2005 Archives


| | Comments (1)

This is a really strange legacy to leave behind, a malignant tumor that won't die.

A Blizzard in Juso

| | Comments (1)

A big green 0 was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes this morning. Within 10 minutes I was to the door. Snow blasted my face, and I ran through the blizzard, taking the time to snap a few pictures on my cell phone:


Osho, in Higashi Juso, is starting to accumulate a mantle of snow.


A shot of Juso Eki between the Eastern Mr. Donut and the entrance to Hankyu railway station


The train tracks and the area around the Yodogawa quickly accumulated a layer of snow. I wonder how the insulation of the residences of the homeless population, who live in the shanty town along the length of the Yodogawa river, compares to the average Japanese apartment.


I usually ride on the first car from track number 6 on my way to Osaka. This morning was the first time I remember being able to hear the conductor talking on his radio. Though muffled through the barrier that separates the cockpit from the cabin, I was able to make out the words ?concerned?, ?dangerous?, and ?please check?. A maintenance crew quickly entered the locomotive, as the passengers disembarked.

I?m glad nothing went wrong. Riding in the first car is the most dangerous place in a train to be in case of an accident. After the train crash on the JR line in Amagasaki, I remember reading in The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Travel that if you know that a crash is imminent, it is a good idea to get to the rear of the train. Most of the casualties in Amagasaki were riding in the first two cars. Well, I didn?t start running to the back of the train when I heard the conductor?s concerned exchange on the radio. It would have been impossible to maneuver my way through, as all of the cars were packed like sardine tins.

What's the story with Chappelle?

| | Comments (4)

I remember watching his stand up two Christmases ago, and hurting from laughing so hard. For whatever reason, it's too bad that he didn't finish the 3rd season. Whether it has any truth to it or not, this is worth reading.

A Better Typhoon

| | Comments (14)

I've been using this game in my classes since I first started teaching English close to three years ago. Over time, I have modded it into its present version.

Typhoon is a great game to use when you want to review materials from previous lessons, but the traditional way of writing points up on the board and covering them up with individual sheets of paper is time consuming and laborious.

I first got around this problem by making my own deck of customized Typhoon cards with point values and special cards, which worked really well. However, I have come up with a way that anyone can play this game with a standard deck of playing cards.

First, divide the class into 3 or more teams. Any student may raise their hand after you ask a question, but a different student must answer every time. The fastest team to raise their hands gets to answer the question. I usually allow the team to help each other if they don?t know the answer.

If a student gives a correct answer, they pick a card from the deck. Here are the values for the cards:

Point Cards:
*Cards 2-10 are worth their number in points
*Aces ? Diamonds, Clubs, and Hearts are worth 30 points. The Spade is worth 100.

Typhoon Cards:
*Jacks ? They reduce the points of the teams who draws it to 0
*Queens ? If a team draws a Queen, they choose a team and that team?s points are reduced to zero. A team can pick themselves as the target (as teams can accrue negative points).
*Kings ? This card is Armageddon. All points are reduced to zero.
*Joker ? After the Joker comes into play, all point values from this point for everybody become negative points. For example, after the Joker is pulled, the 10 card would subtract 10 points from the total points of the team who draws it.

If the second Joker is drawn, scoring returns to normal.

I used to put the cards up on the board as a grid, and had vocabulary words set up on the x and y axis so that the students would have to use that week?s vocabulary in order to get in some extra practice:

Alpha Beta Niner Delta
Tourettes x x x x
Arachibutyrophobia x x x x
Narcolepsy x x x x
A.D.D. x x x x
Necrophilia x x x x
Pica x x x x

("x" denotes a card, face down. In the case of a deck of 54 cards, I would probably set up the board in a 6 x 9 grid.)

But for the sake of speed, I now just shuffle the deck and let the students pick one out. The team with the most points at the end wins.

This game can be used repeatedly with the same class. The key is to not over use it, and to keep the durations shorter, rather than longer, otherwise they may tire of it prematurely.

Loose leaf photography

| | Comments (1)

This is a pretty cool trick using a plant leaf as a photographic medium.

The Burnt Finger Teacheth

| | Comments (6)

When I was three, I touched the barbecue even though I was told it was hot and it would hurt. This is the first incident in which I can remember thinking about linguistics, for the pain seared the memory into my young mind. Barbecue, I reasoned, is a compound word made up of "Barbie" and the letter Q (to check out the etymology of the word barbecue, click here).

For some inexplicable reason, perhaps related to my fascination with the thing that was cooking our dinner, I desired to touch the side of the barbecue, and so I burned my finger and learned my lesson. This is not the first time that I got burnt, and it certainly wasn't to be the last.

A few contusions on my elbows and a small chunk missing out of the base of my back are part of the price I paid for wiping out, while foolishly tearing down the debris covered road to Minoo Falls. I was going too fast and rapidly approaching a sharp, blind corner, and then I ate it while attempting to break. Apparently, I tumbled violently enough to fling my glasses 20 feet away from where I hit the ground.

Luckily, God looks after fools like me, so I have been let off with just a few contusions and abrasions to show. I am sad to say that my Timberland backpack got a bit ripped up as I skidded across the pavement, but its sacrifice literally saved my ass from being torn into hamburger.

So from now on, there will be no more tearing down hills unless they are first deemed to be safe to myself and to others. I can't rightly say why I did it in the first place, especially after hearing about what happened to a student at my high school.

Apparently, last week one of the ichinensei was riding in the rain and lost control, hitting a wall with such force that he died of the injuries. I don't want to ever put anyone through the pain that his family must be feeling right now.

I finally found an easy way to get rid of auto-formatting in Word (and I would have saved myself much frustration had I taken the time to look up an answer before). I hate how Word automatically changes things automatically, like adding indentations, bullets, capitalizing letters, and makes other adjustments when I'm trying to get the lay out looking exactly as I want it to. Sometimes it makes the change exactly how I want for a split second before making another automatic change, as if it were mocking me. Well, I have found the hammer with which to smite this cunning foe down with:

All you have to do is to select the part of the document that you want to work on and then hit "Ctrl + Shift + n" and it will get rid of all of the nonsense. It's so simple, but it is going to save me a lot of wasted time because, even if you turn off auto-formatting, Word sometimes will auto-format anyways. Now when that happens, I can strip the document down to no formatting in seconds.

The feeling that I got when I discovered "Ctrl + Shift + n" reminds me of the time that I found out the reason that my typing in the middle of a body of text was eating the other letters in front of it was the result of the insert function being switched on. Prior to learning about how ?insert? worked, I had to type any corrections on another document and paste them into the body of the text.

Yet despite how much I think I know about Word, I still find it a tedious process to get the layout of some pages just the way I want it to look.

Little Coral Fish

| | Comments (3)


When I lived deep in the country side I longed to live in the big city. Now that I'm here, I can't wait to get back out into nature. Isolation is a good thing in the right dose, as is being around people. This is not to say that I want to live in suburbia. The best situation would be to live in the country within a reasonable commute to civilization. Pretty much anything other than Ubuyama, I can hack.

I think the ideal set up would be to have a house in Hokkaido, one in Okinawa, and one in Nara so that I could alternate between being able to hike, eat good food, ski, fish, and snowboard with the changing of the seasons. If I ever get really rich and end up living over here, that's what I'm going to do.

Janken: The Final Word

| | Comments (3)

This ridiculous diagram is part of the revisied lesson plan project that I am working on in the office. At least I'm getting pretty good at using Word and Excel as a result...

Teaching Janken in elementary school makes for a good lesson, but I that the Japanese version sounds so much better than "Ro sham bo" or "Rock, paper, scissors...". Watching it played in Japan can be really entertaining because it sometimes takes on tones similar to those of a Wild West showdown or the fierce swashbuckling of pirate-folk. Especially when the stakes are high.

Janken settles everything neatly and quickly, with authority. Who gets to ride shotgun? Who has to pay for the next round of drinks? Who gets the priviledge of sitting next to the English teacher during lunch? Should we go soak in an onsen or grab some food and beverages? Who has to eat the big chunk of wasabi as punishment for losing? Any decision made by Janken is solid as stone. And unlike an arbitrated decision or ther verdict delivered by a court, it is very rare to see the loser really complain about the fairness of the decision, let alone contesting it.

This simple game has a very colorful anthropological and linguistic history behind it, spanning over years long gone, and weaving itself into the fabric of cultures around the world. It is interesting to note that the symbols used vary widely from place to place, and within the same region depending upon the social context. In Japan there are several versions including a variant of Janken played with the face (a good old fashioned drinking game), and one specific to Osaka.

Janken should be used more often to mitigate problems and disagreements between individuals and groups of people. With the responsible usage of Janken, imagine how much faster problem mitigation would become should our world leaders, political groups, and more adults in general used it to settle our differences.

It certainly works in the context of public schools and between friends and peers. But you'll always find someone who, once they lose, demands that Janken is always played two out of three. This is almost always the person who will change the rules to back when they win the first round. Unless otherwise stipulated, one round of Janken determines who wins and who loses. Period.

Bargain Hunting at Don Quixote

| | Comments (10)

Don Quixote is my favorite chain store in Japan. Where else can you buy party sized snacks bigger than they sell in American supermarkets, Louis Vuitton bags, electrical appliances, cosplay outfits, children's toys, whale curry, and adult goods all under the same roof? If only Wal-Mart was as cool as this...

I always happen to find great things at "the Donkey Store", and yesterday was no exception:

How can I best describe this product... um... moist hole in a can. They didn't have an opened one, so I really don't know what this can contains exactly. Is it edible, and if so, what flavour is it? Does it have a heating catalyst or do you have to heat it up some other way? These and other questions need to be addressed.


"Kumamoto Joe" Debiec doesn't mind if it's a little past its expiration date. For the bargain price of 399 yen, he went crazy and bought a crate full (stocking stuffers, he claimed). His evaluation on this product should be forthcoming shortly- stay tuned...

Koyo Leaves

| | Comments (1)

Autumn leaves in Osaka.

Palindrome Number Generator

| | Comments (3)

Take any 3 digit number, and make it's palindrome (by reading it backwards), and add them both together.

ex. 893 + 398

Take the sum of the 3 digit number and its palindrome and repeat the process.

1291 + 1921

Take that sum and repeat the process and... it's a palindrome number:

3212 + 2123 = 5335

Yeah, I know it's really geeky, like something that you would run home and tell your parents about after learning it from your third grade teacher, but admit it- you were kind of impressed, weren't you? I swear, at this rate, I'm going to be attending Star Trek conventions in my rainbow suspenders by the end of the week...

Today's random geeky vocabulary

| | Comments (3)

Yes, it's another day in the office working on the dreaded Ashiya curriculum, which means that my brain needs to be exercised lest it die from atrophy. A co-worker brought in some slime and started to play with it, which got me thinking about colloids, gels, polymers, and the properties of substances that exhibit behavioral characteristics of both solids and liquids.

Rheopectic - Rheopecty is the property of some non-newtonian fluids to show a time dependant change in viscosity; the longer the fluid undergoes shear, the higher its viscosity. Rheopectic fluids are a rare type of fluids, in which shaking for a time causes solidification. A common house-hold example is corn flour (also known as corn starch) mixed with water.

Thixotropic -Thixotropy is the property of some non-newtonian pseudoplastic fluids to show a time-dependent change in viscosity; the longer the fluid undergoes shear, the lower its viscosity. However, this is not a universal definition; the term is sometimes applied to pseudoplastic fluids without a viscosity/time component.

Many gels and colloids are thixotropic materials, exhibiting a stable form at rest but becoming fluid when agitated. Some clays are also thixotropic, with their behavior of great importance to structural engineering in earthquake zones. Clayey ground can practically liquefy under the shaking of a tremor, greatly increasing the effect on buildings.

The classic example of a thixotropic fluid is ketchup, where waiting for it to pour can be more effective than pounding on the bottom of the bottle. Thixotropic compounds are important paint additives, allowing a thick, smooth application that doesn't run.

Sometimes it's fun to learn words that, if used out in public, will brand you as a pretentious geek. If you do use them out of their limited context with any seriousness, then you are probably a tool.

Crazy 8's

| | Comments (6)


This meter is my good luck charm, located some place that no one will ever discover, frozen for the rest of time showing almost all eights.

Reaching for the Stars

| | Comments (5)


This is an actual toy set that is currently for sale at Toys R Us in Japan. Can you picture some little kid asking for this? Mommy, when I grow up I want to work at McDonalds!

All jokes aside, working at Mickey D's doesn't have the same stigma attached to it over here as id does back home. The workers do their jobs with pride and efficiency, and the clerks that I have talked genuinely seem to like their jobs.

Another indicator that things are way different over here: I haven't even heard any stories about disgruntled employees spitting in (or mixing various bodily fluids in) the food or beverages. So maybe Japanese McDonalds is better than the McDonalds in the States after all.

A "Slapping the Forehead" Moment

| | Comments (3)

Today, when I was teaching "Let It Be" to my high schoolers, I asked a teacher to translate the phrase "let it be" into Japanese. He then said the phrase in katakana English and waited for me to proceed with the lesson. I looked at him in bewilderment and said "No, in Japanese please", to which he replied "hakuna matata!". I lost the struggle to maintain composure, unsuccessfully trying to contain frustruated laughter as I asked him again. He answered "se la vie". Smack! Not that I was being melodramatic, it was a parasympathetic response that caused my hand to slap my forehead with such force. And that's pretty much how that lesson went for that particular class.

Jesus Christ Pose (kid version)

| | Comments (4)


I was eating kyushoku with the kids at my elementary school, when they asked me why I spike my hair. I told them "God told me to", and for some reason, the kid on the right stood up on a chair and acted out dying on the cross. "I'm Jesus Christ!" he said as the other kids laughed. It was so offensive, that I couldn't contain my laughter. As I was laughing, the words "Blashpemer! You're going straight to hell!" jumped into my head. Ah, I love teaching at elementary school.

The incident reminds me of the story about the Japanese department store in Tokyo that displayed a smiling crucified Santa during Chrismas. Its disappointing when you can't confirm a good story like this.

Today's Special Announcement

| | Comments (4)

It turns out that we are the first school in Osaka to have spotted the South-American red-backed black widow! Yay!


After everyone disembarked from the Halloween Weekend Loop Line Party, the JR crowd control staff gathered around this guy who was out cold on the platform and did... well they really didn't do much of anything. They tried shaking him awake and prodded him like a piece of cold mutton, but then gave up and took a few minutes to ponder as a group the following questions:

Why the hell did I get chosen to work on this stinking weekend? Why the hell did all of those stupid foreigners choose to get together and act so stupidly on the train? Did they really think that dressing up in costumes, scaring the natives, drinking in public, switching cars in a mad dash whenever arriving at a new station and just acting like fools in general made for a good time? Should I be more concerned about that warm liquid that soaked through my pants when I was pressed up against that big flabby gaijin man dressed in the nursery school boy outfit (he's in the background of the picture, BTW)?

Apparently, the answer to the second to last question is yes because they come back year after year. It was amusing to see, but it wasn't really any different from a typical weekend in Isla Vista back at UCSB, except for being in Japan on a train. If you want to see Japanese have a mix of apathetic resignation, utter fear, morbid curiosity, or acquired distaste of groups of gaijin in general, then all you need to do is to attend this annual anti-matsuri and you will see. Or you will drink too much and hear from your friends (and other random people that you bump into) about how much of an ass you made of yourself (again, it's the same as any given night in IV).

We didn't stay long enough to see what became of the non-costumed dude on the ground (maybe he was just an unrelated bystander who happened to pass out on the platform), but I bet he was pretty confused when he woke up to the sight of ten JR employees looking down at him. And if he was lucid, perhaps he noticed that the looks on their faces were more of contempt and irritation rather than genuine concern.

Mean Train Grannies

| | Comments (2)

Today, as I moved aside to offer the old lady behind me the last seat on the train I was shocked to recieve a two-handed full-body thrust push that spun me around. I couldn't help smiling at the sheer rudeness as she defiantly glared into my eyes!

I must point out that there are many more nice old people there are on the train who are greatful whenever you give up your seat, but it's the cantankerous old hags and old sloppy drunk dudes that are the most memorable. Too bad nice people don't tend to stick in one's memory the way nasty ones do. Still though, I can't help but laugh at the mean grannies on the train...

Motivational Competitions

| | Comments (4)

It causes siblings to try to best their brothers and sisters, it causes classes and schools to forget social heirarchy for a bit and come together to defeat their rival teams, and it was the catalyst that spurred on many brilliant minds and philanthropists to make privatized space travel a reality.

X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis kicked off the PopTech conference here with a lofty goal on Thursday: "Our mission is to bring about radical breakthroughs," he said in his opening-day address.

But I wonder if the public's imagination can be captivated by the final frontier on Earth as it was by Burt Rutan's Spaceship 1's triumph. Space travel and colonization are fascinating, but there is so much that is yet to be discovered on Earth that we could be focusing on in the mean time. Alternative energy sources, undiscovered life forms, and how the many different systems of the Earth work together are just some of the stuff we could better understand if there was more interest, funding, and research put into the marine sciences.

The article mentions the discovery of a deep-sea microbe that eats methane and farts out elemental hydrogen. Now, if only we could capture cow burps, have the bacteria convert them, and use the hydrogen to power our cars, we could reduce bovine greenhouse gas emissions and tap into a previously unimagined source of energy! Dude, that prize is so mine!

Okinawa Revisited

| | Comments (2)

The lovable blenny defends his mighty kingdom against any diver foolish enough to invade his territory, until you get too close at which time he zips back into the safety of a small hole

As I review these pictures from my dives in Okinawa they awaken a hunger for spam, a thirst for good awamori, and a strong urge go to the beach and jump into the sapphire waters that lap the shores of the Ryukyu islands.

And the fish! They were so colorful and delicious that I found myself doing something at Churami Aquarium that I have always poked fun at Japanese tourists for doing whenever they visit any aquarium.

After picking out fresh fish at the market and having the restaurants, situated one floor above, turn it all into a delicious meal, I couldn't help but stare through the 6 inch thick plexiglass and think of a feast. I remember thinking, "Damn, that mahi mahi would go excellent with a big frosty glass of Orion beer!".

The warm twang of the sanshin and the crashing surf are beckoning to me, inviting me back with promises of kicking back on the beach with a drink in hand and a full belly after a long day spent in the water. I hope I can make it back to those beautiful islands some day, the sooner the better.


Capoeira West Batizado 2005 Pictures

| | Comments (9)


Yo, pictures are up from the Capoeira West 2005 Batizado:

Justin's post and pictures

Michelle's pictures

The batizado brought together groups from all over to Japan, allowing the participants to play against players using a variety of styles and techniques. It was fascinating to see the game being played by such high level players, to observe how the balances between trickery, speed, flexibility, acrobatics, and strength affect the mood and pacing of the game.

The coolest thing about this martial art is that if you look at the faces of the participants, almost everyone is wearing a smile and is having a good time. Though sometimes it is appropriate to strike another player and to inflict injury, mostly the participants do not play to hurt each other, and rather just demonstrate moves rather than carry a potentially dangerous kick or sweep to completion.

I?ve been told that you have to be careful when you play with students from other schools, but I?ve only heard and read about ruthlessness in the roda second-hand. From what I've seen in Japan, capoeira does not tend to attract the same meatheads, the guys who are out there to prove their manliness by exerting dominance on every one, that other martial arts do.

I often hear people say that capoeira is not effective as a martial art. Then why haven't we seen people use it in Pride, UFC, or K1? Well, in these venues, other martial arts have an edge. For pit fight situations like these muay thai, jiu-jitsu, shoot fighting, etc... give a fighter the edge. I would also argue that, like Aikido, it takes a lot of time and practice before one can use it to fight proficiently in contrast to the relatively little training it takes someone learning jiu-jitsu before that training can be effectively applied in a real fight situation. But mostly, choosing to engage in such a fight goes against the philosophy of capoeira, which preaches cunning and trickery over brute strength.

Luring an opponent into attacking and then springing a trap when they least expect it is how the capoerista would choose to engage an enemy. For example, he might feign a retreat or a fall to the ground, and then instantly spring back and ambush the attacker with a powerful kick. And if he is at a disadvantage or starts losing the fight, then running away is a completely acceptable option. This is no Cobra Kai approach to life.

Mestre Bimba was once asked "What would you do if someone pointed a gun to your chest?" to which he replied "Then I would die, my son.". There is no conventional sense of "honor" in this martial art, which was built from the practical knowledge of those who needed to protect themselves and fight outnumbered and outgunned, against all odds. Survival and learning to thrive amid the hardships of life are the values inherent in capoeira.

In Brazil, capoeiristas are known to fight holding razorblades in their hands and between their toes. The lateral shift of the jinga, the use of cartwheels and acrobatics, and the dazzling movements on the ground look a lot more dangerous if you can picture how these graceful movements could be used to slice and dice an unwary opponent. It?s interesting to note that members of the older generation are viewed both as lawless thugs and as protectors against the government and police. Many of them kept the nightsticks of police that they had defeated in street fights as trophies, and one famous capoeirista actually went into police headquarters and returned his sizable collection to them as a taunt (In case you were interested, these accounts were taken from Capoeira: A Brazillian Art Form by Bira Almeida and The Little Capoeira Book by Nestor Capoeira). Now that?s bad ass.

Fun with L/R

| | Comments (2)

Last week, I started teaching at a shogakko in Ashiya, the Beverly Hills of Osaka. It was a breath of fresh air, and once again my motivation has been jumpstarted after 6 months of losing momentum.

A few weekends ago I went to scope out the neighborhood, and spent a whole Saturday skating around town. Benzs, BMWs, Peugeots, Porsches, and other luxury cars make up the majority of the traffic in this area, and it seems like most of the residents here have never seen a skateboarder riding on their streets. The houses are nice and large, there are plenty of well-groomed trees and pathways (makes for good riding), and everything looks either new or well taken care of. In any case, you can tell that the people who live here have some serious wealth.

I took a ride down to the beach, and was surrounded by things that I really wanted to do but couldn't. A group of kayakers kept pace with me along the shore as I skated towards some sailboats in the distance who were having a regatta. As I passed over a bridge, I paused to watch five separate groups of wakeboarders, who were taking turns riding and jumping down a wide open canal.

Ah, it was so frustrating to see all of these people doing all of these things that I have wanted for so long to do and not being able to join them! I know that I'm lucky to have been able to do even do these sports in the past. But because of my desire to do these things will almost certainly be unfulfilled, I think I'll stay away from the beach at Ashiya from now on. Now I can better relate to those who have not, it has made me more thankful for all that I have.

The kids that I'm teaching in Ashiya are being raised in an environment so different from my that of my high school. To generalize, most of them have the support that they need from their parents and teachers, come from affluent families, and are adequately challenged by their classes. After teaching only the 4th grader classes for just one day, it is abundantly clear that these elementary school students are better at speaking English, and in many cases reading and writing, than my current high school students. When they grow up, these kids are destined to attend high-level high schools, and are much more likely to set their goals higher and to succeed.

It is sad to think that if my high school students had the same support and education as my elementary school students, they would be so much better off than they are now. Most of them are going straight into work instead of trade school or college, after they graduate in December (this is strange because most students in Japan graduate in April- another sign that I?m at an unusually low-level school). The function of my high school has been to keep them off the streets until they graduate, and to help place them into jobs when they finish school.

I truly like my high school students outside of class. I can see that that most of them are bound to live lives full of challenges that they are ignorant of and ill-equipped to handle. At the elementary school, I can and will make a small difference with my students for the limited time I have with them. At the high school, I will continue to do what I can, but the best thing I can do for them is to reach out to the few students who want to learn, and to talk with the others and share in their good times.

I have had a few small victories in my high school classes. Although they are a lot less disciplined and respectful than what I was used to, the kids generally find my lessons to be interesting, even if I think otherwise. They still read manga, text on their phones, constantly talk to each other, and sleep, but sometimes I can get almost everyone to pay attention to an activity or game. I am convinced that I could make a difference if I had my own class, but teaching at this school as a full-timer would likely burn me out like most of the other students who teach here.

The problem kid's stack of manga reminds me of forts that I used to make out of sofa cushions.

I am also proud to say that the one ?problem? kid that I was warned "could become violent" and advised to let sleep in class actually pays attention, asks for my help on our assignments, and participates in my lessons. None of the other teachers can believe it, but he's actually one of my better students. It just goes to show you that there is a way to get through to almost anyone, even the ones that are given up on by everyone else. What he really needs is to be challenged more in class, because he is clearly a smart kid, but that is not the way of the Japanese educational system. Clearly, the system has failed in his case.

I am thankful that I have been able to teach at schools ranging from one side of the spectrum to the other (regarding funding, quality of teachers, resources, etc...). It has given me a perspective on the educational system in Japan that few others have been able to experience. It is easy to see how a teacher who taught in only one or a few other learning environments (for example someone who has only taught in rural, high level, a technical, a remedial, special education, nursery, or the different ranges of trade schools, colleges, etc.) might gain a skewed perspective of the system and make sweeping, case-specific generalizations about the Japanese educational system.

So what are some things that can be done to fix the system in Japan? First of all, people who work for the Ministry of Education should be required to visit a wide spectrum of schools and participate in lessons on a regular and frequent basis, to witness the effects that their decisions and policies have on the students, teachers, and staff first-hand. There are too many decisions being made without listening to or considering the input from the trenches. Problems could be much more quickly, efficiently, and effectively spotted and mitigated if the administrators were grounded a little more in reality rather than basing their decisions solely on second-hand information and administrative theory and speculation.

Next, the goal of students ranging from kindergarten to junior high should mainly be to master conversation with a little bit of reading, writing, and grammar to supplement the curriculum. If learning is made into an interesting subject, then students will start doing better at it. Expecting junior high school students to focus on grammar and non-spoken English is unrealistic (not to mention boring) and has its roots in the Ministry of Education's old way of thinking. One might think that the head honchos would question why they can?t speak English even though many of them had studied it over several years, and try to make changes to the system as not to repeat the same mistake with the subsequent generations of students at stake, but it just doesn?t seem like they do.

I am also of the opinion that the entrance tests for high schools are not appropriate for junior high school students. The tests put too much stress, even more stress that high school students in the U.S. are subjected to from taking the SATs, on these young children. On the other side, I have heard that the entrance exams for the universities and colleges that high school students take are relatively easy (in general).

Entrance into higher education is more heavily weighted by the high school that one attends than how one performs on the aptitude tests, or on one?s grades, in comparison to western schools. Why is this? Shouldn?t the tests given to older students have a little more riding on the stake of one?s future than the ones given to 14 and 15 year olds? All I know is that I would have never had a chance to go to a U.C. school if the fate of my educational future had been determined by my performance in junior high school.

Putting too much pressure on any living thing will stunt its growth, and I do think that the high school entrance exams have a net detrimental effect on Japanese students (I think that this would be a fascinating topic to do some serious research on). It is so sad to see how much the kids stress out right before the tests. They should be able to enjoy their childhood when they?re still so young instead of carrying an adult-sized burden.

The last big thing I would change in the system is to introduce an emphasis on learning individual, critical, and creative thinking. The perceived need for this change probably stems from the values that I was raised with in America, but it seems that the majority of my students can not or do not want to think for themselves. They prefer to make decisions and think about things as a collective, but wouldn?t it be better if the students could both function well on their own, and as part of a team(I do believe that students in the U.S. would benefit from learning how to work and play together a little bit more and be a little less self-centered in their ways of thinking and acting, but that?s another issue)?

Should this change come into effect, it would greatly cut down on the amount of time that people in this country spend on meetings and consulting with others before actually getting things done. Do meetings really need to be had to decide on when to have other meetings? Again, perhaps this is an ethnocentric goal, but I think it would be a good thing for everyone to be able to express their own opinions at times other than a drinking party.

Vagabond, M. Fingerhut

| | Comments (1)

It looks like Mark is finally making his way back home, after traveling around southeast Asia for about two months. Check out his pictures (dude, it took you long enough to post them!) and read all about his odyssey at his blog. Well done Mark, and good luck back in the States.

Random Short Story

| | Comments (1)

I'm not sure how I stumbled upon this (I think I was doing a search on Kyushu), but it was a good short story. I really like short stories, like the ones by by Hemmingway (like the Nick Adams series), Louis L'Amour, Phillip K. Dick, William Gibson, or those by Roald Dahl. It's amazing how much you can make with so few words.

Lately, short stories are just about the only newly released literature that I can read. I can usually get through a magazine, or peruse a few chapters of a book before my legs start to get tired from hovering around the English section. If only Kinokuniya would put chairs in their store in Umeda, then I would be able to read as much as I like.

The one new book that I actually own and am still working on is America (the book). It is seriously the best book to have over here because whenever I crack it open at school, it looks like I'm doing work. All of the teachers assume that it's a textbook and that I'm using it for a lesson! Ah, sometimes living in a country where few people are good at or interested in English has its benefits.

On a side note, I'm finding that trying to study Japanese by reading novels is not a very good or easy way to stay motivated. The literary form of Japanese is much different than colloquial Japanese, but I guess it's the same with English and other languages.

I think most Japanese feel the same way, because they seem to prefer to ingest their words accompanied by pictures. I enjoy reading comics sometimes (right now I'm reading Preacher by Garth Ennis- thanks Huw), but usually I would rather read a book and let my mind generate everything inside of my head than let a comic construct a world for me. Unless I'm tired of reading, of course.

The Darkside of RFID

| | Comments (1)

You should read Bruce Sterling's post on (a book about) the possible misuse of RFID chips. If you've been keeping up with RFID news, the new version of the American passport is slated to have one of these chips imbedded into it, and there has allegedly been little thought given to security issues that will arise from their use (like identity theft and data mining). Don't know what I'm talking about? You should find out.

Capoeira West Batizado 2005

| | Comments (6)


This is going to be an awesome event! If you can make it to Namba on the October 16th (Sunday), come and join us. It's going to be in Minatomachi by the river next to the radio station. If you want more information or directions to the place, let me know.

Slow Death sings the Goodbye song

| | Comments (1)


Sadistic he is, that guy...

My Church

| | Comments (4)

It is only because my parent took us on trips up to Mammoth, along the California coast, and to places such as Yosemite and Kern County, that I grew up in the outdoors, among majestic evergreens and splashing about in streams and rivers. Southern California used to have a rich watershed that supported steelhead and Grizzlies, but long ago they were dammed off, paved over, and methodically eliminated, or changed to the point where they were unrecognizable from their previous natural state.

The only river near our house in Orange County is the Santa Ana river, which is not really a river at all any more. It's just a huge concrete drainage conduit that channels runoff, prevents the ground from absorbing water, and efficiently flushes it out into the Pacific Ocean (why are we doing this when we have a limited fresh water supply?). The only fish you'll find in there are the occasional goldfish or mosquito fish, along with some crayfish that subsist off of the decomposing crud that stinks up the pools. It is amusing to see the occasional kayaker in there when it starts flowing, but not so cool when kids fall in and drown in the straight, powerful current.

Japan is a land of mountains and rivers. Sure, the Japanese still like to dam up their rivers and streams for no good reason (while the general practice in the US has become that of removing dams and restoring watersheds to their former state because society has finally recognized the value of a healthy watershed), but there are so many rivers over here that some of them are yet to be ?modified to increase safety and efficiency? so they are still in pristine shape. To find such rivers, you must venture deep into the country and search out those hidden places that are unknown to or neglected by the average Ichiro.


Yamabuki suigen was my favorite place in Aso, because it was only 20 minutes away from my house, and no one went there except for me. After a hard day at work, I would often come here and walk through the primeval forest, sneaking up on frogs, toads, salamanders, voles foraging for food, wild songbirds, and even rabbits, deer and foxes. The water was so pure that I drank it without fear of giardia or other microbes. The water bubbled out of so many places in the forest, feeding the snaking river and creating countless islands of lush green in its swirling flow.

The best time to go was just after the sun started to fall from its peak in the sky, because the light would pierce the canopy as golden rays, breaking up the thick shadows. This is surely the religious experience that John Muir loved so much and fought so hard to protect. The forest was mine, because no one else knew about it, and if they did, they seldom, if ever, went there. I actually preferred to be alone here most times, rather than break the connection that I had with the forest.

Obviously, some people did come here on occasion, because I was always picking up trash on my hikes. It felt sacrilegious to let litter sit here, and I could not comprehend how anyone could do this. This is one thing that I hate about Japan. They should really know better than to litter- they have so little land over here that you would think that they would treat the little patches that they have with more respect. It kind of made me want to start my own Monkey Wrench Gang, and to start punishing the bastards who defiled these sacred grounds.

Ikeyama suigen is the spring that everyone visits in Ubuyama. It is a nice place, but this is the "lite" version of Nature- manicured and commoditized.

If you ever find yourself on the Yamanami Highway, passing through Ichinomiya and Ubuyama, I highly recommend dropping by Yamabuki suigen (spring). The other spring, Ikeyama suigen, is quite popular and famous (people always come with plastic jugs to bring water home with them), but Yamabuki is so much better. Even if you follow the signs to Yamabuki, you still might get lost, but that?s a good thing. It keeps some of the riff-raff out, and it makes for a challenge.

My favorite time to visit the spring is right after a snowstorm. I wish I had pictures to show you but, take my word for it, it is the most beautiful spot that I have found in Northern Aso. It looks too beautiful to be of this world.

I, Tree Murderer

| | Comments (3)

I really enjoyed majoring in the Environmental Studies program at UCSB, but despite being well educated in environmental issues I find myself not living sustainably or making choices that really make a difference in the right way. It's just too big of a pain in the ass to do, and there is no benefit from thinking about it. To be ignorant of the extent to which man has and continues to abuse the commons of the world is to be free of a huge dead albatross around one's neck.

The choices I make are informed, but that doesn't really make them any better than the ones made by people who don't take such things into their consideration. Maybe that makes it worse, because I know the implications of my actions and I more often choose convenience or comfort over the right thing to do. But it is damned hard to live a life of environmental morality, and to live this way would be pretty unbalanced. I have never met anyone who hasn?t been part of the problem, just people who try to minimize the impacts of their actions.

Sure, I take the train or skate to work every day, and I refuse plastic bags or disposable chopsticks when ever it's possible, and I even pick up litter when I go hiking, but does this make a difference in the big picture? I would have to say no, having seen how people over here treat their natural areas as garbage bins/ashtrays. In the end, only I know the size of my ecological footprint.

It's quite agitating to witness countless people shed and discard the various layers of packaging from their food or drink immediately after leaving the convenience store. I think that the average time that a plastic bag from a 7-11 is actually used before it is discarded would be less than a minute.

In school, I have to use large volumes of paper in order to do my job effectively because there is only one way to effectively manage my students. They need to be given worksheets to do. As long as there are worksheets to keep them busy, the stress level for both teachers and students is kept to a minimum. It comforts them in a way that other teaching materials can and do not. It kind of works the same as switching on the TV as background stimuli. They concentrate on it but lapse into sub-consciousness, or at least that?s what it looks like to me.

But the price for keeping the students busy and contented is quite high. I use at least one sheet of B4 sized paper and sometimes two sheets of A4 per class. I teach 5 regular classes of 40 students per class, 3 elective classes of 20 students per class, as well as a special education class of 6 students. A4 paper(210x297mm) is roughly equivalent to a standard sheet of 8x11 (216x279mm) from the U.S., and B4(250x353mm) is about 1.4 times the size of a sheet of A4 (for more information than you probably ever need to know about the ISO 216 paper size system, check out this site).

This may not sound like a lot of paper but the four minutes of the pounding machine gun "clackclackclackclackclack", of the paper hitting the print tray terminus upon ejection from the risograph (a copying machine used to print out large quantities), that it takes to spit out 250 copies drives home just how much paper I use. That translates into an inch and a half thick, 5 pound pile of paper per week! I can't describe the amount of paper that is kept in stock in the copy room, other than to call it a fortified great wall of paper. It is disgusting how much paper we use here, but there is really no other way.

There is no recycling system set up either. It all goes into the burnable garbage bin with everything else. I think that the only way to reduce the consumption of paper on this scale is by:

1. replacing the need for paper with some other substitute (like computers or tablets)
2. changing the way lessons are taught (but this is Japan, the land of social and ideological immobility)
3. hiking up the cost of paper (and this doesn't necessarily have to be in terms of money)

I have already maximized the utility of worksheets in my classes by cramming as much material possible in every available space, and trying to stretch the material over as much class time as I can without sacrificing the quality of the lessons, so I am doing as much as is reasonably possible as far as I can think of.

I wish that paper was more expensive in order to cut down on waste, but I'm glad that I have enough paper to make as many copies as I need to make my job easier. I'm not going to lose any sleep over this, but it does bother me enough to write about. Let this be a warning to those who major in Environmental Studies. It is depressing when you know about the really ugly problems around us, and wanting to do something about it unless you set realistic goals. Individual choices and actions do have meaning, but most of the time they don?t mean as much as we would like them to.

Howlin' the Blues

| | Comments (1)


Every so often, I stumble onto really cool things, places, or experiences when I least expect to. I thought that I'd seen everything of interest around Juso within walking distance, but tonight my wanderings led me to some excellent blues music. Mishark and I were out exploring the neighborhood when we came upon the Howlin' Bar in Tsukamoto. If Jake and Elwood Blues lived in Osaka, this is where you would find them.

As we approached the entrance, the unmistakable sound of a live show pulled us up the stairs and into the bar. I bought a glass of Yebisu, and sat down to watch the last part of the show. The band was awesome- there were two guys singing/playing the harmonica to a band that was obviously having a good time (as well as the audience). I don't know how else to describe the show other than to say that these guys rocked!

I talked with one of the guitarists after the show, and he said that the band was just a bunch of guys that got together for a jam session. They played so well together that I had just assumed that they were a band. Apparently, these guys have live shows at Howlin' about once a month, and it looks like a lot of other bands frequent the bar to put on live shows as well.

In any case, I have a new favorite bar in Yodogawa-ku. Check out the guitarist's blog (in Japanese) for a schedule of live performances around Kansai. If anyone's interested, there's going to be another show on October 29th (Saturday). I'm taking tonight as a message- It's not like I'm on a mission from God, but I know that it's time to start going out and exploring new places more frequently.


| | Comments (14)

I'm going to take a break from posting for a while, but I'm not gone. If you need to reach me, I'll be here.

Mad Paint Skillz

| | Comments (3)


I hate using generic MS applications to create or edit images, but sometimes it can't be helped. Having to rely on MSPaint in order to make diagrams after being exposed to the capabilities of Illustrator is a "Flowers for Algenon" like experience. Then again, I'm not being asked to crank out stylized works of art, though that would be nice.

Big and Hairy

| | Comments (1)

(A giant spider in Kyokushi, a place in Kumamoto known for smelling like manure all year round.)

For one interested in insects, reptiles, and other disgusting life forms, Japan is a great place to be. You can't even escape from nature even if go to the center of the city. I thought that centipedes and giant spiders wouldn't be able to make it outside of the country, but I was wrong.

The only bugs that I truly hate are cockroaches and mosquitoes. When I find a bug in my apartment, I usually try and put it back into the outside world, but cockroaches and mosquitoes face persecution.

Back when I lived in Aso, I had a huge furo (bath) that I never used, because it was too expensive to fill up. One day I saw a huge millipede crawl under a bucket in the tub, but then I forgot about it. The next week, when I was cleaning the tub, I found the body of the millipede under the bucket. I washed it down the drain.

The next month I started to find tiny millipedes crawling around the tub. What started as a few turned into hordes of millipedes all over the bathroom, some making it into the far reaches of my house. I think that I was being punished for letting the mother millipede die for no good reason, other than I didn't feel like dealing with it. I helped some of the baby millipedes outside, but any that I found in the tub got washed down the drain...

Kevin's comment on millipede reproduction led me to this site, where this excerpt was taken from:

Female millipedes make an underground nest into which they lay their eggs The nest is made by excreting soil they have eaten and using their anal folds to shape it as required. Either as a nest for a number of eggs or as a coating for individual eggs i.e. Glomeris balcanica. Female millipedes may lay as many a 2 000 eggs but a few hundred is more likely. There is great variation in the number laid within a species depending on the size and condition of the female. Some species such as Tachypodoiulus niger are iteroparous, i.e. they can lay more than one lot of eggs and may live for more than one year as mature adult. Other species such as Ophyiulus pilosus are semelparous, i.e. they lay one batch of eggs and then die.

Young millipedes hatch inside the nest and remain within it. They then rapidly, usually within 12 hours moult again into their first stadia (= instar). Polydesmus inconstans leaves the nest after this after this but other species remain in the nest for up to the first three stadia i.e. Pachybolus ligulatus. There are other variations on this theme for instance Orthomorpha (=Oxidus) gracilis remains inside the egg during its first stadium and does not hatch until after it has moulted to stadia 2. Stadia one millipedes have 3 pairs of legs on segments 2, 3 and 4 except in some Colobgnath species such as Polyzonium germanicum which has 4 pairs. However they gain legs rapidly with each moult the first young millipedes you see are normally already in possession of quite a few legs.

Temperate species tend to eat about 5X their weight in leaf litter between hatching and reaching maturity. They digest some of the plant material themselves, particularly any proteins and simple sugars. They also digest some of the micro-organisms that inhabit the surfaces of the material, particularly the fungi. Micro-organisms play a crucial role in the digestion of Millipedes by breaking down the cellulose that makes up the plant fibers into more smaller and easily digestible molecules like simple sugars. Many millipedes indulge in coprophagy, i.e. they eat their own faeces. Some species such as Apheloria montana will die if not allowed to feed on their own faeces, quite why is not fully understood.

Perhaps the millipede went down the drain, laid its eggs, and then crawled up to die. Or perhaps the eggs hatched inside her body and ate her feces. Ah, it feels so good to share information with others!


| | Comments (1)


I spotted this tag on the on-ramp in front of the main Juso Post Office. Although the tag is not especially ornate or eye catching, it's kind of special. Most of the graffiti has no artistic or meaningful relevance.

The great majority of the tags around Osaka that I have seen are just scribbles done (usually done with a paint pens) more for the sake of vandalization than creative self-expression. I have seen some amazing street art around Japan, but it tends to be kind of rare and hard to capture. I seem only to get brief glimpses of such work while riding in a car or train with my camera stowed away.

Yes, "Cruz" and "muertos" are misspelled, but this does nothing to diminish the sentiment carried by the words. I wonder if Cruz hung out with the people who run the Mexican restaurant near my apartment, and if one of the customers put it up in his honor.

Nippon no Burger Takumi Avocado Wasabi

| | Comments (4)


The Takumi Avocado Burger belongs to the Takumi genus in the Mos Burger Kingdom. Its contents, shown on this page as a diagram, consist of a Takumi bun, avocado slices, Takumi special sauce, a Takumi hamburger patty, Takumi avocado sauce, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and a side of wasabi.

Unlike the meatloaf-like consistency of a real Mos Burger, the Takumi patties taste like a real beef patty from back home. The ingredients are fresh and result in a delicious burger, but at 880 yen the Avocado Takumi is overpriced and small by American standards. Despite the steep price and relatively small size, I'm glad that I ordered the Takumi.

It's the little touches that make it worth ordering the Nippon no Burger Takumi Avocado Wasabi at least once. It comes with a card, signed by the cook who made it, and the name of the farmer who's produce is used in the production of this burger, along with an explanation about the ingredients and the process of making a Takumi (not pictured).

With all of the reverence of serious religious ritual, the attendant sets up the customer for a special dining experience that is most unusual in a fast food restaurant. Mos Burger silverware exclusive to the Takumi are laid out, next to the burger, atop an indigo paper napkin that feels as if it were made of velvet instead of paper. A small cup holds a portion of freshly grated wasabi, giving the burger an earthier, more lively taste. It almost feels like sacrilege to actually eat the Takumi burger, but that makes it even more delicious.

So, will I order this burger again? No, even taking into consideration the wonderful experience of eating a Takumi it's just too expensive, and I can make a better burger myself. What will the ingredients be when I finally get around to barbecuing again?

100 percent beef patty (optionally mixed with chorizo)
cheese, preferably cheddar or jack (not fake Japanese cheese)
avocado (optional)
lettuce (optional)
grilled onions
tomato (optional)
grilled pineapple slice (optional)
teriyaki and hot sauce or mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard
egg (optional)

My burger will be served on a paper towel or plate, and will kick some major Takumi ass! The wasabi was interesting, but unnecessary. What the takumi needed was some teriyaki sauce instead. The Japanese can improve on many things- cars, electronics, toilets with special functions- but the burger will always be something that Americans do best...

Fine Beaches

| | Comments (2)


Like a pair of Shisars to Okinawa, the guardian of Shirahama, Engetsu welcomes you upon arrival to the pristine beaches and bids farewell after a weekend of sand and surf. The snorkeling around this area is pretty good- better than Sumoto, but not quite as good as the Oita coastline in Kamae-machi.

If you ever are in Oita, I highly recommend visiting Kamae (here's a link to info Southern Oita). Not only are there some pretty cool cultural heritage sites, but the snorkeling and diving in front of the Marine Culture Center are awesome. They keep pens of yellowtails here (there is a successful aquaculture operation right out front), and you can swim among the escapees. I just wish I had brought a spear along, because they were schooling all around me.

The best thing about the Marine Culture Center is that you can swim with ocean Sunfish in their 100 M. salt water swimming pool during the spring. I didn't get to do this, but it sounds really cool. I don't remember the prices (and didn't pay because I went with my elementary school as a counselor on a school trip), but lodging is cheap. Also, you won't find any foreigners around here, as word hasn't gotten around yet (hopefully it stays that way).

Up here in Kansai, we don't have the luxury of being close to such wonderful beaches as Yonozu (in Oita), Ashikita and Amakusa (in Kumamoto), or the great spots along the Miyazaki and Kagoshima coast. There is Suma beach, but the water is the color of Oolong tea, and no one goes in it. The only reason people go to the local beach is to nampa.

As I said earlier, Shirahama is a nice beach, but it doesn't compare to the natural beaches of Kyushu. The sand is imported from Australia, so although nicely groomed, it isn't really natural, and it gets crowded at times. I like having a beach all to myself, but if you like nampa, this is the place.

Ironically, no one will go in the water before Umi no hi (Sea Day), so even if it is crowded, if you choose to go into the water you will have the ocean all to yourself. Why will no one go in the water before July 20th? I don't think even they know the reason themselves, but I am satisfied to know that, even if the sand is taken, the Sea is mine and mine alone before this day!

My Special Diet

| | Comments (1)

Getting really sick is not fun, but there is no diet that works better to help you lose weight and shed fat in a short period of time. During summer break, I did just that, but I am finally back in shape and almost 100 percent again. The hints of a six pack are starting to emerge in place of the pony keg from before. It's like I'm starting from scratch again with this body.

I've often thought about writing a book on my special diet method, but after considering the legal expenses that would be spent to pay off/dispose of/counter-litigate litigious opportunists, I have decided to post it for free, but take no responsibility if someone really does decide to follow my bad advice. Here it goes...

If you want to lose weight, forget those expensive, strict diets. Just get really sick, and watch the pounds just melt away. Your body will metabolize itself when you lose your appetite and stop eating, so you can save money on food too (although you will also lose strength and muscle in the process)! Just remember to have plenty of IV fluid handy, and you're set.

BTW, thanks to Justin and Nam for helping me to recover over the break. Had it not been for them, and more importantly the high calorie beer (it had been SO song since I had a porter), thai food, sandwiches,and piles of meat or meat products, I might have ended up looking like Ghandi.

Old Man Mike

| | Comments (2)


This has to be my best shot of a dog, ever. He looks so dignified with his melon rind. He didn't eat it, just held it in his mouth. It just seemed to comfort much like the way a pipe soothes an old man.

Urban lizards

| | Comments (0)


You wouldn't expect to find lizards in the city, but the hordes of insects that descend on Japan provide an abundance of food for them. Geckos and skinks (some of them black with rainbow stripes) hide under the brush and litter, or cling to the walls next to the lights waiting to ambush their prey that are drawn irresistably into harm's way.

These lizards are cool, but what Japan needs are giant lizards that eat cockroaches. That would be awesome.

Ordinary flowers in a rice paddy

| | Comments (1)

It's been a while since I've had a chance to go out into the country and photograph the things I like to photograph. I knew that my time in Kumamoto was special, but I really miss being able to jump in the car, explore a windy country road, and without fail, stumble upon something interesting. Kyushu is, without a doubt, the most interesting place that I?ve ever explored.


Living one stop away from Umeda is convenient, and certainly less lonely than living in a small village, but I can feel myself getting mentally and spiritually fatigued by the crowds, the concrete, and from being away from nature. One symptom of this fatigue has been my dependence on my keitai camera (but this is also due to the wretched state of my Casio) to snap shots. I find myself no longer taking an afternoon to explore the unknown because it's a chore to cram into a train. I have fallen into a routine that I don?t like, but now that I see it changes will be made.


It's time to start looking for the gems hidden among the coal, and explore Kansai during my time here. I'm setting out on a quest to peel away the ordinary to expose the extraordinary, little by little. I hope I can squeeze a little more out of my camera before it gives up the ghost.


When living in the country, doing ordinary things like shopping or eating out was a task, but now that I have those things I almost prefer not having them. Almost, but when I think about the 30 minute drive to the closest convenience store and the 2 hour drive to the city, not quite.


I took these pictures while strolling along the rice paddies in Ikaruga. Everyday weeds and wildflowers seemed so interesting after living among the highly stylized, contrived, industrial, man-made environment. Urban noise seems to really enhance one?s appreciation of nature, and just being outside helps to regain focus and clarity. It feels good just looking at these pictures.

In case it wasn't clear...

| | Comments (0)


...bulldozers are fun to jump off of, especially when executing the "victory cheer".

English through art

| | Comments (1)


I used to devote many lessons to making giant diaramas with my preschool and kintergarden students, having them create their own little worlds. We made scrolling landscapes of the country, the world, the city, a farm, the ocean, and other environments. By making their own little animals and things to fill their worlds with, the kids easily remembered the English and retained it to a higher extent than methods using TPS or conventional repetitive memorization activities (which actually have a negative effect on the developing attitudes of the students towards learning English in general). They showed a surprisingly high level of sustained concentration and motivation, rare at such a young age, and took pride in their work.

I got this idea from studying the philosophy behind Reggio Emilia, and designed the infrastructure of my lesson plans to pursue the interests of the students in order to engage and challenge them in such a way to help them realize their maximum potential.

Yes, this picture is simple and easy, but the thought that went into its conception, development, and construction took time and ultimately the approach that I took paid off. It's a delicate balance. If you challenge the students too much, they will develop a negative attitude towards education that may only be apparent after a few years. Yet, at such a young age allowing children to investigate their interests and enticing them to think independently can set these little ones on the right path and give them a head start.

Teaching such young children is a greater responsibility than I had ever imagined, and it was only after I taught for three years in Japan that I was able to fully appreciate the education that I received growing up. Good teachers are arguably the most under-appreciated members in society. This is true for both the U.S. and Japan (to a somewhat lesser extent, but the situation over here is getting worse with time).

Meditation Headshot

| | Comments (2)


It's me, pondering the mysteries of the universe.

My Crazy Older Brother

| | Comments (1)

What would you think if your older brother told you about his dream? I'm still shaking my head in disbelief...

Skull in the mud

| | Comments (1)


The water in a reservoir on Awajishima, where Justin and I usually go fishing, dropped by about 20 feet. Giant clams lay with their guts exposed, frozen gasping in death. Among the detritus exposed on the mudflats was this bleached deer skull (more skull pics here). Fittingly, we caught no fish on this day.

Legos imitate life

| | Comments (0)



Kicking back on a weekend.

Digging through the archives

| | Comments (1)

This week I will be going through pictures that I have taken over the last two years and posting a few. These may be the last "real" pictures that I post until I get a new camera, because my well-used Casio has taken such abuse over the two years that I have owned it that it is almost completely broken. Unlike the Man in Black there will be no Inigo Montoya or Fezzik to resurrect it from the clutches of death.

A garden in Kyoto.


| | Comments (0)


For some reason, Rex has been running through my thoughts lately. I miss you, dude.

Ubuyama: The Saga Continues

| | Comments (0)

My "grand-successor", Ted Grudin, is keeping a blog in Ubuyama. I think that Ubuyama may be the best documented of any rural area in Kyushu, thanks to the progressive posts from this blog, Jane's, and Ted's. Cool. Keep up the posting, Ted...

A shift away from stocking trout

| | Comments (1)

It seems that the DFG is going to continue to cut back on stocking trout in the Sierras (here's the link). On top of this, trout are actually being removed from lakes to protect the threatened populations of yellow legged frogs.

I have fond memories of going fishing with our family, and coming home with a stringer full of trout. We caught so many rainbow trout that we frequently tossed them back. I remember being amazed that a farmed rainbow trout could be caught by using bubble gum as bait.

The new approach to balancing a healthy eco-system vs. the interests of anglers is a good change of policy, but I am glad that I was able to catch as many fish as I was able to (made up mostly of stocked trout). I look back at old pictures and just stare sometimes. How many jars of Potski's, garlic marshmallows, chartreuse Powerbait and containers of earthworms and nightcrawlers did we go through?

As I am writing this, I remember that I don't like the taste of trout and how laborious it is to pick out all of the bones, and the other issues that the catching of fish entails. For one, fishing was a good way of exploring the ethical implications and responsibilities inherent in taking an animal's life for sport. What ever we caught, we had to clean and eat- that was the rule.

Cleaning a still gasping trout was traumatic the first couple of times I did it. I learned to respect the fish that I caught, and only keep what I intended to eat from that point on. On that note, I think the last time that I ate a rainbow trout that I caught was when I was over 10 years ago. Like I said, it doesn't taste very good (unless it comes from cold water, or if it is coated in bread crumbs and fried in lemon butter if I remember correctly).

Hand Spider

| | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)


This fierce-looking arachnid is about the size of an eight year-old's hand. I'd love to see a face-off between a hand spider and a house centipede...

Ragondan Recipes

| | Comments (0)

Just in case you happen to have a chunk of Nutria meat in the fridge and don't know what to do with it, here are some recipes from The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. I wonder if capybaras are good eating too...

Good Luckistan

| | Comments (4)


Taro is headed to Uzbekistan tomorrow for two months. The CIA World Factbook states that "Current concerns include terrorism by Islamic militants, economic stagnation, and the curtailment of human rights and democratization.". Hmmm. Sounds kind of unpleasant and dangerous, but I hope he has a good time.

His mission amid the turmoil: to start up a tile exporting operation. Check out his blog to hear all about his experiences in this distant country. Stay safe, and see you in the Fall...

After Today

| | Comments (0)


One more day in the office, and then it's vacation!

Mutant spork

| | Comments (2)


This hybridized spatula/fork (I guess it would still be a spork) was used to dispatch some okonomiyaki at a restaraunt in Umeda. The rounded tines proved utterly useless. This is a design that is unfit among sporks and spatulas, thus is destined be selected out of the gene pool. However, the existance of this freak utensil will be preserved here, as a random image in the footnotes of obscure culinary history.

A Farewell to Disco Ass

| | Comments (1)

Mark Fingerhut, the last of our group to stay on the JET Program, is leaving Japan. He'll be off for two months, vagabonding around SE Asia, and I expect he will have some interesting posts to come over at Champon Adventures. Mark, It's been a blast- hopefully we can meet up in the States sometime for a special edition hash...

Japanese WWII Propaganda

| | Comments (0)

The color schemes used in Japanese propaganda work really well to romanticise the image of war, in all venues. The men pushing artillery through the jungle (not pictured), the arctic soldier, and the pilot all look so cool depicted as monochrome prints with the color imposed like a wood block print.

In winter fatigues.

An aviator.

Gunn in Japan

| | Comments (0)

Herman proves that a black man can indeed ski (though I am yet to see this in person). Stay tuned in to The Gunn Nihon Chronicles to see if he can snowboard as well...

Stay Cool

| | Comments (0)


Office Battleship Campaign

| | Comments (1)


Who knew that Excel spreadsheets could be such fun? I've been waging a naval war against Huw for four days, and the score is now 2/2. Today will result in glorious victory for one of us, and crushing defeat for the other.

Is Battleship really that fun? It is when you play with special weapons. Here's a list of the ships in our armada and the firepower that they're packing:

Aircraft carrier- 2 airstrikes. An airstrike takes out 9 blocks in a solid 3x3 chunk.

Battleship- 2 shotguns. A shotgun blast takes out 9 squares in a spread pattern.

Destroyer- 2 depth charges. A depth charge covers a 6x6 chunk, and if it touches the submarine, the submarine's location is revealed.

Submarine- 2 torpedoes. A torpedo can be shot across the length (from right to left, or from left to right) of the grid, or vertically along a column (from top to bottom, or from the bottom to the top). The torpedo will continue across the grid until it hits something, otherwise it will continue to the end of the grid.

PT Boat- 1 teleport. A boat can be teleported anywhere on the grid that hasn't been fired upon previously.

The special weapons are only viable as long as the ships to which they belong are still afloat.

By the way, Battleship: Special Weapons is only played during break time in case you were wondering. During working hours, we are diligently working to produce the best quality lesson plans in the greater Kansai area.


| | Comments (1)


This is a new game I'm going to test out next semester.

An ALT-less Ubuyama

| | Comments (2)

The bright lights, fast pace of life, and massive crowds of people make visiting Osaka like visiting a foreign country for anyone who has lived a year or two in rural Kyushu.

My successor on the JET Program left for her home in Canada yesterday, ending a chapter of my stay in Japan. This was a special moment for us because I was the first one to introduce her to life in Japan, and one of the last to see her off.

It was interesting finding out how my former students are all doing, and hearing about her experiences. I think that all of us who go to Ubuyama as ALTs come away with very similar perspectives and memories. It was strange to be able to talk to someone who understood exactly what I was talking about, and vice versa. Ubuyama can be a very testing, lonely place to live, but it is undoubtedly a great place because of the people, especially the children.

So in a few days, the new ALT will move into the apartment that has sheltered 4 previous JETs and start his tenure without someone to be there to show him the ropes, though he has been thoroughly briefed by Jane. The old Civic, still running like a champ, is patiently waiting to be driven by its 5th foreign owner, surely a new Kumamoto record. I miss that car and driving those mountain roads even more than I thought I was going to!

I hear the new guy is from California, and that he requested a small community. Sounds like he's going to fit in well. I hope he takes good care of the kids.

I think that the JET Program is working especially well for Ubuyama, because the JETs have a visible effect on the attitudes of the students towards foreign cultures and learning English, as well as interacting with the community. From what I have seen, the children in this mountain village have purer minds and better values ingrained in them than the children in the city. As a result, their high levels of motivation and curiosity make teaching there a lot easier than the students in the city who exhibit classical signs of over-stimulation and inadequate parenting in general.

New Vocabulary

| | Comments (1)

Homodachi (n.)- two guys who are a little more than just tomodachi.

Hack the Beer?

| | Comments (1)

Open source beer!

Another link for today:
This is straight from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, except for slight fecal differences.


| | Comments (1)


Spotted next to the Yodogawa river. What is the danger depicted on this sign? I don't know, but I don't think I'll be venturing into the water.

An air-tight quote

| | Comments (0)

Whoever gave this quote is a pro:

Asked to comment on the document, a senior British official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, "We do not discuss intelligence assessments."

Reading these words, I can almost see the look of utter disappointment on the reporter's face as he hears his informant tell him this after he agreed to keep the source anonymous. And then I see him thinking "Ah what the hell, I'll use it" even though it adds nothing to the article.

Quotes don't get much safer than that. Even if the source is revealed, who cares? On the reporter's side, no one would ever know if this quote was fabricated. If you think about it, this is really a great quote for everyone involved, except for those reading it.

On the blackboard

| | Comments (4)


This is part of what the students at my school study, when they're not sleeping, reading comics, applying make up (and it's not just the girls these days), drawing pornographic pictures, using their cell phones, or the various other extra-curricular activities that they pursue during class time. The students here work pretty hard outside at gardening and working the fields.

In the city, fresh and cheap are mutually exclusive qualities when one shops for produce. One of the benefits of working at this school is that I can buy fruits and vegetables at less than half of what they would cost in the supermarket. In addition, they also sell flowers, plants, and today they're selling kabutomushi (rhinocerous beetles). Not that I want to buy a beetle, even at a discounted price, but it's nice to know that the option is there.

River Griz

| | Comments (2)

A catfish the size of a Grizzly Bear (at 646 lbs.) that might set a new freshwater world record? I can't wait to fish the Mekong, and if I catch one of these it will not have to fear for its life. This fish ..."persists on plant matter and 'meditates' [in the deep, stony pools of the Mekong River]?somewhat like a Buddhist monk.", is endangered of going extinct, and it is reported to taste like any other wild catfish, in other words it tastes like mud.

Also in the article from National Geographic: dog-eating catfish- best catfish name ever (please, no Korean food jokes)! The walking catfish takes second and the electric catfish comes in at third.

The A-Bomb Challenged

| | Comments (2)

This research negates the widely held view that the U.S. was justified in dropping the A-bombs during WWII in order to save the lives of American soldiers:

...in his new book, "Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan" (Harvard University Press), Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, presents a broader view that the New York Times has called "a brilliant and definitive study of American, Soviet, and Japanese records of the last weeks of the war." Examining in detail the deliberations of the Japanese leadership immersed in squabbling over how to end the war with the emperor system intact, Hasegawa claims the bombs were not the most decisive factor in Japan's decision to end the war. Only when the Soviets, jockeying with the United States for post-war influence in Asia, declared war and invaded Japanese-held Manchuria did the Japanese leadership capitulate to prevent falling under Soviet dominance.

I remember back in middle school and high school we used to debate whether the U.S. was justified in using the Bomb on Japan. During these debates, the final word would always be something like "It was justified because it saved the lives of countless U.S. soldiers". If the main reason for the Japanese surrendering was because of their fear of being dominated by the Russians, then this argument loses a lot of its validity.

Nonetheless, I have a suspicion that the textbooks won?t be revised to reflect this view any time soon, and if it does, it will get a small paragraph like the one that mentioned the internment of Japanese-American citizens after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Read the rest of the story here (via UCSB news).


| | Comments (4)


The tag says "Ore wa West Coast. Kimi wa?", or "I'm West Coast. You are?". Hahahahaha! Pshhhh! Silly, confused wannabe rabbit, Osaka ain't the West Coast. Everyone knows that Kyushu is the real West Side!

Don't pee on it!

| | Comments (2)

I have heard that applying urine to a jellyfish sting is the recommended treatment, but today at the discovery channel website, I read the following:

If you are ever unfortunate enough to get stung by a jellyfish, you'll have some small consolation in knowing that there is no need to add insult to injury by asking someone to pee on you. Experts recommend carefully scraping off any tentacles that have adhered to the skin and treating the sting with vinegar, baking soda, ice packs, salt water, hot water or even meat tenderizer ? but definitely NOT urine.

Personally, I've always let the effects of the stings wear off with time. They can be pretty painful and itchy, but this usually passes pretty quickly. To be clear, though, I've never been stung by a Sea Wasp or Portugese Man-of-War, and I'd probably not be content to just tough it out in those situations.

If I remember correctly, the reason why urine is supposed to be an effective treatment is that it contains ammonia. In the list above, I don't see amonia at all which makes me wonder if the whole urine treatment is the result of someone spewing out a whole lot of BS, or the result of a really twisted practical joke.

From what I can tell, the nematocysts (stinging cells) are proteins, and the best way to neutralize them is with something that would bind with or destroy them without further aggravating the wound. Perhaps that is why ammonia is not recommended- because applying ammonia would have an adverse effect, offsetting any of the benefits.

Feeling American

| | Comments (5)

It is easy to forget many of holidays that we celebrate in America when you are over seas. Holidays for the various presidents, Memorial Day, MLK Jr. Day, and even Easter and Thanksgiving have all passed unnoticed by me at one time or another. To be fair, it is really hard to get the necessary ingredients to make traditional holiday foods (Turkey, pumpkin pie mix, etc...) and if you do happen to get your hands on them, finding what you need to turn the ingredients into a proper feast (like an oven) can be an even larger pain in the ass. Mexican food has been made the de facto fare for all of the major holidays that I have celebrated with Justin (hey, pass me another Christmas taco, chingaaaado!).

One holiday that I have observed without fail since coming to Japan has been the 4th of July. I think all Americans should spend an extended time away from America so that they can truly appreciate how good we have it back home. It's easy to list off the areas in which other countries are better than America when you haven't experienced first hand the areas in which other countries are not. Eating cold fish and natto for breakfast would put most Americans in the right mood to appreciate the good things about our country, especially after having to eat it with some rude bastard blowing smoke in your face (it is the non-smokers who are generally put into the special areas over here, often not the other way around).

Although I can't celebrate the 4th properly (meaning going out to a bar with Matt, the Fingerhuts, Joe, etc... to go sing some true American karaoke), I think I'll go out by the Yodogawa river and shoot off some fireworks after I finish work, unless this miserable rain continues. In any case, I will be thinking about how much I really do appreciate being an American through out the day. Happy 4th of July.


| | Comments (5)


I can't prove it, but I think there's a good chance that this is the same packaging that Kellogg's used when Episode IV first came out. Wait, no... There would have been a toy enclosed inside if that was the case. I forgot that all breakfast cereals used to include a special toy that we would fight to get when the box was first opened.

The unspoken rule was that all of the cereal from the previous box had to be finished before the new box was breached, so the strategy to prevent someone else from being the first was to leave more cereal than one person could consume in one sitting. Of course, the limits of gastronomical endurance were pushed to the threshold, and calculations of who could eat how much had to be adjusted and given further consideration. Add secret alliances, deception, and treaties to the mix, and you can see how complicated the simple activity of eating cereal could be.

Of course, someone always eventually called on the parents to make things "fair", or older siblings would just invoke "might vs. right". Perhaps it was the ugliness of humanity that surfaced due to competition over who had right to the toy that forced the cereal companies to stop including them in the packaging. Nah, on second thought I think they're just cheapskates.

The worst part of the transition to the no-toys-included state of cereal today is that they printed lame masks, coloring sheets, and activities on the back to try and compromise. I think that was even more disappointing than not having anything at all.

Sounds like cyberpunk

| | Comments (0)

From the moment I first saw the video Clint Eastwood on MTV, I was hooked on the Gorillaz (here's a great interview from Wired). It was amazing to hear a band that didn't really exist play music that spiced and grafted genres, resulting in a Frankenstein-like album. The band was much more versatile than any other band could ever be, because they became whatever their creators wanted them to become without anyone's ego getting in the way. At the end of the day, they only exist as pictures and sounds.

The album has the same kind of magic that A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, a supercomputer from the book The Diamond Age that is designed to teach personalized independent thinking and uses actor-like technicians to watch over and educate their client, has.

The characters in both forms of media are fictional, but real people are lending their talents to flesh out the personalities that they portray in both cases (in static and real-time formats). It is ironic that these contrived characters and groups have a more profound effect on their audiences than their "real" equivalents.

So are the Gorillaz an anomoly, or will more virtual bands gradually start to take over?

Brian and Rebecca

| | Comments (9)


It seems like a lot of people that I know are either getting engaged or married these days. On this coming weekend (Saturday, July 2nd, 2005), Brian and Rebecca will finally get hitched after being together for (correct me if I'm wrong) about six years.

These two met each other in a room in Anacapa. I think it might have been one of those nights where Brian and I lugged my mini TV and VCR deck all the way from San Nicholas, so that we could watch a movie and have a drink away from the freaks in our dorm (not to say that we weren't freaks, or that the people that we were hanging out with weren't either).

After the Doctor Pepper mixed with Jose Cuervo and the pizza ran out, I think we all noticed a subtle difference in the way Becky (as we called her back then) looked at Brian, and the way that he avoided making eye contact with her. I am not saying this to poke fun in any way, but it was truly a precious moment.

From the very beginning, their relationship already looked kind of like they were already married. They shared hobbies (I still can't wrap my head around how, exactly, Brian got Rebecca to get interested in the card game Magic: The Gathering...), helped eachother to study, and always worked things out in a fairly peaceful and balanced manner.

I am happy to say that their relationship is proceeding like I thought it would. Nothing seems to have changed too much from how things started with these two, and for that I am comforted. It is said that life changes after you get married, but this relationship might just be the exception to the rule.

Congratulations Brian and Rebecca. I wish I could be there in person to celebrate your wedding, but know that I will be celebrating here in my own special way. I still haven't decided whether to toast you over Long Island Iced Teas, Hurricaine Punch, or a nice warm can of Natty Ice...

There are some great photos and accounts of traveling around Amakusa (the islands off of Kumamoto) on Gumbies, maintained by Leanne and Rik Brezina. Amakusa is a beautiful place, and I wish that I had more time and a sea-kayak, so that I could better explore it like these two.

Being away from Kumamoto has made me realize what an awesome place it is. I appreciated living in Kumamoto, but I love the place even more now that I'm away. Don't get me wrong, Kansai is a great place too, but Kyushu would be the place where I would want to settle down and live out the rest of my days.

So those of you who are still in Kumamoto, remember to enjoy your time there. Outside of Kyushu, it is hard to find a good tonkotsu, well-prepared basashi, or a nice loaf of karashi renkon. Go out into Aso and enjoy hiking up the magestic mountains, or diving off of boulders and waterfalls in Kikuchi gorge.

Get out to the beach in Amakusa, or Ashikita, and get a tan- remember that the red jellyfish are the ones that hurt. Throw barbecues outside with your friends as much as you can, and bring enough fireworks and some extra.

Make sure that you explore all of those random roads that you always pass, but never seem to have the motivation to turn off and pursue. Just make sure you have enough juice in your keitai in case something goes wrong... It will make for a good story later on, I promise.

I did all of those things, and have no regrets- only fond memories of making the most of my time during the last days I spent in Kumamoto. I will return.

Looking up

| | Comments (1)

It was a special day in class when my first grade teacher brought a TV into class, and told us that we were going to watch something historical on this day. She pulled the knob, the picture on the tube sprung from a white point, boinging out first vertically and then horizontally, reverberating with a static crackle until the image of the Challenger came onto the screen.

The muffled countdown from Mission Control coupled with the image of Challenger's rockets belching out flame and steam were burned into my young mind. It seemed to take the rocket forever to finally break away from the ground, and it ascended slowly and gracefully, unlike the rockets I had seen in Bugs Bunny cartoons. And as the teacher began a class discussion on the significance of the Challenger mission, it blew up into a billion pieces like the Death Star. I don't remember anything after that.

That was a truly sad day, and I think it may have traumatized our teacher more than it did my class, for I don't think that we were old enough to truly comprehend the concept of death, or the significance of the multi-ethnic crew who were only just embarking on a truly special mission aboard the Challenger. Challenger, and other space programs of that time, sparked my imagination and got me interested into science and science fiction in general.

I remember reading books on how Mars was going to be transformed into another Earth, and to a five year-old, it seemed plausable that this was going to happen well before the year 2000. As time passed, the space program fell into the limelight. Most of the projects from the space program were not well publicized, government funding was at a low point, and the exciting space program became a vague memory.

But this has all started to change from relatively recently. A meteor from Mars was found to have microscopic structures bearing a strong resemblance to single cell organisms, reviving the debate as to whether Mars is, was, or will eventually be capable of supporting life. Probes have been sending back tantalizing images and information about Mars and the moons of Jupiter among other areas around our solar system. Scaled Composites won the race to space among private developers of space vehicles. Solar sails are being deployed by non-governmental agencies, more than a hand full of companies are developing plans to make space flight available to those who can afford to pay, and plans to get space hotels up and running by 2010 are being worked on.

It seems that the momentum for space exploration has regained its rightful place in the government's and the public's interest. This is a long-term goal, that will be a never-ending project. It is something that transcends all political boundaries, ethnic, and for that matter, all of the boundaries created by man and society. It cannot be comprehended by conventional scales of measurement that we are used to thinking with. Space exploration and colonization is a good metaphor for the road to the enlightenment.

And it's just cool to think about all of the cool methods of ultra-fast travel, BFGs, and other hi-tech stuff that is fiction right now will likely materialize sooner than we may expect.


| | Comments (1)


This was a cool looking fish. It looked as if it had something to say.

For some reason, it reminds me of story about the magic fish who grants the old fisherman 3 wishes in exchange for tossing him back in to the sea.

Except that I know for a fact that this fish was delicious.

Prosthetic THO

| | Comments (1)

I wonder if they come in assorted flavors...

Running on ethanol

| | Comments (4)

While the US struggles with the question "should we replace MTBE in our gas with ethanol?" Brazil is using it as fuel for their automobiles instead of an additive. Their cars run on Pinga!

It's not a question of whether we will convert to a hydrogen economy instead of a petroleum based one, but when. It will be great to see the day when petroleum, coal, and other fossil feuls become unnecessary for every day life.

It's strange to think about, but pretty much all the energy that we harness is essentially solar energy. Plants that took eons to change into petroleum and coal were fueled by the sun. The same thing applies to the corn and sugar cane from which ethanol is distilled. Wind (and hydroelectric, via evaporation and precipitation) is generated from the sun's energy. Geologic and nuclear are pretty much the only extra-solar sources of energy that we are tapping, and they really don't account for much.

Art that rings true

| | Comments (1)

This silkscreen painting is hung in the corridors, across from the teachers' office. "A world where the stronger prey upon the weaker.". In this setting, the words are true in so many ways.

The third year students will graduate this coming December. Most of them have no idea what they want to do, other than satisfy their immediate urges and act on impulses. They can get away with it for now, but many are going to be in for a big shock when they finish school and find that employers and co-workers aren't going to put up with their nonsense.

I was told that some students come to school for the sole purpose of getting into fights with other students. You can tell who the thugs are, but so far I haven't seen any violence. However, disrespect, laziness, and Attention Deficit Disorder are things I see in bulk here every day. You have to be a predator in this environment and assert yourself, or they'll eat you alive. Some of the teachers here didn't learn this, and you can see how it has shaped them into wraiths of their former selves.

This painting is the first thing I see when I climb the stairs each morning. As if on cue, the drum and bass from "Built for the Kill" loads in my head and gets me ready for the day. If I get cornered, I'm not going out like a Thompson's gazelle. I'll go hippo on their ass.

Carabiners and a squeegee

| | Comments (1)

Walking into work today, I saw this and felt envious of the guy cleaning the windows. This is a janatorial job, but who cares if you get to swing around on a rope on a tall building in downtown Namba?

I'm sure that this job is not as romantic as it seems, but seeing him swing by my desk like Tarzan on a vine is urging me to jump out the window and rappel out of this office, so that I can escape into the urban jungle and enjoy this hot and humid Friday.

General Lee's Chinky Ramen

| | Comments (6)


The quintessential Chink stereotype is so much more offensive over here than it is back in the States. This sign is overtly racist. It is strangely ironic that the Japanese image of Chinese is not too different from the ignorant, malignant image that non-Asian Americans developed of the Japanese right after Pearl Harbor was bombed.

It can be quite jolting to hear remarks and questions about race in Japan. Words that would lead to a fight or at least draw negative attention to the person who said them are considered O.K, and often are a source of amusement.

For example, a Japanese friend asked another friend from the UK "What part of Africa are you from?" merely because she was black. We kind of cringed, and she explained that she was from England, but everyone else who was present (aside from someone who has a good understanding of foreign cultures- he laughed because it was such a ridiculous situation) seemed to think that this was quite a reasonable question.

It's crazy to see the perceptions that Japanese society at large has developed about all things outside of Japan. Being politically correct isn't even an issue over here. Sambo, SAMBO, is still a popular character over here!

But foreigners are guilty of it too. They use racial slurs without realizing it and if you call them on it they are either unapologetic about it or pay lip service that they didn't know that what they're saying is offensive. How many times have I heard the term "Jap" being casually tossed around over here? Sometimes you have to talk like Chris Rock around those who don?t see why it is wrong to say ?Jap?, ?oriental?, or any other slur, and use ?whitey? and ?cracka? for people to get the point. This country just seems to bring out the racism in those who live here.

I have heard the argument that this is a strictly American point of view, but I don?t buy that crap. Just because others are doing something that they don?t think is wrong doesn?t make it right. I?m not going to equate being a Nazi with those who think it?s alright to use racial slurs, but I will go as far as to point out a correlation in this type of flawed logic.

More thoughts on teaching

| | Comments (5)

If you think about it, a classroom is kind of like a laboratory and the students are each little subjects in a huge experiment. Each student has a different mixture of natural ability, motivation, learning disabilities, potential, etc. Many things can affect these variables to increase or decrease, whether it be through encouragement or discouragement, exercise or laxness, reward or punishment, or any number of other factors. It is the teachers who have the most control over these factors.

I am often told that my school is the worst of the low level schools, and that there are many schools like this school. Problems here are not unique to my situation. There is a great flaw in the master educational plan, and it is not being addressed.

One thing that is alarming to see is that there are no young teachers at this school. Apparently, this is a problem right now. Schools are filling up with older teachers, many of whom seem to share certain characteristics. They are generally:

*over 40, and more commonly belong to the older segment of the age spectrum

*have long ago lost their interest in teaching

*view the kids as ?hopeless? and give up on the class as a whole
don?t bother with discipline

*think that instilling character and morals into the students is important, but believe that they can?t do anything about it themselves

*resort to keeping the students busy instead of challenging them

*feel pressure to improve their class test scores, rather than creating engaging lesson plans

*do as little as possible in order to fulfill the requirements of the job

*are unsatisfied with the system, but feel that they are helpless to change it or make a real difference (which is accurate in many cases)

The young people that I do know who are teaching or are planning to become teachers are all struggling with the question ?Do I really want to become a teacher??. One friend has only been teaching since April, and he already wants to change careers as soon as possible. As a new teacher, he is delegated the menial tasks, and obligated to work long hours every day (a twelve hour shift is not unusual), forfeiting his weekends in order to oversee extra-curricular clubs or to coach the sports teams. School has become his life and understandably he wants time to relax, pursue his hobbies and interests, and just to get away from the school environment once in a while. He doesn?t even have time to go on dates anymore.

One of the assistant teachers in our school is clearly over-qualified for the position, but is yet to be given any responsibility. Despite having a teaching license, a better command of the English language than most JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English), and having taught here for 15 years, she runs copies for the teachers and has been given the informal job as a student counselor (a job which she has not been trained for, and that the teachers don?t want to do themselves). She wanted to become a teacher, but is having serious doubts after watching what has happened to the many teachers who have passed through this school in the past decade and a half. She thinks she might just keep on being an assistant teacher because they don?t have as much responsibility and the pay and benefits are pretty good.

Thinking about these issues has made me think about Governor Schwartzenegger?s intent to cut California?s budget by changing how teachers get pay raises and promotions. It sounds good in theory, for tenure to be awarded based on a meritocracy instead of seniority. I can still remember having my time wasted in class by tenured teachers who were just there for the paycheck, and feeling that something should be done about this. I have that same feeling when I think about some of the teachers that I work with that aren?t pulling their weight, although I should say that most of them are doing their best to meet the challenges of teaching.

I have long been interested in teaching, and although I still enjoy it I don?t think I will pursue it as a career as I had previously thought. The rewards of teaching are great and give me the feeling that I am making a tangible difference in the lives of my students. However, the externalities (unconventional costs) of teaching outweigh the benefits for me, personally. Here is a job that requires the utmost dedication to develop a group of impressionable, malleable kids into responsible and informed adults who can think independently and challenge themselves and others around them. What it comes down to is that I want my students to be better people after I teach them. If I can achieve this goal, then I will be content.

I think I would greater enjoy doing this on my spare time as a mentor or volunteer. After a day teaching at this school, I feel like I?ve been spread too thin and that I am not making a real impact on anyone?s life. I find myself compromising my goals and expectations past what I am comfortable with. One year in this school is fine, but if I were here for ten years I think might turn into the type of teacher that just shows up at work, counting the days until retirement.


| | Comments (3)

Not for the faint of heart, the volcano is a very strong, very disgusting drink that Justin introduced me to at Bill's Bar, when I visited him six years ago in Nara. It is a Spirytus vodka (150 proof) concoction with peach schnapps and Baileys (correct me if I'm wrong, or better yet post the recipe in the comments). You light it on fire and blow it out, swish the unpleasantly warm mixture in your mouth, and down it in one go. I have to say for the record that I prefer taking shots Crown Royal, or even Bacardi 151, to having to deal with one of these.

It took me a while to admit this, even to myself, but I can not keep this drink down. Lets examine a few cases to illustrate my point:

Six years ago, I went out drinking with my cousin Sion (or is it Shawn now?) and Justin as I was getting over the flu. After drinking a volcano and a few more drinks, we drove up to Tenri Dam to go shoot off some fireworks. I was resting in the car when Nam came to check on me. "Are you OK?" she was asking as I replied, by puking all over her shoes. I think she's still traumatized.

Last year, I went out to Bill's bar with Justin and my cousin Tate where I snapped these pictures. Although Bill, Justin, and Tate didn't appear to savor the taste of the volcanoes, I was the only one who rushed to the bowl and projectile vomited some partially digested yakitori (which was delicious, I might add!).

Although I have on one or two occasions been able to keep a volcano down, there is strong evidence that illustrates a connection between me imbibing a volcano and me tossing the cookies. In my college days, I would have trained my body so that I could handle a volcano, and challenged any takers. I am thankful that I am no longer such a dumbass in this regard, and instead I concede defeat to this most evil of evil drinks.

To my Bro and Nam

| | Comments (0)

Digging through the photo archive, I came across this picture of Justin and Nam, taken in front of the Akashi Bridge on Awaji Island on a beautiful day. I think it serves well as a tribute to these two who have been dating since I was in JHS, and who only recently got engaged in Thailand during Golden Week. It was about friggin' time already... Good luck and congratulations.

Retiring the CaCO3

| | Comments (1)

It would be cool to have access to one of these. Think of the possibilites in the classroom. Think of how the kids would be engaged in the lesson. Think of what you could achieve... Look kids, boobies! Seriously, I want one of these.

Fish Tales

| | Comments (1)

Ah, I always find strange things walking through the neighborhood of Juso. For those visiting Juso, the lively shotengai with its bustling mom and pop stores, or the abundance of strip clubs, snack bars, pr0n theatres, and assorted Soap Land affiliated businesses are the things that stick out and burn themselves into their synaptic impressions. But it is on the side streets, down the hidden alleyways that you'll find the truly unexpected and interesting things.


This is a picture of boards to which drying fish fins are affixed, and next to them (out of frame) was another board on which lengths of fish skin were stretched to dry.

The boards struck me as a rather macabre presentation of what I assume to be a food product. Somehow, this display of fish parts strikes me as a sort of trophy wall, and I imagine that the owner is quite proud of his collection and shows it off whenever he gets the opportunity to.

Mountain Monkey Showdown

| | Comments (0)

Monkey-related posts always make for interesting reading:

...Anyway suddenly her cell phone rings and I can tell by her tone and face that something not so good has happened. I was right, she hangs up and looks at me with the most serious of faces and says 'I have to go, mountain monkeys have attacked my parents country house.'...

Read the rest here on Jane's journal under the entry "The moral of the story is...." (as of right now, it's three posts down).

Too much shochu?

| | Comments (8)

A real Kyushu danshi would say, there's no such thing as too much shochu. Well, Mark has written a post with a picture, that I didn't know existed up until today, that makes a powerful case against downing a bottle of shochu as fast as you can, especially if you are attending a night time hanami party in front of Kumamoto Castle.

With the sounds of 50 bumping from our ghetto blaster, I drank too much, too fast. The next thing I knew, I was persuaded to test my martial skills against the scantily clad natives. The shochu numbed my concerns, and I was cheared on until I felt victory was assured.

But my head swam as I was thrown to the ground. As hard as I tried, I was unable to beat the salarymen in front of Kumamoto Castle in sumo, and I walked away in disgrace with a limp and some blood on my khakis.

So know I know the rules, and should the opportunity present itself once again I will do better. First, I'm going to yank on the leopard print until it gets driven into the deepest of crevices with an Atomic wedgie.

If that doesn't work I'm going to kick him in the nuts, repeatedly. I have learned my lesson well. Next time its no mercy...

The Legend of the Pubic Office

| | Comments (0)


Over several whisky and waters and beers, my predecessor on the JET program in Ubuyama-mura, Mr. Harvey Haynes, had passed down the sacred lore of the pubic office sign. A sad look clouded his eyes when he told me that it had been fixed, for although he had never told anyone else in the village what it meant (he was one of the Chosen, who could wield the English language with ease, while others trembled in fear of its practice, and relied on him to deal with all English-related matters), one day it had been usurped and ousted by a sign reading ?Public Office?.

For the two years I was stationed in Ubuyama I searched for this sign, although I knew that it no longer existed. I told friends about it often, and although many had searched, no one could find it. My two years in Ubuyama passed, and I had given up on ever seeing it in this lifetime, other than through Harvey's words.

Imagine my surprise when Jane McMahon, my successor in Ubuyama (soon to be leaving for Canada), sent me this excellent picture. This awesome sign does exist, but like any legendary artifact worth preserving its location will be secret so that it will remain proudly standing on its home, helpfully pointing the way to the Ubuyama Village Pubic Office for those who are seeking it.

Warning Signs

| | Comments (4)


Sometimes the best way to say it is to wear it...

Then again, sometimes it's better to keep things private and seek help in a more discreet manner.

Honorary Gaucho

| | Comments (0)

This dude must have gone to UCSB.

Neglected Students

| | Comments (1)

I'm troubled on how to best teach my classes, both for myself and for the students. Today, the teachers told me that it is not uncommon for my high schoolers to have trouble distinguishing Bs from Ds (both upper and lower case), and that they don't remember words. Some of them can only remember the order of the ABCs because they have never developed the ability to use letters like building blocks. Forget about pronunciation, they told me.

There is something seriously wrong with kids being forced to learn stuff that they have no interest in or use for. Even if I do bust my ass working on a great lesson, most of them will not appreciate it, because they will be sleeping or in their own little worlds.

It's really scary to think that I can't even use the same elementary school lessons in high school because they're too advanced, and the high schoolers are harder to control. I don't think anyone will be able to convince me that the education system in Japan is better than ours back in the U.S..

Their time and the educational funding would be better used teaching the kids what they need to know for life after high school. Classes in parenting and birth control, time and money management, and trade skills that they can use in the real world are what they really need. I can see that many of them are destined to go through much suffering, because they will not be adequately prepared for their futures (the seniors are graduating in December).

It's too depressing to think about the education program as a whole in Japan, pertaining to teaching English. After shogakko, the majority of the students will develop a distaste for English, and will be conditioned to lose their self-confidence. I shudder to think what will happen when standardized English lessons will be implemented across Japan in a few years. It could make things better, but the track record suggests otherwise.

Unconventional Lessons

| | Comments (1)

I'm trying to come up with as many different games to play with the kids as possible so that I'm not stuck in the classroom with a room full of people that don't want to be there, and for the times when we must use the classroom, I am trying to plan unconventionally.

This week, I am going to teach the kids about streetball by using the And1 Mixtape and other DVDs. I'll try and give them a peek into basketball culture and about stories of hope and despair like those seen in "Hoop Dreams".

Today I took the students out to sketch and label some plants (a tree, flower, leaf, etc...), and they seemed to do pretty well.

Right now I'm planning a lesson themed "Your dream house". I'm going to print out a huge copy of Bongo's Dream House with Japanese written under the English labels, and let the kids take most of a class to draw and label their own. By the way, this page has a bunch of Groening's "Life in Hell" pages- they bring back so many memories.

Ultimately, I would like to do some of my classes using the pool, and teaching games that I used to play as a kid, but at the moment this is just a pie in the sky. I am the only ALT I know who has successfully persuaded a school (in my case a couple of schools) to allow me to teach sports lessons and to use the gym.

Unfortunately, desinging lessons like these leads to great expectations from the students and teachers alike. I can make some pretty good, unconventional lessons, but with limited resources, a great demand for lessons (3 separate lessons PER WEEK), and disinterested students, there is only so much I can do. There will come a time when my tank runs out, and all that will be left are worksheets.

So I am trying to space out these special lessons, but even so it is difficult.

This originally started as a joke, but I'm toying with the idea of one lesson devoted to "quiet time". I want to make a lesson on "meditation", with the goal of "achieving inner peace" and "enhancing concentration". The class will be quiet for the whole stretch, and maybe they'll get something out of it (a nice rest). If this lesson goes well, then I might implement "nap time" every class for 20 minutes, and ask if we can have juice and cookies for the students.

Oh, and dodgeball!!! Now that I think of it, regular class would be a great time to play this great sport. I think I'm going to allow head shots, purely for (my own personal) entertainment value.

News that matters

| | Comments (0)

I really enjoy reading the Daily Mainichi's WaiWai page. There is always an interesting story about some obscure segment of Japanese society to contemplate. Some of the stories here are just too strange and twisted to be contrived.

For example, It is easy to see why and how an immoral doctor would prey upon a man's ignorance about circumcision and penile health in order to take him for all he?s worth, but why the hell would adult men get circumcised if their health or religion doesn't require it?

If I had a friend who ran into this problem, I don't think I would be capable of sympathizing with him. Stupidity of that magnitude is a cry that one is not mentally fit enough to survive.

A Toast to Chris and Sarah!

| | Comments (3)

(These life jacket-wearing dogs will be walking the plank of holy matrimony on Saturday, they will! Yaaarrrrr!!)

Of the five of us who lived in that broken down Sabado Tarde apartment, drinking beer by the keg, chilling while grilling lunch and dinner over a Webber, and generally living a life of debauchery while going to UCSB, I wouldn't have imagined that you would be the last to leave Isla Vista. Nor would I think that you would be the one to be caught with his pants down by the I.V. foot patrol. Those guys can be such bastards!

I am glad, and also relieved, that things have worked out for you. It's probably a good thing that you veered from your original goal of becoming a doctor. Had you abstained from partying and taken that route, you very well might have ended up with a psycho girlfriend, working so much that you would have no chance of enjoying life. When I hear about how you are living back it makes me happy, and a bit envious. I see a young couple, full of hopes and dreams (I couldn't resist these cliches) ready to embark on a long, happy journey together:

5/13/05 - I realized last Wednesday, as we paid for the cake via cell phone in a car speeding towards an event in Montecito, that this is all definitely going to happen. I'm excited and a bit nervous - not that I'll forget my lines or my black socks or the rings or anything - just that feeling that my life will forever change towards something better. Something more complete, something richer than pizza and beer on a Friday evening. Something with children and hopes and dreams and futures and a certain amount of solidity that my bachelor life did not have.

I read these words, and all of a sudden, old and previously forgotten snippets of "The Wonder Years" mixed with "The Graduate" start to mix and play in my mind. I can hear the words as narrated by an older, nostalgic Kevin Arnold, with a Simon and Garfunkel song gently playing in the background. In this context, Pete would have to be Paul, Winnie could kind of be Ranya, and Wayne would be a composite of me, Steve, and Brian.

I think you're right in thinking that you're life is going to get better as a result of marrying Sarah. You wisely have taken the time to get to know each other, and are proceeding with confidence. I think that your life will change from being beer and pizza on a Friday night, to the deluxe pack that comes with wild bread, cinnamon bread, and a two liter bottle of Pepsi, along with a special barbecue delivery from Woody's, spent in front of a home theatre system. Enjoy this while you can, because it?s going to start getting expensive when you start having kids, and you're going to have to watch Disney movies over and over on your widescreen TV?

On Saturday, when you are getting married, along with friends and family, I will join in the celebration in my own humble way. I will raise my glass, filled with something other than Crown Royal and toast you, Sara, and to your future together as Mr. and Mrs. Dillingham (or is it to be Dempsey? ah, technicalities).

Have an awesome wedding(T-minus 1 day, 15 hours, and 57 minutes) and enjoy your long-anticipated honeymoon. Congratulations, and the best of luck!

Kujira ryouri

| | Comments (3)

Minke whale curry is on sale now in the bargain bins at Don Quixote for only 1,029 yen. Supplies are limited (only 2 cans left), so don't miss out on your chance to dine on stewed cetacean! Get it before they go extinct (nah, they're not endangered, but that doesn't make it right)!

This is one of the few foods I refuse to eat, not because it is prohibitively expensive, but because it sucks to support the harvest of rare plants and animals. On top of that, it just doesn't look like it would taste that good (certainly not worth the "discount" price of 1,029 yen).

Now check out this other whale meat product from Toretore Ichiba in Wakayama:


All that's missing for a proper breakfast is a side of scrambled loggerhead turtle eggs. I wonder if you are supposed to fry this stuff up like bacon, eat it raw, roast it, or stew it. In any case it sounds disgusting, not unlike tongue loaf.

Home of the Gods

| | Comments (2)

When you gaze upon the mesmerizing beauty of Nachi waterfall, you can understand why this area is holy ground for Japan's animistic roots. At 133 meters tall, this is the mother of all waterfalls in Japan. I think that standing under the pounding streams of Nachi can probably dislocate one's ribs and joints, so even if it were possible to climb down under the waterfall I was content merely to observe the water in motion and to feel the cool mist on my face.

In terms of natural beauty, I would have to rank Wakayama at the top along with my favorites in Kyushu including the Aso area, Kagoshima (around Kaimon-dake), Saga (especially around Karatsu), Oita (the Kuju area and the coastline), Miyazaki (around the gorge and beaches), and of course Okinawa. Shirahama beach has crystal clear water, an onsen carved out of the coastal rocks where you can feel the sea spray of the waves as they crash, and a long stretch of white sand (although this, I am told, is imported from Australia).

It is also said that the mountains in Wakayama look like broccoli. This is because they are covered in a nice variation of foliage and trees and give the hilly landscape a bumpy, mottled appearance, as opposed to the landscape of the usual evergreen monoculture (of cedar) that has unfortunately replaced most of Japan's natural forests. The mix of deciduous, broad leafed trees, bamboo, pine trees, and other native plants is easy to look at.

How it really happened

| | Comments (1)

Damn you Obi-wan, I can see your blue glow from behind that tree- come out from there!

"You must go to Dagobah to find the great Jedi master, Yoda." you said. All that's here on this cursed mud hole is a geriatric muppet who taunts me, making me carry him around on my back. Stop laughing, you dick.

You better have an idea on how to get my X-wing out of that bog, and I better not hear any of that "try using the force" crap! I should have never left Tatooine with you crackheads!

Pensions and Mansions

| | Comments (3)

Currently I am living in a mansion in Osaka. It is probably around 200 square feet and includes a bathroom, kitchenette/dining cubicle, a tiny patio, and living room/bedroom. There are no butlers in my mansion, and the people who live in the mansions around me typically ride the train or bicycles, and work as English teachers. No a mansion in Japan is not the same thing as a mansion in the western world.

When I was first told that we were going to a pension, I had no idea what my Japanese friends were talking about. Unlike the pension plan, which is a pain in the ass, pensions are quite pleasant. I guess the pension would best be described as a family run hotel.

Of the pensions I have stayed at, the Starry Pension in Aso-machi (Kumamoto-ken) and Zion in Hakuba (Nagano-ken) are my favorites. The rooms have a nice, cozy feeling. As opposed to the hermetically-sealed and sterile vibe in regular hotels, the accommodations are clean but lend the feeling that you are home away from home.

At both of these pensions the food is first-class. Both places serve up European-style multi-course dinner sets and continental breakfasts. The meals are delicious and served in large proportions. They're a nice break if you've been subsisting on fish, rice, tsukemono, and other traditional Japanese foods. My favorite would have to be the bacon-wrapped filet mignon at Zion, and the lasagna-like tofu gratin at Starry.

The surrounding areas around these pensions are awesome if you enjoy getting out into nature. I think one of the best times to visit these mountainous regions is during the middle of summer, when your shoes fuse to the asphalt in the cities of Japan.

Starry is right at the base of Aso Mountain, and you can a number of activities from this central location such as hiking, golfing, paragliding, sight seeing, driving, or onsen hopping. They also have three family-style onsens that you can relax in- one of them offers a view of the starry skies above (the stars are amazingly clear in both Aso and Hakuba).

Zion is a terrific place, and has many of the same type of activities that the Aso area has to offer. Arguably, the best part about Hakuba is the skiing and snowboarding resorts. 47 is within 15 minutes by car, and you can walk to Happo.

I think the part that I enjoyed the most about staying at the pensions was interacting with the people who worked at these places, and talking with other people on vacation. It's always nice to sit around the hearth with a nice frosty beer and to chat when everyone is on vacation. The people who run these pensions enjoy providing good service to their guests, and the regulars develop a close relationship. Because of this, everything is much more relaxed and staying at a pension is a much more intimate experience than staying in a hotel.

Hungry Demon Jinja

| | Comments (2)


This morning I had some extra time to burn before going into work, so I decided to walk around the neighborhood. I found this awesome shrine a block away, and made offerings to the giant head.

It felt as if I had entered the world of Big Trouble in Little China, but Egg was nowhere to be found. I did, however, feel that I could see things that no one else can see, and do things that no one else can do.

Around the school

| | Comments (3)

If you only glimpsed at the school grounds (not the facilities within the school building), you would be under the impression that this high school is a wonderful place. There are massive gardens, hot houses where flowers, fruit, and produce are cultivated, fields planted with a variety of crops, ponds, landscaping displays, fountains, copses of various trees, groves, hedges, flower beds, a ton of potted plants, and on an equally vast amount of land is where all of the tools and materials necessary to make and maintain these grounds are contained.

In the garden (which could really be called a park, because it isn't really that small), there is a large pond, complete with birds of all kinds, and other wildlife. Every lunch break at this school is spent outdoors, among the nature. It is during this time when I am truly able to relax, and achieve clarity of mind. It is here where I can coalesce my ideas into working lesson plans.

Outdoor lessons sound pretty good to me, but that's because I'm not out in the fields with a hoe, spreading manure around in the hot sun. However, watching the students working towards achieving something tangible- watching them work so hard at clipping hedges, cleaning their tools, using surveying equipment, and working in the fields is making me want to keep them busy in a similar way. I saw no cell phones out, no students applying make up, no one reading manga, and although they were chattering it didn't matter because they could do two things at one time.

For a low-level school, the surrounding school grounds are among the best I've seen at any type of school. It's just the facilities inside of the school building that suck.

Japan is in trouble

| | Comments (1)

My students are good kids, albeit not very good students, and they could have turned out much differently had they been raised in a better system and given more attention to their personal needs. They have been raised as part of the same kumi (group) for most of their life, and brought up in misguided social environment where the needs of the individual are neglected by the educational institution which instead grades and labels the groups much like eggs in the supermarket. In this school, any spark of interest that they may have had in all of their subjects has been mostly extinguished and coated with fire retardant. They have a belief that they can't accomplish even the simplest of tasks because that's the way it has been for many of them for most of their school lives. Many of them come from broken homes and have emotional problems and learning disabilities.

No, they are not purely victims of society. If they had studied harder, then they would have been able to go to a better high school. As a collective, they are the symptoms of a vicious social disease that has been festering for a long time, but is hidden with shame.

Enter the life of a modern low-level high school teacher. Many of them have been in this same school for years, and they face pressures different for those experienced by teachers back home. They are expected to help raise the students (parents are too busy for this, I am told), to motivate them in their studies and extracurricular activities, and most importantly to impose societal values upon them (on a side note, at this school the emphasis is to keep them off the streets and to shuttle them into low-level employment after they graduate).

Unlike chugakko and shogakko teachers in Kumamoto, the teachers in Osaka stay put for a long chunk of time. Teachers deal with this in different ways:

One of my teachers is a very cheerful person, but she suggested that I don't stress too much about class and just take it easy and concentrate on the good students- advice that I am trying to follow and adjust my teaching style to.

Another teacher gets stressed when she sees the students reading comics, sleeping, chatting, or texting on their phones. Since the first day, I have saved myself the stress by choosing the path of least resistance instead of being the bad cop.

The other teacher that I teach with tells me that he wants my lessons to be very interesting, but also has made it clear that he has no interest in suggesting lesson material or developing lessons with me. His hobbies are sleeping and watching TV. I have decided to just use him to translate my directions into Japanese when I can't manage it myself, and you can see the relief on his face.

I worry about the future of Japan. I look at this system, this vicious cycle that is spurning it's youth and turning them into a society that is trained to think the same as what's being said by people on TV, to always want the newest things that they see advertised in commercials, and that have either unattainable goals (roughly 50 percent of my students want to be a celebrity, professional athlete, or pro-racer) or set their goals very low with no hopes of improving their lot in life (to jobs that they are certain to get, but probably don't want to do). There is no "The Little Engine That Could" mindset over here. It's kind of like "1984" and "Animal Farm", and it may well be heading toward " Fahrenheit 451".

The population is shrinking over here, and the old generation and their values are being replaced by consecutively newer generations with different values. I look at the kids that I'm teaching today and I can just see a massive mess, steadily growing larger before my eyes.

I feel like I'm on a huge battleship that has an appearance of technological superiority with ample fire power and spiffy counter-measures, like tomahawk missiles, vulcan machine guns to shoot down any incoming missiles, and a nuclear-powered propulsion system. Unfortunately, the crew is turning a blind eye to the foundation upon which this technology sits. Under the waterline, the hull is being ignored and has rusted almost to the point of structural failure, being held together by duct tape and other improvised, haphazardly implemented maintenance operations. What will happen when the barnacles chew through the rust, and the hull starts to slowly give way to the sea? Will it make it back to port, and be repaired in a timely fashion, or will they just continue to slap pitch into the holes and pray for the best?

I have also met some really talented, interesting, and motivated people who think differently and have the drive to accomplish things. Their creativity, will to succeed, and happiness are truly inspiring, but they are merely the most visible segment of society over here. What I'm worried about is that the proportion of unmotivated youth that live a life devoted to instant gratification is getting bigger. This is going to make the big problems that Japanese society is facing even more difficult to deal with.

Ah, thinking on a macro-societal level can be so depressing. But screw it. You know what? It's nice weather out today, and I haven't even begun to explore around Northern Osaka. I'm going to finish my day here, go out in the sun, and enjoy all of the everyday wonders that I come across. And I will use those images to try and think of ways to help individual students think differently, develop their interests, and have fun.

The Trump Card

| | Comments (1)

I was planning on saving this lesson for a time when I would really need it, but since I had asked for special preparations, the footballs arrived and we were scheduled in to use the gym.

This lesson has been successful everywhere, with no exceptions. I have used it in elementary, junior high, and high schools with students ranging from gifted and rich to hopeless and poor. I wish I could teach football every day in English class.

The best part about the lesson is that girls get into football even more than the guys sometimes. When I taught some JHS students how to catch and throw the pigskin, the girls were always the first to claim the pigskin, and played all break long.

It's equally amusing to watch the ADD kids lob bullets at each other as they run full speed, looking over their shoulder. I can still hear the THUD of one boy's impact into the side of the gymnasium wall...

I haven't been able to post regularly for a while, but I will try and rectify the situation soon. The problem lies with my lack of internet access, which I will try and fix. Also, sites such as hotmail, gmail, and yahoo mail are blocked from work by SuperScout Web Filter- does anyone know any ways around this? Until I get things worked out, the best way to reach me is via my cosmicbuddha email account, or posting here. Gotta get back to work...

What I did on Thursday

| | Comments (1)


School Update: Week 2

| | Comments (4)

As usual, things are not going as expected. I was able to hold the attention of my smaller classes of 20 yesterday with a lesson about Bob Marley and Jamaican history, and I even got the students to sing along. I don't think I can do this the same way in a larger class, but I will give it a shot tomorrow.

Classes are very challenging to plan here. The teachers want me to make "interesting" lesson plans for kids that have a very low proficiency and an even lower level of interest in English. Their idea of fun are "worksheets that the kids can do by themselves" because "they don't listen and can't work in groups". They also have no set curriculum, which is good for creative license but drastically increases my workload, and the teachers have no time or interest to co-plan lessons. I'm going to try some games in the classes in which the kids seem to be paying attention, and I guess try and find a good set of worksheets to pass out when it is impossible to make myself heard. Any suggestions for pre-made materials that I can use?

As for the "worst class"- they seem to be a pretty cool class. Sure, the kids may not like English at all, but I seem to have connected with them pretty well. The "worst kids" are the ones who say hello and even kind of pay attention. It is going to be challenging to hold their interest, but at least I have the momentum to start with. Make no mistake- many of the kids in this class are reading comics or magazines, checking their mobile phones, drawing, sleeping, and talking, but they are relatively good kids. If I could have taught them from shogakko, I think these same kids would have turned out a lot different, as to their negative views toward English.

I think I found a way to make the time pass by more quickly. Every time I give the class a worksheet to fill out, I'm going to be playing music. Maybe I'll take five minutes each class to introduce an artist that they've never heard before, and teach them the genre, country, or any other interesting materials. If nothing else, the music will make the time go by more quickly.

So that's it. There will be no team teaching here, just my one man show. Hopefully I can step up to the challenge. At the end of the year, if the students show an interest in foreign cultures and people, and if they develop a wider interest in music because of what I play in class I will be content.

Black music?

| | Comments (3)


Let Sleeping Students Lie

| | Comments (1)

It looks like I'm going to have to adjust my teaching style to a lower level. Most of the kids are at a lower level than the elementary school students I taught, so that means that some of the activities that I already have made up are too advanced. That being said, the kids are not all psychotic as I had feared.

I got some advice from the cool jaded Japanese teacher today. She said that if I see students sleeping in class, just let them sleep. If they're reading manga, let them read manga. If that's the way that the teachers at my high school (who don't have huge burning ulcers) run their classes, then that's the way I will teach as well.

Maybe I'll just call it English class, but turn it into something different. With this group I think the emphasis on the lessons should be on cultural matters, and follow what the students are interested in, with English playing a secondary role.

Just out of curiosity, I asked that cool teacher "Why should I let the students sleep?". She said "They will start being rude, cause interuptions, and may become violent!". Kids these days need their sleep anyways. Hell, maybe I'll designate 30 minutes of each class for "Special English Nap/Study Time" and join in the fun.

A New School: Prologue

| | Comments (3)

Here are a few gems, picked out from a meeting with the English teachers at the high school where I will be teaching. Ah, where to start... How about:

"The kids here don't like English so much. They have a hard time paying attention in all of their subjects"

"I didn't want to be an English teacher. It just sort of happened"

"We have problems with violent students at this school"

"You should be gentle with the students"

"The last TNET (Temporary Native English Teacher, basically the same as a JET ALT, except with generally more experience and less pay) was very strict, but we think she was a good teacher. We want you to be different. Last year, she started to cry in the middle of a lesson, and had to leave the classroom"

"The kids here have ended up in this school, not because they are interested in agriculture or gardening, but because they have nowhere else to go"

"The food at the school cafeteria is horrible. We never eat it. Don't forget to bring a bento on Monday!

"There are many bad students at this school. Try to look at the faces of the students to find the good kids."

I feel as if I am about to embark on a perilous adventure like a character in the movie "Battle Royale", but I'm not worried. I'll do my best, but I know that it's going to be a challenge to reach through to these kids. Of course it would make me really happy if I could teach like the teachers in "Stand and Deliver", "Dangerous Minds", or "Renaissance Man". I'm going to set my goals low to match my expectations, starting with "I will not let the students make me cry and then run out of class". The hurdles are all lined up in front of me, and now it's time to run full speed ahead. To be continued...

Fresh Art

| | Comments (0)

Taro and Megumi took me out to Digmeout Cafe in Osaka, where they were, up until yesterday, exhibiting up and coming artists in Japan. Its a pretty cool place to check out anyways, and the food they serve looks really cool. If you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend their books. Perhaps the GR store on Sawtelle stocks them. You can check out the artists and their works here.

A Night In Kyoto

| | Comments (1)


Pictures from Hakuba

| | Comments (6)

Taking off at midnight, we arrived in time to soak in the rotemburo in Ecoland onsen and watch the sun rise.

So much powder, but it's off limits! Sometimes rules are made to be broken. Riding on fresh powder doesn't even feel like the same sport.

The lights at Miasa Onsen evoke the natural beauty of hemp.

Stinkbugs are funny. Some people start acting like cartoon characters when they come across one of these. In Japan, I always find the reactions of the students and teachers to insects trapped in the classroom, whether it be a huge butterfly, an angry bee, or a stinkbug, utterly amusing. Who would think that something so small and harmless could be so captivating and capable of such distractive powers?

My Kempers

| | Comments (3)


These boots have been with me on many an adventure, traveling along to the various resorts I've visited over 10 years. Mika gave them to me, along with a badass Nitro 162 "lizard" longboard, as a birthday present in 1995 when I was a sophmore in high school.

At first, I had to wear two to three pairs of thick, woolen socks because they were a little too big for my then still-growing feet. Now they conform to my feet as if they were crafted from precisely crafted neoprene. They've been used so hard that the rubber is starting to separate from the aincent leather, and the heel backing has worn down to just a millimeter thick. Everytime I use the boots, the binding presses on a sensitive pressure point on my right foot, but it becomes less painful over time.

I had the pleasure to hang out and ride along with a cousin of a friend, who just so happened to be one of the top 10 boarders in Japan (a real kicked back guy named Takeshi), and he gave me some good pointers. As we were discussing the nuances of old and new equipment, he remarked that Kemper had gone bust and that he wanted a pair of boots like mine. The boots they have nowadays are much easier to rachet tight, take less time to get on and off, and are prettier. Despite this, there's something special about durable equipment of any kind that has been lovingly taken care of and well used by its owner. What an awesome pair of boots, these Kempers of mine.

Chopsticks Epiphany

| | Comments (1)

A common gripe among foreiners living in Japan is that Japanese people frequently say something along the lines of "Wow, you're pretty good at using chopsticks". While it can be annoying to hear the same thing over and over again, and even if these words are sometimes ring as a canned compliment, sometimes the words are just a simple observation spoken out loud.

The way that I was taught (with tiny training chopsticks when I was 5 years old) was to grasp both chopsticks between the middle and index fingers as one would hold a pencil, with the tip of the index and the knuckle of the middle finger manipulating movement. What people don't understand is that not all Japanese ever learned how to use chopsticks properly.

It's not as obvious because you don't see them yielding them in two hands like a pair of daggers, and they tend not to spear their food. Sometimes you can see younger people holding a pair like a pre-schooler first learns to grasp a crayon. They make it work, but all the same they do not qualify as being "good at using chopsticks".

I think that this widely spoken observation also stems from difficulties encountered by some Japanese while using western silverware. I can't express how confused I was when I first heard a long-time Japanese friend look me straight in the eye and said "Wow, you're good at using the knife and fork, huh?" with a straight expression on her face.


| | Comments (1)

Sorry that the posts have been sparse lately. I am currently searching for suitable living accomodations in Osaka. The most interesting place so far was an apartment in Nippombashi where everyone in the building shared a shower on the roof, the floor felt as if it were about to give out from under me, and I would have gotten a "discount" because the Korean video store next door was "kind of loud at night".

When I get my own place worked out, I will be writing on a regular basis again. In the meantime, I'll try and find an apartment that comes with a shower.

History of Sneakers

| | Comments (5)

This page is cool on so many levels. Not only is the culture of sneakers interesting to read about, but the song compilations for each cultural sphere is excellent. I will be looking for the film, by Femke Wolfing, on which this site is based.

Waterfalls in Japan

| | Comments (3)

I've visited many waterfalls and taken countless pictures of them, but this page is the definitive waterfall resource for Kyushu, as well as a wide swath of the rest of Japan. I never knew that there were over 110 (I know of some that are not listed) waterfalls in Kumamoto.

Songs in the Classroom

| | Comments (9)

If you're tired of teaching songs by the Beatles and Carpenters to kids who want to learn what 50's really saying, then consult this dictionary. It's about time that Japanese students understand the music that they are listening to, instead of music that they're not interested in.

A Busy Start

| | Comments (2)

I'm just back from a trip to Nagano with memories of zipping through powder, off to meet a request by my new employer who unexpectedly asked me to immediately start work today. I will post new entries when I can, but I don't expect to be able to regularly add new entries until I get an internet connection in my as of yet unseen apartment. Wish me luck, as I embark on my new job. I have so much stuff I want to post and so little time.

Ride Me

| | Comments (2)



| | Comments (1)

Football is kinda like sumo.


| | Comments (1)

Knighting is a practice that involves dominance and calculated risk. Being knighted by QE would not be very frightening, but I wonder if there was a time being knighted was a frightening experience. I imagine that there have been times when kings have had to knight people who they didn't particularly like or want around. If there was a conspiracy between the king and his court, knighting could serve as the perfect venue for cold-blooded murder.

In Hakuba

| | Comments (2)

Right now I'm in Nagano with Taro, staying at the lodge where he used to work in seasons long ago. The snow is superior to any I have so far encountered in Japan, but this is not surprising.

Taro and his friends are good skiers, but something crazy happened yesterday. Tori-san, a very skilled skier, was busting some crazy tricks on skis that made everyone say "Ooh". I was watching him go off a jump, when he caught major air and his body tilted right so that it was unnaturally parallel with the ground. He landed so hard that he broke his carbon fiber pole in half, but luckily escaped with not broken bones or anything worse than pain when he laughs.

This reminds me of when I dislocated my rib after taking a spill in Mammoth. Luckily my father is a chiropractor so he popped that sucker back in, and I was back in action. I'll try not to do anything so dramatic this time, but we'll see.

By the way, if you're up this way I recommend a bar called 902- foosball and a large screen TV playing big air footage. It's a good thing that they don't show those vids in the cafeteria on the slopes, or I would probably be riding the sled down the mountain with the ski patrol.

Death and Lake Biwa

| | Comments (4)

This past weekend, Justin, Taro, and I embarked on a weekend trip, excited to finally have the opportunity to snowboard/ski this season. We were hoping to get an early start on snowboarding in Shiga prefecture, but rain on the coast did not translate into snow in the mountains. High winds prevented us from any other options than leaving or waiting for the conditions to change. Having packed fishing equipment for our contingency plan, we opted to go explore the famed Lake Biwa and try our luck.

On the way we got lost and saw abandoned buildings and fading remnants of a once vibrant lakeside community. Perhaps Lake Biwa is a bustling vacation destination, but on that gray, rainy day it set the mood frequently encountered in Stephen King's short stories set in Castle Rock. Driving to the lake on a narrow, windy road through old neighborhoods, full of ancient, weather-beaten wooden houses, we were pursued by a wailing ambulance and passed the woman summoning it.

Taro had mentioned that it is against the law to catch and release black bass. If you catch one, you must kill it or throw it in a netted enclosure where it is certain to die of starvation. This regulation also applies to bluegill. Right now, there is great concern about the dwindling stocks of native fish in Lake Biwa for good reason. The bass and bluegill predate on and compete with the natives, so programs like this are essential for finding a new balance. Unfortunately, we did not contribute to eradicating anything at all.

It was really sad to see the forgotten boats, rotting and growing thick coats of algae. This pile of ripped up fiberglass (located next to the "No Littering" sign) is a sad testament to a society that prizes convenience over long-term responsibility.


The first three skulls were found at the lake, near to the fiberglass pyre and fish traps. The last one was resting underneath Sumoto Castle (on Awaji-shima).

A catfish skull.

The skull of a dog- yet another reminder of a waribashi society.

A heron skull.

An inoshishi(boar) skull, complete with tusks.

The high winds, cold rain, doomed fish, and other depressing things didn't seem to have any effect on our day. They just served as interesting things to contemplate or discuss on another road trip. We ate fish sausage "hot dogs" with curried cabbage, explored random country roads, and ended up going snowboarding at a different nearby resort. The odyssey finally ended the next morning at 7, when we finally went to sleep after drinking at Bill's Bar on its closing night. We didn't wake up until well after 3P.M., and it felt good.

music videos that don't suck

| | Comments (0)

On the Submarine Channels's Pause Online you can see the videos on Spike Jonze's and Michel Gondry's Director's Label DVDs, as well as other noteworthy works.

Works like the Beastie Boy's Sabotage, a few Daft Punk vids, and many of Fat Boy Slim's music videos are here. The only catch is that the videos are displayed in a tiny window.

Of Roommates

| | Comments (1)

Gary has an awesome link about the strange behavior of roommates here. The guy reminds me of how Mark gets down at the Sanctuary and now defunct Sharp, except there is no spiking of disco balls and no ass slapping.

Peeing on things

| | Comments (5)

One day, I will have children who will ask me "What was college like?", and if I choose to answer honestly I will reply "For young men, college is mostly about destroying things, refining procrastinating technique and bullshitting skills, but mostly it?s drinking cheap beer and peeing on things while at the same time trying not to get caught or hurt in the process". Then I will tell them about my impressions of Del Playa ( mainly that the street smells like a urinal), of returning home to the dorms to find that all of the sit down toilets had been pissed all over along with the toilet paper, and how my apartment mates and I speculated about how urine made its way into and all over my apartment's communal washing machine and dryer.

Here are a collection of stories, all that share a central, common theme, that I remember about my life as a student at UCSB:.

The D.A.
College parties often provide a good environment in which to observe the dynamic relationship between the police officers and students, who tend not to get along very well. In Isla Vista, UC Santa Barbara's own college town, these two groups play a high-stakes game of "tag", called "open container-tag" that illustrate the struggle between having a good time and being busted for having too much fun.

The game is played like this: Cops are "it" and partygoers are "not it". 1.Partygoers can not be tagged if they are on home base, in this case defined as the property on which a party is held where cops have no jurisdiction. 2.Partygoers are also safe if they are not visibly drunk (i.e. acting like a jackass) or are not carrying an open container with an alcoholic beverage. When carrying a cup, it must be held upside down to avoid provocation..

The cops can tag partygoers if both conditions 1. and 2. are not met. If the partygoer is under 21, they face the possibility of a huge pain in the ass. If the partygoer is 21 and has an open beverage on public property, they can be tagged with a fine or citation.

As the streets of I.V. get packed with partygoers on any given night, cops can be easily evaded in the crowd, but if the partygoer has had too much to drink and their motor skills are impaired, this can result in hilarious, shame-filled stories that can and should be used to blackmail your friends and acquaintances in the future. Nicknames such as "Drunk Steve" are earned in this way, but that?s guy by himself deserves a post dedicated solely to how he became the ?Drunk Steve? out of all of the other Steves with whom we were acquainted with. For now, I?ll just sum him up by saying that whenever I saw him, he was with beer in hand and there was a good chance that someone was going to get tackled?

In the last quarter of our freshman year, we were well acquainted with open container-tag, and none of our immediate friends were ever caught. We were out one night, partying with our D.A. "Gheelberto", when he was giving us some advice on drinking under the radar in the dorms. Gheelberto was a cool D.A. who often dispensed knowledge of this vein, and had helped us to stay out of trouble during our first semester, when we were inexperienced and careless.

Gheelberto left the house party that we were at to go meet up with some "hot chicks from another dorm", and we left about five minutes later, only to see our D.A. getting written up for breaking the open container law. In his drunken state, he had been careless, and not-so-smoothly tried tossing the contents of his red plastic cup into a bush, right in front of the cops. This was an important reminder that cops often show up at the most inconvenient of times, and that there is no "time out", nor are there ?do overs? in the ever-running game of "open container-tag".

Unwitting Accomplice
Like many other UCSB students, one of my friends has always distrusted and disliked law enforcement officers, even before college. We had moved into I.V. but occasionally went onto campus to drink and hang out. On our way back from an event on campus and after having imbibed our fill of Red Dog(40 bucks a keg), we were passing the San Rafael dorms when we spotted a police truck. They had most likely come because some students were being too loud on a Friday night or because their D.A. ratted them out for drinking on campus (one of the D.A.s in San Raf was a dick!), so my friend decided to let his feelings about their actions be known.

"Let me know if they're coming" he slurred, as he pissed all over the door, side window, and handle of the truck. Realizing it would be pointless to say "they're only doing their jobs", I instead resigned my protests to watch him, and was unable to hold back a flood of hysterical laughter. I guess I kind of wanted him to do it.

The food at the school cafeterias was almost always bad, but one friend found a way to make it even worse. This friend's roommate was a dick, so one day while the roommate left the table the friend took his roommate?s soup under the table and pissed in it. The roommate returned and took a few sips before noticing, first, that everyone could not contain their laughter and, second, that his soup's flavor had changed. I had some really immature friends back then, and even though this story makes me laugh I also feel kind of bad for his roommate. And then I remember that he was a dick, and then I laugh some more.

The Angry Exhibitionist
Another friend, who we'll call "Topher", shared my tradition of peeing on D.P. 6645, my "The Real World" experience of living with psychotic roommates during my sophmore year. We did this many, many times, after a long night out and about in I.V.. Anyways, Topher had been raised in an area where cops were almost considered as trusted members of the community. It only took one night to transform to get Topher to start hating the police on the same level as Public Enemy and the NWA.

One morning, after a wild night out with Topher and the gang, I went out with a friend for breakfast burritos (these seriously kicked ass after a night of hard drinking!) and we had a conversation much like this:

"Did you hear that Topher got a ticket?" "What for? Was it a B.U.I. (biking under the influence)?" "No, he was coming home from D.P., and stopped to pee in the bushes. That's all I know right now."

So when Topher came over to the apartment we inquired about the incident:

"You got busted for peeing in the bushes?"
"I (expletive deleted) hate cops so much! (expletive deleted) the police!"
"How did it happen?"
"You know that open lot in the 6700 block of D.P.? I was taking a pee over in the bushes and those cops jumped out and busted me! (expletive deleted) pigs!"
"What do you mean they 'jumped out'?"
"They were hiding in the bushes, waiting for someone to pee there and they caught me."
"Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah. Heh, that really sucks... how much was it (the ticket)?"
"It's 200 bucks, and if I get caught 2 more times I have to become registered as a sex offender! Can you believe that?"
?That?s?.. Awesome! Hahahahahahahahaha!?
(look of hurt on Topher?s face) ?(expletive deleted) you guys!?

Oh, how much ammunition did this provide for future jokes, taunting, and the final word in our arguments and conversations? I don't know, but it never got old and I still look for the opportunity to drag this gem out every once in a while. Because, really, that?s what friends are for.

What's that on our couch?
One of our friends acquired an almost legendary status on campus. One night he went to a party and fell asleep on a couch in an apartment that he had never been before. He was woken up by a girl who was a resident of the apartment who didn't know who he was. The girl clearly saw that he had passed out and wet his pants along with their couch, and quite understandably she told him to get the (expletive deleted) out. He made a hastily made a weak apology and walked out of the apartment and into the mythology of I.V..

And what happened to the couch? I don?t know for certain, but like most other ?too funky for even college students to keep on using? couches, it was likely dragged into the middle of the street, set on fire, and then jumped over by a group of drunk college students led by Drunken Steve.

Don't come around here no more
On Sabado Tarde, we regularly held parties with multiple kegs. At one of these parties the boyfriend of one of our friends, who we didn't like to begin with, was manning the tap. Word got back to us that he had pissed into one of the cups and passed it off to a guest as a beer. My roommate got so angry that he was going to feed the punk a knuckle sandwich, but he got away just in the nick of time. He was later given warning that his presence would not be tolerated at any of our parties ever again. What did she see in this guy? I?ll never know.

A Night Raid
I was driving my Legend through I.V., on my way with a friend to jiu-jitsu lessons in downtown Santa Barbara, when I spotted a group of punks who had rigged a garden hose to spray passing cars. I kept my Legend in top condition and had just washed and waxed it, so I stopped my car and told them not to spray my car. Luckily the window was up, and although we both wanted to get out of the car and confront these losers, we decided to get to class on time instead.

That weekend, we were out drinking and discussing this over a few beers. Somehow, it was decided that we would get revenge that night. At two in the evening, we returned to the house, first rigging some black cats with a slow fuse next to a window (burning cigarette). Then it was decided that we would get payback a la Hammurabi's code, except substituting urine for water. He would piss all over the front door, and I would get the glass one. We were fully loaded from the beer, and the blast of the foamy stream against the glass door produced a loud, sustained snare, unmistakable in the quiet night. We got everything- the handles, lock, crevices?

I'm not especially proud of this incident, but it never fails to bring a smile to my face. Is this what college was really all about? No, but it does make for more exciting stories than what you learned in O Chem and Statistics. Do you still remember anything from those classes, really?

The Bed-wetting Roommate
My sophomore year in college I lived in the #8 apartment at 6645 Del Playa Street. I moved in with a couple of friends before really getting to know each other. The apartment mates who I didn't know turned out to be awesome people who helped me to fight the dreaded Axis of Evil, 3 of us against 3 of them- but that?s a whole different subject..

I lived in the same room with "Argonaut", who seemed cool at first. One of the first signs that Argonaut was strange was his policy on toilet paper. We all took turns buying TP, but Argonaut insisted on stealing TP from the university which was obvious because he took the huge industrial sized (1 ft in diameter) rolls of 100 grit toilet (sand)paper on his rotation. It only got worse after that.

One morning I woke up smelling urine in the room. Argonaut was gone, but clearly visible on his sheets was a huge wet stain, clearly the source of the stink. When he returned I confronted him, saying that his sheets were stinking up the room, but he denied it, as if I were making things up. Confounded, I enlisted the help of my other roommates, and it was only when the members of the Axis asked him to change his sheets that he complied.

His next move shocked us all. Instead of washing his sheets like a normal person, he left them to soak in the bathroom sink. This was much the same as pissing in the sink to me, but as long as I didn't have to sleep next to the soiled sheets I let the point slide. From this point, Argonaut became known as "Bed-wetter"

Kumamoto Ramen Anywhere!

| | Comments (4)

Sapporo has come out with an instant tonkotsu ramen (the bowl to the left) that kicks the pants off of anything widely available outside of Kyushu. This is all the more remarkable since all of the ingredients in this Kumamoto-flavor ramen are freeze-dried and full of preservatives. The tonkatsu broth is rich, creamy,and full of roasted garlic with green onions, ginger, char siu, and kikurage(the crunchy, brown, wakame-like seaweed). I think that it might be worth discarding everything else but the broth, substituting fresh ingredients.

The ramen in the box to the right is from Kurume Taiho, from Fukuoka-ken (just North of Tosu in Saga- I know, it's counter-intuitive, but driving up the expressway from Kumamoto, you first pass through Fukuoka, then Saga, then its Fukuoka again...). Kurume Taiho makes 2 main kinds of ramen, plain tonkotsu and mukashi tonkotsu. Mukashi tonkotsu is the quintessential tonkotsu of old, family run ramen shops. When you enter one of these often hidden dens, a musty, slightly sour smell creeps into the nostrils and may be considered offensive if it is taken out of context. To the initiated, this smell reveals that there is rustic culinary treasure to be had, real tonkotsu, the stuff that has soul, that is cherishingly cultivated from tried and true methods and ingredients. The broth of mukashi tonkotsu is a creamy white, but hidden under a tanned skin of funky goodness, not unlike the crust on a nice cup of French onion soup. The broth coats the noodles almost like cream sauce hitches on to alfredo. If you love garlicky tonkotsu ramen then this ramen is for you.

Moving away from Kumamoto and Kyushu has brought the painful realization that not all ramen-ya serve tonkotsu, and when they do it is very likely to be lacking in character or fall short of expectations (but not necessarily of what is expected). All of them seem like failed versions that aren't held to the high standards from back home. The tonkotsu ramen up here is parallel to the seafood-covered, corn-splattered, mayonnaise drenched pizzas of Japan. They're similar enough to be subconsiously tempting, but too often result in crushing disappointment.

Gigapxl Project

| | Comments (2)

Can you imagine having a camera that took pictures in such fine resolution (measured in gigapixels!) that you would need a special infrastructure to effectively wield it? What would you do with such awesome capabilities if you were retired and had the time and determination to create photographs of incredible scale?

For one thing, this team is traveling around America, taking awesome pictures. Another goal is to preserve all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites by capturing them on film. These pictures and the cameras that the team uses remind me of Ansel Adams.

There is no explanation on the FAQ about the macros capabilities of the camera. It would be cool if the camera could capture the miniature world of plants and insects, as well as other natural environments.

Killing Pain

| | Comments (0)

Here's some good reading about how war has been the perfect labaratory in which to study and refine anasthetics.

Modern surgery was invented in the 16th century by Ambroise Par?, a lowly barber-surgeon in the French army. When he joined the ranks, guns were the latest upgrade in weapons of mass destruction, bullet wounds were washed out with boiling oil, and the standard practice for relieving a soldier's pain was to slit his throat.

I wonder, why would the human body adapt to develop chronic pain for limbs that no longer exist? It must just be an unresolved quirk. Maybe people that suffer such trauma would almost certainly die without modern medicine, so nature has never had to bother with getting rid of unnecessary stimuli in this contingency.

Stalactites and Stalagmites

| | Comments (1)

Calcite is one of those mediums with which nature fully displays its crazy genius in the open. These sculptures have been shaped so long ago, that one can not truly comprehend of timescales using a human generation as the incremental measurement. They appear as complex forms with patterns that resonate deeply within innate beliefs and intuition, yet in the end they were created by the same force that creates plaque on showerheads. Which leads me to the question, has anyone ever had a stalactite grow out of their faucet or shower as the result of a high mineral content in their water supply, coupled with prolonged neglect? I had 3 inch stalactite hanging from my kitchen faucet, but that was merely an icicle.

The following pictures were all taken in the same cave, which I plan on posting more about shortly.

Morbid Fascination

| | Comments (0)

The first time Akebono fought (vs. Bob Sapp) everyone was skeptical that he would be able to hold his own, but there was a glimmer of hope that the underdog might triumph. Sumo wrestlers, the argument went, are professional athletes and perhaps his unorthodox martial art would give him an edge against Sapp's brute strength. And then he fell, and the truth became all too clear. After the fight, many people felt bad for him, and wished him a quick recovery and success in a non-MMA career.

But he just wouldn't stop. Whenever an Akebono fight came on, many of us watched, not because we thought he had any chance of winning, but because we wondered how badly he would get beaten. There were no longer any discussions of it was possible for him to win, but rather how long it would take for him to go down. An Akebono K-1 fight is painful to watch. He looks like a nice enough guy, and you just want to see it end quickly. No, Hoyce Gracie vs. Akebono was not a fight I really wanted to see (but I watched it anyways).

Why hasn't Akebono stopped fighting yet? It has to be for money, and its sad to see that he intends to keep on fighting. It's even sadder that K-1 will keep on putting him on the bill until the public demand to see him severely beaten eventually dries up. Watching this story unfold is like watching a Greek tragedy. In this case, the protagonist has already made the pivotal choice and now we are witnessing a very painful fall from grace. I hope he wins his next fight, so that he can retire in peace.

Here's a GI Joe safety message in Japanese (via Brian)

Monsanto Sucks

| | Comments (2)

Here's why (partly).

Huygens a Success!

| | Comments (0)

I was up late last night waiting for the reports of Titan via the Huygens probe to start pouring in, but was bitterly disappointed by the results of CNN's analysis and coverage. Well, more data and pictures are coming in, and I will be following this story closely. It boggles the mind to think that this chunk of sensors was blasted into space 9 years ago, and only yesterday embarked upon its prime objective. The space program, and its operational timetables seem visionary in a most (still precocious) Asmovian way. Space programs kick ass.

Fressssssssssssssssssssssshh attire

| | Comments (1)

Last night I got to see the Beastie Boys for free thanks to Taro, who came through in the clutch- thanks bro. It was an awesome show- they played a mix of music mostly off of Check Your Head, Ill Communication, and To the 5 Boroughs.

The last time I saw the Beastie Boys was at the Forum (in L.A.), back in High School. I noticed some differences right away. This time they played a longer set, Mix Master Mike was a crowd favorite in Osaka and especially on top of his game, and this time we were treated to some instrumentals with a fully fleshed out band.

Things that I remember, and thoughts on the show:

Some people were rocking out harder to the opening act (Le Tigre- no comment) than to the Beastie Boys.
The crowd was very quiet, and didn't make enough noise for an encore, but luckily they came back out anyways.
The Beastie Boys have one of those camera arrays that take a picture from multiple angles all at the same instant, take jump pictures, and display them in real time.
To take bootleg photos, it is best to turn OFF the lcd on your digicam BEFORE the concert.
In So. Cal, everyone stands at a B Boys show. In Osaka, most people sit down, except for the two spastic high schoolers in front of yours truly.
Osaka Beastie Boys groupies fall into the "has a nice personality" category.
The guy who plays the latin percussion is "Bunny" from Sabotage.
People were actually leaving during the middle of the show, while the Beasties were playing, and they left at the very end during the middle of their last song, Sabotage. WTF is that all about?
There were a lot of old people in the crowd. Nursing home age. Right on, but strange nonetheless.
Few people seemed to be into the instrumentals.
Osaka-jo Hall was not sold out, not by a long shot. Yes, it was Wednesday, but back in So Cal, tickets would have sold out in 10 minutes.
It was cool to listen to them banter on stage and know that very few of us understood what was going on.
Why do they never play anything off of License to Ill?

Snake getting ready to bust in like Cochise.

Fish: it's what's for dinner

| | Comments (1)

We braved the arctic winds of Sumoto Port and hooked 5 of these vicious marine predators. With an equal mix of luck and skill, we ended up unscathed and with a first hand knowledge of how the mighty Gashira tastes as (badly mutilated) sashimi and deep fried in karaage batter. I bet it tastes like sculpin (which I've heard are quite delicious), and wonder if their dorsal spines have similar toxins as well. The remedy for treating sculpin envenomation, dousing the wound into water as hot as you can bear, sounds like something I'd rather not experience.

When you hold them by the bottom lip or agitate them sufficiently, they flare out their fins into a defensive posture exposing ridges of spines in their fins. I believe they do this to deter potential predation, and to appear bigger.

I was initially very reluctant to eat these fish because they remind me of puppy dogs with their gaping mouths and large eyes. They were delicious, but I think from now on I will catch and release. You would have to kill too many of them to make a decent meal.

Wired Spoof

| | Comments (0)

This interview with Hiroshi Yamauchi is obviously fake, but pretty funny because it really looks like a legit article out of Wired Magazine. Can you seriously picture any Japanese businessman talking like this? (This question is an ignorance litmus test).

Fiber Optic Cetaceans

| | Comments (1)