I Donít Actually Exist.
Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007
I wore my black suit on Monday since all the new teachers and the new
principal came. First they gathered in the principalís office, which
was probably odd for the new principal since he was a guest in his own
new office. Then they came out and gave a brief intro. Later I chatted
with the guy who lived in Tanzania for 3 years doing something related
to this school. He said he didnít speak English in English and then we
continued to speak English. Then I introduced myself to all the new
people one by one. Some seemed indifferent towards me, which is good
in a way, others seemed standoffish a bit, which is more common. Since
Japan is a ranked society, we foreigners cause problems because our
rank is uncertain and some people are uncomfortable with that.
The rest of the day was more or less normal except for the fact that I
was actually busy all day with actual things, not just wasting time. I
now know how to say ďwasting timeĒ. I worked on a long Power Point
presentation about my classes. Then I worked out some of the
curriculum for the first term. Today I will finish those two things up
and work on some other things. The main thing is I am going to
actually be prepared for the term and have real classes I will be
I stayed until 6:30 yesterday for a few reasons. One of which was that
I was truly busy, but another reason which holds a bit more weight was
that I wanted the new principal to see I am not just a Koriyama ALT.
They leave promptly by taxi at 4 and are driven home. I donít know why
the BOE spends all that money on driving them around, but it has to
come across as pompous to the Japanese teachers who work long hours.
Anyway, at some point around 6 some teachers were doing something and
I offered to help. One teacher asked if I was about to leave since it
was around 6. I said itís no problem because I donít actually exist.
They stared at me and then started laughing when they realized I was
trying to say ďI have no lifeĒ. It wasnít my usual word-swap
dysfunction, this was just the wrong usage of the word ďlifeĒ.
Here is the big news. Since April 1st, a whopping 3 days, I
have gone jogging around 6:30am every morning. I am going to keep
going everyday for as long as possible. I am also not eating junk food
during the day. This is my new year (Japanese new fiscal year)
commitment. I must lose weight and get in shape. I really just need to
get the blood flowing and I think that will make all the difference in
the world. Until then I would never exercise and sit all the time and
then eat whatever I wanted. But now I am determined to expend more
than I take in. I have demanded it become that of which that will
Speaking of odd sentences, a student came in yesterday and asked the
J-English teacher a question. The student was about to leave and go to
a distant school and stay in the dorms. Incoming high school students
have pre-homework so everyone is up to speed. Itís sort of a game
since they always return to their JHS and get help (the answers) from
their past teachers. Anyway, the J-English Teacher couldnít answer it
and showed it to me and it was indeed a tough one. I figured it out,
but took a while to explain. The question was ďwhich THAT is the
conjunctionĒ and the statement was ďthat that that that student wrote
on that paper was wrongĒ. Itís the 3rd one, but man that is
tough for these kids.
Last Friday I was glad my seat was changed so I am facing the window.
There was always a glare on my screen. Then after sitting here I
suddenly had a bad feeling that I wouldnít like having my back to the
hall and seeing all the kids waiting or coming in. But now that I have
sat here for a day or so I realize I can see much of the field, all
the tennis courts, and the area where the kids play in the warm
months. Itís a nice distraction watching the girls play tennis or the
boys practice soccer.
I got the name list of the new first years. I already knew them all,
but I wanted their numbers so I could start building the spreadsheet
for the points. This one is going to be wicked complicated since I am
offering 10% interest for people who leave their money in the bank
rather than making me produce bills all the time. Anyway, there were
30 names and yet I only recalled 28. Apparently there are two new
students coming here on Friday. Man that has got to be tough,
especially at this school where all the kids already know each other.
If there was one more they would break it into two classes and I am
really looking forward to the one class thing.
Thursday, April 5th, 2007
I have been so swamped at school. I have been getting there early and
leaving late. The good news is that I am really prepared for this
year, well this first term at least, the bad news is I stay until 6:30
every night and then I am too tired to do anything. I've only missed
one morning of jogging and that was only because it was frigid and
there was some frost and ice on the ground. I guess frost is actually
ice, but I felt it was too dangerous to jog. Back to preparing for
Friday, April 6th, 2007
I got to school around 7:45 and walked around to greet all the kids.
None of the ES kids knew who their teacher was so I went into each
class and said it was me. They all freaked and were silent for a
while, at least until I said I was kidding. There is that sense of
excitement in the air and everyone is so happy and bouncing around.
So far Iíve been able to go jog-walking every morning at around 6:45
minus one. Not minus one minute, minus one day when it was just too
cold and icy. Actually itís still really cold as soon as I start
sweating I get really cold, but I am hoping it starts getting warmer
day by day. Then again you canít count on Japan weather to be
predictable. For the most part I feel great and Iím not tired in the
morning. I also drink 3 cups of green tea before noon and several 32
oz. cups of water all day.
Anyway, we had the usual ceremonies as usual. First we had the welcome
ceremony for new teachers, then we opened the new term. Then we had an
entrance ceremony for the incoming elementary kids and JHS kids. That
was over around 11am. The new kids had meetings in their classrooms
with their new teacher and parents. They left around noon and the
other kids stayed around a while. I think everything official starts
on Monday, but today was just getting all the administrative things in
Monday, April 9th, 2007
I did nothing on Saturday. Literally nothing other than eat, jog a
bit, and watch some things on the computer. Apart from jogging I
didnít leave the house. Then on Sunday I went into Koriyama in the
morning to run a few errands, get some things at the hundred yen
store, and then have something for lunch that didnít involve sitting
in front of my computer. I had the usual sushi since itís always a
treat. I could eat it every day. Then I tried to find something else
to do other than come back and sit in my apartment. Iím too broke to
really go anywhere or do anything so I had to come back. Iím broke
this month because of self inflicted things more or less. The more
would be going to Tokyo (twice) and the Japanese school as well as
sending a lot back. The less would be the alternator.
When I came back I decided to drive by the school to see if anyone was
there. I saw some cars in the parking lot and drove around back to see
if a team was playing. It seemed there was a baseball game so I drove
home, unloaded, put a few things away and then went to watch some of
They were playing their own version of baseball. It was highly
similar, but there were some things they did to make it Japanese. One
of which was a little cheer they would do each time they took the
field. The catcher would stand and say something, everyone would
repeat it, heíd say something else, theyíd repeat it. Then they would
do this little move where they raise their hands and kick out their
left leg. It reminded me of country line dancing, how people move
around as if they are deathly tired and being forced to do it. There
are other sports where they do these forced movements. In sumo all the
wrestlers come out during the opening ceremony and do some gestures
with the same lack of enthusiasm. Iím sure there are others. Another
odd thing they did was when something happened around 1st
base, I missed exactly what happened, the whole outfield would jump on
the ground, belly first. I saw that twice and canít figure out why
they did it.
After that I went back to the apartment and took a two hour blood
sugar nap. I was really thirsty all day and wanted a soft drink, but
instead I went for healthy orange juice. Of course OJ is packed with
sugar and since I drank the whole thing at once, it zonked me out for
a while. Which
later caused me to not be sleepy. I didnít do much else after that.
This morning I forced myself to jog. Once I get out there I am
alright, but I never want to get dressed and go. Sometimes I am too
tired, but this morning I just didnít want to go. I made myself go and
jog-ran for 37 minutes. Then I came back and showered and got ready
and came to school. My weekly schedule shows two classes for the whole
week and then 5 or 6 classes about the school trip next week. No
classes with the 3rd years or 1st years, just
with the 2nd years. Although annoying, I can understand it
for this week, but next week I need to start my schedule since it is
based on 11 classes. My classes are always first to get cut, which I
can somewhat understand.
Iíve pretty much decided on getting a new car. By new I mean
different. The odd thing is, by getting a different car now I will
actually save money this year. If I keep my car I will have to pay
$1,500 in April for the yearly emissions test and inspection, then
another $450 in May for some yearly tax, then Iíll have to keep
putting $65 a month in the tank since gas is like $5-6 a gallon here.
However, if I go ahead and get a smaller car and just scrap this one
(since you donít really get any money for 10+ year old cars, then
instead of paying the $1,500 tax I could put that towards a car and
then only pay a little more for the car. Once you own a car for 5-10
years itís more or less worth nothing more than the yearly tax. If you
sell it, all you can get is part of the $1,500 back. Usually you scrap
it and it gets junked and stripped for parts. That seems a little
extreme to me since it runs fine (minus some knocking sound).
I have a white plate car now and I will be getting a yellow plate car
which will make everything cheaper. White plate cars have a bigger
engine and they get the $1,500 yearly fee. Yellow tag cars are usually
much less. They can be as low as $600 a year with a $50 May tax and
obviously do better with gas. For as little as I drive, thereís no
reason to have this beast of a car. Although I do enjoy the power of a
full sized engine, I just donít get on the highway that much, nor do I
climb steep hills. I wouldnít mind a 4WD yellow plate car though.
I had the English teacher call since the car place, as nice as they
are, is one of those places that only talk full speed and buying a car
is something I need to fully understand. So he called and explained it
was about time for my $1,500 rip off and they said the last time they
looked at the car they noticed some things that would need to be
changed and it would probably be around $2,000 this time. Then Iíd
have the May $450 tax. So the English teacher asked if they were hip
to my request and they said most likely. The main request was I canít
pay until the 20th and then Iíd like to pay over 4 months.
They said for me to fax my preferences and they would start searching.
So I wrote them up and had the English teacher check to make sure I
didnít use write anything like ďplease abuse a dying eel for meĒ.
Luckily I was really close on all kanji choices. Then I faxed it away.
Iím hoping to hear something soon.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
The car place called me around 7pm Monday night, but I didnít notice
until this morning. Iím sure heís going to ask about my budget or he
might be telling me I can take my request and shove it. The car place
is loaded and always letís us foreigners pay over a few months since
we are broke and live check to check. I might not make my goal of
paying off that one loan by the June paycheck, but at least it will be
really low. It all depends on what kind of car I can get. I donít care
about style really, just that itís solid and doesnít clank when I take
turns and also that itís not big enough to pull a boat uphill on ice.
I called him back Tuesday morning, but we played were playing phone
tag for a while.
Other than that I spent most of the morning working on the computer
games I made for the kids. One is a simple quiz thing where they hear
a word and then choose the correct image. I recorded about 250 words
and made them all into little mp3 files and then added some photos so
now itís rather nice. There seem to be some bugs that I have to iron
out, but overall they should be good for the kids. If they actually
use them at home.
I didnít go jogging this morning and I really donít know why. The
weather was fine, I felt fine, but my brain just didnít want to go. I
justified it by swearing I would go tomorrow. I think it stems from
the fact that I am simply not a morning person. I can wake up early
and function, but I donít really feel like doing a lot that early.
Luckily when I got to school the kids were jogging around the track so
I might get here early and join them. The only thing is when I jog in
the morning I can get stinky and sweaty, but I canít do that at
school. I could just walk fast at school, but I really need to get the
heart rate up as much as possible as often as possible.
After lunch the car place called and said my budget was too low for
the car I wanted. Thereís this thing in Japan Iíve noticed where
people donít understand preferences. I sent them a list of things I
would prefer. In case they had two cars and they were going to choose
one, I would prefer it to be like this ______. But in Japan it always
comes across as ďyou must meet this exact requirement.Ē I even wrote
ďpreferenceĒ in kanji and had a teacher check it. Something like this
happened with my glasses a few years ago. I said ďIím just curious and
looking nowĒ about 68 trillion times, but they took it to mean ďI will
buy these nowĒ. I had to pay $500 for them days before my trip to
So I typed up another fax and tried to make it more clear. Basically I
said certain things are not necessary and some things are. I wrote it
out myself and then had the same teacher check it. Hopefully they
understand I just prefer these things and donít require them. Another
annoying thing about the process is in Japan you apparently pay for
the whole thing up front. There donít seem to be much financing. If I
am able to pay them over 4 months, itís because they are doing me a
favor. I could afford a much better car if I could pay over a year or
more. Thereís no way I can get a loan from the bank and I donít know
any other way. I canít possibly imagine the paperwork for me to get a
loan from the bank. I would have to have so many people guarantee the
loan and prove I would be here for at least another year. Thatís
assuming they would even consider the idea. It would be slightly
different if I had some form of residency.
After school around 5ish, I was in the library hanging with some kids.
There are a few kids who canít go home until later because their
parents work or something. There seem to be some older locals who
volunteer as ďbabysittersĒ and just play with the kids for a while.
Anyway, I was playing with one new 1st grader and a
volunteer came over. The kid said ďthis is Ryan sensei, heís the
English teacher, Ryan McDonaldĒ. The lady burst out laughing saying
things like ďoh McDonald, thatís funny, what a joke, how silly that
would be for a last nameĒ. Then I pulled out my license and showed her
it was really my name.
Wednesday, April 11th, 2007
I woke up determined to go jogging. Then I got back in bed until 7:10.
I just hate cold weather and my body will not function when I am cold.
Itís not a ďget over itĒ thing either. Once I took my morning shower I
felt great, but then it was too late and after the shower defeats the
purpose. When I got to school the kids were running again so I joined
them for a bit. I got my heart rate up somewhat, but since I had my
school clothes on I didnít want to do much more. Perhaps I can jog
more when it gets a bit warmer, but for now I am at least doing more
than I have in the past.
Last night, as I was walking home, I went into the Smile Mart to buy
some dinner things. When I got to the counter the lady said they
checked into carrot juice and this was all they could get and she
wondered if it would be alright. I told her that actually the bottle
she ordered was my favorite and I only drink the other brand since
thatís what the store carries. Plus the KAGOME brand is cheaper. Wow
this will be great, being able to get carrot juice out the whazoo and
itís only around the corner. She sold me that bottle for $3 (the other
brand is $3.50) and I took it home and chugged it. I think the rest
will get here around Friday.
This week it seems like half the school has the flu. Well Iíd say half
the school is a fair estimate. Half the seniors are out and about 40%
of the 2nd years are too. Iíve heard a lot are gone from
the new first years. I hope I donít get it, although I would miss
nothing major if I did. But last time I had the flu, it was rather
annoying. Not painful so much, just a high fever (so high they talked
about sending a helicopter to which I promptly said NO) and night
sweats. The school nurse even passed out masks for us to wear.
This is one of the annoying Japanese habits. They say they wear masks
to protect themselves from other germs. If that were the whole truth
it would be a great idea. But then thereís this thing where itís
really horrible to miss work for any reason. Wife giving birth,
husband in the hospital, have a fever and contagious illness? All are
less important than being AT work. But how can you come to work if you
are sick? Oh just wear a mask and it will protect everything. Except
when you touch things and take it off to talk, and lower it to cover
only your mouth because if it goes over your nose it fogs up your
glasses. Except for those and a dozen other reasons, wearing a mask
completely blocks your sickness from infecting others.
Speaking of getting sick and dying, next Friday we are having a party
for the JHS teachers (and VP and principal and really anyone else who
is in the ďgroupĒ and wants to come). Itís going to be a little pricey
and I might not make anymore updates after the party because we are
eating the infamous blowfish. Itís called Fugu (foo goo) and must be
prepared expertly or you die instantly. Seriously, if it is prepared
wrong you get the deadly poison and die on the spot. Iíve never been
one to seek it out, but if we are going to an established place that
has been around for a while, Iím sure it will be alright. If not then
Iíve heard itís more or less an instant death which would be fine. Iíd
rather eat poisoned blowfish than get half eaten by a mountain lion
and then half to pull myself 5 miles using my left hand only since
everything else was slaughtered. I mean that would rank pretty high on
my ďthings that suckĒ list. Although getting mauled in a small room
with some smokers would also be up there. As well as having to use a
slow computer while being mauled. You get the picture.
After lunch the car place called and said they found the exact type of
car I demanded (requested as a preference). They said it was about
$4,000 which is a bit out of my price range, but I told them if I
could pay over 5 months rather than 4 then I could possibly afford it.
This is really digging into my plan of saving mass amounts of money
this year, but actually not by much. If I pay 4k for it that would
only be $1,500 over what I have to pay for my current carís yearly
tax. Plus there is something clanking now and I can only imagine that
wonít be cheap to fix. Anyway this is a special version of the car I
want, plus itís 4WD which is good for the snow. Another bonus is that
itís a wagon and has some room in the back.
In the morning, when we were running, a kid was changing shoes and as
usual I kicked one out of her reach. Not too far, just enough to make
her hop a bit and say ďoh RyanĒ. I always apologize and act like it
was a mistake, but then I do it again. Then when I was coming back
inside after running (jogging (walking fast)), she was changing shoes
and I tried to do it again. She saw me and blocked the kick. I told
her I would get her later. Then later I was walking around while they
were cleaning and I saw her. I went up to her and said ďIím still
going to kick your assĒ. She looked at me funny and I played the
conversation back in my head and then corrected it. Shoe is kutsu (coo
tzoo) ass is ketsu (keh tzoo). Iíve made that mistake before with
variations, but never to a kid like that. Luckily it has a slightly
softer meaning than how it sounds in English, but itís still rude.
Thursday, April 12th,
We had a fire drill this morning, but I wasnít expecting it and it
startled me a bit. The bell is just a regular ringing school bell, but
I was deep in thought working on a programming issue for MS Excel. Iím
making my points score sheet really advanced and needed some upper
level programming and I was in the zone working on it. Then the bell
rang and I was temporarily confused and bewildered. All we did was
time how long it takes everyone to change shoes and run outside.
Seriously, people change shoes during a fire drill. Thatís a major
part of the process. Then they had to stand up and sit back down about
10 times because they didnít stand up correctly. The object was for
everyone to stand at the same time and blend in, but some people
foolishly stood up too fast. Kids today, with their standing up too
fast, well I never.
I didnít drink my green tea in the morning and that caused me to drag
all day. I mean severely especially after lunch. I just couldnít move
and often I couldnít even stand up. At one time I would chill in the
counselorís office, but recently some student has be staying in there.
Heís one of the kids that comes to school everyday, but doesnít feel
like participating in class so he just sits in the counselorís office
or wanders around.
Computer Dog Time.
Friday, April 13th,
I love computer time when I have nothing else to do and need to waste
some time. I donít mean surfing necessarily, but doing something like
working with VBA in Excel. Today the kids left after lunch since more
than half are out with the flu and I had nothing to do. I started
adding some questions to my new Excel ďPower UpĒ quiz maker. When kids
ask for a bonus quiz I press print and they get a customized test. If
two people want one I press print twice and they each get a different
one. It also prints an answer sheet and an explanation sheet with a
code that matches them. A few kids have already asked for one and
returned it. I made some changes and then added a bazillion questions.
The way I make questions is I create an Excel workbook and put in part
of a question like ďDo you like to ____ď, then I add a function that
copies the word in the nearby cell and adds it to the sentence. Then I
copy that down about 20 cells and type in 20 different words. That way
I donít have to type much, but I get a bunch of questions. In about 3
hours I made over 500 unique questions and answers and added them to
the quiz data. There are about 2,000 now and it grows all the time.
Since it pulls questions randomly, the users should rarely get the
same question twice.
After that I beefed up my points system spreadsheet so I can track all
sorts of crazy data. I added some wicked functions that add various
cells if other cells equal various things. Some cells change colors
when certain things happen. I get into a zone when I do this stuff and
donít take breaks sometimes because it wonít make sense when I come
back. I donít even go to the bathroom during the tough parts. The cool
thing about ďthe zoneĒ is time flies like dog years. What seems like
one normal minute is actually seven real minutes. I felt like I worked
for about an hour, but when I looked up it was already 5pm.
I had a class with my favorite kids 4th period. They are
now the 5th graders and still have a great personality as a
class. There is a noticeable difference between classes and I can only
it is partially due to the teacher. Some classes are quiet, some are
loud and happy and everything in between. During the class we used my
ABC game where the letters are shuffled and you have to click them in
order. Well YOU donít have to so much, unless you were playing the
game. I installed it on 30 computers in the morning and then the
teacher, whom I really like, said ďoh first letís do introductionsĒ.
Thatís great since it is on the curriculum, but I hadnít planned it so
I didnít do that great. It went ok, but I prefer more time to plan it.
In the end I am just glad I had a class with them.
Saturday, April 14th,
I planned to sleep late, at least to 8 or 9. I can't stay in bed
longer than that these days since I am turning into my dad. But
this morning was a special morning. It's a Saturday morning during
election season so I was woken up too early by one of the more
annoying Japanese customs. I've noticed that Japanese people need a
overwhelming amount of information about things. Advertisements are
too much and too fast. They don't believe in the "less is more"
belief. During elections there are advertisements every where, but
that's not annoying.
Usually around 7:30 or 8am, yes AM, a car will drive around honking
with people waving frantically. My first thought was they are warning
us of something. But immediately after the car there will be a van
with 4-6 of the biggest speakers I have ever seen. I don't exaggerate
when I say I think these are stadium speakers, or bigger. In this van
there are a few too many people and one or more has a microphone
connected to enough amplifiers to power a Live Aid concert. These
amplifiers are then connected to the world's largest speakers on the
roof. The person or people with the mics are constantly announcing the
candidate's name and saying this phrase that means "please treat me
kindly". Over and over as loud as humanly tolerable. "Vote for Hiro
Tanaka, please treat him kindly. Vote for Hiro Tanaka, please treat
him kindly." They drive through the neighborhood then back through
again, as slow as possible. I'm not exaggerating when I say this is
unbearably loud. [The photo shows a candidate for a smaller local
election and he doesn't have the budget for the stadium speakers, but
you can see they are still big]
The other day we had to stop our ceremony at school since they drove
by a few times and then slowed since there were so many cars and
people in the parking lot. We were having the opening ceremony and the
current kids were inside, but the new kids were entering from the
parking lot. I tried to put my head under the pillow, but it didn't
help. They were outside, but there's not much separating it since
Japanese walls are so thin.
I got the official reply from the international place about the
festival problems. It was a generic "we are sorry, that was not what
we planned" with various explanations that may or may not have made
sense. I didn't expect anything more really. I'm still not going to
participate next year. I just have a different view of what an
international festival should be like. I don't know if the FuJET
people will or not. I'm leaning toward probably not since Amy had to
constantly nag them this year to get there on time and even then they
had done nothing toward preparing.
Really Trying to be
Monday, April 16, 2007
One thing that is really grating my nerves is how I am supposed to
have a year long curriculum with lessons planned out using lesson
plans and each term planned out day by day, but my classes are
dropped/moved/altered at the drop of a hat. I didnít have a class with
the first years last week since they were so busy having 4 Japanese
classes, two history classes, a double art class, and pretty much any
other subject that needed space. So this week I made sure Iíd have a
class and it would be today, the first of the week, so they have a
full week to write in their journals. Then after my first period class
with the 2nd years, a teacher told me about some meeting I
had to attend 3rd period, which is when I have the 1st
The conversation went on for a bit and I was using the Japanese
roundabout way of saying no, but not being Japanese I was apparently
not using it correctly. She kept saying it was important I be at this
meeting and I kept trying to say, politely, that no it wasnít since
the kids would be explaining the trip (that I already know all about)
and the vice principal would be saying the standard ďbe careful and
have funĒ speech. Finally I got out of the meeting, but then the
compromise was I go to the meeting room when they are taking the group
photo. She said it would only take a minute, but I knew otherwise.
This is not entirely a Japan gripe, but things never take ďa minuteĒ.
The actual phrase actually means ďa short amount of timeĒ, not
literally a minute. It would have taken 5-10 minutes and my class is
already too long as it is. I always enjoy reading schedules that say
ďwe will start at 10 and then at 11 take a short 5 minute breakĒ. It
takes 5 minutes for people to get out of their seats start moving to
the bathroom, and then 5 minutes in the bathroom, and then 5 minutes
to loiter around a bit and then they start counting the actual 5
minutes. Then later you hear ďit seems we are running a bit lateĒ. I
So anyway, during class someone comes and says itís time for me to
come up, but itís dead in the middle of a part I canít really leave so
I use ďIíll be there in a minuteĒ back at them. About 5 minutes later
another student comes down and says they are waiting so I tell him I
am in the middle of class and canít leave so I will have to not be in
the photograph. Then he says they are not actually taking it today
just practicing. Are you kidding me? I told him to decide where I
should stand and let me know tomorrow when we take the actual
They would never ever interrupt a real class for such petty nonsense,
but the foreignerís classes are make-believe and pretend so itís ok. I
couldnít imagine trying to interrupt a Japanese class or social
studies class during the part where they are denying some major
occupation in history, but my classes are no big deal.
Why do I stay? Because I love the kids and for the most part they
enjoy learning English. I am real
friends with some of the students and I canít imagine leaving them
now. We write little notes to each other and I look forward to seeing
them. A big part of my life would be missing if I went back to Atlanta
and had some boring corporate job. Itís just the annoying parts of the
culture that bug me. The photo is just of a truck that you rarely
see in Japan. It must be a hassle to park.
Speaking of me whining, Iím going to set up a summary page of my
journal. It will be for parents and other people who want to live in a
ďlife is great and wonderful all the timeĒ bubble. Iíll just report
things I did and news and never say anything negative since thatís
what makes you a positive person. Just saying positive things and not
acknowledging anything negative. So I will set up that page and people
can read it and think about how wonderful life is in Japan.
I am really trying to keep up with all the memos I get. I get so many
each day/week that I canít keep up with them. I canít imagine Japan
being a paperless society, even though it would be so easy. We could
have a web page on the internal server and when people make a memo
they just save it to a certain folder. Then a script on the web page
automatically checks for files in the folder and adds a link to the
memo. I would love that and it would save so much paper, but I am sure
we have some paper quota. You really think I am being witty, but if
you saw how much paper we go through youíd agree. Most of the memos
are worthy of memo status. Most are nothing more than something youíd
say in a meeting. I have separate files for ďthings I need to keepĒ,
ďthings I need to translateĒ, ďthings I need to keep for at least
another day so the person who made it wonít immediately see it in the
trashĒ, ďthings that need immediate attentionĒ, ďthings that really
need immediate attentionĒ, and a few others.
Today I received a memo with the schedules of the two part time
teachers for the whole year. Seriously, why do we need to know that,
at least in memo form. That should be on one sheet on a chart on the
wall, or in my web page system. Next I received 5 copies of all the
class leaders. The first copy was a rough draft I guess, then they
made a change and we all received that one. Then another change and a
new copy, and so on. All the second year teachers receive copies of
all communications related to the school trip. I mean ALL
communications. ďI called the travel agent today, but he was at the
dentist so I will call him tomorrowĒ. I care more about common
digestive disorders of African elephants than I do about this. Let me
know if the trip was cancelled or something like that, but daily
(sometimes twice daily) updates are unnecessary.
Wednesday, April 18th, 2007
Of epic proportions an idiot am I. A large portion of the reason I
wanted to get a new car was because I canít afford to fix my car as
well as pay the yearly emissions fee of $1,500 and then the May tax of
$450. Since that is due next week I wanted to get it all done now. The
guy from the car shop came by today and gave me all the paperwork and
we went through it. Apparently for me to pay over 4 months (which is
now 6 months yay!), I have to get a loan from the bank. We filled out
all the info and he explained everything. Then he asked for my yearly
emissions test form from last year and he checked the date of when the
next one is due. I said next week and he said ďwell next weekÖÖ.of
next yearĒ. Apparently I was completely and totally wrong when I
thought I had to get the yearly emissions test every year. My car is
11 years old, BUT it turned 11 during a cycle so the next time I have
to get the inspection is next year in April. ARGH.
To be honest, I probably would have kept the car until next year had I
known that before, but as it turns out I might as well continue. The
new car will cost $4250 and that includes everything. I laid down a
fixed unbreakable limit of $4,000 and added $200 would be the real and
true unbreakable limit. So then he said the final complete total cost
would be $4,250. Of course I had to give in on that. But the good news
is since I am getting a loan, they wonít loan the money for less than
6 months so I am able to put $800 down and then pay something like
$550 or so for 5 months. So that helps a lot. I might be able to pay
off that loan as well as buy the car. Also, the next emissions for
this car is November of next year and it should be around $1,000
including the May fee rather than $2,000 plus repairs. ALSO I might
get some money back for something since I paid through next April. The
only thing in the way now is the bank has to approve the loan and they
really donít like doing that for foreigners without non-permanent
status. I know of someone who did get a credit card (and loaned me the
money for my new computer via the card Ė though he received some sky
miles for it), but it took him about 6 months to get it. Plus he had
to get several people to guarantee he would pay, even though the
entire amount was withdrawn from his account every month.
The car guy had a photo of the car and it looked great and I am really
hyped about it. It should get much better gas mileage and all the fees
will be lower. Plus it is something like 7-8 years old so I should
only have to pay the emissions fee next year and possibly the year
after or maybe even two years after. Overall I am pleased with the
whole process. I wish it was slightly cheaper, but in the long run it
will be a savings and good investment. I should be able to get some
money back from someone when I leave, rather than just give the car
I do exist.
Thursday, April 19th, 2007
Some lady from the bank called and I had to speak to her since they
had to prove I exist and I was actually getting the loan. That makes
sense and luckily she talked to me slowly. She just asked basic things
about the loan and my address and how long I planned to stay in Japan.
Still no news on the result, but tomorrow I will go to Koriyama city
hall to get some forms. The funny thing about these forms is I need
form A to get form B and of course I need form B to get form A.
Thereís got to be some key to the puzzle I am missing since Iím not
the first person to need these forms in Japan.
Today I had a class with the new 1st years, but I was
acting as an ALT (Automatic Language Tape-player). Not really in this
case, but we joke the meaning of ALT. The 5th grade teacher
doubles as the 1st year English teacher since we are a
small school. I went to assist since there are 30 kids. I should have
gone last year as well, butÖ Anyway, it was a good class and I think
we will be able to teach them some intense English. They seem
receptive, whereas the current second years simply donít remember
things. They arenít stupid, but we teach something and 5 minutes later
itís completely gone. Not gone like ďoh I know this, but I canít
rememberĒ, gone as in ďI have no idea what you are talking aboutĒ.
Itís really strange. I look around the room and see about 5 (out of
34) that might go to some upper level high school. Most of them will
go to the local high school.
Iíve had to redo my point system several times because of the banking
system I am trying to build in. The problem was when they earned money
(Ryan Dollars) by writing in their journals and then wanted me to keep
it in the bank, that money would be counted twice. So now they donít
earn money, per se, they earn a point which is later multiplied by
another number and it all makes sense in the end. I also had to redo
my bonus quiz maker since many 1st year kids were too
scared to take it. I made a small 5 question ďquick quizĒ with no
unneeded parts of the question. It drills things like AT (time) ON
(day) rather than having a whole question like ďMike wants to
implement a deliberate structure to enhance his repetitive instincts
regarding the events that occurred (_____) Tuesday.Ē Well that was a
bit long, but you get the idea.
After school there was a PTA meeting that lasted until about 8. I
stayed for most of it, but the 7:30-8 part didnít concern me (nor did
the other stuff really) so I left around 7:45. That was a12 hour day
and I really donít mind when I have things to do. There have been
several days recently when I would get to work and the look up and say
ďitís lunch already?Ē and a few minutes later ďitís time to go
already?Ē Iíve been so slammed recently, but itís good since it keeps
me at school late and thatís what looks good in Japan.
The new first graders in the elementary school are too cute. Literally
too cute. Itís amazing to me how a whole class can be similar.
Obviously each class has will have its own personality, but with these
kids the majority are really out going and well mannered. Other
classes have a majority of quiet kids or annoying kids. I guess since
I gave these kids little name cards at the pre-meeting back in the
fall they have grown to know me. I want to go visit the current
kindergarten kids in a few months whenever I have free time here. Just
to get to know them early so when they come next year it will be much
easier, though this year was pretty easy.
Had a groovy language goof again. I was making a chart to explain the
new ďpower upĒ quiz system and I have divided it into four parts.
Upper, medium, low level, and then a quick quiz as mentioned above. I
found the kanji for all the parts and put it on the chart and put the
chart on the wall. I started hearing the giggles from kids and some
high level kids asked for a low level quiz. I asked why and they
giggled. A teacher explained the kanji I used meant ďcoarse, vulgarĒ.
I managed to snap a photo of
a stadium speaker truck parked for lunch by the school.
You can easily see these are getting close to the stadium speaker size
Monday, April 23, 2007
The party was fun Friday, but I doubt I will be having the poisonous
and deadly blowfish again. The taste was so-so and something, probably
the blowfish, tore my stomach up to biblical proportions. I mean to
the point that I almost went to the hospital. I felt great before
eating it and had nothing unusual other than the fugu so I can only
assume my body sensed (and rejected) the poison in the fish. I also
felt slightly dizzy to the point of hallucinating for a bit after
eating it. It was definitely fresh as you can see from the photo. The
blowfish come straight from a tank.
Then Saturday I drove right back to Koriyama for Paulaís birthday
party. It was at this place she and I have seen many times and always
wanted to eat at. Itís called Wing Garden (which makes perfect sense
to me and doesnít sound strange at all oddly). It was $15 for a huge
all you can eat buffet. It was mostly Japanese style food, but nothing
too Japanese. It was all edible and tasty. There was a huge coffee bar
with several things to pour in including some alcohol. There was a
beer section, but that was extra. There was also a good dessert
section. I would say it was well worth the money and I plan to go
Oh, before the party Friday I took vacation time and went to City Hall
to get some forms for the car process. Japan loves forms and paperwork
so I need a form for everything. Hereís an interesting tidbit, you
canít buy a car in Japan unless you have a form proving you have a
place to park the car. I had to go to the board of education part to
get that. Of course there was a glitch, and that glitch was that I
needed form B to get form A. Guess what I needed to get form B? Thatís
right, form A. So I had the two parties chat themselves and I guess it
will work out. Then I got the other forms and mailed them to the car
guy who will then take those forms and send me another form, which I
will then send to the insurance place and somewhere else. Hopefully it
should all work out by Friday, which is when I get the car and make
the first payment.
Letís see, what else is new? I found out that the Wing Garden is part
of a cheap hotel. Itís both really cheap and conveniently located,
although there seems to be no parking. I also checked into tinting my
own windows on the new car. That seems to fall into the ďnot likelyĒ
category. Eventually Iíd like tinted windows, possibly a decent CD
player (with iPod input), and maybe nicer wheels. But I have to pay
for it all first. I talked to someone at Paulaís party about how much
different a yellow tag car is versus a white tag car. My beast is
current a white tag and I am getting a yellow tag. The gas, insurance,
and emissions test should be minimal. Not much else is going on now
worth reporting. I still havenít made the bland summary page for this
site for the parental units. Iíll do that now.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
The official emissions and registration papers came today for the new
car so I assume all is in order. I have to fax this sheet to several
people and they will then produce other forms that are all equally
needed. I think I will get the car delivered here on Friday which is
good since there is a party on Friday night at one of two local
restaurants. That means I can drink and walk home, whereas I always
have to get a hotel room in Koriyama or just not drink (like last
Friday). One is expensive, the other is a bummer. Not as much of a
bummer as getting deported from Japan for 10 years for driving drunk,
but still a bummer.
Seriously, What Is It?
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
I truly donít understand why the students simply cannot remember
anything from week to week. Actually, itís less than that sometimes it
within the same day and other times itís in the same class. Iíll teach
something and repeat it over and over, but they just donít remember
it. I reminded these kids no less than 20 times about the short quiz
this week and most of them flat out forgot. Only one girl got them all
correct, most got about 20-30%. This happens in my classes and the
regular English teacherís classes as well. Itís something cultural and
I cannot figure it out. Obviously they learn other subjects, but they
just canít grasp a foreign language. Or maybe itís just English.
I was told I had to pay $30 for the school trip and I will be
reimbursed later. I really donít have it now since I am trying to be
as stingy as possible. Furthermore, why do I have to pay it and then
get reimbursed? It wasnít something I did on my own, it was the school
trip that was planned by the school last year (the trip was last
week). I guess I will pay and get over it.
Some friends invited me to go camping this weekend. They are going for
4 days/3 nights, but I donít think I can go for that long. Plus I
donít sleep so well in a tent and donít really have the money to buy
an air mattress right now. I donít want to back out since itís a good
group going (alliteration) and it should be fun. Definitely more fun
than sitting at home for the 3 day weekend, but a bit more expensive.
Seriously, What Is It?
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Since I am getting the car tomorrow I am really nervous about getting
into a wreck or something with the old car since that would complicate
things like crazy. Last night I was almost in two wrecks because
Japanese drivers will not simply wait for a car to turn, they have to
do everything possible to get around the turning car now. I was
pulling out of my little road onto a bigger road. My little road is
one lane and the bigger, being bigger, is two. I was turning left and
a car was approaching from the right. He was turning in so he put on
his blinker and slowed so I would pull out and free the way. But the
car behind him was in a deathly hurry and passed. Hereís the funny
part, the light was red so when he passed he would have had to
immediately slow back down. It would have made sense (ah thatís it) to
just let the car turn since he was slowing for the light anyway.
Anyhoo, he passed and I pulled out and he honked.
Then on the way back (from getting money for the school trip from the
ATM in 7-11), I was coming around a curve and a bus was stopping in
the other lane ahead of me. I slowed down since I knew exactly what
would happen and it happened exactly as I knew it would. The bus was
stopping (on a curve at night) and the car behind him had to pass.
Itís a federal law you see, had he not passed he would have been shot
on site. So he passes and that puts him dead in my lane as I am coming
around the curve in the right of way. Had I not slowed down he would
have hit me head on pretty fast. As it was he had to slam on the
brakes, but I had already slowed a fair bit since this has happened so
many times. I hate when people write ďanyhooĒ, but I didnít want to
put ďanyhowĒ twice.
So as far as the car goes, most everything is in order. That of which
that is not in order will be taken care of by separate parties. That
one form from the Board of Education is supposed to take longer, but
the car people need it tomorrow. I called the BoE and told them I need
it by tomorrow and they said it would be difficult. That actually
means impossible in Japan, but they donít say impossible because itís
too American (or too direct). So I asked if they could contact the car
place and figure something out, which is what they have done, so itís
not my problem. I sent away the extra insurance forms today so I
should be all set when I get it tomorrow.
I always hate it when things take 3-6 weeks to process. This is not a
Japan thing, all countries seem to have absurdly long processing
periods for various official governmental things. This form takes
about 5 minutes to fill out. If you have other stuff to do thatís more
important, thatís perfectly understandable. But saying that this form
will take a while is annoying. I think that actually might happen more
in the US than here. In Japan they kill you with paperwork that
overlaps and where one is required to get the other and vice versa.
But in the US things seemed to take so long to process when really it
would take five minutes.
My tax refund is an example. When I first got here I thought I had to
send in a blank tax return (completely blank apart from my name and
address) with ďtaxpayer living abroadĒ or something written across the
top. I did that and then found out there was something else. I hired
an accountant to do it correctly and she filed for me. Then the IRS
wrote and said I filed two returns and they would have a specialist
determine what the problem was. They have specialists who look at a
blank form and look at one typed by a professional accountant and try
to figure out which one is accurate. I want that job. They said it
would take 8 weeks for the investigation to conclude. I finally got
the check around the time I was filing the next yearís taxes.
I actually have a lot of classes next week during Golden Week which is
only a two day work week. I think I have 9 classes which is great. Iíd
love to have 4-5 everyday rather than 9-12 every week and sitting
around programming all the time. I get to teach colors to the new
elementary first graders. They are too cute, but Iíve covered that.
Iím going to teach them the colors and then have then run around the
room touching things that are the color I call out. Iíd better make
sure there are some colors in that room.
Friday, April 27, 2007
We had the observed class today and I was an assistant during the one
class that one teacher came to. Then there were several meetings some
of which I went to and others I didn't. Finally we had one meeting
that went from 4:00 to 4:50, but a certain teacher who loves to talk,
talked from 4:30 to 5:15. Then the rest of the meeting parts had to be
cut since the PTA party started at 6:30 at the restaurant across the
street (one of three in the area). Finally we finished around 5:45 and
I bolted so I could get money and change clothes. I don't particularly
enjoy wearing a suit. I know I look good in one, but I'm just not
Oh, before that the new car came. It's small, but nice. It should be
much cheaper in the long run. There are some things I don't like about
it and miss my old car, but I can see that it will save me money
overall and better fits my driving habits than the old one did. Plus I
only need to save about $50 a month until the next emissions test and
weight tax. It's boxy and narrow, but that is a real bonus in Japan.
It's small and compact and turns on a dime (almost literally). Plus it
has nice space in the back, which I will get into shortly. I would
have laughed at a car like this in the US, but here it's great. The
headlights are rare and usually look different. I was actually a
little sad when they said the old car would be scraped for parts
rather than sold. I get attached to things like that sometimes. I felt
like it could have been sold for something, but that's not how things
work in Japan with that absurd emissions fee.
Ok, so all that's finished. The new car is here, the old car was taken
away. Now it's 6:10 so I should start walking to the party so I get
there by 6:20. Yea, I'm the first one here. For a culture that is
famous for being prompt, people are fashionably late a lot. Anyway,
luckily there was no long opening ceremony (oh there was an opening
ceremony, but it wasn't long) and we got right into the action. I
chatted with several people the whole time and many people came over
and said they were waiting to chat with me, but I was talking to
someone else. That's a good feeling, and part of the reason why I am
staying a while (not forever though).
The party ends around 9:30 and the chairman of the PTA drags me to the
2nd of three places in the area. I had been here before and wanted to
come back. It was the Yakitori place. Yaki means cooked or baked
or grilled and tori is bird. Yakitori is like chicken on a stick,
though it's something like swallow I think. So we drank for about 2
hours and chatted about various things. There were about 6 people.
Then a huge argument broke out between two people. I caught some of
it, but not all. Then it was over and we leave. The bill was $30 each,
which I can't understand, but I would never say anything. 6 people
times $30 is $180 and we sure didn't drink and eat that much. I really
don't get it, but that's what everyone paid.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Some friends invited me to go camping over the three day weekend and I
really didn't feel like going, but I wanted to go. I had so many
things to do over the weekend and I was broke, but I knew it would be
fun and I was afraid if I said no too much I wouldn't get invited
other times. So I went on Saturday after doing some things at the
school. It was about an hour and a half drive from my place, but
that's not too bad really. The place was up in the mountains a bit and
it was my first trek in the new car. We stayed at a nice place called
Lakeland Hibara. Hibara is a local lake. They have some trailers to
rent or you can stay in tents.
We stayed in tents. It didn't fully occur to me how cold it would get
at night. It still gets down to around freezing in my area, and this
place was even higher up in the mountains. There was still some snow
on the ground. You can actually see some in the background. My tent is
the smaller one to the left and then 4 people slept in the bigger tent
on the right. The next night they set up a different tent so there
were two in each big tent. They all had cushions, mats, pillows,
several blankets, and probably a heated blanket since there were power
outlets. I had my $20 sleeping bag that goes up to my chest and one
other little thin waste of cloth. When I got in the tent to go to
sleep it wasn't so bad. But that was because my body was still warm.
When I relaxed and cooled down I got really cold. I woke up about an
hour later so cold that I had to get into my car. Luckily I can sleep
diagonally if needed since the seats fold down flat.
The place was rather well equipped and I fully intend to go back when
the weather is better. They had mobile trailers to rent. There was a
nice bathroom and shower/onsen (hot group bath) that was included.
There was a sink area with hot water and a washer and dryer as well as
a restaurant area with a small supply store. It was like roughing it
in style. I don't really like the bathroom in the woods no
shower for three days type camping anymore. It really would have
been a lot less fun if they didn't have the bathrooms and showers. I'd
like to try the trailer at some point, but they are a bit expensive.
That's not surprising in Japan, but it might be too much. I'm in the
process of setting up a page about the place with a map in case any
other Fukushima JETs want to venture there. I should also set up a
page about the school trip.
On Sunday we woke up, had breakfast, goofed off a bit, had lunch and
then went hiking at the famous 5 colored lakes. You can really only
see two or three
colors at one time since the other colors are scattered around the
place a bit. I've been there before, twice actually, and it's
interesting, but not super amazing. This time we took some photos of
the lake and then hiked around it. I think the whole hike was a few
kilometers since we were hiking for nearly 2 hours. It was Golden Week
so the trails were crowded. Some women were hiking in high heels. I
mean you had better look nice when you go out on the town, regardless
of what you are doing. You can rent a boat for some obscene price and
ride around a bit. I think the various colors are caused my algae or
something related to volcanoes. It's one of the big things in
Fukushima and it's right near the Salvadore Dali museum. I can't
understand why that place is in the absolute middle of no where.
I drove back after the hike and ended up sleeping from 5pm until 6am
the next morning. I was tired from not really sleeping and then
hiking. On Monday, a holiday, I got several things done around the
apartment and planned a few classes for Wednesday. Thursday and Friday
of this week are also holidays, but there is a soccer game on Thursday
at the school I think.