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 Month-www.nanowrimo.org). 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,


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sara-Akita trip

This past weekend, Patrick and I went up to Akita as part of my birthday celebration.
Patrick took me to the aquarium there. I really love aquariums, and this one was really fun. So I put together a little video.

After the aquarium we stayed at a very nice onsen (public bath house, one for men, one for women). An onsen is also a hotel.

We had a very spacious room with a good view of the ocean. The room was actually bigger than our apartments!

We had a great dinner of fresh sea food that they brought to our rooms.

The food was incredibly good. And the bath was very relaxing after you get over the shyness.
After dinner and our bathing, we met up again to go to a taiko drumming performance that was at a small community theatre down the street. I can't particularly remember the troupe's name, but they dressed up as Namahage (A type of demon/god of Akita). People usually dress up as these beings for various festivals in Akita. This troupe performed as Namahage as a way of preserving tradition and teaching their culture in Akita. Namahage are beings who would punish/take away bad children so when they performed, the Namahage would wander the audience yelling "Arrgh! Are there any bad children here today?? Are there lazy, or rude children?" Parents were told to hold tightly to their child to protect them from these gods. It was a really great show. The drumming was amazing and it was free. It is a must see for anyone going to Akita.
This is a brief video I put together of the performance. The last piece they performed, I believe they composed themselves. For anyone who is familiar with taiko drumming, you may notice the more modern sound.

The next day we had another wonderful meal. Breakfast was served in their dinning room. It was a traditional tatami mat room. We were the only ones there but it was nice to have a quiet and relaxing morning. After breakfast, we checked out and wandered around the small town and then took the train to Akita city, in Akita. We went to a small art museum and wandered through a nice park. We ate dinner at the train station and then took the shinkansen back to Morioka. Though it was a brief trip, it was a lot of fun.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sara-Sansa Festival '08

From August 1st to the 4th, Morioka has it's Sansa Festival. Sansa is a type of traditional dance here in Iwate. There are many different dance troupes that perform during this time. Companies and neighborhoods put together troupes of dancers, drummers, and flutists. They parade down the main street of Morioka in their summer kimonos (yukata). Children and adults take part in the parade. Many families perform together. I saw some of my students participating as dancers for their neighborhood troupe. It's a very festive parade. Everyone dances, even the drummers and flutists. They also have an announcer who announces each troupe, and when the troupe gets to the finish line she announces "Thank you for your wonderful performance."
I have put together a brief movie with the original sound so you can hear the music. The dancers are chanting something like "Sakkora Choiwa yasse!" I'm guessing that this is from their local dialect, or something much older or a mixture of local and old Emishi. (The Emishi were the natives of Tohoku) I have heard that there are about 20,000 performers and around 5,000 drums. In the video you will also see performers wearing large flowers on their heads or a straw hat. Those are the traditional Sansa costumes.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Catherine-Long time no see

Hello all,

I'm sorry that I am a terrible blogger. I just tend to forget that this is here which is why it's fortunate that Patrick and Sara are such good bloggers. I could tell you all about the various things I've been doing since my last post but as it's been several months I won't. Instead I will talk about all the recent events.
For our job we work at one school for one year. The catch is that we start work at the beginning of second term rather than first term. Recently, meaning the end of July, we all ended our last term at our old schools and prepared to head to our new ones. For me this meant cleaning out my desk, saying goodbye to all the teachers and students at Josei during various events. To say a proper farewell to the students I gave a speech in English and in Japanese telling the students how much I loved working at Josei and how much I would miss them all. I cried two lines into it but I had come prepared with tissues. After my speech a student of mine gave me one in return. He had written in both English and Japanese and though the English was not perfect I was very impressed and moved by what he had to say. I was also given a bouquet of flowers. It was very nice.
At the end of the day, after my farewell to the students, I went to a nomikai with all the teachers from Josei. There I gave another speech that was much shorter and ended with the line, "Please drink a lot." I am happy to say that they had no trouble complying. This nomikai was a chance for me to say goodbye and thankyou to the people I had worked with for a year. I really loved being and Josei for a lot of reasons but the staff that sat around drinking and talking with me was a big part of it. I miss them already.
The next major event for me was actually a series of events, namely Board of Education seminars spread out over the course of this past week. These seminars included the four new AET's: Rylan, Alicia, Kim, and Dan. These four were all SICE students and had been to Morioka before for four months on a homestay program that included two and half days a week teaching English but I still felt a little like a senpai. We spent time going over teaching methods for both middle school and elementary and talked about living and working in Morioka. We had a contract ceremony to start the year off right, visited our new schools to introduce ourselves, and attended workshops with other teachers about teaching English.
Tomorrow is the first official day at school for all the AETs but Rylan. He is in the Tamayama area and will be visiting all five of his schools tomorrow. I am looking forward to starting at my new school, Kuroishino Jr. High, and I hope that it will be another great year.
As I think back over the past year at Josei and in Japan I feel like I have learned a lot about Japan and Japanese culture but I also think that I will always be surprised. I know that I have learned a lot about being an English teacher because I had three amazing role models to learn from and I'm glad but I also think that I will still make a lot of mistakes. Teaching may be a process of learning everyday how you can mess up and then never doing that again.
Well that's enough.

Until the next time I remember or am reminded,


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Everyone- Earthquake OK

So, a few days ago there was the worst earthquake since we came to Japan. Fortunately, though it was quite strong, and we certainly felt it, no one was hurt, and as far as I (Patrick) know, no property was damaged.

More updates soon, but I figured the safety announcement should come first.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sara-Fourth of July and Wanko soba

So this past weekend Risa and Jura came to visit us. On their first night, Friday, Catherine, Patrick and I took them to eat wanko soba. Wanko soba is basically a soba eating contest. My record best is 100 bowls, but that night I could only eat 90.

All together, we probably ate around 400 bowls.
Then on Saturday, Catherine organized a Fourth of July picnic dinner for us and our other ALT friends in the neighborhood.

We had a lot to eat and we had a lot of fun. After the picnic, we then went down to the river and lit up some sparklers.

Catherine is holding a 'senko' sparkler. You have to keep it very still and it is very pretty. As Martin said, it looks like a sparkling holly.
Then to finish off a fun night, we all went to a local Karaoke and sang for three hours or so.


This past weekend our Earlham friends, Risa and Jura, came to visit from Tokyo. During their time here, Patrick and I went to Miyako with them. Miyako is a small town on the coast and it's about 2 hours away by bus. We got bus tickets for 5,000 yen that was round trip and it included lunch, a boat tour, and local bus fair to get to the boat tour. Unfortunately I believe that this is just a limited summer deal. The food was great and the boat tour was amazing. It was an overcast day, but we had a lot of fun on the rocky beach and wandering the beautiful town.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Patrick- Pictures from the International Symposium

Here are some pictures from the International Symposium described in a previous post.

In this first picture, my principal is introducing the school:

Here, I am explaining a video that describes the day to day activities of the students:

And here I am actually teaching class:

And in this picture I am accepting a gift on behalf of the school from the representative from Vietnam:

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Patrick- Field Trips at the Junior High

This week we had several field trips at the school. First, on Monday, the whole school went to a nearby park to draw and paint pictures of the landscape. They were given the entire day (8am-2pm) to do this. All students take art class for all three years of junior high school, and they had a brief trip to the park the week before to help them select what particular scene they wanted to sketch and paint and what perspective they wanted to do so from.

Then, today, first year students (and I) went to the river near the park to do basic botany. After identifying and cataloging as many plants as they could, they went to the park to study some more. Meanwhile, I and another teacher hid plastic animals by the river, which they were supposed to find. The catch was they had to stand on the sidewalk and look for what was fake; they couldn't get close to sift through things. They also only got ten minutes for this particular "game." Out of the 11 items, the best students could do was 7.

Meanwhile, the second year students visited various companies to see people working and learn about jobs. Both first and second year students only had morning trips; third year students, on the other hand, are off to another prefecture to plant trees as a service project and then study the relationship between the forest and the ocean.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Sara- This past weekend, Patrick, Catherine and I went to an ALT BBQ over at Iwaizumi, a town that's about 2 hours away by car/bus. There we met our friends Shannon, who is on Earlham's program, and Martin. Then we met the ALTs who were hosting, Caitlin, and Jeff. We had a great time. Patrick brought chips, Catherine made mac 'n cheese and sangria, and I made coleslaw. There was a lot of food and later we enjoyed lighting small fireworks. That night we spent at Jeff's family house.
The next morning, everyone but Jeff, who had work, went to Ryusendo Cave. It was very exciting and fascinating. I made a short video of it. After the cave, we went to another one just down the street. It was the science cave. The cave was real, but inside they painted some fake cave paintings from different parts of the world and there was a part where they had cavemen from Japan with Native American paintings in the background. It was very fun. Then on the way back we went to an ice cream shop that had very unusual flavors. I had Rose and Cherry blossom. It was delicious. Patrick had wasabi and pickled plum (umeboshi). The wasabi tasted like wasabi, just sweet as well-but it still burned in my opinion.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Patrick- International Lesson Study

Last week, a delegation of 26 teachers and principals from 25 countries visited the junior high school where I am teaching. They spent an afternoon at our school, during which we had a presentation, followed by an opportunity for them to visit the students' classes.

The countries represented included about 5 teachers from Africa and the Middle East, 10 from Europe, and 10 from Asia. The program is paid for by the Japan Foundation, which is a generously funded government institute that, for example, can host $100/head dinner parties for these 26 and another 75 guests, plus cover the flights, trains, and a weeklong stay in Japan for all participants. Of course, if your country doesn't go to war and maintain a standing army then perhaps you have money for other things.

It was interesting for me to get to meet and talk to many of the visitors. Also, when asked "Where are you from?", it was nice that people actually knew where Indiana was. Aside: It gets a little tiring when Japanese teachers ask, "Where are you from?"->"The US"->"Where in the US?" but when they ask that second question they maybe only know one or two cities in the US, such as LA and NY, and can't put them on the right coasts. Unfortunately, US and Japanese students are about the same when it comes to total ignorance of maps.

For me, perhaps the most interesting part is hearing what people expected to see when they visit a Japanese school for the first time. Since I've been working here, and I studied the Japanese educational system, I have forgotten some of the things that people expect, for example an absence of chalkboards (and in turn LCD screens/smartboards/something fancy in their place). In fact, nearly every school in Japan still uses chalkboards, and not just for classwork but to collect the attendance for the day and other mundane things.

In fact, Japan uses very little "high tech" equipment in the schools, and that includes not just computers but TVs.

Aside from that, probably the other biggest surprises for people were the inability to fail and suspend/expel students. "Without those punishments, how would we maintain order in our classes?" one teacher asked.

One does wonder sometimes.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sara-Baseball finals and horse festival movie

Today I had a surprise at work. Instead of classes the whole school went out to the big ballpark because our team went into the finals. (We lost, Catherine's school won. 0-1) So when I got back to work, I didn't have a lot to do to fill the time. After 3, I finished studying Japanese and by 3:30 I was getting bored of reading so I made this little slide show/video of the horse festival I went to on Saturday. Hopefully it gives a better idea of the main street. Unfortunately I was stuck to one place so it's not much. I replaced the sound of all the bells on the horses with music. If anyone really wanted to hear what they sounded like, just think of 100 cow bells, and hooves.


Yesterday morning there was a relatively powerful earthquake in our prefecture. Some roads collapsed. But, the four of us are fine-- we all had dinner together last night-- and are all safe.

Although we certainly felt it here in Morioka, we were far from ground zero.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sara-Chagu Chagu Umakko

Yesterday Patrick and I went to the Chagu-chagu Umakko festival. The festival celebrates the horses of Iwate/Morioka. 100 horses came and walked down the main street to a temple. The horses were elaborately decorated and children were riding them. Before the horses there were a few bands and other parade festivities, including a super hero. The horses rested at a river and there you could see them up close. However it was raining and there were thousands of people so Patrick and I left before seeing them close. The horses were really beautiful and it's definitely a must see for horse lovers.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Individually wrapped everything, PS3

Despite many good efforts to reduce waste, it seems like everything I buy comes individually wrapped. Usually there are packages within packages within packages. For example, when I bought yogurt the other day, it came in a three pack. So, the three little yogurt containers were supported by a cardboard base, which was then again wrapped in plastic. When I purchased the yogurt, it was put into a bag, and the ice cream I purchased along with the yogurt was put into a separate, smaller bag, which was then inserted into the yogurt bag, which was then taped.

I didn't really need a bag at all. But if you don't say it quick enough, you can be triple bagged before you know it.

Also US economic intuition doesn't work here. For example, it's cheaper to buy five individually wrapped ice cream cones than a box of five ice cream cones-- of the same brand, in the same store. It's cheaper to buy several regular chocolate bars than a single large one. (Why all my examples are desserts I don't know...)

Second, it's cheaper to buy things out of vending machines than convenience stores. This one gets me every time. I'll go into the convenience store, buy a bottled drink for $1.50, and then walk right outside the convenience store and in the vending machine right outside the same drink is selling for only $1, and it's colder.

But it's not just the little stuff. I bought a PlayStation 3 the other day, because I wanted to play Metal Gear 4. Well, for Metal Gear 4, there is a special bundle that includes the PS3, the game, and a special controller. There is also a special edition bundle that's very expensive, but the regular bundle is intended for the mass market and is supposed to be a value (it's not a limited run). However, it was still cheaper for me to buy the game, the system, and the controller separately.

Buying individual parts instead of packages is hard to get used to, and my fear is that as soon as I become accustomed to it, I'll go back to the US and get confused all over again.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sara-Nihon Buyo (Japanese Dance)

On June 1st I went to a Japanese Dance rehearsal/performance. My teachers are of the Wakayagiryu School/branch of Japanese dance. The students of my two Japanese Dance teachers performed at the Morioka community theatre. The event was from 10am to 7:30pm. I stayed for most of it and had a nice time. The costumes and sets were very beautiful and the dancers were amazing, especially since 30 students were between the ages of 50 and 80. There were 2 high school girls, and 4 girls between the ages of 3 and 7. I have two movies to show. The first is a sampling of the variety of dances and the second one is a longer version of three of the 4 little girls (the 3 year old is not with them.) It is also the dance that I am practicing at the moment.

Sara-Taikusai (Sports Day)

This past Monday was Shitakoji's Sports Day. On that day we went to the large track and field stadium in the Sports Park. It was from 9am to 5pm and between 7am and 9am, students and teachers were getting everything set up. Parents came and watched. It was a big event. Basically it was a very big mini Olympic for those who had mini Olympics in the JHS. I did when I was a middle school student. But for the junior high students in Japan, Sports Day means a lot to them. The different classes in each grade competed against each other. So Class 1 of grade 1 vs. Class, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
To try and recreate the atmosphere of the event I made a short movie with music so please be aware of where you have your volume set.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Patrick- Planting Rice

So on Sunday I went rice planting. These days, most rice planting is done by machine, not by hand. However, because of the lack of good farmland, most fields are still small enough that you could do them by hand if necessary.

I was invited by the owner of a restaurant that Sara and I frequent, and we took the bus over to the paddies, about a fifteen minute ride, well within the city limits.

When you plant rice, it turns out you don't plant the seeds first, as I would have expected. Instead, you grow the seeds somewhere else, until you get little shoots, and those you plant in the paddy. So in our case, the shoots were already grown, and we just walked through the paddy and stuck them in the mud, more or less.

Except, of course you have to measure this so that it goes in an orderly fashion. And for whatever reason, it took four men about an hour to take two pieces of string the width of the field and make marks 60cm apart. This wouldn't have been so bad, except there were about forty people waiting on them, with more showing up all the time.

All told, the planting proper only took about two hours for an area about half the size of a football field, but we had more than sixty people helping.

So, in practice, planting the rice meant holding a huge tray of the shoots in one hand, walking through the mud, and then sticking them in rows as neatly as possible.

Afterwards, there was an attempt to drink all the sake leftover from the previous year, but even with sixty people there was too much.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Patrick- New Faces, Website, Studies

So it's been awhile since the last update. In the interim, I have been working on a "learn the Japanese language" website, and in two months I received over 10,000 visitors, so unfortunately the blog has taken the backseat for a little while.

However, the plan is to now return to weekly updates going forward.

The Japanese school year starts in April. Recently I've been very surprised at how incredibly well behaved our new students are. At first, I thought their good behavior must wear off very quickly, since they get behavioral cues from the older students and many of them behave very badly, but for whatever reason, after about two months at school our kids are still trying to do what they're supposed to, actually upset when they forget their homework or fail a test, etc.

It's a nice change of pace, since the second year students have nearly the opposite attitude. Unfortunately, the teacher who returned from sabattical, who is now responsible for the second years, isn't very assertive, and it's much more difficult now to keep them under control. We have about six students in one class who haven't brought their textbooks to English since April. Of course, they will probably fail the class. But, since the system is automatic promotion, it's very hard to motivate them that hey, actually you shouldn't fail the class if you get the chance.

In other news, I've also been studying Japanese a lot, more than before. I finally finished reading my first book in Japanese. Which is not to say it took me eight months; it only took me eight days, but up to this point I have been so busy learning vocbulary, grammar, etc. I hadn't bothered to actually read any books. Well, since none of that is so interesting in and of itself, I finally couldn't take it and decided to read something.

But of course, the reason I was studying the vocabulary and grammar was because I didn't want to read just any book, and go back to being ten years old. So I read a book on Hegel and Marx that was intended for new college students, which turned out to be a little disaster, but I got through it, and I looked up every single word I didn't know as punishment, which I have discovered is the real key to reading success and not turning into a moron later, when I half remember words but have no idea what they mean because I never bothered to learn them.

Tomorrow I will go rice planting. I don't really know anything about growing rice, so I hope it's a good experience.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Patrick- Another comment about credit cards

When shopping online, I'm not eligible for a Japanese credit card (they don't give them out like candy here), so I have to use the "pay at a convenience store" option. In Amazon's case, that means after you order, they send you a number by e-mail after about thirty minutes. You walk down the street and show the people at the convenience store the number, then pay them, then Amazon ships the product to you.

This is pretty simple and about as good as it gets.

But for Apple, if you choose the convenience store option, they physically mail you the number, causing you to wait two or three days, which you then take to the convenience store and pay. Why a US computer company feels the need to physically mail payment numbers for online purchases is beyond me.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sara-Bone Fracture

On Monday, I went to the hospital because my foot had been hurting since the Tochigi trip. I went to the prefecture hospital and after about 3 or 4 hours, I learned that I have a small fracture in my foot. The cost of this was 4,000 yen. I also received pain killers and another medicine for my back pain for only 730 yen. So I have crutches from the hospital and I’m learning how to walk to school and move around the apartment with them. The teachers and students at my school have all been very nice and helpful.
I keep telling them that it just looks worse than it really is, but it’s been really nice to get the help. Juggling two crutches and two lunch boxes is not a skill I have. The great thing about the injury though is that I’m now working on my abs. Maybe after the crutches I can do 200 sit-ups without breaking a sweat. :)

Sara-"Spring vacation" in Tochigi and Saitama

From March 27-30th Patrick and I went to Tochigi and Saitama prefecture to see two friends. First we went to Tochigi to visit our friend Jura who is studying at a university there. Then Jura joined us to visit our friend Risa in Saitama. There, we walked up a mountain, but only a little way up because I had injured my foot earlier. Then we walked around the Tokyo area. We had dinner in Shibuya, and looked at the cherry blossoms. The following day we said goodbye to Jura and then Risa, Patrick and I went to the World’s only Parasite Museum. It was interestingly disgusting. We had a really great time and the Shinkansen one way was 13,000 yen from Tokyo station to Morioka.
Here are a few pictures from our trip. The fist is Patrick (green jacket) and Jura (red jacket) going up to see a Shrine while in Utsunimiya city (Tochigi). The next is an Izakaya (bar/restaurant) that we went to. We went to the one on the right that has たこ which is Octopus in Japanese. The next pictures are of cherry blossoms and a view from the mountain that we walked up while around the Tokyo area.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Patrick- Here's a hilarious thought

Kids in the US coming to school over their summer vacation to sweep the halls.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Patrick- Recent events

For my third year (ninth grade) students, we had a farewell party last week, which lasted two hours. They called it a party but it included one hour of singing, choir style (each grade to each other), half an hour of cheering (thank god the cheerleading system is completely different), and video and pictures of the kids from their first year to their third.

Also much to my surprise, the teachers "sang" a song which included changing into ridiculous costumes, busting out an electric guitar, and rapping.

Also, we had a special end-of-the-year ceremony for our three deaf students. We have one in each grade-- first, second, and third. Two things surprised me: first, there was no sign language. The teachers and principal spoke to the students almost as if they were no different from any of the other students. As part of the ceremony, the students each had to deliver a speech about the year. When one of the girls didn't see/hear the principal call her name, he gave her a two minute lecture on not paying attention right in the middle of the ceremony. It seemed a bit absurd to me, but the principal runs the whole school like that.

Lastly, we've been doing the year-end cleaning, which runs about forty minutes each day. It mainly includes scrubbing the floors with sponges and little rags-- instead of mops, we use the large number of students (and teachers) to get the job done.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Sara-Ballroom dance party

On Feb. 26th, I went to a dinner/recital/dance party that my ballroom dance teachers held. My teachers are Mr. and Mrs. Hakoishi, their son,Nobu, and Ekaterina, a Russian student who is about 24. It was at a hotel and other teachers from other schools were there as well. I believe most of the ballroom dance schools had one or two of their students perform. Then the teachers performed and we also had a world champion Italian couple perform. They are good friends with my teachers so they had agreed to come and dance at the party.
There was also a Chinese course dinner on a Lazy Susan.

I filmed a little bit of the event and broke it up into sections. I was able to film Ekatarina's performance with Nobu, but not Mr. and Mrs. Hakoishi. I used my digital camera and it was not able to handle the lighting very well. There was also dance time, where a live band played and anyone could dance on the dance floor. I danced the jitterbug once. I kept waiting to see Humphrey Bogart burst in after some woman he just offended. (Also, there is sound, so please be careful of where you have your volume.)

Sara-Field trip with Special Ed. Students

On Feb. 15th, I went out with the Special Ed. students because it was a test day and I didn't have any work to do. We first went to a small museum that had artifacts from the Jomon period which was from around 10,000B.C. to 300B.C. We made necklaces out of a soft stone that reminded me of chalk. We sandpapered the stone down until it looked like a tadpole. The man who was teaching us how to make them said that some have said that they might have been a charm of some sort, perhaps fertility, since they are also the shape of a fetus.
Then after the museum, we all went and ate lunch at a Karaoke restaurant. We had our own room and we sang and ate for a good two hours. We had a lot of fun.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Patrick- Patrash

So my students were joking around after cleaning time, and one boy comes up to me and says, "My nickname is 'Slow Pikachu,' because I'm like Pikachu but not as fast." What's your nickname?

I replied I didn't have one and he said he'd make me one. He thinks for a second and says, "Ah! Patrash!"

Now if he had arrived at that name because I was always after him about picking up the trash (which I am, since he's the only boy able to make the room dirtier during cleaning time), I would have been impressed, but he didn't know the word "trash."

Later nickname suggestions included "Patri", "Patr" "Pa" and "Patrick." When I explained to him Patrick was my name, and therefore could not be a nickname, there was a brief pause, an epiphany, and then a sudden running away.

Patrick- Worship by means of self deprecation

Last week my school had a coming-of-age ceremony for the eighth graders, in which they each chose a phrase to represent themselves, presented calligraphy of said word, and made a thirty second speech. That was quite interesting.

But after that was a speech by a retired principal of the school. Now, as the oldest school in the prefecture, and counting a prime minister among its students, my junior high is a little heavy with history. Also, of course it is a stereotype that Japanese are abusive to themselves when expressing humility. But in my time here, I hadn't really encountered the kind of scenes that give rise to such stereotypes-- until this event.

So the principal started his speech by saying, "My speech will probably be boring, but..." This is a fairly common way of opening and unremarkable. However, he proceeded to say: "you can put the kinds of speeches on a grid, with one axis being interesting/uninteresting and the other good content/bad content. Of course, good content and interesting is the best kind of speech. Some examples of such speeches are x, y, and x. Second best is good content but not interesting. Examples include a, b, and c. I used to know a person who did such speeches." Etc, etc. Six minutes pass this way. "In conclusion, my speech will be neither interesting nor include good content, but it cannot be helped. You see, the teacher who invited me to speak knew this fully, and yet he still invited me..." Etc., etc. Three more minutes pass.

Now, the speech went on 80 minutes after that, but at least he started speaking about something other than the fact he wasn't good at speeches.

It amused me quite a bit, though, that as he enumerated the different types of speeches, of course I thought, "Well, his will definitely be in the last category," but when he concluded so himself, at length, I took some bizarre delight in the absurdity of the situation.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Patrick- Why did the US invade Iraq?

Written on the chalkboard when I entered the classroom today:

  • wanted to get oil

  • needed to demonstrate US military superiority

  • decided to strike back against a government the US didn't like

I'm not sure about my translation of the last one, but I'm fairly confident about the first two.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Patrick - Cheap Shot and Patrick Shock

So periodically students ask me for words that aren't in the textbook. About a month ago, a boy pantomimed the motion of being punched in the nuts and asked, "What's this?"

I said, "Oh, that's a cheap shot." But then the boy started going around asking, "Cheap shot ok? Cheap shot ok?"

I decided I would try to explain to the boy that "cheap shot" meant that it wasn't a good thing to do, so I pantomimed punching someone in the back and said, "This is also a cheap shot." But that didn't work, so I said, "Cheap shot... like cheap hamburger" hoping to draw attention to the meaning of "cheap." Instead, the boys (there were several of them by now) heard "cheap shot", thought of punching each other in the crotch, and then thought "cheap hamburger"... Well, as you can imagine, it was a disaster.


Also, somewhat unrelated, my students are fond of making words of their own. Today, though, we had a real winner-- "Patrick shock", which refers to the process (and feeling?) of almost crashing into me as you too fast around a corner. Which is, in fact, an ever present danger for several students who seem to be in the habit of running without looking.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Patrick- "Hello, please try hard to get to school by 9 o'clock"

One thing that is a big difference from the schools I attended is that teachers call truant students in the morning-- and later, if they still haven't shown up.

School starts roughly at 8, but the first class isn't until 8:50. So, before that, there are some meetings for students and teachers etc. During these meetings, if the student hasn't arrived, their homeroom teacher calls home and the conversation will go something like this:

T: "Hello, is this student x?"
S: "Yes."
T: "Why aren't you here at school?"
S: Excuse.
T: "Forget that and come to school in the next thirty minutes."
S: Mumbles something.
T: "I'm serious. You better be here by x o'clock."
S: "Ok."

I find it amusing, but maybe I shouldn't. Actually what's surprising is that despite the relative lack of penalty for truancy (you can't get expelled, for example), most students still come to school on time every day.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Patrick- Random Observations

It's been a while, but I'll be posting much more soon. I've been doing really well and I have been working on various Internet projects in my absence, most of which are coming along quite nicely.

Today I'd just like to share some interesting little things.

First, about a week ago on the news was an interview with Senator Obama's grandmother, who lives in Kenya. As far as I can recall, I had never seen a candidate's grandmother interviewed for any office.

Second, I am getting tired of listening to Avril Lavigne every day for lunch. The kids are allowed to play whatever they want over the PA system for 10 minutes a day so about half of the time we are listening to her.

Third, I passed level 2 of the Japanese language proficiency test. This clears me to go for broke this December to try for the final grade.

Fourth, it is more expensive to buy ice cream bars in bulk than individually at the grocery store. To be clear, it is cheaper to buy six individually wrapped ice cream bars rather than one pack of six (same brand). In the same way, it is cheaper to buy several small containers of salad dressing rather than one large container of the same.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sara-Need a tutor?

Though I don't know much about expensive private tutors, you can get free private tutoring at the Aiina international center. (I'm sorry if this was posted before, I just can't remember at the moment) You have to fill out a form that you get at Aiina and you can fill it out in either English or Japanese. You write a little bit about how much you've studied, what you want to focus on, and when and where you would like the lessons. They will then find a teacher for you and get back to you. It usually takes between one or two weeks.

Aiina got back to me within a week, so now I will meet my teacher on Feb. 13th and I will report back on that. :)

Sara-Things to do other than study in Japan

Since it is the New Year, I decided that I have too much free time and that I can't stand sitting around doing nothing after school. So, I took out the binder that I got during our orientation in August and flipped to the page that had information on the various cultural centers in Morioka. Unfortunately some of the information was wrong, and there were no addresses. Luckily, one of my teachers(the assistant PE teacher) knew where one place was, and I remembered Japan's Yellow pages. It's called Town pages and you can find them in Aiina which is the international center. One B&W copy of a page is 10yen and color is about 50. However, you can't just pay and copy. You have to go to the librarian, ask to copy the page, and they will hand you a form to fill out. I learned then that it's better to find ALL the pages you want first before going to them.

The town pages were not easy to navigate through, but after a while, I sort of had an idea as to how it was organized. I found the cultural centers, ballroom studios, Traditional Japanese Dance classes, and calligraphy schools for Paul.

These are the three that were in the book:

JEUGIA- This center is in the new AEON mall. It's the furthest from me but, it is easy to get to because you can take a bus there for a cheep price from the train station. The classes here are not too expensive, many are for 4,200yen, and you pay only for the month so it is easier to quit classes. I plan on taking Flamenco here.

NHK Bunka Center (Bunka means Culture)-This is a cultural center that is close to where I live. It's in the downtown but it's not really easy to find because it is a small building. However, they have many classes both in the building and outside. They are more expensive, and the classes are not for one month. Many are spread out, so you would take 6 classes in 3 months(2 classes per month).

Terebi (T.V) Iwate Academy-This is a small school and they don't have many classes, but this is next to the city hall and in the downtown.

Town pages website- http://www.itp.ne.jp

But the cultural centers and the town pages were not my only resource. My kyotosensei's (Vice Principal's) wife knows many people. She introduced me to her tea ceremony teacher (and so now I take classes there) and when she heard from her husband that I was looking for a Traditional Japanese Dance school, she introduced me to her friend's mother who is a teacher. In other words, teacher's at the schools probably know many more people in the city you live in than you, the centers, and the town pages.

And aside from knowing people, they are very friendly here and they like and want to help me. When I asked my third grade English teacher about how to make a polite phone call to see a ballroom dance class but not make any commitments, he quickly said "Oh don't worry, I'll call for you." I then said that I didn't want to trouble him etc. he just laughed and said "Really, don't worry. I enjoy calling people and I don't get to do it enough."

So, with all that said and done, you can look at the various pages for the centers and look at the various pictures for the classes. And the really nice thing is that whether you want to take a class at a cultural center, or at a private school,studio,etc. you can and probably should ask to just go in a see a class. The teachers are all very nice about it and you can easily bow out by saying "Thank you, and I will think about it. I just don't know what my schedule at my school will be for this year."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Catherine-Long Catch Up Blog

Dear all,
Sorry I have not posted in a really long time. The quick version is that three days after our Thanksgiving extravaganza I broke my wrist in an accident and so I haven't written. Here is the list of things that I need to tell you about: my school's staff trip to Hakodate, the broken wrist itself and all the connected hospital goodness, the winter here, my new computer AKA major electronics purchase in Japan, the New Year, and the transfer in and out of two American girls to and from my school.


Hakodate is a port city in the southern part of Hokaido. It is a beautiful city and I really enjoyed my visit there a lot. We went up to Hakodate-yama and saw the night view which is one the three most famous in the world.

While in Hakodate I also did a lot of shopping. I even bought a fish. The hotel we stayed in was very nice and we were in Japanese style rooms with tatami mats and futon. The hotel also had a nice salt/sea water bath with really nice views. I got to spend a lot of time with members of the staff other than the English teachers and after this trip I felt like I knew them all a little better and that we had a better relationship.
Also I got to ride on the shinkansen there and back which I love.

Broken Wrist

I broke my wrist, as stated above, four days after Thanksgiving and the day after I got back from Hakodate. It was a Sunday so I had to go to the emergency hospital because none of the others were open. I was riding down the hill in front of my apartment when a car sped out of a parking lot. I tried to stop so I wouldn't hit the car and I flipped over. I landed on my wrist and my bike landed on top of me. When I got up the car was gone and I had to call my friend for help. Apparently Japanese people really don't want to get involved in things so no one stopped to help. At the emergency hospital I first had to wait while they put a folder together for me. Then I waited in at #2 for a while and I was asked a few questions. Then I was sent to wait at #4 where I got some x-rays taken. It hurt a lot. Not so much as an ice pack was offered to ease my suffering. I was sent back to #2 to wait some more then I got called in to see the doctor. She put me in a temporary cast, told me I had to have surgery, and asked me if I wanted the medicine that you can drink or the kind you "use from the back." As you might have guessed I went for the drinkable kind. I got referred to a second hospital where they were going to do the surgery. My school was called and the next day bright and early my Kyoto sensei and the head English teacher, Nakano sensei, met up with me at the hospital to wish me good luck.
Hospital number two had a similar process to the first one. We gave them the referral and they made a folder for me. Then we waited some more. Then they cut the temporary cast off and took some x-rays with a significant period of waiting between those two things. Then we waited again to see the doctor. This doctor was amazing and worth the wait because he told me I didn't have to have surgery and he found the second break in my wrist. Thus began my four week long cast adventure. It is off now in case you are too lazy to count. Add in three more doctor's visits( all the waiting included), a lot of inconvenience, some pain, and a terrible need to wash my arm and you have the whole story. Here's a picture.Winter in Morioka

In a word, horrid. It's cold. There's a lot snow and a lot ice. It drops below freezing almost as soon as the sun goes down. I have been told by several people that this is the coldest winter in Morioka's recent history. I have gotten so used to being cold that my room seems warm when it's fifty degrees F inside. Sixty-five is positively balmy. I have slipped and fallen on the ice twice already and I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not done. I'd put up a picture here but there's no need to be depressing.

New Computer

So I had been saving for five months to buy a new computer and I saw one on sale at a good price so I got my friend and fellow AET Paul to come have a look at it. He used to be a CS major need I say more. It had all the whizzes, bangs, and whirls it was supposed to so I bought it. I relaunched the OS into English and everything has worked out great for me since. This was a fairly bloodless process for me. I have to say though that I am not technically minded and have a very limited range of needs from a computer so that probably helped. Also I got Paul who one understands computers and two speaks better Japanese than me to talk to the sales guy. If you are like me when it comes to computers and you have a Paul you'll be fine. Something to note though is that electronics here are much more expensive than in the states and I actually got a good deal on my computer because I took advantage of a New Year's sale.

New Year's or oshogatsu

In Japan oshogatsu is the major holiday. Think of Christmas in the states as example of the fellow feeling and rigmarole. There are sales in shops for the days before and after. The country practically closes for five days. There are special foods made and eaten, families are visited, and everyone makes a visit to the shrine for luck, good wishes, and to buy new omamori(protection charms). I did all of these things. I visited the relatives of a teacher at my school and I ate a lot of really good food. His mother-in-law is an amazing cook. I went to the Sakurajima jinja to make my New Year's wishes and to buy new omamori with my two friends.
Later on that day we went to the public bathes and then went out partying to celebrate oshogatsu. We went to dinner and drank a lot. We went to karaoke and drank a lot. We then went to an after hours bar and drank a lot more. It was a lot fun and I feel we did oshogatsu proud.

Two American Girls

This pair of sisters came to Morioka and my school about a month. They are nice girls and very smart. Their mom is Japanese and their father was an American. They lived in Japan when they were very young but neither one of them had ever been to school here. The older went to yoichien only. Their coming was a big surprise and caused a lot of concern in the teacher's room because we knew very little about the girls. Only their names and that they didn't speak Japanese. I was surprised myself and worried and glad that I was there to help them transition all at once. They were at the school a little over two full weeks before winer vacation began. I began giving them basic Japanese lessons to start with and Kyoto sensei was able to set up extra Japanese lessons for them three times a week. I found myself acting as a homeroom teacher to these girls. The other teachers came to talk to me about their progress in classes and their concerns for the girls' welfare. I also gave them guidance and pushed for keeping them in the classroom with the other students despite their lack of Japanese ability. When the social studies teacher wanted to start catching them up on their work I found English language articles of the same information and made worksheets asking after important information and teaching related Japanese keywords. I gave them daily Japanese assignments and did my best to help them. I really enjoyed that but I have to confess that I was glad when break came because it gave me a chance to slow down and deal with the stress. Now the girls are moving again to Chiba and today they came to school to exchange the last few papers, return the uniforms, and say goodbye to class mates. I will miss them. I was both glad to help them and pleased to be considered capable of doing it. At the same time I'm not sure I was ready for the responsibility. Their leaving has taken the uncertainty away. I won't have to go up to the other teachers and admit it was too much for me but I now no longer have the chance to prove that I could do it. I don't know if I am more disappointed or relieved. I am can certainly say that it has been a learning experience and has pushed the boundaries of my inventiveness more than a few times. Wonderfully enough they have been expanded.

Well you are now all officially caught up on the major events.

Best of,