Category Archives: Uncategorized

Crazy Japan Times Facebook Invasion: Summer Olympics 2016 Day Four

Another day, another dollar: A

Another day, another free post: C-

Yellow card system in Judo: A

Judo referee waving hand over head to overturn previous ruling: A

Cross Country Equestrian: A

Using “equestrian” instead of “horseback riding”: C

Calling it “Cross Country Horseback Riding”: A

Dressage: B

Changing name to “horse kata” instead of “dressage”: A+

Unnecessary French: C-

Equestrian terms that sound dirty but probably aren’t:  impulsion (schwung).

German terms that sound dirty but probably aren’t: A-

Most painfully British name perfect for horseback riding: William Fox-Pitt

William Fox-Pit overcoming brain damage and double vision last December: A

Double vision: C-

Double Vision: B+

Feeling down’n’dirty, feeling kinda mean: D

Having a chorus that sounds as if it’s from a different style song: C

Looking up old song to see it the former’s true: A-

Foreigner: B

Being a foreigner: Most days: A- THOSE days: F-

THOSE days in general: F

Calling ping pong “table tennis”: C

Best sword fighting (fencing) term: Duck Stop

Ibtihaj Muhammad: A

Replay reviews in sword fighting: B-

Adding blood squibs to sword fighting uniform to denote hits: A

Beheading loser: B-

Game of Thrones: A-

Watching the Olympics with US television commercials for the first time in years: F

Japan winning men’s all-around in gymnastics: A

Gymnastics: A

Men’s floor routine: A for no music.

Women’s floor routine: C- for requiring music.

Forcing women to dance while men do sports: C

The Unforgiven Minutes

If you can keep from laughing when all about you
are panicking and it’s not your fault, you will be a decent human. 

This is especially true when your voice is needed.

Today one of my colleagues at the school where I work discovered a mistake on the listening section of the exam. Because it was part of a logic problem, the mistake effected more than one question and made it impossible for us to simply make corrections on the board.

Unfortunately, the mistake was discovered just 15 minutes before the exam started which limited the possible options.

It was decided that we should rerecord one line of the listening test–yes, it was one wrong name in one line that caused all this–and then quickly splice the line in and burn a new CD and then play that for the listening.

This meant my voice was needed which meant I had to do actual work. We got the key to the recording studio but two of us had our IDs and passwords rejected by the network, proving the exam was cursed. Eventually we were able to record the listening, but decided to warn the Powers What Are that the listening test had to be postponed.

(Note: all this could have been accomplished by having me do a live reading of the entire mistaken section of the exam and I would have except for “work” and “lazy”.

In the end, it all seemed to work out. My voice sounded awesome and one colleague proved to be an expert at splicing it in so that my voice sounded awesome seamlessly.

I felt sorry for the colleague in charge of the exam as I’ve been there when things went wrong and everyone was looking at me.

We’ll still tease him about it, but we’ll be more careful about the exams in the future…

The Problem With Health Checks

I had to break a woman’s heart and make her life more difficult. Oddly, we are neither dating nor married. Also oddly. I have to do what she tells me. Sort of.

I am approaching my annual mandatory health check (a by-product of being older than 40 and on the national health insurance) and it started with a positive email from the company I work for. Ms. Sigh (not her real name) told me it was time for my annual health check and after I told her “No barium” she told me my health check was at the end of June.

The problem is, as I told her, the end of June is one of the busiest times of the term and to go to health check I’d have to miss classes at the school where I work. Even worse, because I’d have to have camera shoved down my throat I’d be both irritable and hungry once I returned to work. (After getting the camera I’m not supposed to eat for a few hours.) Also, my voice would be hoarse and I’d be grumpier than normal.

Note: Ms. Sigh has no clue what happens during the health check and doesn’t understand that I’ll need a nap not a lesson plan once I’m finished.

Oddly, this same thing happened last year except the staff of the company I work for showed up at the school where I work and announced I’d have to do the health check and one of my colleagues could cover my classes. This led to exploding heads and lots of angry phone calls so I’m surprised they tried this again.

I don’t mind the health checks, but I can’t miss work, especially at the end of the term when we are preparing for final exams and i’ll be missing final classes.

As of now all I know is I will have a health check “someday”. Sigh.

Once More Into the Beerch

I didn’t start flirting until the guy they were with tried to dismiss us. That’s when beer fueled orneriness kicked in.

Today was my second visit to the Keyaki Beer Festival. This time I met up with a former colleague and a current colleague.

I got there early to get some food before I started drinking, but as it turned out, I ended up getting a beer from one of our Temporary Friends Forever who helped us get a seat the last time we went. As always, the crowd was great. When I was eating, a guy started talking to me in English and we had a nice chat.

Eventually the former colleague arrived and we began sampling various beers. I also became a kind of pusher for one of the places you could buy food: (“choriso”, hamburger steak and sliced Iberico pork steak.) The thick slice of bacon steak was also pretty good.

We tried something called “Pepper Porter” which turned out to be awesome and earned us the attention of a young couple who praised out choice. We found out he’s a cook at at wine bar and she’s a cook at a French restaurant. They eventually moved on, but that’s part of the reason even an introvert such as me likes the beer festival.

Another colleague arrived later, but by that time he had a lot of catching up to do. We would get beer, block the place from other people, and then move on to a different place. Unfortunately, because this was the last day of the festival, many of the best beers were running out along with some of the best food. The two of us who arrived early had a beer but by the time the second colleague arrived, the beer had run out.

Instead we got a different flavor and commandeered an empty section of table to use as a beer stand. That’s when me met a guy sitting with two women. We commented on all the samples he had in front of him and how few were in front of the ladies he was with.

At some point, as we chatted with the ladies, he more or less thanked us for playing and then dismissed us. That’s when beer kicked in and I started flirting with his two companions.

There was no where for it to go–as all three of us our married–but it did annoy the man who dismissed us. That made it kind of fun.


A Time to Make Plans; A Time to Cast Away Plans

I’ve never been one to allow a good plan to get in the way of my leisure time. This is even more of an issue when the plan wasn’t that good to begin with.

The plan was get up, get ready, go out, find ink, bring ink back, sell ink. The only catch in the system would be what would happen if there was no ink. My alternate plan was to visit a couple pen shops and use them as fodder for future posts. I also have a couple posts to write so that was the final alternate plan.

Turns out there were other alternate plans.

The day started with a very rare bout of oversleeping, although, technically, it was not oversleeping because I went to bed late.

If I have some place to be, I’m pretty good at getting up on time and getting ready. However, in the past I’ve tended to reverse polarity, so to speak, and change “early to bed, early to rise” to “go to bed whenever, get up whenever”.  Last night whenever was well past 1:00 a.m. and my body decided to hit snooze a few times and wake up with my usual hours of sleep.

The trouble is, that threw off the rest of the day. Plans to go out became excuses to stay in. Plans to work on next week’s “work” day assignments became plans to work on personal stuff. Plans to work on personal stuff became a conversation with a friend. Plans to do personal stuff after the conversation with a friend became game time.

(Note: I only had the conversation with the friend because I noticed he was online playing the game. So, technically, the conversation was interrupting a plan that had already been interrupted.)

Tomorrow I have actual work, sort of, and then have plans to go out after. The problem is, that plan to go out after the actual work changes the way I planned to dress for the actual work tomorrow.

Good With Faces That Don’t Change

I’ve always maintained that I’m terrible at remembering names but good at remember faces. That may be changing, like some of the faces I saw today.

I spent part of today teaching students who are thinking about joining a program that will prepare them for study overseas. The trouble is, it took me a while to realize that some of them were the same students I’d taught before.

I also found a spy. (More on that later.)

I started teaching at 1:00 p.m. and, because there were faces I didn’t recognize, and some of the students I’d taught before were now in the program, my brain made the leap that everyone was new.

Eventually, I realized that one of the young men looked familiar, and he was sitting next to a young woman who looked familiar. Then as I looked around other faces started to look familiar I had started having one of those horror movie moments where you suddenly realize that you are surrounded by ghosts of familiar people.

Some of them had changed their hairstyles and gained or lost weight and, in my defense, I last saw them in early October when hay fever was still a problem and a lot of them were wearing masks.

Still, it was a surreal feeling to suddenly have all those faces seem familiar.

I also discovered that one of my students from last week is the younger sister of one of my former students at the school where I work. This means that, with little trouble, she will could learn all my secret tricks. It’s probably for the best that I’m not her regular teacher.

That said, I’m going back in about a month and might end up teaching her. I hope her brother doesn’t give away too many secrets.

I also have a feeling I might teach today’s students at least one more time. I just hope I can remember what they look like.


Cash is King After Christmas

One of the reasons Christmas isn’t that big of a deal in Japan is that the real presents come in small envelopes on New Year’s Day.

I’ve mentioned before how part of the New Year’s tradition is for relatives to hand out envelopes full of cash to their nieces, nephews and random cousins. The tradition is called otoshidama and can make discipline rather problematic at the end of the year. After all, it’s hard to threaten “no Christmas presents for you this year” when your kids know their grandparents and the aunt they only see once a year are going to hook them up with loads of cash just a week later.

Although traditions vary from family to family, it’s generally understood that the older the child, the greater the cash reward. For example, our in-laws dealt out 15,000 yen ($124) to three young relatives: 7,000 went to the oldest child, 5,000 to the middle and 3,000 to the youngest. With immediate relatives the amounts get larger. Our girls both got 10,000 yen ($83ish) from their grandparents (and that’s only the money we know about).

Our youngest's early takings: 22,000 yen or about $182.

Our youngest’s early takings: 22,000 yen or about $182. More came later. 

After the otoshidama is handed out, our girls have become masters at disappearing the money so that we cannot find it. However, they understand that the bulk of the money will go into savings not stuff. Mind you “understanding” and “following through” are much different things and we usually have to “encourage” them to hand over the money. (We also know most of their hiding places…)

The cut off date for receiving otoshidama varies from family to family. Some stop giving the cash when the kids start university; others when they turn 20 (the age of adulthood); others after the kids graduate university. I’ve had at least one 24 year old student in her second year of her first job claim that she still received otoshidama from her parents and grandparents.

At this point, all the envelopes have been received and our oldest has 47,000 yen ($389) and our youngest, I suspect, has well over 35,000 yen ($290). From what I’ve heard from students at the school where I work and the other school where I work this is about average.

This, of course, means that drinks are on our girls when we head home.

That Thing Which You Knew Would Happen But Denied

If I survive tomorrow, I probably won’t emerged unscathed. Luckily, I’ve already had enough children.

You see, I’m going to teach at an elementary school tomorrow.

The best way to describe why what’s going to happen tomorrow is going to happen is “drip, drip, drip”. Five years ago or so, the company for which I work started tweaking the way they do things.

Prior to five years ago or so, one of the perks of the job (in fact, the only real bonus we got) was summers off with full pay. (That’s the 6-8 week Japanese school year summer.) However, a few years ago, we got a schedule with something called “work days” listed through out the summer.

After a short protest, we were assured it was nothing applicable to us at the school where I work. The very next year, it was applicable and we were required to produce some kind of work: we could produce lesson plans or teaching materials or we could work at NGOs not related to the company. (Which some of us did.)

If we didn’t do any of those things, we were expected to take a paid holiday or we wouldn’t get paid for the day.

As time went on, the rules for submission got more and more complicated, sometimes requiring multiple submissions, and we had an extra layer of fake management put between us and the real management. (Long story; short version: firewalls.) We also started having training sessions one time, then two times and now three times a year with the higher tier fake management. The training sessions are always scheduled during times we might be tempted to sneak off for a vacation.

The newest rules tell us we have to actually be in Japan, on call and ready to go to work and if we are not called we are then expected to produce the lesson plan, etc. and that the material and/or the reports can’t be sent in before noon. This essentially traps us in our homes in the morning during what used to be days off.

The final drip occurred this month when they finally insisted we do substitutions at other schools. I’d told them that, since we didn’t have a choice, they could at least respect our seniority by giving us a week’s notice rather than calling us up and sending us out at the last minute.

In their defense, that’s what they did, but the way it was done was via drip, drip, drip too. (In a nutshell: an email, a call to say we’d be on stand-by; a second call with “oh by the way, there is a morning assignment” and then an email with “thanks for agreeing to work all day at this school”.

I haven’t worked in an elementary school for almost 16 years and I’m not sure they realize I don’t have the materials I think I’m expected to have. My elementary school self-defense reflexes are also rusty, so I hope I remember enough karate to keep myself safe.

If I survive unscathed, I’ll have some time off to consider the future. Just to make sure, I’ve already requested a paid holiday in January on a day I know it’s most likely I’d be sent out as a substitute.

Sometimes They Try to Con You

Note: WordPress was having issues yesterday and I was unable to post this. Here it is now. I hope.

Yesterday, as I was on my way to my last class, a student stopped me and handed me a piece of paper. The piece of paper was an official note challenging an absence I’d given him earlier in the term.

Unfortunately he’d chosen an excuse that was impossible for me to believe.

First you have to understand that in the school where I work it is possible to fail, at least in high school. One of the guaranteed ways to fail is to miss one-third of the classes for the year. From this there is no salvation. If students fail based on low scores, they can take make-up exams and get passing scores.

This particular student has never been a particularly good student. When I had him in class last year he was bad and this year he just started skipping every other class. At his point, with three classes left in the term, he’s already failed the term because of absences. He can only afford four (possibly five, long story) more absences or he fails the entire year.

Because of this, he approached me with the challenge note and explained that he’d actually been present in September on a day I’d marked him absent. He said he’d been in class, but had merely been in the wrong chair.

Now, there’s a lot that’s wrong with this excuse. First, he’s not the quiet type. If he were in the class, I’d have noticed and told him to get back to his seat or get out. If he were in the USA he’d have been put on drugs years ago. In Japan he refuses to sit still and inevitably walks around and talks to his friends.

I’d do that because, Second, the classroom is small and the only seats he could sit in besides his own would be in front of me.

Third, I can count and would notice the class was full. I would also call out his name if his chair was absent and at least seven people would have pointed him out to me and I’d have told him to get in his seat or get out.

Fourth, he chose a day when I was handing out the official “textbook” pages. (Long story.) If I’d thought he was absent, I would have set aside a paper with his name on it and given it to him the next time he was present. The odds of him having that paper with my handwriting on it are very high.

I conferred with his homeroom teacher and explained my argument and he said. “it’s up to you.” I rejected the challenge and don’t expect much follow up.

The funny part is, because he’s late a lot, if he’d said I’d marked him absent because he was “in the toilet” for 20 minutes I might have believed him. Instead he chose poorly.

An Ordinary Day with Phantom Clerks

I had some free time today and, because it was payday, I decided to do some running around/conspicuous consumption. Unfortunately, part of my conspicuous consumption was disturbed by bad clerks.

The first part of the day involved banking. Go to the ATM on one corner, encourage the Japanese people who are being slow because they don’t understand the ATMs to go to a bank, teach them how to “pick a finger”, get money and then cross the street to a different ATM and deposit rent money.

Except for the impromptu “gestures lesson”, that part of the day went surprisingly smoothly and we are now able to stay in our apartment for at least another month.

After that, my plan was to head to an electronics shop to buy some lens attachments for my smartphone because “boy” and “toys”. I found the lenses I was looking for but because Japan is such a safe and honest nation they were strapped together by plastic ties like those that keep the dangling labels attached to your clothes. That meant I couldn’t just grab them and head to the register. Also, because Japan doesn’t let me carry a pocket knife (legally. Ahem.) I was forced to try and find a clerk with a pair of scissors to cut the cord.

Despite the store having just opened and despite the fact there were only a few customers, I couldn’t find a clerk. I finally found one guy in a uniform but he ignored me as he is apparently only involved with shipping and/or repairs and/or being an asshole.

I tried to teach him how to pick a finger, but he wasn’t looking at me. I kept trying to find a clerk, but the only one’s I could see were working the registers or helping a customer.

After a few minutes of looking around, I gave up on the purchase and went to the next phase of my day. That involved a haircut and whisky and trying to find a safe place for lunch. (More on that in a future post.)