Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Opening Ceremony

Today is the first day of school. Today is the opening ceremony! All the students are gathered in the sauna..err..I mean gym, and forced to listen to many speeches, including mine. C and I were herded onto the stage, and one at a time, we each gave a small introduction to the students. When we finished, a student representative made a small speech welcoming us to the school. The students were then told to stand up...and BOW TO US! Yes, 1000 students bowed to me. Only in Japan. Because the rest of the ceremony is in Japanese, my supervisor told me I didn't have to stay...so here I am typing typing about what just happened.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Last Weekend

I just had an amazing weekend. All my weekends have been busy and fun, but this one was special.


MY IKEA stuff was delivered! I spent about 2 hours building the couch/bed, and haven't mustered the nerve to build the small dresser, tv stand, and chair. I will, but courage take time people. In the afternoon, one of the current JETs who is moving in with her boyfriend dumped a ton of crap at my apartment. It is mostly kitchen-related crap (which I need), but she also dropped off a small, gaming chair, and some nice plastic drawers for more random crap.

Saturday night, I traveled to Osaka to offer a foreign perspective to a youth theater production. This particular theater was doing a play in English and they offered JETs free tickets. About 5 of us went to witness the adorable horror. The play they chose to show was "High School Musical Jr." The play was simply hilarious. There were two kids that I just couldn't understand regardless of their English ability. The stars were cute, but couldn't sing and dance. Afterward, we got a couple beers at a "Hawaiian" bar nearby. I then proceded to head back to Nara City for another JET's birthday party. Enough said.


Sunday morning was the Basara Matsuri, which I had agreed to dance in. We met at the Kintetsu station to receive our aprons and naruko (clackers).

Then we went to the Kencho courtyard to practice again for the event. It was fucking hot. Everyone was sweating away their souls. We all drank our weight in water. When the event was finally ready to begin, we headed for the starting line at the JR Station. We (about 15 of us) got in formation behind our awesome music truck and began to dance our little hearts out. Each dance is about 4 minutes of exhausting cardio. We did 4 in a row before taking a small break. At the end of the fourth dance, I saw a gray haze over my eyes. No matter how much water or Pocari Sweat (gatorade-like drink), we just could not hydrate properly. Luckily, we got to stop for 5 minutes before the next set of dances. Yes, folks, there was more dancing. The crowds along the street loved out group and took lots and lots of pictures. One of the Nara JETs took pictures and video of the event, so when I get a hold of him, I'll ask him for them. After the break, we danced an additional 4 times for a total of 8 in the sweltering Nara heat. By the end, we were exhausted, hot, and dehydrated. You welcome, Japan.

After the Basara Matsuri, 5 of us had to shower and change for a cultural dinner we signed up for that night. It turns out, the dinner was a really big deal. The governor of Nara and the mayor of Nara City were both present. The event coordinators gave the JETs a table in the front, right next to the governor (a very nice man, BTW) and the Sento-kun (Nara's gross mascot) Fan Club. On the stage, important people from all around the prefecture reenacted important cultural events including using small hammers to break open a couple barrels of sake. The food was simply amazing. I had steak for the first time since coming to Japan. I ate until my stomach rebelled, then ate some more.

All of this pales in comparison to the highlight of the culture dinner, the song and dance portion. During a really catchy song about Nara (complete with Sentokun on the stage), some important g-man asked the JETs to join them on stage and dance. Do you remember that scene of "My Fellow Americans" when the president dances with a panda? It was kind of like that. Shortly after we went on stage to clap and join in, the governor joined us, then other g-men, then the Sentokun fan club. I even managed to pick up some of the lyrics and dance moves so I didn't have to look totally absurd. Again, another JET is the one who took pictures, so I will try to score some from her. At the end of the night, I managed to jack a bunch of commemorative sake cups from the table and bring them home with me. All in all, a good night.

Nara Orientation

August 22nd and 23rd was Nara Orientation in Nara City. Being a new prefectural ALT, I had to arrive the earliest for contract signing at the Pref. Office (kencho). All of us sat down in the Pref. Head of Education's office and began the "ceremony." Ceremonies are BIG here. There is a ritual and ceremony to everything, no matter how small. H-Sensei even declared herself the master of ceremonies for the "event." The event being 8 ALT's sitting around a large table with the Nara Supervisor of Education. We had to do typical self-introductions in Japanese (of which I've done MANY), then we signed the terms and conditions of our contract.

A couple hours later, we began ACTUAL orientation. Current JETs each prepared a small lecture for everyone else. I forgot to mention that EVERY Nara JET was in attendance at Nara Orientation. We had seminars about safety (the MUKADE! YUK!), where to travel around Nara, and even a nice lecture about linguistics.

One of the highlights of the orientation was T's (a Canadian CIR) presentation. He obviously procrastinated and couldn't come up with anything "real" for his presentation. Instead, he took a treasured childhood show of his called "The Littlest Hobo" and edited the material to include text commentary. We watch a children's show "through the lens of the JET program." T's commentary was hysterical. By the way, "The Littlest Hobo" is about a German Shepherd that goes around towns solving crimes, all without talking. The best part? It is not a cartoon.

The night of the first day of orientation, Nara JETs enjoyed a Beer Garden on the roof of a nearby hotel. All-you-can-eat and drink, for a low, flat rate. Unfortunately, I was really sick that night so I ended up leaving early to get some rest. God bless dayquil/nyquil, but SHHHHHHH....they are illegal in this country.

As orientation came to an end, I made some connections for possible future hobbies including taiko drumming, the shamisen (love it!), and the Nara JET Touch Rugby team.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


I actually have to do some work today (I know, big surprise), so I will give a big update with pictures on Monday probably. Sorry about the delay.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Culture Update

This is yet another cultural update from Japan:

School clubs are very important to students here in Japan. Even during vacations, students STILL come to school to practice basketball, volleyball, baseball, brass band, etc. Even during winter vacation, students continue to come to school until the day the school actually closes for the holidays. I have to imagine that when the maintenance crew arrives back after the break, they must buy new doors because the old ones are covered in scratch marks from where the students tried to claw their way back in.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I went to the girls' basketball club today to play around and was made to look like a bitch. Japan's club system produces superhuman experts in their field. Did I have the height advantage? Sure. Did they have the proper shooting technique? Hell No. I still lost miserably.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

School Days

I have an interesting couple of days.


I decided to explore the school once again instead of staying confined to the teacher's offices. I went to the gym and watched the boys' volleyball club practice. I thought about joining, then I noticed what they were actually doing. One kid was spiking a ball as hard as he could down at the ground while another boy was forced to dive to bump the ball. This continued for at least 30 mins with different both taking over each role. I am not diving for any ball on the hard gym floor, especially not more than once.

Realizing my cowardice and apparent need to have fully-functioning knees, I moved on to the girls' volleyball club. They were playing practice games. I met their coach, Y-Sensei. She speaks 3 languages (although her English is awful) and is the calligraphy teacher as well. I volunteered to take score and even made a few signs to cheer them on. The girls laughed, but I laughed too. It was a fun time.


Today is the Junior High students visiting day. Basically, my high school opens up to junior high students from all around to show them what high school classes are like. I got to help teach one class with I-Sensei. First, she told the kids something in Japanese (probably "welcome" and "this is what English class will be like"). Then she had me introduce myself in English to the class. The students were INCREDIBLY SHY. I basically told them my name, where I'm from, my hobbies, etc. Then I-Sensei had me read 2 children's books. She told me to read them like a father would to his children. A bit embarrassing, but I'm no stranger to embarrassing as a teacher. The students' then translated the book on a worksheet. I-Sensei had students translate a Japanese book to English as well.

After class, I-Sensei invited C and me to the tail-end of a tea ceremony. We missed the rituals, but arrived on time to drink the tea. The girls of the Tea Ceremony club wear yukatas as they perform the rituals. It was cute. I don't particularly like tea, but since I'm always dehydrated I drink it anyway.

Future Plans:

From the CIR, A: 8/29 "For those of you who are new, Basara Matsuri takes place on the afternoons of August 28th and 29th, and is a chance for us JETs to actually get out there and dance in a matsuri parade, which is not that often! It only takes an hour or so to learn the dance (a very simple one), and then we go out with the other groups and dance about in the streets of Nara City. It's lots of fun, and a great opportunity to get a front row seat for all the other groups :D"

From the CIR, M: Also, 8/29 "You will be able to eat and drink while enjoying performances about what Japan can be proud about. The stage will have the shape the boats used to have when Japan was sending out people to China to learn about Chinese civilization 1300 years ago. An example of the performances held on that day could be “Kagami wari” (traditional Japanese celebration), during which people break a barrel’s lid with a hammer to drink the alcohol inside. It sounds like tons of fun, right?!!"

As you can see, I am staying very busy. Nara Orientation is next Monday and Tuesday! Beer garden Monday night!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Culture Update

Interesting Cultural Aspect of the Day:

Japanese people do not look down on those who work menial jobs. In America, we tend to frown upon those who work at McDonalds or some other "lower" job. In Japan, as long as someone is working, they are considered a valuable part of society.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Kyoto blues

Daimonji blows. Daimonji is an event held once a year in Kyoto where they burn gigantic kanji effigies on the 5 mountains of Kyoto. I got a group together to watch them light the kanji last night. We arrived at the best viewing place an hour before it was supposed to start. It was packed!!! We were forced to sit on the slope of a hill, which hurt my ass and feet, below the tree line so we could barely see the kanji. Turns out, it's impossible to see all 5 kanji at once, so I was only able to see 2. It's just not impressive. It's not worth the train fare to Kyoto. To top it all off, the way back to the trains was like a crowded marketplace in India. Wall-to-Wall people trying to get home. I did manage to have a fun dinner of Okonomiyaki, so maybe the night wasn't a total waste.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

So much has happened...

I still don't have internet at my apartment, so I must always wait out the weekend before I can update again. Here goes:

Thursday: Tokae in Nara City. This event is held in summer in Nara Park, which contains many World Heritage sites. About 20,000 candles light up nine areas in the part, creating a fantastic festival atmosphere. A bunch of Nara JETs (NJ) and I went to Nara Park and viewed the lanterns. In the park proper, someone arranged the lanterns in the shape of fireworks. I managed to learn something important about Japanese festivals: festival food is awesome. I ate some kind of fried chicken thing, very tasty. The foods at these festivals are more traditional, unlike...say...the fried snickers bar one can get at carnivals in America. Afterwards, the NJ's split up into several groups and did their own thing. I went with the group that scored beers from the combini and drank in the park. Good times...

Friday: I was busy at work surfing the internet, when S-Sensei asked me and C if we wanted to go to lunch! We ate at an Italian restaurant nearby. I had pizza, C had some gross tofu and spinach omelet, and the S-Sensei had something called Omericu (sp?). It is basically a gigantic omelet filled with ketchup-flavored rice. It tasted alright... Afterwards, S-Sensei got permission from the Kyoto-Sensei to take us to Horyuji Temple. Horyuji Temple has some of the oldest wooden structures in the world and is recognized as a World Heritage Site by the UN. The Temple is huge! There are many buildings and many artifacts inside. It was built by Japan's only Empress as a sign of Japan's acceptance of Buddhism. S-Sensei even bought us some persimmon-flavored ice cream! Yum!

Saturday: Whynot is an organization that plans parties for foreigners in the Kansai region. A couple NJ's dj-ed an 80's night at a club in Osaka. Good times...nomihodai (all-you-can drink)...enough said.

Sunday: I went to Osaka and bought a used HDTV. Japan is finally making the move to digital, so stores are trying to rid themselves of outdated televisions. Because I don't give a shit about Japanese cable, I bought one just so I can finally use my PS3. It should arrive at my place next Sunday.

Also, last night was the kanji burning in Nara City. They burn gigantic kanji shapes into the mountain. It is very beautiful. They burned the kanji for "Big," or "Dai." Tonight, I'm going to Kyoto for the DAImonji. They burn 5 kanji on five different mountains. That should be fun.

Like I said, I've been busy. I will upload pics as soon as I can!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Nara City

I visited Nara City for the first time since Nara orientation at the Kencho. A JET CIR, M, took me around. She's been in Nara for 2 or 3 years now so she knows her way around the city. I met her around noon at the fountain near the Kintetsu Rail Station.

Before heading off to the shrines and temples, she took me to a place that makes Okonomiyaki! Okonomiyaki is like a pancake made with batter and egg. It's almost like an omelet. We order one with cheese and potatoes! Yum! We also order soba and split the bill.

After lunch, we went to the Todaiji Temple. It is the most important Buddhist temple in Japan! There were deer everywhere! They are much smaller than the deer in America...but that just makes them cuter. When you hold food up, they bow until you either give them the food, or they get pissed and bump you in aggravation.

The Todaiji Temple is gigantic. The pictures I posted just don't do it justice. On the inside there is an equally large statue of Buddha. Just on the outside of the temple is a statue of Binzuru. Apparently he was a devout friend of Buddha, but he was also kind of a playboy, so they put him outside the temple instead of inside. Legend has it, that if one rubs the statue of Binzuru, then rubs an ailing part of the body, it will be healed. I haven't had much an appetite lately so I rubbed Binzuru, then my tummy.

Around the inside of the temple are statues of scholars and warriors, miniature scale replicas of the temple itself, gold lotus leaves, and other stuffs. A popular Buddhist tradition when a temple opens is to climb through the eye of Buddha, and out the nose. If one can do this, they are considered clever and blessed. To simulate this tradition, there is a column with a hole through it. People were lined up trying to pass through the column. When we passed by, there was a rather large man trying to go through. He got stuck and people were trying to push and pull him through. It took like 10 minutes, but I think he got through.

M and I also visited the sanctuary in Nara City. It was a LONG walk, but it was pretty and shaded. The sanctuary has a Shinto shrine at the center. Around the sanctuary and shrine are 3,000 lanterns with people's prayers on them.

Before leaving Nara City, I bought a Jinbei for the To-kae festival on Thursday. It's a traditional clothing worn at festivals. I wanted to buy a yukata, but I could not find any in my size. I am waaaaaay bigger than Japanese people.

Here's some pics:

Binzuru and I.

The Todaiji Temple

Bambi and I. Now if I could just find Bambi's mother...oh...

M and I at the sanctuary

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Finally in Nara!

Well, at least I have internet at my school. I am hoping to get internet at my apartment soon, but yahoo bb keeps giving me the run-around. I will recap the past couple days:

Wednesday: I woke up effing early (about 6:30), and went downstairs to meet the other Nara JETs and even some Shiga JETs. We took a bus to the Tokyo Station for the bullet train. We all bought breakfast and lunch at the station and brought it on board the train. The shinkansen was really cool! It goes like 200 KM! Fast! It only took us 2 1\2 hours to get from Tokyo to Kyoto. Once in Kyoto, we boarded the express train bound for Nara City. We walked our bags about 8 minutes uphill in unreal humidity to the Kencho (pref. govt office). We got to walk next to the park with all the deer! It was soooo coool! Once we arrived at the Kencho, we sat through 3 hours of orientation about Nara including train schedules, holidays, laws, etc.

O-Sensei picked me up in his brand-new minivan and took me to my new hometown. he introduced me to the school (kinda looks like a prison from the outside) and the Kocho Sensei (principal). The Principal took C (the other new ALT) and I out to dinner at a Yaki-niku! It was delicious and awkward because the Kocho Sensei only speaks Japanese and we only speak English. Good food, no conversation.

Over the next couple of days, O-sensei took me to a second hand store and I bought a washer, fridge, and microwave. We even went to the 100 yen store and I bought some plates and bowls. I am waiting for trhe trip to ikea to buy real furniture, but I do need a drawer and a bed. I've been sleeping on a futon, which is alright, but I want a bed soon.

The school lent me a bike so that's how I get around. When I buy groceries, I have to make sure they fit in the basket of my bike. I bike everywhere. I'm going to lose so much weight.

With rice fields close by and mountains painting the background, I am very happy with my placement. I live close to just about everything, either by bike or train.

Yahoo BB said they would install my internet on Sept. 4th. I don't know why it's going to take so long, but I got some major discounts so it's cool. I'll be getting a cell-phone soon too!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Last Day of Tokyo Orientation

Day 2 of Tokyo Orientation was uneventful, really. I woke up, had basically the same breakfast as yesterday (but this time there was au-gratin potatoes instead of french fries) and went straight to a ALT panel for an hour and a half. The panel was comprised of CLAIR, a Japanese teacher of English (JTE), and some current ALTs. They shared some funny stories and some boring ones. According to one ALT, Japanese students are very touchy and some grabbed her boobs and such. For guys, male students like to ram their fingers at the ALT's asshole and yell "Kancho!" I will forever be on my guard for the demon of sexual harassment.

After the panel, I ditched the next seminar and went with a bunch of people to get lunch and exchange money. I exchange my currency at the Japanese Post Office and got a fairly good rate. I still lost money, but the exchange rate ain't gettin' any better. It took me roughly 5 minutes to order a simple McDonalds meal. I got up to the counter, pointed at the meal I wanted, and said "Koko" ("this"). Well, apparently that wasn't enough for the poor lady and she heaped at least 8 questions at me. Someone told me later she probably asked what size, if I wanted the combo, if I wanted ice in the drink, etc. It was frustrating, so I've made it my first Japanese language goal to learn how to order food at restaurants.

After lunch, we had out prefectural meetings. Nara's Prefectural Advisor told us Nara JETs the procedures for getting the hell out of Tokyo and on the way to Nara. We will be waking up early (around 6:30AM) to get to the bus that takes us to the Shinkansen (bullet train). A 2 1/2 hour later, we have an 8 minute walk up hill to the Nara BoE where we will sit through a 3 hour orientation before leaving with our supervisors.

Tonight I'm going out with some current Nara JETs for dinner before passing the eff out.

I probably won't have internet when I arrive in Nara, so this blog may be empty for a while. Check back, I will update when I can.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Day 1 of TO

Yesterday was the first day of Tokyo Orientation! I went to bed the night before around 9 after getting back from dinner. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out. I woke up around 6:30 naturally...seriously, no alarm. I got lots of rest on what the Japanese call beds. According to my brother, it's really more like mats on a platform with sandbags for pillows. I went with my roommates to get breakfast, which was delicious. I learned my lesson again, bacon is very different in Japan. I ate mushy scrambled eggs, french fries, and some corn flakes.

After breakfast was the welcome ceremony. Basically, I sat for about 3 hours and listened to CLAIR, Japanese Dignitaries, and others mouth off about how important internationalization is to Japan. My ass hurt from sitting, but I got plenty of practice sitting from the 14 hour flight from Newark. Lunch of curry and rice...bleh...I think I accidentally ate at the vegetarian option table.

I attended the Pop culture seminar after lunch. It was a really cool little talk. Some ALTs and CIRs went over what is currently popular in Japan including game shows, comedies, dramas, foreign dramas (24! ^_^), video games, manga, music, etc. Apparently there is a j-pop band with 48 members!

I also went to the Food seminar, which was mostly a waste of time. I learned recipes that I'll never use among other things. I did learn however, that pre-made foods go on sale after 6:00PM and apparently taste just as good. I need to buy fruits when they are in season to save money as well.

After dinner, the Nara JETs got together and did some epic karaoke. I sang "Don't Stop me Now" by queen and joined in on many other songs. The karaoke place was a nomihoudai, which is all-you-can-drink for a flat rate. The Nara JETs are amazing, so this year should be fun. After karaoke, we hit a conbini for water and snacks. We chilled out in a circle at a courtyard of a large building until we all went inside for sleep. That was my Day 1.

Post comments, questions, or even email me if ya want.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Hey! This is my first post actually being in Japan!

A bunch of other Miami JETs and I stayed up all night before out flight left Saturday morning. We ran out of things to talk about so we pretty much hit every piece of webjunk imaginable until it was time to leave the hotel.

The flight to Newark sucked....bad. There was no in flight entertainment, so we had to entertain ourselves. I didn't want to fall asleep until the flight to Tokyo so it was a constant battle to stay awake until then. The flight to Tokyo had some awesome perks. Each seat had a screen with on-demand. So we had a choice of hundreds of movies (some new releases too), tv programs, and even cheap little games like asteroids. The flight went alright. I got about 5 hours of sleep and the trip was 14 hours. Those last 4 hours drag on forever. Everyone on the plane was just counting down the miles...

Once we arrived in Tokyo, we waited probably 45 mins in customs, grabbed our bags, made our way through the airport to the buses. Narita Airport has free luggage carts, which is efffing convenient. There were JETs posted every 10 feet or so to guide us to the buses. Each one greeted us with a "Hello!" or "Welcome!" It was sweet and it made arriving in Japan feel real again.

A bunch of us Miami JETs and some Boston JETs had to wait around in the lobby of the Hotel while they cleaned our rooms. We collected out JET tote bags of stuff and a packet from the American embassy. One of the hotel clerks ripped my carry-on. It wasn't too big, but still kind of annoying. We were told that we have the night off and Tokyo Orientation would begin the next morning.

Miami JETs teamed up with some Canadian JETs and we all went out for Udon and Soba. I got a really gross one. Note to Self: Bacon soup with Udon is not as good as it sounds. We then hit up a combini (convenience store), grabbed some Chuhai (powerful lemon-flavored alcohol), and returned to the hotel. I hung out with a bunch of other JETs before going to sleep around 9PM.

Before I end the post, it's funny story time:
My roommates (4 of us because of the adjoining room) and I were all sitting around unpacking when we heard the noise, "Ding, Dong." We instantly perked up, looked around completely baffled. We started pulling open drawers, looking in the closet, and pressing buttons on the stuff in the bathroom. The sound repeated about every 1 minute or so. We finally agreed it was the clock between the beds making noise so we started pushing buttons on that too. Turns out, it was the doorbell to our hotel room. We all felt very stupid and apologized to the hotel clerk for taking so long to answer the door. We seriously heard a doorbell and checked the clock, bathroom, and drawers BEFORE we opened the door. We are gaijin.

Long Post, more to follow.