A byte of life from the Land of Sumos and Sushi

Friday, June 30, 2006

Singing in the Rainy Season

I love rain. Maybe it just reminds me of the motherland...? Picture stolen from the net.

It’s come late this year, but the rainy season, or tsuyu has arrived. Lasting for about a month, it’s generally a season the Japanese don’t enjoy, but although I dislike the intense humidity that builds up at this time of year, I do have a deep appreciation for the rain.

The earthy smells, the moody grey skies, the feeling of quiet calm a day of rain brings. The sound of big tropical drops splashing down on the roof tops, the cosy feeling of being indoors during a storm, or the delights of walking outside whilst the warm rain batters your umbrella. Rain is one of the pleasures of life, but though I expect many would disagree, is it not better to embrace and enjoy it, rather than detest and avoid it?

I love how the elements can completely alter not only the scenery, but the feelings experienced by a human on any given day. From balmy summer evenings that evoke memories of beer gardens and barbeques, to the raging snow storms that assert nature’s authority over us, the weather shapes our emotions as well as our landscapes, and in an urban age when man moves ever further from the natural world, it reminds us that Earth still has some powers we cannot control.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Snake Hunter

Enough room to swing a live snake round your head? I think so. The Snake Hunter at work, Shotoku Junior High School, Ono, Fukui, Japan.

Japan’s warm climate is a haven for reptilian life. During my adventures with Shiro the school dog around the rice paddies, I frequently encounter lizards, snakes and have even seen a wild tortoise. In fact, snakes seem to find their way into the school buildings on regular basis and I have personally witnessed four unwelcome visitors in the last three weeks.

I have observed a number of techniques employed to evict snakes from the premises. The use of long handled tongs to grasp the head, or a brush to sweep the snake away are both effective methods of snake removal, but lack the showmanship that is so desired in this day and age.

For a real snake show, all teachers and students know that there is only one man to call when a serpentine intruder is sighted. The snake hunter. Doubling as the science teacher in the off season, he bides his time studying the habits of his quarry, but when a call goes out over the school PA system, like the Thundercats HO! the snake hunter comes a runnin’.

He arrives at the scene, armed with just his highly experienced bare hands, and a plastic bin liner. He then carefully baits the reptile, forcing it to uncoil and extend its body, and allowing him to grasp it by the tail, and put in into the bin bag.

But sometimes the snake, enraged by the situation, will rear up and attempt to bite the hand of its captor. Indeed, a snake held by the very tip of its tail has the muscle power do this, hard though it may be to believe.

However, the snake hunter asserts his authority as king of the jungle with a technique that no serpent can fight. Like an ancient hunter might swing a slingshot, the snake hunter swings the snake round his head, exerting a highly unnatural amount of G-force to the snakes head area which renders the victim temporarily dazed, and thus allows the hunter time to pop it into a bag and remove it from the premises.

I was lucky enough to be allowed to accompany the snake hunter on one of his recent trapping expeditions to capture a serpent found in the school quad, and managed to get these exclusive shots of the man in action.

No snakes were harmed during the capturing of this serpent.

Just minutes after the call was put out over the school PA system, The Snake Hunter is on the scene and ready for action, hot on the tail of a meter long snake.

Round round baby right round; the snake hunter employs his trade mark swinging technique that has made him a legend amongst the teachers and students at school.

The snake hunter don't take no sh*t from reptiles.

After several revolutions at unnatural G-force, the snake is bundled into a bag. This one however, was particularly "genki" and put up a fight to the bitter end, requiring the Snake Hunter to give it a few more swings around his head, before it finally conceded.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Debate Rages over Baka Inaka T-shirt

Well, the baka inaka t-shirt has kicked up a storm that I never envisaged happening. Over the last week, debate has raged over the Fukui JET emailing list and karaoke bars of the ken, as to whether the shirt is offensive or not.

It all started when an American who works for the local City Office, showed the design to his superior, a high ranking local government official. The response: “extremely offensive” and “should not be worn inside Fukui prefecture”.

Interestingly, it wasn’t the slogan “baka inaka” (roughly meaning stupid/crazy countryside) that caused offence, it was the depiction of Fukui as a cloud of steam emanating from the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant, (of which Fukui has 14), that caused the negative reaction.

Most of the English teachers in the prefecture have lapped up the design, which is reflected by the fact that there have been over 100 orders for the shirt. However, some of the foreign teachers who have lived here for longer, have slammed the shirt, saying it is offensive to the people that have been our gracious hosts, and would be akin to wearing a t-shirt in West Virginia saying “Stupid Hicksville”.

Creating something that would be offensive to the people of Fukui was never the intention. Indeed, I have had a great two years here, and the people of Fukui are the friendliest, most generous and kind people I have ever had the pleasure of living amongst.

We simply wanted a good souvenir t-shirt of Fukui, and rather than buying a shirt depicting the somewhat drab Echizen Crab (Fukui’s number one famous food export) we sought a design that was a little more humorous.

I have spoken to several Japanese people about the shirt to gauge its offensiveness; there has been a mixed response. My 50 something host mum sees the funny side and indeed wants a shirt, but some people of similar ages said it was a little offensive. It is worth noting though, that the phrase ‘baka inaka’ is written in relatively small print, and in English, so you would have to get a good look to be able to read and understand what it actually said.

We chose to use the phrase, because it was a nice ring to it, (it rhymes!) and because I think many English teachers in Fukui have had their fair share of “crazy countryside” experiences during their time here.

The incident of my American friend Bran Pan Man, who was reported to the Board of Education and brought in for questioning after an elderly Japanese woman sighted him carrying out the unforgivable crime of holding hands with a Japanese girl in public, is one such example. If that ain’t baka inaka, what is?

However, as the shirt may cause offence to some people, we are recommending caution about where and when it is worn.

And finally, if we are going to get into a debate about offensive t-shirts, the Japanese may want to take a closer look at their own designs. Apparently it’s OK to walk around with slogans such as “Fuckin’ Roll Rock”, “Fuck Jesus” or “I fucking hate [insert list of racial minorities here]” splashed across your chest, but a nuclear power plant in the crazy countryside is going too far?

So, is this just a storm in a tea cup and a lack of ability to laugh at themselves, or is it really an insensitive and offensive design?

Your comments please...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Baka Inaka T-Shirt

The award winning design; get yours now!

You're looking at the brand new and completely original design for a T-shirt that will soon be going into production.

Frustrated by the lack of any decent Fukui T-shirts, I decided I would fill a niche and make one myself, so I recruited Caitlin Hansen from JETfuel Magazine cover art fame, and together we came up with this sleek and unique shirt.

For those unfamiliar with Fukui, Japan, or Japanese, let me talk you through the design.

Nuclear Power - Fukui's biggest export to the rest of Japan is atomic energy. I believe there are 14 reactors within the prefecture, (some are even strategically positioned to ruin beautiful landscapes). Apparently, as compensation, (read: danger money) for being Japan's numero uno nuclear power supplier, the Japanese government have promised to build a Bullet Train line to Fukui city. Because of this, we felt we had to make reference to it in the design.

The radioactive cloud you see pouring from the chimney, is not just hot air. This doubles as the outline shape of Fukui prefecture, then triples as the Japanese flag. It just works on so many levels...

The Bold Kanji in the upper left reads Fukui, the small Kanji in the bottom right reads Nippon (Japan), and the “baka inaka” roughly translates as “stupid countryside” as Fukui is largely regarded by the rest of Japan as a rural back water. Of course, we love it here, and that’s why we’re showing our love with this awesome shirt.

Reprezent Fukui in style, and buy your baka inaka shirt today. The shirts come in red, and are priced at the bargain price of just Y2000. These are limited edition shirts and come in all sizes. Only one print run will be made, so get your order in now.