Saturday, February 21, 2009


Chris went to Nagoya and applied for a job with Berlitz School of Languages there.  They had another position open, so I followed.  We ended up working at the same school.  Our contracts were from 4:45pm to 9:10pm during the week.  Lessons during the day and on Saturday paid extra.  

We had two weeks of training in Osaka to learn the Berlitz "method" which was in essence the way that conversational English was taught in Japan.

Is the book on the table?  Yes, the book is on the table.
Is the book on the floor?  No, it isn't on the floor.
Where is the book?  The book is on the table.
Is the book on the table or on the floor?  It's on the table.

Yes, No, Key and Or questions took over our waking hours and our dreams as well.  No free conversation.  I was petrified in my first lesson, sweating profusely and the student should have received a refund.  This was made worse by the ever-present monitoring of the teachers, by the head teacher.  Use the method.  No free conversation.

We encountered the Catch-22 of working in Japan, which was that you couldn't work without a visa and you couldn't get a visa without a job.  We had to fly to Korea to apply for the visa and then return to Japan on the tourist visa, then 3 months later, return to Korea to have the visa stamped in our passports.

The Japanese were extremely polite to strangers.  When Chris and I first arrived in Tokyo, a guy rode the subway with us, far out of his way, until we reached the right station.  In the street they dove out of our way.  They tended to dodge left, like their driving.  We got used to going to a noodle shop, taking the owner outside and pointing to the plastic replica of the food we wanted to order.  We got used to people staring at us.  We walked miles to a government building to see Dan Rather deliver the news in English.  With no TV we read a lot.  We drank a lot as well.  

Nagoya was the fourth largest city in Japan, but far behind Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama in internationalization.  We were from the moon as far as the Nagoyans were concerned.  There was little other than drinking to do there.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Next time I say let's go to Bolivia...

Chris and I traded quotes from Butch Cassidy and other movies constantly.  Looking for that line that matched our situation.  After the flight into Narita, the next line was "All of Bolivia can't look like this."  After many years surrounded by high sierra, this was a surreal trip into industrial wasteland.  We stayed in Tokyo for a few days and then headed to Kyoto where we hoped to find work in Osaka, the largest city in western Japan.

Our days in the Kyoto Guest House were filled with ex-pat characters from the road.  There was the Japanese-Australian, Mark, ("what do ya do when you're offered a virgin?  Ya, reach fer your wallet.")  Tony, the karate black belt, who after getting drunk would try to fight whoever he was around.  Noriko, the Japanese girl who stayed in the house to learn English.  An american couple who had some bizarre sex life (I don't remember their names but she wanted to know why the Japanese girls and the public bath wouldn't wash her back).  Tony, who ran an "English club" where Japanese businessmen could come to speak English and play chess or checkers had one job and he hired the woman.  It seemed that there were more games at the English club than chess and checkers.

Anyway, not to make this blog too much about working in Japan, I'll simplify.  Kyoto, the former capitol of Japan had it's share of "japanese settings" such as Kinkakuji, the golden pavillion, which looked much like the Japan of my mind.  It was not difficult to get a good picture of these places.  The old town was similar.  I saw Geisha on their way to work.  It was a fleeting glimpse at my mind's romantic version of Japan.  The rest of Japan, the modern country was constantly in the way and it was for the most part gray and depressing.  I wanted to live in the Japan of James Clavell.

Chris and I ended up going to Nagoya, which had very little to offer in the way of culture.  We got jobs at Berlitz School of Languages and though Nagoya was not a good experience over all, we were actually living and working in a foreign country and that mattered.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Beginnings Part 1

Everybody starts somewhere.  My start was after graduating from UNLV in 1983.  I bought a Canon AE-1 and a Raleigh bicycle and headed for Europe.  I had gone on domestic adventures before and my family were camper/hunter/backpacker sort of people.  I rode from Spain up into France, then London and around Scotland.  I went to Belgium, Netherlands and finally the Rhein River valley, Heidelberg and ended my journey in Munich.  Three and a half months, lots of contemplating life and a couple of lifelong friends.  The knowledge that a bicycle trip should be a loop, rather than a mixture of train, ferry and cycling.

I shot about 1000 photos on that trip and came away with a new hobby.  The AE-1 was the camera that built Canon into a contender.  It was possible to take pictures on fully automatic and get back 80% good images.  With a 35-70 zoom lens, that camera was a great tool for bringing the locations I went to back to the folks back home.  I wasn't a photographer yet, but I had a camera.

I met Chris Hoffman on the way through Germany.  Of the 20 or so people I shared initial correspondence with after meeting on that trip, Chris actually followed up on that initial meeting and we had more adventures together.  We shared a passion for travel, literature and art.  We each thought of ourselves as writers.  

My own artistic ambitions were internal.  My love of books was the product of my upbringing, I guess, but I was an average student who got a BA in English from "the basketball school" after 5 painful years of college.  My friends were all jocks and potsmokers and I'd guess we would be termed the original "slackers."  I played a year of T-ball as a kid and then stuck to football.  I wasn't big enough to play, but I played through High School until my Senior year, when my inner-slacker thought the whole game was sadistic and cruel.  At the end of my Senior year I played "big-league" baseball which was essentially Babe Ruth baseball for kids with no talent.  I'll explain the importance of that experience in future blogs.

Anyway, I get back to the US with no real skills and I'm working in Harrah's Reno as a change person.  I get a letter from Chris explaining that he'd like to experience the "West" (he's from Connecticut) and could he sleep on my floor for awhile.  Then he actually came out and lived there for a year.

My camera saw little action during this period.  It seemed that pot-smoking, sitting around eating pepperoni pizza and watching MTV were not condusive to taking good photographs.  So Chris comes out and immediately takes to slinging change at Harrah's.  I had since moved on to manager of a shoe department in a men's clothing store.  My slacker friends didn't understand Chris.  He actually studied in school and had a degree from Rutger's.  I however, saw that Chris' desire for an other-than-normal life was a direction that few people actually went.  We had shared the experience of travelling abroad, how could we go about living abroad?  

"Jobs In Japan" was a relatively thin book that we found on a weekend trip to Ferenghetti's bookstore in San Francisco.  I did take some cool pictures on that trip which I'll put up in the future.  As I recall, it listed the names of some English schools in Japan where you could work legally and the methods of getting hired, finding a place to live, etc.  This was in 1984 and before Japanese business methods became all the rage.  Most of the information  on Japan was hard to come by and it consisted of WWII, gheisha girls, kimono, chop sticks and sushi.

One of the schools we wrote to, sent us information and announced an interview in San Francisco.  My English degree, trumped Chris' superior grades and they offered me a part-time job.  We decided to go anyway and left in March of 1985.  I said goodbye to pot-smoking and MTV and hello to Japan.  

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Year

New Year.  New Image.

Thanks to Chris Hoffman for getting this blog started.  I'll try not to be too boring.

I'll spare you the essay on the state of photography today and chip away at it instead over the next year.