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My Web Site -- Japan

Samurai Businessman Going Home by Masami Teraoka

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

(Click on images for larger view)

Wednesday, the 9th
First day back after my trip to the states. Everything is new and exciting again. My floor is strewn with omiyage (gifts). Suzanne came over and told me all about her trip to Thailand. I was so excited to see her.

Thursday, the 10th
First day back at school (Naze Jr. High), and I am reminded of all the things I forgot about working in Japan. The Japanese are extremely shy in general and particularly nervous when speaking to foreigners. Japanese students range in attitude from extremely polite and friendly to mildly interested to apathetic to downright hostile, with most of them somewhere in the middle. At lunch, I almost forgot about the no-eating-before-we-all-say-"Itadakimasu" rule. At recess, I sat outside (it was beautiful weather) and watched Japanese kids kicking balls, hitting balls, catching balls. A group of 1st grade girls gathered around me and talked a bit about English exams and one asked me whether or not Africa was a country. The little dog downstairs has some sort of severe rash under her chin. She didn't have any water again so I gave her some. She's also in dire need of a bath. She's so dirty that her white fur appears grey.

Friday, the 11th
No school today. Went to the doctor because I've got an incredibly nasty bronchial infection. I won't gross you out with the details. The nurse at the doctor's office joked that it was my souvineer from America. While I was lazing around the house, I got a few shots of the dog downstairs and my apartment:

This is the little dog that lives downstairs. She stays here most of the day, sitting on her thin cushion, chained to her owner's front door. They call her "Whitey", but they should call her "Smoky" or something because they never bathe her. The bathroom. That blue box in the center is my bathtub with shower apparatus. Luxurious, no? To the left but out of view is the sink. Also, there's no door. My predecessor didn't like doors.
My toilet is about the size of a small closet. It's really a squat toilet (Japanese style toilet) with a Western toilet cover. The kitchen. Obviously, I'm in dire need of curtains. (From left) Part of the kitchen table, water heater and dish dryer (I love that thing), sink, and gas stove. Japanese apartments don't usually have ovens.
The office area. This is a hideous room at the moment due to wood paneling and lack of curtains. I'm a lazy decorator. Like the kitchen and hallway, it has wood floors. The Japanese dont' really do carpet, at least as far as I have seen. This is the living room. It has tatami on the floor and is separated from the office by shoji (sliding doors constructed from rice paper and glass) and separated from the bedroom by fusuma (solid sliding doors).
This is the genkan (entranceway). The door on the right is the toilet. This is the bedroom. I sleep on the floor of this room on a futon. You have to keep stuff like futons off the tatami or the straw fibers will rot. This room is badly in need of curtains, too. All curtain donations welcome. :)
Saturday and Sunday, the 12th and 13th
Anthony came down for a visit over the long weekend. We rented a car and took him down to Koniya, which is in the south of Amami Island. We went to a beach called Honohoshi. It's a pebble beach, so it makes an eerie rattling sound as the tide washes in and out. It sounds like you can hear the sea breathing but the sea has a chest cold. We visited with Adrian, who is an ALT down in the south. We also went to a sandy beach further up the road. It was surrounded by forest-covered hills that seemed to melt into the horizon. Very beautiful place. Here are 2 photos of our trip:

On the pebble beach. (From left) Suzanne, Adrian, me, Adam, and Anthony (squatting)

The sandy beach in Koniya.

Saturday and Sunday, the 19th and 20th
Saturday I sat around and did absolutely *nothing*. I sat around the apartment, played video games, cleaned random objects around the house in a sporadic fashion...
On Sunday, however, I did stuff. Mizuno-san (a very nice woman who works in my office) invited me to make mochi with her son's elementary school. To make mochi, you basically take cooked rice and pulverize it with a wooden mallet while wearing a special towel on your head. Some of the men really like to show off their physical strength during the mochi making. One guy got so carried away that he nearly split the mallet in two. After the pounding has ceased, the women (usually) shape the mochi into cute little balls using a special kind of flour. Then everyone eats them! They usually do this around New Year's. Here are some pics of the event. The little elementary kids were just adorable:

The pounding of the mochi.
Cute elementary kid clad in interesting ensemble tries his hand at mochi making while others look on.
Cute kids make mochi balls. Girl on left getting flour wiped off her face while others look on and giggle.

Wednesday, the 23th (Taxicab peculiarity)
I had a very strange incident today with a taxi driver. He was very talkative as he was driving me to school. That's not unusual. He was full of compliments, too, which is also not uncommon, "You're pretty", "Your Japanese is great", etc. etc. The Japanese love to give and receive compliments. Then he asked me what time my class started. I told him it didn't start for about another 20 minutes, so he pulled over on the side of the road about 200 yards from the school and bought me a hot milk tea from a vending machine and bought himself something, too. I thought, "Well, this is nice, he'll just buy me a drink and then take me to school". But he proceeded to sit in the car and make conversation. He sat there talking to me for about 10 minutes in the parked cab. Some students of mine came walking by and asked me what I was doing. I half contemplated telling them to go get help. It was a truly bizarre morning. I eventually made it to school, but not before my driver had given me his card and his home phone number. Was he clinically insane, drunk, just overly friendly, or all of the above? Hard to know.

Friday, the 25th (Adventures in Japanese)
I've been studying Japanese very hard every day so that I can converse with the non-English-speaking teachers at my schools. So, today at Sakibaru Jr. High/Elementary, I sat down with one such teacher over a cup of coffee. I have a bit of a cold right now and my head often hurts, so I rubbed my head and said to her, "Atama ga ii, atama ga ii". She just sort of looked at me quizzically and smiled. A couple of seconds later, I realized what I wanted to say was "Atama ga itai" (My head hurts). "Atama ga ii" means "I'm smart". So I had been saying to her, "I'm smart, I'm smart". I thought the irony was hilarious. On the bus ride back home, the bus driver was very friendly and made sure to point out the blooming cherry trees on the side of the road. He dropped me off at my stop and as he was driving away, honked the horn and saluted.

Monday, the 28th (Crappy, crappy weather)
The weather is crap at the moment. And I think I'm allergic to cherry tree pollen. I've been sneezing explosively all day and I've probably gone through 1,000 tissues. Taught 4 classes at Naze Chu with Miyanowaki and by the fourth class, my voice was hoarse from sneezing so much and my nose glowed red like Rudolf. And as I was walking home, it started to rain on me -- big, cold drops of rain and, of course, I had forgotten my umbrella. At kyushoku (school lunch), I actually sat and talked quite a bit with the students. We were actually late getting our trays put away because we were so absorbed in conversation. Maybe I'm becoming more comfortable, maybe they are, I don't know, but these days it just seems much easier to start up a conversation with random people at school. Maybe it's because I'm more confident using Japanese. Life is certainly easier when you speak Japanese.

Tuesday, the 29th (Better weather, crappy camera)
I actually saw the sun today for the first time in at least a week. It was coming in through the classroom window at kyushoku and I put my arms and face outside the window to soak in the sunshine like a sunflower. The kids thought that was funny. They probably think I'm a freak. The other day, I was talking about how I like to play video games and I heard one kid say, "Okashii" (Weird). I guess because I'm over 15 and a female and all, I shouldn't be home playing video games. Oh, no. I should be diligently practicing tea ceremony and flower arrangement and so forth. Actually, I find tea ceremony horribly tedious and painful. You have to sit seiza the whole time, which means you tuck your feet directly under you and hold that position for 1, possibly 2 or more hours while watching kimono-clad Japanese women whisking tea, pouring tea, bowing, speaking very refined Japanese. I had this Karate Kid II-induced romantic idea about the whole thing, but it's actually not my cup of tea at all. Neither is flower arranging. I prefer Japanese pottery. I'm supposed to go to pottery class tonight, and I wanted to take some pictures of that but guess what? My brand new Toshiba digital camera is ****ing broken. All the images are blurred. I'm so ticked off that I could scream! How will I ever get this ****ing thing fixed all the way over here? So I won't be updating with any photos for a while. The written word will have to do for the time being. But while I'm thinking about tea ceremony, I remembered that I had a few photos that someone sent to me from when we attended KAPIC back in October. We all took a photo with our tea ceremony teachers. Later that evening, we had a Hawaiian theme party.

Posing with our tea ceremony instructors. The woman in the front left was the tiniest little thing I've ever seen. I bet she stood no more than 4'9". She was sooo cute! They're all sitting seiza style in their kimonos. Kimonos, by the way, are astronomically expensive. A good one can cost thousands of dollars. Most Japanese women only own one or two of them.

Possibly one of the worst photos of me ever taken. I'm only putting it here because I'm desperate. I was singing "Hotel California" here. There's Brian from San Francisco singing along with me at left and Sara working the machine (probably trying to adjust music/voice volume ratio).
Wednesday, the 30th (Adoration)
We sang "Loving You" by Janet Kay (?) in class today. It was hilarious to watch the students try to reach those super high octaves. Then the teacher decided that all of the students should stand up and recite English passages one by one and have me judge each one of them. She even wrote the rating scale on the board: "O.K., Good, Excellent". I added "Very Good" and "Pretty Good" and tried to be as merciful as possible to them. As if trying to pronounce a foreign language isn't harrowing enough without having to do it in front of all your peers and then afterwards have some snotty native speaker tell you that you stink! It was really bizarre. The kids were all really sweet, though. I expected any one of them to break down into tears at any moment, but no one did. Some of them were so nervous, though, that they were trembling. Afterwards, some Japanese girls paid me a compliment by telling me that I had a "small face". I've received that one quite a bit. Later, at lunch, a student came and sat beside me and said, "Ms. Stewart, how do you do? You are a very pretty and beautiful woman." You really have to keep the size of your head in check in this country because they dole out the compliments like crazy. Sometimes I feel like a movie star. I've even had kids ask me for my autograph. Bizarre stuff.