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And I'm Off

Saturday, June 17, 2006
So, once the sports days end, it's pretty calm around here. I didn't take any pictures until today, when I said to myself that I needed to post something, so I had better take some pictures. Without further ado, five pictures from today.

First, a couple of rice fields, on opposite ends of the island.

Then this evening, I headed down to see how the construction was going on Mori's new halfpipe. It's going right along, I ended up working for a half an hour, cutting wood to the right sizes.

The island, of course, remains beautiful as summer rolls around.

From my front door.

On Sunday I'm going to Tokyo for a big photographic adventure. Next Thursday, Gabe (who some of you know) is coming to Japan to visit for a week and a bit! I will try to get my Tokyo pictures up the week after next, but the update schedule is going to relax a bit.

The Last Undokai - Ever

Monday, June 12, 2006
While I was happy to complain about all the sports days I had to go to, I didn't even realize that the last one I attended would probably be the last Undokai I ever see, and almost certainly the last one I ever participate in. This did not exactly shake me to my core, but it did serve to remind me that my time here is coming to a close - a couple more months and I'm gone, and I am going to miss the hell out of this place. Being here is different from anything I have ever known. It's incredible, every day is surprising and wonderful, but all good things must come to an end. I'm glad I feel this way, it will make me make the most of every single day from here until the day I go, and when I get to New York, I'll keep a part of Osakikamijima with me, even if no one else sees it.

Look at me. Prepare for two solid months of this sappy dreck.

So yeah, it was the last Undokai, but I thought I would just mention that Neko has taken to crawling into bed at around 5 am and then sleeping all day. She's like the hard partier of this relationship, out all night and asleep all day while I work to put food on the table (and small plastic bowl on the floor). The new development is that she actually gets under the covers, so in the morning, she looks the part, watching me get ready for work with half-closed eyes.

What a lazy cat - actually she is only lazy when I am not around. When I am trying to go to bed, it's always insanity time.

So the sports day. I feel like I can't write any more lengthy paragraphs about sports days. This time I was assigned to photograph third years, as this is their last sports day before they graduate, and the photos will be used for their graduation. I took some of the same pictures as before, but mostly I tried to take different pictures. Let me know how it worked out. The same things happened as every other time - the flag was handed, the kids marched, the bombastic music was played.

Before it started, practicing in the half light.

A big difference: the bombastic music was provided by a real band. One student played the flute, the rest were all from elsewhere. When they transitioned back to the tape recorder played into a microphone, it made you appreciate the band all that much more.

Tomoka, the sick girl with the mystery ailment, and her classmates all lined up for the relay in the background. Tomoka is a voracious reader and once read a book in English about the Metropolitan Museum. We had a period in which we had to come up with some English project ideas, and she ended up just asking me about the Met the whole time. It was a sort of magical moment, sitting in the sun in the principal's office in February. I would tell her about the galleries at the Met, or how you can pay what you want at the ticket booth, and she would cover her mouth with a thin hand and laugh.

Ok, the one part of the Undokai that deserves explaining: The parent-child race. So, the third years lined up with their parents, and one by one, they had to race each other. This was not a mere footrace though, it was a many stage affair. Let me give you an example, or many.

First, you race on tricycles. (By the way, that's my boss on the right!)

Sometimes you leave you mom in the dust, as happened here.

Then you tricycle past the paintings that the students did. I think this is one of the funniest pictures I have ever taken. There is something completely ridiculous about this picture. That's Tomoka riding, by the way.

Then you have to get a piece of candy out of a tray full of flour. Some kids used the finesse method, as seen here, blowing the flour away, and then grabbing an exposed candy.

Some used the brute force method. This kid took a giant mouthful of flour to get the candy. This is him exhaling what became an enormous cloud of flour.

Having run a quarter lap with flour and candy in your mouth, you then receive an envelope instructing you how you have to finish. Let me give you some examples.

You might have to go introduce yourself and bow to the Mayor three times before you can cross the finish line.

Your mom might have to read a speech. (Incidentally, isn't that a beautiful drum?)

You might have to do a silly run with a pink umbrella.

Maybe you have to get two volunteers and make a three man stack.

Or maybe your mom needs to run half a lap with two boy's month carp kites.

Either way it's an awesome event that I wish we had back home. Also, at the end you look like this:


Feats of strength. That big V formation from last time does all manner of fancy tricks.

Human pyramid - dual calamity strikes!

This science teacher decided to run the 1000 meters in his teaching outfit. This lasted exactly one lap. By the third he was in a t-shirt and the sunglasses were pushed up on his face. Soon after the sunglasses were dropped somewhere, and he suffered through the rest.

Traditional dance = kids suffering on the hot field wearing three layers of heavy black with gold trim.

Another event that I feel compelled to describe in detail. The all school multi-race (or something like that - I couldn't exactly translate it). The entire school races in this one, in groups of four. The events are as follows:

Barreling forwards without being able to see in a long cardboard box.

Seeing four kids charging forwards on hands and knees down the track was one of the most surreal things I have seen recently.

Especially when they crashed or went off course. None of them knew what was going on other than they couldn't move forward any more.

Sometimes they found themselves moving very quickly - in the wrong direction.

Then walking in silly shoes - I love the look on the face of the kid on the left.

Then through the child trap. This one really held up some kids. They would get stuck, panic, try to back out, get turned around - it was something to see.

The final event, catch the water bottle with your fishing rod.

That is not easy.

And then, water bottle in tow, across the finish line.

A few other Undokai notes.

This woman is the ultimate Undokai mom. High end video camera in the right hand? Check. SLR with big zoom in the left? Check. Fingerless gloves to prevent hand sunburns? Of course. Large Mickey Mouse tote bag for extra film, tapes, and batteries, not to mention impeccably made lunch bento? Check.

And lastly, after the game with the baseball bats, this is how the kids put the bats away.

Ah, Japan.

So, that was going to be my highly unsatisfying ending, but then this morning, something exciting and scary happened! At 5 o'clock this morning, I was awoken by Neko going a little crazy. She was trying to dig into my bed, and when she finally found her way under the blanket she ducked under and then crouched down. Not ten seconds had elapsed when the house started shaking vigorously. It was an earthquake, and a pretty big one at that. I was about 40 miles from the epicenter, but the way the plates line up, I was in the area of highest ground movement. The shift in the plates happened 140 kilometers underground, but the plate that shifted is only 50 kilometers underground in Hiroshima, so the shaking was a lot heavier here. It was like someone picked up the house and gave it a good hard shake back and forth a few times, if I had been standing I would have had to brace myself on something. Some things fell over, and a couple things fell off my desk and kitchen counter, but nothing major. After I calmed down, I turned on the TV and got the news.

So, that's the spread of the earthquake - the X is the epicenter, the red numbers are Japan's scale of measuring earthquakes. While the US uses the Richter scale, which measures energy at the epicenter (this one was 6.2), the Japanese system measures ground movement and visible destruction. As you can see, the 5s are not at the epicenter, but in Hiroshima prefecture. Hiroshima city is the top 5 on the map.

And here is my island (circled in green). Hiroshima is still the top 5. You'll notice that the island is right in the center of a triangle of 5s. Yow!

Anyway, it's been covered in more detail by repuatable news sources. It was exciting in retrospect, but at the time, it was scary. It's not really much fun having your cat trembling in fear while things fall off the flat surfaces in your house and you can hear the beams of wood that hold your room up grinding against each other while the window panes bang back and forth. Either way, it's a good story to tell, and I am happy I got to have an earthquake here. One is enough though, ok Japan?

I'm not sure what I will have to post on Wednesday - If I have something I will post it. If not, Friday. Let me know what you think about with your lovely comments. If you commented last time - thank you.