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.