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Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Brief Overview of the Security Bill

A struggle breaks out during the lower house vote

Yesterday, during a Parliament meeting in the lower house of Japan's National Diet - The House of Representatives - politicians threw themselves over a committee chairman in an exasperated effort to prevent the reading of bills which threaten to bring unprecedented historical change to Japan's peace adoption policies that have been in place since 1947.

The bills would in essence lift restrictions on Japan's ability to sustain a military that would be capable of combat overseas. It further stipulates that Japan would would have the ability to send soldiers into conflict zones in order to aid or assist allies as the government saw fit. Initial opponents of Abe's security bills contest that it would violate Article 9 of their longstanding constitution known as either the "Postwar Constitution" (戦後憲法 Sengo-Kenpou) or the "Peace Constitution" (平和憲法 Heiwa-Kenpou) which was in part written by The United States of America as a member of the Allied Occupation after World War II. The article in question minces no words about its intended effect.

ARTICLE 9 
"Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign 
right of the nation and the threat or use of force as 
means of settling international disputes"

Abe's majority party, The Liberal Democratic Party, has long denounced Article 9 as being out-dated and not fit for a so-called modern world. He has cited the escalation of China's military and strength as a nation, and even the recent murder of Japanese hostages by the Islamic State militants (ISIS) as necessary reasons for Japan requiring sovereignty over its defense policies. 
Abe awaits the decision
Militaristic sentiments are hardly new for Abe or his administration. In 2013 he raised tensions by paying respects at Yasukuni Shrine which is most notable for being the memorial site of Japan's fallen soldiers including all those who were tried as war criminals as a result of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. It was an act which earned scorn from China, Korea, and Taiwan, for appearing unapologetic towards the war and even the American government for elevating tension in East Asia.
 

The security bill has passed the first level of Japan's bicameral system - The House of Representatives. Though many had hoped it would somehow be halted there, none were likely surprised. 

The House of Representatives
 In order for this legislation to be completely passed in full it will require passing both the lower and upper house. The lower house as you can see below is dominated by Abe's party (LDP, green) with an overwhelming 291 seats. The lower house requires a simple majority (currently 238 votes) to move a bill to the upper house. Abe is also supported by the Koumeitou party (yellow) which provides a potential 35 votes on top of his party. Even though the bill already moved past the lower house, this is an important point to note.    
The House of Councillors

The House of Councillors, despite being known as the upper house, is actually less powerful overall. It has a total of 242 seats of which Abe and his supporting party maintain 134 with 114 from the LDP, and the additional 20 from Koumeitou (green and yellow respectively). With only 122 votes being required from the upper house, it seems quite likely that Abe will finally push forward with his highly unpopular security bill.

But should it halt at the House of Councillors it will be then be kicked back down to the House of Representatives where it could either be debated further before being voted on again and sent back, or outright refused. In the latter case, the lower house has the ability to reject the upper house's decision and push a bill into motion by a 2/3 majority vote once it has been sent back. 

Looking at the numbers again of the lower house we see that there are 475 total seats. The LDP and Koumeito combined account for 325 of those votes. A small calculation reveals that the controlling party maintains 68% of seats in the House of Representatives - just enough to make it possible should it be kicked back down provided there is full support from both parties, which is nearly guaranteed. 

The upper house now has the floor and will debate the security bill for a further 60 days before it goes to a vote. 

Amid public demonstrations in the tens of thousands outside of Parliament it will be a troubling time for a country that seems largely intent on avoiding war once again. 

-J

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Han Toshi

I haven't written in a long time, even though I really want to. I reached a point where I needed to divorce myself from the keyboard when I wanted to talk about school/work lest my thoughts devolve into angry musings that none would care to read. I try to stay positive. That's probably the best way I can sum up my state of mind: I try to stay positive.

Moving on, music is a great way for me to drown out the white noise and feedback loops of futility that have become my job. This year hasn't blown me away with any one release (yet), but there's a handful of things that I recommend people put on their radar. As always, until the year end best-of list, they are in no particularly order.

 Jamie xx - In Colour

Jamie xx is one half the duo called (not surprisingly) The xx. Apart
from an album he made with Gil Scott-Heron - just before he passed away, this marks
Jamie's debut solo album. He drops all notions of the subtlety that earned his former band
their well deserved acclaim, but retains his focused and calculating style, just bigger.

My jam: Seesaw [ft. Romy]

 Best Coast - California Nights

How was I not supposed to like an album and a band that is essentially 
themed around living in Southern California? Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno bring 
back their signature style of garage/pop enthusiasm for a third time.The 
edges have been softened a bit, but it still feels like something only they could have done.

My jam: Feeling Ok

 Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free

I'm new to Jason Isbell, so while I don't have much of a backstory on him
that informs my opinion of his work I probably wouldn't need it anyway. This is
a heartfelt album through and through. Even if country isn't your thing, I think there's
something that everyone can find enjoyable on this record. Check it out.

My jam: How To Forget

 Beach House - Depression Cherry

Bands don't get much more reliable than this. Depression Cherry might throw some
fans of "Teen Dream" era for a loop, but I promise you this is forward movement. 
Beach House has never sounded more sincere and intricate in their production even
when you take most of it away as they've done here.

My jam: Beyond Love

 Tame Impala - Currents

Everything about this band is cool. Their name, the name of their albums (Lonerism), and
the artwork. I don't even need to mention the music because their brand of Psychedelic Rock
does all the talking. It's replete with fantastic hooks and wonderful lyrics that only add 
to the discourse of the romantic break-up album. It was a welcome surprise.

My jam: Yes I'm Changing

 Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell

Sufjan is such a wildcard. It feels like he's either got a hat of ideas
for records, or he takes on dares - as in the case of  2010's electronically
driven, "Age of Adz." Whatever the case, he's a prolific lyricist and equally
powerful composer. The inspiration for the album (the death of his mother) might 
sound like a downer, but rather than a collection of brooding dark pieces it's more
of a joyful and fond send-off. 

My jam: The Only Thing
 
 Purity Ring - Another Eternity

I fell in love with Purity Ring upon hearing their first double A-side that 
combined the powerhouse tracks of "Lofticries," and "Ungirthed" together. Simply
describing Purity Ring as an electronic band wouldn't be doing them justice. It's electronic
pop infused with trip hop beats, and a more sinister undertone. It's good, that's what it is.

My jam: Bodyache

 Father John Misty - I Love You Honeybear

Father John Misty was new for me as well this year. I'll definitely be going back and
checking out his surprisingly huge catalog of solo work. The stage name (as you correctly assumed)
has only been in use for a few years however, with the bulk of his work having been created
under his actual name - Joshua Tillman. This album is at times emotional, sarcastic, and horribly romantic.
I don't want to get ahead of myself just yet, but this is probably the ringer for best of the year.

My jams: Bored In The USA / Holy Shit / I Went To The Store One Day 
Seriously, the last three tracks on this album are amazing.

 Sleater-Kinney / No Cities To Love

After a long absence Sleater-Kinney returns thrashing into the foreground of
everyone's consciousness. The sound is no less raw, the lyrics are no less memorable, and
their presence is never more desired. Sleater-Kinney returns in fine form with No Cities To Love.

 My jam: Hey Darling

 The Go! Team - The Scene Between

Despite the dissolution of the team in the band's namesake, Ian Parton has managed
to create a sound that supersedes anything The Go! Team has previously produced.
If I were going to declare any single album as the pop album of the year for me, this one would 
be it hands down. It's catchy, full of hooks, and will definitely find you hitting replay more than once.

 Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly

Originally titled "Tu Pimp A Catterpillar," (TuPAC) Kendrick has been quoted as saying that Tupac is one 
of the rappers that he draws most of his inspiration from whether it be style, or in day to day life. 
Kendrick has certainly made a name for himself though with his unique style of rap. "To Pimp A Butterfly" is another link in that chain, which fuses hip hop, spoken word poetry, and even jazz - seamlessly.

My jam: King Kunta
 
 Passion Pit - Kindred

Passion Pit's music feels like the kind of thing one is supposed to eat rather 
than listen to. Their pop synths are all so fantastic, colorful, and vibrant that they feel
sweet to the ear. I haven't decided where this one places among their three releases, but
that I have that decision to make at all says something.

My jam: Where The Sky Hangs


 Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass

Newcomer and singer-songwriter Natalie Prass gracefully glides onto the music scene
with her melodic debut album. While it might feel a bit of a slow burn for the 'gotta have it now' 
generation, there's plenty to be enjoyed throughout this album. With elements of Chamber Pop, a 
twinge of Baroque, and an overall classic feeling, it's something to check out.

My jam: Your Fool

 CHON - Grow

Despite hitting a nerve for bands with names that are all caps - seriously - CHON is
pretty exciting. I know every once in a while I recommend something immediately off-putting
and this one will probably be it unless you are familiar with the exquisitely detailed 
sub-genre known as Math Rock. Noted for it's at first dissonant sound, Math Rock is hard
to describe but easy to recognize. "Grow" contributes a few great pieces to the style.

My jam: Book

 Belle and Sebastian - Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance

I was greatly anticipating getting my hands on this album. Earlier this year I saw 
them in Tokyo performing some highlights of this release and of course a ton of old standards. 
Any new Belle and Sebastian album is a cause for celebration, and this one is no 
different. Their occasional melancholic but always poppy songs have been injected with 
a more dance-worthy beat, as the title would suggest.

My jam: The Party Line

 Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

First off, the award for best title ever goes to? Panda Bear follows his previous solo
work with another album that will be on rotation for some time. Constructed as a kind of concept 
album that deals with exactly what you think it does, but not in the way you think,
PBMTGR packs a punch. It's chilling while catchy, psychedelic but poppy, and 
grabs your attention throughout.

My jam: Mr. Noah

 Hiatus Kaiyote - Choose Your Weapon

Okay, I lied. This is the crazy one. Haitus Koyote's "Choose Your Weapon" appears to be
an experimental album. Just by the sheer number of genres and styles that get mashed within
the course of this record (jazz, soul, funk, R&B, and so on) it's incredibly difficult to 
give it a singular label - which isn't a bad thing. They describe themselves as 
Neo-Soul, but I don't know if that helps.

My jam: Shaolin Monk Motherfunk
(How about that title, right?)

 Ratatat - Magnifique

Ratatat is a jam band. This album, like almost all of their work, features no vocals. On "LP3"
there was a jaguar-esque sound on a track called "Wildcat." That's the kind of band
that Ratatat is. Magnifique rolls with crunching guitars that constantly seem on
a path of out-cooling the other - much like their previous work. It has moments of
introversion, but that just means there's breathing room in between. 

My jam: Abrasive
 Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

Seemingly in a competition with Fiona Apple for the longest album names ever, Courntey
Barnett delivers a resounding debut album. It rocks. She rocks. Her voice is amazing, and she 
shreds the hell out of more than a few songs here. I don't know much about her, but I'll definitely
be keeping my eye on her after this. Give it a listen if you care about rock at all. 

My jam: Pedestrian At Best
 
The Vaccines - English Graffiti

These guys came out of nowhere for me. Though they've been around since 2010
apparently, I hadn't caught wind of them until the single "Handsome" off this record 
was released earlier this year. It immediately became the song of the summer for me
and I had to investigate the rest of the album, where many more gems would lay.

My jam: Minimal Affection

Here's the list one more time, alphabetically:

Beach House - Depression Cherry

Belle and Sebastian - Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance

Best Coast - California Nights

CHON - Grow

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear

The Go! Team - The Scene Between

Hiatus Kaiyote - Choose Your Weapon

Jamie XX - In Colour

Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly

Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass

Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

Passion Pit - Kindred

Purity Ring - Another Eternity

Ratatat - Magnifique

Sleater Kinney - No Cities To Love

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowe

Tame Impala - Currents

The Vaccines - English Graffiti


Happy Listening.

-J


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tales from the Shokuinshitsu Vol. 4

Tales from the Shokuinshitsu

Volume 4: In which it's not always about her, but it usually is.


I saw a wireless router up on a shelf when I first arrived this school about 2 years ago. For the longest time I didn't even ask about connecting to the WiFi because there was really no need. There's a LAN cable that runs to each person's work laptop, and I would never be doing anything on my phone that required heavy internet use - checking the dictionary, mailing myself a picture for work, etc.

So as the Beatles once said, I let it be.

One day I brought my own laptop to school. I needed to do something which required software not available on the work laptops. I plugged in the LAN cable assuming that it would connect without issue, but it did not. I know now that there was (and is) a proxy running, which meant I couldn't hop on to the internet unless I knew the IP address and port they were running it through. It's not complicated but it meant that I would not be using the school's internet unless I was told these specific values.

So I availed myself of the classic wisdom, "Ask and you shall receive."

Exactly one half of that worked.

I was told that there was no WiFi, it didn't work. At the time I was doing my best to play nice and thus really didn't question the things that I was told. There was no reason not to believe them so I took that answer in earnest.

At some point down the road, after the first teacher swap happened, one of the new teachers asked about the internet as well. I listened carefully to the ensuing conversation. It wasn't complicated at all though. That teacher was given a password to punch into her personal iPad, she thanked the one who relayed it to her and went back to work.

So there was WiFi and it does work. That's lie number one.

After that, I asked other teachers about using the internet, but none of them knew much about computers so they said they didn't know the password, or how they were signed in, just that they were. Frustrating, and confirmation of the first lie.

The school eventually bought a series of iPads for use in the classes. I have an iPad myself and I like it, but I'd be the first to admit that an iPad without WiFi is fairly useless. One of them popped up in an English class, and I saw that glorious monochrome triple rainbow, which could only mean one thing. By that point there were several things I knew: one, there is WiFi here; second, there are iPads; third, those iPads are definitely connected to the WiFi. I thought I would try again to ask about the internet but this time I framed it in terms of my iPad, reasoning it would make for a stronger case.

I think the accepted term here is "Swing and a miss."

I had a legitimate reason to use my iPad too. I wanted to browse the bookstore and download a picture book, because my kindergartens tend to send faxes on the day of, rather than in advance. I try to prepare many things, but sometimes (believe it or not) our plans do not always align when we fail to discuss them ahead of time.

The response was different, but still a no. I was told that it's very complicated to set up the WiFi. And as a compromise I was offered a cable to connect my iPad to the computer so I could transfer files that way. I offered my thanks but added that I had my own cables.

That response was really interesting though. I'd be willing to admit that possibly, there was no WiFi or it did not work when I first showed up. That's entirely plausible, but extremely unlikely. I know what routers are and people had been using the WiFi. This defense only confirmed that the first excuse was a lie. It's hardly a defense at all, to be honest. It was worse than a, "No," and far worse than being told I could not use it. This was, "There is, but I don't want to tell you."

Just last Friday there was an IT guy here who had been replacing the router, and possibly the modems. He announced to the staff that the password for the internet was different now. One of the teachers immediately shot up, "What?! Tell me what it is now!" He told the teacher, and I quickly jotted down as much as I could of the information being relayed to her. This is when I learned that there is a proxy server. The teacher complained that it was much easier before with just a password.

Ah yes, the smoking gun.

It was only a password? All the lies.

I was annoyed. A proxy is not that hard to figure out; one just punches in some extra numbers and it's done. The crux of my angst was centered on how much people had danced around telling me the WiFi information.

And to what end, I wondered. I would've been more comfortable with someone telling me that I can't use it because I'm American. Flat out discrimination would feel better than just being lied to. At least one of those two is honest.

As all the teachers learned the new information for using the WiFi I sat down and tried my best to write the parts of the IP, port, and password they were reiterating out loud as they typed them in. Everyone trailed off though and I could only get half of it. I heard the IT guy mention that the password was on the back of the modem - they didn't change the factory one. I went up and took a picture of it with my phone. At the very least I would have that piece of the puzzle.

One of the very new teachers (who is quite nice) had just set it up on her phone. I approached her and asked if she could pass the details along to me. In an adorably meek way she replied, "Someone else did it for me." Another teacher, the one who initially complained about the change, heard and came over. I had my phone at the right screen, ready to put in the remaining parts, but she just took over. She went back and then started hitting buttons on my phone as if I didn't know what I was doing.

Thus, the circle of frustration was complete.

But at least I have really slow WiFi now.

-J


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Unloading


I think I'm just going to start writing and see what comes out today.

Bottling up depression is dangerous and quite different than when someone bottles up anger. When one bottles up anger, it's apt to explode like a can of soda opening after rigorous agitation. Depression, is like putting a hole in the can first. And every time one feels like they can't tell someone about it for fear of coming across as a downer, whiny, or otherwise annoying, it puts another hole in the can.

I was driving with Mitsuko over the weekend and out of nowhere I unloaded. A lot.

I didn't shout or get mad at her, mind you. Nothing like that at all. I had a breakdown after another couple months worth of trying to repress what I'm thinking might be a deep-seated depression at my ineffectiveness and inability to do anything related to the reason I came to Japan on JET in the first place.

Every time I start to talk about how frustrating my placement is, it seems that someone will almost always inadvertently talk about how maybe "culture shock" has finally hit me. That's bullshit. It hasn't. I'm going to go on a limb here and expand this following point to more than just my current situation. The worst thing people can do is tell someone it's their fault when a given person is having problems. It makes them not want to speak up. What might have been handled in one conversation gets dragged out and repressed over an agonizing course of time. It takes a lot of gall to assume (and you are assuming) you know what someone is dealing with in their life, or in their workplace. So, stop it.

I love Japan. I have the best time on the rare occasion when I get to do a bit of traveling, exploring, and interacting with people who want to talk to me. It's my work environment that's destroying me.

I looked through my journal and for the past couple of weeks, every entry has opened with the following words:

Nope.

None.

Not today.


Or today.

I think you get the point.


Nearly every other day, while I was sitting here with little to do but collect my thoughts, there would be a phone call to the office. It came from the 2nd year teacher asking for help because the class was too out of control or there would be some kind of fighting that required all available (2nd year) teachers to run up and help.

I have been informally uninvited to these classes after several incidents (including an altercation with a student) wherein the teacher apologized to me once class was over and the students were dismissed.

So that's a third of the potential classes I can't go to. I wouldn't want to go anyway as it stands. I don't need to be insulted, have obscenities shouted, or be the target for paper airplanes, paper wads, etc - while I'm trying to talk. Unless they fix this I won't be making an appearance. I make use of the indefinite pronoun in this case only to point out that I don't care who corrects their behavior, just that someone does. I've had talks with the principal of the school about this, as well as the 2nd year staff. Everyone unabashedly agrees that something is truly wrong. But that is as far as the conversation ever goes.

Those who would teach these children are holding them under a faucet, waiting for the water so that they may wash their hands of the whole affair.

That's just one thing.

The former English teacher still haunts these halls. I don't know what she does other than tell me things I already know. Every time she walks near me I start to become a little bit annoyed at the possibility that I'll be dragged into a conversation I don't want to have. She'll say something in English that I don't understand - which is entirely not a problem. The problem is that she will phrase it in a way that sounds as though it's a new thing she's referring to. This causes me to ask, "What?" or state that I'm not aware of the thing she's just mentioned. Then when I find out what it is in Japanese I come to realize that there's nothing new and I'm on task, on schedule as always. She's just always trying to be on my case.  Let's have an example.

We have an assembly once a week. Every Wednesday morning in the gym the student council will go over any important news, and then any teachers wishing to make announcements will do much the same. She frequently reminds me about this - two years into doing it. It's not a friendly reminder though as she laments the information unto me with an elongated (mis)pronunciation of my name. She'll follow that up with a prolonged drawl oozing instructions out of her mouth to me as though I require it so. I have to hand it to her though, she knows how to sound like a complete asshole when she's trying.

"Joshuerrrrrrrr"

"はい、Yes."

"The meeting is todaaaaaaaaay." She will say with a rising intonation of impatience, sounding thoroughly annoyed.

"What?" I'm alarmed because she's expressing this to me as though it's something I am late or not prepared for.

"School meeeeeeeeeeeting.... in the gyyyyyyyym." I know you're thinking that maybe she just pronounces things like this and it's a complete misunderstanding. I'll put that to rest right now. She doesn't speak English like that to anyone else. I've heard her in and outside of class.

"Oh, the zenkouchoukai." I quickly respond both at ease and frustrated. First, she's not at the meeting. So I'm not late. I look at the clock to confirm it doesn't happen for 10 more minutes. Then, I looked at the rest of the staff room. Everyone else is still here so it's not as if I'm supposed to be there early.

Anyway, that's just one of many stories involving her. She never speaks Japanese to me, nor do I to her. Not since she made fun of it. The third volume of journals should really list her somewhere in the credits because she's got more screen time than anyone else in it.

Despite knowing there would be fallout I also canceled my school lunch recently.

Doing that itself was a process and required talking to multiple parties. One instance I remember quite well. It started when I talked to the quite nice JTE (with whom I get along splendidly) that sits next to me and it came up in conversation that I might be able to cancel my school lunch. I left it at that for a while, but eventually I truly wanted to cancel the lunch because of dietary reasons. I have to say first that I don't mind kyuushoku at all, and I almost always enjoyed it - Natto isn't food. I didn't drink the milk however, because who does, and I didn't want to eat the rice because I'm trying to lose weight and that amount of empty carb loading just wasn't doing me any favors. It's a lot of rice for those not in the know and wasting food (throwing it back in the bin to be later tossed) is unacceptable to me.

Eventually I talked with the office lady because she was in charge of collecting the lunch money every month. The former JTE, y, was there as well. I wasn't going to ask about canceling the school lunch on that occasion. Originally I was double checking how much I was required to pay for it. An important point for later: It's been a well known fact since I arrived that I don't drink milk, and as a result I don't receive any for lunch. Irrelevant to the milk issue, I found out a year later that I was being overcharged because I have a half day on Wednesday and thus don't eat at the school. This being the second year, I asked the office lady if the amount on my payment envelope was correct. It showed 5000 yen, which is the same it always was. She said it was right. I paused then explained the whole overcharged scenario to her, but I made a mistake. I had forgotten it was because of Wednesdays, and I mentioned milk.

She was confused then looked past me towards y, made a face, then explained it was because of not eating on Wednesday. Immediately I felt stupid. Of course that's what I meant to say, I just slipped up. She looks at me and says, (in Japanese, she doesn't speak any English) "Do you understand?" She looks past me at y again and repeats, "Does he understand?" Now of course I'm feeling a bit annoyed because I do understand, and now y has been brought into this discussion as well - something I did not want.

The office lady explains that she'll give me my refund at the end of next year rather than adjusting how much I have to pay now, which is ridiculous.

I say to the office lady that I understand, but we again go through this song and dance at which point y gets up and says, "Do you understand?"

Or at least she would have. As she got up I turned around and said, "No." She sat right back down.

If we weren't friends before, we sure are now.

A week after that I just told her (office lady) that I wanted to cancel it outright. I was done with it. It took a couple weeks before another person talked to me about it, because it somehow involved him. He said that they would look it but that it would require some phone calling and double checking to make sure I could be removed. His explanation was that there are people who work for the town that carefully balance - that word comes up so often - each meal and he worried that I wouldn't be eating enough, or eating a balanced meal.

That might sound sweet to you, but this is a person who made fun of my weight for quite some time after I arrived, and poked fun at myself and the other ALT in Kotoura-cho at our welcome dinner with the BOE people. After that dinner, I thanked him for his "kind words," and he respond thus:

"Those weren't kind words." Anyway, moving on.

They eventually picked a day when the lunch would stop for me, and now I bring a salad I make at home. Every once in a while though he'll stop by and ask if I'm eating enough.

Yes, I am. Thank you.

This is of course annoying because that same person will equally ask what I'm eating for dinner. I'm honest, and there's no shame in what I'm cooking. I don't eat unhealthy. Despite this, I've always received a warning to "not eat too much".

I won't. Thank you. 

I have plenty more to say, but I guess I should stop here.

-J





Monday, May 25, 2015

Single File: In The Flowers


Things have been tough lately. 
I thought I would try writing about that which has always lifted my spirits.




Single File is segment that analyzes a lone track off an album I enjoyed. The track being discussed isn't necessarily always a 'single,' but rather a song that I believe contributed greatly to the feel of the album in question.

The band: Animal Collective


The album: Merriweather Post Pavilion

The song: In The Flowers




In The Flowers is a great place to start with this new segment. Some albums are good, others are great, and the song for today hails from the latter. And in the pantheon of great releases there are those which leave a lasting mark after their first listen. Merriweather Post Pavilion earned the question, "Do you remember the first time you listened to it?" and it is well deserved. To understand the reason why I love this song, and especially as a part of a collection, it will help to expand the argument just a bit more.

Music is tricky. I would argue this is largely because listening to it is an investment of time few care to spend on things they aren't positive they will enjoy. With this in mind and admitting that the art form as a whole is extremely subjective, recommending songs (let alone entire albums) to people can be tough. Both parties have something to lose if the enjoyment doesn't transfer. Thus, the responsibility of an opening track is huge when suggesting an album to a friend.

With the influx of portable music came a shift to the way we actually listened to it. Take a look at any digital shop and it will be instantly apparent what has changed. I hopped onto the iTunes music store and clicked on the first album they were promoting as of today. As is obvious, the album (in its entirety) can be purchased at a base price. Apart from the single - which still exists - music was ultimately purchased as a whole. You couldn't piece out an album in other words. The trend for today is in the individual track selection. 

I could never buy a single track
I apologize for beating this quite obvious concept over your heads. I'm sure everyone reading is well aware of the current trends in the music industry; one would only need to check their smartphone and a handful of apps to find any number of examples. I only make this point so exhaustively because I feel that it has destroyed the concept of what an album should be: a collection of songs meant to be heard and enjoyed together.

I'm a record collector, and though that market is increasing (much to my excitement) it is still a relatively small area of industry. When listening to a record one can't simply skip a track, at least with the ease in which a portable player could. It is a physical process that's reproducing the sound and as such it is also a physical process to skip a track: getting off the couch and moving the needle to the song you want to hear. I don't bother with that (apart from the necessary side flipping) because I trust that these albums had blood, sweat, and tears poured into them. I believe there's a reason the tracks are in the order they are in. There's a reason they are in one collection. Having said that, I do realize that some albums seem to built of 'fillers' designed to couch one or two singles, but that's a topic for another day.

So, albums are important, songs matter as do their order, and listening to albums as self contained experiences is critical for me. This is why I suggested earlier that the opening track to an album carries such weight.

Luckily, In The Flowers handles this in strides.The track opens with a wave-like wash, as if to symbolize a cleansing of the palette before heading deep into uncharted territory. The downward spiraling, rhythmic plucking again reinforces this idea of descending towards the clandestine, an audible trip down the rabbit hole. It has a quality which is ever so slightly cautious, but equally curious. From out of this nebulous dream-space comes our narrator, who begins to describe a dancer he meets in a field. The dancer is spoken of as maintaining a trance over our narrator. Her movements seem to catch the narrator off guard, and incite a force deep within himself that cannot be controlled, noting that even her surroundings appear more joyful due to her presence. She presents a flower to him, an invitation. He adds later a sense of envy towards those such as the dancer who will "dance despite anything." Wistfully, he ponders what it would be like to live in such hedonism before ultimately giving into the temptation, at which point the song explodes into a cacophony of bliss.

Perhaps the most telling, and most important lines to the album overall come next from our narrator as he answers the hypothetical he proposed moments earlier.

Then we could be dancing
No more missing you while I'm gone
There we could be dancing,
And you'd smile and say, "I like this song"
And when our eyes will meet there
We will recognize nothing's wrong
And I wouldn't feel so selfish
I won't be this way very long

Suddenly everything has changed. Dancing now appears to be a metaphor for simply enjoying life, whatever form that pleasure takes. In this case, we might understand it to mean the album that we're about to dive right into. In a wonderfully earnest moment, the narrator admits that if they simply chose to enjoy themselves, nothing bad would come of it, and though it might be selfish to consider only one's happiness, he understands that it will only be for short time.

As an opening track for an album that falls well outside of 'mainstream' music, could you ask for a more honest start? It speaks to the innocence of enjoying music, as it should be enjoyed. Remove label, identity, associations, and listen to it for the sense of wonderment that we often find so hard to describe, yet easily recognize when around, and deeply miss when gone. It encourages the listener to let go, because as it argues, there's no harm in having a little bit of fun.

The album stays strong throughout, and stays true to the opening manifesto. There are songs more playful, and stronger, and probably more popular as it goes on, but none can replace the feeling of being guided slowly into a world of frivolity - if only for a while.


-J



"In The Flowers"


I'm a dancer

Met a dancer
Who was high in a field
From her movement
Caught my breath on my way home
Couldn't stop that spinning force I felt in me,
Everything around seemed to giggle glee
She walked up with a flower and I cared

Found a dancer
Who gets wild to the beats
of record rhythm
But I'm always away for weeks that pass slow
My mind gets lost
Feeling envy for the kid who'll dance despite anything
I walk out in the flowers, and feel better

If I could just leave my body for the night,
Then we could be dancing
No more missing you while I'm gone
There we could be dancing,
And you'd smile and say, "I like this song"
And when our eyes will meet there
We will recognize nothing's wrong
And I wouldn't feel so selfish
I won't be this way very long

To hold you in time
To hold you in time
To hold you in time
To hold you in time

While we were dancing
Early hours
Drunken days finally ended
And the streets turned for a pillowcase
Then I fumbled our good lock
Then the ecstasy turns to rising light
Through our windowpane
Now I'm gone
I left flowers for you there

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Write, Reflect, Repeat


On The Importance of Journaling Abroad

     About two weeks ago, a fair-sized group of us were enjoying dinner at a restaurant called Steak Gusto down in Yonago. We dined and caught up on the latest happenings from our respective schools and lives. During this dinner, talk of writing and journals came up. I mentioned that I keep a journal (which I write in almost daily) and even shared a bit of it. I'm sure most people are tired of hearing about it, but I wanted to spend some time talking about how invaluable keeping one has been. And perhaps the best way to do this is to explain what not keeping one was like.

So let's go back in time.
 
     In 2007 I came to Japan for a study abroad program. It was a lot of firsts for me. It was the first time I was away from my family for a prolonged period. It was the first time I came to Japan. It was the first time I flew in an airplane for that matter. We spent five weeks in southern region of Kyuushuu, wherein the bulk of our time was centered around Fukuoka. I love Fukuoka. It's one of the best cities (if not the best) I've been to in Japan, and easily trumps more popular choices like Osaka, or Tokyo. The trip overall was an amazing experience, which is probably obvious since I once again found my way back to Japan. Reminiscing aside, we did a lot of stuff. From Fukuoka we ventured out into almost all of Japan's southernmost region, exploring Kagoshima, Kumamoto, Beppu, Mt. Aso, Sakurajima, Amakusa, and more.

    I like to think I have a pretty decent memory, but I know too well the trappings of relying on something that inherently prone to failure. Eventually I reasoned that my experiences in Japan would be no better than the dream they used to be if I couldn't remember them. Everything simply felt too good to be true and perhaps the heart of my fear was that it might vanish completely. I wanted to somehow preserve it while I was there, and so I photographed everything. If memory serves correctly I used four SD cards and took just over 4000 pictures.*

     There was plenty to remember - and plenty of things to remind me - but still, I spent more than a few nights worried that I might one day forget elements of the trip. If you asked my roommate at the time, the talented Dustin McCurdy, he probably would remember at least one or two late night conversations about this. For the next few years after I returned home though, I could easily recall and retell any singular experience from my time overseas.

Then those years passed.

     There was a day when I wasn't able to remember something about where I'd gone. It was a relatively small detail, but even after scanning through my pictures I only recalled the itinerary - the place and a general sense of what we did - but something was gone. It was an awful feeling.

     Fortunately, there's still plenty of it left in my head. When I went back to Fukuoka with Mitsuko - a full seven years since the last time - I was able to navigate with the utmost of ease. I knew what stops to get off at, which corners to turn on, and where my favorite spots were. I feel however, that these things I remembered so well were routines. I learned them through rote memorization as a result of living there for a short period of time. Some of the more fascinating things I did have become only a single picture with no information attached. As I mentioned earlier, when I look at those pictures I can easily remember that portion of the trip but the specifics are sometimes a wash.

     When it comes to memory it's quite easy to make exaggerations, or even worse, fabrications. Ask yourself now if you've ever recalled a story that wasn't exactly true, contested by a friend who was also there, or even called out for being slightly to completely false.   

     I brought a journal along but I wrote in it only a few times. I knew people would rather see pictures (if they were at all interested) than listen to - or worse, read - my visually challenged recollections. I rediscovered this spiral notebook many years after the trip, and had a read. There wasn't much. An old drawing of Link from Majora's Mask (likely because I bought the Japanese manga), a few notes and email addresses from the students I met (none of whom I managed to stay in contact with), and a single entry about a page long.

     You can read about that entry right here but for this post I'll say that it was an amazing thing to look back on. I suddenly became so upset with myself that I hadn't written more. It was dated, which sort of locks it down into a certain event (one would think) but when I had a look at the pictures around that period I couldn't find anything which would've inspired that entry. I made no reference to it in the spiral notebook, only claiming that whatever had happened was changing my life - for the better.

     I promised myself after that point I would do a better job of writing things down should I ever have a similar experience like that again. When I spent six months in Kofu, with Mitsuko, I filled up an entire volume (around 256 pages) mostly because I had a lot of time to myself and my thoughts when I wasn't talking with her wonderful neighbor, Keiko-san.

     Now four volumes in to all of my Japan experiences, I can say that it's been the single most rewarding thing I have ever done. Everything has been documented. My highs and lows. There are times I have already forgotten because there were so miniscule in the grand scheme of my life right now, but important enough for that day. Those tend to be the richest thoughts that I write. From making note of an instance when I was frustrated or reflecting upon an opening/closing ceremony to preserving a touching or even silly moment I had with a student, these are the moments worth remembering.

     It might be a bit scary, and it's definitely something hard to be consistent with, but if you really want to know who you are I would recommend that you get a journal and start writing.

It just might surprise you. 



-J


*Who else remembers back when it took that many SD cards to get that many pictures. We weren't rocking these 32 and 64 gig cards. I still remember paying $120 for my first 1 gig card.
    

Monday, April 20, 2015

Tales of the Shokuinshitsu (The Exciting Conclusion)

Tales of the Shokuinshitsu


Volume 3: It Melts Like Sugar In The Rain

     Today something quite magical happened. The person who has been the bane of my work existence took another knee today to explain something to me. She started with her usual insincere apology about not telling me earlier. Then she told me something that she will never have to apologize for: She is no longer an English teacher. I couldn't believe it. She had hurt herself, or suffered some kind on injury that meant she wasn't able to come to work for a while, and those were the most refreshing days of my time here since those all too precious first few weeks - before I met her. I wasn't happy about her injury of course. I don't wish injury or illness to those I don't like but rather for them to carry on their ill will elsewhere. In any case, I was pretty content at the thought of simply recharging my harassment batteries, but when she laid that on me, I was all kinds of happy. Naturally I made a note of it in the journal and I wanted to share that with you right now:

3:10 pm
She took to her condescending knee and told me that although she's a staff member here still, she doesn't teach English and will instead work with various handicapped students at other schools in the area. I was really done listening by that point and in those few seconds after she uttered the words, "not an English teacher," I wanted to stop time, or maybe just slow it down enough, to the point where I could have a small party atop the mountain of her failure as an English teacher, at the end of which we could light the hills on fire, basking in the the amber glow, knowing that whatever demon had up until now forsaken the foreign language department was enjoying the sweet release of death. I wanted to do that. Instead I said, "Okay," and quietly, happily, carried on about my business. 

 Let's have a goddamn party.

-J


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Once A Spring



There is little else better in life than to tell a true story whilst being idle on a stormy day.


Spring

     Yesterday, Tottori Bokujou was the picture of spring. The gnarled roots of cherry trees gave way to twisting branches which reached across from either side of a small road and created the most brilliant mixture of soft pink and white flowers, gently bobbing in the all too pleasant breeze that followed us. I had stopped in the shadow of one such tree; blossoms within reach dangled over the car. A few other patrons were parked along this strip, blankets out, food at the ready, perhaps already a few drinks in, enjoying the company of friends in mirth.
     After exiting, I threw on my gear (for there would be pictures) and as I walked away to commence my Hanami, a man came from the next picnic spot over and struck up a conversation with me. He first noted that he had a similar camera, and we talked about that for a minute. Then we went into a few minutes of small talk about various things from the weather to the flowers. He paused abruptly through one thought and asked, "Haven't I seen you on TV?"
      I thought for a second, "Maybe, I'm the ALT at the junior high school. Sometimes I'm on TV, I think." His eyes widened, but I could see that my answer only sparked more curiosity. I followed up, "I teach English." That did the trick.
     "You're not Japanese!?" He took a step back in surprise. "This whole time I thought you were Japanese!" He stepped back further then examined me in full. My mere presence was blowing his mind. I informed him that my grandma is Japanese so that probably helped a bit. He made a pinching gesture and brought that to his eyes before explaining that mine fit his template. I laughed a bit.
     "I'm from California." I explained. I'm not entirely sure he heard me amidst his bewilderment as he asked about my origins immediately after that.
     "Where are you from?"* He inquired. I explained again.
     "America," which I followed up by returning to Japanese, "アメリカのカリフォルニア出身です."He was awash in excitement telling me how much I looked and sounded Japanese. Around that time, Mitsuko walked from the other side of the car - having been busy organizing Koebi and her own camera. I could nearly hear the man's heart palpitations at the sight of someone else, possibly Japanese, literally turning the corner on him. He asked about her and we explained Mitsuko's case as well. He looked at her a bit too long before saying she was cute (thank you, I know, less creepy next time though!) but ultimately redeemed himself at the end when asking me to speak a little of English. It seemed to make him happy, which was a bit endearing to be honest. Eventually he shook my hand and said his goodbye.


And we still had Hanami to do.

-J

* Asking where a person is from comes in various flavors. Sometimes it might be more like, "どこから来ましたか?" (Doko kara kimashita ka? lit. From where do you come?). Other times it's quite direct in their assumption that you are not from Japan, which leads to being directly asked, "What country are you from?" though I'm not sure how common or polite that is. Yet another way though (and the way this man asked me) goes like, "どこの出身ですか?" (Doko no shusshin desu ka? lit. Where is your origin?). It really only translates as "Where are you from?" but there's something far less presumptuous and poetic about it. It's a common phrase, but it feels more like the way we (in English, that is) might ask where one hails from.
    

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Do You Remember?

Staring down Nakamise at Kaminarimon
     About a month ago I went to Tokyo with Mitsuko. I wasn't bursting with excitement before we went - apart from an amazing concert - because I had been before and it's always seemed like a place you really only need to see once to understand it. The itinerary this time around included many things I hadn't done before though, so I was of course looking forward to it still.
     I realize that it would've been best to do a proper recap of my Tokyo experience in a timely and chronological fashion, but it would mostly be all things you would have expected from it. Instead, I want to offer a story. As I walked down Nakamise I started to remember my first time there. It had never escaped me, but neither did it come up frequently. As many of us living abroad will soon discover, not many people are interested in life changing events that don't involve them.
     This was Mitsuko though, and her patience is probably one of the reasons we're still together. She is always game for a tale I have on hand, and hopefully you will be too.

- 2007 -

     June is perhaps the worst time of the year to be in Japan. It was either hot, muggy, raining, and occasionally all three for maximum discomfort. Being from Southern California (and not too far from the ocean) acclimated me to a summer that most people in Japan only dream of. Together, with other students on the same study abroad program, we found ourselves getting off a bus in Asakusa on a particularly miserable day.
     We walked as a group moving towards Kaminarimon, Nakamise, and Sensouji. Skyscrapers grew out of every sidewalk while suited men and women flooded the intersections at regular intervals. If one were not aware that an ancient shrine were around the bend, you would think it just another big city.
     A light drizzle added to the already abundant moisture built up on every place that could generate sweat. As we walked I scanned the streets for ATMs because I didn't have cash on hand, figuring I might do well to have at least a bit of spending money. Eventually one turned up, and a couple of people broke off from the group to make a withdrawal. I followed suit.
     Though were in Tokyo the ATM didn't have an English option. After I slid my card in, an array of glyphs that would be illegible for many years to come flew across the screen. I must admit that it was charmingly optimistic of my 18 year old self to assume that I would just be able to pull money out like I always did back home. Frozen at that screen I peered to my right and saw that another student had swiftly made short work of his transaction. He was about to leave as effortlessly as well before I called out to him.
     I asked for help. He wore his impatience as though it were a festival mask at having been bothered to help the helpless. With a sigh, he trudged over and immediately went to work. His fingers flashed across the display so quickly I stumbled when he asked how much I wanted. He declared that 200 would be fine, and without confirming proceeded to complete the process.
     The machine beeped and hummed its digital thoughts before finally spitting out a single sheet of paper. The other guy had a look and told me it didn't go through. He handed it back, then left. A bit disappointed I put away my things and made for the exit as well.
     I hadn't noticed but while I was fiddling with the ATM the drizzle had been replaced with a decent shower. My head was down as left while I stuffed my wallet away. At the sensation of rain pelting me I backed up and finally caught sight of how much was falling. The other guy had just finished crossing the street. I looked to the right and saw the signal flashing green, then freeze on red. He ran off down the next street outside my vision.
     I stood back under the overhang of the building and waited for it to turn again. I didn't have an umbrella so I wasn't going to wait on the corner. I took off after it changed. I swung my bag over my stomach and hunched a bit to protect the things I carried from the rain. I had only a general idea of the direction he went so I took my best guess and started running.
     As I ran, I passed by a series of vendors offering various traditional goods. I didn't know it at the time, but this was Nakamise. Many of the shops had started to pull their wares closer inside. The buildings were slightly squat, with flat roofing running down the length of them. They all seemed connected only separated by thin walls or drapes of various design and themes. My vision was mostly obscured as I ran still learning over, occasionally picking my head up to see where I was.
     We were on a tight schedule that day and I wasn't sure how long we were going to stay at Sensouji. I thought perhaps they were waiting, or had already left. Once I passed up Nakamise I found myself in the grounds leading up to the fabled shrine. It was there that I spotted the rest of the group.
     The gate I passed (Hozoumon) was unbelievably meticulous. Cylindrical beams erected it from the earth, draping roofs opened as though they were wings. The scroll work, carvings, color, and shape were all at odds ends when juxtaposed with the cold steel and concrete constructions that surrounded these grounds. It exuded the spirit of ancient Japan - a venerable portal to another time.
     I walked over towards the Omikuji* building, which had a slightly overhanging roof that I could hide under to catch my breath. I noticed, in the corner of my eye, someone pointing in my direction. I looked their way and saw a young lady, surrounded by young children. She was pushing them along a bit and clearly encouraging them to talk to me. I smiled as they worked up the courage to walk my way.
     Without realizing it I had taken a knee so as to be their height. The leader of the pack spoke up first.
     "Hello! My name is. . . " He started. "I like soccer!" Then in turn, each one introduced themselves to me first with their name and then something they liked. After they had spoken I cleared my throat and attempted to match them. I had only been studying Japanese for about a year at that time, and my Japanese was quite simple. I managed a simple introduction, and played with them a bit asking what few questions I could. I think at one point I pretended I was an old guy because of my advanced age compared to them. They liked that.
     I remember that moment so well. I remember it not merely because it was an endearing experience but because after we said goodbye to one another I realized that those kids were the first Japanese people I spoke Japanese to. They broke my ice, and after that moment I tried talking to as many people as I could. I'm sure I sounded like a fool more often that not, but they gave me the confidence to believe that if I talked to people they might be able to understand me. My Japanese ability soared during my time abroad because of that. I changed my major from biology after I got back. I don't think I'll ever know who those kids were, but I owe them so much.
     In that same spot I told Mitsuko this story. For me, Asakusa is a very personal place now. It will always be the place I look to when I need encouragement. I realized then why I studied Japanese so hard, and why I'm still trying. How about you, do you remember why?

-J

*Omikuji are a kind of fortune typical of most shinto shrines. Usually a small donation is made in exchange for receiving one. If you've ever traveled to a shrine in Japan and seen tiny bits of paper tied around trees or poles, those were bad fortunes that people leave behind in hopes that the bad luck stays as well.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

卒業式


Graduation


Second years waiting anxiously for the graduates to walk the halls

     Graduation has come and gone. This year was quite special in that I knew all my third years very well. They were an exceptional group of kids - and just to warn you, I'll probably wind up saying that a few more times.
     If pressed, I would say that graduation in Japan is, at the very least, different than that of one from America. I haven't much personal knowledge in regards to what other ceremonies across the globe look like so for simplicity's sake I'll speak to my own experiences.
     As I left for work in the morning I was completely taken back by the amount of snow that had collected on the ground - specifically, any snow at all. It was mid-March! It's not all that uncommon to have a last wind from winter, but this was a freak day of cold and snow. The days before and after had perfect weather indicative of a much desired spring. After scraping my windows clean I drove off.
     The teachers in the office were about halfway dressed. When I say halfway dressed I of course mean that the ladies were all done up while the men still needed to put on ties and jackets. I threw my own jacket in the lockers we have because the accepted fashion here seems to be wearing it only when required. I can get on board with that because it'll help prolong its life, which is my way of legitimizing the fact that I don't want to have to buy another jacket.
     Looking up from my desk I had a brief scan at the day's schedule. We would clean for about twenty minutes, then at 9 o'clock the students would gather once more in the gym for a last minute practice session. Finally, at around 9:40, graduation would commence. Just in this first hour, the differences are notable.
     My high school (and many like it) might have been an exception for the following. Our graduating body was so large that we couldn't use the actual school's field for the ceremony and instead held commencement on the football field of a much larger school. While it is true that most of us work at schools with a marginally low student population I've never heard of a school (in Japan) not having its ceremony anywhere other than its own gym. Conversely, I've never heard a high school in America that did.
     After watching their graduation practice for a little bit I wandered the halls before finally ending up by the reception table, welcoming parents. Alongside four second year girls and two other teachers, we greeted parents and ushered them to the library where they would wait until it was time to enter the gym. To each one we would offer a hearty "おはようございます" and then "おめでとうございます," as they proceeded to find their son or daughter's name on a sign-in sheet.* The parents, by the way, were dressed to the nines. No father walked in without a suit on, and the mothers were dressed as though attending dinner parties. This is a stark contrast to what I remember from my own time, which might be best described as a sea of shorts amongst the faint aroma of coconut tinged sunblock.

The 68th Graduation Ceremony for Akasaki Junior High School
     Eventually I made my way inside and took a seat in the teachers' section. The band (minus the graduates) were seated on the side, close to the entrance. The undergraduates formed two rows in the very back. In front of them were the parents. As viewable in the above picture, the graduates sat close to the stage. For the time being, the chairs were empty because much like one would expect there was a processional march that introduced them.
     Back home, we wore a cap a gown, naturally. Underneath that, most graduates wore dress clothes. The boys wore suits and the girls wore dresses or skirts. The students here wear their uniforms everyday - which would be the case for me had I gone to a private school - and apart from a small adornment that is similar in appearance to a corsage, that is exactly how they graduated. Upon inquiring as to the name of said decorative element I was informed that they called it, "Ribbon". So there you go.
     They came out in two lines, which separated the A and B group. There was a path down the middle in which they walked together (two at a time) then subsequently divided upon reaching their seats. A very noteworthy point to make during the march is that it was only one of two times when people clapped. Nobody cheered ever, or otherwise made noise, but they clapped exactly twice: once when the students walked in, and again as they walked out.
     The ceremony itself was about an hour or so, and it involved a lot of standing up for people as they walked center stage, bowing, sitting, rinse, repeat. The principal offered some words (stand, bow, sit, etc.) then the head of our Board of Education, followed by the head of the PTA. After all that was over they started handing out certificates.
     Apparently handing out each certificate to every student is a rare thing to see. Thanks to the small size of our graduating class it was a possible but according to my principal, that's not always the case. In the event that the class size is too big, a representative would accept the certificates on behalf of the graduates. I thought that was a little bit sad. Everyone's name gets read out at ours, no matter how big of a class. I think we had about 1000 students at my high school that were graduating and we burned in the sun for all the time it took to read out each one.
     In any case, it's quite a thing to see. Everyone treats it with the utmost level of seriousness, which is fine, perhaps. The students didn't smile at all when they were on stage however, which was kind of sad to see. Each one proceeded up the stage, stood at the far end and faced the audience. From there they moved to the center and bowed in front of the principal. A helping teaching handed certificates to him, and he in turn handed them to the students. The receiving student stayed in a bowing position after receiving it, slid to the right, maintained that pose, and did not rise until the person following them received theirs. After that they straightened up and walked off stage.
     Once certificates were all distributed they sang. First, the third years sang two songs, with members of their class conducting and playing the piano accompaniment. The last song was sung between the undergraduates and the third years.

That was pretty much the ceremony. Plus or minus a few rounds of standing up, bowing, and sitting down.

     After the ceremony there was a kind of lull. The third years went back up to their classroom and had a little bit of lunch. Everyone brought a bento that day because there was no actual school lunch. Not much happened from this time until noon when we gathered around for the last part of graduation known as 見送り.**
     For this, all of the students gathered outside their respective classrooms, each holding flowers or personal gifts that they planned to give the recent graduates. I waited on the second floor, which is where the title picture of this post was taken. Once the time hit, the third years descended down each floor and walked the length of the hallway, passing by their former classmates. This is when the undergrads would hand out the flowers or any thing they personally wanted to give to their friends. It's a pretty emotional time, lots of students nearly cried, just as many actually did.
     I was taking pictures the whole time, being very careful to scout out a good location where I could get some nice shots. There was a moment in which a couple of my students realized I was standing there and ran up to me, mostly for pictures, but also to say goodbye. I congratulated them, adding that they were the best kids, and I had the most fun with them. One of the two couldn't understand, the other one did a little. I explained in Japanese and that's when tears happened. We hugged it out, because I don't care about the rules of not hugging here. You hug people when they cry. That's all I'll say on that front.
     I asked another teacher to help hand out cards with my contact information on it, including a QR code for the extremely popular messaging app called, "LINE" here in Japan. It's available all over the world too now, but it originated here. I told the students to write me, so I could send them their pictures. I don't mean to get ahead of my story but well over twenty-five of them have talked to me and I've sent pictures to all of them.
     After all the students walked the halls, I quickly ran downstairs and headed straight for the students' entrance to the school. I knew this is where they would end up, and I wanted to get a few more pictures while they were still hanging around. Sure enough, they were hanging back - not everything is different, loitering is a universal quality of the youth - and I eventually found myself in quite a few selfies, which have also been sent to me. I got some great last minute pictures, including probably one of the best pictures I think I've ever taken. One of my girls asked for a 記念, and I felt bad that I had nothing to give to her.*** I'll have a gift ready for the next time we meet, I promise!
     One of the things I tried to do was convince the students that this day didn't have to be a sad one. It should be happy. It should be joyous. Graduation is a cause for celebration. I think many of my students felt that it would potentially mean the end of friendships (including mine) since they'd all likely be going to other high schools in the area. I made sure to dismiss those things as nonsense. It doesn't have to be the end if we don't want it to be. We can still be friends if we choose to be. A memorable moment was when one of my boys said that he was sad because we couldn't meet anymore. I agreed it was a little bit sad, but expressed I was more happy for what they had in store. It only gets better, I told him. He nodded and said, "I will become a man." That was in English by the way.
     Once the dust settled and all the goodbyes were said, I started back for the office. I grabbed a final picture of the few students who were walking home. That really sealed the deal for me. When I had a look at the shot I had just taken, there was a degree of finality to it, despite having spoken against this notion. Back in the office, alone with my thoughts, I sat down at my desk.



What a day.

I'm going to miss you guys. You really were the best.

-J


* おはようございます (Ohayougozaimasu) is a greeting, which means "Good morning."
   おめでとうございます (Omedetougozaimasu) is a way of saying "Congratulations."

** 見送り (Miokuri) is way of saying "send-off."

***記念 (Kinen) is translated literally as a memory, but it's best to think of it as a kind of parting gift or memento, similar to when we ask a person for something to remember them by.