Posted by: powers67 | August 25, 2008

Dou shiou ka na?

Do shiou ka na? means, "What should I do?"  and it really exemplifies for me the current problems in Japanese education. In Japan, the old rules about working hard at school to get a good job and living a comfortable middle class life no longer apply.  Many, many young people sacrifice everything only to realize when they leave University that all their hard work is for absolutely nothing in the continuing economic stagnation that grips Japan.  The whole nation continues to ask "What should I do?"  but the only answer they seem to come up with is to do the same thing they were doing before, but ever more intensely.

At lunch today I watched a small lunch special which profiled Wasega Academy Summer School, a private institution where parents pay 800 dollars to place their 6th Grade children in Junior High Preparation classes.

What I saw was frankly, terrifying.  12 year old boys and girls were seperated by gender, made to wear headbands proclaiming they would work hard, and then subjected to almost 18 hours a day of school for 3 weeks, during the time of year that is deceptively called, "Summer Rest."  They woke at 6:30 for morning exercises, were in class by 8:30 and procedeed to take 12 hours of lessons, with breaks only for meals and a 2-hour "Study and Relaxation" time.  They were not allowed outside food, books, cellphones or any other luxury.  The TV show proudly proclaimed the simpleness of the meals, while also showing 12 year olds studying in every spare moment, doing basic algebra and timing themselves on their speed and accuracy.  In class, the teacher would shout at them militarily, after which they would shout back their chorus of "Hai!"s, which means "Yes!".  Like most shows, a celebrity cast watched this spectacle, and in a small picture frame on screen, their interested and amazed reactions were recorded.  Everyone agreed that this was a very worthwhile program.

This is by no means a new phenomenon.  When the Japanese government abolished Saturday classes, citing burnout and high personell costs, Japanese parents were furious.  Nationwide, parents promptly signed their children into after school cram schools, which often run late into the night, and the popularity of these after-school schools has soared for the past decade.  Japan is a country where the ELEMENTARY school you attend can have a profound affect on your chances of University entrance.  And yet, Japan continues to fall behind the rest of the world in every key indicator of educational progress.  Schools, in their furor to drill facts into the students heads, completely miss the point of learning, and the students that result are completely incompetent in such supposedly key skills as creativity, independent thinking and analytical abilities.  Every day I see students, from Junior High School University who are able to write tests, and do little else.  Japan has the lowest per-capita winners of the Nobel Prize, and its no wonder why.  Students are taught to work hard, but are usually taught little else.

And yet, this small example is just one indicator of a larger trend. Japan, faced with an uncertain and negative future, is asking what it should do to fix the economy, to fix education, to fix the demographic crisis which promises to cripple the country.  And yet everytime, rather than instituting change, they continue on the same road.

Although beacons of hope, of a different lifestyle and dream can occasionally be glimpsed, the sad fact is that in so many aspects of Japanese life, things are becoming steadily more insular, more regimented, more static. Japan continues to turn further inward, refusing to address the situation.  Faced with the problems facing modern Japan, the governments only prescription is the same path it walked down in the 1920’s.  While I doubt that Japan will once more wage war on it’s neighbours, (being nationally exhausted in every way) a more regimented life and prescribed life is the only solution offered.  While this is a very Japanese solution, it’s also very wrong.

Sometimes I just don’t know whats going to become of this country I live in.  It seems determined to commit national suicide.

Posted by: powers67 | March 17, 2008

End of the Year

Well, it’s that time of year again, graduation.  The CeremonySurprised?  Actually, Japanese schools work on a different timetable.  The students here write their final exams and graduate in mid-march, and return for the new school year in early April.  While this may seem initially strange, I can see why they’ve set it up this way.  It gives the year a nice cohesive feel when you begin a new school year just as the land around you begins a new year of life.  And don’t underestimate the attraction of this parallel to the Japanese people, it actually goes much deeper than that!

On TV today I saw an add for a “juku” book, a study guide for the University entrance exams, (I won’t go into them in too much detail, that’s a HUGE can of worms I don’t feel like cracking open right now.)  I’m a little perplexed as to why this add was still on TV, as University exams are finished, but nonetheless, I thought it the imagery was instructive.  The final shots have a picture of the happily graduating girls taking shots of the results boards with their mobile phones before happily embracing, with tears running down their cheeks, while sakura (cherry blossoms) fall gently in the background.  This is really metaphor laden stuff.Sannensei Girls

The sakura are perhaps the most famous symbol of spring, but they are also a symbol of death, and of rebirth.  Most importantly however, they are a symbol of Mono no Aware, the “awareness of the transience of life.” Wiki The sakura, which arrive suddenly and gloriously, and quickly fall to the ground exemplify this.  Of course, the same could be said of graduation, which also comes and goes quickly, leaving everything changed in it’s wake.  It is thus a happy, and a sad time.  At the graduations I went to, most of the students, and almost all of the teachers cried throughout the whole thing!  I felt like a robot because I just couldn’t cry. 🙂

And thus, spring heralds the end of the old and the beginning of new, a signpost for the transience of all life, and for the endless cycle of the seasons, (Japanese people often believe themselves to be the only country with 4 seasons.) It’s quite fitting then, that the start of the old school year, and the beginning of the new should happen at the same time.

(The rather confused direction of this post can be blamed on me trying to do 5 different things at once.)

Posted by: powers67 | March 13, 2008

Spring is Here Damnit!

Well, this is unfortunate.  I was promised 7 months of snowfall.  Big deep snowfall, that kind that was perfect for powder skiing.  Unfortunately, it looks like those claims of a big bad winter were somewhat overated, as today spring has well and truly started.  I knew it was coming, as it has been getting warmer day by day, the snow slowly retreating, but today I knew for sure.  Today, it rained.

Still, it’s hardly the end of the world, as now I can look forward to hiking.  But it does rankle that I spent close to $800 dollars on snowboarding equipment, (new board, googles, pants, gloves and car rack) and yet only managed to get out 7 times.) I missed all the prime ski-days in February because of the musical and Yuki-Matsuri and Hawaii, so I was really hoping to get out a lot in March, but that is now looking unlikely.  I’m going to try to get out on Saturday, so we will see how it goes, but I’m not hopeful.

Speaking of Hawaii, I’ve recently switched a lot of things around on my computer, which should make it easier to keep this blog updated, as well as get some new pictures and video, which is of course, what I know you really want.  I’ve also gotten back into studying Japanese, and am taking lessons once a week, but as always, it’s hard not to get distracted.  School is wrapping up for the year so I do have more time on my hands, hopefully that will mean I can complete some of my languishing projects.  As well, now that I am editing the Polestar magazine, expect some of my features there to show up here.  So without further ado, some of the best pictures from Hawaii.

Caroline at Haunama Bay

Two of the kids,

And the other me…where’s Andrew?

Eating I guess

Birthday Dinner

And the ‘Rents

More to come soon…

Posted by: powers67 | February 26, 2008

A long Absence…

Yes, I’ve been away from this blog for far, far too long. Actually, the last post is dated on Boxing Day, while I was recovering from a party in Thailand. Having just come back from Hawaii, and the beach again, I felt it was time to make a return.

It’s not all that surprising that the blog went quiet for awhile, in fact, it’s depressingly normal, as apparently 60-80% of the blogs on the internet are abandoned, most in the first week, with the median lifespan for a blog being only 126 days. (Which coincidentally, is just slightly shorter than the length of time I had been posting.)

But in any case, I’m back now. I still don’t have any new video to post, (I’m considering changing the name of the blog to “Tokachi Not-Terebi”) I thought it was important to get SOMETHING up.

So here’s a brief rundown of the last couple months. I came back from Thailand, was busy snowboarding, musicalling, and dating in January, got crazy busy in February, went to Hawaii to see my family, sat on the beach and ate pizza for the first time in months, barely made it home, and am now back at the daily-so-called-grind.

There. That’s all the boring stuff out of the way, so let’s talk about something more interesting.

No, I don’t mean more retrospective, (how passé) but just some things that are striking me as interesting at the time. Of course, at the moment nothing is!

School is easy right now, as the 3rd years are finished, and graduation is this Saturday. I was actually quite surprised as I wasn’t informed that there was going to be a graduation ceremony, and was told I didn’t need to attend. This seems to be unusual, and I’ve been left wondering if I’ve done something to make my High School think that I don’t care about the job. Or perhaps they think they are just doing me a favour. In any case, it is this Saturday, so I am still deciding whether to attend or not.

Everything else is fairly usual, or at least, usual for my situation here. I’m hoping to make this weekend a bit of a “catch-up” weekend, a chance to see everyone that I haven’t had the time to see, so hopefully that will go well!

See you soon,

(Oh, and go on facebook to see recent pictures, it’s a pain to post them here!

Posted by: powers67 | December 26, 2007

On a beach in Thailand…

Ahh, the power of the internet…here I am, not ten metres from the beach, and still able to post about my goings-on. The road to this small beach may be non-existent, but the internet is fast and ubiquitous. This is where I’m staying.
View Larger Map It’s pretty much heaven on earth, white sandy beaches, delicious restaurants of all kinds right on the beach, many people of all different ages, and a relaxed and easy-going island atmosphere. Today it’s been raining and windy, but otherwise the weather has been picture perfect. The moon is so bright at night that you can see as clearly as day. I don’t have any pictures for yout yet; my camera is up at the bungalow and I don’t feel like walking up to get it.

The trek to get here was a slog. After taking the train into Sapporo on Thursday night, there was a mixup, and I couldn’t get into my friends house. I ended up sleeping in an internet cafe near the station (although that’s not the hardship it sounds, cafes in japan have private booths, showers, free drinks, and reclining chairs..they’re meant to be slept in by people who missed the last train home. If they didn’t leave the lights on, or play soft-jazz all night they would be perfect) which ended up being a good move. I had to take the first train out in the morning to make it to the airport on time, but even being so close to the station I still missed as I took to long showering at the cafe. In any case, it didn’t particularly matter, as it only takes 10 minutes to check-in, go through security, and board your plane in Japan. It’s sooo much nicer then the endless lines and security rigomarole of home.

I arrived in Bangkok in the afternoon, and the weather was absolutely stiflingly hot. I took the bus into Banglamphu, the backpackers district, which was an adventure in itself. As you leave the airport, you climb onto the elevated freeway, and shantytown’s and slumbs spread underneath you, until in the distance, highlighted by the blood-red sun, (which is red because of the smog) you see the skyscrapers of downtown. The vista aggressively highlights the economic disparities here, and it was the first time that I really felt that I was journeying through Sout-East Asia.

The drive through Banglamphu was similarly gorgeous, as the whole area was lit with lights, and the streets teemed as the Thai election, the first since the bloodless coup in 2006, was taking place two days later. After more than in hour in the inner-city traffic, made worse by cars parked in the street, and scooters weaving through the crowds oblivious to cars, pedestrians or sidewalks, we made it to Th Khao San, the backpackers street, and one of the major places of residents for tourist in Bangkok. The street was completely packed with people of all nationalities, going into and out of bars, restaurants, go-go dance halls and a thousand other places. I wandered around, somewhat lost, for 20 minutes or so, until I manges to find the ferry company to Koh Phangan. I caught the bus, which took around 12 hours to reach the port town. And from there, I took the ferry to Koh Phangan. It was similarly sweltering in Thong Sala, the main port city of the island. As soon as I stepped off the ferry I was assailed by taki drivers, offering to take me where I wanted to go in their songthaew. The songthaew is basically a pickup truck, with benches put along the sides in the back, and an open but covered roof. They are the main transportation around the island, if you don’t take a boat, or rent a scooter.

After a harrowing hour long journey through the jungle which could optimistically be described as “roads,” but which are in reality so washed out as to be dirt and rocks slopes, I finally arrived at my destination, the small beach of Au Tapan Nai Noi.

Since then, I’ve been lolling on the beach with the friends I’ve made here. Sleeping, swimming, and suntanning during the day, partying at night. It has been so idyllic and relaxed, that is, except for the crazyness that is the Full Moon Party.

The Full Moon Party has to been seen to be believed. It is an absolute madhouse, quite unlike anything I’ve been to before. It outdoes any rave, any rock festival that I’ve ever seen. Jen and Jackie, two Canadians who now live in Kenya, started the night off with me quietly enough. First, we made our way to one of the beach resorts down at the south end of the beach, as they had happy hour, and 100 baht cocktails from 5-7. Afterwards, we walked down to the other end of teh beach, and had a large thai barbecue at a different resort. We absolutely gorged on seafood and other treats, (I had sirloin steak and mussles with thai curry, which was unbelievably good) as we knew that we’d be drinking a lot later. We had a couple of large bottles of Singha, (a thai beer) but I took it slowly and paced myself, as I knew it would be a long night. Finally, at 11pm we caught the longtail boat down the coast of the island with some other friends of ours, and arrived at Had Rin, the site of the full moon party.

It certainly wasn’t what I expected, and I think because of that, I didn’t take full advantage of it. We disembarked from the boat, and made our way up the beach to the drink stands, where a hundred different stall where all selling the standard Full Moon drink, a plastic bucket, into which they poured a bottle of thai whiskey, a can of coke, and a bottle of Thai Red Bull. The whole thing went for the equivalent of $8. Now, to some of the more hardcore among, that may sound somewhat large, and yet tame, but let me assure you it is not. The Thais invented Red Bull, it was first made here, and it is quite a bit different than the stuff back home. Thai Red Bull is rocket fuel, as there are no legal limits on the amount of caffiene, guarana, and (I suspect) pseudo-speed. I was already half-cut when I arrived, but promptly bought a bucket, drank it, and went into a trance, dancing to ear-splittingly loud House music for 6 hours straight, till the sun burst over the sea. All in all, I have perhaps 15-20 mins of memory of the event, the rest is a blur. I didn’t move around, I didn’t see my friends, but I did acquire several mysterious bumps and scrapes.

Unfortunately, I missed the boat back to my beach, and was hence stuck on the beach at 8am, as the music continued to pump and people variously, threw up, took drugs, passed out, had sex, and went swimming in the garbage and piss-filled water. Although the party was set to continue until 6pm, (at which point the Christmas Full Moon Party was to begin) I desperately wanted to leave. As I am staying at a small and distant beach however, the taxi drivers wanted a princely sum of over $40 to drive me back home. I decided to take the taxi back to Thong Sala instead, hoping that the ferry would arrive with new tourists who also needed a ride to the beach. Unfortunately, no one arrived who did, except for Jen, but I never saw her, as she was passed out not 20 metres away in a different taxi. I gave up and paid the money, arriving back at the beach around noon. I stumbled home, striped down in my bungalow, and passed completely out.

Finally, around 6pm I woke up, and headed out for dinner. My Christmas night was fairly quiet, but after the crazyness of the night before, that whas undeniably a good thing. Today, I’ve been calling home, browsing the internet and taking it easy. I still have more than a few days here, which I am very thankful for, so in the next couple days I will probably do some scuba diving, snorkelling and hiking, that is, if I can peel myself off the warm sand and away from the embrace of the beach bar…

Posted by: powers67 | December 18, 2007

On the Way Out…

Wow, crap, it’s been awhile since I posted! Errh, in my own defense however, I have been busy with other matters. Look, I finally finished another video! It’s called Episode 3, but really, it’s more of a mini-episode. Catch it here.

It’s footage I shot of a hike that a bunch of us did back in August. Yeah, August. My current editing speed is about a minute a month, which is beyond pitiful, and into the realm of not even trying. But I have been filming quite a bit, and I promise that, come January, and the students being on break, I WILL get a little more done.

Well, with the self guilt out of the way, why don’t I update everyone on what’s been going on? Basically, since my last post, and with the exception of last week, I’ve been doing a ton of traveling.

The first weekend in December, I headed to Sapporo on Saturday, the 1st, for the Sapporo Mid-Year Conference. This once-a-year business trip is paid for by the Board of Education, and while the seminars range from moronic to useful, it’s simply a great way to catch up with friends who don’t live close to me. The parties were off the wall, (including the trippy karaoke bar pictured) and by the time I returned on Tuesday, I was exhausted. The best part of the trip however, was that both my Junior High Japanese Teachers of English, and the Elementary teachers came as well. 8 in all came with me, which was very unusual, as there were only about 40 Japanese teachers from all of Hokkaido invited, the vast majority from Sapporo. I was really proud to see my teachers really going at it, trying their hardest to understand all the English around them! And of course, it was a lot of fun going out in the big city with them.

The weekend after was another Musical rehearsal weekend, this time in the Southwestern town of Toyako. Toyako is quite famous for it’s hot springs, as well as it’s volcanoes. One mountain near the town is called “Showshinzan” because it erupted out of a farmer’s field fifty years ago. We went to it, and smoke was boiling from the top. (Video coming soon.) Progress on the musical has been slow, and our lack of a pianist to play the parts is really REALLY frustrating, but I think we are still making progress. Actually, one of my Junior High School teachers has said he may be able to play the parts for a recording, and may even be able to come to the rehearsals, which has really lifted my spirits a lot.

School has been normal and routine, if occasionally frustrating, which is pretty much par for the course. Most of my classes are working on long term projects right now, and are not learning new grammar etc. so I have very little to do inside or outside of classes. This has been perfect, because I’ve spent most of the time preparing for my trip to Thailand, and getting Christmas stuff in order. I left a bunch of stuff, (like my transportation in Thailand) to the very last minute, so I was relieved today when it all finally came together. From Bangkok, I take an all-night bus, then a high speed ferry for 6 hours, then a jeep through the jungle for an hour, or a Thai long-boat around the coast of the island for 1 hr, so it should be quite the adventure. I’m really looking forward to it, and have already kind of checked out from my work responsibilities, but that’s also partly because I just have so much other stuff going on right now! I’m really trying to prep a lot of the musical stuff for when I get back in January, I’m thinking about running for the Hokkaido JET President’s Council, I’ve still got Squash going on, Gregory wants me to take up Kyuudo, or Japanese Archery, I really REALLY need to buy a snowboard and hit the slopes, and my Adult Conversation classes start at the end of next month! Busy times in Japan…but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Anyways, last weekend was supposed to offer a bit of rest and relaxation, as I wasn’t travelling, but it ended being just as busy as any other. On Friday I was finally able to convince the elementary school JTE’s to go out for a night. (Several of them are pictured in the top picture, which was taken at our party in Sapporo.) We were supposed to go to Torisei, the local fried chicken, sushi, beer etc. izakaya in town, but it was packed with companies having their “Bonenkai” or “Year-Forgetting-Party.” The schools are having them too, but unfortunately I will miss them while I am in Thailand. On Saturday I went for one of my very rare shopping trips to Obihiro, in order to pick up Christmas presents for my family. I failed my saving throw vs. shiny! however and was literally FORCED to pick up a new digital camera. It’s a Canon IXY 10, and is quite purty, quite good, and very very small (It’s about the size of a pack of playing cards.) It’s 7.1Megapixels, and I bought two 2gig SD cards for it, ($15 each, each one hold 700 pictures) and the whole package cost me less than $280….It’s at a very nearly commodity price point, and it’s a really awesome and small camera, far, far better than my measly 2 megapixel cell phone camera. So all the pictures after this point were taken on it.

Saturday night was especially busy, as I had two different parties in different towns to attend. First up was my Squash Bonenkai, at the Western (All-you-can-eat-barbeque-with-candy-and-sushi-and-ice-cream-and-all-you-can-drink-beer) in Otofuke. Don’t believe for a second that Japan is a land of rice, and fish and healthy diets all the time. 😀 It was quite delicious, but wrapped up around 9 pm, when Chris picked me up to drive back to Shikaoi, for another “Pure-Malt” party.

These, put on the by the Pure Malt center in town, are designed to bring the 20-something girls who stay at the center together with the farmers of Shikaoi. It sounds weird I know, but what ends up coming out of all this is a great, nowhere-else-in-japan party, with live DJ’s and Bands, an incredibly cheap all-night all-you-can-drink/eat (less than $10), and more young people then I knew even existed in Shikaoi. I rolled out of there around 2AM, and stumbled home early, because I had to wake up at 8AM the next morning.

Sunday, I had a special squash day. I originally thought it was a tournament, but it turned out to be an open-house for the club, so we had a lot of first-timers there. (Video Soon!) I didn’t get to play as much as I had hoped too, but overall it was still a fun time. I got to play the club-founder (an ex-army officer with great English) in a match twice, beating him twice, and so winning the bet of “two beer.”

And of course, Sunday night, I went to the Onsen with Chris which has become a bit of a weekly thing. Sunday is actually perfect, because nothing is going on, and I can sit in the hot water, rest, and get ready for the next week. I made great plans to clean my house, etc, none of which I’ve followed through on. Meh, that’s what January is for!

Have a Good New Years!

Posted by: powers67 | November 29, 2007

Strange Times

This week, time has seemed…out-of-sync. That’s really the best way to describe it. Perhaps a change is coming, I’m not really sure.

This weekend I had Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, which was a holiday here in Japan. It’s kind of a made up holiday, but nonetheless, it was nice to have it off. Saturday I focused on my squash game, playing quite hard for 4.5 hours, before going out with a friend from town on Saturday night. Sunday, as usual, was a day for recovery. I got up late, had a delicious bowl of Ramen in Shimizu with Chris, and then we headed to the nearest onsen, (it’s actually quite a nice one.) Afterwards, we watched the new Battlestar Galactica and headed home.

As I was leaving his house, I mentioned that I felt…weird. It’s hard to explain, but my best explanation is that the temporality of the moment was displaced, or compressed. What I mean by that is, I felt placed out of time, or as I said on Sunday, “The past is occuring in the present.” It may sound crazy, but that’s what it felt like!

This weird feeling has persisted throughout the week, and seems to have had other effects. My routine, which had become pretty stable, has been completely shot this week. I stayed up far too late reading on Monday night, and also did a lot of messaging and Japanese studying, which for me, is unusual. Tuesday I was exhausted, and completely unmotivated, which isn’t terribly surprising, but I also had this very weird feeling throughout the evening, much like my feeling on Sunday night, a sense of things, occurring out of order.

On Wednesday, this feeling only increased. I was still tired, and so I went home early, around 4:15. (Technically I should have gone to the Board of Education after school, but they never check.) I decided to have a nap before playing squash, but I was tired enough that I slept till 9pm. I had strange dreams, which took part not in the past, or the future, or in some strange dreamtime, but completely in the present. Sometimes, when you wake up, your disorientated for a second, perhaps you’re unsure of where you are, but this time it took me literally minutes to figure out where I was and what was going on. I could have sworn I’d gotten on a plane a week ago and travelled back to Canada. It was a disconcerting feeling, and I was upset that I’d missed squash, but I decided to take it easy, and ended up going back to sleep a couple hours later.

Basically, the whole week has felt weird, I haven’t been able to get anything done, (and the BoE has been extremely aggravating) and I’ve felt as if I’m waiting for some sort of change to happen, as if something big is going to happen soon. Who knows, but it’s been….


Posted by: powers67 | November 19, 2007

Retrospective Part 2

We’ll return you to your regularly scheduled programming (or lack thereof, what with the writer’s strike in Hollywood and my own video-editing negligence) in a moment, but first, a quick rundown of the last couple weeks for me here in Shikaoi.

Life is dull. November has for many years now been my least favourite month, and this one, despite being located on the wind-swept plains of a frozen and foreign island, proved no less tiresome. The best word to describe the 11th month is neutral, or if you prefer, gray. The sky is gray. The ground is gray. The temperature is grey. My mood is grey. November lacks the crispness of autumn and the purity of winter. It’s cold, but without the benefits of the cold, like snow and snowboarding. It’s a month of transition, which means it’s dirty and off-putting, but it’s even worse than March because it lacks the promise of new warmth that wafts through the spring air. I hate November with a special passion.

At the same time, I’ve also stumbled onto my JET-scheduled culture shock. Back in the handbooks they gave us in August, it claimed that between 6-12 weeks we’d get our real culture shock. Not the “wow Japan is so crazy and wonderful” culture shock, but the “why the fuck can’t I find whole wheat bread?” kind of culture shock. Of course, I thought to myself that it wouldn’t be a problem for me, but right on schedule I’ve been going through it the last couple weeks. The biggest trigger for it has been my feeling of isolation these past couple weeks. For whatever reason, the people in my town that I used to hang out with just haven’t been around. I’d be paranoid if I thought they were avoiding me, but it certainly seems odd. I had a bad experience with a teacher not telling me about an event I was supposed to go to, and myself consequently looking like a complete fool at a bar in town, before getting sworn at by one of my English teachers, so I guess it’s just a feeling of getting a little burned with cultural miscommunication. What seems to happen with a lot of JET’s is that they either integrate into their community, or they don’t quite make it, and retreat into the understanding circle of foreigners in their area. I’m not at all bashing hanging out with foreigners, god knows, without them I wouldn’t still be sane, but I feel as if I’ve lost the balance I used to have. I definitely feel like I’ve been sliding towards Option #2, and I think it’s about time I did something about it. Perhaps that’s too harsh an assesment, but I’ve just grown tired of messaging people in Japanese and never getting a response!

So my game plan for the next few weeks is to have fun in my area with some of my old friends, enjoy the 30cm of snow we just got, and figure out a way to pay for all the things I want to do in the next few months.

At this point I don’t actually feel like writing up a couple retrospective points, so look for those in the future!

Posted by: powers67 | November 1, 2007

3 Month Retrospective Part 1 of ?

Your shitting me right? I’ve been here a Quarter of a Year?! I realized this yesterday as I was eating the lunch made for me by my 8th Graders in Home-Ecc class, and it just blew my mind. I could swear that I’ve been here, perhaps a month, at most.

I guess this isn’t really all that different than the timewarped university period. (4 years=2 years) but the ratio seems to be skewing evermore in my disfavour. At this rate by the time I’m 25 years will be passing by in daily chunks, which is a scary thought. And I can’t claim that “being busy makes the time fly” as I’ve been less busy than I was in University, although I can already feel a certain restlessness growing itchily inside of me, telling to hurry and get things done. Maybe next week…

So I thought I’d go back over some the big dreams, assumptions etc. that I had before coming here and compare them with the way things really are. Of course, lots of bubbles get popped when coming to a new and exciting place, that’s inevitable. But I still think it ‘s interesting to see just how things are different.

1. Schools
I was a little better informed than most people on this regard. I knew that the old myth about the impressiveness of Japanese schools was a complete load. I knew that the level of English was likely to be extremely low, and most students wouldn’t have a lot of motivation to learn it. As with most things, the reality is somewhere in the middle. In every class I seem to have a few students who desperately want to learn English, (one girl moved from Sapporo to Shikaoi, and has been living by herself for 3 years so that she could take part in the Gr. 10 trip to Canada!) a majority of apathetic students with generally dismal English skills, and a few troublemakers. Pretty standard I guess. I haven’t had any of the horror stories that I’ve heard from friends, but none of the huge successes either. The High School is perhaps the most surprising for me. The level of delinquency is certainly low, although that probably has a much to do with its rural location as the students themselves. As well, since High School is not mandatory, perhaps the worst students drop out. The level of English that the students possess is fascinating. While a very few continue to improve, most seem to get noticeably worse in High School. My Gr.7’s have the highest level of English overall, my Gr.12’s the lowest.

2. My House

Sorry to disappoint, but its not particularly “Japanese,” apart from a few quirks. It’s actually quit similar to my place in Montreal, with hardwood floors, (no tatami) and good insulation. The kitchen sometimes feels lacking in counter space, but that’s not exactly the end of the world. I do have a Japanese style bath tub, which is quite deep, but I don’t use it much as it is also very small in width and length. Heating is also typically Japanese, as it uses a kerosene heater supplied from an outdoor tank. All in all, it’s decent, but small. But I guess that saves on heating!

More to come soon!…

Posted by: powers67 | October 22, 2007


It’s interesting how the faster the time flies, the slower my blog posts get. Either some sort of arcane inverse temporality is at play here, or maybe it’s simply all to easy to let the blog slide when other things demand your attention. I could have sworn it was just a week ago that I last posted, but my calendar informs me that it was two weeks.

If I was pressed to summarize those last two weeks, I would be in great danger, as they have blended together more than any others. Mostly, this is because I taught almost no classes. The second week of October was Fall break for my Junior High Students, and my 10th Graders were on their trip to Canada. (Their first day back at school was today and they were definitely more excited and genki then normal!) I spent the majority of my time during the week literally passing the time, both at work and at home. I listened to good new music, read, basically did anything but something productive. I spent the weekends partying, first in Obihiro, and last weekend in Tomakomai for the HAJET Fall meeting.

But forget all that, that’s not what I want to talk about today. Twice in the past week I have been awestruck, (and I mean that word in it’s original, literal connotation,) by the astonishing beauty of the land in which I live. It’s not that it looks “oriental” or “japanese” or any one thing in particular.

Somehow, nature just comes together to consistently create jawdropping vistas; infinitely fractal clouds suffused with inner light, cascading verdant greenery which spills over ravines and gullies into crystalline mountain lakes, mountains which march off into the foggy distance-not terrifying in their soaring heights like the rockies-but inviting, with the promise of a thousand different intricacies. With the coming of autumn, the cold air has set in motion many changes. The skies, which were before hazy with summer humidity, are now clear, and for the first time last Thursday, as I was driving to judge an English Contest along a ridgeline farm road, I clearly caught sight of the Daisetzuan’s for the first time, their peaks capped with the season’s first snow. I had to stop and just stare for a minute, wishing I had had the foresight to bring my camera with me. (It now has a new home in my trunk, rather than in my house.) Now that the tree’s have exploded in riotous colour, now that the harvest is being reaped in, now that the countryside is literally changing before my eyes, it is clear to see. Fall in Hokkaido is indescribably beautiful.

View Larger Map

As I drove home from Tomakomai yesterday I was once again struck by the beauty of the nature around me. The wind was blowing hard, and most of the trees where at their absolute peak of colour. I was driving Trina home as well, but she was sleeping, so I couldn’t resist pulling out my cellphone and snapping off a few shots. They by no means do the landscape justice, but after looking at them, I almost like their hazy, grainy quality. It’s not too far from a Lomo in fact, which I guess is high praise. The luminous and indistinct nature of the cellphone camera gives the shots an almost dreamlike quality, which is certainly how I felt yesterday.

These first 4 shots were taken as I drove through the Hidaka mountain range, which forms the Southeastern spine of Hokkaido. (The first “Pictures” placemark on the map.) This is the same road I take to Sapporo, and is a gorgeous drive, with bridge after bridge soaring over giant, forested ravines. As we made our over the mountain range and into the Tokachi farm plain the views were simply spectacular. The wind had already ripped all the leaves of the trees here, but that just gave a different perspective on things.

I had to drive Trina to Ikeda, (“Pictures” placemark #2) which was out of the way on the other side of Obihiro. To pay myself back, and as a bit of a treatment for all the weekend partying I went to Tokachigawa Onsen, a town full of spas and hot springs. (Onsen is Japanese for Hot Spring.) I stayed for two hours at the Daiichi Hotel, supposedly the nicest Onsen in the town, and lounged in all the various pools.

After stripping down (all onsens are naked) and washing up (which you must do before entering) I sat first in the indoor pools, then the rotemburo, then the sauna, and finally the pool pictured in the middle image at the link above. It was gorgeous, as the sun was just setting to my right, lighting the wispy clouds up with pink light as the river flowed in front of me and traffic trundled over the bridge. Of course, it would have been a little obvious if I took a cameraphone in. 😉

As I drove back, (“Pictures” Placemark #3) quite warm and soft, (apparently, Tokachigawa is a rare “peat spring” which is good for the skin,) but also quite sleepy, I took a few more pics. A storm had been rolling in for the last few hours, leading to some great sky shots.

Today I have finally started teaching again and it feels great. I saw my 10th Graders for the first time in two weeks, and on Wednesday I get to see my 7th graders for the first time in 2 weeks as well. I don’t have much planned for this week, but this weekend is absolutely jam-packed. Apparently, only one weekend is worth planning events on, as literally everyone has planned activities. I have a High School enkai on Friday, which I may not be able to attend, a Musical Rehearsal in Atsuma (4 hrs away) all day Saturday, the Pure Malt Party back home in Shikaoi on Saturday night, and pumpkin carving on Sunday, so I am trying to rest up now. Happy Driving!

P.S. I haven’t done any video in too long, but I’ve got a number of mini-episodes in the pipeline that I hope to be premiering soon! If you want to see party pics from the weekend, just take a look on Facebook! (I didn’t smile in that last pic because I was trying to concentrate on taking a picture of myself with a cellphone while driving on the wrong side of the road, and I missed my face at least 4 or 5 times!)

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