Friday, June 30, 2006


Our school festival is tomorrow.

Preparations and general exhaustion have kept me from posting much about things lately, especially since there wasn't much to talk about, but...

The decorations are up.

The classrooms are all set up for various activities.

My head is freshly shaven.

We're all ready to go.

I'm actually pretty excited.


I will be singing with a student band.

Two songs on the main stage, five songs up in the "Live House" room.

The two main stage songs are...

Sum 41, "Makes No Difference"

I don't really like these guys, but it is a fun song to sing.

Jet, "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?"

This one is a good song AND it's fun.

The five "Live House" songs are...

Queen, "We Will Rock You"

I can't help but think of stomping my feet on the concrete floor of the arena while watching the Tri-City Americans...

KISS, "Detroit Rock City"

The rock gods in all their glory...these guys are pretty dang good.

Nirvana, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

The song that started it all. Long Live Seattle Rock.

Twisted Sister, "We're Not Gonna Take It"

I love this video. A true all its cheesy glory. "I carried an M-16 and carry that...that...that...guitarrrrrrrrr."


Mr. Big, "To Be With You"

speaking of cheese...

Fortunately I'm not required to dress up like any of these bands. Whew. I was worried that I was gonna have to dig out my platform boots and my white makeup. Or for that matter, my big hair blond wig.

Pictures will be available with the weekend post. Decorations, band, etc. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

DWAM Part 2

So the mortician and I went out for dinner again tonight.

We went to Oraga-mura, a monja-yaki restaurant in the Wanishi area of Muroran.

The conversation was fun and the food was delicious, but I ordered too much food (hey, I was hungry). We were both stuffed by the time we left.

It was a shorter dinner date than last time, but hopefully we will be able to hang out again soon.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Homestay? WTF?

I am none too happy with my workplace right now.

I was told that while I was in San Diego, I would be able to stay in a bed and breakfast. That meant a lot of freedom to do what I wanted to do.

I was told to fill out a form about myself, one that the students had to fill out so they could be assigned to host families.

I was told it was just so the program could have some information about me.

Watta load of crap.

The principal hinted that I might get placed with a host family, since our school doesn't have the funds for me to stay in a hotel. But when I checked with the program coordinator, he told me that the B&B plan was still in effect.

Watta load of crap.

We had our final parent-student-teacher meeting in preparation of the school trip next month. After it finished, we had a short meeting in the director's office.

I walk in and they tell me that they need to know what time my plane arrives in San Diego so my host family can come and pick me up.

Come again?

Your host family.

My host family?

Your host family.

And everybody laughs.

Yeah. Really &%$#*@ funny.

Damn bait and switch tactics. If you're planning on placing me with a host family, have the &%$@# decency to be up front with me about it.

Geez. I'm 28 freaking years old. If I wanted to participate in a homestay, I'd just stay in Cove the whole time I was in the US.

Makes more sense than staying with some family in San Diego.

I just really feel like I got shafted and wasn't treated with a lot of professional respect in this situation.

Just be up front with me about it.


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Koyoi No Hatago ha Izuko e?

...or, "Where am I staying tonight?"

Today Nabe, Fusako and I got up early and headed east.

We went to check out a couple of Edo period "rest stations" on the Nakasen-do, a road that travelers took between Kyoto (the former capital) and Edo (Tokyo). The two places we went to see were Magome and Tsumago, both located in the Kiso valley on the border of Gifu and Nagano Prefectures. They were very interesting places to visit. There were hatago (old hotels), museums covering the historical relevance of these stations, and shops selling all kinds of snacks (YUM!), which all created a pervasive atmosphere of the Edo Period. Very cool. Plus, Nabe filled me in on all sorts of historical info connected with the area. He would make an awesome history teacher.

So we cruised around all day, checking out these places, and then they took me to the airport to see me off.

We had dinner at an airport restaurant that served Nagoya specialties.

Curry udon noodles and a pork cutlet with a miso sauce. Very, VERY good.

Definitely made up for the atrocity of the day before.

I am really lucky to have friends like Nabe and Fu-chan. Thanks a bunch, you guys. Take care of that baby of yours.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Culinary Travesties, and Other Nagoya Fun

Nabe and Fusako had a lunch that they had to go to today. Something about reservations and not being able to get into the restaurant for six months or something goofy and otherwise outside of my realm of experience. I was free to goof off in the big metropolis that is Nagoya.

They gave me a ride over to the red cross hospital in the Yagoto area of Nagoya, where I had made plans to meet up with three former Starfish High students.

Sanae, Oshita, and Rui.

These three crazy kids are attending Nanzan University, a high-level private university. It's also Catholic, and as Starfish High is catholic as well, we have a bit of an "in" there. As long as the applicants pass the specific requirements, Nanzan sets aside admission spots for our school. With the "demand" to get into "Nanzan" being much more than the "supply" of available spots, Nanzan is a difficult place to get into. But these three did.

What with me being in Nagoya anyway, I contacted these guys and said I'd take them to lunch. Since a free lunch is always a welcome gift to a university student, they readily accepted. I figured it would be a good chance to check up on them as well.

Oshita suggested a restaurant called "Mountain" (sorry, Japanese only). I had been thinking about some stuff myself, but with Oshita's guarantee of "crazy food", I figured it would be entertaining to check out, if nothing else.

So we all met up and walked on over to Mountain. There was a line, but they gave us a menu and told us to wait.


This place had some crazy shtuff on the menu. Banana split spaghetti. Tomato parfait. Sweet bean paste on toast.


There was some normal stuff as well, and I decided to go with something along those lines.

Then they showed us to our seats and I made the worst mistake of my entire life.

On our way to our table, I saw a guy eating something that looked like a big hamburger on rice with some pineapple slices on it. Hmmm. Now that looks tasty. Plus, the menu had listed a hamburger-on-rice item, so I asked our waitress what the hamburger-looking thing was.

"Oh, that's not on the menu, but we can make it. It's called 'Ogura-don'."

I should have recognized that something was amiss when I heard the name, but I figured that was just what they called it. So I ordered one ogura-don. Sanae ordered the tuna and eggplant with tomato sauce spaghetti. Rui ordered the codfish egg spaghetti.

And Oshita ordered this.

That's right, the banana split spaghetti.

We all laughed and teased him. Little did I know what horror was awaiting me.

My meal came out next.

At first glance, it does look a little bit like a huge hamburger on rice, so I think you can understand how I would be fooled.

How wrong I was. I realized that when I heard the word "ogura", it wasn't a random name but a description of the item itself.

"Ogura" is sweet bean paste.

That's right. I ordered a sweet bean paste on rice meal.

One thing I should inform you of here is that I don't particularly like sweet bean paste.

Especially when it comes in huge dollops on top of hot rice coated in a strawberry sauce with kiwi fruit mixed in it.

The second I understood what I'd ordered, I lost my will to eat.

(I will admit that the comedic value of this is priceless, though.)

However, I decided to give it the old college try. (Plus, I was ticked off that the waitress didn't bother to tell me that the "hamburger-looking thing" was not hamburger at all and decided to eat it out of sheer rage.)

But rage will only take you so far, especially when you're dealing with THIS.


The Nanzan Kids told me that I had to get a photo of the expression on my face, so here it is.

I fought a brave, but ultimately futile battle. I got about halfway through, but even with assistance from normal food, I just couldn't choke it down.

The white flag.

So I was pretty much out of commission for a while. We all went out for coffee afterwards. The coffee was good, but my stomach didn't like me very much.

The four of us hung out for a while, taking a tour of Nanzan U. Nice place.

Sanae and Rui had stuff to do, but Oshita joined me for a show that night at a club in Nagoya. My friends from The Bon (Scroll down to the picture. The two on the left are my friends.) were there, playing . Great show, although it would have been nice to see a little more of them. Their set was a bit short.

A rather ecletic group of bands played, but it was a fun show. I got to say hello to my friends before we cruised out of there, as well. Oshita and I parted ways, and Nabe came and picked me up.

It was altogether a good, although hot, day. The Nanzan Kids were doing well, which was something we were concerned about back at SH. And although my stomach still is not very fond of me, it is starting to consider taking me back.

Time heals all kindsa wounds.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Off To Nagoya!

I'm in Nagoya this weekend.

Shimane last weekend, Nagoya this miles are starting to add up.

Originally, I was going to spend this weekend down in Mie Prefecture taking part in a formal shrine visit to The Grand Shrine of Ise. A friend of mine in Tokushima was planning on starting up a group dedicated to making pilgrimages to shrines around the country that enshrine deities that protect certain parts of the body. Visit all of them and you're protecting your entire body. It's a pretty cool concept that has involved a lot of research on his part to find these shrines.

I bought my tickets early in order to get a decent discount on them, and was pretty excited for the trip.

Then, a few weeks ago, I got a call from his wife.

"My husband's had a stroke and is recovering. He's slowly getting better, but he's in no shape to conduct that meeting in Ise. We're going to reschedule it for some other time."

Wow. A stroke. Poor guy. But at least he's doing okay.

So I figured I would return my tickets for a full refund.

That's what I figured. What actually happened was that my travel agent told me I could only get about half of the money I paid for the tickets back, because I'd bought them with the early bird discount.


So I said the heck with it and made plans to visit my friends and some Starfish High graduates in the Nagoya area over the weekend. A good chance to get out of Hokkaido and to catch up with some folks I hadn't seen for a while.

So I called up my good buddy Nabe and made plans to stay at his place over the weekend. He and his wife Fusako were going to be busy on Saturday, so I e-mailed the three SH grads and made plans to meet up with them as well.

Everything was set, and today I took off from work and caught that plane to Nagoya.

They parked the dang plane at the very far end of the airport, so I had to march it on over to the train station double-quick to catch a train to Nagoya Station, where Nabe and Fusako picked me up. We cruised back to their place and had some drinks and sat around and talked until the wee hours of the morning.

We had a couple of reasons to celebrate.

  1. Nabe, Fusako and I have been friends for ten years now. They came to Central on the Asia University America Program back in April of 1996. Nabe lived in the same dorm as I did, and we quickly became friends. Although he won't admit it, I figure I kind of freaked him out at first. This weird 18-year-old kid comes into his room one day and hands him a CD of the Hideo Nomo song (a reworking of "The Banana Boat Song" - Hi-DAY-o, Hi-Day-ay-ay-o) because he has a Hideo Nomo poster up in the room. A tad freaky. But we became fast friends and have kept in touch ever since. He's the one that suggested I study Japanese. He's visited me in the States a couple of times, and he was one of the few Tokyo friends of mine who bothered to come out to Shimane to visit me. He had me make a speech at his and Fusako's wedding last year. He's an awesome guy and I'm proud to say he's my friend.
  2. Nabe and Fusako are going to be PARENTS at the end of the year. (Fusako stayed away from the booze for this reason.) Congratulations, you guys.
It was really good to see those guys again.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Just When I Thought Japan Couldn't Get Any Weirder

Editor's note: This post is not for the weak of spirit, or for those offended by jokes about porn.

I went shopping at Daiso, the Hyaku-en Shop, today.

Basically it's the Japanese version of The Dollar Store.

Jack and I had to go and buy some stuff for our decoration groups. Daiso is always the first place we look, because stuff is cheap there.

Now I've mentioned in these pages before that whenever I think I've got Japan figured out, it comes back and lays the smack down on me.

It happened again today.

I was walking past the 100 yen CD rack, when a rack of CDs caught my eye.

Now that's a little odd.

I turned to Jack.

"Hey Jack! These CD covers look like porn jackets, really cheap porn jackets."

Jack came over for a look, and then laughed. "Yeah, they do."

Then, I looked at the sign posted above the rack.

It said:

It is strictly prohibited to sell or show the VCDs and DVDs lined up here to anyone under the age of 18.



Those weren't CDs.

I picked one up and looked at the back cover.


For 300 yen a pop. (Ooh. Perhaps that's a bad choice of wording.)

When Daiso says they take care of all your needs, I guess they REALLY mean it.

This country never fails to surprise me.

Monday, June 19, 2006

School Festivities

Starfish High's school festival is coming up soon.

July 1 - 2, to be exact.

I have been given the responsibility of decorating part of the school. Let me rephrase that. To be in charge of a group of students who are decorating part of the school.


I have no idea what I'm supposed to be doing.

I'm still exhausted from the Shimane trip, and I tried to follow the discussion the students were having about how they wanted to decorate things, but it just wasn't happening.

So I'm kind of lost.

I guess the students know what they're doing, though. They have some good ideas and a lot of motivation, it seems. I just need to help the group stay focused and get their job done.

We'll see what happens.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Father's Day

I don't have a cute little train ticket this time around. Unfortunately there are no "Love Your Father" stations in Japan.

I do have this picture though.

It says, "A father dreams of being a kid again."

Not a bad slogan.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. As Mom says, we'll always be Kidds.

I Have Returned

...and my name ain't even Patton.

I woke up this morning and made my way over to the onsen on the south side of the station. First rule of day-after recovery: hit the onsen and sweat it out.

Which is what I did.

Since I'd had to make a quick change of plans and go back to Izumo, on top of the fact that I hadn't contacted that many people about my going back to Shimane, I was without anyone to hang out with. And I had an entire day to kill off. My flight back didn't leave until 4:30.

So I stuffed my bags in a locker and rented a bike.

I pedaled around town a bit, swinging by some old hangouts, and then made my way out to the Jinzai area of Izumo on the west side of town. An old student of mine lives out there, and I decided to bike out and visit her and her family.

I hung out there for a while, joining them for lunch. It was cold somen, a traditional summer meal, if you can call it that. When the weather is as hot and as humid as it gets in Japan, people tend to lose their appetites. Somen is a simple food that goes down easily and cools you off, which makes it popular in the summer. I forgot about somen, living in Hokkaido.

It was nice. I was hoping to eat some Izumo soba, but the somen made for a nice simple meal.

My student's mom told me that they would give me a ride, which I interpreted as a ride back to the station. Turned out, she meant the airport. We didn't figure out that there had been confusion until we got back to the station with the bike in the back of their car.

I thought I had to get back earlier, yet they (the mom and dad) were telling me that there was plenty of time still.

So they took me all the way out to the airport. Very cool.

I did a little bit of souvenir shopping at the airport, which included buying this.

Gorilla Boogers. It's actually dried sweet black beans, but I love the name. Gorilla Boogers. Apparently, the guy that made these translated the product name and is selling them in zoos around the world.

Shimane. Your gateway to the world.

Then I caught my plane to Tokyo, and another back to Hokkaido. It was cold here when I got back.


Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Reception and Everything After

I got a ride from Yaegaki Shrine over to the Ichibata Hotel on the north side of Lake Shinji. After dropping off my bags at the hotel, I went for a walk over by the castle for some snacks. Croquettes at Kitagaki Meat Shop (yum), and sweet flour dumplings at a little tea shop behind the castle (double yum). Then I walked back to the hotel.

I had worked up a bit of an unfortunate sweat, but the walk was still pretty nice.

I came back and signed in, paying for my dinner and getting the video camera out to continue with my taping duties. I also talked with Mike about my lodging for the night.


Mike and Nina had told me that I could crash at their apartment that night, since they were going to be staying in the hotel. When I asked Mike for the keys, he got a really shocked look on his face and said, "Ah."

"There's some other friends of ours staying there, actually."

Hmmm. This presents a problem.

"We'll figure something out. Don't worry."

Then, when it came time to go into the reception area, Nina said, "Hey Dustin, can you figure out something?"

Oh. Sure. No problem. It's only 6 PM and the reception's just starting. I'm sure I'll be able to call and find a place to stay.

I made a call to Kenji, the owner of Liberate, a bar in Izumo. He had told me back in March that there was a room I could use any time I needed to.

I needed to.

He said it wasn't a problem. There was a mattress there for me to sleep on, and some of the other bar workers would take care of it. Okay. Cool. Problem solved. But now I need to get out of Matsue and back over to Izumo.

Whatever. Enjoy the reception.

What a reception it was. Over 150 people there easily, mostly Japanese, mostly apparently Nina's friends. I ran into a lot of folks I knew, from other ALTs to teachers I'd worked with in other schools to friends I hadn't seen for quite a while.

Nina's a popular lady in Shimane.

There were speeches, dances, signing, playing of songs, and the consumption of much food and drink. Pretty fun stuff. I translated a speech for Mike's mom and dad. (Really nice people, by the way. You can tell where their son gets his personality from.)

Nina and Mike did something really cool at the reception. Instead of the usual take-home gift (hikide-mono), they made a donation in each guest's name to a foundation the builds schools in Vietnam. Nina was born in Vietnam, and has organized fund-raising events and school-building trips to Vietnam while she's been over here. I wonder where she gets the energy. Anyway, very cool.

Here's a shot of me with the bride and groom when they came around to our table.

I had to get out of there right after the party, although a second party was planned. I had a train to catch.

I made a quick stop by Filaments to give Imagawa-san some CDs that I'd promised him the last time I was in town. We talked for a bit, and then it was off to the station, onto a train, and over to Izumo.

I made the rounds of a couple of bars and then went over to Liberate. I wanted to stay up for the U.S. vs. Italy World Cup match, because I'd heard it was going to be on at 1 AM.


4 AM.

I gave up and went to bed on that mattress in a weird cluttered room in a weird cluttered area behind the bar.

I kinda defied definition. But I was so tired and intoxicated that I didn't really care.

A Side Note On Yaegaki Shrine (Rated R)

The first time I ever visited Yaegaki Shrine was back in October of 1998, right after I'd come to Shimane University as an exchange student. My friends Kazu and Satoshi told me that they wanted to take me to "the greatest shrine in Japan".

Never mind that it was 8 at night and dark outside.

"Okay guys, show me this shrine."

We drove out to the south side of town to Yaegaki Shrine. At first glance, it looked like any other shrine you can see anywhere in Japan.

Like this.

"Umm, okay. It's dark and there doesn't seem to be anything too special about this place..."

"Follow me."

We walk around the left side of the shrine to another small shrine set up there.


I don't see. Looks just like any other...




Oh my.

Oh my.

My oh my.

It's a fertility shrine.


I spent the next ten minutes laughing my ass off.

Because, ya know, there's a bunch of..."Richards"...just...hanging out. Literally.

Places like this can be found all over Japan, most notably Tagata Shrine in Aichi Prefecture. I say "most notably" because it was the most obvious fertility shrine I've ever seen. (Click here to see some pictures from the fertility festival.) I think some places try to have a little fun with the image they present, while some places are a little more serious. I think Yaegaki Shrine tries to be a bit more on the serious side of things. But either way, people go to these shrines to pray for help in getting pregnant or for help in farming fertile crops.

Anyway, while it may not be "the greatest" shrine in Japan, Yaegaki Shrine is a pretty fun place to visit.

I do miss the shop that used to be across the street from the shrines that sold little candy souvenirs that reflected the "fertility" nature of the shrine.

Candy for both "him" and "her", if you know what I mean.

The Wedding

My main reason for coming back to Shimane this weekend was that Nina and Mike, two JET friends of mine, were getting married.

Nina came to Shimane the year after I did, and Mike a year after her. I don't know when they hooked up, but they made a great couple from the first time I saw them. They decided to get married in Shimane in a full-out Shinto wedding.

After meeting my friend Jara in Izumo and cruising out to Izumo Taisha (I make sure I at least try to get out there every time I go back), I caught a train to Matsue and a bus out to Yaegaki Shrine.

The weather was stupid hot. I had gone from 9 degrees C (48 F) to 25 C (77 F) overnight. Add 30 ~ 40% humidity to the equation and you have one uncomfortable Dustin.

I'd lived in Shimane for six years, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but it was still stupid hot there. I apologized to them ahead of time, saying that there was no way I was wearing a suit. A tie and a nice shirt was as far as I was willing to go. Melting away is not one of my top priorities.

I got out there at two and rested in the air-conditioned waiting room. The wedding party arrived around 2:30, and I snapped a pic of the couple and their families.

Personally, I think Mike's dad's beard rocked.

I was assigned filming duties for the ceremony, so I had to move around a lot and try and catch all of the facets of the wedding. The blessing, the prayers, the flute and taiko, the drinking of the holy sake, the wedding pledge...

It was a very nice ceremony, and a lot of people showed up for it. While only the families were allowed into the shrine itself, the rest of us were able to watch from outside. It was cool to see.

A simple ceremony in an out-of-the-way area. Nicely done, Mike and Nina. Congratulations.

Friday, June 16, 2006

I Have Arrived!

So I flew into Izumo via Tokyo.

Haneda Airport was unreal. The humidity was killer. It reminded me of when I flew over in July of 2000 to start working here. I flew Business Class (the first and most likely only time I'll ever do that) and had a really relaxing flight over. The second I stepped off the plane and into the walkway to the airport, I was hit with a gust of hot, wet air. Ick. Bad memories.

(Side note: the Y2K crop of JETs were the last ones to be flown over on Business Class. I love to brag about that to newcomers. The look of sheer disgust is always priceless.)

A run across the airport to the gate to my connecting flight to Izumo left me sweaty and uncomfortable. Lord I hate humid weather.

I got into Izumo around 8. I stepped outside into the warm evening air. I heard "Dustin?" from behind me, so I turned around and saw Imagawa-san's (the guy who runs Filaments over in Matsue) wife. We talked for a couple of minutes, and then she took off for Matsue. I had to laugh, because I had the feeling that there had to be somebody I knew on that airplane.

My friend Kumi met me at the airport and drove me to Izumo. After I checked in to my room, we went out for dinner, swinging by Bamboo to say hi to the Ishibashis. The surprised look on their faces was priceless.

So Kumi and I went to a grill bar called Kiku and had dinner. The master of the place remembered who I was. He saw my buzzcut and asked if I'd been drafted and had come back to Izumo to tell everyone goodbye. I said no (thank the Lord). Dinner was good, and Kumi and I talked for a while before we headed back over to Bamboo.

While we were there, I got a nice little piece of info. Seems that Master got a hold of ten bottles of some REALLY INCREDIBLE awamori.

Awamori is distilled from rice and stored in clay pots. The longer it's stored, the richer the flavor, and the pricier it becomes. This stuff is from a kura (distillery) in Okinawa that found a barrel of awamori in their warehouse. Company records show it being there 13 years ago, but there is no record of it being made. Basically, they have no idea how old it is. And it has a nice amber hue from being stored in the barrel, which is something you never see with awamori. The kura decided to bottle it and sell it off. They got 2000 bottles of it. That's all.

This stuff is 60%. You take it is small sips. Very good, but it'll get ya quick.

I'd really enjoyed the stuff when I tried it, so I (half) jokingly asked, "What's a guy gotta do to get a hold of a bottle of that stuff?"

Master said, "Pay me what I paid, $50, and you can have one."

Hmmm. Only 2000 bottles in existence. Awamori that tastes and looks like whiskey. No idea of how old it is. Damn tasty. And I can get a bottle for $50?

No hesistation. I paid, and now I have my own bottle.

I guaran-damn-tee that this is worth every penny.

But I have to wait until I have good cause to drink it. This stuff isn't something you just kick back and drink.

As is da rigeur with a trip back to Izumo, I made a round of the bars in Daikan-cho. I ran into Kat-chan, who was out drinking with some Yotsugane teachers, and we had a good laugh about me being back. Good times.

I made sure I swung by Ken's Box and caught up with Minako and the gang.

After being out far too late going to this bar and that one, I cruised back to my hotel and went to bed.

Off To Shimane!

I hopped on the 7 AM Super Hokuto and got back to Muroran with about ten minutes to spare. Out of the station, out to my car, and off to work.


Some test explanations and a few other paperwork things. I was more than a bit out of it. Although I'm glad I didn't fall asleep on the train. I could have ended up in Hakodate.

That would have been a bad thing, seeing as it's time for me to hit the road and get out to New Chitose Airport.

I'm gettin' off of work early and gettin' the heck outta here.

My good friends Nina and Mike are gettin' hitched, and it's my duty to be there.

Plus, it gives me an excuse to go back to Shimane and see people.

It's gonna suck though. June in Shimane was never fun while I was there.

Humidity. Avoid it at all costs.

Especially if you've been living somewhere that has a noticeable LACK of humidity.

Like Muroran.

Anyway, I'm outta here!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Fun In Sapporo

I'm heading back to Shimane tomorrow, and I'm goofing off in Sapporo tonight. Never mind that I have to be back in Muroran and at work by 8:30 tomorrow morning. It's all good...I hope.

Last week, I got a phone call from Sekiguchi-san, a friend of mine who lives in Hyogo Prefecture in western Honshu. He told me that a mutual friend of ours from Wakayama would be coming up to Sapporo on Thursday, and I should go up and see him.

Thursday night? I've got work Friday, and I'm flying to Shimane that evening for a wedding that weekend. Yeesh.

"We've got a hotel reserved for you. Go up and talk with him."

Wow. That was fast.

This friend of mine from Wakayama is Higashiyama-san. He is a Buddhist priest at Renge-in, a temple in the mountain temple complex of Koya-san. I'd heard that Koya-san was a REALLY cool temple complex, and when I told Sekiguchi-san that I wanted to check it out, he told me I should stop by Renge-in and talk with Higashiyama-san.

Cool guy.

Likes America. Likes to talk. Good guy all around.

He even let me stay at his temple for free when I took a road trip around the Kii Peninsula later that year.

We last saw each other when we participated in a festival on Iki Island back in the fall of 2003. So I was pretty excited to catch up with him again.

He wasn't going to get into Sapporo until late Thursday evening, but I headed out early anyway. Another Starfish High teacher was in Sapporo for a conference, so I met him at Sapporo Station and we went over to Ittetsu, the damn good ramen shop.

I feel like whenever I talk about Ittetsu, I'm re-enacting that diner sequence from Twin Peaks. "Damn good pie."

After the ramen, I putzed around Sapporo for a bit, and then made my way over to the hotel where I was going to be staying.

Royton Sapporo.

Apparently, one of the groups affiliated with Renge-in is led by the guy who built this hotel, so Higashiyama-san "made some calls" and got me a free room.

Big place.

Elevators on the side of the building, so you can see the city fall away from you as you go up to your room.

The city fell quite a ways away from me, as I was up on the 18th floor.

Vertigo, anyone?

So I headed into my room and just relaxed for a while, waiting to hear from Higashiyama-san.

Finally, around 10:30, my phone rings. It's the front desk.

"Mr. Higashiyama has arrived. Shall we connect you?"


"Kiddo? Can you come up to the 20th floor?"

"Okay. Be right there."

So I head on up, in my room slippers, and arrive at a restaurant. It's a classy-looking place, and they take one look at me and get suspicious. Then they ask me if I'm waiting for Higashiyama-san. I say yes, after which they tell me that room slippers aren't allowed in their fine establishment.

Fair enough.

So I go back to my room and change into my sneakers.

I'm glad they didn't tell me to put on a tie.

I head on in, and there's Higashiyama-san and some older fella whose name I never caught. We sit down and enjoy an excellent meal with an even more excellent view of the city. Top floor of the hotel restaurants with big windows tend to provide just such a view.

Crab legs. Veal. Sushi. A selection of fine cheeses. Brandy. Chivas Regal. Life is sooooo good to me sometimes.

We talk about an upcoming conference in Nara this September. Higashiyama-san also tells me that if I ever have people visiting and need to get them some Sapporo lodging, just give him a call. He can "make some calls" and get a room for me any time. And not just Sapporo either. [Hint, hint, Mom and Dad.]

It's good to know people with connections.

After we finished up dinner, I said thanks to Higashiyama-san and his friend and headed back to my room.

Set my alarm for 5:20 AM.

Gotta catch a train to get back to work on time.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Dinner With A Mortician

In celebration of the end of Mid-Terms, and the fact that the weather in Muroran had gone from complete bollocks to halfway decent, I went out for dinner.

You may have seen mentions of my friend Risa in these pages before. Risa is a former Starfish High student, back before Starfish High was Starfish High. She introduced me to a friend of hers who also attended Starfish High back in the day. We'd never met face to face, but we've been e-mailing each other for a couple months now.

Today consisted of administering three tests and then correcting them, so it was a fairly easy day. After a bit of mailing Risa's friend back and forth, I sent her a mail asking her if she'd like to go to dinner that evening. The reply followed soon after.

"Sure! Let's go!"


So after work, I cruised back home, changed out of my monkey suit (slacks, shirt, and tie) into something I feel more like myself in (jeans, t-shirt, and a plaid overshirt), and gave her a call. She said she'd come and pick me up, so I told her to meet me over by the local post office.

She came and picked me up and we headed over to a nice little restaurant in Tonkeshi that I'd wanted to check out for a while now. It's a place that specializes in Japanese-style barbecue, or yakiniku.

I should add here that I was feeling a little overwhelmed. I figured it would be a laid-back dinner between a couple of friends, which is why I didn't bother trying to be too fancy. When she pulled up at the post office and picked me up, she was wearing a dress and high heels. And, my oh my (as Dave Niehaus says), she was looking very nice. I talked to a friend about this a little later, and we came to the conclusion that that kind of outfit is casual wear for ladies over here.

Either way, leave it to me to show up in jeans, a t-shirt, and a plaid overshirt. Yeesh.

Anyway, on to dinner. We got a table and placed our order, although we were a little worried, as our waiter was a trainee and didn't seem very confident in what he was doing. (He did fine.)

And we ate and drink and talked. And talked. And talked some more.

It was a lot of fun. She works at a funeral home, and we ended up talking a lot about her work. Fascinating stuff, although some of what we talked about may not have been the most appropriate content for an evening meal. Cremations. Cleaning up the ashes. Dealing with bodies that are a tad...ripe.

She likes horror movies. Zombie movies. You'd think her profession and zombies movies wouldn't mix. I take the line that it's a natural match.

We were at the restaurant for four and a half hours. Just talking, for the most part.

I haven't had that much fun in a long time.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

One More Month!

More mid-terms today, but WHO CARES!

I will be heading back to America in one month!

It will be my first trip back since March of 2005.

I will be home for almost forty days ("home" being the homeland...I will only be home in Cove for about ten days).

I will be in San Diego for a month, chaperoning twelve Starfish High students while they participate in an intensive language course.

I will get to go to Tijuana for an afternoon! I'm practicing my Spanish already. "Dos tequilas, por favor."

Good Mexican food. Good pizza. Good home cookin'. Seeing friends. Seeing family. Eating good food.

I am going to have to exercise my lard butt off. Fortunately, I have the free time in SD to do it. Maybe.

Anyway. One more month! America, here I come!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Mid-Terms Are Here

...and in honor of the educational theme of this week, I share with you this e-mail, sent to me by my (recently hitched) sister.
This is the message that the Pacific Palisades High School (California) staff voted unanimously to record on their school telephone answering machine.

This is the actual answering machine message for the school. This came about because they implemented a policy requiring students and parents to be responsible for their children's absences and missing homework. The school and teachers are being sued by parents who want their children's failing grades changed to passing grades - even though those children were absent 15-30 times during the semester and did not complete enough schoolwork to pass their classes. The outgoing message:

"Hello! You have reached the automated answering service of your school.
In order to assist you in connecting to the right staff member, please listen to all the options before making a selection:

* To lie about why your child is absent - Press 1
* To make excuses for why your child did not do his work- Press 2
* To complain about what we do - Press 3
* To swear at staff members - Press 4
* To ask why you didn't get information that was already enclosed in your newsletter and several flyers mailed to you - Press 5
* If you want us to raise your child - Press 6
* If you want to reach out and touch, slap or hit someone - Press 7
* To request another teacher, for the third time this year - Press 8
* To complain about bus transportation - Press 9
* To complain about school lunches - Press 0
* If you realize this is the real world and your child must be accountable and responsible for his/her own behavior, class work, homework and that it's not the teachers' fault for your child's lack of effort: Hang up and have a nice day!"
I'm off to administer some tests now!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Da Weekend

It's June.

And it's still cold in Muroran.

We are still using the heaters at my school some days.

In June.

The plan this weekend was to head out and climb a mountain, maybe another volcano.

That was the plan, anyway.

Woke up Saturday. Rain. All day long. Yeah. Not exactly conducive to mountain climbing.

So I played a video game instead.

Ryu Ga Gotoku ("As A Dragon"). Known in the U.S. as "Yakuza". Not even released in the U.S. yet.

And one incredible game.

You are Kazuma Kiryu, a member of a Yakuza outfit. You get sent to prison for something you didn't do, and then return to your city ten years later.

It is an incredibly detailed game. You can go and eat a beef bowl. You can shop at a convenience store. You can go into bars and drink. You can hit at the batting cages. You can gamble. You can play that crane game where you try and get the toy out of the box.

And you can get in street brawls. Lots of them.

The story is well-written, well enough to make you a little weepy near at the end. Bravo to the creators.

So I was immersed in this game all day Saturday. In the evening, I got a phone call from Katie inviting me to a Mexican food party at her place.

Hmmm? My interest, as they say, was piqued.

So I saved my game and cruised on out to Katie's, an hour late but just in time for the food. Damn I'm good.

Good fajitas. Excellent fajitas. Mmmm, yeah. Then came the England vs. Paraguay match in World Cup soccer action. Judy, who also made the party, was an absolute mess, being that she's from England and the English always seem to expect the absolute worst. Or maybe that's just her. But England managed to pull out a win, despite being "pants".

Fun stuff.

I cruised back home and spent way to much time playing my Yakuza game.

Sunday was much of the same. Lousy weather and Yakuza action interrupted by a concert in Nakajima. Good times all around. A nice lazy weekend at home.

And now you know why it took me so long to post up these articles.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Hail Bacchus!

So we had a student teacher at Starfish High for the past two weeks...

She was a student here back before the school mutated from Ben High School into a Starfish.

She's studying to be a teacher, and came back here to get her real-life shock taken care of.

I'm guessing she handled things pretty well.

As she's leaving tomorrow, we decided to have a farewell party for her tonight. Pretty much all of the staff showed up, and we all drank and ate and talked and laughed and had a good time.

A startling majority of the food had mayo on it, though. This severely limited my dining options for the evening.






However, I made my first tentative steps into the Wonderful World of Whiskey, and by the end of the night, I didn't really care about it anymore. Not that I ate any, of course. It just didn't bother me as much.

After the first party finished, we went to another bar for the second party. This bar is the favorite watering hole of Starfish High's own Yakuza Sensei. Twelve teachers tried to cram into a room designed to seat about only eight people. Not the most comfortable of arrangements.

While the first party had been a lot of fun, the second party went downhill pretty fast. The other teachers started talking about work stuff.

I don't know what it is about alcohol and Japan, but people here really seem to LOVE to talk about work while they're drinking.

You stay way too late at the office.

You go out drinking with your co-workers.

You talk about work.

No wonder a lot of salarymen and office workers in this country die from overwork or end up committing suicide. People never get away from the office!

Jack and I split a little early. His wife came and picked us up, and she was kind enough to give me a ride home. Yay!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Visa: Don't Leave Home Without It

A few weeks ago, I had to make a trip out to Tomakomai to apply for an extension on my visa.

It expires on July 16.

The only problem with that is that on July 16th, I won't be in Japan.

I'll be back home in Cove.

And, since the paperwork and background checks and phone taps and whatever else spying on me the Japanese government has to do takes a while, I had to get out there and get it done.

The application process is actually pretty entertaining. You need your passport, your foreigner's card, proof of employment, and a copy of your income report from the previous year. Done, done, done, and done. You give all those to the office worker and move on to filling out the extension application. Here's where it gets to be entertaining.

You can choose the length of your visa. "One year, or three years?" Let's see, pay four thousand yen this year, four thousand yen again next year when I have to reapply again, and so on and so on...


I can pay four thousand yen every three years. Hmmm...let me see...yep, the three year visa, if you please.

For some reason, that choice just strikes me as funny.

So I filled out all the paperwork and cruised back to Muroran.

Last week, I got a phone call from the office in Tomakomai. "Your visa extension application has been accepted, sir. Please come out to the office to pick it up as soon as possible."

Okay. So today was the day.

Even though I only have one class on Thursdays, for some reason I was busy busy busy all morning long and didn't get out of Muroran until around 2. I had to be out there by 4, but I had to pay for gas and for some stamps.

These stamps are called "shuunyuu inshi", and they are proof of payment or something along those lines. I don't really understand their purpose or function. But I DO understand that I need them. Apparently you can't just pay the guy at the counter the money for your visa; you have to go to a post office and buy a stamp that you affix to your payment form. Strange stuff.

I made it out to the office a little after 3 and slapped that four thousand yen stamp down on the payment form.

So now I'm okay to stay in Japan for another three years.

I just can't leave.

Let me explain.

Your visa is basically the government's permission to stay in the country for whatever reason, be it tourism, education, entertainment, etc. However, with only a visa in your passport, once you leave the country, it is no longer valid. Sorry. Tough luck. Buh-bye now.

So if you want to leave the country and be allowed to come back in on the same status as which you left, you have to apply for a re-entry permit as well. Three thousand yen for a one-shot permit, or six thousand yen for a multiple (as many times as you like) permit.

Again, the math points to the correct decision. Since the re-entry permit is good as long as your visa is valid, if you plan on leaving Japan more than two times during your visa's period of validity, it's better to go with the more expensive re-entry permit.

So I slapped a six thousand yen stamp on THAT form.

And now I'm okay to be here for three more years and leave and come back as many times as I want.

Sorry, Mom and Dad. It looks like I'm staying for a while longer.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Oh My...

Courtesy of kitten508 over at YouTube, I bring you...

...a snoring cat.

Well, The Apocalypse Never Came...

At least here in Japan, we made it past 6/6/06 with no trouble, so in celebration of the continued existence of the world, here are some recent photos...

Aah, tequila. In a cactus-shaped shot glass.

These good-luck charms can be bought at the Muroran Hachimangu Shrine on the south side of town. This town has a thing for whales, I guess. They say you can sometimes see them out in the ocean.

This...pretty much defies description. It's painted on the side of a sewage treatment plant. I had no idea that Muroran's swans were so well trained.

A sign at a movie theater in Sapporo. Pop quiz, hotshot. How exactly does one "smork"?

A clothing store in Sapporo called "Skank". That almost beats "Nudie Clothing" for the "Least Appealing Clothing Shop Name" award. Almost. Plus, the mascot does nothing to help things.

Monday, June 05, 2006

My New TV Stand

So I had this old decrepit TV stand in my apartment.

It had a heavy TV on the top of it, and it tilted slightly to the right.

I tried several times to tighten the screws in it, but the tilt never straightened out. I became worried for the safety of said TV, my Playstation 2, my DVD player, and my stereo, which were all loaded into the same stand.

I got fed up with it on Saturday night, and took it apart. This forced me to go out and buy a new one (which I had been contemplating for some time, but never got around to).

So on Sunday, I bought one in Tomakomai. I had to put it together by myself, and when I got ready to, the instructions said I needed glue.

I didn't have any glue, so I "borrowed" some from school today.

After taking all the parts out of the box, it turned out that I didn't need to "borrow" that glue after all; there was some in with all the parts.

So I put it together, glued and put in screws, set it all up, and now I have a new entertainment corner in my room.

My room feels a little more spacious now, although you can still see some of the mess. Ah well, it wouldn't be my apartment if it wasn't messy.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Where's The Beef?

In Shiraoi, apparently.

Judy and I hit the road today and headed out to Shiraoi to get a look at the famous Shiraoi Beef Festival, June 3rd and 4th, 2006.

I mean, they roast a whole cow, for crying out loud. What reason would I have NOT to go?

So we cruised out there, making fairly decent time until we hit the festival turnoff.

Then we hit traffic the likes of which Shiraoi only sees twice a year. It took 45 minutes to get from Muroran to Shiraoi, and another hour to go over the bridge and drive out to the festival parking lot.

So we parked the car and walked over to check out the festivities.

We walked into what I believe to be the world's largest barbecue.

While we were too late to see the whole-roast-cow portion of the festival, what we did see was pretty amazing.

A grassy area filled with tables with small charcoal grills set up so that people could have a mini-barbecue.

Stands and stands of festival snacks. Cotton candy, shaved ice, fried chicken, squid-on-a-stick (only in Japan...)

Men waiting in line for the restroom. (Judy was very excited by this sight. She even took a picture to have proof.)

A stage set up for live music. We saw the band Hinokiya. They were laying down some smooth grooves. Very cool.

I bought a steamed bun with Shiraoi Beef inside it, and it was quite tasty. We didn't pull up a table or eat anything else, but we walked around and just took it all in.

These folks in Shiraoi know how to party. Next year, if I'm still here, I am SO there!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Internet Tag

So apparently I've been tagged.

I am, as the game goes, "it".

Courtesy of Jason.

Well, if I'm "it", then I'd better play by the rules. Here goes.

4 Jobs I've Had in My Life:

office work at a steel distributor
peer advisor for Japanese exchange students at my university
elementary school/junior high school/high school English teacher

4 Movies I Could Watch Over and Over Again:

Army Of Darkness (I've seen it at least thirty LEAST.)
The Iron Giant
Dark City
anything with Bogey

4 Places I Have Lived:

Pocatello, Idaho
Pasco, Washington
Ellensburg, Washington
Shimane, Japan

4 TV Shows I Love To Watch:

Magnum P.I.
Brisco County Jr.
Seven Days
anything Star Trek

4 Websites I visit:
ESPN Page 2
Strong Bad E-Mails
Ask A Ninja

4 Places I have Been on Vacaction:

Hateruma Island, Okinawa
Buchenwald, Germany
Victoria, British Columbia
Austin, Texas

4 Favorite Foods:

Canadian Bacon and Pineapple PIZZA!
BBQ Chicken and Cashew PIZZA! (at Village Pizza in Roslyn, WA)
Mom's Thanksgiving Stuffing
Soba noodles

4 Places I would rather be right now:

Back home in Cove
Tipping back a cold one in Daikan-cho
Relaxing on a beach on Iriomote Island
somewhere spending time with CG

4 Bands I Can Listen to over and over again:

They Might Be Giants
Afghan Whigs / Twilight Singers
eastern youth
Johnny Cash

4 Pet Peeves:

people driving like morons
DJs who talk over the songs they are playing
students who sleep in class
people who suck air through their teeth when they talk

4 People I am Tagging: