Thursday, 16 December 2010

Utter Randomness

For your viewing pleasure, random fodder from my camera from the past two months: 

Ripe mikan tree just outside my junior high school. There are many many thousands of these trees in this valley. Overripe fruit rolls out into the street, into gutters, and every possible nook of the landscape here. The vice-principle at Bunsei Junior High admonished the kids at a morning assembly: "Taking mikans is shoplifting, and shoplifting is a crime!" I can hardly blame them, though - these are delicious.

One of my great loves in this country - Maximum spicyness Curry at CoCo Ichiban with spinach and cow guts.  

 The Culture Festival at Bunsei Junior High School. The banner reads: "A Culture Festival that will remain not in records, but memories." Even the tough-guy/sassy-girl third years are pretty cute when they all sing together. 

Kishu-kun: The traffic safety hound of Wakayama. 

Fresh-dried squid at a fish market in Katsuura. For when you feel like eating something that resembles a hideous space creature. 

Apparently this is actually a pretty nice hotel.... (Osaka)

The existential crisis section of the bookstore. Titles include "What am I?" "What is Death?" and "What is the Soul?". I'd post the answers, but alas, they were shrink-wrapped! Spiritual enlightenment foiled by plastic!

There are several city blocks of Osaka adorned with similar feline/pop culture themed flags. I have no clue why, but "why" is certainly besides the point here. 

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

God bless us, everyone!

In the coming weeks, thousands of Assistant Language Teachers across the Japanese archipelago will don Santa hats and festive sweaters for their annual Christmas lessons. I've been recruited as a Father Christmas for the morning assembly at Miyahara Elementary school next Monday, and though I worry that I'm simultaneously too tall and too skinny for their Santa suit, I am quite excited to ho-ho-ho for the wee ones.

Last week after a middle-school class, one of my Japanese co-teachers and I began chatting about the holiday season:

(In Japanese)

Carter: Did you do anything with the class last year for Christmas?

Japanese Teacher of English: Yes! We sent Christmas cards to Santa Claus. Did you know that he lives in Finland? We sent them to his address!

C: Finland? So there's be a man in Finland who pretends to be Santa... In America, we believe Santa lives at the North Pole...

JTE(matter-of-factly):  No, it's really Santa.

C: ....

JTE: We sent them to his address!

C: ....

A crush of rowdy first-years ended our conversation before I could enquire further about this mysterious Finnish St. Nick. Perhaps it's for the best that I didn't burst any bubbles that day - surely the world's a better place for every full-grown man who believes in Father Christmas.

As to be expected in a country where most people consider themselves Buddhists, Christmas in Japan is a more subdued affair than in the US of A. One still hears Christmas carols at grocery stores and spots wreathes on shop windows, but such mercantile festiveness is of a lower order of magnitude than the onslaught of "holiday cheer" back home. There are no qualms over losing sight of "the meaning of Christmas" here, no mention of baby Jesus or his manger, no "god bless us, everyone!" from Tiny Tim, no Gift of the Magi, no Grinch. Instead of eggnog, turkey, or gingerbread cookies, there's Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas Eve, followed by a store-bought Christmas cake.

 The more cynical among us might see this as a purer distillation of the reality of Christmas - an excuse to buy some holiday-themed stuff, devoid of any pretensions of spiritual or moral significance.

Those people can kindly choke on a fruitcake. I love Christmas.  True, I don't miss the preening celebrities churning out terrible new renditions of carols like clockwork, the consumerist frenzy that inevitably leads to someone being trampled to death at Walmart, even the idea that idea that one needs to express one's love for family through the accumulation of generally useless stuff. Nor do I miss the renewed sanctimoniousness of those who take the season as an opportunity to remind us how great baby Jesus is. But for me, Christmas remains a special time, a holiday that becomes profound precisely because it moves so far away from its religious origins. Even the most hardened cynics (when they're done choking on that fruitcake) may admit there's something wonderful about hot cocoa (or eggnog...) with relatives around a fire, or the younger generation playing in the snow, or the magical smells of christmas trees and gingerbread. There's something vital in such traditions, in the way they pull families and friends together, even if they can't stand each other most of the time. Perhaps its not much more than nostalgia, but nostalgia ranks among the more powerful emotions known to man.

Japan has no shortage of home-grown festivals, so maybe it's not such a tragedy that Christmas is a Hallmark holiday here. Even so, I'm so so so happy to be going home for the holidays :)

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

JLPT and Ai-chan's Place

Though you wouldn't know it from my postings, I have in fact been studying diligently for the level 1 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) for the past two months or so. ( as it's name implies, the JLPT's a standardized Japanese language test for non-native speakers, and level one is the top level.)  

Well, I HAD been studying hard until about two weeks ago, when a conversation with one of my JET big brothers reminded me that the test is completely optional, its results utterly inconsequential beyond "bragging rights". Nonetheless, I made the trek up to Osaka Sunday with my comrade and fellow masochist Terence to take what was essentially the verbal section of the SAT in Japanese. Bragging rights are important, right? 

The tests itself was just as interesting as, well, the original SAT. Except that the testing room was filled almost entirely with Chinese people, with a few Koreans thrown in for good measure and one dour-looking white guy in the corner. Upon reflection, I guess the demographics of the test are not all that surprising (there are a lot of Chinese people, and we are in East Asia...).  

The results of this optional, inconsequential test won't arrive until February. Even so, I feel a palpable sense of relief very very similar to what I used to feel back at Amherst after finishing the final exam before the long winter break. I suppose I remain a college boy at heart, and that the JLPT gave me that familiar sense of purpose (and low-level background stress) that I've become so accustomed to. It allowed me to postpone that great, somewhat scary sense of freedom that accompanies a life without deadlines. Many of my fellow recent college graduates will know what I'm talking about. One becomes accustomed to certain certainties after nearly two decades of schooling - a constant stream of assignments during the school year, a sense of the finiteness of breaks at Christmas, spring, and summer. Even for the hard decisions like if/when/where to go to college, I had a limited number of options arrayed before me and a definite sense of the expectations of parents, teachers, peers to push me one way or another. 

And now? A great, formless future lies ahead, one that (for the time being at least) offers very little in the way of guidance or pressure to choose one path ahead or another. It's liberating, invigorating, full of inchoate possibility, but I understand how it could also lead to ennui... ennui, of course, is a luxury of the idle and well-off...  

But enough of such tedious foolishness. It's time to head over to Ai-chan's place....  

 Ai-chan is the lovely lady on the left in this picture. She's the mama-san of an eponymous bar in Osaka's Namba district, which she has decked out in the memorabilia of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean, and other stars and starlets of Hollywood's more glorious past. Plump, sequined, and a little surly, Ai-chan offers an unbeatable all-u-can eat/drink/karaoke special for the equivalent of about $30, whipping up tasty treats like clam pasta and kimchee pork behind the bar. 

As fortune had it, my friends from the MY WAY event (see post below), were having a get-together the very same day as the JPLT. Jill-chan, one of MY WAY's masterminds, led us to Ai-chan's place through the throngs of Namba, ever-crowded even on a Sunday night. 

Ai-chan maintains a fabulous costume collection in her establishment, and she proceeded to pass around outfits to our group after the first course. In my lap she dropped a polka-dot skirt and light-up Minny-mouse ears with a no-nonsense "here."

There is photographic evidence of course, and with this picture I give up any dreams of running for political office:   

Yu-chan seems to inspire my most incriminating photos. 

Needless to say, it was a good night despite the inconvenience of 'work' the next day. Ah, to be young and foolish...  :) (apologies for the poor quality of the photos, as my camera did not respond well to the mood lighting ) 

Thursday, 25 November 2010

giving thanks

 Japan celebrated Labor Thanksgiving day last Tuesday, another public holiday with no discernible ceremonies attached to it. I was fortunate enough to spend the day in the company of these fine folks in an old ship factory in the outskirts of Osaka dressed like a mischief-maker out of Alice in Wonderland.

MY WAY: A fashion show/performance piece organized by my friend Yu (standing beside me --->) and her compatriots as part of an all-day event of art, performance and music under the auspices of ONDO, an experimental music group out of Osaka.

How does a mild-mannered American like myself end up at such an event? The tale is long, with a few twists and turns, but here's the short version: Yu, who I met last summer, recruited me to model the clothes of one of her friends at MY WAY. (A talented artist herself, Yu also made her own outfit complete with headdress)

The venue

Alas, I didn't have much time for photographs during the event itself, but suffice to say that it involved purpose-made techno music, a large number of water-filled plastic bags, live painting, toilet paper-tossing, skipping, dancing, and general mayhem. I followed my instructions ("hmmm..... act like a dandy!"), honed over weeks of practice, by prancing around the scene and striking dramatic poses as if I were a 17th-century European princeling having my portrait taken.  

Needless to say, it was loads of fun. 

I witnessed many interesting/bizarre performances that day during lulls in preparation: A dance troupe flailing as if tossed about by a typhoon, a kimono-clad woman writhing on an oversized freshly painted scroll, a lively 3-piece punk band, and of course, the hosts themselves, ONDO. To their pulsing techno beats the lead singer added guttural chants and high pitched yelps, distributing drumsticks to the audience and inviting us to bash the cymbals strategically placed throughout the room to our hearts' content. Discordant, yes, but very, very danceable :)

As I write this, many of you in America are probably waking up to the real Thanksgiving. Christmas, with its potent blend of yuletide cheer and orgiastic consumerism, will always be king of the holidays. For me, though, Thanksgiving holds many of the warmest memories -  easy, chat-filled hours of vegetable cutting and pie-filling in my Uncle Roland's kitchen, the gut-busting gloriousness of the meal itself, the warm, pleasant stupor that follows. The idea of giving thanks, of appreciating the bounty of relationships as well as material wealth we are all blessed with, also appeals to me deeply despite my equally deep agnosticism. 

With that in mind, let me give thanks. For the fortunate accident of material bounty, yes, but far more so for the interpersonal wealth I've been blessed with all my life, For my large, loving, almost comically diverse family, of course. But also for friends and lovers met in far-flung places like Maryland and Massachusetts, Hawai'i and Japan. For those ties that endure through the years, and for the serendipity of bonds freshly formed. 

This last point brings me back to MY WAY, to my new friends who dressed me in tights and welcomed me with warmth and humor despite my clumsy Japanese and clumsier modeling gait.  Thanks to them, Tuesday became for me an occasion to marvel at the small mysteries of human togetherness. So has tonight :)

Sunday, 21 November 2010

From recent reading, apropos of nothing in particular:

"Reality can have metaphorical content; that does not make it less real."

 -Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children

Saturday, 13 November 2010


I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, preparing, and eating food. Here are some pics: 

Mapo Dofu - great on cold days. In lieu of Szechuan peppper, I used Blair's After Death hot sauce, which imparts a surprisingly subtle flavor. Recipe here.

Oyako-don, which literally translates into "parent-child bowl," a name for the chicken and egg stew that might not appeal to American sensibilities. Still, warm and filling with brown rice on the bottom :)

Eringi mushrooms - yummy just sauteed with garlic in olive oil. I put this picture up because I like the mushroom mascot, who looks mildly peeved that he's about to be chopped up and eaten.

From a delightful beachside barbecue two months ago with my old host family in Tokushima: 

An oversized oyster, plucked from the water a few minutes earlier by my old host-dad.

 I harvested this guy myself. Fresh sea-urchin tastes like the sea in a very interesting and refreshing way - just suck out the orange goop! 

What a handsome lad! 

I ♡ Osaka

I've already lost count of the number of times made the trip up to Osaka from little Arida. Though Tokyo is bigger (largest city in the world, by some counts), and Kyoto is older and prettier, Osaka has a charm all its own. The city was flattened by Allied bombs sixty-five years ago, so its current incarnation contains little of interest to those seeking the photogenic Japan of ancient shrines and temples, atmospheric samurai haunts, zen rock gardens and the like. Indeed, Osaka seems animated by an entirely different ethos than such places of quiet contemplation - a famous mercantile spirit, loud, lively, and gregarious. It's embodied in the city's stereotypical greeting もうかりまっか? mo kari makka?("How's business?"), and most of all on the busy streets of neighborhoods like Namba and Shinsaibashi (above), where the nasal cries of shopkeepers rises above the hum of the flowing crowd.       

Kushi katsu - Fried meat on a stick a la japonaise 
Osaka's also been known as a food city ever since it was dubbed the "kitchen" of the old empire many hundreds of years ago. Okonomiyaki, a savory pancake made with eggs and cabbage, and tako-yaki, fried octopus balls,  are its most famous dishes - tasty and filling - but I always make a point of visiting one of the city's many ramen joints when I'm in town: 

"Full of Happiness Ramen" with extra pig :)
...twenty tasty minutes later
Last month in Shinsaibashi, I stumbled upon the grand opening of UniQlo's world flagship store. UniQlo, for those those of you who don't live in NYC or don't follow these trends, is Japan's answer to the Gap - (relatively) inexpensive clothing favored by youthful consumers/consumers wishing to look youthful.  The line stretched around a very long city block, but I had to see the interior for myself: 

It was somewhat terrifying.
The wall-to-wall mirrors made the very large crowd seem to stretch to infinity. On the second floor, I saw a large group of middle-aged women attacking a pile of sweaters marked for clearance as the staff looked on helplessly. I stood no chance.  Giving up any hope of finding winter wear, I fled for a crepe shop across the street. 
Nonsensical graffiti -  The Japanese translates as "so what?"
Osaka, then, is mecca of consumption of all types (the neon nightlife will get a post of its own once I get some photos). Like a fair number of recent college graduates, I have a love/hate relationship with capitalism - my Marx-Engels Reader made the trip across the Pacific with me - but I can't deny that I feel the allure of creative destruction when I walk the streets of Namba, that I hear something vital in the merchant's high-pitched cries outside their shops. Watching the crowd stream through Shinsaibashi's broad corridors, I sense a power much greater than myself, as if I stand in the presence of a giant, endless  serpent. And to join that crowd, to feel like a blood cell in one of the city's great arteries, can be exhilarating or infuriating depending on one's state of mind.
But that's enough for my attempts at figurative language. Blood cells don't sit around pondering the vastness of the circulatory system they're a part of. I ♡ Osaka for the same reason that anyone loves a place - because it's been the setting of some very good memories, and promises to give me many more.  

Monday, 1 November 2010

"The bar run by fishermen!" and the kindness of tipsy old men

This is my new favorite restaurant - "The izakaya (Japanese-style bar) run by fishermen" as the sign proudly proclaims in local dialect. My good friend T. and I first stepped in here last friday on a whim, drawn by its distinctive name and diminutive size (barely larger than my living room). The interior is warm and a little dark, the wooden walls adorned with pictures of fishing boats and their captains. Two men seated next to us recommended the managatsuo (butterfish) and maru-aji (horse mackerel) sashimi -  "we caught 'em this morning!" - before launching into an impassioned monologue on the wiliness of the maru-aji. This fish, apparently, does not reveal itself to just any fisherman, but moves from cave to cave with the tides, revealing itself only to those with the requisite intuition and good karma.  I'll spare you any overly pornographic description of the grub, but suffice it to say that the sashimi, and the fried octopus, and the stewed fish-tails, were awesome. Top it off with a warm cup of sake, and we have the stuff of dreams.

Feeling the pull of that warm sake on this cold autumn night, I returned to the izakaya run by fisherman a few hours ago. I'd be lying if I denied enjoying my minor celebrity status here in Arida, the locals' unabashed curiosity at my tall American presence in their midst, the inevitable compliments on how good my work-in-progress Japanese is. (This exoticness has its flip side, of course, but that's for another post.) Tonight I dined with the president of a local oil barrel manufacturer and his companion, both of whom showed an interest in America beyond the usual comments about how far away it is.

president: "It looks like Mr. Obama is in trouble in the upcoming election, eh?"

me: "I'm a big fan of his."

companion: "Me too! I feel bad for President Obama - he gets no credit for all the work he's done with his policies. And that Tea Party...."

president: "It's a gap between rhetoric and action. Mr. Obama seems stuck inside his own head and, unfortunately, he's going to pay for it."

My Obama-sympathizing companions left an hour later, but not before leaning over the counter and whispering to the bar's masuta ("master"), "Carter's dinner's on me!

The masuta's wife gave me a mischievous smile as the door closed behind them: "Well aren't you lucky?"

"Yes. Yes I am."

Monday, 25 October 2010

Adventure # 37: Wakayama City or Bust

It feels very strange to reflect that I have been in Japan for almost three months - surely it hasn't been that long? or perhaps longer? I've heard several fellow-JETs comment that time here seems to blur, that the weekends bleed into one another and the weeks are over before they've started. We owe this perhaps to the odd rhythms of life here in Wakayama, of (mostly) pleasant rural monotony punctuated by surreal "did-that-really-just-happen?"moments. Yesterday had several such moments:

Finding myself in Arida on a Saturday afternoon with no particular plans for the evening, I decided that a bike ride to Wakayama city, 30 km north, would be the perfect way to spend a brisk autumn day.  This plan also had the advantage of allowing me to explore a still-unfamiliar city come nightfall (just how I would get back to Arida after dark never crossed my mind...). 

After a quick search on Google Maps I hopped on my bike and headed due north as per the website's instructions. At the edge of town, however the bike paths by the highway disappeared as the road climbed an orange-covered mountain, with very big trucks swinging around the bend at 70 km/ph. So much for Google's "pedestrian friendly" route. Frustrated, if not quite defeated, I rode back towards town and into a convenience store to consult a map. A nearly-invisible white squiggle a few cm left of the highway promised to be mack-truck free, so I took to the road once more. 

30 minutes later, I cursed myself for forgetting my camera as I stumbled into a mountaintop a view neatly framing the contradictions of Arida's landscape:  Giant, rust-stained orbs  and intricate pipes sprawled from the smokestacks of this town's oil refinery like the roots of a great metallic plant reaching for the sea.  At my feet, neat rows of orange trees carved into the mountain; in the distance, the glimmer of the pink afternoon sun against the Pacific Ocean.   

As luck would have it, not one but two mountain ridges separate Arida and Wakayama, the second of which I reached just as the sun descended behind the first. The road deteriorated as I climbed, the insects got LOUDER, and my overactive imagination started sending those delightful shivers down my back. I passed an abandoned shack, a dilapidated roadside shrine, a large sign reading: BEWARE OF BOARS.
Two bright red dots gleamed in down the road as I began my descent, and for a brief moment, an image of the vengeful boar demon from "Princess Mononoke" flashed in my mind's eye...

....and yet, somehow, I pedaled into Wakayama an hour later, unscathed by my encounter with two sparkler-topped plastic construction cones. I slurped a satisfying "LARGE RAMEN, EXTRA NOODLES" the city's most famous noodle joint and prepared for the long night ahead. I picked up Halloween supplies at Don Quixote, often called the "Japanese Walmart," an apt description except here   the ubiquitous smiley-face is replaced by a demented blue penguin, the store stays open all night, and there's a whole section devoted to sex toys.

And then, tragedy struck - the ominous hissing of a back tire and a sinking feeling in my gut telling me that my plans had been foiled by a broken glass bottle. Dejected, I slunk into the nearby CoCo Ichiban curry house and ordered something to raise my spirits: level 10, maximum-spicyness curry with beef innards and spinach. It was awesome.

T, my lovely JET big brother, and his significant other, S, came to my rescue within the hour. We even got milkshakes on the ride home. Thank you guys!!!

The moral to this sordid tale? Friends are awesome, and level-10 spicyness curry with cow guts and greens makes it all better.


I know it's old news, but....

...Nina Simone is awesome:

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Eats, good and bad.

 Japan celebrated "health and fitness" day last monday, a holiday with no discernible ceremonies or customs attached to it besides taking the day off from work and school. This presented a lovely opportunity to engage in my favorite pastime: stuffing my face. The above image represents a fairly typical weeknight meal for me in my new Japan-ified lifestyle: Stir-fried vegetable scraps, miso-marinated chicken, brown rice. I try and keep things healthy and local - Wakayama produce, mini-helpings of meat, brown rice, miso soup with wakame (a type of seaweed) and tofu - but convenience store ice-cream and Asahi Super Dry beer somehow find their way into my fridge...

I had intended to wax poetical about the gustatory joys of last weekend - The melt-in-your mouth beef cooked on a tabletop grill, the legendary maximum spicy-ness curry of CoCo Ichiban, the eclectic awesomeness of chanko-nabe, the chicken/shrimp/oyster/noodle/rice/vegetable/mushroom stew used to fatten sumo wrestlers. There was also a sad, solitary, lukewarm McDonald's cheeseburger accompanied by an neon-yellow "vanilla" milkshake.  Instead, though, I want talk about the Japanese approach to school lunches ("kyushoku"), eaten by teachers and students alike in Arida.  

First there's the food: Here's a fairly typical kyushoku menu - grilled fish, pickled greens, miso soup with bits of fish cake and tofu, milk, and of course, a bowl of rice. They're quite tasty most of the time (the attempts at spaghetti being a major exception), prepared in big batches each morning at the kyushoku center and bused out to the 11 elementary and middle schools in town. A poster in every teacher's room gives a rundown of the months' meals, dividing each meal's ingredients into three categories: "body-building foods"(meat, fish, tofu and the like)  "body regulating foods"(vitamin-rich vegetables, miso, etc.)  and "energy-providing foods" (rice or bread, plus other starches). This being the prefecture of "The Cove" fame, I hear that fried whale finds its way onto the menu once or twice a year ("Kind of a blander, chewier, fishy beef" in the words of one fellow ALT). 

More interesting than the food, though, is the way the kids eat it. Students themselves are put in charge of serving and clearing away the food, which kyushoku responsibilities revolving every few weeks within each class. There is no vegetarian option, no options at all, actually - each student gets served the same meal in roughly the same portion. This last point makes me wonder if childhood "pickiness" is  acquired rather than congenital- nurtured rather than natural? I remember childhood acquaintances who would pick the cheese off their pizza, who refused foods colored green or red, who would only eat items within the white-beige-yellow-brown color scale (the last person's actually a college friend). Here in Arida, the kid who refuses the fish gets an empty saucer to go with his rice. Not surprisingly, I've never seen a student refuse an entree at lunch, though I should add the disclaimers that I've been teaching here for less than 2 months, and that the meals are rarely exotic and never, ever spicy.

Finally, the scene from last Wednesday that inspired this post: Curry day at elementary school, 3rd grade classroom. The 8 and 9 year olds serving the meal are decked out adorably in white hats, aprons, and surgical masks. They serve their teacher first and move on to ladle out the warm, savory goodness for their classmates. The curry falls one bowl short, and the teacher matter-of-factly asks any kids who think they won't finish their portion to contribute to the empty bowl. The looks on the kids faces tell me that each one of them could finish much more than the helping in front of them, but five or six of them stand up without hesitation.

I was not that good at sharing at 8, certainly not when it came to food.

Much ink has been spilled on the differences between American "individualism" and Japanese "group-orientation." Such talk easily veers into stereotype-land and silly/excessive claims about "national character." That said, one doesn't have to be Michel Foucault to see that the little things we take for granted as kids, like school lunch or, say, the pledge of allegiance, go a long way in inculcating certain ways of behaving. Kyushoku, I realized Wednesday, functions as a tool for education as well as nutrition. Though the Amherst College paper-writer in me wants to see something sinister in this, it's hard to object to a system that teaches kids values like sharing and self-sacrifice.    

Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Face of Arida

Meet Arita-kun, the androgynous, anthropomorphic little (or not so little) orange who runs this town. His likeness greets you around every corner in city hall, whether in his usual gentlemanly pose in the corner of a poster encouraging people to bike to work ("Active Arida!") or mounted atop a tachiuo (cutlass fish)   on the polo shirts that are the de-facto uniform of the Arida Board of Education. There's even a child-size statue of him in the lobby:

Between his emaciated mickey-mouse arms, his southern belle headgear, and unceasing smile, Arita-kun did not sit well with my American sensibilities when I first got here. Japan, as many of you already know, is the kingdom of cute. Pokemon, those big-eyed anime heroines, and the preponderance of toy dogs in this country all stem from this seemingly universal love of the child-like, the large-eyed, the soft and fuzzy. The most obvious manifestation in daily life comes from advertising. Some time in the mythic past, an advertising executive decided that the people of the Japanese archipelago would be much more inclined to rent an apartment if it was hawked by, say, a talking ball of green fuzz, or that they would finally start buckling up their seat belts if exhorted by a dog dressed in a cop uniform. Since that day, an entire animated universe has come into being, with mascots for every conceivable product and public service announcement. Even my bank, the largest in Wakayama, found it necessary to replace its logo with a banana-nosed blob apparently drawn by a four year old:  

But why shouldn't banks be represented by banana-blob creatures instead of sleek logos and elegant typefaces? I find myself giggling every time I see my banana-bank card disappear into the ATM. A passing joyful moment such as this is surely a good thing in this over-serious world, even if it is ultimately cut short by the realization that I spent way too much money in Osaka last weekend and will be living on eggs and rice until next payday.

Ride that fish, Arita-kun, off into the animated sunset.  

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

From the far east...

Friends, family, acquaintances, and random denizens of the world wide web - welcome to my blog. Having left Amherst's bucolic hills for my next adventure in village of Arida on the Pacific coast of Japan, I find myself struggling to communicate the many strange and wonderful happenings here to those dear to me back in the States (and elsewhere). Hopefully, this blog will go a long way towards fixing that.

Without further ado: 

Prologue -  Arida 

In a certain shallow valley of the foothills of Wakayama, Japan runs the Aridagawa river, broad and shallow. Where the Aridawagawa meets the sea lies Arida city, nestled comfortably between hillside orange groves and the great Pacific. A sign downtown proclaims "みかんの里," "The Mandarin Orange Hamlet," and it is true that the diminutive fruit, along with a the fruits of the sea and an unexpected oil refinery, is a cornerstone of the local economy. My boss tells me that the hills will bloom bright orange in the coming weeks as the harvest ripens (expect photos when it happens!).

Along with two other strapping young men from the USA, I teach English at the eleven elementary and junior high schools of this little city. Contrary to my expectations (fears) of a drone-like corporate existence, teaching at these country schools is surprisingly stress-less. For example, I spend much of today in the teacher's room of an elementary school chatting with the jovial office lady (a distinctively Japanese  position that combines the duties of secretary and attentive housewife), who insisted on feeding my excessive amounts of Japanese sweets. The classes themselves vary greatly, but suffice it to say for now that there is nothing quite like teaching very young children, so utterly curious and un-self-conscious. Their favorite Carter-related activity is seeing how many of their classmates I can lift with my two arms (four at last count, though I had to stop when my back started making strange cracking noises...) Their second favorite Carter-related activity as making loud, random comments about my appearance. (In Japanese:) "Big!" "Tall!" "You have wide nostrils!" , for example.

I planned a much more ambitious beginning, but my bed beckons after a long day of teaching, snack-chomping, biking, swimming, and watching far too much japanese food-themed television. Goodnight friends, and expect more soon.



Tuesday, 21 September 2010

First, some highfalutin' quotes

From recent reading, apropos of nothing in particular:

"My holiest of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love, and absolute freedom - freedom from violence and falsehood, no matter how the last two manifest themselves." - Mr. Anton Chekhov (letters)