Thursday, April 23, 2009

My Japanese Apartment

Come with me as I give a tour of my Japanese apartment! Don't mind the messy mess...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

オオカミとブタ。Stop motion with wolf and pig.

Stop motion animation from Japan. It's amazing. It can't believe how long this must have taken them to make this! My new favourtie at the moment!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Autumn and Winter in Akita

Elementary School Visits

One of the more enjoyable parts of our jobs as English teachers in Japan are the elementary school visits. In my particular case, I have one Junior High School that I visit on the regular with additional elementary school visits here and there. Other ALTs have 2 JHS’s as well as elementary schools…but I much prefer having one school because I get to know my kids and they get a chance to get to know me, as well.
Elementary school teachers usually fax us their lesson plans a few days in advance. It usually goes down as something like this :

1) Self Introduction
2) Warm up Song: Hello Song/ Sing a Rainbow Song/ Days of the Week Song
3) Pronunciation of Vocabulary
4) Game –Fruit Basket, Bingo etc.
5) Goodbyes!

So, as you can see…it’s pretty difficult not to have a good time at an elementary school. Since the kids don’t have a regular ALT that they see everyday, the ALT visit s are fun, new and exciting! It’s always nice to feel like a celebrity now and again. But it’s an on going joke that…when the Japanese kids are expecting to see a “foreigner” and see me walk into the classroom, I ALWAYS get 「えー?えーえ~? 先生日本人じゃない?先生ハーフ?」or “Huh? Eh? Aren’t you Japanese? Are you half Japanese?”
They simply cannpt fathom that Japanese people live anywhere other than Japan. 

Fall Break- Trip to Sendai

While the rest of my school was getting excited for the “fall break”……in actuality, it’s only the weekend extended by two more days. But, who am I kidding…. I’ll gladly take the long weekend!  But, instead of the usual Akita city drinking as per ,usual…a few of us decided to venture outside the prefecture. The most fitting first trip to the outside world would have to have been somewhere exciting and worthy of our ‘first’. But, the question remains…….where to?! SENDAI, it is! Yes, we made the 3 hour bus ride to the beautiful Miyagi prefecture known for its exotic cuisine like grilled beef tongue and fish cakes shaped like,…err…fish. It turned out to be a really last minute trip but it ended up being really great! Here’s why:

*Another thing I should point out from the trip was the fact that I had become the unofficial travel planner for the next 3 days. Those who know me from back in the day, might be a little baffled and somewhat stunned because of I’m notoriously scatter brained beyond belief.

The bus lets you off in the middle of the city, a city that none of us have ever been to. We just decided to go with the flow and follow the crowd. This proved to be a success because it led us straight to Sendai Station. Here, is where we were able to find our hostel, (¥3000 a night, ¥1000 to rent a bike for the day….sweet deal!)
Since it was our first official trip outside of the prefecture, we wanted to christen it by going out for a well deserved celebratory drink! And where better than a city 3 times the size of our quaint little Akita City…we’d have to struggle to pick one because there would be be rows and rows of establishments to choose from....right?
It turned out to be most painful 3 hours of our lives. And to make matters worse, we only realised that we had rented bikes for the night 2 hours after we had initially decided to go out.
Our second day in Sendai turned out to be jam packed full of activities. We were there for two nights, but we basically had 1 day to see the sights. As official trip planning nazi, I had organized a preliminary plan to which we would use as a guide. First order of business was trying to find a killer breakfast spot. On our way to the hostel, we had seen a cute little independent bakery close by, but since it was a national holiday it was closed that morning. But, we also saw another one closer to the area where we were let off the bus
Matsushima was really a fluke. We hadn’t really planned for anything, but thankfully, the tourist information booth at Sendai station was more than helpful. Matsushima Bay also happened to be one of the three views of Japan. We really lucked out with the weather, as well. We ate some good seafood and mingled with the other Japanese tourists. In the evening we headed off to Sendai castle. Little did we know that the actual castle was burned down or bombed during the war….so it was actually the SITE of the former casle. Kind of another flop…but we made up for it by finding a really good Chinese restaurant for dinner.
All in all…a good first trip. We learned that we need to plan ahead WELL IN ADVANCE in order to maximize our time….

Family Trip to Japan

The month of December was a hectic one. The grading of tests and assignemtns a plenty as well as the beginning of the bonenkai season. But with the chaos also came the assurance of knowing that in only a few weeks time, I would be reunited with my family once more!
I decided to try my luck with the cheaper option of getting down to Tokyo: the night bus! It actually wasn’t so bad. I was able to get some sleep and most of the people were relatively quiet for most of the ride there.
After I met my family at Tokyo Station, we made our way to Satte, Saitama. The sleepy town where my mom grew up was a reminder of the realities of suburban living as well as the recent economic downturn in Japan. The stores that my brother and I came to know as kids had shut down, a lot of the local specialty stores had disappeared and all of our childhood friends from the area had moved away to the big city. Similarly to Akita, it was the kind of place where you grow up and grow old.
But what hadn’t changed was my Japanese family. There to greet us with smiles and lot’s of Asahi beer! My aunt Shizue came ready with all of our favourite childhood foods like Sapporo ichiban, yakisoba, korokke and somen noodles.
Run off of what we did while they were here:
Okinawa : Chiraumi Aquarium, Battlegrounds from the Battle of Okinawa, Okinawan food like champuru
Tazawako Onsens, Harajuku shopping!!! <3

Trip to Thailand and Cambodia

Our trip to Thailand and Cambodia started off a bit rocky. Mark and Ryan had to sell their souls for the ‘final standing room only’ tickets on the shinkansen, and while I’m ever so grateful that we could even have a way to get down to Tokyo…standing for 4 hours sucks balls. But we made up for that by being able to see the Gibli museum in the Mitaka region of Tokyo. The Japanese equivalent of a Disneyland, this Mecca for Japanese kids was quite a site to see. Hayao Miyazaki films are known for its kooky characters, mystical lands and his attention to detail. Walking through the halls of the museum felt like you were stepping into one of his films. From the detailing on the wall displays, stainglass doors to the height of the doorways, it stayed true to the Miyazaki spirit of the child.
During our JET seminars and conferences, many ALTs had said that the easiest and cheapest way to stay over for an early flight from Narita was to sleep in the airport. It seemed like a great idea at the time. Narita Airport: a huge international hub that connects the world to the far east would surely be able to accommodate any traveller who needed a few hours of shut eye before resuming a long and gruelling trip……right? IT CLOSED AT 9 pm. That’s right. We got there in the evening hoping to grab a bite to eat…but the world had closed down for the evening.
Since I have been to Thailand once before, I was semi ready for the crazy circus show that was waiting for us. It is pretty much as I remembered it. Thick smoggy heavy air, smells of all sorts, baby elephants being paraded in the night markets for tourists and ladyboy ping pong shows. It was great. Our accommodation was far from perfect, however. When I was travelling in Europe, the Hostelling International brand was the only ones that I would use and they were always clean, safe and located in a convenient location. While our hostel was clean and convenient, it was also small and cramped. But they washed and folded our laundry, we had air conditioning in the room and they had hot showers!
While Thailand seems to be the go-to destination for 20 somethings looking to slum it up with the ethnics for one “last adventure before we complete our masters in philosophy” I was a HUGE fan of Cambodia. It was definitely my favourite lag of the trip. The people are friendlier, they were more attractive, the environment is still kind of untouched from the tourist shit and its not as freak showy as Thailand. We got to see Angkor Wat. It was really a site to see. Not only the amazing temples, but the fact that the whole world had travelled and landed right in Cambodia. Walking down the main road towards Angkor Wat, you could hear 5 or 6 different languages. Oh God, but there were so many crunchy granola heads all over the place.
Here’s a rundown of what we did:

- Fish foot massage (where they eat the dead skin cells off your feet) ewwwww
- Body massage (where a friend of mine got paid SPECIAL attention…he was THOROUGH)
- Night Market
- Cambodian Arts and Crafts Studio
- Cambodian Sakkar dancing
- Tuk tuk riding

So, all in all it was a great trip. I only wished that we could have had more time. One week is definitely not enough to feel like you’re doing all the tourist things that you need to do as well as feeling like you’re actually on vacation. I could have gone for one more week of doing absolutely nothing.
Next stop: S. Korea, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka!