Spawning salmon, a recipe for rice, and hot crazy types


I found a second hand store near Sakanacho Hotline today. The stuff in these shops is much higher quality, and far more fashionable than in American second hand shops. Maybe I need to spend more time in second hand shops in the US.

On the recommendation of some of my Wednesday coffee house students, I went one bridge further south than I usually do to observe the salmon spawning on my way to work. Several other people of all ages stopped to look, too. One man didn’t notice he had dropped his cane as he took a photo with his phone. I picked it up for him, and he chatted a bit about the fish, but I didn’t understand a word. Afterward, I took the river route to work for the first time. It’s faster and beautiful.

Yuko and Chiyako gave me a recipe for kurigohan (mixed rice):
-3 cups rice (standard amount of water, to 3)
-1.5 cups fresh chestnuts, peeled (“Kiotsukete!” [be careful!])
-a little salt

Chiyako is apparently a huge Korean movie fan, and has been to Korea ten times in four years. She even goes to Korea just to enjoy a special winter dish. We discuss the word ‘fanatic,’ the kanji for which literally reads: heat, crazy, type.

In a private lesson, the topic of ‘warrior poet’ comes up, and I mention Nicholas. My student says, “You, too.”


Mascots, athletic Japanese, and evolution denial


When you arrive in Morioka, the first of many mascots you’ll encounter is Sobachi, the black-and-red-bowl-headed… thing that is just super jazzed you’re finally here. Sometimes his head has wanko soba noodles inside, sometimes tofu, sometimes rice, the list goes on. He is the multi-talented, highly edible mascot of Morioka City.

Kumamon is more recognizable; he’s the black bear mascot of Kumamoto prefecture. He’s on everything from purses to tshirts to these little pieces of paper you can stick to the top of your cup to keep your tea warm. I’ve even seen him in Los Angeles. Sobachi could learn a thing or two from Kumamon.

Today, my students and I were discussing markets in the area, and one of them mentioned D & Delica, a somewhat expensive grocery store (“I like the cheap stuff,” one student specified). Another student chimed in: “I like donkey!” Everyone nodded. I was lost. Apparently this is short for Don Quixote, a “discount grocery store,” whatever that is.

Within a month or so of my arrival in Japan, my coworkers, a few students and I were sitting in the upstairs lobby area enjoying tea and cake together to celebrate something. Everyone was chatting and being friendly. One of the students was asking me questions, to which I was replying “Hai.” I looked to my right, and saw my coworker Hiroko shaking with silent laughter, her eyes squeezed shut with the effort of containing herself. “Hiroko-san,” I said. “Daijobu desu ka?” (are you ok?), to which she burst out laughing in earnest, and in between gasping breaths, managed to say, “You sound like an athlete!” Of course, I learned to say yes in Japanese from my father, but have used it far more at the Shinkendo dojo, where we are taught to say it sharply and clearly, a habit that Hiroko-san finds endlessly amusing.

I mentioned this incident to my students today to illustrate how Japanese can sound sharp of soft depending on the speaker. We practiced my “female Japanese,” which was more entertaining than instructive for all involved.

6pm Dr. Sasaki
I’ve picked up some valuable skills during my short time here so far, one of which is training my eyes to see something new without reacting immediately. This gives me time to observe others to gauge their reaction. I learned this skill from Dr. Sasaki, who has taken to bringing something interesting, strange, or disgusting with him for every class. Today, I enter the room wearing a practiced, neutral expression to find skis and poles leaning into a corner of the room. They’re for “mountain skiing,” which means they’re used for going uphill, which sounds absurd.

Dr. Sasaki has made a couple dozen gouges on the bottom side of the ski to prevent backsliding, and help the seal skin grip the ski. That’s right: there’s a strip of seal skin strapped to the bottom of each ski (which also helps prevent backsliding). “This is my invention,” he preens. He mentions “ant traps” on the mountain in Hachimantai, a surprisingly perilous feature if Dr. Sasaki’s description holds any truth: “If I fall in it, is very dangerous. I must climb out, or I must die.” The lesson takes a distinctly more medical tone from there.

Hemostatic forceps are used on veins or arteries to stop bleeding temporarily.
Motor nerves are under our control. Sensible nerves feel hot, cold, itch, etc. Autonomous nerves control blood vessel dilation, sweat, digestion, etc.
We review the post-stomach digestive tract: ascending, transverse, descending, s-shape bowel, straight bowel, rectum, anus.

Dr. Sasaki sits and asks me if I believe in god. I say no. This is not an unusual answer in Japan. He asks if I believe in evolution. I say there is a lot of evidence for it, so yes. He says there is no evolution because different species cannot inter-breed, therefore this is god’s will. I point out the production of a mule from a horse and a donkey. Yes, he says, but mules cannot procreate, therefore this is god’s will. We have not found the missing link, therefore evolution is untrue. I reply that god cannot be seen, therefore it doesn’t exist either. He thinks for a second, then smiles and says, “Let’s talk about this again next time.” End of discussion.


Butterflies, and English: The silent language


I’m told I should visit Nanshyousou, an old wooden house with a beautiful garden. It’s a historic landmark in Morioka. I’ll have to go.

Private lessons with a high school girl who doesn’t talk much tend to be very slow and quiet, but that’s the same issue most Japanese students have: they don’t want to volunteer information, even if they know it’s right, because they don’t want to stand out. It makes the teachers’ jobs very difficult, which is probably why they rely so comfortably on reading and writing. But languages are alive; no modern language exists solely on paper, so I try to get my students to talk as much as possible, sometimes using something comfortable like a written prompt. Today, I provided a worksheet with sentences she had to complete.
I’m afraid of… “butterfly.”
“Really?!” I ask her to clarify. Turns out it’s moths.
On weekends, I like to… “watch TV.”
“What do you watch?”
“…and drama.”
I’m good at… “soccer and table tennis.”


Bribes, German, parental figures, and inter-cultural lunch


While discussing politics in my reading class, my students brought up the topic of bribes, how they are a problem with politicians all over the world, and Japan is no exception.  In fact, the history of bribery is in part preserved in its name: sodenoshita, literally “under the sleeve,” hearkening back to the days when people would slip money into the large kimono sleeves of the influential in exchange for favor.  Today a more modern term is used: wairo, which means bribe.

One of my students told us about when she visited a friend of hers in America whose child was in the process of being potty trained.  She randomly asked, “Pee, and what’s the second one… excrement?”  “Ah,” I said sagely, “Poo.”  Another student chimed in: “Yoo-reen.  Urine is pee.”  Another chirps, as though reading from a dictionary, “Stool, excrement, feces.”  I change the subject.

The woman mentions that English goes up and down, while Japanese is “flat.”  I say that Italian has even more musicality.  One of the men says German is also flat. The other man starts spouting German phrases: “Das ist. Ich bin,” and then, “Heil Hitler!” several times with his arm thrown out in a Nazi salute, chuckling softly to himself while I attempt to give examples of how German can sound harsh or gentle depending on how it’s spoken.

In the evening, I teach a private lesson with a high school girl named Mayu. We chat freely; her parents just want her to talk with and hear a native English speaker, and she enjoys chatting about random topics, so there is no preparation necessary.  Today she told me about her family.
“My mother is so scary!”
“Really?  Why?”
“Mmm… She is 46.”
“Yes… 46. So…” She thinks for a moment, then types something into the translation app on her phone. She holds it up for me to see: menopause. I laugh loudly. She calmly concludes, “Maybe that’s why always angry.”
“Does your father get mad about your grades?”
“No, he is very smart. He got good grades. He things we are…” She consults her phone again, and comes back with: idiot.

There’s a medical student in my advanced Monday evening class who asks excellent questions about the finer points of English, and who, if he had more exposure or lived in an English speaking country, would be capable of communicating at close to a native English speaking level. Having said all that, his grasp of American cuisine is shockingly stunted, which I learned when I explained what PBJ was.  I said, “It’s a sandwich with peanut butter and jelly.”
“So, it’s one sandwich… with both?”
“Yes, jelly goes on one piece of bread. Peanut butter goes on the other piece of bread. Then you put them together.”
“The peanut butter and… jelly are… in the same space?”
“Yes, they touch.” He is visibly disgusted.
Since he comes straight from the medical school to join our class, he typically spends time in hospitals with patients, or, like today, observing routine (aka. bloody and graphic) surgeries, presumably without making any of the faces he made during this discussion about a lunchtime staple I’ve literally eaten thousands of. Here’s hoping his amusing frankness and total lack of a poker face doesn’t leak into his bedside manner