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Home DUCTS.ORG Issue 12 | Winter 2003 the webzine of personal stories
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Naked Man

Tom Fast

Who is Naked Man? Learn more about ducts resident explorer, read previous memoirs, see his album covers (!) and MORE in the NAKED MAN duct.

Vol. 11: My New Home

Dear Naked Man readers:

In Japan, all things begin with the cherry blossoms, and so does this story. I moved to Japan for the second time in April of this year:

My New Home
My wife, Rie, (pronounced “Ree” + a Canadian “eh”) found us a one hundred year old farmhouse at the foot of a forested hillside. All the land was sold years ago and the former dairy farmer’s residence is now surrounded by upper middle-class homes. Just across the street is Okayama City’s most revered public high school. Up the road is a Buddhist temple with the kanji characters, “Shorenji” inscripted on the gate outside. If translated into Chinese they would read “Shaolin.” But you’ll find no monks there who could match the martial arts skill of say, David Carradine. The temple’s specialty seems to be Tea Ceremony and Kendo for kids. The wife of the old monk in charge, feeds the ants outside every morning, so they’ll have no reason to go in to her kitchen.

Our house is huge by modern Japanese standards. On the ground floor we have 5 multi-purpose rooms with traditional tatami mats, 2 toilets, one (squat and one Western) a separate bath (ahh the Japanese bath...) and a spacious kitchen. Everything in it is about 3/4 the size I am used to. Aside from the traditional interior, perhaps the coolest features of our house are the walled-in Japanese garden on the south side and the vegetable garden on the north. All our friends and neighbors are jealous.

Of course an older place does have its problems. The temperature is roughly the same outside as in. Sometimes it feels like we are camping out in our own home. We worry if it will be able to survive the next typhoon. And then of course, there are the bugs...

They Came from HELL
Idea for a film: “Worse than Freddy, Jason and JAWS combined. Nothing can match the EVIL of the Japanese centipede.” Cut to one bad-ass bug, almost 6 inches long with huge pinchers and a million legs slithering across a tatami floor toward its next victim. “They come in the night, in search of blood.” Next is a low angle, fast-moving centipede P.O.V. shot, hurdling over twigs, whipping past blades of grass, through a crack in the wall of a house. “They attack when you are most vulnerable. “Ahhh!!!” A man screams as he puts his foot in a centipede inhabited shoe. “Nooo!” A women shrieks as the insect creeps out of a drain to attack in the shower. “There is only one way they can be killed. They must be SEVERED in half! And even if you do kill the beast, you’ll still have to face its OFFSPRING.” Nothing can stop the terror of the MUKADE!”

OK so the one who got me wasn’t exactly 6 inches long (more like 2.5) but I’ve seen them that big in my garden! And it bit me right on the face at 3 in the morning! I felt a painful tingling sensation next to the bridge of my nose and new immediately that I’d been attacked. I jumped out of my futon and turned on the light to see it there squirming on my pillow. I reached for the sharpest object I could find (a CD case) and began hacking at it only to have my blows softened by the pillow underneath it. The creature escaped to the floor where it finally met its brutal death at the hands of my Bobby Womack jewel case. It was like a clichéd revenge scenes from a bad movie. I slashed at the bug long after it had died, until my wife came up from behind, grabbed me said, “It’s over. Everything’s going to be OK....” My pride returned in the morning, along with the feeling in my face, but Rie got bit on the leg the following night. Two days later we laid highly toxic chemicals around the perimeter of the house and began sleeping under a mosquito net. As time passed the indoor bug attacks slowly dissipated but we continue to find them lying in wait just outside.

Not in my Job Description
I showed up for my first day of work in my best suit, expecting to meet the principal, have meetings with the other English Teachers, discuss the curriculum, etc. After all, classes would start in less than a week and I had little or no idea what I was doing. Instead I was told that all teachers would be cleaning for the entire afternoon in preparation for the opening of school (FYI there are no school janitors in Japan). While other teachers were changing into their tracksuits (the regulation attire for all physical activity at school, sports-related or otherwise), I was rolling up my sleeves and tucking in my tie. I’d been assigned to clean the 3rd floor boys’ toilet. To accompany me in my task, the school song blared on tinny loudspeakers. The music had a distinctly proletariat feel about it, like some North Korean propaganda anthem. Despite having been Cuba, China and Vietnam, it is at times like this that Japan seems like the most communist country I know.

The next day, I came to school again this time dressed in my other suit ready and to get down to business. Once again my plans were to be put on hold.. Today’s schedule included the opening ceremony for the students. Afterward they would be released early, but not before cleaning! Again, I was sent to the 3rd floor boys’ toilet, but this time, I had two “helpers.” Ever try to get a teenage boy to clean a public toilet? There’s really no way to do it without bribery or brute force, even here in Japan. Well, that’s not entirely true. One of my guys was great. I didn’t even have to ask him. He jumped right in and scrubbed the urinals with great fervor. The other had to be led in by the tie of his school uniform before he would acquiesce to even mopping the floor (that I’d just mopped myself the day before).

And so we cleaned the toilets once again. And again. And again. In fact if you look at your watch on a weekday and it happens to be 3 o’clock in Japan, you can rest assured that I’ll be over here cleaning the toilets. They take cleaning very seriously in Japanese schools and even more so at mine. Apparently one of our vice principals belongs to a particular Buddhist sect who take great pleasure in cleaning toilets. Their preferred method is barefoot and with their bare hands. They feel that getting down and actually having physical contact with other people’s fecal residue is a purifying experience. Well, those probably aren’t the exact words my vice principal would choose, but I think I know where he’s coming from and can agree with him on a certain level. Still, I’ll be keeping my feet, hands and dangling necktie as far from the toilet bowls as possible.

Fntasy Island
“Tom, this is a pretty tough assignment. Remember you can bow out at any time. But should you choose this mission, here is what you’ll be required to do: Spend 24 hours on an island camp with 100 freshman college girls who love foreigners. You will play games, like Twister for example, square dance and pose for pictures. For your trouble, you’ll be provided room and board, including all the sushi, BBQ beef and beer you can consume, plus 45,000 yen.”

Now perhaps you’ve heard about the easy money to be made as an English teacher in Japan. The above is a description of an actual job that I do every April. My friends and I dubbed it the “Fantasy Island Gig” before we all got married. In essence you get paid to be treated like a rock star. It’s a hold-over from Japanese economic boom years when money was thrown freely at foreigners. The truth is, given Japan’s current economic woes, these jobs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. In fact the pay used to be even better (right now it translates to about $US 420) and we were put up in a spa resort hotel.

My only real responsibility was to plan 2 hours of activities for a group of about 12 students. First I took them for a “nature walk” around the island, where I pointed out scenic vistas that they could’ve easily found themselves. They didn’t seem to mind. I also showed them the wind’s various directional patterns by licking my finger and sticking it in the air. Then I wowed them with my rock-skipping skills. The were very impressed as apparently this isn’t a major pastime in Japan.

For my big finale, I joined forces with a fellow teacher and his group for a rousing game of “Capture the Balloon.” We tied balloons of all colors and shapes on each girl at the waist. Our two teams faced off across a 20 meter field. I gave my group a Mel Gibson, “Brave Heart” style inspirational speech, then let out a war cry and we attacked. My team ripped into the challengers with great ferocity. The sounds of bursting balloons and squealing girls could be heard for miles. I chased one wearing jeans and a tight t-shirt that read, “Hug the Body” but she was too quick. When the dust cleared the grassy field was strewn with multi-colored bits of rubber and 20 girls passed-out from exhaustion. My team was victorious.

Later that evening, we had a big bonfire and square dance. When it was all over, we teachers went back to our rooms to find 2 huge sashimi platters, each with a full-sized, fresh-cut, Red Snapper staring at us and still breathing. Yes, I live a fortunate life.

And that was my spring! I hope you enjoyed reading about my all-new adventures here in Japan. Stay tuned next-time for more fun-filled experiences like: The time I was invited to be an “80's Night” DJ at Okayama’s newest dance club and nobody came! Or a true clash of cultures when my parents and Rie’s met for the first time in their respective homelands! That’s right! You’ll read about my dad’s photo shoot in a Japanese public bath! And how in Oregon, Rie’s dad got a chance to ride a Harley and eat a Top Sirloin steak that weighed as much as a full-grown Chihuahua! You’ll find all this and more in the next edition of the “Naked Man Journal.”