Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Priceless Summer Vacation

20 blank CD's: 750 Yen.

4 full tanks of gas: 12,000 Yen.

Taking a solo, multi-day road trip with only a vague idea of where you're going while blasting your favorite tunes, exploring Northern Tohuku, peeping Nebuta, sessioning with the Akita Lockers, doing all public hygiene in convinis and onsens, sleeping on the beach, blindly pointing at menus and eating whatever comes out, talking to strangers and otherwise putting 4 months of Japanese study to the test: PRICELESS

Friday, August 14, 2009


Sometimes life can keep you down, with your face all in the dirt
Now if you feel that left behind, need to get up and go to church
Church by Outkast
It had been over 3 months since I had set foot in a church. Then one day, one of the English Teachers whom I had recently met casually mentioned a local one during a conversation.

"Whoa, hold on, what was that? There's a church around here?"

Indeed there is. 40 minutes away, in the beach hugging city of Kuji, resides Allen Church. And as if trying to prove a point, it even rests on top of a hill.

Despite not stepping inside one for a while, the church had an instantly familiar feel. Some call it an aura while others the Presence of God. Regardless of what you call it, the impression was undeniable to me.

After sitting down in the back row, glances in every which way immediately took me down memory lane. With it's beautifully stained glass windows, jumbo church bible and perfectly aligned pews, this building fit the church archetype. I could've been in Kuji City or the Bible Belt.

Stepping outside, I took a moment to stare at it's steeple, the epitome of the common church blueprint. Towering and cross-adorned, it unapologetically stood out for every passerby to see.

I had found a church.

...but that was the easy part. Attending was another story completely. Though the building is familiar, the service is not. It's very traditional and conservative, unlike the one's I attended in San Francisco and Austin. And though they have a monthly English service, the Japanese one is hard to endure.

However, all of that was put to rest, recently, when we sung Jesus Loves Me. I hadn't realized how common that song was but any one spent more than a few years going to church in their childhood knows it. I had learned it in English and Spanish (at some point; I've since forgotten it) but now I know it in Japanese. It reminded me that despite the language differences, the same core message is being taught. Here's the romaji:

Shu ware o ai su
Shu wa tsuyokereba
Ware yowaku to mo
Osore wa araji
Wa ga shu iesu
Wa ga shu iesu
Wa ga shu iesu
Ware o ai su

I learned it when I was a kid and this church also teaches it to their children.

The same building, the same songs and of course, the same message. I left America but felt at home singing familiar hymns in this building. And likewise, the youth of Allen Church may one day leave Japan. But even if they initially feel out of place, they'll also be able to find comfort singing familiar hymns in a recognizable church.

I don't make the stereotypes, I only see them

What do many U.S. universities, America's Best Dance Crew and The Debut all have in common? They all push the image that Filipino's are good dancers and love to dance.

It's a generalization I never really paid any mind to until recently. I currently teach some 250 students and offered to teach breaking to all of them. Many wanted to learn but only 2 showed continual interest.

One was a boy who had already been breaking for a while but the other was a half Filipino girl(a large number of men in rural Japan take Filipino and Chinese wives). Of all my students, one of the 2 who was not only interested in breaking, but also a fast learner and very good at breaking, just happened to have Filipino blood running through her veins.

I don't make the stereotypes, I only see them.

Japanese Catalog or the Mark of the Beast?

There's a Japanese e-commerce website at I saw an advertisement for it on TV in a restaurant in Akita. I didn't write it down or make any special effort to remember it, but 2 weeks later, I still do.

It's easy to remember but you would never see such a number in the U.S. for a a general e-commerce site or even a phone number because 666 is associated with the Beast. The site would get lots of hits but even more protests.

Funny how things differ from country to country.

Why are you apologizing?

Apologizing is a fundamental part of Japanese Culture but I think it can sometimes go too far. I was in a museum a couple of weeks ago and, while getting lost in translation, one of the curators apologized to me for their inability to speak English.

Come again? I came to your country so it is my responsibility to learn your language.

There was absolutely no reason why apologizing should have even entered her thought process. I was actually kind of offended for her.

It happened multiple times. Each time I tried to tell her that she shouldn't apologize and that I was sorry I didn't speak Japanese better. Unfortunately, this just put a puzzled look on her face and made her start apologizing more.