Friday, July 25, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
In my American kitchen right now I've got no less than seven boxes of cereal sitting on top of the fridge. This happens every time I'm home: I can't resist the urge to buy all the breakfast cereals that make me natsukashii (nostalgic) for when I was a kid, eating cereal and toast while watching Land of the Lost on Saturday mornings. The cereal I've got right now are Raisin Bran (I've always Kellogg's was far superior to Post), Cinnamon Life (one of the best spin-off flavors of a cereal ever, in my opinion), both Cocoa Pebbles and Cocoa Puffs, Kix, which I've always had an odd attraction to, Golden Grahams, and the most excellent breakfast cereal known to man, Corn Pops, which they used to call Sugar Corn Pops back in the day. (I bought Pop Tarts too, but they're packed now, ready to go back home.) No matter how long I live in Japan and consider it my home, there's nothing like getting your hands on something familiar that brings back the warmth you knew from another time. Of course I can't possibly eat all of this cereal in the next week, so I'll be leaving most of it behind, but in the meantime I'm living the springtime of my youth with American breakfast cereal culture.
Do they still give free crap in cereal? I can't see anything interesting on the boxes I bought.
Big changes are in store for Japan's schools: the end of yutori kyoiku, translatable as "easy-does-it education," when Japan's Ministry of Education tried to reduce the amount of stress students were subjected to by lowering academic goals and ending the half day of school kids had to attend on Saturday. (Yes, poor Japanese kids had to go to school six days a week.) It turns out that reducing the number of hours of instruction has a negative impact on academic performance, though, and Japan is now behind nearly all other Asian nations in math and science scores, which has policy-makers rather freaked out and wanting to try to reverse the trend. Japan can make quick changes to it's national curriculum due to it's tradition of top-down administration which allows a plan to be carried out on a national level as directed by Tokyo (for better or worse). This system is quite different from the U.S., where each state is a soverign entity and school districts have more power to decide things. The problem for us is that this revised education plan takes effect in 2012, the year after both my kids are out of the Japanese school system, so they'll miss out on any benefit there may have been from it. It doesn't matter though: virtually all parents who are concerned about their children's education make supplemental plans, whether it's juku (an evening school that helps kids study or prepare for entrance exams), a focused study program like the Kumon system (which they have all over the world now), or an in-home tutor to help students keep up with their studies.
Note that while I know nothing of Kumon, I can say that it has a great reputation in Japan, and some of the kids in my son's class are incredibly smart due to being "Kumon kids." So if you are interested in bringing some Japanese education ideas to your kids, I recommend you check into it.
Monday, July 21, 2008
If you've listened to spoken Japanese at all you've probably heard the word desu, often pronounced with the last syllable reduced so that it sounds like "dess." Linguistically speaking, this word is known as the copula, because it makes the noun and the verb in a sentence, er, want to have a romantic evening together or something; in more useful terms, it fulfills the role of "to be." It's really simple to use: if you want to say "I am John" just say John desu; if you want to state your nationality, just say America-jin desu or Canada-jin desu or whatever. The subjects of sentences are usually left off if the meaning is clear from the context, but if you wanted to clarify that you're talking about yourself and not, say, Michelangelo, you could say watashi wa John desu (As for me, I'm John). If someone pointed to an apple on a table and asked you what it was, you could say ringo desu, which would also be an appropriate answer if someone asked you who your favorite Beatle was and the answer was Ringo Starr. The desu sentence ending is a formal word, useful for making a good impression on Japanese you might try talking to; every Japanese verb comes in formal and informal versions, and the informal of desu is da, allowing you to say Eigo no sensei da "I'm an English teacher" if you were talking to a person below your station, like a teacher addressing his students or to a child or a dog. (As always, stay formal until you understand the nuances of informal Japanese, lest you offend your in-laws as Luicille Ball did to Ricky's parents all those times.)
Since the word "death" sounds very close to desu when rendered into katakana (actually it's usually written デッス instead of デス), there is a world of puns that can be made about Japanese sentences ending in death. In Dragonball, there's a reace of Chinese space aliens (if memory services) who speak in kanji, and the kanji for です they use is 死 (death). Er, maybe you had to be there.
If you want to see something really different, here's a bizarre movie someone made on Youtube mixing Sazae-san (the longest running show on Japanese TV, going something like 42 years now) with Death Note and Yu-Gi-Oh. The story is that the smallest kid, Tara-chan, gets a copy of the Death Note and kills his family, and then, oh, nevermind, it's too silly. My kids happen to watch it several times a day, is why I am bothering showing y'all. Note that at no time did I imply this was interesting.
A little patch of grass for seeing-eye dogs to use for peeing at the San Diego airport.
Getting ready to fly. My wife did not expect them to say things like "If oxygen should be needed, a mask will drop down. Please insert 25 cents for the first three minutes" and was totally surprised. I should have warned her about Southwest first.
We had fun at Vegas. Just stayed at Ceaser's Palace since it's fun to be central to the Strip when in the city. Plus we'd never stayed there.
About the funnest thing to do is...nothing. We spent many hours lolling (not LOLing) by the poolsite.
The passing of George Carlin let me know that it was time to get out to see all the commedians that I respected before too much time passed, so I made sure to catch Penn & Teller this time around. It was a fabulous show, and I recommend everyone hit it. They've come a long way since season 5 of Babylon 5, haven't they? By the way, you get to shake their hands and get autographs after the show, which makes it totally
As a husband to a Japanese woman, I have to recommend Coach compared to Gucci, Louis Vuitton and all the other brands. This is because it's like $100 for something nice, rather than $600, which is really something I can get behind. In Shikoku there's a prefecture called Kochi, which sounds like Coach, and I had to make my dajare (bad Japanese pun) jokes about all these items being made there.
As I am wont to do once a year or so, I took my Miata out to the desert for some power driving.
I have one of the most recognizable cars in San Diego, I'm pretty sure. If you ever see me, say hi, although it will most likely be my mother driving since I'm not in country most of the time.
The open road and a Studio Ghibli watch.
One of the key destinations out here is Dudley's Bakery, a really good bakery. Also, the city of Julian, of course, which has great apple pies when it isn't under threat of burning down every other year.
Last night I even found time to go see the Batman movie. It was good!