Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I Do What I Want: Christmas Eve Edition

Some of you may not know this, but I do what I want.

Today I saw some trails with "no bikes" signs. "I do what I want," I said to no one in particular, and then continued down the trail on my bike. Never mind that it was muddy and sloppy and filled with dead trees, and actually would have been faster to walk--you see, I do what I want.

Damn, the Oregon coast is really boring and ugly.

If you noticed the little fence in the picture above, it's the Man's way of telling you there's something awesome beyond it. In this case, a wind-swept outcropping of rock that juts out directly over about 800 feet of nothing, and then some pointy rocks and the ocean.

This rock was also hovering over a huge free-fall to certain death, but there was no fence telling me to stay back. So I guess only certain dangerous rock faces are illegal to hang out on or something.

Friday, December 21, 2007

I Can Almost Taste the Freedom

Well, my apartment isn't really cleaned. My clothes aren't particularly washed or folded. The garbage is *almost* all taken out. But to be honest, I'll be leaving for America tomorrow and essentially just locking my front door and turning off the water.

My trip is going to be like a submarine- pointlessly long and hard. I've somehow engineered it to absolutely maximize the time in transit and minimize the time at home. I'll leave for Sendai tomorrow, wait around for 8 hours, leave for Tokyo, wait around for 8 hours, leave for America, and then have the hour and a half drive home. Luckily, my incredibly ineptitude in trip planning has aligned perfectly with my incredible ineptitude in shopping, for, you see, I still have my Christmas shopping to do.

And gloriously enough, I have 8 hours to kill in the heart of Sendai's bustling downtown. It's almost like I planned it this way.

I doubt I'll update this blog much while I'm at home. I don't even think I'm bringing my laptop, since I'm trying to hit the ground running and actually do stuff and see people instead of sit around reading reddit and drinking coffee until 2 in the afternoon everyday.

Ah, I can't wait to get some Chipotle into the old bloodstream. Nothing says America like burritos.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Godzilla Method

All the area high schools use this textbook called "New Horizons." The chapter they're currently working on opens with this:

"Which is stronger, Godzilla or King Kong? I think Godzilla is stronger than King Kong. Godzilla is the strongest of all monsters."

Now, if you asked me ten years ago how I thought Japanese people studied English, I probably would have described exactly this.

Now please watch the best drummer in the world:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

An Epic Journey Through Sam's Wrongness

Dude, that thing is totally a radar tower. Haven't you ever played Command and Conquer: Red Alert? I think this was the phase in your life where you proclaimed any game other than Bejeweled to be "gay." However, this game clearly shows us what a radar dome looks like:

That being said, this pic of an NOAA radar dome kind of blurs the line. See, it's a radar dome...for...weather observation. So I guess if observatories are usually also radar-equipped, that makes us both geniuses. Except for you.

More importantly, everyone can watch this awesome video Dave sent me, made by a bunch of turds who travel around Asia and write a (wait for it...) blog.

Welcome to Nowhere

When you think of Japan, you think crowded super-dense cities, right? That seems to be generally true, but all that density means that it's still pretty easy to find yourself out in the boonies in this postage-stamp country of 150 million.

Sometimes I ride in a straight line into the mountains until I get confused. Here's some pictures from one such ride. Cue dueling banjos.

This is some forgotten old road or hiking trail or jeep trail. I'm not sure what it is, but I've only seen one other person in the half dozen times I've ridden it. And he said I had pretty lips. Anyway, there's some weird radar tower looking thing in the distance, and I'll try to get there at some point and take better pictures. What is it? Why is it in the middle of nowhere?

I don't know why this big slope has been cleared out of all the brush and trees and things, but there you have it. To the mind of a 23-year-old male, a long uninterrupted grass slope is just screaming for you to do something really stupid and hurt yourself on it. Still trying to think of what that might be. Sledding? Slip n' slide?

This looked like a friendly and symmetrical stretch of singletrack, which it was at first. Then all of a sudden it dropped off into a boulder-filled straight-down descent into the foresty bowels of some godforsaken troll's lair. It was absolutely unrideable. This is what I hate about mountain-biking in Japan. You need a road bike to get up, and a DH bike going the other way.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

How the East Was Won

I had my erg race today, and did emphatically hoist my flag of victory in the erg-studded sands of the Tohoku University gymnasium.

I rowed a 6:15, which is what I was hoping for. I kept asking myself "who's Japanese here?" Everyone else was slugging their 2ks out at a stroke rate of like 27 or 28 strokes per minute, while I had it pegged at a feverish "hamster on a crack suppository" 34.

Anyway, the dudes on my team seemed pretty pleased to take home the win for our little club, so that's good.

So here's some pictures of me in my post-university "Uncle Rico" moment (where the washed-up former athlete stuffs himself back into his ill-fitting uniform and tries to recapture that old glory...although this race was against my will and I actually won, so I hope that mitigates the Uncle Rico-ness.)

This is from the part where I haven't started yet--notice the no death-grimace of pain.

I did the entire race barely hanging onto my handle. My fingers are just THAT strong.

Hey, what's the best way to make your 7-year-old hate you? I know! Make him wake up really early on the weekend to go do a 2k in a freezing cold gymnasium.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Erg Stats: Warning, Rowing Nerd Material Ahead

The race in Sendai is this Sunday. I'm officially in my "taper." All that means is that I'm trying to be as rested as possible for the race while still doing enough to stay sharp. It's nice because I'm super busy at the moment, and carving out 2 and a half hours for a workout every morning was tough (1 hour to sit in front of my computer thinking about how much I didn't want to erg, half hour to get ready, 1 hour of actual exercise).

Anyway, this is where I left off before my week of laziness begun:

Best 10K : 34:48, or a 1:44.5 average. This puts me about a month into freshman year of college, fitness-wise.

Best 2k: 6:20 This was a 2k I did by myself with no motivation and no sprint at the end, so that's not too shabby. Hopefully another couple weeks of training and the excitement of being in a race is enough to buy me 4 seconds.

Best 500 workout: 4x500 x2, 30 seconds, all 500s right around 1:33. That's solid, but certainly not spectacular.

So all of this leads me to believe that, provided nothing weird happens, I should be able to go 6:15-6:18, depending on how much the stars align in my favor, and how much I'm able to gut it out at the very end.

Oh, and I checked with the guys on my team. My biggest competition is the lightweight doubles champion of Asia. "Lightweight," meaning I have 60+ pounds on him. So if I lose, I'm a loser. And I'm fat.

Magnificent Nature

I captured an image of a species native to Japan. Here you can see her resting in her natural habitat. Doesn't she look peaceful? At once striking and in perfect harmony with her surroundings. Truly a special moment.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

More Picture Tomfoolery

Went to Sendai to do some Christmas "shopping." I didn't buy anything, but I took one or two vaguely funny pictures, so read on.

Damn, that's depressing.

Yes, that's a big robot nonchalantly crossing the street. No one cared. Just another day in Japan, I guess.

This could be the name of the badass if unimaginative main character in a D.A.R.E. pamphlet.

This is another one of those brand names where I would give one of my kidneys to have been a fly on the wall in the meetings where they decided on it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Mochi for the Rich!

I was walking back from the local Buddhist temple with my boss tonight. We had received a big bag of celebratory mochi from the priest. "You know," my boss mentioned, "during the Edo period common people only ate mochi once a year. It was a huge luxury."

I looked down at the humble blobs of rice dough. Mochi is not a luxury to me. I gluttonously feast on it nearly every day. This concept does not compute.

"So, but I mean...it's just...rice."

"And water, yes."

"So it's just rice and water, but it was such a huge luxury you could only eat it once a year?"

"Yeah. Because you have to take the rice, soak it overnight, and then pound it into mochi with a big hammer. People didn't have enough rice to waste all that time turning it into mochi."

Damn, that is seriously poor. Imagine that. You are a farmer in Japan--a rice farmer, in fact--and you are barely subsisting to the point that you can't spare a few measly ounces of your crop to make into a delicious treat, because you might half-starve in the extra time it took.

It was a good conversation to have on Thanksgiving--something for me to consider next time I'm trying to find something to complain about.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Greatest Idea You Will Read Today

If you've visited Japan, you know that any and all debates are settled by "Jan Ken Po," or as we round-eyes call it "rock, scissors, paper." The battles here are the fiercest I've seen outside of a stoned group of Ultimate Frisbee players. Some people start to employ some strategy. For instance, one theory is that paper is subconsciously considered to be weaker than rock or scissors, even though they are equally weighted in the game. Thus, it's less common for your opponent to throw it in his first attack.

Or this strategy: tell your opponent what you're going to throw, and then throw it. They usually think you're lying, and you end up victorious. This is great for people you're playing for the first time.

The dangerous thing is when people have played you long enough to know that you usually throw rock the first time out, or that you favor a particular attack. This is where my glorious idea comes in:

A keychain randomizer to tell you what to throw. That's it. You can never be out-foxed or out-guessed by your friends. Finally, a level playing field in the never-ending battle to figure out who gets shotgun on the way back from sushi.

Japanese people already hang so much crap from their cell phones that they'd certainly find room for this useful product. Farm it out some Chinese gulag, sell at the 100 yen shops, and you'll find yourself a rich man.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Enjoy Your Limp Bizkit In Hell

Day after day of boring erging takes its toll on your will to live. You realize, at some point in the middle of your 20k, that you are sitting on a rusty piece of exercise equipment in a dark, cold, warehouse moving back and forth and getting absolutely nowhere.

The one shimmering light of fun in this bleak existence is music. I burned a great new CD with all the classics that dumb athletes love. It had Ol' Dirty Bastard, Ludacris, Beastie Boys, Silverchair, and a host of other bands from my adolescence. Basically, if you go to Hot Topic and kick the fat 14-year-old in the Deftones sweatshirt's ass and take his iPod Nano, you'll have a ballpark idea of what my CD sounded like.

Now imagine my surprise when I discovered that some bastard of a Japanese high school student ripped off my CD! The next day, I frantically shuffled through the painfully bad Japanese music, looking for it. "Radwimp?" still there. "Streat Beatz vol. 4?" Still there. "Asian Kung-Fu Generation?" Still there.

But not my CD.

So whoever you are, I'm dedicating this Asian Kung-Fu generation Youtube video to you. Enjoy your Limp Bizkit, right now I'm drafting a letter to Fred Durst letting him know that some Japanese youths are listening to pirated music he wrote. So watch out.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Japanese Pet Store

Some of us went to Sendai today. The trip was fun but not hugely notable. We did go to a Japanese pet store, so you can look at those pictures and read my hilarious commentary.

There was a monkey. Not sure if he was for sale...I think it was more like the owner of a used car lot parking his personal Ferrari out front. So exotic, so unique, but not for you.

This little guy was so cute, and so surly-looking.

I think he looks a bit like Winston Churchill here.

This was a flop-eared something or other. It was a small, frightened-looking cat.

Unrelated cognitive dissonance. Isn't this coffee shop an Oregon thing? Strange..

Thursday, November 8, 2007

"Potentially Doable"

I received a troubling e-mail from an old coach. I asked him for a training plan for my upcoming 2k race in Sendai. I told him I need to row a 6:15 and I have a month to get ready.

He said "Nate, I think a 6:15 is potentially doable."

I'm not sure what to make of that. This guy does not speak in half-measures. The freshman recruit who decided to go to Harvard didn't do so because it was a better fit, he did it because he was "a complete retard who couldn't read." This is a guy who didn't just want us to win races, he wanted us to "win by so much that the other team's parents were ashamed of their children." I was never told that rowing with slightly canted knees was a bit awkward, I was told that "it looks like babies are going to fall out of your ass at the catch."

So either the corporate world has forced tact upon his speech, or he thinks I've set myself an impossible goal. Because the guy I used to know would have said, if I even had a 50% chance of hitting my target, that I would absolutely kill the piece, get off, make myself a sandwich, and still have time to laugh at the poor bastard coming in second.

Time will tell. I did 8x 500 meters with 1 minute rest and kept the split around 1:33 today, which is around where I should be.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

I'm Coming For You, Mountain Child

I received a key to the erg room this past weekend. With one month to pull myself together for my race in Sendai, I figured I better start laying down some meters.

It was rough going. If you think erging is hard, try erging to Japanese ska music--the herpetic lesion on the genitals of the international music community.

Luckily, during the rest after my first 10k I found a scratched-up copy of Bon Jovi's "Have a Nice Day" at the bottom of the CD pile. I never thought I'd compliment the man, but I must admit it felt really good to finish out the day to New Jersey's finest. It's all relative, I guess. In the land of crappy Japanese pop music, Bon Jovi starts to sound like a musical genius.

Also exciting: today may have marked the first time in the past 5 years that I've erged without hearing either "Sandstorm" OR AC/DC.

Young Girls

Tonight in my Junior High School class we were reading mini-narratives in our textbooks. These short blurbs detailed the lives of adolescents in different cultures, and were accompanied by a picture of the teenager next to the paragraph about them.

Mid-way through the story of "Adriana" from Rio de Janeiro, one of my students interrupted. "Nate sensei," she asked. "Which one is ichiban..." she struggled for the words.

"Do you need help with number one?" I asked, pointing towards the questions at the bottom of the page.

"No," she said, grasping for the English. "Which one, for you, is number one cute?" I paused, still not sure what she meant.

Then she exasperatedly pointed to the picture of young Adriana and her 2 friends. The accompanying text began with "My name is Adriana. I am thirteen and I live in Rio de Janeiro..."

"Uhhhh, none" I said. My student seemed shocked. "None???" She exclaimed, not seeming to grasp the incredible creepiness of her question. She quickly flipped over to another page with another 12-14 year old girl. "What about she?"

"No, not cute. Not number one cute."

She turned to another page, now suspicious. She pointed at the square-jawed male protagonist in the detective story at the end of the book. "Him?" she asked accusingly, then burst out into fits of emasculating laughter, which continued for a good five minutes.

All in all, not a huge boost for my "rep" tonight.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

5 Things I Miss About America

There are some things America just does better. This is what I miss the most:

1. Burritos-

I can't even get a burrito here, let alone some tortillian monstrosity the size of my head. For a culture that eats a lot of beans, rice, and meat, I would have thought Mexican food would be a no-brainer. Rumor has it I have to go to Sendai to get the sweet Mexican food I crave, and I bet it's not even that great.

2. Football Season-

There's something very comforting about sitting on a sofa with some nachos and watching big huge guys run into each other and try to grab a funny-shaped ball. I could subscribe to some cable package and get NFL games here, but even then they come on at like 4AM or something. It just isn't the same.

3. Bikes without big baskets on the front-

This one should be self-explanatory.

4. Starbucks-

What can I say? The suburbs changes you. Paying 4 bucks for a coffee drink starts to make a lot of sense. Plus, the L size at coffee shops here is a pathetic 12 oz., whereas the mighty "venti" Starbucks drip coffee clocks in at 20oz. and packs enough caffeine to make my heart sound like a Neil Peart solo.

5. Cheap movies-

Movies are highway robbery in America, but they're dropping the soap in federal penitentiary here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


It is Halloween Week. Everyone comes to class in costume, we play games, we trick or treat, things like that. The costumes run the gamut from lame (cat) to inspired (skeleton suit with ghost suit over the top) to uniquely Japanese (samurai with wooden kendo sword).

One student dressed as some sort of ninja gangster. Part of his ensemble included the evil-looking Glock replica he took out of his backpack. I asked one of my bosses if it was okay for this kid to be walking around with it. She said "Oh don't worry, he said he'll keep it in his pocket."

Let that sink in.

A kid walks into school with an accurately detailed replica pistol, and is merely required to keep it in his pants pocket until school is finished.

Isn't that weird? No SWAT teams, no suspensions, no newspaper articles, just a reasonable reaction to a kid with a toy gun. I guess things are different when you can be reasonably sure that your average citizen isn't packing heat. This situation would end differently in America.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Future Purchases from the Second-Hand Shop

A JET friend showed me the second-hand store in this town. It's pretty big and lit with the kind of intense fluorescents that make absolutely everyone look like crap.

The store is a goldmine of second-hand prices and first-rate awesomeness. This is what my purchasing plan is going to look like:

1. Metal sign:

It says "Too fast to live, too young to die," with a hellish skull and crossbones underneath. And then underneath that, it says... "Cream Soda!"
Maybe the town hooligans don't like beer? Who knows.

2. Full-size M16 replica airsoft gun:

Just like the ones that are great for attracting police bullets to your face in America. It's going to be a tough decision since they also have a replica uzi and desert eagle, so I'm going to have to consider this for a while to be sure.

3. Special edition Pokemon-themed Nintendo 64 with Mario Kart.

This is more fun than the equivalent of 20 dollars should be able to legally buy you.

4. Right-handed Japanese Les Paul knockoff:

I think you have to flip and file the bridge and install a new nut to make your Jimi Hendrix conversion work, but how hard could that be? I got excited when I saw that this place sold used guitars, but then I realized that Japanese kids aren't allowed to be lefties since it ruins the all-important stroke order for Kanji. So that changes the possibility of finding a left-handed instrument from 5% like in America to -598%.

Runners up:

1. The bright green mini CD player and stereo that features a built-in air-conditioner and space heater. I'm going to be up all night laughing about what I imagine that meeting went like in the design proposal phase.

2. The drum set- The price is right, but the time is not. I think my neighbors would stage ninja-style midnight Kancho raids on my apartment if I started up with these things.

3. The Paul Reed Smith electric guitar- I don't know why a shabby second-hand shop has a used $6,000 guitar for sale, but it's a nice-looking instrument. Although I didn't look closely, maybe it's a Chinese Blaul Reed Spliff knockoff or something.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Weekend Trip to Fukishima; Pic Dump

Let me tell you the story of my weekend in pictures, because I'm too lazy to write much.

Mochi! Who can say no to a blob of dough on a stick?

This guy is the adult, Japanese embodiment of my 14-year-old self, so I needed to snap a picture to remind myself why I started a sport and gave up Star Wars novels.

Not sure what this vending machine was selling, but I wasn't buying anything from these damn hippies.

Forest near Fukushima...saw some people in a rowboat and the light turned out interesting...

The mighty castle.

From a samurai's manor near the castle.

Tea ceremony.

Tea ceremony again...really lends itself to photography, I think.

Friday, October 12, 2007

My Worst Student, and his Lieutenant

My worst student is twice as big as the other children. He only wears bright, color-matched athletic clothing and has a square head.

His voice is shrill but also has the bottom-end to project.

Sometimes he laughs, sometimes he cries, usually he yells. If he's happy, he kicks the wall. If he's unhappy, he punches it.

I once posited that he must sleep a lot. I can't imagine how much energy it takes to be yelling, walking around, and getting into violent altercations with your peers every moment you're awake.

My co-worker asked the bad student's sister. She confirmed that he did in fact go to bed completely spent after each day. Being a little bastard ain't easy.

This student is the only speed bump between me and the weekend. He's in my last class of the day. Imagine my delight when I discovered he would be absent today. Apparently he had a school trip, and was so exhausted from misbehaving for 8 hours straight that he couldn't make it to English class.

I was ecstatic, and when class started, it was silent as a tomb. Unfortunately, this student's second in command--the reigning children's judo champion in Miyagi--arrived five minutes late, assessed the situation, and really stepped up his game.

He had to be as loud as two people tonight--a task he handled with aplomb. In fact, he went above and beyond the call of duty when he kicked the cardboard box I was holding into my face.

I lost it. I felt, for the first time in my life, pure and unspoiled rage. The kid saw it in my eyes too, and looked absolutely terrified as he imagined things getting really bad really fast for him. It only lasted for a second, and I smiled at him, and we went back to our regularly scheduled program of him talking and me yelling at him.

Still, this was a new experience for me. Parents reading out there: did you experience your first bout of epic rage as a result of your children? These little people can be a wee bit frustrating at times. I wonder what the correlation between teachers and the number of children they have is?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Japan Drum Incident

I almost forgot about this, but it's as blog-worthy as the rest of the garbage I write about.

It was about 4:30AM, and we had just left this random bar. Apparently in Japan, bars don't close until you're damn well ready to have them close. I asked my boss if there was a law about closing time for bars, and he said: "Well maybe, but...I mean, they want you to have a good time, so they can't really close until you're ready to leave..."

Wow, ever been in an east coast bar 2 seconds past closing time? It's a little different.

Anyhow, we left. The awesome and loud Australian guy wanted to go to another bar, so we obliged, knowing it would give him more opportunities to be awesome and loud. We get to this bar, and the hostess clearly wants to close up shop, but is politeness bound to let us come in. I felt kind of bad, and wanted to get out and not be a huge pain in the ass, but then I saw them.

A tiny little drum set parked in the corner of the bar, no doubt for live music. For whatever reason, seeing drums overrides all sense of control. I must play them, no matter what, whether it's socially acceptable or not.

I proved this to the guy in Nebraska who yelled at me for playing drums shirtless in bike spandex in his church (whoops! thought he went home), to the people trying to sleep early in the morning in a different church, to the people at Jake's uncle's birthday party who wanted the actual band to play-- you get the picture.

So I asked the hostess if I could play them. With a pained expression, she told me that I must be very good at drums and should go ahead. At five in the morning. When there were other people singing Karaoke.

By God, I sat there behind that tiny kit and gave Japan the rockingest 30 seconds it had every seen, social niceties be damned. It's a little like Garth's drum scene in Wayne's World. There's something so incredibly primal and seductive about wailing on drums--anyone who hasn't done it is seriously missing out.

Thanks Japan, that was fun!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Milk Yak

There's this kid at the kindergarten. He's impossible to deal with. He roams. He climbs on stuff. He doesn't know he's being bad--he's too young. I have never seen a child so completely reject the pressure to conform, and to obey adults.

Reasoning won't work with him, neither will yelling. The teacher can physically restrain him, as she does when the children pray to Buddha after class, but as soon as she lets go, he's off roaming again. She has about 30 other kids to look after while this is going on.

How do you deal with a kid like this? Obviously you can't be physically violent, yelling doesn't work, and you have a ton of other little munchkins to look after. It is impossible. He does what he wants.

Today, the teacher in charge of these rugrats was looking broken in her pink Miffy apron. Her eyes were blank flecks of gray slate. I theorize it's solely because of this child.

And today, when she looked about the lowest I've seen her, he struck. We were playing a game, and I turned just in time to see this little man stop his roaming and stand there impassively spewing milk-vomit from his expressionless mouth. And then he started running around again, as if nothing happened, while his teacher mopped it up.

Teaching can be a cruel job sometimes.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Weekends are for getting Radical

Japan is a beginner cyclist's dream.

The road cyclist gets miles of unpocked smooth asphalt, physical separation from cars, wide lanes, and steep but mercifully short mountain climbs. Plus, the speed limit is usually under 50KPH (which is about 30MPH), and everyone drives sub 2,000 pound cars.

The amateur BMX rider gets huge urban areas that are absolutely packed with little 2 foot drop-offs, ledges, and curbs of all kinds. There are so many well-maintained geometric oddities in these cities that I can't figure out why some doofus with a 20-inch bike hasn't started jumping off of them.

And for the mountain biker, well, Japan is 90% mountains, and nobody seems to care about mountain biking so you have the trails to yourself. You seriously can't swing a dead cat in this town without finding a dirt trail into the mountains.

Anyway, these thoughts occurred to me during my weekend jaunt. Here are some pictures:

Oh damn!

This was some random logging road I found. It was pretty gnarly, with lots of deep sand, thick mud, huge ruts, and big rocks and branches all over the place. Mark Weir famously said "I'd shit out my liver before I'd push my bike." Well guess what? I'm not him, because I hiked a lot of this quagmire.

More trail.

Tires-eye view maybe?

Yep, this is the middle of nowhere. And yet there sits a fully operational vending machine, poised in case one of the two farmers wants a soda.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A New, More Sinister Theory Arises

I recently got an interesting take on the guy returning a dropped yen coin to me at the store. A friend, who has spent a good amount time in Japan, thinks it was actually an insult...Like, that the guy was essentially saying "You are a lazy, rich, careless product of a disgusting and opulent society. I am a fastidious and efficient little worker bee. Cower before me, lazy American."

My first thought was, "Yeah, but how much can he bench?" Not really. Actually, I must admit that, since the guy was in his mid-20s, a group world-renowned for their general bastardry, I had a passing thought that I was being mocked somehow, some way. But here's why I discarded that notion, and why I disagree with my friend's assessment too:

1. Laziness. If he really did want to make a symbolic gesture to insult me, that would be pretty good. However, I kind of doubt some random person would see me and muster up all the effort it would take to pull it off, knowing full well that any sort of deeper meaning would likely be lost on my pathetic American brain. The simplest answer is that I just dropped a 1 yen coin, and that's more likely in my opinion.

2. Russians. There's a ton of dirty communist Russians in this town. They can come over without a visa under a fisherman's agreement. I assume they look essentially like me. This only adds to the complication of this guy's statement--all that effort, and he has no idea if I'm even American. I could be Russian, British, Australian, etc.

3. The Spectacle. My other thought was that maybe he just wanted to have an interaction with a big hilarious foreigner to talk about with his boys at the Izakaya.

4. The wallet test. As this experiment demonstrates, people just do return money because it's the right thing to do: http://www.wallettest.com/Lost_Wallet_Test/Results_Page.html

However, if a Japanese person were going to insult you, that is EXACTLY how they would do it, so I don't know. I think I'm going to have to drop a few more 1 yen coins and catalogue my results.

And just between you and me--I really don't want all my 1 yen coins. I am not a rich man, but I'm rich enough not to want millions of worthless circles of aluminum jingling around my pocket.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Whitesnake: The Poetry and the Pornography

While I was eating lunch today it occurred to me why Whitesnake was brilliant. I was listening to "Is This Love." It's a love song, unsurprisingly. In fact, most of their songs are overt love songs, with titles like "Love Ain't No Stranger," "Hungry for Love," "Love Don't Mean a Thing," "Looking for Love," and so on and so forth. So you'd thing such a sappy approach to song-writing would instantly alienate legions of metal-loving males, right?

Not really--just when you start to get pissed off at the sappy overtures oozing from your speakers, the band cranks out a gnarly guitar solo and you're into it again. Or they name a song "Slide it In." Or they make a music video for said love song featuring Tawny Kitaen dry-humping a '68 Camaro or something, and you think "Hey, maybe these guys are the retarded metal badasses I want them to be." I assume this feeling is opposite for many women-that the romantic aspect draws them in, and there's enough to tide them through the heavy riffs.

My theory is that they were able to be everything to everyone, masterfully toeing the line between two disparate audiences.

David Coverdale's perm is worth more than your life, worm.

Monday, October 1, 2007

At the Grocery Store Tonight

I was in the grocery store scoring some heavily discounted fish tonight. Original price was like 10 bucks for a big cut of sashimi-grade tuna, but I paid under 3 bucks. 30 minutes before closing time means the store can't be picky about the price they get on fresh fish.

I paid, packed my groceries, and walked out of the store. Seconds later, the dude who was bagging his groceries next to me came sprinting out of the store. Why? Because I had dropped a 1 yen coin. 1 yen. That's less than a damn penny. Now that's courtesy!

How Japanese, I chuckled to myself over seared tuna and green beans.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Japanese Erg Championships

Today at practice I was told that our team will be competing in the Japanese erg championships in December. They want me to be the Japanese erg champion. I asked what kind of time we're talking about. Our stroke said the time to beat is 6:26. I said I could be the Japanese erg champion in 2 weeks, in that case. Everyone thought that was pretty funny.

The weird thing is, usually every country has a handful of random freaks who are big and strong and defy all logic. Shouldn't Japan have one of those guys? Shouldn't there be some Romanian expat who wanted to study engineering in Tokyo and happens to whale on the erg? 6:26, for reference, is a very good high school male's score in the US. For US colleges, you're looking at under 6:20 for JV and under 6:10 for varsity. I think the best US college score is somewhere under 5:50 these days.

So we'll see if that score quoted to me was a mistake. If not, maybe I can have a glorious victory and almost beat my best time as a 17 year old.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Hike of Doom and Learning Kanji

For no particular reason I haven't posted in six days. I apologize for anyone who missed the epic lulz this blog generates. You can now resume getting your 30 seconds of mild enjoyment.

This weekend I went to a resort town called Onikobe (sp?), which is famous for its hot springs. Our group wanted to go hiking, so we went. It was hiking in the loosest sense. I kept looking for my crampons. The hike was damn-near vertical, and certainly harder than anything I encountered back home (Saddle Mountain included).

Our group was comprised of about six middle-aged men and women, in various degrees of fitness ranging from fit to horribly out of shape. As usual, some people were sucking back cigs the whole way. And yet every single person finished, and in respectable time too. These mountain-dwellers are fantastic natural hikers.

Here are some pictures of my epic weekend:

Here's one of the many sections where you had to use a rope to get up the incline, since it was so steep and littered with loose, muddy stones.

This was the pay-off after the grueling 90 minute hike:

"Use your imagination!" was one fellow climber's suggestion.

The house we stayed at is located in a neighborhood built around a hot spring. When you buy land, you also pay for a spigot that shoots out steaming hot springs water 24 hours a day. This is a picture of the neighborhood's gutters, which have water from the hot springs running through them constantly.

My Kanji lesson for the evening. "Kanji is easy! Look. This means mouth. This is a mouth. They look the same! What could be easier?"

East meets West.

Demon cat is watching you eat dinner...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Failures in Japanese Product Naming

This sounds more like a condition you'd hear about in prison than a delightful crunchy snack. Thus, I pronounce this name to be a failure. The product, however, was a sugary delight.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The "Highlander" Method of Teaching

I think of that movie "Highlander" a lot when I'm teaching. If you haven't seen it, it's a crappy 80s movie about these eternal beings who have been fighting throughout the ages because, for some reason, there can be only one. We are reminded of that fact by many characters screaming that phrase throughout the movie. Now, there can be only one, so they are all trying to be that one. Because I guess that's a good thing. The only way these guys can kill each other is by getting their head cut off.

That's kind of my theory on classroom discipline. I look at the class as a highlander. My goal is to defeat this highlander in battle--if I succeed, the class is quiet and does their work with a minimum of loud outbursts. Now, since there can be only one, the highlander/class of kids is constantly battling me too, by being bad--as if I'm a rival highlander.

Now since you can only kill a highlander by cutting off his head, that leads me to my next point. Each class has a figurative "head--" or, the 3 or 4 ringleaders who are responsible for directing the character of the class. I try to focus all of my disciplinary swordsmanship on these miscreants, knowing that it's ultimately futile to waste time on the lesser "body" students. Because, you see, if I can successfully cajole/threaten/convince the "head" students to do their work and follow my instructions, the other students will naturally fall into line.

After their defeat, obviously, I acquire these bad students' powers of misconduct as my own, in a blinding flash of light.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Perfect Bicycle

I went mountain biking yesterday. The ride to the trail was a torturous 45-minute granny gear slog straight up hill. My sleeveless American flag/guitar motif t-shirt, while awesome, proved to be a horrible choice, as it left my arms bare to the mosquitoes and my torso constricted in a soggy cold cotton mess. I would have worn something made of wicking fabric, but that would make me a traitor.

I finally made it to the top of the road, sweating like a rented mule and covered in mosquito bites. I located the trail and started to descend. Just as the road up was a near-vertical incline, the ride down was a frighteningly steep decline, but it was also composed of loose gravel, skull-sized rocks and exposed roots. If I let the brakes off and just tried to coast I would have been going about 40MPH in five seconds. I went down going about 2MPH, my mid-90s cantilever brakes shrieking at the cruel twist of fate that transferred them from their quiet garage life into this pitiful existence. I'm actually surprised that my descent at speeds roughly equivalent to "kindly grandmother riding home from the grocery store" didn't warp the wheels or something.

So I think to myself, what kind of bike would excel at this type of ride? Something that climbs easily, but somehow also has tons of suspension and slack angles for going straight downhill. And that's when it hit me. This is the perfect bike for Japan:

I'm one international driver's license and a simple road test away from being a menace to myself and others, both on and off-road. Depending, of course, how much these things cost used.

The mighty Yamaha TW200. It seems to be a fairly popular choice in these parts, and yes, that is a really gigantic rear tire with tread the entire way around.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Franzia in a Bottle

For those of you not familiar with this fixture of college pukefests, this picture sums the brand up nicely:

I defy you to go any frat party in America, bring a box of Franzia, and try to go the whole night without seeing someone do this. It's impossible. This colored bilge water was designed with one purpose in mind: rapid and cheap intoxication. Sure, it's got nicer graphics on the box and probably makes some allusions to grapes from Napa Valley, but don't kid yourself: the only reason homeless dudes pick Cisco over this stuff is because the 5-liter cardboard cube doesn't fit in a paper bag.

So what? There's good wine (I've heard. I've never actually tasted it because I'm poor), and there's bad wine. Good wine comes in bottles, and bad wine comes in boxes, cans, and can be seen mixed up with chunks of Ballpark hotdogs splattered across the floors of dorm rooms across America.

Well, Japan decided to defy convention and offer Franzia in a bottle, which prompts the question, WHY? Isn't the entire brand centered around it being crappy, cheap, and in a box? Is your average Franzia customer really going to be put off by the wine's packaging not being "classy" enough? This boggles my mind. I know there's other cheap wine in bottles (3 buck Chuck), but Franzia is synonymous with "box wine." I think there's some aphorism about dressing a pig like a lady that might apply here, and if there isn't there should be.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why Japanese People are Skinny

I was leaving work the other day, and noticed one of my co-workers carrying a small plastic bag.

"Leftovers from lunch?" I inquired.

"Yes, I couldn't finish it."

"Oh, what were you eating?"

"A roll."

I'm suspicious. "Oh, like for a sandwich? Like with meat and lettuce?"

"No. The roll has some butter flavor baked into it, so it's good enough by itself."

I'm finally getting the picture. She ate a roll for lunch. A ROLL. A woman with no discernable eating hang-ups simply eating a normal lunch. And I spied a diet Pepsi in the bag, too.

Ignoring the fact that, nutritionally, this lunch is a disaster, this is why it works:

Total calories: Roll, 300-400. Diet Pepsi, 0.

Body weight: Approx 120.

Approximate minimum calories needed for someone that size: 1200

400 calories x 3 meals = just about right. That is insane to me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Teaching in the Shadow of Godzilla

I took some pictures of the Buddhist temple/preschool we teach at once a week. Enjoy, and as always, if the spirit moves you, you can comment.

There he is, out on the big dirt playground. Watching. Waiting. I pray the day never comes when Mothra attempts to disrupt our singing of the "Hello" song, but when he does we'll be ready.

These children wear green hats. They are the alphas. They will attend prestigious universities and eventually run Miyagi from mahogany-paneled offices. The unfortunate wretches in the red hats are the helpers. They are betas, doomed from this early age to grovel at the feet of the green hats. Actually, I have no clue why the little kids wear different colored hats. Probably some mundane reason...it's safer to make a story up.

This is one of the wooden gods that stands at the entrance to the school. He's about ten feet tall, and filled with barely-corked asskickery, as you can tell from his expression. Shaolin warrior monks, giant monster statues--Islam better watch out if it wants to retain its "scary foreign religion" crown.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Miniature Military

Today I went to the Yochien (little pre-schoolers) sports festival. My boss described it as a miniature military demonstration, and he wasn't far off. We looked onto a giant dirt circle. There's a jungle gym and a Godzilla-shaped slide in one corner, and the school in another. There's a Buddhist temple and mountains rising off a hundred feet to our rear.

All of a sudden there's staccato bursts from a whistle and drums banging to a marching rhythm. Out march streams of little kids, wearing tiny little colored hats to denote their class.

They march, they dance, they sing, they cry. There is always at least 3 children crying.

After a few hours of watching, I was told to join the next activity. I was kind of given vague instructions in Japanese and handed a red headband, which I tied around my forehead. I was confused. Then me and about 20 of the parents were ushered into the center of the ring to face off, gladiator-style. There were about 500 people watching from all sides.

We were given a huge, thick rope. Ah, a tug-of-war. This is something I know. Unfortunately for the other team, I only counted as one person, but my rope-pulling abilities are glorious compared to the 100 pound Japanese women we faced.

The whistle sounded and the war began. In the underdog upset of the century, my team won. We played one more time, and we won easily again. If you haven't competed in a brute force no skill no aerobic capacity needed contest against young mothers, you should treat yourself--it makes you feel like a badass.

I wish I had pictures, but I woke up, got dressed, and left in under 3 minutes and forgot my camera. I'll try to rustle up pictures from someone else. This being Japan, probably 10,000 digital pictures were taken today.

Friday, September 7, 2007

My Top 5 Songs With Video

These are my top five songs at the moment. Draw your own conclusions.

I'm not sure why, but I really really enjoy this song. I never get tired of it. For whatever reason, it just really does it for me. I've listened to it about 10 times a week for the past 3 years. No joke.

I don't know who this Nelly Furtado person is, but apparently she's pretty popular. I absolutely love this song. The video is incredibly stupid, so don't watch it. Click play and go read salon.com or something so you don't have to see that self-indulgent tripe. The song is quite original. Again, it just does it for me for some reason.

Unfortunately, the best sound quality for this song came coupled with some random chick's crappy photo album. Sorry. This song epitomizes 1994 for me. It was the year both NOFX's "Punk in Drublic" and Rancid's "Let's Go" albums came out, both of which were defining records for my 11-year-old self. I listen to both to this day.

I like the fact that Whitesnake existed. Any time I listen to them I feel like some badass rebel hitchhiking across America with all my belongings in a snakeskin suitcase or something. They're so purely comical, drenched in adolescent hormones and retarded sexuality that you can't help but be charmed. Plus their videos are the best of the genre in my opinion.

He's a born-again Hassidic Jew reggae artist/rapper. Hey, it's America, why not? Actually, like the glorious Dred Zeppelin, he's a novelty act who doesn't acknowledge that he's a novelty act, and has poured so much of his heart into his craft that he's quite good.

Damn, I forgot how much I like music. Anyway, enjoy, and if you're listening to anything cool at the moment, post it in the comments section.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Class 9 Typhoon

As predicted, the typhoon that was meandering up from the Tokyo-area hit Miyagi early this morning. It forced me to close all my windows for the first time since I arrived in Japan. I hate rooms with no air circulation, but I hate rooms filled with water more.

This typhoon is ridiculous. It actually prevented me from sleeping last night with the random bursts of 8000 mile an hour wind blasting out of nowhere and rattling my windows and the incessant sheets of heavy rain careening sideways into my walls. This is the worst rainstorm I have ever seen.

To top it all off, I had a lot of big plans today. Big plans which do not involve me being a soggy and unhappy mess. This thing doesn't look like it's gonna stop any time soon though.

If you're sequestered like me, you can go visit this website. My brother sent me the link. The slogan is the best of any company ever.


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My New Girl's Bike

Well, I finally broke down and replaced the sad old teacher's bike. The thing hadn't been maintained at all since its purchase five years ago, but the nail on the coffin was my hideous treatment. The bike sucked, and I hated it, so I abused it to make it pay for being a terrible bike. I hit every pothole, curb, and ledge in striking distance. A month ago I got a flat on the rear wheel. I rode it on the rim and eventually started breaking spokes every few days.

At this point I had a wobbly-ass rear wheel that's all rusty and out of true, and the rear tire was making a horrible rubber-smooshing-on-pavement sound, and yet I rode on. A couple weeks ago I got a flat in the front. Now the front's making the smooshy flat tire sound. I felt like I was riding the thing through molasses, and yet I still rode on.

Every time I rode across a slight lip on the pavement, the tires would slide off the rim and the whole bike would flop about an inch to the side of the slippage. Disconcerting, but I ignored it.

My breaking point came after work yesterday. I had just applied the dynamo to the front wheel to power the headlight. The dynamo was dragging on the rim to generate the power, the two flat tires were pancaked against the road making their horrible noise, and both of my wheels hopped at different points in their revolution due to being more oval than round. So there I was, a big white guy on a little bike with 2 flat tires and football shaped wheels clanking and clattering down the road at about 3 miles an hour.

Even though it would have been less than 30 bucks to get that rusty deathtrap rideable again, I ditched it and bought an entirely new crappy bike for the low low price of 8,800 yen (75 bucks). I felt like I was riding a Colnago on the way back from the store. It just goes to show you--you don't need fancy things, just crappy things for your mediocre things to seem great in comparison to!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

This Man Out Spinal Taps Spinal Tap

This has nothing to do with Japan, but it's one of the shreddingest things I've ever seen, so you should watch it:

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Damnation, I Forgot My Camera!

I was roused from my slumber by the phone ringing. It was about 8:15AM, and I rasped hello into the mouthpiece. On the other end was a local JET (Japanese English Teacher, part of a government-sponsored program), asking if I wanted to go to a culture festival at the high school she teaches at. Normally, I run as fast as possible from "cultural" things--the word makes me think of boring museums and ancient pottery sitting inside a glass case. Besides, I was going to a ramen shop with my boss, so I thought it was a moot point. Apparently I was the only person who could possibly make it, and after some mild arm twisting I agreed to go. It turned out to be a very good decision.

I had 20 minutes to shower, dress, chug a pot of coffee, and bike over to the meeting spot. I barely made it on time, but forgot my camera. So of course I saw the most bizarre stuff yet.

The cultural festival was half cultural stuff like calligraphy and paintings, and half random Japanese festival craziness. The best parts:

1. 6'3'' Japanese guy with Darth Vader helmet, full-size cow costume, and a stuffed horse head attached to his crotch.

2. A "haunted house" which involved wriggling commando-style through pitch blackness with no direction through a claustrophobic maze some students set up in the gym. There was maybe one rubber severed head, but the whole experience left me unafraid and sore.

3. Another tall Japanese guy in a bright red spandex outfit with a giant question mark mask over his face and a golden faucet attached to his crotch. Crotch modification seemed to be a theme with the costumes.

4. Crappy Japanese high school rock band performances. Like crappy American high school rock band performances, but with more style and eyeliner.

I spent the rest of the day hiking, onsenning, and eating. Here's a picture dump from after I picked up my camera:

Zieg Heil, let's go for a hike! Nope, it's the Buddhist version. The hills are safe from Nazis.

Uncle Rico heard there was a high school culture festival. He's rushing to make sure no one turns 18 on him.

One of the beaches we went to today. It had a Pacific island vibe to it...wait just a minute..

This little bay was protected from typhoons and Godzilla attacks with these weird stone structures.

Doesn't this picture, like, totally make you think you're gonna fall in?

Well, that was a lot of pictures. I'm not changing the title of this post though--now it's just ironic.