During my time at Nagahama, I had another couple of cups of coffee. By now, my bladder was starting to say, "Hey pal, I appreciate the fact that you have a headache from last night's alcohol-fueled fun, but I'm starting to feel a little uncomfortable."

Over to Kandogawa, where I caught up with my friend Mr. Matsumoto. He gave me a tour of the new school building, which had been under construction while I was in Izumo but had been completed after I left. There was still some work going on, but the new building was very impressive. It even had an elevator, something I've never seen in a Japanese school before. I also ran into Mr. Iiguni, a really cool teacher who is an awesome photographer and designs some cool websites.

More coffee.

Next, I headed out to Asayama Elementary, out in the hills. The entire staff out there is really great, and the principal is a neat lady.

Me and the Asayama gang at a farewell party for me last June.

We sat around and chatted for a bit, and then I was off again. I went all the way out to Ottachi Elementary, my farthest school from where I used to live.

I talked with the teachers there for a while, and then headed up to a pottery workshop where I knew a few people. I stopped in to say hi, made a phone call to the father of one of my former students to see if we could meet up sometime (see December 30), and then sat down with the guys in the workshop and had some food (the first I'd eaten that day, I realized). Good eatin's.

After that, I headed back to Lisa's apartment, fed Jiji, did some work on my New Year's cards, and then headed back out for another night on the town.

I had made a call to Sachiko, one of the Super English teachers that I had worked with, and we agreed to meet up at Tsubasa, a bar where Miymi, another one of the teachers, worked. So I hopped on my bike, stopped by my old apartment building and said hi to the Shigiharas, some good friends of mine. They offered me some food, which I happily accepted, and we talked about Hokkaido and Izumo. After that, I was off to Tsubasa.

Sachiko, me, Miymi, and her mom out at Izumo Taisha last July.

Miymi is a strange character, which I mean in a good way. I have never seen a person with this much energy. Ever. Take Richard Simmons, clone him ten times, force those clones to reproduce to purify that bizarre energy, extract it from the clones and their offspring, and then condense it all down into one Japanese woman. That might give you an idea of what we're dealing with here. She is really cool, though. She was a truck driver for a few years, hauling goods around western Japan. How awesome is that? She spent some time in Australia and is really good at English, although she'd never admit it herself. She has an Australian flag on display at Tsubasa, so Sachiko and I love to give her a hard time by asking her if it's the New Zealand flag. She gets so mad.

Sachiko's another interesting Izumo character. She runs an English cram school in Izumo and has helped out with the Super English program for about a year now. She's really fired up about teaching English, and she's got the skills and the ideas to make the program work. She's also got a great sense of humor. I always enjoyed working with her and Miymi.

So we sat around at Tsubasa, talking about stuff, or at least trying to. Whenever the three of us try and get together at Tsubasa, they get the weirdest customers in there. This night was no exception. Whatever. It was still good to see them. And "Mama", as the boss of Tsubasa is known. Actually, the female boss of any bar is usually known as "Mama". In this case, it's pretty accurate, because she's Miymi's mom. I stuck with water all night, because I was still feeling that headache. They wouldn't let me hear the end of that one.

"You come ALL THE WAY back from Hokkaido just to drink WATER? What kinda man are you?"

Ummm, one with an annoying headache that I don't particularly feel like aggravating.

Then it was time to cruise back to Lisa's (cold) apartment and hit the sack. End Day Two.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Well, although it's really January 9th, I'm going to go back through and write out the events of each day of my trip back to Shimane as if I were posting that day. Fourteen days worth of

December 27th.

Up and outta bed early to finish packing and make sure I had everything I need for this trip. Since I am going to be away from the apartment for two weeks, I pack a week's worth of winter clothes and two sleeping bags.


Hey, Shimane apartments are cold. I may need them both.

Luckily, I have an enormous bag to pack everything into. I bought it off of Marcie, a Shimane JET, for 10 bucks. She was leaving in July and didn't need it anymore. I was in the process of getting ready to move up here and figured I could use all the big bags to pack stuff in that I could get my hands on. It helped on the move, and it'll help out this time.

Then I lifted it.


I always pack too much. This bag is heavy.

Ah well, I'm sure it'll work out just fine.

So I pack up everything, check and double-check for my tickets, and after a quick shower, I was ready to go.

Hiroshi came over and picked me up, then drove me to the bus center. After several days of nice weather, it had decided to snow the night before, and the roads were slick with fresh powder snow.

Please, oh God, please let my plane fly...don't make me be stuck here in Muroran during winter vacation.

So I get to the bus center, thank Hiroshi and wish him a Happy New Year, and head in to get my ticket and wait for the bus out to the airport.

I got a good deal on a round-trip ticket, so I was feeling good. The big thing was that come this evening, I would be in Shimane. Weather permitting. Considering that the buses were running a little late because of the snow, I was still a little concerned.

But then my bus showed up. Off to Chitose Airport!

An hour and a half (or so) later, I was there. I go to the ticket counter, check in, check my big ol' bag, and then proceed on to the first objective of the day.

Eat ramen.

Naturally! Chitose Airport has a fantastic ramen area up on the third floor. Ramen from different parts of Hokkaido. Hakodate ramen (salt-flavored soup). Sapporo ramen (miso-flavored soup). Asahikawa ramen (soy-flavored soup). I'd eaten at the Hakodate ramen place before, and while it was quite tasty, and the chashu (roast pork slices) was the biggest I'd ever seen, today I was in the mood for something different.

So I walked around the different stores until I found something that caught my eye.

Obihiro ramen. Not a ramen that you hear of very often. I tried it once before in Sapporo, and it wasn't very good, but the shop at the airport looked tasty. So I ordered "pork ramen".

I haven't been out to Obihiro yet, so I can't say for sure, but it is supposed to be famous for dishes that include pork. This ramen had a miso-based soup (red miso - my favorite! - it has a really rich flavor) and instead of chashu, it had boiled pork slices. It was, as they say at Harvard, "quite the flavorful bowl of soup and noodles. I think I'll have Jeeves order some next week."

Or maybe not. But it was, as I say, a damn fine bowl o' ramen.

I also ordered a beer from a microbrewery in Chitose. It was a tad pricey, but really good. Yep, beer and ramen at lunchtime. Living the healthy life!

Then it came time to get on the plane. At least I thought so. Everybody else took his or her damn sweet time getting checked in and on the plane, so we couldn't get out of the airport on time. Plus, the road out to the runway was icy, so the plane had to taxi out slowly. We finally took off, and after two hours in the air, we arrived at Okayama Airport. After I grabbed my (damn heavy) luggage, I headed out and caught the bus to Okayama Station.

The plan upon arriving at the station was to check the highway bus times and see if there was a bus I could take back to Izumo. I had a fallback plan that I didn't particularly want to fall back on, but I had it all the same.

The Yakumo.

A rapid transit train that travels between Okayama and Izumo on the Hakubi Line. Also, one of the worst trains you could possible ride on in this country.

I never get motion sickness, but this train has made me feel a little less than well more than a few times.

It shifts back and forth on the rails, and tends to sway just enough to turn you a little green around the gills. And that's if you're lucky.

Here's the kicker: For as uncomfortable a ride as that train is, it costs 6200 yen (around $60) to ride from Okayama to Izumo. And that's just unreserved seating. Plus, it can take up to three and a half hours to get to Izumo. Rapid transit, my white butt.

So I was hoping beyond hope that I wouldn't have to take it, but just in case, while I was on the bus, I checked the time for the next Yakumo.

6:20. 5:00 now, I should have enough time to check the bus schedule.

Except that we hit rush hour traffic. What takes thirty minutes now took an hour. Next Yakumo leaves in twenty minutes. If I miss that, I have to wait in Okayama for another hour.

No thanks.

I shell out the cash and get a seat on the train, sending off a few mails telling folks I'm on my way.

Funny, the rocking and swaying of the train was nostalgic, in an odd way.

We come over the Chugoku Mountains and start heading towards Yonago. I start seeing familiar scenery (even though it's dark and there's lots of snow outside). I also start wanting to get the heck off of the train.

Finally, after three hours on that darn train, I arrive in Izumo.

I step out of the station, and a big grin crosses my face.

I'm back.

I'm easy to understand that way. If I have a big goofy grin on my face, I'm probably enjoying myself.

So I take a taxi to where I'll be staying while I'm in Shimane.

Lisa's apartment. Lisa is one of the ALTs in Izumo. She lives at the Friendship House, a building owned by the city that houses two ALTs and one CIR (Cooridinator for International Relations) employed by the city. Not a bad place. There's a room that is used for JET parties every once in a while. That can be fun. A tad cold in the winter, though.

Why am I staying in Lisa's apartment? Well, she's back in the States for winter vacation. So no one's there. To take care of her pet cat.

Jiji (loosely translated: Spawn of Satan). I'm a cat person, and Jiji gets on my nerves. I'm not sure how Lisa does it. One day in late Novemeber, she e-mails me and says, "Hey Dustin, you need a place to stay while you're here, right?"

Hmm. I was starting to think about who I could ask to let me crash at their places.

"Yeah. What's up?"
"Take care of my cat and you can stay here. I'm going home for Christmas and I need somebody to feed him."
"Okay. Can I use your car while you're gone?"
"Okay, but be careful. I don't have insurance for other people."

Sweeeeeeet. A place to stay and a car to drive. Shimane's a great place, but if you don't have wheels, it can be a bit rough.

So I let myself in with the spare key, stop Jiji from running outside, feed him, put my bags away where he won't tear them up, vacuum up kitty litter that's on the floor, go over to the next apartment and say hello to Rusty, Satoko, and Jason, and then it's off to the races.

I mean Daikan-cho.

Aah, good ol' Daikan-cho. Where the alcohol flows in the bars and the vomit flows in the gutters. An unpleasant picture, but not as much of an exaggeration as you would think.

For one and a half years, Daikan-cho was my place to hang out with friends and spend way too much money. Now that I live up in Muroran away from the bars, I'm saving money. This is a good thing.

First place I pop into is Bamboo, an Okinawan restaurant across from the station. I'm good friends with the owners, and I wanted to say Hi.

"Hey guys!"
Vague looks from the staff, then slowly, recognition.

This was a pattern that happened all night. The fewer pounds and hairless face threw a lot of people.

"Wow, you've lost weight!"
"Wow, you look younger!"

Oh, shut up. Flattery will get you everywhere.

So I sat down and shared a drink with the owners, and then they fed me. Upon arrival in Izumo, I realized that I hadn't had anything to eat since the ramen I had at noon. My stomach was not pleased. Until it got some good Okinawan food in it, that is.

That's me with the Bamboo staff on my last night in Izumo before I left to move up to Hokkaido.

We chatted a bit, and then it was off to my real hangout.

Ken's Box. Minako and the gang were there. Sayuri, Yukki, Saki, Tsuyopon. I walked in and said, "WASSSSSSSSSSUP!" Yukki saw me, recognized me, damn near jumped on me and gave me the biggest hug I've gotten in a long time.

Too long. Umm, yeah. Moving on.

Me with Sayuri, Yukki, and Saki. And some dude.

Minako and I.

Jin wasn't there, but I figured I would catch her around. I called up my drinking buddy Jara and told him to get his butt over to Ken's ASAP. He said he'd be there soon.

So I'm drinking and talking with everybody, and having a generally good time, but Jara just isn't showing up. I figured while I was waiting, I should make a quick run around and pop in and say hi at a few other places I hung out at.

Over to Number One to see Eiji. Only Eiji's not there. Apparently he works at a different bar now. So one of the staff shows me to where his new bar, Ri-Way. I pop in, and after he recognizes me, he insults me (as always). I follow that up with my usual retort of, "I don't wanna hear that from someone like you." We laugh, he asks me what I want to drink, I tell him I gotta run back to Ken's but I'll come in and drink there before I leave, he says okay, and tells me I'd better be at the countdown event they have planned for the end of the year. "I'll be there!"

Eiji and I.

From there, I go over to Juice to say hi to Aki-chan. Pretty much the same routine as before.

On my way back to Ken's, I run in to Masaya, the guy who runs Bar Soul, another Dustin hangout. He looks REALLY surprised to see me, but I promise I'll go in and get a drink there soon.

Masaya and I in front of his bar.

Back to Ken's. Jara's waiting there for me. We swear at each other and insult each other's immediate family members, like all good drinking buddies do. He's originally from Obihiro, up in Hokkaido. His dad was a member of the Self-Defence Forces, and they moved here while he was still in elementary school. Very cool guy, fun to hang out with, fun to BS with. I'd share his stories here, but I try to keep this blog fairly clean. He had a doozy of a story for me that night, though. Heh.

Jara and I.

We drank for a while, and then a few of us headed on over to Liberate to cap off the evening.

That's me with Kenji, the guy that runs Liberate.

We drank until four in the morning. I managed to ride Lisa's bike back to her apartment, and then, after a long, but immensely enjoyable day, I went to bed. End Day One.

Monday, December 26, 2005

One More Day!

I will be back in Shimane tomorrow!


I'll take a bus to the airport, take a plane to Okayama, and take a train to Shimane.

Damn, it'll be good to be back.

It's starting to sink in as I type this.

I will be back in Shimane tomorrow.



I gotta pack.

Depending on the availability of Internet access, I may be on hiatus for a bit.

Trust that I will be enjoying the hell out of being back in Shimane for the next two weeks.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Cheer From the U.S.

I love my family.

They rock.

Just when I was feeling down, they brightened this young man's spirits.

They HOOKED ME UP! this Christmas.

First, they sent me mashed potato pellets. These things are awesome. One cup of those in two cups of boiling water and in about ten seconds you have a batch of mashed potatoes. It is SO COOL! There's even some flavor to them.

But what's even cooler is that they hooked me up with GRAVY!


It's all about the food here at The Muroran Chronicles.

Then, a small package from my sister.

Inside were...two new neckties!


A Looney Tunes tie and a gecko tie! If I have to wear a tie to work every day, then I'll wear ties that I like, dammit! Thank you Andrea!

She also got me a book called "The Orphan". It was written by a friend of hers and, better yet, it's set in Idaho. I plan on starting it as soon as I finish my New Year's Cards.

Dad hooked me up with a CD. A best of Dire Straits CD. "Walk of Life", "Money For Nothing", "Sultans of Swing", "Heavy Fuel". Cool stuff.

Then came the coolest gift of all.


Heh. Just kidding. But it was really cool getting the socks. I get socks every year. Tradition is nice.

But now I give you...






Thank you, Mom and Dad!

And a Merry Christmas to all my family and friends, wherever this Christmas may find you!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Why Christmas In Japan Annoys Me

I like Christmas.

It's a nice holiday, when you get down to the basics of it.

Past the commercialism and the glitter.

Past the crowds at malls and post-Christmas sales.

Down to the spirit of Christmas, which is basically "being good to each other".

The concept of Christmas made it over to Japan, but the spirit did not.

There are a lot of things that have resulted from this gap that annoy me.

One: The idea that chicken is to be eaten on Christmas Eve.

Where did that come from? My theory is that there are no ovens in Japanese households big enough to cook a turkey, so they went with a smaller bird.

That, or somebody in marketing at KFC was one smart dude.

They actually sell out of chicken at KFCs across the country. No lie. One year, I tried to go and buy some chicken, just to see what the fuss was all about. The parking lot was so packed that a staff member was directing traffic. I tried to go inside and another staffer stopped me at the door and said, "Excuse me, sir, but do you have a reservation?"

Huh? Who knew KFC was such a classy place?

"Ummm, no. Is a reservation necessary?"

"Yes sir. If you don't have a reservation, then we are all sold out of chicken."

Sold out. Of chicken. At Kentucky Fried Chicken. A fast food restaurant that specializes in chicken.

I laughed all the way home. But I couldn't leave without getting a picture of Santa Sanders.

Two: The idea that cake is to be eaten on Christmas Eve.

Yep. Christmas Cake. I have no theories for this one. We always had pie at the Kidd Family household. The closest thing I can think of is fruitcake, and you don't see people running out and reserving those for Christmas Eve. I've asked friends from other countries about Christmas where they're from, and nobody has a clue.

Three: Being away from my family on Christmas.

Then, Dustin, why don't you go home for Christmas?

Moving on...

Four: Young people celebrating the conception of Christ, not the birth.

Ohhhh, yeah. I wouldn't even dream of making something like this up.

Christmas Eve is a night...for lovers (read that line with an Antonio Banderas-style accent). Forget about spending time with your family! Take your significant other out on a date, eat a nice dinner, check into a nice hotel, or a "love hotel", and..."twist the night away". [I would use much cruder terminology (mostly because in this case, it's almost appropriate), but it IS Christmas Eve.]

And if you don't have a significant other, just hook up with someone before Christmas Eve! You can always dump them after Christmas Eve has passed. (Some people do this.)

It's just a twisted, depressing, messed-up take on Christmas. And DO THEY EVER play it up on late-night TV shows and in magazines. Yeesh.

So around this time of year, if I'm here, I always get a bit grumpy. Christmas over here annoys me.

Although playing Santa for little kids rocks.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Girls Rocks

Today, some of my students performed in a concert at the local NHK building.

They went by the name "Release".

They'd given me a ticket and asked me to show up and watch, so I made sure I was there.

The name of the event was "Girls Rocks". Only bands with two or more ladies, and preferably one on vocals, were allowed to perform. There was a band made up of older folks who played Ventures-style music, and they were dang good. There was a band from Pure Water Hill High that did a very cool cover of a Shiina Ringo tune.

Release played quite well, and were able to stand on their own among the other bands.

It was a fun show, and afterwards, I took one of my students out for a bowl of ramen. We had a very good talk, and the ramen was very tasty.

Afterwards, I dropped him off at his dorm and came back home, where I spent a rather uneventful evening.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Spreading Christmas Cheer

Today, I was Santa Claus again.

This time, I went to Mizumoto Day Care. Some lady who works at the Muroran International Center sends her kid there, and somehow she found out about me, and told the boss of the day care that there was a "great person available to play Santa". (See also: yours truly)

The thing that gets me is I have no idea how she found out about me. No matter where I go, people know way too much about me.

The first town I lived in after coming here to work was a small town in the mountains. Hakuta Town. Pop: 5500

I went shopping at the local market the first day I got there. I bought some rice, some other foodstuffs, and some bread. As I was standing in line, an old lady standing behind me looked in my basket and said, "I knew it. Foreigners eat bread."

Umm, if you look a little further, you'll see a big ol' bag o' rice in there too.

There's this big misconception in Japan that it's either/or when it comes to bread and rice. Rice is the shushoku (staple food) in Japan. All three meals usually consist of rice and other stuff. The idea is that Americans eat bread at every meal, and that we don't eat rice at all.


We used to eat rice all the time at the Kidd Family household.

Anyway, there was that incident, and then there was the big one that made me reevaluate my standing in town.

My boss took me out drinking about a week after I'd moved to Hakuta. It was near the end of July, right in the middle of one of those killer hot Shimane summers with humidity that makes you feel ill the second you step outside and makes you want to stay away from food altogether. So we go to a local bar that night, and what does he decide to drink? Atsukan (hot sake). Hot sake is a winter drink, not a middle of one of those killer hot Shimane summers with humidity that makes you feel ill the second you step outside and makes you want to stay away from food altogether drink. I drank that atsukan with him, and woke up the next morning REALLY regretting it. Never mind that by the end of the night, most of that atsukan went into the toilet, and I couldn't sit up straight. The next morning, I was SSSSSSSSSSSIIIIIIIIIIICCCCKKKKK.

So I set out to find some headache medicine. One problem. You can't buy medicine unless you go to a pharmacy. Not even aspirin. I was not aware of this at the time. So I wandered around town, asking for headache medicine at various shops and getting more frustrated with each "Umm, we're not a pharmacy." Finally, at one shop, the old lady running it said, "We're not a pharmacy, but if you want, I can give you some of the medicine I have in the back."

Thank you, old lady!

So, the next workday, I went in t the office, and one of my coworkers looked over at me and smirked. "What?" "Word is, you were wandering around town all weekend looking for headache medicine." The entire office laughed. I freaked out. What kind of a place am I living in? Everybody knows what I'm doing? AAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!

So I was very careful about what I did in town after that. Three years later, I moved to Izumo.

Population 80,000.

Okay, this time, no worries.


I went to a festival in the fall, because some of my students were supposed to be dancing at it. By the time I got to the shrine, the festival was over, but I thought I'd go and see what the shrine looked like anyway. I climbed a long staircase up to the top of the hill that the shrine was on. At the top of the steps, there was a guy standing in front of a sake barrel. He takes one look at me and says, "Hey, have a drink!" He's had a few himself, so he wants to spread the wealth. I wasn't too excited about the sake, as ever since the Hakuta Incident sake has not been an alcohol I have enjoyed consuming. But I went ahead and drank it down anyway. Once I did, he poured me another one. Umm, okay, down the hatch. Then he pours me another. I drink it too. Then he takes me over to the shrine and introduces me to the head priestess, who pours me another drink. We talk a bit, and I get invited to a party at the community center at the base of the hill. I start to head back, when Stair Guy pours me another drink. By now, I'm starting to feel the effects of the booze, and I'm feeling happy. Five big drinks of sake in about ten minutes equals one drunken Dustin.

I somehow make it down the stairs. I'm not quite sure how. Stair Guy was carrying the sake barrel and fell down. At the bottom, I was invited into the building where the party was going to happen. They showed me where I could sit. I sat down. My head hit the table.

Ohh yeah. Bad news. I spent the rest of the night trying to sober up, drinking tea, miso soup, and eating persimmons. I had a car driving service drive my car and me back to my apartment. The next day, I was okay. But when I went in to work, one of my coworkers looked over me and smirked. "Heard you had a bit of an entertaining night last night." From WHO?

So I realized I had to be careful about what I did in Izumo. Plus I was teaching 5000 elementary school students. People knew what I was doing everywhere.

Now I find myself going through similar things here in Muroran. The lesson? No matter where I go, I need to be careful about what I do.

So the Santa gig at Mizumoto was a lot of fun. I walked in with a bag slung over my back and all of the day care kids went "SANTAAAAAA!!!!"

The whole time, they were waving at me and saying "Hi Santa!" It was so adorable. I passed out presents, took pictures with the kids, and, as all Santas do, made a small child cry.

They sang a song to me as a present to Santa. It was an original Japanese Christmas song. It asked, "Santa, what do you do in the summer? Do you go to the beach? Do you wear red swimming trunks? Santa, what were you like as a child? Did you get in fights? Did you eat cake for breakfast?"

Cute stuff.

Plus, it got me out of school cleaning in the morning. That afternoon, we did some cleaning, and then everybody left for winter vacation.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

There Is A House In New Orleans...

They call the Rising Sun...

Aah, The Animals. A great band if there ever was one.

Not that they wrote the song, of course, but their version of "House of the Rising Sun" kicked serious amounts of ass.

The four gaijin band (Jack, Chris, Nikolai, me) performed a version of it today for Starfish High's Christmas assembly. Since the band name "Foreigner" was taken, we went with "1, 2, 3, 4 Gaijin" (courtesy of Nikolai).

Jack was on bass, Chris handled the keys, Nikolai was on guitar, and yours truly...sang.

Another attempt to follow in my father's footsteps. When my dad was younger, he was in a band, and they covered "House of the Rising Sun", too.

The first verse got a few cheers, but when I cut loose on the second verse, the crowd went wild!

Or not. The crowd went slightly less domesticated.

I felt pretty good about it, even after watching the video.

Plus, yesterday was the first time for the first year students to get on stage and perform the play. Sure, it was just one scene, but they did a good job.

It's been a weird trip so far, working on this play. Neither Jack nor I really had much idea about what we were doing at first. It was hard to get the students organized and motivated. But as practices continued and we watched our students more, things started to improve. The various directors started coming into their own and are now able to motivate people in their groups. We even have a girl doing makeup, and she know what she's doing. We even have a boat! Dancing, props, costumes, makeup, all came together really well.

Our main actor has got his part SO nailed that it's scary.
Things are good.

Now all we have to do is keep up the pace and complete the rest of the play.

The Christmas assembly was a lot of fun overall. There were some good musical performances from the students, including four third year students who are putting out a CD next year. Self-made, but they're putting one out all the same.

After classes finished, I went to the kitchen with the third year alpha students and made...




Good stuff. Very good stuff.

It was a fun final activity with the alpha class.

A little more work at school, then back home. [Editor's note] where I was going to type this up yesterday but instead fell asleep (see also: passed out) on the floor around 10 PM and woke up at 4.

The Bachelor's Life. It's FAAAAAAAAAAAAAN-tastic! (Line stolen from the NBA)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What Can You Do?

Funny how a good night's sleep, followed by a good breakfast and several cups of good coffee can turn the previous day's attitude right around.

Also funny is how a couple of drinks too many in the evening can flush that turnaround right down the toilet.

Today I woke up in the same funk that I went to bed with the night before. But after I got to work and had a cup of coffee, things started to seem okay with the world. After I taught my classes, things seemed even better, although the cleanup I asked the students to do during sixth period play practice didn't really happen.

Tomorrow is our Christmas Mass and Christmas Assembly. The first grade students will be performing a scene and a dance from the play we are doing. I will also be singing a song in the "gaijin" band made up of Jack, Chris (exchange student from Australia), Nikolai (exchange student from New Zealand), and me.

We had our rehearsals this afternoon. They went well enough, except for the fact that a fuse blew somewhere and our auditorium was without stage lighting. You know, other than that.

By the end of the day, I was feeling alright. I was even chuckling at my self of the previous day. "What a nabob."

Then, in the evening, we had a party. It was a combination welcome party/farewell party. We welcomed three new staff members and said farewell to one.

We had a nice Italian dinner. I had some nice Italian beer. I was feeling alright.

The call went out to go to the second party. This is a pretty common thing with Japanese company outings. There's the first party, which is usually held at a fancy restaurant of some kind. People "start off" with beer and then proceed on to sake or other, harder drinks.

This is actually an amusing scene at parties.

It starts with, "What's everybody want to drink?" The people responsible for organizing the party ask around before placing the drink order. You will generally hear, without fail, two or three voices that say, "Toriaezu biiru." ["I'll start off with beer (and then move on to something harder later)."] These are the people that look the worst at work the next day.

Beer, then liquor, never sicker. Liquor, then beer, all's clear.

So anyway, following the first party, there's usually a second party in which most of the participants move on to a smaller hostess bar with karaoke and cheap whiskey.

Which is where we ended up. Club Beluga. Not exactly the best name for a hostess club.

It was fun for a while, but after a bit, the group to the left of me was talking about their thing, the group to the right of me was talking about their thing, and I was sitting in the middle, excluded from both conversations.

This was both by fortune and design.

I'm not a mean drunk. I talk. A LOT. Which is pretty impressive considering the source. Part of it was being tired from work. Part of it was the cheap whiskey on the rocks I was drinking. Part of it was that I had tried to make a joke and nobody understood it, and I just felt dumb and annoyed.

I got grumpy.

I was trying to figure out how to get out of there.

It was a lot like the classic patter of foreigner-at-Japanese company party.


Finally, the time came to leave. But the happiness and general better outlook on life that I had that morning was nowhere to be seen. I was back to "What the hell am I doing here?" mode.

I didn't even want to be around anybody, so when the call went out for "Who wants a ride?", I just said, "I'll walk."

And so I walked home.

Apparently, I wasn't looking so good, because a couple of the other teachers kept asking me if I was okay. I wasn't okay, but it was more of bad-mood-not-okay than drunk-not-okay.

"I'm fine. I just want to walk home."

I made a stop at the 7-11 to pick up the perfect hangover-buster drink, the thing that stops hangovers before they happen.

Ukon no Chikara.

The Power of Tumeric.

Powerful stuff. One small bottle of that after a night out, and you're good to go the next day.

Back home, and off to bed. Lovely end to a lovely day.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Good And The Bad...

...tend to balance each other out, no?

Today was the last time I would be teaching the third year beta students, so I organized a pizza party for class. We all chipped in some cash for the pizzas. The students also brought snacks. One of them even baked a cake especially for the party. It said, "Thank You Dustin" on it. It was a cool gesture. And hey, it was good cake. Apple sponge cake. Mmmm, cake.

We ate pizza, snacked, watched some videos, and generally had a good time. It was a fun way to wind up that class.

From what I understand, other than for a couple of days, the majority of our third year students won't have to come back to school after winter vacation. Students that are still studying for entrance exams will be exceptions to that. There will be no more third year classes after we get back in January. This means that I will have no classes on Friday. Hmmm...

No complaints here.

I'm sure I will have plenty of actual work to do, but the concept of no classes on Fridays makes part of me smile.

So, anyway, good last class with my third year betas.

This led into an absolutely crap class with my second year betas that just wore me out and left me in a weird funk. There are about four students in the class who ruin it for everyone else. Just out of control. And I'm so ready for winter vacation that I can't really summon up energy to do anything about it.

It's classes like that that make me wonder what the hell I'm doing here.

It would have been nice to have those classes in the opposite order.

Here's the kicker.

I called a former coworker this afternoon. I'm heading back to Shimane for New Year's, and I wanted to ask if I could participate in the Kitcho-san festival at Izumo Taisha again this year. I took part with the group from his area, and I had a great time. I caught him at a bad time, and he said he'd call me back.

Which he did.

He told me some news that broke my heart.

See, he is the principal of the elementary school that the former student of mine attended.

The former student who got hit by a car and was hospitalized.

In a coma and on life support.

She died.


Not a good month to be a student of mine, former or otherwise.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Something Random

According to this site, I have raven eyes.

Positive Traits: Intellectual, Wise, Experienced, Honest, Trustworthy
Negative Traits: Pompous, Condescending, Withdrawn, Pessimistic, Depressed

I dunno. I don't think I'm pompous.

Since I didn't really do much today except sleep, pick up some stuff for making tacos tomorrow, watch a DVD and goof off on the internet, I thought I'd put something weird on here.

I stole it from John's website. Sorry John.

Turns out we have the same eyes. I have no idea what that means.

John's one of the teachers over at Pure Water Hill High. Nice guy. Decent taste in music.

All right, nuffa that. G'night.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

It Was Winter In The Frozen City

Woke up this morning (bah dah da dah)
With a pain in my head (bah dah da dah)
It hurt me so bad that (bah dah da dah)
I wished I was dead (bah dah da dah)

I just got me, got me them ol'
Them ol' post rock-show blues
- Isamu Yoshiwatari, Post-Rock Show Blues

Okay, so it wasn't that bad, but I did have a tad much to drink the night before.
A shower, a change of clothes, a peek out the window...


Whadda surprise.

So I check out of the hotel and head for the subway, canceling my previous plan of walking back to Sapporo Station. I did it because of the snow, and because cars and people were slip-sliding all over the place.

After I arrived at Sapporo Station, I headed over to Kinokuniya, an extremely cool bookstore right across the street from the west entrance to the station. I picked up some textbooks for one of my classes. I'm a-gonna teach somma them kids how to write English essays good.

I ran into one of my students while I was in Sapporo Station. He was on a date with his girlfriend. This is not the first time that's happened, and we were joking around on Friday that it would be funny if we ran into each other. I was going over to see what movies were playing at the station's theater, when I hear, "Dustin?"

There he was. We had a good laugh, and then I took off to do some more shopping.

I had to buy a wig and a fake moustache set for the play. That took some searching, and by the time I'd found them and picked them up, I was feeling ill from being around all the dang people in Sapporo. It wasn't the smartest move to try and go shopping in Sapporo right before Christmas. I'll admit that that was my first mistake.

So I picked up the wig, the 'stache set, some blank CDRs, a regular CD, and those books. I was loaded down with bags and plain old exhausted. So I found a locker, tossed my stuff in, and went to get some ramen.

I went to Ittetsu again. The owner remembered me. "Hey, it's Jack's friend." I ordered some ramen, took my time eating it, enjoying every slurped noodle, every sip of soup. Once I was done, he asked me if I would like a cup of coffee. "It's instant, but how 'bout it?" I happily accepted, as it was cold and miserable outside and anything to give me some extra warmth would be welcome.

The snow in the morning had been quite nice, actually. The city looked really beautiful, and it wasn't all that cold. Then the wind picked up in the afternoon, and the snow went from being light and fluffy to sharp and stingy. It was snow just this side of freezing rain. Ouch.

By the time I'd finished my ramen, I knew it was time to head home. I was a little worried about Wasabi-kun, as I'd left him parked outside, and if it was snowing in Muroran anything like it was in Sapporo, I could have some problems when I got back. So I headed back to Sapporo Station and caught the train back home.

When I got back to Higashi Muroran Station, I went out to the parking lot and dug out Wasabi-kun, who was, as I had feared, buried in snow. I hopped in and headed for home.

On the way back, Wasabi-kun died.

This was also as I had feared.

The engine cut out. Completely dead. I don't know what the problem is, but I wish it would stop. But, as the great Western philosophers said, "If you wish in one hand and crap in the other, which hand gets full first?" Of course, these Western philosophers used a slightly more colorful word than crap, and they were from Arizona and Texas, but you get the picture.

I waited a bit, and finally got Wasabi-kun started up again. While I was waiting, the snow was falling so hard that I actually had to dig him out again.

I somehow made it home. I had actually planned on going to a Christmas party with some of the other foreigners in town, but as Wasabi-kun was not in the best of shape, I had to cancel.

What did I do instead?

I opened up the CD that I bought. It was the fourth item in a series of releases commemorating the 10th anniversary of the formation of Number Girl, a kick-ass band from Fukuoka (previously mentioned in these Chronicles). This fourth release was of rarities and unreleased tracks. It also included a DVD of their time in the States in 2000.

I asked myself, "Could it be possible?"

So I popped in the CD, and watched it through. In 2000, they started at SXSW and played shows in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and...


Which is where I saw them play.

Which is where I interviewed them.

Which is why I was wondering, "Could it be possible?"

Could I be on this DVD?

I watched through to right near the end. There's the footage from Seattle.

There's the Space Needle.

There's the club.

There's some guy holding a tape recorder as they say, "Hi, we are Number Girl. Yeah, man. And you're listening to 'Kaze', on the 'Burg, your Music Central."

Wait a second.

That guy.

Was that?

Could it be?

I rewind the disc.

I take a long look.




That's me.

I'm on the Number Girl DVD.

They're saying my radio program's name on that DVD.


I called up a friend and bragged. I called up their manager and thanked him. I did the Happy Dance.

Maybe if you ask nicely, I'll show you the Happy Dance someday.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Zazen Boys Are Coming To Town

YES! The day has finally arrived! I'm gonna see Zazen Boys play live again!

This was how I felt all day long. Not exactly conducive to teaching. My body was in the classroom, but my rock-n-roll lovin' soul was already in Sapporo.

Thankfully, Friday is my light schedule day. My third year betas in the morning, and play practice in the afternoon.

We had some troubles during play practice on Wednesday, so I was a little worried about how things would go today. Not much need to worry, because everybody really worked hard! The performance is on Wednesday, so today was the big crunch.

We have a lot of Type-A personalities as directors of various departments, and this lead to a bit of difficulty, but overall, it was a successful practice. I had to run out to the store to get some thread for our costume designers, and when I got back, they said they didn't have a needle for the sewing machine. After some searching, they found one, but it would have been nice to be told that BEFORE I went out for the thread.

I filled out some paperwork in the morning so I could take off from work a couple of hours early. (At Starfish High, everything comes back to the paperwork. Yeesh.) The plan was to go home, get changed and then drive over to the station with time to spare.

Play practice ran a little long.

I went on a "Flight of the Bumblebee" panicked departure from school. Students and teachers all trying to ask me about this thing or that thing, and I'm trying to get out of there. It was pretty crazy, but I made it to the station with a few minutes to spare.

On the train to Sapporo! A little more than an hour on the rapid transit, and since I was getting off at the last stop, I caught up on a few of the Z's I don't get during the week. Upon arrival at Sapporo, I got on the subway so I could go check in at my hotel before the show. Apparently, it was rush hour in Sapporo, because the subways looked a little crowded.

Sapporo rush hour trains are NOTHING compared to the ungodliness that is Tokyo rush hour train travel. I have only had the good fortune to experience Tokyo Public Transit Hell once, and if that's what you call good fortune, I'd hate to be unlucky. I got stuck up by the door with a big bag at my feet. I was pressed up against a seat bar that somehow put me in such an awkward position that my backbone was bending in the wrong direction. As more people got on, the pressure on my spine increased. I was a bit concerned at this point. Somehow I managed to arrive safely at my destination with both pride and spinal column intact. You feel sorry for the poor slobs who have to get sammiched in there everyday. No big cities for me, thank you very much. I'll take the boonies.

Back to the story. I checked in to my hotel, headed back to the subway station, and caught the train to Kotoni, which is where the live house was located.

Penny Lane 24. My first visit there, so I had no idea what the place would look like. Pretty cool setup, and it can fit a standing-room crowd of 500 pretty easily.

My ticket number was 354, and everybody with a ticket number of 350 or higher had to wait upstairs and line up there to get in to the show. This was not a bad thing. Everybody else was lining up outside in the cold. Yeah, I suppose if I wanted to be right up front, I would have been upset, but I was content to watch the action from a little further back.

On the way in, I saw the Zazen Boys' manager and said hi. We know each other from previous shows. He told me to catch him after the show, and he'd let me say hi to the guys in the band.

Then, I headed inside to catch the show.


These guys are good.

I hadn't seen them play since back in November of last year. Since then, their previous drummer, Ahito Inazawa, quit due to disagreements about the direction of the band. Atsushi Matsushita replaced him in the beginning of this year. I'd heard a lot about the new sound of the band and was interested to see what had changed.

It's amazing how much a band can change with just the addition of a new member. It almost felt like a different band at times.

Mukai's (guitar, vocals) vocals are still as machine-gun fast as ever. Hinata (bass) gets better (and crazier) every time I see these guys play. Yoshigane (guitar) stands on stage and quietly does his thing, but when he does his thing as well as he does, you'll hear no complaints from me. Especially since he used to be a member of a Yakuza gang. You just don't want to complain to those guys. (No lie, by the way. You should see his tattoos. Wicked stuff.)

And then there was Matsushita, the new drummer. His playing style is heavy. Very heavy. The beats are fierce, angry. The rhythm is very primal. It put a new spin on a lot of the old Zazen Boys' songs. Cool stuff.

As always, the cohesiveness of the band was excellent. You can tell that they practice hard and often. The "band" vibe was great. When they jam on stage, they match up flawlessly.

They will be releasing a new album in January, and they played four songs from it at the show. The keyboard was a new and interesting addition. A friend of mine who is a HUGE Number Girl/Zazen Boys fan went to their show in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, and said, "Geez, Mukai, if you're so set on playing Prince-like music, just go ahead and do it!" I could see her point. The pre-show music from their last tour was Prince music, so there could be something going on there.

The new album will be called "Zazen Boys III", which is a natural progression from their previous album, "Zazen Boys II". Their debut album was "Zazen Boys". I'm sensing a pattern here. I wonder what they'll call the next album. "IV"?

Don't count on it.

When I caught their show on their first tour, Mukai said something about naming the second album "II" and the third one "III", followed by a fourth album made up of unpronounceable symbols.


I laughed my ass off at that one.

Mukai commented on how "unbelievably cold" it was outside. Yep, pretty much. People were jumping around and getting hot and sweaty during the show, so he said, "Careful when you go outside. You'll freeze dry. Just add hot water, I guess. Or hook up with someone from the opposite sex and...well, I'm sure you won't be cold, no matter what you do."

During the encore, he had the crowd sing along on the song, and then told us guys to shut up. He walked around the stage, found a cute girl in the audience, pulled her up on stage, had her sing along with him, and then he led her off stage and...who knows. Slowly, each member finished playing their part and would walk off the stage. Hinata, then Matsushita, followed by Yoshigane. We yelled for another encore, and Yoshigane came back out on stage and said, "Hey, show's over, folks. Go home."

After heading outside, I caught up with the manager again. He let me talk to Mukai for a minute, and then the band took off for the hotel. We talked for a little more, and he explained that Mukai was tired and wasn't heading out. Some of the other members and staff were, though, so invited me to the after party.

In dreaded Susukino.

It was at a pretty cool little restaurant called Isari. The food was good, the shochu was better.

Shochu (rough distilled spirits) is a Japanese alcohol made from just about anything that has starches in it. The three most common types are wheat, rice, and sweet potato, but there are many other varieties. Corn. Pumpkin. Carrot. Buckwheat. Seaweed. Regular potato. Catnip. Sesame. Coffee.

Wow. That list was starting to scare me.

Anyway, when I was back in Shimane, the quality and quantity of available shochu was a lot better than it is up here. It had been a while since I'd had any good shochu.

The stuff Isari had was good shochu. This made me happy. It also made me drunk.

All in all, it was a fun party, although some of the conversation was difficult to follow. A bit out of my range of experience. Think Susukino.

We all left Isari around 1 AM. They all walked back to their hotel, which was nearby. I also walked back to my hotel, which was on the other side of town. The subway had shut down for the night and I didn't feel like shelling out the yen for a taxi. Plus, alcohol had clouded my thinking. So I put my hood up, zipped my coat up, and walked to my hotel.

I have no idea how long it took me. This is one good thing about being drunk - you don't know how much time passes. I looked up and there was my hotel.

I went back to my room, changed into my yukata (Japanese PJs), and hit the sack. Hard.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


I hate wearing suits.

They're uncomfortable.


Too formal.

And wearing a suit just doesn't fit my personality.

Unfortunately, my current occupation requires that I wear a suit every once in a while. Actually, I suppose that I really am supposed to wear one every day, but as I only own two suits, one of which is of the zoot variety, I do not find myself all that inclined to "suit up" for work.

I compromise by wearing slacks, a nice shirt, and a tie.

Man, I hate suits.

But there are days where I have to wear one. Like today. Staff photos for the yearbook. Yeesh. It's like I'm lying to the photo album.

Having lost a little weight since I moved up here, my suit of the non-zoot variety fits better, which helps motivate me to put it on.

Today, as I was getting ready for work, I saw them in the back of my closet.

My suspenders.


This could be...PROMISING.

So instead of the usual belt, I slap on my suspenders.

Hey. Not baaaaaaad.

Not only were they comfortable, they were also a hit with the students.

I could do suits if I went with suspenders.

I may have to reassess my work attire situation.

Plus, I had a mug of coffee with me in every class. I was even teaching some students about how to write English essays. I felt like a real deal teacher, along the lines of a Brown or Wright.

Suspenders rock.

Well, I'm off to Sapporo tomorrow after work. Time to catch the Zazen Boys live.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

He Works Hard For The Money!

"So hard for it honey."


The best of the best of 80's Flashbacks, here on KIDD 97.3 FM!

Randomness can be a good thing.

I was at school until 9 P.M. today.

Then the security guard came and told all of us to go home.

See, Starfish High shuts down at 9. I think this is a very good thing. If we didn't have to leave by 9, some of the teachers might stay there and work all night.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play mak...

Whoa. Sorry. I didn't mean to go all Stephen King on you guys.

Anyway, I guess the question that needs to be asked is "Why were you at work that late today, Dustin?"

I would like to say that it was because I was working very hard on creating new and exciting English assignments for my classes.

I would like to say that, but if I did, I would be lying.

I was printing out nengajo (New Year's Day postcards).

Nengajo are the Japanese equivalent of Christmas cards. Since New Year's is a much more important holiday over here than Christmas (I will write more on this at a later date), you don't see many Christmas cards. But come January 1st, your mailbox will be filled with nengajo.

While I was here on my student exchange, I made my first foray into the world of nengajo. I figured it would be a good way for me to practice writing kanji, and a way to experience first-hand this facet of Japanese culture.

I think I wrote about a hundred of the damn things.

Killer on the wrist.

But it did help me improve my kanji writing skills.

When I came back to work here, I found out about nifty computer programs that help you design and print out your nengajo. Some people just go with a generic message and send that out to all their friends. I prefer to write a message on each one. Printing out your cards saves your wrist a lot of grief.

I probably send way too many every year, but I really enjoy sending them. Maybe I'm crazy. Actually, there's very little doubt about that.

So, this year, I finally got around to buying my own computer. I bought it off of a friend back in Shimane. Since it was a laptop from the States, I asked him to adjust it so that I could write in both English and Japanese and install Japanese programs. He took care of it for me, and I have been very satisfied with the results.

Until I actually went out and bought one of the nengajo-making programs.

I installed it.

No problem.

I opened it up.

So far so good.

I opened up my address file from a previous program that I used on a friend's computer.

Ab-so-lute gibberish.

So I tried retyping an address.


This is a problem.

So I talked it over with Hiroshi.

He said, "Use the school's computer."

Is that okay?

"Sure, just be subtle about it."

Aaah. OK.

So I "borrowed" a laptop from the school, installed the program, uploaded my address file, designed my card, and went to print some cards out.


Printer incompatibility.

So I ask Hiroshi again. What should I do?

"Use the school's printer. Just be subtle about it."

What kind of a place am I working at here, anyway?

So, I talk with the computer expert, and he says, "Oh, just use my printer."

So I get the okay to use his printer. Hmm, where do I "subtly" print out my nengajo?

"You've got space on your desk, right?"


Oh well, whatever. So I went through and printed out my New Year's Cards in front of everybody in the office.

Nobody said anything.

I figure it must be because of my intimidating musculature.

I scare myself sometimes.

So my cards are printed, addresses are printed as well, and all that's left is for me to write my messages and send them off.

By the way, since I can't post a picture of it, here's a description of the design:

I'm standing in a field of sunflowers, staring off into the distance.

Just Dustin being Dustin.

I really do scare myself sometimes.

Oh well, back to work on writing them...