Happy One Year Japaniversary!

Happy one year to me and Japan! If you don’t know already, yes I’m staying for another year. It took a bit but Japan (and this post-graduation life) really feels like home.

One year ago today1, I managed to not miss any flights2 and arrive at Narita airport safe and sound3. My goal at that time was to not get lost and die. While I may have one less functional leg4 than when I arrived, so far so good on that goal5. Really that goal was because I had zero idea what to expect when moving to a new country where you know .0001% of the language. Because I tend to like having a general idea of what to expect, I decided to think as little as possible about my move.

Things I wish I had known include: everything will be okay6. Your teachers will be super helpful in making sure you can survive. You will make friends eventually. You will make more at a full-time job than your 4 little part-time things7 in college. The Chiba-Wisconsin ALT program is full of supportive and lovely people8. You will live in a nice apartment and location. You will suck at teaching low-level English learners but you’ll get better.

Thanks for indulging my reflective nostalgia.


1. Insert clichés about time.
2. Took a nap at the gate of a connecting flight before. Alarm didn’t wake me. Moral: don’t pull an all-nighter packing for your flight. Even an hour of sleep is better than none.
3. Pause while you listen to that catchy song and dance around in your seat.
4. I sprained my ankle and am on week 2 of three weeks of doctor-prescribed crutching around.
5. Always doubtful when maneuvering the next flight of stairs.
6. Except for the two weeks of not eating because of stomach flu and the sprained ankle.
7. Study skills advising, tutoring, and two Psychology labs.
8. For the most part. Just kidding. They’re all great.

sawara-onogawa-historic-district

Visiting Katori: The Venice of Chiba [Part 2]

My favorite part of the Chiba-kun ambassador tour revolved around the water: exploring the city’s canals by boat and walking the historic streets along the canal. (If you don’t know me, I’m kind of obsessed with water. I’d like to think this reflects my thirst for life.) This is one of the coolest historic places in Chiba prefecture, so you need to come and visit this Japanese Venice!

The twelve bridges of Kato-zu boat tour

Right next to the Suigo Sawara Aquatic Botanical Garden was a little pier with boats. This kind of flat-bottomed boat is called a “sappa-bune.” This is where we started our boat tour of the city.

sappa-bune-japanese-boat

These boats are steered by women who skillfully maneuver with only a pole in the water to push us forward. I’m really jealous of this arm strength, especially now that I’m on crutches and lacking in that department. They do this wearing a hat made of sedge leaves and Monpe pants, a type of Japanese work clothing.

sawara-boat-tour-woman

As advertised, there are 12 bridges. These bridges were built for people living along the canal to easily access other parts of the town. It was a nice glimpse into Japanese daily life as I imagined living next to a canal.

junikyo-bridge-katori-sawara canal-hydrangea-flower

Somehow, Chiba-kun got away from me and started trying on parts of the boat woman’s uniform.

chiba-kun-hat chiba-kun-boots

 

“Little Edo” Sawara Historic Merchant Town

Sawara is known as “Little Edo” because of the historic merchant district along the Onogawa river that hasn’t changed much since the Edo period. Sawara used to exist as a separate city until it was merged with other nearby towns to form Katori city, so don’t be confused like I was by all the Sawara this, Sawara that. We’re still in Katori city.

sawara-onogawa-historic-district

This lovely district is the only one in Chiba to be officially recognized by the Japanese government as an area of historic preservation. This designation mandates protection and preservation of the district’s cultural significance.

What I love about visiting other countries is the sense of history you can feel just by walking down the street. If countries were people, the US would be a crawling toddler. So walking around the streets of a place built in the 1500s with stores 100-200 years old was inspiring.

sawara-little-edo

I wish I had time to go into all of the stores. I found one selling these red bean sweets (monaka) as omiyage (souvenirs) for my coworkers, and another one that had this really cool Japanese monsters hand towel. We also stopped by a store that had a guy carving crazy expensive wooden ear picks in the store window.

sawara-onogawa-canal
Look how pretty everything is! Plus you can also take a boat tour from here.

Below is the Toyohashi bridge that does the waterfall thing every 30 minutes. It’s known as the “ja ja” bridge because “ja ja” is a Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound of running water. Maybe kind of like “whoooosh whoooosh” bridge in English.

waterfall-bridge-sawara-katori

One of Katori’s most famous citizens is Inoh Tadataka, a man who walked all over Japan to create the first map of Japan using modern surveying techniques. Talk about badass.

Ino-tadataka-sawara-katori
Picture by katorisi. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

The house where Inoh Tadataka lived is designated as a National Historic Site and conveniently located along the same Onogawa canal. All the maps, drawings, documents, and tools he left behind are actual National Treasures and are housed in the Inoh Tadataka Memorial Museum. Unfortunately his house was under construction, and I didn’t have enough time to visit the museum. Guess that means I’ll have to go back sometime!

Overall, I loved the historic feel of the merchant district and the canals. This area isn’t too far from the Narita Airport, so it’s a great place to spend a day!

 

Details:

The twelve bridges of Kato-zu boat tour (水郷佐原十二橋船めぐり)

-Access: The boat tour starts from the pier at Lake Yoda Ura, right next to the Suigo Aquatic Botanical Garden.

  • By train, get off at JR Sawara station (Narita line) and take the Kan-Tetsu sightseeing bus for Itako (20 min). Get off at the Aquatic Botanical garden stop and walk 5 min.
  • By car, take the Higashi Kanto Expressway, 20 min from the Sawara-Katori exit, or 25 min from the Taiei exit. Free parking available!

-Admission: 1 boat is ¥6,500 and fits up to 5 people
-Website in English

Sawara Historic Merchant Town District

-Access: From the JR Sawara Station, walk 10 min to the Onogawa river.
-Website in English
-Here’s a map to the Inoh Tadataka Memorial Museum, but you can clearly see the canal to the right of it. (Hint: it’s the only blue river-looking thing nearby.)

daisies

Visiting Katori: Botanical Garden [Part 1]

On our first Chiba-kun ambassador tour, we visited Katori, a city in northeastern Chiba (the forehead of Chiba-kun). It was a gorgeous place, full of many different things to see and do!

Suigo Sawara Aquatic Botanical Garden

We were here for the Iris Festival. This botanical garden has 400 different types of irises, for a mind-blowing total of 1.5 million flowers. Amazingly a bunch of flowers managed to survive despite the two days of heavy rain!

This botanical garden was a lovely place to just walk around and smell the irises. Or take pictures of flowers and people — hello great portraits with a beautiful backdrop. You can also take a boat ride among the greenery.

Definitely check out the Suigo Sawara Aquatic Botanical Garden for the iris festival in June or the lotus festival in July!

chiba-kun-ambassador-suigo
Chiba-kun ambassadors hail from countries like Korea, Mongolia, Costa Rica, Myanmar, Malaysia, China, USA, and more!
Above photo of irises taken by Mr. Ishikawa

cute-friends

daisies

flower

lotus

flower2

katori-sawara-boat

Chiba-kun enjoyed a lovely day among the flowers as well.

chiba-kun-hydrangea-flower chiba-kun-flower

 

Access:

  • By train, get off at JR Sawara station (Narita line) and take the Kan-Tetsu sightseeing bus for Itako (20 min). Get off at the Aquatic Botanical garden stop and walk 5 min.
  • By car, take the Higashi Kanto Expressway, 20 min from the Sawara-Katori exit, or 25 min from the Taiei exit. Free parking available!

Admission (for adults):

  • Sept-April, ¥200
  • May-Aug (except the iris festival), ¥500
  • During the iris festival in June: ¥700

Hours:

  • 9am-4:30pm with extended hours during the festivals.
  • May-Aug: Open everyday
  • Sept-April: Closed Mondays

English website and Wikipedia page

Letters to July / 22

crutches-totoro
Totoro makes a good crutch holder.

Dear July,

I am now a flamingo. Forever perched on one leg.

I was standing at the bus stop across from my friend’s hotel in Hong Kong, waiting for the one that went to the airport. When the bus arrived, I stepped off the curb and collapsed on my left ankle. It was embarrassing but I was fine.

I was coming back from Hong Kong, missed my stop, and ended up going to Togane for dinner.  There are four flights of stairs at the station. On the last step of the last flight, I collapsed on my right ankle. It hurt a lot more than things usually hurt when you fall. But I managed to make it back home. There was a lot of walking to transfer trains and then the longest walk home ever.

This morning I couldn’t use the right foot at all. It’s quite swollen but only sprained not broken. The doctor says I should use crutches for 3 weeks. Fortunately it was quite cheap to visit the hospital/clinic and get X-rays — only around $20 USD.

Simple things seem so difficult now. Today it was grocery shopping. And now I’m really afraid of somehow messing up my other leg. Also falling down stairs backwards.

Moral of the story: hurry + suitcase = bad things happen to ankles. Also that stage of youthful immortality in my life is over.

Sorry I’ve been ignoring you, July. I’ve had a busy weekend after another. Last week was spent preparing to go and going to Hong Kong. I’ll try to find time for you among the backlog of Chiba-kun ambassador posts.

dashi-float4

Float Parade at the Narita Gion Festival

Narita Gion Festival (July 5, 2014)

This was my fourth time wandering the Omotesando street near the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple and as always, it was a great time. I loved seeing the area in such a festive mood: bustling with food stalls, game booths, and people dressed in beautiful yukatas (summer kimonos) — even adorable children!

yukata-kimono-festival yukata-kimono-cute

At the Narita Gion Festival, decorated floats called dashi (山車) are pulled down the street. By anyone and everyone, it seemed.

pulling-dashi-float dashi-parade-matsuri

Sitting on the middle layer of the float were people playing drums and flute. And there were people standing waaaaay on top.

dashi-float dashi-float2

Some of the balconies of buildings next to the street were filled with people trying to put money in the float. It was like money fishing in reverse.

matsuri-dashi-money

We also walked around the Narita san temple area, which was gorgeous as always.

narita-san-shinshoji-temple

When there’s a festival, tons of booths fill the space one level below the temple building.

matsuri-festival-narita

We got ourselves some chocolate bananas with sprinkles and hats at one of the booths! The hats are filled with sugar! Sweet!

chocolate-banana-kristen

Since we were in Narita, we had to get unagi (eel). It’s a must. Narita is known for their unagi. Their city mascot is even an unagi airplane hybrid creature.

unari-kun

I recommend going to this place called 近江屋 (Oomiya, details at the end) that my JTE and her husband took me to. I’ve been there three times now, and every time it’s delicious. Get the unajuu (鰻重 unagi on rice in traditional laquered box) or unadon (鰻丼) if you’re not feeling that hungry (one piece of unagi instead of two on rice).

unagi

After our delicious unagi dinner, it started getting dark. The dashi floats are beautiful all lit up in the night, but suddenly it was very, very difficult to move. Every time a dashi float passed by, everyone was pushed to the side. The people pulling the floats were really into it, so much so that they actually pushed me off the slim curb that I was standing on and into some pickled vegetables (thankfully, packaged).

Tons of people started coming to the festival now that it was dark, and it took a very long to get back to the station. Personally, I would recommend you do as we did – explore just before it gets dark and see the dashi floats lit up on the way back to the station.

dashi-float3

Overall, I was glad I went and got to see the awesome dashi floats in action and reward myself with some delicious unagi for getting out of the house! You should definitely check out the Narita Gion Festival next time around, or the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple (Naritasan for short). Even if you’re just in Narita for a layover, it’s totally possible to get to the temple area and have some unagi!

Details

Naritasan Shinshoji Temple

  • Access: By train, JR Narita station or Keisei Narita station. Walk 15 min down Omotesando street to the temple.
  • When: Naritasan temple (English website here) is always open with free admission. The next big event is the Bon Dancing Festival on August 23-24.
  • WiFi: WiFi is available in Narita, especially at Narita Station and along the main temple road. For more info, click here.

近江屋 (Oomiya)

  • Address: 384 Nakamachi, Narita, Chiba Prefecture 286-0027
  • Open: 10AM-5PM daily
  • Phone: 0476-22-0119
  • Website here (Japanese only)

Letters to July / 10

Dear July,

You are hot. Not in a seductive way, but in a way that makes all the energy to do anything just evaporate off my skin along with the sweat. Today I came home, ate, and quickly went from very, very hungry to “Am I still hungry? Stomach/brain, communicate faster!” to very, very tired to “Hello pillow” to passed out. Waking up 2 (3?) hours later was the most disorienting experience.

Today was the first day I cooked for myself in a week. Sometimes I forget the proud joy that cooking can bring. I’m not so good at it and it’s easy to just make the same thing all the time. Routine can be boring. I guess, July, that that is your hamartia. You lull us to sleep with the warmth of habit.

 

{Letters to July was originally the brainchild of Emily Diana Ruth on Youtube. Take a look at her beautiful videos here.}

Letters to July / 9

Dear July,

Recently I’ve been nesting. When I first came, I had just spent my summer packing and unpacking and packing and unpacking, moving from 1) my college apartment to 2) an internship in Mississippi to 3) my family’s home to 4) Japan. After spending so long trying to get rid of everything but the essentials, I’ve been trying to not spend money on so many materialistic things and end the vicious cycle of accumulation.

Alas, it must be human to hoard. (I wonder if there are animals that hoard non-food things.) Makes me think of Ariel singing “I want moooooore.” At least she got a castle in the end — must be great to have all that space for hoarding tendencies. Anyway, it’s difficult to distinguish between “want” and “need” and the huge gray area in between of “would make life better but not necessary.” All the more so when I don’t know how long I’ll be where I am or where I’ll go next.

July, here are things I need to stop singing “Look at this stuff. Isn’t it neat?” about. You heard it here; this is my solemn vow.

  • Food products
  • Socks & tights (too many cute socks here)
  • Musical instruments (it stops at violin and sanshin. NO MORE.)
  • Blankets
  • Everything from the ¥100 store. Seriously.
  • Totoro-related items
  • And now books…
backpackofbooks
The back-breaking backpack of books Ben bade me bring back.

{Letters to July was originally the brainchild of Emily Diana Ruth on Youtube. Take a look at her beautiful videos here.}

Letters to July / 8

This turtle bread reminds us that slow, steady, and squashed wins the race.

Dear July,

After three days of making me shiver, you have finally warmed up. Unfortunately, July, you decided to do it on a day where I had to trek around with my laptop and giant bag of everything necessary. The trekking was to the immigration bureau for visa purposes.

Earlier I was upset about the negative aspects of the trip (mainly that I was granted a 1-year visa and not 3 years like I asked for, and also this girl and her friend budged me in line). But really there is only one thing that matters: my extension of period of stay application was approved and I’m not getting kicked out of the country come August!

Tonight I went “running.” Quotation marks because my runs compared to an actual runner are the equivalent of a small child waddling a few steps forward and falling on her face. Well, at least she tried. I dislike running, but I can’t do zumba in my apartment without being paranoid about crazy neighbors.

It’s been a month because the last time I went running, I actually did fall with great momentum on asphalt, scraping ALL my hands and knees. Especially my left knee, which was skinless for quite a worrying while and will never look the same again. And guess what, July? I saw other people in the neighborhood walking and running! Not just all the people walking home from the train station but actual fellow exercisers! This was the first sighting, so I thought maybe it’s considered weird for adults to run around at night in Japan. But no, solidarity!

Okay, July. Since I actually made effort to be physically active, you better stay cool enough (at least at night) for more running-without-losing-a-limb attempts.

{Letters to July was originally the brainchild of Emily Diana Ruth on Youtube. Take a look at her beautiful videos here.}

Letters to July / 7

Dear July,

It’s 7/7 or Tanabata, or the day of the Weaver Girl and the Cowherd if you know your world mythology, July. So far as I have gathered, this means that in Japan, children decorate and hang wishes from bamboo grass and not much else happens. There seems to be some kind of star theme, like with food. (Which reminds me of that “Be A Star” song from Life Size with Lindsey Lohan when she was little and adorable.)

jingisukan

For me, today it meant meeting Genghis Khan. (Or should I say meating… Yuk yuk yuk.)

I guess I should explain. In Japan, there is this dish called “jingisukan” which came from “Genghis Khan” that is DIY grilled lamb/mutton. (I don’t know how old the animals we were consuming were.) Picture Korean BBQ with lamb/mutton. It’s probably more realistic Mongolian BBQ than the HuHot interpretation. (If you wish, you may consult omniscient deity Wikipedia here for more info.)

Today’s word of the day is 共食い tomogui or (animal) cannibalism. (There’s another word for human cannibalism.) I guess I should explain again. The name Rachel means ‘ewe’ (pronounced like ‘you’) or female sheep. So yum, cannibalism.

Stay bright, July.

{Letters to July was originally the brainchild of Emily Diana Ruth on Youtube. Take a look at her beautiful videos here.}

Letters to July / 6

00260706-225737-82657456.jpgDear July,

I play violin. Today I had six hours of orchestra rehearsal. You’re probably thinking, why would you ever do that to yourself. That’s how I feel about people that go running for hours or do other insane (in my opinion) exercise involving activities. A long orchestra rehearsal actually kinda nice in a musical workout kind of way.

And it can be quite fun when you’ve gotten to know and like the piece you’re spending hours practicing. You’re just hanging out with a friend.

The story of my friendship with Beethoven Symphony No. 8:

It was really awkward when we first met. My first experience sight reading left me with the impression that we couldn’t get along. The piece spoke too quickly and I didn’t understand what it was going on about.

As we became better acquainted the last few months, I’ve realized that this symphony is pretty cool and fun and exciting to hang out with. Sometimes it can be a bit difficult but we’re working out some of our disagreements. Now I’ve come to enjoy spending time with this symphony and I hope you can meet it soon. By coming to our concert. (Apparently this post will end in self-promotion.)

Come to my concert, regardless of whether you’re in Japan or not. Real friends come to their friends’ concerts even when they live across the pond that is the Pacific Ocean. (Its size pales in comparison to the vastness of our deep friendship. Right, O true friend of mine?)

The details: Saturday, August 30th, 1:30pm (doors open at 1), Narashino Cultural Hall in Tsudanuma, Chiba city. It’s free! We’re playing Beethoven Symphony No. 8, Sibelius Symphony No. 5, and Helios Overture by Nielsen.

{Letters to July was originally the brainchild of Emily Diana Ruth on Youtube. Take a look at her beautiful videos here.}

Letters to July / 5

00260706-001410-850401.jpgDear July,

Today was full of too many things. So here are two.

First, I smell like BBQ from standing next to the grill at an orchestral social gathering. Friends are quite difficult to make anywhere in a new place, and even more so in a country where you don’t really speak the language. So I really appreciate when anyone tries to make an effort to speak with me, in English or Japanese.

Secondly, I survived the crowds that flooded the Narita Gion Festival (full Chiba-kun ambassador post to come later). On one occasion, people pulling the floats actually pushed me off the curb and I caught myself on several vacuum-sealed packages of pickled goods. Also the festival had many other fun non-life threatening things, which I will detail later in that post to come.

I seem to always have more fun than I think I will when I convince myself to go do things with people. In the words of April Ludgate from Parks and Recreation, “I hate talking. To people. About things.” But I guess not all the time.

{Letters to July was originally the brainchild of Emily Diana Ruth on Youtube. Take a look at her beautiful videos here.}

Letters to July / 4

photoDear July,

Happy fourth of you! Instead of gobbling up a whole carton of blueberries, burning my tongue on freshly grilled corn on the cob, and being eaten alive by mosquitoes while waiting for fireworks with friends; today I made the end-of-term listening test, had sushi and edamame for lunch, and went to dinner with a coworker.

In honor of you, I learned to play Star-Spangled Banner on the violin, but that’s about it on the ‘Murica patriotism front.

We went to dinner at a Taiwanese restaurant. Enjoying Taiwanese sausage and mapo tofu while hearing the buzz of restaurant staff yelling in Chinese, it felt like home.

{Letters to July was originally the brainchild of Emily Diana Ruth on Youtube. Take a look at her beautiful videos here.}

Letters to July / 3

Saw some parts of the area that I hadn't seen before as I rode in a coworker's car to go to another school to give some middle schoolers a sample high school lesson.
Saw some parts of the area that I hadn’t seen before as I rode in a coworker’s car to go to another school to give some middle schoolers a sample high school lesson.

Dear July,

I came home today and felt sad. It was the kind of sad where I didn’t know why I was feeling that way. Nothing happened on my way home from work to turn my mood from hungry and accomplished to melancholic. The thing about being sad is that you are always forced to ponder the why.

Here are possible reasons my brain came up with: Maybe I hadn’t eaten enough today (I’ve gotten really lazy with cooking). Maybe I haven’t been getting as much sleep as I would like. Maybe scheduling and making plans can be stressful. Maybe it’s lonely living alone sometimes. Maybe I realized today was the last time I would teach a class until September and teaching usually helps improve my mood since I have to be happy for an audience. Maybe I haven’t had time to practice violin after school lately. Maybe I miss my family and haven’t had the chance to talk to them in a while.

Perhaps my soul just got a little tired. Perhaps there is no reason.

Meloncholy: That feeling you get when you go to the grocery store and look at the prices of melons. (In Japan, honeydew are like $5 and watermelons are like $10. At least at my local grocery store.)

{Letters to July was originally the brainchild of Emily Diana Ruth on Youtube. Take a look at her beautiful videos here.}

Letters to July / 2

gradingselfie
A portion of the papers I have yet to grade.

Dear July,

Today, like many other days recently, was very long. The end of the term is approaching, which means all the papers that I have done nothing more than put into piles must now be sorted through. And I made the mistake of having students turn in homework and worksheets during the last team teaching class, which means I get to grade and return 640 worksheets between the last class and their exam. I only have myself to blame.

I’m excited for summer break to start. Even though I still have to come to school everyday, I’m ready for a break from the routine of classes and preparing for the next lesson. I’m excited to start my summer projects (both school-related and personal). But despite the humdrum of grading and the need for something different, I love teaching. Here are three moments (of many) that made me fall in love with teaching:

1. When a student (who I sadly no longer teach because I only teach first years) saw me after spring break and was so happy to see me, she came up to me and hugged me with a huge smile on her face.

2. When two students came to have lunch with me at my second school where I don’t really know any of the students (I go there once a week and see each class only once or twice a term). Last time, the question of “which” vs. “where” came up in our conversation and I was able to help them understand! I was so happy I was able to explain something difficult with my terrible Japanese and also really proud of them for being able to understand from just a few examples.

3. When this quiet student did his show and tell presentation, he talked about his cat and said it was the size of 30 Black Thunder chocolate bars and then proceeded to pull out an actual Black Thunder bar for reference. After his presentation, he gave me the chocolate bar.

black_thunder
A Black Thunder chocolate bar

{Letters to July was originally the brainchild of Emily Diana Ruth on Youtube. Take a look at her beautiful videos here.}

View from office

Letters to July / 1

Inspired by Emily Diana Ruth‘s lovely video series Letters to July, which you need to check out. Click here for 2013 and here for 2014.

photo (3)
View from the English department office

Dear July,

I am sitting at school, listening to Shima Uta on repeat and the buzzing of an ambiguously terrifying giant fly-meets-bee insect as it flies around angrily looking for the open window in vain.

It’s July but it doesn’t really feel like July. To me, July summons memories of my last few weeks in Madison almost exactly a year ago: going downtown for Concert on the Square and the farmer’s market, revisiting all my old childhood haunts like the swings at the park and the local library, and giant watermelons, blueberries, and cherries galore.

Although nostalgic for that July, today I feel very at home here in this life. Grateful for my life in this not-so-foreign-anymore country.

Emily’s description of her first Letters to July video pretty much describes how I feel: “A project I may or may not continue. WE’LL SEE, KIDS! Also, welcome to my private thoughts!”

I guess I’m used to sharing my thoughts with the Internet. I used to have a LiveJournal in high school that was mainly for complaining and ranting. Now I have this blog that I created senior year of college in the job hunting process because I read all these articles about having an “online presence” and being Googleable. (That’s why there’s a page for my resume.) Now that I’m a Chiba-kun ambassador I have this slight fear that this will become a bit travel brochure-y and for mass consumption. Boring. I hate boring.

To be blunt, I don’t really care about you. This space is for me. Welcome to Letters to July.

chibalibrary

This Place Is Okay in My Book

One of the first things I did when I came to Japan was get a library card (pat on the back for past me) and I’m really happy I managed to somehow do that. The Chiba Central Library is definitely one of my favorite places in Chiba city because I have access to English books! In a non-electronic form! For free! Even if you don’t live in Chiba city (and therefore can’t get a library card), it’s a nice place to chill and hang out with some books.

Last week my school’s guitar club had a concert in the Lifelong Learning Center that is in the same building, and I finally had a chance to spend some time with my BFFs. (That’s Book Friends Forever.)

It’s in a really pretty building. With statues:

And giant books: (Although this might be part of the Lifelong Learning Center)

photo (1)

It has an entire section of Lonely Planet books for anyone planning some exciting travels.

photo

Some notes

  • They also have DVDs and CDs. Oh and video cassettes if you happen to have a VCR.
  • To get a library card, you need to either live, work, or attend school in Chiba city. (Need some proof of a Chiba city address).
  • You can return items at any Chiba city library branch. You can borrow items for 2 weeks and renew once (can do it online).

Through personal experimentation, I can tell you that they don’t charge you any overdue fees (!), which is crazy to someone used to being charged per day. As long as you eventually return the book, you’re okay. Obviously not recommending that. Just FYI.

They have a really helpful counter on the second floor where you can ask them to look for things like sanshin music. If you ask someone at the counter for a specific book and they don’t have it, they may purchase it for you. I don’t really know what happened exactly — I just nodded and smiled and somehow that made a book appear.

The details:

Name: Chiba Central Library or 千葉市中央図書館
Open: Tuesday-Friday 9:30am-9:00pm, Saturday-Sunday 9:30-5:30pm
Access: 8-minute walk from JR Chiba Station
Parking: Limited but available for a fee
Website: www.library.city.chiba.jp and English version here
Address: 3-7-7 Benten, Chuo-ku, Chiba City 260-0045 Tel. 043-287-3980

chiba-kun-ambassador

Becoming a Chiba-kun Ambassador

It’s been an embarrassing 3 months since my last post. A lot of that time was spent traveling and getting more involved in extracurriculars in Japan, including applying to be a Chiba-kun ambassador! Let’s break down what that means.

What is Chiba-kun?

Chiba-kun (or officially CHI-BA+KUN) is the big red NOT-dog-but-IF-he-were-maybe-he-would-be-related-to-Clifford mascot of Chiba prefecture. He was created in the shape of the prefecture so people like to say “I live in Chiba’s ear/nose/butt” etc. to identify their anatomical geographical location. To put it in Wisconsin terms, it’d be like if a giant cheese-eating, beer-drinking, left-handed mitten creature was the mascot of Wisconsin. Sounds weird, but in Japan there are mascots and cute characters for everything. Even for the city trash bags.

Chiba prefecture:

From Wikimedia Commons

Chiba-kun:

From http://www.chiba-tour.jp/eng/chibakun.html
From http://www.chiba-tour.jp/eng/chibakun.html

See the resemblance?

“[CHI-BA+KUN] is very curious and loves to take on a challenge. When facing something unknown, he becomes even more courageous and passionate, and his body shines red. …he has a weakness for tasty foods and loves to eat. He is a lovable character who can sometimes be mischievous.” -Chiba Official Tourism Website

Sounds like my soulmate. (Even down to the whole Asian glow thing: “When facing something unknown, he becomes even more courageous and passionate, and his body shines red.”) But seriously, we definitely hit it off.

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Totally meant to be.
Bucky, I still love you!

What is a Chiba-kun ambassador?

The ambassador part means we are officially government-sponsored social media promoters of Chiba prefecture to people of our respective countries, e.g., USA, China, Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan, Costa Rica. Our mission is to spread the word about how awesome Chiba prefecture is via social media. So basically the government is motivating this blog’s revival. Good for you, eh? (P.S. HELLO BIG BROTHER. Chiba is awesome & thanks for sponsoring our free trips!)

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Chillin’ with the governor
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I WANT HUGS
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ALL THE HUGS
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ALL THE MASCOTS

There were lots of cameras at this event and I also appear on the news as part of this. If you’re interested, you can see video footage HERE (the first video from 1:30 on) and a news article HERE.

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Narita Plum Blossom Festival


I’m en route to Taiwan and made it through security in a record 20 minutes. Thus while I’m waiting in the Narita airport, it’s only fitting that I write about the last time I was in Narita for the 梅祭り (ume matsuri or plum blossom festival) on March 8th. Narita is actually in Chiba, despite the airport being called the Tokyo Narita Airport. (I vote to call it the Tokyo Just Kidding But Kinda Close Airport. Can you imagine if there was an airport in Madison, Wisconsin and it was called the Chicago airport? Haha.)

The plum blossom festival was behind the Narita-san temple, which I visited for New Year’s (post about that here. This time we skipped the temple area and went directly to the park behind it.

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Unfortunately it was a little chilly for the plum blossoms and the trees were not plumb full of 梅 (har har). But we had an awesome time exploring. I had no idea the area behind the temple was so beautiful. There you can find three ponds and a small waterfall and even a calligraphy museum!

Can you spot the free amazake stand in the picture below? Amazake is kinda like sake if it actually tasted good — I don’t like the taste of alcohol, sorry. Thus, amazake is the best “sake” for me.

IMG_8954The little area with flags became a stage for some shamisen players. Shamisen is like guitar but with three strings and more Asian. Then we found this outdoor tea ceremony. If you come to Japan, you should check out a tea ceremony. It’s a good chance to find out your tolerance for sitting on your legs and also participate in some group bowing and tea drinking. One of the women in kimono started talking to us — apparently she used to be a tour guide in Tokyo so her English was pretty good.

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Of course, it’s not a proper festival unless I have eaten something as big as my face.

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(Snap)shots from the Weekend

This weekend* consisted of volunteering and sake. But not at the same time, of course.

On Friday, I took the afternoon off to volunteer at a children’s hospital with some other ALTs. I ended up hanging out with this cute five-year-old who was really into crafts. He had a whole bag of origami and an in-progress friendship bracelet. The staff were so welcoming, even though it was the first time they had done an event like this. And it was a beautiful day.

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The next day I went to the Sake Festival in Isumi. They had these sake cups that you could purchase for 300 yen (~$3) and enjoy all-you-can-drink sake during the festival! The sake cups came with a smile. (Especially when it saw the delicious okonomitaiyaki!)

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*My definition of weekend extends to the time after work on Friday.

Graduation Ceremony

Didn’t bring my camera to the ceremony, but it looked exactly like this. Teachers sat stage right, and parents sat behind he students.

In Japan, the school year starts in April (after spring break) and ends in March. Today was graduation day for the third year students (seniors) at the high school I teach at. Here were the most surprising differences at this morning’s graduation ceremony (卒業式 or sotsugyō shiki).

1. First of all, the ceremony was on a school day and ALL students were present. First and second year students came and sat in the back behind the parents.

2. The brass band played Pachelbel canon as the third year students entered the gym, making me suddenly feel like I was at a wedding. I guess it was basically like a wedding with homeroom teachers giving away the students and students going off to marry their futures…

3. Third year students wore their school uniform as usual. No gowns or caps in sight. I was just a little surprised that students don’t get to look different/special on their graduation. But apparently, students get to dress up for their university graduation ceremonies (suits, kimonos, or hakama).

4. Female teachers who were the head of third year homerooms wore kimonos with hakama. Hakama can be worn by both genders (one male teacher also wore one). The male version looks familiar to me because they’re worn for kendo and other martial arts. Also by samurai. But I’ve never seen the female version before! I think it looks super cool and more comfortable than a kimono — although maybe not so in reality, since the hakama is worn over a kimono. Also, it sounds difficult to deal with — one teacher told me she had to wake up at 4:30am to go and get dolled up by a professional dresser person — hair, layers and layers of clothing (and apparently towels underneath),the whole shebang.

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5. Students don’t walk across the stage and shake hands. They stand up in their seats as their name is called and say “Hai” and stay standing until everyone in the homeroom has been called and they all bow together.

6. Diplomas are given to ONE student representative. Very efficient!

7. Teachers sang a song called 蛍の光 (hotaru no hikaru or Glow of a Firefly) after the students did. Surprisingly, the song was the melody of “Auld Lang Syne” but with completely different Japanese lyrics.

8. From what I was told, the speakers (a student and a parent) thanked the school. I don’t remember any thanking of the school at my high school or university graduation, which actually seems pretty strange now.

9. Only third year students get (what we would call) a yearbook with pictures and space for signing (but they cal it a graduation album. The other students get some booklet thing that’s like a summary of the school year and has messages to the third years. (I can’t read any of it, so that’s mostly speculative. But they asked me to submit some message a while back, and there’s some information about me in there like a self-introduction I wrote and a student interviewed me and wrote something up.)

Overall, the graduation ceremony itself was a much more serious and ceremonial affair than I remember my own being. Except at the end, when a couple third year students threw some candy or something into the crowd of students as they walked out. (Parents were all wearing suits and dark colors too. TIL that “dress up” basically means wear black.)

Also, it felt very efficient, lasting only about an hour or so. Good thing too — because they had to turn off the heaters during the ceremony (too loud). (This doesn’t even make my list because I’m not surprised at all by this. Of course they had to turn the heaters off because Japan.)

卒業おめでとうございます!Congrats on graduating!

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My bento lunch. First time eating sekihan, red sticky rice for special occasions.

Word of the Day: 立入禁止

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Sometimes I forget that blog posts can be really short, so I’m going to try to be concise and do more language learning posts. I really like reading about others’ language learning journeys, e.g. Language Boat who is living in Taiwan and chronicling her experiences with Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese culture.

Today’s word of the day is brought to you by today’s entrance exams. There are signs with 立入禁止 all over the school to keep the 14- and 15-year-old high school student hopefuls in the right areas.

立入禁止 (tachi iri kin shi)= do not enter, off-limits, keep out

Boom. Done. I can be concise too!

10 Surprising Things in Japan: School Edition

When I first came to Japan in August (already six months ago!), people asked me what I found surprising about Japan. I couldn’t think of many in the moment, but I’ve been keeping a list and now I have so many that I need to separate this by category. So this is the Surprising Things: School edition. These are all little things that just make me go, “Oh yeah. That’s different.”

1. The very first thing I had to do when I arrived at my school in August was switch to indoor-only shoes for the school. The indoor part of the school begins inside the doors, at this raised part of the floor. I screwed up on the shoe changing a few times before I got used to it. This is because the outdoor shoes STRICTLY do not touch anywhere on the indoor part, and I was very used to putting shoes next to each other to change. The indoor shoes policy is great! The floor remains rain/snow-proof and only gets dusty, not dirty. The second part of this indoor shoe thing is that you can walk with your indoor shoes outside IF you are walking between the school and the gym on the wooden boards, but these wooden board crosswalks stay outside so they get dirty… This seemed quite contradictory for me, but now I just accept it. I wonder what shoes students use if they go outside for gym.

2. There are world maps in the English classroom and the English office. Japan is in the middle of these map. Also seeing Taiwan the same color (and therefore part of) China on maps was different.

3. In America, you can say “Good morning” until noon, but in Japan my coworkers say “konnichiwa” (hello) to me starting around 10am. It’s very confusing for my brain because I don’t have that “good morning” to “hello” switch turned on (yet). Therefore I either say 1) “ohayo gozaimasu” (good morning), 2) pause awkwardly before my brain catches up and finally say “konnichiwa”, or 3) fail to respond because the moment has passed too quickly. But my failsafe is that I just do the quick nod-bow in all three situations and speak quietly in the hope that they will think I responded appropriately even if I didn’t.

4. I knew that students did a lot of cleaning at the school but I didn’t realize they don’t have a janitor at all. But every morning I see this lady (sometimes two) sweeping the main corridor. Maybe she’s just responsible for the parts the students don’t do. There’s also a maintenance guy. I’m not sure how it works, but the ladies’ bathroom that I use remains clean and I feel pretty safe sitting on the floor in most areas (see #1). I feel like the combination of having homerooms and being responsible for them and a certain part of school (like 3rd floor girls’ bathrooms) fosters a sense of ownership (over the school) in the students. If I ever became benevolent dictator of a school/kingdom, I would make my students/subjects have indoor-only shoes and be responsible for cleaning the school/kingdom.

5. The guitar club at school only has female members. They play classical guitar in unison. It was just surprising that there are like 20 members and they’re all girls.

6. Also, there are a bunch of girls playing percussion in brass band! That was really cool to see. I always remember percussion in WYSO (this youth orchestra I was in for the majority of my formative years) being 95% male, and thinking “Where are the girls?”. Brass band percussion is way more representative, so yay! I wonder if there are instruments in Japan that are stereotypically played by more of one gender than the other, and if it’s different than Western stereotypes.

7. The insane amount of time spent on some club activities. In high school, I did forensics (speech and drama competitions not dead people) and we had to get coached at least twice a week. Coachings were 30min to an hour depending on your event, and we traveled to tournaments on many Saturdays. If you made the state team, you might have to get coached during spring break. The brass band at my school practices every weekday till ~8pm AND Saturdays from 10am-6pm, AND students come to school during breaks for practice! Apparently this encompasses individual practice as well, so students probably don’t practice at home. At my high school, people in the play or musical would have this kind of schedule, but not year-round. Crazy!!

8. The 5pm bell that sounds like an ice cream truck. I’ve been told it’s to tell children to go home. (But some go to cram school… I don’t know. Ice cream.) This article here says it’s also a daily test of the emergency broadcast system. Interesting.

9. Game show-type sounds for getting things right vs. wrong. Like ding-ding-ding! and the buzzer sound. But in Japan the sound for right answer is similar to a doorbell that says “ping pong” or “bing bong”, and wrong answer is the same buzzer noise but you say “buuuuuu”. This is confusing for me AND my students. I’ve been trying to practice the right Japanese sounds because my students don’t understand when I say, “Who got it right?”

10. The printer is completely different. It eats paper and shoots it out. Seriously. I took a video so you can understand. Maybe you don’t find this interesting, but having spent most of last summer maintaining printers in Mississippi, I definitely had a mind-blown reaction the first time I encountered the Japanese printer! The first part is medium speed, the middle part seems like nothing is happening but is actually the printer quickly eating up the paper, and the last part is the fastest speed. That’s right, Japanese printers are fancy: not only can you choose the light/darkness of the ink, you can also choose the speed it spits out paper!

Edit: Apparently the US has these kind of printers too, so maybe they’re just less popular. At our school, we have one printer like the other ones I’ve encountered in the US but three of these eating-spitting paper kind. We’re encouraged to use the latter for making more than 10 copies.

Potluck & Art

As it is Hump Day and I’m thinking about the weekend, here’s a quick update of last weekend. Saturday I was invited to a shinnenkai (新年会 or New Year’s potluck lunch) held by a group called TIPTOP. The members are adults interested in practicing English and they get together to hear talks by people from other countries who are now living in Japan. Several of them have some Wisconsin connection (because Wisconsin is sister states with Chiba), so it’s pretty awesome to be like “I’m from Wisconsin” and have people actually know where that is. And the guy that met me at the station has been to Madison!

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Sunday

Went to the Chiba City Museum of Art to see the Hasui Kawase (川瀬 巴水) exhibition. This was mind-blowing because 1) they were created by woodblock, which involves carving wood and stamping it but 2) not just stamping it. There was an INSANE amount of layering. Like this print of a temple in snow (click it! because copyright) took 43 layers of layering! And 3) this crazy layering caused the “layering effect” (my friend Kristen’s expert art terminology), which made some of his prints looked so realistic that I felt like I was wearing 3D glasses. And I’m not sure how he was so profilic and didn’t go actually insane because 4) he did this multiple times. We saw drafts of the same print. I mean, I’ve made many copies of the same photo for black and white photography, but not when each print was made of 40+ layers!

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川瀬 巴水 (1883-1957) via wikipaintings.org

One Week in Japan in 3 Minutes

To clarify: This video was not created by me. But I wish it was. It definitely inspires me to do more traveling in Japan, not just outside the country!

It’s hard to share what living in another country looks and feels like exactly, but this does an amazing and beautiful job at conceptualizing a lot of quintessential Japan feels. Although it’s skewed towards big city urban life (featuring a couple’s trip to Kyoto, Nara, Hakone, and Tokyo) and thus doesn’t represent my everyday life, it’s worth a watch.

(It also reminded me that I still haven’t posted anything about my Hakone trip even though it was in October. Coming soon to a social media near you.)

A Weekend of New Recipes

This weekend was a three day weekend, thanks to a Japanese public holiday. My goal was to use these three days to try a bunch of new recipes because I’m getting really bored of the same things that I always make. Plus my preferred method of cooking is boiling or steaming, so I’m trying to branch out. Here are the results of this weekend’s cooking experiments.

1. Banana Pancakes via blogilates

All you need is 1 banana and 2 eggs. Mash bananas and mix until frothy. A little bit of oil in the pan and THAT’S IT! I’ve never gone to the effort of making pancakes before, so I was happy to find that this recipe really is as easy as it sounds! So good and sweet enough to not need syrup. I really liked making tiny ones (felt like I was eating cookies!) and gobbling them up as soon as they were done! I recommend EVERYONE try this immediately!

2. Simmered Chicken and Daikon Radish via Cookpad

This was really good but a little too salty for me. I swear I bought a grater but I can’t find it! So this dish had a bunch of ginger chunks in it, but it was still good! And it was easier than expected.

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3. Berrylicious Microwave Minute Muffin via blogilates

Maybe my eggs are more yellow than eggs in the US because the muffin was definitely very yellow! I used banana instead of blueberries, but it turned out quite plain tasting. Next time, more banana and brown sugar! (No picture because it looked super weird and yellow.)

4. Stir-Fried Bok Choy and Harusame (Glass) Noodles with Oyster Sauce via Cookpad

I think I failed on all accounts in trying to make this. First, I couldn’t find oyster sauce at the store because I didn’t know what it was called in Japanese. Also, I was confused if oyster sauce is sauce for eating with oysters or made of oysters. (Apparently it’s the latter). Second, I bought the wrong kind of bok choy. I actually bought napa cabbage. In my defense, the Chinese name for bok choy is 白菜 (bai cai) and napa cabbage is 大白菜 (da bai cai). Finally, I think I also bought the wrong kind of noodles. The package did say harusame but they were too thin and stuck together. So either I got the wrong kind of harusame or the translation on the package was wrong and they were really rice vermicelli (ビフン in Japanese or 米粉 in Chinese). Anyway, whatever I made tasted fine. I ended up adding carrots because it was boring with only one vegetable.

So those were all the new recipes I tried! I also made some ginger udon soup with daikon and napa cabbage. This recipe is from my mom originally but I think I might have modified in ways I can’t remember. No measurements because it’s from my mom and everything’s added to taste. It’s all just boiling so you should definitely try it!

Ingredients: ginger (raw), daikon, napa cabbage, udon noodles, green onion/scallion (optional), chicken stock (soup or cubes), sesame oil

  1. Boil water with cut up ginger. (If using liquid chicken stock, boil that.)
  2. Add daikon. Boil until softish.
  3. Add chicken stock cubes, sesame oil, and salt to taste. If you like hondashi, add that too.
  4. Add napa cabbage and udon noodles. Boil until cooked.
  5. (Optional) Garnish with green onions.

I really like this recipe because it’s just chopping and boiling so it doesn’t take long. It’s one of my go-to recipes for when I’m sick — all the ginger is good for you and it’s easy enough to make while feeling under the weather. Try it!

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Books of 2013

Now that I’ve graduated college, I have more time to read for fun. Hopefully 2014 will be filled with more books!

Here are the ones I read in 2013:

  1. LOTR: The Fellowship  – J.R.R Tolkien (2nd time)
  2. LOTR: The Two Towers – J.R.R Tolkien (2nd time)
  3. LOTR: The Return of the King – J.R.R Tolkien (2nd time)
  4. The Name of the Star – Maureen Johnson
  5. The Madness Underneath – Maureen Johnson
  6. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn *
  7. Letters to a Young Teacher – Jonathan Kozol * (especially if you’re teaching)
  8. Getting Things Done – David Allen (non-fiction)
  9. American Gods – Neil Gaiman *
  10. Divergent – Veronica Roth
  11. Insurgent – Veronica Roth
  12. The Hobbit – J.R.R Tolkien
  13. The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
  14. Emma – Jane Austen (audiobook)
  15. The Magicians – Lev Grossman
  16. The Diary of Anne Frank
  17. Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn
  18. A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki *
  19. The Book Thief – Markus Zuzak (4th time) *
  20. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini *

* Most recommended

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New New Year’s Traditions

Documenting what I’ve learned this New Year’s about Japanese traditions. Japanese New Year (oshōgatsu or お正月) is pretty much THE big winter holiday here. People go home and spend time with their family and do awesome things together. While I wasn’t at home for the holidays for the first time ever, this holiday season was a lot of fun in a different way and I learned so much about Japanese New Year’s Eve/Day customs, thanks to the kindness of coworkers who didn’t mind educating me and feeding me! (Seriously, I didn’t make any of the food mentioned in this post. I made a thing of banana bread that caught on fire. That was my contribution to the holidays.)

FOOD

Starting with food because of course that’s the most important. On Ōmisoka (大晦日) or New Year’s Eve, people often have toshikoshi soba (年越しそば) aka noodles for crossing over to the new year. But since we were in Narita, we had toshikoshi unagi! We had unajū (broiled eel served in a lacquered box) at this unagi restaurant called 近江屋 or Omiya. I was told that this restaurant was 130 years old — that’s almost half the age of the United States!

Toshikoshi unagi is not an actual thing, but it’s probably going to become a personal tradition.photo 2photo 3

Japan has traditional New Year foods called osechi-ryōri (御節料理). You can google/wikipedia the meaning of different dishes but more important than the meaning of each dish is the fact that I ate it. Here are the osechi dishes that I got to try:

Breakfast prepared by a coworker after the hatsumōde visit. Left to right: datemaki (sweet egg and fish paste rolled omelette), kamaboko (fish cakes), kuri kinton (candied chestnuts in sweet potato paste), tazukuri (soy sauce sugar-glazed sardines), kuromame (sweet black soybeans).

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Ozōni (お雑煮): soup with mochi rice cakes. AND ADORABLE HORSES.photo 1

Oshiruko (お汁粉): Red bean soup with mochi. A second coworker thoughtfully brought me some oshiruko and mochi that she made, despite being super busy with preparing the house and food for New Year’s.
From Wikipedia Commons
From Wikipedia Commons

Also this plate of a bunch of different delicious things, some mentioned above already, made by a third coworker. (See, I’m spoiled here.)
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HATSUMŌDE

A big tradition is the first temple/shrine visit of the year called hatsumōde (初詣). I had the chance to visit Narita-san (aka Narita-san Shinshōji Temple), which is about an hour away from where I live. It’s an extremely popular place to visit in the Kanto region (eastern Japan), with 3 million people visiting from Jan 1-3. We started lining up around 10pm and were one of the first people to be squeezed rush hour train style into the temple after midnight! It was super cold waiting in line, but as we walked back to the train station around 12:30am, the line to the temple was never-ending, so we definitely had the right idea getting in line at 10.

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Like this except a mile-long line and at night. (From italki.com)

I was told that the way to make a wish is to throw a coin, bow twice, clap twice, make the wish, and then bow once (nirei, nihakushu, ichirei). I think I completed this successfully despite the huge rush of people pushing at me from all sides.

Joya no kane (除夜の鐘): No fireworks here, but at midnight Buddhist temple bells ring 108 times to rid us of earthly desires. Just imagine this video 108 times.

OTHER RANDOM NON-CATEGORIZED THINGS

Kagami mochi (鏡餅): A traditional decoration of mochi and a member of the orange family. Wikipedia says a daidai (Japanese bitter orange) but I used a clementine. Apparently, it’s supposed to sit there for a week or so and then broken and cooked for eating unless it gets moldy. In that case, I’m not sure what the traditional way to dispose of moldy mochi is. Honestly, I don’t really get it, but I’m pretending mine is a little mochi snowman with an orange head. Orange Frosty. Sounds like a milkshake.

Yes it lives on a cat plate I got at the ¥100 store.
Yes it lives on a cat plate I got at the ¥100 store.

Ōsōji (大掃除): Instead of spring cleaning, in Japan it’s year end cleaning. Makes sense to clean the house before relatives come over. I’ve been working on this for a few days now. Did a bunch of laundry and finally deep cleaned the bathroom, but there’s so much more to do still. Plus, every time I turn around, there’s more hair on my just-vacuumed floor!

Nengajō (年賀状): Japanese New Year’s Cards. These are like Christmas/holiday greeting cards except super hardcore. The post office guarantees that your nengajō will arrive ON Jan 1st. They even hire students as temp workers to make this happen. I received my first nengajō ever today! It has nine horses on it, of course. (馬九 ->上手く)

Animal Zodiac: I had no idea before this that the animal zodiac is popular in Japan. I’m used to the Chinese zodiac: I know the animal of each family member, it was always on those paper placemats in Chinese-American restaurants, and I’m even named because of my zodiac animal. This is just one of many things that I thought were solely Chinese that are also part of Japanese culture. (But that’s a story for another post.) Anyway, so there are horses everywhere in Japan! I’ve even been lucky enough to receive two horse trinkets as presents, so I’m starting a little horse collection on my desk. Neigh, a horse army. (Yuk yuk yuk…)

All in all, Japan has been pretty great to me this year. I hope I can learn more about (and experience) Japanese culture in 2014. Happy New Year, everyone! 明けましておめでとうございます!

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Students Expressing Themselves

I’m refraining from posting any pictures where you can clearly students’ faces of out respect for… them. But I did ask them to draw self-portraits as part of introduction day.

Here are some of my students:

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Asked students at my second school to write some comments:photo 3photo 2photo 4

Not sure if this is an inappropriate proposition or threat:

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Almost forgot about these:

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Giving Thanks in Japan

I’m not really a sentimental person but I am very thankful for all the people, situations, and things that have made me feel comfortably at home in a foreign country. So here are 10 things I’m grateful for.

1. Mobile internet providing wi-fi on the go and making my iPod touch basically an iPhone aka GPS / train schedule lifesaver. Would not be able to travel conveniently and spontaneously AT ALL otherwise.

2. Students who show signs of life when I’m teaching. I’m all too familiar with the eyes-glazed-over half-zombie look of a high schooler, having had way too much personal experience donning that look (many apologies to my own high school teachers). But there is such a difference when my students are alive and even have a personality! Shout out to the ones that laugh at my jokes.

3. Friends and family back home. Even though I don’t think it’s worth it to shell out $2000 for a 7-day visit, I still love you all. Pay for my ticket and we’ll talk — you get first dibs on who/where I visit.

4. Awesome co-teachers who let me try new things in class and give helpful suggestions to help me improve my lessons.

5. The kindness of strangers especially the ones that try to communicate with me by changing how they speak (speed, vocabulary) instead of giving up because it’s a struggle. And that train official that let me back into the station without having to pay so that I could use the bathroom. But not the one who showed no sympathy at getting on the NEX to Tokyo when I was trying to go to Narita. That was cold, man. Finally, everyone that I give trash to to throw away. I’m sorry that Japan has zero public trash cans… but I’m a little less sorry that I can get away with this.

6. The friendly ALT community — because who else is as fun to karaoke with. Thanks for putting up with my bad pop song choices and introducing me to katakana “My Heart Will Go On.”

7. The lovely peninsula weather that has allowed me to continue wearing tights into November. (Unthinkable in Wisconsin. Also I apparently escaped before one of the worst winters in recent history.) So grateful for that week of sunny 60-degree weather before the return of the toes-falling-off cold.

8. Coworkers who find me more entertaining than flat-out crazy — at least for the most part. (Always a plus. There’s a limit to the things you can blame on cultural differences.) And forcing them to be audience to my Japanese puns.

8½. Being able to make Japanese puns.

8¾. Their encouragement and advice in helping me to accomplish my goals like having lunch with students and publishing a bilingual school newspaper. (Check and check.)

9. Getting paid to have fun everyday! (And I can say this whole-heartedly now that I’ve finished grading the HUGE pile of papers on my desk!!) Today’s random #teacherlife moment: So I’ve been borrowing a huge styrofoam Anpan Man that a class made for their bunkasai (school cultural festival). Today was my last day of the semester (at my second school) so after my last class, I went to return it to class 1B. The math teacher was still in the middle of teaching but the door was cracked open a little, so I slipped Anpan Man through the crack, made an OK sign and eye contact with the student laughing at me through the door’s window, and then left.

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10. First ever Currygiving! A new holiday in which we celebrate giving curry to our stomachs. Thanks to the four other teachers who went along with my new holiday idea, I had a pretty awesome Thanksgiving dinner! (Thanksgiving bonus: my three classes today were pretty energetic and fun!) Here’s a picture of dinner: naan and spinach beef curry, mango lassi, and ice cream taiyaki for dessert (basically an ice cream sandwich in the shape of a fish with red bean inside).

What Would I Say?

To quote what-would-i-say.com, “These are the results of separate events.” It’s quite interesting seeing what a (somewhat) random generator of Facebook statuses says about you using regurgitated bits and pieces of previous statuses.

Let’s take a look… (Favorites bolded.)

On my commitment to dropping employment rates:
for reals though I’m leaving myself without money or food psychology to put Americans to work

On my high school forensics days (when I did radio and my call letters were WHEE):
where is listening to WHEE aka Rachel

On polygamy:
people sharing is caring

On aliens:
I wish they contact me

On my college days:

  • I wish I could have to be on again until I’m done with everything!!
  • release it into my throne of procrastination…
  • actually orangutans are apes not monkeys.
  • What I can do I have to do homework, so I’m eating to cope with the funnest bestest group of people taking up
  • drinking Starbucks, eating Chipotle, and have a Sunday during the day.

On my feelings for the Middle Kingdom:
for reals though I’m in China so good

On the eternity of inbox:
went from 20 emails to you keep going?

On my love for food:

  • Grocery shopping in case of disaster what would be accepted or avoided?
  • Check out but can’t.
  • *sea salt chocolate missing from now I wear a moo point.
  • also I ALWAYS face the chicken puffs
  • the ingredients are pasta, pasta, nonkosher salt, and distilled delicious pink donut/mochi love donut instead of school?
  • Complete with green tea gelato!
  • Sadly, not as yummy?
  • are you eating? Me
  • guess who made
  • Wine and cheese spread the word that I want some more funsized.
  • sadly? I think I bought potato pie with Sarah Wang
  • I’m amazing, I just had crocodile and flapjacks, both asked if you’re supposed to worry because people taking pictures.

On “me” time:

  • Candlelit fun & delicious awesome.
  • anyone want to knit and Downton Abbey.
  • Hanging out with movie, spicy ramen, ginger tea, and honey lemon tea.

On my zeal for independence:

  • I’ll let me
  • it’s great being

On Japan:

  • there really just create a pile of kind words, kind looks, kind of fascinating but I was
  • Yatta! Taking advantage of free wifi while googling the dragon egg.
  • saw way too early and no, no, it’s in celebration of the samurai
  • where is an amazing country.

On friends:

  • Friends with too much info, but I really like I do.
  • let’s get lunch sometime next 80 hours.
  • This girl loves her friends, hates mosquitoes!

On anger:
am I know nothing but yeah we were like a hammer with a broken suitcase, broken lantern, and corks.

On nerdy topics:

  • divination by frogs, newts or email me
  • spot the wrackspurt dance…
  • but Harry Potter is ALWAYS relevant…
  • maybe I guess who.
  • going up the walls, floor, and Downton Abbey.

On linguistics:

  • ɪz taɪɚd ʌv duɪŋ ɪt ɹaɪt.
  • I’m amazing, I miss having class with two things a Southern accent. talking about
  • LOL Brontë you’re no help.
  • slightly more specifically tonal representation comparing models but I do.
  • sure although not a phonology person…

On confessions:

  • honestly though, I were benevolent dictator of Kate Middleton or something and then a high school Books
  • farewell, palm trees don’t think I bought enough fruit?
  • Kindle and/or venus flytrap that is the bestest ever
  • Awesome but I’d like a direct object.
  • finished another human being
  • we’re good to getting her a moustache before I could.
  • finally wove the cleaning impulses at inappropriate times.
  • I wish I forgot to say

On hopes and dreams:

  • haha maybe you find
  • so I’ll be an old Japanese man and sometimes
  • I wish I could have a COMPLETED WORKING hard work
  • I wish is to wake up
  • I wish I pass for
  • I wish I won’t have a tree

Keen observations of life:

  • super weird absorbent tongue
  • My brother left me.
  • also I hope you backed it up…
  • getting really excited to meet Totoro in 3 extra love.

Buyer’s remorse:
honestly though, I bought this

On teaching English:

  • It is the most important vocab like too much sugar after plates!
  • I wish they can understand language!
  • jazz hands of teaching/tutoring.

On modesty:

  • I’m amazing, I know.
  • now you might be blown away again.

Well, there you go! I’ve successfully spent way too long on a single website clicking “Generate” past my bedtime. Conclusion: what-would-i-say.com is interesting and hilarious, check it out and learn some things about yourself. (E.g., for some reason the phrase “second semester” came up A LOT! I must not have liked first semester very often.)

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