Friday, December 31, 2004
yoi otoshi wo!
Monday, December 27, 2004
There's a stack of dishes in my sink :-\
Anyone know where Fiji is? Alex and Hitomi are there...we were thinking it would be kinda funny if Fiji were entirely destroyed and it hadnt been in the news because everyone forgot about it.
I hear from Jon and Justin that the US news is treating this like no big deal, but its kinda huge - the entire economy of indian-ocean-rim-asia is based on tourism, like 75%, and the entire tourist infrastructure was just wiped out. What the fuck are they gonna do?
But, my friends are okay, so whatever, life is suffering, theyll cope. At least the US is pitching in 15 million dollars. Thats like, the cost of the last missile they dropped on a school somewhere. Whoops. But yeah.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year you poor fucks. You can crash at my place, but you gotta do my dishes.
Friday, December 24, 2004
Christmas in Japan
Im like what? after we clean what?
and she says tomorrow is an office cleaning day.
Me too I ask? Of course she says, its a regular work day.
What? How come it isnt on my schedule? My schedule shows Christmas off...
Oh well your schedule (that I gave you) is wrong. Why, did you have plans?
Well yes I was going to go to Matsuyama with my girlfriend...I kinda made all the plans because my schedule says I have the day off.
Oh, yeah well...sorry. 8 to 5.
So that blows. I almost don't even care I just really wish that someone had bothered telling me this before Christmas Eve. My company loyalty is plummeting into uncharted depths. I should start stealing office supplies or making personal international phone calls. Or using their computers and their time to update my blog and chat with my friends...or...right.
Pat left for Canada so I live in Pats apartment and feed his cat for two weeks. This is great cuz Pats apartment is like across the street from the office. And he has satellite tv. And broadband internet. And a great shower. And he left me all his dirty dishes and no toilet paper, grr.
Yesterday I was santa claus at a party for elementary school kids in Saijo. They all loved me and kept running up and giving me hugs until some kid too smart for his own good noticed the string on my beard. After that the word spread like wildfire and the hugs became decoys to yank on my face. But I got a turkey dinner and met some gaijin in saijo, so that was cool.
Oh yeah pat also left me his car, which is cool.
I think Im glad I decided to date ayako instead of kill her or anything. She just made me terribly uncomfortable at first but now that I've gotten used to the idea of having a girlfriend for the first time in like 2 years I'm finally starting to relax around her. She seems to be one of those rare girls that is patient enough to genuinely like me, and she loves to eat even more than I do. So that's cool. She turns 24 on the day after christmas and I have 50 bucks to deal with both christmas and her birthday and food for the next 5 days. Uhboy.
Fuck work for making me work, that is so annoying.
Jackie and Tricia in Bali, maybe they will get blown up. Lots of terrorist threats there for new year and christmas and whatnot. If so I get Jackie's books, so I'm kind of ambivilant on the point. I'll probably swipe her CD's too even though Alison has dibs.
This is report writing time of the month and as usual its taking forever and driving me crazy. I am making the same mistakes, which is a terrible thing. Mistakes are fine if they are different every time, but if I fuck up the same way twice it just means I am wasting my time so that kind of makes my boss mad and me frustrated. I cant wait to come back as a JET when all I have to do is play games with kids for 7 hours a day some days and get large amounts of money. Then what studying I do will be impressive instead of worthy of derision.
I seem to bitch a lot in this blog. I really like it out here. The circles I am moving in have me feeling as at home as I ever have in my life, and the intermingling of japan and west in those circles means things are in a sort of constant flow. Now that Ayako is more solidly in the picture I expect a stronger (I almost wrote more strong) japanese presence in my life style. I do enjoy the japanese culture, though I confess it drives me crazy that they (company people) seem to resent having to expose me to it but do it enthusiastically. It makes me feel like they feel like I am wasting their time.
I look forward to Osaka for new years.
You can get a round trip out here for 650 dollars or so from cleveland if you go to www.statravel.com. I suggest you check it out. I can put you up and show the gorgeous temples and gardens and parks and such, and thats just in niihama.
Thats the work bell.
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Okay, I killed Bill, now what?
I do like my direct supervisor Fujita-san because she seems above it all. Everyone there is just really sexist and age-ist if thats a word and she just kind of puts them all in their place without doing anything, she's like a rallying point for all the women in the company, kind of an iconoclastic big sister. I really respect her for it, but I don't think she likes me very much.
So anyway when that wrapped up I'd had about 8 glasses of whiskey and wandered around niihama for a while scratching my head and wondering where Id left my bike. Instead of my bike I found an arcade and beat the hell out of people at Tekken 5 which was empowering until someone sat down and tore me apart and I ran out of money and left. Then I found my bike and went home and crashed though I woke up a few times and drank water and then I was 5 minutes late to work this morning and got the smiling patronizing faces of my oh so serious bosses who were only 12 hours prior ogling old snack bar women with their tongues hanging out. I dunno.
I hope nobody finds this blog, I should really take precautions.
But yeah, it was cool. Some of them are really nice to me, so I don't want to disparage the whole group, I think many of the people here are genuinely kind. But between my experiences with some and some of the things Fujita-san has told me about the others I really just feel like the upper management is a den of vipers.
Anyway yeah that's the corporate world in Japan and likely everywhere else in the world. Women don't sit at the same table as men, even at our weekly meeting we sit at the table while the women including fujita-san and the pregnant secretary have to drag chairs into the room and sit in the corner. At this party my one boss patronizingly told the pregnant woman in a speech that he hopes she has a healthy baby boy and that if it was a girl, well, okay, maybe it would work out. I dunno, is that normal? Should it be?
This was gonna be an upbeat entry.
Monday, December 20, 2004
Act 3, in which secrets are revealed, villains are unmasked and our protagonist gets the girl
Been busy. Christmas party. Eating. Am fat. Gonna get in shape now. Mom email me healthy food advice.
Below is my quarterly report to OSU. Havent sent it yet. what yall think?
Oh I have a girlfriend now. Ayako, yeah. Well see.
My flight to Japan proved to be incredibly straightforward. I left from Chicago, landed in Narita, bussed to Haneda, flew to Matsuyama, and was met by Tanaka-san and Fujita-san as I got off the plane. The entire trip took about 18 hours, and I managed to stay awake the entire time, so that I had no jet lag problems after about 2 days.
When I arrived in Matsuyama, the enormity of my undertaking really struck me for the first time. They took me to eat in a restaurant that would have been very remarkable in America, but which I realized was just another restaurant in Japan. Fujita-san speaks very good English, but Tanaka-san does not, so making small talk in the car foreshadowed the months to come – generally speaking, I had to rely on my Japanese. To this day, that remains my greatest challenge here, but it gets easier every day. By the time we were on the road to Niihama, I was well fed and exhausted, prepared to start an exciting year.
The next day, Tanaka-san and Fujita-san moved me into my apartment while a typhoon raged outside. Charlie had told me that the apartment looked pretty intimidating from outside, but that the inside was actually quite spacious and comfortable. I’m happy to report that this is indeed the case – I fell in love with the apartment immediately, despite some reservations about the shower. I had my first day off to unpack, which I did while listening to the typhoon and trying not to sleep.
Finally, my internship began in earnest. The first week was spent learning about Ichimiya’s structure and history – it also served as a harsh introduction to the difficulties of long-term communication exclusively in Japanese. Nakamoto-san and I spent a few days talking about the origins of Ichimiya, the relevance of Sumitomo, and the eventual birth of today’s Ichimiya Group. Some aspects I understood right away, whereas most details took a good deal of explaining before we reached a point of mutual understanding.
Also that week, Fujita-san took me around town to introduce me to a few places and buy a few essentials – a bicycle, a futon, etc. That was the beginning of my exploration of Niihama – a task I would carry out every night, as well, using the Moped.
That weekend, the Niihama Guide Club held a barbecue party for foreigners in Niihama. It was there that I was introduced to Charlie’s old friends, a crew of mostly English teachers from around town. As a result, I had a ready group of friends to spend time with on the weekends, people who were to show me things I would never have found on my moped.
My second week in town, the Niihama Guide Club basically took me around all the local areas to show me various useful shops or tourist spots. Thanks to them I visited many restaurants, took ferry trip to Oshima Island and joined a zen meditation session (through which my allergies kept me sniffling, much to my dismay, and where satori eluded me yet again).
It was on Friday of that week that I learned a valuable lesson about hand-brakes on bikes and mopeds in Japan. In America, the right brake is the back wheel. Friday morning, on my way to work, I was on the moped and I had to stop suddenly. I pressed the right hand-brake and much to my chagrin found myself spiraling out of control. When the world stopped spinning, the moped was on top of me with the engine running and a crowd of high school girls was trying very hard not to laugh. Apparently in Japan, the right hand-brake controls the front tire. Lesson learned. Fortunately, the damage was limited to my clothing and a few bruises. The helmet protected my head, and the moped was undamaged. I took it to a repair shop just to make sure.
September’s scheduled activities concluded with a few trips around Ehime with Tanaka-san and Fujita-san. We visited primarily Ichimiya companies, but took a bit of time for sight-seeing as well. The days were long, but I learned why every Japanese business office I have seen has a little table in the corner with a few chairs and a nearby coffee pot. Everywhere we went, I exchanged business cards with the relevant individuals and we made small talk over coffee for 10 minutes before a tour of the facilities and a question and answer session. The whole process seemed a little bit repetitive at first, but eventually I realized that that’s simply the way things work here. Now I look forward to a cup of green tea before the sightseeing process begins.
The last week of the month saw me writing my September report. This was a lesson in overextension and linguistic ability. In my initial draft, I wrote about 20 pages of facts, opinions and aspirations. When Fujita-san returned the corrected copy to me, there was more red ink than black by a factor of about two to one. I could see that I had my work cut out for me.
The revision of that report was process that lasted well into the middle October, and by the time I was finished I was determined not to make the same sort of mistake again. I came here with the sense that, having finished the fourth year Japanese language program at OSU, I would have command of the language at least enough to express myself in writing. That was an illusion that died with my first September report draft. In future reports I made sure to write at my level, to express things only as well as I knew how and not to use expressions or vocabulary of which I was uncertain.
The last days of September brought with them a parting gift – specifically, a massive typhoon which flooded the office, destroyed a bridge near my apartment building and, due to the fact that I carelessly left my windows open that day, nearly ruined my apartment.
After the typhoon, the entire building basically shut down for two days while we all labored to clear the parking lot, repair the first floor, salvage the basement and in general restore order to the office. It was difficult work, involving hours of manual labor carrying furniture, mud, or various combinations of the two out of many crevices – but the whole time, I was actually quite happy to be doing it, because for the first time since coming to Japan I did not feel hampered by any sort of a language barrier. I was just as able to carry destroyed desks as anyone else, and felt like a productive member of the team.
In terms of typhoon damage and inconvenience, the biggest hit to my lifestyle was not my apartment or the days spent trudging around in the flooded basement of the office building. During the typhoon, Tanaka-san had driven me home in his car, as there would have been no way for me to get back by moped. The next day, the moped was useless, destroyed by the flooding of the center building. The days of exploring Niihama on the moped were over. When October started, it was me and my bike.
October was dedicated to the Construction Block. Within the Construction Block are several companies and I was initially slated to split time between Ichimiya Construction and Ichimiya Kousan. However, due to the severe typhoon damage, my time with Ichimiya Kousan had to be postponed until January. I spent a week in the Construction Block, where I used their CAD software to design models of my parent’s house, my rental house in Columbus, and finally an ideal home where I would like to live.
I rather enjoyed the CAD stuff, because I got to play around with a new computer program, but frankly a whole week of it became a bit tedious. Every time I finished a model they asked me to make a new one and every once in a while someone came over and said “Sugoi!” However, I don’t mean to criticize anyone there. They all helped me with everything I needed, and I realize it was probably difficult to accommodate an intern a week after the terrible typhoon had disrupted everything.
After my week in Ichimiya Construction came the Niihama Taiko Matsuri. This was at once exciting and exhausting, as I found myself trying to sleep at all hours of the day whenever the chance presented itself. First I went to see the Saijo Matsuri, where I wanted all of the Danjiri progress up a steep hill to a temple. They were all stunning, I’d never seen anything like it, and it rather surprised me when I realized that the majority of people carrying them were drunk. This was the spirit of the event, however, to let loose and join your friends in carrying a massive wooden structure all over town. At one point, a Danjiri stumbled and looked like it wouldn’t make it up the hill. Inwardly, I must confess to not being too impressed. It didn’t look to be that difficult, so I couldn’t believe they were having problems carrying it.
This was a sentiment I would be paying for in full. For three days after that, I myself helped to carry the Kitauchi neighborhood’s taiko all over Niihama, and before I say anything else, let me say that it is indeed heavy. Very heavy. The Saijo Danjiri are much smaller than Niihama’s taikos, but in Niihama 3 to 4 times as many people are used to carry them. On my first night, we climbed the hill to Uchimiya Shrine. It seems simple when expressed in a sentence like that, but the sheer ordeal involved in lugging a 2 ton drum up a hill which in my mind was at least 3 miles long cannot be conveyed in text. Every step was a struggle, and when we finally reached the top the sense of triumph was palpable. Ours was the first taiko up, and we waited for the other 3 to arrive so that the ceremony could begin.
After that, we carried it back down (another ordeal, almost unbelievable in retrospect, I really cannot even express how impressed I am with these people for doing this every year – and willingly!) and had breakfast. For the next few days, I joined in the various wanderings of this particular taiko, culminating in a competition in Yamane park, where several taiko gathered and danced around. The highlight of that day was the fight – I had heard that sometimes the various taikos fight, but I had assumed that this was some sort of ritualistic dance where everyone made scary faces and circled each other until one group got tired.
Imagine my surprise, then, when the taiko to my left suddenly started moving faster than I had imagined a taiko could move, and rammed full-speed into the taiko that had rushed out to meet it. These two behemoths charged into each other at high speed repeatedly, and the violence and bloodlust only cooled when one float was more or less destroyed, its handles broken off and its structure – built of sturdy wood – pierced so full of holes that it was in danger of falling off. I was flabbergasted and impressed – and quite frankly, a little bit frightened. That much alcohol and competitive spirit in an environment where swift acts of violence met emphatic cheers from the spectators had me watching my back for a while.
As we got ready to leave and put away the taiko for another year, I let my guard slip and, in a moment of carelessness, got hit in the head by the handles of our taiko. These things are enormous and even the smallest children know to be careful around them, so I was a bit embarrassed, but the pain in my neck has more or less faded and I walked away with another life lesson.
Another activity that ran throughout October was a small part-time job I had acquired for the Niihama Guide Club. They had a series of essays written by a famous Haiku poet about Niihama and Ehime, and they had translated it into English. My task was to proofread their translations and make them, quote, “beautiful and artistic.” I did this on the weekends all through October, and to be perfectly candid it was not easy. 30 pages of user manual for a computer program or something is one thing, but 30 pages of poetic prose with emphasis on subtlety was quite frankly very difficult. Everyone involved was very kind, and my efforts were rewarded with delicious meals and a very generous gift at the end of the process, but between the Typhoon and the Matsuri and the proofreading, October seems like a blur in retrospect. I got very little sleep, and some of my coworkers began to worry about my health. After that, I promised myself to be sure I was in bed by 11 on work nights and to make sure I left some time to unwind on the weekends.
My final project in the Construction block was a day of sightseeing, where I was taken to a prison in Saijo that Ichimiya Construction was in the process of remodeling. There was nothing for me to do per se, and the supervisor was engaged in a busy meeting, but Kasahara-san and I looked around for ourselves and took pictures, occasionally asking nearby people to explain this or that. The day concluded with various stops at buildings that had been erected by Ichimiya Construction.
November I spent interning at Nissen Chemical. This project had three basic parts. Sometimes, I would be taken sight-seeing, to visit various Chemical Block companies. On those days I would go with Fukushima-san, and it was basically the same sort of thing I had done with Fujita-san and Tanaka-san in September. The difference was, this time I was actually able to participate in the work at various factories – I made my own Hanko in the Takihama factory, I operated a press in the Touyo factory, etc.
When I wasn’t traveling around, I was working in the main office translating the website. Apparently the Nissen website is about half-translated from a previous intern, so I did what I could with the rest. My plan, which I managed to complete, was to go through all of the untranslated sections at least once. Much of the terminology was highly technical and some of the grammar was beyond me, but I did manage by the end of November to get rough translations of the entire website.
My last week in the Chemical Block was spent at the Seibujigyousho, where I participated in factory work. I had a different task more or less every day, and frankly, I hated it. Long hours on my feet doing mundane tasks left me physically and mentally exhausted by the end of every day, and I spent the entire week feeling that if I had wanted to do factory work, I would have gotten a similar job somewhere in the States.
However, when the week was over, I noticed that it hadn’t killed me and that I had indeed learned a lot. I was later told that all new employees have to spend some time in the factories, as a sort of learning experience. There are many people in the Center Building, but the moral of the story is that without the people in the factories, the people in the offices would be stranded. When all was said and done, my resentment dissipated and I realized that I had learned a few valuable lessons.
Early in November, I participated in the ICA seminar in Okayama. I went as an English teacher, and spent the majority of the seminar time listening to their presentations and compiling vocabulary lists on my laptop. My “class” was the first thing on the agenda on Sunday morning, and I spoke with them for about an hour about prepositions. I hadn’t been sure at first what to teach a group of 13 employees with varying competency in English, but then I realized that most of my friends in Niihama were English teachers. I asked around for some advice, and one of my friends suggested I talk about prepositions because it is an easy subject to get people to understand and from there to use. My lesson, then, was basically to show them photographs from The Last Samurai and ask them, one at a time, “Where is Tom Cruise?” Their responses ranged from “On a horse” to “In a movie” to “On the Screen,” and everyone was able to participate.
All in all I think the lesson was okay, but there was still the major problem that I was interacting with each of them on an individual level without encouraging any real discussion between them. The next time I do this, I’d like to come up with a lesson or game that would force them to speak to each other in English.
The highlight of November actually started inauspiciously. I woke up feeling terrible one morning. I went to take a shower when I realized to my dismay that the water heater was broken. Between the feeling of illness and the inability to even wash, I had doubts as to what kind of day I was going to have. When I called Fujita-san to explain the situation she told me I could take the day off, and that she would send someone over to look at the shower. When the repairman came, he told me that it was indeed broken, and that if I didn’t mind they would like to install a shower with running hot water instead of my current cold-water-and-a-heater system. I was ecstatic, of course, as my mornings would from there on out be exponentially more convenient. With the inclusion of a hot-water shower, my apartment became everything I could ask for.
December marks the last month of my tour of the Ichimiya blocks. I spent the month in the Transportation and Logistics block, and by this time was an old hand at doing the intern thing. This time around, I spent only three days in the office. The first day, Isshiki-san and Ozaki-san explained the company history and the organization of the block, and then the other two days we visited various companies with ties to the Ichimiya Transportation and Logistics block.
The highlight of this sightseeing was the trip to Anchorage Marina; this came on the tail end of a very long day. We had driven out to Matsuyama and visited the Distribution center, the I-LOT warehouse, Item-Ehime, etc, and our last stop on the way home was the Marina. I was quite tired, and I was rather surprised when we got there. The guy in charge just said “This is a Marina. You have those in the states, too. Let’s go ride the boat.”
I had a lot of fun. We basically cruised around Matsuyama harbor for an hour and a half – he even let me drive for a while. I probably looked like an excited little kid, but that’s how I felt. It would be great if there was some way I could intern out there, I would love to learn all about boats, but Hojo City is a bit of a commute.
After my three days of sightseeing, I spent two weeks in the Shikoku Distribution Center, doing warehouse work. I was actually dreading this, given my time in the Chemical factory, but it turned out to be a different environment altogether. The first week in the warehouse, I was packing beer. The procedure was very straightforward – we put two cases of beer and a box of mochi into a cardboard box, taped it shut, and did it again. In the course of that week I must have had my hands on tens of thousands of cans of Asahi beer. To be honest, I almost enjoyed the week with the beer – I liked working with everyone else on the line, and it was a completely different environment from the chemical factory. Everyone was really friendly, we joked around a lot and when we were working it was a matter of doing everything efficiently so that everyone else could do their job efficiently.
The only thing I really hated about the beer packing job was all the dust in the air. I have had pretty severe allergies since coming to Niihama, and spending a week breathing cardboard dust left me with an agonizing headache and difficulty breathing for a few days when I was done.
The second week at the distribution center I spent in the freezer warehouse. The workload there was frankly minimal – every once in a while I would go in and wrap a stack of crates in plastic, or help push things into a truck, but 90% of the work there required the use of forklifts and I don’t have a Japanese forklift license. The result was that I spent a lot of time talking to people in the warehouse office. They were all very interested in America and American life, and a favorite game of theirs was trying to come up with some sort of Japanese food I would refuse to eat. The only thing they found that I hesitated about was namako, sea slug, but that just made me determined to try it.
After my week there, Onishi-san, the supervisor, invited me to dinner at his house, where his wife had prepared a delicious meal – complete with namako, which, may I add, I rather enjoyed.
The other thing that happened in November was the I’LL cooking class. Fujita-san had been looking for a cooking teacher for her I’LL group so that they could make a Christmas dinner, and I mentioned that my friend Pat is a very good cook. One thing led to another and this month Pat led the charge into a Roast Beef dinner, complete with Mashed Potatoes, a salad, and hot apple pie with ice cream. It was delicious.
And that brings us to today. As of this writing, I have completed three months of internship and am back in the main office writing reports and finishing out the year. From here on out, I need to decide where to spend the rest of my year. As I wrote above, I think somehow working at the Marina would be my ideal pick, but it seems unlikely. I am leaning towards the chemical block, because I really liked the people and atmosphere there, but I’m not really sure what kind of work I could be doing. Translating a website only takes so long.
And that sums up the company end of this report. I’d like to also take a few pages to talk about various odds and ends, a more general impression of Japan and my life here. The most relevant issue, of course, is the Japanese language. I am taking lessons twice a week at 90 minutes a lesson, and am learning a lot. I also watch Japanese movies, read Manga, and play Japanese video games. However, my language training has been really hampered so far by the fact that most of my friends here speak English. At work, of course, it is a Japanese environment, but then I go home and it’s English in almost every social setting. I’ve started hanging out with more Japanese people now, so that should start to change, but it got me off to rather a slow start. I had expected my biggest problem here to be a language barrier keeping me from interacting with almost anyone – instead, it turned out to be the prevalence of English in my daily life.
In terms of Japanese language, I do have one suggestion for the internship program. In December is the Japanese Proficiency Test, and I think it would be great to be able to take it, but the deadline to sign up is in early September. At that time, I was still getting my bearings. Charlie had mentioned it in passing, but I really didn’t know where to begin and kind of lost track of it. Perhaps it would be beneficial for future interns if the test application were provided prior to departure – optionally of course, but as something to be taken care of before the hectic lifestyle change.
In terms of cultural immersion, I have been having a great time. Between the Matsuri and Mochi-making and travel around Shikoku, I’m getting to see many sides of Japan. I had been really looking forward to studying Kendo here, as well, but so far that has proven to be very difficult. I found a dojo, and practiced regularly at first, but a variety of factors made that too difficult to keep up. Practice is either at 6am or 6pm three days a week, and when I had my moped it was easy enough to get home from work, change, and rush down to the dojo.
Now, though, the after-work practice is very difficult for me to get to on time – assuming I leave at five, I still need 20 minutes to bike home, change, and then bike back carrying my gear. I did that for a while, but frankly it was just too tiring. The morning practice would be a good choice, but the teacher comes only occasionally. If the teacher is not there, nobody can unlock the shower, and I hardly want to practice kendo for an hour and then go to work without showering. So in the end, that has proven to be a bit of a disappointment – however, my Japanese teacher recently informed me there is kendo practice at an elementary school near my apartment. I need to check their schedule, but perhaps I can practice kendo here after all.
One skill I have been working on diligently is cooking. When I got here, I used to eat bentos from the convenience store pretty regularly. Now, though, I cook frequently, for myself and for friends, and really enjoy it. I am going to enroll in a cooking class with a friend of mine next month.
All in all, my experience here has been overwhelmingly positive, though not at all what I expected. I had planned to become fluent in Japanese in about 3 weeks time and learn all of the kanji by Christmas, to maintain a busy schedule with time for work, kendo, and a good amount of socializing, and to travel all over the country every weekend.
In reality, the language is very difficult, and switching from a college definition of busy schedule to a working-world definition of the same is really rather draining. My weekends I generally spend recuperating from the week, though the 8 to 5 gets easier every day, and travel takes more time and money than I find myself able to commit. I make it out to Matsuyama now and again, and will go to Osaka for New Year, but I’m not sure when I will be able to go to Kyoto or Tokyo.
In that sense, this trip has been vaguely disappointing – but I have found pleasant surprises elsewhere. I never expected to get into cooking, I really enjoy just poking around the back streets of Niihama, I absolutely love my apartment and I have met many incredibly interesting people. My education and insights are various, and I am keeping a detailed personal log of my trip. While my spoken Japanese is improving pretty slowly so far, I can read many more kanji than I expected to be able to, thanks mostly in part to Manga and video games, I suspect.
Before I left I knew that this trip would be basically the experience of a lifetime, and I am glad to report that it is shaping up as planned. I have had my share of hardships and disappointments, but that was expected. I know now that learning a language doesn’t happen overnight, even when living abroad. The real value of this trip has been to show me a side of myself I had not seen – spending time out here, I see myself reacting to situations I would never have been in otherwise. Both at work and in my private life, I need to adapt in order to get by, and that’s the ideal environment for personal growth.
Friday, December 17, 2004
And I'll see you on the dark side of the moon...
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Grateful Days in Ehime
I got an email a few days ago from the financial aid department at OSU saying that there was something urgent with my account that had to be dealt with. “Whaaaa?!” says I, so I email them back and apparently the problem is that I only received half of the money I was supposed to get from my loans this summer and they have 2300 dollars for me and where should they send it. Huh. Now, the responsible thing to do would be to say I don’t need it cancel it that’s just more loans I got through the summer okay and screw it. But, I am going to accept it and use it to further the human condition (or…improve the human condition, perhaps we needn’t further it as that implies expansion in the current direction?). Anyway by that I mean use it to supplement my expensive hobbies. Actually I will probably go to China or something. Or get gifts for you people. What do you want from Japan? Or maybe I will finally send Jon the 20 dollars I owe him. Though I really should find the post office first.
There is a thing called a Sea Cucumber, Namako in Japanese. Apparently that is a sort of kind euphemistic naming for a creature also known as a sea slug. In Japan it is food. I am going to eat some soon. I feel kind of queasy thinking about it but ya know, it’s just a slug.
I watched Hero again last night, at Jackie’s. What a great movie that is. Andrew tells me my parents recently watched it, I’m glad they have something to distract them from the O’Reilly factor now and again. … But yeah, what a great movie.
Andrew also tells me my journal makes him question my heterosexuality. That makes me laugh. Just because I am about as masculine as mickey mouse and am not having rampant sex with all the horny Japanese girls I’m supposed to like men? Ah you closed minded fools. Though in my ideal world we would all be more or less androgynous. Why does that scare people so much?
I like girls but I hate the notion that anyone should be a certain way.
Girls leads into Ayako, of course, she is suddenly back on the scene. We will see what happens.
I find myself reading old journal entries and feeling like someone else wrote them, like I couldn’t possibly have written that. It’s probably because in my head I am erudite and scholarly and insightful but all my journals are more or less emotional ranting and video game references.
Speaking of which, the freezer warehouse is cool cuz it’s absolutely enormous and just has big stacks of crates and it’s absolutely freezing and it’s kind of dark and winding around and there are ravens everywhere. I’m kidding about the ravens.
I like the way these guys drive their forklifts. They are so good at what they do that they just drive them at full speed and stop on a dime, they fit crates into spaces where nothing should fit, and they do it at high speed and seemingly without even looking. They are past the first phase, where the forklift exists in the hand, and even a blade of grass can be a forklift. They’ve reached the second phase, where the forklift exists in the heart. They are not yet at the ultimate phase of forkliftship, where the forklift does not exist in the heart or in the hand.
That was a Hero reference.
I kind of like the idea of communication through references. In a sense it’s only a sort of hyperbolized, stylized representation of what we do with language to begin with. Words just refer to ideas that we have in common, right, so it’s almost fitting that our use of words express experiences that we have in common. It gives additional meaning to everything we say, even if 9 times out of 10 that meaning is only a corny joke. I think every word we breathe should have so much meaning layered into it as to be worthy of a lifetime of contemplation. I think communication for the sake of expressing mundane everyday things can be done with points and grunts – I do it every day here. Language is something special. Written language even moreso – we can change spellings, fuse words together so both are recognizable, then it’s like a crossmess parzel, as joyce spewed out somewhere.
Read Shelley’s Defense of Poetry, it will change the way you look at language entirely.
I like Shelley, I will never forgive the one professor I had who painted him as a total whining brat and didn’t even have us read Alastor or any of the good stuff. How does it even make sense when you are a teacher to only teach those elements of something that support your biased conclusion? Doesn’t she want to be right? Is she really only concerned with passing on her opinion, and is afraid that if she exposed us to the whole body of work we’d disagree? Then she doesn’t even believe her opinion herself, there is no reason to pass that along.
That’s an isolated case where perhaps I am being harsh but how often do we all do that. Madness I say, I am tired of hypocrisy, for love of god can’t we get outside ourselves.
Of course I only adopt the moralistic patronizing tone so reminiscent of my brother George’s blog because I am talking to myself. You people are lucky I am letting you read my personal journal, it exposes me for the fraud I am. And you thought me insightful? You thought me worthwhile, mature, clever? Heavens no, and now you see, I am little more than a brat who never really grew up, with a penchant for emotional tantrums and a fascination with video games.
What I start to realize, though, is that so are all of you in so many words. Replace video games with racism or religion or narcissism or your spouse or gardening or baseball and you’ve got the human race, so at least my indulgences are introspective. How preachy I am sounding today. I want to include the disclaimer that I don’t actually know anything, I really believe that. I really just don’t understand humanity, it puzzles and frustrates me, it’s more complex than it should be because it all seems so simple but it can’t be.
Am I so solipsistic? I’m not even sure I exist, right, so how can I be sure you all do? Is it solipsism if you think everything is the product of your own perceptions and yet you remove all value from those? It’s just kind of sad, maybe. Not sure.
Do you, oh loyal readers, find my updates irritating? I kind of do, but maybe it’s because I find life irritating, sort of? I use this to write all sorts of crap that too simplistic or sappy or senseless to talk about, just the various things that go on in my head. It’s really honest but perhaps not worth writing perhaps? But otherwise I’d be writing about the parties I go to and the sights I see and frankly I’d rather have stories to tell when I get back.
But, to throw ya’ll a bone, I went to this exclusive party. It was in a “club” on the fourth floor of an apartment building (I think?) smaller than my freshman year dorm room. It was a lot of fun, but the music was loud. I danced. I couldn’t hear myself think so there was no way I was gonna be able to talk to any of the handful of unattached ladies there, so I exchanged sad smiles with the pretty ones and we all danced the night away.
Then Tricia got piss drunk and we had to kill her.
No I’m kidding. She wasn’t drunk, we just wanted something to do.
No I’m kidding.
Or am I?
I was gonna stop there cuz I was under the impression I’d have work in the afternoon, but nah. So here I sit.
I never want to mistaken for bored or ungrateful. I don’t mean in this circumstance, I mean in life, because those are two states that I simply never fall into. I am NEVER bored – ennui is sort of a different animal – and I am always acutely aware of how great my life is and how grateful I am.
Ever notice how when I have a tragic sad title to my blog updates it’s frequently an upbeat blog, and when I have a happy title it’s usually introspective and sad? Or did I make that up? My titles come from nothing at all, just whatever I’m feeling at the instant, so it seems odd that they would be at odds with the content of the blog.
And that is where I stopped writing at work. Here it is a few hours later, I am in the coffee shop. Right around this point in the blog jon and dan signed on, so I got to talk to people. One conversation was uplifting and the other made me sad, but in the end nothing matters and I am drinking coffee and writing in my blog, wishing I was playing Metal Gear 3.
What scares you?
Monday, December 13, 2004
My baby's so fine even her car looks good from behind.
And now it is gone.
Heh, ain't that the way it goes.
Friday, December 10, 2004
Unbridled Implacable Unrelenting Juftified Rage
I just saw a movie last night, called Casshern. It, along with Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, is among the first movies filmed entirely in front of a blue screen. It is absolutely gorgeous to behold.
On top of that, though, it may be my new favorite movie. I have never seen a film that so thoroughly explored like every point that I have been pondering of late. It's like the most relevant movie I can imagine, it was like someone sitting in my mind illustrating various thoughts about power structures and romance and family.
And it is so gorgeous, the graphics.
It is Kazuaki Kiriya’s first film. I think good things will come.
Oh, yeah, what's it about? Umm. Dystopian future, good technology in the hands of bad people, humanity doing what it does best, destroying itself. And a bit of the above-mentioned rage. And unconditional love. It was gratifying. It has some of the most terrible and some of the most uplifting scenes I've seen in a while. It was basically a lot like your favorite final fantasy game, but a live action film instead.
And now, off to Jackie's to get ready to be off to Alison's. I like having gone from having three little brothers to two older sisters. And Romel, right, my adopted big brother, who is older than the other two, so I am now youngest of four. I've always wanted to be andrew.
That is all.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Bleak vignettes of tragic endings, every card in the deck a spade.
Ha. Word thinks Mykathusta isn’t a word.
I rather like the beer factory. I am using my body to near exhaustion and then making myself work faster, it’s sort of energizing. I just pick up heavy cases of beer and put them into boxes. Sometimes I tape the boxes shut, depending on where I am on the assembly line. They rotate people in and out of lifting boxes so that nobody gets too worn out, but I really like to do it. I think it’s harder to tape the boxes, you have to concentrate on your work. But 8 hours of lifting heavy things, man, I dig it. Sort of. I’m glad it’s only a week.
What else? Not going to Osaka on Friday. Has become a cost issue. Sorry Vanv. Saturday morning will make mochi. Was not looking forward to 9am Saturday Japanese culture stuff, but Jon tells me mochi making is among the coolest things on the planet so perhaps I will approach it with an open mind. Saturday night, big exclusive party in Matsuyama. I just like saying that. I am going to an exclusive party. Eat it, suckers. Sunday afternoon, cooking class here, so I get to eat some of Pat’s roast beef. Pat is teaching cooking to my company. I kinda set it up so I can’t back out of it. Boo.
Need to get into David Bowie. Jackie explained the idea behind his theme albums, I find that brilliant. Ziggy Stardust singing to humanity 5 years before certain extinction? That’s kinda classy.
Went to bed at 830 last night. Ayako called and woke me up around 10 but I didn’t answer cuz I just wanted to sleep. She called again 20 mins later, just after I had finally drifted off. I figured it might be important, but it wasn’t. Apparently she had wanted to come over. No way says I, I am so in bed, leave me alone. Ah well.
I need to go make friends with a massage school to get free massages all the time. That would be fun. Not that I know of any such thing around here.
I am in a factory all week so I threw shaving to the winds. But today Wedenesday no comma and misspelling I am in the main building so I trimmed my facial blob to a goatee. The only one who I expect cares is Nakamoto kachou, cuz he kinda pulled me off to the side last time I was growing a goatee after getting permission and told me no except instead of saying no he said “Ah, a beard, eh?” *significant glance, significant glance, significant glance* Okay says I, I got it, fine. But today I have one. And he has not yelled at me. He probably knows that I will shave it before I come back to this office for any extended period, cuz I am a coward.
But, I still have a week and a half out of this office, so it will look nice by the time it is gone. Maybe I can play for support once it looks good. I really prefer to have facial hair, my eyebrows are too bushy and my upper lip is too thin. Plus shaving blows.
“Myk, why are you spending time writing this instead of studying japanese?” you may ask. “I thought you had a Japanese lesson this morning!”
Well I do, you nosy bastard, but it doesn’t start until 10 and I just finished all my paperwork, so piss off.
It’s close to 10 though so off I go. Ciao.
Sunday, December 05, 2004
Now, I love Bono as much as the next guy...
This has been a slow weekend. I found out the NOVA teachers are ditching me for my proposed trip to Osaka on friday, leaving me going alone, though I will meet up with Vanv there. Jackie and Alison and Tricia went to Takamatsu to take their language test. Pat went to Osaka on personal business. I could have gone out with the Novas at least last night, it was Drew's birthday. But I didn't feel like biking to an Izakaya through a massive thunderstorm to spend a lot of money drinking with a group of peole that I don't really feel comfortable with. So I basically just sat in my apartment two nights in a row feeling vaguely sorry for meself and watching movies - Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, JFK, Blade II, Patton. It was a productive movie weekend.
Oh, incidentally, I gave Jackie the URL to this blog. May she never use it for evil. I don't think I have written anything in here that would compromise me if anyone in Niihama read it, but ya never know, I've got to be close to 100 pages now.
There is vague talk of me getting drafted to cook at Alison's tonight after they get back from Takamatsu. How did I fall in with a crowd of 30-something western women as my stalwart comrades out here?
That was way cool to drive a boat the other day. I am still excited about it.
I really liked Patton and JFK. I think I am happy I am finally indulging a latent love of too-long historical epics which are too perfect to be real life and yet not wacky enough to be garbage. It's like its own art form. Lawrence of Arabia falls into this genre as well. What should I watch next?
Blade 2 was goofy. I guess I liked it. I am looking forward to the third one.
I want to see Closer. It's about love and lies and sex and natalie portman dressed scantily. And it is being praised above all for its excellently written dialogue, a particular weakness of mine. Natalie Portman in a G-string lying to her lover about sex eloquently? I mean, come on.
They play annoying christmas music in all public places in Japan, too.
It's more or less just bad renditions of 1950's bing crosby style christmas songs, with synthesizers. Did I spell that right? Christmas in Japan is like Valentines Day, it's a date holiday. I expect to spend mine in my room playing Metal Gear Solid 3.
Speaking of which, I can't believe I never noticed this, but the female lead in that game is named Eva. Isn't it about time Snake was paired with Eve? This is so the creation myth, I love it, Kojima is so wonderful. I suspect, too, that it's going to present a sort of heretical creation myth, where we are to identify with the serpent. The real enemy will be the powers that be.
I liked that in Patton he was obsessed with history and the past, to the extent that his enemies could predict his movements because, I mean, "The greeks went into italy through syracuse, and so will he." And he does.
I also love that even though they know, it doesn't matter.
And I love the bit at the end in the german base, where they are all like "We will all be destroyed." and the Patton specialist is like "And so will he. When he sees that there is no more war, the peace will kill him." and tosses the portrait into the fire. Wonderful.
"History is a nightmare I am trying to wake up from." Does this mean steven is trying to escape all that has come before, and in so doing exist in a present detached from the past, essentially starting over? OR, does it mean that the very notion of history, the idea that actions are eternal, is a nightmare? That if he had his way, Chaos would reign and no moment would be connected to the one that came before or the one that came after? They are almost two opposite things, in the first reading he relishes the chance to write a new history.
If Patton or Alexandar or Napolean or Augustus had been born on January 22 1983, what would they be doing right now? Who would they be with? How would they be seen?
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is an old Miyazaki anime. I recommend it. I can't understand why I like him so much, his films are so innocent and lovely, no fire and brimstone to be seen, his heroine (always a heroine) fights with a will to peace under all circumstances and usually overcomes. But I was really just happy at the end of Nausicaa. It seems like it should lack depth, like its something I should normally scorn as childish, like sports movies or the news, but instead it inspires me.
I am one day going to move here and buy a boat and spend all of my time sitting on the inland sea, watching planes land just beyond me or fishing or drinking or carousing with the first japanese girl I meet that actually has something to say in addition to a deceptively lunatic libido.
If I hate being alone so much, why do I keep myself alone? It doesn't make sense.
I eat too much.
Friday, December 03, 2004
Friday Night Blues
*started in logistics block. here for the perenial myk-sits-around-as-they-figure-out-what-to-do-with-him tour. I got a green jacket. Not sure if warm, but mine, at least for now.
*Yesterday fujita-san talked to me about goals and such while in japan. I will not learn to think in Japanese if I am constantly communicating in English. May have to cut ties to gaijin in Niihama. That or choose to be here for fun and not education. Either way is okay its up to me. But it would be a shame to come here and live the jet lifestyle a year early and without jet money.
*I am in the transportation and logistics block this month. I have a vague fear that that means I will spend two weeks working in a warehouse.
*Watched 2001 with Ayako last night. "It's a little hard" I told her before we started it. "That's okay," she responded, "I'm clever." I found that to be delightful.
Afterwards, though, she said she wasnt clever. I guess there is something about the ubequitous, burgeoning star child that scared her.
And she wanted to fast-forward through the Dawn of Man sequence - grrr.
But she brought me food. She is unreasonably kind to me. Alison says that is a sure-fire sign that she is still trying to get in my pants.
*Ben Kay the faithful sidekick. For my book.
*Do all great men have terrible handwriting or is it just me?
*Book Title: Aeneas. I can make this work. Mercator is Aeneas, sailing for Rome, distracted by Dido who loves him?
*Chi to Hone, ie Blood and Bones. New Beat Takeshi movie.
*Lunch over. Ate at Pat's. Was delicious, chicken and brocolli cheddar, but wasn't ready til 1250. Walked my lunch back to Ichimiya, got off the elevator to the sound of the bell. Perfect.
But now, "Chotto Matte." So despite my race against time, fate and God himself to get here on time, I find myself sitting around.
Apparently I am going to be boxing asahi beer next week. Just putting cans into boxes. Now, I like beer, and lord knows I like boxes, but a week of 8-5 boxing beer is a bit much. I guess Charlie said it was the worst part of the internship. Whoot.
Looks like I may have something here, time for another in-japanese company history speech.
Oops, maybe not, nevermind. So here I sit, here I rot.
Apparently my mother disapproves of my novel idea. I can't imagine what she finds objectionable about neoromantic satanism.
Though that leaves me considering something - Maybe raphael takes her advice in the end, leaves her to burn. Wouldn't that be at once rational and shocking?
Meeting/Briefing. (day over as far as journal goes)
Got here like a full 3 minutes early, wow.
Went to yakiniku place last night to try to find the girl who took my heart when she took my dirty dishes, but alas, she wasn't working.
So, went home after eating a lonely early 20oo yen dinner and went to bed at 630.
Got up at 930 with a stomach ache, so I ate a pound of popcorn and watched a movie. I recommend "Kikujiro", it's one of the most lighthearted enjoyable movies I have seen in a long time, w/out being dumb. It's another Kitano Takeshi film. Not to be confused with Miike Takashi, who could not have made it - though there is a pedophile in it.
Just got back from my tour of the logsitics blocks main warehouse. I will be working there next week and the following. Next week is boxing cans of beer, and after that is riding with truckers. I look forward to #2.
We were supposed to get back circa 1130, but it is 10. I have no computer and no books but this, so we'll see what they have me doing.
These people are cool, and I got to ask a lot of questions, which I never did in the past. I was always too shy. But this time I asked a ton so it's not my fault we finished 90 mins early.
Anyway, my warehouse report, which I wrote in my journal:
Warehouse, First Floor
2)Antigene - tire ingredients. Rubber?
3) Feminine Products? 50 types. Kobayashi seiyaku no mono.
1) Misc Private(?) storage, (Bikes, tables, etc)
2) Oseibo. Beer gift packs. Gifuto Pakku.
Reitosouko and Reizosouko - Freezer and Cooler warehouses.
Car/Truck Shop (repair)
Gas as well.
Handoutai --? semiconductor
kasanka suisosui - Hydrogen peroxide.
Truck Parking Lot
Fitting that my tour should end with the dining room, as I have long suspected my life will meet a similar fate.
So my book, I have decded that Raphael takes her advice and leaves her in the end. But I dunno yet where I will take it from there.
Oooooh, they just gave me a laptop. World Wide Web of Lies, here I come, entangle me.
Now going to seishin, a plant where they make bentos and cafeteria food. No interning, just sight-seeing just today, but maybe I can snag some sushi.
Though my stomach still feels odd from yesterday's eat and sleep.
Anyway I am actually writing this AT the food plant. Waiting for something, not sure what.
The boss here, Mr. Watanabe, speaks slowly and uses very small words. It is all for my sake, and for once I can understand everything someone is saying to me, but it still offends me on a very basic level.
I had Nattou again the other night. It was among the things Ayako brought over.
Now touring. Am wairing a hairnet to conceal my mane. The stubble I have developed since 7:15 is now the dominant hair on my head.
270 people, mostly women.
-Cafeteria food's source, ichimiya and sumitomo
-combini - circle K bentos
-assembly line bento creation
1) Dress/ Clean-room.
2) Nigiri Room - machine, cut, weigh, wrap. Rice Machine also Wrap Machine.
3) Sushi - Maki-rolling machine.
4) Hand-made nigiri zushi
5) Bento assembly line - looks like shit work.
6) Bento Wrapper Machine
7) Cooking Room (note: not "Kitchen")
8) Pre-cooking prep room
9) Freezer/cooler for incoming stuff.
10. Rice Cooking Room
Minetopia Besshi Restaurant
Like anchorage marina, has relations to Ichimiya w/out being a member company.
12gatsu - 3gatsu offseason.
kouyou ~> tree color change
fried chicken and fried potato.
12people. 9am-9pm. Sunagawa-san.
Niihama Ryouin Kabushiki Gaisha
(Thus Ends Thursday)
(Thus Starts Friday)
Got to work early, everything is locked up. Boo.
Sitting outside office listening to red hot chili peppers (thanks to genki sudo, jon), Californication. I am in love with track 7. "Story of a woman on the morning of a war; Remind me if you will exactly what we're fighting for. Throw me to the woods because there's order in the pack. Throw me to the sky because I know I'm coming back."
"I don't want to be your little research monkey boy; the creature that I am is only going to destroy."
I am breaking for the millionth time my rule about talking about music in my blog. Can't help it.
Also, in keeping with that last lyric, I saw Natural Born Killers for the first time last night. I had not realized Tarantino wrote it and Stone directed it. It was marvellous, magnificant, astounding. And the music, dear god, so good. We couldn't figure out who the tom waitsy singer of the opening and closing tracks was. Turns out, of course, Leonard Cohen. Been meaning to stumble into him for years.
So now in the car with Isshiki-san and Ozaki-san. We are matsuyama-bound, time for more sightseeing.
Stomach ache and sinus congestion, feel like crap. Can't remember how to speak Japanese, sat like an idiot at first company we visited today. Just wanna go sleep.
-freezer control machine (-24c)
Ehime International Logistics Terminal
Import temp storage
Port -> ILot -> Trucks
Ichimiya Unyuu is one of several co's in ILot.
Hibino. 1996. Coke stand.
On a boat. Sailing around Matsuyama bay. Sugoi! Permanently Windswept Hair.
And that's all I wrote. Yeah, today's 4 companies all kind blended together into a bad mood of taking no notes. But I did have a wonderful sashimi lunch for only 1200 yen which isshiki san covered. And then, yes, I got to drive a boat around. We got to the Marina as the last stop on our tour of Ichimiya companies, and they were like, yeah, it's a marina, you have those in the states too. We could explain everything, or we could go ride the boat for 2 hours.
And then they let me drive for most of that time.
I think whereever I go whatever I do in the future I will have a boat, I just like it too damn much.
Anyway tired of writing now.