Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bless Me

Life abroad isn't easy to adjust too. But that's what makes it fun. With each encounter, you not only pickup something new but you're able to re-evaluate your native culture. Though forget language, food and holidays, the major differences between cultures rest within simple everyday things. For example, adjusting from the western handshake to bowing in Japan. While, I've obeyed the "When in Rome" creed, there is one stateside custom I refuse to abandon.

In America, when family, friends, or even the perverted crossing guard sneezes, we bestow upon them good faith by saying "Bless You," "God Bless You" (guilt-ridden sinners), or "Gesundheit" (morons). But if you dare to neglect performing this selfless public gesture, then prepare to meet your doom. According to a study I made up, 21.8% of all divorce cases can be traced to a spouse refusing to properly "bless" the other.

Though, it pains me, like a bag of full of black jelly beans, to inform you that the Japanese have no equivalent. Like most native wildlife, blessings are no where to be found in Japan. Sure, they'll take off their shoes, ask permission to begin eating, and will even bring you strange little tarts from EVERY PLACE they visit, but don't expect a gram of sympathy when your antibodies ready for war.

Instead of moral support following a sneeze, the Japanese instead adorn a medical mask and sneer at you until you act like a monkey and copy them. Sure it makes sense to prevent the spreading of germs, but it lacks love. And I am one mountain of a lovely man!

But don't be afraid, 'Bless You Man' is here to make a crappy attempt to save the day!

In the hallway, when a student ejects the boogers... "Bless you!"

In the office when a co-worker eight desks down nasally vomits... "Bless you!"

In the adjacent bathroom stall a guy sneezes... "BLESS YOU!"

According to fantasy stats, I'm shooting 96% accuracy within a 1km range. Metrically speaking, that ain't too shabby! Though sadly, my determination is often met with light chuckling, and not one Japanese person has stepped forward with a bless you of their own. And believe me, I blow into those tissues like a Nazi blowing up a kosher deli. While my comrads may view me as stubbornly wasting my time, they are simply blind to the potential of a fully integrated blessing system.

But today reality came sloshing down like boogers from a sick child. An hour before lunch my stomach was growling to be fed. Hearing the gastric cries my supervisor turned to me and said, "Bless you."

Exactly... "bless me!"

Monday, November 30, 2009

Pain in the Arts

There's a reason I don't teach kindergarten. While my personality ideally matches that of an energetic, yappy, and 元気 (げんき / genki), jovial/happy, youngster, there’s something my body wasn’t built for: Arts & Crafts. I’m clumsy, lack patience, I certainly don’t stay in the lines, and my feeble fingers shake like I’m in rehab. I'll gladly stroll through an arts & crafts show, but you won’t find me behind a booth.

Our (humans) brains are either wired internally to their physical body or externally to their soul merging with the outside world. The former makeup the world’s athletes and salarymen. While the latter is where I fit in nicely. This is the land of the thinkers and 夢想家 (むそうか / musouka), dreamers. When your brain is too busy contemplating an ice cream stand on a purple cloud, it can’t accurately orchestrate the maneuvering of muscles needed to move you eleven yards ahead to leap, and catch the ball while safely landing on the ground. Being an extreme imaginataur (a cute little name I came up with), this also rules out arts & crafts. Though doesn’t mean I shy away from torturing myself.

So during the dismal darkness of winter when opportunity came knocking, eleven of us 怪人 (がいじん / gaijin), foreigners opened the door to brighten our lives with our own personal Nebuta float.

Aomori’s Nebuta 祭り (祭り / matsuri), festival, is the premier summer celebration in northern Honshu. Picture a nighttime Macy’s Day Thanksgiving parade where gigantic illuminated paper floats march through the streets alongside flutes, Taiko drums and heaps of leaping volunteers clad in an unusual Haneto costume.

Besides growing りんご (ringo), apples the size of a giant's fist, Nebuta is Aomori's claim to fame. While I have joined the parade, I had no experience in creating one of the magical floats. Consequently, it was only natural that I immersed myself in this rich tradition. Early Saturday morning, we cracked our knuckles and gave out a ceremonial yawn as famed Nebuta artist, 木村明 (Kimura Akira), trained us to mold, craft, and paint a Nebuta float patterned after the face of who we believe to be the Japanese warrior, Saitō Musashibō Benkei.


The mundane adventure begins.

The journey towards creation involved seven crucial, pain-staking, phases:

1.) MOLD: Using a mapped out cheat sheet, we framed the body of the float by bending and twisting metal wires like they were on the dance floor. My fragile fingertips did not appreciate this activity.


Crave & Chris showing off their steel frames

2.) GLUE: Finishing the skeleton frame, we cut individual pieces of paper and glue them on forming the skin.

3.) EAT: Without a sandwich of doubt, lunch was where I shined the most!

4.) PENCIL: Before painting the face of our float, we sketched the design. I should have spent more time on this.

5.) PAINT: While we had a sample to mimic, many of us renewed our creative licenses by adding protruding tongues, piercings or in my case, lipstick kiss stains on the cheek and forehead.


Kimura-Sensei's shows 'this is how we do it!'

6.) WATCH: In the 'this doesn't make any sense' moment of the day, a professional electrician was hired to come in and install light bulbs inside our floats.

7.) POSE: Fat ladies are rare in Japan so nothing is over until a group photo is taken.


Cultures conveniently collide culminating an enjoyable day of Arts & Crafts.

While I thought we would be out the door before 1pm, most of us struggled to complete our 'apprenticepieces’ before 5pm. The work was miserable, but in the end I have something gloriously awful to show off! Now whenever someone attempts to drag me off to an All-Night Knitting Party, I simply show them ‘Mr. Casual’ and they understand my pain. Arts & Crafts are a wonderful diversion for many, but in my case I’ll let it float on to the next person.


Just like what a parent says about their child, 'It may not be pretty, but it's mine!"

Special thanks to Chris, Tesia, and Christy for assistance with this experience and post.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Piece of Cake

“It’s a piece of cake until you get to the top.
You find you can’t stop playing the game the way you’ve always played it.”
- Richard M. Nixon

The odds were stacked against me. I decided to teach my students slang.

Now, being an elite academic institution, 青森高校 (あおもりこうこう / aomori koko), Aomori High School’s students drown themselves in pride. While their vocabulary reaches into four digit territory, they are painfully はずかしがり (hazukashigari), shy. They would rather pretend they were frozen, as if staring into the eyes of Medusa, than to risk uttering an incorrect response.

Unfortunately, as is the case with most Japanese 生徒 (せいと / seito), students, mine exclusively orate the “hello / I’m fine / see you” package. I find this outrageously mundane. Personally, the conversations are so scripted and boring. Consequently, it’s rumored I now hold the Guinness Record for longest yawn. The students’ robotic lack of voice may fly in Japan, but not in my imaginative world.

While I’m aware my knowledge of Japanese is as if I were a four year old Forrest Gump: by using Japanese スラング (surangu), slang, I surprise and delight the natives. I’ve made it a goal to learn trendy phrases alongside the basics. For example, instead of おいしい (oishii), delicious, I’ll say 超うまい (ちょううまい / chou umai), the trendy way to say extremely tasty. Whenever I utter a ‘slang’ phrase, it has the same effect as a Japanese exchange student in America saying, “Damn son, cheq out dat a$$.” It may not be appropriate, but it’s unexpected, and people stick around for more.

My patented lethal weapon though is へのかっぱ (he no kappa), which translates into ‘piece of cake.’ Which is exactly what I thought it would be to instill the coolness of slang into the working vocabularies of my esteemed students.

Though the process is ongoing, I’m constantly reviewing the long list of かっいい (kakkoii), cool, words and phrases with my students. Thankfully, “hello” is now an endangered species with “what’s up?” and “heya” spreading like wildfire. While “see you” is a stubborn beast, I hear enough of “Have a nice day” and “take care” to keep my faith in the program. Overall, the greetings, manners, and reactions seem to be moving in quite nicely. Though, idioms remain a challenge.

Enter Mr. Fun, a 2年生 (ねんせい / nensei), 2nd year, student in class 2-3. He’s a short man sporting a tan complexion and styled hair that smoothly slopes down his forehead like a pointed spear. I knew he was something out of the ordinary when during 文化祭 (ぶんかさい / bunkasai), school culture festival, he wore a Miami Dolphins jersey. While a common garment of fashion in the states, you’re as likely to see a NFL jersey on a Japanese person as you are to find middle aged men engrossed in a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos at the barbershop. Sure it happens, but you’re delightfully shocked every time. Especially when that student is adorned in the attire of the (てき / teki), enemy, of your hometown favorite Buffalo Bills.

So of course I took notice of this なぞめいた (nazomeita), enigmatic, young man. What I discovered was as uplifting as Reese’s Pieces at the bottom of an ice cream sundae. Mr. Fun was no robot. He was an individual: one who wore his name with a smile.

After exposing students to ‘holy moly,’ he single handily branded it as his class’s catchphrase. Every time I’d walk by the 教室 (きょうしつ / kyoushitsu), classroom, chants of ‘holy moly!’ emitted from random students. While it wasn’t always used properly, I basked in the glory of their efforts.

Though when Mr. Fun became rather fond of, ‘piece of cake,’ concern clouded the glory. No matter what I said, Mr. Fun responded with ‘piece of cake.’

“What’s up?” / “It’s a piece of cake.”
“See you next class.” / “Piece of cake!”

Quickly, I felt as though Mr. Fun was mocking me. “Holy moly,” I thought. I didn’t earn an English Education degree from Boston University, inspire Florida high school students for five years, earn my National Board Certification, and take the time to instill coolness in these robots to inherit a bully. “Oh hell nah!”

Consequently, as the ‘pieces of cake’ arrived, they were met with constructive criticism. “Funny, but that’s NOT when you use that phrase,” I said. It appeared as though his ‘slang-parade’ would never improve. Though as the weeks jogged by, I noticed something: Mr. had lost his Fun. He no longer uttered 'holy moly,' 'see ya later alligator,' let alone 'piece of cake.'

“What happened?” I wondered. While this would have proven a perfect chance for a ‘teachable moment’ I had three messages in my Facebook inbox dying to be read. So I forgot about him.

Until recently, when visiting the downtown library I saw someone. It was him. He sat at a table with two classmates not more than 100 footsteps away. While public conversations with students are difficult due to their shyness and limited oral abilities, I opted to give it a try. Peering down at their papers, I noticed they were studying for an upcoming English exam. “Are you studying English?” I asked.

The classmates were sluggishly processing a response when Mr. Fun looked up, extended his thumb and said, “It’s a piece of cake.” And for the first time, it was.

I Can Dream About You

“Nothing happens unless first we dream.”
– Carl Sandberg

As a stereotypical American, 英語 (えいご / eigo), English, is my one and only language. Consequently, just like a Hollywood movie, my dreams are exclusively in English, regardless of the presence of foreigners.

Though last year, a fellow Aomori JET was delighted to have his very first ‘Japanese Dream.’ This meant in the ゆめ (yume), dream, Japanese was both spoken and understood; subtitles not included. For many of us studying 日本語 (にほんご / nihongo) Japanese, such a dream is a rite of passage. It proves your absorption of the language has saturated your reality to where it flows into the 潜在意識 (せんざいいしき / senzaiishiki), subconscious mind. I marveled at this anomaly and hoped to one day experience the same.

Several months had passed and without even a speck of ‘dreamy Japanese,’ envy crawled its way into my confidence. “Where was the Japanese in my dreams?” Clearly, I had only myself to blame. And it was time for self-reflection. Upon looking in the mirror I realized not only that I was quite handsome but that my Japanese ability was equivalent to that of an 8 month old baby! So I hit the books.

I’ve been studying like it’s the only way to get laid. And thus, last night it happened. My ‘Japanese Dream’ cherry was popped! Now, I won’t lie. It wasn’t the grandest display of Japanese, but it was there in some barbaric form.

In this particular installment, I was on vacation in my hometown of Buffalo. An old friend, Jimmy Wong, and I were paying a visit to the zoo when a group of Asian people approached us. They spoke in broken English and an unrecognizable muttered language. Which is a result of my (のう / nou), brain’s, inability to produce literal Asian dialects. It wasn’t until they uttered the words, ‘Bill Cosby’ were we aware of their intentions. They had two extra tickets for Bill Cosby’s performance later that night. Why he chose Buffalo on his deathbed tour is beside the point. Upon seeing the \16000 ($160) plus amount, Jimmy and I both knew our wallets weren’t thick enough. But then it dawned on me, “These mutha f***ers are Japanese!”

Just like in 事実 (じじつ / jijitsu), reality, I take full advantage of embarrassing myself when encountering a native of my host country. I uttered “日本人ですか” a simple way of asking, “Are you Japanese.” After they nodded, I said I was from Aomori. But folks, this was a tuff crowd. There was no surprise, respect, or laughter. Not even a smile escaped them when I said “私は変な人です” (watashi wa henna hito desu), meaning “I am a strange person.” I’m guessing that just like earlier, my subconscious was incapable of generating Japanese that I could respond to, let alone understand. But at least as a 夢想家 (むそうか / musou-ka) dreamer, I have a goal. I can’t wait until I have a dream entirely in Japanese. But then again it’s just a dream.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Englishanese: Round 12

It's All in the Name
The fan that gets on its knees!


I love choicing!

I'm afraid to see what the "Little Riding Hood" costume looks like.

Kawaii Desu
A cute costume for an ugly girl.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Englishanese: Round 11

Sentimental Cookie
Who better to bake a cookie to compliment your drunken habits than a friend?

Drinkable Aloe?
In case you get sun burnt in your throat.

Why wouldn't they?

It Must Be Baseball Season
I don't care for that dog's pale skin tone, makes me think it's made of Japanese people.

The Japanese Crunch Bar
Lil Jon not included

Blossom My Cherry

Up Close and Perennial
Cherry Blossoms

Disclaimer: I don't claim to be an expert, but having read about sakura on wikipedia, I'm as close to one as a person can be.

The sakura, or cherry blossom tree, is a national symbol of Japan. So much that it's on the back of the 100 yen coin, and was painted on planes during WWII. Though, much like many treasured traditions, Japan's love for Sakura can be traced back to China. It is there where people first took up hanami, or flower-viewing. This tradition has since blossomed (pun intended) into a Japanese past-time.

Coincidentally, the sakura blossom in April which is not only when spring arrives but when the new school or work year begins. Therefore, celebrations such as hanami parties and sakura matsuri (festivals) are only fitting.

Many schools, public buildings, are parks across Japan are outfitted with the native tree. They first blossom in March in the warmer southern regions and continue through April/May up to Hokkaido (the northern main island). "The Cherry blossom is an omen of good fortune and is also an emblem of love, affection and represents spring. Cherry blossoms are an enduring metaphor for the fleeting nature of life, and as such are frequently depicted in art." Also, prior to WWII, Japan bestowed America with thousands of sakura trees which can be viewed in New York and Washington DC, and have rightfully so become tourist destinations. For more information on sakura please check out the 100% accurate wikipedia page.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sakura Matsuri

Hirosaki City Park
Cherry Blossom Festival

Hirosaki Park is one giant collection of rolling grasses and features an original 17th century castle. Free to the public (castle grounds: 300 yen), it's a splendid place for a quaint stroll, or for carrying your dog (oddly the Japanese prefer to carry them as opposed to walking). The park is especially scenic during Cherry Blossom season as its 2,600 sakura trees put on their Sunday's best. While I may be in disbelief over the 'majesty' of these blossoms, it truly was a visual treat.

Pretty in the Park

Hanami Time!
Blue tarps are for sitting, snacking, and evening hangovers.

Feast the Beauty

Adorning the Castle
Cherry Blossoms make the perfect castle jewelry.

El Carnival

The Carnival
Gotta love it!

Though the elegance of Hirosaki's Park's sakura trees delighted the senses, the secret weapon was the carnival. Yes folks, that's right, for the very first time I entered Japan's version of this familiar realm. I was honestly stunned at the plethora of food vendors, games, and circus-style attractions. More importantly, I give it up to the Japanese for romping around in the chilly 50 degree weather. I traversed the artificial alleyways several times and snacked on a strawberry-chocolate covered banana and deliciously skewered karaage (fried chicken).

International Maze of Mystery

A Haunted House
(of sorts)

Taste the Rainbow
...of chocolate covered bananas.
These dudes don't look like the type to peel and dip bananas.

Stick It
Easy to devour edibles. The fish in the center is actually quite divine.

Festive Cold

approaching the festival

It only took 8 minutes for me to better understand the magic of the Cherry Blossom. For it lies not within the natural beauty of the virgin white pedals, but rather in togetherness.

I happen to live in Sukaragawa, which I only recently learned means "Cherry Blossom River." This computes to a long winding road blanketed in Sakura trees. Consequently, today from 4pm to 8pm there was an official Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival). Though I was content on vacationing my butt cheeks on the chair, and had already witnessed the splendor of Hirosaki's magnificent Sakura collection, I figured why not take a chance and check it out. My intentions were simple and honest: be an active member of the neighborhood, snap some shots, spy some eye candy, and as always just place myself in a social situation where anything can happen. Well...nothing did...except simplicity. The splendor of simplicity.

This wasn't your ordinary festival. For me, outdoor celebrations had typically been exclusive to summer, where townspeople could easily frolick about in shorts and sandals. Though, as my wrinkled fingers crept into my jacket pockets I was introduced into an unfamiliar yet comfortable world. It is this feeling that I now affectionately refer to as 'festive cold.' It reminds me of those chilling Halloween nights, where there is no rational reason to be out at night other than to relish the amusement with others. This felt like a new Halloween. Rather than one last attempt to hold on to a final breath of warmth, the Cherry Blossom Festival is like cuddling the final sigh of cold before spring dusts off its colorful blankets.

Even with the red lanterns, it was difficult to truly view the serenity of the sakura, instead they presented an excuse for people to celebrate with eachother. They brought their loved ones and went for a stroll sampling noodles, chicken, octopus or listening to local musicians audibly share their craft. But all of this for a blossoming tree? See, what I learned tonight is that it matters not why you are celerbrating, but rather that you are celebrating; partaking in a social experiment where one joins many to search for harmony.

For me, I successfully completed my goals and pleasantly ran into (literally) students. Of course it warmed my ego and it amazes me how efficiently they have learned to pronounce Cravak. Though I enjoy being noticed, I prefer to stroll in isolation at my own leisure. Just before I walked away a bubbly stoic girl uttered a charmingly heart-felt "hello." She was so cute I wanted to copy and paste her to into a Toys'R'Us shelf.

While only 8 minutes of my life, they were well spent in the moment and as an enabler of internal happiness which is often diluted by society's sinful distractions. Thank you Cherry Blossom Festival!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The M.P. Returns

It's Saturday night. Following a festive all-you-can-drink Karaoke session, a contigent of friends have gathered for a post-op meeting. While conversing on the sidewalk, a taxi slows itself to a stop. A circus of hip Japanese college kids emerge. One girl in particular, goes behind the taxi and squats. Perhaps she was tired? But after she scurries off to the bar, something comes into view; a liquid donation in the form of a puddle. Wow!

Back in Florida my buddy Neal had an encounter with the Midnight Pisser: a yet to be identified humanoid who gloriously urinated next to his patio. We always knew the MP would resurface, but in Japan of all places? I can't believe it, but damn did it get me hot!

Though I'll tell you this, that's the last time I eat food off of the ground.

Monday, March 30, 2009


When it comes to shopping, Japan is obsessed with the 'Point Card', which they prominently refer to as 'pointo cardo.’ Though this differs greatly from the store exclusive credit cards, or membership cards found in America. Instead, the point card is typically a free incentive program for repeat shoppers. At first, upon hearing of this rewards system, I was gung-ho and elated with point fever. Though my excitement was shunned when I was told that the points did nothing but occasionally allow you to spin a wheel of crappy prizes. Take for instance Kantaro Sushi, a popular keitan (conveyer belt) sushi restaurant. A friend of mine must have spent over a thousand dollars over the course of 18 months and all she has to show for is a handful of unsuccessful spins of the wheel. So naturally, a disillusioned fog clouted my view of the point card. That is until Sunday, March 15th, 2009.
After soaking in an onsen (hot bath spa) and frolicking in a Toys'R'Us, we paid a purposeful visit to Yamada Denki, the Japanese equivalent to Best Buy. But this store comes with an unforgettable catchy jingle. "Yaaaammaaaada dennnKI." Now the reason for this particular visit was simple, I was to secure a carrying case for my word processor and then buy other crap that I wanted but didn't need. Not only did I find a neat dai dai iro (orange) case, but also a cute Minnie Mouse CD wallet for the Mother. Though I was low on cash, I didn't mind dropping $30 on what I found to be useful purchases. Then the cashier asked if I had a point card, my lady friend made a costly error and said no. But then in broken Japanese I quickly asserted "hai," for I had a point card and I was proud of its uselessness. Don’t worry; I shot a dirty gaze towards her for that dumb founded assumption. But it was me who was offensive, for I was ignorant in calling this particular card useless. The cashier asked if I wanted to use this point card on this purchase or just add more points. I had no clue what using the card meant, so I of course said "hell yeah." The next thing I know is that the death screen that usually forecasts how much more money is being ripped from your wallet read 0.00. The cashier handed me the goods along with my receipt. I was done. Finito. Complete. And whatever other words there are that mean finished. "Holy crap, what just happened?" I felt like a winner, the retail industry had for once in my life got on their knees and kissed my hand. It felt good. But...it didn't last long, for greed manifested a heavy cloud of selfishness. I looked at my point card and realized that each point equaled one yen, and I still had 4265 yen ($42) to play with. Then I couldn't even allow myself to enjoy the free gifts thinking, "Well I did buy an expensive camera here, so of course I deserve these points." But sadly, I was hooked more than anything, "What expensive stuff can I buy now?" It's funny how "free" trumps everything. And I wouldn't have it any other way. That's why when I purchased a few donuts an hour later; I made sure to become a proud Mister Donuts point card carrier.

Let There Be Light

Obsessively scratching my eyes while emitting a morning yawn I notice the Vice Principal stop dead in his tracks. Cautiously sipping his coffee his eyes bulge in my direction. 'Uh oh,' I think, 'here we go again with another Japanese conversation I won't be able to understand.' Though, I was joyously wrong, as glancing up I noticed what had elicited his attention. The eye-blinding fluorescent light bulbs above my desk have 'moved on to another place.' Then he pleasantly smiles at me which I translate as, "This is f***ing unacceptable! Don't worry little foreigner, you'll be blinded again shortly." Though it would be silly for him to do anything about it, so a teacher a few desks down picks up the phone and sends the distress signal. However, I was not prepared for the maintenance man to scurry over to my desk precisely three and a half minutes later. This guy responded faster than any ambulance ever has in America. I'm not much of a reader, but even a blind person (which I will now become thanks to the newly installed lights) could read the urgency within this dedicated servant's soul. I began to thank him, but I didn't get past 'domo' as he already flew to his next feat of heroism. The Japanese word for efficiency is noryoku, but I don't believe this can translate back into American English. When my classroom lights were out in Florida I had to conduct a delicate month long process of paperwork, reminders, bribery and kidnapping to get the lackadaisical 'live by the contract' fatass janitor to grace my presence. In closing, when your lights are out, I pray that a little gray-haired Japanese man rushes in for the rescue. Though apparently, the same people who love to install these blinding light bulbs also love running through them.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Night of the Red Faces

Before arriving, I had read about the enkai, the coveted Japanese office party. It was touted by many a JET as the perfect opportunity to get to know your reclusive and shy co-workers. In addition, alcohol never hurt anybody.

Throughout the month of August I tried to paint a mental picture of the celebratory affair. I saw a handful of teachers mingling on a Friday afternoon at a local bar. There was mild chitchat with the occasional interruption of thunderous laughter. Every few minutes a Japanese college student elegantly adorning shorts afraid of legs would inquire if it was time for a refill. The drunkest of all would point his fingers southward towards every cup signaling yet another round. Though, this was merely an image influenced by the American experience. Having not even a smidge of Japanese culture under my belt, I couldn’t have been, thankfully, more wrong.

One would think that parties don’t belong in the rigid working society of Japan. But in actuality, it’s the secret to their success. As the saying goes, "work as hard as you party, and party as hard as you work." And the Japanese work hard. I think part of the reason they can handle their often 12 hours a day, 7 days a week schedule is because of their ability to embrace, as opposed to shunning, alcohol. Rather than a sin, drinking in Japan is a savior.

The enkai is not a casual encounter consisting of a few co-workers going out for drinks. Instead, it is officially apart of the workplace. Often, Enkais are mandatory, well planned affairs. These parties are so important that all employees must pay monthly enkai fees. Instead of union dues paying an Italian to complain how he's not getting you a raise, teachers in Japan pony up cash for a chance to be hung-over.

At my school, each sensei pays three separate fees. I, for example, must pay a 4,000 yen ($40) school fee, a 3,000 yen ($30) English department fee, and a 2,000 yen ($20) 1-nensei (10th grade teachers) fee. In total I pay over $90 a month for the right to party. Even if I were to refrain from drinking, pay I must, for it's one for all in Japan. Though it must be said, I don't always know if I get my bang for my buck, but I could care less. I enjoy being apart of a group and whenever I do choose to attend an enkai, I can relax knowing I won't have to dip into an already depleted wallet. It depends on your workplace, but I typically average one enkai a month. In addition, sometimes the money will be used to order a special lunch during exams or field trips.

So what do these Enkais usually entail? Well first off, they all feature a tabehoudai (all-you-can-eat) and more importantly a nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) beginning around 6:30pm and lasting for two hours.

Each enkai consists of anywhere from eight to 200 people and can range from a small sushi restaurant to an upscale hotel’s banquet hall. Strangely, the enkai is one of the rare times in Japan where there are no assigned seats. So feel free to sit where you please. Each table will be outfitted with starter foods, giant bottles of beer and if you're lucky bottles of nihonshu (sake / rice wine). Now while it is all-you-can-drink, it's typically limited to beer, sake, and/or shochu (Japan's less toxic version of vodka).

The most beautiful yet annoying part is that it's customary to pour someone else's drink. For most this equals a consistently full glass, but the gaijin (foreigner) is often forgotten. I don't know how many times I have to pour beer before some old lady comes over to relinquish the goodness into my hollow glass. Perhaps the Japanese assume impatient foreigners will pour their own beverage.

If you are to receive sake though, please always accept it holding your glass with two hands, this came straight from my 'etiquette nazi' principal. Though he looks like the kind of man who requires a robe and theme music for when he enters a room.

After a few rounds and some plates of food, it's time to play musical chairs. Out of nowhere the red-faced nihonjin will start venturing out to other corners of the gathering to strike up a chord. This is the ideal time to practice Japanese. You’ll be stunned at how the fat gym teacher who ignores you in the hallway is all of sudden asking you a variety of questions in exquisite English not to mention referring to himself as 'the fat man.’ Though my favorite part is the changing of the guard. The flurry of pale faces has now all adopted an embarrassing rosy shade of red. Often it takes just one beer to begin the transformation.

At this point it’s probably 8:30pm. While it may seem too early to end the party, one must realize that it's Wednesday. Yes, school night is a concept non-existent in Japan. Mainly because every night is a school/work night. Plus, if you're more daring, the party lives on. There is often a nijikai (2nd party) and a sanjikai (3rd party). Each usually consisting of yet another 2-hour nomihoudai. But sadly the funding for these parties must come from your pocket. Typically they will only run you $20, which isn't bad for 120 minutes of unlimited drinking.

That being said, there is no party like a Japanese work party. Long live the enkai!

Monday, March 2, 2009

How Stupid am I?

There's no need to say it, as the answer arrived today. Folks, I'm 'as stupid is as stupid does.'

Since living in Japan, Aomori Ginkgo (bank) has been my official money holder. Japanese banking is straight forward and user friendly. Except for ATMs. With each bank being regional, one can only dispense the cash in his/her respective area. Which explains Japan as a cash society. Thus, I've grown comfortable carrying upwards of 100,000 yen ($1,000) on a daily basis.

But that cash has to come from somewhere. Consequently, I have made countless trips to my local branch, conveniently located a mere 5 minutes away. Though this was when the sun was winning the battle and I could ride my bicycle. But then the snow invaded. What was once a joy ride has morphed into a 20-minute slip'n'slide as my clumsy tries to navigate across the slippery snow and ice. Oh and I forgot to mention you have to get there before 6pm to avoid a surcharge. That's okay though, considering you get there before 9pm when every single ATM shuts down. Thus, due to the bank's location I have had to forego many a lunch break, and cancel plans knowing full well I wouldn't reach the ATM in time.

Then there was today. During lunch to be exact. I decided to take my usual stroll to CO-OP, the neighborhood grocery store located within a 60 second journey from work and home. I'm not sure how it happened, but it did. Stepping across the yellow lined pavement, I froze. There, across the parking lot was Aomori Ginkgo's logo. 'Why is that there?' my subconscious must have thought. 'BECAUSE IT'S AN ATM YOU STUPID IDIOT!' responded Sense, Common Sense.
Talk about a sad realization for my intelligence, but a happy ending for my body, and social life. I can't wait to find an excuse to take out money.


Now I've heard of 'An apple an day..." but this is ridiculous. Regardless, today was a special day for Aomori prefecture, as they chose to open their wallets. What did they spend it on? Tax incentives? Nope. Bribing business to set up shop? Nope. Poorly developed tourist traps? Nope. Instead they did the honorable thing, they spent it on the children. Every student enrolled in an Aomori public school, elementary through high school, received a present. A book, paper, pens, condoms? Nope. Instead they received apples. Four of them to be exact.

The children need the apples, I guess. Or rather the apple farmers, since Aomori's claim to fame are their luscious thick apples. Throughout the year they are hidden away in special blue bags before they ripen for the taste buds. These diva ringo tachi (apples) are so exquisite they come in protective styrofoam wrapping. If there is but one scratch or scar it must be sold at a discount with the other disabled apples. Speaking of which, the apples the students got didn't look all that dandy. Aomori better be careful with dishing out those retarded fruits, as the saying goes, "you are what you eat."


Q: 'What do you do for a living?'

A: 'I deliver apples.'


I Love Box

presenting the goods

Apples Galore

Doctors are everywhere but near.


Bag Man

He loves those apples!


Caution: May Bite

I prefer my apples naked.

They've Got VD

When it comes to material romance, America is not alone. February 14th also marks Japan's celebration of Valentines Day. But instead of a cash cow for flowers and Hallmark, chocolate companies hold the monopoly. And did I mention that only girls buy the gifts? That's right, talk about equality. Tradition dictates that only males are to receive the oishi (delicious) chocolates. But that's not even the best part. You don't even have to be sleeping with someone. In addition to the romantic gift, women are obliged to dish out plutonic gifts to friends, neighbors, and co-workers. There's no need to feel lonely in this country.

By now, your feminist veins are boiling. Simmer down because the chocolate companies aren't done yet. Just like the Hallmark created Grandparents, Nurses, and I Wet the Bed Day, they have spawned 'White Day.' Personally this has been a long time coming. Though I'm sorry to say it has nothing to do with the great race of the same name. Instead, 'White Day' is the reverse of Valentines Day. Yes ladies, you get your turn. And even though the unspoken rule is that men should double the chocolate/gift given to them, this is brilliance in its purest form. Got a cheap girlfriend? No problem. Even if your lady splurged, you still received a stellar gift. Plus, at least there is a realistic expectation. Women in America have taken over Valentines Day and instead of embracing a man's heart they send it to the hospital over the stress and confusion. Luckily, I've never been in a committed relationship during Valentines Day, until now. I thoroughly enjoyed my lady's delicious brownies, not to mention the cute frosting Engrish sayings, "Eat Me Cravak," and "I miss you." Obviously, I will go well beyond a double batch of brownies, and I'm happy to know what to work with. In fact, I'm so thrilled I have no qualms in censorilly saying, "F*** you American VD, I'm in love with another country's holiday."



Gifts I received from co-workers and students.



Crave likes brownies!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Desk Friends

When you're 8,821 kilometers (5,481 miles) away from home, it's easy to feel lonely. Especially when everyone you work with speaks a language you can't quite comprehend.
Enter the solution: The Desk Friends!

One of my role models in high school was Mr. 'Marv' Matteson. I relished the assortment of playthings adorning his desk. So naturally, when I inherited an office during my teaching tenure in Florida, I had no choice but to innocently decorate the place. Hulk Hogan, Wolverine, elephants, giant pandas and clown hats flooded the room. These 'toys' certainly made me feel comfortable.

Though, being limited to two suitcases, I was sadly unable to bring my childhood to Japan. But not to worry folks, as I have been recently acquiring an assortment of goodies to make the workplace feel like home. While there are currently only three 'desk friends,' plans are in motion to upgrade the ensemble.

The Desk
For 7 1/2 hours a day I sit here stalking you on Facebook.

Ochiai Jr.
Named in honor of my supervisor, this brave soldier is always ready to 'throw down' to protect General Crave's computer. I felt it was important to assert my war-mongering American attitude to my peace loving co-workers. Though, to ease the tension I placed an orange flower atop his gun.

I picked up this 'Star War's' Salacious Crumb bean bag toy for a mere 105 yen ($1) at Hard Off. Recently he has inspired the character of 'Kazikame' for my upcoming childrens' fantasy book 'GOULD.'

Mr. Numa
Given my recent studies of mythological creatures, I am drowning in love for the 'Kappa.' Japan's resident demonic water sprite lurks by the 'numa,' an eerie pond, thus the name for this kawaii (cute) little critter. He's a happy addition to my Kappa halloween costume, and if anyone spies mythological creature paraphernalia, please pick it up for me and I'll gladly reimburse your efforts. Thanks in advance!


Snack Man Cometh

Omiyage (little gift / souvenir) is a must for your co-workers, neighbors, family and friends when returning from a vacation. Though sometimes a random gesture can go a long way into building a positive relationship. And when it comes to receiving, the Japanese prefer nothing more than a tasty snack.

Over the course of the past few weeks the 3-nensei (12th grade) students have been busy applying to their dream college. Part of their application includes English essays, and this is where I come in. One of the 3-nensei English teachers has been 'dropping by' to unload these essays for me to peruse/check/devour/edit/spit-on/revise. Though I must say, I'm happy to read them and guide the students towards not only comprehensive writing but also enjoyable writing. But this extraordinarily kind man must feel that grading these essays is a terrible burden. For each time he arrives, I am bestowed upon with a flurry of snacks. While I don't need such a tasty reward, I must admit, this guy knows snack food! I've enjoyed every morsel he’s delivered. Probably because none of them contained that strange red bean paste. I sure do hope those kids keep writing.

Tasty Critter
I have no clue what this was, but tasty it was.

Best Description Ever
My first 'capcake.' Certainly won't be the last.

At first I read this as 'Douche,' and made my way to the ladies room.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Englishanese: Round 10

Beer Shampoo
I can't think of a better place for some suds.


Who doesn't want to slurp down apple juice from the famed character who forever sports an erection.

Black Love Incense
In a society filled with Japanese people, who is this product being marketed to?


F Cup Cookie
A cookie a day, keeps the tissues in my bra away. When I bought this, my girlfriend wondered if it was for her.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Time to Shine

The Mid Year Seminar is a collaborative conference between Aomori-Ken assistant language teachers and their corresponding Japanese Teachers of English. Guest speakers, workshops, snack food, and bored doodling comprises most of the festivities. Though, on Friday, November 21st, yours truly had time to shine.

Each year, one ALT must showcase their teaching in a class demonstration. Rather than chose a 2nd or 3rd year high school ALT, I was involuntarily given the nod. This equates to over 60 educators watching me teach a 50-minute lesson to one of the 1-nensei (first year/10th grade) classes. But, instead of projecting negativity at the ensuing pressure I used the platform as an opportunity. One to showcase all things Crave!

Cravak Sensei
Reviewing the word wall results.


Group Work

Students attempt not to fall asleep while engaging in a travel-themed conversation game.


Making the Rounds

Pretending to add to their discussion, I place myself on display.


Big Brother

Students are under the watchful gaze of half-interested observers.


Post Discussion

Eventually I had to shutup to allow others to speak.