We had another staff party the other day, just for the second-year-teachers, to celebrate... well, I'm not really sure what we were celebrating. Someone said the second-year students turning fourteen, but they've been turning fourteen all along? I am inclined to think this group of teachers just really likes an excuse to party. It was fairly calm, though, as a few couldn't come. We went to a yakiniku place that is popular in the area. It was really nice, there were torches outside burning despite the wind being extremely strong. The waitresses wore cute skirt/vest sets. There was a small glass room in the middle with a rock garden, surrounded by private rooms with sliding doors. Some were Western style with a table and chairs, some were tatami mat with a low table - ours was the latter.
I'd been hesitant to try yakiniku - literally "fried meat" -before because I'd heard the parts of the animal used aren't the type we usually use in the west. There's a round grill set into the table, and plates of raw meat are brought out and you do your own cooking. I ate quite a few things I have no idea what they were. For the first time I ate gyuutan - cow tongue. I've long held the belief that the only tongue in my mouth should be my own and maybe someday that of someone I deeply care about - never an animal's, and never dead. But when it was placed on the plate in front of me I couldn't exactly refuse. And gyuutan, it turns out, tongue or no, is incredibly delicious. It's like the best brisket you've ever had, an incredible flavor even without sauce, and not a strange texture the way I expected. "How is it?" the teachers asked, knowing my doubts. "In my mouth, it's delicious," I tried explaining in Japanese, "But in my head, it's still weird."
There was also an appetizer of balls something like not-sweet doughnut holes filled with soft cheese and with a tiny dab of ketchup on top - it made me nostalgic for American food even though it was very something Japan would think up. And scallops, which I'd also had doubts about but learned at a another party are another "in my mouth delicious" food - the texture just melts, it's indescribable. And there was a surprisingly good milk pudding for dessert - Japan doesn't really have a tradition of after-meal desserts the way the West does, so often there'll be a disappointment after a delicious meal even at the best restaurants.
It was much calmer than previous parties - a few people were missing, and only half of us drank anything. One of the female teachers announced she's getting married, and we said farewell to another who might be transferred soon. I tried explaining things about my family that don't really translate - how we have a lot of land but not a farm, how my brother doesn't eat meat, how we have many fruit trees. Somehow I also ended up enacting the story of Jonah and the whale.
As much as I love Stephen Colbert, I'm even more in awe of his writers. I can write a decent play, but I've always had a weak spot with comedy. I can fake it with inside jokes and weird characters, but I could never come up with anything as brilliant as this attack on the Boy Scouts of America.
This is long over-due, but here's some more pictures from the rice-harvesting back in October. I'm hoping they'll invite me again for the planting in spring. Though it probably wouldn't be as cool as in the villages where they make pictures out of different types of rice.
Here's an interesting photography project about English Teachers in Japan.
I took this test on the BBC site about what gender your brain is more like - I'm amused and bemused to find I am heavily masculine in all the categories.
And I might have linked this before, but this "do they all look the same?" quiz is fascinating.
My latest favorite learning Japanese site is iKnow.co.jp. It's a vocabulary flashcard site with a good variety of repetition techniques, keeps track and tests what you've learned, plus a lovely, clear interface. V.shiny.
Lately I've been reading Lafcadio Hearn, an 1800s Japanophile. From his "A Trip to Kyoto" :
"Perhaps one inexhaustible source of the contentment, the simple happiness belonging to Japanese common life is to be found in this universal cheapness of pleasure.
The delight of the eyes is for everybody. Not the seasons only nor the festivals furnish enjoyment; almost any quaint street, any truly Japanese interior, can give real pleasure to the poorest servant who works without wages. The beautiful, or the suggestion of the beautiful, is free as air. Besides, no man or woman can be too poor to own something pretty; no child need be without delightful toys."