26 September 2005

This is Not Los Angeles. This is Japan.

Preface: I apologize for the lack of posts over the last week. Things got busy, and I'm having to work out a new approach to my duties and obligations. I'll do my best to stay on top of things.

I went to Miyazaki City for the weekend, and while there we ran across what looked like a Chicano car show. I didn't have my real camera with me, so all I could manage was a handful of snaps with the phone. I'm pretty sure there aren't this many Mexicans in all of Miyazaki, if not Kyushu. These are Japanese emulating Mexican-American hip-hop/gangster culture. Most of the guys have the dress down pretty well, while most of the girls look like a misguided interpretation of something from a Christina Aguilera video.

Not only did they have the look, they had the jumping cars to boot.

The strangest part had to be how so many of them sported the icons of their adopted culture down to the last detail. Long sleeved flannel shirts with only the top button fastened, worn over an extra long plain white t-shirt, which is over a pair of oversized black shorts, and then a pair of long athletic socks.

In Japan, where tattoos are still somewhat taboo (maybe not as taboo as they once were, but they're nowhere as common as we see in the states, with every bandwagon-jumping airheaded sheep getting tribal barbwire tattoos around their narcissistic biceps, or tribal floral patterns hovering over their low-hanging derriere...) (breathe...) so, yeah -- In Japan, tattoos, etc -- there was a girl with a full shoulder tattoo of the Virgin Mary that ran down to her elbow. You can bet she's not Catholic. I might even be willing to bet she might not know the meaning of the icon she has impressed unto her flesh.

My favorite part had to be the way they carried the Mexican national flag with them. There were more Mexican flags than you'd see American flags in an hour of Faux News -- there were that many. Affixed to cars, carried aloft (some of those flags were pretty huge)... it was surreal.

To wrap this up, I spoke with a couple friends who actually attended a couple parties thrown by this crowd. The guys got up on stage and rapped (in Japanese) about how nobody understands life in the 'hood, and that there are people dying in the street... 'Hood? People dying in the street? Where? Certainly not Japan.

Oh, and with all these trappings, one of my friends walked up to a group at one of these parties and asked "Como estas? Que paso?" They had no idea what he was talking about.

Oh, Japan. You're so silly.

16 September 2005

Update: We're in the Newspaper!

(EDIT: Took a few pictures with my camera, so you can ignore the first couple paragraphs. Click on the above image to see the full article and accompanying Japanese text.)

Well, we hit the newspaper today. I don't have time today to run about looking for a scanner since I actually have WORK to do today, so I'll have to just give you a quick description and synopsis of the article.

It's a small piece on about page 7, three short paragraphs with the three of us done up Japanese manga-style.

I'll give a real quick and rough translation for now, and try to clean it up later.

THIS is American

Nathan, a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) from Kirishima town, and two other Americans in Aira county, put together a band for an international exchange event in Makizono town. In front of the audience, vocalist Andrew from Yokogawa town proceeded to chant "aaa... ooo..." repeatedly in a low voice, keeping with the guitar.

Over the top of this, Nathan played lead flute, while the chanting paid him no heed; "aaa... ooo..." Was this rock? Country? The audience knew nothing -- not the title, not even the genre. The innovative rhythm made the audience wonder 'Is this sort of mysterious song the latest thing in America?', while the beat carried on.

When asked about the song after the performance, the three men gave a wry smile. "It doesn't really have a name." In actuality, Jerry (from Yusui town) played only two chords while Nathan and Andrew just shouted along with the guitar. Despite the strange song with the strange construction, they managed to captivate the audience, and shrewdly succeeded in expanding their circle of "international exchange".

"... and that's the news. Back to you, John."

14 September 2005

What Have We Done?

Here's a little follow-up to our music performance. Nate, Raka, Gon, and I use an instant messenger program during the day to discuss work (and other stuff). Nathan comes on and asks me to confirm the spelling of my last name. I do so, and ask why. Here's a cut from our chat:

Nathan: the newspaper guy is here
Nathan: from makizono
Jerry: about our music performance?
Nathan: yeah
Jerry: I have GOT to get a few copies of that when it comes out, even if we're just a mention.
Nathan: yeah
Nathan: he said he'd come back to give me a picture
Nathan: it'll probably come out in makizono's paper
Nathan: we could ask gon to procure us copies
Jerry: ahahaha
Jerry: yes
Nathan: he said that people were pretty interested in the music we were playing
Nathan: 'cuz they had never heard anything like it
Jerry: ahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
Nathan: and that some people apparently thought that it was some kind of new American trend
Jerry: I'm sitting here at my desk, starting to tear up from keeping the laughter inside.
Jerry: This is awesome.
Nathan: yeah

I guess we'll be performing more of our particular brand of music in the future. Time to learn more chords...

12 September 2005

Wait. Guitar?

So... how was your weekend?

Putting on events to "promote internationalization and intercultural exchange" is just one part of the CIR ("Coordinator for International Relations") job description. In case you forgot, I'm a CIR on the JET Program. There are five CIRs in my general area, pictured below.

From left to right, that's Gon, Nathan, myself, Raka, and Toki. Gon and Raka are both from China, Toki is from Korea, and Nathan and I both hail from the great nation that is California.

Gon's predecessor founded a flea market-style event called the "Makizono Fureai Market". Loosely translated, that's "The Makizono town Communal Market". When Gon started his position in April, he ran into about the same thing I have: When your predecessor created an event that was well received, there is a certain expectation that you will continue their good work. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes you find yourself trying to fulfill an expectation while at the same time you don't know what that expectation is.

All five CIRs in my area are pretty close. We help each other out all the time. It makes things easier and more enjoyable all at the same time. When Gon asked for help, I didn't fully understand what he was looking for. I thought it would be the same thing as usual: Speech or Powerpoint presentation. Something like that. Of course I said "yes". I found out later he was looking for... music? Aw, hell. I don't play any musical instruments!

Or do I? I managed to learn a couple chords in about a week (with lots of tutelage from Nathan - he rocks on the music front), and then used that to provide a base and rythm for Nathan to improvise over. Andrew, in the middle, is a nearby ALT and friend who is chanting something we came up with. It sounded as if a twisted parody of a tribal chant was rear-ended by a runaway language track from a Chinese tutorial CD. ALl three of us wound up chanting with wild abandon; we were there just to do our five minutes and get through it. We sounded very strange; I think Yoko Ono would have been proud of our... uh... music.

Here's the strangest part -- the people at the market loved it. Afterward they asked several times about the title of the song, or about the style of music. Nathan and I did a pretty good job of explaining what we did, but I just don't think anyone really got it.

At least everyone had a good time.

Mountains, Steam, Spas, and Chicken

A view of Kurino-dake, or Mt. Kurino, which towers over the southeast end of the valley. The lighter spot in the middle of the picture is steam from one of the many volcanic vents up there. This one in particular is usually visible on clear days when the temperature and humidity are right.

There is a pretty well-known onsen (spa/hot spring) up there, and I think it's not far from that vent Kurino-dake Onsen offers an amusingly-named chicken dish: Niwatori no Jigoku-mushi, or "Hell-steamed chicken". Yes, that's chicken steamed with authentic steam straight from hell... or so they say. It's supposed to be pretty good; the novelty alone is enough to make me want to try it. I understand reservations are required if you want the chicken. I guess hellsteam steams chickens slowly.

In other news, we managed to weather the typhoon pretty well. My end of town, the south end, didn't have any real damage, but the north end of town had some flooding. I haven't had a chance to get up there, but the day of the typhoon, my coworkers were running in and out, responding to one thing or another, usually on that end of town. I was amused by the fact that it wasn't too dangerous to come to work, but nobody wanted you to go outside for lunch because of the hazard. Now, to be fair, the storm really started to peak about 10:00 in the morning, and went full-bore until about 3:00 in the afternoon. By quitting time, the weather was just like any other moderate rainfall. Hurricanes and the like are weird.

05 September 2005

It's Going to Get Wet

Typhoon #14 (also known as "Typhoon Nabi") is coming almost straight for us here in Kagoshima. It's expected to hit land sometime tonight or Tuesday, and will roll right over us before moving on past Hiroshima, continuing to the Sea of Japan and that side of things. According to this nifty Navy graphic (clicky go biggy) and other websites I've checked out, it should be a category two typhoon once it hits land, carrying winds around 96-110 miles per hour (83-95 knots; 154-177 km/hr). If it does hit tonight, it's going to be a long, long night. Typhoon winds make a lot of noise and make it hard to sleep.

Just found out that tomorrow will be a normal work day. My first hurricane and I can't stay home and drink cocoa, play with legos, and listen to the wind?

It's true. God is dead, and there is no justice in the world. Well, at least all my appointments for tomorrow have been postponed so I can try to get some work done in preparation for the weeks to come.

03 September 2005

Welcome to Bat Country

Welcome to Bat Country
Originally uploaded by gogakuhei.
A Saturday trip yielded a nice, if somewhat hazy view of Sakurajima. Note the touch of smoke at the peak. It's Japan's most active volcano... and I'm standing on it. Time to go!