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My Web Site -- Japan

Disappearance and Return by Matthew Matsuoka

Back to the Beginning · About Me · Resume
2001 Aug - Dec
2002 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct
2003 Feb Mar Apr
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20th (Good Times)
Had an excellent weekend. Anthony, his friend Amelia, and Amelia's brother and girlfriend came down to visit. We did snorkeling in Koniya, took a ride on the glass-bottom boat, and went to Honohoshi. Honohoshi was spectacular because the tide was really high and the swells were huge. The force of the waves was so intense that I could feel the ground shake every time the sea collided with the rocks. There's a small cave on Honohoshi that is usually dry, but on that day, it was flooded and so each massive wave sent 10-15 foot jets of sea water shooting up out of the cave. And with each successive spray, a rainbow would form over the rocks and then melt away with the spray. Words just can't do justice to the experience. It was awesome. Later that night, we went out to eat at an Indonesian restaurant which overlooks the sea. And yesterday, Amelia and the others went canoeing down the mangrove forest. I took them to a popular restaurant last night that specializes in Amami cuisine. We ordered so much food that the waitress was overcome and, in a very rare show of emotion for Japanese people in service positions, started laughing right there at the table as she was taking our order. I think they all had a great time. This is really an amazing island to visit and I think that the only reason it isn't flooded with foreign tourists is because they simply don't know about it. Hard to figure out whether that's good or bad, though. Each year, we receive thousands of Japanese tourists, but gaijin tourists are rare. So rare, in fact, that when they do come here, not only do they get stares from the islanders, but from the ALTs as well! We're as curious as the Japanese! A sighting might dominate our conversation for several days, i.e. "Oh! I saw a foreigner the other day!" "Really?! Where? Who do you think they were? What did they look like? Did you speak to them?" Needless to say, when I return home, it'll be sensory overload for a while. It'll feel strange being around all those foreigners! How bizarre is that?

16th (It's Oh So Quiet...)
Haven't updated recently because there's simply not that much going on. Went to dinner and then karaoke with the 2 new ALTs on our little island, Jeremy from Washington (State) and Steven from Liverpool. We went to a restaurant that specialized in Okinawan food, but they served grilled Spam® in almost every dish. At karaoke, it was hilarious to hear "Country Roads" sung in Steven's Liverpudlian accent. It was a good time.

These days, I spend a lot of time sitting in the office with **** nothing to do. I occasionally escape for an hour or two at a time, telling them that I have to run to the post office or bank. Sometimes the guys in my office practice their golf swings with imaginary golf clubs. Usually it's golf, but today I saw Chochi-sensei practicing his tennis swing with an imaginary tennis racket while he was waiting to use the copier. Then there's the calisthenics, at which most people feel an urgent need to go to the bathroom or refill their coffee cups. I'm usually one of those people. Chochi-sensei sits beside me, frowning down at
all the paperwork sprawled upon his desk, correcting documents with his little mechanized eraser, occasionally picking up the phone to speak in exceedingly polite, pleading tones with some principal or other. I feel like an idle sloth compared to him, sitting here languidly reading a book or staring at my computer screen with glazed eyes. He works like a Trojan because he's the newest person in the office. That's the way the system works here. Starting out, they work you like a mule, but your workload gradually decreases with seniority until you become little more than just a figurehead, like the principals of some of my schools that spend most of their time tending the school gardens. Principals' offices always have couches in them, usually plastic-covered vinyl couches with little doilies on the backs, which they use to receive guests. No matter how many times I visit an elementary school, every time I visit I am first ushered into the principal's room for no other purpose than to sit on the doily-backed couch, sip green tea provided by the tea service lady, and make idle chitchat with the principal. It's strictly a matter of form, of appearances. Each school employs tea service ladies, whose job it is to provide teachers and schools guests with tea and snacks. These tea service ladies are usually just that, but at one of the rural schools I visited, the tea service lady was a guy! He had long, black hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail, moved as gracefully as any woman, and he smelled wonderful. I was so thrilled to see a man perform a tea service! He shocked me because he dared to be different, dared to turn the gender roles thing on its head, and in the inaka! It was really refreshing. Anyway, that's enough rambling for today. Soon it's off to lunch, then back here, then the weekend begins--Yay!

8th (More of the Same)
Still teaching Summer English School (although only 2 more days to go--yay!!), it's still hot and humid, and I'm still having crazy messed up dreams. Last night I dreamt that they decided to put Reagan back in. "But doesn't he have Alzheimer's?", I was asking someone. Must be my subconscious reaching out to call attention to my lack of faith in the current trigger-happy administration.

Last night, I went out with a few guys from work. I joined them at a snack bar, which is a bar that features plush, cushioned seating, unlimited access to a karaoke machine, and all your drinking and snacking needs provided by ridiculously cheerful, heavily made up, sleazily dressed Japanese hostesses. The hostess is there to merely enhance the (almost always) male customer's evening enjoyment. She does this by pouring drinks, pretending to enjoy nonsensical conversations with drunk people, laughing at bad jokes, singing and clapping along to bad karaoke, sitting on laps, squeezing a knee, tossing her hair, and just generally acting like a bimbo. I sang the Carpenters last night (by request). Everyone in the place was so ecstatic to hear a real live native English speaker singing the Carpenters that I nearly got a standing ovation! It was really funny.

I also suffered an extremely embarrassing episode when one of the guys asked me if I knew his name. I felt my eyes widen with terror, and then I buried my head in my hands, too full of shame to look him in the eye and tell him that I didn't have a clue what his name was after working side by side with him for over a year. Even though he was snockered on shochu, he was still very dismayed. Of course I didn't know his name. Of all the people in the office, I know the names of maybe 10% of the people who work here. I may joke around with them over coffee, accompany them on countless enkais, dance with them at festivals, and still not know their names. I'm a terrible, terrible person for remembering names. I know I need help. I wonder if there's a support group for people out there like me. So after I got over the crushing embarrassment of that moment , I learned his name and the names of all the other guys there. I've only forgotten two of them today, and that's not bad.

5th (Dancing the Night Away)
Yesterday we celebrated Amami's Summer Festival by parading through the streets in yukata (summer kimono). We performed traditional Amami Island dances which look somewhat like Hawaiian dances. The women wear fake flowers on the backs of their hands and a taco-shaped hat with fake flowers attached to the top. The dance itself involves a lot of waving your arms above your head and rotating your wrists in a feminine, graceful manner. The steps are really precise, which I finally realized about half way through the parade, when I noticed that I was always on a different foot than everyone else. It was pretty hot under all that clothing, under the mid-day sun, and I could feel a river of sweat coursing down my back. Toward the end, everyone started making mistakes and I think it was because our brains were beginning to boil from the heat. Occasionally during our performance, men would rush through and give everyone some clear liquid in a cup. At first I thought it was water, but part of me knew way better than that. The Japanese never drink water, anyway, and the way these guys were sipping that stuff, I knew it had to be shochu, a very strong liquor made from distilled rice and sugar cane. It's sort of like sake, but a bit sweeter. So these guys were getting steadily more drunk as we made our way down the street and toward the end some guy in the back kept yelling "Osoi! Osoi!" (translation: "You're too slow, you idiots!").

Later that night, people gathered from all the surrounding villages and performed their local dances in the city streets. I danced with the people from Sato village, and I don't even know where Sato is. Even though I was all out of step, people were praising me from all sides. One old man kept coming up to me wide-eyed with admiration, saying "Jouzu, jouzu" ("You dance really well") and offering me beer.

On Saturday, I went snorkeling with the Amami Snorkling Club. We went out into the really deep water and it was quite a sensation to be floating in 200 feet of ocean. I felt very, very tiny and insignificant. I got a bit of the sensation that I feel when I'm at a height that is out of my comfort zone, like being on that elevator ride at Six Flags.

1st (Summer School Madness)
Haven't had the chance to update much recently because I've been busting my ass teaching four hours of summer school every day. I've got the elementary kids for 2 hours in the morning, and the junior high kids for 2 hours in the afternoon every day for 2 weeks -- except for today. So, today, I am basking in idleness, leisurely sipping my coffee, roaming aimless around the internet because I can. The strangest thing about summer school so far has been kids showing up 30 - 45 minutes early and just sitting at their desks, patiently waiting for the class to begin while I sit downstairs, drinking coffee and taking Hello Kitty! psychological tests (recommended by Susanna). The elementary kids have been having a blast in my class because we do absolutely nothing but play games. But yesterday, I hit a snag. We played this dress-up game that I thought would be fun but ended up to be a flop. One kid in the front row started yelling, "Omoshirokunai yo!" ("This game sucks!"). I felt like I was a vaudeville performer being booed off the stage. I mean, he was heckling me. Mostly, though, the elementary kids have been great. Yesterday, a TV crew arrived to film the class playing Twister and interview some of the kids about the class. Day before that, the newspaper people were here.

Last night I read Dave Barry's book "Dave Barry Does Japan" and just about peed myself in the process. That is a seriously funny book, and he didn't even scratch the surface when it comes to bizarre things about Japan. I highly recommend it.