Monday, July 25, 2011

A New View of Omura Bay

Yesterday I went with some friends to a house near the water of Omura Bay. They brought along some jet skis and wake boards. After a very filling barbecue lunch, I got to take a spin on a jet ski and even drove it a little bit. It was fun! Then we got the wake boards out. I got a quick lesson on the land and then took it into the water. Apparently it's much harder when being pulled by a jet ski as opposed to a boat, and we didn't have a pole on the jet ski, so the rope was low. Nonetheless, beginners luck seemed to be with me as I was one of only two people who were able to stand up (including people who'd done it before). It was SO fun. I fell a lot, but got the hang of it pretty quickly and had a couple of good rides. I'm definitely looking forward to doing it again. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of it.

Photo Exhibit

A few weeks ago a Nagasaki ALT set up a photo exhibit that was showcased in a gallery (for one weekend) and the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture (for 1 month). The exhibit featured photos of the prefecture taken by local ALTs. I wrote an article about the exhibit in the last issue of the Nagazasshi and submitted 4 of my own photos, all posted below:

A photo exhibit by the foreign community for the local one….

ALTernative Nagasaki: Nagasaki Through the Eyes of a Foreigner

Boris Yeltsin once said, “We don't appreciate what we have until it's gone. It's like air. When you have it, you don't notice it.” For Jacky Lau, an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Arie, Nagasaki, this “air” is the everyday environs in which he lives and works. However, he has very much taken notice of his “air”, has found a way to cherish it and now wants to share it with the community.

Lau’s small town of Arie, unlike Nagasaki City or Huis Ten Bosch, is not known as a tourist destination. However, Lau has
found pride and appreciation for his town, which many Nagasaki locals take for granted or even pay no mind to. With the clock ticking before his return home to America, he is determined to share the hidden beauty and charms of his small town, not only with the foreign community, but with Nagasaki locals as well. This was Lau’s inspiration for a photo exhibit entitled “ALTernative Nagasaki.”

Lau and many other Nagasaki ALTs have collected the photos that they feel encapsulate what Nagasaki means to them. As foreign residents of the community, they have the unique opportunity to see Nagasaki through the eyes of a tourist and resident. The ALT often connects with the community and bonds not only with the people but with the physical world around them. In addition, because their time in the environment is often limited, they are forced to evaluate what it means to be in those surroundings in a way that most other foreigners and even some locals have never experienced.

When asked what kind of message he hopes to send through the exhibit, Lau said, “Go to [Nagasaki] Peace Park. Go to Glover Garden. Go to Mt. Inasa. But check out the islands, Shimabara, Matsuura, Saikai. Those places have their own charms that can’t be found in the big cities.” Lau hopes that the exhibit will not only inspire his fellow foreigners to explore the prefecture, but also encourage the locals to do the same. He remarked, “If my bara-bara (rusty) Japanese could [allow] me [to have] such a fantastic time, I could only imagine what a fluent speaker could do.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My experience with a Japanese cult... probably

Today, after feeding the fish in Omura park some moldy bread, my friend and I were just sitting on a bench chewing the fat. Two elderly women were walking down the path and like many, they said hello and we returned the greeting, expecting them to keep on walking. However, they approached us and started asking us if we had any aches or pains, anything we wanted cured- for free. They had the ability to heal us without even touching us.

Really, just wanting to get rid of them, but partly dumfounded at how odd this encounter was, my friend gave in. The ladies had him stretch his neck, back and shoulders, just to check his health. One lady went on with the healing process- with her hands hoovering about 5 inches from his body, she moved them from head to toe, with a swoosh at the end, apparently that was the part where the bad things get thrown out. She said something about right, left and middle and she was convinced something was wrong with the left side of his abdomen. Of course. This went on for about a minute.

Next was my turn, they set out to heal my foot pain. I got both ladies working on me, one taking care of my body and the other focusing on my foot- clawing at, and pulling out the pain. They said some incantations and something about "vital force." After 5+ minutes, I was hungry, bored and ready for these crazy ladies to leave. We flattered them and told them there was some improvement, but I will definitely not be calling on them ever again. They gave us some old newspapers from their organization and asked us to join them. The organization is called "Seimei no Sayo."

After some research my friend found some information on them:
"For their involvement in soliciting "treatment fees" for the "Association for Maintaining Health: Taido," (Now known as the Hoju-shu Hoju-kai), which employed "hand power" techniques to cure illnesses, the Fukuoka High Court ordered CEO Toshihisa Hiraki, former executive members, and affiliated companies to pay 34.6 million yen in damages to former members and their families. The High Court also dismissed the defendant's appeal. Furthermore, on October 31, a verdict was passed on a similar appeal filed against a lawsuit by former members from Fukuoka prefecture. The Fukuoka High Court ordered Taido to pay 65 million yen in damages and upheld the original verdict."

It was a strange, but memorable evening in the park.


A few miles off the coast of Nagasaki city lies the abandoned island of Hashima, more commonly known as Gunkanjima or "Battleship Island." The nickname stems from the small island (an area of only 63,000 square meters) being surrounded with sea-walls and being built up with concrete apartment buildings- making it really look like a battleship from the distance.

Coal was mined on the island from 1810- 1974. Until 1890 the mining had been minimal, but it soon after became under the control of Mistubishi which turned it into a full-scale operation. As more and more workers and their families moved to the island, the population started to grow. The first multi-story concrete apartment in Japan was built on Gunkanjima and was followed by many more apartments, a school, a hospital and many more buildings. The facilities served to accommodate the 5,300 people living there, that's almost 12 people per square meter. That's a lot of people for such a small space- we're talking a population density nine times that of the Tokyo at the time.

In 1974, with the demand for coal dwindling the mine closed and the island was abandoned and left to the elements. Over the years it has deteriorated and now looks like a war zone. They recently opened part of the island for tourists. It's very closed off and everyone must stay on the path (there are workers everywhere keeping an eye on you), but it's still really cool. The tour guide not only had old photos to show but shared an insider's knowledge of the island because he had lived there as a child. It really is just a huge pile of broken down buildings and rubble, but looks really fun. It was would be fun, but treacherous, to walk around the whole island.

There are huge concrete walls surrounding the island. These were once used to protect from the huge waves that would crash on the island during typhoons, reaching up to 20 meters! Apparently, the used to stand and watch the waves crash as a form of entertainment.

It was really interesting to see and would highly recommend seeing it.

Birthday Abroad

As you may know, I recently had a birthday. It was strange being away from family on this special occasion, as it was the first time. (When I was in Japan on my birthday last time, my parents were visiting.) Birthdays pretty much are the same here, as far as I can tell.

My birthday fell on a Thursday this year. We were provided with beautiful weather Monday-Wednesday with hopeful statements of rainy season being over. Recalling a time long ago when it rained on my birthday and I cried, I was really hoping it was not going to rain on Thursday. But of course, it rained. It wasn't too bad though, so I didn't cry. Despite having a 40 minute bike ride to work, both legs of the commute were relatively dry. However my plan of taking a nap in a park fell through. But enough about the weather.

That week I happened to be on the elementary school 6th grade lesson about months and dates, more specifically: birthdays. It really was a nice coincidence- I swear I didn't plan it. So at school I would give an example, "My birthday is June 30th." Few students caught on, but usually the teachers would figure out that my birthday was the next/that day. One class surprised me with a poster of notes from all the students and a few separate ones from individuals. They were cute.

The others teachers at that school, realizing only just as I was leaving that it was almost my birthday, promised me a celebration the next week when I would be back. They did indeed follow through, and I wasn't even expecting it. I went to that school 3 times that next week, Tuesday-Thursday. By Thursday afternoon I'd figured they'd forgotten. But just before 4 (when I go home), I somehow missed ALL of the teachers leave the room. One came back and ushered me into another room where the teachers surprised me with noise-makers and cake. They forced me to eat the cake by myself as they all stared on, occasionally taking pictures. Despite my calls of help to eat the cake, they all refused and they sent it home with me. As awkward as it was, it was really nice.

I got a few more cards and birthday songs in a few of my junior high classes and a teacher at my other elementary school brought a cake for me.

My friends also planned a nice taco dinner for me with homemade tortillas and all. I also received a new kendama. My friend had bought one, sanded off the red paint of the ball and painted it neon green! It's pretty awesome. The other staff members of the Nagazasshi, the magazine I work on, chipped in to buy me the coolest umbrella on the planet. I'd seen it on TV a few weeks earlier and one of the editors and I stopped by the store that sells them to check them out one day. The umbrella is black with a white skyline of London. BUT, when it gets wet, the white turns multi-colored. It's kind of like those spoons that would come in cereal boxes that change color in the milk- only better. It's really great.

The following weekend, I stayed at a resort on an island off the coast of Nagasaki. It was a nice, relaxing time with many trips to the onsen. From there we went to another island not far off called Gunkanjima (See the next entry.)

I had a wonderful birthday, but of course it would have been great to spend it with my loving family back home.