27 November 2007

Nevermind the last post

So, I was in Kyoto. More on that later, maybe. But first...

If wearing a thousand dollar suit makes a man feel like "a million bucks", then how about a ten thousand dollar kimono?

12 November 2007

Remembrance Day in Japan

Today I spontaneously decided to be cultural and teach some second year middle school students from Ichikoko just what Remembrance Day is! For those Americans, etc., reading this, Remembrance Day is a solemn day of ceremonies and, for some, prayer, which -- at least in Canada -- is largely focused on honouring the dead and striving to understand the horror of war, as opposed to the celebration of soldiers and victory.

I was inspired by the fact that I forgot the moment of silence, which is ordinarily customary on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (or, in the other words, yesterday when I was sitting in front of the computer listening to loud music), and perhaps because I'm a little older now, or perhaps because I'm half a world a way and am struggling for any connection to Canada I can find, I thought the best thing I could do to redeem myself would be tell some Japanese kids about this. The problem being, the kids I was teaching today have learned English for less than two years and are 14. They listened to every word of my little speech, which was very kind, and my JTE asked some good questions.

I find it strange though, that I suddenly feel so sentimental about this holiday. I think any person -- or at least any decent person -- would agree that remembering the dead and spending just a couple of minutes on one day a year meditating on the brutal reality of war is a worthwhile thing to do, but I felt the need to try to get these kids to understand. The Japanese have a similar holiday, largely marking the nuclear holocaust that closed Second World War, so hopefully the kids know where I'm coming from here -- especially since Nagasaki is an hour away from here. But, this is really the first time that I've felt the urge to put myself into a teaching position-- to tell them something genuine about my culture, rather than Canadian dialect or pop culture references.

The language barrier is so frustrating sometimes.

On a higher note, I've been putting cartoons from explodingdog, Toothpaste for Dinner and Don Hertzfeldt on every worksheet I make! No one's even asked about them yet, but I think it's contributing to the kid's understanding of... uh... international understanding, and is definitely contributing heaps to my own amusement.

5 November 2007

Three Festivals

I haven't written in here for quite some time, and I suppose I should check in. I've been out and about quite a bit lately. Work has been a bit busier, and quite a bit more challenging as I've started carving out my niche in a country that is famous for denying foreigners niches. At first, I was too busy just figuring out how to teach, and after that wore out, I began to feel like a stray dog that no one knows that to do with, but instead, they just tolerate out of vague sympathy. My current method for breaking past this and gaining the acceptance and love that I so sorely deserve from staff and student alike is to just make myself visible, interested and active. It might be dancing in front of 500 high school students (check), it might be lugging a locker up a flight of stairs to a teacher's room (check), and it more often involves just talking to people and trying to communicate that I'm interested in what I'm doing and want to do as good a job as I can do.

Well, that sounds lame. Let's move on, shall we?

'Tis the season here in the Ken of Saga, and in the last two weeks I have witnessed three distinct festivals, or matsuri: the Yoshinogari Fire Festival (吉野ヶ里ふるさと炎祭り), Karatsu Kunchi (唐津くんち) and the Saga International Balloon Fiesta (佐賀国際熱気球祭り). And somehow I managed to miss anything remotely interesting... mostly just festival food. BUT, I had a hell of a time with some great company, so I thought I'd share some photographs.

Let's start with Yoshinogari.

I love the grass at the bottom of the shot.

Absolutely heavenly sky with those yayoi-period huts and the mountains in the background, without the usual haze.

A good illustration of why Kyushu, Japan is a nice place to live.

In case you can't see that properly, there's a guy riding a huge drum the size of a bull in the background.

Next was more recently: the mighty Karatsu Kunchi. Kind of rhymes with "crunchy". I missed the parade itself and we definitely did not get invited to any impromptu drinking parties in people's houses, which I was expecting, but we mostly just walked around acres of food stands near this one central shrine. It was pretty cool taking in the atmosphere, and I did really enjoy spending time with Lee-ann, Andy and ]Tiffany, who I had not met up to that point.

The tori'i in front of the barely-visible shrine. Pretty impressive crowds. A lot of punked out Japanese kids.

In case anyone's every wondered what it's like to see the world through the eyes of a 6"6' gaijin, here's a photographic simulation.

Tiffany and Lee-ann in front of the aforementioned tori'i.

A gang hit.

By the way, hip-hop fashion in Japan is my new favourite. I can go and buy a fairly conservative-looking hoodie in a Japanese shop that would be HUGE and atrociously baggy on your average 170 centimetre Japanese guy, and on me it's just right. Even fits in the sleeves!

Okay, last, and unfortunately least is the Balloon Fiesta, or Balloon Siesta, for those of us not willing to get up at 6:00 or beat the crowds at sunset to catch a glimpse. This, of course, is bitterness, since Charlene's pictures of the morning festivities are absolutely beautiful. But, I'll post what I've got and hope for the best.

That dot is a helicopter. The only thing airborne, since -- due to winds, I am told -- balloons took off an hour before scheduled.

Crowds and blue sky.

Concession tents.

Feel like yakitori, ice cream, or the mysterious French American dogs (フレンチ・アメリカン・ドック)? Otherwise known as FREEDOM American dogs. You can get it here.

This one's taken from the train to work a few days before.

But, because Misato asked for a shot of the balloon festival, I thought I'd try to create a virtual reality experience using my keitai, so you can feel what it's like to really be there.