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.