Monday, November 28, 2005


A review of "The Boy Who Was Born Wrapped in Barbed Wire" (link to the story on the sidebar) has been posted at Tangent. I like the review a whole lot, as the reviewer, E. Katerina Sedia, read the story in a way that makes me think the story is doing much of what I want it to do. I hope it read that well for everyone who gave it (or gives it) a go.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


Things I am thankful for:

I am reading Paul Park's A Princess of Roumania (thank you Christopher and Gwenda), and it's wonderful. I haven't been glued to a book because of such a wonderful, intriguing, fantasy world to discover in a long time.

Karaoke. As I recently wrote a friend back in the States, if heaven is a subjective place where we get to choose our own version, my heaven will be a karaoke room where you can order everything from sushi to french fries and a variety of alcoholic drinks and have it all brought to your room where I and my friends are having fun together, entertaining each other. I could spend eternity in such a way, but I'm not sure if all my friends would a.) want to be stuck in there singing karaoke and eating sushi for eternity and b.) I'm not sure if we'd all fit in there. We'd definitely have to reserve the big party room that comes with a tiny little stage. Hey, even better!

Which leads me to the next thing. My friends. All wonderful. Even the ones I don't see so very often, I love you heaps.

And my life in Japan, which has given me so many things, I don't know how to even express in a sentence or two how grateful I am to have had the chance to live here.

And my family of course. I miss my nephews and nieces.

Friday, November 25, 2005


Not Jealous.

Well not very.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Come on, baby!

Last year there was a short little fat chubby guy who worked at the administration desk behind my desk at the junior high school. (It's strange as I type now, sometimes I hesitate because I am about to type the Japanese word for certain words and have to remind myself to write it in English, certain words are embedded in my memory now, it seems, as deeply as many of my English words). Anyway, he always reminded me of my father, and not just because he was short and chubby. But because of his personality too. In a social world of politeness and quiet nods, business formal Japanese mainly being spoken except between teachers you are close with and of course among the students, this was the man who would enter the teacher's office and bellow "Ooooooohaaaayooooo gozaimasu!" as if he were a Japanese comedian, probably one of the Belushis. Sometimes I'd come around the corner of the front hallway and find him sitting cross-legged in front of the fish tanks, staring at them as if they were going to reveal a great mystery. Once he patted the floor beside me and told me sit down, and when I did he held forth upon the various names of the fish in tanks in Japanese and talked about how relaxing they were to look at, and some other things that I couldn't understand at the time, as I'd only been here a few months then. In any case, he left the junior high last April (the turn of the Japanese school year) and moved to become an administrator at one of the elementary schools I teach at. And so I see him rarely now, but whenever I teach at the school where he works now, I'm always glad to see him and be greeted by his exuberant, loud, funny way of speaking.

At the elementary school he's an adminstrator too, but today he was teaching the first graders because their regular teacher has gone to Norway to do a special International program. Last year Oohama sensei went to Portugal for a similar program, where she taught Portuguese children about Japanese culture. This is how he explained why he was teaching today. "The first grade teacher's gone to Norway for a special program. Oh last year that woman teacher at the junior high school did it too. She went to Portugal though."

Me: "Oh Oohama sensei?"

"That's right, that's right. Oh you have a good memory, Chris san! Anyway, so that's why I'm teaching the first grade. But they are crazy! Do you remember how at the junior high, the students would be lively in the morning and then after classes and lunch and cleaning time, eventually they'd get tired by afternoon? Well not these kids! All day long they won't stop! If the assistant teacher comes in to help me, all of a sudden they are quiet, but if I'm by myself, they are climbing up the walls and turning over desks! I can't take it anymore! So let's do our best."

Thanks for the pep talk, I thought as we walked into the room full of six year old lions, who did indeed turn out to be much more excitable than usual. I spent most of the class telling them to be quiet to not much effect. One boy ran around the room saying, "Okay boss!" over and over, while a girl sat in her corner seat and shouted, over and over as well, "Come on, baby!"

I did not teach them this English. So don't even ask where they've learned it. I have no clue. Most likely their older brothers and sisters.

Mr. Kimura sat in the back of a room, one arm folded across his stomach, holding up his other arm, while he cried into his hand, only to occasionally look up and throw his hands in the air and shrug. "Come on, baby!" the girl would shout after he and I exchanged looks, and this was how the next fifty minutes were spent, while also getting in some good karuta card games.

Later I had class with the sixth graders, who were behaving similarly to the first graders, only it wasn't cute because they were sixth graders and I had to keep reprimanding a group of boys who seemed to all have ADHD and who happened to just pick each other to be a group for a game. Great. After class, I saw Mr. Kimura going back to the first graders, shaking his head, and I stopped him and asked, "Which is worse, the first graders or sixth graders?"

"Oh sasuga," he said (sort of a way of saying either, ""As expected from someone like you," or more colloquially, "way to go") "you understand. It's scary, isn't it!" He then sauntered into the first grade room and, as he slid the door closed, I could hear the peals of hysterical laughter and shouts. Poor Mr. Kimura. One more class period left for him at that point. But I got to pack my backpack and the sigh with relief all the way home.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


My appreciation of Ursula LeGuin's "Flyers of Gy" and of Ellen Datlow and Scifiction has been posted at the EDSF Project. Go take a look at it and other appreciations of the stories Ellen Datlow has brought to us through Scifiction over the last six years. It's quite remarkable. The presence of Scifiction will be greatly missed. I won't say Ellen's presence will be greatly missed because I don't expect her to be between gigs for long. She's too good an editor to not have some wonderful opportunity find its way to her soon. At least that is my hope for her, and for us.


Lately I am trying to get back into the same routine I was in at this time last year. But it's been hard for the past few months because of various things. In August my mom and aunt came to visit, in September I went back to work, in October I had various freelance jobs to complete, and this month I've been back at work on my second novel. So I've managed to get back into a writing stride but when I try to do everything--working, running, writing, and also having freetime fun--I just can't juggle all of those balls at the same time like I did last year. Or so I like to think.

So last night I finished the sixth chapter/story of my new book (there will be ten, I'm pretty sure) and ran, and also worked earlier in the day, so not so bad. At school, one of the track team girls came into the teacher's office to get a key for something and on her way out she stopped at my desk and said, "Chris, Naze bukatsu ni mo konai??" Why don't you come to club anymore?? She seemed very upset. I told her I'd been busy lately and she told me I was missing all the fun. Lately we're running down the hill at a dash! It's fun! "Kite kudasai!" she said. Please come! and looked very indignant as she described all the reasons why I should be running with them. Okay, okay! I said, and she said, "Jyaa, ashita!" and stormed out of the office with her key.

I'm always surprised when the students on the track team stop me and say, why have you stopped running with us? I guess they liked having me around more than I realized. So today I have my running gear with me, and am prepared to have all that fun running down the hill at a dash.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Sapporo and Otaru

So, as I have said, I had a wonderful time in Sapporo. My first day started when I got up at three in the morning so I could take a bus to Tokyo and catch my plane at Haneda airport. When we got to Sapporo, Mr. Kobayashi had class for several hours with his students before I came to talk to them, so a nice young woman who works at the school was my guide in the city while we waited. She didn't speak English, so I spoke Japanese for those few hours. At first this was pretty easy, but towards the end of the third hour I was beginning to make easy mistakes because I was getting tired and so we checked into my hotel room finally and I was able to take a nap before I gave my talk.

I think the talk I gave about writing actually turned out to be interesting for Mr. Kobayashi's students. I hope so. It was interesting to me because they asked such good questions and were all great people. Mr. Kobayashi started by asking me questions about how I became a writer and what I have written so far, and we then talked about my first novel, and eventually we spoke about what I might expect from a translation, if my work were to be translated. A couple of my short stories have been translated before, but I hadn't really considered this question much until I moved to Japan, and started to study Japanese hard. After studying a language for a long time, I started to translated everything I read or heard in English into Japanese (if I could) And I've noticed how the longer I stay here, my English changes too. I sometimes say things now with a grammar more similar to Japanese, but using English words.

Anyway, it was a fascinating discussion for me. Afterwards the students had a dinner with me at an Italian restaurant. The food was wonderful. And after that, me and Mr. Kobayashi and several students (Fusako-san, Mariko-san, Mayu-san, and Fubuki-san) all went to karaoke and sang. It was so much fun. Those four women were fun karaoke singers too! The people of Sapporo seem to have a different kind of personality compared to here in Ibaraki. They seem more forward, more immediately personal, the women "have ideas" and aren't afraid to speak their minds, or (according to Mr. Kobayashi) divorce their husbands.

The landscape of Hokkaido is beautiful too. It was wide open with mountains shadowing the distance and the Sea of Japan is nearby. The first day I was in Sapporo, the second day we went to Otaru, a seaside port town which is the sister city of Venice. There's a canal there and it was this very romantic little place, dark and wintery. It made me think of a Bronte novel.

If I ever come back to live in Japan, I want to live in Otaru or Sapporo. I used to think I would like to live in Tokyo, but Sapporo reminded me of Ohio (with mountains) and I realized how much I miss the landscape of my childhood. I miss the rolling fields and creeks and woods, the trees changing colors and the wide open feeling of the landscape. Sometimes in Ibaraki, which has some aspects like Ohio too, I can feel a bit closed in, with not enough space. But Sapporo had plenty of space, so I felt really at home there. And it was cold! But I loved it. I hope I can go there again for Yuki Matsuri (the Snow Festival) in February.

If any of the Sapporo people I met are reading this, thank you for the weekend! I hope to come back again soon.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Another Good One Gone Too Early

I just got back from a wonderful weekend in Sapporo, and then heard the news about Scifiction being done away with at A complete shame. It was their only really really bright star, in my opinion.

I was planning on writing about my weekend in Sapporo, which I will say again was wonderful, but I am dead on my feet and have to sleep so I can be able to go to school tomorrow.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Itte kimasu

I am off to Hokkaido for the weekend, to give a lecture with Mr. Kobayashi to translation students who attend a college in Sapporo. Will be back in a bit. Till then, stay warm!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

First Folk Tale

Last week at Edosaki Elementary School, I told my first folk tale in Japanese. At that elementary school there are not enough desks in the teacher's office to lend me one to sit at for the day, so I sit with the principal in his office all day long, between classes, and we talk. He's a big man who used to do judo in high school. He wears glasses and sort of reminds me of a Japanese John Goodman. We both started our jobs at the same time. He began being an elementary school principal when i first arrived to teach English. When I came, he tried very hard to speak in English. He knows some parts of speech that are helpful, but when I didn't understand Japanese, they only set up contexts for me and left out content. For example, he would often say, "Ten years ago, Japanese Japanese Japanese." *smile* and I would smile back and nod knowingly. Now we basically just talk in Japanese.

Last Tuesday I was scheduled to teach the fifth graders, but when I arrived they were all lined up and were being given a briefing on what kind of behavior was expected of them while they were out of school that day, and the principal saw me and came over to tell me the fifth graders were going on a field trip to our prefecture's capital city, Mito, to go to the history museum there. This then established the theme for our conversation all day. History. Japanese history. I told the principal that Japan has a lot of history and that America is such a young country in comparison. "That's true," he said, "but many of the people from olden days made up a lot of things."

"How old is Japan?" I asked.

"Oh, according to those people from a long time ago, over two thousand years old. But as I said, they made a lot of things up."

"Oh really?"

"Oh yes! So many stories, they just made them up!"

"I didn't know that."

He goes on to tell me a Japanese creation myth, how the gods sent angels down to various places in Japan that are famous places now, and they established life in those places, communities that would later feud and form different structures etc. "But all that is made up," he said at the end of his story.

"Oh we have those sorts of stories in America too," I said.

He looks disbelieving and waits for me to continue before commenting.

"For example, have you ever heard of the story of Rip Van Winkle?"

"No, never."

"Well there is this man called Rip Van Winkle. And he drinks a lot. And his wife always scolds him. One day he goes up into the mountains and drinks a lot with his friends and falls asleep. And twenty years pass before he wakes up again! When he goes to his village, his wife is dead and his dog is dead, and he sees his daughter, but she's old now. And also the American Revolution came while he slept. He doesn't like any of these changes, so he goes back up into the mountains and goes to sleep again. Forever."

"Oh my, that man really went to sleep completely, didn't he!"

Laughter. Then two third graders come and ask me to teach their class English.

Later we resume our conversation: "But Japan's history is full of lies. Sometimes it makes me angry."

"I understand. Many politicians in America lie to people. That makes me angry."

"In America? That can't be."

"Oh yes, of course. For example our current president's administration."

"Oh surely not Mr. Bush."

"Oh yes, I think so."

"Well actually, I too thought so, but..."


"Oh Barzak san, Americans are so amusing."

"Aren't we?"

More laughter.

I will miss him and our conversations when I am gone.

Monday, November 07, 2005

When I am...

The eighth graders are learning how to use the future tense in English. It's kind of an odd tense for them to get a grasp on, as there is no future tense in Japanese to the extent that we use it in English. There is something I would call a "provisional" tense, but nothing so explicitly future oriented that goes beyond a certain "It might rain tomorrow" or "Probably it's expensive," sort of language. Hmm, there is also a way of saying something like, "Open the door in advance so the breeze can come through, which has a certain shade of the future usage in it, but again, not so explicit. If there is anyone out there who knows something I don't, by all means, correct me. But this is what all my teachers have told me thus far.

In any case, there are some kids who are just natural language learners. I think the reason is because they know how to make it fun for themselves. For example, while all the other kids were writing, "When I am fifteen, I will study to enter a high school," one of my star pupils, Sho Kimura, was writing, "I'll charge Yoshinori Kido of stealing my pencil when I am fifteen years old."

Several weeks ago, when Sho was learning "I must" and "I have to", during a practice conversation, he told me, "I must kill Daiki Miyamoto."

"Why must you?" I asked in feigned shock.

"Because it is my destiny," Sho told me in utter seriousness. Then we broke up laughing.

And like that, it's just so much more fun learning a different language.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Barbed Wire Boy

My story "The Boy Who Was Born Wrapped in Barbed Wire" is now available to be read at the Endicott Studio's Autumn issue of The Journal of Mythic Arts. The issue looks like it has a lot of really interesting stuff, as usual. In any case, if you read it, I hope you enjoy.