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)