Sunday, July 28, 2013

The phantom toilet-destroyer strikes...

Or maybe Hanako switched to the men's bathroom.  Here at our school today someone stuffed a toilet full of paper and didn't flush.  I gave it a flush and a few moments later it turned into a nice fountain, water flowing gently out and onto the tile floor.  I told one of the other teachers and he took a plunger to it, which wasn't really my intention.  I thought he'd call a plumber or something like that.

Well, next time I'll plunge the stupid toilet myself, but I do feel better not having done so this time.  I hate fooling around with toilets because I've got a touch of the ol' OCD.  The fewer toilets I have to come into contact with, the better.

Which reminds me of a funny story.  Years ago I lived in an older apartment and the toilet wasn't exactly modern, either.  Sometimes the ball and cock assembly or whatever it's called would give me trouble, and it finally gave out altogether.  After talking to one of my brothers, who convinced me there was nothing to it, I went to one of those big household repair/supply/tool stores and bought a replacement kit for a little do-it-yourself stupidity.

I turned off the water and went to work and in a few minutes, I had everything changed out.  Then I turned on the water and the thing went off like a water-rocket, the shaft flying into the air on a geyser drenching everything in the bathroom, including me.  About an hour later, with the bathroom and myself newly scrubbed to the point of sterility, I called the apartment complex office and someone who knew that the hell he was doing came and fixed everything.

Here in Japan, I've had a lot better luck with toilets for the most part.  The holes down at the bottom tend to be larger than in the US, for one thing.  That cuts down a lot on clogs.  But if you stuff as much paper into one as whoever did today, there's no way to avoid a spill.

Why not mix performance and cooking?

DJ Miso Shiru and MC Gohan raps and roasts on 'Mother's Food' | The Japan Times

While I'm generally against making generalizations (oh gosh, what a clever lad am I!), if I had to make one about Japan, it's that this is a food-obsessed country.  Or maybe I'm the food-obsessed one so I notice all the TV shows about cooking and eating and that's skewed my perspective, along with an appreciation of acts like Shonen Knife and Cibo Matto who made their initial impressions on me by singing about food.

What I'm struck by when reading about DJ Miso Shiru and MC Gohan isn't so much the name of her act-- which translates to "miso soup" and either "rice" or simply "meal" or "food," it's the chances of an actual cooking demonstration breaking out at her gigs.  And that her raps consist of recipes.  Rather than simply celebrating the pleasures of food, DJ Miso Shiru and MC Gohan says, "I just want to make people want to cook."

The emphasis on the second want comes directly from The Japan Times, but I see this concept as the logical extension of food-based songcraft.  Rather than put out cook books, perhaps it's time for someone like her to put out cook albums.

Someone call the Food Network.  They seem to have an opening right now.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Police stonewalling over death of U.S. teen in Shinjuku prolongs family's ordeal | The Japan Times

Police stonewalling over death of U.S. teen in Shinjuku prolongs family's ordeal | The Japan Times

I had not heard of this before today.  When this young man died, I was back in the US and it hasn't exactly been a major news story here in Japan since I came back.  Scott Kang.  Nineteen years old, from my home state of Georgia.

It reminds me of the Lindsay Hawker case, although in that instance we knew from the start she most definitely had been murdered.  I followed that one because I was fairly new to Japan at the time and media coverage was pretty sensationalistic.  Hawker's was tireless in his efforts to find justice.  Another major difference is the Hawker murder inspired a radio play and a lot of other ugliness.  Her family didn't play to any of this and her father's every public pronouncement served to increase my admiration for someone dealing with such a horrific tragedy.  Kang's death has been a lot quieter, but then I missed the initial reportage.

His family definitely needs more information.  My heart goes out to them.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Counting down until the trip home...

Well, not actually.  But it's coming up pretty soon.  This time the question of travel insurance came up.  I've never bought travel insurance, but my wife felt she needed to.  She's very relieved about having it.  I'm still thinking it over and may wait until we're at the airport to make up my mind.

My first international flight was here to Japan.  Ten years ago.  They say time flies, but it's more accurate to say I do.  Flying is one of my least favorite activities.  It's twelve to thirteen hours of physical discomfort and stale air, plus people are actively rude to you.  And that's if everything goes as planned.  Unplanned alternatives include being stuck inside the plane like a prisoner for half the day while the pilots wait for clearance, or a long mechanical delay or-- worst case-- a falling-leaf pattern tumble from 35,000 feet into the Pacific, lost without a trace.

Yesterday one of my conversation class students asked me about air pockets.  Some of our senior high kids are going to the UK for a three-week homestay and I've been helping them with their English.  The flight is on some of their minds now, though.  It's like standing in line for a roller coaster.  The anticipation is tinged with just a bit of fear.  He said something about zero gravity.

Now there's something to think about.  I once experienced about fifteen minutes of violent turbulence (violent to my mind, anyway) over Canada.  The plane shook and vibrated and we passengers rattled around like the last few peanuts in the can.  While the person next to me seemed perfectly relaxed, my imagination-- honed from years of flaming pseudo-death in various flight simulator games and a love for books documentaries about aviation history and airline disasters-- had me clutching the seatback in front of me in a white-fingered grip.  Well, at least until the flight attendant asked me to secure the runaway cart she couldn't reach from her jumper seat where she was strapped in for relative safety.  It's nice not to fall to the cabin floor, so much less effective in preventing your descent to the ocean's.  Eventually the pilots announced they were changing altitude and things smoothed out.

But no, I told the concerned student, I've never experienced an air pocket.  Have you?  No, he replied, but a friend of his did and it made quite an impression.  Like stepping into a hole or falling off a trampoline and landing flat on your back in the grass.

Travel insurance won't prevent accident or illness, unless you're into magical thinking.  But I do think it's a good idea.  If knowing we're covered financially even in the event of food poisoning helps my wife hop on the plane with a smile on her face, then I'm all for it.

Major temblor could trigger Fuji eruption | The Japan Times

Major temblor could trigger Fuji eruption | The Japan Times

Of course we hope not.  Japan seems to exist on the precipice of disaster.  Earthquakes, tsunami, typhoons.  Well, this is probably true of every country.  My own United States has tornados and hurricanes as well as forest fires and earthquakes.  But I live within easy traveling distance of Mt. Fuji, so I think about it a lot.

A few years ago, I lived in an apartment where on a clear winter's day you could actually see Fuji about the size of your thumb.  And there were dead people on its slopes one afternoon when I went to work.  As I stood waiting for the elevator, I thought about them.  It's eerie to see a death zone from your home if you can take your own safety pretty much for granted. Especially on such a mild day.

But people living in the vicinity of hospitals or on certain stretches of road or near particular intersections know what I'm talking about if they have any sense of mortality.  Actually, we could include those living along the shores of the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico or any sea or ocean.  Lots of death on or in water.  The ocean is a lot like Fuji.  Something beautiful to look at and be upon until you make a mistake.

This are privileged statements, no doubt.  I've never been to sea, never been to war, never had disease or starvation right outside my door.  So all I could do was look at Fuji that day and think how cold that pretty snow must be.

Andrew Sheldon in the comments section is a stranger but I like the way he thinks.  With my Geology 101 knowledge of volcanos and tectonics I'm not really able to judge how accurate he is, but I like to think he knows exactly what he's writing about.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Gender bending in Japan | The Japan Times

Gender bending in Japan | The Japan Times

Here's an article exploring different aspects of gender and post-gender thought as reflected in Japanese society.  You should read if you have enough time to devote to it.  You'll find yourself doing Google searches.  I feel gender to be more of a spectrum than a single color defining a person, but if someone wishes to paint themselves a certain color, then I'm not going to judge.  As a friend of mine once said, "If that's who you feel you are, then that's who you are."  Who am I to question someone's identity-- unless it's in the interest of some kind of identity guessing game board game?

When I first came to Japan I worked for one of those big conversation schools, one of the ones that went bankrupt.  One of our students was a transgender teen.  She came to her lessons long black hair, her face heavily made up, with fishnet sleeves and sometimes too much perfume.  Some of the other students were curious about her.

"I want her in one of my classes," one girl told me.  Too bad they were in different levels.  I never taught her, but I'd pass her in the waiting area as I went back or forth between the classroom cubicles and the teacher's room.

One day she became a topic of conversation among us teachers.  A teacher doing a help shift who had her in his class wanted to discuss her and when he did, he used the pronoun "it," and I will never forget the immediate response from the head teacher.

"You will refer to her as 'she' or 'her,'" he said in a very mild yet firm way.  "You will never refer to her as 'it.'"

Some of the rest of us agreed with his point.  End of discussion.

I always thought of that particular head teacher as classy.  After all, he was always immaculately dressed and had one of the most cultured-sounding accents I've ever encountered.  He had a very calming presence.  He just seemed to exude erudition and culture even while drinking beer in an izakaya with his coworkers.

Despite our differences, at this moment, I came to respect him not just for what he said, but the very definitive way in which he said it.  He wasn't being showy, but from his tone of voice, this was not to be questioned or discussed.  The offending teacher got the message and if he ever used that pronoun again, he was careful not to it in the presence of that head teacher, nor in mine.

Over the years, this topic has come up from time to time in my classes.  It's something we have to deal with in the language business.  The language of gender and identity can be very complex.  My short answer to the question, "How do I refer to a transgender person?" is "However that person identifies.  Some people prefer you use gendered pronouns, some prefer you use some of the newer, non-gendered pronouns.  It really depends on the person."

Anyway, as the article points out, different permutations of gender and cross-gender exploration abound here in Japan.  Especially if you're into pop culture here.  There are all kinds of gender-bending stories in manga and anime, some of which are mainstream and some of which are more pornographic.  And not just in illustrative form.  Photographic and video as well.  f you visit the J-List site, you will no doubt come away with the feeling this theme is a particular favorite among consumers of certain media.  A few years ago when I had summer vacation, a 1990s-era TV drama came on one channel one sunny afternoon and I watched it almost in its entirety, the story of two high schoolers-- a boy and a girl-- who switch bodies.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Japan's first 'Internet election' | The Japan Times

Japan's first 'Internet election' | The Japan Times

This is a link to an editorial about the upcoming election here in Japan (obviously-- the words "Japan" and "election" are right there in the title!).  Japan has frequent elections.  This one hasn't been as noisy as some of the others-- usually we get these sound trucks driving around blaring party messages.  Of course, I haven't been downtown that often, which is the place where most of this happens, plus loud speeches from candidates or party representatives.  So I could very well be completely mistaken about the noise factor.

What I didn't know was the bit about the revised Public Offices Election Law that now allows candidates to use the Internet to spread their platforms.  It's too bad if, as the editorial suggests, voters aren't participating as much as the parties are.  People seem apathetic, apparently.  As an outsider living here I'm not going to speculate on why that is.

I do know in my own household there's one person who is planning to vote (I'm ineligible), so I feel we're doing our civic duty.  My wife told me the other day she feels obligated to cast a ballot.  I asked her which party she's voting for and she just smiled.  Either she doesn't know or she's being cagey about it.  Whichever, far be it from me to make suggestions or jab at her with my uneducated opinions.  That's why I blog!

It makes me happy she votes, though.  And she does share her opinions on politics with me, although she's not generally a very politically-minded person.  Her homestay mother in Vancouver was, however, and they used to watch CNN together a lot.  So she knows what it's like to have these discussions.  As for me, I tend to rant and get too worked up about this stuff, so I try not to inflict it on her at home.  Things that concern me only affect her indirectly and if there's one thing I can't stand it's a one-sided conversation.  Even one where I'm that side.

But my wife is the only person who has so much as mentioned the election to me.  Granted, I spend the rest of my time with coworkers and we only talk about work.  In the US it's almost impossible to avoid political discussions and arguments.  You can hardly read a comment thread on any news article on whale farts or Martian microbes without someone jumping in with some political non sequitor, usually within the first ten comments.