Monday, December 27, 2004

My Lesser Account of Christmas: Miscellaneous

Maddy Explores Her Primeval Self in the Elliot Household:
I confess I was surprised to see Jacob and Autumn’s cat spending Christmas with my parents. The Elliot’s Tsugaru stronghold is no place for a city-kitty with a nervous disposition.

I decided it would be a good idea to commemorate the five-kitty mark with a group photo—not as easy as one might suppose! Will it be an older, wiser kitty that Autumn and Jacob come home to?

The Elliot’s (namely, my immediate family) have proven innovative over the years in coping with life in northern, rural Japan. These disposable Japanese work gloves have been altered to aid survival in a technologically advanced world without central heating.

This is another Elliot innovation in computing: the Catshield 500 (cats possessed of ordinary feline passions find it extremely difficult to resist the warm surface of a laptop when naptime roles around). Earlier models were built entirely of used disposable chopsticks—or so they say.

Off-Roading on the Way Home from the Airport
I accepted this turn of events as an opportunity to test my JAF (Japanese Automobile Federation) membership. The service was free, but the tow-truck driver got lost, leaving me to stand in the snow for two-and-a-half hours. When I finally rolled into Kazamaura at 1:00 a.m. I was so excited to be home that I ran Thumper up onto the curb in front of my house and bent his front axel. I am now waiting for an estimate on the pecuniary toll this will take on me. The prospects are not good. It will probably cost at least a thousand dollars to get Thumper back on the road.

Stand by for My Greater Account of Christmas

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Autumn’s Twilight in the Lonely Village

Aomori’s December Gloom Descends upon the Kazamaura Space Bludgeon

In spite of all my good intentions to spend this Saturday ascending Kazamaura’s highest peak (Hiuchi-dake: 781m) in search of snowboarding spots for future reference, the low cloud cover blocking any chance of a view discouraged me from carrying out that project. Instead, I spent the day indoors reading until cabin fever drove me to the park one minute’s bike ride away from my house.

Lonely in the Park

Still Lonely in the Park

Hanging Out in the Park


The Armies of Mordor Carry On with their Evil Work Unabated: A Bridge To . . . Where?!

In Japan, early winter is the season for construction. According to Middle-Aged Man (my supervisor), this is in order to burn up the year’s budget as a fragrant offering to Japan’s construction companies before the next year’s budget is set. In this country construction companies are sometimes synonymous with organized crime, and they are involved in most bribery and corruption scandals in local government. Their work will never end, because once all Japan is covered in a layer of concrete, they will probably start moving the mountains into the sea—no doubt to build a giant sea wall around Japan’s exclusive economic zones (EEZ) in the East China Sea. Hah! See if China can sneak in with its nuclear submarines then!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Middle-Aged Man; Kerosene; Cookies

Middle-Aged Man: Fount of Wisdom—Different from “Old Man” because He Knows How To Work a VCR
(Mike Myers Character on Saturday Night Live)

Today I finally got my stove running again. I spent the last two days in the freezing cold because I let my kerosene tank run dry. When that happens, it becomes necessary to prime the fuel lines from the tank to the stove in order to get rid of the air bubbles. My fuel lines are particularly long, because my tank and my stove are on opposite sides of my house. Now, in spite of spending the last ten years in North America with central heating, I still remember the theory of maintaining kerosene stoves. Unfortunately I never actually watched my father perform the operations I so often heard him talk about,

so today I had to call on Middle-Aged Man to demonstrate for me the practical applications. My supervisor’s great. He spent his lunch break working on my stove. But no fear, he’s the supervisor so he just took an after lunch lunch break—and told me to go ahead and do the same.

Later that evening, I took advantage of the restored indoor climate to bake cookies (not for my supervisor—I’m not that cool). I’ve been meaning for a while to relive the baking session I had with my English elective girls a few weeks ago.

My Cookie; I Swear That There Were Nine Cookies When I Put It In The Microwave Oven!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Kazamaura’s (風間浦) Special Relationship with Doshisha University (同志社大学)

It has come to my attention that I have neglected the glorification of my glorious village these past few weeks. The splendours of Kazamaura will be years in the telling, but today I will relate to the world just one of the brilliant qualities of its heritage. It has a special affiliation with Doshisha University. The following is a Japanese passage from Kazamaura’s homepage, followed by a machine translation generated by Excite, followed in turn by my own translation. The photos have largely been appropriated from relevant sites, and I have for the most part linked these photos with the sites from which they originated. I realize that these translations of my village’s homepage that I sometimes embark on must be deathly boring to the majority of readers, but . . . .

Exchange Students Visiting from Doshisha University: Visiting the Abalone Centre and Muraguchi Industries’ "Wido no Ki", as well as Kazamaura’s Public Schools

風間浦村と学校法人同志社との交流のきっかけは、元治元年(1864年)にまでさかのぼります。同年4月18日、同志社大学創始者の新島襄氏が、品川から 函館への航海中、北風と激しい潮流を避けるため下風呂港に寄港。2日間滞在しました。その様子を航海中に書き記していた日記「函館紀行」に、本土最後の寄 港地として書かれており、下風呂温泉の高名なことも伝えられています。この後、新島襄氏は、当時鎖国をしていた日本から修学を胸の内にし、函館から渡米。 フィリップス・アカデミー、アーモスト大学、アンドーヴァー神学校に学び、帰国後、京都に山本覚馬らと協力して、同志社大学の前身である同志社英学校を創 立。明治23年(1890年)大学設立のため奔走中に倒れ、47歳の生涯を閉じました。
 この史実を同志社校友会青森県支部の方々が取り上げ、この地にこの史実を後世まで伝えられる記念碑を建てられないだろうかという希望と、村民の様々な交 流基盤になればと、平成4年、海峡いさりび公園に「新島襄寄港記念碑」が建立され、これを期に、風間浦中学校2年生による「同志社中学体験入学」や「同志 社大学留学生との交流」など、様々な熱い交流が交わされています。

The cause of the exchange with Kazamaura-mura and a fellow educational foundation company goes back even to the Motoharu first year (1864). In order for April [ of the same year ] 18 and the Doshisha University founder, Mr. Noboru Niijima, to avoid a north wind and an intense current during the voyage to Hakodate from Shinagawa, it calls at a bottom bath harbor. I stayed for two days. It is written to the diary "the Hakodate account of the trip" written down while sailing the situation as the last port of call in a mainland, and the famous thing of a lower bath hot spring is also told. Then, Mr. Noboru Niijima makes study the inside of a breast from Japan which was closing the country those days, and he visits America from Hakodate. the Philips academy, an AMOSUTO university, and the Andover theological college -- learning -- after a homecoming and Kyoto -- a mountain -- primordial enlightenment -- the comrade company English school which is the predecessor of Doshisha University in cooperation with horses -- foundation It fell during efforts for the Meiji 23 (1890) university establishment, and the whole life of 47 years old was closed. Hope whether the monument to which people of a comrade company alumni association Aomori branch take up this historical fact, and this historical fact is told by this ground till future generations is built, The "Niijima 襄寄港 monument" will be built by the strait いさりび park as if it becomes village people's various exchange bases in Heisei 4, and various hot exchange, such as "comrade staff-of-a-company study experience entrance" by the second-year student in the Kazamaura junior high school and "exchange with the Doshisha University foreign student", is exchanged in this at the term.

The Man of “primordial enlightenment” Who Made “study the inside of a breast from Japan”

The origin of the relationship between Kazamaura Village and The Doshisha [Educational Foundation] dates all the way back to 1864 (the first year of the Genji reign). On April 18 of that year, during his voyage from Shinagawa to Hakodate, Joseph Hardy Neesima (Niijiima Jou), the founder of Doshisha, landed at Shimofuro Port in order to avoid a powerful north wind and violent currents. He stayed for two days. Neesima recorded this village in his journal (later published as “Account of a Trip to Hakodate”) as his final stop before his arrival in Hakodate and also made reference to Shimofuro’s famous hot springs (onsen). After this, with a deep desire for learning in his breast, Neesima set out from Hakodate for the United States even though at the time Japan was still enforcing a policy of national isolation. Following a period of study at Phillips Academy, Amherst College, and Andover Theological Seminary, Neeshima returned to Japan and, in cooperation with the likes of Kakuma Yamamoto, founded in the city of Kyoto the "Doshisha English School" (Doshisha College) which became the predecessor of Doshisha University. In 1890 (Meiji 23), Neeshima collapsed in the midst of his efforts to establish Doshisha as a university and his 47 years of life came to a close.

In 1992 (Heisei 4) the people of the Aomori branch of the Doshisha Alumni Association erected the “Niijima Jou Disembarkation Monument” at Kaikyo Isaribi Park (The Strait and Squid Fishing Lamps Park) in Shimofuro. It was hoped that this monument might serve to convey these historical facts to posterity and function as a basis for various interactions between Kazamaura’s villagers and Doshisha. This marked the beginning of various friendly exchanges such as the “Doshisha Junior High School Matriculation Experience” for second year students of Kazamaura Junior High School, and the “Cultural Exchange with Doshisha Exchange Students.”

Neesima Leaving Hakodate (Which Can be Seen from Kazamaura) on His Illegal Voyage to the West

Friday, December 10, 2004

Instead of All the Photos I Didn’t Take . . .

There are many photos which I wish I had taken this past week, but didn’t. There was the bowl of steamed squid eyeballs and testicles that my supervisor’s wife served me last night (“Be careful biting into the eyeballs, the juices are VERY hot!” and “The testicles are much better raw because then they’re gooey like natto.”). It would have bee rude to photograph it, because that would have expressed my attitude towards these delicacies. Then there was the team we junior high teachers faced in the village volley ball tournament the other day. It was comprised entirely of mothers wearing their daughter’s school uniforms. I didn’t photograph that either, in case it made me come across as “sukebe”. So in compensation, here is a picture I ripped off from the internet. Seems harmless? Try typing her name into your search engine of choice.

Erzebet Bat(t)hory (c. 1560~1614)
Click On the Photo to Access the Website I Ripped It Off From

The other day I watched “Catch Me If You Can,” which popularized the idea that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. It also moved me to look up the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list (on which Frank Abagnale Jr. was never placed). This in turn led me to surf the web for famous female criminals because I noticed that there were no women on the current Most Wanted list. This in turn led me to the discovery of Erzebet Batthory, the Blood Countess. The tamest versions of her life history make the nineteenth century Dracula novel seem like a children’s bedtime story.

Children Should be Seen and Not Heard . . . because They’re Evil!

Evil First Graders of the Children’s Reich: Their faces are out of focus to protect their identities in accordance with the Gaijin Young Punks Act.

I know that these first graders are evil, because I spent all of Friday with them. They are not like the other children of Kazamaura. These first graders actually kanchoed their homeroom teacher before my very eyes. This teacher is to be highly praised. She is a slight woman, probably in her thirties or forties, with a kind but worn out look in her eyes. She is oppressed. These days sexual harassment of students by teachers is a huge item in Japanese news programs, but what about sexual harassment of teachers by students? Today was the last day at school for the worst of these young offenders. This means that in the future I can facilitate game times with this class without fear of a riot of tears and tempers breaking out every time he loses. Perhaps his absence will also relieve (at least a little bit) the premature sexual tension permeating this particular group dynamic. During Fruit Basket (and between tantrums), this little guy and the cute but ditsy six-year-old little girl in the class were sharing seats and pawing each other like high school kids—not a common sight in Japanese schools.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Oh Happy Day! Forced Move Cancelled: Gaijin to Proceed with Former Privileged Life

Today was to have been my big move to the little house. There was a truck, there were movers (board of education staff assigned to assist me), and there was also the vice-principal of the junior high school who wanted to help, too. This man has entered the Gaijin Book of Wickedawesome People because when he saw where I was being moved to he remembered that I am getting married in June and interceded on my behalf (but not before most of my stuff was already down at the new place). To make a short story shorter, I am now authorized to live in the big house on the hill for the duration of my JET career. Although it is a pain in the neck to move out of somewhere and then move right back in again, it gave me an opportunity to rearrange the house to my taste, and I am extremely pleased with the results. If you honestly couldn’t care less about one example of an English teacher’s housing situation in Japan, this would be a good blog entry to skip.

First, though, the promised photo of the ghetto I was to be moved into. These are actually some of the nicer shacks. The real poor-shacks are a little further down the street. I was relieved to see today that the village is putting up new low income housing that is much nicer.

This is the exterior of the building that I was almost moved into.

My supervisor’s assistant (who also happens to be my supervisor’s nephew) poses next to my mobile library.

With my kitchen packed up, supper was constructed from four-day-old fried rice, canned beans, canned fish, and kimchi sauce

. . . and consumed strait from the frying pan. It was pretty good, and I saved some for my box lunch tomorrow.

The Front Entrance to My Real Home

The Kitchen (Attached to the Living Room)

The Living Room (Attached to the Kitchen)

My Bedroom as Seen from My Closet
This is actually two rooms, but today I converted it into my new mega-bedroom.

My Bedroom as Seen from Outside the Window

The Spare Bedroom where I Hang My Laundry

The Laundry Room

The Shower & Bath Room

The Toilet

The Storage Room

Monday, December 06, 2004

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test a.k.a. A Great Excuse to Squeeze in an Extra Visit to Yuko this Month

Heap Big Snow in Sapporo on the Weekend

My Usual Spot on the Ferry, Right Near a Power Outlet

I Love it when I Have the Upper Deck Lobby Almost to Myself

Some Aomori JETs I ran into at Sapporo Station while waiting for Yuko to Come Pick Me Up: Kuroishi Anne Slurps a Mega-Expensive Slurpy while Ajigasawa Tyler Focuses on Staying Cool (I Counted a Total of about Nine Amori JETs Who Opted To Take the Test in Sapporo)

My Caramel Santa

. . . Was Way too Small for What I Paid (Ajigasawa Paul Looks on in Trepidation as I Decide What to Do About It)

Hmmmm, How to Get My Money’s Worth? Well, Take Lots of Pictures, Play with Him for Half-an-Hour and then . . .

Finish Him off with a Syrupy Ice Storm

Yuko Uses Her Elliot Tartan Scarf to Go for the Little Red Riding Hood Look In Front of the Engineering Faculty Building at Hokkaido University where the Japanese Language Proficiency Test was Administered


One of my favourite things in life is to take an exam by the ear and kick its buttocks. That’s why I chose to take the level three Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), because it’s hard to say whose buttocks would have been kicked if I had gone for the level two. As it was, me taking the level three test was like Moe pounding Calvin in “Calvin & Hobbs.” Walking down the halls of Hokkaido University brought back sweet memories of all the times in college that I cleaned toilets until 2:00 a.m. to pay my fees, only to get up at six o’clock to study for a midterm in a stairwell where the cold would keep me awake. I LOVE THE FEELING OF NAILING THOSE MULTIPLE CHOICE QUESTIONS! Too bad they don’t have multiple choice questions in doctoral programs, but now that the JLPT has awoken my craving for multiple-choice highs, I’m thinking of signing up for a whole slough of language tests. Maybe I’ll even take the GRE a couple of times just for fun.

Trying Out the Yukata Look at Futomi Spa Where I Stayed Again This Visit

Yuko and I Enjoy Hokkaido’s World Famous Ramen at えぞっこ (ezokko) on Sapporo Station’s Concourse Level (Special Announcement to Ajigasawa JETs: Yuko says she’s very, very sorry that she told you the name of this restaurant was どさんこ—we hope you found it anyway!)

Friday, December 03, 2004

Little House in the Ghetto

Full coverage of the unfolding tragedy of my forced move will continue until the sorrow abates. I have mentioned before that my village’s board of education had two singles' residences built recently—one for a spinster gym teacher, and one for the village ALT. This disruption of my life was set in motion long before CLAIR assigned me to Kazamaura. The idea was that most ALTs are single and that they don’t need three-bedroom houses, and that the National Language (国語) teacher who has two young children did. I do not begrudge a young family a nice large home across the street from their father’s workplace—I would gladly make sacrifices for such a cause. But the other day this family turned down my big house on the hill for personal reasons. Nevertheless, I will still be moved. Having one of the new residences vacant would cause more loss of face for the board of education than having the older, bigger house vacant. So we must begin a new volume in the story of my life in Kazamaura: “Little House in the Ghetto.” To show what I mean, I will post some photos of my neighbourhood when I return from my weekend visit to Yuko's.

The view of my genkan through the front door.

Enter through the front door and look left to see part of the living room and the bedroom beyond.

Walk towards the bedroom door and look in.

Walk into the corner and look back towards the door and the bedroom closet.

Look through the bedroom door back into the living room/kitchen.

Walk into the far right corner of the kitchen and look back towards the living room, bedroom door, and bathroom door.

Walk to the bathroom door and look in at the toilet and the sink in the laundry room.

Walk into the bathroom and look back at the laundry room and the bath/shower unit beyond. The ultra-modern water heating unit to the right talks to me in a Japanese woman’s voice and tells me which buttons to push.

A closer look at the bath/shower unit.

The sad thing is, I know that many local people covet this house because it is brand new. Meanwhile, I would be perfectly happy back in my older but still very nice and much, much bigger house which is right across the street from the school instead of this little tiny house down by the (dirty) river that is at least ten minutes walking distance from the school.