Thursday, December 30, 2004

Signing off from the business of ranting about ranting comedians and chronicling day to day events. I'm leaving tomorrow morning for Tokyo to meet some friends who have been traveling for the past week, and we'll be spending our New Year's Eve somewhere in the city, doing our best to find fun. Shouldn't be too hard, I suspect. Then I'm off for a few days to Nagoya with Tadashi. Hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year's. See you in 2005...

Yoi Otoshio!

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

One of the things I'm always struck by in the "culture wars" (which are really always ongoing, it's just sometimes the blasts are more civil or lowkey than they are right now) is how conservatives and right wingers will jump all over liberal celebrities for using their celebrity status to send out a message that they don't agree with. But then someone like Bill Cosby comes along and you never hear those conservatives bitching that he's using his celebrity status to send out a message, because lo and behold, it's a message they agree with. Idiots. In this case, Cosby is running around the U.S. holding revival-like auditorium-sized congregations where he gets all over the case of lower income black people for not acting, well, for not acting middle class. I say "middle class" whereas many people would say "white", but that's not the case. There are lots of working class and poor white folks I know back home whose behaviors are often very similar to that of lower income black folks. Income and social status are huge factors in shaping a person's perceptions of the world and what kind of future they can see for themselves, and in the case of poor people, that future sucks. They see the structures that pin them down because they're at the bottom, and when you're at the bottom you get a good look at the fat (often white) ass that's sitting on you. And after a while you start thinking, hey, this fucking stinks (in more ways than one) and I'm going to do whatever the hell I want to. I don't have a future anyway. People tell me get a job, but the only jobs I can get are at fast food restaurants. Why the hell not make money some other way, even if it *is* illegal. I'm going to be put in jail someday just like everyone else I know, so I might as well live how I want now.

Sure, there's a false logic to it, but at the same time, it does make a sort of sense. And then you have well-intentioned people like Bill Cosby running around in a suit telling these kids and their parents that they're dirty trash and need to shape up. Thanks Bill. That's really going to change things. There's a REAL problem here, sure, but it's not going to change by yelling at people. If you want to really help, you'd give some of your hard-earned cash to a good program that actually does help poor people. They need real educations, not the social jail system that so many inner city public schools are. They need money to buy the clothes that they can actually go to interviews in where they won't be turned away because of the fact that they're poor and can't afford a damned suit, you stupid ass. They need A LOT of things that you've had the luxury and benefit of having, and you can't expect them to act like you when they can't AFFORD to act like you. And why SHOULD they act like you? You're one of the people keeping them down, in their minds, and perhaps a little bit in reality. Racism occurs every day, no matter what anyone says. It occurs even within the communities of african americans, where the racism is turned on themselves. I have a black friend back home who told me how even in the black community, the lighter skinned you are, the snobbier you are. The blacker you are, the worse you get treated. White people like to think all this racism stuff is over and done with, but in reality they're perpetrating it everyday while saying it no longer exists. It just looks different nowadays, and it's easier to cover up if you don't want to see it.

I am not surprised in the least that someone like Cosby has risen up in these recent days to rail on about the things he's railing about. I am not surprised that this is happening right now, in the midst of the Bush Adminstration's war on civil rights and social progression and education. And there's Cosby himself, being their puppet, spouting their ignorance because he got a piece of their pie by acting like them. Mr. Jello fucking Pudding Pops himself. The thing is, these kids aren't going to want to change for a number of reasons. And one of the biggest ones is that they don't want their identities assimilated into something else in exchange for another step up the economic ladder. They're proud, and I don't blame them. You shouldn't have to give up certain aspects of your identity to have an equal share in the pie. You should just have it, damn it. That's fair. That's equality. If you want to determine who gets what and how much of it, find something to base it on beyond the markings of someone's humanity. Not race, not gender, not class, and not sexuality. And for god's sake, leave religion at the damned door. One of the things this country was supposedly founded on was freedom of religion, and here our government is trying to make it a Christian country.

Well I'm with Cosby's "trashy black kids". If that's who I have to be to get anywhere in this world, they can all just go to hell.

I've been constantly checking the update sites online about what's happening in the wake of the tsunami here in Southeastern Asia. The number of deaths and disappearances just keep rising. It's hard to believe 60,000 or more people can just be swept away in the blink of an eye. I had the weird experience of trying to read the New York Times online, but the headline, "One Third of the Dead Under the Sea are Children" kept freaking me out but attracting me to keep rereading it, the way horror stories work, simultaneously repulsing and attracting. And I keep thinking about how I was going to go to Thailand for Christmas, but waited too long and the tickets got too expensive, and stayed here in Japan instead.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

my christmas:

all of my american friends left for christmas so i was alone. most of the japanese people i know weren't really doing anything to celebrate it. but mr. kobayashi (the translator I've mentioned on my blog) invited me to come to his wife's anglican church for their christmas eve ceremony. i'm not a religious person but i do have a spiritual life, so i was glad to go. it's a hard time of year to be a foreigner away from home and friends and family.

so i took the train on christmas eve after work into tokyo and met him in shinjuku, then took a train to the southeastern edge of the city which is hilly like san francisco to go to this really beautiful old anglican church. it looked so medieval. the ceremony was all in japanese. i understood some of it. all the carols were sung in japanese too. most of the lyrics were written in the first two alphabets of japanese, so i was able to sing along. whenever i came to a kanji, a symbol from the third alphabet which i haven't started learning yet, i would listen for the sound it made and then i'd know it during the next round, since you know, carols are repetetive. it was actually really nice. i was happy i was able to read the language fast enough to actually sing with them without a struggle. the last song was "come all ye faithful" which was my favorite christmas religious song when i was a kid. it made things really nice. they had flutists and harpists and a violinist playing the music as well as an organist, so it was all very beautiful. there was a lot of wonderful japanese food served afterwards. and a lot of japanese people wishing me merry christmas.

mr. kobayashi gave me a book called Man Walks Into A Room by Nicolle Krauss for a christmas present. he and his family took me as far as shibuya and saw me off on the right train home. I stopped off in shinjuku coming back, and walked through the seedy section with all the gaudy lights for a while, people watching, and then stopped at a starbucks and got a gingerbread latte to drink before getting back on the train. I hate starbucks but I love the taste of gingerbread, so I gave myself that little gift.

i took a different way home than usual and had to ask around in japanese which train would take me back to my hometown station. a nice japanese man helped me find the rapid train system which cost a little extra but was SO worth it, so fast, and we talked a little before the train came, because he realized i could do some basic japanese. the people are really friendly when they realize you can speak the language, otherwise they may act scared or ignore you if you try to talk to them. for example, in shinjuku, i was trying to ask people how to find ni-chome, the lit up seedy area, and i kept saying sumimasen to people, excuse me, and they'd look at me and look away and keep going. finally i said it to this one guy who looked at me and did the brisk look away, as if i were going to hit him up for money, and kept walking, and finally i shouted after him, "Ni Chome wa doko desu ka?" he stopped in his tracks and turned around looking very surprised and came back and apologized for ignoring me and gave me directions.

i started reading the book on the train, got home at midnight, and talked to my family over a really bad connection the next day. i spent most of christmas going back to bed, then grocery shopping at one point, and reading. i also talked to regina for a while. also talked to rick for a while, at his mother's place in massachusetts, where he was home for the holidays.

that was christmas in japan. it's actually not the worst christmas i've had. the phone connection with my family was horrible, which is weird because it never has been before when we talked, but other than that, not bad. i've had horribly depressing chrismases. this one was just quiet and meditative. today i started finishing a story i've been writing for the past month or two. so hopefully i'll finish that over the next few days.

new year's i'll be with my american friends in tokyo to party, so that should be fun. new year's day, i'm taking a train to nagoya to hang out with my friend tadashi for a few days there. it should be a nice way to end the winter vacation.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Now this is a great online quiz. I haven't read the Little Prince since college, sophomore year. Sigh...memories.

You are the pilot.

Saint Exupery's 'The Little Prince' Quiz.
brought to you by Quizilla

Friday, December 24, 2004

It's Christmas morning in Japan. I don't feel much like writing at length, so for now, Happy Holidays and Yoi Otoshio (Happy New Year)!

Saturday, December 18, 2004

I'm a little choked up over this. I think right now it would be best if we all held a moment of silence.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Because if you didn't read it via the link at Maude Newton's blog, you should read it now.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

So some new pics. This first set is from the Junior High again. I'm always struck by how damned many plants and flowers and little pretty arrangements are thrown about here and there throughout the building. I swear I can open a broom closet and on the shelf in there with the window cleaner I will probably find a little vase with a flower in it, just "make things prettier, ne?" So I took some pictures of some mundanities around the school.

A nice little arrangement when you first come in, just to make things prettier!

If you notice, even the fish who live down the hall from the previous arrangement have their own vase with flower to gaze at too, just to make things prettier.

A little garden behind the teacher's office. That's somehow still in bloom in December.

The trophy case near the front entrance Lots of plants and flowers to fluff the whole area up just a little!

And let's not forget the bathroom. (Actually, children of America, begin appreciating central heating. It's not here in Japan. The individual classrooms are heated, but the hallways and bathrooms are ice cold.)

A plaque out near the front parking lot.

A nice shade of fall. This little island of foliage sits in the center of the front parking lot.

The wall of shoes. Where the kids store their outside shoes and get their inside shoes in the morning and before they leave.

A popular phrase here is "Gambatte!" (and its various congugations). It mainly means "Do your best!" "Try hard!" "Good luck!" "You can do it!" "Come on!". Sentiments like that. When I visited a shrine once, with these steep steps that led up to the entrance, a grandmother and mother were taking a small boy up to the shrine for his birthday. The grandmother held the boy's hand. He was very small and probably had just learned to walk a little while back, and now he was trying to climb. Everytime he'd go to take the next step, grandma would say, "Ganbare!" (another form of the word). And the little tyke would lift his leg and Heave himself up to the next level. Very cute. In any case, sometimes a little fist is made and thrown about when kids say this. When I went to one of the elementaries for the first time back in September, I was asked to go out into a dusty sports field while hundreds of kids looked on at me on a podium and I had to introduce myself in Japanese. Remember? I couldn't remember how to say, "it'll be fun", and just said "Tanoshi desho." Which it turns out means, "It'll probably be fun." Which some days I think was actually the very correct statement to make. And I couldn't think of how to end my introduction, so I just said, "Gambatte kudasai!" Do your best please! And all those hundreds of fists raised up and all the kids shouted, "Gambatte!" which was the point at which I felt like a communist.

Well here is a little statue at the entrance to the school that reaffirms that sentiment for the kids as they enter school each morning. So the whole "Try hard!" mentality is engrained all the time.

Now onto a few pictures from Takada Elementary school, where I taught today.

Remember those kids raising their fists like good little soldiers? Here are some in action, during a quiz, once they found out their answers were right. They're ichinensei (first graders).

Here are some ichinensei in the gym, awaiting wakuwakutaimu. The rokunensei (6th graders) put on a little show, where they acted out different things they did in their last year as elementary school kids. The rest of the school watched.

The rokunensei sweeping. I have news for you kids. You're gonna sweep at the junior high too.

The rokunensei again this time showing how they raised rabbits and chickens, and further on down the stage were three boys laying on their stomachs onstage who were sakana (fish) which they raised this year too.

One of the gonensei (fifth graders).

Some ichinensei girls and the same fifth grade boy.

And last but definitely not least: Hikari! Teaching is a draining job. Kids NEED you. And teaching them in another language is REALLY draining. But kids like Hikari, who are ready with faces like this one, always makes everything worthwhile at the end of a day.

Takada is one of my favorite elementary schools. It's unfortunate I rarely get to go there to teach because they have the smallest population of students, so they send me to the big elementary schools more often in the hopes of getting more English to more kids at one time. Luckily Takada has a first grade teacher who speaks some decent English and she's already got kids in first grade asking me what I like to eat and how old I am and where I live etc. This is stuff that they usually won't get for years in other elementaries if they don't have an inhouse teacher who knows English (which is most likely the case). Takada also has a sixth grade teacher who has got to be like the most amazing woman, tries so hard to get them ready for Junior High, and learns English with an excitement that carries over to her kids. So even though I rarely go to Takada, the kids are in good hands with learning English. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that some of the best English students in Junior High probably came from this elementary.

Also I love Takada because each time I go, a different class has prepared some sort of nice thing for me. The first time I went, the ichinensei gave me sweet potatoes they grew in their garden. This time, the yonensei (fourth graders) learned how to play John Denver's "Country Roads" on their recorders, and their teacher asked me to sit down in front of them before we began the English lesson, and all the kids took out their recorders and played along to a cd that had some other instruments to accompany them with. It sounds so dorky, but they really picked a song that plays tricks with my heart. I was a little choked up, thinking of home as the kids played, missing it, and also just really felt welcome here when they think to do stuff like this for me. Later, the sixth graders had learned to sing "Stand By Me" and performed it for me. The kids are really amazing. I wish American schools taught second languages before high school. I'm sure some private schools do, and maybe some public schools, though when I went to school they didn't. I just think it's a good thing to get kids out of their own language and culture at an early age and into another one. One of the things Japan aims at accomplishing by doing this is broadening international understanding among their population. That's something that Americans should learn to do too. Too often we're taught that America is the best place, the only place, and not often enough are we taught that we're just another place, and that we should look into the lives of the rest of the world to see other ways of doing things.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

So my friend Tadashi gives me little Japanese lessons almost daily to supplement the ones I get on Friday nights from Karina. He has been teaching me some phrasal verbs that just don't make any sense to me. A lot of Japanese I learn quickly and accept it, but every once in a while something comes along that my brain resists so badly that it feels like I've just slammed on the brakes of a car and am doing a 180 so that I can stamp on the gas and go back the other way. Real fast. Recently I tried to tell Tadashi, "I just got back from the post office." I can't remember how I said it, but in any case it was wrong. He *understood* what I said. He knew what I meant, but it sounded strange. It isn't how Japanese people would say it. I think I said something like Watashi wa yubinkyoku kara dake kaetta. Which literally translated means: I the post office from just returned. You know, I just returned from the post office. Right? Nope. This is how you say it:

Yubinkyoku kara kaette kita.

Post office from return came.


Okay, so he drops the "I". You drop the "I" and "You" and "He" and "She" in Japanese all the time. Apparently they don't need to know who the subject is. It's implicit. You mention the subject person the first time, and ever after you can drop it. When you start to speak about someone new's actions etc. you then bring up the new person as the subject. It makes sense. That's not my problem. I'm used to that. Using "Kara" makes sense. It's just "from". I used that in my sentence too. "Kaette" I used in my sentence too. It means "return" or "go back" etc. "Kita" though, is "came". My head kept saying, "I came return from Post Office." Nope. Then I thought, "I came back from the Post Office." They're just changing "return" and making the verb back. I dealt with it. Okay. Got it. Wakata.

But then.....

He teaches me this phrase:

Chris ga nagoya ni yatte kuru = Chris is coming to Nagoya.

what's up with the yatte? It's one of the ways to say "do". Chris is doing come to Nagoya? "Why do you need the 'do' in there?" I asked. He doesn't know. It's just how it is. Hmm. I've heard that one before.

He then shows me this sentence:

Chris ga nagoya ni kiteru = Chris is in Nagoya(now).

Screeeech, once more.

Kiteru is the present progress of come. So it means "is coming". This is how I would have made the previous sentence, which apparently they don't do it that way. They want the "yatte" in there to say "is coming". So I ask, how in the world are you making the present progressive "is coming" mean "is in"?

Answer: It's just how it is.

My response: I find this unacceptable.

T: Just accept it!

Me: You suck.

Tadashi then asks, "Well why in English do you say, I'm going to take a nap. I'm going to take a pee, etc. You can't take those things."

I think for a while. Yes you can. You're not taking the nap itself or the pee, but a space of time to do those things in. It's a break from a routine your taking to do those things in. Makes sense. I then ask for him to find an explanation that makes sense for his silly phrasal verbs.

Let's just say I'm still waiting for an answer.

But I will accept the (*rolls eyes*) "yatte" being thrown around like so much confetti into sentences that don't really need it (in my opinion) and sure, I'll accept changing the verb "is coming" into "is in" (and that's a total leap of faith for me). But I will not accept these things without being a bitch about it. So on my laptop's desktop, I've created a file for things that are going to take a lot more time for me to learn because they're wickedly rule-breaking, and have labeled said file, "Evil Japanese Phrases That Make No Goddamned Sense".

And that makes the pill go down a little easier.

On yet another side note, whenever I speak Japanese, Japanese people go crazy. This is kind of cute but also a little like, well you know, you're able to learn English, what's so weird about me learning Japanese? I think mainly they're often struck by foreigners learning Japanese because they really don't need to. You can get by here without knowing Japanese. You'll run into some hassles and things will get confusing in some ways, but you can do it. And a lot of foreigners never do learn it. But I still sort of smile fakely when someone says, "Sugoi! Nihongo jouzu!" (You're good at Japanese! Amazing!) I will even say something really appropriate, like "Iie, mada dame desu." (No, it's not good yet.) But anyway, today one of my student's mother came to pick him up from school. He's one of my very favorite students, Shoki, a seventh grader with a mysterious illness that I still haven't been able to find out from the teachers what it is. He has to wear a fanny pack that has tubes coming out of it which go to who knows where. When I first got here, I thought Shoki wore that little fanny pack as a sort of affectation and I thought it was cute, until Hiraga sensei told me he has a disease and whatever it is that he needs to be healthy is in that fanny pack. I should have known better. Japanese schools are all uniformed. A fanny pack would diverge from the uniform and that wouldn't be allowed. But Hiraga sensei didn't know the name of the disease in English and Fujita says she's not sure what it is. Maybe she knows and just isn't saying for some reason. But in any case, Shoki is probably the best English speaker at the school. He's amazing. And so today his mother came to pick him up at school and as she and another teacher and Shoki were walking to her van, I was walking to my car, which was parked next to hers, and Shoki told me in Japanese that he'd see me tomorrow, and I told him in Japanese that he wouldn't because I was going to the elementary school on Thursday, so I'd see him on Friday. And Shoki's mother looked startled and turned to the other teacher and said, "Amazing! He can talk." This of course is the literal translation of what she said. She didn't say, He can talk Japanese, but it was implied. I translate into direct English sometimes and when I heard, "Amazing, he can talk," before carrying it out to what she really meant, "He can talk in Japanese," I was a little ruffled. Of course I can talk!!! What the hell!! hehehe. Then I just got over it in the next moment and joked around with Shoki until him and his mom left.

But man dealing with the nuances of a language that drops a lot of implied meaning is difficult. One day Kyoto Sensei (Head Teacher) came to me and said, "Chris san, Gakko ni Doyobi." Chris, School, Saturday." That's it. I was like, Okay, I understand, what about school and Saturday? (We had to come in to work on that Saturday for a special PTA day). So I'm standing there waiting for him to finish his sentence and Fujita sensei says, "He wants to know if you're coming to school on Saturday."

*Makes brow furrowed scrunchy nose open mouthed face*

How the heck am I supposed to know he asked that unless he SAYS the whole sentence???

Well next time I'll know. But damn. I'm not part of the hive mind. I NEED more information to respond!!! Some Japanese people understand this and because of that, I understand them completely when they speak to me. Others, like Kyoto sensei, don't realize English doesn't drop so much info and expect someone to understand it. So I always end up looking like a stupid dork with him even though I do fine with people who make complete sentences around me. Kyoto sensei will probably, in later years, think of me and how I never tried to learn Japanese because whenever he spoke, I couldn't understand him.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Since I'm far away from home and can't do this sort of thing with friends back home, I might as well do it virtually:

1. What did you do in 2004 that you'd never done before?

Moved to another country. Taught English as a second language. Flown overseas on a 747. Ate a shrimp with its eyes and little antennae looking at me. Accidently ate noodles that were really fish (also with eyes). Finished a novel (sort of cheating, but I did finish on January 2nd of 2004, then revised up to the point of this October, so I think it counts.

2. Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Um, I don't really make firm resolutions. I just always have hopes to change and grow for the better, to keep changing and experiencing new things and to get better at being human and humane.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?


4. Did anyone close to you die?

Unfortunately, yes. Bob Donaldson, working class hero/shelterer of crazy kids.

5. What countries did you visit?

Canada, and I'm of course in Japan. I live here, but I do often feel like a guest, so to speak.

6. What would you like to have in 2005 that you lacked in 2004?

Less financial worries. More faith and trust in people.

7. What dates from 2004 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Election day, because it was a tragedy. The day I arrived in Japan, because it was one of the most subtley strange experiences I've had.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Moving to Japan, finishing a novel, getting an agent to represent my writing, learning to trust myself more again.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Not trusting my feelings when I should have.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nothing out of the ordinary.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

A passport.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

So many people's (hence the acquiring of more faith and trust in people).

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

The powers that be. Bush. Those who voted to define marriage as existing only between men and women. You all suck really really really bad.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Getting prepared to come to Japan.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The prospect of selling a book, living in another culture.

16. What song will always remind you of 2004?

Imagine, by John Lennon. It's hit me hard this year. Really hard.

17. Compared to this time last year, you are:

Happier, really, even with the crappy people listed in question 13 out there in the world telling people how to live, as if they know better.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Spent more time with my friends.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

I wish I hadn't cloistered myself in my apartment so much for several months, but you know, it felt right at the time and probably was.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?

Christmas Eve in Tokyo with Mr. Kobayashi. Christmas, most likely on the phone with family and friends. Unfortunately, all my friends around here are either going on a trip during Christmas week or returning to America etc. So it'll just be me and my, well I almost said my cat, but he's not here. Just me.

22. Did you fall in love in 2004?

Yes. With Hobbes, mentioned above. My cat. Working on it still with people. There are a couple of candidates that are looking good, but this may have to wait for 2005.

23. How many one-night stands?

Puh-leeze. I am a traditional boy in that respect, even if I act like a whore.

24. What was your favorite TV program?

I don't really watch TV.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

Hmm, nope. Same people.

26. What was the best book you read?

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, also Like the Red Panda by Andrea Siegel. Oh yeah, and Sputnik Sweetheart, by Murakami.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?

I will have to write an entire entry about this, because it's Utada Hikaru, the Japanese singer I was dissing pretty badly when I first got here. So I found out her Japanese music is utterly gorgeous. It's just her English debut album that sucks sucks sucks. Public apology to Utada. Just please don't listen to whoever talked you into Easy Breezy. Damn girl! That song is cho hidoi! (Super terrible!)

28. What did you want and get?

I wanted a change of residence. I got it. (Thanks for helping, Mom, Dad, and G-Dad).

29. What did you want and not get?

Since I'm having a difficult time thinking of an answer, I suppose whatever I wanted and didn't get was, in the end, inconsequential. Or no longer wanted.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?

The Incredibles. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Probably I'm forgetting something and if I remember, I'll just edit the post. Feels like a blank year in my memory for movies though.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I went out out with Alan and Kristin in Youngstown, then went to the beach in Erie the next day. Very relaxing. I turned 29.

32.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Ugh, reference question 13 and do the math.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2004?

Hmm, I didn't really go for a look this year.

34. What kept you sane?

My cat for a few months made me focus on his insanity instead of my own. Then my mother for a few months in the summer made me focus on her insanity instead of my own. Now I'm in Japan and I have lots of things to distract me, so I'm feeling pretty sane.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

No one's really ringing any bells for me lately, actually.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?

Far too many, but the marriage between men and women only issue and like, you know, this whole war is the way thing. Those are at the top.

37. Who did you miss?

Well, everyone. Too many people to count at the moment, for the past four months now.

38. Who was the best new person you met?

Tadashi and Karina and Hizuru and the sensei's Fujita, Ohama, Nagasawa, Hiraga, Kiuchi, and Onuki. Also Ida sensei, because she reminds me of my one grandma, only Japanese. Oh and the sensei whose name I forget who sits across the desk from me and always tells me my shirts and my haircuts (the last two, thanks to Hizuru) are suteki! (fashionably cool!) She's the home ec teacher here, and reminds me of a Japanese version of my mom.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2004:

Believe in my own feelings and assessments. Trust myself and my own judgements. Trust who I am.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Edited yet again!!!

So basically I've asked five different Japanese friends and coworkers about the possible name of my hairstylist, and they've all given me different answers. Screw em all. I finally got online and looked up a page of Japanese names for women, and guess what? Hizuru *is* a Japanese girl's name. I *did* hear it right. Christ. Tadashi told me it had to be Hizuri. Hiromi told me it would have to be Hitomi. Fujita sensei told me Chizuru was the only name like that she knew. Nagasawa sensei said maybe it was some other name I forget now. Whatever. I was right, and feel idiotic for doubting what I knew I heard in the first place. Bah! I will have to get good enough at Japanese so one day I can tell Hizuru how much frustration her name has caused me.


So I have this huge crush on my hairstylist Hizuru. I've had it since she first cut my hair last month. The first couple of haircuts I got here were nice and all, but I couldn't quite communicate how I REALLY wanted it cut, so it always just came out really really short. Hizuru showed up the third time I went to get my haircut and had resigned myself to semi-bowl cut look, and she worked wonders for me. She knows just a little english, but it helps immensely. She lived in Australia for half a year, so she has the basic grammar and some basic words, so she can ask me things like, "How long? You like this? More? Shorter? Longer?" Since that first session we had last month when she made me very happy, I've asked around for good haircut vocabulary, and went in armed to the tooth with words tonight. The guys who run the cash register and wash hair gave me to her because no one else speaks English there so they sort of flake out if someone else has to cut my hair. I think mainly because they're afraid they'll fuck it up not understanding me and I'll be upset or something. In any case, the great thing about Hizuru is that she tries really hard to speak to me in English and asks me to correct her, and while she's trying hard to speak English, I'm trying hard to answer her in Japanese. She corrects me too. Tonight she asked, "You believe in Santa?" and I cracked up laughing. She was very proud of her little joke, smiling coyly. I told her when I was a child I believed in Santa. We kept up this silly banter, half in English and half in Japanese, sounding like complete idiots I'm sure, but we had a good time. And the really great thing about Hizuru is that even though her coworkers very obviously look at us like we're stupid lamoids, neither of us able to really talk really good in each other's language, she doesn't care. She does it anyway. When I was getting ready to leave tonight, she walked me to the door and held it up for me and I told her, "Anata no namae wa wasuremashita." I forgot your name. (This was the big drama last month because when she had told me her name, I heard it wrong, and none of my Japanese friends could figure out what it would be from the syllables I had retained. Christ, I've probably got it wrong now, but she nodded when I said it tonight). She said, "I remember your name! You are Chris," and I smiled and she said her name for me again, and I repeated it several times, her nodding (hence thinking I've got it right this time). And then I told her, "Kondo watashi wa wasurenaide." Next time I won't forget. She held out her pinky finger then with this really beautiful smile and said, "Yakusoku." Promise.

Egah. What a heartbreaker.

Hizuru's handiwork:

Saturday, December 11, 2004

I went to Tokyo yesterday to meet Yoshio Kobayashi, the man who translated Bruce Sterling's books into Japanese. He was extremely nice, and introduced me to the editors of Hayakawa SF magazine, who gave me a copy of the recent issue with my friend M. Rickert's story "Bread and Bombs" in it, as well as Douglas Lain's "Headline Trick" in it as well, which we published in the second issue of Rabid Transit. It was so cool to see those stories in Japanese, and the art for them was great. Mr. Kobayashi is an extremely intelligent man, and his ideas about sf and fantasy constantly floored me. I wish we had someone as astute as he is writing about the state of science fiction in more American publications. His ideas are fresh, and he sees the evolution of the genre in a way that I haven't heard anyone talk about really. As well as translating, he also teaches at a school for translators and mentioned that he's taught my friend Richard Butner's story, "The House of the Future", as well as my story, "Dead Boy Found", at school, and it was really interesting to hear the sort of reactions translators have to those stories, and how Mr. Kobayashi taught them to read them. Listening to him talk about the stories, I had a realization that Richard's and my story actually end up being closely related, though we come at things at different angles. Both stories are about an America without a future. Richard's where the idea of an America without a future is implicated in the abandoned project of a forward thinking architect, and in mine embodied in a fifteen year old narrator who is representative of a generation whose outward appearances seem quite normal and average, but inwardly feel the doors of a future closing on them, and opt for an inner death. Hadn't thought about these sorts of things for a while, and it was good to do so again. It made me think about the novel I finished last year around this time, too, as it's written from that same narrator's perspective.

Anyway, over the course of the night I met many really nice people. But I do have to get better at Japanese than I am. I wish I could have talked more intimately with some of them, but the Japanese I know doesn't really allow for that just yet. I was so frustrated by not being as good at speaking Japanese as I want to be that I took a wrong train going home, which then forced me to speak *really* good Japanese to a nice woman on the train who understood everything I was saying and had me get off the train with her at the next stop, where she showed me how to get back on the right track. Actually, I was on the right track. I had just ended up taking an express train, which doesn't go to my town's station, instead of getting on the local service train. So I just had to get off and wait for the next one to come along.

I was still frustrated by not being able to have a nice adult conversation when I got home, and my friend Tadashi called me and reminded me I've only been here three and a half months and that I'm learning really quickly and not to worry about it. Also reminded me I'm mostly interacting with junior high and elementary school kids throughout the week, and that the language I use with them I'm really comfortable with, but that it's coming from a teacher's perspective, and so the sets of language I use without thinking much about are commands and questions that I need to know as a teacher. I told him I've got to have him and the other adult Japanese people I interact with to stop speaking English to me and refuse to acknowledge English from me unless it's necessary, and maybe then I'll get better even faster.

On the train ride home, my car had the bad luck to have a drunk guy forcing himself into intimate interactions with them. Well not with everyone. Mostly with girls who were alone. And me. He was from Brazil, I think he told me, and of course he sat down in my booth and went on about lots of girls on the train and how hot they were etc. Told me his wife and baby were at home so not to tell on him, blah blah blah. He only spoke Japanese and Portuguese, but I kept trying to tell him he was mortifying the passengers, who looked terrorized, and to stop acting this way. I managed to tell him in Japanese that he was drunk and embarrassing people, but he just laughed. He kept opening the window in my booth and smoking. I felt so bad for everyone on the train. I'm used to this sort of behavior in America, and can ignore it really easily. But the Japanese people on the train looked like they might crumple up into little balls they were so upset. Finally I got off the train at my stop and was relieved to leave him behind.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

My story, The Other Angelas, is now online at Pindeldyboz.

Dear Angela Carter,

I know you are dead and all, but that's okay, I'm going to write you this little note anyway. A long time ago you came to live in Japan like I'm doing, and you wrote some stories based on your experiences there. They were in Fireworks, one of my favorite collections of yours. I liked those stories a lot the first time I read them when I was twenty, but now that I'm living here I appreciate them even more. In "A Souvenir of Japan" you wrote, "In the department store there was a rack of dresses labelled: 'For Young and Cute Girls Only'. When I looked at them, I felt as gross as Glumdalclitch. I wore men's sandals because they were the only kind that fitted me and, even so, I had to take the largest size."

This little excerpt still resonates here, but I want to add a little addendum to your feminist takes on Japan though, because this sort of body consciousness isn't just a female thing here. In the department stores those racks are also labelled For Cute and Small Skinny Boys Only, too. I know because as I was shopping today, I found the most awesome wool sweater but they only had them in mediums, which is really the size small in America. I was so mad having to hang it back up, only to witness the tiny little Japanese guy next to me swipe it up immediately after I put it back, take it off its hanger and pull it over his t-shirt, then turn to his equally small friend and say, "Kakoii!" This shirt is cool!

Let me say with the qualification that this is just an exaggerated emotional metaphor, but I really wanted to wring the little dude's neck. He totally looked right at me, twirling around in the nice sweater like a fashion model and got compliments from his friend. Bastard! I saw that sweater first! And if your damned country thought enough about its foreigners living and working here, you might consider we are not as small and thin-boned as most of you are. I say this even after I've lost weight here in the past three months and my pants from America are hanging off my hip bones. Now there's a problem when my old size 33 waist pants hang off my hips and when I wear a pair of Japanese jeans, I have to go back up to size 35 (34 is also possible, but I'd never have the chance to possibly gain weight if I bought them, nuff said. Talk about making a person who's losing weight feel bad. I go down another inch or two and yet I have to wear four sizes larger than I do in America. Hate hate hate. It is the foreigner's lament here, men and women both, that when you try to find clothes you actually feel you look good in, over half the time is spent feeling like you are the Great White Godzilla, crashing through the sales racks where you are most likely to find the bigger sizes. Glumdalclitch, indeed.

But I did find some kakoii clothes that fit me eventually, so score one more point for Team America.

Anyway, Angela, I just wanted to say I feel you, sister. Japan is all about the bird-boned boys and girls.


Saturday, December 04, 2004

Quiz time! (Thanks Nalo!)

You are 22% geek
OK, so maybe you ain't a geek. You do, at least, show a bit of interest in the world around you. Either that, or you have enough of a sense of humor to pick some of the sillier answers on the test. Regardless, you're probably a pretty nifty, well-rounded person who gets along fine with people and can chat with just about anyone without fear of looking stupid or foolish or overly concerned with minutiae. God, I hate you.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at

I'm a lesbian first lady. Woo
Which Famous Homosexual Are You?
Brought to you by Rum and Monkey

A strange thing in Japan is suicide. Japan has the highest rate of suicide in the world. And one particular shape suicide takes here is the proliferation of group suicides, people who meet online or by accident in public with the aim of finding a group to kill themselves with. I'm terribly interested in it for some reason, and am writing a story because of that terrible interest. But this is one configuration of group suicide I haven't found until tonight. It gives me the shivers.

And to wash down that bitter pill, a terribly cute blog I stumbled across.

The wind is blowing hard tonight. It's six in the morning. I woke up at four and couldn't get back to sleep for all the rattling and shaking of my apartment house. It's still blowing fast and heavy. Somewhere in town, a gong or a deep throated bell is ringing. It happens every morning at this hour. I don't know who does this or if it's something automated. It makes me think of home, though, of Youngstown, of my apartment on the Northside next to all the churches and the way the bells rang at certain hours. Sometimes I wake up hearing the bell here and for a moment I am back home again.

I mentioned the Japanese renunciation of war as a valid path to resolution in the last post. Here's the actual article of renunciation in their constitution. It has a nice ring to it. I like the choice of words that begin it, "aspiring sincerely" and that it ends on resolute note.

Article 9:
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. 2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Here's a link I urge you all to follow. It goes to a video by a Japanese Hip Hop/Rapper called King Giddra. The song's about 9/11 and its aftermath. Don't worry, there are subtitles to the lyrics.

It's only in recent months that I've been able to actually think about 9/11 clearly and not without being immediately hijacked by a numbness that set in for me around that event. I remember I was in grad school when it happened, and in one of my writing courses the professor was asking us to write responses to the event after it happened and I refused to because I didn't feel like I had any response. I was speechless in a literal sense. Whenever I tried to write anything about 9/11, there was always a blank page, which matched my emotions towards the event. I think most Americans reacted to it with what I think of as socially learned responses, and I'm always trying to avoid the social emotional response we've been taught to use for various situations. I want my emotions to be what I feel, I want them to be my emotions, not what my culture has engrained in me as "the way you should act or behave in response to such and such an event". For me, 9/11 wasn't something I could get up in arms about, it wasn't something that made me hate the cultures of the Middle East, it wasn't something I could cry about or scream about or have any reaction to at all. I was just stunned, and it's really only been recently that I feel I can engage with it, and its horrible aftermath with the Bush administration leading us into darker, scarier waters every day. One of the things that has bothered me all along, I guess, is how so many Americans think of 9/11 as America's tragedy because it happened on American soil. But really 9/11 was something so huge that it's the whole world's tragedy. Sure, it hits America hard, but we can't shut out the responses from the rest of the world towards it because it happened in America. The effects of 9/11 everyone feels, all nations are touched by it, ravaged by it in some cases. And we need to listen to what they have to say about it (and about the Bush administration)too.

America, I fear, is returning to isolationism in a particularly weird form. We're closing our ears to what the rest of the world is trying to tell us. We've forgotten how to listen. With a president like Bush who emphasizes war and physical aggression as a way of dealing with the world, this isn't surprising. It was evident in all of the debates this past election that he was unable to hear what people were trying to tell him. He doesn't know how to listen to people. He just does what he wants. I don't want my America to become a culture modeled on that sort of characteristic. It's sad and shameful.

The Japanese have it written into their constitution to not ever make war again. This video's response to 9/11 and Bush's handling of it has wisdom from a culture that has learned its lesson about what war as a response creates: death, death, and more death. It's a wasteful way of dealing with problems. It only sets up more problems for the future. Nothing is ever resolved through war, not really. I hope one day we have an America that understands this, and if any amendment is made to our constitution, it will be an amendment like the Japanese have to never make war again.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Not much time for a post, but Ideomancer just reprinted a story I originally published in Descant's Speculative Fiction issue. Go ahead and check it out if you've got the time and inclination. Mata ne! (Later!)