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Jump to January:
    Week 1:   1st   2nd   3rd   4th   5th   6th   7th  
    Week 2:   8th   9th   10th   11th   12th   13th   14th   15th  
    Week 3:   16th   17th   18th   19th   20th   21st   22nd   23rd  
    Week 4:   24th   25th   26th   27th   28th   29th   30th   31st  
Image Jump:
  • Barbecued Boar
  • Uncooked and Ready to Eat
  • Links To Dead Pig Pics
  • The Stages of a Bonfire
  • Drinking Sake Out of Bamboo
  • A Big Spider
  • Snow!
  • My Car in the Snow
  • Takano Snowball Fight
  • Week 1

    Thursday, Jan 1

      IN A NUTSHELL: Happy New Year

      Not Taking the New Year for Granted Me and Laura left before dawn, too early for breakfast, and checked out of the hotel (where the staff at reception was diligently working.) I paid for parking and set off for Hiroshima Airport. I decided not to take chances with the local roads and just take the Expressway. We stopped at a service area on the way (filled with bakers and cashiers and cleaners, all working) and got fresh bread and orange juice for breakfast. Yum! We also got tea and coffee, because I had a long drive back home. The signs to the airport were clearly marked, though not mentioned on the regular kilometer signs so there was always a few seconds of doubt until the airplane sign reappeared. When I exited (toll booth guys working hard) I was amazed to see just how close to the airport it had deposited me! I was there! None of this going through local streets forever nonsense, just right there! Man, that's worth the $10 the expressway toll cost. Anyway, I wished her well and sent my sister off. Then I set off home.

      No Gas I kind of vaguely noted that I was running a little low on gas. Not a lot, just enough to make me glance at gas stations (and notice that the majority were closed today.) I pulled in one, but nothing happened. They must have been closed. I almost pulled into another but it was packed. I had enough. Anyway, I stopped at the video store on the way home. After being led to the bathroom (which involved, inconveniently, having to go through the Adult section) I asked whether the Two Towers Extended Edition was out. (I think my wording in Japanese might have been "the long one.") The woman pointed to the DVD, which indeed said Special Edition, but it was rented out. She then plucked two videos from the above shelf and said these were the last. The double video indeed was the last of the non-Japanese-dubbed videos. Assuming that, being a double video, it really was the extended edition, I went ahead and rented it, figuring that when I return home after JET and buy the extended edition for myself, I'll look at all the extra features then. In the meantime, I just wanted to see the movie part.

      Just One Tower, Really I was bouncy and happy. Then the caffeine wore off. At about 2 o'clock, I hit a wall and fell onto the couch in a half sleep for several hours. When I woke up, I was too groggy to do much thinking, so I turned on Two Towers. I was pretty far through it when it occurred to me that I had not seen a single new scene. (It was possible that some scenes had been extended, but it was too hard to tell.) When the first tape ended, though, only an hour and a half later, I knew it for certain. I did go on Amazon to double-check the minutes, but I already knew. And that really, really pissed me off because I was really focusing on the movie. I couldn't understand why in the world it was on two videos if it was the regular version. I mean, if every single movie that was over two hours had to use two tapes, that would include a whole heck of a lot of movies. This one must have hit the cutoff. I was so pissed that, despite having reached utter exhaustion, I drove BACK to Miyoshi. Somewhere along the way, I suddenly noticed my gas tank was millimeters from 'E' and I could run out at any time! I freaked out. Every gas station I passed was closed and the road to Miyoshi was oh, so quiet on New Year's Day. The gas station I knew in Miyoshi was closed, so I drove to the video store. After getting a refund (and being told the extended edition wasn't even out despite that I had seen the rented-out DVD on the shelf) I asked where an open gas station was. Luckily, I was directed to one just outside of Miyoshi. In the opposite direction. "That's okay," I thought, "As long as it's OPEN." I drove, half watching the road, half watching my gas gauge which changed every time I was on a hill. I nearly cried for joy when I saw the open (and needless to say, packed) gas station. YAY FOR "JOMO"! I resisted the urge to give the old attendant feller a kiss on the cheek after he filled up my tank. I would have paid five times the price, ten times the price. I was very happy (though I still wanted to see the movie, damn it.)

      Let Us Give Thanks to Jomo and all the others who worked on this New Years Day 2004.

    Friday, Jan 2

      IN A NUTSHELL: Three More Days Till Reality

      Nausicaa Spent the day hanging out and finally watching Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind, which FINALLY got released on DVD last month. It's one of his oldest films so I do not know what the wait was; all of his others are already released. What do I like about this DVD? Despite being a Japanese DVD, it has English subtitles! Yay! (My Japanese isn't THAT good, especially for fantasies.) It was a very unique and enjoyable movie with a great young protagonist and all the strange creatures and interesting flying machines you would expect from a Miyazaki movie. I did feel a bit unsatisfied at the end because it seemed like the only problems that were solved were the ones that came up during the movie (which were substantial, mind you). They only scratched the surface of actually fixing the main problem at the beginning which can be summarized as "Pollution Fighting Back". Still an excellent film, though, as are all of his films.

    Saturday, Jan 3

      IN A NUTSHELL: Two More Days Till Reality

      New Year's Cards I got four New Year's Cards: one from Kato-san (I haven't seen her since before she left on maternity leave) one from Moriguchi-san, one from Iwato-sensei in perfect English, and the funniest from Misawa-sensei. This year is Year of the Monkey, so all the New Year's Cards had monkeys on them. Misawa-sensei's had his face in place of the monkey's! It was hilarious! They are now all on my fridge.

      Missed the Boat I downloaded some music today to put on my new nifty high-tech mp3 player. I obviously missed the Golden Age of Napster. I suppose there are alternatives, but it is not worth it for the few random songs I want. Some ranting about free vs paid music: For me, I don't have an objection to paying for music, but I like to pay what it is worth. Really, 99 cents is a lot per song. I mean that is pure, 100% profit, not even the minimal cost of making a CD with case + jacket. CDs are extremely overpriced to begin with given the minor cost of production. (Maybe if the pay download sites offered a phenomenal selection, it would be different, but they DON'T. I couldn't find half the artists/songs I wanted, although they were all available on Amazon.) If I knew the money was going to the artists, it would be a different story, but I know it is going to record companies who have already profited from me buying the same music over and over on record album, cassette tape, CD, and now digital. I think the best method of distribution would be buying / downloading direct from the artists' homepage with a few free teaser songs on bigger music exchange sites to get their name known. The current situation feels very restrictive... like there is a world of music made by artists who are in it for the love of music not money but big obstacles are put up by the greedy record companies whose primary duty, it seems, is getting the music out there and known and available, which is nice, but free music is an possibly better way to Get Known without going through the middle man.

    Sunday, Jan 4

    Monday, Jan 5

      IN A NUTSHELL: Sakugi Village's Last New Year (sniff)

      Have an Akemashite! Today was the day all the staff met at the Town Hall for a Photo (unlike that day in December when I came in by accident.) I came in slightly before 8:30am and hung around one of the kerosene heaters chatting with the ladies, which was actually pretty fun. I've never bowed nor seen so much bowing in my life (and that's saying something in Japan.) Everyone had to say Happy New Year to everyone else, repeatedly. The routine goes like this: Bow. Say "Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu" (a very polite "Happy New Year"). Bow Again. Again, if Desired. After the other person has returned the greeting, say "Kotoshi-mo Yoroshiku Onegai Shimasu" (something like, 'Good wishes for the new year,' or 'Please continue your good will this year, too') and bow some more. Find a new person. Repeat. I think the Japanese must have better back muscles than westerners.

      The Secret Kotatsu Room We were told we actually did not need to be there until 9am so lots of people went back home / work. Me and Maruyama-san hung around and she got permission to use the secret kotatsu room, which was actually the night security guard's room, complete with heated table and television. Sitting under the little kotatsu, we had kind of a sad conversation about the End of Sakugi. In four months, Sakugi Village will just become the Sakugi section of Miyoshi. There will no longer be a Sakugi town hall or Sakugi board of education. Maruyama-san will retire (though told me she would continue volunteering - my god, this sixtysomething woman has way too much energy; she works far more than 40 hours a week already while I am a major free time freak) and a lot of people will be transferred or presumably out of work, though about half the staff will remain, doing various work.

      A Somber Ceremony At 9am, we gathered in the main gathering room and stood in straight lines as the mayor gave his speech (which is exactly how and where they stood when I gave MY speech almost five months ago) but this time there was a lot less smiles and laughter. The atmosphere was very serious and sad because everyone knew that this was the last time he would ever be giving a New Year's Welcoming Speech as the Mayor. At the end, we took a Memorial Photo and everyone returned to their posts.

      Useful Information After we had returned to the culture center, I was asked to take part in the beginning of the Board of Education's meeting. To their credit, they were really helpful. They gave me as much information as they had, but did not make me participate in the entire meeting, most of which was unrelated to me. They told me that my duties would not change much until the end of my contract in July. I would probably be sitting at my Jr. High desk a lot more, but other than that, my situation would not change. He was confident my job would remain intact, even if I re-contracted. He was very nice, but, again, there was a melancholy mood about it all. He told me how the building use would be changing and that they would have to send a lot of machinery back, especially if they no longer received a building subsidy. (He had to look up subsidy in the dictionary.) I wondered who my supervisor would become and whether or not all my mail that normally goes to the board of education would now end up in Miyoshi. I reminded them that my deadline for re-contracting was Feb 6th (just in case they received forms that I had not) and that was it. How much everything will change on April 1st? How much after the end of July? I have a feeling it will not be changing for the better...

      Lunch Party We all went back to the Town Hall for a lunch party. What was for lunch? Do I even have to tell you? Fish and beer! A fellow was at the door of the room we were eating in, holding a bucket out for me to pick a number out of. I recognized him as the slow-dancing sentimental guy during the staff retreat, though I have to say that he was very jovial and mood-setting and the happiest person in the room by far. I chose a number and it turned out that it was my seat number. I was sitting next to the mayor! We joked whether this was a lucky number or a very, very unlucky number. I think others were just relieved it wasn't them having to sit next to the mayor. The mayor tried to talk to me, but I barely understood him. Maybe he was depressed? Or had started the drinking a little early? Takata-san gave a toast and, although I did not understand all of it, I kept hearing "three more months" and "for three months" and how we would have to keep our spirits up despite the changes. Then we drank and ate. The fish bento actually wasn't bad; there were sushi rolls and sweet egg, my favorite. People kept almost refilling my tea glass with beer, but forgetting to get me tea. Someone was walking around with a tea kettle full of heated sake. I was about to head out, as many had done already, when an older fellow sat down, smelling of sake. I did not understand everything he said, but I caught that he was inviting me to some big festival this Sunday (Monday is a holiday.) at the elementary school. He grabbed one of the cute guys in glasses to speak in slower Japanese. The older fellow then offered to pick me up from my house (which was sort of squirm-inducing) and I was glad when Maruyama-san stopped by so I could confirm about this festival thing. She invited me to come to her house afterward, so I was saved the trouble of answering this guy's invitation, though he said I would get to meet his wife and mother. He wanted me to call him, "Yo-chan" which further chilled me.

      I Would Have Loved To Tape Record This I had no idea what to do with my bento box in this garbage-separating-obsessed country. People kept telling me to put it in the next room, but I did not see any other bento boxes in there. I finally just left it on a table. A somewhat tipsy member of the board of education came up and talked my ear off for about 10 minutes straight. I think she said she was pleased that I was really getting involved in the Japanese lifestyle because she thought it was important that people, when in Japan, do as the Japanese do. She mentioned my predecessor a couple times and mentioned something about serving coffee. I think she said my predecessor served tea and coffee, but I have not reached the level of Japaneseness to force drinks on people at will, teatime or not. She also told me how amazed she was when the principal told her I cleaned the garbage pails at the Jr. High. That story has really gotten around! I mean, the principal asked me twice to clean, so I picked something dirty to clean, end of story, but I've gotten a lot of comments about it. She seemed to think it was part of my desire to become more Japanese. She, again, invited me to come over and, again, listed off all the family members that live at her house.

      More Greetings Jicho-san suggested I give an aisatsu ("greeting") to the Elementary and Jr. High. I did, but the only people there in both places were the principal, vice-principal, and administration assistants. Every time someone came into the culture center, we had to stop what we were doing to stand and bow. It was polite, but irritating. I don't mind bowing to strangers, but I don't like begin constantly interrupted to do so. Hopefully, soon, I will have said Happy New Year to the population of Japan and I'll be set and clear until 2005.

    Tuesday, Jan 6

      IN A NUTSHELL: The Electric Company Male Duo

      Maybe I Should Just Pay for Insulation I received a call last night from the electric company. I spent a few minutes completely baffled at why they were calling until I finally understood. My bill for December was over 2-man (about $200) so they were calling to ask if they could come over and make sure nothing was broken. I was stunned at the amount. I asked them if they could come over today since tomorrow is when school starts again. They said yes so I have an appointment today for 2pm.

      Men in Blue The two fellows arrived in their cute little white van that said "Energia" precisely on time. They came in only after I invited them, then got into my guest slippers and I showed them all my heaters. They were very cute, or maybe it has just been too long since I've seen people my age. They looked around and I realized I did have a fair number of heaters, but nothing really different than November. What we discovered was that my air conditioner / heat pump was 200 watts instead of 100 watts, which made the little spinner disc in my electricity use recorder spin madly. I had indeed been using that heater a lot because well, it's been cold and that heater, more than any other one, warms my living room nicely. I guess no more of that for me. As long as I keep to electric heaters, I would probably be fine, but they will make sure January is normal before giving up. (Turning off the Christmas lights will probably help, too.) For now I guess I'm stuck paying 200 dollars and being cold for two months. But it sure was nice of them to stop by!

      Rude Mnemonics I was studying Japanese and found myself making up a very inappropriate mnemonic to remember the word for "quality" which is "shitsu." I think you might guess what's coming. My mnemonic is: "Sono sh*t no shitsu, shitto shita." which can be roughly translated as "I was jealous of the quality of that sh*t." I suppose it's probably a step toward the gutter from my last mnemonic "kankou in the kankyou" which just means "sightseeing in the environment." You'd think teaching innocent Jr. High students would clean out my mind. (As everyone is going, "Innocent? Who are you kidding?!")

      Why Tomomi-sensei Rocks I found out that Tomomi-sensei spent winter break in Germany! Cool! Even better? He brought me back chocolate! (Maybe he likes me after all...)

      Package! I got my final Christmas Present! The package from Jen was delivered to me at the Junior High, despite being addressed to my house, because the post office people are just that cool. I had to wait until evening to open it but I am now am surrounded by most excellent presents and the most lovely smells of extra dark chocolate and chai tea. Mmmmmm.

    Wednesday, Jan 7