Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Yo-yo Girl Cop [2006]

I used to have a movie review blog. That was back in college, when I watched a movie a day for my film major. For every movie I watched in class, I needed to watch one at home as a sort of palette-cleanser. These days, I don't watch many movies--many one or two a week. I'm a little burnt out.

Yo-yo Girl Cop has been sitting on my hard-drive for a few months now. My guilty secret is that I'm a j-pop fan, and this film stars one of the artists I like--Aya Matsuura--as a teenage delinquent who is enlisted by the Japanese police to track down an organization of terrorist bombers. I think the reason that I didn't watch it for so long was because I knew it wouldn't be very good.

Japanese entertainers have a very short shelf-life. Unlike American movie stars, comedians, and other entertainers, Japanese "talents" fade from the limelight in just a few short years. Aya Matsuura was big between 2000 and 2009, but since then she has faded as well. This film was made in 2006, at the height of her popularity. It is obviously a star vehicle for the pop singer, and as you would expect the soundtracks biggest pieces all star Matsuura.

The plot is wafer-thin, involving the singer infiltrating a Japanese high school and befriending the students in an attempt to find the terrorists. What follows is a series of random coincidences that somehow lead to the discovery and apprehension of the culprits. Most of the characters had strange and unbelievable motivations. The main villain justifies his crime spree with "it's just a game."

But the worst part is that the yo-yo fighting, which is considered so essential to the plot that it is incorporated into the title, only appears in the last twenty minutes of a two-hour movie. To be fair, the yo-yo fighting is pretty cool, but up until the climax the director is just baiting us with shots of Matsuura reaching for her yo-yo, thinking better of it, and then leaving it alone.

I wouldn't watch this movie again, but I would watch the final battle on Youtube. The last twenty minutes is probably the only part worth seeing, unfortunately.

Monday, November 28, 2011

School Cleaning

In Japanese schools, the students participate in a lot of activities and jobs that would, in America, usually be handled by trained professionals or employees. In particular, I am refering to the jobs of cleaning and serving food.

I have already discussed the nature of school lunches in a previous post. Students eat in their classrooms--there is no cafeteria--and serve their own food. Students are put in charge of obtaining the food, delivering the food, serving the food, and disposing of leftovers. Did I mention the students are also responsible for cleaning most of the school?

There are designated times between classes when every student is required to pick up a broom or grab a dust rag and clean as many surfaces as they can. The majority of Japanese schools do not employ janitors for the simple reason of teaching their students useful life skills. One could argue that if Americans spent some time cleaning and serving in school, they wouldn't grow up to be such terrible customers.

Anyway, students clean the blackboard, toss trash, sweep the floors, and even do the dishes in the teachers' room! If I leave a stray coffee cup on my desk, they will snatch it up with their talons and wash that sucker! Much of this relates to building a community and relationships with fellow students, sharing a similar work ethic. I like this quote:

"Education is not only teaching subjects but also cooperation with others, ethics, a sense of responsibility, and public morality. Doing chores contributes to this."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pic of the Day: Ska DJ

I went to a ska dj show in Koriyama last night. A group of ska "enthusiasts" rented out a bar and dj'd all night. The music was good, a combination of old American music and old Japanese music. I was able to learn about many interesting bands I'd never heard of before, and temporarily relieve the stress in my life. Ska, despite its volume and erratic sound, relaxes me.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Holidays: [Labor] Thanksgiving Day

So, Wednesday was the closest thing I will get to Thanksgiving in Japan. Known as  (勤労感謝の日 Kinrō kansha no hi), it is a holiday celebrating labor and production, and all of the things they bring us. Frankly, I think it is more akin to Labor Day than Thanksgiving, as Labor Thanksgiving Day is bereft of turkey, stuffing, and potatoes. This is yet another holiday that was established in Japan following the ratification of the Japanese constitution in the aftermath of WWII.

Pic of the Day: Separated At Birth

This is me, at the movie theater, standing next to a cardboard cutout of Kaibutsu-kun [Monster]. He is the star of a movie premiering in 3D soon overseas. Apparantly, the property the film is based on is a comic from the 1960's, regarding a monster kid and his friends: Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman. They go around having wacky adventures together. Sounds like fun for the whole family!

Here is a link to the movie trailer.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pic of the Day: Purikura

This is a picture of my friends and I in Tokyo, using one of the purikura machines I have mentioned in previous posts. Just a fun and nostalgic reminder that I'll be visiting them in December!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pic of the Day: Ika Wrestler

Back when I was in college, I watched a funny Japanese movie called Squid Wrestler, which was about a giant talking squid that becomes the best wrestler in Japan. Today, while walking through the train station in Sendai City, I think I found his real-world counterpart. I don't know what he was selling, but I'm probably not the target audience. I'm human.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pic of the Day: Nutritional Balance Rangers!

You thought the Power Rangers were cool? Well, check these guys out--the Food Rangers, made by one of my workers. You have Drink Blue, Grains Yellow, Meat & Eggs Red, Something Green, and Whatever Pink. I actually wasn't following them too closely. But, wow, they look awesome!

Pic of the Day: Stove

In Japan, the word stove is used to refer only to household heating devices. It does not apply to a kitchen stove, which is called a かまど. Recently, my school installed several "stoves" in classrooms. This is a picture of the stove they've installed in the teachers' room:

It has been placed directly in the middle of the room, making it very inconvenient to walk around. Be careful not to touch it! The stove has no cover, so touching any of the exposed metal will burn you. A pan full of water (or sometimes a tea kettle) is placed on top of the stove to absorb some of the heat. Not to make tea. As you can see, there is a huge metal tube running from the stove to a window, so that smoke from the gas-powered behemoth doesn't flood the room.

Good ol' Japan!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Taimatsu-akashi Festival

 Over the weekend, I attended Taimatsu-akashi, the "Torch Festival," in Sukagawa. Considered one of the three best fire-related festivals in Japan, this one has a 400 year old history. According to my friend, it is a celebration dating back to when residents built massive torches to scare away a feudal lord who was trying to sack their city.
The torches are sponsored by schools and businesses, and constructed by the city. Students then carry small torches from the base of the hill where the giant torches are standing to the summit. From there, trained professionals take the torches and use them to set the larger ones aflame.
 As you can see, this is a line of children carrying the very hot (and dangerous) torches.
 They had an extra torch, so I was also allowed to carry one. Needless to say, the fire was hot!
 These are the pillars that the smaller torches are used with. The writing on each pillar is the name of a business or school. There were perhaps a dozen in all.
Trained professionals took our torches at the summit and hung them from a wire, creating a fence of fire (!) that we walked past when we were finished.
 Afterward, I went back down to the bottom of the hill and watched a taiko show.
 You can see the pillars aflame in the background; it looks like the forest is on fire but don't be fooled! Unfortunately, the summit was too crowded and the police stopped admitting people, so this is the best photo I was able to manage.
This is what remains of a giant wooden castle built and painted to resemble the city's former castle. The story goes that the residents lit an effigy of their castle on fire to convince the invaders that the city had already been sacked. At least, according to my friends.

It was a lot of fun and I'd like to go again next year, so I can have a better view!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

School Lunches

I eat lunch at school every weekday, sometimes with the other teachers but more often with the students. It is a good way to practice English and learn more about them.

Known as
kyuushoku [給食], Japanese school lunches are mandatory meals served to all students between 4th and 5th period, around noon. The meal is specifically made to adhere to a certain set of guidelines concerning its content. It must be healthy and is prepared exactly the same way for all students, no exceptions. Each meal costs around 300 yen (roughly $3.50), and can add up to 5,000 yen (almost $60) per month.

An average school lunch comes with milk, miso soup, some sort of meat, a small salad, and a bowl of rice. The food is delivered by truck every day to each school, where it is then served by the students themselves, who alternate during any given month. No one is allowed to eat until the class leader gives the okay [by saying "itadakimasu" in Japanese, the equivalent of "grace" in English]. The students are taught to eat everything on their plate, and those who finish quickest are sometimes lucky enough to receive second helpings. The students then clean up all of their empty dishes and recycle their milk boxes.

Things to note: there is seldom any dessert besides a piece of fresh fruit, meat is perhaps the smallest portioned food, and all of the food is made fresh, daily. It's honestly the best meal I eat every day. Unless they're serving edamame. Yuck!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cool Japanese Thing #26: Unicycles

In 1989, the Japanese Ministry of Education had made it a part of the national physical education program for all third and fourth graders to ride unicycles. So almost everyone in the country has ridden a unicycle at some point.

Many schools offer unicycling classes and encourage kids to join unicycling clubs, not just because unicycles are fun but also because they help develop a sense of balance. Almost any elementary-school-age kid can learn to ride in just a week, and can become an expert after a few months of practice.  

Each year, the Japan Unicycling Association has held an official contest in the Kansai area, where unicyclists are ranked from levels 1 through 10 according to their skills.  

I think it's pretty fascinating that something like a unicycle, considered a specialty vehicle in America, is so widely acknowledged in Japan.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Culture Day [November 3rd]

Yesterday in Japan, we celebrated Culture Day [文化の日 Bunka no hi] in my village. This holiday was established in 1948 to commemorate the post-war constitution. Before that, November 3rd had been celebrated as the Meiji emperor's birthday, [天皇誕生日 Tennō tanjōbi].

Culture Day is a time for villages and cities to hold parades or festivals. In my village, groups of volunteers carried small mikoshi through the streets, performing rituals and collecting donations to be used in future village-sponsored events. The mikoshi, or divine palanquin, is a small shrine carried on the shoulders of four or more people. The shrine is said to contain a god.

In the ritual, the mikoshi is brought to the door of a home or business. The occupants make a donation and the mikoshi's attendants perform a short dance. The occupants imbibe a small amount of sake and receive a long-stemmed flower for their donation.

I walked around, carrying one of these palanquins, for no less than ten hours. It was an arduous task.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cool Japanese Thing #73: Kotatsu

 Like I mentioned in my previous post, Fukushima is cold. According to a coworker, this morning the weather was -3C. I don't know if I believe him, but I do agree that it is really, really cold. I wore an entire sweatsuit under my business suit this morning to keep from freezing in class. That's why, when I'm at home, I like to relax under my nice, toasty kotatsu.
 What is a kotatsu, you ask? Well, it's a table with a heater built into it, in the past a charcoal brazier built into the floor. As you can see from image one, the heater plugs into the wall and sends a soothing wave of warm air onto your lower extremities. The futon, known as a kotatsugake, keeps the heat collected under the table. It is a completely unique experience you will not find in America.
I was fortunate, in that the previous occupant of my apartment left his kotatsu to me. Although I did have to purchase a futon myself, I still ended up saving about $200. In Japanese families, the kotatsu is often a way of bringing people together. Entire families will congregate under the kotatsu for warmth and have the opportunity to interact. Sadly, I live alone...