Saturday, January 29, 2005

If You're Ever in Mutsu: Some Great People at Three Great Establishments

It being a rainy winter Saturday, I declined the temptations of the wild mountain trails and opted instead to visit key locations in Shimokita’s most urban area. It is all too easy to arrive in a community a foreigner and then leave a few years later none the wiser of what that community had to offer all along. So I dedicated today to visiting some key private establishments I had become aware of over the past two weeks, and to reviewing them in this blog as a reference for other expatriates in the area.


ひば自然食品の店:The Hiba Tree Natural Foods Store

The sign says稲葉 (inaba). It is a tiny, tiny shop, but it is perhaps the only natural foods store available for those seeking organic or vegan-friendly foods. Its main customer base is made up of people following the macrobiotic diet so the shop carries a large number of brown rice [玄米—genmai) products. My purchase of the day was a 1kg bag of organic brown rice. The regular price would have been ¥560 but apparently everything is 10% off on the last Saturday of each month. The entire building is constructed of Aomori hiba wood, and sure enough the owner is acquainted with Mr. Muraguchi of ワイドの木 [wide no ki] (read about Mr. Muraguchi and his house of hiba).


Ms. Midori Inaba [稲葉みどり—“inaba” means “rice leaf” and “midori” means “green”] Who Runs the Store

Ms. Inaba is a singular woman whom I first saw at the meeting I attended last Sunday for raising awareness of the undesirability of the planned “interim” (read “emergency”) nuclear waste storage facilities in Mutsu City. I will devote a future article to this important subject. I have heard second hand that Ms. Inaba moved to Mutsu a number of years ago for the express purpose of raising awareness of the dangers Shimokita faces as the future home of a concentrated number of nuclear facilities—some of them very poorly thought out. Although I spoke with her only in Japanese I suspect that her English is very good, and she offers her services as a teacher of Japanese to non-native speakers of the language. I will definitely be frequenting her shop in the future, and although it is very small I would strongly encourage anyone in the area sympathetic to her cause to do so as well.


ちゃ蘭ぽ蘭 [charan poran]: Mutsu’s Provider of Korean Food

This is the establishment I spoke of in last week’s post on things Korean. It is primarily a Korean restaurant, but also has a shelf of Korean food products for sale. It seems to already have gained popularity as a meeting place for social groups since it’s opening in October, and for good reason. It provides a pleasant and comfortable environment tenderly overseen by the Korean woman who runs it. When I dropped in to take a look it was much too early for me to feel like supper, but as I chatted with her she poured me a cup of coffee and gave me a little Korean dessert on the house. To my delight, I was able to order a 3kg container of kochujang for my home cooking, and I will probably be dining out at Charan Poran quite often in the future.


Mrs. Keiran Nakanishi (formerly Kim): 中西(金)慶蘭 in Front of Her Korean Food Shelf

Mrs. Nakanishi came to Japan about twelve years ago and has lived in Mutsu since about eight years ago. She is a member of the Emanuel Church in town, but she knows most of the people at the church I attend as well. She has a Japanese husband. Mrs. Nakanishi has a very friendly and kind persona (she would probably just give everything to her customers if it were economically feasible) and I am looking forward to getting to know her better in the future.


蛮 [Ban]: a Great Place for Coffee, Pizza, or Dessert (Click on the Brochure for a Closer Look)


The Owners, Who Also Know Mr. Muraguchi, Lending Weight to a Theory I Am Developing That Mr. Muraguchi Is the Axis around which All of Shimokita's Cool People Revolve

One of the ladies at my church introduced me to this place last week. The first time I went I had clam curry, and today I had the seafood pizza. The house special is アランドロン. I have no idea what to call it in English so I will simply try to Romanize it: arandoron. This little café and its arandoron feature in the novel 下北薬研温泉殺人事件:The Shimokita Yagen Hot Spring Spa Murder Mystery.

I picked it up at the bookstore today and will use it to practice my Japanese reading skills. On the way home I went to none other than the Yagen Hot Springs.


Thumper, Lonely in the Yagen Mountains’ Winter Twilight


The Free Access Outdoor Bath, All to Myself!


How Many Monkeys Can You See? Click on the Photo for a Close Up and the Answer

The day my supervisor drove me to Kazamaura from the airport for the first time I was welcomed by monkeys sitting on the side of the road while going over the mountain pass. I hadn’t seen any since then, so I was quite pleased to discover a whole troop on the side of the highway as I drove to Mutsu this morning.


Click on Map for Enlargement

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Foreign Competition

I knew that I was in trouble when I heard the math teacher say in awe: “Oh, much more than last year . . . !” In Japanese, that sort of expression is a linguistic possibility. I overheard this comment as I was sitting at my desk sorting flash cards, but since I have spent many years in Japan, and because I knew what day it was, I was immediately able to interpret this comment to mean: “OH・MY・GOODNESS . . . , this year’s German exchange students are way better looking than last year's!!!” Some time ago I made reference to Kazamaura’s special relationship with Doshisha University and to the “Cultural Exchange with Doshisha Exchange Students” program. In recent years these visiting exchange students have all been Germans, and today was the day for this year’s crop of Germans to visit my junior high school. As the math teacher passed my desk he cocked his head at me and said: “I don’t know, Luke-sensei, I wonder which is better.” Being functionally conversant in Japanese I immediately understood that he was saying: “Guess what Luke-sensei, these German dudes look way cooler than you and consequently your ratings are going to go way, way down and in fact I’m not even sure why I didn’t realize before that in the big picture you’re actually pretty lame!” I’m sure he meant it kindly.

Cape Oma: Taking Time Out of the Day to Experience Being the Northern-Most Gaijin in Honshu

But honestly, how I am I supposed to compete with über -Germans in a country where Germany and Germans are held in awe? Even if I give up my "mature" look, shave my beard and get an expensive hair cut I can’t be as cool as the sexilingual (I think that’s the adjective for a “speaker of six languages”) mega-man in the middle. Nice guys, nice ladies, very talented, I had a great time with them, but I’m going to have a rough few months now that the junior high kids feel they have been gypped in the kakkoii department. Good thing the adults appreciate me for my user-friendliness! I wish you well, my German friends. Have fun back in Kyoto! But tomorrow, I think I will begin setting up a clandestine program to keep kakkoii gaijin off my turf. It’s not good for my work environment.

Post Script: It was pretty funny to watch the German students squirm as the ancient ex-superintendent of schools told them that Japanese people his age have a special place in their hearts for Germans and then (turning to pat me, the Canadian, on the arm reassuringly) said "not, of course, that it has anything to do with our axis alliance or the fight with the Americans."

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Dear Alice,

I realize that you generally handle questions of a more intimate nature, but I need to solicit your advice concerning my driving problem. I am a Canadian and I used to have no trouble going around 100kph on winter roads. I did spin out once, but there was no oncoming traffic and after a few days of driving as slow as eighty I was back to normal. Then I came to Japan. The speed limit is much lower here, but I kept getting thrown off the road by frozen ruts and sheet ice.

Finally, I slid head on into a sidewalk curb and bent 70,000 yen worth of metal. Now I am afraid to go over forty. Every time I look in the rear view mirror there are twenty cars taunting me. Sometimes they pass me on the solid ice. What is wrong with me? Do my snow tires suck?

Do I suck? I want to drive like everyone else, but I’m afraid of losing more money. Please rescue my ego!

Complaining in Kazamaura

Monday, January 24, 2005

My Mechanic


I have finally come to the conclusion that the car my mechanic brought back to me is not Thumper. Thumper used to thump in the front right wheel well when I accelerated. This car squeaks. I will call it Squeaky. Where are you, Thumper?! I first met my mechanic at an exclusive drinkfest at my supervisor’s house after my welcoming party at the town hall. He was pleasantly inebriated and explaining to one of Kazamaura’s three elementary school principles why he had pointed him out for early promotion to his current position. I gather from this that my mechanic has unique powers behind the scenes in the governing of Kazamaura. When I acquired Thumper sometime in September my mechanic appeared in the board of education office to sign me up with JAF and an insurance policy. His wife later came to collect my money. More recently, when my mechanic brought back my Thumper-turned-Squeaky after fixing him he said that I could leave the 70,000 yen or so I owed him in cash, in an envelope, in the board of education office. In the end I decided to bypass the board of education office and handed the cash directly to his wife at home, and she wrote me up a receipt. Later that night they brought me a gift as a thank you for doing business with them.

I had never had the responsibility of preparing an octopus for human consumption before, but I carried out my mission valiantly.

Boiled octopus is a little too gooey for my liking, so I deep fried it. Tonight I will take over a little jar of some of the kimchi I made at church last week as a “thank you for the thank you gift, gift.” Otherwise I won’t be able to look their youngest daughter in the eye in my second year junior high class.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Police Pointers for Aliens by Aliens

Deep winter is coming, the time when people’s thoughts turn to prison. I have never been to prison. All things considered, I don’t take this for granted. Here are just a few of the (less than serious) reasons why I am lucky never to have been “taken down to the station” in any of the countries I have been obnoxious in (my less amusing misdeeds, of course, have no place in this blog).


Trying On My First Hand-me-down Suit at Age Thirteen Gives Me Ideas


Looking Suspicious at Boarding School in the Philippines


Practicing with a Butterfly Knife I Brought Back Illegally from Boarding School


Scaling Apartment Buildings in New York City (the Same Summer I Didn’t Know Who Britney Spears Was)


Abusing Royal Guards in Norway


Speed Boat Shooting Spree in Sweden

Growing up, I was under the delusion that I was more-or-less invincible from police interference. This was naïve, but I did survive to adulthood without experiencing any shocking evidence to the contrary. Nowadays, though, I have a growing desire to be prepared. In terms of corruption and abuse of power, the police in Japan are probably in the same league as their North American colleagues—nothing too over the top. Although the mass media in Japan makes an effort to encourage hysteria about “foreign crime” and the Tokyo police have their committee for dealing with “the problems of internationalization,” I do not feel anymore threatened as a foreigner in Japan than I do as a Canadian in America. What I have discovered first hand is that prefectural police in Japan have a reputation of wanting to avoid confronting foreigners—of being “afraid” of them. I can only imagine that this offends them, and causes a few of them to do their utmost to belie this accusation. In my humble opinion, what is important is not worrying about whether law enforcement in Japan is good or bad, but rather being aware of what can happen when things go terribly wrong—how different things can be from what we have come to believe about our “rights.” I would recommend reading these two testimonials I found on Arudou Debito’s website; one about a young husband who fought off some small time thugs threatening him and his wife and another about a first year female JET accused of shoplifting because she wasn't aware of the difference between North American shopping malls and Japanese department stores. The latter story, written shortly after it happened in December 2002 left me wondering so I wrote to the young lady in question. She was kind enough to write back with a postscript to her ordeal along with her permission for me to share it publicly. For most of us, though, the most interaction we are going to have with policemen is getting speeding tickets (fair enough) and being spot checked for our alien registration cards (read about Jacob Witt's experience). Technically Japanese policemen can do these alien registration card spot checks without breaking the law, but if you like to consider yourself a social activist of sorts, you might want to consider putting them through their paces (preferably without aggravating them unnecessarily) when they try to do so. Again, Arudou Debito offers an outline of how one might go about this. Personally I have taken his advice and begun carrying around these little scraps of paper in my wallet.

They include 1) a photo copy of my alien registration card—just in case, 2) the Police Law’s Section 2 stating that police must have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify demanding ID (keep in mind that while technically this law does not apply only to Japanese citizens, it is superceded by the Foreign Registry Law Section 13 Clause 2), 3) the Foreign Registry Law Section 13 Clause 3 that specifies that when a law enforcement agent asks a foreigner to produce an alien registration card outside the agent’s workplace, the said agent must produce identification upon the foreigner’s request, and 4) the Police Law’s Section 2 Clause 2 which states that a law enforcement agent may “ask” someone to accompany them to the station i.e. by implication the agent cannot make someone do so without first placing the person under arrest. In conclusion, it is a good idea to 1) KNOW THE LAW, 2) make an effort to come across as polite and sophisticated, and 3) DON’T ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE ESCORTED TO THE POLICE STATION UNLESS YOU ARE UNDER ARREST!! And if you are a foreigner, remember that there are other people in this country who probably have more to worry about than you do. Right now I am watching a television program interviewing otaku and and ko-gyaru.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Grossman


Have You Seen This Man?!

Grossman is distinct from He-Boy. He-Boy is the kind of muscle-bound pusshead that gets roles as an extra in Kill Bill Vol. 1. He spends all his time harassing real life girls and thinking that he’s doing them a favour. Grossman gave up on real life contact with real life girls a long time ago—somewhere around kindergarten. He realized that real life effort was too much work and decided to go soft and sweaty instead. Grossman lives in every country and in every culture, but in Japan he generally looks like the guy in the photo above. His birthday tells us he’s forty-something, but he’s still the beady eyed, soft-bellied, sweaty boy that he was in grade school. Grossman is, as a matter of principle, indifferent to all other life forms. In the train he noisily plops his slovenly bulk onto the seat, kicks off his shoes, and begins reading his perverted Japanese manga (or sometimes just conventional pornography). Then he pulls out his convenience store bento (box lunch), snorts it down and smacks his lips, breathing heavily at the same time. I am not kind to Grossman. Truth be told, I do not like him. A few train rides ago I’d had it up to the yin-yang and determined that if Grossman was going to violate my person by pulling out his sleaze and letting it all hang out—in front of me and the rest of the general public—then I was going to violate his person by boldly photographing him without warning, permission, or apology, and putting his picture on the internet. Grossman lives in every country and in every culture, and if you ride the trains in urban Japan you are certain to meet him on a regular basis. In case you haven’t heard yet, it’s open season on Grossman. レッツハンティング (“Let’s hunting”)!

Monday, January 17, 2005

Kimchi


Pastor Ikesako of 田名部教会 (Tanabu Church) Teaches Some of His Parishioners How to Make Kimchi After Sunday Service

Making kimchi led to the discussion of other things Korean and I found out that Mutsu “City” used to have a Korea Town. The Japanese expression 朝鮮町 (chousen machi) is, to say the least, considered politically incorrect and the subject of how one of those communities of 在日韓国人 (zainichi-kankokujin: Japanese residents of Korean descent) came to exist in Mutsu is taboo. I learned, however, that a substantially large number of Korean slave labourers were brought to the Shimokita peninsula to work on the Oma (大間)Railroad. This part of the story was consistently left out when my supervisor and others explained to me about the ruins of uncompleted bridges here and there along the coastal Highway 279. The railway was to have connected the town of Oma on the northern tip of Honshu with the rest of Japan's rail network and, had it been completed, it would have passed right below my house through Kazamaura. However, the end of the war in 1945 brought an end to wartime construction, an end to the Oma Railroad, and an end to Korean slave labour in Japan. Those of Korean descent who chose to remain in the Shimokita area were gradually assimilated into the local population and now there are no external indications of their existence. For the most part they do not speak Korean, they have not kept their Korean names, and they do not celebrate Korean culture in a way that would catch an outsider’s attention. In fact, there wasn’t even a real Korean restaurant or food store in Mutsu until a Japanese man and his Korean wife (who came from Korea about fifteen years ago) opened an establishment in October which combines both services.

I had a lady at church draw a map for me of how to get to it . . .

. . . and now that Thumper’s back I can actually give it a visit without paying ¥1,450 one way for a bus ticket! (Yes, I know, the money I paid to have Thumper repaired would have covered exactly 47.1558620689 such one way tickets—that’s 23.5779310344 round trips!)


Thumper is Promising Not to Take Out a Restraining Order Against Me on the Condition that I Adopt the Four-Fold Way of Happy Winter Driving: Come On Thumper, I wasn’t Going THAT Fast, and I DID Pay ¥68,376 To the Mechanic as Restorative Penance (Read about Thumper’s woes here and here)



This photo was taken from behind my house, on the hill overlooking the Strait of Tsugaru. The red arrow points to Thumper while he was awaiting his fate at Car Heroic—the only mechanic’s in town. The blue arrow points to Hakodate-yama, on the island of Hokkaido. My cell-phone camera never seems to be able to pick up Hokkaido very well.


BONUS INFORMATION:
Red pepper for making kimchi should be imported from Korea because Japanese soil causes even Korean plants to produce pepper that is too strong for flavouring kimchi. Perhaps Japanese mustard (karashi) is also subject to this characteristic of Japanese soil? It certainly tastes like it.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Aomori News: Gaijin for Life’s Annual Update

Aomori is, one might say, the Arkansas of Japan and therefore, out of respect for the rest of Japan that probably thinks reporting Aomori news even once a year is overdoing it, I shall be brief. There are two developments in the prefecture that I feel are worthy of international attention. First,


Apple Maidens: Desiring to Deliver to the World through Song from the Town of Apples
Please click on the photo in order to legitimize my unsanctioned use of this photo by visiting the site of its origin.

. . . the birth of the Apple Maidens (りんご娘: ringo musume, literally “apple daughters”) in the year 2000 (the current three members were not in the original group). Before going any further, I should explain why I am not really qualified to report on J-pop or any other kind of pop music at all. In the summer of 2000 or there about I was taking a midnight stroll in Greenwich Village, NY with some Japanese friends. We came upon a small crowd in front of a night club just as a big black suburban pulled up. As we watched, a little blond girl and an African American gentleman of gargantuan proportions exited the vehicle and passed within a few feet of us. The Japanese girls I was with began screaming “It’s Britney Spears! It’s Britney Spears!” and, perceiving that something great was transpiring and wishing to be let in on the secret of what it was, I shouted back “Who’s Britney Spears?!” It was an innocent question on my part, but one of the girls I was with slapped my mouth while another planted her hand firmly in my chest and thrust me backwards out of Miss Spear’s presence. Since that time I have been very careful to pay close attention whenever I hear the name “Britney Spears,” but I remain quite ignorant regarding the rest of the world of pop music.


Ringo Musume (りんご娘: Apple Maidens) on the Left, Morning Musume on the Right

I think, though, that I know enough to authoritatively state that Ringo Musume is a rip off of Morning Musume. I think, moreover, that I could perhaps also suggest authoritatively that this is no cheap rip off but a strategic and slightly expensive regional rip off of a nationally successful group in the name of promoting local agriculture. Both groups have a “Lolita goes to Super Mario’s Castle Ball” look about them, but I like to think that the Aomori girls are nicer people.


The second noteworthy event to take place in Appleland Aomori is the culling of Wakinosawa Village’s famous monkey troops. I reported in a recent post that local boards of education are responsible for issues related to protected species designated as “natural treasures.” Yesterday I learned that this responsibility includes the power of life and death! In a solemn meeting yesterday, Wakinosawa Village’s board of education pronounced the death sentence on designated monkeys from the nearby troublesome and overpopulated troops that often invade the village. Twenty-four monkeys are to face death by lethal injection. This new intelligence has planted seeds of ambition in my little gaijin brain. If I take Japanese citizenship and devote myself to climbing the bureaucratic ladder here in Kazamaura, I may eventually have the power to inflict capital punishment on monkeys! There are many cultures in the world, with many different views on different things, but all of them are in agreement that monkeys are fundamentally evil. Perhaps I could serve the world by helping to channel people’s xenophobic feelings into a hatred of monkeys instead! Okay, okay, who am I kidding? This is Japan, and if you bothered to follow the above link to the Asahi article you already know that the death sentences had to pass through a bajillion levels of government and "experts" before the village board of education got to rubber stamp them.

As to other events transpiring in Aomori, such as Ai-chan’s ping-pong and people dieing from masses of snow falling on them from roofs, well, this is Aomori and no one will pay any attention anyway.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

In the Name of Amalgamation


Kazamaura Village is slated for amalgamation with Sai Village and Oma Township. Due to the attitude I have come to have towards Oma the prospect does not excite me. In an effort to counter such feelings of discord lurking in the bosoms of those affected, there was held today an enkai (“feast,” of the alcoholic variety) to bring together the boards of education of the three municipalities in brotherly harmony. Public and corporate life in Japan often operates on the axiom that “alcohol unites,” but what happens when there are sons of temperance present? Sobriety drives them to desperate boredom-evasion tactics.

Brian, the ALT (assistant language teacher) in Sai Village, and I were two such youths. Being non-musical and stone-cold sober we unequivocally refused to participate in the karaoke singing but, as a concession, we donned the party wigs brought out by the mama-san.

Presently, I was for no apparent reason handed a guitar, and I took that in stride as well. All in all, it was an enjoyable conclusion to my birthday, although no one was aware of the fact. One of the Oma section heads even sang a song that I would be willing to attempt myself in the future in spite of my inability to sing in tune. It’s called “A Man and a Woman in English Conversation” and is comprised entirely of textbook Engrish phrases. But alas, when the folks at the head of the table asked the ALTs to grade the tallented singer’s delivery of this selection, Brian accidentally shouted 「七十八点!」 (“78 points!”) instead of 「九十八点!」 (“98 points!”) as he intended. Silly Brian. That could have ended amalgamation right there. Fortunately, a little remedial diplomacy later on helped clear the air and everyone went home feeling that amalgamation, while it doesn’t make any logical sense, is nevertheless a great excuse for some great parties.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A Birthday Story


“I was born.” Yes, that’s right. My life story began exactly the same way as Dickens’s David Copperfield. They say that it was blizzarding hard on January 12, 1977, and that in Buffalo, NY someone killed someone else for a parking space. But I spent the day in North York General Hospital and didn’t hear about all that until much, much later.

Exactly one year later I received my first birthday cake. I’m not sure what affect all that pink had on my psychological development, but whatever it was, I would hope I’m over it by now.

In spite of my excellent long term memory, the rest of my birthdays are a bit of a blur. I know that my sixteenth birthday was my first day of boarding school in the Philippines. I think I got a surprise cake and a kiss from my dorm mother. The entire twenty-four hours of my twenty-third birthday were spent on the Alaska Highway in a Greyhound bus. I bought myself a birthday doughnut somewhere around Fort Nelson, and a nice nursing student bought me a birthday coffee. My very worst birthday ever was my twenty-sixth birthday. It was the last day of a winter army exercise weekend and as a new second lieutenant I was being given a very bad time by pompous NCOs. I had absolutely no idea it was my birthday until I got home in the late afternoon and discovered a birthday message from my family in my voicemail. “Oh yeaaaaaaaah. . . .”


My next birthday also fell on an army day, but this time I had friends who waited up to celebrate when I got home. Bless their hearts.

Which brings me to my current birthday . . . . Thanks to Yuko and my sister Mary I was able to celebrate a pre-emptive birthday party in Hakodate over the long weekend. Thank you Yuko and Mary!

My sister Mary, also known as Sister #3, is currently a student at The Far Eastern National University’s (FENU’s) “famous branch at Hakodate, Japan.” Having just returned from a semester abroad at the main campus in Vladivostok, it was very kind of her to host my birthday party on her very first night back in her house. The house Mary rents (for peanuts) is very old and so tilted that her bedroom door slides shut of its own accord.

What fascinated me the most, though, was her telephone. When I was a kid these black rotary phones were the ONLY model to be found in private residences. Now, Mary is the only person I know who is still using one.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

作業服 (Sagyou-fuku: Labour Clothes) and Board of Education Spec Ops (Special Operations)


This is sagyou-fuku, my special operations uniform when working in the village board of education office (Thursdays). It is not required, and it has certainly never proven necessary, but I like to be prepared. Sagyou-fuku is worn by many labourers in Japan, and by bureaucrats involved in industry, agriculture, or other labour-related pursuits. The latter generally wear dress shirts and ties under their sagyou-fuku—just as I am doing in this photo—to demonstrate their white-collar status. The junior employees of the village board of education (BOE) tend to dress in this manner, whereas the section heads wear suits.


天然記念物 (ten-nen-kinenbutsu: natural monument=protected species)
These particular little fellas are kamoshika, known in English as Japanese antelopes, or serows. I photographed these two just outside the church I attend in Mutsu City.


I used to be puzzled at what these guys at the BOE might possibly have to do in the course of a day requiring sagyou-fuku, but there are some surprising answers. For instance, what happens when a fox or a tanuki (racoon dog) gets hit by a car? Nothing; the crows eat it. What happens if a kamoshika or a monkey gets run over? The board of education must send someone out to give it a proper burial. If it is still alive it must be driven by board of education personnel to a facility three hours away in Aomori City. Both species are designated as “natural monuments,” and “natural monuments” fall under the jurisdiction of local boards of education. So if one of these natural monuments strays out of nature and gets whacked on a Thursday, I’ll be properly dressed to hop in the BOE van with the other guys, help scrape the “monument” off the road, dig a hole in the mountains, and bury it.

Inkan


Inkan (click on this link for the laws and customs governing their use) are the personalized name seals used in Japan in lieu of signatures. On the far left is the one I used in my youth, prior to my ten year sojourn in North America. It uses both my first name and my surname in order to clearly distinguish it from my parents’ inkan but the first name was put first in Western fashion, which annoys me. When Japanese people live overseas, they put their first name first in accordance with local custom. Likewise, when I am in Japan I insist that my surname come first, in accordance with local custom. The middle inkan is the one commissioned for me by the Kazamaura Board of Education prior to my arrival. It has only my first name—whether by mistake or as deliberate discrimination I have no way of knowing. Moreover, it uses the modern transliteration of Luke (ルーク) rather than the Biblical transliteration from Greek (ルカ) that I grew up with. The other day I finally got around to registering the inkan on the far right as an official replacement (cost, ¥200). It is the last name portion of my English signature and cost me ¥4,000 to have made. The next step I will take is to register ルカ (Ruka) at the municipal office as the official transliteration of my first name. I hope that, perhaps, by thoroughly confusing the local populace regarding my first name, I can manipulate them into learning my last name.

One of my old "proof of inkan registration forms," together with the little green inkan registration booklet required in any administrative processing of my inkan.

In the few hours since registering my new inkan a little further research has revealed to me that the majority of people have both their last and first names on their registered inkan (called jitsuin). However, it is legal to register inkan with just the surname, just the first name, or a combination of either with other initials. For foreigners it is possible to register an inkan inscribed in either katakana or in the Latin (i.e. English) alphabet. For an Engrish explanation of the various types of inkan, look here.

MK Reunion: Life’s Little Touchstones for Third Culture Kids

I have written before on the MK (Missionary Kid) and the TCK (Third Culture Kid). In between all our New Year’s feasting Yuko and I went to a mini-feast at my sister’s house in order to meet one of my best childhood friends—another MK. Curtis and his older sister Heather (Curty and Heather, as I fondly remember them) were giants in my childhood psyche—a recurring constant in a seemingly inconstant world. I have no memory of friends before the advent of Curty and Heather, so they are in fact my first best friends.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to meet Curtis, but Heather (on the far left, next to my sister Anna) has been teaching English in Sapporo for over a year and a half (I was unaware of this until last month), and I finally got a chance to meet her for the first time since 1989. Now that we’ve finally re-established contact, I hope to visit Curtis and Heather in Chicago with Yuko when we travel to North America in August. In a life with so many moves and so much change and so much left behind, it’s always a delight when the paths of TCKs cross again after many years.

MKs at an OMF conference at Toya-ko (Lake Toya), Hokkaido c. 1980): Me on the far left, Heather next to me in the pink shirt, Anna standing behind us, and Curtis second from the right (excluding the Japanese school girls) CLICK ON PHOTO FOR ENLARGEMENT

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The New Years Album of Family Feasting, or: “I’m So Full I’ll Eat Only Brown Rice for a Week”


Waiting for the Bus to Take Me from Kazamaura to the Oma Ferry in Lieu of the Wounded Thumper: I couldn’t help remembering the time the vice principle of the junior high school told me how devastated he was twenty years ago when his first teaching assignment turned out to be in this desolate village precariously balanced between the steep mountains and the cold grey sea (if only he had stepped out onto the mountain roads in summer. . .).


The New Years Crab was an Aesthetically Pleasing Change from Thanksgiving Turkey


Feast: My First Ever Traditional New Years Spent with A Japanese Family—My Family-in-Law


Hokkaido Gothic: Yuko and Me Shovelling the Parking Space in a Bid to Get Hungry Again


More Feasting with More In-Laws at Yuko’s Grandparent’s House: Grandpa and Grandma Nakamura have Three More Daughters besides Yuko’s Mother, but Yuko’s Family is Closest to Them in All Respects


I have no idea what to call this contraption, so let us name it Snowbeast. Snowbeast is a concrete pit fitted with a kerosene furnace and drains. It eliminates the need for finding a place to dump the snow when snow shovelling.


Yuko and Grandpa Nakamura Feed the Snowbeast


My Family-in-Law: Yuko’s Brother and His Wife Join for Day Two of Family Feasting


This is the traditional osechi ryouri put together by Yuko’s brother’s in-laws as a New Years gift to the Takahashi (Yuko’s) family. (Click on the photo for a Closer look).