Sunday, April 30, 2006

A New Look

A quick "arigato" to my good buddy Rocksaw for the new addition to the top of the page. I think it looks pretty darn spiffy.

Heck, I even figured out how to tweak HTML so that I could get it up there. Who knows, I may just enter the 21st century yet.

Kicking and screaming, of course.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Sports Day

Today was Sports Day at Starfish High.

Which meant...


No really, I'm all excited and stuff.

The first events of the day were badminton, ping pong, and dodgeball tournaments. Class vs. class, with the members of each class divided up between the three events. I played a rather important role as official timekeeper for the badminton matches. And let me tell you, there's nothing more exciting than watching a stopwatch for seven minutes so you can tell everyone when to keep playing.

Hiding my sarcasm was never one of my strong suits.

Although, some of these kids were pretty darn good. For...badminton, I mean. Umm...moving on.

The second round of games was divided up between the lads and the ladies; soccer for the lads, volleyball for the ladies. One class only has three guys, so Jack, Aoki, and I were drafted to even out the numbers (six players necessary). I started out on defense, but switched to goalie after we got scored on. Not that I am a good goalie or anything, it's just that Jack wanted to move up front and go on the offensive. I did alright in goal. One nice block and a couple of good kicks to clear the ball. Other than my control being lousy (always has been), I did well enough. No more goals were scored on us, and I schooled one of the seniors in the lessons of DMWD (Don't Mess With Dustin). He had a clear field and was coming toward the goal. One on one. I was the last line of defense. Since I fall for fakes and jukes pretty easily, I ran out and kicked the ball out of bounds. We both sprinted for the ball; I beat him to it. After kicking it out, I planted my feet and steeled myself up for impact.


I stayed on my feet, absorbing the complete force of this huge student's crash (he's a forward on the basketball team, and kind of a punk sometimes). He bounced off of me and hit the ground. And lay there. I knocked the wind out of him. Ha ha ha. Although I think he knocked a couple vertebrae out of place. He told me after the game that "Americans have tough bodies". Damn straight.

Dustin 1, Punk-ass high school senior 0.


Their team 1, Our team 0.

Ah well, it was pretty much a given that we were not moving on from the first round.

After round two of the events finished, we had a lunch break, followed by everyone gathering out on the tennis courts for the 16-person jump rope contest, and the tug-of-war. The class with only three guys made it all the way to the finals, where they lost to Hiroshi (No. 1)'s class.

The final event of the day, the relay, was cancelled on account of there not being enough time.

All in all, a fun day, although my back and leg still hurt a bit.

Bad Boys, Bad Boys, Watcha Gonna Do?

After the soccer game I was in, I got called into the office. Why? Because the police were there to see me.

See, back in January, right before the USS Blue Ridge came in to town (or, more precisely, port), I received an official request from the local authorities to be available as a translator should anything come up. I made sure I was available, but nothing ever came up. Which is most definitely a good thing.

The only thing is that the police officer who requested my assistance said he would come by the school sometime and talk to me, but never did. A few days ago, I remembered that conversation and mentioned it to the vice principal, who then put in a phone call to the police. The officer in charge, Officer Kon, said he'd come out sometime soon.

"Soon" was today.

So I went in to the prinicpal's office and sat down and talked with a couple members of Muroran's law enforcement. They asked me if I would be willing to be added to their database of locally available translators. I said I would. They got some information from me, and now I may be receiving phone calls at odd hours to come down to the police station and translate for somebody.

So much for being able to play the "I don't speak Japanese" card.

Friday night = ?

While waiting to play soccer that afternoon, one of my first-year students said,
"Hey Dustin! It's Friday. You're going to eat pizza tonight, right?"
Well, normally, I would. But tonight I'm meeting some friends for dinner at an okonomiyaki/monjayaki place.
"Well, just order a pizza there, then!"
I can't order a p...wait a sec. There is pizza monja there...hmmm.

So that night, at dinner, I ordered pizza monja.

Life was good, and all was right with the world.

I may be forced back into reviving a family tradition by one of my students. Maybe I should thank him.

A Couple of Songs I Like

Alkaline Trio, "Mercy Me"

Bad Religion, "Sorrow"

...and a commercial featuring The Man Himself, Mr. Bruce Campbell!
(also known around these parts as the He Who Has Come From The Sky To Deliver Us From The Terrors Of The Deadites)

I like YouTube.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Some More Pics

These are just some random photos from recent adventures.

A partner in crime, Seamus Couch. We had some free time during that last week of play practice in Date, and were fooling around with his friend's new digital camera.

Seamus and I in my car on our way out to Lake Toya Hot Springs. You can see a bit of Lake Toya off to the right. The photographer was our friend, Risa.

A few more shots of that excellent Johnny Cash display that Shiba put together. From what she tells me, it's still up and the number of customers that check it out has been gradually increasing.

And now, for the piece de resistance (from the Great Train Trip)...

I will leave the comments to you, dear reader. But I must mention one thing...

It is not merely a member of the rodent family, it is a NICE member of the rodent family. (Click on the picture if you don't believe me.)

I wish I could make up half the stuff I see over here.

One More Catch-up Post...For Now

...and then I will be all caught up! Woo hoo!

April 17 - April 26

Last week was slow(er than previous weeks). On the 18th, I headed out for some yakitori and beer with Judy. She was treating me to dinner as a reward for helping her order a new Macintosh from their Internet site. She wanted the educator's discount, and needed help reading all the Japanese to get the order put in.

Funny thing, though. Once we actually got in to the "educator's discount" section of their site, all we had to do was click on "YES" when we were asked if the person doing the ordering was indeed an educator.


And that was all there was to it. No proof necessary, no letter of recommendation or proof of employment, no documentation whatsoever. Click.

So basically, I got a free dinner for clicking the "YES" button.

You know, if I could pool my Japanese ability into getting free meals all the time, I would. Cuz hey, when it comes down to it, if I'm full, I'm happy.

Most of the rest of the week was work work work. And more work. Classes are starting to move along pretty well. So far so good, anyway. The second year students had to write letters to their host families in the U.S., so we helped them with that. Not that the families have been decided yet, or anything. Apparently, the coordinating organization needs those letters to help search for host families.

The third year students that I teach are pretty good. I'm teaching the students in the high level class how to write essays in English. I'm just doin' my part to try and make Wright and Brown proud.

(One of my English teachers in high school was James Brown. Get up! Get on up!)

The class with the lower level students is going along much better than I anticipated. They seem to be enjoying what we're doing, and they participate pretty well.

I guess the big adjustment is dealing with the new batch of students, and the sheer amount of classes I teach now. For the last three months of the previous school year, the third year students didn't come to school. This meant that I had fewer classes to teach. Now that I'm back up to a full schedule, I'm finding it a little difficult to adjust. The new kids seem like a pretty good group of students, so this year should be interesting.

I almost snapped again at work this week, though. The teachers in the English department brought up the issue of whether we will be doing an English Play again this year. The play hasn't even been over for a week yet and we're talking about this year's play? I had to lay down the law. "There is no play. For at least two weeks, there will be no discussion of this so-called play. It does not exist. There. Is. No. Play." Hey, I told you the dang thing made me neurotic.

Friday Seamus came over from Date and we watched a Japanese movie called "Party 7". Bizarre stuff. We also ordered some Pizza Hut pizza.

Friday night pizza is a Kidd family tradition. From when I was really little and eating pizza in Pocatello and then playing Pac Man while the folks talked with our pizza-making friends (what was the name of that pizza place?) to the Round Table Pizza Fridays in P-town to trips out to Village Pizza in Roslyn, I have eaten quite a lot of pizza. And I tend to have strong opinions about what makes a pizza a good pizza. Sometimes I suspect there is more pizza sauce than blood that flows in these veins. I've told the first years about my love for all things pizza, and how the Japanese pizza toppings of mayonnaise and corn are the equivalent of mortal sins in my Church of Pizza. So naturally, on Friday during my class with them, one student randomly asked,
"So are you eating pizza tonight or what?"
I was so proud. They get it.

Then, at last, came the weekend.

Seamus came out from Date again, and we hopped in my car and made tracks for Tomakomai.

And went to see "V For Vendetta".

Remember, remember, the 22nd of April...

No. That just doesn't work.

Wow. What an absolutely stunning film. I'd read the comic book it was based on and had been blown away by it, but the transition to film was absolutely impressive.

I'm sure this movie isn't everyone's cup of java, but I say it's worth a try. There are some incredible lines in the film.

V: A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having.

V: People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

V: There are no coincidences, Deliah...only the illusion of coincidence.

Finch: The same thing is true of all governments...the most reliable records are tax records.

Creedy: Die! Die! Why won't you die?! ...Why won't you die?
V: Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.

V: I, like God, do not play with dice and do not believe in coincidence.

Evey Hammond: My father was a writer. You would've liked him. He used to say that artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up.

...and the most impressive deliverance of a monologue I've ever seen goes to Hugo Weaving ("V") for this alliteration-filled speech:
Voilà ! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is it vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose so let me simply add that it's my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.

And he PULLS IT OFF! His was an exceptionally fine piece of acting, especially when you consider that he was wearing a mask for the entire film.

After the film ended, I went to the concession stand to buy a movie program. And then, I saw IT.

A Guy Fawkes mask.

On sale.

For nine hundred yen.

And now I am all set for Halloween.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November...

There we go.

After some shopping at Aeon, we cruised over to SBC for my raspberry mocha fix. And some other stuff happened, but we'll just wait and see how things develop before getting into too much depth with this. Let's just say that depending on how things go, I may be making many more trips out to Tomakomai for SBC coffee, and leave it at that.

Then it was over to a used everything shop (clothes, games, toys, CDs, DVDs, comics, etc) to make a purchase or two, and then west to ramen. On a trip with Seamus, you are guaranteed of two things: ramen and a hot spring. The ramen shop was called "Kiwame", and it wasrecommendedd to me by one of my students. It was quite tasty, although I'm not the biggest fan of soy sauce-based soup. The waiter who brought us our bowls had guns for muscles, forearms and biceps. If you can get those kind of guns by working at a ramen shop, sign me up!

West further still to Kojohama Hot Springs for a relaxing dip in the hot water. (See?) Aaaaahhhhh. My back had been spasming all day, so it was good to get in the water and loosen those muscles up. Besides, I was tired of the "You okay there, old man?" flak I was catching from Seamus.

Back home and over to Ippukutei for a couple of beers, and then it was game over. Seamus crashed at my place, because I had to head over to Date Sunday morning anyway.

Sunday morning.

Our four kyudo (Japanese archery) club members were participating in a tournament that day in Date. So up and out of bed early, then on over to the gymnasium to watch the action unfold. Since I was driving myself over, Hiroshi (No.1) said he'd hook me up with lunch. Sweet.

More than 200 people participated in the tournament. High school students and adults from all over the Iburi and Hidaka regions were there to show their stuff. The competitions were divided into team and individual. The teamcompetitionn consisted of a three-person team, each with four shots, followed by a break, followed by four more shots each. Eight shots per person for a total of 24 shots. The team with the highest number of target hits wins.

A major difference between archery and kyudo is the scoring. In archery, your score depends on where you hit your target. In kyudo, all you have to do is hit the target.

Our students didn't win, but they did really well for being in their first tournament, and they looked better than a lot of teams out there. Although in these kinds of tournaments, it's all about hitting the target, kyudo isn't just about that. It's about the way you do things, keeping everything at 90 degree angles, preserving the post-shot form...there's a very formal aspect to kyudo that we didn't really see a lot of at the tournament. But our students really had it down. They looked different from the rest of the groups out there.

After the tournament, the three advisors (me, Hiroshi (No. 1), and New Guy #1) and the kyudo coach went out for sushi. At 3 PM. Which was my first meal of the day. Oh boy was I glad when I started eating them slices of raw fish on rice.

Then I went home and SLEPT.

On Monday morning, my coworker Jack's wife had a baby. CONGRATULATIONS, JACK!

Tuesday, I shaved my head with my clippers. It turned out pretty well, especially for a first time attempt.

Wednesday (yesterday), I got a package from home - popcorn, a new tie, and the King Kong DVD. Yes! Then I picked up Jack and Katie, drove out to Date, picked up Seamus, and we all went out to Ippei for some yakitori goodness to celebrate Jack's newfound fatherhood.

And now, I am officially caught up!

(which is a good thing, because next week I take off on a road trip and will have a lot of catching up to do when I get back. Whew.)

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Great Train Ride

4/8/2006 - 4/9/2006: The Great Train Ride

Okay. Okay. I know I've taken my own sweet time with this one, but I felt I needed to give the story a little time to develop. That, and I wanted to get the other stuff out of the way first so I could explain exactly why it took me so long to get this thing written in the first place.

Saturday, April 8, 3:45 AM.

Telephone alarm. Cell phone alarm (Twilight Zone theme). Cell phone alarm (Barney Animal Hospital song). Synchronized. And LOUD.

I shot out of bed (which can be a bit dangerous, as I sleep in a loft). Judy and Scott were startled out of their short slumbers as well. I grabbed a change of clothes I had set out the night before and hit the shower.

Fifteen minutes later, we were loading our bags into the car and getting ready to depart on a ROAD TRIP (see map). We hopped in the car, I loaded in a CD, and we took off for Tomakomai.

We beat the sun up, which gets to be a more difficult feat as the days progress. Of course, as the trip continued, the black color of the sky gradually started to lighten into deep, and then lighter, blues. When we stopped to fill up for gas in Shiraoi, all three of us headed across the highway to get pictures of the morning sky off to the east.

Like this one.

No time to dally, though. We had a schedule to keep. We had to be in Ikeda Town (over near Obihiro) by 9:30 at the latest, and there was a lot of road still ahead of us. So it was back on the road and off to the east.

We got on the toll highways at Tomakomai West Interchange, and picked up a bit of speed. Until we came around a corner and saw this.

Of course, we had to make another stop and get some photos of this brilliant sunrise. We all agreed it was a good omen for the trip, and then we hit the road again.

We drove down as far as Monbetsu, and then turned up and headed towards Hidaka Town and Nissho Pass. On the drive up, we got stuck behind a truck hauling hazardous materials that was stuck behind a car driving along at a country bumpkin rate. We passed the truck and got in behind the car. I looked at something else for a second, and when I looked back, the car had burned up the asphalt and was speeding away like it had just found a hornet's nest. The three of us were dumbfounded.

What. The. Heck?

Our theory was that the driver of the car looked in his rearview mirror and saw three white people driving on this lonely mountain highway, and it put the fear of the Devil in him. Honestly, there was no other viable explanation, because he slowed down a little while later and we ended up catching up to him. At which point Scott said, "We're still white!"

Story of my life, in three simple words.

After a brief stop for breakfast at a convenience store in Hidaka, we headed east to cross over Nissho Pass.

A quick note on the naming of Nissho Pass. It is a mountain pass that connects the Hidaka and Tokachi regions of Hokkaido, so the name of the pass takes a kanji from each region and combines them together. There are some differences in pronunciation that come with the combination, but if you take a look at the chart below, you can see how it works. (The kanji for mountain pass makes me laugh. Mountain, up, down. Visually self-explanatory. I like that.)We went through a tunnel and came out on the Tokachi side of the pass. And all three of us gasped as we saw the snow-covered Tokachi plain spread out before us. Absolutely gorgeous. We stopped for some photos at a lookout point, but we couldn't get up to the spot that would let us take photos of the site, as the staircase up to it was covered in two feet of snow left over from the winter. Wasn't happening. So I took a photo of the mountains instead.

Beautiful stuff.

From there, we made our way down into the valley and aimed for Obihiro Station.

I suppose here is where I should get around to explaining the actual point of the weekend's journey. There's a train line (Hokkaido Chihoku Highlands Railway) in the Tokachi region that was going to be shut down on April 20th. I'm interested in trains, and so is Scott. I let him know about the train line shutting down, and we batted about the idea of heading up and riding it once before it shut down for good. Nothing specific came out of the conversation.

For a while. Then, one day he told me that his wife would be having a musical rehearsal in Shihoro, a town near the train line, the weekend of the 8th and 9th. He was planning on riding the train and would I like to come along. Of course I WOULD, but one problem. School party on the night of the 7th. I told him there was no way I could make it if they were leaving Friday night (which turned out to be the plan), He countered with a, "Well, if you don't mind leaving early Saturday morning, and we can get there by the 9:55 departure time..."

Hmmm. I like the way he thinks. So we decided to have him crash at my place on Friday and we'd leave early Saturday morning. I called up Judy, another teacher here in Muroran, and asked her if she was interested. Her response? "You're going to go ride a train?"

A natural response, indeed.

Scott and I were able to convince her to come along, so she crashed at my place as well. Regarding the trip, since it was going to be by car, I needed to see what the parking situation was. I made some phone calls as to the availability of parking at Ikeda Station, the starting point for the train trip. The stationmaster at Ikeda Station said parking was free, but it was also first-come, first-served. Fair enough. He also told me that if I swung by Obihiro Station on the way out, I could pick up a round-trip discount ticket for the line.

That was good news, and that's what put the three of us at Obihiro Station at 8 AM on Saturday morning. (For Scott's much more cohesive perspective on this trip, check this out.)

A hotel near Obihiro (pronounced Oh-bee-hero) Station. I just think that that's got to be an awesome hotel to stay in.

Me praying at the Humvee altar. We found this Humvee parked at the Obihiro Station parking lot. Random, yet extremely cool.

We picked up our tickets, and then took off for Ikeda Station. There are trains that connect from Obihiro, but the parking isn't free, so off to Ikeda it was. After about another forty minutes of driving, we pulled up to Ikeda Station. Tickets? Check. Cameras? Check. Parking? Check. We were good to go.

We went into the station, which was not very large, yet was packed with people. Just as I had feared. Everybody in the freaking country had the same idea as Scott, Judy, and I. LOTS of people in the station wanting to ride that train.

The stationmaster opened up the gate about thirty minutes before the train was scheduled to depart. We went over to the train, which had all of (count 'em with me, folks!) ONE CAR. "Wow, you'd think they'd add another car on this train, especially since they knew crowds like this would be coming."

Scott made a good point here. "They might not have another car to add." Hmmm, you might be on to something there.

We piled on and found a seat next to an elderly couple, and then Scott and I hopped out and snapped some pictures.
Scott snapping a shot or five of our Kitami-bound train.

Scott got trapped up front, which he didn't seem to mind so much because he was able to take lots of photos. Judy and I took up our seats next to the elderly couple, and at 9:55, the train headed out. After a some time passed, Judy and I ended up talking with our seatmates. The woman was quite friendly. The times didn't seem to be too happy to be sitting next to a foreigner, but he was nice enough too. They had taken this train line from Ikeda to Kitami on their honeymoon however many years ago, and as it was a special memory for them, they wanted to ride it "just one more time". That was pretty cool.

Something that wasn't so cool was the sheer amount of people packed in the train. I think some people actually had to give up trying to get on the train at some stations. Too many people...And never mind that when a train would pass us going the other way, it always seemed to have two cars. What's the deal?

All told, though, it was a relaxing ride up. Lots of farmland, lots of places still covered in snow, lots of stacks of tires...

Yep. Tires. I think Japanese tires come to Hokkaido, more specifically the area along the Hokkaido Chihoku Highlands Railway, to die.

A sign at Rikubetsu Station, the halfway point on the line, proclaiming Rikubetsu to be the coldest town in Japan. That's saying something! Apparently, the temps get down into the -40's, which is the same in F or C, DAMN COLD.

I slept a bit during the ride, but mostly I just looked out the window and enjoyed the scenery, which was quite beautiful.

We arrived in Kitami at around 1 PM. We grabbed some lunch at the department store next to the station, looked around a bit, weren't too impressed with what we saw, and then headed back into the station to buy souvenirs and get in line for the train back.

When the stationmaster opened up the gate for all of us to get on the train, I made a mad dash for the train so I could get three seats. Luckily, I found a place for us all to sit on the way back before everybody started piling in.

The dang train was PACKED, both on the way out and on the way back, although we were lucky enough to find seats both times. It was much worse than what you can see in this picture.

A couple of scenery photos from the train window.

On the ride back, we ended up having a conversation with Go Yukawa. He was from Yokohama, and had flown up that morning to ride the train once before it shut down. (See?) The impressive thing was that he was going to be flying back that night. That's what I call dedication. He echoed our sentiments when he said that while he had hoped to take some pictures and make some nice memories of the ride, he was afraid that all he was going to remember was the packed-in-like-sardines mass of humanity that was stuffed into that single car.

It was pretty overwhelming at times.

He was a really nice guy with fantastic English. He'd worked in Portland, Oregon (REPRESENT!) for a few years back in the 90's. So we got along just fine.

Mr. Yukawa, Judy, and I had this picture taken before Mr. Yukawa hopped on his connecting train to Obihiro.

The three intrepid explorers in our moment of glory.

I also had a couple goofy photos taken for posterity...or something.

Cool! A tourism advertisement for Shimane! (Well, for the San-in region, anyway. The picture is of Lake Shinji, though!)

Scott wanted to get a few pics of the train as it ran its course along the rails, so we drove along the line until we found a spot he liked, took a few pics as the train passed, and checked out one of the stations on the line (Samamai). From there, we drove back into Obihiro to get some dinner. Obihiro, just like every other place in Japan, has a famous local delicacy. In Obihiro, it's the butadon, or pork rice bowl. Eisaku advised me to have one while I was there, although his sales pitch was a bit...lacking.

"They're not that great, and they are a bit on the expensive side, but at least you can say you've had one, and then you can enter the elite world of those who are allowed to talk about butadon."

Gee...if you put it that way...I can't help but feel so...excited.

Actually, I was pretty interested, though, and I put the idea up to my travel companions. They seemed to think that butadon sounded pretty good, so I aimed for Obihiro Station, figuring since it was the local delicacy and all, there was a pretty good chance that a restaurant serving butadon would be near there.

Scott came back with a suggestion. "I don't want to eat in a really touristy place. I'd prefer a grungy, down-home, greasy spoon kind of place, if you can find one." Judy nodded in agreement.

Okay, I'll see what I can do...

Something caught my eye. Out of the corner of my eye, across Rt. 38, I saw a small sign taped to a poorly-lit wall. It said...


I swung the car off the main road and around so that I could head back the other way.

"You guys mean something like that?"

"Hell yeah!" came the duet.

Marumatsu Shokudo, our dining location of choice for the evening. I parked my car on the sidewalk next to the store as it was the closest thing to a parking lot as far as I could tell, and then we headed inside.

Wow. Greasy spoon central. Our faces lit up. Yes. This is it. Just what we've been looking for.

A woman was standing behind the counter and smiled at us as we came in. After we looked at the menu for a minute (it was taped up on the wall), I said, "Three butadon, please."

"Comin' right up!"

After a few minutes of nice smells and sounds coming from the grill, she brought out our butadon.

DAYAMN. That's a fine looking bowl of pork-on-rice. That sauce...mmm, that sauce. It was an amazing meal.

Never, ever, EVER, get between me and my food.

The really great thing was that she also brought out three bowls of miso soup and set them in front of us, saying, "Saabisu desu. Dohzo. (It's on the house. Enjoy.)" She was just a really awesome lady. As we paid and were getting ready to leave, she asked us to sign a guest book and let her take a Polaroid of us to paste in it. It's a store tradition, apparently. She was so nice and friendly to us...I'm definitely going there again next time I'm in Obihiro. I can't emphasize this enough. That food was GOOD.

How good was it? After we went in search of a hot spring in which to get cleaned up in, we were still talking about how good it was an hour after we'd eaten it. That's when you know you've eaten some good food; you're still talking about it long after you've finished.

Then it was out to Shihoro to sleep at the community center where Maureen was rehearsing "Guys and Dolls". I was fading fast. We dropped Scott off at a restaurant where a bunch of the "players" were having dinner and then made tracks for Shihoro. Judy and I unloaded our sleeping bags, went inside and found the room where everyone was sleeping, found a couple of empty straw mat areas, and went to bed.

Sunday morning. The "Hokkaido Players" were off to rehearse, and Scott, Judy, and I hit the road again. Judy kindly agreed to go along with whatever we wanted to do, and Scott and I wanted to take more pictures. So that's what we did. Basically a lot of driving up and down the line, finding out-of-the-way stations and getting some shots of trains as they went past.

This is Aikappu (translation: Love Crown) Station. The station building is designed to look a little like a crown, and apparently it is a popular place with couples, even to the point of people having weddings there.

Whatever works.

A little bit more driving around, taking photos and seeing the sights, even picking up a few railway souvenirs. After that, it was back out to Shihoro to pick up Scott's wife Maureen and head back to Muroran. Maureen was teaching some local elementary school students one of the dances from "Guys and Dolls", so we had about half an hour to wait. I climbed up to the top of the seats and had a ten-minute power nap. The minute that practice ended, Judy, Scott, Maureen, and I all headed out to my car and hit the road for home.

Instead of heading back into Obihiro and driving over the pass from there, we took the main highway through Shihoro that also connects up to the pass. Nice scenic drive, I figured.

Yeah. Real scenic. Being stuck behind a row of Ground Self Defense Force trucks makes for a great view. (Did spot an ostrich and emu farm along the way, though.) The funny part of it was, I started to pass the trucks when I had a chance, and then finally they followed the road one way, and we followed the highway. YES! Free of being stuck behind slow-moving GSDF trucks at last!

Until about ten minutes later when I came up on a stop light that was just turning red. No prob, just wait until the light changes...might as well look at the cars going past...hey...that's odd...there's another one of those GSDF trucks...huh, they're out in force today...and there's anothe...wait a second! IT'S THE SAME CONVOY! Ohhhh yeah, and you could see the drivers laughing as they passed us waiting there. I saw more than a few "Hey, White Boy, weren't you in a big hurry or something?" looks. After a few moments of intermittently swearing and laughing, the light changed, and I pulled back in behind the line of trucks. Well played, SDF, well played.

Fortunately, they turned off into a base, and we continued down the road for a while, until we came over the top of a hill, and saw this.

The Hidaka Mountains off in the distance, the Tokachi plain stretching out in front of us, a dazzling sun shining down on it all...we all gasped and three voices came up begging me to stop. Hey, I was way ahead of them.

And then we got back on the road, headed back over Nissho Pass, cruised down from Hidaka to Monbetsu, over to Tomakomai for dinner and a failed attempt to get me a raspberry mocha (which left me in a bad mood and the car in silence for about twenty minutes) before hitting the road again for home. We were back in Muroran before ten.

Thus ended my first really big road trip in my new car. Exhausting and long, but one heck of an adventure.


A short epilogue to this story: Today (April 20th) was the last day of operation on the Chihoku line. They had some features about it on the various news channels. Politicians making speeches, people singing songs, children waving flags, train freaks of all makes and models out taking pictures...the works. Some of the news really gave me pause and made me think. High school students talking about how they enjoyed the train ride to school every day. A town mayor talking about how the elderly townspeople in his area used that train to go to the hospital. A reporter talking about how this line was the only real public transportation system connecting the various towns along the line. A man who fought for years to convince politicians and businessmen to support the line and keep it running talking about what he will do now that the line is closing. This train line was really a lifeline for a lot of people. Even though buses will replace the trains, a part of what defined these towns died off today.

Sure, I enjoyed riding the rails that Saturday, but it was just an event for me. It was interesting and educational, and I got to see a lot of country I wouldn't have been able to see otherwise, but it didn't really hold much more than a superficial interest for me.

I'm reminded of an elderly woman who couldn't get on the train at Yutari Station because it was so crowded with people wanting to ride the train once before it shut down. To her, the Hokkaido Chihoku Highlands Line was a necessity, a way of getting from place to place. For the majority of us on the train that day, it was a fun way to spend a weekend. And I don't know how I feel about that...

Somewhere there's a high school student who now has to take a bus to go to school.
Somewhere there's a town mayor trying to preserve a stretch of track as a park and run a train along it.
Somewhere there's an elderly person who has to take a bus to the hospital now.
Somewhere there's a man who fought to keep the train line alive sitting down and arranging all of his files in order to preserve the Chihoku Kogen Line for future generations.
Somewhere there's a construction crew at work dismantling railroad crossing guard systems. (They were scheduled for dismantling as soon as the last train on the line pulled into its final station - apparently some of the line is already pulled up as well...what's the rush?)
Somewhere there's a stationmaster who worked on this line for forty years trying to figure out what he will do now.

Crazy Messed-up Hokkaido Weather

I woke up this morning to the sound of frozen rain pounding on my window.

Frozen rain.

Last I checked, my calendar said it was April 24th today.

April 24th.

Frozen rain.

I think there's a law against spring in Hokkaido.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Playing Catch-up Part 4

4/15/2006 - 4/16/2006: The Tokyo Trip

Saturday morning. Up and out of bed early. Pack. Get in the car. Drive out to New Chitose Airport. Make a pit stop in Tomakomai for some Seattle's Best Coffee. Get frustrated because the store isn't open at 9:30. Wait half an hour anyway. Park my car at an airport parking lot and catch a shuttle van to the airport. Check in. Get on the plane. Fly for an hour and a half. Arrive at Haneda Airport in Tokyo.

I'm not the biggest fan of Tokyo. Dirty, crowded, rude people, generally an obnoxious city. I wouldn't even go there, except that a lot of my friends live in or around Tokyo.

That was the reason I was flew in to Tokyo today. My friend Kanako was getting married.

So I arrived at Haneda Airport, and on my way to the monorail to head towards Asakusa, where I was going to be staying that night, I saw this.

Sniff. Makes me think of home. Pasco: a city in Washington, or a bakery in Haneda Airport.

I got on the train, put my bags down, and waited for the train to start moving...

Then my phone rang. Hey, it's R! Wonder why she's calling me?

Me: "Hey, R! What's up?"
R: "Dustin-sensei? We're in Akihabara right now. We missed the train, so we'll be in Asakusa a little late?"
Me: "Huh?"

Let me explain. Some of the students that graduated last month are now going to university in Tokyo. I told R that I would be coming down in mid-April, so if she had free time, we should get together and have lunch. I told her to invite whoever else was in the area that could make it. I also told her to meet me in Asakusa on SUNDAY.

Me: "Ummm, you're going there today? Why?"
R: "You said today."
Me: "I have a wedding reception to go to today. There's no way I could have said today."
R: "No, you said today."
Me: "Umm, I just got in to, crap...what am I gonna do...okay, I'll be in Asakusa in about forty minutes. I'll see you there."

It took me a little bit of thinking back, but apparently I had convinced myself that the 15th was Sunday, so I told her the 15th, completely convinced that I was talking about Sunday. I told you that dang play had me thoroughly messed up (see previous post).

So I made a phone call out to Kakuho, my buddy who lives in Asakusa and who was going to let me stay at his house that night, and explained the situation. He was really cool about it, and we worked out a schedule that would let me eat lunch with my old students and still make it over to his place with time to get ready for the reception that night.

A mad dash for connecting trains and such put me into Asakusa Station at about 10 minutes to 2. I headed out from the station over to Kaminari-mon, the main entrance to Sensoji Temple, the huge temple that pretty much everybody visits on their first trip to Tokyo. The crowds are ridiculous and the prices of souvenirs there are insane, but it can be a fun place to go to.

Anyway, when I got there, it was crowded (as usual), but I was able to find my students, R, M, & N. They all seemed to be doing really well, although they were having some difficulty adjusting to life in DA BIG CITY. We were all really hungry, so we talked about what we wanted to eat for lunch.

The verdict? Monja-yaki. (Check out this explanation of okonomiyaki, and scroll down for a mention of monja-yaki.)

So I put in a call to Kakuho again. Kakuho was born and raised in Asakusa, so he's a real Tokyo native, one of the shita-machi types who are some of the cooler residents of Tokyo. He was in one of my groups of Asia University students when I worked as an International Peer Advisor at CWU. He is also a Buddhist priest at a temple in Asakusa (more on that later). He's a great guy, and I'm proud to call him my friend.

Anyway, Kakuho knows pretty much all there is to know about Asakusa. So when I called him up and asked him for a good monja-yaki restaurant to go to, he had the answer for me right away. And man, does that guy know how to pick out a good restaurant. We had a couple different kinds of monja-yaki, and I paid for everybody. What good is it being a teacher if you can't treat former students to a meal? After grabbing some dessert at a different shop, we all went over to Kakuho's place for tea.

We all talked for a bit, had some good tea and some even better snacks that Kakuho made. When he ever learned how to cook, I'll never know. But I am very impressed.

I snuck into another room and got changed for the wedding reception, and then Kakuho snuck off to change after I came back. After we were all ready to split, we headed out; R, M, and N to see the Asakusa sights and Kakuho and I to catch a taxi to the reception. Kakuho gave them a few bits of Asakusa info and then we parted ways.

Kakuho and I caught a taxi to the reception hall, which was over in the Mejiro area of Tokyo. (Where that is in relation to any other part of Tokyo? I have no idea. I just know that it took us about twenty minutes to get there.)

We found the waiting room for the reception (after a little difficulty) and checked in. It was weird walking into that room, because I saw a lot of folks I hadn't seen in quite some time, some of whom I hadn't seen for almost eight years. It was really cool to see everyone.

Of course, then the abuse started.

"Dustin! You got old!"
"Dustin! You got fat!"
"Dustin! You got bald!" (Hence the new haircut.)
"Dustin! Your beard is eroi!" ("Eroi" being a word that means something between "erotic" and "perverse"; basically the equivalent of saying that my beard makes me a dirty old man. Okay...slam on my age, slam on my weight, slam on my hair or the lack thereof, but leave the beard out of it. That's just playing dirty.)

First time in almost eight years that we've seen each other, and THAT'S the first freaking thing you have to say to me? Gee, way to make me glad that I spent the money to come down for this.

Now, I will clarify this by saying that it wasn't everybody that was saying this, but it was enough of them, and it didn't end with just one mention. So by the time we actually went into the reception hall, I was in a pretty foul mood.

Add that to my lack of relationships as of late and my frustration with it, and I was not a happy camper. I ended up not really being able to talk to Kanako, which I really wanted to do. She looked really happy, and her husband seems like a pretty decent guy. I told her congratulations, of course, but for the most part I sipped my beer and availed myself to the buffet (which of course led to more comments about my weight).

Thing is, I'm not even FAT! People need to back up off of me before I start laying the smack down, Rock-style.

Most of us in the "Kanako's friends" group went out to another bar and hung out for a bit before heading off our separate ways. Instead of heading back to Kakuho's place, as was the original plan, I ended up heading out to Yokohama to catch up with my friend Shingo. Three of us from the party (Akira, Kazuma, and I) crashed at Shingo's new pad. It was good to see him, too. He seems to be doing really well.

The next morning, Akira, Kazuma, and I cleared out of Shingo's place early. They had places to go, and I had promised to help Kakuho watch the house until about 1. So it was back out to Asakusa for me.

I mentioned earlier that Kakuho is a Buddhist priest. He belongs to the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism. I don't know how many generations of his family have been Buddhist priests, but he's following the family tradition. His house is also a temple, although you wouldn't really be able to tell from the outside view of his house. As a priest at this temple, he has priestly duties, as does his father. His father had to head off somewhere else early that morning, so it was just Kakuho and his mother watching the place. They needed an extra person around to help, and I was there.

Kakuho's priestly duties of the day consisted of conducting four hoji (Buddhist memorial ceremonies). These ceremonies commemorate the death of a family member. Kakuho explained the significance of hoji to me.

In Japan, the concept of celebrating one's birthday is a relatively recent thing. Why? Because Japanese people counted their ages according to the kazoedoshi system. In this system, when you're born, you're 1. Could be on March 17, could be on December 31, you're 1. As soon as the New Year rolls around, everyone gets another year on their age. Your birthday could be March 17, could be December 31, when that New Year comes, you're two. Everybody gets one year older on January 1. So it was kind of like everyone's birthday was THE SAME DAY. (For more info, check this out.)

But everyone dies on a different day, and in order to honor your ancestors, you commemorate the day of their passing. I don't really know the system for it, but there are short spans and REALLY LONG ONES, like the 300th anniversary of an ancestor's passing. No lie. Kakuho may post a comment to clarify a bit on this. After all, he's the one in the know.

While I was holding down the fort, Kakuho let me try on part of his priest gear. Coolness.

At around one o'clock, I said goodbye to Kakuho and his mother and headed out from their house to Sensoji Temple. I had contacted Risa (from the English play in Date) and told her I was going to be in Tokyo, so we made plans to meet up for lunch before I had to cruise back to Hokkaido. She went to Starfish High before it was Starfish High (it used to have a different name). When she was a student there, she studied with Mr. Yamamoto, a teacher I met when I went up to interview for the job, and who I went out drinking with the night before this year's graduation. Risa called him up, and he agreed to come out and hang out with us.


We met up at Kaminari-mon and set out to find some eatins. We grabbed some lunch at a groovy pork cutlet shop called "Katsukichi". Oh yeah. Fried and breaded pork goodness. I didn't have a lot of time left before I had to head back out to Haneda, but after lunch we cruised over to Sensoji Temple. We all took in some purifying incense smoke (see the scene in "Mr. Baseball" if you don't know what I'm talking about), prayed at the temple, and then went to check out our fortunes.

At Sensoji Temple, you shake a can that has numbered sticks in it until one of the sticks comes out of a hole in the lid. My stick was #70. I went over to the drawer numbered 70, opened it up, and checked out my fortune.


Holy crap.

I've never drawn "kyo" (bad fortune) before. Ever.

My natural reaction to that kind of a fortune. Shock, bigtime.

I debated whether or not I should hold onto it (the fact that it was my first "kyo"ever had some appeal that way), but after thinking about it for a few seconds, I knew I didn't want it. I tied up my fortune and walked out of the temple, shoulders slumped and feeling slightly depressed.

Risa and Mr. Yamamoto tried to cheer me up.

"Hey, in a way, you're lucky, because drawing kyo is really rare."
"Hey, look at it this way. You can only go up from here."

Didn't really help much.

Mr. Yamamoto bought some snacks for me to take back to Starfish High as souvenirs, and then I had to run to get on my train to the airport.

Check in, board the plane, sleep, arrive in Chitose, catch the shuttle bus to the parking lot, drive to Tomakomai to do some shopping, make a mad dash over to the SBC shop to get me a coffee (eight minutes before closing time at EIGHT PM!), drove through Shiraoi, hopped in a hot spring in Kojohama, drove home, came inside, and went to bed.

(I'm almost caught up!)

Playing Catch-up Part 3

4/10/2006: The New Students

Schools in Japan have Entrance Ceremonies to welcome new students each April. Starfish High is no different. Fifty new students became Starfish High School students today. The setup was pretty similar to the graduation ceremony from the previous month. The teachers sat stage right, various guests and dignitaries (including the MAYOR! wow) sat stage left, the new students marched into the auditorium with their new home room teachers and sat in the center section, students' names were called, they came up and received their student IDs and a copy of the New Testament, a passage from the Bible was read, songs were sung, speeches were made, and I fought valiantly to stay awake.

I think I did okay this time.

Anyway, we're pretty lucky all told. Fifty students balances out the number of students that graduated from here in March, so we're in decent shape for this year. Hopefully next year we can get a few more than this year's group.

So far, they seem like interesting kids. We'll have to see.

Oh yeah, we also had an official Start of the School Year ceremony that morning for only the second- and third-year students. Gotta love ceremonies.

4/11/2006 - 4/14/2006: The Play

Ahhh, yes. The Play. The Nightmare. The Thing That Has Haunted My Waking Hours And Sleepless Nights For Eight Freaking Months.

Where to begin? I suppose the beginning would be a good idea.

I started at Starfish High in August of 2005. I was pretty clueless about the job, and life in general, for quite a while. Even so, Jack (my partner in English slinging) passed me a script for a play that the first-year students were going to perform and said, "Can you translate this?" I did, although it took me about a week to get it all done.

I asked, Why a play? Because the guy that was here last year did one, and it was a condition of our employment that we do one this year. News to me, but whatever. With my acting prowess (as evidenced by my roles as "Shecky", "Harry McAfee", "scary cult leader", and "invisible boy" in various PHS plays), I knew I could help coach on the acting side. As far as actually putting on a play was concerned, neither Jack nor I had any clue. I still curse He Who Shall Not Be Named. The apartment, the play...grrrrrrrrrrr

As the year progressed, we arranged schedules, rehearsed, had students build props, and somehow performed one scene of the play at the Christmas Assembly in December. Once Winter Quarter rolled around, various school events shot our practice schedule straight to Hades, and by the time March rolled around, some of us were starting to panic.

So the student directors made an executive decision to have practice every weekday of Spring Break. The turnout? Lukewarm at best.

We couldn't get decent rehearsals in because only half the necessary people would show up. Props designers would come in one day, do a little work, and then not bother to show up for the rest of the week. Students were still reading from their scripts five days before the performance. Never mind that we'd already told them fifty thousand times over to memorize their freaking lines.

The week of the performance? I was a wreck. I would dream about the freaking play every night. My eyes would close, but my brain was running on all cylinders. Students were worried that I was developing a neurosis. They probably weren't far off in their analysis. Paperwork kept popping up. I almost went nuclear on a teacher for misfiling some paperwork, but it all turned out to be a mistake on the part of the office.

I know I bitch in here at times about Hiroshi (No. 1), but he really does look out for me and I am so thankful that he talked me down from that insanity that I had reached. Thanks, bud.

But either way, I was still a mess. We were given three full days to get the second-year students ready for their performance. We were also scheduled to have other classes at the same time.

Yep. Otherwise known as double-booking. What a nightmare.

And yet, come Friday the 14th, the students had it together. The play looked like a play. Props were completed. The stage design was great. A lot of students really stepped up and put their all into the performance. Awesome, awesome stuff to see. And it made it all worth it.

Well, almost, anyway. But I could see what the school was trying to do with having the entire grade of students work together on a single project. They really came together at the end and made it their play.

Another fun bit (for me) was that I had a small part in the play as a bartender. People told me that it was the perfect role for me; I was "a natural". Hmmm, not sure what to think of that...

The response from students, teachers, and parents alike was overall quite good. People enjoyed the play. Some of the new first years have already expressed interest in doing a play this year.

Please, God, please, let me go a couple of weeks without having to discuss the freaking play.

4/14/2006: The Party

After the play was finished and things were cleaned up, a bunch of the teachers headed down to the Nakajima area of town for food and beer. The food was good, the beer was better, and the party was a lot more fun than the party of the previous week. Most everyone headed home after the first party, but a few of us headed over to a jazz bar called "B Flat" for a few more drinks. Being in a particularly good mood, I downed three shots of tequila and a whiskey on the rocks. Then I walked on home.

And slept the sleep of someone who has finally found peace.

Playing Catch-up Part 2

The Saga Continues...

4/7/2006: The Move

Friday. The last day of Spring Vacation. Time to get the last few things ready for the school year.

After finishing up play practice at 2, I headed back to the office to get changed. It was time to move classrooms around.

Desks and chairs were moved all over the place. The third year classrooms, which had been on the second floor, were moved up to the third floor. The second year classrooms were moved to the other end of the second floor. The first year classrooms got moved over to the other side of the third floor. The classroom I used for a lot of my English classes got moved down to the second floor. Storage rooms got turned into classrooms. Stored stuff had to be moved. Students were drafted to help. It was a crazy circus.

But somehow it all got done.

We had a welcoming party for our three new teachers that night at a really cool bar. It looked like someone renovated an old storage house. The roof was high, the spaces were open, and the food was relatively good. Although some weirdness happened at the end of the party, overall it was fun.

Eisaku gave me a ride over to the station, where I met up with Scott, Judy, and Katie. We all headed back to my place and talked for a bit. Katie took off for home, Scott and Judy rolled out their sleeping bags, and I climbed up into my loft after setting all of my alarms for 3:45 AM. We had a big day ahead of us, so it was lights out early that night.

4/8/2006-4/9/2006: The Train Trip

I will write a separate post about this once I finish everything else up. I've got pictures and stuff.

4/9/2006: The E-mail

So I got home safely, completely wiped out from my weekend's adventures (you can read an excellent write-up of them here). I turned on my computer and checked my e-mail before going to bed. There was an absolute doozy of a mail in there.

"Dustin, this is XXXX from Kumamoto. I found your e-mail on the Internet and decided to e-mail you. How are you? I'm sorry if I surprised you."
Wow. Now there's someone I never expected to hear from again. I was completely floored by the fact that she would even think of e-mailing me. We didn't break up under the best of circumstances, and there was a lot of stuff that was going on behind my back that I only found out about later.

I was very bitter about that for a long time. A LONG time. But I'd moved on and was operating under the assumption that I would never hear from her ever again.

And yet, here we are.

Between being extremely tired and completely amazed that I'd gotten an e-mail from her, I laughed for a bit and then wrote an e-mail back, figuring, "Why not? This should be interesting."

A reply came back soon, and we e-mailed for a bit. It was amusing. Here are some of my more favorite quotes:

"I was so surprised to hear from you. I didn't think you'd write me back. I did such horrible things to you."
"So have you gone out with anyone else since we broke up?"
"Did you throw away the stuff I gave you?"
"Wow, this is really nostalgic. It reminds me of when we were going out."

I suppose I could have gotten pissed off at her, but what would have been the point?

I asked her where she found my e-mail, and she said that she ran a search of my name and found a site where someone had posted a scan of my business card that had my e-mail on it.

I asked her why she e-mailed me. "Is my e-mailing you a nuisance?" Not particularly, just a bit unexpected. "I was just wondering how you were doing."

Ooooooooookay. If you say so.

This is one that I just have no idea how to handle. Not that I really care either way. Like I said, it took me quite a while, and even now I can get fired up about things when I talk about her, but I've moved on. I guess this is just one of those things that you have to file under "Weird, Bizarre, and Just Plain Odd".

Playing Catch-up Part 1

Wow. Talk about a hectic couple of weeks.

Here we go!

4/6/2006: The negative side of Shinto

Thursday afternoon, the blizzard cleared up and the snow melted off. Praise be to the heavens!

Hiroshi (No. 1), The New Guy (#1), THE PRINCIPAL and I went to a certain shrine in town that afternoon to talk to the head priest regarding this year's kyudo (Japanese archery) club. I have mentioned before in these pages that I'm not the biggest fan of shrines in Hokkaido due to the strong influence of the Meiji-to-WWII era State Shinto and all of the right-wing leanings that come with it. You can spot these shrines just by the shape of their shrine gates.

And that shrine had one of THOSE shrine gates. And hoo-boy did that priest have those lovely right-wing leanings.

"The Meiji Era education system is what made Japan great."
"The post-WWII education has taken the soul out of Japan."
"Any country that has a Christian religion cannot help but fight wars."
"Any country with a Buddhist religion will never prosper, because people give up all desires, even the good ones."
"Japan never fought a religious war."
"Koizumi's plan to change the Imperial Succession law would have destroyed the last great imperial line in the world. Praise be to the heavens that the Crown Prince's younger brother's wife is now pregnant."
"The current Constitution is a joke. MacArthur took the Philippine Constitution and had it translated. The real Japanese Constitution is the Meiji Era one."

All the while he's avoiding eye contact with me and talking to the three Japanese people that I'm with. And all the while I'm just sitting there gritting my teeth and smiling and wondering how much more abuse I have to take.

Funny thing, though. He brought up Izumo Taisha in the conversation and then Hiroshi (No. 1) told him that he was from the Izumo area and I had lived there for a while, he seemed to warm up to me a bit.

You could also call it "acknowledging my existence".

After he finished lecturing us on this, that, and the other thing, and said our kyudo club could use the shrine's practice facilities, we left. I commented, only half-jokingly, that I was going to go back to my apartment, pack of my stuff, and go back home.

You wonder what the point of being here is when you run into someone like that.

Oh, and I love the claim of Japan never having fought a religious war. Let me clear my throat for a second...

...ahem, ahem...


Shinto, just like any other religion, has many wonderful facets to it. But it can be, and has been, abused by those in power, just like any other religion. For Japan, World War Two was a religious war, and people who try to deny it are fooling themselves.

Kamikaze pilots strapping themselves into planes with a katana strapped to the control stick, screaming "Banzai!" as their planes crash into American ships?

Human Torpedoes (kaiten) - soldiers strapping themselves into torpedo casings, loading up with explosives and getting sealed into those cases, then steering them into American ships, and their deaths?

The elderly, women, and schoolchildren all practicing self-defense with bamboo spears, wanting to take out at least one American soldier before they died? Going into it with the knowledge that they would die?

People breaking into tears when Emperor Hirohito announced on the radio that not only had Japan lost the war and surrendered, but also that he was not a God?

These were creations of State-controlled Shinto, which was used to focus the people into a nationalistic fervor that had them willing to sacrifice everything, even their lives if necessary, for the Emperor.

The majority of Hokkaido shrines are remnants of that Meiji-to-WWII era of that State Shinto. And I ran into a remnant of that way of thinking today.

Monday, April 17, 2006

All Apologies

m(_ _)m
Life has been exceptionally crazy for the past couple of weeks and I haven't been able to update for quite some time.



A play.

A wedding.

(Hmmm. Sounds like the title of a mildly popular British film.)

Things were a bit grim for a while there, but life is starting to look up again. I'm tired as all heck, but I'm back to my "A" game.

Updates will follow soon.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


This morning's weather?

A blizzard.

And not the tasty Dairy Queen kind.


Hey, Mother Nature. You want to cut us some slack here, please?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Spring Sleepiness and Bad Dreams

According to some rumors I've seen on the Internet and some whispered tales in the hallways of Starfish High, it's spring.

I don't believe it. I think it's a dirty lie. For cryin' out loud, it snowed on Sunday night and Monday morning!

However, I am noticing the sun coming up a little earlier each morning and setting a little later each night.

I don't know if the two are connected, but I'm also noticing that I am sleepy as all heck lately. Like come home from work and go straight to bed sleepy. Like wake up to my 6:40 alarm clock but not actually get out of bed until 7:30 (and yet make it to school on time...I'm goooooooood) sleepy. Like "I wonder if I can sneak off and power nap for a couple of hours" sleepy.

So I've been getting a little more sleep than usual as of late.

I've never been one to really need a lot of sleep. Five hours a night works fine for me, plus one power sleep-in weekend each month. I function just fine. My body just doesn't feel tired until late at night.

I'm guessing that this is one of those "Enjoy it while you're young, kiddo" things.

Here's another thing that I'm not sure is connected to the other things or not: lately, I've been having disturbing nightmares. Just dreams where I've woken up feeling really uneasy about things. Sometimes I'm in them, sometimes I'm not. But I always wake up ill at ease.

I'm sure I dream all the time, but I don't usually remember my dreams. Lately, though, these nightmares have been really vivid, and while I never have the same one twice, I have one every night. Especially when I get a lot of sleep.

My theory: I'm sleeping too much and my body can't handle it.
My parents' theory: I never sleep enough, so now that I'm finally getting enough sleep, my mind's trying to take care of all the mental garbage up there.
CG's theory: I watch too many zombie movies.

I would go with CG's theory, even though my dreams haven't involved flesh-eating zombies (yet), except for the fact that I haven't been watching much TV at all lately. Or DVDs.

I don't know what's going on upstairs (not that I ever really have). I wish it would stop, but something tells me this is going to continue for a while.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Fried Pig Goodness

Today was time for another Debuwagon adventure!
(previous Debuwagon adventures can be read about here, here and here)

Eisaku and I piled into his Debuwagon and headed over to the Muroran Port area for lunch. Why not mine? Because my Debuwagon is a non-smoking Debuwagon, and since Starfish High is now officially a non-smoking school (not that people were smoking in the office or anything before...there was just a smoking room), Eisaku is having a rough go of things lately. So we headed out in the smoking Debuwagon to get our collective grub on.

We were headed for Ton-Cook, a pork cutlet restaurant that we had been hoping to visit last time we made a trip out that way. Unfortunately, that day was a Wednesday, which happens to be the day that Ton-Cook is closed. That's why we ended up at Tenkatsu, the tempura rice bowl restaurant. This time, we made sure we went on a day that Ton-Cook was open.

Eisaku and I both had stuff to take care of back at school, so we split early to get out there when the shop 11:30.

We got there early. Only by five minutes, but early all the same. They were opening the doors as we walked up, and we got the okay to go in.

After perusing the menu for a few minutes, we both decided we were intrigued by the "Big Pork Cutlet" on the menu. We asked the waitress how "big" the "Big Pork Cutlet" was, as she said, "Oh, about yay big" and gestured with her hands, showing us something about the size of a DVD case. Okay, not a problem. I was a little concerned until then, because I had my doubts that I could polish off something deliberately listed on the menu as "Big". My concerns were alleviated, and both Eisaku and I ordered a Big Pork Cutlet.

This is the point where I regret not bringing my cell phone along.

When the dang things came out, they were about as big as my head! And I'm only exaggerating a little bit. They were HUGE! Crisp and tender, yes, but HUGE!

The sauce was excellent and the cutlet went down quite well, although I was unable to finish mine off. Eisaku finished his off and had seconds of rice. The man is a GOD.

After heading back to work and taking care of a few things, sleepiness from a big heavy meal hit me.

Then, about an hour before I was done at school, it happened.

The Revenge Of The Pig.

Ugh. Slightly...nauseous. Too...greasy.

Probably served me right. I toughed it out for another hour and then cruised on home.

And went straight to bed.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Hot Springs and Cold Weather

An update on recent misadventures...

Sunday afternoon, I picked up Miller (ALT for the competition) and we headed over to Tenkatsu, the tempura rice bowl shop I posted a picture from in an earlier article. While I was feeling pretty good, Miller was in bad shape. GEOS party the night before...bad news. After munching down more tempura shrimp (Hey Dad, it's still on the list of places to visit when you get over here), we piled back in the new car (I'm wavering between calling it Wasabi-kun v2.0 and Hello-go) and headed up to Noboribetsu Hot Springs.

A hot spring visit is great for sore muscles, stress, and hangovers, one of which I had and one of which Miller was suffering from. While Noboribetsu Hot Springs apparently has 11 different kinds of springs, we hit the sulfur one. It's good for the skin, not so good for the body odor. Basically, you come out of there smelling like a rotten egg. Which isn't a bad thing if the person you're with visited the same hot spring as well.

So anyway, we hit the hot water for a while and relaxed. The trip back home was long, and while I had done little or nothing that morning (this is after sleeping in), for some reason I was wiped out. I dropped Miller off at his place and then cruised home. I'm glad I made it back to Chateau Kidd safely, because I was feeling sleepy at the wheel.

After getting back home, I climbed up into my loft and went to bed. And that's all. I didn't wake up (really wake up...I tossed and turned a few times) until 6:30 the next morning. I slept for half a day! Wow...

After going to work (which mostly consisted of watching play practice and meeting the three new Starfish High teachers), I cruised out to Date. Over to Seamus's apartment to pick up him and Risa. This was to make good on a couple of promises I had made during play practice: hit a hot spring and hit karaoke together. So for starters, we made the trip out to Lake Toya Hot Springs.

FORCED SEGUE ALERT! I can't believe how lucky I am. A huge hot springs resort about forty minutes east of me (Noboribetsu), a huge hot springs resort about forty minutes west of me (Lake Toya). This doesn't include the three hot springs in town. I am a lucky man.

END FORCED SEGUE. Anyway, Risa, Seamus and I went out to Daiwa Ryokan, a Japanese inn that has a bath that draws its source directly from the hot spring and doesn't water it down at all. 100% pure, baby! The bath itself was a little bit on the run-down side, but it wasn't bad. It was relaxing. After I finished up and headed upstairs (following after Seamus, who finished before I did), I bought some ice cream and was complimented on my Japanese ability, after which I was asked (completely seriously), "Are you Japanese?" How am I supposed to respond to that? I played it simple, and laughed it off. I guess with my head shaved and a hat on, my facial features look close enough to a Japanese person's to cause some doubt. Or something. After Risa finished up, we set off in search of ramen.

The first two shops we tried to go to (one in the Lake Toya area, one in Usu) were both closed, so we went on into Date and went to Risa'a favorite ramen shop, "Totsugeki Ramen" (translation: CHARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGE! Ramen.) Decent stuff, pretty tasty, not as good as other ramen I've had, but no complaints. Then it was over to karaoke for a couple of hours.

Ahhh, the good life.

Now I just have to make sure my budget lasts me until next payday. I'm coming up on the limit I've set for myself.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Happy Birthday, Czar!

Hey Czar! Mi compadre!

It's your birthday.

It's your birthday.

It's your birthday.

Your present is in the mail.

Enjoy being 29. Let me know what it's like.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The New Year

The new Japanese fiscal year starts today, as does the new school year.

I find this odd that it coincides with April Fool's Day.

At Starfish High, it meant we had to rearrange our desks in the office and add a couple of new desks to accommodate new teachers. That was about it.

Oh, my new contract also starts today, although there is still a little bit of fine tuning with the wording of the contract that needs to be worked out.

My new car hit the 1000 kilometer mark today. Not even a month yet, and I'm packing on the kilometers.

I headed over to Date today for a party at the house of one of the students who performed in the play. Seamus was there as well, and it was a lot of fun. Pasta and sammiches. Yum.

We watched some TV and played some card games, and generally had a relaxing afternoon.

Then I went for a drive for a while, swinging out to the beach in Toyoura that I visited last November. It was a little cold, what with my new haircut and all, but the sound of the waves was all that could be heard. Nice and peaceful.

Then I cruised back home, making a quick stop in Date to take this picture.

My prayers have been answered! A Date Clinic! Well, it looks like my social life will be looking up from here on out!

Huh? Whaddaya mean it's a health clinic in Date (pronounced dah-tay) City, and not a Date Clinic? That's just not fair. False advertising!

All told, nothing particularly foolish today. Us fools leave today up to everyone else.