Saturday, December 30, 2006

Merry Christmas  クリスマス おめでとう

Hey everyone. Merry Christmas! Actually....I'm just getting around to writing this post in late February. Oops. Anyway, as you can see below, Japan isn't completely devoid of Christmas celebrations. However, things here are, not surprisingly, a little different. For example, gift giving is a very small affair between people in a relationship (usually boyfriend/girlfriend), and Christmas cake is a really big deal (they were really confused that no such thing existed in the States).

Sendai City celebrates the season with a festival they call the Pageant of Lights, during which they line the streets with countless Christmas lights. The final product was rather lovely.

Christmas time is also the time for special holiday themed lessons at my Elementary schools. The lesson plan was more or less the same for all grades, with some variations made for age/ability differences of course. First, we sang "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," followed by a quick game that introduced holiday vocab words, and finally we finished by making Christmas trees out of cutouts of our hands. On one side, students would decorate the hands to look like a Christmas tree and on the other half they would write want they wanted to receive. This years most desired gift? The Nintendo Wii.

Holiday English Boards

Sunday, November 05, 2006


This weekend I went to Nikko with my friends Evan and Satomi. Not only was this my first big trip out of Miyagi prefecture, but it was also my first trip on the Shinkansen (Japan's famous bullet train). It was pretty cool to be moving so fast, but because you accelerate so gradually, you don't really notice how quickly you're going. That is, of course, until you pass another Shinkansen going the other direction.

We spent 2 days and 3 nights in Nikko, spending one full day exploring Nikko's natural beauty and one day exploring its cultural heritage. Nature day involved pleasant walks through woods, strenuous mountain climbs, and scenic waterfall viewings (Nikko has more natural water running through it than any other place I've ever seen). We were hoping to catch the changing leaves, but because we were in the mountains we were, for the most part, too late. Nevertheless, Nikko does have a lot to offer in terms of the outdoors.

Of course, what Nikko is primarily know for are its temples and shrines. Arguably second only to Kyoto in regards to its concentration of religious landmarks, Nikko is teaming with beautiful architecture and points of cultural interest.

I don't have any pictures of the more famous landmarks such as Toshogu or Shinkyo (sacred bridge) because a) you can see them elsewhere, and b) I like these pictures better. Deal with it. But I think the pics will back me up when I say Nikko is a beautiful city that makes for a relaxing and interesting weekend.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bunkasai (School Festival)

Yesterday was our school's Bunkasai. Literally, 'Cultural Festival,' but I think 'School festival' is a far better description. The day started with each class giving a short skit about the school year which usually included several humorous impersonations of teachers (luckily I was excluded), and replays of important events over the past few months.

Next were several speeches given by the students, two of which were English speeches given by students I had been working with. They were, needless to say, awesome. After that came a brief recorder concert, whose highlight was, in my humble opinion, a breathtaking rendition of the Beatle's 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da.' Actually, I think everyone appreciated the ironic value of the concert as each song was following by clapping and quiet chuckle.

After lunch was a choir concert. Actually, a better word would be competition, as at the end of the concert, two groups were crowned winners. This was apparently a rather big deal as there were a few joyous tears shed. After this the whole 'festival' got noticeably more casual as kids got on stage and tried their hand at rapping, playing the guitar and, for some, just jumping around on stage.

With the rise in informality also came a rather substantial dip in quality, but the kids were having fun. (A LOT of fun) Actually, maybe my favorite moment of the day was when two students sung a song with teachers playing the background instruments. Not only were they good, but it was funny to see our head teacher shredding licks on the guitar.

Monday, October 23, 2006


This weekend my friend Evan (see Japan Photo Guide in the links sidebar) and I went to Naruko. Known for its Onsens (hot springs) and its scenic gorge, Naruko is an ideal place for Koyo (Fall foliage viewing). Another pleasanty Naruko offers is the pervasive smell of sulfur thanks to its natural mineral springs . Aside from its distinct funk, Naruko does offer some beautiful landscapes. Unfortunately, I think we hit the gorge a little early; the leaves probably won't be in full effect for a few more weeks. But since it was such a perfect day, I'm not complaining. After spending a few hours walking through the gorge, we hit up a famous lake in the area. It's claim to fame is that it is one of the most acidic lakes in the world with a pH of 1.4, which I believe is on par with stomach acid. Yum.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sports Festival Redux

Recently, we had another 'sports festival' in my area, although this one would be far more recognizable to western eyes. Essentially, the way the festival worked was middle schools throughout the Higashimatsushima area got together over the weekend and competed in a number of sporting events including soccer, volleyball, basketball, kendo, baseball and probably a few more that have slipped my mind. I personally spent the day driving around the city with my school's principal to watch a number of the sports. Because my principal had to make an appearance at most of the happenings I got to see a lot of different events, but this also meant I never stayed more than 30 minutes to watch one specific thing, so to be perfectly honest, I have no idea how we did in any of the events we participated in. I can only assume that won handily in each case. That is, of course, the most logical conclusion.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Jazz Festival

I honestly don't remember when this was. I think it was the first month of September, but who's to say. In any case, this was the second Jazz Festival I've been to in 6 months (the other being in New Orleans). Not surprisingly, the two are slightly different. The Jozenji Jazz Festival is a two or three day event (like I said, it was over a month ago) that takes place over several blocks and a few parks scattered around Sendai. Bands are placed in a number of places, some more formal than others. Some simply set up shop in front of a building while others get proper stages. Music ranged from Soul/R&B/Funk covers, a sort of Asian Blues Brothers if you will, to more 'traditional' jazz. The first day I went it was a bit rainy, but main for a somewhat subdued atmosphere that I thought strangely complemented some of the chiller Jazz ensembles. The second day was fiendishly hot, but was the only sunny day in the period of about three weeks. Typhoon season isn't as fun as Lonely Planet made it out to be.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

On second thought...

I've decided to keep the pics from the previous post up for a host of reasons:

1. Popular demand. (i.e. Evan)
2. Shameless self-promotion
3. I post far too infrequently. It would be a shame to destroy such a rare creature.
4. To remind myself that when I forget to shave I look like a middle-schooler trying to grow his first mustache.
5. To remind myself and the world how painfully handsome I am. (see point 2)
6. They make me laugh.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Facial Expressions

It should be noted that I am merely uploading these photos so that I can print them out at school tomorrow for a class on facial expressions. By this time tomorrow night they'll be gone. I guess what I'm trying to say is, catching this post might be roughly akin to witnessing Haley's Comet while having diarrhea: A once in a lifetime experience that you'd probably rather forget.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Sports Festival

Well. Seeing as I have ANOTHER sports festival coming up this weekend I thought it might be prudent to sit down and write about the first sports festival. It was a few weeks ago, so details might be a bit fuzzy. The basic format of the festival was that the students were split into two teams, one red and one white. From there, the students competed in a number of sporting events, most of which would be quite foreign to the American sports enthusiast. The most recognizable events were various relay races. There was also a tug of war, a game similar to chicken where students get on others shoulders and try to steal hats from the other teams shoulder-sitters, mass jump roping, and kendo (traditional Japanese sword fighting) to name a few. The whole day was really fun. I had a good time cheering the kids on. I started the day rooting for the red team and the switched during the afternoon to team white. Unfortunately, when the event results were tallied up, the red team came out on top. Whoops! This weekend, apparently, the sports festival will be a little more straight forward: kids playing their respective sports and competing against other schools. Gambatte Naruse Daiichi chuugakko!


So...I'm sitting at my desk at my elementary school, doing god knows what, when the first grade teach next to me pulls out a giant book that she says she would like me to read to the students in the near future. On seeing the book a rush of pre-pubescent memories socked me in the face like a sack of nickels. Hmm.....that sounds about as painful as my attempts at metaphors. ANYWAY....A quick once-over of the oversized atlas confirmed my original suspicion: I had this exact same book as a child. I alerted my fellow teachers to this rather unlikely coincidence, prompting the question, "Is this a famous book in America?" "Not that I know of," I told them. I've never seen this book outside the confines of my room in the late 80's. Has anyone reading this seen/owned/read this book? I'm heading back to the elementary school tomorrow. Maybe they'll pull out that awesome boat I always used to play with in the that thing was cool.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Man oh man.......

Once a year the sleepy little town of Higashimatsushima decides to let its hair down and have itself a good ol' fashioned air show. Ya know, the kind where jets, closer to each other than I care to be to some people, swoop by the crowd doing maneuvers that boggle the mind? THAT kind of air show.

The show lasted the better part of the late morning and early afternoon on Sunday and included helicopters, parachuters and speedy jet airplanes. The jet group, known as Blue Impulse (a Blue Angels homage?), are local celebrities especially among the little ones.

What was REALLY cool was, in the week leading up to the show, Blue Impulse would practice during the day. I would be biking to work, minding my business, when WHOOOOOOOOOOSH. Of course, this led to numerous close calls on my bike as I have come to find remembering how to ride a bike is well, it's a lot harder than some people would lead you to believe.

In addition to air theatrics, we also had a chance to watch Blue Impulse Jr., a group of motorcyclers with their rides decked out to look like jets who also did tightly choreographed shows, earthbound of course. It's times like these that I think to myself, "Hey, that's pretty neat," or, "Well, if China decides to invade at least I can sleep well knowing that we're prepared."

Sunday, August 27, 2006

English Board

On Thursday I put up an English Board in the hallway of my middle school. As you can see, the board is mostly pics from my recent road trip with Eric and some from around Richmond, all with simple English captions that, hopefully, the children will be able to read at some point. As I was putting it up my fellow teachers would walk by and exclaim "sugoi!" (great/awesome/etc) It was fun to see how excited they got to see my friends, family and life. They also alerted me to the fact that everyone pictured was very attractive. I assured them that America had its fair share of homely people but I simply lacked the time and inclination to associate with them.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Yesterday a group of ALTs visited the town of Matsushima, one of the three most scenic areas in Japan, and roughly twenty minutes from my apartment. The town is small, but fairly tourist due to its reputation. Usually one goes to Matsushima to take a boat tour around the pine-clad islands that dot the bay, but we had other objectives; we were here to see the interior of Godai-do, a small Buddhist temple that is only opened once every 33 years. The interior itself wasn't anything spectacular, but it was well worth the wait in the GIANT line in the sweltering heat to experience the crowd and the festivities. Afterwards, we grabbed some soba and stopped by a zen garden. I'd put some pictures up but my battery ran out about half way through the day and the pictures from the first half are rubbish, so I guess you'll have to see it yourself in 2039.

Friday, August 18, 2006

At home in Higashimatsushima

I'm back! Hey everyone. Sorry for the rather sizable gap in my postings- I just today got internet access in my apartment. Until now I've been shooting out quick emails from the Board of Education every few days, but things should be gravy from here on out.

So what's new? Well....Unfortunately, since so much time has passed, I'm going to have to edit out a fair amount of what's been happening with me and just give you some highlights. Let's review the past two weeks, shall we?

Tokyo Orientation- Met lots of new people, had a lot of fun, and collected enough useless paper work to cover all of Hokkaido. The true shame of orientation is that, after meeting lots of new people, you're torn away from them and scattered about the country.

Luckily, the people in my area are also very cool. I just got back from a prefectural orientation where I got to hang out with them. (oh....and receive more handouts)

Everyone here, locals and those in the JET program, have been really great. My supervisor is a clerical wizard. The teacher who I am assisting has been open and very helpful. And the kids seem really excited to have me around. Although I haven't seen much of them yet as we're still on summer vacation.

I go to Sendai quite often. It takes an hour by train, but it's worth it as it's a pretty happening place. We recently had a festival here known as Tanabata. I'm pretty sure it's Sendai's biggest festival. The main thoroughfares are lined with huge lanterns and there was a pretty impressive fireworks show one night.

The other day I traveled to the prefecture west of Miyagi known as Yamagata to a famous temple called Yamadera (literally- Mountain Temple). To reach the aforementioned temple one must climb a rather lengthy staircase, but it's well worth it as the temple itself is quite lovely and the view it provides of the valley below is amazing.

I think that's enough for one post. Obviously, there's been a lot more going on with me but I don't want to bore you with too much detail. If you'd like to know more, you can always email me.

Oh....and what you've all been waiting for- pictures!

In Tokyo I went to a party with old friends from Sophia (the university I went to while in Japan last time)-

Here are some pics from Tanabata. The first is an up-close of the origami work on one of the lanterns and the second is from the fireworks show.

And here are two pics from Yamadera. The first is of me, two of my local friends from Sendai (Harumi and Aiko), and my buddy, and closest neighbor, Hashmatt. The second is of a small temple with the valley in the background.