Wednesday, August 31, 2005

One last post from Japan

I am at the Osaka airport now, but I can't check in to my flight for another three hours, so I am killing time and money at the 10 minute, 100 yen Internet booth. I am pretty sure I can't exchange coins anyway, so I might as well kill them here.

Anyway, it looks like the typhoon is going to finish its pass over Taiwan a few hours before I am scheduled to arrive. The last time I checked, about an hour ago, my flight was still scheduled to leave at the same time, so I think I will be OK for arriving in Taiwan. Apparently, the typhoon was pretty strong. The Taiwanese government gave pretty much everyone the day off tomorrow, so I am a little worried about getting to Kaohsiung from Taipei. I was planning on taking an intercity bus, but I have a feeling they might be canceled or delayed until they can check the roads. I might have a fun night of tossing and turning at the Taipei airport, but I am determined to get to Kaohsiung safely, so I will not be too upset if I have to wait.

Anyway, I will get back to posting when I get a chance. Adios!

Leaving Japan

Well, before I say anything, I would like to ask all of you out there to keep the victims of Hurricane Katrina and all their families in your prayers. This is the worst disaster to strike the U.S. in many years, and I only pray that we can work together as a nation to overcome all of the devastation.

I leave Japan tomorrow night for Taiwan. There is a big typhoon hitting Taiwan right now, so please keep me in your prayers as well. It should have died down quite a bit by the time I am scheduled to arrive, but it might still be raining. I will try to post in the next couple of days to let everyone know that I have arrived safely. I will be busy moving in to my new place, so I might not have much time to load pictures or post, but I will try.

Until then, take care of yourself and those around you. All we have is each other.

Bye Japan! Thanks for a great summer! いってきまーす!!!


Osaka has been an relaxing time for me. I haven’t really tried to go around and see all of the sights, because my main reason for coming here was to eat and relax. Osaka is known for good, cheap food, of which I have had plenty. Some of the famous dishes here, namely takoyaki (octopus and dough balls) and okonomiyaki (“Japanese pancakes”), are also popular dishes in the Tokyo area (not to mention the rest of Japan), but they taste different here. The takoyaki is softer and the okonomiyaki is just plain better than in Tokyo. I haven’t tried fugu yet (blowfish), another Osaka specialty, but then again, I don’t feel like spending a whole lot of money before moving to another country.

I took a nice long nap on Monday after I checked into my hotel. The hotel I am staying in (Hotel Fujiya), is comfortable, but a little small, as might be expected from a cheap business-traveler hotel. The location, just off of Dotonbori River and shopping area, is hard to beat, though. I have loaded a bunch of pictures of Dotonbori on flickr, so please check them out. It is a very tacky, wacky shopping area with a lot of restaurants that is definitely worth a visit. Be careful not to stray too far from the main drag, however, because some of the side streets prove Osaka’s other claim to fame – home of the yakuza (Japanese mafia). One thing I always find rather disturbing about Japanese cities is one minute you are walking along a perfectly normal shopping, restaurant area, and the next you are in the middle of a red-light district where the air is just full of sleaze. Yuck.

Anyway, on Monday night I met a group of foreigners in downtown Osaka and on the way back I met some Japanese rappers freestyling on the street. They had some old-school funky beats backing them up, but it was really hard to understand what they were rapping about when they were rapping in Osaka dialect on a crappy sound system. It was still cool to get a free show, though.

Yesterday (Tuesday), I went to Osaka castle. I have wanted to visit this place for a long time. I believe the one standing now is a reconstruction that dates from the 1620s. It was originally built by the warlord Hideyoshi in the mid 1580s, but was burned down by the Tokugawas in about 1615. It was my first visit to a Japanese castle, and the indoor museum was a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon. It was also nice to go there by myself, because I could tour at my own pace and take my time. On one of the floors, they have one of the coolest museum displays I have ever seen. There are diorama boxes set around the room, each telling a particular episode in Hideyoshi’s life. They play one at a time in sequence. Inside a box set into the wall are model sets. In the middle of these sets is a transparent screen that displays video or digital images of real actors acting out the scenes. The three dimensional model and use of real actors adds to the realism, but the images of the actors are very bright compared to their surroundings. This makes them look like they are glowing – almost like ghosts. Very cool!

As I stepped off the subway, there was a Japanese band on the street playing a mix of rock and swing. They were pretty good, so I stopped and listened for a while. Again, there are pictures in my photo gallery. I struck up a conversation with an American couple who were watching and we wound up hanging out for a few hours. They are from LA and teach English at a Catholic University in Korea. We had an interesting discussion about the effects of rapid industrialization in East Asia at a Western style diner until early in the morning. That might sound like a pretty dry topic, but when you actually see and experience this stuff, it can be very real. South Korea developed VERY quickly into a modern, industrialized nation. In order to do this, many sectors of the economy were given priority over others, resulting in a situation in which some facets of life are hyper-modern, and others are very behind-the-times

Example: Samsung, a South Korean electronics company, has released a cell phone with a seven megapixel digital camera built in to it. Some South Korean cell phones have breathalyzers built into them. Yet most South Korean homes, including luxury condominiums, do not have that little S-curve at the base of their toilet’s piping. For those of you who don’t know what that is for, that little bend in the pipe under your toilet holds a little bit of water at the bottom of the curve by our good friend, the force of gravity, which in turn blocks noxious gasses from the sewer system from filling your home. Thus most homes in Korea smell like sewers. Not a pleasant thought…

Anyway, today, I slept in. It was raining again and I am leaving the country tomorrow, so I didn’t really feel like going all over town. I decided to go to the coin laundry and wash my clothes from the last four or five days. Nobody likes to stuff a bunch of smelly socks in their luggage, right? Well, that is where I met an interesting character. I tried to post his picture on this post, but it won’t accept it for some reason. I will try to load it on flickr.

His name (the only one he gave me) is Scorpio, and he is a professional wrestler. He is an American that has been a pro wrestler for about 20 years. He lives in Germany with his half-German, half-Turkish, kickboxing champion wife and travels to Japan, among other places, for matches. We talked for about an hour in between business phone calls. He was really nice and a fun guy to talk to. I didn’t really think about him in the ring much until his stuff was done in the dryer and he pulled out his wrestling tights. My guess is he isn’t quite as friendly in the ring as he is at the coin laundry.

What can I say? There are some really interesting people in this country. .

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Arrived in Osaka...

Well, I survived an eight hour overnight bus ride in tiny seats next to some punk rocker girl who kept falling asleep and dozing off toward me. My butt is sore, but I am alive and well, so I guess I have nothing to complain about. I didn't have to carry my giant luggage around through train stations and I saved more than $100 by not riding the Shinkansen (bullet train).

It was a short ride from where the bus let us off to the hotel. It's 7:30 in the morning and check-in time is 11:00 (had to pay an extra $20 to check in before 2:00 pm), but the front desk is guarding my luggage, so I decided to explore the neighborhood a little. Not much was open when I got here, so I decided to come to the Internet Cafe first and kill some time. I'll have a nice slow breakfast before heading back to the hotel, where I am anxiously awaiting a shower and a nap.

I don't know about the rooms, but the hotel I am staying in (the Fujiya) is in an excellent location. It is only a block or two from Doton Bori, a big shopping and dining street. I have only been in town about an hour, so I don't have too many impressions of the city, but it seems to be a little better laid out than Tokyo. I haven't been on many side streets yet, so I can't say that with any certainty. I am just grateful after a long bus ride with about three and a half hours sleep, Osaka was kind enough to welcome me with relatively low temperatures and humidity.

I am going to catch up on the news about the hurricane heading for New Orleans now. It sounds like about 50 of the typhoons we get over here rolled up into one big storm. I hope you will all say a prayer for all the people in the path of this storm.

For my mom... (UPDATE)

I know I said on my last post that it would be the last one from Yokosuka, but I decided to stop by the Internet cafe for half an hour and I had next to no e-mail, so I have a little time to kill.

Mom, this one's for you.

I just came back from Mass. I actually made it on the right day and at the right time. English masses are interesting in Japan. I went to one last time I was here (in Isesaki), and this one was along the same lines - English Mass with Tagalog songs. Other than the priest (an Italian), one or two Japanese people, one guy from the base, and myself, the entire congragation was Pilipino. The service pretty much follows the same proceedure as those in the States (and I assume Catholic churches everywhere), with the usual routine of stand, sit, kneel - but it seemed there was a lot less kneeling in this service. This is probably because there was no padded fold-down knee cushion.

It was a wonderful experience, and I was glad to stop in and say a few prayers for all the people I have known over the years, especially those who have done so much for me in recent years. Just to let you know, Mom, Dad, and Ross - you guys got special prayers directed your way. Maiko, I also prayed for you to have safe travels.

If you are reading this, chances are you were in my prayers as well. God bless.

Anyway, I have to head back to the apartment now. I am done packing, but I need to eat and clean up the apartment a little before heading out. I will be out of Yokosuka in four hours. I will miss this place for sure, but I know I will be back some day, so until then... See ya, Yokosuka!

UPDATE: I forgot to write about one particular characteristic of Mass in Japan that I thought was really nice. When taking communion in a Catholic church, those of us who are not "official" Catholics are not supposed to partake in communion. Since I had talked to the priest the week before he knew my situation, but he came up to me before the service and told me in Japan to get in that line anyway, just don't take communion. When it is your turn, he simply says a blessing for you. I think this is a neat way of including those of us moved by the service who are not actual "members" of the church. God bless you father, and thank you.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Last post from Yokosuka!

Well, the Internet cafe I am in now is officially closed, but I talked the girl into letting me stay for an extra half an hour so I can post once more and check my e-mail one more time.

Let me just outline my plans for the upcoming week in case I don't get around to posting. Tomorrow (Sunday, the 28th) I will finish packing and try to clean out my apartment a little. I have been packing all day and should finish most of it tonight. (BTW - Scott, thanks for the call today! It was great to hear from you and a great interruption! I really needed a break at that point.)

There was a free reggae concert here in Yokosuka today that I wanted to go check out, but I have to get my packing done before anything else (except posting on blogger at the Internet Cafe!). I am going to Mass tomorrow, just barely fulfilling a promise to my mom that I would make Mass at least once while I am here.

Mr. Takahashi is coming to pick me up tomorrow night and drive me to Yokohama, where I will get on the night bus for Osaka. I have to change busses in Tokyo, then it is a straight shot to Osaka. I think we arrive at about 6:30 or 7 in the morning, at which point I will probably opt for a taxi to take me to my hotel. Unfortunately, check in isn't until about 2 in the afternoon, so hopefully they will be willing to guard my luggage while I wonder the streets in a daze from lack of sleep searching for the perfect Osaka Octopus Ball.

I have found a group of foreigners in Osaka to give me some advice on what to go do while I am there. My only real 'must-do' is to see Osaka castle. Other than that, I am going to eat a lot because I hear the food is really good and really cheap in Osaka, and maybe do a little shopping. More than anything, I am going to try to sleep at least 10 hours a day, because I have had little time for sleep during the past 3 months, and a nice hotel room that other people clean seems like the perfect place for some much needed rest.

On Thursday, September 1, I will check out and head for the airport. My plane arrives late in Taipei, so I can't make any of the commuter flights to Kaohsiung, but my contacts in Kaohsiung assure me I can take an overnight bus from the airport in Taipei to Kaohsiung, no problem. Two overnight busses in one week? Yeah!

I will arrive in Kaohsiung EARLY in the morning on September 2. My 'exchange buddy' (a student at NSYSU who is there to answer my questions and help me out) said he will meet me and help me move into my dorm then. Ken, thank you! I know I haven't met you yet, but you've already helped me out a ton. We don't have orientation for at least another week after I arrive, so I am hoping I am the first one in my dorm room. I want choice of where I am sleeping! That and I want to get a little rest and get set up before life gets busy again.

If I have time to write in Osaka, I will. Until then, pray that I have safe journeys! I promise I will do the same for you...

See you soon!

My sayonara party

Well, yesterday was my last day at Yokosuka City Hall as an intern. I gave my presentation in Japanese again, but this time with an expanded section comparing Japanese and American Emergency Management. I don’t have any pictures, but if you have seen my photo gallery, you have an idea of what it looked like. I made little eye contact with my audience, because it is pretty much impossible for me to memorize or talk on the spot for an hour in Japanese about emergency management and still express all the ideas I want to relate to my audience.

I gave the presentation in a lecture hall on the 5th floor. I was originally scheduled to give my presentation in the Disaster Response Headquarters Room again, but we had a typhoon move through the night before and they needed that room to monitor damage reports coming in from around the city. Fortunately, the storm didn’t cause much damage here in Yokosuka. I saw some dramatic footage of damage in Hakone, a tourist town here in Kanagawa, earlier today. There are several hot springs resorts in Hakone, at least one of which was destroyed by a landslide. The buildings were washed away, leaving piping and building materials jutting out of a slope of pure mud with jets of steam bursting forth. Cool to look at, as long as it isn’t your business that’s ruined.

Anyway, I think it went well, but some of my coworkers were not there because they stayed the night at City Hall in case they were needed. Some of the others dozed off a few times, but I think this was because of fatigue. Hopefully, anyway…

After a delicious lunch at the Korean restaurant a few blocks away, I made the rounds at City Hall saying thank you and goodbye to many of the section and department heads who have been so kind to me over the past three months. Mr. Takahashi then took me to my apartment to pick up some packages I had ready to ship. We also stopped by ‘Society Hall’ to say goodbye and thank you to my temporary hosts from the early part of the summer.

I finished packing other books to ship to the US and Taiwan. I sent out a lot of packages, so Ross, be on the lookout. They should be there in a few weeks.

I had a going away party hosted by the International Relations Division and the Public Safety Division at Banzai, a really hip restaurant that is part of the chain that trained Nishio-san. The food was great, but as the main guest, I didn’t have much time to eat.

I really don’t have the words to express my gratitude for all that the City Hall employees have done for me all summer. Everyone seemed genuinely happy to have met me and had nothing but kind words for me up until the end. It was really moving to hear one of the bosses say that this was not an ending, but a beginning. That really stuck with me. These people were not only excellent hosts for a three-month program, but friends that I could call on anytime. They made this very clear at the going away party. Another boss told me to keep working hard because he wanted to brag to his friends when he gets older and they see me on the news. He told me he wanted to tell them, “you see that guy? Yeah, I knew him back in the day! He wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for me!”

I’m not sure if that’s an exact translation of what he said, but it’s pretty close. I thought I would feel sadder leaving Yokosuka than I do. I think that’s because I really believe the words I heard last night. This was a wonderful experience and these three months were noting but the beginning. I have a large network here in Yokosuka now, a network that I don’t ever plan to lose.
Thank you Yokosuka! I will never forget everything you have done for me! See you again!

Maiko's Last Supper

After my last day of Kengaku, I met up with Maiko in Shinjuku to accompany her on a few errands, say good-bye and thank you to Nishio-san, and do a little cake shopping.

We went to her mom’s apartment around 7 pm and helped her get ready for Maiko’s sayonara party. She is in the US for a few weeks, then she leaves for Belgium for a semester abroad in early September. It is going to be weird not having her around, but we have the Internet, calling cards, and mail services to keep in touch, so I think we’ll be OK. I am also planning on going to visit her in Europe in mid-November after midterms, so we both have something to look forward too!

We had hand-rolled sushi for dinner and a cake topped with many kinds of fresh fruit for dinner. It was delicious! Maiko’s dad was there. It was the first time for me to meet him, so I was a bit nervous, but things went well. I think my poor impressions of Sean Connery and Ah-nold won (along with a few other bad jokes of mine) won him over.

Some of Maiko’s family’s friends were there, too. Overall, in spite of my jitters, the night was very enjoyable.

Maiko’s apartment building is in a suburban area of Tokyo that doesn’t feel like Tokyo. It’s a tall apartment building, but there are trees around and you can hear the cicadas chirping up a storm at night. It was a cool night, so we had the doors open and the AC off all night. We were up late as we had to clean up and Maiko had to finish packing. When we got up in the morning, it was pouring rain. There was a typhoon on the way!

Considering how heavy Maiko’s luggage was, we decided to skip dragging huge bags through crowded train stations and took a bus. We made it to the airport with enough time for her to check in her bags and grab a bite to eat before saying our goodbyes.
I can’t say that I am not a little sad to see her go, but we are both going on big adventures, and we will get to see each other in less than three months. Maiko, thank you for such a great summer! I have nothing but great memories from this summer! Take care of yourself and I’ll see you soon!

Last day of kengaku...

Well, this may be the last time I can get to an Internet cafe before leaving Yokosuka, so let me see if I can catch everyone up on my last week here in Yokosuka, and the Kanto area in general.

On Wednesday, I went to Tokyo for my last day of 'Kengaku' - a word that has no really good translation in English. It is written with the characters for 'look' and 'learn' and it basically means taking a tour of some facility for the purpose of learning what goes on there.

I went with Mr. Kimura from the Public Safety Division to Kasumigaseki, what the Japanese call the Japanese equivalent of Washington, D.C. Kasumigaseki is the district in Tokyo where the national government has set up shop. The Prime Minister's Office and residence, the Diet (Parliament), and the headquarters of most national agencies are located here. Wednesday was 'Kids' Kasumigaseki Kengaku Day' (no affiliation with the American KKK...), so most of the government agencies had their doors open for kids to come in and learn something during their summer vacation. Unfortunately, few of the agencies had anything interesting out. The Foreign Ministry, for example, only had one table out with a few pamphlets. Each agency had its own stamp that you used to stamp a little booklet so you could show everyone where you went. This is about all we did. I believe this picture was taken at the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, but I will have to get back to you on that one. The crazy get-up I have on is supposed to help younger, able-bodied individuals such as myself experience the difficulties of aging by making it harder to move. As I was putting it on this goofy contraption, the mascot characters of the Aichi World Expo, Morizo (the big one) and Kiccoro (the small one) came in to get their picture taken with the goofy foreigner. What a hoot!

Well, I didn't really learn much, but I had fun. The best part was the weather. It was actually fairly cool outside, but inside the government offices was a different story. The Japanese goverment is pushing for energy conservation. Prime Minister Koizumi has spearheaded the 'cool biz' (business) look. All government offices in Japan have their AC set at 28 degrees C (about 84 degrees F), something unthinkable in the States. It was considerably cooler outside this day, which was really frustrating. I heard on the news today that they are going to institute a 'warm biz' program in the winter by keeping the thermostat low in the winter, but I didn't catch the actualy temperature they are going to set all offices at.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Role Call! (Round 2!)

Well, I am calling role once again, because I haven't gotten many email recently or comments on my blog. I know school just started, so I am hoping I will here how everyone is doing and how you spent your summer. Leave a comment here or send me an e-mail (the address is on the right...)

Monday, August 22, 2005

Preparing for Taiwan

Well, the internship winds down. Today I have spent most of the day getting ready to go to Taiwan. For those of you who don't know, I am going to the National Sun Yat Sen University in Kaohsiung, Taiwan for the fall semester. Missouri State University (technically still 'Southwest Missouri State University for another week) signed an agreement with NSYSU to allow exchanges between political science graduate students and I am the 'guinea pig' - the first student from Springfield to go to Kaohsiung on this program.

I have been packing stuff to send home and looking into travel arrangements for the next week. I am taking an overnight bus from Yokohama to Osaka on Sunday (ugh, I sense a sleepless night...) and staying at a hotel in Osaka for three days before flying out to Taiwan on September 1st. Osaka is Japan's second largest city, but I have never been there, so I thought I would use my flight from Osaka to Taipei as an excuse to take a side trip. Osaka has a very strong dialect, which I am hoping to master in three days, and is famous for good, cheap food. Takoyaki, batter-dipped grilled balls of octopus, and Okonomiyaki, a fried 'pancake' of different vegetables, batter, and seafood or meat, are supposed to be especially succulent down there. The weather is hotter than here in the Tokyo area, but I won't have to wear leather shoes, slacks, and nice shirts, so I think I will survive. Again, Taiwan is probably much hotter, so I am really trying not to think too much about how hot it is.

As I finish my preparations to leave, I have one more full day at city hall tomorrow. They want me to give the presenatation I gave in Tokyo again here in Yokosuka, but I have to update the section on comparing Japanese and American emergency managment, so I will do that tomorrow. Wednesday, I am going to Tokyo with Mr. Ugai from the Public Safety Division to tour Japan's National Fire Disaster Management Agency. That night, I am going to Maiko's mom's place for a family farewell party for her. On Thursday, I have the day off from city hall to see her off at the airport as she heads back to the U.S. for a few weeks before she does her study abroad program in Belgium. Friday, I will give my presentation in the morning and then say goodbye and thank you to all the departments that hosted me this summer. They have really been amazing hosts, guides, and teachers this summer, and I hope I am able to express at least some of the gratitude I feel for all they have done for me over the past three months.

Friday night is my farewell party. I am not sure where we are going, but my guess is the food will be really good and I will eat WAY too much. Saturday will be packing day, and Sunday I leave.

Sad? Yes, but I am too busy with preparations and too excited to go to Taiwan to worry about that now. I know I will be back in Japan one of these days, probably not too long from now, so I have no doubt in my mind I will see these people again.

Now that you know my schedule, please forgive me if I only post infrequently in the next couple of weeks. I will try to get around to posting once or twice this week, and I am sure there is are Internet cafes somewhere in Osaka, if there isn't a guest computer in the hotel.

Until then, look at this link for the best picture of NSYSU I have seen on the web. That includes the school's website, which has a very amateur photo gallery.


Sunday, August 21, 2005

A quick post

I am posting again because this computer sucks. I am at the Internet cafe again and for some reason I can't get the flickr downloader to work on this computer. I usually don't have any probelms getting it to work on these computers, but for some reason, this one doesn't seem to want to run the program. Consequently, it is taking a long time to upload pics on flickr.

So I guess I have time to talk about the Yokosuka Volunteer Center. It was a very relaxing 2 days. They didn't have much for me to do, so I had a lot of free time. This was a great time to have free time because I am leaving for Taiwan in less than 2 weeks and I am trying to coordinate how I am going to get from Taipei to Kaohsiung, who is going to meet me in Kaohsiung, and where I will be living. I have a ton of stuff to do, but what can you expect from someone who is about to embark on another adventure in a foreign land?

The center is free for individuals or groups to use if they are working on volunteer or other civic activities. They have meeting space, computers, video editing equipment, and simple publishing equipment for volunteer organizations to use. I was surprised how many people actually used this center. Most of these volunteer groups were made up of retirees, but there were some high-school age kids in there as well. The center is managed by a staff from the YMCA and funded mainly by the city.

Since explaining what they do there didn't take a full 2 days, I used my free time on the computer and helped them write an English language flyer for use by foreign community groups. It was a piece of cake, but they seemed very grateful for my help. The staff was a lot of fun to talk to, so it was a very enjoyable two days.

Maiko has been here this weekend. It is our last weekend together (for a while, anyway), but we have tried to just have a good time and not get all sappy about it. We went to Yokohama yesterday and went on a ferry ride, went to Chinatown, and shopped in Minato Mirai (a very upscale, trendy area). We had a great day, and I am in the process of loading many, many pictures of it on flickr. It was REALLY hot yesterday (maybe 95?), and we walked around all day. It was tiring, but we found diet Canada Dry Ginger Ale in one of the stores and American potato chips (Pringles and Kettle Chips!), so we had some nice treats at the end of the day. Mom, I think you will not be surprise to learn that I bought the store out of diet ginger ale! Unfortunately, they only had 9 cans...

I will try to get back to posting tomorrow. Adios!

Back from church...

Well, now I feel really stupid. I made a mistake. I thought the English mass was on the first and the third Sunday of the month, but it is on the second and fourth. I am leaving Yokosuka next Sunday at around 6 in the evening, so I think I can make it next week.

Since I couldn't attend a service, I did the next best thing. I went to talk to the priest. His name is Giorgio (I am not sure if that is how to spell it) and he is Italian. I told him I am considering going on a trip to Italy in November, so we talked for a long time about Italy, a little about Taiwan (he has been to Kaohsiung before), and God. It was a good chat, made better by the customary offering of mago popsicles and Coca-cola.

I am back at the Internet Cafe, but I am getting hungry and I still need to post pics to flickr. I will try to get back to posting tomorrow. See ya then!

Almost through...

Wow, it is hard to believe that I am almost done with my 3 month internship. This week will be my last week in Yokosuka, but I guess I can't get into reflections just yet.

This past week I spent Tuesday and Wednesday with the City Planning Department and Thursday and Friday at the Yokosuka Volunteer Center. The City Planning Department employees briefed me on the strict building codes they have for earthquake-proofing buildings here. On the whole, Japanese building codes are much more lax than they are in the U.S. (asbestos was just banned as a building material last year), but when it comes to earthquakes, Japan is probably one of the tougher nations in the world. The codes became much stricter in the early 1980s as the result of a major earthquake, so one of the major challenges facing Japanese local governments today is bringing older public buildings up to the new codes. Most buildings built before the new codes were made are not held up to the strict standards, but important government-owned facilities, such as schools (which serve as evacuation shelters in major disasters) are being retrofitted to hold up even in the strongest of temblors. I got to see some of the braces they were putting up on some of the schools in Yokosuka, and while I am no expert, it looked like these braces would support the buildings in any seismic event.

One other note on not being an expert: I was reminded how much technical knowledge is needed in government last week. Someone in the City Planning Department handed me an English translation of an overview of the 'Yokosuka technique' for seismic retrofitting buildings. The grammar, as far as I could tell, was flawless, yet I didn't have a clue what I was reading. I didn't feel so bad when I got lost in the Japanese explanation, but I felt a little stupid for not being able to understand a 2 page document written in my mother tongue. Good thing I am in the social sciences...

I will post more on the Volunteer Center and the weekend in a few hours. I promised my mom I would make it to mass at least once while I am here, and it starts in about 10 minutes, so I have to hussle on over to church...

Monday, August 15, 2005

Earthquake (round 2)

Just in case anyone heard it on the news, we just had a big earthquake about an hour ago. It was more than 200 miles away (maybe 250?), but we were a bit shaken here in Yokosuka. It wasn't very strong here, but it was noticeable and it lasted a long time. I don't think many reports of damage are in yet, but NHK (the national public broadcasting station) just showed pictures of old houses that had collapsed in Saitama, which is pretty far from the center of the quake.

I was having a discussion with members of the City Planning Department about bringing old buildings up to current earthquake standards when it happened. That was one of the weirdest experiences I have had in a while...

Anyway, I am safe. I might update more on this later, but keep watching the news reports, because I think this one was pretty big. Yahoo News has reported it as a magnitude 6.8. It was a low 6 on the Japanese scale.

The 60th Anniversary of the end of the War

Yasukui Shrine

Prime Minister Koizumi zipping by (I swear, that is him inside)
Nationalist vans were all over today. This one was just outside of Shinjuku Station.

Today (August 15, 2005) was the 60th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War. I had a busy day commemorating this historic event in Tokyo.

Mr. Ozawa, the section chief (or manager – ‘kacho’) of the Public Safety Division and Mr. Ugai (another guy from the Division) guided me to Yasukuni Shrine, the Japanese National Cemetery for Japanese who died in wartime overseas and whose remains never made it home, and the HQ of Japan’s Defense Agency. Tokyo was sweltering in heat a humidity today, and the lack of a breeze made it almost unbearable, but we had a busy schedule to stick to, so we kept pushing on.

First we hit Yasukuni Shrine, the focus of international disputes between Japan on one side, and China and the Koreas on the other. Prime Minister Koizumi has visited the shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead, every year since taking office, which angers victims of Japan’s former colonial aggression. China and the Koreas are angry that seven ‘Class A’ war criminals are enshrined here – a position that is hard to argue with. Yasukuni Shrine and its supporters maintain that the Tokyo War Tribunals were a sham trial and that these men were not criminals. There is an English version of the shrine’s website that you should visit sometime (, but it appears to be down at the time, so keep trying back.

After waiting in line for about an hour in a mass of people in the sun with no breeze, I made it up to the shrine. I tossed in a coin, clapped my hands, and said a prayer for peace. I think this is what you are supposed to do anyway, but it just seemed like the right thing to do at this particular time and place. I got some pictures, then fought my way through the crowds to the other side of the line, where Mr. Ugai and Mr. Ozawa were waiting. We walked around to the other side of another building, just in time to see members of Japan’s Diet (the Japanese Parliament) filing into the shrine from a side entrance. I got some pictures of them, and of the media that was there to capture it as well.

There were few foreigners inside the shrine grounds, but I guess a few other curious, brave Americans besides myself made it out there. I think if we stay out of the way of the whack-job nationalist van guys, we’re OK. Japan has a very strong cultural aversion to war that has built up over the past 60 years. Most Japanese place a great deal of faith that the US-Japan Security Alliance has served Japan’s national interest by preserving Japanese national security and allowing Japan to build its economy by spending very little of its own money on national defense. They have no desire to see their country become a fascist military state again.

Then there are the whack-job nationalist van guys. I don’t know a whole lot about them, but from what I can tell, they are whack-jobs. They are closely connected with the yakuza and support ultra-conservative politicians. They want Japan to build its military and have a foreign policy independent of US domination. I don’t know who they expect to win over by yelling nationalist slogans and parading around town in black vans, but they seem to have some appeal among the mentally unstable yet highly aggressive types. They were all over town today, and I got plenty of pictures.

On our way to the Japanese National Cemetery, which is dedicated to all the Japanese nationals who died overseas in wartime but whose remains never made it home, some police wouldn’t let us take the short cut side street Mr. Ozawa had planned on using. We decided someone important must be coming soon, so rather than opting for another route, we stood by and waited. We were not disappointed. A motorcade zoomed out onto the main road, and I managed to catch a glimpse of none other than Jun-chan himself (Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi). I got a picture of his car, but you can’t see his face. Trust me, though, it was him.

After paying our respects at the cemetery, we went to the HQ of the Japan Defense Agency. This is Japan’s version of the Pentagon, so I was excited to go, but in the heat it was hard to concentrate enough to really understand most of the explanations. We walked across the grounds to a reconstructed memorial hall, which used to be an important military facility. We saw the emperor’s break room and the stage he used to ascend when addressing the top brass of the Japanese military. The real highlight for me was a trip to the second floor, where we entered the room in which Yukio Mishima committed suicide. There is an article about the suicide here that might have some good details (I am at an Internet café, so I don’t have time to read it now), but this was a meticulously planned event that deserves some studying. We covered this suicide for a day and a half in my Japanese literature class at GW, so it was amazing to actually visit the room where this happened. There is a door in the room with cuts in it from Mishima’s katana, which I also got pictures of.

After we finished touring the HQ, we got back on the trains. I parted with my coworkers and head off to Shinjuku, where I saw another black van and a Buddhist monk on the same small stretch of road. I made it to the Internet café alright, but it looked like rain, so I am afraid I might get dumped on when I leave here. Maiko and I are having dinner at Nishio-san’s again. I can’t think of a better way to end a great day than having a great meal with my girl. :)

I will try to post more by the end of the week. I am not sure what I am doing the rest of the week with my internship, but based on my experience so far, I am sure someone will fill me in with what I need to know when I need to know it.

Until then,

1200th Visitor, you get a prize!!!

Yeah, I was the 1200th visitor to my own blog! I guess I forgot to tell you that I was having a contest and that the 1200th visitor would receive a prize. Sorry!

I think I will buy myself dinner tonight. That sounds like a darn good prize.

In other news, I bought a Cannon G-50 Wordtank. For those of you who don't know, this is one of the world's best electronic Japanese/English, English/Japanese, English/English, Japanese/Japanese, dictionaries in the world for the non-native Japanese speaker, or so I am told. Cannon just came out with a newer model, the G-55, which is around $300 or more in stores, but I managed to get the G-50 for less than $200. Thank you Internet! You can't even buy the G-50 in stores anymore because the new model is out.

I love my new toy! It really makes it so much easier to look up words or phrases in a hurry and is so much easier to carry around than paper dictionaries. This one little gadget holds nine dictionaries and you can jump back and forth between them. Very useful.

What a day! (but I will get to that later...)

Today was really quite a day, but I haven’t talked about my internship experience last week with the Health and Welfare Department, so I will post on that VERY briefly. I know some of you are saying ‘Yeah, right...’ at the moment, but I will try to keep this short.

For starters, it was kind of a crappy week because I don’t really have much of an interest in what this department does. Don’t get me wrong, they do great things, and I did enjoy parts of the internship, but most of the week was spent sitting down and listening to lectures about VERY specific administrative duties, legalities, and other procedural matters. Had this been emergency management-related, I might have had some interest. Now that I have my whining out of the way, I will try to stay positive about the rest of the week.

I spent the week visiting facilities with three Japanese college students. It was actually really nice to talk with some young people and have less than completely serious discussions at lunch. It was also nice not to have to worry about speaking formal Japanese for once. They were all really nice and we went bowling on Friday as a celebration for getting through the week. As usual, I was terrible in the first game, but I got my stride and bowled a 123 in the second game (not like you really care, anyway).

When we weren’t listening to excruciatingly boring lectures, we did see some cool facilities. We visited a home for the elderly, got to sit in a speech class for people with mental handicaps or brain trauma, visited a volunteer center, and got to play with kids at a day care center. All of the people we visited, young and old, healthy and not so healthy, gave us a warm welcome with big smiles on their faces. Yuki, the one guy among the three college kids, did some magic tricks at the volunteer center and was a big a hit as the foreign guy speaking Japanese. It’s kind of cool that I don’t have to carry around a pack of cards with me to woo over the old ladies and little kids…

One last note on why I didn’t really enjoy these lectures… The three college students are studying social welfare because they intend to work in the field one of these days. We had chances to ask questions when we didn’t understand something, but I really didn’t want to slow things down for them because of my poor Japanese vocabulary (especially when discussing social welfare programs), because they actually needed to learn this stuff. If I listened intently I could pick up a lot of it, but I hated to ask someone to slow it down just so I could look up words in my dictionary. Anyway, I made it through the week and I still had some good experiences.
Now wasn’t that short?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Yokosuka Fireworks Festival

On Sunday (August 7), Maiko came down to Yokosuka with her mom and Nishio-san. We went to the Yokosuka Fireworks Festival, which was amazing, especially with the VIP seats I received from Ms. Abe. I had called Takahashi-san earlier in the day to ask him where we should watch the fireworks from and he told me to get to Umi no Kaze (Sea Breeze) Park early because it was going to be crowded. Maiko couldn't get here until an hour before the show because she had a BBQ earlier in the day with her father, so I was worried whether or not we would be able to find a good spot. Takahashi-san, however, called me back and told me the International Affairs Division was working at the VIP section at the show and they were going to get me (and my party) in for free.

TALK ABOUT GOOD SEATS!!! They shot the fireworks over the water in the harbor and we were in a row of chairs set up on the edge of the water. They shot them from two locations, and when they shot some of the big ones from both locations at the same time, it was amazing! I really think this was the best fireworks show I have ever seen. I have seen some that were longer and had more fireworks, but the seats we had, the view of Sarushima (Monkey Island), and the fireworks exploding over the water - all made for a hard-to-beat combination. I will post some pictures when I get them from Maiko. I spent a lot of the last fireworks show taking pictures and video with the digital camera on my phone, and I missed a lot of the good ones. Luckily, Maiko just bought a new digital camera and she was anxious to use it, so she got some REALLY good pictures. I will try to get them up this weekend.

Maiko's mom and Nishio-san were so happy with the great seats I got for all of us, they took us out to dinner afterwards. Nishio-san trained with some guys that run a group of restaraunts here in Yokosuka and a few other locations in Tokyo and Yokohama. We went to a little place called Awamori Banzai, run by one man who started the company. Nishio-san is an amazing cook, and this was his sempai (senior), so you know the food was great. Most of the dishes at these restaraunts are 'creative' cooking - not traditional Japanese food, but a new take on old classics. I was ecstatic to eat really good Soki Soba (usually called Okinawa soba outside of Okinawa) for the first time since I did a homestay in Okinawa 10 years ago (ugh, I am getting old...). Again, I wish I was some kind of food critic so I could describe how good the food was in exacting detail, but all I can tell you is, if you happen to be in Yokosuka on the weekends, drop by this place for sure! It's small and there is only one guy working there, so if there are a lot of people, the service will be slow, but it's worth the wait. It's only open on the weekends, because this is the president of the company, so he just works there for fun.

Anyway, that pretty much catches me up on all the stuff I wanted to post on up until this week. I have been interning with the Health and Public Welfare Department all week, which has been kinda rough because I am not terribly interested in what they do. I am with three Japanese college students this week, though, and chatting with them on breaks and at lunch has been a real relief. We're gonna go bowling after work on Friday, so I probably won't be able to talk about my week until the weekend, but I will get around to it.

Just a little sidenote to all of my family and friends back in the states: I miss you guys! I'm having a great time, though, so don't worry about me getting too homesick. I will see you all this winter!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Isesaki (round 2)

After the post-presentation reception, I got on the train and headed for Gunma. I was still in my slacks and Y-shirt and was lugging my luggage around with me on a steamy, hot afternoon. It got up to 35 degrees (about 95 Fahrenheit) that day, and it didn’t seem to have cooled down much by the time I started my journey. The subway wasn’t too bad, but boarding the commuter train out of Kita Senju for Isesaki was terrible. You really have to push to get on one of these trains, which isn’t much fun, especially when you are near the door and have to get out at every stop to let the people behind you off. It started thinning out after a few stops in Tokyo and Saitama as most of the commuters who work in Tokyo got off and I had a nice 2 hour trip on an air conditioned train listening to reggae on my MD player.

I got to Isesaki around 10:00 that night and walked to La Bodeguita. Kalani and Yukiko met me there and we chowed. I was still a little full from the reception earlier, so I just had some anticucho (grilled beef hearts on a skewer) and French fries. We headed back to their air conditioner-less house and watched a few Family Guy episodes.

The next day, I slept in and had a late lunch at La Bodeguita with Yukiko. I had their fried rice and half a bottle of their hot sauce. We then went to city hall because Clark (another Canadian English teacher in Isesaki) had to do something there. I went to the board of education to say hi to the coordinator that used to handle us crazy ALTs (foreign Assistant English Teachers), but he had the day off, so I went downstairs to say hi to another friend that works there. After city hall, I decided to get my hair cut and skip going to my old junior high school because most of the teachers are now at different schools and it’s summer vacation, so I didn’t think anybody would be there. Instead, I went to see Koyama Sensei, an art teacher that was really nice to me when I lived in Isesaki.

Koyama Sensei has an art gallery down the street from La Bodeguita, so I went by there to see if she was there. Her daughter lives in an apartment in the back, so she let me in and called her mom home. Koyama Sensei came back and we caught up on what has happened in the two years since I left. She has retired and now teaches a few art classes on the side, paints, and runs her small gallery. She seemed like she was in high spirits, not having to deal with rowdy junior high school kids all day.

She took me to dinner at the best unagi (eel) restaurant in Isesaki. I am a big fan of broiled eel, and this was some of the best I have had since coming here. Thanks Koyama Sensei!

Afterwards, we went to London Bus to chat some more. Kogure Sensei, one of the most fun Japanese English teachers to work with (she used to teach her kids how to cuss!), met us there with her daughter. Kogure Sensei is a smart lady with a great sense of humor, so it’s always a pleasure to sit down and chat with her. Again, we spent most of our time catching up on the past two years. Apparently, Nichu (one of the junior highs I used to work at) has really gone down hill. Many of the teachers don’t get along and there are a lot of delinquents running around in the school. Bosozoku (motorcycle gangs) occasionally circle the school trying to find recruits among the more rebellious kids. One of these kids apparently even punched the principle at school! It was sad to hear, but it was good to know that both Koyama Sensei and Kogure Sensei were doing well. It might be better for their health and well-being, but I couldn’t help thinking that maybe Nichu needs more teachers like them to bring the kids back in line.

My friend Atsushi, who also works at Isesaki City Hall, came down to London Bus and we chatted for a while after the teachers left. He was recently married (like my friend Akizumi in Tokyo), but he still lives at home. He and his wife have an apartment on hold, but the building is still under construction, so it might be a while before they can move in. Atsushi is a good guy, and again, it was good to get to see an old friend.

Kalani, Yukiko, Clark, Aussie Mike, and Aussie Craig (who I hadn’t met before), all came down later. We hung out pretty late. The important thing here is that I got to eat one of Akira-san’s ‘London Sandwiches’. London Bus has the best roast beef I have ever had, so if anyone is going to make it out to Gunma anytime soon, I highly recommend you make a trip to the bus. I only wish I had more room so I could have eaten another one, but after all the La Bodeguita and eel, I really couldn’t. Well, OK, I did have a few bites of a friend’s sandwich later that night, but that doesn’t count.

I wish I could have stayed on Saturday night too, because they had the annual Isesaki festival on Saturday and Sunday. I really needed to get back to AC and my room, though, so I made the 5 hour trip back to Yokosuka Saturday afternoon, after a last lunch at La Bodeguita.

Sorry I talk so much about food in Isesaki, but after you really get to a certain cuisine, (like the food and hot sauce at La Bodeguita) and go without it for two years, it is amazing to eat it again. I don’t know when I will get back to Isesaki, but I hope it isn’t another 2 years.

Other than the food, it was great to see all you guys! Yukes, Kalani, thanks so much for letting me stay at your place! I know I bitch a lot about the heat in your house (although the bat that flew in the house Thursday night didn’t really bother me that much), but it was great seeing you guys again! Stay genki! And I definitely want to thank Koyama Sensei, Kogure Sensei, and Atsushi for taking time out of their busy schedules to come see me. Aussie Mike, keep traveling the world! Aussie Craig, it was good to meet you man! Akira, thanks for the good times and the great sandwich! Everyone else, thanks and take care of yourself!

That’s all for now. Tomorrow I will try to post about the Yokosuka Fireworks Festival. These things are so much better from VIP seats…

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

You get what you ask for!

Ha ha ha!!! Yes, Ross, I know I suck, but now you have to read what took me more than 2 hours to write! And I am still not done!

Well, I have added three long posts that get me caught up through the beginning of last weekend. Tomorrow I will wrap up what happened last week and on Thursday I will talk about my week at the Health and Welfare Department. This weekend I will get around to loading pictures on flickr again, so by the end of the weekend I should be more or less caught up. That's good, because I have to start making travel plans for Osaka, packing stuff to send home, and getting ready for Taiwan.

It's hard to believe that my time in Japan is winding down in three weeks. Well, I don't want to get all teary-eyed yet, so maybe I will save reflections for when I am in Taiwan.

By the way, the following three posts are in reverse chronological order. If you want to read them as they happened, go down to the one about the jazz concert and work your way up.

Presentation (At long last!)

I know some of you have been waiting for this one! Sorry it has taken so long to get around to, but here it is.

I spent about 3 and a half days working on my presentation before the hard part began. I started out by making two versions, a Japanese and an English version, and outlining what I wanted to say. After I had a rough idea of what I was going to cover in each slide, I started putting pictures in to help my audience visualize what I have actually learned so far. I then began working on the English version full force, translating easy parts into Japanese where I could. I wound up making a very long presentation with a lot of notes. By the time I had to start translating it into Japanese, the presentation was only two and a half days away. I did as much as I could by myself, but after realizing how monumentous a task this would be for a non-native speaker, I finally gave in and asked for help. On Tuesday night, several of the employees in the International Relations Division stayed until 7 to help me translate much of it into Japanese. A special thanks here for Ms. Abe, Mr. Yasuda, Mr. Mori, and Mr. Takahashi for helping me!

Each person wrote their translation for their part of my presentation, then e-mailed it to me. I went to eat when we left at 7, then came to the Internet Café for 3 hours to copy and paste and look up the readings for characters I didn’t know. I arranged a script to read with furigana (readings) above the difficult kanji (characters) and saved it. On Wednesday morning, I finished the translation and organization of my presentation. I then had a rehearsal in front of the International Affairs Division employees in the afternoon. It went slowly, because I had only had about 5 hours of sleep the night before and it was the first time I had actually read the whole thing out loud. We made some last minute corrections to the presentation and my script. I printed it out and headed for Tokyo right after work. I met up with Maiko, Jun (a Japanese girl who spent a semester at SMSU), and Akizumi, a friend of mine who works at AFLAC in Tokyo, for dinner at Nishio-san’s. The food at Nishio-san’s was delicious (as always), and it was great seeing everyone. Akizumi is a freak for work, but he makes bank, so I guess it’s worth it. He said I should come work at AFLAC after graduation, but all I can hear is that silly duck quacking the company name every time I think about it...

The next morning, Maiko and I had lunch at an Italian restaurant in Shinjuku, then I went to the CLAIR headquarters in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo. This is the Washington, D.C. part of Tokyo. You can see the Diet and the Prime Minister’s official residence from CLAIR’s 19th storey back window and the Tokyo Tower out of the front window. I met Chris, the other CLAIR intern a few minutes before our presentations were to begin for the first time and we wished each other good luck.

Chris went first. He had planned on doing a study on Japan’s declining birthrate, a shrinking workforce, and Japanese attitudes towards bringing in foreign laborers to deal with the shortfall. I thought it was an excellent project, but unfortunately, he hasn’t had much time to work on it at all this summer. While I have been running around learning about Japanese emergency management all summer, Chris has been teaching English lessons in a small town in Aichi prefecture. I felt a little guilty, because Yokosuka has gone to great lengths to make sure I acquire a thorough understanding of its emergency preparedness and management system, while Chris’ town probably doesn’t have the assets to provide him and hasn’t given him much free time to pursue his research himself.

In spite of these obstacles, Chris seems to have done an excellent job of getting some information for his study. He made surveys about attitudes toward foreign laborers and the labor shortage before he came and distributed them to several companies and 100 citizens in his town. Although it seemed like it was a very extensive survey, he did a good job summarizing the main results for us. Chris, if you read this, I would love to hear some updates on your study and maybe get a copy of your results when you are finished.

To be honest, I was much more nervous giving the presentation on American emergency management in Yokosuka shortly after I arrived than I was in Tokyo. That was the first real presentation I have had to give in Japanese, but having had that experience, this one was much easier. I still need to work on practicing my presentation more and being able to talk about it without reading my notes. Chris did a good job of talking about his results without ever reading his notes. He glanced at them every now and then, but I straight up READ them off of my desk. I hardly made eye contact with my audience until Q&A. Aside from just being boring, I think a major drawback of this approach is that my audience might assume my Japanese is better than it actually is. Since the script I was reading was essentially written by native speakers translating my English version, most of what I read was very natural-sounding, but incredibly difficult Japanese. I think this sets your audience for a bit of a let down when it comes to Q&A time and you sound a little choppy. Regardless, I think I answered all the questions fairly well and everyone understood what I was talking about. I have really learned a lot here and I think I managed to covey that to my audience. Although my style was a little dry, I think it went pretty well, overall.

We had a small reception afterwards. The sushi looked great, and I tried to plow as much as I could into my mouth, but it’s tough when you are one of only two guests of honor and it seems like everyone wants to talk to you. I managed to cram my face in between conversations, but I still could have eaten a little more. CLAIR has a good mix of academics, officials, and a few foreigners working at their office, so it was nice getting meet most of them. I had a good time there, and I want to thank all of the CLAIR people for giving me the opportunity to Japan this summer and for letting me present my findings in Tokyo.

A relaxing Sunday...

Maiko decided to come down on Sunday after her family said goodbye to her brother at the airport, but since she wasn’t going to be here until late afternoon/early evening, I had some time to kill. I saw the Catholic Church in town had English mass twice a month at 3:00 PM and I asked the priest if there was mass on the other Sundays in Japanese. He told me yes, but there was a communication problem (probably a lack of listening on my part) and I understood that to mean there was a 3:00 PM mass every week. I showed up at the church (Mikasa Catholic Church) and went inside to find a few Philipinos and no air conditioning. I sat down and said a few prayers, when I heard a man’s voice saying ‘Is that Strader?’ It was a friend of mine from the base, John, and his girlfriend. John is an officer on one of the ships and his girlfriend is a contractor with the Department of Defense.

About 3:10 or so we came to the conclusion that the priest wasn’t going to show up and that there was no 3:00 mass this week. We decided to get something to eat and ventured out into town. We decided on udon (thick white noodles), but none of us knew a good place to eat them, so I asked some of the Japanese sailors from the MSDF. One guy knew a place around the corner, so he showed us the way. The old lady at the restaurant and all the customers sort of stared at us as we walked in. Everyone in Yokosuka is used to seeing Americans all over town, but I don’t think many Americans venture into the small restaurants where nobody speaks English and there aren’t any plastic models of the food out front or pictures on the menu. I really came to appreciate my modest Japanese ability here, because it seems that the 15,000-plus Americans here are confined to certain businesses here because they can’t communicate. It seems like a terrible price to pay because many of them can only choose from the restaurants near the base where the food is not all that great and the prices are higher than anywhere else.

So the lady says ‘Japanese noodles, Japanese noodles!’ to us in English as we walk in, and was taken aback when I told her (in Japanese), ‘Yes, I know what udon is.’ Many of these restaurant or other business owners don’t seem to notice I am speaking Japanese until I have said at least five sentences, so I usually try to say as much as possible and ask as many questions as possible when I first get there, just to establish myself. This can backfire, though. Once the old ladies realize you can speak semi-intelligible Japanese, they won’t let you go. Don’t get me wrong, I like getting my ego massaged as much as the next guy, but flattery can get old after a while.

John and his girl thought it was hilarious that the old lady kept making such a big deal out of my language ability. They thought she was going to kidnap me and keep me as her own. Very funny…

Anyway, we went to Starbucks and had a pleasant conversation about the current geopolitical situation. Given that my counterparts work for the Defense Department, I don’t think it would be appropriate here to discuss anyone’s personal views on the Internet, but don’t worry, they didn’t disclose any national secrets to me.

Maiko arrived and we shopped for a few minutes, went home to clean up, and went back out to the Internet Café to watch videos. All in all, it was a great way to wind down a very pleasant, relaxing weekend.

Jazz Concert

This will be the condensed version, because I am tired of writing about the Jazz Concert. I already wrote a long version, which took me about an hour, but it was erased for some reason when I tried to post it.

So I went to the Yokosuka Arts Theater for the ‘Yokosuka Jazz Dreams 2005’ concert two Saturday s ago (July 30) and saw a great show. There were three acts. The first featured Salena Jones, the jazz singer, with a Japanese backup band. She was phenomenal. They played and sang a lot of classic songs, but not since the show was a week and a half ago, I can’t name any titles off the top of my head.

The second group, I didn’t like so much. The started out playing some really cool, smooth jazz, but then broke into this weird experimental, fusion crap. It was supposed to be a blend of traditional Japanese music and jazz, but it sounded like a truckload of cats being skinned alive on large stringed instruments. Yes, it was that bad. I have nothing against traditional Japanese music, and I have heard some really good fusion between it and western music, but this was not one of them.

The third and last group, however, was, in my opinion, the best. They had some really cool smooth jazz all the way through, with very few limited outbursts of ‘fusion’. This was a group (sorry I don’t know they’re name off the top of my head) that made you want to snap your fingers like a hip beatnik and say ‘yeah, daddy. I dig it!’

Ms. Abe, the director of the International Relations Division at city hall, gave me two tickets to the show. Maiko couldn’t come because her brother was leaving the country for a year the next day, so they had a family dinner she had to go to, and I couldn’t find anyone around here that was free that night. I went alone, but I felt bad about taking both of the tickets and only using one, so I went to the ticket booth to see if I could return one so someone else could use it. There was a single little old lady buying a ticket at the moment I arrived there, so I asked her if she would care to join me. I hope Maiko wasn’t too jealous that I had a date with this woman (who must have been in her 70s at least)! The woman was very polite and even bought me a sandwich during the intermission. To top it off, the woman sitting on the other side of the old woman struck up a conversation with me afterwards, and when I mentioned how much I loved Korean food (all my conversations here eventually revolve around food), she told me she was Korean and offered to take me to dinner at a Korean BBQ restaurant across the street.

A free jazz concert, sandwich, and Korean BBQ all in one night – I must be doing something right somewhere! I was a little bummed about going by myself that night, but things turned out pretty well anyway.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Sorry again!

Guys, I am so sorry to keep you waiting on the posts, but I have been really busy this past week. I should have time tomorrow after work, so I will be sure to post about ALL the stuff that has happened in the last week and a half. In addition to the stuff I listed in my last brief post, I will mention what I am doing this week at City Hall. No emergency management stuff, but I am with a group of Japanese college students (3) who are really nice and I think I am giving my emergency management presentation again in front of members of a Yokosuka community group. It's gonna be busy, but not hectic busy like the last week, so I should have time to get caught up on my blog and my photo gallery.

Keep watching!

Friday, August 05, 2005


Sorry it has been so long since I have updated. I went nuts there for a while getting my presentation ready, but it is done and out of the way. I think it went really well, and I will post more about it later.

I also have to post about the Yokosuka Jazz Dreams show I went to last week, my lunch with one of the naval officers and a defense contractor, and my trip to Isesaki. I am still in Isesaki, using my friend's computer, but it's late and I'm going to bed, so I will post all the details when I get back to Yokosuka (and a sea breeze and air conditioning!) tomorrow or the next day.

Until then!