Dana Goes to Japan


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Saturday, June 28, 2003

For the past two weeks, and presumably for another week or two to come, all the area high schools have been invaded. By student teachers. Apparently in Japan, when you are in your second year of university for a teaching degree, you have to go do your student teaching hours. But it’s not just by random assignment, as it seems in the US, not by any means. Everyone must return to the high school from which he or she graduated. This strikes me as very surreal, since the third year students are still kids the student teachers most likely went to school with, and the teachers they are being supervised by were their actual teachers. I think it would be hard to take yourself seriously as a teacher in those conditions.

I got to team-teach with one of these nervous young people on Friday. (Despite what the people at the movie theater thought, I felt very old to realize that this guy was younger than me. Before I came to Japan, I had to readjust my thinking when I realized that my dad’s interns at work were younger than me. It’s like when I realized that the characters in the books I had read all through my childhood and revered as cool, older people were actually now younger than the me that had just entered high school. So disorienting.) Said young man didn’t really get to do much, and was extremely quiet during the lesson planning session, so I wasn’t actually sure if he spoke English at all before we got into the classroom. His job was to be the other half of the tape recorder parts of the lesson, that being when we read the textbook dialogues out loud so the students could work on listening comprehension. His English was very clear, though, when he did actually speak out loud, so I think he was just extremely nervous and not wanting to offend Ms. Shiokai in any way.

The lesson was on asking for and giving directions, which is always notoriously difficult. However, we were teaching one of the more energetic classes, and they understood far more than I had feared. As we neared the end of class and came to the final activity, Ms. Shiokai discovered that she had left the handouts in the staff room, and quickly seized on the opportunity to give the student teacher directions on how to get back there and look for them. As he quickly left the room on his mission, one of the girls in the class said loudly “Kawaii sou!” (“How cute-looking!”), which I’m sure made him blush. When he came back, one of the other student teachers was wandering through the halls and stopped to watch him through the hallway-side windows, which also made him terribly self-conscious. It occurs to me that he was suddenly living the life I lead every day. Welcome to the fishbowl.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Rainy Season Samurai
I don’t think anyone has more fun during the rainy season than little boys. What better excuse to carry an umbrella all the time? And when carrying a furled umbrella, what else would you do besides stage mock sword battles with your friends? I mean, obviously.

Today, I had the pleasure of walking home behind an entire aspiring kendo team. Six little elementary school boys, all armed with plastic umbrellas. One of them even flipped down the inner mesh part of his baseball cap to form a mock kendo helmet visor. (He also had his flannel shirt tied around his neck like a cape.) Because the battle would run ahead of me and then stop for skirmishes all along the side of the street, I ended up walking in the midst of it for a ways. When I came along side the kid with the visor, I said, “Kendo desu ka?” (lit. “Is it kendo?”), to which he proudly replied in the affirmative. Another of them hit me with the tip of his sword on the back swing and promptly gave me a “Gomen nassai!” but I just smiled and waved it off. It was kind of funny to me how they just seemed to accept me as part of the group while I was walking in the middle of them. I didn’t offer to fence any of them, though. It wouldn’t have been fair. My umbrella was much bigger.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Early Release
This has been a good week for getting to go home early. On Monday, I got to leave work at noon because Minami was still having exams, and there was no reason for me to be there in the afternoon. There wasn’t really a reason to be there in the morning, either, but that was for appearance’s sake, since all the other teachers had to be there.

Miraculously, I had remembered to bring my camera with me that day, so instead of just walking home, I kept walking on the main road which leads to the big bridge over the river and into downtown. I stopped at the corner of the big road and my own street, in front of the Milky Way restaurant, to take pictures of the little shrine surrounded by a large plot of wildflowers. I walk past it every day on the way to Mukaiyama. It appears to be tended by the old women in the neighborhood, and just strikes me as a very odd little Japanese thing. Here, in the middle of Sendai, on the corner of a busy intersection in front of a “family restaurant,” there is a little community supported garden of haphazard ornamental flowers surrounding a shrine housing Buddhas dedicated to the protection of children and motorists. Beauty in the midst of ugly, everyday busy-ness. Typical.

Then I kept going towards the bridge instead of turning onto my street, and actually found the entrance to Atago-bashi Shrine. This is the shrine that is supposedly the major landmark of my neighborhood and how I tell people where I live, but I’d never been there. It’s on the tall hill that makes for my main view out my back window. For New Year’s, they strung lights all along the pathway up the stairs and around the periphery of the grounds, which was very pretty to see whenever I was walking home from downtown after dark. I’ve been meaning to go up there for months, but it was raining, or too hot, or I had to go do something else, or whatever.

But on Monday I finally had the time, the energy, and it wasn’t too hot to move more than absolutely necessary. The entrance is off a small road leading up into the hilly residential area on my side of the river, just after a person comes off the bridge from downtown. The embankment is painted bright yellow with advertisements, so the Shinto torii gate above it has always struck me as incongruous.

The walk up to the actual shrine complex was actually prettier than the shrine, in my opinion, and this seems to be the usual way of Shinto shrines. They are often at the top of a hill or mountain, especially here in Miyagi, and the natural stone stairs leading to them are overhung with tall, shady trees. The bottom of the stairs at Atago-bashi are marked by a red gate followed by 3 flights of concrete steps, but as one climbs about halfway up, the natural stone steps start and lead up to a larger, unpainted wooden gate. At the top, there was a complex of 4 or 5 buildings, at least 3 of which seemed to be shrines of various sizes. There was a gazebo over to one side, where a man was sitting by himself looking out at Sendai and the river below him. The views as I wandered along the edge of the path were quite something. There was a tiny miniature shrine, about the size of a dollhouse, next to the gazebo with little ceramic cats covering its front steps. I kept following the path around in a circle, and on the other side of the buildings, I found another set of steps leading down to the neighborhood I walk through to get to Mukaiyama. There was also a gazebo roof set over a circle of Buddhas in different guises to accept people’s prayers for various problems. My favorite was the Buddha sitting on an elephant’s back. Someone had tied two rainbow senbazuru chains to the railing in front of it.

On the way back down the stairs, I stopped and took a couple of "Hey, I can see my house from here!" pictures. It'll be interesting to see how those turn out. Mostly, I can spot my house by finding the house next door, with all the plants on the roof, or tracing back from the little bridge at the end of my street. I'm trying to take pictures of the everyday things I see all the time in Sendai now, so I can show them to people later, and give them some idea of the flashback images I'll keep seeing in my mind all the time, like I do with images of Santiago de Chile now.

Today, I got out of school at noon because it was Mukaiyama’s Foundation Day, so none of the students had to come, and most of the teachers took vacation days so they didn’t have to come either. The only students walking to school with me today were the soccer team members, and because it was raining, they had to train in the gym, according to Mr. Ogata, who is their club supervisor/coach. Nothing very exciting happened, but Kamiyama-sensei offered to take me for soba, of course, and we ended up taking Nagane-sensei as well. Mr. Nagane just got married last month, and last night was the party for the staff to meet his wife. I turned down my invitation, since it seemed like mostly a drinking thing, as well as an opportunity to good-naturedly embarrass the poor, shy man, but it seems like the rest of them had a good time.

Baby Face
On a sort of related topic, I got out of work early on Friday, too, because of exams, and later that afternoon I met Danola downtown to finally go see Matrix: Reloaded. It was my second time to see it, yes, but she hadn’t seen it at all yet, which just would not do. Since it wasn’t Tuesday, which is Ladies’ Day, I figured I’d just have to pay the regular full price for the ticket, and that was fine. Such are the sacrifices one makes to see a movie in Japan. But when I got to the counter and handed over my ¥2000, the guy looked all surprised and said (in Japanese, translated for your convenience), “Aren’t you a student?” Well, sure, of course I am! But I pointed out that I didn’t have my student ID, and another counter guy leaned over, pointed at my driver’s license, and said, “Isn’t that it?” Who was I to argue with people who so wanted to sell me a movie ticket for half its regular price? There are advantages to looking very young.

When I related this to Mark, he said that his landlord saw a picture of me and thought I was about 15. When Mark corrected him, saying that I’m actually older than him, his landlord looked extremely startled and asked how old Mark was. Mark replied that he was 22, and his landlord said he thought Mark was about 28. Which makes one wonder why on earth he thought Mark was dating a 15-year-old. I thought it was funny.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Free Writing
On Wednesday, I finished grading all 240 1st-year listening comprehension exams. I thought I was done grading. But on Thursday, the 2nd-year students took their English writing exam, and I was given another 240 examples of "free writing" to grade on the basis of number of words (40 or more), overall grammar, and interest of content. In case you were wondering, if they wrote 40 words, they got full marks for interest, since I thought that was kind of mean to grade them on, especially on a timed exam. They had a choice of 3 topics: Mukaiyama High School, My Boy/Girlfriend, or *ahem* Dana-sensei.

Now, for your enjoyment, I present some of the funnier, and impressive, efforts.

Mukaiyama High School
I entered Mukaiyama High School about a year ago. Then, I pictured my wonderful school life. But, in fact, I don't spend wonderful school life now. My parents say to me, "Study. Study." The word makes me tired. I don't want them to say the word. But I realize that I have to study.

My school is Mukaiyama High School. It is in the mountain, but the mountain’s name is not Mukaiyama but Yagiyama or Dainenzisan. Why we call it Mukaiyama? I don’t know it. Please tell me the reason. I like my school very much.

Mukaiyama High School is very fun. The club I belong to makes me happy, but Mukaiyama High School is far from my house. Sometime I don't want to go to school. In fact, I didn't go to Mukaiyama High School many time. I'm sorry.

My Girlfriend
I have a girlfriend. I love her. Maybe she loves me. She is as tall as me, so I want to be taller. She often write to me. I like her letter. I’m always looking forward to her letter. But I don’t write to her, because it is difficult to understand my mind and heart. I can’t understand my heart. And she said she couldn’t understand her heart. But she can understand my heart! How wonderful it is!

I have no girlfriend. But I need girlfriend. Because I am so fool that I can't live myself. I should find my girlfriend for survival. But I'm not loved by woman. I think that it is sad. I want to find girlfriend early.

My Girlfriend Hanako is so sexy and cute. She lives in Okinawa, and she has two brothers and three sisters. She has a white cat named P-chan. It is very interesting face, but I don't like it. I feel she is most pretty girl all over the world. But, in fact, I don't have Girlfriend. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry! I want to have a Girlfriend someday.

My Boyfriend
I don’t have boyfriend. I think my beautiful boy is coming soon. I have thought it for two years. I’m not dreamer. But I want to love, and give love. If there is love, have not money or can not meet always I’m OK. When I made sad, I want not to see hoyfriend, to hear his voice. Maybe I will be happy, only thinking about him. I’m praying the star every night. “I forward to see my boyfriend soon.”

My boyfriend is Hideki Matsui. He is a big star in Japan and the States. He is a member of baseball team in New York. We used to go to a baseball game together very often but we can't go there now. Because he is very busy and popular. I want to meet him more.

Dana-sensei Awwww. Please note original spelling and Capitalization.
I don't talk with her, so I don't know about her. But I think I talk to her someday. If I talk with her, I want to hear about America. Because I am interested in America and want to go there. And I think she is beauty.

We have never seen Dana-sensei!! Because Mr. Dana's class have not come yet. We look forward to talking with him. Please come here! Please! I don't know even man or woman. I need him and love him!

Dana-sensei always walks to Mukaiyama High School every morning. I often saw her walking. If someone say, “Good morning, Dana-sensei!” she answers with smile, “Good morning!” I would like to speak to her, but I cannot because I don’t have a chance to speak to her. Lately I am almost late for school every morning, so I don’t see her.

Ms. Dana is in Mukaiyama High School. She is ALT. I often see her while I go to school. She always walks to school. She can walk fast. Her class is very fun. But her class is seldom. I would like to talk with her a lot. I'm interesting abroad and want to study English. Therefore, I should talk with her.

Dana-sensei is very cute. I like her very much. But I have never talked with her. I would like to talk with her. I would like to know about her country, her family and her Boyfriend. I will try to talk to her.

Dana-sensei is teacher in Mukaiyama High School. Dana-sensei comes to my class every week. Dana-sensei looks tall. I think that Dana-sensei is taller than both Kamiyama-sensei and Kasahara-sensei. Dana-sensei is beautiful woman. I think that Dana-sensei is most beautiful in my school teacher.

Dana-sensei is my English teacher. She is speak Japanese very well. When I bring my leport, she checked very well. I like Dana-sensei. I want to speak with her in English. So I want to speak English well.

Dana-sensei is so cute. I like other countries people. I always think “If I can speak English…” Because I want to make a friend with many kind of people. Maybe. If I can speak English well, I can talk to Dana-sensei well. I can’t talk with Dana-sensei but, I often meet her. I said, “Hello Dana-sensei. How are you?” She said “I’m fine and you?” It makes me happy. Someday, I hope to talk with her only English.
In Season
My landlady has become a Japanese welcome-wagon superwoman! I was sitting here this afternoon, about to get ready to go fetch my CDs from Richard, who had absconded with them for weeks, and I heard her calling me from the street. She was standing outside my front window, motioning for me to come over to their office. I got all my stuff, thinking I would just be over there for tea and then continue on from there, and went over.

Turns out, it’s the height of the season for those giant mutant lima beans, and she had a whole bunch she wanted to give me. They don’t grow like lima beans, but instead are what is inside the big pods I’ve been seeing at all the little grocery stores. I had thought they were giant okra or something. This led to a discussion of Japanese foods that I have and have not tried. I also got some young soy bean pods to make edamame myself, very fresh, since I pulled them off the stalks myself. When I confessed that I wasn’t sure what konyaku was, ignorance would not do, so she took me down to the little grocery store at the end of the street and showed me. She also bought me some tofu balls, instructed me to prepare them with grated bonito fish and soy sauce, and then gave me a packet of bonito. So I don’t need to worry about going to the grocery store for a while.

Eventually, I did get to Richard’s, and my feeling of my life in Japan coming full circle has been even more cemented now. We ended up going to a small neighborhood temple festival, you see, just like we did way back in the first week after we got here. This one didn’t involve dancing, though it did still have all the fair booths set up. We dined on yakisoba and chocolate-dipped strawberries on sticks. Richard also got the more traditional chocolate banana on a stick, which we thought were just hilarious when we got here. This festival’s main attraction seemed to be a large neighborhood bingo game, with potted plants and tubs of miso, among other things, as door prizes. There was a long line of people going up into the little temple to take off their shoes and then claim their prize. Richard found some of his old-lady friends who have adopted him, and was presented with sliced melon (which is really expensive in Japan) and a pair of, I kid you not, dress shoes. He wasn’t really sure how to react to the shoes. We sat on the curb of a little parking lot for nearly an hour, watching all the neighborhood people wander through the booths and occasionally talking to the elementary school kids who were daring each other to say something to us.

Knock, Knock
Last night, just as I was sitting down to eat dinner, there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find my landlady, bearing gifts. She had brought me a dinner of homemade sushi and fresh vegetables. The sushi was wrapped in two leaf-packets tied with twine, and she had made it all herself. She tried to describe what was in it and said, “No fish, no fish.” What she meant was that it contained no raw sashimi fish, but I still thought it was funny when I opened the leaves and found one whole sardine staring up at me from the top of each bed of rice. I removed the poor little sardines and enjoyed the rest of it, which was rice, ginger, some seaweed based stuff, a mushroom, and some other stuff I didn’t recognize. The vegetables were homemade edamame, the steamed and salted soy bean pods that are so good; some huge mutant lima bean things, except they tasted better; and some corn on the cob. Mmmmm, so good. I want a Japanese mom. Or a housewife. Or a girlfriend. Some Japanese woman to cook for me.

And as if that wasn’t enough to make my night, a little while later there was another knock at the door. This time it was yet another man trying to sell me a Japanese newspaper, and I discovered I had the perfect excuse to not get one: I’m leaving next month. So it actually turned out to be a rather pleasant little conversation about how good my Japanese was and no, I’m not tired of Japan, I’m just going home to go back to school. That’s one of the best spontaneous Japanese conversations I’ve ever had, and the most pleasant way I’ve ever gotten a solicitor to leave.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

I got to ride in Mr. Ogata’s hybrid car today! It’s a Toyota Prius, and it’s terribly cool. Mr. Kamiyama and I went out to lunch with Mr. Ogata, pretty much just because Mr. Kamiyama wanted to check out his car. Well, sort of. It had always been the plan to invite him to lunch, too, but there were ulterior motives for suggesting we take his car.

There’s a little TV built into the dashboard, and when we got in, it was displaying a little moving diagram, illustrating how the motor, engine, battery, and wheels were interacting. Since a everything from Mukaiyama is downhill, for a good 10 minutes or so, the engine wasn’t even running at all. Mr. Kamiyama and I were fascinated by watching the little arrows shift around to point at all the different energy relays as the car came to a stop or started moving again, went up or down a hill.

Then Mr. Ogata demonstrated the 5 CD changer, which of course will also display on the little screen. The musical selection for this afternoon was The Eagles. Apparently the ALT before Chaney always sang “Hotel California” when the teachers went to karaoke. The song became a huge hit in Japan when Mr. Kamiyama was in junior high, and he recalls two other students playing that song during the school festival. There was much reminiscing in the car, as well as singing under the breath.

But wait! That was not the end of the wonders displayed upon the little screen. Another feature was a series of bar graphs that will show you the gas mileage per 5-minute increment. I don’t think I should get a Prius. I’d spend too much time being fascinated by all the things that screen can display. It can also be a regular TV, which I see a lot of people in Japan watching in their cars while waiting at stoplights in the morning rush hour.

On the way back to school, I was sitting on the other side of the backseat, and I could see that there was a cell phone holder built into the dash as well. And there was of course an MD player as well as CD changer. Japanese cars are nifty.

There’s a new version of the Prius coming out for 2004, which is more aerodynamic (although I think the original Japanese styling is cute) and has more space in the backseat, since they discovered when they sent the Prius to the US that there wasn’t enough room for big ol’ Americans. It’s really expensive, though, and Mr. Ogata pointed out that when they announced the new one, the price of the old version went way down, which is how he could afford his.

While at lunch, I learned that while shellfish and shrimp allergies are almost unheard of in Japan, an allergy to soba wheat is more common. A person with a soba allergy might even avoid eating udon, for fear that the noodles had been boiled in the same water as soba noodles. Boy am I glad I don’t have that allergy.

I graded 240 exams in the past two days, and nearly did in my official red teacher pen. I was only grading the listening portion, and my favorite answers were given for the question, “Where did Sarah go to junior high school?” The correct answer is Seattle. Answers I got included Shiateru, Siatoru, Shiatre, Ciatle, Singapole, Yokohama, Yellow, and “From my aunt’s house in Japan.”

On my way home, two little boys about the age of 8 were biking up the hill behind the swimming school towards me. The first one looked surprised and said, “Ah, gaikokujin da!” and smiled back when I grinned at him. The second one gave me a thumbs up and said loudly, in a clear voice, “Nice to meet you!” I did my English teacher duty by replying, “Nice to meet you, too.” Little kids are great.

Friday, June 13, 2003

I do not understand the weather in Japan. Yesterday, it was fall. Today, it is summer. Except it’s not really summer, it’s the fifth season, that being “rainy.” But it’s not raining. I finally decided, though, that the weather was not going to snap back to cold enough to use my heater, like I was last week, even though it is June. This morning, I got up and took the futon cover off the kotatsu, took up the pad-blanket to keep the heat from escaping through the floor, and got out the fan. So now it’s really summer, and the weather isn’t allowed to change its mind again.

When I was hanging the futon out the back window to air, I noticed that there was a little old man sitting up on the top of his backyard fence, pruning his little pine tree by hand. That made me smile. I also would like to proudly report that I did not drop the futon off the railing down into the inaccessible tangle of weeds behind my building. Every time I hang something out, I live in fear. I find it very annoying that my apartment does not have a proper balcony to hang things on, like all Japanese apartments are supposed to.

Other signs of summer are that it is now very hot walking to Mukaiyama, the water coming out of my kitchen tap is now warm rather than cold, I can actually turn down the heating element on my shower enough to get proper water pressure at the same time, and there is very little for me to do at work, because they’re all preparing for exams again, which is also why I haven’t had much interesting to say since my substitute weekend adventures. Hard to believe that my year in Japan has come almost full circle.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

My conception of time is so screwed up right now. Today felt like Monday, so yesterday felt like Sunday, except it’s actually Wednesday, so yesterday was Tuesday. Got that? Right. Having a substitute weekend and then a 3-day week is very weird.

So anyway, yesterday, which was Tuesday, was very interesting. Originally, I was supposed to go see Reloaded with Danola, (yes, again, don’t look at me like that,) but she cancelled that on Monday night, so I thought Tuesday was going to be rather empty. But in the morning, I had a message to call Danola back, and she said that her tutor, Mika, had coupons for a professional massage that afternoon, so would I like to go?

Ahem. Would I like to go? I’m no fool. Of course I wanted to go! For those of you who have ever heard me complain about my shoulders, or attempted to attack those rock-hard bits of muscle that hold my arms to the rest of my body, well, you can just start feeling sympathy right now for the poor masseuse. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

I met Danola and Mika at the statue in the station around 1:15. Mika said she had a restaurant she wanted to take us to for lunch first, which was near the Disney store (a major downtown landmark). The way I normally walk, this would have taken maybe 10 minutes. Walking with Danola and Mika, who works 6 days a week and is a notorious window-shopper on her day off, it took about an hour. All we had to do was walk down the two covered-street shopping arcades, but this did not at all follow a straight path. We went to the drugstore for sunblock for Danola; we stopped at 3 shoe stores to look at sandals; we nearly had to take print-club pictures before dragging Mika away from the game arcade entrance; and finally, we convinced her that Danola really didn’t need to look at the Pooh-san merchandise in the Disney store because the restaurant was right there. (Mika really likes to spoil Danola as her “Japanese big sister.”) Whew, made it.

The restaurant we went to was really nice. It was a tofu restaurant, in very traditional Japanese style. We took off our shoes when we entered, and followed the kimonoed waitress to a tiny private room, entered through a half-sized door so you had to kneel to go through. The table had space for our legs recessed into the floor, so the table was still basically at floor height. The waitresses did everything kneeling on the tatami beside the table.

The room was very pretty, with a bamboo theme. Mika told us that each room in the restaurant had a different theme, coordinated with the kind of pottery that was used for the tea service. The napkins, the placemats, the chopsticks, everything had coordinated flowers embossed or printed on them. To our amusement, Mika also insisted later that we visit the bathroom to round out our experience, because the toilet paper was printed with plum blossoms. I might also add here that the sinks were also gorgeous pottery basins, each done with a different pattern, so it was indeed a worthwhile trip for more than just the toilet paper.

When I say this was a tofu restaurant, I mean it. Everything they served was made of tofu. Mika got us all the set menu, which she said was made up of many small dishes, so we wouldn’t be too full. I don’t know what her definition of full is, but I was stuffed by the end. There were about 7 courses, each displaying a vastly different method of preparing tofu from the last. There was tofu stretched kind of like pasta; there was tofu made into a sort of vegetable custard; tofu curds; tofu fried, accompanied by a slice of lemon in its own squeezing device; tofu stuffed with vegetables, then fried and boiled; tofu blocks floating in a basket with soup, heated in the middle of the table, then ladled artfully by Mika into the appropriate individual bowls with a fish-paste-cake flower and a snow pea. All these things (of which I might have actually left out something) were followed by rice, tofu (as opposed to miso) soup, and roasted tea. We could also have had tofu ice cream or some other kind of sweet, but Danola and I protested that we couldn’t eat any more. And according to the menu, the entire set only had about 700 calories. Mmmm, Japan.

Mika insisted that she was treating us, since she leaves for Australia next month to get married to her fiancé, Paul. Standing at the counter, waiting for her change and our shoes, Danola and I idly noticed that they had some interesting keitai straps with cloth work flowers and beads. Then our shoes were brought out, so we went to put them on while Mika got her change. When she came out to put her own shoes on, she had bought us both straps. “It’s very Japanese,” was her reason. No wonder this woman works in customer service. She’s a one-woman tourism board.

By this point, it was past 3 in the afternoon, and we still hadn’t made it to the massage place, which was of course back on the other side of Sendai Station. We re-entered the gauntlet of stores. We passed a department store and had to go into the lingerie section, and then downstairs below that to another one, which was, improbably, playing Randy Travis over the PA. Nothing was bought on these little side trips, but Danola and I did get in a few nicely sarcastic observations about the unique styles and colors of Japanese women’s under-apparel.

(Let me insert a side-note here: I do not think that it would ever occur to me that taking my boyfriend to an underwear store would be a good date activity. I seriously wonder what was going through that poor man’s mind. Or maybe it’s better for me not to wonder…)

Then it was across the street to the upscale department store, Fujisaki, because Mika’s mother had requested that Mika buy her a “romantic” apron. With lace and ruffles, you know. I know from personal experience that Fujisaki is totally over-priced, and indeed, aprons in their kitchen department were as much as $70. And they didn’t have anything romantic enough, anyway.

We stopped at shoe stores again on the way back toward the station, but didn’t find any adequate sandals, the ¥100 Store for a wind chime, and then this ridiculous store that sells everything you’d ever need to be a housewife in Japan, down to and including the little foil cups to put in your family’s bento boxes to keep the pickles separate from the rice. And, of course, lots and lots of aprons. Aprons with lace, aprons with ruffles, aprons with flowers and denim, pockets and buttons and ties, sleeves or no sleeves. What Mika settled on was indeed “romantic,” if you define romantic as diaphanous, pink flower print, with many, many ruffles and totally, utterly impractical. She said she was embarrassed by her mother's taste, much to our amusement.

After the apron, though, we took the underground subway passage to get to the other side of the station, so Mika would not look at any more shops. This actually managed to get us to the massage place, a mere 3 hours after we had set out for lunch.

The massage place does therapeutic massage and reflexology, or so we were told by the nice English-speaking woman who got us to fill out forms to indicate where we wanted our “doctors” to concentrate their efforts. Danola said she had no preference, and it seemed like she spent most of her time talking to her masseuse in Japanese-English anyway. He was quite the charming young man. I, on the other hand, confidently circled the shoulder portion of the diagram, and my poor masseuse kept asking repeatedly if he was pressing too hard. My only reply was no, no, that was just fine… I can now add Japanese to the list of ways I’ve been told that my shoulders are really stiff. The twenty-five minutes seemed to fly.

Afterward, they served us chamomile tea in the waiting area. Because it was our first visit, Danola and I only had to pay ¥1000. They gave us vouchers for the same deal to give to our friends, and we left with much profuse thanks. My shoulders are still grateful. Danola is going to be very sad when Mika leaves.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Sports Meet
Let’s hear it for compensatory days off! I finally get my weekend now. I had to “work” on Saturday and Sunday, you see, meaning I had to attend Mukaiyama sporting events. This weekend was the all-Miyagi high school sports meet. All high schools in the prefecture, competing in all sports for the finals, in two days.

My original thought had been to try to go see interesting Japanese things, like kendo and kyudo, perhaps judo, but those events were all being held far outside of Sendai. Instead, my presence was requested at (meaning, assigned to) badminton on Saturday and basketball on Sunday. I’m a North Carolina heretic for saying this (at least about basketball), but I’m not really a fan of either of these sports, so I was not just jumping with excitement, especially when it meant I had to get up early on a weekend.

On Saturday, I arose and made my way by subway to the southern Tomizawa terminal stop, located “in front” of the Sendai-shi Taikukan (Sendai City Gymnasium). Fortunately, it’s really only a five-minute walk away, and I just followed the high school students to find it. Miraculously, I chose the right entrance to the bleachers the first time, and found the other Mukaiyama people right away.

These are the things I learned about badminton: It is very hard. It takes a very long time. There are 5 sets to a full match, 2 doubles and 3 singles. Each must play to 15 points. Players get very tired during this time. They can ask for a time-out to wipe sweat off their racket, hands, and face. Also, it is a fairly popular sport at Mukaiyama, so there was a fair group of dedicated student fans there for the whole day, in addition to the students from non-sport clubs who were assigned to come and turn in their attendance sheet.

Many of the other schools had large banners, senbazuru (chains of 1000 paper cranes for good luck and health), and cheering sections. (I couldn’t see our banner, if we had one, because I was sitting behind it.) Kamiyama-sensei and I spent some time analyzing the English on the banners and trying to figure out what the rule is for a sport having “games,” “matches,” or “meets.” After Mukaiyama’s boys’ team lost their match, we left and went to have lunch, so I was back home fairly early in the afternoon.

On Sunday, I had to really be up early, because Kamiyama-sensei was coming to pick me up for the basketball tournament. It was being held in the Composite Sports Garden (don’t ask) in Rifu, which is the complex including the stadium Sendai built to host its World Cup games. It truly is huge, as is its running costs, which is sort of a sore subject with teachers in Miyagi, since they’re all taking a pay cut this year, due to budgetary shortfalls.

Our boys’ basketball team is pretty good, so they had made it to the Sunday stage, but the girls’ were kind of iffy, and when we got there we found out that they hadn’t made it. This meant that we had nothing Mukaiyama-related to do for two and a half hours after arriving. I spent my time mostly people-watching. Because there were lots of students there from other schools, there were lots of girls in uniforms. This is a novelty for Mukaiyama boys, since we have no uniforms at our school. As I mentioned, the weather has gotten warmer, and skirts have gotten shorter of late, so I was very amused to watch several members of our basketball team tracking girls as they walked by.

The biggest excitement was when the oendan club from Sendai Ni-ko SHS arrived. Ni-ko is an all-boys high school, and they have one of the top basketball teams in the prefecture, often going on to the regional and occasionally national competitions. Their oendan captains wear flashy all-white uniforms, rather than the traditional black, and they brought their own taiko drum as well. I found out that the reason the drummer’s uniform is always cut up or torn is because that uniform is handed down every year, each time a little more personalized, to show the length of tradition at the school. The Ni-ko uniform is has nearly no sleeves at all, is frayed, cropped, and embroidered, all very impressive. The school is over 100 years old, but I assume the jacket is a bit younger than that. They had quite the cheering section organized for their game, which of course Ni-ko won. At least the opposing team wasn’t totally trounced, the way the girls at the next court were, (133-25).

Finally, it was time for Mukaiyama to play. We ended up playing Shobo, which is a commercial high school and a bit more focused on sports than Mukaiyama, the high level math and science school that it is. Reminds me of my own high school days. Mukaiyama’s team did a fairly good job of holding their own, but they were no match for the three-point prowess of several of the Shobo players, nor the fact that Shobo always got the rebound. We did have a healthy cheering section, though, headed by one of the underclassmen on the team with a horn. It took me a while to realize that they were chanting “Defense” and “My ball!” It was a fairly exciting game, and we only lost by about 8 points, but when it was over, I was ready to go, since I hadn’t had any breakfast on account of Kamiyama-sensei coming about 20 minutes early, and it was by that point 2:00. As he said, it had been a long day.

So that was the sports weekend. I saw no real evidence of romance or flirting, despite rumors to that effect. There was some very purposeful rearrangement of some girls in the gallery watching the basketball game, so maybe it was to give preference to people with boyfriends, but I have no hard evidence for that hypothesis. It was interesting to see the students outside of school, see who was good friends with who and how they interacted, but it also made me feel kind of lonely. I made up for it by coming home and talking to all of my friends on-line. I live such a technological life right now.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

All Work and No Play…
…turn Dana into a total langauge nerd. I grant you that this is not far different from my normal state, but I would like to pretend that this kind of thing would not happen if I didn’t spend all day at work correcting English compositions and answering questions about bizarre usage rules. I may just be deluding myself though.

I’ve finally managed to pick up an actual Japanese radio station, you see. And just a few minutes ago, while innocently hanging up my laundry, I noticed that the song playing was a Japanese hip-hop song, mostly in English. Very good English, actually, by hip-hop standards, and amazingly blending the Japanese parts with the English parts without just using random words taken out of context. And then the chorus came, and what did I realize? It was a simple, straightforward run-through of the present tense verb conjugations of “like” and “love,” from first person to third person plural:

I like it / he likes it / she likes it / we like it / they like it;
I love it / he loves it / she loves it / we love it / they love it

-from Crystal Kay’s “I Like It”

Earthquake Drill
Today’s excitement at school was an earthquake drill in the afternoon. I am informed that this one was taken a little more seriously than usual due to the actual earthquake last week, but here follows the report of how it went.

The siren sounded briefly, someone announced the drill on the PA, and then Mr. Ogata, the awesome English-speaking teacher who sits next to me, said “Time to man the battle stations.” (He’s a big Star Trek fan. I like sitting next to him.) When the earthquake siren sounds, the emergency doors swing out of the walls and shut off the wide open stairwells, leaving only a push-open emergency door. I’m not really sure why; maybe it protects people in the regular parts of the building if the stairway collapses or something. We then went to the front entranceway, changed our shoes, and wandered out to the sports field. When I asked if people would stop to change their shoes during a real earthquake, the response was, “Oh, absolutely not!,” which is relieving.

We then stood around on the sports field, or rather, the students sat in orderly lines on the sports field and the teachers stood, while the vice-principal gave a thrilling speech giving the history of major earthquakes in Japan. I’m told that the drill is usually held on June 12, as a memorial for the last big earthquake in Miyagi, which killed some people in the Yagiyama area of Sendai, which is where Mukaiyama SHS is.

Many of the teachers asked me if we have earthquake drills in the US. I once again astonished them by reporting that NC doesn’t have earthquakes. I then got to explain all about tornado drills, which they were very interested in. I decided not to tell them about the time the principal at our elementary school forgot to tell us the drill was over, and our teachers made us stay in the crouch position in the cafeteria for half an hour.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

In the news
Here are some interesting tidbits from Japanese news that I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard in the US (or wherever you live):

Last week, the emperor got out in the imperial gardens and personally planted the rice shoots that he had seeded a month or so before. He did this “in a light rain” and this rice will be harvested in the fall for use in various rituals that call for rice throughout the year. Nice to know he’s doing his part to keep the world turning.

At the beginning of this week, students switched from winter to summer school uniforms. “This change traditionally happens at the beginning of June,” as, indeed, it did. This means the switch from dark blue to white sailor uniforms for junior high girls, from blazers to no blazers for many senior high boys, and from long sleeved button-down shirts to short sleeves for most students in general. Also, high school girls are back to rolling their skirts as high as they can get away with.

A rose that was taken into space 5 years ago by a Japanese astronaut is in bloom again. When it came back to earth, the government of the town where the astronaut was from took over its care, and held a little press conference for it yesterday. It is a pinkish-red. It was used for an experiment on fragrances.

Pep Rally
This coming weekend is the prefectural sports meet. All the high schools in Miyagi, for all sports, from Saturday through half of Monday. This means I get to “work” all weekend, so I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about the actual events after this weekend. Today, though, we had a pep rally at school to encourage all the sports teams who made it into the finals. Sports in Japanese high schools, by the way, do not have seasons, so kids on one team are only on that one team and play no other sports for the school. They practice all year round.

The pep rally was led by the Japanese cheerleading squad. I was given a brief history lesson by Mr. Ogata, who said that this style of cheerleading started during the Meiji era in the universities. Since universities only allowed men to study, cheerleading was an all-male thing as well. The idea that cheerleading in the US is done by predominantly girls in short skirts strikes them all as very funny. The boys on the cheerleading squad get kind of embarrassed about the comparison. They struggle a lot to find some other name for it in English. In Japanese it is oendan, as I learned from one of the student essays I corrected earlier today.

At Mukaiyama, being the progressive institution it is, cheerleading is done by both males and females now. Not that you can really tell, considering that they all wear black military-style uniforms, with stand up collars and gold buttons down the front, and long trailing headbands of varying colors. I think the colors might have something to do with their roles in the club. The boy who was playing the role of master of ceremony was in charge of yelling the next participant’s name and playing the taiko drum. He had cut slits in the sleeves of his suit jacket so they fell back off his arms when he beat the drum. The head cheerleader was wearing a longer jacket, down to his knees, and a purple headband. He performed the traditional cheer, which involves standing in front of the audience, unfurling a scroll, and then screaming the cheer written on it in kanji, pulling the scroll past his body as he read it.

After a speech by the principal, each team came to the front and asked the rest of the students to please come and support them at whichever venue they will be competing. The teams competing for Mukaiyama are basketball (men’s and women’s), table tennis, soft tennis, badminton, softball, swimming, kendo, kyudo, judo, volleyball (men’s and women’s, all of whom have the most muscular legs I’ve ever seen), and, if I’m not mistaken, rhythmic gymnastics. There are so many soccer teams in Miyagi that their portion of the tournament started last month, and Mukaiyama did make it, but they lost just this past Sunday, so they won’t still be playing this weekend, and so unfortunately didn’t get to be part of the pep rally. From another student essay, I found out that the third year players on the soccer team had all threatened to quit if they didn’t make it into the prefectural tournament, so the younger members felt a bit stressed last month.

After all the teams were done addressing the audience, the cheerleaders came back out and performed some dances to drumming. I didn’t get to see the first one because there were students in the way, but it was the one accompanied by the traditional yelling cheers, which consist of basically “OOOOHHHHH… OOOOHHHH… MU…KAI…YA… MA!!!” (As the daughter of a speech pathologist, my first thought was, “This is really bad for their vocal folds. That must hurt.”) Judging by the second dance, they also involve a lot of large arm motions and jumping back and forth with legs kicking out to the sides. That’s a really awful description, but I’m not really sure how else to put it. The school flag was also waved around over the heads of the dancers.

Then all the sports teams were filed out and the pep rally was over. The cheering will happen again for the opening ceremony of the sports days. I feel psyched, don’t you?

International Communication
Yesterday at Minami, the International Communication Club asked me to come and talk to them again. Last time I went, they tried to be kind of organized and academic, with a textbook and all, but this time they seem to have given up on that. It’s a very small club, only 3-4 girls, and I was informed by the leader, when we all sat down, that the topic for the day was going to be one of the other girls’ love life. Said other girl turned very red and said, “No, no, no.” But her protests were to no avail, and we found out that she and this boy she knows from elementary and junior high school are not dating, they are just friends. Also, her “old boyfriend” had played golf with her on Saturday. Given that he’s 48 years old, I assume he’s a family friend. She said she was very sad because he was married. The conversation then turned back on the group leader, who revealed that she has a crush on a boy from Higashi SHS, and has plans to go see the circus with him and a group of friends later this month. She cannot, however, go watch him during the sports tournament this weekend because she has to stay at school and take the phoned-in results for each event for the school newspaper. The third girl insisted that there was no one that she liked as a boyfriend, but also indicated that there was perhaps a specific person she was going to go watch play handball. So perhaps this whole sports thing will be a hotbed of romance as well as sporting glory.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Rainy Weekend Fun
This weekend, Jamin came up to Sendai from Tokyo and Dayle came down from Iwate, and we had a little Beloit summer school reunion. It’s been nearly a year since we went to Beloit for the summer Japanese program in preparation for coming to Japan. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long. Jamin is pretty much done with his internship at the architecture firm in Tokyo, so he’s using his last month or so in Japan to travel around seeing all the stuff that he didn’t get to see during the days when he was working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. Dayle, on the other hand, has settled into her life in Iwate-machi a lot more now, and seems ready to enjoy her second year in rural Japan.

Unfortunately, they didn’t get to see Matsushima (one of the three most beautiful places in Japan!) because it was raining all weekend. It was lovely weather on Friday, and sunny again today, but Saturday and Sunday it pretty much rained non-stop. Poor us, we had no choice but to stay inside and eat. I certainly didn’t object, since Dayle happily put herself in charge of the food and made much more inventive things than I would have. As an example to make you all hungry, we had sautéed vegetables and pasta with pesto sauce. Mmmm, fresh vegetables. As Dayle pointed out, they’re really cheap up in her farming community right now. I feel deprived by my city life now.

We got the vegetables and other provisions for dinner on Saturday night at The Mall, which has a gigantic grocery store in the middle of it. It has everything, after all. We were at The Mall because we could get there in the rain without much trouble, as the subway has a stop connected right to it. We didn’t really know what movies were going to be out, since everything gets to Japan at different times, but we figured we’d look, and if nothing good was out, we’d just wander around The Mall itself. Amazingly enough, Matrix: Reloaded was out! We had all thought it was coming out the next week. Happy, happy, I got to see a movie, I got to see a movie!!! Everyone in the US had been taunting me with having seen it already. Of course, my other friends here will probably kill me when they find out I already saw it, but I bet I could be persuaded to go see it again.

Before the movie started, we did all the usual Americans-in-Japan things and went to Starbucks and Muji. I finally found a picture album that has spaces big enough for pictures I had developed in the US, since pictures developed here are smaller. It’s actually not a picture album, really, but instead a postcard album, which strikes me as a rather Japanese thing. In any case, it works well; I got every picture I’ve taken since last summer in it, with space for another roll, I think. I feel very satisfied to have finally gotten all my pictures organized.

On Sunday, we got up “early” so we could have a leisurely breakfast and time to get ready before Dayle had to catch her bus at 11. Before she left, we went by Jupiter so she could stock up on imported food before going back to rural Numakunai. She seemed to have a good time. After we saw her to the bus station, Jamin and I walked through downtown to Sendai Mediateque, a famous feat of architecture. Jamin almost had an internship with the architect who designed it, but ended up in the firm of a student of said architect. The building is really neat. It has these twisted metal lattice columns as its only structural elements, and on each floor, the columns are different widths. Some are skinny at the bottom and wide at the top, others are inverted. (There are some good illustrations of this at the link above; scroll to the right to see them.) We just wandered around the lobby, but on the other floors there was apparently two galleries and a library. Jamin was very happy to have gotten to see it, so I don’t think his weekend in Sendai was wasted.