Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Before and After

I was just saying to my friend Jerry that there are some things in this country that you just learn to live with. Squatting toilets, electronic everything, lack of communication, dead fish on a stick, etc...

I remember traveling, more than once, last fall, just after my arrival in Japan. At mealtime, I just could not get used to my food being selected for me and brought out on a giant platter of small bowls/plates. Never mind the presentation or delicious Japanese delicacies served in little tiny dishes. I wanted a damn hamburger for dinner and bacon for breakfast. I was not remotely interested in eating the like of whole dead fish or omnipresent bowls of miso soup at every meal, all served to me without my choice or consent. Many a traveling morning I woke up annoyed that a mere slice of toast was out of my grasp. To be honest, I probably even cried about it on more than one occasion.

Now, months later, with the exception of only miso soup (a fairly normal food that I still won't touch with a 10-foot pole), I have succumbed. Not only do I recognize the ingredients in the slimiest of foods, but I enjoy it. I am now more likely to eat ANYTHING if you've put a raw egg in it, can say I eat foods of EVERY color almost every day, and have even made peace with eating the aforementioned dead fish on a stick. Five months ago? No way. Now? I'm picking my battles, and this one's not worth fighting. I'll have seconds, please?

Before (scoffing at the dead fish on a stick - if only you could see my face!):

(enjoying the dead fish on a stick - and hoping there might be extras?):

Monday, March 23, 2009


Bless Sterling's heart. Bless.

Sterling is the child who you can find sitting in the group of children with his head in a cloud and his eyes anywhere but where I am. It is common to hear me, mid-sentence, bring Sterling back with a 'Sterling, up here, friend', and finish my previous sentence like I had never stopped.

But, Sterling, the biggest space cadet in the class, is also the only student I would EVER feel safe being caught in an emergency situation with, per the answers to the following project, described below. His thoughts blew our minds away.

The project was a culminating part of our unit about Migration. The students were asked to bring a small shoe box full of 3-5 items that they would take with them were they forced to migrate from home (similar to the nature of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower or the Slaves on the Underground Railroad).

Sterling got up during his turn, and in his own special manner, presented the following. It was obvious that he had packed the stuff randomly, and was likely making it all up when he got there. Unlike the other kiddos, he had not practiced what he would say, but it turned out not to matter, as his ability to pull the usefulness out of anything was about to be revealed.

Sterling: 'Uhhh,' (looking blankly at the objects) 'I'd bring this fork. Then I could kill animals and eat it. And I brought this string so that I could maybe tie it to the fork and throw it in the tree to spear fruit. If it was too high for me to get at. Then, um, I brought this mirror so that I could make fire with sunlight. I would do it like this.' (Shows the class). 'And this plastic cup to get water from the river. A plastic would be good because a glass one might break....'

Now, we were amazed (and trying not to laugh out loud) during this presentation, as it was the most clever and useful set of tools any student had packed. Then, students were allowed to ask questions, and Sterling aced each one of them:

Jason: "Sterling - the water in the river will be dirty. How will you drink it?"
Sterling: "Well, maybe I could boil it with the fire. Or, I could use the fork to dig deep into the ground to get water from under there - it's probably clean"

(and so on and so forth)

Sterling wasn't the only star of the group. We had a lot of really great items brought, and well debtated for their good use. Listed below are a few more gems that students decided to bring, and why:

Kiana: "I've got an eye mask so that we can sleep on the ship if someone else is in the same room and I want to get some rest."

Michael brought a hammer, which was a good and original idea. But he was later asked by Taisuke, "Why did you bring a hammer? It's quite heavy. Couldn't you just use a rock?" (yet another brilliant idea!)

Gustavo: "I'm bringing this extra pair of eyeglasses, because if mine break, I can still see!"

Jayden: "I've brought a picture of my family in case I miss them, and just to remember one fun thing that we did together."

Ricco and I have worked hard all year to get the students to think creatively and critically. We were impressed by all of their items and presentations , and felt, from the awe we felt during their presentations, that the unit, as well as the hard work we've expected from them so far this year, has indeed been a success.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

When You've Seen Enough...

Please, please, please, with all of the decency you have, scurry all children from the room before opening the link below.


No joke, this is where I spent my Sunday afternoon. And by the looks of it, most of the rest of the country did as well. In fact, I have never seen, in 18 months, so many foreigners. We, as a collective whole, were almost as awe-inspiring as the phalli. My friend Carina said it best when she noted, 'Well, just put out some penises and the foreigners will come a-running.'

(If you'd like to see photos, please let me know. I am glad to share them with you - privately. I even have a bit of compelling video to add if anyone is interested...)

Age chin desu!

Friday, March 13, 2009


Today I found heaven.

I wrote this on Facebook, and had many generous replies. Most people probably thought I had found the man of my dreams, or had been given a large sum of money.

But nope - I don't really need those things. Today I found heaven the isles of Ikea.

It took a few minutes to get used to the fact that, because of Japanese vowels, Ikea is pronounced very differently here (much to my dismay when trying to ask how to get there). Where we would say eye-key-uh the Japanese pronunciation is ick-ee-uh. I found this to be only mildly annoying.

I decided as well that Ikea (no matter how you pronounce it) is the best place in the world to take color accent photos. And, I realized that even in Japan, stuff can be normal and cute. Ikea (no matter how you pronounce it) is Ikea no matter where you are.

Oh! And Aunt Barb! They have dollar hot dogs here too! Only they're not $1, they're ¥100 (which with the current exchange rate means they're on sale! What a bargain!). Definitely the most delicious thing I ate all day (week?). And to make it more culturally done, I had to buy my hot dog in a vending machine. No joke.

Ikea - I love you (and your hot dogs...).

Saturday, March 07, 2009


Out of 127 million people, Japan, known for its Zen religions of Buddhism and Shintoism, holds about 1-2 million Christian residents. Christianity (whose roots are evident during the holiday seasons when plastic waving Santas adorn lawns across the city), is certainly becoming more common, but is still a rare sight in most places.

Recently, though, I have found a couple of, well, interesting references to the good Lord in this seemingly unlikely country. The following two examples have stuck out to me the most, and are definitely worth a try for the oddity-of-the-year award...

#1. This month, Andrew Lloyd Weber's Jesus Christ Superstar is coming to Japan. I would pretend to be even a little bit excited about this, except that, of course, as in all Broadway shows here, the original cast has been replaced by Japanese equivalents who will not only speak in Japanese, but will sing the translated songs in Japanese. And on top of that, in this particular show, Jesus himself will evidently be played by Gene Simmons.

#2. The latest health craze in Japan:
The Jesus Body Diet. I am not even kidding for a second when I say that in seeing this, I was stopped in my tracks. I am also not sure how to comment on this without sounding incredibly offensive (more offensive than the box itself?). One can only wonder who in Hell (pardon the pun) decided to make Jesus the poster boy for this diet fad. I mean, really! Think about this! Is this even a little bit acceptable?

#3. Lastly, a more, well, iconic spot of Biblical proportions. On a recent trip to visit Jono in the northernmost uppers of Japan, a stop at Christ's tomb was a definite. We trekked up stairs and through snow to find the grave of Christ, which is, evidently and interestingly enough, located in Japan. Who would have thought!? We even took it half-seriously, until we read the sign...

I guess I can now finish this line, "You know you've left America when...".

Holy crap...

Monday, March 02, 2009

Train Travel

I am truly, truly starting to loathe train travel in Japan. Minus the glorious benefits reaped from visiting those I like best, I've decided that the Shinkansen sucks.

Between my parents' trip in August and my visits with Jono, I have traveled this great island from one literal end to the other (and have bloody seen enough!!). During this past week it came to a head when I climbed on the Shinkansen for the fourth time in almost as many days. FOUR times! And during these recent trips, I began to reflect on how much one learns from so much train travel. I mean, so much money and time spent on a train must be worth something, right?

Fun fact: The Shinkansen, and every other train in this country, ALWAYS arrive EXACTLY when they mean to. No matter the length of trip or the kilometers traveled, the train will arrive and depart to the minute that it is supposed to. In fact, in a year, the timetable of the Shinkansen will typically shift by about :36. And that's in seconds, not minutes.

Unfortunate fact: There are no discounts for Shinkansen passengers who are residents of Japan. None. For each weekend I visit Jono, I spend the Yen equivalent of $450. To go to Tokyo and back runs a mere $220. And a trip to Kyoto, which is only a 35 minute ride, I pay $100 return. For fun, I recently (ok, earlier today) added up the amount of money I have (or will pay) to have ridden (ride) the Shinkansen between last August and the end of this month and came up with the US equivalent of $3000. Funny enough, that is nearly the same cost as my car, which could take me to the same places for a lot less.

Silver lining: for that amount of money, I guess you could say I travel quickly. The Shinkansen is the world's fastest train. It travels at speeds so high (210 km/h or 124mph) that it virtually floats on its rails. To travel to Aomori where Jono lives, I travel 997km (619m - the same distance as you would travel from Des Moines to the border of Texas) in less than 6 hours.

Train slang: 'I'm coming into Nags eki on the 4:15 Shin from Tokes. Wanna meet for some Yamachan's?'(I'll be arriving into Nagoya on the 4:15 train from Tokyo. Wanna grab chicken for dinner?)

My own personal twist: Recently, I have become proud of my ability (obsession?) to time (to the minute, of course) how long certain aspects of traveling on the Shinkansen take. For example, I know, for a fact, that I can drive from my house (4 minutes) or school (6 minutes) to the train station and get on for a (18 minute express or 24 minute local) ride to Sakae, take a (3-5 minutes depending on the line) detour for a coffee at Starbucks, catch the Subway (for a 4 minute train ride) to Nagoya Station, walk (for 6 minutes, 8 in heels or with heavy luggage) up the stairs to the Shinkansen lines, pick up Cinnamon Melts at McDonalds (3 minutes) and be on the train in less than an hour's time from when I started. I know that trains leave from Tokyo to Nagoya every 20 minutes, that the ride is exactly 101 minutes, and that t around minute 80, I get a view of Mount Fuji (again). Every 23 minutes I am offered tea and sweets by the 'stewardess', and I have found out that, if I close my eyes and pretend I am sleeping, that when the ticket guy comes around after minute 36 to punch my ticket, he'll leave me alone (which isn't necessary, but, since I want to be difficult and don't feel like proving that I am in the right seat, is fun to do). I also know that carying a weekend bag, a computer, a purse, skis, ski boots, and ski gear, all at the same time, will cost you more than one puff on an inhaler at the top of the 26th step at Nagoya station's Shinkansen platform...