Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Victors!

The local team did it!

They're national champions!

They've won the Series!

Unfortunately, this post is not about the Seattle Mariners. (sigh)

The Nippon Ham Fighters baseball team, in their third year in Hokkaido, have just won the Japan Series.

They were originally based in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, where, until they moved up here, six of the twelve Japan League teams were based.

In an impressive move of sharing the wealth, Nippon Ham moved their team up here. (Well, that and the fact that since most people in the Tokyo area flock to the Yomiuri Giants (ugh) games and none others, they couldn't pack in the fans.)

And now they're the champs.

Not that I've been a huge fan, or that I've even been to see a game of theirs, but I figured that on the night they have a chance to claim the title, I should watch the game.

I didn't want to watch it by myself, so I cruised over to Rantaro and watched it with the owners there. The three of us, and nobody else, since everyone else in Muroran had either cruised on up for the game itself or was staying at home and watching the game. Not that Muroran is a bustling cultural center or anything, but there was a serious LACK of people about.

So I watched the game, ate some food, drank some beer, and watched the Fighters win.

(Oh yeah, they're just "The Fighters". When I first heard their name, I thought it was completely ridiculous to call them "Ham Fighters" too. My mistake. The company that owns the team and uses them as an advertising tool is called "Nippon Ham". Oops.)

Congratulations, Fighters. Congratulations, Hokkaido.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rakugo Part 1

I headed over to Noboribetsu tonight to catch a performance of rakugo by a couple of the more famous rakugo performers in Japan, Sanyutei Rakutaro and Sanyutei Kouraku.

What is rakugo? And who are these two "famous" dudes? Let me explain.

I don't really understand that much about rakugo, as I've only seen it performed live one other time, in Matsue a few years ago. So clicking on the link above might provide you with better information than I can offer. But basically, as I understand it, rakugo is where a person tells an audience a story, acting out different parts and different actions using a combination of subtle movements and tools such as the fan they carry, all while kneeling on a cushion.

It's kind of one of those things you have to see to understand.

There's a program on TV Sunday evenings at 5:30 called "Shoten". It features seven famous rakugo performers who are given topics to make jokes or comments about. Usually they go for laughs, but sometimes they go for more pointed comments. Each performer has a certain style, and the interaction between them is quite entertaining.

Rakutaro and Kouraku are two of the performers on the show. I noticed a billboard advertising this performance on my way out to Tomakomai one night, and since Rakutaro is my favorite cast member of "Shoten", I knew I had to see this.

I got my ticket, wrote the day in on my schedule, and once work was finished today, I headed on over to the Community Center in Noboribetsu (after checking with a couple students about the location).

I got in, got a good seat, and waited for the show to begin.

It started off with Sanyutei Kousaku, a rakugoperformer who is studying under Kouraku. Not bad, a few good laughs, and a nice warm-up for...

RAKUTARO (picture right)! Very funny stuff.

Then a juggler by the name of Lemon, followed by Kouraku (picture left).

I've never been a huge fan of him, but he really impressed me this evening. He was funny, engaging, and all-around entertaining. I think Kouraku has a new fan.

After the show was over, the rush to leave the parking lot was nuts, so I was hanging out, and I happened to see the performers getting on their bus to head to wherever they were heading. I waved goodbye, and they waved back.

I smiled all the way home.

Freakin' fanboy.

Snakes On A Bl...Oh Wait, That One's Taken

So I went out to Tomakomai this evening to watch "Snakes On A Plane".

I saw a bunch of ads for this film while I was in San Diego. Plus, I had been following the whole insane Internet phenomenon this movie had become before anyone had even seen it.

Samuel L. Jackson.
The movie title itself.
The opportunity to see Mr. Jackson use the "MF" term he uses so well.
The sheer B-movie mess it was sure to be.

Why wouldn't I want to see it?


My folks were in town the night it was opening in theaters, and I was leaving to head back here the next day. I figured I'd be able to catch it on video at some point.

That is until one day I was out at the theater in Tomakomai and noticed a poster advertising the flick here.



It started playing on Saturday, and I was determined to see it in the theater. So I called up my buddy Miller, who has a similarly warped sense of humor as I do, and we made plans to head out and see it.

Which we did.

First impression? I'm damn glad I didn't watch it before I got on a plane myself. I'd have been an absolute mess all the way back to Japan.

DAMN. The movie started off cheesy, and I was loving it. Just the kind of film I was looking for.

Then came the snakes.

DAMN. They featured just about every single poisonous snake you could think of. And they were, shall we say, efficient.

It really ended up creeping me out.

Of course there were ridiculous parts to the plot, but when the original concept is "Snakes On A Plane", you've pretty much suspended all your disbelief already.

Good times. Good times indeed.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Pumpkins and Punk

Here are some pictures for your viewing pleasure.

Jack o'lanterns!

More of 'em!

Always use your powers not for good but for AWESOME!!

Anyone up for hitting an onsen?


You can't prove dat I'm connected to doze guys in any way.

Silhouette action.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Catching Up...Again I've been slacking off quite a bit still.

Here's a recap of what's been going on.

October 7th through the 9th was a three-day weekend here, but I had to do work stuff most of the weekend.

Saturday Jack and I helped judge a junior high school English recitation contest in Shiraoi. It's impressive to see the students' expressive abilities develop. Fun stuff, but lousy weather. Although the lousy weather made for some awesome wave activity along the coast. A log even washed up over the protective barrier and onto the highway, blocking traffic until a cleaning crew could get it off the road.

Sunday. Jack and I headed out to a quail farm in the hills north of Muroran with some students from the Starfish High Music Club to perform some songs as part of the UNESCO World Music Day event planned out there.

Yeah. It didn't make much sense to me either. But we were asked to play, so we went.

The first year girls played Kaera Kimura's "Rirura Riruha".

Jack, SH's guitar god, and I did our cover of Mr. Big's "To Be With You".

And then, to close out the show, we added a drummer, a violinist, and a keyboardist, lost the guitar, and tried our hand at Gnarls.

Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy".

I saw the video out at Jack's place a few days later, and...we sounded gooooooooood. I guess it helps to have professionals working the mixer and setting up the amps.

So that was it. Three songs. That's all we had. I told everyone "Thank you." But then, something weird happened.





"Sorry folks, we only have the three songs. We certainly didn't expect this. Thank you, but we don't have anything else."

"Do Mr. Big again!"

I looked at Jack and GG. We all shrugged. "Okay, Mr. Big it is."

And we played it one more time.


Afterwards, we took part in an after-event party, and then I headed out to Marukoma Hot Springs near Lake Shikotsu to meet up with some friends from around the country who had come up to Hokkaido to meet and talk about Ichinomiya shrine stuff.

A conference at a hot spring.

The outdoor bath there kicks ass, because it's depth changes with the depth of the lake. You stand and soak in that pool.

Monday. There was actually a school event planned this day, but I bailed because I refuse to give up ALL THREE DAYS of a three-day weekend for work-related stuff.

So my friends and I went up to Sapporo, had some food, and then I saw everyone off and headed home.

The following days (10/10-10/15) were taken up with preparations for our Open School on the 15th. I carved pumpkins with students again. Good times.

The Open School went off without a hitch, and was a lot easier to deal with this year because I had half a clue about what I was doing. Unlike last year.

I sang again this year, too. Jet, "Are You Gonna Be My Girl". The crowd ate it up. I even got compliments from some of the teachers.

10/16, Monday, was a day off, so I headed out to Mukawa to eat some shishamo sushi. The original plan was to make it a Debuwagon Repeat of last year, but Eisaku had to bail at the last minute. So I drove out there by myself.

The sushi was good, but it was a little sad, eating all by myself.

From there, I headed out to Biratori to check out some Ainu museums. There are two museums in the same area, so I spent the afternoon looking at the exhibits and trying to pick up some new information. I've come to the conclusion that one reason I have ended up here in Hokkaido is so that I can learn about the Ainu culture, so I want to take every opportunity I can to find out new information.

I caught "16 Blocks" that evening in Tomakomai. Decent flick with good action, but a too-tidy ending. Mos Def does an excellent job.

The next few days were preparatory lead-up to the second Open School on the 21st. More pumpkins were carved, and hopefully I can post some of those pictures soon. The second Open School also went off without any problems. I sang again, and this time we were even better than the first Open School.

That night, we had a welcome party for a new secretary. It was fun, but I split off before everyone went to the third party to go drink at a cool little bar called "Pivo", which according to Jack, is Polish for "beer". Trez appropos. There are beers there from all around the world. Good beers.

Today, I cruised out to the Niseko area with a fellow teacher (not Eisaku) to get a burger (which was good) and hit a hot spring (which was better). I'm still warm now. The big shock of the day was that it snowed.

Yep. Snow.

Fall is officially over.

And there you have it. All caught up.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Once Around The Dial

Well, it's been exactly a year since I started this blog.

I've been slacking off lately updating this thing as of late.

I was too busy and didn't have enough Internet access in the US to update it while I was there (July 13 - August 20).

I didn't particularly feel like doing anything with it for a while after I got back. I didn't particularly feel like doing much of anything for quite a while after I got back. (August 20 - sometime in mid-September).

Now I'm trying to update the stuff I should have put in quite a while ago, and falling behind doing it.

I've also been taking trips every weekend, to take advantage of my free time that will be nonexistent once October hits full swing. My weekends from here until the end of October are shot. School functions every single weekend.

Also, once it rolls into November, I won't be able to get out and about. I remember last winter, and I have no desire to attempt driving on snowy Hokkaido roads with insane Hokkaido drivers.

So, I'll update old stuff when I can and try and keep pace with the new stuff as it comes along.

Welcome to The Muroran Chronicles, Year 2.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Field Trip

Well, it's that time of year again!

Time for all of the students to get outside and walk a while.

It's Field Trip time.

Now, back in the States, when we had a field trip, everybody loaded on to one of those yellow school buses and headed off to see "Dinosaurs!" at the Benton County Fairgrounds...or something like that.

Not here. Here? You walk. And it's not just one class. It's the WHOLE SCHOOL.

My partner in crime here, Jack, and I were put in charge of planning this year's field trip.

I can do the paperwork. Jack knows good places to go.

So we started tossing out ideas. One by one, they were rejected.

"We can't ask students to take the train that far."
"That's too steep of a course."
"There's not enough space for all the students."

We were running out of options.

A hike out to the aquarium?

"Too far, and it wouldn't be interesting for the students."

We toss out our last, best idea: a hike around the cliffs near the bay.

It was a good course, with spaces with trees and some incredible views of the sea, plus lots of space for students to eat and goof off when we took our lunch break.

When we presented the idea at a staff meeting, the guy who was running it had pretty much already decided that he was against it, evidenced by his asking everyone after Jack and I made our presentation, "So does anyone have anything they'd like to add? Concerns about the length of the course, perhaps?"

Hey. Pal. In some circles, they call that "leading the witness".

Needless to say, we were shot down once again.

So what do we do?

Well, I got frustrated and told my boss that I didn't have any more ideas and I couldn't come up with anything else. I'm just not familiar enough with the area and with what everyone is looking for in a freaking field trip.

He turns around and lectures me about that kind of attitude causing problems in the workplace and making everything go to hell.

(There was a bit of miscommunication in our discussion as well, and we both got pretty ticked off at each other. Once we figured out that most of the trouble was with this misunderstanding, we sheepishly apologized to each other and everything was okay.)

Things worked out in the end. We planned a short hike from Muroran Station out to Mt. Sokuryo, and a stop at a nearby park for lunch and goof-off time.

The hike went a lot quicker than anyone expected, so we were able to finish up early and get everybody back to Muroran Station to catch trains or buses back home.

Good times, all told.

I waited until the last students had caught their trains, then cruised on home and had a nap for a while.

I mean, after all, driving the pace car for a hike up a mountain can be really stressful. Heh heh.

Here's a shot of Jack and I on one of the viewing towers on the top of Mt. Sokuryo.

Love that view. It's even better at night.