Monday, September 24, 2007

What's in a name?

Now, you may have gathered, provided you've been reading my previous posts, that the japanese like to use english in all sorts of ways, many of which appear quite odd to those who actually understand it. This is not to say americans don't do things like this as well, we do, just not nearly to the same extent. I brought up tattoos before and I will bring them up again now just to point out that while the Japanese misuse english to an extent that is staggering, and sometimes oddly poetic, I have yet to see a Japanese person with a tattoo in any language but their own-which means none of them are walking around thinking their permamant skin-art says "peace" when it actually says "gyoza." Okay, that said, they do however name their bars things that would not fly outside of San Fransisco.
Let's say you are opening a bar/cafe and you wish to attract a young surfer/stoner clientele. You've got a good location, hip employees, an above average selection of drinks; all you need is a name. Maybe something to do with surfing or the ocean? Nope, too obvious. How about a reference to some recent cultural movement or even something more retro, maybe swipe a few words from some literary or cinematic classic? What about just something about booze? No, no, and no. If you are the entrepreneurs in Kikugawa you go with, The Pony's Toy. I can't explain exactly why this sounds like the epitome of gay bar names to me but it is definately up there. Kind of like the equivalent of the Wildrose in Seattle, but not exclusively for women. The Pony's Toy, however, pales in comparison to the outright brazenness or random-chance-iness of those who named nearby Fujieda's, The Skin Flute. Seriously. Seriously! All in all though, a pretty nice bar...full of women. Somehow I didn't think to ask about the name while I was there but I did take a photograph of the sign for the incredulous.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Me and My Mantis

We share the world with all sorts of animals. Some are covered with tight coils of fur, while some are finely-scaled. Some have adapted colorful appearances to frighten enemies or attract mates, and some don't care about these flamboyant animals at all because they are unfortunately color-blind, like dogs. The continents support a staggering array of species while the ocean is home to even more. However, there is one animal that shines above its brethren. An animal whose good-nature and playful spirit bring joy to children and adults alike throughout at least a few parts of the world. A creature whose beauty and warrior-like spirit have doubtlessly inspired whole societies to do impressive societal things. I am, of course, referring to the distinguished praying mantis.
Now, I know what you're thinking, something along the lines of, "totally, warrior spirit, they definitely have that." But you may also be wondering, why now? Six months and nothing then suddenly, without pretext, I am writing about the praying mantis. Well, it happens that a few weeks ago I noticed a young mantis apparently in the midst of an expedition across my wall, his large forearms pulling him quickly across the textured surface with the strange gait that such large, oddly-jointed appendages always cause. I watched him with curiosity, having never seen one so close. He settled upon the edge of my laundry basket and seemed content to lounge there occasionally turning his elongated head to give alert eyes a direct line of sight, the eyes of a mantis being located on either side of its head. I thought I should make some sort of gesture of friendship and scanned my room for one of the many crickets that have recently invaded my apartment. As if volunteering, one appeared in front of me just I as finished my thought. I hastily snatched him up and set him atop the basket, near the mantis. Within minutes the cricket was in the mantid's grasp, his chest pierced by powerful, raptorial limbs. Needless to say, I was quite impressed with this display and bought a small plastic tank for him and, with a stick and a leaf to recreate what he's used to, I ushered him into his temporary home.
Let me quickly throw some mantis facts at you as quoted from some guy name Dan Feldman who wrote a brief and unintentionally hilarious research paper on the praying mantis.

"With an estimated 1800 species of mantids that cover the whole world, the mantis has become a prevalent and often revered part of human life." -yes

"In Arab and Turkish cultures a mantis was thought to point toward Mecca, a site of considerable religious interest." -naturally

"Ears occur in 60% of mantids" -I find this both hilarious and enlightening.

"The mantis is an auditory cyclops"-band name?

So as you can see Dan did his research and it is undeniably interesting, in fact, I think it should be used to teach children to read. Now that you are suitably educated about this fascinating creature let me return to my story.

I gave my mantis a name, Mantis, and tossed him a cricket when I was able to catch one. He was generally slow in capturing his prey and I tired of waiting quickly so I only saw him eat once but it was brutal. The mantis waited patiently on the ceiling of the tank until the unsuspecting cricket jumped to a twig that lay directly below him. He stuck quick and the cricket escaped but only by leaping so frantically that he left one of his legs in the inexorable grip of the predator. Undeterred the mantis moved fluidly to the corner of the tank where the cricket sat, the leg still in his right hand. Looking down at the tiny insect the mantis ate half of the cricket's leg while the cricket sat stupified no more than an inch away. I have to admit, I was a little shocked myself.
A few days after the mantis showed up I went on a three-day trip to Hiroshima. Knowing my own feelings regarding being left alone in a tank for three days without food, even if there is a stick and a leaf, I set the tank on my porch with the lid open and bid him farewell. I explored Hiroshima and the nearby island of Miyajima and when I returned home exhausted I had nearly forgotten my mantid companion. Thus I was surprised when days later he appeared, resting casually on my screen door. I considered it a sign of friendship and resolved to leave him be and there he has stayed ever since, silently keeping me company.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Our Duties as Teachers

Most Interac ALTs (assistant language teachers), including myself, are embedded in one or two schools, rarely more than three. However sometimes we are asked to visit other schools, usually those of the elementary variety. Before the day of the visit arrives we recieve a fax of the official request from the school describing what periods and grades we will be teacher plus a list of what they would like taught. The typical requested lesson plan will ask for "easy english" vocabularly, an activity, and foreign culture. (I usually consider myself just being there as qualifying for the foreign culture) I always add a further bit to the lesson plan which I call, "a demonstration of my height." It consists of, as you might guess from its title, me demonstating my height by touching something relatively high, like a door frame or sign. Though I have been to schools with teachers just as tall as me, this bit seems to always impress them and provoke shouts of, "sugoii!!" (great!!) But I digress. Invariably, during these visits, the kids crowd you and, especially with the five and six-year, hug you and are quite affectionate and exciteable. In fact, it's not unusualy for me to leave a class trailing a half-class of kids off of my arms and legs. However, usually they don't include this in the request forms. In a recent request to another ALT the school, apparantly in a fit of honesty, they wrote as follows: "We'd like to shake hands with you and hold your hand. Then, we'd like to have the opportunity to touch you." -And what an opportunity it is.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Advice to japanese owners of beer gardens that rest perfectly on the top of the city

Don't leave your doors unlocked even if you're closed for the season, especially if you still have full, tapped's not a great idea really-I mean, hypothetically, people could wander in and enjoy the beautiful view while helping themselves to some free beverages...hypothetically.