13 October 2007

A Fine Day in Dazaifu

Last night about 60 of us crowded into two coach buses and began drinking beer and sake [super-illegal in Canada] on the way to a the luxurious Daikanso Hotel (大観荘), somewhere near Fukuoka-ken. Actually, from the outside, definitely not so luxurious, but it had washitsu (Japanese style rooms) and an onsen, which are public baths with ultra-hot sulphur-smelling spring water.

After this, some of us went to the Kyushu Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan (九州国立博物館; Kyushu National Museum), which -- please keep in mind -- we chose over a beer factory. But after the enkai, we were in absolutely no mood for more alcohol. Ughhh...

The museum was beautiful. One of the most incredible buildings I've ever been in. From the outside, somewhere between a space shuttle hanger and the Guggenheim. The ceiling was lined with what appeared to be logs in a grid pattern. And, greeting visitors was the display above.

The main theme of the exhibit seemed to be pottery, though, which -- I'm sure -- is appealing to some, but for partied-out gaijin, maybe a little dry... just a little.

We then continued on to a Shinto shrine called Dazaifu Tenman-gū in Dafaizu-shi, Fukuoka-ken.

We kept seeing these children everywhere in kimono. I assume there was some specific religious function for this. The Shinto equivalent to Christening, maybe? I spotted this one kid looking at koi just inside the main grounds of the shrine. Despite how immensely... creepy... it made me feel to take pictures of other people's children, I thought this scene was just perfect. And I think my gaijin status helps me "smash" through social taboos like this.

Group photo! Missing John here, but we have a nice group shot of the Canadian ALTs who turned down beer for high culture. That's right! Future astronauts, cancer cures and prime ministers.

7 October 2007

The Boy and His Koto

I've had -- let's say -- a healthy interest in the koto (琴), a thirteen stringed Japanese instrument for nearly three years now. Picture this if you may, a string instrument, not terribly different from your standard guitar, only the size and shape of a surf board. This thing, it wouldn't fit in my living room. I know that for sure, because I was at the Seikatsukan, a local junk store full of strange Japanese things. Katanas, tea ware, electronics, pornography, furniture, and other odds and ends. I bought a lot of my dishes there and my friend Daisuke asked if I could show him where the store was, so he, Andy and I perused the store and out of the corner of my eye I saw this giant thing leaning against the wall. Just an hour before I was looking at these third-sized mini kotos at a music store for about $400 Canadian. But this koto in the store was full sized and ¥8000, and I got a discount, so I paid exactly $58.75. INCREDIBLE.

But, I first heard from traditional Japanese music a few years ago working on a Multimedia project with my friend and former housemate Alana, and happened upon some traditional songs. A couple of tracks struck out, because as an amateur guitarist, my ears perk up when I hear something ridiculously good placed on a vaguely familiar sounding instrument. I learned a little about the koto in the year to come, and tracked down some songs here and there and found my guitar and piano playing to be somewhat influenced by Japanese styles.

Then, just last Spring I went to a Chinese-Japanese cultural night and (long, frustrating) discussion at McMaster University. At the end of the lengthy discussions, there was a performance of guzheng (古箏), a Chinese instrument with similar roots to the koto. This was my first time seeing this kind of instrument performed, and after I talked to the musician, Feihong. She agreed to play some guzheng parts for some musical pieces I was writing for my Multimedia thesis, and we quickly became friends. If you're interested in hearing what a master of this instrument sounds like, try downloading "Chun-xue", which is a collaboration we worked on.

Anyway, tuning the instrument was a bit of an experience. None of the pegs that guitars have. Playing it is rather interesting too, but not easy. I'll hopefully learn enough to record a little bit too.

3 October 2007

Just Another Day at The Office

Well I suppose I should write something. After all, I've been in Japan for three days shy of two months, and I haven't made so much of a peep other than a rather depressive rant about spontaneously developed allergies and newly worsened asthma. With this being said, things are generally really good. I've been a little sick for about 10 days now and have become a bit of a shut-in. Not so sick that I'm sick, but just enough so that I feel like I'm gonna get a cold sometime in the near future. Second week in a row. So, in other words, my immune system is not great, not bad. Just mediocre.

It's a pretty good excuse to sit at the computer listening to some old school NYC hip-hop and drink a glass of white.

Today, which here in the archipelago known to some as Japan is a Wednesday, is a day where I have one hour of teaching. One hour! Add a half-hour of tutoring, and another half hour of lesson planning, and you have a two hour work day, which is not exactly slave labour. Except of course I desperately had to pee all class, so it felt more like five hours, so that's a bit more respectable.

My base school, which shall be known as Ichikoko for the purposes of professional anonymity, is an incredible school to work at in a number of ways. The kids are fantastic and the other teachers really shattered my karoshi-inspired preconception of working in Japan. They work hard, no doubt, but are pretty relaxed otherwise. Lots of joking -- or so I'm guessing based on the combination of often incomprehensible Japanese followed by laughter. But I have no idea what to do with my time between classes. In today's case, a couple of three-hour blocks. I studied Japanese a bit, which I really need to get back into, being in freaking JAPAN. But I mostly just read... which perhaps I should not admit in public, but I got through a rather big chunk of Mr. Douglas Coupland's Generation X, which happens to have a chapter on the intricities of Japanese sociology in the workplace! So productive!