Gone Home

Just finished this experimental game. Here’s my pitch for it:

A coming-of-age lesbian angst game played as an interactive 3D adventure game, disguised as a horror genre where players must wander throughout a giant dimly lit mansion and finding light sources is your primary goal in getting out with your sanity.

Would you buy it??

I thought Gone Home was pretty cool in that it takes place in the northwest, where grunge and punk music flourish, where zines are distributed, and where it’s always raining.

I don’t appreciate having the option to pick up EVERYTHING and realizing it’s a waste of time. BUT, it does make me feel pleasantly surprised when I pick up something that’s an actual clue.

The game felt like a student project prototype that seemed to have started on a first person shooter template. Or intended to be a first person shooter (the opportunities for me to crouch bore no fruit. There was nothing worth crouching for) and suddenly switched gears. Or game designers, hah. Like a tattoo that needed to be modified.

EDIT: Ugh, duh, “Gone Home” is a mod of the horror game “Amnesia”…

A lesson with roommates

Recently, I had to teach students a lesson on household chores. The aim was to get them to talk and say household chore phrases, but when I first planned the lesson, I was stuck with what was in the textbook, and it felt very dry and boring. How often do you wash the dishes, or sweep the floor, etc.? Very often, rarely? Kids in Japan often don’t do chores at home if they’ve got a stable family. Their “chore” is to study.

Wow, reminds me of my childhood!

I knew I had to make it meaningful somehow, but it was lost on me.

After some time, it dawned on me that the students should be mock roommates and they should plan out their shared chores. I randomly put them into groups of 3 or 4, and gave them a card with a day on it that would decide their “busy” day, when they can’t do any chores. They had to communicate this to their roommates by saying, “I am busy on ___day”. They get their weekends, so shared chores are done during the weekdays. They picked out 3-4 shared chores, and decided who would do what and when. After planning out their shared chores, they get together with another group, and recreate each others’ chore schedule by communicating it to each other in English. Then they would check if their schedules matched to see if communication was successful.

Problems I ran into:
o Originally, I wanted them to write one chore for one day for each person, but they got really into it and planned out chores for every single day of the week for each person. This was the cause for the next issue.

o I had them write out sentences that would serve as their script, but that took too much time, and some students didn’t have a chance to share their chore schedule.

o Some kids were faster than others and would have to wait for everyone else before the next instruction.

Action items for next time:
o This was a rather complicated lesson plan at first, and it changed once I stepped into the classroom. Like I said, I wanted them to write sentences to serve as their scripts within their groups before communicating it to another group, but it seemed easier to just have them tell the other group what they were doing on what day, and just provide the speaking pattern rather than have them write down sentences. This would save time and give them more time to talk, which they don’t get to do very often.

At the end, I asked if they liked their roommates. Some had a resounding YEEESS! and some were very vocal with their NOOOOS… Japan has a concept of “Share House”, but from the advertising books on college living available at the school that I’ve seen, most students rent their own tiny private rooms. At least it will be meaningful to kids who might be studying abroad!

Otaku and Teaching English

During the mid-year orientation, I had lunch with my Japanese Teacher of English (JTE), my ALT coworker, and 2 JTEs from other schools. I asked who their ALTs were, just to get an idea of who they were working with. One of the came to the conference without an ALT, so I asked further, and found out that she works with a non-JET ALT, hired by another English teaching company called Interac. Interac ALTs are a cheaper alternative than hiring a JET ALT, though I’m not sure why…

So the JTE who came by herself, a lovely lady who’s super funny and speaks her mind, mentioned her ALTs name, and I’ve actually met this guy. He’s quiet, a bit unkempt when I met him, young. She said, “I wish he could attend this conference, he could really use it.” I agreed with her, as I thought he was shy and a bit inexperienced when I talked to him. And then, without any provocation, she said, “Otaku.”

Haha, whoa!

I had to agree. But then I asked whether knowing about anime and whatnot could help him gain favor or a rapport with the kids. She frowned and said something along the lines of, “He doesn’t have to be that much of an otaku.”

Hah!

Refugee cities

The town of Ookuma, 大熊町, as part of the exclusion zone, was evacuated when the Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred.

The entire town relocated to Aizu-Wakamatsu.

The Ookuma town office resides in the former school building on Aizu Gakuho, close to Tsuraga Castle.

Temporary houses, portables, are scattered around Aizu-Wakamatsu.

One of the students in the school English Club is one of those evacuees. She is normally a very happy kid, always excited to receive snacks and treats, and usually talks about how hungry she is, as most kids her age do. She’s excited to use English and often translates for her classmates when they can’t understand what the ALTs are saying.

When we ask her what she will do for the weekend, she says she will sleep. Sometimes she might watch TV, or study.

She seems to be doing well, and has friends here in Aizu-Wakamatsu. There’s also plenty to do.

I hear that other kids are so stressed, they want to go home, and it makes them sick in their stomach, that they miss out on days at school.

Biphobia

I’m going to admit it, I have a bit of biphobia. Which is not entirely true because I’m not particularly scared of them, but I do get irritated by them. I never felt this strongly about it in America, but here in a small city in Japan, it’s as if I’d taken a vow of celibacy. This is not a bad thing, although I do get my moments of frustration. I am pretty sure the straight guys who have a thing for lesbians are waiting for me to crack and fuck them out of carnal frustration.

Sometimes I like to exaggerate.

So far, my hunt for queer women with chemistry has been fruitless. Don’t get me wrong, I have found queer women. Enthusiastic queer women! It’s just that the moment when I find that they are in a committed relationship, usually with a guy, I get so irritated and think to myself, “Why the fuck are you even flirting with me?”

Actually, I don’t think I have biphobia. I’m just astounded that these people have the nerve to flirt when their significant other is right there. It angers me even more because they are having fun getting a rise, knowing that they’ll have someone to go home to, whereas I’m stuck in this limbo where I feel flattered by the attention, then angered by the fact that they live the privileged heteronormative life, and now, with more and more acceptance of queer affection, they can have fun in both worlds with no repurcussions. And then I feel sorry for the partner who puts up with this. This feels unfair to me. I guess what I’m more pissed about is that this polyamorous nature goes against my personal ethic.

We have nothing in common. I don’t want to be your friend. You are not being a friend by flirting with me. Stop playing around with people’s feelings. I know you want this jelly. Go fuck yourself.

Man, I need to make some single friends my age…

Naginata notes

  • Only 0.4% of high school kids take naginata as a club activity. This is because there are so few naginata experts in the country.
  • In Fukushima prefecture, the Aizu area has the most naginata clubs.
  • Aizu Gakuho’s naginata instructor is a, if not the, representative of Fukushima Prefecture in national naginata competitions. I am trying to data check this because she is super badass.
  • There are 8 forms in naginata. They only teach you 1-5 in most high schools. All 8 are taught at Aizu Gakuho, but the higher ones are really hard to practice, and competitions only look at 1-5.
  • Did I mention that the naginata instructor at my high school is badass?

Cold cold heart

I’ve turned on my automatic hot bath. I plan to soak in it for 15 minutes and process through my issues and determine how to resolve them. In the meantime, some quick notes.

I was in Fukushima city the last two days for the mid-year conference (研修) given to all JETs in Fukushima Prefecture. It gives us a chance to meet with one another, see what activities JETs from all over the prefecture have been utilizing, and listen to lecturers from nearby universities on their research on what  might be useful to English instructors. We had 3 lectures: the first on cross-culturalism, the second on the roles and duties of ALTs, and the third on The Collaborative Classroom.

The lecture on cross-culturalism was accessible in terms of understanding. The most frustrating thing about it was when the lecturer showed research on gendered speech that displayed a scale with masculine and feminine extremes labeled “You da man!” and “You’re a lady”. Okay, yes, there are people that may speak at both extremes. The sample size of the research showed a significant gender difference between Western women and men, whereas there was little difference between Japanese women and men. Okay, I understand the generalization. But then the lecturer continues to summarize, or rhetorically questions, the results saying that “Japanese men speak more feminine…? and Japanese women speak more masculine…?” Stop right there. Consider this: An English-speaking white man who is married to a Japanese woman is engendering speech patterns of the men and women of his spouse’s ethnicity. Did he just emasculate Japanese men, and make Japanese women into dragon ladies?? It sounds pretty imperialistic. I would love to know how he describes his own speech patterns.

If making himself feel like a white savior was not the intention in his subconscious thought, may I suggest a better way at phrasing the conclusion of these results?

Why not just say that Japan has more gender-neutral speech patterns between men and women? This satisfies my frustration with cultural and gender appropriation. I don’t like it when people see Asians as a passive, effeminate race, and I don’t like it that masculinity and femininity are on two extremes that can only exist interdependently.

This is not the lecturer’s research, btw. When asked where he got his results, he cited a Japanese researcher’s name.

The second lecture touched on second language acquisition, and I was very happy to hear the Japanese lecturer drop names such as Krashen and Larsen-Freeman.

The third lecture was 90 minutes of encouraging teachers to build a rapport with students, and introduced ways to let the students be comfortable with you as a teacher, such as activities that lets them be their own rivals, rather than comparing them against their peers. Good content…  very boring presentation.

Overall, an okay conference. The best part was venturing out in the after hours and finding a gay bar. I found one on a gay site (because lesbian sites are nonexistent), and figured I would visit it and try to get some info out of the bartender. Our meeting was very funny. I walked into a slightly dim, green-lit bar that could probably seat 10 people, decorated with kitschy props. Very camp. No one was there, not even a bartender. Eventually, someone came through a door. He froze when he saw me.

“Good evening. Is this a gay bar?”

“Hai”

“Is it all right for girls to be here?”

“Hai” (still frozen)

“I’m from America and I wanted I come to a gay bar.”

“Ah, hai, have a seat. I’ll be right back.”

I picked a seat at the bar, and waited, and he came back with some senbei mixed with peanuts. I ordered a screwdriver, and he gave me Orangina mixed with Vodka. We proceeded to have a conversation about his coming out, his partner, their separate living situation, and his bar patrons. We talked about lesbians, FTMs, my sex habits, how my name means ネコ (cat, or bottom), but that I’m actually a タチ(top)、no, リバ (reverse, or either), and how sorry he felt for me in Aizu Wakamatsu, even as he kept encouraging me that gays are there, and lesbians are just closeted. He did mention that Aizu women are cold, but very warm-hearted. My type, perhaps! He tried calling a friend to come by the bar, but the friend wasn’t picking up. My tall, white, professor-and/or-chub-chaser friend stopped by later, and I helped translate a super gay conversation between the both of them. My interpreting went so well that they almost took off their pants to compare dicks. Almost.

Anyway, he gave us a tip on a local cafe owned by a gay couple that’s popular with women because the owner has a “pretty face”. Not sure if it’s still around since the last time he’s seen them was 3 years ago!

So much for quick notes.

Visiting Aizu-Wakamatsu

A friend from the Bay Area who was an ex-JET 10 years ago, and was traveling around Japan made the trek up to Tohoku to visit me in Aizu-Wakamatsu. She’s a seasoned Japan traveler, and did her research on what she wanted to do while she was here. I, on the other hand, didn’t do much research in terms of food, but the joy in eating is the experience, which is better when the restaurant is spontaneously chosen.

So based on her visit, here’s an example of what you could do while you’re here:

You take the bullet train from Tokyo to Koriyama, and from there, the local train to Aizu-Wakamatsu. This could take from 60 to 75 minutes, depending on whether you’re going on the local 普通 train, or the 急行 rapid train. When you get off, we’ll walk 15 minutes to my house to drop off your luggage. Then I’ll probably ask if you want to go to Fuji no Yu, which is a hot spring “resort” that pipes in real hot spring water into several different kinds of pools, and afterwards, we’d have dinner at the restaurant upstairs. If not, there are plenty of restaurants to check out the local Aizu food, such as sauce tonkatsu, Aizu chidori, soba, Kitakata ramen, etc. We’d walk a lot before we decide because there are so many choices. Then, if you’re adventurous, we’d go to the drinking area 4 blocks from home, and wander into a snack bar. Unfortunately, on the evening we went, many snack bars were closed, so we ended up at an izakaya. I’m not sure whether it was because it was still too early, or if they were just closed in preparation for the holiday next the day.

The next day, we’d wake up bright and early and bike to Iimori-yama if the weather was good. If not, we’d walk. We’d visit Sazae Tower, which is a wooden tower built like a helix. Then we’d visit the Byakko-tai graves, and check out the place where they committed suicide and gaze across Aizu Wakamatsu to see Tsuruga Castle as they did hundreds of years ago. We’d descend the mountain and have soba ice cream.

From there, we’d go to the Tsuruga Castle, and have lunch before we enter the castle. A samurai performer might come up and take our picture and try some English if they see that you are a non-Asian person. It might take a while for them to figure that you’re non-Japanese if you are Asian! After entering the castle, we’d ascend 6-7 floors and look out at Aizu Wakamatsu at the top. On the way, we’d see exhibits of Aizu Wakamatsu in samurai times, or a video of Yae Nijima, who is currently really popular since they  made a year-long drama series based on her life. After the castle, we’ll head out and have cherry blossom ice cream! And if you’re still in a snacky mood, wasabi ice cream! And because I can’t help myself, I’ll even take you to a gaudy looking love hotel next to the castle, though, even if you are my type, I wouldn’t take you into a room.

From the castle, we’d go next door to the Fukushima Prefectural Museum, where ancient art and cultural artifacts are kept, and learn a bit about Fukushima.

After all that edumacation, I’m sure you want to get even more edumacated, except this time, about sake brewing. So we’d go to the historic town, Nanokamachi, and visit the Suehiro Sake Brewery for a free tour. Of course, the tour is 100% in Japanese, so unless you understand Japanese, you’d have to rely on me, or body language. I’m going to have to take this tour several times before I learn exactly what the guide is talking about. The sake tour not only talks about sake, but also the history of the area, as well as the connection it has with Dr. Hideo Noguchi, who found the vaccine for yellow fever. There is a sake tasting at the end as well, if you must know.

And then, more food!

If you had time and interest, I’d book us a room at a ryokan at Higashiyama Hot Springs, a popular area to enjoy hotsprings and where you can enjoy an outdoor pool with great scenery, as well as walking around town.

Depending on what you like, there’s always something to do around here, and having you visit is a great opportunity for me to explore and try new things together with you as well!