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Geoffrey - you are a lucky winner of a vacation in Japan! Yes, we thought the crutches were kinda funny, especially when you see these guys weaving through the traffic bearing their precious cargos of pizzas. This rider had obviously done one weave too many, but nothing could keep him from getting back out there.

Birthday boy

Hayato was our neighbor at our first apartment in Japan. When we moved here he was 3 going on 4, and he turned 7 today! I took him a card, and when I was telling his mommy that we're going to be going to America for Christmas, Hayato appeared confused. Miho explained to him that I'm not Japanese, and that I'm from a different country, a country far away called America. I don't know if it ever really sank in for him, but the whole situation was so cute I just wanted to give him a big hug.


Or, "Too Much Information", was what was going through my mind this morning as I listened to one of the people in our church give her testimony about how God healed her of 12 years of serious constipation. I won't go into all the details, but let's just say that what could have been a simple one-sentence explanation became a five-minute long intimation of some rather gruesome private details.

Yes, seemingly in answer to the little discussion Abigail and I had had yesterday about how the Japanese seemed to be obsessed with feces after we had witnessed some of our little orphanage friends constructing life-like poo mounds for their platicene chicken models, they even turned up in church. Fortunately not in person, but at least rhetorically - and that was more than enough.

It's Christmas!!

Thanksgiving is over and so it is time for the Christmas lights to go up! Well, actually they already went up in our home when we had our Thanksgiving on Tuesday this week. Our Christmas decorations may not be on as grand a scale as the Kobe illuminations, but they are certainly in better taste than some (allegedly) have been.

Part-time sounds like good time to me!

After 2 1/2 years in the school system here in Chiryu, I've asked my boss to put me in as a part-timer for next year (8:30-12:30 M-F). The school year here in Japan runs from April to March, so if this goes through, my new schedule will begin as of April 2005. I work 40 hours a week, but I never have more than 20 50-minute classes during the week anyway, so I'd be able to fit them all in. The English teacher at each school in charge of my schedule would just have to do a bit of juggling. My classes are always spread out but it would be much better for me to do it this new way. I'd have my afternoons free for other things that I really want to do. My boss didn't seem to be negative about it, but told me he has to think about it and talk with the English teachers. Most of the teachers I've talked to say it sounds like a fine idea, but one teacher today was very negative about it. I hope he doesn't have too much influence over my boss's thought processes. I've had some good experiences in the schools, and some negative ones, but I think I'm just ready for a change. Too much desk time. I know, I know, it sounds like a great job (lots of free time), and it is in some ways, but I think some of my brain cells are dying off. We wouldn't want that to continue unabated, now would we.

Barking up the wrong tree

Today in an elective English class, I was telling the students about holidays in America. The students were told by the main Japanese teacher to take notes. After I tried to explain Easter, I noticed one girl had written "bark to life" on her paper. I guess that is easier than trying to spell "resurrection."

I wonder if that two-headed Mexican dog had something to do with it.

Thanksgiving Day! Though it's Tuesday in Japan, Julia (our friend from Arizona) helped us celebrate Thanksgiving a couple of days early. Today was Labor Day in Japan, so we all had the day off and we made it a feast day. Stephen's doing the washing up as I blog, and I'm settling in for a quiet evening curled up on the couch, with the L-tryptophan from the turkey to keep me company. It's certainly triggering the sleep mechanism in this little brain of mine! (I ordered turkey breasts, turkey gravy, and cranberry sauce from an import company, and bought cranberry juice for toasting from a baking/import store nearby. Oh, by the way, notice the Charles Rennie Mackintosh glasses, P and A!) It almost felt like Thanksgiving Day, but not quite. No extended family. No football. No Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade this morning. But it was fun anyway. And I am amazingly thankful for everything God has done for me and in me this past year. I am blessed.

Sesame Street

Don't ask why, but for some reason that neither of us can recall now, we were "debating" about how long Sesame Street had been around last night. Of course, Wikipedia (which is not connected to Wicca, as I used to think) had the perfect article all about the history of Sesame Street to put an end to all the controversy.

So 1969 was the Summer of Love (apparently), Woodstock and Sesame Street. All in all, not too surprising really. After all, despite mankind's capacity for imagination, it is difficult to believe that sane adults could have come up with a show about a giant fluffy yellow bird et al. without the use of some major mind-altering substances.

(And I dread to think what was going on when they came up with The Magic Roundabout or - more scandalously - Captain Pugwash.)

My life flashed before my eyes...

... when I was watching Father of the Bride with Abigail the other evening and, for some unknown reason, I started getting sad at seeing a daughter who we don't even have (and, I hasten to add, of whom there is absolutely no sign at the moment) being married off to some young whipper-snapper.

There must be something sentimental in the water at the moment.

A little furry fella that we saw at the Okazaki Higashi Park yesterday. It got a bit hairy, but we managed to get his picture.

Blindsided by two Missuses

I know just what you mean, Stephen. I was in Starbucks Wednesday after work, meeting my friend Aki for a chat. She was a bit late so I was just standing and waiting, when an obaterian (bossy middle-aged type) smacked into me with a big shoulder bag. She turned around, jumped when she saw my gaijin face, and kept going. The wheels must've been a-turnin' because she came back a minute later, pulled out a small bag of something from within her big bag of somethings, and asked me in Japanese if I'm going to go back to America.

Now, this gets my two-headed goat. There I was with my backpack which has an England badge sewn on in a prominent location. Oh, how I was wishing I wasn't American at that moment. I would love to flummox someone just by saying I'm not American, ha HA, but alas, I cannot tell a lie. Also, I think in the U.S. we assume everyone who enters our country of course would want to stay, but here it's the other way around. Nobody thinks we'll stay longer than a couple of years max.

I'm sure she had good intentions, but it just wasn't what I'm used to here and so I was stumbling around for words. She handed me the little bag, said she'd just been to Hawaii and didn't need the leftover change, and told me I could keep it. It was 28 cents. I'll spend it in remembrance of her.

So Aki arrived, I had my Tazo chai latte in hand, was just settling into a comfy chair for a visit, and I noticed another obaterian type at the next table craning my way. I looked back at her, smiled, and nodded. The next time, the stare was longer and as she turned back to her friend I heard pretty loud comments about the gaijin. And she stared again. This time I said konnichiwa loudly to her. Aki asked if I knew her but I'd never seen her before.

Turns out she's one of my student's mothers. In the U.S. lots of people strike up conversations naturally with strangers (I had to learn not to do that when I was doing a homestay in Brighton, UK, in 1998), but here in Japan I'm always taken aback by abrupt intrusions. I've been here three years, but I think I still have a lot to learn about this culture. I want to learn more and adapt more, but in the meantime, it's still difficult to read signals and understand cultural signposts. It's hard to know how to react appropriately sometimes.

Funny language sideline. After the obaterian but before Aki arrived, I had a conversation with one of the Starbucks employees that I know. She calls herself "Gucci." I was telling Gucci san that I had been to Starbucks the week before with another friend, but before that, it had been a while since I'd been there. So when I was there last week, I had seen lots of carrots. We both had a good laugh. I had meant to say shinjin (new people) but instead had said ninjin (carrots). Whoops.

Mr. Indiscreet

There I was yesterday, quietly minding my own business on my train ride to work, when suddenly a Japanese man appeared alongside my seat clutching a short-bread cookie and asking me where I was from.

As usual in this situation, I was blindsided and didn't have the chance to think of anything pithy to say, so I told him. At which point, he launched into a long monologue about the Latin origin of the adjective "indiscreet" and how tricky its useage can be. Not very tricky at all, I thought: In fact, I can think of an example right now that encapsulates its meaning beautifully.

Anyway, I just kept on replying to him in Japanese and saying how English is just so muzukashii (difficult). After a while, he got the message and left me alone wondering what had hit me.

As usual, afterwards I felt bad that I had been a bit sarcastic and not very friendly. The problem is that it is always very difficult to know what do do and what to say in these situations. It seems to me that English or American people relate to foreigners in an English or American way, unless they know something of the language and culture of the other person. It may not be culturally sensitive, but at least it is a way of relating.

What always catches me unawares in these situations is that not only do these people not relate to me in an English cultural way, but they do not even do it using Japanese cultural forms. (A Japanese man would never approach another Japanese man in the way this guy did on the train.) One is left in a no-man's land with no cultural signposts to follow, and consequently one tries to escape the situation as quickly as possible, only to be left with a guilty sense of somehow having been rude or unfriendly later.

Pink hues of sarcasm

The pink cosmos clouds are floating into autumn here in Japan. This field is owned by one of my students' grandfathers and is next to one of the schools where I work. These lovely cosmos mirror all the precious teenaged blossoms inside the school.

Mexican dog?

Is this what the little fella looked like Abigail?

Now maybe Stephen will believe me

Solomon and Sheba, the two-headed tortoise, has hopefully given me some credibility. One time I told Stephen about a two-headed dog I saw in Mexico many years ago, but he just guffawed and didn't quite believe me. But it's true! It's really, really true.

BBC NEWS UK Shell shock at two-headed tortoise

Beatles classic voted worst song

Abigail was telling me the other day how some Japanese women had been implying she was a strange foreigner for doing her grocery shopping at Powers Big Live instead of the local favorite, Apita.

Now, I immediately came up with, what I thought would be a good come back: The average weekly shop at Apita costs between 3,000 and 4,000 yen more than the same goods bought at Powers. To put that in perspective, over a year this is the kind of money we spend on plane tickets for two to go to the US for Christmas.

But the BBC has come up with an even better rebuttal: Apita plays the official Worst Song Ever on a (seemingly) continuous loop. Not only is that extremely annoying at the time, but it is such an infectiously (as in disease) catchy tune that your brain is often playing it weeks later.

What more do I need to say?

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Beatles classic voted worst song

She'll never get my vote

So we walked into church on Sunday next to Julia, our American friend who's just started teaching in Japan lately, and is 22 and just out of college. We were chatting and laughing, and then suddenly, swoooooooooop, out of nowhere, I got The Question. A lady in the congregation innocently asked if Julia was my daughter. When Stephen and I looked at each other and burst out laughing (incredulous laughs, mind you), I think she realized that she'd made some sort of faux pas concerning the foreigners.

I'm not bitter. I'm not hurt. Really and truly.

Mom, send the undereye cream soon, please.

Food Fight

Japanese Denny's brekkie vs. English brekkie. The first time I went to a Denny's in Japan, I was surprised to find a breakfast with seaweed, rice, and fermented soybeans on the menu. Quite a difference from the Grand Slam breakfast in an American Denny's. And the "western" style one you see here has salad, which I've grown accustomed to and miss in a real western brekkie. The full English breafast on the right speaks for itself. Yum. I think we had at least 6 of those in the U.K. when we were there for Paul and Alison's wedding, which is why we've taken up walking almost every evening since then. For some reason, though, when I had my annual physical check-up for work (after we returned from the U.K.) my cholesterol was the lowest it's been in 3 years. I really don't know how that happened. The breakfast "viking" (Japanese for pig-out all-you-can-eat) in the U.K. certainly didn't contribute to low cholesterol! Fushigi.

Wither the Democratic Party?

With "Moral Values" (whatever meaning that particular phrase holds) topping voters concerns in many states, it seems that this was the fatal weakness of the Democratic campaign.

It seems like they have a problem similar to the one the kept Labour out of power for so long in the UK: A narcisstic focus on positions only palatable to the true believers in the party, but beyond the pale to the other 99% of the population at large.

In the 1980s, a group called "Militant" became a party-within-a-party for the Labour opposition, bringing a radical stance (as their name suggested they would) to even the most trivial areas of policy. After all, who in Britain can forget the Militant-dominated Lambeth Council in London banning children from singing "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" because it was racist? Of course, if you listen carefully, the implication of the lyrics is, in fact, that the black sheep is the only hardworking member of society when it comes to wool-production. After all, who does the protagonist turn to when in need of wool - the white sheep? I don't think so!

Anyway, I digress. The focus on this kind of social issue, and a totally utopian embrace of CND-style unilateral nuclear disarmament rhetoric appealed internally but made the rest of the country vote for sanity, which for some reason meant voting for Mrs. Thatcher's Conservatives.

Fast-forward to 2004 and the United States. Here again we see radicalized minority factions(particularly thinking here of pro-abortion and pro-gay lifestyle groups) taking such a hold of a party's agenda as to put off the majority of the general population.

Of course, the Republicans also have their hardcore minority factions, principally the rich / corporations and the Christian Right. There are two differences, though. First of all, the positions of these groups are not an active hinderance when presenting the Republican Party to the population at large: The moral values of the Christian Right have much greater resonance for many people than the liberal values espoused by the Democrats, and the average Joe can (for some unknown reason) easily be tempted by tax cuts that will net him a few hundred dollars, while the top 1% of earners rake in thousands.

The second reason is that these groups are both highly motivated. They give financially, they vote themselves and they eagerly evangelize their friends. It must be hard for the other side. After all, having seen no changes in major abortion laws under any Republican President (as I discussed before) it must be difficult to motivate the pro-choice voters through fear after 31 years.

So, whither the Democratic Party? Or, wither the Democratic Party?

Will reflection reveal the need to come back to the mainstream on what the public perceive are moral issues? Will the leadership (such as remains with Daschle being taken out) realize the desire among many centrist voters for (what they perceive as) a morally acceptable party that has concern about social issues near the top of its agenda? Or will they be spending a generation in the Wilderness before a new Tony Blair-type comes to their rescue?

Worrying statistics

Maybe about 0.4% of Japan is Christian. This seems very low in itself, but just how that might change in the next decade (all other things being equal) was revealed by some statistics a well-placed friend just passed on to me:

  • 70% of Japanese pastors are over 70 years old. (In the Nihon Kirisuto Kyoudan the average age of the pastors is 84! This is higher than the average life expectancy in almost every other country!)
  • Almost all churches in Japan have 30 or fewer people in their congregations.

So, whither the church in the next 10 years? We will report from the scene and keep you updated.

(Just kidding about the "10 years" part, mum/mom and dad - or was I..... :) )

The Gurniad's wheeze backfires

I wanted to post a link to this part of the BBC reporter's election blog, but the link is unspecific and the conten is going to change, so I am just posting it in full here. (Sorry BBC, but that is what happens if you don't set up your blog right!) We wrote about the original story here and thought you would be interested in this update:

"Could the Guardian and its Operation Clark County be responsible for a second Bush term?

That was one topics round the water cooler today, and it seems we're not the first to think of it. Just dipping into the Guardian's blog, someone has written in: "Just wanted to thank the Guardian for helping deliver Ohio to Bush. Cheers!"

For those of you who aren't familiar with Operation Clark County, it was a project launched by the left-leaning Guardian newspaper in the UK. The well-meaning but not well received project attempted to link political pen pals in Britain with residents of Clark County, Ohio. The letters were meant to allow Guardian readers to let Americans know important their election was for the rest of the world.

Well, a fair number of Americans, even ones who weren't particularly fond of George W Bush, found the whole project condescending at best and mostly an unwanted, unwarranted foreign attempt to influence a US election.

Republican friends fumed and Democratic friends groaned. Most of the responses I can't include in this family-friendly blog. But one Clark County resident with a sense of restraint wrote: "Mind your own business. We don't need weenie-spined Limeys meddling in our presidential election."

The results in Clark County? Al Gore won the county by 1% in 2000. John Kerry lost the county by 2%, just shy of 2,000 votes, this time.

Actually, the Republican campaign ran a stealth campaign to get out the vote in rural counties that overwhelmingly supported President Bush. They hoped to net 150,000 votes. George Bush won the state by 136,483 votes. It was probably down to this stealth get-out-the-vote campaign, but Republican leaders said the Guardian project helped fire up their base, especially in Clark County.

Ouch. Maybe American grief counsellors can donate their time to comfort inconsolable Guardian readers."

Election footnote

"Eleven states also approved constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage. " (BBC)

Buried underneath the Bush victory and Republican gains in both Houses of Congress is this single line. What makes this story more significant than it first appears is that, in fact, it refers to all eleven states that had these amendments on the ballot.

So, the people have spoken - but will the courts (particularly the Supreme Court) or maverick officials heed them? Let's watch and see.

Autumn falls across the land...

It's starting! The leaves are turning and Fall (Autumn) is here!

This little guy was helping at a private car parking facility in Asuke, where we went to see the fall leaves today with our friends Mike and Andrea. The sign around his neck says, "Spaces Available". Unfortunately for him, we didn't take him up on his offer, and parked round the back of the public hall for free instead. The parking spaces there were clearly marked for use by people who were using the facility, so we made sure we used their facilities before setting out.

More voter confusion

Forget the hanging chads and the missing absentee ballots. (Although, speaking of the absentee ballots, why are we surprised if they have gone absent without leave - they are just doing what they say they do.)

Anyway, what about confusing the voters with the wording of the ballot itself...

"President and Vice President (Vote for One) "

Voter: So you can vote for Bush or Cheney, Kerry or Edwards? Vote for one????

"Shall Judge David Monaco of the Fifth District Court of Appeal be retained in office."

Voter: How the h**k am I suppose to know? What do you think I am, a fortune teller? The election hasn't even been held yet!

I heard that in California voters get a big booklet about all the issues weeks in advance. Great idea! It certainly seems like you would need to do a lot of preparation....

Here's looming at you, kid

And heeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's Mum! She's demonstrating the versatility of her new loom from Holland and is making some beautiful new clothes for the emperor. Looks like it was a puzzle to put together after it came disassembled. Congrats on the birth of your new loom, Mum.

First anniversary!

Wow! Has it been a year already since I started working at Internet Support here in Anjo? It doesn't seem that long, although I have learned a lot about business Japanese and the Internet since then.

Here's to another year. Cheers!

(Actually, I am not toasting you, dear readers, as I am at work right now.)


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