Thursday, November 30, 2006

Katahira Junior High School PTA

The Katahira J.H.S. PTA is a very cool crowd. They usually have a few parties every year and I count myself lucky enough to be able to go. I get to meet the mothers of several of my students. The ironic thing is, they are all so much more fun than their kids!

Japanese children tend to be pretty shy and insecure. Their middle aged parental unit counterparts are often the same way. But these people are polar opposites! They are all very outgoing, energetic, and thoroughly enlightened people. They know how to have a good time as well. We all went out for Chinese, and then went out to Karaoke. Everybody had a great time.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I don't want my little corner of the internet to become a showcase of my political ideas. But I just couldn't resist with this one. Here's a cartoon from Ted Rall. Some of you might find this amusing.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sendai 仙台

Saturday marks my first real trip to Sendai. I went up there with my friend Kumiko to do some Christmas shopping, and I can honestly say I am now 75 percent finished with my shopping! Whether I get everything shipped in time is another matter.

Sendai is a very large city North of my city, Koriyama. It is famous for its lights festival, which takes place sometime in mid December, and is about the closest I will ever get to Christmas lights here in Japan. It was apparently heavily bombed during the Second World War, and has the trademark wide avenues and slightly more logical layout of Japanese cities that were extensively rebuilt during the occupation. Now the city center is filled with overpriced department stores.

We went shopping and looking around at a number of different places, and I ran across a LEGO store, and a big bookstore. I picked up a guidebook to prepare for my coming trip to Korea, as well as a copy of The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. The book is an anthropological survey of Japan conducted during the War. It goes into extensive detail about Japanese culture, character, and attitudes. I have started reading it, and I'm finding it extremely fascinating.

Kumiko also took me to a great restaurant where I tried awamori for the first time. Awamori is a kind of liquor indigenous to Okinawa. It tastes kind of like a mix between yellow listerine and paint thinner. Think of a spicy Italian grappa, only served up steaming hot. It was definitely a kick in the pants.

Also in the big city of Sendai, they have Eddie Bauer! Unfortunately things were WAY overpriced (khaki slacks were going for about 80 bucks), and I figure I can wait until my next trip back to North America. They also have a Subway, but I had already eaten by the time I learned of its presence.

Stay tuned for when I visit Sendai again during their "Lights festival."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


The American holiday of Thanksgiving came and went with little fanfare here in Japan. Things went pretty much as usual (extremely busy). As regular readers can tell, I haven't been updating things as much as I was before. This is because I am extremely busy! But, inspired by the section from Brenden, I have decided to write my own list of things I am thankful for.

I also feel extremely guilty, because I have forgotten to call, email, or talk to relatives back home during Thanksgiving! I promise to do this promtly. I also forgot to call my grandmother and wish her a happy birthday! I feel terrible!

Anyways, here's the list of things I'm thankful for:

1. A God who loves me in spite of all that I am and do.

2. Parents and relatives who also love and care about me very much. I also am grateful that I have a grandmother who is cool enough to love me in spite of the fact that I forgot her birthday! I promise I will make it up to her!

3. Yaki-Niku (Korean style BBQ restaurants they have here in Japan. Mexican food is kind of scarce, but this will do for now!)

4. Friends and relatives here in Japan and back at home that love and care about me.

5. A job and a paycheck that I can live on with some to spare. If only everyone could be so lucky.

6. The opportunity to immerse myself in another culture, language and society. I have learned so much and continue to learn so much. I honestly believe everyone should do this for at least 1 year.

7. The Katahira Chugakko (Junior High School) PTA. Your parties are always off the hook! I'll take your nomikais and karaoke over the BBQs and potluck dinners of the PTAs in the USA! Seriously, the Katahira PTA rocks!

8. A college education. I'm seriously glad that I have had the privilege of a well rounded education. Now I won't wallow in ignorance for the rest of my life. Thanks mom and dad! And thanks to NAU. Go Lumberjacks!

9. Toilet paper. How did we ever get along without it on a regular basis?

10. Health. I am thankful to be healthy and alive with few serious medical problems. Today, I was at a seminar for English teachers in Fukushima eating lunch with a guy named Christian LaPierre. Before he eats at a restaurant, he has to go through a long speech and menu analysis with the servers about his deadly food allergies!

11. Mexican Food. Kind of hard to come by in these parts, but I know its waiting for me when I get back to the USA. Rice and Miso Soup will have to do for now.

I'll add more things later on, so check back soon!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Learning in a Taxi

Because my Koriyama City Board of Education is concerned about my safety to a degree that surpasses all reason and logic, they send us to school in taxis as opposed to letting us drive ourselves or take the bus. If the school is close to our houses (as it most often was last year), we were expected to bike to school or walk. But if its too far, they send us in taxis.

While I have a number of problems with this practice (It often spotlights an otherwise hidden proclivity towards a paternalistic and patronizing treatment of foreigners), I usually don't mind taking the taxi so much. We often share a taxi with people traveling to a nearby school, and can chat during our commute.

I don't recall specifically what we were talking about beforehand, but it must have related to tourism or traveling somehow. I only recall her doing most of the talking. So she mentions that she has no interest or desire to ever see the United States, and says that this is because Americans are percieved to be incredibly rude. Now she had my attention.

I listened to her as well as I could and promted her to clarify and provide details. She immediately said that American border Protection guards were widely regarded as the rudest and most intimidating folks anywhere. I can personally attest to this. She goes on to cite some article she read where an American hospitality industry association was conducting a market research survey outside the USA to promote tourism and discovered that most foreign tourists who traveled to the USA found everyone in my country extremely rude and ill mannered. Moreover, they were so intimidated by customs officials that they were paralized with fear and "afraid of saying the wrong thing."

While I think there might be some truth to what she was saying (especially about Customs and Border Inspection), I have to say I was a little put off. Here was somebody, who had never traveled to America, lecturing me about the manners of my country. While I must concede that US Customs inspectors could be a little (a lot) more courteous and professional, she didn't cite one instance of rudeness within American borders. This woman demonstrated very little knowledge of my country or any understanding of my culture and told me to my face that America is filled with boorish cantankerous louts.

Now, I know what a lot of you are thinking. But I can honestly say I practiced everything I learned from Dale Carnegie and Cathy Hanson. I did my best to be a good listener and ask questions. Considering this woman's incessant motor-mouth, I found listening quite easy.

I'm writing this because I honestly do think Americans need to be more aware of how they are percieved abroad (and at home apparently). But yesterday, this American certainly learned a lot about rude and crass behavior from a woman who spent 10 minutes spouting imbecilic blather about my nationality (she wasn't very fair to the French either). I suppose we aren't so different after all!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Ballet at the Bunka Centaa

I went to the "culture center" today to watch a bit of ballet with an English teacher I work with. Her twelve year old daughter was performing in the recital. The program consisted of numerous songs being performed by children of all ages. I got to see everything from little 4 year olds stomping around to middle and high school students whose performances were quite impressive.

They played all sorts of different songs. Not being a conosseiur, I could only recognize a couple songs from the Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. They also performed to numerous songs by Japanese Pop artists, which were not so impressive. Some of the music was downright painful to hear.

It also turned out that the teacher I went with was part of the volunteer staff, and couldn't see me. I also misunderstood her explanation of the event, thinking it was going to be a whole big production, instead of a collection of performances set to the latest bubble gum pop.

No matter how sophisticated and urbane a modern man might be, can only take so much. I reached my limit after 50 minutes of 9 year olds in fluorescent tutus prancing around to something like this.

Fox News Memo

While I don't want to make this blog a showcase of my political views, I thought some people might find this interesting. A memo at Fox News, which claims to be "fair and balanced." In this memo, the Fox Senior Vice president says (presumably to reporters and staff) "lets be on the lookout for any statements from the Iraqi insurgents, who must be thrilled at the prospect of a Dem-controlled Congress."

Another Goofy Caption Contest

Haven't done a Caption Contest in awhile, so I figure we are long overdue! Post your captions here people!!

This particular picture comes from Hope they don't mind me stealing their picture. What kind of a person am I anyways? Stealing silly pictures from a Bible website!

Friday, November 17, 2006

One of the brighter spots about my emerging fluency in Japanese is that I worry less about grammar, pronounciation, and listening skills, and more on other more interesting nuances, phrases, euphemisms and expressions. Things are still very frustrating for me at times, but I’m catching a lot of things with my ear I didn’t catch before. When speaking to an English teacher at one of my schools, I heard her use the phrase “hakoiri musume.” 箱入り娘This literally means something like “boxed daughter.” Hako means box. As I was not sure exactly what she meant, I made her explain it to me.

It means something like sheltered daughter. Picture an insulated lap child, somewhat naïve and ignorant about the ways of the world. She is a girl or a young woman who still lives at home with well-to-do over-protective parents. It came up in conversation when we were talking about overprotective parents. The teacher I was talking to mentioned a mutual acquaintance, and I had to laugh because I was about to ask about her. I can think of several other women I know who fit this category quite well. So for posterity and my own personal amusement, I have decided to list a couple other phrases I have picked up lately.

Goma o suru – ごまをするThis phrase literally means “do the sesame” or “grind the sesame.” When you eat tonkatsu (a fried pork dish with a sesame sauce) you have to grind the sesame seeds yourself. You grind them into a powder and then mix it with some goo. Outside of this context, it means something along the lines of flattery, especially in a flirtatious context. Someone who is overly flattering or complimentary might be accused of “grinding” or “softening” the sesame. This would also be the case if you were insincere or were less than honorable in your motives. I have never heard it used seriously.

Haraguroi – 腹黒いThis literally translates to black stomach. In more traditional Japanese culture, people held the notion that one’s ‘heart’ or ‘mind’ existed in one’s stomach. So the idea literally means that somebody has a dark, or evil soul. They may be smiling and happy on the surface, but they have a ‘dirty mind’ as it were.

Hashinoshita – 橋の下 I was joking around with some teachers and practicing the first word hakoirimusume (boxed daughter) and trying to gauge its usage and people’s reactions. I asked one teacher, whose son I know, if he has a boxed son. Hashinoshita was his response. It means “under the bridge” or homeless, abandoned and disowned. Its not too dissimilar from the English translation in the same context. He wasn't being very serious either.

Nekojita - This literally translates to "cat's tounge." Cats will not drink or eat anything if it is too hot, so Nekojita refers to a person who doesn't eat or drink anything too hot. So while everyone else has finished their coffee or tea, this person is waiting for it to become lukewarm.

Shopping with Brenden & Debbie



The following day I took Brenden & Debbie to a "recycle shop" near my house. We had tons of fun there, even though it is right near my house and I frequent the place. It might be considered the Japanese equivalent of Goodwill, except that people shop there for style, not for economic reasons. In fact, we noticed numerous imported used items from the USA that probably cost more than their newer counterparts that Americans buy domestically. Having only been in Japan just over 3 months, Debbie was far more cognizant of American purchasing power parity than Brenden and I. We saw used (very used) Letter Jackets from High Schools across the Midwest go for over 120 dollars. Used Starwars neckties were going for 30 dollars, when I could probably buy them new in Target for half the price. The first thing they say to avoid culture shock is not to compare. But sheesh.

I also decided to take a picture of Debbie & Brenden with the giant Pooh bear. For whatever reason, Japanese people (and young Japanese women in particular) are smitten with Pooh Bear. Finally I took them both to the Koriyama branch of the Northern Arizona University bookstore for some Lumberjack apparel. It was actually a store called “North Rim” where the guy carries new NAU t-shirts for around 50 USD. NAU tees were out of stock, but he did have ASU shirts on a clearance rack. Yeah, the Japanese know where its at. I had met the guy several times before. Being a foreigner, people easily remember me, so we made a bit of small talk. He asked me to teach him English. For free. Fat chance.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Sukagawa Fire Festival

Lying to the South of Koriyama, the sleepy little town of Sukagawa sprawls out into the rice fields of central Tohoku. While Sukagawa constitutes little more than a “suburb” of Koriyama, it is quite famous for its annual “Fire Festival.” Each year, thousands descend upon the town to commemorate the destruction of an ancient castle that once stood on a hill. Around 40 to 50 large towers are constructed to represent the castle. Standing 10 to 30 meters high, each tower is a heavy column filled with mostly hay and timber. At precisely six thirty, on Saturday night, they burn

While Brenden, Debbie and I spent the better part of the day worrying about precipitation ruining the festival, people were busy erecting the towers all day as the rain fell. We watched them finish hoisting the last two upon our arrival. Using extendable ladders, wooden poles, ropes, and pulleys, groups of uniformed festival volunteers shouted chants to synchronize and coordinate their efforts. Silence ensued for a short bit as several people shuffled around to prepare another lifting. As silence fell upon the audience shortly before the completion of this task, a cry penetrated the rain soaked darkness. A single lone voice from the swirling mass of uniforms shouted into the crowd,"HEY BRENT!!"
"Get a picture of this $#イと!!"

Upon closer inspection, this particular individual had blonde hair, blue eyes, and an Australian accent.

Prior to coming, I had agreed to meet another friend named Kaori at the festival, a preschool teacher who I know from my local gym, Peare. She showed up with a friend from her preschool, and we all ate tonjiru as I made introductions. I was happy when she did show up, because they both had umbrellas that we could share, and we weren’t stuck with Brenden’s. But the rain kept pouring, and we all got wet despite the umbrellas. I felt sorry for Kaori’s friend Maiko, who was wearing girly sandals in the mud.

As we stood around making small talk, an army of little children filed past. The children were holding small wooden fishing poles, on the ends of which were suspended arcane glowing balls of fire. Police and firemen shouted to make way, as over two hundred children marched up the hill and into the area. The burning of the columns was soon imminent.

Following this, people started climbing tall ladders up the sides of the columns, holding large torches. Shoving them into the tops of the columns, they quickly descended as the pillars slowly smoldered in the rain, and then lit up the night in a spectacular display.

Words cannot describe the majestic flaming maelstrom blazing right in front of us. Smoke poured into the sky as the burning conflagration rose up to defy the endless rain falling against it. We watched until nearly all the pyres turned to crumbled masses of embers on the ground. Then we all went out to eat at an Izakaya (bar &grill).

To read Brenden's take, see his blog here.

Friends from Hanamaki

My old college buddy Brenden Pitt has been teaching English here in Japan for as long as I have. Faithful readers will recall my visit to Pittmeister’s town in September. Coming down from his post in Iwate in the North, Brenden brought his friend Debbie Wong along with him.

Both of them were excited to see the infamous Fire Festival in Sukagawa that takes place on Saturday. At first Brenden and his friend weren’t sure if they could come. But after sending them a picture of last year’s festival, they quickly vocalized unbridled enthusiasm. Living in a remote farming village in the North (their town is like Helena Montana), both were eager to go shopping and sip lattes in the urbane, cosmopolitan atmosphere of Koriyama.

Being fellow Lumberjacks, Brenden and I spent a lot of time talking about our old professors at Northern Arizona University, especially Dr. Wilson, and Dr. Foley. We had plenty of entertaining stories for Debbie.

Coming from San Francisco, Debbie is a first year teacher in Japan. She seemed very nice, and was quite patient as Brenden and I related story after story of our antics and tomfoolery at NAU and Flagstaff, Arizona. Sill being quite new to Japan, she wasn’t speaking very much Japanese yet. She still seems quite impressed with all the cultural and social differences here in Japan, as I probably was during my first year.

忘れ物 Multifarious Friday night

An atypical Friday night.

Getting home Friday, I discovered that Adoni, neighbor and fellow teacher from New York, was overly eager to “go for a drive” with me. I quickly discovered however, that she had forgotten to bring home the power cord from her laptop, and needed me to take her to her school and pick it up. Feeling especially generous, and not having any concrete plans that evening, I decided to help her out. She thanked me by taking me out to dinner.

The drive took about 40 minutes, so we had plenty of time to chat. She told me she loved most of the teachers and students, except for one English teacher she worked with. This man has apparently given her no end of grief. Upset about the Iraq war, and Adoni’s involvement (being an American), he apparently yelled at Adoni one day until she was nearly in tears. The Board of Education visited the school on Adoni’s behalf, and berated the man quite severely for several hours. She tells me things have improved since then, but he still has a screw loose and does nutty things every other day. We arrived at her school and I met some of the teachers she works with, but not this guy. It might have been an interesting conversation.

After dinner with Adoni, I met up with a friend at the local watering hole. While we were there, I ran into some other friends I haven’t seen since March and had a pretty good evening. We later went to karaoke. I met another woman in this crowd that I had apparently met over a year ago. Her name was Natsu, and she said she met me on a camping trip during my first year. I remembered the trip, but I couldn’t recall meeting her at all. She said it was probably because she had put on some weight. She was probably right.

However, she had an interesting job as tour guide in foreign countries. She typically went to China, leading groups through Beijing and Shanghai. But she traveled all over the world for her job, including Rome, London, Paris, San Francisco, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, and numerous other destinations popular with Japanese tourists.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Democrats take the House アメリカの選挙 


After careful consideration, I've decided I'm not going to use this blog to spout my political opinions (despite overwhelming faultlessness and indisputability) at this point in time. But I'm sure most of you know that myself and all the American expats I know in Japan are toasting tonight.

Instead, I thought I would leave you all with another stupid youtube video!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Day in Nikko 日光

金曜日は日光市に行きました。古い神社とお寺を行って見ました。日光市の渋滞とても大変でした。渋滞から私がちょっと怒りました。でも日光市は楽しかった。猿はちょっと意地悪と思いました。猿は一人だけ見ました。寂しいと思いました。日光市の秋はとてもきれいでした。 野生の猿を見ました。渋滞から早くで帰りました。

Nestled in the mountains north of Tokyo lies one of the greatest cultural and natural treasures in all of Japan. For over a thousand years, the temples and shrines of Nikko hid amongst the enormous cedar forests on rugged hills. Shrouded in mystery and seclusion, Nikko holds some of the greatest wonders of traditional Japanese architecture, art, history and culture.

But like most wonderful things that have been “loved to death,” Nikko is now an immensely popular tourist trap for Tokyo residents vainly seeking a respite from the crowded subways and sidewalks of one of the world’s most crowded cities. Their futile attempt at escape from an insane urban nightmare is thwarted at every turn in the crowded National Park.

Traffic slows to a crawl, inching across poorly planned public infrastructure with the speed of glaciers. Over one hour behind schedule, as I approach Nikko station to pick up my friend Erika I summon every ounce of self restraint to keep my temper in check.

Once I actually meet up with Erika, and she takes me into the temples, I jostle with only a mildly annoying crowd.

I also see my first wild monkey! I see one monkey and ponder the whereabouts of the rest of his clan. He sat on a sidewalk with busy traffic and started harassing people for food. He lunged at several passing tourists with plastic bags. Erika tells me that the monkeys pester unsuspecting travelers because they want food, the annoying product of ignorant tourists feeding wild animals and turning them into pests. I can’t help but recall living in the canyon and watching people do the same to squirrels, deer and any other critter brave enough to eat from someone's hand.

We left sooner than I expected, thinking the traffic will be just as bad leaving the place.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Alison Yeardley raises $400 for Breast Cancer!

My friend Alison Yeardley, if some of you will recall, is living in Houston Texas, where she is teaching at a British primary school. This is a better picture that she sent me, so that I could congratulate her for all the money she raised in the race. Unfortunately, lacking a credit card, I've had some trouble sending her some money. But I promised her that I'll send some money for her cause before Christmas!

Anyways, I'm thinking I can use this blog to promote other charities and pet causes that any of my readers might be interested in. So far, Alison Yeardley has promoted the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Being that I have a vast internet audience around the globe, all my readers should tell me about their favorite charities! If I decide that I like the charity, I will promote it.

So come on readers!! Everybody tell me where you give your money!!

彼女の名前はアリソ\u12531 ンヤールドリーさんです。私の友達です。彼女はイギリス人です。でも今はアメリカのテクサス州に住んでいる。イギリスの小学校で働きます。5年前カリフォルニア州でリソ\u12531 ンヤールドリーさんに会いました。最近は癌の研究のためにロードレースをやりました。

Another Silly Diet Coke and Mentos Commercial

Here comes another Diet Coke and Mentos video, this time from my brother in law and faithful blog reader Seth Holler. As you can plainly see in the video, they rig this ridiculous domino contraption to shoot soda pop and and candy all over the place. See the video here.

The first question anyone asks is... who has this kind of free time?

I'm kind of tired right now, so I'm going to write more on this later.

Around the World Farewell Party


Yesterday, a small group of friends of mine and I bid farewell to Mie, who is embarking on a 3 month voyage around the world. She and her mother signed up for a four month cruise, which will take her to 15 different ports of call around the world, including Vietnam, Seychelles, Kenya, Egypt, Greece, Spain, Morocco, Libya, Venezuela, Panama, California, and numerous places between. I am honestly quite jealous of her trip and wish I could do something similar myself.

I have been toying with the idea of doing an around the world trip, but I don’t know if I will ever have the courage to go through with it. Mie’s trip has a very strict itinerary though, and I’m not sure I would want that.

I met up with Mie and several other friends from the Japanese class where she teaches and I attend. Several others from the class joined us. The aforementioned Tomoe made an appearance and Malaysians Enchan and Amy came as well. We met at a local restaurant for dinner and joked around. The manager came over to fill our coffee, and Amy couldn’t stop giggling because the poor man had forgotten to zip his fly! Speaking English, she pointed it out to everyone at the table who could understand (me, Enchan and Tomoe). Like a gaggle of freshmen at band camp, muffled laughter and red faces quickly infected the table. This particular episode highlights my need to make friends who are more mature, or at least find more male friends.

Originally from Malaysia, Amy is married with children and lives with her Japanese in-laws in Motomiyamachi. I really don’t know her very well, except that she once sent me an text to my phone (at midnight) asking about my astrological sign. Because of her asian appearance, people often assume she is Japanese until she opens her mouth. Amy entertained us with ridiculous stories of a flasher that appeared outside her school playground when she lived in Malaysia. After the 3rd or 4th time, it wasn’t such a shock and kids just laughed at the guy. She was quite funny as well.

Also, my friend Tomoe is planning a trip to the USA and Canada in February or March, and needs people with couches to crash on. She speaks fluent English when she feels like it, and is very outgoing. So if you don’t mind showing off what a great country we have, let me know and I will send her your way.

We all wished Mie well on her voyage and asked her to bring back all sorts of trinkets and junk she found. We’ll wait and see what I get in February.