May 30, 2006

Welcome to party central, this is your Captain speaking.

I'd been planning to post this one two days ago, but things/people just keep dropping in. So I finally got some time and thought I'd write up something of interest. Once again I'm light on the pictures, but at least this time they're on the way. I made sure to buy a disposable camera, they're being developed as I type. Won't have time to pick them up until Thursday though.

Friday night proved more interesting than planned. I ended up being invited out for drinks by some folks on their way home from a PTA meeting if you can believe it! One of the guys was hilarious, and is apparently a maker of some fairly famous soy sauce around the region. I should go check out his shop one day. I don't know how they make that stuff, do you!?

Ok, so Saturday was my 29th birthday. Getting far too close to that number starting with thi- but what can you do right? My lovely sister was the first to call me with birthday wishes from back home. I got some emails too, thanks folks! My friend Mari popped by shortly before noon and we went driving, did a little shopping and had an early dinner. She took me to Toys R Us and bought me this little beauty:

Those of you who know me well will be unsurprised. What kid who grew up in the 80s wouldn't want a super-posable, transformable Optimus Prime? I mean, really...what's a birthday without at least getting ONE toy right? Since my mom's on the other side of the ocean I bought myself some socks too; so don't worry mom, I'm all hooked up!

A few weeks back I sent out a bunch of email and invited a goodly number of folks for a night of beer and bite-size snackage to celebrate my increasing decrepitude. Going by the number of replies I received, and using a healthy dose of experience-gained pessimism I guaged the turnout to be somewhere around 18 to 20 people. I was pleasantly surprised when the number ended up being 29~30, with several of the "for-sures" bowing out! The reason I say ~ is because I'm not sure that my mathematical abilities we quite up to par at the time I did the counting. I did another count on paper afterward however and found my brain wasn't so pickled as the negate me being able to count to thirty! I do remember being incredibly surprised by a phone call from my DAD to wish me a happy day. That was very cool, as I'd missed the earlier call from my mom, although she did leave me a recorded version of the birthday song on my voicemail!

I had a great time and am really grateful to everyone who came out to party with me. Lots of food, tons of conversation and just lots of fun. To top it off I was even more surprised at the number of great presents I got. I wasn't expecting to get any but if there's one thing the Japanese people, and my non-Japanese friends, are is generous. I got the aforementioned toy, some very nice flowers (only the second time I can recall getting flowers), a cool book, a PSP game, a DVD, some handkerchiefs (these are handy in the summer when you're sweating your nuts off here), candles, tea, incense, dishes, cake and cards galore. I took a picture of most of the stuff so you can all be jealous. :D

After working the restaurant staff ragged for nearly 6 hours most of the folks decided it was time to go home. Three am is a good time to call it quits right? Wrong! A third of our number decided they needed to do some singing, so I get dragged along to Big Echo around the corner. Another three hours later, a Proclaimers and Monty Python song later the sun is coming up and I am finally in bed.

Sunday and Monday are totally different stories, you'll have to wait for those along with the party pictures!

May 21, 2006

Giant samurai and a microphone

Saturday morning dawned wet a rainy, holding on par with my weekend-ruining weather conspiracy. I was supposed to meet an Australian friend at 10 for coffee then we were going to head to a festival in Mikuni. He and his girlfriend picked me up a little late, but we made it to the festival on time.

Truth be told I'm not exactly sure what the purpose of this festival is, but the little town was packed with people. Greg and I had been asked to help pull one of the many carts through the town. The carts were big enough to hold around 6~8 people inside who were playing drums, shamisen and flutes doing some kind of song/chant. On top were two more people to make sure we didn't run into any people or buildings as well as push the multitude of low-hanging phone and power lines out of the way.

Granted this may sound rather boring, but it gets interesting when you take into account the fact that each cart had a 5+ meter tall samurai um...puppet thing on top and that the streets in most Japanese towns are incredibly narrow. Add in the fact that the streets were packed with people and various kiosks and we had quite the challenge. It was an interesting experience and I'm looking forward to seeing the pictures we too.

Oh yeah, I was interviewed by some reporter for the local news too. She busted out the full speed Japanese on me, so I can only hope that I understood her questions and answered correctly with all the noise and people around. I'd kinda like to see it, but I also sorta hope that no one I know sees it! Those of you who know me fairly well know just how much I like having my picture taken, so video is that much worse.

The weather turned out to be pretty nice in the end. It stopped raining shortly after we started pulling the cart through town and stayed pleasantly overcast. Honestly if it'd been sunny I think it would have been a little too hot to be pulling a massive cart around. After we finished the cart route we walked around taking in the various people, food, crafts and games on display. We also stopped at Mikuni shrine to say a prayer and get our fortunes. My fortune was a bit of a mixed bag, but that's not terribly surprising given some of the recent events around here lately. I won't be posting those details on here though, so um...yeah. The festival was a lot of fun. :D

After the festival I hopped on the train to go to a welcoming party for the new Japanese teacher at my second school. We had about 16 or 17 people total including staff and students, which is a little small for a school party, but we did start late so I think a lot of people decided to stay home.

We went to a nice little izakaya and drank as much as we could in 90 minutes. Why? Well a lot of places have what's called nomi-hodai. That is basically all-you-can-drink in a given time limit for a set price. We paid for all the food we ordered on top of that, but trust me you can get a lot of drinking done when you are on a time limit like that. :D Everyone was in good spirits and we had an entertaining time.

Sorry about the lack of pictures. I'll post some as soon as I can.

May 17, 2006

I kinda sorta like Thursdays

I likely won't be posting much during the week because there isn't much to tell. Monday thru Friday I work 12-9. Wednesdays and Fridays I commute to work on the local train, which adds approximately 3.5 hours to my day. BUT! On Thursdays my schedule is a schmoov 2 classes, one kids class at 5pm and my brightest highschool student at 7pm. One nice thing about my job is that when I'm not teaching, preparing lessons or doing paperwork I'm not supposed to be in the school.

So on Thursday I roll in to school, punch in, chat with the manager to see what needs to be done (if anything), prep my classes if I need to and then LEAVE. That's right, I only work for about two hours on Thursdays. I usually just hang out at home or do my errands like going to the post office and buying groceries, washing the dishes and doing the laundry. Not the most fun I admit, but it sure beats working.

Today I already did all my errands and thought I'd post a picture of my uber-tiny living space. With that I give you...Chuck's apartment!There's a bed and TV on the left side. If you walked backwards you'd end up in the 'kitchen' which is smaller than most of your closets. The bathroom is over there too, and is small enough that I can turn in a circle and touch the walls with my arms bent. It's not so bad as it sounds, but it IS small. Right now I'm sitting at that table typing this thingy up. After that, I'm going to waste another two hours before going back to work! >:D

May 15, 2006

Pizza, plants, booze and a sunburn?

Saturday dawned rainy wet and had no signs of letting up. I know it's simply my pessimistic nature peaking through but sometimes it seems that the tenki-no-kami-sama (weather gods) conspire to ruin at least one half if not all of my weekend by raining or snowing. Since I had things to do though I grabbed my latest umbrella and headed out to perform my errands. I returned a few hours later several thousand yen poorer, and more damp than I'd bargained. On the plus side I was actually able to get all the errands I had planned completed. Boo-ya.

Being the glutton for punishment I am I decided around 8pm that I had had enough sitting on the floor of my apartment staring out the window, so I grabbed a dry pair of jeans and headed to the only bar likely to have regular people in it: Bear's Bar. All told Bear's isn't a bad place to grab a drink. Cocktails and anything in a bottle is a cool 500 yen and the staff are friendly. The two downsides to it are that a) it's approximately a 40 minute walk from my apartment building, and b) the night-to-night turnout is damned near impossible to guage in advance.

I was one of 5 people in the bar when I arrived, the other four being ALT (assistant language teachers who work in public schools) and NOVA (a competitor with my company) teachers. I've seen them all around before but didn't really know any of them well enough to join in their conversation so I pulled up a table of my own, ordered a drink, an overpriced pizza and sat back hoping my jeans would dry sooner rather than later. Luckily one of my Japanese friends was able to drop by for a few rounds and some animated conversation. I headed home around midnight after chatting with a few other folks that showed up who I actually knew. I had to get up early in the morning.

Somehow I got 'volunteered' to help with some group that my friend Hiro is a part of. They were planning to spend the day reclaiming a garden somewhere in the mountains. ie: I had a day of digging in the dirt planned for me, and I got to pay for the pleasure of it! In reality it's wasn't as bad as I make it out to sound.

About 30 ~ 35 people showed up to help out and we had a good time. The view in the area we were at was very nice and the weather was cloudy but pleasant. We split into groups and moved about some stations they'd set up, making pizzas and small stews by hand, trimming and weeding the garden, planting in our designated area and finally eating and drinking far more than was necessary. I met some nice people, got some color in my face and had a good time. We cooked everything we prepared on makeshift charcoal ovens and no one got burnt or too drunk that they hurt themselves so I'd call it a successful day.

I had to rush home because I'd invited some people over for dinner at 6pm. I made tacos and martinis, which my guests finished nicely with some Haagen Daas icecream and strawberry cake. We all ate too much, but it was a good time. If that wasn't enough my co-worker Justin decided we needed to go out for a beer after everyone headed home. He was crashing at my place due to an early-morning dentist appointment. We ate and drank too much at a new izakaya near the station and finally crashed out around 2am.

I think that's it. Probably the busiest Sunday in my time here in Japan. I'm beat!

May 13, 2006

First post...obviously

It's been suggested, several times I might add, that I should have started one of these things when I first came over to Japan. That would have required me actually putting an effort into typing things up as they came. As well, I'll admit I'm still not too sure how comfortable about writing up all my personal thoughts and experiences on a website for the world to see. Granted, there aren't likely to be millions of people reading this thing, but you know what I mean.

For a first post we might as well start with a little background then. I'm a Canadian guy (pushing 30 but not quite there just yet) living in Japan since December of 2004. I teach English at one of the big Eikaiwa joints. Basically I think of myself as a kind of fast food employee serving English happy-meals to the Japanese population. I'm good at what I do, but I don't consider it a career by any stretch. My students are improving and enjoy my classes. Hell if you really want me to sing my praises one of my high-school students scored the highest in Japan in the English section of one of the University entrance exams.

I live in a smallish city on Honshu (that's the big island of Japan for the geographically challenged) and am generally bored out of my skull. There's not much in the way of entertainment or nightlife here unless you have a desire to sit in a mostly-empty bar with a bunch of foul-smelling Japanese businessmen. Of course I could go to the local hostess or "snack" bars, but they charge you 3000 to 5000 yen for a half hour just to walk in the door. Some of them actually have nice looking girls working in them from what I hear. Sadly I don't have the funds right now to really go and find out. :( I would prefer meeting women that I don't have to pay to talk to though, but hey, that's just me.

So let's see...what else? Oh yeah, I resigned this week.

How's that for the start of my story?