25 May 2008

Japanese Music

CDs here are, in my mind, insanely expensive, costing anywhere from $25 to $40 a piece. I've had the fortune to come across a music blog for Asian music that is furthering my education in Japanese music exponentially.

So, without further adue, a review of a few of the new groups I've been exploring:

1. Shiina Ringo (椎名林檎)
This female singer has been around for a while, apparently, but I find this all the better as it means there's a wealth of her music to be found online. Her style varies quite a bit, sounding something like Alanis Morisette at one moment, like Bjork the next, then like Fiona Apple, and practically always having a strong jazz influence. Her music, on the whole, I could throw on at a blues or salsa dance without causing anyone to skip a beat. Even better for linguaphobes, she does quite a bit of stuff in English.

- YouTube: Yokushitsu and its English counterpart, La Salle de Bain
- YouTube: Ringo no Uta
- YouTube: Papaya Mango

Of the four groups I review in this entry, Shiina Ringo is the only one I would say has true musicality or would label as a true musician. (Not that it should keep you from enjoying the others, but ... it's something for the music snobs in each of us to keep in mind.)

This is nothing but a boy band, but mentioning them on a worksheet rarely fails to get a good reaction out of my female students. This being said, I do enjoy a few of their songs (though never enough that I would buy the album myself). One of their more recent singles, "I Believe," sounds like it's straight off of a Christmas album, but it's upbeat and enjoyable. Just imagine the lyrics as whatever the Backstreet Boys would have been likely to put to such music and you're set.

- YouTube: a live version of I Believe...unfortunately, one of the singer's microphones is ... off.

3. UVERworld
Another boy band, but one a little more along the punk-rock persuasion, UVERworld is easily becoming one of my favorite bands. Do I know what they're saying? No. Considering the random mix of English and Japanese, I daresay few people outside of the band itself know what's really going on (and even then, I do have to wonder about the band's comprehension). I first fell in love with their single "D-technolife," but since have come to enjoy more of their songs. Upbeat, dance-inducing, and right up my alley.

- YouTube: D-technolife
- YouTube: Ukiyo Crossing
- YouTube: Shaka Beach (Laka Laka La)

4. Perfume (パフューム)
This female trio band is one of the top techno bands in Japan, apparently, and techo is certainly their schtick. I fell in love with them from a commercial promoting recycling that was running when I first arrived here but only recently found out their name. I haven't turned on my iPod the past few days without listening to their single "Polyrhythm" at least once, and, outside of the fact that I find the face of the long-and-straight-haired one to be somewhat creepy, I have little with which to fault them.

- YouTube: Recycling Commercial
- YouTube: Polyrhythm
- YouTube - Macaroni (Yes, it's ridiculous, but come on. Techno.)

And, with that, I will end my music review. :)

Casual Thursdays

AKA: I Just Can't Seem to Get Comfortable.

Walking into my elementary school feels completely different from walking into my middle school. In elementary, school is treated as a fun endeavor, an attitude reflected in the students and the teachers. Students are running and playing outside before class starts, and I usually am greeted with enthusiasm. Around half of the kids wear the uniform, while the other half wear regular clothes (I still haven't figured out the way this system of "who wears the uniform when" works). The teachers are all wearing some form of track suit. Most everyone, whether student or faculty, is decently willing to give English a shot in the classroom; the two exceptions I can think of are both students.

On the other hand, middle school is much more serious. All of the students always wear their uniform, and two-thirds of the teachers wear business casual clothing instead of track suits. A number students will avoid making eye contact with me so as to not have to say "hello" or "good morning," and they are always heading straight inside to their classrooms in the morning. Most of the faculty will tell me how they "just can't speak English in the slightest," and many students have given up on gaining English proficiency and are just hoping to get decent enough grades.

And yet, while my Thursdays at the elementary school are much more casual and laid back, I find that I cannot relax here.

I'd say a large portion of this is due to the difference in atmosphere of the staff rooms. There are 5 English teachers in my middle school, as well as several other teachers who are very proficient in English. Three of these teachers sit around me in the staff room. On the other hand, there are maybe three proficient English speakers all together in my elementary school, and they are much farther away from me. There is a lot of pressure on me to speak Japanese at the elementary school, therefore, and my improvements in the language still aren't enough for me to have an easy time bantering with or feeling close to my neighbors.

I'm also a weekly occurrence at the elementary school, a sort of regular interruption to their normal routine. As such, I don't know many of my 35 teachers' names, much less their general personalities. My middle school is my "base" school, meaning I stay there four days a week. I know my teachers' names, the subjects they teach, if they have homerooms and have, on the whole, had some sort of interaction with them such that I feel I know them to some extent.

I suppose elementary school is only casual on the outside. While I can wear a glorified sweat-suit to work and play nothing but games with the kids, I'll probably never be more than a stranger, an outsider.

[One thing I can recommend of my elementary school over my middle school is the office manager, Sasaki-sensei, who never fails to amuse me with his antics. Most of these fall under the category of "lunch," where he eats easily three times as much of our ample lunch portions as anyone else on staff, to the amazement of the teachers and students. It's a glorious sight to behold.]

20 May 2008

Confusion at the Office

I looked up, confused. No one was speaking to me. Conclusion: someone was speaking about me.

It was Kimura-sensei, the female P.E. teacher. A little listening revealed that, apparently, I was supposed to teach the boy's P.E. class in 5th period to cover for Okada-sensei, the male P.E. teacher who wasn't in today.
Note: It was already 4th period.

Confusion. Why wasn't I told? Why would they have me teach a substitute class, especially considering the fact that I'm not legally allowed to be left with a class on my own? Why wasn't I told? Who came up with this plan? And, of course, why wasn't I told?

This is, unfortunately, a fairly common occurrence in the average ALT's life. Randomly you find you are to do something - no one told you, you're not supposed to according to your contract, and you have nothing prepared. For example, I've run around the school looking for a class that, because of a schedule change, wasn't meeting that period. Most of this comes from the fact that I don't understand (or pay attention to, for that matter) the meetings in the mornings, where I would learn about a lot of the bigger issues - schedule changes, upcoming class activities, and so on. But some of it is just because no one realized the ALT hasn't been told.

In this case, it was written on a schedule in the possession of the head of the 2nd year teachers (I am considered a 2nd year teacher) and he hadn't noticed it. More horrifying than this, however, was that this same schedule indicated that I should have taught a math class earlier that day, when I was scheduled to be in an English class, and was to teach one on Wednesday and Thursday.
Problem (outside of my intense hatred of math): I don't even COME to my middle school on Thursdays, as I'm scheduled to be at my elementary school on those days.

Lunch time rolled around and I was preparing myself for overseeing a game of soccer...my specialty, har har...with the 1st year boys. I found out that Kasahara-sensei was in charge of assigning teachers to oversee absentee-teacher classes, so I found him as the lunch period started and asked him about it.

"You're taking the P.E. class? That's great!"
"Yes, but...I can't teach this math class. I'm not here on Thursdays; I go to the elementary school."
"...waaaait, this is MY schedule! I just write it down where your name is because there's more space. But you should still join us for soccer!"
"...*cue throbbing headache*"

While I was reassured about not having to teach either P.E. or math, I must say that these occasional bouts of "Oh, you didn't know this vital and imminently pertinent piece of information?" in my office do seem a tad unnecessary.
Just a tad.

14 May 2008

Can I get a mask and a folding chair with that?

At school, the kids sometimes call me "wrestler."

Now, this may seem out of the blue, but stay with me. My name is Leslie. In Japan, the "L" sound and the "R" sound are combined, making my name sound more like "resurii." Wrestler is pronounced "resuraa." So it's really a small jump from "resurii" to "resuraa," and it's the first thing they think of when they hear my name.

I also sometimes get "refurii" ... referee.

This is all well and good - kids have their fun, and the fact that I have a few nicknames is a good thing... I think. On the whole, it probably means they like me to some degree. (I've recently gotten called "Leslie Jackson" by the track girls, as I have a "Jackson image." What that means I don't know, and all I can hope is that my Jackson image isn't a Michael or Tito one...or a Jessie one, for that matter, considering the "wrestler" bit.)

Yesterday, I was in one of my first-year classes at the middle school; things were going well. That is to say, things were going well until my teacher says, in front of a class of 36 12-year-olds, to repeat after "resuraa."

Moment of silence...class explodes.

I staggered to the closest wall, clutching my chest and acting to the best of my abilities as though I had been mortally wounded. The class was dying, and my teacher was trying to apologize but was doubled over, laughing just as hard as the kids (especially when I threw in a "kurushii..." ["it hurts..."] for her benefit). It took about some 3 or 4 minutes for us to get back on track, but it was a wonderful interlude.

Ahh, the life of a foreigner...

09 May 2008

Spring Evolution

I have a few symptoms as of late.

A sample:

  • I feel the need to replace my wardrobe.
  • I want to buy new pencils, erasers, and so on, not because I need them, but because my old ones are no longer novel or cute enough.
  • I feel like going out, having fun, running around ... all the while being very, very lethargic.
    Some would call this spring fever - I don't. "Fever" implies "feverish," the idea that someone is running around in an unnatural, somewhat manic state. That just isn't the case. I feel like I'm growing too old for my things, that I've somehow matured past the person who owned those clothes, those accessories, those habits. I'm stretching, flexing, and prodding my surroundings, calculating my way out of this old skin to a newer, polished version of myself.

    So, part of that escape is a change to this blog. The digitally-altered view of Tokyo at night was born of a girl dreaming of life in Japan from behind the desk of a college computer lab. Its replacement is a photo I took - that in and of itself is enough to make it a better representative of the things for which this blog stands.

    In short, forgive the abandoned skin, discarded on the floor, and just pay attention to the new, sleek me.

  • Kaburaya Festival

    AKA: You mean this area is KNOWN for something?

    I had been told about the Kaburaya Festival in brief before yesterday, but had forgotten about it completely. Fortune was with me, however, as the festival not only fell on the day I normally go to elementary school, but that the grade I was to be teaching was one of the two grades that would be attending the celebration.

    In short, if you don't care to read the above-linked article, the Kaburaya festival celebrates the time when Nitta Yoshisada, a retainer of the emperor, was called to gather an army and head to Kamakura to do battle with the shogunate there. This he did, calling his troups to gather at Ikushina Shrine.

    Now, the festival involves elementary school children, specifically the 6th grade boys, reinacting the part of the gathering army. After speeches and ritual blessings (both of which are frequently found in Japan), these children march in, dressed in traditional clothing, armed with bows and dummy-arrows - bamboo shoots with poster paper fletching. They gather at the center of the shrine and hear a stirring speech from their leader, an older man in the same traditional wear, and then march out to the shrine gate.

    Left, left, left-right-left...

    They fall into ranks and then fire their first volley into a crowd consisting mostly of over-excited mothers and grandparents. I was told afterwards that catching an arrow as it is falling ensures the catcher a year's worth of happiness, but I'm hoping that my snatching one from the ground will still afford me some good luck.


    After firing a second volley (for which I took a video - I think this will let you see it), the boys are led in rousing cries of what I can only label "blokey bravado stuff," thanks to a clear memory of an episode of Creature Comforts, and go back into the center of the shrine to sing a song before being dismissed by their leader.

    All in all, it was a small but enjoyable affair, especially as two of my three classes were canceled on its behalf. The students were clearly having a fun time, and the boys looked great in their black and white hakama. Still, I can't help but feel that someone was watching out for me in lining up everything such that I would be able to go and enjoy it...