Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

Finally Kyushu

2013年 1月 10日

My first desires to visit Kyushu (九州・きゅうしゅう) arose in 1989 after hearing personal tales of Kagoshima (鹿児島・かごしま) from a native. Since moving to Japan in 2004, additional tales of Kumamoto (熊本・くまもと) and other Kyushu regions trickling in have given me a longing feeling, or more accurately – a lacking feeling. More recently, receiving foods and hearing of Nagasaki (長崎・ながさき) from one of the officiants at our wedding has planted another reason drawing me there.

We have visited her many times; however, she lives in Chiba (千葉・ちば) which is in the opposite direction. We joked about taking a trip together to her hometown, but getting everyone together never seemed practical and it just remained a dream. Japanese tradition has provided us with opportunity. Our friend got pregnant and still, in many households, the pregnant daughter returns to her family home to have the baby. On New Years Day she delivered her son after almost two full days of labor and they are both resting and recuperating now.

My wife is busily checking ways to get to Nagasaki during the three-day weekend in February. We have been surprised at the expense, but there is some hope of finding cheaper options. It will be a struggle for us as we have some financial difficulties and we are trying to fly to America in June as well after a three year absence; however, it looks like our chance so we must find a way.

It would be nice to see the Sakurajima volcano in the south, or the wild forests of Kumamoto, or remote Saga, but those dreams will have to wait as we will probably be bound to Nagasaki for our brief stay. Ancient new year celebrations will be held at that time though, so we are interested to view customs from another region.

Irresistable

2013年 1月 9日

Mutton Chop 1Normally I like my hair trimmed short and my beard nicely groomed around the mouth and jaw; however, being a white man in Japan, I am often recruited to be Santa at parties and such. Anyone knows that kids are clever and wearing a fake beard is just inviting the little investigators to invoke accusations of being an impostor. Stemming that tide as well as possible, I often grow out my beard in December.

Sort of tangential to that, I also relied on “hair mascara” in the past to whiten the beard and my eyebrows – to really sell that image. This season, I used no artificial coloring, but found that two years of married life have given me enough whitening.

Recently a friend linked a video about how to shave a beard. One key point was to resist the temptation to play beard games. I’ll just come right out and say, I have never and probably never will be able to resist the play time.

Mutton Chop 2Once all the parties had ended my better half pressed me to take action in the facial hair reduction realm. I hollered out from the vanity announcing that I had trimmed off the cheeks. Delighted responses came back from the kitchen. I made an appearance and for awhile she was cheering with delight; that is, until she really noticed the sideburns. Don’t worry, they are completely gone now, but I made her immortalize them with the camera before hacking away.

To Life

2013年 1月 4日

Happy New Year! 2013 is the year of the snake, which is my year according to the Chinese zodiac.

I’m not much of one for resolutions; however, this year I have resolved “to live”. First, let me alleviate fear in any of my panic prone friends: I don’t have some kind of terminal illness. Simply I have been battling personal conflicts which have been horribly demoralizing. Over the past several years I have been struggling to rectify the situation; yet, some troubles are extremely persistent.

My hope is that my two largest struggles will be coming into check this year, but that was my hope last year and the year before. Even if things move on the path I hope, it will be six years before the main struggle is gone. Over the last year or two I have felt myself shrinking away from life and have come to the realization that even if the trials are festering I need to live and grow.

Some people viewing from the outside might look at all the things I have done and think that I have been rising above the troubles; however, it is easy for me to see the things I want to improve and change and realize how much time was lost in the last couple years doing nothing.

One clear sign is the number of posts on my blog. When I am feeling depressed or uninspired, I generally don’t post. Other creative outlets have also suffered in this time. Looking forward to my year!

Much to My Chagrin

2012年 9月 6日

Every March, when the school year comes to a close, it is common to receive trophies, letters, or other presentations from the students. Sometimes spontaneous movement of the children’s hearts prompts it. Other times, teachers assign it to get pupils to unwittingly practice their language arts skills. Regardless of origin they are always enjoyable to read: first, because they are moving; and second, because they are cute.

Definitely, children say the darndest things and one sadness is that I can’t afford to store all the cards, letters, and presents for posterity: partly for fire safety reasons.

Last Spring, at one of my favorite schools, each second grade class had a representative write a letter for everyone. Instructions from the teacher indicated that group opinion – rather than personal – should be expressed. I included one letter here from a boy who couldn’t resist slipping in a sentence about his regrettable memory from my class. He placed it in the middle and the teacher, busy wrapping up the school year, didn’t catch it; but we had some laughs when I showed it to her.

Image

Dear Erik, thank you for always teaching us so much more than English, like pronunciation and many other things. Your slightly ‘unconventional’ games are also very fun. “Recently when we played the board game, much to my chagrin, I came in fourth.” When you read picture books to us we really enjoy it. Everyone feels that when we play games or you read to us, those are the most enjoyable times. From Second grade, class 1

Back to School

2012年 9月 5日

School has started up again, but I won’t teach any classes until Friday. This can be the most boring time of the year when it seems that work has started but it really hasn’t. I am feeling a little anxiety about Friday because it will be open house. Nobody is ever certain who might show up to watch on those days and the students are probably still in summer vacation mindset.

Adding to the stress this year is the lack of preparation meetings. Real teachers were given extra time off this summer, so while I was sitting in empty school offices to not burn my remaining holidays, the teachers were off enjoying themselves and we couldn’t meet up to discuss how to approach the second term.

With all that time away from work, you would think there were lots of stories to tell; but, almost without exception, teachers here feel an aversion to ever admitting they were not busy or – worse yet – they enjoyed themselves. Asking about the holidays always nets some answer filled with vaguaries and mumbles which generally ends in whining about some professional development meeting they had one day.

Along with the new term, I will be turning a new leaf and trying to post more regularly again. Lots has been going on, including some travel, some learning, and some personal development.

Flautist Again

2012年 8月 1日

My father-in-law has two main hobbies: one is pottery and the other is playing the shakuhachi (尺八). Almost exactly four years ago he started teaching me how to play. Almost exactly three years ago I was hit by a car while cycling. One of the saddest parts of that was how it knocked a lot of the creativity and inspiration out of me. After that I put the instrument down for a long time and took care of other, less creative things; however, this week – mostly thanks to my kitten – the shakuhachi is back in my hands.

Monday I made sure I could still make sounds and then practiced the basic notes. Tuesday I ran through several fingering exercises and played one song. Today I practiced all the fingering exercises and played a couple songs. Running out of breath and getting dizzy is the most significant trouble right now. One small problem is that my soul patch is too bushy and makes it hard to keep the instrument in the right location. Judicious use of scissors will correct the small problem. Hopefully daily practice will correct the other.

Smoky Comes to Visit

2012年 7月 27日

For about nineteen years, Fritz and Fred were my sweet kitties. Both of them brought me much joy and it has been hard being without them here in Japan; however, on Sunday the 22nd a new kitty came to live with us. Another foreign national in Geino-cho collected a stray and couldn’t care for it, so we took him on.

We are calling him Smoky. His fur is two shades of gray and his eyes – although green – have an appearance of misty grayness. After we assigned the name, we realized he also has the tendency to vanish like smoke. Often we can hear his bell, but can’t find him anywhere. I uploaded six photos to this set in Flickr, please have a look. Here is one of the images for those of you who just want a peep.

Smoky Side 1

He had worms and eggs in his intestines, a fungal infection in his eyes, and an infection in his nose. All of these are fairly common in strays in Japan. We are giving him medicines now, but he seems pretty much healed now and has tons of energy.

Riding My Stocking Stuffer

2012年 1月 17日

Little behind the times perhaps, but here is a little Christmas update for the second half of January.

Japanese children sometimes get a visit from Santa, but it is not universal; which makes talking about Christmas a little tricky sometimes. Talking about Santa visiting the “good kids” is not a part of my discussions since, many good little kids in Japan don’t receive a present and I don’t want to be the source of their trauma. Also of note is that children who receive a present generally get only one. For the most part, children in Japan are curious to talk about the little fur-clad elf so December conversations are a lot of fun.

Also in Japan it is very rare for adults to receive Christmas gifts. When I show my stocking which I’ve used for 40 years, people are shocked – and sometimes upset – to hear that I am expecting gifts yet again this year. Not just one of course, but an overflowing stocking full of them.

Christmas morning, I started wondering about my position on the good kids list since my stocking was far from overflowing. My wife however is clearly in good standing with the jiggly-bellied one as her stocking was packed full and had various packages littered beneath it which clearly would not fit inside.

First impressions can be misleading, as I found while burrowing into my stocking. Three presents and an envelope revealed themselves: a book, two chocolate bars, and a note from Santa. As far as my recollection, this is the first time Nicholas has taken the time to put pen to paper for me. Getting to the bottom of his kindly prose, I found a message telling me he had stowed one more item in the back of our micro-van. Much to my amazement it was one of the three items I had been hoping for (but never expecting)… a unicycle.

My Flamingo has to be the largest stocking stuffer to date. Actually this is a present I have hoped for, going on 26 years, since I worked in Development at IBM San Jose. But, that is another story…

Full of Tradition

2012年 1月 7日

Japan is a country full of tradition. After living here almost eight years and seeking out culture and tradition, I am still constantly amazed by serendipitous appearances of more traditional activity. Tradition being over-abundant has its downside: in our ever-busier lives, the tedium of preparing for, executing and passing on tradition is causing many to disappear or become only shadowy forms of what they were.

Perhaps this is just one more reason that my wife was delivered into my life. Working in a home for children removed from abusive or neglectful situations, she was charged with providing them plentiful access to tradition. I sometimes tease her about not respecting various traditional arts; however, she has a much deeper knowledge than me. For that matter, I would guess it is much deeper than the average citizen; and it often just comes out naturally, as a matter of practice.

January Seventh is one of five important seasonal festival days called Nanakusa (七種、ななくさ). It is a time to celebrate the passing from winter into spring. Tradition is to make a rice porridge with seven types of young greens in it. There is definitely a strong grassy flavor to it, so I would probably not choose it everyday; however, it was an enjoyable way to celebrate the coming fruitfulness.

When she made this for the children at the home, the flavor was not invited by the young ones: definitely a taste for a mature palate. I imagine this is one reason the tradition is not broadly practiced. Also, most housewives are extremely busy the last week of December and the first few days of the new year taking care of other traditions, so they probably aren’t anxious to put effort into another special day.

Supermarkets sell small kits with the seven essentials in them, so it still carries at least enough popularity to support that business. Finding the greens – especially in the small portions needed – would be a chore without these packages, so they are definitely a nice aide.

Being Found

2011年 10月 24日

Living an hour away from work is terribly inconvenient, so I moved back to Tsu; but, sometimes it has it’s advantages. Being a teacher to two thousand students can often make one feel like a rock star. When I go out shopping or dining, it is common to be spotted by someone who knows me. Generally I am OK with being spotted and even greeted for a short conversation; however, when things get closer to home privacy becomes an issue.

We chose a home that is two minutes from one of my schools which guarantees that I will be discovered by my students. Even so, my hope was to delay that discovery as long as possible. Having kids showing up at strange times wanting attention could get tiring. Although I could walk to this school, I go as far as to ride my bike so when the students see me, they might think I was riding from the station as I did before.

My first time being seen was putting out the plastic recycle a couple weeks ago. For some reason I have to walk half a kilometer to put out recyclable trash. Two students walking to school were heading straight toward me, and their eyes went wide as saucers when they realized who I was. I greeted them politely – as I would if we met in the hall at school – and continued on. I returned to the house on a different street, hoping the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ saying carries some truth. One of them is very clever and I guess some wheels have been turning in her mind.

Meeting my wife at the nearest grocery store also resulted in my being identified, but even when I was living in Ise, I would sometimes poke in their after work, so I don’t think this outed me.

Behind our house is a narrow rice field. On the other side of the rice field is the back of a “maisonette”, which I would translate as townhome. Basically there are four little back yards visible from where we park and dry our laundry. One family has three cute and generally well-behaved children who help hang out their laundry. Several times I have observed them working away and thought what a desirable family they have. Well, Saturday they became my official third sighting.

I was hanging out our laundry and suddenly I heard my name in an exclamatory tone. The oldest daughter is one of my third graders and the son is a first grader. He was the one who spotted me. Sunday morning we could hear all sorts of excited chatter coming in our kitchen window. Even though I hadn’t been outside, the boy kept running to the back yard, pointing across the rice field and announcing my presence. I will teach his class on Wednesday this week and his sister on Friday. I guess at least two hundred of my students will be aware of my location by the end of the week.