Friday, June 12, 2009

Sara - Rice Planting

On May 31st, Patrick and I went to plant rice. In Japanese it's called Taue (Tah-oo-eh)田植え. We were invited by our friend, Mr. Kamura, who is the owner of a restaurant we frequent.

Patrick had done it last year and I was unable to attend because I had fractured a bone in my foot. I was very happy to go with them this year.

The rice field was for making sake and it was being maintained by a group Mr. Kamura's friends. It was a very friendly atmosphere. I've never planted rice before but it was really fun. I took off my boots and went into the mud barefoot. The mud was warm and felt pretty good under my feet. I was almost knee deep in it.

But before we went into the mud, there was a tractor that planted rows of rice. We were to plant to remaining rice plants between the rows. Planting rice was pretty easy. You don't plant seeds, but the actual plant. This is because the fields are flooded with a lot of water and a seed would just wash away. Instead, the rice are grown elsewhere until there are several inches tall. Then you take the plant and gently place it in the mud. You have to give it a slight twist when you plant it to make sure that it stays in the mud and not just be sitting on top of it.

After we planted the rice, we went and had a great lunch that included great sake. Here are some pictures that I took of the rice planting.

This is the field before it was planted.

This is the rice tractor.

These are the rice plants in bunches.

This is the field after we planted the rice.

This is a close up of the rice.

Sara - Tea Ceremony Luncheon

On May 23rd, I went to a luncheon with my tea ceremony class, for class. We went to a sushi restaurant that had a tea room in the back. We were served many delicious by Ms. Obara.

Ms. Obara is an advanced student in my class and was practicing a tea ceremony luncheon. Part of the practice included writing out invitations. There are specific things that had to be written and she went through several drafts before giving us the final one. My teacher, fellow students, and I practiced being guests. There a few mistakes made by both host and guests, but it was the best lesson.

The food was amazingly beautiful and delicious. Unfortunately I was unable to take any pictures because I was concentrating so hard on the eating order that I forgot to take out the camera. I had to keep track of where I placed lids, chopsticks, sake cups, and which way to pass serving dishes.

Each food item had a meaning and reflected upon spring. The flower arrangement on the wall also reflected upon spring. The flowers also have meanings, but I was a very bad student and didn't keep track of that.

I did put together a quick video of what I was able to capture of the ceremony. I didn't get all of the moves, but you can watch Ms. Obara make Ousu (light green tea).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sara- Time Warp to September 2008 (Yabusame Festival)

Well I finally got the video put together. I hate Apple iMovie and this may be the last movie I make with it.
Anyway, back in September 2008, Patrick and I skipped work to go see Yabusame which I believe is part of the two or three day Hachimangu festival...

Yabusame is archery on horseback. The ground for the event is blessed by the Shinto priests, and if I remember correctly, horse archery was not used only for warfare in Iwate, but it was also used as a way to scare off demons and so there were also priests at the event.

Sara - Kitamatsuzono Graduation

Well we finally had our graduation on the 13th and everything went well. We had a lot of speeches, and some singing. Graduation took up half the day and I was lucky to get out at 3:30 instead of 4:25. I made a movie of the event so that you can sort of see what goes on. I skipped the speeches. The music in the movie is called "Tsubasa wo Kudasai" which translates to 'Please give me wings'. The words, roughly translated, are:

If I could have one wish granted now, I would wish for a pair of wings.
Upon my back, like a bird, I wish you would give me a pair of white wings.

I want to spread my wings and fly through this wide blue sky.
Through the free heavens where there is no sorrow, I want to soar and fly far!

When I was a child, I used to have this dream, and even now I still dream the same dream.

The girl who waves towards the end of the movie is Misa. She comes by every day to talk to me in English. Her English ability is very impressive. She went to Indiana on a two week abroad program so we often talk about her friends in America and American culture.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sara - Spring Ballroom Party 09

Last year I went to a ballroom dance party that my dance studio held and had a great time. I went again this year, just yesterday, and was just as amazed. This time we had a couple from the US come and perform. They are placed as 2nd in the world in the category of Latin dancing. But they won 1st place at the Osaka Asia Open on Feb. 24th. Riccardo Cocchi is actually Italian and Yulia Zagorouitchenko is Russian, but they now compete as a couple for the US. (Since 2007)
It was really great seeing them as the performed show dances. It's still ballroom, but a lot flashier since they don't have to worry about getting points etc.

Here is a brief collection of the dances they performed. I thought Yulia's costumes were especially fantastic.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sara-2008 recap

I said I would write about all my previous adventures, but I never quite got around to it unfortunately. So instead, I mashed up all the things I did into one movie. There is the all city track and field meet, Yabusame (horse archery festival in Morioka), the school festival and my trip to Yamagata with my teachers. I got the perfect music for the movie for Christmas from friends back home, G and Ryan. A big thank you goes to them since I wouldn't have done it otherwise. The music really sums up my feelings about 2008 I think.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sara-Gyms, Nanowrimo, JLPT, General catchup

Well, sadly I have many things to post but I haven't. One day I promise I will. Since August I have seen and done many things, that I will later put up, but for now I will just give a very brief update of a few things that I have been doing.

I have changed schools. I am now at Kita-Matsuzono JHS in suburbia. It's about a 45 min bus ride with a 15 min walk to the bus station. That said, I shall now skip over to a briefing of the most current events.

Over the months, I have come to face the fact that I need to exercise. This became more clear when one day I was acting out the story of Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree to third grade elementary students. As I read and acted out the picture book, I realized that Pooh and I had many things in common. One, we like food. Two, we always are thinking about food, and three, we often find ways of getting that last dessert that might turn out to be a disaster.

After having read the story three times, I was beginning to feel a little guilty. Pooh, after all, went out and exercised...or tried anyway. So I went out to look at some swimming pools and gyms.

There are several swimming pools and gyms around Morioka. There's a gym called WoW'd, that stands for something like World of Workout'ed or something strange like that. That is in the new AEON mall that is close to us. However, the entrance reminds me of some sort of posh lounge for a restaurant. The walls are black and they have white leather back like couches and chairs. The people weren't all that friendly either and it was rather expensive. So my travels went to a gym called Central.

Central is not even a five minute walk from the train station bus center. And since you can hop on a bus to the station bus center from almost any where, it is very convenient. It has a swimming pool and gym with two studios where they have yoga, Pilate's, aerobics, Taibo (For those who remember the fad) and other fun lessons. They go by different monthly plans so you get to pick the plan that best fits you. I decided to go to Central because the bus from work ends up at the bus station. It was also cheaper than WoW'd and the people are very friendly. The plan that I got was about 9,700 yen a month, but this meant that I could use the gym or pool any time day or night (between 10am-11pm) Mon-Sat. as well as on Sundays and Holidays and they give me a towel for the shower so I never have to bring one. I can also join in any of the classes for no additional charge, and I can come and go to them as I please. They also have a squash court and lessons, but I never was a big fan. Anyway, more on the Gym later.

Besides the gym, I am participating yet again in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Right now I'm at 28,043 words and roughly 40 single spaced, times new roman, 12 point font, pages. So for future ALTs who want to do it, it is possible...I'm just very lazy. Also, there are several other people participating in it around the Tohoku region, so it is also possible to meet up and do write-ins or word wars, though the timing may be difficult.

Besides Nanowrimo, I'm also doing the JLPT. Last year I believe the choices were Sendai or Tokyo. This year, however, Iwate University (that's not more than maybe a twenty minute bike ride?) will be hosting as well. So, though Patrick and I were getting ready to go down to Sendai on Dec 7th, we have been assigned to the University site.

Next on the things to write about:
A trip to Yamagata (where they sell pears that are over 600 yen)
Archery festival thing (Held back in Sept. and may not be written about till next year...)
Schools (May not be written about)
And other events that I have, at the moment, forgotten about.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Dear All,

So this year, after listening to a great deal of nagging from my various family members, I decided to go back to the states for Christmas. This is my first trip back since coming to Japan. I am looking forward to it mostly for the food. Chunky peanut butter, those Reese's chocolate Christmas trees, turkey sandwiches to name a few. I am also looking forward to getting some shopping done as I have had to resort to using safety pins to keep my pants up. This is all beside the point though as I really wanted to tell you all about making travel arrangements.
When I originally thought to buy the ticket I first shopped online to compare prices but because buying anything online can be problematic I also visited two travel agents here in Japan. Namely H.I.S. and JTB. Both are known for international travel. The prices they offered were in line with those online at the time and had the additional benefit of being easily accessible to me so I decided to go with JTB. On the whole I am pretty happy with the interaction. The service, like most of Japan, was impeccible. They kept ahead of problems, including six time changes and a necessary one night layover in Toronto, for me admirably. I was also able to purchase my buller train tickets from them directly.
Some interesting things I noted about the travel agents were these. All of the agents at the counters are women but the manager is usually a man. Women are considered more desirable for service oriented positions like being a travel agent because they are considered to be friendiler. The agency also offered numerous travel packages broken down into three categories: travel within the country, travel abroad, and weddings/honeymoons. These categories are further sub divided. I have to say that I don't know how such things are divided up in the states but I was impressed with how orderly it all was.
That all being said I have to say that sometimes it was all too much. I recieved numerous additional phone calls about issues that seemed unimportant to me but they just wanted to tell me about just in case.
In order to travel out of the country and return legally I had to get a re-entry permit. I filled out a form bought a 3000 yen stamp from the post office and had my permit in about six minutes. The immigration officer took a moment to point out to me the expiration date on the permit and tell me to have a nice trip home and I was off. It was wonderful.
The last or the first thing I had to do involved filling out a form from my school and the board of education asking for a special leave to go out of the country. I had count up the number of days I would be gone, surrender my flight information, provide contact information for when I would be in the states, provide a reason for the travel, and collect three stamps to officiate the document. Then from there it was sent to the BOE to do whatever they do with it. Of all the things I had to do for going home taking the time from work was the most personally involving.
Well that's the story of leaving Japan with the intention of returning.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Patrick- Update for the past few months

Here are some old things I wrote a few months ago but forgot to post to the blog.

Recently, I have been studying like mad for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test that will take place on December 7. If I pass this, I can quit working so hard and be able to casually enjoy life again, in addition to making more frequent updates here on this blog.


Impressions of Switching Schools

Since the students are taking semester final exams all day today, giving me eight hours to sit at my desk, I have some time to update.

So, in August, we all switched schools. I switched from the strictest, oldest school in the prefecture (which was also one of the smallest) to a school that is rapidly growing and near the bottom of the pack. What they both have in common is that neither are pulling from affluent neighborhoods.

At first I was surprised because I jumped from 369 students to nearly 600. But, after having worked here nearly two months now, the far bigger difference is working with new teachers. At my previous school, I worked with some of the most experienced, best teachers. This often let me with little to do, as they didn't need an assistant for most things. At my new school, however, the teachers have much less experience, and so I end up doing a bit more work. This is good, except when the work is correcting papers, since instead of 100 per grade there are now 200, and the students' abilities are lower making the corrections much more frequent.

The other big difference is that students at this school are much more friendly. At my old school, only a few students would talk to me freely. But at this school, many students often crowd around my desk. One reason for this is the difference in discipline. At the old school, students could only enter the teachers' room with special permission, but at my new school they need no reason and so come and go freely.


I have been continuing to study Japanese. Sometimes I wonder if I'm even getting better, but then I look at what I did a few months back and realize that I am at least making some progress, slowly.


Suddenly it has gotten very cold. It went from too hot most days last week to me having to wear my winter coat this week. It seems we have skipped the nicer part of fall.


In front of many stores are little gardens. What often makes for interesting morning scenes is that the employees, not professional gardeners, maintain them. For example, in front of a real estate agency is this elaborate pond, about two meters by six, filled with some flowers and a fountain. Yesterday, on my way to work, I observed a man in his normal work suit and boots taking a net to the pond to clean out the trash.

Another thing that's new on my commute are the unmanned vegetable and flower stands. There are several farms along the way, and by the road are little sheds which included vegetables and flowers and a money box. The items all have prices and you can simply take what you want and then put your money in the box.

In one stand, the money isn't even in a box. It just sits out on a tray. I'd seen this arrangement before in temples but this was my first time to see it on the side of the road.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Catherine-A Note About Public Bathing

Dear all,

I was reading Sara's last post about Akita and her mentions of onsen (hotsprings) and I thought I should write a note about public bathing in Japan. Japan, being a mountainous country absolutely riddled with volcanoes, has several thousand onsen(温泉). Japan, also being an island country with limited natural resources and therefore a need to conserve fuel, has always used these onsen as places to bathe. Because the onsen were communal traditions concerning the use of onsen and the proper way to bathe developed. Certain days were for men, others for women, and still others were "mixed" days for whole familys to enjoy bathing together. In the past before one entered an onsen one used a bucket full of water to wet oneself down. Then one scrubbed oneself down from top to toes or toes to top with soap and a scrubby brush. A second bucket of water was applied to remove any suds and then one was ready to enter the bath. All of this is accomplished sitting down on a low stool or crouching. Japanese do not bath standing up.
By bathing outside of the bath ancient Japanese were able to ensure that the communal waters of the onsen stayed cleaned and fresh. The bathing traditions that developed as part this outdoor bathing in naturally occuring hotsprings were carried over into private baths in family homes, ofuro(お風呂), and into public baths, sentou(銭湯). These bathing traditons are continued today and while private family baths are typically used by one person at a time public baths and onsen are still communal. Going bathing now, as it was then, is a highly relaxing and friendly event. Friends and families go to the baths together. They use the time to talk, catch up, gossip and in general reconnect with others. During the cold winter months baths are especially nice for getting toasty warm and relaxing muscles tightened by the cold.
During the time I have lived in Japan I have visited onsen, sentou, made use of a private family bath and I have enjoyed them all. I have to say that one of the things I will miss most about Japan when I returned home is trips to onsen and sentou during the fall, winter, and early spring.

Well cheers,