Sunday, December 19, 2010

Snuck Sneaked In

Fill in the blank with the correct form of sneak. Don't think too much about the question, just write your natural response:

Everyone in the house was sleeping, so he _________ across the yard. [sneak]

Some of you (or most of you, considering how much of this blog's readership comes from people I know personally) may have gotten this brief survey in their e-mail last week. The issue came up in my advanced junior high school class when we were reading about a nature photographer who snuck up on a baby lion to get the perfect photograph. The wording was a source of confusion for one student, who checked her dictionary to find that "sneaked" or "snuck" were both acceptable, the former listed as "more formal." This sounded wrong to me, for I, as a native speaker of English, would never use "sneaked," and told the class as much.

The matter bothered me, so I did what most eikaiwa teachers would never do: I looked it up. (Or did a quick Google search, if you want to get technical.) A majority of what I found seemed to agree that while "sneaked" was the original past form of "sneak," "snuck" had more recently become acceptable (though some people, like Jennifer Garner below, strongly argued the contrary).

I was curious to see if more people agreed with Jennifer Garner or me, so I sent out the survey. Roughly 80% chose "snuck" as their past tense form of choice, some strongly, and some through great deliberation. (A few did the same Google search I did, or discussed varying situations in which they would use "snuck" or "sneaked," and I did not count these in the final results.) My trusty Random House dictionary says that, "SNUCK has occasionally been considered nonstandard, but is now so common that it can no longer be so regarded."

Students come to me to learn common English for social situations and practical use. They want to express themselves, understand what they read, and speak natural English that will not cause them shame or embarrassment. I would never correct a student who used a past form of "sneak" that I didn't agree with, just as I would never correct a student who used "hopefully" to refer to a future wish, or who used "their" as a gender neutral possessive pronoun. These are mistakes that millions of native English speakers make every day, and that all but the strictest of grammar critics would brush aside in natural conversation. Occasionally I have students whose English is good enough to understand and appreciate such finer subtleties, but for the rest there's no point in correcting errors that don't sound brutally jarring to the average gaijin.

Monday, December 13, 2010

In Which the Author Recounts his Experience Taking the JLPT, and Promises Yet Again to Blog More Frequently

I have a set pattern of advice I impart on fearful Japanese people before they take standardized tests:

1. Get a good night's sleep
2. Eat a good breakfast
3. Don't be nervous

After taking the JLPT, I can now confidently add a fourth entry to this list:

4. Don't daydream before the test

I was not at all nervous before the JLPT; I actually worried more about finding the test center than about my ability to pass. I arrived on an early train and sat in the Gakuin University courtyard reading Jessie's book on hikikomori (more on this later) while crowds of East Asian students flipped through test prep books and cheerful Brazilians posed for group photos. I was the only white person in the test room, and also the oldest, the majority being Brazilian middle-school students wearing a mix of neon and black. I read, reread, and attempted to understand the hiragana instructions on the blackboard, and watched the test proctor, a nervous woman who did her best to make her Japanese easy to understand, shuffle awkwardly around the room. She was assisted by a college kid who carried in the test booklets and watched over the room without doing very much. He wore a jet-black suit with a loosely-knotted pink tie and dirty tennis shoes that betrayed an obvious unfamiliarity with the post, a welcome break from Japan's usual flawless appearance.

I had arrived just before noon, and there must have been some rule about starting the test at exactly 12:45 because the proctor spent a grueling ten minutes staring at her watch while we waited with the test booklets in front of us. I used this opportunity to think about the book I'd been reading, silently make fun of the college kid's sneakers, look forward to other weekend plans, work some transitional issues out of a story I'm writing, think about women I'd like to sleep with, and worry about whether I'd remembered to turn off my cell phone so that I was shocked into action when the proctor finally gave the signal to hajimete. It had also been so long since I'd taken a standardized test (eight years by my count) that I'd forgotten the importance of speed over thoroughness. I wasted a lot of time in the Vocabulary section mulling over pieces of sentences that had no bearing on the actual answer, and deliberated over questions whose solution I could only guess at. I was surprised when the proctor called time and collected our answer sheets: I still had two questions to go.

That turned out to be a good thing because it showed me that this test, even though it was the lowest level, was still a force to be reckoned with. Success wasn't going to come easily. I spent the remaining two sections locked in a state of intense concentration, especially during the Listening section, which required me to reorient myself to a new set of instructions every ten minutes. (The whole test, by the way, was in Japanese, with nary a hint of English to help us figure out what to do.)

Maybe that was the challenge I needed to sharpen my focus. It occurred to me during the break that I've been taking the easy route too often lately, and that having a challenge again made me feel good. And why have I been avoiding challenges the past few years? Post-college burnout? Fear of failure? Massive derailment without a set structure to guide me through life? Or is it just plain laziness?

I'm pretty confident that I went on to smoke those second two sections, but even if I don't pass, that moment of enlightenment was reward enough. With the test out of the way I've been free to get things squared away for Christmas (which gets a lot more complicated when there's excessive mail order shopping involved), and when that's finally over with, I'll be able to focus on some other writing projects, both fiction and pieces for this blog. More on those projects later, but for now, I assure you that I will be posting more often, for serious this time.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

No Ticket

Just as I feared (i.e. predicted), my entry ticket for the JLPT was not delivered to my work address because, in a massive display of Japanese adherence to labyrinthine regulations, my name was not printed on the mailbox. This is entirely my own fault for not understanding the directions clearly (Travelers Tip: Understanding rules will get you far in Japan). I can't even make the excuse that I didn't see the part about marking one's name on the mailbox, since there is clear evidence of my having retyped it as part of a previous blog entry.

Fortunately, a co-worker's well-timed call to the Testing Center yielded me with a freshly-faxed ticket and vaguely-printed directions to the testing center at Yamanashi Gakuin University. In return, I agreed to decipher the loopy script of a letter from her elderly Australian host father. I wish I could say the latter task was as successful.

Wish me luck tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Further Reflections on a Subject that Interests Only Me

A few weeks back I picked up a copy of the McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar (and by "picked up" I really mean pulled off my bookshelf where one of my apartment's previous inhabitants had left it) and started devoting a morning or two every week to expanding my knowledge of grammar, usage, and all those pesky technical terms. This may have been a poor decision since the Japanese Language Proficiency Test looms forebodingly on the horizon and I already had a lot of grammar and kanji to brush up on, but I knew it would be helpful for my writing, my ability to self-study, and my job. The latter was really the biggest contributing factor, as students will often come to me with grammatical queries ranging from the commonplace to the minutely detailed.

"I have a question," asked a particularly curious high-school girl after the lesson had ended.
"Of course," I replied in a tone of utter confidence.
"What's a modal?"

My blood ran cold as I leaned over the grammar page of her textbook (which was thankfully in English) and read a note about how to adjust the structure of requests using modal verbs with an example that did not make at all clear what a modal was. The other students were attracted by her question and looked at me in intense anticipation of some useful bit of information they could only get from a native speaker. There was a dead silence in the room as I ran through the sentence trying to figure out which of those words could possibly be a modal, a term I knew I'd skimmed over lightly in grammar textbooks a dozen times without bothering to understand the meaning of.

I waited as long as I reasonably could keep up the charade of interpreting the textbook example, then feigned an exaggerated note of recognition. "Ah, I see! Here, a modal is a kind of special verb in English, but don't worry about this too much. Basically, this sentence means..." (Here I lapsed into an explanation of the example sentence using the grammar we'd covered in class while dodging the initial question, which yielded thoughtful nods from everyone in the room.)

This situation happens more often than I care to admit. It is particularly humiliating when the question comes from one of my junior high-school students, a precocious girl who is studying for several major English exams and is interested in nuances so subtle that they boggle my mind. There is an expectation inherent in every class that a native-speaking English teacher will always know the answer, and to admit that I don't dashes students' confidence to a crippling degree. It also makes me feel like a gaijin hack who gets by using only his natural ability rather than any actual knowledge of English grammar, and it is a sad reminder that any English-speaking idiot can come out here, hold up the cards, play the CDs, and be an eikaiwa teacher. I guess I just want to do it better than that.

Some interesting facts I learned from my foray into English grammar:

  • A modal verb is one of a special list of helping verbs paired off with other verbs to talk about the future or clarify other meanings: can, may, must, shall, will, and their past tense forms.
  • The only English verb without a past tense form is must.
  • In American English, commas and periods should always be placed inside quotation marks. However, in the rare case where a semicolon or a colon overlaps with quotation marks, it should always go outside. Question marks and exclamation points can go either way, depending on the situation.
  • Went, the past-tense form of go, comes from the older English word wend, which also means to travel.
  • Apostrophes were originally used only in place of omitted letters in words and contractions such as can't. During the Elizabethan era, grammar handbooks started recommending them for use in possessive forms as well, citing that the phrase Arthurs land was really a shortened form of Arthur, his land, and so the former needed an apostrophe: Arthur's land.
  • Even after carefully studying that entire book, there will always be grammar questions I can't answer.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Duck Under Glass

Most Japanese restaurants store plastic replicas of their food inside glass cases out front so that passers-by can get a clear idea of what delicacies (or cheap noodle bowls) await them. This duck, which was the centerpiece of an all-you-can-eat restaurant in Yokohama's Chinatown, is the largest and most elaborate one I've ever seen. There's something eerie about the plastic eyes staring back at you.

Plastic food in Japan has fascinated me since I've come here, though most of the good replicas have to be ordered directly from the manufacturer. The only ones you can buy easily are cheap keychains and tiny cuts of sushi. I want some very badly as a memento.

Two weeks ago, workmen came to gut the building and take the glass cases of food away. They are probably in a dumpster somewhere now. Part of the sidewalk is closed off, and I hear drills roaring and see the occasional cloud of dust float down as construction crews shape the building into a new restaurant with pristine replicas to greet its customers; for there is no place left in Japan for the old and faded variety.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Girl at the Bookstore

One experience more than any other lead me to understand the artificial constructs of Japanese society. I was at the bookstore paying for a book when I was suddenly struck by the girl working the register. She had long, wonderfully straight brown hair tied back in a ponytail with bangs hanging low on her forehead and big bright eyes that shone as she smiled at me. And what a lovely smile it was. I’ve always been a sucker for a pretty smile; and the way her whole face lit up as she took my money, wrapped up my book, and graciously thanked me for my purchase sent my head spinning. I smiled coyly back and responded with a flirtatious you’re welcome in Japanese, to which she again bowed with that enchanting smile.

I was proud of myself—she was a beautiful girl, and here she had shown me such rapt attention. I turned to catch her eye again and saw her backed against the wall, arms folded securely in front of her as she stared vacantly into the distance ignoring me who had just flirted so successfully with her. She had become a completely different person. Our interaction had finished, and there was no further need for her to even acknowledge my presence. Her face, which had once radiated such bright energy, was now blankly devoid of all emotion. The change was so abrupt and so complete that it left me feeling confused and uneasy about what I had seen.

The girl at the bookstore had been ordered by her boss to smile and bow politely at me even though she didn’t want to. She did it because she had to. I see that attitude everywhere I turn now, and I can’t make it go away.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Last-Minute Halloween Costume Ideas

Two days left until Halloween and still no costume for the big party? Why not consider one of these cheap, easy, last-minute ideas:

- Man with Fly Unzipped
- Post-modernist "Kid wearing a really crappy ghost costume made out of a sheet" Costume
- Co-worker of the Opposite Gender
- High-school Version of Yourself
- Harry Potter Wearing Regular Clothes
- Barbecue Chef (a.k.a Man Wearing Apron)
- John McClane from Die Hard 1
- Invisible Man
- Dress is an assortment of random clothes from your wardrobe and then when people ask who you are, answer, "What? You don't know?"

Happy Halloween, everybody.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Neighborhood

This is the unnamed street I live on, part of a faded though very functional community called Takara (treasure in Japanese) a ten-minute walk from Kofu train station. Like most of the communities radiating around the station area, the buildings are older, the inhabitants aging, and the shop wares dusty and out of style. I like it here a lot.

This is the building where I live (middle floor, far left). It's a lot brighter than any other building on the street. The tiling is pretty cool, as well as the circular stairs outside, which offer a nice view of the surrounding street, the hospital towering above, and the mountains beyond.

This is the stand where I buy my vegetables and eggs. The outside is heaped with great boxes of onions and potatoes that go bad quickly, plus fruit of dubious quality. Most of the produce inside is better and keeps for longer, sitting alongside old display cases stocked with canned tuna and pineapple. There is usually a woman of indeterminate age in the living room behind the store who comes out when she hears the door open. Sometimes we talk in Japanese. Other times an old man rings me up, and he always counts what I've bought with an abacus. It's pretty awesome.

The building on the right is a bakery down the street. They specialize in rolls stuffed with different kinds of filling, though I also buy bread from there sometimes. Like the vegetable stand, I have no idea how they stay in business because there's never anyone inside. I always buy from the day-old rack because day-old bread in Japan is the same as fresh bread in America. If I go on Saturday evenings they usually give me an extra roll or two for free.

To the left is a small bar with wood-paneled walls. I've never been inside because it's always either empty or filled with drunken middle-aged men. In the interest of curiosity I may give it a try before I leave.

This is the inside of the laundromat (koin randoree) on the next block. It has a musty smell and is usually filled with old coffee cans. I don't need to use it since I have a washing machine, but if I was ever in a pinch and needed a dryer, it's reassuring to know that it's here.

This is the small medical clinic across from my apartment. I'm not sure what kind of clinic it is but I know they must have patients sometimes because the front room has a bed surrounded by a curtain and several machines. One of the nurses who works there is kind of hot. I saw her making the bed after I took this picture.

To the right of the clinic is a barbershop that appears to be out of business. The sign and barber pole are still there, but no one ever answered when I knocked looking for a quick haircut. Instead, someone always parks a moped (not shown) on the front step.

This is the nicest house on my street. A young family with kids lives here, and I assume that an older concrete building was torn down to build this one before I moved in. To the left of this house there used to be a really cool old building that was also torn down last spring to make room for a less entertaining parking lot.

There are a lot of vending machines (hapi dorinku shoppu) here. The second one from the right has Mountain Dew.

In the other direction sits this boarded-up machine shop. I want very badly to sneak inside but cannot discern any simple methods of entry. There are some other shops like this one a few blocks away still in business, but everything there is really expensive and there's never anyone inside.

This is a really, really small bar up the street from the electronics shop. Only about four people could fit at the counter inside, and I think it's the kind of place where everyone who drinks there knows the owner. I think it'd be pretty cool if your friend down the street owned a bar that you could drink at whenever you wanted. You also wouldn't have to worry about driving home.

Like most houses in the older city, this one has about a million plants outside. It's pretty cool to walk down the gray concrete streets and have all this nature around you, even if it is in pots and on people's balconies. One day I was walking by and the guy who lives here had set up a display of alpine plants for sale. The plants all resembled ferns and were growing out of shelves of rock. The guy said they came from Nagano and explained in Japanese how to take care of them. I bought one for a thousand yen and put it on my balcony, where it flowers whenever there's a rainstorm.

This is just a picture of the other side of the street. In the distance you can see a small machine shop that always has a lot of scrap metal stacked out front, and past that is the corner where we put our recycling once a month (I always forget, though). The tall building on the corner looks like it might be really fancy inside. Most afternoons and some nights there's flute music coming from one of the apartments, which I think is someone actually practicing rather than a recording. The music gives the normally-quiet street an upbeat, exciting feeling. It is a sign that people live there.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On Oversimplifying "Karoshi"

I have more than once been accused of oversimplifying topics in this blog that are complicated enough to warrant entire articles or lengthy essays in order to completely explore them. I like to keep things (fairly) short on here to fit (what I can only assume is) the span of the average internet viewer, which I'm afraid has turned much of my nonfiction writing into one-sided snippets that never allow the reader to become fully informed. To write proficiently about the topics I'm interested in, especially those related to Japan, requires more time and a higher word count than I've been allowing my entries.

With "Karoshi," however, I never intended to give a complete perspective of the Japanese habits of overwork, though I'm afraid some people might read it that way. I wrote it in an attempt to capture the horror and cruelty of the Japanese business world that I'm surrounded by every day. I see it in my own workplace, in the textbooks I teach, when I talk to my students about their jobs, in books about Japanese daily life, at the bank, on the street, and even in my own fiction (where do you think Corporate Takeover came from?). There are things here that irk me terribly, and the business world is one of them. I wanted to recreate the pain I see on people's faces after long, stress-filled days at jobs they're afraid to leave. I wanted to shock people the way I was shocked when a girl I knew suffered a nervous breakdown at her job and had to be sent back home. I wanted to scare people the way Orwell scares them in the final chapters of 1984. The way the business world scares me sometimes.

So, to do that, I oversimplified things. My dictionary translates karoshi as "death by overwork," which in English is a perfectly reasonable way of describing that end just as we might use "death by dehydration" or "death by vomiting" to describe a mode of death without a more convenient term. Overworking can cause death or serious health problems for Americans just as readily as it could for Japanese, and I certainly don't mean to imply that some linguistic barrier prevents us from recognizing that danger.

Perhaps my attempts to shock and horrify are best left to fiction, and not just my entries here that routinely blur that line. For all my talk of disguising fiction as fact, and vice versa, sometimes it can be detrimental to the way people read about unfamiliar cultural topics. It makes it much harder to recognize hyperbole. But in all seriousness, I want to address a topic as complex as Corporate Japan as honestly and thoroughly as I can in whichever medium is best. You haven't heard the last of me on this one.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Language is an integral part of culture. A culture evolves language to express the values that it deems most important, and in turn, the framework of that language allows people to express those values more easily. By comparing different languages, we can see which values are important in different cultures. English, like most other Western languages, is concerned with defining specific notions of identity (a banana, the banana, some bananas, and so on), while Japanese is dominated by different levels of politeness (the word taberu, to eat, can be more politely expressed as tabemasu, to name but one of thousands of examples) to suit different societal relationships.

It is also vital to examine the extent of a language’s lexicon. Cultures create words to define those concepts that are most relevant to their lives. Consider some words expressing different manners of death in both Western and Japanese culture:

If a person goes with minimal or no food for a prolonged period, resulting in extreme malnourishment as the belly extends grotesquely outward and the skin becomes tightly shrunken around the victim’s increasingly brittle bones as the lack of caloric energy to fuel the body’s basic functions results in a slow, agonizing death, we say starvation. Japanese say ue.

If a person becomes submerged in water, even if they are capable of swimming for short or long distances, the desperate exertion to stay afloat eventually becomes too much to bear, and their body becomes weak and tired as the victim’s energy dissipates and the exhaustion becomes so much that they slide below the surface allowing the water to flow freely through their nose and mouth into their lungs, simultaneously suffocating and choking them, we say drowning. Japanese say oboreshinu.

If a person’s upper body comes in contact with a sharp object traveling at a rate of speed sufficient enough to slice off the victim’s head in a quick or gradual manner (as for such purpose as the French designed the guillotine) so that the brain cannot communicate with the rest of the body, leaving the victim’s eyes blankly empty as the brain’s neurons sputter and cease function even as blood spurts relentlessly from the victim’s still-warm neck, we say decapitation. Japanese say kubi o haneru.

If a person is prevented from breathing normally by any number of methods (such as having another person’s hands clenched around his or her neck, squeezing the windpipe sufficiently so as to cut off all oxygen; or having a pillow forced over his or her face so tightly so as to render respiration impossible) reducing the victim’s inhalations to quick, desperate gasps, so that said breathing eventually ceases as the brain becomes completely deprived of life-giving oxygen and the victim falls down dead, we say asphyxiation. Japanese say chissoku saseru.

If a person is subject to spending prolonged periods at their stressful job, where they are constantly belittled and talked down to by stern bosses, piled upon with unreasonable deadlines, and constantly engulfed in an atmosphere of absolute loyalty to the company so that they become obsessed with fulfilling their workplace duties, forcing the victim to work hour after agonizing hour of overtime, neglecting proper nutrition, exercise, and fresh air for the stuffy confines of a crowded office late at night, until the victim can focus on nothing but achieving the company’s goals to a point where stress, nervous tension, exhaustion caused by lack of sleep, claustrophobia, hunger, and eye strain combine in varying amounts to cause any combination of heart attacks, strokes, or serious illnesses leading to the victim’s untimely death; there’s no single word to explain this in English because most self-respecting Westerners possess the common sense to escape such a horrible fate.

Japanese say karoshi.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Bombing

One of my students is a 73 year-old man who enjoys discussing controversial topics. I asked him once what he remembered of the Allied bombing of Kofu during the war. After a short pause he wrinkled his nose in disgust and said, "Very bad smell."

You can't find that in the history books.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Beyond Belief

View from Kitayokodake in Nagano prefecture.

I'll always remember that the greatest compliment someone ever gave me about this blog was that he couldn't tell what was real and what was fiction anymore. I've done a lot of experimenting here, and realized that I feel more comfortable now blurring the line between the two; leaving readers to decide for themselves like an old Fox gimmick show. Merely recounting my daily life would be too boring for even the most dedicated reader to face, whereas most of my pure fiction has always seemed to me trite, petty, and (at its worst) moralizing. The longer I stay here, the fewer inspirations I have for observational essays on Japan, which also in retrospect appear to have little to say beyond my very limited (and often flawed) viewpoint. I might be saying this because I've been reading Nick Hornby's 31 Songs and am blown away by his uncanny ability to describe the different layers of how we experience music; which simultaneously drives me to capture Japan in the same way and destroy every nonfiction piece I've ever written.

Of course, I would also be wise to take a cue from Randall and most other bloggers out there and share more of the cool stuff I find around the net (slightly biased in favor of things my friends are doing, of course). The problem with this is that most of my online time is spent in communicating with friends, or pursuing strictly goal-oriented tasks like buying birthday presents or tracking down that exact U2 music video I have a sudden demanding urge to watch again. Outside of these activities, I frequently feel an urge to unplug, not surf the net for cool stuff, hence my lack of interesting things to link. If I had more in the way of external stuff to post here, you'd probably have to wonder whether it was fact or fiction.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

In which the Narrator registers for the Japanese Language Proficiency Exam, and of the Nervous Tension which resulted from it

Pass/fail is determined for only those who take all sections of the test by both the total score and the scores for each scoring section. If you are absent from any test section(s), all other test sections, which you may take, will not be considered for scoring. If the score of any scoring section does not reach the minimum acceptable score (the least required score specified for each scoring section), you will fail however high your total score would be.

Japan has lots of tests. Students must take formal examinations to enter the college, high school, junior high school, and even some elementary schools of their (or their parents’) choice. University examinations are unique to individual institutions, and since each student may only take one exam in a given year, failure to pass means an awkward gap year after high school. From what I’ve heard, these tests make the SAT look like a Slylock Fox puzzle.

If you have a physical disability or other impairments and require special arrangements in taking the test, please call us at the Application Center to receive a Special Arrangement Request Form before sending your application, and submit the completed form together with your application as soon as possible, or by October 1 (Fri) at the latest. Please note that the Center may not be able to accommodate your requests due to test site conditions or other unavoidable reasons.

After graduation though, the fun doesn’t stop. Whereas most Americans will never touch another standardized test in their lives after college, many Japanese businessmen and office workers vie for the high score on the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) that will open them up for promotions, pay raises, or simply ensure their job security in an environment of ever-increasing competition.

Incomplete applications are rejected.

I haven’t taken an exam in over seven years. Like hall passes and pastel cafeteria trays, they’re a hallmark of high school that I’ve long left behind. But after seeing so many of my students putting so much stock in their success on these tests, I figured I’d try taking an exam myself to understand this part of the Japanese experience.

Please note that changes to the test level and/or test area cannot be made after submitting your application regardless of the reason. Correctly enter the test level and area of your selection.

The JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test, or Nihongo noryoku shiken) was designed to test the Japanese proficiency of non-native Japanese speakers. I’ve been studying the language intermittently for nearly two years now, and thought that passing the December JLPT would give me something more impressive than broken conversation with nervous store clerks to show for my efforts.

The application must be placed in the application envelope, and you must go to a post office counter and send the application by delivery-certified mail (Tokutei kiroku yuubin). Ensure that you receive a receipt at the counter and keep the receipt until you receive your test voucher.

I don’t know enough kanji and am not confident enough with grammar to take the Level 4 exam, so I decided to take the basic Level 5 exam instead. I didn't want the higher certification badly enough to put in the extra study time required, nor did I want to waste my money on something I wasn’t going to pass.

The receipt is your proof of application in the event that the original application is lost in the mail. You will not be able to take the test if your application is lost in the mail and you do not have this receipt.

I picked up a test application booklet for five hundred yen at Rogetstudo bookstore in Kofu. Inside was a thick instruction manual written in four languages, a delivery-certified mail envelope, the sturdy cardboard application form, and a book of advertisements for test prep materials.

If you did not receive your voucher, or the voucher is lost, notify the Application Center of your fax number, so that the test voucher can be faxed to you. Inquiry Period: November 22 (Mon) – December 3 (Fri) (10:00-17:00). If you were unable to contact the Application Center during the above period, the test fee will not be refunded.

I read through the instruction manual carefully and found that for my application I needed a picture exactly three by four centimeters wide, taken against a white background, non-blurred, in which I had my eyes open, wasn’t wearing any hats or sunglasses, and my face was neither too big nor too small relative to the photo size.

Every year, there are examinees who do not receive their test voucher or notice of test results. Potential reasons for this are:

Fortunately, some helpful Japanese friends helped me get a photograph that met the necessary qualifications.

1. The examinee’s name is not displayed on the mailbox. (Your name must be displayed on the mailbox of your house/apartment in both kanji/katakana and Roman letters.) The test voucher and test results cannot be delivered if only the room number is indicated on your mailbox. In order to confirm your residence, your name must be displayed on the mailbox, otherwise the mail may not be delivered.

Back at home, I filled out the application form, looking up the specific numeric codes for my country, native language, occupation, test purpose, and number of study hours.

2. The examinee is living at someone else’s residence and did not write the property owner’s name (written as c/o + name) in the address column of the application form.

I filled out my name in block letters exactly as it appeared on my passport, and copied down my work address. For some reason, I was nervous about having anything sent to my apartment.

3. The examinee did not write the room/room number of their apartment on the application form.

After I’d quadruple-checked the application for errors, I made a list of the necessary steps to pay the testing fee and send that horrible cardboard application away forever so I could put this miserable ordeal behind me.

4. The postal code and address on the application form is written incorrectly (the chome and banshee numbers are omitted).

I would first have to make the required photocopy of the application for my records, then buy some white-out at the convenience store so I could fix the mistake in address I’d made on the official postal payment form before crossing back over to the post office to pay the test fee at the monetary service counter and carefully sort receipt A into the application envelope while keeping receipt B for my records so that I could seal the whole thing up and mail it via the Tokutei kiroku yuubin method that I’d been rehearsing in Japanese for the greater part of the morning.

5. The examinee has not completed the necessary change of address procedures. If you change your address, please report it immediately to your nearest post office.

I ran through these steps over and over before leaving the house, so afraid was I that I would muddle some horrendous mistake on the application that would cause me to embark on an epic series of phone calls, phone transfers, faxes, fees, application forms filed during the predetermined application window, fees, visits to the main post office, frantic protestations to the mailman, and more fees before I could finally recover my test voucher (maybe). I sweat profusely in the early September heat and regretted my decision to ever take this silly test.

A fee will be charged to reissue and resend undeliverable test vouchers or test results for reasons listed above.

I made it through all the steps despite my fears, and my breathing relaxed significantly after the round-faced man at the mail counter cheerfully took the envelope with a smile and handed me my receipt with both hands. With that taken care of, I was free to enjoy my free ticket to the Japanese flower arrangement display on the top floor of the local department store. The easy part was over.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How to Write "Well"

I’d like to talk today about some of my biggest “pet peeves;” subjects that really “grind my gears,” if you will. These “epidemics” have become increasingly apparent in both the personal and “business-oriented” correspondence of our society, and I am writing this essay with the goal of improving our various “day-to-day” writing for the greater good of the community as a whole.

The first, and most glaring, subject about which I would like to talk is the use of “unnecessary” quotation marks. Quotation marks are a form of punctuation “invented,” as it were, to more fully integrate human speech with more “narrative” forms of writing. The “problem,” as far as I can see it, is when writers “overuse” quotations marks with words and/or phrases that don’t “necessarily” “take-on” the “usual” meaning that we associate with them. And what, may I ask, is the point of utilizing quotation marks in this manner? They merely confuse the reader into thinking that he or she is supposed to “interpret” the quoted phrase in a “different” or “unusual” way which is not always clear. And that, if I may be so bold, makes our correspondence all the more “convoluted.”

I would also, time permitting, like to reflect on another of these “problems;” this one being the padding of our writing with “clever” phrases which serve no apparent purpose. If something isn’t deemed “necessary” by the majority of readers, then, by all means, the writer should remove, or, more fittingly, “delete” it from his or her prose with the ultimate goal of making his or her writing more “concise.” Because, after all, if our writing becomes shorter, and, by pure proxy, “clearer” and “easier to read,” we can stop our precious time from “flying” and produce more higher-quality writing.

The last subject under discussion is the most “glaring” of all: hypocrisy. In today’s so-called “modern” society, people have become so “wrapped-up” in “capturing” the attention of their superiors, as it were, that they lose touch with the ideas they were attempting to convey in the first place. By trying “overly hard” to produce quality work, be it at the office, when writing a term paper, or when applying to college, people tend to place more importance on official-sounding “legalese” than on saying something useful. Thus, in conclusion, their “wholehearted” attempts at producing “appropriate” writing actually cause them to move further away from their apparent “target.”

The solution, it would seem, is simple: forget about sounding “important” or “businesslike” and just write in a straightforward way. Forget about utilizing all those fancy words and “business writing” styles that you inevitably “catch a glimpse of” everywhere you go, and just write what comes “naturally.” This, in turn, will help you become a better writer.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Very Special Wave of the Hand 150th Post Clip Show

I am not sure why people I know have a preoccupation with seeing me intoxicated.

I’m not going to be cliché and say that I don’t know what I want to do with my life, because that’s not true—rather, what’s thrown me off most is the loss of structure now that for the first time in seventeen years I don’t have formal education to plan my life around.

“The Dude” is really lazy and doesn’t seem to have a job, this is evidenced by his writing a check for creamer in the first scene in the movie. If he had had the money to pay for the creamer, he wouldn’t have had to have written a check to pay for it.

IAN. (Scanning menu) How about garlic? The garlic pizza’s wicked strong; it’s great.
TIFF. (Disgusted) No thanks.
IAN. How about pineapple then? Do you like Hawaiian pizza?
TIFF. I like pineapple, just not on pizza.
IAN. (In disbelief) Have you ever tried it?
TIFF. Yes.
IAN. Do you have any other suggestions?
TIFF. I don’t really care.
IAN. Mushrooms?
TIFF. Yuck.
IAN. (Slightly frustrated) Why don’t you suggest something then?
TIFF. I don’t really have a preference.

Vocabulary Word for the Day: triorchous (trī-'ör-kis), adj, having three testicles.

I was so taken aback by the idea of someone willingly sticking such a thing up their ass and not even getting paid for it that I was speechless.

Indiana Jones V (working title)
Scheduled for 2012, an aging Indy must outrace an army of Cuban revolutionaries on the trail of Noah’s Ark while attempting to save his failing real estate business.

The chief unwritten duty of a substitute is to keep students from wandering the halls, since today’s students have an obsession with leaving the room that borders on the pathological. Every day they swarm at me with their countless requests; and I have yet to figure out whether they actually need a break from the confines of the classroom (where they must sit for the excruciating period of fifty minutes), or if they exercise their right to leave just because they can. They ask to go to the bathroom, the nurse, to get a drink of water (I see fewer Nalgene bottles than I used to—coincidence?), to go shoot hoops at the gym, work in the hallway, make phone calls at the office, or go to the cafeteria to stuff their faces with Smores-flavored Pop-Tarts and king-sized cans of Arizona iced-tea. One would assume that Kearsarge consists chiefly of dehydrated, diabetic, hypochondriac students with microscopic bladders.

"Mr. Rogers, have you given anyone a detention today?"
"...Day ain't over yet."

In the short storty “To Build a Fire” By Jack london,” A man is walking to camp. He Has to walk in sevendy five degree Below zero wether. He tries to biuld a fire to warm up But it is on segsecful. Jack london thought man can’t beat naturl.

I like mocking people instead of complaining about them. One of my favorite online activities is making fun of the Adult Gigs on Craigslist (my latest find being an ad by the world’s biggest Lord of the Rings nerd looking for a woman willing to have her vagina and the surrounding area painted to resemble the Eye of Sauron for the laughable sum of twenty-five dollars).

“Utilize” holds the exact same meaning as the word “use,” but the former term is often utilized by people to appear more important.

“What about when you go to Japan? I bet you’ll meet a girl there you can marry.”
Everyone brings this up when they find out I’m going to Japan; as if it were a requisite of the teaching abroad experience to return home with an exotic Japanese bride in a kimono and slippers. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
“Yes it will!” She becomes noticeably excited. “Unless you’re....”
Her eyes suddenly become wide and she covers her mouth as if she has just heard an adult tell a lewd joke and needs to hide her understanding. She chooses her words carefully: “...unless you’re like my mom’s friends up the street!”

10:25: Buker announces that he can successfully hit the Boat Wash sign thirty feet away with a rock, then spends the next twenty minutes attempting to do so. The challenge takes even longer because he must hide his rock and look professional every time someone walks by.

In the quest for emotional fulfillment, we’re our own worst enemy, forced to tread on, regretting the decisions we’ve made, and driven to mind-bending extremes by thoughts of what might have been.
The other day I saw the first season of Kids in the Hall on DVD for ten dollars but did not purchase it.

There are the alleys and the side streets, the suburban blocks and the overpasses, the zig-zag intersections crossing every which way, and the narrow one-ways where cars squeeze between one another and bike-riders of all ages reign supreme; convenience stores and vegetable markets and electronics stores and hair salons with outrageous prices posted outside the windows next to restaurants with plastic food replicas in glass cases alongside tiny luncheon houses with long counters where businessmen and young people sit alone munching noodles with pachinko parlors on every street that draw my eyes with their colored lights and loud noises (for everything in Japan seems to flash, flash, FLASH! turning the streets into epilepsy-inducing spectacles that would put even the most spectacular American laser light shows to shame) and there are arcades too in the red (pink?) light district where the strippers dressed in skintight outfits stand outside calling out to the Japanese businessmen on their night out and still more posters list the girls promoting promises of pleasure inside and other shops that must sell sex next to the famed Love Hotels that charge by the hour and now all of us are getting wierded out and it’s time to turn around....

Those rocks [have/are] floating!

A familiar face at last.

Japan is filled with things like this that don’t function the way I’m accustomed, and thus turn even the most routine tasks into elaborate adventures. Is that slot on the subway ticket machine for inserting coins or for dumping out change? I had to push a button to open the door to the restaurant, but will it close again automatically? Where does the fabric softener go in my washing machine? Is this really flour I’m buying? And how the hell do I work this fucking rice cooker?

But it was always the world of old Hollywood that he created most vividly as his passion added a zany realism to a subject that in the wrong hands could become little more than a sequence of names, dates, and deteriorating celluloid. You could almost hear David O Selznick fast-talking his way to the top and see D.W. Griffith peeking down the blouses of the underage girls on set. That was his world, and to sit in a Steven Bach class or to read even a single page of one of his books was to lose yourself in that magic.

Q: Do Americans prefer Coke or Pepsi?
A: Both are equally popular. Most Americans will usually choose one or the other based on their mood, though they usually drink Moxie instead.

Me: In English, what do we call someone who doesn't eat meat, doesn't eat eggs, and doesn't drink milk?
Another student: Allergic.

Sadly, Takahashi’s date comes to an embarrassing end when he prematurely ejaculates all over the backseat of Jake’s car and has to spend his New Years Eve wiping semen stains off the leather interior.

The juxtaposition of these vitriolic mysteries with a catalogue of the mundane only heightens our awareness of his intent. By discarding our preconceived notions of what a blog should be (for instance, in over one year of blogging the author only once stoops to answering a meme), the reader is granted leave of any exhibitionist prejudices, awareness of the mundane, or outmoded diversions. Reading this blog also makes you cool.

Man fishing in reservoir—how do you say "Any luck?" in Japanese?

I find most sensible individuals associate the word “corporation” with massive, inhumane, robotic, cold, merciless, unforgiving, ever-expanding, stubborn, bureaucratic, treacherous, manipulative, scheming, labyrinthine, unwieldy, selfish, antagonistic entities bent on tormenting the defenseless individual at every possible opportunity....I hope that one day I too have the opportunity to use this superbly loaded word in my own writing.

When I was a kid I had an older sister I don’t talk about very much. Her name was Sharon. When I was four years old we were playing at our house in Bridgeport, and our mother went inside to use the phone. Sharon and I were tossing a purple rubber ball back and forth when one of us (I cannot for the life of me recall who) let it bounce into the road. Sharon dove out to get it and was instantly struck by a brown van careening around the corner, her limbs twisting brokenly around her brittle body as her blood spattered a line across the pavement. (The image of her flying helplessly into that cracked road haunts me still when I see cars braking abruptly on urban streets.) In a panic I screamed and ran into the house where I was unable to explain to my mother that my sister had been suddenly killed and was never, ever coming back.

Ever watched dried seaweed expand in hot water? Trippy

Last month I took a trip to Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures, in a region of Japan occasionally referred to by locals as the Kanto (I am not sure of the meaning of this word, but according to my Japanese dictionary, it may be derived from the word kantoku, or film director). Above you can see a cultural snippet of Japan from Oyama city in Tochigi, where electricity races down the wires faster than attractive girls fleeing a cosplay convention. Tochigi is famous for its gyoza, a small dumpling-type food that was probably brought over from China a long time ago (like most things in Japan that aren’t anime or co-prosperity spheres).

If you could be transported to any period of history, but only for a day, where would you go? In this scenario, nothing you do in the past can possibly affect the future in any way (including if you ran into your past self and gained the knowledge that you would someday be transported back through time for a day) because the time-traveling would be completely inconsequential. We’re also assuming that you can go to any geographical location, but not that you can embody any social status of your choosing (for example, were you to go back to the Middle Ages you couldn’t make yourself a king, but you wouldn’t necessarily be a poor peasant either, you’d most likely live out the day as a citizen of honest means, assuming that your current status is basically equivocal as such).

New York during the 1920’s.

A yellow-skirted maid in Akihabara handing out flyers for what I can only assume is some sort of prostitution front.

Today, over the course of the workday, I became aware of why sending kamikaze pilots to their deaths for the good of the country was a uniquely Japanese phenomenon in WWII.

“In which the author threatens to take away the chair of a twelve-year old student constantly hovering near sleep”

It is difficult to describe the stiff, uncomfortable atmosphere of a Japanese meeting; particularly on the days when some unseen committee at the Head Office has contrived some elaborate procedure for classroom management and passed it on to the Branch Managers, who’ve passed it on to the Head Teachers, who are holding a meeting to pass it on to the foreign teachers, who will promptly ignore it as soon as the meeting is over.

When Blogger was first acquired by the Erochikan Corporation, I wasn’t worried at all and ignored the news just like everyone else. But now I’ve noticed that [The following opinion is solely that of the writer, and does not necessarily represent a truthful or substantiated view of the topic under discussion. In the interest of providing the fullest treatment possible, certain passages have been flagged for removal and are currently undergoing revision. We appreciate your patience. Please check back soon for an updated, higher-quality version.]

Egregious feelings of overwhelming dread and moroseness are experienced by me as I lay in bed attempting to achieve vertical stature but lacking the capacity, for today is Monday and the awareness of my deadline looms over me like a choking sickness. Strange hoarseness of breath is exhibited when I go online knowing that some vicious notification of chastisement and ridicule awaits me. I break into cold sweats as I scramble through conflicting rules, categorically quadruple-checking every line for accidental transgressions that threaten my well-being. But that’s all in a day’s work. I write in a blog.

When I say it like that, it sounds like I'm having one hell of a week.

Monday, August 30, 2010

In Which the Narrator Actually, For Once in His Life, Completes Something Substantial

...or, close enough. But I did have cause to celebrate today as I put the finishing touches on the first complete draft of the script for Carcrash Parker and the Haven of Larpers, a project more than two years in the making. For those who may have missed my earlier posts on the subject, I'll give a quick runthrough:

The story thus far:

The summer before I came to Japan, my good friend Mike Rushia and I were looking for a project to fill the creative void in our post-college lives. Mike had been experimenting with the game design program Multimedia Fusion and wanted to try making something substantial. Somewhere in between one of our runthroughs of King's Quest V and our attempts to beat Shadowgate on NES, we started to talk more seriously about doing an adventure game. We had both grown up with the PC classics that had defined the genre in the '80s and early '90s, and knew the story-intensive, tongue-in-cheek style of the Sierra games backwards and forwards. All we really needed was an idea.

We started with a loose concept: a twentysomething classic gaming hound wakes up one day to find his Commodore 64 stolen by a gang of Larpers. From there, we planned out the puzzles, game design, and narrative tone together, while I tackled the characters and background story. Mike started on a point-and-click interface that would breathe life into the finished game, while I spent my evenings writing the game's script after working days painting walls and tutoring kids. I finished the first draft a few weeks before the monumental upheaval that was my departure for Japan, and only six months later did I feel adjusted enough to finally resume work on the project.

The current draft of Carcrash Parker and the Haven of Larpers is by no means finished, but is significant for being the first complete version. I'd like to revise it further, iron out a few kinks, and fix some storyline problems within the next year with the ultimate goal of starting production sometime after I get back to America, but we're taking that one step at a time. Getting the game drawn and illustrated will no doubt be the biggest obstacle, and we've spoken to some friends about providing some artwork.

I hope that at the very least there will be some progress to report in the coming months, either on this blog or on another website specifically for that purpose. For now, though, I'm looking for anyone willing to give feedback on the current script draft, so if you're interested in reading through a lot of Larper jokes and sarcastic narration, e-mail me at, or drop a comment in this post.

Also, if any artistically-inclined folks out there are interested in working on backgrounds, character animations, or still scenes for what will no doubt be an awesome adventure game, definitely drop me a line.

That's all for now. My next post will be the 150th on this blog, and I'm in the process of putting together something entertaining for this personally important milestone. When I say it like that, it sounds like I'm having one hell of a week.

Friday, August 20, 2010


In Japan, where the trains always run on time, the taxis are always spotlessly clean, convenience store food is always fresh, suits are always neatly pressed, the clerks always wear big smiles, and children never have learning disabilities, I am instinctively drawn to anything that doesn't fit in.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Who Comes to Eikaiwa?

“Japanese people who study English aren’t typical Japanese,” Katy observed pointedly several weeks before she escaped the routines of teaching for a new life back in America. “I think everybody who comes to eikaiwas is a little different.”

Different—chigau, a Japanese concept hopelessly intertwined with the concept “wrong” in a world where deviation from accepted norms is rewarded with confused stares, uncomfortable laughter, flustered excuses, and awkward stigma. In Japan, marketing things that are unique won’t bring in any customers. That’s why NOVA, desperate to soak up Japan’s expendable income, pushed their advertising budgets to extravagant levels to make learning English fashionable and convince consumers that dropping by a NOVA school was just as trendy as driving a nice car or carrying the latest handbag. But NOVA is bankrupt now, eikaiwa income is dropping across the board, and learning English is going out of style. That begs the all-important question: who’s still going to eikaiwas?

At my eikaiwa, a typical student is a solidly middle-class adult anywhere between twenty-five and thirty-eight years old. Most of them are unmarried and live with their parents (a style of habitation that holds no stigma in Japan, and is advocated by many as a means of saving money), and many are unhappy with their white-collar jobs. Some of them speak of a loss of direction in their lives, of past confusion about their goals, or of all-consuming loneliness. They come to eikaiwas because they dream of teaching English to kids, because they want to travel to exciting new places, because they want to meet people, and because they want to have interesting conversations with others their own age. Some have lived abroad and seen things that most Japanese will never see, and find escape from the demands of their culture by speaking English. Other students find release through foreign movies, musicals, or friends. A few want to make a life change but aren’t sure how. At least one wants a foreign boyfriend.

I see in the eikaiwa students an excited passion that I don’t see among the stone-faced people walking on the street (although in Japan, you’re not likely to see any emotion on the street). They talk about all the things in the world they’d like to do but are held back from by jobs, obligations, traditions, and societal pressures; and in their eyes shines a light that separates them from the masses. They want something more, something different (something chigau?). Something is missing, and it frustrates them because they can’t define it. I can talk about with them the same things I talk about with friends back home who want to become great writers, actors, painters, musicians, sound editors, film directors, sculptors, biologists, illustrators, photographers, historians, senators, art teachers and psychoanalysts; the plight of enthusiastic twentysomethings who aren’t going to settle for a life of stagnation but who aren’t yet where they want to be. Their situation is not unlike my own, and we can relate because the world of black-suited salarymen sees us all as different.

This is what fuels the eikaiwa where I work, a small-city branch of a gigantic corporation desperate to stay afloat in a world of post-NOVA and Geos belt-tightening. There are of course other kinds of students across Japan whose money the eikaiwas have sought to capture: smiling kids, examination-cramming high-schoolers, curious college-students, bored housewives and international businessmen; but these students are merely transitory. Someday, when all the different twenty- and thirtysomethings are still exchanging ideas and looking to meet new people, the rest of the lot will have dropped eikaiwa the same way they dropped last year’s handbag.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The One with the Deep Mind

Friday, 7:34 PM, Kriasho Kofu Office, Room 8.

I am teaching a Checkpoint lesson to two high school girls on advanced pronoun use and idiomatic expressions with "one." Ten minutes of drilling sentences describing cartoonishly-drawn characters in a prison line-up ("the one with pigtails," "the bald one," and the ever-difficult "the one in the floral shirt") have finally given way to a freer speaking activity. I swiftly secure to the whiteboard a series of pictures that previous teachers have hastily printed off the internet or clipped from fashion magazines: a businessman with a cell phone and striped tie, a preppy high-school student wearing a light-blue collared shirt and khakis, a glamor model with long black hair, a grave-faced office worker wearing clear-rimmed glasses, and this man:

I then come at the girls with my questions: Which one looks the most handsome? Which one looks the oldest? And finally, which one looks the smartest?

The younger girl answers first. "The one in the striped tie looks the smartest," she says hesitantly. As always, I ask why. She responds that she is not sure.

Then the older girl answers, pointing at Jim Carrey with a big smile. "I think the one on the far right looks the smartest." She too is at a loss to explain why, but fumbles steadily forward with the words to describe her feelings. "Because, he looks funny, and his face...his face is silly...but I think that...inside, he has a deep mind, and he can think of many ideas with a silly face."

Think about that.

Monday, July 19, 2010


I miss a lot of things, not all of which I realize I miss until I'm around them again and am struck with the familiar pang of memories long past. One of those things is art.

Naoshima island has lots of art, carefully placed on beaches and on cliffs overlooking the Seto Inland Sea or packed haphazardly on the walls of the Art Houses scattered around the island. The Nao Shima sento (public bath) pictured above is a fine example of the massive throw-together of different objects I've always loved (as anyone who's ever been in my bedroom, dorm room, or current apartment can attest) set against the traditional Japanese wooden houses and narrow streets of the island (which, unlike the rest of Japan, was not obliterated during World War II). The inside was decorated with Japanese pulp covers, a blue and white ceramic collage of pearl diving, a desert landscape made up of potted plants, and a really big elephant.

Nao Shima would have nothing to offer except old houses and fantastic views had Japanese architect Tadao Ando and a handful of others not brought contemporary art and architecture to the island, with the end result being creativity blended with the natural environment unlike anyplace else I've seen in Japan.

We rode rented bicycles around the island, stopping at oceanfront fields to gleefully view sculptures and statues from all angles, then rush on to the next stone pillar or severed boat sculpture. We toured bizarre art houses ranging from temples with rock gardens and scattered flowers to clapboard structures with digital numbers counting down and waterfalls painted on dark blue walls. There was so much to see, and all of it was spread around the island in a place where people lived and worked, not roped off or into bright o-miyage-crammed tourism zones.

The greatest place we visited was Ando's Benesse House, the island's biggest museum and main attraction. Besides the awesome things inside (including a ring of Ultraman action figures and an ant farm made up of sand painted up with the flags of the world), Ando's architecture blends the concrete building with the natural arc and grassy outline of the surrounding hill. The courtyard above is hung with time-lapse pictures of the sunrise on the Seto Inland Sea, and in the still of the twilight I could see the other stout islands jutting out of the water and the bridge from Honshu to Shikoku stretching out over the horizon. I had not expected to feel this way, but the scene brought me back four years and across half a world to a hill in southwestern Vermont where the Green Mountains jutted above the tall cedar walls of the art studios, a rusty diving board stood guard in a forest grove, the occasional hovercraft lumbered across the lawn, and ceramic sea creatures rested on the shores of a peaceful, reed-filled pond.

That any place could remove me so completely from the mundane daily struggles of the post-college abyss is a testament to its power. The only thing left is not to forget.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Business as Usual

After two months of counting words and making fun of people who incorrectly use the word "utilize," Corporate Takeover is finished. Overall I'm moderately pleased with how it came out, despite a few organizational and pacing issues, and feel like I took the project where it needed to go. (As always, any thoughts or feedback are welcome, via the comment field or e-mail.) With that out of the way it's business as usual here at A Wave of the Hand, and updates will probably slow down to about once a week (a quota I've tried unsuccessfully to maintain since starting this blog). You can expect a few more commentaries on life in Japan, some travel notes, and, in the coming months, a chance for some guest blogging that I'll post more about later (Teaser: It's a chance to break the one Erochikan rule I never successfully bent.)

I'd also like to take this opportunity to plug my friend Savannah Dooley's new show (like, one that's actually on network television) Huge, an hourlong drama about teens at a summer weight-loss camp. The show is a collaboration between Sava and her veteran writer/producer mom Winnie Holzman, who, whose past achievements include My-So-Called Life, the musical version of Wicked, and once paying for my lunch. The first two episodes had all the humor and witty banter I've come to expect from Savannah, plus a brutal honesty that caught me off guard. I highly recommend checking it out, and aren't just saying that because one of the characters is named after me. We're proud of you, Sava.

Those of you located within the US can watch episodes here.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Probation Termination Notice
To: Ian Rogers
Sent: July 5th, 2010

It is a beautiful, warm, disgustingly humid day. Thick globs of sweat drip down the foreheads and collars of wandering pedestrians, and a murky haze blocks the mountains beyond the gray city streets.

Dear Mr. Rogers,

I, meanwhile, am inside eating cherries with the air conditioning turned up.

Due to your recent increased activity and adherence to Blogger’s new regulations, we are pleased to inform you that your blog has been released from Probation to High Alert status.

I take a walk up to the hills, where welcoming green trees block the scorching sunlight and a long-awaited breeze cools my damp skin. The city disappears into the haze as if forever, though I know beyond the metallic computer factories and bloated suburban shopping centers lie open rice fields and the great southern mountains.

Your increased attention to the User Guidelines has lead to a rise in high-quality entries on your blog, and we are pleased with your recent augmentation of output.

Above all, I do all of it without an iota of guilt.

We hope you see the lifting of your probation as an opportunity to further increase the quality of your entries so as to provide an even greater resource for readers within the Blogger community.

Back inside, I nonchalantly scroll through my e-mail, deleting the inevitable offers for cheap pharmaceuticals and wire transfer swindles. When they’re gone I pay them no mind.

Keep in mind, however, that as your account is still on High Alert status, your entries will continue to be monitored by members of Erochikan’s Quality Control Team for further infractions.

There is also an official announcement of some sort, but I hurriedly glance over that and trash it too.

Users should be aware that a second downgrade to Probation status will result in a longer Probationary period with stricter restrictions on which content they will be allowed to upload.

When I write, it is with new vigor, removed from limitations and secure in what freedom I’ve won. I’ll get the rest someday.

For further explanation of extended Probationary periods, see Publication PRO-7329G on the Quality Control website.

This isn’t a perfect world. If I could change the rules, I would, but I can’t.

We appreciate your continued utilization of the Blogger network, and thank you in advance for your cooperation. The support of bloggers like you is what makes our community so successful.

After all, the things we want don’t come easily.


The Erochikan Blogger Quality Control Team

If they did, life wouldn’t be any fun.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Order is achieved by imposing justifiable restrictions on the masses. Restrictions are utilized to provide profit and security to the strong. When people’s individuality is inhibited by order, they can either submit or rebel. Submitting is not a consideration of this writer. Instead, loopholes have been incorporated to create genuinely high-quality content.

I don’t think anyone from the company is reading this. If there was any doubt, I wouldn’t have written that last sentence. I think I’m on probation because a computer program scanned my links for advertisements and a low-paid entry-level worker found a trace of nipple in my Nagoya picture after scrolling through the thousands of images uploaded that day. I also think my “Output” entry was censored because I was stupid enough to mention a certain corporation by name. Links, word counts, and vocabulary are all things they can catch. There’s no program to scan for opinions.

I came to these conclusions after realizing that no sentient being would have allowed my last entry to slip by unmolested. I also realized that beyond sending me those official-sounding e-mails or deleting my blog, there’s not a whole lot that they can do to punish me. If they send e-mails, I can ignore them. If they delete my blog, I can go somewhere else. Maybe another site would be better than this one, but for now I like this blog and want to stay.

It’s like my student’s story about the high school whose strict dress codes were enforced exactly once a year. On the previously announced inspection day, the teachers would pull out their rulers to check whether each girls skirt was long enough, each boy wore the required jacket lining, and whether all of their buttons, belt buckles, shoelaces, and hair colors were in accordance with the densely-worded rules the school had enacted to better their own reputation. The students would put on their best uniforms, trim their hair, and remove their earrings for inspection, and the teachers would file their paperwork indicating that every student had met the dress code standard. The next day, the students went back to hiking up their skirts and unbuttoning their collars, and the teachers went back to doing real work. And no one ever got called out.

Maybe that’s what surviving in this world is all about. The notoriously well-behaved Japanese schoolkids knew which rules they could ignore, but possessed enough sense not to go around smashing windows or shooting heroin in the bathroom stalls. As clever beings with rational minds, we have the power to skirt an inflexible system whose sheer complexity and methodical inhumanity are its biggest weaknesses. I know how the game works now, and I won’t make the same mistakes again. I also know their computers can’t catch Samuel Beckett references: I must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on. Laugh outloud.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I got an idea last night while lying in bed worrying about my various problems. This entry may never see the light of day for reasons that will soon become obvious, but just the prospect that it might fills me with hopeful glee as I run to the keyboard not with my usual dread, but with the same exhilaration I get when I’ve solved a difficult adventure game puzzle while far from the computer and must churn the solution over mentally until I can see it to fruition. My last few entries, distorted as they were, went unmolested by my superiors because I technically didn’t break any rules. Therefore, I should be able to produce this bit of nonsense and earn some freedom with my remaining 427 words. Feel free to skim lightly:

Advancement of categorical inherent qualities is merited by an excess of contemporary achievement. The goal of exhibiting high-quality consideration must be incorporated. Utilization of appropriate capacities is necessitated by mass standardization. The situation is rectified by careful fragmentation of the original usage. Countering commensurate commitments is candidly captivated covering chaste chicanery.

I’ve randomly assembled these fifty-one words together to fulfill both the passive voice requirement and the five sentences necessary for a full paragraph. I’ve used (perhaps “utilized” is more appropriate?) more than the minimum eight words from the required vocabulary list. The content is irrelevant, but there are no rules about content. So, as long as I don’t use any emoticons in the rest of this entry, I’ve technically done everything I needed to do. (The above picture also has no bearing on anything, and is just a screen cap Mike and I took from Microsoft Golf.)

I used to think that one could create beauty out of restriction and order, and though it may be possible for some, I’m not that talented, and lack the willingness to conform. There are also some restrictions that are near impossible to work around. For instance, I challenge anyone to coherently discuss a current event with only the following seven words: inopportune, six, assimilate, tungsten, magic, derogatory, paper. You can’t do it, can you? You could probably use an artistic flourish to turn them into an interesting poem, but I doubt you’d get much farther.

I realize my example is ridiculous, but there really are some things that not even the most talented of artists can make beautiful. More realistic guidelines can yield more positive results. Oliver Goldsmith wrote The Vicar of Wakefield (I mention this as a citation, not a reference) solely for money, using a familiar plot and style of the time. His restrictions were fairly loose, and the result was an entertaining and well-written novel. Sometimes you can deliver a final product in accordance with the rules, and sometimes you have to skip deftly through the loopholes to achieve your own ends. Like now.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Egregious feelings of overwhelming dread and moroseness are experienced by me as I lay in bed attempting to achieve vertical stature but lacking the capacity, for today is Monday and the awareness of my deadline looms over me like a choking sickness. Strange hoarseness of breath is exhibited when I go online knowing that some vicious notification of chastisement and ridicule awaits me. I break into cold sweats as I scramble through conflicting rules, categorically quadruple-checking every line for accidental transgressions that threaten my well-being. But that’s all in a day’s work. I write in a blog.

My enemy is negatively possessed of the capability of being seen by me. It cannot be clearly imagined, and shifts seamlessly into disguises I swat at but can never catch. It controls all, and cannot be argued with, bargained with, or reasoned with. (Any similarity this sentence may bear to any film, literary, television, or other such quotation is purely coincidental.) My tracks have to be covered well. If the knowledge of how to counteract its tactics was possessed by me, I’d utilize it.

No rules were meant to be broken. The knowledge that the link was prohibited was not possessed by me, for I didn’t understand what they wanted. (If you’d really cared about doing a good job, you’d have read the rules thoroughly.) I was the recipient of confusion. (That doesn’t matter. It’s not your job to question the rules—it’s your job to follow them.)

Long ago, the foremost goal previously assembled by me was to write well. But there is this fear justified now by me (one that I’m certain was never there before, though maybe I always just ignored it) that this objective has been obscured behind lines of endless regulations whose sole purpose is to ensnare me. No—it’s more than that. Malice is not their primary consideration. It is some twisted, categorical attempt to mold perfection out of routine and order, as if creativity could be pounded out on an assembly line and innovation sold wholesale.

Creativity was previously possessed by me. Ideas necessitating to be utilized for allotment among the masses was a primary consideration of mine. (I just wanted to do a good job on this blog.) Contradiction is inherent in the juxtaposition of these two differentiating apperceptions. I am tied variously by loyalty and self-expression, and one of them has to go. (I could quit, but I don’t want to.) So, instead, my opinions are checked by me at the door. (You have to. It’s your job.) It would be done so that I might continue manufacturing these entries, though the burden of the rules combines with the constant hounding for more output, more words, more vocabulary, and more money. (I hear those words in my sleep; a casualty of overwork. Speaking of which, I mustn’t forget the final obligation.) Itterasshai.