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My Web Site -- Japan

Miyajima Torii Gate
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)
March 4th (In Which We Attend the Japanese Doll Festival)
Anthony was down for the weekend. We mostly hung out in the apartment and watched movies. Tried to watch "The Cradle Will Rock", but just couldn't get into it for some reason. We watched "Requiem for a Dream", which I thought was an absolutely masterpiece, although slightly morbid and depressing. I'm ordering the soundtrack from We also watched "Battlefield Earth", which I found hilariously funny. I laughed hysterically through the whole thing. Whoever said this film was that bad? It's certainly good for a good laugh if nothing else! And Anthony introduced me to "Black Adder". Funny stuff.

On Sunday, we dropped him off at the airport in Suzanne's newly purchased car. Then we drove back to Naze and went to Mr. Tokunaga's house to help him and his family celebrate the Doll Festival. When we arrived, they were in the middle of preparing a huge meal of rice, seaweed salad, tempura (deep fried fish), sashimi (raw fish), clam soup, and vegetables. The Doll Festival is meant to be for children (especially little girls), so there were all these really cute little Japanese toddlers running about the place. After dinner, the women sang songs and danced with the children. The little girl, Natsuki, kept shaking my hand and then at the end of the evening she even graced me with a kiss on the cheek! I was thrilled and so was she! :) Right before we left, Mr. Tokunaga took these photos of us in front of the Japanese doll display. They dressed Natsuki up in a special little red jacket for the occasion.

Suzanne and me posing with members of Mr. Tokunaga's family. Natsuki is the little girl on the right, dressed in a red jacket and sucking her fingers.

Suzanne and me with the doll display.

Our friend Yoko with little boy.

March 6th (In Which I Have Adventures in Transportation)
I took the bus to Chine Shogakko (Elementary School) this morning. It turned out to be one of the most interesting bus rides I have ever taken so far. The bus ride out to Chine Sho is quite a long one as the school is located on the outskirts of the city. I noticed right away that the busdriver was friendlier than usual, engaging in cheerful chitchat with the little elderly ladies sitting near the front. He was very neatly dressed, as well, in a crisp-looking navy blue uniform and spotless white gloves. When he missed a stop that one of the women had requested, he let her off at the next one and apologized so profusely that it was almost comical. He truly was a model, super-genki busdriver.

When I was the only one left on the bus, he started to make conversation with me, as most Japanese busdrivers are wont to do. As I was sitting near the middle row, he used the loudspeaker system to ask me questions and I yelled the answers back to him. He asked me the usual stuff, i.e. was I a teacher, what country was I from, etc. When I told him that I was from America, he got really excited and exclaimed, "Oh! America!! Good! I LOOOVE George Bush!" I yelled that that was wonderful and complimented him on his English ability. The next thing I knew, the electronic tune to "America the Beautiful" seemed to come from out of nowhere. I sort of looked around in startled confusion, then I realized that it was being played over the bus's loudspeaker system. He yelled, "Do you know this song?". I yelled back that I did and smiled. Then he held up his keitai (mobile phone) and exclaimed, "Portable telephone!" He had been playing the music from his mobile phone over the loudspeaker. He continued to play "Name That Keitai Tune" with me all the way to the school: Celine Dion, the theme song to Oklahoma and the Godfather, some John Denver, I think. When we arrived at my stop, he told me that he wasn't going to charge for the ride, that it was a "saavisu" as the Japanese call it. Perhaps it was my reward for being a good sport or for fulfilling some sort of long-cherished fantasy or for simply being an American. Before I got off, he proudly showed me a shiny silver Air Force medal pinned to his lapel.

Chine Sho was a complete riot and a hoot. I had such a good time I almost didn't want to leave. The kids, aged about 6 to 12, organized the entire English Program, during which we didn't speak a word of English. Instead, we went to the gym had a jumprope and vault competition in which even the vice-principal, a woman of about 60 years, participated. Then, we had a paper airplane flying competition. The kids had to refresh my memory about how to make a good paper airplane. Some of their creations were astonishingly streamlined and well-designed, soaring across almost the entire length of the gym! We played musical chairs and a popular Japanese game called "Fruit Basket". During recess, we played badminton. The kids loaded me down with gifts before I left, including their hand-made profiles complete with photos and a little glass bottle filled with origami shells and topped with an origami stopper. I got a ride back to town with the tea service lady and as we were driving away, all the kids ran behind the car waving and yelling goodbye. It truly was one of the best school visits I have ever had.

I receive a tutorial on paper airplane construction from a Chine Elementary School student.

I initiate the fruit basket game. I had really bad hair that day. Someone is handing me a piece of paper with the name of a fruit on it. Everyone sitting around has been assigned a fruit name. When I call out their fruit, they all have to scramble around for a new chair. Whoever doesn't find a chair has to endure the humiliation of standing in the middle by themselves and calling out another fruit name.

Here we are still playing fruit basket. The kid standing in the middle is having a moment of irresolution about which fruit name to call out next as we all wait patiently.

That evening, I had a look at a couple of cars. A very nice woman who works at city hall and is a member of the Japanese pottery class that I attend has decided to help me buy a car. So I met her and the owner of the car at spot up the road from my apartment. I took a look at the inside of the car, caught a glimpse of the mileage. Then the guy handed me the keys and asked me if I wanted to take it for a spin. I declined saying that I didn't have my license on me but the truth was that I was nervous as hell about driving a car that didn't belong to me and for which I wasn't insured on the left side of the road while shifting gears with my left hand and trying to read Japanese road signs without my glasses on. When I declined, he sort of shrugged, got in the car and drove off! I asked the woman, "Is he going home?!" I didn't even get a chance to ask him any questions! At least I can say that the engine sounded good as he was driving off. When the Japanese say they are going to look at a car, they mean it in a literal sense, apparently. I think I may buy it, anyway. He's only asking 50,000 yen for it, which is about $450. With any luck, I'll soon be the proud owner of a Japanese kei-car, a tiny little matchbox of a car with a standard transmission that doesn't exceed 660 cc.

March 9th (In Which I Am a Witness to Holy Matrimony, Japanese Style)
Attended my very first Japanese wedding reception, which is a sort of queer mix between a western-style wedding reception, a Japanese enkai party, a vaudeville act, and a fashion show. In Japan, friends and acquaintances are only invited to the wedding reception. The actual wedding ceremony is attended only by family. So I arrived at the banquet hall at 7 p.m., paid my 5000 yen ($40) attendance fee, and took my seat among 300+ other guests. A few minutes later, all the lights went out and a large spotlight was pointed at a set of double doors at the rear of the hall. The bride and groom were announced over a loudspeaker. The doors swung open and the happy couple, dressed in traditional Amami costumes, began to make their way at an extremely leisurely pace down the center of the hall, spotlight following all the way. In typical Japanese fashion, the woman followed about five paces behind the man, rather than walking by his side. The couple took their seats on an elevated platform with a gilded screen behind them, as if they were little dolls on display. Someone made a speech that, of course, I couldn't understand, and then at some point, after saying "kampai" ("cheers") we were allowed to begin eating and drinking. Dinner was sashimi (raw fish), a soup with raw octopus and seaweed, soba noodles with dried seaweed (nori) and also some rice and bean stuff. Drink was Asahi beer and shochu, a very strong liquor made of distilled sugarcane. I can't stand the stuff, so I stuck to beer. Most of the other women drank cold oolong tea.

Some more people got up to make speeches, including the best friend of the bride who wept throughout hers. Everyone giggled surreptitiously and continued eating while she sniveled and blubbered her way through her 15-20 minute speech. Poor girl. The mayor made a speech. No one really listened. They were too busy concentrating on pouring each others' drinks and eating, which was fine with me because I couldn't understand a word, anyway. At some point, the newly married couple got up and once again and, under spotlight and amid claps and cheers, returned through the double doors through which they had emerged. My officemate, Mizuno-san, leaned over to me and explained, "changie". So I thought they were going to change into casual clothes or whatever, but when they re-emerged, they were decked out in their wedding garments! He had on a very retro-looking grey and black tux with a superfly collar and she was decked out in a very poofy, lacy white wedding gown with train, veil, the whole thing. Once again they sashayed down the center of the hall, once again we all clapped until they reached their little display platform and took their seats.

There was traditional Japanese dancing and singing. There was some sort of burlesque in which a bunch of men all donned look-alike masks of the bride and groom and cavorted around on stage in bathing suits and evening gowns, doing pirouettes and waving brightly colored silk scarves. I had no idea what the hell was going on and didn't know if I wanted to. About five speeches and a pint of beer later, the bride and groom went off to change again. This time, he was still in his groovy retro tux, but she had put on a poofy blue dress and was sporting a tiara. All she needed was a little wand to complete the whole princess effect. Dressed thus, they performed a sort of candle lighting ceremony with a Japanese twist in which, under spotlight, they went around and lit all the candles on the banquet tables. Then they made their way on to the stage where a giant (no lie, about 20 foot high) wedding cake and a giant candelabra awaited them. They lit the candelabra, then took a giant knife and prepared to cut into the wedding cake. I thought someone mentioned that the cake was fake. It must have been because as soon as they made the slice, it began to spew dry ice-like smoke all over stage. In this fashion, standing in dry ice as if floating on a cloud, flanked by a 20-foot wedding cake and slightly smaller candelabra, the bride and groom stood and posed for photographers in the audience. People flocked to the stage to get a better shot. Someone started egging the groom on to kiss his bride. He hesitated and they egged some more. He began to maneuver himself around the wide girth of her gown to get a good position. I thought he was going to lay a big wet smooch on her, but he relented by very rapidly planting a light, almost imperceptible, kiss on her cheek, which was a bit of an anti-climax.

After more beer and speeches, it was all over and we headed home. The couple and their family members stood in a row at the exit and before we left, we all bowed and said "Omedetou gozaimasu" ("Congratulations") to each one of them.

March 15th (In Which We Make Our Japanese TV Debut)
I'm on my way to Kominato elementary school today. My boss can't help me to get the bus because he's too busy, so he's recruiting Mizuno-san to help me. As he's explaining this to me, he says: "Mizuno-san will tell the bus driver to get you off in front of Kominato Elementary School." That's Japanese customer service for you, I guess. And I don't even have to tip!

Last night, Suzanne and I made our debut on a local access TV station, Amami Terebi. We sat with another foreigner, Tony from Pakistan, and 3 Japanese people and discussed various things for 90-minutes with no breaks and no commercials. The program was meant to generate publicity for our upcoming International Festival (Kokusai Koryuin Matsuri). Suzanne was such a trooper, using mainly Japanese to introduce herself and answer questions. I relied almost solely on that good old standby, the English language. Tony translated. I looked strange on TV. After the ordeal was over, we all retired to a washitsu (Japanese style room) where ice cold cans of Asahi beer and a huge platter of food awaited us. It was good fun.

March 18th (In Which We Have Our International Festival)
We had our International Festival yesterday. It was good fun, but I'm glad it's over. Suzanne and I wore traditional Oshima tsumugi kimonos. Oshima tsumugi (pronounced sue-MOO-gi) is a type of fabric made from mud-dyed silk thread. It took about an hour and a half for 5 little Japanese ladies to do our hair, makeup, and put our kimonos on. First, we had to strip to our undergarments and put on a white silk slip. They say that it's best to wear a kimono without underwear because it's easier to go to the bathroom, but neither of us were willing to strip from the waist in front of all those strangers. Then they put some cotton padding on our chests and stomachs and wrapped it with thin cotton gauze. From that point, my world started to get really tight. They apply all sorts of gauze and rope and strips of material to your stomach and waist in order to make you look as svelte as possible under all those layers. So by the end of the process, I couldn't even yawn because my chest was so contricted. It was the most beautiful, most uncomfortable thing I have ever worn. Suzanne and I were convinced that we'd have some fractured ribs by the end of the day. We all did a fashion show in front of the festival crowd and then we had Q&A with a group of Japanese college students. There was food, drink, dancing and singing. We took lots of photos in our kimonos. It was all good fun, but the best part of the day was heaving a sigh of relief after taking it all off. I could never be a geisha.

On a totally unrelated note, a teacher of mine from Ashikebu Junior High sent me these photos the other day. They were taken back in late January or early February, when the cherry trees were blooming. The image quality's not that great, but beggars can't be choosers:

Me and a couple of Ashikebu junior high students standing in front of a cherry tree in full bloom. Notice the concrete slab cemented onto the side of the hill to prevent erosion. That's a very common sight on the island.

From left, an Ashikebu junior high student, English teacher Makiko Tamari, and me.

Construction workers at Ashikebu ShoChu (Elementary/Junior High School). The school is now finished.

March 25th (In Which I Wish Somebody Would Shoot Me)
The school term has ended, and so I must endure two weeks of sitting in the office with absolutely no work to do at all. My marathon of boredom has just begun. This is merely Day One, not even noon yet, and I already feel the ennui setting in. I've got 2 more weeks of this to go. God help me. Poor Suzanne is suffering from the same affliction. We comfort each other over email. At least there's someone that I can share the pain with.

Just got back from a trip to the city (Kagoshima). Finally went to see The Lord of the Rings. I was blown away. It's destined to become a classic, I think. Also bought some music, including some Ben Folds (on Susanna's recommendation), Coldplay, Belle and Sebastian, and Axiom of Choice. Anthony and I went to the Kagoshima Aquarium and I saw a whale shark for the first time. We also saw some sea dragons, the most fabulous little creatures. I was also fascinated by the electric eel. Good weekend all around.

March 28th (In Which I Become a Proud Car Owner)
After ages of fruitless searching, I have finally found The One, my one true car, the car that I was meant to be with. It's a white Nissan and the make is Lenorona or something like that... I can't ever remember those goofy Japanese car names. It's 10 years old and it's got about 100,000 kilometers (about 62,000 miles) on it. It's got a working tape deck, heavily tinted windows, air conditioning... and the best thing of all is that I paid absolutely nothing for it. The previous owner recently got married and most Japanese couples can't really afford to have a 2-car household, mainly because of the price of parking spaces. And when a car passes the 10-year mark, it's often more expensive to get rid of it than to just give it away to someone. It's a strange system, but I have benefitted handsomely from it, and so I'm not complaining.

I'm now involved the incredibly tedious and time-consuming process of putting the car in my name and getting my parking space approved. Overall, it's much more complicated to buy (or be given) a car in Japan than in the states. First, you have to prove to the police that you have a parking space by filling out a heap of forms in quadruplicate, drawing a map of your parking space, etc. etc. Then the police have to go and actually physically measure the parking space to make sure your car will fit in there. My parking space will cost me 8,000 yen (about $60) a month, and that's pretty cheap. You can't do anything else, like register your car or buy insurance, until you have proven that you indeed have a parking space and that your car will indeed fit into it.

I'm looking forward to the autonomy, the freedom, the independence. Gone are the weekends of feeling trapped in the city because the bus system sucks. I can get out whenever I want! Yay me!

March 29th (In Which the Marathon Continues)
In an effort to while away the empty hours, I wrote a little psalm to boredom, e.e. cummings style. It should ring a familiar bell with all my good friends at SHSU:

Psalm to Ennui
ennui is my shepard,
i shall not do anything productive.
he maketh me stare at the wall vacantly.
he leadeth me to surf the net aimlessly;
he glazeth my eyeballs over.
he leadeth me seek out bizarre forms of self-amusement,
for desperation's sake.

yea, though i endure endless hours
of meaningless existence in a drab, concrete-floor office,
i shall suffer nothing after 4:30,
for a revelry-filled weekend awaits me;
thoughts of getting drunk and dancing wantonly, they comfort me.

surely oblivion and career frustration shall follow me
all the days of my life;
and i shall drown my boredom in beer bottles

I had been noticing recently that groups of people were coming into the office and obliging us all to stand up and bow repeatedly while they made long speeches in Japanese. It happened a couple of times yesterday and I just blew it off as a freak occurrence. Then today, we became inundated with them. Groups of Japanese people in suits, some of which I recognized from school, kept arriving to the office in wave after wave, like a flight of locusts, obliging us all to stand up, bow repeatedly, endure long, boring speeches and then sit down again for a few moments before the next group arrived and we all had to stand up again, bow repeatedly... it was a viciously irritating cycle. I finally realized who they were, though. At the end of the school year in Japan, all the education workers get shifted around. They get transferred to different positions in different locations in the prefecture, etc. All the people who were leaving were coming into the office to announce their departures and say their thank yous and good byes. Just goes to show how oblivious I can be.

March 30th (In Which We All Get Really Drunk)
In order to properly commemorate my and Keith's birthdays (mine's on the 7th, his is on the 1st), I decided to throw a big party at my place. We all got ridiculously drunk. Here are a few of the photos:

It's the thought that counts. Our friends Yoko and Kaname thoughtfully picked up a birthday cake for us. The part below our names is in Hiragana (Japanese)... according to Susanna, it looks like "birthday bitch", but that's not what it says (right?).

Keeth and Born pose with birthday cake. Keeth wasn't very pleased about turning 33 and I think that sentiment comes through in this photo.

Keeth drowns his murderous impulses with some joy juice concocted by Suzanne.