Friday, October 27, 2006
The day started out with a cultural education program in which the foreign students were introduced to such Japanese activities as the traditional tea ceremony, calligraphy, origami, and ikebana. For me, the tea ceremony was the most interesting segment.
The participants had to kneel with their (our) backs straight up, their (our) hands placed at an angle on our thighs- all while keeping perfectly silent. It was certainly an exercise in endurance. The servers were all Japanese women dressed in traditional kimono's. They conducted the ceremony with the utmost reverence for the tradition involved; each movement was maticulously (and realllllyyyy slowly) carried out. It may sound tedious, but in fact it was quite beautiful. I really like this aspect of Japan- having respect for something (even if it seems meaningless to an outsider) and upholding its procedure no matter what. This is why people are so polite to each other wherever you go, and why product satisfaction and customer service have such high rates (I believe the highest in the world).
Calligraphy and origami were interesting, as well, but as they were something I've already been introduced to the mystique and curiousity levels were a bit lower for me. Ikebana, on the other hand, was something completely new. I had always had an interest in this (Japanese flower arrangement) but had never had the opportunity to experience it. Turns out I didn't have much of a chance on this day either! I spent most of the time talking to the elderly woman who was the head of the Japanese woman's society helping out at the event. Turns out she spent many years in the Bronx! I got her business card, and she told me to contact her at some point so I could come over for dinner and meet her family! I really have to start spending more time on this stuff...I have a few contacts I really need to get in touch with.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
This is for any Kellenberg graduates who happen to be viewing my blog. It shouldn't need any explanation. Let's just say I had a good laugh.
One of the biggest problems in Japan is people trying to electrocute their kittens by shoving their tiny tails through the closed doors of moving trains. Such a shame.
Look normal? Look again. The escalator goes down straight for a bit, then flattens out and becomes like one of those moving walkways at the airport. Then it declines again. The world did not combust.
A nationalist group's truck. They go around shouting loudly, preaching Japanese-only messages while playing loud march themes. The flag attached to the back of the truck is actually the World War II "rising sun" version, and the golden-tan-colored flower-shaped thing to the right of the big flag is the Crystanthenum of the Emperor.
While volunteering at the elementary school, the thing that amused me most was the group effort at lunch. A crew is chosen each day to serve as "chefs" who dress up and take their job most seriously. This is a good example of Japan's willingness to place rules of procedure, conduct, and appearance on every function. While the practice has its problems, it does a great job of giving everyone a sense of self-worth and importance (at least through this admittingly blind gaijin's eyes).
Her name is Umi and she likes french fries. This 2 year old found great fascination in my various electronics, namely my keitai (cell phone) and aipodo (ipod). And so today, Umi-chan learned quite a few things. She saw pictures of friends and scenes throughout Japan taken on my keitai. She listened to "Naive" by The Kooks (had to start off good!). Besides her name and age, the only thing I really know is that she thinks french fries are very tasty. Other than that, our conversation consisted of her staring strangely at me, most probably thinking "What the hell is THAT?" Whenever I see this reaction, I'm greatly amused and of course nod or smile. While most Japanese babies have taken this as a lead-in to an attack and hence run the other way, Umi continued to stare. And so we became friends.
Before getting off the train, I realized I had to do something to pry my cell phone away from Umi without making her bawl. So I removed the Zero Fighter charm doll hanging from its bottom (see the Yasukuni Jinja pictures somewhere on this blog) and handed it to her, "Dozo, Umi." She took it, turned it upside down, and handed it back. In turn, I said "Iie, imakara anatano ningyou" (No, from now on it's your doll). The minute "ningyou" left my mouth Umi clutched the Zero Pilot to her body, apparantly having lost interest in the french fry bag she was previously holding.
That's my story.
The experience of eating the heart of a beast is one that cannot be taken lightly. Thus, I have outlined the following requirements:
1. The proper environment: Start off at around 6:00 pm (7:00 pm if during daylight savings time). This time allows for the setting of the sun to reflect the setting of all good in the world...for the task you are about to undergo is a ritual of supreme darkness and mystery. The physical local should be a dank, smokey, outdoor hangout- if possible, try the establishment near Hibuya Koen in Tokyo, Japan. It's located under the JR train tracks and boasts a wooden hog out front.
Under the train tracks, through the smoke, into the den of...?
A pig guards a terrible secret...
2. The proper company: Conduct this adventuresome deed with someone else...eating heart alone would just be creepy. The partner must be someone with similarly bizarre tastes, as the worst thing that could happen is to hear laughter or vomiting while you are in the middle of conducting the sacred ceremony. Furthermore, the wait staff should be curt and, if possible, possess not even a hint of English-speaking ability. This makes one feel they are in an exotic land. Finally, the diners seated around you should be as inebriated as possible- their charming remarks and willingness to be photographed makes them prime entertainment.
New friends for a few minutes...at least until I was done taking their picture!
3. The proper accompaniment: Heart is not something to be accompanied by salad, french fries, or a McDonalds hamburger. It needs to be the climax of a great, great opera...not the lone star. Thus, the following are perfect sidedishes: intestine, tongue, liver, gizzard. Regarding the aforementioned, as a cautionary note, liver and intestine are not particularly nutritious or delicious. Tongue and gizzard taste fine enough...but if tongue is eaten, please be prepared to feel as if you are kissing a cow (at least if the ritual is undertaken in Tokyo) as the taste buds are both visible and tangible. In regards to beverage, water may or may not be to one's preference. If one is feeling at all squeemish, the author suggests drinking something with more taste. Any soda or alcohol will do (juice and milk could lead to further squeemishness...as the mix they create in the stomach would be quite foul). However, if one chooses alcohol, please only have one serving...any more would endanger the stability of the event's memory.
4. The process: Finally, what the reader has been undoubtedly been waiting for...the How To? of eating heart. First, clear the pallet. Then, pick whichever piece you choose to start with (something which could easily balanced upon one's tongue would be a good starting size). Next look towards the heavens and proclaim "I thank the gods above for this ever-sacred opportunity" (the heart should have not yet entered the mouth). Now, steady while straightening one's head towards the horizon. Bring the heart to eyesight, open and devour in one movement. Chew sloly, savouring every morsel of power being bestowed upon thy body. Enjoy.
Remember: When one is looking towards the sky and thanking the heavens for the gift of heart, his or her eating partner must solemnly stare at the ground...it is disrespect not to.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Yesterday I made two voodoo dolls- one of Aaron Heilman and one of Carlos Beltran. Heilman's punishment was having his arm continuously moved in alternate directions in a somewhat vain attempt to get him to learn another pitch. Carlos' doll moved similarly but with both arms...in a swinging motion. Something I hope he can learn to do next season. Oh, and I took the $25,000 out of his pocket that he wasted with that failed attempt. The two dolls sit in the recesses of my mind. David Wright will soon be put to the test of lifting weights...maybe to find whatever power he lost back in July? The group will sit in my room staring at pictures of Jeff Suppan and Yadier Molina until Spring Training.
Okay, that's IT for baseball...it's over. For now.
CIEE hosted a barbeque for the students and whatever host families wished to attend. It was held about 45 minutes outside of Tokyo in a 150 year old house, which is actually owned by one of the student's host families. It was very traditional, with tatami mats, a zen garden, and ninja-style roof tiles. I must admit- Whenever I glanced outside one particular 2nd story window, I was VERY tempted to dawn a black uniform, jump onto the roof, and creep through the night. But images of my mother's, Lisa's, and Nanny's shocked, terrified, and appalled faces continuously popped into my head. I'll just say I didn't carry out that particular plan ; )
Here's where it was held:
The highlight of the day was definitely being able to dress up like a samurai...or, if you happened (and hopefully remain) to be a girl, a...geisha without all the fussy makeup? Anyway, the minute I walked into the changing room where various host mothers were assisting students in turning Japanese (break for song....okay, good!), one mother pointed at me and shouted "Murasaki!" (purple!). And so, for some reason, I was given the purple yukata. Every other male was dressed in black.
Me, in the color of a Japanese king, with my host parents:
Other activities included trying our hands at traditional shodo (Japanese calligraphy), eating ALOT, and listening to a music recital. The shodo proved to be a challenge, even considering my training last semester. The brushes we used at GW were smaller, thinner, and therefore easier to handle. The food was AMAZING! While many okaasan's helped out, a good amount of the work was done by a hired Japanese man, who just happened to accompany Milo in the afternoon concert! Milo played electric violin, the Japanese do-it-all-san played bass, and others chimed in with piano and drums. Overall the day was quite relaxing!
A group of us hanging out at the BBQ. From left to right:
Milo, Brian Joseph Smith (Jade's head somewhere in back), Sam, Dom and Ngairie, Allison, Brandie and...some guy in a blue sweater:
I'm going to bed now, but will come on tomorrow or the next day to post about the following:
1. Day with JUSCO and the Italian feast.
2. Experience of eating heart.
3. Kyoto planning.
4. Amusing photos from my travels.
I hope everything in America, Paris, and wherever else you are is good!
Friday, October 20, 2006
I feel partly responsible. Even from thousands of billions of miles away in the Land of the Rising Sun, I feel responsible. Perhaps its insanity. Perhaps some sick fantasy. Perhaps reality? (maybe my boasting throughout the season played the ingredients for a classic hix?) Whatever the case may be, the Mets lost. And there I was, in Japan, unable to even witness the latest postnote in the awfully depressing history of our beloveds. In fact, this morning was rather interesting. As the game started at exactly the same time as my Japanese Management class and I, being the cocky fan I've been all season, thought "Psh...no need to skip class to watch- they'll undoubtedly win and I'll watch them in the World Series." How wrong, how sadly sadly wrong I was. The minute class ended, I sprinted to the library to check the score...only to add to the heart palpatations I had felt throughout the entirety of the last class- the score was tied at 1! What to do?
Ends up I didn't have much a choice, as a kanji quiz in Japanese class was on the agenda. So I attended, took the quiz, and fidgeted...no really, literally. I couldn't sit still. My heart felt something like, well...whatever it is that the heart feels moments before colonary arrest! So I messaged Jade:
Me: Please...I beg of you...go to ESPN.com and tell me the score.
Jade: No, concentrate in class.
Me: You know, this is like leaving me in the desert with no water.
Me: (couldn't respond...actually had a heart attack. Failed the quiz.)
Just kidding, I did fine. But I did, once again, sprint to the library...only to find the score 3-1 in the bottom of the 9th...with the bases LOADED! And Carlos Beltran at the plate! I had a few spasms then and there. And then watched a great use of $25,000 (Beltran's salary for the swing he DIDN'T take) go down the drain.
I don't know yet how to feel or what to do about this. Methods I've considered so far are the following:
1. Counseling...maybe there's an accupuncture for this.
2. Withdrawal...until the US Team comes here to play Japan in late Novemeber, no baseball.
3. Keep a vow of silence until the Mets return to glory.
4. Continue my usual ways.
I'll probably end up combining the above 4. Like anyone cares. Or do you? Were you perhaps wondering, teeming with curiousity, how I would deal with this loss? If so, um...why? If not (I'm assuming most people land here), I apologize for wasting your time. But then I'll question why you've even read this far. And trust me, you don't want to even look at what's below.
So now, before striving for next season, here are the 2006 New York Mets statistics (I know no one cares, humor me):
SS Jose Reyes
C Paul LoDuca
CF Carlos Beltran
1B Carlos Delgado
3B David Wright
LF Cliff Floyd
2B Jose Valentine
RF Endy Chavez
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Today I went to QB, an inexpensive outlet for getting haircut. It's meant as a qucik and easy way for Japanese salarymen to zip in and out between meetings. There are no appointments, there are no receptionists...
TO BE CONTINUED!
Monday, October 16, 2006
1. Elise- Otoosan was on a chair because he was photographing our party from above, and that served him best I suppose. Furthermore, this is a common site in the Kato house! It's a wonderful place to live!
2. Tiago- I called them "Otoosan" and "Okaasan" because that's what they told me to call them. For informative purposes, their names are Megumi and Noriko, respectively. But I never call them that.
Both of you- thank you for reading!
This past weekend was a good one! Thanks to my travel buddy Jade, I saw many interesting sites and had many interesting conversations. I'll talk about our trips to Yasukuni, Hibuya, and Asakusa later though.
Yasukuni Jinja, for the unaware, is the Shinto war shrine that has gotten now ex-Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro in so much trouble so often. He made very frequent visits to the shrine to pray for the nation's war dead. Furthermore, however, 1,000 convicted war criminals from World War II are honored. This, of course, struck a delicate chord with certain nations- especially the Koreas and China. As a result, many talks and treaty processes have broken down. For more information on the controversy, please see this article.
We actually visited Yasukuni twice. The first time was for the annual Japanese archery contest, in which two 'armies" of archers led by two "generals" (dubbed North and South) squared off against the most formidle of all enemies- a plastic deer.
The poor plastic deer was battered by both sides for a little over an hour until one of the teams was declared the winner. Note: My Japanese language skills helped very very very little here. Only observation allowed me to realize that the guy who hit the deer's "heart" was able to put 3 sticks in the sand, while the chap who missed twice and then dropped his last arrow threw his sticks in the garbage (felt bad for the guy).
The second visit to Yasukuni was for the museum...which I might say is well-worth it. If you don't mind seeing and reading things that are quite the opposite what one could do in the USA, visit Yasukuni. Here, WWII has been renamed The Greater East Asian War. A time tree tracks the war from beginning to end- but unlike our similar devices in America, theirs starts with Commodore Matthew Perry, NOT Pearl Harbour. While I still think we were on the right side of the war (especially considering Germany) it was definitely interesting to see. More interesting, for me anyway, were the display cases filled with samurai armour! Some pictures from the Yasukuni visits:
Approaching Yasukuni...is it the end of the world?
Standing in front of Koizumi's favorite hangout.
Two teams. Two generals. One plastic deer.
Who would win????
Not this guy, that's for sure! I was very disappointed in him,
as he was by far the most samurai-looking archer.
Now, before going to bed, I just wanted to comment on a party I went to the other day. Okaasan and Otoosan had invited me to a friend's wedding party. It was not the wedding, as the groom is from Slovakia and they got married in Europe a week or so ago.
The day started out by attending Mass in a Japanese church. Yes, there ARE Japanese Christians! Some are real and some are fake. The real ones are...well, real. They do of course have Japanese influences (such as the stained glass window depicting a man wearing a rice hat- you've seen them), but the ceremony and beliefs mirror those in the West. The "fake" Christians are those Japanese who get married in a Church- complete with cross and altar, and wear a white wedding dress, but forget to send an invitation to any priests! Alot of Japanese girls now grow up envisioning a white wedding dress, and with the added advantage that these are cheaper than the traditional wedding kimono, even Japanese fathers agree to these Western-style weddings.
But regardless, the Mass I went to was indeed a Mass, as my Kato family is part of the 3% or so of Japanese that are practicing Catholics. The newly dubbed husband and wife are Peter (Slovakian) and Yukiko (Japanese), respectively. Both are extremely nice, and I was able to talk to them in both English and Japanese.
With my Kato family being an extremely odd group (please note, I am only echoing Otoosan's words "We are chyotou hen", they happen to know a lot of gaijin (foreigners). And so, at the party were 2 fellow Americans (a university sensei and his brother), 2 Latin Americans (Louis, whom I mentioned a few weeks ago, and his friend Juan), 2 European girls (one from Germany and one from Hungary), and others.
The most interesting part of the evening was the series of slide shows shown. I won't bore you with details (photos depicting the lives and meeting of Yukiko and Peter), but I'll just repeat Yukiko's brother's introduction of Peter to his new Japanese family members:
"Peter failed to email me anything about his deepest heart's thoughts. But I think I know him. He is always a smile, and he likes little people. Also, he is exactly 32 centimeters taller than me. I like him."
Some pictures before I sign off for the evening:
The bride, Yukiko, and groom, Peter
The entire wedding party group (if you see the gaijin with glasses sitting on top of his head towards the back, right...that may be me!) If not, just realize there were ALOT of Japanese folk!
In order- Juan, Tomo's childhood friend whose name I've forgotten, and Louis (the Brazilian from earlier who is an English teacher in Japan).
From right to left (that's how they do things here, okay?!):
Tomo, Peter, Okaasan, some guy...
All the wakaiihito (young people)...I'll name the people I know: Tomo, myself, Peter, Yukiko...the gaijin girl in the upper left is Chiara, a girl from Italy who is friends with the Kato's.
Sorry...it's a bit late here in Tokyo. I'll come on tomorrow after class and talk about further adventures. Thank you for you readership!
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
When I first landed at Narita Airport in Tokyo, Steven-sensei (head of the CIEE program) informed me that, as my host mother was on vacation, I would be living with another family for one week before moving into my 6-month home.
This first family was named "Saiko" (最古). They live in a smallish (for Tokyo) town near Funabashi, which is about 45 minutes west of Tokyo. Saiko-Okaasan is a wonderful woman who does alot of volunteer work, cooks AMAZING katsudan (fried pork over rice with eggs), and provides for her wonderful family. Saiko-otoosan is an engineering manager- like Poppy- for Japan Airlines. Yuu is their 16 year old son. He loves the ocean, Disney, and studying martial arts. Their elder son Natsuru studying in Australia, so I never met him. Although I lived there only a short time, I was able to experience things such as a traditional Japanese breakfast (fish, miso, rice, egg) and a real bathhouse. The bathhouse was an...interesting experience.
You see, Japanese bathhouses require really only one thing- naked bodies. Yes, that's right, stark naked. Of course, you're only put in a room with specimens of the same sex...which makes it both less intimidating and awkward at the same time. So at first when I walked in, I was a tad nervous (to say the least). But I'll tell ya what...after 5 minutes of sitting in that niiiiice hot tub with bubbles, I almost forgot my 6 inch courtesy towel! The steam room was a little hot for my tastes...every breath in felt like my nostrils had been lit aflame. If nothing else, the experience made it alot easier for me to do the same when the CIEE group went to Nikko and stayed at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn)...I know, I know I have yet to talk about that- sincerest apologies!
After a week, however, I had to move out and meet yet another Japanese family. I was torn, as I had grown close to Saiko-Okaasan and was very comfortable living with them. But all good things must come to an end (so they say), and so this did too. I will, however, visit their household throughout the semester. In fact, Saiko-Okaasan just sent me an email inviting me over when she gets back from visiting Natsuru in Australia!
My second host family is quite different.
Two weeks ago, I moved in with the Kato family. They live closer to the city center and this is easily recognizable in their mannerisms. When I first arrived at their house, Tomo (21 year old son) shouted in jubilation and gave me a big hug! He informed me that me that his father (Otoosan) runs a "free house" and is very accepting of different ideas. I've certainly witnessed this in many ways since- from the nightly "rock-out" sessions with American music to the weekly inclusion of Italian cuisine during dinner, the Kato household is an intriguing dynamic. It consists of the following:
Note: Mune is now 25 years old and no longer lives at home. He has followed in his father's footsteps, however, as both are graphic designers. Otoosan is the graphic designer for the magazine, Nippon Design. Mune does work such as designing menus, websites, signs, etc. He is engaged to Asako, who by the way, makes a very scrumptious Italian-Japanese fusion of crab, egg, and cheese!
Monday, October 09, 2006
LOS ANGELES – Ladies and gentlemen, introducing your 2006 world champions, the
Fit them for the rings. Order the confetti. Schedule the ticker-tape parade.
What about the National League Championship Series and the World Series, you ask? Mere formalities.
On Saturday night, the Mets not only completed a three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series but also showed why they’re on their way to winning their first world championship since 1986.
Fans of the
[On a late Game 3 surge] "When we got ahead of them, it looked like we had a chance." Lasorda said.
It would’ve been easy for a visiting team to succumb to the momentum, get sucked up in the vortex of a sellout crowd, ease up and regroup for Game 4 Sunday and, if necessary, close out the series with Game 5 in New York.
Not these Mets.
"Put them away," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "No mercy. You know all the clichés. But we really believe it."
We do, too. After the Dodgers had crept out of their coffin, the Mets bullpen shoved them back in and nailed it shut.
After the game,
I’m starting to feel something, too. So here’s my prediction: The
Those are the next two victims as the Mets march and mug their way toward baseball’s crown.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Late Night Saturday (or was it early Sunday?)
The New York Metropolitans, who started the 2006 season with a phenomenal 8-0 run, never did turn around for one last glance. Instead, they marched on to a MLB-best 97-65 record, winning the NL East by more than 10 games and becoming a very early favorite to appear in the 2006 World Series. Today simply served as further proof of dominance, as they completed a quick and easy 3 game sweep of the Wild Card Los Angeles Dodgers. They will next face the winner of the San Diego Padres-St.Louis Cardinals mathup. After that...bring on the AL!
My apologies- I know this has NOTHING to do with Japan (other that I am anxiously following each and every minute of the Mets 2006 playoff run from Tokyo!). Just bear with me over the next couple of weeks. Once the Mets win theWorld Series I'll most likely refocus on ONLY Japan...that is, until November when Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran come to Tokyo to faceoff against select Japanese opponents : )
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Anyway, I got the results and it's not that great...first of all, I'm not even allowed to take Chinese, which I was hoping would boost my Japanese kanji ability, not to mention it'd be good to know eventually anyway. Regardless, CIEE students are prohibited from taking any language other than Japanese. I understand the premise behind this, but can't help being a tiny bit disappointed. I'll live though, don't worry.