Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Rainy Day Blues

Today it was rainy and cold and blah.

My co-worker tells me this year is very cold -- usually it's hot, everyone is wearing short sleeves and enjoying the nice weather while it lasts. Not this year. This year is cold. (Yes, this is about the level of my conversational Japanese. I can talk about the weather. Or at least understand what people are saying when they talk about the weather.)

I had a half day at the elementary school this morning, and my classes went well. Even my class of impossible Grade 6s. Who knew they would enjoy "What time is it, Mr. Wolf?" so much!

I was the talk of the office. My next door neighbor asked about my party, so of course we discussed how many people came, and this being Japan, how much drinking happened. Usually I have meetings with the teachers about next week's classes, but not this week. So I headed back to the office, leaving with all of the students and trying not to run any of them over.


After a long day of work, it's really nice to get the feeling that you're appreciated. I was leaving for home, when a group of Junior High school students spotted me. They called me over to chat. The class of third years I teach is incredibly genki, and a lot of them actually like speaking English. We hung around and talked for a while about their exams (they weren't worried about English, but Japanese weren't looking forward to Japanese). It was just really nice to know that the students do want to talk to me, even if my JTE doesn't really want the hassle of team teaching. Besides that, I haven't seen the san-nensei class in a while. They had their school trip last week, and I haven't been going to a lot of classes lately. Or at least it feels that way.

And now it's off to bed for tomorrow's exciting day of standing over a photocopier!

Takahata, Rock on

Takahata, Rock on
Originally uploaded by locket479.

This is my supervisor by the way. I think he was on his fourth party of the evening (there was a ceremony for the local ski-jumping hero, Harada-san, the same night as my party) and I doubt he has ever seen so many foreigners. Let alone so many foreigners in strange costumes. He had a great time.

This afternoon he apologised to me for being so drunk and chatted about how not fun it was to go to the school sports day the next morning -- it must have been a fun time if he was talking about it at work.

And that's how I like to internationalize...

And here we all are

And here we all are
Originally uploaded by ...and....

Well, I may be past the sell-by date in Japanese terms, but I still know how to get people to dress in silly costumes and drink until they are very drunk.

The theme of the party this past weekend was "come as your town mascot". Represented were: Akan (a crane), Aibetsu (super mushroom), Pippu (strawberry man), Muroran (a whale?), Shibetsu (a sad, gay cow), and a host of other places whose names I don't know, but whose mascots include three rocks, an American who said "Boys be ambitious", a dragon, a butterfly, an elfin creature, grapes, a melon-headed girl, and more!

It was a fabulous party -- much food was eaten and much drink consumed. And my supervisor even came!

I'll have to do it again next year!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

christmas cake

This week, I became a Christmas cake.

Well, really I became a "churisumasu keiki". Was I transformed by an angry Japanese spirit? Obihiro ghosts? No -- I had a birthday. This past Sunday, I passed my Japanese "sell-by" date.

Let me explain. Around Christmas-time, all of the stores have ads for "traditional" Christmas cakes. These are rich, beautifully decorated cakes intended to celebrate the holiday season. Which is really a couples holiday here, butI digress. After the 25th though, nobody wants a stale old cake. Hence the term "Christmas Cake" to denote a woman who is "past her prime" and no longer pichipichi.

A ridiculous thought at my age!

So, happy birthday to me. Stale icing and all.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Japanese Driving Experience

Sunday night, I returned from Honshu and the excitement of the big cities of Japan to my own little corner of inaka. From Hokkaido, to Tokyo and Kyoto and back -- I was glad my parents could experience so many different places in Japan, even if it was a lot to see! My last day in Tokyo was a blissful three hours on the foreign language books floor of Tokyo's Kinokunya book store. Mmmm... Bookstore... I was surprised they let me on the plane with all my extra bags of books.


I got in to Asahikawa Sunday evening, and hit the foreign foods store -- what else do you do when you're in the city? While I was there, my supervisor called me. One, to make sure I hadn't been swallowed up by Shinjuku; and two, to let me know that my classes had been cancelled on Monday. Instead of teaching disinterested high school students, would it be okay if we went to get my Japanese drivers license? Mochiron desu yo! Of course!

Like all things in Japan, getting a drivers license is a challenge of bureaucratic navigation. You need your current license, international Driving Permit, passport, alien registration card, inkan (signature stamp) and an official translation of your home license. If you come from some countries, you are also required to complete a driving test -- something that we lucky Canadians don't have to do. Good thing too! It's difficult, only offered in Japanese, and ridiculously expensive.

We started out from the office just after lunch. The driving centre is in the city, about an hour away. After making sure I had all of the necessary documents and then double-checking just to make sure, we made our way to the offices of the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) to pick up my official license translation. Three thousand yen later, the first step was complete.

Next it was off to the Drivers Licensing Center. My supervisor and I were led to a small interrogation room in the back of the office. A police officer and a licensing center official made copies of all of my documents (including every page of my passport -- even the blank ones and the back cover), scrutinized them, questioned me on them, verified the dates of any stamps appearing in my passport, scrutinized the American stamps that only have entry dates, photocopied all of my documents again for good measure and made sure I had lived only in Canada while holding a Canadian license.

Once they were satisfied with my documentation, we proceeded to fill out the application forms. The forms are only available in Japanese (despite the large numbers of foreigners living in Hokkaido), so my supervisor and I played a rousing game of charades and pictionary to determine when I had first gotten a drivers license in Canada, what kind of driver training I had recieved, how many questions were on the driving exam, and how much the drivers test cost to determine whether or not I was worthy to hold a Japanese license.

Eventually, all of the questions were answered (or just made up) to the liking of the authorities, and I was allowed to continue my quest to drive in Japan. With one caveat: even though I have been driving for about 8 years, this experience doesn't count in Japan. For one year, I will have to drive with new driver stickers on my car at all times. This will probably make it harder for me to get away with speeding...

Well fine. I can live with that.

Next, we filled in more papers, had photos taken, paid for the licence, had more photos taken for the actual license, and waited until my new license was ready.

My supervisor and I had some time to sit around and chat, so naturally, talk turned to driving. Next year, my boss will have to go through a similar process to renew his license. I don't think his renewal will require the interprative dance that mine did, but you never know. He has a clean driving record, which means that he will only have to attend a 30 minute seminar on safe driving. If he had any violations (speeding or parking tickets), he would lose his "gold" license status, and be required to attend a 3 hour lecture on traffic safety.

For reference, I have "blue" status (two year validity). Usually people start out with "green" status (three year validity). Why the difference for me? I don't know. I usually find it's better not to ask. "Gold" cards, like the one my boss has, are good for five years.

I thought it was interesting too, that my boss didn't understand why I would have to start again as a new driver in Japan, especially since I had already driven here for nearly a year, and driven for even longer in Canada. The rest of my office got a kick out of it too, and I'm sure they will be teasing me about it for weeks to come.

As they say in Hokkaido, Safety Drive!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Tour de Tokyo

I'm writing today from the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. The same hotel I was at for Orientation after I first arrived. We get another few days of training, and then it's ganbatte! for another year. I'm sharing a room with an Aussie girl living in Aomori city.


Mom and Dad arrived in Japan last week. I picked them up in Asahikawa on Wednesday after school, and we've been touring Hokkaido since. A couple of nights in my town, a night at an incredible onsen hotel in Sounkyo, where I forced them to experience the greatest thing about Japan: the onsen. I think they both enjoyed it, even if they were nervous about getting naked with strangers. Saturday, we had a traditional family car trip, and I drove us all the way out to Abashiri and back. A stupidly long drive, but I had a good time. And then yesterday we flew down to Tokyo together, parting ways at Haneda airport for our separate hotels. I'll leave details of our trip for mom and dad to tell when they get home.

I had forgotten what it was like to travel with my parents. It's been trying at times, but I'm really happy to have them here and to be able to share a little bit of my life in Japan with them. I miss everyone at home terribly, but I think I've made a good place for myself here. I may have come initially to escape from school and to try something new, but I've managed to grow a lot and understand myself a bit better. Gah -- that sounds so cliche. Even if it is true.


Today our Recontracting conference opens, but conveniently not until this afternoon. So after this posting I have plans to go find some food, a good coffee shop and do very little. I feel like I should take advantage of being in Tokyo for free, but I'm exhausted and coming down with a cold. So maybe it's just as well that mom and dad are here -- I can use them as a convenient excuse as to why I can't go out all night.

My hotel is right near Shinjuku station (the biggest train station in the world!) and near some incredible nightlife. And as mom and dad were quick to point out -- near the only place in Japan that you should consider unsafe.

Mom and dad are staying nearby at the same hotel that the movie Lost in Translation was filmed in. It's a really REALLY swank hotel. I had a hard time finding my way in and out again. We had a ridiculously expensive dinner together at the New York Grill. I skipped out on the almost 20000 yen Kobe beef, but I still had a steak. And damn, was it good. I haven't had a big western-style dinner in a while, so it was a lot of food! The restaurant had an incredible view of the Tokyo skyline, but of course I forgot my camera. I'll have to go back and try to get some skyline shots. It looks just like Blade Runner.

After Tokyo, we're headed to the old capital of Kyoto. Famous for temples, castles and tofu! I'm really looking forward to seeing some of the old parts of Japan (and seeing how the hotel I booked for mom and dad in Sounkyo compares to the swish ryokan dad booked for us in Kyoto).