月曜日, 12月 27, 2010

One helluva great week!

Ok, so I wanted to fill with awesome pictures illustrating just how amazing last week was, but I am a busy lad and on the road (currently in an internet cafe in Kobe with some friends) without my camera, so my words will have to suffice.

Last Sunday:
I woke up at 7 am after working 12 straight days and what do I do to relax? Grab my snowborad and go to my friend Kazu's to throw a layer of wax on, and then it was off to Mizuho with 7 other friends! This was my first time on real snow this season and although it may be obvious, I have to say it was SO MUCH better than the artificial crap a couple weeks before. On the mountain, I kept running into people I knew and going on different runs I waited 9 long months to see again. This time, with my new board, bindings, and gear properly adjusted, I was tearing it up! I worked on my jumps mostly, 180s - front and backside, ollies, board grabs, and spinning on the tail of my board. It has gotten much easier now that I lighter, better equipment and more confidence landing switch stance (the opposite foot forward than normal).

Great time, but it wasn't over! I went home, took a much needed nap and then rode my bike out to the movie theater to see Tron: Legacy. I have heard a lot of bad things from people in the states, and I gotta say, they have no idea what they're talking about! That movie was amazing! Obviously the special effects and the movie score, done entirely by the techno duo Daft Punk, in Digital 3D and sound were incredible, but the structure of the movie itself was spot on. The story is both a remake, and at the same time a continuation of the original Tron from the 80s, and the parallels between the real world, and The Grid, as well as recurring themes and lines, made it very fun and interesting. GO SEE IT. I think i will see it again tonight. Seriously.

Monday, I did NOTHING! Remember how I worked 12 days straight before snowboarding? A day of watching movies and relaxing at home was just what the doctor ordered.

Tuesday I went to work, had a productive day with lots of "thank you" emails from people I worked with last week, such as the American Consulate in Osaka-Kobe, and that night I got a huge care package with all my favorite candy and food from the states, MUCH needed bars of my favorite deodorant from my mom, and a nice new tie as a Christmas present from my brother James.

The timing was impecible because the next morning I packed that tie with my suit and went to Okayama to get ready for my good friend Darren's wedding! But first I went to the ISOLATION TANK in Okayama City! This was my 6th time in an isolation tank, but my first time at this one; I LOVED IT! The staff were all beautiful and friendly, the tank was even bigger than what I'm used to in Tokyo, and you could choose to have relaxing sounds playing while you're in the Egyptian-themed Day-Spa-esque room. Afterward I met up with my friend and fellow CIR John for some drinks and a walk around the city. We met a bunch of ALTs at a popular bar called Pinball, and I went back to John's and got plenty of rest for the next (Darren's) big day.

Thursday, John walked me to the hotel where Darren and Tomomi were getting married, and it was a lovely ceremony (Pics on my fb). The food was great, I met the rest of Darren and Tomomi's friends and family, and hung out with a couple afterward before going home to Hiroshima.

Friday I got another present in the mail! This time it was the Vibram FiveFingers shoes I had asked for! Iresisted the urge to wear them that day, because I knew I would be out walking around a lot and shopping for the Hiroshima International Center's Christmas Day Year-end Party, which I was in charge of organizing.

Saturday was the day of the big party. First, after our end-of-the-year cleaning of the center, we went to a Bowling Alley for our 2nd Annual competition. Everything went smoothly and although I didn't win, I played well by my standards, and everyone seemed to have a great time. Then it was on to the dinner party were we ate, drank, played games, and passed out prizes. Again, everything was perfect and that makes my day doubly, because not only did I have  a great time too, it reflected well on my ability to plan and execute events.

That was my week! Gotta go now! Love you all (probably)! bye!

金曜日, 12月 10, 2010

Photos from Ninoshima

Photo Journal of My Trip to Ninoshima
By Greg Beck
This December I took a trip with some co-workers to Ninoshima, a small island between Miyajima and Etajima.
To get to Ninoshima, we took a 380 yen ferry from Ujina Port, in Hiroshima City. The ferry ride was comfortable and only took 25 minutes to get to the port. Once on Ninoshima, two vans picked us up and drove us to our ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn). We put our things down in our rooms upstairs, and got ready for dinner.
Dinner was incredible, and started out with boat-shaped trays of sashimi. There were so many different kinds, but my favorites were the lobster, stonefish, and sea urchin! Normally I don’t like sea urchin because it tastes like swallowing sea-water, but this was fresh, not salty, and even a little sweet! The food kept coming and everything was so good! Small islands like this are known for their fresh, delicious seafood with good reason. This is one of my favorite dishes of the evening, a fish called “Mebaru”.
After dinner we enjoyed their big baths and through an open window with a nighttime view of the mainland, I saw my first shooting star in years! Then everyone met back up in our large tatami room for talking, drinking, and games, but after a full day of work and a big meal, we couldn’t stay up too late. The next morning some of us decided to walk halfway around the island (only a 5km walk). At the time I agreed to go, I had no idea that would turn out to be the best part of Ninoshima!
 Waking up before the sun rises, or even before 10 a.m., has got to be one of my least favorite activities. But once I was dressed and outside walking, and taking in the scenery of Ninoshima, I felt lucky just to be awake. I also got the urge to take lots of photos, but I’ll just share these ones with you.


金曜日, 12月 03, 2010

Write...riiiight.

Okay, I am super busy, but I needed to change gears to take a break without losing my energy or creativity. So I am blogging really quickly to let you know, 

1. I am about to be 2/3rds done with my Japanese Pedagogy Correspondence Course (finishing up the packet now to send off).

2. Wikileaks is awesome. Lieberman sucks.

3. I have decided to write a non-fiction book about my experience in Japan someday, but I might write it in Japanese because I want the title to be 「あなたは日本人です」 but I guess I could write it in English ("You are Japanese").

4. Tonight I am going with my kencho co-workers to some small island. It's like a team-building exercise, except with no other purpose but to get out of the city, get drunk, and eat delicious sashimi (raw fish). Tomorrow morning I have to wake up early though, catch a ferry, and come to work at the International Center again. Oh well.

5. Sunday is SNOWBOARDING! It will be the first time for the season, first time in my new jacket and pants, and on my new board and bindings! Super excited, even though it is still a little warm here and there will only be one narrow run open with artificial snow, but HEY! I takes what I can gets!

Back to work.
Love.

火曜日, 11月 23, 2010

Update on my Apartment

Just a quick update for people:

I am back living in my apartment again, and it's better than ever!
I have a new ceiling, new lamp, and new tatami mats! (Love that fresh tatami smell!)

The whole ordeal was relatively quick and painless so I am extra grateful to my landlord. I did lose a few photos (of the printed out variety), but extremely lucky none of my electronics got fried! If my hard disk drive was ruined I'd have lost 5 years of photos! Time to make a DVD backup of them methinks!

Just got home from watching the newest Harry Potter film btw. It was good, not great, but I probably would have been thoroughly impressed if I had never read the books.

Oh, and yesterday I played in an all-day Ultimate Frisbee tournament which was great fun. Now I have sore shoulders and crazy allergies from running around in dead grass, but it was perfect weather for it and I have the day off to recover tomorrow (Japanese Labor Thanksgiving Day!).

Until next time!

木曜日, 11月 18, 2010

When It Rains, It Pours...inside my apartment???

Saturday I had the chance to spend the day with Nobel Peace Laureates, and even got to translate for a bunch of VIPs in the evening on their Cruise around Hiroshima Bay.
When I got home, the right-hand side of my apartment was SOAKED!
That's because my landlord's home the floor above mine had a pipe break in the space between my bedroom and his kitchen!

I realized this too late at night to do anything about it though, so I took my futon to a friend's hose and went to sleep. The next morning the landlord helped me move my fridge to the empty aparment next door and gave me a key to it. This is because, among all the other electronics, the water was dripping into my bedroom light and almost caused an electrical fire! So I shut off the circuit breaker and pulled out a tarp over my tatami until the problem could be solved.

Luckily for me, I had a three day trip planned to Tokyo for work so when i got home and checked it out last night, things look like the wont take much more time to fix! until then though, I have no internet at home, so I am writing this (after hours) from work.
Bye for now!
Greg

木曜日, 11月 04, 2010

Reaction to "America's Losing Decade"

This link was given to me on a forum during a discussion on American and Japanese economies.
In my reply I unintentionally ended up critiquing his blog post and restating my underlying economic beliefs (without getting into things like economic schools of thought and fiat currencies).
By all means please read his post and share your thoughts on my reaction below.

http://savingtheworldeconomy.blogspot.com/2010/11/americas-losing-decade.html?spref=tw

It was a comparison. I am hesitant to say "good comparison" because he failed to actually explain why his examples led him to his conclusions.
If I am right in interpreting his point, it is that Japan (and subsequently America) has shifted from a production based economy to a consumer economy, then I agree completely. But he seems to almost purposely leave out what he thinks his "new market structure" would look. Maybe because he is promoting his market synergy company he hopes someone will read that and PAY him for the answers, but his data and examples still support my argument:


1)Japan is structurally more sound than the U.S. because the individuals save more (even 0 is more than a negative number) and they are still comparably more, although not by much recently, production-based than consumption-based.
 

2)The "answer/fix" is to raise interest rates. In the short term (read: 1,2 years), banks will stop loaning, people and companies will go bankrupt, and more people will lose their jobs; yes. 
But in the long run (read: 2-10 years) fiscally sound companies, entrepreneurs, and investors with excess capital will buy up those assets, stimulating an expansion of productive jobs, resetting of the over-inflated housing market, innovation, and an economic environment that encourages savings and investment.

水曜日, 10月 06, 2010

Greg and the River

This last weekend our group of JET programmers (Myself, ALTs, and Japanese friends) set out to Otoyo, Kochi, on Shikoku (one of Japan's 4 main islands), for a white-water rafting experience!
Click these pics to enlarge:


There were 27 of us altogether (I think) and half met to board our chartered bus at Hiroshima Station. Since we hired a driver, everyone was able to relax and drink some beers as we hurtled toward Fukuyama to pick up the rest of our bunch.

In Fukuyama, we had a restroom break, bought some more supplies, loaded everyone else on and rolled out for our hotel. Maybe our old, curmudgeon driver was trying to get us off his bus, or maybe we always drove like a maniac, but we got to hotel before we knew it and it was a beautiful, high-class ryokan. Even though it was now around 10 pm, three attendants in penguin suits waited to greet us and show us to our rooms which the lovely Myia, who was our trip leader, was kind enough to plan down to who would stay with who.

My room had a great time, but decided we wanted to keep it going a little longer, so we joined forces with some more friends to go searching the sleepy town for a convenience store. On the way we saw some dodgy-looking yakuza-type guys who seemed to be wearing some kind of festival clothing probably left over from the morning, but we steered clear of them and kept going until we eventually found our way. Our group of 7 got back to our hotel room safely and after a few drinks, songs, and stories, finally hit the hay.

The next morning I got up super early to use the hotel's bath house, before joining everyone for a huge, traditional, Japanese breakfast, then it was back on the bus for nap on the way to Happy Raft, the company in charge of guiding us down the Yoshino River that day.
Immediately I could tell the guides were gonna be a lot of fun. Most of them were from New Zealand, Australia, and Japan, and they wasted no time in giving us shit the way you treat an old friend. Everyone had crazy nicknames on the piece of tape on our helmets that was supposed to be used to I.D. people (mine said "Dick"), but others, like the girls on my raft, included "Shorty", "Bluey", and "M". Most of us put on wet suits provided by Happy Raft, and it took being in the river for about 5 minutes before I was overwhelmed with happiness at my decision to "bee one of the hive".  The water wasn't ice cold, but the suit was most definitely a life saver.

After hearing our safety talk 3 times and splitting up into teams, we got on our boat for one last bit of training in following our guides commands. Finally, as our guide Adam, who introduced himself first by his nickname "Schmiegel", tightened down our life jackets one-by-one, he shoved, or asked us - depending on his whim - to jump in the water. From there we had to learn how to climb, or be lifted back in. Then we finally were ready to go!

Our guide Adam was really friendly and open. Before we knew it it seemed like we had all shared our life stories, and he even started teaching us the ins and outs of working for Happy Raft as a guide (in a nutshell: when you fuck up, you have to buy the other guides beer =P). He is only 24, but already had many years experience in both Japan and New Zealand. From the start it was obvious he knew what he was doing, but as the day went on and rafts got stuck and people flew overboard, our raft remained almost completely unscathed, and it was definitely thanks to him.
Adam kept mixing up the seating order so everyone got to try being up front through some rapids. We even sat backwards twice and watched him take charge, face screwed up in concentration. Whenever we hit a patch of calm river it was acrobatic diving time. He started it off by doing a running full gainer off the nose of the boat, and we all tried our own variations. (Micah also pulled off the gainer, which was pretty crazy). This went on for the entirety of the day and after watching just a couple guides sneak up and ambush the other guides, it quickly turned into all out pirate battles where anyone could be surprise attacked by another boat!

Just before lunch we pulled up at some rock cliffs and almost everyone climbed up and jumped down. One climb was about 10 meters up, but I was plenty satisfied with my 5 meter fall. Then we rounded the bend, pulled over on the other side of the river, and climbed up a cliff to where fresh baked bagel sandwich lunches awaited us!

We were almost 2/3rds of the way done with our 10k adventure done the river, and taking a break to get warm, dry, and fed was a double-edged sword. I felt both immensely better and incredibly tired, but I knew that once we got back on the boat and got our adrenaline pumping, everything would be all good, and sure enough, it only got better:



 
 So that was our Saturday! We got dried off and changed back at their base, they gave us some tea and cake, and we had a considerably quieter bus trip home, but fun nonetheless.

火曜日, 10月 05, 2010

Touch Rugby Tourny

So picking up where I left off:

I felt great getting off work and caught a streetcar to the station where 6 of our team members were meeting to drive to Naruto, a township of Tokushima City on Shikoku. There were four Japanese players, (two in front, two in back), John the coach, and myself. Our driver, a lead-foot after my own heart, got us to our hotel an hour ahead of schedule, despite starting a half-hour late, and we went to a delicious, little izakaya (Japanese restaurant for drinking, with easy-to-share entrees). Since it was still only September 25th, I did not partake in the drinking part, but the food and conversation were both excellent. We left to stop off at a convenient store, pick up more snacks and drinks, and meet up with 6 more of our team, just arriving at the hotel. I had booked us a tiny and deserted, old ryokan (Japanese style lodge with tatami mats and futon), so we laughed and talked late into the night and took many pictures.




The next morning everyone was in surprising good shape. I guess they had not drank as much as it seemed, or maybe my coveting brain was simply torturing me that night. We dressed out in the morning, grabbed breakfast on the way, and showed up early to warm up. Although the weather had been cool and overcast all week, it chose this, one morning to be blazing hot and sunny, and even as I squeezed out my sunscreen I knew, I would burn.

Our A.M. preliminary matches were excellent. Of the three teams we faced we won them all, and one team gave us a great challenge, which honestly does make winning feel more satisfying. We stretched some more, ate some lunch around 12:30, and booted back up to warm up our muscles to match my burning skin.


Our next match was against the other field's 2nd place team, and they were good. They gave us a great run for our money, but the inexperienced ref calling the first half was so noticeably bad at calling the game, that a national level player who happened to be visiting to watch the tournament offered to step in and ref the last half of the game. The pace picked up, everyone got into it and gave it our all. Our two teams traded the lead 3 times and at the end of it all, we were tied 5 to 5. Now, in touch rugby, when a woman scores a try (goal), they receive 2 points. Therefor we were told that the winner would be determined by number of total tries, rather than a sudden death. This meant that we lost with our 4 tries to their 5 all male tries. And we played the losing team from the other pitch for third place. This definitely killed our morale for a while, but the last game was equally fun and we got our picture taken with the team we tied (who went on to win the tournament) after the closing ceremony. 

Oh! Also, because we won that game, our team still managed to take home the third place, with the same or better win-record than 2nd place (depending on how you count our 4th game). All in all, the whole experience was one of the best we've had as a team and consistently fun. Probably for the first time ever at a tournament, there were no injuries and we had plenty of people for substitutions, which meant we kept up our level of play, even though our last game.  
We rock. Go Ship-Heads!


Acupuncture WORKS.

Acupuncture has existed for thousands of years and yet for the uninitiated the question remains: Do little needles stabbing your pressure points have any medical benefits? I was one of these people, until recently. Stretching, massage, Japanese Icy-Hot (called "Saronpasu", but basically no different than tiger balm), and ibuprofen, all failed to relieve my worn out knees and legs, and after two months of pain I finally decided to give acupuncture a shot.
I went to my local sekkotsu-in, a Japanese "bone-setter", which normally specializes in massage therapy for sports injuries, fatigue, and keeping the elderly fit. That said, there are many kinds of sekkotsu-in. Some are more dedicated to relaxation and chronic fatigue. These are not covered by health insurance (at least in my neighborhood), but my shop was authorized to accept health insurance if for the purpose of health-related injuries. Since I first experienced the pain after a day of mountain-climbing, I was approved and paid 1000 yen for my first massage, and 500 yen for each massage after. However after the second massage in a week, my joints still ached so I asked how much acupuncture was, and (not expecting an affirmative) whether health insurance could be used as well. To my surprise, they said the cost of acupuncture is the same as a massage, but required a consent form, signed by a general practitioner. This usually runs around 4000 yen, but I was desperate, and 5000 total for my first time still sounded cheaper than what I had heard of people paying for a single acupuncture session, so I agreed.

             Flash forward to the fateful day and I am laying on my stomach, getting ready to be stabbed. "Can I take pictures?" I asked. "Sure" said the young therapist. He then offered to take them for me once he had finished inserting the needles. Great, I thought, and he got started. First he showed me one of the needles he would use and they were the same thickness as my leg hair. That helped me relax a little. He explained that in order to relieve the pressure on the tendons behind my knee caps.

              Starting on my lower back, then my calves, and lastly my thighs, a dozen needles were slowly inserted into me. Although there was no piercing pain like getting a shot or a cut, there was a duller, deep ache as the needle reached the nerve that he was aiming for. Once he had finished I was in for a real shock, of the electrical current variety. Attaching leads to each of the thick heads of each needle, the therapist turned up the juice until I felt slightly tingly. I immediately imagined the scene from the Matrix when Neo is covered from head to foot in hundreds of similar needles to revive his atrophied muscles, but the reference was lost on the doc and he put a towel over me, closed the curtain and left me to relax for about twenty minutes.


When the gently pulsating currents wound down, the machine they were attached to played a little jingle and my therapist walked back and, with a cotton swab of alcohol, removed each needle, quickly and painlessly. He wiped each spot, but there was never any blood. Afterward I checked and some areas were pink like a minor mosquito bite, but that was it. He then massaged the same spots for another 20 minutes, helped me stretch out, and recommended I go to an onsen (hot spring) or take a long soak in a hot bath. So I went home and did just that, and the next morning I felt like a completely new man. I walked to work, did my thing there, walked home, and got packed for a touch rugby tournament the next day where I ran around on a grass pitch all day and my legs never once bothered me! 
So, did it work? YES. Was it worth the money? YES. Did it hurt? NO! Why doesn't everyone do this? I have no idea. It really did help immensely. Obviously, I had been doing a lot of other things to aid in my recovery, including stretching daily, taking it easy, and getting massages at the same sekkotsu-in, but I have no doubt the acupuncture was the final push I needed to complete my recovery.

土曜日, 9月 18, 2010

A Slightly Calmer Week:

I may have mentioned previously, but I am not drinking alcohol this month. Just wanted to take a break.
I would have thought that would immediately kill my social life, but as you've seen from prior entries, I have been having a great time.

Last weekend I went back to Miyajima to camp on the same beach as before, but this time with my touch rugby team and we rented out a sweet cabin! The night I got there we jumped in the ocean and this specific beach has amazing blue bioluminescent plankton that only light up when disturbed. That means every time you wave your arm or leg through the water, little particles of glow-stick blue light up all around you, starting from your skin and sending a chain reaction out to the plankton around them. This has the effect of making you feel like a wizard. For the nerdier crowd, it is a lot like the kiss scene in the water from Final Fantasy 10, but I guess more people would understand if I said "It's like the planet/moon from Avatar."Of course, I was in the water the whole time so I don't have any pictures. Oh well, I got to live it and that was one of the best experiences of my life that I didn't even know I had been missing out on!  

Back at work, I had to translate 4 pages of English into Japanese. Normally all of my translations are Japanese to English. This is easy because it is all about reading, comprehending, and repeating in my native language. But English to Japanese is much harder because, as we know from speaking our native tongue, there are a hundred ways to say the same thing, but in a foreign language, it is much harder to think of all those different ways, understand their meaning and context, and choose the most appropriate way. For example (this translation was about training teachers), "training" could be said as 訓練 (kunren), 育成 (ikusei), or 養成 (yousei), and by the end of 4 pages I had used each of them a hundred times. Luckily, mine was only the rough-draft portion so a native speaker then went over my chicken scratch and made it pretty.

Last night I mailed in the first of my 6 book correspondence course on teaching Japanese. Luckily I only had to mail in the five key problems from the lessons, because the book contained a month worth of work, but since I was so busy with my job, the first package sat un-opened on my desk until two weeks ago. I did plow through it all though and now I have a full month to properly take care of book 2. Between the course work and the Japanese translation at work, I have been writing (by hand) in Japanese much MUCH more than usual, and sure enough the more I do, the faster and better I get at writing kanji, such as the Chinese characters making up the three Japanese words in the previous paragraph. You would think that living here, typing and reading them constantly would make them easy to write, right? NOPE! At least, not for me! Reading kanji is easy after you've seen the character a few times, but writing a kanji that has more than 4 or 5 strokes in it is impossible for me unless I've looked it up and written it several times recently.

That's about it for now. Boring entry I guess. This weekend I am going to take it easy and next week I will be fleshing out my horror film script I mentioned before for the short-film festival.
love, peace, and chicken grease,
Greg

金曜日, 9月 10, 2010

Greg Goes Guch

Last weekend I took a local train to my neighboring prefecture Yamaguchi!

I was planning on visiting my buddy Steve and not much else, but it turned into an extremely awesome and eventful weekend!

So Friday after work I settled down for a 3 hour ride from Hiroshima City to Shin-Yamaguchi Station and read Book 1 of my Japanese Pedagogy correspondence course, which I get to take for free, thanks to my office and CLAIR, the people who organize the JET Programme. Needless to say, the subject of teaching Japanese makes for a slow read, so when I woke up, I was already across the prefectural border, and I went back to reading.

Steve picked me up and we decided on sushi for dinner, but not before finding a Mexican restaurant right by the station called "Amigo de Amigo". We tried to get a taco for the road, but they said they couldn't make them, so we went on to a cheap kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi joint that was INCREDIBLE. Everything there was so good. The salmon-miso was also awesome and Steve had two bowls. :P

The next morning we woke up and went to Tsunoshima, an island on the Sea of Japan, but the beach (which you had to pay to use!) had too many people to snorkel and too few people to enjoy we went back to the mainland side and snorkeled under the famous bridge to the island. This was my first experience snorkeling and I have to say, it was pretty amazing. This summer, finally, I have been really taking to the water, and loving everything about being the ocean. After exploring the private beach of the neighboring hotel and being confused for customers by the staff, we decided to book it before our cover was blown and we went to another beach with some small waves. I tried my hand at body surfing but mostly just ended up getting a lot of salt-water up my nose. It was still fun, but washing up from that I started to suspect I might be getting sick.


NO MATTER! we continued on to Hagi and our friend Shak's new place to play poker. Out of four people I came in second (second prize...nothing!), but went out on a pretty respectable hand. We then went to a bar called No Side to watch the S. Africa vs. Australia rugby match. Australia won at the last minute, much to the chagrin of our Saffer friend James, but the local color in the bar made it an interesting evening. James (probably thanks to his rainbow-esque S. Africa scarf he wore there) got hit on by some Japanese guy and two of Shak's former female students (meaning they weren't too likely old enough to be in a bar at 1 am) came in looking like Japanese trailer trash, but it all translated to a lot of laughs for us.

The next day Steve and I woke up late and drove back out to Hagi for a BBQ! James had bought a bunch of meat and some veg and Shak (i think) provided the grill. The BBQ was in a park by another beach, but when I woke that morning I knew for sure I had a cold, so I ended up not even setting foot on the sand. We DID however play cricket, touch rugby, throw a frisbee, and eat like kings.

To finish off the day, we went to an Onsen. This hot spring was especially nice and came with a hand-towel souvenir. It had tons of different pools, most of which were outdoors, to soak in and the sauna was the perfect temperature for me (89 degrees Celsius). Afterward, I felt great, and clean, but the next morning I woke up around 2 hours early, feeling like crap from what was obviously a full-blown head cold.

There was a redeeming aspect to this however. Some friends and I have been trying to come up with a plot for a horror film and in the time I laid there trying to sleep, i ended up imaging a great plot, so I hopped online, typed it up, and mailed it to the other players. Let's hope that becomes something worth blogging about later =D

火曜日, 8月 31, 2010

Another Exercise in Amazing

As promised, the continuation of my previous blog. That means this will appear on the top, but chronologically it's later.

Friday, August 27th
I worked the late shift at the International Center, 1-9 and the first awesome event of the day was when i wandered over to convenience store to buy something for dinner. I didn't know what to get until I saw this:
That's right. BECK Tonkotsu Ramen! You KNOW I had to get it!
Alright, so it isn't really "Beck" name brand, it was just a promotion for movie coming out this month in Japan called BECK, based on a great manga about some Japanese kids who want to form a rock band.
If you don't understand why the Tonkotsu Ramen part is significant, maybe scroll down and read my last entry?
It was good, and it smelled great, but ultimately, instant ramen is instant ramen and that means it met the threshold of it's design. Still I might try it another time.
Anyway, after dinner and finishing closing up the International center, I rode my bike home, got changed, and went out to Itto-Nyushin, a monthly event at a two-story club in Hiroshima City called Mugen (means: infinity). Perhaps this is a sign of how spoiled Hiroshima has made me, but when my friends who didn't go asked me how the event was I answered honestly "It was okay". Looking back, it was much more than ok. Not only was the club two stories, with DJs spinning on the first floor, live music and performances on the second floor, and people around the edges of the room getting tattooed; I didn't have to pay the 1000 yen (about $12) entry fee because my friend, and 2UP bar owner, Taka gave me a free invite ticket! He asked me to come early, and for the first half hour I was regretting that, because he was pretty much the only person I knew there and was constantly leaving to help out the workers, but then Andre came out and started fire twirling!
That and a drink got me feeling good and just then some Japanese friends showed up and great Japanese metal band took the stage and started rocking!

That plus a healthy mosh pit got the second floor heated up in a now-I'm-sweaty, literal way, so we checked out the first floor and the DJs were spinning some cool techno that changed later on in the evening to remixed reggae and later on, house. If you don't know what I mean, just think "techno" and that will suffice for imagination's sake. =P

Back upstairs the singing and dancing continued, more of my friends showed up, some really bad "artists" took the stage and we retreated back to the first floor. They ate curry, which for some reason was for sale in the lounge area of the club, and we kept on for another couple hours going back and forth between floors. At the end of the evening (or at least before I got too tired to stay out any more) I started chatting with one of the tattoo artists who turned out to be fluent in English from spending something like 8 of his 20 year career in NYC! He and his girl friend were really nice and after chatting over drinks for an hour or so we traded contact info, and vowed to meet again. So I made a cool new friend and, feeling satisfied, walked home. The friends who ate curry tried to get me to eat more ramen on the way home, but I managed to avoid eating straight before bed. They swear by how good the place they went was, but it wasn't tonkotsu. If it was... i probably couldn't have resisted.

Okay, so Saturday, August 28th:
I woke up late in the day and had a slow morning. Did some laundry, washed some dishes, went to the chiropractor, and dressed like a pirate. Yes, a pirate. Why? Because then I got on a train to Onomichi, and took the bus with about 10 other friends to the island of Innoshima for the Suigun Festival! This is usually translated by locals as the "Pirate Festival" but in reality there's nothing piratey about it, except boats, and old-old-fashioned rifles. The term suigun (pronounced sue-y-goon) refers to the pre-naval samurai in the area who rode boats, not horses. and protected the area. Not knowing this, some years before I ever went, some of the ALTs started a tradition of going dressed like a pirate, and I was happy to oblige.
We met up with another 15 or so JETs and watched the samurai fire their rifles at the ocean and lots of dance and traditional taiko groups came out to show off and entertain too. After eating some amazing steak from a food stall, and having an old guy thrust a mini-beer (half-sized can) in my hand, a Japanese friend of someone in our group came over and asked if 5 of us would like to volunteer to help carry torches on the boat to which I said "uhhh, HELL YEAH!" We sat on the boats with our kerosene soaked towels wrapped around long thick wooden rods, and when it was finally time, we rowed out into the ocean and lit them, circled around a few times, pulled up on the beach in the middle of the performance area, stormed the beach and then waited patiently while an old guy explained everyone should shout "Ay Ay OH!" I shouted "Arrrrr".
We ran back onto the boats, swam in a few more circles and returned to our starting point and extinguished our torches, and I for one felt pretty bad-ass.

The night continued on with a fireworks show, I brought my uke and played some tunes, and challenged and lost to Tom and Bob at our second annual shove match on the beach (it's a real game that is much less brutal than it sounds), and then it was time to get on the free shuttle buses back to the shore. Our groups split off into smaller splinter cells of people who live far away, or were tired, but I stayed with some of the Saijo group and we drank a round at a semi-American style bar and restaurant after giving up on finding somewhere to drink in Sajo's sleepy, subdued red-light district. I crashed with a few friends at my buddy T-bone's (okay, his name is Dave) and after drinking some white wine and drawing pictures of bugs (more fun than you might think), we fell asleep, air-con: on.

Sunday, August 29th:
We woke up late and walked through town back to the train station. After saying my goodbyes, I took the train to Karuga Beach where Simon and other friends were BBQing and swimming.
I know at this point you must be thinking, "Is Greg alright? やり過ぎじゃないか。” And sometimes I ask myself the same thing, but the reality is, I had a great time. I wasn't pushing myself, I didn't drink that much Friday night or Sunday, and I brought my sunscreen to the beach, got in a good workout swimming and splashing around, and spent the entire day Monday relaxing and doing chores at home. Taka, the same guy who got me in to the event Friday night, showed up as we were winding down and hung out for a bit, and I took this picture with him appreciating the view:
(Taka's the one dressed like an L.A. gangsta) =P
So, food, fun, fireworks, friends, and fucking beautiful views. Japan definitely rocks, and I'm extremely lucky to have some of these experiences, and even more glad that after 4 years living here, they haven't lost their ability to amaze and impress me.

When Japan is good, it's REEEEEALLY good!

It's easy for me to get bogged down in news reports of political corruption and failed economic policies. As much as most people see me as a fun-loving, goofy, gregarious (not in a good way), fool, the reality is I have an extremely serious side that spends at least an hour or two everyday reading about global affairs and my opinion of the current situation is bleak; Quite bleak indeed.

That said, this month I wound down the arrival of Hiroshima's newest batch of about 45 new ALTs by getting wound up with them, and my "days off" were equally exhausting - the kind of exhausting where your head hits the pillow and you fall asleep mid-thought. Luckily for me, each night that thought was the same: "what an awesome weeken....ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ"!


Friday, August 13th:
I took the day off work, but woke up at 6am to pile in a van with Kazu, Mika, and Bacon (his real last name for those confused). We then drove non-stop to Fukuoka for another legendary RAMEN TOUR. Ramen in Japan in completely unrecognizable to the instant ramen college students live off. Without overstating things, it is one of the best, most indulgent, unique to each shop that sells it, dishes in existence.
Ramen is sold all over Japan at varying prices and qualities,
but there are more restaurants devoted to just ramen, than there are Starbucks in any given American city. Two prefectures, Fukuoka and Hokkaido, are reknown for having the best. Hokkaido is famous because they use their other famed products, butter (any dairy product from Hokkaido is considered superior though, really) and crab. Fukuoka, on the other hand, is famous for their Tonkotsu (lit. Pork Bone) broth that is fatty, bold, and delicious.

There are hundreds of Tonkotsu Ramen shops throughout Fukuoka Prefecture, so Kazu reads restaurant reviews, travel magazines, and online "rate this ramen" style reader based review sites and puts together his own personal tour. He also keeps a secret blog online where he gives his review in Japanese, but says it is top secret. I suspect he does this anonymously and wonder if he is something of an internet legend, but he is far too humble to admit it.

So we arrived just as the first few shops were opening for the day (It's not what you'd call a breakfast food) and not having had anything to eat, devoured our first bowl, said "thanks" and proceeded to the next shop. On the way there we decided that we would only eat half a bowl at each following restaurant in order to double the number of places we could try! By the end of the night we had been to 10 restaurants. That's 5 and a half bowls total for the day, but the next morning, we woke up and went to four more restaurants. The night before our friend Tamami came out to join us for round two.
Saturday, August 14th:
At the last of day 2's four restaurants, we all ordered a full bowl, and shared some gyoza too. We were full, but no one was tired of eating tonkotsu. That's how good it is. The five of climbed back in the van, and headed back to Hiroshima, but not home. We had a big night ahead. On the ride back, we watched Avatar on the DVD Navigation while nodding in and out of food comas. Once back in Hiroshima, we went straight to the port and grabbed a ferry to Miyajima for the annual fireworks competition. Like ramen, fireworks shows here are often a different animal entirely from what we know in the states. I wrote "competition" because several different firework companies actually bring their special fireworks and each take turns, so the result is several rounds of fireworks and finales that lasts around an hour! Having the luxury of being held on the Seto Inland Sea, this show included plenty of fireworks that are detonated at eye level, just above the surface of the ocean!
This year Kazu treated to something especially amazing when he invited us aboard his company's boat. The giant crane boat had at least a hundred people on board and there was free drinks and BBQ along with the show! This is the kind of thing I would imagine big Hollywood actors get to do, but never a regular Greg such as myself, yet there I was, and it was incredible.

Afterward, I said goodbye to my friends and hopped on a different boat going back to Miyajima where I walked to Tsutsumi-ga-Ura Beach to meet up with another group of friends camping there, but most everyone was tired and went to sleep not long after I arrived.  I did still take a dip in the ocean, which had those luminescent plankton that sparkle when you splash around. Cool.

Sunday, August 15th:
The sun woke everyone up quite early, myself especially, and I took walk around and snapped some photos. It was weird to shoot in the early morning light, since I am usually asleep or half asleep on the way to work, but the deer were out grazing on a sports pitch, and turtle scuttled into the lake and everything was quite peaceful.

After everyone else had woken up and packed up their tents we went back to the beach and had a great morning swim. I played with Morgan's dog, who loved to play tag in the water, and took photos with everyone else.
After showering off went with some of the first years back to the mainland, showed them my favorite soft-serve place, and we took the street car back into town. Everyone was bushed, and after saying my goodbyes, I entered my apartment, pulled out my futon and slept for about 6 hours. Woke up, made dinner, and went back to sleep.

Believe it or not, that was only one of three amazing weekends this month, but I have blogged enough for one day. I will return with more soon...

火曜日, 8月 24, 2010

Greg the Scrivner

Here are most, not all, but most, of the essays I have written while in Japan so far. I have ideas for many more, but in the meantime this will have to hold you over till I get out some fresh word document paper :P
CLICK HERE for good (I HOPE) reads

土曜日, 8月 07, 2010

Shrine in the Mind

Last week I went into an isolation tank for an hour. This week, I went again.
What is an isolation tank?
Isolation tanks were invested by John Lilly, an American scientist who experimented heavily in the 1960's with altered states of mind. What he came up with, in his quest to isolate the mind from the body, is a light-proof, sound-proof, tank with about 8 inches of water made super-buoyant by magnesium salt. Both the water and the air are kept at around 93 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of your skin, and you float in this empty, weightless, silent darkness, alone with only your mind and the thought, "How long is an hour, really?"

I first heard about isolation tanks from stand-up comedian and UFC commentator Joe Rogan on his blog over a year ago. Apparently he is such a fan of them that not only did he get one for his home, when he moved, he got a newer, updated version and gave his old one away in a contest so that others could enjoy it. Since that time, I have continued to read his blogs and watch his pod casts and every time the subject came up I got more and more interested. He described it as being similar to doing hallucinogens, but without any drugs, side-effects, or hang-overs - a silent time for self-reflection insight. Recently he mentioned being able to search online for places all over the world where you could pay to use an isolation tank, and as soon as I heard that I hit up Google and sure enough, found one in Tokyo.

This was only four days before I was going to go to Tokyo to meet the new ALTs coming for Group A's Tokyo Orientation, and after dreaming of trying it out, price was no object. I just hoped I could get an appointment. Kazuo, the owner, got back to me immediately and said my first choice for my appointment time was fine. Awesome.

So three days later I was walking through Shirokane-Takanawa, near Meguro in Tokyo, looking for the tiny back street to his first floor apartment that he has converted into his, for lack of a better word, office. From the outside, it looked like your average, aging Japanese apartment, but inside, through the kitchen and into the waiting room, you soon start to notice this is no one's living space.

Kazuo is a very relaxed guy who gives off the vibe of a spiritual guru. He spoke to me in Japanese the entire time, but mentioned that in his nine years of doing this he has also had many foreigners visit, and has no problem communicating in English. As it was my first time, he gave me a verbal tutorial about what to expect, possible anxiety I might experience, and how to get over it and get back in the tank. The most interesting part of his talk was how some people's bodies will try to play tricks on them. The feeling of letting go you get from the tank, while ultimately relaxing and amazing, can be unnerving to some, he said, and their mind tries to blame it on the tank, convince them it is broken, and that they should get out. The reason for this, apparently, comes from being trained from when we are small, that everything in life is external - from our problems to our means of finding happiness, and that when we are put in an environment that isolates us from the external, our mind feels exposed and unable to project its problems elsewhere.

This all sounded very serious and heavy, and even someone like me, who thrives on new experiences and taking myself out of my comfort zone, started to wonder if I would experience any of these problems. I did not. In fact, walking back to the Metro line from his place, I wondered if I hadn't wasted my first hour being caught up in the novelty of such a uniquely new state of being. I will get back to what happened chronologically in a moment, but I want to say first that I had so much fun my first time, from the moment I stepped in, to showering off afterward, that the level of elation was euphoric. I felt so free and uninhibited. Looking at my picture of the tank, I'm sure some of you would think of claustrophobia, but it is exactly the opposite. Once you close the door to the tank, you instantly lose any and all perception of direction and boundaries.

So tutorial over, he took me into the room with the isolation tank for the first time. He had many Shinto bells and paraphernalia towels laid out ready on the tank, a toilet and shower. He showed me how the air and water temperature were monitored and maintained, and explained that speakers inside the tank would play music when my hour was up. He showed me the inside of the tank, how to open and close it, and then, most surprisingly, he started to discuss Shinto. Paraphrasing (and translating) he said 'I want you to think of the inside of this tank like a shrine. Shinto shrines are a place to reflect on yourself and are purified with what? Salt and water. This is no different. It is a place for meditation and to remove yourself from ego." He asked that before I got in the tank I used the toilet and showered off any sweat, smells, gel, anything that might distract me from the experience. He also asked that I draw an "X" across the four corners of the entrance into the tank to "seal" it. Finally, before any of that, he asked me to face a corner where I would listen to him use Shinto and Buddhist bells in order to align my brainwaves with a more meditative level. The whole thing felt like a religious ceremony, but it was brief and pleasant.

After that, he left the room and I did the other things I was instructed to before sliding into the tank and floating toward infinity. Inside the tank, I tried many different poses, trying to figure out which was the most comfortable. Ultimately, lying back with my fingers laced behind my head was the easiest to sustain for long periods, but most anyway I tried to stretch out, I was happy to find I had plenty of room to. Every so often my elbow, tow or head would bump up against the wall and with the most delicate of nudges, I would float away. Indeed, the first sensation I had was floating down a calm river. Despite hardly moving at all. Even my second time in the tank, when I was much more calm and relaxed, I could not help but marvel at the fact that after closing my eyes, then opening them, it still looked like my eyes were closed. And those patterns of faint light you sometimes see when you press your hands over your eyes, continue with them wide open.

Since both experiences I have talked to many people about how wonderful it was, and I wrote this because most people seemed genuinely interested in it. Most people want to know how it feels, but that is of course the hardest thing to put into words. I have described it as having just your mind, floating in a starless space, but that is not accurate, because your body is still there, under your control, and actually, one of the most interesting parts of the experience is hearing your breath and heartbeat from inside your own body. Most recently, I told a friend, it is like instantly falling asleep, but staying lucid the whole time. When the hour is up, as promised, some gentle bells thumped out a melody which got progressively louder to wake you in case you are asleep.

But best of all, I never felt bored or tired at any point, either time. I get bored easily too. I fall asleep on massage chairs, buses, trains, cars, boats, whatever, but this situation is so unique, and liberating, I think you would have to be immensely exhausted either physically or mentally in order to fall asleep and if that was the case, then sleep is what you need, but both my first and second hour went by smoothly and felt like some of the wisest investments I had ever made with my time.

After showering the salty water off and helping myself to his awesome citrus body wash and herbal shampoo and conditioner, I got dressed and joined him back in the waiting room for some cold mugi-cha and to discuss the experience and talk about life in general as well. He also took me to the second floor to try his Merkaba. Briefly, the Merkaba was a water bed and strobe light, combined with relaxing sounds and some scented oils or something, but basically, I fell asleep soon after lying down and woke up just before the half hour ended and the music (actually, sounds from the Amazon rain forest) stopped. I went back downstairs and Kazuo was talking with two other customers. One got in the tank and the other stayed to chat. He told me he had been coming for awhile and that day was about his 100th time in the tank. The older gentleman who had already gone to shower, they said, was a regular and came in almost every day!

With the tank all the way up in Tokyo, I won't have many chances to get there, but Kazuo also mentioned helping a psychiatric clinic a short walk from Okayama Station, in Okayama City, set up a newer, similar, but slightly different tank, and that it is available to the public on Saturdays. The name of the place is Hikari Clinic, and because he helped set up the tank, you can receive a member's discount there as well. This is great news, because membership is 10,000 yen. That may sound pricey, but after becoming a member, an hour in the isolation tank is only 4,200 yen. And both, I firmly believe, are wise investments.

Just as important as my experience in the isolation tank, was how I felt when I got out. I felt lighter, happier, and generally more carefree. I didn't feel like I learned any one profound thing about life either time, that I could share with you, because for me personally, I focused more on letting go and taking whatever came to me with open arms. Afterward, I felt more positive, and in fact, I still do. I can't wait for another hour in the tank, and I doubt three times will be "enough" either.

土曜日, 6月 19, 2010

生まれ変わったか?!?

Lately I've been doing a lot of new things and things I haven't in a long while!
For starters: STUDYING JAPANESE!
After much hemming and hawing, Simon and I have gotten around to drilling Japanese grammar.
I should really be embarrassed at the fact that I've all but lost the discipline to study by myself, but getting out Wednesday and tonight (Friday) and doing the damn thing, I'm amazed at both how fast the time flies and how much material we have gotten through.

I've also been doing sit-ups. At first only 50 a day, for a a few days, but then as it became a habit, I started doing them throughout the day, when I wake up, before bed, if I have a spare moment while my computer restarts or downloads something, etc. Now I've added 50 to 200 crunches on top of that initial number and I've been going strong for the past couple weeks. I know it wont get rid of my spare tire, but it is helping my posture and I swear I'm starting to see the first hints of definition. Washboard or bust!

Also, if we're being honest, the number of people who floss in any given area is much closer to World Cup scores than NBA finals. But I'm contributin'!. What was the genesis?!? Well, a couple weeks back, I had something stuck in my teeth. I searched for my floss, but it was nowhere to be found! Then I reorganized my room to compensate for my beautiful new computer and lo, my floss returned to me. Last year, I flossed all the time because I left it by the computer and used it while streaming the Daily Show. I'm happy to say both habits are back in full effect.

Lastly, I bought red wine yesterday. Me. Greg Beck. Okay, maybe nobody knows me well enough to find that strange, but I, on my own accord, bought a simple California red last night whilst shopping, had a glass before bed, and I am having a glass tonight as well. I dunno why the sudden change, but as long as I don't get a bunch of cats and start a knitting club, I think I'm still safe in my masculinity. Remember, I do sit-ups!

水曜日, 6月 16, 2010

Open letter to my Mommy

Hey mom!
I'm super genki as always.
No problems back here. I'm going to study for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test tonight with my British buddy Simon.
That's awesome that James gets to see Laura in Germany. Just one more family member traveling to foreign countries without me ;)
It's funny, Kathy sent me an email about the same thing, on the same day as you. But I also sent her a thank you card for my birthday present so I guess it was just coincidence.

The new prime minister is....hmm, questionable. Time will tell if he's any good, but either way, I'm very proud that the leaders in this country pay attention to public opinion and step down when nobody likes them. In that respect America is closer to an African dictatorship than true democracy.

This month I also bought a new computer that is big and strong and does everything.
I also bought James his birthday present today. I know it's early, but I want him to get it this month while I still know his address. He can open it as soon as it gets there. I've addressed it so he'll know it's from me. Oh, and lastly, my friends Tim and Yuko got married and it is the first time I've been invited to participate in a wedding! It was super fun and we did a lot of traditional Japanese things, despite the style of the wedding being "Catholic". Very expensive, but an awesome time. You can see pictures here:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2556037&id=10118973&l=04a21e0fbf

I'm going to post this letter on my blog too just cuz I haven't updated it in forever.

Bye for now!
love
greg

水曜日, 3月 31, 2010

The Dregs of FY2009

Today is the last year of the fiscal year here in Japan, and what an interesting week I've had. For starters, my previous entry "Eating Flipper" was published online at: and subsequently linked to by a bunch of Japan-related blogoshperes which I never even knew existed. the result is over 900 people have looked at my article in the 3 short days it has been online, and while plenty have people have offered their often ridiculous two cents, no one has said anything insulting to me (with the exception of one self-righteous troll) and many people commented just to say I'd written well! :D

I'm all over the internet apparently. the manager who organized our Mazda Ekiden team (see previous posts) also just sent me this link from the Mazda's homepage ! My picture is toward the bottom; I'm the white guy with the Abe-Lincoln-chinstrap. :p

Also, last week, I got to translate letters from the governor to none other than Barack Obama and Gordon Brown! I won't get into what they said, but it wasn't anything top-secret. Still cool though, yeah? My boss was really worried because of the high-level addressees, but after I finished my translation, we went over it together (he speaks some English) and he agreed it was solid, not that I had any doubts. ;]

There have been a few farewell parties for people in our division getting transferred, and a party for Mr. Kadoya who got married, and the best thing to happen ever was, for the after-party, we went to Round1 (a 9-storied amusement center) and played ping-pong, billiards, darts, and BATTING CAGES! Sadly I don't have any photos from the batting cages, but it was awesome and I had been in forever! Good, clean fun.

Yesterday and the day before we rearranged everything in my Ken-cho office, but to be honest, the hardest bit was done on Monday, on my day off, but last night was the construction of a new wall in our office , seriously, so this was some of the madness involved in preparing:



They're showing you where the new wall now stands.

Mr. Teraguchi (My supervisor for the last year) hurrying to finish his work.

木曜日, 3月 25, 2010

Eating Flipper


Last weekend I ate dolphin. Wait! Where are you going? Let me explain. I did not set out to eat dolphin. I went to an international exchange barbeque, held by my friend in Osaka. The participants came from Japan, America and Australia. We all brought food and drinks for each other, and learned how to play cricket. We fired up the grill and started throwing on what we brought, and one of the Australians said, “I have a bit of dolphin in the cooler if you want to try.”
Here is where I feel the pressure. I love trying new food and I have never said no to a challenge. I keep a list in my head of animals I have and have not yet eaten, and dolphin is one of things, like whales, that I KNOW I shouldn’t eat, but… maybe just once. So that is exactly what I did. I tried the steak part and the skin part, once raw, once grilled, each.
While I ate Flipper, I found out more. The Aussie who brought it said he loved the stuff, and always ate it raw with soy sauce. He bought it from Taiji, the very subject of the new film “The Cove”, which the (far-too-biased-to-really-be-called) documentary condemns for their annual killing of literally tens of thousands of dolphins. It is also the main capture spot for dolphins used in shows and aquariums worldwide. I had seen previews and wanted to see the movie, but I already knew the gist of it. Dolphins are intelligent, majestic animals that should never be caged or killed for food. I love, respect, and admire dolphins, but just like dogs or cats, if I find myself in a place where they are eaten normally, I’m going to try a little.

We all continued to discuss the subject and the man who brought it talked about how he, as a foreigner, couldn’t find it at the stores there, but if his Japanese wife went in alone and asked for it, they would bring it out from behind the counter; this sounds very diabolical, but given the threat protesters and demonstrators could pose to the businesses who sell it out of simple indifference, I can understand why they would be careful. Why are there no Japanese protesters causing problems in Taiji? That is a larger and better question for someone who wants to research the topic.
When I came home from Osaka, I immediately watched “The Cove”. But much like actually eating dolphin, the experience was unimpressive. Sure, the movie made a few good points about mercury levels, pollution, and the over-fishing of whales and dolphins, but this movie was less about the killing of dolphins, and more about how difficult and dangerous it was for the crew to get in to Taiji, and record the killing of dolphins. Their goals were admirable, what they exposed was deplorable, but the whole movie screamed of their own egos.
Ultimately, I do not feel bad about eating dolphin, because I was not actively pursuing it, I didn’t pay for it, and I didn’t create any new demand for it. I got to find out what it tastes like, and that was enough for me. The taste, by the way, was similar to liver but with the texture of beef. The skin, mostly fat, was obviously chewy, oily, and not very good. Now that I have crossed that line I can say from experience, it is not worth trying. But I also know that if you are like me, you want to make that decision for yourself. In contrast, I also tried crocodile that day. It was delicious, like sword fish, and came from an animal that is decidedly stupid, ugly, and disagreeable. So I’d like to conclude by saying, save a dolphin, eat a croc.

木曜日, 3月 18, 2010

This is madness?

THIS IS SPARTA! Oh wait, no. It's madness.
My office at the ken-cho erupted today after the announcement of the annual transfers. It's such a bizarre system. Every year, people who have worked in the same office for more than two or three years get transferred or changed to different duties. I guess it's good cross training and keeps everyone from getting too comfy and complacent, but you'd think the people who have been working for 20+ years would be used to the annual ritual. They are not.
My current supervisor is being moved to a new division, but luckily, like last year with him, my new supervisor is someone already in our office. We're also getting someone new who apparently is fluent in English and someone else who i know, but for some reason my boss says he's not allowed to announce (even quietly in my ear) who it is yet.
This year really is going crazy with change though. Even the office itself that I work in is changing! They are adding a new wall that will make where I currently sit part of the room next door! The door i sit by will also go to the other room, BUT the cool thing is, my group is being moved to the OTHER side of the newly-smaller office so I'll be right by the OTHER door which will become the ONLY door to my office. You follow?
This all happens April 1st btw. That's right; only two weeks for everyone who is being transferred out to finish their work for the fiscal year, clean out their desk and move to their new desk where someone else just did the same thing. The vibe in the air is similar to an anthill that's been kicked over. But I am addict for change, so I am looking forward to the havoc. Also, I get to have a second go at having a first-year supervisor. This means I won't have much help, but it also means I'll be able to make more independent decisions like this year and my supervisor will be more of someone who enables my direction rather than setting it for me. Yay for POWER! :P

土曜日, 3月 13, 2010

Ahhh! My Legs!

So last Sunday was the Mazda Ekiden (relay race). I may have mentioned before that our goal was do better than last year (67th place) and we DID it! it was cool clear day, but there was a bitter cold wind blowing in my face the whole way, but everyone of our 6 members said they were able to pass a few of the competition, bettering our position one leg at a time! The Mazda Ekiden is divided into two divisions, Community - like our team, and Company - for bragging rights around the Mazda plant I guess. Community is actually HARDER because lots of university track teams use the Ekiden as practice and devour the top 10 places or so. This year our score was 39th out of 160 teams though, meaning we got into the 75th percentile, and to cement that our overall score of 85th out of a total of a combined 338 teams!
After that, just like last year, the plan was to go eat at a yakiniku restaurant (like bbq'ing indoors and sitting down for those who don't know, it comes from Korea actually...) and we trudged over, exhausted, ready to eat! We sat down, order drinks that took forever to get there, and had a toast, and just started eating our first pieces of seasoned, thin sliced cow's tongue, when the waitress came to our table and announced, "There's a fire, we need everyone to leave. Please take your things with you and go"! Sure enough, the smoke intake at "table 2", as the servers kept saying, was blazing like a scene from Backdraft! They were doing every retarded thing to put it out (except use fire retardant), but they did put it out rather quickly. The manager then announced that they had to call the fire department anyway, so please leave, don't worry about the bill...which would be awesome if we had eaten a full meal, but we really only get enough to make us MORE HUNGRY! After checking about 4 more place and waking 40 minutes (after a race...) we did find a great place and it cost less than the first, and the service was very prompt, so it all worked out. Just you don't get the wrong impression, Yakiniku has been around a looong time and all the older Japanese guys I was with remarked that that had been the first time they'd seen ANY kind of restaurant fire, so it's not a common thing!
Since then, I've been running a couple times, and to touch rugby practice, so my legs feel like daggers, but hopefully they'll heal up big and strong :P
I went to the Oyster festival on Ondo and I also ran into one of my favorite teachers from my first year teaching, a P.E. teacher named Mr. Hirai. He was helping direct parking at a nearby elementary school, so we got to chat and catch up. Great times!

土曜日, 2月 27, 2010

Frebruraryr

This month was awesome, and painful, like a microcosm of life.
I decided, this being a short month and my gaining a few kilos over the winter, to take the month off alcohol. I don't know if that sounds like an amazing feat to you or note, but i do so enjoy drinking socially, that I for one was curious as to how hard it would be. The first test, Feb. 6th, my friends George and Jemma had a party to celebrate their getting married. The party was a mandatory 2500 yen for all-you-can-drink, and I drank two glasses of orange juice and some of the worst iced coffee of my life! But because I still had a blast and thanks to being there I got invited to play poker the following day with just the kiwis. Funny enough, I left that party early because I had already made plans for poker that night, too, at my friend Simon's house. I lost 3000 yen there, but if you subtract how much I'd usually spend on drinking while playing poker, I was guess it would have normally been a 4000 yen night.

The next day I woke up and went out to Hachihonmatsu (near/in Higashihiroshima) and played poker with those guys. It didn't even dawn on me until about 3 hours in that other than myself, everyone there was from New Zealand. I don't know if these specific Kiwis represent your average dude on the streets of NZ, but these guys know how to live. Lots of laughter, no one being overly serious or imposing, and humble. George ended up winning everything (it got to be a pretty big pot, too) but he didn't even say "I won" when the girls came back from their day out. I have yet to meet a Kiwi I didn't like.

The next weekend Sachi and I took 5 days off to see our friends in Fukuoka and then go sight-seeing around Kagoshima. We ate tons of great food, especially kurobuto, or black-pig pork, which is the Kobe-beef of "the other white meat". We also visited Sakurajima, home of one the most active volcanoes on Earth, constantly spewing ash, and Furusato Onsen, a Shinto shrine with pools of sea water heated by the volcano. On the way home we stayed the night with our friends in Fukuoka, ate Fukuoka's specialty, Tonkotsu ramen, for lunch and nabe for dinner while their two adorable little boys raised hell around us, and the next day stopped in Shimonoseki on the drive home for fugu-burgers, which is exactly what it sounds like. Delicious, poison blow-fish meat batter-fried and served in a bun with tartar sauce, and shredded cabbage. SO GOOD! Of course, all this great food meant my not-drinking only SLOWED my burgeoning gut. By the last night of the trip I weighed 69 kilos, up 3 from the beginning of the year!

That's why this month has also been all about getting back into jogging. I only managed to get out there 4 (I may go tomorrow, making it 5) times this month, but I've discovered that by tuning out I actually run much further than i thought before, so each time I've gone, I've jogged 4 miles, plus a 5 minute cool-down while I walk home and stretch. I really wanted to keep this up every day, but rain and bad health got in the way! Here's what happened:

Tuesday, my first day back from the Kagoshima trip, I got to go on board a 75,000 TON cruise ship making a round-the-world voyage, and interpret for the English Captain and Japanese government types. That was the biggest cruise ship to ever dock in Hiroshima Port and the first of several similar interpreting jobs for me this year, but next week's ship is less than half the size (although that's still massive). The weather had gotten unusually warm that week, and I mistakenly thought my suit jacket would be enough, but on the coast a super cold wind was blowing and that equaled over-exposure #1 for the day. When I got home I changed into warm-ish jogging clothes and went running in the freezing cold night - over-exposure #2. Then my buddy Kazu came over to give me a haircut. That was fun, but i sat in my cold bathtub wearing only my underclothes, and followed it up with a hot, hot shower. Three strikes, I'm out.

After the shower, I immediately broke a fever of 38.2 degrees (100.7F), and had violent chills where I thought my body was convulsing. Thank god I had my hot carpet on and I sandwiched myself between that and my futon, and after abuot a half hour, I felt well enuogh to crawl under my covers and go to bed. The next day I stayed home from work, went to the doctor, and had a blood and flu test. The flu test was negative, but the doctor told me, (and I think this translation captures the exact attitude and style in which he said it) "What else could it be?" Either way, the medication was both Tamiflu AND antibiotics, so whatever it was, it went away, but not before keeping me home from work, alone, for another 2 days. Again, this sucked, but I DID finally watch Slumdog Millionaire and I loved it! (Oh, everyone loved it? Okay.)
This week I managed to get back out there jogging, but by Thursday my legs were dead and last night it rained all day long. But I DID excercise! My buddy Dan came way out from his island to show me a 2nd floor, indoor skateboarding bowl/restaurant! It's called Fury Pool, and it's right by Diamond City. We spent the 500 yen to use it for an hour, and I must have ate shit about 5 or 6 times, meaning my right side hurts ALL OVER now, and I fucked up my wrist, but it was so worth it to get back on a board and dropping into bowls. What a rush! This year I plan to be back on my skate board MUCH MORE. Wish me life!