Lunching.

A long hiatus.

Hello internet. Been awhile. How are things? After more than a few years of constant pressuring I am back to update the blog with a few photos! As we all know, school cafeteria food is total garbage in terms of preparation, quality, taste, ingredients and health benefits. So I thought I’d show you how they do it over here in Japan. Trust me, it’s way better over here. On to the photos!

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The above posted were the Japanese take on Chinese food, Indian food and Western style frying of meats. All fantastic. In six years I think I’ve had a bad school lunch only four times. Speaking of which, time to eat.

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Snowy Saitama

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Apartment-ing

Howdy folks!

Ah that new blog smell. Always a fan. This will be a short post to test out this fancy new WordPress thingy. The bigger update will come sooner.

As for news, the school year is about a month away and things are going smoothly. Managed to avoid catching the flu this year which I’m grateful for. Got a cold for two weeks straight but thats better than influenza.

Biggest news at the moment as I have recently applied for a new apartment and have been given the go ahead to rent it. I’ll be moving on the 10th of March. The place is astounding. Apparently it was previously the building owner’s home and has been completely renovated over the last year. Its about as fancy as I could ever hope for and the best part is that its closer to the station, only $30 dollars more a month and of course, is 4 times the size of my current place. Good timing no?

Once the actual move is complete I’ll get some photos up here for everyone to enjoy. Until than, ciao!

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Road to Ikaho

Herro. It is officially November. Well, its well into November and its getting close to December but you get the idea. There have been a few fun adventures as of late and I look forward to telling you all about them. Lets begin.

First up: The annual teacher's retreat/vacation. I was invited yet again to head off on a tour bus with my colleagues from the junior high school for a weekend of frivolity, tourism and beer. I can't imagine a world where I would have issue with these three things.

The morning before we had our annual choir festival. The kids all sang wonderfully and class 3-3 ended up winning the top prize so they were able to represent their school in the junior high city competition. Not sure how they did but either way all the classes sang wonderfully. Around 6:30pm we hopped on our private jumbo bus and made our way off to Ikaho, Gunma prefecture. As is typical of any Japanese adventure on a bus, there were chocolates, potato chips, sake, beer and of course dried squid. I will never under any circumstances understand the Japanese love for dried squid while traveling. Since I was already feeling very car sick the smell of dried and somewhat rotted squid was how can I say…disruptive. Luckily my colleagues encouraged me to get over my car sickness with a healthy (unhealthy) amount of beer and sake. Surprisingly it worked.

We arrived at our destination roughly 2 hours later. After departing our private bus we then took the next step in our great journey: we got on another bus. Which only drove for 1 minute. Up a hill.

Our location was incredibly luxurious and after depositing our belongings into our respective rooms I had this thought: Man, now that we're here, the only thing that would make this trip even better would be to get naked with a whole bunch of dudes. Well, as luck would have it, it was hot spring time! Since this was my 3rd or 4th visit to a hot spring I was already used to the concept of stripping down with my cohorts. The first time I did it I was absolutely terrified at the idea but what can you do.

After that we enjoyed an incredibly luxurious traditional Japanese meal in a very spacious old fashioned tatami room that probably could have sat about 40 people. There were only 12 of us. The food was exquisite, the company was excellent and of course there was more beer. We ended up socializing the night away until the late hours.

Predictably, 10 out of 12 of us had some very severe headaches the next day when we got up at 7:30. I'll never understand the Japanese dislike for, well, you know, sleeping in. Personally I think there is no better way to spend one's vacation time. After our traditional breakfast we hopped on our hotel bus, to head to the parking lot one minute away, to get on yet another bus. After about an hour we made our way up into the mountains to Haruna Shrine. Apparently its a very famous shrine and known as a "Power Spot" which is supposed to energize one's body and spirit. I must admit to having felt a bit energized after the visit. When the carsickness went away anyway.

After that we visited a delicious Udon noodle restaurant and a fun shopping center for some souvenirs. There is officially no country more into souvenirs and gift buying then the Japanese. Its one of those parts of the culture that some of my Japanese friends admit to being very annoying at times. Don't forget presents for your accountant's cousin's nephew or it'll be rude! I realize thats a joke but its not that much of a stretch I assure you.

  We finally made our way home to Kuki City around 5pm and everyone went their separate ways. Since that Saturday was the choir festival, all the teachers at junior high had the next day off. Since I don't work at junior high on Mondays I predictably did not. Oh well. Was a fantastic adventure and I look forward to the next one.

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Rice

A random story to share while enjoying the currently bizarre weather of today.

I was on my way home from the local 7-11 one day when something peculiar happened. As I approached my apartment with my bag of delicious goodies in hand I noticed an elderly woman across the street from me who was watching me very intently. Before I made it home she had run across two lanes of traffic to intercept me outside of my place. She was very friendly and had a big smile on her face so I didn't feel too awkward at being stopped by a stranger in front of my humble abode.

"Hello! I'm so sorry to bother you but are you from America?"

"Yes I am."

"Are you a teacher?"

"Yes I am."

"Thats so wonderful! And you speak Japanese?"

"Yes I do." (This entire conversation was already in Japanese of course. I get this a lot.)

"Thats so wonderful! I've always dreamed of meeting a foreigner who could speak Japanese with me. What a wonderful day this is! Thank you so much!"

She then went on to tell me how she had met foreigners before and wanted to communicate with them but they never spoke Japanese and she couldn't speak English. She also told me a story about a few friends of hers from Australia but she didn't think she'd see them again anytime soon because of the big earthquake that had hit. After mentioning the earthquake her eyes went wide as if some giant realization just dawned on her.

"Oh my, where are my manners! Do you have enough food?" (This was about a month after the big earthquake.)

"Oh yes I have plenty. Thank you for asking but I'm fine and well prepared."

"Please wait here a moment I'll be right back!"

She then ran across the street to her car, fumbled around for about 5 minutes in her trunk and came back with a giant bag of uncooked rice and some turnips. She said all of it was from her family's farm and that they had plenty. She offered them to me and wouldn't take no for an answer so I humbly accepted the gifts. Thinking thats where the conversation would end I was surprised when she had a request of me.

"I'm so sorry to trouble you with this, but would you mind signing my journal?"

"…Your journal?"

She then quickly produced a small diary esque notebook from out of nowhere that had all manner of random writings in it. After signing my name and also writing it in Japanese I handed it back to her while she stared at me with a big smile.

"Thank you so much! This has been the most perfect day! Please enjoy the rice and I hope I see you again soon!" 

Before I could get another word of thanks in for the rice she was already running back across the street to her car never to be seen again. A delightfully random event here in the land of the rising sun.

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Catfish

Hello world. Its been awhile. The school year has ended and in 5 days we will begin a new one. Its been a truly amazing time so far here in Japan and it floors me to think that a year has already gone by. Lets proceed with a few updates.

Of obvious note was the 9.0 earthquake that hit off the coast of Japan. At the time I was at school in the teacher's office writing in my journal when things started to shake a bit. The teachers noticed and we just continued on to wait it out like we do with most quakes but this one didn't stop. It was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life and it was obviously frightening as well. After the first quake subsided we got the students out into the grounds where we waited for the aftershock. After a few hours we sent everyone home. The school was undamaged for the most part and both the staff and students were all ok which I am thankful for.

After that it was a very surreal experience in Japan for a few days. Many of us simply couldn't wrap our heads around what had happened which I suppose is natural. There were shortages of things such as gasoline, batteries and bottled water which didn't surprise me. We still have shortages of some things but that is quickly recovering with each day. The funniest shortage was toilet paper. It never occurred to me that toilet paper would be something hard to get your hands on in the wake of such an event. Now I know.

 Graduation for my students went great at all three schools. I was sad to see my graduating classes depart for the next part of their academic journey. I will miss them a lot. As of the 7th of this week, I will officially become an employee of Kuki City as an English teacher. I can't stress enough how excited I am about this. I came to like Kuki almost immediately and its hard for me to picture working anywhere else. I can't wait to get started in 5 days. As for my schools, I'm not sure which I'll be working at yet but I believe I'll be getting two new elementaries. Should be interesting to meet a new set of staff and students but I'm looking forward to it.

Other than that, things are relatively normal around here which was strange at first but thats the way it has to be. I applaud the Japanese for both their quick reactions to the earthquake and tsunami but also how diligently they continued to go to work day in and day out without fail despite the fact that their country was hit by the 5th largest earthquake in recorded history. I really must tip my hat to them.

That said, the laundry Gods call my name and thus I must…do laundry. 

PS In the old days, it was believed that earthquakes were caused by a catfish that swam under the earth. When he got a bit unruly and the earth would shake so the people prayed to a God whose only purpose to keep said catfish under control. I'm not sure if the God has a shrine but if there is one nearby I wouldn't mind dropping a few coins so he can keep the aftershocks at bay for awhile. 😛

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Gestures

Hello internet. Summer has been over for some time and I couldn't be happier. We moved quickly from unbearable heat to barely tolerable cold. Especially while riding a bicycle. Oh well. I think I'd rather bundle up than feel like I'm swimming in my own clothes. Now its time for a story.

In the last month I have been doing a new game with my 3rd year junior high students. I draw a comic but leaving the speaking bubbles blank. Its their job to fill in the bubbles however they like. In English of course. I would typically get the majority of the responses the same as few of the kids have the courage to try something really out there. Every once in awhile I'd get something absolutely hilarious and I made sure to make copies of those that I felt were particularly noteworthy. I will upload them here at the end of the school year.

After about a month I could tell that the kids were getting bored and weren't taking the comics seriously anymore. So I suggested a new game to the teacher. The students would be given a sheet with all the vocabular they needed to review for their upcoming test and we would go through it together to work on pronunciation. At the end of said practice we played the gesture game. No talking, no writing. Well, the students took to it right away as they seemed to especially enjoy watching their fellow classmates embarass themselves at the front of the classroom. I saw some very clever ways to communicate words like: news, day, brother, sister, homework, etc. 

One of my poor victims asked me to give him an easy one so I decided to be nice. I gave him the word 'milk'. I figured it would be a very easy word since it was the only vocabulary on the sheet that was a drink. He pondered it for a minute and then both the students and myself lost ourselves in complete uproarious laughter.

When he started milking an invisible cow.

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The End of Summer

Hi. Been awhile. Today we will be discussing the season you all know as…Summer. We will also be discussing how much I personally dislike the season you all know as Summer.

So summer. This year in Japan was the hottest summer the country has had in 113 years. Highs of 100+ F with 80-90% humidity. Riding a bicycle in said weather was not particularly enjoyable. Especially while wearing slacks and a work shirt. I made it a point to bring a complete change of clothes with me each day to swap into after I had arrived at school.

One particular day, I was in the locker room at Junior High soon after I had arrived at school. It was a particularly hot day so I had stripped down to merely my boxers and used a towel I'd brought to attempt to "dry off". As I was doing this someone randomly came into the room to also change their clothes and likely got their first experience of seeing a large American that is particularly hairy. All I got was, "Oh Sukotto. I'm sorry." then a quick departure from the locker room. I finished toweling off and had a giggle to myself at the ridiculousness of it all. Hope I haven't scarred one of my colleagues.

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Bicycles and Middle Schoolers

A brief depiction of the intricacies of Bicycle retail and middle-school interraction.Story time.

We will start with the story of my bicycle and the low air in the tires.

So I was riding home from work a few weeks ago and noticed that my tires
felt pretty flat. I pulled over and sure enough the things were just
about void of air. Luckily there was a bike shop two blocks away so I
stopped and looked for whoever might be working. I discovered the only
worker and likely owner of the place was a 70+ year old man who looked
like he couldn't be bothered with anything. After asking him for his
help I realized this:

I didn't know the word for air or tire.

Soooooo, I tried to explain that I had a bicycle and needed his help. He
just kept looking at me in such a way as to say, "dude, what?" I
finally got him to come over to my bike and essentially grope my tires
while trying to explain what I needed. He finally looked at me with a
face that expressed his annoyance at a really dumb foreigner butchering
his native language and said:

Air pressure?

Old Japanese Bicycle Shop Owner 1
Scott 0

This next story takes place at middle school.

I was leaving for the day with my bicycle at my side and my bag in my
incredibly precious bicycle basket when I realized that I was being
spoken to. I looked up and saw a group of about 15-20 middle school
girls all waiting outside the gym for their chance to play basketball.
They were waving and saying goodbye in English so of course I responded
in kind. As I continued my way off the premises some of them began to
say things like, "I love Scott!" "We love Scott!" When I turned back
towards them with a laugh and a huge smile 5 of the girls turned redder
than a tomato garden and covered their faces in embarrasment.

They didn't think I could hear them.

Middle Schoolers 0
Scott 1

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The Coolest Thing Since I Arrived

Short but sweet. This one will rock you.Was in my last class of the day at my second elementary school and we
had just finished our lesson for the day. We had ten minutes to spare so
the teacher suggested that since I wouldn't be able to come to the
sports festival they were having that the kids of 3rd year Class 1 show
me their dance they had been working on. I thought this was a great
idea.

Now here I was, in Japan, knowing they were preparing for their sports
festival at the end of the month. I was completely prepared to hear some
awesome traditional Japanese tunes and watch them show me some very
awesome dance. Thats when the teacher turned on the music and my jaw hit
the floor:

They did Michael Jackson's Thriller Dance in perfect unison.

Coolest thing I have EVER seen.

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