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Badminton, Dancing, and the start of a new Semester [15 Apr 2012|08:29am]

This is the comic I will be introducing to the classes tomorrow. We have first years fresh from the elementary school, so I need to go easy on them, while still being able to appeal to the abilities of the second and third years. Hopefully I've struck an interesting middle ground with this more carefully rendered style I employed.

I decided recently to become involved in extracurricular activities outside of weightlifting and mountain-climbing and scenery-drawing. I figured it was time to do things that involved interacting with other people.

I signed up for badminton (yes, a very badass sport) and jazz dance lessons (yes, a very badass discipline). They're back-to-back, in different parts of the city on Friday, but I figure that it's only on Friday, one day out of the week- so I can afford to exhaust myself for at least that one day.

Badminton was filled with the elderly. But that's not a bad thing. They may have been 70 years my senior, but they must have spent those 70 years dutifully training at badminton, because they were incredible. I was easily the worst there (I'd never even handled a badminton racket prior to that night). I was just a frail little ragdoll being figuratively tossed about on the court. The practice game I was participating in rarely continued for more than 3 volleys. Perhaps to provide clarity into just how bad I was, the trainer switched me out with herself, and the difference was just night and day. The birdie seemed to just ricochet off the rackets in perfect rhythm. It wouldn't really have bothered me if it weren't for the fact that the other guys on that court were just as new as I was.

I don't know, it may be that I was always a poor learner, and that I viewed motivational techniques the wrong way- but when somebody shows me someone else's advanced progress in something I'm endeavoring to do, my immediate response is not "Hm, someday, I should like to be as proficient in this particular craft as he is", it is invariably "Well I guess I should just kill myself now."

So needless to say, watching them punish the birdie as if it were an unruly child under the paddle at a Catholic seminary just as soon as I was removed from the game, I was a little disheartened. Its a personality flaw I'm trying to correct by just thinking positively.

And I would need that positive thinking for when I ventured into the next realm of discovery: dancing. The dance studio is in the top floor of a run-down building next to city hall. When I reached the top, I saw that the crew from a picnic I attended was there, and they immediately recognized me. It was nice to be able to meet up with them again, as they were all very friendly, and the only people under 70 years old who seemed to realize I existed. The dancing itself was actually enjoyable once I got the motions down (I wasn't the only new person, so I felt comfortable in failing). The hectic part, was the stretching before the dance proper. My lower body was pathetically tight and weak, despite climbing mountains regularly, and despite having stretched before playing badminton. The motions required to prepare for dancing is a whole new frontier of stretching. And my legs paid the price the following day.

All of the people in attendance, and the teacher as well couldn't believe how well I spoke. I didn't realize it either. But when introducing myself to the principal of a school I'll be teaching at, I met another American man, maybe in his 40's, who'd been in Japan much longer than I, and who married a Japanese woman. His accent was similar to how my grandmother speaks English. I just realized after finishing this post that no one really knows how my grandmother speaks English. Let me see if I can think of a suitable analogy...grandma is to the English language as...Michael Jordan was to baseball. That's the best I could come up with. That isn't to suggest that she is somehow the Michael Jordan of Japanese. The...analogy is not strong.

I don't claim to have a perfect accent (I don't), but I've gotten to the point where I can get a ballpark feel for how it stands when compared to a native's tongue, and I am steadily making progress toward syncing up my accent with the accents I hear. Maybe it's because I've always liked to imitate people? Or maybe it's because I started learning at a younger age? But even still, when learning Spanish just last year, I spoke with a presentable accent. I think I might have a penchant for imitation. But that's enough tooting my own horn.

Spring had Sprung and Landed back on the ground with the rest of the dead flower petals in the time that it took me to update my journal. I've got pictured hidden under the cut for those who are interested in what Spring looks like in Japan and have been living under a rock, away from all the other blogs and websites that also show you what Spring looks like in Japan because it's beautiful.

SpringtimeCollapse )

I'll be going to the gym today to try out some new motions to tone my biceps. After dieting for a good month and working out my core as hard as I can (and doing some more core workouts at the dance class) I've managed to get pretty sculpted abs and strikingly defined obliques. So, there's a goal managed. Now I've just got to maintain it. Today is particularly beautiful, so before I go to the library to study for the day, I think I'll have a picnic at the top of the mountain.
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My Last Day [19 Mar 2012|07:55pm]
So today was my last day of the year, and thus begins my very generous break. Today, walking into class, I was greeted by applause, and a huge chalk mural on the board thanking me for my work at Bairin.

I was very deeply moved by it. I didn't realize just how loved I really am at this school. It made me appreciate the students even more. They also found a way to sneak this little representation of me in here:


I prepared a game for all the 2nd and 1st year classes, in which I ask questions, draw pictures, and read English, allowing the students to interact with the language in teams. Each answered question lands them points, and a single panel among a grid of panels is flipped over to reveal a picture.

Here's the picture after the game is finished:

The game got even the kids who didn't like English participating with vigor.

I've seen so many signs and billboards and letterings in Japan that just obliterated the English language. I noticed that I've actually become accustomed to it. Every time I pass a poorly written billboard, I think to myself how much of a killing I could make as an English consultant. If they just ran their billboards by me really quickly, for a nominal fee, I could spare them the embarrassment.

So close :/ Maybe next time...

Nope, swing and a miss.
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Lunchtime [16 Mar 2012|10:11pm]
I take back most of what I think about 2nd year classes. Today's lunchtime was awesome. 2nd year 3rd Class is filled with characters. I usually sit next to a couple of jokers who try to teach me horribly dirty English to the chagrin of the female students sitting next to me. They are nearly the exact opposite of the usual 2nd year students- outgoing, inquisitive, curious and hilarious. I told them about how in Kazuma's juku, we made bread, "Pan tsukutta". But Kazuma sent a text message to his friend telling him that we were making bread. The cel phone autocorrected his Japanese to say "pantsu kutta", which means "we ate panties". As we were laughing about different ways to tell someone they're gross, I notice a couple of giggling ninnies who always laugh at me during class, off in the corner of our group. I looked to see what they were laughing at, and what they showed me made me nearly cry with laughter. There's a teacher named Mr. Abe, an old man with a pure white beard. It's awesome, and he's awesome. He almost never talks. He teaches history. He's also the soccer coach. The kids took a picture of him, and superimposed his head onto Captain Falcon's body. The two giggling students couldn't believe that I was laughing at their picture (they thought for sure I would have been angry...) And just after I recovered from my laughter, I stood up and said "Abaaaayyy.... PUNCH" and the entire group burst into uproarious laughter along with me. Apparently I forgot to pay my cel phone bill. I surreptitiously slipped into the convenience store to pay my overdue bill, hoping that no one would know that the reason they couldn't get in touch with me was because my phone was out of service due to a late payment. When I arrived at Uncle Shigeji's house, everyone was laughing and saying that when they tried to call me, it announced to them all that I failed to keep my end of the bargain with the phone company. It was said that when Aunt Kayoko hears a piece of news, it's not long before the rest of Gifu is also in on that particular bit of information. I was an audience to the very spread of that embarrassing information, as she dialed all of my relatives to tell them why I'm out of touch.
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Ume Matsuri [15 Mar 2012|08:08pm]
As I was riding my bike to no where in particular, I happened across a very pleasant smell. The flowers were in bloom in Bairin Park. I actually happened to write a bit about this park in a very old comic from 2008.

I sat and had a picnic in the park while drawing the plum trees in bloom. Children were laughing, families were taking pictures, and couples were holding hands watching the flowers. I sat alone eating misokatsudon and enjoying the sweet smell and beautiful weather.

Here is the final product of an illustration I made while sitting.

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Out Drawing [08 Mar 2012|07:09pm]
I had a day off today, but I went in anyway. I do that a lot. It's because I really enjoy being at work. But I also dislike being in my house. So it works.

I attended two 3rd year classes on today, their last day. We did a few fun activities, including a relay story creating game. I give them a starter sentence, and the students race up to the board to make a story, sentence by sentence. The starter sentence today was "Mr. Macho wants to go to a concert."

"Mr. Macho want's to go to a concert. He buys two tickets. He asks a girl out to the concert. The girl says yes. But the girl brings her other boyfriend instead. Macho stands alone with a sad smile."

"Macho wants to go to a concert. He enjoys the concert very much. He wants to get on stage. He climbs onto the stage. But people can't see the concert because his head is too shine." (students make fun of him for his balding head)

As I read them to the class after the activity to assess points, I'm cracking up, which makes the students laugh. It's overall such a positive environment...

Anyway, I left work early because I didn't really have to be there. I went to the gym to work out my abdominals and my shoulders. Then I rode my bike to the Nagara River and drew the bridge there for a couple of hours.

I'm very bad at drawing architecture, so I'm practicing.

Here's the actual picture.

Yuck, when they're posted side-by-side it looks terrible...oh well, failure breeds success.

Next month, I'm joining a badminton club at my gym, as well as attending a monthly cooking class. I can't stand being so lonely all the time, so hopefully I'll be able to meet some people there.

Maybe the reason I'm not meeting anyone is because I'm listening to the soundtrack for a 12 year old Game Boy Color game right now.

I think I'm going to play a little Star Craft before I buckle down and study for the night. See you.

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Goodbye Third Years [06 Mar 2012|10:44pm]
My favorite year students are the third years. They're so open and excited, and interested in learning. They're funny and kind and adorable.

We made posters for our fellow classmates to sign. I got signatures from almost all the students, with more little notes in broken English than I know what to do with. To summarize:

"Ryan, your face always becomes red very quickly when you laugh. It's cute."

"You're a pervert, aren't you!" (because I laugh when the perverted boys make awesome jokes about boobs)

"You're a very nice teacher"

"Your story making was very interesting"

"Haaaaa~~~~~~~~~~~chassu!!! Next time you have class, make sure to salute them with a 'chassu!' " (can't explain.)

"Ryan, you are having a erection now" (doesn't need an explanation. Untrue.)

"Ryan's classes were very interesting and fun!"

"I won't forget you"

"How do you write ポーンマガジン in English?" (porn magazine)

"Ryan you look so cool~"

"I love Ryan"

"Ryan's cock" (I just...I don't know. Someone taught him the word "cock" and he just went crazy with it)

"Ryan is totally fun"

"Ryan looks like Tom Cruise"

"Have you ever had intercourse?" (every class he would come up to me and ask this to me)

"I love Ryan, the pervert whose face becomes red quickly"

"Ryaaaan, it's Hirona!" (I always mistook this student for a 2nd year girl named Hirona. The in-joke just stuck)

And that was just from one class. I have 3 other pages of pure memories. These are the kinds of things I find I treasure...relics.

The leave this Friday, off to High School for most of them. I wonder what kind of students the 2nd years will turn into once they become 3rd years. I hope they open up a bit more.

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Funny Things that May Not Seem Funny After I Type Them Out [02 Mar 2012|07:37am]
In the nurse's room yesterday, I fought a 3rd year student in arm wrestling and won. As he was rolling around on the ground screaming and cursing in agony, some of the lower level students ran to the window to see what the commotion was about. I ran to the window and flexed a double bicep at them and they ran away giggling.

Two previous students who had moved on to high school came back to Bairin just as I was coming in to go to dinner with Mrs. Uematsu. I like to take the opportunity when meeting new people, to pretend I don't know Japanese. I said "Hello" and asked the girls in English "Are you students who graduated from this school?" (this is third year level English so they should be able to answer 'yes' or 'no' fairly easily.) They panicked and started brainstorming what I could possibly be saying "I think he's talking about a telephone..." one said in Japanese, "what could he be asking us about a telephone...". After a few tense seconds I said in Japanese "I wasn't talking about a telephone, I was asking you if you're former students. Jeez come on guys you should be able to handle that much English right?!" Their response was to literally roll on the floor laughing.

Discussing my previous breakfast habits at the dinner table, Mrs. Uematsu said that I only have a leaf of lettuce, a slice of ham, and a slice of bread for breakfast. I corrected her, saying that 'certainly that's how I ate when I first came to Japan. But now, since my paycheck has increased, I've changed my eating habits. I've upgraded to two leaves of lettuce.'

To be honest, these sound funnier in Japanese. I'll just make a mental note to never go into the business of translating Japanese comedies, and stop right now.
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Weekend in Review [20 Feb 2012|07:46pm]
On Saturday was the long-awaited, extravagant recital and closing ceremony for our students at Bairin Junior High School. A ceremony celebrating the hardship and perseverance of every student who every gripped a pencil and pressed it to a desk under the roof of this Bairin Junior High School. Everyone is to be dressed their very sharpest. Gold, gem-inlaid cuff-links, sharkskin suits and kipper ties, gelled-back hair and wingtip shoes, and the confident air of a gentleman are not only expected but all but required.

Or not.

Apparently I didn't get the memo about how it wasn't cool to wear a suit and tie to this hour long event. I was an FBI agent among a sea of casually dressed teachers and parents. What makes it even better is that I taught a class clad in suit and tie. The student's attention never wavered for a second. Forgive the fact that said attention was focused solely on how sharply I was dressed and never once affixed to English, and learning English. That isn't the point.

A couple of girls from Third year Fourth Class (Macho's class) love to teach me this one little...salute, is the only word I can think of, that middle school boys in popular culture often perform. At first, it was just a little two-fingered swirling salute above the forehead and a short "chusu!" with your voice. But it has since evolved into a spin-in-place-and-salute movement. Lately, the girl has been trying to get me to laugh while she does it, so when she sees me in the hallway, she runs behind an object, and then pops up and says "chusu!". When we passed each other coming and going out of the teacher's room, she said "chusu!" in place of the formal: "Excuse me, this is so-and-so from 3rd year 4th class...".In the gym, she ran behind a curtain when she saw me, and then popped out and said "chusu!" Each time I laughed until I couldn't breathe (it's really very adorable.)

After the recital, I was walking into the teacher's room, and she was waiting outside of it with one of her friends. They stared at me, waiting for me to give the salute we'd come to expect from each other. I walked into the room without even looking at her, and I could hear her say to her friend "well that was cold...". I waited until the door closed, then I opened it back up, popped my head out, and saluted with a "ha-chusu!" and closed the door quickly again to their boisterous laughter.

After school, I bought a miso-katsu don, and climbed up the mountain near Iwado, and ate while listening to my latest Robert B. Parker novel on ipod. I eat on a flat slab of rock jutting out from the side of the mountain, where I can see the entire city easily. It's probably one of my favorite places here.

I rode my bike to Akutami that evening, taking a new route on my way home. There are so many styles of houses in this city, ranging from modern traditional Japanese style, to Japanese houses made so long ago that they can't help but be traditional Japanese, to western style. I rode through a silent suburban housing development surrounding a University campus. I found that eating only one thing the entire day after hiking a mountain and riding your bike a few kilometers will make anything taste good. I ripped open an emergency bag of peanuts, and discovered that hunger really is the best sauce. I dined that night at Cocoya Ichiban, eating a rather larger serving of curry and rice.

I, surprise surprise, climbed another mountain on Sunday. I then waited for a new air conditioning unit to be delivered, and worked out at the gym, where two Japanese kids were dancing to no music and a man bench pressing a bar, maxed out on the bar. I worked out my forearms, because I'm tired of losing to Middle School kids in arm wrestling.

Today, I went to the station to eat lunch and pick up study materials for the Japanese Language Proficiency test. I figured I'd be able to ace Level 2, the second hardest level. Then I rode my bike across the Nagara river and explored what there was to see over there. I stood at the bank of the river and thought long thoughts. Then I returned home to cook the same dinner of gyoza, shumai, rice, miso soup and karaage that I have had every night at home for the past...5 months?

I'm actually too tired to make any of what I wrote interesting, and just wanted to enter this post for the record. I find that I forget things very easily. So easily that I've begun to worry if perhaps I'm at risk of developing Alzheimer's. The worry doesn't bother me much. After a couple of minutes I just forget that I worried about it.
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Mountain Trekking and Valentine's Chocolates [12 Feb 2012|09:18pm]

I was feeling incredibly lonely one weekday night, so I decided to go hike up a mountain. I've been advised time and time again to stop climbing mountains at night, but I'm stubborn. Though I felt as though this particular expedition was initiated out of spite at the universe for allowing me to be so friendless on a Thursday night. I felt like if there was any place for a lonely hermit, it was a mountain.

So, my belly full of popcorn and headphones in my ears, I hiked up the Iwado Park entrance of the mountain, flashing my flashlight at on-coming cars to let them know that I existed. It was very peaceful until it began to snow. I took refuge near a huge electrical tower glowing eerily orange in the night. It reminded me very much of the Midgar Reactor from Final Fantasy 7. (Picture at top)

I wanted to climb it but it was chained off. Next time though. Well, that is to say, if there ever is a next time. My aunt said that there are many strange people there sometimes, during the night. She made me promise to not go back there during the night. But she didn't say anything about going back during the day and WAITING until night.

Actually she did.

I spent the weekend in Akutami. I was sick most of the week, so this weekend they made me promise not to climb any mountains or go to the gym. I spent the two days dazed in the sun in their living room, drifting in and out of a cold-induced sleep. I went to the snack shop once for chocolates for Valentine's day, and then came home to continue my groggy convalescence in the dwindling sunlight. Aunt Yoshi made me many different kinds of food, all of which I ate with gusto. The next day, Fumi and Yoshi gave me Valentine's day pity candy, and I returned the favor with the candy I bought from the snack shop. I bought two new mangas to practice my kanji with, and drifted to sleep to the sound of four old women talking the day away. If you ever wondered how the elderly pass their time in Akutami (as I'm sure you have), its in a room filled with golden sunlight, sipping tea and eating snacks, and chatting about any number of insignificant things and wading elegantly through the silences in between topics until the sun goes down. When that is the case, the group moves to the well-lit kitchen to continue their conversation over dinner. The conversation endures well into the night. I admit to being asleep while upright more often than not with the dog, Sakura, nuzzled into my lap.

By Sunday I was well enough to take a walk to the graveyard which I've come to love. By the time I'd gotten to the lookout that overlooks the sprawling valley of graves, I fell asleep on an elbow propping my head up. On the return home from the graveyard night had fallen, and I began to sing Ue wo Muite. I've long since stopped caring what passersby might think of me while I sing while I walk, as I've found that I might actually be invisible in Japan. After eating dinner tonight, my aunt drove me to my apartment, in which I deposited the haul I pilfered from Akutami: comics, chocolate, snacks, and clothes.

I really love Akutami, and I really love being with the grandmother group. I like my elder relatives discussing the intricacies of 10 year-old cel phone technology, and the wooden, mountainous countryside, and the ill-lit ancient houses dotting the hills, and the thousands of graves stretching as far as the eye can see, and the obscure 100 yen manga I use as kanji practice, and the golden sunlight filtering through the gauze shades of aunt Yoshi's house, and the dog who uses my crotch as a pillow, and the snack shop girl who giggles at my inability to make correct change, and the heater in the bathroom that trounces that horrible time between getting out of the shower and into warm clothes, and the fried chicken and meat stew and white rice and mango juice.

My apartment isn't bad either. But I'll treasure those Akutami memories.
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Funny Thing of the Now [08 Feb 2012|07:30pm]
I contacted my company when I couldn't find my insurance card. I looked all over my apartment for it, and I needed it to take a sizable chunk out of the medical bill I incurred from the visit to the clinic. The company assured me they had sent it out to me. And I replied to them with, and I quote:

"I can say with confidence that I did not receive an insurance card from the company. I'm sorry to impose but may I please have a replacement sent to me."

Not 3 minutes after I sent the e-mail, I found the card hiding in an envelope on a desktop I mentally labeled "important".

I sent a follow up e-mail, face red, asking to please disregard the previous e-mail. The one where I implied, with confidence, that somehow the company must have screwed up.

As I was walking through my apartment, I said out loud "I can't believe how much of a complete moron I am" and the exact moment that I finished that sentence, I walked into my closed bathroom sliding door and knocked it right off its god damn hinges.
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Valentine's Day Comic [06 Feb 2012|07:37pm]

Because I can't conceive of such a thing as "taking a break", I spent my afternoon coloring up this little ditty I made for the students at Bairin Junior High School. They're interested in Valentine's day,so this, in conjunction with a new poster I've been planning, will be unveiled for them to be, over the momentary span of 20 seconds, mesmerized. It still warms my heart to see students tuck away my comics into their binders, vie for the colored version, and reference the English used in them when doing their actual classwork.

These two girls like to approach me and inquire about my non-existent love life. The most recent round of questions ended in a request to be drawn into the monthly comic. They asked me my age, and upon hearing that I was 25, they asked me to wait for them for five years.

I, in the most dejected-sounding voice I could muster, said I would.
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Fever [06 Feb 2012|03:31pm]
I don't usually get sick.

But when I do, I can feel it coming on like a roller coaster car reaching the apex of its track. I feel the phlegm boiling in my throat and my face becoming red hot. A sickness is brewing, and it will lay waste to everything it leaves in its wake. I usually like to consider myself impervious to sickness. A monument to health and fortitude. But all it takes is a timid little cough to puncture that false confidence and let the air out of my ill-founded pride. Somehow, mysteriously, year after year, I seem to acquire amnesia particular to the instances in which I encounter sickness. As though perhaps my mind files them under "been there, done that" and never deigns to consider the fact that antibodies don't actually become invincible to viruses and diseases once they encounter them.

And so, here I stand(sit), sent home from work by the principal of the school, who upon looking at me, a short-sleeved polo shirt draped over my slouched person in the middle of winter, mentally began to paint a wonderfully clear picture of just how I came to be riddled with disease.

So here I am writing about it.

I have many pictures from my weekend, as more than a couple of great things were experienced. But I dislike unleashing a barrage of pictures with a terse appraisal of each one, because I feel there are more pleasant ways to send readers into comas.

I went to Inaba Jinja, which often seems to be the place where things happen in this city. It's a rather large shrine near my uncle's house. We walked there, little Kentarou and Uncle Shigeji. Kentarou was rattling off all the English her learned in his Elementary school classes, and I kept egging him on with praise.

We bought baby castellas, which I guess are the Japanese equivalent to Dunkin Donuts' Munchkins. We had french fries and Takoyaki too. Representatives from different companies in the city lined up with what looked like Roman Candles, and one after the other, lit them into brilliantly burning and smoking orange faucets of sparks to the amusement and wonder of the crowd.

After about 15 seconds of angry, hissing scintillation, the whole ordeal is summed up with a massive blast that explodes like a shot gun round.

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Snowballs in Bairin [02 Feb 2012|07:46pm]
I had my first snowball fight since I was a little kid today at Bairin. I was watching the students from the double doors in a foyer off one of the hallways in the school, and turned around to a group of girls and said "I want to have a snowball fight" jumping up and down excitedly. One of the girls mimicked my jumping as I was speaking.

I had such a great time throwing and getting hit by snowballs. One of the students nailed me right in the back of my head. The kids were all shouting "Ryan's out here with us!" They seemed very happy to see me acting like a 12 year old in the snow.

I spent a long time making a rhythm activity for the classes, making a mix CD with songs with good beats in them for the students to chant vocabulary to. But no matter which class I tried it out in, it just fell flat. The words didn't go well with the beat, and many students couldn't keep up with the beat. The special needs students especially had a difficult time with it, so I decided to just put the game down after the 3rd day of failure. Surprisingly, another contender upstaged that game- a vocabulary racing game, in which the students race to say the Japanese vocab word in English before their peers. It was a real hit, the students enjoyed it very much. I'm making a mental note for that one.

I did mention it snowed.

I came home from school yesterday with a bright sunny sky, with no clouds. The air was bone dry, as was the ground. I was exhausted yesterday (I've been exhausted all week, tbh...) and so I went to take a little nap. When I awoke from my nap, this was a thing that happened.

Everything was covered in a blanket of snow. The mountains were pure white. I got a strange feeling of claustrophobia of all things, looking out my window. The snow made it feel as though the entire city was enclosed in a rapidly shrinking bubble. It's very hard to explain it other than that I felt like I was in a snowglobe, looking at the mountains encrusted in thick fluffy snow.

In other news, my cousins all have 3DS's now, and my youngest cousin got Mario Kart 3DS. So we played that together, since we could download the game from him temporarily.

It really brought us all closer together. It's taken months, but my cousins are finally starting to warm up to me. They're still kind of shy. But this play session really opened the older ones up to me.

Anyway, my fingers are freezing. I'm going to go study Kanji.
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Inaba's End [26 Jan 2012|08:19pm]
Today I almost cried while teaching a class.

My week in Inaba is coming to an end. If you would have told me last week that I didn't want my week to end in this school, I would have thought you were insane. I honestly dreaded coming here, but it has been such an overwhelmingly positive experience that I don't want to leave. Today probably topped it off though.

I was to introduce myself to a special needs class. I was informed very briefly about the nature of the class- two students, one severely autistic student, and one mentally challenged student. The autistic student couldn't speak Japanese well, let alone English, and the mentally challenged student's ability was low, according to the teachers I'd asked. I was worried about tweaking my introduction lesson (a fairly complex game of Jeprody) for the special needs kids, or as the school labels them, himawari (sunflower) students.

When I walked into the room, the students turned around and smiled at me. The autistic student, Shimo, put his hand to his face and looked out the window, and the girl, Koyama, waved her hands over her head and said "Good afternoon!". We started the class with questions about the day and weather, and, with an air of children experiencing the excitement of Christmas morning, Koyama shot up out of her chair and Shimo followed her lead to look out the window to survey the outside and look for answers. "It's sunny!" "It's cool!" "It's fine!" Even Shimo, though severely autistic, was mimicking the sounds of the English coming from the excited, smiling Koyama. He would often get stuck on a loop of a phrase, such as "I'm sorry" or "Thank you". When asked how he was feeling, he replied "I am happy."

They got up to sing a "Rock Paper Scissors" song with the teacher, a wonderful old woman named Ms. Yanagihara. I stood in awed silence as the two children and the old woman danced and sang to the simple English music, almost forgetting that I was a part of this incredible display of empowerment, just as I realized I was being paid to dance along with them. The autistic Shimo, face scrunched in determination trying to the best of his ability to match the gestures of the song(and largely succeeding), and the delighted Koyama, who during the chorus of the song would portray exaggerated emotions of happiness upon winning these intermittent games, or sadness upon losing.

We directed our attention to the blackboard, where Koyama was asked to perform gestures linked to flash cards that she and Shimo had drawn and colored. Shimo was given a pointer, a long stick with a cartoon gloved hand on the end of it, and was asked to touch the card on the board that Koyama was so actively portraying. Without reservation, she mimicked the octopus- wiggling her arms-a door-miming walking through a door, and saying "I'm home!"-and an ice cream cone- by pretending to eat an invisible one. Shimo touched each picture and smiled as Koyama congratulated him like a big sister might a younger brother.

We then worked individually with the students. I worked with Shimo, who's autism prevented him from conversing with language, but who was still quite smart. I laid out flash cards of numbers on the desk in front of him, and said the numbers in English. He was correct maybe 25% of the time. I helped him out by very subtly gesturing with slack downturned fingers out of the periphery of his eyes the numbers which I spoke in English, and his success rate drastically improved. And then, as I gave him a double thumbs up and congratulated him, he gave me a double thumbs up in return, and then lightly pressed his thumbs against mine, and I felt tears well up in my eyes.

As I gave my introduction, I showed pictures of food and comics and family. As I showed pizza, sandwiches, and ramen, Koyama imitated the gestures of eating each individual food, and Shimo repeated as best he could the names of the food. We played a game in which they had to guess the letters composing a certain word, like hang-man, except that it was a flower with petals being pulled off for each incorrect guess. Koyama was jumping up and down with anticipation as I deliberately delayed each action of writing the letter on the board or pulling a petal from the flower. Shimo, with help from Ms. Yanagihara, touched letters on a large Alphabet poster, saying the name of the letter as he did so.

At the end of class, we stood up as Koyama said "Let's end English lesson". We bowed as is customary, and Ms. Yanagihara said "Did you have fun?" and Koyama shouted "Yes!". Shimo held out his hand in a thumbs up gesture to me, and I met it with my thumb.

I left the classroom with tears welling up in my eyes, wondering if I could possible sit in on any more of their classes. It was such an amazing show of unbridled innocence and diligence and unfettered positivity. It was like seeing something purely good flourishing.

Today I drew a poster for the students thanking them for my time in Inaba. It's hanging in their hallway on the second floor.

I've met students from all over the spectrum here: diligent learners, conniving jokesters and hecklers, painfully shy introverts and energetic friendly extroverts and everything in-between. I hung out with the ping-pong club kids, drew funny characters with the band kids, showed my biceps more than I would have liked to, and vehemently denied students the chance to see my abdominal muscles, much to the female student's dismay. I won and lost in arm wrestling, denied answering the question "Do you play sex?" often, and sketched a caricature of a homeroom teacher.

I wish I could have spent more time here with them, but next week it's back to Bairin.
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Inaba [23 Jan 2012|07:01pm]
I went to Inaba Junior High School today to start my week in exile from Bairin. Inaba is the junior high school from which my grandmother graduated. It's also the junior high school my cousin attends currently. I've become somewhat of a celebrity, though this time, it began even before I entered the school. People knew of me through stories told by my cousin. The staff is enchanted by the story of an American man and his family ties with a student in their school.

Not a frequent occurrence by any means.

Let me say that I have been living in a slowly elevating state of dread and unease for the past week, as the day I was to switch schools and teach in a new environment to new students slowly approached. I had become comfortable in Bairin, and the students had become comfortable with me. And now I was going to a place where I was already being spoken of in the hallways, to work with teachers and students I'd never interacted with before. I spent nights teaching to my wall, running every possible classroom scenario and how to deal with it through my head. Painting posters, affixing magnets to pictures, and thinking up rules to games that would either bore or enchant the students depending on the execution and delivery of the language. I realized no matter how much you prepare for "every possible situation" in a classroom, it will never be enough.

I approached the school on my bike, first entering the wrong school grounds and being politely pointed across the way by a little girl. Riding into the school grounds, boys stared at me, and girls put their hands to their mouths and giggled. It was the Bairin Experience all over again. In the hallways kids called out to me broken English and I replied with a wave and a smile, which sets them off on even more fits of giggles.

As I stood in my first class, I nearly gave up my plans to introduce my improved Introduction Lesson, and opt for the simpler original plan. Let me enlighten you about why the difference in these two plans is monumental. One is simply going through a checklist of hobbies, likes and family to an audience of students, comatose by the 2nd sentence. And the other illustrates a plan to organize the students into groups, have they compete with each other in a game revolving around the content of my introduction akin to Jeopardy. And I nearly chickened out of the second plan, a literal evolution in my teaching style. I am so happy that I did not.

Students went nuts for it. They were absolutely riveted by the point system I had in place and the content of the introduction (a smattering of body building, a dash of home made pizza, and a sprinkling of mustachioed sister) knocked them out. The flexing of a bicep, and the revelation of my Japanese ability and ancestry sealed the deal on a sold audience.

I think I would like to say here that speaking Japanese in the English Language classroom is looked down upon by some teachers. They usually want you to speak in English exclusively. They can usually get the point of your activities if they're simple enough, if conveyed in clear English. However, I explained the rules in a mixture of simple to understand English while highlighting the more complex parts in Japanese. The result was a clear success in both enlightening the students, as well as ensnaring their admiration for my ability to speak their language.

I'd like to reiterate, that no matter how many simulations you run on the possible happenings in a classroom, you can't quite predict it perfectly. The questions that are thrown at you, and the behavior of the students, and the action or inaction of the Japanese teacher are just some of the variables you have to deal with on the fly. And I fielded everything perfectly. From the heckling of the rowdy second years, to the unyielding energy of the energetic first graders, I took it all in stride and used it to embellish the classroom.

During question and answers, I was asked if I was a man or a gay crossdresser. I replied with the signature "Joudan ja nai wa you!"(Stop being so silly!) of effeminate Japanese crossdressing males in popular culture. The result was resounding, desk thumping, laughter. One student asked me why I have a white streak in my hair. I told her it was from stress, from students like the asker of the previous question. Students asked about girlfriends, for me to show them my body (to which I responded: "Isn't that a little dangerous?!") and how much I could bench (a pathetic 90 kilos...which to them is quite impressive considering that's like two students stacked on top of eachother). After class, the male students were feeling for any muscles, to which they found plenty. They all began slamming their hands against my chest repeatedly. I was a little sore.

It's difficult for me to convey, in English, the nuances in which I replied to energetic students. But suffice it to say in summary that I have, today, witnessed a tangible increase in my linguistic ability. I don't mean vocabulary-wise, or grammatically, but the ability to bridge the gap between language ability, and the atmosphere. In other words, my ability to roll with the punches, for lack of a better phrase, in Japanese has increased dramatically. The students laud my fluency. I'm making puns left and right- not premeditated puns, but outright, on the fly, off the handle puns and jokes and reactions that the students all find absolutely hilarious. For memory's sake, I'd like to write a couple of them here.

The first is "Ryan" and "Lion". Students have taken to calling me "Lion" because of how similar the word sounds to my name when spoken in a Japanese accent. I turned around to a couple of students who called me "Lion" and said "gaoooo" with a paw in the air-which is the sound a lion makes in Japanese. Today, a student was saying "UMA!" which is slang for "umai" which means "skillfull!", in reference to this poster I made.

I turned around to him and said "This isn't uma (also Japanese for horse), it's a lion!". The class slowly came to the realization of what I'd said, and exploded into laughter. The unique viewpoint of a foreign language learner lends me the ability to see connections to words the native speaker would usually take for granted.

I ended up having the opposite of what I'd expected. I had a good time. I had a great time. And as I watched the students play during recess, I thought about how far I'd come, and how I just didn't realize it until I took a step back and looked at it. As I thought about this, some students walked by me and asked me if I could speak Japanese, and I told them no. Then I said in Japanese "just kidding yes I can." and they squealed and giggled. I think I might have cried a little because of how happy I was, being able to see my progress.

In the hallway, I was approached by a special needs student. He, to my very pleasant surprise, wanted to speak to me in English. It was apparent that he had been attending juku, because he had gotten a grasp of the English language which his peers haven't quite mastered yet. He didn't make eye contact, and he didn't project his voice, but he kept on pushing his point. He wanted to know if I watched a particular anime. He wanted to know who my favorite characters of the anime were. And all the while, I was praising his English, telling him I couldn't believe how well he spoke. My heart warmed at the thought of him receiving, perhaps pivotal, positive reinforcement behind his obviously laborious studies.

At lunch time, I was lead to the announcement room to give my short introduction over the lunchtime announcements in both English and Japanese, to the admiration of hundreds of students and a score of faculty and staff, who swarmed me afterward to tell me how beautifully clear my Japanese was (I even got a phonecall from my aunt, telling me my cousin said he was surprised by my voice on the announcements. He wasn't even aware I was in his school. What a surprise that must have been).

I'd like to wrap this post up with a reflection. I never viewed myself as a leader. Or somebody who inspires. Not even an organizer, and far from a teacher. Barely hovering somewhere below speaker. But the students, laughing and excitedly jumping and speaking their best English, the guys, looking up to me and my 90 bench pressed kilos, the girls wondering why my Japanese is so good, and if I wanted a girlfriend, the teachers who praise my ideas and laugh with the students when I made a particularly silly pun or reacted in stride to a heckler, and the punks, the kids who can't be bothered to speak another language, asking me who my favorite baseball player is in English, and I can't help but feel that perhaps I'm not such a bad motivator after all.

Of course, I do have the added benefit of being the new shiny toy on the block. But it's not just that. Even in the school I'd been in for months, where my novelty has largely faded, I find students are still motivated by my actions and comments (when I'm allowed to teach freely, that is).

Last week in Bairin, as I was leaving the teacher's room on Friday, I found that the school nurse was practicing her English with alphabet crackers.

She said she feels like she's something of a mother to me. It warmed my heart, and I said I loved her too. And then I ate the message.
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[19 Jan 2012|08:33pm]
I really feel like I'm making a vast improvement in what I've set my mind on. Today I looked out the window from my classroom and saw students playing kendo on the second floor of the building across the courtyard. When I leave school to attend the gym across the river, I can hear the volley ball girls letting out that unusual chant-like wail from the school gymnasium. As I ride my bike in through the school gates in the morning students wave and greet me heartily.

These are all things that I won't forget easily. They help to embellish my life here.

I've begun to take the reins on classes, even teaching a bit in Japanese. I made a New Years poster for the students, which I unfurl in front of all of the 13 classes in the school to the sound of cheers and gasps of awe. I make the students laugh by playing games and telling jokes. I laugh with the students when they ask me if I own pornographic magazines, or if I've ever had intercourse before.

Today I introduced an activity where students had to initiate a conversation via telephone and adlib in some nouns and times.

Students enjoy it because they have a chance to compete with other students in that they accrue signatures for each time they complete the conversation. As I was walking around I heard an awesome student adlib in "your mother" for the person for whom he was calling, and "tell her to meet at my body at 7:00 tonight".

Needless to say I was laughing even hours later while lifting weights at the gym.
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Kyotou Part 2 [18 Jan 2012|06:47pm]

the last Kyotou post I made was with pictures from my camera. Now, you can see the pictures that Mrs. Uematsu took of me and her daughter, Nanao.

Part twoCollapse )
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Jolly Pasta [15 Jan 2012|03:40pm]

Today, after sufficiently chiseling my abdominals until they could function as a wood guiro, I wandered around the city looking for a nice place to eat and relax. On my way to no where in particular, I passed by two students coming home from baseball practice who called out my name and motioned for me to stop beside them.

They said "You are cool!" and I laughed and said "YOU are cool! また明日ね!".

I thought about how unique an environment I lived in where that type of interaction is possible. It must be so rare to be able to experience little things like that in your daily life. It brightened my spirits on this otherwise rather cloudy day.

I decided on Jolly Pasta to dine in. It's a place that sells pizza and pasta. I found that there was a wait to be seated, which always delights me because then I can write whatever name I want on the guest list, because I'm foreign and they don't know better.

Today, I was Johnny Depp.

I'd like to explain, for those who have never endeavored to do so, how painfully awkward it is to dine alone in a restaurant designed for family, friendly dining. It's an art I was only just getting the hang of in America. But the awkward gets kicked up a notch when you're both the only lone diner in a restaurant, and the only foreigner.

As you can see in the above picture, the pizza served here leaves much to be desired. About the width of a piece of paper, I felt like I was eating a particularly brittle piece of origami paper with pizza sauce applied via eyedropper flirting with a thin microlayer of mozzarella cheese.

In a particularly welcome twist, the pasta they served was just the right degree of al dente, and there was -lots- of it. It was served with chicken, mushrooms and parmesan cheese. It, surprisingly, hit the spot. And I was satisfied. I will add this restaurant to the list of places not to shun.

I've also heard through the Japanese grape vine- I guess, gureepu uine?- that McDonalds here is selling monstrous hamburgers named after American landmarks. Get a load of these:

I've been wanting to try one of these monsters on for size, but I'm going to need some time to fast so that I can compensate for the havoc it will wreak on my waistline. I'd say a good solid month of nothing but water will handle this problem nicely.

And finally, I've discovered that a video game franchise I used to love as a young man, Ganbare Goemon, is still alive and breathing in the form of a Pachinko game.

Which, I mean. It's like finding out that a beloved pet you thought was long dead was actually alive and breathing in the form of a plastic bag. That's great but...now what. I have 0 interest in Pachinko or Pachislot games. What I do have interest in, is the rocking remixes they blessed this "game" with. I tore them all from the international network and planted them in the fertile soil of my Ipod.

Feast your ears!

I realize what small fraction of a percentage I reside in when I celebrate a remix of a song from an obscure game from 15 years ago.

But to this music, I say yes.
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Today [12 Jan 2012|04:40pm]

Eating lunch on my favorite mountainsideCollapse )
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Break [10 Jan 2012|10:08am]
It's embarrassing to admit that I've been on break since the 20th of December. The way I've spent my time over break was both productive in some respects, and shamefully slothful in others. I've deposited a few dozen Japanese symbols into my database, torn apart muscle tissue in a different city, climbed mountains from different trails countless times, one of which was during the early hours of the morning in pitch black darkness, pulled an all-nighter among Japanese punks on the top of one of said mountains to ring in the new year, and traveled to Kyotou where I enjoyed culture and companionship.

I rode my bike to new parts of the city I'd never been to while listening to books on my Iphone. When not listening to books, I was reading them. Surely there are worse things to be addicted to than narrative.

I visited Kasugai and found new levels of pain while sitting on the balls of my feet in the painful seiza position above a hard tatami mat, witnessing the rhythmic chanting of a Buddhist priest. I tasted what Japan feels is the best representation of an American hamburger. I found that movies cost 25 dollars per adult ticket, and that popcorn must be more rare than raw diamonds because of its ludicrous pricing. I also found an excellent place for eating steak, served atop sizzling cow-shaped platters among a bed of bean sprouts and sweet corn.

Now I'm going to go out for a bike ride, eat lunch, go to the gym, and then head in to school to help prepare a test with one of the teachers. I also need to touch base with the English teachers, make sure I know what's being studied, so I can prepare accordingly for next week.
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