Thursday, November 25, 2010

Out of Touch

I'm sorry for the lack of posts lately, I managed to spill water on my computer about a month ago, so I have been without a fully functioning computer at home.

Some updates:
We had a full-fledged American Thanksgiving with turkey and all the sides, thanks to two Omura ALTs who whipped it up. It was pretty dang good.

Winter is here. Today it's a high of 16 C, so 61 F, but nights get below 10 C. You're probably thinking 'oh not bad.' But you're also probably taking advantage of your insulated houses (and schools) with central heating. I'm not going to complain too much now, because really, it's not so bad yet. I have my wall-unit air conditioner/heater, a space heater and of course my beloved kotasu. A kotatsu is a coffee-table size table with a heater mounted underneath. You put a special-blanket under the tabletop to keep the heat in and warm your toes and legs in the cozy heat for hours on end. It's pretty wonderful.

I attended a Japanese wedding reception (the actual ceremony is usually reserved for family and close friends). A quick run-down of Japanese weddings: everyone dresses up in pretty formal wear, the bride changes dresses many times, some guests often give pre-planned performances while the bride changes, the guests give gifts of money (only in an odd number of crisp bills for good luck) in a special envelope (the current normal amount is about $300) instead of giving house appliances etc., the bride and groom walk around and light the candle at every table, and you get a gift bag of household goods (I got two ramen bowls) and a variety of foods or sweets. The gift alone is worth a lot, not to mention the great food you eat.

I think that's all I have for now. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 22, 2010


Nagasaki ALTs put out a bimonthly magazine for the English speaking community in Nagasaki prefecture- JET and not JET. I wrote an article about the prime ministers in Japan for the most recent issue. The link below is an electronic version of the magazine.

A little on Japanese schools

I figured I'd tell you a little bit about the Japanese school system. Not so much philosophies of teaching, but more daily life in the school.

First of all, general structure. Kindergarten is separate, kids will stay there from 1-3 years, it's kind of a mix between kindergarten and pre-school. Most, if not all of them are right next to an elementary school, but technically they're separate, as far as I can tell. Next comes elementary school (grades 1-6). Pretty much like the ones in the US, one main teacher per class. Everyone, even teachers, have to eat kyushoku (school lunch) everyday, with milk. The kids serve it in each classroom with aprons and facemasks on.
After elementary school, they head to junior high (grades 7-9). The main difference between Japanese and American middle schools is that here, the kids stay in the same classroom all day and the teachers rotate out. The students of each "kumi" or class, are in that kumi for all three years. So if they start in 1-1 (1 year, 1 class) then they will be 2-1 and 3-1. So by their third year, the kids know each other really well. Through middle school school is a right for the students, therefore they can't be suspended or expelled. Even if they beat up a teacher or another student, they can still come to school if they want to. Another interesting thing about lower schools in Japan, is that they don't separate special needs students from the rest of the kids. They have most of their classes in regular classes and might have one or two periods in a separate room. At first this surprised me, but I think it's very good. The other kids treat the special ed kids with respect and help them in and out of class as much as possible.

School is only required through middle school. Kids have to test into the private high schools or if they want, they don't go at all. Each high school varies in academic and athletic ability, depending on their focus. Omura currently has a very good academic school, an agriculture school, a technical school and an all-girls school (I don't know much about it, there are no ALTs there). There is also a special ed school and a deaf school.

Now some quick facts/observations:
-No shoes in school, everyone wheres indoor shoes. There are big shelves for shoes at every entrance.
-Different shoes are worn in the gym
-The kids in all grades do all the cleaning. Most days there is a 15 minute period after lunch when the kids clean their assigned location (bathroom, teachers room, shoe shelves). When there is a special event (sports day, fall break, teacher conference), they'll spend a whole 50 minute class period cleaning.
-Textbooks often come in sets of two- one explanation and text, and one is a workbook.
-All schools have Sports Day in the early fall, which consists of running races, relays, other wacky games as competitions. The kumis compete with each other, so 1-1 vs. 1-2 vs. 1-3 etc. The practice before and after school, and one or two class periods in school for a few weeks. Then there will be a day with no class where they just practice ALL day.

That's all for now, I'm sure I'll think of more to share with you later.

Mt. Aso

Last weekend I took a trip out to Kumamoto prefecture. Among other things, Kumamoto is known for it’s beef and dairy products, as there are many cows, basashi (or horse sashimi), and Mt. Aso, one of the largest active volcanic craters in the world. It should go without saying that basashi wasn’t my main reason for going (having Festus in mind), but it didn’t stop me from trying it. In my opinion, there was little difference between it and fish sashimi. It had a slightly different flavor, but the texture was more or less the same. I would assume raw beef would taste similarly. I think I would enjoy a seared basashi better. I’m glad I tried it, but I’m not about to think about eating it every time I see a horse, unlike one of my junior high students that blurted out ‘おいしいそう‘ (looks yummy) when I showed the class a picture of Festus.

At the same restaurant we ate basashi, we had some of the most delicious beef I have ever had. Among the five of us we tried the 3 different beef options they had: yakiniku (grilled), hamburger (Japanese kind, the meat patty comes on a hot plate covered in sauce), and steak (also slightly different, served on a hot plate cut into little pieces). It was all so delicious! I couldn’t believe how good it was.

But of course the main attraction was the volcano! While I really wanted to see a boiling vat of red lava, I had to settle for the still very cool lake of light green aqueous sulfur. It was awesome. The first day we weren’t able to ascend to the crater lip because of the high concentration of noxious fumes, but the second day we saw it. Sure enough, it smelled like sulfur and was pretty powerful. Right as we were about to leave, they started kicking people out because of the fumes. Near the lake there was also this vast plain that pretty much looked like Mars. It was covered in ash/black sand and some rocks scattered here and there. Although there wasn't lava, I’m satisfied with Mt. Aso.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pies in Japan

I had a day off from school on Monday, so I decided to try to make a pie. Seeing that household baking is not common practice in Japan (the closest thing to an oven most houses have is a microwave/toaster combo), I was worried I would not find the necessary cookware and ingredients to make pie. Luckily, I managed to find mini, glass pie dishes, just the right size to fit inside my toaster oven. Each dish was roughly half the size of a normal pie dish, so I made two mini-pies.

Before I left, I looked up the Japanese words for the ingredients I needed and set out. Luckily there was a small baking section in the store where I found shortening (comes in a squeezable tube, kind of like a big toothpaste tube) and "bread flour" which I bought hesitantly, worried it was "bread mix" which has yeast in it, which they also sell. Apparently, it was just regular old flour (phew!).

Apples are really expensive, and buying yellow apples (because you need variety!) was even more, so I spent about $10 on 6 apples.

The pies turned out great! While they weren't my best work in my opinion, my friends and supervisor were thoroughly satisfied.


Last weekend I participated in the Hasami walk, which was a 12 kilometer walk around a city a little north of Omura. The city is world renowned in the pottery world for its beautiful craftsmanship of dishes and the worlds largest and second largest noborigama (built into a clay hillside) kilns (so said a guide, but upon research this may be inaccurate.)

Other attractions of the walk include the beautiful scenery and the scarecrows. It's just about rice harvesting time, so the terraced rice fields were especially pretty.

Every year the residents of the city put up a row of ever-creative scarecrows. The highlight last year was Michael Jackson, while this year there was everything from peeing obaasans (grandmas) to Naoto Kan, the current Prime Minister and the soccer player Keisuke Honda.
Even Tiger Woods made an appearance.

It was a perfect Autumn day and we even got some free soup and goya (bitter squash). Overall, it was a great time and I look forward to the pottery festival in the spring.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Last weekend, some friends and I took a trip out to the Shimabara peninsula in southern Nagasaki. Our plan was to hike up Mt. Unzen, a volcano that was very active between 1990 and 1995. However, it rained very heavily, so we couldn't hike, but decided to check out the remains. Pyroclastic flow destroyed over 2000 homes but only 44 people (mostly media), since 12,000 were evacuated at the beginning of 1990. The cool thing about this are the homes and one school that have been saved in their destroyed state. The houses are buried almost up to the roof and you can see all the debris inside. They seemed so old, but then I saw the solar panels and tvs and remembered that it happened only in the 90s. It was really cool to see.

I also drove through the city of Obama, which gained some fame during the 2008 election. They have a bunch of President Obama paraphernalia and even a statue somewhere. Obama is also known for it's sulfur onsen, so my friends and I went to one which was right on the bay. It was very relaxing!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I taught my first lessons today! Woohoo! Not as bad as I expected. The most nerve racking part was my introduction speech in front of the whole school in Japanese. I fell asleep so early last night, I didn't manage to practice much, but I still wowed the crowd somehow.

Elementary school kids are far different than the older junior high kids I saw yesterday. The elementary school kids are balls of never-ending energy and they aren't very shy. Walking through the hallway everyone will call out "Audrey Sensei!" "Hello!" or "See you!" It's cute and fun. On my walk home my name was called from far away and I could see some kids waving from the second floor of a building. I feel like a star.

For elementary school the lessons are easy and it's all about the games. My job here is more to get kids used to foreigners and to make English fun so they'll enjoy it more when it becomes more serious.

School lunches: At elementary schools I'm required to eat the school lunch with the kids. Everyday I'll eat in a different classroom, usual first or second graders and I have to eat everything given to me, no matter what it is, because the kids have to eat everything too. Everyone also has to drink one milk at lunch and all the kids have toothbrushes to brush their teeth with afterwards. It's pretty interesting. Today I ate with the first graders and man, were they cute.

Tomorrow I get to help out with swim lessons so I'm really excited!

Sunday, August 22, 2010


There's a big waterfall just outside of Omura called Ryutosen (dragon head place). It's beautiful! After a short hike we reached the biggest waterfall and jumped right in. The water was a bit cold but it was so refreshing. A little way down the river is another waterfall with a rope for swinging into the water. Although it took me 5 minutes, I finally managed to swing out and jump in the water. It was really fun and not really that scary.

I also collected a few tadpoles in a water bottle and took them home. They lived temporarily in a jar on my desk, but two died, so I felt bad and freed the remaining one.


I went to Sasebo, a big city north of Omura with an American military base on it. My friend's mom works on base, so we were able to go on and enjoy American foods and buy American products. I bought some candy to use as gifts, but really three weeks isn't quite long enough for me to really miss American things enough to fully appreciate the experience, as my friends did. I also went to a little park that was American territory. The place was filthy, litter everywhere and almost every person that walked by was overweight. Reminded me what I'm not missing in the US.


I got a bike! While my area is relatively hilly, having a bike is very convenient and why not get the extra workout? I really like riding around and I can basically go anywhere I want pretty easily and quickly. I'll need to ride to one of my schools, but my other two schools are very close, maybe a 10 minute walk. My house is in such a great location!

A typhoon passed over Omura last week, I slept through the worst of it, but I heard some heavy rain and wind. It continued to rain until early afternoon. We were supposed to visit some schools on bike yesterday, but we were told to stay at home because of the typhoon, so I had a free vacation day.

I'm getting this cooking thing down I think. So far I've made:
-stir-fry vegetables with rice
-goya (a bitter squash) and scrambled egg
- potato slices with onion and garlic
-scrambled eggs with green pepper and onion
-chicken pieces marinated in miso and pieces of an orange, then sauteed with broccoli, carrots and onion.
-chicken pieces with bell peppers, onions and a few globs of some kimchee that wasn't very good to eat by itself, however, as the sauce it was actually pretty good.

Everything has been surprisingly delicious, I could just skip culinary school and become a chef at this rate.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


I've spent the last few days on Iki. It's an island at the northern tip of Nagasaki prefecture, very close to Korea and is known for it's beautiful beaches and Kobe-equivalent beef. There are some ALTs up there, so I went with 3 of the Omura ALTs to visit them and spend some days in paradise. It was so beautiful and fun! The water was crystal clear and not that cold, and the weather was perfect. There were some tentacle-less jellyfish and some fish swimming around too. At night we did fireworks on the beach and looked at the bioluminescent creatures that glow in the water at night. It was a great way to spend my last few days before I have to start working. Plus, I made some new friends, had some delicious beef and apparently Japan's best pizza (it was quite good).

Nagoshi Matsuri

Last week was the Nagoshi Matsuri (End of Summer Festival) in Omura. It is a three day festival that started out Sunday with an amazing display of fireworks, shot from the airport. Some friends and I sat by the water and watched. I had been in Nagasaki the night before and saw the closing fireworks for their festival, however, those were not as spectacular despite being a much bigger city than Omura. Omura's lasted for half an hour and were huge and might have been the best I'd ever seen.

The next day of the festival I met up with some friends and we just walked the main street and got food at several of the food vendors. The main drag was filled with little stands selling yakitori (grilled meet), okonmiyaki, shave ice, roasted corn, grilled octopus and more. The stands are mostly set up by local restaurants, so I got the name of some delicious places that I'll have to try later. We also watched some taiko drum performances. An ALT that is leaving performed with her taiko group on the main stage. It was fun walking with other ALTs because their students would nervously approach them and say hi and try to speak in English.

On the final day of the festival my friend I dressed in our yukata (summer kimono). I'd say more than half of the girls and young women wear yukata at summer fesitvals. My friend and I both noticed a difference in how the local people reacted to us when we had the yukata on. They seemed to be more accepting of us, seeing that we were making an effort to be a part of the culture, but man was it hot! This night there was dancing down the main street, as well as some on the main stage. So many of the townspeople participated. It was quite an experience and I'm already excited for next year!

Spider Survival!

This guy was outside my door.

Due to the need of survival, I have killed 4 spiders in my house already. It's heroic really. The one last night took a long time and lot of bravery. My coordinator had brought me bug killer spray, didn't work on this big honker though. He was humungus and really fast, so it took all of the dexterity and courage I had to get him.
There are spiders everywhere outside. I saw some dead ones on the ground today that were so big I thought they were crabs... seriously. The body was about the size of a quater and it's legs were about three inches long each. If one of those gets into my house, I will be calling people to help me kill it. (Good news, none of them are poisonous). I've seen some outside and there are fast and scary. Apparently there are also a lot of giant centipedes. They're won't kill you, but you're supposed to boil them to death, because word has it that if you squash them, the scent of their blood will attract more. Creeeeeepy!


my back yard

My aparment is 2 stories; the kitchen, living room and bathroom are on the first floor, then I have 2 tatami mat rooms on the 2nd floor. It's biiiig, I don't know how I will fill it all by myself! I live at the bottom of a big hill and have a big forest behind me.

Omura is great! Apparently it's considered to be rural, however, I'd relate it more to Ann Arbor than Dowagiac . The town is quite laid back and everyone so far is friendly. I'm contracted by the Board of Education, which is super relaxed and the other new ALT and I don't have to go into work for 2 weeks! Most people started the day after they arrived!

My experience with the plumber: My shower was leaking a little and my washer needed to be hooked up so the plumber came. Not only was the appointment for one set time, he was early.

It's really hot and humid. When I don't have the air conditioner on in my house, everything feels damp. I'm lucky because I have an air conditioner on both floors, I've heard that others just have one on the first floor, so a lot of them have been sleeping in their living rooms. I don't even use it at night, it's not too hot to sleep if I have the windows open.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Here I Go Again

As promised, I'm headed back to you Japan.

I've made some updates to the ole Blog: slideshow (featuring pictures from last time), translator (in case I starting writing in Japanese, you can figure out what I'm saying :p), music (some of my favorite Japanese bands- feel free to mute it), and my koi bond on the bottom.

Hopefully I can be as endlessly entertaining as I was before.