Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Toronto Stories trailer

Not really related to Japan...but definitely related to a city that I love and adore. My bestie posted it on my facebook wall and wrote:

"this will make you homesick"

....and it definitely does. Miss you!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Family Rules

A little excerpt from the grade 9 textbook:

I asked my host father about time-outs. He said that time-outs are used when small children behave badly or get too excited. The children are taken away from the activity and put somewhere in the house alone.
In Japan, many parents used to lock their children outside the house for discipline.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Autumn in Akita

These past few weeks have been really insane. School started almost a month ago and, MY GOD…it felt so weird to have to follow a set school schedule again! For the past four years, I’ve been getting used to the mid-week sleep-ins, late classes and three day weekends. But…the rest of the adult working world has been getting up early and coming home late aaaaaaand I’ve officially become a part of that world. It’s still really mind boggling….when the question, “Occupation?” comes up on any kind of official form…I’ve gotten so used to saying, “student”. The early mornings were pretty hard to get used to (my bus, which is also the only one that goes to my school and the last one to run during rush hour…leaves at 7:28 am). I know, right?! How am I dealing, right now. Coffee is my saving grace…that and my insanely loud alarm clock. But since it’s been a while since I’ve updated this thing…I’ll try to give a break down of some of the major events that took place.
Omagari Hanabi Festival

The weekend before we started teaching was our trip to the Omagari Fireworks Festival. While most would wonder why the Japanese would travel, literally, thousands of miles to see fireworks, it is supposedly the biggest of its kind in Japan. Upon our arrival to the sleepy town of Omagari (which is normally pretty boring throughout the year), I didn’t really see what the big fuss was about. It was only when we made our way to the fireworks viewing area that I realized how big a deal it was. THERE WERE THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE THERE. It seemed as if all of Japan up and left their homes and landed right in Omagari. And they weren’t kidding around. They brought trailors, hibachi BBQs, tarps, umbrellas, chairs, tents and other weird Japanesey items you could think of. There was even an area that you could book and reserve in advance…for a price, of course.

SOOO it started shitting rain the moment we got there. There were already quite a few other JETs who had saved a spot for us, so we didn’t have to go searching for a place to sit. And what a relief, cause it didn’t look like we were going to find a spot very easily. For the first few hours….it was awful. My friend Mark and I even went as far as saying that it was the For serious. We had tarps to sit on, but the water would collect in little pockets and your entire bottom half would get soaked. Everyone was wet, freezing cold and miserable. We could only see one way to resolve our situation…..heavy drinking. The minute we started in on our beers and chuhai (Japanese mixed drink coolers) ..the night got infinitely more fun and exciting. But then, it got awful again, because we had to wait in line for the train for 1 hour and then another hour standing on the way home. An event that attracts 600,000 people a year is bound to encounter logistical problems…but wouldn’t the planning committee arrange it so that there wasn’t only one train every hour or so? The waiting was excruciatingly awful.
Overall, I don’t think I would make the trip again. While the fireworks were really beautiful to watch, they almost seemed like the mediocre entertainment for a really bad party. Aaaand, as elaborate and well planned as they were, fireworks just seem to be the same everywhere you go. At least now I can say that I’ve been!
Melting Pot JET Welcome Party
As we all settle in our own little corners of Akita Prefecture, we forget just how many JETs there are in our region of Japan. In Akita City, alone, we have 18 ALTs. The welcome party brought a lot of the new and re-contracting JETs from all over Akita Prefecture together for an evening of drunken dancing and mingling. Held at Savina (a soup curry place in the city), this get-to-know-you shindig was a successful shit show. Our fellow ALTs were on the 1’s and 2’s spinning a varied mix of electro, rock and house/techno. The only thing that would have made the party better would have been some hip hop and r'n'b! didn't seem to be a fave amongst the other JETs..the I danced on!
Speech Contest
An annual part of an ALTs job is the coaching of a speech contest student. A student who’s keen to learn and speak English often takes the initiative and enrols to either recite an already set speech (speech’s like “I Have a Dream”…no joke) or an original script of their making. The girl I was coaching , Nanami, was really easy to get along with and was willing to compete in the category filled with mainly 9th graders or 三年生(she was only in 7th grade or 一年生 ). Her speech was called “Forever My Osaka Mindset” and was about her recent family trip to Osaksa. (Yeah, I know it’s a little weird and a little Engrish-y but she was really keen on the title) . It was light hearted and you could really hear her own input within the speech. In my opinion, she was the most natural and fun loving of the bunch. Despite forgetting her words half way through the speech, it looked as if she was on the road to victory. Alas, she did not place, but she didn’t compete without a fight! She was crushed, but I assured her that she did an amazing job.
Iijima School Festival
The first few weeks at school had been dedicated to the preparation and eventual execution of the Iijima School Festival. It’s basically like a parent teacher night, only they do it on the weekend… and it’s ALL DAY. One of the amazing parts of the Japanese school system is that they really emphasize the idea of responsibility and that ‘nothing gets done if you don’t do it yourself’. From the students cleaning their own classrooms and staffroom down to the making of decorations and collecting of garbage around the food stands….it prepares the students to be mindful of their environment and their actions.
One of the more particular parts of the festival was the chorus competition. Now, back home, we have a similar tradition in the Kiwanis Music Festival, but this particular competition is particularly particular in that they make all the students compete as a class. Sooooo basically it’s a competition of kids who really don’t want to sing. But they practice everyday

Akita City Junior High School Rookie Sports Tournament
This past weekend was a full on sports bonanza and we got the chance to experience life outside the classroom. …well, sort of. From 9 am till 5 pm, games were happening all over the city and in all different kinds of sports. Thankfully, a bunch of us live really close to one of the bigger sports complexes, so I got to see my girls volleyball team and my boys soccer team…. without waking up at an ungodly hour. The next day was the basketball semi finals and my boys actually made it to the final…despite being a school known for basketball. In the end, my school won boys volleyball, boys soccer and got 2nd in boys basketball. For a school that’s a little slower than the rest, well, in pretty much was really great to see them come out on top!

SOOOooooo that's a rough summary of what has been happeneing here for the past month or so. More to come....the adventure continues!

Sunday, September 21, 2008


While everything about this video seems quintessentially Japanese, the song itself also happens to be the song of the moment for the school I teach at. They play it during lunch, the brass band plays it and you'll hear all the kids hum it during class and through the halls. And if I'm not mistaken, it's also the theme song for a popular kids tv show. Feast your eyes and ears on some hardcore Japanese rap/ rock goodness!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


My neighbour and I were talking about our students and the types of things that they were into. Names like Beyonce, Amuro Namie, EXILE and Ichiro came up...then we started to talk about the band, SID. Apparently, his basketball playing, cool group, male 9th grader is really into them. He's the prettiest girl I've ever seen.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Akita in August

My leisurely vacation life in Akita has come to an end. The endless hazy summer nights of “nomihodai” or all you can drink, sightseeing around the city and shopping in monstrous department stores must cease and school must come to be in session. My first week as an assistant junior high school teacher also marked the official end to my career as a professional student/care free woman of leisure. Like the rest of the adult world, I too, must get up at a decent hour and put in my 8 hours of “work”. It was really hard to wrap my head around the fact that I no longer had to apply for courses online, set aside enough money for textbooks and generally perform all the duties of a university student. But, that mind block soon passed and I had bigger and better things to worry about….being a fucking teacher.
But first, a look at this past month in Akita, Japan:
Getting settled into my new life in the City was really easy. Before getting here, I was scared shitless that Akita was gonna be a rice field wasteland of a place and my nearest neighbour would be miles and miles away. But to my surprise, this was definitely not the case. Not only did I have 3 fellow ALTs living in my apartment building (not including the other 14 ALTs who also live in the city), but the city was also filled with lot’s to do. Department stores, cuisine from all over the world, reggae clubs, and other big city essentials like Starbucks were all to be found in my home . My fears of being deprived of my city life were to be washed away by countless bars, red light districts and shopping centres. All the talk about how Japanese apartments are bite sized dwellings fit for a hobbit were also put to rest by my encounter with my apartment. It was/is HUGE. I don’t know what to do with all the space…I guess I should buy a couch or a table or something.
Some highlights from August:
Trip to Kakunodate
Being a region that was never touched by the wars that affected the rest of Japan, a lot of the older samurai buildings and neighbourhoods had been left untouched. This particular region to the north east (I’m literally pulling that out of my ass…this is probably wrong)of Akita City is famous for its samurai villages. Walking through the streets, the homes and the buildings in this area take you back to old Japan.
Board of Education Enkai
In true Japanese tradition, our company had a welcome party in honour of its new set of JET ALTs. It started out with a round of bowling- one ALT to two Japanese BOE staffers. Then we moved on to a downtown hotel for an evening of prizes, dinner and the infamous “Nomihodai” or All you can drink. Beers were re-filled multiple times, there were more red faced drunk Asians than I could count…and we finally got to see our co-workers let loose!
Shit Show Karaoke
One of the quintessentially Japanese pastimes would have to be karaoke. In all its mystic and glory, I had yet to try my luck with it in Japan. Until…that one night. We all decided to go out to celebrate the end of the Japanese intensive course for ALTs. There were about, 20 of us, and we knew that we weren’t gonna be able to fit into a bar…so we decided to split up and meet at the karaoke joint close to the station. Five of us headed to a local nomihodai joint and drank our asses off.
The way it works is that you pay a fixed price and usually you have either 2 or 3 hours to drink as much as you want. So, seeing as we were healthy and energetic twenty somethings, we went out HARD.
So…..upon the completion of our nomihodai time slot, we drunkenly ran over to the Karaoke place to meet up with the rest of the JET ALTs. But, only now do I realize, that we were the only ones who were completely hammered. When we first got there, people were casually sipping their glasses of beer and singing in decently and on key…but we went on to take over the room, pick absurdly ridiculous sing along songs and were generally belligerent.
Soooo…that was a sneak peak quickie of my August in Akita. Lot’s has happened and it’s hard to remember everything..but, all in all….it was a great month!

Friday, August 8, 2008

I'm finally here!! After a grueling 3 days of a jet lagged Tokyo Orientation at the wonderful and marvelous Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku, I've arrived at my final destination.....Akita City in Akita Prefecture. Some highlights from the orientation included: french fries at the breakfast buffet, smoking INSIDE an izakaya and getting kicked out of the Canadian Embassy. Actually. The humidity was hellish but being so close to the core of Tokyo was enough to get us all out of our AC'd sanctuary. While I wasn't able to venture too far out, one of the more memorable moments was when two friends and I decided to brave a local restaurant without the flashy gajin wax figured foods and English translations. Although it was scary, we pushed through and had some really amazing food and drink.
The orientation, itself, was a something else. Although all the JET forums that I visited warned us about the bore that was Tokyo orientation seminars, I didn't quite fully understand until I got there. On top of the 12.5 hour difference between Toronto and Tokyo, our day began and 8:30 am and went to as late as 8:00 pm. PLUS, we had to put on our best business suits and pretend to be adults. But we got to meet some really great people and meet the folks who'd be in our prefectures.
But now I'm in sunny Akita City, home to 300 000 and known for the best sake, rice and most beautiful women in Japan aka Akita Bijin. More stories to come from the first week in my new home!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Woman of Leisure

As some of you may know, my days of working in dingy Italian eateries, stuffy Catholic institutions and low-paying-do-nothing-for-4-hour jobs are of the past. Since graduating with a shiny new Hon. BA, I've managed to grow up (a little) and upgrade to become.......... a 'woman of leisure'.

A term coined by my father, he started to notice that I would hang around the house and call him for no apparent reason in the middle of the day. With my increasingly incessant visits and pleas for grocery money, he finally called me out on my 'lack of things to do' syndrome. It's true. I sit at home, go on facebook, hang out with friends and walk around Toronto looking for kitschy Canadian paraphernalia to bring to Japan. And this has been my life for the past week or so.

Since finding out I have but 3 more weeks until my departure for Japan with the JET Programme as an Assistant Language Teacher, I've tried to clear out my work schedule so I could focus on getting last minute shit done. Last visits to the doctor, last hang outs and last trips to the island...that sort of thing.
I can hardly believe the day is almost here. With nothing but cash money, a few outlet mall purchases from Niagara Falls NY and the clothes on my back, my leisurely Toronto life is going to be turned upside down!