Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sunday, October 5, 2008: All Japan ALT Soccer Tournament

This post belongs further down... but it's up here... :~)

Right now I feel like I’ve just run ¾ of a marathon.  My legs and body ache but I can still do stairs, which is why I say ¾.  This past weekend was the All Japan ALT Soccer Tournament, held in the mountains of Sugadaira, Nagano.  There were 16 Men’s teams and 9 Women’s teams that showed up from all over Japan.  Niigata represented with a strong men’s team and a total beginner woman’s team (except for the pro, Courtney).  The group I carpooled with, Janelle, Yolanda, Laura, and Lauren stayed in Joetsu with Sam on Friday night and then continued the journey to the BEAUTIFUL Mountains of Nagano on Saturday morning. 

Courtney and Janelle attempted to give us the basic rules and points we needed to know about playing ‘football,’ like don’t use your hands, how to throw a ball in, and offside rules.  We were scheduled to play 4 games and referee 2 on Saturday to make the seeding for Sunday.  I’ve decided that refereeing is the worst possible job on the face of this earth, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing but I fell in LOOOVVEEE soccer!!!  Seeing as our first game was also our first time playing together, we weren’t too beat up loosing 0-7.  Many of the participants come from countries like Britain, Ireland, and Australia yelling and cussing using funny ‘football’ words that we were just like ‘huh…???’  The second game we lost by less and were ecstatic with how much we had improved.  We actually scored in the third game and ended with a TIE, and couldn’t be happier.  Then we found out that our final game of the day was against one of the strongest teams.  We rocked the first half, holding them only to a couple goals and then all but gave up second half.  We were SOO exhausted and looking forward to the onsen, fancy hotel meal, and party that night!!  One of the onsen tubs was outside in the cold, which made the hot water feel sooo relaxing.  The party was SO much fun, dancing and meeting people from ALL over!!  Not only from Japan, the US, Britain, Ireland, Australia, but also Kenya, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and on and on!!

Everyone was hobbling the on Sunday from the previous day’s events, but up and ready for the next round of games.  Niigata girls were seeded 8th, and only played at 83%.  We ended up tying in the sudden death tournament, which meant that the game would be decided with a shoot out and darn it, we lost (which meant we were done running around on super sore legs and could sit and relax and watch the boys play in the middle of beautiful mountains for the rest of the day J).  The boys were SPECTACULAR and wound up placing 3rd overall.  GREAT tiring but FANTASTIC weekend, and I can’t wait until the next tournament in June!!!

Monday, October 13, 2008: Ekiden (Road Race Relay)

SHOES!!!  gotta take 'em off before entering the gym!!

Today was yet another one of Japan’s plentiful national holidays: Health and Sports Day.  I was asked a couple of weeks ago if I would participate in a relay race today with some teachers from Senami Elementary School, but didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into until today.  The Senami neighborhood was having a couple or races: an Ekiden Takikai for the neighborhoods and a Road Race for the students.  The Ekiden consisted of 16 legs, each varying in distance ranging from 200 meters to 2 kilometers, and going all around town.  I went third and grabbed the sash (instead of batons they pass a beauty-pageant-like sash) from a guy who ran up a long, steep mini-mountain.  My job was to run 1.7 km back down that steep mini-mountain path, over the river, and then down a street where my fans were yelling “Ooo gambare Naomi-sensei!!”  I passed the sash on to the head teacher and am officially done running for the rest of the week!!  The teams consisted of people of all ages living in the same general area.  Some of these guys FLEW!! 

Between the Ekiden and Road Race, I raced home to call home to see how Tom did in the Chicago Marathon.  3:53:47, PR WOO!!!  Way to go daddy-o!!  It looks like SS, Zubin, Erin, Jon and Mr. Howe all did すばらしい as well!!!  おつかれさまでした!! AWESOME!!

After the ekiden was the Road Race where little kids raced in age groups up and down the street.  One of the cutest things is watching these kids and cheer them on ‘Gambare!!’ as they run by.  I wish we had these type of neighborhood events in the US. 

What better way to celebrate a day off and a great event than to go out with the teachers for a ridiculous amount of food and alcohol for lunch!!  The teachers are all so friendly and funny at this school; I LOVE it!!

Sunday, October 12, 2008: Niigata Half-Marathon

I’ve been waiting for this day to come for months now!!  Even before coming to Japan, I was researching the Niigata Marathon Festival.  I knew that there was no way I could train for an entire marathon, so registered for the 21K, and ran around Murakami as much as I could.  I’m glad that I went into this race semi-in-shape because these Japanese runners are hardcore!!  Everyone’s got Hercules-legs, tight running pants, and speed!!  There’s even a very strict sag wagon that rides along at the 5-hour pace for the full marathon.  If that passes you, your race is over. 

We were all lucky that Sunday’s weather was perfect with clear sunny skies, and only a slight breeze.  The course was an out-and-back for all three races with different turning points depending on if you were running the 10K, 21K, or 42K.  It started out going through the city, over a river, through some woods, and then along the beach area.   Laura ran the 10K and Jon, my uncle (yasunori-ojisan, this is his 15th Niigata 10K, half, or full Niigata Marathon entry!!) and I ran the half.  Jon, ojisan, and I decided to run the first kilometer together, take it nice and easy, and see if we could see my grandma cheering.  The start was PACKED with thousands of Japanese people, and basically stayed that way throughout the race.  As one point we were bottlenecked from the entire width of the road to one lane.  I didn’t see a huge orange cone coming up until the very last millisecond, barely avoided it, but caused the person behind me to crash into it…whoops.  Since we started way back, I spent basically the entire race weaving through the masses, which required more concentration that I was expecting.  I found it kind of eerie at how quiet the race was.  Though there were roughly 6,000 runners, no one talked to each one another.  I’m used to making friends with complete strangers or listening in on other conversations while running ridiculously long distances, but not in this race!!  I guess everyone was in the zone and shooting for a PR.  Every now and again we’d hit a patch of cheering people ‘gambare, fuaitto!!’ or cheerleaders, taiko drummers, and even a brass band, which kept things going for a bit.  There didn’t seem to be very much support in the water stations and I ended up skipping a couple.  There weren’t very many people handing water out so instead the runners had to crowd around the tables pick up their own.  At one point I was trying to drink and run at the same time, but then bumped into a stopped runner ahead of me and jammed the paper cup into my nose!!  While I didn’t meet my first goal, I got my backup, which was to go faster than 1:45:00.  When I entered the track and field stadium to take the final lap, I looked at my watch and realized that I really had to book it, and ended up luckily finishing 1:44:46, phewf!!  This was Jon and Laura’s first race and they both did GREAT!!  Laura even ended up placing 10th overall in her age group division, winning flowers, a certificate, a mug cup, and rice!!

That night, back in Murakami was the Takedouro Matsuri, or hollowed-out-bamboo-lit-with-candle-matsuri. The people who I’m learning taiko from started the evening off with a spectacular taiko performance.  Old-style Japanese homes and shrines were open to shamisen, flute, classical guitar, and tea performances.  The gravel road and open areas were filled with beautiful hollowed out bamboos lit with candles.  

Saturday, October 11, 2008: Snowboard Hunting

I’ve been hearing from various sources that now is the time to start looking for marked down snowboards from last season.  A couple of shops have apparently started their sales this weekend, so I ‘a hunting.  Yesterday I checked a place out in Niigata City that won’t start their sale until next weekend and will probably still be a little pricey.  After volunteering for packet pickup for the Niigata Marathon tomorrow, Scott, Laura, Scott and I headed over to a last year’s snowboard sale convention.  I saw one that I loved, got bindings and boots that kind of go with it and BAM now I have a snowboard!!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008: Murakami Mountains

Another one of the schools that I LOVE is Kamikaifu Elementary School.  After I was done with my lessons, the vice principal took me on a trip up into the mountains to help hide old pieces of huge clay pot for the students to search for the next day.  He then took me up into even bigger mountains for some spectacular views.  He said to be careful of the bears, oh my!!!

Monday, October 6, 2008: Subaru Pleo

Hey guess what: I’m mobile!!  Hiki-sensei texted me over the weekend, saying that my car was ready!!  She picked me up on Monday evening and helped sort through all of the details and banking to seal the deal!!  I am now the proud renter of a pearly white Subaru Pleo.  It’s a K car, which means that it has a yellow license plate, smaller engine, better gas mileage, and is narrower than a regular white plate car.  Because it’s used, the insurance has already been paid, and since Hiki-sensei’s husband owns the place, they were able to get me a phenomenal deal!!  I LOVE it, and took it out and about all around town.  Before I got into the car I was crazy nervous, but once in and driving, it really isn’t that big of a deal at all.  I just keep telling myself ‘left, left, left’ every time I turn and sometimes get the windshield wipers confused with the blinkers. 

I also started taking Yosakoi dance lessons and Taiko drum lessons on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.  People always freak out when I tell them that I road my bike or walked kinda far distances, and especially with the weather getting chillier this is going to help me do everything!!  

Monday, October 6, 2008: Quick Recap

Every year, the ALTs in Niigata Prefecture put on a Charity Musical to raise money for schools in Papua New Guinea.  Some of the perks include meeting & getting to know ALTs from other parts of the prefecture, getting to see and road trip around Niigata through the fall and winter, visiting PNG for 2 weeks in March, and getting to sing and dance while dressed like a ninja.  This year’s musical: ‘Shiroyuki and the Seven Samurai.”  Basically, some dude named Shiroyuki (White Snow) has beautiful hair because he possesses the magic hair scroll; the evil queen gets jealous when her magic mirror tells her that his hair is prettier than hers; she sends a hair stylist to cut off his hair; the hair stylist can’t do it so sends him to live with seven hair stylist samurai; the queen finds out that Shiroyuki still has his hair through the mirror, so sends ninjas to cut off his hair and take the scroll; all the mean while a princess from the land of hats falls obsessively in love with him and his hair and eventually saves day.  Last weekend was the first musical rehearsal in the southern part of Niigata: Joetsu.  About a 3-hour road-trip down, 5 hours of rehearsal, grill out & sleep over, another 5 or so hours of practice, and then back home to Murakami where there were more red leaves on the trees than when I had left. 

Oh, and this is pretty hilarious: the other week, I had to teach elementary school kids facial features (face, hair, eyebrows, eyes, nose, ears, mouth).  As a review game, I split the classes into groups of 6 or so and had them each take turns drawing a different part.  Instead of going in the logical order of face, hair, eyes, nose…etc, I started them out with nose, followed by ears, then face, eyebrows, hair, eyes, and mouth:

I CRIED laughing!!