Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Maybe I should show them Free Willy...

Every week, I teach two eikaiwa. One is with 5 lovely ladies, all married, all moms, all local for at least the past 20 years. We mostly chat about their lives, their kids, my life, and where Tomoko is going golfing next. The other is 3 ladies and a gentleman (who I might add, is very LOUD during yoga), where we talk about sake, local goings on, and world issues.

Last night, Kiyoto-san (the male version) and I were conversing before the ladies arrived. He looks at me meaningfully and says, "What do you think about 鯨 (whales)?" I told him that I suppose I quite like whales. They are intelligent and graceful, and I used to study marine biology, blah blah. He pushed again, and I realized he wanted to know if I liked whale meat. Living in Japan, one becomes accustomed to interpreting questions such as these. It's not, "Do you think octopus are endearing?" It's "Do you think octopus are delicious?" This goes for an array of animals. I sometimes like to imagine a Japanese child watching the little mermaid. Particularly the scene where Sebastian the crab is singing about all the ocean animals playing various instruments. Is the child pondering over woodwinds in an underwater environment, amazed at the bright colors, or thinking mmm, everything looks tasty! I am not trying to be racist here. My childhood was spent in the midwest, where cow, pork, chicken, and Mrs. Paul's fish sticks were what I was accustomed to. Fish just wasn't much of an option, and let's face it, when a child is not raised on a particular food, it takes a while to develop a taste for it. Palates are strange things.

It might also be the Japanese lack of disguising their food, at least in sushi restaurants. There is no question what you are eating. Hell several kinds come out with their heads still on. Kids in kaiten restaurants reach over the conveyor belt, touching things as they go by. I am starting to wonder if they think it will start moving again.

Anyways, back to whale. Kiyoto-san enlightened me quite a bit, so I thought I would share. He is a good source of typical Nihonjin experience and knowledge, and also has a great sense of humor to deliver it. He said, when he was a little boy, whale meat was all the rage. Japan was a very poor country when he was young, because of the economic downfall after the war. Whale was easy to come by and a single whale could feed many people. Whale meat was also the only red meat that Japan had at the time, because cows were so rare, that beef was exorbitantly expensive. Whale steaks, whale on a stick, whale everywhere. He said, he quite enjoyed whale meat as a child because it was different. The rest of the time it was fish, rice, and vegetables, so whale was special. I asked him what he thought of whale now, and he said "Japan does not hunt whale because the world says it is bad." Umm... yeah they do, they say it's for science. "Oh, we must kill whales for science, but we do not eat them." Umm... whale is served in middle-school lunches at least once a month right here in Toyama. "No it is not." Yes, it is. My friends have eaten it. It is in the store. "No, we do not eat whale."

I knew this wasn't going to go down well, but I told him the truth of the whale still being eaten in Toyama and around Japan. I also gentley volleyed the original question back to him. What do you think about whale? "Oh, I do not eat whale now. Only when I was a child. Now, I like pork and beef." I asked why he doesn't eat whale anymore, since he used to like it quite a bit in his youth. His only answer, "Japan is not a poor nation." So, I am assuming from this, that eating whale meat has a psychological connection to the economic hardships in Japan's past, and that is part of why it has fallen to the wayside. I am sure international pressure has done it's fair share as well.

We moved on to the subject of whaling for "research". No one knew the details of the research (the ladies had joined us by this point), but said that the whale meat in Japan came from the whales who had been "researched on"(this was a switch from "we do not eat whales"). They defended themselves by saying that the Japanese use all parts of the whale, unlike the Americans who killed all the buffalo *low blow, I might add.

Ahh.. the buffalo attack. I was expecting this all along. Just to clarify, I had not been rude, accusatory, or snarky for the entire previous convo because I like these folks, and we learn a lot from each other. Sometimes it takes a while to break through cultural ways of thinking to the truth, on both our parts. We debated endangered animals, for a bit, and I swallowed the US guilt of whaling in the past, only using the animals for oil, killing the buffalos, I took it all in stride. Face it, our history is pretty bloody and shitty. I am a vegetarian, though, so I don't worry too much about the association (hell, later he asked me how I survive eating only salads all day every day). I think Kiyoto-san was just trying to unburden himself from pressure that I didn't mean to put on him. Let's call it whale guilt.

I was disturbed by the idea of feeding middle schoolers on "researched" whale meat to save a few bucks. We all were. So, our final question was:
Why does the Japanese governmet insist on whaling still, if the majority of the Japanese populous don't really care for whale meat at all?

Mysterious. Here's more info if you are interested in the political hub-bub.

why whale?

greenpeace vs. sea shepherd

Note: Sea Shepherd has damaged their name to the point in Japan, that after choosing them as recipient of our international charity show funds this year, we were chastised by the Japanese sponsors and asked to change charities.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Today I am an angry grape.

that is all

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

GRE and geometric shapes that I have made peace with

I have decided that he GRE as a computer-based test is the devil. The tiny boxes you are expected to word process within, caused me to neglect to erase my "notes" before the time was up. I realize this is probably my fault and not the computers, but usually when you are typing out a paper, you can see everything on the screen. This is, of course, ruling out 2-3 page essays and the like. This was a 5 paragraph essay about judging a culture by the appearance and actions of its people.

This is what the test-site looks like (please note the massive orange headphones of pain on the left of the brunette)

We were promised "earplugs" but that was a lie. Much like the bathroom break before the test really began lie. LIES! Having freshly moved up to 12mm lobes the previous day, I was none too thrilled with the earwear. (ear shots later)

It made me cranky, and I hope the readers of my analytical section realize that I am just a doofus, and don't grade me too harshly for the obvious "word ... (four spaces)... word ... (two spaces)." Kinda made me want to cry, but what can you do? You can go out till 4am in Osaka at some club called Triangle (oh the irony) and get drunk on numerous alcohols. I needed the relaxation, and I paid for it on Monday. Ouchie.

Anywho, I will probably take the GRE again next year with J, after reviewing a lot more about the geometry and vocabulary of circles. Fuck circles. Hard. I memorized formulas for circumference, area, etc. I know about tangents and line segments, semi-circles and arc lengths. What do they do? The first question is something about 2 concentric circles and the tangent of the smaller circle bisecting the other circle at two points.... All I could do was look at concentric and think, "that was NOWHERE in the review!" This blew my mind into a million pieces.

The unfortunate thing is, MA programs are gonna view the scores side by side, not alone. If I do better, then cool, if I do worse... It's good to know that studying for months won't make you feel any better about the test. It was as if none of it mattered.

The system gives you a question, and if you get it correct, it gives you a harder one, and so on and so forth. If you screw up, you start getting cake questions. When I saw "modicum" I knew things were starting to go downhill :(

Also, it's fairly evil to include "there is not enough information provided to figure out the answer" problems in any test. It's like pulling the safety net out from under a teettering tight-rope walker!

To top off the fun, Japan is, for some reason, under the impression that J is my middle name now. When I applied for my passport nearly 8 long years ago, I was asked for my middle initial. That would be J. When I filled out the online form to take the GRE, they asked for my middle name, so I wrote Jane. The mistress of GRE called me into her lair on Sunday, sat me down, and started asking why I filled the form out incorrectly. ??? She asks to see my passport and points at the J trying to tell me that is my name. I explained as best I could the difference, and try to legitimize the ridiculousness of J vs. Jane, when it's obviously me, they have photo evidence as well as every number I have been given by either govt. since birth. Want my soc # I have my card in my wallet! Want my gaikokujin card? In my wallet! Want my thumbprint? HERE! No. I had to wait nearly 20 minutes while she called the head office and had a debate about whether or not I should be allowed to sit for the test. Talk about unnecessary tension directly before taking a test that is going to affect the rest of my life~!

That is enough whinging for now. If any of you folks are preparing for the GRE, take the online tests, as many as you can, be careful of the word processing software (you cannot use mouse right/left clicking for cutting and pasting), and circles! Circles are EVIL.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bangkok is for monkeys

I have become the prefectural advisor for our ken, and in doing so, have swamped myself. Smooth move on my part. All in all, I enjoy the added spice to my normal work routine, and I get to take a weekly business trip to Toyama. However, with all the wacky regional meetings and orientations this time of year, things were a bit hectic. And who doesn't enjoy a good whinge?

On top of that fun, Bunny and I are taking the GRE next weekend in Osaka, and have been studying our brains out. What's more (I just wanted to say that, because it is a popular phrase around my school right now, appearing in essays and peppered in my JTE's speech) I am taking sankyuu again in December, and I have no doubt about passing, but am trying to study for that as well as start preparing for nikyuu next year, which is evil (so I hear).

It's nice to be busy, and I am getting into the flow of it now. I have been finding time to cook more (samosas and banana bread recently) and go to the gym somewhat regularly, in an effort to prevent old lady wings from forming under my arms. Eeew, you know what I am talking about, and I don't want them! Also, I need to train for the team marathon in 3 weeks, and for diving in December.

Which leads me to Thailand. I had a fantastic yet all too short two weeks near Bangkok. During the days, I explored the city thoroughly, parks, shopping districts, random streets, rivers, etc.

I took and amazing yoga class at . I swear, I think I saw god. J and I ate too much food, and I gorged myself on fresh fruit from the market near his apt. Mmmm... dragonfruit!

We partied with Holzer and FDan at night, and I managed to see numerous projectiles being shot from interesting locations. This includes a banana aimed at the two of us. Thank god it didn't have a lot of umph behind it!

J had to work during the day, but we had a 3 days weekend escape to Hua Hin. I got my beaching in, we hung out with large narded beach dogs, and we found a delicious and authentic Italian place our last night there. I think the best time was probably sitting on the pier and relaxing with a beer. (bonus, that rhymed!)

Oh and there was a baby elephant wandering around downtown Bangkok, being exploited for money that almost made me cry :( The upside was, I got to meet Thai Elvis!

the end

Friday, August 03, 2007

Hello August, goodbye Japan

Tomorrow afternoon, I am off to Thailand! The typhoon that is rolling through Toyama ain't got nothing on me. It appears to be determined to ruin my supervisor's vacation to Aomori, rather than my excursion tomorrow night towards Osaka.

I get to spend another glorious evening eating kakigori, wandering around Namba, and sleeping at my favorite little capsule hotel. It's like a mini-vacation before my real one.

I am gonna come back brown and hopefully more buff from my attendance at a yoga studio I hope to go to in Bangkok, while J is teaching the kiddies at his school during the week. Mmmm... vacation.

Enjoy Obon, and all that jazz. I will return with photos!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bit of a Hiatus

I was so hoping that the plural of hiatus was going to be hiati... nope.

In other news, I just returned from a weekend of musical gorging. As previously mentioned, I was to attend Fuji Rock 2007 this weekend. And, I am gonna put it out there now... I want to be at Fuji Rock 2008. Time to start saving up my 10yennies! Here are some stats.

8 Toyama-ites
4 tents
3 days of camping
4 homemade onigiri *mmmm...
3 bagels!
20 bands seen
0 showers
?? beers
1 cardboard robot
4 instruments played in drum circle
2 bowls of vegetarian curry
2 rainshowers
4 times Less Than Jake slagged American girls
2 circle pits
60 years Robert Smith looks like he has aged
1 time I embarassed myself in front of Yellowcard

Please enjoy photos stolen from Timmy and Bunny.

Nikujaga's very own Nikubot of love.

The village of tenty goodness

The boys from the man-tent

Me "impressing" Yellowcard with my old school ways.

Iggy Pop falling in a hole couldn't put a damper on our fun. Hurrah for Fuji Rock!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Some Pictures (because they are nice)

This is the rice near the Okada's home.

The sky that night was something else.

This is the rice we planted last month.

Nekobus in action!!!!

The massive box of cherries that my awesome neighbor Yuta gave to me. It seems his grandma lives in mystical cherry land, and sent him two boxes. He gave one to me, knowing that he could never eat them all in time on his own. He even apologized that some were too ripe! Awwww!

Toga was gorgeous for Leaver's Weekend...

Monday, June 18, 2007

It's OVER!

The 17th annual Toyama Charity Show has finally wrapped up. It was a ton of work for everyone involved, but as usual the last day makes you realize it was worth it. Or is it just the elation of being able to start working on the "after charity show" list that you have compiled? (photos yoinked from Tim L.)

Here be PIRATES~!

Here is Hook having a chat with Wendy. Bunny is scary. I am hiding in a "cage" behind them.

Thanks to everyone who was involved this year, it was a lot of fun.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Rice planting (muddy fun for everyone)

Been a bit slack about posting these photos up here. I would like to thank my stand-in photographer Matsumoto-san for his efforts.

Timmy, Rachel, and I ventured to the Okada's abode a few weeks ago to get muddy and plant edible things. We brought boots for the occasion, but were inspired by our new 8 year old friend, to just jump in.

The Nihon-jin planted rows were beautiful and straight. The gaijin rows... no so much. If only my father were there to tell me "Tuck 'em in!" In my defense, these are my "fall down" pants, and I tied them tight, I swear!

I blame the 8 year old! He was hyper and too excited by our gaijinness to plant straight.

Our adventurers...
Timmy of Kangaroo Island.

Bunny of West Virgina.

I think Yoshi secretly wants to be in a boy-band... (please note me retying my pants in the background... excellent.)

Matsumoto's favorite shot. I think he was getting artsy ;) Hey Timmy, "isa my underwears showing?"

This is our "plaque" of accomplishment. The rice will soon grow taller than it.

What I learned:
  • planting rice will make you smell like cow for a full day afterwards
  • you plant at least 3 blades of ricey grass per spot
  • the spots are in a straight line approximately 4-5 inches apart
  • (I just received mandarine orange cake omiyage! yum!) this has nothing to do with anything.
  • you can use a toothbrush and soap to get cow poo out from under your nails!
  • leeches live in gaijin runoff traps... as do spiders

Monday, May 28, 2007

New Ways (to use old shrimp)

The Baron and I were watching a film last night and decided we should have some beverages. A quick trip to Sanko later, we had a bottle of Asti and a bottle of wine. The champagne was not chilled. Adam had the bright idea of chilling it in a bucket with ice, but alas... no ice was to be found in my tightly packed freezer. What did I have? Freezer burned shrimp.

I have a thing about eating shrimp poopies. I won't do it. I make it a point to cut out the little poopchute before I cook them. But, the frozen shrimp I bought were so small, that painstakingly cleaning out all the poopers would have taken ages. I am lazy. So, they got freezer burned something vicious.

Step 1: Breaking up the chunks of icy shrimp.

Step 2: Repeat step 1 more violently.

Step 3: Pour shrimp around bottle in bowl.

Step 4: Admire your handiwork.

Step 5: Add water.

Step 6: Rotate briskly.

Step 7: Strain shrimp... eeew.

Step 8: Pop cork and make me scream like a little girl.

Step 9: Enjoy!

This is what happens when we get bored...