Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hip Hop is World Wide

There's a regular hip hop night hosted not too far from where I live every other month. It's great that such a small, remote area can have a decent hip hop scene. There were DJ's, b-boys and emcees there representing 3 out of 4 elements.

They played both Japanese and American Hip Hop (Biggie, Nas, etc..) and even dropped some classic b-boy joints (e.g., DJ Shadow's Organ Donor) when we started breaking.

Hip Hop is world wide.

Event flier. I obviously don't know how to photograph one

Two of the emcees of the night. They had the hypest show. Wish I knew what they said...

Cold chillin' in his b-boy stance

Usual hip hop show Suspects from left to right 2 left: hip hop head, a coffee bartista from my local shop, two youngin groupies and a b-boy

Dude was breaking in those shoes. True story

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Warn the town the beast is loose...

I had a heart attack yesterday. I was driving to school when I saw what every American dreads while driving: flashing lights in my rear view mirror.

So many questions went through my mind...

What did I do wrong? Was I speeding? Did I not stop long enough at the turn? Did I run over a baby?

How do I deal with this? Pull the gaijin card ("Wakari masen. Nihon ga hanasemasen")? Play dumb?("I'm sorry officer, I didn't know I couldn't do that")?

And what's worse is that I was by school. My 2 towns are so small that word would get around anyway BUT getting it just before school and next to school, well...that was just the icing on the cake.

So I turn into the next street expecting the worse. And the cop drives by! All that worrying for nothing. Turns out that in Japan, cops drive with their lights on. I have no idea how people know when to pull over but that's how they do it.

I've heard a lot of tips about surviving in Japan. A lot of the "single most important thing you should know" type advice. And I don't know if I'd say its the most important thing to know, but I' definitely would've liked to have known this sooner.

Do not freak out. In Japan, cops always drive with their lights on.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My hood away from home

Everyday it's been the same old thang on my block
Ya either farming or ya work for the state on my block

I took some pictures of my neighborhood/town/village after the sun came out and melted the snow away. The naturalness of it reminds me a lot of West Austin and Mill Valley. That's probably why it was easy to settle in.

One of the "main" intersections off of "Main" Street

A dope looking house owned by some local farmers

Another dope house owned by local farmers

Farmland - there's lots of it. My city has an agricultural based economy so the farmland is vast.

Mountain view of town

Local Ski Resort turned golf course in the absence of snow.

Artwork at the ski resort

Lovely view from the ski resort. Its a great place to relax and clear your mind

One of the many "Beware of Bear" signs posted at forest entrances. Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Makeshift Drum Set

I was about to leave school yesterday when I heard drumming. I knew we had a drum set, practice snares and pads at school but had never seen or heard anyone using them.

Stepping into the room, I found one of my students--a quiet 2nd year girl from an honor class--practicing on the snare. I had seen her playing the xylophone before but didn't know she also played the drums.

We took turns banging away on the snare and drum pad before I got the idea to add more to the arrangement. I first brought over a music stand to serve as a muted high-hat. She didn't know what I was expecting so I demonstrated before handing the drum sticks back to her. Bam! She used the makeshift high hat and snare without a hitch.

Well, if she can handle this, then surely she can deal with more...

And so it went. I'd grow the set using random items from around the room and then, after getting used to the sound, she'd make a beat. A cardboard box acted as a tom-tom. A small tin can worked as a cowbell. Etc..

It was a blast and reminded me of the awesome street drummers who pour their souls into their music on avenues around the world.

I stepped out for a while and came back to find her going off on the real drum set. This quiet 2nd year student can play the drums like this? MAN! If I can find some guitar players at this school, I'm totally going to start a band...


As anyone who's ever been unfortunate enough to play basketball with me since 1996 can tell you, I suck at basketball. I was pretty good before then, especially for me age. I used to play with my brother and the older kids at the neighborhood park in South Central Fort Worth. Later I played in a junior high school church league. Then I lost interest and proceeded to routinely kill the stereotype for anyone who ever saw me step foot on a court.

But my interest has been re-peaked ever since coming to Japan. It's not really like I have a choice: everyone keeps throwing basketball my way. At both of my schools, people assume I can play. And since both of my schools are in sports-loving towns, folks have been getting excited. It's remarkably similar to the "Everybody Hates Basketball" episode of Everybody Hates Chris:

Turns out my 2 high schools are pretty good! I went to a tournament 2 weeks ago and saw the girl's team own up on an adult team. And the guy's team got second place out of the entire thing. I wasn't sure what to expect but I can definitely say that some of my students love for basketball is comparable to states. They eat, sleep and breathe it.

Literally. They play before school, during lunch, after school (3 hour daily practices which are student run and strikingly disciplined), weekends and holidays.

Many are better than me but let their psyche get in the way. Every time I set foot in the gym I'm bombarded by requests to dunk (I can't, but I can still grab the rim) and play 1-on-1 against someone. I can miss a ton of shots and still have them cheer in amazement when I finally, accidentally, make one. If I wasn't bigger, faster and stronger than all of them (my fast breaks are their Achilles Heals), they probably would've already realized this.

Regardless, it's turning out to be a great way to get to know my kids. They're more receptive when they see me as more than an English Teacher and basketball helps put me in that light.

And I apparently have something to teach them about it.

I was caught completely off guard last week when the entire guy's and girl's teams formed a cypher around me and asked me for advice. Shoot, what do I know? "Um...just keep on practicing and you'll go far...yeah."

But then this week, I met up with a few at the gym and taught them how to play Nijuichi ("21") and 馬 ("H-O-R-S-E"). I've been playing those (or variations like "P-I-G" and "25") since I first handled a rock but they had never heard of them! They picked up both fast and, from what I can tell, quickly fell in love with them. They also started copying some of my loud and goofy on-court antics (they weren't talking or showing any emotion during the games at first but maybe they just saw me as a teacher and were afraid to relax) and were inspired by my slam-dunk-contest-type-shots during 馬 to try more creative and adventurous shots during their turns. We ended up playing for a couple of hours and while it may not improve their game, it certainly made it more enjoyable.

I'm going to continue attending games and practices and will hopefully be able to do the same with the other sports and club activities. I've been making cameos at most of the club activities but haven't gotten involved at the same level. But if I can relate like this through basketball then I should be able to do same with the rest.