Friday, December 17, 2010

BOO! Halloween in 青森

The western tradition of ハロウィン (Halloween) is slowly creeping its way into Japanese culture. Currently Halloween is limited to pumpkin themed decorations and school sponsored costume activities for young children. The idea of Halloween as a sinful, guilt-free party seems to only occupy areas where foreigners reside in full force, such as Tokyo's Roppongi ward. 青森県 (Aomori prefecture) in Japan's rural north consequently lacks in 外国人 (foreigners). But  that didn't stop a dozen english teachers from properly celebrating All Hallow's Eve.

Traditionally, a Halloween party is hosted by local charity Everest of Apples in the city of Hachinohe. This costume party is a popular event for the foreign population but usually lacks in natives. This year was different, and in 青森市 a public party was held at One-Shot Bar, a newly established 'western' bar owned by a former Tohoku Jet Ski champion.

It was delightful fun to see an equal mixture of stranges, local and foreign alike. Though, if there had been a costume contest, the Japanese would have came in dead last. Most Japanese just wear a hat or add an accessory. The ladies become a witch, and the men become Santa. Though, I don't think the lack of costume creativity has anything to do with the shy reserved nature of Japanese culture. While Party City would be a welcome addition, the Japanese are costume specialists. Most Karaoke parlors offer a selection of costumes to wear, women often transform into maids or school girls, and full body pajamas are made to look like Winnie the Pooh or Stich. In addition, it's hard to ignore cos players in Harajuku on Sunday.
If ex-pats continue to dress up children in costumes, and entice adults towards mischief, Japan will naturally adopt Halloween. I just hope trick-or-treating can eventually walk its way into the neighborhood.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wanna get away?

As an American 先生 (teacher)  in 日本 (Japan), I'm sitting on a gold mine of social research. Ulterior motives aren't part of the curriculum, but whenever possible I zoom in on the personalities, thoughts, and opinions of 青森 (Aomori's) teenagers.
Next week, 2nd year students (10th graders) will fly to Kyoto for the annual school excursion. While Japan's ancient capitol offers a buffet of temples, it just doesn't seem to be worth the ¥150000 ($1,785) price tag. Since many of our students will attend premier universities, I feel it's important to expose them to other cultures to prepare for a career in the global community.
Consequently, I was curious to when given the chance to choose the destination of the school trip, where students would wish to go. The students were told to be realistic in respects to time, cost, safety, and school policies. They worked in groups of 4 and were allowed to choose any destination, domestic or international, permitting they thoroughly explained their rationale.

It was interesting to see the reasons behind the proposed trips. For example, the chance to watch a soccer match was the prime motivation for venturing to Spain or the UK. Okinawa and Hawaii offered seaside relaxation. France offered style and culture, while many wanted Italy for the cuisine. If I heard the words pizza and paste one more time, I was going to run out the door and into the nearest Capricciosa. And you have no idea how many Japanese students are eager to bite into a Kangaroo.

Some groups were vague, citing only the country, while others were quite specific. One group chose Detroit to observe the American car industry while another selected Washington DC to take advantage of the Smithsonian Institution. But I'm still puzzled why Acapulco was pitched as a premier world heritage location to experience ancient civilization. I realize sand is old, but these kids just wanted some sun. I think there may be a few future used car salesmen in that class.

While the majority choose to go overseas, I was impressed with the groups adamant on discovering more about their own country. The students were able to think about school activities from an adult perspective while learning more about geography and culture. Though, in the end I think I walked away with the prize. I wonder if I can sell this data to JTB, HIT or any other Japanese travel agency?

Without further ado, below is the list of places in respect to popularity.
  • 13.) Kyoto, Japan (1)
  • 13.) Spain (1)
  • 13.) China (Beijing) (1)
  • 13.) Singapore (1)
  • 13.) Kumamoto, Japan (1)
  • 13.) Hiroshima (1)
  • 13.) Nagoya (1)
  • 13.) Mie (1)
  • 13.) Mexico (Acapulco) (1)
  • 13.) Canada (1)
  • 13.) Egypt (1)
  • 9.) Korea (2)
  • 9.) U.K. (2)
  • 9.) Kamakura, Japan (2)
  • 9.) Osaka, Japan (2)
  • 8.) Hawaii (3)
  • 7.) Hokkaido, Japan (4)
  • 5.) America (Detroit, Washington DC, NYC) (5)
  • 5.) Australia (Sydney, Great Barrier Reef, Ayer's Rock) (5)
  • 4.) France  (Paris) (6)
  • 3.) Italy (Rome, Venice) (7)
  • 2.) Tokyo, Japan (8)
  • 1.) Okinawa, Japan (9)
***The number is ( ) represents the # of groups choosing that particular destination.
***Please note that choosing Kyoto was prohibited, though this didn't stop one group. In addition, although ***Instead of being listed as one country, Japan is broken down to individual locations.

***Hawaii is a state, it is being treated as a separate destination.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Crumbing my way through a stack of Ritz crackers, I noticed a colleague with a giant bag of lanyards. Curious, I had to inquire. It turns out, as the faculty member assigned to the girl's volleyball team he enjoyed an assortment of tedious tasks. On this day, he was in charge of dispersing badges (pictured above) for an upcoming tournament. Five schools were sending both their girls and boys teams to compete in this city wide volleyball competition.

"What are the badges for?" I asked.

"So perverts don't videotape the volleyball players," he said.

Well... it made sense to me. I can't speak for the boys’ team, but when it comes to women, little shorts and hiked up socks make for an appealing ensemble. What's shocking is that this must have been a real problem for the schools to create these 'press passes.'

But something didn't add up. Each pile had 25 badges. Yet each team consisted of around 10 players. Meaning there were enough press passes for each boy and girl player including a bonus 5.

"Who gets to use this press pass?" I asked.

"Anyone," he said, "They just get it from the school."

The Japanese are stereotyped for being snap-happy camera lovers, but 25 that even necessary? So I wondered some more.

"What if someone gets a pass but is a pervert and publishes the footage on the internet? How do you track them?" I asked.

I couldn't believe it, but there was a rationale solution in place. "We look at the sign-up sheet and one-by-one locate the person responsible," he said.

So what's the lesson learned? In Japan, perverts have plenty of time to videotape your sons and daughters. But don't worry! Japanese schools have just as much time to implement a complicated yet 'effective' response.

Happy filming everyone, but do so professionally for if you don't the P.P.P. (Pervert Protection Plan) will put you behind bars or issue you a polite e-mail warning.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Professional Lost and Found

In America, locating the 'lost and found' is harder than finding your vanished object. When something is lost, we've come to immediately accept that it's never coming back. Somewhere along the line a wandering individual has claimed it for themselves, or a careless janitor tossed it into a metal cylinder.
In Japan, you retain ownership of your possessions whether they are in your pocket or abandoned on a park bench. Most foreign residents have a story of leaving behind their wallet only to have it returned in-tact within 24 hours. Great care is given to ensure that everyone finds their lost objects. Personally, I think it all boils down to responsibility and respect. Sure, who wouldn't wanted to swipe that Hello Kitty handbag for their own devices, but the fact remains: it's not ours to take.

As a high school teacher in Florida, I was aware that a lost and found existed, but was re-directed five times before finally meeting up with the 'man in charge.' This doofus made it seem that it was too much of a burden to be bothered with lost objects. The only thing about our school's lost and found that was apparent to everyone was how if something was not claimed within 10 days it became the property of whoever found it.

Things are different in Aomori, Japan. Well, a little. I still have no idea who's in charge, but it doesn't matter. If something is found it's immediately photographed and placed on a posted flyer. Talk about convenience. Missing a green mitten? "Oh look there it is on the flyer, it's found!" This could be embarrassing if you lost your Totoro underwear, but at least it's efficient. 

When I came to Japan, I was lost, and now...I'm found.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dance of the Dragonfly

I've never considered myself a man of the theatre. The closest I've come to Broadway is an 8th grade field trip to Toronto to hear a deep voiced man bell out "Old Man River." While I'm open to experiencing new things, theatre, dance, and operas just aren't my bag. It's fine to pretend to be someone you're not, but don't do it right in front of me. I'd rather watch it on the small screen or in a Cineplex when it’s masked in exotic scenery and special effects. And personally non-intoxicated rhythmic footsteps just aggravates me while public singing makes me nervous.
But this past summer I had front row seats to an impromptu performance: The Dance of the Dragonfly. Since high school students in Japan have their own class, teachers are regulated to an office. In this case, a long open air room filled with 30 plus desks. Mostly everyone was instructing, in a useless meeting or outside smoking. All that remained were four middle aged male instructors, the suited-up handsome foreigner (me), and...a dragonfly.
In Japan, you can exchange contact information through infrared and even order food in a vending machine but apparently they're still working on air conditioning. So with the windows open, a creature from the natural world decided to enter our plastic existence. To be frank, I hadn't noticed the insectual (it's a word now). But what I did see was four grown men rising from behind their desks. They were amazed to see such a vibrant yet disgustingly large and loud winged creature in the office. I'm assuming they had previously signed up for the Office Animal Removal Task Force. These boys wanted nothing more than to humanely send the dragonfly back out to its world. Though, I had to question as well as give their efforts a standing ovation. They didn't have a stick, spray bottle, swatter, or even a net. They had moves. Sleek and stylish ballerina-esque moves. They spun in the air, twisting and turning, their hands reaching to the clouds above. Their spectacles fell off their nose and slid down their bland ties. With each motion they "ohhhh" and "awwwed" each other. And lo and behold, it worked. Somehow that dragonfly was coaxed into flying out. Maybe he loathed dancing as much as I do. But for an improvised performance, the four gentlemen were in-sync and quite honestly...magical.
Now I wonder if I'll witness the Dance of the Dragonfly again. By the way, if anyone knows of an online dragonfly dealer, please let me know.