Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Ol' Dolphin & Sea Lion Show

A couple weeks ago, Nana and I took a boat out to Marine World, an aquarium in Uminonakamichi, the narrow spit of land that forms the far side of Hakata Bay. Nana wants to say more about the aquarium in an upcoming post, but I thought I'd take a few minutes to share some shots from the dolphin & sea lion stunt show, which serves as further proof that "animals doing cool, adorable things" is a universal language.

The show, which was included in the price of admission, was fairly standard fare, which didn't make it any less cool. I did like how they shook up the usual "sea-lions-balance-balls-on-their-noses" routine.
Yes, that last one was a naked Kewpie doll standing on one foot.

I also liked how, unlike most such shows in the US, which seem to use mainly bottlenosed dolphins, four species were represented at Marine World: a Pacific common dolphin, a bottlenosed dolphin, a pilot whale, and another pilot-whale-ish thing whose name I can't remember.

The Pacific dolphin was especially cool: a quick, tiny little thing, it seemed to hang in the air forever at the top of its jumps.

They also had a fun "volleyball" segment, where the dolphin launched a big, soft ball into the stands.
After the show, we wandered around to some of the training tanks in the back of the aquarium, where they were teaching a pair of Pacific dolphins some new tricks. Great opportunity for some up-close videos!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Take Me Out to the Ballgame . . . in Japan!

The local pro baseball team, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, just lost in the final game of the Pacific League Series (the equivalent to Major League Baseball's ALCS or NLCS). A couple months ago, I was invited to a game with several other teachers. (Our gregarious landlord had some extra tickets.)

Now, the stuff on the field looked like baseball, with some minor changes: the Japanese strike zone is a trapezoid, for instance, with the inside wider than the outside. (For more on Japanese pro baseball, see Wikipedia's article on the NPB.)

But the stuff off the field was something else altogether! The stadium, Fukuoka Yahoo Dome, was filled throughout the game with the racket of competing pep bands, organized cheers, and flashy high-def Jumbotron animation. Even though the home team lost, it was still a blast--the most fun I've had at a ballpark in a long time.

Here are some shots from the game.

 Biking to the Dome:

The concession stand:
 They had American favorites like hot dogs and beer, plus Japanese fare, like takoyaki (fried octopus) and edamame (soybeans, the green stuff in the photo above, and quite possibly the greatest snack food in the history of the world).

The view from our seats, right along the first baseline.
We didn't get any foul balls, but a few came awfully close. Whenever a foul ball would enter the stands, stadium employees would blow a whistle if they thought it was coming in their direction. It was a cool effect--the sound of the whistles would track the ball and intensify in the spot where it eventually landed.

Our friendly beer man, who spoke a little English:
The beer guys walked around all game with little kegs strapped to their backs. When they got to the bottom of a row, they would turn around, announce their presence to the crowd, and bow, Japanese-style.

The seventh inning stretch was . . . interesting. At the end of the team fight song, all the fans released these vaguely rude yellow balloons into the air.
We were the only ones around who seemed to, um, get it.

(Photo credit for the post goes to Matt Buck, who bailed me out when my battery died.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Loss at Long Distance

As some of you may have heard, my dad's dad passed away this past Sunday. He went peacefully in his sleep after heart surgery from which he never quite recovered.

"Pop," as Nana and I knew him, officiated our wedding. He was one of the funniest guys around, always ready to chuckle at his and others' foibles with an affectionate smile. We're going to miss him.

Now, I'm not about to complain about the life we lead over here. We chose this life, we love our jobs, and we have new adventures every time we go out the door. But at times like these, it's really hard to be so far from home.

All my love to Pop's friends and family back home, and readers: please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jolleyball and Furniture Souls: Japanese Cultural Update

For the past couple of weeks, I've been going to and loving our FIS volleyball games. We have strong young teams - we only have one senior on the girls' team and one on the boys' team - and the kids are clearly having a great time, which makes them so much fun to watch.

So how does Japanese volleyball (or "Jolleyball") differ from U.S. volleyball? Well, instead of the traditional pre- and post-game handshake, the teams bow from the back line of the court and shout something in Japanese. My Japanese isn't good enough to know what it is (I really should ask the kids) but it has a formal verb conjugation in it. "Thank you for playing," perhaps? The boys' game had the bow as well, followed by perfunctory handshaking under the net.

The boys' game was the only one I made it to the end of, because it finished by six, so I can't make a wild generalization, but that particular Japanese volleyball game ended in a hilarious frenzy of bowing, with our team and the visiting team bumping and tripping over each other as they ran around the court to bow to their own coaches, to the opposing coaches, to their own fans, to the opposing fans, and to the official, faculty spouse Matt. As Matt said after, "I didn't really expect that. Usually, they swear at me." Not quite knowing what to do after receiving these bows, our spectator side clapped. The visiting fans, being Japanese, understood better than our bench that they were supposed to stand and bow back to the players.

This might be a good time to mention that the Japanese parent bench wanted to switch spectator sides every time the volleyball teams flipped courts. This would make for a very awkward quarter break in football...

In other cultural news, last night, we went out for dinner with some staff from FICS. FICS stands for Fukuoka International Community School, and it is an English school which is related to FIS and meets in our classrooms after the FIS school day ends. We somehow ended up on the topic of buying secondhand. You may recall our bargain sofa from the used furniture store, which I am in fact sitting on right now as I type this. It is a sofa of excellence.

But secondhand purchasing is not popular in Japan. An FICS American quizzed an FICS Japanese woman and got these verdicts: (The woman in question was probably within three years of Justin and me in age, so it's not a generational thing.)

Secondhand jewelry: no, unless it was a Rolex
Secondhand car: no (Japan actually exports its used cars to India and other places, because of the weak domestic market)
Secondhand bed: no
Secondhand clothing: no
Secondhand stereo: yes
Secondhand TV: yes
Secondhand shoes: no
Secondhand couch: no

The only one of these I would say no to is shoes. Except then I just remembered that I own a pair of secondhand boots, from a few years back. Even though I wouldn't buy them again, I have to admit that I still wear them.

There is a theory that the Japanese reluctance to buy used comes from the Shinto belief that things have souls. A used object might therefore have a "used soul," or at the very least carry with it the weight of previous ownership. I always find that kind of nice: more people are nice than horrible, so I don't worry about bad juju, and the historian in me likes to think about the different hands an item might have passed through on its way to me. Interestingly, both Japanese women at the table concurred that a used object obtained from a friend was an exception to all of this. A question of provenance, I suppose.

As far as I'm concerned, it's about price. If I can get the same quality for a fraction of the price (say, my $3 jeans that retail for $30, or our $210 sofa which would have been at least $500), then I don't care about the state of my item's soul. I only make exceptions for hygiene: no used underwear, toothbrushes, or hairbrushes, please! And there must be enough Japanese people who agree with me to keep the used items stores in business, as it had a healthy crowd when Justin and I were there.