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Caught up!

Friday, June 02, 2006
It took two weeks, but I did it. I am finally current with my photos, and after this mini-post is online, I will have no pictures sitting in my collection, waiting to be posted. Of course this Saturday I'm going to Takehara, Sunday is a sports day, and then Monday is a sports day practice and teacher's party, so this is short lived. But for now, here are the last ones.

First, no big surprises, more sports day practice, this time at Kinoe junior high. They have the school right on the water, and I love watching the boats go by while I should be paying more attemtion to the class.

Again, the awesome gym outfits, and the fast ferry in the background.

Tomoka Maeda - this girl is afflicted by some mysterious malady, and so does not participate in sports. Somehow she is almost fluent in English. Her tiny voice, thin hands, and general weakness give her malady a very classical victorian feel. In my mind she has something with a dramatic archaic name, like consumption.

Then it was my birthday party! I turned a big 23 years old, and Mori and his friends threw me a party. It was a really fantastic time, one of the best birthday parties I've ever had, and while I took a lot of pictures, some more incriminating than others, I'll just post a few. I was struggling with this, because there are some pictures I like, but it seems silly to blog your birthday party on what is otherwise a blog about living in Japan. I guess this is a part of that, so here are a few.

Party food, Japan style. Japan has some of the most delicious draft beer. It's called nama beer, literally "raw beer."

The old man in question.

The party-thrower.

After the restaurant, we went to a bar. It was actually this guy's birthday too. Same age, same day. My Japanese twin brother.

Takenobu's awesome ink.

Then things started getting silly. The mama-san sent us over a bottle of wine as a birthday present, we started drinking higballs, and the karaoke controller started passing around. Soon, we were from laughing and having a good time to this:

That pretty much sums up the evening.

From there it all gets a little fuzzy in my mind. Someone from the bar drove us to another bar, and I took some pictures.

More drinks were had, some people fell asleep where they sat, and then we got a ride home at around three in the morning.

Towards the end of the night - staggering to the inevitable hangover.

And that's recent events. Today I got home and my cat has been making a habit of watching me come up the steps and then timing her escape with the moment I open the door. Usually I am carrying camera, bag, groceries, and some other stuff, so I am in no position to stop her. She doesn't go far, and so I followed with the camer after I put my stuff down.

After a little exciting looking around on her part, I brought her back inside.

Where she showed her true stripes as a cute but lazy cat.

Guest comment from Leila: do you notice that there are FOUR pairs of scissors in the picture of neko yawning? why do you need four pairs?

Next post will be on Monday or Tuesday depending on the pictures I have from the weekend. Don't forget - the map!

Some Silly Pictures

Thursday, June 01, 2006
I've actually gotten caught up a lot faster than I thought I would. I'll be caught up to what's on my computer by Friday, then Saturday and Sunday I may take more pictures, which I'll get up on Monday and Wednesday. If I only have one day's worth of pictures though, I might actually get a break. I don't know what I'd do with the time.

Thank you to everyone for adding yourselves to the map. We've got a pretty good spread here, if you haven't added yourself yet - please do.

So here are a few more pictures of Higashino's Undokai practice. Like I said earlier, I'm starting to get a sort of deep fatigue at the mere thought of photographing these things, but this weekend is the real deal, and I'm hired as official photographer (and 150m relay runner.) We'll see how both of those go. In the meantime, a few photos.

I when I go home I'm really going to miss the uniforms.

They were practicing the "big jump rope" which is exactly what it sounds like. A big bunch of kids jump over a big jump rope. It doesn't sound interesting, but there's great potential for humor.

The kids get way off the ground, and they can usually go for ten or twenty jumps.

That kid on the far left especially. Woah.

As I started taking more pictures, I noticed what was happening to the kids' hair. Something about Japanese hair bounces perfectly, and if you can catch it just right, it's hilarious.

That girl in the back left is trying to figure out what I'm photographing.

And she just figured it out.

I dunno. There's just something inherently funny about 20-odd Japanese middle schoolers jumping in unison in the middle of dusty field.

Boys face one way, girls face the other.

The rope spinner has a tough job.

But he doesn't let it get him down.

A couple days later I was back for combined elementary and junior high marching practice. This is always a little strange for me, because with the military marches, the flags, the formations, and the shouted commands - it all feels a little military, except for the fact that there are seven year olds marching. When one teacher asked me what I thought of all the marching, I said I thought it all felt very military and he thought about it for a second, and then told me that really the military's marching was much better, especially the Chinese army's high stepping. Then he demonstrated some high stepping for me.

Like Nobu at Nishino elementary, Higashino has a few kids who are severely disabled but participate in every event and class.

Whee! Fun! Sports day! - and this is just the practice.

Thank you for the fun, sports day.

After the practice I had to grade some notebooks. The kids do a page every night, and usually I'm just correcting spelling and handwriting when they copy the day's lesson, like this:

But then I came to a book that had this:

The lesson did deal with yesterday, today, and tomorrow - but how does one grade a translation of Yesterday Once More? In a related point of interest, the principal of the school, a somewhat stuffy older man, has Yesterday Once More as the ring tone on his baby blue cell phone. Whenever he gets a call (and he gets a lot of calls) the phone sings "every sha-la-la-la, every wo-o-wo-o" - which is about the funniest thing in the world.

Return to Routine

Monday, May 29, 2006
Public Service Announcement
If you are reading this blog, I'd like to ask you to do me a favor. If you could take a second to add yourself to this map, I would appreciate it. I am curious to see where my readers are coming from. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes. Thanks

So, recently I passed 10,000 pictures taken in Japan. I thought that was a big number, and I left it at that. Today at work I was bored though, and I did some math. I have averaged 1,100 pictures per month, almost 40 pictures a day. That is ridiculous, especially considering there are plenty (ok, not plenty, but some) days where I don't take any pictures at all. Looking at those numbers and the number that I've posted on this blog (somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000) - it seems like anyone could post a good photo blog if they only posted one out of every hundred pictures they took. Oh well, I apologize if I ruined the magic of Ben in Japan, but life goes on. Speaking of the magic, people have been finding my webpage (I don't know how) and linking to it. Some of the pages recently linking here: This one, this one, and then the sidebar of this one.

So, when we last talked it was the most beautiful day ever, and now we are moving forward to the next day. I was meeting Theresa in Takehara, and driving to the ferry, I noticed it was incredibly clear. I don't know if it was the clearest day ever, but it was really remarkably clear. Usually there's a pretty noticeable haze between my island and Takehara, and as I got on the ferry, I took this picture.

This picture is perhaps more impressive to people who live on Osakikamijima, because they have a frame of reference. To everyone else, it's just a pretty landscape. I'm ok with that.

The ferry ride was lovely, and I imagine the fishing was too.

Oh, my island. Is three months out too early to be getting nostalgic?

Theresa is an English teacher from Kui-cho, a little town near Mihara. She wanted a tour of the island so I happily obliged. We went to the beach, and my car sat in a field of flowers.

I have to sell this car to the new teachers, I think I'll send them this picture - the car looks so happy!

We drove up to the top of the mountain (by that time it had hazed back up, so there was no spectacular view. When I had gone up with Mori the day before I had been in a hurry (to see the most beautiful day ever), but I had noticed a little sculpture by the road with some wild irises around it. I had forgotten about it, but going back up the next day, I stopped.

These little statues are all over on the mountain. I have heard a few things, but the most definitive is that they are pretty old, and when a mother loses a child, she makes clothes for the sleeping statue, making sure nothing happens to it. I don't know if this happens on a certain day, but a lot of statues have recently gotten new hats.

I have been shooting sports day practices, but no actual sports days. That is about to change, as every weekend for the next three weeks is booked solid with Undokai. The first one was a couple weekends ago, and of course, I took plenty of pictures.

This is Nishino Elementary, a 30 student school tucked between two mountains. It's my favorite elementary, and it's where Hatsune, my favorite photographic subject, goes to school. The kids are adorable, and the faculty bends over backwards to help me out. Also, the events at Nishino are always manageable because they only ever have 30 students, and 30 families attending.

This is a phenomenon I hadn't noticed before, but now I see it everywhere. There is a piece of piano music to which everyone does stretches. The stretches and the music are standard across all of Japan, and have been for a long time. I've seen it in movies, in gym class, and now at Undokai and Undokai practice. The neat thing about this time is sitting where I was, I could see that everyone in the stands knew it by heard. From the town officials to the grandmothers, everyone did the same stretches in time with the song. I have to get my hands on that music.

Then it was sports time.

I was not particularly interested in the sports photography aspect - My lenses are not really made for it, and other than the running, the sports were not particularly photogenic. So instead, you get a cute kid attack. Brace for cuteness.


Maho, in cheerleading gear. This is the Maho who cried with her unicycle - you'll find out why soon.

Cheerleading. (Ouendan in Japanese)

This is Rena. She is one of the most strikingly beautiful kids at Nishino, but she is tough to photograph.

Rena again.

Hatsune, my favorite model.

Hatsune again.

And again, with my sunglasses. The deal with this one was that after, she got to take a picture of me.


Kazuya. Sharp as a tack, and he's going to be the popular kid when he gets a little older.

Anyway, back to the sports.

The relay.

So, maybe you remember this picture. It was of Maho, she was crying hysterically, and I didn't know why. As the unicycle portion of the program came up, I noticed she was looking less cheery and more despondent.

And I figured it out. Every elementary school on this island, and I'm guessing most in Japan have unicycles as standard recess gear. This kids just work it out, and maybe 90 percent of them can get around anywhere on their unicycles. They can play catch, hold hands, race, do hills, all manner of things. Maho can't. No matter how much she tries, she can't get the balance down, and ends up losing it after maybe 20 or 30 feet. Falling on a unicycle, at least when these kids do it, is a pretty minor affair, you just hop off and the unicycle falls, but still, she was incredibly frustrated.

As the time to go got closer, she looked less and less happy. Teachers gave moral support.

And then it was time to go.

The did all kind of uni-feats, with a few spills.

For the last event, they did an 11 person line of unicycles. These kids are impressive.

I would love to report that Maho did perfectly, but that wouldn't be realistic. She did have some very nice rides that got cheers from the kids and parents alike, but it wasn't perfect. Everyone cheered when she finished her ride. I love the way she's holding that hand as she rides back to the tent. With that, the Undokai was over, and I headed home to start dealing with the 300 odd pictures I had taken. I think I have a problem.

See you Wednesday.