不幸中の幸い – Happiness within the misfortune

Taking a moment to check in here. I haven’t written anything in a while, but I have a lot of unfinished drafts that I haven’t been able to finish. All these incomplete thoughts because A LOT has been happening in the last several months leading up to the end of my JET contract.

Things have been really shaking up as the goal for this year was to find a job to stay in Japan. Three years of teaching English was an opportunity for me to heal in different ways: being away from family responsibilities, away from the queer community that I couldn’t bring myself to be a part of at the moment because my self-esteem was riding so low, and away from the ridiculousness of the changing Silicon Valley landscape that did not make me feel okay because after so many years in the video game industry, I still could not find myself where I wanted to be, and it seemed like everyone else was doing it better, jumping from company to company, living paycheck to paycheck, hustling, something I didn’t have the energy or enough of a risk-taking safety net to do. Japan felt like the only safe space for me where my frugal living and low-keyness can be appreciated and where it wouldn’t be too hard for me to blend in and do my thing.

And now I’m ready to leave my little town. While it has been quite an experience living in Aizu-Wakamatsu, it is truly also very conservative, and I find myself excited to leave and go back to a more diverse place. I feel like I am unraveling, taking my masks off, sharing more about my queer self on Facebook with all the Japanese neighbors following me, especially after Orlando.

I started the pain-staking process of writing my Japanese resume and CV early in the year, and actively started job searching in March, when I contacted Ubisoft Osaka after a couple years after the studio manager added me on LinkedIn. I contacted him again and asked if there were any openings, and he suggested I apply for an Assistant Producer job. We went through a couple Skype interviews and I was invited to visit the studio in Osaka, bullet-train expense paid. I felt really good and confident about the on-site interview, but in the end, I didn’t get it because my Japanese level wasn’t high enough to deal with Japanese developers. This was a problem back when I was interviewing for Sega for an assistant to the VP of Development position, that my Japanese just wasn’t high enough.

So I moved on and contacted a recruiter recommended by a friend. He said check back in May because of graduate recruitment season, so in the meantime, I did all I could throwing my resume out to Netflix Japan, Google Japan, Amazon Japan, EA Japan, even sending messages to Netflix HR Manager, and a weak link to a Netflix Content Manager in LA on LinkedIn to see if I could get her to get someone in Japan to notice me. For a while, I really appreciated LinkedIn’s ranking system and really felt wins as I was getting more views. But nothing came out of it. I had a breakdown in front of my sister and cousin in a Skype call, not knowing what I was going to do, except maybe go home and get a master’s degree in International Education, but not before taking Japanese classes and passing the N1 before leaving the country.

May came, and it was time to reconnect with the recruiter about trying to get a mid-career position. With Ubisoft out of the picture, I braced myself to interview with Japanese companies. After some consultation and brush-ups to my resume with the recruiter, he gave me a bunch of job descriptions to choose from and threw my package out to the companies I was interested in. Almost every company, including the famous Japanese companies, such as Konami and Bandai, rejected me for being a position mismatch, or that my skillset was too wide. Well, when you got to wear a lot of hats as an ass prod, you can’t help but have a wide skillset!

I got through to two Skype interviews, one with a love story mobile game company who needed an English speaker to help localize. Except that the way I was performing the interview was a total mismatch to what they needed (but they did compliment me on my upbeat character!). The second Skype interview was with an edu-tech start-up, which seemed like a winner, except that they wanted me to work as an engineer rather than a designer. They asked whether I could be a liason between their English education team and the engineering team to build their learning management notification system, which was familiar to what I knew at Leapfrog, only I didn’t have core experience in building it. While I didn’t understand the nuts and bolts, I was familiar with the problems it had, so I was upfront about what I would be able to do, and that I would gladly help design its structure. My rejection this time specifically mentioned my terrible Japanese (I have a feeling the returnee who was in the interviewing panel was highly critical and unforgiving), as well as mismatch to the positions they wanted to fill.

At this point, I was ready to go home to America and looking forward to being gay and queer again, but not looking forward to the November elections. But Ubisoft Osaka contacted me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to apply for a game planner position. I asked for the job description and it was pretty perfect for me. I asked again whether my Japanese would be enough for the position, since they rejected me on that point in the first place, and they were confident that I would be able to do the job with the Japanese I’d demonstrated in my interviews.

Everything this time around went so smooth and fast, it was scary. On the day when I was supposed to have a Skype interview with them discussing the terms of the contract, I had 5 classes, 3 that needed a thunderbolt to VGA cable for my computer, and had a free period to go home to pick up a computer cable. As soon as I rode out of the school exit…

WHAM!

I was on my back against the other person’s bike, mine between my legs. I got up, moved the bikes out of the way because other people would be biking through, and went to see the other person. The girl was on her side, still, with a pool of blood near her face.

I ran to the nurse’s office, said that there was an accident in front of the school, lots of blood, said to call an ambulance. They didn’t realize I was hurt, too, and thought an old lady had hit her head or something. The nurse brought rags and ice, the ambulance came, and all I could think about were my classes. They had to persuade me to go to the hospital to get checked out. I got a CT scan of my head and an X-ray of my left arm. Aside from some big bruises and muscle soreness, I was fine.

The other person had a broken nose. And was 6 weeks pregnant.

What followed was the school taking me to apologize to the other party and discuss the settlements. Their insurance would take care of the medical bills, while I would have to compensate the other party a new bike.

It was the most culture shocking thing to do. Because the police were involved, I felt that apologizing gave them leverage to pursue me as much as they wanted and take whatever they could. I was foreigner, what do they care?

In any case, there was a lot of waiting because the police report couldn’t be done until the other party’s nose healed, and I was requested to pay for the bike before the report was issued. I said that I wouldn’t be paying for anything until my the accident was properly reported to my insurance, since the school pretty much told the other party that if there was anything they needed, I had foreigner’s insurance to cover it (which totally made me feel like I was thrown under the bus).

Did I mention that on the day of the accident, I still had the Skype interview with Ubisoft, and an hour after that, received a hiring contract?

What a day… And there’s even more!

For another day.

Japanese guessing games

There’s a show in the morning where they have TV talents try to guess what is special about this particular day. They only have 5 minutes to do the segment, so they only have 45 seconds to guess the right answer for their team after they’re given 3 clues. Usually they they’ll throw out a lot of wrong answers, with no connection to each other except to the clues, then one just magically throws out the right answer.

So when I introduced 20 questions, it seems to me that the students feel this pressure to guess the correct answer, when they should be asking questions to gather clues. And the kinds of questions usually have no deductive quality to them.

But every once in while they guess correctly after a few questions. I don’t know how they do it. People here just have this magic ability to understand context… that is, until they run into foreigners.

Ando-sensei

I just watched ビリギャル, a movie set in Nagoya about an introverted girl who had trouble making friends, fell into the wrong crowd, and during her senior year, changed from having no chance of entering college to getting into Keio University’s schools. It’s a feel-good movie, very down-to-earth, and with a touch of realism, such that the girl fails getting into the main school, but still gets into the comprehensive school.

She attends a cram school run by an instructor who treats every student as individuals by using incentives that work for them. The instructor is passionate and gets along well with the kids and speak their language. At the end, he’s jumping and waving to his favorite student from afar as she rides the bullet train to Tokyo.

Before coming to Japan, I would think the timing of the scene was movie magic. But after arriving, I met a part-time social studies teacher, who was also the girl’s softball club advisor. He had learned the flight patterns of airplanes that passed over Aizu-Wakamatsu, and at times when an airplane would fly overhead, he would tell me where it was headed.

People really keep time here.

Fixie bike death escape

Last night on my way home from kyudo, I was riding home, absent-mindedly processing and relishing the conversations that the people who came that evening were open to talk about with me present. The light ahead of me was green and I was speeding through, but noticed that the crosswalk seemed a bit off to the right from my trajectory.

Suddenly I realized I was headed right into a 5-7 inch curb. Naturally, I knew I had to jump it, but I had no idea whether my rear wheel would clear it, and how I would land. I felt the rear wheel bump the curb, and it tailspinned a bit on landing.

Luckily, with a fixed bike, I’m used to keep on pedaling so when the rear wheel landed, whatever physics concerning torque and angular momentum kept me upright, and I was still in control to keep away from the oncoming cars.

This could have ended so badly!

Long time no see, what’s happenin’?

Hey blog, haven’t written on you for a while. I just paid for another 2 years of hosting, so I better make good use of it. Thanks, Dreamhost, for being so reliable and giving this minimalist user so little trouble, even when I give you trouble.

Anyway, here’s a funny story from today.

I’m headed out to lunch and took a peak at the students checking out the potential incoming freshman who came to find out their exam results to enter the school. Several students had signs to get interest from the freshman, and I’m always having trouble with 器楽部 so, of course, I approach some students with this word on their sign and say “Kirakubu!”, and get some giggles from this, and realized I said it wrong, and probably said something inappropriate.

So I continue and ask, “Okay, why is it (楽) gaku when usually it’s raku?” And they answered “Because music (音楽) is ongaku, so it’s instruments, so it’s kigaku!”

“Oh! I learned something new! Thanks!” and adding a knowing tone and look that they are not the “easy-going club.”

As I walk away, I hear them telling their friends, “I got to teach Cat-sensei something!”

This, dear readers, is how you get kids to step up (And how to hide your embarrassment from them and still be smooth).

 

Point taken – Kyudo administration

During a kyudo round in a sports fest, an archer shoots 4 arrows, but does so 2 at a time. When keeping score, a circle indicates success, and a cross or a line indicates a miss. As expected of Japan, there is a space-saving efficient way to keep score that uses 2 spaces instead of 4 using these symbols…

∅  This one means that the first arrow missed, and the second arrow hit.
⍉ This one means that the first arrow hit, and the second arrow missed.
☓ This one means that both arrows missed.
◎ This one means that both arrows hit.

 

We Are Game Developers

A colleague just launched a website that interviews more of the game developers that you don’t often see in the usual game media outlets and it inspired me to write a bit.

When I was a kid, I wanted an NES. That thing entertained me for years, in addition to cartoons on TV. At one point, Samurai Pizza Cats was playing, so when my mom brought back a cart from a trip to Vietnam, I was surprised to see Speedy, Polly, and Guido. I was so excited to play this game, thinking that no one else had, but I couldn’t really share it because I couldn’t read it. It had a game feature I’d never played before: switching characters with different powers to overcome an obstacle. Since I couldn’t read the Japanese, most of the fun was figuring out the UI and HUD elements, and what button activated what, and in what menu or play state. But there were also a lot of cut-scenes with story-telling and dialogue that I couldn’t understand beyond the simple character animations, and the melody of the chiptunes. キャッ党忍伝てやんでえ was one of the discoveries that motivated me to study Japanese.

A few months ago, I sat in Makoto Goto’s lecture at Aizu University. He’s one of the developers of the latter Final Fantasy series, and is currently developing middleware for making particle effects. He recounts his first experience with programming, growing up in the rural mountains of Niigata, and having to travel 3 towns away to the nearest bookstore that carried a book on BASIC. Where he got the computer to practice executing BASIC is a question for another time.

One thing he said that I never really thought about was “Making games is to bring your dreams to reality.” It’s sort of a “duh” thing to say about any art medium, but I was reminded to when I felt limited as a kid, when dreams are still being explored and waiting to be discovered, and connections between what we experience to what we imagine could be true were being made. So things like Mario walking into pipes and Sonic the Hedgehog running through the city become iconic because we were just trying shit out.

But the game industry grows older with us. There will always be a place for experimentation, but individual experiences provide different interpretations. Possibilities and access are more open to those who carry certain privileges, and we soon discover that those who lack those privileges have other ways of achieving goals. And I think that’s where today’s impactful games are going and need. Presenting problems that many people don’t think about with solutions that are challenging to find.

The design structures are already there, now we just need to fill it with content.

Madlibs Lesson

This past week, I decided to use Madlibs in class for the 1st years. I was a little nervous because in the 3 years I’ve been here, I wanted to do Madlibs, but wasn’t exactly sure how to manage the lesson so that the students could understand the humor in it. I finally just dove in and prepared the lesson to take it a step at a time.

Students should understand what sort of passage they’re modifying first. So I made an example of what the passage should sound like ideally.

My “Dream Person” should be very adventurous and friendly. They should have a physique like David Bowie, a profile like Ayase Haruka, and the personality of a cat. They must be polite and must always remember to wash my dishes, to put away their clothes, and to take my hand when crossing the street. They should move gracefully, have a soothing voice, and should always dress fashionably. I would also like them to be a great dancer, and when we are alone they should whisper sweet nothings into my ear and massage my tired shoulders. I know such a person is hard to find. In fact, the only person I can think of is____!

I needed the JTE to help the students understand the passage to speed up the instructions, so Japanese was used a bit to translate, in addition to using simpler English explanations, as well as my WTF gesticulations.

For the lower-level classes, we split the students into 2 or 4 groups, whereas the higher-level students broke off into pairs. Their MadLib had 21 entries, so for a small group of 6 or 7, each student is responsible for at least 3 words. The JTE and I explained all the parts of speech to the students. When everyone is done, each student reports their words to the rest of the group to make the funny story.

This worked so much better than I thought. The students were focused on the task, making sure with each other their words were correct, looking for interesting words in their word banks, asking the JTE and I to confirm that their words met the requirement, asking their peers to spell, and were listening intently. When they finished, it was up to the JTE and I to help them imagine their story with a bit of translating. After that, we had half the members from each group switch out to read to each other their story, and to explain to their partner the non-sensical. The students really enjoyed how crazy everything sounded, and most of the sentences were simple enough to sustain some disbelief. Some commented how awesome (or possibly inappropriate…やばい!) the activity was.

Definitely one of my more fun classes. I collected their stories to have them appear randomly on page load here to enjoy.

“You should get that checked out…”

I was thinking about how to say that in Japanese this morning, and whether it would translate because I had probably the most uncomfortably grossest day I’ve ever had in my office life yesterday so far that I can only hope won’t ever happen again because I will be ready with something to say.

The social studies teacher, an eccentric, liberal-leaning, single older man who looks to be in his 50s, with disheveled hair, a loose-fitting suit, and has a terrible diet, was expelling more bodily gas and fluids than usual yesterday, and it was awful.

I came into the office wishing him the usual New Years greetings, interrupting his conversation with the other social studies teacher about America and China. Conveniently, he inquired for my opinion to confirm his opinion that if America and China went to war, everyone would die (or something will die). I agreed, and said that I hoped it wouldn’t come to that, although I did offer that America and China are in an economic war right now (even though China holds the majority of America’s debts…). I was told that many people supports America going to war with China.  What a scary, conservative thought. I responded by my own fear of the upcoming presidential election, and that Trump would win. The teachers shared the sentiment. Awesome. Harmony in the office.

And then the younger social studies teacher left for club activities. And it was just the older one, American me, and Ms. Ozzie.

The man decided to sleep for the rest of the day, since there were no classes. And throughout the day, he was belching, expelling this sound from the back of this throat through his teeth, and whining about how tired he was, probably from his poor posture and lack of exercise. He always seems to be out of breath if he’s not sitting. Sitting behind me, a mere less than a meter away, sharing the air, released particles flowing all around.

Ms. Ozzie and I noticed that it was more than his usual random farts, which aren’t the silent deadly types, fortunately. My hope is that his lack of manners on this particular day wasn’t intentional, but it was hard to believe that he would behave this way if there were other Japanese people around.

At first, I felt so disrespected. But today, I think perhaps he was feeling too comfortable around us.

I was tempted to say something, but I didn’t know what I could say, or how. In America, I’d once asked a co-worker to clip his nails at home or in the bathroom, where the nails could fly in his own abode. Sure, he was a little surprised to hear me be so bothered about something all of a sudden, but no offense was taken.

And then I come to Japan and find that a lot of people actually clip their nails at their desk. Luckily, nail clippers here are designed to reduce flying nails and actually hold them until you’re ready to empty them out.