Sunday, July 27, 2008

New Miyazaki Film

I finally got to watch the new Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli) movie (it opened last Sat., Jul. 19th) today! Gake no Ue no Ponyo (a.k.a. Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea) is a "Little Mermaid" type story that begins with a 5-year old boy named Sousuke rescuing a magical sea creature stuck in a bottle. He thinks she's a goldfish at first, but when the cut (obtained rescuing her from the bottle) that she licked is magically healed, he correctly guesses that she is a magical creature and names her "Ponyo." Ponyo immediately takes a liking to Sousuke and decides to use magic to take the form of a human to be with him. Her father, however, objects and tries to bring her back.

It was a cute and enjoyable movie, but I found it lacking the depth of other Miyazaki films (Nausicaa, Laputa, Mononoke Hime, etc.).

Still, I'm glad I went to see it, especially since it gave me the chance to hang out with Tomabechi-sensei and Higashi-sensei (from Kirita JHS). We all met at Shimoda Jusco for dinner and then watched the movie together. ^_^

Friday, July 25, 2008

50th movie!

I have now watched over 50 Japanese movies since coming to Japan!

Since it's been a while since my last Movie Madness post, I thought I should honour the occasion with another set of movie synopses. ^_^ Again, the titles are in no particular order, although the numbering is continued from the previous post:

6. Daitenden no Yoru ni (Until the Lights Come Back) - On Christmas Eve, a rogue satellite takes out a power plant in Tokyo and plunges the city into darkness. Inspired by the 2003 blackout in New York City, the film follows several characters through the night, until the lights come back. The six stories of love and friendship are well crafted, thoughtfully paced and nicely intertwined, and the actors do a fine job, but somehow the movie failed to evoke any deep emotions. It was enjoyable enough, but at the end I was left feeling "ho hum" rather than touched.

7. Sukida* - Two high school classmates trapped in the awkward stage between friendship and love are suddenly separated before they can resolve their feelings. Will they be able to finally work things out when they meet 17 years later? Although the story was a tad too melodramatic for my usual tastes, the film was so artfully directed--minimal dialogue with most of the feeling conveyed through subtle but expressive acting--I was easily able to overlook the plot defects. Most importantly, the actors successfully captured and portrayed the insecurities, awkwardness, and bittersweetness of first love.

8. Waterboys* - One of my favourite Japanese movies!! Based on a true story, this is the story of a group of misfits and losers at an all-boys high school who find redemption through sport. An old plot, but the twist? They form a boys synchronized swimming team! Although the plot predictably follows the structure of any other underdog sport story, the movie is nonetheless highly entertaining: the characters are endearing; the jokes/gags are funny; and the grand finale is awesome. Highly recommended!

9. Tennen Kokekko (A Gentle Breeze in the Village)***: Based on a popular manga, Tennen Kokekko is a high school romance set in rural Japan. MIGITA Soyo is the oldest student in her small school--a combined elementary and junior high school with only six students, each in a different grade! She (along with all the other students) is thrilled when a transfer student from Tokyo, OSAWA Hiromi arrives, particularly since he is in the same grade as her.

Although they get off to a rocky start, predictably, a relationship between the two gradually develops. It was a decent film, but I thought the start of the relationship felt really forced. Osawa seems to go from complete indifference--the cool city guy who condescends to join the rural kids because they make such a fuss over him--to aggressive interest in Migita in the blink of an eye. I couldn't help but feel that he only became interested in her because she was convenient--a rather fatal flaw in a love story! Still, I guess it's a testament to the acting and direction (apart from that fatal flaw) of the movie that I would probably consider buying it if the price was right.

10. Koko ni Iru Koto** - AIBA Shino is a young career woman working in the creative marketing division of a Tokyo sales company. Her ambitions are dashed, however, when her affair with one of the company's top managers is discovered by his wife who puts an end to the relationship with a payoff of five hundred thousand yen and a transfer (demotion) to the sales division of the company's Osaka branch. Aiba plans to return to Tokyo as soon as the money runs out and makes every effort to hasten her departure date by living in an expensive hotel and even placing a huge bet on a long shot at a local boat race track but ends up winning enough to keep her in Osaka for a long time. An eccentric but charismatic fellow transferee, MAENO Etsuro takes a (platonic) interest in her and, through a series of jaunts about the city, helps her to learn to appreciate simply being in every moment. Both the comedy and "serious drama" of the story are portrayed with a deftly light touch, making it a thoroughly satisfying experience.

* - I own the movie.
** - I want to buy the movie, but am waiting until I find it on sale at a reasonable price.
*** - I would consider buying the movie if I found it on sale at a good price.

When I'm home in Canada...

It's funny how after one year, I still feel the need to add some sort of qualifier to the noun "home." I mean, my apartment in Japan is "home", but Mississauga is also still "home." I wonder how many years it would take for me to think of Japan as "home" without any qualifiers (not that I want to put it to the test, though!).

Anyway, I'll be back in ONE WEEK!! It feels like a both a long and short time away. Long because there's so much I need to get done before I leave, and short because one week really is no time at all (especially when you're busy).

Compared to my last visit home (Liz & Alan's Excellent Adventure), I've got a lot less already planned for my time in Canada. Aug 2nd I'll need to get to Square One bright and early to get my driver's license renewed (it expired in April!), then Aug 3-7 is WAY camp. Then hopefully on the 9th I'll be meeting up with Jen and Syv. I've got doctor and dentist appointments on Aug 11th (and hopefully I'll be able to get my health card renewed on that day as well). After that, the next thing I've got a date for is the softball tourney on Aug 16th.

Of course there are other things I've got planned but don't have a date for:
- family dinner (with Nathan)
- meeting up with my friend(s) from teacher's college
- BSGE (Best Small Group EVAR!) reunion
- meeting up with a former colleague from Woodlands

Then there the things I'd like to do, but haven't yet arranged:
- dinner with an old family friend
- a trip to the Monster Factory
- checking out a friend's coffee shop, Manic Coffee
- dinner with school friends
- visiting my old workplace (Scotiabank)

Man, now that I'm sending out emails and trying to get dates to meet up with people, it seems like I'm not going to be as free as I thought I'd be. -_-; I don't know if that's a good thing, or a bad thing. I mean, it's good if I have a full schedule because that means I'll have made good use of my time back home. On the other hand, second term is pretty hectic, so it'd be nice to be well rested before going back to work. Ah well, I guess that (getting rest) is what my afternoons will be for.

The hard part about growing up is that people's free time gets limited to nights and weekends. Even though I'll be in Canada from the 1st to the 19th (almost three weeks!), in practical terms, I only have 17 full days (and nights) to work with since I arrive at about 11:30pm on the 1st and fly out early in the afternoon on the 19th. When you consider that five days and four nights will be taken up by WAY camp, that leaves me with only 12 full days and nights to work with. @_@ Hard to believe I was worried that the trip would be too long!

Now that I've started planning, I'm getting excited about coming home!! I can't wait to see everyone!! And to go to church!! (I haven't been since April, but that's a story for another post... ^^;;) And to be able to READ!!! I'm definitely going to be hitting the library on free afternoons!!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Apparently a big deal

Around 12:30am I woke up when I felt the ground shaking and things rumbling. (It was rather ironic, actually, since it was probably the one time this week when I was actually in bed by 12:30am.) It was an earthquake, and one considerably greater in strength and longer in duration than the last one I felt. As I lay in bed, I wondered if I should be getting up and standing in a doorway or hiding under a table, but in the end I decided to stay put. When it finished, I went back to sleep.

Then around 2am I received a bunch of text messages from fellow Towada and neighbouring Shichinohe ALTs about the earthquake. I got up and dashed off a reply, but when I went back to check the time the messages were sent, I saw that they had all been sent shortly after the earthquake, between 12:45 and 1:00am! Guess the keitai networks were congested with everyone calling people to check up on them or to tell them that they were OK.

When I got to the office, Mukainakano-sensei was on the phone with Andy. He was at Hachinohe to catch a train to Tokyo (to fly to Canada), but shinkansen service had been canceled, so they had to arrange for him to get a flight to Haneda Airport from Misawa. CRAZY! Apparently the trains were stopped until 4pm (way too late for him to catch his flight). I would never have imagined such a thing happened! And I sincerely hope that such a thing won't happen again next Friday, when I'm going to Tokyo for my flight home. ^^;;

Anyway, mid-morning we also felt some aftershocks at the office. It was really short, though, so we didn't have time to even think about doing anything in response.

We were only in the office in the morning, then we went to Towada JHS to help students with speech contest practice. Afterwards I ran a bunch of errands, dropped my car off for shaken (mandatory bi-annual car maintenance), and went to Japanese dance class.

When I finally checked my email (~9pm) I saw a bunch of messages regarding the earthquake. My Japanese friend Yukiko who is currently on a working holiday in Japan sent me and the other Towada/Shichinohe ALTs an email to see if we were OK, and I also had another email from the Canadian Embassy. Then, maybe 5 minutes after I replied to the (Canadian Embassy) email to say that I was OK, I got a call on my keitai from the Canadian Embassy making sure I was OK!


I never thought I'd be so blasé about earthquakes, but so long as nothing in my place gets damaged and I'm not injured, I guess the severity just doesn't register with me. I mean, it had a (preliminary) magnitude of 6.8 and triggered landslides and power outages in various cities, but thankfully Towada seems to have been mostly unaffected.

So yeah, if you want to read more about the earthquake, here's an AP article.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Heading into Summer

It's been a busy couple of weeks--weekends especially.

Of course, the ironic thing about blogging for me is that the more I have to write about, the less likely I am to actually write! I definitely admire the people who take the time to update their blogs even when things get busy. For me, the very things that make blogging worthwhile are the things that consume my energy so that at the end of the day, I don't feel like blogging. ^^;;

Anyway, I guess I'll start with last weekend.

Friday (July 11th) was a busy day. I was supposed to have an office day, but Towada Junior High School had a parent day (parents come into the school to observe one period of actual classes), so they asked if I could go to the school.

After teaching four classes of ichinensei (only the fifth period class was the observation class), I went to Kirita to watch/help with the sannensei's cooking class. They made okonomiyaki and cupcakes, which turned out pretty well in spite of the lack of time (usually cooking classes are two periods, but this was only one period.)

Then it was off to the farewell party with the Shidoka (Towada City Education Department, Guidance Section) staff. Allie and I were doing the MC'ing in Japanese, so we met up early to divide up the parts and to practice. The bus was super late (more than half an hour, I think!) picking us, but we made it to the location (in Oirase Town) eventually.

Things went pretty well, and after the party it was off to a snack for the nijikai. This was definitely the most "out there" snack bar I've been to in Towada (although it was still pretty tame compared to the image I had of snacks before coming to Japan). Often when you do karaoke, they give you a score afterwards. At this particular place, at the end of the song they flashed a picture of a scantily clad girl on the screen. Then it was covered with a mosaic, and as the score was tallied, the pieces of the mosaic disappeared until the final score and the naked girl were revealed. (Obviously, the higher the score, the more of the girl you got to see.) It was very disconcerting at first, but then I learned to just look at the right of the screen for the score. They also had a wide assortment of hats/headgear which they got us to wear--bunny/cat ears, leis, etc.

(See Andy Farewell Party pictures here.)

Saturday I had to get up early to receive a delivery from CDJapan. (Even though I told myself I wasn't going to spend anymore money on new DVDs, I couldn't resist picking up the Avalon Memorial Box as a clearance special. ^^;; ) Then I cleaned the apartment and went grocery shopping in preparation for the dinner party on Sunday. I also made the soy sauce pork and eggs.

At night, it was shabu shabu at the restaurant in Oirase Roman Park (next to the brewery) for John's final Payday Friday (except it wasn't yet payday, and it wasn't a Friday either!). We hit Pilsen's after that, and most people went to karaoke at Festa afterwards; I went home after Pilsen's, though.

Sunday was an entire day spent cooking. I'm super slow at cutting vegetables, so it took me something like 2-3 hours just to get all the prep work done for my dishes. Of course, part of that was I wanted to make it special, so I cut the carrots into flowers and butterflies. (The flowers turned out well, but the butterflies looked demented.)

In the end though, I finished everything -- chicken rice, beef and broccoli, stir-fried veggies, yakisoba, and soy sauce pork & eggs -- in good time. Even though I actually screwed up the beef and broccoli (I forgot the oyster sauce when I was making the sauce, so after I finished plating it, I had to scoop the beef back up and cook it again with the oyster sauce!), it was the most popular dish. The chicken rice also went over very well, and the yakisoba was pretty good too. The stir-fried veggies were pretty mediocre, though, since I overcooked them while trying to get the broccoli cooked to a nice firmness. The soy sauce eggs and pork were OK, but since the pork chunks were small and they had sunk to the bottom of the pot, I think most people only ate the eggs. The taste was decent, but the colour wasn't dark enough--Japanese dark sauce simply doesn't compare to Chinese dark soy sauce.

Anyway, it was a successful dinner, although I cooked WAY too much (I had an entire pot of rice and plate of yakisoba leftover!) and had to force people to take leftovers home. The cake and cards for Andy and Kelly & Ron were well received too.

This weekend was also busy, although I had more time for relaxation/doing nothing. Friday, though, was non-stop. We had a kind of closing ceremony at Kirita for the end of the first term, plus a farewell ceremony for Higashi-sensei (she was working as the Japanese teacher while another teacher was on maternity leave, but that teacher is coming back in August). Actually, Higashi-sensei's leaving made the entire week busy, since I spent my nights from Tuesday-Thursday making her farewell present (a Rirrakuma doll). (Thanks to the start of English speech contest preparation, I was also leaving Kirita later during the week.)

(Higashi-sensei is probably my second favourite teacher--after my JTE, Tomabechi-sensei--at Kirita. She ALWAYS helps me when I have Japanese/kanji questions, plus she's just fun and interesting to talk with. I'm really going to miss her!)

After that most of the teachers went bowling with the teachers from Kamikirita (the nearest elementary school). I was terrible, as usual. Also, the Alley had a beer frame challenge: if every player in the lane got a strike/spare in a single frame, each player would get a six pack of beer. I was the last person to bowl in our lane, and at one point in the first game, everyone before me got a spare/strike! Up to that point I had been getting a lot of gutter balls, or maybe 3-5 pins in one go, so I was really freaked out. To make the pressure even worse, Kyoto-sensei (vice principal) came over to our lane to watch when he saw we had the potential to get the beer. My first ball (throw? I don't know bowling terminology!) actually knocked down 8 pins! I was SO relieved. It wasn't a strike, but at least it was decent. Unfortunately, though, that left the two pins on the right for me to knock down. Needless to say, I missed, but at least I performed credibly under the pressure. My final score in that game was 58.

The next game went much better. Although I was pretty performing the same for the bulk of the game, in the last three or four frames, I decided to try switching to a 10 ball (I'd been using a 9). This resulted in me getting my first spare!! Then in the final frame, I actually got another spare plus got another 7-8 pins in the extra bowl! My final score for the second game was 84!!

I never thought I'd say this, but I think I need to get everyone to go bowling with me when I go back home so they can teach me some tricks!! (I'm sure I'm going to be bowling with the school again, so I'd like to manage a somewhat decent performance next time round!)

After bowling, I rushed home to change before meeting everyone at the Bunka (culture) Centre to catch the bus to the brewery. We had a good dinner at the Oirase Brewery for our end of first term/farewell Higashi-sensei enkai. Then it was back to central Towada for a nijikai at a snack.

Following the nijikai, Higashi-sensei, Tomabechi-sensei and I went to Coco's for tea and snacks (I had a mango parfait!). Even though we had all been pretty tired by the end of the nijikai, we still stuck around for about an hour, hour and a half talking. At the end of the night I drove them home.

(See Kirita enkai &etc. photos here.)

Saturday, I forced myself to get up at a decent hour (9 or 10 am, rather than 1 or 2pm) to give myself time to do laundry and cleaning and to take my car into the Eneos gas station for a shaken (bi-annual mandatory car maintenance tax) estimate. After that I headed out to Misawa to watch John and Sam perform The Emperor's New Clothes in Misawa. Kelly and Ron also went and we stuck around to help clean up (there wasn't much to do, since it was a super simple set) and eat the free food provided for the cast and their "family." Then Joe and Will met us at Paddy's for some drinks. I think the guys probably went out for more drinking afterwards, but I went home.

(See Emperor's New Clothes photos here - part 1 - and here - part 2.)

Sunday I had to wake up early again for yet another CDJapan delivery. Again, I couldn't resist ordering Koisuru Madori and Daremo Shiranai / Nobody Knows from their clearance sale. I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around watching movies/dramas. I watched the Avalon movie (interesting, but very similar to .Hack//Sign) and most of the Yukan Club TV Series.

Then Allie picked me up and we met Juliet and Ron & Kelly at the old Kitazono ES house to go to Lake Towada for fireworks. ^_^ It was really busy, but it was fun! There was lots of festival food stalls (I feel a little guilty, though, since I never waited in line but just got everyone else to buy me food when they went. ^^;; ) and the fireworks were really well done. The display lasted about an hour and there were a lot of big, spectacular ones. By chance we also ended up sitting next to Kanae-san, Sakagami-san's daughter. ^_^ When we got back to (central) Towada, we decided to go to Coco's for dessert/snacks. I had another mango parfait, and a slice of Kelly's pizza.

(See Lake Towada Fireworks Festival pictures here.)

Even though it was late when I got home, I decided to finish off the Yukan Club series. I was pretty dumb, though, since I thought there was only an episode or two left. There were actually about four episodes left, so I ended up staying up until about 4am! When I turned off the lights to go to bed, it was already starting to get light outside!

So today (a holiday!) I slept in until 11am-12pm and spent the afternoon downloading manga scanlations and organizing and uploading photos to Facebook: EofA Trivia Night.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Dinner Party Prep

I finally invited everyone (the Towada and Shichinohe ALTs, that is) over to my place for dinner for next Sunday, July 13th.

I'm looking forward to it, but I'm also a little freaked out, since my cooking skills are pretty pathetic. Back home (in Canada), when I invited people over I usually went out and bought the Loblaws chicken dinner, or ordered pizza, or asked my dad to cook, so this will be my first time actually cooking a full meal--and for seven people, no less!!

Luckily when my parents came in April, my dad showed me how to cook some stuff, like (my favourite!) chicken rice! In preparation for Sunday, I did a test cooking, and it actually turned out really well! *Phew!* (You can see the recipe here.)

Of course, that's only one dish. Tomorrow I'm planning on test cooking another dish. I would've done it tonight, but I couldn't figure out what wine I should buy to cook with (the recipe called for "cooking wine/sherry"). ^^;; Yes, I'm that hopeless!

The other thing I'm having trouble with is finding the right cuts of meat. For example, the beef and broccoli dish I want to make recommends beef tenderloin, but I couldn't find any at the Powers U. Ditto for the pork picnic shoulder that my dad recommended for a soy sauce pork & egg dish. *sigh* And I'm too inexperienced at cooking to be able to just look at meat and be able to pick something that will work--I still feel the need to stick to the recipe as closely as possible.

Oh well. I've still got a week to test out dishes before the big day. Hopefully it'll all work out!