Friday, August 29, 2008

Self-introduction lessons galore!!

It’s pretty standard for ALTs to come up with their own unique introduction game for the first lesson of EVERY class.  I decided to play ‘2 Truths and 1 Lie,’ and prepared by drawing and coloring some 30 cards grouped into categories of two things about me that are true and one that is a lie.  Things like “I have been to China, I have been to Australia, I have been to Mexico” and “I have been bungy jumping, I have been sky diving, I have swam with dolphins” are statements I say and magnetize to the chalk board, then have students guess which is the lie.  Since this game deals with things that are false and somewhat difficult sentence structures, I anticipated some INITIAL confusion.  What I didn’t anticipate (although I should have since I’ve been warned time and time again) was that students would be talking through class, walking around in the back, moving their desks to the hallway, sitting out of the window, and basically acting like crazy jungle babies!!  ALL of the classes I have helped teach so far are not THIS wild.  Only about two or five have had SERIOUS behavior problems.  The other three or so are a mix between the talkers and the sleepers.  The talkers don’t even face the front, and the sleepers appear to be in immense pain with the most horrendous look on their faces.  It’s actually quite funny because really, REALLY??  Is life really THAT bad??  The more classes I do my intro-lesson with, the more I learn about what works and what does not.  I also have TOO much free time, only teaching on average 2 lessons a day, so I have a lot of time ponder about what to do with the different classes next time around. 

When I walk around school, the kids say “Hello!!” and I say “Hi!!” and then they repeat the way I say “Haa-iii!!”  Kids come in and out of the teachers room (even when they should be in class) to talk to me.  At first I was going to have a strict ‘no Japanese rule’ but as I quickly found out, the kids won’t understand a word I say if I only speak English.  Instead, I usually say what needs to be said in English and then slowly translate it to Japanese.  Some kids are super cute and sweet, while others think they’re Mr. Thang, with their feminine haircuts and un-tucked uniforms. 

After decades of training myself to eat and drink just about anything, I'm able to say that the lunches are pretty delicious.  They’re full course meals with bowls of rice, soup, some kind of meat, milk, and vegetable dish.  The first day I tried to make conversation with the kids I was assigned to sit by and wondered why they weren’t up for talking with me or even their peers…and then the bell rang.  I guess we only get 20 minutes for lunch and I wasn’t even half done yet!!  The next day I nearly gave myself heartburn, swallowing chunks of un-chewed shrimp and rice and still couldn’t finish in time.  The following days I JUST finished in time, and now understand why the kiddies don’t talk much at lunch.  Hmm, I wonder what today’s lunch is going to be?!?

I haven’t visited any of my elementary schools yet because the man who was supposed to have made my schedule weeks ago still has not gotten it to me.  I’m really looking forward to playing around with tiny kids, and working with the teachers at those schools. 

What else…oh yes.  It’s hot and humid as heck in school, as they don’t turn the air conditioner on until the students leave, and that’s only in the teachers’ room.  Besides that, the only other room that has air conditioning is the lunch room, which NEEDS it since speed eating should be the next new Olympic sport (especially if they get rid of softball and baseball!!).  I sweat all day long, the other teachers drip sweat from their faces, and the students walk around with hello kitty sweat rags.  The way I see it, I don’t care if I reek like nasty smelly sweat if everyone else smells just as bad.  The trick is to wear clothes that are airy and don’t draw attention to pit-stains. 

Built into the students’ schedules are designated ‘cleaning times’ where they sweep the floors and vacuum the teachers’ room and run around in the hallways.  Everyone has indoor shoes and must change into them before walking on school floors.  The students stay in the same classroom and the teachers change rooms depending on what they are going to teach next.   There is a teacher’s meeting at the start of everyday and I have no idea what they’re saying and when I ask, I usually get a reply “Ummmm I think it is a little difficult to’s ok.”  Good answer!!  

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Idle time at school = Updates :)

Thursday, August 7, 2008


The past two days were my first kind of sort of half-days of work.  I went to my middle school, sat at my desk, and read the teaching materials that were left for me while also periodically sticking the Ethernet cable into my computer to do email stuff.  I wish I had more time, or didn't feel as bad about surfing the web while everyone else was working.  Either way, it was interesting and kind of enjoyable to observe the different ways my colleagues approached the ‘new foreign girl.’  Most people (especially the English teachers) were very nice and interested in what I was doing with my life (either that or just interested in practicing English).  Other teachers would look at me shyly so all I’d say was ‘konichiwa’ and then they’d go crazy saying ‘wow, your Japanese is so good, I’m so glad, this is such a relief, wow your Japanese is so good, nice to meet you.’  All this after only saying ‘hello’ and then I’d get all uncomfortable because in Japan, you’re not supposed to say ‘thank you’ instead you say ‘no, it’s not that great yet,’ and then they say that ‘it’s so good, oh my goodness it’s so good’ and on and on.  Thankfully this usually leads to other conversation and then later to an invite to do this or that with their family.  If just half of all of the invited are actually followed through with, I am going to be one busy girl. 

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Niigata Matsuri

This weekend was the most fantastic weekends I’ve had here so far.  The Niigaa Matsuri (festival) was going on all weekend long.  My grandma informed me that there would be dancing on Friday, parades on Saturday, and fireworks on Sunday.  I didn’t have to work of Friday so I decided to visit Colleen at her little ward of Niigata in Toyosaka, and from there we would go to my grandma’s house in the city.  When we got to Obaachan’s (grandma’s) house she yelled at me for being so dark and then told us “Hiroko-obasan (my aunt) brought over yukatas (cotton summer kimonos).  You girls don’t want to wear them do you?”  “Uh, YES we do!!  Can you dress us?!?!”  “OK!”  There were three to choose from.  Colleen decided on a pretty blue one with a yellow obi (sash bow tie thing), and I decided on a darker blue one with a silver obi.  Obaachan dressed us and made us look like pretty Japanese girls and we were SO happy.  Obaachan brought her best friend, Yasai-obasan (yasai means vegtables.  The reason we call her that is because she helps obaachan grow tomatoes and is constantly bringing over her own eggplants and cucumbers and more.  Obasan means aunt, or a name you would call an older woman.) and we were off by taxi to the bridge where all the dancing would be.  We had assumed that we would just stand to the side and watch when Hiroko-obasan showed up and asked her group of purple dancers if we could join.  They agreed and learned the Niigata Matsuri dance from a couple of ladies and eventually got it!!  It was SO much fun and we just kept on dancing the same dance all along the bridge over and over again until there was a break at which time my aunt grabbed us all drinks.  Everyone else got juice, but she handed me a beer for some reason?

Me and my Obaachan :)

Colleen, I, and the Niigata Geisha

Niigata Matsuri Dance

That night, I stayed over at Obaachan’s house, and we woke up early to see the parades.  But before that, my uncle randomly showed up on a moped with cheesecake and jelly.  Yasai-obasan, obaachan, and I took a bus over to the parades were the floats consisted of taiko drummers, Japanese flutes, samurai, cheerleaders, marching bands, Miss this and that city or town (like Miss America), Disney characters, traditional dancers, Niigata geisha, Mikoshi, and on and on.   For lunch we had ramen, and since obaachan doesn’t eat that much, she immediately forced half of her ramen onto me (haha, remember last time Ericie?) 

My uncle randomly and unexpectedly showed up on his moped...ahaha

Niigata Kirakira Parade, I vaguely remember doing this as a child "Washo, Washo!!"

I went back to Murakami that evening, and found out that Geneva, Katrina, Flo, and Jess were all planning on going back to Niigata City on Sunday to shop and see the fireworks.  So then on Sunday, it was back to Niigata for food and fireworks.  After the fireworks, we tried out a couple of bars that were ridiculously expensive, but it was a good time and I couldn't be more pleased with how wonderful this weekend was :)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Oshiro Yama

I woke up debating about what to do with my ‘home study’ day and thought that a run would help with that decision-making.  On my way out, I passed my land-lady, saying “Ohayou Gozaimasu” and she replied with “Come in, I want to talk to you.”  I guess I had no choice so I went into her house and she proceeded to tell me all about sorting trash, saying hello to the neighbors, taking turns with them in cleaning the trash area out, and so on.  Then she made me eat some of the most delicious dessert thing: a grape wrapped in sugary mochi and it was mmm, mmm, good!!  We talked about this and that and she started talking about the nearby little mountain, Oshiro-yama.  She asked me if I had climbed it yet and I said “no, but I think I will right now.”  So after she got a phone call from someone, and kicked me out, I went back home to grab my camera and followed the path up and around Oshiro-yama. 

Although not very high, there is a beautiful view of Murakami from the top.  It’s intriguing that each side of the mountain is covered in different types of trees.  I’m so lucky that this mountain is so close, and I think I found a new thing to do on slower days. 

View of Murakami City from the tippie top of Oshiro-Yama

self-timed portrait at the top

I live at the end of this cute little street

Man oh man it’s a good thing I didn’t leave town today because as soon as I got back I got a call from Fuse-san (my supervisor) saying that our alien registration cards came in.  Woo hoo!!  After getting this, I can do anything.  We immediately set up our bank accounts and when we were done with her went to get phones.  I should have known better that what are relatively easy tasks in the US are long, confusing, tiring processes in other countries.  It was such a hassle for all parties involved, I don’t even want to write about it.  Long story short, I got a super cute white and green phone for free, probably paying too much for calls and mail a month, and after a year will be stuck with a $200 cancellation fee.  They didn’t have it in stock so we’ll be getting our phones on Thursday. 

I also made an attempt at getting the internet at home.  It should be coming within the next 10 days, but now that I think about it, I think I did something wrong…so we’ll see.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Niigata Orientation

Unfortunately, the Niigata ALT orientation was scheduled for today, which is the same day as Obon (mourning dead family members with living family members).  Fortunately, it was a great time seeing and hanging out with the other new JETs from all over the prefecture.  After the orientation, we headed to Shame for some tabe-nomi-hoodai (all you can eat and drink) and the next logical thing on a night out: karaoke. 

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Oh man, it was pouring elephants and moose today but nothing could get me down because today is the day I got my keitaidenwa (cellphone)!!!!!!!!  #: 080.6605.8490 & email:  FYI: You can send emails from a computer and I’ll be able to read them and respond from my phone :)

Jess  needed a ride back to the Station, and this is my 'ride.'

Friday, August 15, 2008

What to do on a Rainy Day?

What better way to spend another day of rain than to spend it shopping in the city?!  I had another ‘home study’ day and since there’s not much going on in Murakami or in my apartment, I rode my basket bike with an umbrella in hand (which is actually illegal but I’ve seen locals do it so I’ll do it too) to the train station and caught the next train to Niigata-city.  I’d say that it was a moderately successful shopping escapade, as I came out with some much needed towels/sweat rags, a big backpack for the many many weekend trips I plan on taking, a kanji book, Vogue Magazine, and hello kitty slippers.  As it turns out (and because I have a cell-phone now), other JETs were planning on heading over later in the day so after my unsuccessful quest to find the perfect pair of shoes, I met up with them for dinner and darts and drinks.  As it turns out, sloppy day turned splendid day :)

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Despite hearing through the grapevine yesterday that the Murakami Matsuri (festival) was going on this weekend, something fantastic and spur of the moment came up.  Yesterday night, Jon (a CIR (Coordinator for International Relations) for the US) mentioned that he would be going wind surfing with Shim (a CIR for Korea).  Naturally, my eyes got huge and I over-expressed how awesome that sounded and got myself in on the plans.  So without much sleep, and a couple cups of semi-homemade iced coffee (you can buy cartons of it at the grocery store here), I set off for the second day in a row to Niigata City. 

Shim has been working for Niigata for roughly one year and is an incredibly personable guy, which has made him an array of friends from all over this country.   This windsurfing friend, Maeda-san, is known as the ‘Windsurfing God’ among the locals, as he’s been doing it for just about 50 years and makes it look much easier than it actually is.  He was overly nice and accommodating, setting us up with the proper equipment, showing us what to do, feeding us curry lunch, and even coming out to rescue us when we drifted all the way down to the other side of the beach.  

Today’s weather pretty consistent with what it’s been like for the past couple of days: storm clouds and the constant threat of rain above us with a strong wind coming from all directions.  What would have been a great day for experienced windsurfers to practice their moves and speed was a less than favorable day for beginners and first timers.  We were all so excited about doing this though, that as soon as the windsurfing contraptions were set up, we jumped right in and began what would be hours of trial and error on top of the board and falling into the sea.  Jon and Shim were eventually able to get up and move with the wind for a couple of meters, but my struggles stayed stagnant at what to do with the sail after finally raising the mast.  The idea behind windsurfing is that you’re supposed to stand on the board, pull the incredibly heavy mast and sail up while maintaining your balance, widen your stance while maintaining your balance, grab on to the bar that runs horizontally along the sail while maintaining your balance, and then use the wind as a friend to move along while maintaining your balance.  I think my difficulties arose from weak arms, fighting the wind, and not being able to stay up on the dang board.  Even with these struggles, today was a BLAST!!  The weather was basically perfect without the humidity we’ve been experiencing, we were fed and surrounded by the nicest people, and we were on the beach for pete’s sake!! 


Sim and Jon practicing the ways of the wind

Niigata City Beach

The Wind-Surfing God: Maeda-san

I would have to say that the highlight for me came when Maeda-san asked his friend if he would take me on a jet-ski ride in the ocean.  The beaches in Niigata are for the most part lines with tetra-pod rocks to break the huge waves from crashing into shore.  They warned me that it would be scary as we would be going to the other side of the tetra-pods where the huge waves are, and that this guy drives like a wild man.  I said ‘bring it on’ as best I could in Japanese.  I don’t know if it was because of the weather or if the conditions were normal, but the waves were ginormous!!  This jet-ski man was driving into, over, along, around, and between the waves.  One second I’d see a huge wave above us, the next we’d be on top of another wave and I could see the entire world below, and the next we’d be falling over the edge of that wave.  That was when we weren’t racing along the side of waves and water was splashing into my face making it hard to see as I was trying not to loose my contacts ;).  At one point he said that his jet ski doesn’t go that fast and I said something like “Are you kidding me?!  We’re going SO fast!! This is SO much FUN!!  I LOVE going FAST!!!”  I don’t know if I said that right or if he understood me because I immediately got the notion that he interpreted what I said as “FASTER FASTER GO FASTER!!!” because he put that pedal to the metal and we were FLYING and I was sure we were going to flip at any second.  I’ve been fortunate enough to experience some pretty exhilarating things, and this jet-ski-in-the-wild-ocean probably comes out ranking in the top 5. 

Great day, great fun, and it even ended with a kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) dinner with Jess and Flo when I got back to Murakami. 

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Murakami Maturi

I got back from an early run to see Flo and Jess waiting for me on my doorstep.  We had made plans to meet up and try to find the Murakami Matsuri, so I showered, watched the US men’s medley relay team win gold, and we were off on foot in search of music and food.  I think we got side tracked by the hunger pains in our stomachs and brains so we stopped by a fantastic soba restaurant for lunch.  We all left with the feelings total bliss because each one of our meals was heaven in a bowl.  In a slothful effort to continue our search for the Matsuri, we went on with our walk around town, going to a beautiful park, the river where Flo and I run, and through some little streets that appear to be filled with hundreds of years of history.  Flo mentioned a delicious green tea ice cream place, and from that moment that was the number one thing on all of our minds. 

Pretty Park in our Town

LOVE the close-ups

Get jealous runners, this is the path Flo and I run on.  Going the other way is even prettier with the view of distant mountains.

As it turns out, this ‘green tea ice cream place’ was actually a green tea shop and school.  The owner invited us in to eat our ice cream and on top of that served us cold green tea.  We got to talking and he explained the Murakami Matsuri, which is actually more of a Tanabata Shishimai, which is a parade of people pulling Mikoshi, which are portable shrines containing deity, and traditional dances to drive demons away.  Apparently all of the action wouldn’t actually start until the evening.  Then, one of his friends walked in, and he was like “Oh, you have to meet my friend, Tatsurou Kudo.  He can speak English.” 

So lively 60 year old man walks in, and starts talking to us in Japanese (he knows some English words), and tells us that he’s Murakami’s best tour guide.  He decides that he wants to show us around his friend’s tea shop/school and explains what to do in each of the rooms for a tea ceremony.  Then he asks us if we have time, and of course we do since the Tanabata Shishimai doesn’t start until later, and he says that he wants to take us to his sake shop.  Naturally, we all jump into his car and as we’re driving he’s pointing out a bunch of shops that his friends work at, including one that he did the calligraphy for on the outside sign.  He points out a Japanese sweet shop and Flo’s eyes light up, so he pulls over and introduces us the owner lady, another friend (Murakami proper is a REALLY small town).  She invites us in to see her old-style Japanese home, and they teach us how to bow formally when being invited into someone’s home.  Then she gives us some Japanese anko (red bean) sweets we say “Bye” and “Thanks so much” and we’re back in Tatsurou-san’s car on our way to his sake shop.  Apparently this guy loves making friends and giving them gifts and talking to them about his hobbies, which are Japanese calligraphy, singing, playing the guitar, and collecting old sake bottles, and his granddaughter.  The whole time he was showing us around, he would take our picture, and when we got to his sake shop, he told us to wait while they were being printed for us.  While we were waiting he served us two of his original sakes, a ume-shu (plum sake, my favorite), yogurt sake (surprisingly fantastic), and a ninja sake (46% alcohol).  At this point we’re all happy and even more talkative than before and he’s inviting us to a party that he sings at in November, and asking us to teach him English and the saxophone, and telling us that we have to see his country house and go eat and play music there with his friends.  When the pictures were done, he wrote Chinese characters on each of them.  Mine said ‘dream,’ Flo’s said ‘road or path,’ and Jess’s said ‘smile.’  Then he pulled out some fans and wrote some more characters on them, then he printed more pictures out and gave us those, and then he squirted some ink on the table, and smashed a piece of paper into them to make us pretty little flower prints.  By this time it was dark and we only had a little bit of time before the Tanabata Shishimai, but he insisted on showing us his country house.  About a 5 minute drive away into the country (don’t worry, he didn’t drink a drop of sake), we were at the most beautiful old-school completely decked out in traditional Japanese decoration house.  He showed us the Japanese-style barbeque room, his collections of sake bottles, his calligraphy, his photos, and then pulls out a banjo and a guitar.  With Jess on the banjo and Tatsurou-san on the guitar, they start playing a couple of the songs from ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ and Flo and I sing along.  Then it’s Flo’s turn to play an amazing original song on the guitar and we’re all totally impressed.  Then Tatsurou-san pulls out a saxophone and tells Jess to play a little and teach him how to play someday.  By this time, it’s completely dark outside, and it’s time to go to the Tanabata Shishimai Festival.  He drops us off and tells us to come by and we promise that we will. 

Tea Ceremony room

Kudo showing us the proper way to get through the tiny door.

The Sweets Shop

One of the gifts Kudo made us

Flo and Jess and Kudo's  Sake Shop

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine..."

Then at the Tanabata Festival, we met up with Katrina and Geneva and told them all about our crazy, awesome, what-just-happened-today-was-amazing, adventure, while we ate tako-yaki and candy covered bananas and sweet bread and crêpes.  We walked along the road that the festival was being held and marveled at the Mikoshi and people and music, while the Japanese people gawked at us.  Of course the 5-person foreign group that we are gives us celebrity status and everyone wants to talk to us and feed us and take pictures and introduce us to their kids that we will soon be teaching.  After Jess and Geneva called it a night, Katrina, Flo, and I walked on and were invited to drink and eat with a little group of orange-shirt-Mikoshi-pullers.  When we were about to call it a night, some of the guys gave us their orange festival jackets to wear and take pictures with and then told us that we could pull the Mikoshi with them.  Then when we were really ready to leave, we gave the jackets back but were told to keep the bandanas as souvenirs.  Flo and Katrina went one way, and I went the other.  On my walk to my apartment I couldn't help but smile at how crazy cool today turned out to be.  Small town Japan truly is a country of overly generous and friendly people who are curious about the outside world.  As I was passing the last Mikoshi, a girl who we were talking to earlier asked to exchange our phone numbers and email addresses via infrared, so I’m curious where this will lead!!

Murakami's Tanabata Festival

Celebrity Gaigins, AKA Foreigners

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Free Ticket to Fun

Every day, I’m happily surprised to learn how friendly everyone in this area is.  Being a ‘foreigner,’ in a way, is a free (well, not quite all the time) ticket to getting invited to do this and that.  Sim started a Korean cooking/eating event that happens twice a month in Niigata City where Japanese people and, more recently, foreigners get together to learn about Korean food and other peoples’ backgrounds.  While talking and answering questions about our home countries and interests, we peeled, chopped, fried, boiled, and cooked ‘chijimai’ or Korean-style pancakes and a soup/stew thing that included spam and ham and sausage and other vegetables and Korean spices.  While drinking bear and tea, we ate and talked in English and Japanese, and even learned a little Korean ~ ‘Aniseyo!’  I overheard this cute little girl asking her mom what a ‘half’ person looks like: “Are they split in half, is one side of their face Japanese, and the other side foreign, or is it all mixed up all around?”  When I heard this I laughed and told her “I’m half, it’s all mixed together, right?”  She went from being a talkative little bumblebee to completely silent and without blinking, staring straight at me.  She could have been amazed, but I thought she looked more terrified. 

One of the members of the Board of Education invited us to a ‘nagashi-soba’ or ‘long-soba-noodle’ neighborhood event that happened today.  Prior to this, Geneva and I were excited to attend, but had absolutely no idea what the heck to expect besides soba noodles.  When we got there, we witnessed the cutest thing EVER!!  There was a long bamboo trunk that was hollowed out and cut in half length-wise, and placed at a small angle.  A hose poured water through the trunk, and every now and then someone would plop a cluster of soba noodles at the top and the noodles would travel down the bamboo.  The kids from the neighborhood were standing next to the trunk with hashi (chopsticks) and a bowl of soba soup in hand, waiting to catch the slippery noodles with their hashi.  It was so much fun and so yummy in my tummy!!  After ‘nagashi-soba’ we went upstairs and were able to play with the kids and teach them English songs.  Even after all this kindness, on my walk back home, I was stopped 3 times by my neighbors who were curious about me and told me to go over to their houses to ‘play.’ 

Friday, August 22, 2008

Elementary School Visits

I guess that it comes as some relief that the big rains are happening during a week of ‘work.’  By ‘work’ I mean that I’m visiting a different elementary school each day and talking with the staff and the English teachers about what the school structure will be like in the upcoming year.  It comes as some sort of surprise that each one of my schools is completely different.  Ranging from class size (one school has an average of 7 students per class, while others have 30+), location (from beautiful beachside, seriously you look out the windows and can see and hear the beach and ocean 20 meters away, to a smaller town more inland), teachers (some English teachers want to talk to me only in English while others can’t speak a lick of it), motivation (I made a speech, posters, and a bulletin board at one school, but then only talked and laughed with the staff at another school for an hour before being sent home).  Despite their differences, it looks like all of the elementary school teachers I will be working with are overly nice and fun.  From what I’ve been told, most of the students are ‘genki’ or ‘full of spirit and vigor!!’  (translation compliments of my new cell phone which comes in very VERY handy)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sado Earth Celebration Festival

Seriously, SERIOUSLY.  This was one of the best weekends in the month (exactly) I’ve been in Nihon.  Sado is a little Island off the coast of Niigata City, and though kind of sort of isolated, is the third or fourth or fifth largest island of Japan, and is kind of a big deal.  The ‘Earth Celebration’ was announced and promoted as one of the coolest happenings in Niigata Prefecture so clearly it was a MUST-do.  In Tokyo, we made friends with some of the Sado-islanders, and Courtney in particular welcomed us and showed us a FANTASTIC time. 

  Of all places to get on the wrong train, what I thought (and still stubbornly think) was the correct train (it was clearly marked on the schedule and I’ve asked and asked around and no one can come up with an explanation) leaving from my Murakami town, was NOT.  I guess my only mistake was falling asleep on the train the second I sat down, before the train even departed, so was out when they were probably explaining that they decided to no longer follow what was on the daily train schedule.  I immediately woke when I felt the train start to go in the opposite direction.  I was hoping that the train would turn around but it just kept on going and going and I eventually asked the train ticket man (who wouldn’t exist on the train I was supposed to get on) and he confirmed that I was screwed.  He was nice enough to look up times though, to tell me that I would have to wait an hour before the next train would take me back to my station where I would have to wait for the another train to bring me to Niigata.  Luckily, the next Niigata train to Niigata was an express which brought me there in half the time, and since I fell asleep on that train too, I think that got me out of paying extra for the turbo and more expensive ride.  Sorry, this story has no outrageous impact on the weekend itself, I just thought some people would find it totally predictable and perhaps amusing enough to say ‘Oh, Naomi…’>

Anyways, we caught the poor-man’s car ferry from Niigata’s port to Sado Island’s Ryotsu port.  The cheapest tickets are 2440 yen in the what some would call, ‘army barracks’ where there are no seats, just carpeting where old people rush to set up camp on the floor.  The car ferry got us to Sado in roughly three hours, compared to the Jet Foil which probably costs billions of yet and would get us there in one hour.  In fact, we saw one of these Jet Foils leave after us, pass us, and then arrive in Sado hours before we had a chance to get there.  The awesome thing about the Car Ferry though, are the birds that follow the boats.  Passengers are allowed to go outside on the deck to check out the view and feed the birds.  They especially like these shrimp-flavored senbei (rice cracker treats for humans) and can catch them in mid-air, and sometimes even grab them from your hand!!  There was a group of smart kids on a ‘delegation trip’ (thanks to the Japanese-English dictionary on my phone we were able to translate the word ‘delegation’) to Sado, who spotted us foreigners and immediately made it a point to become best friends with us.  It all started with them giving us candy, then working up the courage to ask to take pictures with us, then waving at us 500 times, then giving us more candy, and then inviting us to feed the birds with them.  It was all fun wild and especially funny (for me) when Colleen got pooped on. 

Car Ferry barracks

Jet Foil passing us


Feed the birds!!

Upon arrival, Courtney and other Sado people picked us ‘main-landers’ up and took us out to a fantastic kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) place.  They even had some American-born crazy makis, which you NEVER see here!!  After the delicious meal, we headed to the campsite which, guess what, was on the BEACH!!  With the sand keeping the bugs at a decent distance from our blood, and the clear skies, we were in the perfect position to party with the other campers in the area.  Apparently this Earth Celebration is an International even that brings people in from all over the world.  There were campfires, musicians playing their guitars, drums, and flutes, and dancing like hippies. 

Josh and Courtney taking the shortcut to the beach

We woke up ridiculously early for some reason, and headed over to the festivities of the festival.  The Kodo (taiko) drummers of Sado pair up with a musical group from a different country for the Earth Day Celebration.  This year’s theme was Brazil and the group called Olodum from Salvador da Bahia.  Along with the Brazilian-Kodo theme was food from all over the globe, other rhythmic hippie groups, and the beats of traditional Japanese taiko interpretations.  We saw amazing performances where the rhythm touched my soul.  Courtney and I decided that we’re going to somehow learn how to play taiko drums, the shamisen (Japanese guitar), dance and sing so that we can eventually form a band and perform next year.  We got bandanas to fit in with the hippies for the rest of the day and the concert at night. 

These pictures were from my phone (not too bad of quality).  Unfortunately for one reason or another, I didn't have my true camera with me during the day.  I'm waiting for Colleen's pictures.  

The concert was…WOW, words can’t describe how spectacular it was.  First of all, the location of the outdoor amphitheater was in the mountains were we had to hike up a steep path to get to.  At first I was kind of bummed that I missed both Friday’s show (Kodo only), and Sunday’s show (couldn’t take off my first day of class) where Olodum and Kodo performed together.  As it turned out though, Olodum was fantastic and turned the crowd into a whole bunch of rebels.  All of the work that went into controlling the crowd (letting people in at staggered times, placing people in an ordered fashion on the open grass, and forming designated dancing sections on the sides of the spectators – the people in the middle were to sit on their tarps the whole concert and bop quietly on their butts) went out the window when the lead singer yelled the only Japanese phrase he knew, “Minasan, Odorimasho!!”  He had to say it a few times before people hesitatingly looked around and slowly got up even though it was against the rules if you were sitting outside of the designated dancing sections.  Once everyone stood up and started dancing, they never even thought to sit down.  And then…KODO came on stage!!  They played an awesome song, all smiley and dancing around stage while throwing their sticks around and sounding PERFECT.  Olodum then came back and they performed together and I couldn't help but smile and think that life as I knew it couldn’t get any better. 

But it could. After the concert, the crowds headed back to where they were staying (mostly on the beach), but then it started to rain.  At this point we’re thinking, ‘Aw man, now we can't hang out on the beach.’  Quite a few groups of people decided to take cover in the beach house where everything was kind of mellow until a hippie band with tap-dancers started to play music under the awning.  It was nice background music for a while until Courtney announced, “I want to dance.”  I whole-heartedly agreed, and we went out into the rain and started to jump around and get soaked.  Within seconds, we had a group of ten or so crazy people dancing in the rain; within minutes that number tripled, and within the next hour, I swear, all of the campers were out and moving to the beat.  The band members kept on asking for volunteers to play the bongos (I was the first volunteer), the taiko drum (couldn't pass that opportunity up), and the maraca shaker things (why not do it all?!).  Another tap dancer joined in, and there was a tap-off.  They ended up playing for quite a few hours, and once they were done, we continued to play outside ~ a little bit of Frisbee, and a little bit of ocean water. 

Unfortunately, all of the fun we had in the rain didn't carry over to the whole sleeping situation.  Our tents were completely soaked, it was cold, and boarder-line miserable.  But we were all still alive in the morning, and Josh kindly let us shower in his apartment (which ended my being a scummy hippie), and then drove the people who had to work the next day off at the port.  The weekend was 100% beautiful, and I’m nervous that it just might be untoppable.  

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Let me tell you, life in a technologically developed country without an alien registration card can be pretty technology prohibiting.  There's nothing I can do about internet or a cell phone or a car for at least another week or so until that card gets processed.  SO sorry for the lack of posts, but rest assured that I've been keeping track of the this-es and that-s that have been happening.  Today, I met at my base school, was introduced to my desk, and saw an Ethernet cable that looked like it wanted to be used.  After by main teacher dude, Kawamura-sensi, showed me around and told me what teaching would be like here (I’m really getting excited about coming up with games and activities to make learning English fun!), I asked if I could run home to grab my computer and bring it back and use the internet.  He said YES I could, so this is an infrequent opportunity for me to get caught up on blogging and emails and the CUBS (while also escaping the 5 billion % humidity outside).  Here’s what’s happened so far…


Tuesday, July 31, 2008

Time in Tokyo

JET put us up in the very classy Keio Plaza Hotel in the heart of Shinjuku.  The view is beautiful, and the food is equally pretty and tasty.  Once at the hotel, 25% of me wanted to shower and pass out, but the other 75% of me wanted to shower and EAT.  Clearly, the majority won, and I ended up meeting a group of boys from the UK on my floor and we headed to the streets of Shinjuku.  I was a little worried about finding a place to eat for a large group of people, but a solicitor proved successful in getting our foreign group to try her restaurant out.  This was also about the time I realized that my Japanese skills took a plunge in the past couple of years.  I'm definitely going to have to hit the books and TV asap. 

 I didn't know that Tokyo was one of the cities competing with Chicago for the 2016 Olympics!!  Seems to me like each city is an equally unlikely candidate, but we'll see?

Monday and Tuesday's orientations and workshops consisted of a lot of information I had previously learned in Chicago.  While not totally informative, I did learn useful tips on subjects like what places to visit within Japan, obtaining a visa to travel outside of the country, who and what are a hit in Japanese Pop Culture, driving in Japan (be it a car or a bike), and tips on teaching adult conversation classes (which I was just informed that I would have to do in addition to the junior high and elementary schools).  

On Monday night, a current JET from our prefecture took the Niigata-ken group to Shibubya (times square of Tokyo), and out Karaoke-ing.  It's pretty funny to see how a little bit of alcohol and familiar songs can transform people in a matter of minutes.  


Then last night we ended our sessions slightly early and were free to explore Tokyo.  After walking around Shinjuku for a bit, and eating the most delicious udon (thick noodle soup) concoction in Shinjuku, a small group of us headed to Rapungi.  I've heard that Rapungi's known for its night life and foreign atmosphere and had never been there so was curious to check it out.  Well, a monsoon-type rain storm had hit hard, so instead of exploring the streets, it was more of a mad dash to the nearest shelter.  This happened to be a sports bar called Lime, and it caught our attention with complimentary drink tickets for ladies ~ how could we resist?


Right now my stomach is screaming for breakfast and coffee, so I should probably comply...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tokyo to Murakami

Today is the day!!  Today we’re done with Tokyo and on our way to our respective towns!!  I’m a little sad to say ‘goodbye’ to some of the people I’ve met here because I know that I’ll probably never see them again.  From Hokkaido to Okinawa, are being bussed, train-ed, flown, and shipped to all over this tiny country. 

To Niigata Prefecture, there were roughly 15 of us.  One by one, or three by three people would get off the shinkansen (bullet train) and were greeted by their supervisors and future colleagues.  The majority of us got off at the last stop, Niigata City, but Geneva, Jess, and my supervisors quickly whisked us away to a van and took us to eat at a kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) place.  Since there were five people to pick only three of us up, I thought that everyone would be happy to see.  Instead, it was one of the most awkward lunches of my entire life.   There was no introduction, so I had no idea who my supervisor was, or who any of the other people were.  Jess and I had the unfortunate luck of being seated closest to the conveyor belt in a booth that fit 6 people and therefore awkwardly kept an eye out for sushi that other people wanted.  No one really spoke up, so we felt the need to keep on asking if anyone wanted anything without looking like pigs ourselves.  I tried to make conversation once, but got a response consisting of nods and silence so just kept my mouth shut for the rest of the time.  Jess made more attempts than I to crack jokes but every single one of them shot down due to the humor differences.

Once that awkward hour was over, we hopped back into the van and stopped first at the Board of Education office to get introduced to some top dog who we had no idea was.  Everything was very formal and still awkward.  Then we were sent into a room to sign contracts that bind us to this town for one year.

After that, Jess went on his way to the next town over to his new apartment, and Geneva and I were brought to an elementary school where we met with my predecessor, Sean.  He first took Geneva to her apartment, and then me around town and to meet up with another ALT, Hannah.  It was so nice to relax and actually understand everything that came out of their mouth, and be able to communicate everything I wanted to say.  Then I was brought to the Travel Inn, my hotel room for the next two days. 

Katrina, the Regional Advisor, was nice enough to take Geneva and I to eat and drink some and fill us in on life in Murakami that evening. 

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Waking up in Murakami

For some reason, I’m still waking up at 5:00 in the morning.  With nothing to do until 9:00 AM, I didn’t know what else to do but run.  From the maps I’ve been given, I know that there’s an ocean somewhere to the west.  Once outside I looked for the sun, and ran in the opposite direction.  I’ve learned from previous experiences that I am prone to getting very lost in new areas, so I decided to try to stay on the same straight road for as long as possible.  What I thought would be a straight road quickly curved to the left, then right, and then I had to turn to stay on course to get to the ocean.  The big road became a very little road and I could sense that the sea was just on the other side of the houses.  Some of the houses cleared, and I couldn’t take the suspense anymore, so just walked across what was probably someone else’s property and BAM, there it was.  It’s a good thing this was a quiet area because I just stood there gazing over the sea for a good 20 minutes before returning to the hotel.

Fuse-san (our supervisor) picked Geneva and I up and took us to get our alien registration cards, insurance, and rent all set up.  Then Sean (my predecessor) was nice enough to take us to eat on his last day and warn us about the kids we’re about to teach and teachers we’re going to be working with. 

After I was dropped back off at my hotel, I had some time to kill.  I took a walk around town and really discovered what a beautiful place I’m about to live in. 

That evening, Hannah (a 2nd year ALT in Murakami) took the new ALTs from the area, Jess, Geneva, and I to eat at a ramen place.  She suggested a tan-tan ramen which was AMAZING.  We learned about things to do in the area, and I’m getting more and more excited to start living life here!!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Russian Roulette??

After two nights in a stuffy hotel room, my apartment was finally ready for me to move into.  From what I’ve gathered, it’s the smallest of all the ALTs apartments: three-tatami mats, about the same size living room area, kitchenette, bath, and toilet.  It’s at the foot of a beautiful mountain, host to the Murakami Castle ruins. 

Address:  D-Kasai Apartment House

12-41 Ninocho Murakami-shi

Niigata-ken 958-0835


Home Phone: 025-453-5104

Murakami’s a small enough town where most everything in Murakami-Proper is within biking distance.  Three of my schools will be within the actual city limits, but two will be farther away.  I don’t really want to spend the money on a car, although every previous ALT in the area has.  Either way, there’s nothing I can do for the next week or so that involves any sort of technological communication including internet, cell phone, or car, until my alien registration card comes in. 

Though I was feeling slightly under the weather, it was nice to get out of unpacking and setting up my very own apartment.  Geneva and I were invited to some sort of barbeque on the beach by our school work people for dinner.  The setting was gorgeous with the sea to the west, city to the south, river to the north, and bright green rice fields to the east.  I was really excited to see the sun set, but the clouds were to thick to see through.  Either way, being by the water and seeing fishing ships on the horizon was a very pretty sight. 

Geneva and the Sea.  I wish I was bold enough to take pictures of the rest of the CRAZY night!!

The scenery was the only calm and soothing part of the entire night.  In the beginning, a few people made an effort to talk to us about this and that, ask us questions about our hometowns (easy for me since I LOVE Chicago), and our hobbies (Cubs, Fukudome – always a hit topic, as at least 5 sentences worth of conversation can come from it).  For the most part, everyone else shied away from us and sat at the ‘smoking table’ regardless on whether or not they smoked.  There were a lot of awkward silences and giggles… and then the beer was served.  I swear, all these guys needed was 2 sips of their Kirin beer before they started to turn bright red, howl with laughter, sweat, and start yelling across the table.  Some of the people who were so scared of us just minutes before were inviting us to go watch people eat really long somen noodles later in the month, have their wives cook food for us, and teach English to their kids.  I really didn't know what to make of any of it, and of course agreed to everything, wondering if any of the plans I had just made will ever go through. 

I was so hungry, and couldn’t wait for the chicken, sausages, squid, pig intestines, snail, vegetables, and everything else to cook so that I could take a break from pretending like I knew what was going on to feeding my stomach.  Finally, we were able to eat, but even during this time, we were getting questions thrown at us from all directions.  At one point, I decided to try a humongous piece of squid.  When I went to take a bite of it, I realized that I couldn’t bite through it with my front teeth and thought my only other option at this point was to put the whole thing in my mouth and hope for better luck with my back teeth.  As soon as I went with this, some guy from the other side of the table asked me where I had studied abroad.  Of course, this drew the attention of the entire table.  I didn't know what to do, so I tried to answer with my mouth full but in doing that, half of the squid went halfway down my throat.  I was a half of a swallow away from choking and went it to panic mode.  All eyes were on me.  If I spit the semi-chewed squid up it would be looked at as rude and would cause a scene.  If I swallowed, I would choke and die which would definitely cause a scene.  I was caught somewhere in the middle, as my gag reflexes were enacted and by burping a couple of times, people understood what was happening, and eventually encouraged me to spit the squid up.  I apologize for being so graphic, but just to prove to everyone that I was actually choking, in order to spit all of the squid up, I had to reach in my mouth with my fingers to pull the squid out of my throat.  Needless to say, I was beyond mortified, and it didn’t help that everyone was looking at me with the ‘you must be so embarrassed’ eyes.  To bounce back, I quickly answered that man’s question: “I studied abroad in Nagoya for 4 months,” assured myself that everyone was too drunk to care, and swore off squid and large pieces of food for the rest of the night. 

Once the meal was over, Geneva and I were exhausted from the heat and conversation and were under the impression that the bus was going to take us back home.  The first stop was someone’s house, and the second and final stop was a karaoke place.  Great.  What else could we do but make the best of whatever would come of the rest of the night?  The guys took turns singing Japanese Enka, or older songs where the singer makes their voice quiver, and Geneva and I sang ‘Rehab’ by Amy Winehouse.  One of the really crazy guys, who used his whole body to talk, kept on ordering platters of food.  The first of which was a normal appetizer dish consisting of french fries, fried chicken, and edamame.  The next two were tako-yaki (fried octopus balls), and pizza.  When they came, he made an announcement calling it ‘Russian’ something and passed around the platter.  While I wasn’t at all hungry, I felt obligated to take one.  Once everyone stuffed the entire tako-yaki into their mouth, everyone started looking around.  People would make comments like “Mine’s ok,” and I too, thought it was an OK tako-yaki.  Then, all of a sudden, one of the younger guys bent over, sqeezed his eyes shut, and muttered “it was this one, oh god this hurts.”  Everyone else pointed at him, and erupted in laughter.  He kept on muttering “I want to die” and it wasn’t until the guy who had ordered the food made another announcement before passing out the pizza that I realized that this was a type of ‘Russian Roulette’ game we were playing.  Luckily, I could tell which slice of pizza had the spicy sauce on it, so was able to steer clear of that piece.  The boss man for some reason took that piece and after one bite had his eyes squeezed shut and his head in his hands as well.  A couple other fools wanted to try a piece of the ‘bullet’ and screamed that it was SO spicy.  These guys were in serious pain and couldn’t get enough of anything to drink or ice to chew on.  We would later find out that it was some sort of habanera pepper sauce, and all Geneva and I could think was ‘what if that was one of us!?!’ 

Thankfully this basically let to the night being over.  They called a taxi and thank goodness I was the first one dropped off. 

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Miserable Skunk Water

Even with the ten hours of sleep I made sure I got, I still woke up this morning feeling like miserable skunk water.  My throat hurt, head was on fire, ears were completely plugged, and every joint ached from my neck to my toes.  All I wanted to do was die, but I had made plans with some of the other ALTs from the area to go to Nagaoka to spend the entire afternoon outside among masses of people in the summer heat and into the night to see some pretty intense fireworks.  

It took me forever to get myself out of bed and into the shower.  I thought that if I got myself moving I’d feel better.  Plus I had previously told Geneva that I would show her the way to the train station.  On my bike ride to her place, I made up my mind: “there is absolutely no possible way, even in the most untouched depths of the sea, that I am going to Nagaoka today!” 

After I showed her to the train station, I stopped at a nearby vending machine and stocked up on as many juices I could get for 1000 yen and fit into my bike’s basket.  I immediately crawled into my futon and slept.  I slept for the rest of the day, waking up only a handful of times, and then slept like a fallen redwood log through the night. 

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Niigata-shi (city)

The presumed 18 hours of sleep I got yesterday was much needed for the day I had ahead of me today.  I had made plans to go to Niigata City to see my grandma , uncle and cousin.  They were nice enough to let me know what train to get on, and then meet me at the train station.  I’m glad that my uncle and cousin agreed to go with my grandma because she even admitted to being totally clueless about that area and would have worried entirely too much about me (I love her, she’s so cute!!).  I guess it’s only been three years since I’ve last seen them, but a lot can change in three years.  Obaachan (grandma) looks smaller than I remember, Ojishan (uncle) mumbles more, and Eri-chan (cousin) got into the nursing school she so badly wanted to go to and will be done in the next year.  Ojisan brought me an application for the Niigata Marathon Festival.  There’s no way I’m in shape enough to run the full thing right now, but once I get over this illness I’ll start training for the half. 

They took me to a very nice hotel for lunch, consisting of a salad and dessert bar with a spaghetti entre.  Obaachan said that she wasn’t hungry, so ordered the cheapest spaghetti dish (thinking that cheapest equates with smallest) but then went crazy at the salad bar.  She all but licked her plate clean of the salad, potato salad, French bread, fruit, pudding, jelly, and yogurt.  When her spaghetti dish came she was really full and made my uncle eat her dish.  I couldn't hide my laughter because she’s the same obaachan I remember from last time, always making Eric and I finish her ramen. 

After lunch, I went to her house where we sat and talked for a couple hours.  When it was about time for me to go, we went back to the station and went around to a couple of stores.  She showed me what bus to take to her house, so that I know for the future: #7 or #8.  The train ride from Murakami to Niigata really isn’t too bad.  1500 yen ($15) for an all day pass and only an hour 15 minutes on the train.  Once I exhaust all there is to do in Murakami, I foresee myself going there a ton. 

I haven’t really gotten the opportunity to go shopping yet, so I have absolutely no food in my apartment.  I was pretty hungry, so I decided to ride my basket bike to Jusco to pick up a discounted meal (after a certain time, the price of certain foods gets cut) along with other necessities such as toilet paper, tissue paper, nail polish remover, and soap.  I really had to limit how much I bought to how much I could fit in that basket on my bike.  Even with only two bags full, the basket was still overflowing, and front heavy.  It was night time by the time I left, and difficult to keep my bike steady while trying to dodge all of the giant bugs that come out after dark.  I was so glad to get back to my apartment to eat the deep fried cabbage and meat whatever it was I bought, mayonnaise-flavored potato chips, and pineapple juice.  

While the days can get unbearably hot and humid, the nights can be quite pleasant and breezy.  Before hitting the sack, I wanted to turn the air conditioner off and open the windows…but…I noticed a HUGE cock-roach looking bug about the size of my hand on the inside of the window pane.  There was absolutely no way I was about to let that beast into my home so I probably wasted a weeks worth of money by keeping that window shut and leaving the air conditioner on.  But hey, I woke up alive the next morning so I’d say it was well worth it. 

Monday, August 4, 2008

Beach Please

Seeing as it’s currently summer vacation for the kids, there’s not much work for us ALTs.  On days where nothing is planned for me, I have what’s called ‘home study’ which is meant for us to go around town and get acquainted with the area.  Though I’m still coughing and sniffling, I woke up this morning feeling gazillion times better than the past couple of days and wanted to get out and about.  After waiting around all morning for the gas man to come and then an unsuccessful attempt at using McDonalds for their internet, I had one thing on my mind: beach. 

  All in all, it’s about a 26 minute ride, and on a clear day you can see the sun set over Japan.  Seeing as I shockingly got there without even one problem, I had a couple of hours to kill before the sun set.  I spent most of my time riding up and down the coast and was able to get some decent pictures of people doing their thang on the beach.  Ever since Hawaii and our family’s crazy obsession with seeing the sunset at 6:58 on the dot every single night, I’ve really gained an appreciation for how beautiful watching the sun and all of the amazing colors that appear on the horizon can be.  Once the sun set though, I jumped on my bike and hauled ass out of there to try to avoid the humongo bugs that rule the world once the sun goes down. 

One thing that drives my CRAZY about biking here is that the cyclists actually obey traffic signals?!  Even when the path is totally clear, and no car is within sight, bikers and pedestrians alike wait for the light in their direction to turn green.  I thought that was one of the perks of being ‘green’ and riding instead of driving: that you could get to where you wanted to go faster without the monotony of sitting at an empty intersection at a red.  Not only does jaywalking not exist here, but it appears as though it’s shunned upon.  WTF??

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

1st day of Work Day

Today I was shown around to all five of my schools, some of the principles (one I had run into at karaoke and he seemed as if he was hiding his embarrassment), vice principles, and teachers I would be working with.  Some spoke English, others not so much but all in all everyone seemed very nice and looking forward to working with a foreigner.  I gave them all Chicago Frango Mint Chocolates, and as much as I LOVE them, I’m not too sure what the Japanese think about mint and really sweet chocolate.

After that whole awkward roundabout, I set out on a quest to find internet!!  Once I realized that I had failed, I decided to make the most of the rest of my day and rode to the top of some mountain thing where there was a some kind of cemetery thing and really pretty orange gnarly flowers.