Category: Ramblings

I’ve been wanting to make one of these mosaics for a while now – HERE IS ALL THE STUFF I’VE MADE!! (You can click it to make it bigger!)

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I’ve been pretty busy lately and haven’t had quite as much time to post as I’d like. But I’ve been working on several things and here’s what you can expect from this blog in the near future:

  • Japan-related book reviews!
  • More Japanese film reviews!
  • Several essays about modern Japan and Japanese history, woo-hoo!
  • Several JET-related posts and videos!

Until then, take a look at the newest vlog on the ConstantineInTokyo YouTube page:

The cast of Gossip Girl, barely recognizable through the multiple layers of airbrushing

As I’ve mentioned before, last school year the Korean foreign exchange student would visit my desk at least once a week to practice her English conversation (which was exponentially greater than the English abilities of the Japanese students). What this really meant is that every week for one or two hours I had to talk about the latest developments in her favorite TV show: Gossip Girl.

Now, I am not a fan of Gossip Girl. The latest reincarnation of Beverly Hills 90210/Melrose Place/The OC (which are all essentially the exact same show), Gossip Girl has the ability to immediately fill me with rage and frustration within the first 10 minutes of the show. Even the clothing and the fashion (which is very cool, I admit) is not enough to justify putting myself through the torture that is Gossip Girl. I’m fairly confident that I would enjoy self-flagellation more than watching this show.

So this is why American television induces vomiting...

However, when my student walked up to my desk and asked me how old I was when I lost my virginity, it was immediately clear that I was going to need to watch this show if I wanted to be able to talk about its representation of American culture without accidentally crossing over some invisible boundary of what constitutes an acceptable teacher/student relationship. At the very least, watching each week’s episode would help me anticipate the wacky questions that she would ask me. So, dear readers, when you picture me watching Gossip Girl alone in my apartment on my computer, I would like you to imagine a scenario similar to Malcolm McDowell’s behavioral-conditioning scene in A Clockwork Orange.

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I recently read the article posted by Steven D. Levitt (author of Freakonomics) on his New York Time’s blog. Entitled Tattoonomics, Part I (presumably there will be a Part II), Levitt raises the question, “Why get a tattoo?”

I have tattoos and I get asked this question all the time. I fondly remember getting caught in a surprise pincer attack on the subject of tattoos last April by both my father and my boyfriend’s parents while we drank coffee at a restaurant in Osaka. Apparently, my boyfriend casually mentioned to his mother that he was thinking about getting another tattoo during a Skype conversation a few weeks earlier. He probably didn’t think much of it, unaware that even mentioning a hypothetical future tattoo to his mother was the equivalent of dropping an A-bomb right in the middle of their dining room. (And, no, that metaphor wasn’t meant to express any insensitivity towards the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

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As a part of the ‘Japan YouTube community’ (though somewhat reluctantly) I’ve encountered a lot of the videos that people have posted about racism in Japan. I don’t really agree or approve of a lot of these videos, because they are almost always very negative and extremely one-sided. Personally, I haven’t experienced much racism while living in Japan. While many Japanese people do seem to be somewhat shy and nervous around gaijin, I don’t consider this racism. As someone who grew up in the United States of America and in a family that is very interested in different cultures, it is not always easy to try and understand the perspectives of people who have spent their entire lives in one of the most homogeneous countries in the world.

Japan always seems to get a lot of criticism for it’s ‘insular mindset’ and inability or unwillingness to try and relate to foreigners. The JET Program itself was created as an attempt to address these criticisms, criticisms that I often find unfair. Many of the Japanese people that I have had the pleasure of meeting are very open to learning about different cultures and different people. Most of the time, Japanese people consider me strange not because of my own culture, but because I am so interested and invested in learning about Japanese culture.

Of course it is difficult to live in a rural area of Japan around people who do not speak the same language and have not traveled outside of the country. It is also very difficult to be the one person who looks different from everyone else. At least for me, it has been very hard to adapt to being stared at all the time – it makes me feel like I am living my life underneath a microscope. This is not necessarily racism and it is not necessarily a bad thing.

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Golden Week is over and so is Constantine’s Crazy Japan Traveling Extravaganza: Part Two. I now have more raw video footage to add to my already enormous backlog of videos that I need to edit together and post on YouTube. The editing will be slapdash and half-thought-out, as usual. =P So this upcoming month will definitely be the month of epic travel blogs/vlogs…I’m sure all of you readers are very excited.

And by ‘all’ I mean ‘none.’

I’m back home and back to dealing with the day-to-day triumphs and defeats (they aren’t really defeats, but ‘Triumphs and Defeats’ has a good ring to it, so I’m using it!) that have come to make up my life in Japan.

Triumph #1 – Successfully guiding both of my parents (separately, of course) on very aggressive trips through Japan and introducing them to the two Japanese people who I hope, someday, maybe, to call my parents-in-law. (Let’s not have this sentence mutate into a series of comments speculating on my relationship status. I can’t define it even to myself, so don’t expect me to be able to successfully articulate to any one else.)

Defeat #1 – My old, old car is back in the car shop, presumably with a rusty muffler. Hooray, I get to through more money down the black hole known as ‘car ownership.’ One of the Japanese teachers (who I will refer to as Kusaya Sensei) laughingly informed the mechanic how I had foolishly left the car parked near the harbor for a week (as if I had some sort of alternative). Of course it would rust, silly Gaijin!! Well, no, that isn’t all that obvious to me; I grew up in a mountainous region of Colorado with a terrain that is classified as ‘high desert.’ I don’t understand concepts like ‘humidity,’ ‘mold,’ and ‘rust’ very well. And besides, what other option did I have to get to the port other than driving myself and my mother there? Teleportation??

Triumph #2 – My English lesson on ‘Tastes and Smells’ that used various Kit-Kat flavors was a success with my students. Nothing like wasabi, satsumaimo-aji, melon, and corn flavored Kit-Kats to spark some English conversation. Or to trick my students into thinking I’m ‘cool.’ Mwahahaha…ah…yeah.

Defeat #2 – I brought back a HUGE amount of omiyage from my HUGE trip for the teachers – stuff from Nara, Kiyomizu-dera, Fushimi Inari Taisha, and Koyasan. It was entirely consumed in the space of one hour. Of course, no one came up to thank the gaijin for the snacks, even though said gaijin had left a polite note written in keigo explaining who it was from and that even though it was lowly, humble, ill-tasting food that the honorable teachers should honorably do me the honor of eating it, even though I am a lowly bottom-feeder. (And, yes, that is how I like to mentally translate keigo in my head.) If I can write a note in keigo, then I can probably understand a simple, ‘Arigatou, Constantine-san.’ But, nope, nada…even though I have heard some of the teachers referring to me as ‘Omiyage-chan’ when they think I can’t understand them. Oh well, I will continue to bring in omiyage in the vain hope that my clumsy attempts at conforming to Japanese culture will endear me in their hearts forever.

Triumph #3 – The new vice principal smiled and greeted me today. Now, this might not seem like a big deal to you normal, well-adjusted people. But I have silently been developing a complex about this guy and his military-style buzz cut in my head over the past month. I call him The General. Until today, he has never spoken a word to me (even when we pass each other in an empty hallway and I say Good Morning/Afternoon/etc. in Japanese). He also periodically looks in the direction of my desk and sternly frowns in a displeased way that I have chosen to interpret as his way of showing that he thinks ALTs are a useless waste of space and funding. (I am aware that he probably doesn’t feel this way and probably never even thinks about me, but like I said before I am NOT a normal, well-adjusted person.)

Defeat #3 – I was again creeped out by the intense, unfriendly staring of the slightly overweight girl in one of my English classes. I haven’t really figured out what her aggressive eye-contact really means (and I mean aggressive by American standards, by Japanese standards this must be the equivalent of the Death-Stare.) Is she just intrigued by me or does she hate me? And if she hates me, then why? For the love of god, WHY? I’m beginning to lead towards the ‘hate’ interpretation because every time I try to get her to participate in class she belligerently likes to say, “This-u is-u JA-PON.” (Her way of saying ‘Japan.’) She also likes to say things about my appearance to the other students in Japanese when I am within earshot like “Hana ga takai!” (Big nose!) Again, is this a compliment or an insult? I’ve had it used to me both ways; in a mean, insulting way and in a complimentary, cute way by Hidefumi. I’m trying to be fair here and not just call her a racist (because, honestly, what do I know?) but this is really starting to make me feel pretty uncomfortable.

Anyways, using the scoring method that my mother taught me years ago during one of my “What is the purpose of my life??” bouts of hysteria that I would get when I was a teenager, the positive things that you remember count for +5 points while the negative ones only count as -1 (because you remember more bad things than good), I am resting at a healthy +12.

Hopefully that math is correct. =P

Still trying to get rid of the last remnants of the cold that I caught while traveling with my father these last few weeks, I had a funny moment where I emerged from my apartment and was completely shocked to discover that not only is it sunny today but it is also freaking WARM. Granted, I try to keep my apartment as dark and cave-like as possible to protect my vampiric gaijin-whiteness from anything that even closely resembles direct sunlight, but I thought it was at least safe to assume that since yesterday it was pouring rain and freezing cold that today would be somewhat similar. WRONG.

So, half-blind, I stagger over to the grocery store (no, there are no conbini here) to buy more fluids. People who know me are aware of the fact that I need to consume bizarrely large amounts of water/tea/diet soda everyday because my body tends to dehydrate like a Sham-Wow in the middle of Death Valley. This also means that I get extreme hangovers every single time I drink ANY alcohol WHATSOEVER. But, anyways…back to the fluid-seeking expedition. Let me just take the opportunity to state the obvious and say that I am not a Japanese girl. This means that I have not been raised to feel that it is necessary to put on a full face of makeup, curl my hair into some ridiculous up-do, and wear ankle-braking high heels for a visit to the grocery store to buy precious, life-giving water (or in my case, CC Lemon Zero, which is probably slowly giving me cancer). However, I am aware that I probably committed at least 5 Japanese faux pas by venturing out into public in workout clothes and hair THAT WAS STILL WET FROM THE SHOWER. For shame, Constantine! Still, I don’t necessarily know if that merits me being suspiciously stared at by everyone in the grocery store like I am about to break open a deadly vial of the ebola virus and kill them all.

After that humbling experience, I returned to my evil lair of doom and proceeded to waste away an hour of my life following various YouTube links. I am confused and disturbed by the seeming extreme popularity of R&B music videos from Korea…

On the WordPress Stats page you can look at the search engine terms that people used to find your site. Here is a partial screenshot of mine:

Is everything you read on the internet true?

Hmmm, I had no idea!

Seriously, internet, you never cease to amuse me. Thanks for the laugh and a new running joke for me to throw around when I am bored. =P

Wondering why I haven’t been posting anything? It’s because I’ve been traveling around Japan for the past two weeks. This means no posting right now, but many many posts to come soon! If you really can’t wait to see what I am doing with my time, then meander over to my Twitter…I post photos on there everyday from my cell phone…in real time and stuff. =P

Vomited up from the depths of the sea...

I believe that the most difficult truth we must accept in our lives is that everything – the world, people, ourselves – changes. It seems redundant to state such a fact because of its obvious truth. Of course everything changes. Yet, like most important truths, the inevitability of change is both very easy to acknowledge in an abstract, intellectual fashion and exceedingly difficult to come to terms with in practice. Some changes are exciting and welcome; others are painful and unexpected. But one thing is certain – they will come. Be it with earth-shattering swiftness or at a slow creep that goes unnoticed until one day you wake up and find yourself irreversibly altered. They will come. And I have become convinced that it is our ability to confront and adapt to change that defines who we are as people.

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