Thursday, April 01, 2010
As I mentioned on Twitter I spent a good chunk of the last two days gathering forms and applying for a new visa. The "education" work visa I received in 2007 is up this summer and having gotten my money's worth I figured now was the time to finally switch over to a spouse visa. Yes, I could have gotten one as soon as Mako and I got married, but it would have definitely been a single year visa which would mean an extra trip to the immigration office (not to mention more fees). So I rode out my work visa to make everything a little easier.
Convenience comes with a price, it seems. Based on the "curt" phone call we received today, the people in the visa office were suspicious as to why I waited nearly three years to apply for a spouse visa. They started making phone calls and I guess I they gave this assignment to the one person in the office who spoke English because that person found my blog and Wired Game|Life.
One phone call to my Board of Education revealed that my freelance writing career is incompatible with my present work visa. While none of this would, strictly speaking, have any bearing on my new spouse visa, the fact that I've been sneaking in non-education work on the side means that everything I submitted to them is now being treated as potentially false.
What does this mean? Right now I don't have any answers. Nothing has been revoked (YET) but clearly the immigration people are upset. My BoE is upset. The JET coordinators in Osaka are upset. That's way too many upset people for this story to end on a happy note.
My options are extremely limited at this point. I haven't technically been punished yet for technically breaking the law and I have to wait and see what they decide before I take any action. This website offers some hope, as there are cases there similar to mine where everything ended up (more or less) restored to normal. Certainly, there's no prison time on the table or anything crazy like that, but there could be a steep fine or even deportation (though that's an extreme example).
Points on my side? I'm not that easy to replace because I work in elementary schools where a fair amount of Japanese knowledge is required to communicate. I am, in fact, married to a Japanese national and we have a baby who is also a Japanese national. Without me in the picture they would have no means of supporting themselves and would likely be forced to leave with me. Japan is stupid sometimes but they rarely deport their own.
OK, it seems waaaaay too many people fell for this so I'm just going to stop you right there: WHAT DAY IS IT TODAY? Where does that link above go to? Sorry if anyone was actually scared.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Not because he was too old or because he wanted to pursue other interests, but because he made one too many mistakes outside of the ring. His biggest mistake of all might have been dominating a sport that is too short-sighted to recognize that a great champion is a great champion, period. No amount of "controversy" can justify the Sumo Association pressuring Asashoryu into retirement. Not at the age of 29 and not on the heels of his twenty-fifth tournament championship (in Japanese, yusho).
For those unaware of Asashoryu's accomplishments, I can offer some perspective. His twenty-five yusho qualifies him for third place on the all time list, with first place being a mere seven yusho away. Given the rate at which he won and his relative youth, it was a question of "when" rather than "if" he would find himself on top of that list.
More significant is what his victories represent: his stature as the undisputed best wrestler in sumo of the decade. For three straight years he was the sole yokozuna, the top rank in the sport. This is the longest such period in sumo history.
The title of yokozuna is only bestowed upon wrestlers after winning two consecutive tournaments. During his 2004-2007 solo reign Asashoryu won an incredible sixteen of twenty-one tournaments, including an unprecedented seven straight from November 2004 to November 2005. No one had ever won six yusho in a single calendar year before, let alone seven in a row. He single-handedly ensured that no one else could reach his level because there was no chance for other wrestlers to string two yusho together.
As it turns out, all that winning wasn't good enough. Sumo is unique among professional sports in many areas, but perhaps the most unusual aspect is how strictly a wrestler's lifestyle and public persona is controlled. They never appear outside wearing any modern clothing. They are not supposed to drive themselves. They live, eat, sleep and train together in so-called "stables."
Asashoryu had a "controversial" reputation as a "bad boy" but I don't think there are quotation marks big enough to qualify those terms when one of those "controversies" was Asashoryu celebrating a yusho by raising his arms in the ring. The NFL may have some absurd ideas about what qualifies a celebration excessive but in sumo, it seems any celebration is too much.
Perhaps his sole legitimate transgression was skipping out on a exhibition tournament in 2007 by claiming injury and then competing in a charity soccer match in Mongolia. For his crime he was suspended for two full tournaments and subjected to relentless media attention. I'm guessing the latter hurt more than the former, because during that time he reportedly sought treatment for depression and his wife left him.
What was the incident that pushed him over the edge? Asashoryu got drunk during the January 2010 tournament and allegedly got into a brawl. The more salacious details (death threats?) are the stuff of tabloid rumors and completely unconfirmed. The matter was settled without any lawsuits or criminal charges, though it's generally assumed that the other party received financial compensation for getting beaten up.
I know all of these issues snowball over time and these high-profile screw-ups are Asashoryu's own damn fault, but is this seriously enough motivation to throw someone out of a sport? Especially when said sport is teetering on the brink of irrelevance?
Sumo wrestling may be right up there with ninja and samurai as foreign images of Japan go, but these days there's not much popular interest in the sport. Baseball is far and away the national pastime, with soccer closing in fast. When I talk to my students about their dreams of the future, no one ever says "I want to be a sumo wrestler." Not even the ones who look like sumo wrestlers.
Asashoryu was the face of sumo. When I conducted a (non-scientific) survey about sumo in 2006, asking college students and older adults alike to name their favorite wrestler, he was the practically the only active wrestler anyone could name. Most people thought of champions from the past like Takanohana or Wakanohana. When I watch sumo with my in-laws, they look to me to identify who's who in the ring because they can barely read the elaborate ring names the wrestlers use.
Is sumo dead? Hardly. Is it in danger? Big time. Besides Asashoryu's non-controversies, the Sumo Association has seen some serious scandals in recent years. A number of wrestlers were fired after they tested positive for marijuana use (no laughing matter in Japan). A trainee was beaten to death by his stable master who then tried to cover it up, claiming he died of exhaustion. Combine that incident with the general strictness of the sumo lifestyle and it’s no wonder recruitment is at an all-time low.
Sumo as a sport (and a business) is not in a position to turn away fans or potential athletes right now, and in shoving Asashoryu out the door the Association is are doing both. Nobody cared when Chiyotaikai, a veteran wrestler with a longer tenure than Asashoryu, retired last month. There were no news stories outside of sports coverage and no chatter on the afternoon talk shows.
Meanwhile, Asashoryu was the talk of the television for weeks, starting when the alleged brawl took place and running straight through the end of the tournament and into last week’s Sumo Association election. No, it wasn't all positive news but it was news, something that no struggling sport can refuse.
The fictional Bela Lugosi once said "There is no such thing as bad publicity." I’m not positive that's true, but forcing your star performer and current champion to retire because he was too "ontroversial" is insane. How often do those two qualities overlap? What sport would willing drop both at the same time?
Would Major League Baseball suspend Derek Jeter if he was photographed jogging in a Fun Run while on the disabled list? Would the NFL ever ditch Peyton Manning or Tom Brady for getting drunk after a game? Hell, Michael Vick was convicted of multiple felonies, went to prison and was still welcomed back into the league upon his release (if not by the same team).
Asashoryu broke no law, committed no crime and violated no sacred trust of sumo. He is not Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson or even Dennis Rodman. Yet the Sumo Association treated him as if he was all three and tossed him to the curb. They should have protected and celebrated his achievements as if he were Michael Jordan.
MJ had a gambling problem, by the way. There's a reason no one cared.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Thursday, November 26, 2009
I keep thinking about Inglorious Basterds and how terrific it was. The more I revisit it in my mind, the more things I find to love about it. Conversely, I find the elements that bugged me about the movie becoming less significant. This is the opposite of how my thought process usually works. Typically, when I reflect on a film, video game or whatever, I latch onto the flaws and nitpick them while telling myself "I can only do this because the rest of it was so good." With Inglorious Basterds I'm actually downplaying elements that irritated me when I first watched it.
For example, I was not a fan of Eli Roth as Donny, "the Bear Jew." I hold no personal animosity towards the man (I liked Cabin Fever and found Hostel more interesting than people give it credit for) but his portrayal of the supposedly-intimidating bat-wielding Nazi killer did not work for me. There's an incredible set-up for the character where high-ranking Nazis (including Adolf Hitler!) discuss how horrible he is and how he might be a "golem" (boy do I regret not noting how they translated that word into Japanese), plus there's that long shot of the tunnel where you cannot see him but you hear the sound of his bat coming from the dark. But when he emerges, he's just a (somewhat) hairy guy in an undershirt. Not particularly bear-like, in my opinion.
However, as I think about the film again and again, I realize that the entire Basterds unit was a rather unassuming bunch of guys. They're not particularly bad-ass, they just kill Nazis in a purposely brutal fashion so that their enemies will spread rumors about their deeds. They're not The Dirty Dozen, they're just regular soldiers with a colorful modus operandi and Donny is perfect when viewed in that context. He's a loudmouth, a braggart; he carries a big stick but speaks loudly anyway. When he finds himself in a tight spot, such as sitting in a cinema full of Nazi brass, he looks genuinely terrified because he's in over his head.
In the end, their plan only succeeds due to the unexpected actions of others, namely Landa and Shosanna. Were it not for their "help," so to speak, Donny and the rest of the Basterds would have been killed, easily.
Even better than reconsidering what I didn't like about Inglorious Basterds is discovering new things that I did like. It occurred to me today that the movie made a direct appeal to me on a linguistic level. I have always had a strong sense of curiosity when it comes to foreign languages. The whole reason I live in Japan now is because of my interest in Japanese, and even though I'll probably never "master" it (if such a thing is even possible) I'm always on the lookout for tidbits of other languages.
One of the highlights of the JET Mid-Year Seminar is the free language class we get to remind us of what it's like to have a stranger speak to us using words we do not understand. After all, that's exactly what we do for a living. We never get too deep, as it's only one session, but I find it fascinating even if my retention level is pretty poor. Twice now I've gotten a taste of Cantonese from fellow JET Helen and the most I can remember is 1, 2, and 3.
Watching Inglorious Basterds reminded me of how exciting a multi-lingual environment can be. Nearly every character in the film speaks two languages with the glaring exception of the Basterds themselves. This is a group charged with infiltrating Nazi-occupied territory and the only members of the team who speak German were born in Europe. It reminds me of my trips abroad in high school when I met children my own age who spoke English wonderfully in addition to their native tongue while they were studying a third language in school. Meanwhile I was barely navigating basic conversations in French and my German was little more than a collection of nouns that sounded funny (e.g. eierstokke).
I know it's unfair to compare a multi-cultural continent like Europe with an archipelago nation that has serious xenophobia issues, but ever since I saw Inglorious Basterds Japan's view of foreign languages suddenly feels more imprisoning than ever. My day job consists of trying to expose sheltered rural children to the idea that there is an entire world full of people out there who do not speak Japanese. More often than not, I am met with resistance against the very notion that someone could speak more than one language. Everything around here is black and white in that respects.
I am told time and time again how "difficult" English is, as if that explains their national hostility towards it. Twenty years ago I spent months studying Hebrew against my will for my Bar Mitzvah. It wasn't easy and I complained a lot but I still did it. Compared to that, asking these kids to learn a handful of vocabulary words or study the alphabet does not strike me as unreasonable, yet their teachers cannot wait to make excuses for their lack of cooperation.
When you get right down to it, it's hardly the children's fault that they struggle with English. The entirety of Japanese society goes out of its way to shelter itself from foreign language. Advertisements are more likely to include a Japanese "search term" than an actual URL, lest a customer have trouble remembering a few letter of the alphabet. When foreigners appear on television outside of the NHK nightly news, they are typically subtitled and dubbed into Japanese. As if that double translation isn't enough to mask their bizarre manner of speaking, their words will be carefully rewritten to mimic rigid Japanese gender-based speech patterns.
Even while watching Inglorious Basterds in the theater I was feeling the Japanese pressure via the relentless subtitles. Absolutely every line in the film is subtitled, even ones that did not carry English subtitles, even one-word replies and people's names. Even Hugo's knife, which had an engraved message that flashed across screen for half a second while he sharpened it (upside-down, if I'm not mistaken), was subtitled in Japanese. Not a single moment in the film is left up to the audience to bear in an unfamiliar language. Hell, even when the year is written at the bottom of the screen, there's a Japanese subtitle just to make it clear that this is a year as opposed to a random declaration of a four-digit number (which they can totally read, by the way).
I guess I'll never understand why they are so anxious about these things, why nothing can be left untranslated or unexplained. Believe me, I wince when I see how the United States handles foreign language and foreign concepts from time to time (what I wouldn't give to see subtitled films in movie theaters instead of waiting for DVD), but at least we trust our lowest-common-denominators to understand that "si" and "non" mean "yes" and "no." Relax, Japan! A few funny-sounding words won't kill you, capice?
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Over on Bitmob it's Horror Week, so I posted a love letter to one of my favorite scary games, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem. It's a game I wish I could play again for Halloween because it is genuinely frightening.
In the rerun department, I posted a slightly-edited version of my Tale of TGS at Bitmob because I believed the story would be of interest to other writers. The only new content is at the end where I offer my own advice on not being gunshy about writing or trying to find work in that field. I'm hardly a shining success story but I am proud of what I accomplished in a relatively short period of time. A little pride, in this case, is a good thing.
This third item was a surprise: Mako plugged my name in Yahoo Japan (not sure why) and she discovered one of my articles in Japanese on the Nikkei Shinbun website. As it turns out, it came from this Japanese Wired portal where someone took my original post about a game for blind people and translated it. That translation then circulated among a number of Japanese news websites as a "culture" item. I think this was the first moment Mako was actually impressed by my work, now that she saw it in Japanese. Having a photo I took included with the piece helped too, although my photo credit is a little more obvious than my writing credit.
Alright, so one new thing plus two old things reworked, one of which was done by a stranger. Still, good news is good, right?
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Monday, October 19, 2009
We didn't "do" much in a travel sort of way. Dad stayed in a hotel in Osaka and rode the train out to our apartment each day to see us. On most days, he simply stayed here until he got tired and then returned to the hotel. He always came up in the afternoon so my inability to get off work wasn't an issue. He offered to take us to dinner but we instead ended up eating at home.
I guess I shouldn't have been surprised but my dad really, really adored Go in a way that I never would have expected. He was delighted by Go's every move and found no frustration in Go's occasional fits of crying. He also had an incredible knack for putting a smile on Go's face and making him laugh so hard he got hiccups.
We all forget that our parents were there when we were just babies, making us smile and putting up with our tears. I had never seen my father with a baby before, so even though logic dictated that he had seen his share of tiny humans I assumed that he had forgotten what it was like as my sister and I are both full-grown adults now. Instead, he flourished and he and Go were very happy together.
Two things jump to my mind as cute moments from his visit. The first was on Friday night when we ordered pizza. My father and I both had root beer, specifically Dad's Root Beer. It's just a name, I know, but it carried an extra bit of meaning that night to be sharing such a drink with my father while we both looked at my son.
The second was our good fortune to be able to watch two Yankees games together over the weekend. He wasn't here for the start of either game (8 PM EST = 9AM JST) but he made in time for most of the late-inning drama. Having three generations of Feits sit on a couch and watch a baseball game had a magical quality to it, even though there's no way of knowing if Go will share our interest in the Yankees or the game of baseball for that matter.
We did meet up with Mako's parents over the weekend and get outside for a while. On Saturday we went to their home (a first for my dad) and went shopping at the nearby mall where we got some Cold Stone ice cream (another first for my dad). They've stepped up their game, by the way: now when the servers start singing, they flicker the lights on and off. Epileptics beware!
Sunday we took a surprisingly long drive two cities over to Mino-o (Minoh?) and spent a couple hours at Katsuoji. It's a very beautiful temple in the mountains that I'm sure will look even better in a couple weeks when the leaves change. Since my dad was leaving during the day today while I was at work, we had to have our goodbyes outside of a random train station in Minooooo which was a little awkward. At least we all know I'm coming to New York in December so it was more of a "see you later" than a "see you when I see you" goodbye.
I'll try to get some pics up for everyone to see. Until then, check out these two photos I snapped with my camera:
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Sunday, October 18, 2009
First of all, I want to reiterate that it is a big deal whenever I visit Tokyo. It's not that far away and I'm hardly living in the sticks here in suburban Kansai, but each time I go to Tokyo I experience a sudden rush. I'm used to living in cities that I can fully comprehend or at least visualize. The number of neighborhoods in Osaka that I've never seen far exceeds those that I have, but I still have a general sense of where X and Y are and how best to travel between those points. Kobe is tiny, all things considered, and Kyoto is actually a grid which makes navigation pretty simple.
Tokyo defies all my attempts to reign in its magnitude and break it into digestible chunks. Yes, the more time I spend there the more comfortable I am with the terrain and the complex interwoven railway maps, but I never come away from my visit thinking "OK, I understand Tokyo now." If I ever learn to accept that, perhaps I will come to love it as a city, but in the meantime its power overwhelms me in a way that is simultaneously frustrating and exhilarating.
Tuesday (Sept 22nd) was actually a quiet day considering I was traveling and attending that party. Checking in to my hotel, visiting Richard out in Chiba, finding my way to the party and then coming to terms with my anxiety were all manageable events. I made it back to my hotel without incident and went to sleep excited about waking up the next morning.
Wednesday (Sept 23rd) was my first chance to meet Chris Kohler and actually talk about the job he had hired me to do. Yes, we had spoken at the party the night before but it was brief. Wednesday we sat down, had lunch, and discussed a number of things relevant to the job, including the technical ins and outs of the Game|Life website. I learned that when I was done with a story I had to submit it and he would then review it before posting it to the site. I found this news to be very comforting. I had never worked with an editor before but I viewed the idea as a safety net rather than a hindrance. Chris has written entire books and covered video games for years; he should be trusted to know what's a good fit for Game|Life or not.
We ended up going to Manadarake after our discussion which was fun for me. That's one of those sprawling Japanese stores that seem to sell everything and anything that relates to games, anime, manga, old toys, whatever. They used to have two outlets in Osaka but both seem to have closed down. I didn't find anything worth buying but I certainly enjoyed the view and I was glad to know they were still in business.
When Chris returned to his hotel, I went back out to see Richard. I knew I would be too busy to visit him once the show started, so it was important to me that I hang out with him while I could. It was also a rare opportunity for me to play games with somebody. I know the Internet has opened up the world of video games so that people don't need to be in the same room to play together anymore, but having a baby to take care of means my gaming time at home is extremely limited. This trip was as much a business outing as it was a chance to get away from that routine of go to work/care for baby/go to sleep.
Thursday (Sept 24th) was the first day of the show. The doors didn't open until ten but being the eager person that I am, I showed up well before nine to ensure that I didn't take any chances. Also, I had to be with Chris to actually register as a member of the media in order to get inside at all. While I waited for him I saw a number of other journalists show up and register, many of whom I first saw at the party on Tuesday. As I hoped, the awkwardness was gone now. I didn't exactly freely converse with them because they're still people who don't know me, but at least I was no longer paralyzed with admiration.
The good news about visiting the Tokyo Game Show on the business days is the crowds are much smaller. They're not gone, of course, but the difference between 70,000 people and 25,000 people is readily apparent. All of the games I tried to see on that first day were easily accessible with minimal waiting. I also felt like I had more time to play the games than I normally would have. There just seemed to be less external pressure to keep things moving.
Internally, however, I was extremely nervous. After I played a few games I found the press room and sat down to write about them. It took nearly two hours to write that first post because I kept changing my mind on how to approach it. Should I try to detail the differences between the Xbox 360 version and the PlayStation 3 version? Is it worth explaining how the two demos were slightly different? Which screenshot should I choose? What kind of a title would go best with this story? Is this post too long or not long enough? It was mentally exhausting and by the time I was through, I was starving. It was also past two P.M. which meant the day was half over already. This made me more nervous, as I didn't want to waste time buying lunch but I couldn't ignore what my insides were saying.
I managed to squeeze in some kind of sandwich and a couple more games before returning to the press room shortly after three. Again, it took me a long time to get any serious ideas onto the screen, but even after the press room was closed I felt like I had accomplished something. There was a tangible uneasiness as I knew that I had a lot more writing to do before I could truly call it a day, but I knew that I could write anywhere at any time. The games were only available on the show floor, and I had seen five or six of them which was enough.
In checking in with Chris at the end of day one, he told me about a party being held by Microsoft at a nearby hotel. I was happy to discover the event was outdoors and relatively spacious, so I didn't have to wait in lines to get a drink and there was plenty of food. Pretty good food at that, particularly the lasagna which is a dish I hadn't eaten since I came to Japan. I had a few glasses of wine (kept it classy - we were poolside after all) and I was thrilled to see a demo of Left 4 Dead 2. Not only was it fun to get my first hands-on experience with the game, it ended up making a nice story for the site.
Day One Stories (based on when I wrote them, not when they were posted): Bayonetta, Darksiders, PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe, PixelJunk Shooter, and Left 4 Dead 2.
I got off to a late start on Friday (Sept 25) but I did my best to make up for it by taking Richard's advice and pulling out my new netbook whenever possible to write. I wrote while riding the train, I wrote while waiting to enter the show, I even wrote while standing outside Sony's booth waiting for a chance to play Heavy Rain. That last one proved to be a stunningly long wait, considering I went there as soon as the doors opened and there were only five people in front of me. Still, I made the best of the time as I finished up stories from the day before. In the end the wait was worth it, as I felt it was the most exciting thing I saw at the show.
I found myself running low on inspiration, so I started wandering around the "game school" area of the show. These were low-budget, independent projects on display, many of them created by students. I also went looking for a game I had seen on the NHK news the night before. The news coverage of the show was pretty broad and gawking, but you can always count on television reporters to dig up something that looks crazy. They spent a long time looking at Project Natal, something I couldn't see (the demo was invitation only) but there was a game that worked by scanning your brain activity. That one I managed to find directly across from another unusual work, a game made for blind people.
I found writing in the press room came a lot easier on the second day, as I had written so much so quickly I was simply getting used to the idea of pouring my ideas out at a faster pace. Due to the submission process and the fact that Chris was busy doing his own thing during the show, there was an odd disconnect where I really didn't know what he though of my work. He was publishing it to the site, of course, but there wasn't much of an opportunity to actually talk about how things were going. Even when we got together with his photographer Jon Snyder and Christian Nutt for dinner, it was less show talk and more casual discussions of Japan and whatever else was on our minds. I felt good, sure, but I was wondering where I stood as far as quality was concerned.
Everyone else at the dinner table made it a point that they were not going out to do anything on Friday night, a decision I emulated. I spent most of the evening in my hotel room polishing up some stories and talking to Alex on the phone. He arrived earlier that morning to cover the show, but since the two of us were busy working for our respective web overlords we were too busy to actually hang out at all. I never made it bed early but it was definitely an indoor, low-key night.
Day Two Stories: Heavy Rain, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker, Quantum Theory, Blind Braver, Neuroboy, and Puyo Puyo 7.
I knew Saturday (Sept 26) was going to be tough because it was the first day of the show to be open to the public. I knew this was going to mean crowds at every turn, so much so that even walking from one booth to another would be an adventure of the sweatiest kind. Chris suggested I try to visit the Capcom booth and play Okamiden as it was the only game he was unable to play at a private event he was attending. I wish I had thought of that on the press days, because it took a solid hour to get in to the demo area (which was actually kind of lovely with its torii and fake cherry blossoms) and I barely got to play the game. Still, I kept working on previous day's stories while I waited so as not to waste my time.
The crowds did have one interesting benefit in that they drove me to seek out the unusual and less popular exhibits. This led me to play a bunch of smaller games that the masses were simply ignoring. In particular, I found a number of games at the back of the Square Enix booth that were being ignored, perhaps because they were behind the booth where few people walk. There were giant, multi-hour lines for other Square Enix games that stretched back there though, so I found it funny that while they all waited I was standing in front of them playing games and having fun - mostly.
I should point out that after my experience on Thursday I learned the best way to eat at TGS is to simply bring something small and keep it in your bag. I would buy my breakfast and lunch at the convenience store on the way to the show in the morning, eat the former while on the train and the latter whenever I found myself yearning for a bite to eat. It wasn't very glamorous but it was tasty enough and it enabled me to keep busy without wasting time at the food court. My hotel also gave me a free bottle of water every day which I took with me and drank as needed. It added a bit of weight to my bag but it was pretty hot in there on account of the thousands of gawkers slowly milling about.
I managed to play games all morning and early afternoon so that when I sat down just after two PM, I was comfortable just writing the rest of the day without feeling the need to rush back onto the floor. Again, it was getting easier to write the more I did so, so I got a lot done in those remaining hours. I ran into Chris in the press room and he told me there would be karaoke later that night in Shibuya. He also told me that I was doing a great job which was exactly the news I needed to hear. I had been building up my own confidence without any feedback from him simply by assuming that my work was worth publishing, so it must have been satisfactory. Hearing him actually compliment my writing was an even better response than I expected.
Alex swung by the press room to say hi and tell me he was leaving. He had decided to keep his trip really short by only spending one night in town and getting in as much gaming as he could before going home to write. I felt pretty strange about being unable to hang out with him at all but he was under a lot more pressure than I was. I was writing for one site over the course of four days. He was writing for multiple sites (at least three) and he had less time to do it in.
On the way out the door I met up with a guy named Kevin whom I had some contact with via Twitter. He had come down from Saitama to TGS and had organized a small group of other foreigner-in-Japan Twitterers to have breakfast together, but I had arrived too late to participate. Instead, we had a light snack at a nearby cafe and just talked about TGS, Japan in general, etc.
Saturday night was the first chance I really had to just go out and see the city while I waited for the call for karaoke. I went to Shinjuku to see the 8-Bit Cafe, a retro-game-themed bar. The atmosphere was really cool as there were toys along the top of the bar and a glass case full of video game memorabilia. There were also a couple of old consoles hooked up to a TV and a bin full of games to play for free. Much like Thursday night, I ended up playing a game that tied directly into my work at TGS. I found the original Thexder just hours after playing the new sequel Thexder Neo at the Sqaure Enix booth. Too bad both games sucked.
The downsides to the 8-Bit Cafe are two-fold. One is the cost, as there's a cover charge of sorts that is added to your bill and everything on the menu is pretty pricey. I really enjoyed my "Nuts & Milk" cocktail and "cake-cheese" dessert, but they were both 150 or 200 Yen more expensive than they needed to be. The other problem is the five flights of stairs patrons must use, meaning that I could never afford to get drunk there else I stumble and fall to my death on the way out.
I knew Richard had been invited to a party somewhere near Shibuya, so I left the cafe after one drink and made my way over there, although my trip to the cafe meant I arrived well after ten PM so the party was dying down. I had time for another drink and we talked for a while, but once eleven o'clock came everybody started bolting to catch the last train home. I was less worried because I knew I was staying out that night. I was prepared to take a taxi back to my hotel if I needed one. Richard lives way outside the city limits, however, so he couldn't be as cavalier. Sadly, he ended up missing the last train after we separated and his phone ran out of power before we could reunite near Shibuya. I'm told he eventually crashed in a capsule hotel.
I spent an hour or so just wandering around Shibuya, witnessing some amusing and fairly depraved behavior. I stopped in Burger King for a Whopper Jr. (my first in years - there's no BK in Osaka) where I waited in line behind what looked like a hip-hop dance troupe based on their outfits. They were all black and sounded American, though at least one of them demonstrated enough Japanese ability to suggest he was a resident. Watching them debate the menu choices was pretty funny to me. Less funny was the abundance of homeless and/or intoxicated people walking the streets. One girl was so drunk there were two men trying to pick her up off the sidewalk and failing miserably. I hope they knew her.
Chris did call shortly after one AM and I was able to find him thanks to the reference point of Mandarake. He was with a large group of people who seemed reluctant to go out singing, as many of them had flights to catch the next day. Eventually he made some calls and we tracked down a different bunch of people (including Christian) who were willing to karaoke it up. We shopped around a little bit (the first place wanted a crazy amount of money considering what time it was) but settled on a joint located above the Burger King where I had eaten an hour earlier. It was small and very low-rent (all the song books were torn and in very poor condition) but the price was right and we sang and drank for three solid hours until the trains started running again.
Snooping around the web I found some pictures of the event in Christian's Flicker stream. You can see me here, here and here.
I knew Chris wasn't going back to the show for the last day so when we said our goodbyes, that was that. He thanked me for the work I had done and told me not to push myself too hard if I decided to go one more time. I went back to my hotel for an extended nap of sorts but I was determined to get a few more hours in at TGS before leaving later that night.
Day Three Stories: Okamiden, Echoshift, Death by Cube, 0 day Attack on Earth, and Thexder Neo.
Sunday (Sept 27) was both the easiest and the hardest day for me at the show. My confidence in my ability to do my job was at its peak, but my energy levels and my overall enthusiasm for TGS were bottoming out. Operating on less than four hours sleep will do that. I figured the best course of action was to just play whatever I could before retiring to the press room and then leaving, writing on the train ride home as needed. Again, I stuck to covering things that no one else seemed to be playing or talking about online. I had hoped to meet Richard at some point, as he came to the show, but since his phone had no battery power we never got into contact with one another.
Ultimately I got in a few quick things, took an hour or so to write down some impressions, then went back to Tokyo station to have dinner and buy the all-important souvenirs for Mako, her parents (who hosted her and Go while I was away) and some of my co-workers (particularly the ones whose school I skipped in order to make the trip). While riding the Shinkansen to Osaka, I tried to play the Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker demo but it proved to be quite deep and I only completed the tutorial. I spent the rest of the trip writing and trying not to fall asleep.
Day Four Stories (some of these were quite late): Game 3 (working title) by The Behemoth, Tekken 6, and a wacky student game.
Overall, I am very pleased with how the trip turned out. The business of attending and writing about TGS proved to dominate my time in a way I didn't quite expect, so aside from the time I spent with Richard and the late-night antics in Shibuya I was too busy to simply amuse myself as I saw fit. I was unable to visit any of the restaurants or sights I had in mind before the trip. However, the show itself was my favorite one yet because I had four days to fully investigate all corners of the exhibition.
More importantly, I was hired to do a job and I did it well. How well? When the show started I told myself I was just a lucky guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time. By the end I realized that being lucky didn't mean I wasn't also a good writer. In a surprise affirmation of that fact, Chris Kohler recently offered me a chance to continue contributing to Wired Game|Life. I've already submitted two potential items and I've got a few other ideas on deck. Plus, there's another game show next month...in Osaka! I will, of course, link to any future posts on Game|Life but in the meantime a complete listing of all my posts is available right here, a link I will add to the Contact page.
Hey, I'm a writer now. Awesome.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Monday, October 05, 2009
And now for something completely different.
While riding the train home from Osaka yesterday afternoon I got a surprise glimpse into the Japanese psyche, or at least that of my wife. The three of us went to the city for some errands, including the purchase of a new rice cooker. Did you know some of those things run for over $1000? Not just the big ones either, these were ordinary kitchen-sized models. What on Earth can those machines do that justify that kind of a price tag?
But I digress...we were heading home with our less-than-$100 rice cooker when Go started getting fussy. We knew it was a combination of multiple needs: he hadn't been fed or changed in a couple hours and he was overdue for a nap. We took turns holding him and trying to comfort him, but he wanted what he wanted and he wasn't interested in our offerings of love and affection. We just had to get him home so he'd relax.
Mako surprised the hell out of me when she said we should get off at the next station and tend to Go. I asked if she knew of a changing table or something but that wasn't the plan. She just wanted to take him off of the train because she felt bad about inconveniencing the other passengers. While I shared her compassion for the others, I also knew that the best way to make Go happy was to get home as quickly as possible. I tried to argue that we should just stay the course (we were five stops and about fifteen minutes from home) but Mako insisted.
We got off the train and tried to calm Go down with an offering of tea and lots of bouncing/swinging/attention. It didn't work and he continued to cry on and off while we stood on the platform. When the next train arrived ten minutes later, we had no choice but to get on and he kept on crying. Mako looked at me like she was mortified but I tried to reassure her. It's not like we were dragging the baby out into the world here, we were heading home. I felt bad that he was noisy but I also knew we were doing everything we could to quiet him down. It was out of our hands - shō ga nai as the Japanese would say.
When we got to our town and prepared to change trains for the last few minutes of our trip, Mako against suggested we leave to tend to Go before riding the train home. This time I insisted that she stop bending over backwards for strangers. We were a two-minute ride from home; the other passengers could bear a crying infant for two goddamn minutes. She relented, he cried, but we made it home and took care of everything.
In the end, her embarrassed retreat from the train meant that it took an extra twenty minutes to get home and Go cried for most of that. I know it didn't do him any harm in the long run but what good did it do to anyone? One train carload of people were spared a few minutes of Go's wailing in favor of the unfortunate bunch of people on the next train. No one gained a thing by delaying the inevitable, least of all us.
The Japanese have a catch-all word to cover being a nuisance or a bother to others: meiwaku. When it comes to public transportation, there are plenty of signs and warnings to passengers to not meiwaku those around them, usually by showing restraint (enryo). I'm sure both of these words were in the forefront of Mako's mind yesterday and I sympathize with her, but there are times when meiwaku is not a sin. If my boss calls while I'm on the train, I don't enryo I just answer the phone and try to be quick about it.
The same rules apply to a cranky Go: he is most definitely meiwaku but I would never choose to enryo at the expense of my baby. Indeed, that's a time for everyone to simply persevere (gaman) and endure a little noise.
I certainly hope it doesn't cause a problem for Mako when Go starts crying on the plane in December. He is guaranteed to meiwaku during that long flight and there certainly won't be anyplace to get out and wait for him to stop. Then again, airplanes have changing tables and the means to feed him at any time. I hope that's enough.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Monday, September 21, 2009
There was a reason I didn't prepare much over the weekend. We spent Saturday with Mako's parents, doing some shopping and simple errands. I borrowed their fax machine to handle some paperwork associated with my new job. I had never sent an international fax before and was generally unfamiliar with international calling rules in Japan, but everything seemed to work out. Hopefully they won't get a massive bill next month because I inadvertently entered them into a new calling plan or anything.
Saturday also happened to be our second/fourth anniversary but, sadly, we couldn't really have dinner or do anything as a couple. I would say last year's post is worth reading if you like to look backwards. I certainly never would have guessed that by our next anniversary, we'd have a baby. I look forward to telling him about how we met someday. Maybe I can use this blog to put it all in perspective for him.
Sunday was another undokai or "sports day" which I attended at the same school I went to last year. The big difference (and I mean big) was that last year's festivities were postponed for rain and this year they went off as planned on a Sunday. This meant the community events occurred and a full audience was on hand for it all.
The entire spectacle was magnified thrice over. Last year I speculated that I only saw half of a show because so many events were cut. The event I saw on Sunday was clearly more than just a sum of its parts. The community members were organized into teams designated by their neighborhood. Not only were mothers and fathers in attendance, but so were grandparents and siblings of all ages. I saw scores of former students there, and since I've only been here for two years that meant there were probably dozens more that I simply didn't recognize.
With so many people on hand, the energy level was through the roof. Lots of people fell down during the (many) relay races because they were pushing themselves so damn hard. Nobody got hurt and nobody seemed to mind when they tripped over a fallen competitor. People were obviously trying to win but there wasn't any sense of failure for those who lost. Then again, when all of these events are rehearsed and rehearsed so many times in the preceding weeks, I suppose it must feel more like a show than a competition. Do the members of the Washington Generals ever feel bad about losing to the Globetrotters every single time? Of course not.
I was asked to perform on the microphone again this year, only this time I had to share time with two adult announcers who were clearly going for a "conversational" approach to announcing. I could only talk when they weren't talking, but when I did I tried to do a little play-by-play for fun. People said I did a great job and I can only assume they weren't just trying to spare my feelings.
Today turned into a rather busy day because I needed to go shopping. Chris Kohler informed me that the press room at TGS has very few computers but there is is free wifi internet for all. The problem there is that my laptop doesn't have a wifi adapter. I had always thought about buying one but now I suddenly needed one. Second problem: buying computer stuff in Japan is hard because a lot of software won't work in foreign language versions of Windows.
Mako came up with a bold solution: buy a netbook. Normally she's the one pushing me to spend less money but this time she was suggesting I spend $400-500 on a new PC rather than $50 on a wireless card. Her reasoning was sound though, not that I needed much convincing to buy a new toy. I often lug my laptop to work whenever I know I'll have time to write between classes. It's not a particularly light machine, the battery is completely dead and I often encounter schedule changes that make me wish I had/hadn't brought my computer to school.
The netbook both solves my TGS reporting dilemma and will give me a quick and lightweight alternative to bringing my main computer out into the sticks every week. Starting next week I'll be able to bring the netbook with me everyday, writing whenever the opportunity presents itself. I'll still have to upload stuff when I get home (unless I discover the schools have free wifi - fat chance) but in the long run, this means less lugging and more typing. This is a very good thing.
With that, I'll bid you farewell from Osaka (er, the Osaka suburbs anyway). Tomorrow I go to the airport. I can't predict whether there will be time to blog during my trip. There's always time for Twitter, of course, which is connected to my Facebook page.
In the meantime, I would ask you to please, please, please follow the TGS 2009 coverage at Wired Game|Life and keep an eye on those bylines. My name will be there at some point very soon!
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
A quick thank you to everyone who expressed concern/encouragement after I made a somber tweet last week. There wasn't anything major going on at the time, I just felt run down and I didn't know why. I wasn't expecting all the responses I got, but I appreciate them. The glum feelings didn't last but the knowledge that so many people are out there listening endures.
I spent Saturday outdoors with a few JETs exploring Uji in southern Kyoto. I had been there in 2006 with Mako on a date so I knew what to expect, and the experience was pretty much as I hoped, save for the rain and the underwhelming turnout. There were only six of us and they were all people I had met before. This is not a bad thing, of course, but I enjoy meeting new people at these "JET-togethers" since I don't spend much time away from my family otherwise. I can't go to next week's pub quiz either, as I'll be in Tokyo.
Oh yeah, Tokyo...I promise I'll write about the big news tomorrow. I had initially said it was three weeks away on Sept. 3rd, but my plans have changed. I'm leaving on Tuesday and I'll be there through the weekend. I know I would be excited in any case as this is my first "vacation" of 2009 but with the things I have in store for me, I can hardly believe it's less than a week away.
Until then, I'm still expected to show up for work this week (I know, the nerve!) and it's been tiring but things are settling down. Monday was my first visit this semester to the tiny mountain school (entire student body pictured above) which is exhausting in a special kind of way. The classes are so small I have to come up with extra stuff to do to fill the entire class period. Also, without any public transportation in the area, I have to sit around and wait for someone to leave in order to get a ride home. This being Japan, I didn't get home until 6:30.
The more interesting developments have taken place at my largest school (entire student body pictured above playing tug-of-war). Rather than follow the lesson plans of the proactive, forward-thinking school that usually coordinates all the English language classes in Hana Town, they have been developing their own lessons this year. The thinking behind this was that if homeroom teachers are actually creating the lesson plans themselves, then they won't sit back and watch me do their job for them.
So far, the results have been mixed. A few teachers have embraced the changes and really stepped up. This means less shouting and less stress on my part. It also means less English, as the homeroom teacher has no choice but to conduct class in Japanese, but better them than me.
Other teachers, sadly, have not shown any signs of changing their ways. Some of them still retreat to the back of the room while others sit down with the kids like they're just another student in the class. That might sound like a clever idea to keep them quiet, but in reality it downgrades the teacher's presence from "authority figure" to "observer."
Meanwhile I'm the only adult standing in front of thirty or so children and I'm trying to convince them that the funny words I'm using are, in fact, a language and not just gibberish. Sometimes I am successful, but other times they simply dismiss me by babbling and giggling as I speak. I try to stay positive about it, reminding myself that not everybody is being disrespectful and some of them are actually paying attention. There's also the cynical way of looking at it, since I get paid whether the kids learn anything or not, but that's not very constructive.
Other than that, life at home hasn't changed much. Mako is feeling fine and Go continues to sleep, cry, eat, and grow. At last check he was nearly thirteen pounds. His most distinguishing feature is still his ruthless ability to look cute. I'll leave you with another taste, reminding you that he'll be appearing later this year in New York City should you want the full experience.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Monday, August 31, 2009
I say this because the arrival of my mystery illness coincided almost perfectly with the start of this month and now that it's over, I am feeling much better. This should have been a light month for me, a period where I could write or play games or do whatever I wanted because I wasn't needed much at work. Instead, I spent a lot of my time feeling like crap, wrote very little and didn't do much of anything.
I certainly didn't have the energy to properly welcome my visiting family or escort the new JET in my area around. Everyone says they don't blame me, but I blame me because my absence no doubt put more pressure on everyone around me who doesn't speak Japanese. So let me say it one more time for all to hear: I'm sorry I wasn't stronger.
But let's move on, shall we? The weather and my condition have improved dramatically over this final week of August. I have to assume those facts are related, because nothing I received from any of the doctors I visited could have "cured" me. Perhaps it was psychosomatic, perhaps it was a passing bug or virus, or perhaps it was just something I ate. It's over now and I'm glad to be rid of it.
Classes have resumed at school and I'm picking up where I left off as best I can. Some students listen, some students don't. The same goes for the teachers I have to work with: some listen, some don't. Most of the schools have done a pretty good job of being prepared to discuss and start classes on the very first day I am available to teach (with this morning being a notable but ultimately predictable exception).
The best news out of all of this is that Go remained happy and healthy throughout the month, so whatever the hell happened to me it didn't have any visible effect on him. I leave you with this photo of him as evidence that my son is, objectively speaking, the most adorable baby of all time.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Yesterday was the opening ceremony (yes, Japan has opening and closing ceremonies for every school semester) which meant I saw the students but then quickly waved goodbye and watched them all leave at 11 AM. I can see the logic in not having any classes after a closing ceremony, but why do opening ceremonies get their own education-free days?
I shouldn't complain, really, because we teachers always get together and have a nice box lunch on these opening and closing days. My lunch yesterday was quite substantial, although I could have done without the extra plate of mostly-pickled vegetables. They were obviously homemade and extremely sour. Why would you do that to a pumpkin in the first place?
I enjoy these meals because they offer a nice change of pace from the usual school lunches and because I really like Japanese food. However, the one nuisance factor is that if I attempt to discuss or ask any questions about the food, I then bring upon myself another round of "can you eat Japanese food?" and "oooh, you use chopsticks so well!" inanity. I know two wrongs don't make a right, but some days I wish I could catch these people eating a bowl of fettuccine and ask them "can you eat Italian food?" and "wow, you know how to use utensils!"
It didn't help that throughout lunch, one of the older teachers ("M-sensei") was talking about her trip to China over the summer. All she could talk about was how awful it was to hear so many foreigners talking and how upset she was about having to use English even though she still used Japanese when pointing at maps and asking directions. Her summary of the trip was "In the end I was just happy to be back in Japan" and everyone laughed, not in a "you are a horribly sheltered person" kind of way but in a "I know just what you mean" kind of way.
I know I'm a big weirdo for leaving my home country and moving to another one for an extended, indefinite period of time, but is this seriously how the majority (or even a substantial minority) thinks about traveling abroad? What is it about hearing an unfamiliar language that becomes troubling or upsetting to so many people? I've been to Asia twice now (not counting Japan) and even though English was common enough for me to get by, the dominant language present was still Chinese. It's not a particularly easy language on the ears, in my opinion, but being surrounded by it didn't bother me in the slightest.
Perhaps it's my American or even my New York upbringing that makes a difference. Of course English is my native tongue but I've been hearing other languages spoken around me for decades. Kids at school, people at work, or even just random folks on the street have all exposed me to regular doses of foreign languages over the years. Aside from the occasional foreign pop culture import or an annoying English teacher at school, few Japanese people have had that experience. Maybe if I was as sheltered as they are, listening to a conversation in Russian or Thai for the first time might piss me off as well. But if that were the case, why would I take an overseas trip in the first place? Did someone force this lady onto a plane at gunpoint?
I guess I'm biased, because she happens to be one of my least favorite teachers to deal with in all the schools I visit. She manages to be simultaneously incredibly lax with disruptive students and unnecessarily cruel to students who have too much energy. She gets way too physical with the naughtier kids which isn't that unusual in Japan but that doesn't magically make me accept smacking kids in the head as normal. She also routinely "forgets" about English class even though her classroom is adjacent to mine. Worst of all, she is a first grade teacher so this is the example these poor kids are getting when they first come to English class: a grumpy adult who wants nothing to do with foreign languages.
I don't want to keep harping on this soon-to-be-retired elderly lady but she really crossed the line yesterday when she managed to fall asleep during our meeting about this semester's English plan. I'll admit I've nodded off during meetings before, but those were always massive affairs that didn't particularly apply to me and they were conducted entirely in Japanese. Yesterday's meeting was only for four people (including me) and was entirely in Japanese for her benefit and she still couldn't bother to stay awake. I predict a few "forgotten" lessons in my future this fall.
Too bad she wasn't the only person who couldn't make it through an English meeting with their eyes open yesterday. The sixth-grade teacher, a young man who is very friendly to me and often gives me a lift to school in the morning, said absolutely nothing during our meeting and almost lost consciousness several times. This is a guy who tries his best to participate in class and serves as a good role model for the students and yet he had nothing to contribute to a meeting about English education. If he doesn't care, what hope do I have of ever reaching people like M-sensei?
Of course, I could be overreacting. I wasn't exactly chipper and alert yesterday afternoon either, and even when these meetings serve a purpose there are just so damn many to endure in Japan that it's understandable how people could just tune out right in the middle. What's most important is that, at least at this school, the lesson plans and necessary materials for the entire semester are already finished. That is extremely good news, not just for me but for the students.
Now if you'll excuse me, I think I need a nap. I've been up for hours.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Friday, August 21, 2009
I'm still on vacation and I'm still "sick," although I put that word in quotes because my symptoms of late have been limited to nuisance-levels. No fevers for the past week, no uncontrollable bathroom urges, and hardly any discomfort save for the general sense of anxiety I have over my lingering illness.
I did see a doctor this week (a specialist in fact) in the hopes of getting something other than the usual symptom-focused medication my local clinic was dispensing. However, he seemed far more concerned with my propensity for drinking cold liquids than my recent fevers. This idea that drinks can make your stomach "cold" is apparently a big thing in Japan, even though I've never heard of it. I'm no doctor of course, but it seems pretty fishy to me to blame my love of ice-cold water for my recent intestinal distress. I pour a lot of chilled liquids down my throat every year, and suddenly in the past month it's a problem? I don't buy that.
My family has come and gone. They had a great time, or so they claimed, and they certainly got to meet Go so they seemed pretty happy about the whole trip. I would have liked to have spent more time with them (considering I was on vacation and all) but a flare up of symptoms late last week kept me out of action for a day or two. They still came to see me and the baby but I missed a chance to go sightseeing with them, which is unfortunate. Here's hoping I get to see them and everyone else back in New York before the year is out.
Speaking of international flights, we took Go in to the consulate this morning to file the necessary papers to get him "on the grid," so to speak. In a few weeks he'll have his own Social Security number and passport! It remains to be seen whether he'll be ready to fly this year or not, but from a paperwork standpoint he should be all set by October.
That's all the news I've got for you right now. The better I feel, the more time I should have to write, although I feel like a tool because summer is almost over and I barely got anything new on the blog this month. In a way my hands were tied but that doesn't mean I'm happy about it.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Thursday, July 23, 2009
On the other hand, the birth of my son has sent my mind leaping into the future and wondering about the decisions I will have to make that will shape his outlook of the world. How will I explain religion to him? Will he accept my general abstaining from spirituality or will he start preaching to me? What kinds of questions will he ask me about sex, death, morality, and politics? Will either one of us be satisfied with my answers?
Then there are matters of pop culture: which Star Wars trilogy should he watch first? Who should be his first captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise? And whatever shall I do about video games?
It sounds silly to put pastimes on par with philosophical issues, but the reality is that all of this stuff is going to come up. Parents don't get to choose what their kids will be into but they certainly get a vote. I was raised in a Jewish household so Christmas has always felt foreign to me. My parents loved The Beatles so I've always been more interested in their music (and their peers) rather than Elvis. Can I really say that one of these culture-defining choices had more of an impact on me than the other?
Of course, there is no direct relationship between what my parents supported and what I adopted. They both strongly encouraged me to read more books, so much so that I eventually rebelled out of spite. They were fairly ambivalent concerning video games (never outright condemning them but not accepting them either) but I embraced them and continue to hold them in high regard.
So where does that leave me and Go? I haven't started playing music for him yet but I've been considering building him a playlist. Books are going to be important for his bilingual education; I wish there was a local library with any significant English collection but I don't believe there is. Movies will come later, I suppose, and we'll just have to see what's appropriate at that time. I can't wait to take him to a movie theater for the first time. It's just too bad there aren't any cinemas in Japan with gilded lobbies or curtains.
Video games are another story, for where do we begin? In my case, the seed was planted with the Atari and cultivated with the rise of arcades. Over the years, I played everything I could get my hands on and watched the medium evolve from abstract blocks and beeps to hand-drawn sprites to the advanced 3D models used today. Should I try to simulate that experience for Go with a (condensed) journey through gaming history? Or should he jump in at the present level and start his journey with Pokemon or whatever the kids are into nowadays?
The catch here is that the road of video games is largely a one-way street while other media is more timeless. I can read a fifty or even a hundred-year old book and I should be able to comprehend it and potentially enjoy it at face value. Likewise, when the time comes Go should have little trouble understanding Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark even though they were made thirty years before he was born. But if Go even looks at a modern video game, how can he then pick up Super Mario Brothers?
The good news is that Japan offers me a lot of options in this matter. Arcades still exist in great quantities and a number of them carry older games to appeal to older gamers. There's also a roaring retro-game market in this country (which I wrote about earlier this week) so I could pick up an actual Famicom and a few of the classics to give Go his first taste in style. Of course, all three consoles have their share of downloadable versions of old games, to say nothing of emulators on the PC.
So what do you think? Should Go get the history lesson approach to gaming or just ride the wave of high resolution 21st century awesomeness? If so, is it worth picking up the authentic hardware to deliver the complete experience? Am I underestimating children by assuming that they can't simply go back and play old games once they get a taste of HD graphics and stereo sound? Are video games as timeless as films, books, or music?
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Mako was delighted to have me around all day. She says Go was also happy to see me, though at this point it's still impossible to tell whether he's happy or just making faces. Either way it was lovely to just be here and help out. Go doesn't sleep much when we put him down but he can fall asleep in our arms, so I served as a valuable distraction throughout the afternoon. Of course, when the two of them took a nap I got in some time on BioShock. This just in: that game is still awesome.
In sports news, I got to watch the Yankees win their way into first place. The team's problems are evident: their starting pitching continues to underperform and several of their stars seem to need a lot of rest these days because of their age, but this team is good. Good enough to get to the World Series? Probably not, but at this point they look like a solid Wild Card contender. Sometimes that's all it takes.
In national (as in this particular nation where I live) sports news, this year's Nagoya sumo tournament isn't going so well. Everyone I like lost today, which left me feeling sad. However, the day ended well when Hakuho, the boring Yokozuna who just beats everybody, lost as well. This means that the tournament is still wide open as we approach the final weekend. Go for it...um...anyone but Hakuho!
There was also the matter of a total eclipse this morning that was visible in Japan. Unfortunately, we weren't really in the target area and it was horribly overcast all morning, so we saw nothing in our skies. NHK did manage to give us a nice HD closeup of the phenomenon, at least once they were done having two dudes stand in a forest where it's always dark. Hey assholes, the point of an eclipse is that the sun disappears, so try hanging out someplace bright next time. I hear "next time" is twenty-six years away by the way, so there's time to find a cave or crevasse.
OK, we all know the big news today is my son. It's been a month since he was born. We didn't do anything special to commemorate the occasion, although I did snap the following picture. Enjoy!
Excuse me for not getting up. I've had a busy life.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Monday, July 20, 2009
I knew things were a bit off when I arrived and saw that all the women were wearing little press-on sparkly things on their foreheads in some kind of attempt to look Indian. No one had attempted to dress up for our previous meals (I saw no one in a hanbok when we ate yakiniku) and I was at a loss to guess why. I started to piece it together when I looked at the expression on people's faces as they gazed at the menu (often with their mouths agape) and when I kept hearing the question "Have you eaten Indian food before?*" Eventually, I figured it out: despite its proliferation, Indian food is actually exotic to the average Japanese person.
*Not to digress, but I must point out the choice of words here. Japanese people love to ask foreigners if they can eat Japanese food, a question that makes no sense when that foreigner has been living in Japan and eating school lunches for nearly two years. I fielded a variant of that question that same day in fact. Yet with other cuisines, it's always "have you eaten this" or "do you like this" which is just small talk. What's with the double standard?
This is something I find very surprising. Curry is absolutely integrated into the Japanese diet at this point. It's so common that it shows up in our school lunches at least once a month. Whether it's due to Japanese short-sightedness or simple ignorance, it would seem that few Japanese people actually consider curry's foreign origin. They just know what "curry" is and rarely consider what's in it; the way these people looked at the list of available dishes, you'd think that they were looking at an advanced chemistry textbook.
As for me, I love Indian food and I have been to many different Indian restaurants in and around Osaka in the past few years. I had not been to this particular one, of course, but the menu was pretty standard so I was not surprised by anything I saw (I was disappointed they had no vindaloo though). As a result, I found myself in a rare leadership position where people were looking to me for advice. Even though the menu and the waiter explained everything in Japanese more clearly than I ever could, it was up to me to recommend dishes and drinks for all. For example, no one applied that green spicy sauce to their food until after I did it, and then suddenly it was all over everyone's plates. I only wish they had followed my lead on the silverware, but instead every single one of them used chopsticks whenever possible. Tell me that isn't strange.
I'm sure you're thinking, "But Dan, don't you work in the sticks? Of course they were intimidated by the exoticism of Indian food!" I may work in the rural fringe of Osaka but I don't live there and neither do a majority of the teachers in Hana Town. Lots of them have traveled abroad and one teacher in particular lived in Holland for four years, so these are not hill people who are easily frightened by modern conveniences or the outside world.
I hope this doesn't come off as me making fun of anyone or expressing my disappointment with how the evening turned out. The food was quite nice, the drinks were free (few things in life are as wonderful as a Kingfisher in one hand and a mango lassi in the other) and it was kind of fun to be in a position of power for once. I'm just surprised at how intimidated they all seemed in the face of a commonplace cuisine like Indian food. I hope they came away from it as satisfied as I did, because I'd love to have more variety in our gatherings. Not just for the sake of variety but for value. Our typical Japanese dining experience runs me over 5500 Yen and I'm usually a bit hungry at the end. On Friday I only spent 4500 and I was stuffed. And at the risk of being selfish, it felt good knowing exactly what I was eating for a change.
The only downside to all this was I was too full and it was too late to go into the city afterwards to try and attend a sayonara party for the departing JETs. I will try to make it to this Friday's pub quiz for one last chance to bid some folks farewell. I can't say I was completely satisfied with my social life this past year but I'm glad I made a greater effort to make myself visible. The baby is going to make it harder to go out this next year but I'm not going to make any excuses. We'll find out soon enough, as the new JETs arrive next week. Bring on the newbies!
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Saturday, July 18, 2009
This glorious meal/hideous monstrosity (depending on your world view) was our lunch today. Mako and I are at her parents' house again, partly because it's a long weekend but mostly because they want to see the baby and we want to have people watch the baby. Especially when they watch the baby while we take a walk, go shopping, or do anything that's just the two of us for a change. Go is adorable but we still like doing stuff as a couple, after all.
But this is not about Go, it's about the pizza, which in today's case was Domino's Pizza. Mako's mom had a coupon that was burning a hole in her purse and we used it. Mako's dad wanted seafood, Mako wanted the special "Mille-feuille" cheese-filled crust and Mako's mom had no opinion whatsoever so the rest was up to me. Domino's Japan does offer traditional fare like pepperoni (they even call the pie "American Special") but since Japanese pizza is going to be weird no matter what, I try to embrace the oddities and order different stuff for the sake of being different, which is how we arrived at the disparate pie seen above.
On the left is the "Prime Seafood" package with the usual suspects: shrimp, squid, scallops, and some broccoli. No straight-up fish, no mayo and no corn. On the right is the special limited-time "Sirloin Steak" arrangement. That's grilled zucchini under the steak, and they claim to have topped the whole thing with "truffle cheese." Instead of tomato sauce, they used some kind of "steak sauce" although I barely noticed it with all the cheese I had to contend with.
Now this pizza tasted good and I was happy to eat it, but two things about this meal bothered me. First, Mako's dad started eating his own lunch after we phoned in our order. He subsequently only ate one piece of the pie and I'm not even sure if he ate the half that he insisted upon. While this did mean more for me, that struck me as kind of a dick move even without considering that the steak half was way tastier than the seafood half. Why did he take such an interest in our lunch if he already had designs on his own separate food?
The other thing that bugged me about this pie was the cost: 4700 Yen ($50 give or take). Pizza in Japan is always pricey but this was ridiculous. It was a decent sized pie that satisfied four people, but that's totally out of line. Even factoring in the 1000 Yen coupon and the free delivery it cost more than any pizza pie ever should.
And yet...I would totally order it again, because I love pizza. But you knew that.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Friday, July 10, 2009
I guess there's just something in politics that encourages the people at the top to assign pleasant-sounding names to completely unpleasant things, or even unexciting things. For example, Japan's main political party for the last fifty years isn't called the Conservative Party, they're the Liberal Democratic Party. But that's nothing compared to the folks behind this poster I spotted on the way to the station:
"The Happiness Realization Party?" Even without hearing what they want to do, you're already rolling your eyes, aren't you? Just wait, it gets better. The poster offers us two tiny glimpses into their crazy, crazy world. On the right, it says "Amend Article 9. We will protect Japan from North Korean missiles." Article 9 is the infamous "pacifist clause" of the Japanese constitution that renounces their ability to go to war. That hasn't stopped them from building a substantial Self-Defense Force but that has prevented them from ever attacking another nation. The general public and most sane leaders embrace Article 9, but there have been a few vocal politicians who insist the clause is somehow tying Japan's hands in international relations. Either way, you don't normally see "let's get back into the war business" on political posters.
On the left, it says "Abolish the consumption and inheritance taxes. We will double your assets." Consumption tax in Japan is set at a relatively benign 5%, nearly half of what New Yorkers pay. I don't know the ins and outs of Japanese inheritance tax, but I'm betting it doesn't add up to much unless you're taking in an incredible sum from dearly departed Grandpa. So both of these are aimed at letting the rich stay rich, even though this poster was placed in a neighborhood of modest apartment buildings. Also, I cannot resist pointing out that the very first example sentence for 幸福 ("happiness") in my Japanese-English dictionary is "money can't buy happiness." Guess that wasn't in their edition when they drafted this ad?
I guess I don't blame them for going with "The Happiness Realization Party" over something a bit more accurate, say, "The Trigger-Happy Misers," but couldn't they have at least tried to play it cool for the poster? For all the fuss they made about gay marriage, you don't see many U.S. right-wingers proclaim in their literature "We hate fags." They class it up a bit, use obscuring language and simply imply that they endorse discriminating against certain types of people. Japan could learn a lot from them. Then again, I don't see why the GOP doesn't go ahead and improve their image by totally stealing this party's name. Americans love Happiness!
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Thursday, July 09, 2009
The problem is there's not much else to discuss because Go is a real handful. Unless he's asleep, there's never any time for me or Mako to relax or even do regular chores. Go doesn't sit quietly and watch us live our life, he insists on being attended to at all times. I've only recently come to understand that I can reduce his cries with a little bouncing in my arms or other hands-on contact, but this is merely a standoff rather than a victory. The best possible outcome is he falls asleep for a few minutes, but typically he ends up crying until we feed him. I don't know where he's putting all this liquid sustenance we're giving him, but I guess babies have a very high metabolism and consumption/excretion ratio. Most of what we put it in doesn't come back out.
Work is still work, but there was this weird thing that happened this week that got me thinking. As seen in this tweet, I was introduced to a Japanese-Canadian girl who was in town visiting her grandparents. The school decided she should be my "assistant" for fifth period and they told me this more or less ten minutes before fifth period began. While this girl was very pleasant and I might have come up with something we could have done together with even an hour of foreknowledge, their plan put both of us in an extremely awkward position. I didn't know how to integrate her into my one-man show of wild gestures and she didn't know the first thing about teaching English in Japan. Even if she did, no twelve year old wants to stand in front of other twelve year olds and play teacher anyway! I had to do that once in sixth grade and it was mortifying (even though I did do a good job ^_^).
More than being another strange moment in my Japanese life, the incident reminded me just how different Japanese and American* children really are. At this point I've met my share of kids with English-speaking parents, some of whom grew up here in Japan and others who grew up elsewhere. The way they behave is just so fundamentally different I can't believe it. Those kids who grew up overseas are basically little people: you can talk to them about anything and they'll respond well to your questions, asking plenty of their own of you as well. But the ones who grew up in Japan are just really quiet. You can talk to them one on one but they'll barely say a thing. Everything about them (vocabulary, body language, speech patterns) seems restrained.
*American, Canadian, whatever. We're all on the same team and we're more alike than we admit it. This girl was from Toronto so she's practically a (upstate) New Yorker.
I don't need to tell you that I want Go to be more like this visiting child than any of my regular students. Whether their silence is a social pressure (they don't want to be seen speaking too much English in front of their peers) or simply the programming of Japanese institutions, I couldn't say. Either way I looked at this little girl and thought to myself "How can I make sure Go grows up like her?"
The reactionary answer is "Get the hell out of here" but I'm not ready to give up on Japan just yet. After all, Go is my son and I'm going to be actively doing my part to raise him and promote values that I feel are important. I'm not saying he needs to be a loud-mouth braggart but so long as I'm around, surely I can leave my mark on his personality as much as Japan can. The kids that I've met here, I don't really know their parents at all. Maybe they just all came from really quiet households? I don't have enough data to draw any conclusions, so I shouldn't assume that Go will automatically grow up as some kind of tortured soul in Japan.
*sigh* You see what this baby is doing to me? Two weeks of staring at his cute little face and I'm already worried about his future and whether or not I'm doing enough for him. Babies are powerful little creatures, let me tell you.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
I know my attitudes towards this job (and this country) are cyclical. It just so happens that so far, this year's cycles have been warped by dealing with a difficult pregnancy and then the birth itself which was ill-timed to say the least. I'm confident that once the summer has passed, giving me ample time to adjust to the serious life changes that are in store for me, I'll be eager to get back to work when the new semester starts (in August, damn it, thanks to that week off we took for the "new flu" panic).
Speaking of the baby, since that's all everyone wants to know about lately, he is with Mako at her parents' house and doing what babies do: consume, excrete, and occasionally sleep. He's still the most adorable baby I've ever seen, but I guess there's an obvious bias there. For those curious, yes, I have held him and I've given him a bottle a couple of times, but I have yet to try my hand at the infamous diaper duty. Don't worry, I won't leave Mako hanging in that department; I'm no monster, I'm merely squeemish.
Augh, it's past midnight and I'm still up. This kind of behavior can wait for the baby to arrive. He's nowhere near the point where he sleeps through the night, according to Mako, so I should really try harder to get my sleep while I can.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Monday, June 22, 2009
Mako shook me awake around 2:45AM on Sunday morning, clutching herself and saying "We need to go to the hospital." It would later turn out that she had been in pain for nearly two hours prior to that but she stuck it out and waited to see if it would pass. It never did, so we all threw on our clothes and drove to the hospital I was understandably excited, if a little drowsy.
When we arrived I was quite surprised at the lack of initiative from the skeleton crew working the off-hours. Technically speaking, this hospital is "closed" on Sunday but they maintain a side entrance and a small reception desk during these periods. Mako called them before we left so when we arrived, they knew we were coming. That doesn't mean they did anything though. I distinctly remember one man walk past us, acknowledge our presence by simply saying "Ah, Feit-san. Go to the fifth floor." without breaking his stride. You would think a pregnant woman bent over in pain would warrant a wheelchair or some measure of physical assistance, but not here.
The fifth floor was a little busier than the ground floor, probably because there's always something going on in the maternity ward. Newborns arrive when they arrive and both they and their mothers require 24-hour care. Still, despite the buzzing of nurses around us most of the lights were off on the floor, so we spent our initial wait in the dark. Eventually Mako got a bed in the "labor room" and we were told that despite the pain, Mako was only dilated three centimeters and she needed to be at ten centimeters before any serious attempt to give birth could be made. When we asked how long that might take, they said "a while."
I must try to set the scene here by describing the labor room. There is only one room and all expectant mothers have to share it, apparently. I don't know how many beds were in the room but there was little more than a wall and a curtain to separate Mako's bed from the others. Mako was also located right next to the toilet and near the examination chair, so we were in a fairly high traffic section of a very small room. It was here that we had to wait...and wait...and wait...
As noon approached and after repeated claims of "it'll be a bit longer" it was evident that while Mako needed to lie in bed and wait, we didn't all necessarily have to sit next to her until the baby arrived. Mako's mother stayed and encouraged me to go with my father-in-law back to the house and clean up. We were all exhausted, having woken up in the middle of night only to sit and wait for nine hours in the corner of the labor room, so the idea of a shower sounded pretty good. Mako's dad also suggested we have some lunch, which I thought might help me cope with all the stress but it didn't change much. That's how nervous I was: not even eating made me feel better.
We went back to the house and I washed up. My father-in-law told me to try and take a nap which was virtually impossible. Despite all the waiting with no end in sight, I was still worried that the baby would arrive at any moment. I laid down and maybe nodded off for forty minutes or so, but I awoke sharply and scared that I had missed the birth. I hadn't, of course, but I wouldn't feel calm until I was back at the hospital and next to Mako.
Hours and hours went by, and I spent all of them by Mako's side in the corner of this horrible, horrible room. I'm not going to point any fingers here, because I certainly don't have the intestinal fortitude to endure even a tenth of what a pregnant woman goes though, but everything in this labor room carried a horrible stench. The human body generates a lot of foul smelling byproducts and this room was where they all get discharged. The delivery room (when we finally got there) was even worse, but the labor room's odor and total lack of privacy was miserable. Adding insult to injury was that my only seat was a tiny stool with no back and nothing to lean against. Between Mako's bed, her I.V. and the table where we laid out her belongings, there was barely any space for any visitors to sit by the bed.
Eventually I went out again with her father for another meal, but I again spent the entire time thinking only of her. It obviously can't compare to the physical pain a pregnant woman experiences, but to see my wife in such torturous agony all day while she waits and waits was really painful for me. However, the idea of not being with her felt even worse because we had decided together to try and have a baby. Wouldn't leaving her to have the baby without me be a betrayal of our mutual agreement?
Speaking of which, one of the worst things about this shared labor room was overhearing all of the other patients. In the next bed over was a woman who had checked in some time before us. At first she was just sleeping but as the evening approached, she went into the delivery room which was within an audible distance. She shrieked and screamed and we eventually heard the baby's first cries. A little while later, a man showed up and was surprised when he found out the baby was already born. This was obviously the father and I never saw him visit her once that day. Where the fuck was this guy that he couldn't attend his own child's birth or even comfort his wife as she struggled? His failure as a father/husband reminded me why I needed to sit next to Mako and just ignore my back pain and exhaustion. Yes, I left twice to eat meals, but I never left her alone and on both occasions I came back within an hour. At no point was Mako without a member of her family on hand.
As the sun went down, it occurred to me that Mako had just spent the entirety of the Summer Solstice indoors, waiting for this baby. After about seventeen hours, things started to look like the baby was coming. We were still in the labor room but as her dilation increased, Mako was encouraged to try pushing to speed up the process. While I had spent most of the day just sitting with Mako and occasionally massaging her, it was during these initial pushes that I actually had something important to do. Mako was standing up and hugging me, holding onto me for leverage and squeezing with all her might as she tried to push. It was crazy intense and while it would prove futile (and it hurt like hell), it was the undisputed highlight of Sunday because I felt like I mattered.
This is as good a time as any to mention how little attention the hospital staff paid attention to me, which I found deeply insulting. Maybe it's just the culture of Japan to leave the husband out of the birth process, but as I spent my entire Sunday next to my wife trying to console her and assist in the delivery our child, you would think that at one point someone would just start talking to me about something, anything, to acknowledge my constant presence. Instead, I was spoken about but almost never spoken to. The bad news is, I'm pretty sure it was that old-fashioned Japanese racism at work.
For those unfamiliar with Japanese racism, I should explain that it's not actually hateful as much as it's clueless and stupid. I'm sure none of the nurses or doctors felt anything was wrong with me, they just never thought to treat me like a human being. Instead, I was treated like a gaijin. They would ask my wife "where is your husband from?" and "does your husband speak Japanese?" instead of just asking me directly. When they needed our signatures on waivers, they would explain everything to her (while I listened) and then look at me and start stammering, mumbling to themselves "oh, how do I explain this since you cannot read?" Under the circumstances I let it all slide but inside I was pretty pissed.
But I digress...around ten o'clock we finally entered the delivery room. Mako gave it her all but after spending her entire day in pain on a bed without eating (she had no appetite at all), she found herself unable to push the baby out. They put her through a variety of poses, which means they were trying their best but it felt like they didn't really know what to do. Eventually they said there was a "bump" (こぶ in Japanese) and the baby wasn't moving any closer to the exit. Just after one AM, Mako couldn't push anymore and asked them for a C-section. True story: in Japan they call it an "imperial cut" (帝王切開).
They spent almost an hour prepping Mako for surgery and then took her away to the O.R. I was left in the dark (literally) to sit and wait to find out what was going to happen to my family. I was understandably upset by this turn of events. Was there nowhere else I could go? I knew the surgery was routine and carried relatively little risk but that couldn't stop me from worrying about what might happen on the operating table. Let's not forget that it was past two AM and I had been awake for nearly twenty-four straight hours, so I was already a little out of my mind. Being afraid that my wife or my son might not return from the O.R. was terror I didn't need.
My son was the first to appear, shortly before three AM. I wanted to be excited and revel in the moment of seeing my first child in the flesh, but all I could think about was Mako who was still absent. I asked the nurse and all she could say was "they're closing her up." While that was meant as a reassurance, I couldn't put her out of mind even as I looked down at my very healthy brand-new baby boy.
As you can guess, she eventually turned up, as did her parents who must have been up waiting for my messages. Mako was on a stretcher and couldn't sit up, but she was conscious and able to ask me if I saw the baby. I told I did and that made her smile. For all the hell the two of us had gone through (her more than me, of course), having a baby after nine months of anticipation was a wonderful feeling. I suppose if we were going to go with the surgery in the end we could have saved Mako a great many hours of discomfort by asking sooner, but we had hoped for a natural birth. Ah well, at least now my son can totally kill MacBeth.
Tell thee, Feit was from his mother's womb
つづく...(Click here to read more)