June 30, 2005

Good Things Happen by the Sea

Once again last night I found myself on the shore of Wakaura Bay, overlooking the waters of the Pacific Ocean as they flow calmly north into Osaka Bay. A serendipitous encounter in Mr. Donut's on Tuesday afternoon led me to this moment--standing on the deck of the lighthouse overlooking Wakaura, Kainan, Shimotsu, and Arida, mosquitoes revelling in round two of the "Jeff's Blood Buffet," talking with a new friend about my life, where I have been, where I could be going; looking into her eyes and then, as I look away to the cobalt and saphire waters, forgetting where I am, where is home, only having this sea, these eyes to look into and to look into me. There I am, my life not flashing before me, but life flashing before us, the green light across the bay blinking like a serene and wordless onlooker. Things don't normally look, feel or sound as good in Wakayama City as they did last night, or today. I even enjoy the sweltering humidity (I am sure this joy won't last). Everyone says to travel in August, but where? Confused this afternoon after thinking hard about where I am going to go. Two currents crashing into each other, I am a bit fatigued by it. We will see. We have seen.

June 29, 2005

Beers on the Beach at Night

The slow week goes by ever so tediously. I now find myself with some things to do, but instead I have grown so accustomed to the rhythm of reading philosophy and studying Japanese every day that is hard to get going on the minimal amount of lesson preparation that is required of me. I wonder whether or not putting more time into lesson preparation would yield a class better than some of my best ones up until now. I mean, everytime I put in extended hours on getting materials ready for a class, the teacher usually shoots down my ideas as "too difficult" for the students to comprehend. I think to myself "Little does she know that these kids don't know little." Finally, I acquiesce to the teacher's textbook-thinking, making games that are fun, but sometimes a bit perversely obvious in their simplicity.

Last night, I had a few beers on the beach, where lots of mosquitoes gorged themselves on my gaijin blood. It was nice to just kick back on the shore, talk it up with someone I hadn't seen in a while, and listen to the water. Cold beer, sweltering summer night, the sound of waves, the darkness of the sea. I slept very well last night.

June 27, 2005

"18 Years Old"

Let's start with this weekend's recap:

Friday night--started with a rather civil eating, drinking, and chatting outing with a friend at a newly revamped "Birdman" (Burakuri-cho's hip yaki-tori joint). Later in the night, a stop at "Bird" bar (Burakuri-cho seems to be keen on the avian theme), then drunken biking home. I stop in the Family Mart beneath my apartment, and before I can buy what I came to buy, I am off to go drinking with one of the staff members (now off duty, but because she can't get enough of the extremely air-conditioned, "three songs on repeat" atmosphere of FM, she has decided to "come play"--遊びに来る--at her workplace). Anyways, I find myself drinking at a very empty spot in the vacuous heart of Burakuri-cho, a place whose name I forget; for all I know it has no name, being the blackhole of Wakayama's central entertainment area. More things happen...do not remember the night's end distinctly, but somehow I woke up...

On Saturday I had a mammouth Uno tournament with Kazuto and Naoya--two brothers about 11 and 14 respectively. We were using comparatives and superlatives to review a lesson that we spent a couple weeks on earlier this year. It devolved into quite a verbal scuffle, "Naoya is the ugliest boy in Japan." "Kazuto is the smallest boy in Japan." etc. I had to put an end to their war of words so the new rule was that we could no longer compare the members of the group to anyone or anything. Then, after that lesson, I sat in a new bookstore for two hours reading the work of Shuntaro Tanikawa, who wrote an essay called スケベ or "Pervert" which was funny to read (i.e. skim). Among other poems I read were ones about his mother's death, about adolescence (from the formerly unpublished collection of early poems called "18 Years Old"--which the author wrote at that age), and about the universe. He covers a lot of ground with his poems, his life. Afterwards, I strolled over to Wakayama Castle to read in the park from the aforementioned Tanikawa book I had purchased, and to do some writing. Mosquitoes and dragonflies swarming in the steaming late-June air, a boy and his father practicing soccer on the center field, which was otherwise empty (two months ago there was barely anywhere to sit here during the peak of cherry-blossom season). At this time, I felt something big upwell from underneath me, from all around me, and I sat there reading, smoking, writing, sweating, being subsumed in something beyond me, before me, and in me.

Sunday was spent going to a cafe way up on a mountain in Nokami-cho, a mountainous town southeast of Wakayama. Here I had a spectacular view of the Kii Mountains, of the seacoast by Kainain, and of course, the distant smokestacks of Kainain/Shimotsu. I had a pretty interesting (there I go using an adjective that Japanese friends and students overly misuse) conversation with my friend Kyoko at the cafe atop the hills, then an even longer one with the lady who runs the bakery across the street from my lovely apartment building (she seems to be the first Japanese person that I have ever managed to have a really profound heart to heart talk with in Japanese). Finally, a crappy band practice and an decent night's sleep. Today, nobody at school, as the students have gone home. I studied Japanese this morning and graded a few late essays. Now reading more from the Tanikawa book and killing the time writing this. Oh, what a tediously concrete blog it has been! Trying desperately hard to weed away abstractions and typos, but most likely I have failed at eliminating either one or both.

The End Fin 終わり

June 24, 2005

Lighthearted Ruminations on Japanese Words

In the process of applying for a 10-day intensive Japanese workshop, held in the armpit of southern Osaka prefecture in a no-man's land of strip malls and highway (it is known as "Rinku Town"...famous to Wakayama JETs for having Northface and GAP stores, though I have--obviously enough--never been there), I was required to compose an essay in Japanese, using no dictionary and no helper. The topic "Some Japanese women quit their jobs after marriage, and some continue their work. Which type do you agree with? Why?" As I wrote my answer, which was in the form of questioning the fact that many strictly human qualities--subjective, mysterious, and irreducible appurtenances--are "typified" in our culture of specializing, classifying, and labeling, I came across a word that tripped me up, fascinated me and struck me as odd. The word for "objective" (not as in a "goal," but the contrary to "subjective") in Japanese is comprised of two characters, 客観, or kyakkan. The first character, 客, means "customer" or "guest." The second character, 観, means "viewpoint, perspective, or understanding." So when one is objective, perhaps one is looking to another not as a subject, 主観, and "owner" of one's life and body, but as a customer, a guest, and temporary patron. In fact, that is why I am perturbed and disturbed by living so many days of my life as a customer, as someone without an identity, without weaknesses, strengths, thoughts and feelings that deviate from the script. It is fun to talk to people in stores in Japan not as a customer, but as a friend. Part if not all of the novelty is being foreign, but somehow I think, or hope, that these "friends" I make are not disturbed but a bit relieved to find something outside of the rote machinization of "いらっしゃいませこんばんは!”etc etc. Part of the downside of being in one school here is getting TOO used to my students, and then I start seeing them as customers, very unwilling customers, of the project of learning a foreign language. What I need to keep in mind is the fact that each kid has something different in their 言いたい箱 ("Things I Want to Say" Box), and probably very few of these are what I want to teach or am expected to teach. This is all going against my first impression of the students' thoughts from the fact that they write nearly identical essays: "My name is . I am 15 years old. I like to reading comic books and going shopping in my free time. I have few free time than my childhood. I have free time two hours day. English is very difficult. But I like English. I do one's best."

So where am I getting with all of these long, pointless, or poignant, blogs about things beneath the surface of life in Japan? Should I talk about actualities, things that really happen and are happening? Yu, a first grade student in 中学校, junior high school, threw her lunch and book bag into my bike basket today as I passed by her and her friends on the way to school. Not knowing if she was giving me her belongings or just utilizing my services as a transporter, I continued on my way, little Yu (think Wizard of Oz, and then imagine in Munchkinland a cute, scrawny, and precocious Japanese junior high student named Yu among their ranks) scurrying along after me. That was the only contact I have with students on test day, which is sometimes alright. At least I am not reading the script.

June 23, 2005

Class Cancelled...

Recently test week has dawned on Koyo High School, which means nothing to me except the ever disappointing fact that my classes start getting cancelled--the teachers adverse to team teaching have to "catch up" on the grammar lessons necessary for the test. This thrusts me into the soul-searching dilemma of trying to find out what to do, how to do something with my free time. First, I plowed voraciously through the 250+ English compositions that my first graders so eloquently produced while communing with their Muse. Many cups of coffee later, my eyesight blurry, my neck stiff, and my mind just slightly more than numbed from reading the same thing 250+ times, I come to the realization that I need to go to a class today. What joy! The past few days, I have been crashing classes, sometimes just helping out the third year students with self-study, or wandering into a PE class and playing basketball with the second graders. Forgetting that high schoolers are a lot shorter here than back at home, I found myself the giant on the court, the wheezing giant (Oh! Woe that I must suffer the agonizing sprints of full court basketball!!)After building up a healthy sweat, I came back to the chilly teachers room, overly air-conditioned and permeated by the smell of Yata-sensei's burning camphor coil. Today, one class after lunch. Perhaps I can sneak into the PE class next period. It might help me burn off the calories I load up on eating Family Mart treats, drinking coffee, and blogging my morning away. Kocho sensei has appeared, must look busy--even though he probably hasn't noticed I am here. Sometimes I think of the Invisible Man, the way my Kocho sensei looks through me, as though I was never here. Ohhh! what cold eyes! Anyways, he's bald and has nothing interesting to say in Japanese, so let him be. For all of you out their planning to translate this blog and thus send it to my Kocho sensei, I wish you luck...it probably wouldn't change a thing...which is what I desperately need now, anyway...a change...

June 19, 2005

Slow Weekend in Nachi

Finally getting out of Wakayama City, although I did go to Kamitonda last weekend, makes me feel a little bit more like myself again. What do I mean by that? Ok, the sound of gulls chattering among themselves on a peaceful, slightly rainy, but cool Sunday morning. Speaking with locals in the countryside, catching about 25% of what they say in their slurred, colloquial Japanese. Listening to music that touches me, not music that unsettles me with the fact that I have heard the same Japanese pop song on average four times a day (these four times happening in the hour and a half I spend at the gym). I can only commiserate in my imagination with the friends I have made at the downstairs Family Mart, who are exposed to the incessant soundtrack of advertising tunes that drone away at the vending booth offering tickets to just about everything in Japan (if I could learn how to use it I'd probably be at a concert now, or a baseball game, or maybe in the audience at one of the comedy variety shows in which Koike Eiko stars). That is, not wasting my time in a bar drinking away money and time that I could be spending, saving, or savoring some other way than alone, murmuring thoughts to myself in the Bird Bar or some other, at best, uninspiring venue. But all of these images are recent, and I talk about them like that is all there is in Japan that I am seeing, doing, being seen doing, etc. Even though no one reads this blog, or close to no one, it is still important to keep writing. Perhaps I will print it all out someday and read it when I am bored and working at a convenience store back home, one which plays no music at all; reading and listening to the soft humming of the refrigerators and the echoes of all I have been through and go through still...

June 13, 2005

どこでもドア,"The Anywhere Door"

Often I realize that my life is not something I can understand in its totality, be it through books that I read (but do not remember), things that I do (but do not mean to), or thoughts that strike me as beautiful and true, however ephemerally and cryptically they surface and founder (I, of course, proceed to handle these thoughts in the process of disclosure as an untrained butcher would, botching the most painstakingly delicate cuts). Whatever I think of as "my life," it comes down to finding a way or ways to take part in this world, a sort of ex-istence, or going out, so that the meeting point is both here and now, and forever. Whoa, where did that last word come from? What was that? I was talking about ephemerality, but had to sneak eternity through the back door. As I struggle also to sneak out of this paragraph, I hope to keep in mind 1) the importance of the imagination 2) the difference between a mystery (which is different thing within each individual and within each instance) and a problem (an objective situation requiring an objective solution).

I have two English conversation "students" that visit my dinky seventh-floor apartment every Wednesday from 6:00-7:00. They are both elementary school teachers, mid-50s, generous, and open to learning. Often they feign a childish awe at the fact that they didn't know something about the world outside Japan. I think this wonder at being taught something new from someone half their age reveals a significance about being here, about one's life, about participating in the moment when you meet another person, whether it is the first, last, or just another time, on the street, at work, home, in bed, in heaven or hell (a dream?); as friends, enemies, lovers, family, strangers, souls separated at the birth of the world, etc. What does it mean to meet someone? To exchange names, some pertinent information about oneself that can be used in a classification index (birthdate, age, sex, country, religion, etc)? How often does one say that one "knows someone" but doesn't distinguish this from "knowing something about someone"? Whatever name or aspect through which one identifies a relationship with another, there are periods, spaces, between each meeting, just as their are pauses between sentences. There are stops and starts in our lives just as there are in language--places where something unstated, unexperienced, has transpired. These are what we call mysteries. Robert Duncan calls it "the scene of what cannot be revealed." If there is no way to reveal this, there is at least the undeniable fact of taking part in it, whatever it may or may not be.

Some months ago, one of my aforementioned "students," Keiko-san, mentioned the deep philosophical teachings contained within one of my favorite Japanese comic books, Doraemon. We found ourselves in this conversation as Keiko, in response to some problem I had at the time, suggested I needed Doraemon's "どこでもドア--dokodemo doa (anywhere door)." { To review, Doraemon is the blue, robotic cat from Futureland, who comes to the present via a desk drawer and befriends Nobita-kun, the protagonist of the series. Doraemon, in the spirit of homo faber, produces inventions which assist and estrange Nobita during his childhood crises--being bullied, being punished by his parents, being in love with his childhood flame, Shizu-chan, and many other situations one knows too well. } One of Doraemon's tools is his "どこでもドア"--a door to anywhere. This door takes us anywhere, or to Anywhere. Perhaps this is the beauty of relationships, that one never knows where one is going to be taken to. When in relation to another human being, one must realize the possibilty of irrevocable folly and of unexpected, inexplicable, and immeasurable joy. To keep this door open, then, is what one may always do. One has to choose.

After all this, after "Anywhere Door"s and gadgets of all shapes and sizes, I wonder why Nobita's problems never come to a close. Many of the endings of the comics are a comedic recapitulation of the same problem that appeared to have been resolved by the end of the episode. That we can laugh at the irresolved things in our lives, that we can find joy in something that won't end but hangs around and is always changing, that we use language to pacify and excite; to extol, expose, and exhume, shows that our words are the real "Anywhere Door," that they too have to, as abstract as it may sound, remain open, or at least unlocked.

June 08, 2005

Wasting Time

If anyone wants to read the thoughts of someone who is convinced that I am wasting time and money, and why I agree with him, please read this