General Lee’s Chinky Ramen

The quintessential Chink stereotype is so much more offensive over here than it is back in the States. This sign is overtly racist. It is strangely ironic that the Japanese image of Chinese is not too different from the ignorant, malignant image that non-Asian Americans developed of the Japanese right after Pearl Harbor was bombed.
It can be quite jolting to hear remarks and questions about race in Japan. Words that would lead to a fight or at least draw negative attention to the person who said them are considered O.K, and often are a source of amusement.
For example, a Japanese friend asked another friend from the UK “What part of Africa are you from?” merely because she was black. We kind of cringed, and she explained that she was from England, but everyone else who was present (aside from someone who has a good understanding of foreign cultures- he laughed because it was such a ridiculous situation) seemed to think that this was quite a reasonable question.
It’s crazy to see the perceptions that Japanese society at large has developed about all things outside of Japan. Being politically correct isn’t even an issue over here. Sambo, SAMBO, is still a popular character over here!
But foreigners are guilty of it too. They use racial slurs without realizing it and if you call them on it they are either unapologetic about it or pay lip service that they didn’t know that what they’re saying is offensive. How many times have I heard the term “Jap” being casually tossed around over here? Sometimes you have to talk like Chris Rock around those who don?t see why it is wrong to say ?Jap?, ?oriental?, or any other slur, and use ?whitey? and ?cracka? for people to get the point. This country just seems to bring out the racism in those who live here.
I have heard the argument that this is a strictly American point of view, but I don?t buy that crap. Just because others are doing something that they don?t think is wrong doesn?t make it right. I?m not going to equate being a Nazi with those who think it?s alright to use racial slurs, but I will go as far as to point out a correlation in this type of flawed logic.

More thoughts on teaching

If you think about it, a classroom is kind of like a laboratory and the students are each little subjects in a huge experiment. Each student has a different mixture of natural ability, motivation, learning disabilities, potential, etc. Many things can affect these variables to increase or decrease, whether it be through encouragement or discouragement, exercise or laxness, reward or punishment, or any number of other factors. It is the teachers who have the most control over these factors.
I am often told that my school is the worst of the low level schools, and that there are many schools like this school. Problems here are not unique to my situation. There is a great flaw in the master educational plan, and it is not being addressed.
One thing that is alarming to see is that there are no young teachers at this school. Apparently, this is a problem right now. Schools are filling up with older teachers, many of whom seem to share certain characteristics. They are generally:

*over 40, and more commonly belong to the older segment of the age spectrum
*have long ago lost their interest in teaching
*view the kids as ?hopeless? and give up on the class as a whole
don?t bother with discipline
*think that instilling character and morals into the students is important, but believe that they can?t do anything about it themselves
*resort to keeping the students busy instead of challenging them
*feel pressure to improve their class test scores, rather than creating engaging lesson plans
*do as little as possible in order to fulfill the requirements of the job
*are unsatisfied with the system, but feel that they are helpless to change it or make a real difference (which is accurate in many cases)

The young people that I do know who are teaching or are planning to become teachers are all struggling with the question ?Do I really want to become a teacher??. One friend has only been teaching since April, and he already wants to change careers as soon as possible. As a new teacher, he is delegated the menial tasks, and obligated to work long hours every day (a twelve hour shift is not unusual), forfeiting his weekends in order to oversee extra-curricular clubs or to coach the sports teams. School has become his life and understandably he wants time to relax, pursue his hobbies and interests, and just to get away from the school environment once in a while. He doesn?t even have time to go on dates anymore.
One of the assistant teachers in our school is clearly over-qualified for the position, but is yet to be given any responsibility. Despite having a teaching license, a better command of the English language than most JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English), and having taught here for 15 years, she runs copies for the teachers and has been given the informal job as a student counselor (a job which she has not been trained for, and that the teachers don?t want to do themselves). She wanted to become a teacher, but is having serious doubts after watching what has happened to the many teachers who have passed through this school in the past decade and a half. She thinks she might just keep on being an assistant teacher because they don?t have as much responsibility and the pay and benefits are pretty good.
Thinking about these issues has made me think about Governor Schwartzenegger?s intent to cut California?s budget by changing how teachers get pay raises and promotions. It sounds good in theory, for tenure to be awarded based on a meritocracy instead of seniority. I can still remember having my time wasted in class by tenured teachers who were just there for the paycheck, and feeling that something should be done about this. I have that same feeling when I think about some of the teachers that I work with that aren?t pulling their weight, although I should say that most of them are doing their best to meet the challenges of teaching.
I have long been interested in teaching, and although I still enjoy it I don?t think I will pursue it as a career as I had previously thought. The rewards of teaching are great and give me the feeling that I am making a tangible difference in the lives of my students. However, the externalities (unconventional costs) of teaching outweigh the benefits for me, personally. Here is a job that requires the utmost dedication to develop a group of impressionable, malleable kids into responsible and informed adults who can think independently and challenge themselves and others around them. What it comes down to is that I want my students to be better people after I teach them. If I can achieve this goal, then I will be content.
I think I would greater enjoy doing this on my spare time as a mentor or volunteer. After a day teaching at this school, I feel like I?ve been spread too thin and that I am not making a real impact on anyone?s life. I find myself compromising my goals and expectations past what I am comfortable with. One year in this school is fine, but if I were here for ten years I think might turn into the type of teacher that just shows up at work, counting the days until retirement.


Not for the faint of heart, the volcano is a very strong, very disgusting drink that Justin introduced me to at Bill’s Bar, when I visited him six years ago in Nara. It is a Spirytus vodka (150 proof) concoction with peach schnapps and Baileys (correct me if I’m wrong, or better yet post the recipe in the comments). You light it on fire and blow it out, swish the unpleasantly warm mixture in your mouth, and down it in one go. I have to say for the record that I prefer taking shots Crown Royal, or even Bacardi 151, to having to deal with one of these.
It took me a while to admit this, even to myself, but I can not keep this drink down. Lets examine a few cases to illustrate my point:
Six years ago, I went out drinking with my cousin Sion (or is it Shawn now?) and Justin as I was getting over the flu. After drinking a volcano and a few more drinks, we drove up to Tenri Dam to go shoot off some fireworks. I was resting in the car when Nam came to check on me. “Are you OK?” she was asking as I replied, by puking all over her shoes. I think she’s still traumatized.
Last year, I went out to Bill’s bar with Justin and my cousin Tate where I snapped these pictures. Although Bill, Justin, and Tate didn’t appear to savor the taste of the volcanoes, I was the only one who rushed to the bowl and projectile vomited some partially digested yakitori (which was delicious, I might add!).
Although I have on one or two occasions been able to keep a volcano down, there is strong evidence that illustrates a connection between me imbibing a volcano and me tossing the cookies. In my college days, I would have trained my body so that I could handle a volcano, and challenged any takers. I am thankful that I am no longer such a dumbass in this regard, and instead I concede defeat to this most evil of evil drinks.

To my Bro and Nam

Digging through the photo archive, I came across this picture of Justin and Nam, taken in front of the Akashi Bridge on Awaji Island on a beautiful day. I think it serves well as a tribute to these two who have been dating since I was in JHS, and who only recently got engaged in Thailand during Golden Week. It was about friggin’ time already… Good luck and congratulations.

Fish Tales

Ah, I always find strange things walking through the neighborhood of Juso. For those visiting Juso, the lively shotengai with its bustling mom and pop stores, or the abundance of strip clubs, snack bars, pr0n theatres, and assorted Soap Land affiliated businesses are the things that stick out and burn themselves into their synaptic impressions. But it is on the side streets, down the hidden alleyways that you’ll find the truly unexpected and interesting things.
This is a picture of boards to which drying fish fins are affixed, and next to them (out of frame) was another board on which lengths of fish skin were stretched to dry.
The boards struck me as a rather macabre presentation of what I assume to be a food product. Somehow, this display of fish parts strikes me as a sort of trophy wall, and I imagine that the owner is quite proud of his collection and shows it off whenever he gets the opportunity to.

Mountain Monkey Showdown

Monkey-related posts always make for interesting reading:

…Anyway suddenly her cell phone rings and I can tell by her tone and face that something not so good has happened. I was right, she hangs up and looks at me with the most serious of faces and says ‘I have to go, mountain monkeys have attacked my parents country house.’…

Read the rest here on Jane’s journal under the entry “The moral of the story is….” (as of right now, it’s three posts down).

Too much shochu?

A real Kyushu danshi would say, there’s no such thing as too much shochu. Well, Mark has written a post with a picture, that I didn’t know existed up until today, that makes a powerful case against downing a bottle of shochu as fast as you can, especially if you are attending a night time hanami party in front of Kumamoto Castle.
With the sounds of 50 bumping from our ghetto blaster, I drank too much, too fast. The next thing I knew, I was persuaded to test my martial skills against the scantily clad natives. The shochu numbed my concerns, and I was cheared on until I felt victory was assured.
But my head swam as I was thrown to the ground. As hard as I tried, I was unable to beat the salarymen in front of Kumamoto Castle in sumo, and I walked away in disgrace with a limp and some blood on my khakis.
So know I know the rules, and should the opportunity present itself once again I will do better. First, I’m going to yank on the leopard print until it gets driven into the deepest of crevices with an Atomic wedgie.
If that doesn’t work I’m going to kick him in the nuts, repeatedly. I have learned my lesson well. Next time its no mercy…

The Legend of the Pubic Office

Over several whisky and waters and beers, my predecessor on the JET program in Ubuyama-mura, Mr. Harvey Haynes, had passed down the sacred lore of the pubic office sign. A sad look clouded his eyes when he told me that it had been fixed, for although he had never told anyone else in the village what it meant (he was one of the Chosen, who could wield the English language with ease, while others trembled in fear of its practice, and relied on him to deal with all English-related matters), one day it had been usurped and ousted by a sign reading ?Public Office?.
For the two years I was stationed in Ubuyama I searched for this sign, although I knew that it no longer existed. I told friends about it often, and although many had searched, no one could find it. My two years in Ubuyama passed, and I had given up on ever seeing it in this lifetime, other than through Harvey’s words.
Imagine my surprise when Jane McMahon, my successor in Ubuyama (soon to be leaving for Canada), sent me this excellent picture. This awesome sign does exist, but like any legendary artifact worth preserving its location will be secret so that it will remain proudly standing on its home, helpfully pointing the way to the Ubuyama Village Pubic Office for those who are seeking it.