Thursday, December 16, 2010

Monkey Mountain

I have conquered the perils of Monkey Mountain.

Last Saturday, I joined some Nara and Kyoto JETs in climbing Arashiyama, or as I call it, Monkey Mountain.

This mountain in Kyoto is famous for playing host to many feral Macaques. The hike up the mountain was pretty easy. There were only a few hazards. Because it was a bit misty, the rock steps and ramps were a little slippery. We cautiously made our way up Arashiyama.

As we climbed, we came across many signs warning us of the dangers of Monkey Mountain:

1. Do not feed the monkeys

2. Do not look the monkeys in the eyes

3. Do not touch the monkeys

Yeah...lots of "do not's."

We were were about halfway up the mountain and STILL hadn't seen any monkeys. We all began to think this was a waste of time. About 3/4 up the mountain, we suddenly heard some horrific howls from within the forest. We looked around, and saw 3 macaques violently chasing each other into the brush. Now, we got the feeling we were surrounded...

We finally reached a clearing. Lo and behold, there were monkeys! Lots of them! There were two park rangers to ensure none of us did anything stupid. Safety is what THEY call it. Rule #2 was difficult to follow. All the monkeys stare into your eyes. I did my best to look away but then this happened:

There was another clearing a little farther up the mountain with more monkeys. At this clearing, one daring baby monkey tried to steal my umbrella. I promptly yelled, "This cost me 1000 yen!" The monkey ran away. Sometimes a little human rage is good for negotiation.

We ended the night by walking through an illuminated bamboo forest. It was very crowded, but absolutely beautiful.

Monday, December 13, 2010


I will be playing Santa Claus for two kindergartens tomorrow. I was sitting in my living room trying to memorize the script and I came across this gem:

~A Student will ask: What do you do everyday?

Me [as Santa]: I go to the mountains and cut trees to make magic tops. On other days, I make preparations for Christmas Day. I make maps to follow while I deliver presents, and search for where good children live.~

There ya have it folks: apparently Santa destroys forests to make dreidels. Magical dreidels.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


I recently went to my school's Bon Enkai to celebrate the end of the fall term! It was amaaaaaaaazing!

A brief preface: The definition of “enkai” is merely “party; banquet” but it is also what greases the wheels of social communication in Japanese culture. The enkai is usually a work party with a lot of drinking.

My school's enkai was held at a major shrine in the city of Kashihara. Kashihara is the 2nd largest city in Nara, with Nara City being it's largest.

Given the terrible weather conditions, Storm and I received a ride from S-Sensei to the enkai. After we arrived, we were told to pick a table number out of a box to determine where we would sit for the dinner. I thought I was being funny when I did the ol' "reach my hand into the mysterious box and pretend like something grabbed it" routine, but apparently my humor doesn't reach across borders sometimes. Storm and I pulled different table numbers, so we wouldn't be sitting together. After we pulled our number we were given scratch lottery tickets. We were also told not to scratch them until the enkai starts.

The time had finally come for the enkai to begin, so all the teachers and staff shuffled into the event hall. The event hall was gorgeous. It was decked out with fancy table trimmings and Christmas decorations. I eventually found my table. Of course, with awesome luck on my side, I was seated at a table with NO ENGLISH SPEAKERS. There are 15 English teachers at my school and somehow I managed to choose the only table they weren't sitting at. Storm faired much better, with about 4 English teachers at her table.

The enkai began as all Japanese events begin...with a ceremony. I had to listen to a couple teachers talk about [insert thank you's and other platitudes] before the principal took the stage. My god, our principal LOVES to hear himself speak. I even noticed some of the teachers starting to bow their heads in boredom as he droned on and on and on and on...and on.

When the meal finally began, I searched for an open seat at another table. I found one easily, then quietly moved to another table trying to go unnoticed. Yes, the big, white foreigner tried to go unnoticed. To be honest, no one cared.

I should have learned my lesson about fine Japanese cuisine 2 years when I ate at a fancy restaurant with my brother. That night, I revisited my nightmares about Japanese cuisine. Sashimi, tofu, nabe [mostly cabbage] were eagerly waiting on my plate. Did I mention the shrimp and fish eggs? Ugh. Enough about the food. Typing this part of the blog is making me feel ill...

The festivities of the enkai were a lot of fun! Everyone scratched their lottery ticket at the same. Storm and I didn't win anything. Duh. The next event was Bingo! There 50 gifts in Christmas tote bags lined up on stage. We all watched a giant screen with the Bingo randomizer. It chose the letter and number. Up until this point, I had wondered why this enkai cost me $100. Then I saw the prizes in the bags, and became fully aware. Some the prizes were AMAZING. Some were LAME. I was 31st to win [YATA!] and in my bag was a digital photo frame. It was nice. Another teacher won a Nintendo Wii. Lucky!

My favorite part of the night were the conversations I had with teachers. I learned that night that there are 2 really cool teachers [not English teachers, mind you] who speak a little bit of English! I don't know why we had never talked before [they probably weren't drunk enough]. They were really nice and now I have a few more friends in the office. I toured all the tables, filled people's drinks [as is the custom], and was generally sociable.

After the enkai, I went with about a dozen other male staff to the nijikai [after party!}. We went to an izakaya to drink and eat more. The head of the English dept told me, "Joshua, you cannot speak English here. Only Nihongo!" I sighed, and agreed to his terms. I was surprised how much Japanese I actually knew. A lot of the basic phrases I learned came in handy. The teachers ordered food that I didn't like JUST to watch my reactions as I ate it. I told my spider joke again. I was challenged to a chugging contest [I won, easily]. Truly, it was boys being boys. I had a blast. A blasty blast.

Conclusion: I can't wait for the next enkai!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tales from the JETs

An Ibaraki JET:

A teacher at my school said, "My kids wanted more expensive things for Christmas this year, so I told them Santa was dead."


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Kyoto Joy

Last Saturday, I went to Kyoto with some Japanese friends and Rogue, a Nara JET. I woke early (on my effing weekend) and hopped the train to Nara. From Nara, I met up with Rogue and we took the train to Inari Station in Kyoto together. We had to take a local train to Inari Station so it took about an hour to get there.

Side Note: Living in Nara is amazing. Not only is Nara the cultural capital of Japan, but Nara is smack-dab in the middle of the Kansai Region. To the north, Kyoto. To the West, Osaka and Kobe. I live less than an hour from all the wonderful places in Japan. Awesome.

Rogue and I met up with the rest of the crew and we ventured into Fushimi Inari Taisha (a shrine). This shrine is amazing. The entrance is adorned with a LARGE orange gate. Once we reached the inside, we partook of some shrine rituals.

1. Shrines and temples do have a way to make money from followers and tourists. Usually they sell charms, souvenirs, and even fortunes. I paid a small pittance for my fortune. How it's done: I shake a case full of sticks with numbers on them. Whichever stick falls out of the case first is my number. I tell the number to the priest and he retrieves my fortune from his archive of bullshit.

My Fortune:
-West is a good direction.
-Someone who is annoying at first, will be okay soon.
-More bullshit that I don't remember anymore

Another tradition at this particular shrine is called the Omoikaruishi (literally: Heavy Light Rocks). These are stones that sit atop small placements. If one lifts the stones and they are light, one will have good luck. If the stones are heavy, one will have bad luck. I tried it. Honestly, they were kind of hurray!

The march up the mountain is wonderful. The entire trail is adorned with orange gates. It was like walking through a piece of art. Just beautiful.

The top of the shrine isn't really impressive. There is a small altar and some statues, but nothing worth seeing. The best place is the lookout about halfway up the mountain. I could see all of Kyoto from this lookout. It was absolutely breathtaking.

Restaurant Ninja:

There is a ninja-themed restaurant in Kyoto aptly named, "Restaurant Ninja." After taking the train from Fushimi Inari and walking a bit through Kyoto's shopping district (called Sanjo), we finally found it. At the front door, there is a host (dressed as a ninja) who showed us to our table. As we entered the restaurant, I suddenly lost all vision. The place is very dark and it took about 20 seconds for my eyes to adjust. The inside of the restaurant looks like the inside of cave. It is meant to mimic a ninja's "hideout." There is fake moss growing on the walls and random ladders everywhere. We sat down and ordered the lunch special.

I've heard that for dinner, the chef comes out to the table and performs ninja tricks while he cooks the food. I will definitely have to return.

After lunch, we were whisked away to the ninja maze downstairs. We were given little lanterns to find our way through the maze as well as bingo cards. We had to find the kanji on the bingo cards in the maze in order to win the prize at the end. What the host ninja neglected to tell us is that ninjas would be dropping down from the ceiling to scare the shit out of us. Ninjas appeared out of nowhere, then disappeared immediately after making me wet my pants. My favorite ninja scare came at the end. We found the kanji and were just about to exit the maze when a ninja appeared right at the exit. One of my Japanese friends actually screamed like a little girl. It was hysterical. Way to get us while our guards are down Japan!

The prize at the end was A CHANCE to win some free dessert. We drew lots. I didn't win, but it's okay, I got dessert any way. Restaurant Ninja specializes in custard wrapped with a crepe made from black bamboo.

I'm not crazy about the bamboo crepe, but the custard was yummy!

We spent a couple hours walking around Kyoto after lunch. The girls really wanted to do purikura, so we did that too. Purikura are a REALLY popular photo booths in Japan. They tend to white out faces to give everyone an even complexion and they really make the eyes stand out as well. After the pictures were taken, I let the girls customize them on the touch screen. The touch screen displays a vast array of options such as virtual stamps, pictures, clip art, colorful backdrops, borders, and pens that can be superimposed on the photographs. The other guy in the group and I just hung outside and talked about how silly purikura is. Here is a sample they created:

After Purikura, we hit up Starbucks for cocoa and general relaxation. We'd been going nonstop since the morning after all. Following Starbucks we visited another popular shrine at the end of Sanjo street. The shrine is big, but rather unimpressive. Eventually, all shrines start to look the same. The best part about this particular shrine was the food. I bought kobe beef on a stick for 400 yen ($4.50)!!!! It was delicious. They grilled the meat, dipped it in sauce, grilled it again, then served it. It was amazing and inexpensive.

To kill off our amazing day we did two hours of Karaoke. Rogue and I took the express train back to Nara. We slept like babies when we got home.

As John Stewart would say, "here is your moment of zen":

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A story from a Friend

When my fellow JET told me this story, I decided it was worth sharing:

Sensei: "So Jooji san, next week you will go to the kindergarten with the first years in order to promote population growth"

Nara JET: "Heh?"

Sensei: "The government says if the students enjoy playing with the kids, they may want to reproduce more"

Nara JET: "Why not just give students free wine? That'd solve everything."

Sensei: "Good idea, but I think they might" (distilled sake)

Nara JET: "I doubt the flavor's the biggest problem but sure, let's get on it."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Diwali: A Festivals of Lights Part 2: Just Desserts

Since Diwali is the festival of lights, a couple JETs provided some cheap sparklers for us to light following dinner. We had to leave the hotel, so we moved the party to a courtyard in front of the Nara Visitor Center. Most people left to do other things. About 14 of us stuck around for the sparklers. Our merry group of foreigners lit sparklers and danced around. We were having a grand ol' time until the fuzz showed up. Yes, between conducting traffic with light sabers and trolling the prefecture for a Mr. Dounut, the police took an interest in our festivities. Myself and one other JET tried to sneak away from the group, but were caught and asked to return. Damn. 2 others DID manage to sneak away. As they hobbled into the train station, I yelled (as only a true hypocrite can), "Cowards!" They got away, we didn't.

The officer escorted about 8 of us into the Koban (small police station). Upon entry, we all became incredibly retarded. We ALL pretended to know absolutely no Japanese, even the most fluent of us. It was hysterical. In these situations, it's best to play the ignorant foreigner, trust me. This afforded us a couple advantages. First, the police might grow tired of the language barrier and let us go (this is how I escaped giving a donation to my cable company). Second, we make them think we don't speak any Japanese, then listen to all the crap they say about us. Third, we appear ignorant, not malicious.

One of the officers whipped out his fancy translator and I became the impromptu leader of our band. He would show me the translator and I would pass the message on to everyone else. One hilarious example:

Police Officer:

Me: Hey guys, I think he's telling us we have no manners.

Police Officer: Hanabi, Hanabi!

Me: Ooooooh, um...fireworks are ill-mannered.

This went on for about 15 minutes. They collected our Gaijin cards, made copies, and took our phone numbers. Luckily, our prefectural adviser was with us. Prefectural Advisers are the first call a troubled JET makes. My conversation with her went like this:

(after handing the police my gaijin card)

Me: Hey Banshee, what do we do?

Banshee: BOW DEEPLY.

About 15 minutes after that, another officer walked in. The first officer totally called us Foreigners when describing the situation to him. Keep in mind, they know we are English teachers in Nara because it's written on our identification. Yet, we are still just "foreigners." Racists.

After getting debriefed on the situation from his fellow officer, the new guy laughed and said to us, "Fireworks are not illegal, but they are not permitted. blah blah blah blah..." We all bowed more times then I care to remember, left the koban, and went to the bar to have a laugh.

No JET experience is complete without a trip to the Koban.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Diwali: A Festival of Lights Part 1

The Nara JET community recently celebrated Diwali, the Indian "Festival of Lights." We have one JET who was born in India and she wanted to share her culture with Nara ALTs. About 26 of us gathered in a rented kitchen at a hotel adjacent to JR Nara.

Side Story about the Kitchen: The kitchen in this hotel was originally built to provide an environment to improve relations between partners in relationships. Maybe the wife can show her husband how to cook and they can work together to make a meal. Does this sound ridiculous? It is. Nara AJET exploited this information and reserved the kitchen under the guise of improving relations between men and women. We had to make sure guys and girls were both cooking and cleaning just to keep up appearances. This is how we booked the kitchen for freeeeeeeeee.

Everyone was told to bring their own plates, cups, and silverware (unnecessarily, I might add). No one knew that the kitchen was already stocked with EVERYTHING.

I arrived for the food, not the work (because I'm a nice guy). I purposefully arrived at 4 (cooking started at 2) ready to eat (many other JETs did this too). We all sat down at the tables close to the kitchen and began our festival. The Indian JET read a passage from the Bhagavad Ghita. Then, she introduced the food. She (and other Nara JETs) made samosas, egg curry, chicken curry, vegetable rice, a potatoes and chickpeas dish, and some Indian snacks. The food was alright. Honestly, I wanted more of the chicken curry, but I didn't want to appear gluttonous. Following the dinner, we ate some amazing Indian deserts. I don't remember the name of the deserts, sue me.

After food, ALL the JETS contributed in cleaning up. We had to leave the kitchen as we found it. We washed all the pots, pans, dishes, and utensils. We even had to take the garbage with us. The worst part? We had to put everything back where we found it. Considering just how many items we used, this was a daunting task. When we finished, a representative from the hotel inspected our work, then began to move everything around. Apparently, we weren't as careful as we thought.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

There is a very popular set of advertisements from the cell-phone/internet company Softbank called "The White Dog Family." In these ads, a white dog plays the father in a family of humans. The best part? The dog is voiced by an actor who is famous for samurai dramas.

Yesterday, while rummaging through the remnants of my predecessor's desk, I found Softbank's mascot: The White Dog. The stuffed animal walks AND talks. It even has a cell-phone strap!

The teachers LOVE my new paperweight. Several of them have seen it, then shrieked, "Otousan!" (father) This is how I gain respect in my office. I put cute things on my desk.

Side Note: Here is a link to a "White Dog Family" commercial:

The Things I hear...

Recently, I taught a lesson to a class of seniors about the differences between city and country life. The class was split into groups and given their assignment. The final part of the lesson was a debate between the groups. Some supported city life while others supported country life. This following is actual dialogue from the debate:

Student A: Girls don't like insects. There are many insects in the country. How do you think?

Student B: Women are like animals.

Me: (spit take)

[Side Note: I think the student meant to say, "Women LIKE animals."]

Monday, November 15, 2010


There is a set of 5 or 6 bulletin boards outside the teacher's office. To cover this expansive space, someone has put up posters advertising events no one cares about (meaning: they have nothing to do with the school OR this community). These posters don't even cover the space adequately. I could take all of them and fit them on ONE bulletin I did just that. hehe.

Storm and I got permission to create our very first cultural corner at the school. It started out as one bulletin board, but we quickly began expropriating more and more space. We split our first board in half so we could each work on our own projects.

Because it's November, my side's theme was "Thanksgiving." I basically printed the "myth" of Thanksgiving in sections and accompanied the narrative with cute pictures.

The biggest pain in the ass is the Computer teacher. He is the keeper of the color copier. The color copier is seriously kept in his office on the third floor. He is also incredibly elusive. I can only find him in his classroom DURING class, he's never down in the teacher's office, and his office is always locked. I have no idea where he hides when he's not teaching. The bulletin board would have been constructed sooner, but the knight of the color printer was out slaying viruses or hating on macs.

Storm's bulletin board is a profile of all the ALTs at our school. In addition to Storm and I, two other ALTs visit once a week. We filled out a questionnaire for Storm and even provided pictures. Items on her board:
1. maps of our respective countries
2. joke of the day
3. ALT profiles
4. Nara scholarship information

For a first try, our boards look damn good. We have already reserved the boards next to ours for December. I will do one for Hanukkah and Storm will do one for Christmas.

Monday, November 8, 2010

My new favorite place in Japan

My new favorite place in Japan is Spa World. Spa World is a gigantic onsen in the middle of Osaka. I went with another Nara JET, Prof. X.

As we entered, we dropped off our shoes in a locker in the lobby. After much discussion, we decided our hunger must be sated. We zipped up to the 6th floor where there is a small cafe by the pool. Did I say pool? I meant LAZY RIVER surrounded by 4 big water slides!!! I ate some gyudon (beef, rice, onion) and Prof. X ate udon (noodles...basically).

The water slides actually cost money in addition to the ticket price of getting into Spa World. We went around the lazy river a few times before heading outside (on the roof) to our first spa. Hanging out in a spa surrounded by the Autumn cold is amazing. It feels fantastic. After the Pool floor, we went down to the 4th Floor, also known as the Asia Floor. The actual spa floors are exclusive to men or women (no coed). Because of this policy, they switch which floors are available every day. There is also a Greece-themed floor and others.

We stripped down and made our way to the cleaning room. The spa provides personal showers and toiletries for all customers. Everyone cleans themselves very thoroughly before entering the spas.

We visited EVERY spa on this floor before we finished. Every spa varies. Some vary by temperature, some by scent, some by vitamins in the water. Some highlights:

1. We visited a room with three spas that increased in heat. We hopped from the weakest to the strongest. Did someone order boiled Jew?

2. There is a spa called "Dr. Spa." It is a weird mix of vinnegar, water, and other stuffs. It felt just like water, until about 2 minutes of being inside. I looked down at my body and I was COVERED in bubbles. It was soooooo cool!

3. There is a spa made out of some kind of special wood (whose name escapes me). The room smells amazing. The sauna was built using the same wood. Hurray.

4. After the scalding hot spa, Prof. X recommended another spa that was really close. He said, "this one's a bit cooler." This new one was an effing ICE BATH. He promptly laughed in my face after the realization was made. Well played Prof. X, well played.

5. The last spa we went into was a mixture of water, milk, and honey. It felt great and after it, I smelt great too.

After all the spas (of which there were many), we donned the Spa World relax clothing and laid down the relax room. This is a giant room with comfy recliners. Again, effing awesome.

There is a lot more to do at Spa World, but it all costs extra. Next time I go, I'm going to get a massage for sure. I'll also pay a little bit to ride the water slides.

The best part of this trip? It's only 25 minutes from me by train and it only costs 1000 yen ($12) for a whole day's admission. WHOOOOOOOP!

Winter approaches and I found a great new place to escape its fury.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Little Victories

I have lost 14 kilos since arriving in Japan. None of my clothes fit. YATA!!!!

For American readers: 14 Kilos = roughly 30 pounds.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

No, Japan...just no.

Hello, huge blatant mistake in my Japanese Conversation Textbook!!

EDIT: This is not a mistake in my Japanese Conversation Textbook. It is just a little confusing to understand, that's all.

Now is the Fall of My Discontent...

I am a Floridian. Last winter, in my hometown, the temperature dipped below 32 for 14 days straight. This was a record. However, following this freak cold snap, the temperature returned to normalcy (normalcy = a bit nippy).

Japan is known (and proud) of their 4 distinct seasons. Summers are hot, Fall and Spring are pleasant, and Winter is cold. As Fall continues, the temperature gets lower and lower. Japan doesn't get cold fronts like Florida. It just gets cold. I am slowly coping with the idea that my legs will be imprisoned in long pants until April or May.

I am gathering all the materials necessary to survive the winter. I bought a few fleeces (and long underwear), a box of winter clothes are on the way from home, and my heater arrived in the mail last week. I am physically prepared for my first REAL Winter, but mentally...I'm trying to stay positive.

The weather right now is actually pleasant. Long pants (or jeans) and a light sweater are all I require for now. However, I can feel winter's wrath descending upon Nara.

Consider me a bit culture shocked.

On a positive note, the leaves have started to change colors and they really are beautiful! Fall has arrived!

Schizophrenic Post = Complete.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I'm Making a List

This is a list of things I should do in order to make my life more comfortable in Japan:

1. Get a wireless router so I stop tripping over the wires running through my living room

2. Build my dresser so I don't use my drying rack and luggage as storage


4. Take all my predecessor's shit out of the kitchen cabinets and put it in an empty closet (because trashing the stuff is a pain in the ass and costly)

5. Get rid of all the cardboard boxes stacked up in my "bedroom" (storage room)

6. Buy a fitted sheet for my bed, instead of sleeping on top of another comforter

7. Find a permanent solution to my headboard problem (right now, I've been using my futon as a headboard for my bed)

8. Buy more cups, plates, and silverware

9. Buy a better drying rack for dishes

10. Buy better washcloths (the ones I have now are terrible)

This post shall be updated when I think of more stuff I should be doing...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

English Festival

I gave up one of my Saturdays to help out an English festival last weekend.

Morning: I arrived at the high school near Yaginishiguchi (say that 5 times fast) station a little late for the festival. Luckily, one of the judges was also late, so everyone overlooked my indiscretion. The morning was reserved for the 61st Nara Inter-High School Speech Competition (a real mouthful). This time, I got to lay back and just listen to the speeches. Other Nara ALTs were judges along with the same guy from the Nara Board of Education. A student from my school was competing, so I felt somewhat obligated to attend and cheer her on.

In high school speech contests, the students write their own speeches (probably with some major help from their teachers). Some of the topics were deep. One student talked about how she became suicidal during her junior high years because of bullying. This was actually a popular theme. Three other speeches were about overcoming bullying, finding meaning in the experience, and maturing as a result. Junior High School must be really brutal in this country.

Other speech topics included: the importance of breakfast, the importance of not wasting food, the Irish harp, and the message of "High School Musical." The student from my school did her speech on why Japanese woman are not having children. The birthrate in Japan has been declining for 10 years. My student blames financial problems, safety, and career driven females for this disturbing trend. I do not know enough about the topic, but I will do some research and write another cultural blog post soon.

My student came in 5th out of 17 contestants. I thought this would make her happy, but she told me she got fifth the previous year as well. I bought her some candy on the conbini to cheer her up. At least she ranked and received a GIANT certificate.

Afternoon: Upon return from lunch, all the students attending the festival received a pink paper with a description of someone. Each description corresponded with one of the ALTs in attendance. The students had to use their English to find the correct foreigner. They asked questions like: "where are you from," "where do you live," and "what are your hobbies." The students found me easily.

We played some English games in our groups for about 15 minutes. Then we combined our groups together to make bigger ones. We played more English games for another 40 minutes. It was fun. The kids were just excited to interact with foreigners, I think.

The closing ceremony was as stereotypical as ever. Lots of applause, lots of "thank you's" and lots of bowing.

As the festival came to a close, one of teachers alerted me that I had earned daikyu for helping on a Saturday. Daikyu refers to vacation days I earn because I work more than I am contractually obligated to. I've earned 2 extra vacation days because I worked the JETNET event and the English Festival. The only restriction is that I must use the daikyu within 8 weeks or it disappears. Whoop!

Speech Contest

Last Tuesday, I judged my first speech contest. The Koriyama Rotary Club sponsored a Junior High School speech contest at my school. Storm (the other ALT at my school) and I were designated judges for the contest in addition to a representative from the Nara Board of Education, and 2 Japanese Teachers of English (JTE). Storm and I were called into the Principal's office to meet the other judges and presumably to keep us from talking to the contestants. We sat silently as everyone babbled on in Japanese. I assume they were just introducing themselves and making small talk. I am always nervous around my principal. He is a very nice man, but always seems so unapproachable. The teachers are always SUPER polite to him including bowing and such.

***Cultural Interlude: The Japanese LOVE their ceremonies. They have a ceremony for everything. With ceremonies, come MC's. Even for the smallest of events, there is a ceremony and MC. For example, when the new prefectural ALTs signed contracts at the prefecture office, there was a ceremony. When the JTE's threw a small pizza party to welcome Storm and me, there was a ceremony. When N-Sensei farted in the office, there was a ceremony. Get the picture? All the ceremonies are also incredibly scripted. EVERYTHING is written down beforehand. This makes their ceremonies rather robotic, but efficient. The start and end times are adhered to strictly.***

After the opening ceremony, I took my seat at the back of the multipurpose room. I was given score sheets for each contestant and a pen. There were almost 20 speeches, roughly 5 minutes each. I had to judge each speech based on time, eye contact/hand gestures, pronunciation, intonation, etc on different numbered scales. At the bottom of the sheet was a place for comments. In the Japanese spirit of being non-confrontational, I only wrote positive comments: "Clear and Loud voice," "Wonderful topic," "Excellent eye contact," etc.

For Junior High students, it is really more of a recitation contest. The students open a book of speeches and pick the one they like most. Then they memorize the speech and practice with their English teachers until the day of the contest. This is how, at one point, I was forced to listen to the same speech twice. In high school, students write thier own speeches for these contests.

I listened to each speech, scored them, then gave the sheet to a student volunteer. The student delivers the score sheets to the Head of the English Department who then creates a spreadsheet of all the scores. Some of the speeches were excellent, some were boring. One student did a speech about getting rid of the remaining land mines in the world, super interesting. Others did speeches about Greek mythology and Japanese folk stories. The winner of the contest was a boy who acted out a scene from "Romeo and Juliet." He did both parts, Romeo AND Juliet, during their balcony scene. English is hard, but Shakespearean English? Forget it, he wins.

I was picked to read the winners at the end. The top 6 won certificates. The top three won trophies. It broke my heart to have to pick a winner. It really made me happy to see students enthusiastic for English language learning. I could tell all of them had practiced a million times for this contest, so I did feel bad there had to be a winner. On a positive note, I got to sign my name on a GIANT certificate for the winners. That was kind of cool.

Next Post: English Festival Day!!!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Gaijin on Parade

"Nara JETNet, comprised of participants in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET Programme), is an association whose goal is the grassroots internationalization of local communities in Nara Prefecture. Its organizing committee, which consists of the Prefecture’s five Coordinators for International Relations (CIR) and the Prefectural Board of Education’s Assistant Language Teacher (ALT), plans and carries out international exchange events that bring together foreign and Japanese members of the greater Nara community."

Last Saturday, a JETNet event took place: A Halloween Parade!

32 Nara JETs, 60 Japanese people (ranging from infants to the elderly) gathered at Miwa station, all dressed in costume. Let me paint a picture for you: 30 FOREIGNERS BOARDED A TRAIN COMPLETELY CLAD IN HALLOWEEN COSTUMES. To say people stared would be an understatement. They LEERED.

When we arrived in Miwa, we gathered in groups. We were all placed on "teams" primarily so we could make sure no one got lost on the trail. I was on team witch. There was another team, "Frankenstein," with a mislabeled sign. It read, "Frankenteim." Yes, the MC Hammer jokes were a-plenty:

Me: Hold on guys! Stop. Franken-time!!

Just try to imagine me doing the MC Hammer shuffle in my toga. Yes, I put on a simple bedsheet as a costume. I was not going to walk 13KM (roughly 8 miles) in makeup or some complicated BS. What I didn't realize until someone had pointed it out to me, is that my choice of a light green bed sheet turned my costume from Statue of Liberty. I only bought the stupid color because the store was out of white sheets. Oh well, it WAS funny.

The Halloween parade happened on the oldest road in Japan, Yamanobe no Michi. This road is centuries old, but many areas cut through residential neighborhoods. The trail is incredibly varied. One minute we were walking through someone's driveway (imagine his surprise), and the next minute we were walking through a shrine in the mountains. It was very bizarre.

As we marched on, many people (not JETs) started to drop out. There was a train station about halfway that 1/4 of our guests seized. It really was a tough hike for children.

The trail ends at the Chicken shrine in Tenri. I don't remember the name, but I've been there before when I visited the "center of the universe."

I still have no idea why I was the only one sunburned. Before you yell, "because you have fair skin!" just know that there is an Irish Jet whose skin is a lot more fragile then mine.

Here's the mildly amusing picture to end this post. It's soooooo...artistic:

Before I forget, my blog just got listed on the Unofficial JET Programme Guide -

Monday, October 25, 2010

Elementary Visit PART 2

I returned to the elementary school on Friday to help the teachers with their English conversation lessons. I helped teach two classes. Elementary schools use a textbook called "Eigo Noto," or "English Notes." This book is awful and hilarious. Rather than contribute my own commentary on Eigo Noto, I'm going to use someone else's work.

The following video was made by manipulating the audio tracks from the Eigo Noto CD (a cd that we used to teach grade school level English in Japan). Someone made an adult instructional video out of it. This video, surprisingly, won first place in the Fukuyama Film Festival 2010.

In my class, we used the audio from "Lesson 1." Watch it, enjoy it, and laugh heartily.

I tried embedding the video, but Blogger keeps cutting off the screen so here is the direct link to youtube:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Elementary School Musical PART 1

Midterms are a strange time. Students come into school, take their test, then take off for the rest of the day presumably to practice their club activity or maybe even study. Either way, there is nothing for ALTs to do during midterms. There are no real classes and no midterm test for English conversation class. As such, I was “voluntold” to teach at an elementary school Tuesday and Friday. I gladly olbliged. What follows is a tale of cuteness, creepiness, and all around awesomeness:

Hour 1, 2: 6th grade
Hour 3: 5th grade
Lunch: 6th Grade

Hour 1: I was told beforehand, I would be teaching 5th and 6th graders. My first thought: cool, a nice class of energetic kids! As I walked into the school’s multipurpose room, it became apparent to me that I would be teaching ALL of the 5th and 6th graders. Was I nervous? Hell no. I live for this.

For the first hour, I did my jiko shokai (self-introduction). I brought my laptop and showed the kids a tailored version of my high school powerpoint. The school provided the screen and projector. Win.

The best part about teaching at the elementary school? EVERYTHING I do is awesome to these kids. I might very well be their first extensive experience with a white guy. I showed pictures of my house, so the kids now think I’m a millionaire. Seriously, they think my house in Florida is HUMONGOUS. As the picture came up, a symphony of “OOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHH” erupted from the children. When they saw I had a pool, one of the kids’ heads exploded. I might as well wear a monocle and swish brandy.

Hour 2: The kids escorted me to gym where I was exposed to a variety of games.

Game 1: A strange mix of “Red Rover” and “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” Basically two lines of kids shout stuff at each other, then challenge the other team to RPC. One person from each team comes to the middle, play RPC, then the loser joins the winner’s team. I was called out EVERY TIME. I won twice and lost once.

Game 2: Very much like Sumo. Two kids enter a small circle at the center of the basketball court, then they try to force the other out of the circle. The largest of the children challenged me. Mistake. I picked this kid up and carried him out of the circle. In retrospect, I probably should have let him win, but I couldn’t resist.

Game 3: Dodgeball. Good ol’ fashion dodgeball. They play with slightly different rules. For example, if you are hit, then you go to a “prison” on the other team’s side. These “prisoners” can get a hold of a ball and still try to peg someone. If they do, they can return to their original side. Also, catching the ball means nothing. I held back, A LOT. My inner child wanted to whip the ball at some poor child…but I was nice. Sigh…

Game 4: The two teachers took out a large jump rope. The students and I (maybe 8) lined up along the rope and attempted to jump in tandem. The problem? I am waaaaaay taller than ALL OF THEM. When I jumped, my knees kept kicking the child in front of me. I tried to buckle my knees, but it was for naught. The kid and I laughed and still had a good time.

Hour 3: I did my jiko shokai again, this time for the 5th graders. This went pretty much like hour 1, but maybe the 5th graders aren’t as enthusiastic. They were still really genki (lots of energy), but the 6th graders had more.

Lunch: At elementary schools, lunch is provided to the kids. The food is really good…for school food. The teacher and students help serve food to everyone in the class. Once everyone has their food (and milk), everyone yells “Itadakimasu!!!” (bon apetit). We clap as we say this, then dig in. The food was meatballs, a tuna and seaweed salad, white rice, and soup (carrots, cabbage, pork, egg). Students are required to eat ALL of their food. Teachers are forced to eat all of it as well to set an example. This was hard. The meatballs and rice were easy (and good), but everything else I had to choke down. During lunch, the school plays a variety of really creepy songs over the loud speakers. They played an Enya sounding song, the Japanese version of “it’s a small world,” and other creepy kids’ songs. When the meal is over, everyone yells “Gochi so sama deshita!!!!” (That was a filling meal!)

This wraps up Part 1, Tuesday. Part 2 is on the way.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Disaster is my middle name...

Last Sunday, I attended a seminar about what to do during a Natural Disaster. It was sponsored by the Nara International Foundation: Commemorating the Silk Road Expedition. Yes, I know. It should be called NIFCSRE…but that just isn’t catchy enough. Either way, about 4 JETs and hopped boarded the free charter bus bound for the southern part of Nara City. 25 other people of Chinese, Japanese, Brazilian, and Dutch heritage joined us. I suppose this seminar was for foreign people living in Japan, but no one told me.

Once the seminar began, we were all broken into 2 large groups. My group went first. We were going to “experience” the 3 major disasters that Japan has to offer: Fires, Earthquakes, and typhoons.

Fire: We were brought to a room that had a gigantic tv screen on one side and a crapload (this is the metric system remember?) of fire extinguishers on the other. After a brief explanation about how fires start and spread (most commonly when people hang clothes above their space heater. Noted.), a video of a fire was played on the giant TV. The idea behind the next exercise was to aim our fire extinguishers (pressurized with just water, mind you) at the fire and “put it out” before it spread too much. The tv screen was obviously special. It could feel the pressure from the water and judge if we were hitting the right areas. The children in our group went first. They stopped the fire ASAP. Then it was the gaijin group’s turn (the 4 JETs including myself). We did worse than the kids.


1. Yell “Kaiji da!” (FIRE!!)
2. Start spraying
3. Stop the stupid fire


1. I yell “Don’t cross the streams!”
2. Aim everywhere, BUT the fire
3. Get showed up by little kids

Fire Part 2: The 2nd part of the fire portion was a “smoke” filled maze. We had to feel our way through a maze while our vision was obstructed by a fog machine and absence of light. Some doors were locked, some were chain linked, and others were open for us. As we were casually walking through this simulation, I asked:

Me: Hey, where is Shadowcat? (remember, x-men names now)
My group: I don’t know.
Me: She better not have ditched us in here.
My Group: Dude, I don’t hear her. I think she left us…to die.

When we emerged from the labyrinth, we saw Shadowcat. She was casually waiting for us at the end…laughing. The jokes flew and laughs were had until our group’s leader berated her. All of us were laughing at Shadowcat for being singled out until our translator told us, “Stop laughing, she’s being serious.” Yes sir.

Earthquake: There was a platform that, when activated, shakes violently simulating a earthquake. The kids were the first to go again. Their earthquake’s strength was a 3.0. Wimps. Then, the gaijin group walked onto the platform. Oh, let the embarrassment begin. Our earthquake was REALLY strong. I actually bumped my head a couple times against the poles meant to help us AVOID getting seriously hurt. I have to imagine our group leader laughing her ass off (inside her head) watching the foreigners jiggle about violently. When we finally stepped off (40 secs later), she told us that our Earthquake was a 7.0, more than twice the kids’ simulation. FML.

Typhoon: We stood in a wind tunnel as a fan blew air at us at 20 m/s. I don’t know the conversion to mph, but the wind was strong. Only funny thing to report during this simulation was that because of Shadowcat’s height and weight, she actually had to LEAN into the wind to avoid being knocked over. Ahhhh, justice.

When we returned to the multipurpose room (hehe, nostalgia), we were treated to a lecture about disaster preparedness including medical supplies, bags, and food. They even made us taste their disaster food, basically bread from a can. Yum…bleh. Following the seminar, NIFS gave each of the participants a bag with batteries, a flashlight, thermal blanket, etc. It was nice.

Also, one of my students pointed out that I was on the new last night!!! The prefectural new station at the seminar interviewed me. My contact at NIFS is trying to score a copy of the interview for me. When I get it, I will post it.

As always, I’ll end with something hysterical. This is a picture of a box of clothing from a nearby children’s store. The name of this store has not been edited. Enjoy:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pumpkin' around

Next week is midterms for my students. Mid-term exam week is alot like Finals week in America. All classes stop, and the students come in to school only to take a test. I assume they can go home when they finish...but Japanese students never go home.

Because midterms are next week, my JTE and I are taking it easy. I dedicated this week I would only give minor Conversation assignments and discuss Halloween. The students are FASCINATED by Halloween. In the first lesson, I reviewed Halloween's origins and covered the traditions in America. The real fun started today when I did my second Halloween lesson.

While the kids worked on their assignments, I carved a pumpkin. Japanese pumpkins are like rocks. American pumpkins have the hardness of a watermelon. It took one helluva sharp knife to murder my pumpkin. I picked a simple design (it's my first time carving a pumpkin after all). When I finished, I showed my students a cool powerpoint full of awesome pictures of cool jack o' lanterns. Some of the designs included The Death Star, Hello Kitty, Super Mario, and Jack Skellington. I even told them the folk story origin of Jack O' Lanterns. The students were entranced.

The best part of my lesson? The JTE let the students take pictures of my Jack O'Lantern and me. Imagine being surrounded by 20 students with cameras. I felt like a celebrity and the students, paparazzi. The candle in the pumpkin actually starting burning it a little from the inside, so the classroom smelled like cooked pumpkin!

By the way, my JTE and I have way too much fun in class:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Ladies and Gentlemen, I told a joke that made the entire office lose their $H#T!

Kumo otoko wa don na aji desu ka?
(What does a spider taste like?)

Supai da!
(Japanese word for sour, also sounds a hell of a lot like the English word "Spider."

I am now beloved.

A journey to the familiar...and dated...

Over the holiday weekend, I ventured to Universal Studios Japan (USJ) with other Nara JETs and one random English teacher. It was an escape into the familiar.

We took a special train from Osaka Station to get to USJ. Upon arrival, the first thing we saw was a trainer doing tricks with a monkey. The monkey was wearing people clothes…it was cute…and a little sad. Here’s a pic:

Once inside the actual park, everything felt eerily familiar. It was like I was back in Florida. It didn’t feel like Japan. USJ is modeled somewhat after Hollywood, CA so the streets had English names. There were speed limit sign that used MPH. The food was still Japanese, but the setting had changed.

The first ride we went on was the “Hollywood Dream.” It’s just a typical roller coaster. It just goes up and down a lot, no upside downs. Coming from Busch Garden, I guess I am a little bit of a theme park snob. It was fun, but I was not impressed.

After saying “trick or treat” to come USJ employee and getting some candy for it, we went to the Jurassic Park ride. Like many of the rides at this park, it is a complete copy of the one back in Florida. There were come cool parts (like when a box with a raptor almost collapsed on our boat, or when the T-Rex makes an appearance). We got wet after the drop at the end of the ride (think Splash mountain), which I disliked.

We did the Jaws ride next. Again, same thing as Universal in Orlando. Cool parts: When we were in the boat house and the giant shark pops up. The best part of this ride was watching the children FREAK THE EFF OUT. I don’t blame them, but it was hilarious to me. Did I mention all the narration is in Japanese? It is, but I could tell what was going on.

We ate lunch at the Jurassic Park themed restaurant. I had the Raptor Galbi. It's basically some teriyaki beef, served with rice, some tortilla chips, and a baked potato. It wasn't really filling, but it was okay because I wanted room for popcorn and other treats.

I did not enjoy the "Backdraft" simulation because everything was done in Japanese (which I didn't understand), the wait was long, and the pay off (although cool) wasn't worth it. The only thing that attraction convinced me of, was to watch the movie "Backdraft."

Unlike Universal Orlando, USJ still has the "Back to the Future" ride. Still good, but incredibly dated.

We concluded the night by eating caramel popcorn and sipping melon flavored slurpies as they (not me) enjoyed the parade. Parades are lame. There, I said it. USJ's light parade was interesting because the 3 themes they used were all Disney properties. For example, the themes were "Alice in Wonderland," "Arabian Nights (Aladin)", and "Cinderella." Someone should tell Japan, "Don't fuck with the Mouse."

I bought a big poster from the Shounen Jump (they make my favorite comics) store, and then we all went off in different directions for home.

Interesting Note: The wait times for attractions are listed as incredibly long. Think 70-120 mins. It NEVER took that long. We waited, at most, 25 mins for a ride. I think wait times are engineered this way, so everyone leaves surprised and happy. It's a sort of artificial happiness.

As always, here's a mildly amusing picture of me:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tales from the office

‎(After noticing a teacher's busted lip)

Me: Sensei, what happened to your lip?

Sensei: I don't know. Sometimes when I'm tired, things just happen to my face.


Monday, October 4, 2010

The Devil has come to Earth, and he landed in Japan.

Necessary Background information: Japan passed a law 15 years ago, prohibiting teachers from removing students from class. Students have the RIGHT to stay in the classroom.

I have found myself frustrated as of late with Japan’s education system; more specifically, with how Japanese teachers deal with discipline. They simply do not have a discipline plan. I learned that in order to be an effective educator, students must be aware of all rules, procedures, and most important, consequences.

I have seen teachers let students sleep claiming, “It’s okay, he’s tired.” I have witnessed teachers try to lecture over student conversations. I see students blatantly disregard the teachers’ instructions and continue to be disruptive. I rant about this particular aspect of my life because there was an incident lately that has been driving me crazy.

Before I really took note of the discipline problems in my school, I took it upon myself to halt the disruptions of one particularly rude student. When verbal cues were not enough, I sent him to the back of the classroom, hoping that would end his bad behavior. It did not work. He kicked desks, refuse to participate in activities, and STILL conversed with students (completely ignoring how far removed he was from them).

There is no detention. I cannot remove him from the class. Students have the RIGHT to remain in the classroom. This means students have the RIGHT to disrupt the learning of others. I am stuck with this little bastard. I have almost no ammunition on which to base any threats.

Sending him to the back of the classroom was certainly a shock for the class. Imagine an environment where no one gets punished, then suddenly the new teacher (An American white guy) starts in with a new brand of Justice. This student (let’s call him Beelz), thinks I hate him now. Not only does he think I singled him out in class, but because the entire school lacks a discipline plan, I might as well have singled him out in front of the whole student population.

I can’t exactly blame him for thinking this way. After all, he’s been in a system with no consequences for far too long. This is his way of reacting to change. Since then, he has not felt the need for restraint. He talks though the whole class, never participates in activities, and is a complete asshole to me whenever we interact. Even if I press harder, the discipline will obviously be inconsistent with ALL of his other classes. No progress will be made. I also fear that coming down harder on him will make act out even more. It’s like giving an F to a student who has given up on school. I could give him extra homework, but he wouldn’t do it anyway. I could get angry, but that would only add fuel to the fire. To make matters worse, it seems like my Japanese Team Teacher has just stopped short of telling the kids, “please be quiet,” but it almost always falls on deaf ears with Beelz. As the assistant language teacher, I feel I must follow the lead of my Japanese counterpart. Even she complains how much of a terror he is. If this were America, I could fix his attitude, I think.

I’ve spent some time talking about this spawn of Satan, but I want to highlight the good portions of Japanese students too. I believe the reason there is no discipline plan is probably due to the vast majority of students being exemplary in the classroom. There are only a few students who act up in my class among the 120 students I teach. Most are fantastic, studious, and respectful. They are kids after all, so some minor discipline issues still abound.

I am happy to teach in a foreign education system, but this is just one aspect that bothers the shit outta me.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Journey to the Center of the Universe

On the 2nd of October, in the 2010th year of our Lord, I journeyed to the center of Universe: Tenri. Tenri is a city in the Nara Prefecture famous for the new religious movement (cult) called Tenrikyo. Here’s a brief synopsis of the religion from wikipedia:

“Tenrikyo (天理教 Tenrikyō) is a monotheistic religion originating in revelations to a 19th-century Japanese woman named Nakayama Miki, known as Oyasama by followers.[1] Followers of Tenrikyo believe that God, known by several names including Tenri-O-no-Mikoto, expressed divine will through Nakayama's role as the Shrine of God, and to a lesser extent the roles of the Honseki Izo Iburi and other leaders. Tenrikyo's worldly aim is to teach and promote the Joyous Life, which is cultivated through acts of charity and mindfulness called hinokishin.”

Tenrikyo is like the scientology of Japan, with Tenri being it’s Clearwater.

I went with Rogue (let’s go with X-men names from from now eh?), a first year Nara JET living in Tenri. She first took me to the main temple of Tenrikyo, Daikyokai (literally- Big Church). The building is absolutely beautiful and humongous. We took our shoes off as we entered the main shrine, the center of the universe. Why do I keep calling it the center of the universe? According to the religion, Oyasama created the universe at this specific spot, and, according to the teachings, the stone tablet in the center of the large hall is THE CENTER OF THE EFFING UNIVERSE. So now you won’t be surprised when you die and wake up in Tenri. Rogue and I did the traditional ritual when in the large prayer hall. It’s basically 4 claps, bow, 4 claps, bow. Easy enough?

As we rounded the hallways of the large structure, scores of followers were on their hands and knees polishing the floors, chanting prayers. I’ve heard this is form of meditation, but Rogue and I had to bite our lips not to laugh a little. We kind of felt like we were playing Frogger dodging the cleaners. One of them stopped his meditation, stared awkwardly at us, and then continued his anointed cleaning duties. All glory to Scrubbing Bubbles!

After visiting where IT ALL BEGAN, we ventured to Isonokami Jinja. Unlike Nara park where wild deer roam, Isonokami Jinja has wild roosters and chickens walking around.

This shrine also houses some amazing artifacts. I assume because of the minor construction at the site, public viewings of these artifacts are suspended. That won’t stop me from pointing what I COULD HAVE seen:

As always, I'll leave you with something mildly humorous: