Monday, March 30, 2009

I teach a famous rock star

This is a picture of me with my rock star friend T-Money. (Before he became famous, he went by Tomoki.) Maybe I should get this picture autographed. ;)

Click here to watch his performance -- as well as an interview and a look "backstage."

Are you diggin' the shades? I am...

Peace out for now...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pictures of posters we can learn from

Because of the poster that I wrote about last time, I now know what to do if there's ever a tsunami. Run for my life!!

The "tsunami poster" was just the first in a collection of amusing posters that I'd like to share with you. Through illustrations (since I don't understand the Japanese words, even though I'd really like to and I'm really trying), I've interpreted some pretty interesting messages...

Exhibit A: Love is eating sushi and rice with your family.

What a charming little (Japanese?) family. They all look so cute and happy. But incidentally, not very Japanese.

Exhibit B: Eat a balanced meal. Or better yet, balance your meal. Like Pikachu does.

After all, who doesn't want to be like the little monster Pikachu from Pokemon?! Right? Right??

Exhibit 3: If you don't have good oral hygiene, flying teeth will take you away.

What a great way to make kids want to brush their teeth...or a great way to give them nightmares.

Exhibit 4: Be aware of mad cow disease...or at least mad cows.

I honestly have no idea what the message of this poster is supposed to be. There's a lot of reading to do here. All I know is that on the right side near the middle is one upset cow! The milk bottle is also pretty scary. (More scary than pretty.) His name is apparently Mr. Milk since that's how he's labeled -- the only English on the entire poster, by the way.

Exhibit 5: This is NOT a harmonious sign.

Enough said.

And finally, here is my very favorite poster. I've saved the best for last...

Exhibit 6: Just say No!!!!!!!!! to drugs

Here's a close-up of why you should stay far away from drugs:

So to review, here's what we've learned from the posters that are in Kuji's junior high schools:

Eat a balanced meal -- like sushi and rice -- with your family. Brush your teeth afterwards. Be kind to cows; they're temperamental. But most important of all, say (or scream) No!!!!!!!!! to drugs.

To read the newest post in my other blog, Keep Shining, which goes a little deeper, click here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In case of a tsunami...RUN!!

Because of Japan's location, earthquakes and tsunamis happen sometimes.

Most of the earthquakes are small rumblings that shake things up for a few seconds, but don't do any damage. I've experienced three little earthquakes since I've lived here. No one treats them like a big deal.

Whenever there is a large earthquake in the ocean, then there's the possibility that it could cause a tsunami. Tsunami (津波) is a Japanese word that means "harbor wave." Besides earthquakes, underwater volcanic eruptions and coastal landslides also cause tsunamis. To read more about tsunamis, click here.

I know what a tsunami is, but what steps should I take in order to be safe if one occurs? Well, I don't have to wonder anymore. Luckily, there's an illustration that shows me exactly what to do...

I should literally take the steps! Actually, I should bolt up the steps in a panic.

While there's nothing remotely funny or cute about a tsunami, this cartoonish poster makes me chuckle every Tuesday when I see it at my dance practice. I guess it's the stick man flying up the stairs with what looks like sweat coming off of his head that gets me every time. But I know that If I ever saw an actual tsunami, I would be scared for sure! It would be serious.

Seeing this poster made me wonder how common tsunamis are in Kuji. According to Yamadate, the last major one was nearly 50 years ago. Whew, sigh of relief. However, scientists have predicted that there will be a major earthquake and tsunami in the area sometime within the next 30 years. Yipes. At least the city can get prepared for it.

When I was driving along the coast recently, I immediately noticed the abnormally high waves crashing against the rocks....

Guess what picture I had in my mind when I saw this? Yep, the image of "the tsunami poster" has been ingrained into my memory forever.

So as I was driving down the road, I couldn't help but look for the nearest flight of stairs.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Growing up and moving on

It seems too early in the year to be attending graduation ceremonies, but that's what I've been doing recently.

Last weekend, I went to the ceremony at Mugyo Jr. High, and a few days ago, I attended the most adorable preschool graduation ever. :)

Instead of wearing caps and gowns, the graduates just wear formal clothes. At Mugyo, they wore their school uniforms. And at the preschool, all of the boys had on suits that made them look like little men. So cute!

At one point during the preschool graduation, the background music was an instrumental version of "Jingle Bells." I have no idea why. It made me chuckle though.

After the presentation of diplomas, the former preschoolers sang their little hearts out about being excited for first grade. Then, they marched out, under a tunnel formed by teachers (including Liz and me.) In one of the classrooms, we gave each graduate a handshake, a flower and a "Congratulations!" ("Omedeto!")

I love this kid! I'm excited that he'll be one of my first grade students at Kuji Elementary School next month. Peace. :)

At both graduation ceremonies I went to, the graduates performed. The preschoolers sang, and the junior high students played instruments.

Although I didn't go the graduation at Kuji Elementary School, I got a sneak peak of the 6th grade's graduation song when I taught there a few weeks ago. I took a video of their practice because I thought it sounded really good! Check it out...

After attending the preschool graduation, Liz, Jemma, Mayla and I had a girls' weekend. We went to a lake a few hours away--where there was snow! Eeps. (Click here to see some pictures that I took at the lake.) I'll add more photos to the sight-seeing album later. Sayonara for now!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A new 'do

Change can be good. :)

With the change of seasons (hallelujah, it's spring!!), I was ready for a hairstyle change, too.

So I went with my friend, Ayaka, to the place where she gets her hair cut. I've never had someone who doesn't speak English cut my hair, so I figured this could be interesting. I wasn't sure what to expect. But I'm happy with how it turned out!

Here are the before and after pictures...

I'm not so sure about the bangs, which is why I pinned them back. I didn't ask for bangs. When the scissors snipped away my hair in the front, I thought, Oh ok, I guess I have bangs now. Whatever.

I was loving her skirt, by the way. :) I also adored the nice scalp massage I got as part of the shampooing!

Immediately after the cut, Ayaka and I went to Crepe House Sweets to show off my new 'do, haha. The super sweet crepe lady practically squealed, "Kawaiiiiiii!!" (Kawaii means cute, so that was a good sign!) The customers--all girls--joined in with "Kawaiii!" There was one guy in the place, but I think all the girly "hair talk" scared him off! Poor guy.

Ok, that's enough "hair talk." Enjoy the nice, spring weather!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A smorgasbord of Japanese dishes

I've said before that I could write a blog just about food. It's true.

Since living in Kuji, I've tried lots of different Japanese cuisine. Besides making takoyaki--which I wrote about last time--I also recently made okonomiyaki for the first time.

I consider takoyaki and okonomiyaki to be siblings. Besides both having "yaki" (which means "grilled") in the name, they have similar ingredients and tastes. The biggest difference is that takoyaki is in ball form, and okonomiyaki is basically a pancake--a seafood and cabbage pancake.

My friend Megumi getting ready to flip the okonomiyaki.

Here is the finished product...

While I've shown you several pictures of food in the past, there are a few dishes I've tried within the last couple of months that I want to explain:

  • Shabu shabu is kind of like a Japanese fondue. There's a big pot of boiling liquid that you hold thin strips of meat and veggies in to cook them almost instantly. Yum. We also had noodles in the pot, and it was kind of like fishing to get them out with the chopsticks.

  • Nabe dishes are prepared in a hot pot, usually at the table. In that way, it's similar to shabu shabu. (I'd say they're cousins.) Nabe is different because the vegetables and meat boil in the pot for a long time, like soup. Typical ingredients for nabe are vegetables such as leeks, onions, cabbage, and mushrooms, as well as tofu and meat. It's very popular to eat in the winter.

In this nabe that I tried, there was some kind of fish guts! (That's what is being held up by the chopsticks.) It was actually pretty tasty. :)

  • Jajamen is a specialty of Morioka, which is the capital of Iwate prefecture, the prefecture that Kuji is in. Jajamen consists of hot udon noodles with cucumber, leek and miso. It's served with vinegar, chili oil and garlic that you can add. The taste is unique. Not bad, just unique. :)

I really like the thick udon noodles that are in jajamen.

This is just a little sample of the things I've tried lately; I don't eat any of these on a regular basis. It's definitely fun to try new foods!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Having a ball making takoyaki

My apartment smells like a fish market right now. Eeps!

It turns out that the smell of takoyaki lingers. I made these delicious balls of dough--with octopus meat inside!--with some friends yesterday. Twenty-four hours, lots of air freshener and a burning candle later, my place still smells a bit gaggy. (The weather is beautiful today, so I'll have to open the windows. All of them.)

Anyway, it was worth it. The taste is good, and it's a lot of fun to make.

I first ate takoyaki back in August; perhaps you remember that I wrote about it. My first time to actually make takoyaki was last month at Okawame Jr. High. I never blogged about that, so I'm going to take this opportunity to show you some pictures and share with you the recipe for this popular Japanese food:

First, you mix up the batter. It's a lot like pancake mix -- eggs, flour and water. You pour that into the circular molds in the takoyaki maker.

Then, you add ginger, shrimp cracker crumbs, cabbage--and whatever else your heart desires--into the mix. Oh, and that includes the tako (which is "octopus" in Japanese.) Tako is pretty important in the making of takoyaki!

Don't you just love the little octopus guy on the takoyaki maker? Precious.

As the dough cooks, it forms balls that you continuously flip around.

When the takoyaki is done, you cover it with sauce, mayonnaise and fish flakes. Yum yum.

And then it's time to eat your beautiful masterpiece...

So there you go. Now you can make takoyaki! ;)

It helps to have a takoyaki maker though (like the one that was already in my apartment when I moved in.) And it also helps to wear a gas mask!! Only kidding. Kind of!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy White Day!

I have no idea why it's called White Day, but that's what day it is in Japan.

As I've written before, March 14th is when guys give gals chocolate and other sweets. February 14th, Valentine's Day, is when gals give guys chocolate. Both are very commercialized holidays.

Here's a look inside the stores...

The ribbon was red for Valentine's Day, but now there's blue ribbon for White Day. Hmm.

Just like for Valentine's Day, there are beautful displays of chocolate...

Mayla, Liz and I got lots of sweets from the guys in the office yesterday. The individually wrapped cookies I got from the Superintendent were packaged beautifully...

So what am I doing on White Day? Nothing at all romantic, haha. This morning I went to the graduation ceremony at Mugyo, and tonight a bunch of ALTs are getting together to have a going away party for Jesse. Should be fun!

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To read the latest post in my other blog, "Keep Shining"--which goes a little deeper--click here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Easter baskets...and FRUIT BASKET!!

Even though Easter is a month away, I was asked to teach the students at Edanarisawa Elementary School about Easter traditions.

So I told them about how my dad hides Easter baskets--full of candy and other little gifts--around the house for us to find. I also taught them how to dye eggs...

Until I came to Japan, I never though the concept of dying eggs was abnormal...kind of like how carving pumpkins is strange, too.

What a little cutie pie!!

All nine students at the (very small!) school display their eggs.

A basket of beautiful eggs. :)

In addition to talking about baskets, I've been playing the "fruit basket game." It's a really popular activity at elementary schools, and I've played it every single day this week! Instead of explaining how to play, let me just give an example of the madness that ensues by showing you this video...

Whew, fun times! During the class shown in this video, we played the game using fruit. But I've also used this game to teach about weather (stormy, rainy, sunny, etc.), animals, other kinds of food, letters in the alphabet, sports, the list continues to grow

Who knew there could be so many different kinds of "baskets!?"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hooray for elementary schools!

It's a special week. I'm teaching at a different elementary school each day!

As much as I like teaching junior high school students, I loooove elementary schools because of the excitement, the activities and the darling kids.

When I walk into an elementary school classroom, I feel like a celebrity. The kids immediately stand up and start clapping like crazy! They have giant smiles on their faces, and they're fired up about learning English from me. The excitement is contagious!

How can you not feel special when there's a welcome sign just for you?

Another thing that makes teaching at elementary schools different from middle schools is the hands-on games/activities/crafts that we do.

For example, we play "fukuwarai" (福笑い)-- a game where one blindfolded student has to put together a face (like the one on the blackboard above), while another student gives directions. Before playing, I teach them "up," "down," "left," and "right."

At elementary schools, there are cute things in the hallways...

Jump ropes are popular at all the schools.

As you can see, all the backpacks look the same.

There are also super cute kids at all the elementary schools...

It's hard to read, but her shirt says, "Pure love." She has pastel colors on her pants, her socks and her shoes! Lovely.

Students of all ages throw up this hand sign and say, "Wish!!!" They tell me a famous Japanese singer named Daigo made that really popular.

Stay tuned for more of my fun elementary school experiences...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

My very first snowboarding experience

Despite the spring mindset that I've had recently, I went snowboarding today!

I agreed to go on this day trip--with Jemma and a group from her office in Noda--a few weeks ago. At that time, there was lots of snow in Kuji and snowboarding seemed like a very appropriate thing to do.

But I'm glad that I tried out this winter sport today because it was a lot of fun! I'm even more glad that I don't have any injuries to tell you about. :)

Here's a recap of the day:

After the two-hour bus ride to the slopes, we went to the ski/snowboard rental shop and got our gear.

Then, we went to the base of the mountain, and had snowboarding lessons for beginners. That would be me. This was Liz's second time to snowboard, and Jemma's millionth time or something like that; she's pretty much a pro!

This is what the slope (I eventually went down!) looked like.

After the morning lesson, we went inside the lodge for lunch. Of course I have a picture to show you of the food. :)

Curry and rice! Yay, one of my favorites! I'd never had it with fried pork before. Also served were green tea, a salad, miso soup and apple slices.

After that feast, I was having a hard time just bending over to put my feet in the straps on the snowboard! So full, but so content. :) I managed, though, and finally rode the lift to the top of the slope, where I sat down with my beginners' class for a few last instructions. It might have helped if they had been in English! Then we were free to slide...err..fall...down.

One of the instructors, named Ken, singled me out (maybe because I kept screaming?), and I basically had private lessons from then on!

Ken was super cool and definitely deserves the "Extreme Patience Award."

Because of the balance involved, snowboarding reminds me of surfing. Also, it looks much easier than it is! Here's the one and only "action shot" of me up on the board...

Similarly, there's only one picture of me up on a surfboard. And here it is (from two years ago)...

I've got the pictures and the memories of these attempts at boarding, and I'm satisfied with that. :)