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Tuesday, September 23, 2008


The enkai is a drinking party with your workmates. It is a traditional and apparently unavoidable part of Japanese life. One does not neccessarily have to drink at an enkai and there is no pressure to. There will always be other people who are not drinking, since in Japan, there is a 0 tolerance for drunk driving. By this I mean that if you have one drop of alcohol in your blood you are not legal to drive.

Anyhow on Friday I had my welcome enkai. It was also the farewell enkai for an assistant teacher who was doing an internship at the school. She is still in university. They sat me next to Yamamoto-sensai and Tairo-sensai was accross from him. These are the school's two best English speakers (supposedly, although I know that Chiba-sensai, the female six grade teacher and the third grade teacher always understand everything I say). The principal sat across from me and the teacher that was leaving was next to me. I guess these were the seats of honour. They made a bunch of speeches. Tairo-sensai had to make one since his swimming team did well recently and the Tashikawa-sensai ( the teacher leaving) had to make one, and the teacher she works with had to make one. All this time, the table laden down with food that calling my name. Japan is bare formalities. Can't touch the food til the toast. So then, the toast. Yay!

The spread included fried chicken, fried pork, salad with some really nice sauce, Japanese pizza (aka salad quesadilla), steak and sashimi. Sashimi is raw fish. The difference between sashimi and sushi is that sushi has been prepared- i.e. is raw fish with maybe lime on it, stuck onto rice. Sashimi is just a slice of raw fish. I had octupus, salmon and tuna. I actually tried the tuna and the salmon. The principal saved me from having to finish them. Afterwards, I realise thta you're not actually supposed to bite them. Maybe I will try again, or maybe not. I know I am not touching any octopus!

As for drinks, I had beer, which is not as weak as American beer and sake (which I love) and reggae punch, which is iced tea and lemon and some alcohol, and is the only way I like iced tea.

It's like the song says, "after the party, is the after-party". Of course I was completely pooped and ready to go home. Yamamoto-sensai was sending me home with Hayashida-sensai, but Chiba-sensai grabbed my arm and next thing I know I am on the way to another restaurant. It was way past my bed time. They ordered some food and I ordered an Apple Juice IN JAPANESE!!! Of course they got me steak. Never make the mistake of telling a Japanese that you like something. They will give it to you at every available chance! lol! At 11.40 Tashikawa-sensai said she had to leave (Yay- I was so about to fall into the plate with the sleep!) and she took me home.

It was an enjoyable experience!

Karumai Festival- September 12-15

It is so easy not to blog when you're living the good life in Japan. I am a week behind on everything. Oh well, anyhow.

Last weekend was Karumai festival. Janine came and got us from Ichinohe around midday on Saturday and took us back to Karumai. We hung out her place while she went to the Town hall (yakuba) to get all yukata'd up. A yukata or kimono is not something a female can put on by herself. They involve some complicated knots, and tying off and thing, and in Janine's case, stitching -lol. It is also not something you can take off by yourself. Anyhow, afterwards Janine came back and got us to head over to where her neighbourhood's float was starting.

There were a lot of really tiny kids in traditional Japanese wear and they were really cute. I don't remember seeing any at my festival, but this may be because I worked one day of the festival, had to perform at the second and slept through the third. Next thing we know, Dan is in one of the overcoat shirt things that looks somewhere between a Bermuda shirt and a yukata and we can see that they are going to drag us into the festival. Lol!

But they only ask Dan to pull the float. Funny enough, Janine is the only one in a yukata pulling. The other girls are playing the flute to complement the taiko. And the ladies who are pulling are wearing the same thing as Dan. For some reason the pulled the float up a ridiculous hill and parked. There were 2 more floats, 1 in front and one behind us, which went up the hill and also 2 more which parked in the gas station at the base of the hill instead.

The float for the other ALT's community had a cermonial sake breaking and we had sake to drink. Then a float came down the hill, which was from Hachinohe. This float is the coolest I have ever seen. It can expand. Characters can come out of the top and the sides, making it absolutely humongous. After that float went down, we went back down the hill. This time they asked me and Tyler to pull too. We were joined by some dancers, doing what I assume to be the Karumai dance. Seems every town in Iwate has its own summer dance.

At some point, Dan, Tyler and I deserted to go get some festival food. Festival food is one of the best things about Japan. We went back to Janine. I had yakitori (Barbecued chicken on a stick! Yay!) and sausage on a stick. Tyler and Dan also got a barbecued tofu! The Japanese do any and everything to tofu. The people in the float brought us drinks as well. No one can fault Japanese hospitality. At this point there were a total of 6 floats parked in a lot near a shrine.

The Hachinohe float left first followed by a Ninohe one, then Brett (the other ALT), then another, then us, and then the last. When we got back to the intersection near the yakuba, they parked our float and Brett's float came back and there was a taiko drum-off. They invited me and Janine to join in a dance with the girls from Brett's float. Of course we didn't know the dance so it was fairly hilarious but it was definitely fun.

At exactly 7 p.m, the scheduled end of the festival, they stopped and the float behind us parked where we had been. Brett's community tried to pull their float up the ridiculous hill next to the yakuba. It rolled back for a bit and we worried that there was going to be an accident, but they got it up in the end. Then they pulled our float towards the hill. I thought to myself that there was no way we were going to get up that hill, but then they hooked the float up to an SUV. Yay, for working smarter and not harder!

On Sunday morning, there was a parade. We didn't know what it would be like til we got there. But it was the Fire Volunteer Corps. From the number of people on parade, it pretty much looked like every single man in Karumai was in the Corps. There were some ladies who went in a seperate section. I am not sure if they were FVC or not and there were also some kids, who looked kinda like Boy Scout, Girl Guide equivalent. Then there was an eternal line of fire trucks. I have never seen so many fire vehicles in one place. And they all belong to Karumai. They all went down to the riverside. 24 of the fire trucks drove down into the riverbank. There were steps leading down into the river and we were the farthest ones forward. Clearly whatever was happening, we were going to get wet. They all hooked up to the river and then made an arch of water 50 feet in the air. Then they put dye in the hoses and had a rainbow arch. It is by far the coolest thing I've ever seen fire trucks do.

After that there was a memorial ceremony. Apparently, 7 years ago there was a flood in Karumai and many people on the riverfront lost everything. I think a few people also died. After the ceremony (excessively long- since it's Japan) they packed up and left... We went and had multicoloured, slush puppies in ice cream cones. This is another way cool thing about Japan. Everything is very cute. Lot's of pink. Lot's of cute characters like Miffy and Minny and Mickey Mouse and Pooh and Stitch and Hello Kitty. So if there is a place in the world for a white, blue, pink and orange slush puppy on a pink cone it would be Japan.

Anyhow after that we headed back, because I had a Japanese lesson to go to in Ninohe and Dan and Tyler had to meet the Ninohe/Kunohe lot the following day.

Festivals in Japan are great! If you're ever in Japan try to visit one!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Last weekend- Ninohe, Hachinohe, Taneichi, Misawa

Last weekend, we went to Ninohe Matsuri (Festival) on Friday night. We watched a little of the festival and then we went to House of Picnic for Ribs. We met up with the Ninohe and Kunohe ALT's there and some ALT friends. We didn't leave til almost 1 a.m. Janine stayed by my house, rather than driving back to Karumai, because Ichinohe is closer.

Saturday morning, Janine piled us all in her car and we went up to Hachinohe for a shopping trip. The best thing about Hachinohe is that you stand a better chance of getting foreigner sized stuff, because there is an Air Base in neighbouring town, Misawa. I got a pair of pink and white Adidas- happy, happy camper. I also found some nice earrings and a pink Snoopy Bag and an Engrish T-shirt. I was able to find where the movie theatre was, which means I don't need to go to Morioka to watch something on the big screen. The only problem I have with Hachinohe is that it's really spread out so it's more difficult to get around on foot. Oh well, Itll save me $10 US over going to Morioka. The cinema here is really expensive too. Up to $20 US so I can't go every weekend anyhow. Maybe every other month... We'll see.

After Cino (the first shopping centre) we went to a mall. We went to the electronics store there. I got a couple of DVD's - Xmen, the Last Stand and Anastasia- I love Anastasia. Then we went to Toys R' Us. I saw some really cool puzzles. My boyfriend loves puzzles. He's always trying to kill me for buying him a really difficult one. Oh, temptation. Then we went into the main mall block and went to a Sports store. I got a sleeping bag. Considering how cold Ichinohe gets, and the fact that the houses aren't insulated this is excellent. this is also where I actually got my Adidas. Then we had McDonalds for lunch. I am not a fan of McDonalds but I relish everything that's not Japanese. It's great to get away once in a while.

Then we went to another mall to go to Uniqlo, a clothing store. Janine and Tyler are 8 million sizes smaller thna me and they had to get larges. I don't expect to ever purchase a piece of clothing for the lower body in Japan. Then we went into the grocery to get some meat for the Nu-B-Q. I also picked up some Johnnie Walker.

We got to the beach about 6.30. There was a serious fog starting up. Obviously we weren't getting anywhere going in the sea. Oh well. I have sea at home. And it's the best sea in the world. We barbecued and hung out. Most people went to Ra's at midnight. We stayed on the beach. The rest wanted to sleep there. The fog had gotten thicker (you could take pictures of it!) and it was cold so I slept in the car. In the morning I took a picture of the tsunami wall. It's wierd to think that I am in a place where earthquakes are so prevalent they'd bother to spend millions of dollars to put up a tsunami wall.

After just a few hours of sleep, we headed to Janine's to get ready for Misawa. I saw my first accident in Japan. I took a shower and got ready. Then we set off. The traffic was horrible getting off the expressway and coming up to where the roads were closed off. It was like a half hour walk to the base. We stopped at the food court to have brunch and pigged out on Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Subway since we hadn't seen much Western food in the last month. Then we walked to the air field- another ten minutes. The first plane we saw was the F4- painted with "Last Flight 2008". Shortly after we got there they did a firefighting demo with a helicopter, then a rescue demo. We walked along the stalls and Janine and Tyler got chocolate covered bananas- ew! Then they brought out the blue angels, but they just drove around the runway and gunned their engines. We took some pictures with airmen, in an F-350 and in a helicopter, then we looked at some missiles. Then we talked to some airmen and they told us that there was lightning above the clouds and that was why the planes weren't actually flying. That we should come to the show next year. lol. Then a Japan Airlines flight came down the runway and took off. Seems the airbase shares it's runway with the Misawa Airport. The F4 came out and it actually flew. I think it had to. It would suck to have your last flight ever be cancelled.

After the F4 we went back to the food court and I got a foot long at Subway but only ate half. We tried to buy stuff at the Air Force Exchange but it turned out you had to have a military ID or be an authorised user. (Misawa airmen message me-lol.) It was getting dark when I got back to Ichinohe and I went straight to sleep.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Torigoe- this is from last Monday

Torigoe (1 Sep)
Today is my first day at Torigoe, my twice a month elementary. I got here very early because I overestimated how much time it would take to walk to the bus stop and ended up on the 7.38 bus instead of the 7.58 bus. The bus cost 170 yen! That’s about $1.70 US, which is really expensive for me. It cost 75 cents US at home. Anyhow, the way the bus works is that you take a ticket when you get in. And a board at the front of the bus displays your number and the price you pay, which goes up as you travel. I think next week I will walk to the bus stop by the high school and see if I can save 30 cents. Or not.
Any how, once I got here, I went to assembly. Assembly was weird. The principal did Maths!!! After she introduced myself in English and Japanese to the students. We exited to music!!! Next was the morning meeting. I introduced myself in Japanese and the staff freaked out. They introduced themselves and I promptly forgot all their names. I did, however, remember which forms they taught. Some of the forms here are combined. Like 3rd and 4th grade and 5th and 6th. The whole school is the same size as my smallest class at Ichinohe Chugakko, 33 students. Or at least that is how many I counted at assembly. Today I went to ninensei first (second graders). There were only 4 of them. The second grade teacher is the English activity coordinator so she had a lesson plan done out. Then back to the staff room during the random 10 minute break between everything at schools in Japan. In second period I had 3.4. There was no lesson plan there. I did my introduction, then I had the students introduce themselves, then I did “I like” with some random foods and then we play concentration with foods in either English or Japanese. Then it was break time. I went back to the staff room and the lady across from me offered em coffee and I said yes. For what reason I do not know since I don’t like coffee. The English coordinator gave me some sheets to draw my introduction on the bulletin board. I think I had too much fun with it. I wrote in all the harder words in Katakana and Hiragana, except the word for capital which I don’t know. The teacher who sits next to me freaked about me writing in Japanese. She struck up a conversation and I actually understood most of what she said. She asked what we eat in Barbados and I told her rice, chicken, spaghetti, flying fish. I didn’t tell her about coucou. It is hard enough to explain in English, far less in Japanese.
After I finished designing my introduction billboard I wrote a poem about my Japanese.
Today I said Konnichiwa to someone I didn’t know
They asked me a question
And suddenly it flowed
Coming from my lips was a steady stream
Of Japanese and where it came from I can’t begin to dream
But come it did and understood it was nonetheless
Despite my intermittent cries of “Nihongo heta des-“
“I am bad at Japanese”, even though at the time
My mouth was making my truth sound very like a lie
The responses came “Iie, Jouzu desu” and “Subarashii”
“No, you are very good,” and “It’s wonderful” they said to me.
I bowed and smiled as I turned my back
Why must my mouth tell lies on me, without a modicum of tact?
Or maybe I am learning Japanese, maybe I can speak well
Only time and the next conversation can truly tell!

It’s how I feel today because I understand most of what is going on. Lunch time came and I ate in the staff room with the Principal, Vice Principal, the lady across from me who puts out the food and who I assume is the janitor-ish, maid-ish thing (this position is hard to define in Japan because they do very different things from the ones in the Western world). The principal freaked out that I was eating with chopsticks, but that was what I found in Scott’s drawer. It was either that or fingers! Lol! As usual lunch was a very strange medley: tofu and fish soup (drank the soup- ate one piece of tofu for good measure, some mixed veg thing, which I tried to no avail to pick the carrot out of, rice, and a tempura thing ( I wish I could explain tempura, it looks like a hairy nugget, but it can be shrimp, meat or vegetable).
The principal was walking by when I started with my kanji practice and stood over me talking about how brilliant I was to be writing Kanji, so the Vice Principal walked over. Looking my computer and my shirt, he asked me if I liked pink. I said yes. He said that pink and purple are his favourite colours! Same as mine. If he was a Westerner everyone would think him gay for liking these colours.
One of my 3rd.4th graders appeared to tell me she was writing a letter for me. I would have understood her but she said “Romaji o mimasu ka,” which is like “Do you look at romanji, instead of can you read romaji?” Then two of the ninensei (2nd grade) came and said “Join us!” in English! And dragged me off to the library and asked me what half the pictures in the book were called in English.
The bell saved me, and they ran off to clean. The International coordinator came over to give me the list of staff names I had asked her to do for me. Turns out the lady sitting next to me with the face mask on (because Japanese don’t stay home when they’re sick ) is the health teacher. There is some cruel irony in the health teacher bringing her sick self to school. The coordinator gave me the curriculum and showed me where each grade was on it. After cleaning was 5thperiod and I had the 5.6 grade. We did pretty much the same thing I did for 3.4. But in this class the Principal came along to take pictures. I had a lot of fun with the kids today. It’s a pity I only see this school twice a month. Oh well!

Friday, September 5, 2008

I Love my Library

No, I am not a total geek, but the Ichinohe Toshokan is by far the coolest place in Ichinohe. Obviously you can borrow books. As many as you like for 2 weeks at a time. You can use Internet for free here. Yay! Since I have none at home. You can rent tapes and Dvds, which is way cool since I would rather watch English movies in Japanese than watch public tv. Although NHK isn't that bad, no matter how depressing Alex claims it to be. The cool thing about iit though is that I can find a ridiculous range. Movies that came out last year, back to Casablanca. Since I came to Japan, I watched West Side Story, which I had never seen and would probably never find in Barbados. Today I am taking home Wizard of Oz. I also found Ben Hur and Dream Girls. I think that's what I'll get next week. Damn the 2 tape/ DVD limit.

Random Japanese madness

You hear and see the strangest things in Japan. I got a note yesterday from my Deputy Head at School. My English Activity Coordinator has wondered off on study leave and left the staff room at a loss about how to communicate with me. Now the Deputy head seems to speak the 3rd least English in the office, behind him are only the Headmaster and the Gardener/ food putter outter (I don't know his official piost, but that's what he does). Anyhow, the note read 'Please end the start at about 9.45 in the class of the first grader of the second hour at about 10.10' which in normal English might read ' Please end the first graders' second period class at 10.10'. I strongly believe he used an online translator since he printed it. Online translators are bad in any language, but translating from Japanese they are disastrous. The verbs are at the end of the sentence in Japanese and there is no singular and plural, which means translation requires a brain, which machines don't have.

The next really funny thing I saw today was this woman driving with a baby in one of those backpack carry things attached to her back. I had to laugh. But when I though about it, There is a large possibilith that isn't illegal. The law probably says that the baby has to be restrained in an approved child carrier. And it is. And she had on a seatbelt. Thinking about it, he might be safer there than in a carseat! Lol!

Thursday, September 4, 2008


I am exhausted- fuzz clean out. Elementary English Activity takes a lot of energy. First you have to plan the activity, then you spend all night, colouring and cutting out stuff and then you have to run around with the kids in class. Teaching back home was a million times easier than this. I don't have much to say today. I am exhausted. I planned on going home to sleep but I found out I have ajisai tomorrow. It's also been on my schedule and I assumed it was some assmbly thign or something. It seems to actually be a special ed class. I have no idea how to approach. Which is why I am at ICO (shopping centre) about to go looking for materials for them.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fool proof way to learn a new language

Ah ha! After hours of research and testing I have finally discovered it, the absolutely foolproof way to learn a new language. Are you ready for this? It's pretty radical. The bast and maybe quickest way to learn a new language is (drum roll please) to hang out with 3 to 7 year olds. I am now teaching in my elementary schools and today I made the mistake of leaving school early- by early I mean, at the time I am supposed to leave, but when there are still students around. Some how as I went through the door I accumulated 5 or 6 little kids trailing behind me, saying Goodness knows what to me in Japanese. Occasionally I managed to ask a question they asked. They took me right up to the library driveway.

Some lady that was walking by told me my Japanese was good, to which I wholeheartedly disagreed. I have a long ways to go. Which reminds me, I signed up for JLPT level 3 (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). 4 is the easiest and I know I could pass that with flying colours. Why I signed up for 3? Who knows? I must be psychotic. Now I have to spend every waking minute in thenext 3 months, when I am not making stuff for the kids I teach, studying Japanese. Oh well. It'll cut a year off my time in Japan. I hope.

Omagari fireworks and Morioka Orientation

Wow! It's been a while. Between having no internet at home and the fact that I have started teaching I can:t find the time. So here I am writing about two weekends ago. Morioka Orientation was great. I was proud of myself for being the next best thing at Japanese after Alex, who is millions of light years ahead. The best thing about the Morioka Orientation was of course, being in Morioka. 4 of the 5 new ALTs are up North in the semi-hickies. Sarah is lucky. She's in a 'city' but then it takes here almost 3 hours to get to Morioka and it's only an hour by train for me. By the way, the reason I put city in quotes is because some of these cities really aren't. It's defined by population and lately Iwate has been mergin some of the really small towns, so that a 'city' might really be 20 small towns.

Any how the first night we went out to dinner with AJET and then we went to Roundup. Round up is a 6 floor sports and entertainment complex. We had a blast. On my suggestion, we went skating. It's funny as hell since I am the world's worst skater. I've decided I need to go back and practice though.

The second evening we went for cell phones, but I chose not to get one since they want to take like 600 US from my credit card. I will try again next month. Then we went to Bryan's, played Guitar Hero and then headed back out for Italian Dinner. Dan, Tyler and Jen joined us and after we went to Karaoke. As you may or may not know, Karaoke is a Japanese thing, so it's all over. We went to a new place and got our own booth. The selection is crazy. I want to go back. Then we went to Faces. If you've read my earlier posts, you'll know I saw black people there! lol! I also discovered my new fave liqueur- the Peach Fizz! Wee left at 3 in the a.m. It was hell getting up in the a.m. to make our train for Omagari. Then the bus was late and we had to catch a cab. The buses are enver late in Japan. That should have been an indication that the 50% rain prediction was going to come true. It rained from about 1 p.m. straight through to 5. I hid in Ken's car. When we got back for the fireworks, the rest were ready to go, but ended up staying til like 8.30. The best stuff was in the last two shows though.

Leaving was hell. It took like 20 minutes to get out. 600 000 people up 2 staircases isn't easy. I overnighted at Ken's (because I satyed for all the fireworks and the others left) and then me and Dean took the train for Morioka in the morning. I got in in time for the 2.10 train but I decided to wait another hour so I could get some lunch and walk around the train station. I found a CD store and got myself a Rihanna, a Sean Kingston and the old Natasha Bedingfield. Happy, happy camper. Then it was back to Ichinohe.
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