Here there be Typhoons

Heatstroke season is just about over here in Japan and coming in along with the return of pants, proper shoes, and full battle armor(suit and tie) by the end of October are…

Typhoons.

If you’ve ever lived in a country that gets regular typhoons than you know my pain.  September has barely started the weather can now change on the slightest of whims.  We can be enjoying pleasant and fun beginning-of-autumn sunshine one minute, and then running for our lives from a torrential rainstorm the next.   Riding on a bicycle through a typhoon? I don’t recommend it.  Walking through a typhoon? I recommend even less.

Last week we had a typhoon on my day off and it wrecked all sorts of havoc in this prefecture and just yesterday my regular Tuesday trip into Nagoya was all sunshine and waffles.  Or, at least it seemed that way right up until the skies opened up and the great thunder god Thor decided it was high time for a little thunder, lightning and rain capable of backing up toilets.  It lasted for two hours and keep me indoors for the entire time.  When it finally ceased, the ground was dry in less than 20 minutes.  Crazy.

If I ever held the notion that it rained a lot in Vancouver, that illusion has been thoroughly dispelled.  It does rain frequently back home, but the rain is light to moderate, usually pleasant and rarely miserable.  Carrying an umbrella is a choice and a good rain jacket is enough most of the time.  But here neither is enough on their own.  One must prepare accordingly.

Rain isn’t light in Japan*.  In fact, a light rain here is enough for me to seriously consider having a good long stare down and see who blinks first.  A heavy rain, hopefully without wind, is enough to soak my jacket and any bag I might have in less than a minute.  If it has rain my feet are getting soggy as well.  And at the same time it’s also hot.  Not crazy hot, usually somewhere in the high twenties, but still hot all the same. So even though the rain didn’t soak my clothes, the sweat and humidity under the jacket did.

No matter what country I go to, I always miss the weather of the Pacific Northwest.  It was obnoxiously wet, and it got you cold on those wet but snowless winter days, and if you saw the sun between November and March you broke into tears and clawed upwards towards the sky until its benevolent light faded.

-GJ

*Citation needed

The Summer of Ninety-Six Point Eight

Summer has arrived in Japan.  It’s hot, sweaty, boiling in the sun, an infinitesimal degree cooler in the shade, and the cicadas are the noisier than a pair of children who’ve disappeared into the supermarket candy aisle.  The nights are cool (thank a relic of an outmoded belief system) which makes it a lot easier to sleep than other places I’ve stayed(only slightly less effective than alcohol and valium), and with the summer season comes festival season!  In the summer every Japanese city/town/dwelling with more than 1 person has a festival to celebrate…something.  With some kind of terrifying town mascot.

The first weekend of August had the local Yokkaichi festival, a celebration of such magnitude that I didn’t know about it until two whole days ahead of time.  It took up the entire shopping arcade, five or six additional side streets, about half a kilometre of major road, and filled all that space with Japanese carnival game stalls, food stalls, gambling stalls, and stalls that sold aquatic creatures of varying degrees that were not for eating.  Unless you’re Chinese, then all bets are off.

The food was…disappointing.  A lot of it was fried or bbq chicken, it was all ridiculously overpriced, and the best thing I ate was probably the turkish kebabs.  Nothing was bad, it was just so overpriced for what you got compared even to restaurants that I limited myself very heavily to things I couldn’t find anywhere in town.  Such as kebabs.  Can’t find those in small town Yokkaichi.

I didn’t bother with the carnival games, seen and done those a hundred times before.  And it has nothing to do with me being bad at them.  Instead I watched a few traditional Japanese dances, floats, and displays of such drumming prowess that the ladies clothing sometimes reminded me of this one time in Amsterdam that I probably shouldn’t repeat in print.

 

 

On the other side of festival season, this week is Obon, the traditional Japanese celebration for the dead.  Traditionally, many Japanese who live in the big cities use this week of relaxation to take a load off, visit family in the small towns(or smaller cities) and take a walk to the cemetery to visit grampy-six-feet-under.  Its a solemn time to remember dead family members, light some candles in their honour, and eat a meal to remember them by.  In practice, people take a vacation in Guam or spend a few hours with grampy or granny before buggering off to Sizzlers(or the Japanese equivalent) for some all-you-can-eat chicken’n’chips.  It’s so North American I felt like crying, saluting and subjugating a visible minority.  There’s even a traditional celebration where some people will lite a candle and set it down on the river to float downstreams.  It’s lovely and I wanted to take pictures and take part.  But does anyone actually do it? Nope.  For the first time since I came to Japan I heard someone say: “It’s TOO traditional”.

 

At The Company, we are working.  Its a week of holidays for most people, so the clear response to this is to have us work.  Doesn’t matter that almost every other school is closed all week and that literally all of our regular classes are cancelled and I might teach 1 or two hours this entire week.  Nope, someone at corporate thought it would be a radical and bodacious idea to have six people sitting around doing nothing for a whole week.  And not only are we working, someone had the bright idea to also screw up our usual schedule and come in two hours earlier.  It’s not like any students are showing up in those two extra hours in the morning that are never otherwise available, but we definitely don’t have some students showing up in the evening who would be here otherwise.  Just bloody brilliant.

-GJ

I’m Feeling Snarky Today

Snarky – snide and sharply critical.  Adj.

I’d rather this blog weren’t a sounding board for my cute and fuzzy internal demons concerning Japan and the culture therewithin, but damnit I want to rant and rave, so something has got to give.  I’m not going to preface this with a funny anecdote or an interesting factoid: let’s jump right in.  Allyonse!

In the right corner we have shockingly ill equipped co-workers who won’t confront parents and deal with a problem child.

It started a while ago, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized the abyss this problem had carved out before me.  On Wednesdays and Thursdays we have this class of six 6/7 year olds who take a beginner class together.  Four boys and two girls make up the class, three little shits filled with pent up energy and misplaced aggression, one shy and bumbling boy who had some serious anxiety for the first month of classes, and two girls who are like nothing better than to put the boys in their place.  It’s a minefield where every mine is attached to rats of unusual size and have my name on the trigger.

So when someone put this class together, they told the parents it would be alright if they wanted to drop their kids off a little early and they could do their homework.  Good selling point, I can’t fault anyone there.  If I were the parent of one of these mobile migraine producers I would adore an hour off frim them in addition to school.    But this “little early” has turned into 45 minutes of after school daycare for the Japanese teacher we have working here where she has to be there to keep an eye on these ankleshankers who’re one conch and a deserted island from a reenactment of Lord of the Flies.

The parents drop them off, they run around a classroom and the school sounds like the mosh pit at a Taylor Swift concert, and we have to keep an eye on them while we wait for the proper class time.  It interrupts other classes, ties up the Japanese instructor so that she can’t really get other work done, and just winds them up for the actual class where they are almost uncontrollable.

And no one will tell the parents that they’re being arseholes.

I asked “why?”* to my co-workers, and the answer was basically “We don’t judge them”.  After my silent incredulity echoed through the room for a moment, I followed that up with “Aaaaaaanddd??”  Apparently none of my Japanese co-workers will confront the parents and tell them not to do this and talk with their kids about their behaviour because…they don’t think it’s their place.

Well whoop-de-fracking-do.  Let me go find my horse drawn carriage and cane and we can work this out like proper civilized folk in Victorian England!  Honestly, you are the teacher.  The children are behaving badly.  The parents are being inconsiderate.  You go and tell them not to do this, have a nice calm chat with their child dangling over boiling lava about behaving properly because we are  not a boarding school for troubled jungle savages!  Un-fracking-believable.

But none of them will, I guarantee this.  My manager is non-confrontational to the point where I need to hunt her down to fill out paperwork, the Japanese instructor has a very socially convenient platform for her high horse hidden somewhere out of sight, and the counselor who should probably be mentioning this to the parents when they show up won’t say anything because she won’t take an off schedule meeting with a man about the female equivalent of a horse without permission signed in triplicate.

Fracking mental.

But oh ho ho, things don’t end there. In the left corner we have Japanese parents who like to come in and tell us their grub “doesn’t like men”.  The fact that the larvae almost invariably turns out to be a male, they have a parent who is male(shocking, I know), they have friends who are male, and probably a small dog that keeps it’s family jewels on the exterior completely escapes them.  Their perfect little angel doesn’t like men so we HAVE to use female teachers for this kid.

This is of course a logistical nightmare, because the foreign teachers at The Company are 80% men** and this prefecture and four closest prefectures don’t have a female foreign instructor.  As a result, we need to put the kid into a class all on their own and whenever it comes time to teach them a foreign instructor lesson we need her in there with me to get this done legally and without anyone getting cross about contractual obligations.  The contract says we give the larvae a gaijin lesson once a month so that’s what we have to do.

It’s nuts.  And with the exception of one kid who has a problem with anyone who isn’t this one lady, it’s just a giant hand wave and dust cloud for the fact that the parents are discriminating bigots.  But that’s OK!  So we encourage this kind of behaviour and mentality by catering to their every whim and make sure Little Timmy has everything arranged just right for him so that he doesn’t freak out when he discovers his sensei has an X and Y chromosome!!!

And like before, no one will tell the parents that this isn’t acceptable.  They’ve probably been to a half dozen different schools saying the same thing, had their kid enrolled until it became too much of a headache, and then rolled on out to a different school to rinse and repeat this ridiculous pantomime.

And just top off this quickly derailing boxing metaphor, I found out that there is a railway company that recently had a very important cat die.  But wait, there’s more! If you order the next five minutes you can discover this cat was a Stationmaster! And that through shinto religious tradition this cat has become a goddess.

No.  Joke.

So a few years ago this train company was in a financial sinkhole with no way out.  Their hail mary? Promoting a cat living at one of the stations to “Stationmaster” as an advertising gimmick.  Turns out people really like patting cats before getting on a train, and they enjoy a cat in a fancy hat even more.  It saved the company, and her death was such a great loss they are “training her replacement” as we speak.   And does anyone think this is strange or weird? Nope, it’s just me and my rapidly declining resolve.

But before this all sounds like my sanity is balancing at the edge of a cliff***, there have been a lot of good experiences out here.  The paperwork, red tape and borderline delusional mentalities aside, I’m enjoying my time here.  I’ve got friends, I know the town I’m in pretty well, there’s a dog daycare near my house that lets me drop by and pat some of the dogs, a couple restaurants I really like going to, and a group of geeks I meet a few times a month to geek out with****.  I’m financially stable at the moment, I’m not stressed at work, I’m losing weight and I don’t feel isolated and alone like I did in China.  My apartment’s shit and I still bang and crash into things like a drunken mastodon because nothing is sized for me, but thus far the good outweighs the bad by a good margin.

Although the crazy does outweigh both combined by leaps and bounds….


-GJ

The Tale of Sir-Not-Showering-At-This-Internet-Cafe

The first time I went to an internet cafe in Canada I was 15 or 16.  I went with my cousins and some of their friends to basically play video games with all the computer hooked up onto a LAN network.  It was Counter Strike.  I was better than expected but a lot worse than the best people there.  At the time I felt it was a great experience.  Five bucks an hour got you a computer with unlimited usage.  Sure it would’ve made a made a germaphobe scream, faint and need a hermetically sealed hamster ball just to make it out the front door,  but I was a teenager and I didn’t care about a few extra germs here and there.  The computers were okay and could handle a lot of the popular games people were interested in, but nothing graphic intensive.

hamster_ball

I went to some internet cafes while I was in Europe.  By and large they are much smaller, cleaner, rustic even, and intended just for internet surfing, email and printing documents.  Not 12 hour gaming marathons or mobs of teenagers  looking to murder each other in simulated warfare.  Usually they take up small shops and meet very simple writing, surfing and communication needs.  Gaming was not available and people probably never went to them for that sort of thing.

So fast-forward to now and there I was, stepping forth into a Japanese internet cafe.  This is a completely different beast entirely.  Where the cafes in Canada did have a lot of floor space and choice and the European ones I found were quaint and practical, the Japanese beasts are mythological sirens giving the technological equivalent of “come hither” with their eyes and a waggle of their fingers.

manga_cafe-cubicles

First of all, the building has two floors.  The top floor is a regular cafe with couches, pool tables, dart boards, and some private rooms(I do not know what goes on here and I am NOT going to find out).  The main floor has private computer alcoves, sleeping alcoves, couches, diner-style booth tables, and a significant library of naughty magazines, fashion magazines, and gaming magazines and all the lastest manga.  And a drink bar.

So it’s a thing in Japan that a lot of restaurants use “drink bars” for regular drinks(pop, juice, coffee, tea, etc) particularly at all you can eat joints where the overworked staff is already fetching food.  They give you a cup and you can go and run off and get drinks for yourselves.  If you want to order alcohol, it’s a different matter and comes individually, but otherwise the “drink bar” is the norm for many places.  At the internet cafe’s it’s the norm.  I had my choice of soda, juice, cold tea or brew my own fresh tea, espresso machine coffee, slushies, and soup.  It’s amazing.  My response was something along the lines of “Unlimited slurpees? Swaggles!”

You can order a variety of Japanese cafe food(simple sammiches, curry and rice, katsu and rice, chicken wings, fried food from the depths of the ocean, different snack foods) and it’s brought directly to your alcove.  For 320 yen I got a plate of fries with chicken nuggets and tacoyaki.  Pretty damn good considering I’m also only playing 380 yen per hour.

And the internet? Glorious.  Just glorious.  Back in Canada it was a great day if the speed went as high as 1.5 mbit/s, and things would finish downloading overnight.  But that little booth topped 12 mbit/s over wifi.  I wasn’t even using a plugged in cable, this was over the bloody wifi.  I must’ve downloaded 100+ gigs of data while I was there.  Fan-freaking-tastic.

But things aren’t all sunshine and waffles in the land of amazing internet cafes.  In the big cities it’s a fairly common occurrence for people to stay overnight at one if they’ve missed the last train.  It has booths for sleeping and showers for the morning and it costs you a fraction of staying at a hotel.  This is kind of odd, but as I’m getting used to Japan this sort of thing is becoming more normal for me.  The weirder part is that some people just straight up live in these places.  They basically rent an alcove every night, go to work during the day, order inexpensive food, and use the internet.  They shower in the morning, use laundromats for their clothes and use luggage to carry their belongings and the lockers at the cafe to store their things.

internet-cafe-510x600

Back home this would be a serious and terrible plague upon our youth. It would be pitchforks and torches and pistols at dawn over this unspeakable terror afflicting the best and brightest of this generation.  But here?  People seem to accept it alongside putting two prices for everything at the supermarket(before and after tax).  Is it actually a problem?   Is it weird?  I’ve honestly no bloody idea. I’ve been seriously reevaluating everything I’ve thought was strange since I came here.  Strange took an extended vacation from Japan a couple decades ago and it’s starting to look like it might be permanent.

Asking around has got a definitive: “Eyh?”, which is the Japanese equivalent of someone telling you there’s a guy in a trench coat standing behind the bushes at the bus stop every morning for a few hours: he hasn’t done anything wrong, but there is no way in hell that he’s not doing something wrong under that coat or afterwards with the curtains shut.

All This Clapping is Hurting My Hands

Incoming rant.

Let’s talk dress code.

At The Company, there is a strictly enforced dress code here and it’s serious stuff.  If even one of us slacked off, well I hate to imagine the consequences.  Suffice to say, a fairy dies each time I wear a slightly inappropriate tie, when my pants don’t match the suit jacket I keep at work an angel loses it’s wings mid-flight, and a unicorn is impaled on it’s own horn if my shoes don’t match my belt.  Violating the dress code is just not done.

So things got hot and serious lately when I asked about “Cool Biz”.  For those not in-the-know, Cool Biz is the official government mandated period where anyone in Japan who has a day job doesn’t have to wear a tie or a jacket.  Thats right, it took a government mandate to make people over here stop wearing these easily dippable coffee and soup hazards.

<insert slow clap here>

I asked because it’s hot in Japan.  And Muggy. Not southern China hot, not Rome in the summer hot, but pretty hot.  And it, well, you know, seemed reasonable to me being a well informed gentleman, scholar and traveler of places unseens with people unmentioned that we follow this mandate given to us by the Japanese government itself! My boss’ response?

<insert giggle here*> Ano…I don’t know.  Maybe June?

So like any polite and respectful Canadian I sat down and shut up about it as the Conservative government has trained me to do so well.  But wouldn’t you know it, not forty-eight hours later she finds *gasp* a memo!  Dated last month! And it has important news! I can take my tie off! May first!

<insert slow clap here>

Back in Canada, and even China, I was always certain that when people followed the letter of the law it was because they feared the consequences.  I knew that if I did X then Y was gonna get my ass. And that seemed like a perfectly reasonable response.  Especially in China where not following the rules has often rewarded people with invitations to permanently stay in a nice building surrounded by barbed wire and walls somewhere with lots of other people who didn’t follow the rules.

But here in Japan there is a really unusual mentality about being a “trouble-maker”.  People don’t want to be labeled a troublemaker, they don’t want anyone to think they could be a troublemaker, they won’t take risks to the point of being called a trouble-maker.  A few months ago when  Japanese journalist was killed by ISIS, the reaction in Japan was heavily divided.  It was so divided that the family felt obligated to apologize to everyone for their child who WAS KILLED BY TERRORISTS…for being a trouble-maker.  

I’m not trying to bash on his family here.  I’m 100% certain they had good reason to appeal to everyone and appear modest about this issue and I feel for them.  What I’m not board with is that this seems like it’s part of the entire cultural mindset that taking risks and appearing even a little bit like a trouble-maker is just not done.  Ever.  Not even once, just after lunchtime.  This is a problem for me, because as I’m sure everyone can attest, I relish being a “shit-disturber”.  I like that people recognize I enjoy causing a little mayhem for everyone’s enjoyment**.

Taking risks is part of getting some kind of pay off.  If you don’t take risks, you don’t get any pay off.  But in Japan it’s practically an institution to not take risks, not bend or break any rules, and not get rewarded for thinking outside of the box.  Nintendo has made it an artform to think outside the box with every other generation of game console they’ve produced, and it’s paid off well for them.  Taking bigger and bigger risks gives you a bigger and bigger pay off and Nintendo has managed to do it alternating cycles.  Maybe this entire working culture could do with an adrenalin shot in the arm to boost it’s famously stagnant economy.

But then again.  Maybe not taking risks is why crime is so low in Japan.

-GJ

 

*She is Japanese lady after all.  Giggles are a constant and required opener to any silly statement made by an uninformed gaijin such as myself.

​**Mostly my enjoyment.​

A Work in Progress

For a long while I believed that writing, like many many other specialized skills were a bit like magic.  Without effort or any training some people were simply good at it and could produce this skill without real effort like the rest of us.  As a result, I spent a good bit of time wishing and hoping and searching for some kind of miraculous skill that I had because I had school teachers that reinforced this kind of ridiculous belief system.  As should be obvious to anyone who has met me, the only skill I have which required no specialized training is my remarkable ability to breathe and be snarky.  It took a good number of years to stop believing this BS, and it wasn’t until university that I learned this and other truths of the universe(ie. I’m not the centre of it, other people are just people and not gods or demons) that I woke up a bit and realized that very very VERY few people can do something without training.  I also realized that I am not one of them.

One of the things that took a long time for me to become acceptable at is writing.  In high school, I remember one of my teachers undressing one of my essays multiple times in a single term, sometimes more than once a week.  I rewrote that bloody thing a dozen times at least and each time it had new and exciting problems for my teacher to get frustrated with.   I learned to fear the colour red on my papers and dreaded handing anything in for criticism. After her class my writing was still awful, but a little better than before her intervention.

The next big moment I remember was in college.  My teacher, another she, taught me a shocking amount at a time when I was the guy who thought he was the smartest person in the room(those were dark days).  Her favourite thing about my writing weren’t my prose or my structure, it was my titles.  She thought I had those nailed down but my writing itself was only passable.  I got a lot of good learning from her and I still use some of it in my own teaching.

The latest moment probably came when I started playing Dungeons and Dragons and I was writing and creating stories for my friends.  I created worlds and stories and lots of colourful people inhabiting those worlds.  I drew maps, typed up long winded histories and plots. I had an outlet for the ideas I had pop into my head on a daily basis ranging from wild and fantastic to dark and gritty.  Week after week I provided worlds to explore.

And most of them were crap.

But I learned so much from those experiences.  And those experiences in turn led me to start sharing my writing and ideas with my co-conspirators in the vain hope of improving.  To put it simply, nothing makes you better at something than practice.  Below is a snippet of some of my current writing.  Let me know what you think, and be as brutal and unforgiving as I deserve.

 

 

In the city-state of Kimmerikon, murderers are dealt with in an especially creative way.  Strangers to this ancient city often comment on this execution ceremony for its efficient method of deterring crime, and the hordes of viewers who go to the river to watch the weekly executions.  Travellers usually say something like “Gosh, is he supposed to come back up?”, “That river doesn’t look very good for swimming” and “Why are you asking for my betting slip?”

It begins with a murderer, willfully judged by the Chamber of Rats, a body of men whose sole responsibility is to hear cases of crime around the city on a daily basis.  After being found guilty(which happens in the vast majority of cases), the murderer is kept in The Pit, a seemingly endless maze which can only be navigated by a select group of guards, to await execution.  At the end of the week the murderer is walked out of the pit, through the city streets along with the other murderers to the Quay to the Underworld, a jetty used exclusively for executions.  The pun was likely intended, Kimmerians have a very strange sense of humor.

From here, each murderer is presented to the jeering crowd of onlookers who are told his or her name, the crime they’re being punished for, and information about the victim and crime.  In some cases where murderers of multiple people are involved this can often take a very long time and the entire spectacle is an entertaining show for the jeering masses.  While all this takes place the body of the victim is brought to the quay and either tied to the murderer or replaced with weights.  With the weights or body secured to the murderer, he or she must then cross the river.  

Not above the water.  

Under the water.  

If they can reach the other side without drowning, then the gods are supposed to have spoken their judgement and the murderer is turned free.

Kimmerikons  believe that a soul can only journey onto the next life if the bearer died a natural death.  A sudden death, such as murder or death in combat, doesn’t give time for the soul to make its transition.  As such, the murderer is executed with his victim’s soul clinging to him as he makes his journey.  In the case of war, Kimmerikon has been known to go to great lengths to ensure their dead ones are given a proper burial.

But while all this goes on, betting is a normal activity during the execution.  Bets are taken on whether murderers can make it to the other side of the river(picking the lock is considered acceptable if nearly impossible in a fast flowing river).  Some have even been presented second or third times and there are complicated betting sheets for these rare individuals.  The total gold being exchanged is rumored to sometimes exceed the value of a tiny kingdom.  Occasionally some have survived the ordeal as this process doesn’t always work on non-humans. Needless to say, only a handful survive even a single trip across.

This is precisely how Cassandra died.

The Uneducated Human Grub Complication

There’s really only one clear way to phrase this: I don’t like teaching children.  Also, I’m kind of bad at it.  Much like my amazing ability to not fly and not fall off bunk beds, being good at teaching the frenzied little buggers has evaded me professionally.  Teaching is a performance, and I know how to perform for all sorts of target age and ethnic groups.  But it’s just not happening with children.  My wit, my snark, my sarcasm, all wasted on them.

This isn’t to say that I have a problem with kids. I generally like them.  When I see them on the bus, walking with their parents or charging about a restaurant and I catch them looking at me, I like to smile and make a face.  When little kids come into the school and they like to pop their heads into the office I give them a little wave and say hi.  I’m not good at talking to them, but that is a different problem rather than the one at hand.  In the classroom? I would rather go hunting for geoduck than educate them in the fine art of speaking a horribly convoluted language that could do with a proper reorganization by someone sensible in a sweater with lots of lists.

It’s as if I intrinsically feel that children don’t want to learn when they get into my classroom.  After all I know for a fact that at their age the last thing I wanted to do was be taught something by a funny looking white guy in a suit after having been in that barless prison they called a school for six hours.  It seems so obvious to me that they don’t want to learn that I simply can’t get behind actually teaching them, especially since children just aren’t good at learning.

Okay, that’s kind of a heavy comment, so let me explain.  Consider for a moment how long it takes a child to learn enough French to graduate from a university, yes this is going somewhere.

Canadian public school kid: Grade 4 or 5 to Grade 12

Nine years of learning.  Seriously.  NINE.  YEARS. And this is with mutliple classes each week that are usually longer than the average university class.

University student: 4 semesters(12 months of classes)

A university student does the same thing in a year with classes four times a week.  I know what you’re thinking: Graeme you magnificent ball of stupid, you’re comparing children to adults!  Yes, I am.  That’s exactly what I’m doing.  Children are bad learners, probably about as bad as anyone would be at that stage of brain development.  And adults are better learners because we have more developed brains.  This isn’t rocket science, and I’m not trying to bash on children for being bad at learning.

Children can only learn so much so fast and forcing them to learn more sees like cruel and unusual punishment on the teacher who has to deal with your 4 foot tall ball of anger, growing pains and misplaced aggression.  A good comparison is decision fatigue.  Everyone has a preset number of good decisions they can make it one day before they start getting diminishing returns on their ability to make reasonable choices.  It’s the reason people who run multinational corporations or governments frequently don’t pick out their clothes or chose their meals.  Each one of those unimportant decisions chips away at their number of good choices.  Children have a similar fatigue: the vast majority can only learn so many things in one day that forcing them to learn more after a certain point in like decision fatigue.  Their parents want an extra hour not looking after the tiny man-grub they birthed so they drop them off with us for some expensive babysitting.

I seriously don’t want to teach someone who doesn’t want to learn, and I hate seeing parents waste money on something that isn’t helping their kids improve.  Their English is poor, and that’s fine.  But don’t be fooled into thinking that meeting me for an hour once a month is doing them any favours.  I’ve seen enough of these children  to know that I’m performing triage at best: the damage has already been done, and I’m just cleaning them up so they go right back out there so they can take another bullet for the team.

But I also don’t to teach someone who isn’t going to learn what I’m teaching.  Today I taught a class of six man-grubs  and I know deep down that each one of them has forgotten what we learned and it can never be recovered, not even with teams of spelunkers and canaries working 24 hour shifts.  They performed admirably and they were honestly great little kids that worked well with me to get through the material, but in the end that one hour class did as much good as walking a goldfish.

Thus here is my ultimate problem: It’s not that kids are poor learners, or that parents are jerks, or that I don’t want to teach them.  It’s that what I’m doing with them is so empty that I would seriously stop to think about singing Celine Dion songs in public rather than waste my time, the children’s time and the parents money.

Not for long, but I would stop and think about it.

-GJ

Today I got Really Freaking Annoyed

I’ve never particularly cared about my hair.  I know that my sister would probably disagree considering the number of questions I’ve asked her about hair care.  Some of my friends might also disagree considering the number of experimentations I’ve done on those cursed curls camped out on the top of head.  But truth be told, I don’t care about them. I care more about my appearance since appearances are disgustingly important in real life.  And since my appearance is important I’ve taken steps from time to time to improve it with the tools I have available.

Sometimes this has been gel, moose, or other ridiculous styling creams.  Other times it’s been a combination of a hair brush and my will versus an uncaring genetic structure.  Today, that process was impeded.

I go up early because I went through the trouble of reading up on and checking at a local barbers for the opening time of hair salons, barbers and hairdressers in Japan.  They open at 8:00 for barbers and 9:00 for the hair salons, supposedly.  Apparently these times are about as useful as an inflatable dart board.  I rode my bike to the barber shop and found it closed.  Undeterred and considering that it might simply be closed on a Tuesday, I   biked over to a salon that should also supposedly be open near my work.  It wasn’t open either despite their sandwich board saying 8:00 am and their window sign also saying the same.

This continued for six other places over the course of two hours and I biked my ass through side streets, small parks, bridges and through crowds of people going to work discovering a distinct inability to find a hairdresser prepared to cut this poor excuse for a mop on my head.  Was I going crazy? Do shearers of mammalian hair take Tuesdays as their day of respite from the tragically painful world of hair styling?  “How could I have missed this?” I thought.  No blog or webpage mentioned anything akin to a coordinated day off for them, so what was I missing?

I messaged a co worker about this conundrum before cycling home.  She wasn’t surprised and told me that they usually close on Mondays.  She embraced my confusion when I reminded her it wasn’t Monday.  My exact words to her went as follows:

“Okay.  Srsly. I’ve been to eight different salons barbers and or hair dressers and ALL of them have been closed.  It’s like a bat signal went out to warn them that my fro is on the prowl for a cleaning, so they all in a coordinated effort closed up shop as I left my apartment.  wtf”

And seriously.  WTF.  I still don’t know why they all closed up today.  I went back to the barber shops two more times hoping to save some money on a hair cut to no avail.  After giving up all hope of getting a hair cut on my DAY OFF(yes, I’m still really bloody annoyed) and to cease impersonating an extra from Con Air that I spied my saviour.  On a road I’ve never taken next to a nondescript building and parking lot was a open hair dresser with one little lady who had zero English capabilities.  After meandering my way through the opening “Konichiwa” and explaining how much hair I wanted cut with a ruler because percentage explanations failed, I got this birds nest cleaned up with a few extra “motto”s and hand gestures.

It cost my 30 bucks and it’s a good cut.  I think I’ll go back in the future.

This is What Democracy Tastes Like

So it’s going to be voting time in Japan soon.   Or maybe in this district of Japan.  Or maybe it’s just for the school board or something like that.  Hell if I know what it’s for, no one at my work seems to know either and they’re Japanese.  How do I know that it’s going to be voting time?  Because the Japanese method of letting people know about their platform and proposals is to hire a car to drive around town with a horn blaring a recorded message to the masses.  No joke.  Aside from one rally I saw in Nagoya which felt more like stand up comedy, this has been the extent of my exposure to the local election.

Standard Japanese Election Car
Seriously, this is basically what I’ve seen and heard four times a day for the past two weeks.

 

This brought me to ask my industrious and valuable co-workers about the election.  And they don’t have a clue.  I felt right at home and I got my ranting cap ready.  Apparently Japan has the same problem as the other First World countries.  The youth and adult voters aren’t taking 20 minutes out of their busy schedules to put a few check marks or Xes on a piece of paper.  Seriously, why the hell aren’t you people voting?

Yeah yeah, I’ve heard a giant steaming pile of excuses: “my vote doesn’t matter”, “the party I like won’t win”, “I don’t agree with any of the parties”, “the government is going to be a bunch of crooks regardless”. You know what?  You can take those excuses you keep giving and stuff them in a remarkably comfortable place to a small demographic of people who enjoy that sort of thing.

Voting is important, it’s why things like school tuition and bus fares keep increasing: because the political parties know you lot are unhappy but are too bloody lazy to get out there and actually show how unhappy you are by voting against them.

When a politician says something like “Young people don’t vote and it’s a big problem”, they are in fact saying “the biggest potential voting demographic doesn’t vote and force us to talk about the issues they care about and we like it that way”. You know why politicians keep getting up in front of the camera and talking about crime and medical? Because the elderly love that kind of stuff and their voting more than you are.  Seriously, 80 year old cripples are worth targeting and we aren’t.

This is especially important because back home in good ol’ Vancouver, Canada there is a vote to increase the taxes by half a percent to pay for transit fees.  Apparently the bus service in Vancouver has once again buggered up despite posting record bonuses for their executives.  Apparently these guys are doing such a bang up job that they need more money to solve a problem they caused and still give themselves a wage increases totalling in close to half a million dollars.  It’s ridiculous and frankly shameful, and most of you probably can’t be bothered to put down that pint of craft beer and go vote.

God I miss real beer.  I haven't had a proper pint in weeks.
God I miss real beer. I haven’t had a proper pint in weeks.

So you know what people, here’s why you think the government doesn’t care about you and that your vote isn’t important: it’s because it isn’t.  You haven’t been voting as a group for a while now and the political parties know that.  They’re taking advantage of that and you can show them how wrong they are.  There’s a million students who don’t vote out there, I guarantee that if even half of you made a fuss this election things will change in the future.  Show them your frustration and anger by at least voting out of spite.

Or ironically, I know a lot of you are hipsters.

-GJ

When Last We Left Our Hero

As I write this, there’s a pot of Asian red beans with two enormous boneless chicken thighs simmering away on the stove in a home made Asian bbq sauce.  I just tried it and the chicken is good enough to make me squeal like a little kid discovering Santa isn’t a evil captain of the coal industry.  Well, the chicken is outstanding, but the beans have a ways to go.  I’m gonna let it simmer away some of that sauce for the day, hopefully those four dollar quarter kilo bags of beans won’t have been purchased in vain.  Bloody expensive beans.

Writing this is challenging as I’ve hit a sort of writer’s block recently.  I’ve got a couple different little side order personal writing projects because I actually do enjoy writing.  But for some reason I haven’t been able to generate anything in this marshmallow head of my mine for the past two weeks.  Maybe it’s this mass of curls on my head that are attaining enough density to generate their own gravity and are now sucking the imagination from my brain.  Usually crazy and stupid ideas aren’t a problem for me.

I tried to get them chopped off(the curls) a few weeks back but the metrosexual Japanese guy(which is to say  a Japanese male under the age of 30) who explained it would cost me 3500 yen, or about 40 dollars.  The second place I went to said something similar.  And the third.  And the fourth.  Forty bucks for a hair cut is something I am not willing to pay.  Doesn’t matter if it comes with a complementary hot towel, a neck and scalp massage, a shampoo and my choice of naughty mags.  I am not paying forty dollars for a hair cut.  Again.  It happened once, and I’m not proud of it.

I’m assured by the other gaijin teacher from Canada in these here parts that I can get a hair cut for under 2000 yen, but I’ve yet to find this mythical and magical place from which reasonable hair cuts spring forth.  Maybe I just need to look harder, because Google Maps is great for the trains but bloody useless for finding run of the mill stores.  I spent two months looking for a gaming store and travelling into other towns and cities to get my gaming fix because this two-horse city didn’t have one.  Turns out, I was wrong(I’m getting remarkably accustom to this fact nowadays), and Google Maps is wrong as well.  It’s practically down the street from me, a 15-20 minute bicycle ride.  Found it last week and it even sells English product.  I’m sure by this time next month I’ll have found a perfectly reasonably priced barber shop that’s around the corner from me and has a barber who speaks some English!

The problem is that the cost of things is perfectly reasonable.  You’d think meat would be expensive, and it is.  But living in North America where meat is cheaper has trained me otherwise.  And alcohol, Canada and Europe has this annoying habit of charging us a bit of a premium for getting sloshed.  But here I can get sloshed without spending anything more than seems reasonable.  The candy and pop is cheap, eating premade food is cheap, and making your own food is only a little cheaper which seems perfectly reasonable!  And then I encounter red tape and I lose a small piece of my sanity.

The red tape is not a lie.  I know some people associate Japanese with creepy middle aged men and deep sea cephalopods, but my recent experiences are making me associate Japan with stupid recycling policies, wasted paper work and light years of red tape.

If I forget to clock in at work, my boss can’t go to my time sheet and sign off and write in when I arrived.  No, she has to bring out the special sheet that needs my signature, her signature, her stamp, and a bunch of writing in Japanese that I’m sure someone is using to gather some really funny demographic information  And then she needs to fill out another form so that whoever is checking this kind of thing knows she didn’t sign and stamp that other page by accident.

If I want to sell some magic cards into the local magic card market, I can’t go to the store and  get them to make a note in the computer that they bought some cards for X amount.  No, they need me to fill out a form in Japanese because English is NOT DONE(insert German accent here) with each cards’ name and store value and set number, write down my address(again completely in Japanese), phone number(which I don’t have), email address and let them take a photocopy of my resident card(which I’ve learned to carry around everywhere like some kind of worry stone), all so that they can give me an in-store only cheque that I can redeem for cards or cash.  Selling magic cards is taking me 20 minutes or longer, but back home I usually had to wait in line for 20 minutes, but took 2 minutes to actually sell.

You do not want to know that land mines that have been waiting for me in this nutty country.  I like it, but it’s no surprise there is so much repression among their populace.  The rules are breeding generations of people who need to find weirder and weirder stuff to let out their inner frustrations and demons.  And I’m such a smashing example of normalcy after all the tortures I endure by she who shall not be named.  Maybe this country is more my mental speed.

 

Some people live more in 20 years than others do in 80. It’s not the time that matters, it’s the person.