Sunday, December 21, 2008

The beautiful night view of Hakodate

When I told my Japanese friends that I'd be going with a group from the office on a sight-seeing tour of Hakodate this weekend, I always got the same response.

"Oh, Hakodate! It has a nice night view!"

Sure enough, they were right. Here is a picture that Liz took of the infamous view. (My camera takes horrible pictures in the dark, and I've given up trying.) This was what we looked at before, after and during dinner...

A few of the guys posed for a picture after an amazing all-you-could-eat (and believe me, I did!) very fresh seafood dinner...

They said that by turning sideways they'd look slimmer, haha. Here is a group picture, taken at the Kitajima Saburo Museum -- he's a famous Japanese singer from Hakodate, pictured on the walls.

That's Nakano-san who's pointing his fingers over my head, ha.

What a fun group! We had a good time visiting Hokodate, which is on the island Hokkaido, a few hours north of Kuji.

Besides gawking at the night view and visiting the museum, we also went to a convent (very interesting, since they're not at all common in Japan), a tower, and a fireworks show called "Christmas Fantasy."

Now I'm preparing for a bigger trip -- my journey to Indianapolis (by way of Tokyo, Seattle and Chicago). It will probably be a while before I post another blog entry since I'll be on-the-go so much for the next couple of weeks.

No matter where in the world you are, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Voices singing, let's be jolly..."

According to Buddy the Elf (perhaps the most quoteable and loveable movie character ever!),
"The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear."

It doesn't take much prompting for me to take those wise words to heart. :)

(By the way, another good way to spread Christmas cheer is by changing the font in your blog to red and green, haha.)

I've been doing a lot of singing lately -- even more than the usual amount.

In the past week, I have sung at a preschool, at the karaoke place (twice!) and a solo at church. (Click to see the video that Kenji took of "The First Noel.")

Here's a picture from Christmas caroling at the preschool on Saturday...

The carolers from left to right -- Liz, Mayla, Saya (my hug buddy from church), the one and only Tomoki (who introduced himself as Devon Sease!), and Sean.

I hope that our singing spreads holiday cheer! Through singing, I also aim to praise and glorify Jesus Christ, the reason for Christmas.

I enjoy singing and music, in general. They make me smile, and...

"Smiling's my favorite!!!" (That was another "Elf" reference for you.) :)

* * * *

"I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples." -- Psalm 57:9

Monday, December 15, 2008

There's a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy...

Quick! What's the next line of the song? You have 10 seconds, starting NOW. (No peeking!)

The Santa duo -- with a little elf (named Ayaka) who snuck in the picture :)

If you said "as we pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie," you are RIGHT! If you sang it, bonus points for you. :) Oh, and if you said "chocolate" instead of "coffee," you get partial credit since I've heard that in one version. (Personally, I think it should be chocolate since it gives me a happier feeling than coffee does. Ok, you can get full credit after all; I'm in the Christmas spirit!)


I've been playing Christmas games lately (could you tell!?) and have been to three parties in the last four days! It's been marvelous.

The picture above and the one right below are from the party I had for my dance group yesterday. We ate lots of food and had lots of fun, regardless of the fact that none of them speak English well. We played this game of pass-the-candy-cane-around-like-crazy until the candy cane broke into a bunch of pieces, turning the game into a candy cane fight. Good times!

My table has a blanket under it because it's a special kind of heated table called a kotatsu. The food we're eating includes fried chicken, soba noodles, some kind of rice/seafood dish and grilled chicken skewers, called yakitori. (Dessert was the next course -- cream puffs, cookies and two kinds of cake!)

Sweets were a big part of my Christmas party at Mugyo on Thursday, too. We had Christmas cookie baking/decorating/eating time, followed by a couple of games and a present exchange:

Atsumi and Aki painting cookies, thanks to the (American) Cookie Kit from the Barnetts. :)

Shoma's finished cookies! The one on the top right is a mouth. Don't ask me why. I don't know.

No school Christmas party is complete without a game of Tackle the Student! Err...I mean Musical Chairs. :)

The ALT Christmas party was on Saturday night. There were a lot of people there and we watched a few of the Christmas classics, like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Frosty the Snowman" and..."Muppets Christmas Carol," haha.

Oh, and guess what -- there was pumpkin pie!! And lots of chocolate! Of course there were happy feelings, too. :)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Getting ready for America!

It won't be long until I travel to the great U.S. of A., and I'm pretty excited about it. :)

The same is true of nine junior high school students and two high school students from Kuji and two teachers (including my boss, Yamadate).

At the beginning of January, the group will do some sightseeing in San Francisco before going to Franklin, to visit Kuji's sister city. During the four days in Franklin, each student will stay with a host family and sit in on classes at either Custer Baker Middle School or Franklin Community High School.

What a great way for them to experience American culture! At the same time, they can teach their host families and others about Japanese culture. So it's a win-win situation.

I'm looking forward to having two of the students stay with my family! Here is a picture of all the girls (minus one), who will be coming to America...

The two girls I'm touching are the ones who will be hanging out with my family -- Shiori (beside me) and Marina (my student from Okawame, who is below me.) Sorry about the less-that-stellar picture quality.

Here's a picture of the guys (again, one is missing) and the two chaperones...

For the last month, the group has been meeting each week for English conversation classes, in preparation for the trip. Mayla, Liz and I have helped them with their English self-introductions and basic conversation. I think the students are a little nervous about the homestay aspect of the trip.

After their stay in Franklin (and Camby, for the two girls who will be at my house), I will travel with the group to Washington, D.C. and help lead them. Then together, we'll fly to Tokyo and travel to Kuji.

Although the students aren't coming to America until January, I'll arrive on December 23rd so I can be home for Christmas. As is tradition, my family is driving to Florida the day after Christmas to spend the week with my grandparents. :)

There will be a lot of moving around during my brief stay in America, but it should all be fun!

While I'm making announcements and telling you about my plans, here is another bit of news: I've decided to live in Kuji for a second year! So until August 2010, the grand Japanese adventure continues...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Another, younger Tomoki

Of course no one could ever take Tomoki's place. He is truly one of the most unique individuals I've ever met!

(By the way, Tomoki -- the 7th grade boy I tutor, just in case you need reminded -- likes to say "of course" instead of "yes." Dana: Did you have a good weekend, Tomoki? Tomoki: Of course!!)

But the cutie with me in this picture reminds me of Tomoki.

I met him at Kuji Elementary School on Monday. His English was by far the best of his class, and it was apparent that he really wants to learn it.
I just wish I could remember his name!

I asked him if he studies English at home, and he told me that his father is an English teacher. I tried asking what school his dad teaches at, but he said, "No school." I was confused, but it was time for me to leave his classroom, so I left.

At the very beginning of recess time, the boy found me in the teacher's room so we could work out our communication issue. He was SO cute and was not about to give up! Ten minutes and a game of "charades" later, I finally figured out that his dad is a carpenter who knows English and teaches his son a little bit at home. YES! I understand! :)

My little friend followed me around during the rest of recess, as I (attempted to) talk and play with other fun kids. As usual, I had a great time in the company of elementary school students.

I also still have a lot of fun with Tomoki, who countinues to make me laugh. He memorized the entire "Grease" dance that the ALTs performed a few weeks ago, and he likes to practice it whenever he comes over, haha. He also likes to practice his "British English." I could write an entire blog full of Tomoki stories since he does and says so many funny things, but that's all for now.

In the words of Tomoki, "Cheerio, homie!"

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Five reasons why shopping can be enjoyable

I'm not a big spender.

I'd rather save my money or donate it to a worthy cause. So I'm not one to love shopping. However, I've spent the last two weekends shopping -- last weekend at a market in Hachinohe and this weekend at a mall in Morioka.

Both times I did more browsing than actual purchasing. I like it better that way. Here are the top five reasons why "window shopping" is fun:

#5: You can see ridiculous/surprising things.
To me, spending 5,000 yen ($50) on a crab seems slightly ridiculous. Granted, these crabs are gigantic! But still, I can think of at least 50 people and things off the top of my head that I'd rather spend $50 on, instead of buying some big, dead crab. Wait a minute...

These guys are alive!! The man selling them picks up a crab that I presume to be dead, and I nearly jump back a foot when it starts moving its giant claws! Looks like it's ready to pinch something...or someone. Eeps!

4. You can try on ridiculous things.
I have a lot of fun trying on stuff that I would never buy and never wear. For instance, this hat...

Is this what it feels like to have dreadlocks? I feel a couple of pounds heavier with this thing on my head!

3. Free food! Enough said.
Hypothetically of course (ahem), I could go to a store like Sam's Club back home and make a meal off the samples. I love samples! I've learned that if I go to the Universe grocery store at just the right time, I'll find a variety of homemade baked goods to taste test. It's fabulous. But as much as I usually enjoy samples, I'm (literally) not diggin' these...

First, I have no idea what this is. I can't read the Japanese, and the brown mushy stuff doesn't look like anything familiar. (That's edible, anyway!) Second, there are chopsticks in the bowls! So are these "community samples" or what? What if I use the chopsticks (that have been in who knows how many mouths) to eat the brown mushy stuff and accidentally drop a little bit on my pants!? Ew, I can see that happening, too. I hardly ever say this when it comes to free food...but I'll pass.

2. It provides opportunities to "people-watch."
I enjoy standing or sitting still and watching the people around me. Maybe that sounds creeper-ish, but maybe you do it, too, and you just don't admit it. :) People-watching was especially fun in the stores in Tokyo because of the crazy fashion I saw. But even in Morioka, I saw folks wearing some unusual things. I didn't take any pictures because I don't want to turn into the paparazzi. But trust me, the fashion is unique.

1. You can see some eye-candy!
And I don't just mean amazingly attractive guys! This right here is eye-candy...
A long row of cake slices = beautiful! I thought the cake lady with her little hat and apron was precious, so I took a picture of her, too...

So there you have it, folks.

I guess you could say I'd rather eat dough than spend dough! :)

Friday, December 5, 2008

A century old and still singing

There is a lady at church who I see almost every Sunday. She always greets me with "Ohayou gozaimasu!" (Good morning!) And when she sits behind me, I can hear her singing the hymns.

These things may sound pretty average, but this lady is not. She is 100 years old!

We had a birthday party for her after church a few days ago, with a giant circular vanilla and chocolate cake. After eating, she gave a speech (that I didn't understand a word of), and then she sang a song for everyone.

I was quite impressed.

My one-century-old friend and me. I hope I look as good as she does if/when I'm 100!

In general, the elderly folks I encounter in Kuji are pretty remarkable. It's not uncommon to see someone you'd expect to be in a wheelchair riding a bicycle along the side of the street instead!

As I'm driving around the mountains, I often see severely hunched over -- or as Yamadate says, "permanently bowing" :) -- women hiking up the steep roads. They usually are carrying a heavy-looking sack of produce or something else and don't even seem to be phased by it. It's just life as usual, I suppose.

It doesn't suprise me that Japan has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world. In fact, the world's oldest man is Tomoji Tanabe of Tokyo. He is 113 years old. (FYI: Until November 26th when she passed away, Edna Parker of Shelbyville, Ind., a Franklin College graduate (!) was the oldest person in the world, at 115 years old.)

According to this article, the longetivity of Japanese people is due to the minerals and the large amount of seafood that they eat, and the elderly having a sense of purpose in life. Makes sense to me.

It's hard to imagine living to be 100 years old! I think it would certainly be amazing to see all of the different changes that occur within a century. Perhaps I'll live that long and find out!

After all, I'm eating tons of seafood, taking vitamins every day, and I have a sense of purpose. :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"It's Christmas time in the city..."

I'm not the only one in Kuji ready for Christmas. Apparently, a lot of people are!

Just as I've been astounded by the amount of English signs I've seen in Kuji, I've also been pleasantly surprised by the quantity of Christmas decorations that have popped up in recent days.

They make me happy. :)

Across the street from my decor-filled apartment is a bookstore that also has many decorations inside, in addition to a cute window display of Christmas teddy bears. These two pictures are both from the bookstore...

He sure is a jolly old St. Nick!

Just like in America, the stores here are playing Christmas music and selling holiday merchandise. There are even "Merry Christmas" signs inside...
I love how there's a big Japanese sign right behind the Merry Christmas one.

I really like the Christmas banners and strands of lights on the light posts. The city sidewalks are truly dressed in holiday style, like in the lyrics to the song "Silver Bells."

This tree is down the street from my apartment and is absolutely gorgeous...

I have been surprised by these displays of Christmas spirit! After all, Japan is only a one-percent Christian country. I had thought that if people in Kuji celebrated Christmas at all, it probably wouldn't be a big deal.

Yesterday at Kokuji Elementary School, I was asked to talk about Christmas customs in America. I asked the students what their families will do on Christmas, and they said they'll eat cake and get presents. I also asked if they knew why we celebrate Christmas. In every class, at least one of the students knew about the birthday of Jesus Christ. Again, I was pleasantly surprised!

I'm glad that I can walk the sidewalks in Kuji and see holiday decorations, and I'm happy that
"in the air there's a feeling of Christmas." :)