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.


Winter food, a trumpter, and Doctor-san


Today I learned about おでん (oden), a winter dish that consists of boiled egg and cabbage, and is commonly sold at just about any convini (convenience store) for ¥100 (about a dollar).  From the same class I also learned that one of the women’s ex-husbands is a man named Kunitachi, a famous trumpeter the other students had heard of, who teaches at Tokyo Music College.

I have private lessons three times a month with a doctor who likes to take over the class and treats our sessions as practice medical lectures.  I find that I’m getting better at down-shifting out of teacher mode and into student mode.  This makes our lessons go very smoothly, since all he needs are small corrections here and there, and otherwise I can just enjoy a fascinating talk about medicine.  He gets the English practice he wants, and I learn something new and strange every week.  Let’s call him Doctor-san.

Doctor-san sat down at the table today, and pulled out a bag of old medical tools, including some rusty scalpels that made me very nervous, but he handled them with confidence as he admitted to being unkind to the surgical assistants back in the day.
Here’s what I learned at today’s session:
-A person who holds tools for the surgeon is called a lancet, after the person who held lances for a knight (although I think this was the job of the squire).
-A hook holder is a tool that dilates openings in a patient’s body so the surgeon can have a clear view of the job (this task falls to the newest surgeon, and it’s apparently a very difficult job, standing perfectly still, holding a hook holder for hours at a time).
-A double-sided blade is for amputation: cutting the top half of the leg first, then the bottom half without letting go of the tool that would have become slippery with blood by then.
-Scissors that are curved at the tip are called Cooper’s scissors, and are so designed to allow a surgeon to see what she’s cutting while the tool is in a tight space, or a tunnel (vein).
-A zondel is a narrow metal rod that “investigates anal tube.”  I became hyper-aware of how he handled it with his bare hands.
-There are at least two types of scalpels: one that has a narrow and slender blade, the tip of which is used inside the body, and is held with a “pencil grip.”  The other has a shape most people would find more familiar, and is used to cut the body open (the part of the blade used is different, and could be called the monouchi if it were a Japanese sword).  It’s name is something about “with a belly,” which describes its shape wonderfully.  It’s held with a “violin bow grip.”


A phone, an inn, and a funny white dog


I finally got a cell functioning cell phone today.  Apparently the one I had wouldn’t work for some reason…?  Anyway, when I signed the contract, they could only put two names down: first and last.  Japanese people don’t have middle names, and I have to put my name down on everything exactly as it’s printed on my resident card, which has all three of my names.  This little conundrum could only be solved by combining two of the three names, resulting in FIRSTMIDDLE LAST.  The woman who sold me the contract saw my name and read it aloud.  I told my coworker, Hiroko-san, that it sounded like when my mother was mad at me to hear my first and middle name in such rapid succession, which she thought was hysterical, so she explained it to the woman working at the store, and they giggled together.

Quick vocab lesson:
Campaign- special offer
Service- free sample

I found a traditional Japanese inn behind the school where I work.  I went in just to check it out, and found a really beautiful lobby with dark wood, communal tables and benches, a long bar across the back wall, a friendly owner whose English is excellent, and a little white dog who might be a bit too friendly.  We made friends as soon as I came in, and while I chatted with the owner.  I took a business card and was just about to walk out when the dog tackled me at the ankles.  I turned around, and he was crouched a few feet away, head near the ground, butt in the air, in full playful mode.  I played with him a bit while the owner laughed and apologized.  I shared the info with my dad, assuming he’d be interested in staying there when he came to visit.

While reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil with a class, the topic of jurors came up, and the students gave me some great info about the way a Japanese courtroom were once run.  The current system resembles ours, but up until about four years ago, jurors were paid professionals whose only job was to populate juries.

A male student during another class got distracted by my facial expressions and abruptly announced that he didn’t know how to raise just one eyebrow at a time, or wink.  Everyone tried, many failed.  So cute.

In the class for high schoolers, the two girls and I discussed anime.  One of them told me about a horror anime that sounds genuinely scary, so I told her it sounds great, but that I can’t watch it because I can’t handle scary stuff.

One of the women in another class read several signs in our textbook, and got confused when we came across one that says, “tires and exhaust.”  She read it instead as “tired and exhausted,” and we all enjoy a good laugh.


Haiku, happy athletes, and karaoke


Today is Friday, one of my days off, so I slept in, then wrote a haiku about the little cast iron bell I bought for $1 at my school’s bazaar in the lobby:

Morioka bell,
calling high and sweet, even
dogs stop to listen.

After breakfast, I headed through the muggy air to haunt the tourist center until 2ish, at which point it was obviously time for jajamen.  The thick, warm air scared off all but die-hard weirdos like me, so there was no line today.  The chef, a tired, round woman, cuts a noodle with her thumbnail to test if it’s ready to serve.  She wears a green apron with white kanji that means “white dragon.”  The patrons are all male, with the exception of one table of three women.  The baseball on the TV catches my attention: one of the players hits a home run, and smiles and pumps his fist in celebration as he jogs to home plate.  His teammates smile and high five him enthusiastically.  This strikes me as so different from the way the game is played in the US, but when I mention this to my students the next day, they clarify: those were high schoolers playing, not professionals.  Still, the stakes are high.  Apparently, agents watch these games very carefully.  High school baseball is taken as seriously as high school football in some small towns in the US.  Still, I’m happy to see that there is still some joy left in a televised sport.

Having spent all morning (and some of the afternoon) chatting with people back home and stuffing myself full of delicious noodles, there was no time left to go to the martial arts supply shop.  I headed home to shower and change, then meet Ryann for a girls’ night out with Annie, a friend and coworker who occasionally teaches at our school.  We get Indian food, and each of us orders a different type of Naan: sesame (Annie), garlic (Ryann), and honey (me).  I clearly won, but everything was delicious.

Then we hit up a karaoke bar on Odori that charged like $90 for an hour!  I was shocked, but it was fun to finally do some karaoke in Japan.


Violent love, baseball, and jajamen


I taught a few classes at the hair and makeup academy in the morning, then caught a ride from Nabuko-san to the post office, where my bank card awaited us.  Nabuko-san parked illegally, and steps happily out of the car.  “Just a short time,” she chirps, and saunters into the post office at a confident clip while I jog to catch up.  I’ve grown very fond of her, and appreciate her frank, friendly approach to all things.

While discussing our personal opinions of the way different languages sound, I told the only two women in the class that I thought German often sounded like fighting, and they all nodded.  One woman then shouted, “Aishiteru!” (I love you!) while punching the air.  It took me a while to regain my composure.  The students chatted easily among themselves, and the topic turned to sports.  They mimicked Hideo Nomo’s pitching style.  “Tornado,” they say, and one of them contorts her body before whipping around and accidentally hitting a chair.

They were both surprised I ate jajamen alone at the time.  I told them I went to Pylon and sat at the bar to eat.  “That’s a… man’s space,” one of them said, and the other nodded in agreement.  “Oh, I don’t care,” I said, then added, “Anyway, I’m American, so…” At this they nod vigorously.  The rules are different for foreigners, especially bold American women who can be said to not know the unspoken rules of Japanese pub/restaurant culture, and may or may not choose to be bound by them regardless.