Sunday Lab

On Sunday I went to Sunday Lab, a seminar group in Sendagaya that’s been meeting regularly since 1999. The Very Cool Girl I met in Ishinomaki was giving a presentation on her volunteer experiences to kick off a session discussing how people in Tokyo could help in Tohoku.


The most interesting piece of information was that volunteers to the north have not deteriorated as much as I had thought—according to data from JEN, aside from a massive boom during Golden Week in May, numbers have remained relatively constant, with consistent spikes on weekends. However, opinions around the room seemed to vary as to what this meant on the ground, as some locations seem to have seen a sharp drop since the early days. It may be that the overall numbers are constant, but the distribution is tightening to a few key locations.


The second speaker was Akira Nakajima, who had volunteered after the Kobe quake in 1995, and set up charity events for both the 2004 Niigata quake and the 2010 quake in Haiti. He had a rather innovative, if unusually disconnected, idea: he created a group called Hope 100, which runs 90-minute seminars and lessons at a flat participation fee of ¥2,000, with the objective of donating 100% of fees to charity. Venues are secured for free, the presenters donate their time pro bono, and publicity is largely word-of-mouth, with anywhere from 10 to 80 people attending each event.


Every session is headed by a different volunteer instructor, with content varying from tips on business manners to learning how to dance the Soran-bushi. Starting within weeks of the quake, they’d had 42 seminars as of Sunday, with the goal of doing at least 100 in total before they call it a wrap.


After Mr. Nakajima, the next presenter was a pediatrician specializing in HIV who is now a disaster- and war-zone photojournalist. She came equipped with an assistant who took photos of her as she gave a brief speech, which was followed by a lovely video of images from Tohoku interposed with a variety of inspirational and thought-provoking messages. When I asked her if she had the video online, however, she said no—which surprised me given that it seemed to present an inspiring message that should be shared rather than hidden. Then again, I suspected that if the video were online, she would not be able to make money going around showing it at seminars and getting her own photo taken. I strategically decided not to rock the boat by inquiring about my theory.


The third presenter had set up something called HopeStay (English this time!), a homestay system for people in the Tohoku region who want to get out of the area for a while. Through an increasingly elaborate communication and coordination system, he has placed about 20 families to date, and also arranges buses once a week between the disaster zone and Tokyo.


He noted that the rules varied distinctly from one town to another: In one town, he could get bus schedule announcements on the municipal loudspeaker daily; in the next town over, they would do nothing at all.


One of the other seminar attendees was surprised by his success in placing families, noting that she had offered space in her nursing facility, and nobody at all had accepted. It seems that it really depends on when, how, and to whom you offer help, and how persistent you are about it.


The last speaker at the event described a monthly bus he had been running up to Sendai for one-day volunteering. The idea was to make the whole experience feel like fun rather than a chore: They drink, get on the bus, do volunteer work, get back on the bus, and drink on the way back.


It was a wake-up call for me to see that there are a variety of reasons for people to get involved in volunteering. I tend to forget that not everyone shares my grim-faced sense of determination. It was also good to establish right away that that bus would not be my cup of tea, though I certainly appreciate every pair of hands that goes up to help.


A little over two weeks ago, my boss called me on a Saturday to let me know that, while he was dealing with some urgent issue, I’d be handling all the logistics for my company’s summer training program. In that one shot, my working hours went from a manageable three days a week 7:10 a.m.-6:10 p.m. to a painful four days a week 7:10 a.m.-9:45 p.m.


Simultaneously, my volutneering friend Jun from Saitama Super Arena finally called me up to ask for proper English lessons (doing that Thursdays), I’ve been working on getting the flyer done for Metamorphosis, and I’ve been trying to contribute meaningfully to FGL-Japan. The only thing I’ve really succeeded in doing has been writing lots of poetry about how I feel like I’m tiptoeing along the edge of madness.


We did get some good rehearsals done for Metamorph last weekend, though. I’m a little freaked out that we’re only 7 weeks from production, but the cast is wonderful, and I’m very much looking forward to the show. We just need to make sure we get the flyers printed so we can advertise…


I got some nice head shots on the weekend, too (if anyone in the cast has irreconcilable issues with their shot, please mail me and we can talk about it—don’t just FB how you think it sucks!):

Stephan Schmidt (Gregor Samsa)
Laz Brezer (Mr. Samsa)
Rika Wakasugi (Mrs. Samsa)
Roberta Hamilton (Greta)
Elliott Davis (The Chief Clerk)
Liam Shea (The Lodger)
Gregor and Greta
The Chief Clerk throws his weight around
Father at breakfast
The family
Liam leads a voice session
The Chief Clerk takes over the table
Mrs. Samsa drinking tea
Listening for Gregor
Mr. Samsa (Laz Brezer) enjoying a cigar
The Chief Clerk says a gracious good morning
Bert works on knocking people over with her voice
Greta and Gregor in the opening scene
Greta lost in thought
The cast with the director
Bert (Greta) sympathizes with Gregor
Liam (The Lodger) lost in thought
Rika (Mrs. Samsa) drinking tea
The Cheif Clerk is displeased
Mrs. Samsa listens for Gregor
Elliott (The Chief Clerk)
A very Liam-like expression

Transformers 3

I did manage to get out to Transformers 3 the other night. I have never been so bored by action in my life. From one third into the movie, I was biding time waiting for it to end.


The opening sequence was exhilarating, and worth the trip to the big screen in 3D; the rest of the movie was so fragmentary and nonsensical that it could have been a high-budget homage to a 70s exploitation flick. There was as little to be loved in this film as there was to be admired in Shia LaBeouf’s character (I know assholes get chicks, but seriously—is even one endearing quality too much to ask? Rosie Huntington-Whiteley looked like she was there just to take abuse).


The screenwriter must have watched the first episode of the old TV series, decided the energy axe was cool, and thrown everything else out the window. Why is Optimus Prime a moody berserker warrior? How is this a leader? The first Decepticon the Autobots get hold of is torn into four pieces, while the Decepticons for some reason take prisoners. When Optimus Prime isn’t spouting grandiloquent non-sequiturs, he’s saying things like “I will kill you” and “You all will die.” Then he goes and shoots an incapacitated enemy point-blank in the head—twice. When the camera lingered on him for a moment at the end, I thought the film might actually be slowing down to ask, “Is this really the hero we want to believe in?” But then everybody just had their happy ending and that was that. Should have known better.


The rest of the movie I can’t even critique. It was just a series of ad-hoc objectives that were almost all abandoned without being achieved—but not before attempting to achieve them in the most impractical way imaginable. You have half a dozen robots with inexhaustible plasma weapons, but your plan relies on a one-shot hand-held missile launcher? And after thirty minutes of trying, you never take the shot anyway? At least Leonard Nimoy and John Malkovich were cool.


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