Monthly Archives: January 2016

Seven Hundred and Some Dishes

Today marks the 700th post in a row since I started this bit of blather and it will be a fairly short one as I’m about to argue with one of my daughters and won’t have time to do a retrospective.

She Who Must Be Obeyed is sick which leaves me in charge of cooking and cleaning in addition to my usual duties of issuing instructions, being ignored, enforcing instructions, becoming bad guy, etc.

I managed to get our youngest sent to bed although there is no actual evidence she brushed her teeth.

Our oldest is studying for a high school entrance exam this coming Friday and believes that exempts her from doing the handful of dishes from tonight’s supper. I will soon prove how mistaken she is, especially when she takes a break to check texts and Twitter on her tablet.

A few steps will then ensue:
–I will attempt Daddy Logic first by saying “Since you’re not doing anything, go wash dishes”.
–She will ignore me.
–I will raise my voice slightly.
–She will ignore me.
–I will raise my voice slightly more.
–She will, at this point, remove one earphone–the one farthest away from me–and say “What?” in a way that indicates how annoying I’m being.
–I will repeat my request.
–She will snap that it’s impossible because she’s busy.
–I will tell her not to talk to me like that.
–She will snap that she doesn’t understand what “that” means.
–I will promise to turn off the Wi-Fi hub and cut her off from the net if she doesn’t go do the dishes “right now”.
–She will react with a huff.
–I will tell her not to huff at me.
–She will deny that she huffed at me.
–I will repeat my promise to unplug the W–Fi hub if she doesn’t go do the dishes.
–She will pretend she doesn’t care about using the net and return to checking texts because “teen logic”.
–I will unplug the Wi-Fi hub.
–She will panic and go do dishes.

She will, however, neither dry anything nor put anything away.


Sky Fall Brings the Ice and the Boots

Okay, I admit it, the boots look silly, but so does sprawling on the pavement.

The worst part about getting to school after a big snow storm is the ice leftover because the city didn’t clear the sidewalk and because large sections of road don’t have sidewalks, just piles of icy slush.

I dug out my ancient hiking boots which, oddly, have actually been hiking a few times, but which I mostly use for snow. They are leather with random bits of Gore-Tex and I think I got them from REI when I was still in Niigata, making them over 16 years old.

Note: That tells you how infrequently they get used. They are the first shoes I ever bought over the internet and I was very happy they fit, which is why I’ve kept them so long.

The worst part of the walk is usually from our apartment to the main road, but today, the sidewalk was the easiest part of the walk. The worst part was the random glaze-ice traps along the street to our closest station and on the sidewalk from the station near the school to the school. I did a few fancy side steps, one forward moonwalk and one less than graceful Telemark-style slide.

I thought about taking the bus, but the lines were too long.

The worst trip to the school ever, though, involved frozen ice. We’d had snow, the snow had melted, then the snow had frozen and been topped, right before the start of the morning commute, with freezing rain. The streets and sidewalks both were a frozen mess. I trekked, in small steps, across seemingly endless fields of frozen slush before arriving at school.

About five minutes after I arrived at school I was told that school was delayed. A few minutes after that I was told school was cancelled because a lot of teachers couldn’t make it back in. Luckily, my English colleague arrived, and after a few minutes of him venting about Japanese drivers and ice, he gave me a ride to the station,

I managed to get home in one piece, but I was too exhausted after that trip to actually enjoy being home. I think ended up taking a nap.

The Snow on the Plain Mainly Stops the Train

One of the things the English teachers in Niigata discovered their first December in Japan is that it’s awesome.

They arrive during Hell and enjoy the temporary relief of Awesome, but then discover why their new home is nicknamed “Snow Country” when they sky turns grey and falls for days, and even throws in some lightning and thunder.

By the time December arrives, they been through one phase of culture shock, are in a second, and are desperate to get home to see loved ones or desperate to get to Thailand to, well, yeah. On the way, the one’s heading home, arrive in Tokyo and discover it is bright and sunny and relatively warm. Tokyo suddenly becomes their favorite place to visit in the world during the season of Static.

This winter, thanks to the recent  El Niño, has been an extension of Awesome. In fact, until last weekend, it had been light Jacket weather–note: my colleague from Hawaii strongly disagrees with that description. Normally it’s cold, but sunny with a rich blue sky. Then suddenly, in January, it isn’t. Today, especially, it wasn’t.

This doesn't seem like much, but it was enough...

This doesn’t seem like much, but it was enough…

Last night it started raining and when we woke up, we found four inches (10 cm) of snow on the ground. The news reports also had lists of trains that had been delayed and the one I take was on it. The train problems occurred farther up the line in the foothills and mountains but several train lines in the flatland were also having trouble. That sent me to the computer to discover that the start of classes had already been delayed an hour at the school where I work.

Our youngest’s school had been delayed two hours but our oldest’s was still on schedule. (Being a teen she, of course, went to school with no winter coat or muffler.) Then, after more updates, my train line was shut down completely.

I ended up working at home–although the reasons for this are complicated–as I used the opportunity to do some re-planning and lesson planning.

At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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.


Cheesecake and Making Ready to Write About Stuff

I spent part of today smearing ink with my fingers. Just to be safe, I did it on two different pieces of paper. I also took a lot of pictures.

As part of my occasional quest to, on occasion, appear productive, I spent the afternoon taking pictures of a few things I plan to review. For a future ink review I had to track down a quote from This is Spinal Tap. That, of course, led me to spend some time watching clips from the movie.

I call this “research.”

After a half-hour or so of research, I then had to write out the quote on a piece of paper, and then draw a few lines and see how many seconds it took them to dry. The lines didn’t dry quickly and I ended up with inky fingers.

That prompted me to try a different piece of paper and then to dribble water over parts of the pages to see how the ink held up to water.

Luckily, no one in my family saw me do this so I didn’t have any ‘splainin’ to do. (Although part of me is curious to know what the reaction would have been so there may be more “ink testing” in the future.)

I now have to edit the pictures I took and decide what day I’m going to write the actual review.

Then there were pictures of pens and a valiant but ultimately failed attempt to catch up on a few daily projects I’ve been neglecting. Yeah, I know that catching up on daily projects in a single day means they are not, technically, daily projects, but I want to catch up on them in order to keep up with something resembling a habit.

The day ended with homemade cheesecake as we finally had a full day to finish celebrating our oldest’s birthday (we had the celebratory dinner yesterday. More on that in another post.)

Now I have to get to bed because I’m working tomorrow. Perhaps I need to double check the definition of “weekend”.



Probably Breaking Up is Hard to Do

One of Japan’s most popular boy bands is apparently breaking up. More or less.

This week Japan was rocked, more or less, with the news that four of the five members of SMAP would be leaving Johnny & Associates (run by the 80 something Johnny Kitagawa) to join with a new talent agency.

I remain skeptical (but more on that later).

For those who don’t know, SMAP, which stands for Sports Music Assemble People (and NOT, much to my surprise, Satan’s Minions Are Popular) have been one of the hottest pop groups in Japan since 1991. They are primarily dancers and entertainers not singers–in fact, Masahiro Nakai, the “leader” of SMAP is a notoriously bad singer–but as a result of their popularity, and Japan’s quirky way of integrating popular groups into television, they also dominate Japanese television as emcees and actors. (Nakai is a terrific emcee on all three of the TV shows he hosts.)

However, as the members approach their mid-40’s, some of them seem to be seeking a new talent agency. Only Takuya Kimura (whom I’ve dubbed “SMAP Boy” for various complicated reasons I won’t explain right now) plans to remain in Johnny’s, but he’s also the one that’s been granted the most favors, including permission to marry.

Note: Japan’s entertainment industry operates like a version of the old Hollywood studio system crossed with the military. Members of an agency like Johnny’s are expected to work under salary, with bonuses based on their popularity, and are often ordered not to date and/or get married. Violating that rule can get people kicked out.

What makes me skeptical about all this is that four are leaving. If only Nakai was leaving, or perhaps the less popular Goro Inagaki, I could understand, but having four leaves seems like a publicity stunt to me. SMAPs been around 25 years so, and have been nearly replaced on television by a group called Arashi. and there are some rumors that this “break up” might be a ploy to see if SMAP has any fans left.

Either way, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out. If they are actually breaking up, it could signal the end of an era. More or less.


Drawing the Jumbo With Arrows

As much fun as it is to play with balls, it’s a lot more fun to shoot arrows at stuff.

With all the high finance involved with the latest Lotto America (aka The Clever Tax on the Poor) I thought I’d mention Japan’s way of doing the lottery.

Japan runs four lotteries a year, called “Jumbos” and gives out about 1.4 billion dollars a year between them, with the largest amount being handed out in the New Year Lottery.

There are a couple things that make Japan’s lottery intriguing.

First, there are multiple first prizes of around 400 million yen (3.39ish million dollars US) and dozens of secondary prizes worth thousands of dollars. The money is given out in a tax free lump sum and there are limited numbers of numbers making the odds of winning something slightly better than TCTotP.

Second, and even better, the winning numbers are chosen by arrows. At the big drawing, several spinning targets with numbers are set up several feet from machines that shoot arrows. Next to each target is a cute model dressed like an airline cabin attendant who, after a countdown, presses a button that fires an arrow at the target. Numbers are then called out and some people are happy and some are still hoping.

This is a lot better than watching balls roll out of an air machine. Although, in defense of balls, the arrow drawings do go on a long time.

Although I’m eligible, I’ve never played the lottery. (I have more fun things to waste my money on.) I did have a ticket once, though, when a restaurant I ate at with my karate sensei gave us a free ticket because we ordered either whale or sake. My sensei handed me the ticket and told me we’d split it 40% (him) 60% (me) if we won.

We didn’t win, though, but it was fun watching the arrows.


Hearing the Piano Without Sound

For over a half hour or so I heard strange sounds in our apartment.

They were one part soft thumps and one part something that sounded like the water backing up in the drain behind our house. Because our oldest was taking a bath, I thought she might be messing with the water. The problem was the thumps weren’t accompanied by the hiss of running water. This made me afraid the toilet might be having issues.

Then the sounds stopped and our oldest entered the variety room still in her day clothes, which meant she hadn’t taken a bath. She was flexing her fingers, though, and I realized what I’d been hearing.

One of the creepier things our daughters do is play the piano without sound. If you don’t know they’re doing it, it’s especially creepy. The piano is a Kawai digital piano (similar to this one). It has proper keys and levers that make it feel like a proper piano (which we can’t own in this complex) but it can by silenced by plugging in a pair of headphones.

The girls mostly do this kind of practice at night when the sounds of the piano would disturb the neighbors or when one of us (usually one of them) wants to watch a show at the same time the other is practicing.

Even when you’re sitting in the room with them, it’s kind of odd. It’s a bit like hearing the bass part of a song leaking out of a pair of headphones. Watching them is like watching a less-than-sane person play a broken piano.

This, does, though, leave me with a dilemma. Should I be proud of our oldest for practicing or mad at her for not taking a bath and going to bed as she was supposed to?

I suspect the answer is “yes”.


The Something Like Happiness of Low Expectations

I’m not sure what to think about what happened in class today.

Nothing happened, and that has me a bit worried.

As a rule, when I start the new year, even though it’s not a new school year, I tend to approach each class as a new start. Well, not with my worst class, I expect them to be bad.

Today they weren’t, but the so-called “higher level” half of them were and I’m not sure what that means.

It could be that because my expectations were so low for them, I abandoned any pretense of trying to do anything fun. My colleague had plans for games and sundry activities. I started with a plan to do an activity (albeit not a fun one) and then changed plans and did something a lot simpler.

The students were reasonably quiet and did the work. Granted, for some of them “doing the work” means waiting until someone smarter finishes and then copying their paper. They did this today even though the answers were supposed to come via an interview which makes it look like a lot of my students are actually the same person with different faces. (This actually explains a lot.)

Because I came in with low expectations I was worried when it appeared as if they would all finish sooner than I expected, which meant some of them would never finish. Luckily, their natural distraction took over and the worst students slowed down.

They did spend most of the class testing me, though. One refused to stand at first during the warm up; one started using bad Japanese words until he realized I understood and then he stopped; one tried calling me “Mr. Jason” which is their old nickname for me; the one who refused to stand up thought he’d get away without showing his print. Then he seemed to remember what happened the last time he tried that and quickly copied someone else’s answers (adding yet another face to the one student).

As classes with my worst class go, it wasn’t a bad day. My colleague, though, had lots of trouble. Her students wouldn’t listen to the game rules and she didn’t finish everything she’d planned. It’s an odd day in deed when I’m happy with my class and she’s not.

I’d tell their homeroom teacher about how good they were, but they’d just be terrible the next time.




Planning for the Last Bit of Craziness

I’m trying to plan for what’s coming, but I’m not sure it will help.

I’ve written before how the third term at the school where I work is kind of crazy. There are odd days and cancelled days and every grade ends at different times. Some classes never seem to end, and those are almost always my worst classes because “karma” and “bitch”.

This term my one student in my high school third year class has already informed me he won’t be attending his one class. I’ll have to show up for work anyway as I have a class later in the afternoon, but part of me is already planning what to do with that time. I’m pretty sure I’ll show up earlier than I have to, just not at the usual time.

What I do when I get there I do not know.

At the end of February, high school first and second years end early and start exams. A couple days after that junior high school third years end and start exams. At some point, we are marking exams and passing them back whilst we are still teaching grades that haven’t ended. Then, when we’re tired and ready for a break, we suddenly have another batch of exams to mark.

In truth it’s not that hard, it’s just that anything resembling a teaching rhythm is suddenly gone and that makes it feel surreal. You wake up a couple times and try to remember where you’re supposed to be and if you really need to get up or not. (The fear that you’re missing something is what wakes you up.)

Also, because the term is half as long as the others, there isn’t a lot of time to introduce new material. This means almost all final exams are comprehensive which means we have to calm rooms of panicked young men who haven’t followed the rules to keep all their notes and handouts in an easy to access location.

Many of them ask me for copies of the print and I tell them I don’t make any extra copies. If they ask why not I just say it’s because “karma” and “bitch”.

They don’t understand, but it’s still kind of fun to say.