Monday, March 23, 2009

Hello Spring

I forgot what it felt like to have my windows open in the evening and to feel the sun on my shoulders! Not quite spring yet, but here she comes!
I have a wicked taste for umbrella thievery which is the outcome of not being able to hold on to my own umbrellas. If I have walked into a building when it was raining and walk out when it is not, it is absolutely garanteed that I will forget my umbrella. As it turns out the two acceptable forms of thievery in Japan are bike and umbrella theft, but I haven't taken to stealing bikes just yet as its too rainy to really enjoy bike riding.
Waiting for the bus in the rain with my students.
A recent going away party for two of the teachers I work with. All the teachers get rotated to different schools something like every 4-7 years to ensure that the schools around the prefecture have an equal chance at having good teachers. We gathered and drank and drank in honor of the leaving teachers and at times it was quite the solemn event. We all had to give speeches about those leaving and they had to give speeches about us and many tears were shed.
On the way home from the drinking/crying party I saw this guy playing his "guitar." I didn't realize that he was clearly nuts until I got right up to him, I was just so drawn in by his outdoor jamming enthusiasm. I guess this is an indicator of how rare it is to see nutters in the streets in Kagoshima... the fact that I am now taking pictures of them. A far cry away from good old Santa Cruz.
This is what the beach looks like. Swimming? No!

A small town recently visited where the descendents of Korean potters who were kidnapped and brought to Kagoshima by the local lord still live and make pottery.
Chillin' in the park on a sunny day. Japanese kids are always unbearably cute.
Ew, these dogs are terrible. Why are their faces always tear-stained and frozen in a pout?
An amazing self-decorated house (I am guessing?) near one of my schools.
Oh for the love of mechanized food production (or not?)! What a great machine! These sweets are like mini thick pancakes with sweet white bean on the inside and you eat them when they are warm and gooey and make you need at least ten more.
A cemetary on a rainy day.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Weddings and Workdays

One of the English teachers I work with got married last weekend. The reception was a carefully staged show of dress changes, tearful speeches (during which everyone cried) and all of the formality that accompanies any ceremony in Japan. First, the bride came out in traditional wedding kimono and marched solemnly around our tables while we all cheered her on.
Some of the other teachers I work with eating the twelve course meal that was served. Luckily the champagne never ran dry...
After the kimono affair, the bride changed into a Western-style wedding dress and cut the cake with her husband. As you can see they were very serious about documenting this wedding, no drunken best friends giving speeches into the camera allowed! Unfortunately, no shoving cake into each other's faces either.
In true Japanese form, rather than have a messy throwing of a bouquet, we each held the end of a ribbon, only one of which was actually attached to the bouquet so that when we all pulled someone was left attached. Is it weird that I wanted to be the one who got the bouquet? Obviously I have no intention to get married in the next years, but that little girl/prize winner in me always wants the bouquet!
(Off with their heads!) And then a change into a third dress. All of her dresses were something that the six-year-old me would have dreamed up... 1980's over-glorified prom dresses accompanied by some amazing changing hairdos.
When the last dress came out, the bride and groom walked to each table and symbolically lit the center piece candles. When all of them were lit, they lit the master candle at the front of the room and sparks flew everywhere and everyone clapped. To my delight, this was all choreographed to many classic '90's love ballads!
The bride and the groom each gave tearful speeches addressed to their fathers about how much they loved and were thankful for their fathers. The emphasis was definitely not on their mutual love, but on thanking their families for getting them there, which is nice, but seemed a little dry to me. Like Indian weddings, it seemed more focused on the sadness of the bride and groom entering a new stage of life rather than their love. I can't complain about getting champagne drunk at a Sunday brunch affair, but as far as weddings go it was much too serious and formal. All of the fun parts seemed to be missing. No dancing! How are you supposed to move in on the groom's friends?
Last week. For various reason's some of the other foreign English teachers and I had to report to our central headquarters for four days instead of going to school. Our supervisor told us the time was meant for "lesson preparation," but he must be hugely out of touch with what our job entails (we can never plan lessons before our Japanese English teachers who we are partnered with give us the lesson info, which they never do ahead of time). We had nothing to do and were put in a hallway room with one window for four days, 8:30 to 4:15.
So we practiced juggling tankans, the most delicious orange grown specially in this area.
Watched David Attenborough nature documentaries.
And Slept. On the second day of this tedium, myself and three others ran from the bottom floor to the 16th floor and by the 8th floor my lungs almost gave out. We talked about God, wrote collective stories, French-braided each other's hair, and generally felt like we were at a really bad office summer camp, or that our parent's hadn't been able to find a babysitter and we had to come to work with them all day.
The gloom of the headquarters. This is the prefectural office building. As part of some policy to save public funds, the building is very poorly lit and never heated or air conditioned. A general state of gloom prevails. We found ourselves surveying the office workers and saying things like, "Boy, we will never work a job like this!" and then pausing, realizing that in fact (though also not really) we all are working that job.
I've grown fond of calling this building the "death star" as you can see it from almost any point in the city and is god awfully ugly. I sing Darth Vader's theme song whenever I approach it.
Da da da duh da duuh da da duuuuh!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Graduations, group tooth-brushing and ferrets on leashes

View of Kagoshima City from the Shiroyama (white mountain) lookout point.
Schools in Japan are on a year-round schedule, March marking graduation time. I was pretty curious to see what a high school graduation ceremony would be like and kept describing to my teachers the chaos of graduations at home (chickens under gowns, blow-up dolls, moonings, drunk boyfriends staggering onto the stage, hang gliders, the usual).

Let's just say that the only thing that Japanese and American high school graduation ceremonies have in common is that for the most part they are incredibly boring. This graduation was really long with many speeches given by various public servants and noted officials and very little emphasis on any individual student. There were no student speeches or recognitions - one student from each homeroom class accepted a diploma on behalf of their entire class and there were absolutely no rebellious antics (not surprising at all). Yet at the end, when all of the students were singing the long and dull school anthem, about half of them burst into tears and sobbed through the entire thing. The other half seemed nonplussed or super bored and filed out of the gym like they would have for any other assembly.
Formal, formal, formal ceremony. I was pretty disappointed... there should at least have been celebratory whoops of glee that high school was over...peeling out the parking lot, ripping off shirts, throwing books in the hall, pumping up the base... (my student's don't drive, would be severely reprimanded for removing an article of their uniform, and you can't just throw your books way, you have to sort them into one of the six appropriate recycling receptacles).
My favorite graduating students.
Cleaning up the gym after the ceremony.
I recently found out that there is a "jazz bar" in Kagoshima City. The music was the usual cheesy jazz standard stuff, with of course the ever popular "Girl from Ipanema" (I hear some horrible cover of this song at least once a week piped into a public space/store around town. Japanese people love this song!), but I ate it all up because it has been so long since I have been in the vicinity of live music.

Photo (left to right): My friend Mayumi, the piano player, me, my friend Virginia, Mayumi's friend, a local professor, and a really really drunk guy (trying to keep himself from peeing?).

This drunk guy wandered in with his friends and at first I thought he was lost on his way to a snack bar (a bar where you pay ladies to sit and have conversations with you), but it turned out that he was a big jazz enthusiast. He could barely keep his eyes open but he could yell "Yeeeeaaaaah!" in a really deep voice at inopportune moments and got up several times to dance traditional Japanese dances to the music with his eyes closed. Fantastic!
My favorite local grocery store where I can find all kinds of cheap local produce and fresh herbs. And a woman wearing a turban.
A woman walking her goat. She carried a little whisk and dustbin with her so she could sweep up after its poop, which seemed like way too much effort, I mean those goats basically poop every time they take a step!
Ferret and fat long-haired dachshund interaction in the park, Sunday afternoon.
Brushing my teeth after lunch with fellow English teachers.