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Apr. 16th, 2007

Love Poem to a Public Broadcaster


And no, it's not the CBC, though I do love them.





asfunction:playTune,3

Apr. 10th, 2007

Beck and the morning after


First off, apologies for being a bit behind on the video this week.

It's Tuesday morning and I had a great time at the Beck show in Osaka last night. It was quite something to see him in such a small venue - Zepp Osaka is comparable to the Opera House in Toronto or Barrymore's in Ottawa. The show opened with a puppet show version of the band "performing" Loser, and the band came out half-way through. The puppet show was a key feature of the show - puppeteers were situated right behind the band mimicking their performance and this was projected up in "Puppetron" behind the stage. Devil's Haircut and New Pollution followed, setting a good tone for the night. Though Japanese audiences have a bit of reputation for static viewership, this group was pretty energetic and the band seemed to respond to it. "Clap Hands", near the end of the set, was another highlight, with only Beck on acoustic and the rest of the band seated at a dinner table playing dishes and cutlery. They had just eaten a small sushi dinner while Beck played a quieter acoustic set, mixing in "Wave of Mutilation" and the Velvets' "Sunday Morning".

The show ended early enough - it was barely 9pm - for us to have dinner and catch the last shinkansen back to Okayama at 11pm. I drove the cow van back to Yakage and was happy to be home by 115am.

This morning is the school's opening ceremony for the new school year, and a welcome for the new Grade 7s.

Congratulations to Nigel on getting into Teacher's College, to All Caps for a year of bring music to the kids, and if you're in Toronto, check out Lauren's No Shame show on Wednesday night, featuring Amber and Jon! (See ad below)


Video 03 Kyoto - Twango

Apr. 3rd, 2007

Weekly video

Hey there,

I went to Kyoto this past weekend. I'll post about it next weekend, but here's this week's video - it's part 2 of the tour of Yakage. I'm afraid I can't get the links to embed properly yet, but just click the link below.

Hope you're all well and congratulations to Nigel on getting into Teacher's College!

Video 02 Yakage Fall Tour - Twango

Mar. 29th, 2007

Thursday Afternoon

It sounds like winter's hanging on in Canada, but spring's definitely hit Japan. I was out in a t-shirt on Sunday.

Speaking of Sunday, that night in Toronto, Lauren put on her first show under the banner of Shameless Promotions, and it was very successful. "No Shame" Night No.1 at Tiger Bar sold out twice over, and featured Woodhands and Republic of Safety - one of my favourites - as well as Bocce and The Miles. Sorry to those out there that went and couldn't get in, and congratulations, Laur, for the success. It was Eye's Pick of the Week. I wish I could have been there.

Next month's show will feature my ex-roommate and friend Amber's band, so if you're in Toronto, do check it out! The Boat in Kensington Market, Wednesday April 11, 9pm, $5. Sarah Mingle, An Eastern Wind, Isla Craig and Story Lane Road (Amber and Jon).

The cherry blossoms are starting to come out, and I'm going to Kyoto for the first time this weekend to see them. I'll be sure to post some pictures.

Also, if you have iTunes, you can go to my Twango site and subscribe to my channel, so if I post any audio or video, your computer can download it automatically.

There are pictures posted there as well.

Hope you're all sleeping well on Wednesday night...

Kindly yours,

Kevin

Mar. 24th, 2007

Herky-Jerk Breakfast Serial Concern Part 1

Hi everyone.

Here is a short tour video that I shot riding around on my bike with my cell phone before winter set in. I'm trying to piece together a picture of my town, Yakage. I meant to do this a long time ago, but was wrestling with different editing software and technical difficulties. Perhaps they're ironed out and you'll be able to find video clips here from time to time. I'm going to try to post photos and smaller clips at my Twango site.

<embed src="http://www.twango.com/flash/player.aspx?media=kevinsasaki.10032&channelname=kevinsasaki.public" width="512" height="420" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"></embed>

(no subject)

<a href="http://www.twango.com/media/kevinsasaki.public/kevinsasaki.10031"><img src="http://media.twango.com/m1/roundedthumbnail/0047/ee5ecd40cdb44df0ab0ba00f135603af.jpg" border="0" title="Earthquake Drill - Twango" alt="Earthquake Drill - Twango" width="100" height="100" /></a>

Mar. 19th, 2007

End of the year

If you're just checking out the blog for the first time, thanks for stopping by.

It's Monday morning and sunny. Today looks to be a bit of a slow one.

In Japan, the school year begins in April and ends in March with a two-week Spring break in between. The kids do get a longer break in summer between first and second term, which is when I arrived and when I will leave as well.
I'm teaching at a Junior High School, Grades 7 to 9. They are called "first, second and third year students (ichi-, ni-, and san-nensei)" respectively. I work most closely with the second years, and their English teacher, Mr. Kazunori Harada. In the office, my desk is with the other second year teachers, and when I have free periods, I join second year classes. There are three other English teachers - Aota, Saito and Okubo - that I also work with.

Anyway, last week was really quiet. A lot of the first years have been sick with the flu, so their classes were half-full.* And the third years were out all week visiting their future high schools, so I had very few classes.

Last Friday was Graduation Day for the third years. Nice ceremony, a lot of formality, some tearful speeches. In the evening, I went out for dinner and drinks in Kurashiki with the second year teachers. We had a private room in a sukiyaki restaurant. The food was great, and since neither of the English teachers came, I had a good Japanese workout.

Saturday I went into Okayama City in the afternoon, and a farewell party for some English teachers who were returning to the States. I've only met Anne and Ben a few times, but it was good to hang out with them and meet their replacements. They work at a small private school run by a ex-pat Torontonian, and their replacements are also Canadians - Adam and Estella.

Last weekend I was talked into joining up with the Touch Rugby team, and we had our second practice Sunday afternoon. It's a lot of fun, and all the Kiwis seem happy to be showing us the game. There's a tournament in April in Shikoku.

Bye for now.

* About a month ago, our prefecture was in the news for having Japan's fifth outbreak of bird flu. They were culling birds in Takahashi, just north of here, where some of my school's teachers are from, as well as my friends Ana and Rene. It was the talk of the staff room for a while, but it's simmered down.

Mar. 6th, 2007

Hadaka Matsuri Part III of III

Ah yes... cigarette smoke. Honestly, it was getting a little ripe in there. I caught a whiff of burning plastic and found that someone had left a plastic bag on one of the heaters. Half an hour later, it was nearing eleven o'clock and the tent is as densely packed as... well, Japan. Except everyone's male and in diapers. The blue tarp on the roof is bloating with rainwater and slipping down the cracks between the tents, dragging with it the wires and exposed bulbs, and contributing to the feeling of claustrophobia. I get the word from Vasco that they're heading out, and I've almost forgotten about the cold.

I'm reminded as I step outside, my feet now tightly wrapped in tape. I catch a group and find that we're all linking arms now, still yelling. Wa shoi! Inside a running group, it's warmer but we disperse as we run through the pool again. This time, we go all the way in, around the fountain at the back which showers us, then run back out. My taped feet make it through, and we continue along the course.

Now, the temple is covered with people. An Irish friend, Wayne, and I make our way up the stairs. It is warmer up there, and sheltered from the rain, but the crowd is pitching violently. I am reminded of the mosh pits of the 90s. There is no crowd surfing, I am relieved to see. Wayne is shouting that his feet are being trampled, and I'm trying to stay upright as waves of human force crush us together. I keep an eye out for escape routes and make sure I can still get out. I spend a while up there. My feet are punished and I have a moment of being stretched, my foot stuck on the ground and my body being carried away with someone's elbow in my chest.  Around 1130pm I decide that it's getting too violent and I make my way to the edge, rolling around people and trying to squeeze my way out. The men at the outside are tightly packed to keep the crowd from spilling off this platform and down the stone stairs. In a moment I go from feeling trapped to very, very exposed, as I look out over the gathered mass of people below.

Outside the rain is still falling and the men are mostly standing, huddled together and waiting for midnight. I take up a spot underneath the temple eaves at the bottom of the stairs and watch the action above.

Every few minutes, a long and penetrating line of poncho-ed police insinuated their way through the crowd and up the stairs, apparently pulling out people in danger, and then retreating. The men applaud every time, and it's a welcome intervention. I'm amazed that they manage to make it in there, and wonder if maybe this whole thing isn't just a training activity for riot police.

Then the white lights go out, replaced by red spots and strobes, and I know the sticks have been dropped because the storm on the temple platform has broken loose and now men are running in the dark, chasing each other and for a minute it feels like total chaos. I'm confused and don't see any sticks so I follow a running group for a minute. I run into my friend Ludo. He tells me that we should head for the gate because anyone who gets a stick has to go through there. I follow him but he disappears in the crowd.

As I arrive at the gate, the lights come up... the game is over and I can see the energy dissipating. I head to the tent and arrive before the crowd, pull my jeans on over my fundoshi and savour the warmth, grab my bag and slip outside into the departing crowd of spectators.

The only sign that I was a participant are the tabi socks that I still have on my feet as I walk through the town in the rain.

Feb. 27th, 2007

Hadaka Matsuri: CONTINUED Part II

Dear Reader,

If you're just tuning in now, please go down to the previous post (below) to read the beginning.

Before I launch back into this.... I'd like to send out some birthday wishes:

Happy birthday to the Patrick twins, Kylie and Ben in Ottawa and to the "Triple Birthday Action" triumvirate in Toronto: Nirmala, Emily and Wendy. They all celebrated birthdays this past weekend.

Also, it was nice to hear from you N. and S.*

And a public service announcement: I lost a big chunk of my address book and most of my birthdays. While I remember many, it would help me a lot if you send me an a) updated mailing address, b) your preferred email and phone contact, c) your birthday and d) the details of any songs you've had stuck in your head lately. Particularly if you can't remember the song. Please send them to kevinsasaki@hotmail.com and put Address Update in the subject line. Who knows... there may be a pretty Japanese postcard in it for you!

From my end, let's see...

a) Kevin Sasaki
102-39 Obayashi
Yakage-cho, Oda-gun
Okayama-ken
714-1202
JAPAN

b)
Email: kevinsasaki@hotmail.com
Phone (International): 011-81-[(0)866]-83-0714
[Note: All or part of the [(0)866] may be unnecessary...]
(9am EST = 11pm JST)
* My Skype name is Kevin Sasaki, if you want to try that.
I've also been sucked into My Space (http://www.myspace.com/kevinsasaki)
and Facebook (Kevin Sasaki), though I'm not that active with them.

c)
DOB: August 7, 1974

d)
I've got the Inspector Clouseau (cartoon) theme stuck in my head right now. (Na. Na... Na... Na... Nananana Na. Nana Nananana Na... .. etc.)

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *  

As I write this, I've just plunged my tea ball like a diving bell into a hot cup of water, sending up plumes of earthy brown. It is a warm and comforting sight, unlike the night in question...

... We're back in the long tent now and I've just been secured into fundoshi. Even with the kerosene heaters, it's chilly waiting for the others to get ready. I step outside for a minute, nearly freeze and see the bizarre sight of men - presumably dads - with little boys on their shoulders in fundoshis doing the miniature version of the festival. They are running a circuit and will probably have a stick thrown to them in a little while. Like the Harvest Festival a few months ago, there always seems to be a Junior Training version at these things. Unlike the Harvest Festival, where the older men had their own version as well, there are many senior-looking men arriving now, looking frail but gearing up to run with the rest of us.

One of my companions is Dave Hakaraia. He's a big boy. A Kiwi with Maori roots, he will stand out in the mob of Japanese men. He's tied his dreaded hair back, and covered his large family tattoos on his arms in skin-coloured tape because tattoos are not allowed in the temple. Rene De Joux is another large Kiwi, a former boxer, who will stand out with his big shaven head. He offered to watch my back tonight and I take some comfort in this, though I don't know how many of his wits he left in a beer can on the bus. Then there's Vasco, who's already caught the attention of a camera crew and is being followed around for interviews.

Like paratroopers,  the large group of mostly non-Japanese men suddenly empty out of the tent, and I hang in doubt a minute before throwing myself out too. The crowd is lined up along the road and kids are high-fiving us and cheering. Security in long white and blue ponchos and head gear are lined up as well, imposing and incredibly numerous. I'm shivering already and catch up with the group just as it enters the main gate, feeling very naked indeed.

We are yelling something that sounds like: "Wa shoi [step] [step] Wa shoi [step] [step]".  The ground is hard and wet and gravelly. I feel like I'm in nudist boot camp. I am in a group of about twenty and there are a few other similar-sized groups at different stages of this circuit. I see the giant ancient-looking Kannonji Temple in the harsh glare of  sodium lights. Bleachers are set up and the audience is sitting under umbrellas. I later learn that they paid $50 for those seats and wonder if I'm going to get a cut. Others are down on the ground level with us, snapping pictures and yelling encouragement. They look wet and cold too.

Then we turn a corner and run up an incline from which very soggy and cold people are emerging. The fountain. I recall thinking... maybe it's warm... for just a second, knowing it wasn't so. Wa shoi! Wa shoi! Our voices rising and mixing with curses as we plunge into the icy pool of swirling water. I try to splash water on myself but I can't bring myself to submerge completely. I break out quickly, still yelling and realize that I've lost a tabi sock. As my team presses on, I turn back and run back into the pool, search a little desperately for my lost footwear. There's no white in that cold brownish murk so I give up and chase after my group. My foot is already numb but I worry that I'm not going to be able to be like this all night.

We run up some temple stairs to a small shrine area, clap our hands and take a moment for blessing, then head back down. Some ropes have been suspended above our heads and it appears we're supposed to jump and try to reach them, so I do.

Finally we come around to the temple proper. I run up the stairs and have a look around. There is large covered rectangular area surrounded on three sides by pillars and long stairs, and on the fourth by the temple itself. On the temple side, about fifteen feet up, is a long opening where it appears that monks and other guests - including some kids - are waiting and doing mysterious things. I figure that that is where the stick will be thrown later, but there are few people here yet. I follow the crowd down and out, and to my relief, find that we're going back into the tent to warm up.

I drop a few bucks on a second pair of socks, borrow some electrical tape and see to it that my feet don't go bare again. The tent that was mostly foreigners (us) before, is filling up with locals now. It's then that I realize that we may have been a little premature on our first tour of duty. Soon, I can feel my fingers and toes again, and after a half an hour it's packed with people. It's warm, humid, and full of cigarette smoke.

But now I must get to bed... Good night. Tune in next time.

Kevin

************

* (Not the opp. sds. of the Am. Civ. War. However... I'm not sure if the latter is "Toronto with twins" or "Ottawa with precocious daughter"... or maybe I'm totally off.)

Feb. 23rd, 2007

Hadaka Matsuri

* The following post contains scenes of public nudity and mature subject matter. And meat and meat by-products. Reader discretion is advised. *

Last weekend was a busy one. There was a staff party on Friday night after work. Before I came I was made to expect that Japanese school staff go out drinking all the time as a way of blowing off steam, but it hasn't happened much in Yakage. So when I got the invitation last week, I wanted to make sure I went. Although I'm getting more comfortable with many teachers, I still feel a bit like the odd one out in the staff room, and these casual nights out are supposed to build camaraderie among teachers and administration.

At 5pm, after all the kids filed out on their identical bicycles, we headed off to Kurashiki City and gathered at a yakiniku place near the station. We had a private room with tatami mats on the floor and a long low table. We sat on the floor and ate and drank. There was a burst of applause when the principal and vice-principal arrived, and they led us in a toast. Before long the air was thick with cigarette smoke, the smell of grilling meat and conversation. It's very common to see plates of sliced organs and glands of beef brought out as well, and some are eaten raw. This is not light eating. Danger cow indeed.

Anyway, I got to know a few teachers a bit better and work on my Japanese chops, particularly with the senior teachers, Mrs Tanino (Grade 8 Math) and Mr Yamamuro (Grade 8 Japanese). As the evening wore on, a few teachers who I used to think completely inscrutable, were cutting loose a bit. The Judo teacher, Mr Ikeda, was getting a bit glassy-eyed and appeared to have difficulty focusing as he questioned me about my life. Some teachers are still a mystery though. Anyway, it was a good time, and I extracted myself in time to make the last train home. Tomorrow was going to be a big day.

I woke early Saturday morning and with a heavy head, wondering if I really needed to go to Art Class. But I dragged myself out of bed, surveyed the gathering clouds outside and collected everything I'd need for the big day. Tonight was "Hadaka Matsuri", a traditional winter festival in Eastern Okayama, which I had signed up to participate in. And I was a bit scared.

You see, Hadaka Matsuri is also known colloquially among foreigners here as "The Naked Man Festival". 3000 men dressed only in loincloths running around in the cold of winter around a Buddhist temple waiting for midnight when "fragrant sticks" would be thrown into the chaos and fought over to win prizes. Cash prizes. I was particularly reticent about the "cleansing pool" that we were going to have to run through.

Polar bears, pampers, Pamplona...

I have a bit of a thing about being cold. To say nothing of being nearly naked in front of large audiences.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. It was still morning, and I resolved to go through with the day as planned.

I barely caught the 9am train and rode with Rachel into Okayama. We had some coffee and headed for Herb's Art class. Today was charcoal, and I was way out of practice. I got pretty frustrated trying to draw Herb's smirking cat statuette. Afterward, we went for lunch and then I took off on my own to work on Japanese for a while. At 3pm, I had Japanese class and spent and hour and a half with Kurita-sensei reviewing how to count things. One small animal, "ip-piki". One sheet of paper, "ichi-mae". One bolt of lightning, ha ha ha ha ha ha!**

I walked in the light rain to Herb and Amy's apartment, where Rachel and Dave and friends were having dinner and enjoying a few before meeting the bus for the Festival. I became soggy and cold in the process, but my doubts about participating in the Matsuri were parried off by reassurances that it would be fun and that I'd be ok.

The bus-load of football hooligans that trundled off to Saidaiji made me feel a little out of place. The Okayama JETs had chartered this bus to ferry us and visiting JETs from other prefectures to the event. It was a drunken, testosterone-rich melee of 60 ex-pats who hurled (mostly good-natured) nationalist insults at one another and sang the drinking songs of their home and native lands. Certainly there were a few quiet ones but it was hard to tell.

In the small town of Saidaiji, we walked through the streets to the Kannonji Temple. The streets were lined with vendors and the sound of fireworks was in the air. We purchased our "fundoshi" (loincloths) and tabi socks - our outfits for the night - and went into the long, low-ceilinged changing tent. I tossed my clothes into the white garbage bag that I bought for $10 and tied it to a tentpole. Then I lined up with the others and an old man "wrapped me up" professionally, literally lifting me off the floor to make sure it was nice and tight. (Curiously, a fundoshi is about enough cloth to make curtains for a small condominium, yet the coverage was as you might expect.)

... To be continued



* Yakiniku is grilled meat, where you have a hibachi on your table and they bring out plates of raw beef and vegetables to cook yourself. I believe it's the same as Korean BBQ, but I'm not sure. It's really popular, especially for the "drinking party".
** That's supposed to sound like The Count from Sesame Street.

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