Daily Journal of an Assistant Language Teacher / Automatic Language Tape Recorder (ALT) in the JET Programme living  and learning in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. More information on the JET Programme here and here. A real life Fukushima JET.
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Monday June 7, 2004

I had a busy week and weekend. Last Wednesday I flew down to Osaka and then took a bus to Kobe for a conference of JETs who are staying on a second year. I had to give a few speeches and help people sign up. It was hectic and I got little sleep. That was mainly because we had to cram into a few hotel rooms and people would come in late and drunk and turn on lights, or snore like a Donkey in heat.

It was all over on Friday evening and then I went to Himeji Castle, which is pretty much "THE Japanese Castle". Almost every time you see a castle in Japan it is this one. It is high up on a small hill and very castle-like. It was never attacked, and I can pretty much assume that was because the attackers sent scouts to check it out and they returned to say it was impossible to attack. There were narrow stairs, sharp turns, tall stairs, short tunnels, and wide open areas. No one could sneak up on the castle and even if they did, they couldn't get up to the overly-secure door. All along the way there were holes in the walls where people could drop things or shoot arrows at attackers. I'm glad it wasn't bombed either.

Himeji castle was the coolest thing I had ever seen until I left and headed to Nara, which was the old capital of Japan I think. It has some cool temples and such, but the coolest by far was Toudaiji temple. I think that is the coolest thing I have seen to date, in Japan, if not the world. Perhaps the Taj Mahal would be better, but I haven't made it to India yet.

The Toudaiji temple is the largest wooden structure in the world. When you first look at it, it's hard to really gather how big it is. Then you look at the door and see these tiny little ants walking around and you realize they are people. With that perspective you realize how HUGE it really is. The really sad thing is, the original structure was "considerably larger" than this one, but it burned after fires and wars. I can't even fathom how something could be much bigger than this and be built when it was.

Inside was the largest Buddha in Japan, and possibly the largest one in the world. I can't remember the details, but it was big as well. There were doors on the top of the temple where the Buddha's face could be exposed to people sitting on nearby hills. I could only get so many shots because things were in the way, but I took enough.

Around the temple there are deer that come right up and eat out of your hand. If you have a map or something sticking out of your pocket, they will grab that and eat it as well. People were selling deer food, which is really just a thin salty cracker. The deer were just walking around the crowds as if they were human. They weren't scared in the slightest. I had fed deer so I didn't partake in this part.

After I was templed out, I walked back to the bus stop and caught the #2 back to the station. They are redoing the station. The weird thing is they are building a new one, but they didn't want to lose the old classic one. So they just moved it 100 feet to the right. Here are the pictures.

Finally I get back to Osaka and manage to find the hotel. The roads in Osaka are confusing and I got lost twice. I checked in, showered, and took a small nap. Then my friend Emily called and said she was in Kyoto and wanted to come to say goodbye since she was leaving in July and we lived on opposite ends of Japan. We finally met and went eat at an Italian place. There was a small line and the waiter told us to sit in a certain area in the order of arrival and he would call us when a table was ready. As we were walking to the end of the line, a Japanese girl ran past us and jumped in line first. It was so obvious and blatantly rude. I made a point to explain to Emily how to say "cut in line" in Japanese. I said it loud enough so that she could hear me. The rude girl, not Emily.

After eating, we went out to search for the Osaka Ferris Wheel. We just made it and were the last people allowed to ride it that night. It was a 15 minute ride and went really high. Luckily the car didn't spin or move so it wasn't too freaky. Then I walked her back and taxied back to my hotel. The next morning I made it to the bus stop early and caught the early bus to the airport. I had two hours to kill while waiting for my 8am flight to leave. I read from a cool book I borrowed from someone about how bug experts are using bugs and flies in decomposing bodies to determine time of death.

The flight back was awesome because I paid $10 to upgrade to the Domestic First Class of Japan Airlines. The seats were spacious and reclined far. I was so relaxed on the flight. I plan to fly them again several times and upgrade. They even pulled that little curtain back to separate the rich from the peasants.

Sunday I had planned to relax and get caught up, but I had to meet Michelle and discuss various things related to last week and FuJET. We had lunch and then bought some stuff at the electronic store. Then we ran into two friends and went to the thrift store, where I bought a couch I couldn't afford. I had to buy it since it was long enough for me, and only $50. They put it in their car and then we went back to my place, which was too crowded for a couch, but I am so sick of sitting on the bed or the floor.

Oh, the other news is I've decided to be fluent by next year. I would like to work for the Council of Local Authorities and International Relations or CLAIR, and I need to quadruple my language ability by December. I don't think I can do it, but worst case scenario, I wouldn't get the job and my Japanese would be much better. At least this way I have a goal to shoot for. So now I have to study hardcore for at least 3 hours everyday. Man that hurts just typing it, but it must become so.

Thursday, June 10th 2004

I did pretty much nothing at school Wednesday and Thursday, such a waste. I can't imagine teaching Japanese in the US and having a native Japanese speaker and never using him/her. "I'm sorry Machiko, we shipped you all the way over here and we really don't needyou. We have this handy CD of stupid Japanese that we will use. Plus we are so arrogant that we think we can't speak Japanese just fine, when in actuality you can barely understand us".

Can you imagine having a foreign language teacher who can't actually speak the foreign language? There are many here. It's such a shame. The Japanese live in their own little fantasy world and they believe they are doing an excellent job of teaching English, when in fact the best students at my school can't even answer "who is winning the game". The only people who can speak English are those that study abroad for a while.

That was a nice rant. So next week I have part two of the Recontractor's Conference. This one in Tokyo. It will be less exciting than the one in Kobe because I am not sightseeing after it. Plus it's Monday to Wednesday. Have you notice it's spelled WedNESday,  but we say WeNSday.  Strange. Anyway, this week I am preparing for everything that I have to do next week. At least I have found an easier way to type in all the applications than last year and this time I will make sure other people actually help me.

On a website related note, the server was down for a while. I can't complain I pay $29 a year for it and you get what you pay for. If I want complaining rights, I would have to pay more. For the most part I get great service, but still #$%& happens occasionally.

I need to get back to whatever I was working on before.

Saturday June 12th

Japanese are so funny with their language. This happens all the time and I don't know why, other than they just don't get it.

I called the UPS place here, which is called Black Cat. Right off the bat, in Japanese, I said I am a foreigner and my Japanese is only so so. Then I explained I needed a driver to come pick up some packages to be sent to Tokyo for the upcoming conference. In broken Japanese I explained my case which probably sounded like:

Now. In my apartment. Two packages exist. A pickup, can it happen?

Clearly not fluent. The nice lady on the other end of the phone started babbling full speed. FULL SPEED. So I said, a little slower please and she said "ok I got it", and then FULL SPEED.

So as usual I picked out the important words and gave her my number and address and she said something along the lines of "ok someone will come out soon to get it", of course it was all native Japanese and FULL SPEED.

It's strange, when I talk to someone who clearly is not a native English speaker, I slow it down a bit and annunciate words. If they are really bad I drop unneeded things. So if I were the lady I would have said things like "what - is - your - address" or maybe just "address". But she had to go through the same old native speaker routine that they are taught to say. It was probably like "ok we can come out and get it today for you that's no problem at all, now if you would be so kind as to tell me your residential location, I will send an employee out to retrieve said parcel".

I can't imagine talking full native speed to a foreigner who just told me they don't speak fluent English. I would, and do, make sure they can hear me and understand it. When you are learning a second language things still have to be translated internally. Once you hear something enough then it's part of your language skills and gets automatically translated. There are some words I just know in Japanese, but most I have to translate in my head. Which means when I hear a sentence I have to hold it all in the air until I translate it and then reorganize it in English. I can't think in Japanese yet.

They say when you dream in a  foreign language you are fluent.

Thursday June 17th, 2004

Just got back from the second conference for JETs who are renewing. This one was in Tokyo and was like a warm up for Tokyo Orientation. That will be insane and total madness. Over 1,500 new JETs attack Tokyo for 3 days in one huge hotel. The hotel is in the most expensive part of Tokyo, which I think is the most expensive city in the world. On top of that it's huge and must cost like $100,000 per square foot of real estate space.

The FuJET book sold fairly well. It should sell better at the orientations since the people renewing already know how to function. They might not know what some things mean in English, but they know what things do. The new people won't have any idea for a while. This book will be really helpful to them and we should sell out.

We are going to use that money to pay for local things in Fukushima such as classes, TEFL certification, trips, and of course parties. We are also going to donate a portion to two charities. One is Go-MAD which mean Go Make A Difference. I plan to lead a trip via them to Thailand this December to an orphanage. The other charity is called something like the African Challenge. I forget right now. It's two guys who are raising money to ride bikes the length of Africa. They start near the Pyramids and end in South Africa. Some how them riding will benefit children, or we are just financing their trip. Their sales pitch made sense at the time.

This week, at least since Wednesday, I have had a few classes. Next week I have the usual boring schedule, but a friend from a distant prefecture is coming to visit. He is in AJET with me and he has some vacation time built up. He is coming up to see Michelle mainly and then me for a night or two. It will be boring for him, but it will be a change of pace at least.

Oh man in Tokyo we at Mexican food about three times. When we weren't there we had Wendy's or Subway. We can't get those things in Fukushima or other prefectures so we binge eat while in Tokyo. I feel so much fatter now, but luckily I am exercising daily. I have to because we plan to go hiking in a few weeks and I will wear out to easily. I'm going to force myself to go jogging later.

[later]

I just had another "Japanese people just don't get it" situation. Someone knocked and was selling internet access. I told him I already had it and I was happy. So he said he understood and kept on talking. Then I told him I was about to cancel my internet and phone service since I never use them and going to wireless so I can take it all around town. Then he said "wireless is convenient" and kept right on with his sales pitch.  Then I got bored and asked if he was selling wireless and he said no. So I said "I just said I am going to switch to wireless, didn't you hear me say that?". He said yes. And continued his sales pitch.

THINK FOR YOURSELF JUST ONCE PLEASE.

Finally I had to say I wasn't interested three times about the wireless thing and he only knew to give his speech. He wasn't able to think about any deviations, just his sales pitch.

Earlier at school I was talking to some guys selling prescription glasses. They took some measurements and I picked a style. I told them I liked them, but couldn't afford them until September. About an hour later the guy comes over to my supervisor and then my supervisor tells me they need the money by the end of June. I laughed and said "June is not September, I cannot pay until September. I cannot pay in June.". Then they talked more about something and I walked off. I am starting to see why Japanese people walk around ignoring everything.

Monday June 21st, 2004

Went to Matsushima.

Wednesday June 23rd, 2004

Yesterday I took the day off since a friend from a different prefecture came to visit. We just hung out and got some AJET stuff done. Then we went to Koriyama and I bought a digital camera that I absolutely cannot afford, but I needed something to make me feel better. You see we were originally going to Koriyama to go to the GAP. Since Monday was payday and I needed some new shirts and pants, I figured I'd show him around Koriyama and get some new clothes. But the GAP asked me to leave on the grounds that I am a fat greasy slab of hog meat. They didn't say that directly to me, but I was well over all their large and XL clothes. It was really depressing and I started to realize I am actually overweight. It's something I have just not thought about for years. Heck, about 10 years. I've just covered it or ignored it or made plans to lose weight, but never actually have.

So anyway I was so depressed that I couldn't buy anything new that when I went to the camera store and saw my camera on sale, I bought it in hopes it would make me feel better. Well it did, and I am going to take it as a reward in advance. I'm going to at least walk briskly everyday, preferably jog some as well, but I don't want to shoot too high yet. I think I can lose weight if I simply exercise at all. I can worry about eating better later, but for now I need to actually get out and do something rather than lie around all the time.

The camera is really nice and thin and the reason I wanted it was it comes on and takes a picture within one second. My old one takes well over a minute to come on and sometimes it won't snap a shot for 30 seconds or more. I have missed so many shots because my stupid camera was so slow. No more. It also has this cool feature called coupling where you take a picture on the left and then another on the right and it merges them. This way 2 people can take a group shot without a third person. I plan to use it for other things. It also records 30 seconds of video with sound which is much better than my old one that took 15 seconds at 4 frames per second and no sound.

Anyway, I ended up taking today off as well since I really just did not feel like going in. That's so not Japanese. They go in all the time even when they are deathly ill. It's so funny sometimes talking to other JETs about being sick. We get vacation time and sick time, but when you call in sick they always say vacation time first, until you say "no, I'm sick, therefore it's sick leave". Then they argue and blah blah blah.

Ramon, the guy that was staying with me for a night and then Michelle, said once he threw up at work and passed out in the bathroom. They rushed him to the hospital and while he was recovering his supervisor told him since he was not at work he would have to take vacation time for a half day. Even though the event occurred after 4 he was charged a half day.

The Japanese mentality would last about 5 minutes in the US, as well as most other countries. I'm all about learning new cultures, but some things are flat out stupid. At school we recently turned on the Air Conditioning in the teacher's room. It wasn't supposed to be turned on until July 1st. Regardless of the temperature, the state department of education determined July 1st is the most feasible day. After having it on for about 3 hours there was a call from someone and the Vice Principal had to turn it off. It was sweltering in the teacher's room. I made a point to tell all the teachers and students that in the US the A/C or heater runs year round and each room has one, not just the teacher's room. Could you imagine what would happen if they turned the A/C off at your job on a hot day and said we can't turn it on until July 1st? People would walk out and sue the school. It would be mad chaos.

Here's a funny conversation example. It took place all in actual Japanese.

Foreigner: We would like the four person bowling special.
Clerk: You will need four people for that.
Foreigner: We have 4 people right here.
Clerk: Well we have a 4 person special.
Foreigner: That's what we want, how much is it.
Clerk: Well it costs X amount, but you will need 4 people.
Foreigner: We have 4 people right here. (There are in fact four people standing 2 feet from the clerk.)
Clerk: And you say you want the 4 person special?
Foreigner: That's right, how much will it cost, for the 4 of us to play on the 4 person special.
Clerk: Well we usually only allow that to be sold for groups of four.
Foreigner: Are you kidding me? 1, 2, 3, 4. Hey look, there are four people.
Clerk: For the 4 person special?

It was like a painful Abbott and Costello skit, but they clerk was dead serious. Here's another one:

Teacher-friend:  [ring ring]
ALT: Hello.
Teacher-friend: Were you asleep?
ALT: No, I was awake. I was just cleaning my apartment.
Teacher-friend: Oh, I am sorry to wake you. Would you like to go back to sleep?
ALT: No I was awake, I was just cleaning my apartment.
Teacher-friend: OK, well if you get out of bed soon would you like to go cherry picking today in about 30 minutes?
ALT: Well, I really need to clean since a friend is coming to visit tomorrow.
Teacher-friend: Well you can clean next week, let's go cherry picking.
ALT: I'm sorry I don't have time today, I really need to finish cleaning.
Teacher-friend: So how about 30 minutes? I will call when I get to your apartment.
ALT: I cannot go today. I am sorry. I have to clean my apartment for my friend. I am sorry I cannot go today.
Teacher-friend: OK, that sounds like fun. So is 30 minutes ok?
ALT: I cannot go today. How about next weekend? I am free then.
Teacher-friend: HA HA HA, you are funny. Next weekend? That's is American joke maybe?
ALT: No. I was serious, can we go next weekend?
Teacher-friend: But cherry season stops this Friday, it will be over on Saturday. No one goes cherry picking after the season.
ALT: But it's just one day. Won't the cherries still taste the same?

30 minutes later, a message on voice mail "I am outside your apartment, are you still asleep?".

At school that week:

Other Teachers: So I heard about your joke. That is funny. Cherry picking on Saturday. Good joke.
ALT: Doesn't the season stop this Friday? Will all the cherry farms just close and not open with ripe cherries on the trees?
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The next Saturday at the cherry farm, alone.
ALT: Can I pick cherries for one hour?
Cherry Farm Clerk: Really? But it stopped yesterday. You REALLY want to pick some today? Hey honey, he wants to pick cherries today. [Cackle of laughter heard in the background] OK, if you really want to pick some today that's fine. I don't think anyone has every asked that before.

Later.

ALT:  Wow these taste great. There was no one here so it was so easy to get the best ones.
Cherry Farm Clerk: Wow. It's Saturday. I can't believe this. Honey, he's actually eating them. [More laughter].
ALT: I don't understand, it was less than 24 hours ago, they still taste great.
Cherry Farm Clerk: Wow this is amazing. Can I get a picture of you? This is not real. I can't believe it.
ALT: How much do I owe you?
Cherry Farm Clerk: I can't charge you. This is too unbelieveable for me to take money. No one will believe me.

Back at school.

Teacher-Friend: What did you do this weekend?
ALT: I went Cherry Picking?
Teacher-Friend: Ha ha ha, funny jokes.
ALT: I really did. The cherries were great, there was no one there. He didn't even charge me.
Teacher-Friend: That's impossible, the season stopped on Friday. It's just impossible.
ALT: But I went and I ate them.
Teacher-Friend: You will be sick, they are poisonous after the season is over. You should go home now.
ALT: I feel great, they were tasty. But I am tired so I will go home now.
Teacher-Friend: I don't know why you can't understand that the season is over, you can't do it any more. Oh foreigners.
ALT: I feel great, but I will go home and relax.

Thursday, June 24th

Took my camera to school today and snapped some random shots. Here they are in no particular order:

The teacher's room.

 My desk with computer and water bottle. The crap is on my supervisor's desk.

Two 45's from our Radio Room. ABBA and Chips. Crazy.

The toilets which first of all stop just below the level at which I need them too.
And secondly the windows are at chest level so people can see me standing there.

Two vending machines with healthy drinks in them.

A picture from the newspaper of a girl taking a picture with her mobile phone,
of her father as he leaves to fight in Iraq. In Japan everyone uses their phone for pics.

The English Bulletin Board, before.......

and after. I put up a schedule of an American High School to show how different it is.
After school I saw students gathered around gawking at the fact that our summer vacation
is nearly 2 months long and students actually stay away from school. They can't believe it.

So that's about all I did at school today. Well I typed a lot on the computer for FuJET and did some AJET stuff. Then I actually exercised and felt great. I'm going to go out again later and do more since I had to stop short because I remember something I had to due and didn't want to risk forgetting it again.

Tomorrow I go to the night school and possibly teach two classes alone. I'm a little worried since they are low level and more or less "punks". They are often unruly in class and I think they might ignore me. So I will make them play a game or something semi-fun. I'll have to take some rewards to actually get them to pay attention to me.

This weekend I am planning a Harry Potter viewing for FuJET. We'll probably go eat Indian Food and then see the late show. Hopefully FuJET can afford to pay for some of the tickets for members. Movie prices are about $17 in Japan and $12 after 9pm. It's crazy.

I just added a link to my trip last Sunday. I forgot to mention it before. I went to Matsushima, one of the three most scenic views in Japan. Some famous poet toured Japan a few hundred years ago and couldn't even write a haiku about this place because it took his breath away. I guess back then it would have been like that, but today it was a bit commercial.

Saturday June 26th, 2004

I am REALLY getting tired of some parts of Japanese Culture. The big thing is "I'm know it's 900 Degrees Fahrenheit, but we aren't allowed to turn on the A/C until July 1st". That is such crap. It would last about 5 minutes in the US, as well as most other countries. People that work in Government Offices have it even worse. It's either turned on later or the temp is set just below skin melting.

Honestly in the US at a school teachers and students would simply walk out and then they'd probably sue the school. Any administrators that tried to stick to this policy would be hog tied and run out of town. It's simply silly. I can't imagine how much money they save by doing that. Then they turn around and build some stupid building that will never be used or they remodel another one. Only in Japan.

Tonight is Harry Potter & Gyoza night. I'm not a huge HP fan, but it's something to do with some friends. FuJET is paying for part of it as well so it should be fun. I'll post pictures afterwards.

Harry Potter Gyoza Pictures.

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Monday June 28th, 2004 - Health Check day

I forgot all about it, but luckily I didn't eat anything after midnight. I was up until 3 am for no reason, just because I was wired about several things. I didn't feel like coming in because I knew I would just sit here all day. Well I get here and I see people lined up but the back door and I remember about the health check. I went to my desk and my supervisor showed me how to fill out the form.

Most everything went smooth on the form until I got to "how much do you drink everyday?". I said I didn't drink everyday and only drank socially on weekends. There was no option for not drinking everyday, and my supervisor thought I misunderstood the question. He asked other people and they were amazed I didn't drink at least one beer or something everyday. Finally, after about 30 minutes of group discussions, it was agreed that I would write .5 ounces per day so it was both accurate and implied I actually did drink a little each day. I guess the doctor's would freak out if someone in Japan didn't actually drink everyday.

Tuesday June 29th, 2004

I have been actually walking and jogging on a regular basis. I've developed a little game type thing to force myself to exercise. I mapped out a course near my apartment and down by the river. Today I walked and jogged it and it took 30 minutes. I documented the time it took from my kitchen around the course and back to my kitchen. From here on out I will make a point to get the time down each week. Once I can do the course in something like 15 minutes then I will make a different course that is longer.

Exercise is so strange. I feel good when I am doing it, and great right after it, but I resist it like having teeth pulled. Up until the point that I walk out the door I am making excuses to myself left and right. Hopefully this little game thing will make me do it more and I can lose a few pounds.