Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Compleat Shimane Saga

Since it took me so dang long to get everything typed out and posted about my trip to Shimane, none of the posts even show up in the "Recent Posts" area anymore. So here's links to the whole thing. My apologies for taking so long. Although, some of the posts are now updated with pictures. Take a look.

Day One - Transportation
Day Two - Stomping Grounds
Day Three - Ladies and Gentlemen...I give you...KONG! and Zombified Goodness.
Day Four - Get a Haircut and Get a Real Job!
Day Five - Izumo's Rockin' New Year's Eve Party
Day Six - Happy New Year 2006!
Day Seven - Communing With Nature
Day Eight - Kitcho-san, Shagiri, With a Side of Doso-kai
Day Nine - Drive On, It Don't Mean Nothin'
Day Ten - The Moment of Truth, Take 1
Day Eleven - The Moment of Truth, Take 2 and Other Stuff From Day Eleven
Day Twelve - One More Night in Izumo
Day Thirteen - Leaving Shimane...Again and Reflections
Day Fourteen - Terror at Ten Thousand Feet!

Taro Aso Update

This is quality humor.

Can you hear the tires squealing as he tries to back out of the situation he put himself in?

And just to think, this is one of the guys they are saying is a possible replacement for the current Prime Minister.

Taco Time

Today, I conducted a cooking class with some of my second year students.

I showed them how to make one of the finer dishes available in the States.

That's right...TACOS!

The second year students went to the U.S. last summer for their school trip. (A school trip to a foreign country? How freaking cool is that? I think the best we did in high school was a school trip to Kennewick to see some exhibit or other. We crossed a river. They crossed an ocean.)

While they were there, most of the students had a chance to partake of Mexican food. Cuisine that is sorely lacking here in Japan. At least restaurant-wise.

You can, however, buy taco kits if you know where to look. I know where to look. So when I told those students that I had had a taco party recently, they said, "Hey, we want to make tacos, too!" The students that had eaten tacos in the U.S. had enjoyed them very much, it would seem.

So I made a bargain with them. "You guys try a little harder in my class, and we'll make tacos."

The bargain was made, and the class improved a bit. So, I went out yesterday, picked up the necessary stuff, and we had some taco goodness in my class today.

One good thing about Starfish High: if you want to do something a little different with your classes, it's pretty easy to do it. You don't have to go through a lot of red tape.

Funny thing about my students: I told them that since we were going to make tacos, they didn't need to bring lunches today. But they all said that a couple of tacos weren't going to fill them up. Okay, smarties, if you say so. Do what you want.

EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM said, "Wow, I'm full. I didn't need to bring a lunch today after all."

See? But do you guys listen to me? Noooooooooo.

Those tacos were good, but they put me out of commission in the afternoon. No, not THAT way. A vicious wave of sleepiness hit me and made me useless for the next two hours. Not a bad thing, though. I didn't have any classes in the afternoon. Woo hoo!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Just The Facts, Sir

I finished classes today and headed back into the office to okay some stuff about tomorrow's English class with the vice-principal. I got the official okay, and as I was about to say thank you and get back to work, the vice principal hits me with THIS.

We got a phone call from the Muroran Police Station regarding you.


Ummm...I didn't do it?

I mean, my car's dead, for crying out loud! All I did yesterday was go out, eat some ramen, buy some milk, and go home! It can't be illegal to have a beer with your ramen on a Sunday afternoon, can it? I see people drink sake for breakfast! [various panicked noises continue]

Not that I want to distrust the local law enforcement, but I've heard some horror stories of foreigners dealing with the police. So I was a little alarmed.

I think the vice principal noticed my unease. He continued.

Well, the U.S. Navy's flagship is coming in to Muroran port this week, and just in case anything were to happen, they would like you to be on call to assist with any translation that might be necessary.

Oh. Ohh. Ohhhhh! [enlightenment]

Hey, anything I can do to help! For God and country, and all that, right sir? [a feeling of ease]

See, the USS Blue Ridge, a naval flagship, is coming in to town this Friday and will be in port for a week. I am to be on call 24/7 in case anything were to happen. Hopefully nothing will, but there's been a few cases recently where U.S. military servicemen have been involved in crimes over here, including a murder at the beginning of this month, and people are a bit edgy. This also means that the police are edgy.

Not necessarily a good mix.

There is a translation center in Sapporo, but with the road conditions the way they are now, it will easily take three hours to send a translator from Sapporo all the way here. So they wanted someone a little closer.

They found me.

I got to thinking about that...

How do they know about me?

It's not like I've really done anything in particular to make myself noticed.

That started to creep me out, until I asked the vice-principal. He told me that someone from City Hall recommended me to the police, as I had helped out with translating for a couple of events the last time a U.S. Navy ship was in port.

Oh, okay then.

On a related note, last Thursday I found an envelope on my desk. It said



I opened it up, and inside I found an official invitation from my government. I have once again been invited to an official Naval function, this time aboard the flagship. Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet. Maybe I can talk with some of the sailors about the Super Bowl.

Ladies and Gentlemen...

I give you the Foreign Minister of Japan, Mr. Taro Aso!

Diplomacy at its finest.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

In Other News...

I'm all for tradition, but somebody needs to lighten up.

Yeesh. Boo-freakin'-hoo.


I just finished watching "Gallipoli".


I'm interested in war. Mostly from a historical perspective. As the U.S. joined WWI very late (in fact, near the end), we don't cover it much in high school history classes. WWI is a very vague thing to most Americans, whereas WWII is more familiar and gets a lot more coverage in school. (For a REALLY good book about WWI, pick up "Rites of Spring" by Modris Eksteins. Fascinating take on the war. This guy is gifted.)

Snoopy flying his Sopwith Camel over the skies of Germany in his quest to shoot down the Red Baron was about the extent of the WWI image for me when I was a kid.

"Gallipoli" is about the Battle of Gallipoli. Or at least the last half hour of the film is about the Battle of Gallipoli. It's really a story about two young Australian friends who go off to war. It moves slowly, developing the two main characters and moving the story along. But it never feels like it's moving TOO slow. It's an easy pace which deceptively leads you on to a devastating finale.

Good movie, but tough to watch. And you don't like the British much by the end of the film.



Saturday, January 28, 2006

God Of War

So now that I have a new Playstation, it's time to play some games.

Especially since I'm not all that motivated to go outside anyway.

I picked up a new game recently called "God Of War". I saw a comic over at Penny Arcade that just made the game seem really interesting, and when I saw that it was out here, I snatched it up.

Yeah. Yeah. I know. My Playstation was busted at the time. So what?

I like this game. It's pretty violent, yes, but it's also set in ancient Greece, and it feels like you're playing out things in the middle of Greek mythology.

Which is something I've loved since I was in elementary school.

You talk with Athena, Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Aphrodite...
You fight centaurs, minotaurs, harpies, gorgons, cyclopses, sirens, satyrs, the Hydra, and Ares, the Greek god of war...hence the name.

You even get to use Medusa's head as a weapon. That's cool.

It's not all fighting. There are a lot of puzzles to solve and challenging (if somewhat frustrating) traps to avoid.

I just enjoyed it because it made all those old myths come alive. Fun stuff.

Speaking of Penny Arcade, this was a great comic.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Star Trekkin' Across Muroran

Monday night, when I went out celebrating the Seahawks' victory over the Panthers, I had a very cool experience.

The first two places I tried to go to were closed, so I ended up at Rantaro, a yakitori place right across the street from Ippukutei.

Good food. Good beer and shochu. Yet another cool bartender/master.

Even though it was my first time to go out to his bar, he struck up a conversation with me and made me feel right at home.

We talked about Muroran.
We talked about Shimane.
We talked about alcohol.
We talked about...Star Trek.

Whoa. Wait a second here. A Japanese Star Trek fan? No way!

This was extremely cool! Why? Well...

For starters, I am a big Star Trek geek.

Not in the sense of "I'm gonna dress up like a Ferengi for Halloween" geek.

More of a "I love the heck out of that show!" geek.

Besides, Ferengi's heads look like butts. No way would I wear an outfit like that for Halloween.

Six P.M. on weekdays during junior high school was Star Trek time. Classic Star Trek time. Kirk. Spock. McCoy. Scotty! I faithfully followed the USS Enterprise's adventures on "her five year mission" that only lasted three years.

Classic Star Trek anecdote from the Kidd Family: When I was about two (1979), my folks took me to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture. There's a scene in the movie where the love interest of the young buck gets zapped away by an alien spacecraft. The theater was really quiet when it happened, and then I happened.

As soon as she was zapped away, screaming, I yelled out in the (very quiet) theater,


much to the embarrassment of my parents and the amusement of everyone else.

There ya go, Mom. I hope you're happy.

So anyway, I was a faithful Trek viewer. Of course, Saturdays at 6 P.M. were Star Trek: The Next Generation viewing times.

On into college, where Deep Space Nine and Voyager came along. I enjoyed these shows, but it became a lot harder to work watching them into my schedule. Plus, when I went to Japan to study, I had no way of watching them at all. Same problem with Enterprise, which seemed interesting if for no other reason than Sam Beckett was now Captain Archer. I was over here when it debuted.

Hey, on top of being a Trek geek, I'm a sci-fi geek. What can I say?

Trekkie. Trekker. Star Trek Geek. Dork. Call me what you will, I just enjoyed the shows.

When I was in Hakuta. The season collections of Next Generation DVDs were released over here. I reserved each one at Cosmo and picked them up as soon as they came out. I think that's why they like me over there...I spent a LOT of money getting all those.

When I moved to Izumo. I got into my apartment and turned on my new TV, flipping through the Izumo cable channels until I came to Super Channel. No lie, it was super. Why? Deep Space Nine was showing on my TV screen. "Yes! Izumo rocks!"

Now in Muroran. It is here in Muroran that I met the first Japanese person I've ever come across that knows a little bit about Trek. We talked about all the different series. We used Star Trek as a spring board to talk about differences in Japanese and American culture.

It was quite possibly one of the coolest barhopping experiences of my life.

I'll be visiting Rantaro again soon!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Test Time!

Today Starfish High held its entrance exams (written and interview) for prospective students.

We only had 53 students apply. We'll be lucky if we get 40. This puts us in an economic "pinch" of sorts.

Four teams of two teachers each conducted the interview portion of the exam. I was paired with our very own Japanese Mafia look-alike, Mr. Nakajima.

I can't say much more about the test, as the whole process must be kept wrapped in secrecy and shadows.

But I can say this.

I sure hope some of the students Mr. Nakajima and I interviewed decide to come to Starfish High. There were some interesting kids in that group.

We were done before noon, and then the Big Boss (see also: principal) said we could leave after two. So I did.

I cruised on home and hopped on the Internet for a bit. I caught up with my folks, and we talked to each other via Skype. It was cool to be able to talk to both Mom and Dad at the same time. Good times.

After we finished talking, I debated whether I should go to sleep or go out and take care of a few things that needed taking care of. Sleep was sounding better and better, but I knew I had to get out and MOVE AROUND. I had been feeling a bit stir crazy at work, so I put off sleep, bundled up, and headed out.

First to the bank. I was a man on a mission, and this mission required cold, hard cash, preferably of the Japanese variety. So a half-hour trek to the bank for that withdrawal, and then from there, I walked over to Geo.

There are two Geos in Muroran. These are the stores you go to for electronics and video/DVD/game sales and/or rentals. Personally, I think I have a better variety in my own DVD collection, but that's another story. I walked to the first (closer) one, checked the prices on what I was looking for, wasn't satisfied with what I saw, so I decided to walk over to the bigger (farther) one.

By now I had been out and about for more than an hour, and the wind blowing in from the sea was pretty cold. But, it felt good to be out, doing something, so I kept on moving.

Once I got out to the bigger Geo, I checked the prices again. Just as I'd feared, they were the same. Oh well, I'd walked all the way out here to buy it, so by damn, I was gonna buy it.

A new Playstation 2.

Seeing as my old one had effectively died (this is becoming a bit of an annoying theme...I move to Hokkaido, and all my crap dies) back in October, I had been without Playstation goodness for over two months. Being without Playstation goodness is bad enough, but being without both Playstation goodness and VEHICULAR goodness? That's enough to drive a young man crazy(ier). My Playstation had been one of the things that had kept the bad voices at bay during those gray Shimane winters where you feel the life force drain out of you day by day. The winters are brighter here, but the lack of mobility (even when my car WAS working) was not helping.

Although, right about the time my Playstation died, I got the Internet hooked up, so I was good for a while. But enough was enough. I wanted to play Madden. I wanted to play Tony Hawk Pro Skater. I wanted to play Bushido Blade. (Remember that one, Czar?) So I shelled out the dough and bought a new one.

Now I had to get it home.

So I start hoofing it back home. Along the way, I make a pit stop at a massage parlor run by the father of one of the students at Starfish High. I got a thirty minute massage, walked the rest of the way home, cooked up some dinner, and, once dinner was done, sat down for some Playstation goodness.


Life is good again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What Political Persuasion Are You?

If nothing else, this will make Dad laugh.

You Are a "Don't Tread On Me" Libertarian

You distrust the government, are fiercely independent, and don't belong in either party.

Religion and politics should never mix, in your opinion... and you feel opressed by both.

You don't want the government to cramp your self made style. Or anyone else's for that matter.

You're proud to say that you're pro-choice on absolutely everything!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


The Power of Tumeric cannot beat the Power of a Post-Seattle Seahawks Victory So We're Going To The Super Bowl Night of Partying.

Being the only Seahawks fan in Muroran places a big burden on my shoulders...namely, if I didn't go out to celebrate last night, who would?

Another teacher from Starfish High, Hiroshi Numero Dos, joined me for a night on the town. Much alcohol was consumed, and much fun was had, and once it came time to go, I walked all the way home. It was a feeble attempt to sober up.

Guess what? It didn't help.

I feel like the Seattle offensive line is running drills on the football field of my brain.

But you know what? It's all worth it.



How cool is that? Just allow those words to sink in...grasp the meaning of it.

The Seahawks.

Are Going.

To The Super Bowl.



Monday, January 23, 2006

Happy Birthday, Mom!

(I'm a little late in getting this up, but...)

January 23. My mom's birthday.

My mom is cool.

She's got the goofiest sense of humor of anybody I know. I attribute this to the fact that she is a Nelson. I've got some goofy aunts of the Nelson variety and a very goofy Grandma Nelson. (I mean this in a good way.) I figure that my being a half-Nelson (har har!) probably explains some things about my sense of humor as well.

She is a damn fine cook. I always get sad around Thanksgiving because I won't be able to partake of mom's turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy and...oh, sorry. Split pea soup. Lasagna. Sweet and sour chicken. And I have gained an appreciation for the salads she makes.

She's a tough woman. She was born with bad hips and has had to deal with that her whole life. More surgeries than I can count. Pins in her legs. Hip replacements. Having to get around on crutches. And she just keeps truckin' on. Very tough.

She's ambitious. After my sister and I were both far enough along in school, my mom went back to school. First, she studied at the local community college, then after graduating from there, she moved on to study at the branch campus of a larger university. Having graduated from university myself, I know that it must have been really difficult to take care of us and her studies at the same time. But she did it, and she graduated with a degree in...something (sorry, Mom).

She's strict when she needs to be, but it's never unnecessary. She busted me when I needed to be busted. But she was never unfair. (Although, you don't ever want to make her mad.)

She is always there to lend a helpful comment or a friendly ear, even when I'm half a world away.

She's one heck of a mom, and I'm lucky she's mine.

Anyway, Mom, I just want to wish you a Happy Birthday, and I hope you and Dad have a good time celebrating it.

Love ya, Mom.

Motown...HERE WE COME!!!!





See-what? Seahawks.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Hitting the Slopes

Today, I had to go to work.

My alarm went off, and my body said, "Just ignore it. Go back to sleep. Nobody will miss you at work today."

I had to fight REALLY HARD to convince myself to actually get out of bed.

Get up, clean up, then start putting on layers of clothes.

Three layers, to be exact.

Why so many layers of clothes? (Actually, it's only one more layer than usual, but hey...)

Today was the Starfish High Teachers' Ski Trip.

Yep, today I was getting paid to go skiing. Most people in my position would be ecstatic. I was not.


Well, the fact that I hadn't been skiing in nine years was a big factor. Another big factor was that all of those nine years ago, I came really close to breaking my leg. And to top it all off, my knees have been giving me problems since last May. Hence, I was a little nervous about going skiing again.

We all met at school at 8:30 and piled into various vehicles. I hopped into Jack's jeep, and we loaded all of the gear in his rig as well. Then we were off to Sunlaiva Ski Resort in Noboribetsu.

Once we all arrived, we unloaded the gear and headed up to get our lift passes. I had to rent skis and poles, but I lucked out with wear and boots. Hiroshi let me borrow his ski wear, as he was staying at Starfish High all day. The school had a pair of unclaimed ski boots that fit me lying around, so now those are mine. Oh yeah, since it was a school event, our lift passes were free.

So after getting all decked out in my ski duds, I went outside with the rest of the group to begin our training.

Why training? Because we will be taking our students skiing in a couple of weeks, and we need to be able to coach them.

We did some stretching, some basic ski practice, and learned some ways to help show our students how to ski. Then it was off to the ski lift.

So far, so good.

Up the lift and down the hill five times: twice on the easy slope (once with poles, once without), three times on the steeper slope (twice with poles, once without). The whole "skiing without poles" idea was a little freaky at first, but it actually ended up being kind of fun. We did it in order to get our upper bodies to "open up" a bit more so we could ski with a more natural posture. I don't know if it helped, but I was having fun.

I only fell down about three times, too. Not bad for nine years away from the slopes. (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that prior to the half day of skiing nine years ago, I had only been skiing for two days three years before that. I am nowhere near being a "good" skier.)

A short lunch break to see some of the staff off and to grab a bite to eat (fried potatoes...three small potatoes dipped in a doughnut batter and fried...greasy goodness). Then it was back out to the slopes. Jack traded in the skis for his snowboard and we hit the first lift. At the top, we went down to the second lift and went all the way to the top of the slope.

At the top, we had our choice of the "Dynamic" run or the "Panorama" run. I figured that the "Dynamic" sounded, well...dynamic, where as the feel of the word "panorama" called up calming images of fields and seasides. "Panorama" it was, then.

Oh my.

That's some steep skiing. But no lie about the view. You could see all the way out to the ocean. How cool is that? You can look down on this white valley that stretches all the way out to the sea. Damn, makes you happy just to be alive.

Which concerned me a bit as I focused my eyes downward. Would I make it down this hill alive?

Well, there's only one way down, and that's on my skis. So off I went.

I didn't fall down as much as I thought I would, and I really started to get a feel for the slope...that is, until I hit the moguls.

Yep. The "Panorama" run had moguls.

I braved them all the way down, though, and managed to not only not injure myself, but also have a pretty fun time. So I went back up to the top with Jack again and hit the "Dynamic" run. Again, very steep, but no moguls. By this time, my thighs were starting to shake a bit each time I turned. Not a good sign. So I skied all the way down, and just did a couple more short runs before calling it a day.

After packing up everything, Jack and I hit an onsen before hauling all the gear back to Starfish High. He dropped me off at home, and then I was off to bed.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

R.I.P. Wasabi-kun 1993-2006

Wasabi-kun died today.

I got out of the house a little late today, and ended up having to drive to school in a blizzard.

At lunch, I drove back home to grab a CD that I needed. I figured while I was here, I'd fix up a sandwich and eat it before I went back to school.

I headed back to the car with time to spare. Only, the engine won't start. I keep trying and keep trying, but no gas is getting to the engine. Bad fuel pump. So I run back upstairs, call Starfish High to tell them that my car died and I will be late for my 5th period class. Then I throw on some "walk outside in really cold weather" clothes, and hoof it back to school.

At least he waited until he was in the garage to die. I just can't trust the engine to not die on me at an inopportune moment. No more driving Wasabi-kun. I will be walking and using public transportation until I can buy a new car.

In honor of the five and a half years of fun travels that Wasabi-kun and I shared, I will make a photo memorial to Wasabi-kun. Most of these shots are from last summer, when I drove from Shimane up to Hokkaido. Most were taken at prefectural borders.

In front of my old apartment on July 27th, 2005. Departing Izumo.

Taken at the Shimane - Tottori Prefectural border, 7/28/05.

Anyway, Wasabi-kun, it's been a blast touring this country with you. Thank you for putting up with me for so long. I'll miss you, bud.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Back To School

Today marked the end of winter vacation and the return of Starfish High's students back to our hallowed halls of education (snicker).

The first and second year students were welcomed back with...TESTS!!!!! Apparently it's not enough to give them mountains of homework to do over vacation, and require them to come to school for club activities during vacation. Nope. They also have to take tests the first two days they get back from vacation. Did you have a good vacation, guys? Hell no, we were studying the whole time!

As for the third year students, today was the last day they have to come to school until the day before graduation. The time in between is referred to as "jitaku gakushu", literally "studying at home."


Excuse me, I think I hurt my spleen, and I need to wipe the tears out of my eyes.

Are we really fooling anybody? No more tests or studying requirements for these guys the last three months before they go to university or find a job or whatever. I know that I wouldn't have studied, at home or anywhere else.

All I had to do today was administer a test. That's all. Jack didn't have anything to do either, so during our free time, we watched "Exorcist: The Beginning" on his computer. Oh, by the way, did I mention that Starfish High is a Catholic school?

In other news, Peyton Manning sucks. Hey everybody! Look! It's the Peyton Manning Face!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Sea-what? Seahawks!

Well, well, well...

Looks like they can win a playoff game after all.

Some lucky punks were even at the game.

This was BIG news. Big news in a day where the most excitement for me was daring to take my car out of the garage for the first time in three weeks to go shopping and go to an onsen in the evening.

The question now is...


I'm skipping work if the Seahawks make the Super Bowl. Why? Because the freaking game will be broadcast Monday morning here. No way in hell will I miss out on watching the Seahawks (notice that nobody's calling them the Sea Chickens or Sea Turkeys or whatever other derogatory name they can think of anymore?) play in the BIGGEST SPORTING EVENT IN THE WORLD!!!!! (Yeah, other than that thing they call the World Cup.)

Go 'Hawks!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Which Superhero Are You?

I was cruising around the web and found this...

I figure it's pretty accurate.

Your results:
You are Spider-Man




Iron Man

Green Lantern


The Flash



Wonder Woman

You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.
Click here to take the "Which Superhero are you?" quiz...

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehn, Goodbye

I had to get up around 5 this morning.

This was not easy, as I had been out for beer and yakitori with a couple of the other teachers. I was not exactly thrilled about having to drag myself out of bed five hours after I had crawled into it.

The reason I had to get up so early this morning was that The Kiwi and The Ozzie Boy were leaving to go back home, and I was going to the airport with them, the principal, and Hiroshi.

So I slowly work my way back into consciousness, get cleaned up, and get ready to leave. Then the phone rings.

It's Hiroshi.

"Dustin, my car's stuck in the snow. The principal is having trouble getting over to the station, too. I don't think I can make it over there to pick you up. So I need you to get over to the station, and if we can't make it, get tickets for you and the two students, get a receipt, go with them to the airport and see them off."

Wow. The snow was that bad? When I was walking home the night before, there was a little bit falling, but nothing to prevent people from being able to drive.

Then I looked out the window.


HUGE flakes were falling, and all of the places that had been uncovered by the melting the day before were covered back up and then some. I'm guessing that we're never going to get a break from this snow.

So, I got into my snow hiking gear and headed for Washibetsu Station.

Thirty minutes later (it usually only takes ten), I was covered in white and standing in front of the station. Guess who pulled up at the same time. That's right. Mr. Hiroshi "I can't pick you up, so walk to the station in this blizzard" Yamane himself.


I brush myself off and head into the station, where the principal was waiting. We talk a bit about me getting my Japanese teaching certification, as it would be very useful to have in this job, and any other jobs I might want to get in the education system over here. Then students started showing up. It was pretty cool to see students braving this nasty weather to see the two guys off. A couple of teachers showed up, too.

The train was delayed a bit by the snow, but when it finally showed up, the five of us (Kiwi, Oz, Yank, Hiroshi, Principal) got on the train and waved goodbye to everybody out on the platform. One hour and one train transfer later, and we were at Chitose Airport. After getting their tickets and luggage taken care of, we still had some time, so we went upstairs and had some breakfast.

After a bit more conversation, and the arrival of the exchange program advisor, it was time to say goodbye. We walked back down to the gate, wished them good luck, and saw them off. After they had crossed through and were on their way to their plane, we said goodbye to the advisor and...

...did not head back right away.

First, I bought a few simple gifts to send to a friend back in Shimane. It's her birthday next Saturday, and with the lack of desire to leave my apartment or drive anywhere, I figured this was my only chance to send some stuff off. A little early, but hey, it can't be helped.

After that, we went up to "Ramen Alley", a string of ramen shops representing different kinds of ramen from around Hokkaido. I wanted to get another bowl of that good stuff I ate before I flew to Shimane, and I convinced Hiroshi and our principal to stick around long enough to get a bowl.

After the ramen, we caught a train and rode it to the transfer station, at which point we found out the train we needed to catch back to Muroran hadn't left Sapporo yet and there was no specific time yet for when it would arrive. It ended up being about half an hour late. This is a big deal in Japan, where train times are usually precise down to the second. But we were finally able to catch our train back, and since this one wasn't stopping at Washibetsu, we had to have one of the teachers from school come and pick us up at East Muroran Station.

Then it was back home. Nap Time!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Oops...We Did It Again

The day before he leaves...and he realizes that he's way over the allowed weight limit for baggage.

The exchange student from Australia goes home tomorrow, and he realizes the day before that he's going to have to send stuff home. This realization comes at 3 in the afternoon.

Foreigners, as a general rule, tend to do this sort of thing right before we leave. I know I have.

Leaving Shimane University to go back home, I was cleaning my room up right until I left. People had come to see me off and had to wait because I was still cleaning.

Leaving Hakuta to move to Izumo, I had about a week's worth of leeway, which I spent driving between Izumo and Hakuta in my little car moving all of my stuff. The day I finally checked out of the apartment, Hiroshi's brother came over to help me clean up.

Leaving Izumo to come to Muroran, I had a friend come over and help me pack a bit the night before, and then most of the other ALTs came that morning to help me finish packing by throwing stuff in boxes. I also ended up having a friend mail a bunch of my stuff up to me.

I am so very sorry. I appreciate and am endlessly thankful for everyone's help.

I also realize that I will probably do it again when I leave this apartment.

Anyway, to help The Ozzie Boy out, Hiraga Sensei and I trucked it on over to the post office and snagged him some boxes. Apparently, things worked out. Hiroshi wouldn't let him hear the end of it, though.

Such is the way most foreigners tend to be. Some of them even leave all of their crap for the next person to take care of.

Happened to me.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Mystery Revealed!

I guess not.

Woke up this morning to more snow falling outside. Guess it's going to be another walk to work day. There's no way I'm even bothering trying to drive until this weather lets up a bit. Unfortunately, this means I may not drive again until June.

So I walked to school. Let me rephrase that. I walked toward the school. Eisaku was on his way in and picked me up.

I got in to work today and realized that this so-called "mountain of work" that Hiroshi had left for me no longer existed. Apparently, I have the power to move mountains. So I worked on this for most of the day.

For lunch, I caught a ride with Shizuka over to MIT (not THAT MIT). The Muroran Institute of Technology. More specifically, The Muroran Institute of Technology cafeteria.

Cheap and healthy food for all of the students at MIT and anybody else who feels like coming in and paying. Apparently, MIT's cafeteria is a favorite haunt of The 'Gida. I was interested in checking it out for quite some time, but never really had the chance. So when Shizuka suggested it, I was all for it.

Indeed, good eatin's it was. Quite tasty. This place might become a haunt of The Kidd, if I dare to drive Wasabi-kun ever again.

After lunch, we went back to Starfish High and I went back to work...on this. The Australian exchange student came in to drop off a CD for Jack, and Hiroshi and I went over and talked to him. Hiroshi offered to take him out to lunch, and when we heard he had never been to Mosburger before, Hiroshi decided to take him there. I went along for the ride.

This is where the title of the post comes in to play.

I finally figured out what the heck the people were thinking when they named their company "Mosburger".

Mosburger is a really great fast food burger place over here in Japan. It's a tad on the expensive side, but the burgers are good, and in the summer, they have raspberry milkshakes (or a close approximation...I would normally use the phrase "shallow representation" here, but you can't afford to be too choosy when it comes to raspberry goodness over here.). They also have burgers with buns made from rice, or merely wrapped in lettuce. Points for creativity, if nothing else.

I first heard about it from my friend Nabe way back in 1997 when I first came to Japan.

My first impression was that it sounds WAY too much like "Mossburger". Now, I know they eat some strange stuff over here, but there's no way you can tell me that Japanese people eat moss. Yuck.

But Nabe said, "Just try it. It's good!"

And indeed it was. I was hooked. I must have made him take me there at least ten times while I was in Japan that first time.

But I never knew why they called it Mosburger.

Until today. The exchange student asked Hiroshi and I why it was named the way it was. Hiroshi told him to ask the staff member who was bringing us our food.

So he did.

"Umm, let me check on that for you."

Here's the answer to the mystery. They took the first letter from three words they wanted to represent the store, put them together, and added "burger" to the end. the three words are:

M - Mountain - to be as magnificent as the mountains
O - Ocean - to be as rough as the waves in the ocean
S - Sun - to be as warm as the sun

That's the kind of store they want Mosburger to be. Apparently.

Okay then. Works for me.

After that, we went back to Starfish High, dropping the student off at his host family's house along the way. After a couple more hours in the office, Hiroshi gave me a ride back to my place, where I did a little work, read a bit, and was asleep by 8 PM.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Tests and Farewells

I walked to school again today. Still afraid to even try starting up Wasabi-kun.

Today's task, out of the mountain of work the English Department has, was once again twofold: create test questions for a different kind of entrance exam and come up with an English script for MC of the farewell party for our two exchange students that evening.

First the script. Our MC for the evening was none other than The 'Gida, one of the Japanese teachers at Starfish High. He isn't a big fan of English, but he said he'd do it, as long as we gave him a prepared script early enough in the day for him to practice.

I sat down at Hiroshi's computer and cranked one out in about ten minutes.

Jack, who was in to help today, was amazed at the speed with which I type, and the fact that I am an index finger typer. Who needs to learn the placement for each finger on the keyboard when the hunt-and-peck method works REALLY well for you? I've refused to do it since second grade, when we had computer programs that were supposed to train us in the "correct" method of typing. I'd hunt and peck, and get a great score. I can still sit down in front of a keyboard and just crank out stuff. I love it!

So with the script done, I went to work on the next task: the test problems. "Same type of problems as yesterday, just make sure they're new ones." Again, not a big deal. I downloaded some software to help with making one of the problems that we wanted to try on the test. I can't say anything more about it, because it's top secret, but it is something that could be fun and a good test of English ability at the same time. Then I went through and designed the rest of the problems that they needed. One more test down. Again, I was able to prove my usefulness in the workplace. This is a good thing, because I just really haven't felt the need to get out of bed in the morning lately. Losing one's sense of purpose...let's just say it doesn't help when you already aren't feeling that happy with life. So this was a helpful boost to a bruised and battered ego.

That afternoon, Jack and I went out shopping for snacks and drinks for the evening's party. Chips, cookies, and other assorted snacks. Pop, tea, and juice. It all came in at just around $65. The main thing was to keep it under $100 and be able to feed at least 40 people.

We accomplished our goal pretty well, I would say.

I spent the rest of the afternoon updating this blog (still a long way to go...gotta fill in those gaps). Then, when 6 PM rolled around, it was time for the Farewell Party to begin.

The two exchange students at Starfish High have been here since April. One was from Australia, one from New Zealand. One stayed with three different families, one with four. They're both leaving on Saturday to return home. So, we wanted to throw them a party to say goodbye and also to tell the various host families thank you for all their help, hard work, blood, sweat, and tears.

The 'Gida pulled off a pretty good English MC job. I was thoroughly impressed.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the snacks. (YES!!!)

One of our students, who was also a host sister to one of the exchange students, made a very moving speech at the end. It was a little hard to understand, but I could sympathize, because she was crying really hard.

The two exchange students made some nice speeches. The first one was a little long, but he said the right things and showed that he had matured quite a bit during his stay. The second one wasn't as long, but he said what needed to be said and wrapped things up quite well. Then, the third year students sang a farewell song to the two exchange students. It's a cliched song to sing, because it gets sung at almost any graduation ceremony you attend in Japan, but I'll be danged if those students didn't pull at the heartstrings anyway. I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.

Good party, good times, good way to say goodbye.

I managed to bum a ride home from Eisaku, after which I watched a little TV, did a little more work on this blog, and then hit the sack. Listening to the wind blow outside, I couldn't help but wonder...

Is this snow ever going to let up?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mountains of Work

I love my coworkers in the English Department at Starfish High.

Hiroshi picked me up at the bus stop yesterday, which was a good thing, because I had too dang much baggage. He snickered and gave me an "I told you so" look. Yep, he was right. I came back with more stuff than I left with.

But that's not why I say I love my coworkers. Although the ride was appreciated. Carrying that damn bag was killing my knee.

As a parting shot before he headed home after driving me back to my apartment, he said, "We've got mountains of stuff for you to do tomorrow."

Umm, thanks...

Not "See you at work tomorrow."
Not "Take it easy."
Not "Wanna come over for dinner sometime this week?"

"We've got mountains of stuff for you to do tomorrow."

Make me feel even happier to be back, why don't you.

So I head into work this morning, a little less than enthused. Oh yeah, I walked to work today, too. I'm a little afraid to try and start up Wasabi-kun.

There was a small booklet on my desk.

There was also a note on it.

"Dustin, I need you to go through and check the English in this. Make sure there's nothing that would make Starfish High look bad. - Hiroshi"

Aah, spin control. Gotta love it.

So I go to work editing it. It's a booklet for a farewell party we're having tomorrow for the two exchange students at Starfish High. They're leaving to head back to their respective countries on Saturday, so we're having a little send-off for them.

After I finished that, Hiroshi hit me with the next big task.

We will be having entrance exams for prospective students...sometime soon. My task was to design the test questions for the listening portion of the exam, and to come up with a couple of other test questions, too.

Apparently last week, on Thursday and Friday, while Hiroshi and the other English teacher, Shizuka, were making the test, they left the majority of it unfinished. When the vice-principal asked them why there were all of these unfinished sections on the test, they answered,

"Oh, that's something Dustin will take care of."
"And this part here?"
"And this?"
"That's Dustin's, too. He'll do it on Tuesday."

I love my coworkers.

I love how they figured I could just get it done in one day. I appreciate the confidence they place in me (this part to be read sarcastically), but it's not that easy, considering that I've never made an entrance exam before.

But once I got the gist of it, it was REALLY easy to do, and I finished up everything in about two and a half hours.

These two and a half hours came around a lunch break to eat pork cutlets with Eisaku, and a trip up to the third floor to knock icicles off the roof.

We have some vicious icicles hanging off our roof. They could kill you if they hit you straight on. But what really worries me is the half-ice/half-snow hanging off the roof. Now THAT'S scary.

So I finished up the test in time for Hiroshi to take it in to the entrance exam committee meeting, and then I walked on home.

And promptly went to bed.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Terror at Ten Thousand Feet!

Okay, so maybe not that dramatic...

I woke up this morning, hit the hotel bath one more time, dressed, packed, and went down to get some breakfast. I love hotel breakfast buffets, because I always eat a mishmash of food that should never be mishmashed together in one setting.

Today, I had some Chinese steamed meatball-like things, some spicy tofu on rice, some tofu-ish salad, and...

Corn flakes and milk.

Oh yeah. I know how to mix 'em.

How I didn't get incredibly sick to my stomach, I'll never know.

Back up to my room to grab my even heavier bag, back down to the lobby to check out (although I had to pull myself away from the TV, as it was showing "Something Wicked This Way Comes"), and then I lugged all of my junk over to the bus stop to catch the bus out to Okayama Airport.

It was much faster this time. I think it was because there was less traffic, and because I slept on the way out there.

At the airport, I got checked in, grabbed a snack, went through the security check, waited for about an hour, and then got on the plane. I was pleasantly sleepy by then.

The fact that no one was sitting next to me made me pretty happy too. More space for me!

There was an English-speaking flight attendant on the plane who was really nice to me, made sure I was comfortable, and even brought me some tea when I asked for it.

This was after I had managed to doze off for most of the flight.

I took a drink of my tea, felt the plane bank a bit, and thought, "Hmm, I'd better use the facilities before we head in for the final approach."

So I hopped up out of my seat, and proceeded to the bathroom.

Which was right behind my seat.

And was occupied.

So I waited a bit, and then after the occupant finished their business, I headed in and took care of mine.

It was after I was done that it happened.

I was heading out of the bathroom. A mother was starting to take her child in. It felt like the plane started to rise suddenly, because I felt this weird pressure, like my body was getting heavier. My legs wouldn't move. I kept trying to move them, but they wouldn't budge. I had to grab on to seats on both sides of the aisle and try and push myself up. I didn't work. The mother started giving the freaky foreigner strange looks. The pressure got heavier. I got confused. Why is the plane rising? I...can't...move...my...legs (Shatner). I start to slowly, but surely move down. Finally, my legs don't give out so much as the pressure gets to be too much, and I have to sit down. Nice flight attendant runs over and asks if I'm okay. I say I think so, and I ask why the plane went up. She gave me a weird look and helped me into an empty seat.

I'm puzzled. I don't feel bad, but by now I have four flight attendants bringing me cold towels and asking if I'm okay. The English-speaking flight attendant brings me a glass of water and tells me to drink it. I ask if the plane went up suddenly. She says no. I start wondering just what is going on. People are telling me to lay down and I'm trying to assure them that I'm fine, just a little bewildered by what happened.

Then the pilot turns the seatbelt sign on and says we're going in for final approach.

So I sit there with a cold towel pressed on my face as we come in and land at Chitose Airport.

As the other passengers start unbuckling seatbelts and going for luggage, I'm still sitting there, confused.

[Side note: What the hell, people! Can't you wait a couple of extra seconds before unbuckling and standing up? We are asked nicely enough to wait until the plane has stopped moving and the captain has turned the seatbelt sign off. The door's not going to open any faster. Chill out!]

As the other passengers start filing off the plane, I'm still sitting there, confused.

As the plane starts to clear out, I'm still sitting there, confused.

Finally, I get up, grab my bags, and start moving off the plane. By now, six separate staff members are asking me if I feel okay. I do. Thank you. I'm really sorry to have caused you any trouble. Thanks for all your help.

I then go down, get my luggage, wait about an hour, and them hop on the bus back to Muroran.

I still don't know what the heck happened.

Maybe it was that damn goofy breakfast.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


(written, or at least started, on note paper I found in my hotel room)

I'm lying in bed in my hotel room in Okayama. Winter vacation is over for me tomorrow. I'll be catching my plane back to Hokkaido just before noon. I'm not in the mood to watch any TV. So here I am thinking about my trip and what it meant to me.

Things happen for a reason. Of this I have no doubt. There are times, however, that I would like to know what that reason is.

Mind you, I’m not going to go all Job and be like, “Hey God, WTF?”

That kind of thing just makes Him mad.

I wonder why I bother anymore, though.

Let's look at what was good about going back to Shimane.

It was good to go back and visit my friends.
It was good to get away from Muroran for a while.
It was good to be in a familiar place, a place I knew.
It was good to be able to eat good soba. (This is a pretty important thing to me.)
It was good to talk to Hiroshi's folks and gain a new perspective on my situation.
It was good to recharge my circuits.
It was good to not have to think about work for two weeks.
It was good to talk with a lot of people about my situation in Muroran. I was able to refocus on the good and the bad of it.
It was good to go to Izumo Taisha on New Year's Day.
It was good to participate in the kitcho-san and shagiri festivals.
It was good to go out to the bars and be stupid with a bunch of my friends.
It was good to see her again and tell her how I felt.

I have to remind myself of these good things, because if I don't, I start focusing on the not-so-good/bad things.

Like how I was mildly depressed from Day One because I knew I would have to leave and go back to Hokkaido in two weeks.
Like how it didn't feel like I belonged in Izumo anymore.
Like how there were times it felt "off" being back there.
Like how I was only able to spend an hour with her.
Like how I painfully realized I had lost the best thing to happen to me in a long time.
Like how I found out she'd gotten over me.
Like how empty I felt after she told me that.
Like how I now realize that one of the main reasons I was able to get through the tough times is gone, and I'm not sure what I can do to get through the tough times now.
Like how I'm already missing my friends in Izumo.

Thinking back on these past two weeks, I have to ask myself, "Did I have a good time? Did I enjoy my vacation? Was it worth it going back to Izumo?"

For the most part.
I guess so.

It was worth it because of both the joy and the pain.
It was worth it because of the fun times and the sad times.
It was worth it because I was able to see what I had in Izumo.
It was worth it because I was able to understand how happy I had been with her, and how sad I am without her.
It was worth it because I was able to realize what I gave up to come to Hokkaido.
It was worth it because I realize the high price I paid to leave, and knowing that, there is now way in hell that I am going to quit or wimp out of my new job. I lost too much to back out now.
My trip to Shimane. A painful, but necessary, lesson in letting go.

Leaving Shimane...Again

Well, today was Day Thirteen, the day before I have to go back.

Up and out from under the kotatsu. Feed Jiji. Get my stuff together. Pack.

Then I headed over to Shigiharas. Except I got there just after nine and woke them up. Good thinking there, Dustin. What are you doing at nine in the morning on a day off? (Answer: Sleeping.) But they answered the door and had me come in. We had some breakfast, and then we all headed over to Ranpu no Yu to soak in the hot water. Last chance for me for a while.

Good bath. Then it was over to the station to buy a bus ticket to Okayama. No way was I shelling out $60 again for the train. The bus ended up only being a couple of thousand yen cheaper. Whatever. At least the bus won't rock back and forth.

Then it was back to Fureai no Sato to meet up with Jason and The Don for lunch. Another JET came along with us, and since I am a horrible person, I can't remember her name for the life of me. Anyway, the four of us piled into Jason's jalopy and went over to Hanaya, a soba shop in Izumo that makes a darn fine batch of soba. I wanted my last meal in Izumo before I left to be soba, and everybody was nice enough to go along with my request.

Hanaya is a cool shop. It's been around for at least 100 years, if not more. It also has presented the Emperor with soba (not the current one). Any store in Japan that is deemed worthy of presenting the emperor with food, and then actually goes through with it, is given a special term they can add to the store's name: kenjo. So the actual name of the shop is "Kenjo Soba Hanaya". I just think it's cool that I've eaten the soba of Emperors. It may not be The Breakfast of Champions, exactly, but The Soba of Emperors has a nice ring to it, I think.

After lunch with the gang, we swung back by Fureai no Sato to drop off The Don and the girl, and then Jason followed me over to Lisa's so I could pick up my stuff, after which he would give me a ride to the station.

It was good to see Lisa again. She looked like she enjoyed her trip back to the States. I was glad I could catch up with her too. Then it was bye-bye to Lisa and Jiji. I loaded my (significantly heavier) luggage into Jason's car and then he took me over to Izumo Station.

I killed off the time until the bus came by shopping for some souvenirs. I also walked over to the hotel where Tomoe worked, caught up with her and Yasuko, another friend from way back. I talked with them for a few minutes, and then, not wanting to interrupt their work anymore, I headed back over to the waiting room.

Just before three, the bus showed up. I loaded my bags on, and just as I was about to get on the bus, Jara showed up to see me off. That was very cool. I said bye, told him to get up to Hokkaido and visit sometime, then got on the bus and headed off to Okayama.

Four hours later, I was there. FOUR FREAKING HOURS. I would have been better off taking the damn Yakumo. Snowy roads and people just not getting on the bus when they needed to slowed us way down.

But anyway, I was in Okayama, off the bus, and out in the fresh (that's debatable) air. I tried lugging all of my stuff over to my hotel, which was not as easy as I'd imagined because the bus let us off way past the station at the side of a really busy road. Not the best place for a highway bus bus stop, guys. Whatever. That, and the map to the hotel wasn't the easiest thing to understand. But finally, I figured out where I needed to go.

On my way there, the two people I was planning on meeting found me. I guess a white guy carrying around a bunch of luggage in downtown Okayama sticks out more than I thought.

Mr. Sekiguchi and Mr. Kinoshita are a couple of gentlemen involved with a shrine group I'm part of. It's known as the Ichinomiya Pilgrimage Society, and I've been involved with the group since late 2000. It's a group that's dedicated to visiting Ichinomiya shrines around the country.

What's an Ichinomiya shrine? Well, before the current system of prefectures was established, each region in Japan was its own nation-state, united under the central government/shogunate but ruled by a king. There were shrines throughout each of these kunis (nation states), but only one was the most important shrine within that kuni.

Ichi = one
no = a counter/connecting term
miya = shrine
Ichinomiya = "Number One" shrine

Most of these shrines still exist throughout the country, and I happened, through my travels, to visit several of these shrines without knowing that they were Ichinomiya. When I found out about Ichinomiya and found a list of all of the Ichinomiya shrines across the country, I saw the names of several shrines that I had already visited. I figured that if I had visited that many Ichinomiyas without even knowing it, I should try and visit them all.

And I did. I'll probably write more about it some other time. But my Ichinomiya pilgrimage has definitely made my time here more meaningful.

Anyway, the director of the group, Mr. Irie, passed away at the beginning of last year, and the group has reformed and started out again with renewed purpose. Mr. Sekiguchi is the new director, and Mr. Kinoshita is now the representative for the Chugoku region (Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Tottori, and Shimane). While I was in Shimane, I was the representative for the Shimane/Tottori area. Now that I'm up in Hokkaido, they want me to be the representative for the Hokkaido/Tohoku area. They also want me to participate in a forum in Nara in September, and if possible, work on not only translating a book from Japanese into English, but also write a book of my own about my Ichinomiya experiences.

I need to get around to doing that.

So they picked me up, drove me over to my hotel, let me get checked in, and then the three of us went out to an all-you-can-eat buffet dinner. We discussed things, talked about Hokkaido, and ate some good food. We also stopped by Mr. Kinoshita's house and paid our respects to his father, who had just passed away the five days before. Then Mr. Sekiguchi gave me a ride back to my hotel. Not a bad day.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

One More Night In Izumo

Day Twelve. My last full day in Shimane before I take off for Okayama.

In other words, my last chance to catch up with folks I hadn't seen yet. (Cue "Flight of the Bumblebee".)

Up and out and on over to Hirose to catch up with Nishikori-san, a friend of mine from my Hakuta days. He is really involved with internationalization activities in the area, and often organizes little get-togethers at his place for foreigners and Japanese alike. Fun guy.

We sat down for a while and talked about the JET Program and some of the problems with it, like how the overall quality of teachers coming in to Japan is getting worse, and how the program is quick to let the good teachers go, folks like Nina. Good conversation.

After that, I was off to Yasugi to catch up with Dan The Man. He's the elementary school teacher in Yasugi, and we've known each other for more than four years now. I thought he was out of town, but I got an e-mail from him saying that the folks at the Yasugi BOE had told him I was in the area and what the hell was I doing not getting in touch with him and some friend you are you big jerk. So I called him up and went on over.

We hung out at his place for a while. I drooled over his collection of Lost and Battlestar Galactica episodes. He laughed at me. We went and grabbed some lunch, and talked about the work situation in Yasugi and what he's got lined up for the future. We picked up his girlfriend at the station, headed back to his place, and then I took off for Yonago.

Over to Cosmo, where I caught up with Shiba and Aya. I gave Shiba some stuff to pass to Kaa-chan, and she asked me to help her with a little something.

The display for the soundtrack to "Walk The Line".

She wanted some suggestions for albums to add to the display, and (according to her) when it comes to Johnny Cash, the person to go to is...me. I said I'd be pleased to help out, but would it be okay if I waited until I got back to Hokkaido and took a look at my Johnny Cash CDs? No problem there.

Then I had to get going, because I had to get back to Matsue, but before that there was one more person in Yonago that I needed to see.

Watanabe-san, the manager of Belier, a live house in Yonago.

That's him and me last summer before I left for parts north.

I saw so many cool shows at Belier. Everything from the most minor local band to bands famous across the land. And as is the case with many shows I go to, I was often the only white guy there. I tend to stick out that way. After a few shows, he started to recognize me, and we would talk a bit. After that, we got to be pretty good friends. Sometimes he would hook me up with the pre-paid ticket price even if it was day of for the show. Hey, 500 yen may not be much, but it's a good deal if you can get it.

Anyway, I headed over to Belier and caught up with Watanabe-san for a few minutes, and then I was off to Matsue to meet up with Rika.

Rika is a student at the Women's Junior College in Matsue. I taught her in an intensive English workshop that I helped out with at the end of last July. She plays volleyball, so she knows Kishimoto Sensei (my teacher), because he's the volleyball coach. Rika's pretty interesting, and she had her dad hook me up with some really good shochu from Miyazaki, her home prefecture. Hooking me up with good shochu, especially good shochu that's hard to get your hands on (like the stuff her dad hooked me up with), makes you very cool in my book.

She had to get to her part-time job, so we decided to meet up for coffee at the coffee shop right next to her place of employment. She seemed to be doing well and was the same goofy girl that I remembered. While we didn't have very long, it was fun to catch up with her. Then she went to work, and I went back to Izumo.

Which is where I caught up with The Don. The Don is from the U.K. (Wimbledon), but he has Italian heritage, so those of us in the Izumo gang always accused him of having mafia ties. Hence the name. The big joke was that if you messed with him, you'd end up wearing cement galoshes and sleeping with the fishes in the Hii River. This is not much of a threat, as most of the water in the river flows underground. There's only a couple of inches of water above ground in the river. Yeah, you wouldn't be able to move, and you'd look really dumb with your feet stuck in a big block of cement, but you wouldn't die.

Anyway, The Don lived in the apartment on the floor below mine while I was in Izumo. Good guy, great attitude. I was going to ask him to come out drinking that night, but as he'd just gotten back from the U.K., I decided to ask him if he wanted to grab some lunch the next day before I took off instead. He was all for it.

Then I had to run out to Teppoya, a restaurant where Yoko and Yushi, a couple of friends of mine, were having dinner. Yoko is the daughter of a couple of teachers I worked with. She's a lot of fun and really enjoys English. Yushi is a policeman I met at a soba restaurant way up in the mountains last March. He struck up a conversation with The Don and I, and when we found out he was getting transferred to Izumo, we traded phone numbers. After he came into town and things calmed down for him, we hung out a couple of times.

I hung out with them and their friend for a bit, having some dinner and talking. And then I had to boogie on over to Izumo Station to meet up with Otaki for my last night out on the town.

I actually ran into Otaki at the teachers' conference the day before, and we decided to go out drinking tonight. I was introduced to Otaki by Jessica, an ALT who worked in Izumo from 2002-2004. He was a part-time English teacher who was working and studying to get his teaching license at the same time. Last March, he quit teaching to focus on his studies, and he asked me to help coach him on his English. So I would mail him essay assignments so that he could get more writing practice in. Then, last October, I got a call from him. "I passed! I'm gonna be a real teacher now!" Right on! "Thanks for all your help, man!" Hey, I didn't do much, and besides, I'm always glad to help out a friend.

I caught up with him at Izumo Station, and then we were off!

Basically, my last night in Daikan-cho was a repeat of the first night out after I came back. First, Otaki and I went over to Eiji's bar, Ri-Way, and had some drinks and food. From there, it was across the street to Aki-chan's place, Juice. After a couple of drinks there, we headed over to Ken's Box. At Ken's (which was, as it is most Saturdays, cigarette-smoke hell), we caught up with Tamura and Jara and drank for a while there. As I had promised Yukki and Minako, I sang the song they told me to practice. Twice.

"Konayuki" is not the easiest song to sing, and in a cigarette-smoke hell like Ken's was that night, you can burn out your voice pretty quickly. Which is what I did.

After a while longer there, we packed up and headed over to Soul to visit with Masaya and Daisuke. I was starting to feel it, as we were on our fourth bar, but I stuck it out, and was able to make it to the last destination of the night, Liberate. Of course, once we hit Liberate, it was game over for yours truly.

After a little bit at Liberate, I walked back as far as the station with Otaki, told him bye, headed back to Lisa's and went to bed.

Not a bad way to finish up a trip back to Izumo, all things considered.

End Day Twelve.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Other Stuff From Day Eleven

So after The Talk, I headed over to see another friend of mine in Hirata, Nishio-san.

Better to be around people and hide my feelings than be by myself and have to deal with them.

Nishio-san is involved with a local film commission. The stuff that he and the other members do is really amazing. A short film school each summer, a huge film festival in the fall that is getting national attention, various activities involving Yoshinari Nishikori, a film director from Hirata...they are a very active group.

The way this film commission started out is with the story of Shiroi Fune (A White Ship - see poster). There is a ferry that runs from Hokkaido to Kyushu and passes by the small fishing village of Shoitsu in Hirata. There is a small elementary school there (total students: 16), and the classrooms look out on to the ocean. A few years back, some of the students noticed the ferry passing by, and they did some research about it. They found out what company it was and started writing letters to the captain and crew. This still continues to this day. Some of the students even got to ride on the ferry. Cute, true story. Nishikori-san made a movie out of it. It's a small movie about a small story in a small village with a big freakin' heart. I love this film. Especially because it's set in Shimane.

Check out this article for some more info about the film.

I got involved with the film commission when I was asked to write up a review of the film in English to advertise two showings of the film they were holding in Matsue and Hirata. These showings were going to be with English subtitles, and they wanted some copy to put out to encourage foreigners to come and check out the film. I went to the showing in Hirata, and met Nishio-san, Nishikori-san, and the members of the film commission. I've been involved with the group ever since.

So I swung out to Nishio-san's barbershop and said hi. We talked about all of the cool stuff that the film commission has planned for this year, and I felt very frustrated that I wasn't going to be in Izumo to be involved in any of it. I told him that if there was anything I could do to help out, e-mail me and let me know. He said that he might just take me up on that offer. Gobara-san, another member of the film commission, showed up, and we took a look around the film commission office. They hooked me up with a DVD of amateur films from the festival the previous year, and a DVD of a party they threw to commemorate some of the film commission's activities.

Very cool. I hope I can stay involved in that stuff.

Then, after saying goodbye, I headed back to Izumo for dinner with another Nishio-san, this time my friend Tomoe. We went over to Arihara-en and had some BBQ goodness while talking with Tei. Fun conversation, good food, good times.

After dinner, I headed out to Daikan-cho once again, courtesy of Tei giving me a ride out there. I met up with Mr. Katsube (aka Kat-chan), who I had wanted to hang out with. Our schedules finally matched up, so we went out and had a good ol' time. We swung by Tsubasa and had some drinks there. Good thing, too, because I think Miymi and her mom would never have forgiven me if I didn't actually drink alcohol at their bar at least once. Then we headed over to Submission, a wrestling bar. No, you don't actually wrestle there. The guy that runs it is a big wrestling fan, and there is wrestling memorabilia all over the place. A pretty fun bar, actually.

It was good to hang out with Kat-chan. Spending time with friends is a good thing when you're not feeling that happy with the world. And Kat-chan is a very good friend. We talked about work, and life, and whatever other BS we could think of, laughed, drank, sang some karaoke, and had a damn good time. I don't know if I've ever been more thankful for his friendship.

Hell, I still am.

Anyway, I finally hit the wall (figuratively, not literally) and we called it a night. I walked back home, fed Jiji, brushed my teeth, crawled under the kotatsu, and went to sleep. End (a very long) Day Eleven.

The Moment of Truth, Take 2

Day Eleven. Hopefully, I'll get one more shot at this.
[And here I thought writing yesterday's bit up was tough. This is gonna suck.]

Up and out to face the day. While I was not hung over (a surprise considering how much I tried to drown my self-disgust in booze), the disappointment with myself was still there.

After making a stop at Ranpu no Yu for a bath, I headed over to the Izumo BOE to say hi to everybody one more time before I left for Hokkaido. I talked with Mihara-san for a few minutes and then headed out to Yotsugane Elementary to try and catch up with Ms. Taihei.

She wasn't there. Again.

Actually, it ended up that a bunch of the teachers in Izumo were at a meeting that morning at Big Heart, a convention center near Izumo Station. So, after talking with the teachers that were at Yotsugane that day, I cruised on over to the station.

Yes! The meeting's not done yet!

Then the doors to the main hall opened up, and out came a flood of educators. Man, some of them were in a big rush to get out of there. I searched the mass of humanity and saw more than a few familiar faces. Some of them recognized me (after a few puzzled seconds), most did not. I was able to get in quite a few hellos to teachers I knew. Then I saw Mr. Kawakami.

I mentioned him before, on Day Two. Mr. Kawakami is another of the very cool teachers that I was fortunate enough to work with in Izumo, and as luck would have it, I caught up with him. We decided to go and grab some lunch, so I followed him over to another parking lot, parked Lisa's car, hopped in his, and we were off to Taisha.

He had some thing to take care of back at home, so before going out to get lunch, we went and grabbed some coffee. While we were there, I got a phone call from Nina.

Nina is an amazing person. She is very dedicated to her job, and does an incredible amount of volunteer work, organizing clothing donations and different fund-raising events (including yearly Thanksgiving dinners which are delicious) for needy people in Southeast Asia. She does a lot to give JETs in Shimane a good name, and I am proud to call her a friend.

I had hoped we would be able to catch up while I was back, but it looked like it just wasn't going to work out. So we had a long phone conversation instead. While we were talking, Mr. Kawakami headed off to take care of what he had to do.

It was really good to talk to Nina about life and various goings-on in Shimane. We even got to have a bit of a bitch-fest about a certain someone in the prefecture who does as much to give JETs a bad name as Nina does to give them a good one. It was funny, because she was saying the same kind of things I had been saying before I left. Man, that guy's a snake. They need to kick his ass outta the country. Whatever though.

So I finished talking with Nina and Mr. Kawakami finished up whatever he had to do, so we piled back into his car and headed off to Taisho-an, a local soba restaurant. My quota of Izumo soba consumption while I was back in Shimane was far from being filled, so I was really happy with the idea. We ordered warigo-soba, which is (usually) a stack of three small bowls of soba that gets served to you with a bottle of soba tsuyu (sauce) and a small plate of toppings, usually nori (small seaweed strips), negi (green onions), and katsuo-bushi (dried bonito flakes). Good stuff. So good, in fact, that we ordered a few more bowls. Soba is very delicious and can fill you up pretty quickly, but it also digests really quickly, and you end up feeling hungry an hour or two later.

It was really good to see Mr. Kawakami and sit down to talk with him. He's an incredibly good guy and he's been a really good friend to me. Very cool. He asked me about my love life, and after a painful look crossed my face, I explained about the events of the previous night. We had a really serious talk about it, and I came to the realization that I would be much better off getting my feelings out in the open, no matter the result. Better to say it and fail than to regret never having said anything.

And with that, our lunch was done, and Mr. Kawakami gave me a ride back to my (Lisa's) car. And then I was off...to Hirata.

I sent off a mail to her saying that I was on my way out there (she lives in Hirata) and I would like even a half an hour of her time, if possible. Then I called up Yakabe-san and went over to his office.

We talked about the product he's working on developing. He calls it the Awapul Soap Shaker. I'm not sure I understand all the specifics, but apparently it's a plastic case that you put soap in, add some water and then shake it. You end up with more high-quality soap bubbles (awa). At least that's the idea. I wish him a lot of luck with it.

Then she called. "Dustin? Where are you now?"
"Over near the community center."
"Okay. I'll head over to the library and meet you there in the parking lot. I'll give you a call when I get there."
"Okay. See you soon."

Thud-thud. Thud-thud. Thud-thud.

Oh man, here we go.

So I let Yakabe-san know that I'll be getting a call soon and have to leave. He says okay, and we talk until my phone rings again.

"It's me. I'm at the library."
"Okay. I'll be right over."

I bid Yakabe-san farewell and get in the car. I'm shaking. Dammit man, stay calm.

So I drive over to where I think the library is. Only, when I get there, there's no library.


I call up Yakabe-san, and he tells me that if I cross over the railroad tracks, the library's on the opposite side. Oh. Less stress, but not by much. So I grab a bad with a couple of presents for her out of the car and head over to the library.

I look around the parking lot, and...there she is.

Here goes nothing.
[It's not any easier typing this up.]

The Talk.

Hey, how are you? Yeah, it was really good to see you yesterday, too. Sorry about being so out of whack yesterday. No, I'm okay, just a little tired. So how are you? Oh really? Thanks for taking the time to come over here and meet up with me. I just wanted to talk to you for a few minutes. How's work? Still busy? Don't push yourself too hard. Me? Aah, I'm glad to be away from Muroran and work for a while. Still adjusting to things, you know.

Hey, I have a late Christmas present for you. Yeah, I could have sent it, but I wanted to give it to you directly. I know I didn't have to. I wanted to. Anyway, here it is. Go ahead, open it. It's a bath set from The Body Shop. Cranberry aroma. Smells good, eh? I figured you could use something nice like this to help you relax after a long day at work, especially since it sounds like you're having quite a few of those lately. I hope you like it.

You know, there's something else I need to tell you. I know we had a conversation like this over the phone back in August, but I wanted to talk to you about it, just the two of us, face to face. You see, it's like this. I...I, uh, well...

Dammit Dustin! Pull it together! Say it, for goodness sake!

...um, the thing is, I really like you. There. I said it. I know we talked about how we didn't want to be in a long-distance relationship. I know we agreed to be just friends. I know that. But I realized while I was up in Hokkaido just how important you were to me. How a simple e-mail or a short phone call from you could make my miserable day not seem so bad. How I thought about you all the time. How happy I was with you and how freaking sad I am without you. Now, I don't know how you feel about this, but I needed to tell you how I felt. I like you, and I want to be with you, and I know if it's us, we can make this work.

[Now, if this were a romantic movie, this would be the point where she turns to me, eyes full of tears, says "Yes! In fact, I'll go back to Hokkaido with you! I want to be with you!" Well...this is not a romantic movie.]

She turned to me, eyes full of tears, and told me that it hadn't been easy for her either after I left. But, she got over me.

Ouch. But yeah...part of me figured that that was going to be what she'd say.

She told me that she was happy that I felt that way about her, although she didn't know what kind of appeal she had. She told me that I was very important to her as a friend, as a man, as a person, but our relationship was something more than that. She told me that she didn't want to bring love into it. She told me that she almost regretted coming over and spending all that time, just the two of us, at my apartment, and that if she'd known it was going to cause me this much pain, she'd never have done it.

I looked at her, tears in my eyes, and said, "Don't you dare say that. Anything but that. Don't say you regret the time we spent together. Those are precious memories for me, and no matter what happens between us, I will always treasure them."

We sat in her car and talked. About love and relationships, about work, about life. We both had a good cry.

Now, the other gift I wanted to give her was a necklace. Considering the turn the conversation had taken, it was now a little awkward to try and give it to her. But I figured, what the heck?

So I explained that I had bought a necklace for her out at Showa Shinzan at a glass museum. I was planning on giving to her as a boyfriend/girlfriend gift, but even though that wasn't the situation anymore, I still wanted her to have it. "Accept it as a gift, as a token of our relationship. A gift from me to someone I consider to be very special." She was cool with that, and accepted it. It's actually a pretty cool necklace. The setting looks like some kind of nice stone, but it's just glass. A special kind of glass that changes color depending on the way it catches the light. She seemed to like it.

We talked a little more, and then she gave me a ride back around to where I was parked. I thanked her for letting me get out what I needed to say, gave her a hug, got out of her car, and watched her drive away.

So ends the story.

And while we ended up not "getting together", I think we were able to clarify our relationship a bit. No, I'm not happy about it, but someday I will be able to deal with it.


Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Moment of Truth, Take 1

Day Ten. The Day of Judgment. The day when I was finally going to see her again. Let's just say there was a bit of a buildup to today.
[Man, I've been avoiding writing up this one.]

First thing I realized when I woke up was that it was a very good thing that Satoshi and I had stopped to wake that guy up.

We probably had a foot of snow outside, easily. Where it came from, I can't say. We didn't get back until around two, and seven hours later there was all that snow. Freaky.

Satoshi had to take care of some stuff in Matsue, and then head back home to Tottori, so we got up pretty early and headed out, making a stop at Rampu no Yu. After that, Satoshi and I went out for breakfast and coffee.

It was good to see him and hang out with him again. It's also really cool that he's over in the States doing something he wants to do. Good luck, bud.

After we finished breakfast, I saw Satoshi off. I had some clothes drying over at the laundromat, so I drove around town a bit to kill time.

Then it was out to the Matsushitas. The Matsushitas are a family I got to know really well while I was in Izumo. Their daughter was one of my students who, while not terribly interested in English, was a really great kid to be around. I've kept in touch with them since I left Izumo, and when I said I was coming back, they told me to come on over.

I spent the afternoon out there, playing some games and talking with them about Hokkaido.

But I had places to go and people to see and scruffy facial hair, so a little past three, I went to get my beard shaved for the party that night. Ms. Matsushita recommended a local barber shop that could do it for me. While it was a tad expensive, the shave was nice, and I came away from it looking more like homo sapiens than Cro-magnon. The best part was that I got some tea and some roast chestnuts out of the deal.

After the shave, it was over to Bamboo to do some recording with You-Gay-Nay-San and Mr. Ishibashi. YGNS is, among other things, a DJ at the local radio station in Izumo. Mr. Ishibashi does a monthly feature with her about different kinds of alcohol and how they are made, good ways to drink them, etc. Kind of "The Classy Drinker". I recorded some stuff with them before I left as a "Goodbye, Dustin" feature on their show. Now that I was back, YGNS told me that we should do a "Welcome Back, Cott...er, Dustin" feature. We recorded a twenty-minute segment where I talked about life in Hokkaido (anybody noticing a pattern by now?) and some of the alcohol up north. Fun stuff.

Once the recording was done, I still had about an hour before the Tei-Rei-Kai Party, so I boogied on over to Yukki's CD shop to get a copy of that CD. She was working at the counter, so we didn't have much time to talk, but she passed a copy along to me and said, "You'd better be ready with that on Saturday." Roger!

I still had a little time left, so I swung over to Arihara-en, a Japanese-style BBQ restaurant, to say hi to Tei, the owner. I met Tei right after I came to Izumo. He is zainichi, a person of Korean decent with permanent resident status in Japan. This is a concept that's a little hard for Americans to grasp. In the U.S., even if both your parents are a nationality other than American, if you are born on U.S. soil, you are granted American citizenship. Not so in Japan. Tei was born in Japan, but since both his parents are Korean, he is considered Korean and has to carry a Korean passport. (Heck, his parents may have even been born in Japan. I don't know. But even in that case, it doesn't matter.) Third-generation Japan-born "Koreans" live all over Japan. Some don't even speak a word of Korean, and have never even been to Korea, but they are still required to carry a Korean passport and have to go through the naturalization process if they want to be considered "Japanese". Don't even get me started on the naturalization process over here.

A better description of the zainichi situation can be found here.

Anyway, Tei is a really cool guy. He speaks English, Japanese, and Korean fluently, and has a really international view of the world. We talked for a bit, and then it was TIME. Time to go to Bamboo.

Since the roads were snowy, Tei offered to drive me over to Bamboo. He followed me back to Lisa's and then gave me a ride over there. I said goodbye and walked over to the entrance.

7 PM. Outside of Bamboo. It's cold, but I couldn't go in. I felt dizzy. I was twisted up inside. I was an absolute wreck. Part of it was nerves, part of it was the fact that I hadn't eaten anything since munching on that sandwich and coffee in the morning. I took a couple of deep breaths to calm my nerves (didn't work) and went inside.

[A short side note: You know you've got it bad when all of those crappy pop love songs that you could never stand all of the sudden take on this really deep and personal meaning. Lisa's car had one tape, and it was chock full of those kinds of songs. I was listening to each song and going "Oh, man, that's so TRUE." How revoltin'.]

Nobody was there. At least nobody from the party I was with. I had gone through all that preparation for nothing. I went over to our table and sat down. I felt sick. I needed some food. I asked for something simple so that I could at least have something in my stomach by the time everybody else showed up.

Too much buildup. I was miserable. It took the first other members of the group another half hour to show up. (This is something we call "Izumo Time". You show up thirty minutes late because you don't want anybody else to think you have too much free time. By the rules of "Izumo Time", I had free time coming out of my ears.)

Oh God. It's her.

I force a smile. Not that I wasn't thrilled to see her, but I was in a bad place mentally and wasn't functioning correctly.

"Long time no see."

So now the party of one is a party of three, as she showed up with her friend The Nurse. We make small talk, laughed a bit, and generally had a fun time. As more members of the gang showed up (Rumi, Rumi's Friend, YGNS), the food started coming as did the drinks.

I just couldn't get into it. "What the hell is wrong with me?" I kept thinking that the whole time. There were a couple of times where I just wanted to make up some excuse and leave, just get away from the whole messed up situation.

The more I tried to force myself to stop being a putz and have a good time, the more I withdrew. People asked me what was wrong, because I didn't seem like my usual self. "Oh, it's nothing. I'm just a little tired."

It was good to see everybody, and I did enjoy hanging out. But I never got a chance to talk to her alone, and I ended up feeling miserable and confused.

After the party, I felt like crap and wanted to crawl in a hole and die, but I that wasn't an option, so I did the next best thing: I went drinking.

Of course, I saw everybody else off first. As she was leaving, I told her that I wanted to see her the next day, and to please just give me thirty minutes of her time. She smiled and said, "I can't say for sure. I don't know how tomorrow's schedule will work out."


Then it was just me and Rumi. I invited her to come along with me to another bar, because I needed to talk, and she said she was really surprised that everybody went home. "Wanna hit another bar then?" "Sure."

So we walked over to Soul, and drank. And I talked about her.

Was I just being a nuisance to her?
Was she avoiding me?
Does she even care?
Should I even bother?

Rumi was a good listener. She also gave me the advice that I needed to hear.

"You're not a nuisance."
"She's not avoiding you."
"I'm sure she will be happy if you tell her how you feel."
"You have to try."

Thanks, Rumi. You dragged my self-loathing depressed-as-all-heck sorry self out of a very dark place.

But I was not done drinking.

We left Soul, and I saw her off. Then I walked over to Liberate and drank some more. After making sure I was good and drunk, I made my way back to Lisa's place. End Day Ten.

She's in this photo. I won't say where.

[Man, writing this one sucked. Felt like I was reliving that party. In a way, I was.]