Agatha Christie, a shy violet, and the Autumn Festival: Akimatsuri


When I asked about favorite books today, one of the students said she likes Edo-era historical fiction, and Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express tops her list: “You should read!” she said).

I’ve seen ads for a movie, Hot Road, and it looks like a romantic tradgedy of sorts. I’m interested in hearing more about it, but of course the only person I know who has seen it is a crushinly shy young girl who goes minutes in total silence rather than speaking, but she’s improving. She draws oden (winter food), then says it’s konyaku, and struggles to explain what that is. I wonder if I put too much pressure on her. I turn the conversation to sports:
Do you play sports in school?
In PE?
What do you play?
Soft tennis.
Soft tennis?
Why soft?
Ball is… soft.
Really? Why is the ball soft?
Soft tennis ball is… [looks up a word in the dictionary: injury]

Akimatsuri– the autumn festival, the reason the locals are building these fantastic floats I ride by on my way to and from work.


Kintsukuroi, a better diet, and false advertising


One of my students mentioned something amazing today: one of her friends practices kintsukuroi, the repair of ceramics with precious materials, usually gold.

This is a perfect example of a difference between Japanese and western culture. Kintsukuroi serves to highlight the history (and flaws) of a piece rather than attempting to cover them up. Moreover, it allows a damaged cup or bowl to continue to be used instead of pointlessly throwing away an otherwise valuable piece. The results are, of course, incredibly beautiful, and leave the piece more valuable than it was before the damage was done.  The concept of use and reuse is a philosophy that’s still deeply ingrained in the culture here in Japan. Their obsessive organization of how they throw their trash away is a less attractive, but equally impressive example.

The two women in this class also mentioned Ohasama Winery, and they also offer to take me there with them some time. It’s an hour away by car.
They randomly ask me what I’m having for dinner, and they both chastize me when I say tsukemen.
“Vegetables!” they both yell at me.
Somehow this word comes up: tsukidewanai- a gentle version of dislike.

I got another coffee house class, where we all just sit around and chat with just a couple of women today. Their English is very high-level, and they’re fascinating people. One had recently come from a ballet lesson. The other does gymnastics. I said, “Sugoi!” (amazing), and they asked if I speak Japanese. As usual, I replied in the negative: “Nihongo-ga dekimasen.”
Their eyes pop out a little. “That’s Japanese!” They blurted out, and we all laughed. The class was good, both women are very clever.


Old names, horses, and Doctor-san


During one of today’s classes, the upcoming holiday came up: Tuesday, the 23rd will be Respect for the Elderly Day. “I’m senile,” declared a male student, suddenly.

This weekend’s festival is to celebrate Morioka Castle taking leadership over the neighboring 23 towns (including my neighborhood, Chabatake, and my school’s, Osawakawara) about 300 years ago, with the Nambu han (clan) at the top.

Old names for Morioka:
Hanayacho (many flowershop town)
Kajicho (swordsmith town)
One student mentioned that her hometown’s old name is “ginger selling place.”

They discussed horseback archery, and chattered in Japanese until someone said “hospital,” and everyone laughed. There was a “ritual” that involves horseback archery at Hachimangu shrine on Tuesday, but I doubt I’ll be able to attend.

Doctor-san’s lesson began at 6pm, and this is what I learned:
-Alexis Carrel, a 1894 Nobel Prize winner for inventing how to cut a vein and rejoin it using a 3-point method (assistant holds 2 points while the doctor sews the seams between the two points, which is then repeated twice more).
Types of transplants, in order of success:
-Autotransplantation- self to self
-Homotransplantation- human to human
-Heterotransplantation- animal to human
A Russian doctor transplanted a dog’s head to another dog’s chest, and the head survived for “several days.” Yikes.

Doctor-san said, “Rabbit is more conventional experiment. More gentle, not violent.” Double yikes.


A little song and dance


One of my female students went to a choir recital for a young family member, and apparently had an unexpectedly awesome time:
“My niece… 2 years old. At her school, everybody singing, but just her… dancing! So funny. I watch DVD over and over.

Another female student in the same class went to a high school reunion (maybe her 50th), and then mumbled something in Japanese, making the other students laugh. I look around with a bemused expression, and they conference and flip through dictionaries to translate whatever it was she said into English for my benefit. One of them finally blurts out, “First love!” I was shocked, and apparently it showed, and set the students laughing again.

My student said, “First love… ah… didn’t come.” everyone let out an exasperated noise. We all commiserated. The student to my left then turned to me, paused, thought for a moment, and said, “Can I ask a personal question?” Naturally I said yes, and she asked when had my first love.

I surprised myself by saying Eugene Kang, a Korean boy who was in my grade in elementary school. I guess he was the first guy I had a crush on. I remember thinking of him as a talented artist; by age 12, he could draw better than anyone else in our grade. When I asked him how he drew so well, and he replied tartly: “You think of the line, and then you put it there.” Pretty useless advice, but its simplicity was beautiful. Initiate childhood crush, which developed into a kind of love, I suppose. I wonder about him now and then. Facebook says he married a Korean woman, and she made a couple little people with him.


Cats, a bat, and an alcoholic sweet


During a private lesson with a middle schooler, I learn that she watches a TV drama after school called GDO.
I ask her about her pets: she has a cat.
“Any pets before the cat?”
“Dog… cat… talking bat.”
“A bat?!”
“No… Really?! A bat.”
“Um… bad.”
“…A bird?”
She has had one dog in the past named Malon because its birthday was 9/24, in autumn (?).
Are cats or dogs better, I asked. “Cats.” Why? “Because cat is… only eat cat food. Dog eat dog food, and meat and… fish.”
Later, in a class with three adult women, we discuss favorite things:
“Curry and cake.”
“Reimen and… ramen.”
“Unagi and chocolate.” What kind? “Truffle, black [dark], with brandy inside.” This last type is only available when the weather starts to get cold: October-April.
Sade- “At night, listening, I feel… relax.”
When I asked, “What do you do in your free time?” I received the best single answer I might ever hear in a classroom, or any room for that matter: “Pet cats.”


My coworkers continue to be the best


This afternoon, I headed to the electronics store with two coworkers (Nabuko-san and Hiroko-san) to get an internet plan for my apartment. Before getting into her car, Nabuko-san turned to me with big eyes and a serious face, and said, “My car smells bad!”
“So desu ka?” (Oh yeah?) I fumbled, unsure how to react.

“Mmm!” She affirmed, and then intoned, “I stepped on a very stinky worm by mistake.” I burst out laughing loudly on the street next to her car. “Very strong smell,” she bemoaned, almost to herself, with a small sneer, eyes downcast. She is simply the best.


Suddenly, Doctor-san


Nabuko-san came running into the teachers’ office area (where our desks and supplies are), snapped to attention and said, “Doctor-san is ready for surgery” with a quick, efficient bow, without so much as cracking a smile. I stared at her blankly. “What?”
Sure enough, I went into the classroom where we usually meet, and there were a bag of rusty surgical tools spilled all over the table. Doctor-san forgot that he requested that we cancel this week’s class, and showed up by mistake. He holds one of them up at eye-level, smiled and said, “What is this.” So we began, and here’s what I learned during this session:
-Braided silk thread was used to sew people up because it’s strong and flexible.
-Current needles are curved, and triangular (have three sides). Doctor-san demonstrated how to use a needle like this on a lanyard, then handed it to me and said, “You try,” and I did. He said I did well. Then I dropped the needle on the floor.

He also demonstrated how to tie knots:
A square knot is “the best” (aka. sailor’s knot, man’s knot), but there is no internationally common name for this knot. Left and right hands switch to make it. When they don’t switch, it’s called a woman’s knot, or granny knot. A surgeon’s knot passes through the bite twice, then a square knot is placed on top of that. This combination is a surgeon’s knot.


Presentations, and The Sound of Music


Today, one class gave presentations on the movies they enjoy.  A few of the off-duty teachers and support staff were brought into the classroom to act as an attentive audience.

Stand By Me– an “adventure.”

I am Sam– the presenter says, “He works hardly,” and nods with a serious face.  We all nod back.

The Sound of Music– the presentation is titled “Amazing Songs from the Von Trapps.”  This student took my advice, bore her audience in mind, and asked if we had seen it.  Everyone had, so she skipped the plot summary, and went straight into giving her opinion.  She hums “My Favorite Things” for us, and says that the puppets are very cute.  “The music can encourage us when we met difficult situation.”  She says Edelweiss is the best scene.


Letters home, a walk in the park, and a piano in a cafe


It’s been a nice slow day.  I organized care packages and wrote a letter to my dojo family to go along with the care package I’m sending them (a stenciled drawing from the anime museum for Jose, erasable pens for Chemil, and black sesame honey candy for everyone else).  I stopped by a stationery store yesterday, which was really dangerous.  Their paper and stickers are super cool, I might actually become one of those people who fucking loves stickers.  Ugh.  However, I got home, wrote a letter, folded it, addressed the enveloped and placed the letter carefully inside only to discover that there is no lick-so-seal glue on any of the envelopes I bought.  Apparently a bottle of glue or some pretty tape are common ways to seal an envelope here, which struck me as rather quaint once I got over a flush of annoyance (there are bottles of glue at the post office, in fact).  I Facetimed with dad for a while, showed him the black sesame honey, and ate ramen for late lunch before heading out.

I met Ryann and Annie at Sakurayama Jinja, and we took a nice walk around Morioka Castle Park, during which Ryann shocked the shit out of me by pulling a beer out of her purse and drinking it as we walked.  After sitting by the river on some lovely benches and chatting for a bit, Annie showed Ryann and I an adorable little cafe on the opposite bank of the Nakatsu river right by the old Iwate bank, across from the tourist center.  I had coffee, Ryann had another beer, and Annie had curry.  A piano sat behind Annie, and at the end of the night, one of the two other patrons sat down and played a little.

As we enjoyed our food and drink, a man whom we later discovered to be named Hiro interrupted us very politely to ask our opinion on a song his students are thinking of doing a performance to.  It’s LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.”  We agreed that any song whose lyrics include instructions to “shake that” is probably inappropriate, but that it’s a very dance-able song, and the ultimate decision should be his.  He turned out to be an English teacher for teenagers, and used to teach at Zenrinkan.  He also used to work at a family-run electronics distributor, but business was slow, so he became an ESL teacher.


Verbing, and hot sake


During a chat with two excellent female students, I correct one of them from saying “Let’s [verb + ing]” and suggest “Let’s [verb]” instead.  She is surprised to hear this, and they are both delighted to receive such a simple correction that they can use so easily.  This is a common mistake that isn’t exclusive to East Asian ESL students.  I wonder where they pick it up.

I had jajamen at my favorite spot opposite Sakurayama Jinja for dinner tonight.  While waiting for my meal, seven salary men (office workers) sat down and poured each other hot sake from a simple metal pitcher that was narrower at the bottom than the top, about 8 inches tall, and might’ve actually been the vessel in which the sake was heated up.