Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Friday, April 15, 2005

Standing on the Corner...

It’s a glorious, sunny morning, and my position in front of the Lawson convenience store doesn’t award me a wonderful view of the sprawling valley encircling Lake Kitaura below. I’m also totally unable to see the spectacularly blooming cherry trees that line the entrances to the campus. Still, after the bizarre, muggy, mid-summer weather we had all last week, and the sudden, even more bizarre plunge back into winter the past couple of days, it’s actually quite pleasant today. It’s shirt-sleeve weather. So here I am, standing on the sidewalk dressed in a blue-gray suit and tie, a school armband pinned to one shoulder.

Traffic safety detail is so much fun, I can tell you. There’s really nothing like standing on a street corner scrutinizing the dress and behavior of the students as they come piling into the school in the morning.

I take that back; there is something kind of like it. You know those street preachers that you sometimes find standing on sidewalks in busy, urban shopping districts? The ones that give their spiel in a droning, vacant manner because they’ve long since given up on anyone actually listening? Well, traffic safety detail is kind of like that. Most of my co-workers dutifully give their warnings to any offenders that they see. They do so in a droning, vacant manner because they all learned long ago there’s no hope of anyone paying attention.

As it turns out, I have a problem with that, so, once again, I’ve got to be the gaijin. I tend to let the minor infractions pass. However, anything that actually catches my attention leads to my halting the offender and pressing the issue till I actually get a response, preferably the prompt correction of the problem.

I’m such a barbarian.

Needless to say, when the students see me on the street wearing that armband, they usually say a cheerful greeting and then give me a wide berth. Through the magic of cell phone technology, they then quickly send out an APB to everyone that hasn’t arrived yet, advising them to come to school via a different route. At least that’s what they usually do. This time, however, I’ve got them trapped. I’m standing in front of the closest convenience store to the school. It’s the regular watering hole and magazine stop for all those individuals that come to school by train. It’s either deal with me or suffer painful Pepsi and/or comic book withdrawal.

Naturally, quite a crowd ends up coming my way, but they’re actually being good. Almost all of the uniforms are up to specs. They’re crossing within the crosswalks in obedience to the signals. They’re greeting me in a both polite and friendly manner. I only end up giving two rather small warnings, and the offenders immediately respond. Amazing. There must be an epidemic of decency going around or something.

Then again, it’s only the first full week of classes. The new school year has only just begun, and the students are in a sort of New Year resolution mode. I’m sure things will wilt back to normal in a few weeks, but for now things are close to picture perfect…almost too perfect…just like the fact that I’m wearing a suit and tie. That has become a sort of annual ritual for me. I wear suits for the first few weeks of a new school year, and then I remember why I rarely wear suits. Then it’s back to the semi-professional, semi-casual blend that is my usual work uniform.

As always this time of year, I keep overhearing female students and members of the faculty muttering regretfully that I look a lot better in a suit. I have nothing whatever against that sort of attention. (Actually, I rather enjoy it!) However, I have never liked the idea of being reminded of the worst yuppie [expletive]s I had to suffer in my university days every time I look in the mirror. And of course, there is also the fact that suits just can’t be cleaned quickly or often enough (definitely a problem in muggy weather…phew…).

There are lots of students from other schools passing by on their bicycles. Most of the ones I see are headed for Itako High School, which is a good seven or eight miles away. It’s definitely a good way to stay in shape, I’d wager, but I’d hate to be in their shoes in any other kind of weather. I draw a lot of stares, naturally, but fortunately none of them veers out into oncoming traffic. After all, by now they’ve developed a sort of third eye to help them maneuver on crowded, narrow streets while engaged in deep conversation with their friends.

Japanese youth seem to have refined the art of completely ignoring one’s surroundings while still unconsciously dealing with them. This ability is demonstrated by a group of students from Kashima Gakuen, the other private high school in this city, when they zip across the street against the signal and shoot past me without at all acknowledging the existence of either the cars on the road or one of my colleagues who steps forward and drones a vacant warning to them. They are threading their bicycles around moving obstacles and talking to each other with their faces firmly buried in their cell phones. Now that takes talent!

The sun is making me sleepy. The fact that I only got five and a half hours of sleep last night doesn’t help. Neither does the fact that I’m bombed on antihistamines, though I’m still snorting like a Mack truck, and my eyes are burning. After having lived in these islands for a decade and a half, I’ve finally fallen prey to the scourge of the Japanese cedar. At least half of Japanese living in the Kanto and southern Tohoku regions have to deal with the torture brought about by all those millions of grains of pollen spat out by those obnoxiously beautiful trees this time of year. And, wouldn’t you know it, the school is surrounded by a forest of the things. I think it’s a conspiracy.

Speaking of conspiracies, the news is still filled with talk of the violent anti-Japanese protests taking place in China. I can somewhat sympathize with the Chinese point of view in this matter. After all, it’s bad enough that the Japanese government still refuses to own up to the atrocities inflicted in Asia by the imperial regime back in the 30s and 40s. It’s even worse that a group of right-wing teachers got together and produced a series of history textbooks that make a point of whitewashing that history and somehow managed to get it approved. However, the fact that several municipalities and private schools have adopted those textbooks, stating that the important thing is for children to have pride in their country, is positively unbelievable. Well, as it turns out, the Chinese have also taught their children to have pride in their country. That’s why there are thousands of twenty-something-year-olds in China vandalizing Japanese chain stores, pelting Japanese embassies and consulates with eggs and rocks, attacking Japanese police and government websites, and beating Japanese exchange students with glass bottles.

I’m afraid that it’s there that my “somewhat sympathize” ends.

I can understand demonstrations. I can even understand noisy demonstrations. However, violent ones do nothing but kill my support. I don’t see the logic in expressing anger at Japan by vandalizing stores whose franchise license is owned by Chinese and which employ only Chinese workers. Beating and injuring Japanese students that are in China because they are interested in China is definitely not a good way to encourage sympathy among the Japanese. Disabling police and government websites only serves to make Japan look like the victim. I feel the same way about all that that I do about leftists in America trying to fix injustices by jumping up and down on police cars or rampaging through shopping malls. I don’t care how righteous you may think you are; you’re not going to win converts by pissing people off.

(I once expressed that sentiment on a discussion site frequented by leftists. I was told by a frothy-mouthed “hero” to “stay the f*** out of the way of those of us that are sick of this s*** and determined to do something about it”. Okay, I will. Go right on digging your own grave.)

I have to admit, though, that I’m a bit suspicious of a demonstration against historical wrongdoings when neither the people participating in that demonstration nor their parents were even born yet when the wrongdoings are said to have occurred. While we’re at it, the Chinese government could very well own up to some of its own historical atrocities, but I guess that’s irrelevant.

A black truck pulls into the convenience store parking lot. On its trailer is a beautiful, silver coupe. The truck itself is emblazoned with the words, “Movie and Stunt Car Finishing”. What’s that all about? I know that there are a few celebrities that come to Kashima in order to go fishing or stay at their beach cabins. The well-known pop singer/TV personality Takuya Kimura (“Kimutaku”) has been seen several times at the 7-11 just a couple of blocks down the road together with his fishing buddies and bodyguards. There are also all those well-paid soccer heroes that play for our beloved Kashima Antlers, who have just returned to the number one spot…at least for the time being…after bouncing around in the ranks for the past few years. (I only wish the Blazers would do half as well.) Does that silver machine belong to one of them, or is someone filming something around here?

Now is definitely not a good time to be driving that sort of vehicle. Not only are oil prices up, but the government just jacked up the gasoline tax, probably in response to all those Priuses that are appearing on the road in ever-increasing numbers. I don’t blame people for buying those things. Right now the price of regular gas is almost 120 yen per liter (close to $4.00 a gallon) at the local self-service stations. I’ve read that my BLUE RAV4 has the best gas mileage of any non-hybrid SUV, but that’s still not saying a whole lot when I have to pay $60 a pop to fill the tank, especially with my sixteen mile commute up and down all those hills.

Right now a Dodge Viper is definitely out.

At 8:30 the rush peters out. The last regular commuter train has already come and gone, and morning home room starts in five minutes. Student traffic has wound down to a few, individual stragglers. Mr. Arakawa, one of my partners on traffic safety detail (and also my new grade chief as well as our school’s well-loved, resident mad scientist and champion drinker) suggests we call it a day. As he and Mr. Otomo head for their cars, I make a quick dash into the Lawson. As long as they’ve graciously put up with our cars occupying their parking lot (and our presence frightening away some of their clientele), I figure giving them my business is the least I can do. Besides, it also means one less day of cafeteria food.

P.S. This afternoon, while I was doing a bit of web searching at the school, we suddenly lost all outside internet access capability. I mean the whole school. That included both the school's network and the English department's own. The LANs were unaffected, of course, but all internet access was lost at exactly the same time even though the two networks are totally separate from and independent of one another and even use different provider services. (The school is on a local cable service, whereas the English department uses NTT's ADSL service linked through a wireless remote hub. There is no connection between the two systems whatsoever.) My cell phone was able to access the internet without any trouble (NTT Docomo), not that it really did me any good. After about an hour, the two systems were able to connect again. I wonder what happened. Was it another cyberattack from the Middle Kingdom?

Whatever it was, it was spooky.


  • Maybe you should add a riding crop with that armband. That'll put em in line!

    By Blogger Vulgarius, at 1:14 AM  

  • No moustache!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:52 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 8:14 PM  

  • Don't hold your breath for oil products to get cheaper. The world is finite. Oil is finite. The growth of human activity is outstripping the production of oil (and other resources). Oil production is peaking, but our use of it grows unabated. It is part of the reason Japan and China are sniping at each other. See for further information from scientists. Sorry, but I think the Viper is out for the count unless you have money to burn. Pun intended. The good news is, there will be less automobile traffic for you to deal with.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 8:18 PM  

  • I must protest this entire post because the Blazers are exactly half as good as the basketball.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 1:03 AM  

  • Re: your internet mystery - My guess is that both systems are linked thru the same server somewhere nearby. Even tho you buy service from provider X, you might be "served" by anyone anywhere. Most providers just lease server time. Your cell phone goes thru a different server.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:07 AM  

  • Interesting line of work. Do you get paid extra for this? Can you drink a can of Georgia (coffee) while you're doing it?
    What would constitute a "STOP RIGHT THERE!" from Kevin Sensei?

    By Anonymous Jeff, at 11:26 AM  

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