Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Operation Bear Watch Update



In other news, don't forget to tune in to Aomori's channel 9 (RAB) for an exclusive look into Ikokuma Elementary School's school anthem (as sung by about sixty children, several teachers, one gaijin, and accompanied by some famous guy in a pink shirt).

Date: Wednesday, 28 September
Time: 4:50~5:15 p.m.
Place: A Television (Channel 9, RAB)

Looking for Brother Bear on Hiuchi-dake

Kazamonkey (a.k.a. Kazamaura “Jones”), The Scandal Plagued Founder of Gaijin for Life

Gaijin for Life's Operation Bear Watch was the victim of another employee instigated hoax early yesterday when a photograph purporting to be of a bear obscured by foliage was released to the public. The object in the photo later proved to be the upturned roots of a fallen tree. This is the second hoax to plague the Find a Bear Campaign this season and has led to the founder and executive director of Gaijin for Life to declare a “War on Fraudulism.”

In order to find Brother Bear, Kazamonkey must think like a bear, move like a bear, and eat like a bear . . . although it is doubtful that a bear would have gone to the trouble of collecting these wild grapes in the treetops, fifteen metres off the ground.

This is the part of our program where we take a moment to pay tribute to the other Luke by posting a photograph of Mount Iwaki. No, really, it’s there. You simply have to squint just right because there are over a hundred kilometres and a body of water between the mountain and Bear Runner.

Die Zauberflöte: The Three Ladies
Actually, they didn’t believe I could see Mount Iwaki, either . . . lucky I got the photographic evidence. Hiuchi-dake is the highest mountain in Kazamaura so these ladies have nowhere higher to go. We could see all of the southern coast of Hokkaido, all of Cape Oma, all of Cape Shiriya, all of Mutsu city, the Tsugaru Peninsula, the Pacific Ocean, the Tsugaru Strait and Mutsu Bay. Surprisingly, Shimokita’s mountainous terrain obscured most of the peninsula’s outline and most of Mutsu Bay.

While the ladies enjoyed the view, I continued my martial arts training in the Leaping Bear style.

The Gang of Four (including Yotaro Muraguchi and his wife, the magnificent minds behind the Muraguchi Industries, ydonoki, and Yotaro in the Forrest enterprises).

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Night of Tuna, god of Fish

Tuna: from Tuna, the female god of fish in Greek mythology whom Poseidon sealed inside a tin can for five years because she would never sit still. Tuna afterwards took vengeance on Poseidon by seducing him on an aromatic bed of freshly cooked white rice, then binding him with dried seaweed and rubbing wasabi into his eyes.

At least that is what I expected to find out when I looked up the etymology of “tuna.” However, according to Webster’s, it turns out that the word tuna is “American Spanish, alteration of Spanish atĂșn, modification of Arabic tun, from Latin thunnus, from Greek thynnos.” More specifically, according to this online “Catalog of Fishes," it originates from “Greek, thynnos = tunna + Greek, ichthys = fish (Ref. 45335).” This is further evidence of the importance of BBP: “the Benefit of the Boring Probability,” i.e. Gaijin’s theory that “most potentially interesting phenomena have profoundly uninteresting explanations.”

My friend Mr. Niioka Beheads the Tuna

The Tuna Head Thrown into the Fiery Furnace

It’s not everyday that one may join the director of a Japanese military hospital in eating flesh off a giant, charred fish head with a dessert spoon.

Nor does one frequently witness a famous surgeon who once operated on the emperor of Japan expertly applying his art to a fresh tuna carcass, also with a dessert spoon.

In the culinary world, this is called “snitching” i.e. the practice of ingesting cuisine in an unfinished state——in this case directly transferring the raw flesh of tuna from carcass to mouth.

This particular bluefin tuna was a small specimen of indifferent quality. It weighed in at 45kg and cost only $1,500. Fifteen friends of ydonoki went in on the purchase and in doing so each acquired for roughly $100 an assortment of fresh tuna that would sell for five or six times that value in Tokyo.

Pink Gold: A sample of oo-toro, the most expensive portions of tuna. On a super sale in Oma itself, this cut might go for about 2,000 yen. Most people would end up paying two or three times that under normal circumstances----ten times that if a highly qualified chef were to prepare it. Interestingly toro was not valued in Japanese cuisine until the 1960’s when new freezing technologies made its transportation to big city restaurants viable. The flesh of bluefin tuna is quite fatty, causing it to go bad very quickly, and for this reason it was not eaten at all in Japan until the Edo period when it was first used in sushi.

Note: The tuna found in cans comes from much smaller species of tuna with white or light pink meat rather than rich, read meat like that of the bluefin tuna.

"And oh, how they danced!"

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

My Pilgrimage to Yuda Part the First: You Are What You Eat

By Eating Brother Bear, Brother Gaijin Absorbs the Powers of Brother Bear
Over the long weekend Yuko and I made a pilgrimage to Yuda in sparsely populated Iwate prefecture. Sadly, I learned that Yuko’s father’s people in Yuda used to be blacksmiths, not Matagi. Nevertheless, Yuko’s uncle fed me frozen cutlets of pure, raw bear fat and regaled us with Iwate bear stories like the one about an onsen worker who saw a bear cub on his way home from work. Thinking it was small enough to capture with his bare hands the unfortunate fellow got off his motorcycle and made a grab for it. Simultaneously, the mother bear came up from behind and put him into the hospital for a few weeks. “Har har har har har har, what a dipstick!” (Slap thighs for emphasis). Then there was the guy who tried to pull the old “play dead” ploy on a local bear after getting walloped on the back of the head (resulting in injury number one). After a few minutes he figured it would be safe to take a peek and see if the coast was clear. Thunk!! (resulting in injury number two). Nope, still there. “Har har har har!!” In the final analysis, though, Yuko’s uncle liked me well enough that he tried to dissuade me from becoming another funny bear story. I promised him that I would win Operation Bear Watch by cheating rather than by actually getting too close to bears.

Later, Yuko’s uncle took me to his garden in the shadows of a mountain separating Iwate from Akita to view bear sign but the trail was cold. I took a photograph of this washed out paw print and then turned my attention to thatched roofs.

Friday, September 16, 2005

In Which Ikokuma Elementary Demonstrates Its Superiority in Squid Education

And a Lovely Time Was Had by All!! After the anti-climactic nature of my participation in the Shimofuro Children’s Squid Butchering Fest I wasn’t particularly excited at Ikokuma Elementary School yesterday when I heard that their fifth graders (i.e. six ten-year-old boys) were having Squid Ed class in the afternoon. However, when I walked out the front entrance on my way home, this is the sight that greeted my eyes. The real deal. These squid weren’t lying around dead in a tub in the teachers’ room all day. They were trucked in by the municipal office in large saltwater tanks. Moreover, instead of some disgruntled looking middle-aged woman giving the kids the same old lines from last year (“Squid have three hearts. Here, come take a poke at them. You can see the transparent bodily fluids being pumped through its innards.”) there were three young civil servants from the fishery and forestry departments giving a professional lecture on the life and times of squid. Here are some things that I learned yesterday that I didn’t learn in Shimofuro . . .

. . . squid spit a powerful jet of water at you when you take them out of the water. I assume that this is the squidly escape mechanism, instinctively propelling itself away from danger with a build in aqua jet engine . . .

Okay, this photo is superfluous, but I included it because I thought this squid looks like an alien (go ahead, take a closer look by clicking on the image) . . .

. . . this kid wasn’t the only person the squid took their revenge on . . . their nice lady teacher took a direct hit in the face and chest as well, drenching her pink sweatshirt . . . . . . . .



. . . the best way to stay dry is to toss the squid away from you, onto the pavement, before it has a chance to fire . . . . . . . .


In a previous post I claimed that squid do not object loudly to being terminated the way that rabbits and pigs do. I was wrong. They object very loudly and very violently with shuddering gasps that sound like an expert kid making music with his armpits.

Who Can Take the Trash Ouuuuut ♫♪

The Garbage Man Caaaaaan ♫♪
In our school that person is Grounds Keeper Willie. Well, that's not really his name. And he's not from Scotland. He's from Kuahata. But he does all the things that Grounds Keeper Willie would be expected to do if he worked at my junior high school.

Grounds Keeper Willie has a philosophy that allows him to burn things that I never dreamed of burning even as a kid. My village has a garbage policy that separates waste into about a dozen categories but Grounds Keeper Willie is willing to put at least eight of those categories to the fire. I wonder what all those green flames are?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Little Boys, and Why They Hold Their Winkies

These adult boys could potentially be resisting an impulse to grab their winkies but they have been socialized beyond the point of actually succumbing to such an urge. They are Shimokita’s fresh crop of JETs. Clearly, fourth year JET Teresa who was transferred up from Nambu doesn’t feel she should be too closely associated with the group.

The other day I stumbled into a conversation taking place between the grade one and grade two teachers at Hebiura Elementary School. We had just finished a joint English class with the said teachers’ pupils and they were observing how during class the little boys fiddled with their winkies whenever they were confused, nervous or unable to answer a question. According to theory, these frequent anatomical self-examinations supply surrogate feelings of assurance and wellbeing. I suppose that in most classrooms this behaviour is safely concealed behind those most prominent of physical barriers in academic spaces—the desks. However, due to the lively nature of the Genki English lessons I use I usually have these obstructions swept aside at the beginning of class, exposing my little learners like so many hermit crabs pulled out of their shells. In such an open environment I was able to corroborate this reported winkie-touching behaviour the following day at Ikokuma Elementary School. Sure enough, all the grade one and two boys sat with knees wide apart and in response to questions such as “what colour is this?” pensively felt for their secret parts. It would obviously be wrong to take photographic evidence wherewith to illustrate the phenomenon in this blog . . . thus the substitute photo above.

On a different note . . .


Yuko’s back from her week long psychiatric counsellors’ conference in Kyoto! (And apparently very tired). Among the wickedawesome gifts she brought back for me is the oyaji-towel I am sporting in this photograph. The name of its pattern is “Mountain Trail” and it will join Mowgli’s Tooth as part of my Operation Bear Watch kit.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Bears Can Wait: Jamie-sensei wa doko??!!

Early this morning in the tail winds of Typhoon Tabi (#14) Gaijin for Life pledged to divert resources from the Find a Bear Campaign to assist the “Jamie-san wa doko?” Society in its drive to discover what became of avoidinglife.com. In addition to the trusty Bear Runner used in acquiring all photographic illustrations used in Gaijin for Life, Mowgli’s Tooth will also be dedicated to the task of finding out what went wrong with avoidinglife and correcting it. (Actually, Jamie-sensei will technically be on his own for the "and correcting it" part, but it's the thought that counts.)

I acquired Mowgli’s Tooth on my Scandinavian tour of adventure which took me as far as Nordkapp at the northern tip of Europe in the summer of 1999. I christened it after Mowgli, the man-cub of Jungle Book fame armed neither with the teeth of tigers nor the claws of bears, who lived in the wild on the strength of his cunning, character, and friendships alone. Mowgli’s Tooth, by its very feebleness, reminds me that I too must rely on those three qualities rather than weapons in my search for Jamie-sensei and the Shimokita bears.

Missing Person: Jamie Patterson is lost in cyberspace (this does not rule out the possibility that his students in Noheji and his friends in Hirosaki are still seeing him in the flesh on a daily basis, but it does mean that those of us who look forward to morning coffee and daily visits to avoidinglife.com have had one of our legs kicked out from under us). This is an artist's rendition of the missing Jamie-sensei, created around the time that he re-contracted with the JET Programme last winter.

Also Missing: Hugh Je of Temenobu.com fame, who formed the second pillar in the gateway to Amori Anglophonic-blogging. Apparently his website was hosted on Jamie’s web account. Last known location—Hogtown a.k.a. Hollywood North a.k.a. Toronto the Good, trying to re-assimilate.

Official Motto of the Kazamaura Assistant Language Teachers' Literary Society: Leave No Blog Behind!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Squid Gutting 101 for Children (and Foreigners)

Author's Preface: Please don't get me wrong. I greatly appreciate and highly value the experience and expertise I acquired through this school activity and I honestly didn't mind it (except for the physical toll taken by eating over ripe raw squid).

This is where the squid lady told the kids to touch the squid's three beating hearts. Unlike pigs and rabbits, squid don't object dramatically to being terminated. They just wriggle their inards a little after you slit them open. (This was one of only three squid that were brought to the school alive . . . the rest of us were given less than fresh specimens to practice on).

This tub of squid sat in the teachers' room for most of the morning and I think that partly explains the bad breath, reeking flatulence and sickly stomachs we've been suffering from ever since eating them raw.

The teachers cheated and ate a few of the squid at lunch time, before the official squid butchering began. They left this bowl of leftover parts sitting in the teachers' room kitchenette for me to look at as I tried to re-hydrate myself after a hard morning of activities with a class full of cry babies. None of these bad things ever happen at Hebiura Elementary.

This is a bowl of squid liver leftover from the teachers’ lunch. Some people like to eat it “as is” when fresh, but usually it is used in a dish called shiokara (nothing special—just squid boiled in their own liver). Personally, I’ve never seen the point. There are a million ways to prepare squid so that it actually tastes good, so why . . . .

As part of the students’ annual squid training, each kid (at Shimofuro Elementary School that apparently includes the foreign English teacher) received two dead squid. The first one was hollowed out to make ika-meshi (squid boiled with rice stuffing). The second was slit open and gutted in order to make ika-sashi (raw squid thinly sliced). Yuko had never had the opportunity to gut squid before, so I obtained permission from the vice principle to invite her and she was even given a dead squid of her own. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take pictures of either of us demonstrating our newly acquired skill since my hands were completely caked with squid slime. In fact, for the rest of the day I felt like I had a thin film of squid stink coating me from head to toe, and no amount of hand washing seemed to free me from it. As the principle said when he addressed the students in the opening ceremony (picture the dopey priest in Princess Bride saying: “Maaaawidge, dhat bwessed insituuuuuution . . . “): “In July you got to do squid racing, ne. Today we are butchering squid, ne. Children in most schools will never be able to do these things . . . .” He’s probably right.

Post Script: I was curious as to what would be done with the tubs and tubs of squid parts not used by the students, but when I returned to the teachers room I saw the cleaning lady busily organizing them into a bowl of refuse, a bowl of legs, a bowl of eyeballs and testicles (for some reason those two are cooked together), and a bowl of liver.

Post Post Script: Right after lunchtime is a bad time to butcher and eat squid that is not fresh. Hopefully we will live and not die, though.

Post Post Post Script:
If you ever get your own squid and decide to chop it up and eat it raw, make sure that after peeling and rinsing the shell you also check the inner side for parasites. The horror! The horror!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Captain Canada: I Am an Imposter

When I first returned to Japan a year ago I brought virtually no Canadian paraphernalia with me. The primary reasons for this were a) I was concerned about getting my entire personal library across the Pacific and therefore wasn’t about to waist any precious luggage space on Canadernalia and b) after five years of living in Canada I really didn’t see any point in doing so anyway. After about a year in Kazamaura I realized the error of my ways. I finally conceded that I can better fulfill my contractual obligation of convincing village children that learning English is fun if I present myself as Captain Canada rather than as some ojisan who lives across from the junior high school and happens to have a brown beard. Nevertheless, in spite of my best intentions to fill a suitcase with maple leaf trinkets from the dollar store, I kept procrastinating. The day of our departure found me still virtually mapleless, so when I saw some “Canada” T-shirts in a kiosk at the airport I grabbed one, thinking that at least I could use this T-shirt as my uniform for elementary school visits. For reasons made obvious in the photo above, it will be Yuko who wears this T-shirt around town. That will teach me to go grabbing t-shirts off of racks without making sure there isn’t a capital “S” on the tag. Then again, tight clothing is pretty fashionable among Japan's urban dandies . . . even the nominally "straight" ones . . .