火曜日, 9月 28, 2004

As Sparkling As Ever

    "I want to say that the students' 目がいつものように、輝いています。”said a teacher at my school. "I mean to say it, sort of sarcastically, you know? How would you say it in English?" He showed me the words "Your eyes are as sparkling as ever." He meant that their eyes are shining with enthusiasm, eager to learn.
    "I think we would say, 'Your eyes are shining as brightly as ever,'" I said. Addressed to a bunch of first-year high school students, who have lately been dragging themselves around wearily like the very picture of apathy, this will come off as sarcastic all right. He means to put it in a newsletter. Who said they don't understand sarcasm in Japan?

火曜日, 9月 21, 2004

Do You Remember Me? My Name is Mayonnaise

    Some students of my high school were hanging out at my station one day. They recognized me, so I went over and talked with them. After some nervous giggling, one of them said:
    "Do you remember me? My name is Mayonnaise."
    More giggling. I tried to place Mayonnaise's face in my memory, but could not. And yet, how can you say "I'm sorry, I don't remember you, Mayonnaise?" In the end I just nodded and smiled.
    I think she must have meant that her nickname is Mayonnaise. She is probably one of those people (a "mayonnaiser") who puts mayonnaise on everything. The "pocket mayo" bottles I've seen in 100-yen stores are targeted for this market. It's bad for you and has no taste of its own, but mayonnaise is a food with a cult following in Japan.
    This opening is really just a ruse to talk about my 3-day weekend.


    I thought there might be a game meeting this Saturday, but there wasn't. So it was a staying home/doing laundry/playing video games kind of day. I toyed with the idea of going alone to Nara, but ultimately didn't go. I'm glad I didn't, because I was talking to M & U later and we all made plans to go to Nara together, which will be so much better. I haven't been to Nara for 10 years, and when I did go I couldn't see anything due to contact lens trouble that day. So why not go again now? M. says she hasn't been there for 10 years either.
    I was stuck on Dragon Quest I because I couldn't find the 太陽の石, but once I found it (not by myself, I cheated) I had no problem finishing the game that day. It was right in front of my nose, but I wouldn't have thought to look there. I have the Super Famicon game that is DQ I and II together, so I started DQ II after that. It is barely more advanced out of RPG kindergarten than DQ I, but it does have a few innovations: more than one character in your fighting party, more spells, and more than one monster can appear at a time during a random encounter.
    Then I started "Fratricide Grass," the suspense horror sound-novel game I mentioned earlier. It's cool. I played for a long time and my character and his girlfriend are still alive. Does that mean my choices are good? It's a good game for Japanese reading study, because it's all reading, and you have to pay attention to make good decisions. You can even flip back to see the previous pages - always good for language learners. I wish some other games had that feature. It had a lot of horror game cliches, like a wandering suit of armor, a ringing phone, and a wheelchair. The two people are basically exploring a haunted house. They spent a long time exploring the bathroom and I thought they might die in there from the hot water, but for some reason they got away unscathed. Sometimes the choices for what your character can say are kind of humorous. You see a mummy in one room and then some dried fish in the refrigerator, and you can choose to point out that dried fish is really mummified fish. I guess this isn't so funny really, but some of the dialogue seemed amusing at the time. I haven't solved the mystery of the house or the "fratricide grass" yet, so I have to keep playing. Another cool thing about it is that it saves your game instantly as you play. The save slots look like bookmarks --because, of course, you're supposed to feel like you're reading an novel, not playing a game. Actually, the writer of the game script is not from the video game industry at all; he's a novelist and scriptwriter who had never worked on a game before. Perhaps for that reason, it seems more "well-written" than most games.
    They rereleased this game for PlayStation, but the reviewers seem to think the original was better. The original I'm playing is here. Otogirizou on Amazon


    From 10-1 I studied Chinese/tutored English with Y. She invited me to a moon-viewing party next week. I made some Chinese mistakes that made her laugh, as usual.
    While still at Sannomiya station, I ran into 2 other ALTs, and we talked for a few minutes. Then I caught a bus to Kita-ku (the mountainous North Kobe). My friend U. and her husband have a cheap 2-room apartment there. They had to put in their own shower; the former occupants had taken the bathtub and shower with them when they left. She told me that this is customary for cheap apartments in Japan. There was a space where the bathtub used to be.
    Our friend M. was there too, and the three of us hung out there for awhile and cooked dinner. Later U.'s husband came home with two of his friends (all of them are from Inner Mongolia) and I taught all the guys how to play Settlers of Catan in Japanese. Japanese was the second, third or fourth language of everyone in the room except M. -- but they all spoke it well, because they have been living and working in Japan for several years. The guys speak Mongolian, Chinese, and Japanese, so Japanese is their third language, and for U. it's her 4th language, because she speaks English too. She told me that most Inner Mongolians choose to study Japanese instead of English in school. The guys liked Catan so much we played 2 games, but sometimes they traded places with each other because the games were so long. It was after 1 am when everyone went to bed. The 3 guys slept on the floor in one room and we 3 women slept on the floor in the other. We could hear them snoring in the next room though.


    The guys woke up early and went to work. It was a holiday (Respect For The Aged Day) so I had the day off school. M. and U. had part-time jobs, but not until later, so we hung out some more in the morning, took showers and had breakfast. U. helped me with Chinese a bit and I made her read part of a Japanese book I had - M. was studying Chinese in the next room too, much more difficult than what I was studying.
    After leaving U.'s house so she could go to work, M. and I took the bus back to Sannomiya. We had coffee and a sandwich at Doutour. By that time I had been speaking a lot of Japanese over a 24-hour period, much more than I do normally, and I was feeling good about that, but I was also getting a little tired. At 3:30 I had plans to meet another ALT for a movie, so I said goodbye to M. with plans to meet her again the next day (today).
    I met a first-year ALT (J.) and we went to the movie theater. We wanted to see Fahrenheit 9-11, but it was sold out, so we saw "The Village" instead. It was okay - not a great movie, but I didn't feel totally cheated to have watched it because it had a couple cool moments and it was kind of interesting. I didn't like the way the talking was so stilted and the plot was very implausible, but visually at least it was kind of cool.
    Next I want to see "Swing Girls," a Japanese teen movie by the creators of "Waterboys," but the fact that it's in Japanese narrows down my list of potential people to ask to see it with me, and M. and U. aren't interested, so I'm wondering if I should just go see it alone.
    I finally got home at about 7 in the evening, fed my poor neglected hamster, and ate some ice cream. The end.

木曜日, 9月 16, 2004

Sports Festival; An Unexpected Assignment

    A student at my school ran away from home and was missing for two weeks. I was worried about him. His parents think he ran away because his grades were in a downward spiral and they had asked him to quit the soccer club. I wondered why the story wasn't in any newspapers or on the news. No one knew where he was, and I thought he might be dead - but then this is Japan, and I was forgetting how safe it is here generally. Today I was relieved to hear that he returned home. He didn't go very far; he just stole a bicycle somewhere and rode around living on some money he'd been saving, and the farthest he went was Kyoto. I don't know yet if he'll come back to class at this school.
    Today is the Sports Festival, an annual event where each homeroom class competes in athletic events such as relay races, tug-of-war, synchronized jumprope, and the 41-legged race, where the 40 students in each class have to tie their legs together so that between 40 people there are only 41 "legs." My favorite to watch is kibasen. This is a battle simulation exercise whereby one student (the "rider") is supported by three other students (the "horse"). The rider has a colored cap on his or her head (red or white), and the object of the game is to steal caps from the opposing team. In the morning it's the all-girl kibasen, and in the afternoon the boys do it. It's so funny to see how aggressive they are about trying to slap each other's caps off. I like it because, while it looks violent, no one really gets hurt. On the other hand, after the 41-legged race, there are always a lot of injured students with bloody scratches on their legs going to the first-aid tent.
    Another funny thing to watch during the Sports Day is all of the special colorful T-shirts the students are wearing. The students in each homeroom class make their own designs especially for Sports Day. They often have funny things on them - caricatures of their teachers are common, and so are puns. The first one I noticed this time was a white shirt with a picture of an eggplant on it. On the front it said "We love Nasubi!" in English. Nasubi is eggplant. On the back it had this in Japanese, and the letters in the top row were all encased in eggplants:

なすび     =Eggplant
んてな     Vertical words read: "My, what super handsome young men and
ときん     beautiful young women!" (I think binanbijo
 なび      is a word used in anime and manga
  じ       for beautiful people)

    The teacher in charge of the first-years sat next to me and we got to talking about this shirt. "Do you know why it's an eggplant?" he asked. I had to admit I did not.
    "Their homeroom teacher's nickname is 'Eggplant.' Do you know A-sensei?" I did. "His head is shaped like an eggplant, isn't it?"
    "Does he mind that kind of teasing?"
    "I don't think so. He started a class newsletter called Nasubi Tsushin." (Eggplant Times.)

    Another punning shirt was 必笑, "will certainly laugh," a pun on 必勝, "will certainly win," having the same pronunciation. I asked why one of the classes have a definition of mitochondria from a dictionary on the back of their shirts, and was told this is because their homeroom teacher teaches biology.
    If you had the misfortune to miss the TV show Trivia no Izumi last night, they asked a team of humor experts to come up with the most unfunny possible gag and perform it in front of an audience of 100 men and women who didn't know what they would be watching. The humor experts debated their differing views of what makes something funny for 11 hours before reaching an agreement. The gag they concluded was the most unfunny possible was a series of 3 puns (板は痛い、とか)followed by a statement that was not a pun. (セメントは、セメント)(Cement is cement).
    I had the same sense of baffled disappointment when confronted with student T-shirts that were not based on puns.

    It's nice and cloudy today, so my eyes don't hurt from watching the festival like they did last year. The talkative teacher started talking to me again.
    "What is kibasen in English?"
    "You asked me that last year!"
    "I forgot."
    "We don't have that word in English."
    "But if you want to be a professional translator, you should try to translate it into English."
    "I would just put kibasen in italics and explain it. No one in other countries will understand what it is unless you explain it."
    I remember being just as annoyed last year by the persistent requests to translate the untranslatable into English - as if my translation would have any meaning to English speakers without a lengthy explanation. I sighed and wrote "Battle of the Knights" across the bottom of my Sports Festival program.
    "Ohhhh!" cried the teacher, satisfied at last.

    Later the teacher said, in the hesitant tone of voice that I knew meant ominous news for me, "Um...it is not decided yet and I know it is still early to think about it, but some of the teachers were talking and we want you to make a speech to all the students about human rights."
Uh-oh. This doesn't sound good. "When?"
    "Um, next February."
    "I'm not an expert on human rights. They should really ask someone else."
    "Well, your predecessor said no at first too. But in the end, she did it. I told her she didn't have to take it too seriously, and in the end she did it."
    "How long should it be?"
    "30 minutes."
    "30 minutes!" (Oh my god...)
    Seeing my shocked expression, he said, "...or less. You can use PowerPoint!"
    Oh, that makes it okay then. Never mind I don't even know how to use PowerPoint yet.
    We talked some more about it. I hated the idea at first, because I thought someone decided that the foreign teacher would have lots of knowledge about human rights, being from another country and all, and that would make me mysteriously qualified to talk about it. And I'm not qualified to talk about it just because I'm from another country. I've never even volunteered for Amnesty International. 30 minutes is a hell of a long time to talk about something you have no expertise or qualifications to speak on, without making a fool of yourself. Furthermore, I'm supposed to give the speech in English, which makes the speech easier to compose, perhaps, but no easier to deliver - I know my students' listening comprehension level, and it's not high.
    "Twice a year, the students have a special curriculum on human rights. During the summer, as you know, they all saw a film on apartheid. Many of the teachers take turns in preparing something for them, and this time the teachers want you to do it."
    This makes it a little better. At least it's not just me. Other teachers are expected to contribute something to the human rights curriculum sometimes too. In the end I said I'd do it. I suggested talking about women's rights and gender equality, and he was pleased because he said the students are probably bored of hearing about the same old human rights issues, and this would be something new for them. I have some ideas about this after spending enough time with the students to realize most of them really do have a rather rigid view of gender roles. Shown a picture of a man cooking and holding a baby, they assume that the wife is sick so the man is doing her job for the day - it doesn't occur to them that the woman is at work while the man stays home, which is what the picture was actually intended to represent. Again, during a guessing game about jobs we did recently, they seemed to think "Am I a man or a woman?" would give them some clues about which job was the answer - e.g., doctor or nurse. (Haven't they ever seen Ben Affleck in Meet the Parents?)
    So I have some ideas about this, but it's going to be a ton of work...I know I shouldn't be complaining about work but I'm just not used to it anymore...finding some interesting pictures to use with PowerPoint will be the first step...then make some easy to understand lists and charts with statistics...I can put those on PowerPoint too so the students will have something to look at and it will be easier for them to follow my English. Then I have to actually write and practice the speech. How to start...let's see, 板は痛い...

水曜日, 9月 15, 2004

Sundry Amusements

    Before studying Chinese and reading my students' English diaries (they are so CUTE!) I'll create a quick post to fill you in on what I've been doing this week.

Now reading: しりとりえっせい、 中嶋らも作 
Shiritori Essay by Nakajima Ramo

      This is a humorous collection of essays in the "shiritori" format--that is, the topic of each essay must have the same first syllable as the last syllable of the last one. This technique creates some unexpected sequences of topic that are funny in themselves, and the essays are full of amusing anecdotes and pictures. The author is from Hyogo prefecture, so he's local. I didn't know of him before reading this book, but apparently he's a celebrity who not only writes essays but also appears in theatrical productions and on television.

Recently read: The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson - Wow!

    Comparable to Dune in scope and weirdness, this cyberpunk fable is set in a future China where nanotechnology has made everything possible. National borders have almost vanished. Instead, most people belong to tribes called "phyles" with others who share the same values, religion, and economic status. Therefore, Shanghai has many such phyles whose members seldom interact, as evidenced by the fact that the heroine, Nell, is born and bred in Shanghai yet does not learn any words in Shanghai dialect until adulthood. She learns many other fascinating things however, and much of the first half of the book is an emotionally satisfying lesson in the civilizing power of education. Her teacher is a marvelous piece of interactive software called A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. It comes from the Neo-Victorian enclave - "Atlantis/Shanghai" - hence the Victorian-sounding moralistic name. I enjoyed the fact that "Nell" is also a Dickensian name. The plot continues to spin weirdly ever onward, occasionally going on some unexpected tangents, but always intellectually stimulating and staggering in its coolness.
    The part that resonated with me the most was this: while discussing the content of the Primer, the client tells the engineer: "Contemplate, as a starting point, the meaning of the word subversive."
    I did contemplate it, and am still contemplating it. Also, contemplate this:   a comparable word does not exist in Japanese.
    Now for those of you who have read this novel, here were some things I wondered about. Maybe you could tell me your ideas. If you haven't read the novel, you should skip this part - it includes spoilers.

1) Miranda was the ractor for the Primer and she did all the voices. Are we to assume she also did the male voices, e.g. Dinosaur and Dojo?

2) On the subject of Miranda, while Nell was a child, what would have happened if she opened the Primer at some unexpected time when Miranda was not at work?

3) We're told that after the success of "version 1.0" of the Primer, if you will, Hackworth was able to translate it into Chinese and equip it with voice generation capability. We're given no details about how he accomplished this. It seemed like he did it in no time at all. He even localized the Primer to have appropriate cultural and historical information for Chinese users, but no details were given about what must have been a TREMENDOUS endeavor. I really wanted to know more about this. Later, it said that the Chinese girls who had used the Primer spoke in a lovely Victorian accent. Did their Primers start in Chinese and gradually teach them English?

4) The first story told by the Primer foreshadows that Nell will come back at some time in the future to free Harv from the Dark Tower, but he will not recognize her and an arrow he shoots will hit her in a locket he gave her. I was expecting some similar scenario to play out in real life, but all we're told later is that Harv dies and Nell buries him. I realize that there are obvious limitations to the prescience of an interactive storybook, but why did the author choose to foretell this episode if he never intended to make it happen?

    If you have any ideas, please comment.

Recently played: Ghosts!

This is the "good ghost, bad ghost" board game I've heard about but never played until last night. It's like a whimsical reinvention of checkers or chess, but it only takes 15 minutes or less to play, and less time to learn. Very fun.

Still Playing: Dragon Quest I

    I got the Silver Harp 銀の竪琴、 but the game is getting tedious because I've already explored the whole world and all the monsters are easy now. I have a spell to turn off the random encounters, but it only works for a very short period of time. What am I supposed to do now?

Going to play: 弟切草 "Fratricide Grass."

    This is a "sound novel" on Super Famicon. A friend lent it to me, and I can't wait to try it. My quest for Japanese gamebooks led me to this, the first great sound novel which spawned many imitators. We don't have this genre in the U.S., but it seems to be a choose-your-own-adventure type gamebook you read/play with a game console. It has some kind of music or sound effects to go with the story - hence "sound novel" - and, of course, pictures. I heard there was one for Silent Hill, which I want very much but haven't seen anywhere.

Last weekend - Himeji

    I went to a JET party and wound up staying out all night in Himeji. The strangest thing that night was watching an American friend practicing her karate kata in a convenience store at 4 a.m. We killed an hour or so in that store laughing at the dirty manga and slutty fashion magazines. I've never really looked at those things before, but if you're in the right mood man are they funny. We also went to Jankara for karaoke.

    For an account of the same night by another person present, you can look here. It doesn't mention me, but I was there too, that crazy night in Himeji.

    Don't get the wrong idea, I don't go off on escapades like that every weekend - but it's fun once in a while.

金曜日, 9月 10, 2004

What's that in my green tea?

    Until recently, I was unaware that there are two different kinds of Sokenbicha, a popular brand of green tea sold in many vending machines. Therefore, I didn't know why sometimes when I buy it I get a pleasantly refreshing green tea beverage, and other times it tastes like a mouthful of random herbs and lawnmower cuttings. It turns out that the one I like is called Sokenbicha Green Tea Blend. It has the bracingly cool, slightly bitter taste of unsweetened green tea. The other one is the original Sokenbicha. What kind of weird things are they putting in there? I compared the ingredient labels to find out. At first I thought that the name "Green Tea Blend" meant several different varieties of green tea blended together, but the truth is a little different.

    You can go to Sokenbicha's website for fascinating information on the health-giving properties of these ingredients (Japanese text only).

Here's the list:

Regular Sokenbicha

ハトムギ "dove wheat" - I don't know what this is, but the website asserts that it has been enjoyed in Japan since the days of yore and includes "high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals."
玄米  Brown rice
緑茶  Green tea
オオムギ Barley
プーアル茶 Pu-ehr tea (Chinese weight-loss tea)
ナンバンキビ "barbarian millet"
どくだみ "a bad-smelling perennial plant of the family Saururaceae"
はぶ茶 "Habu" tea - haven't a clue
チコリー Chicory
月見草  Evening primrose
ビワの葉 Loquat leaves
ビタミンC  Vitamin C

Green Tea Blend

緑茶  Green tea
クマザサ Low, striped bamboo (Sasa albo-marginata)
オオムギの若葉 Young leaves of barley
紅茶 Black tea (wait a minute...)
シソの葉 Shiso leaves (Perilla frutescens crispa)
キダチアロエ - a kind of aloe
ビワの葉 Loquat leaves
みかんの皮 Tangerine peel
カンゾウ Licorice
ビタミンC Vitamin C

    Sokenbicha - it means "refreshing, healthy, beautiful tea." It's made by the Coca Cola company. How come Coca Cola doesn't sell healthy things like this to Americans? Are we really that bad that the beverage companies are justified in thinking we won't drink anything without a ton of sweetener in it? I couldn't find the sales figures to support this assertion, but it seems like in today's health-conscious market, Sokenbicha is selling much better than, say, Coke.

水曜日, 9月 08, 2004

Probably Not Recontracting

    I want to get a job using Japanese, not English. This job isn't challenging me. When I think of my aspirations and goals in life, how many of them would I get closer to by spending a third year on the JET program? I'm almost ready to move on, already, and I still have almost a year left in my current contract. Therefore, despite my love for Japan, I'm seriously considering NOT recontracting next year.

    In a way I'm shocked that I'm even considering this path, since I love Japan so much. But job satisfaction is important to me, too. I've always liked to be busy, and to feel needed at work.

Two job search possiblities after JET appeal to me right now:

Hong Kong - when I was in Hong Kong I pored through the job listings. I found a few that were recruiting people with Japanese ablity to work for Japanese companies, or companies that did business with Japan. That sounds exciting to me, and I'd like to try it. I'd love to have more time to explore Hong Kong.

Seattle/Redmond - Microsoft, Amazon, and Nintendo - and the smaller companies that contract with these three giants - often recruit for employees with Japanese ability. I'm interested in software, e-commerce, and video games, so jobs in these fields are attractive. An obvious plus is being close to my family and friends in that area. I'm also interested in the UW Extension course in Software Localization. When I last looked into it, it started in September, and was a year-long certificate program with classes in the evening. If I decide to return to my home country (scary thought!) I could start it as soon as next year. Then look for a job as Project Manager localizing Japanese software, which would be sweet.

In a way it scares me that I'm considering leaving Japan as soon as a year from now. But if I'm bored by my job now, at the beginning of my second year, the boredom will only get worse as I teach the same lessons again and again for another fall, winter and spring. And 3 years on JET is not going to look any better to a future employer than 2 years on JET. Better to move on, and collect some of the job skills I'll need in other areas. I need more than Japanese ability to get my dream job - I need to know about something else, too. I can always come back to Japan, and I will.

火曜日, 9月 07, 2004

Storms Have Their Uses

    Classes were cancelled today at my high school due to storm warnings.
I'm just as glad not to have to teach today, actually. I'm at school, but we will probably be sent home early. As I was writing this, there was another earthquake!

月曜日, 9月 06, 2004

Chinese Test, Earthquakes

    On Saturday, I registered for the Chinese Language Proficiency Test (Chuuken), 3rd level, which will be held on November 28, 2004. I passed Level 1 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) last year. Differences between the Japanese and Chinese tests in Japan are plentiful. The most obvious one is the demographic that takes the test. Since the Chinese test here is designed for Japanese speakers, the instruction book and study materials are all in Japanese, while the instruction book for the JLPT is in 4 languages, including English. When you go in to take the JLPT test, the directions and questions are all monolingual Japanese. This is only fair, since there are people of many different native languages taking the test. However, the Chinese test features numerous sections involving translating Chinese into Japanese and vice versa. In terms of the test questions themselves, they're different too. The only easy thing about the JLPT Level 1 is that you don't have to write any kanji. The Chinese test does seem to involve writing kanji (called hanzi in Chinese). Secondly, in a Japanese test it would be meaningless to have word-rearranging grammar questions, since the verb always comes at the end. So the JLPT has none of those, but in Japan they seem to like creating those questions for other languages, namely Chinese and English. You've probably seen these questions on English tests in Japan - the words in a sentence are all mixed up, and you have to rearrange them to form a grammatically correct sentence that matches the meaning of the Japanese sentence. These questions are actually easy if you're used to a SVO word order, but students taking the university entrance examinations seem to find them difficult to do in English. The Chinese ones I tried in the study book I bought were quite easy - the Chinese word order is also SVO, so it's not hard for an English speaker to have an intuitive understanding of sentence construction in Chinese.
    There is one diabolical type of question on the Chuuken test. They give you a word consisting of 2 hanzi characters. You have to match that word with another word, unrelated in meaning or romanized pronunciation, that has the same two tones. If the word you're given is third tone followed by first tone, you have to remember which of the other four choices are pronounced that way. The test recognizes five possibilities for each syllable - the four tones, or an unaccented syllable. It would be roughly equivalent to asking a learner of English to match words based solely on the accent of their syllables. Actually, I think they probably do this kind of question in Japan for English too, and a native English speaker looking at the question would not immediately be able to think of the desired answer. The human mind is not good at thinking of words like this, divorced from any meaning or context. It's not natural. It forces you to pay attention to the tones, which you might otherwise be tempted to ignore. But just as you don't need to have a conscious understanding of syllable accents to speak English naturally, you don't need to consciously think about every single tone when you speak Chinese either. In fact, doing so would slow your speaking speed down to paralyzed slug velocity. The best thing is to imitate how a native speaker of Chinese says a word, and remember that when you say the words yourself until you are so practiced at it you do it without thinking. When you're learning a new word, knowing how the tones look on paper does not necessarily prevent you from mispronouncing it. I think the same is true for English.

    The levels of the Chuuken test, and the cost of taking each one:

    pre-4: 3,150円
    4:    3,675円
    3    4,725円
    pre-2: 6,825円
    2:    7,875円
    1:    8,925円

    The harder the test, the more expensive it is to take it. Psychologically, this has a peculiar effect--you actually feel good for paying more money. The prices seem more arbitrary that the JLPT test (I think the cost for all the levels were the same for that, except Level 1 was 1000 yen more). The only rationale I can think of for those prices is that the harder tests might have more questions, and the test-taker has to pay per question. Having to pay more for them to devise more difficult questions for you just doesn't make sense.
    Two earthquakes yesterday. The first one occurred in the evening while I was riding a bus. The second one woke me up out of a sound sleep in the middle of night. It was scarier. But I'm okay.
    In an attempt to be cute while wearing sandals this weekend, I bought some of those decorated fake plastic nails for my toes and glued them on with nail glue. The nail glue is kind of scary, since the package warns it "instantly bonds to skin." The chic shops are full of the fake fingernails decorated with rhinestones and flowers and ribbons and glitter and pom-poms and fruit baskets and butterflies or whatever else they can think of. Just joking about the fruit baskets. My toes feel silly.