If You’re Crooked and You Know it Clap Your Hands

There are so many scandals involving political funds in Japan that politicians ought to just get together and admit that they have them. This would save a lot of time and effort.

What typically happens in Japan is that Some Politician or Other (not a real name) will be having a good career and then all of a sudden cross a magic line of public attention and popularity and suddenly it will be discovered that someone on the politician’s staff 1) accepted money from questionable sources 2) didn’t disclose all the money accepted 3) spent the accepted money on questionable things or 4) all of the above.

Even though, officially, the politician is not corrupt–I usually describe it as “I’m not a crook, but I hire a lot of them”– the politician apologizes for the trouble and resigns to take responsibility. Eventually, after a short time away from politics, the politician can return and resume a career. In fact, I would argue that having a political funds scandal is a rite of passage in Japanese politics.

This happened recently when Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yuko Obuchi, the daughter of the late former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and a rising star in the Liberal Democratic Party, (which, for the record is neither liberal nor democratic) was forced to resign after it was discovered that her staff had used political funds to purchase thousands of dollars worth of things, including make up.

Also, resigning was Justice Minister Midori Matsushima whose crimes, er, whose staff’s crimes included distributing paper fans with her image and policies on it to her supporters at a political rally, which apparently violates Japanese election law.

The funny part about all this is that there are very few things the political funds are spent on. The Japanese prefer loudspeaker vans that practically drive up to the front of your house to television commercials that you can turn off. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, any TV commercials are done by the party not the candidates.  Despite that, it’s important that money be collected for, um, something, retirement?

I’m still not sure.

Working At Where You Do Not Work For

Every now and then, I get tired of not existing.

To understand this you first have to understand that although I work at a school, I don’t work for the school where I work. Instead, I work for a dispatch company that assigns me to the school where I work.

This is a fairly common state of existence for a lot of teachers in Japan. The schools like it because someone else is doing the hiring and firing and reference checking and disciplining. If the schools have complaints, they will find at least one sympathetic ear in the form of the salesman who will quickly relay the complaint to a higher up who will pass it down to a lower down who will dump it on the teacher receiving the complaint.

This makes it easy to get rid of teachers the schools don’t like. It also puts most of the pressure on the teachers and the dispatch companies to develop all the lessons with, according to the law, little or no input from the schools.

If the teacher has a complaint, however, well, if it’s not life threatening, it will probably get dealt with eventually and until then “thank your for your hard work and cooperation and we really appreciate your effort” (translation: your complaint has already been shredded and incinerated). My company even has two layers of human firewalls whose only job is to absorb complaints and deliver bad news. (There used to be one layer, but that layer decided it needed a layer of protection as well.) The firewalls don’t have the authority to make any decisions. They simply pass messages along, or at least they claim they do, to the people who can make decisions.

Basically, I’m the English teaching equivalent of a plumber. I’m sent to a place to fix the pipes but if the clients want their pool fixed, I have to call my company and get permission. If I’m at the place for a long time, I still take orders from my company not the clients. However long I stay at the place, I’m still not part of the family, just a guy there to clean crap out of pipes.

The companies like it because they get a decent amount of money for the contract but don’t have to pay a decent amount out. As teachers, we find that the schools couldn’t care less (if they did, they’d hire direct) and the companies don’t care as long as they have the contract. The companies also like that they can change terms and conditions at their whim. (Our previous statement is no longer active and if you don’t like it, we will just cut your pay if you don’t comply. Thank you for your cooperation.)

If you don’t like it, tell it to the firewall. Someone will eventually get back to you once it’s too late to actually do anything. (No, really, I don’t work for the government.)

For the most part, because I got in reasonably early, this situation has been pretty good for me. (For example, I get full pay during the summers.) The problem I have, though, is that sometimes the clients expect to have more control and start giving instructions and the company looks the other way but if something goes wrong the clients don’t really care and the company blames me if the clients complain.

 

 

The Month Has Dragged You Down

The past few years I’ve noticed that something about October has been playing havoc with my psyche. Apparently I’m not the only one.

Last Sunday five of the six foreign teachers at the school where I work got together for the school festival and later we went for a couple drinks. I think we were all surprised how much we actually needed a drink and how much we ended up drinking.

One teacher described how he hadn’t been feeling like himself and lately we’ve all commented about how long even holiday shortened weeks have felt. This isn’t just the usual after summer grind; it’s something to do with the season.

Last October was when the full after-effects of my father’s death hit. Looking back over the past few years of diary entries, I seem to have a lot of “confusion journal” entries in October. I’ve also noticed that a lot of new habits and practices tend to fall apart in October and I revert back to my bad old ways.

I’m not sure why this is. It could be the changing weather and the frequent up and down temperatures, random typhoons and the periodic fits of humidity. It could also be because  weekends also tend to get busy with school events from three different schools.

I also wonder if it’s connected to the random days off we have in October making it hard to get a good life and teaching rhythm going. (Note to all bosses: I’m willing to keep experimenting with this if you’re willing to give more random days off.) I don’t mind not knowing what day it is because I’ve had a long weekend, but it does mess up my thinking sometimes.

That said, January and February have more random days off, but I never feel as off center then as I do in October.

November generally settles down and I feel a lot better. Even when I have my birthday.

 

 

 

A Business Run Like a Government Office Run by Committee

Today I took She Who Must Be Obeyed and our youngest daughter to Tokyo Skytree to make up for not taking them back in August.

Although we had a great time, even with a foggy view, and I even walked across the dangerous death glass floor twice, the trip was complicated because Tokyo Skytree is run suspiciously like a government office with half-nods to high tech but nothing that could be described as a full-nod.

First, we decided to see if we could reserve tickets on Sunday night for Monday. It turns out that all reservations have to be made three days in advance or they can’t be made. In the era of the internet, I do not fully understand the reasoning behind this.  Because it’s off season, every day for the next two months shows a circle, which means there are lots of tickets available, however, rather than providing a convenience, the Powers What Are at Skytree would rather have you stand in line.

This brings out something else I don’t understand: reserved tickets are 500 yen more than non-reserved. By shutting down the computer reservations, the Powers What Are at Skytree are actually losing money. Adding to the fun, reservations can only be made with Japanese issued credit cards meaning the tens of thousands of foreign visitors arriving every year have to stand in line.

Once we got in line, there was another odd thing I didn’t understand. Although the “maze” started as the usual narrow path, it suddenly opened up to four or five people across before eventually squeezing back down to a narrow path. This allowed people who’d got in line later to cut the line with the full blessing of the Powers What Are at Tokyo Skytree.

Imagine a Department of Motor Vehicles line that suddenly opened up and let people cut the line. It wouldn’t end pretty.

I suspect this is because Tokyo Skytree’s main purpose is to broadcast terrestrial digital television not to provide entertainment for tourists, especially those from outside Japan. Tokyo Skytree was funded by Tobu Railway (who I’m guessing provided the property) and a coalition of six television networks headed by NHK. It’s the NHK connection that I think is telling. NHK is a “publicly owned” and “independent” corporation that everyone is technically, sort of, supposed to support via fees that are technically, sort of mandatory. Its annual budget has to be approved by the government.

This means there’s no real interest in making Tokyo Skytree user friendly. It will continue to exist even if no one visits it. And, in defense of the Powers What Are, a lot of people visit it every year despite the annoyances.

She Who Must Be Obeyed and Listened Once

I started dating She Who Must Be Obeyed by accident. In fact, it’s fair to say she chose me long before I chose her.

I’ve already described our less than impressive first meeting and mentioned how we accidentally started dating after a night of karaoke that was also, sort of, an accident.

A few months after that first meeting/public temper tantrum She Who Would Eventually Be Obeyed joined my Thursday night adult class. At that time, I still thought she was cute but love at second sight also hadn’t happened. During one of our class Christmas gift exchanges (where we put in a slip of paper with our name and desired present on it and then drew names) I joked that I’d put my list in.

She Who Would Eventually Be Obeyed suddenly went “List?! List?!” I didn’t think much of it, other than she was the only student actually listening to what I’d said. Somewhere in the back of my head I heard my mother’s voice telling me stop chasing and start looking around for who was looking at me.

I, of course, immediately ignored that maternal advice as my usual form of pursuit was to pretty much hang out near a woman I was interested in until she mistook me for a helpless puppy and took me back to her house and had sex with me. I eventually realized, though, that a woman who would do that isn’t the kind of woman you want to take home to mother, especially if your mother has pets.

A few months later, after the night of karaoke, as She Who Would Eventually Be Obeyed and I were sharing a back seat on the ride back to Nou Machi, the conversation somehow turned to dating. I remember mentioning to She Who Would Eventually Be Obeyed that if we were dating, or serious or something, I’d cook if she’d do the dishes.

I didn’t think much of it but she took it as an opening because the next morning, without any warning, she called and told me she was coming over. I had two reactions: 1) What have I done? and 2) Why does it look like a bear lives here? I cleaned the house up and she arrived and actually started to do dishes (because I hadn’t for a while).

I told her she didn’t have to do the dishes and took her to a restaurant in a nearby town. We kept dating after that.

 

 

On and On, On and On, On and On

Some where in the archives of the local television station in Nou Machi Japan is a video of me losing patience with a long speech.

To understand why, you have to understand that although the Japanese are not particularly good at giving speeches, they are surprisingly fond of them.

A typical, formal Japanese speech involves a steady monotone that reminds me a great deal of Poet’s Voice. The speaker also reads directly from a text and rarely, if ever, looks up at the audience. This style happens at school opening and closing ceremonies, graduation and even New Year parties. To make matters worse, in the case of graduation, there are actually a number of speeches: The Principal’s Speech; the PTA Head’s Speech; the Student Leader’s Speech; and the Special Guest’s Speech.

In the case of Nou Junior High School, the guest speaker was the principal of one of the local elementary schools. He blathered on about Indonesia and the Asian Financial Crisis and a list of things his mother had served him for breakfast since he was five for about 20 minutes. (Well, maybe he didn’t talk about his breakfast but it actually was that long.)

At minute five I began to get restless. At minute ten I was repeatedly staring at my watch. At minute fifteen I was making a show of staring at my watch. By minute twenty I was shaking my head in exasperation and tapping my watch.

Mercifully, he ended (or he’s still talking and my brain snapped somewhere around minute seventeen and I’ve only imagined my life since then). A week or so later, at my adult class, some of my students commented that they’d seen me on television. They said I looked restless and impatient. I was surprised because I hadn’t noticed the camera being aimed at me; of course, I was too busy staring at my watch.

A couple month’s later I taught at the speaker’s school. He was cool, but polite and I got the impression everyone was watching us to see what was going to happen.

Luckily nothing did; mostly because he didn’t have to give a speech.

Falsies Fake Booties and Failing to Cheer

During the same week where my vision of a mighty fist was destroyed by a teacher, I also had to dress up as a girl.

Because it was homecoming, there was a tradition where the girls played a football game against girls from other grades and unfortunate group of boys got to dress up as girls and be cheerleaders. I was one of those unfortunate boys.

I do not remember how the unfortunate were selected but I vaguely remember there being  some version of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. I think this has to be true because a couple of the popular guys were also cheerleaders.

Now, in other classes, it appeared that the cool and popular guys had volunteered. In a couple cases they also had acquired cheerleader uniforms from some of the girls playing football. Another class had acquired tremendous balloons to give them tremendous, um, appearances.

We, the unfortunate, however, rigged up something resembling, um, appearances and stuffed our shorts to give us something resembling “back”.

Unfortunately, the “back” appeared more like “accident” and many present suggested we needed a trip to the restroom.

Once the game began, we, the unfortunate pretty much stood around and did nothing except stand around. Eventually, it was our girls versus, I think, the seniors, and pretty much the entire school decided to support the seniors. (Including, if I remember correctly, a substantial portion of our class.) Despite one of our unfortunate members encouraging us to actually do a generic cheer, we ended up not doing a single cheer.

None of us wanted to be there and we weren’t going to pretend to have fun. I don’t know if that makes us cowards, rebels or jerks incapable of having fun. Either way, we were just a bunch of unfortunate unfortunates standing around with fake “appearances” and “accidents”.

That pretty much sums up all the class spirit we had. At least that year.

Homecoming Parades and Artistic Disasters

My first chance at creating public art ended in an unrecognizable disaster.

About a thousand years ago when I was a freshman at Hayden High School–or perhaps I was a sophomore–the entire class was gathered together to design our homecoming float for the annual homecoming parade. This was a bad thing for my class.

For some reason the class of 1985–at both HHS and later at Southeast of Saline HS where I would eventually graduate–had an intense dislike of planning such spectacles. I don’t know if this is because we lacked a leader or because, as I suspect, to a person we couldn’t have cared less about the parade. When asked to come up with designs we just kind of stared at each other and went “you decide”.

Eventually, someone, I think his name was Randy, suggested we just have a float with a giant fist in the center and nothing else. Because no one hated the idea, that became our plan. The next step was to find someone to design the float. Because I was interested in drawing random things, everyone looked at me and I was chosen.

If you are keeping score: for sports I was chosen last; for bullshit jobs I was chosen first.

I had no clue what I was doing but managed to produce a sketch of a fist made with chicken wire and we all met at someone’s house to build the float and “pomp” it. For the uninitiated, pomping involves twisting bits of paper and tissue into chicken wire to give the design “shape” and “color” and “life”. It is also one of those jobs where no matter how long you do it, you never seem to make any progress. In fact, it’s the closest you can get to Purgatory without experiencing physical death.

Things became complicated when our faculty adviser (I don’t remember his name) decided that the float needed more than just a fist. In fact, he decided, the fist should be punching the mascot of Whatever The Hell It Was High School (not a real school). This prompted a redesign and pretty much all my effort was ignored as all my designs were thrown out the window. (Many years later I’d read The Fountainhead and realize what I should have done to protect my vision. I could have even given a sixty page speech at my trial.)

For reasons I don’t remember, I wasn’t able to go pomping more than once. Apparently neither was anyone else in my class. The final float looked half finished and no one understood what it was supposed to be. We finished last in the judging. I don’t remember anyone caring much about that.

Once Upon a Time a Blatherer

One of the joys of being a Dad is being able to use Daddy Phrases. The more ridiculous the Daddy Phrase the better.

You grow up hearing these phrases. What you don’t realize is how much fun they are to use. You also don’t realize that they are a kind of test to see not only if you can hear, but also if you’re actually listening.

The old standbys are especially fun. “If you fall down and split your head open, you’re not getting dessert.” (For the record, this is factually correct.)

“If you break your leg, you’re getting a spanking.” (The trick here is leaving off the “eventually”.)

“Don’t talk to your mother like that!” (Even I don’t get to talk to your mother like that.)

My favorites are still “You can have that when you have a job and can pay for it yourself.” Eventually the child gets the money and you say “You can’t have that in my house. When you have your own house you can have anything in it you want.”

That dialogue leads to “Do you want a spanking?” Now, this one is tricky, because although the obvious answer is “no”, it often tricks Tweens and Teens into sarcastically saying “Yeah” and the results are, well, the results. This ends with me saying “Don’t say I never give you what you want.”

And the final classic: “You’ll never be too big to get a spanking.”

It’s also fun to invent your own phrases. When our oldest was learning to walk, we dedicated certain dangerous areas as forbidden zones. When she stumbled into one, my phrase was “That’s a forbidden zone, Oldest. You what that means? It means it’s forbidden.”

Once again, this is a factual statement that still manages to confuse children. That’s the most fun, especially if it means they are actually listening to you.

In the end, what I like about Daddy Phrases is I get to play the fool (which I am disturbingly good at). Then, when I suddenly reveal that I know everything my girls have been up to, it makes me seem kind of psychic.

Bad Blood Bad Throws and Broken Dictionaries

A couple boys were being boys today, which means I had to throw them out of class for a few minutes.

During an attempt to check answers to an assignment, I called on a student, let’s call him Koji. Koji gave the right answer but I mistakenly said he was wrong then corrected myself. This caused my worst student, let’s call him Abaddon, to stand up and start mocking him for being wrong. I told Abaddon to sit down and shut up–or, even better, shut up then sit down–and he condemned my soul to hell but sat down (something like that).

During the next assignment, when I was reviewing my notes and assigning a few marks, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Koji throw a pen at Abaddon who was teasing him again. I got them both quiet again and Abaddon vowed that demons would eat my heart in hell and that someone’s mother sews socks that smell (something like that).

Not a minute later, when I was helping a student realize that, yes, he too had to do the assignment, I saw something large fly through the air and heard a loud thump and crash. Koji had thrown the entire contents of his desk at Abaddon, including an electronic dictionary that ended up so mangled and bent I think it now counts as an iPhone 6.

As they moved toward each other for a real fight, my voice went to 11 and I told both students to get out of my class. Koji stormed out and sat in the hall by door at the back of the classroom. Abaddon suddenly got quiet. This meant he knew he’d crossed a line because usually he puts on a show for the rest of the class. I forced him to sit by the closest door and told both not to talk. They could come back when they were calmed down and ready to work.

Eventually they both came back and after class I marched them down to the teachers’ office to find their homeroom teachers. When I couldn’t find the homeroom teachers, I told the vice-principal what was going on and he went from happy-go-lucky to bad-ass in only one breath. He berated them until a homeroom teacher arrived.

Both boys confessed (although Abaddon only confessed to teasing Koji but didn’t say what he’d actually said that set him off) and the homeroom teacher explained that apparently they’d hated each other since junior high and this was just one in a long line of confrontations.

I told them that next time they fought in my class they’d get more homework than they could possibly imagine.

I also told Koji to just go over and punch Abaddon next time–unless he was really hoping to get a new dictionary.

No, I didn’t say that, but I was thinking it.