Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween!

If you didn't know already, Halloween is my favorite holiday.  Halloween in Japan, while not non-existent, lacks the substance and creativity of Halloween in the US. There is no trick-or-treating, no American candy (which I find to be far superior), few costumes and most kids don't really understand it.  So, I teach extraordinary Halloween lessons. This year, I made 3 girls cry from fear/ disgust.

The first part of the lesson was just introducing Halloween words, then we moved into the serious stuff.
First, I got very serious and told them that I had cut off the fingers and skin, and took out hearts, brains and eyeballs of last year's bad students- then to make sure the current students would be good, I made everyone touch said items. 

I prepared 5 bags of said items:
Eyes= pickled quail eggs (better than grapes because they pop if you squeeze too hard).
Brains= konnyaku (
Skin: katsuo bushi (sliced, dried bonito).
Heart: one day peeled tomatoes, the next day canned peaches.
Fingers: Chikuwa

After feeling everything and getting thoroughly grossed out the students guessed what each item actually was. It so fun!  

At school, I dressed up as a black cat, but for the annual ALT Halloween party, I dressed up as a mummy.  The party which is hosted in my town at a campsite, is really fun because for all the ALTs and friends not from the US or Canada, it is a special treat because they didn't have Halloween growing up.  Almost everyone gets really into it, with great, often homemade, costumes. The winner this year was Muammar Gaddafi, although there was a great Mr. T, trio of Wizard of OZ characters, and the three blind mice.

For my costume, I went to the "dollar store" and bought A LOT of gauze and wrapped myself up from head to toe.  I wrapped over some leggings and a sweatshirt to ensure warmth!  People really liked it. The only problem was that my face got really itchy after a few hours! 

Mr. T and Gaddafi

Wizard of OZ


Jean Clawed Van Frog and the Disappearers

Last weekend I got myself an aquarium and some new friends.  Picking who and what would come home with me was very stressful.  I wanted fish, but I also wanted frogs and I also wanted a sea crustacean, but there was no way they could all live together. I finally decided on 3 frogs and 5 mini- shrimp.  The frogs are African Clawed frogs, two white, one black. The black one I named Hot Rod, but I couldn't decide on names for the white ones for a few days.

Unfortunately, the next day one of the shrimp was dead.  As sad as I was, I took him out of the tank with chopsticks.  I thought the worst was over, but then...

When I got home one night, after being away for only a few hours, one white frog and one shrimp were gone.  Not dead, gone.  They were nowhere in the tank. I checked the filter, I checked around the tank (despite having a lid, who knows what these guys can do?) NO LUCK! They disappeared. Either they got buried under the dirt and have yet (a week later) to float up, or they were eaten by the other frog.

Still no signs of them but thankfully none others have gone missing.

The other day I decided on the name for the other white frog, Jean Clawed Van Frog-get it? He's a clawed frog.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Oh Noh!

This weekend I attended a free Noh performance in Shimabara (the southern peninsula of Nagasaki prefecture).  Noh is a very traditional classical drama.  This particular production was supposed to be outdoors, lit only with bonfires surrounding the stage, known as Takigi O-noh.  However, due to the rain, it was moved into an indoor location.

So, as you know, where most people have problems falling asleep, I have problems staying awake. It's not hard to imagine what happened; dark, warm, hard as I fought my eyes would not cooperate.  Unfortunately I was dozing in and out for the first 4 plays and was out cold for most of the final (and apparently, best) one. 

I did see some of it though. The night started out with some short performances by a children's noh group which was really cute. They also were the main actors in one of the 5 primary plays about a fisherman. 

Two of the plays had live music with drums and flutes, which was... interesting. At points I questioned whether it was music or just noise, but it was cool nonetheless.

The final play, about demons and ghosts, featured special masks used in noh. Depending on the angle the actor positions his head, the expression on the mask changes. I didn't actually see this (sleeping) and didn't learn about it until after. So maybe, if I ever see it again, I'll keep my eye out (and open) for it.

Noh actors manipulate their voices in such a way that makes singing/speaking sound pretty goofy and they used very classical Japanese, so even Japanese people had a hard time understanding. 

All in all, I'm glad I had this opportunity to see it and I am pretty annoyed I couldn't stay awake. However, not sure if I'd go out of my way to see it again.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Camping at the Bottom of a Volcano

Okay, I admit, it's not quite as exciting as the title makes it seem.  I took another trip to Kumamoto prefecture to see Mt. Aso, the most active volcano in Japan.  Despite not having lava, it's still really cool because it has a green lake of aqueous sulfur.  It was really clear this time around so I could see it a lot better.

My two friends and I were planning on going on a two day hike and camping somewhere out in the wilderness, but plans changed so we ended up just hiking somewhere else in the day and stayed the night at a campsite. 

Our hike was really fun, we walked up to the highest peak around. Within the hike we climbed 850 stairs. The view from the top was really nice, but would have been better if it weren't so hazy. 

Since it's fall, the nights are pretty cool. So in anticipation of the chill of sleeping in a tent, I went to sleep with 3 layers of pants, 4 layers on top, a hat and my sleeping bag. I was well prepared and miraculously didn't get cold! Amazing!

It was a short, but fun trip. Perfect weather.

Sidenote: We met an old man selling rocks who told me 23 is getting old and I should hurry up and get married. Haha! No way old man!

Sports Day 2011

It seems that I didn't write about Sports Day last year, but it was one of the events I was anticipating most this year. Sports Day is a day-long competition between the different classes in each grade. The grades also join together in blocks (so class 1 of 1st, 2nd and 3rd year students are one team, etc) and compete against the other blocks. The day starts out with an opening ceremony where all the students march by with their classes. It's very militaristic looking, and I have a very hard time seeing American students not refusing to do it. When I say marching, I mean marching. Their arms and knees need to reach a certain height on every step and the must be in sync with their classmates. They practice marching for HOURS in the days leading up. Next on the program in radio taiso- or radio exercises. Pretty much warm up exercises. If you've seen the Michael Keaton movie Gung Ho, you know what I'm talking about. It's actually pretty fun. However this too needs to be executed perfectly and thus requires hours of practice.
The events themselves include 50m, 100m and 200m sprints, 800/1500m (girls/boys respectively) runs, relays, and then the fun events. At my junior high school, the first years have an obstacle course relay, the second years have a jump rope contest- all the students in each class jumping with one long rope per class, and the third years have a mukade race. I don't know if I've mentioned mukade before, but it's the word for centipede in Japanese. So this race requires all the students in each class to have both legs tied to ropes in a single file line- think single-file three-legged race, but with 40 students.
First year relay
Mukade race

The event ends with a big traditional Japanese dance. At my school, all the grades come together to perform soran, the fisherman's dance. Apparently, it's rare for the three grades to perform the dance together; at most schools each grade does a difference dance. Further, my students seem to be extraordinarily good at it! My friends told me it was much better than anything their students did. I really want to learn the dance, but I was never at that school on the right days to learn it.
Fisherman's dance 
In the weeks leading up to Sports Day, it seems as if the students never stop practicing. I could hear them from my house in the morning, they practiced at least 2 hours during school and then after school as well. The kids are so tired during this time, and then they get in trouble for not doing their homework because they're too tired. Rough. But the students love it, and I love it. I ran in two relays (despite my food poisoning induced fever and having not eaten at all the day before). But how can I say no to Sports Day? I can't. I didn't do much though. For the first relay, with the PTA, we carried a basket of balloons on our backs and balanced a ball on a ladle while "running" about 20 meters. My team lost :( The second relay was with the second grade teachers against the second grade girl relays. They only had me run about 15 meters. Again, we lost. Sports Day is one of my favorite events all year. My elementary school also has Sports Day, but it's in June. Last year I missed it due to my foot disaster. You better believe I'm looking forward to it this year.


[I suppose this is a little overdue, I apologize. I really am going to try to be more consistent with my posts.] In mid-September I ventured to, what is pretty much my favorite place in Nagasaki, if not Japan itself, Iki Island. In summer, Iki is a beach paradise. This was my third time to the island, and I would go more often if it wasn't an hour bus ride and 2 hour ferry away. But nonetheless, I headed up there with some other ALTs, one of whom lived on Iki for 4 years, for the long weekend. The first day the weather was beautiful. It could not have been more perfect- other than the jellyfish. I got a few light stings, but then, what I assume was a previously free-floating tentacle stuck to my arm and I didn't realize it was stuck there for a good 20 seconds. After I rubbed it off, it got really swollen, I looked like I had a huge bicep! But after I put vinegar on it, it stung less. It was still swollen for a few days and I have a scar now. It makes me look tough. On the second day, despite some light rain, some friends took us out surfing. Man, I love water sports! I just could not get enough. Even just laying on the board and moving with the waves would have sufficed. I wasn't very good at surfing but I did stand up on the board for a long ride once. I can't wait to surf again! For the weekend we stayed at a friend's guesthouse. It was really cool- pretty much a living room with 6 bunks built into the wall. The view was spectacular. It was a good thing we had such nice accommodations because a typhoon came. During my friend's 4 years on Iki, she had never heard of ALL the ferries to and from the island being cancelled for more than one day. But lo and behold, the ferries were cancelled for 2 days and we got the only one that left on the third. Crazy! The typhoon was centered much further south so we only experienced wind and a little rain, but man, were the waves raging. I've never seen waves so big, even though they were first stopped by a break wall. I was feeling a little adventurous, so I walked out on the beach a little bit (far from any danger, don't worry) and felt the water. It was so warm, I was very surprised. It was quite an experience to be close to the water during a typhoon. Despite having to use 2 vacation days and missing some school, it was a really fun, relaxed trip. Next time I go out there though, I will make sure ther are no typhoons coming.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Road Trip to Yamaguchi Prefecture

The weather has been nothing but rain for a week and looks to continue through the foreseeable future, unfortunately. It's like tsuyu (rainy season) all over again. Despite the weather, two friends and I took off for a 4 day road trip to Yamaguchi.

In August there is a holiday called Obon. On the first day (8/13) spirits of ancestors are welcomed back into the home with a lantern, a mukae-bi. On the last day (8/15), the spirits are sent out of the home when the lantern is sent down a river into the ocean, in a ceremony called okuri-bi. Recently deceased spirits are sent out in floats and taken to the water in a procession of bon odori dancers and fireworks. How is this relevant? Well, due to the three day holiday, companies give employees three free vacations days (apart from the normal use-anytime yearly leave). However, they must be used in August and consecutively. So, Obon has become a holiday of not only welcoming ancestors back home, but it's the time of year when people return to their hometowns- using their special vacation days. That being said, we used our 3 days and set out.

We rented a car (substantially cheaper than in the states) and our first stop was Shimonoseki, just across the straits separating Kyushu and Honshu. We headed up to a mountain outlook judged one of the best views in Japan, where we were able to see three bodies of water, the Kanmon Strait (separating the islands), the Inland Sea (to the south) and the Sea of Japan (to the north). During WWII, this spot was also used to fire and store artillery, so there were many bunkers and other shelters hidden under ground. It was pretty cool to walk around.

Next stop was fugu! We ate some blowfish sashimi and survived, phew! While it can only be prepared by highly certified chefs, most fugu nowadays is bred to be poison-free, so we were not really in much danger in eating it. It really wasn't anything special, not much flavor at all.

The next morning we went to a fish market at 4:30 in the morning. It was cool, but we got there way earlier than necessary. I got some nice pictures out of it though.

After a nice drive up the western coast, through some small towns, to and around a small island on a long bridge that is supposed to be over beautiful water (but we did it in a downpour so I can't say for sure), we made our way to Nagato. Here we went on a cruise to see beautiful rock formations around the island on Omishima. Luckily, the weather cleared up for this.

Down the road in Hagi, we saw the ruins of a castle, some old-preserved samurai houses where a coi river runs along and even through the houses. Back in the day, the water was used for washing and cooking, not sure if the coi lived in there then too... People were still using that water for their homes, we saw some tubes with siphon-filtration unit on it. The best part of Hagi however where the hands on activities we did. Hagi is one of the most famous Japanese pottery towns and we went to a shop where we were able to make our own cups on a wheel. Granted we were helped a lot by the teacher, they turned out awesome and I can't wait to get it (in the mail, it had to go in the kiln). The teacher liked us so much, he gave us each a cup which would usually cost around $30 or more for free! But wait! There's more! We also went to a glass-blowing shop and got to make our own cups there too! That was really cool also. I have to say though, I liked making the pottery better because I got to get my hands dirty and felt like I was doing more. When I get the cups I'll put the pictures up.
On the final day of our journey we headed to mid-Yamaguchi where we went to the biggest cave system in Japan. It was pretty awesome. The cave was huge and the limestone formations were spectacular.

Next we went to Safari Land, a drive through zoo. While I tend to dislike zoos because the animals usually don't look happy, I was so excited. I thought maybe since they weren't really in cages they'd be happier. I was kind of right? It felt like we were in Jurassic Park with huge electric gate system, controlled by a man in a watch tower and the animals could frolic about as they pleased, for the most part. It was cool to see animals interact, but most of the animals were sleepy (namely the big cats, but when are cats not sleepy), and not frolicking as merrily as I imagined they would be. There was also a petting zoo area with ponies to ride, kangaroos to play with and my favorite, baby lions to hold. While I did feel bad about succumbing to the tourist trap and the servitude of the poor baby lions, it was pretty great to hold him! He was so cute and fuzzy!The final stop on our trip was to a micro-brewery in Yamaguchi city. Probably the biggest complaint of foreigners in Japan is the low-quality of the beer. I'm no beer connoisseur so I can't say much on the topic myself. Micro-brews for the most part are unheard of and are very hard to find. There are good local brews, but my friends were not a fan of this beer (I didn't have any, as I was driving and drivers can't drink at all). The view was beautiful though and the pizza as very delicious!

We concluded the trip with a drive along the southern coast, with a stop by the water where we found some bioluminescent creatures floating about and on the sand.

Back to the grind at school this week, classes start again in next week.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Thank goodness it's summer. With all the new ALTs coming to Omura, I've been a busy bee, helping them get cell phones, home goods, etc. However, I was able to spend some mornings with my junior high's swim club. Many of the students swim in a club outside of school, so I only swam with 4 of the kids. But it was fun! The teachers in charge of the club were really excited to have me there, so I taught the kids some and made them some workouts. It was really great. Plus, I got some sun. I'm going to try to continue going throughout the year.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A New View of Omura Bay

Yesterday I went with some friends to a house near the water of Omura Bay. They brought along some jet skis and wake boards. After a very filling barbecue lunch, I got to take a spin on a jet ski and even drove it a little bit. It was fun! Then we got the wake boards out. I got a quick lesson on the land and then took it into the water. Apparently it's much harder when being pulled by a jet ski as opposed to a boat, and we didn't have a pole on the jet ski, so the rope was low. Nonetheless, beginners luck seemed to be with me as I was one of only two people who were able to stand up (including people who'd done it before). It was SO fun. I fell a lot, but got the hang of it pretty quickly and had a couple of good rides. I'm definitely looking forward to doing it again. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of it.

Photo Exhibit

A few weeks ago a Nagasaki ALT set up a photo exhibit that was showcased in a gallery (for one weekend) and the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture (for 1 month). The exhibit featured photos of the prefecture taken by local ALTs. I wrote an article about the exhibit in the last issue of the Nagazasshi and submitted 4 of my own photos, all posted below:

A photo exhibit by the foreign community for the local one….

ALTernative Nagasaki: Nagasaki Through the Eyes of a Foreigner

Boris Yeltsin once said, “We don't appreciate what we have until it's gone. It's like air. When you have it, you don't notice it.” For Jacky Lau, an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Arie, Nagasaki, this “air” is the everyday environs in which he lives and works. However, he has very much taken notice of his “air”, has found a way to cherish it and now wants to share it with the community.

Lau’s small town of Arie, unlike Nagasaki City or Huis Ten Bosch, is not known as a tourist destination. However, Lau has
found pride and appreciation for his town, which many Nagasaki locals take for granted or even pay no mind to. With the clock ticking before his return home to America, he is determined to share the hidden beauty and charms of his small town, not only with the foreign community, but with Nagasaki locals as well. This was Lau’s inspiration for a photo exhibit entitled “ALTernative Nagasaki.”

Lau and many other Nagasaki ALTs have collected the photos that they feel encapsulate what Nagasaki means to them. As foreign residents of the community, they have the unique opportunity to see Nagasaki through the eyes of a tourist and resident. The ALT often connects with the community and bonds not only with the people but with the physical world around them. In addition, because their time in the environment is often limited, they are forced to evaluate what it means to be in those surroundings in a way that most other foreigners and even some locals have never experienced.

When asked what kind of message he hopes to send through the exhibit, Lau said, “Go to [Nagasaki] Peace Park. Go to Glover Garden. Go to Mt. Inasa. But check out the islands, Shimabara, Matsuura, Saikai. Those places have their own charms that can’t be found in the big cities.” Lau hopes that the exhibit will not only inspire his fellow foreigners to explore the prefecture, but also encourage the locals to do the same. He remarked, “If my bara-bara (rusty) Japanese could [allow] me [to have] such a fantastic time, I could only imagine what a fluent speaker could do.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My experience with a Japanese cult... probably

Today, after feeding the fish in Omura park some moldy bread, my friend and I were just sitting on a bench chewing the fat. Two elderly women were walking down the path and like many, they said hello and we returned the greeting, expecting them to keep on walking. However, they approached us and started asking us if we had any aches or pains, anything we wanted cured- for free. They had the ability to heal us without even touching us.

Really, just wanting to get rid of them, but partly dumfounded at how odd this encounter was, my friend gave in. The ladies had him stretch his neck, back and shoulders, just to check his health. One lady went on with the healing process- with her hands hoovering about 5 inches from his body, she moved them from head to toe, with a swoosh at the end, apparently that was the part where the bad things get thrown out. She said something about right, left and middle and she was convinced something was wrong with the left side of his abdomen. Of course. This went on for about a minute.

Next was my turn, they set out to heal my foot pain. I got both ladies working on me, one taking care of my body and the other focusing on my foot- clawing at, and pulling out the pain. They said some incantations and something about "vital force." After 5+ minutes, I was hungry, bored and ready for these crazy ladies to leave. We flattered them and told them there was some improvement, but I will definitely not be calling on them ever again. They gave us some old newspapers from their organization and asked us to join them. The organization is called "Seimei no Sayo."

After some research my friend found some information on them:
"For their involvement in soliciting "treatment fees" for the "Association for Maintaining Health: Taido," (Now known as the Hoju-shu Hoju-kai), which employed "hand power" techniques to cure illnesses, the Fukuoka High Court ordered CEO Toshihisa Hiraki, former executive members, and affiliated companies to pay 34.6 million yen in damages to former members and their families. The High Court also dismissed the defendant's appeal. Furthermore, on October 31, a verdict was passed on a similar appeal filed against a lawsuit by former members from Fukuoka prefecture. The Fukuoka High Court ordered Taido to pay 65 million yen in damages and upheld the original verdict."

It was a strange, but memorable evening in the park.


A few miles off the coast of Nagasaki city lies the abandoned island of Hashima, more commonly known as Gunkanjima or "Battleship Island." The nickname stems from the small island (an area of only 63,000 square meters) being surrounded with sea-walls and being built up with concrete apartment buildings- making it really look like a battleship from the distance.

Coal was mined on the island from 1810- 1974. Until 1890 the mining had been minimal, but it soon after became under the control of Mistubishi which turned it into a full-scale operation. As more and more workers and their families moved to the island, the population started to grow. The first multi-story concrete apartment in Japan was built on Gunkanjima and was followed by many more apartments, a school, a hospital and many more buildings. The facilities served to accommodate the 5,300 people living there, that's almost 12 people per square meter. That's a lot of people for such a small space- we're talking a population density nine times that of the Tokyo at the time.

In 1974, with the demand for coal dwindling the mine closed and the island was abandoned and left to the elements. Over the years it has deteriorated and now looks like a war zone. They recently opened part of the island for tourists. It's very closed off and everyone must stay on the path (there are workers everywhere keeping an eye on you), but it's still really cool. The tour guide not only had old photos to show but shared an insider's knowledge of the island because he had lived there as a child. It really is just a huge pile of broken down buildings and rubble, but looks really fun. It was would be fun, but treacherous, to walk around the whole island.

There are huge concrete walls surrounding the island. These were once used to protect from the huge waves that would crash on the island during typhoons, reaching up to 20 meters! Apparently, the used to stand and watch the waves crash as a form of entertainment.

It was really interesting to see and would highly recommend seeing it.

Birthday Abroad

As you may know, I recently had a birthday. It was strange being away from family on this special occasion, as it was the first time. (When I was in Japan on my birthday last time, my parents were visiting.) Birthdays pretty much are the same here, as far as I can tell.

My birthday fell on a Thursday this year. We were provided with beautiful weather Monday-Wednesday with hopeful statements of rainy season being over. Recalling a time long ago when it rained on my birthday and I cried, I was really hoping it was not going to rain on Thursday. But of course, it rained. It wasn't too bad though, so I didn't cry. Despite having a 40 minute bike ride to work, both legs of the commute were relatively dry. However my plan of taking a nap in a park fell through. But enough about the weather.

That week I happened to be on the elementary school 6th grade lesson about months and dates, more specifically: birthdays. It really was a nice coincidence- I swear I didn't plan it. So at school I would give an example, "My birthday is June 30th." Few students caught on, but usually the teachers would figure out that my birthday was the next/that day. One class surprised me with a poster of notes from all the students and a few separate ones from individuals. They were cute.

The others teachers at that school, realizing only just as I was leaving that it was almost my birthday, promised me a celebration the next week when I would be back. They did indeed follow through, and I wasn't even expecting it. I went to that school 3 times that next week, Tuesday-Thursday. By Thursday afternoon I'd figured they'd forgotten. But just before 4 (when I go home), I somehow missed ALL of the teachers leave the room. One came back and ushered me into another room where the teachers surprised me with noise-makers and cake. They forced me to eat the cake by myself as they all stared on, occasionally taking pictures. Despite my calls of help to eat the cake, they all refused and they sent it home with me. As awkward as it was, it was really nice.

I got a few more cards and birthday songs in a few of my junior high classes and a teacher at my other elementary school brought a cake for me.

My friends also planned a nice taco dinner for me with homemade tortillas and all. I also received a new kendama. My friend had bought one, sanded off the red paint of the ball and painted it neon green! It's pretty awesome. The other staff members of the Nagazasshi, the magazine I work on, chipped in to buy me the coolest umbrella on the planet. I'd seen it on TV a few weeks earlier and one of the editors and I stopped by the store that sells them to check them out one day. The umbrella is black with a white skyline of London. BUT, when it gets wet, the white turns multi-colored. It's kind of like those spoons that would come in cereal boxes that change color in the milk- only better. It's really great.

The following weekend, I stayed at a resort on an island off the coast of Nagasaki. It was a nice, relaxing time with many trips to the onsen. From there we went to another island not far off called Gunkanjima (See the next entry.)

I had a wonderful birthday, but of course it would have been great to spend it with my loving family back home.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Hey, guess what! It didn't rain yesterday OR today! I saw the sun, blue sky and I could hang some laundry outside! What a great two days.

It's rainy season in Japan and Nagasaki has one of the highest yearly rainfall averages in the country at 2 meters. I haven't seen the sun in weeks and have stopped checking the weather, assuming I need my umbrella whenever I leave the house. These last couple of days, however, are somewhat of an anomaly if you couldn't judge my excitement. While I did see the sun, it was still hidden by 70% cloud cover or more and not to mention the humidity, OH, THE HUMIDITY! When it's not raining it's still around 90+% humidity, and don't let me forget, it's been in the high 80s/ low 90s the past few days. Personally, I don't mind the humidity so much, at least when I'm outside. But I've come across a new sworn enemy: MOLD. I hate mold.

There really is no escaping it. It's not just in my kitchen. It's not just in the shower. It's on the hard wood, it's on the spot on the rug where something spilled months ago (and was apparently not properly cleaned up...), it's all over the tatami mats. Tatami is notoriously troublesome when it comes to cleaning, because... you need to clean it and they get moldy. Not that my tatami rooms were dirty, I'd vacuum fairly regularly, I never spilled liquid on it, I made sure the rain doesn't get on it. But the mold is there. Well, it's not there currently, I've spent at least an hour in my house the past few days cleaning the tatami, the hardwood floors, the bathroom walls, you name it, with vinegar-water to kill the mold. I've been turning on my dehumidifier on the air-conditioner everyday and stocked-up on little air-vapor-collecting- boxes to try to keep things under control but just when I think I've killed it all... I find more.

Some people are lucky and don't have much mold, but I'm an not one of those people. Maybe it has to do with my wallpaper that soaks up water so it's a little sticky and smelly if you touch it, maybe it's because I live next to a forest. I don't know, but it sucks.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A hole in my foot and other firsts

If you haven't heard (or seen) by now, I recently found myself in a terribly mess... of blood.

While attending a birthday party for a couple friends at a club, I was stepped on by a girl in high-heels. I've been stepped on by heels before and have found it to be quite painful with occasional bruising. However, this time, the weapon-donning woman was stepping down from a foot-high step and descended squarely into the center of my foot. The pain initially caused teeth-clenching and wincing, but quickly proceeded into uncontrollable tears. The severity of the incident revealed itself in the form of blood, not necessarily the stream running down my foot, but more so the puddle that formed under and around my foot in only a matter of seconds. One of my heroes of the night picked me up and carried me out of the club, yelling for people to move, as I sobbed in his arms, getting blood on anybody who wasn't paying attention or was unable to move in time.

Sitting on a stool outside the bar I was attended to by several friends and an employee of the club who teamed together to apply compression and ice to the wound. Regaining my composure miraculously quickly, I started taking pictures of the scene with my phone and was already laughing about the ridiculousness of the situation. Eventually, the gushing stopped and the employee insisted I go to the hospital, in an ambulance nonetheless (all expenses paid). So Hero #1, carried me into the very slow elevator, down 4 floors and to my awaiting chariot. Hero #2 carried my things and joined me on the trip to the hospital.

*The photo of the foot with the shoe is my OTHER foot, onto which the injured foot had bled. The middle photo is my attendees treating me. The third photo is just a mess of bloody paper towels.

Having thankfully never needed to be in an ambulance or emergency room in the US, I cannot offer any comparison on the matter. The ambulance was pretty much all I could expect from an ambulance and the hospital was some kind of emergency clinic, but other than the exam room and the exit, I didn't see much.

Explaining what happened to the medics and the doctor at the hospital (and everyone else since then) was pretty entertaining, because it seems like such a freak event. But being the middle of the night and having a foreigner with a gaping wound, everyone proceeded very seriously (I'm not complaining, but I think they did find my spirited mood reassuring, in the least). The doctor took x-rays and by some chance nothing was broken. He proceeded to anesthetize and clean the area with needles and cut around the edges of the wound to get rid of the ragged rim. Up to here I was sitting up on my stretcher watching (again, baffling to the staff) and I found it interesting. I don't know if it was the loss of blood or some inner disgust at seeing my own blood (I'm thinking the former), but I started getting queasy and light-headed so I had to lay down and couldn't watch him put in the 4 stitches. They wrapped me up, gave me drugs and sent me back to my hostel at 4 am. Unfortunately, the adrenalin took some time to wear off and by the time I was calmed enough to sleep the pain kicked in, so sleeping was not an option. But that was okay, because there was no way I would being going into work the next day.

If the story were to end here, I would be comfortable calling it a pretty good story. But it gets better. The next day I go to a doctor in my town and before the bandages were completely off, he noticed how red and swollen my foot was- sure signs of infection. He gave me stronger antibiotics, more pain medicine and a tetanus shot, then sent me home for 2-3 more days of bed rest. The pain continued to be tear-jerking for a few days, but the doctor gave me crutches and I moved some bedding to the first-floor so I wouldn't have to deal with walking up and down stairs. Today seems to have been a good day, while the swelling hasn't decreased much, the pain is much more tolerable and I can almost walk on a flat foot, almost.

The End (hopefully).

Probably my favorite picture from the event: Can you guess which foot was gushing blood??

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mia in Japan: Yakushima and Osaka

Yet again, I apologize for being so remiss with writing. It's hard to write about daily life, but I will try better!

One of my best friends, Mia, came to visit me in Japan last week. She will shortly be leaving for two years in Swaziland as part of Peace Corp, so she wasn't able to stay too long. Despite the time crunch we packed a lot in.

The day after she arrived, we packed up and head to an island off of Kagoshima called Yakushima, with two of my friends. This island is known for it's 3000 year old cedar trees and otherwise beautiful scenery. It was the inspiration for the scenery in a Miyazaki film called Princess Mononoke. Indeed it was beautiful.

Our biggest hike that weekend was to the oldest tree, Jumon Sugi. However, we took a different path for the first half and avoided big groups and saw nicer scenery. Despite Jumon Sugi being the most popular attraction, the path to it is not necessarily the most scenic. Also, it follows an old train track for the first half or so, so it's not quite as fun. The trek up took us about six hours (still an hour and half faster than most maps anticipate) and boy were we exhausted. Along most of the trails on the mountain there are huts where you can stay the night. So upon reaching a hut near Jumon Sugi we ate dinner and hit the hay around sundown. It started raining at night didn't stop for the next 16 or so hours. Yakushima is said to be the rainiest place in Japan, where it rains 300 days a year. While this may be an exaggeration, it sure does come down. So our four hour hike home in the morning was not dry. It quickly got the to the point that I didn't bother avoiding puddles and just trudged through streams (which were much deeper with all the rain).
My rain coat did pretty much nothing for me and by the end I was completely soaked through. Luckily, I had dry clothes in a plastic bag (phew!)

The next two days we spent going around the island, eating the local specialty (flying fish) and camping near the water. Before coming people told me that you never have enough time on Yakushima and will inevitably want to go back. They were very right. There's so much more to see!

Mia and my next outing was around Omura and to Nagasaki where I finally visited the touristy spots of the Peace Park and the bomb museum. We also went to Glover Garden, a home of a foreigner, Thomas Glover, who lived in Nagasaki when it was the only port open to the outside world. He was a major influence in trade as well as politics, as he had a hand in the Meiji revolution. Glover Garden has his house, the houses of some other foreigners and a nice view of the harbor. (I wasn't too impressed, but why would I be impressed by a foreign house? I joked that the furniture looks like stuff from Grandma Sprague's house, but it really did.

Next we headed out to Osaka. Mia's flight was early in the morning, so we flew out the day before and spent the day going to the main attractions- Osaka castle, Shitennoji (temple), the Floating Garden and Dotombori. Osaka castle was pretty nice, it has two moats surrounding it and is in a very nice park. The park was one of my favorite spots in Osaka. The Floating Garden is an observatory in a really cool building. We got there around dusk and waited for it to get dark. Well, worth the wait, the view was cool. Osaka has a lot of bridges and many of them were lit up at night. Dotombori is the main spot for Osaka nightlife. It has all the restaurants, izakaya (dining bar) and stores you could ask for. It is where the the famous Glico man sign is. There is a shrine in an alley in the area where we saw many people drunkenly praying, which was amusing.

After Mia left, I spent the rest of the day in Osaka. I took a boat ride through the city, riding under many of the bridges I saw. The river is low and the bridges are very low, and there were also a few canal locks (like in the Panama canal- but less extensive). It was a pretty fun ride, the flat-bottomed boat had windows that would go up or down, depending on how low in the water we had to sink in order to get under the bridges.

I visited a friend in Kyoto for the night and was back to norther Osaka in the morning to go to a waterfall and spent the afternoon in Kobe just strolling though the streets. I made it up to a very nice look out point that had a nice, curlicue bridge.

In a nutshell, that was my Golden Week of 2011 (Golden Week is a week in May that has 3 national holidays in a row, so many people take vacations). I also uploaded some pictures to Flickr.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cute letter

I received this cute letter from two of the graduating boys from my junior high.
If you can't read it, it says:
Dear Ms Audrey,
Thank you very much for teaching us English!!
We enjoyed your English class!!
Audrey, you're very kind and cute lady.
We love you very much! We are happy!!
Do you know the Japanese word "uha uha"?
Please ask N or F.
Our hearts always were broken in English class without Audrey-Sensei.
Never forget N and F.

(apparently "uha uha" is equivalent to "yay!")

New articles

I have an article about weddings and marriage in the Japan and a review of a cafe in the most recent issue of the Nagazasshi:

Earthquake/ Tsunami

Thanks everyone for the concern about Japan. Thankfully I am safe down here in Nagasaki and everyone I know in the Kanto region is also safe.

I want to donate blood, but unfortunately my trip to Malaysia may prevent me from being able to, due to concern of Malaria. We'll see, I haven't found out for sure yet.

I had a trip to Tokyo planned for the end of the month, but will probably postpone it until the summer now.

Let's continue to hope for the best for everyone up north!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Wood Working

A few weeks ago my friend mentioned how he was going to go wood-working and invited me along. I really had no idea what to expect but was very pleasantly surprised before even arriving. To get to the shop you have to drive on tiny roads, navigate past several forks in the road in the middle of a forest. I had started to get worried, but low and behold, a clearing emerged. Nestled in a small gorge was a large pond and a monstrous shack. We were greeted by two barking dogs, one of which had multiple plant-forms dragging from her butt-fur. The scenery was beautiful.

The owner of this place is a man named Onizuka, who is apparently pretty well-known throughout the greater Nagasaki area. In short, he's awesome. He looks a little crazy with his curly, unkempt, wood-chip filled mass of hair, with a pencil behind one year and a cigarette hanging from his mouth. However, he's very friendly and knows his wood. Near the end of the day, he usually breaks out his guitar and starts wailing out some Gipsy Kings, in Spanish (well, it's supposed to be Spanish). He also played some American songs for us. When he was in high school, he was the singer in a band. Pretty cool.

The first time I went, I just made chopsticks out of Cherry tree wood. It took a lot longer than I expected and I got, then proceeded to burst, a blister in the process. I started with two very squared pieces of wood, about chopstick size. I used a small hand-plainer to get the general shape I wanted then a knife to smooth it out, and round the edges. Finally, I used wet leaves to sand it and make it "pika pika" or shiny. (If you're familiar with Pokemon, "pika pika" is the sounds Pikachu makes when he fires his lightning... apparently). The general rule with the sanding was, if you think you're done, keep going. The last step was to oil them and I was done.

I had such a good time, I went back out the next week and brought another friend along. This time I went for a bowl. I was expecting to make a much smaller bowl, but the wood I chose was much bigger and I couldn't waste it. Onizuka taking the chainsaw to my piece of wood (again Cherry tree), might be one of my best memories of Japan in general. Here was this crazy guy, who put my wood on the ground, stabilized it with his shoe-less foot, no safety goggles or gloves, only a cigarette in his mouth, sawing away while wood-chips filled his shoe- and all of this in a beautiful pond-side, mountain view. It was perfect.

I took a chisel and hammer to the slab of wood for a good 4 hours, and it felt like I barely made a dent. My wrist was sore from hammering, my fingers would not open easily from gripping the hammer for so long and my left thumb had been hammered a few too many times, but I still had a great time. I finished it up this last weekend and it looks pretty great. The bottom is especially nice because the wood pretty freshly cut (August....) so the outer part was still a little moist, so a much lighter color. The bottom of the bowl is a nice combination of new and heart wood, so it's very cool looking.

I can see myself going very often from now on. It's such a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Straight Permed!

Yesterday, I had a day off school (Nations Founder's Day, celebrating when the first emperor was crowned in 660 BC), and spontaneously decided to do what should have been done years ago, I got a straight perm. Man, it's awesome.

The process (perm plus cut) took a mere 5 and half hours. It started out with a shampoo and then my hair being plastered down with think gunk. It made it lay so flat, my hair looked about 3 inches longer than I thought it was. Then my hair was covered with plastic wrap and I sat under a heating (?) machine that resembled some kind of alien mind reading device. It wasn't the normal one I imagine when I think of perms, it had moving parts. When my hair was done cooking, I got another shampoo, then a dry and flat iron. I thought I was almost done, so I was a little worried when my hair looked almost as puffy as usual. But after the very very meticulous flat ironing, I received another helping of gunk in my hair, another brain melting and another wash. After another hair drying, my hair was so straight! It was weird seeing my hair wet and straight, since usually it's really curly when it's wet. So that was about 4 hours.

Then my hair cut, which started out with another shampoo. Now, when I go to get a haircut, getting my hair washed is my favorite part. There's just something about it that I enjoy, and that was before I got my hair washed in Japan. I got a blanket for my legs, a small cloth over my face, a warm towel for under my neck and nice scalp message. It was great! While I didn't get the message and warm towel all 5 times my hair was washed yesterday, twice was fine with me.

They guy who cut my hair studied in Tokyo and was really creative with his scissors, it was fun to watch him work. When the hair cut was finished I got my fifth washing and a final blow dry. Man, am I pleased. 5.5 hours later, I walked out looking like a new girl!

I suppose you want to see the finished product... (next morning)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


This photo was taken on Jan 31st. I can't really describe how excited I was when I opened my door to walk to school and saw the snow on the ground. I was smiling all the way to school, hoping that it would stay until lunch time when I could play in it outside. Unfortunately, it was gone by around 10.

Exactly a week later, it was warm, humid and felt like spring. Weird.

Hokkaido Snow Festival

Last weekend I journeyed to Hokkaido for the annual Sapporo Snow Festival. I got an insider tip that if you go the week before the festival actually starts, you get to see the famous snow and ice sculptures being made, with the added benefit of flights and hotels being mu
ch cheaper (and they really were).

So I headed out for my four day weekend on Thursday and was giddy with excitement at the all the snow. On the train from the airport, I didn't want anything more than to dive into the vast fields of meter high snow. While walking around downtown Sapporo, I was having the time of my life just stepping into the snow or giving it a little kick. It was awesome. The first evening I strolled through the park with the sculptures, to see what was going on...

The next day starred out great, as I headed out early to play in the snow in the parking lot. I made a snowman. Then my friends and I wandered around a middle-of-nowhere suburb of northern Sapporo, in search of a place we could make butter, and the entrance to a park that supposedly had more snow sculptures. Apparently, all but one of the entrances to the farm were closed and by the time we figured that out, we'd gone to far and were over it, so we trudged to the park. It was warm this day and the snow was melting, which didn't go over well with my cheap, definitely not waterproof (but worked well enough in the snow) boots. While we didn't find any snow sculptures in the park, we did go cross country skiing... I don't know what percent of the time I spent actually on the skis, and not flayed out on the snow after falling. Maybe I wasn't THAT bad, especially for being on skis for the first time ever. It was a lot of fun though!

While Friday didn't work out as planned, Saturday was most productive. We ate fresh sashima at the fish market, visited the Sapporo brewery museum (not as cool as I'd hoped), went by the sculptures again to see how they've progressed (many were finished) and headed out to a nearby town called Otaru. Here we visited a very strange German microbrewery, where the Japanese staff walked around in very ugly German dresses and funny folk music played in the background. Our trip to Otaru was really focused on the candle-snow displays. There were three of four walks in the city, each path lined with various small snow creations, lit with a candle. It was really nice. The canal also had some floating candles.

The site-seeing was great enough, but one the best parts of the trip was the local specialty foods. Oh man, the food. Let me show you,Lamb barbecue, known as Genghis Khan (pronounced Jenghis)- came with a nice roasted garlic dipping sauce

Fresh crab, ikura, and uni (sea urchin) from the fish market

Gelato- Lavender (purple) and Salt (light green). Delicious alone, even better mixed together.

Soup Curry- I was hesitant at first, but I've been craving this from the minute I finished it. It's curry based soup with lots of vegetables, potatoes and I had gyoza in mine. So good!

Butter Corn Ramen- Hokkaido special, awesome.