Archive for March, 2010

29
Mar
10

Conversation 3/28/10: Tell me something I don’t know…

This conversation took place with a Japanese friend at a cafe in Yokohama:

Me: …I thought it was a very interesting article! What do you think?

Yoko: Of what?

Me: His argument that both Gaikokujin and Gaijin essentially mean the same thing: Not so much foreigner, but not-Japanese.

Yoko: You think so?

Me: Well, yeah, actually, I agree totally.

Yoko: Why?

Me: Let me give you an example. I had an experience recently. I was in Hawaii, in Waikiki, and I overheard two Japanese guys talking about a party they’d gone to the night before. Both agreed that the party was ok but would have been better if there were less Japanese there and more Gaijin. It rubbed me the wrong way, being referred to as a foreigner in my own country. Hell, I’d taken the vacation to get away from that for a spell. So I took issue with it, and told them as much.

Yoko: Really? What did you say to them?

Me: I told them that this is America, and that they were the foreigners, not us!

Yoko: That was rude!

Me: A little, I guess, but I guess I am a little sensitive about that kind of thing, for obvious reasons. But, no more rude than they were. Presuming if they spoke in Japanese none of the Americans sitting in their vicinity would understand they were calling us foreigners.

Yoko: But, if you feel that Gaijin means not Japanese then why did you say anything?

Me: I hadn’t really thought it through until I read that article; which was after the fact. And even if I had, the way Japanese were behaving in Waikiki, I was already pissed anyway.

Yoko: How were they acting?

Me: Like they owned the place! Like they were in some Japanese resort, not guest in a foreign country, in my country. I feel like if I can be on my best behavior in their country they can certainly be on theirs in mine!

Yoko: I see. (Sad expression on her face)

Me: What? Was I wrong?

Yoko: ….

Me: Seriously! They were behaving the way many Japanese do in Japan. I mean, in Japan I have to accept the excuse that Japanese are not used to foreigners so they are shy around me, to put it nicely, but if you go to foreign country that excuse because invalid.

Yoko: I see…

Me: And I think I  know the reason why.

Yoko: Why?

Me: Because, some Japanese don’t even know Hawaii is America! Maybe they think it’s Japan.

Yoko: That’s ridiculous!

Me: Seriously, Yoko. I ask my students…and this has happened many times…I ask them, have you ever been to the US? And they say no, but they’ve been to Hawaii! Hawaii is America, I say. And they get this look like…”Oh yeah, that’s right.”

Yoko: You don’t understand Japanese people…

Me: Tell me something I don’t know…(said sarcastically)

Yoko: Eeee?

Me: Nothing. Listen, I don’t claim to understand Japanese. I don’t even understand Americans, sometimes.

Yoko: Of course we know Hawaii is in America. We’re just being humble.

Me: Humble??? You mean ignorant!

Yoko: …

Me: I mean, come on, if a Japanese person on vacation, say, in NY, asked me had  I ever been to Japan and I answered, “No, but I’ve been to Okinawa,” would they think I was being humble or that I was an ignorant American?

Yoko: But, you’re not Japanese.

Me: I don’t get it.

Yoko: America, the mainland, is…expensive to visit. Plus, you have to know some English to get around. Hawaii is cheap to visit, and you don’t need much English.

Me: Ok…

Yoko: So, if we say we’ve gone to the US, then that’s just like boasting that we have money and we can speak English. We are humble so we don’t say such things.

Me: But, like you said, I’m not Japanese. And, presumably, I don’t know the rules of humble etiquette. So, why, at the risk of appearing painfully ignorant with no benefit, would Japanese be humble with me?

Yoko: Habit.

Me: I see…

Yoko: I don’t think you do. Because you are Gaijin. (Smiles) I mean, gaikokujin.

Loco

If you read / follow my blog, why don’t you go to my networkedblogs page here and click “follow.” (and rate me…I like 5 stars but I’ll take what you got) It’ll help me build up my readership and whatnot. Also you can catch my tweets at Locohama.

27
Mar
10

Yokohama, in living color pt.3: Osanbashi

The Port of Yokohama was opened in 1859 as a direct result of the Treaty of Kanagawa, signed by Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States and the Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan. At the time, 2 wharfs were built in place of the present day Ōsanbashi. The wharfs were too shallow for the ships to dock, and so barges were used to carry passengers and freight to and from the ships. 

In 1889, during the Meiji Era, the City of Yokohama was incorporated. And a succession of construction projects was initiated in 1889 by the Japanese government, to transform the Port of Yokohama into the main doorway to Japan. Ōsanbashi Pier was completed in 1894, and was called Yokohama Harbor Pier at the time. 

In 1923, the port was badly damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake, and had to be rebuilt. 

During World War II, the port was again badly damaged, this time by air raids. After World War II, the U.S. Military occupied the Port of Yokohama, and the Ōsanbashi Pier was under their jurisdiction until 1949. 

In 1964, a reconstruction of Ōsanbashi Passenger Terminal was completed in time before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. 

Between 1987 and 2002, Ōsanbashi Pier was again reconstructed. This was done by the Port and City of Yokohama and the architecture firm Foreign Office Architects. The Port and City of Yokohama developed other renovation and construction projects in the waterfront area, such as the Minato Mirai 21 project, in this time frame. From Wikipedia 

I went to Osanbashi pier on two occasions last week. Once during the day and the other at night. Here are some of the  pictures I took while there. 

This ship is actually parked at Osanbashi

Blue Yokohama is a famous cafe/souvenir shop at the foot of Osanbashi

I need a break already

Osanbashi has this great design! This is the entrance to the Yokohama International Passenger Terminal

 

 

You get a nice view of the Yokohama Bay Bridge

...and the Yokohama Skyline. Love to see this at night!

Okay, time for a rest stop!

And then the next night! 

 

 

 

 

Well, that’s about it for Osanbashi. If you have a chance, check it out. And if you plan to take pics at night, don’t drink first, and bring a tripod (-;

Loco

If you read / follow my blog, why don’t you go to my networkedblogs page here and click “follow.” (and rate me…I like 5 stars but I’ll take what you got) It’ll help me build up my readership and whatnot. Also you can catch my tweets at Locohama.

24
Mar
10

Live from Locohama S1/E22: Loco was here!

As per my last conversation with the Silky one, I will be transferred to another school come April. School C. There was a follow-up phone call from him later that day instructing me not to discuss my pending transfer with any of my co-workers or students. I’ve worked three years side-by-side with these people. Some have even become my friends, in as much as we have good convos over coffee and a smoke in the shed out back sometimes. Tomorrow, as it happens every year, they will ask me if I’ll be returning in April with every expectation that I will. My answer the previous three times was “I don’t know. I think so. I certainly hope so.” This year I will have to look them in the eye and say the same…

Only, it’ll be a lie. I do know.

I don’t lie well. Not to people I care about, anyway. And especially not on someone else’s behest.

So, since monday, in addition to gearing up for the lie, emotionally that is, I’ve been kind of saying goodbye without actually saying goodbye.

Sugano-sensei is one of my smoking buddies, and one of the few teachers in the office that is actually totally comfortable around me. He studied abroad, and he’s married to a woman who studied abroad, and though he can’t speak English very well, he doesn’t see that as some kind of shortcoming or defect, like many here are led to believe it is. And though I’m pretty far from fluent in Japanese he doesn’t view communicating with me as a crucible to be avoided or alleviated at all costs.  He accepts our differences and acknowledges our similarities.

He’s truly a rarity.

Yesterday, when I ran into him in the smoke shed at our usual time after lunch I handed him a lighter I’ve had for years. It wasn’t much. I just wanted to give him something. Something that made me feel real.

One of the things about living in Japan that has significant side effects for me is a feeling of invisibility. I know that sounds strange considering that I’ve written extensively of  the annoying reactions people have to me, and the resulting behaviors. But, that’s just it: It’s not really me they are reacting to. It’s just their perception of me. Some hodge-podge of stereotypes and rumors, misrepresentations and misconceptions. Not me. Not Loco. Most of my life here I spend as a canvas Japanese delineate as they please, or in the only ways they know how, while the real me lies beneath their muck essentially invisible. The side effect being a certain sense of not being. Thus, sometimes I behave as if I am invisible here. Even when some people have given me every indication that they can see me or are at least trying to see me, the preponderance of the muck-slinging predisposes me, at times, to believe that even their efforts will ultimately be in vain. 

And something as simple as the giving of something personal addresses this for me. I envision my hand, reaching from beneath this muck, from this solitary place where I exist, out into the land of the Rising Sun…I want to thank him, yes. But, it’s really a selfish act. I simply want to feel alive. Sometimes, I need to be seen.

The only problem is I can’t tell him any of this. Cuz, actually, I don’t trust him, or any of them, enough to say “between you and me, I won’t be back next year, but I’ve been instructed by my company not to say anything so this has to remain on the QT, lips sealed, hush-hush. And, I wanted to say good-bye and thank you for being as close to a friend as I have in this office. So, here’s a little something to remember me by.”

Nope, couldn’t bring myself to do that. Been burnt a couple of times before and though I have a hard head, it’s not impenetrable. I eventually get shit!

So, instead… 

“What’s this?” Sugano-sensei asked.

“It’s a lighter…you never seem to be able to find yours so I wanted to give you this.”

“Oh, no, no, no, I can’t take it. It’s too…”

“No, take it. I want you to have it. I have plenty more. It’s nothing special. I used to use it back in America but I never use it anymore. Mottainai ne.”

He looked it over, then looked me over, and I thought for a second that some sort of recognition of its significance crossed his face. But, in an instant, it was gone, replaced by a solemn smile and a deep bow.

“Hontou ni doumo arigato gozaimasu!”  (Thank you soooo much!)

“Dou itashimashite,” (you’re welcome) I caught myself saying. I rarely use that phrase. I usually respond to all thank yous with Iie (Not at all) but his solemnity almost made me show the gravity of what I felt.

I had similar sessions with a couple of the other teachers today, but I had to split them up. If they were to talk, as I knew they would, and all of them mentioned they’d received affectionate trinkets from me, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out what Loco was cooking.

Tomorrow is my last day. No classes. just a morning meeting, a fancy sushi lunch and a bunch of sayonaras.

I’ll try to hold it together and lie on my company’s behest. And I’ll try to avoid feeling like I’m going to disappear, like I’d never been here.

Maybe I’ll carve my name in my desk, or spray paint it in graffiti on the wall in the smoke shed:

Graffiti Creator - http://www.easygraffititext.com

If you read / follow my blog, why don’t you go to my networkedblogs page here and click “follow.” (and rate me…I like 5 stars but I’ll take what you got) It’ll help me build up my readership and whatnot. Also you can catch my tweets at Locohama.

21
Mar
10

Yokohama, in living color, pt.2: Akarenga 赤レンガ

I’m not big on touristy stuff on my blog, as you guys well know. But, as promised, I will try to give you guys a better picture of the environment I live in. This post is about Akarenga、an area a few minutes walk from the area I covered in part 1, Minato Mirai. Yesterday I was hanging out with a friend and just happened to find myself there, totally unplanned, and stumbled upon a car show and a flower show, as well as a cruise ship in port. It was a beautiful day, aside from the pollution, so I decided to shoot a few shots.  

First, a  little about Akarenga. Again, if you want to know more in depth information, the internet is replete with it.  

The Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse (横浜赤レンガ倉庫, Yokohama Akarenga) is a historical building that is currently used as a complex that includes a shopping mall, banquet hall, and event venues. The complex, officially known as the Newport Pier Tax Keeping Warehouse (新港埠頭保税倉庫, Shinkō Futō Hozei), was originally used as customs buildings, and has two sections: Warehouse No.1 and No.2. It is operated by Yokohama Akarenga Co. Ltd., and located at the Port of Yokohama in Naka-ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan.  

In the late 19th century, the Yokohama city government worked on constructing new harbour facilities, and the first reclamation work was begun in 1899. The work, completed in 1905, was followed by expansion work which ended a year later. Planned by a Japanese architect and a government official, Yorinaka Tsumaki,[1] the current Building No. 2 was constructed in 1911, and the current Building No. 1 was erected in 1913. Both were to be used as customs houses.[2]  

When the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake struck Yokohama, the red brick buildings were damaged, but suffered less than other buildings due to their reinforced structure with iron implanted between the bricks. Repair work continued until 1930, and after World War II, the buildings were requisitioned by the American occupation troops between 1945 and 1956.[2] After the buildings were returned to Japan, their use decreased with the advent of containerization, and the buildings ended their role as customs houses in 1989.  

In 1992, Yokohama city acquired jurisdiction over the buildings,[2] and restoration work was carried out from 1994 to 1999. This work, in which the roof and structure of the buildings were strengthened, was conducted by Takenaka Corporation, a Japanese architectural company.[3] After the inside of the buildings was renovated, they were opened as the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse on April 12, 2002. From wikipedia.  

   

  

  

  

  

Tourism is tiring...

   

Ah, spring! And, look at the pretty flowers...

  

  

   

  

Beat again. How many flowers can you look at in a day anyway??

Lotus Race cars! Now that's more like it!

 

soooo choice!

So small...

Ohh! Look over there! A cruise ship!

And there's the Yokohama Bay Bridge!

Damn, all that water...(just joking)

Well that’s it for now…more to follow! 

 

Next stop: Osanbashi (大さん橋)de gozaimasu. 

Peace!

Loco

If you read / follow my blog, why don’t you go to my networkedblogs page here and click “follow.” (and rate me…I like 5 stars but I’ll take what you got) It’ll help me build up my readership and whatnot. Also you can catch my tweets at Locohama.

18
Mar
10

Live from Locohama S1/E21: I remain hopeful…

Season 1 of Live from Locohama is drawing to a close. The end of the school year is a week away. Five more episodes at best remain. 

And, today, it seemed like the students were on to me and my serial writing, and decided they were really going to  give me something to write about! 

Today I taught my last lessons for this school year with the two first-year classes at School A. Next time I see them they will be second year students and, ideally, each will  take on the mantle of role model for the incoming first year students (a class purported to be worst than this year’s,) for they will have matured a bit during the upcoming two-week spring holiday and realized their solemn responsibility to lead by example. 

 

Yeah, I know. Dream on, right? 

But, I hold on to this dream because I’ve seen it happen. Some of the kids do indeed feel an obligation to the grades below theirs. Granted, some feel nothing but, by virtue of the school’s culture and the social constructs in place here in Japan, are thrust into the role of  mentors. For example, for Sports Day, it’s not so much the responsibility of the teachers to help the lower grades prepare for the festivities, as it is the upper grades who’ve performed the dances and various other routines previously. And this dignified duty has successfully brought out the best in some causes I thought to be lost. So I hold high hopes for… 

Wait a minute! You’re wondering what that picture of a knife and a gun above has to do with this post, aren’t you? 

Well, that picture was taken while I was sitting here writing this post. Exhibits A & B above currently reside atop the stacks of shit on Takahashi-sensei’s desk. I had to wait (in a state of anxious zeal) until she and the other first-year teachers took their squabbling over how to best handle this situation into the conference room to surreptitiously snap that shot with my cellphone (and, yappari, the pervert-alert shutter sound reverberated around the teacher’s office for the longest thirty seconds on record.) 

If you read my blog then you probably think you know who these items belong to. Back in episode 1 (wow, has it really been 21 episodes…time sure flies when you’re chronicling your life!) that our favorite Bi-polar child-star, Mika, saw fit to bring a knife to school and brandish it before her classmates. 

But, you would be wrong on this occasion. 

While Mika did show her ass today (literally, sat in her chair in such a way as to expose her underwear…Takahashi had to rush over and plead with her to sit properly, receiving a sharp kick in her solar plexus for her efforts) she was relatively tame today. Nope, it was the other first year class (the one ruled by Matsui kun and his iron glove, and his henchman Satou) where all hell broke loose. 

I arrived a minute before the bell. I’ve begun this practice of arriving just in time to their class because I don’t feel like wrestling the two of them off of my nuts for the whole 10-minute rest period. But…to no avail. The bell to begin class means absolutely nothing to these two. Satou’s leeriness about being kneed by me has subsided and he was once again full on. As was Matsui. They’ve been studying my defensive moves and have adapted like a couple of pint-sized velociraptors. Easily weaving my maneuvers and garnering hungry handfuls of my jewels. The bell had rung a full minute ago but still they were on me. Takahashi had her hands full with a couple of other disruptive students. One had a Rubik’s Cube out and three others circled him and cheered him on as he tried to solve the venerable puzzle. 

“Suwari nasai!” (Sit down!) I shouted at the two knuckleheads harassing my scrotum. And, abruptly, they stopped, turned and headed for their seats. I was as amazed as the other students. That was too easy.  What did I miss? I looked around for booby traps or maybe a “kick my ass!” sign stuck on my back. Nada. Then, I heard some of the well-behaved students in the class giggling. I looked for the source. It was Matsui, of course, with a brown leather wallet in his hands, going through the contents, pulling out money! I patted my back pocket. Empty. 

No the fuck he didn’t! 

“You motherfucker!” I yelled, and took off after him. He was laughing and evading my capture with the speed and agility of a chicken. Man, I’m lucky I didn’t get my hands on him on my initial effort  to do so. I definitely would be in custody now. I could have, but I would have had to make a total berserker of myself to catch him, jumping over students, tossing aside desks, and what not. Luckily I had the presence of mind to catch myself, take a deep breath, and remember that I was the teacher. 

But, my wallet… 

This kind of disregard for personal privacy and breach of the teacher-student covenant had to be addressed…and that right soon. 

Matsui was watching me and he must have seen the emotions playing out on my face because he came over to me, handed me my wallet, and said, so sweetly “Honto ni gomen nasai, Loco sensei,” (I’m so sorry) brandishing that slightly naive, slightly simple smile of his. Like this was all beyond him and he was just a kid having a little fun at his teacher’s expense. No harm, no foul. 

He strolled over to his seat, his eyes never leaving me (nor mine him) and sat down, Satou and his boys patting him on the head and congratulating him on this epic ruse; one that would go down in the history books. Total classic! And he couldn’t help himself but gloat a little, basking in the glow of their adoration and respect. 

But, he kept a wary eye on me through all this. He knew he’d, once again, crossed a line, and he had the awareness to be scared. 

Takahashi was oblivious to all of this, I noticed, when I could pull my eyes off of him. She was still trying to get the student in the back to put away his Rubik’s Cube. He had the top and two rows completed and was struggling with the final maneuvers. I used to be able to finish it in a minute when I was in high school. Fond memories of being popular due to this ability flooded me, and I smiled in the reminiscence. 

When I glanced back Matsui’s way I saw him closing the knife pictured above and putting it into his desk. The girl seated behind him, Saori-chan, one of the few remaining well-behaved students in the class, was watching him do this with about as much interest as one might have watching a carpenter put a hammer away in his tool belt. 

I was dumbfounded. 

They say a picture speaks a thousand words. Well, the picture pontificating in my head was/is not the glimpse of the knife but  the image of Saori’s reaction to the knife. It spoke to the normality of this act; to the utter un-newsworthiness of it. I mean, I’ve been here a while but I haven’t completely lost touch with the reality of the world outside of Japan. And a Swiss Army knife wouldn’t have even raised an eyebrow back in my school days. But, I was under the distinct impression that here, in Kawaiiland, in the land of all that is cute and small and safe and…you know what I’m saying…I thought that here this kind of thing would send shock waves of repulsion and fear racing at tsunami speed around the entire school, across the entire fucking community, in fact. 

Anyway, I was wrong. And that was an enlightening moment for me. A moment not to be outshone, at least in the next 15 minutes, I thought.

Wrong, yet again. 

When Takahashi finally got the student to put the Rubik’s away (I noticed that this coincided with him having finished it) and she came back to the front of the room to join me, I whispered in her air, “Matsui’s got a knife in his desk.” 

She reacted the way I had expected Saori to react, but the damage was done. The image had already been uploaded, saved and etched onto my mental Flickr page. 

“Honto ni?” (Really?) 

No, I’m kidding, bitch, I said with a look. 

She went over to his desk, got down on her knees the way waiters and waitresses sometimes do here in restaurants, had a little exchange with him, and began rummaging through his desk. She came up empty-handed, came back over to me with a look like maybe you imagined it, and for a second I imagined I had. A micro fucking second. I know a knife when I see one. 

“Listen, he’s got a knife!” I snapped, trying to keep the urgency out of my voice for the sake of the students, watching all of this with the curiosity one might watch a street magician. 

“I’ll check for it later,” she said a little dismissively, and started going through the motions of teaching a lesson. We haven’t been able to get through a lesson in this class in weeks. So, I did the same, but I kept my peripherals trained on Matsui. After a few minutes I relaxed as much as a teacher can when you know that a wily student seated near you was playing with a knife after having had an altercation with you a few moments earlier. The most comforting thought being: he obviously has brought this thing to school and brandished it many times and he hasn’t stabbed me or anyone else yet, so chances are he has a little self-control. 

I walked around the room helping the manageable students with the lesson I had planned. I was helping a student near where Matsui was seated when I heard a loud pop from behind me. I wheeled around to see Matsui aiming the above-pictured gun aimed at a student seated across from him. 

Columbine, and a dozen other school shootings, raced though my head. But only for a second. The sound and look of the gun cried fake, but the image of Matsui aiming it intently at another student joined the image of Saori’s apathetic expression on my Flickr page. 

Sakura Tree

I swallowed my apprehension and walked towards Matsui-kun, and watched as his aim slowly adjusted from being leveled at the student’s head to being leveled at me. I sped up and just as it would have been aimed at my gut, grabbed his arm and wrenched the gun from his hand, his tiny index finger tight on the trigger. 

I looked around, armed with this toy, at the students in the vicinity to see their reactions to this. More apathy: the possession of toy guns and Swiss Army knives had entered the realm of the prosaic here in Junior High School A. At least in Matsui’s hand it had. 

So, I decided not to overreact. It was just a toy. And the knife was just a Boy Scout’s utility blade, good for cutting ropes and carving Matsui loves Saori in the bark of some hapless Sakura tree. 

I examined the gun closely to confirm without a doubt that it was indeed a toy and then I handed it back to him. “Put it away!” I said. He just looked at me with those guileless innocent eyes of his, and smiled that warm, enchanting smile, and complied. 

When I returned to the front of the room, I realized that Takahashi hadn’t seen any of that episode, either. 

“He has a toy gun, too,” I said, softly, so only she could hear. Again, she looked at me incredulously. Oh Geezus! “He was aiming it at students!” 

The bell began to ring and, half way through it, I watched as Matsui slid the gun out of his desk and was about to put it in his book bag.  

“Look!” I snapped at Takahashi. She turned in time to catch a glimpse of it before it disappeared into his bag. She was appropriately aghast. 

I grabbed my teaching material and headed for the door. I needed some air. Outside the door, Satou lay in ambush, and sprung at my crotch the moment I exited, shoutng for Matsui. Matsui came a-running, wrapped himself around my leg, and seated himself on my foot so that I would have to drag him in order to walk. The playful nature of this activity had taken a drastic turn for the worse, though. For them, by all appearances, nothing had changed, but for me, I felt like I’d been molested by a beloved Uncle, like my innocence was lost. I tried to go through the motions of fighting them off, but my heart wasn’t in it. I basically let them assault my balls. It took them a moment to notice I wasn’t putting up a fight, but once they did, they ceased hostilities and gave me very concerned looks. 

Satou, not one for speaking, asked me was I ok. 

I didn’t know what to say. I had started walking away from them when Takahashi came out of the classroom. On the down-low she showed me what she had hidden, wrapped in her teaching materials: It was Exhibits A & B. 

“While you had him distracted I got them!” she exclaimed very excitedly, like she was cleverest of them all. 

“That’s nice!” I replied as we headed for the staircase. As we descended I looked back. Matsui and Satou stood at the top of the staircase, watching me…looking as if they’d aged a year or two in the past few moments, prepubescent experience etched into their dour faces.

I thought, there stand the mentors for the incoming first-year students… 

And yet, somehow, I remain hopeful.

Loco

If you read / follow my blog, why don’t you go to my networkedblogs page here and click “follow.” (and rate me…I like 5 stars but I’ll take what you got) It’ll help me build up my readership and whatnot. Also you can catch my tweets at Locohama.

16
Mar
10

Live from Locohama, S1/E20: The Look

I didn’t like the way he looked at me. Not at all.

It happened yesterday. I mentioned in a previous post that due to graduation ceremony scheduling, I had to choose between schools. It was a difficult decision but I chose school B.  It was only a one-day re-scheduling however so yesterday I returned to school A. I was half-hoping to get another chance to say goodbye to the departing seniors, but they were long gone. Only 2nd and 1st year students were in school.

When I sat down at my desk, Kawaguchi-sensei handed me a number of cards made by some of the 3rd year students I was closest with.  Two in particular stood out for the effort put into them. They were from Yuki-chan and Midori-chan, two of my faves. They’d written how much they’d enjoyed my lessons and adored me, etc… As a teacher and as a human being, it was very heartwarming stuff.

“Yasashii deshou? (sweet aren’t they?) she said.

“Sou da ne…” (Yes, they certainly are.) I replied. “Samishikunaru.” (I’m gonna miss them.)

With no third graders to teach, I only had a couple of lessons. And, since the 2nd and 1st graders have already finished their textbooks, I decided to prepare a few games. The 3rd year teachers were sitting around trying to look busy so I thought to enlist one of them to help me, just for the hell of it. I was making a version of the game show “Jeopardy” where the kids have to answer questions from various categories, the points they receive depended on the difficulty level of the question.

Yamamoto-sensei is one of the 3rd year teachers. He is one of the reasons I stopped underestimating Japanese people. We have worked together for three years now and only this year did he reveal he spoke English. And I mean we’ve had painful conversations in Japanese during the past three years. Conversations where his English ability would have resolved issues in a fraction of the time. But, he kept this ability to himself. I’m not even sure if the other teachers are aware of his English ability. He uses it so rarely it seems. Nor am I certain of the reason why, or even why he’d decided to let me in on it. When I’d asked him, he did what I’ve found a lot of Japanese people tend to do when they don’t want to answer a question: He laughed and pretended I hadn’t asked it. To follow-up, to push for an answer, would have been rude on my part.  

However, there are a couple of patterns to its usage I’ve noticed. For instance, he never uses it when any of the other teachers are involved; only for one-on-one conversations.

Otherwise, he’s a pretty cool and straightforward guy, though. Bald, sports a goatee, dresses really fashionably for his age and, being the Kendo teacher, he’s in damn good shape. Not to be fucked with is written all over his posture. He sits erect with muscles flexed sometimes like he’s posing for a cover shot for Fifty-five and still Fit and Fabulous Magazine. One other thing really outstanding about him is he has no problem making his opinion known, strongly; even during meetings . One time, to my and everyone else’s utter surprise, he got into a heated exchange-during the morning meeting-with the principal. Yamamoto was unhappy with something I couldn’t catch at the time and all but through a chair at the Principal. Sometimes he’ll suck his teeth or make other disruptive noises like knuckle cracking or heavy sighing when something he doesn’t agree with is said. You can’t imagine how rare this kind of thing is. It’s beyond taboo. It’s outcast-worthy shit.

Yeah, it’s safe to say I took a liking to him.

Though, otherwise, he is a typically kind, helpful and jovial guy, the other teachers are pretty damn cautious around him and always speak very deferentially; including the vice-principal.

Anyway, I recruited him to help me put together this game…and he was very helpful. With very little on his plate, he spent an entire period helping me, in English, make questions. I didn’t really need his help. I just like to socialize with the teachers sometimes. As a foreigner, aside from the English teachers, the other teachers have a tendency to shy away from interacting with you, and sometimes it can get to feel a bit isolating. Like working in a silo. In an empty room, that’s no problem, but in a room buzzing with 35 people interacting freely with one another and excluding you for whatever reason, it can get to be a little oppressive. After a while, you realize that this exclusivity is not necessarily derived from malice but simply from habit or convenience on their part, and that the onus is on you to take the initiative. And if you do you will seldom be refused. So, occasionally, to ward off loneliness, I do.

Around that time I heard familiar voices at the teacher’s office door and wheeled around to see Yuki and Midori standing there waving so excitedly to see me.  After going through the protocol, they beckoned me to the door.

They were dressed in street clothes and I realized that in three years I’d never seen them dressed so. Yuki looked the way I imagine Hello Kitty would look if she had a blue fairy like Pinocchio who turned her into a little girl. And, Midori, well…she had future Hostess written all over her outfit: Mini-skirt high on her thighs and a cleavage accentuationg blouse. Like she couldn’t wait to get out of that uniform, and had probably burned it right after graduation.

I wanted to hug them but for some reason I felt reserved. I had hugged them both last week, along with a bunch of other students, but somehow this time felt different. Japanese people don’t instinctively hug as much so the two of them they just stood there quivering with joy at getting this chance to see me. Apparently Kawaguchi sensei had explained my absence from the graduation and that I would return on Monday, so they’d come to the school especially to see me.

So, there we were in front of the  teacher’s office, smiling awkwardly at each other. At least I felt awkward. I didn’t know what to say.

That’s when Yamamoto appeared at the door.

They were both previously in his home room and upon seeing him locked heels and transformed into obedient, dutiful students. It was kind of creepy to watch.

“What are you two doing out of uniform?” he snapped at them, like they were still students of his, which I imagine they will be for life if his tone was any indication. They half-smiled assuming he must have been joking and the punchline would soon follow.

Then, he looked at me.

And he had a look.

A look that suggested some kind of impropriety on my part. At least that’s what I  took it to mean. But I’ve been wrong so many times. The looks and body language of Japanese people, while there are some similarities to my own, there are also many that look similar but have entirely different meanings.

“You shouldn’t be on school grounds out of uniform,” he said turning back to them.

They, then, realized that he was not playing with them and that they had done something inappropriate, in his eyes at least. And they were filled with so much shame. At least that was the body language they let on: heads downcast, pitiful demeanor.

I wanted to slap him upside his head a little less than I wanted to get them out of the building to go on with their lives outside of his jurisdiction, so I led them towards the door. He spun on his heels and went back into the office.

The elation of the moment was gone, but good. They bowed deeply and repeatedly and apologized for causing a problem for me. I told them they had caused nothing and not to worry even a little. I thanked them for coming to visit me, and to show them that there were no hard feelings on my part whatsoever, I gave them both big affectionate hugs.

They left nearly in tears.

When I went back into the office, all the teachers were looking at me kind of oddly. I figured Yamamoto must have mentioned to them what had been going on in the hallway outside the office. He was sitting there at his desk, eyes glaring,  muscles flexed, blue veins tight in his neck…

…and that look.

I wanted to say, “Motherfucker, I can’t help it if your students liked me more than they liked you…!”

But, all I said to him, in English, so that all the teachers could hear, was “Your students are so kind! You did a really good job with them.”  And smiled.

He just sat there, trying to pretend he didn’t understand me.

Loco

If you read / follow my blog, why don’t you go to my networkedblogs page here and click “follow.” (and rate me…I like 5 stars but I’ll take what you got) It’ll help me build up my readership and whatnot. Also you can catch my tweets at Locohama.

15
Mar
10

Yokohama, in living color, pt.1

Hi there, Friends and fam.  

 If you read my blog, you find out a great deal about Loco (me) and about every day life in Yokohama, but I realized something : the majority of you do not live here or even in Japan, and may not know much about this area known as Yokohama (doh!). Well, I won’t go into the history of Yokohama, not too much anyway. There’s shitloads of information on the internet. This post contains mostly pics and some surface background on the place I call home now.   

  

Yokohama  (横浜) is literally a city by the sea, with a gorgeous bay/harbor area.  

Located on the western coast of Tokyo Bay directly south of Tokyo, Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan and one of the cities most used to seeing foreigners.   

Yokohama was the first port opened up to foreign trade after the opening of Japan in 1854 when Commodore Matthew Perry arrived just south of Yokohama with a fleet of American warships, demanding that Japan open several ports for commerce, and the Tokugawa shogunate agreed by signing the Treaty of Peace and Amity. At the forefront of the Meiji restoration, the first train line in Japan connected Tokyo and Yokohama. However, Yokohama was devastated by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and again by the firebombings of World War II, and never really regained its prominence. It remains a maritime city to this day and retains an international flavor. 

Kanazawa Ward is one of the 18 districts that Yokohama City is composed of. It is located on the east side of the Miura. It is a wonderful town where nature overflowed. from Wikipedia and Wikitravel  

There are a few areas that people think of when they think of Yokohama. Most prominent of these would be: Minato Mirai, Chinatown, Motomachi and Sakuragicho. This post contains pictures primarily from Minato Mirai.  

Within Minato Mirai there are two famous landmarks. One is the Landmark Tower (seen left) which is (I believe) the tallest building in Japan, standing 970ft high.  

The other is the Cosmo Clock 21, which is the largest Clock in the world. One rotation takes about 15 minutes. The one time I braved a ride all I could think the entire time was is there a worst place to be in the event of an earthquake (not exactly a rarity in Japan). Nope. Not such a good 15 minutes.  

But, this is in my favorite area of Yokohama. And, it’s so photogenic!  

Thought Bubble: "Damn, I already wrote about that, didn't I?"

  

  

  

Look up writer's block in the dictionary, you'll find this pic!

  

  

Yokohama Nippon Maru

   

Look up "where's my muse when I need it?" and you'll find this one!

   

Cosmo Clock is surrounded by Cosmo World Amusement Park

 

 

Things to do when you're blocked: have a little fun with photoshop (-;

   

 Well, that’s about it for now…Time to stop fluffing around and get back to some writing!  

Look up "Eureka!" and this is the pic! (-;

Loco  

 
  

PS: If you read / follow my blog, why don’t you go to my networkedblogs page here and click “follow.” (and rate me…I like 5 stars but I’ll take what you got) It’ll help me build up my readership and whatnot. Also you can catch my tweets at Locohama.




Copyright © 2010 Loco in Yokohama / All Rights Reserved

Please know that this blog is my original writing and may not be reproduced in any way without the expressed written permission of the author (that's me!) Thanks!

Words I love…

Everybody is a star
I can feel it when you shine on me
I love you for who you are
Not the one you feel you need to be
Ever catch a falling star
Ain't no stopping 'til it's in the ground
Everybody is a star
One big circle going round and round

Words by: Sly Stone

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