27 December 2006

Now, more relaxed

America is so much more relaxing for me, a native American English speaker, than that other place that I've been living. With no job worries, not having to pay for anything, and Christmas done right. You can't compete with any of that. It's been relaxing. Not real, but relaxing. My future, though looking incredibly cold and dark in Japan (which is incredibly cold and dark these days), might still have a chance of turning around.

Gift of the year was "The Crane Wife", which speaks to you and me in different ways, I'm sure.

Now, to buy some luggage.

22 December 2006

Goes home

Well, I'm on my way out now for the late, great USA. I'm not looking forward to the bus, train, train, plane 4 punch knockout, but once home, I'm expecting some of the stress to melt off. See you there?

20 December 2006


Okay, I had heard that Chinese was a difficult language. Compared to Japanese, this ain't nothing. Observe:

我是斯蒂芬 (I am Stephen in Mandarin, and I cheated finding the characters for my name using BabelFish.)

我 is "I" (used for "I" sometimes, but mostly for "we" in Japanese) 是 is "be" 斯蒂芬 is presumably a phonetic spelling of my name. You'll notice the subject-verb-complement construction. Also, no article markers. Also, no verb conjugation. Literally "I be Stephen." Granted, you have to nail the tones (one of four, or neutral), but compare to the same sentence in Japanese:


This took three different kinds of writing to accomplish. I had to use a subject marker は and the sentence is literally "I (marked) Stephen is." Your subject-compliment-verb construction. And you may be saying, "Yeah, but how hard is that, really. You just gotta swap." Believe me, it's a whole new kind of thinking. So although I should be packing, instead I'm learning how to say "This is a pen" in Chinese.

Another week of "it"

Today wasn't so great. I had to give up the dream and resign myself to another year of doing what I'm doing now. That's really vague, but you know, that's how it is.

I subscribed to a couple of new podcasts to get a little basic understanding of Mandarin and Korean. I already got a basic understanding of how they work, but I would like to be a little bit more educated. Once you put in the work to learn how to read Chinese characters, you have access to a lot of Asian languages that Chinese has its fingers in. I'd like to be able to shop and greet when I go to China one of these days.

This isn't the reason I teach, but it felt good. One of my students got into college. That was nice.

19 December 2006


I ordered all the books for the fifth and sixth modules of my MA. Believe it or not, I am rounding the corner.

17 December 2006

Nepal and India

I hate translation. Everything about it. Trying to make dumb Japanese phrases fit into this fine English language of ours. Trying to make that word fit, somewhere: anywhere. This so far:
In addition, even if students had been able to use English for 45 minutes, it was impossible for English settle in the students minds as there are only several English classes in a year. Moreover, although students practiced words like "zebra", zebras are not animals that the students encountered every day. Students did not have a chance to use English and it did not become a tool for communication.
But hey, I might be going to Nepal and India in the Spring to hang out with a Japanese doctor doing aid work with some Tibetian refuges. If Yoko isn't about to burst, it should be a lot of fun. We'll see though.

Lastly, my family said goodbye to the family dog, Moriah, this weekend. We had him for 10 years (or 11), so you can imagine that he was quite a part of the family. He and I had a strange relationship. I will miss him.

16 December 2006

I love translation

I love it. It's so challenging. It gets me thinking. So much to juggle. So much to think about. If I could get paid well to do this, well, I would do this, and this only. All day. Every day.

Starting to prepare for the Japanese Proficiency Exam Level I. It's going well so far. Learning the Chinese characters. Today is this one: 妥協 that would be compromise. Compromise. I like it.

I heard that a couple of kids got kicked out of school for drinking. How were they found out? I asked. Well, the teacher told me, a couple of students saw them. Right, I said, but how did you know the other kids weren't lying? Oh, they admitted to it, said the teacher. Plus, they have blogs. So, word to the wise. Don't blog about it. Keep it to yourself.

Yoko took 10,000 yen from me, but she's cute and she's carrying around that baby so I can't really say anything. Plus, I'm having a good day.

I made a mistake earlier by talking about my "emotional quotient". That was just a wrong way of describing it. I'll try to think of something better in the future.

Home in 6 days.

14 December 2006

A break, please?

These week's chart of emotions was like this a little bit.

"Emotional Quotient" is probably the wrong term, but fixing the graph would be too much work. Looking at these data points, I think we can see just how ups and downs have been taking on a toll on Stephen. Although I wish those increases/ decreases were a little bit steeper. Now, it seems I have to make a couple of decisions, roll the dice? Play it safe?

Only in Japan does this fly: "Okay, everyone, a government report came out today and since the government says the economy is still soft, we all gotta take a 5% cut in pay next year." Like seriously. And the workers all go, "Hey that sounds right. I mean, I don't like it, but the GOVERNMENT said so and the Board of Trustees thinks its the wisest thing. I guess I'll just work harder so that maybe, just maybe, I can have the same thankless job until I turn 60 and can retire. Unless the government thinks I should retire at 65."

But hey, I still have my elephant puppet.

Caring is creepy

13 December 2006

Religious Dialogue

Another attempt at an honest religious dialogue. I have tried to make it the least argumentative and cheeky, but I think it just came out boring. I apologize. Go eat a plum.

Okay, Karmic energy. I was listening to the podcast again, and Dr. Martin Verhoeven was talking about Karmic energy, basically the thought that good deeds have good results, and bad deeds have bad results: cause and effect. According to the argument, these causes and effects are sometimes observable. Sometimes they are not: a good deed or bad deed may be repaid in a later life. This is very soft argument because, of course, bad things happen to good people and vise versa. The Buddhist only needs to say, well, you look back far enough or into the future, and you'll see it all worked out. No one can look forward or back, but in theory… It's not provable or disprovable.

The argument also went that good deeds yield a proportional amount of good karma. That is to say, if you do something small, you yield a small amount of good karma. If you do something really bad, you yield a lot of bad karma. What you do and what you get is related.

In Christianity, this isn't true at all. Every the smallest sin in the purest life yields eternal death. On the other side, you can cause a great deal of pain to a lot of people all your life, but believe in Jesus at some point, and you get eternal life (admittedly, people argue about this). You can live a great life, believe and also yield eternal life. The point is, if God is perfect, any imperfection yields death. But, because Christ is perfect, any bit of good (in belief) can yield life.

Buddhism says that you get what you pay for. Christianity says you get what you inherit or you get what Christ paid for. This got me thinking about propitiation (which is a big word for  God being appeased). The Israelites were all about this: sacrifice a pure sheep for your sins. And this became, for Christians, a symbol of Christ being punished for the sins of peoplekind. As long as something sinless is punished, the sin is negated.

If one sins, one has committed a wrong. If someone innocent is punished, this is wrong. But if you put those two together, you get forgiveness. Why? I mean, other than that God is perfect. Or is that all there is? Is there another scenario where this works? Did I already ask all these questions?

12 December 2006

Hey, so

I decided to take down all the bad language from my site for the first two pages and from here on out. I'm starting to begin my push to be hired by a university in 2008. My options for 2007, though for a time seemingly feasible, fell through, but that's okay. I noticed that three hits on this site were found by searching "Stephen Pihlaja" and although those people are probably not committee members or somebody from the journal I submitted to, they could have been, so from here on out this blog is probably going to be my public face when people are eager to learn more about me. I'd rather not come off a chummy, ignorant fool. Maybe this is the end of an era.

11 December 2006


I just submitted my first article ever to an academic journal. This should be followed promptly by receiving my first ever rejection from an academic journal, but for tonight, I'm a little bit proud of myself. The article wasn't especially intelligent and it didn't really say anything new. But still.

I love Japanese television. First, they're having this World Cup club championship series. Tonight, we had a game between a central American club and a Korean club. It was a wicked dirty match. Gotta love the clash of cultures and all that. Second, there is this show that has a segment where celebrities play tag with famous athletes. The celebrities aren't very good, but there are like 20 of them, and the athlete has to tag everyone in a set time. This week none other than Carl Lewis was playing. Yoko kept asking me, "Do you know Karlis?" No, I don't know Karlis, who's that? "You don't know?" she said, "The world-famous track and field guy? He's a American? Karlis?" Ah, Carl Lewis. Yes, I know him.

He won, by the way.

09 December 2006


This took forever. You all might be saying, “Yeah, but Stephen, your wife is Japanese. She probably basically did it all for you anyway.” Well, you’d be wrong. She did proofread it, but still. I feel like I accomplished something today.

By the way that Barrow Boy song by the Decemberists makes me want to cry.

Oh man!

I teach Oxford EFL textbooks almost exclusively when I teach English privately. They are the best I have seen, and the new third editions of "New Communicator" and "Let's Go!" are incredible. I love them. The new "Let's Go!" (which is the kids text) comes with a CD-Rom that is just fabulous. It has games for the kids to practice vocabulary and grammar points. Little M put it into his dad's laptop this morning and it was like magic. It talks to them. Four games for each lesson. I nearly wet myself, I was so happy. If I could take a laptop and that CD to every class, I would be set.

07 December 2006

Writing letters, again

from S. Pihlaja mysonabsalom@gmail.com
details 8:35 pm (0 minutes ago)
to *******@drba.org
date Dec 7, 2006 8:35 PM
subject Buddhism and your podcast
Dear Rev. Heng Sure,

Recently, I have been listening to the Berkley Buddhist Monastery Podcast while I run on the treadmill at the gym. I initially got interested in the podcast just because I was interested in learning a little something about Buddhism, but I found the podcasts comforting in an odd way. As you have said, like I heard it before. I realized why I felt this way, not that I had heard it before, but because you sound a lot like Garrison Keillor, the great Minnesotan storyteller. The messages are always thought-provoking and interesting. I have really appreciated them. I find the Chinese engaging, especially as a Japanese student. As I copy Chinese characters onto flashcards, I get more curious. I am also reading your three steps one bow e-book. I told a friend that it felt like I was reading about a religion, while my church in Chicago was simply making a club or a television show.

I grew up an Evangelical Christian. My family was (and is) pretty committed. My father has always been an elder at the churches we have been members of. I grew up memorizing scripture, was baptized when I was 11, was a student leader in the youth group, and in college too. I was incredibly confident in the whole thing.

But an odd thing happened when I graduated from college: I moved to Japan as a short-term missionary, teaching English at a small church in Fukuoka City with a friend of mine from high school. My experiences in Japan and with mission work really did a number on me. I decided to leave mission work, but stay in Japan and have been slowly fading towards agnosticism since then. This isn't for lack of effort—I would very much like to regain my Fundamentalist fervor and get back to where I was, but it seems that whatever I had, I lost, and it isn't coming back.

This all leads me to my questions for you, about religion and Buddhism. If you have any time to spare to respond to me, I would be incredibly grateful. If not, I completely understand and will keep listening to the podcast.

My first question for you is about meditation and bowing. I find the three steps one bow story to be incredibly interesting, but I wonder about the hypotonic effect of these kinds of practices. That is to say, if you do any repetitive action, focusing on a text (be it religious or otherwise), it seems to me that the text is likely to take over one's minds and become more compelling, applicable and true. Prayer and Christian worship music or scripture memorization seem to have the same effect. If you say it over and over again, it becomes true. Can you explain the difference between hypotonic disengagement and meditation or bowing? I haven't done either so I guess maybe this puts me at a disadvantage to understanding them.

Thanks again for your time and the podcast.
Stephen Pihlaja
Niigata City, Japan

Now, with time to think

Not having to "go to work" "everyday", I find myself with time to read and write and think a lot. I am still reading the Heng Sure book and working on my report. And finding out today if my future is closer than I thought (more on that later). Until then, I think I might actually post a non-sarcastic collection of thoughts about religion. So, take it while you can.

Your main Western religions (that'd be Chrisitanity, Islam, Judiasm, and Baseball) are all built on creeds. You say something with intent, and you become a member of that religion. Lots of rules and what have you come with it, but at the crux is a confession of faith. This doesn't seem to be true of my new friend, Buddhism. You want to become a buddhist? Well, the answer is most-likely, you already are a Buddhist. You should be practicing the Dharma, but when you become a Buddhist, what you believe doesn't really have that much to do with anything. You don't accept the Buddha into your heart. You don't profess that their is no self. You don't try to attain enlightenment. Those are all things people from the West say as they try to understand Buddhism through their Christianity-coloured glasses. It seems to be less about what you believe (or say you believe), but what you do.

I don't really have a conclusion about that.

Or, you could listen to this ignorant fellow.

06 December 2006

All this work, no work

So this week I don't have a lot of work to do at school, but I'm still busy working knuckles raw trying to get a couple or three papers ready to be sent out to journals. I don't think I'm actually going to get anything in, but we can't succeed unless we fail, 'eh Ronaldo?

I had a very Buddhist moment today on the bridge, running. When I left the house, I was very cold and I thought, These gloves are not nearly warm enough. They are too thin. So I ran for about twenty minutes and before I knew it I was thinking, Man, these gloves are hot. I really ought to take them off. The gloves had not changed, but how Stephe-O perceived them had.

05 December 2006


This is the haiku that appears in the photo and haiku calender at the culture center I teach at. I translate it:
The first snow and
another person
Or, as the calender translated it:
first snow--
wink at me
Today, during my lesson, I presented examples in five languages I have some (albeit meager) knowledge of. This felt good. Damn good.

Seriously, check out the Heng Sure book. Seriously.

The trip to Tokyo

was good, and mostly not because I made good on my threats towards Japanese Proficiency Exam Level II. No, more than that, I was able to see some friends, connect again with the city that has my number, I'm beginning to think, and realize that I have made some progress as a Japanese student and maybe even as a human, since coming to Japan. I spent the night with J and V, as J has recently returned to Japan to teach English again with the Lutheran church. V is from up around here and the three of us had a really fabulous time. Also saw Heather too briefly, but it was a fine 45 minutes none-the-less. Ran into M, another friend of my hero and mentor, Mr. Neal, and he regaled me and V with a story of smoking weed while driving and being blown by a Chinese woman. "That's something," I said to V, "I don't think I will ever experience."

Now, instead of resting like I should, I have begun to prepare for Japanese Proficiency Level I, although I doubt I will be able to pass that test in 2007. I think I'd like to try though. 10 Chinese characters a day. In the end, I will have to know 10,000 words and 2,000 Chinese characters to pass the test. I noticed while taking the test this year that a majority of the test takers are from China. It occurs to me that they have an incredible advantage in learning Japanese as they already know all the Chinese. I gotta get into a romantic language next.

When I run, I listen to the Berkeley Buddhist podcast and encourage you to read this interview or, better, this e-book. Fascinating.

01 December 2006

Goes to Tokyo now

I am going to Tokyo now to have my way with Japanese Proficiency Exam Level II. If I could say one thing to Japanese Proficiency Exam Level II it would be, "Listen Japanese Proficiency Exam Level II. I got your number."

More on Monday.

Post Burying

I made this for our reception in the States. I don't think it's finished, but...


So my brother and I were having a conversation about this blog and it's form and I wanted to bring it up here as well. We were talking about how my presentation of things on this blog is mostly just "Cynical video clip, cynical commentary" and how this doesn't move dialog forward. For example, I said the other day after that "The Devil is a Liar" clip, "Does the idea of Satan have anyone else scratching their head and going, come again?" This was originally the begining of a new paragraph about my thoughts on the devil but I cut it because it was boring and I didn't think I had anything worthwhile to say. I just watched the clip and wondered why some people believe there is an all-evil force out there trying to get them to do bad things. It seemed odd to me. But I don't really care about presenting my opinion.

I guess the question is, Is that okay? Should I present my opinions in non-caustic ways? Should I present Mormon opinions without caustic commentary? Should I stop being caustic because it drags the conversation through the mud?

Obiviously, I think that I don't. I'll say it again, You want real discussion, real debate, real thinking read Sullivan. I'm not interested in keeping up a blog like that. I like showing you what I think is funny, interesting, or pressing in my life on a given day. I am a liberal, bitter ex-Evangelical, father-to-be, Japanese learner, English teacher, liguistics student, and writer. So most of what I find interesting is related to that. I don't want to post a video of Bush saying something I find ridiculous and giving you a fact by fact explanation of why I think that. I don't have the time. I laughed, maybe you will laugh too. If you think it's unfair, comment on the post and say so. I started this wordpress blog with the goal of having 300 regular readers. That's the goal of this blog. Anything that is said about religion or politics might or might not reflect what I 100% believe. Being clear or level-headed or fair is not my intention (although I might try to do so from time to time). My goal is to entertain.


29 November 2006

Calms down, thinks about it

It's been a good couple of days thinking about technology, why I blogging (some Engrish for you), and my caustic personality. I realized that this blog represents one side of me, the one that usually comes out when I write: a very caustic, cheeky side. I write fiction the same way. I use the f-word a lot too and my mom would also probably be horrified if she read this. But I think I have come to terms with all that and either stop doing it or face the consequences of doing it. A blog is necessarily only one side of a person, usually the side they want you to see. If my English is misunderstood by a Japanese reader, that's what we call in Japanese a しょうがない or it can't be helped. 2I think I've done a better job of being less personal on WordPress than I was on Xanga. Maybe not. Anyway, no more worrying about IP addresses and stalkers. Read what you like. Think what you like. But please, keep reading and keep thinking. And I'll do my best to be entertaining. 'Cause that's really all this is.

28 November 2006

Finds out

I found out that my online stalker is in Japan thanks to an IP search website and am becoming increasingly worried that it might be someone at school. There is good reason to think that it is not a native speaker as the person usually spends a very long time reading posts. I'll be honest, this scares me a great deal as my use of the English language and especially my tongue-in-cheek commentary on just about everything could very easily be misunderstood by an over-zealous teacher. I was contemplating taking the whole thing down last night. I don't know. My options seem kind of limited.

My camera is now working with Skype. So you should talk to me: stephenpihlaja. I'm the one with he soul patch.

27 November 2006

Tries to not give into wicked impulses

Recently, I have had some wicked impulses, most of them directed at my asshole neighbor who has stolen from me on several occasions. As some of you know, in Japan we often heat using kerosene. We keep this kerosene in big 18 or 20 liter tanks outside of our houses because it smells like gas. My next door neighbor has been "helping" himself to my kerosene. This made me very livid until today when I had the most brilliant revenge idea to fill the tank with unleaded gasoline instead of kerosene. Hapless neighbor steals "kerosene" and subsequently blows up his apartment.

There are a couple of problems with this, namely, that when he blows up his apartment, he will probably blow up my apartment as well and I'm also not sure I want to kill him. My next idea, less evil but still getting the job done is to fill the tank half with water. This will just result in ruining his heater and not, you know, killing him. I was proud of myself for thinking that up. Not that I would ever really do it, but it's good to know I can at least conceive of it.

26 November 2006

Takes you down

My hat tips to Blogstar and to the Winter Band themselves. You can stream their whole album. Does the idea of Satan have anyone else scratching their head and going, come again?

I was reading about how kids that are 10 and 11 and 12 are starting to mature more quickly. The article contained a good deal of the typical hand-wringing that surrounds any story about the children, but I'm having a problem seeing what the problem is.

25 November 2006

Sitemeter is

making me paranoid. Someone out there is the biggest reader of the blog, but you have your cookies shut off so I can't tell where you are or who you are or why you find my site interesting enough to spend 54 minutes here. All I know is that you use Internet Explorer, so that takes care of all the mac people. By all means, please keep reading, I'm flattered really.

Here's a short list of suspects:
  1. A friend
  2. The creepy neighbour next door.
  3. Someone at school?
  4. God.
This is what I see and hear every morning:

24 November 2006

Video Blog II

Enjoying this and some low calorie adult beverage. The baby has a beating heart now, which we heard and were amazed at. Fingers. Big feet. Having a baby is good fun. I recommend it.

One of the blogs I read has been wicked interesting the last couple of weeks as Carlos and his wife are in Seoul adopting a baby. I suggest the video from Thanksgiving which Yoko and I have watched several times and which makes me super-excited about our own little guy/ girl. Gotta love the Internet for real human stories and drama, but not in the petty or simple sense of the word.

Lest we forget:

21 November 2006


Here you see the best news I've had all day. After finishing my second practice test for the impending Japanese Proficiency Examination, Level 2, I have passed by 4% points. I know, I know, you're saying, That's not really great, and I suppose you're right, but you see, it's like this: I've been busting my ass to learn Japanese for about 3 years now. When I first got to Japan, I didn't study at all. After about three months, I sort of eased into it and didn't really get my first grammar book until I have been here for half of a year. Since then, every day I do something. And I know testing isn't good, and this and that, but I gotta say, having something concrete that says you have improved really helps. Also, if (and when) I pass this test, I will have proven the proficiency needed for all daily life activities, as well as reading at a post-primary level which isn't as easy as it sounds. Next, next year I should be able to pass the first level which will put me at native-level proficiency, more-or-less. And then? I can start translating more effectively and become world famous for something.

It looks like my computer should be back in the next hour. What more could I ask for.

19 November 2006

Babies, nursery school, and all these things

he iMac was dying and I found out there was a recall on some part. This was good for me in that I didn't have to pay any money, but bad for you as I haven't been able to keep you up to speed.

One of the great things about having for a baby is looking at great baby clothes like this. The kids clothes in Japan have the best Engrish. It's so damn uplifting. All of them are like, "Happy is the baby that is joy!"

Yoko and I are talking about nursery school and whether or not Yoko will quit her job and all the things having a baby entail. It's weird to think about what kind of kid you want and how it is best to give the kid the space and boundaries it needs to be a good kid and not an asshole. Independence balanced with dependence, family time balanced with other people time. Mom time balanced with Dad time. It's a lot to think about. I'm sure I'm under-thinking it too because I'm like, well, it'll all work out anyway. We don't have to worry about it just yet though.

I saw About Schmidt again last night with Yoko and I kept telling her how American the people were.

16 November 2006

They went to say

The beginning of Niigata winter has hit me hard. That means rain — a kind of hard, demoralizing rain. I am always wet. And since I  turned in my car for this beast of a scooter, things are even worse. Additionally, the weather has caused my pregnant wife to become Sheetie McHog-and-Steal at night. At about three, I wake up shaking while the side of the bed where my wife was once sleeping is now just a three foot high pile of blankets. That ain't right.

You may be familiar with the new Decemberists record called "The Crane Wife" based loosely on the Japanese folktale 鶴の恩返し. The songs are really something. You should buy the record and worry about repaying debts and blood in the thread.

Now, to return to the terrifying world of test preparations and beer.

14 November 2006

The bush

A student asked me today, "Do you like the bush?" Initially, I was sort of caught off-guard — I mean, of course I like the bush, but... Oh wait. No, no article there. Just Bush, please, and no, of course not, but speaking of Bush, I love how he's like, I'm willing to reconsider the rhetoric of this war. Any change to the wording is welcome. I agree, the words I'm using are not working. For the love of god, can someone please think of some new words! I was also happy to hear that he spent "an hour" with the bipartisan committee on rethinking things in Iraq. That about wraps it up.

I'm trying to make my Japanese a little bit more streamlined. My explanations usually sound like this: "I stopped at a yellow light and a bus behind me did not stop and I was really surprised" to just saying, "A bus passed me at a yellow light today." Alot of my stories in Japanese are probably very tedious to listen to, with lots of 'and's and 'but's and 'right?'s. You can explain just about anything with ten or twelve verbs. It just takes more time.

13 November 2006


Paul Auster, The Book of Memory,
Prophecy. As in true. As in Cassandra, speaking from the solitude of her cell. As in a woman's voice.
Today, sitting with my three Lutheran Missionary friends, I was the Liberal. I'm always the wild card in a group, could be the Conservative, could be the Liberal depending on who I have surrounded myself with. I like being the Liberal. It sort of chaffs on me in groups of Christians how the word "liberal" means bad. "Oh, well they're really liberal." I have decided to stop reading Christian, Evangelical blogs because it is sort of like watching a car accident. I need to get some more positive thinking in my life and stop being enamoured with people who worry about the most inane things.

I listened to this sermon with a guy nattering on and on about "sexual purity". Fucking a, just let it go. You got all these high school students and you're shaking a stick at them to not masturbate? I just don't get it. There are things to get upset about — this is not one of them.

And I envision now the readers of this blog spilt: my friends to the Left who couldn't give a shit about religion wondering why I even care, and the Right wondering how I could have said such a sacrilegious thing. Let me quote Auster again:
The prophet. As in false: speaking oneself into the future, not by knowledge but by intuition. The real prophet knows. The false prophet guesses.
I have been accused of being cynical. But I don't think I'm as cynical as I should be about our new congress. I have so much hope and though I keep telling everyone that I don't, secretly I do.

There are over 30,000 suicides a year in Japan. They rarely make the news, but they have the last couple of days because a couple of jr. high school students killed themselves. The newscasters rake it over again and again. There are graphics showing the girls schedule and how their condition was the day before, hour by hour. The newscasters and commentators wonder aloud, scratching their heads. The Japanese cultural machine is broken, but no one can say that. We need more of something. More graphs. There. I got my cynicism back.

11 November 2006

The bridge, or system of a down

Many of you may know that I live on the edge of the Agano River and the Sea of Japan. I run across the Matsuhama Bridge everyday about 8 times as it is almost exactly 1 km long. When you run at night, it's really a trip. There are ships that hang right below the horizon fishing for squid. You can see them because they use huge lights to attract the squid to their nets. Bad for the squid, wonderful for me.

Before I married Yoko, I wanted to marry the princess, Aiko. This, I thought, might put me in line to be the emperor. And not the kind of pussy-footing emperors of the past 50 years. No, I would reclaim the divinity and make people do my bidding. In a strange twist of fate: I am trying to find a good way to end this sentence. In a strange twist of fate, it didn't work out.

Who's Rumsfeld?

Bobby Byrd is my effing hero. (Yoko and I are thinking of naming our child Lao. This might seal it.)
Last night Allen Ginsberg waved goodbye
forever. Several bees, a scorpion and a butterfly
joined him in his departure, although I didn't
see them go off together. Their disappearance
was purely speculation. Before saying goodbye
Allen murmured that he doesn't believe
in a world of things. Why should he?
The end has never been the end,
and the universe is an open field of play,
a way of breathing. Here we don't know what
is going to happen one day to the next.
Except we will suffer. Except we will change.

System of a Down has been making sense to me again.

10 November 2006

Heel, boy, heel

Fucking Newt. Behave, boy! Behave!
If the president had replaced Rumsfeld two weeks ago, the Republicans would still control the Senate and they would probably have 10 more House members. For the president to have suggested for the last two weeks that there would be no change and then change the day after the election is very disheartening.
I can only imagine, buddy. I can only imagine. Clay Aiken says it best,
You do it to yourself, you do.

09 November 2006

Just, or the dissertation proposes me

Writing a dissertation proposal. I think I could end up writing about blogging and then I could end up blogging about writing about blogging. How about some meta-discourse on metadiscourse. Around and around it's sure to go.

A good fucking day for America the other day when just about everyone and their mom said, Now, hold on there Mr. Bush, I think the sky is actually blue. This has a lot in common with the Ted Haggard thing — you can only deny something so long before you get confronted with the ugly, ominous truth. It's hard to watch.

This may seem to be about what I just mentioned, but it's not. It's about me on Thursday night.

08 November 2006

Bob Allen on the Heights of Dignity

Here Tom and Bob discuss "the joy of hitting snooze".

"You were so incoherent Bazan, you're so used to only waking up part way when your alarm goes off, you hit your alarm and it falls down here--dude--six inches away from my head and that's when it goes off again--dude... Do I want to be pressing snooze for you? ... Bazan?--What about the joy of sleep, buddy?--Unfortunately we both lose in this situation."

07 November 2006

Awesomeness Duex!

Apparently in college I was obsessed with what it meant to be "manly". I'm not sure what that says about me. I think I'll try to put up a video a day for a while. I was showing this all to Yoko trying to explain what was going on. It isn't really explicable.

Here, a bunch of us take "the man test" which I think was meant to mean when the water hits our shame, we're supposed to not shout like little girls. Obviously I failed. It was really cold, as I remember.

06 November 2006

College... Was... Awesome...

So, so, so much more to come.

We're working on the best day ever for this blog. Over a hundred views, 9 hours left to go. Keep hitting that refresh button, Buttons.

My heart will go on

We have been finishing up this chapter about Celine Dion in our first-year English classes. It's been riveting, as I'm sure you can imagine. Today, as sort of a send-off, one class was watching the movie "Titanic". I talked to a couple of teachers about it because, you know, there are breasts in that movie. "You know," I said, "that movie is a little — I mean, there are some parts that are-" hoping that they would fill in the rest, but they just answered, "Yes" without understanding what I said. "No, no," I said, "I mean, in America maybe we couldn't show that movie in a high school because-" but there were just more blank stares. "Naked?" I finally came up with. This they understood, "Oh, yes, yes, the students are looking forward to it." But their parents? I asked. Won't their parents be upset? "Well, maybe they won't tell their parents." Great.

I saw part of the movie, but left before the breasts, which is fine because who wants to look at that with a bunch of high school students.

Some sort of oil/ gasoline leak on my motorbike has got me suffering from massive headaches. I took it to the bike shop and this old guy who seemed very uninterested in the problem suggested we change a seal that he didn't have. Fine, I said, and am now waiting until Wednesday to have it "fixed" although I'm sure this isn't going to do anything because the fumes are coming from a different part of the engine. Part of living in Japan is trying to get people to do the things you actually need them to do. Everyone is always willing to help, but never really able to do anything unless you explicitly lay it out for them. I know I'm generalizing, but it always feels like I'm trying to push an elephant through a doorway. Like, I know I'm a foreigner and I sound like I'm stupid because I can't speak your language perfectly, but I understand that there is a strong smell of exhaust coming from the engine and can't you just really look at the engine? I'll pay anything you like. Just get rid of this damn headache.

Bah. Tokyo, December 2nd and 3rd. Japanese Proficiency and coffee with all the city dwellers. Mark it. I'm gonna get a hotel in Ikebukuro I think 'cause I'm actually taking the test at Saitama U, which seems like way the hell out of the way, but what can you do. Level 2 is mine this year.

05 November 2006


This will be my last Haggard post, I think. See, here's the deal: for the liberal, post-Evangelical, confused agnostically-leaning dude (like myself), guys like Haggard pose a big problem. Because they say they've heard and seen and know, when we are saying you can't know or see or hear. But they say it with such conviction and power, that sometimes, people like me go, Well, maybe people like Haggard are right. It feels so right. Then something like this happens and you can see, clearly, that all that hearing and seeing and knowing was really just an act. And what is real is a man who doesn't really know, who is an awful lot like me (minus, of course, the meth and the male whore).

This isn't about Iraq (obviously). Don't go vote Democratic because Haggard is an asshole. It isn't about whether the Bible is right or not. It's about people who shout and who tell other people what to do. It's about a man condemning homosexuality while being secretly gay. I would have all the respect in the world for him if he had admitted to being gay before all of this, and still said he felt it was wrong. Great, no problem. But the sins the pious seem quick to admit are never the real ones. If you live with it enough, you begin to see that.

Sullivan gets it right again:
Please: Don't exculpate him. But don't demonize him either. He is human; and our calling as Christians is to understand, help and love. That's hard, so hard. The Christian calling is to love one another. Not to pass laws or elect parties. Do we understand how hard it is to simply love one another? Isn't that enough for Christians? Isn't that enough to fill our lives, without politicizing the world?

04 November 2006

Okay, let's take a break


Sorry to keep jumping on this, but the linguist in me got a-hopping. I noticed this quote by Haggard in the Yahoo! story.
Never had a gay relationship with anybody, and I'm steady with my wife, I'm faithful to my wife.
Now, if you look at the wording of this statement, Haggard has not said that he didn't have sex with a man. He said he never had a gay "relationship" with anybody. That doesn't mean he didn't have sex with a man. He could have had repeated sexual encounters, but he is simply insisting (as the gay cowboys did) that he "ain't queer". Also, check out his verb tense when talking about his wife. No one is arguing whether he is or is not faithful to his wife. It is being said that he "hasn't been" faithful to his wife. A small tense thing, but I think this might be more important as this gets a little bit more clear.

Although I guess he does sort of actually deny it here. So much for my forensic linguistics future... (Moreover, Andrew Sullivan has much more of a soul than me.)
So hypothetically, according to you, I can admire a man's penis in the shower, but the moment I put it in my mouth, some sort of line has been crossed?

03 November 2006

A steamer with your scientific method?

Ted Haggard scares the shit out me. Luckily, it seems that he will likely be done in by paying to get himself a steamer (or monthly steamers, it now seems). The "In the News" section of his website has, unfortunately, not been updated yet. But please, don't look at hypocrisy like this critically. John Kerry fucked up a joke. People who fuck up jokes are the real bad guys.

Anyway, so I finally saw "Brokeback Mountain" and I gotta say, a nice little film. Now, I'm not a big fan of watching gay sex, but I fast-forwarded through those parts. Does that make me a bad person? I'm not sure. You might remember what Larry David wrote last year about Brokeback Mountain:
I just know if I saw that movie, the voice inside my head that delights in torturing me would have a field day. "You like those cowboys, don't you? They're kind of cute. Go ahead, admit it, they're cute. You can't fool me, gay man. Go ahead, stop fighting it. You're gay! You're gay!
Well, I didn't quite feel that way, but still, no gay sex watching for me. I'll leave that to the self-righteous, pious, asshole Evangelical leaders.

31 October 2006

Writing as Speaking

I've been working my ass of writing and researching for this paper on "look," "watch," and "see." I think I finally have something to say about the whole thing, but it's too boring and long to type out here. Suffice to say, there's a difference, believe me. My favorite corpus line I saw was, "Toast! I look like a piece of toast!"

29 October 2006

Speaking as Speaking

After 7,000 yen and three trips to the electronic store, I give you:

Yes, well said. Soon this will be fun to watch. I wonder how often the word "attempt" collocates with "blog". Probably a lot.

28 October 2006

Bears, Baseball Managers, and the Japanese Psyche

Hey, so I'm trying to get a working webcam (first one was a failure) so that I can talk to you on Skype and also make video blog entries of me in my underwear.

Bobert Kurtz sent me some old IMs from college and I have been subsequently laughing my ass off:

MySonAbsalom (7:39:19 PM): Although, I did see this girl that I knew from high school at hollywood video.
MySonAbsalom (7:39:29 PM): I was like, dang, I know her.
MySonAbsalom (7:39:36 PM): She was with some tool though.
MySonAbsalom (7:39:48 PM): You know, the, "I wear a hat and shorts" kind of guy.
MySonAbsalom (7:39:56 PM): I hate those guys.

I love Japan for a couple of reasons reasons recently.

  1. Mulleted foreign baseball managers. The Nippon Ham Fighters (dude, I'm not making that up) won the Japan Series this week, and Hillman, the "skipper" for the team, gave the greatest post-game interview ever which was subsequently interpreted into Japanese. Hillman first shouted out in Japanese: "Thank-you, Hokkaido!" and then "I can't believe it!" and then "The Nippon Ham fans are the best!" These phrases were well rehearsed and met with approval by the Ham fans (god, I love saying that). Anyway, after that, Hillman went on to praise the club in heavily idiomized English and a Southern accent. My favorite line went something like, "The bottom line is these men are real men" which got translated, "The team did their best." I would encourage you all, when being interviewed and translated, steer clear of saying things like "the bottom line."
  2. So apparently this two year-old bear has been terrorizing a town somewhere and finally, with television cameras, they managed to find this bear and chase him up a tree. Having trapped the bear in the tree, no one really knew what to do. They tried shaking the tree (cut to crowd of old Japanese townfolk looking on, terrified), but that didn't work. They tried shooting some shit at the bear (cut to townsfolk: still terrified), but this just seemed to frighten the bear more. Finally, they called the fire department in and sent a very earnest looking man up the fire engine ladder with a pole that had a noose on the end. He was able to get this around the bear's neck, but the bear, trying to escape, ended up falling. They cut to a long shot of this and the rope sort of let out slowly so the bear was sort of being hung as it fell. It looked excruciating. Luckily, the bear was okay, and they put it in cage and all the towsfolk gathered around while the bear ate some fruit. The announcer said that they were considering what they should do with the bear, whether or not to put it back out into the forest or not.

27 October 2006

Look. See. Watch.

Anyway, so if you think teaching English is easy, try this little exercise: Explain to me what the word "see" means.  And after that, explain to me why there are 18 definitions of it in the dictionary. And then explain the word "look" and "watch" and how I, as a non-native speaker can know when to use one and not the other.

Anyway, the paper is not going well.

Oh man this guy reminds me of someone.

26 October 2006

Taking Sexy Back, or Grammar and the Blog

Many of you may know that Justin Timberlake has encouraged us to "take sexy back" in our day-to-day life. I have taken this to heart and started a personal style revolution. I know, I know, you might be saying, "But Stephen, style isn't important." I thought the same thing until I was flying over Syria the other day and watching "The Devil Wears Prada." Now, I usually don't like to watch movies that 50 year-old women refer to as "cute" and this movie was not terribly interesting, but there is this great moment where the main character (the devil in Prada) totally schools this girl who tells her that style doesn't matter by lecturing the girl briefly on the history of the blue, bargain bin sweater the girl's wearing. It was fascinating. Anyway, I bought a sweater vest.

I am working on getting my dissertation proposal, you know, made, and I think I am going to write about grammar in blog-writing and how it might be viewed as a hybrid genre between writing and speaking and how this might be illustrated using a corpus. Grammar and Internet writing is a vast and fascinating field, I think, and could very well grow into a PhD.

24 October 2006


Gotta love the Japanese.

A Japanese woman, Aimi, told the paper:
"For us, Paris is a dream city. All the French are beautiful and elegant ... And then, when they arrive, the Japanese find the French character is the complete opposite of their own."

Something has me thinking about this poem again.
Prayer; Jorie Graham
Over a dock railing, I watch the minnows, thousands, swirl
themselves, each a minuscule muscle, but also, without the
way to create current, making of their unison (turning, re-
entering and exiting their own unison in unison) making of themselves a
visual current, one that cannot freight or sway by
minutest fractions the water's downdrafts and upswirls, the
dockside cycles of finally-arriving boat-wakes, there where
they hit deeper resistance, water that seems to burst into
itself (it has those layers) a real current though mostly
invisible sending into the visible (minnows) arrowing
motion that forces change--
this is freedom. This is the force of faith. Nobody gets
what they want. Never again are you the same. The longing
is to be pure. What you get is to be changed. More and more by
each glistening minute, through which infinity threads itself,
also oblivion, of course, the aftershocks of something
at sea. Here, hands full of sand, letting it sift through
in the wind, I look in and say take this, this is
what I have saved, take this, hurry. And if I listen
now? Listen, I was not saying anything. It was only
something I did. I could not choose words. I am free to go.
I cannot of course come back. Not to this. Never.
It is a ghost posed on my lips. Here: never.

22 October 2006

Absolutely Fascinating

Students of Japanese might find this fascinating. This is a conversation from a Japanese corpus of interviews and role-playing. I usually have trouble following conversations that I am not participating in after about ten minutes so its crazy helpful to be able to follow along with the text. Also, as it's an interview, the subject matter shifts more predictably then a natural conversation, but the conversation (the idiomatic phrases and polite and honorific forms) are all very natural, I think. For the 99% of you who aren't studying Japanese, well, watch this instead.

I talked to some Mormons yesterday who ignored the international fuck-off sign. Then some Jehovah's witnesses came to my door, and I helped them understand that they shouldn't come to my door to tell me what they believe. No effing patience.

I skipped church and my sunglasses and WordTank G55 totally came in today. Now, stylish and able to search English collocations, I am unstoppable.

21 October 2006


The due date is May 26th, 2008. Now, our little guy/ girl has two legs and little claw-like hands. Don't worry, I expect he/ she will grow out of it (unless he or she takes after his or her uncle). Yoko says it sort of looks like a mouse, but I think he or she looks like me. I like how he or she is totally just perched on the edge of the womb. You can already sense the killer instinct.

19 October 2006

Three years

Believe it or not, I have now been living in Japan for three years.

I wrote this in my journal, three years ago:

When we got to the church this afternoon and there were even more people to meet us. Miyauchi Sensei’s family, his wife and children, his wife’s mother (we think), and another very happy woman who kept saying, “I only speak Japanese!” and “I am a very happy person!”  She asked us how old we were and her eyes lit up: “My daughters! You need to meet!” The daughters were 22 and 18, both of whom spoke a little English and who were happy to meet us, but not quite as happy as their mother. We ate in the sanctuary, and everyone sort of talked around us, Eri stopping occasionally to let us know what was going on. Miyauchi Sensei sat near the window and during an awkward silence said something which Eri smiled at and told us, “He’s just very happy that you are here.”
There was some negotiation about where we would shower, Miyauchi Sensei saying we could either shower at the house or the public bath. He made a point to say, through Eri, “You won’t wear a bathing suit. Is that okay?” We said we didn’t care, and it was pretty clear he wanted us to use the public bathhouse.
We went to dinner at an Italian restaurant on the bay and we fumbled through conversation. After dinner, Miyauchi Sensei told us he would take us to the public bath and DK and I shared some concerned looks. We drove up into the hills, got out of the car and then walked further up through what seemed to be a very touristy part of town that had closed for the day. At the end of a path lined with closed food stands, we got to the public bathhouse. Miyauchi Sensei bought tickets out of a vending machine then gave the tickets to a woman sitting at a counter right by the vending machine. We went down a narrow hallway to the locker area where we all got naked. The public bath is basically a line of showerheads about waist high next to little stools. You sit on the stool and wash with a bar of soap and the showerhead, then get into the hot tub . After washing, we sat in the hot tub for a while, and I realized that the whole room was lined with windows that didn’t have shades. After about five minutes, Miyauchi Sensei got up and we followed him out through sliding doors onto the patio. We stood there, naked, looking out at the city. It was pretty surreal. After a couple of minutes we went back to the hot tub, and Miyauchi Sensei asked about our families.

17 October 2006

Jupiter Has Sixty-One Moons

This poem tells you everything you need to know about everything:

from Sarah Manguso's Siste Viator published in 2006 by Four Way Books.

Jupiter Has Sixty-One Moons

There's no difference between writing down what you hear and
writing down what you wish you heard.

On Jupiter there are sixty-one colors, one for each moon. Painting
students make moon-studies in their first color lessons.

It's hard to see in the dark, as it is for hours each day. Painters are
taught to paint blindfolded. Talented colorists show themselves
during this exercise.

When they do, they are taken away, as they suffer from a disease
that only light can cure.


Here are the pictures from the trip. I'm sorry that they come out so big when you click the links. Resizing them all would just take too much work. But just for the record, I hate when people do what I did and not fix the sizes. I hate that. Also, there's not a lot of commentary now, but I'll be working on that. Maybe.

I did not go past this station, but holy effing cow.

Finally, if I were gay and conservative, I'd want to marry this man. Really, a good hour spent.

Back with Vengance

Well, I am back in Japan with tons of bad, hazy photos. Here's one while I decide what I should do with the rest.


14 October 2006

Pope on a Jeep

Well, with Yoko feeling better, we had ourselves a nice Saturday, heading out to Basillica again so Yoko could see what was up. There was some sort of long, boring service taking place with hundreds of white hat wearing Catholics having a good time. This meant that we couldn't get in, but we decided to stay anyway and watch the Mass and wait for it to end. It took forever and when things were winding down, I got right at the front of the line to head into the Basillica once things were done. There didn't seem to be much going on and I was wondering why things hadn't opened up when suddenly, a white jeep appeared with the Pope on it, waving and blessing. So that was cool that we got to see the Pope and all, and better yet, the line I had chosen to get in the front of was now like halfway around the piazza.

Now, I know there are assholes in all religions, but the moment the mass ended, a hoard of angry, shouting, pushing piligrims disregarded the line we (me and the Germans about about 2,000 other people) had been nursing to push in front of us. I wanted to make a shirt that said, "Cutting in Line Makes Baby Ratziner Cry." Anyway, they all pushed themselves in front of us, but it was fine because they all headed to John Paul 2's tomb, leaving everything else wide open.

Anyway, more later when I get home.

12 October 2006

Pope on a Rope

Yoko spent today in bed and I headed out to the Vatican, adding country number 12 to my ever growing list of, you know, travels. My mentor and friend, Mr. Neal, had asked me to get him "Pope on a Rope" as a souvenir, so I looked all over. No luck. I think I'm going to have to make my own "Pope on a Rope." It has to be big and wood and able to be swung around during a confrontation.

But I saw St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, all that. I followed my strict sight-seeing rule of just getting in lines that look like they're going somewhere. This lead me to the top of the Basilica on one occasion. I also saw St. Peter's remains which were much less popular that Pope John Paul II's remains. I was wandering around this courtyard looking for the entrance to the Vatican and had the funny feeling that I had seen the place where I was, when I realized that I was standing in the middle of that place that all the faithful pilgrims come when the Pope blesses people or has some offical Papal business for everyone. I waited in line, listened to Tupac, and hoped Yoko was feeling better.

Lifted, or the story is in the flowerplanter

Now, two blocks from the Termini in Roma, I come to you live. Malta was nice, but Yoko was sick. Not quite how I envisioned my honeymoon, but there is little to complain about as I am two subway stops from the Colosseum and five from Vatican City. Pictures, stories, all when when I return to Japan. Until then, think now on this: Ulysses in the Oddessy was seduced by the nymph to spend seven years on Malta. I think I know why.

06 October 2006

Bad day, Honeymoon, Short-haired Girl with a Pretty Smile

Yoko cut her hair and made everything okay again.

More good news (gotta sign up to read though). Who the hell can see forever anyway.

I'm going to Malta and Rome now. No teaching English. No Japanese high school bullshit. No motorscooter in the rain. Just me and the lady (albeit, probably vomiting, but still) and the whole Mediterrian Sea spread out before us.

05 October 2006

A good day

Tokyo in the summer:
  1. My Japanese kicked ass on the phone with the customer service people at Canon.
  2. New tutor, Mr. Greg Hadley, who might best be described as prolific. He is going to help me clean up on my dissertation.
  3. Tax refund!?
  4. The Republicans pissing so badly down their legs that I don't think even Howard Dean can eff it up for us. Although I am imagining the meetings the Democrats are  wringing their hands, trying to figure out some way to throw it all away. Howard Dean piping up after about a minute of silence, "Hey, what if I scream again? That worked last time. Right? Right, guys?!"
  5. This isn't a good thing, but Tom, did Foley ever hit on you when you were a page?

04 October 2006

Death to my WordTank and Michael W. Smith shares the gospel of vests

The WordTank G50 is a small device that makes my life livable here in Japan. I use this thing for several hours a day if I am studying or reading. I can use it with my eyes closed. Anyway, my WordTank, ironically, "tanked" out yesterday. Fine, I thought, you little bastard, I'll just get you fixed. But unfortunately, in this high-paced kinetic world we live in, a one year warranty is about the most you get on consumer electronic devices. After that, well, you're screwed. And me? Being the dumb, slow-moving ox that I am, I will probably go out and buy another one of these.

Yoko was walking around the apartment loudly praying that God would relieve her of her morning sickness, but I advised against it. As God had already answered the prayer of having a child, we wouldn't want to appear selfish. I also told the baby a couple of things about life. I've been doing my best here to clean and cook and tend to my ailing wife, but spirits are low in the apartment. I am hoping this trip will do us good and not evil although I don't want to try my luck with any sort of prayer.

And finally, Michael W. Smith used to be a personal hero of mine until I stopped cross-stiching and realized that he sucked. Turning 15 was really great for me in a lot of other ways too. Anyway, here is my former personal hero making an ass out of himself. I probably saw this when I was 14 or 10 or whatever and thought, Holy cow, this man can move. Now, older and colder, I am embarrassed for him, for myelf, and, really, for America. Jesus sort of looks like my friend Hiroshi, and dude, seriously, what's with the vest and the white t-shirt with no sleeves? I like how he runs his hand through his hair too. Man. What I wouldn't give to be 10 or 14 or whatever, one more time.

01 October 2006


Murakami at Harvard

If you can't read the heading for this, you probably don't have a mac. I finally finished reading Haruki Murakami's (wicked link, by the way) novel _Umibe no Kafuka_ or rather _Kafka on the Shore_ in Japanese. This is my third Murakami book in Japanese, although at over 1000 pages and two volumes, the longest. This is quite an accomplishment in my small, self-promoting world. I took a long break from the book over the summer, but came back this last week. I can't find my English translation which is bothering the hell out of me as I am really interested in how the last line is translated as it is one of those troubling present/ future- progressive verbs that could be read two ways. This is interesting to me.

I started a new class at Birmingham this week. "Corpus Linguistics" is just about as interesting as it sounds and I'm sure I'll have thoughts. I just like being able to tell everyone who argues with me about grammar, Well, why don't you check the corpus and tell me what you find. Everyone is always so shocked that you sometimes can't say things that are "grammatically" correct, like "She has been passed away for two years." Nothing wrong grammatically there, but if you say it, you sound retarded. One teacher was shocked that I found it hard to hear the prononciation difference in the "O" between "bone" and "born." "And you're a native speaker!?" she said.

Lastly, I was wondering during the church service today why it was that I was at church. The sermon was about the Bride of Christ and as I was thinking about what a lame metaphor this was and how everyone in church seemed to be sleeping, it seemed that it wouldn't really make any difference if I left. Anyway, Yoko was playing the organ today and as the communion time rolled around, I noticed she didn't look so hot. This look (one that I've come to recognize the last couple of days) got worse and worse and by the time she went to cover her mouth, I was out of the pew, standing in front of 40 or so, now not so sleepy, elderlies , and urging her to go to hurry to the bathroom. The organ was saved and so was our "face" to some degree as she quickly returned, apologetic, to play the rest of the songs for the morning. We still haven't told anyone at church about the baby, but I think everyone knows. The pastor's wife stopped us after the service, saying, "How is the WIFE? We need to take care of the WIFE" and then in a quieter voice, "You know, I had diarrhea last week."

There's that sound again...

30 September 2006

Please, as you were

Whoever coined the term "morning sickness" certainly got the "sickness" part right. Yoko's been one hell of a trooper, I'll tell you that. I, on the other hand, have not. The sound of someone vomiting makes me nauseous. I just want everything to be okay. I think the baby will have black hair. And blue eyes. Yoko says that's not possible because eye color comes from the mother's side of the family. I have never cared for genetics. The baby will be so small.

One good thing is I might be in line for a kind of "promotion" at school next year. Well, not really a "promotion" but more money and better hours and the prestige of being a "full time" teacher at my "prestigious" high school. I would type the name, but then if someone does a search for it, this will come up. And everyone would find out what you already know: that I'm a sham.

My neck beard slipped down the drain of the shower today. All of it, but the soul patch. Yoko laughed. "Only this is left?" she said.

I bet I could write a Mountain Goats song: "I went to the bathroom./ I wasn't wearing any shoes./ The tile was cold./ But not that cold./ The toilet was white./..." and so forth. Please don't take that to mean that I don't love the hell out of the Mountain Goats. Because I do.

Moreover, if this song here can't touch you, well, you are standing too far away.

29 September 2006

Shakes Like a Toothache

I suppose it's okay now to go public with this juicy bit of gossip. Yoko and I have, apparently, made a baby. Only a 10 mm fleck of person floating inside Yoko, I suspect even now it grows. If this comes as some surprise to you, rest assured it can't be anymore of a surprise than it was to us. I'm over the shock now and feeling content about it. As much as I can, I guess. My love for this little person is seemingly endless already and we have names and all that...I agreed to not make this new blog about my insecurity or anything too personal, but this cannot be avoided, I guess.

But hey, I totally beat the Yahoo BB internet provider phonetree at their own game today. It took me a couple of days, but I won.

This morning, I woke up and laid in bed reading Murakami for about a half hour. Murakami in the morning (a story today about a brother and sister) is refreshing. Makes me believe that there is a Japanese soul beneath all this soul-less exterior. From Norwegian Wood:
Reiko lit a cigarette. The wind had died down. The smoke rose straight up and disappeared into the darkness of night. Just then I realized that the sky was filled with stars.

28 September 2006

Day 30, an Ending

What a fucked up week. Ever been angry and taken in out on your wife? Yeah, that's just all bad.

We end my thirty days of cellphone photos, today, with a shot of the menu at my favorite family restaurant, Gusto. Gusto takes between 15 and 20 US dollars from me a week, I would guess. It's the drink bar. All you can drink. I can drink a lot.

27 September 2006

Day 29, A Tie Day

Today was not great. I wore a necktie to impress you and you were like, "To the ringer, sir."

Italy, Malta: 11 days?

26 September 2006

Day 28 in the Park

Somebody searching "niigata alt" yesterday helped make it one of my top five days since starting this blog. So thank you, whoever you are or are not.

Studying Japanese in the park.

Another Typical Ending


The Fall sumo tournament ended the way they all pretty much have since I've been in Japan, with the Grand Champion, Asashoryu, handing just about everybody their ass, in one way or another. The bout on Saturday when he fought Ozeki Chiotaikai was some of the least beautiful sumo I have ever seen. Asashoryu basically threw a punch and Chiotaikai pulled Asashoryu down by his topknot, both big no-no's. Kotooshu, did okay this time around. Nothing to, you know, call home about but...

Abe san, the new prime minister, was also present, still looking like an awkward ninth grader on the first day of high school. But don't worry, sir. Your xenophobia will certainly save you.

24 September 2006

Day 26: Too much church

Too much church for a Sunday today. I came home from the service, defeated. Took a long shower, laid out on the bed with "The Economist" and noise-cancelling headphones. Nothing better than that, friends. You have Japanese church which is just a glorified club and US church which is just a glorified Starbucks. I'm beginning to wonder if church is really what I need on a Sunday morning.

Here are Yoko and I, looking like a newlywed couple:

23 September 2006

25, An Experiment, and Group Therapy

Neal was up this weekend for a group therapy session with me and Efrain. All three of us have things to work through and like to do so by the fire, on the beach, with guitars.

If I type "sexy britney spears naked pictures XXX hot" and add similar tags, how many more hits will I get to my blog do you think? I suspect an increase. If you got to this entry by typing in any of those words, get control of yourself, man. Come the hell on.

I found out today that one of my bosses at one of my part-time jobs is likely linked to the seedy underbelly of Japanese organized crime. For my part, I have no idea and don't really care as the job pays well and promptly. But if I disappear without explanation, well, don't come looking for me.

It's a beautiful day in Niigata. October is nice here, I think. And only 14 days until Rome. Oo-la-oo-la-la.

22 September 2006

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Day Twenty-four

I watched the Iranian President on Youtube and I thought a couple of things. First, Mike Wallace is an asshole. Second, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is too cute. He seems like a nice uncle who you know could crush you. Third, America is a great country because you can see this guy talk on our TV. Fourth, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is just a more polite George Bush.

Now, I'm going to eat this with my wife.

20 September 2006

Day 22, So much to say

Way the hell too much going on in my head tonight to share. I remember when I would ask people to pray for me or feel good when someone said they were praying for me. I really don't think I could care less now. When you let go of one thing, will there always be another to take its place.

I finished my essay and maybe I'll post it on this site for those of you that are interested. Until then, please enjoy the 22 part of my 30 part series entitled "Japan Sees, Japan Does".

Here, a flag advertising cleaning.

The shuffle, the neckbeard, and my father

I am growing a neckbeard because I want to be more like my friend Berto. Or an Amish guy. I remember that my father used to have a beard and then one day, out of the blue, he shaved it off. I remember how uneasy I felt about it, even though I was 8 or 9. I remember that I had the urge to cry, but I don't remember why.

I remember my father once read a story I wrote and laughed at a grammar mistake I had made. I remember how badly I felt about the mistake, how I had wanted to cry again, and how I always wondered what he thought of the story. Such small, unimportant things that stick in me so vividly.

19 September 2006

Day 21 and Holy Freaking Cow

It was Hakkai san that we climbed.

And you know what? Holy freaking cow.

18 September 2006

Day Twenty spent on Mountain

Today, me and some friends climbed up one of the holiest mountains in Niigata. Here is a prayer card from the mountain. The woman or man who wrote this hopes to get married soon. Good luck.

16 September 2006

Day 18, Teach me an English Phrase

I never have really felt great about teaching English to children. From the infamous "Phonics March" to many failed attempts at teaching penmanship, today I finally feel like I reached one of the hardest students I have. So much so that I thought, Given the right text, I bet I could teach him to read. Here is a game he created with which we practiced plural production and counting.

Two material possessions have been causing me a great deal of suffering this week: my motor bike and my cell phone. Why had an R appeared on the screen of my phone and why did it keep insisting I had new messages. I checked several times, man, there are no new messages. After thumbing through the 556 page owner's manual in Japanese, I was even more discouraged, but I think I finally fixed the problem. Also, I wintered up my motorbike.

Big problems occur when you start writing poems to unborn children.

15 September 2006

Day 17 and one year

Yoko and I have been together now for one year and to celebrate, we went to eat at this Korean restaurant out where Neal once lived. It's not terribly authentic as it has the quiet Japanese restaurant vibe and nobody shouting. The food was not that bad, I thought, but not nearly hot enough though. Still, it made me miss Korea again and want to go back as soon as I can.

There was a poster up from this Korean soap opera that Yoko watches religiously, every Saturday night at 11:15. I just can't get into it, but Changumu is working hard in some King's palace, best I can tell, and these evil women with braids are always keeping her down. And there's like this evil cousin figure too. Like I said, I don't do a great job of keeping up.

13 September 2006

Me Goolies, Language, Religion

I want to write about religion, but I should note my limitations first as a language speaker (I have only studied three languages seriously and only speak two proficiently) and second as a religious scholar (I have a basic knowledge of Western, monotheistic religions and a very poor background in Eastern religion). Maybe there is some language in Uganda and a religion in PNG that would totally blow me out of the water.

I can safely say that the goal of all language is communication. Communication is essentially organized the same in every culture because we all experience processes and participants, which we try to describe to others. The goal is always to have someone else understand you. Languages, however, differ greatly (some times) in how they accomplish that. For example, Japanese does not have a future tense. For a speaker of English, this is very troubling. How do you talk about the future? For the Japanese speaker, they have a hard time understanding our obsession with counting things (plurals) and articles (a, the). Why in the world do you need such troubling little words.

The truth is that Japanese are able to communicate about the future without the future tense — you can still talk about the future effectively. Also, even though there are no articles, it turns out that you really don't need them to always make clear whether you're talking about "a chair" or "the chair" as circumstance usually takes care of these problems. We get to the same place different ways.

What is the goal of religion exactly? Could you say that all religions are after "truth"? Some might say, "To worship God," but even if there was a God, it's impossible to prove one way or the other and therefore unhelpful in our argument. I might argue that religion helps us create working societies full of safety and virtue. I might argue that somewhere along the line communities developed a sense of what was generally good for the group and bad for the group. I might argue that.

All religions have a sense of what is right and wrong, but really differ in the specifics. For example, not eating pork doesn't do me any good one way or the other unless I'm Jewish or Muslim and practicing the meaning that is associated with abstaining from pork. The rightness of it is drawn from my community, the same way as right language is drawn from where you live. Now, in religious practice, many rights and wrongs turn out to be the same because, like language, we all exist as humans in time. Our experience is pretty much the same. On one side of the world and the other, both communities have figured out that killing your neighbor for no good reason is bad for the group and therefore a bad thing.

Don't look back at Day 15

It was raining so I walked to the bridge and listened to this song that many of you probably had when you were younger, ten years ago, maybe. But not me. This is 2006, autumn for me.

12 September 2006

Day 14, Beer Here

In some places, it's impossible to buy some beer when the local supermarket is closed. Not in Japan. 

On leaving an imprint on the world: If you acquire wealth by not pursuing wealth and living what we might call a "balanced" life: okay, fine. Good can come of that for you and those around you. But if you live a life set on acquiring more, you will suffer, I think.

On religions being the same: I think all religions are the same in the sense that all languages are the same. They use sounds to explain processes and participants. But of course, all languages are different: they do things using much different grammar, syntax, lexis, etc..

Holy shit, don't steal that; it's a PhD dissertation: Chomsky's Universal Grammar applied to religious expression.